Disclaimer: The due South characters remain the property of Alliance Atlantis. Written for pleasure, not profit. Intended for adult readers only. Contains sexual situations and strong language.

Disclaimers: Not ours. If they were, this collaboration thing would be a lot more difficult, given Bone's possessive nature and Aristide's mean streak.

Notes: Enormous thanks to Crysothemis, Dawn P, and Kat for superfine beta and enthusiastic support.

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Rating: If we do our job right, NC-fucking-17.

Summary: Getting our post-Call of the Wild licks in... so to speak.

Feedback: Is encouraged! Write us at JBone2@aol.com and mtriste@hotmail.com

The Better Angels

by Bone & Aristide

December 1999


 
 

"My demons were shouting down the better angels in my brain"

-- Aaron Sorkin
 
 

A bar is a bar is a bar.

Okay, so it wasn't exactly poetry. Still, it had a ring of truth to it, Ray decided as he squirmed on the wooden bar stool. Didn't seem to matter where the bar had parked itself, the damn seats were all the same. He'd never really had an ass made for bar crawling. Not enough padding. Not enough meat to him. Give him a nice cushy booth in a diner any day. Of course, they hardly ever pulled good draft beer in diners, and there was definitely something to be said for that at the end of a day in the dog-sled. Should probably have ordered some hot buttered rum or something, come to think of it -- sounded disgusting, but the operative word there was 'hot'; the beer just seemed to be chilling him inside, and he hadn't warmed up the outside yet.

Ray sighed, and drained his glass. Whatever. Give him a couple more beers and he'd be feeling just fine, toasty fine.

Yeah, a couple more beers would probably do it.

"Hey, how about another beer over here?" he called out. Might as well have said it in Swahili, for all the attention it got him.

He looked around. Okay, maybe this bar wasn't quite like the others he'd known.

When he and Fraser had pulled into this little pissant town about an hour ago, the first thought that had come to Ray's mind was that they'd wandered onto a movie set. A Western-on-the-Tundra movie set, circa 1870. Wooden sidewalks butted up against what appeared to be a dirt street, hidden underneath a half-frozen cover of churned slush. Men bundled in layers of fur wandered in and out of what looked like the only public building in town, the town saloon. An honest-to-God saloon.

It might have been interesting, even kind of weirdly cool, if he hadn't been so wiped out that the whole thing looked like an hallucination. Every time he blinked, he expected everything to go back to flat white, and every time it didn't was a new shock.

A good shock, though; no question about that. The lure of light, warmth, and an indoor toilet couldn't be ignored. Ray had assured Fraser he'd be just fine; that he'd wait for him while Fraser went to find a place for them to spend the night. A night not in a sleeping bag on the ground sounded almost as good as the chance to whiz without writing something in the snow.

So Fraser'd left him there with a wave, and Ray'd hollered after him, "I'll order you a... what? Sarsparilla? Root beer?"

How many places like this had he walked into? Too many to count. He had the cop walk down, he thought. The don't-fuck-with-me walk, Chicago version. A little tough to accomplish in snow pants, but not impossible. He'd peeled off his outer layers, unraveled his scarf, and tugged off the knit hat that gave whole new levels of meaning to the term "experimental hair." Having shed his outdoor trappings, he'd felt ten pounds lighter as he bellied up to the long wooden bar and plopped himself on a stool.

Nobody paid him a bit of mind. Not even the bartender, at least not once he'd slid a cold one down the bar to him. He'd probably drunk it too quick, Ray decided, feeling a nice warm beer rush heat his cheeks with a slow, tingling burn.

He felt... strange. He kept leaning right, then left, his body still on dog-sled auto pilot. He felt it in his sleep -- the pull of the dogs, the rocking, the speed. Like being on water, going too fast. Almost like having sea legs. He wobbled, sometimes, getting up, walking on his own two feet again. The sled had started to feel like home to him. He'd made himself a comfy little cradle in it, stacked with blankets, and with Fraser standing behind him, half the time he only figured out he was cold when they stopped to rest the dogs. Then he'd run beside for awhile, or okay, to be truthful, behind -- Ray plus snowshoes still equaled a lot of face-down time in the white stuff. Soon as he got the hang of driving, he'd let Fraser do the sitting and he'd do the mush-mush thing, but the dogs just looked at him funny the few times he'd tried it, so Fraser pretty much stayed in the driver's seat.

Fraser didn't seem to mind, and Ray had to admit they covered more miles that way.

Fraser didn't seem to feel the cold at all. Thinking back on those first few awful days -- what he could remember of them -- Ray thought maybe he'd started to get used to the cold, too. What did they call that? Acclimating? Maybe he'd started acclimating.

Like today. They'd been on the sled all day -- Ray down front, Fraser behind -- but only now, with a beer in his belly and his scarf gone, did Ray feel the cold, a shiver of air brushing up the back of his neck, raising the hairs on his arms. He leaned back, automatically seeking the solid warmth of Fraser behind him, but all he did was lose his precarious balance on the stool and flail wildly for a minute before righting himself.

His cheeks went from tingling to flat-out fire. Great. Dork city. Way to make a first impression on the local yokels.

It felt weird not to have Fraser in sight, in touching distance. After a couple of weeks like that, he'd gotten to where he liked it, liked knowing all he had to do was move his hand, or tilt his head back, and he'd hit some part of Fraser, steady there behind him. Except for heeding the call of nature, they hadn't been out of each other's sight for almost two weeks now, ever since they left the Mountie camp, on the start of their big adventure.

The Big Adventure. Looking for the hand of Franklin, whoever he was. Ray never could keep it all straight. Mostly, it had seemed like a good way to not go back to Chicago right away. One last hurrah, one last mystery to solve. They'd said that before, before the whole boat thing, and changed their minds, stuck together after all, but this was different. He'd heard (shouldn't have, but couldn't help himself) Thatcher telling Fraser he belonged up north; heard Fraser agree.

Chicago without Fraser was even worse to think about than Chicago with Fraser partnered with Vecchio -- the real one, not the fake, sometimes one. He hadn't really thought about the possibility that Fraser might just stay up here.

Chicago without Fraser. God, what a sucky concept.

So he'd decided to enjoy Fraser without Chicago. Make the most of his stock-piled vacation time, chill out a little (a lot), eke out the last little bit of red ship, green ship, there's no ship like partnership before he headed back to No Life Whatsoever back in Chicago.

Delaying the inevitable, in other words. He had a bad habit of doing that. Stella'd had to pack for him, put the boxes in the hall, before he finally got it. Hammer to the head, that's what he needed. A hammer to the head.

Ray sighed into his empty glass and shivered a little. Civilization had sounded good a couple of hours ago, when his nose hairs were freezing and his butt was numb, but now he wasn't so sure. Maybe if Fraser were here...

"How does a night in a cabin sound?" Fraser had asked.

"Like a hymn," he'd answered.

Yeah, a hymn. With him. A night in a cabin, with him. No sleeping bags, no layers of polar fleece and wool. Might be warm enough for long-johns, or maybe even short-johns (he had no idea if there was such a thing, but if there was, it seemed like a good bet that Fraser would own some). Might be warm enough to take a bath. None too soon for that, he decided, ducking his nose inside his sweater and taking a quick whiff. Maybe Fraser'd strip off his undershirt and wash...

Ray shook himself, like Dief in the morning, getting ready for the day. No point going there, my friend. No point at all. He didn't really know when that had happened, either.

That. That was pretty much how he thought of it, when he thought about it at all.

That.

As if it was separate, something outside that had nothing to do with him. Like they weren't his thoughts, his reactions, his... whatever it was that all of a sudden had him (him! Ray! Ray, as in, Ray, former husband to Stella), staring at Fraser, keeping track of Fraser, thinking about Fraser in ways that didn't quite seem to jibe with the facts of Fraser being his partner and his friend, of Fraser being the only thing standing between him and two thousand miles of Great White Nothing.

And that was that. He and Fraser and the Great White Nothing, just the two of them, all alone with nothing around for miles and miles and it made him want... It made him want...

"Yo! Can I have a beer here?!?" This time he yelled it much louder than he meant to, which from the looks of it was much louder than the walking tanks in the room thought he could yell. He caught a few mocking glances from some of the men (and one woman), who all looked like they could tuck him easily under one arm and drag him off without breaking a sweat. Oil workers, Fraser had told him; this was an oil worker's town... and suddenly he felt sixteen again, trying to get served on nothing more than fake I.D. and a cocky attitude.

The defiance that streaked down his suddenly straight spine felt familiar and old, almost nostalgic. Everybody underestimates the scrawny hellraiser, after all, and he hadn't jumped right off the mean streets of Chicago to get dissed by a bunch of beaver-biting hicks from the Yukon--

"Northwest Territories," he could hear Fraser say. "The Yukon is actually... "

"Beer," the bartender told him in a voice that struck him as something like what a rockslide might sound like if it could talk. The glass that slammed down in front of him was mostly head.

"Thank you kindly," he sniffed, hoping the numbnut knew sarcasm when he heard it. He drowned the rest of the words he could have spoken in a huge gulp of foam, cold and bitter -- and that pretty much said it all right there, didn't it? Because there might be one hell of a lot of cold and bitter around, but right now his face was hot and his chest was hot, and the bartender was staring at him like maybe he wanted to take things further and that was great, that was just fine, and his empty hand curled into a fist at the thought, solid against the bar and ready to swing.

He coughed around the last of the foam. "What're you looking at?"

The bartender leaned his elbows on the bar and brought his face close to Ray's. "Bear bait," he rumbled.

Guffaws rippled through the place as attention wandered from card games and conversations to the budding brouhaha at the bar.

"Nah," a voice called from behind him. "Look at him. He's a chicken wing. Bear would have to be pretty hungry to settle for that."

Ray felt his hair stand on end. Stand more on end. Something dark and strangely satisfying lumped up in his stomach, and he gave in to it with a distinct sense of relief that mixed, odd but perfect, with the hot flush of outrage -- he didn't have to take shit like that. Wouldn't take it at home, would he? Hell, no.

The first punch felt good, damn good, arcing out of his tired, wired body and connecting with a nice solid thump to somebody's belly, the impact sending a shockwave from his wrist right up to his neck. Yeah, that first punch was a gooder. Too bad he didn't have time to enjoy it before a big paw settled on his shoulder, spinning him into a punch that dimmed his lights.

Time slowed way down, then, while he figured out he had a few advantages at home that he lacked here, like a gun, for example, and a badge, and the fact that in Chicago the average size wasn't something like 6'4", 240 pounds. His two fists were no match for what felt like about eight from other people. His punches to the gut just hit layers of clothing, muscle, fat, all the essentials for life in the wilderness. Like hitting a heavy bag, almost -- gratifyingly solid, but without much of a sense of giving the bag anything serious to worry about.

Their punches, meanwhile, smacked kidneys, blacked an eye, and knocked the breath out of him. That was the good part. The bad part, he had a flashing moment of clarity to recognize, was that window over there, the one coming at him, the one he would have gone through face first if he hadn't used the one advantage he did have -- agility -- and flipped himself around so he went out the window on his back, glass everywhere, and thumped his head hard on the wooden sidewalk.

The grinning bartender's face swimming above his made him want to throw up, so he closed his eyes. Either they'd finish the job, or they'd leave him alone, or Fraser would come along any second now and give him that patented Fraser look of grave disappointment, and make him wish they'd finished the job. He wasn't sure he could stay conscious long enough to find out.

The third time Ray stumbled, Fraser grabbed his arm to keep him from pitching forward and wondered which option would be worse for Ray's already-wounded pride -- to let him go face-down in the main street slush, or to pick him up, toss him over his shoulder, and carry him.

Ray's arm was solid for a moment under his hand, then quickly shrugged away.

"I'm fine, I'm fine," Fraser heard him mutter, then something garbled, something that sounded like "chicken wing, my ass," but surely he'd been mistaken. Ray didn't look fine, and he didn't sound fine, either, but Fraser hated to add insult to obvious injury by suggesting a fireman's carry, or worse, coming back for him with the sled, and the dogs he'd just settled for the night. Still, when Ray stumbled again, Fraser put his hand out, steadied him, then turned so Ray faced him, rocking a little on his feet.

"Ray, our accommodations are at the outskirts of town," he said. "Are you sure you're all right to walk that far?"

Ray squinted at him. Well, Ray's left eye did, anyway. Ray's right eye seemed to be beyond the mechanics of squinting. "Fuck, Fraser, this is what I'm talking about. I'm not breakable, get it? Just because I'm not Nanook of the North, doesn't mean I can't take care of myself."

"I never meant to imply --"

"Yeah, yeah, just forget it, all right?" Ray set off again, and Fraser gently steered him in the correct direction, as unobtrusively as possible. Ray wobbled a bit, but he seemed to have some momentum going, now; and Fraser had hopes that it might carry them through. The cabin wasn't more than a kilometer or so further.

Fraser cleared his throat. "You were outnumbered there, Ray. It wasn't very... sporting of them."

Ray's head twitched. Accompanied by the mild limp it had a strange, Quasimodo-ish quality that seemed oddly endearing. "Don't think they were worried about that, Fraser."

"No, I don't think they were."

They continued at Ray's pace, which gave Fraser ample time to register the details of the town as they passed through it. It looked like any of a dozen towns in this part of the world, populated by people hearty enough to work the wells. Fights certainly weren't uncommon, given the isolation and the lifestyle, but still, the situation seemed... strange. There was a vague tightness in his chest, easily recognizable as lingering regret that he hadn't been there, that he hadn't arrived in time to do anything more than claim his friend before the saloon patrons dumped him in the street.

Ray had rallied just about the same time Fraser and the bartender realized they'd shared the same algebra teacher in Grade 9. It had been impossible to tell from the look on Ray's face which of them Ray was more disgusted with, but it had seemed prudent not to linger. With a final farewell to the bartender, he'd propped Ray up and the long (longer than it should have been) walk to the cabin he'd rented had begun.

All in all, an inauspicious sort of welcome. But still -- it was familiar, it was all familiar to him, and he'd missed it. Longed for it. Could still hardly believe that he was here, and that Ray was with him. Ray. Nothing familiar here for him. This was all new to Ray, as foreign as a trip to the jungles of South America would have been -- as 'otherworldly' as he himself had felt in Chicago when he first arrived.

Abruptly Ray stumbled again, righting himself with a mild grunt before Fraser could do more than lean forward. He must have gotten used to it by now -- Ray had spent much of the last two weeks off balance, on many levels, although, truth be told, he had adapted remarkably well, given how poorly he'd fared during the first few days. Fraser had thought he'd jump at the chance to go back south, to return home, but the chance he'd jumped at was going on an adventure, searching for the mythical Hand of Franklin.

He was not unused to surprises, not around Ray; and yet that had surprised him. It still did. Surprised and pleased him, in a warming sort of way that he hadn't examined too closely, as if to focus on it might cost him the gift. Which was just... silly. A ridiculous notion.

Fraser frowned, picturing Ray doggedly following the sled, as wobbly on his snowshoes as a toddler on a hill. He'd quit complaining about the cold by the third day. By the sixth, he'd been itching to drive the dog team. And now, two weeks out, he'd even gotten the hang of setting up camp for maximum comfort with minimum bother. Without a single complaint, which in and of itself was some kind of minor miracle. Yes, contrary to all expectations he might have had, Ray seemed to be enjoying himself; and all Fraser could really do was hope that the contretemps he'd encountered wouldn't make him regret his decision.

Contretemps. Too pleasant a word for the whaling Ray seemed to have suffered. It pricked at him, curiosity and solicitousness perfectly mixed, wondering exactly what had led to the fight, which of Ray's myriad nerves had been plucked like a bowstring. He should ask, he knew -- and yet he couldn't, not yet, not until he came to grips with his own nebulous feelings of culpability, his own vague shame that the homeland he'd been introducing Ray to had responded so inhospitably.

Yet another ridiculous notion. Which he couldn't seem to shake.

They managed to reach the cabin without further mishap, and Fraser held the door open for Ray, who limped in, dropping into the first chair he came to. Fraser shut the door on the cold and the wind, and groped for the switch of an ancient iron lamp that stood nearby.

"We're quite fortunate -- all the modern conveniences, Ray," he said, turning quickly towards the wood-stove he'd prepared earlier, after seeing to the dogs and stowing the gear, so as not to get caught by the reflected shine of lamplight over Ray's purpling eye. "I'll have a fire going in a moment."

Proper preparation, the logical course of events, yes, but it meant he'd been here, seeing to the practicalities, instead of with Ray; that he'd left Ray to his own devices, figuring that new company would be welcome. Obviously a misplaced assumption on his part. He stopped talking and took refuge in getting the fire lit and the draft adjusted properly -- only the work of a moment or two, but it was enough.

When he finished, he turned to see Ray surveying the room, taking in the two cots placed in a corner, the small cooking area, and the lean-to bathroom, a valuable (if fairly extravagant) addition to the original structure.

Ray said nothing. He could accept that. They had time, after all. Fraser knelt and rummaged in his pack for first aid supplies, then turned to look at Ray. He was certainly a sight -- one eye bruised, a cut lip already swelling. And he was hunched in the chair, as if his ribs hurt. Fraser sighed. He shouldn't have left Ray alone like that, in a strange town. Ray was his responsibility, even though he knew Ray wouldn't want to think of it that way. Would probably, in fact, threaten to 'pop him one' if he mentioned it.

"Do you think you need a doctor?" Fraser asked instead. The nearest clinic could be as far as a hundred kilometers off, and unlikely to be open at this late hour, but if Ray needed to be seen to, well...

But Ray shook his head. "Nah. Just dose me up with that pregnant mucus stuff you got. Worked the last time. I am not stripping down for one of these yokels."

Right. Ray would just have to strip down for him, then. He stood and moved in front of Ray's chair. "Well, in that case, I think you'd better let me take a look at you."

Ray obediently lifted his head, but didn't appear to be entirely comfortable with the prospect.

"Come on, let's get these off you." He tugged on Ray's coat and sweater until they were relinquished. When it seemed Ray would stop when he got to his layers of shirt, Fraser shook his head and said, "Better take those off as well. I want to look at your ribs."

Now it was Ray's turn to sigh, but he did as he was told and stripped to the waist, then wrapped his arms back around himself, shivering.

"I'll be as fast as I can," Fraser said briskly, crouching in front of him. In the low light Ray's skin shone smooth and soft, pale as cream, but blurred now with darkening bruises here and there. Fraser shifted to one side to let the light fall directly on the bruised areas, and leaned forward.

No broken skin. No unusual swellings. Just a good crop of goosebumps and some run-of-the-mill bruises, at least as far as he could tell with just a visual check. He nodded, and then swept one of the rough blankets off the nearest cot, draping it around Ray's shoulders.

"The room will warm up soon, Ray. I promise. Please bear with me." He cleared his throat, not knowing if he should or could apologize, unsure whether or not he just had.

Ray's head twitched sideways in wordless acknowledgement, and Fraser nodded again, leaning in for further examination.

There was no evidence of grave physical damage, just proof that Ray carried all his strength in his energy, his temper. Even exhausted and at rest, his body seemed to be filled with a strange kind of dynamism; restless and oddly youthful, all sharp angles and pale skin and that strange tattoo. His muscles weren't from hard labor, or hours in the gym. They were the long, narrow muscles of a runner, compact and lean. The points of his shoulders angled into prominent collarbones, his long arms down to elegant fingers. Not a boxer's hand, not a fighter's.

Fraser frowned again, dismayed at the thought of Ray being ganged up on, beaten.

"Ray, if you don't mind my asking, what was that all about?"

Ray stirred, catching Fraser's eye for a moment before ducking his chin back down towards his chest.

"Nothing. It was dumb. Guy looked at me, I said something smart, he got pissed, said something dumb. You know how it goes. No, you probably don't. Never would've happened to you," he said.

"What was it he said that made you so angry?" A careful balance here, between wanting not to push, and needing to understand.

"Said I was gonna be bear chow," Ray mumbled.

Fraser had to lean forward to hear him, and balanced himself with a hand on Ray's knee.

Ray leaned back, drawing away.

He seemed to be making Ray uncomfortable. That wouldn't do. He rose to his feet, putting a little distance between them, then reached for the antibiotic ointment he'd brought with him.

"Well, you're not," Fraser said, not sure what else to say. "Falling prey to a bear is extremely unlikely if you take the appropriate precautions, and I'm not about to leave us open to the risk of a bear attack."

He knew he was approaching the obvious when the subtle was required, but he'd never been as good at subtle, and hoped his reassurance would be enough for Ray.

"Said I was a chicken wing," Ray muttered under his breath, even quieter than before.

Fraser pressed his lips together. A chicken wing? What on earth... ? Ray looked up at him abruptly, uncrossed his arms, and suddenly the image made sense. To the beefy crew that worked the wells, a man built like Ray probably did look a bit on the under-nourished side. Something Ray's ego undoubtedly didn't appreciate. The pieces began to fall into place.

For a moment something bubbled in him, a strong rush of feeling that was exasperation and apology and intense affection all rolled into one. Ray was such a... character. Prickly as anything -- and no less dear to him for that. He kept these thoughts carefully to himself, kept his face schooled to an appropriate expression of solemnity, and applied the salve to the cut on Ray's lip, bracing his hand with one finger on Ray's cheek, then examined his eye. "Just a bruise there, I think," he said quietly, and Ray nodded.

"Can you sit up straight for me?" Fraser asked, and with a grimace, Ray pulled himself up, sat straight up in the chair, braced his hands on the arms, and closed his eyes.

Using just the tips of his fingers, Fraser traced each rib, back and front, paying special attention to any reddened or bruised place. Under his hands, he could feel Ray start to breathe harder, feel his heartbeat speed up. When he traced the lowest rib, sliding from his side up to his sternum, Ray made a sound in his throat.

"Does that hurt?" he asked.

Ray's eyes flew open. He swallowed once, then shook his head and said, "Tickles."

Hmmm. Ray hadn't flinched, or laughed, or tried to get away, or any of the usual responses to an inadvertent tickle. Odd. He pulled his hands away immediately. "I'm finished. You do have some bruising, but I don't think you've broken anything."

From the way Ray sank back in his chair, burrowing into the blanket, he seemed relieved to hear it.

"They were wrong about you, you know."

In the immediate and stunning bliss of post-shower euphoria, Ray felt utterly incapable of connecting Fraser's words with anything having to do with reality. He pulled the rough towel off his head, squinting over to where Fraser seemed to be digging various items out of his pack. "Whassat?"

Fraser looked at him, still with that same low-key 'terribly sorry' look

he'd been wearing since scooping Ray up off the sidewalk. "The... saloon patrons. They were wrong. They have no idea of the degree of your tenacity, that you're not at all a... chicken wing."

Oh. That. Ouch. Unbelievable, that he'd actually told Fraser that. He put the towel back over his head and started rubbing. "Yeah. Guess I showed them, huh? They'll think twice next time before messing with bear-bait--"

"Ray." Good thing he had the towel. That particular pissed-off tone of Fraser's always made him smile. "You're not listening. You are not bear bait. In fact, I would venture to say that you're in better physical condition than you have been in all the time I've known you."

"Too bad that wasn't enough to keep me from getting my ass kicked."

"You were overmatched, Ray; you couldn't possibly expect to prevail under those circumstances--"

All of a sudden it seemed like too much, just way too much. "Look, just stop trying to make me feel better, okay, Fraser? I went into a hick bar and I shot my mouth off and got thrown through a window, and then you came along and made nice with the locals so they wouldn't whip my ass anymore. Mountie to the rescue. Again. We can stop talking about it now."

A deep, heavy sigh. "As you wish."

With the towel over his head he couldn't see, but he felt Fraser pass him by on the left, probably going for his own turn in the shower. It was a relief. He just stood there, rubbing at hair that had long ago gotten as dry as it was going to get, until he heard the bathroom door close.

A quiet click told him that he was alone, so he ditched the towel. After his shower he'd struggled into a clean pair of sweats and a thermal undershirt -- soft, comfortable clothes that wouldn't bind up on his bruises. But although the fabric was well-worn it itched terribly, and it was a serious challenge not to just tear them off and scratch like Dief with a nasty set of fleas. He supposed it could have been the miracle of actually being clean that was making him itch so badly, but that didn't come close to explaining the rest of it -- why he was exhausted and couldn't sit down, why he was starving and couldn't stand to think about food, why all he wanted to do was either pull on his coat and go back to the bar and finish what he'd started, or plaster himself up against that closed bathroom door and close his eyes and see what his brain could do with the image of a wet, naked Mountie.

Could have something to do with the fact that even scrubbing as hard as his sore ribs could stand hadn't erased the feel of Fraser's rough fingertips on his skin, skating slowly across his back, tracing his chest, gently prodding, almost... caressing.

Ray shook his head sharply, then wished he hadn't when his bruised eye protested. Can't go there, buddy. *Don't* go there. His traitorous mind didn't listen, choosing instead to replay the moment over and over, and before he knew it, Ray had a hand up under his shirt, tracing the lowest rib again, searching for an echo of the feeling that had splintered through him at that particular touch. It was weird, a weird thing to do, but knowing it was weird didn't stop him -- his hand had a mind of its own. Hell, even his mind had a mind of its own...

It tickled, he'd told Fraser. He snorted. Tickled. Right. A certain part of him had been tickled, for sure. Turned him on is what it had done. Turned him on like a light. And Fraser, well, Fraser'd been like Dr. Kildare, there, all "I'll be as fast as I can." Take your time, he'd wanted to say. Take your time.

The sound of the water turning off broke the spell, and Ray yanked his hand out of his shirt like he'd been caught with it down his pants. Crazy, he thought. All of it. Maybe he'd frozen something after all, on the side of the mountain. The thing that kept his crazy thoughts in check. Or maybe all his self-preservation parts were working on actually surviving and didn't have anything leftover to keep his brain from skittering down dangerous paths.

Yeah, he'd have trouble keeping his balance on that one -- it didn't seem fair, somehow, that the slippery and dangerous parts weren't just out there on the ice. Here he was, safe in a cabin and warm and free of the worries of frostbite and sudden blizzards and stray packs of starving wolves, and not safe at all. Not at all, because, see, there was this one starving wolf who had snuck inside the perimeter, come along for the ride.

His ears pricked up at the sound of Fraser whistling tunefully as he dried himself off, and God help him, but it made him want to growl. Maybe scratch at the door. Fraser had a soft spot for hurt and hungry things, after all; that was what got the best of him, every time...

Ray shook himself again, hard, until all his bruises ached. Enough with the crap, already. No way was he letting Fraser know how he felt. He hardly knew how he felt himself. He wanted... something from Fraser, to be with Fraser, that much he knew. That much was easy. But would Fraser want to be with him, if he knew that right now, at this exact moment, all Ray wanted to do was open the bathroom door, get an eyeful of bare Benton Fraser, and maybe get that hand back on his ribs again?

What would Fraser do? Turn red, turn around, turn him down. One, two, three. Elementary. No shit, Sherlock.

He knew it. He knew it like he knew Fraser -- Fraser, who got all stiff-necked and tight when Frannie passed too close. Who stammered at a compliment. Fraser, who'd probably gotten laid maybe twice in his whole life, and he'd bet the GTO Fraser hadn't been the one to do the asking even then.

Fraser was... innocent.

Christ... If that was supposed to tone down the wild and crazy, it had failed. Heat slid up his legs, between them, making him hard. He was hot, now, hot with shame and hot with how much the shame failed to put him off the idea -- he felt like a dirty old man. His hands shook.

God, if he thought the shirt itched, it had nothing on what those sweats were doing to his dick. Ray stumbled back to the chair he'd sat in before, pulling the blanket over his lap and clenching his traitor hands into fists just as Fraser opened the bathroom door, releasing steam and the smell of nice clean Mountie.

Ray closed his eyes briefly, took a deep breath, and plucked the itchy shirt away from his ribs again. Maybe it wasn't the clothes that bugged him. Maybe it was the skin he was living in. Stretched too tight for all the feeling inside, stretched too thin.

He kept his eyes closed and listened to the sounds of Fraser pulling on jeans, tucking in a shirt, and tried to think cold thoughts. Snow. Wind chill. Icicles. After awhile, his dick subsided, but Ray stayed in the chair, aching inside and out.

That, that thing he didn't really want to identify, but couldn't shed, was getting to be a problem.

Maybe they'd had the right idea, splitting up for an hour or two. Maybe he'd just picked the wrong place. Even in a town this size, there had to be some folks to talk to, just regular folks, not beef jerkys like the guys at the bar. Maybe all that, all those weird feelings, just came up because they were spending too much time together. He'd ask Fraser. Not about that, no, not about that. But about seeing if there wasn't some place else to go, people to talk to.

And he'd take Fraser with him this time. Fraser could talk to anybody.

Fraser had forgotten just how good it could feel to be clean. When out on the trail, it hardly mattered. A strange truth about camping -- after the second day, nobody smelled. Or perhaps everybody smelled, but nobody noticed over their own particular scent.

He'd certainly never noticed anything malodorous about Ray. On the contrary; if he closed his eyes and tried to pull up a sense memory of Ray from their time on the trail, the scent that came to mind was cinnamon, from the gum Ray chewed. A good smell. A warm smell. Spicy, not sweet. Much like Ray himself. He wondered what his own smell was. Leather and wool, maybe, or tea. Nothing as exotic as cinnamon.

Abruptly he shook himself -- he must be more tired than he'd thought, wandering off into pointless speculation and memory. He devoted himself again to the task of drying off, and whistled a tune to help keep his focus where it should be -- clothes, and then food, and then bed.

He pulled on clean boxer shorts, then opened the bathroom door while he hung his towel up to dry. Cooler air from the room outside washed over him, and he shivered at the contrast. He'd gotten soft during his time in Chicago. Not soft on the outside, although the nutritional value in Chinese takeout and spaghetti probably left much to be desired, but soft on the inside. It was easy to become accustomed to indoor plumbing, the wonder of warm water available with the turn of a knob.

Comfort in and of itself posed its own kind of threat... but that brought him back to Ray again -- Ray, who had made a great deal of noise about not being equipped to deal with the pared-down lifestyle and hard physical requirements of life in the wild, and yet had adapted, had found his own ways to survive. Ray, who took his comforts as they came and yet never seemed to lose his edge. An object lesson -- he could conclude, then, that there was no harm in enjoying an amenity or two, as long as he didn't come to expect it.

He found Ray back in the chair where he'd examined him, wrapped up in a blanket with his eyes closed -- not asleep, that much was evident -- but possibly dealing with the pain of his injuries. Fraser made a mental note to provide some aspirin with dinner, then added another log to the fire even though the cabin had warmed up quite a bit, in deference to Ray's huddled retreat into the blanket. Given the temperatures they'd endured since they left the base camp, it seemed strange that Ray would still feel the need for it, but shock did strange things to the body.

After dressing, he went to the kitchen, pulling out the few groceries he'd purchased on the way to the cabin. Canned beef stew, a loaf of bread, and apples, which had cost the earth, but seemed worth the price after weeks of vitamin C tablets.

"Ray, are you hungry?" he asked, a formality, really, since he'd already started heating the pot.

"Yeah, I could eat," he heard from the chair in the corner.

When the meager meal was ready, he set two places at the wooden table and called Ray over, watching carefully as he pushed himself out of the chair, discarded the blanket on one of the cots and made his way to the table. He seemed to be moving better, not as stiff. Under the stronger light, his bruised eye looked to be the worst of it. The swelling in his lip had gone down some; a good sign.

The piping hot stew tasted good, and the fresh bread was a treat after the trail rations they'd been subsisting on. Ray didn't seem to be enjoying the food as much as he was, but maybe his cut lip made it painful to eat -- the aspirin he'd pressed on Ray would help, but perhaps he should have offered them sooner. Nothing he could do about that, Fraser decided, so he tended to his own meal, letting Ray eat in silence.

After a couple of minutes, he realized Ray had stopped eating, and looked up to find Ray's eyes on him.

"Can I ask you something?" he asked.

Fraser raised an eyebrow and nodded.

"These the kind of people we're gonna meet everywhere up here?" Ray asked. "It's not a problem or nothing, I just like to get a feel for what to expect. Thought Canadians were supposed to be polite."

Fraser felt his face heat, chagrined again at the welcome, or lack thereof, Ray had encountered. He cleared his throat. "Well, Ray, the wells do tend to attract a rather... rugged segment of the population, and to be honest, many of them aren't Canadian, not that that excuses their behavior, but on the whole, I haven't found the people here to be overly aggressive, no. At least not ordinarily."

Ray shrugged. "You mean, at least not to you."

Fraser blinked. "I only know my own experience, Ray," he said, wondering why he suddenly felt defensive.

Ray took a careful bite of bread, and Fraser winced along with him when he hit his cut lip. "Okay, yeah, I get that. Look, I think I'm getting the hang of the not-sliding-off-the-glacier thing, but how do I talk to these people? It's like they're from Jupiter or something. How come you always know what to say?"

Fraser dipped his bread in the stew, giving himself a minute to gather his thoughts. "I grew up with people like this. Naturally, they don't seem as foreign to me as they do to you."

Ray was shaking his spoon at him. "No, see, that's just it. It's not just these people. You do this in Chicago, too. Like you got lessons in how to say just the right thing, no matter who you're talking to. How do you do that?"

"I haven't given it much thought," Fraser said, then paused. "I suppose with most people, it's simply a matter of listening to what the person has to say, then answering appropriately. It's not something I do consciously."

Ray nodded, his head bent over his supper again, and they ate in silence for a few minutes. When the dishes were empty, Ray stood stiffly and limped to the small sink with his plate and bowl, waving off Fraser's protest that he'd take care of them.

"So it's like a game, sort of," Ray said.

"What is?" Fraser asked.

"You, the way you deal with people. You've gotta figure out what they want to hear, and then you give it to them. You put it on, like the hat."

Fraser sat frozen in his chair. Was that it? Had Ray hit on something he'd never let himself think of?

"Maybe so, Ray," he said quietly. "Maybe I do."

"Not with me, you don't," Ray muttered, so soft Fraser barely heard it over the rush of water in the sink.

"I beg your pardon?" Fraser asked.

Ray turned to him. "You don't do that with me. You hardly ever tell me what I want to hear."

Fraser looked up, caught in Ray's one bright eye. No, he didn't do that with Ray. Didn't turn on that small mechanism inside that filtered the words people said to him, that conjured appropriate responses. With Ray, he just... spoke.

He cleared his throat. "You're not most people."

It wasn't quite what he wanted to say. It didn't say everything he meant. But perhaps Ray had his own filter, his own way of listening, because his face lightened up, the corners of his good eye crinkling up in a smile.

"That's a true fact," Ray said with a nod, then turned back to the dishes.

Fraser sighed. Ray seemed to be... okay. At least for now.

Perhaps that was what he'd meant to say, after all.

Fraser breathed sexy.

It was bugging the crap out of him. But it wasn't like he could ask the guy to stop it, right?

Right. He could hear it now -- 'Hey, Fraser, could you maybe not breathe so I can make my boner back off and get some sleep?' Oh yeah -- that'd go over real well. Although it would solve his problem -- Fraser would be out the door and looking for a new place to do his sexy sleep-breathing in no time flat, he had no doubt about that.

Inhale. Brief hold. Exhale. Nice and slow. Almost a sigh.

And his ears, his ears which refused to shut down or tune in to something else or just stop listening, kept insisting that it was a sigh, that each exhale was the sound of some kind of quiet, relaxed pleasure that was lightyears away from the weird erotic hell he himself was suffering, but pleasure all the same.

Inhale. Brief hold. Exhale. Nice and slow.

Every fucking exhale sent a rash of heat over his body. If Fraser started dreaming and groaned in his sleep, he'd probably come in his pants.

The two cots in the corner stretched along either wall -- whether to save space or to enhance the illusion of privacy he had no idea, but the truth was that even with both of them lying with their feet towards the corner, even with Fraser far out of arm's reach, there was absolutely no way he was going to be comfortable enough to sleep unless he picked up his cot and moved it somewhere else...

Inhale. Brief hold. Exhale. Nice and slow.

...Like maybe outside. Like maybe in a snowbank.

The real pisser of the situation, though, was that he'd actually been tired when he laid down for the night; tired, and still kind of high from Fraser's admission that he wasn't 'most people.' That was some good news, right there, that pleased him right down to his toes -- and yeah, he felt like a total moron for getting off on it so much, but he just couldn't seem to help it. So he'd gone to bed actually feeling pretty happy and a little embarrassed and hoping that maybe, just maybe, what he'd heard from Fraser would be enough and would keep him from going down that other, much more dangerous path.

He felt like one of those old TV shows, where the guy had an angel on one shoulder, telling him to be good, and a demon on the other, whispering 'bad, be bad, bad's good.' Like they were duking it out, beating him up about it, and he wasn't sure which was right, or who he wanted to win. And mostly, he just wanted some sleep, and so he'd thought maybe that little gift Fraser'd given him would do it, calm the freaking angels and demons and his body and his soul.

But no. It hadn't been enough. In fact, he had to admit that it just made it worse -- he'd listened to the sounds of Fraser settling in for the night, ready to drift away on the stupid but undeniable happiness of being here, with Fraser, just the two of them getting some well-earned rest, only to find that there was no rest for him. His ears had tuned in, his mind had revved up, and before he knew it his dick had slammed into high gear, twitching and throbbing along with the mellow sounds of Fraser The Pure getting his forty winks in.

Inhale. Brief hold. Exhale. Niiiiice and slowwww... ohh...

Ray sat up before he even knew that he meant to move. Once he was up he looked around stupidly -- what the hell was he planning to do, after all? If he moved his cot he'd undoubtedly wake Fraser (and have to explain), and if he didn't move his cot but gave into temptation anyway he'd undoubtedly wake Fraser (and just try explaining that -- muscle cramp?

Uh-huh, Fraser, a real bad one, lemme show you...) For half a second he considered taking himself and his raging hard-on into the bathroom, and trying to be quiet about it, but the problem with that was that he hadn't even laid a finger on himself yet and already his breathing was almost out of control -- a subvocal sort of breathy growl, just waiting for things to get going, to evolve into who-knew-what sort of noise. Maybe he should just go out to the shed with the dogs and howl at the moon...

Fraser sighed again and a hot shudder passed over Ray, rattling the cot. He cursed under his breath and got up as quietly as he could, felt around in the dark for his pack, and pulled on jeans and two shirts, then patted around on the floor until he found his good heavy sweater. Cot, no. Bathroom, no. Outside, yes. He'd find a friendly tree to lean up against while he took care of business, and if he couldn't find a tree big enough to hold up him and his dick, he'd go for that snowbank thing and see what kind of hole he could melt in it. After tugging on his boots, he fumbled for his parka, but gave up on it when he heard the slippery screech of nylon under his hand. Too loud. Hell, it wasn't like he planned to be out there more than two minutes anyway. A minute and a half, if his dick had anything to say about it. Cold air'd probably do him some good.

It wasn't until he was outside and behind the cabin, comfortably situated with his back against the wall of the little shed where the dogs were sleeping, that he realized he'd pulled on Fraser's sweater by mistake. He sniffed. Fraser's pre-shower sweater.

Obviously, this was the universe plotting against him. He'd decided on the way out here that he couldn't think about Fraser while he was doing this -- that would be asking for trouble, asking all those things he didn't want to look at to come up to the forefront of his brain and parade around and embarrass the hell out of him. He'd already decided to go with the tried and true -- The Stella, a complete and far-flung assortment of memories and fantasies that he'd learned through extensive experience how to keep sweet without tilting over into the bitter (at least, not until afterwards).

But he wasn't going to be able to think about Stella, not with Fraser wrapped around his chest and back and rising up to him in whiffs every time he moved -- a sweet, pungent smell, not at all like a gym or a locker room but definitely a guy-smell, a man smell, a Fraser smell and oh God, that peeled him like a banana, it really did.

There was nowhere to go, then, and nothing to do but close his eyes and groan out his shame, and fumble himself out into the cold of the air and the heat of his hand. Nothing to do but take hold, tight hold, and let go of all those sane thoughts about thirty-eight years of straightness and the kind of best friend you find maybe once in your life if you're lucky. Nothing to do but duck his nose inside the neck of Fraser's sweater, let Fraser come up around him, close and not turning away from him and not leaving, not running away even though he was there with his want and his need and his aching, naked dick riding the forward arch of his hips, looking for something. Some touch.

A touch -- he could think that, think of Fraser touching him, those fingers on his ribs, and that was strange and hot and he lifted his head, watching his breath drift away on clouds of steam and that was the backdrop against which he saw it, saw Fraser very close to him in the dim half-light of moonlight on snow. He saw both of them, shrouded by mist that didn't quite conceal the fact that it was Fraser's wide, strong hand doing this to him, stroking him slowly. Touching him. Wanting to touch him. Wanting him.

And oh, hey -- that's what fantasies are for, for attaining the unattainable, making the impossible happen, so if he wanted to go there and slide around on Fraser for a while, or push him up against a sturdy log-cabin wall and lick him until he broke through every bit of reserve and had Fraser letting go, letting him, wanting him, well, he could do that.

Images changed and shifted and he closed his eyes tight, not even caring that it hurt, and whatever was in him was really running wild now, because the next thing he saw was the walloping shock of himself on his knees, holding Fraser's shifting hips steady while he opened his mouth and started giving, giving everything he had and taking everything Fraser offered...

And he was shaking... and Fraser was shaking... and his hand ached and his jaw stretched and his tongue licked sweet stinging pain over his cut lip and Fraser licked his lips, too, and said his name so very, very sweetly, like singing, like wanting, and Fraser would come for him because he had to and he wanted to and Fraser would go out of control and shudder and buck, just like this, just like this exactly. Overwhelmed. Out of control. Coming hard.

"Jesus-fuckin'-goddamn-sonofabitch-Christ..."

He whammed the back of his head into the wall, praying with some dim corner of his mind that it hadn't been too loud, that he hadn't been too loud, hadn't woken the dogs. He didn't really feel like explaining himself to Diefenbaker, either. His body felt utterly limp, utterly used, and he didn't know what he'd been expecting by taking Fraser along for the ride but God he hadn't expected anything... quite... like... that.

And then there was darkness, and the sound of his own breath shifting down to normal little by little by little, and his racing, runaway pulse going back to his chest where it belonged, rather than something he felt all the way to his eyelashes. There was quiet.

Not exactly peace, but quiet. At least.

He wiped his hand on his jeans, and was about to get himself packed away nicely when he realized that, despite coming so hard that his relatives probably felt it, his erection hadn't really subsided all that much.

Amazing. An utterly amazing thing -- he opened his eyes to check it out, this jaw-dropper of a physical impossibility, this ultimate betrayal by his own dearest body part, took a half-step to the left, a half-turn, and then he couldn't look anywhere --

Except at Fraser. Who was standing about ten yards away.

Oh, dear.

Despite the cold, despite the fact that he'd only taken time to pull on his jeans and boots and parka, unlaced, unzipped; thrown from his normal routine by worry at waking to find Ray gone -- not in his cot, not in the corner chair, not in the bathroom, nowhere to be found -- he felt... warm. Hot. His face burned, his bare palms were slick with sweat, itchy.

He'd wondered as he struggled into his boots, not bothering with socks -- had he missed a head injury in his examination?

Perhaps Ray was disoriented, or had felt the call of nature and forgotten they had an indoor W.C....

Had Ray lain in bed and ruminated on the fight to the point where he felt he had to return to the saloon and assuage his injured pride?

A small part of Fraser's mind, the part still interested in logic, while the rest of him melted into something far less rational, noted that none of the scenarios he'd devised in the brief time between waking and standing there, just meters away from an apparently perfectly healthy Ray, were correct.

He'd seen Ray, once he turned the corner of the cabin. He'd seen Ray, leaning with his back against the shed, one knee slightly bent, his head back, but Ray hadn't seen him. Ray didn't know he was there. He'd started to call out to him, but then he saw Ray's hand, down between his legs, taking out his erection, stroking it, saw him duck his face into the neck of his sweater.

His sweater. Wait. No, not Ray's sweater. His sweater. The one with the stretched out rollneck and the cables, the one he'd been wearing for days. The one that smelled like whatever he smelled of -- leather, and wool... and tea.

And he stopped in his tracks. Riveted. He felt a sliver of heat curl in his stomach, slither down between his legs; felt his whole body flush. A potent mixture of shock and embarrassment, he told himself. He and Ray had shared many things in the past two years, and more in the past two weeks, but not... this. Not... that.

Natural to be embarrassed. Natural. The moment he recognized it, he knew he should turn, walk away as quietly as he possibly could.

Only he didn't move. He didn't budge from where he stood. And it didn't feel like embarrassment. Those same symptoms -- flushed face, pounding heart, shortened breath, he could excuse. But that didn't explain the rest of his response, the physical jolt that shook his entire system -- profound and immediate, disturbing and exciting -- past shock, somehow, beyond shock in a way he couldn't comprehend. It didn't explain how he was not only moved by this but... stirred, aroused; definitely aroused and trapped in it, amazed and discomfited by his own arousal.

It didn't explain why he still didn't walk away, why he couldn't take his eyes off Ray's... member, hard in the cold, glistening faintly. It seemed almost nonsensical, the way looking at that part of Ray forced waves of heat all through him -- he had seen male genitalia before, certainly, but this was not that. This was... this meant something to him. Perhaps because this was Ray. Perhaps because Ray was wearing -- smelling -- his sweater. Perhaps because Ray looked so... needy, so hungry for something that Fraser knew he shouldn't understand but maybe he did, maybe he did understand this after all.

He watched the whole thing -- the way Ray's head dropped back, as if his neck couldn't hold the weight of it. The way Ray's hand moved, the long fingers tight around his erection. He watched Ray's hips slide back and forth in raw, graceful thrusts, saw him lick his cut lip, saw him brace himself against the wall with his other hand. He saw his face tighten, pain and wonder colliding across his cheekbones, then a rough litany of expletives erupted at the same time as his man-handled penis, semen bursting into the air, over Ray's hand, down onto the snow.

He was dizzy, his head spinning as if he was being deprived of oxygen -- and so he was. He couldn't breathe. His knees threatened to buckle under him, and something dark and wonderful and terrifying rushed through him in a sharply visceral way that felt almost like his undoing, because he couldn't breathe, or move, or look away...

Not even when Ray turned and looked at him, his hand cradling his still-hard penis.

Caught in the light between the moon and the snow, Ray glowed. He looked fever bright, his body radiating waves of arousal and anger and something that might have been disbelief. As Fraser continued to stare at him, still unable to look away, Ray covered himself with his hand, pressing hard, and when Fraser took a shaky step toward him, he wheeled around, giving Fraser his back. Fraser froze as the full sense of his transgression hit, and he might have turned away, then, if Ray hadn't spoken. He might have.

"What's a guy gotta do to get some privacy around here?" Ray asked, his voice low and rough.

"Ray --" He was rooted to the spot, again -- what could he say? That he'd been worried? That he was sorry? He wasn't sorry, he realized, and the ache in his groin agreed. He didn't have it in him to be sorry. Not about something that real and immediate, not about seeing... Ray. And not about himself.

Part of him knew how strange that was, that he should be incapable of feeling sorry about bearing unintentional witness to what was of course a very private thing, but he held that in abeyance for now. It was up to Ray. Ray could make him sorry, if he wanted to. If he left. Or, conversely, Ray could stay. Talk about it. And he could offer... understanding.

He did, after all, understand. Of course Ray had... needs. All men did.

He certainly did. Although he usually forgot about them until he was forcibly reminded.

As he was being reminded now.

"I mean, Jesus, it's two in the morning. You're asleep. Why aren't you asleep?" Ray said.

Fraser heard a hint of panic in his voice, and that prompted him to move, finally -- but forward, not away. He walked steadily towards him, reaching down to adjust his own erection to a more comfortable position in his jeans. Yes, he'd been asleep. Maybe he'd been asleep for a long time. All he knew was that he felt wide awake now, alert and ready, his muscles and nerves singing, his mind and body clear in the cold.

Ray, with his injured pride and his aching body, had come out into the dark and the cold, propelled by some urgent need. A need he'd satisfied with his face buried in Fraser's sweater, surrounded by his smell. A sharp joy sliced through Fraser at the thought, and he looked at Ray as if he'd never seen him before. Maybe he hadn't. Maybe this Ray, naked in part and exposed everywhere, was someone he'd glimpsed only briefly before: his expression after he'd hit him, there by the lake. The shake in his shoulders as he'd cried outside Beth Botrelle's house. The soft question in his voice, his eyes, outside a hospital room, 'so, we still partners?'

Just glimpses of the Ray who now stood before of him, ready to bolt, protecting himself with words, but showing so much more.

He stopped about a foot away. Closer than polite company would stand, closer than necessary. Ray wouldn't look at him, hadn't moved, hadn't tucked himself back in his pants. He just stood there, his head tilted away, exposing the long clean line of his throat. Fraser wanted to press his tongue there, just below the tendon, find the pulse he knew throbbed beneath the surface.

He took a deep breath. He hadn't expected this, but it felt... right. Felt like an extension of the closeness that had grown between them, like something that had been there all the time, waiting patiently to be discovered. He hoped he hadn't read Ray wrong. A strange hope, perhaps, given the complications this could lead to, but suddenly he wanted it.

Wanted Ray.

He'd said Ray wasn't most people, but it was so much more than that. He'd had so few people in his life he could talk to, without having to weigh his thoughts, or measure his words. In Ray, he'd found a true friend. Someone who trusted him enough to cling to an airplane wing, someone who loved him enough to jump through a window on a motorcycle.

Someone who loved him.

Someone who loved him enough.

His partner. His friend. That wasn't hard to say. Not in the least. Now he just had to tell Ray, show Ray, they could have even more than that.

"We should go back inside," he said, close enough now to see that Ray was shivering. Out in the dark without a coat - what had Ray been thinking? Body heat and sexual adrenaline could only counterbalance the cold for so long, and it seemed this conversation would better be held indoors.

Ray dropped his chin to his chest and deliberately tucked his erection back into his pants, zipping carefully over it. He rearranged himself, then started walking, brushing Fraser's shoulder as he passed. Fraser followed him, watching his awkward stride, knowing his own mirrored it.

By the time Fraser had shed his coat and boots, Ray was back in bed, the covers pulled to his waist, his arm covering his eyes. He'd pulled off his own boots and jeans, Fraser saw, but he was still wearing the sweater.

Fraser went to sit on the end of his own cot, which put him at Ray's feet, but closer than sitting in one of the chairs, and being close seemed like a good idea. If he put out a hand, he could clasp Ray's foot, but he didn't, propping his arms on his thighs instead, his hands on his knees.

Quiet filled the little cabin while Fraser searched for words. The fantastic rush of what had happened outside had dissipated, leaving him still aroused but much less comfortable about it, uncomfortable even being in this state in Ray's presence, let alone being in this state because of Ray's presence. He licked dry lips and tried to find an approach -- there would be a bridge, here; all he had to do was build it.

Indeed. Build the bridge. Abruptly he cleared his throat in frustration -- ask him about Inuit hunting rituals, or the proper measurement of a fathom and he could spout paragraphs. But this, here, with Ray... this didn't come as easily.

Then Ray surprised him by speaking first.

"How do you handle it?" he asked.

"Handle what, Ray?"

Ray shrugged absently, a sudden and somehow resigned movement. "All of it. Being out there in the nothing world, nothing but snowshoes and dog food... "

Fraser took a breath. Was that all that was going on? Had the isolation played tricks on Ray? Led him down a path he wouldn't ordinarily walk? A sobering thought.

He cleared his throat again, feeling his arousal abate under his indecision, unsure whether or not he should be relieved by that. "Well, you make do."

Ray lifted his arm from over his eyes and peered at him. "That's it?"

Fraser nodded. "Well, yes. You do what needs to be done." He took a deep breath, then gestured in the general vicinity of Ray's groin. "You... make do."

Ray's eyes widened, and his hand slid halfway to his lap before he seemed to realize what he was doing and slapped it onto the bed beside him instead.

"I don't know what I'm doing out here," he said. He sounded miserable.

Fraser mulled that over. Did he mean it literally, as in he still felt ill-equipped for the challenge? Or did he mean it metaphorically, philosophically, that he didn't know why he'd come, why he'd wanted to make the journey?

"You're doing fine, Ray," he said, choosing the most obvious approach.

"I'm all... messed up," Ray continued, almost in a whisper.

Fraser's heart turned over. No matter where he went, Ray seemed to be the outcast, the... oh, what was the term he'd used... oddball. Fraser didn't want him to feel that way with him. He wanted Ray to feel the way Ray made him feel. Accepted. Appreciated. At home. Even occasionally aggravated beyond belief.

"No, you're not. You're doing fine," he repeated, and his hand moved of its own volition, reaching out to hold Ray's foot under the blanket.

Ray barked a laugh, a bitter sound. "Oh yeah, I'm good. I'm great. I think I need some serious help."

Fraser pressed the arch of Ray's foot, and heard himself say, over the beat of his suddenly pounding heart: "I can help."

Ray propped himself up on his elbows, staring down the length of his body at Fraser. Fraser saw his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed hard.

"With what?" he said, his lips barely moving.

"Any of it. All of it," Fraser answered, hoping Ray would understand. Hoping he knew what he was saying.

Ray sat up, holding his ribs as he did so. His face looked tight with tension again, his eyes intense, holding Fraser's gaze.

"So... uh... do you make do, too?" Ray asked, his hand once again sliding between his legs, so Fraser had no doubt what he referred to.

Fraser nodded.

"I'm human, too, Ray," he said, moving from his cot to Ray's without letting go of that warm foot. "I'm just like you."

Just like him.

In a pig's eye.

Not to mention the obvious -- that Fraser was big and polite and weird in some cool and annoying ways and Canadian; and...

...and holding his foot... and sitting on his cot... while he was sitting here with his freak-of-nature dick in his hand...

...and Fraser was looking at him with that same look he'd had out by the shed, after he'd (Jesus!) watched him jerk off and then stared at him, not looking disgusted or like some innocent guy who had wandered into the wrong section of the video rental store; but looking interested, looking kind of... hungry. A familiar look. A look that was just like his own face felt -- the poor kid in a candy store look.

Maybe he'd have to just take Fraser's word for it.

Ray opened his mouth, not sure what was going to say until he heard himself. "I... uh... I didn't wear your sweater on purpose, you know."

Fraser blinked, and leaned back a little. Yeah, that was out of left field. For both of them. "You didn't?"

For whatever reason, this seemed important, like he had to get this one thing across, if nothing else. "Nope. Got dressed in the dark. I was gonna leave you out of it. I was all ready to leave you out of it..."

He stopped, wondering if he'd said too much. When Fraser blushed, he knew for sure.

Fraser cleared his throat. "I... like it, that you wore my sweater, Ray. I'm glad you did."

He didn't want to smile at that, but it was either that or bite his own lip to stop it, and that would hurt. The smile hurt. But it felt good, too. "Yeah? You liked that, huh?"

Fraser nodded, looking so serious about it that for a second Ray felt a cold clutch of panic -- this was... that subtle thing, that fucking-around-hinting-around sort of thing, and if anybody could be counted on to take that the wrong way, it would be Fraser.

He sat up straight, and pushed away the panic. For now. "So..." it occurred to him that he was still hanging onto his hard-on like someone was going to try to take it away from him, and he pulled his hand away, going for casual. Sniffed. Tried to get both eyes focused on Fraser's. "So... okay... what else do you like?"

Fraser smiled -- the most relaxed kind of smile he could ever remember seeing on his face. "I like you," Fraser said calmly, like it was nothing; "very much."

That sounded like put-up or shut-up time, and Ray had just about worked himself up to ask which one it was going to be -- when Fraser shocked him into silence by going for his mouth and his dick at the same time, warm lips and a hot hand knocking the words right out of his head. 'Don't kiss me' floated through his mind, but thank God not through his mouth, because that was just an automatic thing; a knee-jerk-thing because Fraser was a guy and he was a guy and this wasn't a fantasy but was really really real and he wasn't supposed to...

Tongue in his mouth. Slick and soft. Eager. His entire body jerked like he'd been hit with electricity, and he pushed his cock into Fraser's hand until his ribs made him stop.

...Wasn't supposed to... oh jeez, there was something he wasn't supposed to do but he couldn't remember, couldn't remember a goddamn single thing and he was glad...

Fraser kissed like he was starving and that was really good, that was wonderful, because both of them were getting it, getting what they needed. His split lip throbbed when Fraser licked it; licked across it so softly and gently that it loosened something up inside him and pushed him right up to the edge. Already one-off tonight, and here he was ready to go for it again, ready to let it all hang out if only Fraser would keep holding him like that, just like that, if only Fraser would lick him like that one more time.

He made some sound -- he didn't know what, couldn't hear it, but Fraser must have heard it because he pulled back an inch or two. "Did you say something, Ray?"

"I..." Fraser's eyes looked huge, much bigger than he remembered ever seeing them. "No. Just -- your tongue."

Speak of the devil. Swiping across Fraser's bottom lip. He shivered.

"Yes?"

He pushed into Fraser's hand again. "You, uh... licked me."

Fraser squeezed him, softly. "Yes."

There was something clawing at him, something inside that wanted out. He pulled in a deep breath. "I kinda... I really liked it."

"You did."

He'd meant to be in charge of this, to be in control of this, from the very second he thought it might actually happen. That had been the plan.

He'd been married, right, he knew the score more, even if it wasn't quite the same because, like he'd said, Fraser was just like him, not like a wife, or even a girl, but still, Ray was the horny hopped-up one, and Fraser was the guy who barely got laid... and... but...

But it seemed, like most of his plans, to be pretty weak in the follow-through department, because with the way Fraser was kind of on top of him and stroking him up good and licking all the parts of his jaw and neck and (God!) ear that were in reach, he didn't seem to be in charge of much of anything except making a lot of noise.

And of course, because it was Fraser, there were words right along with the licking. What did he expect?

"The human tongue is one of the most proficient sensory organs, Ray."

"Oh God -- you don't say, Fraser? Jesus..." There? He liked getting licked there?

"Indeed. The ability to discern subtleties in taste and texture is a skill that's easy to cultivate--"

"Jesus. Cultivate. Fraser--"

"Which of course makes it one of the best diagnostic tools that we sensory-limited humans have at our disposal--"

"Fraser. You're, oh... um... you're a freak, Fraser." Freaking good at it, is what he was.

"All in all a sensitive, ductile organ; easily suited to numerous purposes--"

"Yeah, like that purpose, that purpose thing there that you just did, that swirly thing, you do that on purpose?"

"Like this, Ray?"

"Oh yeah, that's the one--"

"Well, yes; I suppose it's good for that too."

"You're telling me -- you're... Fraser... Oh God oh God oh God..."

And he'd thought that maybe Fraser couldn't do the licking thing without the lecturing thing along with it; that maybe Fraser used his brain for sex instead of his body. But when Fraser shifted over to the side and yanked the blanket away, pushed up his sweater (his sweater!), pulled down his briefs, then tongued a wide stripe down his chest before going right deep down on him -- tight and warm, slippery and so, so deep -- well, that theory kind of went out the window; along with whatever was left of his sanity.

Which was why he didn't push Fraser away, even though he heard Fraser's breathing stutter and catch, even though he thought that Fraser might be choking down there. His hands flew to Fraser's head, clutching, gripping like he was desperate or something, because he was.

Fraser let him, Fraser let him in. A powerful sense of being welcomed overwhelmed him -- he couldn't remember ever feeling anything like that before, like he was wanted right where he was. Fraser wanted him. Like this.

And in all the time he'd been beating himself up over wanting Fraser, angels and demons in a pissing contest over who had the upper hand, he'd never once, not even once, imagined Fraser on the giving end. It had always been Fraser taking, accepting, passive, letting him do stuff. He'd never imagined Fraser doing, doing that, doing this.

Never imagined himself, laid back, stretched out, not in charge, not in control, not even a little bit. Not at all.

"Fraser..."

Shaking, shaking so hard and pushing... he knew he shouldn't push but he just couldn't stop.

"Fraser, that's it... I can't... I gotta... I'm gonna... "

No words left but he kept up the racket, moaning out all sorts of helpless noises while it crashed into him what he was doing, here, that he was pumping up hard, that he was about to come in Fraser's mouth. It was like liquid lightning through him, spiking and melting him all at once, and his cries, his body went out of control as he pulled Fraser to him and shot; rocking in as deep as he could go, using his hands to cradle Fraser's head while he pulsed and shuddered and groaned with the mind-bending pleasure of it.

Sometime shortly after that, the sanity that had taken a little siesta so that he could go purely nuts in Fraser's sweet mouth finally put in an appearance. He was still twitching and gasping with residual ripples when a cold wave of fear and shame caught him up, turning everything that had melted inside him into something that felt like it just might make him sick. He had just... He couldn't believe that he'd just...

"Fraser."

His voice must have been a tip-off. Fraser was up and around him right away, holding him. Careful of his bruises.

Fraser, holding him. Unbelievable.

But for right now, it seemed like what he needed. So he let himself be held.

He hadn't known.

He'd read, of course. Growing up with a librarian had seen to that. Libraries were like churches to him: places for spiritual solace, intellectual nurturing, the occasional epiphany.

He'd read, behind the shelving, and between the lines sometimes, the works of D.H. Lawrence, the delicate mystery of Pearl S. Buck, the Songs of Solomon, absorbing the lush potential of erotic possibility. And as he'd grown, he'd heard half-understood jokes about the ways people could love, the various combinations, the paths a man could choose beyond what a boy might find to read about in his grandparent's library.

He'd never understood how it could be joked about, belittled. As a lonely boy growing into a solitary man, the idea of creating a connection with anyone, man or woman, seemed exotic, wondrous. As out of his reach as the stars in the sky, as distant.

So he'd read about love, and sex. Knew the mechanics of the latter, and the hazards of the former. He'd learned about men and women, men and men, women and women. He couldn't say he'd been misinformed, or under-educated. But nothing he'd read, or known, or even imagined, had prepared him for the feel of Ray Kowalski's mouth under his, the wonder of Ray's erection balanced in his hand.

His last experience -- painful to remember at every point -- he'd confused sex with love, protectiveness with need. That, too, had been a kind of epiphany. He'd shied away from repeating the mistake, held himself away, apart... from most people, anyway. The pleasure of sex hadn't been worth the pain of love.

But here, there was no pain. No pain at all, just desire, and affection, and... relief. Here lay Ray, aroused and unguarded, wide open, letting him in.

He couldn't get close enough. Touching wasn't enough. Tasting the whorls of Ray's ear wasn't enough, or his throat, or his collarbone, with the faint whiff of his own scent wafting to his nostrils from the open neck of the blue sweater he decided they'd now have to share.

He'd built a bridge between them, and then he'd crossed it, pushing down barriers with his hands and mouth, hearing himself give a lecture on the wonders of the human tongue while underneath, deep inside, he'd mapped Ray's body in his mind, memorized it, learning again the sweet curve of rib, the tender belly below, reaching for Ray's straining erection with reverence and hunger. Only then, only when his mouth closed warm and tight around him, did he feel close enough.

It took Ray's fingers, clenched tight in his hair, the narrow curve of his hips firm in his hands, and the heat of him, hard, wet, smooth, thrusting deep enough to choke him, almost deep enough, to make it perfect. He'd listened to Ray's gasps and groans, to the sound of his own name, repeated in shades of desperation, amazement, need, and felt his own arousal skyrocket in response, leaping forward again to match Ray, to meet him.

And then Ray had gone on without him, cresting, jerking in his mouth, filling it with slick, salty fluid, another flavor to remember, and hard on the heels of his release, Fraser could feel him panic, smelled it, leaching into the last shudders of pleasure, so he climbed Ray's body, pulling him into his arms, holding tight, as if he could block the regret with the shield of his body.

"Fraser --" Ray whispered, but he shushed him, rocking him slowly, clamping down hard on his own unsatisfied need.

Ray rubbed his head against him, the soft spikes of his hair making him tingle. "Where'd you learn to do that?" he asked, his voice slurred.

That? Oh. That.

"The Inuvik public library," he said, letting his mouth taste Ray's hair -- shampoo residue, sweat.

Ray pulled his head back, bumping Fraser's chin. "Get out. Who with?"

"Who with? What do you... Oh, I see. No, I didn't... I haven't... " Fraser closed his mouth. Surely he could answer a simple question. Surely they'd reached that point.

"I read about it, Ray. I haven't ever done it before," he said, pulling Ray's head back down, tucking him into his chest.

Ray lay quietly against him for a few minutes, then said, "You didn't... mind? Doing that?"

Oh, please let him say the right thing. If he'd ever wanted to listen well, answer right, it was now.

"I didn't mind, Ray. I wanted to. I wanted... you."

He felt Ray tremble underneath him, felt his own body tremble in response, thinking again how little he'd learned, shockingly attuned to the slightest quiver beneath him. Without making a conscious decision, he nudged his erection against Ray's hip, and felt Ray twitch under him, heard a smothered groan, then the clutch of Ray's hands on his back, kneading at him, encouraging him.

Fraser pulled away a little, resting his hand lightly on Ray's side, careful not to press on his sore ribs. Ray was breathing hard, his face flushed, his bruised eye livid. His good eye met Fraser's, blinked twice, and the brow above it climbed into his forehead.

"What?" Ray asked.

"Is it all right... if I... " Fraser couldn't find the words, so he moved his hips again, rocked into the saddle of Ray's pelvis. As he watched, the confusion melted from Ray's face, replaced by something that looked perilously close to tenderness.

"Yeah, yeah, anything," Ray said, his hands sliding up under Fraser's shirt, playing on his back.

Fraser ducked his head into Ray's shoulder, back to where their smells melded together into something new, intoxicating, and slowly, carefully, thrust against him, deliberately dragging it out, trying not to forget, trying to stay on top of the feeling so he could remember it. He managed until almost the end, when Ray's hands moved down, slipping from his back to his bottom, where Fraser could feel him draw circles with his palms in time to the thrusts, pushing against him, forcing him closer.

It was all he could do not just drop his whole weight on the squirming body below, all he could do not to push his way between Ray's long thighs, open him up, bury himself. He felt long shudders wrack him, from his hands up his arms, across his shoulders and down his back, pooling between his legs, making him shake, rattling the frame of the cot. Ray held him tight at the end, one hand still splayed below his waist, the other holding the back of his neck, holding him close in the crook of his shoulder, murmuring to him.

Fraser felt himself dropping, all his muscles loosening, and he shifted to one side, bringing Ray with him, letting Ray shift on top of him. He felt boneless, groggy. He opened his eyes and couldn't tell if the hand on his chest belonged to him or to Ray. It didn't seem to matter.

He roused long enough to strip down to his undershirt and exchange his soaked boxer shorts for a clean, dry pair. He left Ray as he was, bundled in his sweater and boxer briefs, and added a pair of red socks to Ray's chilled feet before sliding back in beside him -- a precarious perch, given their combined weight and the apparent age of the cot, but a risk he felt worth taking.

Neither of them seemed to want to sleep. On Fraser's part it was something intuitive, nearly superstitious -- he didn't want to lose this. If he closed his eyes, it might all vanish. He didn't know what Ray's reasons were, but on the whole he had to admit that he didn't care, as long as Ray stayed.

And Ray did stay -- stayed close to him, stayed in his arms, stayed with him through one of the strangest conversations he'd ever had, a far-ranging mixture of past and present ("That's not the roof, that's the wind." "You sure put on a helluva party, Fraser") and personal ("It's not that I'm entirely innocent, Ray." "I knew that.") and irrelevant ("I thought it was green." "No, only in December") that was somehow like getting to know each other all over again, for the first time. The words flowed out of him in a way they almost never did -- he must be exhausted, indeed, to make such a thing possible. But he didn't want to -- wouldn't -- go to sleep.

Ray wasn't quiescent, but made up an odd and comforting bundle of twitches and shifts and emphatic, eloquent gestures. When he laughed, the vibration of it sank effortlessly into Fraser's core, a unique and profound tremor, another sensation to be memorized. Kept. He closed his eyes every time it happened, letting himself feel without limits for once, letting his body tell him just how very good it felt to be there.

There was something wonderful in that, too, beyond the bone-deep satisfaction of being stretched warm against the length of Ray's body. Arousal had so often been checked, delayed, submerged... buried... under duty, under fear, that to allow himself to just... he sought the appropriate word... ignite... Well, it made sleeping seem like a pretty silly way to spend time in a bed.

The third time he nudged Ray into an incrementally different position in his arms, Ray shifted against him. Ray seemed to have talked himself out a little while before, now only responding to Fraser's continued observations with grunts, nods and occasional strokes to the belly, all of which added to the fire simmering in Fraser's groin.

"What's the matter?" Ray mumbled, hands already tightening, as if he didn't want Fraser to move.

"Nothing, it's just... my arm has fallen asleep--"

"Should I move?"

"No -- just... no. Not at all."

But Ray seemed compelled to shift around anyway, and in such close quarters it was inevitable that they should collide a little, even though he was trying to be so careful of Ray's ribs. When Ray's groin bumped his erection, he couldn't help gasping.

Ray's eyes were on him at once, somehow wide-awake and exhausted at the same time. "Well sheesh, Fraser; why didn't you tell me you were, uh... saluting the flag, there? I mean, it's not like I'm gonna be shocked or anything--"

"But, well, it's late, and you're not... it's not... mutual, Ray--"

Ray shifted against him again, slowly and deliberately this time, pulling another gasp out of him. "Look, I've already done my thing twice tonight, and I couldn't get it up again if, uh... well, it's just not gonna happen. But we can... you know, do that 'making do' thing, that 'helping out' thing; you're real big on that. C'mon, Fraser, maybe I can earn some kinda badge or something--"

"Ray." It was ridiculous. He knew he should let Ray rest, that Ray was injured and probably dangerously close to total exhaustion, and that it was up to him to be the voice of reason under these circumstances. But there was something about Ray's enthusiasm that was incredibly compelling -- touching and seductive, without a trace of artifice. Just purely... alluring.

"Do not 'Ray' me, Fraser; I did not stay up all night talking your ear off so that you could 'Ray' me away from your hard-on. We're partners, right?"

There was no way to argue with that. Not that he wanted to. "Yes, we are."

Ray's hand was hot against him under the covers, even through his boxers. "We're friends, right?"

His numb arm, the one that had been dead for hours but had now started to tingle, tightened around Ray's shoulders. "Oh yes."

Ray's fingers, for which he was gaining a whole new level of appreciation, squeezed him briefly. "Well, there you go. So... let's get friendly."

"Ah--" he might not have gotten any further than that, might have surrendered in short order to the sweet, tight pressure of Ray's clever fingers, if he hadn't caught Ray's eyes at that moment, hadn't seen a budding heat there that made him think that, just maybe, Ray wasn't quite as enervated as he thought he was. "Wait," he managed, forcing his own body still before he could be utterly seduced by the rhythm of Ray's touch.

Ray waited, his eyes gone narrow and wary. "You chickening out on me, Fraser?"

"I... no. I'm not. I simply... I want..." He swallowed. There weren't words for this, were there? He could think of several poems that might be able to get the point across, but it was highly unlikely that Ray would be willing to wait for him to recite them.

The wariness that had appeared in Ray's eyes vanished, just as quickly. "You want... what? C'mon, spit it out, Fraser -- I promise I won't scream and run away, or throw you in a snowbank or nothing--"

"I want to move to the floor." There. That was part of it, at least. That part he had words for. Logistics. If he could persuade himself to think of this as logistics...

"The floor. Uh-huh." Ray winked with his good eye. "Is this some funky Canadian thing?" Fraser was spared the necessity of a reply as Ray sat up, moving gingerly. "Forget I asked, Fraser. Yeah. Whatever turns you on -- floor, bathtub, up against the wall--"

"Splinters, Ray," he chided, and Ray smiled at him, and something deep in his chest caught fire and just didn't go out, burning mellow and constant, warming him from the inside out.

Splinters. Splintered. Little slivers that got under your skin and demanded attention until you got some tweezers and some rubbing alcohol and dug them out. Yeah, that about covered it, Ray decided. Fraser had gotten seriously under his skin.

Who'd have thought Fraser had it in him to do this? To listen to Ray talk about having him up against a wall and his only answer being "Splinters, Ray... " and him not even blushing while he said it?

To talk about moving to the floor, to get more room, so they could... well, Fraser hadn't managed to spit that part out yet, but Ray couldn't think of a thing that he'd balk at, and a whole bunch of things he'd jump right on, so it didn't matter anymore whether Fraser could actually ask for what he wanted -- Ray planned to give it to him.

He surreptitiously poked at a bruise, just to make it hurt, to remind himself that he wasn't still off in Kowalski Fantasy Land, on an all-day pass to the land of the latent. Ouch. No, the bruise was real. Which meant he really had picked a fight with a trash-talking bartender, really had jerked off outside, with no coat (Christ, he could've frozen something important... ), really had gotten the best blow-job of his entire life from a man (a man! for God's sake... ) who'd apparently learned the mechanics out of a book.

Yup, all in all, he'd have to say, on a scale of one to ten, today rated a sixteen. Good and weird. Good and weird. Kinda like Fraser.

He should have remembered that Fraser never did anything by halves. Full-speed ahead, damn the torpedoes, dot the I's, cross the T's, in triplicate, if possible. Start like you intend to finish, follow through with the details, once you take on a job it's yours. All that Mountie stuff, shifted now towards the goal of turning one Ray Kowalski into a puddle of goo on a cot. And now, it looked like he might get a chance to puddle up the floor, too.

He watched as Fraser, with his usual efficiency, stoked up the fire, turned off the last of the lights, and made a nice, warm, soft nest on the floor to crawl into. In the light from the smudged wood stove windows, he looked... good. Considering how late it was, and how tired they were, and how hard the last couple of weeks had been, Fraser looked... great.

Calm, steady. Happy.

Fraser looked happy. The tightness he usually held around his mouth -- gone. The line between his eyebrows -- gone. He seemed totally at ease in his underwear and bare feet, like it didn't bother him a bit for Ray to see him like that, to see the bulge in the front of his shorts. They'd done a total 360. Um, no, make that a 180. They'd switched everything around.

Wasn't the adventure made him look like that. Nope, they'd been out and about for fourteen days now and Fraser'd never looked like he was on vacation... until now.

He'd put that look on Fraser's face. Well, sort of. Not much beat a good orgasm for putting a smile on your face, but Ray decided he could take some credit for it. It was his hip Fraser'd been rubbing, his shoulder Fraser'd been chewing on. Fraser'd had a good time on his body; he knew it. Nice thing about being with a guy -- they kinda couldn't hide it when all the cylinders were fired up.

Fraser hadn't even tried to hide it. Ray shook his head, wondering just how he could have gotten it all so wrong. Fraser hadn't freaked, hadn't pulled back, shoved away, nothing. Fraser'd gone for it. Gone for it in a big old way. Here he'd been so worried, stressed out over something he couldn't help, couldn't stop, couldn't go forward with, and Fraser'd just taken all that worry away. Kissed it away.

Sucked it away.

Oh, fuck. Fraser'd sucked him. Just the thought of it was enough to make his heart skip a beat and his dick grow an inch. He stretched in the cot, feeling the chill now that Mr. Radiator had left. The bumps and bruises he'd taken felt like they belonged to somebody else, like they couldn't begin to bug him, not with how great the rest of him felt.

He'd have never believed he could get it up one more time, not after doing it twice. Incredible, both times. He'd never felt... anything like that.

He wanted that feeling again, felt himself waking up, felt his groin stir and his body warm. He hoped Fraser'd quit dicking around with the damn bed and just get on with it already. Fraser had a plan, he could tell. No hemming and hawing this go-round, no sir. Whatever weird but good plan Fraser had, Ray was along for the ride.

Saddle up, boys, we're headed out.

With his bedroll and Ray's bedroll and all of the blankets from both cots spread out on the floor they had a fairly comfortable and certainly more commodious nest, and he'd taken advantage of it at once by stripping Ray out of his clothes and laying him down. There was skin to be touched, and bruises to be kissed apologetically, and whole worlds to be discovered here; planes and angles and slopes of muscle, soft down and intriguing musky smells, and mysterious scars to be traced with the tip of his tongue.

"Hey." Ray actually sounded scandalized. "What're you... I'm not... Fraser, you're the guy with his boxers in a twist, here. Not me."

"But this is what I want, Ray." That was true, at least for this moment.

"Seriously, Fraser, not that you're not... you know... great with the tongue thing and everything, but I just can't... oh. Oh. I -- uh... wow."

"Mmm." Apparently, Ray had no further need to dissuade him, which was a relief. He indulged himself to the fullest, drawing in the details one at a time -- smooth, flushed skin, tremors that worked their way into him as if connected to his core, warmth and slick wetness and the simple, annihilating lust of flesh following his touch, seeking him out.

He drew it all in until he felt glutted, until the rigid length between his legs throbbed a beat that echoed through his whole body. When he gently guided Ray over to lie on his stomach, Ray let out a moan that made him bite his bottom lip. He had to force his hands not to shake.

Ray's gasps for breath tore at him, a nonverbal declaration of want and need that he responded to helplessly. When he stroked Ray's smooth thighs apart, Ray's whole body shuddered, and Fraser felt something dark and ravenous well up from the pit of his stomach, something that wanted him to clutch much more tightly than he was allowing himself to do.

"Oh God, Fraser -- you're gonna do it, aren't you? You're gonna go for it. You're gonna--"

Ray sounded like he wasn't too far away from a state of aroused panic, but for some reason that seemed strangely unimportant. Far less important than the incredible smooth saltiness of Ray's skin under his tongue; warm and faintly moist and wonderfully alive, pulling at him while faint, far-off moaning sounded an echo of his own astonishment, tugging him along on the currents of twitch and shiver beneath him until he traced a damp path down to the sweet, shadowed cleft that he found he couldn't resist.

Ray moved against him at the first touch of his tongue there. Not away from him... toward him, opening to him with a groan that held no hint of panic, only surprise and what sounded like, what had to be, pleasure.

Pressure built behind his closed eyes -- too far, he was too far gone now to stop or think or reason, he could only give himself to this. He could only put his whole heart into it, and go on, and on, and on, and live with the ache of knowing that, at some point, he would have to stop, that he wouldn't be joined to Ray like this anymore. Slick, tight muscle spasmed against his tongue, a luxurious ripple that ran through him, right down to his toes. Ray's body arched, spread, shook under his hands, and when he gave in to his own urges and let himself hold tight, it speared him with pleasure so intense he grew faint.

And Ray let him, let him do this, let him hide here -- Ray gave to him, took from him and gave back again. Fraser marveled, he had to... being touched and touching, really touching; a phenomenon.

Ray... was so... very... hot... inside.

"...Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh Jesus Fraser if you don't stop..."

Words that drifted to him as if at the very outside edge of his hearing, even though Ray was right there. He stopped. Forced himself back. Opened his eyes.

He was shocked to see how tightly he'd gripped Ray's hips (as if the man didn't have enough bruises already), and made himself let go. He pressed his lips together instead, pulling hard for air through his nose. Ray's words had died off into an incoherent mumble, and now there was nothing to go on except desperate gasps, which could have meant anything.

"Ray?" His own voice sounded strange, splintered to his ears. "Did I hurt you?"

"Huh?" He noticed with some alarm that Ray's body was now drenched in sweat, and was still shaking.

"Did I hurt you?"

Ray laughed. It didn't sound like a very comfortable laugh, but it was something. "Well, to be completely honest, Fraser, I think you kinda almost killed me."

He tensed, prepared to pull away, but before he could Ray's hand reached back towards him; a shaky, but determined grip on his wrist. "No, Fraser. You didn't hurt me."

He kept his sigh of relief as quiet as possible. "I see." He rose to his knees and looked at Ray, this sweating, trembling, on-the-edge-of-everything Ray. He saw the strength there and the fortitude, the core of substance that was so obvious, so very easy to see even though Ray was blind to it himself.

He drew in a deep breath. "I know what I want, Ray."

Ray's head scrubbed against the blankets in what he could only assume was a nod. "Uh-huh. It's yours. Whatever you want, take it. All yours, Fraser."

One last kiss pressed to Ray's slippery spine; then he pushed himself up and back, and it was the work of only a moment -- a very scattered moment -- to collect a necessary item from a pouch of his pack. His hands would not stop shaking, no matter how hard he tried to make them.

He turned to find Ray sitting up, staring at him with an absolutely inexplicable look on his face, a shifting melange of what looked like self-consciousness and desire, trepidation and raw, exposed need. He wondered what his own face looked like, right now. All he could feel was heat, and craving for yet more heat.

Wordlessly, he handed Ray the tube, and took the opportunity while Ray studied it to slip out of his boxers and his undershirt. To be naked as Ray was naked, with nothing more in the way of artifice or illusion or defense to come between them. Chills and waves of warmth chased over him indiscriminately, leaving him to sweat and shiver in the perfectly temperate air of the room.

"Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream?" Ray asked, and that bare-wire look of his had retreated a bit; his eyebrows now drawn together in apparent amusement. "Got something going on for Norwegians that you forgot to mention, Fraser?"

It was at once a relief and a disappointment, to take this step away from intensity. He raised his own eyebrows. "Are you Norwegian, Ray?"

Ray shrugged, smirked at him. If they hadn't both been in the altogether it might have been just like any other day. "Dunno. How far is Norway from Poland?"

He just smiled, because it would only annoy Ray if he told him the answer. He moved forward, took up the spot that Ray had vacated in the middle of the bedroll, and stretched out on his stomach before his brain had a chance to catch up with him.

"Hey, what gives?" Ray sounded almost distressed. "I thought we were... I thought you knew what you wanted--"

"I do, Ray." If he craned his neck he could see... yes, that definitely looked like incipient panic on Ray's face. "I want you."

"Right right right -- I know that, Fraser; but I thought you wanted... that other... the other way."

Fraser rose up on his elbows, careful not to shift too much pressure onto his erection, which felt like it was ready to burn a hole in the blanket under him. "Would you prefer another position? I'm certainly amenable to--"

"Not that. Your position's... fine, it's great, that's, um... wow, that's a great view. But I thought you wanted to... you know. Do me."

Aha. Yes, he could see now where Ray might have inferred that. "You're very strong, Ray," it was the only argument he felt he could speak aloud. "Perhaps stronger than you know. I want to feel... that. That's... what I want."

"Oh jeez..." He watched Ray scrub his hands over his face, avoiding his bruised eye. "I didn't figure on that, Fraser. I didn't think--"

"Is the idea distasteful to you, Ray? Because I don't want--"

"No no no--" Ray's hands waved, eloquent in the air. "I'm just... I just gotta switch gears, here. Gotta get with the program. I can do this."

Hearing that set off a ripple of anticipation through him, a tightly-wound thrum of expectancy that hardened his nipples and pooled in his groin with delicious heaviness. "Good. Thank you, Ray."

Something that looked like it wanted to be a smile flitted over Ray's face. There was still panic, there, but it was overshadowed by something much warmer, something like... affection. "You're a freak."

He was helpless to hold back his own smile, after that. "Understood."

He turned his face to the blanket, wiping his smile on the softness under his mouth, and lay as still as he could while Ray first knelt beside him, then slowly spread his weight over him, pinning him with wiry strength. Smooth, warm skin pressed against his back, causing his erection to grind deep into the shelter of bedding he'd created.

Fraser closed his eyes and clutched handfuls of blankets, determined to let Ray set his own pace, do this however he wanted. He'd bite his tongue before he asked Ray to go faster, though the first, cautious strokes down his back, over his buttocks, made him want to lunge, to arch up and push out and make Ray use the strength he knew lived just under the surface.

He was floating on a cloud of wool and down and long, hot strokes when he felt Ray tense above him, felt fingernails dig briefly into his bottom as Ray pushed himself up.

"Oh fuck!"

"Ray?" It was difficult, so very difficult to come back, to bring himself out of the warm haze he'd been floating in as Ray touched and stroked and held him. His head felt so heavy. "Is there a problem?"

Ray's breath was hot over the skin of his back, distracting. He tried to distance himself from it, to pay proper attention. "Yeah; problem. There's a problem, Fraser. We don't have any rubbers, that's the problem--"

Oh dear. He felt unutterably foolish, not to have thought of that. Disappointment welled up in his throat, tinged at the edges with something that felt almost like rage; that he should be so close, that this should be taken away from him now. It seemed... unacceptable. That prompted him to speak. "Ray, I understand if this isn't sufficient for you, but I can assure you that, according to all of my annual physical examinations, I'm completely free of disease..."

Ray sighed against his back, and he couldn't help but lift up to the brush of air.. "I know, Fraser -- I get the same damn tests you do every year and I'm fine, and yeah, it's not like I've been dating anybody but my own hand either. But I know you, and you've got, like, those principle things, and I know you'll get all messed up about it--"

"Ray."

"What?"

This was always, as ever, the peril of this situation -- his heart and mind and body engaged, and his 'principle things' vanished as if they'd never been. It should frighten him, or shame him, perhaps; but at the moment all he could feel was the sweet freedom of being enslaved by his own passions. "It isn't... it wouldn't be the first time we endangered our lives in a wildly bizarre way."

Ray chuckled, sending shivers through him. "No, it wouldn't. You got that one right." A skim of knuckles over his shoulder blade, sliding down and down and finally trailing off over his left buttock. "You sure? I mean, I know it's nuts, but are you sure?"

It was hard to get the words out, when all he wanted to do was spread himself wider, show Ray his assent. "Oh, yes, Ray. Quite sure."

And he was.


 

He could do this. He could do this. He could make it good, he hoped. Please...

The little demon on his shoulder (or else it was the angel, he couldn't keep track of them in the noise anymore), wondered whether this might be just another post-ass-kicking press junket in Fraser's 'Let's Reassure Ray' campaign, but he shook it off. Nobody'd go that far, take it that far... nobody'd take it up the ass just to make a guy feel better about himself. Not even Fraser would do that. No way.

Which meant they'd just moved into some seriously new geography.

"You really want me to do this??" He had to ask, had to make sure one more time, because there was no room to make a mistake, here; this was... too big. Too big a deal.

Underneath him Fraser stretched, arched, that wide, solid body looking like someone had stolen all the bones out of it. It made his mouth dry. "Yes, Ray," the answer came so soft and dreamy that it didn't sound like Fraser. "I want you to... I want it to last a long time."

Oh yeah. Like that was gonna happen. Of course Fraser couldn't ask for anything normal, anything possible -- but what did he expect? Just because Fraser was a guy, he was gonna say something like 'I want you to come in five seconds and then pass out on me, that'd be good, Ray.' Right.

Every muscle in his body tensed, stretched until it was humming. That was not good. Ray took a deep, deep breath, wiped the sweat off his face, and tried to force back the shakes.

He could do this.

His hand slipped the first time he tried to slide his index finger inside Fraser. Skittered right off him, leaving a snail trail of lotion halfway across his ass. Well, shit. Okay, okay. He rubbed in the lotion, like he'd meant to do that, you know, foreplay, and tried again. Got a little bit in that time, up to a knuckle, then two, and damn, if it didn't feel tight in there. Really tight. Like how was anything bigger than that supposed to fit in there? And why would Fraser want it to?

When Fraser'd been licking him up (glory be, just the thought of it made his own ass clench), he'd thought yeah, he could go for more, go for something that'd sink deeper, stay longer, be stronger. What might have seemed kind of gross, and not at all a good idea -- if he hadn't just been licked practically out of his skin -- had suddenly seemed okay. Better than okay. And maybe if it'd been Fraser doing him, it would've been different. Fraser'd said he read stuff, maybe he'd know what he was doing.

Ray didn't. That tight little hidden hole wasn't anything like the warm wet places he'd known before, where you just slid around some and poked here and there and then slipped right home. This looked like it might take some work. He had a ways to go, here, and he'd stalled out at the gate.

He shifted uncomfortably, using the excuse of lubing up again to give himself some time to get his act together. He wanted to do it. Fraser wanted him to do it. So how come he couldn't do it?

Then Fraser did something kind of amazing. He shifted around, looked over his shoulder. Guess not having any bones let you do stuff like that. Then he grinned, sort of, looked like his cheekbones stretched, like he was trying to hold something in, and said, "I wouldn't do this with anyone but you."

No, he guessed he wouldn't. Hell, Fraser hardly took his coat off for most people, let alone stripped down, spread out and asked to be... fucked. Fraser wouldn't do this with anybody but him.

If he had his way, Fraser never would.

"Cuz I'm not most people," Ray said, reaching out to cup the back of Fraser's head in his hand.

"Exactly," Fraser said, nodding, nudging his head into Ray's hand.

And for some reason, that helped. That helped a lot. This wasn't something they were doing because they were out in middle of the wilderness with a bunch of dogs and nobody else to talk to.

This wasn't really a place you could get to by accident.

This time, his fingers slid in high, and if it wasn't easy, it wasn't hard, either. And Fraser helped. Told him when to move, how. Told him with words and with his body, showed him in all kinds of ways that it didn't hurt, that it felt good to him. The words dropped off after a bit, after Ray found one place in particular that Fraser seemed to like a lot, and then he only had noises to go on, and the subtle shift of Fraser's hips.

He could see the sheen of sweat on his back, see the muscles underneath get tight, then loosen up, depending on what his fingers were doing inside. He started to feel like he was getting in deep, really getting inside him, more than just inside his body. He felt like Fraser had opened up wide for him, inside and out, given him something most people only got to dream about.

"Steady, okay?" he whispered, sliding a palmful of lotion down his dick, sloppy and slippery. "I'm gonna try it."

Fraser nodded, spreading his thighs further apart.

Ray swallowed his heart back down out of his throat and grabbed at his dick, which suddenly acted like it didn't care much about waiting, like this was good enough, he'd just look at those thighs, and that ass and just come on his hand, okay?

No. Not okay. Worth waiting for, really.

And then he was doing it, joining them together, fitting himself inside that tight, hot place, and it wasn't hard at all, it felt... right as rain. He heard Fraser gulping down deep breaths beneath him, and he stilled, about halfway in.

"You all right?" he asked, licking Fraser's shoulder.

"Hmmmmm," Fraser answered. "Yeah, ooof, keep going."

So he did. He braced himself on Fraser's back, grabbed hold, and with a twist of the hips and a little bit of muscle, he was in. In so far he could feel Fraser's ass against his stomach. In deep enough that he knew it would only take one thrust to send him screaming over the edge.

"Don't move, don't move, don't move," he chanted, and he could feel Fraser reaching for control. God, gotta love those Mounties. Nothing fazed 'em.

They were both shaking, he realized. Fraser in long shudders, himself in little shivers. He took a deep breath and dropped his weight down on Fraser's back, hoping he could distract himself a little from the amazing grip Fraser's body had on his dick. He hadn't spent too much time thinking about it, but he guessed he'd thought it'd be like being inside a woman, only weirder.

Well, it was. But it was weird in a good, fucking tight way, and it was better because it was Fraser he was inside, his partner, his friend. Somebody he trusted. Somebody he... loved.

He couldn't be still anymore. Couldn't think that, couldn't suddenly know it with everything he had in his heart, and be still anymore. He rocked back, pulling out a little, then slid further in. Under him, Fraser groaned and thrust back, trying to get him deeper.

That thrust broke the dam, and taking his time was the first thing to go in the flood. He raked his body up, then back, feeling Fraser's hot skin slide across his nipples, feeling the swells of Fraser's ass brush against his balls when he shoved in again, harder this time. He made a sound, some sound, something loud and guttural and out of control and embarrassing as hell, but then Fraser grunted back at him in the same language -- Fraser talked his talk and met him halfway and tossed his head like he was crazy with it; and then it was all good, nothing but goodness, nothing but hot-tight-slick-fucking-good.

He was doing this. He was doing it. They were doing it -- this was both of them right here and now, deep, so deep in it. He didn't think it could get any deeper but then Fraser grabbed his hand and squeezed, and dragged it down under the crush of both their bodies. He went for Fraser's cock but that wasn't it, wasn't what Fraser wanted because instead Fraser put his hand down low on his belly. And at first he didn't get it, but then Fraser's hand over his pushed hard and he felt it, felt himself there -- faintly felt under layers of skin and muscle and Fraser-- felt himself moving, in and out, all the way, deep.

The moan he let go of then sounded loud enough to rattle the walls, but there was no way in hell he could stop it, so he just rode it out. He pressed hard into Fraser's belly, shoved hard into Fraser's body, then squeezed his eyes shut and let his head drop down to roll and rub on Fraser's shoulder, living with the strange pain of perfection that told him that, now that he'd been half of what they were together, he'd never again really be all of himself.

Then Fraser rippled around him, and before he knew it he was speeding up, rocking forward with pretty much all of that strength Fraser had asked for. Fraser took it, gave it back, holding his own steady ground, a firm foundation for Ray to build on.

He'd have liked it to last forever. He didn't ever want to leave. Even as his body plowed ahead, heedless, his heart wanted to stay there, just as they were, until sometime in the summer, when the days were long and sunlight would come in those dirty windows and they would still be there, stuck together, sweaty, naked in every possible definition of the word. But as his body took over, as he went from thrusting to slamming, and Fraser's noises went from groans to shouts, he knew he'd just have to live on the memory of it. Nothing this good lasted forever. He'd just have to remember it.

Or else they'd just have to do it again.


 

Daylight. Mid-morning light, actually. Imagine that. Fraser blinked rapidly.

Why was it that things which seemed so inevitable, so natural in the dark of night seemed so different when viewed, not in moonlight, not in firelight, but in the stark bright light of day?

And of course, because he'd been so very, very sure of what he was doing, so invested and certain that this path and no other was the one he was intended to take, waking to an inchoate rush of panic and insecurity caused no small measure of consternation. It wasn't that he doubted himself, his own feelings. No, once he set a course, the course remained set. But Ray... How would Ray feel?.

Fraser managed to disentangle himself from the violent sprawl of their mingled limbs without waking Ray, and rose gingerly to his feet. He felt sluggish and heavy, and yet, paradoxically, like he was floating. He made his careful way to the bathroom, and refrained from any indulgence in reflection until he was safely inside the tiny enclosure of the shower, with a closed door between himself and the inspiration for his current predicament.

The hot water blasted away the worst of the haze from his mind, and if the steam was a little too romantic, perhaps a little too reminiscent of hot flesh and cold air and new discoveries, well, he was the only one in here, after all.

The dreaded Morning After. He'd heard jokes about it, and had never thought them particularly funny. He found them even less funny now.

The Morning After Ray. If he himself had fallen asleep in a daze of satiated certainty and woken to apprehension, he could only conclude that the chances were quite high that Ray (who had mumbled sweetly to him as they'd finally drifted off, nonsense phrases of affection and gratitude that had somehow managed to be simultaneously poignant and funny) could possibly wake to... regret.

Ray might very well regret what they'd done. He'd do well to prepare himself for it. Nothing had been promised to him, and he could make no claims. He must remember that.

He had to face the possibility that as suddenly as the whirlwind had come up, it could dissipate, leaving him disheveled, disoriented. He had put Ray in a position of terrible vulnerability -- a stranger in a cold, strange place -- and then placed himself in the path of his confusion, his pain. Ray might not thank him for it in the sober light of day.

Ray might tell him that they could never do such a thing again.

Ray might choose to pretend it never happened, cover the closeness of their connection with a bluff camouflage of friendliness or surliness or silence.

Ray might leave.

Ray could leave, go back to the comparative warmth of Chicago, to the work he knew. He could decide they'd had adventure enough.

Indeed.

A dark, fierce sense of dismay welled up from within -- it was familiar,

as was his automatic and instinctive urge to refuse to give in to it, refuse to believe. Fraser closed his eyes and leaned against the wall of the shower, and tried desperately to wrest the grasp of his need away from the object of desire, from the ideals and fantasies he seemed helpless against, from... Ray.

He spoke ruthless truths to himself as he cleaned all traces of their coupling from his body. With all his heart he wanted to keep himself as he was, wanted to hoard the trace and scent of Ray in every crevice, so there was a savage and terrible satisfaction in scrubbing, a lesson in microcosm of the sacrifices he'd brought it upon himself to make.

By the time he stepped out of the bathroom, Fraser felt quite different from the man who'd stepped in. He was calm and collected; a bit stiff in the joints, perhaps, but that only served to remind him to maintain his posture. He was quite prepared to contend with whatever destiny awaited him.

He walked to his pack with swift, economical steps, and dressed quickly in the thickest, warmest clothes he could find -- because his prior experience, what little he'd had, reminded him that being calm and collected, being prepared, would do nothing at all to provide any relief from the terrible, terrible cold.

It had occurred to him that it might be best if he were outside the cabin when Ray woke, in order to spare him that first, difficult conversation.

Consequently he checked on Ray frequently, studying the sprawled form (only to look for signs of wakefulness, he insisted), and to tug up the covers that Ray kept flinging away, despite the chill in the room.

He was pulling the blankets gently up over Ray's shoulder when Ray's eyes opened, all at once, both of them -- even the bruised one. His heart constricted in one quick and terrified cramp and his breath caught, but it was only for a moment before he was back where he needed to be -- calm. Controlled. Prepared.

For anything, he thought.

But Ray's initial, brilliant smile, that he wasn't prepared for. It loosened his knees in a seriously alarming way and he shifted on his feet, trying to put some starch in his legs before he collapsed on Ray in a stunned and boneless heap.

"Fraser," despite the smile, Ray's tone was definitely annoyed, "you keep covering me up, and it's hot as blazes in here -- you tryin' to cook me, or something?" Ray didn't wait for a reply but simply hooked an arm around his neck and tugged him down, down to where it was warm and piquant and full of that smell he thought he'd have to give up forever; kissed him softly and sleepily on his cheek, chin, lips, and let him go.

"Good morning, Ray." It was all he could think of to say. It would have to do.

Ray stretched luxuriantly, yawning until Fraser saw the smooth pink of his uvula, a sight that, oddly, made his heart skitter in his chest. "That it is, Fraser; I can get behind that. Good morning. Yeah."

Fraser blinked until the sting in his eyes dissipated. He cleared his throat. "If you stay there much longer, I'll have to say 'good afternoon'."

Ray smiled at him again and reached out -- only to pat the nearest leg, but still, Ray reached for him -- and shrugged. "Uh-huh. Night of wild nookie can do that to a guy, you know. It just... uh... means it was good. So don't ask me which way North is today, okay?"

Ray was correct -- it was warm in here. Very warm. He was sweating, and he couldn't begin to imagine how he could have thought it was cold. He smiled back at Ray, and somewhere very far off he heard ice cracking.

"That's fine, Ray. Of course I won't."

"Great. We probably won't end up in Baja, then."

After his shower Ray seemed more quiet, much less playful, but Fraser had already used up his stock of apprehension so he was content to wait, lose himself in the chores of getting them geared up and prepared for the journey. To his consternation he discovered that Ray was right -- he forgot small things, and occasionally larger things, and though his mind was on his tasks it somehow seemed that his mind was not anywhere near as reliable as it should be. By the time he had everything ready to go, he wouldn't have taken a gentleman's bet that they wouldn't be heading towards Baja after all.

"You know, I've been beating myself all up over this."

He turned from the sled and saw Ray, startlingly close since Fraser hadn't heard a single thing. Ray was dressed and bundled for the journey with his pack dangling from one hand, and in the soft light his bruises stood out clearly in a way that only seemed to highlight his good looks. Ray was looking out over the snow meditatively, thoughtfully, and in that moment Fraser knew that it was too late -- if he'd thought it was at all possible to pull himself back from this man, it was altogether too late. The only parts of himself that mattered were already given.

He dragged his attention away from memorizing the sight of Ray in the snow and brought himself back to Ray's words. "What about this?"

Ray didn't look at him. "All of it. Wasn't even sure I should be thinking about it, let alone wanting to do anything about it. Had these little voices inside, fighting about it."

Ah. That this. He worked to keep his voice steady. "How odd."

Faint smile on Ray's bruised, beautiful face. "Yeah, well, you probably never had to worry about little voices."

"You'd be surprised."

Ray shifted, then, but still didn't look at him, as if staring off into the distance was the only way he could have this conversation. "And it's okay? You're okay with it?"

A blatant invitation for him to speak things that were best unspoken. He swallowed, checked himself a little before he offered his answer. "Quite okay. Are you?"

"Yeah, yeah, I'm good."

"I'm glad." He was. So very glad that he was concerned about what might be showing on his face in this moment, but since Ray still didn't look at him, he supposed it didn't really matter.

"So, um, Fraser, what happens if we don't find this Franklin guy. Or, wait, what happens if we do?"

There was no way to answer that without revealing a lot more than he wanted to right now. "It's a little early to be thinking about that, Ray. We've got a long way to go yet."

"Yeah? Cool."

He couldn't help smiling, then. It gave him the courage to push a little. "Have you been thinking about... afterward?"

Ray shifted again, now apparently absorbed by the grey winter sky. "You mean after our adventure?"

"Yes."

"Um, yeah, I was thinking about going home."

"Oh?" Steady. He was steady.

"Or really, about maybe not going home."

"Oh." Steady. Still.

Or, he was until Ray looked at him, until the direct burn and flare of blue speared into him, penetrating, as surely as Ray had penetrated his body. There was honesty there, and need, and he responded to it as he'd responded last night -- gladly, helplessly, thankfully; as perhaps he would always respond.

"Thought, you know, if you were gonna stay up here, maybe, I don't know, maybe I'd stay awhile, too."

There was nothing for him to do but answer that honesty with his own. "I'd like that."

Ray's eyes were bright; with amusement, with relief, with something that looked familiar and unfamiliar -- joy, a solitary kind of joy, except there were two of them, now. "Yeah?"

He nodded. "Yeah."

Ray nodded back, smiling again, still suffused with that brilliance that worked in odd harmony with the bruises and stubble on his face -- somebody's dissolute angel, pure and radiant and mercurial, fallen to the temptations of the flesh.

When Ray tossed him his pack he caught it easily, and secured it to the sled. He turned back to find Ray studying him -- still smiling, but with a rather wicked and acquisitive gleam in his eye that warmed him right through, that brought a pleased and disconcerted flush to his cheeks. Regardless of the fact that he was standing knee-deep in snow.

Not 'somebody's' angel. His.

Very much his.

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