Long Road (Long Ride Home)

Long Road (Long Ride Home)


By brooklinegirl

Summary: It occurred to Ray that, just as he'd expected Fraser to be there in Chicago when he got back, his mind had also erased any trace of Kowalski from the picture. That if he just left the two of them alone long enough, Kowalski would fade back into whatever alley he had come from and that would be that.





Beta thanks to everyone who read along and gave me feedback as I actually wrote it: cold_poet, izzybeth, and justbreathe80.

Thanks above and beyond that to those who did final beta work on the completed draft: cold_poet, justbreathe80, and kristiinthedark.

Thanks above and beyond all go to lynnmonster, who went over this baby with a fine-toothed comb, not just once, but twice. She was the one who gave it the final read-through after all was said and done, and I am profoundly grateful for all her insights.

Ray Vecchio liked sharp suits and good wine, expensive shoes and classic cars. He was a city boy, Chicago born and bred, comfortable with cement and smog and crowds of rude people. He was used to all that. He was good at it. Chicago fit him in a way that the desert sands of Vegas or the beaches of Florida never would. He and Stella were over and the steady pull of gravity as the airplane started its familiar descent to O'Hare felt like it would keep him there on the ground for good this time.

He belonged there, and maybe, yeah, he was destined to be the guy who lived with his family. Took care of things. When he walked in, tired, his shoulders aching from the weight of the suitcases he was carrying, his suit wrinkled from the plane ride, his mother met him at the door, put her hands on his cheeks, and declared him the man of the house once again.

Then she smacked him lightly on the cheek. "Skinny; you're too skinny. You know what you need? My lasagna. Come." Ray dropped his suitcases in the hall and let her drag him to the dining room. Eating there, surrounded by family, Frannie pregnant and alternately weepy and furious for no apparent reason - it was like he'd never left, not really. Like all of Vegas and Florida, hot sun, warm sands, guns and death, marriage and bowling, none of that really mattered. It'd been nothing but killing time, and now he was back.

He was back.

Chicago had a lot going for it, and Ray belonged there. Slid back in like he'd never left. Sleeping in his old bedroom, back working at the 2-7, getting his morning coffee at the same coffee shop on North Loomis. He told himself it was good. He told himself it was how it was supposed to be.

Funny, though, how the whole time he'd been (A killer. Married.) gone, he'd sort of believed in the back of his mind that when he got back, he'd slip into the same routine, yeah, sure, but just - he'd figured Fraser would be there. Stupid, maybe, but the thought had been there. Somehow Fraser, displaced Mountie extraordinaire, had become part of what made Chicago Chicago in Ray's head.

Everything seemed calm without Fraser. Normal. Dull. There were almost never any cases involving monkeys or space aliens or runaway trains. It was like Fraser left and took everything bizarre away with him. Ray told himself he didn't miss it. That he liked not coming home with chicken feathers stuck to the cuffs of his suit or something else weird in his pocket.

He was back, that was the point, and it was good.

He waited about a week - let himself get a little settled - before he picked up the phone and tried to remember how to call Canada. Fraser was up there, somewhere, and hey, Ray was a detective (Again. Still.), and also his friend, and he figured Fraser, if anyone, deserved to know where he was. He started with the Consulate, which gave him the number of the RCMP outpost in Whitehorse, which said that, yeah, Fraser'd been there, but it had been months ago and he should maybe try Norman Wells, did he want the number?

He did.

The desk sergeant at Norman Wells remembered Fraser, too, called him "Tall guy? Kind of weird?"

Ray, at his desk at the station (The one in the back, in the corner. He liked it, there was a door right behind him, he could slip out whenever he needed to, with no one ever the wiser.) shut his eyes for a second, a smile spreading across his face. "Yeah. That's the one." He had a flicker of concern that he was going to end up finding Turnbull from that description, but the sergeant said, "Yeah, he was here. He caught a band of ice-fisherman smuggling dynamite and turned them in to us, but he was never assigned here. Try Dawson, I think that's where they were headed."

They. Ray swallowed and carefully pressed the button down, then slowly dialed the number for Dawson. Dawson told him Fraser had been there for a week or so but was stationed in Inuvik now, they knew that for sure, they'd sent his mail there last week, and oh, just one moment, please, did Ray want the number? He wrote it down in a careful, steady hand, then sat there at his desk and stared at it for a handful of seconds before tucking it into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and getting on with his day.

He didn't think about the slip of paper all afternoon, didn't think of it at all on the ride home, or through the more-frantic-than-usual dinner. (Frannie had a date, later, with a guy. Ray didn't know who it was, but any guy willing to go out with crazed, hormonal, big-as-a-house Frannie had to be - well, crazy, but maybe a nice guy, too. Some combination thereof, maybe.)

He didn't think about it while making his slow way up the stairs after dinner, but when he sat down heavily on the end of his bed and slipped off his shoes, his feet aching after the long day, it occurred to him that, just as he'd expected Fraser to be there when he got back, his mind had also erased any trace of Kowalski from the picture. That if he just left the two of them alone long enough, Kowalski would fade back into whatever alley he had come from and that would be that.

Ray sat on the edge of the bed for a while before picking up the phone. The guy at the outpost said, yes, Fraser worked for them. He wasn't there, but he lived right outside of town, and yes, he had a phone, and did Ray want the operator?

He did.

There was only one Benton Fraser in Inuvik, and the operator connected him to the number. It rang twice, and when Fraser picked up with a hearty, "Hello," Ray had to swallow before he could answer. "Benny," he said, and the word felt weird in his mouth. "Hey, Benny."

"Ray!" Fraser sounded - well, he sounded delighted, in that way only Fraser could, and something eased a little in Ray's chest.

"Yeah, Benny, I'm back," he said, and it occurred to him, suddenly, that he hadn't called Fraser all those months in Florida and he maybe should have. He didn’t have one reason why he hadn't. It was just - Fraser was tied in with Chicago and his old life and all that, and being in Florida had been, in a weird way, like being undercover, still. Like he was supposed to let go of everything that tied him to the old Ray, and just live in his new life.

"Ray, it is so good to hear from you." Again: sincerity. No guilt trip, no false enthusiasm. This was just him and Fraser, and it worked for them. Ray slouched against the headboard in relief. "You're in Chicago?"

There was, in Fraser's voice - he was a detective, too, when it came right down to it - the knowledge that Ray wouldn't be in Chicago, calling Fraser in goddamn Inuvik, if it had been happy-fun-time. "Yeah, I'm - yeah. I'm living at home, again, and, you know, working. Back at the precinct."

There was a long pause, as Fraser digested that, and then he said, "I'm sorry, Ray." He was good at that - not great at emotions, but good at skimming past all those details Ray very much did not want to discuss. "Are you doing all right?"

"Yeah, Benny." Ray pressed his fingers against his eyes. "I'm good. How are you? Inuvik, huh? When you go north, you really go north."

Ray could practically hear Fraser's smile over the phone. "You know I don't like the city."

"Yeah, I know that." His heart was beating so hard he could feel it pounding in his ears as he struggled not to ask the question coming next, but - "How's Kowalski doing up there in all the snow, huh?"

There was the longest pause yet, and Ray kept his eyes shut through the whole thing. Finally, Fraser said, his tone carefully light, carefully even, "Ray did fine up here. He even stayed in Inuvik for quite some time after our quest."

Past tense. Fraser was talking in past tense, and Ray's eyes snapped open. He stared up at the ceiling, matching Fraser silence for silence as he didn't ask all the same questions Fraser hadn't. "Yeah, well." He cleared his throat. "How are you doing up there in all the snow, huh, Fraser? You surviving, too?"

"I'm - surviving, Ray, yes." Fraser didn't sound as hearty. "I'm good."

"Maybe-" Ray shut his eyes again, because he'd just gotten back, he'd just gotten back, he was in Chicago for good, remember? But - "Maybe I could come visit, sometime? It's been a while."

The line crackled as Fraser took a breath, and said, "I would like that very much, Ray."

"Good." There was warmth in Ray's stomach, spreading up through his chest, and he settled back more fully on the bed. "That's good, Fraser. We'll make plans. Now, come on, spill. Tell me about Inuvik. You got running water and all up there?"

They didn't mention Kowalski's name again, and Fraser didn't ask about Stella, and they ended the conversation with plans for Ray to come up maybe in a couple of weeks.

The next day, though, he could feel Kowalski out there in his city. Felt it like someone staring at him, the back of his neck tight and itchy, and it was making him crazy. He wasn't going to ask Fraser what had happened - it was clearly something Fraser wasn't willing or maybe able to discuss, but Kowalski? That was a different story. Ray didn't give a fuck about Kowalski.

And he was - as ever - a detective.

No one had said a goddamn word to him about Kowalski being back, but hey, maybe that was information only Fraser had. Ray didn't have any idea how long they lasted up there or what they'd been doing, but he could extrapolate - you don't ride off into the great white north to be buddies. No way, no how, and also, he had seen the way Kowalski's eyes followed Fraser. He had seen the worry in his face when Ray came back into the picture, and it wasn't "Damn, there goes my curling buddy." It was jealousy pure and simple, and it was serious. The way Kowalski carried himself, his shoulders hunched in, his eyes a whole world of hurt, his heart clearly etched on his goddamn sleeve, you'd have to be blind not to see it.

Ray knew exactly what the two of them had been doing up in Canada. What he didn't know, and what he intended to find out, is why they had stopped.

He made a few calls, got a few leads, but in the end, it was Frannie who told him where to find Kowalski. "He's back in his old place," she said impatiently when she looked over his shoulder that night and saw his notes.

Ray stared at her. "How do you know that?"

She made a face at him, her hand resting on the top of her protruding stomach. "I was subletting from him. Before I -" She cast a worried glance at the kitchen, where their mother was. "Before this." She indicated her belly, and yeah, Ray didn't want them to get into that particular argument again, either. "That way, he didn't have to pack up all his stuff right away and all." She sighed. "I figured I could be there to meet them when they came back. Only Ray came back alone, and I was gone by then anyway. So." She started to walk away.

"Hey! You want to give me the address or something useful like that?"

She stared at him balefully, before sniffing. "I'm being helpful. You could ask nice."

He closed his eyes for a long second. She was pregnant, which was the same thing as crazy. Don't push the crazy lady. "Could you tell me Kowalski's address, please?" he said, looking at her all nice and sweet.

"Hmph." She eyed him, then relented. "810 West Hutchinson."

He wrote it down, and caught her arm as she started to walk away again. "Wait, if you're not living there, how do you know he's back?"

She shrugged. "I called Fraser."

Ray stared at her. "You had his number?"

She gave him a withering look. "Have we met? God." She stomped away and he stared after her for a moment before turning back to stare at the address he'd scribbled down. He really needed to stop underestimating his kid sister. Clearly.

Kowalski lived in a crappy apartment building. Not, like, dangerous crappy, like Fraser's old place, but it wasn't a particularly nice place, in a not particularly nice neighborhood. Ray had been planning to wait till the next day to go looking for it. He figured he'd check things out, have a quick conversation with Kowalski, and get the hell out of there.

But sitting at home that night, he couldn't stop thinking, could not stop thinking of Fraser all alone in Canada while Kowalski was here, in Chicago. Trying to figure out why was going to make Ray crazy.

So here he was, parking his kid sister's Pontiac on the street in the dark, and making his way through the security door with the broken lock and up the set of stairs that smelled musty, with carpeting that hadn't been replaced in decades and was worn down to the wood on practically every step.

His scribbled note said #308, and when he got to the door, he didn't let himself hesitate. He knocked, a practiced cop knock: loud, firm, and demanding response. It didn't fail - the door swung open, and - yeah, there was Kowalski. He stared at Ray in his doorway, then slammed the door shut.

"Nice to see you too, Stanley," Ray called. He stood back a little, getting ready to kick the cheap door open, then paused. He took a step forward and turned the knob. The door swung open easily. Ray stood in the hall for a second before edging in cautiously.

Nothing. No Kowalski anywhere in sight. Ray had half-expected the place to be a wreck, trashed and smelly, but it was fairly neat. A bachelor's apartment, sure, but nothing that said emotional breakdown anywhere. Still, Ray moved slowly and found he had one hand on his gun without even thinking about it. He sighed and shook his shoulders out, trying to relax, shake it off.

Kowalski came around the corner from the kitchen, drinking out of a long-necked beer bottle. He lowered the bottle and glared at Ray. "Come right on in, why don't you. Asshole."

"I -" Ray stared. Kowalski looked - well, pretty much like he had last time Ray had seen him. Ridiculous hair: standing straight up and apparently newly bleached a particularly bright shade of blond. He was in jeans and a t-shirt, barefoot, but neat. Clean. He looked okay - a few more wrinkles around his eyes, a little bit older than the last time Ray had seen him, but not bad - and Ray managed to take his hand away from his gun.

Kowalski noticed the movement and those lines around his eyes crinkled. "Calm down there, Vecchio." He said it smoothly, like it wasn't weird for him to say the name he'd worn for two years. "You're the one breaking into my apartment."

Ray stood up straighter and shook out the folds of his coat. "Door was unlocked." He shrugged. "I got some questions for you."

Kowalski sat on one of the stools lined up in front of the bar between the kitchen and the living room. He crossed his arms over his chest, the bottle of beer dangling from one hand. "Yeah? What makes you think I'm going to answer you?" He shook his head, sighed. "What are you even doing here, Vecchio?"

Ray tucked his hands in his pockets, staring at Kowalski. "I talked to Fraser."

"Yeah? Why didn't you ask him your questions?" Kowalski took a sip of beer, watching Ray over the bottle.

"I did." Kind of. "He -" Ray sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Look, what happened up there? Why are you back?"

Kowalski dropped his eyes, studying his bottle of beer. He had a crooked smile on his face. "I missed Wrigley Field." He finished his beer with one long swallow. "You want one?" he asked over his shoulder as he got to his feet and headed for the kitchen.

Ray trailed along behind him, leaned up against the counter as Kowalski rooted around in the fridge. It was clean in here, too, and the fridge even had food in it. Ray had expected - hell, he didn’t know what he'd expected. Kowalski falling apart, maybe.

He took the beer Kowalski held out to him. Kowalski levered himself up to sit on the counter by the sink. "So." He held out his bottle to Ray, and Ray helplessly lifted his in a weird sort of toast, and took a sip. "Why are you here?"

"Fraser -" Ray started.

"Nuh-uh," Kowalski interrupted him. "Not here in this apartment. Here in my city." He squinted at Ray. "What happened to Florida? Bowling alley? My wife?"

"Ex-wife," Ray said automatically.

"Right back at you." Kowalski saluted him with the bottle, a fiercely amused grin on his face, and - oh.

Ray got back to the city and called Fraser. Kowalski got back to the city and called -

"She said it wasn't anyone's fault, if that makes you feel any better," Kowalski offered, still grinning so hard Ray wanted to smack it off his face. "She said it just -" He made a flip-flopping motion with one hand. "Didn't work out." He tilted his head at Ray. "That your story, too?"

Again, Ray made an effort to relax, and shrugged one shoulder, trying to make it look easy. "It's the truth."

"Mm." Kowalski studied him. "The fact that you were in a bowling alley in Florida might have had something to do with it."

Ray, lifting the bottle to his mouth, paused. "Maybe," he admitted, and Kowalski laughed out loud this time.

"What happened in Canada?" Ray looked at Kowalski there on the counter, his bare feet dangling, looking leaner, tougher than he had before Canada. Something had happened up there. He was carrying it well, but Ray could see it in his eyes, a little bit. He knew from experience - you didn’t walk away from Fraser real easy, not even if you had a damn good reason.

And from where he stood, he could see no reason why Kowalski was back in Chicago.

Kowalski put his bottle down. He looked at Ray, and he kept the smile on his face, but his shoulders were hunched, a little, his hands tight on the edge of the counter. "It was - Canada."

Ray raised his eyebrows a little. Very descriptive, Kowalski.

Kowalski waved one hand at him. "No, like, really Canada. Way the fuck up. You ever really look at a map of where Fraser is from? Inuvik is, like -" Kowalski shook his head. "You don't even know. You have to see it. It's -" He dropped his hand back down to grip the edge of the counter again. "It's not like here."

"Yeah, I know, I've been there, Kowalski."

"Visiting is different." Kowalski was looking down at the linoleum floor.

"Yeah, but, you had -" Ray bit down on the last word, hard, because he wasn't going to go there, wasn't going to say it. Not to Kowalski, not to anyone.

"Yeah." Kowalski's grin was tight this time, and he wasn't even trying to hide it. "Well, so did you, once."

Ray felt that same freezing rush he'd get back in Vegas with a gun in his hand and a guy on his knees in front of him. He didn't move, just kept breathing, rocking on his heels a little bit as he looked at Kowalski. "That was different," he said, his tone so flat that his throat hurt from maintaining it.

"Yeah, I know it was." Kowalski flashed that knowing smile. "He told me."

Ray had Kowalski off the counter and smashed up against the fridge so fast he didn't even remember doing it. His bottle was spinning on the floor, beer fizzing out of the bottle and puddling on the tile. His hands were wrapped in the fabric of Kowalski's t-shirt, and he was dragging him up on his toes, but Kowalski never lost the smile.

"What?" he said softly, right in Ray's face, like nothing had happened. "You thought we didn't talk about you?"

"I tried not to think about what you two were doing up there," Ray grated out.

Kowalski grinned. "Yeah, I bet you did."

Ray hauled back to punch him, but Kowalski - fuck, he was stronger than he looked - pushed him away, shoving at him so his back hit the counter painfully. Kowalski held him there, staring him directly in the eye, his breath coming fast and hot against Ray's face. "I bet there's a lot you try not to think about," Kowalski said, and then he was kissing Ray, hot and messy. It lasted for a handful of dizzying seconds before Ray pushed him away hard and punched him in the jaw.

Kowalski fell to the floor and stayed sprawled there. Ray was standing over him, furious and panting, and his lips were still wet from Kowalski's mouth, his hands still in fists, and he wanted to - he wanted -

Kowalski leaned up on one elbow and wiped the little bit of blood off his mouth slowly with the back of his hand. "Feel better?" he asked.

Ray straightened his coat with shaking hands. "You're fucked up, Kowalski." What the fuck was that? Why the fuck had he -

"Like that's a big surprise." Kowalski rubbed his jaw where Ray's fist had connected, still propped against the floor like it was his choice to be stretched out down there.

Ray made himself walk slowly out of the kitchen, like it wasn't a big deal, like it was all Kowalski's problem, and he was fine with it. He'd reached the door when he heard Kowalski's voice call from the kitchen, "You going up to see him?"

Ray froze with his hand on the knob for a second, then turned it and let himself out, tugging the door quietly closed behind him.

When Ray talked to Fraser on the phone a few nights later, he didn't mention that he'd seen Kowalski. What would he have said? What could he even tell him? "I saw your ex. He kissed me and I punched him. He looks like he's doing okay."

Ray booked his tickets from Chicago to Inuvik, which wasn't a straight shot at all. Getting to Fraser was a 24 hour affair, apparently - Chicago to Edmonton to Yellowknife to Norman Wells to Inuvik. And Ray knew this, he had known this. He'd done this before for Fraser - done it twice - but he'd forgotten.

He talked to Fraser once or twice (or, okay, maybe five times, not that he was counting) more, and it was good, planning to go up to see him. Ray was hoping he could get Fraser to talk - get some real questions asked and answered. He kept telling himself that it was only weird over the phone. That once he was up there, alone with Fraser, things would fall into place, and everything else - Kowalski and Stella and the years between them - would fade away, and they could be a team again, friends again, the way they had been.

Ray packed for the trip, trying to come up with clothes warm enough for whatever he'd be facing up there. It had been too long - the last two places he'd packed for were all to do with sand and sun. He asked for and got the time off he needed from the precinct (with some hard looks and a few threats from Welsh), and he just killed time, counting the days and going out after work, shopping for a coat that would be warm enough up there, yet not make him look like a total idiot. It was harder than you'd think, and he finally settled for layers - a long wool coat, thickly lined, with a thick hooded sweatshirt to go underneath.

It wouldn't be warm enough to be outside for long, but he wasn't planning on spending much time out on icefields. Inuvik was a city, mostly, and if Fraser lived close enough to work there, then he had heat and hot water and a mode of transportation other than a dogsled. Ray would be fine. He wasn't worried.

He didn't think too much about what had happened at Kowalski's apartment, because Kowalski - man, he was fucked up. That was it, end of story, and whatever had been going on up there between Kowalski and Fraser, well, that was their business, and besides it was over now, kaput. Thousands of miles between them, and so what did it even matter?

But late at night, when it was dark and Ray couldn’t sleep - couldn't even settle down, kept trying to find a cool spot on the pillow, a comfortable position on the bed - he couldn’t stop thinking about it. Lying there, he kept going back to when Kowalski had kissed him, all hard and tense up against him. Christ, what had the guy been thinking? That was crazy. This whole thing was crazy.

Ray turned over again, punched the pillow, tried to settle himself. When he closed his eyes this time, though, he got hit with images of Kowalski and Fraser together. The two of them together - Ray knew how Fraser got, he'd seen how Fraser got when he wanted someone really badly. Ray turned over again, trying to clear his head. Sure, things fell apart, even if you were both trying - Ray knew that, damn well - but while it lasted? Fraser and Kowalski must have been scorching together.

Ray realized his shoulders were tense, and he had his eyes squeezed shut tight, like he was trying to force himself into sleep. He breathed in deep, let it out slow, making a conscious effort to just relax. Loosen his neck, his shoulders, unclench his hands, good, good. Deep breath, and, without even really thinking about it, his dick was suddenly, well, not relaxed. Huh. That might help matters. He slid his hand down into his pajama pants, wrapping his fingers around himself. Yeah. Okay. A quick jerk-off session and he'd be sure to drift right off to sleep.

He settled into it, nudging his pants down his hips, stroking himself. He had his eyes closed, his head back, and man, it had been too long since he'd taken care of things. His cock was fully hard already. He ran his thumb over the head, and groaned softly. God. Yeah. This was what he needed, this was just what he needed, take his mind off Canada, Kowalski, everything… He moved his hand faster, squeezing his eyes shut, his breath coming hard, and just - god. Every time he shut his eyes, he got that image of Fraser up in Canada, all mountain-man, in flannel and denim, dragging Kowalski up against him, just like Kowalski had done to Ray the other day, all desperate and needy and -

Ray's eyes snapped open, and he gasped up into the dark. No. Uh-uh. No way he was doing this thinking about Fraser or, for Christ's sake, Kowalski, all involved, wrapped around each other, hard and hot and wanting it and - oh holy hell, his hand was still moving steady on his cock, which was leaking now, and his hand was slick with it. He bit back a groan and tried to stop.

Only it had been too long, and his dick was too hard, and his mind wouldn't stop playing the image of Fraser kissing Kowalski hungrily, going after it, hard in his jeans and pressing up against him. Kowalski moaning into Fraser's mouth, because who the hell could say no to Fraser? Who had the strength to push him away? Kowalski would give in, give in to it just like that, and Christ, the image of Fraser shoving Kowalski back against the wall, pinning him there, and pressing up against him hard was - was just - fuck.

Ray's cock was jerking in his hand, and he was coming all over his fist and stomach, his heart beating wildly and his breathing frantic. He lay there, blinking up at the ceiling, as his breath came back to normal. He'd just - nah. No. That was - whatever. A fluke. Bad timing. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Something. He reached for some Kleenex from his bedside table, and cleaned himself up. Tugging his pants back up, he turned over onto his side, and pressed his hot cheek against the cool pillow. Sleep. A good night's rest and he'd be a whole new man in the morning. Guaranteed.

Ray left his house with a certain amount of relief, leaving Frannie and Ma fighting in the kitchen even as he headed out the door with his bag over his shoulder. It was cold in Chicago, would be colder still in Inuvik, and he found he was looking forward to it.

He got to the airport, checked in, and stopped for a cup of coffee on the way to his gate. He had a book in his carry-on, and had pretty much settled himself for the long haul. At the waiting area, he came around a row of seats and almost fell over the long legs of this guy who was all stretched out -

Ray blinked. "Kowalski?"

Kowalski looked up at him and yawned hugely. "This sucks, huh? Early morning flights. Man."

"What the fuck are you doing here?"

Kowalski raised an eyebrow. "What do you think?"

"How did you even -"

"Frannie's got a big mouth." Kowalski stretched and then settled back again, with his hands clasped on his chest, his feet neatly crossed at the ankle. "Besides, I'm a detective. Remember?"

"You used to be."

Kowalski bared his teeth in a grin. "Old habits die hard."

"Didn't you just get back to Chicago?"

"Didn't you?"

Jesus. This was a nightmare. What was this? Was Kowalski his chaperone? His guide? Frannie had a goddamn big mouth, all right, and for Kowalski to be here, now, she had to have given him Ray's whole damn itinerary. Fucking Christ.

He yanked his coat closer around him and sat down at the other end of the row of seats. From the corner of his eye, he could see Kowalski tilting his head towards him.

Ray ignored it, pulling the book out of his bag.

Kowalski snorted softly. "You're gonna freeze your ass off in that coat." He watched Ray silently for a few moments. "You got no idea what you're getting yourself into."

Ray breathed in, then out, then - calmly - turned to look at Kowalski. "Am I asking you for advice?"

Kowalski laughed softly. "Nope. I'm just giving it out of the goodness of my heart."

Ray gazed at him for another breath. "Noted."

Kowalski shut his eyes again, his head tilted back against the chair.

"Are you seriously going back to Inuvik?"

The corner of Kowalski's mouth twitched. "Apparently."

"With me."

"With you," Kowalski agreed.

Ray turned back to his book, staring at the pages for several moments without reading a single word. Finally, he said, "Are you doing this just to be an asshole?"

Kowalski opened one eye, looked over at him consideringly. "Not just because of that."

Ray watched Kowalski shut both eyes again and settle back, his breathing evening out into what seemed to actually be sleep. Ray was out of his depth, here, and he didn't like it. He didn't seem to have a lot of choice in the matter, though, or much control over the situation, and - Fraser would fix things. He usually did, one way or another, and Ray had to trust he'd do so this time, too.

He glanced over, uneasy, as Kowalski muttered something in his sleep, before resolutely turning back to his book. It was going to be a long fucking trip.

By the time they actually got to Inuvik, Ray could only thank God that he and Kowalski hadn't been traveling together together the entire way. The first two jumps, Kowalski was in a totally different part of the airplane and Ray was able to forget for a few hours what a completely bizarre situation he'd found himself in. Gotten himself into. Whichever.

But the last hop from Norman Wells to Inuvik had been with just him and Kowalski as passengers, with Kowalski's face getting more and more grim the closer they got to Fraser. Ray was just trying to figure out why the hell Kowalski was even doing this. Why he was going back, why he was going back with Ray, and hell, it didn't occur to him until they were almost to Inuvik to wonder whether Fraser even knew Kowalski was tagging along.

Asking Kowalski about it had accomplished nothing at all. He'd lost more of that edge of amusement the further north they got, and by the time they started the descent towards Inuvik, his face had lost all color and the circles under his eyes that had been just a shadow in Chicago were dark now, stark against his skin. He just shook his head whenever Ray asked him anything, and spent the entire last half of the flight staring out the window, his hands clenched into fists on his knees. The sharp sunlight coming through the window (it was so much brighter here than anywhere else - Ray remembered that from his last two visits north) caught in his hair, making the blond seem garish and brittle.

Not that Ray was noticing, but Kowalski's tense form beside him drew the eye. Ray was glad Kowalski wasn't looking for much conversation. He couldn't think of one goddamn thing to say.

When they got on the ground, they still had to get to Fraser's place. A buddy of Fraser's was there to meet them - meet Ray, actually, but he didn't look surprised at Kowalski trailing along behind him, a silent shadow.

Hell, maybe Frannie had talked to this guy, too.

The guy was driving some sort of SUV, and Kowalski got in the backseat without even arguing. On the way to Fraser's, Ray found out the guy was Adam, who worked construction in town and didn't mind driving out to the airport when Fraser had expressed concern about being back from patrol in time to meet Ray. Adam drove right through the center of town (and it was a town - sidewalks and restaurants, stores and hotels, even a bar on the corner). Ray turned his head a little to look at Kowalski in the backseat. Kowalski had his hands jammed in his pockets, was staring down at his feet, and didn't make any move to meet Ray's eyes.

Weird. Inuvik was, yeah, a lot fucking different from Chicago, but from what Ray had heard, Kowalski survived out on the ice with just Fraser, Dief, and the dog team for upwards of three months. What was it about small-town Inuvik that was so bad? Ray was missing something here, and from the look on Kowalski's face, it was something pretty damn important.

They hit the outskirts of the city, and yeah, okay, the landscape was pretty bleak here - frozen tundra and a road carved out in the middle of it. There were cabins and houses set back from the road - not on top of each other like even in suburban Chicago, but not exactly cut off from each other either.

Adam was chatting away about the power drills he'd had shipped in on the same flight as Ray and Kowalski had come in on, and how Fraser was going to help him build a dog-shed or something, and it hit Ray all at once that he was here, was going to see Fraser, really see him in the flesh for the first time in a hell of a long time. He'd been so damn distracted by the glowering presence of Kowalski that he'd sort of…not quite forgotten, but lost focus. As Adam took the turn into a driveway carved out through the snow, Ray sat up straight, his heart beating faster. There was a cabin up ahead, a good-sized one, bigger than the one Fraser had inherited from his dad, with a porch, carved wooden rails and boards scraped clear of snow. On the porch was the familiar shape of Fraser - still with the hat, still with the poker-straight posture, still with that smile you could see gleaming from a football field away when he was happy.

And he was happy now. Dief sat beside him, his barks loud against the snowy landscape as they drove up.

Ray, anxious in the front seat, had his seat belt unfastened before the SUV came to a complete stop, and was shaking Adam's hand at the same time as he was opening his door. Fraser came down the porch steps to meet him, and Ray caught him up in a huge hug, hanging on tight. "It's good to see you, Ray," Fraser said against his shoulder. Dief was dancing and barking around their legs, and Ray squeezed tight one last time and let go.

"Same here, Benny. It's been too long." Ray's face hurt from grinning, and from the cold, because, yeah, it was fucking freezing out, the wind cutting right through his coat and all his careful layers.

Fraser's hands were gripping his shoulders as Fraser smiled at him, and then his gaze went up and over Ray's shoulder just as Ray heard a car door slam close, the sharp sound echoing in the crisp air. "Ray," Fraser said, and it was clear from everything - the tone, the look, just the way he formed the word - that it was a different Ray entirely he was talking to.

Ray turned, releasing himself from Fraser's hands, to see Kowalski stomping around to the back of the SUV, grabbing his bag from the back and lifting his chin at Adam as a thank-you for the ride. He slung the bag up and over his shoulder and his boots crunched loudly in the snow as he strode over to the cabin. He brushed by the both of them, his bag banging into Ray's shoulder as he said, without ever pausing or even looking at either of them, "Old home week, huh, Benny?"

He disappeared inside the cabin. Dief looked from Fraser to Ray and then followed Kowalski inside. Fraser looked helplessly at the closed door between him and his charming new houseguest, then at Ray. "Did you have a nice trip?" he asked, a wry tilt to his smile, and then waved at Adam. "Do you want to come in for a cup of coffee?" he called.

"Nah!" Adam pulled Ray's bag out of the back, and Ray met him halfway to take the bag and shake his hand. "I gotta get back in town. Nice to meet you," he said to Ray.

"Same. Thanks for the ride, buddy, I appreciate it."

"No problem." Adam got back in the car and backed slowly out of the drive. Ray and Fraser stood for a few moments longer on the porch, looking at each other.

Ray tilted his head at the door. "You don't seem surprised by this."

"He called early this morning, and left a message at the outpost." Fraser sighed, and ran a thumb over his eyebrow. "I hadn't heard from him for weeks, so the message was a bit of a surprise, but this?" He shook his head a little. "I've learned not to be startled by Ray's comings and goings."

Ray nodded, watching Fraser's eyes. "Yeah, I can see that. You want to tell me -"

Fraser didn't quite interrupt him, but he cut him off by taking the bag off his shoulder, and gesturing at the door. "You must be freezing. Let's get inside where it's warm, shall we?"

"Right." Fraser had his own way of not talking about things, looked like. "Okay, well. Sure. Let's see how this goes."

"Indeed." Fraser looked to be steeling himself, before opening the door and standing back to let Ray go in first.

"Coward," Ray muttered at him from the corner of his mouth.

From behind him, he heard Fraser say, again, slightly amused, "Indeed."

Kowalski was on the couch when they came in, Dief beside him nudging at his arm. With a sigh, Kowalski buried his hand deep in the ruff of Dief's neck and scratched him while Dief moaned enthusiastically. Kowalski didn’t look up as they came in. He still had his coat on, even though Fraser had a roaring fire going in the fireplace across from the couch. The house was warmer than Ray had expected.

Kowalski kept his loud silence the entire time Fraser was showing Ray around the place. Bedroom in the back, bathroom - indoor plumbing: godsend. Pretty spacious kitchen with what looked to be a hand-hewn round table in the center. Ray looked at Fraser. "You got a lot of free time up here? Whittling a lot?"

Fraser tilted his head, gave him a look. "It keeps me busy."

The living room was the center area to the house, with the main door opened onto it. It was the warmest room in the house - the bedroom in back was freezing, actually, and Ray spotted the pile of blankets and - wow, okay, furs in the corner. Strange new world.

The glowering silence of Kowalski was becoming off-putting. More off-putting. Ray had wanted - he didn't know what he had wanted, precisely - but he'd been looking forward to quality time with Fraser. And that wasn't happening, not with Kowalski and his attitude taking up so much room. No one had even invited the guy, and Ray was on the verge of pointing that out when a twig snapped in the fire, sounding loud as a gunshot in the room, and Kowalski surged to his feet. "I'm going to cut some more wood." He gestured vaguely, not really looking at either of them. "For the fire."

Fraser just looked at him steadily. "All right, Ray."

When he left, tugging on his gloves, Fraser sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked ruefully at Ray. "I am guessing his presence on the trip was a complete surprise to you."

"Yeah." Ray moved to sit on the couch. "I thought he was still here, actually," he confessed.

Fraser was silent for a moment. "It's been almost two months since he want back to Chicago."

Ray fought with himself for a handful of seconds, but in the end, he couldn't stop asking the question. "Why?"

Fraser laughed, hollowly. "I wish I knew. It's -" He moved to the doorway of the kitchen, looking out the window over the sink. "Ray isn't easy."

"Could have fooled me," Ray muttered to himself, suddenly remembering, in Technicolor, that messy kiss, Kowalski plastered up against him.

Fraser turned his head and looked sharply at him. Ray had somehow forgotten about how Fraser rarely missed a trick. He shrugged one shoulder - neither confirming nor denying a damn thing - and Fraser, frowning, let it go. He edged closer to the sink, looking out the window. Ray could hear the solid thump of an axe hitting wood outside. "Ray," Fraser said, slowly, moving to scoop his coat off the hook on the wall. "I'm just going to -"

Ray waved his hand at Fraser. "Go. Me and the mutt will get reacquainted, and I'm going to change out of these clothes, okay?"

Fraser was shrugging into the coat, and had his hand on the knob to the backdoor. "I'll be back in just a few minutes, and I'll make us something to eat."

"Sure," Ray agreed easily, and watched as Fraser slipped out the door, his focus already entirely on Kowalski out there. Ray looked down at the wolf, who was looking up at him expectantly. "They always this fucked up?"

Dief snorted, and settled down, resting his nose on his paws and shutting his eyes. Ray took that to mean this wasn't going to be a short conversation out there. He got up and wandered around the living room. He ran his fingers over the books on Fraser's shelf, but nothing caught his interest. He went into the bathroom, washed his face, and changed into fresh clothes, and thick socks instead of the clunky boots.

When he padded out again, the room was still empty and silent except for Dief's quiet snores. He stood for a moment, warming his hands in front of the fire, and then gave in, drifting over to the window by the sink. It looked out over the wood shed and the chopping block. Kowalski was chopping wood, swinging the axe with easy precision. Fraser stood well back, watching, with his hands tucked in the pockets of his red plaid wool coat. His expression was calm, intently watching.

Ray could see why. Standing there by the window, he got caught up himself, watching the rhythm of Kowalski's swing, his body moving easily with the weight of the axe, driving it down steady. There wasn't anything angry or rough about it, the way Ray had expected. He'd settled into a rhythm, sort of peaceful, weirdly. Kowalski was good at it - he almost never needed more than one good swing to split a length of wood.

Watching the two of them out there, all Ray could think about was what it had to have been like when it was just the two of them here, alone together, after their adventure. That had to have been when Kowalski learned to swing an axe - that wasn’t something you learned in your everyday Chicago high school. Watching them together now, Ray felt his throat get tight. Kowalski and Fraser had been together, all told, for a whole hell of a lot longer than he and Fraser had. Ray, sure, had taught Fraser a lot about America, but Fraser was the one who'd taught Kowalski about Canada. About swinging an axe, about staying alive up here, about -

Kowalski cut the final piece of wood and drove the axe into the block. Ray watched as he turned, panting, to face Fraser, his hands hanging loose at his sides, his face an open book. Ray swung away from the window, leaned back against the sink. Kowalski had Fraser to himself for a whole hell of a lot longer than Ray had, and what they had together had been - a lot different than what Ray had had with Fraser. Ray knew how much it had hurt to walk away from that partnership, whatever the reason had been. How the hell had Kowalski walked away from - this?

He pushed away from the counter and headed resolutely back to the living room. He was crouched down in front of the fire, prodding at the flames with the poker, when the back door swung open, letting in a huge rush of freezing air and Kowalski with his arms piled high with wood. He strode over and dumped the pile into the wooden log box, right next to Ray. "There, that should keep your thin American skin warm for the night, at least."

Ray looked up at him, the poker still in his hand. "Last I recall, you were born and bred in Chicago yourself, Kowalski."

Kowalski waved a gloved hand at him. "Technicality."

"Right." Ray watched as Kowalski shrugged out of his coat and hung it up, then went over to Fraser and took his off, too, as Fraser smiled, bemused, and allowed it. Ray looked at Fraser when Kowalski had his back turned, and Fraser shrugged, but he looked happy.

Fraser followed through on his promise to cook and maybe it was something about the cold and the fresh air and the fact that he was ravenous after the day of airplane food, but Ray couldn't find one damn thing to complain about, not even the meat that neither Fraser nor Kowalski would identify for him, no matter how many times he demanded to know.

Kowalski went after his food like Dief did, like he hadn't eaten in days, like they didn’t have food like this in America. (Which, depending on the meat that no one would confirm or deny was maybe moose, they possibly didn't.) Afterwards, Fraser cleared the table, and Ray did the dishes against Fraser's protestations, while Kowalski rooted around first in the pantry, coming out with a bottle of red wine, and then in the living room, where before long, the sounds of music came from the stereo that was tucked into the bookshelves.

Ray hadn't even noticed it, but it had to have been Kowalski's, during the months he lived up here in the cabin with Fraser, and the music had to be his too, this jazzy, quiet song that made Ray want to move his hips, made him remember what it was like to move easily with someone across a dance floor, letting the music take you along with it. He looked over at Fraser, who was leaning against the counter with a dishtowel in his hands, drying as Ray washed, and looking quietly happy.

"You doing okay up here by yourself?" Ray rinsed off a soapy dish and handed it to Fraser.

"I'm good, Ray." Fraser was studying the plate as he dried it. "I like it here. I like the town, the people." He looked up at Ray, and smiled, his face brilliant with it. "I missed you, though. I'm glad you called. I'm glad you came back from Florida." He flushed, suddenly, like he was worried about how that sounded, and Ray flicked soap suds at him.

"Me, too," he said lightly. Florida had been - an in-between place for him. Bowling alleys and palm trees, Stella and the hot winds off the sand. It seemed like it had been another life he'd been trying on for size. Felt like he'd been trying to find something that fit for his whole life. He opened his mouth, looking at Fraser, trying to find the words to say something that would explain that, how much it didn’t work down there. Fraser was watching him intently, but that was when Kowalski leaned into the room, one hand anchored on the doorjamb. "You come eight thousand miles to wash dishes, Vecchio?" he demanded.

"It's closer to thirty-six hundred miles, actually," Fraser said, his tone amused.

"Yeah, well, I'm talking about what it feels like when you got your ass planted in an airplane seat for twelve hours," Kowalski retorted. "Come on. I didn't come all this way to talk to the wolf."

He disappeared back into the living room, and Ray rinsed the last cup, putting it on the rack, and followed Fraser into the living room.

Kowalski was in charge of the wine, and since Fraser didn’t own wine glasses, they drank it out of water glasses while Ray cracked jokes about how they did classy in Canada. Fraser sat on the floor by the fire, with Dief's head on his lap, taking sips of wine when toasts demanded it, but mostly just listening and adding details as Ray and Kowalski tried to one-up each other with increasingly bizarre tales of their respective times as Fraser's partner.

It was - nice. It wasn't quite what Ray had had in mind when he first planned coming up here, but he really didn't know what he'd had in mind. He hadn't known what to expect, and this wasn't half bad.

Kowalski came up with another bottle of wine and changed the CD to something slower, with a more pulsing beat to it. Ray was telling Fraser something way too involved about Frannie and her supposed immaculate conceptions, and Fraser had just gone into a history of such occurrences, apparently ready to defend Frannie's virtue into the wee hours of the morning, when Kowalski drained his glass and got to his feet. "Dance with me," he said, and his voice was smooth and easy. It seemed right - the music felt like it was going to waste in the background, and Fraser stopped mid-sentence, gazing up to where Kowalski was holding out an inviting hand.

Fraser looked over at Ray and Ray lifted his chin, smiling. "Dance with the guy, Fraser." He took another sip of wine. "He came eight thousand miles to be with you."

Kowalski tilted his head and gave Ray an approving look. Fraser reached up and took his hand.

Ray sat on the couch, watching them move around the room. Fraser had no natural rhythm, but Kowalski had him tugged close and it was easy to get caught up in watching the two of them sway together. It made sense, here, in a cabin in the middle of the cold and the snow, and Ray, watching, felt a heavy sense of contentment from somewhere deep inside himself.

Or maybe that was just the wine.

There was a moment at the end of the song where Fraser was murmuring something Ray couldn’t hear over the crackle of the fire, and Ray was certain, certain they were about to kiss, regardless of the fact that he was there. But as he watched, Kowalski's face twisted a little, like he was reminding himself of something, and he pushed Fraser into a slow-spin finish to the dance.

Dropping his hand, he ambled back over to the couch, sitting down heavily next to Ray and emptying the last of the wine bottle into his glass. Fraser stood there for a second, backlit by the fire so that Ray couldn’t see the expression on his face, before excusing himself to the bathroom.

Ray - who was tired enough for the wine to have maybe loosened him up too much - turned to Kowalski, sprawled on the couch next to him. "So, what?" he said in a slow drawl. "You can kiss me but not your boyfriend?"

Kowalski didn't move, just stayed slouched there in the corner of the couch, but he was suddenly tense, like he was ready to spring. His eyes were bright and sharp, even though he'd drunk more wine than Ray. A beat passed, then two, and then he said, slow and even, "You still thinking about that, Vecchio?" He brought his hand to his own mouth, ran his thumb and forefinger along his lower lip.

"No," said Ray, but his voice came out hoarse, and he was slipping, losing his edge.

"You got a million things wrong, here." Kowalski eased himself forward, sitting up and leaning towards Ray. "Number one is, Fraser's not my boyfriend." He leaned closer, and Ray was going to push him away, but Kowalski's breath was hot against his face (again, like before, like in the kitchen back in Chicago), and he couldn't move. "Number two is, you're thinking about it right now."

Kowalski's voice sounded thick, amused, like he knew a whole world of facts Ray was missing out on, and his hand slid up the side of Ray's face, slow enough that he had a thousand years to push him away. But instead, he waited, and when Kowalski's lips pressed against his, hot and slick, Ray opened his mouth and let him in.

Kowalski shifted on the couch, pressing forward, sliding his tongue right on in, drawing a moan out of Ray's throat. He was hot, so hot he felt dizzy, and Kowalski's hands were running down his sides, lightly, as he kissed him harder and more surely than Ray had ever been kissed before in his goddamn life.

There was a noise and Ray jerked back. Fraser - God, he was leaning there in the doorway, watching them. Kowalski, when Ray pulled away, looked back over his shoulder, and his lips curled into a sort of grin before he turned back and tried to kiss Ray again.

"Kowalski." Ray shoved him away. This was wrong, this was all kinds of wrong, but Fraser just - leaned there. Watching. How long had he been there? How long had they been kissing? Long enough for Ray to get hard, and he swallowed, trying to catch his breath, pushing at Kowalski again, who was still leaning up against him.

Kowalski shrugged and leaned back against the couch, keeping one hand on Ray's shoulder, his thumb tracing gently over his collarbone.

Fraser's eyes were studying Kowalski curiously, like he was a puzzle Fraser was trying to figure out. Like it wasn't a slap in the face for them to travel however many thousand miles and make out on his couch. And maybe it wasn't - Ray didn't know a goddamn thing about whatever he'd wandered into here, and no one was explaining it to him. He was drunk and dizzy and he only had half the story.

Fraser cleared his throat. "Ray," he said, and you know, usually Ray could tell, but this time around, he had no idea which one of them Fraser was talking to.

"Ray," Fraser said again, more sharply, this time clearly to Kowalski. "Come to bed."

Kowalski raised one eyebrow, still looking defiant and amused. He rose to his feet, his movements careful, like he was feeling the wine now, too, and reached down to tug at Ray's hand. "Yeah," he said, and his voice was warm, "Come to bed, Ray."

Fraser moved forward and gently disengaged Kowalski's hand from Ray's. "I'm sorry," he murmured, and pulled Kowalski off the couch, giving him a push towards the bedroom. Kowalski went willingly enough, muttering to himself about how he didn't need anyone to apologize for him.

Fraser sighed, watching him go, and then turned back to Ray, who was still sitting on the couch, exactly as Kowalski had left him. The room was dim, the still-active flames from the fire rendering everything half in moving shadow, and Ray was more confused than ever. Fraser went to the cedar storage box across the room and came back with a pillow and several blankets, which he placed on the couch next to Ray. "It's comfortable," he offered softly, looking down at him. "I've spent a night or two there myself." He smiled a little, and Ray - god, this was weird, this was so weird, and he was thrown, yeah, but still drunk enough to just want to fucking lie down and not think for a while - Ray just said, "I'll be fine."

Fraser was quiet for a second. "Good." He paused, then leaned down, and swiftly pressed his lips against Ray's in a soft kiss, completely different from Kowalski's. It was over before Ray could even react, and Fraser retreated towards the bedroom. "Good night." He looked over to where Diefenbaker, curled up near the fire, lifted his nose curiously from his paws. "Stay," he said, and Dief settled back down as Fraser softly closed the door to the bedroom.

Ray tiredly took off his pants and got himself arranged on the (yeah, pretty comfortable - wide and soft) couch, shivering, now, as the fire died down some. He put the covers and - oh, yeah, furs - over himself, everything about the evening slightly blurry with wine and fatigue. He'd work it all through tomorrow. He'd figure things out. Kowalski was fucked up. Fraser was - Fraser had kissed him, and that should have been weirder than it was.

He was tired. He was so damn tired. He turned over and buried his face in the pillow, which smelled like cedar, and fell asleep to the cadence of murmuring voices from the bedroom.

Ray woke earlier than he would have liked. It was warm in the room - or at least warmer than he would have expected - and he pushed back the covers and sat up, stretching.

Fraser appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, fully dressed, cleaned, shaved, and looking like the poster child for the Canadian Wild catalogue. "Good morning. There's coffee," he said. "And the shower is all yours - I left you a towel and washcloth."

"It's like staying at my grandma's," Ray muttered to himself. He heaved himself off the couch and trundled himself, shivering, to the shower.

Feeling much more human once he was clean and freshly dressed, Ray headed to the kitchen. "Where's Kowalski?"

Fraser turned from the stove, where he was making some sort of hearty bacon and eggs deal. "He left earlier. I let him take my snowmobile into town. He had some people he needed to touch base with. He left rather…abruptly, last time."

"Huh." The food smelled good, actually, and Ray's stomach grumbled. The coffee smelled even better, and he made a beeline for the surprisingly modern coffeepot. It took him till he was halfway through his first cup to realize that the modern pot (like the CD player, and the wine, and the music) was leftover from Kowalski's tenure here.

It wasn't until they had both eaten, and Fraser had poured himself a fresh cup of milk, and refilled Ray's coffee cup for the third time, that Ray sat back and looked at Fraser.

Fraser looked at the cup of milk and ran his thumb over his eyebrow.

Ray let out a breath, and said, "Benny."

Fraser looked up at him warily. "Ray, I -"

Ray interrupted him. He could do that; he wasn't Canadian. "Why did Kowalski leave?"

"Oh." Fraser sat back in his chair. "I - he never got comfortable here. Or -" Fraser frowned, thinking. "He never let himself be comfortable here. He worried a lot, I think, about what he was meant to do up here, and compared it to life in Chicago - constantly." He gave Ray a wry look, and Ray - well, he got how that might get annoying. Kind of like how certain Canadians he knew spent a lot of time in Chicago passive-aggressively mentioning Canada's public health care and clean streets and lack of crime on a fairly regular and not always on a pertinent basis.

"Yeah, but -" Ray gestured helplessly. "It had to be more than that."

"I'm certain it was more than that, but -" Fraser rubbed the back of his neck. "You've seen what he gets like."

"Yeah," Ray said, dryly.

"And he -" Fraser shrugged helplessly. "For me, it was stepping back into my life here. For him, it was leaving everything - everything - behind. His life as Ray Kowalski, his life as Ray Vecchio, his life as Stella's husband, or even as her ex-husband." He was quiet for a moment. "There was more to it than that, of course.

Ray nodded. There always was.

"I suggested he look at it like starting life anew. He -" Fraser shook his head. "He told me he was old enough to know better than to believe that."

"Yeah, but what happened? He came here with you, right? He stayed here with you. He stayed out there -" Ray gestured violently towards the window, indicating the vast frozen wasteland Kowalski had survived to get here with Fraser. "What's so bad about Inuvik?"

Fraser gave him a half smile. "If you can get Ray to explain that to you, you're a better man than I."

Ray sat there for a moment, taking a long sip of coffee and thinking, again, about Kowalski, hunched and pale on the plane ride, looking out the window at nothing. "I don't get it," he said, finally.

"I don't either." Fraser got to his feet and walked over to the coffee pot, coming back to refill Ray's cup. "But I'm happy you're both here." He rested his hand on Ray's shoulder for a moment, and his thumb brushed his collarbone right where Kowalski's had traced the night before. It sent a shiver down Ray's spine, and he had to close his eyes for a second.

Ray mostly spent the day trailing after Fraser. They drove Fraser's truck in town, and Ray got to meet the people at the RCMP detachment, and the lady who ran the post office, and they had a nice lunch at the (actually pretty cool) restaurant on the corner. Throughout it all, they never saw a trace of Kowalski, though a couple of people commented on his having come by, and looked curiously when Fraser introduced yet another American cop named Ray. Who had come north. To be with the Mountie.

And it all seemed okay; it all seemed normal, even, in a Canadian way. It was strange - Fraser was different in Canada. Like just being there, back home, had a profound effect on his equilibrium. Nothing seemed to throw him: not Ray coming here in the first place, not Kowalski coming back, not all that craziness last night at bedtime. Fraser just - Ray didn't even know. Fraser had always been the calm one, but here, now, with Canada all around him, it was like Fraser was more willing to just let things play out. Like he'd had enough, back in Chicago, of fighting to fit in, to make things work.

He had this odd older, wiser feel to him - or, well, that wasn't quite it. It was more like he'd learned enough to know that he was never going to control everything. So that here, he could let it happen, and so long as no one was getting hurt, he was content to wait and see.

This was a very different sort of Fraser than the one Ray had left behind years ago. What had the years with Kowalski done to him? Ray hated to say it, but he sort of liked it.

When they got back to the cabin, the snowmobile was parked at a jaunty angle outside and they could hear the music Kowalski was playing from outside the cabin. None of that soft jazzy stuff of the night before - this had a driving beat to it - and when they came in, they found Kowalski in the kitchen eating leftover stew and drumming his feet to the music.

Again, normal enough.

And the night was fine. Kowalski seemed to have shed his mood from the night before. He was kind of quiet, which maybe could have been a clue that something was still off, but who the hell knew what to look for? Kowalski was a wild card, and Fraser didn't seem to have a whole lot more clues about what was going on with him than Ray did.

Still, it all seemed okay, until later, after Fraser and Ray had had some leftover stew, too, and Kowalski had wandered restlessly back to the living room, switching out CDs after only a few seconds of music, banging their cases around, apparently unable to settle on what to listen to. Fraser was doing the dishes, and shooed Ray away, with a smile, so Ray settled down on the living room couch, watching as Kowalski put in yet another CD and seemed, finally, satisfied with it. The room filled with the beat of the music, and it was this good, mellow stuff, and it was fine. Great. Normal.

What wasn't normal, or shouldn't have been, really fucking shouldn't have been, was when Kowalski came to stand near Ray, staring down at him. "Come here," he said finally, his tone a challenge.

Ray just looked up at him and slouched further into the couch. "Why?"

"Fraser says you know how to dance." Kowalski held out a hand. "Dance with me."

The wolf was lying on the other end of the couch, looking between the two of them like this was a tennis match.

Ray held his place. What the fuck was Kowalski up to? Trying to shake him, unnerve him. Fuck that. Ray raised one eyebrow, giving Kowalski his best appraising look. "Why would I want to do that?"

"You've got to dance better than him." Kowalski tipped his head in the direction of the kitchen, and the grin he gave Ray was almost charming.

Ray hesitated, keeping his expression carefully dubious. But challenge or no, Ray did dance better than Fraser.

"I do." Ray got easily to his feet, and Kowalski stepped back, giving him a crooked smile and waving his hand, letting Ray move past him. When he moved up to Ray, there was a moment when Ray thought they'd have to have the "who's gonna lead?" argument, but pretty much from step one what they were doing couldn't be called dancing. Kowalski looped his arms around Ray, tugging him closer than the nuns would have allowed back in school.

Ray hesitated, trying to figure where to put his hands, but Kowalski was already moving to the beat, watching him close through darkly lidded eyes, and finally Ray just let his hands settle on Kowalski's waist, holding on lightly as Kowalski - not quite leading - drew him along to the music. It wasn't quite slow-dancing, and it wasn't quite holding each other. It was something else entirely, and Ray's heart was beating fast and he didn't know what the fuck he was doing. He wasn't sure Kowalski did, either.

Kowalski didn't seem worried, though his breath was coming a little fast. He never looked away from Ray, not once. Ray kept pulling his gaze away, but was always drawn back to Kowalski's and he was aware, entirely too aware, of the smoothness of Kowalski's skin through the thin fabric of his t-shirt.

Ray's heart was pounding in his ears and it was - he didn’t know what it was, but he just needed to quit feeling like he was getting played here, getting dragged along. So finally, he met Kowalski's eyes and gave him a long look before leaning in and kissing him, slow and as good as he knew how. Show him a thing or two. Two kisses from Kowalski and one from Fraser didn't make Ray an expert with guys, but one thing he did know how to do was kiss.

Kowalski's arms immediately tensed around him, and he made a low, needy noise in his throat. They weren't moving to the music at all anymore, and Ray tilted his head to get a better angle, pressing his tongue into Kowalski's mouth. Sort of a dare, see what he would do. And, God, Kowalski just surged up against him, all tough muscle and sharp angles, but his mouth was so damn soft and hot that Ray couldn't even handle it.

He pulled back - he had to. Kowalski was panting and staring at him, and Fraser was watching them - again - from the doorway. Ray blinked, and looked at Fraser, and Fraser moved forward. Ray had the sudden, frantic thought that Fraser was going to take Kowalski, leave Ray alone in the living room again, like the night before, and his fingers slipped through one of Kowalski's belt loops without volition.

Neither Fraser nor Kowalski seemed to notice.

Fraser was right next to them now, and Kowalski's eyes were wide, staring at Fraser with his hand still cupped hot around the back of Ray's neck.

Ray swallowed, looking at Fraser. "Benny -" His voice came out hoarse, and Fraser slid his hand, hot, up the side of Ray's cheek.

"It's all right," he said, in that soft calming tone that made everyone believe every word he said. But Ray had known him longer than Kowalski, longer than anyone, and that was a lie, there was nothing all right about this. But all he could do was tip his head and open his mouth as Fraser leaned in and kissed him. It wasn't at all soft and it wasn't at all innocent, and Fraser's tongue in his mouth sent his pulse leaping.

Kowalski's hand slid off his neck, down his arm, and Ray could hear him breathing hard, up close, as Ray let Fraser kiss him.

Ray still had one hand on Kowalski's waist, but his other hand slid around Fraser's back, pulling him closer, hanging on. Fraser made a soft sound in his throat, and stepped in closer. Ray was at an awkward angle, hanging onto Kowalski but turned towards Fraser, but he could still feel Fraser, hard against his hip.

Jesus. He slid out of the kiss, not wanting to hurt Fraser's feelings, but just - Christ, what were they doing? They couldn't - this was - he took a step back, or tried to, but Kowalski's hand was firm on his waist, tugging him around, and pulling him into a kiss, Ray's lips still damp from kissing Fraser.

This was the first time that he was aware of it as it was happening, really. Last night, he'd been too startled and fucked up to pay any sort of attention. Now, he was aware enough to realize how hot Kowalski's kisses were making him. How Kowalski had his hands clenched on Ray's hips, how his tongue was hot in Ray's mouth, and the desperation he put into it was enough to get Ray ramped up no matter what the weirdness.

And Jesus, yeah, this was weird, but he was into it, he was hard, and he just - he hadn't gotten laid in ages, not since he was married - to Stella, in Florida - and that long, slow lovemaking with the hot night breeze coming through their bedroom window had nothing on this. This was something else entirely, a whole different thing, and he leaned into it, shoving himself up against Kowalski's thin, wiry body and moaning into his mouth.

"Yeah." Kowalski, panting, pulled back, looked at Ray with dark eyes. "Yeah, that's it, Vecchio."

Ray opened his mouth to shoot off some sort of comeback - he didn't need Kowalski telling him what to do, how to do this - but Kowalski moved his mouth to Ray's neck, running his tongue up it and sinking his teeth into Ray's earlobe, and Ray couldn’t breathe, much less talk.

"Ray -"

They both swung around towards Fraser, who seemed, for a moment, frozen, his gaze caught between the two of them. Kowalski was the one who broke the impasse, giving Ray's arm a squeeze and pushing him towards Fraser.

"Do it," Kowalski said, his voice tense. "Fraser, just -"

Fraser, giving Kowalski a long, searching look, turned towards Ray. Ray's head was swimming, his cock was hard, and he wanted everything - all of this - both of them.

"Ray." And Fraser, who was always so together, Fraser, who was good at everything, his hands were shaking, just a little bit, as he reached towards Ray. "I -" He stopped, swallowed, his hand still held out. "Can I -"

"Yeah," Ray said, fiercely. "Yeah, Fraser." There wasn't - he just couldn’t think of a goddamn reason why not, and then Fraser was up against him, giving him another one of those long, slow kisses that made Ray crazy for it. Ray wrapped himself around him, kissing him back with everything he had. He let himself get lost in it, forget everything except for Fraser's strong arms around him, Fraser's cock hard up against him, right up against his, and it felt so good, so damn good. Fraser's hands were moving over him like he'd been thinking about this, like he'd been wondering what the line of Ray's back felt like, like he'd been needing to trace down the length of his arms, like he'd been wanting to have his hands on Ray forever.

Ray was aware, the entire time, of Kowalski watching them. Not a bad thing, not really - he could feel Kowalski's eyes, hear him breathing over the crackling of the fire in the background, and he sort of - it was like he was getting some of his own back, letting himself do this, slide up against Fraser just to hear Fraser's quick intake of breath, feel the convulsive tightening of his arms around him.

It felt good - it felt great - and he turned from the kiss to look at Kowalski. He'd expected - he didn't know, something like judgment or wry indignation on Kowalski's face. Instead, he had that tight look, almost like he had on the plane coming here, like he was the one doing something out of control, like he was the one getting tugged along here.

"Come on," Kowalski said roughly, and backed up towards the bedroom. "Come on, let's -"

Ray shot Fraser a look, but Fraser's eyes were focused on Kowalski, and he was moving forward as Kowalski drifted back into the dim bedroom. Ray closed his eyes for a second, opening them when Fraser said softly, "Ray."

Fraser was halfway through the door to the bedroom, and his hand was reaching out towards Ray again. Ray took a breath, and followed them.

Kowalski was impatiently stripping out of his clothes as Ray came in, tugging his t-shirt off over his head and undoing the buttons on his jeans, like if he hesitated at all, things would derail. Ray, his mouth dry, watched, as Kowalski shoved his jeans down his thighs and looked up at Ray, his eyes hot.

Things seemed to move very fast after that. Kowalski moved towards Ray, and then they were kissing. Kowalski's hands were fumbling at Ray's pants, sliding his belt open, thumbing at the button. Neither one of them could catch their breath, and Ray couldn't seem to keep his mouth off of Kowalski - he was sucking at the spot where his neck met his shoulder blade, and Kowalski was cursing softly and moaning. Fraser was behind Ray, undoing the buttons on Ray's shirt and drawing it down off of his shoulders, kissing softly at the back of his neck.

Ray shuddered - it felt so good - and turned around, still in between the two of them, to press his lips against Fraser's. He wanted all of this - he wanted everything - and when Fraser put his hands on his hips and guided him back to the bed, he went, nervous, yeah, but really wanting to see what came next.

Fraser nudged him back on the bed, and leaned over him, drawing his pants down and off, leaving them in a pile on the floor. Ray felt suddenly, ridiculously, exposed, but Kowalski was entirely naked and kneeing his way onto the bed beside him and Fraser, and it was impossible for Ray to do anything but stare. His instinct was to immediately look away, but his eyes were drawn back to Kowalski's cock, hard and just - right there, like it was no big deal.

Ray couldn't stop looking.

Fraser, meanwhile, had shed his own clothes, and when Ray, blinking, managed to drag his eyes away from Kowalski's cock, Fraser was there next to him. "Ray," he said, his voice soft, reassuring, then leaned in and pressed his lips against Ray's, bearing him back gently onto the bed. In some back corner of his mind, Ray was thinking the bed was softer than he'd expected, and wider. He'd been stuck on the concept of Fraser's cot in the Consulate, narrow and stiff and in no way conducive to anything like this.

He tilted his head up, kissing Fraser and feeling weirdly frantic, catching Kowalski's urgency. Fraser pushed him further back, pressing him down against the soft mattress, and ran soothing fingers down his sides. He was half on top of Ray, kissing him slowly, and it was dizzying, distracting; Ray got lost in it.

He'd almost forgotten Kowalski was there, even, but when he felt a cool hand on his hip, he just moaned into Fraser's mouth. He wanted this, wanted to see what would happen. Kowalski was sliding down his body - he could feel Kowalski's cock dragging against his hip - and Fraser's thumb was moving in gentle circles over his shoulder as Kowalski - oh, Christ - licked over his hip, his tongue hot and wet. Ray's hands were holding onto Fraser's arms so tight his fingers hurt. He had to tear his mouth away, throwing his head back and panting at the ceiling, as - oh God - Kowalski sucked Ray's cock into his hot, hot mouth.

Ray had had blowjobs before - he'd had lots of blowjobs before. They were good, they were always good, but this, here - Kowalski's mouth on his cock, Fraser's mouth on his neck, up by his ear, murmuring softly to him, words he couldn't even make out - this was a brand-new thing. Fraser's cock was up against his hip, and Fraser seemed to be all in control of himself, but Ray could feel him, could feel his cock so damn hard, could feel the dampness there. Fraser was so damn turned on by this, and when Ray managed to open his eyes, Fraser wasn't looking at him. He was looking down, watching as Kowalski swallowed Ray's cock.

"Jesus," Ray breathed, and Fraser turned back to him, pressed his lips against the corner of Ray's mouth, like he knew Ray couldn't take any more kissing, couldn't take much more of anything. He felt like he was going to fly to pieces, here, like he was about to fall apart. He couldn't breathe, and he couldn’t stop making noise, and he was thrusting up and Kowalski - he wasn't even holding down Ray's hips, he was just opening up, letting Ray fuck his mouth. He was taking Ray down deep, and Ray - Ray knew he wasn't a small guy, and for Kowalski to be taking his cock in that deep, he just - Kowalski was experienced at this. Kowalski knew just exactly what he was doing.

"Fuck, oh fuck," Ray chanted, one hand clutching at the thick blankets bunched, now, underneath them. "Oh, Jesus, Kowalski, just -"

"Ray," Fraser was saying, a catch in his voice, thrusting against Ray's hip. "You -"

"Ah, God." Ray was going to break apart. "I -" Kowalski wasn't letting up at all, he let Ray set the rhythm, caught it, kept it going, like when they were dancing, like when they were kissing. "You - " He groaned, low in his throat, and Kowalski pinned him then, his hands suddenly tight on Ray's hips, and swallowed around him, and that was it, Ray was gone. He was crying out, clutching at Fraser's shoulder, and Kowalski was swallowing, again and again, like he was hungry for it. Like he loved doing this.

Ray collapsed, panting and sweating, onto the bed. Fraser was pressing his lips to Ray's, feverishly, muttering over and over, "God, Ray. God." Ray lifted a limp hand to the back of Fraser's head. That was - that had been -

He opened his eyes. Kowalski was on his knees, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and looking at Ray with something like - respect? Maybe. His gaze shifted to Fraser, and he said, softly, "Come here. Okay?"

The second part of that was directed at Ray and he nodded vaguely as Kowalski tugged at Fraser's arm. Fraser pressed a kiss to the side of Ray's neck and moved towards Kowalski, kissing him. Ray moved back a little bit, but - watching the two of them kiss - they were beautiful, in a way he just had never really thought about. Not like this. Seeing them together was sort of stunning, not just hot, but sort of lovely. It was something about the way Kowalski was kissing Fraser, that sense of need there. Ray's mouth was dry, just seeing it.

Fraser pushed at Kowalski, much less gentle with him than he had been with Ray. He rolled him over onto his stomach and pinned him down, biting his shoulder. Panting, Kowalski turned his face against the blankets, and Ray watched him as Fraser kissed his way slowly down his back. Kowalski had his eyes shut, his mouth open, the side of his face pressed against the blankets. Ray couldn't look away.

Fraser shifted further down, and Kowalski's eyes flew open. He seemed to be having problems catching his breath, and as Ray watched, Kowalski's whole body suddenly relaxed, melting against the bed as he moaned in this heartfelt way that made Ray's dick twitch. Kowalski's hands were slowly opening and closing against the blankets as -

Ray raised himself up on one elbow and looked down to where Fraser was -

He let himself fall back abruptly and stared, blinking, at the rough wooden ceiling. Christ, the guy would lick anything, wouldn't he?

Ray hadn't even known that that was - you know, a thing. Maybe it was a Canadian thing. He looked again at Kowalski, who was moaning like he was about to break into a million pieces.

Maybe Canadians had the right idea.

The way Kowalski was humping the blankets, Ray was sure he was about to come any second now, but just as he thought that, Fraser pulled back, his hands on Kowalski's hips, urging him up onto his knees in a quiet voice.

"God." Kowalski's voice sounded broken, and Ray watched as he struggled to his knees. "Listen, I -"

"Ray," and Fraser's voice was tender, and it hit Ray how goddamn much Fraser loved Kowalski. You could hear it right there, right there in his voice. It said everything. "Just -" Fraser was kneeling up behind Kowalski, and Kowalski's head was hanging down between his arms and Ray thought that maybe both of them had forgotten he was even there. Only Kowalski tilted his head to the side, and, astonishingly, gave Ray a quick wink. Then his face went slack with pleasure and he groaned, loud and long, as - Ray glanced up and then quickly away again - Fraser slid forward, and in, and it was - it was easy, Ray could see that.

Kowalski was breathing shallowly, his head bowed low, and he had his lip caught between his teeth as Fraser fucked him, right there on the bed, right in front of Ray. Fraser was moving into him slowly, moving back out just as slow, a steady rhythm that had Ray holding his breath as he watched them move together. Fraser leaned forward, his arm wrapping around Kowalski's waist, holding him. He was whispering low in Kowalski's ear, while Kowalski kept his head down, muttering, "Yeah, God - yeah -"

Ray didn't know where to look. Fraser started moving faster, and Ray was half fascinated and half completely terrified of looking at where he was sinking deep into Kowalski. Kowalski moaned, low in his throat. He'd been ready to come before Fraser even started - now he sounded like this was killing him.

Ray looked up at Fraser, and Fraser, still leaning over Kowalski, was also breathing harshly and sweating, his hair was damp at the temples and his eyes looked darker than Ray had ever seen them. He reached out for Ray's hand, and Ray, helpless, slid his fingers into Fraser's grasp. Fraser squeezed his hand, and then drew it over to Kowalski's cock.

Ray swallowed. This was - he didn't even, hadn't even ever - Fraser was watching him. Ray took a breath, and wrapped his fingers around Kowalski.

Kowalski moaned, and his hips lurched forward, his cock sliding through Ray's hand. It was hot and huge and leaking from the head. It felt weird in his hand, the angle off, so different from when he touched himself. Ray realized he was forgetting to breathe, and let his breath out in a rush. Fraser's hips were moving steadily as he sank into Kowalski, and Fraser himself was moaning now, and it was like sexual surround sound, here. Ray moved his hand, tightening his grip, jerking Kowalski off as best he could.

Fraser was thrusting forward hard, his breath coming fast, and Kowalski was groaning each time he bottomed out. Ray's hand was slick, now, and he stroked faster, his eyes drawn back to where they were joined, and it was all just so hot and weird and wild and -

Kowalski cried out, going down on his elbows, his cock pulsing as he came all over Ray's hand and wrist and the blankets. Ray, his mouth dry and his chest heaving, just stroked him through it. It was the hottest thing he'd ever, ever seen.

Fraser let out a groan, sank into Kowalski deep and stayed there, his head pressed against Kowalski's back, as he shuddered and came.

Ray, shaking a little, drew his hand back, and Kowalski, apparently being just together enough to not break Ray's wrist, collapsed as soon as he did. Fraser was sprawled on top of him, dropping open-mouthed kisses on his back, his eyes closed, his expression slack and incandescent.

Ray was cold, shivering now that it was over. He was - he didn't even know what he was. Fraser pulled out of Kowalski with a sigh. He sank down next to him on the bed, and looked over at Ray. "Hi," Ray said, stupidly.

Fraser smiled at him, and slowly rolled over, getting up and shaking out the blanket crumpled at the bottom of the bed, drawing it up and over the both of them, before heading to the bathroom. Ray heard water running, and glanced over at Kowalski, who was sacked out - fucked out - sound asleep, curled around himself in the bed. His hair was sticking up at even odder angles than usual, damp with sweat, and the lines around his eyes had eased.

Ray watched him sleep for a while, and then closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the room was dark, and he was warm, covered with thick, heavy blankets. Kowalski was still sprawled beside him, snoring slightly, and Fraser was nowhere to be seen. Ray, his head thick with sleep, rolled over and burrowed further under the covers, falling sound asleep once more.

When Ray woke up next, it was early, the weak morning sunshine coming in through a crack in the curtains. He'd woken up because Kowalski had shoved the covers back, and was propped up on one arm, looking at him as he slept. Ray blinked up at him. "Yeah?"

Kowalski pointed at him like they'd been in the middle of a conversation. "Don't. Okay?"

Ray groaned and rolled onto his back, scrubbing his hands over his eyes. He smelled like sex. The whole room smelled like sex. Christ, Kowalski had come all over the covers. Ray hoped he had had to sleep in the wet spot. "Don't what?"

Kowalski shook his head impatiently. "Don't panic or freak out or do anything to fuck up Fraser, okay?"

Ray stared at him. "Do we have to have this conversation right now?"

"Yeah. We do." Kowalski was glaring at him, clearly waiting for Ray to reassure him that he wasn't going to fuck things up.

Ray yawned, deliberately, and pushed the pillow under his head more comfortably. "You're the one who left him, Kowalski."

Kowalski was silent for a moment, tense. "Yeah," he said finally. "I know. The guy's got enough problems to deal with already, okay?"

Ray watched as Kowalski lay back down, his hands on his chest, staring up at the ceiling. They lay there uncomfortably next to each other, in Fraser's bed, for several moments.

Finally, Ray said, quietly, "I'm not freaking out."

"Good," Kowalski said to the ceiling. "That's good." He sounded sincere. Tired, but sincere.

"Okay, then."

Kowalski turned over. "Go back to sleep. It's too early to be having a deep and fucking meaningful conversation." His voice was muffled by the pillow, and Ray stared at the back of his head for a handful of incredulous seconds before giving up and just settling back down.

It was too fucking early for this.

The thing was, it wasn't weird, or at least not any weirder than things were already. Fraser was in the kitchen by the time Ray staggered out of bed, leaving a snoring Kowalski still buried under the covers. There were the blankets and pillows Ray had used the first night, folded and stacked neatly beside the couch, where Fraser had clearly spent the night.

Ray - again - made straight for the coffee maker. "Your bed is comfortable," he offered as an opening gambit, as he poured himself a cup.

Fraser leaned back against the counter, drinking a glass of - yeah, milk. "I'm glad you found it so. You slept well?"

Fraser had that overly hearty tone there, just a little, that pinged with Ray: Fraser, for all he was ignoring the awkwardness, was uncomfortable with the situation as well. For some reason, that eased Ray's own awkwardness. "Yeah," he said. "I did." He took a long sip of coffee. "Kowalski - that guy moves around a lot in his sleep, huh?"

Fraser flushed, slightly, and smiled down at his cup of milk. "Yes, I have always found him a restless sleeper. And my bed, while sizable, can only contain so much." He looked up at Ray, his brows drawn together. "I hope you don’t mind that I left you to sleep there. You were - and Ray was -" He cleared his throat, like the sex last night had been fine, but talking about the actual sleeping was too intimate. Ray grinned, and Fraser blushed darker. "I felt it would be more conducive to a good night's rest if I stayed on the couch."

Ray waved the hand that wasn't holding the coffee at Fraser. "It's okay, Benny. You worry too much. Kowalski and I were fine." He looked up as Kowalski shuffled sleepily into the kitchen. "Right, Stanley?"

"Right, what?" Kowalski was making the same beeline for the coffee maker Ray had. He poured a cup and took a sip before turning around and glaring at Ray through half-opened eyes. "And quit calling me Stanley."

Fraser's eyes crinkled at the corners as he tried not to laugh, but Ray just grinned right out and patted Kowalski on the cheek as he reached past him to pour a little more coffee into his own cup. Kowalski batted his hand away.

"You always this cheerful in the morning?" he asked, slouching down in one of the kitchen chairs and burying his face in his cup.

"Not always," Ray responded, his tone carefully light.

Kowalski's sleepy eyes looked up at him shrewdly over the edge of his cup. "Just after a good -"

"Ray." Fraser cut him off sharply.

"What?" Kowalski's tone was artfully innocent. "Good night's sleep is what I was going to say." He looked at Fraser. "Why, what did you think I meant?"

Fraser frowned at him. "Be nice," he said firmly.

"I'm always nice," Kowalski muttered, slouching down so far he almost slid off his seat.

Ray hid his grin behind his coffee cup. There were eight million things they weren't talking about, but Christ, that was A-OK with him right now. He needed some time, here. He shivered a little, remembering Fraser's face last night as he fucked Kowalski. Even just thinking about all of it sent a sharp pang through him, and that was - that was - God, he couldn’t even think about all this right now, not before he'd even finished his first cup of coffee. He'd think about it later. When there was time. He was here for another week; it would all work itself out.

It seemed okay between the three of them. Kowalski relaxed a little - he was still his edgy, sarcastic self, but it was better than the silently stewing Kowalski that they'd had to deal with before. And Fraser - when Fraser was happy, there was nothing better, and he'd been walking around with one of those shatteringly happy smiles lurking right around the edges of his mouth. He kept touching both Ray and Kowalski, like he was checking to make sure that, yeah, they were both there. He'd run his hand over Kowalski's back as he walked by him, or lean over Ray to see what he was reading, his hand clasping Ray's shoulder warm and tight.

It sent shivers through Ray's body, and when he closed his eyes, he would get a pornographic medley of Fraser, naked and hard and watching him through lidded eyes. He hadn't been this perpetually turned on since high school. And he was trying really fucking hard to make sense of this. Because he wasn't - he'd never thought he was that way. He just hadn't. Fraser, yeah, he could see that. He didn't even have to squint much, and it made a few things about how Fraser acted make a little more sense to him.

And Kowalski - hell, he looked like the kind of guy who wasn't going to split hairs over this sort of thing. Not that he was desperate, but - Ray hadn't known him long, but the guy sure as hell wore his heart on his sleeve, and the thing was, it was clear that he loved Fraser. It had been clear to Ray back in that hotel room when he was still the Bookman, and it was clear to him now. And he'd known Kowalski had loved Stella, too, so maybe - sure, maybe the guy was just straight-out queer, but maybe you just can't pick the people you fall for, and when Kowalski fell, he fell hard, and Fraser being a guy was just another part of the whole package. The whole package he clearly loved.

That made sense, too.

Ray, though - he was walking around with alternating waves of lust and a weird sort of embarrassment washing over him. He didn't know what to make of it. He couldn't look at Fraser without wanting him, and it was sort of freaking him out. And he couldn't look at Kowalski without thinking about the curve of his back, the way his head hung down between his arms, the look on his face as Fraser fucked him for the first time in a pretty long time. That look - it hadn't been about sex, or at least not just about sex. Kowalski looked like he'd been needing that, needing Fraser like that. And again - still - Ray couldn’t understand why Kowalski had been dumb enough to leave in the first place.

But it was, on the whole, fine. Fraser had taken time off, but just because he wasn’t off RCMPing didn’t mean there wasn't work to do. Ray hadn't really thought about that - how up here, the day to day stuff wasn't, like, swinging by the grocery store and the dry cleaners. It was outdoors type stuff. Physical type stuff. Stuff with axes and hammers and guns and all of it taking place out in the freezing cold and snow and it was all just very much not Ray's thing.

He had on the boots he'd bought - the ones that had seemed decent in Chicago, but were less so here in snow that came up to your knee, easy, on a good day - and these cool flannel-lined slacks he'd picked up the last day before he came, with a thick cable-knit sweater. He had his coat wrapped around him and a warm hat on his head and his gloved hands shoved in his pockets as he stood outside and watched Kowalski messing with the engine of Fraser's truck.

And he was still really fucking cold.

Kowalski was leaning over the front of the truck, no gloves on, fiddling with some valve or socket or something. He had a wrench in his hand, and the thick coat he was wearing had to be made out of some magical fabric, because he wasn't even shivering. "The problem with you," Kowalski said, like they'd been in the middle of a conversation. When really, the last thing he'd said to Ray had been a demand that he hand him the very wrench he was holding. "The problem with you," he said again, frowning down into the innards of the truck. "Is that you're not really the outdoorsy type."

Ray stared at him incredulously. "That is an astonishing and completely original observation, Stanley." He shivered and shoved his hands further into his pockets.

Kowalski grunted and leaned forward on both hands, still staring into the truck's engine with his brow furrowed. "Yeah," he said absently. "And Fraser - he's, like, Mister Outdoors." He reached forward and poked at something in the engine. "He's all into…this." Kowalski waved one hand around, apparently indicating the whole snowy landscape.

Ray glanced around. There was a whole lot of nothing. Snow and the occasional tree and yeah, there were other houses within eyesight, but the closest one was still a hell of a lot further away than Ray would ever want to walk. The air was sharp and cold, so cold the snow was frozen on top and snapped under your feet when you walked. Where they were standing was right outside the garage off to one side of the cabin, and Fraser was back chopping more wood - Ray could hear the ringing sound of the axe from here. Dief was inside. On the couch, probably. Dief was smart.

Ray sighed. His feet were freezing in his boots. The back of his neck, where his hat didn't come down far enough, was icy cold. He'd gotten to the point where he couldn't stop shivering. "No clue," he said, making an effort to sound bored. "Canada's not all outdoor sports and wildlife recreation, you know."

Kowalski looked up from the engine, finally, and gave Ray a sideways grin. "For Fraser, it is." He rubbed the back of his wrist against his forehead, still looking at Ray.

Ray rocked back on his heels and resisted the urge to punch Kowalski. He was deliberately baiting him. Ray knew it, and Kowalski knew it, and Ray could be the bigger man here. "You fix it?" he asked, nodding towards the engine.

Kowalski blinked, dropping his hand and looking at the engine again. "I think so," he said. He had a streak of grease across his forehead, now, and it drew Ray's eye. Ray knew he was staring, and couldn't make himself stop.

Kowalski dug into his coat pocket, pulling out a set of keys and tossing them to Ray. "Start it up, will you?"

Ray - who had caught the keys deftly - nodded. "Sure." He slipped into the driver's seat of the truck. The ignition caught on the first try, and Kowalski tilted sideways around the hood, giving Ray a thumbs-up.

When Ray came back around the truck, after shutting it off, Kowalski was wiping his hands on a rag, and slamming down the hood. He still had the streak on his forehead, and he looked at Ray. "You ready to go in?"

"Yeah." Ray cleared his throat, his mouth suddenly dry. "Yeah. Let's go get Fraser."

Kowalski gave him a long look. "Yeah, okay. Come on."

Ray was so cold his feet were numb. The cabin was warmer than outside, but the fire had died down, and he couldn't feel his fingers enough to get the laces on his boots undone. He knelt by the doorway, struggling with them, as Fraser built up the fire again. Kowalski had shed his coat, his boots, his scarf, and was standing there, watching Ray with deep amusement on his face. Ray was doing his best to ignore him.

He finally, finally got them undone, and got to his feet, tugging the boots off before heading directly for the fire. He had his hands out, but Kowalski tugged his arm, pulling him back. "If you warm them up too quickly, it's gonna hurt."

Ray shot a dubious look at Fraser, who nodded. "He's right," he said, sounding apologetic. "We probably kept you outdoors too long - you're not used to this level of cold."

"I grew up in Chicago," Ray says, keeping his voice steady through his shivering. "You ever been in Chicago in the winter? I can handle the cold." The fire was up, and roaring with the fresh wood, but Ray could barely feel it.

"Sure," said Kowalski, still amused. He slid his hands over Ray's - how were Kowalski's hands warm already? - and cupped them in his. He brought them to his mouth, breathing slow and hot against them.

It hurt, like Kowalski'd said it would, the heat of his breath running over Ray's fingers, but it felt good. It felt really good, and Ray's body gave an involuntary shudder, a jolt of heat shooting down his spine. Kowalski breathed again, his eyes cast down, not looking at Ray, and this time the jolt of heat went directly to Ray's dick. "Fuck," he said, softly, and Kowalski looked up at him through his eyelashes.

"Hurts?" he asked, and all Ray could do was nod shakily. "Sorry," Kowalski murmured, and breathed again. Ray's heart was racing, and his dick was hard, now, and just -

"Ray." Fraser came back in from the bedroom, his arms full of blankets. "Let's get you warm."

"Right," Ray said hoarsely, tugging his hands out of Kowalski's grasp. Because he was warm. He was plenty warm. He was still shaking, but it was a whole other thing now and being cold had nothing whatso-fucking-ever to do with it.

Fraser looked at him, concerned. "Ray, you're shaking." He dropped the blankets on the floor, and came over to rub his hands up and down Ray's arms. "You stayed out much too long," he said, sounding like someone's grandmother, all chiding and anxious. "You're not acclimated yet, you need to -" He seemed to notice, finally, that Ray was practically panting here, trying like hell to get himself under control when his whole body seemed to think that any touch at all meant sex sex sex. He was thrumming with it, and his dick was so hard he couldn't think about anything else at all. Except for how hot Fraser's hands were as they touched him, how close Fraser was, how if Fraser leaned in just a little, just a tiny bit, they'd be close enough to -

Fraser was looking at him intently and his hands slowed on Ray's arms. He leaned towards Ray like he wasn't even aware of it. "Are you -" he said, his voice low and intent, and then he was kissing Ray, and holy Christ, holy fuck, Ray's body was all over that. It was sex times ten, like his body had learned something the night before, and this was building on it, jacking him up, shoving him forward to press against Fraser and moan into his mouth. He didn't care about anything, anything at all except Fraser up against him, and Christ, Fraser was hard, too, the guy went from zero to sixty there, all at once. Jesus - so hot.

And from there, things just - sped up. Slowed down. Something. He felt like he was going crazy with this, maybe. Fraser was stripping him out of his clothes, quickly and competently. The fire was roaring, and Fraser's mouth was on his and at the same time, he felt Kowalski, hard up behind him, mouthing the back of his neck at that very spot that had been freezing in the wind outside. Kowalski's mouth, wet and hot, right there, was killing him - he couldn't move, couldn't breathe.

Fraser's hands were undoing his pants, sliding inside, palming his dick, and he felt like he was going to shake apart, or come right there, or -

He didn't know, he didn't know. They ended up on the floor, and he never remembered getting down there, but there were blankets and furs and the fire behind them, and he was in between Fraser and Kowalski. Kowalski was pressing him down on his back, sliding his hand up his cheek. Ray shifted, kissing Kowalski, slipping his tongue into his mouth as Kowalski moaned and shoved his cock against Ray's hip.

Fraser's hand was on Ray's dick, jerking it slowly, too slowly, and Ray had to pull away from Kowalski's mouth, rolling over, needing something to press against. He slid on top of Fraser, and yeah, full-body contact was the way to go. Fraser had lost his clothes at some point, too, and his cock was right up against Ray's. Ray shoved up against him. Fraser's head was thrown back, and the line of his neck, catching the jumping firelight, was impossible to resist. Ray leaned forward, licking his neck. He was really going to lose it here.

Fraser was moving his hips underneath him, stroking his cock right up against Ray's, and it felt so good, so damn good. "Don't," Ray whispered, ducking his head against Fraser's neck, and trying to think of the cold outside, freezing, anything to keep him from - "Don't," he said again, frantically. "I can't -"

Fraser rolled them over, pushing Ray down into the blankets. He looked down at Ray. "I want you to," he said, his voice all low, and Ray groaned, his cock throbbing.

Fraser glanced over at Kowalski and paused for a moment, his lip caught between his teeth, before working his way down Ray's body, tasting him as he went. His mouth was so hot, and Ray squeezed his eyes shut, turned his head to the side. When he opened them, Kowalski was there next to him, watching them intently and jerking himself off, his hand moving in a steady rhythm on his cock.

He met Ray's eyes then dropped his gaze to where Fraser was - "Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh holy fuck." Ray's hands were tight in Fraser's hair without ever having made the decision to move, holding on, holding him there and jerking his hips up, fucking Fraser's mouth. Fraser took him down and Ray couldn't stop watching Kowalski's fist around his cock, and Kowalski's eyes on Fraser's mouth, and God, what Fraser was doing to him, and it was too much, it was all so very much… He cried out, fisting his hands in Fraser's hair and coming in Fraser's mouth.

He had his head thrown back, panting at the ceiling, and he heard Kowalski breathe out, "Fraser," in this rough, fucked-up voice. Fraser let Ray's cock slide out of his mouth, and Ray moaned again. When he managed to open his eyes, Kowalski had pushed Fraser back onto the scattered blankets, and was kissing him hungrily, still jerking himself, and as Ray watched, he came, spurting all over Fraser's stomach.

Ray couldn't move at all - couldn’t even sum up the energy to feel weird or bad or wrong about this. All he could do was lie there and watch as Kowalski kept kissing Fraser over and over again, Fraser with his head tilted back just letting himself be kissed. It occurred to Ray that Fraser was the only one who hadn't - he looked down, and Fraser's cock was softening against his thigh. Wow. Fraser had come before. When he was blowing Ray. Just from blowing Ray. That was - he had - Ray didn't even know what to do with that.

It had grown dark outside as they'd been here; deep darkness outside the windows, darker than it ever got in the city. The fire was burning brightly, sending shadows soaring around the room, and Ray was so warm he couldn't remember what cold felt like.

Kowalski was sprawled on the couch in worn sweat pants about two sizes too big that Ray would have bet money were Fraser's. He had a ratty gray t-shirt on, as well, and these thick socks, and he was taking up three-quarters of the couch, apparently having staged and won a war with Dief for dominion, since Dief was curled in the corner of the room, every line of his furry body radiating petulance.

Ray sat down in the space left next to him and watched as Kowalski flipped patiently through the maybe fourteen channels that came in up here. Fraser had a television - yet another modern device surely left over from Kowalski's stay - a smallish one, but a television just the same.

Fraser was in town - he was off for the week, yeah, but he'd gotten called in to work to take care of something before Kowalski was even out of bed that morning. Ray, bored, had cooked breakfast, cleaned up the kitchen, and gone out to look dubiously at the chopping block for a few minutes before coming back inside. Plenty of wood to last till Fraser got home, or Kowalski got out of bed, at least.

He'd been thinking about his ticket home, that felt like it was burning its way through the side pocket of his travel bag when he asked, "Hey, did you get the same flight back as me, too?"

Kowalski's didn't look up from the television, and his position didn't change, but Ray picked up on the tension that immediately showed in his limbs. Kowalski's body language was as easy to read as the wolf's. He shrugged.

Ray sighed softly, thinking about how the trip here had sucked with Kowalski along for the ride and betting to himself that the trip back was probably going to be even worse.

"Do you mind?" Kowalski thumbed the volume up higher on the television. "I'm trying to watch." He was glaring at the TV, apparently engrossed in a show about ice-fishing.

Ray stared at him. "I didn't even say anything."

"You're talking now." Kowalski hit the button again, turning the volume up to a maddening level.

"Chill, Stanley," Ray say, irritated.

"Whatever." Kowalski shifted slightly on the couch, and then - deliberately, holding the remote so Ray could see it - hit the volume button again.

The living room was awash with the blasted instructions on how best to bait a hook, and Dief, with a wounded look, got up and went into the bedroom.

"Don't be an ass," Ray said, leaning forward and grabbing for the remote.

Kowalski held it out of his reach and kept looking at the television, squinting now, like he was trying to follow along.

"Kowalski." Ray tried to put the dangerous edge to his voice, but they were arguing over a TV remote, for crying out loud, and he felt like an idiot.

Kowalski ignored him.

"For Christ's sake." Ray got up, slammed the TV off by hand.

"Fuck you." Kowalski hit the button, turned it back on.

Something inside Ray snapped. Kowalski was stupid, ridiculous, a child. What the fuck did Fraser see in him, anyway? He strode back to the couch, and grabbed at the remote, and Kowalski growled - growled! - and fought him for it. The two of them tussled there - so fucking stupid - on the couch, clawing at each other. Ray had his arm across Kowalski's throat as he grabbed for his reaching-out hand. Kowalski elbowed him in the stomach, hard.

"Oof." He made a wild grab, knocking the remote out of Kowalski's hand and onto the floor with a clatter.

The TV was still screaming in the background and Kowalski was struggling under him. He shoved Ray up and back into the corner of the couch, immediately following him and holding him down, and fuck it, he didn't know when to stop, he was like a kid, he was - Jesus, he was hard. Ray could feel him up against his thigh. He was hard and he was kissing Ray, rough and wet, all teeth and tongue, gasping up against his mouth and holding him down. Ray's hands were fisted in the back of Kowalski's t-shirt, and he was trying to haul him away, maybe, or maybe just holding him there, because this - Kowalski struggling on top of him, so rough and out of control - was turning Ray on, fast and hard.

Kowalski yanked his mouth away, leaving Ray gasping, and slid to the floor, kneeling between Ray's legs. He palmed Ray's cock through his pants, pressing down hard, hard enough that it maybe should have hurt, but instead just ratcheted Ray up more. He reached down and fisted Kowalski's hair. Kowalski moaned and thumbed open the button on Ray's pants with hands that shook, tugged down his zipper.

When Kowalski took him in his mouth, it was so hot and so deep and Ray's fingers were threaded in Kowalski's hair and he couldn't breathe. The television blared and he couldn't concentrate, couldn't hear or feel or see. All he could focus on was Kowalski sucking him, taking all of him. He felt Kowalski's arm moving, realized Kowalski was jerking off as he swallowed Ray down.

He looked down at Kowalski's head buried in his lap, and he loosened his hand, moved it down through Kowalski's hair and cupped the back of his neck, arching up and gasping as he came in Kowalski's mouth.

Afterwards - after Kowalski swallowed, after Kowalski pressed his face against Ray's thigh, jerking himself off and shuddering hard as he came - after all that, when Ray still had his hand on Kowalski's neck, Kowalski reached out with one flailing hand and hit a button. The TV shut off and the sudden silence seemed louder than anything in the world. Ray had his head back, his eyes closed, as his breath slowed down, and he felt Kowalski shift, there, on his knees, felt Kowalski's hair brushing against his stomach.

"I'm not going." Ray felt Kowalski's lips move against the skin of his thigh. "Back, I mean." He breathed out, warm against Ray's skin. "I'm not going back to Chicago."

Ray tightened his hold on the back of Kowalski's neck. It hadn't occurred to him - he hadn't thought - "Okay," he said, and he kept his voice gentle. "Okay," he said again, and he held on to Kowalski's neck, because he didn't know what else to do.

The days fell into kind of a pattern - Kowalski came and went as he pleased during the day, but Fraser was mostly around, showing Ray around town, bringing him along on errands. Things were a little tense with the three of them, but mostly okay. Ray slept on the couch, and didn't listen to hear if anything was going on in the bedroom, and it was - okay.

It was a few days later that Kowalski took the snowmobile into town again, looking for parts for Fraser's truck. It struck Ray that it was the first time he and Fraser had been well and truly alone since - well, since things got more complicated than Ray had been prepared for. They were in the living room, on the couch. Fraser was drinking tea, and Ray was drinking one of Kowalski's beers from the fridge. He worried at the label with his fingernail, peeling it off slowly.

Fraser watched his hands. "Ray," he said, and then cleared his throat. "Ray, I'm - I'm pleased that you came to visit."

"It'd been a while." Ray watched Fraser watching his hands. Fraser looked - well, in Ray's head, Fraser looked the same as he ever did, but here, when he let himself really focus, he looked a little bit older. Slightly more careworn. It was strange, how hard the life Fraser lived was. How the day to day survival type stuff did show on his face, in the light network of lines around his eyes, in the occasional glint of silver in his dark hair. "I feel like you and I haven't had a conversation since -"

Since I called from Florida to tell you I wasn't coming back. He didn't say it, but they both were thinking it. Fraser's eyes flicked to Ray's and then quickly back down again. He took a long, slow sip of tea, clearly thinking out his answer. Ray was content to see how it played out.

"You left Chicago rather quickly," Fraser said quietly. "How was -" He stopped. His brow furrowed. "What was it like, in Florida?"

Ray's chest tightened. Fraser was walking mighty close to the things he thought they both knew enough not to discuss. He took a sip of beer, and Fraser's eyes followed the bottle to his mouth.

"Hot," Ray said, finally. "A different kind of hot than Vegas." And yeah, see, he could talk about it, he could say the words and it wouldn’t change anything. Fraser, finally looking at his face, nodded. "Hot all the time, even in winter. It was - different. Everything about it was different." Different from who he was, who he had been, who he had become. In Florida, he could have reinvented himself. In Florida, he could have been the perfect husband, the perfect man, the perfect - "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

Fraser sat quietly, watching him as he thought. He was leaning forward with the mug of tea cupped in his hands, and the mug looked small and fragile encircled by his rough, large fingers. "Were you happy?"

Ray let himself think back to what it had been like, with Stella. Stella, who never belonged in a bowling alley or on a beach. Stella, who tried so hard, who kissed his lips and told him she loved him even as she pressed the divorce papers into his hands. He shrugged, finally. "Sometimes. For a while, at least. I don't regret it." And the thing was, he didn't, not really. It was something he had had to do at the time and he thought, sometimes, that if he'd stayed in Chicago, tried to drift right back into the life he used to have, he might have gone crazy. It had been easier to keep making it up as he went along, for a while. Stella, at least, hadn't expected him to be the same as he had been.

He wasn't entirely sure he remembered who he had been.

He looked up at Fraser. "Were you?" Turnabout was fair play.

Fraser was looking at him intently, his lips soft. "I thought we could have been," he said softly.

Ray felt that same tightness in his chest. They were treading on thin ice, now. But he couldn't stop himself from asking. "What about Kowalski?" He gazed at Fraser. "What did he think?"

Fraser shook his head slowly. "You have to ask him."

"I'm asking you." Ray put down the beer bottle, placing it with care on the table in front of him.

"He thought I -" Fraser paused, and gave Ray a searching look. "He thought there should have been something more. To keep him here." He licked his bottom lip thoughtfully. "Something more than just me."

Ray's throat felt tight. "Seems to me like that would be more than enough for a guy."

"That’s kind of you to say." Fraser smiled a little, and looked back down at his hands.

"Yeah, well," Ray pushed himself to his feet. "What can I say, I'm a nice guy." He headed to the kitchen to snag another beer, but he heard it when Fraser said, "Yes. You are."

Ray felt that warm glow of happiness, again, deep inside him, and he ducked down to get the beer out of the fridge, hiding his grin inside the coolness there.

Kowalski called late in the afternoon, to say he was staying in town to have dinner with a couple of the guys from the RCMP motor pool. Ray only heard Fraser's side of the conversation, and it seemed like Kowalski was slightly belligerent about his decision not to come straight back. Fraser's voice was calm and reassuring, but Ray could still tell when Kowalski hung up in the middle of a sentence, and Fraser set the phone down on the cradle with a sigh.

Ray looked at him, and Fraser just shook his head. "It's nothing unusual - he's rather like this under the best of circumstances."

Ray grinned. "Man. That is one pleasant guy you got there."

Fraser rubbed the back of his neck, looking tired. "He has his moments."

"Yeah, I bet." Jeez, what must it have been like to be out on the ice fields when Kowalski got his panties in a twist like this? Must have been a barrel of laughs. Must have been torture.

Fraser stood there for a moment, just looking at Ray. Fraser was all casual today, with neat blue jeans and a button-down shirt that looked old and soft. His feet were bare, sticking out from under his jeans, and his hair was falling down over his forehead a little. He looked good, he looked really good, and just -

Christ, it was crazy. Ray had had more sex in the past week than he'd had in a long goddamn time, and still, Fraser just standing there was enough to turn him on. Again. Still. It felt like he had this low-grade buzz going on constantly here, never quite dying down. He wanted it all the time, and just - Kowalski sucking his cock was one thing, but suddenly, with him and Fraser alone in the room, and Fraser just looking at him, it felt ridiculously intimate.

It was like - okay, for the first time since he'd gotten to this crazy-ass country, it was like he was making a decision, and not just being dragged along by events. He took a breath, and moved forward, until he was standing right in front of Fraser. Fraser still had his hand on the back of his neck, and he dropped it slowly, looking at Ray.

"Benny," Ray said, and his voice came out soft and quiet and sure. "Can I -?"

Fraser nodded slowly. "I want you to."

"Good." Ray looped his arms slowly around Fraser's neck. "That's good." He made himself go slow, and he kissed Fraser soft, trying to put everything into that one kiss. Fraser's hands slid around his waist, hot even through his shirt, and kissed him back.

Ray was moving slowly - made the conscious decision to move slowly - because hell, this had been a long time coming. He didn't want to rush this one. Not here, not now. This was different, with just the two of them. No catalyst other than the two of them together, and what they wanted. He tugged at Fraser, moving backwards towards the bedroom. Fraser pulled back from the kiss, his breath coming fast, and moved where Ray pulled him - let himself be tugged along, watching Ray.

In the bedroom, they eased back on the bed, and Fraser spread out half on top of Ray, kissing him so long he felt dizzy with it. He had no idea how much time had passed, and he was hard, but there wasn't that desperate rush to things. They moved slowly against each other and Ray just - this felt so damn good. There was some part of his mind chanting at him that this was queer, this was crazy, this was so very queer, but just - this was Fraser. Who didn't want to do this with Fraser?

And Fraser really fucking wanted to do this with him. He was taking it slow and serious, concentrating, every bit of him focused on Ray. There was nothing like it. Everything slid slowly along, Fraser's fingers undoing Ray's shirt, his pants, sliding them off a little bit at a time, kissing him along the way in places Ray would never have thought would turn him on like this. Fraser's lips brushed against the inside of his elbow, and he shivered; Fraser drew his tongue down over the curve of Ray's hip and he bit back a groan.

When Fraser finally had both of them naked, he looked up from down around Ray's hip, and his eyes were all pupil. "Ray," he said in this hoarse voice. "Ray."

"Yeah, Fraser, yeah," he murmured. Like he would ever say no to Fraser. Like he had ever been able to say no.

When Fraser lay back and pulled Ray on top of him, Ray said, all low and deep, "Yeah." And when Fraser whispered hot in his ear that he wanted Ray to fuck him, Ray shuddered and again, said yes. Fraser showed him what to do - Fraser showed him everything - and it still didn't seem weird or bad or wrong or even queer. It just seemed inevitable, and when he was deep inside Fraser, with Fraser flat on his stomach on the bed, sweating and shaking under him and murmuring incomprehensible words against the blankets, Ray just pressed his mouth against Fraser's shoulder and held onto him as tight as he could.

The fucking was like the kissing - like riding a wave, going in deep and pulling out slow and fuck, Fraser's moaning was killing him here, just killing him. The slow rhythm of moving with Fraser was nothing like the hard, driving rhythm that took over when the three of them fucked around together. This was - different, this was so fucking different, and when Fraser shook, and shuddered, and came underneath him, he cried out Ray's name, with that distinctive tone that made it completely obvious which Ray he was calling for.

Ray buried his face against Fraser's neck and fucked him, harder than before, drove into him over and over again until Fraser was moaning continually against the blankets. Ray was panting against Fraser's neck, suddenly desperate to come, certain that he'd break apart when he did. Break into a million pieces right here, because how could this be so fucking good and still leave him whole?

He knew he was saying things against Fraser's ear, stupid things about life and love and Canada and Kowalski that he'd never have said out loud ever except that fucking Fraser was tearing his soul out. He came, whimpering against Fraser's neck, and collapsed on top of him, pinning him to the bed with the weight of his whole body. Fraser didn't complain, and when Ray made a half-hearted move to lift himself off - let the guy breathe - Fraser's hand reached back and held onto his hip awkwardly, holding him in place, while Fraser whispered into the sheets, "Stay."

Ray - his heart still pounding - pressed his forehead to the back of Fraser's neck. Stay here now? Or stay here - stay here, in Canada? "Yeah," he said helplessly, because he meant it, either way. "Benny, I - yeah."

"Good," Fraser said, holding onto him tight. "That's good."

Ray didn't even know if Kowalski had told Fraser yet, that he wasn't going back. He didn't even know if Kowalski wanted Fraser to know. There seemed to be a hell of a lot more things that Ray didn't know than things he did know.

The night after he fucked Fraser, he ended up sleeping on the couch. He'd fallen asleep there watching TV with Fraser, the sound down low, his feet tucked warm under Fraser's thigh. He woke up a little when Fraser tugged the blanket off the back of the couch and covered him with it, but he was too warm and comfortable to rouse himself. And later, he'd been aware of it when Fraser eased himself off the couch. Ray stretched out a little more, and Fraser covered him with the heavier furs and blankets from the cedar chest.

He had no idea how much later it was that he half-woke to the sound of the front door opening, the rush of cold air coming in for a moment. He shivered and curled himself more deeply under the covers.

"It's late." That was Fraser's voice, pitched low, from the doorway to the bedroom.

Ray heard the twin thumps of Kowalski taking his boots off by the door. "I know. Sorry."

Ray had half-expected Kowalski to be drunk, but he didn't sound it.

Fraser made a sound that wasn't quite a sigh. "I missed you," he said.

Under the thick covers, Ray tensed.

"You had him." Kowalski had moved forward, was standing near Ray on the couch.

"I meant before," Fraser said. "When you went back to -"

"Yeah," Kowalski cut him off. "Yeah." His voice gentled a little. "I know."

There was a long pause, and then Kowalski moved towards the bedroom door, towards Fraser. "I missed you, too," he said roughly.

Fraser drew in a breath. "Then why -"

"Don't." Kowalski sounded tired. "I mean - not right now. Okay?" There was the soft sound of fabric and Fraser's breathing, and then - oh. They were kissing, there in the bedroom doorway. "Let's just -"

"Come to bed," Fraser said, all low and rough.


There was the sound of the door closing, and then Ray was alone with the quiet snapping of the fire and Dief snuffling in his sleep in the corner. He could hear quiet, quiet murmuring behind the door. He thought - he didn't know. He thought he should feel left out, maybe, but - they needed this. Needed to talk, badly. Even he knew that. And Kowalski was so fucked up - all those issues tying him up in knots and if throwing himself at the both of them was Kowalski's way of dealing, well, Ray had seen worse ways.

He was tired, and warm, and he pulled the covers closer around himself and fell asleep to the hushed sound of talking, and dreamt about snow.

Ray found himself going to check his ticket in the side-pocket of his bag again and again, like one of those times it'd be gone and he wouldn't have to think about the fact that he was supposed to be on a flight out of there in two days and he had to decide if he was really actually going to stay here. Kowalski was being more of an asshole than usual, and Ray still didn’t know if he'd told Fraser he wasn't planning on going back.

It made for some tension.

Ray, himself, was feeling kind of twitchy and having Kowalski banging in and out of the cabin like a kid hyped up on too much sugar wasn't helping. Kowalski kept going out to get wood. Or some air. Or to run around in the snow with Dief, or so he said, but Ray had looked out the window and saw him leaning up against the wood shed, smoking a cigarette and squinting up at the sky as Dief nosed through the snow in front of him. Kowalski's head would rest back against the wall, and he's smoke slowly, the smoke from his cigarette and his breath mixing in the cold air.

One time Ray got caught up in watching him, didn't realize how long he'd been standing there until Fraser put a hand on his shoulder. He started, halfway turning, but Fraser was staring out the window, too, watching Kowalski as he finished his smoke and pushed himself off the side of the shed. Ray watched as he bent, putting out the cigarette in the snow and then pocketed the butt, and grinned a little. That was totally something he'd had beaten into him by Fraser. Had to have been.

He looked at Fraser, who was still watching Kowalski - out in the snow now, throwing half-hearted snowballs for Dief, who bounded after them every time like he was still a puppy. "I didn't know he smoked," Ray said. "He doesn't smell like it." Or taste like it, he added to himself.

"He doesn't, usually. Only when he's -" Fraser rubbed the back of his head, turning his gaze from Kowalski to Ray. "Only when he's like this."

Ray nodded slowly. "Is he -" Staying? Do you want him to stay? Did he even tell you? Did you ask? "…all right?" he finished lamely.

Fraser leaned back against the sink, his arms crossed neatly over his chest. He was wearing a plain blue shirt, flannel, cuffs rolled up neatly to just above his elbows. The shirt made his eyes look incredibly blue. Ray ducked his head a little, pressing his forehead against the cool glass window of the back door.

"He's -" Fraser seemed to be searching for the words. "It's complicated," he said finally. "It shouldn't be, but there you go." He traced his bottom lip with his tongue, still thinking. "He worries about too much - about why he came here, what he wants, how I feel about him, how I worry about how he worries…" Fraser's lips curved into a small smile. "I've told him that so long as there's love there - and he does love me, I know that - we can figure the rest of it out." He shrugged, dropping his eyes. "He doesn’t believe me."

Ray had his own arms crossed over his chest, and he tilted his head against the cool glass, looking at Fraser. "He's an idiot," Ray said softly.

Fraser shrugged again. "I've come to accept that he's a…challenge."

Ray turned entirely around to lean back against the door. He rolled his shoulder, his neck aching. "You've never backed down from a challenge."

Fraser tilted his head a little, watching Ray. "He's staying. He says he's not going back to Chicago."

"Yeah." Ray's heart had kicked into triple time, but he just leaned there, and kept his voice steady. "Yeah, he told me."

"Oh." Fraser was studying him. God, this was Fraser, this was the guy he followed into dumpsters and garbage chutes and alleyways and gunfights. This was the guy he spent more time with during those years he was his partner in Chicago than he did anyone else. He knew this guy, you know? He'd been dancing around the subject here, and now he had to just say it.

"Fraser, listen, you're probably right, Kowalski probably does love you." Definitely loved Fraser. "He's a handful, and you've got to know that too, by now."

Fraser nodded slightly.

"Right." Ray pushed forward off the door, slid his hands into his trouser pockets. He gave Fraser his best tough-guy look. "So it’s not just up to him, is it?"

Fraser paused, and then shook his head slowly. "No."

"So the real question is, do you want him to stay?"

"Yes." Fraser's head came up and there was no hesitation in his voice.

"Okay, then." Ray's heart was still beating fast. Put up or shut up. He took in some air, and let it out slow. "Do you want me to stay?"

He'd nailed the tone, curious, cool, but Fraser's eyes had gone all dark again and he'd dropped his hands from where they were crossed, and taken a step towards Ray. "Would you -"

The door behind Ray slammed open, catching his shoulder and sending him back a step. "Watch it!" He turned angrily on Kowalski, who was half-covered with snow, clearly having been bested by the wolf in the snow fight. Dief trotted in behind Kowalski, looking pleased, and headed directly for the fire in the living room.

Kowalski was looking between the two of them, clearly aware he'd missed something.

"What?" he demanded. "What the fuck are you looking at?"

Fraser sighed. "We were discussing how charming and delightful you are." He turned around to the stove, reaching for the kettle. "Tea, anyone?"

"Damn right I'm delightful." Kowalski was struggling sullenly out of his coat. He had snowflakes caught in the spikes of his hair.

"Yeah, you're a prize, Stanley." Ray moved and sat down at the kitchen table, watching as Fraser filled the kettle at the sink. He could have murdered Kowalski where he stood.

When he looked back, Kowalski was looking sharply at him, his coat hanging from his hand.

Ray raised one eyebrow. "What?"

Kowalski tilted his head to the side. "Nothing." He turned abruptly to Fraser. "What did you tell him?"

Fraser stood there blinking, tea kettle in hand. "Ray - nothing, I -"

"What did you tell him?" Kowalski had flung his coat to the floor and was standing in front of Fraser, practically vibrating with tension. "Why are you talking about us - me - to him?"

"He's my friend, Ray." Fraser's voice was steady and he looked ready to take Kowalski on. "And yours, I think, if you'd unbend enough to allow it."

Kowalski didn't even spare Ray a glance. "I got enough friends. I don't need him."

"Don't worry," Ray murmured just loud enough for Kowalski to hear, shifting a little in his seat.

"You, shut up." Kowalski shot him a glare over his shoulder. "I ain't talking to you." He turned back to Fraser. "And you -" He flung his arms out. "What's your plan here, huh? You want everything to go back just how it was? You looking to Vecchio for advice on how to make it work? I got a clue for you, Fraser: twice-divorced cop so deep in the closet he can't find his ass with both hands? Not your best source of relationship info."

Fraser turned stiffly to put the kettle back on the stove. "Ray, if you can't be reasonable -"

Kowalski grabbed Fraser's arm, spun him around. "I am reasonable out the fucking ass, Fraser." Kowalski was right up in Fraser's face now. "You're the one who's -" He seemed to remember, all of a sudden, that Ray was there watching their domestic spat in all its elegant glory. He threw up his hands, pushed away from Fraser. Took two steps towards the back door, then swung back around, headed towards the living room. He got to the doorway, and stopped, hung there for a second with his hands gripping both sides of the door tightly, before turning again, and taking three swift steps towards Ray.

Ray looked up at him, going for an expression of bored relaxation even though his shoulders were so tense they felt like they were up around his ears. "You gonna start with me, Kowalski?" He kept his voice quiet, calm. Dangerous.

"Yeah, I'm gonna start with you, yeah, Vecchio," he said, two fingers right in Ray's face. "You - I want to know what you're even doing here. You abandon Fraser for years, and suddenly, you're buddies? Suddenly, you're up here, making everything all -" He waved his hand around angrily. "You don't even belong here."

Ray's face was hot and he wanted nothing so much as to punch Kowalski right in the mouth, but instead he just gave him the stoniest look he could manage. "Neither do you, sweetheart."

Kowalski's face went white like Ray had punched him. "Fuck you," he said, and his voice was angry and miserable, heart on his goddamn sleeve. "Fuck both of you." His hands were clenched into tight fists and Ray was poised to move if he so much as twitched, but instead he turned and stormed out of the kitchen, out into the living room. A moment later, the heavy wooden front door slammed so loud that the house shook.

Dief poked his nose in the kitchen, giving both of them a "what the fuck?" look before sniffing and deliberately turning his back on them and heading back to the living room.

Ray looked at Fraser, who had just stood there the whole time, watching. Fraser turned back to the stove, starting the burner beneath the kettle. "Benny," Ray said, rubbing the back of his neck. "He's not okay."

Fraser moved to lean on the counter with his back to Ray, both hands braced, his head bowed. "He's scared," he said. "He doesn't know if he wants this. Me. This." He took a deep breath. "And I just don't know how to -" He stopped, shook his head.

"Yeah." Ray stared at Fraser's back. There was a weird twisting in his chest, as he figured out, finally, that he wasn't the only one Fraser loved. That it was both of them - all three of them - tied up in this, and maybe it always had been. "Yeah, I know." He got that. He got that real good.

Kowalski had left his coat on the floor of the kitchen. Fraser, anxious - or pissed off- maybe both - was about to go out looking for him when he came back in, wearing Ray's long wool coat that he'd snagged from the wall by the front door when he'd stormed out. The bottom edges were soaked with snow and he had the collar half twisted in and his hands jammed in the pockets, ruining the line of the coat. He was a mess, and he was shivering, his cheeks bright red from the cold.

"Jesus," he said breathlessly, as his shoes melted snow onto the floor. "This coat sucks, Vecchio."

Ray rose from the couch and got to Kowalski just in time to save his coat from being dumped into the puddles on the floor. "It's a five hundred dollar coat," he said dryly, smoothing out the collar and hanging it neatly by the door. "And you could have asked to borrow it."

Kowalski shrugged, toeing out of his wet boots and heading straight for the fire, still shivering. "Not like it helped. Jesus, learn how to shop."

"It's a nice fucking coat, Kowalski," Ray said, offended.

Kowalski, standing as close as he could to the fire, snorted. "Learn how to shop like you'd maybe like to stay alive in Canada, then."

Fraser appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, wiping his hands on a towel. "It's a very nice coat, Ray. It's just, perhaps, not entirely practical, given the sort of weather here in Inuvik."

Ray stared at both of them. "You have no taste. None."

Kowalski shrugged easily, and looked over at Fraser. "Is there any coffee?" he asked, hopefully.

Fraser looked at him, and slowly nodded.

"Thank God." Kowalski shivered again, and turned towards the kitchen, but Fraser shook his head, gave him a push towards the bedroom.

"Go take off the wet clothes, Ray, and put on warm socks. You'll never shake off the chill, otherwise."

"Okay." Kowalski abruptly grabbed Fraser's hand. "Listen," he said. "I'm -" He shook his head impatiently. "I'm just an asshole, okay?"

The lines around Fraser's eyes crinkled. "I know."

"Okay, then." Ray watched - this was, apparently, their slightly bizarre version of the apology conversation - as Kowalski leaned in and kissed Fraser, swift and fierce, before heading for the bedroom. Fraser touched his fingers to his lips for a second, then looked at Ray and turned to the kitchen. "Would you like a cup of coffee as well, Ray?"

"Sure, Benny, thanks," Ray said vaguely, drifting along behind Kowalski to the bedroom.

Kowalski was struggling to get his jeans, soaked to the knee, off his legs. He was all skinny legs and pointy elbows as he sat on the edge of the bed with his jeans down around his knees and tugged at them. Ray just watched, leaning in the doorway, as Kowalski finally got the jeans off and onto the floor and reached for a pair of sweatpants.

"Where've you been?" Ray asked. "A little cold for a hike."

"A lot cold for a hike." Kowalski pulled the sweatpants on and looked around, shivering in his thin t-shirt.

Ray snagged Fraser's thick hooded sweatshirt off the hook on the door and tossed it at Kowalski. "He was worried about you," he said, inclining his head towards the kitchen.

"Yeah." Kowalski sighed and slipped the sweatshirt on and zipped it up. "I know, I just -" He shook his head. "I needed to get out." He looked up at Ray, his eyes suddenly bright. "What about you? Were you worried about me?"

Ray swallowed, but managed to raise one eyebrow. "You're practically Canadian. I got no worries about you."

Kowalski gave him a swift, sudden grin. "Right," he said. "Okay, then. Let's get some coffee."

"Right." Kowalski brushed by him in the doorway, and Ray's skin tingled as he passed. "Coffee. Right," he mumbled to himself, and then followed along behind.

Maybe it was a bad time for it, and maybe Ray should have waited. But with everything that had gone on so far that day, he felt like it was worth it to take the risk. Fraser had left them alone in the kitchen - his shoulders were still tense, and Ray had a feeling this particular fight between him and Kowalski was nowhere near finished.

Ray looked at Kowalski over the lip of his coffee mug. "Why did you leave?" he asked, not looking for a fight. "Why did you go back to Chicago?"

Kowalski stared down into his own coffee mug. "Relationships fail." He gestured uselessly. "It doesn't take any one big thing. There's hardly ever any one big thing." He looked up at Ray. "What happened with you and Stella?"

Ray stalled. "What?"

"You heard me. Point to it. Tell me the one thing that fucked you up."

"I -" And the thing was, there wasn't. There were a dozen things he could see, but to put it into words, here, now - it was impossible. It wasn't any one thing. It was life. It was them, and how they didn't fit together the way he'd thought they would.

"And besides." Kowalski just sounded tired now. "Fraser."

"Fraser," Ray repeated faintly.

"He's never done this." Kowalski rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know what you were thinking by coming here, what you fucking expected, but Fraser isn't - this doesn't come natural to him."

"Maybe not, but - he never let go of either one of us." Ray watched as Kowalski nodded, taking another sip of coffee.

"Nope. He holds on, but it's almost like, once he's got you, he's not sure what to do with you."

"He seems to know what to do with - us." He floundered a little over the last word - how fucked up was it that he and Kowalski were an us?

"Well." Kowalski finished his coffee in one long swig. "Maybe it's a learning curve."

Ray hesitated before asking, "For you or him?"

Kowalski rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands. "For all of us, maybe."

Ray had no response to that, so he just drank his coffee slowly. He didn't know Fraser and Kowalski as a couple. Hell, he didn't know Fraser and himself as a couple. It was just the three of them mixed up here together. Fraser and Kowalski hadn't worked out. And Ray himself had never even given Fraser a shot before - everything. All the god damn history between them - fuck, between all three of them - maybe built up to a point where it could happen. Where they were just tired enough of all the damn losing in life to take a wild, crazy last shot.

Maybe that was screwed up, but maybe it changed everything just enough to keep it all together.

Maybe he was going crazy, but if he was, well, this seemed to be the place to do it.

Kowalski was the one that fell asleep on the couch that night, restless and twitchy. He woke up when Fraser rested a hand on his shoulder, smiling over at Ray in the dim room as he gently shook Kowalski awake. "I'm up," he said, instantly, incoherently. He swung himself to sitting, and stretched, yawning. "Bedtime?" he asked.

"Yes, Ray."

"Okay." He got up, and stretched again, then reached out his hand towards Ray. Palm up. Peace offering. Ray stared at it for a moment before taking it. Kowalski's hand was freezing and Ray instinctively tightened his hold even as he turned to look at Fraser, to see if he was on the same - confused - page here.

Fraser was looking between the two of them, back and forth, his face hopeful and serious.

"Hey," Kowalski said gently, touching Fraser's cheek with the hand that wasn't wrapped in Ray's. "If we're gonna do this, let's do this, okay? Let's just - we'll see. Let's see."

"Yes," Fraser said, his gaze drifting to Ray. "All right, Ray?"

"Yeah, Benny," Ray said hoarsely. "I - yeah." He was turned on - hard and hot and sweating and nothing had even happened yet. He and Kowalski were just holding hands, for Christ's sake.

"Come on," said Kowalski, and his voice was softer than Ray had ever heard it. "Come on." He drew them both into the bedroom.

And a lot of it was stuff they'd done before. Slower, maybe - Kowalski was taking his time with a patience Ray hadn't thought he possessed. He stood behind Fraser, taking off Fraser's shirt slowly, raising his eyebrows at Ray over Fraser's shoulder as he pressed a kiss to the curve of Fraser's neck. It was a challenge, a suggestion, and Ray swallowed and stepped forward, tugging Fraser's belt open. Fraser's breath was coming fast and hot as Ray's fingers fumbled with the button and the zipper, and he tilted his face to press his lips softly against Ray's as he slid his jeans down.

Kowalski was watching them with lidded eyes. "Hey," he said, helping Fraser get his jeans the rest of the way off. "Let's go to bed, yeah?"

Fraser nodded mutely, and Kowalski shed his clothes easy as anything, naked before Ray even had his shirt all the way unbuttoned. It all seemed to move so slowly - Fraser and Kowalski on the bed together, kissing each other, hot and heavy, so deeply into it that Ray couldn't take his eyes away as he slid the rest of his clothes off with hands that shook and finally, finally, got onto the bed behind Kowalski.

Kowalski's head immediately turned from Fraser's, seeking Ray's mouth with his eyes still closed, his lips still wet. Ray groaned, pressing closer, his cock rocking up against Kowalski's ass. Kowalski's hand came up to cup his face and Ray could feel Fraser watching them kiss.

It was a constant, slow shift, and everything, all of it, was making Ray hot, turning him on, making him sweat. Kowalski's mouth on Fraser's neck, Fraser arching into it, was sending a slow burn through Ray's entire body. Fraser reaching across Kowalski to draw Ray close and lick his lips, mouth his jaw, taste his neck, made his pulse race. He wanted it all - he wanted more.

Ray moved from Fraser's mouth to Kowalski's, and Kowalski moaned and ran his fingers lightly down the length of Ray's back. And when Ray shifted a little, moved down to put his mouth on Kowalski's nipple, Kowalski stilled beneath him, his chest moving as he panted lightly. His nipple was hard and tight and when Ray closed his mouth around it, he tensed and groaned, muttering, "Yeah, that's good, that's good."

Ray liked that sound that Kowalski made. He shivered, and shifted again, moving further down, pressing his mouth against Kowalski's stomach, moving between Kowalski's legs.

Fraser had gone still on the bed next to them, just watching.

And - put up or shut up - Ray eyed Kowalski's dick (hard and leaking and pretty fucking big - he'd seen it before, yeah, but from this vantage point, it was - yeah.) and took a breath, ran his tongue up the shaft. Kowalski tensed again on the bed, his breath coming faster, his hands fisting at the blankets, but he didn't grab at Ray, didn't try to guide him or force him or anything, he just lay there - panting, turned on, waiting.

When Ray leaned in and - holy fuck - took a dick - Kowalski's dick - into his mouth for the first time, Kowalski let out this shattered moan, echoed a second later by Fraser. God, Fraser was getting off on this, just watching, and you know, Kowalski looked like the kind of guy who was probably pretty experienced in getting blowjobs in life, or had at least been getting blowjobs from Fraser for a while - but he was gasping like this was the hottest thing ever, like Ray's mouth on him was better than anything else they'd been doing, something different and deeply hot.

It was feeding into this whole thing, getting Ray more wound up. He wanted his mouth on Kowalski's dick, wanted to make Kowalski lose it, see how far he could push him, see how far he could push Fraser. He did it again, sucked Kowalski, and Kowalski's hips lurched, just a little. Christ - he was holding himself back, trying not to push, and -

Fuck this. Ray went for it. He wrapped his fingers around the base of Kowalski's dick and went down, deep as he could go without choking. Kowalski's hand landed on his shoulder, holding on tight. Fraser was right up next to them on the bed, watching every move, breathing hard, and his hand was resting lightly on the back of Ray's neck, not pushing or even guiding, but just there, connecting the three of them.

He couldn't hear anything and when he looked up, Fraser was kissing Kowalski. Kowalski's head was tilted back and he was giving it all up, his tongue in Fraser's mouth, his cock in Ray's mouth, and it was just so insanely hot - beautiful - all mixed up together, all three of them mixed up together, and how the hell had they ended up here?

Kowalski managed to gasp out a warning, but Ray just kept his mouth where it was, full of Kowalski's cock. And when he came, his whole body jerking with it, Ray swallowed around him before he even really thought about it. It was weird and definitely more than a little bit queer, but the sound of Kowalski's desperate breaths and the feel of Fraser's hand resting warm on the back of his neck were better than anything he'd had without the weirdness or the queerness, and, hell, that maybe kept him from minding.

Fraser was looking at him in the dimness, his head pillowed on his hand as Kowalski snored on the other side of Ray. "Ray," he said, and he brought his hand up to trace his fingers lightly over the side of Ray's face. "I - are you staying?" He swallowed, like it hurt to ask


Ray could hear his heart beating wildly, and it took everything he had to keep his voice steady. "Can I?" he asked, and it didn't sound weak or strange, because Christ, he was actually looking for logistics here. "Would it -"

"I want you to," Fraser said, and his fingers tightened on Ray's. "Don't go."

"Okay." Ray took in some air through his nose, and let it out slow. "Okay, yeah. Yes."

Fraser's arm pulled him close, tugged the covers up over his shoulder. Ray fell asleep with Fraser's arm across his waist, Kowalski's back pressed up against his.

Not like that settled a goddamn thing. Kowalski seemed to be of the mind that blowjobs were the solution to the world's problems. And, you know, blowjobs were all well and good - you wouldn't catch Ray complaining about that - but when you woke up in the morning snug between a Mountie and a former Chicago cop, with the Mountie snoring softly up at the ceiling and the cop breathing warm on the back of your neck as he mumbled and twitched in his sleep -

Well, you realized there were more questions than answers there. It was enough to make a guy crazy.

Ray tried to ease his way out of bed - not simple when you were in the middle. It turned out there was no quiet and smooth way to do it - he ended up scrambling his awkward way out from under the thick covers and crawling down between the two guys sacked out on either side of him.

Funny, Fraser was the one who muttered softly to himself and rolled over to bury his face in the pillow where Ray's head had just been. Kowalski was the one who had his eyes open when Ray finally made it to the foot of the bed and turned around. It was dim in here and the room reeked of sex. Kowalski's hair was standing up in eight different directions and he pushed up on one elbow. Ray couldn't take his eyes off the tattoo on his bicep, remembering running his tongue over the edge of it last night.

He looked up with a start, shivering in the cold of the room, when Kowalski said, real soft, "Hey - everything all right?"

Ray gave Kowalski a long look. "Loaded question."

Kowalski's lips curled up in a half grin. "True enough."

Ray spotted a pair of sweatpants on the floor and tugged them on. "Go back to sleep." He tilted his head towards Fraser. "Don't wake him up. He needs it."

Kowalski settled back with a soft groan. "I need it."

Fraser, in his sleep, eased closer to Kowalski, and Ray watched them for a second before heading to the kitchen to make coffee.

It was pretty damn early - hard to tell with the fucked-up rising and setting of the sun, but Ray found his watch on the coffee table and, squinting, saw it was just shy of six am. He dug around in his bag and shrugged, shivering still, into a thick knit sweater. He needed a shower, but he needed coffee more.

Two cups of coffee and a nice hot shower later, he was on the couch, dressed in slacks, comfortable ones, and a thick button-down shirt, warm socks on his feet and no intention of leaving the cabin today. There was a mild snowstorm going on, the wind whipping around the falling flakes outside. It was Sunday, there was coffee, and his ticket back to Chicago said Tuesday's date on it, all nice and clear in crisp black print.

Day after tomorrow, he was supposed to be setting out for home, winter in Chicago instead of winter here, and what had Fraser been going to say in the kitchen yesterday? Would he what? Stay, was the answer his brain provided, but hey, there were levels to that, there were provisions. Stay for a while? Stay till Kowalski got his head on straight? Stay on the couch? In the bed? What the fuck would that mean, either way? What the fuck would he do here? The three of them, living together all cozy in Fraser's cabin, a fucking happy…group?

It was fucked up; it wasn't even possible. How would that even work? It wouldn't, his brain helpfully provided. No way. Him and Fraser, maybe. He took a long sip of coffee, staring into the fire that he had built up - not too badly, if he did say so himself. He was getting used to this woodsman stuff. Fraser was the exception that broke every rule, was the thing. It didn't make him queer, to want to fuck Fraser. Look at Fraser - who didn't? He wanted Fraser in this way that made him sort of crazy, but crazy in a - God, he didn't even know. Crazy in a way that felt right. When Fraser wrapped his arms around him and kissed him like he did, all steady and intense, it felt like fighting against it was the wrong thing to do. Like it wasn't even an option, actually.

Which was, okay, probably a little bit queer.

When it got weird - weirder - was when Kowalski got involved. Kowalski was infuriating and an asshole and a fucking loose canon. Ray didn't know if he'd always been like this, but Christ, what on God's green earth made Fraser want to be stuck in the Arctic with someone as crazy as Kowalski?

Still, though - seeing them together like that - watching them kiss, Kowalski throwing his all into it, nothing hidden, an open wound of need, that did something to Ray, inside. There was this ache when he watched them kiss and he had no clue, none at all, what to do with that.

Chicago was waiting for him. His family, his job, his life. All that stuff he'd been waiting to come back to during the long, lonely months in Vegas. He'd barely made a stop-over in the city before moving down to Florida with Stella, and now he'd been gone so long he felt like he'd lost all his roots there. It was funny: of all the stuff he'd thought of back in Vegas, it'd been the thought of Fraser - fish-out-of-water, stuck in the city without Ray to guide him - that stayed with him the most. And how when he came back, they'd slip into the same old routine, with bad guys and dumpsters and Benny being the weird Canadian guy and Ray being the long-suffering partner, and it would all be well and good.

He'd known there was a guy that had taken his place. He just hadn't thought about him as more than a cardboard cut-out. A place-holder only, and when Ray came back, he'd be able to push him aside and it would all be like it had been.

He'd even thought that during the long flight to Canada. That somehow, getting to be with Benny again would nudge things back into place.

Now, sitting on Benny's couch in a cabin in Canada, with Dief snoring in front of the fire and Benny curled up with Kowalski in the next room, Ray didn't know where he was supposed to be.

"Shopping." Kowalski squinted up at Ray. "Are you serious?"

"I’m seriously freezing my ass off, if that's what you mean." Ray gestured at his outfit. Comfortable, sure, and warm if he was about three feet from a blazing fire, but he was shivering every time he even got off the couch. He needed clothes. "So just tell me where's the best place to buy a coat that's going to keep me warm out there."

Kowalski eyed him. "Borrow Fraser's coat, if you're so cold."

"I'd like my own, thanks. I'm not so much with the lumberjack look."

"Anything you'd buy here would be way too much for Chicago." Kowalski's posture on the couch was tense.

"I know." Ray looked down at him steadily.

"You don't even -" Kowalski sat forward on the couch, his elbows braced on his knees, clearly ready to argue for no reason whatsoever, when suddenly he stopped, looked up at Ray with his mouth still open. "You - oh." He shut his mouth abruptly, and sat there for a handful of seconds, emotions playing across his face faster than Ray could follow them. He got up, finally. "Come on," he said. "We'll take the truck. Fraser!"

Fraser appeared in the bedroom doorway. "Yes?"

"We're going in town, getting Vecchio some clothes to keep his balls from freezing off."

"Well." Fraser tilted his head. "That would be a good thing."

"Right," Kowalski agreed. "Keys?"

"By the door." Fraser leaned there with the pants he had been in the process of folding held in his hand, and Ray shrugged at him and went to get his wallet. Guess they were going shopping.

Kowalski objected to everything Ray picked out. He leaned against the racks, chewing on a toothpick, and had a comment for everything.

"Nice shirt, Vecchio, but I don't think there are any discos in Inuvik."

"You got something against cotton? T-shirts are what normal people wear."

And finally, "Designer jeans?" Kowalski snorted in amusement. "You some kind of pussy or something?" He yanked the nice pair out of Ray's hands - the jeans he was only even looking at to try to get Kowalski to shut the fuck up, because he wasn't a jeans-wearing guy. He was a suit-wearing guy. Nice suits. Expensive suits. He looked good in suits.

Kowalski didn't seem to care about that. "If you're going to be in Canada for a while," and here he gave Ray a sharp look, "then you have to get used to dressing the part." He grabbed a pair of plain, regular jeans that looked like they'd survive a nuclear holocaust. Kowalski pressed them into Ray's hands. "Try these on."

Ray plucked them out of Kowalski's hand and looked at them with distaste. "These are awful, Stanley. They look like something that…well, you would wear."

"I survived two months hiking across a glacier with Fraser, and my balls are still intact. Try 'em on."

Ray sighed, and draped the jeans, along with two pairs of nicely-lined slacks and a thick woolen blazer, over his arm and headed for the changing room, Kowalski trailing along next to him with his hands in his pockets, looking belligerent and amused all at the same time.

Kowalski followed him right into the dressing room area. He knew the girl manning the entrance. "Hey, Teresa," he said, lifting his chin at her and giving her a grin.

She grinned back and asked him how Fraser was and gave Ray a curious look, but didn't say anything as he and Kowalski ducked through the curtain towards the men's side of the changing area. The room was long and narrow, lined with tiny booths with doors that latched, and had a full-length mirror at the end. It was empty, and Ray, clothes draped over his arm, headed down to the last booth. Kowalski leaned against the doorjamb across the way. Ray gave him a look.

Kowalski shrugged, all innocence. "I'm just here to make sure you shop sensibly."

Ray sighed, and closed the door.

The jeans fit all right, but felt all wrong on him. He looked down at himself, then pushed open the door to see how they looked in the mirror. Kowalski, still idling against the wall across the way, looked at him, eyebrows up.

"Hey," he said, pushing forward off the wall as Ray stepped in front of the mirror, frowning at his reflection and picking an invisible piece of lint off his ivory button-down shirt. "You look almost Canadian."

"Shut the fuck up," Ray said automatically, looking at the jeans in the mirror. They were thick and sturdy, and yeah, warm, but they did nothing for him. He plucked at them morosely. "I feel like a Sears' catalogue."

Kowalski, looking at him in the mirror over his shoulder, shook his head. "No flannel," he pointed out. "No plaid. You're not even wearing work boots." He indicated Ray's stocking feet. "You'd never fit in."

"Thank God for small favors." Ray turned back towards the changing room. Maybe the blazer would lend some class to the look.

Kowalski crowded close behind him, following him right into the tiny room.

Ray pushed at him. "What the hell -"

Kowalski latched the door and slid his hands up under Ray's shirt, tucking his fingers into the waist of these terrible jeans. "What do you need these for, Vecchio?" he asked.

"I don't. I need a nice suit, maybe some long underwear. These look awful on me." Ray's heart was pounding. This was so fucking stupid.

"What do you need any of this stuff for?" Kowalski's voice was urgent. "You're getting on a plane day after tomorrow; you're going home." He tugged insistently on the waist of the jeans, and Ray was getting hard, right here in a tiny dressing room in rural Canada. Teresa was probably at the counter, listening to every hushed word they said. "Wrigley Field, your mom's lasagna, Armani suits," Kowalski was continuing, his voice getting louder.

"Shh." Ray was trying to ignore his dick, trying to disengage himself from Kowalski without making a racket. But the room was tiny and Kowalski was right up against him, sliding his hands forward now, cupping Ray's cock through jeans that weren't his and didn't even suit him. "Kowalski," he hissed. "Quit it, stop that."

"Why are you even here?" Kowalski was edging forward, even closer, right up against him.

"Benny -" Ray started.

"Benny," Kowalski cut him off, rolling his eyes, and pressing harder against Ray's cock, rolling his palm over it, and Christ, Ray really didn't want to come in these jeans because then he would have to buy them. "You can't even call him by his name. You don’t even know him."

That sent a wild rush of blood back to Ray's brain and he barked out a laugh, too loud. Fuck. Fuck. Teresa would be telling all her friends about this one. "I know him. I knew him first. I know him best."

"Are you staying?" Kowalski demanded. Right out like that. The first straight - ha - goddamn question Ray had heard since he set foot in this country. "Are you staying?"

"I -" Ray couldn't swallow, couldn't breathe, there was no air in this tiny room, and Kowalski was holding onto his cock like it was a lifeline. "I - yeah." His breath came out all in a rush, and the tightness in his chest eased. "Yeah, I'm staying. I'm not going back."

Kowalski drew back, his eyes wide and startled, like he'd expected something different, and fuck, they'd both been married to Stella - Kowalski should have fucking known better. First rule of cross-examination: never ask a question you don't already know the answer to.

Ray raised his chin at him, his cock throbbing in these terrible jeans, still snug up against Kowalski's hand.

"Does Fraser know?" Kowalski asked. He knew the answer to this one already; maybe he'd known the answer to the other one, too, but hadn't expected Ray to tell him without a fight.

"Yeah, he does. You know he does." What the fuck else had last night been about? Why the fuck else would he have sucked Kowalski's cock like that? If he was going to do this, he was going to do this. He wanted it. He wanted it. Admitting it was step one, and there it was.

Kowalski closed his eyes for a second, and then his hands were fumbling at Ray's jeans, getting them open, shoving them down.

"Kowalski," Ray hissed, closing his hand around Kowalski's wrist. "You can't -"

Kowalski already had his fingers curled around Ray's dick in his shorts, stroking him slow no matter how hard Ray tightened his fingers on his wrist. "Just be quiet," he said, leaning in and tonguing Ray's earlobe. "Don't make a sound," he murmured right up against Ray's ear.

"I - oh, God." Ray clamped his mouth shut, and twisted his head to the side desperately, trying to get away from Kowalski's hot tongue, trying to get Kowalski to back off, but it was no good, no use. Kowalski jerked him off fast and skillful, pinning him against the wall and mouthing his neck. Ray bit his lip so hard he tasted blood in order not to yell out as Kowalski gave his hand one final, wicked twist on Ray's cock and made Ray come all over his shirt and Kowalski's hand.

"Jesus," he breathed up at the ceiling, his head falling back with a thump.

"Shh," Kowalski said, wiping his wet hand on the tail of Ray's shirt. "Do you want everyone to know what we're doing?"

Ray looked at him incredulously. "You -"

"Quiet." Kowalski adjusted himself in his jeans - stupid, non-designer jeans that looked good on him - clearly still hard, and opened the door a crack. "Okay. I'll meet you out front." He slipped out the door and pulled it closed behind him. Ray was reaching out with a shaky hand to close the latch when Kowalski pushed it back open a little. "Don't get those jeans. They look dumb on you." He closed the door again, and Ray firmly pushed the latch into place. He scrambled out of the jeans, mopped up his belly with his already-ruined shirt, and got back into his own pants. He was uncomfortably sticky and he had to button his coat to hide the come-stains on his shirt, and he was certain Teresa was smiling knowingly at him as he walked out with the clothes folded neatly over his arm.

He tried to maintain an air of decorum, but he was pretty sure he failed.

Ray ended up getting a couple pairs of warmly lined khakis, some long underwear, some thick socks. He still drew the line at those thick, bulky, ridiculous-looking puffed-up jackets, though he managed to find a warmer coat, with better lining.

They came home with food to make dinner and Kowalski was whistling lightly as he drove them home in the truck, looking pretty damn relaxed for a guy who'd been as hard as he'd been and hadn't gotten off.

Ray, himself, was confused - but he was getting used to that, figured it went hand in hand with being in Canada - and feeling kind of loose, because, Christ, that quick hand job in the changing room had been so damn hot. And the orgasm Kowalski had jerked out of him had been one of those dizzying ones that you felt in your spine and your toes and the back of your neck, the kind that would make you think you were in love if it hadn't happened in the cramped dressing room of a tiny store with your partner's boyfriend's hand on your cock.

He couldn't stop thinking of it, and his hand kept coming up to trace the spot on his neck where he was sure Kowalski's mouth had left a mark.

There was a note waiting for them when they carried the packages into the house. Fraser's neat, precise handwriting told them he'd been called away to help capture - Ray squinted down at the paper. "Chicken thieves?" He looked over to where Kowalski was crouched in front of the fridge, putting the salad stuff away. "That can't be right. Do they even have chickens up here?"

Kowalski shut the fridge and came to peer over Ray's shoulder at the paper he held. "Huh. Does he mean, like, thieving chickens? Chickens who strayed to the wrong side of the law, maybe?"

Kowalski's breath was landing warm on the exact spot where he'd left the mark. (And there was a mark there, a dark one, Ray'd seen it when he'd gone into the bathroom when he got home. It rested just above his collarbone, and he could see it even when he didn't pull his shirt collar away.) "Benny would rehabilitate them in no time," he said, trying to ignore the way Kowalski's breath was turning him on.

"Right," Kowalski agreed, heading to the bags on the counter and starting to put the rest of the food away. "Get 'em involved in a youth program."

"Chicken reform school."

Kowalski shot him a grin, and put the beer they'd picked up in the fridge, then immediately pulled out two bottles. "Want one?"

"Yeah." Kowalski used the edge of his shirt (and Kowalski was, in fact, wearing both flannel and plaid) to twist off the tops. His fingers brushed Ray's as he handed him the bottle. A tiny shiver went down Ray's spine, and Christ, Kowalski hadn't even gotten off, and he was totally okay, seemed like he wasn't even thinking about sex. All Ray had in his head was the remembered feel of Kowalski's hand on his cock, jerking him so perfectly, and how Kowalski, even in his plaid and flannel and no-name jeans and scuffed-up boots, looked good enough to eat. Good enough to be pushed back onto the couch, his jeans undone and legs spread, his cock hard and leaking and waiting to be swallowed and -

"Hey." Ray came back to himself with a start as Kowalski snapped his fingers at him. He looked up. Kowalski was watching him, amused. "You want to start dinner? Let the sauce cook while we're waiting for Fraser to get back?"

"Uh, yeah." Ray took a quick swallowed of his beer, and - of course - it foamed up, sending suds spilling down his hand and shirt. Come and beer stained. Fucking class act, he was.

"Smooth." Kowalski tossed him a dish towel and headed to the living room. "Okay if I put on some music?"


Things calmed down a little. Ray had decided to make his mom's pasta sauce for Kowalski and Benny, had planned to a few days ago when he was still going to be using that flight ticket home, as a kind of guest thank-you type thing. Now that he was apparently staying - and hell, he'd have to think through the logistics, and soon, because it was one thing making the decision, but it was a whole other complicated deal to handle job, money, ex-wife, house, and, oh fuck, his family. "Not tonight," he muttered to himself, as he hefted Fraser's cast-iron skillet and put it on the stove. He'd deal with all that tomorrow.

Tonight, he was the cook, and he tucked the dishtowel into the front of his pants as he got to work. Kowalski was fiddling with the CD player, going through his collection of CDs in the living room and muttering to himself as he picked the music. Finally, the sounds of REM came on, and Kowalski spent a few minutes fiddling with the sound levels before he came to lean in the doorway and watch Ray work, sipping his beer slowly.

"Good music." Ray was carefully chopping up vegetables for the sauce, his concentration on the thick wooden cutting board in front of him, the heavy, perfectly balanced and sharpened knife in his hand. It was nice to work with decent kitchen implements, and of course, Fraser had the right materials for the best job.

He glanced over at Kowalski, who took a swallow of beer. Ray quickly looked back at the cutting board so he wouldn't lose a finger.

"I saw them in concert back in eighty-two. With Stella, actually."

Ray glanced over at him, and Kowalski lifted his beer bottle at Ray, smiling. "Sixth row center seats."

Ray made a low whistle of appreciation, and Kowalski shrugged modestly. "I knew a guy."

"I bet Stella was impressed." Funny, it wasn't even odd to think of her and Kowalski together. Young, tough Kowalski in jeans and leather - not so different from today, actually, but less flannel probably, and fewer lines around his eyes. An earring, maybe.

"You bet." Kowalski sounded pleased with himself. "You should have seen her back then."

Ray stopped chopping this time - safety first - and looked over at him.

"All black lace and these boots that made her legs look about a million miles long, and jeans that just -" Kowalski's long fingers traced an elegant line in the air, and he shook his head, his eyes far away. "She was something."

"Must have been." Ray had to swallow before he said it, and Kowalski looked up at him. "She still is," he added, turning back to the cutting board.

"Yeah." Kowalski's voice still sounded distant. "Yeah, she is."

Kowalski was distracting as hell the entire time Ray was trying to cook. He stole vegetables from the board as Ray cut them; he made disparaging comments about the amount of garlic Ray added; he ducked down with Ray as he set the flame on the stove, his forehead wrinkled, clearly silently judging him.

He moved constantly around the kitchen, sometimes washing the dishes as fast as Ray dirtied them, stealing knives and bowls and spoons out from under his hands to scrub. Then he'd lose interest, let the dishes gather as he wandered away to get another beer and change the CD in the living room. Ray worked steadily along, managing not to slice off any fingers - his or Kowalski's - in the process, even when Kowalski would come back to the kitchen, his hips moving to the beat of the music, constantly in Ray's way and moving with unconscious grace and rhythm.

The sauce was cooking on the stove and Ray filled the huge cooking pot, set it on one of the back burners. He'd set Kowalski to work on the garlic bread, and Kowalski was using twice as many dishes as he needed, getting the bread sliced and buttered and putting far too much garlic on it, cheerfully singing along to his music and taking sips of beer and mocking Ray for cooking like a girl even as he sprinkled the garlic on the bread with a certain panache.

Ray finished washing his hands at the sink and dried them on the towel still tucked in his pants before leaning back, finally, against a clean space of the counter and taking a sip of his own beer while he watched Kowalski finish up the garlic bread.

"Looks good." Ray glanced at his watch, then double-checked the time automatically with the clock above the kitchen sink. "I'll start the water when Fraser gets home - the sauce can cook for however long it takes."

Kowalski nodded, wrapping the garlic bread in tin foil, leaving an array of butter and crumbs on the counter. "I'll heat up the oven, but we can put this in whenever, it won't take long to cook."

Ray paused in taking a sip of beer, and just looked at Kowalski. Kowalski, the garlic bread in his hand, looked up at Ray, and his eyes went dark and amused. And jeez, this whole thing was just so fucking crazy that if he hadn't been caught smack dab in the middle of it, he wouldn't have bought it, not for a second. He shook his head, a grin spreading across his face. "When the hell did we become Benny's housewives, Stanley?"

It was the Stanley, or maybe the Benny, that brought the snicker out of Kowalski. "Jesus Christ. We're in a cabin -"

"In Canada," Ray interjected.

"…waiting for Fraser to get home from chasing chicken thieves."

"So that we can serve him dinner." Ray was laughing now, and Kowalski had one hand braced on the counter as he tried to control his own laughter.

"Dinner that we cooked for him," he managed between gasps.

"Right!" Ray had to set down his beer, because otherwise he was going to spill it, he was laughing so hard. And Jesus Christ, it was the funniest thing ever all of a sudden, funniest thing he ever heard in his goddamn life. His stomach hurt from laughing, and Kowalski was bent all the way over, now, bracing himself on his knees and laughing so hard Ray thought he might fall down from it.

"Christ," he said. "What did we do to deserve this?"

Kowalski waved a hand at him, gulping in air and still laughing. "Something bad," he gasped.

"Maybe jaywalking," Ray suggested, and that sent them into another fit of laughter.

Ray was wiping tears from his eyes, trying to catch his breath, and Kowalski was leaning back weakly, still snorting with amusement. And, God, all Ray could do was step forward and kiss him, right there against the counter. Sauce bubbling merrily on the stove, the whole room warm and smelling like home, and Kowalski's arms around him, and he couldn't stop smiling even as he kissed Kowalski again and again.

Which was, of course, when the door swung open and Fraser came in from the blowing storm outside, his giant coat pulled up high over his cheeks and his hat on his head, his cheeks red. They both turned at the same time and when they saw him standing there in the doorway, man, it just set them off again, and they were gone, hanging onto each other and giggling like crazy people as Fraser, snowy and bewildered in the doorway, just stared at them.

Dief, who had come in behind Fraser, also covered in snow and clearly starving, had made directly for the kitchen and the garlic bread was saved only due to Kowalski's swift intervention.

Dinner turned out perfectly, and Fraser, once they'd helped him get his hat and coat and boots off, was entirely happy to be home, and regaled them with stories about the chicken thieves. ("No, Ray," Fraser had said seriously, when Ray asked. "Not chickens who were thieves, but rather people who stole chickens."

"Oh," said Ray, trying to match his seriousness, and doing his level best to not meet Kowalski's eyes. Kowalski was snorting quietly across the table, clearly on the verge of another laughing jag, and Ray was determined to control himself.)

That was the first night that they went to bed together. Deliberately, in an adult manner, like it was normal for three grown men to be crawling into Fraser's one big bed. Ray wanted it to feel normal, wanted it to feel good and right, some kind of a sign that yeah, this was a good idea, that they could do this, that he could do this. That his plane could leave without him thirty-six hours from now and he'd be fine, better than fine. He'd be here, in Canada, with no safety net.

Chicago was always going to be there. He'd left Chicago before. This was no different than Vegas, or Florida. Safer, actually: he knew Fraser maybe better than he knew anyone else; certainly better than he'd known Stella when he'd married her. And as for Kowalski, well, hell, Ray felt like he'd had a whirlwind tour of him in the past ten days. And just - they'd married the same woman, had the same partner. There was something there, tugging them together, and it was more than just Fraser.

He wasn't sure if that was comforting or more than a little scary.

They'd cleaned up the kitchen together, or, well, Ray and Fraser had, while Kowalski let Dief lick the plates clean before handing them to Ray, who took them with two fingers, giving both Kowalski and the wolf a disgusted look and nudging the water up hotter.

Ray washed, and Fraser dried and put away, and Kowalski brought in more wood for the fire, the gust of cold wind and snow swirling in from the outside for a moment before Kowalski shoved the door shut with the heel of his boot. By the time the kitchen was clean, Kowalski was already on the couch with the hockey game on the TV and his feet propped up on the coffee table. Fraser gave him a stern look at that, but Kowalski just rolled his eyes and defiantly kept his feet where they were.

And when Ray started drowsing on the couch, during the post-game commentary, Fraser got up and starting doing the end of the night stuff - banking the fire and checking the windows and dimming the lights. Ray yawned and stretched and headed for the bathroom, snagging a pair of his plaid pajama pants and a t-shirt from his bag (the same one with the plane ticket in the pocket. He checked, again, out of habit, maybe, and it was still there, dated the day after tomorrow). He watched himself in the mirror as he brushed his teeth, trying to figure out what the plan was, here. What Kowalski was expecting him to do. What Fraser was expecting him to do. If he should maybe just go sack out on the couch like that was the normal thing. If they were thinking about it even half as much as he was.

He splashed his face with warm water, and looked at himself sternly in the mirror afterwards. This was stupid. After everything he'd done in the last week, going to bed was what he was worried about? Jeez.

Kowalski brushed past him when he opened the bathroom door. "Took your fucking time in there," he said, before pushing the door shut in Ray's face.

The bed was there, wide and open, the covers turned down neatly, and Fraser was still out puttering around in the living room while Ray scratched the back of his head and thought that the "which side of the bed" issue was much more complicated when there were three of them. He straightened his shoulders and climbed in on the left and lay there for a moment, looking at the ceiling, before pushing back the covers and moving over to the right. Christ. He couldn't even remember his side. He was trying to picture his bedroom in Florida, and figuring out the layout there against the layout here to see if -

Fraser came in, Dief padding in behind him. Fraser looked at Ray in the bed, his whole expression radiating this sort of quiet happiness that made Ray warm all over. "It's supposed to get very cold tonight," he said, bending and rummaging around in the trunk at the foot of the bed, emerging with more furs that he draped over the thick blankets already on the bed. He looked up at Ray, his brow wrinkling. "You might want to wear a hat."

Ray blinked at him. "A hat?"

Kowalski came out of the bathroom, his hair sticking up in all directions, and heard this last exchange. "A hat?" He looked at Ray, clearly delighted. "A hat. Yeah. You need a nightcap, Vecchio." He clambered into bed next to him and rubbed his hand over Ray's head. "You got less protection up there than some of us.

Ray shoved his arm away and looked at him sourly. "You're funny, Stanley."

"I know." Kowalski grinned as he wriggled further under the covers, shivering a little.

Fraser was still looking at Ray, worried, and Kowalski groaned. "He's fine. He's a big boy. He doesn't need a hat."

"A hood, maybe?" Fraser suggested.

"Go brush your teeth," Kowalski ordered, extricating a hand from the covers to point at the bathroom, and Fraser sighed and went. Kowalski grinned at Ray. "You'll be warm enough," he said, kicking his feet and messing with the covers.

"I'm sure." Ray lay down uneasily, watching Kowalski out of the corner of his eye. There were plenty of pillows on the bed, and Ray wondered if Fraser had planned for - well, of course Fraser had planned this, at least a little. At least today, with the pillows all set up for three instead of two, and man, why was this weird when the sex wasn't?

Not that the sex wasn't, entirely, it was, this was just -

Kowalski sighed loudly. "I can hear you thinking from here." He squirmed a little more, and slid his hand over Ray's side. "Relax," he said, leaning up on one elbow. He smelled like minty toothpaste and tasted like it, too, when he leaned in to give Ray a kiss, swift and a little awkward. "It's not a big deal." He sounded like he was trying to convince himself, as well as Ray.

Fraser came back, in his ridiculous red long johns, and - oh. Slid into bed on the other side of Ray. Kowalski kept his hand, soft and warm, resting on Ray's stomach, looking across him at Fraser. Fraser still had that quiet, happy look about him, and he leaned over Ray, pressing his lips to Kowalski's for a long moment. Ray was uncomfortable, but Fraser's arm slid up his shoulder warmly, and it was okay; he felt like he was a part of this.

When Fraser leaned back, Kowalski slid down and tugged the covers up over his shoulder. Fraser looked at Ray, and Ray - he was no coward - leaned in and kissed him like he wanted to, all soft and warm and sliding his tongue between his lips just a little. Not turning this into something hot and frantic, but he wanted to do this, had been wanting to do this and you know, he could. Finally.

Fraser's hand had slid up to his face as they kissed, and when Ray pulled away, Fraser just looked at him for a second, his thumb rubbing softly over his cheekbone, before turning away to switch off the bedside lamp. The room plunged into darkness, and Dief huffed softly as he rearranged himself on the floor next to Fraser's side of the bed.

Fraser drew the covers up and Ray shivered for a moment before rolling over onto his side and curling up against Fraser's back. The guy was a furnace, emanating heat, and Ray slid his cold hand over Fraser's side. "Benny," he said, soft as he could, so aware of Kowalski, probably still awake just behind him, however soft and steady the rhythm of his breathing was. "I - listen."

"Yes, Ray." Fraser's fingers closed over Ray's against his side, warm and steady.

"Listen, Benny," Ray said again, because however he tried to frame the words in his head, it never sounded right. Did you mean it, for me to stay? For how long? A while? Forever? How the hell would the three of us make this work? He swallowed, and tried again. "Listen. You really want me to -" The dark silence was deafening. "I'm really staying. I want to -" He stopped again, shutting his eyes tight. It all sounded so stupid when he tried to say it right out.

Fraser took a breath, and his fingers tightened around Ray's. "We'll figure it out, Ray," he said softly. "It'll be okay."

Fraser settled down further in the bed, and he kept holding Ray's hand. Ray was exhausted and wide-awake here, breathing in Fraser, who smelled like - well, like Canada, like cedar and wood smoke and fresh air. Ray tried to relax against the thrumming of his heart, because holy fuck. He was staying. Here. In Canada. In Inuvik. Just - Christ.

Kowalski was breathing steady and hot against the back of his neck, and Ray lay awake for a long time.

The next day was a long list of phone calls that Ray didn't want to make. How do you explain moving even when it was a planned thing, and maybe to someplace civilized, like Toronto? That was tough, and it was even harder to be making a phone call from Inuvik to tell them that yeah, he knew he was supposed to be back tomorrow, but no, that wasn't going to happen.

He called the precinct first, half-heartedly hoping that Welsh would be off and he could maybe leave a message. No such luck, though.

"So yeah." He scratched the back of his head, listening to the hollow sound over the phone of Welsh not saying anything. "I didn't mean to leave you hanging - I was going to - I mean, I figured you'd -" Man, he didn't know what he'd figured. He was leaving Welsh in the lurch here. He made himself stop talking, and waited.

There was a long moment of silence, and then Welsh said, "You're not getting paid out on your vacation time."

Ray breathed. "I wouldn't expect it, sir."

"You're on vacation while I do the goddamn severance paperwork."

"A fine plan, sir."

"And you owe me."

"I do," Ray said fervently, because hell, Welsh could have made it a whole lot harder on him than he had.

"Here - talk to your sister."

"What -" Oh fuck. Welsh, that bastard.

"Ray." Frannie's voice made even just his name sound demanding. "Where are you? You said you'd tell Fraser to call me. What's going on? What was that all about? Severance? You can't - oh." She sucked in a breath. "The baby's kicking. I can't believe you're doing this. You're going to call Ma, right, because I'm not going to be the one to tell her that you're leaving again. You're going to be in such a lot of trouble."


"Where are you even going to stay? Are you really living in a cabin up there? Is there running water? I heard Kowalski went with you - what's up with that? Let me talk to Fraser."

"He's not here," Ray managed to cut in, eyeing Fraser in the kitchen. "He's working."

"Whatever," Frannie snapped. "I'm going to go call Ma. She's going to kill you." She took a deep breath. "Are you all right up there, Ray? Is this -" She hesitated, and he could picture her wrapping the phone cord around her fingers while Welsh looked on. He probably had his head in his hands by now. "Are you all right?" she said again, finally.

"Yeah," Ray said softly. "Yeah, I'm good, Frannie. I'm good."

"Okay." She took another deep breath, sniffled a little. "Okay. I love you."

He smiled. "Love you, too, Frannie."

That was the main thing, right there. Everything else was easier, even calling his Ma.

And they treated the day like it was just - normal. Like nothing had changed, like what Ray'd whispered to Fraser in the dark of the - their - bedroom last night wasn't the final step in turning Ray's world completely upside down and backwards. Like it didn’t change every part of this, turned it from a visit - okay, a weird visit where everything Ray knew or thought he knew about sex and men and Fraser turned out to be wrong, wrong, wrong - to a life-changing event. It was enough to give a guy palpitations - I'm sorry, did you just decide to move to Inuvik? - and he sat there weakly on the couch after the last of the phone calls (Welsh, his mom, the airline) with the phone held in his slack hand and tried really very hard to get his mind around this whole thing.

And when that started making him feel a little sick and dizzy, he changed that to trying to stop thinking about it, because hey, decision made. Done. That was something, that was a big something, and you know, and he deserved some time to decompress.

Christ. He needed a drink.

He looked up when Kowalski appeared in the kitchen doorway. He was wearing those low-slung jeans that should have looked stupid on him, but seemed to always make Ray think about how they'd crumple under his hands when he grabbed Kowalski's hips, give him something to hang onto when he hauled Kowalski close, roughly. Kowalski liked it a little rough. Jesus, the things Ray had learned since he got to Canada.


Ray abruptly brought his gaze up to Kowalski's face. Kowalski nodded at the phone in his hand. "How'd it go?"

Ray looked down at the phone and carefully placed it on the coffee table. "Oh, you know." He laughed a little shakily. "As well as could be expected."

"Yeah." Kowalski nodded sympathetically, drifting forward to sit on the chair next to the couch. "People think you're nuts, huh?"

Ray blinked at him. Kowalski was talking from experience here. He'd done this himself, not that long ago, and now he was back. Staying. Like Ray. Made pretty much the same phone calls, probably got pretty much the same reaction. Ray nodded at the phone. "You need to call anyone this time around?"

Kowalski slouched back in the chair, his feet planted wide on the rag rug. "Nah," he said, flashing Ray a quick grin. "I play by my own rules. Kind of a wild card. Kind of kooky." He rolled his eyes and went serious. "I mostly didn't tell anyone I went back, so, hell, there's no one down there to miss me."

"Oh." Ray watched him. He wanted to ask what had made him go back at all, back to Chicago. He wanted to know, badly, what it was that had gone wrong, that made him leave here. Maybe so he could avoid making the same mistake. He and Kowalski, they were really fucking different, but they kept getting drawn down the same paths. Kind of weird, but right here, in the same place at the same time, it didn't feel so fucked up as it maybe should have. "So." Ray cleared his throat. "We're both staying, huh?"

Kowalski eyed him. "Master of the obvious."

Ray ignored that. "You mind?" he said, and his heart was beating so hard it felt like he might stroke out here. Those two words were the closest thing he'd ever give to asking Kowalski's permission here. Not that that was what he was doing. But hell, Kowalski had been here first. Kowalski and Fraser had history. A different sort of history than Ray and Fraser had. It was all mixed up, but it was there, and Ray was man enough to acknowledge it.

Kowalski was still slouched down, but his eyes were alert, watching Ray sharply. He let a long, long moment slide by before he said, "Nope."

Ray took a breath and held it, let it out slow. "Good." His hands, which had been clenched in fists on his thighs, loosened slowly. "That's good."

Kowalski was still just looking at him, letting his eyes fall, lidded and lazy, and Ray's eyes traced down his body - the flannel shirt he was wearing unbuttoned one button too much, the collar framing his throat. His worn, loose jeans, his spread legs, and Ray wanted - he just wanted -

Christ. He'd made the big decision here already. This was nothing. He got up off the couch and straightened his cuffs, flicked a piece of wolf hair off his sleeve. Kowalski was watching him, an equal mix of curiosity and amusement in his eyes, and Ray looked down at him and got gracefully to his knees. Kowalski's eyes widened as Ray slid his hands up his thighs. By the time Ray's hands moved high enough for one to press against his fly, the other to curl tightly around his hip, the waistband of his jeans crumpling against his palm just like he'd know it would, Kowalski was hard He stared down at Ray.

"You sure about this?" he said, a little breathless.

Ray looked up at him and pressed down harder against his cock. Kowalski hissed lightly and his eyes fluttered closed.

"I'm sure."

Kowalski slid further down in the chair. When Ray thumbed open the buttons on his jeans one at a time, slow, slow, Kowalski moaned and shifted his hips on the chair, anxious, wanting this.

Ray swallowed, trying to keep cool. He was thankful for the loose khakis he was wearing, but still, he moved his hand away from Kowalski's cock and adjusted himself, pleased when Kowalski's eyes flicked open and followed the movement of his hand down between his legs.

"Come on, Vecchio," he said softly, his thigh tense under Ray's hand, and Ray grinned, and brought both hands up to tug Kowalski's jeans and shorts down his hips, Kowalski lifting up obligingly. And there was Kowalski's cock right in front of him, looking huge and hard and just - Ray stopped himself. This was the not-thinking part of the day. He'd done lots of thinking. Plenty of thinking. This was the time to act. He leaned forward, wrapping one hand around the base of Kowalski's cock as he ran his tongue over the head.

Kowalski's hands were fisted on his thighs and he groaned. One moan, and Ray's heart kicked up a notch, and fuck, he wanted to do this. This wasn't about proving anything anymore, this was him wanting Kowalski, wanting to suck Kowalski's cock. He took it in his mouth, just the head of it, broad and damp and tasting of sweat and salt and fuck, it tasted good. He got kind of the same sort of shot of heat down his spine like when he went down on a woman, when she spread her legs and lay there panting and desperate for his tongue to find just the right spot.

He shifted on his knees, going for a better angle. He could hear Kowalski panting lightly as he sank down as far as he could, moving his hand at the base of Kowalski's cock, keeping his mouth as wet and tight as he could. He took in a little, and backed off, then took in a little more. It got easier, and Kowalski's breath was coming louder, and his own cock was so fucking hard, he was getting off on this, and for some reason, compared to making a decision to move to Canada, that didn't seem so crazy.

He had his face buried in Kowalski's lap, taking his cock into his mouth as far as he could, which was maybe a little more than halfway, jerking him with his other hand and really getting into the rhythm of this, turning himself on something fierce. He was driving this whole thing, and Kowalski's breathing had turned into this kind of breathless keening. His hand closed on the back of Ray's neck, sudden and tight, and Ray heard, over the pounding of his own heart, the scuff of feet on the floorboards. He let Kowalski slip out of his mouth and blinked his eyes open, and Fraser was there, watching them, looking flushed and turned-on. He'd been tugging his gloves off in the doorway, and he let them fall to the floor.

Ray'd never even heard the door open, never felt the rush of wind come in. Fraser slid his coat off, let that fall to the floor as well, and said, "Keep going." His voice came out rough and his eyes were focusing on where Ray's hand was still circled around Kowalski's cock. Ray glanced up at Kowalski's face. He was panting unsteadily and moving his hips up, shoving his cock into the circle of Ray's fist. His cock, which leaked more than Ray's own ever did, was slick and Ray looked back at Fraser, then leaned in again, licking over the broad head. He heard Fraser give a faint groan, and Kowalski give a louder one, and then Ray was sucking Kowalski down again.

Fraser watching kicked everything up even higher, and Ray moved his other hand down to undo his own pants awkwardly, tugging the button open, the zipper down. He shoved his hand into his shorts, moaning, his mouth still full of Kowalski's cock, at the relief even a simple stroke or two gave him. But he needed - he wanted - to focus here, and he tugged his hand out, held onto Kowalski's hip, and concentrated on the rhythm of his mouth, feeling Kowalski's muscles quiver under his hand as he set a relentless pace.

"Vecchio." Kowalski's voice was rough. "Christ, you -" His hand was still on the back of Ray's neck and his thumb was stroking over the base of his skull, sending shivers down Ray's spine. "I can't - oh God, oh God -" He was pressing up into Ray's mouth, clearly trying to hold back, hold on, but Ray shoved down hard on his hip and kept his mouth moving, his hand moving, and pulled back just enough that when Kowalski, frantic, cried out incoherently and jerked under him, Ray was able to swallow around him as he came in Ray's mouth.

"Oh lord," he heard Fraser say faintly behind him. "Oh, Ray."

Ray let Kowalski slip slowly out of his mouth. His jaw ached and he wiped his chin on his sleeve, his thighs and knees aching as he sat back on his heels. He looked up at where Kowalski sprawled, limp and spent, on the chair, his jeans around his thighs, his cock wet and softening against his stomach. Kowalski stared down at Ray, and he moved one shaky hand to run a thumb over Ray's bottom lip.

It should have been queer and fucked up, but Ray had to close his eyes at that touch, his cock throbbing.

"Jesus," Kowalski said hoarsely.

Ray looked up at him, then over at Fraser. Fraser seemed to have to shake himself before being able to move. He strode over to where they were, dropping to his knees and putting his hands on Ray's face, kissing him deeply, licking his way into Ray's mouth in a way that made Ray forget about his sore knees, his aching cock, anything at all but Fraser's hot, hot tongue in his mouth.

And when Fraser got up, he tugged Ray to his feet, too. Ray rose slowly, his thighs aching as he went. "Come here," Fraser said hoarsely, urging him towards the bedroom. "The two of you are just -" He stopped, shook his head. "Please. I want you to - that is, I need you to -"

Ray couldn't help but smile at Fraser wanting it so badly he couldn’t talk. He reached back to tangle his fingers in Kowalski's. Kowalski groaned, but let Ray pull him to his feet, and leaned in to kiss Ray as well, swiftly, but no less hotly than Fraser had. "I'm about played out, here," he said, the corners of his eyes crinkling with amusement as he dragged his pants up. "I'm not as young as I used to be."

"So you can watch," Ray said, his face going hot as he realized how much he wanted Kowalski to be there, watching him and Benny together.

"Yes," said Fraser instantly, from behind Ray's shoulder, and Kowalski laughed out loud at that.

"Kinky," he said, agreeably, and let himself be tugged along.

The hour that Ray's flight was supposed to leave, he was walking along in downtown Inuvik, shivering in the damp, freezing wind that whipped along the main street. It was no Chicago, but it wasn't Small Town USA, either. There were businesses and buildings more than two stories high, and hell, there were even tourists - despite the wind and the cold and the fact that it was Inuvik - wandering around in their crisp, new-looking bulky jackets that made them look like abominable snowmen. Sure, they were probably warmer than Ray, but they looked goofy.

Whereas Ray, when he caught a glimpse of himself in one of the shop windows, looked trim and together and good in his long cashmere coat, his leather gloves, the cap that fit snugly over his head. He looked like - well, not like he belonged here, but like himself.

He was getting to know this place, determined to, as the plane jetted away towards Chicago without him on board. And it wasn't bad. There was more to it than he'd thought, and hell, half the people seemed to know who he was, just from knowing Fraser. "Ray Vecchio," they called him, all in one breath, the same as Fraser's other American houseguest was "Ray Kowalski," again said all at once, with nicer smiles on their faces than you'd ever seen in Chicago, and no secret, searching looks like Ray had half expected.

No reason for the town to know that they were all fucking, or even think it. For these people, living up here was normal. They'd chosen to do it even without the bonus of getting to go to bed with Fraser every night. See, there were people stranger than him out in the world.

Ray met Rose, who ran the bakery, and told him that he should get the chocolate cream doughnut for Kowalski, and the sugar-coated one for the wolf. The constable, she said, with a twinkle in her eye, didn't like doughnuts at all, but a blueberry muffin usually suited him just fine. Ray listened to her, and she packed his purchases up and he paid with a five-dollar bill with hockey players on it, and she shook his hand and told him welcome to the city.

He left with the box swinging from his gloved fingers on its string, feeling slightly bemused.

He met Sam, next, the guy who ran the bed and breakfast that the handful of tourists here were coming in and out of. Sam was standing outside, having a smoke, and he spotted Ray and waved him over. "Ray Vecchio," he said. "Constable Fraser's friend."

"Right," agreed Ray, having decided to just roll with it. He leaned back against the wall next to Sam, shaking his head at Sam's offer of a cigarette.

"Ray Kowalski told me you're moving here." Sam looked at him sideways, holding his cigarette so the smoke didn't blow towards Ray.

"Yep." Ray nodded.

"You need a place to stay for a while?" There was no tone in Sam's voice, no real curiosity, just information-gathering.

"Uh, nope." Ray rocked back on his heels a little. "Staying with the Constable."

"And Ray Kowalski," Sam observed.

"Yep." Ray looked at him blandly, and Sam cracked a grin.

"Well," he said, carefully crushing out the cigarette beneath his heavy boot, then pocketing the butt, "If you know anyone looking for something to do." He nodded in the direction of the storefront across the street. "Sandra closed down last month - too many kids and not enough time to run the place." He eyed Ray.

Ray peered across the street. "What sort of place?" he asked. Just curious. That was all.

Sam stomped his feet a little to get warm, and tucked his hands into his pockets. "Restaurant. It was kind of a classy place. The tourists like a place to go," he said, giving Ray a look over his shoulder as he headed back into his hotel. "Fancier than I like, but I figured, you being a city guy and all…" Sam shrugged, leaving it at that, and went inside.

Ray stood there for a few minutes, looking across the street at the dim windows of the defunct restaurant. Several groups of tourists walked by as he did so, talking excitedly about jamboree season and - muskrats? He watched them go, and then, looking from left to right, carefully crossed the street.

He peered through the picture window in front. It hadn't been closed long - the tables and chairs were still there, everything seemed set up, and it wasn't even worse than just dusty. He could tell that it had been a nice place - a tourist trap, maybe, but a nice tourist trap, and hey, you know, you pay a whole lot of money to make your way up this far north for a jamboree, you were maybe willing to pay a decent amount of money for a good meal in a nice place that was warm and welcome and kind of suave. Kind of a piece of civilization in the midst of this whole down-home wilderness place.

There was a realtor's sign in the window. Ray let his eyes scan over it, memorizing the number and tucking it away in his brain just for safe-keeping. Just in case. Who knew? Anything could happen in Inuvik.

When he got home, driving the truck with care on the icy roads that were, when you came right down to it, no worse than Chicago on a bad winter's night (and lord knew the truck had better snow tires than any car Ray'd ever driven, even the Riv), it was getting dark and the lights were on in the cabin, making it glow merrily against the frozen landscape surrounding it.

Ray parked in the driveway and made his way over the slippery path to the front door, kicking the snow off his boots before he went in. When he opened the door, the room was warm, the fire burning high, and Kowalski was tugging Fraser around in front of it, the rug kicked back, clearly trying to show the Mountie what rhythm was.

They were both laughing, as Fraser stumbled against Kowalski, and they turned their bright faces to Ray in the doorway. He took off his coat, hanging it neatly on the hook by the door, and grinned at the both of them as Fraser stuttered to a halt, his face flushed and happy. Kowalski continued to dance, hanging onto Fraser's hand and using him as an anchor as he spun around, light on his feet, moving in graceful curves in and out and around Fraser. He shot a quick grin at Ray, and spun in, wrapping Fraser's arm around him as he went, winding up pressed back against Fraser's chest, panting a little and leaning back against him.

"What do you think?" he called cheerfully. "Pretty good, right? Me, not him, I mean." He nudged Fraser with an elbow.

Ray felt his lips curve up into a smile as he bent to unlace his boots and tug them off, leaving them neatly paired against the wall. "You're not going to win contests any time soon."

Kowalski pushed away from Fraser, looking offended. "What the hell do you mean? I've won contests in my time. I've won plenty of contests." He moved his hips to the music, and pivoted again. "Back in the day, Stella and I were the pair to beat, I'll have you know."

"I believe it," Ray said, thinking about how Stella moved, even in the courtroom, with the same fluid grace as Kowalski. "It's not you, it's him." He nodded at Fraser, who was standing uncomfortably next to Kowalski, clearly hoping the dancing portion of the evening had come to an end.

"I agree, Ray," he said, swiftly moving away to sit down on the couch next to Dief. "Dancing is not my forte."

"It's mine," Kowalski said, swaying to the beat. "Man, how can you not find the rhythm of this song?" He shook his head unhappily. "I don't get it. Dance with me," he demanded, suddenly, holding his hand out to Ray. "I know you can feel this."

Ray grinned, holding his hands up to fend Kowalski off. "Uh-uh, no way."

"Come on." Kowalski gave him a pleading look and then almost immediately changed it to a teasing, hot gaze. "Dance with me," he said again, but this time his voice was persuasive, his eyes promising dirty things, and Ray, shooting Fraser a helpless glance, took Kowalski's hand.

Kowalski tugged him close, moving his hips suggestively against Ray's, making Ray laugh and push him away. They were awkward at first, but Kowalski was right, you couldn't not find the rhythm to this song. Ray had to move to the music, Kowalski sliding against him, grasping his hips, drawing him along in dance moves you never learned in a class. Complicated and swift, but Ray had no trouble following his lead, Kowalski's hand on his back drawing him along to the urgent and necessary rhythm of the music.

Fraser sat on the couch, his hand buried in Dief's ruff, watching them move together, a smile on his face and his foot half-propped on the coffee table. Ray shot him a grin as Kowalski spun him around and Fraser, looking so fucking content, just grabbed him deep inside, so hard and intense that he had to drag Kowalski close, hold onto him tight and move with him in those quick, complex steps that Kowalski did so well.

Ray didn't say anything to Fraser or Kowalski about his appointment with the realtor. He didn't say anything to them about his calls to his bank in Chicago, or setting up a business account at the bank in downtown Inuvik. If he was going to do this, uproot himself and settle here, he had to do it for himself. He'd never relied on Fraser, not like that, and he wasn't going to start now. Ray Vecchio was a go-getter. Ray Vecchio got things done. Moving here didn't mean he was suddenly the Mountie's responsibility - no way, no way that was going to happen. He'd figure things out, carve out a spot for himself here on the icy tundra, someplace where he fit, when he wasn't with Fraser, or with Kowalski.

He'd make it work for himself.

Ray had money - he'd gotten a seriously decent amount of pay for the time in Vegas. And sure, okay, running a restaurant was different than anything else he'd done, but he felt good about it - felt like it was something he could learn. Sam, when Ray had gone to talk to him after his appointment at the realtors, had hooked him up with the name of the cook who had worked there before the place went under, and gave him leads on a couple of people in town who he thought would be willing to come back to work there, even under new management.

It was a rough sketch of a life up here, but it was a start. It wasn't bad, not bad at all. Ray kept it to himself, not a secret so much as just something he wanted to be sure of, completely sure of, before he made it into any sort of a big thing.

Fraser was back at work now, and the days settled into an odd sort of pattern, with Kowalski coming and going at random, it seemed. Sometimes Ray went downtown with him and sometimes not, depending on the schedule. He got curious enough one day to drift along after him after he parked the truck and strode off after setting up a time to meet Ray for lunch. Ray wasn't following him, not exactly. He was just curious.

Kowalski, it turned out, was going to the youth center downtown. Ray edged along to watch from the window, and Kowalski was - well, he was known here. The kids seemed happy to see him, and he seemed happy to be here. Volunteering, it looked like, working with the kids. Ray watched as Kowalski set up one kid with the heavy bag, worked with him, showing him the right way to lace up the gloves, the right way to throw a punch, angling his body as he turned into it, then stepping back to let the kid give it a shot. Kowalski watched, then turned the kid's body for him, let him try it again, and man, Ray couldn’t tell whose grin was bigger when the punch went straight and solid and even shook the bag a little - Kowalski's or the kid's.


Ray turned away, tucking his hands in his pockets and heading up the street, ducking his head a little against the wind. This was a side of Kowalski he'd never really seen before. When Stella had said that Kowalski had wanted kids, Ray had this picture in his head of, you know, babies. Kowalski with a drooling infant in his arms, feeding it a bottle, or maybe even a toddler, you know, that he could let ride on his shoulders and take to the park. Stuff like that.

This was different. This was Kowalski connecting with these kids, and they seemed to think he was cool, even. Maybe because he wasn't a parent himself; maybe because he wasn't from around here and obviously considered himself kind of a tough guy. Like a kid who never grew up. Kowalski had something that these kids kind of recognized and maybe even respected, a little, and that threw Ray for a loop - he'd just never thought about Kowalski like that. Funny, because the moment he saw him in there working with the kids, it had hit Ray that this was Kowalski's element. Of course he'd be good with kids. It made sense, in a very basic way, and seeing Kowalski working with them, it made Ray wonder what else Kowalski could do that he didn't know about. Made him wonder, too, about how Stella had clearly pigeon-holed her idea of what having kids meant, and maybe if she'd given Kowalski a little more credit, it might have -

Well. Ray's mouth curved into a smile, and he ducked his head down further to hide it. Okay, in the end, it probably wouldn't have worked out much differently. Just because Kowalski was good with other people's kids didn't mean he'd be good with his own. And it didn't mean having one would have solved any of his and Stella's problems. Stella had been kind of closed-mouthed about what went wrong with her and Kowalski - she had a certain loyalty to their history that Ray respected - but Ray was pretty damn certain that bringing a kid into the mix wasn't any sort of a solution.

Still, seeing Kowalski at work like that was interesting. Looked like Kowalski had carved out a space for himself here in Inuvik, too, and hell, maybe it was stupid, but it gave Ray hope. One displaced Chicago cop to another, you know: if Kowalski could make it work, Ray sure as hell could, too.

He made his way to the realtor's and signed the papers carefully and calmly.

Kowalski tossed him the keys when they met up to head home, which had never happened before, and Ray raised an eyebrow at him and drove, while Kowalski fiddled with the radio and picked bad music and turned it up way too loud.

Fraser came home late, and they held dinner for him, Kowalski putting the huge, misshapen burgers he'd crafted earlier in the evening on the grill on the back porch when Fraser got in. Ray watched him through the kitchen window, lit only by the flame of the grill, turning the burgers with one hand while the other one was stuck in his pocket, acting like this was normal, like this was the Fourth of July or something, and not a freezing cold night on the outskirts of Inuvik.

Ray stood there, watching, feeling a little dizzy all of a sudden. This was real. This was happening. He didn't know why it worked - there was no fucking way it should have. This should have ended weeks ago, with fist-fights and recrimination. He'd be back in Chicago by now, living his life, the life that didn’t fit him anymore, and pretending it was okay by him.

Instead, he was here in Canada, and they'd all made it through the minefield without losing any limbs. Kowalski was - well, he wasn't easy, and never would be, but it was like he'd gone from boiling over to just simmering. Maybe that had something to do with how much more at peace Fraser was here in Inuvik. There was a sort of balance here, between the three of them.

Ray turned around, leaned back against the counter, taking in this house that Fraser built, warm and safe in the middle of an icy nowhere.

Fraser came in from building up the fire in the living room, and looked at Ray curiously. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah." Ray pushed forward off the counter, grabbing the dishes to go start setting the table. "Yeah, it is, Benny."

When they went to bed that night, it wasn't late and Ray wasn't tired. They got washed up, cleaned up, and crowded in bed together. Ray was in the middle again, turning between Fraser and Kowalski, kissing first one and then the other. Deep and hot and wet, and there was a tiny corner of his brain insisting that this should maybe be weird, but it wasn't, it just wasn’t at all. It felt real and good and right, and when Fraser reached across him for Kowalski, Ray edged out of the way, moved so Fraser could shift over, pull Kowalski into his arms, kiss him as Kowalski sighed and sank back against the bed, pulling Fraser down with him.

They were - God, so beautiful together. Ray just watched as Benny moaned softly against Kowalski's lips, and then moved so he could taste Kowalski's jaw, his neck, mouthing at his skin softly as Kowalski's head tipped back, the line of his throat catching the moonlight through the window.

Fraser's eyes were as dark as Ray had ever seen them when he lifted his head. "You -" he said slowly, like he was having trouble forming words. "Is this okay?" he said finally, looking at Ray. "Do you want -"

"Keep going." Ray managed. "I want to watch."

Fraser breathed in tightly. "Yes."

Kowalski, grinning at both of them, pushed Fraser up and over. Fraser went easily, rolling onto his back and Kowalski slid on top of him. Christ, they were right there, right next to Ray, sliding up against each other in bed. Kowalski, ducking his head to press his lips against Fraser's collarbone, caught Ray's eye and gave him a soft smile that sent a shudder through Ray's whole body.

"Fraser," Kowalski said softly, his lips moving against Fraser's skin. "Tell me what you want."

"I -" Fraser shook his head against the sheets. "I want you. I want you to - please, Ray."

Kowalski chuckled, and pressed up against Fraser, making him shudder. "Tell me."

"Just - kiss me. Kiss me."

"Yeah." Kowalski moved his mouth along Fraser's neck, his cheek. "Yeah."

It was half like this was happening to Ray, every touch of Kowalski's lips against Fraser's skin causing an ache in Ray's own body, every move they made against each other making him harder. They kissed, there in bed next to Ray, for a long time, and it never got less mesmerizing, never lost its fascination: the play of their lips against each other, the sounds Kowalski was drawing out of Fraser.

When Kowalski caught hold of Fraser's legs, pulling back, panting hard, to push against them, push them back, Ray felt his eyes go wide, his head dizzy with all of this. He got to see this; he got to be here when Kowalski grabbed the lube off the bed stand, when Kowalski pushed his fingers into Fraser's body, making Fraser's eyes slide shut, drawing a deep groan out of Fraser's chest. "God," Fraser said. "Yes."

Ray was panting along helplessly, his own cock hard, but he couldn't take his eyes off of the scene next to him, couldn't distract himself enough to do anything more than wrap his hand around it.

Kowalski pulled his fingers out of Fraser, and Fraser made this completely lost sound. Then Kowalski was pushing Fraser's legs back again, more, and moving forward up against him, and his cock was long and hard, and his back was sweating, his eyes open as he pushed forward, and slid inside Fraser.

Fraser's hands were moving against the sheets, looking for purchase as he moaned desperately, and Ray slid his hand forward to hold onto Fraser's. Fraser's fingers instantly curled around his, holding on tight as Kowalski pushed into him, deep, deep. Fraser's body was bent back, open to Kowalski as Kowalski fucked him, so slowly that Ray felt like he was drowning in it, couldn’t imagine what it felt like for Fraser, getting fucked like this, face to face, so good and slow and - Jesus, how was he holding it together, how was he even breathing?

Ray himself was gasping along with each heavy thrust Kowalski made, and he was sweating here, even with the covers shoved down. Kowalski pressed desperately forward, stretching to reach Fraser's mouth, kissing him hotly even though it seemed like he couldn't waste the air, the way they were both panting and moaning so hard, the rhythm of it thrumming inside Ray's chest until he thought he might die from it.

"Please," he heard, dim against the pounding of his heart, "Please, oh Christ, oh hell, please," and it wasn't Fraser who was begging, it was Kowalski, pounding into Fraser's body and begging for it, wanting Fraser to give in, to give it up. Ray watched as Kowalski shifted his weight to one trembling arm, the muscles in his bicep flexing as he wrapped his other hand around Fraser's cock. "Come on," Kowalski was muttering, his voice raw and desperate, as he moved his hand on Fraser's cock, shoving deep inside of him again, and again, and again. "Come on, please."

Fraser clutched at Ray's hand tighter as he jerked and came all over his stomach and Kowalski's fist, moaning loudly and shaking so hard Ray could feel his whole body trembling.

Kowalski had his eyes open in the dimness of the bedroom and was watching Fraser's face as he came around him. "God," he panted. "God, Fraser, yeah, that's it, Christ, that's it…" He squeezed his eyes closed, pressing Fraser back even further as he slammed into him, fucking him hard, shoving inside and just taking him, until he bottomed out deep inside, and stayed there, shaking and crying out as he came.

"Jesus." Ray couldn't breathe, couldn't even close his mouth. "That was -"

Fraser - solid, together Fraser - was limp on the bed, his head tilted back, eyes closed, breath still coming in smothered gasps. Kowalski groaned as he pulled out, letting Fraser's legs down to the bed slowly. He turned his head towards Ray, wiping the sweat out of his eyes with the back of one wrist. His mouth tilted in a grin and he ran his hand through the come still spattered on Fraser's stomach. He rolled close to Ray, grasping his cock with his come-slick hand. "Come on, Vecchio," he muttered in this rough voice that sent a shiver down Ray's spine. "Let's go."

He jerked Ray off there in bed, all slow and intent, like they had all the time in the world. Ray, his fingers holding tight to Kowalski's arm right over his tattoo, gasped up at the ceiling and thought that maybe they did.

Ray came home with a nice bottle of wine one night and told Kowalski and Fraser about his restaurant plan after dinner. He told himself he wasn't nervous, that this wasn't a big thing. "Figured I can't be a cop here, so, you know, I can move forward with something new. Different. It's about time."

Fraser was looking at him, all warm and pleased, and Ray smiled at him, glad he'd kept this quiet till it was sort of on its way.

Kowalski tipped back his chair, balancing it on two legs and taking a sip of wine. "It's better than a bowling alley," he observed.

Ray moved his gaze to Kowalski, raising an eyebrow. "The bowling alley was an experiment," he said with dignity. "A sort of adventure."

Kowalski rolled his eyes, amused. "Stella in a bowling alley," he said under his breath.

"Would you let it go?" Seriously, Kowalski was like having a teenager around. "Will you ever let that go?"

"Unlikely," Fraser murmured, looking down at his own wine glass. He kept a straight face, but Ray had known him for a long time.

"Both of you," he said, pointing first at Fraser and then at Kowalski. "need to shut up about the bowling alley. It was a business venture."

Kowalski looked up, his eyes bright, his mouth open.

"Shut it," Ray cut him off. "I don't want to hear it. Shut the fuck up."

"Language, Ray." Fraser got up, his eyes sparkling with humor, and started gathering the dinner dishes. He made eye contact with Kowalski, and Kowalski, casting a look at Ray, said to Fraser in a quiet aside, "It was going to be funny."

"I'm sure of it," Fraser said softly, and Ray groaned and drank the rest of his wine in one gulp and pondered out loud how hard it would be to take it all back. Chicago was nice this time of year.

"Aw, quit your bitching," Kowalski said, letting his chair bang forward and getting easily to his feet. He bent to give Ray a soft, swift kiss on the mouth. "You love it."

Ray scowled up at him. "I put up with it," he said. "For his sake."

"And mine."

"Whatever," Ray muttered, crossing his arms over his chest.

Fraser put one large, warm hand on his shoulder. "I think it's splendid," he said. "I think it's perfect. You'll make a wonderful business owner, and you'll be ideal at helping the tourists be comfortable in a strange new climate."

"Right!" Ray wanted to keep being annoyed, but, hey, Fraser got it. That was it exactly. "I mean, I get it, what it's like to come from someplace, you know, civilize-" He cut himself off when he saw Fraser getting that slightly offended, hurt look on his face. "I mean someplace - different -"

"American," Kowalski interjected, leaning over Ray's shoulder and stealing the last piece of garlic bread from his plate. "Most of the tourists come from the U.S. of A. What more could they ask for than a restaurant run by an Italian guy from Chicago?"

"Right," Ray said again, settling back and pouring himself more wine, pleased. "That's exactly right." It was going to be good. It was going to be great. He had plans for the place. Good atmosphere, kind of classy and relaxing. A good bar stocked with great liquor. Real nice, elegant wait staff - he was thinking white button-down shirts and smooth black pants for the dress-code. Everything served with a smile and with respect, making everyone who came through his door feel important, tourists and locals alike.

Ray took a long, slow sip of wine, smiling to himself as Kowalski got in the way of Fraser doing the dishes. Ray was a charming guy - he'd have the customers eating out of his hand. He could hardly wait.

Ray had pushed his ticket back as much as he could, knowing he would have to go back down to Chicago before things really got going with the restaurant up here. He had to pack his stuff up, he had papers to sign for Welsh, he had to - damn - deal with his mother. It was one thing to decide to stay in Canada, but down in America, there were things like mortgages and banks and jobs and family to be dealt with, in person.

It was about a month later that he was getting off the airplane with a much smaller bag than last time around, on American ground once more. Kowalski was tagging along again - though it had, at least, been planned this time. He had his own stuff to take care of down here, and they'd decided to do it all in one fell swoop.

Get it all done, and get the hell back to Inuvik, and when had Inuvik started sounding like home in Ray's head? He didn't quite know, but he cast a quick look at Kowalski as they waited for a cab on the sidewalk outside the airport, wondering if he felt as nervous as Ray did. Something about being back here made him worry that the city would suck him in, that he'd get lost here or something. End up - for reasons that didn't need exploring at this juncture - staying.

Kowalski was scowling down at his feet and didn't look up even when Ray elbowed him a little. Ray sighed. Kowalski didn't travel well.

When the cabbie pulled up to the Vecchio house, Kowalski looked at him and shook his head firmly as Ray slid out of the cab. "You're on your own, Vecchio, and good fucking luck to you. I'm heading back to the apartment, pack up some stuff."

"Coward," Ray said flatly, bending down to glare at him through the doorway. "You're just scared."

"Of your mother? Hell yes." Kowalski grinned at him. "I'll give you a call on your cell later, to come pick me up. Get you a get out of jail free card, okay?"

"Wonderful." Ray straightened up with a sigh, and pushed the door shut. The cab pulled away, with Kowalski giving him a wave as he escaped, and Ray was alone on the sidewalk. Time to face the music.

In the end, it really didn't go that badly. Up in Canada with the nice Mountie went over better with his Ma than down in Vegas undercover as a mobster, no matter how good a cause it had been. She took it pretty damn well - which meant, okay, giving him a smack on the back of the head and an icy stare. Two months gone and he came back only to tell her he was leaving for good. Did he practice breaking his mama's heart, or did he just have a knack for it?

You'd think nearly forty years of dealing with his guilt-tripping mother would have made him good at it, but no, he felt like he was eleven years old again, telling her how he'd accidentally broken the church window with a baseball. "Ma," he said desperately, looking down at her, and man, she looked older than he remembered, "Ma, I'm sorry. It's going to be okay. I'm sorry, but I just - I'm happy up there."

She stared at him, her eyes narrowed, for several moments, making his palms sweat, before she nodded sharply, and held her arms out. "What, you go away for months and you don't have a hug and a kiss for your mother when you come back?"

He hugged her tight and kissed her cheek, and she sighed and allowed it, sniffling slightly now, moving on from mad to tearful. "My boy, home again."

"It's only been a couple of months, Ma," he reminded her gently.

"Yes, and now you're going away again, so give a mother a chance to love her son, why don't you?"

"Okay, Ma," he said, hugging her again. "Okay."

It was funny, how his mother hadn't batted an eye at Ray as he started to awkwardly explain the situation up there, how it was him and Fraser and Kowalski living together. He'd been doing his best to keep cool, not to blush, but there was just no way, no way to make that not sound queer.

But she had just nodded understandingly. "That's good, that's a good boy." She'd patted his cheek, while Ray had looked down at her uneasily, wondering what alternate universe he'd wandered into. "You take care of each other, the three of you boys up there." She'd sighed, and held both of his arms, standing back and shaking her head sadly. "You are too thin. No woman to cook for any of you."

"We do okay, Ma, the three of us."

She'd sighed again. "If you have to be up there, to be happy, it is better that you are not alone. And it's good that you take care of Ray. He was here for you, when you needed it. Now, you pay that back." She'd smiled and patted his cheek again. "Good for you, Raimundo."

He'd smiled weakly. Payback. Yeah. That was it. "Right."

It made sense to his mother, that the three of them - sad and/or divorced men who apparently couldn’t feed themselves - would band together, take care of each other in a real, uh, manly sort of way. Right. He'd just go with that, then. Whatever worked, whatever let him get out of here intact - without her disowning him - was good.

Later, Ray watched Kowalski at the dinner table, eating his mother's food and charming the socks off of her with his quiet smiles and improbable good manners and compliments on everything she put in front of him. He had seconds on the stuffed shells and thirds on the braciole and he gave Ray a sideways grin every time Ray rolled his eyes at him, hissing, "Kiss-up," under his breath.

Kowalski even tried to help clear the table, though Ma wouldn't let him, shooing at him and making him sit while she went to go get the dessert. Frannie was so hugely pregnant by this point that she could barely reach the table, and Maria was telling a long and involved story that no one was listening to, while Ma was yelling in from the kitchen for someone to come help her with the dessert plates. Kowalski got up at the same time as Ray, flashing him a look of terror mixed with vast amusement out of the corner of his eye.

Ray closed his eyes for a second, shaking his head. "My family," he said quietly, with some despair.

Kowalski's grin got wider. "They're special."

Ray had borrowed Frannie's car to pick Kowalski up earlier that night, thankfully escaping the house that seemed so much noisier now that he was used to the cabin with just Fraser, and Kowalski, and the wolf. Kowalski had sublet his apartment to the end of his lease, and given up on most of the furniture, just packed up his personal stuff, which amounted to pretty much just three boxes and a couple of big duffle bags.

It had surprised Ray, when he got out to help load the stuff into the car. "This is it?" he said doubtfully, staring at the tiny pile on the sidewalk.

"Yep." Kowalski was hefting a box, pushing it neatly into the trunk. "You gonna help, or just stand there?"

"Shut it," Ray said, warningly, and bent to pick up a box, putting it the trunk. Everything was loaded, and Kowalski swung around the side of the car, whistling as he got in. Ray stood by the trunk for a minute, blinking, as it occurred to him that this wasn't the first time Kowalski had done this. That everything he had just loaded into Ray's trunk was the stuff he'd brought back from him with Canada in the first place. That he'd done the packing up, subletting, leaving Chicago behind thing before, and so maybe this wasn't weird for him. This was a sort of punctuation mark, this was an end point, this was Kowalski deciding, well and truly, to leave Chicago behind. Throw his lot in with Fraser in the Northwest Territories. Again.

Ray was quiet when he got into the car, and drove back to his mother's place in relative silence. It was winter here in Chicago still, but Kowalski had the window open a bit, and was tapping his fingers on his thigh, jittery like he wanted a smoke. Funny how winter in Chicago didn't seem as cold as it had a couple of months ago. Funny how quick things changed.

And now they were with Ray's family, telling stories about life in the north. Frannie had her hands on her belly and she asked questions about Fraser, intently, but she got distracted every time the baby kicked, and it was clear that her focus was skewing elsewhere. Which was good, Ray thought, rubbing the back of his head. Healthy, even. The way she looked at him sharply made him uneasy. Frannie was way too perceptive, sometimes. Frannie knew things she really shouldn't know, and Ray couldn't even begin to fathom what a conversation with her would be like, if she caught onto the fact that he and Fraser were - that he and Fraser and Kowalski were - that -

God. He shuddered inwardly. No, he couldn't even think about it.

Later that night, he lay in bed in the room he'd grown up in. He'd changed the furniture, sure, and changed the décor, definitely, but it was still the room he'd spent so much of his life inhabiting. He kept coming back here: after Angie, after Stella. He lay there, awake and jittery, nervous, still, and wondered if maybe this time was it. If - like so many things that involved Fraser - this was different, this was something brand-new and unpredictable, but still a sure thing.

Probably a sure thing. No, definitely.

Christ. Was he moving to Canada?

The board in the hallway creaked, the one right in front of the guest room door. Ma had gotten Kowalski set up in there, with fresh sheets and extra blankets and a towel for the morning, and kissed Kowalski's cheek when she said good night to him, something that make him blush, the tips of his ears turning red.

Now Ray pushed himself up on one elbow in bed and peered through the darkness as the door to his room was nudged open, and Kowalski poked his head inside. "Are you sleeping?" he said softly.

"Shhh," Ray whispered, gesturing him to come in. "Close the door. Quietly," he hissed, as Kowalski slipped in and eased the door slowly shut.

Kowalski padded over to the bed, the ratty pajama pants he had on slipping low on his hips, because he never tied them. He had his glasses on, and he shivered a little as he sat down on the edge of Ray's bed, drawing his feet up under him.

"You get bored in there, Kowalski?" Ray asked, keeping his voice low, moving to sit up back against the headboard.

"Couldn't sleep." Kowalski yawned as he gazed curiously around Ray's bedroom. Ray looked around with him, like he was seeing it for the first time. Everything neat, squared off, put away. The big, solid furniture that didn't look like him, didn't feel like him. Like he'd been trying to live up to something that maybe didn’t quite work. When he turned back, Kowalski was just looking at him. "You doing okay? With everything?" Kowalski's voice was carefully light, easy, like it wasn't a big deal.

Ray gave him a suspicious look. It wasn't very often that Kowalski wasn't sort of an asshole. "I'm good," he said cautiously.

"Hm." Kowalski just kept looking at him, sticking his bare feet under the edge of the blankets. "It's cold in here."

Ray shrugged. "It's a big house. We turn the heat down at night, save oil."

"Yeah." Kowalski blinked owlishly at him through his glasses. "You got a lot of stuff to pack up tomorrow?"

Ray gazed around his room again. "Not a whole lot. I have some stuff to ship, but, you know - how much of this am I going to need in Canada?"

Kowalski grinned at him, sudden and bright in the darkness. "You don't exactly strike me as the type to go native. It's okay - Fraser'll make room for our stuff. He did before."

"Right." When it had been just Fraser and Kowalski up there together, and Ray down in sunny Florida with Kowalski's ex-wife. So strange.

They were quiet for a second, then Kowalski looked up at Ray, tilted his head a little. "You like it up there."

It wasn't quite a question, but Ray nodded anyway. "Yeah." And he did. It was strange up there, different, but he was looking forward to opening the restaurant, to being in charge. Having someplace to wear his nice suits, and getting to host any number of bewildered tourists and also charm the locals while he was at it. "Yeah, I do."

"Yeah." Kowalski slid up the bed, settled down next to Ray against the headboard. He tilted his head to the side, looking at Ray out of the corner of his eye. "I'm pretty sure that makes us as crazy as Fraser."

Ray felt his lips curving in a grin. Kowalski was probably right about that. "Is that even possible?"

"Scares you, doesn't it?"

"Christ." Ray started laughing. "What the fuck is the matter with us?"

Kowalski was shaking with laughter, too. "Hell if I know."

"Shhh," Ray said, trying to get control of himself. "Quiet, my mom is right down the hall."

That just made Kowalski laugh harder. "Oh, no. Wouldn’t want to get in trouble with your mom."

"Shut up." Ray smacked him lightly. "Do you want Frannie to wake up?"

"Oh, Christ, no." Kowalski was still laughing, trying to stay quiet. He turned his head the same time Ray turned his, grinning at Ray and then leaning up real quick and kissing him. Ray's breath caught in his throat, and then he was kissing Kowalski back. They were half laughing, half kissing, and Ray slid Kowalski's glasses off, fumbled to get them safely on the bedside table, and then they were kissing as madly as they'd been laughing a moment ago. Kowalski angled himself to press against Ray's side and slid his tongue into Ray's mouth.

Ray had his hands on Kowalski's sides, gripping him tightly, trying to get a better angle, trying to get him closer. Finally, he just moved him, pressing him down against the bed, edging on top of him a little. Kowalski moaned softly, and Ray muttered, "Shh," as he kissed him again.

Kowalski's hands were sliding down his back, cool through Ray's t-shirt, dragging him closer. He was shifting under Ray, pushing up against him, and making these sounds in his throat that were making Ray crazy.

"Quiet," he managed, moving his mouth down Kowalski's cheek, mouthing at his neck, tasting him. God. God. They had to stop. "Quiet, just -"

Kowalski's hands were on Ray's ass, and he was moving under him, and Ray's cock was so fucking hard, already, sliding against Kowalski's hip. Christ, he was a dead man. "We can't do this here."

Kowalski groaned softly. "Vecchio -"

"Shh." Ray managed to drag his mouth away from Kowalski's. He blinked his eyes open, and Kowalski was staring up at him, and man, Ray had gotten him half out of his clothes somehow. His t-shirt was rucked up under his arms and his pants were pushed down over his hips, and just -

God. Ray pressed his forehead against Kowalski's shoulder, his heart pounding. He was a grown man here. This was fucking crazy. He had to just get himself under control, and he'd be fine. Just -

Kowalski's fingers were sliding under the waistband of his pajamas, and Ray shuddered. His breath hot against Ray's ear, Kowalski whispered, "Does your door have a lock?"

"I -" For a second, Ray couldn't even focus enough to breathe, let alone answer the question. Kowalski's fingers were tracing lightly over the top of his ass, and that was ratcheting him up, making his cock throb. No one had ever touched him quite like that, and he didn't even know - "Yeah," he said finally, breathlessly. "Yeah, it locks."

"Fantastic." Kowalski lifted his head, kissing Ray hard then shoving at him till Ray rolled away. Kowalski got off the bed, tugging his pants up, and padded silently to the door, turning the lock on the knob. When he turned back to where Ray was sprawled, silent and hard and waiting for him, he paused for a second, then swiftly shrugged out of his t-shirt and pushed his pajama pants off. Ray had a momentary glimpse of him, lean and naked in his bedroom (Kowalski. In his bedroom.), before he climbed back onto the bed, shivering a little, and got on top of Ray.

"God," Ray muttered. No matter where he put his hands, there was Kowalski's hot, smooth skin. "God."

"Shh." Now Kowalski was shushing him, and Ray did his best to shut the fuck up, but God, he was so hard, and Kowalski was so damn hot on top of him, kissing him fiercely. "Shh, just -" Kowalski grabbed Ray's hand and dragged it down between them to his cock.

Jesus. Ray wrapped his fingers around it, stroking Kowalski, and Kowalski moaned. "Quiet, shh, shut up," Ray hissed, but he was shoving his own cock up against Kowalski's hip as he said it.

Kowalski was panting, his eyes closed and his head turned to the side, and Ray couldn't help but lean forward, lick his way up Kowalski's neck and bite gently at his earlobe. Kowalski gasped, his hands coming up to clutch at Ray's shoulders. "Christ," Ray breathed in his ear. "You're making me crazy"

"Jesus." Kowalski's voice was rough, like he was struggling to be quiet. "Come on." He was pushing at Ray, like he was trying to get away, and Ray loosened his hold, confused, so fucking turned on he felt half-drunk with it. Kowalski slid to the side and turned onto his stomach. He looked back at Ray over his shoulder, his eyes catching the light from the streetlight outside the curtained windows. "Come here," he said softly, and Ray shuddered.

He couldn’t stop himself from moving forward, settling down over Kowalski's body. Kowalski groaned into the pillow when Ray's cock slid up against him, in the hot hollow of his cheeks, and Ray didn't even have enough breath to shush him. It was all he could do to breathe, to swallow, and he couldn't stop the shallow thrust his hips made, sliding his cock up against Kowalski again. The bed creaked, and he stopped, his weight on his hands, his head bent against Kowalski's back as he tried to get control of himself. "We can't do this," he whispered desperately. "Not here."

"Fuck, yes, here," Kowalski hissed back. He pressed his ass back against Ray and Ray whimpered. Kowalski's ass was soft against his thighs, and he couldn't think, couldn't think. They had to be quiet, they had to be so quiet, and Christ, hell, no way this was going to work; he was so turned on, he wanted to fuck Kowalski through the mattress, wanted to slam into him so hard he wouldn't be able to even sit down the next day.

He was going to die, right here, if he didn't do something.

Kowalski was panting under him, thrusting gently but steadily against the mattress. "You got something we could use for - ?"

Ray blinked. Lube. Right. He - "Yeah." He reached sideways, scrabbling in his bedside table for the old tube of - yeah. It worked for him when he was by himself, it would work here when he - "Kowalski." He stopped, swallowed, the tube cool in his hand, Kowalski hot and panting underneath him. "Are we really gonna do this?"

"Yeah." Kowalski was twisting under him in a way that dragged Ray's cock against him so good it made his eyes cross. "Fuck, yeah."

Ray's heart was thundering in his chest as he slicked up his fingers - probably too much, but proper preparation seemed particularly prudent, here. Fraser would approve. Fraser - God, Fraser would - this would - Ray shut his eyes, and pressed his fingers into Kowalski. Kowalski's almost-silent gasping seemed loud, so fucking loud, and Ray had a million reasons why not to do this running through his head, but not one of them seemed important. Not with his fingers inside Kowalski's hot, hot body, not with Kowalski dragging in breaths of air under him and struggling to keep it quiet.

Ray went deeper, sliding three fingers in now, and Kowalski had his face pressed against the pillow. Ray slid his other arm up over Kowalski's shoulder, down his arm, over the tattoo, to curl his fingers around Kowalski's hand. He needed something to hold onto, needed something to ground him, because this wasn't Canada, this was Chicago, and Fraser was nowhere nearby watching. This was him and Kowalski, alone in his bedroom, and he had three fingers in Kowalski's ass.

They were really going to do this.

Kowalski turned his hand over, sliding his fingers through Ray's and he was whispering something against the pillow that Ray couldn’t hear. Ray took a breath, and twisted his fingers in Kowalski's ass, and Kowalski gasped out, "Ah," too loud, way too loud. Ray froze, listening desperately for anyone moving out in the hallway, but there was nothing, just Kowalski breathing underneath him.

Ray leaned down close, trying like hell to keep his voice soft and steady. "You have to keep quiet, if we're gonna -"

Kowalski nodded, his fingers clenching tight around Ray's. A drop of sweat ran down his temple. Ray twisted his fingers again, watching the play of tension across Kowalski's face as he struggled not to make a sound, biting his lip hard.

"Okay," Ray said, more to himself than anything else. "Okay." He pulled his fingers out of Kowalski, and Kowalski breathed out, not quite whimpering.

"God." Kowalski's eyes fluttered open, turning his head to look over his shoulder at Ray. "God, you're -"

"Shut up," Ray said, not mean, but not wanting to hear it, not sure he could take anything more. Not one word, be it affectionate or teasing or demanding. Any or all of those things and that would be it - he'd be done before they'd even started. "Just - shut up," he said, helplessly tender, as he slicked himself up and knelt behind Kowalski, tugging at his hips until he struggled to his knees. Ray ran one slick thumb down between his cheeks, and Kowalski breathed and pressed back.

"God, yeah," he panted, and Ray grabbed his cock, pushing forward and, oh, Christ, in. Just a little, just the head of his cock, but he was inside Kowalski, and holy fuck, this just might kill him, honestly and truly. Kowalski shoved back, and Ray gasped out loud as he pressed further in, so hot and so tight. He needed - he just needed - he held onto Kowalski's hips and thrust in, both of them moaning this time, and the bed creaked under them.

"Fuck," Ray hissed, stopping even though it killed him, freezing there, with his cock all the way up Kowalski's ass. He blinked the sweat out of his eyes, muttering curses almost silently under his breath.

"Vecchio," Kowalski whispered under him, his voice deceptively calm. "If you don't fucking fuck me -"

"Shh," Ray whispered, drawing out - God, God - and then thrusting back in as slow as he could manage, as slow as his body allowed, a long, sweet slide into Kowalski. The bed creaked softly, but not bad, not bad, and Ray drew in breath, and did it again: sliding out, and then pressing back in, slow and steady and deep, deep, till he was right up against Kowalski's ass.

Kowalski's head was bowed, and his arms were trembling as he held himself up. "Jesus," he breathed. "Oh, Christ."

"Yeah." Ray did the long, slow slide again. "God, yeah."

He fucked Kowalski there on his bed, both of them barely breathing, moving only as much as they dared, shaking and sweating and caught up in this thing that was like nothing else Ray had ever done in his goddamn life. Every long draw in and out dragged Ray closer to the edge, and he was wrapped around Kowalski now, his chest against Kowalski's back, fucking him slow as he reached around to grasp Kowalski's cock in his hand.

Kowalski moaned deep in his throat, and Ray heard it mostly as a rumble, as he jerked Kowalski off, his cock sliding in and out of him slowly, his hand moving shakily, unable to find any rhythm through the unending need for quiet. Kowalski was gasping for breath, and went down on his elbows. Ray stilled, let Kowalski do the fucking, moving himself back onto Ray's cock, forward to slide his own cock through Ray's slick fist, over, and over, and over again, until Ray himself couldn't take it anymore, was sure he was going to come before Kowalski, certain of it.

Until Kowalski stiffened and jerked in his hand, Kowalski's mouth working silently in the darkness as he swallowed his moans. Kowalski collapsed forward and Ray helplessly followed him down, pinning him to the mattress and fucking his ass as hard as he dared, thrusting in hard, and again, and again, shoving himself over the edge into an endless orgasm that left him panting harshly against Kowalski's shoulder, limp and weak.

"God," Kowalski breathed, sprawled flat underneath him. Ray couldn't have moved off of him for love or money. "God. Fucking Christ, that was good."

"Shh," Ray said weakly against his shoulder.

Kowalski twisted his head, his eyes bright with amusement as he peered at Ray over his shoulder. "I think it might be too late for quiet."

"Christ, I hope not." Ray summoned all of his energy and pulled out slowly, rolling over onto his back on the bed beside Kowalski. Kowalski twisted over onto his back, groaning quietly at the movement.

They lay there in the dark together for a long moment, remembering how to breathe, listening to the quiet creaking of the house settling around them. Ray finally nudged Kowalski's shoulder. "You can't fall asleep in here."

Kowalski stretched. "What, you don't want to have that conversation with Frannie in the morning?"

Ray turned his head to stare at him. "No. No, I really, really don't."

"Smart man." Kowalski shifted onto his side, wincing just a little, and looked down at Ray in the darkness. He seemed to be pondering something, about to speak, and then finally just shook his head a little and pressed his lips against Ray's. It was a soft kiss, and it lasted for a long time. Kowalski finally pulled away, and did that thing where he ran his thumb over Ray's lower lip. Ray'd seen him do it with Fraser, too, and it occurred to him that it was something Kowalski did when he was feeling particularly tender about how he felt about him. About them. About this.

Ray blinked up at him, his throat tight. "I -" He couldn't say it, couldn't say anything, but he brought one hand up to the back of Kowalski's neck, held on tight for a second, looking up at him in the dark.

"Yeah." Kowalski took a breath. "I've got to go back across the hall."

"Watch the second board in front of the room," Ray said quietly. "It creaks."

"Good to know." Kowalski flashed him a brilliant smile and rolled out of bed, pulling on his pajama pants, and shrugging into his t-shirt as he slipped quietly out the door.

The room was quiet and the bed felt cold and ridiculously huge. It took Ray a long time to fall asleep.

They wrapped things up in a couple of days. It was a whirlwind of signing papers - signing his job away, after all the sweet-talking he'd had to do to get it back in the first place - and packing up boxes, lugging things to the post office to be shipped way the hell up north, and packing up the important stuff to take with them. Kowalski had less to do in the city than Ray did, and he slipped off for a whole afternoon, running errands he said, but coming back empty handed, looking way too pleased with himself to be innocent.

He wouldn't give, though, no matter how sharp a look Ray gave him, not even when Ray crowded up against him in the kitchen, leaning in close and not quite kissing him, not till he told. "Come on, Kowalski -"

They broke apart really quick when the door from the dining room swung in, Frannie coming in belly first. Ray was pretty sure she hadn't seen anything, but damn it, he still didn't know what Kowalski was all cat-that-ate-the-canary about.

Kowalski got his apartment re-sublet, furnished as-is, and Ray had his severance package in his briefcase. He'd cleaned out his desk at work and managed to slip away with a handshake with Welsh and a minimum of fanfare. He spent the evenings with the family, making his mother happy. He spent the nights lying alone in the too-big bed, trying not to think about Kowalski lying so close across the hall. They didn't take that sort of chance again, but Ray had some thoughts about it. Ray had a lot of thoughts about it. Every fucking night.

It was a relief to finally be going back to Canada, really.

They'd both kissed his Ma goodbye, and Frannie had hugged them tearfully, the best she could with her stomach in the way, and told them to give her love to Fraser. It wasn't until Ray was halfway out the door that she caught his arm, and went awkwardly up on tiptoe to kiss his cheek. He stared at her, bemused. "What was that for?"

She gave him a look, smiling and wiping away the lipstick she'd left on his cheek. "I'm just glad you're all happy up there."

It was simple enough, innocent, but the way she was smiling, the sharp look she gave him through her lashes, he thought she knew -

God. He didn't want to even think about all the stuff Frannie knew.

They took a cab to the airport. It was an early flight, so it was no surprise that Kowalski was sleepy and sullen to start out with; no amount of coffee was going to offset getting up at 5:15 AM. He sat slouched in the cab next to Ray with his arms crossed over his chest, sunglasses on, and didn't do more than grunt at anything Ray said.

Ray sighed. Charming. He turned to look out the window at the last view he'd get of Chicago for a while. The streets seemed bigger, the sidewalks more crowded, everything slightly dirtier. He was anxious to get back; too busy looking forward to what was to come to feel too melancholy for what he was leaving. He was ready for this. He was more than ready for this. Fraser was meeting them at the airport, and Ray had an appointment tomorrow afternoon with the contractor he'd hired to do some work on the restaurant and just - yeah. He was ready.

Kowalski drifted along behind him at the airport, duffle bag slung over his shoulder, squinting against the harsh fluorescent lights. He shuffled behind Ray at check-in, and glowered silently through the whole security line, and Ray just stoically ignored him throughout. He got them situated at the gate, Kowalski dropping into his seat with a sigh, and assuming the same posture he'd had in the cab.

Ray pressed his lips together. He'd figured Kowalski had been going through his own crisis last time they'd flown to Canada together, the fucked-up-ness of leaving Fraser and coming back, that that had been what had made him so impossible to deal with.

Turned out Kowalski was just an asshole to travel with.

Hey, Ray could be the bigger person. He could be the adult here. He left Kowalski at the gate with an admonishment to guard their bags. Kowalski had grunted, his eyes already closed.

Ray sighed, and headed off. There was a coffee shop not too far off, and he procured coffees for the both of them, the biggest size they had. He wrinkled his nose in distaste as he prepared Kowalski's for him, putting in far too many sugar packets than could be good for a person. When he got back to the gate, Kowalski was in the exact same position Ray had left him in. Ray nudged his boot with his foot, and when Kowalski opened his eyes halfway, Ray pressed the cup of coffee into his hand.

Kowalski opened his eyes a little bit more, and sat up some to peel back the lid. Ray settled down next to him, putting his own coffee down for a moment as he opened the paper he had bought at the coffee shop, folding it over neatly into quarters. He was aware of Kowalski's eyes on him, but he didn't look over, just read the editorials intently and took a slow sip of his own coffee. He watched out of the corner of his eye as Kowalski sipped suspiciously at the coffee, then grunted in satisfaction, and settled back down.

Ray smiled smugly to himself, and flipped the paper over. Peace. Temporary, but still.

The rest of the trip was - well, long and boring, and Kowalski remained sullen and irritating, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel, and when they finally - finally - got off the plane, there was a familiar truck parked at the edge of the tarmac and an even-more familiar Mountie leaning up against it, the wolf sitting at his feet.

Ray knew he was grinning like a fool, but he couldn’t stop. Fraser pushed off the side of the truck as they walked up. He was wearing jeans and a worn cable-knit sweater and a smile so huge Ray was surprised they hadn't been able to see it from the plane. He walked right up to them, and hugged Ray, his arms tight and warm around Ray's shoulders, and Ray felt like - yeah, yeah, he was home.

Fraser stood back, holding him by the shoulders for a second. "Welcome back, Ray." Fraser looked over his shoulder and let him go, striding forward to give Kowalski the same bear-hug treatment, easing right by Kowalski's brooding vibes, putting his arms around him and pulling him close, holding onto him until Ray could see the tension bleeding out of Kowalski, the scowl that had hovered around his eyes since Chicago finally evaporating.

Fraser let him go, and Kowalski stumbled back a step, his cheeks flushed, and a smile hovering around his lips. He looked over at Ray, who was grinning hugely at him. "Shut up," he said, pointing two fingers at him and giving him his fierce look.

Ray held up his hands innocently. "I didn't say a word."

Kowalski had the decency to look vaguely ashamed, rubbing the back of his head ruefully. "I don't like flying," he admitted as the three of them walked to the truck, Dief dancing around their feet.

"I'm picking up on that," Ray said, not trying at all to hide his amusement. They put their bags - and Dief, much to his petulant chagrin - in the covered back of the truck, and squeezed together into the front. They talked the whole way home, Kowalski finding his voice for the first time since Chicago, telling Fraser all about the city, and Ray's ma, and Frannie, and how it all went.

The cabin was still pretty solitary, the landscape still pretty bleak, and it was fucking freezing inside, but as Fraser got the fire going and Kowalski struggled with his boot laces in the doorway, and Ray took off his coat and hung it on the hook by the door, he just felt - happy. He felt happy, and this felt right, and he walked over to Fraser, tugging him to his feet and kissing him soundly. Fraser's arms came up around him immediately, and he kissed him back, treading on the edge of making it something more than a welcome-home kiss. "Hi," Ray said when they finally pulled back. Fraser's face was flushed and pleased. "I missed you."

"I missed you as well, Ray. The both of you. The house was very quiet without you here."

Ray turned to look at Kowalski, who had persevered over his boots and was standing watching them, his hands jammed in his jeans pockets, looking rather content. "You saying we're noisy, Fraser?" he asked, smiling and belligerent in that special way that he had.

Fraser gave him his solemn Mountie look. "Exuberant, perhaps."

Kowalski looked at Ray. "He thinks were noisy."

"High-spirited," Fraser suggested.

"Noisy," Ray and Kowalski said at the same time.

Fraser raised one eyebrow. "Perhaps slightly," he allowed, and Kowalski, looking satisfied, took his hands out of his pockets and strode forward, wrapping Fraser up in a hug.

"It's good to have you back," Fraser said when Kowalski released him. He put his hand on Kowalski's cheek, and the two of them looked at each other for a long moment. Ray flushed, feeling like he was intruding on a really private moment. He looked away when Fraser leaned in to kiss Kowalski, and when he looked back, they'd stepped back from each other. Fraser's cheeks were red and his eyes were happy, and he looked back and forth between the two of them. "Well," he said, clapping his hands together, "Dinner?"

"Food. God, yes," Kowalski said fervently, heading directly for the kitchen, the wolf right on his heels. "I haven't eaten all day."

"You refused to eat all day," Ray corrected him, following him into the kitchen.

"It was plane food," Kowalski countered. "It was gross."

"Sure, but you don't get to refuse food and then complain about being hungry."

Kowalski looked up, offended, from where he was hunting for food in the fridge. "Yeah, I do."

"Whatever." Ray sat down at the table, neatly straightening his cuffs. When he looked up, Fraser was standing in the doorway, looking at the both of them, smiling. "What?" Ray said, tilting his chair back a little and grinning up at Fraser.

"Nothing, Ray," Fraser said. He cleared his throat and ran his thumb over his eyebrow, still smiling. "Let's get dinner started."

"Finally!" Kowalski said, straightening up, and Fraser laughed and started getting out the pans.

Opening night was in full swing. Ray had had to deal with the shipment of wine glasses arriving late, the beer taps not working right, the ecru tablecloths he'd ordered showing up in purple instead. He was putting out fires left and right.

He was having the time of his life.

He mingled as much as he could - wanted to show that this was a place where he knew his guests, always had time for a welcome and a handshake. It seemed like the whole damn town had shown up for this, and the place was packed with people talking, laughing, eating the choice antipasti he had hand-picked - bruschetta, fried calamari, caprese salata.

And most of them were drinking the really great fucking wine that had been delivered just the afternoon before, from one of his favorite wine shops back in Chicago. Several cases of the stuff, and when Anna called him to sign for it, he read the label, confused. "I didn't order this," he said to the delivery guy finally, handing him back the clipboard. "I don't know how it ended up here."

"You're Vecchio, right?" the driver said doubtfully. "Ray Vecchio?"

"Yeah," Ray said, very deliberately not looking up at the sign over the door that said - in big, neat letters - VECCHIO'S. Because: don't piss off your delivery guys. "But -"

"And the order was placed by -" The driver flipped back through the sheets on the clipboard. "Here it is. Kowalski, Ray Kowalski." He looked up at Ray. "Different Ray?"

"Uh, yeah," Ray said, rubbing the back of his head and rocking back on his heels. He stared down at the cases from what he knew was the best - and most expensive - wine shop in the city of Chicago.

"But if you're Vecchio, this is for you." The driver nodded firmly and stuck the clipboard in front of Ray. "Sign here."

"Right." Ray pulled the pen from behind his ear and signed his name neatly on the bottom line.

The delivery driver left, and Ray bent down by the boxes. Anna handed him the box-cutter from the counter, and he carefully sliced open the boxes. He pulled out a bottle, and whistled low, sitting back on his heels and staring at it. "1999 Aldo Conterno Barolo Cicala," he said softly. Man. And plenty of it to go around for the opening, and enough to keep the place in stock for a while after, looked like.

When he asked Kowalski about it later, Kowalski had shrugged. "Figured you needed something special for the place. Opening night, you gotta make an impression."

"Yeah, but when? How?" Ray knew he was staring, but he couldn't stop. Kowalski was out of his mind.

Kowalski snorted. "Back in the city. I swung by, they were able to get their hands on it, I figured - why not?"

Ah. That explained the afternoon of Kowalski's smugness that one afternoon back in Chicago. Ray looked at him. "Thanks. I just - thank you."

"Aw," Kowalski said, hooking his thumbs through his belt loops and grinning wickedly. "You're so sweet, Vecchio."

"Shut the fuck up," Ray said feeling equal parts exasperated and affectionate. "Say you're welcome, Stanley."

"You're welcome, Stanley," Kowalski said obediently, his eyes gleaming wickedly. "Glad to be of service."

And now, tonight, Ray looked around at the happy, mingling crowd, and relaxed for a moment, leaning back against the bar and just taking it all in. Someone nudged him, and he turned around, the smile on his face growing broader when he saw it was Kowalski, with Fraser right next to him. "Congratulations, Ray," Fraser said, his eyes warm. "It's going splendidly."

"It is, isn't it?" Ray said proudly, straightening his cuffs and gazing around.

"It's not bad," Kowalski offered. He had a toothpick in his mouth - classy - but he was wearing what was really a pretty damn nice suit, a deep, dark blue with elegant lines, making him look long and lean. More so than usual, even. His tie was a little bit loose, but that was all right - it made him look just a tiny bit rumpled, and that fit him.

Ray looked at Fraser, who was wearing his dress uniform, which he didn't do very often here in the North, really. He looked - well, he looked like Fraser. Which meant he looked hot. Neat and clean and precise, all decked out, his hair newly cut and combed smoothly, his face maybe a few more lines now, but still had that aura of innocence, which Ray knew - knew for a fact - wasn't anywhere near accurate.

And yet, it still made him want to take him somewhere private and - dishevel him. He looked back at Kowalski. Actually, he wanted to do that to both of them. God. He shut his eyes for a second, shook himself. He had a whole lot of hours left of playing the smooth, gracious host. No time for getting distracted.

He lifted his chin at Adam, the bartender, and moments later there were two neat shining glasses of deep red wine on the bar in front of him. "Here," Ray said, lifting them and pressing one neatly into each of their hands. "It's a party. Mingle. Have fun."

Kowalski raised an eyebrow, leaning back against the bar, and Fraser sipped politely at the wine. Ray, turning to leave, paused for a moment, and leaned in, straightening Kowalski's tie swiftly. "There," he said, stepping back as Kowalski rolled his eyes and batted his hands away. "You look good." He looked at Fraser. "You both do," he said softly.

"Thank you, Ray." Fraser looked happy and Ray would have bet money that Fraser was having some disheveling thoughts himself.

"Get out of here," Kowalski drawled, his wine glass dangling gracefully from one hand. "Your public awaits."

Ray swiveled around, smiling widely, and went off to shake the mayor's hand and offer her a drink.

Both Kowalski and Fraser stayed with Ray until the end. Ray was tired, but a good kind of tired, still sort of thrumming with leftover energy. His nice suit was a little rumpled, and after he let the last person out with a wave and a smile, he undid his tie all the way, leaving it dangling. He looked around - man, the place needed a clean-up - and made his way slowly to the kitchen, his feet aching.

He pushed through the door, and Fraser was there at the sink, in suspenders and Henley with the sleeves rolled up, doing the dishes. Kowalski was sitting on the prep table across the way, his suit coat long gone, no tie to be seen, and the first two buttons on his now-wrinkled shirt undone. He had a beer in his hand, and he turned, taking a swig, as Ray came in. "Hey! Finally."

Ray leaned heavily against the table next to him and took the beer out of his hand. He took a sip and then pressed it the cool bottle against his forehead. "Benny, I have employees to do that, you know." He glanced around. The kitchen was almost entirely cleaned up.

"Well, Ray." Fraser looked up at him, still scrubbing at a pan. He had a towel tucked into the front of his uniform pants. "I wanted to help out."

"He wanted to get away from the crowds," Kowalski translated, winking at Fraser. "I did, too." He snagged his beer back from Ray and took a sip. "So I figured I'd keep him company."

"I can see that." Ray rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Well, thank you. You didn't have to, but thank you."

"He kinda did," Kowalski informed him. "He sent Sarah home early."

Ray narrowed his eyes at Fraser, who flushed guiltily. Ray pointed a finger at him. "Do not mess with things here, Mountie. I got this place under control."

"I know you do, Ray." Fraser thumbed his eyebrow. "She only had the washing up to do, and I figured that we -"

Ray raised an eyebrow, and Fraser quickly amended, "- I figured that I could take care of that, and there was no reason for Ms. Ashevak to be here doing nothing…"

Ray waved his hand. He was too tired for this. "All right, all right. Don’t worry about it." He rubbed his neck.

Fraser shut off the water and pulled the towel from the waist of his pants. "It's done, now. See how quickly that went?"

"Great." Kowalski hopped off the table and shrugging into his suit jacket. "Let's get the hell out of here." He slung his arm around Ray's shoulders, walking him towards the door. "Come on, Fraser," he called over his shoulder.

Ray looked back, and Fraser was settling himself neatly into his uniform jacket once more, buttoning up, and even putting the lanyard back in place for the ride home. Ray turned back, shaking his head. "Freak," he murmured.

"You think I don't know that?" Kowalski responded. "Come on. Home. Shoes off. Suit off. God, how do you dress like this all the time?" He tugged at the collar of his shirt. "It's uncomfortable."

"It's classy," Ray said mildly. They waited at the door for Fraser, who was flipping off the lights from the back. Ray flicked a piece of lint off the collar of Kowalski's jacket. "It looks good on you."

"I'll look better when it's off," Kowalski said, giving him a heated look.

Ray's mouth was dry suddenly, and he had to swallow before he could answer. "You're going to have to prove it."

"Oh, I'll prove it." Kowalski was pushing him gently into the shadows by the door, where they couldn't be seen from outside, and kissing him hotly.

"Gentlemen," Fraser's voice came from the darkness. "Perhaps we could take this someplace more comfortable?"

Ray pulled away from Kowalski's hands that were seeking under his suit jacket. He grinned at Fraser. "What a line, Benny! I'm impressed."

Fraser unlocked the front door and held it open, nodding his head. "Thank you," he said, charmingly. "Shall we?"

They made their way back home, quiet and easy in the car. Ray was thinking back over the night, how smoothly everything had gone. Sure, a few snags here and there, but nothing he hadn't been able to handle, nothing that ruined the night. It had been great, a total success, and that boded well for the way it would go, so well. He sighed happily, his breath showing in the cold darkness of the cab of the truck.

Kowalski nudged him a little. "What?"

"Nothing." Ray knew he sounded stupidly pleased with himself, but he couldn’t even begin to make his tone grumpy. "Just - it went well tonight, don't you think? I thought it went well."

"It was marvelous, Ray." Fraser glanced over at him, smiling.

"Yeah." Ray settled back a little, and felt Kowalski's hand sliding warm onto his thigh. He glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, and Kowalski was shifting on the seat beside him, pressing up against him a little. His hand was warm through Ray's pants. "What do you think you're doing, Kowalski?" Ray murmured, amused.

"Nothing." Kowalski was clearly going for innocent, but his hand slid higher, stroking gently along Ray's inseam and now he had Ray shifting in his seat as his dick started to get more than a little interested in the proceedings.

"Hmm." Kowalski was half-turned towards him now, and Ray could see his breath, too, in the cold air of the truck. They were squeezed close together, anyway, and all Ray would have to do would be to lean forward just a little, to kiss him. He held back, his lips so close to Kowalski's, but not kissing him, not yet. Making the cocky little fucker wait it out.

Kowalski flashed a quick grin, and his warm hand moved up further, and Ray hissed as Kowalski's fingers traced lightly over his hardening cock in his pants.

Fraser cleared his throat, and when the two of them looked over, he had his eyes on the road, still, but it was clearly costing him. He kept flickering looks in their direction, then resolutely dragging his gaze away. "Do you think you might be able to wait until we get home?"

Kowalski's hand was cupped warmly around Ray's hard-on. "Sure, Fraser," he said lightly, not even breathing hard. "No problem."

Ray groaned a little, and Kowalski's hand tightened. "Right, Vecchio?"

"Right," he said faintly. "Sure."

They made it home just fine, and Ray was hard, yeah, and turned on, yeah, but he was in this state of sort of hyper-fatigue, where there seemed to be plenty of time for everything. They went in, and behaved like normal adults, taking off their shoes and boots in the foyer, hanging up coats, Fraser making his way to the bedroom to start the uniform removal process. Dief danced around their feet, but settled by his food bowl once the truly outrageous amount of leftovers were put there for him.

Ray followed Fraser with vague intentions of getting his suit hung up, but when Kowalski walked in a few minutes later, Ray had Fraser up against the opened closet door, Fraser only half out of his uniform, kissing him and kissing him.

Ray had heard Kowalski come in, but he couldn't stop. Fraser's mouth was sweet and soft, and his hands were tracing up Ray's back, then down to his ass, and his tongue was in Ray's mouth, and it was all just so good.

Behind them, Kowalski drawled, "Now that's a nice picture." He sidled up beside them, and tucked his fingers into the collar of Ray's coat from behind, drawing it down and off. "Clothes off first," he said, his breath hot against Ray's neck, his body hovering close behind Ray's.

Ray moaned against Fraser's lips, but Kowalski's hands on him were urgent, and he pulled away regretfully. Fraser kept his eyes closed for a moment, his breath coming fast, before he opened them, and started determinedly stripping his uniform off.

Ray started on his suit, but was almost immediately distracted by Kowalski, who was "helping" him: sliding his tie out of his collar, bending his head to mouth at Ray's neck. Undoing his shirt buttons slowly, one by one, then tucking his fingers into the waist of Ray's good suit pants and leaning in for a kiss. Jesus. Kowalski was killing him, here.

By the time Fraser was undressed, Kowalski had Ray on the bed - still with his damn pants on - and they were making out, hot and heavy, Kowalski's leg pressed in between Ray's, and Ray couldn't stop pushing his hips up against it. Fraser slid up behind him, and reached around, his fingers nimbly undoing Ray's pants and easing them down and off, along with his boxers.

Kowalski still had his suit pants on, so every time Ray moved, his hard dick was rubbing up against the fabric, just on the good side of painful. "Benny," Ray managed, as Kowalski released his mouth, moved his head down to bite at his neck, run his teeth lightly along his collarbone. Ray reached back to draw Fraser closer, get him in on this. Fraser laughed softly against Ray's neck, running his hand down Ray's side, a light touch, making him shake. "God, just -"

Everything felt amazing, and he just slid back and forth between kissing Benny, rocking forward against Kowalski, back against Fraser, making him groan as he pressed back against his cock. Ray felt half-drunk on all of this. Fraser rolled away for a second, and then came back, drawing a finger slick with lube down Ray's hip and over his ass, then pausing. "Ray?" he said, soft in Ray's ear, and Ray blinked his eyes open, looking at Kowalski, who was looking over his shoulder at Fraser with a serious expression on his face.

"Fraser," Kowalski said, slightly unsure, glancing down at Ray.

"Ray," Fraser said again, and now his finger was tracing down between Ray's cheeks, real slow, real gentle. Showing Ray at the same time as he asked him, and Ray shut his eyes, his heart pounding, as Fraser's finger brushed right there, and Christ, holy Christ, no one had touched him there before, not ever. Not ever.

It felt weird and he blinked his eyes open. Kowalski was looking at him in the dim light of their bedroom. "You don't have to," he said, drawing Ray close with one arm. He leaned in, his spiky hair brushing up against Ray's cheek. "But -" He paused, and Ray could hear the amused urging in his voice. "You might like it."

Ray thought of that first night, when Fraser was up behind Kowalski, doing that thing with his tongue, and the blissed-out expression on Kowalski's face. Fraser's finger was still moving lightly against him, and it felt weird, yeah, but not wrong, not really. He swallowed, and said roughly, "Yeah, Benny."

"Are you sure?" But true to form, Fraser was already pushing his luck, and there were two fingers up against him now, slick and hot between his cheeks. Ray said breathlessly, "I trust you."

"And I, you," Fraser said, kissing the side of Ray's neck. And then Kowalski dragged him into a kiss again, and Kowalski's hand - also slick, he and Benny must have been sharing the lube - circled his cock, and Ray was just caught up in all of this. It felt good, it was all just - Christ. Fraser was panting against the side of his neck, like he was the one getting the - holy fuck - finger nudged gently up his ass, inside of him. Like he was the one who needed something to hold onto, something to keep him grounded, while this whole thing was happening.

Fraser went slow, so fucking slow that Ray was gasping, and hanging on to Kowalski so tight he had to have been leaving bruises. It felt like hours until Fraser had two fingers, then three - God - inside of him, stroking him slow, slow, slow, until Ray felt like he was going to come if he so much as blinked. Kowalski's hand was still moving slick on his cock, and Kowalski kept up a quiet, steady murmur, that Ray could hardly even hear over the pounding of his heart.

When Fraser pulled his fingers out, Ray moaned frantically, his eyes flying open and his hips pushing back, wanting it, wanting it again. Whatever it was Fraser had been touching deep inside him was like nothing else on earth, like nothing he'd ever felt. "You - Benny - come on, I -"

"You're killing him, Fraser." Kowalski sounded far away, like he was underwater, and amused as hell, and Ray would have smacked him one if he wasn't afraid Kowalski would take his hand away from his cock if he did.

"Are you ready?" Fraser's voice was close against his ear now, and Ray could feel his hot, hard cock sliding heavily down between his cheeks, just sliding there slickly, rubbing against him where he needed it most and making him crazy, crazy.

He took a breath, trying to line up the words in his head, but all that he was finally able to say was, "Yes, come on, yes, yes."

Fraser's breath was burning hot against the back of Ray's neck, and his hands were firm on Ray's hips, easing him forward till he was face-down on the bed, his knee drawn to one side. And then the head of Fraser's cock was right there, pressing forward, and in, so fucking slow.

Ray had the blankets clenched in his fists, and he was panting hard, but it didn't hurt, it didn't hurt at all. He felt stretched and open and full, but Jesus Christ, when Fraser eased forward, all the way in, balls-deep in Ray's ass - it was goddamn amazing. Ray couldn't move, couldn't breathe, couldn't do anything but feel that, Fraser in him. Fraser was breathing like a freight train behind him.

Everything blurred, and he was just lost in it, getting fucked and loving it, hanging on by a thread, because his cock was hard and heavy between his legs, and he was thrusting forward against the sheets. He was dimly aware of Fraser moaning behind him, and when he turned his head, Kowalski was watching them, and moving his hand on his own cock, his mouth half-open, his eyes sharp and hot, focused on where Fraser was sliding into Ray so hot and steady and good.

It was too much, too fucking much, he couldn’t even - there wasn't any - Fraser leaned forward over him, fucking him faster and wrapping one arm around Ray's waist. His hand brushed against Ray's cock, and that was it, that was it, Ray went off like a shot, crying out incoherently and coming, spurting over the bed again, and again. He couldn’t stop coming, and Fraser was groaning, and shoving into him in short strokes, and his teeth sank into Ray's shoulder as he jerked and came deep inside of Ray.

He just - that was - he hadn't thought he'd get off on that, hadn't thought that feeling that, feeling someone - Fraser - come inside of him could be that good. It was crazy, and he buried his face in the blankets, feeling his face get hot, because it shouldn't be that hot, it shouldn't turn him on. Not like this, not right after, where he'd just gotten fucked, and he already wanted to feel that again.

Kowalski's hand crept into his, where it lay limply against the sheet, and Ray curled his fingers around his, squeezed it - he lifted his head with some effort. "Ew," he said, trying to shake Kowalski's hand away, but Kowalski just held on, all sticky.

He looked over to where Kowalski was grinning at him in the dark. "Hey," he said, shrugging. "You guys were busy. I took things into my own, uh, hands."

"You're a pig, Kowalski," Ray said sleepily, laying his head back down.

"You love it," Kowalski informed him.

Fraser, who had been enough of a dead weight against his back that Ray was having trouble breathing, shifted, and slipped out of Ray. They both groaned at the same time. "Sorry, ," Fraser murmured, moving to one side, and running one large, warm hand up over Ray's back. "Are you okay? I hope I didn't -"

"It's good, Benny." Ray was really sleepy now. It had been one hell of a long day, and if he was going to have a freak-out about this, it was going to have to wait until tomorrow. "It's real good."

Kowalski laughed softly, and there was the rustling of sheets. Ray could hear him leaning up and over him to kiss Fraser, the two of them hovering warm over Ray for a few moments, before Kowalski pushed himself up and off of the bed, and Fraser followed him a few seconds later. The bed felt huge with them gone, and Ray, yawning widely, shifted and rolled out of the wet spot. He'd get up in a second, get cleaned up a little, maybe try to take a shower. For now, though, he tugged a pillow under his cheek - Kowalski's, from the scent of it - and closed his eyes. Just for a minute.

He drifted off to the sound of Kowalski and Fraser's quiet voices, sounding like comfort, and home.


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