This is for mondschein1 and buzzylittleb whose comment thread about PG swimming the Atlantic led to all sorts of Mr Darcy-esque images and eventually to this... (Any similarity to the story I actually planned to write is purely coincidental)
Thawing Out by ToraK
Rating: R-ish. For bad language and naked Fraser.
Shit, shit, shit, shit, fuck. This is so not good. So, so not good.
Ray hops from foot to foot anxiously, partly ‘cause he needs to move, partly ‘cause he’s fucking cold, and partly ‘cause he likes to have something to do while he hyperventilates.
It had seemed like such a good idea; they’d just set up camp, Fraser was cooking dinner, the dogs were settled, and Ray had decided to have a look around. He hadn’t thought something like this could happen. In fact, he hadn’t thought much at all, his brain had rolled from hey, that’s a cool lump of rock, to hey, lookit that, you can see the sea underneath there to hey, I’m moving to “Shit! Fraser!”
And Fraser, properly prepared little Boy Scout that he was, obviously hadn’t expected this either, because when he’d looked up and seen what was happening, his expression hadn’t been calm, competent, or prepared, it had been stunned. Then he’d dropped what he was holding and raced to the edge of the ice, which hadn’t used to be the edge of the ice. It used to be about the middle, until Ray’s lump of rock, ice, whatever, had launched its bid for freedom. And really, Ray was all for bits of ice asserting their rights and seceding from bigger lumps of ice, but he’d really rather they didn’t do it with him on board.
“Ray!” Fraser had called, getting as close to the edge as possible, and holding out his arm over the three foot or so gap. “Take my hand.”
And Ray had tried, he really had, but Fraser’s hand was just too far for him to reach, and he was too scared of toppling into the icy, milk-blue water that he didn’t stretch further than he knew he could.
“Ray!” Fraser’s voice was terse; his face was set. He was actually worried, and that was no way good. “You have to jump.”
Ray stared at him, then shook his head, hard. “Like hell,”
“Ray, it’s barely three feet. For goodness sake, jump.”
“Fraser,” Ray had snapped, “Does this conversation seem strangely familiar to you?”
And then, with a terrifying groaning noise, it’d all become academic ‘cause the ice moved again and what had seemed like a huge gap a minute ago now seemed tame and easy, and Ray hated himself for being such a coward. He didn’t almost drown every time he went near water; just most times.
That was about three minutes ago, and Ray, well he hasn’t exactly stopped freaking out about being trapped on a giant ice cube, in the middle of a fucking big freezer, but he’s got hold of himself enough to look around. The lump of ice he’s floating on is about six foot by six, he’s not sure how deep it goes, hopefully it’s pretty thick. He’s about fifteen feet from the mainland in either direction and he seems to be floating down an inlet. Now it’s in the middle of the inlet, it’s not really moving much at all. Ray guesses that the initial break-up gave it some energy, but that that’s pretty much run out by now. He hopes its next move isn’t sinking.
There are lots of these little half rivers up here, ones that just rise up from the ice, then disappear back in when you’re least expecting it, that was why Franklin’s lot got so screwed. Fraser told him that one of the parties sent out to look for Franklin actually got to the head of the inlet down which the survivors were camping, but dismissed it as leading nowhere.
Not that Ray is going to think about Franklin now, ‘cause he’s not. He’s not going to think about those men, slowly freezing to death out here alone, thousands of miles from home, completely out of their depth. He’s not thinking about it, ‘cause he’s not alone. Fraser’s here. Fraser’s right… Oh fuck, where’s he gone? Ray swings around, nearly toppling off his ice cube,
Ray looks all around, but he can’t see Fraser, and that’s just wrong. He can see for miles, where the fuck is he? Ray feels cold hollowness start to seep through his bones and into his chest. He’s been alone before and he’s been lonely, but he’s never felt this before. This isn’t Stella leaving alone, this isn’t undercover lonely, this is really, physically, no one else in the entire world, alone. Until now, he hadn’t minded how empty it is up here, ‘cause he’d been with Fraser and Fraser seemed to fill every gap.
Suddenly, Fraser emerges from around a pile of snow Ray hadn’t even realised was a pile of snow until Fraser emerged from around it.
“Ray!” Fraser calls, stopping directly parallel with Ray and Ray’s so completely overwhelmed with relief that it hits him full force in the stomach and he has to sit down.
“So hey, Frase,” he calls back, hoping it sounds casual. “You maybe got a plan? A handy tow rope and pulley to get me back to terra therma?”
“Firma,” Fraser corrects, ‘cause obviously when Ray sinks and drowns St Peter is going to be concerned about his grasp of Latin. “And yes Ray, you have to swim; there’s no other way.”
“Oh no,” Ray looks at the water, looks at the distance. He’d try it if it was the lake they call… if it was Lake Michigan. He’d still probably drown, but he’d try it. Here he doesn’t stand a chance and he knows it, Fraser must know it too. “I can’t, Fraser. There’s no way.”
“There’s no other way. But you don’t have to do it alone, I’ll help.”
“Help? How the hell will you help? Offer polite encouragement while I drown? You’re over there, I’m here.” Ray waves his hands between them, “You there, me here.” He emphasises, ‘cause it really could do with repeating.
“Yes, Ray.” Even though Ray’s not wearing his glasses, he knows Fraser’s wearing his I’m about to do something bizarrely stupid, but it’ll go right and you’ll love me for it anyway expression. “But soon we’ll both be over there.” And just like that, he starts taking off his clothes.
To say Ray’s baffled would be, like, understatement central. It’s ball-numbingly freezing out here and Fraser’s getting naked? Not that Ray objects to naked; he’s fond of naked. They’ve had a lot of good times, him and naked, but this is so not the time or place.
“Fraser?” Ray is almost afraid to ask, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to swim across to you, Ray.” Fraser says like it’s the most obvious thing. “And it will be much harder to get warm again if I’m wearing wet clothes.”
“But, but Frase, it’s freezing, you’ll die.”
“Don’t be silly, Ray.” Fraser’s down to his last layer, deft fingers rapidly unbuttoning his red thermals. “If the water were freezing, it would be frozen. The swim is very short, the tent is set up and the fire’s blazing; we’ll be fine.” He drops his long-johns, pushes them away from the edge of the ice with his foot then dives into the water.
Ray feels his heart pound and threaten to burst. Oh God, Fraser’s going to die and Ray’s going to be all alone.
The water ripples, swirls, and suddenly a hand appears over the edge of the Ray’s ice cube. He grabs it, pulls and Fraser, naked and dripping, hauls himself out of the water. His skin is flushed; his wet hair is wet and curling over his forehead.
“Fraser!” Ray gasps, ‘cause he can’t think of anything else to say. Fraser just swam a fucking ice river for him.
Fraser grabs his wrist; his teeth are just starting to chatter.
He leads Ray to edge of the ice and immediately into the water. And Ray follows, not ‘cause he thinks it’s a good idea, not ‘cause he believes he has much chance of surviving, but because he trusts Fraser. He hasn’t had this kind of blind faith in anyone since he was five and believed his dad was a superman who could fix anything. It scares him, especially as his dad turned out to be every bit as fallible as him, but he still follows Fraser, because he might not believe in much but he still believes in him.
The swim, if you can call it that – the desperate flounder, more like – seems to take hours, but Ray knows it can’t do because he’s still breathing. Breathing and just starting to shake from the cold.
Fraser pushes him to the tent – which Ray is wary about now he knows bits of ice can just break away with no warning, but Fraser tells him they’re safe here, and once again Ray trusts him. They stumble inside, Fraser wraps a blanket around his own body, and then between them they get Ray stripped of his soaking clothes, which are starting to steam in the air.
Then Fraser is rubbing him all over with towels and blankets, bundling him up in clean – God, warm – clothes, and pushing him into one of the sleeping bags. Ray barely has time to think mmm, nice sleeping bag, warm before Fraser has climbed in beside him and is spooning up behind him, rubbing his hands over Ray’s arms and chest, breathing in his ear.
Ray lies there for a long time, shivering, his teeth chattering, feeling Fraser’s warmth spreading over and around him, guessing his own body heat must be warming Fraser too, though he’s not convinced he actually has any at the moment.
“Ray?” Fraser’s voice rouses him and Ray realises he’s warm. He’s not sure when it happened, he’s been mostly asleep for a while now. No, not asleep, that’s bad in these kind of situations – that was one of the first things Fraser drilled into him; that and whale blubber is really your friend. No, Ray hasn’t been asleep, he’s just been drifting, safe and secure and wrapped in Fraser. Fraser’s hands have calmed and he’s really more stroking Ray’s arms than trying to restore his circulation. His forehead is pressed to the back of Ray’s head, Ray’s hair must be tickling Fraser’s nose, but he doesn’t seem to care.
“Ray,” Fraser says quietly, but urgently.
“Mmm?” Ray’s too comfortable to get his mouth working properly.
“Ray,” Fraser whispers again, with an entirely different tone. His lips touch the back of Ray’s neck and even though Ray was half expecting it, he still jumps.
Fraser goes stiff instantly, tries to draw back, to remove his arms, but Ray grabs his hand, moves it back to his chest, squeezing himself tight in Fraser’s arms for a moment, before rolling onto his back and looking up at Fraser’s face, flushed and not at all cold looking. They stare at each other for a long time, and it’s just like an hour ago when they were looking at each other across fifteen feet of icy water. Just like then Ray’s heart is pounding, but this time he’s the good kind of scared, and again he trusts Fraser, he knows he’s not going to let him drown.
Fraser leans down, and Ray’s eyes flutter close, but then Fraser stops, only an inch of warm air between them.
“Don’t do that again,” Fraser breaths against his mouth, his voice soft, “You scared me.”
Ray opens his mouth to protest that he didn’t do anything; it wasn’t his fault the fucking ice isn’t stable, but the look in Fraser’s eyes stops him. Fraser really was scared. For him. “Understood,” he murmurs, sliding his hands over Fraser’s cheeks and into his hair.