: DragonflyMuse Category
: Drama, Established Relationship Pairing
: Fraser/Kowalski Rating
: PG Recipient
: buzzylittleb Challenge Year
: 2007 Warning
: none Summary
: A snowstorm gives Ray time to think about his life in the North. Author's Notes
: Huge thank yous to china_shop
for the beta help! I still have my MRVB fishsanwitt
's notes to incorporate, so an updated version of this fic may appear in the future.Snow as Still Life
“What do you mean they haven’t checked in yet? They’re supposed to call in every hour!”
Ray gripped the CB handset tightly in his fist, resisting the urge to rip it out of the radio and throw it across the cabin. The storm had started hours ago. Dark clouds had plowed down from the east at midmorning, swallowing the sun and replacing the blue sky with steely grey. Now, wind-driven snow fell thickly over the ground, piling in drifts as far as Ray could see from the kitchen window. Not that he could see very far: the barn, home to more than a dozen sled dogs and a generous stockpile of firewood, tools, and the boxed details of his Chicago life, was nothing more than a dim shadow on a field of white.
Down by his side, Diefenbaker whined. The anxiety that had pooled, sharp and cold, in Ray’s belly, doubled upon hearing the wolf’s worry. He banged the CB mike against the radio. “Are you hearing me at all? Come in, dammit! Tell me what the fuck is going on out there!” A reply that was more static than human voice crackled from the receiver.
“What? I can’t… I can’t hear a word you’re saying! Repeat!”
More static squelched from the CB box. Ray turned up the volume, which only made the crackling louder. “This is Ray Kowalski to the Deline RCMP outpost! Can you read me?” A few more bursts of static came out of the receiver, and then the radio went silent. Ray dropped the handset and reached for the dials, but stopped before messing with the settings. Never, Fraser had told him. Never alter the tuning. The radio was set to the RCMP outpost’s frequency, and until the new phone lines were dug in next spring, it was their only means of communication with the outpost and the town, 20 kilometres away.
Which, for Ray, might as well have been 20 million; Fraser was out there, in the storm, and he was here, alone, and helpless to do anything about it.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. This was going to be their
weekend, the first in a very long time where Ray didn’t have any repair work booked and Fraser wasn’t helping out with extra patrols. They were free of invites to dinner with the RCMP folk or the locals, no children needed coaching in hockey or help with the Zen Art of carburetor repair… their calendar held no commitments, other than to be together.
That was until two days ago, when McConnell’s partner decided to take parental leave to help his wife out with their 3 month-old twins, and could Fraser maybe fill in and help check out the new round of tourists and their ice fishing shacks along the northwest shore of the Great Bear?
Ray had tried not to argue when Fraser had agreed to the patrol, but his disappointment was easily read and, with a dry kiss on the cheek and a Yeah, be careful
tossed over his shoulder as he buried his head in an old pick-up motor, he’d sent his Mountie out into the tundra. If anything had happened after he’d left it like that…
The flickering of the kitchen light snapped him out of his dark thoughts. He switched it off and, after a moment’s hesitation, he powered down the CB radio as well. The generator was okay for fuel, but there was no need to waste what they had. Ray dug some candles out of the emergency drawer and set them up, unlighted, around the living space of the cabin. Slate grey light trickled through the windows, a reminder that high above the rage of the storm, the sun still lived. In the hearth, remnants of the morning’s fire glowed dully red beneath layers of ash, throwing feeble heat to the room. Ray kneeled to add more wood to the coals, but hesitated. Dief scratched at the cabin door, letting out a sharp bark. Ray dropped the kindling back into the hamper and nodded. “You’re right, buddy. First things first.”
When Ray had chosen to tie his life to Fraser’s, he knew the learning curve to actually survive
that decision would be a steep one. Living on the edge of a town perched on the banks of practically nowhere, Fraser was quick to remind him that even the most simple of tasks can become deadly. Stories of people getting lost in snow squalls on the way home from running daily errands or freezing to death from waiting too long for the fish to bite in one of the dozens of fishing shacks on the lake. The Hand of Franklin thing had been an adventure, an endurance test of Ray’s ability to survive in a climate that seemed only to want to kill him, and for the two of them to figure out if their partnership, their friendship, was more than just a placeholder for other things.
But as Ray pulled on his boots and reached for his parka, Fraser’s stories, his teaching, became real. He was alone and the snow was piling high beyond the safety of the cabin walls. No one was going to get him through the storm but himself. And when he did, and when Fraser finally came in from the cold, Ray was going to yell at him for not being here, like he was supposed to be. Bundled against the weather, he pushed open the cabin door. To his surprise, there was no resistance: the covered porch had kept most of the snow off the deck, the wind driving in line with the building, making drifts against the shed and lee side of the barn, leaving the doorway free. Ray stood there, taking in the situation. The air was cold and damp, the storm being fed by unfrozen sections of the lake off to the east. The flakes were thick and fluffy, the kind Stella used to find pretty when she was a kid. They stuck together in big clumps as the wind hurried their descent from the clouds, landing soundlessly on the mass of white that covered Ray’s immediate world.
The silence was eerie. Everything was muted, muffled by the smothering snow. Even the wind, with little to break its course, hardly made a sound as it skipped and glided along the drifts, kicking motes of dusty ice into the air. The anxiety that had been sitting in his belly slowly turned into fear. This, he decided, this was what ‘alone’ had to feel like. This was what no Fraser
felt like. Cold. Emptiness. And fear.
Dief shot by him, heading straight for the dark, barn-like shadow 20 metres away. Ray stepped off the porch and kept his head down, focussing on the wolf prints to help guide him along. The snow was more than knee deep, and the going was slow, but he made it to the barn door. He kicked the drifts away and pried the door open. The calls and yips of more than a dozen sled dogs greeted him as he made it inside. Diefenbaker made the rounds of the team as Ray pulled out a sled and started to pile it with extra firewood. With Dief and another dog hitched to the sled, Ray managed three trips to the cabin, stacking the wood until it overflowed from the hamper, the extra piled neatly in the corner behind the sofa. On his last visit to the barn, he filled the dog dishes to the rim with fresh kibble and water and put fresh straw down for their bedding. He made sure the door was secured against the wind and trudged back to the cabin, following Dief and walking in the packed snow of the sled tracks.
Once inside, he stripped out of the heavy boots and coat, and headed to the fireplace. The embers from the morning were now out and the cabin was cold. He swept the hearth clean, piled fresh wood and kindling high in the centre, and lit a match. It took a few moments of gentle blowing and coaxing for the flames to take hold of the wood, but before long, the fire was burning well. Ray held his hands out to it, soaking in the warmth. Outside, it was now darker, signalling the end of the day. Ray used a piece of kindling to light the candles he’d set out earlier, covering them with glass chimneys to diffuse the light of the tiny, yellow flames.
Dief hovered around him, looking from Ray to the fire, and then towards the kitchen. Ray sunk his fingers deep into the ruff of the wolf’s neck and gave it a shake. Dief whined, gave a quick bark, and went off to the kitchen. Ray followed and found the wolf sitting by the CB radio. Taking a deep breath, he flicked the power switch on, and waited. Fine static spat through the metal receiver. He picked up the mic and sent a call out to the detachment. He waited, breath held, his foot tapping in uneven time on the floor. Short bursts of white noise sputtered forward. He tried again. No response.
This time, he left the radio on, the crackle and hum of the waves a break from the silence that filled the cabin. He could have put on a CD and let music distract him from the storm and his worry for Fraser, but the stereo used more power than the CB, and he had to be careful not to overuse the generator. Who knew how long it would be before he’d be able to dig out of the mess piling up outside.
He didn’t shoo Diefenbaker off the sofa when he settled there himself, instead drawing a quilt over them both as he sat and looked out the window, watching the darkness bleed away into blackness. Fraser was fine, he told himself. He could take care of himself in weather like this. And it wasn’t like he was alone: he was with Hardie, and between the two of them they had enough supplies and know-how to build a two-storey igloo to ride out the storm. If anything, it was Ray who needed to worry about coming out the other side. He’d done what Fraser’d taught him: settle the troops, conserve fuel, lock down and sit tight, so surviving this wasn’t a question. But, how he handled it afterwards
, well, that was still up in the air.
Was this still life for him?
He shook his head, trying to clear the fears and uncertainties from his mind. Dief rumbled next to him, pulling the quilt with his teeth until it snugged around his ears. Ray smoothed wrinkles from the fabric, worn soft from years of use and washings. More nights than not, the quilt was spread out over the polished wood of the floor in front of the fire, he and Fraser lying there, listening to music, soaking up the warmth from the hearth. Sometimes he’d get Fraser to loosen up and indulge in a beer, making him laugh by rolling on his back and flailing along to whatever CD was playing at that moment. Sure, he knew he probably looked like an idiot doing it, looking more like an upturned beetle or Turtle when he slipped off the rock in his sleep. But it’d make Fraser laugh; Fraser, with his cheeks pink from the fire and the alcohol, his eyes bluer than the summer sky and glittering with mirth…
Fraser, who would then lean in, and drop kisses on Ray’s mouth, his cheek, nimble lips worrying down the line of Ray’s jaw, teeth nipping at his ear. Hands would then seek the hem of his shirt, their fingers, sure and strong, skating along his ribs and chest, teasing his nipples until they were aching peaks from Fraser’s touch. Then he’d roll until his hips were flush with Ray’s, balancing his weight on thighs and arms, kissing Ray, deep and slow and long, rocking his body against Ray’s in gentle earnestness. Clothes were then shed, skin pressed to skin, the heat between them rivalling the warmth of the hearth as Ray let himself open to Fraser, being claimed by every kiss, possessed by every touch…
Lights flashed across the window, breaking him from the memory. Dief thrashed his way free of the quilt and bolted for the door, barking madly. Ray went to the window and peered through the glass. Two incandescent circles of light moved jerkily through the dark. Dief scratched frantically at the door and began barking at Ray.
Yanking on his parka, he opened the front door and Dief bolted out into the night. The snowfall had begun to ease off, as had the wind. He could hear the growl of an engine, the sound getting louder – and the circles of light larger – as whatever it was made its way closer to the cabin.
In short measure, what ‘it’ was turned out to be one of the SnowCats from the detachment. Ray’s heart pounded in his chest. It could be Fraser. Fuck, it
SHOULD be Fraser…
Or, it could be someone from the detachment, driving out in a blizzard to tell him that Fraser had…
About 10 metres from the cabin, the SnowCat stopped, headlights winking out as the great motor rumbled off. Out in the dark, he could hear Diefenbaker barking, hear his paws scrambling through the snow, a voice, low and soft, speaking some kind of greeting to the excited animal. Heavily booted feet crunched over the wind-packed snow, and as they approached the porch, Ray felt the anxiety return. With every step he heard, he back-pedaled, until he was half a dozen paces from the door. Dief dashed by Ray, bouncing and nipping at his legs, then bounded back to the doorway as someone stepped in from the cold night.
“Ray, why is the door open? It does no good to have a fire in the hearth if you’re going to leave the door wide open to the elements.”
“Fraser! Finally, thank God
Ray closed distance between them, letting his body plow into Fraser’s as he leaned against the door, closing it tight with a slam
. His hands worked the ties on Fraser’s hood, loosening it enough to push it back from his head. Hair, damp from sweat, stood at awkward, spiky angles on his head. Ray smoothed them flat. “Fraser, do you have any fucking idea
what I’ve been going through today?”
“Yes, Ray, I do, and I am so sorry to have…”
“Did you know I’ve been here, with no radio to the detachment, no way to find out if you were alive or… or…” Ray punctuated his words with hard pulls to the fastenings of Fraser’s heavy fur parka. Bits of ice and snow fell to the floor as the parka was yanked and manhandled, forming tiny drifts of slush around Fraser’s boots. “…or frozen
on the end of some ice fishing pole in the lake? Did you?!”
“Well, Ray, I… I didn’t know the radio was out until McConnell’s and I returned to the detachment. It seems the antenna toppled due to the winds earlier in the day and for some reason there is no back-up antenna for RCMP use and…”
The parka hit the floor, landing in the melting puddles of slush. Fraser glanced down. Ray had a death grip on Fraser’s shirt, his hands balled into fists, twining around the flannel. “Ray,” Fraser said gently, “I really should hang up my coat. It won’t dry on the floor.”
Steady blue eyes focused on Ray, and warm, worn hands covered his, urging them to relax and lay open over Fraser’s chest. “Ray?”
“One thing, Fraser,” Ray said, easing his hands from Fraser’s chest and bending to scoop the parka off the wet floor. “You have to remember one thing. I am here, in the part of hell that did
freeze over, because I want to be with you. I’m not here to see if I can survive the elements or make jerky out of the sled team in order to live ‘til spring. I am here because you’re a fucking freak and I love that about you. Hell, I just love
you, ok? Yes, there is extreme weather and an insane amount of snow and the RCMP rents shitty antennas, but there is living
with this craziness and then…”
“Then there’s a life with it.” Fraser finished.
“Exactly.” Ray cleared his throat. “I’m not some tourist testing his balls here. I did that on the Franklin trip and I did pretty well, so I need you to respect that.”
Fraser kicked off a boot and began working at the other. “I do Ray, I do.” He shook his head. “Ray, this storm, this whole thing… it wasn’t a test, you know. It’s simply part of being here.” He reached for Ray’s hand. “Being here, with me.”
“I know, Frase. I get that. But with all the aloneness and the quiet and stuff, I had time to think…”
“I’m sorry for that, Ray.”
“Don’t be cute. I’m still mad at you.”
Still holding Fraser’s hand, he led him back towards the sofa. He pulled the quilt down to the floor, they settled before the fire. “So, I was thinking – and trying not to worry about your ass out there stuck in a collapsed igloo or something – and I had one of those things, those epi… epiphus… epipapansys.”
“That’s what I said.”
“And while I know that even you
don’t have power over the weather, this stupid storm taught us one lesson, at least?”
Fraser smiled. “Which is?”
Ray grabbed Fraser by the shirt and pulled him in close. “That you
don’t work on your weekends off