Title: The Reaching Out One
Fandom: Due South
Pairing: Fraser/Ray K.
Rating: NC-17 for the sex
Genre: Angst, drama, humor, fluff, tent!sex, case!fic--it's a long story. There are a lot of genres.
Length: Huge. about 52,000 words total.
Warnings: Sex, death, happy ending. (The death is the one mentioned in the summary; there aren't any surprise ones.)
Summary: It's ten years after the events of CoTW (in other words, the present day). After the Quest, Fraser and Ray went back to their regular lives--Fraser as a Mountie in Deline, NWT and Ray as a detective in Chicago, IL. Every year they take their vacation time together and look for the hand of Franklin, the reaching out one, and when they run out of time they put a pin in the map and the next year they pick up where they left off. The story begins with Diefenbaker dies and the whole house of cards crumbles. Ray and Fraser have an adventure, confront their feelings, and rebuild their lives on a more solid foundation.
Note: The story is in four major parts, which had to be further divided because of LJ's posting limit. Story is complete except for some editing of the later parts, and will be going up over the course of the week. Research notes are here. (Tons of juicy links.)
Part I: One Warm Line
“--so I have no doubts about your ability to maintain order while I’m away,” Fraser concluded, looking at his subordinate, Constable Mary O’Donnell. He must be getting old; he couldn’t look at her without wondering when they’d started making Constables so young.
“Thank you, sir. I’ll do my best.”
“And, of course, Connie’s been here longer than I have--if you get stuck, she can advise you, or direct you to someone who can.”
“And we won’t be leaving for another month, but I didn’t want to take you by surprise.” He had just finished ordering the supplies; “notify Constable” was next to the pre-expedition checklist. He was already conditioning the team with long runs every morning, and tonight he’d make a thorough inspection of the sled and begin any necessary repairs.
“Yes, sir. Where are you going on your vacation, if you don’t mind my asking, sir?”
Suddenly, Fraser was embarrassed. He knew he was thought of--both by the RCMP and the residents of Deline as more than a little bit eccentric. He was given to understand that Constable O’Donnell had heard many stories about him prior to leaving Depot for this posting--fishing over the limit, the train hijacking, the litterbug, the nuclear submarine, his pet wolf--and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with this subject becoming part of the Legend of Sergeant Fraser. It felt too personal, somehow. “Oh, ah, you know. The usual.”
“Ah. Going somewhere warm?”
Connie leaned around the partition that separated his desk from the reception area. “Sergeant Fraser looks for the hand of Franklin.”
“Oh.” O’Donnell’s face was carefully blank.
“Every year, about this time, he takes his three weeks and picks up where he left off the year before,” Connie explained.
“That sounds…interesting. Is there a group that you go with?”
“No.” He realized that answer might seem a bit curt, so he elaborated, “I go with my partner. From Chicago. My old partner.” O’Donnell was, technically, his partner now, but the RCMP had gotten in the habit of sending new recruits with an interest in remote postings to work with him for a year or so, for seasoning. Almost as soon as the got their legs under them, they were ready to move on. Fraser hadn’t had a real partner since Chicago. He didn’t mind--as he’d told Ray before their first Franklin expedition, they were always partners, even though they didn’t see each other more than once or twice a year.
“Ah! So it’s a tradition.”
“I don’t know what he’d do if he actually found it,” Connie added.
Fraser blinked. He’d never considered that before. What if they did find it? Would Ray stop coming to Canada every winter? “We’d think of something else to look for,” he answered firmly. Of course they would.
Ray’s phone was ringing as he entered the house. Better not be work--he’d had a long day.
Work would have called the cell phone, anyway. Maybe Mom. He’d let the machine take it.
“Ray?” Either Fraser’s voice was wobbly, or he needed to replace the tape in his answering machine again. “I suppose you’re not home yet. Please give me a call when you get in. There’s…I don’t want to say this to a machine.”
He lunged for the phone. “Frase? It’s me. I was just walking in the door.”
“Ray,” Fraser said again. Definitely not the tape that was wobbly.
He sat on the couch. “What’s wrong?” He was due to fly up to Canada in less than two weeks--he hoped Fraser didn’t have to cancel the trip. He never had yet, but there was a first time for everything.
Oh, Christ. Dief was at least fifteen by now. He’d known this was coming, in the back of his head, but he’d been trying not to think about it. “How?”
“Heart failure, I think. In his sleep. I just, uh, he stayed home today. He’s been doing that a lot lately. He gets tired easily now. Got. I came home a short while ago, and…well. It’s obvious he’s been gone for several hours.”
“Jesus. I’m sorry, Frase.” The words seemed inadequate. Fraser had--more than once--called Dief his lifetime companion. It was hard to imagine Fraser without Dief. Hell, it was hard to imagine Canada without Dief. He was like the snow, or the uniform.
“I wish I’d…I wasn’t there. He was always with me, and I wasn’t there.”
Ray took a few deep breaths. He wished he could be with Fraser, now. That he could hug him, or something. “He had good times, with you. He liked his life.” It was a weird life for a wolf--it was a weird life for anyone--but Dief had been happy. Ray was as sure of that as he’d ever been of anything.
“I know.” Fraser’s voice was high and tight, like he was in pain.
Because he was in pain. Ray scrunched a throw pillow up against his chest, resting his elbows on his knees. “I know. I know. I’m here, okay?”
Fraser drew in a deep, shuddering breath. Ray could almost see him, smoothing his eyebrows and squeezing his eyes shut tight, trying not to cry.
But he couldn’t say just cry already, because that would embarrass him. Both of them. “I know. He’s your friend. I know.”
Fraser cried quiet--Ray wasn’t surprised. Just some hiccuppy snuffles and the occasional deep-in-the-throat whine that sounded almost like the sound Dief made if you stepped on his tail or something. All Ray could do was sit there and hug his pillow and keep saying, “I know. I know.”
After a few minutes, Fraser slowed down, took another deep breath. “I’m sorry,” he said shakily.
“No, no, it’s okay.”
“We’ve been…we were together a long time,” he said, like he had to explain--had to explain to Ray--why losing Dief was enough to make him break down.
“I know,” Ray said again. “I know. You lose somebody you love, there’s something wrong with you if you don’t take it hard.”
“Thank you.” He made horrible whine again, that keening, hurt-animal sound. “What am I going to do? The ground’s frozen. It’ll be frozen for another three or four months. I can’t--I can’t just--” He hiccupped.
When he’d said what am I going to do, Ray’d thought at first he meant something more existential. It was almost a relief to have Fraser put a problem that had a solution in front of them, even if Ray wasn’t sure what the solution was. “Yeah, yeah, you can’t. We’ll have to--what do they do for people?”
“Ah, cremation is, is popular, and there’s a facility where, where remains are stored until the spring thaw. But animals, people take them to the dump, and I can’t, I can’t--”
“I know. It’s okay. I know.” He got up and paced. “Call the undertaker, ask ‘em if they can help you. You’ve been there, what, ten years. They know about Dief.” Anybody who’d met Fraser and Dief would understand that Dief had to have a real funeral. “If they can’t, bring him down here--I guess in a cooler or something--and we’ll take him where they take the dogs from the K-9 unit. They’ll, uh, you know, you get the ashes back. We can take ‘em on the quest with us, or if there’s somewhere special you want him to be….”
“Okay. Okay. I can do that.” He sounded slightly more together, until the next words. “I don’t…I don’t know if I can do the Quest this year. I can’t--without--”
“Okay.” Ray thought fast. It was hard to imagine the Quest without Dief. He didn’t help pull the sled anymore--hadn’t for the last few years--but he always went with them, even though last year he’d sometimes had to actually ride in the sled instead of loping along beside it. The Quest was him and Fraser and Dief. He was pretty sure Fraser wouldn’t go without him, and he was damn sure he wouldn’t go without Fraser. But he could also see Fraser curling in on himself, pushing Ray away so he could hole up alone with his pain. Ray wasn’t having that. “Yeah, it would be hard. Really hard. We don’t have to decide now. I’m flying into Deline this year, so if you don’t feel up to it, we’ll just do something else. Hang out at your place, or take a road trip. Have a Polish-Canadian wake, definitely. Okay?”
“Okay.” He heard Fraser’s harsh breathing through the phone. “I should call the funeral home. I’ll--can I call you back?”
“Yeah. Absolutely. I’ll be up for a while. You, uh, you don’t got anybody up there who can come over and sit with you, do you?” Stupid question.
“I’ll be all right, Ray.”
“I know. Just call, if you, you know. Don’t wanna be alone.”
“Thank you kindly. I think I--”
“Promise you’ll call if you want to,” Ray interrupted.
For once, Fraser didn’t argue with him. “I promise, Ray.”
After ending the call with Ray, Fraser sat on the floor of his cabin, his best friend’s body in his lap, for several minutes. Ray had been very patient about his breakdown--Ray understood--but he had to pull himself together before he called the funeral home.
Dief looked peaceful, almost asleep, except he had already grown a bit stiff. In the wild, a wolf’s body would lie where it fell, preyed upon by scavengers, slowly returning to the elements. Perhaps he should carry Dief out into the tundra, as far as he could walk in half a day, and just leave him.
He tried to convince himself that would be a respectful end for his friend, but he couldn’t. Dief had always enjoyed the comforts of civilization. Doughnuts, and television, and cars. He was his own wolf, and he’d chosen to come in. Fraser would have to find a way of dealing with his remains that would honor that choice.
It was growing late--even if Martin was able to help him, it wouldn’t be tonight. Slowly, he got to his feet and fetched a Hudson’s Bay blanket. He wrapped Dief up in it and carried him to the lean-to. It was cold enough out there, and he’d be protected from any marauding animals. Consulting the slender Deline telephone book, he called the funeral home. Since it was also the Martin family’s residence, and the death business didn’t keep a regular timetable, he received an answer. “Funeral home and guides, Leonard Martin speaking.”
“Len, it’s Sergeant Fraser.” He managed to keep his voice steady.
“Oh, dear. What’s happened?”
Martin probably thought there had been a sudden death--an accident, maybe; Deline didn’t have many murders--and he was calling on behalf of the family. “It’s, ah. I hope you can help me. It’s Diefenbaker. My wolf.”
“What--oh. He passed?”
“Earlier today. Since the ground’s frozen, I don’t…. I know you don’t ordinarily deal with animals, but it’s, ah….” He felt foolish. Surely no one else in Deline would bother having a funeral for a dog. City people did that.
But Len Martin said, “Of course. I’ve helped a few other people with arrangements like that. Are you interested in burial or cremation? Cremation’s a lot easier, this time of year.”
“Cremation, I think,” Fraser answered.
“We can’t use our facility here, unfortunately--health regulations. But there’s a vet in Norman Wells that can handle it. Bring the, ah, the remains to the funeral home, and I’ll have him on the next flight.”
That was much easier than he’d expected. “Thank you. That’s, ah, I greatly appreciate your help. He was a good friend,” he said lamely.
“Hm. You’d have to be crazy to send every dog out to be cremated, but sometimes one’s special. Do you want the ashes back? It’s extra, but….”
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“Most people do. If you’re going to the trouble, you might as well. It’ll take a week or two for the ashes to come back.”
“That’s fine. I’ll bring him in the morning.”
“That’ll be fine. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you kindly.” He hung up and dialed Ray’s apartment again.
“Yeah, Frase?” Ray said anxiously.
“It’s me. You were right--the funeral home was able to help. They’re arranging to send him to a place in Norman Wells. Thank you. I just--I couldn’t think.”
“It’s hard,” Ray said. “Listen, did you eat?”
“I’m not very hungry.”
“Yeah, but you need to keep your strength up.”
He had a point. Fraser took the phone with him to the kitchen and looked in the cupboard. Soup. He could manage that. He opened a can of vegetable beef, poured it into a pan, and set it on the stove. Automatically, he reached down for Dief’s bowl.
Blood rushed to his head and the phone slipped from his fingers.
“Fraser? Frase, are you okay?” The phone squeaked.
He picked it up carefully and walked back to the sofa. “I dropped the phone. Sorry. I was--I usually feed Dief, when I….”
“I know.” Ray had been saying that a lot, but it was, somehow, a great comfort. When they were together, he and Ray could understand each other without words, and Fraser knew what he was really saying. You’re not alone. I understand. I miss him too.
The next day, it seemed like everyone who came into the Detachment asked Connie, “What’s wrong with Sergeant Fraser?”
And then he had to hear her say, “Diefenbaker died.”
And then they’d say, “It’s hard to lose a good dog.”
Everywhere he went, people told him the same thing. “It’s hard to lose a good dog.”
And he thought of Ray, and said, “I know.”
But they didn’t. Dief wasn’t just a good dog. Ray knew.
A few people brought food to the detachment. Casseroles and pies. He stayed at his desk, behind the partition, and let Connie deal with them. They said, “I know you don’t usually bring a casserole when it’s a dog, but he doesn’t have anyone else, does he?”
After three days of that, he took O’Donnell off a five-day patrol and did it himself, just to get away from the sympathy. If anything, that was worse. He could almost imagine that Dief had run on ahead of the snowmobile, like he used to, and every time he came over a hill and Dief wasn’t there was like coming home to his empty cabin that would never have another heartbeat than his again.
He stopped at all the villages and camps where he usually stopped, the isolated cabins where the inhabitants often didn’t see another human being between his detachment’s monthly patrols. Most of the people asked after Dief. “You left the wolf home this time?”
God help him, sometimes he lied. “He gets tired these days.”
Usually, they let the subject drop. Maria Whiteraven pressed the subject. “I hope he feels better soon. It must get lonely patrolling by yourself.”
He put his hands over his face and wept.
“You’re Sergeant Fraser’s friend?”
“Uh, yeah.” Ray knew Fraser had been promoted twice since they’d worked together, but it always surprised him a little when people called him something other than “Constable.” He’d just gotten off the plane and was helping the pilot unload into the truck that would take him and the rest of the cargo into town. It had only taken a couple of trips to Nowheresville, Canada to learn that he might as well. The airport shuttle--AKA, somebody’s truck--wouldn’t be going to town until the cargo was unloaded anyway, so it saved time, and let the locals know you belonged. Rich guys who came up to go on a guided hunt didn’t help unload.
“Here, you can take him this.” The pilot tossed him a small package, about the size of a brick.
“What’s--” He looked at the label. The veterinary clinic in Norman Wells. “Oh.” He stuffed Dief into his parka and grabbed the next crate.
“He’s real broken up about his dog, is what I heard.”
“Yeah. Yeah, he is.” Ray wasn’t surprised that Fraser was upset, but he was surprised it was that obvious. Fraser tended to keep his feelings private.
He was relieved when he finally got to the detachment and found Fraser at his desk, looking more or less normal, not, you know, rending his garments or wailing uncontrollably or anything like that. He stood up with a ghost of his usual elated smile at seeing Ray. “Good to see you.”
Ray hugged him, forgetting for a moment the box inside his jacket. Fraser leaned into him, heavy, like a dead weight. “You too, buddy.” The corners of Dief’s box were digging into his sternum. “Oh, uh, the pilot…this came.” He dug out the box and gave it to Fraser.
Fraser took it. “Oh.” He swallowed hard and carefully placed the box on his desk.
“Yeah. Should we--?” He wasn’t sure what the plan was. Usually their first day together was spent checking their supplies, doing some last-minute packing, and stuffing themselves with as much high-calorie, high-fat food as they could manage. Ray’d have what he knew would be his last beer for three weeks, but only one, because they’d be making an early start. But Fraser hadn’t said whether they were going on the Quest or not.
“Let’s get some lunch.” Fraser put on his coat and looked at the corner behind his desk, where Dief’s dog bed had been. He closed his eyes and pushed the tip of his tongue against his lower lip, breathing hard.
That explained how the pilot knew. Maybe nobody here knew Fraser quite as well as Ray did, but if he reacted like that every time something reminded him he’d never see Dief again, people would put it together.
Ray thumped him on the shoulder. “C’mon.”
There were two restaurants in town--the one in the hotel and conference center (12 whole rooms, plus a meeting room with internet access and a slide projector), and the diner. They didn’t need to discuss where to go--they occasionally went to the hotel restaurant on his last night before going back to Chicago, but the diner was the usual place.
Their boots crunched over a thin coating of snow. It was a little later in the year than they usually traveled--Chicago was starting to warm up--but up here, it was still cold as a mother. Ray tucked his arms inside his parka.
It was a little late for lunch, so once Ray’d wiped the fog off his glasses, he saw that there weren’t many people in the diner. The ones that were there glanced up, nodded at Fraser, and went back to their meals.
They sat at a scarred wooden table with four mismatched chairs. The first one Ray sat in wobbled; he got up and switched. The owner/waitress came by, and they ordered. Ray had the bacon cheeseburger, fries, soup, and candied carrots. Fraser asked for soup.
If that was all he was eating, it didn’t look like they were going on the Quest.
“The Kennys saw another UFO back in November,” Fraser said after a while.
“Yeah? That’s the third one, isn’t it?”
“Yes. The current theory is that the aliens are looking for uranium.”
“Makes sense.” There had been uranium mines near Deline when it was still Fort Franklin. A lot of the Native guys who had worked in the mines had later died from cancer; it was still a sore subject.
Every now and then it occurred to Ray how weird it was that he knew so much about a tiny town just south of the Arctic circle, where he spent two or three days every couple of years.
The waitress brought their soup and some bread. Ray shoveled his down while Fraser poked distractedly at his. “Uh,” he said, pausing to dig into the pocket of his parka. He almost hated to bring it up, but it wasn’t like he’d be reminding Fraser about it--he wasn’t going to forget. “Frannie got you a card, and everybody at the station signed it. Well, everybody from the old days. And she, uh, we sent some money to this wolf place in BC. She couldn’t find anything closer. Welsh chipped in, and Huey and Dewey, and some of the guys from the K-9 unit--you know they’re based out of the 2-7 now? They didn’t know Dief, but they know what it’s like, they said.” He gave Fraser the card. “There’s, you know, a certificate in there.”
“Thank you.” Fraser slipped his finger under the flap of the envelope and tore it carefully. His hands were slow and shaky, like an old man’s.
The picture on the front of the card was a constellation of stars in the shape of a dog. The first one Frannie bought had been a picture of a wolf; Ray made her take it back and change it. Fraser traced the stars with his fingers, like it was Braille or something.
The message inside was something about losing a faithful friend, and people had written stuff like, “Sorry, Fraser.” When the card came around to him, Ray had stared at it for fifteen minutes, trying to think of something to say, before he finally just scrawled, “See you soon, Ray.”
“I, uh, she was gonna mail it but then stuff happened and it ended up that it would get here faster if I carried it,” he explained.
Fraser nodded. “Thank you,” he said quietly. “I’ll…before you leave, I’ll write something you can share with the others.”
Ray nodded. “Okay.”
Fraser picked up his spoon and poked at his soup some more. “I haven’t been very hungry lately,” he said apologetically.
Ray nodded. His cheeseburger came, and he was hungry, but it didn’t seem right to just start chowing down. “You’re really in a bad way, aren’t you?” He didn’t mean to say it out loud, but the words just slipped out.
Fraser stared down at his soup, as if he hadn’t heard. Finally he said, “I’ve come to realize that the difficulty of living a life stripped of all but the essentials is that I have nothing I can afford to lose.”
Took Ray a minute to untangle that, to figure out that Fraser was saying I can’t live like this.
Fraser wouldn’t kill himself; he knew that. But there were plenty of other things he could do. He could take stupid risks--stupider than usual--and get someone to do it for him. Or he could just--decline. Stop being Fraser and start being some shell, some husk, some goddamn walking dead.
Ray wouldn’t let him. He didn’t know what he could do, how he could fix this, but they had three weeks. If that wasn’t enough time--he’d think of something.
“I didn’t feel this way when my father died. I don’t know what that means. I was sad, but I wasn’t…and I knew this would happen. He was an old…but I didn’t know it would feel this way.”
“Your dad wasn’t there every day,” Ray pointed out. “Dief was. It’s…every minute of your life is different now.” When Stella left him, it had been like that. She hadn‘t died, sure, but the whole shape of his life, the life he thought he would have forever, was shattered.
What did he do, then?
He’d spent as long as he could pretending it wasn’t happening, that any minute Stella would realize she’d made a terrible mistake, and then he’d jumped into somebody else’s life. He’d started being Fraser’s partner, and then his friend, and one day he just realized he didn’t have a great gaping hole in his chest anymore.
No help for Fraser there.
“Maybe that’s it,” Fraser was saying. “Maybe I’ll…get used to this. The way it is now.”
“Yeah, maybe.” It had hurt again, when Fraser left, but not all that much, really. They were still partners, like Fraser’d said, even though they didn’t see each other every day. They talked, they wrote, and they always had the next leg of the Quest to think about. For the last ten years, his life had had three seasons: Gearing up for the Quest, doing the Quest, and recovering from the Quest. In between, he did his job, he paid his bills, had Sunday dinner with his parents, but being Fraser’s partner was the important thing.
And he knew it was that way for Fraser, too. Except he was used to having Dief, too. “Yeah. Yeah, maybe you will. Or find a new, you know. A new normal.”
Fraser let out a breath. “If you’d said ‘a new dog’…. A dozen people have offered me puppies. It’s horrible.”
Ray nodded. “That’s…yeah.” Dief wasn’t a pet.
“They mean to be kind, I know that. But….”
They sat for a moment, and then Fraser said, “Your food’s getting cold.”
“Oh. Yeah.” He took a bite of the burger. “Want some of my fries? They’re not bad.”
Fraser took one. “Hm. Yes. This a good batch. Maddy uses the oil for about two weeks, and right in the middle of the cycle is when they’re best.” He took another.
“I picked the right time to come, then.”
“Yes.” Fraser set his half-eaten French fry on the edge of Ray’s plate. “About that.”
“I don’t think…I haven’t been able to concentrate very well. I don’t think I should go. On the quest.” He shook his head. “Our supplies came, but I haven’t unpacked them. I never finished checking the harness, or--half a dozen other things. It would be, frankly, dangerous to set out so unprepared, and with me….” He shrugged.
“Yeah. Yeah, I got that. It’s okay.”
“I should have said something before you came all this way.”
“Don’t be stupid.” He almost admitted what they never said out loud: that the Quest wasn’t really about Franklin’s hand; it was about giving them a reason to see each other every year. Without the Quest, they’d have tried to stay in touch, but with nothing in common anymore, they’d have run out of things to say to each other, and by now, ten years after the partnership, they’d only be exchanging Christmas and birthday cards, if that. Even when they weren’t actually on it, the Quest gave them something to talk about--every week or two, one of them would call the other with a question or an idea, and sometimes they’d move on to other topics, sometimes not, but the Quest smoothed things out, the way work had back when they still worked together. It saved them from having to say, “I called because I missed you.”
But they never talked about that. Could be if they admitted that the Quest was just an excuse to be together without it being awkward, it wouldn’t work anymore. So they both knew it, but they didn’t say it. “You still have the pin in the map, right? We can pick it up next year.”
At the end of the first leg of the Quest, when they ran out of leave and out of snow for the sled, neither of them had wanted to quit. They’d sat in the tent for a couple of days, until finally Fraser had finally come up with a way to end it without ending it. “We’ll just stick a pin in the map and start back here next year,” he’d said. Ray still had his own map, on the wall in the apartment, with ten pins in it, one for every time they’d stopped the Quest and started up again.
He wondered if he should put a pin in Deline for this year. “We can do something else. We could just travel around here. Might be nice to see your stomping grounds. You know, when you tell me about stuff, I can picture it, where you are. Or we can go somewhere else. Maybe somewhere…somewhere new.” Somewhere Dief never was.
“That might be for the best.” Fraser picked up his fry again and ate it. “I’d like to show you around. This is a beautiful area. We could do some fishing.” He sounded kind of tentative at first, like he was trying to convince himself they could have fun, but by the end he sounded a little bit more cheerful.
“Fishing’s good, sure.”
“It would be a shame to let all the supplies go to waste. I’ll show you how to mend harness--that’s something you should learn to do--and we can do the rest of the preparations together, and then take a couple of short trips, four or five days each. We could follow the patrol routes, or strike out a little bit, see some of the less populated areas. There are advantages either way--if we’re in familiar territory, you can get some experience driving the sled.” Fraser was usually too nervous to let Ray drive much, because, as he said, the combination of an inexperienced driver and unfamiliar territory could be dangerous. Ray figured he was right--he wouldn’t take someone just learning to drive a car out on the Loop in rush hour, either--but since they were always in unfamiliar territory, he never got a chance to practice much. “Otherwise, we can do some exploring. Maybe a little of both?”
“Sure. Let me finish, here, and we can sit down with the maps.” He took another big bite of his burger, and Fraser ate some more of his fries. He tried not to think about the fact that if Dief was still with them, he’d be the one eating Ray’s fries.
“I’ll have to stop back at the detachment and let Connie and Constable O’Donnell know our plans.”
“You didn’t cancel your leave, did you?”
“No, but I said I might be around anyway.” He ate the last few fries. “I’m glad we’ll be within reach, anyway. O’Donnell’s still pretty green.”
“She’s been here six months, hasn’t she?”
“Five and a half.”
“Huge difference,” Ray agreed.
Between them, they managed to finish the food. Maddy, a heavyset Native woman, smiled at them as Fraser paid the bill. “It’s good to see you eating again, Sergeant.”
“Thank you. Here.” He handed over what Ray knew was way more money than their meal could possibly have cost, even if Maddy had doubled her prices since the last time he was here. “For Donny’s college fund. Could we take some of the cobbler with us?”
“Of course. Two orders?”
She brought it in a little metal pan with a cardboard cover. “Enjoy. It’s nice to see you again, Detective Kowalski. Are you staying long this time?”
As weird as it was that he knew so much about this little town, it was even weirder that the people here knew about him. He’s been here five or six times--the other trips they met up somewhere else to get to where they left the pin--but it was like he was some kind of honorary local. “Uh, yeah. We’re gonna be--around.” He gestured vaguely.
“We’ll be exploring the area, doing some fishing. Constable O’Donnell will know how to reach me if necessary,” Fraser added. “And I can’t believe I’ve never taken you to Franklin’s Fort,” he added to Ray. “We’ll have to do that.”
Maddy looked at him funny. “You go looking for the hand of Franklin every year, and you’ve never been to Franklin’s Fort?”
“Franklin Fort’s on the map; there’s no point looking for it,” Ray answered.
When they walked back to the detachment, Fraser looked around like he was seeing his town for the first time in a couple of weeks, and answered when people said hello to him. It was good, really good, to see that Fraser felt that much better. But he knew it wasn’t permanent, he hadn’t really fixed it. Fraser lost Dief, and he realized how lonely his life was. Now with Ray there, he wasn’t lonely. But Ray wasn’t there for good, just for a few weeks.
He decided not to think about that. He had a few weeks, and maybe when they were up, the loss wouldn’t be so raw. Fraser’d realize he could get by until next year, when Ray came back again and they did the Quest, same as Ray got by down in Chicago.
At the detachment, the new Constable was manning Connie’s desk. She was pretty--blonde, with her hair back in a French braid like a lot of the girl Mounties wore it--but she looked like she ought to be getting ready for her high school prom. Ray could have a daughter her age, if he’d had kids when he was young. Hell, if he’d had them in his mid-twenties, which was late for his neighborhood. “Good to see you, sir,” she told Fraser. “And you must be Detective Kowalski.”
“Ray.” He shook her hand. “Heard all about me, huh? Good things, I hope.” He was used to the new Constables knowing who he was, Fraser’s famous partner.
Some of them were pretty star-struck, and wanted to hear his version of the nuclear sub, or the performance arsonist, or the train--which hadn’t even been him, but it was hard to explain about how he was actually Fraser’s second Ray, and sometimes they just let the misunderstanding stand. But O’Donnell just said, “Indeed. It’s nice to meet you.”
Fraser told her a little about their plans, and said he’d stop in with an itinerary once they had one. “You’ll be able to reach me via the satellite phone if there’s any emergency.”
“You’re not going to look for the Hand?”
“Not this time,” Ray answered.
“I thought you went every year.” She glanced over at Fraser.
“Our plans changed, Constable.” Fraser put a little bit of ice into his tone, and O’Donnell managed to figure out that he didn’t want to talk about it. He looked at Ray and over toward his desk. “I’ll just get….” Him.
It only took Fraser a minute to collect the box. Fraser’s pickup was parked right outside the detachment, and Ray climbed in, carefully not thinking about how spacious and roomy the seat was when he wasn’t sharing it with a wolf.
Then he realized--not like he never knew it before, but all of the sudden it just hit him, like a sledgehammer in the chest--that the wolf was never going to get intimate with his ear again, not now, not when they got to the cabin, not when he was settling down in the tent after a hard day’s Questing. Never. He squeezed his eyes shut and murmured, “Fuck. Just…fuck.”
Fraser squeezed his shoulder and said, “I know.”
Part 1B is here.