Disclaimer: Characters are borrowed, but strictly for my own amusement.
Advisory: This is a post-COTW story, and as such contains spoilers for much of seasons 3 & 4. Please consider all references to geography, sub- zero camping, and Canadian culture to be wholly fictional; net-research only gets a person so far.
Warning: This story contains descriptions of male/male sex. If that's not your cup of tea, stop reading now.
Many thanks to Alia and WP for beta reading and encouragement. Thanks also to Elyse for her help with the Due South canon. All remaining errors are my own.
Northwest Passageby Crysothemis (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Hey, Fraser, what are you doing?"
Fraser looked up from his task, one glove dangling from his mouth. In the light from the campfire, he looked perfectly fresh and disgustingly cheerful, like he couldn't even feel the wind that was cutting through Ray like an icy knife.
"I'm zipping our sleeping bags together," Fraser explained. Like that was some perfectly normal thing to be doing.
"Whoa, whoa, wait a sec." Stanley Raymond Kowalski had been in some pretty weird situations with Fraser before, but this was going beyond weird. "You mean you're gonna . . . I mean, we, that is, you and me, are . . ."
"It will help conserve body heat," Fraser said, perfectly calm. "In case you hadn't noticed, the wind has picked up, and the temperature has dropped six degrees."
Ray hugged his arms around his chest. "I noticed."
Fraser finished with the sleeping bags and laid them out in the spot he'd chosen, a patch of snow just to the side of the campfire. It looked for all the world like a double bed. A very narrow double bed.
"Look, Fraser, nothing personal, but I don't think I want to . . ."
Fraser glanced over at him. "The threat of frostbite is very real," he said, "not to mention hypothermia. There's no point in taking foolish chances, Ray."
Trust him, Fraser was saying. Don't ask questions. Just do what he said. Even if it meant (quite literally) climbing into the sack with another guy.
Not for the first time, Ray wondered what the heck he was doing here. An adventure, he'd told Fraser in that moment when he'd been sure they were going to die. He'd never been on a real adventure. Well, now he was, and it felt . . . just like every other weird situation Fraser had ever gotten him into. Except this time it was his own choosing, not Fraser's. So what did that say about him?
Fraser was busy moving around their little campsite, adding wood to the fire, checking on the dogs. At least Fraser knew what he was doing. At least Fraser felt at home, here. And that was maybe the weirdest thing about the whole situation, that he did trust Fraser, trusted him with his life. So if Fraser said there was a risk of frostbite . . .
"Are you all right?"
Ray looked up to see Fraser looking down at him, head cocked to one side. "Oh, I'm just great." He got to his feet and brushed snow off his butt. "We going to bed now?"
"Okay, good, great." He undressed according to the instructions Fraser had given him the first night they'd spent in the open, taking off his boots and his outer layer, no more. He handed everything to Fraser, who took care of stowing it all where they could get to it in the morning. Without his outer jacket, the wind seemed far more than six degrees colder. Ray dove into the double sleeping bag and lay there, shivering.
"Excuse me, Ray." Fraser was back in a moment and sliding into the sleeping bag himself. "Sorry." As his knee came uncomfortably close to a rather vulnerable part of Ray's anatomy, protected though it was by his remaining layers of clothing. And then Fraser was in there next to him. Right next to him. Taking up far more than his share of the room.
Sheesh, he forgot sometimes just how big Fraser was. Not that he was all that tall -- at five-ten-and-a-half, Ray was only slightly shorter. Fraser was just . . . solid. Not like a boxer or a bodybuilder, more like someone who used his body. Constantly and hard.
The solid body shifted, and an arm wrapped around him. "Fraser, what are you doing?"
"You're cold," the even voice came back. "This will help."
Truth be told, Fraser felt like a furnace. How any human being could spend a day on a dogsled, eat cold pemmican and sleep on snow, and still feel that warm, Ray had no idea. But after a few minutes, when Fraser didn't move again, he felt himself easing closer to the warmth. He'd been cold for so long . . . since they jumped on the wing of that plane in Chicago, it felt like. And Fraser's body felt surprisingly comfortable next to his. It was the solidity, that was it. A guy wouldn't have to worry about rolling over and squashing something delicate, like he always had with Stella. Not that this had anything to do with Stella. He was sharing a sleeping bag with Fraser because it was cold, and that was all.
But for some odd reason, Stella felt very far away.
* * *
It was morning, or the northern equivalent. Fraser lifted his head a fraction, careful not to disturb Ray, and assessed the horizon. The sun wouldn't be up for another half an hour, but this far north the sky was already quite bright. Enough to see by, at any rate, which meant they should get up soon.
Still, something stopped him from shaking Ray awake. It would be easy enough for him to do in their current positions. All he would have to do was move. Ray was sprawled half across him, head nestled on his shoulder, arm across his chest, one leg pressed up tight against his thigh.
No hypothermia, for sure -- the sleeping bag felt toasty as a cot in a cabin by a roaring fire. Fraser turned his head just enough to make out Ray's face -- pink and healthy, so no frostbite, either. That was good. Satisfying. Because if for any reason he allowed Ray to come to harm on this quest of theirs -- especially some sort of harm he could have prevented -- he knew he would never forgive himself.
He was still astonished that Ray had chosen this path. Had chosen to be with him, when everyone else had chosen to leave. Meg -- Inspector Thatcher, that was -- was undoubtedly back in Chicago by now. He could regret that in his own way and still be glad, fiercely glad, to be here, *home*, and not alone. Meg Thatcher was beautiful -- he could allow himself to think that, now, when there was no longer a chance such thoughts would lead to impropriety. She was strong and brave and human, hard though she tried to hide it. But she had chosen to go south, knowing he would stay. And Ray had chosen to stay with him.
Ray's body twitched against him. Fraser shifted, thinking that he was awake, but Ray only snuggled closer and twitched again. Asleep, still, and dreaming.
"Stella," Ray muttered, and shifted even closer to nuzzle Fraser's neck.
Oh, dear. Ray was dreaming all right. But it wasn't exactly the kind of dream he would appreciate being woken from. Fraser swallowed hard and lay as still as he could.
"Stella, don't . . . I can't . . ."
The dream would end, or change, eventually. All he had to do was just stay still. But Ray wasn't . . . staying still, that was. He had started to rock against Fraser's leg.
Fraser shifted his head to get more air. Nice, cold, bracing air, because the toasty warm sleeping bag had suddenly become unbearably hot. It felt like he was intruding on Ray's most intimate thoughts and feelings, and there was nothing he could do about it. "Ray," he tried, a low whisper. But Ray just grunted against his neck and didn't stop moving.
"Ray." A little louder. "Ray, Ray, Ray."
Ray rocked against him once more, then harder. "Fraser," he whispered, and his whole body convulsed.
Too little, too late. Fraser kept his face averted, kept his body dead still like he couldn't feel it. Ray was still asleep; he had to be. With any luck, all he would remember was that he had dreamed about his ex-wife.
* * *
Stella was there, but she kept pulling away from him. Kept saying she was in love with Ray, which didn't make any sense, because *he* was Ray, but she wouldn't let him kiss her. "Stella, don't go," he said. "I can't live without you."
"You need to find the bicycle, Ray," she said. And while he was trying to figure out what that meant, he realized she wasn't Stella, anymore, but Fraser. And Fraser wasn't pushing him away like Stella had. Fraser was looking at him with those clear blue eyes, a hint of a smile lifting his cheeks.
"Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray," Fraser said, and somehow that was the most erotic thing anyone had ever said to him.
"Fraser," he whispered, and leaned in to Fraser's kiss. And then the world exploded in a white heat that began in his groin and shot outward, leaving stars and drifting ashes in its wake.
He was so warm. Warm and tired and sated, in Fraser's arms. He hadn't felt this good in so long . . . he couldn't remember. He couldn't remember ever feeling this good.
"Ray," Fraser's voice said again, and this time it sounded different. Less sweet and gentle, more urgent. "It's time to get up."
Leave it to Fraser to be a spoilsport. Clearly the man did not know how to enjoy a good cuddle. "Don't want to," Ray said, and snuggled closer against him.
"Ray, I'm sorry," Fraser said, shifting under him like he was trying to disengage himself. "It's just that at this latitude at this time of year, there aren't all that many hours of daylight, and we really need to take advantage of what we can if we're going to make any progress today."
That was Fraser all right. Typical Fraser. Dragging him off on some fool quest, and . . .
No, it was his quest. To find the Hand of Franklin. Fraser shifted under him, widening the opening of the sleeping bag, and Ray took in a breath of cold, crisp, outside air.
"Jesus, Fraser." What the heck was he doing? He was lying snuggled up to his best friend like they were . . . like they had . . .
"Looks like a beautiful day," Fraser said, as if he were utterly oblivious. "We'd better get moving." And with that he slid out from under Ray, out into the cold, snowy world around them.
Ray lay where he was. He hadn't just . . . had he? But he remembered Fraser's body warm below him. Remembered the soft heat of Fraser's kiss. And Stella . . .
Stella wasn't here. He knew that much for a fact, because they were somewhere in the Canadian wilderness with nobody but Diefenbaker and a bunch of sled dogs. So that part had to have been a dream. And if that was a dream, the kiss was a dream, and so was . . .
He shifted in the sleeping bag and felt a tell-tale stickiness, down on his belly. A dream, maybe, but a dream with real side effects. And Fraser had been right there beside him. Fraser knew.
"Ray?" Fraser's voice, just outside. Ray pulled the sleeping bag up over his head. "Ray, I have your boots and coat here. In case you were thinking about getting up."
Was that sarcasm? Surely not. He'd seen Fraser angry, but sarcastic? Well, maybe with Diefenbaker.
Ray sighed and considered the consequences of just staying in the sleeping bag all day. The only problem with that plan was that he had to take a leak. Another sigh, and he pushed his head out of the sleeping bag and reached for the coat. "Thanks," he managed.
It was colder than it had been last night, but the wind had died down. Ray put the coat on while he was still in the sleeping bag, then pulled his hat down tighter over his ears. A few more days of this and his hair would be truly experimental. Frighteningly experimental.
He braced himself and slid out of the sleeping bag, shoved his feet in his boots, and stood. Fraser was over feeding the dogs, so he had a moment to compose himself and go somewhere where he could take a leak.
When he came back Fraser was busy packing up camp. Ray went to do his share, brushing snow off the tarp and rolling up their sleeping bags, still zipped together as they were. He went to load it onto the sled and found Fraser there, tying a knot or something.
"Um, Fraser, so about that . . ."
Fraser looked up with that perfectly innocent expression. "About what, Ray?"
Ray waved a hand in the direction of the spot where they'd slept. "That, that dream I was having."
"Ah." Fraser bent over the sled again and set to fastening the sleeping bags down as well. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to intrude," he said. "It's just that in such close quarters I couldn't help overhearing."
Overhearing? He wouldn't have exactly thought that was the main problem. "What . . . um, what did I say?"
"I believe you mentioned your ex-wife's name. Other than that, I couldn't really make much out."
He didn't know. Didn't realize the dream had been about him. Ray felt part of the knot in his stomach ease. It was just like that time on the Henry Anderson, or rather, Allen. When Fraser had done that "buddy breathing" thing and thought it was perfectly normal, something guys did to each other all the time.
Obviously, Fraser had a pretty weird idea of what "normal" meant.
"Would you like some breakfast?" Fraser was asking, like this was a normal morning, too.
Ray shook his head, but to clear it, not to say no. "Yeah, okay, sure," he said.
And why not? If Fraser wanted to act like things were normal, well, he could try that. It was certainly a heck of a lot better than trying to explain himself, especially since he didn't have an explanation. He took the tin cup full of oatmeal from Fraser's gloved hands. It was warm, anyway. In weather like this, you started to like anything that was warm, no matter whether you ordinarily would have cared for it or not.
* * *
Ray had been quiet all day. Fraser puzzled it over as the dogs ran and the sun, never very high above the horizon, made its way slowly downward. Not that they ordinarily had much time to talk, since with Ray on the sled and himself on the back, or running alongside, they would have to practically shout to hear each other. Still, Ray was quiet when they stopped to eat, and he didn't even complain about the food. It was enough to make a person wonder.
The puzzle went like this: what was different today? And the answer he kept coming back to was the dream. So maybe Ray was embarrassed about having dreamt about Stella, but somehow, he kept thinking it had to be more than that. That it possibly had something to do with the fact that Ray had said his name, right at the crucial moment. Of course, he'd been saying Ray's name, so it made perfect sense that Ray had answered him. But that he had answered him and only then . . . well, that part didn't entirely make sense. Unless one considered that Ray was used to civilization and being surrounded by people, and it had been almost a week since they'd last seen another human being, let alone an attractive woman. Of co urse, they had been with Meg Thatcher a week ago, but somehow Fraser didn't really think she was Ray's type.
So maybe Ray was just lonely, in the kind of way that only came out when you shared a sleeping bag with someone. And maybe Ray was feeling embarrassed about that, more than anything, even though Fraser had been very careful not to bring that part of it up.
It was roundabout logic, and he didn't know if he could trust it. But if it were true, it meant he had two choices. He could force the issue by bringing the subject up, with all its potentially painful pitfalls, or he could avoid the subject altogether.
Over dinner, with a fire going and Ray still not talking much, he made his decision. He had to do it, even if it killed them. It was the right thing to do.
Fraser got up and put another piece of wood on the fire, using the excuse to move closer to where Ray was sitting. But it was hard to start up a casual conversation with someone who wasn't saying much. "So, Ray," he started, and then didn't know what to say. "I was thinking . . . well, actually, I suppose, wondering is a better term, yes, wondering . . ."
Ray looked up at him with that old frustrated look. "Spit it out, Fraser."
"Do you miss civilization? Cities, snowplows, people?"
Ray made a face and stared into the fire. "Heck no. We're on an adventure, here. We're gonna find that damn hand if it kills us."
"Well, I certainly hope it doesn't come to that, Ray."
"I was speaking . . ." he waved a hand when the word didn't come.
"Yeah, metaphorically. When you're on a quest, you speak metaphorically."
"So you don't miss it? You're not . . . ah . . . having second thoughts about being here?"
Ray's chin jerked up, like he'd finally caught on to what Fraser was talking about. "What's the matter, Fraser, you want to quit?"
"No, no, of course not."
"Then neither do I."
It wasn't a completely satisfactory answer, but it would have to do.
* * *
Dinner around the campfire wasn't so bad, until Fraser got it into his mind to be nosy. Asking about missing civilization. Missing people. He didn't say missing women, but he might as well have.
Like Fraser, of all people, had a right to be asking about that. The man might as well be a monk, the way he lived. Not that he didn't have opportunity; that was the worst of it. One look at those blue eyes and half the female population of Chicago dropped swooning at his feet. But Fraser just went on like he didn't even notice.
Far as Ray knew, Fraser had only had two women in his life. The first was Victoria Metcalf, who he knew about only because she'd been in Ray Vecchio's case files, the ones he'd had to memorize. She was the one who'd stolen Fraser's heart, and then played keep away with it. But that was years ago.
The second was the Ice Queen, and from what he'd seen just a week ago, the two had never even made it past first base. They'd shared a kiss - - and nothing but a kiss -- before Thatcher had left to return to Chicago. And somehow, it hadn't looked like a kiss between established lovers. Too unsure, too desperate.
*Do you miss civilization?* What kind of a question was that? Of course he was horny. Sheesh, that took real brains to figure out. Like he was going to find anyone, anyone in these vast Yukon Territories that he wanted to sleep with, apart from . . .
Damn. It was driving him crazy. Because he wasn't gay, he knew he wasn't. He'd been in love with Stella all those years. And sex with Stella had been great. Always great, even to the end. But then, sex had never been the problem.
But it was now. Because all he had been able to think of, all day, was that stupid dream. The feel of Fraser's body against his, the warmth of his kiss. It kept making him think back to that buddy breathing thing on the Henry Anderson. Allen. Henry Allen.
He'd been underwater, out of breath, panicked. He'd been sure he was going to die. And out of nowhere Fraser had come back for him, had come back and breathed sweet air into his mouth, lips pressed to his, hands cupping his cheeks. Fraser had given him life's breath, and now . . . now he wanted it again.
It was stupid. Probably the dumbest thing he'd ever wanted in his life. And maybe Fraser was right, and it was just that he missed women and civilization and ordinary everyday things like warm showers and the ability to take your clothes off without freezing your heinie. But somehow, thinking about those things didn't seem to be doing much to drive this itch away.
"Well," Fraser said, like they'd actually been having a conversation instead of sitting side by side in dead and painful silence, "I think it's time we should be getting some sleep. It's a long day tomorrow if we're going to get to Nadluq."
"We're going to a town?"
"Well, it's not much of a town, Ray. More of a village. But I believe there's at least one house that will take boarders, assuming the beds aren't already occupied."
"What if they are?"
Fraser shrugged and got that careless expression. "Oh, I'm sure we'll find someplace to sleep. It's a very civilized place."
"Oh yeah?" Ray couldn't help himself. "They've got hot water and women?"
Fraser rubbed his stubble-covered chin. "Yes, I believe they've had running water for a number of years, now."
Civilization. Real beds instead of shared sleeping bags in the snow. It sounded like heaven. So why was some part of him disappointed?
It was the stupid part, it had to be. The same part that had the itch to kiss Fraser. The same part that thought Fraser looked good in stubble, and wondered what it would feel like against his own cheek. The part that . . .
Damn. He was not gay. He was definitely not gay.
"Sounds good," he said deliberately.
"Ah," Fraser said, like he thought that meant something. "Then you do miss it."
"Yeah, well, there's a lot of things I don't miss, either, like grafitti and traffic and having you risk my life all the time in utterly wild and bizarre ways."
For the first time in what felt like hours, Fraser flashed him a hint of a smile. "Well, I can't guarantee you've escaped that last one," he said. "You've already been up mountains and down ice crevasses this trip."
"Oh, thanks for reminding me, Fraser. I almost forgot."
"Sorry," Fraser said, but he was still smiling. He got to his feet. "I'll go get the sleeping bags."
He said bags. Plural. Like he was intending to unzip them from each other. Ray got to his feet, not sure whether it was relief or disappointment he was feeling. He didn't want to have another dream like last night's, didn't want Fraser to know where his mind was, if it was insisting on being in the gutter. But the stupid part of him was thinking that maybe he should tell Fraser he was feeling a little cold, or maybe that his toes were numb, and he was getting worried about frostbite.
But when Fraser brought the sleeping bags over next to the fire, they were still zipped together, and he wasn't doing anything to change that. He laid them out and sat down to unlace his boots, like he was ready to hit the sack right now.
Something jumped in Ray's stomach. The part of him that wanted this was buzzing, and the rest of him was screaming in protest. "So, like, aren't you going to unzip them?" he asked.
Fraser looked up at him like he was confused. "It hasn't gotten any warmer, Ray," he said. "It's safer this way."
Safer. Little did he know. "Yeah, okay, okay," Ray said, knowing how stubborn Fraser could be about things like this. Whatever. But by the time he crawled into the sleeping bag beside Fraser, his heart was pounding like he'd just run a marathon.
* * *
Ray wasn't falling asleep. That much was obvious, because he kept shifting and sticking out elbows and knees and catching Fraser where he least expected it. After the fourth or fifth jab, Fraser started to worry.
"You might try lying still," he whispered. "That sometimes helps."
"Oh, right, thank you very much, Fraser."
For once, the sarcasm actually hurt, even though he knew Ray didn't mean it to. "I'm sorry," he said. "I was only trying to help."
"Yeah, well, I don't need your help, okay? So just leave me alone."
That hurt again, even though he knew it shouldn't. "I'm afraid that's a bit difficult right now," Fraser said, but he slid back the few centimeters that the narrow sleeping bag afforded him.
"Thank you," Ray said, and this time he actually sounded like he meant it. At least he had gone relatively still. Ray Kowalski in a jumpy mood was a sure antidote for sleep, any day or night.
Fraser put his head down and closed his eyes, willing his breathing to go low and even. Breathing was the true key to getting successful rest. If you controlled your breathing, you ended up refreshed, whether you actually fell asleep or not.
He was considering saying as much to Ray when he felt one of Ray's hands brush his arm. They were lying on their sides, Ray's back to Fraser's front, which meant Ray was reaching backward. Fraser kept his breathing low and steady, careful not to react. And he felt Ray's hand travel ever-so-lightly down his forearm to close around his hand.
Ray shifted, and somehow the gap between them was gone, and his hand, still touching Ray's, was now resting on Ray's hip. For an instant Fraser held his breath. But Ray had done that. Ray apparently wanted it. And after a day of awkward silences, Fraser wasn't ready for another confrontation.
Breathing. Right. He slowed it down again, let it go deep and even and restful. And after a few moments, Ray's hand closed around his and pulled it down, around his hip, and Fraser could feel Ray's other hand come up to tug at the layers of clothing at his waist.
It was suddenly painfully obvious what Ray was doing. The only thing that didn't make sense was why Ray had Fraser's hand there, because if he wanted to do it himself, he didn't need the help, and if he wanted Fraser to do it, he should have just asked. There was the sound of a zipper being undone, then a button popping. And then Fraser couldn't take it anymore.
"Ray," he whispered, desperately needing to be certain, "Ray, do you want me to . . . ?"
"Jesus." Ray's whole body jerked, and he pushed Fraser's hand away. For a moment it was utterly silent, not even the sound of either of them breathing. And then Ray said, "I didn't know you were a pervert, Fraser."
Try as he might, Fraser couldn't think of any definition of that word that would fit the current situation. "I wasn't suggesting we do anything unpleasant, Ray. I was merely asking what you wanted."
Ray pulled away from him again, pulling the sleeping bags tight between them. "Wh- What makes you think that I would . . . that I could . . . ? Jesus, Fraser."
It hurt, worse than anything that had happened earlier in the evening. Ray was lying to him, blaming him when *Ray* had been the one who initiated the contact. "I'm terribly sorry if I misunderstood," Fraser said, knowing it sounded stiff. "Don't worry, it won't happen again."
"It better not," Ray said. And the silence stretched as taut as the sleeping bag around them.
Breathing. Breathing was the key. Fraser slowed it down, nice and steady, and felt his heart rate gradually ease. Ray was confused, obviously, and the close quarters weren't helping him any. The best thing to do was give him space, in any way he could, and get them to a town, with real beds and real human contact, by tomorrow night.
It would be all right. He wouldn't let anything come between them, not now, after Ray had chosen to stay here with him. He wouldn't let anything hurt Ray . . . least of all himself.
* * *
Fraser was asleep again. It was utterly unfair, that he could fall asleep on command like that, and then be awake again at a moment's notice. Awake in time to . . . Oh, God.
He couldn't believe he'd done that. Or that Fraser had woken up. Or that Fraser had actually asked . . . like he would have done it, like all Ray would have had to say was, "Touch me," and he would have done it.
If that wasn't perverted, what was? What kind of guy woke up to find another guy manhandling him and asked, "Do you want me to . . ."? It was sick and twisted. It was . . .
It was all his fault. Not Fraser's. His. He was the one who was itching. And it was just the awful irony of things that made it Fraser he was itching for. Fraser, who didn't know what the word "normal" meant. Fraser, who'd never been good at hurting him, even when they were both angry, even when Ray told him to.
Oh, God. Fraser felt sorry for him. It was the only rational explanation, because it was pretty clear Fraser wasn't itching for him in return. If he was, he wouldn't be able to fall asleep so easily. No, Fraser had felt sorry for him, sorry enough that he'd been willing to . . .
And that was the hardest part, right now, that Fraser had been willing. He hadn't said "Stop," or "What are you doing?" He'd said, "Do you want me to . . . ?"
It made crazy thoughts run through his head, thoughts about what he might ask for, and what Fraser might say. It made the itch worse, ten times worse. It made him feel cold, where the sleeping bag was stretched tight, and his shoulders and hips and feet were pressed against it.
No, the cold was real. The double sleeping bag had been plenty warm enough last night, when he'd been lying up against Fraser, but tonight it felt painfully thin. He didn't know why it should make such a big difference, whether they were touching or not. But he couldn't suppress a shiver.
Fraser's breathing changed, and he shifted. "Ray," he said, like he'd been aware all along.
"I'm just cold."
"I know." He felt Fraser's hand warm on his shoulder. "When you pull the sleeping bag tight like this it reduces the loft and lowers the insulating capacity."
"Look, Fraser, don't get technical on me. I'm not in the mood."
"Understood," Fraser said, and shifted closer to him.
"Fraser . . ."
"You're cold, Ray."
Yeah, he was cold. Just like last night, and look where that had got him. "Fraser, roll over."
"Ray, you --"
"Don't ask questions, okay? Just roll over."
Fraser paused for a long moment, but then rolled over without further protest. That put him on his side, his back to Ray. Ray rolled over himself, so that he was behind Fraser, facing Fraser's back. It was easier, like this. He didn't feel quite so . . . engulfed.
"This okay?" he asked.
"It's fine, Ray."
"You're not cold?"
Truth was, now that he was almost touching Fraser at more than a few points, he wasn't cold at all. It was like having his own personal body-warmer. Not that Fraser was all that personal, of course, and not that Fraser was really his. But they were going to be in town tomorrow evening, and there was no telling where they'd be after that. So tonight . . . tonight was the only thing he could be certain of.
And Fraser had asked if he wanted . . .
Fraser was asleep again, that damned s teady breathing now overlaid by a second sound that was too quiet to be a snore, too regular to be anything else. Fraser was asleep, when any normal guy would have been freaking out. But then, Fraser was a freak, himself. Wasn't that what he'd decided, the first day they'd met? Just went to show first impressions meant something.
Slowly, holding his own breath so he could hear the sound of Fraser's, Ray lifted his hand and eased it across the mere inches that separated them. He settled it down on the bulky clothing that he thought was somewhere in the vicinity of Fraser's hip, and Fraser's snores never faltered. It was stupid to be doing this, but he had to know. Was it all in his head, or had Fraser's offer meant something more? Did Fraser just feel sorry for him, or had he actually wanted . . .?
Slowly, gently, he slid his hand around to Fraser's front, around, and down, and . . . oh, geez.
It wasn't something in one of Fraser's pockets. It was in the wrong place for that, and it felt alive, even through all the layers of clothing. A long ridge, alive and warm, and definitely, but definitely, not indifferent to him. As his hand ran across it, he felt a pulse beneath him.
Suddenly, Ray couldn't stop himself. He was burrowing into Fraser's clothing, not caring if he woke him, not caring about anything except getting through those layers of zippers and buttons and snaps. And he heard Fraser's breathing catch, but it didn't matter, because he was through the layers and touching hot, silky skin, and then he heard Fraser whimper -- sheesh, he sounded like Diefenbaker -- and felt Fraser shift his hips, so that Ray didn't have to reach quite so far around him.
Not indifferent, oh no, and not the monk he was so good at pretending to be. Ray slid his hand down, then ran it up the hot ridge and closed his fingers around it. Fraser didn't feel quite the way he was expecting, hard and soft at the same time, and there was too much . . . oh, God, he was uncut. It made touching Fraser a hell of a lot different than touching himself, and he wasn't sure he was doing it right, except Fraser started trembling beneath him.
"Ray," Fraser whispered. "Ray." And it was as erotic in real life as it had been in his dream. More erotic, because Fraser had started moving beneath him, thrusting into his hand with an urgency that was fast becoming . . .
And then Fraser's whole body went rigid -- too soon, far too soon for anyone but superman -- and a moment later, hot stickiness gushed over Ray's hand.
"Ray," Fraser said, breathless now, but with a different kind of urgency.
"Shh." He didn't want to talk about it. The last thing he needed was Fraser analyzing things, or worse, getting all tongue-tied and stupid. "Go to sleep."
Fraser was still, and for a long moment Ray thought he had just accepted that. But his breathing didn't go deep and steady this time. And then, finally -- what was the man thinking, taking so long? -- Fraser's hand found his waist.
It was the work of a few seconds to loosen enough clothing so that Fraser could get his hand inside. Ray eased himself down onto his back, and found that somehow Fraser had got his other arm around his shoulders. He wasn't just being touched, he was being held, and it felt amazing.
Fraser's hand made its way slowly downward, like there was no urgency anymore. It paused to circle his hipbone, then slid lower, and lower still, onto his leg, for Pete's sake. Like Fraser needed lesson or two about anatomy. Or . . . no. Like he was exploring. Exploring every inch.
The hand moved up, came around to his inner thigh, but then, damn it, skirted wide again and came to rest on his belly.
"Fraser --" he said, ready to give him what for, but Fraser cut him off with a simple, "Shh."
The hand meandered down again, but this time it didn't entirely miss him. One stroke sent tiny shocks down all the way to his toes. A second started him quivering. The third . . . didn't come, didn't come until he was aching for it, until he was ready to curse, ready to scream, ready to punch Fraser in the . . . but when it did come, it made his whole body sing.
Fraser's hand tightened around him, set up a rhythm that made him ache, then broke it, left him hanging, came back to it. Damn. Fraser didn't know what he was doing. Fraser was hanging him out to dry, here. Fraser . . .
Did know what he was doing. Oh, shit. Ray felt the whole world heave, felt everything come together, felt all the little frustrations, all the breaks in rhythm coalesce into one tiny, hot point of light that was focused where Fraser's hand was. Exactly where Fraser's hand was.
And then the point exploded, and he saw stars.
Afterward, they didn't move. Fraser still had one hand down his pants and the other wrapped around his shoulders and it felt good, so good, to be in that warm embrace. Hard to believe there was snow outside. Hard to believe there was anything else in the universe besides himself and Fraser and the insidious warmth that pulled him down, down, down , into its soft and gentle clasp.
* * *
It was late. Fraser could tell without moving his head, because he could see sunlight on distant peaks. The sun would be up here in a matter of minutes, and they had a long way to go today.
He'd slept too soundly. He wasn't used to that. But then, he wasn't used to being wrapped around a lean, angular body that smelled like outdoors and work and . . . that, too.
Fraser sighed and took in a long breath. He hadn't been ready for last night, and he wasn't sure Ray had, either. He hadn't been thinking, that was the problem, and he hadn't had his father here to tell him not to do it.
Of course, if his father were here, he'd probably be going on about grandchildren and his son's singularly inefficient methods of producing them. Or else he would be talking about Buck Frobisher, and what it meant to have a partner.
Well, he'd got himself into a pickle, and it wasn't the sort of thing a person could ask a father about, anyway. He'd managed to do the one thing, the one foolish, selfish thing, that could drive Ray away. After Ray had chosen him, had asked him to share this adventure.
Some days he was as much of a lunatic as his dear, departed father. Whom he missed, now, with an ache that felt like a hole in his heart.
"Oh, geez." Ray stirred against him, tried to disentangle himself, and failed.
"Sorry," Fraser said, and pulled his hand away where it was still caught in Ray's waistband. Ray turned, and he managed to get his arm out from under him. "Excuse me," Fraser said, and slid his whole body up and out into the cold winter morning.
The fire was out, but it didn't make sense to rebuild it, not if they were going to have to get moving, and soon. They could get by on pemmican this morning, since they'd be having hot food tonight. Fraser went to see to the dogs.
He was greeted with waving tails and friendly faces and a series of whines from Dief.
"I have not been ignoring you," he argued as he handed out the food. Dief cocked his head and disagreed.
"Well, I suppose I have been a little wrapped up in my own problems," he conceded. "I wasn't expecting this."
That earned him a rather smug bark.
"Well, if you smelled something, you could have told me."
But Dief just looked past him and wagged his tail. Fraser turned to follow his gaze and saw Ray making his way around the dead campfire. His hat was cocked sideways on his head, making him look like some kind of overgrown elf, but Fraser felt something catch in his throat. Mistake or not, he'd *meant* it last night, meant every touch, every caress. But from the look on his face, Ray wasn't feeling the same way.
"Hi," Ray said, and shoved his gloved hands into the side-warmer pockets of his parka.
It wasn't exactly a promising start, but it wasn't outright rejection yet. "Good morning," Fraser said. "As soon as the dogs finish up here, we'll be able to get moving."
Ray glanced up at the sky. He seemed to be learning, by example and experience, to begin to read things like skies and trails. "So I guess we slept in."
"Yes, I'm afraid we did."
The dogs were done with their breakfast, so Fraser collected their tin plates and went up to pack the sled. Ray followed him and went to do the chores he'd taken on himself: packing up their sleeping bags and the tarp they laid under them.
"Um, Fraser?" Ray was beside him, loading the gear onto the sled.
Fraser tried to catch his eye, but Ray looked away. "Yes, Ray."
Ray was looking down, fidgeting with his hands and feet. "So, like, last night didn't happen, okay?"
It wasn't anything he wasn't expecting, but it burned, anyway. "Well, actually, it did," he argued, knowing it was foolish to fight, but unable to help himself. "That is, if I remember it and you remember it --"
Ray cut him off. "No, it didn't. All we have to do is say we don't remember it, and it didn't happen."
That was even worse. "You're asking me to lie."
"No, you don't have to lie. Just don't talk about it. Okay?"
Ray glanced up at him, his face perfectly miserable, and then just as quickly looked away. But it was enough to show how much he was suffering. Fraser felt his anger dissipate like it had never existed. "All right. I promise not to bring the subject up."
Ray didn't look entirely mollified. "What if someone else brings it up?"
"Well, the only person likely to bring it up is you, Ray, and I can't promise not to talk about it if you ask me to."
Ray made a disgusted face. "Thanks a lot, Fraser."
So that was the way things were. Fraser kicked himself mentally and went to hitch up the dogs. It would be better, tonight, once they reached town. It would have to be.
* * *
"Town" was a bit of an exaggeration. The little settlement had one street, with houses that all looked the same, square and low to the ground, and there were snowmobiles parked everywhere --more snowmobiles than cars. Fraser led the way to one of the largerstructures and made arrangements, while Ray h ung back looking around and thinking how weird it was to see real, live people.
Dinner was warm and tasted good enough that he didn't ask what was in it. And then it was time for bed, because Fraser was right; it had been a long day, and they hadn't gotten in until well after dark.
Diefenbaker, privileged among all the dogs, accompanied them back to their room. That was, room, singular, because that was apparently all this place had. The bathroom was down the hall.
Still, when Fraser opened the door, it wasn't what Ray was expecting. He knew this wasn't a hotel, but still, somehow he hadn't been imagining army blankets and twin beds.
Fraser was surveying the room with a look of perfect satisfaction. "See?" he said. "What did I tell you? Civilization." He set their bundle of supplies on the floor and looked over. "Would you like the bathroom first, or shall I?"
"Uh, you go ahead." Ray sat down on the nearest bed. He needed time to think, time to figure out what the heck he was going to do, because the moment he'd seen the twin beds, he'd gotten this horrible, disappointed feeling in the pit of his stomach.
It was completely ridiculous, and stupid on top of that. They were back in civilization, such as it was. Crazy things that happened when you had to share a sleeping bag had no place here. And what had he been thinking, anyway? That it would be a luxury hotel room with a king-size bed, and Fraser would fall into his arms and declare his undying love?
That was sicker than he thought he'd sunk to. Truly twisted. But, damnitall, last night had been amazing, for what it was. Except that Fraser hadn't kissed him, like in the dream . . . and he wanted Fraser to kiss him.
He wasn't gay. Really. He'd never felt this way about a guy in his life.
Of course, the truth if the matter was, he'd never felt this way about anyone but Stella. Because it wasn't just being horny. He'd had enough time on today's long, cold sled ride to think about that -- heck, it was the only thing he wanted to think about. And he was starting to think that maybe this had started with the buddy-breathing thing. Or possibly even earlier, when he'd punched Fraser in the face, and Fraser had just got that awful, cold expression and walked away from him.
He remembered the dreadful, panicked feeling when he thought he'd lost Fraser for good. And he remembered feeling it again when Ray Vecchio, the real Ray Vecchio, had shown up out of the blue, threatening to take his life back and everything in it, including Fraser. How . . . relieved he'd felt when he asked Fraser if they were still partners, and Fraser had said, "If you'll have me."
If you'll have me. Like there was any chance he would have said no. Even then, before he'd realized . . .
What, that he was gay? But he wasn't gay. He was just . . . in love . . . with Benton Fraser.
There. He'd thought it. He'd actually completed the thought. Funny how it didn't make him feel any better.
Fraser chose that moment to show up, to show up dressed in -- oh, dear God -- those red long johns, the ones that outlined his shoulders and chest perfectly and left other places tantalizingly baggy. Ray jerked to his feet.
"'Scuze me," he said, and pushed past Fraser and out the door.
"Ray?" Fraser sounded confused, but Ray didn't turn around. The bathroom was there on his left, so he could duck inside before Fraser said anything else.
It was privacy, anyway. The first privacy he'd had in weeks. Since Chicago, or at least that was what it felt like. Ray let out a long breath and unzipped his pants.
And a knock on the door made him jump out of his skin. Sheesh. Who would have the nerve, at this hour?
Oh, but of course. Who else but Fraser? Ray yanked his zipper back up and opened the door. "*What*?"
Fraser looked taken aback. "I'm terribly sorry. I thought you might like your toothbrush."
He held out the baggie that contained Ray's brush and toothpaste, and Ray snatched it out of his hand. "Oh, *thank* you," he said, not just a little sarcastically, and shut the door in Fraser's face.
He leaned against the wall, his heart hammering in his chest. Fraser couldn't know what he'd almost interrupted, could he? But Fraser was still out there. He was sure of it, until, finally, he heard soft footsteps retreating down the hall.
Ray stumbled over to the sink, set his toothbrush on the rim, and bent to splash cold water on his face. He straightened slowly and caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror.
Ah, hell. He looked like crap. His hair was plastered to his head except in the front, where it was sticking out in all the wrong directions. He had so much stubble it was close to the beginnings of a beard, or it would have been if it hadn't been so damn patchy and funny-looking. Add to that the fact that his nose and cheeks were bright red from all the sun and wind and cold, and it was a wonder Fraser could even look at him without bursting into laughter.
Damn. Ray bent again and ran wet fingers through h is hair, pushing it up so that it stood on end like it was supposed to. Not that it helped much. Not that it would stay without gel, anyway.
Oh, well. At least he didn't feel much like jerking off anymore. Ray sighed, used the can, brushed his teeth, and made his way back to the room.
Fraser had rearranged their gear and was busy stripping the blanket off one of the beds.
"Fraser, what are you doing?"
He got that innocent look. "I'm getting ready for bed."
By removing the blanket? While Ray watched, dumbfounded, Fraser went to open the door and then spread the blanket out on the floor in the hallway. "Good-night, Ray," he said, and made to close the door.
Ray managed to catch the handle before it was completely shut. Fraser was in the process of lying down, flat on his back, on a single blanket on the hard floor in the middle of the narrow hallway.
It was ample proof, as if he needed it, that Fraser didn't want to be sleeping anywhere near him. That Fraser was pissed about last night, even if he had been horny, even if he had seemed to enjoy himself at the time. The hopeless, sinking feeling came back with a vengeance.
"Look, Fraser, you're not a guard dog."
Fraser had the nerve to just look puzzled. "I'll be quite comfortable," he said, patting the blanket. "It's a good, solid floor."
Despair turned to anger, that Fraser could be so damn dense, so brilliant and so incredibly stupid at the same time. For the first time, Ray found himself identifying with Frannie. Sympathizing, too. "There's a perfectly good bed in here," he said, "and if you don't use it, I'm gonna kick you in the head."
Fraser blinked at him and sat up. "Ray, I don't think --"
"Get in here, Fraser, or I'll do it. I swear I will."
Fraser frowned, doubtless remembering the last time he'd made that kind of a threat and then followed through on it. "Well, if you feel that strongly about it . . ." Fraser said, and got to his feet.
"Thank you," Ray said sourly, and stood back to let Fraser in.
Fraser came inside, then turned and looked at him, just looked for a moment, like there was something he wanted to say. But whatever it was, he didn't say it. He just turned and went over to get into bed, shaking the blanket out over him. "Good-night, then."
"Night." Ray went and turned off the light, then picked his way back to where he thought his bed was in the dark. He was almost there, he thought, when he stubbed his toe on something large and warm and very furry, and got a whimper in response. "Sorry, Dief." He reached down and patted Diefenbaker's soft coat. "Didn't realize you were there."
Damn. Now Fraser had him talking to animals. In the dark, where Dief wouldn't be able to read his lips . . . as if any animal could, even a wolf as smart (or willful) as Dief. Sheesh. Next Fraser would have him believing the moon was made of green cheese.
The bed was just beyond Diefenbaker. Ray peeled off his clothes quickly, stripping down to t-shirt and boxers, and got between the covers. For a moment it was deathly quiet, and then there was a shifting next to him, and something cold and wet touched his face.
"Aaargh." He couldn't help crying out, even though he realized in the next instant that it was only Diefenbaker. "Crazy wolf."
"Dief," Fraser called from the other side of the room. "Dief, Dief, Dief, Dief, Dief."
"He can't hear you, Fraser. He's deaf."
"Right you are. Is he bothering you?"
"Nah, he's okay."
For a split second, Ray pictured Fraser coming over. Pictured reaching up for him. Pictured rejection. "Yeah, he's fine."
As if he'd understood that, Diefenbaker put his paws up on the bed, and then, in one heave, jumped up on the mattress. Ray tried to fend him off, but Dief turned once and then settled lengthwise alongside him, pressing up against him.
It wasn't like snuggling up to Fraser. Not hardly. But it was another warm body, some sort of reminder that he wasn't alone in the world. Ray reached down and scratched Dief's head. At least someone still liked him.
* * *
Diefenbaker was sleeping with Ray. They lay side by side in the narrow bed, looking somehow like kindred spirits in the early morning light, Dief with his tufty white fur, and Ray with his shock of bushy blond.
Fraser sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes. They looked surprisingly comfortable, sleeping like that. And it was perfectly silly to be jealous of a wolf.
He just had to figure out how to fix things with Ray. He had faith that it could be done; it was just a question of how. But perhaps the key was following Ray's cue and pretending nothing had happened, as uncomfortable as the prospect made him.
He'd clearly made a mistake last night, thinking Ray would be happier with some privacy. It had called too much attention to the situation. Yes, that was it. He had to try to be more subtle.
But he could do that. He'd work at it. And it was quite possible that a day spent in civilization -- not to mention the prospect of a shave and a hot bath -- might do wonders for Ray's temperament.
Fraser eased out of bed and went to make the necessary arrangements.
* * *
"Um, yeah, thank you for joining us. It was very nice to have the pleasure of your company." Ray managed to get the words out, though they were lies, every one. He hadn't wanted to have dinner with two local girls, cute and bubbly as they might be. It wasn't exactly a barrel of laughs watching them flirt with Fraser, even if (as usual) Fraser seemed too dense to see it. But Fraser had invited them, somehow, Ray wasn't exactly sure how. Fraser had only said he'd run into them earlier in the day.
Ray followed Fraser back to their room, his anger growing with every step. What had Fraser thought he was doing? It was a set up, that much was obvious. But did Fraser honestly think he could be that easily diverted? That easily distracted? If so, Fraser didn't know a thing about him.
Ray shut the door behind them, hard. "Okay, Fraser, what was that all about?"
Fraser had the nerve to look puzzled. "What was what about?"
"Those, those girls. What did you think you were doing?"
Utter innocence, still. "Well, they seemed rather lonely, and they wanted to meet you. You know, places like this can get rather isolated in the winter. They may not have seen a new face in months."
"They wanted to meet *me*? Oh, that's rich. What did you think they were going to do, come back here with us? You get the one on the right, I get the one on the left?"
Fraser had the nerve to look slightly scandalized. "Don't be silly, Ray. I don't think they wanted anything more than company for dinner."
Which just went to show Fraser really was blind. "Come on, Fraser, even you can't be that dense. They were all over you like flies on a . . . on a moose turd."
"That's a colorful description, Ray."
"Oh, don't tell me . . ." He didn't really want to know, but he couldn't help himself. "So would you have slept with one of them, if I wasn't here?"
This time Fraser really did look shocked. "Of course not, Ray."
"Oh yeah? Why not?"
Fraser . . . squirmed. There was no other word for it. If he'd been wearing his uniform, instead of the soft flannel shirt that Ray had been aching to touch all day, he would have been loosening his collar. "Such things . . . ah . . . require a more lengthy acquaintance."
"That's pretty old-fashioned of you, Fraser."
"Yes, yes, I suppose it is. I guess I just . . ." Fraser looked down, rubbing one eyebrow. "Well, I couldn't imagine making love to someone whom I didn't . . . actually . . . already love."
Oh, God. Ray felt his face go hot, felt a peculiar flutter in his stomach. But Fraser didn't mean . . . he couldn't. Even Fraser couldn't consider two guys jerking each other off in a sleeping bag to be making love. "Excuse me," he said, and found the door handle behind him. "Gotta go to the can." And he escaped.
By the time he got to the little bathroom, his heart was pounding like a jackhammer. Fraser obviously didn't know what he was saying, or hadn't made the connection. Or, oh God, worse.
Fraser had meant it as a rejection. A gentle rejection, but a real one. Because Fraser wasn't the kind of person who could say, "Back off, you're pushing me too far." Fraser was -- what was the word? -- oblique. Yeah, oblique.
Ray put the seat down and sat on the toilet, head in his hands. Fraser didn't want him. It wasn't like it was news, but it still made his stomach hurt, made him want to kick something, or somebody. In the head, and for real.
* * *
Oh, dear. Fraser found his bed and sat down heavily. That had been another mistake, a major one, from the way Ray had reacted. He'd forgotten to be subtle again.
Something damp touched his hand, and he looked up to see Dief licking it. If Dief thought he needed comfort, he was in a bad way. "I guess he wasn't in the mood for confessions of love," he said softly.
Dief whimpered and licked his hand again.
"Yes, I realize you like him, too." Dief had been rather cozy with Ray lately, come to think of it. And Ray hadn't seemed to mind.
"Do you think I should have . . .?" But no, the problem had been bigger than that. It had started over dinner. He had thought a little company would help Ray's mood, but Ray hadn't seemed to enjoy Anna and Elisapee. The more they tried to talk with him, the further Ray had retreated, which wasn't like him at all.
If he'd known Ray would respond like that, he would never have invited the two young women to join them, but they'd asked, and they'd been so curious about Ray's hair. And he hadn't wanted to be selfish, keeping Ray all to himself. Selfishness was what had gotten him into this mess in the first place.
And now he missed Ray, missed him sorely. Missed the easy companionship, the trust, the hard-earned understanding they'd come to. Until this. Until he, in a fit of weakness, had allowed Ray's sexual frustration to come between them.
Well , he wouldn't do it again. He could manage that much. Because the last thing he wanted to do was let this interfere with what Ray truly needed. The last thing he wanted to do was abandon their quest to find the mythical hand of Franklin, reaching for the Beaufort sea.
Not that the quest was in itself important. It was what it stood for, and what it meant to Ray. Ray had chosen to stay with him. Ray wanted an adventure, a true adventure. So he would do anything, anything in his power, to make this adventure come true.
Even if it meant having to sit here alone, wondering and worrying about Ray. Even if it meant needing comfort from, and occasionally feeling jealous of, one willful, deaf wolf.
* * *
It took a long time, and a few wild punches to the (fortunately sturdy) door frame, but Ray eventually got himself under control. Enough so he didn't think he was going to pop Fraser in the head. He sucked on his bruised knuckles and made his way slowly back to their room.
Fraser was stretched out on his bed, stiff and straight in those red long johns, eyes closed like he was asleep even though he'd left the light on. He didn't look up as Ray came in, although Diefenbaker, curled up on Ray's bed like he belonged there, waved his tail in greeting.
"Fraser, come on," Ray said, suddenly desperate. "We need to talk."
Fraser's eyes opened, and he half-sat up in bed. "Yes, Ray."
The long johns looked like a child's pajamas. It was crazy that someone could look so silly and so desirable at the same time. But after a week of never seeing Fraser in anything less than four layers, it looked . . . practically indecent.
Somehow -- he hadn't made a conscious choice, but he found himself there, anyway -- he was on his knees beside Fraser's bed. "I can't take this anymore," he whispered, and reached forward to pull Fraser against him, to find Fraser's lips with his own.
He felt Fraser's quick intake of breath, mirroring his own. And then Fraser's lips moved against his, and for a long, wild moment it was the most amazing kiss he'd ever felt. Until Fraser muttered something against his mouth, and then slowly, gently --painfully gently -- disengaged.
"I can't," Fraser said.
Ray gulped for air. This was real rejection, the honest-to-God thing. This was Fraser trying to let him down easy, and it hurt like hell.
"Not if you're going to ask me to lie again," Fraser said. "I can't do that, Ray."
They were still so close. Ray leaned his forehead against Fraser's and closed his eyes, no longer even sure what either of them were saying. "You don't want to lie?"
"I can't wake up tomorrow and pretend this isn't happening. I can't live like that."
Oh, geez. He was thinking . . . he was actually considering . . . "Fraser, you don't have to lie." It was an easy concession, the easiest, when he didn't want Fraser lying, either.
Fraser pulled his head back, blue eyes looking into Ray's own. "You're not going to ask me to say this didn't happen?"
"Not -- not if, not if it's what you really want."
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser said softly.
It was too much, way too much. Fraser was considering . . . whatever . . . after he'd said that line about only making love to people he loved. Ray couldn't stop himself; he leaned forward and kissed Fraser once again. And this time there was no hesitation. Fraser's lips devoured his, Fraser's arms pulled him close, Fraser rolled over with him until they were -- oof -- both of them on the floor.
Ray reached for the buttons of Fraser's long johns as Fraser broke their kiss long enough to tug at his shirt. He managed to get the top ones free, managed to get a hand inside to touch the hot flesh of Fraser's chest, when he felt the hard, cold reality that was the floor against his newly bare back.
"Hey, look, if we're gonna get undressed, can we at least be on the bed?"
"I'm terribly sorry," Fraser said, and lifted them both onto his abandoned bed. And somehow in the process, Fraser got the advantage, and managed to get Ray's pants undone without getting the rest of the way out of his long johns. Fraser's lips came back to Ray's in a long, slow, deep kiss that blotted out everything else. There was nothing in the world but that mobile mouth against his, the touch of Fraser's tongue -- tentative at first, but then more and more sure. Fraser released his mouth and trailed kisses downward, and it was just like . . . another exploration, the same as he'd done with his hand. Only this time Fraser was tasting him.
Hell, it was a good thing he'd cleaned up. Not that Fraser was what any sane person would call squeamish, but still . . .
The hot mouth found his chest, his ribs, moved downward. And suddenly, Ray couldn't breathe. Because Fraser wasn't going to use his hand this time. Ray was sure of it. He was . . .
Wet heat enveloped him; sensation bounced off every nerve in his body. He was on fire, from the soles of his feet all the way to the ends of his hair. He couldn't believe Fraser was doing this. Fraser had s aid he would only make love to . . .
"Oh, geez. Oh, God." He was moaning, and he wasn't in conscious control anymore. "Fraser, please."
Heat and sensation stopped for a moment, hung empty in the still air. "Yes, Ray?"
"Dammit, Fraser, don't stop."
"As you wish," Fraser said, and the heat came back, twice as strong, twice as fast, and he was gone, gone, the universe was gone in a shower of flame and sparks and nothing left anywhere but Fraser, Fraser, and no one else.
When he was aware of the world again, he was in Fraser's arms, held against that solid chest, his face buried against Fraser's neck. He lifted his head so he could get a better view, and Fraser swallowed and opened his eyes and looked right into Ray's.
He didn't care if he was gay. He didn't care about anything except the look on Fraser's face, right now. Ray lowered his head to kiss the line of Fraser's jaw, to kiss his neck, to kiss his collarbone. And then he brought his other hand up to undo more of those buttons.
He was going to do it right. He was going to make Fraser feel exactly, just exactly, the way Fraser had made him feel.
Or die, trying.
* * *
Fraser felt his heartbeat slow, felt a seductive lassitude spread through his body. Ray moved against him, came up to press tight against his side, face buried against his chest, spikey hair tickling his neck. Fraser didn't want to move. Ray had promised he wouldn't ask him to lie. He wasn't sure what else Ray would do, but at the moment, it was enough just to lie here. His heart was full. Tomorrow could take care of itself.
Ray stirred against him. "Say, Fraser?"
"Yes, Ray." His voice came out low and furry, the mirror of Ray's.
"Does this . . . um . . . count . . . as making love?"
As if he could have any doubts. "Of course, Ray."
"Oh." Ray laid his head back down, but a moment later lifted it once again. "Did what we did the other night, you know, in the sleeping bags, did that count, too?"
Now Ray was just being silly. "Of course, Ray."
Ray's head fell back down. "Oh." Then, after a moment, "Fraser?"
"So when you said . . ."
After that, Ray was quiet.
* * *
Fraser loved him. He didn't know how or why or when it had happened, but Fraser had loved him for . . . days, at least. It was astonishing. Truly amazing. And in the cold light of morning, Ray almost thought he'd dreamed it. Except he wasn't dreaming the part about sharing a (very narrow) bed with Fraser and he wasn't dreaming the part about them both being mostly still naked.
He lifted his head to see Fraser looking at him, like Fraser had been awake for awhile and just waiting for him. "Hi," he said softly, and slid up to kiss Fraser's lips. Fraser let out a long breath against his mouth and returned the kiss with an eagerness that threatened to . . .
Half an hour later they finally made it out of bed and got to other tasks, like packing up their stuff.
"So where are we headed today?"
Fraser looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well, we still have quite a distance to go due east. It's some weeks of travel yet."
There was something in his voice, something odd. "But?"
"Oh, it's completely up to you, Ray. Your choice what we do next."
Ray nodded slowly. He thought he understood. Fraser was the one who'd confessed to love; the ball was in his court now. And he hadn't found a way to say it, even though the words were burning a hole in his brain. "You mean, abandon the quest?"
"We don't have to abandon it," Fraser said. "But we could postpone it, if there's something else you'd rather be doing right now."
Right now, the only thing he wanted was to be alone with Fraser. Alone in a double sleeping bag . . . no. He suddenly understood what Fraser meant. Out there in a sleeping bag they wouldn't be able to do more than fumble at each other through layers of clothing. And that just might lead to as much frustration as fun.
Ray looked away for a moment and rubbed his chin. But he had to say it, had to ask. "Um, can we . . . could we go somewhere where we can just, you know, be there, and be together, and not have to worry about anyone else?"
Fraser looked . . . relieved. "Well, I do have my father's cabin, but, ah . . ."
"Well, I had to rebuild it, so it doesn't have much in the way of furniture, yet. And it still doesn't have running water."
Not exactly civilized. But, hey, camping out in the snow meant no running water, either. "So it has, what, an outhouse?"
Ray grinned. Life with Fraser was always going to be an adventure, one way or another. "That'll do."
* * *
They were packed and ready to go. Ray took one last glance around the spartan little room and then hefted one of the bags. He'd been trying to say it all morning, but he hadn't managed yet. And in a few moments they would be back on the sled, and conversation would get difficult.
Fraser had his hand on the doorknob. In another moment it would be too l ate.
"FraserIloveyou," Ray said, so fast it might as well have been one word.
Fraser looked back at him with a quick, sweet smile. "I know, Ray."
Ray blinked. "You do?"
Fraser nodded once. "You chose to stay with me in a place where you are completely out of your element. This is my home, not yours, but you chose to stay."
It was enough to make his toes curl. Embarrassment and wonder, in equal portions. But how could Fraser have known, before he did? "Hey, you know, it's not like I had much of a life to go back to."
"I know," Fraser said gently. "But you could have gone anywhere."
It was true. He'd never thought of it that way before, but it was true. He could be in California, or Puerta Vallarta, or anywhere. But anywhere else wouldn't have been with Fraser. "So are we going to get moving or what?" Ray asked.
Fraser gave him a smile of perfect, utter contentment, and opened the door for him. "Whenever you're ready, Ray."