On Third Avenue a window cleaner, leaning slightly too far out in order to tackle a particularly tough smear, accidentally knocked over the bucket containing a large amount of warm, soapy water, tipping it four stories onto the sidewalk below.

The resulting deluge showered at least four people, one of whom was a local office worker on her lunch break, taking the opportunity to give her small collie dog some air. As she was splashed, she let go of the leash in shock, and the dog – Pepper – took advantage of this and leapt off down the street.

Pepper followed a trail two blocks south to a hotdog vendor it had passed a few minutes earlier, and proceeded to leap enthusiastically all over the man and his customer, causing a wild squirt of mustard to arc spectacularly and smatter the windshield of a taxicab parked at a red light a few feet away.

The taxi driver drove off, gesturing angrily, and started up his wipers, furiously smearing mustard and windshield fluid over the glass and completely obscuring his vision. He made it four blocks before he tried to pull up, but unfortunately he misjudged the distance and ran into the back of a number 17 bus.

On board the bus a little girl, on her school break and touring the city with her parents, lost her admittedly tenuous grip on her soda, spilling it, straw and all, down the back of one Stanley Raymond Kowalski, detective first grade, CPD.  

It had been one of those days.  

***  

Ray couldn’t count the number of times completely random acts of fate had caused his life to change in bizarre and dramatic ways.  

The fact that Stella’s grandfather had chosen that particular bank to start Stella’s savings account, and that Ray’s mom had just that week been hired by Stella’s father to clean house once every two weeks and then that Stella had asked him to go with her to deposit the five bucks she had found on the sidewalk by the local movie theatre. That was a big one.  

There was the time that Ray went to visit Stella in her fancy college two hours from where he was staying, only his bus got in an hour early, so he turned up at her dorm early enough to see some big random jock guy kissing her goodbye. Then and there he’d known he had to drop out of his college and move closer – no question.

There was also the random chance that he’d been happily working over in narcotics when the coffee machine had broken, so he’d gone out quickly to get a new one, and seen a local kid name of Danny Janowitz get himself shot. Ray’d been called in by the Lieu to give eyewitness testimony and while he was sitting there the Lieu had gotten this call about a last minute job over at the 2-7 and was Ray looking for a change?

So, yeah, call it what you will – coincidence, luck, happenstance, accident, chance, fluke, a twist of fate, whatever – Ray believed in it.

But when that ice cold coke spilled down his back and slowly soaked through his thin t-shirt and onto his skin, he didn’t think it was fate. Mostly, what he thought was fuck!shit!cold!

***

Fraser called it an “Indian summer”. Apparently what that meant was that it was still really hot, late into September. So hot that you couldn’t sleep at night, so hot that you were carrying around those irritating little battery-powered fans and wanting a cold shower in the middle of the day, so hot that you couldn’t even look at Fraser in that damn red serge without wanting an ice cold Coke.

Ray swiped the sweat off his forehead and unlocked the door to his apartment, kicking a pile of Sunday papers out of the way with his foot as he walked through.

“Want a drink?” he asked, opening the fridge more for the cold than anything.

“An iced tea would be lovely, Ray,” Fraser said, fidgeting with the collar of his tunic.

“For God’s sake, take that thing off, will you Frase?” Ray tossed Fraser a bottle of his favourite brand and fished a beer out for himself, holding it against his cheek before popping the cap and taking a long deep pull.

It was perfect, fizzing and chilly and tickling all the way down into his belly, spreading coolness.

Ray wandered into his bedroom, trying not to feel the sticky t-shirt against his back, and shouted through. “I’m going to take a quick shower. Make yourself at home, game starts in ten.”

***

Ray’s words drifted back to Fraser half-muffled as Ray pulled the t-shirt over his head. Fraser coughed slightly, turning away from the open door.

He wandered over to the window, pulling on the sash and letting what little breeze there was stir Ray’s dusty curtains. Fraser set his ice tea on the coffee table before neatly dismantling his uniform, setting it in an orderly pile by the door.

“Weren’t we going to watch it at the sports bar you like?” Fraser shouted as he undressed, but there was no response. Then he heard the shower start, and instead sat himself on the couch.

He had to admit, he thought, rolling up the sleeves of his Henley, it was a relief not to have that itchy jacket on, especially in this heat. He had been feeling it quite severely recently.

“What are you doing?” asked Ray, suddenly wandering into the room, jeans low on his hips, fresh t-shirt in hand. He pointed to the open window with a tilt of his head, before pulling it closed. Fraser was about to utter an undignified protest when Ray stepped over to the air conditioning unit that Fraser had missed and flicked it on.

It came to life with a rattle and a cough, and Ray said, “It’s old, but it does the job,” patting it gently. He threw himself down next to Fraser and picked up the remote, taking another pull from his cold beer. Fraser watched the condensation slip gently from the glass onto Ray’s lips.

Fraser scratched his eyebrow lightly. “Didn’t you want to watch this at Joel’s Sports Bar?” he repeated.

Ray shook his head. “No time now, game’s about to start.” He flipped channels rapidly on the remote, finally resting on ESPN. He pulled on the t-shirt before propping his feet up on the coffee table. Fraser pursed his lips in an effort not to comment.

***

Ray still remembered the delicate brush of Stella’s eyelashes against his cheekbone. Sometimes, on hot nights like these that were made for slow, sweaty sex, he thought about it, and about her small fingers and smooth, pale crescent nails. About the feel of lying along the length of her, blowing cooling breath on the arch of her neck.

Then he made himself think of other things – her mother’s perpetual what-is-that-smell? expression; her attitude towards Fraser; the new shade she had dyed her hair – and that feeling of breathless want faded away.

The real trouble was, it was replaced with nothing. Literal, big-gaping-hole, nothing. He tried to fill it with beer, and ballgames, and sometimes dirty movies, but none of these came close.

The only thing that approached it was having a friend like Fraser to hang out with, but hey, there were only certain things that Fraser was good for. Ray figured Fraser might take it the wrong way if Ray were to tilt Fraser’s head to the side and blow gently on the strong column of his neck. A guy could earn himself a rep for that kind of behaviour.

Ray turned over in bed, pulling the sweaty sheets with him, and closed his eyes. Probably best not to be thinking stuff like that about the guy who was currently asleep on his couch.

***

Fraser couldn’t hope to express how he felt, actually waking up cold. It was a revelation, something unmatched in his experience, the contrast between his hot nights at the consulate and waking up here. A lumpy couch, a threadbare blanket, cookie crumbs digging into his back, and an air-conditioner chugging noisily away in the corner. If you’d asked him how that sounded two weeks ago, your answer would have been ‘very close to hell’, but now it was the finest thing Fraser had experienced in a very long time.

He turned on his side and craned his neck, looking backwards and upside down towards Ray’s doorway. He expected to find it closed, and so was surprised to see a crack of light shining through. He could see Ray lying in bed, eyes closed, limbs sprawled. The white sheets were wrapped around him – that couldn’t be comfortable – and as Fraser watched Ray twitched and scratched at an invisible itch on his cheek.

Fraser suddenly looked away, guiltily aware that he had crossed the fine line from Is Ray awake yet? to Goodness, he has long eyelashes. It was a fine line, but one he was learning to navigate. That is not buddies, he thought to himself firmly.

***

“You miss it?” Ray asked sleepily the next night. Fraser was staying there again, as it wasn’t a weeknight and he could therefore afford to be away from the consulate two nights in a row, taking advantage of Ray’s air conditioning once more.

“Miss what, Ray?” Fraser shifted slightly onto his side.

“The great white,” Ray glanced over at him, tapping his beer bottle against Fraser’s thigh lightly. “Glaciers and fjords and snow shoes—whatever. Home, I guess. Do you miss it?”

Fraser didn’t answer for a while, and then said quietly, “Well of course, Ray. It is, as you say, my home.”

“So…” Ray trailed off. In the background a rival monkey moved into the head monkey’s territory and stole his girl. Ray knew how he felt. He tried again. “So, why’d you come back? Why not stay?”

Fraser sat up and leant over to the coffee table, setting his drink gently onto the surface before replying. “I felt I had… unfinished business, I suppose, in Chicago.”

Ray watched Fraser’s profile. “Unfinished business, huh? I get that, I guess. So when this business is finished you’re gonna go back, right?”

“Well, yes, I hope to,” Fraser watched as the new head monkey lorded it over the other monkeys. “Of course, it all depends on viable postings and whatnot.”

Silence fell, and they watched the monkeys eating fruit from shrines and dancing along the flat, white rooftops.

Eventually, Ray said, “I kinda do.”

Fraser, who had lost track of the conversation, raised an eyebrow.

“Miss it,” Ray elucidated. “Especially in this heat wave.” Fraser looked ruefully towards the window, where a pot plant was wilting listlessly. “It was peaceful. Well, when it wasn’t all howling wind and snow, anyway. I’d like to go back someday maybe.”

Fraser smiled slightly and turned back to the television. “Shall I put on Saturday Night Live?” he asked in a moment of generosity.

“Oh, God yes,” Ray laughed.

***

Fraser lay on his cot and thought about home. He thought about towering grey mountains, a vast ocean of fir trees, the fine snapping of foliage under one’s feet, the rolling thunder of a nearby waterfall.

He wanted it so much he ached. He’d close his eyes and imagine breathing in that clean air, imagine hearing nothing except the rustle of animals and birds.

And then he thought about Ray.

Ray Kowalski seemed to epitomise everything that Fraser hated about Chicago. He was rude, he was aggressive. He spoke without thought – and often acted in the same way – had an appalling diet, bad manners and a very lax sense of self-control.

Fraser despaired of Ray sometimes, he truly did. Even if sometimes Ray also felt like home.

***

Ray paced.

“Ok,” he said firmly, “We’re good, we’re ready, we can handle anything.” He faced himself in the mirror and did a quick one-two punch. “We’re tough, we don’t have a care in the world,” he punched again, bouncing on the balls of his feet, whirling and “Fuck!” hitting his face on a conveniently placed shelf.

“Ow,” he moaned, clutching his face.

“Oh dear, Ray,” Fraser said, coming in at precisely the wrong moment. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine I’m sure. I mean—” he floundered for a second before coming up with, “We don’t even have to go if you don’t want—”

Ray growled. “I’m not crying, Fraser, I’m injured,” he lowered his hand and Fraser saw the bruise.

“Ah,” he said, though he still looked concerned. “Let me see that.” Gently, he cupped Ray’s face and turned it to the light. “It seems not to have broken skin. Luckily I happen to have just the thing here for—”

“Let me tell you something, Frase,” grumbled Ray, pulling away, “There is no way I’m going to my ex-wife’s wedding smelling of moose placenta or whatever, so you can give up on that right now,” he glared.

Fraser smiled slightly. “Understood,” he said, “But really, you should at least consider a cold compress…”

“No time,” Ray glanced at his wristwatch, then realised it had broken two weeks ago when Fraser had – allegedly accidentally – pushed him into Lake Michigan. What is that, three for three? Instead he picked up Fraser’s wrist and checked the time. “We gotta be there five minutes ago.”

“Well, let’s go then,” Fraser said sunnily, and Ray growled. “Once more unto the breach and all that, Ray my friend!”

***

At the reception, Ray lost himself inside a bottle of white wine. Really crappy white wine.

Sitting next to Fraser, he thought fuzzily that it was like a physics thing or something; the drunker Ray got, the quieter Fraser got, until neither of them were speaking, but Ray was still managing to carry on a decent conversation with the table setting.

But, yeah, it was a ration or something— a ratio thing. The more pissed Ray was, the more pissed Fraser was, but in the totally opposite, not-fun way. But, hey, Fraser could at least be pleased that Ray was behaving himself. He hadn’t started shouting obscenities during the speeches, or calling the groom “that bald, big-nosed fashion victim” like he’d wanted to, or even thrown up – his stomach heaved – well, not yet anyway.

“Ray,” Fraser said quietly, applauding the happy couple taking their first turn of the floor. “Ray, I really think you should stop drinking now.”

“I’m perfectly fine, Fraser,” Ray slurred, laying his head on the cool tablecloth. Didn’t this place have air-conditioning?

“Really, Ray, you seem rather the worse for— it just doesn’t seem appropriate. Would you like some air?”

“Yes,” muttered Ray, “Air is good, air… air is life. Oxygen…” he faded off and Fraser took him by the elbow and pulled him around the back of the room, out onto the fire escape. Ray slid down the brick wall and landed heavily at Fraser’s feet. He clumsily tried to undo his tie.

“I don’t feel so good, Frase,” he muttered,

“I’m not surprised,” Fraser said quietly, crouching in front of him and laying a cool hand on Ray’s forehead. “You’d consumed at least one bottle before we were shown to our seats.”

“She should be—” he paused, until his stomach settled. “She should be with me.”

Fraser frowned slightly. “Then—” he stopped himself, but then the words tumbled out anyway, like he couldn’t stop them. “Then why isn’t she?”

Ray looked at him uncomprehendingly. “Huh?”

“Why isn’t she with you?”

“Because— because of kids and work and—”

“No,” Fraser almost exclaimed, before catching himself and glancing around to make sure no one saw them. “No, not because of kids and work and. Because—because she doesn’t love you any more.”

Ray’s head came up so sharply that it hit the brick wall and he winced. Fraser frowned again and cupped the back of Ray’s head, but Ray didn’t notice. “That was way harsh, Fraser,” he said, almost soberly.

“I’m sorry,” Fraser said, glancing down at the grate they were resting on. Beneath them Ray could see a huge dumper full of garbage bags and the leg of a mannequin sticking up at an odd angle. “I’m sorry,” Fraser exhaled sharply. “I just hate to see you do this to yourself. Especially—”

There was a pause. “Especially what?” Ray asked, slurring only slightly.

Fraser’s tongue briefly stroked his lower lip, and Ray felt drunkenly hypnotised by the movement. “Especially when… when it seems so completely inconsistent. You never talk about her, or seem in any way like you still want to be with her, and then moments like this come along and it’s almost as though you simply decide ‘well, today I’ll be upset about that.’” Fraser was flushed slightly now. He paused, and then lowered his tone slightly. “I just mean—”

“No, forget it, Fraser, I know what you mean.” Ray tried to scramble to his feet but didn’t quite make it, hanging onto the lapels of Fraser’s suit instead. “You mean ‘you’re a big faker, Ray’.” Fraser angrily shook his head in denial. “You mean ‘drama queen’ or whatever. Well, let me tell you,” he released one lapel to poke Fraser in the chest, body swinging crazily for a second before Fraser steadied him. “Let me tell you this, I think about her plenty. I think about kissing her and holding her and at night, in bed, and I think about things that make her not you—” Ray frowned muzzily – that wasn’t quite right. “I mean, she’s not you, she’s a girl, and that’s what I think about.” He looked up; Fraser had gone very still. “I think about her.”

Fraser leant in and kissed him.

***

They left the party soon after that, making vague excuses, Fraser crossly trying to ignore the pitying looks Stella cast at Ray. They shared a cab back to Ray’s place, and Fraser paid the driver while Ray drunkenly tried to find his key.

When Fraser rejoined him he was muzzily going over and over, “Locker room, mailbox, trunk of the car—” and Fraser pulled out his spare key and let them into the cool, shady apartment.

Immediately, Ray was on him, going for buttons first, starting at his waist while Fraser tried to stop him. “Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray—”

Ray kissed him, and pushed him back against the door, pulling Fraser’s shirt free of his trousers – and losing a button on the way – while at the same time getting his own jacket off. Jerkily, Fraser pushed forward, turning them and pushing Ray against the door, holding him steady.

Ray had one sleeve of his jacket off, and was panting, swollen lips wet and parted. “Really, Ray,” Fraser said, desperately trying to regain control. “This is highly unwise. You’re upset, and under the influence—” Fraser’s voice stuttered and faded as Ray looked at him deliberately from under his lashes before reaching out and laying a hand over the bulge in Fraser’s trousers.

“I thought I was a big faker,” Ray said, rubbing rhythmically, slowly.

Fraser’s breathing became shallow, and he swallowed with difficulty. “No, of course not, Ray, I—” gathering himself together sharply, Fraser pulled back, moving into the centre of the living room. “Really, Ray, I think you should get some sleep. We can discuss this in the morning.”

***

They did not discuss it in the morning. They didn’t discuss it that entire day, in fact. The events that followed Ray passing out in bed, holding onto Fraser’s hand with a tight grip, could not be called ‘discussion’ in any loose sense of the word.

What happened was that Fraser woke to find Ray looking at him quietly – if one can look quietly, and, apparently, Ray was able to – and he then leaned over and gave Fraser a light kiss, more of a peck, really. Ray had morning breath, and when a warm tongue slipped into his mouth Fraser closed his eyes and inhaled that deep dark taste of Ray, something concentrated and rich.

Then Ray’s hands trailed down to the waistband of his Henley and tickled him there lightly, lifting it, and Fraser didn’t think at all. Simply rolled onto his belly and lay himself along the length of Ray, feeling Ray inhale deeply, the shift his chest to Fraser’s, the rise of his ribcage, and, lower down, the nudge of his erection.

“Good morning,” Ray said into Fraser’s hair.

Fraser grunted and slid down through the sheets, inadvertently dragging Ray’s boxers low onto his hips. He kissed the rise of hipbone, nibbled it lightly and made Ray twitch, and then muttered into it something inaudible – more than simply ‘good morning’ – lips forming the words against Ray’s skin.

“If that,” Ray gasped as Fraser’s fingers trailed up his inner thigh and under the hem of his boxers, “If that was the beginning of some Inuit story, Fraser, do us all a favour and save it.”

Ray didn’t say much more for the rest of the day.

***

At around seven pm that night, when Fraser was sleepily insisting that he should be leaving for the consulate, and Ray was growling that there was no need for Fraser to live there, for Christ’s sake— the telephone rang.

“Yeah,” Ray said abruptly into the receiver, glowering as Fraser took the opportunity to slip out of bed and start getting dressed. He was firmly distracted, however, when Stella’s voice, tinny and distant, echoed down the line.

“Ray?” she said. It sounded like she was shouting. “This is a terrible line!” Ray rolled his eyes.

“Hey Stella,” Fraser’s head jerked up at this and Ray quirked an eyebrow.

Fraser could just make out the faint murmur of Stella’s voice, but not the words, and Ray – unhelpful as ever – seemed to have gone into monosyllables. “Yeah,” he was saying, an “Uh huh,” and then, “No… no, don’t—” 

Suddenly, Ray shifted, glaring at the covers and saying, “No, Stell, seriously, Fraser came back with me, I wasn’t— Look, I’m sorry, alright. We left early, didn’t we? Then what are you calling for?!”

Fraser didn’t stay to hear the rest of the conversation, simply threaded his shoes on smartly, and walked out into the living room.

The extension called to him but he ignored it firmly, not having given up on that many of his principles, thank you very much. Instead he slipped on his jacket and patted his pockets for his keys before spotting them on the side table by the door.

“Hey,” Ray said from the bedroom doorway, clutching the sheet around him like a toga. He gestured vaguely back towards the bedroom. “Sorry about that, she was angry and worried, I guess—”

“Not to worry, Ray,” Fraser could hear the same tone in his voice that Dief got when Fraser forgot to buy him the good meat, but couldn’t seem to erase it. “As I said, I should be going anyway.”

“Yeah, I guess,” Ray said quietly, scratching the back of his neck. He tentatively came over to where Fraser was standing. “See you tomorrow?” he asked, laying a hand on the front of Fraser’s jacket.

“Of course,” Fraser gently went to move away, and then paused. With a small sigh he closed the distance between them, kissing Ray’s mouth and then the slightly-smiling corner, trying to drag himself away bit-by-bit. “Goodnight, Ray,” he said, and left. 

***

After that, things settled again. Fraser took advantage of Ray’s air conditioning more often, and Ray took advantage of Fraser more often, sleepovers becoming a regular thing.

And Ray was happy, Ray was good. He and Fraser felt more like a one-two punch than ever, working well together, their partnership stronger than ever. And if Fraser wanted a casual fuck on occasion – or even regularly – then who was Ray to complain? Like a guy was gonna turn it down; What? An easy orgasm you say? Oh, no thanks, I just had one last night. Pfft.

So when Fraser ambushed him coming out of the shower, freshly towel dry, and made him all sticky again, or when he pushed him back against the kitchen counter and let the water boil-over, or when he nuzzled the hair at the nape of Ray’s neck and Ray closed his eyes in ecstasy and missed the winning basket, hell, Ray wasn’t going to protest. 

He couldn’t tell what Fraser was feeling, though. Fraser seemed to be holding more and more of himself back, and even when they were fucking, Fraser wasn’t… open, Ray guessed – though, woah, bad, seriously bad choice of word right there because Fraser was more than open. It was just that he closed his eyes and his mouth, he didn’t really make much sound, and after he never talked or anything – he was closed-off like he disapproved of it or something. Yeah, he had that look that Ray’d seen on Dief’s face when Fraser forgot to buy him the good meat – that was it.

So Ray often thought, maybe he’s just here for the couch tonight, maybe he doesn’t want to fool around – and hey, that was fine with him, he was feeling pretty well-laid over here already – and then Fraser would do something like the casual drape of an arm along the back of the sofa, and ten minutes later Ray would feel Fraser’s fingertips dancing along the shell of his ear, and he’d turn his head and there would be Fraser, right up close, but not meeting his eyes, just looking at his lips, and they’d kiss, and…

They ended up in bed pretty much every time Fraser stayed over, and he stayed over pretty much every night, now that Ray came to think of it. And the only time Fraser did make any sound was during the times when everything was hottest, and Fraser seemed that little bit more out of control, and then he would whisper into Ray’s skin, hands desperately pushing Ray on towards orgasm, his mouth gasping out: “I want you,” or “Oh, God, Ray,” and sometimes more, sometimes snatches of “you taste like…” or “I want you so much I…” but he always cut himself off on those times, like it was too much.

Sometimes, when Ray thought about it, he’d wonder if he was becoming addicted. He really couldn’t imagine what their partnership had been like before, although he vaguely remembered a time when Fraser hadn’t touched him, ever. He thought it might have been just after they got back from the adventure, that Fraser had seemed more withdrawn somehow, but that everything had changed… when? Was it the heat wave? Fraser had started to melt a little around then, Ray guessed. He’d started sleeping over – and Ray couldn’t even remember how that had come about – and then a few weeks after it had been Stella’s wedding, and the whole thing had exploded.

And, yeah, Ray kind of felt guilty about that too, about making such a fool of himself, when maybe Fraser had been right. Maybe Ray didn’t miss Stella but missed something else, something he now had with Fraser. Not just sex, but… partnership, maybe.

But Fraser would go back to the Yukon or wherever some day, and Ray knew that he’d be fine. It was like Fraser had helped him get over Stella, or needing someone, and that when Fraser left he’d feel released. Yeah, he’d be fine.

***

A thousand miles away in a small settlement near Yellowknife, Jack Dempsey walked out of the local store carrying a small but sharp knife – his latest purchase. He stepped down the steps and onto the street, admiring the crafting on the blade, and didn’t notice a large puddle of mud just in front of him.

Treading heavily over the dirt track he suddenly felt the splash, and an ominous cold wet seeping into his shoes, looking down for a moment and rolling his eyes at the state of his left boot. He lifted his foot out and shook it slightly.

Unfortunately, because his attention was occupied, he didn’t notice the truck until it was almost on top of him, and was forced to leap out of it’s path spectacularly, landing heavily on top of Trapper Joe, who’d been loading his bike up with tallow for the coming winter.

Trapper Joe landed heavily, accidentally knocking his bike over and into the headlight of the local RCMP truck, which smashed, albeit rather neatly. Inspecting the damage, the two men didn’t see the local Constable come outside at the commotion, bib still on, sandwich in hand.

“What’s happened?” he asked, and Jack and Joe desperately – and rather pointlessly – tried to hide the evidence.

Just at that moment another large truck came barreling around the corner – this time it was delivering the marquee to be used for Mary Tarrant’s wedding this coming Saturday. It enthusiastically shot down Main, not even slowing down to navigate the puddle which, unfortunately, splashed Constable Turner rather spectacularly.

Dripping wet, the rather round constable glared down at his ruined lunch.

“This,” he said, pulling off the bib and leaving a perfect half-moon shape of clean serge, “is the outside of enough.”

***

The moon rose gracefully over the city, the sky blushing and eventually fading to violet, then blue, then black. Ray was preoccupied during that part, but now that the stars were out he was lying in bed, staring out through his window, through the grate of fire escape, looking at the night sky.

“Hey, Frase?” he said quietly.

Fraser, still cradled by Ray’s body, head buried in his neck, grunted slightly.

“Do we see the same stars here as we did up north?”

Fraser shifted and sighed, his hot breath brushing over the skin of Ray’s collarbone, making him stir slightly.

“Yes,” he muttered sleepily. “Same hemisphere.”

“So if I looked I could see all the stars you showed me that night?”

“Well,” Fraser’s hand came up and lazily pushed back his hair, “in theory Ray. But it’s not really the right time of year.”

“Oh,” Ray said, disappointed. Fraser’s hand rested on Ray’s chest, and then moved up, touching the beginnings of Ray’s stubble, then pressed into the hair above Ray’s ear. Fraser inhaled deeply against Ray’s neck, and Ray twisted slightly, raising his knee and pressing it into the side of Fraser’s hip. “But we could go back up for a vacation, right?”

Fraser stilled and then suddenly sat up, moving his hand out of Ray’s hair to support himself. “Well, I suppose so, although— well, how much leave do you have accrued? I probably couldn’t take more than a week, and it takes so long to get there that—”

Ray scowled slightly and looked away, “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he muttered. He moved, pulling away from Fraser until he could lie on his side. “I’ve seen it all anyway, huh?”

“Well,” Fraser scratched his eyebrow slightly, “You haven’t yet seen it in the summer months, Ray. The scenery is just as spectacular.”

Ray, facing away, closed his eyes and turned his head into the pillow. “Yeah, well, maybe when you go back, I’ll come visit.”

Fraser frowned slightly. He moved over to what had become his side of the bed and lay down on his back stiffly. “Yes, maybe,” he said.

***

“Constable, I’m not quite sure what your plans are,” said Inspector Giddings, frowning over his half-moon glasses.

Fraser shifted his stance. “Well, I have none,” he said slowly.

“I see,” Inspector Giddings frowned deeper, if that was possible – he was a big frowner – and shuffled the papers on his desk. “You see—” he coughed slightly. “Much as I would miss having an officer of your experience around, and I would, of course, I find it difficult to—I mean, you must miss—well, you seem more suited to—” he paused again and fished inside his jacket pocket for a handkerchief, which he brushed over his brow. “Damn heat wave,” he muttered. “What I’m trying to say, Constable,” he stood up and met Fraser’s eyes, “Is that a position has become available in the Northwest Territories, and someone higher up, name of—” he glanced at the papers on front of him, “Thatcher, has recommended you for the position.”

Fraser felt his eyebrows rise slightly, the only outer indication – he hoped – of the turmoil within. “I see.”

Inspector Giddings looked frustrated at the response. “So, are you interested?” he asked, now furiously cleaning his glasses.

“Well…” Fraser was at a loss.

Giddings picked up the papers once more and held his glasses in front of his eyes to read. “Says here that the post has been resigned by a Constable… Turner. Because of— ah, well it says here ‘because of irreconcilable culinary difficulties.’ I’m not quite sure what that means,” he did look rather at a loss, and dropped the papers back to the desk before continuing to clean his glasses vigorously. “Well, I will give you the weekend to make your decision, Constable,” he said firmly. “We will have another meeting about this first thing Monday morning, and I will expect your written decision by then.”

Fraser nodded once, slowly, and turned to go. Behind him, he distinctly heard the lens of the glasses pop free from their frame.

***

Ray was in a foul mood. He’d been put on desk duty because of a rather violent altercation with a petty thief, and Lieutenant Welsh was making him pay and pay and pay.

Fraser noted that the signs of fighting were still evident, the slight swelling of his upper lip, a bruise his right eye, the way he walked, very careful of the ribs on the left side of his body.

Ray scowled when Fraser came in. “There you are,” he growled. “About time,” he stood up and snatched some papers out of Frannie’s hand before she could even speak, and motioned to Fraser to follow him. “I’m stuck here babysitting rapists and murderers and you’re out playing with Dief in the park.”

“Well, actually Ray—”

“Save it, Fraser, we gotta go to interview one and interrogate—” he looked at the papers Frannie had handed him, “John Doe – of course – witness to a jewellery store hold-up.”

John Doe was a diminutive homeless man with a smart mouth – something guaranteed not to endear him to Ray – who was sitting on the interview table when they walked in.

Ray stopped short and glared, before pulling out the guy’s chair with a thump. “Sit there,” he growled, pointing sharply.

John smiled slightly before moving, at his leisure, to the chair.

“Ok,” Ray glared at the sheet of papers before handing them to Fraser. “First off, John Doe. That your real name?”

“Sure,” said John, smiling cockily.

“Sure,” muttered Ray, “Sure it is, ok fine, we’ll come back to that. What’d you see?”

Fraser attempted to interrupt. “Ray, if I could have a quick—”

The guy looked around the room, “I saw many, many things detective.”

Immediately Ray rolled his eyes, and Fraser wished he could take Mr. Doe to one side and hint that today was probably not the best day for him to be taking Ray on.

“Look, wise guy,” Ray leant across the table, glaring, “I got all day in here with you if I want, and you see this?” he held out his battered knuckles, “I did this on another punk, name of John Doe too – coincidence, huh? And he’s now sleeping it off with a fat biker called Nellie downstairs, so if I were you I’d quit the wise stuff and just tell me what you goddamn saw!”  His voice rose steadily, ending with him slamming his fist onto the table.

“Ray,” Fraser said tentatively, “there really is something that we should—”

“Not now, Frase. So, Doe, what’d ya see?”

John Doe shifted uncertainly in his seat, and scratched his ear. “I’m not sure.”

Ray flung himself away from the table in disgust. “You’re not sure. He’s not sure!”

“Ray—”

“Well then what are you doing wasting my time?”

“Ray—”

“Hey, I’m sorry, it was dark, ok?”

“It was one thirty in the afternoon!”

“Ray, I’ve—”

“Ok, fine,” John Doe said, scratching his ear again. “I just gotta think. I don’t remember too well!”

“Listen scumbag—”

“I’ve been offered a posting near Yellowknife.”

Ray paused and then swung around to stare at Fraser.

“I remember now! It was lunchtime and a lot of guys from the offices were sitting around eating lunch, so I’m wandering around trying to get some spare change when—”

“What?”

“Spare change,” John repeated. “So I heard this alarm go off, right…”

“Yellowknife?” Ray asked, stunned.

Fraser adjusted the collar of his serge, “Yes, Ray, a permanent post in a small settlement…” his voice trailed off.

“And I look over and see three guys, one was about your height with red hair—”

Ray turned to glare, “Hey, Doe, save it, ok? I’m trying to have a talk with my partner here,” he turned back to Fraser. “You gonna take it?”

Fraser’s lack of expression was driving Ray up the wall, but he just stood there looking vaguely uncomfortable, as though he had to pee. But Fraser never had to pee.

“I’m sorry, Ray, I think… I think I have to.”

Ray frowned slightly and then forced out a laugh, “Hey, don’t apologise, Fraser. It’s no skin off my… whatever. It’s fine, I mean sorry to see you go and everything but, hey, had to happen sooner or later.”

It was Fraser’s turn to frown. “Well, I suppose so, Ray. I had hoped—”

Ray cut him off. “Look, it’s fine, send me a postcard, ok? Now, if you don’t mind,” he gestured vaguely to John Doe, “I gotta get Whiffy McStinkerson here to cough up the goodies. I’ll see you around.” He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head towards the door.

Fraser had little choice. He straightened his spine and walked out, saying a curt “Very well, Ray.”

***

Ray went home that night and flicked on a boxing match.

He sat on the couch and drank a beer, enjoying the hops and blood and violence, enjoying having his own space once more. No one to fiddle with the air conditioning, or make disapproving noises if he had another beer, or irritate him with that sizzling thing the pan did when Fraser made those out-of-this-world noodles, or touch him inappropriately, or—

Man, this sucked.

***

In the few days following the transfer being accepted, Fraser hardly saw Ray. Things were too quiet, and Fraser was unsettled. The heat was still stifling in his little office, and he missed the artificial air of Ray’s air conditioner, cooling him down. He firmly did not think of the hot grasp of Ray’s hands and body.

And then, two weeks after their confrontation, he had walked out of the consulate to find something for lunch, and Ray was standing there, leaning against the GTO holding a brown paper bag.

“Meatball sub?” he had asked, and Fraser had smiled slightly, and Dief had jumped up at Ray and everything had… diffused a little.

That day Ray helped Fraser divert the Ice Queen so that Fraser could sneak out to the precinct, Fraser helped Ray nail a corrupt judge accepting bribes from rich mobsters, and Dief had eaten the best part of two meatball subs and made friends with a cute little cocker spaniel on East 75th street.

Then they’d bought Chinese from the place near Ray’s, eaten it in front of a programme about Judy Garland on Biography, and finally, when the sun had set, fucked in the dark, hot and sweet and hard, first on the couch, and eventually on the worn patch of carpet in front of the coffee table.

Fraser had fallen asleep there until Ray had nudged him awake near midnight, and they’d staggered into the bedroom together, falling onto the bed, Ray kissing Fraser lightly, tentatively, until they were kissing desperately, until it became angry and passionate and different from any time before. And then Fraser had held Ray down and fucked him, headboard banging against the wall.

***

“So,” Ray said, hands in his pockets, “what’s essential, then? To exist up north, what do you got to buy?”

They were in an outdoor pursuits store that Fraser favoured, and he was stocking up on… cold weather stuff, or something. There were twenty-six days now until adios Mountie.

“Well, most of the things I’ll need I already have at my father’s cabin, Ray,” Fraser explained, inspecting the label of a hideous green fleece jacket. “I just need to wait for them to be shipped to Yellowknife – I can pick them up from there. It is simply a matter of buying the necessaries to tide me over.”

Fraser led them over to a large array of stands that all exclaimed “Polartec” in large writing, and began rifling through sets of long johns.

“I thought you had tons of those, Frase.”

“Ah, no, Ray, those are my summer-weight long-johns. These are much more suited to the weather conditions in Fort Providence at this time of year,” he pulled out a pair of red – apparently his favourite colour, and added them to his basket.

“That where you’re headed? Fort Providence?” Ray carefully examined his boots.

Fraser stood quite still. “Yes,” he said quietly, then reached out and dropped some sunscreen into his basket.

***

Fraser flew out Air Canada on November 5th. The night before he had slept at Ray’s, as Ray was giving him a lift to the airport early the next morning. They hadn’t slept much.

“Tell me what it’s going to be like, Frase,” Ray said at almost three. “For you, up there.”

“Well I really couldn’t say, Ray.”

“Just… imagine, then,” Ray had shifted against him, feeling where they were still joined. “I want to picture you… harpooning whales, or whatever.”

Fraser smiled, “Well, I imagine I shall wake up every day at around six o’ clock,” Ray groaned in horror and Fraser felt it reverberate through him, “and feed Dief and the dogs. Then I shall shower and prepare my breakfast. After that I shall head into the detachment and catch up on the previous day’s paperwork, and then I shall—” he was interrupted by a slight snore. At first he thought Ray was joking, but then felt him relax deeper into sleep, and smiled slightly. “Exactly,” he said.

***

When he arrived at Yellowknife, he rescued his pack from the tumbling baggage carousel, and walked out into the main airport, greeted by an officer bearing the sign “Constable Fraser, RCMP”.

They traveled into the Yellowknife detachment and spent the first night there, Fraser recouping his strength after his two flights. He pondered that “detachment” was an excellent name for it as, even in his earliest and most naively annoying days as a cadet, he’d never felt quite so removed from a group of people as he did there.

He shook himself firmly and told himself to buck up, wishing that his father were there to tell him to put his head on straight. He told himself in the mirror instead, and received strange looks from the cadet that came to collect him to take him down to dinner.

The next day they set out bright and early to Fort Providence, and Fraser read up on the settlement on the way. It had a small population, was accessible by road most of the year, and that a large portion of its income came from the sale of moosehair tuftings to tourists. He smiled, imagining Ray’s reaction to that, before stopping himself and firmly looking out at the scenery.

It took them most of the day, but as the sun was setting they arrived at the small detachment, greeted by a homemade banner saying “Welcome Constable!” pinned over the door. Fraser smiled at the sentiment, and hefted his pack out of the trunk, following the Cadet into the building.

He met with his superior officer – Staff Sergeant Lang – and they had a civilized cup of tea and got to know each other, something Fraser felt far too tired for, but that Staff Sergeant Lang believed to be imperative.

And then, and only then, was he allowed to go home. Or what he was sure he would come to think of as home. Sergeant Lang handed him a key and gave him directions to a group of state-funded apartments a few minutes’ walk away, and Fraser used the brisk walk to somewhat familiarize himself with his surroundings.

It seemed to be a nice, quiet town, and Staff Sergeant Lang seemed quite a jolly fellow – he had had a twinkle in his eye all the way through their meeting. Fraser was sure he wouldn’t come to regret this decision. It really was the only course left open to him.

He spotted the apartment block and consulted the piece of paper with the address scrawled on it, before wandering up the steps and dropping his pack in the doorway.

Hmm, he thought, this can’t be right. He consulted the paper again. 3b. He looked at the door. 3b. There was a faint thrum of music from behind the closed door.

He unlocked the door, and stepped in.

All the lights were on in the house, and music was indeed playing. It was also inhumanly hot, and Fraser briefly flashed back to the Chicago weather of late. The door slammed shut behind him.

“Hello?” he called out.

There was a slight crash out of sight and then, loping round the corner came Ray, wearing a pair of bright red long johns.

“Fraser! Buddy!” he said, hugging him tightly. “You have a good time down there with Sergeant Lang? What a peach, huh?”

 Fraser reeled. For only the second time in his life.


 

The End