Recompense

(Thanks to Qe2 for beta, and to Thermidor for early-draft assistance!)

NOTE: this story contains adult content.

November 10, 1948

Dear Tiff,

I'm leaving early because I figure it might be easier to do when you're asleep. I've been watching you for half the night, thinking about this trip and our plans, trying to predict the future like a palm-reader might. Only conclusion I came to is this one: I'm no palm-reader. I can't tell you what's around the bend. Best way to find out is to keep going forward.

So I'm going to Toronto. And I'm going to trust you when you say that in a couple of months, once your folks are settled in their new place, you'll come out and join me.

In the mean time, I won't miss you. I won't think about your hands. I won't spend any time at all daydreaming about yesterday morning and the way your skin looked with the sun on it, and the wicked thing you did with your mouth. And I especially won't be worrying that you'll take up with Lyle Fletcher while I'm gone.

Oh, Lord love me. I'm twice-damned now: one time for sodomy and the other for lying. Pray for me, will you? And stay the hell away from Lyle Fletcher!

Yours,

Jack

*

November 10, 1948

Dear Jack,

I can't believe you left without waking me. I had an elaborate plan to follow you to the train station and quote tearful love poems at you from the platform, you know. I can rend my clothing like a champion. It would have been quite the spectacle.

Well. Your loss, I suppose.

God! I can't stand to think how far away you will be when this letter reaches you. Three thousand miles, as the crow flies--far further than that by road or rail. It seems ridiculous that I can't just go into town and find you at your lodgings, reading some execrable cowboy romance while Mrs. Dunne tries to dust the sitting room around you. It seems impossible that you will remain so distant for an entire month (or more!). What shall I find to do without you? Who will set my kitchen ablaze while roasting bannocks in the morning? Who will sing me filthy drinking songs in the bath? I shall miss you dreadfully, even though you are a wretched liar. And though my atheism prevents me from praying for you, as well you know, I will hold you in my thoughts until I am with you again.

I hope you are safe and well. I hope visiting with your family has been less awful than you'd feared. I think Lyle Fletcher is repellant, as I am quite sure we have discussed on more than one occasion. My affections and my regard are solely yours.

T

***

In Inuvik, they rent a room at a hotel. Divide up the gear. Take their first showers in forever. Few hours later, guy named Darren Oolusot drives them to the airport, talks the whole way about hockey. Ray talks too, filling up the silence, but Fraser doesn't say much of anything.

At the airport, with his bag checked, Ray feels lighter than air. Too light, like a balloon or something, like he might drift off and get stuck on the ceiling. "Wait with me," he tells Fraser, and Fraser nods. They find a couple of plastic chairs looking out at the single runway. It's snowing already, first week of September, looks bleak and bright and barren.

Ray shifts around. Goddamn chair is uncomfortable. He wants to still be speaking, but there isn't anything to say.

"I got a phone," Fraser says suddenly. He's looking out at the snow. "In my new cabin. So. This is the number."

Ray takes the piece of paper without looking at it. Slides it in the pocket of his jeans. People are lining up, getting ready to board. Ray doesn't move and neither does Fraser. They sit hunched in the uncomfortable chairs, staring out. Tickets are taken. The line gets smaller. Ray's chest hurts like a motherfucker.

Fraser sighs. "Well, Ray, I guess you should..."

"Fraser, I could stay." The words leave his body all at once. The place where they've been sitting feels hollow, abandoned. He's been keeping them there a long time.

Fraser is looking at him. Ray weaves his fingers together between his knees, stares at them like they're the only thing in the world. "I could stay," he repeats, "If you want me to." Worth saying twice: it's the thing that changes everything. One way or the other.

Fraser takes a breath, but doesn't speak. Ray swallows and risks a glance. Fraser's forehead is creased, his mouth set. He lifts his hand to rub at his eyebrow as Ray watches. Right.

Ray finds his carry-on bag by touch, slings it over his shoulder as he stands. He can't seem to look at anything right now. "Well. I guess that's not..."

"Ray, I couldn't possibly let you..."

"No. I know. I..."

"Your career is in Chicago. Your place is there."

"Right. Fraser. I get it, okay? Just forget I said anything. I'll see you." He reaches without looking and closes his hand over Fraser's arm. Fraser pats his back awkwardly.

"Have a safe trip, Ray," he says. "Call me when you get to Chicago."

Ray pulls away and nods without looking, and then the wind is on him and he's out the door.

***

December 11, 1948

Dear Tiff,

It's December 11th, which means I've been in Toronto for something like eighty years. All right, two days, actually. But it seems longer.

My mother is her usual self, which is to say drinking too much and crying in the sitting room with her sister. Garry has become even more of a stuck-up little prig than he used to be. Started in on me right away, how I couldn't act like a degenerate around his new wife and her family, how I'd have to "mind my ways". When I told him where he could stick it he pretty much stopped talking to me altogether.

Which leaves my old dad. And I have to say, we do get along a whole lot better now he's too paralyzed to take a swing at me and can't even talk well enough to call me down. But it's not what you would call a fulfilling relationship.

At least there's still the city, which is huge like you won't believe, Tiff, and where you can buy yourself pretty much anything you might take into your head to want. I grew up here, but after being up in the North Pole for so long, it feels like a whole new world out there.

And my lodgings really aren't that awful. I get a room of my own to sleep in, anyhow, with a real bed and a door I can lock. Seems fairly basic, but after a week on the train it's untold luxury. And not just because of the pain in my back, Tiff, but because finally I have the privacy I need when I'm thinking about you.

Because usually, if I think about you for longer than a couple of minutes at a time, I start remembering that day when you first took me up Hoburn Peak in the spring--"to look at the crustaceans fossilized in the rock," you said. And God, was I dim--it took me 'til we were on the way down before I figured out you were trying to seduce me. If it wasn't such a warm day and Gracie Creek so handy, who knows where we'd be?

But it was, and it was. And I can still see the way your face looked, when I stopped you getting dressed again--all big-eyed surprise, with your hair plastered to your forehead and your lips so red with the cold. I remember how your skin felt under my hands and the noise you made when I put my mouth on yours, and the way I could taste the creek water on your lips, fresh and alive, like something grown.

Christ, I miss you. Write me soon. If our luck holds, I ought to be a working stiff again by the New Year; shouldn't be much longer than that before I could send for you.

Yours,

Jack

***

But Ray doesn't call Fraser. First he doesn't call him because it's too soon, and he already made himself look like some kind of desperate freak, and things are bad enough as they are. But then it gets to be two weeks later, and then three, and he can't call because he waited too long, it would be weird, what the hell would he say?

He gets a message from Fraser after the third week. It sounds so hearty and cheerful, he only listens to it once before deleting it. A few days later there's a second message, this one shorter but just as cheery. Fraser sounds fine. Fraser's settling in. Fraser doesn't seem to miss Ray at all.

So he tries to put Fraser out of his mind. He throws himself into work, picks up overtime wherever he can get it. Exhaustion gets to be his regular state. Welsh gave him a new partner after he came back from the territories alone, and surprise, surprise: turns out, compared with most cops at the detective level, Ray's the guy who's young and fit enough to be ahead in a chase. Which is good for his ego, but tough on his body--he's feeling every damn year of his age these days.

Plus there's the sleeping problem he seems to have developed, which basically isn't so much a sleeping problem as it is a get-the-hell-up-and-go-to-bed problem. These days he never does much after work but sprawl on the couch with a beer in one hand and the clicker in the other, staring blankly at the dumb shit they put on TV. And despite how little he cares about whatever he's watching, he can never seem to make himself turn it off. So he just stays there on the couch, half-drunk and red-eyed with exhaustion, and each night it gets later and later before he finally moves. Couple of times he never even made it to bed at all--just woke up with a crick in his neck and his body aching like he'd been tortured, TV still murmuring away in its corner.

Then all of a sudden it's November. Elaine's birthday. They take her out for drinks, and Ray figures it's only polite to join her in intoxication. So when he finally crawls out of his cab, it's late and he's way past the happy part of drunk and his apartment just fucking echoes, it's so empty. He turns on the TV, but tonight that doesn't work. He thinks about calling Stella, but come on--who's he even trying to fool anymore? So instead he just calls Fraser.

"Hello?" Guy doesn't even sound sleepy, though it's the middle of the night and he must have been in bed. Ray closes his eyes.

"Fraser."

"Ray! Hello! Is everything all right?"

"Yeah, sure. I'm drunk. It's Elaine's birthday. How are you?"

Fraser doesn't answer for a minute. Ray hears him shifting around. Imagines the dark little kitchen, the heavy pre-dawn hush of the wilderness outside. Tries to picture the look on Fraser's face and can't. "I'm very well, Ray," Fraser says finally.

His voice is deeper than Ray remembered. It hums through the phone line and down into Ray's chest, rumbling there, stirring stuff up. Ray puts his hand over his closed eyes, slides down into the nearest chair. "Good," he says, and his own voice sounds so light, like paper. "That's good. Good."

"How...are you certain you're all right, Ray?"

And bam, he's crying, just like that. Christ, he's easy--one little question, that note of concern. Ray takes a shaky breath. "Yeah. No. Fuck," he says. And even though he's fucking up, even though he's making this worse with every single word he says, oh god it feels good to get it out. "Everything is weird, Fraser. Everything is messed up. I can't go to bed, and I...my back is killing me. And the TV--Fraser, TV sucks. Plus Lowell--that's my new partner--he's got this f-foot odour problem, he fucking...stinks and I...Christ. I don't know what to do here."

"Ray..." Fraser sounds confused. Ray can't deal with confused right now. He needs Fraser to be on the same page.

"Be on my page, here, buddy." But that doesn't make sense. "I mean, you gotta try to get what I'm saying. Because. Because it's you I'm missing, so it's got to be your fault." Yeah. Ray takes another shaky breath, feeling pretty pleased with his own unfaultable logic.

"Ray," Fraser says gently, "Ray. You're drunk."

"So?"

"So alcohol acts as a depressant when one has consumed sufficient quantities of it. You might feel this way right now, but if you drink enough water and get enough rest, all of this will have passed in the morning."

He sounds so logical. He always sounds so logical. Ray sniffs. "Things sucked before I got drunk, though." Ray can be logical, too.

Fraser sighs. "It's been...a difficult adjustment for me as well, Ray. I've become accustomed to having other people around me. To having you around me. But...well, it's only been two months. I suppose these things take time."

Ray scrubs his face. It's hard enough to follow Fraser's twisty phrasing when you're not drunk off your ass, but he's pretty sure Fraser just said he missed Ray too. Which is kinda nice. He smiles, damply. For a while nobody says anything at all. Listening to Fraser's quiet breathing through the line, Ray has a sudden sense-memory of those dark nights in their tent, the way their smells had slowly mingled in the bedding and their clothes. "I would have moved up there, you know. I wasn't joking."

And now it's Fraser's breath that sounds shaky. "Yeah, Ray. I know."

***

February 10, 1949

Dear Jack,

I'm glad to hear you are settling in to your new job so well. Things are not going so swimmingly here, I'm afraid--I may have to stay until March.

I know, I know. It's killing me too, being so far apart from you. But my father's been ill since before Christmas, as you know, and everything has fallen behind at the house. The repairs he meant to do, the barn and the north fence...It's all going to take so much time. If I can get away sooner, I will. But you know how these things can be.

In the meantime, do keep writing me those stories about the exploits of your neighbours. You know I don't believe a word of them, but they're fascinating, never doubt it.

Thank you kindly for the record, too. I can play it on the old gramophone at my parents' house, and you're right--it does make me pine for those smoky clubs, even though I haven't ever been to one. My parents won't listen to it, I'm afraid, but Bobby is becoming quite the connoisseur.

I should post this before the storm blows in. I'll write again when I know more about my schedule. Take care of yourself. March is only six weeks away!

T

*

May 2, 1949

Dear Tiff,

I've given up the place on Water Street and moved into a grand suite of two rooms above a shoe repair shop on Kilgore. You'd like the windows here especially, I think; they're enormous, and stained at the tops, where they come up in arches like the ones at the old church on Main Street. We'll have a kitchen, too, once I get the gas turned on. It's a proper little home.

So then, here's the question, Tiff: should I have them make you a set of keys? Are you still coming in June like you said you would, or has there been another delay? You haven't written in nigh on three weeks, and knowing you as I do, I have to think it's the latter. But maybe you'll prove me wrong this time, eh? I hope you will. I've crossed my fingers for it.

Impatiently,

Jack

***

"Open your eyes."

It's a soft voice, gravelly, kind of, but almost familiar. Ray sighs. He's sleeping, here--can't this guy see that? Maybe if he rolls over and pretends he doesn't hear anything, the guy'll just...

"Ray Kowalski. Open your eyes."

The command in the quiet voice does the trick. Ray comes awake for real, groaning a protest. The first thing he notices is that he isn't in his bedroom. This is some kind of cabin like the one he and...well it's a cabin, anyways, with the split logs and the wood stove, and the bed he's lying on seems to be stuffed with...straw? He sits up, blinking around the little room. There's a window across from the bed and the window's filled with light, so it must be daytime. There's a fire in the stove and food out on the table. And there's some old guy sitting in the wooden chair right next to the weird straw bed. Ray gives a startled shout. The guy smiles reassuringly. "Good morning," he says.

Ray takes a breath. This has to be a dream. He's sure when he went to sleep he was in his own bed, in Chicago, and there wasn't any freaky old guy around, either. He rubs his face with both hands. When he looks up the guy's still there. He's got quite the beard on him, and his hair is long and matted, and he's wearing a pair of those bright red long johns, a floppy leather hat and some mukluks. Looks like the woodsy version of Telephone Charlie, the guy who lives in the park down the street from the station. Ray eyes him, wary. Guy just smiles like a loon. "Okay," Ray says, "I give. What the hell is this? Where am I?"

"You're in my bedroom," the old guy says, waggling his bushy eyebrows, "In my bed, actually."

At which point Ray figures it's a good idea to stand the fuck up, so he does. That isn't much better though, since he's still wearing what he remembers going to sleep in--namely a t-shirt and his shorts. The old guy is watching him appreciatively. Ray scowls. "You still never answered my first question."

"Ah. Yes. That's true."

And all right, here's the weirdest thing about this entire freakish dream--the old guy's loony smile is familiar. Ray isn't sure from where or how, but he knows he's seen that smile before. He crosses his arms over his chest. The rough planks of the floor are freezing cold beneath his bare feet. Wake up, he tells himself, come on, wake up. But he doesn't.

"So?" he says, "Come on. What the hell is going on? Who are you?"

The guy tilts his head to one side, and Christ, this is gonna kill Ray, because that's familiar too. "I'm madness," he says, "I'm slow death. I'm thirty winters alone in the ice and visions that make no sense. I'm caution. I'm the wrong road. I'm regret."

Ray squints at him. "You think you're gonna scare me off with loopy shit like that, you don't know me at all."

The guy's smile returns. "Don't give up on my nephew, Ray Kowalski. He needs you." He snags a cane from beside his chair and starts levering himself to his feet.

Ray swallows. His throat hurts, all of a sudden. "Who's your nephew?" he says.

The guy rolls his eyes, limps over to the stove. "You might be the pretty one, my dear, but I don't for a minute believe that makes you dumb. You know who I'm talking about." He lifts the lid from a pot simmering on top of the stove. The scent of boiling cabbage fills the air.

Ray clears his throat. "Fraser doesn't have any family. Well, except his sister."

"And you," the old guy says. "But yes, that's quite true. All the rest of us are dead. Here--taste this." He turns around with one hand cupped beneath the wooden spoon he's holding. Ray takes a step back, shakes his head.

The old guy shrugs. "Suit yourself. Me, I think cabbage is nature's perfect vegetable. Grows after frost, stores forever. Chock full of nutrients." He slurps the spoon's contents, sets it down on the wooden table. "Well, you're about to wake up, I suppose. But you remember what I said. And here--take these. See if you don't agree with me." He presses a bundle of yellowed letters into Ray's hands, smiles that same familiar smile and winks.

And then Ray wakes up. He's in his own bedroom, in his bed. There's no sign of any old guy, and Ray's hands are empty. Just a dream, he figures, levering himself to his feet. Just a whacked-out, drunken dream.

He drinks about a quart of water, thinks of Fraser, decides he feels bad enough to call in sick at work. Spends until noon lying on the couch in his shorts, watching people bicker on talk TV. Has this sudden burst of disgust with the world and himself, and uses that energy to get showered, dressed and fed, even. And then feels so much better he actually manages to start cleaning.

Which is how he finds the letters. They're sitting on top of a bunch of unopened bills and flyers for stuff Ray's never going to buy, but they look just the same as they did in that dead guy's cabin. In his dream.

Ray feels dizzy and kind of numb. Sits down hard in the wooden chair and lifts the bundle in his hands. There aren't that many of them. He flips the edges gently with a thumb. Smells decay, dust, a faint and lingering cologne. His hands are shaking. He takes a breath. When he tugs gently on one end of the twine, the complicated knots just fall undone, and the first letter slides into his hands.

***

May 25, 1949

Dear Jack,

You do know me well. I won't make it out of here in June. I've been working a lot, and helping my parents at home. But also, I've been thinking.

And the thing is--what if I am unable to find employment of my own in Toronto? I can hardly expect you to support me, Jack, and my family isn't wealthy. I know you say there will be jobs a plenty, but I don't want to bank on it. It's always best to be cautious.

So I've decided to stay a while longer--at least until the fall. That way I can save some of my wages and put more time into looking for a position in Toronto. I know you're anxious to have us beneath the same roof. I am too--believe me! But I'd rather be your partner than your burden, Jack. So I'm afraid we'll both have to be patient.

T

*

June 3, 1949

Dear Tiff,

You have been delaying for eight months already--can you really ask now for my patience? I've been patient! I've been more than patient! In fact, I think I deserve to be goddamned sainted!

Last year, when we dreamed up this plan, you gave me your word you'd come as soon as you could. If you changed your mind since then, well that's fine. But you ought to at least have the decency to say so.

If you haven't changed your mind--if you still want to be with me--then you need to understand that I am through with waiting. I miss you and I'm lonely as hell and I've been waiting an awful long time. But if you can't trust me enough to be here with me, I don't know why we're even trying. Just come, Tiff. Just stop thinking and come out here.

Jack

*

June 29, 1949

Dear Tiff,

So now I'm not even worth the cost of a postage stamp and some stationery? Why haven't you written back? I think I deserve a clear answer, at least. Common decency grants me that much.

Jack

*

August 2, 1949

Dear Tiff,

I don't understand any of this. If you were sick of me you could have said as much. If you found someone else, so be it--but you could have let me know. I would have liked to at least part on good terms. But as you refuse to answer my letters, I think the best end I can make of this is an uncertain one.

Jack

***

Every goddamn leap that has ever had to be made in this partnership has been up to Ray. Even the ones Fraser technically made, Ray had to talk him into. It isn't fair. Ray has done his share. He has done more than his share. Anybody sane would have given up on Fraser ages ago.

But Ray isn't exactly what you would call sane. And he knows Fraser, knows him better than anybody alive, probably, and he gets that Fraser does have limits, but they aren't where you'd expect. Like the guy can speak pretty much any language they got, and he can run faster than everybody, and fall off buildings without getting hurt, and tame wild horses, and hotwire an airplane, and make a freakin' atom bomb out of some chewing gum and a hairbrush. But when it comes to trusting people with anything important, Fraser's pretty much incapable. It isn't hard for him--it's impossible. It's like a disability or something; the guy just cannot do it.

Which is all the explanation Ray has for why he's standing in the middle of a snow-covered road thirty miles from the Alaskan border. But it doesn't matter. Ray's never been big on making rational decisions. What he does instead is, he figures out where he wants to be and then he goes there. Explanations are like paperwork--you can totally make them up after the fact.

So go on, then, Ray tells himself. Get where you want to be. He claps his mittened hands together. Shifts his feet in the squeaking snow. Fuck, fuck, fuck. He came thirty-six hundred miles so far--now he can't even cross the stupid road.

Fraser's in there--he saw that freakishly tidy hair through the lit-up window. But Ray has this sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he's been traveling straight for the past thirty hours, and he probably also stinks. He closes his eyes. "On three," he says aloud. But then he just goes over there.

Fraser answers the door after the second knock, looking cautious and polite and uncertain. When he sees Ray, his mouth falls open and he takes a deep, startled breath. And without even one word said between them, Ray is suddenly sure.

He grins and meets Fraser's eyes. Fraser closes his mouth with a snap and stands up very straight. "Ray!" he says, "What are you..."

"Don't. Say. Anything." That's important. Fraser can talk anybody out of anything--Ray knows if he lets him get a word in, he'll have Ray back on a plane to Chicago so fast his head'll spin. "Just let me in, okay? It's freezing out here. And we have got to talk."

Fraser swallows visibly, but he meets Ray's eyes and nods. "Of course." He steps out of the way and lets Ray move past him into the warmth. The cabin looks a lot homier than it did the last time Ray saw it--there's books on the shelves in the big room, curtains hanging in front of the double-paned windows. Dief is no place in sight. Ray figures he's maybe out hunting.

Fraser's still standing next to the closed door. He looks like he's on sentry duty, so he must be scared out of his mind. Well, too bad. Ray pulls his mittens off and clenches his hands around them. Fraser's not the only guy who's scared around here. Sometimes you just have to grit your teeth and do it anyway.

"Fraser, we have got to come clean with each other."

Fraser licks his lips. "Ray, I'm afraid I don't know what you're..."

"No," Ray says. "Enough. No more bullshit."

Fraser closes his mouth and blinks at Ray.

Ray sighs. "Don't you ever get sick of faking it?" he says, "Don't you ever wish you could just let up for one goddamn minute--just, just let it go, stop worrying about what might happen and tell the fucking truth? Because I sure do. I want that, Fraser. I want that enough to risk everything, right now."

Fraser shakes his head, his eyes snapping up to meet Ray's. There's a deep, red flush creeping up his neck. "Ray," he says, "Don't."

It's half-rebuke and half-plea. Guy looks like he's maybe going to throw up or pass out, too, and all of a sudden Ray's not pissed anymore. He closes the space between them and puts his hand on Fraser's arm. "Look, I know, okay? I am right there with you. But this is it, Fraser. We have got to do this now."

Fraser licks his lips again. He can't seem to lift his gaze higher than the middle of Ray's chest. There's a long pause and it could go either way, and Ray's stomach feels like it's getting turned inside out.

Then Fraser clears his throat. "I want so much from you," he says, like it's a warning.

Ray lets his eyes close for a second. Moves his hand to cup Fraser's cheek. "Yeah, well. I'm not exactly indifferent over here, either."

Fraser shakes his head. His hands come up, barely touch the front of Ray's parka. Ray moves his thumb on Fraser's cheek. "Look. I'm telling you: I am with you, Fraser. You just have to trust me."

And Fraser lets his breath out like he's been holding it. He clenches his fingers in the sturdy nylon of Ray's parka, pulls him in hard. Ray has enough time to close his eyes, and then Fraser's mouth is covering his.

It's wet and hard, another warning--Fraser's still trying to scare him off, Ray thinks. So he moves the hand on Fraser's cheek around to cup the nape of his neck, uses it to pull him even closer. Lets his other hand come up so he can get his fingers in Fraser's hair. Opens his mouth to let in Fraser's tongue. Fraser makes a muffled noise, like a moan or a whimper, and his hands unknot themselves from the front of Ray's parka, and he wraps his arms around Ray instead.

"Mmmn," Ray says into Fraser's mouth, and Fraser holds him closer, harder, his lips moving down over Ray's jaw and chin, those big hands restless on Ray's back, like they're trying to burrow their way inside the bulky coat.

Ray pulls back a little. "Wait," he says, and he lips Fraser's ear because it's there and red and looks edible, and then he remembers he was in the middle of something so he forces himself to stop. Right. "Wait. Frase. Let me get this off."

And Fraser loosens his arms a fraction and lifts his head, and Ray has to close his goddamn eyes again, because Fraser looks so fucking...fuckable. His cheeks are flushed and his hair is falling down across his forehead and his mouth is wet, his lips open, and God, so red, and Ray's fingers are shaking hard enough it takes two tries to get the zipper down. As soon as there's space enough, Fraser groans and shoves his hands inside Ray's parka, pushing it down his shoulders and off him. Things get way better without all that insulation between them. Ray has remind himself to breathe.

And even when he does remember, his nose is pressed into Fraser's warm neck and so he gets a lungful of that Fraser-smell--that distinctive woolen and soapy and vaguely herbal scent he knows so well--and he just keeps getting dizzier. But it doesn't matter anyway, because Fraser's arms are there, Fraser has him, and Ray isn't going to fall. He leans in close, presses his body into Fraser's. Fraser moans again, slips his fingers up under Ray's sweater, tugs his t-shirt out of his jeans so he can get his hands on Ray's skin. Fraser's fingers are kind of rougher than Ray's used to, sliding up along his ribs. It's weird and good, and Ray's too hot, and all of a sudden he needs Fraser naked more than he ever needed anything before. He pushes his groin into Fraser's, feels Fraser's cock get harder in response.

"Fraser," Ray manages, after a minute. Fraser kisses Ray's ear and his neck and the hair at his temple. Mutters "hmmn?" like he's forgotten how to talk.

Ray grins, rubbing his fingertips over Fraser's scalp beneath his hair. "You got a bed in this place?"

That gets his attention. He lifts his head, gives Ray a searching look. This close, in this light, his eyes are really fucking blue. "Yes," he says finally. "But Ray. Shouldn't we really...

Ray kisses him. "No."

And miraculously, Fraser doesn't argue. The bed's a pretty good one, too--a double at least, with a real quilt and sheets that aren't even starched. It's warm back here behind the stove, and dim, with only the winter light slanting in through the curtained window.

Ray gets rid of the rest of his clothes. Fraser watches him do it, still fully dressed. Has a look on his face like a kid at somebody else's birthday party--greedy and hesitant and longing all at once. Ray kisses him, leaning in close. Gets his hands under the hem of Fraser's henley and up along the smooth skin of his back. "You too," he says. "Come on." And Fraser's arms come back around him, but it's still tentative, like he isn't sure how much he's allowed.

Ray gets him into the bed and that's better. Fraser's shirt comes off easy, and his skin on Ray's feels almost dangerously good. Ray keeps moaning out loud and at first he tries to bite it back, but then he remembers they're at the North fucking Pole so he just lets himself be as loud as he wants to be. Fraser's underneath him half-naked and sweating, and his fingers are digging into Ray's back, hanging on. Ray gets Fraser's jeans open and shoves them down a ways and oh, oh Jesus, Fraser's cock slides along his, hard and hot, already wet at the head, and Ray kisses him slow and deep and rocks his hips, pushes into him again. Fraser gasps into his mouth. Makes a choked, half-stifled moan. Ray has to bite his lip hard so he can stop himself from coming.

"Ray," Fraser says, "Ray, God..." And he still has that warning in his voice, that fucked up, tentative note. Ray gets his fingers in Fraser's hair again, holds his head so he can kiss him hard.

"Fuck me," he says, against Fraser's lips. Ignores Fraser's half-voiced protest. Leans over to fish around in the pocket of his crumpled jeans until he comes up with a squashed tube of lube and presses it into Fraser's hand. "Please, Frase. I want you to."

Fraser swallows audibly, his eyes wide and dark. Ray kisses him again. Rolls off him onto the bed, watches as he worms the rest of the way out of his jeans and unscrews the cap, smoothes a palmful of the stuff onto his twitching cock. It gets really fucking hard to breathe.

Fraser puts the lube on the bedside table and shifts closer to Ray, moves his knee onto Ray's thigh, bends his head to give Ray a long, wet kiss. In the middle of it, Ray feels that lubed hand slide down to cover his cock, still tentative but getting more certain with every stroke. He groans again, looking up into Fraser's flushed face. Fraser has his lower lip between his teeth and he's frowning a little, like he's concentrating, like he wants to do this right. Ray makes an embarrassing noise and has to close his eyes again.

So he gets no warning when Fraser's hand moves down behind his balls, one blunt finger pushing careful into his ass. He gasps. Fraser stops immediately. "Nnuh," Ray says, "Keep...just...yeah." He pushes back a little and feels Fraser's finger slip the rest of the way inside, moving slowly in and then out again. "Yeah," Ray says again, "Oh fuck, God, Fraser, yes." Fraser kisses him again, deep this time, his tongue probing into Ray's mouth. A second finger slides in beside the first. Ray bends his knee, lets his legs fall open. Fraser groans and lets some of his weight come down on Ray and Ray gets lost in sensation.

"All right?" Fraser says, eventually. Ray isn't even sure where he is anymore. There's this tight explosive pleasure inside him, like a little bomb of greatness behind his balls, and every time Fraser touches it, Ray goes a little further out of his mind. But he swallows now, manages to summon a nod. Fraser kisses him, moves his mouth over Ray's chin and his neck to his collarbone. Those warm fingers leave his ass and Ray opens his eyes again. Curls his fingers in the messed up sheets and follows Fraser with his eyes as he moves up and over Ray, his knees between Ray's legs.

"Like this?" Fraser says.

Ray's never heard his voice sound like that before. He lifts his legs, moves them up so Fraser can get his arms underneath Ray's knees. "Yeah," he says, and his own voice comes out pretty much the same way--all wrecked and hoarse, like it's mostly breath. Fraser shifts around for a minute and then there's more hot slickness pushing at Ray's ass. Ray lets his head fall back. Feels Fraser's lips close on his neck. Takes a breath, lets it out slow, feels the tight, stretching pain as Fraser's cock slides into his ass.

He closes his eyes. Fraser slides most of the way in and then stops, waiting there, while Ray catches his breath. When he starts to move again, most of the pain has disappeared and Ray feels that weird tight pleasure building up again, only better. He reaches up, closes his hands blindly on Fraser's shoulders.

"Oh," Fraser says, "Oh my God...Ray."

Ray's eyes open a little and Fraser is right there, deeply flushed and sweating, that lip still caught between his teeth. And Ray hears himself swear out loud and breathless and then the pleasure builds to this outrageous, heart-threatening point, and then Fraser gasps above him and Ray comes all over his belly and his chest.

Fraser's slow thrusts speed and speed until he's slamming into Ray's ass. He's gasping and shaking, and he slides one hand up to grasp Ray's hip, and when he comes, he yells out loud--something that might have been a curse, or maybe just Ray's name.

After, he pulls slowly out of Ray and collapses half on top him, his dark head on Ray's chest. Ray kisses his forehead and his closed eyelids. Strokes a hand up his back to cup the nape of his neck. They breathe for a while. Fraser's throat works as he swallows. "I do trust you," he says. "It's myself I can't be sure of."

Ray pushes his fingers through the sweat-damp hair at the back of Fraser's head. "But I trust you. So don't worry. We got this."