Ray Vecchio was there to meet Fraser's plane, which was both a pleasure and a relief. It was an unfair thought and an unkind one, but he had been unable, during the endless trip, to stop his thoughts from drifting to the last time he returned to the city. But even then Ray had warned him, really, so Fraser was slightly ashamed at the reassurance he felt upon seeing Ray's face. Only slightly, however; mostly his mind was taken up with affection.
Ray's arms were open and extended before Fraser even reached him, and Fraser set down his bag and embraced him.
Ray was beaming when they broke apart, and he slapped Fraser on the shoulder with fondness. "Canada's been treating you good, Benny. You look great."
"As do you, Ray," Fraser said. Ray looked happy, flushed with health -- a striking difference from the man Fraser had left in a Chicago hospital bed months ago.
Ray began walking, guiding them through the airport, and Fraser picked up his bag and followed, automatically matching his strides as he wove through the masses of people covering every inch of the way.
"We need to go to baggage claim?"
"No, Ray." He'd packed lightly; it was only going to be a few days, after all.
"Okay, good. Car's this way."
The first step outside the airport was a shock. The airport had been crowded, but its air-conditioning system kept it artificially frigid; Fraser had somehow forgotten the thick heat of the Chicago summer and accompanying sensation of suffocation.
Almost immediately Fraser could feel the beginnings of sweat on his skin. He lived here for years -- how many nights just like this one had he spent in this city? It should be familiar, not strange, and yet...
He was lost in thought as Ray led him through the endless expanse of cars. Finally, Ray stopped and turned to him, radiating pride.
"There she is. Beauty, huh?"
Fraser's gaze followed Ray's outflung arm directly forward. A 1971 Buick Riviera, dark green and spotless.
"That's wonderful," he said sincerely. "I'm pleased you were able to find another one--"
"It wasn't easy. But it's all about priorities." He gave Fraser a significant glance. "I've almost forgiven you for driving the last one into the lake."
"Well, it was on fire at the time," Fraser started, but Ray waved it away.
"My point is, this one is off limits. She's going to come through the next few days safe and sound, right?" There was a smile on Ray's face blunting the impact of his words.
Fraser smiled back and said, "I'll certainly do my best."
Inside the car, seated in the passenger's seat with Ray driving beside him, the odd backdrop of surprise that Chicago had been giving Fraser was suddenly muted. It had been two years, yet this feeling -- he, Ray and the Riviera carrying them through the street -- surely this would always be familiar. Even if this week would likely be the last time it would happen.
Fraser watched Ray's profile as he drove. They'd had so little time to talk when Ray returned. Everything had happened so quickly with the Muldoon case: Ray's shooting, his and the other Ray's improvised trip to Canada. And he and Ray Kowalski had left on their adventure immediately afterwards. Fraser opened his mouth to say something -- apologize, perhaps -- but he found a yawn escaping him instead.
Ray glanced over at him for a second. "You must be wiped out, Benny. Here, we're almost at your hotel."
"Thank you," Fraser said. The exhaustion had caught up with him all at once, making even the car seem an enticing place to rest. He forced himself to keep his eyes open, watching the familiar landmarks of the city pass by his window.
When they reached the hotel, Ray said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow morning, okay? We can get breakfast, start getting ready, talk some."
"That sounds like an excellent plan, Ray," Fraser said, and he smiled and opened the car door. "Good night."
Ray had offered him a place to stay, but Fraser had refused, knowing how busy and occupied the Vecchio family must be during the week.
The hotel room he had reserved was small but comfortable, and Fraser had expected to fall asleep immediately, as soon as his head hit the pillow. Instead he found himself lying still on the overly soft hotel mattress, gazing up at the ceiling.
The bed was too big; the room was too quiet. Too empty.
Fraser had spent his entire adult life sleeping alone, or with only the company of Diefenbaker's comforting snores, in any number of unfamiliar or uncomfortable places. He had not realized how quickly another person could stop being an intrusion, however welcome, and suddenly become something integral, expected and needed. It had been weeks -- no, months now -- since he had fallen asleep with Ray Kowalski more than an arm's reach away from him. First in the tent on their adventure, their sleeping bags arranged together for warmth. Then in the small cabin, they had taken up their positions without even speaking about it, Ray in the small single cot and Fraser's bedroll spread out on the floor beside.
Fraser closed his eyes. He imagined Dief across the room, curled up into the large armchair. Yes, there -- he could hear him. Fraser turned onto his side, concentrating further. Warmth beside him, and the soft mutterings and impatient movements that always accompanied Ray's sleep. Fraser reached out his arm; he could almost feel Ray's skin beneath his palm.
He was struck suddenly the image -- his chest to Ray's back, his thighs to Ray's thighs, his arm around Ray's chest, the long lean line of their touching bodies
He fell asleep.
Ray had announced his plans over dinner a few nights after the wedding invitations arrived, when Fraser brought up the necessity of arranging for their tickets soon.
"I'm not going."
"What?" Fraser had looked up from his stew, but Ray was not meeting his eyes, fidgeting and playing with his own spoon.
"I'm gonna stay here. I'll look after Dief, all right?"
It was just as well Dief was asleep at the time, Fraser thought, because he could easily imagine his response to that. He frowned. "Ray, I don't think--"
Ray interrupted him. "Look, Fraser, you're only going to be gone a few days. I don't think the place is going to fall apart that quick."
Which wasn't it at all. It wasn't that Fraser didn't believe Ray could take care of himself, but...
"I know you and Stella--" he started awkwardly. "Your relationship--"
Ray let out a long sigh, and he rested his weight of his head on his hands, palms covering his face. "It's not that, Fraser," he said, his voice slightly muffled. "I just -- I don't want to go back to Chicago right now, okay?"
And that was close, too close, to talking about what they had been avoiding all this time -- what Ray was doing; where he was going.
Fraser nodded and said "All right," and began to eat his stew again. Later, he bought a single ticket to Chicago.
The next morning Chicago's climate was much less oppressive than the night had been -- it was clear and comparatively cool, much to Fraser's relief.
Ray Vecchio picked him up as promised, and tooj him to a diner for breakfast. They sat in a booth in front of the windows and Fraser ate his eggs and fruit while listening to Ray's story. He seemed to be quite practiced in telling it, skipping easily over his time away in order to concentrate more fully on the virtues of his fiancee.
"And then -- there she was. Stella," Ray said, investing the word with loads of meaning. "And, well, you know her, I don't have to tell you about her, right?"
"She is certainly a beautiful woman," Fraser offered, with a certain amount of caution.
"She's a knock-out," Ray said fervently. "She's gorgeous, she's brilliant, she's -- god, Benny." He leaned his head against the back of the booth with a sigh. "She's it, and you don't let something like that go."
"I'm very happy for both of you," Fraser said, and he was, truly; the small pang of unfocused envy he felt wasn't worth acknowledging. "I think Florida will suit you very well."
Ray smiled and then changed the subject. "How about you? What happened with this whole adventure thing?"
"Ah," Fraser said. He wiped his mouth with his napkin. "It went very well."
"So, did you find it? The hand thing?"
"Well, no. But the trip was a very rewarding experience."
Ray snorted. "Yeah, I bet. I know my idea of good time is being stranded on the tundra for weeks with nobody but Kowalski."
"Ray Kowalski is a worthy partner, and a good friend. I enjoy his company."
Ray merely shrugged and sipped again at his coffee.
Fraser paused for a long moment and then said, "You know, Ray, most researchers on the subject believe that love -- there isn't a finite level of it; it's ever expanding. My friendship with Ray Kowalski doesn't take anything away from my friendship with you."
Ray gave him a quick, fond look. "I know that, Benny. Come on, finish your eggs so we can get going."
In the afternoon Fraser took a walk by himself.
He passed the consulate, now filled with strangers, without a pause or a single twitch of nostalgia.
He did stop at a drugstore a few streets down; a rack of postcards caught his eye. He would be home before the card would arrive, he told himself (and it wasn't as if things were any easier to say in writing -- especially not like this, there for the entire world to see).
Still, though, he thought Dief might appreciate the gesture, and he bought one anyway, a glamorous glossy shot of the downtown area.
It would be nearly two at home now, he thought as he walked. Perhaps Ray had gone into town. Perhaps he was stretched on the cot, reading. Perhaps he was wondering what Fraser was doing as well. Perhaps--
Fraser didn't know. Ray was unpredictable.
Ray had invited him to dinner -- had insisted upon it, in fact, informing Fraser that it was one of the duties of his position. As always, the Vecchio home was crowded, and noisy, and smelled divine, although the sheer number of hugs and exclamations involved in greeting everyone was almost overwhelming. Francesca, in particular, seemed to extend the embrace beyond normal lengths.
"Oh, Fraser," she said, her head against his chest. He patted her back awkwardly, and she pulled away at last.
"You look -- you look great," Francesca said, laughing a little nervously. "I guess that being up there is just really good for you, huh?"
"Well, I suppose that the bracing climate and the hard work--"
"No," Francesca interrupted, "I mean -- never mind. Just--" Here she squeezed his shoulder again. "I'm glad you're happy, I guess." She half-smiled at him; her face had both softened and filled out since he had seen her last, and there was a rich glow about her.
"Thank you," Fraser said. He cleared his throat. "And congratulations to you, as well." Perhaps it was impolite to mention her condition -- Ray hadn't filled him in on this news during their talk -- but she seemed happy. Motherhood would surely be a good match for her warm spirit.
Francesca looked down automatically to the slight curve of her stomach, and then blushed. "Uh, thanks, Frase."
At dinner he was seated between Mrs. Vecchio and Stella Kowalski -- Stella Vecchio as of tomorrow, he reminded himself. Even given Ray's extended explanations earlier, the idea was difficult for him to fully grasp. But Ray was seated on her other side, and they did look quite happy, talking and smiling throughout dinner.
At one point, Ray excused himself from the table, and Fraser found himself with Stella Kowalski's full concentration.
She leaned over across her plate toward him and said quietly, "Is he okay?"
Fraser set down his fork and blinked at her. "He seems quite happy, I think, but I expect you would know better than I--"
"Not Ray," Stella said impatiently. "The other Ray."
"Oh, he's doing wonderfully -- which I suppose shouldn't come as much of a surprise, considering the courage and adaptability he's always shown--"
Stella blew out a puff of air, and Fraser stopped, uncertain. "No, Fraser. I mean, is he okay about this? Did he freak out?"
"Ah. No. No," Fraser said. "Actually, he wishes the two of you luck." Which was true, in fact, although Fraser didn't feel it was necessary to share the rather derisive tone Ray's "Good luck to them" had been uttered in, nor the snort that had accompanied it.
Stella was giving him a strange look, but Ray Vecchio returned to the table and distracted her then, leaving Fraser somewhat relieved.
That night, his room was still quiet, still empty and large and different, and sleep was not any closer.
He let the image from the night before fill his mind once again -- let it fill the room with his friends, their presences and idiosyncrasies. It was comforting, and he took deep breaths and waited for sleep to find him.
But it wasn't enough.
He concentrated further. The body beside him -- Ray, the length of him stretched out against Fraser -- comfortable, familiar, cared for--
He could feel Ray's skin beneath his hand, and he moved the palm carefully across Ray's chest. Ray made a soft noise as he brushed the nipple, and then Fraser moved his hand down farther, to the soft skin of Ray's stomach, the prickly hairs beneath. Ray's penis, rigid and eager, filling his hand...
Fraser opened his eyes and took another deep breath. He stared up at the ceiling, trying to think clearly, but instead he moved his own hand to his groin, rubbing softly through his boxer shorts. After a moment he rose from the bed.
In the bathroom Fraser left the lights off and raised the seat to the toilet. He used one hand to pull down his underwear and grip his erection, and braced himself against the wall with the other.
He bit his lip and touched himself in tight, slow strokes. His mind was ringing with things he had never said to Ray. Please touch me and I don't want you to go and I love you--
Fraser's orgasm hit him unexpectedly quickly, and with a great deal of force, wringing through him fiercely, leaving him with no choice but to stand there, shaking and trying to remember to breathe.
It took him a few minutes to recover. He pulled himself upright, flushed the toilet and washed his hands, and wandered back into his bed to fall asleep.
The wedding ceremony was tiny, consisting of all of five people: Ray and Stella with their matching nervously excited faces, Fraser off to one side, a friend of Stella's whom he didn't know off to the other, and the justice of the peace before them all.
The reception was a different story, loud and joyous and full of celebration. There were immense quantities of food everywhere, and an almost equally large number of Vecchio relatives, almost all of whom Fraser seemed to dance with at one point or another. The female ones, at any rate, from Ray's maidenly great-aunt to his youngest niece, whom Fraser let dance standing on top of his boots and who giggled the entire time.
Fraser had researched wedding toasts and prepared several rather elaborate options, but in the end, he merely raised his glass of sparkling cider and wished them both all the luck and joy they could ask for.
It was the very last leg of their adventure -- they would be back in civilization within a few days -- and Fraser had almost been asleep already when Ray suddenly spoke up.
"So we're almost there. Almost back."
Fraser blinked rapidly several times. "Ah, yes, so it would seem, Ray." It was quite dark in the tent -- Fraser couldn't see Ray, but he could feel him fidgeting, close beside him.
"So I guess you're gonna, what? Go back to work? What happens now?"
He had paused over the question. "I suppose I'll begin my new posting."
"Oh. Yeah." Ray was shifting some more. "I guess I'll just go back to Chicago then. Get back into things. Start my life again."
Fraser frowned at that, but he didn't respond.
After another minute, Ray spoke again. "Fraser. Say, um. What would you think if maybe I didn't head back yet? Maybe stay with you a while?"
Something Fraser couldn't identify had lightened in his chest. He said, "Yes, of course, Ray. You're always welcome."
"Okay, then," Ray said; it sounded like he was letting out a held breath. "Great. It's just -- I'm not ready yet."
That night, Fraser had thought he understood what Ray meant; but now, in hindsight, he thought -- he hoped -- there might be more there that he had missed.
In the taxi to the airport, Fraser remembered the postcard. He dug it out of his bag carefully, along with a pen.
He gazed out the window at Chicago going past, thinking over what to say.
Finally, he wrote out several quick sentences.
Dear Ray and Diefenbaker:
My time in Chicago has been quite enjoyable, but I have missed home, and the two of you, a great deal. I find, too, that my time here has clarified several things for me -- things that I think may be very important, not only for myself, but for you as well, Ray.
I have neither time nor room to say much else here; the airport is approaching quickly, and I will see you both soon. I am coming home.
There was a post office in the airport, and he mailed off the card with a certain feeling of satisfaction.
Fraser stepped out the last of the planes, and down the small staircase to the cement field. The air was fresh and clean, and he breathed in long deep draughts of it.
His eyes tracked automatically across the way -- ah, yes, there he was.
Ray. By himself, off to the side, hands in his pockets. Waiting for Fraser.
Fraser walked forward to him quickly and firmly, feeling something almost giddy rising in his chest. As he got close, he dropped his bag on the ground without stopping.
Ray was smiling and saying, "Hey, Fraser," but Fraser didn't stop to listen; instead, he wrapped his hands around Ray's upper arms and leaned in to kiss his loud, familiar, well-loved mouth.
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Fandom: due South
Title: The Outline of a Circle
Author: Pearl-o [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | R | *slash* | 17k | 03/11/04
Summary: Fraser searches for significance in airports, weddings, and hotel bathrooms.
Notes: Many thanks to Nifra, SA and Starfish for helpful beta work.
Disclaimer/Other: Not mine. Not mine at all.
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