They used to have conversations like this:

“Pass the syrup, Frase?”

“Certainly not, Ray.”

“Oh, c’mon. I can’t eat pancakes without maple syrup!”

“Well, firstly, that travesty in your cupboard is not something I would ever describe as ‘maple syrup’,” Fraser crossed his arms obstinately, “and secondly, we are supposed to be having traditional pancakes.”

“Syrup is traditional!”

“I think you’ll find that’s not the case in England, Ray, where tradition calls for lemon juice and sugar.”

“Euch! Lemon and sugar? That is beyond gross, Frase.” Ray threw down his fork in disgust.

“Actually, Ray, I think you’ll find it’s quite palatable—”

“That isn’t going anywhere near my palate.”

And now he had conversations with himself that went like this:

“Maybe I should do a wash. Oh, and tomorrow I gotta remember to file the notes I made on the Johnso—no idiot, don’t think about work, it’s a day off! Remember those? Ok, so I’ll put a wash on and then go to the park. Nah, it looks like it’s gonna rain. I wonder what’s on TV?”

And then he’d spend the rest of the day flicking between infomercials. And that was possibly the most depressing thing of all – the pile of crap slowly accumulating in his cupboard: exercise tapes and fat-free grills and weird devices to open bottles of beer by attaching it to your counter-top except he didn’t have a drill.

***


Kissing was ok.

Ray figured it was kinda like the first course. It was like eating those little shrimp things with your fingers, before you got to sit down and start the proper meal (a big T-Bone steak with potatoes, or a generous portion of chicken noodles from that place round the corner).

Or, maybe it was like sitting in the audience of a boxing match versus actually taking part. You got a snack, a nice view, but none of the good sweaty stuff.

So, yeah, kissing was ok. But recently, it had been all Ray had been able to think about. He went to see this movie, some crappy movie, with Huey and Dewey, and there was this scene in it with a kiss, and damn that was a kiss something. And Ray hadn’t gotten laid in way too long if just a kiss was doing this to him, but… damn.

And so, yeah, he blamed that movie. Because a month later – an un-laid month later – he flew out to the top of the world, and did something really really stupid.

***


They used to leave notes like this:

Frase – We’re going to the movies later with Huey and Mrs. Huey. See you there at 8 (the one round the corner from the place with the good fish). Vecchio (ha ha)

Ray – I have already informed you that I am unable to attend due to obligations at the Consulat du Canada. Sometimes I wonder if you listen to me at all. BF

Frase – Mrs. Garvey called, gone to her place to get her statement. Meet me there. Ray

Ray – I think the milk in your fridge may be past its best. BF

Frase – I’m in the laundry room – basement. Bring me a beer. R


And now they say:

…Things are quiet here; not much to report I’m afraid. Nothing anywhere near as exciting as the hijinks that ensued on your last visit. I thought that there may be some illegal poaching going on over at Allan Creek, but upon further exploration it emerged that it was simply natural causes that had triggered the drop in population levels. Of course, this is an encouraging development – no news is good news as Grandmother used to say, and I always was more comfortable with a quiet existence, unlike yourself.

Which reminds me – how is Chicago? Please send my regards to Lieutenant Welsh.

I was wondering if you were planning on taking advantage of some accrued holiday leave soon? Obviously I don’t mean to be presumptuous – I know that Northern Canada is probably your last prospective holiday destination (didn’t you once mention Hawaii?) but I wanted to check as, just in case you were thinking you might like a change of scenery, I may invest in one of those sofa beds that you have in your apartment. Yours was quite comfortable, I seem to recollect – a nice, firm mattress. Also, in anticipation of your arrival, I would need start stocking up on beer as soon as possible. (I am joking, of course.)…


And…

…there is no such thing as a comfy sofa bed, Frase. That’s, you know, anathema or whatever. But, yeah I was thinking of maybe coming up over the summer. If you have other plans then fine, of course, but I thought maybe we could do that blanket toss thing you were telling me about. It sounded like fun. I know I’m not the most likely guy for Inuit local rituals but I was kind of looking forward to it. Write me and tell me when would be good for you. I can take up to two weeks, but if that’s too long then just say. I don’t want to outstay my welcome.

One day, in a fit of fancy or something, he put in a P.S.:

I’ve run out of milk – will you pick some up on your way over?

And he figured Fraser would think he’d gone batshit. But when he finally got the letter in return, Fraser had put his own P.S. right back:

Certainly, Ray. I’ll be by about seven. Please can you ensure that the popcorn is salty and not sweet this time, you know Diefenbaker has a sweet tooth and popcorn is just not good for his digestive system.

And, yeah, that just about killed him, so he didn’t try it again.

***


Ray didn’t want to think too closely about why he only seemed to feel… not-empty, when he was away from Chicago. He thought maybe it was the job, which was so much less fun when there was no one around to jump on cars or taste the pavement.

(There were conversations that sucked now too:

“He got away! How could you let him get away?!”

“He got on the 277! I couldn’t catch him in time!”

“Well, you suck. And now we’ve lost our only lead. Maybe we could figure out where he’d been today, follow him backwards or something.”

“You suck. And how the hell are we gonna do that?”

Ray looking around furtively, before pointing at a large puddle of mud and motor oil with a size nine footprint in it. “Lick that.”

He got punched in the face.)

So, yeah, the job totally blew at the moment. Maybe he needed a new partner. Except he’d been through so many that Welsh had said to him that if he dumped this one he’d take Frannie back on full-time as Ray’s partner, qualifications or none, and Ray would have to live with it.

So Ray kept his mouth shut and, when he woke up in the mornings, felt fine for a few seconds before he remembered that he had to feed Curtis and he’d gotten a parking ticket yesterday and there was no milk, and he had to interview that Stolland kid today and, oh yeah, Fraser was fucking miles away.

So the days when he woke up on a painful sofa bed with a bar digging into his back and a crick in his neck from too-thin pillows were the best ever.

Out there in that vast white wasteland, there were jaunty Fraser-type things to do. Late breakfasts (well, late for Fraser) and killing their own dinner, and sometimes Ray borrowing one of Fraser’s sweaters – apparently they really knew how to make a soft knit up north.

And they had conversations like this:

“I thought we might…”

and

“Shall we have…”

and

“Where shall we go…”

and

“We’re just here to get some…”

And for some reason that was the best thing ever.

***


Ray did things he wasn’t proud of.

1. He faked a headache one day so that he could stay on the sofa, all wrapped up in blankets. Fraser just sat at the other end and read, and Ray lay with his eyes sometimes open and sometimes closed and that was the most strenuous thing he did all day.

2. He stole Fraser’s sweater. (He would wear it sometimes on Sundays back in Chicago, and sometimes on cold nights in bed. He said: “No, Frase, I haven’t seen it. Yes I’ve unpacked, I’m not totally undomesticated! No, I swear, it wasn’t in with my things. Maybe it got stolen by a great white bear or something. What? Ok, a great brown bear then.”)

3. He asked Fraser to teach him how to buddy breathe, and he wasn’t quite sure why, even then, except that his great friend Mr. Molson seemed to think it was a good idea at the time. His head was swimming, though, and the next day he didn’t remember it very well, but he did have a funny crunchy feeling in his stomach until Fraser made him scrambled eggs with “mustard and just a little bit of dill – my speciality, Ray!” and then everything carried on as normal.

4. Fraser didn’t know, but Ray bribed Dief with anything he could get his hands on, just so that when Fraser wrote letters he would say: “Diefenbaker is missing you terribly, Ray,” and so that when he showed up at the airport Dief would leap all over him whereas Fraser just gave him a quiet, warm smile and an outstretched hand.

***


So they were sitting on the couch. It was a normal night – or normal for the middle of nowhere. The electricity was flickering occasionally, and the fire popping and smelling of pine (Fraser, typically, knew what kind of wood to use to make the fire smell good. Ray bet no one else in the world was that sad.)

Ray decided it would be fun to flashback to his unwise teen years and had picked up a bottle of nail polish from the local store. Of course, the only colour he could get was 'Candy Cloud Pink'. Either way, he had somehow conned Fraser into letting him paint his nails.

He never got that far, though. He sat there with Fraser’s hand held out in front of him and thought— shit, he didn’t think at all. He just went ahead and did it. Kissed Fraser. And it was awful. Godawful. Really, truly, the worst thing in the entire world. It was— oh, who the hell was he kidding? It was amazing.

Fraser actually kissed him back for a start – although he looked as dumbstruck as Ray felt – and they ended up necking like teenagers on the couch, Ray cross-legged and awkward, still clutching the nail polish; Fraser craning his upper body round uncomfortably, hands clutching the couch cushions. Neither of them moved for like an hour. Well, except for their mouths and tongues and breathing faster and head tilting and stuff. Neither of them moved their hands.

And, eventually, they stopped kissing and moved away from each other, not speaking, sitting facing forward until Fraser abruptly stood up and bid him goodnight.

Ray, trying not to be so hyper-aware of his swollen lips and the taste of Fraser on his tongue, had not pulled the mattress out that night. He’d just lain on top of the couch until he drifted off – doing his damnedest not to think at all. About anything.

He figured maybe kissing wasn’t such a small thing after all. Maybe it was a pretty big deal and could be all that you could think about, like you were still fourteen and Stella had just planted one on you while showing you her Dad’s vintage motorbike in their huge shady garage.

They didn’t talk about it for the rest of the holiday, and Ray made no plans to return.

***


Back in Chicago, Ray kissed three women in the next three months. The first was a back-on-the-horse kiss, and wasn’t a success. But then, it followed the pattern of the entire date, which consisted of him buying her flowers that made her nose swell up like Bozo the Clown, the waiter spilling ice water down her back and, finally, running into Huey and Dewey on the walk home – Dewey asking where his girlfriend Benton was. Ray really did almost pop him one that time.

The second girl was called Antoinette (if you believe that) and he asked her out to see a movie. It was about poetry, so he figured it would be a good date movie, but halfway through these two guy poets started having sex and Ray lost all interest in anything remotely resembling a date. They had been necking in their seats, Ray kind of getting into it, and then suddenly he’d noticed that on the screen the guys were getting as much action as he was. He’d pulled away.

The third kiss was drunken and he didn’t remember very much except he was in a bar, she was wearing a leather skirt, and the floor of the bar was gritty and sticky against his passed-out cheekbone when he woke up.

This time, Fraser wrote his own P.S:

Would you mind bringing some tinned cranberries when you come for Christmas? It is difficult to get them here, and I know you like them with your turkey.

***


So Ray went back to visit at Christmas, bringing gifts and cranberries. Fraser smiled warmly when they met at the airport, and clasped his shoulder in a manly fashion, as Dief bounced around and sniffed out the pastry Ray was hoarding in his bag. “Ray!” exclaimed, as he was wont to do.

They went back and had stew for dinner and Ray updated Fraser on any news – missing out the kisses – and they chatted on the sofa for a bit, and then Ray decided he’d like to go to bed early because, well, it was a long flight.

Fraser more than understood, and helped Ray to make his bed up, and Ray wondered if maybe they should set up some personal space rules because at one point they were stretched out tucking in sheets and happened to kiss again, as can sometimes happen, and this time it went on for way longer, and ended up kind of horizontal, although Ray was uncomfortable half-sprawled on the sofa cushions.

Ray woke up the next morning, aware of the muffled wind and trees caused by heavy snowfall, and a feeling of happiness where he should feel leaden and awkward. He ignored the happiness and did his best to feel awkward.

So he and Fraser did holiday things, and defrosted turkeys and made gravy and Fraser told him how to make stuffing the traditional way – another gross piece of information he could have done without – and they didn’t kiss at all. Well, maybe once – there was a mistletoe incident – but it was all over in minutes, and Ray didn’t think it was significant – more like Christmas cheer.

***


They wrote more letters when he was back in Chicago:

P.S. I think you should come here next time.

P.S. Please tell me your email address as I am soon to be fully equipped for the internet at the detachment. Apparently the RCMP are moving into the 21st century.

P.S. Bring with you a bumper pack of M&Ms?

P.S. Diefenbaker is missing you terribly – it is quite wearing.

P.S. Saw Thatcher on the news last night – that moustache suits her!

P.S. I must remember to bring that photograph of the latest litter. They are quite adorable.

P.S. Welsh says not to bother bringing him a souvenir. He says he doesn’t understand them.

P.S. I miss you.

P.S. I didn’t know you liked Snickers bars!


***


This was becoming a habit, Ray decided hazily, as they kissed in the front seat of the GTO. They were parked in a secluded dark corner of the parking lot at O’Hare, and Fraser’s eyes had been glittering dangerously since he met him at baggage claim.

Their habit went like this: they were doing something practical, normal, totally ordinary. Like walking down a snowy slope, or looking under the hood of Fraser’s car, or passing in a doorway, or throwing Fraser’s bags into the back of the GTO.

And then they would look at each other and not smile and not say something flippant and then – bam – they were kissing. And they never touched, at all, save for on their mouths. They sat, Fraser’s one hand clutching the dashboard, his other on the seat between them, and kissed sweetly, hotly, slowly, and then fast, until Fraser was flushed and Ray stalled the car twice trying to pull out of the parking lot.

Also, they never talked about it. Stella would have been talking his ear off right about now, Ray thought, asking for explanations, rationalisations, where-are-we-going-with-this-es. But Fraser simply kissed him and then turned away to point out a set of bear tracks or to tell him the light had turned green.

And, later that night, they kissed horizontally again, on the sofa, with ice hockey and pizza in the background, and Ray decided shakily that it might have been the sexiest thing ever when Fraser slid a hand tentatively inside Ray’s white shirt.

***


Fraser ate so slowly it drove Ray mad. Ray’d wolf down his meal in two minutes, leaving Fraser to get the right amount of salt and the right amount of pepper, to arrange the food on his plate, and take a sip of water, before eating a mouthful.

Ray always sat in the cinema with his leg jiggling, which Fraser tried to ignore for as long as possible, until eventually he was forced to lean over and say something. Ray would always apologise and then, slowly, it would start happening again, and Fraser could feel the back of his chair shaking rhythmically, the floor thrumming, the people down the row glaring at them.

This time, he called a halt to the jogging knee by putting his hand on Ray’s thigh with the full intention of taking it off immediately. But Ray went still, and in response so did Fraser, and ended up leaving his hand there, staring blindly at the cinema screen.

That night they kissed on a bed for the first time, and Ray drew Fraser’s hand down until it rested on his thigh, their breathing loud even against the blare of horns outside.

***


That holiday they did normal Chicago things, and it was like it was before. Fraser spoke Cantonese to the people at the Hong Kong Garden and looked at Ray's notes on the Benjamin case with him and made him watch educational TV programmes, and Ray was happy. They still didn’t talk about their Bad Habit (as Ray had taken to calling it) but Ray wasn’t minding it so much anyway. It had started to seem normal, which probably should have wierded him out more than it did.

And then one day they had a conversation:

“I believe, Ray, that you’ll find that what you’re actually looking at here is—”

“Hey, Frase, you ever think about moving back here?”

Fraser paused and scratched his eyebrow. “Well not really, Ray,” he said gently. “I’m very happy where I am, you know.”

Ray looked down at his hands, which were holding a bottle of beer. “Yeah, I know,” he nodded slowly. “But it would be nice, I guess.” He took a deep swig and stared out at the window. There was a fly trapped between two panes of glass where the window was propped open, buzzing furiously.

“Yes,” said Fraser. “It would be nice.”

There was a moment of silence, and Ray thought how loud everything here was compared with up north. Wondered why the hell he’d thought Fraser would ever want to give that up.

He could feel Fraser looking at him, and then Fraser set down his glass of water and scooted closer along the couch. Ray met his eyes, and Fraser looked really serious, like he was going to say something bad. But he just plucked Ray’s beer out of his hands and took a swig – Ray raised his eyebrows and Fraser grimaced at the taste, before he put the bottle down on the coffee table with a click, and leant over to kiss Ray.

There was always a moment here where it seemed not so much like kissing as a confrontation. That, for a split second, they were both willing the other person to pull away, to punch them or laugh or something. And then, usually, they sank into it.

But this time there was nothing except Fraser’s tongue, coolly-laced with beer, slowly exploring his mouth, hands pulling him closer, one on the back of his head. Ray felt totally consumed by it, relaxing completely to the now-familiar brush of Fraser’s jaw against his own, falling back slightly and pulling Fraser down with him.

Fraser lay on top of him, and they rocked against each other with a motion slow and wave-like, and Ray felt like he was drowning.

***


Fraser went back home, and Ray went back to his apartment. They wrote emails and everything went back to the way it was. Not before Fraser went away, not in the past few months, more like the way it was when Fraser first left, like they both wanted to shout at each other but didn’t quite know why.

They wrote emails, often one-liners all throughout the day, like they were chatting over a case:

Frannie just popped in with #5 and #2 – they send their love. #4 is called Fraser, did I say? I’m having an egg salad sandwich for lunch, what about you?

Diefenbaker stole an entire ham out of the pantry last night, and is consequently as sick as, well, a dog, at the moment. I give him no sympathy.

I found your sweater last night. It was inside one of mine. I’ll wash it and mail it to you.

There is no need to do that, Ray. Keep it until the next time you visit.


And Ray seemed to get angrier and angrier until it was all welling up inside him like a blocked pipe in an old Tom and Jerry cartoon, getting ready to burst.

He snapped at everyone at work, and at night all he could think about was the last time with Fraser, when he had asked him to move there, to be with him, and Fraser had said no and then they had gone to bed, really gone to bed, for the first time, like it was some kind of consolation prize, and then Fraser had flown home as-scheduled the next day.

And partly Ray was pissed at himself, that he could be so selfish as to want to deprive Fraser of everything that he loved just so Ray could have him to himself. But Ray couldn’t help that selfishness, that deep-down belly craving for Fraser’s skin and hair and teeth and eyelashes. It consumed him and scared him because all he wanted was to indulge it, and he already knew that was dangerous.

***


And then one day, he was on an airplane. It was just like that, a snap of the fingers; he’d been thinking about it for weeks and months and suddenly there it was happening.

He was on a plane, and then he was in a truck with a local called Herb, and then he was on the high street, and then the front steps, and then, wham! there he was, standing in front of Fraser.

“Because it’s like this, Frase,” he said, as though they were in the middle of an argument.

“Ray!” Fraser exclaimed, as he was wont to do.

“You do one thing, you say another, I mean, how’s a guy supposed to take that?”

“Ray, did you just fly in? You look exhausted! Sit down.”

Ray paced, “You sit with me and talk with me and write me these letters, pages and pages – how long does that take you, anyway?! – and then you go away again, and you write emails and send me bags of M&Ms and remind me to buy turtle food because you have some sixth sense that it’s running out and I’m tearing my hair out over here, Fraser—”

“Ray, please, calm down—”

“And you call us ‘we’, ‘we’re going into town later’, ‘we could listen to the concert on the wireless’, we we we! Seriously—”

Fraser gripped Ray’s shoulder’s tightly and forced him backwards into a chair. Ray felt the tight grasp and felt light-headed.

Fraser went to say something. He opened his mouth, slight frown between his brows, consternation in his eyes – Ray knew all the signs of when Fraser was going to say something. But no sound came out.

They sat there in silence for a long time, Fraser kneeling on the floor in front of Ray, hands on Ray’s shoulders. Ray could hear someone typing outside, the occasional rumble of a highly practical automobile – no GTOs out here – a dog barking.

They sat there as Fraser thought, and Ray knew better than to rush him, knew that Fraser was working stuff out and that, even if he didn’t like what he’d eventually hear, at least… at least he’d have his answer.

So they sat there, until Fraser sighed and his hands dropped from Ray’s shoulders. Their eyes met.

“Live here with me.” Fraser said in a rush.

Ray’s mouth dropped open. “What?!”

“Live here with me, Ray. Move here. I know it’s selfish but… I don’t want to go back to Chicago and as I apparently can’t stand any more polite meaningless emails either, and— live here with me. Please.”

***


On their fridge door:

Fraser, that milk is disgusting by now. How many times do I have to ask you to get some from the store on your way home? R x

Ray, did you feed Diefenbaker beer last night? He was not on top form today. BF

Ben, I’m out of clean clothes. Does this mean we have to take all our laundry fifty miles into town? Or do you have some magic Inuit cleaning spell?

Ray - I’ll be back at seven. I love you. B x

 

The End