Notes: For nerdwegian, who requested "F/K, slash," to which description I'd add that it's also post-COTW. Thanks to the lovely lozenger8 for read-through and encouraging words, and to aukestrel for a generally kick-ass beta!
Disclaimer: Not mine; I intend no harm, and make no profit.
Things to Do in Juniper at One O'Clock in the Morning
1. Look at the stars
After the Adventure was over and Ray was back in Chicago and Fraser had moved into his temporary posting in Colville Lake, when Ray first began to suspect that—surprise, surprise—he might not be in Chicago much longer, he started to have doubts about whether he could hack it living in Canada. Not doubts about Fraser, 'cause on that point Ray was pretty solid, but—Ray was from Chicago, from Chicago like Fraser was from Canada. He totally got why Fraser had to be so damn Canadian all the time, 'cause that's how he felt about Chicago, even if he wouldn't ever say it to anyone, probably. He'd grown up in Chicago, he'd spent his life protecting Chicago for chrissake. This was his city. He thought he was maybe a little crazy for even thinking about going anywhere else.
But he could do it, okay, he would do it, if that's what he had to do to be with Fraser. If he was gonna do this big crazy thing and go off and live with Fraser for ever and ever, amen, then he figured all these other crazy things like quitting his job and leaving Chicago didn't really matter, in comparison. So he'd give it a shot, he'd go up and live in the middle of East Bumfuck, the Arctic, and be Fraser's "domestic partner." Hell, why not. He figured, he couldn't do it, at least he'd be able to say he tried.
And yeah, they hadn't really talked about it, about this whatever-it-was between them, but Ray wasn't stupid. It was pretty clear after the Adventure where things were headed, and so he started to think about moving to Canada. And then Fraser started talking about how he was only in Colville Lake for another three months, and how he had been given a really rather startling amount of discretion, Ray, in regards his next posting, and perhaps Ray would like to take some of his accumulated vacation time and come up to visit and help him scout out a suitable community? And they didn't talk about it, but there it was: sex and love and partnership, the whole shebang, all wrapped right up in one neat little plane-ticket-to-Yellowknife package, with Fraser waiting on the other end of the phone to see what Ray would say.
So Ray did it, he took three weeks' vacation time, closed up the apartment, dropped the car off with Stella, and bought himself the damn ticket. Three planes, Chicago to Toronto, Toronto to Edmonton, and Edmonton to Yellowknife, and then a puddle-jumper south to Fort Resolution. And the whole time all he could think was that this was it, this was it—he'd maybe never said the words to Fraser, but he didn't have to, 'cause here he was, three thousand miles and fifteen hours from home even if you didn't count the hour's drive from Fort Resolution to Juniper. All this was his big declaration: that when he was standing there playing nice to a bunch of other Mounties, when he was driving around in Fraser's rented four-wheel saying yeah, it'd be nice to have land on a river, or maybe Fraser should look at some of the property a little closer to town, what he was really saying was that he could maybe see himself living in a place with only dirt roads, that he could maybe imagine them putting a little cabin right here where the trees came down to the water.
Thing was, though, that Ray kinda liked Juniper. He liked Jeannie Natoosiq who had the little diner in town, he liked the little steep-roofed wooden houses, he liked the view of the river from the porch of the RCMP detachment. He liked lying there on the hillside behind the MacPhersons' B&B the last night they were there, wide awake from too much coffee with Fraser next to him pointing out constellations and the Milky Way and shooting stars. He maybe didn't like it as much as he liked Chicago, not yet, but Ray could do this, he could give it a shot. Could give it time. Because sure, by lying here on the grass at one in the morning he was maybe saying to Fraser that he'd follow him up here, live with him up here, but Fraser was saying things too, and when Fraser called him his "partner from the States" and let him see this place that was gonna be his home from now on, what he was really saying was I can't live without you. So between the two of them, Ray figured, they'd probably end up okay.
2. Spend time with friends
The thing about Juniper that Ray hadn't expected—well, one of many things, but still—was that people weren't all that friendly. He'd expected a whole town full of people like Fraser: polite and helpful, the sort of people who'd bend over backwards to help you settle in. And sure, they definitely did that—Annie MacPherson sent over her daughter with a note saying she was sure they'd be too busy unpacking to cook, so here was some homemade bread, she hoped they liked it; and Albert Munamee stopped by to invite them to Mass on Sunday; and Janet Macintosh (who turned out to be the mayor, though Ray didn't know that at the time) dropped in to officially welcome Fraser to the community, and if she seemed a little surprised to see Ray there shirtless and covered in paint splatters from painting the bedroom walls, she hid it well, and she seemed really glad to have another Mountie in town, so hey, it was all good.
But even so, the people seemed a little…well, standoffish. They'd be really polite, and make small talk when he went into the gas station, or the general store, or the RCMP detachment, but he'd catch them looking at him sideways, and there'd be little whispers of Gwich'in or whatever it was as he left. Ray was sort of worried it was 'cause of the whole… well, the whole queer thing; they were pretty conservative up here, weren't they? But Fraser said no; it was just reserve, he said, "the natural reserve of small towns, Ray," so Ray just smiled at everybody and ignored the whispers and tried not to say anything too offensive or too American. When he thought about it, he supposed it was no surprise; he'd expected people to be like Fraser, and Fraser himself was pretty damn reserved, until you got the guy to let you in.
So they just went about their lives, trying to settle in: Fraser went in to work every morning, and spent a lot of time out in the field, learning the area; and Ray hung around town, working on the cabin. He and Fraser'd framed it out themselves, with the last of Fraser's vacation; Ray was hardly a carpenter, but Fraser, being Fraser, could do anything, it seemed like. And once they'd gotten that done, Ray was good; he could handle the plumbing and putting in the floor and painting. Anyway, it gave him something to do. They'd talked about it—Ray couldn't apply to the RCMP until he was a citizen, and he couldn't be a citizen until he'd lived in Canada three years, and it was hardly like there were US consulates in the Territories for him to liaise with. So he worked on the house, and read up on gardens and growing seasons, and tried to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
And gradually people started warming up to them, and even though it was still weird to talk to his mom or Frannie on the phone and hear about life in Chicago, he woke up one morning in October and realized he really didn't miss it nearly as much any more. Fraser had established a good working relationship with Constable Michaelson, so they went and ate dinner with him and his wife Jenny every few weeks, and Ray'd bonded with Jeannie Natoosiq over classic cars, and Annie MacPherson had seemed to make it her personal mission to make sure they knew everyone in town, and suddenly it turned out they had a circle of friends. They'd go out to movie screenings at the tiny library, or to the potlucks at the church, or just stop in at the tiny restaurant-slash-tavern that Jeannie's sister ran—and, man, it turned out that Canadians really knew how to have a good time.
They invited some people over one night—Annie, her husband Bob, the Michaelsons, Jeannie, her boyfriend Oshoochiak Simmee—and what Ray had thought would be dinner and maybe a few drinks turned into the eight of them around the table at one in the morning, drunk off their asses on really good scotch (well, except for Fraser), telling the dirtiest jokes Ray'd ever heard in his life. At some point Oshoochiak—whose name Ray could hardly pronounce sober, much less after a few—suggested a game called Liar's Dice, which Ray had never heard of but which apparently involved bluffing and was kind of like poker, so he figured, hey, why not?
Turned out, though, that not only were they all cutthroat about it—even the women—but Fraser, of all people, had no problem whatsoever giving Ray his big-eyed innocent Mountie look while he was lying his ass off and totally setting Ray up. The third time it happened, Ray punched him in the shoulder and said, "That's it, Fraser, that's it, you're not getting laid for a week," totally not even thinking, and then he was horrified, 'cause yeah, they lived together, but he'd been trying to, like, maintain the illusion that they were just roommates—but none of them even blinked. "Oh, Benton, you're in for it now," Annie said, and Bob said, "Yeah, but can Ray hold out?" And Jenny looked at Fraser, and looked at him, and said she didn't think so, and then Fraser blushed so hard he reached out and drained Ray's scotch, and they all burst out laughing.
Next morning, he lay there for a while thinking about that, and turned to Fraser and said, "And you said you couldn't play poker. I never woulda figured you for a gambler, Frase." And Fraser turned from putting on his uniform and looked at Ray sprawled there in bed and smiled, and said, "Well, Ray, in the Territories you have to know how to make your own fun," as if that meant anything. So Ray got up and started getting dressed himself. Make his own fun. Sure, he could do that.
3. Think about work
Ray had totally figured he'd end up doing police work in Juniper. Fraser'd told him they always needed Mounties willing to work in the Territories, so he'd figured he'd wait his three years for citizenship and then he'd be a cop again. And if he had to work at security or something in the meantime, well, so be it. He'd be bored as hell, but he'd hack it if he had to; he'd go moonlight with Fraser when he could, and the rest of the time he'd be proving to Immigration that he could support himself so they'd let him stay. Wasn't much of a plan, but it was what he'd had. Hell, it'd beat the idea of staying in Chicago alone and visiting Fraser once every three months or something.
But then they got to Juniper, and it turned out that there were no jobs even remotely related to detecting or policing or security, unless he wanted to work on the pipeline, which he definitely did not. And he could have maybe done some mechanic work or something, but if he had to work in a garage all day, he'd go stir-crazy; he was not like Fraser, able to go days without seeing people. He could survive away from the city, but he could not handle being alone all the time, there was just no way.
So he had to figure out something else, and after a while, three years started to seem like a really long time to be hanging around the house and cooking dinner for Fraser when he got home from work. He didn't mind it, for a while, but it was not what Ray wanted to do with his life. He tried not to let it worry him too much, but he couldn't help it; what if he never found anything and they kicked him out and he had to go back to Chicago and work with some asshole cop of a partner?
If somebody had told him, back before the Adventure, that in a year's time he'd be off being gay with his partner in Canada and that guess what, he wouldn't be a cop anymore, he'd be a teacher, Ray would have laughed in their faces. Or maybe socked 'em one, just for suggesting it. Either way, it was definitely not what he'd planned or even expected.
But somehow it just happened: first he was helping Jeannie out, taking care of her three-year-old when she had to go to Yellowknife, and that became a pretty regular thing, 'cause hey, he liked kids, right? He'd always wanted kids. And it made Jeannie's life a lot easier, so that was great, Ray was all about that; if anybody deserved a little relaxation now and then, it was Jeannie. It was actually a pretty good gig. She'd drop the kid off in the morning with a bag of toys and books and stuff, and they'd play games and read and maybe take a nap after lunch, and if Dief was home that day they'd go for a walk down by the lake, and by the time Jeannie got back at dinnertime the kid'd be thrilled to see her and Ray'd be tired enough that he could usually convince Fraser to spend the evening wallowing in bed.
And then suddenly Iyola Qaunak, who was one of the two teachers at the little preschool/kindergarten, had a heart attack and died, and there was a scramble to find someone else, since Sheila Thompson was a great teacher but there was no way she could handle taking care of fifteen kids by herself long-term. And one night a week or so after the funeral Ray and Fraser and Jeannie and her sister Kovi were sitting around at Kovi's place with a couple of drinks, and Jeannie turned to Ray and said, "Ray, you should do it." And Ray looked at her, totally blown away, and said, "What? Jeannie, I'm a cop. And I'm queer, and American. Are you nuts?"
But Jeannie'd been serious, apparently, because a few days after that, Janet Macintosh ran into him in town and said that she'd been talking to Jeannie, and she knew he was American, knew he didn't have any teaching credentials, but she'd been asking around about him, and she'd be comfortable offering him the job until the end of the year. Sheila was certified, and as long as he had a college degree—he did, didn't he?—he'd be fine. And Sheila was all right with the idea, so if he wanted it, it was his.
At which point Ray got totally flustered, told Janet he'd have to think about it, could he get back to her tomorrow? And drove home with his hands shaking, because, Christ.
He spent the rest of the night on the couch, alone 'cause Fraser was on duty at the detachment, drinking scotch in the dark and thinking. Thinking about Stella, and about how he'd always wanted kids, and about his parents. About being a cop, and being a cop with Fraser, and about being practically married to Fraser, up here in the wilderness. And apparently at some point in there he made a decision, 'cause he found himself walking the half-mile to the detachment at some god-awful hour of the morning, a little wobbly from the scotch and freezing his ass off, and when Fraser opened the door, totally alarmed, he sort of fell into him and blurted, "Frase, I got a job," and kissed him right there on the porch.
Actually, though, what Ray thought he maybe really wanted to do was teach elementary school, like, eight year olds, math and science, that sort of thing. Maybe if this job worked out he could talk to Sheila, see what he had to do to become a teacher for real. Ray Kowalski, teacher. What a trip.
4. Have make-up sex
It turned out the crime rate in the Territories was a lot higher than Ray would have thought; the murder rate was 4 or 5 times the rate for Canada as a whole, apparently, which he found kind of surprising. Rape was even worse, and assault was like nine times the national average. When he asked, Fraser started talking about "complex socioeconomic trends" and "patterns of historical inequity," which, all right, Ray got that, he'd seen that in Chicago; besides the crazies and the career criminals, you made people poor enough and hopeless enough, sooner or later someone was gonna do something desperate. But Ray didn't give a damn about whether the frontier mentality made people more prone to violence, or whatever; what he cared about was whether Fraser was gonna get himself killed out there. 'Cause Ray knew Fraser, he'd worked with him for what, four, five years, and lived with him for almost that long. And even if Juniper was the sort of place where the worst thing that ever happened was kids stealing each others' bikes or guys fighting over hockey in the bar on payday, you put Fraser out there and the crazies would start crawling out of the woodwork.
So, yeah, Ray worried sometimes. If he came home from work and Fraser wasn't back from patrol when he was supposed to be, he'd get a little concerned. 'Cause even if Fraser hadn't met some drugged-up hunter or a bunch of underage kids out joy-riding and taking exception to having a Mountie crashing their party, there was the cold, and the ice, and bears, and wolves, and ten million other things Ray didn't want to think about. And if Fraser was out there somewhere in the snow with a broken leg, he sure as hell didn't have a cellphone or a coupla hundred cops ready to provide backup. It gave Ray a whole new appreciation for Stella always wanting him to call when he had to work late.
They didn't fight much, not really, which Ray also found surprising, but hey, he wasn't going to complain, right? Sure, they'd bicker over things like whose turn it was to do the dishes, or whether it was really a good idea, Ray, to feed Dief an entire smoked fish, normal couple shit like that. And yeah, sometimes he had a crappy day, or Fraser came home in a snippy mood, and they were at each others' throats until one of them went out to the barn to split wood or something. Other than that, though, they had a pretty good thing going.
But—and here was the thing—the idea of something happening to Fraser totally terrified him. And most of the time he managed to hide it, but sometimes he didn't, and when Ray got scared, he got angry, and with him and Fraser, that never ended well. Their fights were actually pretty explosive: one night Dief came home alone, and sort of bloody, and Ray totally panicked. Turned out nothing was really wrong; Fraser'd just had a little trouble with one of the tree-planters who'd crossed the border from Alberta, and was up at the detachment cleaning up a bit before coming home, but Ray didn't know that at the time, and he went a little crazy when Fraser got back. That was their first big fight: he was stupid-scared, and Fraser was cold and tired, and they yelled back and forth at each other until Fraser stomped off to the bedroom, and Ray sat staring out the window and smoking in the dark 'til he'd cooled down enough to go to bed.
And then he stubbed out his cigarette and went and woke Fraser up and spent an hour doing his level best to make him scream, and hey, the fights sucked, but the sex afterwards was pretty damn good. All in all, he'd take it: sometimes Fraser was impossible, and sometimes he hated Juniper, and sometimes he just wanted to go anywhere where there wasn't snow, but most of the time he was—well, pretty damn happy. Which was more than a lot of people could ever say. So Ray figured, you know? life was good.
ETA: I'm disabling comments on this post, so I don't miss any, but if you go here it'll take you to the story on my journal, where I get notifications. Thanks!