He'd stayed up north for Canada Day with Fraser, and a little past. It was the first time he'd ever missed the fireworks on the lake in Chicago for the fourth of July, and in the little Canadian town where Fraser was stationed, the fourth was just the day that came between the third and the fifth. Fraser had found him an American flag the size of an index card and some firecrackers, and Ray had called him a freak but set them off anyway, in the weird vague sunshine of nighttime in July at sixty-two degrees north.
It didn't take long for Ray to notice that the Adventure was over and Fraser's real life had resumed, except for the presence of the Yank with the experimental hair. So he headed back to Chicago, back to the 2-7, where he had to go and they had to take him. Even without Fraser at his side, everybody seemed to be happy to see him on his first day back. Most of the faces in the bullpen were unfamiliar, but they all had that familiar overworked look that meant Ray was about to be welcomed with open arms.
Literally, in some cases. Frannie ran right up and hugged him, and Ray hugged her back without thinking. He noticed that her belly was pressing against him in a weird way a half-second before he felt something move down there, and stepped back, his eyes on her stomach. It wasn't obvious yet--from, say, across the room--but when she put her hand on the curve in that way that women did, there was no mistaking it. Frannie was pregnant.
Ray looked up and met her eyes, and her mouth was smiling at him but her eyes were waiting to hear what he'd say. Ray blinked and swallowed, groping for words, wishing Fraser was there to be obvious and embarrassed so Ray could be smart-assed beside him. Finally, he said, "Congratulations, Frannie."
She gave him a huge smile, like that was exactly the right thing to say, like he'd passed some kind of test and she was proud of him. Ray stood there smiling back at her until Welsh shouted from the door of his office. Frannie rolled her eyes and headed back to her desk, and Ray tamped down his smile and went to the Lieu's office.
"Kowalski," Welsh said, sitting down at his desk, and it was a little scary that Ray's own name still sounded weird coming from Welsh, but he figured it would pass. "Welcome back. Your old desk is still open. I think a few of your old cases are still open. Get to work."
Ray nodded and turned away, feeling right at home again already, but just as he was about to open the door, Welsh said, "About getting you a partner."
Ray turned back. "I was kinda hoping I could just work solo for a while," he said, because he couldn't say he already had a partner, and they just happened to be working thousands of miles apart in different countries.
Welsh squinted at him and then nodded. "As I was about to say, Detective, we're still understaffed, and there's no one available to partner you, so I hope you'll remember to watch your back and call in your fellow detectives when you need an extra pair of eyes on it."
Ray nodded and opened the door, and before he could even yell for her, Frannie was there, shoving a stack of files into his arms.
Frannie walked over to his desk at the end of his first week back and said, "Here, the mail just came."
Ray took the postcard from her hand and smiled. It was one of the four postcards you could buy at the Edzo general store, with a picture of "downtown Edzo" on the front. He and Fraser had walked up and down that street a hundred times while Ray was staying with him after the Adventure, eaten at that diner so many times that the waitress had stopped bringing them menus and Ray had gotten acclimated to the coffee. In the corner of the picture the flag in front of the RCMP post was just visible.
Ray turned it over. His address at the station was written out in Fraser's capitals, and above the printed description of Edzo, the words I hope you've arrived safely. From the postmark, Fraser must have sent it the day Ray left.
While Ray was packing, Fraser had written down every possible way for Ray to contact him on a sheet of paper that Ray still had folded up in his wallet. He put down his RCMP email address, "Which is an official RCMP resource, Ray, and only to be used for professional matters or, of course, in emergencies," the detachment phone number, likewise, and his mailing address at the detachment and at his little cabin north of town that only got mail once a week.
Ray had sent Fraser a postcard of the Chicago skyline, with the words, Here, safe and sound before he even left O'Hare. There were lots of other things he had wanted to write, like Wish you were here and Wish I was there and Don't forget us and Don't forget me, but he couldn't, not on a postcard, not that first day back.
He should probably write a real letter, though, to catch Fraser up on everything, and there was no time like the present. Ray took a sheet of blank office paper over to the typewriter--Fraser would give him crap if he used the nice CPD letterhead--and tapped out the heading one finger at a time, just like an official letter, with the address and date and Hey Fraser instead of Dear Wife of Guy We Arrested. He wrote about how smoothly his flights had gone, and apologized for packing Fraser's thermal socks instead of his own when he left, and then he looked around the room and wondered what to tell Fraser about things in Chicago.
They made me go to Huey and Dewey's comedy club last night, he wrote. I guess they go every week. Frannie says it's like contributing to the widows and orphans fund. It made me miss Inuit throat-singing.
Ray got stuck then, and sat staring at the typewriter. Frannie walked by and smacked him lightly on the head as she passed. "You need some help there, Kowalski? Forget how the buttons work?"
"Nah," he said, watching the different swing of her hips as she went to her desk, the softer curves of her body as she sat down. "Just writing Fraser a letter."
Frannie looked up at that, and tilted her head to the side, but she didn't demand to write the letter for him, or ask him anything about Fraser. She hadn't asked him anything about Fraser in all the time he'd been back, Ray realized, not even when he'd drunk so much at the comedy club that Frannie had to drive him home, and he'd sat in the passenger seat telling his very own Inuit stories the whole time. "Tell him hi for me," Frannie said finally, and then turned and started working on something at her computer, her hair falling forward to hide her face from him.
Ray turned back to the typewriter. Frannie says hi, by the way, he tapped out, and then, after thinking it over a little, She's having a kid, I guess in the winter sometime. No sign of the dad, but she's happy about the baby. He stared at the words, wondering what Fraser would say when he heard, and then added, Don't worry, I'll look out for her. He wanted to say, Like you would, if you were here, but that made it sound like he thought Fraser had some kind of responsibility, when really it was just that Fraser was that kind of guy; he'd look out for anybody who needed it. He'd looked out for Ray well enough, up north.
Anyway, I guess I should stop abusing official CPD resources now and get back to work. Keep in touch.
Ray pulled the sheet out and signed his own name, stuffed the letter into an envelope, and the envelope into his jacket. He could buy some stamps and mail it on the way home.
Frannie had started drinking orange juice every morning at her desk after she came in. It came in a clear plastic cup with a lid and a straw, and Ray figured she bought it at the café down the street, or the bakery on the corner, on her way to work. She drank the orange juice while she listened to her phone messages, and he was never sure which one she was rolling her eyes at. She always got up and threw out the cup in the big trash can in the corner of the bullpen, instead of the little one under her desk, chucking it in with a triumphant kind of look. Ray watched her while he was listening to his own phone messages, and sometimes he had to go back and listen to them again, afterward.
On Tuesday Frannie was late. Ray had listened to all his phone messages while watching her empty chair, and taken dutiful notes on everything, and he knew he should be pulling files and cornering Jimmy or Kim to help him run down leads, but he just sat there, wondering where Frannie was and trying not to worry, until she smacked him on the side of the head and set down a cup of orange juice on his desk.
He looked up from it to the identical one in her hand, and she took a long drink through the straw and rolled her eyes at him. "I noticed you watching me drink it every day, and I figured you must be craving fruit." Because there was no other reason he'd be watching her like that, her eyes said to him, and Ray nodded and looked back down at the orange juice. "Drink up," Frannie added. "You don't want to get swarthy."
It was like Fraser spoke through him. "I think you mean scurvy, Francesca." But he took a sip, and, hey, orange juice wasn't so bad. Maybe he did just need the vitamins.
"Yeah, whatever, it's good for you," she said. Ray looked up and watched her drinking, her lips around the straw, her hand on her belly like the kid had better be appreciating what she was doing here. Frannie smiled a little at him. "It's just that I can't drink it before I come in, because toothpaste and orange juice inside of twenty minutes is a one-way ticket back to morning-sickness-ville," she said, leaning against his desk and moving her hand to rub her back instead. "But Ma won't let me leave the house til I've sworn on Grandma Fortunato's rosary that I'll have orange juice at work. She must have ten years of March of Dimes pamphlets saved up, and she whipped them all out when I got pregnant. She insisted on telling me all this stuff like it'll be my fault if the baby's born with spina bifida."
"She shouldn't," Ray said, without thinking, and Frannie frowned a little. Ray looked down, turning the cup in his hands, and said, "I mean--it wouldn't be your fault, if something like that happened, things like that just happen sometimes. She shouldn't blame you."
Stupid, he thought, stupid stupid stupid. He'd known by the age of eight that you never said a word against anybody's mother unless you wanted a knock-down drag-out fight, and it wasn't like he had any kind of right to tell Frannie anything. When he glanced up, Frannie was looking down at him with a funny expression, and then she said, "Well, you try talking sense to my mother about one of her grandchildren sometime. Only brush up on your Italian first, and invest in earplugs, because English and volume control are the first things out the window."
Ray smiled cautiously at her around a sip of his orange juice. "And I'm next, huh? Bam, right through the plate glass."
Frannie grinned at that. "You? Never. Ma likes you, you know that. She still talks about her other Raymond. You should come for dinner sometime."
Ray nodded, although the thought of dinner at the Vecchios' just as himself, not pretending to pretend to be anybody's brother or son or anything, made his stomach lurch. Frannie finished her juice and straightened up, heading over to the trash can to throw it out, and Ray said, "Thanks." When she looked back, he raised his half-empty cup.
Frannie smiled and said, "No problem. Tomorrow, you buy."
Ray smiled back and said, "Sure, okay."
So after that, on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays Ray stopped at the bakery on his way to work, bought two orange juices and a couple of muffins, and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he slept through an extra snooze and didn't worry about eating anything, because he knew breakfast was waiting for him at work. Sometimes when it was his turn, things got crazy and he couldn't get the orange juice on the way to work. When that happened, he'd buy some the next time he was at the station, and Frannie never told him to buzz off, or that she didn't want to drink orange juice at three in the afternoon. She'd just say, "Thanks, Ray," and smile at him while she drank hers and he drank his.
After a while, Ray got to like orange juice.
Every once in a while, Ray did come up with an official reason to email Fraser, like when he needed help deciphering old case notes or he thought a case he was working might connect to something they'd investigated together, or that Fraser had been in on with Vecchio. Fraser either answered the emails instantaneously or when he got back to the post after a few days on patrol, hunting down poachers and wrestling rabid caribou and stuff like that, and then he always apologized for taking so long.
Once he'd gotten Frannie detached from her computer to let him send the email, it was usually easier to just stay put until he knew whether Fraser was going to answer him right away, so Ray got into the habit of checking the weather in Edzo while he waited for a response. Fraser had taught him a little rhyme to understand Canadian temperatures--30 is steamy, 20 is nice, 10 put a sweater on, 0 is ice--and he would whisper it to himself while he checked to see how things were in Edzo. It made it easier to picture Fraser, either sitting in his office or running around after bad guys, if Ray knew whether it was raining up there, blowing or snowing or clear as a bell.
One day in September, when it was just getting cool in Chicago but already cold enough for snow in Edzo, Ray walked over to Frannie's desk carrying a napkin with his own semi-legible handwriting on the back of it. The napkin had fallen out of one of the old case files currently sitting on his desk, but he had no idea which, and he thought Fraser might remember. And if not, well, it couldn't hurt to ask. "Hey, Frannie, can I--"
Frannie looked up and smiled at him. "Yeah, just let me--" she tapped a couple of buttons triumphantly, and the printer started churning out pages. Frannie stood up and Ray sat down, opening the email program without breaking the computer. When he looked up to share his accomplishment with Frannie, she was frowning at the printer. She opened and closed some doors on it, and Ray got back to typing out his email as she stalked off, muttering under her breath about the printer.
A minute later Jimmy walked up and said, "Printer's out of paper?"
Ray looked up, blinking at Jimmy. He wasn't really seeing the detective in front of him; he was seeing the heavy box of printer paper on the top shelf in the supply closet, and Frannie struggling to lift it down. "Yeah," Ray said, jumping to his feet. "I'll go--just a sec--"
He brushed by Jimmy and walked fast down the hall. The supply closet door was open, and sure enough Frannie was standing there in the high heels she still wore even though Ray had read somewhere that you weren't supposed to after the first trimester, reaching over her head for the big heavy box of printer paper. "Hey," Ray said, striding up behind her and reaching over her head to get the box. "Lemme do that, you don't have to do that." The shelf that was above Frannie's head was just at Ray's eye level, and it was a little awkward to get the box down with Frannie between him and the shelf. He leaned forward a little, and his chest brushed Frannie's back, and Ray shut his eyes, grabbed the box, and stepped back, lifting it safely over Frannie's head and down between them.
Frannie turned around and gave him a little frown, and Ray dropped his eyes to the box of paper. "You should've said something," Ray said. "Y'know--if you need help with--with anything--you know where I am, right?"
Frannie huffed a little laugh, and Ray looked up at her. She wasn't annoyed with him, didn't seem like she was going to ask him who the hell he thought he was, saying that. It wasn't like he wore a red coat or helped little old ladies across streets. It wasn't like he had any right. But Frannie just said, "It's my job to know where you are, actually, Detective."
Ray nodded. Right. Job. This was all about work, after all. "Yeah, exactly, so--if you need help, you'll say?"
Frannie lifted the lid off the box and took out a single package of paper. "Yeah," she said, walking out of the supply closet with an amused look back at him over her shoulder. "Yeah, I'll say."
Ray fumbled the lid onto the box and shoved it up onto the shelf, and then remembered what he'd been in the middle of, and took off for Frannie's desk at a run. "Hey! Frannie, I'm still--"
Ray's mom called him every Sunday, just to ask him how he was doing. She left him little notes and things through the week, whenever she stopped by to iron his shirts or tidy up his apartment or whatever, but he didn't ever really talk back until they were on the phone.
For years, when he talked to his mom he'd tell her about Stella, and for a while there he'd alternated between begging his mom to tell him about Stella and not answering his phone. He'd worked a lot of Sundays after the divorce.
He'd spent months of Sundays telling her about Fraser, because one of the perks of working with a total freak was that it made for great stories, and with Fraser involved they always came out right in the end. On their Adventure and after, in Edzo, Ray had tried to send her a postcard every week, always with some little story or other written on it in tiny letters, and the stories he wrote were always about Fraser.
But now--he didn't have a new partner to tell her about, and he couldn't tell her about getting letters or emails from Fraser because that would just sound wrong. Fraser was gone and Ray was back here, and his mom knew that even if Ray couldn't always get his head around it.
He hemmed and hawed a little when she asked him what was new, said there was nothing really, work was work and nothing else was happening, just like he'd been telling her ever since he got back from Canada. And then, out of nowhere, because he did have something he could say and he hated the silences, he said, "Our civilian aide at the station, Frannie, she's having a baby."
His mom said, "Oh?" and Ray rushed on, not quite able to stop himself even though it was his mom and Frannie and what was he doing saying any of this?
"Yeah, she's real excited about it. She doesn't--she's not married or anything, but I guess she, y'know, she really wanted a kid, so. She's real happy."
"That's nice," his mom said, which Ray knew meant she had no idea what she was supposed to say. He tried to think of something to change the subject to, but she added, "When is she due, dear?"
"December first," Ray said, without even thinking. Frannie had told him the date a while ago, and she had it circled on her desk calendar, and he'd heard her discussing her leave time with about a thousand different payroll and human resources people on the phone. December first meant the baby had gotten started at the beginning of March, right before the Muldoon case had hit. He wondered if she'd already known when all of that went down, when she came to the hospital to visit her brother and saw Fraser for the last time, or if it had been too soon then. Ray remembered a few close calls with Stella, and that had usually meant ten miserable days of waiting before they could find out. By March eleventh, he and Fraser had already been up north; he hadn't seen Frannie again until July, and by then it was obvious. "She's gonna work til November, and stay on leave til sometime in the new year."
"Well," his mother said, "I hope you're being nice to her, Stanley. As hard as it is being a woman in a police station, it's probably even harder for her right now."
"Yeah," Ray said, "Yeah, Mom, I know. I'm looking out for her."
The next week, Ray came home to ironed shirts and a little pastel colored gift bag on his kitchen table. The tag said "To Frannie" in his mother's nice greeting card handwriting, and in the bag there were some little tiny baby clothes and a soft yellow blanket. Ray didn't know if his mom thought Frannie needed the help, or if she just had nothing better to do than put together presents for other people's grandchildren, since her own were on the other side of the country and she'd--hopefully--given up on getting any out of Ray.
Frannie didn't need the help, he knew that; she'd just had a huge baby shower and her mom and sister and aunts and girl cousins and girl friends had given her all the baby clothes and diapers and little pastel colored things any one baby could need, plus she had the crib that she'd slept in as a baby and all that in the house.
Still, he wasn't going to tell his mom to take the stuff back, and it wasn't like it'd hurt anything, except there was no way he was telling Frannie he'd told his mom about her--he felt guilty enough having done it, without having to actually tell Frannie what he'd done.
He put the pretty little gift bag inside a plain brown shopping bag and took it to work with him on Thursday, leaving early so he'd be sure to beat Frannie to the station. Hardly anyone was in the bullpen, and no one noticed when Ray stashed the bag under Frannie's desk.
Frannie herself didn't even notice right away, but halfway through the morning, while Ray was interviewing a witness at his desk, he saw her awkwardly bending down from her chair--stupid, inconsiderate, should've left iton the desk--and picking it up. She looked inside and frowned and then smiled, and she looked up straight at Ray.
Ray looked away quickly, before he could smile at her or not smile, and said, "Okay, so you heard somebody scream. Where exactly were you when you heard it?"
Ray would watch Frannie sometimes and try to imagine what it would have been like if he and Stella had ever had kids. He'd never spent as much time around a pregnant woman as he did around Frannie; he'd never had any idea what it was like. As much as he'd always thought he and Stella would make great parents, it was hard to imagine Stella in Frannie's place. He couldn't quite imagine her all... soft at the edges the way Frannie was now.
Frannie got upset by funny things. Sometimes that meant crying in the ladies' room, and sometimes it meant screaming tirades about the filing that nobody could follow. Welsh seemed to have decided that Ray was Frannie's keeper, so after she stormed off he was always the one who had to go after her and talk her into coming back and answering the phones for the nice detectives who, really, hadn't meant anything by it at all. Honestly. He made a habit of going armed with the little packets of powdered mini-donuts that you could get from the vending machine, since they were the only thing Frannie ate more regularly than orange juice.
In November she got quiet, though. Kind of self-centered, not in a selfish way, just... everything important was right there inside her, and nothing else could really touch her. She wore long soft blue sweaters with her Civilian Aide badge stitched on in matching thread, and although nothing could have been less like Fraser's red serge, she reminded Ray of the Mountie. She was every bit as self-contained inside her uniform as Fraser had always been in his, just as impossible for Ray to reach out and touch.
Ray glanced over at her, in the middle of working out who was doing what on a case with Jimmy and Kim, and saw her smiling to herself, her hand on her belly and her eyes on nothing. Ray felt himself smiling back, and Jimmy whispered in his ear, "Is it true what they say about pregnant chicks?"
Ray flinched away and said, "What?"
Jimmy grinned at him, a slimy look that made Ray feel dirty just seeing it. "You know--they can't get enough and--"
Ray didn't think, he just lunged, grabbing Jimmy by the front of his shirt and running him clear across the room until he hit a wall. Ray didn't really see Jimmy's face as he was drawing his fist back, just a veil of red and pure fury that he could talk about Frannie like that, the fucking pig--
The hand on his arm stopped him cold, and it should have been broad and strong and red-sleeved, but it was small, and wearing a blue sweater, and he could have broken her grip as easy as anything. Ray blinked and turned his head, and Frannie was looking up at him with big brown eyes, forcing a smile. "Come on, Ray, don't. Come have some coffee with me."
Ray forced his left hand to release and let Frannie lead him away. He sat down in the break room, folded right down in the chair and put his hot face on the cool surface of the table. He heard a plastic crinkle beside his head, and lifted his head to see a packet of powdered mini-donuts, and Frannie lowering herself carefully into the seat beside him. "Peace offering," Frannie said, just like Ray had said to her a dozen times. "Nobody meant anything by anything, okay? And everybody's real sorry."
Ray swallowed hard and said, "I can't eat all of those," just like Frannie always said, even though it wasn't technically true.
"Yeah," Frannie said, "I'll give you a hand."
Thanksgiving came. Ray told Frannie and her ma that he was celebrating with his parents, and told his parents he was working. He had takeout Chinese for dinner with one too many beers to wash it down and went to bed early.
Frannie didn't come back to work after that. There was a little blond temp, a college student, sitting at Frannie's desk, doing Frannie's job in between her homework. Ray could never remember her name and didn't speak to her unless he absolutely had to, or if he wanted to use the computer. She always let him whenever he asked, dashing off to do something somewhere else.
Ray wanted to email Fraser, but there was no good reason. He checked the weather in Edzo five times a day, and the weather in Edmonton, which was just above it on the list. He drank two cups of orange juice on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and none on Tuesdays and Thursdays; he couldn't seem to break the habit. He wondered how they would find out when Frannie had her baby, whether she'd call the station and let someone know.
December first came and went and no one said anything; no one else seemed to notice the empty space where Frannie had been. Ray worked a lot. He kicked a few heads, but none of them was Jimmy's. He closed one case on the first, and another on the third, and on the fourth he had to go to court and nobody sat in the courtroom watching him, all red-suited and poker-faced, and nobody teased him about being all dressed up for the rest of the day.
The next week there were more cases, more interviews and interrogations and arrests, but still no word from Frannie. Ray got a letter from Fraser but he didn't open it. He kept it in his pocket, touching it at odd moments, taking it out sometimes and looking at Fraser's handwriting and the stamp and the postmark. If he opened it, he'd read it, and if he read it, he'd have to write back, and he had no idea what to say. He had nothing to tell anybody.
After a week and a half, Ray couldn't take the suspense anymore. On the tenth, a Thursday, he went over to the Vecchio house after work. Frannie had said that the baby was going to have the front bedroom; he glanced up there as he walked to the door, but there was no light on up there, nothing to tell him anything one way or the other.
He half expected Frannie to answer the door with the baby in her arms, but she didn't answer the door at all; Mrs. Vecchio did. "Raymond," she said, smiling, and Ray felt something release in his chest. He couldn't remember, all of a sudden, why he hadn't wanted to come here before. "Come in," she said, "have you eaten? Come eat."
Ray followed her into the dining room. The table had been cleared but for the salt and pepper and a shaker of grated cheese shaped like a mouse, and Frannie was sitting there with her face in her hands. She was wearing something soft and pink, nothing like anything she'd ever worn at work, and she was still hugely pregnant. She looked up at Ray and smiled, and she looked tired. "Hey, Ray," she said softly, and Ray pulled up a chair beside her.
"Hey," he said, "how you holding up?"
"Ahh, this little cipolle is taking its sweet time, that's all. I went to the doctor today, and he says if I'm not in labor by Monday, he wants to induce. The baby's getting big, and he's worried I might need a C-section if it takes much longer."
Ray winced. Frannie was so small...
She smiled at him, and it made the bags under her eyes bunch up. "Don't worry about me, okay? Vecchio women are designed for this. There hasn't been an early baby in the family in three generations. You know what they say, Italians like to take their time about everything."
"Yeah?" Ray said, "Not like Polacks, I guess. Me, I was three weeks early. Never good at waiting."
"Well," said Mrs. Vecchio, "we'd better feed you, then, hadn't we?" She set down a huge plate of food in front of him, and then disappeared off to the kitchen again.
Ray shot Frannie a pleading look--he couldn't possibly be meant to eat all of it--but Frannie just said, "Mangia," so he settled in to do his best with the food in between answering Frannie's thousand questions about how everything was going at the station without her.
She got up and walked him to the door when he was ready to leave, taking his arm when he offered it and moving slowly and heavily. "I'll give you a call," she said at the door, "Or someone will, anyway, if I can't do it myself. You can be responsible for letting everybody know."
"Yeah," Ray said, "Okay, yeah, I can do that." And then, because Frannie looked so soft and so tired, he leaned down and hugged her. The baby took up a lot more space between them now, but Frannie's cheek felt just the same against his, and he remembered the feel of her all the way home.
Friday he did everything he could to lose himself in work. He checked the Edzo weather ten times, muttering to himself over and over, 30 is steamy, 20 is nice, 10 put a sweater on, 0 is ice. It reminded him of other rhymes. His mother had used to say one to him and his brother all the time: Monday's child is fair of face, Tuesday's child is full of grace. Wednesday's child is full of woe, Thursday's child has far to go.--That was his his brother, and his mom had always shaken her head a little when she said it, and he'd gone far all right, all the way to California. Friday's child is loving and giving, Saturday's child works hard for his living, and the child that's born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe and good and--happy, he'd started shouting over her when he was about nine. Happy.
Not like he was all that happy, though, or even all that good, any more than being born on Thursday had made his brother apply to UCLA. Still, he couldn't help thinking, Friday's a good day, come on, come on. Every time the phone rang, he jumped on it, but it was never Frannie. He worked on autopilot, and halfway through the day he ripped open Fraser's letter and stared at it, but the words didn't mean anything to him and he had to put it away again.
Saturday he went to work again, sat at his desk in the mostly-quiet bullpen and caught up on reports, filling out one after another and checking the weather in Edzo and Edmonton every twenty minutes. The phone rang twice while he was there, and both times it was somebody Ray could redirect to the desk sergeant.
Sunday he stayed home, because he knew for a fact that he didn't have anything left to do at work. He puttered restlessly around his apartment, feeling trapped. He wanted to get out, but what if Frannie tried to call his home number? He had his cell, of course, but she might not think of that right away. The phone rang at two o'clock, the time his mother usually called, and Ray stood over it and let the machine pick up. As soon as he heard his mom's voice, he was off again, pacing around.
It was starting to get dark when he said, loud in the silence of his empty apartment, "I was born on a Sunday," but it sounded stupid, echoing back from the walls, and Ray wished he were at work and could check the weather somewhere far away and colder.
He forced himself to sit down and watch TV then, found a hockey game and then a stupid action flick. Sometime after midnight his restlessness burned itself out and he went to bed. Monday wouldn't be so bad, he thought, setting his cell phone on the night stand. Fair of face. I bet Frannie'll have a pretty baby.
The phone woke him up early Monday morning, and he pulled it to his ear in the half-light and said, "What?"
It was Frannie; he sat up suddenly in bed, hardly noticing the morning chill. "Frannie? Are you--"
Frannie laughed quietly. "I'm at the hospital. It's all finished. I meant to call you yesterday, but things got kind of--"
"Yesterday?" Ray stopped short, staring at the wall.
"Yeah," Frannie said, "everybody went to church and of course that's when the contractions started, and I had to wait for them to get home and take me in and then he took forever actually getting here and kept me up half the night."
"He," Ray repeated, blinking. It's a boy. A boy on Sunday.
"Why don't you come in and meet him?" Frannie asked. "You should have time if you come now, and I'll tell the nurse you're family so they'll let you in."
"Yeah," Ray said, "Yeah, okay." Frannie told him exactly where to go, and Ray was on the move, pulling on some clothes, pulling himself together. When he got to the hospital, he had to stop in the parking lot and take his gun and holster off. He put them in the trunk, tucking them underneath the bag he'd been keeping there, with a change of clean clothes inside, ever since the time he'd had to drive all the way from Sault Ste. Marie back to Chicago in some pirate's pants and raggedy sweater, stinking of lake water.
He went inside and to the nurse's station in the maternity ward, and sure enough when he asked for Frannie Vecchio the nurse took him right to her. Frannie was lying on her side in a hospital bed, holding her hand out to the little crib on wheels next to her, and she looked up and smiled at Ray as he came in. Her hair was a mess, and she looked exhausted, but she smiled and Ray smiled back, his heart pounding a mile a minute. All he could think of was the first time Stella had let him get a hand under her shirt. Frannie, after months of keeping him to herself, was about to let Ray see her baby. "Come on," she said, "don't stand in the door all day."
So Ray moved closer, and closer still, close enough to see the tiny pink-faced baby asleep in the crib. He had dark curly hair and long dark eyelashes and chubby cheeks, one hand curled by his mouth as he slept, tucked under a soft yellow blanket. "I'm going to name him Michael Raymond," Frannie said softly, and Ray nodded, unable to look away. That was nice, naming him after his uncle. "You can pick him up if you want," Frannie said, "One hand under his head and neck and one hand under his butt."
Ray stepped closer and reached down, tucking the blanket around Michael Raymond Vecchio as he slipped his hands awkwardly underneath, uncertain. The baby opened his eyes as Ray lifted him, blinking up sleepily, and his eyes were blue, and Ray stumbled backward, sitting down hard in the armchair by the bed with Michael cradled safely against his chest.
He wasn't seeing what he was seeing. Lots of babies' eyes were blue; it didn't mean anything. And no newborn could focus on the face of the person holding him. And there was no way that Michael Raymond Vecchio could possibly know that his father had picked him up.
Ray held Michael close to his heart, ducked his head and turned his face away from Frannie. He tried to hide his eyes against his arm, tried to be quiet. He didn't want to set a bad example and start the baby crying.
On Sunday night, the first of March, somebody knocked at Ray's door. He figured it was probably Fraser--who else ever knocked at his door?--and didn't bother to mute the Hawks game before he got up to answer it. When he'd turned all the locks and opened the door, it was Frannie standing there in the hallway, in a little black dress and high heels, with a long coat open over it. Ray blinked. "Uh, Frannie, you're a month early for April Fool's," he said.
Frannie just smiled. "No fooling, Ray. Can I come in?"
"Fraser's not here," he said, wondering where this was going.
"Good," Frannie said, pushing right past him and into his apartment, "because that would make things pretty awkward."
Ray pushed the door shut and turned around, watching Frannie look around his apartment. After a minute she shrugged out of her coat and sat down at his kitchen table. Ray scrubbed one hand through his hair, watching her, trying to figure out what the hell was going on in her head. She wasn't looking at him, but she fiddled with the necklace she was wearing, and suddenly Ray relaxed, because Frannie was nervous. He talked to people who were nervous about talking to him every day of the week; it was familiar. Normal.
Ray walked past her and into the kitchen. "You want something to drink?" He opened the fridge as he asked, and stared in at the pathetic contents: mustard, dubious leftover takeout and the takeout that he'd decided was unsafe to eat a week and a half ago but hadn't yet thrown out, a bottle of water, and two beers.
"No thanks," Frannie said from behind him, "but you go ahead if you--y'know, I mean. Don't not drink just because I'm not drinking, not that I, I mean--no. Thank you."
Ray squinted into the fridge, and closed the door without taking anything out. "Okay," he said, coming to sit down across the table from her, "So what's up?"
Frannie gave him a practiced smile, by which Ray guessed that they were now back on her script, took a deep breath, and said, "I've decided to have a baby."
Ray opened his mouth and then closed it, narrowing his eyes as he thought that one over. It sounded, right off the bat, like a terrible idea. He didn't think he'd let Frannie babysit his turtle, let alone give her a kid. Except of course Frannie had adopted Ante, and the poodle seemed happy enough. And if she put half as much energy into being somebody's mom as she did into trying to be Fraser's girlfriend, she'd probably do a hell of a job. "That's nice, Frannie," he said, finally. Frannie looked like she was waiting for something, and he said, "Fraser's really not here."
Frannie rolled her eyes up and shook her head, and then looked back down at Ray, leaning across the table at him. "Ray, I'm not talking about Fraser. Fraser is--off the table, okay? Off the griddle, off the map, Fraser might as well be back in Canada. I'm talking to you. About having a baby." Frannie made a circular gesture, inviting him to follow her chain of reasoning.
"You're talking to me," Ray repeated, the words Fraser might as well be back in Canada still rattling around his brain in a distracting way, "about having a--holy shit, Frannie!"
Frannie raised one eyebrow and sat back, spreading her arms, and Ray, frozen in his seat with his heart pounding, was suddenly conscious of how much skin her dress showed off. "Give the detective a prize," she said. "Yes, Ray. I'd like to have a baby and I'm here to ask you to help me out with the raw materials."
"What, now?" Ray was not supposed to be noticing that she really did have nice tits, that she was pretty, that it was kind of neat having all her attention focused on him instead of on Fraser. "Just, bam, let's go?"
Frannie shrugged. "Look, Ray, you're a cop. You think better under fire than you do anywhere else. If I gave you a day you'd spend twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes talking yourself out of it. If I gave you a year you'd--" Frannie waved a hand, "leave town. Take a vow of celibacy. Something."
Ray blinked. "So--you've thought about this?"
Frannie gave him a real smile, showing her teeth, almost laughing. "I've been thinking about this since I was fourteen, Ray. If I got pregnant today, what would I do? And lately I've been realizing... if I got pregnant today, that would be great. So why not try it?"
"Sure," Ray said, "but--why me, why--I just think you've got the cart before the horse, here."
Frannie sighed. "There's no horse, Ray. There's just a cart. A carriage, in fact. The kind you push. No horse required. I'm not asking you for anything except this, just--just this. You don't have to do anything else. Nobody even has to know. I won't even put your name on the birth certificate if you don't want me to. This isn't about horses." She looked down at her hands and Ray sat back and let her run. "I mean, all your life, you want a pony, you know? Every girl does. Or you grow up a little and you want some--some magnificent stallion or something, sleek and powerful and--" She glanced up at him and cut that line of reasoning off. "But horses need land, you know, a lot of space. You can't keep a horse in a city, and they're a lot of work, anyway, I mean a lot of work, with the mucking and brushing and constant exercise, and it's not like a modern woman even needs a horse, when she's got a car and two feet of her own."
Ray crossed his arms over his chest. "So it's not so much that there isn't a horse as--" it shouldn't be hard to say the words. He had no reason to have trouble saying the words. "--as the horse might as well be back in Canada."
Frannie's head jerked up, and her face flushed, but she met Ray's eye squarely. "Yeah," she said, and Ray's stomach clenched at the way she said it. "Yeah, well. We both want things we can't have, don't we, Kowalski? I mean, I've seen the way you look at him."
Ray wanted to run, but he couldn't move, could hardly breathe, couldn't bring himself to deny it.
"And it doesn't matter, does it?" Frannie said softly, sympathetically, which was more of a shock than saying it at all. "Because we both know he's gonna leave. We both know it's just a matter of time. He's practically a national treasure. They're going to take him back, and nobody stands a chance against Canada. Nobody."
Ray turned his face aside, because he didn't want to think about that, and Frannie said, softer, "Or maybe you do, I don't know. But I know I don't. And that's why you, Ray, because I think we could understand each other. Because you're a good guy, and I like you, and I think maybe there's at least a chance you're the kind of guy who might go for a girl like me."
Ray frowned, but it was Frannie's turn to look away, biting her lip and staring at the floor, and he remembered that she'd known Fraser years longer than he had. They might not have history history, but... there had been plenty of time for stuff to happen that Ray knew nothing about.
Into the silence came the sudden roar of the hockey game--Hawks must have scored--and Ray jumped up, startled and glad for the escape, went over to the coffee table and grabbed the remote. He muted the TV and turned back toward the kitchen, but Frannie was standing right at his shoulder, looking up at him. The TV light flickered blue-white on her face, and she was nervous again but smiling up at him hopefully. Ray thought, with a clarity like he'd felt when there were bullets flying overhead and he was jumping off a warehouse and into the Lake, There are worse reasons to be born than it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Ray set his hand on her cheek and the other on her shoulder, and bent to kiss her on the mouth. Frannie tilted her face up to meet him, and her mouth was soft and warm and wet under his, and she tasted like bubble gum and toothpaste. Ray settled into the kiss, pulling her close against himself--and Christ, it'd been too long since he'd gotten even this far with anybody. His hand slipped from her cheek into her hair, his thumb tracing the curve of her ear. Frannie shivered at that and broke the kiss to whisper, "Ray, you don't have to--"
"Hey," Ray said, lifting his head just far enough to look into her eyes. "If we're gonna do this, we'll do it right, okay? Now shut up and let me kiss you."
Frannie smiled at him, her eyes shining like he'd said exactly the right thing, and Ray got that rush of sensation like the moment his head broke the surface and he realized that, insane as this plan was, it was going to work.
"Hey," he whispered, his lips dragging against hers, "Frannie, could you just say, 'Ray, my friend, I'm about to make you a father in a wildly unusual way?'"
Frannie pulled back this time, and the little smile he felt on his own mouth was matched by one on hers. "Sure, Ray, whatever floats your rocket. But I'm not wearing a hat no matter how nice you ask."
He smothered his chuckle against Frannie's mouth, and kissed her all the way to his bedroom, lifting his head only to reassure himself that the sheets were reasonably fresh. Frannie's lips pressed lightly, cautiously, against his throat, and her fingers slipped under the hem of his t-shirt. Ray raised his arms and let her push it off. Their eyes met as she did, and Ray realized with a little jolt that he didn't have anything to hide from Frannie, that there were no lies between them here, not even the lies of omission and habit that were the only ones he'd ever let himself tell Stella.
He had to kiss her again for that, busying his hands with the zipper on her dress. It slid down easy, all the way to her waist, and Frannie wiggled out of it in a motion of skin and soft cloth that made Ray stop breathing. She stepped out of her heels, too, and the suddenly larger height difference was only a problem until Ray set his hands on her waist--small under his hands, her skin smooth as silk and he hoped she wouldn't snag on his shooting calluses--and lifted her up to kneel on the bed.
Frannie slipped her arm around his neck, pulling him in for a kiss, and Ray pressed closer, so close he could feel her nipples hard up against him through her bra. His hand slid up her back to undo the hooks as Frannie's hand slid down to his jeans. He couldn't stop his hips from snapping into her touch as his fingers fumbled her bra open, and he pulled back to say, "Sorry, sorry."
Frannie was grinning up at him, and her hand didn't move off his jeans. "Hey, nothing to apologize for," she whispered, and Ray had to shut his eyes as she stroked him through the cloth, ducking his head to kiss her throat as he slipped her bra straps down off her shoulders. Frannie shimmied it down her arms, the soft weight of her breasts sliding against his chest with the movement, and Ray raised his hands to cup them, skidding a thumb over her nipple. Frannie moaned, and Ray raised his head to kiss her again as she moved her hand to the button of his jeans, thumbing it open and pushing the zipper down. Ray's breath caught as Frannie's thumb dragged down the front of his jockeys, and Frannie smiled against his mouth and fell back onto the bed, sprawling out on his tangled old sheets in nothing but a pair of little black panties. Ray stood staring at her for a moment, trying to remember how to breathe, as Frannie hooked one finger into the elastic and pulled them down over one hip, baring golden curving skin and the edge of black curls. "Hey," she said, dragging his attention back to her face. "This isn't a free show, Kowalski."
Ray blinked at her, and then realized that the intent, interested look she was giving him was directed at his half-unzipped pants. Ray grinned, startled--it was strange to be wanted after so much time wanting, and exhilarating, like driving fast on a winding road. He shucked off his jeans and pulled his jockeys off before he could think about it. He kept his eyes turned down until he was crawling across the bed to Frannie, and then her bright dark eyes made him wish he'd watched her face.
He braced himself over her with one arm, his other hand settling irresistibly on the bare skin of her hip as he bent his head to kiss her again, and he felt the wiggle as she pulled her panties down and kicked them off. His hand slid across the soft slight curve of her belly, his fingers sliding through damp curls to the wetness between her legs. Frannie shuddered under him, around him, as he slipped one finger and then another inside, slick and hot. She tipped her head back and took a ragged breath, and Ray whispered, "Been a while?"
Frannie gave a shaky laugh, her eyes fluttering shut and open again as Ray stroked, his thumb pressing against her--just--there to make her shake again. "Yeah," she said, "Yeah, it's--been a while."
Ray's stomach clenched at the feel of her around his fingers, his dick resting lightly against the curve her thigh, hard and throbbing with eagerness. "Yeah," he murmured against her mouth, "It's been a while for me too."
Frannie arched up against him, her hand finding his ass and tugging at him. "Ray, please..."
He kissed her again, slipping his fingers free, and then looked up at the night stand, automatically thinking, condom. Except, no, that was the whole point here. He froze for just a second, blinking at the night stand, and Frannie said, "Ray?"
He looked back at her and smiled. "Sorry," he muttered, shifting himself lower over her as she opened her legs wider in welcome, and sliding into all that wet and warmth and it was his turn to shiver now, holding back, forcing himself to go slow. He panted, eyes shut tight, as Frannie kissed his face and murmured to him, but he was lost, sunk deep, skin to skin like he hadn't been with anyone in so long, so fucking long.
He found her mouth with his and started to move, slow, so slow, breathing raggedly between kisses, listening to Frannie's breath, sharp and jagged, her hand on his ass encouraging every thrust, her hand in his hair keeping him close. He pulled away far enough to free his mouth, biting hard on his lip as he pressed his cheek against Frannie's, working his hand between them to make her feel this, make this good for her, and when her breath turned to choked-back cries he let go, orgasm flashing through him, white hot, leaving him breathless when it ended.
He collapsed onto his side, one arm across Frannie's body, his hand on her shoulder. He opened his eyes, blinking his gaze into focus. Her cheeks were bright, her eyes shining, and she was catching her breath same as him. Frannie looked over at him and smiled and said, "I guess I should go."
Ray tugged on her arm and she rolled toward him without resistance, her skin sweat-damp and silky against his. "Not yet," he muttered, "we get til midnight, right?"
Frannie laughed against his chest. "Sure, Prince Charming," she whispered as he drifted into sleep. "Til midnight."
Ten days later Ray was up north listening to a flatulent Mountie give an incoherent speech, and he didn't see Frannie again until July.
The baby was starting to fuss. Ray wiped his eyes against his sleeve, trying to bring his breathing under control, and stood up, carrying him to Frannie. Frannie was watching him, worried, and he bent in and kissed her cheek as he laid Michael in her arms. "You put my name anywhere you want, okay, Frannie?"
As he straightened up, he saw the birth certificate form on the bedside table, all filled out except for the father's name. He touched the blank, and Frannie nodded. "Sure, Ray. If you're okay with it."
"I--yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, I'm okay. I just--I gotta go for a little while, but I'll be back, all right? I will be back."
Frannie looked into his eyes, and then reached up and pulled him down so she could kiss his cheek. "Good luck," she whispered in his ear. "Now go."
In the overnight parking lot at O'Hare, Ray tucked his gun and holster into the spare tire well and pulled the duffel bag out of his trunk. His last weather forecast for Edzo and Edmonton was thirty-six hours old, but it had been calling everything clear for the rest of the week, and temperatures weren't anything lower than the worst of a Chicago winter just yet. His coat ought to be enough, for as long as he was going to be there.
He caught the morning flight direct to Edmonton. There was a crying baby three rows behind him, and the sound became hypnotic after the first hour. Ray made a mental note to tell Fraser that the sound of a crying baby had the same effect on him as the smell of a caribou carcass had had on Fraser. That probably explained something important about them.
The Edmonton-to-Yellowknife flight didn't leave until three in the afternoon, which gave Ray a couple of hours to kill in the Edmonton airport. He had a little bit of Canadian money leftover from the summer, enough to buy some food he only picked at. He wandered through the airport shops until he found himself in front of a drugstore display of condoms. He stared for a long time and then picked up a three-pack and a bottle of lube. That was the whole point here, wasn't it?
He tucked the little plastic bag into an outside pocket of his duffel bag, located his gate, and then went to the payphone and fed in his already overburdened credit card. The little blond temp girl answered, and he asked for Welsh.
"Hey," Ray said, staring at the meaningless metal shine of the payphone. "Uh, I'm in Edmonton."
Welsh was silent for a minute, and then said, "Detective, does this have anything to do with a certain Mountie who was formerly of our acquaintance?"
Ray blinked. "Not in the sense that it's in any way his fault, sir."
Welsh sighed. "Are you going to be coming back this time?"
"Yeah," Ray said quickly, because the more he said it the less he'd be tempted to make it a lie. "Yeah. I'm coming back. This is just a quick thing. Just--tying up some loose ends."
Welsh was quiet for another minute and then said, "I am putting you down absent due to illness, Kowalski, and you are not going back on the street under the auspices of the Chicago PD until you demonstrate to me that you have fully recovered from whatever's ailing you, are we absolutely clear?"
Ray closed his eyes. That was better than he deserved. Way better than he deserved. "Yeah," he said, "thanks, Lieu."
"Go tie up your ends, Detective."
"Frannie had a boy, sir."
"I know, Kowalski," Welsh said wearily, "she told me when she called to say that I shouldn't expect you at the station today."
"Oh," Ray said, and then, in a smaller voice. "Thanks." He hung up quick, before Welsh could say anything else, and stared into the fluorescent lights until they called him to board.
Ray rented a jeep at Yellowknife airport and hit the territorial highway, headed north.
Fraser hadn't been too thrilled about being posted to Edzo. It was a town, for one thing, instead of an ice shanty or a glacial cave with a flag posted outside, and after his years in Chicago Ray could see where Fraser had had just about enough of civilization.
Plus, it wasn't in the Arctic. Fraser had explained to him, at great length, all the different ways you could define the Arctic and how Edzo didn't qualify for any of them. And to top it all off, it was only a hundred kilometers from Yellowknife, which by Fraser's standards was an actual city. Fraser had told him how many miles that was, and how to figure one from the other, but all Ray remembered was the sign on the highway as they left Edzo when Fraser drove Ray down to the airport. It said YELLOWKNIFE - 100. Fraser had kept his eyes on the road, all the way down, and Ray had stared out the window. They hadn't said a word.
Ray had figured then that he knew how long a hundred kilometers was without doing any math at all: not long enough.
Now it was a whole different trip, in the dark of December instead of the sunshine of July, with his whole life waiting for him back in Chicago and nothing beside him in the car but that damn duffel bag. Ray drove with his brights on the whole hundred kilometers, watching out for caribou with a dozen of Fraser's gruesome accident stories in mind, but he didn't see another living thing until he pulled into Edzo.
There was no flag flying in front of the RCMP post. It wouldn't go back up until there was a sunrise. Ray opened the familiar door, kicking unfamiliar snow off his boots, and Dief jumped him before he was even halfway through. Fraser stood by the reception desk looking like he'd just seen a ghost, and the other constable--Ray had known his name, last summer, but he couldn't be bothered to remember it now--was grinning like this was the best joke he'd ever heard. "Hello there!" he said brightly, but Ray didn't look away from Fraser's pale face.
"I need to talk to you," Ray said, because in nine hours that was the best he'd been able to come up with.
Fraser nodded, looking down, pulling himself together. "Dief, stay here," he said, the first words Ray had heard him speak in more than five months, and then he turned and headed back into his office. Ray followed hard on his heels, shutting the door firmly behind them. Fraser stood in front of his desk, wearing his brown uniform--no dress red up here--and said, "Ray, what--"
Ray lunged across the empty space and kissed him, hard enough to make up for being six months, nine months, a year too late. Fraser's mouth opened under his, and Fraser's hands caught his elbows, holding him up, holding him there, and Ray's whole body pressed Fraser up against the desk. Ray was hard under his coat, but he couldn't feel Fraser through it, had to unclench one hand from the front of Fraser's uniform and reach down to find Fraser's hard-on under the scratchy wool pants, and that was enough of an opening for Fraser to push him off. "Ray, Ray, Ray. Ray. Ray."
Ray let go, looked up and met Fraser's eyes, wide and deep blue. "Yeah," Ray said, "sorry."
Fraser blinked at him, frowning slightly, and said, "Perhaps it would be best if we continued this conversation elsewhere."
"Yeah," Ray said, clenching his fists to keep from grabbing Fraser again. "Perhaps."
Fraser turned away, scrubbing his hands over his face, and Ray spared half a thought to feel bad, because he'd just kind of made a scene in front of Fraser's coworker and now there was going to be Mountie gossip, and for what? But Fraser smiled a little when he turned back around, and led the way out into the front area again. "Constable Perrin, if you could excuse me, I need to meet with Detective Kowalski now on an urgent matter."
Ray didn't look at Perrin, but he could hear the grin. "Sure, Fraser. Why don't you leave Dief here, and I'll send him up to get you if you're needed."
Ray bit the inside of his lip and stared at the door, waiting.
"I believe that would be acceptable, thank you. Dief, if you will?"
Dief barked, and Ray heard him thump his tail, and then Fraser's hand was on his arm, dragging him out the door. He tossed the keys to Fraser without looking, and heard Fraser catch them smoothly. How was that for communication?
Ray got into the passenger seat, setting his bag on his lap. It was deja vu all over again; neither of them said a word for the entire drive, and Ray stared out the window into the unbroken darkness, waiting for the end.
Fraser shut the door. Ray threw his duffel onto the couch, and when he turned Fraser was right there at his shoulder, kissing him before he could even consider trying to explain himself, quick Mountie fingers unbuttoning his coat. Ray groaned against his mouth and started popping the buttons on Fraser's uniform jacket.
Fraser's tongue thrust hard against his, and Ray sucked at it, grinding his hips against Fraser's, his dick lining up with Fraser's. The hardness pushing back against him made Ray gasp for breath, shoving Fraser's jacket down once he'd struggled out of his own, yanking his own sweater and t-shirt off in one go as Fraser stepped back to undress himself. Ray watched Fraser's hands baring pale skin, toed off his boots and shoved down his jeans. He didn't have to look to know Fraser was watching him right back. Fraser's dick was hard, blood-dark and ready, and Fraser's breathing was loud in the quiet of the cabin. Ray turned away, unzipping the pocket of the duffel and yanking out the supplies he'd bought. When he turned Fraser was standing there naked and still, watching him, and Ray's dick jumped at the sight. He held the stuff out with a shaking hand. "I want--" Words failed him. He couldn't say it.
Fraser caught his wrist and reeled him in, kissing him hard, grinding them together. Fraser's hand found his ass, fingers slipping between, where Ray had touched himself and never, ever thought about Fraser when he did it. "Yeah," Ray whispered, tooth-bruised lips brushing Fraser's, "yeah, there, please."
Fraser nodded, taking the box and bottle from his hand and pulling him to the bedroom. The bed was perfectly made, and Fraser folded down the covers neatly while Ray stood beside him, waiting, and then he shoved Ray down onto the cold sheets. Ray squirmed and then rolled onto his stomach as Fraser laid down beside him, hot all down Ray's side.
Ray humped the mattress, hot face buried against the cool pillow, as his ears caught the sound of Fraser popping the top of the lube bottle. When Fraser's hand touched his ass again, Ray went still, spreading his legs and turning his face out so he could breathe, forcing himself to relax. Fraser pressed a hard kiss to his spine as he pressed his finger into Ray's ass, and Ray closed his eyes, hands in fists, panting through the burn of it, rocking his hips as Fraser's finger twisted inside him. It hurt just exactly as much as it should, lessening his hard-on without easing his need, and Ray gasped, "More."
Fraser's teeth closed lightly on the back of his neck, and Ray pressed his forehead down and his neck up, until Fraser licked at the spot and slid another finger into him, stroking and twisting until he hit the spot that made Ray's breath escape him in a sob. His cock was thoroughly hard again, and he was throbbing, aching, close, but Fraser wasn't finished with him and Ray couldn't catch his breath to beg. His fingers kept moving until Ray was thrusting back against them, fucking himself on Fraser's touch, ears straining for the sound of the condom packet.
He bit his lip hard when he heard it, and Fraser's fingers pulled out of him, Fraser's hand going to his hip to pull him over onto his side, spooned against Fraser. Ray lifted his top leg back over Fraser's hip, and Fraser pushed him into the right position, and then Fraser's cock was pressing against him and Fraser's hand was on his cock. Ray bit his tongue, closed his eyes, and waited, and Fraser didn't disappoint him. The slow hard slide of Fraser's cock entering him was matched by Fraser's hand on Ray's cock, as tight around him as he was around Fraser. Ray inhaled in a ragged gasp when Fraser was all the way inside him, and uncurled his fist from the sheets to close it around Fraser's wrist. Fraser's mouth was on his throat, and as he began to move in Ray, thrusting long and slow, he bit and kissed by turns until Ray was shaking. Fraser's hand moved more lightly now on Ray's cock, though Ray could feel the muscles under his hand gone rigid with tension. Fraser licked at Ray's skin as he slammed inside again, and Ray jerked against his hand and came, spurting against Fraser's clean white sheets as Fraser jacked him through it.
When he couldn't bear the touch of Fraser's hand anymore, Ray dragged it up to his chest, pressing Fraser's palm flat against his ribs, so Fraser could feel the hammering of Ray's heart. He was still moving inside Ray, slower now, making it last, and Ray lay motionless, his breath stuttering with every motion of Fraser's cock. He couldn't bear it but he wished it would go on forever, save him from anything else, keep him here, in this moment, always. But nothing lasted forever; Fraser's thrusts went ragged, and Fraser's fingers curled hard against his ribs, and Ray felt the swell and pulse of Fraser's cock inside him.
Fraser pulled out carefully, but it still hurt a little--exactly as much as it should, Ray thought, blinking at the wall, exactly enough to remind him that this was how it ended, pulling out, pulling away, left empty and aching--and he rolled away, leaving Ray feeling cold and wasted there on the sheets. He heard the small sounds of Fraser tidying away the condom and bottle of lube, and then Fraser was behind him again, pulling up the covers, folding his arms around Ray and keeping him close.
"Now," Fraser said against his ear. "It's wonderful to see you again, Ray. Could you kindly tell me what the hell is going on?"
Ray closed his eyes and held himself still. "Frannie had her baby," he said, and his throat felt raw, like he'd been screaming all this time. "Only he's not just her baby. He's mine, too."
He felt Fraser freeze, and went on because he couldn't stop. "I didn't run out on her or anything. She didn't want me, it was never me she wanted--" he felt Fraser flinch at that, "it was the kid, she just wanted to be a mother, to have a baby, and I was just--there to help her out, so she asked and I did."
"I see," Fraser said, in that super-calm voice that could have meant anything.
"I just thought--I thought, if me and Stella had ever had kids, this is where we'd be now. I'd have them after work one night a week and take them to baseball games every other weekend and I thought, what the hell, me and Frannie could just skip the screaming fights and get straight to the broken home, right? I thought it wouldn't be--" he choked at the memory of his son in his arms, Michael resting against the spot where he'd pressed Fraser's hand, the small, dense weight. "I didn't think," Ray whispered. "I didn't--Fraser, I'm sorry, I can't stay, I have to go back. I can't stay."
Fraser kissed the back of his ear and said, "All right," and Ray released a shaky sigh. Yeah, that was better than he deserved, too, Fraser being calm about it, just letting him come and go and be done with the whole thing. He knew it wasn't fair to ask Fraser to just--deal with everything for him, and if this turned ugly later, well, he'd cope, but--"I'll take some leave," Fraser said, his voice thoughtful. "The detachment's well staffed, so it shouldn't pose a problem, and I still have plenty of time owing to me."
Ray blinked at the wall. "You'll take some leave," he repeated, mind gone as blank as the plain paint across from him.
"Mm," Fraser said. "It's not a long-term solution, of course, but it will give us time to sort things out. I'll have to apply for a transfer--I don't imagine I'll be able to get back to Chicago right away, but there are other postings that might be feasible in the interim, as long as we're willing to be flexible about how often we can see each other."
Ray's mouth worked, but nothing else did. He felt like he'd just had all the wind knocked out of him. Finally he managed to suck in a breath and say, "You'd--transfer, Fraser?"
Fraser pulled away from him, just far enough to push Ray down onto his back, and Ray met his eyes because he couldn't think well enough not to. Fraser was staring down at him steadily. "Ray, do you honestly thinkpermafrost is more important to me than you are?"
Ray blinked and then said, "Can I take the fifth?"
Fraser leaned down and kissed him. "No. You're in Canada, and American constitutional protections don't apply. However, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, you may claim section eleven for protection against self-incrimination."
"Section eleven," Ray repeated against Fraser's mouth, and Fraser smiled and settled in beside him. Fraser was warm, and the covers were warm, and Ray was really tired. He closed his eyes.
"Shit," Ray mumbled, slipping down toward sleep. "Vecchio's gonna kill me."
Fraser's arm tightened around him, but he didn't promise Ray that that wouldn't happen, just said, "Maybe you'd better stay here with me until I can arrange that leave."
Ray turned down the radio until it was just a whisper at the edge of his hearing, and watched the car three ahead of his roll up to the inspection booth. He drummed his palms against the steering wheel and told himself not to be nervous. He'd crossed the border from Detroit once a month since Fraser had gotten the transfer down to Windsor, and nobody had ever batted an eye at him.
But this time was different. He'd left at nine in the morning instead of nine at night, so instead of crawling into bed with Fraser at the end of the trip they'd be meeting in broad daylight, in the parking lot of the first Tim Horton's on the other side of the bridge. Daylight travel meant daylight traffic, so the trip had taken an hour longer even before factoring in the pit stop at a rest area near Kalamazoo for a diaper change.
Ray glanced in the rearview mirror, and saw Michael looking back at him, blue eyes wide. Ray smiled at him in the mirror, and reached back and squeezed his foot. Michael kicked and waved his fists enthusiastically, giving an earsplitting yell and showing off his two teeth.
The cars ahead of him moved up, and Ray put both hands on the wheel and eased his foot off the brake, letting the GTO roll forward. When Ray looked back again, Michael seemed to be staring at his fist as he sucked his thumb, and Ray knew if he got up to highway speeds again the kid would drop right back to sleep. He was a road trip natural.
Ray glanced again at the passenger seat, where he'd already laid out his driver's license and his copy of Michael's birth certificate. All he could think about was how easy a photocopied birth certificate would be to forge. Why should anybody buy that as a reason to let some random guy take a baby across the border? And what if they asked why the kid didn't have his last name, or whether he was a custodial parent, or whether he'd been able to claim Michael as a dependent on his last tax return?
Ray clenched his hands on the steering wheel, then opened them, shaking his body loose, eliminating all the tells he'd spot if he were the one in the booth. No jittering. Blinking regularly. Shoulders dropped.
The car ahead of him pulled away, and Ray eased up to the booth.
"Citizenship?" The guy in the booth didn't even look at him.
"US," Ray said. "Both US."
The guard ducked down to look, then, and spotted Michael in the back seat. "Identification for you both?"
Ray handed them over, and the guard stared at them. "Where you headed, sir?"
"Just into Windsor here," he said, like he always did. "Meeting a friend."
The guard nodded, still staring at Michael's birth certificate and Ray's driver's license, and Ray opened and closed his hands on the steering wheel. "How long you planning to stay in the country?"
"Eight days," Ray said promptly, because this was his vacation, their vacation, a reward for six months of making this long distance thing work.
The guard nodded and handed their ID back. "Bringing in any fruits, vegetables, meat, alcohol, drugs, or firearms?"
"No sir," Ray said, and the guard nodded.
"Welcome to Canada. Enjoy your stay."
And that was it; they were rolling out of the customs plaza and onto the street. Ray glanced in the rearview mirror again, and Michael waved one damp fist at him. "You hear that, champ? Welcome to Canada."
Michael didn't seem all that impressed, but then it wasn't the most impressive part of Canada Ray had ever seen either. He turned his attention to driving. Canadians might be polite, but border traffic respected no nationality. His hands were slapping open against the steering wheel again, because now they were in Canada, now the border guards were behind them, and that meant there was nothing left between them and Fraser but half a mile of stop and go traffic.
Fraser had met Michael before this, of course; he'd stayed on leave until after the baptism, and every time he visited Ray in Chicago they went to the Vecchio house for dinner so Fraser could see how much the kid had grown in a month. But Ray's every-other-weekend with Michael was offset from his every-other-weekend with Fraser; he'd never done the dad thing and the boyfriend thing at the same time, and Fraser had never been made to do the dad's-boyfriend thing for more than a few hours before Ray handed the kid off to Frannie. And now they had eight days ahead of them and Frannie was hundreds of miles away across an international border.
Ray took a deep breath and moved into the left turn lane, pulled into the shopping center when the light changed, and wove through the parking lot to the Tim Horton's. Fraser was standing there wearing jeans and a t-shirt--30 is steamy, Ray thought, grinning--and Dief sat beside him on the asphalt, panting. Ray pulled up in front of Fraser, parking the GTO just so, bumper kissing Fraser's knees. He never took his eyes off Fraser's face and Fraser never stepped back, though Dief scampered away to the sidewalk. Ray shut the car off and opened the door, turning back as soon as he was out to fold the seat forward and pull Michael out of his car seat. Unbuckling the car seat straps still gave him the same stupid rush of accomplishment it had the first time he took Michael anywhere with him in the car.
He straightened up with Michael on his hip, and Fraser was right there, one hand on the roof of the car, the other on the small of Ray's back and never mind the sweat. Fraser said, "Welcome to Canada," against Ray's mouth and then kissed him, and Ray kissed him back, because they could be anybody in the parking lot of the Tim Horton's, they were nobody here, they were safe in the June sunshine. Michael was a warm weight in his arm, leaning car-drowsy against his side.
Ray felt Michael's foot kick out a half-second before Fraser broke the kiss with a startled oof and stepped back, staring down at the baby in Ray's arm with a worried look, and Ray grinned, suddenly relieved. "Don't worry, Fraser." Ray turned himself so he was squarely between his guys, and kissed Fraser one more time. "He did the same thing to me the first time we met."