Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: I started this a while long time ago. Truthfully, at the time, I had a whole long story planned out, but I never could seem to get past the first chapter or so. So I set the story aside for a LONG time and forgot about it. Recently, I was reading through some old incomplete fics and found this one. Upon reading it again, I realized that it didn't need a long and drawn out story. So I reworked a few things and… well, this short one-shot is the result. I hope you enjoy it! Jules
Chicago hadn't changed, but I had. Who'da figured two years with a Mountie—five months of which was spent freezing my ass off at the north pole—would turn out to be the cata-whatsit for me to transmogrify—nice word that; I got it from Calvin and Hobbes— into a freak. Well, to be honest, I was always a bit of a freak. Not Mountie freak, but a Chicago freak. That's a big reason why I got Stella, and it was a big reason why I lost her too. But a Chicago freak is different than the freak I had become.
The new Stanley Raymond Kowalski was quieter and calmer. Even Welsh made a comment about it a few weeks after I got back from my Canadian adventure. I mean, Frannie says it and I can ignore it, right? But if Welsh says it, it's gotta be true. And when I thought about it, I realized I didn't wanna kick heads in and I didn't wanna hit on every chick that walked past to prove Stella hadn't gotten my balls in the divorce. I just wanted to do my job and collect my paycheck. It was almost a month after I got back that I realized that I was counting down the days until I could take early retirement.
I'd joined the force at the ripe old age of 20 after my brief career at junior college. So a little less than three months after my 40th birthday, I was eligible for early retirement. If I added another couple years onto that, my benefits went up drastically. I could collect a decent pension—bumped up because of all the undercover work I'd done in Vice and for Vecchio—and do whatever the fuck I wanted to with the rest of my life. I didn't even let myself think it at the time, but somewhere in the back of my head, even then, I was thinking of Canada and a certain Mountie.
So, to make it short, I had 61 months to go when I got back early that May.
Welsh partnered me up with a rookie, fresh from passing her detective's test. That was okay for a while. I showed her the ropes and she was pretty smart. Smart enough to move on to a partner who would be around for a lot longer than I was planning. Welsh gave me another rookie, and another after that. I think he knew that I was just biding my time. It wasn't that I didn't get the cases solved, but I just wasn't as excited about any of it as I used to be. I guess he figured I could train up the new guys to replace me when I eventually gave up the job.
Fraser changed posts as often as I changed rookie detectives. He took a post in Tuktoyaktuk and then Aklavik and then Paulatuk and then, finally, Inuvik. We kept in touch by email, since mail could be rather unreliable that far north. I was just impressed that the smaller detachments had internet service at all. And twice a month we called. He had been right: thousands of miles between us didn't change the fact that we were still partners.
Once a year, we took our leaves together and met up at his dad's old cabin in the Yukon for two weeks. It wasn't far from Watson Lake so there was some civilization to be had. And it was far enough south to have a real forest around it. It was positively balmy compared to the parts of the world where Fraser lived. It was safe and neutral territory for us to hang out together and enjoy the summer. When Vecchio went up to help Fraser rebuild the cabin the year before I met him, he had insisted on a few modern luxuries that I know Fraser would have happily done without. I had at least one thing to be grateful to the jerk for. No matter how long I spent out on the ice with Fraser, and no matter how much I liked the adventure, I still preferred living with indoor plumbing.
In all that time, through all those emails and visits, I didn't once mention to him my plans to retire. And until I was standing under the crooked banner that Frannie had hung for my party and holding the watch the guys went together to buy for me, I didn't think about what I was going to do after. Canada was in the back of my head, but never once made it to the front. I didn't let myself think about anything like that. That would be just too… It would be wishful thinking, is what that'd be.
I'd spent the last three years on the job putting every penny I could into the investment accounts Stella had insisted I set up years ago. (She was always on about saving for retirement and I was glad she drummed that bit of logic into my thick skull.) Plus, Canada insisted on giving me and Fraser a little reward money for Muldoon—which Fraser tried to turn down, of course, but the government insisted and in the end Fraser gave in and then insisted on using his part to pay for our adventure—and my part also went into those accounts. Without Fraser and Dief to feed a few nights a week, my food bill went way down, and I didn't spend as much money on junk I didn't really need. Living with Fraser out on the ice really showed me what was necessary and what was extra. I did without the extra quite nicely, thanks.
Anyway, the point is, by the time I got that watch, I'd saved up a good bit of cash. It wasn't a fortune or anything but it was enough to live on if I worked it right. So suddenly, I had all the time in the world and nothing to do and it hit me that the only place I really wanted to be was Canada.
I don't think anyone was really surprised when I told them about my plans. Welsh gave me a gruff pat on the back and wished me luck. Frannie told me it was about time. I told Stella over the phone and made her swear not to tell Vecchio because I wanted to surprise Fraser. She'd laughed and agreed and said she hoped I would be happy up in the great white north. My mom cried, but my dad said he could see the appeal of a simple life, though I'm pretty sure he couldn't. They were planning to move back to Arizona that fall anyway, and they promised to come up and see me—and Canada—in a year.
Packing up my life was a lot easier than I expected, too. Like I said, I got used to doing without and found I kinda liked the quiet. So, sorting through my stuff was simple. Most of everything was either sold or given away. Speedy went to the kid of one of my neighbors; he really wanted a dog but settled for a turtle. When it was all done, I had a suitcase and a duffle bag to carry with me, and half a dozen boxes in the back of the GTO.
From the day I retired to the day I left for the airport, there was less than two weeks in between. I didn't figure there was any reason to wait once I made up my mind.
The trip up to Inuvik was long but I took my time and then broke it up with stops in a few towns along the way. I had time. In Edmonton, I traded the GTO for a Jeep Grand Cherokee. There was no way the Goat was gonna survive the harsh winters up north, so as much as I hated to do it, I had to be practical.
Once I reach the Northwest Territories, I had some business to conduct in Yellowknife, so I stuck around there for a couple days. Among other things, I needed to work on the whole living in Canada legally thing. I'd spent a couple of days at the consulate in Chicago, but I needed to do some more paperwork to get my resident visa. It helped that there were still a few people around in high-up positions who remembered the Russian submarine and were willing to pull a few strings. By the time I left for Inuvik, I had my paperwork in order and could legally hold a job or start a business if I wanted.
Driving up to Inuvik, even in the heat of July, was a long trip. There's no way to get there directly, so I had to backtrack south and then go west to get north. After leaving reaching Alberta again, I headed west on the Alaska Highway until I reached Whitehorse. From there, it was the Klondike Highway and then Dempster Highway. All said, I drove long fucking way.
I knew a bit about Inuvik from our week-long stop there after the whole hand of Franklin adventure, so it was pretty familiar when I drove through town. Our Lady of Victory was easy to pick out, and I recognized the community greenhouse. The brightly colored hospital stood out as well. I was surprised at first when Fraser showed me the town. I was expecting dull gray and weather worn buildings. Instead I found brightly painted buildings like you'd see in the Caribbean. I guess it makes sense though. Looking at white all the time, people wanted some color in their lives.
Every building in Inuvik was built up from the ground on stilts—Fraser said it had something to do with permafrost, but I wasn't paying much attention—so every building had a raised porch out front and the detachment, when I finally pulled up, was no different. I took the steps up to the front door and walked inside.
"Ray?" a familiar voice said almost the moment I entered.
"Maggie," I said with a grin as I turned to see the memorable face of Fraser's sister. "You're looking good."
"Same old flirt," Maggie said good-naturedly as she came over to give me a hug. "Ben didn't say you were coming."
"Because I didn't tell him," I said with a shrug. "He around?"
"Patrol," Maggie said. She took the opportunity to introduce me to the other Mounties and civilian aids that worked in the place. There were more than I had guessed from Fraser's brief emails. In all, there were 13 Mounties and two civilians working in Inuvik, though I only met seven right then. Once that was done, she offered to show me to Fraser's place.
"Most of the constables stay in the detachment housing, upstairs," Maggie said as we headed towards the parking area. "Because they rotate in and out again pretty quick and housing is limited up here. But the ranking officers usually stay longer and want something a bit more private. They get houses. Fraser tried to decline, but Inspector Gerard insisted."
I snorted in amusement. "The guy lived in his office at the consulate for two years; I'm not surprised that he tried to turn down a house. But he's doing alright?"
"He's doing very well," Maggie confirmed. "At the job at least. He did tell you he made Sergeant, right?"
"Yeah, I got that memo," I told her. "And that he was posted as the number two guy."
"Yes, well," Maggie said. "He deserved it. And the younger Mounties really look up to him. He's very good at getting them trained up properly."
"But?" I prompted.
Maggie gave me a rueful smile as she leaned against one of the RCMP jeeps. "But… I think he's lonely. He'd never admit it, but he misses you. I'm very glad you came to visit Ray."
"I'm glad too," I said. I didn't mention that I wasn't just visiting. I figured it would be better to tell Fraser first. And if he didn't really want me there, then I could save a little face. I climbed into my jeep and followed her out of the parking lot.
The house Fraser had been assigned wasn't far from the detachment. Like most of the houses in the area, it was connected to the neighbors by the utilidor. It was also bright red with a bright white front door. The good thing about it from my perspective was that it was pretty close to everything. But it was far enough from the center of town and had enough land and scrub around it to give Fraser a sense of privacy, too.
Once inside, I saw that the RCMP must have equipped the place as well, because there was no way that Fraser would have gone to the trouble of making the house this homey. There were hardly any personal items in the living room aside from books, but it was well-appointed with comfortably worn furniture. The house was a typical two-up, two-down house, so there wasn't much to see. Maggie stayed long enough to show me the guest bedroom and make sure there was some food in the kitchen, and then she had to go.
"I have to get back to the office. The Great Northern Arts Festival starts this weekend and we've got a lot to do to prepare. Ben should return sometime this evening," Maggie said before heading out.
I was glad to hear that he wasn't going to be gone for weeks. I knew it was always a possibility, but I had no desire to wait around for days on end. I was already getting nervous about my D-U-M dumb decision to pack up and move up there without even talking it out with Fraser first. The less time I had to stew about it, the better off I would be.
That's why I decided to head out instead of sit around the house. I knew enough about town to know where I was heading, so I grabbed the set of extra keys by the door and headed back out. My first stop was to the gas station to refill my tank. Next, I headed to the bank. There was only one bank in town, but it didn't take long for them to set me up with an account, deposit the teller's check from my old bank and arrange to have my pension and investment dividends deposited directly. They even gave me a temporary debit card and checks.
That was particularly useful, since my next stop was to the NorthMart down the road and I'd used up almost all the cash I had taken out of the bank before leaving Chicago. Even my credit card was maxed. First I checked out the automotive section to get a few things to service the jeep after the long road trip. I had brought all my tools with me, so that wasn't a problem. And working on the jeep would keep me busy for a couple days if Fraser was busy with work. Then I picked up some groceries because I figured I could cook a nice dinner for Fraser to smooth the way. There weren't many meals I could cook well, so my options were limited. I skipped over the caribou meat and splurged on chicken for the fajitas I had planned. I'd gotten used to game meats on our little adventure, but I just couldn't see making fajitas with caribou meat.
It cost a small fortune for groceries that far north, but I already knew that. Everything cost more up there because everything had to be shipped in. That was why the community greenhouse was so important to a lot of families. I thought about getting a plot. If I didn't find a job, it would be a way to save money and keep busy. In the meantime, I had to pay through the nose for onions and peppers. But if Fraser liked the dinner, it was more than worth it.
I went back to the house with my bags of groceries and started getting everything ready. I couldn't start cooking until Fraser got there, but I could chop the vegetables and grate cheese. I could set the table.
The one thing from my old life that I really couldn't live without was music, so I had invested in an iPod before making the move. I transferred all of my old CDs onto my computer and set it all up before boxing the computer. Then I sold all my old CDs to a record exchange.
It was greatness to have every song I could ever want at my fingertips. While I cooked, I had the iPod hooked up to a small set of speakers and let the music carry away all of my worries. I danced while I went about the task of preparing a meal for my best friend and forgot for a while that he had no idea I was there.
Of course, Fraser came in just as I was really getting into a great song. One minute I was alone and singing along to the Sex Pistols and the next, Fraser is leaning up against the doorjamb to the kitchen and watching me with a mildly bewildered look on his face. I set down the knife I was using to chop peppers and wiped my hands on a towel before turning off the music.
It was a dumb thing to say, but it was all I could come up with. I never was real good with words. Didn't need more than that anyway, since Dief was all over me then and I had to fight him off for a minute before Fraser scolded him and he went pouting to lie in front of the fire.
"Yes," Fraser said slowly. "What are you doing here, Ray?"
"Making dinner?" I said uncertainly. "Fajitas."
God, I really hated when he resorted to the Ahs. I could never really read most of those. I could read his nervous habits, like rubbing his brow with his thumb or fiddling with the collar of his uniform or tugging his ear. I could even sometimes read his blank face to figure out if he was playing dumb or truly didn't understand something. But the Ahs almost always got me. There was always something behind them, something he didn't want to say. Or ask. In this case, I went with my gut and figured he was avoiding asking any other questions since I hadn't blurted out the answer to his first.
"Anything I can do to help?" Fraser finally asked.
"Nah," I shrugged. "Just go get out of that uniform and clean up and it'll be ready when you get back down here. We can... we can talk then, okay?"
"As you wish," Fraser said and I had a momentary flash to that old movie, The Princess Bride. Stella had loved that movie and since I didn't hate it, she'd made me watch it about a thousand times. As Fraser left the kitchen, I wondered if he had ever seen the movie and if he knew what that line really meant.
It didn't take long to grill up the chicken and veggies and when Fraser returned looking a lot more comfortable and clean in fresh jeans and a henley, we sat down at the kitchen table to eat. I asked about his patrol and he told me a little bit about finding evidence that someone was poaching and how he intended to head back out to see if he could find the culprit after the art festival.
"You always get your man," I told him.
He looked serious for a moment before quietly saying, "Not always, Ray."
And I wanted to believe that he meant more than just with the job, but I couldn't really trust my gut where Fraser's concerned. At least not with things like that. Hope gets it all jumbled up. So I didn't say anything.
"We were going to talk?" Fraser reminded me after we had both cleared our plates.
"Oh, um, yeah," I said. I was nervous, so I got up to start clearing the table for something to do. It was funny. For three years, I hadn't felt that nervous energy but it was back with a vengeance right then.
Fraser didn't push. He simply got up and helped me wash the dishes and gave a few scraps of food to Dief. Then, while I dried the last of the pans, he put on the kettle for tea. I'd gotten to like the stuff while out on the ice. Go figure. It was the only source of caffeine we had after we ran out of coffee two weeks into the trip and I guess I needed the caffeine more than I hated the tea. I still took mine with a lot more sugar than Fraser approved of, but there was no way I was drinking mine without sugar like he did.
I watched Fraser make up two cups of tea and then followed him into the living room. There was nothing else to do to distract me from what I had to tell him, so I sat down on the sofa and he sat down on the other end and I started talking.
"I'm retired," I blurted. "Finished out my 20 years plus a couple extra and I put in for my pension. It was never the same after... It wasn't the job really. Nothing was the same. You were gone, Stella was gone. My folks travelled like three quarters of the year. And... and I didn't want to be there anymore."
"So you retired," Fraser said.
"Yeah," I nodded and nervously fiddled with my cup. "Sold off pretty much everything and broke my lease. Said my goodbyes and here I am."
"So you've come to live in Inuvik?" Fraser asked carefully.
"I've come to live wherever the hell you are," I told him. "Inuvik, Aklavik, Reykjavik, Ottawa... wherever. It don't matter as long as you're there. That is, if you want me around."
Fraser looked at me like I had grown a second head and said, "Don't be daft, Ray. Of course I want you with me. But I do not want you to be unhappy, either. It's a hard life up here. And there are legal considerations to your extended residence in Canada."
This got me to grinning because I knew he was gonna be surprised. "Took care of all that. Got my resident visa all cleared and my working papers. There's some benefit to having our pictures in the papers all over Canada back when."
And Fraser gave me that small amused smile that was more eyes than lips- the one I loved to see- and said, "Ah."
I didn't mind that Ah so much 'cause I knew what it meant. It meant "I'm happy" and "I'm proud of you" and "I'm really glad you're here."
"Have you given any thought to what you will do for a job?" Fraser asked.
I shrugged again. "Not really in any hurry to figure that out. I got my pension and some investments. Thought about maybe volunteering or something until I do figure it out."
"Well, the RCMP does pay for most of my housing costs, so there's no need to worry about paying rent," Fraser said. "Assuming you intended to stay here."
"Like I said," I told him, "I wanna be where you are."
He nodded again. "I do hope you understand that the RCMP has very strict regulations about including civilians in cases. You would not be able to help me in the field without doing a great deal of paperwork."
I knew that before I ever thought of coming up to Inuvik and I told him so. "Besides, I'm not really cut out for being a Mountie. More of a city streets guy. But I'd be willing to lend an ear if you need an outside opinion. I retired from crime fighting, and I'm okay with that. I was never married to it the way you are."
"Understood," Fraser said and I could see a hint of relief that he wouldn't have to tell me no later on.
I watched him from my end of the sofa and noticed that he looked edgy, like he had something else he wanted to ask but wasn't quite sure how to ask or if he should.
"Go ahead and spit it out, Fraser," I said after a while. "I ain't gonna bite your head off."
"Why?" Fraser asked but it was more like he blurted it out over his better judgment, 'cause he frowned in that mildly irritated way he had when he wasn't pleased with himself.
"Why what?" I asked.
"Why would you leave everything behind to move up here?" Fraser asked. "Chicago is your home."
"Was, Benton buddy," I said. And then I shrugged. "Wasn't so much home anymore once you'd gone. Like I said, I did my time and got my pension and now I'm home."
"Ah." There it was again, the annoying Ah that didn't say much of anything. "Will you be… uh…" He stopped and I could see his flushed face in the dim firelight. "Will you be sleeping in the guest room?"
"Only if that's where you want me to sleep," I told him. This was it. This was why I had been so nervous about coming here. I knew that Fraser would never really turn me away. I knew that he wanted to keep our partnership going, even if it wasn't fighting bad guys anymore. I knew that our duet was greatness and Fraser wanted to keep singing it as much as I did. But this part… the part where we either keep things the same or move them along, that was the part that made me nervous.
Fraser studied my face for a while and I kinda started to feel like it was all a big mistake. Like I really was D-U-M dumb to think he might want to move things along. It didn't matter that we'd been flirting around this since day one. It didn't matter that there was that hum of electricity any time we were within reaching distance. It didn't matter if I knew—knew in my gut—that he wanted me as much as I wanted him. We'd never acted on those feelings before and there had to be some reason for it.
I know it wasn't just me being a chicken shit. Fraser wasn't nearly as clueless about sex as he usually pretended to be. If I felt the sexual tension between us, then so did he. But he'd never acted on it either. I'd thought it was because he didn't want to presume—all that politeness rearing its ugly head—but the longer he stayed silent, the more I realized that it could be a lot more complicated than that. His mom had died when he'd just been a kid and then he'd been fucked over by his dad, ditched for duty. Then that Victoria bitch followed by Vecchio leaving him too. And then I left, too. Maybe I didn't want to, but I did it. And maybe he never acted 'cause he didn't think anyone would ever want to stick around.
"Either way," I finally said, just to break the silence. "I'm here to stay. We're partners and that's for good. So unless you tell me to get lost, I ain't goin' nowhere."
Fraser nodded slowly and said, "Understood." He hesitated again before saying, "You would be welcome to… ah… share the master bedroom. The air circulation is much better in there than other parts of the house, keeping it cooler in summer months and warmer in winter months."
I counted that as a win.