Giulietta - happy birthday, darlin', I hope you had a wonderful day! Have a post-CotW snippet. (Also, this is the closest I have ever come to writing gen. See what you do to me?)
Six months after they returned to Canada, Diefenbaker began to go off alone for a few days at a time. Ben could not begrudge him this freedom even though he missed his company. He was relieved that Dief appeared to have gotten over the nervousness of open spaces he had acquired from so long living in a city.
Ben didn’t know where he went – he had never asked, knowing Dief would tell him it was none of his business in that supercilious tone he used when he knew he had the moral high ground. Sometimes when he returned it was with the kind of wolfy grin that told Ben he really didn’t want to ask for details. At other times, he returned with strays, expecting Ben to feed them and tend their wounds.
Normally, these strays were no larger than dogs or the occasional baby bear, so Ben was more than a little surprised when he opened the door and found Diefenbaker standing in the doorway looking awfully pleased with himself and accompanied by one Stanley Raymond Kowalski, Detective First Grade.
“Ray,” Ben said, well stuttered actually, but there was no need to admit that.
“Hey, Frase,” Ray said, shuffling his feet, and looking surprisingly shy behind his smile, “Uh, surprise.”
“Indeed,” Ben agreed, stepping back. “Come in.”
That earned him a brighter smile and Ray stepped through the doorway, shaking snow off his boots.
“Man, it’s cold out there,” Ray said, pulling a strange, tea-cosy-like hat from his head and stripping out his jacket. He hung it over the back of one of Ben’s grandmother’s upright chairs and shuffled over to the kitchenette in his socks. “Got any coffee?”
Ben shook himself out of his surprise and made himself stop blinking idiotically. “No, Ray, I’m sorry, I didn’t expect you, did you write? There’s tea in the cupboard to your left.”
“Nah, couldn’t write,” Ray said, finding the tea and setting water on the stove to boil, “Then it wouldn’t of been a surprise.”
He put out two mugs and stuck his head in the refrigerator, presumably looking for milk. Ben frowned as he watched his friend, wondering what he had missed. Ray was acting naturally, but his posture was stiff and Ben realised he hadn’t actually looked him in the eye since he arrived.
“Ray,” Ben said, joining him in the kitchenette and reaching past him to get the milk, “What are you doing here?”
Ray grimaced, the familiar wry quirk of his lips he used to use when talking about Stella, “Wanted to wish you happy birthday.”
“My birthday was three weeks ago,” Ben said without thinking, not letting himself remember the little pang of hurt he had experienced when he had received a card from Francesca and the 2-7 and a hamper from Ray and Stella Vecchio but nothing from this Ray, the Ray he secretly thought of as his.
“Yeah, well,” Ray rolled his eyes, presumably at himself, “It took a little longer to get here than I thought. People are supposed to live near places transport goes, Frase, that’s why they put it there, anyone ever tell you that?”
“How did you get here?” Ben’s cabin was over three hundred miles from the nearest international airport at Inuvik and even if Ray had been able to find someone willing to drive him out this far, they would surely have wanted to rest here a while before making the return journey.
Ray shrugged, looking down at the toes of his thick socks. “I had some help,” he said nonchalantly. “Met this Mountie guy in Chicago, old guy, said he was coming out this way and he’d help me get here if I wanted.”
Mountie-guy? As far as he knew, Fraser was the only member of the RCMP for a hundred miles. “What was his name?”
Ray opened his mouth, then closed it. “Huh. I don’t know. He never told me. Why didn’t I think that was odd til now?”
Fraser had an inkling, but he pressed on. “Where is he now?”
Ray shrugged, “Dunno. He had a sled and some of those snowshoe things. He dropped me off a couple of miles back when we bumped into Dief. Said an old friend of his was buried somewhere round here and he wanted to visit before he went home to his wife. What?”
Ben found himself smiling – last summer, they had buried Buck Frobisher a few miles away, near his own cabin at his request. His father would want to see that.
“Nothing Ray,” Ben said, deciding not to share his suspicions with Ray, it wouldn’t do to scare him now he finally had him here. He wondered if his father knew something he didn’t.
“Ray,” he said again, stepping closer, “Why are you here?”
Ray’s gaze dropped to the floor again, Ben watched his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed, “You owe me an adventure,” he said as last, quietly.
Ben stared at him in surprise, Ray’s desire for an adventure, so bravely stated when they’d been on the brink of death had slipped away after their rescue and Muldoon’s capture. Ben had assumed it had merely been the adrenaline talking and so had felt no qualms in accepting his position here.
“I didn’t realise you were serious,” he said slowly.
“Yeah,” Ray scratched the back of his neck, “Neither did I. Then I got back to Chicago and everything was different and I began thinking maybe it might be nice. I, uh, kinda missed you.”
Ben felt suddenly breathless, his heart swelling in a way he had not experienced for a long time. “Will Lieutenant Welsh give you time off?” he asked, instantly cursing himself for being so practical when Ray had just given him more acknowledgement than he had ever dared to hope for.
But apparently it was the right response because Ray’s face split into a wide, ecstatic grin. “You kidding? He told me to get my ass outta there til I got my head sorted out.” He took a deep breath, “Are you saying yes?”
Ben looked at Ray’s pale blue eyes, glowing in the soft light from the fireplace, at his hopeful expression and strangely exotic hair, ruffled from his ridiculous snow hat. “Yes, Ray.” he said, “I’m saying yes. Let’s go on an adventure.”