Ray slouched back in his pew. There wasn't any hope of comfort, but it was better than trying to sit up straight like the good altar boy he used to be. He wasn't sure how -- or even why -- Stella had managed to talk Vecchio into inviting him to this wedding, but here he was. Beauty and the Beast were up front. Her silk dress hung like a sack over her basketball belly. There was no hiding six months of kid on her figure.
That wasn't what he was here for, to watch these two do their thing in front of the priest. He just wanted one more look.
Who'da thunk it. Two months of traipsing around in the snow had given him what he always wanted.
Some men owned what he'd always envied. He wanted McQueen's cool, that je ne sais Fuck You, not his own hotheaded bullshit. His bosses and his wife had nagged him to get it.
"Back off, Ray." "Kowalski! I said, leave it alone." "Get some perspective, detective."
All of a sudden, there it was, like it had been stuck in this giant snowbank just waiting for him all his life. It was barely a couple weeks before that big empty started to seep into his soul. At first it wasn't all the time, and of course he still had feelings.
If they seemed as far away from him as the dull gray line of the horizon, then that was all good. If it happened more and more, that was even better.
He thought maybe this was what the meditation types were looking for.
Somebody should tell them.
The snow was cold. There were no compromises. He did okay, and never complained after the first couple weeks, because it was what it was. He started to understand why Fraser was the way he was. There wasn't room for anything else -- even though there was more room out on the snowpack than he'd ever seen before. Huh. Too many ironies in the fire.
He was so worried, before, about how he wouldn't be him if he wasn't with Fraser. Now he knew he could be just fine, all by himself, even with Fraser still around. He could walk away, not hang around Fraser's neck like a . . . what was that thing? Didn't matter. Ray would be just fine. He was fine already.
Fraser used to give him long looks once in a while, like he was trying to figure something out. Considering the source, Ray could only think Fraser was impressed. There seemed to be even more Inuit stories for a while. They were in Inuitland, so Ray listened to them without interrupting. He even asked a question once. Then Fraser must have run out. The silence helped make him more empty.
The New Ray got raised eyebrows at the station, but distance made him a better cop. More wary, more by the book, no more crashing through windows. For a while, Dewey -- the Duck Boys were back -- tried to bait him, but eventually gave up when Ray just smiled. It was kind of funny, the way a smile felt when there wasn't anything behind it. You could feel all those little muscles. Why hadn't he known about that before?
His boss treated him with more respect, too. Must be the whole Arctic Adventurer gig. Now that he thought about it, Welsh was handling him with kid gloves, like Ray was going to explode when he least expected it.
That didn't make any sense. There wasn't anything explosive about the New Ray. He had perspective. He was a clean slate. Strange how nobody had ever tiptoed around him when he was threatening to bash heads.
He couldn't stop staring at Fraser, standing up there with the happy couple as they repeated words he couldn't hear this far back. He could see every crisp tailored line. He could see the lock of hair that was doing its own experiment over Fraser's forehead. He'd been wearing his glasses all the time for months.
There was something freaky about his eyes now, something he winced away from in the mirror. Something flat.
Applause filled the church as the bridal party slowly came down the aisle, clasping hands and accepting good wishes. Informal, not like the heap big fancy wedding he and Stella'd had once upon a time, her as the fairy princess and him as the frog dressed up like a prince.
To his surprise, Fraser paused under the cover of greetings and congratulations. "Don't go, Ray, please. I need to talk with you." Blinking, he nodded, and Fraser moved on. He had no idea what Fraser wanted to talk to him about. He'd gotten a brief note when Fraser was making plans to come down for the wedding, but he hadn't answered it -- he didn't know what to say.
He hadn't been going to the wedding, either. It didn't hold a lot of interest for him. Not much did. Except for work, he left most things alone. Even at work he was having a little trouble concentrating, but it probably wasn't as bad as the way he used to not listen at all.
At five p.m., though, he was putting on a pair of pants carefully, one leg at a time, pants that belonged to his court suit. He was painstakingly folding his one tie into a half-windsor, the only knot he knew even after nine weeks in the Arctic with Fraser, and then he was getting into his car and driving to St. Bonifacius.
So the bottom line was, he was here, and he knew why. He wanted that gnawing pain around the edges of his new life to stop, the one that woke him up sometimes in the middle of the night. The one that wouldn't let the New Ray take over completely, and the Old Ray rest in peace. What did shrinks call it? Closing.
He needed one last look at the man he'd never see again. The man who stood up in the Canada snow and smiled a smile as big as the Northwest Areas. The man who would stay in Canada -- Ray'd known it from that minute on, and remembered it every minute after.
The man who should have stayed where he was, but instead was here, waiting to talk to Ray.
Ray was glad, really glad, that he was wearing his glasses. His eyes were pink around the edges from not sleeping much, even though he sacked out at eleven on every normal night, and sometimes earlier if he just couldn't get up enough interest in anything besides going to bed. When he did sleep, he didn't sleep that good. Mostly, he dreamed about wolves.
Might as well get it over with.
He walked up to Fraser in the receiving line after shaking hands with Vecchio and giving Stella a kiss on the cheek. He didn't say a word to either of them, just smiled. Stella looked at him wide-eyed, but there was already somebody else in front of her.
He caught his breath when Fraser pulled him off balance, tugging him by the arm into a tiny side room he hadn't even known was there. Stumbling pulled up some kind of panic. He hadn't lost his footing since he'd been up north. He shrugged Fraser's hand off. When Fraser let go, Ray backed up a step, relief washing over him.
"I'm sorry, Ray, I just wanted a bit of privacy to speak with you."
"That's okay. I wasn't expecting -- " you to be here. Me to be here. Of course he was; that was why he came. Why was he lying to himself? Why was he standing here in a church closet with the man he'd had to run like hell to get away from in the first place?
"I understand completely." Somehow, Ray doubted it. "Perhaps I should be blunt. Just say it, as it were."
Ray nodded. He was a bobblehead.
"I have accepted the offer of a posting," Fraser took a deep breath, "at the Canadian Consulate in Chicago." A trickle of sweat made its way lazily along the curve of his jaw.
It must be really hot in here. He couldn't ever remember seeing Fraser sweat. Ray didn't feel a thing.
Finally, it registered. "What?"
"I will head the consulate. Apparently, Inspector Thatcher's replacement did not work out well. I have received a promotion to sergeant."
Oh, shit! Having Fraser back again would ruin everything. Everything he'd gained from being up in the big empty would be gone. No serenity, no distance. All gone. No, no, there was too much loss, he couldn't take it any more. His ears echoed with the sound of one hand clapping Fraser's shoulder as Fraser had leaned forward to hug him goodbye at the airport. He'd edged away just in time.
Stop. Just. Stop.
He shook his head, squinting at the faint flush on those too-white cheeks. The man looked . . . Oh, God. This wasn't about him; this was about Fraser. Another shaft of panic drove through him.
"Are you sick?" Easy, Kowalski. Don't scare the horses.
"Not that I am aware." Fraser closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them, they looked a little pink, just like Ray's. "I had, ah. I had harbored hopes that you might be pleased." He sounded like he was choking.
Ray fought the urge to reach out. His hands were shaking with it. "You know, Fraser, I don't think I'm the same guy I used to be."
"We all change, Ray." Fraser scrubbed a finger under the neck of his dress uniform and stared at the floor. "I, too, have realized I am not the man I was when I came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father." He cleared his throat, looking up from the floor into Ray's eyes, and it was like being pinned down by friendly fire. Ray couldn't move.
"Within a week after you had left, I was beginning to understand that life in Chicago had rendered me unsuitable for the land of my birth." He smiled. It was a creepy Ray smile. "I'd become soft. I'd often accused Diefenbaker of being soft. Still, I never understood that there was more to being soft than a lack of exercise and a love of doughnuts."
Oh, fuck. No. That was wrong. One of them had to be happy, or it was all for nothing.
"That was when I knew that I had to return to Chicago, on the trail of the man who had been my best friend."
Ray couldn't breathe. He could hardly hear over the sirens in his head. There was so much inside him raging to get out, he didn't know what to do. There was no cool left. Everything that he'd walked away from four months ago was in front of him, was still in him. He wanted to scream, or sob, but all that came out was a defeated whisper. "You were . . . you were supposed to have it all. Supposed to be happy."
When Fraser's hand cupped his jaw and his thumb brushed gently against Ray's cheek, he understood that there were tears on his face.
"I don't believe I'd ever be truly happy without you, Ray."
This time, when Fraser opened his arms, Ray was right there. He walked away from the cool, into the warm. When he did that, took that step, he knew it wasn't all a waste. From the snow, he'd learned something really important. Cool was only cool in the movies, and Steve McQueen was dead. He, Ray Kowalski, was finally alive again.