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Negligence

Ray's cleaning his apartment, and no, there's no reason why. There doesn't need to be a reason why, does there? Hell, his mom cleans pretty much every day, though maybe that's 'cause she's a mom and moms do that kind of thing. Besides, Ray is not turning into his mom. It's just that sometimes, a guy gets to thinking that he's a slob, and when that happens it's time to break out the mops and the dusters and the Windex. Simple fact of life.

It's also a simple fact of life that all the real monsters hide in the bathroom, so he saves that for last. First off, scrub down the kitchen, which maybe would be harder if he used it for anything other than coffee and frozen pizza. Next, the livingroom. No biggie there; he just sweeps all the junk on the coffee table into the trash, runs the vaccuum over the sofa, fishes his remotes back out of the trash can, and presto, he's done. Bedroom? Hell, he'll think about that when there's even a mini -- minnow -- miniscule chance of bringing somebody home for the night, which right now there isn't, between work and being down a partner and the sudden, staggering absence of pretty girls at the station.

That leaves the bathroom. Gingerly, Ray nudges the door open and stands in the doorway, glowering at the pile of empty hair-care product containers that's lurking at the foot of the tub. It's not like he doesn't see the pile every day; he's a pretty hygenic guy, takes a shower every morning, brushes his teeth three times a day. It's just that he's usually not contemplating disturbing the pile, and he's half-afraid that it's gonna protest or something.

"C'mon, you big baby," he mutters. "Knock around with ten thugs every day before lunch, and you're afraid of a little soap scum?"

Turns out, it's not as bad as it could be. The worst of the slime goes straight into the trash with the empty bottles of shampoo and conditioner, and most of what's left is neatly confined to a corner where -- huh. There's a papery brick of -- something, backed up into the wall like it's looking for cover. After the second it takes for him to double-dare himself into picking it up, Ray discovers that it's papery because it's just a bar of soap, wrapped in its original packaging.

Funny thing is, the wax paper isn't even ripped. The seal's been broken, neat as you please, and if he pulls the paper folds aside, there's a brand-new bar of soap inside. Ray frowns at that for a few seconds, turning it over in his head and trying to get some speck of his brain to treat the thing like evidence.

And then he remembers. Fraser. Of course it was Fraser.



(Three months earlier)

Fraser's looking kind of lost, which is no surprise, 'cause he looks like he spent the last couple hours wandering around in the thunderstorm that's raging outside. Freak. If they hadn't made plans for dinner, he'd probably still be out there, instead of dripping all over Ray's living room. "Ray, I need to -- "

"Yeah, I know, you need to talk to me. You said." Ray pushes a fresh bar of soap and a clean towel into Fraser's hands. Just wait 'til his mother hears about this; she'll never say he's a bad host again. "You take a shower, dry off, I'll get some sweats or something for you to wear. Where's Dief?"

"I left him in the Consulate; he's never liked lightning. But -- "

"Dog's got more sense than you, is all I can say. Go on, get in there."

Fraser just stands there, clutching the towel in one hand and the soap in the other, looking like he'd maybe like to protest again, but can't get his brains together. Weird. Ray gives him a little nudge through the bathroom door, shuts it, and listens. After a minute, he hears the water start running and wanders back into the kitchen, shaking his head. Seriously, you'd think the guy'd never heard of hospitality.




So Ray's sitting in his nice, clean livingroom, on his nice, clean couch, feet up on his nice, clean coffee table. He's got a bar of soap in his hand, and he's been staring at it for a solid ten minutes. It's not that weird, is it? He's just, you know. Missing his buddy. People -- guys, cops -- miss their buddies sometimes, especially when they go from being attached at the hip to not speaking for six months.

Which, now that he thinks about it, he's not too sure why that happened. Just, you know, one day Fraser was there, and the next day he wasn't. One day Fraser was hanging around with him at the station, getting chamomile tea out of the coffee machine and salmon on a hard roll out of the sandwich machine; next day, he was on a plane going across the border. And yeah, okay, Ray never called, 'cause he knows what the phones're like up there, and more importantly he knows Fraser doesn't like to stick around in the places where phones are -- but Fraser never called either, and he knows that Ray checks his messages. Usually. Least, he has been since Fraser left.



Ray hears Fraser's boots click their way out of the bathroom and sets a cup of tea on the coffee table, feeling maybe just a little smug. Betcha Fraser'll be real surprised when he sees that. "Geez, Frase, would you take those boots off and chill out? There's some clothes in the bedroom, see if they -- " and then he looks up and stops dead, because Fraser's standing there with his hat on his head and his wet leather jacket on his shoulders, and that look on his face hasn't changed a bit. That lost, confused, desperate look which should never go on Fraser. "Um. Everything okay, there?"

"I -- yes. I think so. If I -- well, I'd like to have a word with you."

Ray frowns and takes a step toward him. "Yeah, sure. Sit down, make yourself at home, you can talk my ear off -- "

"No, thank you, I'd prefer to stand." Fraser clasps his hands behind his back and lifts his chin, like he might be expecting Ray to clock him.

The skin on the back of Ray's neck prickles. This cannot be good. "Okay. Okay, sure. You stand, I'll -- um, stand over here." He parks a hip on the back of the sofa and crosses his arms. "Shoot."

"Right, well -- " Fraser clears his throat. "Ah, over the course of the last few months it has come to my attention that there exist certain aspects of Chicago's atmosphere that are not, ah, entirely to my liking."

Ray snorts. "Yeah, Frase. 'Cause let me tell you, I am loving the smog and light pollution. Not to mention the scum I throw into the brig for a living -- they're the best, can't get enough of 'em." He tries on a grin, but Fraser's lips don't even twitch. The edgy tickly feeling creeps down his neck to the base of his spine.

"I must confess, I was referring to those aspects as well, but -- to be frank, I'm homesick, and I know it's unprofessional, but one comes to expect certain things from a life of service, and -- "

"Wait, wait, wait," Ray interrupts, straightening suddenly. "So what you're trying to tell me is that you think you deserve to go home 'cause you could play Dudley Do-Right on TV?"

Fraser opens his mouth, pauses, and cracks his neck. "Now, Ray, Dudley Do-Right is a fictional character meant to personify the ideals of -- "

"Shut up and answer the question. Do you or do you not want to go back to Tuktoyaktuk? 'Cause I'll tell you right now, you deserve it, just -- " He doesn't say what he's thinking: that he'd thought, after the adventure, that Fraser'd come back to Chicago because he'd been planning to stay here. "Just, you know, if the RCMP can't see that, they're completely fucking unhinged."




Just, with one thing and another, Ray hasn't actually called. He probably should've, true. But he hasn't, and Fraser hasn't, and now there's this festering situation, which he hadn't even really noticed before now. And now he's not sure what the hell he's supposed to do -- call Fraser, try to explain that he'd actually forgotten to call, which'll get him an earful. Or don't call Fraser, and wonder if he's doing exactly the same thing in Canada. "Oh, hey, Fraser," Delmar might say one day in the tundra, "what happened to that slick gig in the States you used to have?" And Fraser would start to go all poetic about how he's really not meant to be a city guy, and then bam! Instant guilt trip.

...unless he wasn't calling on purpose. Christ, he wouldn't do that, would he?



"Well, Ray, that's -- ah, that's very flattering." Fraser smiles at him, but it looks wrong, all plastic and fake and exactly like Stella about a month before the divorce. Fuck. "Very flattering indeed."

Ray nods slowly, waiting for more, but it doesn't come. "So, you gonna apply for a transfer?" A transfer, Ray tells himself firmly, does not mean the end of partners. Maybe it was once, but this is different.

But this turns out to be the wrong question, because Fraser drops his chin to his chest and stares at his shoes. "Ah, well, I've already received the transfer."

It takes Ray a second to process this, and when he does, he pushes off the sofa and takes two quick steps closer. "You mean, you applied and you didn't tell me?"

Fraser's mouth opens, closes. "I -- well, I didn't think I'd get it, and -- "

"You are really clueless, aren't you? You really thought, after you unearthed a fucking nuclear sub, that they wouldn't take you?"

Fraser's thumb goes to his eyebrow, the way it always does when he's under pressure. "I also thought," he adds quietly, "that you wouldn't understand."

"Understand." Ray barks out a laugh and shoves his hands back through his hair. "'Course I understand, Fraser, it's just -- jeez, I thought you'd at least give me a heads up. I mean, we're partners."

Fraser nods, his eyes still on his shoes. "Yes. We are. And it's exactly that which makes this so difficult for me."

Difficult. That's what Stella said, whole time they were seeing lawyers and signing papers and even when she was throwing his stuff out in the hall -- so fucking difficult for her. And here's Ray, doing it again, whining and complaining and making things difficult for people he cares about.




So, okay, things had maybe been a little tense with Fraser when he left, which Ray realizes is not the best start for a long-distance thing, but they weren't that bad. Least, Ray doesn't think so. He'd apologized for reacting the way he had, hadn't he? And he'd even meant it, and usually Fraser forgave him when he said sorry and meant it.

He'd tried. He had. He'd just...you know, kinda fudged the follow-up. Never said he was good at keeping in touch, anyway. He hadn't even been able to keep in touch with his best friend Chuck from high school.

Still, he's got a phone number.



"I'm not -- okay. I'm happy for you, okay? I mean that." Fraser doesn't respond, so Ray keeps rambling. "Just, you know, it's hard. For me, I mean. And you, like you said, so -- "

"Come with me."

"What?" Ray's eyes snap up to Fraser, who's still not looking at him. Trouble. Big trouble. "Fraser, you don't have to -- I mean, I got a life. I got work. I'll be fine, here in Chicago."

Fraser nods, slowly, then lifts his eyes to give Ray a tight smile. "Well, then. I suppose this is good-bye." He holds out a hand for Ray to shake.

Ray stares at it for a second before trying on an awkward grin. "Uh, Frase, it's not like you're leaving tomorrow, or -- "

"Actually, I am."

Nothing in Fraser's expression seems to change. Maybe this isn't even supposed to be a big deal. Ray sure feels like it's a big deal, though. "Oh. Um. Then, uh, at least let me drive you to the airport, you know, for old times' sake?"

"That's very thoughtful of you, but I'm afraid my flight leaves during your work hours, and I didn't think it appropriate to ask you to leave work on my account, so I made other arrangements."

"Appropriate? What d'you mean, appropriate? All I got to do is tell Welsh you're getting transferred, he'll probably give me the whole day off -- " Pathetic. Totally pathetic, begging the guy to take a ride in his car. "But, uh, hey, you got arrangements, you got arrangements, I guess. So, yeah. Goodbyes." He looks first at Fraser's hand, then at his face. "I'm not so good with goodbyes, Fraser."

Something like amusement creeps into that smile of his. "I believe the protocol is to shake hands, exchange a few kind words, and then go our separate ways."

Doubtfully, Ray grabs the hand, gives it a good hard shake -- and then, because he can't help it, he pulls the stupid lunk into a tight hug. It's not everyday he says goodbye to his best friend, after all.

But Fraser's not rolling with him, here. He's gone stiff as a board, and it takes a couple seconds for him to lift his hands and give Ray a couple pats on the back. Ray recognizes pity when he sees it, though. He lets go, takes a couple steps back for good measure. Last thing he wants is for Fraser to feel smothered.

Looks like it's too late for that, though. Fraser's clearing his throat, straightening his uniform, and cracking his neck all at the same time, which is about the same reaction he has to Frannie throwing herself at him. Greatness. "Ah," Fraser says, pulling a piece of paper out of a belt pouch, "ah, I'll just -- leave this with you, then, and -- well. Keep in touch," he says brightly, handing the paper to Ray, and then he ducks out the front door.

Ray looks down at the paper. It's not, like he was half-hoping, a secret message saying "Help me, Ray! I'm being followed by Arabian arms-dealers in burkas, and they bugged all my uniforms!" It's just a phone number. Ray hates phones. You gotta negotiate when you call -- after a week, after a month? And that's without getting into the time zone shit.

"I hate goodbyes," Ray mutters to the empty apartment. Maybe the turtle even hears him.




"RCMP Headquarters, Inuvik detachment."

"Uh, hi, my name's Ray Kowalski. I'm looking for Constable Fraser?"

"Just a moment, sir, please hold the line."

There's silence for a second, and in that silence, Ray doubts. Since when does Fraser sit at a desk, waiting for phone calls? Only time he ever did that was when he was in Chicago. And Ray hates answering machines even more than he hates phones.

But on the second ring, Fraser picks up. "Good afternoon, Constable Benton Fraser speaking." After all the worrying and second-guessing himself, just finding Fraser is pretty stunning, and Ray can't even figure out what to say at first. "Hello? I'm sorry, I can't hear you, perhaps you'd better call back on another line -- "

"Fraser! Fraser, it's me. It's Ray."

There's a pause. "Ray?"

"Yeah, Ray. From Chicago?"

"I know who you are, Ray, I'm just -- well, I'm surprised, that's all. It's been..."

"Months," Ray finishes. "Yeah, I know, I been busy. Real busy." He winces; that's what people always say, isn't it? "You know how it is -- go off on vacation to Canada, everybody piles the messy homicides on your desk, right?"

"Of course." Fraser sounds like he understands, but then, he always does. "How has that been, then? Are you managing all right?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. Solo act's not as fun as it used to be, but hey, can't have everything." Great. Good job, Kowalski; bring that up right away, make sure you sound like the world's biggest loser. "I'm closing cases, though. Good enough for Welsh, anyway."

"Well, that's good."

"Yeah. Yeah, it's good." Fraser doesn't say anything back, and this right here would be exactly why Ray hates phones. "Uh, listen," Ray starts, getting that tingly feeling that means he's about to do something spontaneous and stupid, "I was thinking, maybe I should come up to Inuvik."

"To Inuvik? But, Ray, I thought you said you had -- "

"Yeah, I know, never mind what I said. I can afford a couple days leave. Just, you know, I been working my butt off over here for three months, and I figure I deserve a break. So, uh, whaddaya say?"

Fraser doesn't respond right away, and Ray holds his breath; if Fraser says no, it means something's really, really wrong. Hesitating's already bad enough. "Yes, all right," Fraser agrees quietly, and even though he's thousands of miles away, Ray can see him ducking his chin in that shy, pleased way he has. "That sounds lovely."




There's something to be said for spontanaeity, Ray thinks, dumping his bags in Fraser's inside Fraser's cabin. You do it fast, before you can think about it, then you remember why you wanted whatever it was you grabbed. Plus, the speed usually burns you through the awkwardness and the tension and what have you. 'Course, speed isn't really an option when you're running up to the middle of nowhere. Gotta buy clothes, plane tickets, presents for the wolf, and then there's the trip itself -- by this point, all the spontaneous energy that got him into this mess has evaporated.

To make things worse, Fraser's giving him this look, which Ray can't stand -- kind of like Ray's a car he bought on a whim, which he now realizes he can't actually maintain. Ray's stomach rolls, and he jams his hands into his pockets. "So, uh, where's Dief?"

"Out, trying to find you a present," Fraser replies absently. "Ray, before we -- we have to talk," and hey, he's even got his Serious Conversation face on.

"Um. Okay."

But Fraser doesn't talk. He tugs at his ear, fidgets, and drags his feet instead, finally coming out with, "I, ah, haven't been entirely honest with you."

Bad news: Fraser's been lying to him. Good news: Ray's about to get the truth. Though, for all he knows, that's bad news too. "Yeah? How so?"

Fraser's jaw is set with determination. "It wasn't just homesickness that drew me back to Tuktoyaktuk," he says real fast, like it might be easier to say if he gets it over with quickly. "It was you."

Ray's stomach sinks a few feet. Damn. He'd reserved his plane tickets for Monday; how's he supposed to spend three whole days with Fraser, when they're starting like this? "Why, what'd I do?"

"Nothing," Fraser says, quickly. "Nothing at all. At least, not intentionally. I just -- I found myself being increasingly -- distracted, by you."

"Distracted," Ray repeats. "So, what -- you saying I was dragging you away from the Consulate too much? 'Cause I thought the new Inspector guy was being less of a complete lunatic than the Ice Queen -- "

But Fraser raises a hand to interrupt him. "Not work, no," he says. "More -- personally."

Ray straightens, feeling rage prickling just under his skin. "Look, I never made you hang out with me," he protests, voice rising defensively. "You wanted to go somewhere else, I never stopped you. I'm not clingy."

Sighing, Fraser pinches the bridge of his nose. "No -- no, you're right. You didn't. You're not." He stares at Ray's bags on the floor, thinking. "If anything, I was."

Ray feels his eyebrows shoot up. "Clingy? Uh, no. You're not clingy, Fraser."

"Perhaps not obviously so, no." Fraser draws himself up straight, lifting his chin; last time he did that was when he told Ray he was leaving. Not a good sign. "Ray, I love you."

Ray narrows his eyes. If there's one thing he learned from his divorce -- and at least he can say he learned something -- it's that things like that always have a catch. People who're running from you don't just say "I love you," and mean it. "Right, Fraser. You love me so much you can't even live in the same city as me."

"Exactly, Ray," Fraser says, beaming at him kind of desperately, and Ray's stomach sinks down to his boots. "You understand. I was just -- I was crippled by it, really. I think it started with the adventure. Perhaps it was even before. But I knew you couldn't possibly feel the same way I did, and it was just wearing away at me, the need to say something, even though I couldn't bring myself to bring the partnership to an end that way, and eventually I applied for the transfer.

"I thought it wouldn't be approved. In fact, I was sure it wouldn't -- but it did, and then I couldn't bring myself to tell you that, and by the time I did it was too late for a proper goodbye, and -- well, what it really comes down to, Ray, is that I'm a coward, and I'm sorry. But I had to tell you, before -- well, before my actions belied my words, as it were."

Fraser seems to be finished. He's looking at Ray expectantly, anyway, which usually means Ray's supposed to say something. But he can't come up with a single solitary word. He can't even figure out what Fraser said. In fact, he doesn't even know if it's good or bad. Fraser looks miserable, so that means it's bad, right? Only Ray doesn't remember Fraser anying anything like, "but we've changed so much," or "but I feel like I'm in a rut," or "Fuck off, Ray."

In fact, mostly Fraser seems to be saying that he's bad at saying things, and that's bull, because he just said a whole ton of shit. "So," Ray says, going back to the bit he understood, "you love me."

Fraser licks his lop. Nods once.

"You mean, like, symbolically. Right?"

Fraser shakes his head, biting his lower lip so lightly that he probably thinks Ray doesn't even notice -- and all of a sudden, everything falls into place.

Ah, fuck.

"Fraser," Ray says, real calm and slow, "you have got to be the stupidest Mountie I ever met."

Fraser's eyes flinch away from him, and he nods tightly. "Agreed. I -- "

No, no no, that's not the way this is supposed to go. Ray takes three big steps toward him, smacks him upside the head, then grabs him by the collar and yanks hard, so that Fraser's off balance and close up against him and staring up at him in shock. "Idiot. You're telling me you like me, love me, can't live without me -- "

"Yes." Fraser whispers.

" -- so what do you do? You run away. That has got to be the stupidest thing anybody's ever done, ever." He punctuates this with a little shake, but it's getting hard to stay mad, what with Fraser being all warm and soft and smelling all woodsmoke-and-pine like he does. "You wanna know what I think," Ray adds, voice softening. "I think, you got yourself in a mess like that, the only thing you can do is follow me. Stake out my house. Send me flowers at work. Get me a singing Valentine come February."

Fraser's eyes are wide, dark, and he just breathes at him for a couple of seconds before finally saying, "Can I, Ray?" in a very small voice.

Ray nods. "Yeah. Yeah, sure. Except for the Valentine thing -- " only he's not sure Fraser even hears that, because suddenly everything's shifting underneath and around him, and suddenly Fraser's holding him up, and a second later he's pathetically grateful for that, because Fraser's mouth is on his and his knees are going to mush beneath him.

God, he hopes Dief doesn't show up. There is not a single thing he could think to do with a dead rabbit right now.

--fin


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