Haven't been writing for a while. Sorry about that. Life. I got a request from an anonymous reader (sometimes that's where my best ideas come from, so ty!). Had to find this show and rewatch/watch for the first time several episodes to get into the swing... may have watched the whole show in a very short space of time. Some episodes more than once. It's a problem. But enough about me...

This is my first try writing for this show, and I'm rusty, so please be kind. Hope you like it.

Spoiler alert: Takes place at the end of the season 4 finale.

Slash warning: If that's not your thing, no one's making you read it. Think before you comment.


One: Incidentally

I feel a bit treacherous when I say that Ray is my best friend.

I went around two decades without a best friend. My childhood best friends were still friends and always would be, but their absence from my life gradually separated them from the pedestals they once occupied. But after all, a grown man doesn't need a best friend. Friends are valuable, but they aren't exclusive. On the other hand, they are also not mutually exclusive. No man is an island, but every man is an individual.

It took me a short time to recognize Ray Vecchio as my best friend. We had our ups and downs as most friends will, but over time every down was a little more shallow. The ups began to smooth into a steady incline with no end in sight. I missed the Canadian wilderness and needed to return to it from time to time, but I kept returning to Ray Vecchio just as my father had kept returning to Buck Frobisher. We were partners. We were also best friends.

Then my life took an unexpected turn in the form of Ray Kowalski. He was capable. Adequate. But unpredictable. And most significantly, he was not Ray Vecchio.

Still, it was a similarly short time before I considered Ray Kowalski a friend. I learned a lot about him in a short time. He was reliable, courageous, selfless, by all accounts a good cop, and by my own observation a good man.

A good man who seemed destined to drive me insane. Or perhaps I would drive him insane. It was difficult to say who would accomplish it first. When we had our falling out, I thought that would be the end of it. But, as with Buck and my father, fate had another plan. Apparently, we needed each other.

When I thought of taking the new assignment, the idea of going home was an attractive one. I knew that the offer of getting his life back, of not having to play Ray Vecchio anymore, appealed to my partner as well. Yet, when I imagined the day-to-day, the solitary postings, the appeal was not as great as I would have expected. The environment was right, but the situation was wrong, somehow. If I had a new partner, it would be another Mountie. Someone with similar training and values, an idea that should give me satisfaction... but it seemed dull. It would be like having myself for a partner. No new perspectives, no new information. How could I be sure of these facts and truths I had known my whole life if Ray was not there to question and abuse me at every turn?

I must add that another reason for reluctance in leaving was that Ray Vecchio might return at any time. Supposing I left and then his time undercover came to an end? I missed him.

Despite all the uncertainty, during our Great Lakes adventure, I never once thought that Ray Kowalski was unnecessary or expendable. As my father advised, our partnership was more important than pride. I didn't consider leaving the Henry Allen without him. I wasn't even sure we were partners anymore, but we were friends. Friends fight; they don't leave each other to die.

I had no qualms about sharing my air supply with Ray. I don't know if it's Americans, or just paranoid men who panic at any close contact with someone of the same sex, but considering how much of their lives human beings compartmentalize, I don't understand the problem with this concept.

To illustrate: If you are a fairly ordinary person, you wouldn't take your clothes off in a coffee shop just because someone asked you to. However, you would do so in a doctor's office. What is different? Mainly the setting.

Another illustration: The average person does not feel comfortable pressing his or her chest against that of a total stranger, especially the opposite sex. However, at social dances, dance partners often embrace afterwards, thank each other, and walk away as if all is perfectly ordinary and straight-forward. Which it is, due to the setting.

In parallel, I would not ordinarily approach a colleague and press my mouth to his. That would be unsettling for both of us, I should think. However, sealing my mouth over Ray's in order to provide him with much-needed oxygen did not give me pause. How could it, when I was prolonging his life?

And yet, when we came out of that situation, Ray asked me if anything had changed. Why would buddy breathing change our plans to dissolve our partnership? Did he think that unless I'd changed my mind about being his partner, I would surely have let him drown?

It wasn't until much later that I wondered if that wasn't what he'd meant at all. Surely I was wrong, but... he could have been asking whether I'd realized some feelings for him of which I had hitherto been unaware. Perhaps he had thought at first that I was trying to kiss him—a sort of last goodbye because I thought we were both going to drown. And when I explained what I'd really been doing, he realized, "So, nothing's changed."

I pushed such thoughts away for weeks, and then a distraction came: Ray Vecchio finally returned. My old friend was back, and I wanted nothing more than for him to befriend my new partner. Strangely, Ray Kowalski seemed to enter a bit of a depression. I gradually realized that he felt displaced. He didn't want our partnership to end, and he feared that Ray Vecchio's return was the harbinger of just that eventuality.

As fate would have it, Ray Vecchio took a bullet for me—his second on my behalf—so it was Ray Kowalski alone who accompanied me to Canada. I think it's safe to say that if it had been Ray Vecchio with me, we never would have fallen down that crevasse. I said no such thing at the time; I didn't even think of it until later. But it was in that crevasse that I realized there was yet another side to Ray Kowalski that I had never seen: an optimistic dreamer.

His cynicism had come out so strongly for so long that I had erroneously thought he had little optimism left. Yet here he was, making a wild plan for the future: Find the hand of Franklin. And another surprise: When facing death, Ray sings. This was something I had learned about Ray Vecchio as well; he sang to keep his spirits up. Something all three of us had in common. Singing Stan Rogers' bittersweet ballad to Ray Kowalski, I learned something about myself, too: I didn't want to be parted from him. I wanted to make that journey with him, wherever it took him.

And I might have done something drastic like telling him so, if we hadn't been rescued so promptly.

Back on solid ground, we were a team again. We stopped a crime of untold magnitude. We said goodbye to some longstanding friends. But not to each other. Not yet, at any rate.

I called Chicago to tell Ray Vecchio the outcome of our exploits and was thrilled to learn that he was back on his feet. He listened to my account and congratulated me on our success. Then he said something I wasn't expecting.

"So, Benny, you'll never believe this. I'm in love!"

"Oh?" I was at a loss.

"Yeah! You know that chick from the state's attorney's office? Stella? We hit it off right away! It was like love at first sight!"

"Stella... Stella Kowalski?" I asked, lowering my voice in case Ray Kowalski were in the vicinity.

"Yeah! I know, crazy, right?"

"Ray..." I was even more at a loss than before.

"We haven't even officially been on a date yet, but guess what! She loves bowling. She said she thinks she'd give up the whole legal racket to own a bowling alley, and I'm thinkin'... why not?"

"'Why not' what?"

"Open one!"

"Ray... Ray."

"What?"

"You're not making sense."

"Don't worry, we'll keep you updated on all the details. And it's kinda soon, but if I should... I dunno, maybe hear wedding bells anytime soon, I know who to call for the best man position, right?"

I blinked. "Ray. You..." You can't marry Stella Kowalski. Her ex-husband is still in love with her, and he's my best friend! My best friend? When had that happened? I felt like a traitor.

"What? What's goin' on?"

"You do realize that Stella is Ray Kowalski's ex-wife?"

"Yeah, but... we're all—"

"If you say 'we're all adults here,' I will punch you in the face." I had never expressed a threat of violence to him before. And I knew without a doubt from whom I'd gotten that particular threat. Perhaps my new best friend was not the best influence on me.

I could hear the surprise in his voice. "Benny... come on. It might be a little weird for a while, but you can't expect me to turn down the chance of a lifetime because Kowalski's gonna feel... you know. Inadequate."

I blinked again. That hadn't been my point. "Ray, you're my friend."

"Yes... and you're mine."

"And I will still consider you a friend if you go through with this. But I had hoped you and Ray Kowalski could be friends, too. I'm not sure that will be possible if you marry his wife."

"Ex-wife."

I couldn't bring myself to speak.

"Look, I hear what you're saying, but I barely know your buddy Kowalski, and I think if Stella's happy, that should be good enough."

One person's happiness was good enough to rationalize another person's heartbreak. Even if that were true, I doubted that this spontaneous romance would last long. Why do so much damage for something that was so transient?

"I think she's the one I've waited my whole life for."

"You've been married before," I pointed out. "So, I'd say you didn't wait your whole life."

He took a moment before speaking again. "Okay, I'll give you that. I married the wrong person first, and so did she. We just have one more thing in common."

I couldn't do this anymore. If I spoke to him any longer, I was going to say something we would both regret. "Just do me one favor and be absolutely sure before you take any major steps."

"Yeah, of course."

"You may not hear from me for some time."

"Aw, don't be mad, Benny. It's not the end of the world, right? You said we could still be friends."

"You may not hear from me, because I may be where there is no phone or post office."

"Oh. What's up?"

"I'm going on an expedition. It's of great historic significance. Ray's coming with me. Or rather, I'm going with him, as it was his idea."

"You're joining some historic expedition? What for?"

"To find a missing explorer. If we find him, you'll read about it in the papers."

"And if you don't?"

I told myself not to be overly dramatic, but I couldn't help myself. "Then, we may not be back."

"Fraser..."

"It's been a pleasure, an honor and an inspiration to work with you, Ray."

A long pause. Finally, "You too, big guy. Make sure you find that explorer. 'Cause I wanna hear from you again."

"We'll do our best. Take care of yourself."

"Yeah, you take care of the both of you. And that damn wolf."

I couldn't help smiling. I really would miss him. "Goodbye."

"Goodbye."

I hung up the phone and let my breath out slowly. Then I heard another breath, very soft, coming from behind me. I turned and saw my partner in the doorway. I couldn't read his face. "How long have you been there?" I asked.

A smile tugged one corner of his mouth. "We're going on a historical expedition?"

I felt sheepish. "I should have asked if you really wanted to go through with it before I shared that information. And... I shouldn't have assumed you wanted me along."

The slight smile turned into a grin. "You kidding? I could never do it without you. I'll die out there!"

He had a point. Ray's arctic survival skills were quite remiss. "I'll ask Sergeant Frobisher about a dog team, then," I said moving toward him.

"Was Vecchio mad? That you're not coming back right away?"

I shook my head. "No." I halted in front of Ray. It was hard to look him in the eye. I had to tell him. "I think he might be done with the police department."

"Really? He's taking his pension and running, huh?" He looked almost happy.

"Yes, and someone else may be running with him."

His smile faltered. "Oh, yeah? Who?"

I hated that I had to be the one to tell him, but I wouldn't have trusted anyone else to do it. "Stella."

"What?" He laughed breathily. "What are you talking about?"

"It seems they found they unexpectedly had a lot in common. They're talking about opening a bowling alley together."

His mouth fell open. "No... no, that's..." He ran a hand through his hair. "He's punking you. There's no way."

"He was quite serious," I said, taking a contextual guess at what the word "punking" meant in street slang.

He folded his arms and leaned back against the door frame. "Stella said she wanted to own a bowling alley... but that was when she was a kid. Like, a little kid. She never mentioned it when we were married. She was all about being an attorney." His eyes flicked back to mine, searching. "You're sure?"

I nodded. "I'm sorry."

It was hard to watch him wilt in front of me. All the optimism, all the energy drained from him like water being sucked from a young plant. I put my hand on his shoulder, wanting to support him, to tilt him toward the sun again.

I couldn't say what I'd have done in his place, but though I don't condone violence as the answer to any problem, I had to try to be understanding of his perspective. "I understand if you want to go back and fight for her," I said solemnly.

He was silent a little while, eyes staring through the opposite wall. "She doesn't want a cop who wants kids," he murmured. "But she does want an ex-cop who wants a bowling alley?" His voice rose slightly in pitch and volume as he spoke. "He can have her!"

I was again without words. When a sob escaped him, I put my arms around him. I felt his encircle me and he wept into my shoulder.

I knew this was officially the end of Ray's pursuit of his ex-wife. He hadn't gone down fighting, but in this case, I thought he was probably right to cut his losses. She had hurt him, but I prayed she hadn't broken him. I moved my hands comfortingly over his shoulders, trying to convey my sympathy for him, and my intention never to leave him. I didn't say it in words, because I knew they would sound inadequate at a time like this.

I worked one hand up into his hair, an instinct probably born of a time when my grandmother would sooth me to sleep when I was a young boy. Gratifyingly, it seemed to calm Ray. His breathing slowed and eventually his head rested peacefully on my shoulder, rather than his face pressing into it. I continued to stroke his hair and we stood like that for some minutes. He sniffed and sighed.

"Do you still want to go after Franklin?" I asked quietly.

He nodded without lifting his head. He still had his arms around me.

I swallowed, bracing myself. "I want you to know that wherever you go, I want to be at your side. As long as you'll have me, I'm your partner and friend."

His grip grew tighter, threatening to interfere with my breathing, but I didn't protest. He turned his head slightly, so his face pressed against my neck.

I was surprised to feel a slight chill. It wasn't cold in the cabin; the only explanation was the physical stimulation of his touch. I refused to allow myself to attach meaning to it. Ray's feelings were fragile enough at the moment without my muddying the waters.

He cleared his throat. "But we drive each other crazy," he said in a low voice.

"I know."

"You frustrate the hell out of me, and I... I verbally abuse you," he admitted.

"I think we can learn to do better. We have already."

"I lose my temper too easily."

"Well, if you feel like you're going to lose your temper, you just give me a signal, like..." I searched my mind for a good candidate. "Like cauliflower. And then I'll know that we need to leave the subject for a time when we're more calm."

"Cauliflower," he scoffed. "Would that really work?"

"I think so."

"What if it doesn't? What if I..." He put his face against my shoulder again. "What if I screw up and hit you again?"

"You won't. But... if for some reason you did, we'd learn from it. As we did last time."

He made a muffled sound that I couldn't judge between a laugh and a sob.

I was still stroking his hair.

"Fraser?"

"Yes, Ray."

"Don't... don't wig out or anything, but... I love you."

I hesitated. "Wig out," I repeated. "Is that the same as freak out?"

"Yeah."

I nodded. "I won't."

"'Kay."

I bit my lip. I couldn't leave things there. "And, when you say you love me, is that as a brother?"

"...Yeah. Always."

"Nothing else?"

The mere fact that he didn't answer right away was an answer, itself. But it seemed too difficult for him to find something he felt safe saying.

"Because," I went on carefully, "I don't want you to think it would change what I said... I want to be with you. Wherever you go, and... whatever you want from me."

I felt his breath on my neck again. "Fraser," he whispered, "I... I don't know what I want. Except I know I want you with me, too."

"Then, I think it's something we can figure out along the way. Don't you?"

He nodded again.

I tilted my head slightly to press my lips to his forehead. "Now... I need to ask the sergeant about the dog team."

He started to release me and then embraced me again, tighter than ever.

I hugged him back. "Incidentally... I love you, too."

He sighed, and I thought from the sound of his voice that he was smiling when he said, "Thanks."


I want to write more of this, but I'd like to get some feedback first. Because I have ideas for at least one more chapter, but I'd like to see if anyone's interested before I invest in it too much.