Migration Patterns by Gloriana

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Title: Migration Patterns
For: Ifreet
Pairing/Characters: F/K/V
Warnings: none
Vidder's/Author's/Artist's Notes:
This was not the story I intended to write; but it is a story I intended to write over a year ago, and have had in the gestation ever since. (Someone here might recognise the seven prompts which inspired it.) Ifreet, thank you for making me put it down on paper at last. Many thanks to my beta, who isn't even in the fandom, did me the greatest of services at the latest of hours, and is not to be blamed for anything.


i. Gray (Fort Good Hope)


They end the Quest two hundred miles from where they began it, at a small airstrip outside Fort Good Hope. The sky is gray with the threat of snow - winter's not quite done, although their time together is.

Ray assumes they will shake hands while making noises about seeing each other again soon, because, despite the snow baths and the long nights lying side by side, talking low while the dogs grumbled in their sleep, Fraser has been pretty hands-off until now. But as Ray is hoisting his bag onto his shoulder, Fraser turns into him and latches on. The hug lasts for minutes. Ray can't see Fraser's face because he's buried it in the fur of Ray's collar, but they're both holding real tight, like one of them is going to slip away on treacherous ice.

Finally Fraser stirs and backs off. "You'll write?" he says, hands still gripping Ray's coat sleeves.

"I'll ring," Ray says firmly. "And August. August for sure, yeah?"

"For sure, Ray," Fraser says gruffly. There's a suspicious brilliance to his eyes. Beside them, Dief whines.

"You too, fella," Ray says, leaning down to ruffle Dief's fur. The move breaks Fraser's hold, but Ray thinks maybe he's already seen that Ray's eyes are damp, too.

* * *

There's turbulence an hour into the flight. Ray hangs on grimly to the seat belt, since there are no armrests to speak of. Between his palm and the belt a piece of paper crackles: the address for the RCMP station in Fort McPherson. Fraser's handwriting is black and spiky and certain. When the plane calms down again, Ray smoothes the note back out, and stares for a long time at the solid lines Fraser has left on the paper.


* * *


ii. Ash (Fort McPherson)


Ray was not able to come in August. Lieutenant Welsh had already been suffering from a shortage of staff; and a surge of temperatures across the entire north (to the degree that the line in the tourist brochure describing McPherson's summer climate as 'clement' became fleetingly accurate) meant the cancellation of leave for all Chicago police officers, as crime rates climbed with the thermometer.

Fraser himself was otherwise occupied. The experience of being head of a station was one he was finding challenging despite the small size of the detachment: only three people under his command. But the previous CO had been a gentleman close to retirement, somewhat set in his ways, so many of the operating procedures needed overhauling. Meanwhile Fraser took the measure of his staff, and subtly began to steer them towards a more active engagement in local policing issues. The day Constable MacDonald brought in Big Bore Johansson with a trailerful of live mink was one Fraser counted as a personal triumph, especially since MacDonald had only stopped Johansson to caution him on his broken tail-light.

(Constable Tetlichi's fortuitous impounding of three elk, taken over the hunting limit earlier that very same day, made feeding the mink before they could be sent on to an animal care facility in Whitehorse less of an issue than it might otherwise have become. Mink appetites rivalled Diefenbaker's in scale, if not in variety.)

His superior in Yellowknife commented wryly on the sudden levitation in McPherson's crime statistics, then sent him summary files on the last three years' worth of unsolved cases across the Northwest Territories. By October's snowfalls he had only worked his way through the first twenty-three. Nevertheless, he and his staff had apprehended a gang of yak-smugglers; cleared out a scam operation involving counterfeit antique Chinese seals; confiscated seven bazookas, thirty handguns and one cannon; and traced a cargo of milk chocolate duckies laced with high grade cocaine back to its despatchers in Peru.

Yet, despite a sense of satisfaction that his staff were shaping up nicely, Fraser found himself prone to strange melancholies as the nights drew in. He took to long walks with Dief, leaving footsteps like grey ash in the newly fallen snow.

"I'm quite fine. You're exaggerating, as usual."

"Yes, I am perfectly aware it's been some time since we've seen Ray - both Rays. There's no need to make a performance of telling me so."

"Have it your own way. Obviously the phrase 'dereliction of duty' means nothing to wolves."

"Very well, to half-wolves."

It took him until mid-November to reach the conclusion that Diefenbaker had been right all along. By then, air tickets to Chicago were prohibitively expensive, what with the upcoming US holidays. The only flights he could afford were on Thanksgiving itself.

"Ain't worth it," Ray told him over a crackling telephone line. "I gotta pull a shift that weekend, on account of not having kids to go home to." There was a weary acceptance in Ray's voice that had Fraser biting his lip to hold back what would certainly have been unwelcome sympathy. (And had he not, himself, worked through his own Thanksgiving so his constables could be with their families?)

After he said goodnight to Ray, he hung up the phone and looked at Dief, who looked back at him.

Five minutes later he was thanking the travel agent kindly, while scrawling down notes for a new staff schedule. No doubt Constable Tetlichi would benefit from a week's experience as head of station.

* * *

Mindful of Ray's warning, he took the sole cab waiting at O'Hare directly to the Precinct. It was two a.m. when he arrived: he had been travelling for over eighteen hours.

"You - you crazy lunatic!" Ray wrapped him in a hug as warm as the one he fondly remembered from their first meeting, if more prolonged. "How the fu- - How the hell did you get here?"

Except for the pool of light over Ray's desk and the sleepy officer downstairs on reception, the station was deserted; so Fraser felt no qualms about holding Ray equally close. "I took this plane, I got in this taxi, I walked down this street, I opened this door, and I stepped in," he said, for the first time in months lighthearted enough to tease.

Ray unwound them long enough to tap him on his chest. "You, my friend, are a freak."  But he was grinning broadly as he said it.

Later that night, though, driving back in the GTO through silent streets, he seemed less at ease. "I don't got nowhere fancy, Fraser. It's just a studio - hell, I ain't even got a bed. The couch folds out."

"That's quite alright." Fraser gestured to his pack, which lay on the back seat where Dief would usually have been sprawled. "I brought my bedroll."

"And I'm gonna have to work tomorrow morning. Welsh stuck me with extra hours. I've been bugging him for overtime - wanna save up some money."

"A laudable aim, Ray. Perhaps," his hand went to his collar, a fruitless gesture since he had worn his leather jacket for travelling rather than his uniform, "the Lieutenant wouldn't mind me tagging along with you? If you'd like me as your partner again, that is."

If anything, that appeared to make Ray more uncomfortable. "You shouldn't have to work on your vacation."

"Oh." Fraser tapped his hat on his knee. "To be honest, I was hoping for a change of pace. Policework in the Northwest Territories can be sadly routine, Ray."

"Yeah?" Ray's slow, shy smile blossomed. "Well, you know what they say about routine, Fraser. Can't have you dying of that, now, can we?"

* * *

In the event, it was death by falling crate that was narrowly averted, Fraser rolling under a shipping container with not a moment to spare. "Freeze, morons!" Ray yelled, bursting out from behind a nearby crane to level his gun at the four hoodlums, who immediately dropped the socket wrenches they had been brandishing like swords.

"It never fails to amaze me, Corporal, the way your very presence in this station brings a particular criminal type out of the woodwork," Lieutenant Welsh said later, dropping the report Ray had had Fraser write up onto his desk.

"What type would that be, Sir?" Fraser asked, genuinely curious, while Ray made tiny choking sounds behind his hand.

Welsh leaned forward. "The type requiring extreme suspension of my disbelief. Feel free to go home for the rest of the week, Detective, so long as you take the Corporal with you. He's only been here four days - let us not tempt fate with a fifth."

"Yes, Sir," Ray said smartly, already pulling Fraser out the door. "Kinda nice of him to give me the time off," he said later, as they folded down the couch and cleared away the peanut-shells, beer bottles and empty Cheeto packets that were the inevitable refuse of watching a hockey game on tv.

"He's a fine man," Fraser agreed; but he wondered whether Ray had really enjoyed their unexpected liberty. He'd been edgy the entire evening, distracted and downcast: a mood Fraser had noticed periodically since his arrival. Perhaps he had already overstayed his welcome.

It seemed Ray's thoughts were proceeding in the same direction, for when they had turned out the lights and settled down, Ray on the narrow sofa bed, Fraser on the rug beside him, Ray said, "You're going day after tomorrow, right?"

Fraser made an affirmatory noise. He had had to allocate an entire thirty-six hours to travel back, for the connections from Edmonton to Normal Wells were not ideal.

Ray was silent for a little while.

"This ain't working, Fraser," he said finally.

"I'm sorry. I should have given you more notice - "

The bedsheets above him rustled with Ray's impatience. "No, not that! I mean this, this whole thing. You up in Fort Mac Fergus, me stuck here in Chicago. I can't save enough money and vacation, hard as I'm trying, and Welsh is threatening me with Sergeant next year."

Fraser's throat tightened. He'd feared he was the only one suffering from the distance between them. "Ray..."

"Don't sweat it." Ray's tone had inexplicably lightened. "I'm gonna get it fixed, okay?" A hand snaked down and fumbled in the darkness; Fraser grasped it and wrapped his fingers around Ray's. "It's gonna take time, maybe I gotta go in stages. But I'll work it, somehow."

"I know you will, Ray," Fraser said, all doubts washed away.



* * *


iii. Railroad (Chicago)


Yeah, Chicago sucked, what with the hour's delay into O'Hare, the blast of sleet when he stepped out onto the sidewalk, the cab that turned off its lights the moment it saw him coming. That would never've happened in Miami Beach - and he didn't mean the sleet. But hey, he was home for Christmas. Who cared?

He was home for more than Christmas, but who cared about that, either?

Ma, it turned out, cared a lot. Two days in, and Ray knew he had to get his own place. There was the hand-wringing over the divorce - which, he was supposed to invite people along to watch him break up another marriage? Who knew?? It had been hard enough persuading himself to get on a plane to Reno, without his family treating it like a holiday outing. What with that, and Frannie's conviction he was God-sent to babysit the twins, even a ratty hotel would be better - at least until he sorted out what he was going to do from here on in. Because he had no idea at all.

He found a place without too much hassle. It was on the wrong side of the tracks, and pretty close to them, too; but it was clean, and the landlord let by the week. Ray followed up on a few contacts Stella had arranged for him, filled in a few application forms, and sat back to wait. Eight days later he was in the Lieu's office.

"Vecchio. I could make a comment about prodigal sons, but we're all out of fatted calves."

"Good to see you, too, Sir."

"Don't you owe me a cappuccino? Decaf?"

In the coffee bar across from the station, Welsh gave him the lowdown. "They're making me captain. Whaddya gonna do? I didn't ask for it, but they got a staff shortage at the level above me. Too many retirees and young cubs, not enough guys with solid experience. Guys like you, Vecchio. You back for good?"

He shrugged. "Wish I could say, Sir. One thing I know for sure is Florida doesn't need me." If he was being honest, he didn't need Florida either. He still loved Stella - she was the romance he'd always wanted, the tinsel-wrapped present too special to take the ribbon off of. It wasn't like he he would choose to roll back the last year, because it had been good between them. But he didn't need her, didn't feel like he would go hungry if he didn't have a dripfeed of her presence. It had taken him that long to realize he was slowly starving to death.

Welsh got the guy-code for Florida equals Stella equals over and done, and switched the subject back. "On account of how you helped bring Muldoon in, the Department is willing to overlook your hiatus down south and push you up to Lieutenant, on top of the promotion to Sergeant you got for taking that golden bullet."

"Sir?" Maybe he squeaked. A lieutenancy - that, he hadn't been expecting.

"Not the 27th," Welsh said quickly. "Something smaller. They want to move Di Braccio over into my spot from the 45th."

So if he didn't take the promotion, he'd be working under Di Braccio. He'd never liked the guy especially, but it wasn't a deal-breaker. He ran his finger round the rim of his mug. "What about Kowalski? He still at the 27th?"

"No," Welsh said. "He took a transfer over to Cascade. Left two weeks ago."

"Huh."

"There's something else." Welsh pushed a manila envelope across the table at him. "It seems the FBI are even more impressed with you than the Department is. A courier sent this over today."

Ray shook out a bunch of papers and began to read the page on top. Dear Mr Vecchio, In light of your service for the Bureau to date, we would like to offer you a position with ...

"You know about this, Sir?" he asked when he'd gotten the gist of it.

"There's a guy sitting in Interview One waiting to see you," Welsh said glumly. "And you can pass me the sugar. Come to that, you can get me a proper coffee." He shoved his mug away.

* * *

It was nearly midnight before Ray got back to his room. The Fibbie had insisted on buying him dinner, and he'd maybe had a little more wine than was good for him, because he was feeling down. Maudlin, Fraser would say. The bourbon from the bottle in the fridge wasn't going to help with that, neither. But he poured it anyway.

Outside the darkened room a train rolled by. It was heading west. Ray watched the lit, empty carriages passing his blank window, leaving him in all the world behind.

He thought he would ring Welsh tomorrow. Then he would ring the Fibbie and say yes, because at least he knew now which way he had to go, even if he didn't know what he was aiming toward.


* * *


iv. Drizzle (Inuvik)



It's 8.30 a.m. in the morning when he gets on board the plane at Whitehorse. He should be well-rested, what with a full night of sleep at the Gold Rush Inn under his belt, the watery lights of Sea-Tac Airport a fading memory from the evening before. And he's done this trip previously, back in February when the weather was worse and the plane, from Norman Wells to McPherson, smaller still.

Yet Ray is jittery, the high from a double dose of M&Ms winding him up when he needs to be calm. Being tossed about on the landing into Dawson City doesn't help. The leg to Old Crow is worse. But as they clear the last ridge of the Continental Divide and turn towards Inuvik, the skies clear, the clouds recede, and Ray catches sight of Fort McPherson as they sail overhead. He's studied the maps, so he cranes his neck to spot the Peel River winding toward the MacKenzie, but it all looks like flat snowfields to him. He remembers the paragraph in Fraser's last letter, saying it would be another two months before ice breakup began.

Below them, the Dempster Highway runs east to the MacKenzie ferry crossing, currently deserted. The highway is the only marker in this empty wilderness, although Ray knows that, if the plane dipped down closer to earth, he would see tracks skirting off it where snowmobiles have gotten impatient with the highway kinking between sheets of water, now frozen into land. Fraser must have gone that way yesterday, following the ice road a hundred miles up to Inuvik. He's supposed to be in meetings with the CO of the RCMP division there this morning. Ray thinks he will probably still be wearing the serge when he picks Ray up, half an hour from now. Ray tries to imagine him, swaddled in furs, snow scouring his skin, making his way along the road below. Perhaps he brought Dief and the sled dogs instead of a snowmobile - he says the Inuvik Mounties already consider him half-crazy, so there is no point trying to pretend.

Ray, too, is done with pretence.

***

Fraser's a red splodge waiting on the tarmac, which is good, which is greatness. Because Ray is taking no prisoners here: he's ready to move, and it won't get done if he doesn't do it now, except if it don't happen now it's gonna happen someday soon. They can't circle overhead forever. What is it Fraser likes to say? - the readiness is all.

"No Dief, huh?" He pulls away from Fraser's welcoming hug. "You got a place?"

"Yes, Ray," Fraser says, a frownline marking his forehead. He peers at Ray, clearly trying to gauge his mood.

"Out of town, right?"

"As you suggested. Corporal Jones was kind enough to offer us the use of his brother-in-law's cabin - "

"But there's hotels, yeah? If we need them?"

Fraser is moving through to downright puzzlement, which doesn't stop him ladling out the required information. "There are six places that rent rooms in Inuvik - well, seven, if you count log cabins under the heading of hotel, though that particular establishment has a spotty reputation at best - and although three of them are shut this time of year, there should be vacancies at one of the others." He scrubs at his eyebrow. "Are we - is there any reason why we might need them, Ray?"

"Just checking." Ray jerks his head toward the carpark. "There a car?"

Corporal Jones has been kind enough to lend them an RCMP 4x4 too, it turns out, complete with snow chains and ice picks and all the other junk you need for winter travel up here. Fraser stows Ray's rucksack in the back, then climbs into the driver's seat. But when he steers toward the south exit from the airport, away from town, Ray holds up a hand. "Stop a minute." Obediently Fraser shifts the gearstick back to neutral and turns the engine off.

"There's something I want to get clear between us, Fraser." And Ray is going to be sick, this is worse than walking down the aisle, this is worse than Academy finals, this is worse than his first visit to a morgue. But he's gonna say it. Gotta say it. He swallows down his gorge. "If we go to this guy's cabin today, we're sleeping in the same bed."

Fraser waves a hand around. "I can't see any problem with that, although I doubt the cabin will be so cold - "

"Fraser!" Ray's fist slams down on the dash. "That's not what I mean! You cannot think that is what I mean!"

"Ray - "

Ray rides over him roughshod. "I'm talking about sex! I'm talking about one of us fucking the other, maybe - " because bravery has its limits, even for Stanley Raymond Kowalski, " - and if you don't wanna even think about that, then that's fine, you take me to one of those places that rent rooms and leave me there and we meet up for dinner tonight and pretend like I never said nothing. But I ain't sleeping in the same room again with you, just to have you beyond hands' reach - "

"Ray - "

" - because I love you like a brother, but I never had thoughts like this about any brother of mine. And I know you didn't sign up for your partner hitting on you - "

"Ray." There's such a sweetness and hesitancy to Fraser's voice that Ray grinds to a halt, suddenly lost. He glances over.

Fraser is gripping the steering wheel, knuckles white. He's looking out over the expanse of cleared tarmac, and his bottom lip is trembling.

It's then that Ray knows for sure.

He lets Fraser have a few moments to compose himself before he reaches forward to twist the key in the steering wheel lock. "You better drive slow," he says, settling back into his seat. "I don't wanna die before we get a chance to do this."

"Understood, Ray." Fraser pulls out into the empty southbound lane with exaggerated care. The whole way to the cabin, Ray's hand is on his shoulder, holding firm.

***

Sex with Fraser is nothing like Ray has been imagining.

They are both so nervous. Fraser fumbles with the matchbox as he lights a fire in the cabin's sole bedroom, spilling matches everywhere. Ray dumps the clothes from his rucksack onto the floor, then spends ten minutes opening and closing drawers, pretending to stow them away. His socks land up in three different places. The lube he puts by the bed, then thinks about shoving it in with the socks, then puts it on Fraser's side instead. Let Fraser decide whether they'll use it.

He has been expecting Fraser to lick him all over, because the man has a mouth on him and hasn't hesitated to use it in the past. Instead he finds himself tasting Fraser's skin greedily, swabbing his tongue over Fraser's collar-bone, over his hip, over his nipple. It doesn't matter how much he does it, he can't satisfy his craving for the warm flavor of Fraser's skin. Beneath him, Fraser twists and pants, pushing himself up to meet Ray's touch. His cock leaks liquid across Ray's lips.

They kiss. A lot.

Ray hasn't been sure they would, because he's heard that guys don't always, and he has some doubts himself about the joys of stubble. Now he scrapes his mouth repeatedly over Fraser's chin, the slight prickle making the blood rush to his lips. Fraser wipes flushed cheeks along Ray's incipient beardline, as if he can't mark himself hard enough.

It's weird being held down on the bed by a body bigger and weightier than his own. Ray feels free to push up, straining tensed muscles, his freedom granted by Fraser's constraint of him. Fraser's erection is wedged between his stomach and Ray's thigh - a pressure, a heat, a dampness that Ray is exceptionally aware of, no matter what else they are doing. He pushes Fraser's hand down to his own cock, and loses track at last.

He thought Fraser would talk through the whole thing. But all Fraser does is gasp, and make these funny, high-pitched noises, and then one final deep groan as he comes over Ray's belly.

It's nothing like having sex with Stella. But it leaves him breathless, astounded, elated, in just the same way.

***

Even in Inuvik, the days in late March are the same length as the nights. So it's a while before the room begins to grow dark, the light from the fire washing reds and oranges over Fraser's skin. He's buried his face in Ray's shoulder and is lying there, drowsing - Ray reaches down to brush the sweat-dampened hair from his forehead.  It's hot under the furs Fraser has piled on the bed.

"D'ya ever do that before? With a guy, I mean?"

Fraser sighs and stirs. "I've had very few partners throughout my life, Ray. None like you." Which for Fraser counts as straight talk, especially given the subject.

"There was times when I thought, maybe you'd been doing that with Vecchio. If Vecchio hadn'ta come across as not that type."

There's quiet for a few moments, and then Fraser says, real low, "I would have. But you're right; he didn't seem the type, so I never dared try."

And it's not clear quite what Fraser has just admitted to, but Ray knows it's something more than lust, just as he knows Fraser would never be here with him for lust's sake alone.

He waits until after they've eaten dinner to tell Fraser the other thing. They've scraped the plates clean of leftover beans, washed and dried them - because Mounties have a phobia about exposing wet plates to dry air, Ray swears - and settled down on the sofa, just holding each other loosely. "I been thinking of moving on," he says without lead-in. "But I wanted to talk it over with you first."

Fraser is frowning. "Don't you like Cascade? You never said."

Ray shrugs. "Rains a lot. Not proper rain either - drizzle just sorta hanging in the air, like it can't make up its mind."

A warm hand comes up to stroke soothingly between his shoulder blades. "I thought you got along well with the police officers in the unit."

"They're good guys. Jim - you think you have bat ears. And he leads from the front, never asks you to do anything he wouldn't. Blair's a cool kid, too. But... they're partners, you know? I feel like I'm butting in half the time." He turns his face into the curve of Fraser's neck, breathing deeply in. "S'not their fault. It'd be the same for anyone working between you and me. Plus, the idea was never for me to stay there longterm, right? It's better than Chicago, but it's not good enough."

Fraser shifts to pull him closer. "It would be a few years yet, but my goal was to transfer to Vancouver when - if and when - they promote me to sergeant."

And yeah, this is the first time Fraser's actually said it - that he's remaking his life to move in Ray's direction. It's been there between them since Thanksgiving - hell, since they got on a sled together and swerved off-course to find the hand of Franklin. But recently Ray has been thinking about the words, because he's on the point of swinging round a corner once again - just did, first time he's ever had sex with a guy - and his life is turning into a regular chicane.

If he's being honest, the words were what he really came here for today. He sighs and snuggles in.

But Vancouver? Ray snorts. "Yeah, because you'd be so happy there. So I got a thing, a phone call. They're head-hunting me for a job - outfit name of Ibex. You heard of them?" Fraser shakes his head no. "They're part RCMP."

"I've never come across - wait. Do you mean IBET? The Integrated Border Enforcement Team?"

"Those guys," Ray agrees. "They got Canadians working on one side of the border but Americans working with them on the other: Coast Guard, border patrol, Customs. Anyway, seems the Feds are forming up a new unit to - uh - lesion with the guys who are lesioning with the RCMP. Somebody musta mentioned my name. They like that I've spent time wandering around in the snow with you, but also that I know mob stuff and undercover stuff and nuclear sub stuff. There's an office in Anchorage, which is where they want to send me first. But they're shifting the main unit to Fairbanks by the end of the year."

He feels Fraser's chest heave up and fall. The heartbeat beneath Ray's ear is quickening. "Fairbanks is only two hours' flying from Dawson City, Ray."

"Eight hours by road."

"On a good weather day, and there aren't many of those. But I'd have a chance at a post there at my current grade, or perhaps at Beaver Creek. A better chance, if I ask to be demoted."

"You are not to do that!" Ray pulls himself upright. "You do that, and I pick up my tent and go back east, I swear to God." Because he knows that Fraser is just crazy enough to consider that the sensible solution.

"Oh, no you don't," Fraser says huskily, and drags him back down to kiss him senseless before he can threaten anything more.


* * *


v. Bitter (Anchorage)


And whose goddamn fucking smart decision had it been to get Kowalski on the team, he wondered, as he pulled the last clip of ammo from his belt. Oh, that's right, it had been his. He could just add it to the pile of other goddamn fucking smart decisions of his life, like pretend playing a mobster, or letting Fraser within forty feet of the Riv, or swapping Florida for the balmy climate of Anchorage. "Kowalski! Get down!" He levelled the gun at the place Kowalski's head had been a moment before, and started firing.

"Would it hurt to keep your mouth shut for once?" he demanded later, while the Anchorage Bomb Team combed through the taped-off debris behind them. "He's about to spill the beans to me, and you get his back up."

Kowalski wiped at his mouth, smearing charcoal across his lips. "Hey, he shouldn't'a said that about the White Sox. But we got 'em, right? They're going down, right? Four crates of grenades red-handed, and nobody hurt. So what you grousing about, Vecchio?"

"We nearly got ourselves killed, is what we got!"

"Aw, c'mon." Kowalski suddenly grinned, his mouth wide like the shark that'd brushed by Ray the one and only time he'd snorkelled off of the Keys. "We blew things up. Worth it - right? Right?"

And yet again Ray wanted to laugh madly with Kowalski and sock him one at the same time. The only thing left was to give in. "Ah, who cares? You're as bad as Fraser, except without the fancy vocabulary. Wanna get something to eat?"

* * *

So the weird thing was that he and Kowalski had landed up hanging out together.

At first he'd tried to con himself that this was just because they were both Chicagoans stuck in fucking Anchorage. But he wasn't kidding nobody except himself, because it was more like Kowalski was his evil step-twin who'd gotten separated at birth. They'd shared a life, a wife - hell, they'd shared Fraser, which was more than any two grown men should be forced to do, outside of the Army and the Russian submarine crews. So in a town full of hicks who'd hardly stepped foot out of Alaska, it was natural that they clustered.

Plus, they had the same taste in beer. You couldn't complain, although Kowalski couldn't choose a decent wine if his life depended on it. Which it had, two weeks ago, so it was lucky Ray'd been around to haul his ass out of the fire (or rather, his head out of the barrel: those wine dealers were vicious when they were crossed).

Which was not to say Kowalski hadn't saved his life a few times this year already, either.

Ray sighed. This was supposed to have been a cushy little admin number. The Feds had especially stressed as to how he'd kept control of The Bookman's financial empire without the mob cottoning on about the switch - even boosted the profit a little; and how this made him the perfect choice to stay in the back office and pull all the strings from there.

Yeah, right. That was before Kowalski, and his urge to throw them into the firing range of the big bad boys whenever possible.

And hence and so forth back to the question of why he'd gotten Kowalski onboard in the first place. Yeah, he had skills they needed - and there weren't many guys with his background who'd be happy to hang around in Anchorage, much less Fairbanks, to which they would be moving in a month's time. Then there was the fact that Fraser rated him. Fraser was naive as baby Cub scouts, but he wouldn't have hung around if Kowalski hadn't been straight through and through. Given the scale of the monied interests they were up against in this job, the drug runners, the arms merchants and the people traffickers being spectacularly well-funded, someone you trusted at your side was worth the aggro of putting up with Kowalski's mouth.

All good reasons, but there was the one Ray didn't want to think about too much, and that was that Kowalski was his main link to Fraser. A link he wasn't willing to let go.

* * *

"So what time's your flight tomorrow?"

Kowalski looked up from the burger he was chomping on. He'd added a ketchup smear to the charcoal, and now he looked like a painted ragdoll with woolly, stand up hair. "Eight a.m. in the morning. Fraser can't get up to Inuvik, so I gotta grab a charter down to Fort Mick Fertle from there."

"You should take some lessons, learn how to fly a plane yourself. We could use a pilot - you interested?"

"Sure, book me up for 'em. Fraser's always on about learning something new."

Yeah, Fraser. "Say hi to him for me."

"You could come and say it yourself."

It had been a few months since Kowalski had tried that one on him, so Ray had had time to develop a range of answers. He decided to fall back on an old favourite. "I got too much work to do."

"He's got more. And he wants to see you." Kowalski put down the burger and gave Ray his my laser sights are focussed, watch me blow your head off glare.

"Sure, sure - we'll meet up. Soon. But I got to go to Fairbanks to sign the office lease tomorrow, and maybe look for somewhere to live. We only got a month before they kick us out of here."

Kowalski sat there staring, but just when Ray thought he was going to have to come up with something better, he sighed and looked away. "You got a letter ready for me to take?"

Ray swabbed at his own, ketchup-covered mouth. "Nah. Was gonna write this evening."

"Leave it in your box and I'll pick it up on my way out." Which was as good as Kowalski saying uncle on the whole Fraser thing.

* * *

Hey, Fraser, you ought to teach your boyfriend some table manners. And while you're busy doing that, you can teach him to keep his head down in a firefight, too.

Ray had worked some things out, and some he hadn't.

For instance, he'd worked out from the beginning, when Kowalski accepted the job and transferred from Cascade, that he was drifting north by northwest for the same reason as Ray himself.

He'd worked out early on, one long and bitter week when Kowalski had first booked a couple of days' off to see Fraser (and come back with visible beard-burn and a hickey he couldn't quite hide behind the collar of his t-shirt, not to mention the way he was walking bow-legged) that Kowalski had achieved what Ray hadn't seen anyone manage since Victoria, about whom he did not care to think.

What he hadn't worked out in advance was that, knowing all this, it became impossible to go see Fraser himself.

It was like... He could keep the Fraser in his head, frozen and inviolate: the one who was Ray's best friend, who maybe, maybe, if Ray had squinted very hard and thought about that sort of stuff back then, was interested in a little bit more.

But that Fraser couldn't survive contact with a Fraser who was older, and happier, and being fucked and loved by Stanley Raymond Kowalski. So Ray stayed away. But he needed his dripfeed, Lord, how he needed it. Hence, the letters. Hence, long talks with Kowalski, in which mentions of Fraser were a standard topic of conversation. Hence, the photo he kept by his bed, face-down and in a drawer in case Kowalski ever ventured in there.

So he could use the word boyfriend. He just couldn't say it to Fraser's face.

* * *

"Vecchio." Kowalski's long legs draped themselves across Ray's desk. "Found a place to live in Fairbanks yet?"

"You coming to leech off my research?" Ray slammed the file on his desk shut.

"Nope," Kowalski said. He tossed a piece of paper down. "Done my own."

The flyer had a pretty picture of an apartment block on the edge of open land, a floor plan and a price tag. "You can afford that, Kowalski?"

Kowalski shrugged. "Yeah, but a room-mate would be better." Ray looked again. There were two bedrooms, a large master and a smaller single, though that had its own bath. "So?"

"So what?"

There was a rolling of the eyeballs. Kowalski could ham it up like Frannie in her teens - and his lashes were almost as long as hers. "So, you wanna share?"

"Who'd get the big one?"

"Me," Kowalski said straight up. "For when Fraser comes, if they ever let him loose. But you'd only pay one-third."

Ray put the paper aside. "Yeah, I'll think about it." For a nano-second.

* * *

Which is why it was such a shock to find himself moving in with Kowalski three weeks later. Maybe it was just that he couldn't stomach the thought of moving to yet another city on his own. As for when Fraser came... Well, he was going to have to face up to that someday, though the thought made him seriously consider doing a Captain Oates, fleeing to an icefield and leaving a note saying I may be gone some time. (Alaskans were just full of stories of people dying in the snow, and were always eager to share. Ray surprised himself with how many he could recite by heart.)

Besides, there was a lot of travelling in his job. He could manage to be away.

And yeah, the disadvantages of sharing with Kowalski were obvious. All you had to do was look at how he kept his desk. But he had a great record collection, he was generous with his tools, and he never gave Ray any hassle about leaving the toilet seat up.

* * *

It took Ray five puny little days to work out why this was a stupid, stupid, idiotic, even more stupid than idiotic idea.

That was the day when Kowalski wandered into the living room, a towel wrapped round his waist, to pump himself up on morning coffee. Except the towel wasn't properly tied, since Kowalski in the morning had the dexterity of a giant tortoise, and it had slipped.

And Ray was sure that Kowalski had seen his (by this stage) inevitable response.

Which was yet another one of those things Ray hadn't worked out. Because he'd sort of assumed that, of all the guys on the planet, only Fraser would do that for him - which was not as stupid an assumption as you might think, given as how there was only one person like Fraser on the entire planet, too. So to find out that Kowalski could fire the same buttons -

Well, not precisely the same ones. He had shouting matches with Kowalski like he never did with Fraser, and he traded insults, and dirty jokes, and sarcastic comments about the bosses. Kowalski, he understood. Kowalski, he had empathy with.

Kowalski, he wanted.

Hey Benny, all the time I was hanging around with you I never knew what it was I was hanging around for. Other than the pleasure of having you nearly get me killed on a daily basis, of course. But now I know what it was I wanted with you - only to find out I want it from your boyfriend, too. You laughing yet? I thought your Canadian sense of humor might be kicking in right about now.

Yeah, that was a letter he was never going to send.

Kowalski was away for the next week on board an aircraft carrier that IBET suspected of shipping an extra tank or two offshore. By the time he made it back, Ray had convinced himself that Kowalski hadn't seen, didn't suspect. They seemed to rub along okay even if he did, though Kowalski took to bringing Fraser up more regularly, and poking at Ray to go visit him. Which would imply Kowalski didn't suspect, although...

There were long silences occasionally, that neither of them rushed to fill. There were moments when they stood too close, before Ray sprung away like a magnet being repelled.

And every fortnight, Kowalski flew to Fort McPherson.

* * *

All of which came to a head over Thanksgiving. Kowalski had booked the long weekend to go off with Fraser months before, but now he began pestering Ray seriously about the idea of going along. It was like having a small kid beg you continually for sweets, when you knew you didn't have the money to buy bread. Ray had no emotional capital left to spare.

So finally he told Kowalski that he might well go back to Chicago for the holidays instead; which shut Kowalski up but also made him sulk, which was nearly as bad. Ray was pretty happy when he walked out the door the Wednesday.

Which explained why he spent the weekend getting roaring drunk, and increasingly foul-tempered.

By the time Kowalski returned on the Sunday evening, Ray's mood could not have been worse, though he had at least gotten rid of the two bottles of whisky he'd made it through, and could have been said to be sober. But it was like the traditions Kowalski had told him about Polish Christmas Eve: what you do that day determines how the whole of the next year will go. Having gotten onto such a bad footing, the pair of them were on each other's nerves for the rest of the week, sniping and obstructing one another, and generally giving each other such a hard time that they didn't have any grief left over for the criminals.

Hey Benny! Your boyfriend is a tosser!

That one wouldn't fly, either.

"So what is it with you, Vecchio? Huh? Huh?" Kowalski finally demanded on the Friday night, when they had fought over what brand of frozen pizza to buy, and whether the beer was chilled enough to drink yet or not. He pushed his face into Ray's. "What's riding your ass?"

"I - " Ray put his hands in his pockets and backed off to the window. He was tired of fighting. The November sky was black outside: the sun had set at three, and they wouldn't see it again in the evenings until April. "How'd you do it, Kowalski?" he asked, his voice low.

"Do what?" Kowalski wasn't giving an inch.

"Get used to not having sunshine around."

Kowalski shrugged, settling back to an easier posture. "Dunno. Just did."

"Nah, I don't get that." Ray shook his head. "How you can change something important like that? Like you and Fraser."

"What're you talking about?" He'd never heard Kowalski's voice sound so cold.

"Fraser." Vecchio was tired of ignoring this topic, too. "You spent twenty years of your life fucking Stella - and God knows that was some sweet deal, because I've been there and I did that for a year and I know." Kowalski jerked at the mention of Stella's name, but Ray carried on. "Then you turn round and fuck Fraser, and - hell, it's not like I don't understand the abstract concept. The man could stand on top of a Greek pillar and they'd think he was a statue carved to show what the gods look like. But did you ever think to yourself, Kowalski, who does this make me? Did you ever wonder how far it would all go?"

In the window, Ray could see Kowalski's reflection approaching. "Your trouble, Vecchio," he said, "is that you think too much." With a sudden jerk of the wrist, he pulled Ray backward, and covered his cock with his hand. "But I seen you watching, and it's me you're thinking of when you're watching, just like I can tell when you're thinking of Fraser instead."

There was no going back after truths like that.

* * *

It was a release. It was like the time he raided his uncle's bottle of Kahlua, getting drunk on sugar and freedom.

Kowalski was beautiful when he shed his clothes, all long bones and long muscles and tufts of golden hair. Kowalski was just a guy, but Ray thought he was beautiful. After years of hiding thoughts like that from himself, he was finally free to say them, because Kowalski had put a hand on his cock.

He wasn't sure Kowalski thought the same thing of him, until afterwards, when they lay sated and sweaty and exhausted, his cock slightly sore from being jerked right there, no proper lube to hand and no bed. Then Kowalski rolled over and started to hump his thigh, despite just having come. "You make me hot, Vecchio," he murmured, "Cm'n, let me suck you.

"Your cock is beautiful, did you know that? So purple. I gotta squeeze...

"I love your ass. Your skin," he bit lightly and Ray moaned. "I wanna lick your hole - will you let me?

"This." A soft probing at the slit of his cockhead. "Tastes. Divine."

He thought he had accomplished miracles when he leant down to tongue Kowalski inexpertly, and felt him jerk with the surprise of it, and come all over Ray's fist, too soon.

* * *

In the morning he would have woken up in a panic, fretting crazily - about Fraser, about how insane Kowalski was to start this, when he had something better waiting across the border from him, about how Ray was going to lose a best friend and a new friend and a lover, all in one blow.

Luckily Kowalski, for once in his life, had woken earlier. "I rang him," Kowalski said, making Ray stir by kissing his belly and his groin and his thighs with a day's worth of stubble scraping madly. "Left a message for him to come, so we can talk to him together."

So there was nothing to worry about, because it was all going to happen, one way or another. Which was a relief all of its own.

* * *


vi. Barren (Fairbanks)



Fraser lowered the eyeglass, and said one word to Dief. "Go! "

Dief tore off, skating over the deep drifts which the man below them had to plough through. By the time Fraser caught up in the thinner snow on the steepening slope, Dief had him cornered, but he was still trying to edge backwards and away.

"Easy there!" Fraser slowed. "I don't think you want to do that."

"Huh? I been running from you for five hundred miles, and you think I should stop now?"

He held out his hand placatingly. "Son, there's something I want you to consider. My father gave me one piece of advice. He said always ... no, he said never ... Well, actually he gave me two pieces of advice, and the first one is, never chase a man over a cliff."

The man frowned. "Yeah?"

"Obviously your father didn't give you the other piece of advice; so let me. You should never let a man chase you over a cliff, either."

The man looked behind him. "Oh..."

Fraser caught him as he toppled in a faint, one foot from the edge.

* * *

Two days later he steered the sled into Dawson City, grateful to see the flags flying over the RCMP outpost, but also somewhat regretful. His position as CO at Fort McPherson had sadly constrained him from the sort of endeavour he'd just undertaken: it was hard to reconcile the regular deskwork of a commander with a headlong chase through the wilderness, tracking down a malfeasant. Luckily, he'd already had a chance to fully brief his successor, Corporal Postlethwaite, before setting off in pursuit. It had only taken three weeks to catch up with the poacher: time he had to spare, since his posting to Beaver Creek would not come into effect until the beginning of the new year.

The young constable on the desk was rather surprised, he suspected, to have him stagger in with a man slung over his shoulders.

"Corp - Sergeant Fraser! They've been looking all over for you! Search and rescue and all the rest!"

By the time he'd put the dogs in the kennels behind the station and gotten the prisoner booked and in the holding cell, Constable Deane (or Evelyn as her friends called her - Fraser spotted her name on the Christmas cards decorating her desk) had recovered enough to hand him a stack of telephone messages. "Constable Tetlichi sent these for you, Sir. In case you made it this far." He could almost hear the unspoken addendum, alive.

The first few were congratulations from a variety of colleagues on his promotion. He tucked Buck Frobisher's securely in his breast pocket, where he kept Ray Vecchio's last few letters. The later messages, though, were a series from Ray Kowalski, each bearing an increasingly pointed variation on the same theme. The last one read, Get your tail over here!

He tapped the paper thoughtfully with his fingers. "Would you be so kind as to find out for me, Constable, if there are any more flights to Fairbanks this evening?"

* * *

At his knee, Diefenbaker grumbled. Absently Fraser fondled his ears.

"Stop fretting: you won't have to go into quarantine for Christmas. I took the precaution of packing the permit Ray got for you in with our things before we set off."

"Yes, it's highly likely that you are the only canine in Canada with an American visa. But that's no reason to brag."

"No, having a visa does not entitle you to a share in the Christmas pudding."

With a wuff of protest, Diefenbaker pointedly turned his back, so Fraser looked out the window again.

From the tiny cockpit, the ground below was lush with forest in comparison to the tundra around Tuktoyaktok, though Fraser suspected a Chicagoan unused to the north would view it as a stunningly barren wasteland. On the higher elevations, the fir trees gave way to rock, all blanketed in snow. The lakes were frozen into ice; the solitary road was indistinguishable from the creeks running between the trees.

The border itself was an irrelevance: there was no sign of man's artificial separation of one territory from another.

* * *

He showed the taxi-driver the address on the top corner of an envelope from one of Ray Vecchio's letters; but the man didn't seem to know his way around very well, or else he couldn't read Ray's handwriting, with the consequence that they became rather lost and it was nearly midnight when he let Fraser and Dief off at a small apartment block on the opposite side of the city.

Unwilling to ring the bell in case he woke anyone up, Fraser felt along the top of the door frame. As expected, he found a key: Ray Kowalski's, he decided, since he had kept a spare for his apartment in Chicago in much the same place. Fraser let himself and Diefenbaker quietly in.


There was a smell of pine and woodsmoke. The hallway was unlit, but a door was ajar and light spilled into the darkened sitting room, along with the murmur of voices in quiet conversation. He recognised Ray's voice easily, yet it took him a second to realise that the other man was Ray Vecchio. He had not heard Ray's voice for nearly two years. Fraser stopped by the doorway, unwilling to interrupt what must be a private discussion.

Dief, however, had no such inhibitions: he pushed through the door. It swung wide open.

Fraser stood, incapable of not staring.

The bed was wide ("big as a boxing ring," Ray had told him, waggling his eyebrows as if to suggest other ways they could spar, making Fraser laugh). In it the two men lay, bared to the waist, the sheets pulled down around them. One dark head against the pillows, one light. Ray Vecchio's hand lay loosely on Ray Kowalski's arm; they were turned toward each other, and there was such an intimacy to their postures, such absorption in one another, that Fraser's breath caught.

Then Dief threw himself onto the bed, barking excitedly, and the tableau dissolved. Kowalski jerked upright. "Dief! Dief! Down, you stupid wolf! Fraser? Where - ?" A moment later he was flinging his arms around Fraser, still stark naked, his embrace strong. "You coulda called, you freak! Don't they got phones in Canada no more?" He forestalled any answer by putting his mouth squarely over Fraser's and pushing his tongue in. Out of the corner of his eye Fraser caught the movement of Ray Vecchio getting up; but Kowalski was insistent, claiming back his attention with lips and teeth and hands. There was a taste on him, one Fraser knew from the times Ray had swallowed his semen and then come back up to kiss him with it smeared on his lips; yet this was intriguingly, subtly different. The taste, the smell - both made Fraser's head swim.

It seemed like minutes before Ray pulled back. "Bet Dief's hungry," there was the expected yip of agreement for that, "so lemme feed him and stick this away." Quick fingers had already stripped Fraser's coat from his grasp. "Vecchio, say hello to the guy while I'm gone."

Fraser straightened his spine and turned to face Ray. The things that struck him immediately were how much Ray had changed - hairline receding, a beard dotted with grey -

- but, even so, how much he remained the same. His eyes, so familiar, so dear. "Hello, Ray."

Ray had belted a dressing gown around himself while Kowalski kept Fraser occupied, and was hunched into it now, weariness, wariness and mortification in his bent shoulders: everything that Fraser himself would have felt in a similar situation. And yet...Fraser could have sworn there was an eagerness to him, laced into the apprehension. "Hey, Benny. It's good to see you."

"It's good to see you, too." 

"Yeah?" Ray scrubbed a hand over his beard. "This is not... we tried to get ahold of you, Benny, honest to God."

"I know, Ray," Fraser said gently.

"And with Kowalski - It got out of hand so fast, you know?"

At that Fraser had to smile. "Things often do, with him."

"Knew you two would hit it off." Kowalski sauntered back in. "Hey, Fraser, I got a Christmas present for you. Wanna unwrap it? But you got to be real careful - treat it nice. It's kinda fragile still." He leaned forward and took a kiss from Vecchio, very fast, and then when Vecchio's mouth had dropped open in shock, he took another, long and slow and deliberate. When he pulled back, Fraser was breathing quickly; he supposed by the stunned look on Vecchio's face that he had lost his breath entirely. "Nice, huh?"

"Ray - " Fraser twisted a finger in his collar, still unused to how quickly arousal could come upon him.

With a wicked grin, Ray pushed Vecchio between the shoulderblades so he stumbled forward, stopping just shy of Fraser's chest. "I got him special for you."

Fraser could not let that go unchallenged. "Ray, I rather think Ray - Ray Vecchio, that is to say - might have his own ideas on the matter. People cannot be given as presents, like snowmobile parts." 

At that Ray Vecchio seemed to recover his breath, for he held up his hands and said, "Hey! Wait a minute,"  spinning towards Ray Kowalski, "and yeah, that means you." When he turned back to Fraser, he looked deadly serious. "Yeah, he can't give me away. But he's just telling you what I shoulda told you years ago, if I'd had the sense to work it out myself. So I'm offering, alright?" Fraser watched Ray swallow, pupils almost obscuring the green of his eyes. "If you want it - if he wants it - it's yours." He pulled on the belt of the bathrobe, and let it swing open. Like a page disrobing his master, Ray Kowalski slipped it from his shoulders, and bared him to Fraser's gaze.

"Ray..." And now it was Fraser who had to swallow. He reached an unsteady hand up to stroke Ray's temple.

"Score one for me on choosing presents," Ray Kowalski said with quiet satisfaction.


* * *

Fraser was on his side in the center of the bed. Beneath his hip there was a patch of damp: he'd rubbed a thumb over it climbing in, and now the scent of it was on his fingers, and under his nose.

Kowalski had asked Vecchio, "You or me?" and Vecchio had said, voice quavering a little, "Better be you. I still don't know half of what I'm doing here," and then Kowalski had gotten into the bed behind Fraser and spooned up to him. 

Fraser knew what was to follow. He was trembling already.

The bedsheets rustled, Ray Vecchio sliding tentatively in. "Hey, Benny."

"Hey, Ray."

Behind them Ray Kowalski chuckled. "Aren't you guys done with that already?"

But it was a re-establishment of contact that Fraser was much in need of, for he'd never - well, alright, he'd rarely - considered himself in this position, about to have sex with one man in the presence of another. The very thought of exposing himself so to a stranger was anathema. When that man was Ray, the thought made his stomach curl in unfettered excitement.

A prompt from Ray behind him, and he swung his leg forward, hesitating for a moment before resting his calf on Ray Vecchio's thigh. The fine hairs on their legs clung, tickling. Greatly daring, Fraser let his fingers follow, to skirt over thigh and hip and finally groin, Ray Vecchio watching him all the while with wonder in his eyes. Ray Vecchio's pubic hair was rougher than Ray Kowalski's: yet another difference to savour.

Ray Kowalski's long fingers began to work, and Fraser sighed.

* * *

He was being breached. Fraser's hands were curled into fists, his eyes screwed shut; he was aware of Ray Vecchio's fingers stroking delicately over his sex, and the contrast between the gentle, considerate touch in front and the sharp burn behind was more than Fraser could easily absorb. He groaned, pushing against Ray's hand.

"Kowalski." There was an undercurrent of anxiety in Ray's voice. "Take it easy. You're hurting him."

Ray gasped in at the end of his stroke. "Nah. Likes it this way. Specially if it's been a while." He pulled out, pushed back in hard. "Says he - wants to feel - where I was - inside."  Fraser was helpless to stop his own whimper. 

That was what fucking was. To show yourself in your true colours: your perversions, your lack of control, your overwhelming greed. It was disturbing that Ray Kowalski already knew these things about him; distressing, that they were on such open display to Ray Vecchio; worst, that the thought of both these things made his heart pound faster, brought his orgasm closer.

"Christ, Fraser." Ray Vecchio placed his mouth on Fraser's, tongue licking in. "What you do... "

Fraser started to come. "Oh, Christ, yes," Vecchio whispered against his skin.

* * *

That what was sex was. To let oneself be known by another, utterly.


* * *

Long before dawn Fraser woke Ray Vecchio with his tongue on Ray's penis, indulging himself in the soft sensation of it growing to fullness in his mouth. Ray Kowalski was usually too sleepy to allow him this pleasure so early in the day. Ray Vecchio sighed and whispered drowsy encouragement, then curled up back to sleep against Kowalski's warmth when Fraser was finished with him.

He took Dief for a walk in the fresh, sharp air and came back two hours later, bearing doughnuts and hot buns.

"I think I would like to join the Canadian section of your task force," he said, eyeing the excess grease on his bun (he had made the error of allowing Kowalski free rein with the butter knife).

"Huh," Ray Kowalski said. "You mean, instead of the posting to Beaver Creek?" He looked like a little boy, with suger sprinkled on his chin.

"We need all the good guys we can get," Ray Vecchio said. "But you gotta have someone to vouch for you, Benny. The RCMP get a little touchy if we try and tell them who to send from their team."

Fraser felt his ears turn a little pink. "I think Buck Frobisher might recommend me. And it's just possible," he said carefully, "that my... recent escapade might have convinced them I'd be better off in another position. Something with a little more scope for - "

"Freaky weirdness?"

"Seriously strange goings-on?"

"Bizarro partnerships?"

"Wildly dangerous ways?"

"All out insanity?"

He put down the bun and wiped his fingers. "For creative policing," he said, and primly shook his napkin free of crumbs.


* * *


vii. Grand (Beaver Creek)


Fraser's wearing the serge, of course, and Vecchio bought a new suit for the occasion. Ray doesn't have to give a speech, but he wants to show that he means business. So he's dug out his dark blue suit - the one Vecchio says makes him look like a mobster, and Fraser says compliments his eyes. He's gelled his hair extra stiff, he's wearing his blue flip ups over his glasses, and he's standing to the right of the podium like a bodyguard, hands folded and legs wide apart.

Good thing he went for the flip ups. The glare of the morning sun on all those Mountie uniforms could give a man a serious headache.

Fraser's up first, on behalf of Canada. He doesn't use notes, but his briefing on the organisation of the new task force, how it fits in with the IBET mission and what section of the border it's gonna cover, is so clear half the guys in the audience are nodding their heads in agreement before he's half done. When he starts in with an Inuit thing, though, Vecchio coughs into his hand until Fraser gives up the mike. Vecchio's speech coulda gone on for hours, except Ray threw the notes for it into the fireplace this morning 'by accident', because he's heard Vecchio reciting it for the last month and it gets more wooden every time. Vecchio yelled at him and Fraser said Oh, Ray! a lot, but he figures the rest of the audience have more to thank him for than they will ever know. Vecchio's charming when he's operating on nerves and fear.

They have to schmooze afterwards, the part Ray really hates. It's late afternoon before the fleet of fifteen-seaters from Fairbanks land on Beaver Creek's tiny runway, and half the guys vanish. The RCMP crowd disperses more randomly, some in buses for the five hour drive down to Whitehorse, some in light planes up to Inuvik or Tuk or Norman Wells.

A few poor suckers are staying overnight in Beaver Creek before facing the eight-hour drive across the border into Alaska, up to Tetlin Junction, then over the border again at Boundary on to Dawson City. Ray doesn't quite get how Fraser persuaded the IBET guys to authorise that ("A thorough inspection and reconsideration of the immigration post at Border is long overdue, Ray,") but he's sure Mrs Martin at the Beaver Creek Inn is grateful for the traffic this early in the season.

In fact, she smuggles Dief a few cookies as a thankyou. Ray filches one too.

Then the work is done, done, done, and they can go about their own business.

First off, they wander into the hangar by the airstrip, where Bill Hutton has his old Cessna 172. "How much is he asking, again?" Vecchio asks, while Fraser peers into the engine compartment and Dief pees on the starboard wheel.

"$45,000," Ray says, "US."

"That's a thousand bucks for every year it's been around!" Vecchio says indignantly. "What's he gonna do when it hits the hundred? Pay off his mortgage?"

Fraser dusts his hands on his jeans, having changed out of the serge at the Inn. "The mileage isn't too bad for an aircraft this age, Ray, but the O-300A engines do need more frequent overhauls than the Lycoming O-320's they fitted a decade later. You'll spend a fair bit of time under the hood."

Ray and Vecchio look at each other. "No problem," they chorus. It's like being offered a great big Erector set.

By the time they climb back in the Jeep they've agreed that they'll offer Hutton $40,000 if he throws in a bunch of spares he has behind the hangar, and that Vecchio will do the bargaining. To each man according to his strengths.

It takes them three quarters of an hour to reach the Alcan border, twenty miles north along Highway 1, because Fraser insists on stopping to check in with the Corporal at the RCMP post. The sun is low on the horizon now, and the temperature's busy dropping down to zero.

Fahrenheit.

Fraser turns off up a dirt track that edges along the border for a mile, and then pulls in. To the west, the land flattens slightly, with a wide, bare patch where a rocky outcrop has been smooched by a passing glacier. Beyond that there are trees again, and once they turn off the engine Ray can hear the trickle of water.

Dief takes off when they get out, chasing the long shadows of a pair of circling eagles. "So where's the border?" Vecchio asks, hands deep in his pockets.

Fraser takes a stick and scratches a line on the ice coating the rock. "Roughly here, Ray. To within sixty centimeters."

"We can stick a windmill up there," Ray offers, pointing up to the ridgeline above them. "A shed for a hangar there," he gestures east, "and the cabin in the trees."

"Lots of timber," Vecchio notes. "No shortage of stuff to build with. How much of this would be ours?"

While they've been looking around, Ray realises, Fraser's been watching both of them, showing all the signs of being on edge. Now he tugs at his sweater neck and rubs his eyebrow, his usual tells. "Fourteen acres on the Alaskan side, Ray, and one hundred hectares on the Canadian."

"Huh." Ray's getting better at kilo-thingies and centi-thingies, but he still ain't so good on the squares. "That's what? Another ten acres?"

Fraser's getting real uncomfortable now, rubbing his eyebrow harder. "A hectare is two point four seven acres, so one hundred of them is about twentyfive acres - " Vecchio gives a low whistle, being not so geographically challenged as Ray, " - or about half a square mile."

Ray wants to sit down suddenly. But he doesn't, because the rock is hard and the ice is cold and his ass will get wet. "Half of a square mile. We could own half  - three-quarters of a square mile, all in all."

"It's a great extravagance," Fraser says earnestly, "far more than we need. But it's the first pair of lots I've found stradding the border, much less this close to the highway; and the owner refuses to break up the parcel. We could afford both it and the plane if we took out a small mortgage. Given the size - it's quite reasonably priced, Ray, Ray." He looks from one to the other of them, like one of Dief's puppies begging for a turn in the harness. 

And hey, that's all it takes; because Fraser never asks for himself and neither of them can ever refuse him.

Vecchio exchanges a secret nod with Ray, then they both look up to where the sun is dipping behind a distant, snowy peak. "Yeah, Frase. It sounds just grand."



* * the end * *

17 Comments

I could not have asked for a better present -- this is simply fantastic! I love the slow build and the drifting before they come together. The complicating geography is practically another character, which I LOVE. And your Kowalski = HEARTS.

Thank you!!!

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

I'm so glad (and relieved!) that you liked this, Ifreet :) :) I was awfully tempted to write you wingfic, but nothing on your lj seemed to indicate a preference for it (despite your username); and that wasn't gelling anyway. This story has been sitting in my head a long time waiting to come out: I bought a map of Canada six months ago to plan it. I wish I had made the Ray/Ray bits better for you. Maybe next time :(

exbex said:

F/V/K is very hit or miss for me, but this, with the slow build-up, is perfect. I also am very picky when it comes to DS fic outside of Chicago, but this works beautifully. Well done.

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Thankyou very much for taking the time both to read and to comment, Exbex - and for doing so so quickly. It was very cheering to receive your comment, especially that soon after writing :) I've gotten so few done myself, what with Christmas etc; and I very very much appreciate you taking the time to read outside your normal pairings, and location, and giving it time to build a little.

wihluta said:

Oh, this is greatness. I love the slow build-up and the different points of view. And the end is so sweet!

&hearts &hearts

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hello, Wihluta - thank you so much for the lovely comments! I'm very glad that you liked the pace here - and it was a real challenge to try and use all three characters' voices in one story, so I'm very pleased to know that that worked for you :)

I really like how this fic has that slow drift of inevitability interspersed with sharp switches of direction in terms of both geography and relationships. If that at all makes sense to you, author.

I'm so glad they worked it all out. *squishes them hard*

(catwalksalone)

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hi, cat - thanks so much for your wonderful comments :) You said:

I really like how this fic has that slow drift of inevitability interspersed with sharp switches of direction in terms of both geography and relationships. If that at all makes sense to you, author.

And yes, it does - though I didn't think much about that when I thought about the structure of the story in writing it, it's pretty much core. And I'd be very glad if the inevitability you felt matched/smoothed out some of those sharp switches - I hope they work in concert, rather than against each other. But that's an incredibly insightful comment.

And of course it all works out - I am an inherently sappy individual :) :) Thanks so much again for commenting and reading!

Beautifully written, and your Ray Kowalski is especially adorable, but all the characters are great. Welsh had me in stitches, especially when he said: "The type requiring extreme suspension of my disbelief." Hee!

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hey, j-s, thank you so much for the lovely comments you left for this story :) :) I'm glad you liked Ray K here. You said:

Welsh had me in stitches, especially when he said: "The type requiring extreme suspension of my disbelief." Hee!

Poor Welsh - the things he has to put up with. He gets the authorial voice, since he always seems capable of meta to me :). And one of the things I love about dS is the way it makes me love suspending my disbelief, what with otters and turtles and jumps into snowbanks from thousands of feet up.

I loved the pace of this, the slow, steady build up. I really appreciated the fact that RayK didn't just drop everything and head to Canada to be with Fraser. I liked that it took work, and that it took even more work to bring Vecchio in. Lovely.

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hey, Aka - thank you so much for your lovely comments on this story - and for your rec, which made me very happy to see :) :) I'm very glad the pacing worked for you: I wrote surprisingly quickly, partly for the deadline and partly because so much of this was already in my head, but I'm glad that wasn't reflected too much in the story itself.

Your voices are just incredible. I can hear all the characters in my head. This is definitely going in my favs.

On a small note, there are 640 acres in a square mile. 3/4 of a square mile does sound right for a wilderness parcel.

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hello Rolanda - thank you so much for your kind comments :) :) :) I'm amazed to make a favourites list - thank you so much for saying that :) And for commenting on the voices: I'm not American, so I find voice very hard for this fandom, and your compliment is thus doubly treasured :)

Re the acres - oh, internet calculator, how could you betray me so! (Because I'm even more square-challenged than Ray K :)) But thank you for the correction: that will sound even better in the fic (and it's not the only factual/continuity error, so I have some editing to do - I think water flowing at zero fahrenheit will need fixing too :)).

agent166 Author Profile Page said:

Hello Rolanda - thank you so much for your kind comments :) :) :) I'm amazed to make a favourites list - thank you so much for saying that :) And for commenting on the voices: I'm not American, so I find voice very hard for this fandom, and your compliment is thus doubly treasured :)

Re the acres - oh, internet calculator, how could you betray me so! (Because I'm even more square-challenged than Ray K :)) But thank you for the correction: that will sound even better in the fic (and it's not the only factual/continuity error, so I have some editing to do - I think water flowing at zero fahrenheit will need fixing too :)).

I really enjoyed this story! I loved the Rays' slow gravitation towards Fraser, and the changes he makes as well. Your Ray/Ray interaction was lovely, and the ending was just so right. &hearts

china Author Profile Page said:

Awww, this is a wonderful solution to the geography problem, and all-round it filled me with huge squishy hearts. \o/

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This page contains a single entry by agent166 published on December 19, 2009 12:10 AM.

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