Thanks: Many thanks to Sage and Mergatrude for beta
Notes: For moon_brain, and the Broken challenge on ds_flashfiction
Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
— Kahlil Gibran
"I know it's my own fault," Fraser told Dief. "You don't have to rub it in." He bent carefully to the floor to pick up the dropped spoon and then couldn't get back to his feet. He had to crawl to the kitchen chair and lever himself up slowly. It was agonizing and, under Dief's sympathetic gaze, humiliating. "If you're not going to help, perhaps you should—"
He was interrupted by a sharp knock on the door, and then Ray burst in without waiting for an answer. "Hey, Benny, are you okay? I called the Consulate and they said you'd come home early." He halted, the door still ajar behind him, and his eyes widened.
God only knew how ridiculous Fraser must look. He'd pulled off his tie, but hadn't yet had a chance to peel himself out of his ruined uniform — the brown one, unfortunately — let alone to shower.
Ray came forward quickly and helped him to his feet. "What happened?"
"I—" Fraser glanced down at himself. He looked like he'd been trapped in an exploding flour mill. "There was an unfortunate mix-up with a shipment of plaster models of Canadian monuments. They were supposed to be souvenirs for a class of visiting school children, but—"
He shook his head and lowered himself into the chair, though he had to sit bolt upright on the edge of it to prevent his muscles from spasming again.
Ray was already putting the kettle on to boil. "You need tea," he said firmly. "And Advil. Where do you keep your Advil?" He banged open the cupboards, one after the other, and then turned and pointed at Fraser. "Don't tell me you don't keep any painkillers around here. With what you go through on a regular day—"
"Ray, nine times out of ten, meditation is a far more effective pain-reducer than any commercially available medication," said Fraser, but the protest was weak. He was tired and he'd been sent home in disgrace. Artificial relief would be more than welcome, if any could be found. In fact, Ray's concern in and of itself was raising his spirits considerably.
"I've got some Tylenol in the car. Wait here." Ray was out the door before Fraser could point out that he had little choice in the matter.
Diefenbaker yawned pointedly and lay his head on his paws.
"Some of us don't have the luxury of bed rest," Fraser told him. "Some of us have to provide for those around us."
The kettle started to hiss. Fraser sighed and forced himself to stand and hobble over to the counter to prepare the teapot. It was already set out, though, with tea leaves scooped into it, and a chipped enamel mug and the milk carton arrayed beside it. Fraser smiled down at them, momentarily distracted from his injury.
"I told you to stay there," said Ray from the doorway. He came over and took Fraser by the shoulders, and guided him firmly back to his seat. The pace was faster than Fraser could easily manage, but he hid his discomfort, too grateful for the kindness to mar the moment.
Ray gave him a couple of tablets and waited while he swallowed them, and then he made the tea and brought it over. "Okay," he said, "take off your jacket and turn around."
Fraser blinked up at him, but Ray was implacable, so he unbuttoned his plaster-covered tunic and took it off, wincing when he had to twist to get his arms out of the sleeves and showering the floor around him with dust. He hung it on the chair next to him, and then frowned. "Turn around?"
Ray picked up the tunic between thumb and forefinger, and hooked it on the doorknob instead, then came back and sat on the other chair, and bodily moved Fraser so he was sitting sideways with his back to Ray.
"My grandpa Enrico had a thing with his vertebrae," said Ray, as his hands prodded down Fraser's spine through his shirt, surprisingly gently. "They used to pop out of alignment and I was the only one of us kids who could get him comfortable." He paused, his fingers splayed just below Fraser's shoulder blades. "Relax."
Fraser swallowed the lump in his throat. The tea on the table beside him, Ray's hands on his back, the warmth in his voice. Fraser had rarely experienced such consideration. "I'm trying to," he told Ray. He unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves.
Ray's thumbs dug into the hardened muscles of Fraser's mid-back, kneading and rubbing, giving relief. "I know," he said.
His voice was closer than Fraser expected, and Fraser tensed involuntarily.
Ray blew out a frustrated breath. "This isn't working. Drink your tea and then we can try it lying down."
"That's really not necessary," Fraser said. His face heated — he could only hope the flush wouldn't spread to his neck.
But Ray's chair scraped away anyway, and he was back at the counter making himself a cup of coffee. "I know, Benny. You're superman and you can regenerate your limbs overnight. I got it. Just humor me, okay? It's not like I have anything better to be doing tonight. It's this or bingo at the community center with Ma, and you know those cheap perfumes the old ladies wear break me out in a rash."
Fraser hid a smile. Ray's prickly exterior made his kindnesses all the sweeter. He took a mouthful of tea. "Thanks."
"Yeah, well, it's a step up from sifting through dumpsters." Ray turned, coffee in hand, and gestured at his soft blue linen shirt and navy slacks. "At least with you out of commission like this, none of my clothes are gonna need dry-cleaning." He paused, and his gaze dropped to his cup, his own face flushing lightly.
Fraser's pulse jumped. He'd wondered before whether Ray was aware of his reactions, whether they were autonomic or whether there were conscious impulses — feelings — behind them. He'd hoped. And this was the first real evidence to support that hope. It seemed terribly unjust that he was in no position to pursue it.
Dief yawned loudly and blinked a challenge up at him, apparently having been following the proceedings with interest.
Fraser frowned at him. "Shhh!" But he did have a point: Fraser was actually in the perfect position to push the boundaries of his friendship with Ray, and at Ray's insistence, too. He could test the waters without committing himself either way. He drank his tea quickly, barely tasting it, and stood up. Then pain shot through his back, relieving him of all romantic intentions. He hissed.
Ray was at his side in a second. "Walk it off," he ordered, and took Fraser's elbow as though he were an octogenarian. Fraser, recovered and, back on track, leaned on him shamelessly. He smelled good, of aftershave and olives, and Fraser bit his lip to stop himself from sniffing him.
And then thought, what the hell. He turned his head so his nose was only inches from Ray's neck, and inhaled deeply. Beneath the aftershave, there was the faint lingering scent of soap, the warmth of skin. The fabric softener that had been used on Ray's sweater. Fraser stumbled slightly, and the pain bloomed again.
"Jesus, Fraser. Be careful!" Ray frowned in concern and hustled him over to the bed. "Lie down. I'm gonna take a look."
Fraser settled carefully on the side of the bed, keeping his spine ramrod straight. He looked up at Ray and made a snap decision. He had to confess. It would be unconscionable — and far too great a risk — to corner Ray like this, to put him in a compromising position he might well object to without his consent. Lupine rules, or lack thereof, did not apply.
"Ray." He rubbed his eyebrow and a dusting of white powder drifted down. He was still coated with the stuff. He ran his hand through his hair, creating a veritable snowstorm.
"Lie down," Ray told him, impatiently. He crouched in front of Fraser, steadying himself with his hand on Fraser's knee. "Trust me, I've had a lot of experience with backs."
Fraser pressed his lips together and looked at Ray's hand. His grip was firm, casual and unselfconscious, and that meant that Fraser's hope had been misplaced. Nothing was going to happen.
He tried to readjust his expectations. Ray's ministrations were a benefit of their friendship, not a precursor to a new level of intimacy. And then Ray's thumb moved, a small but deliberate gesture, if Fraser judged correctly. A caress. Fraser's gaze flew to Ray's face. His eyes were scared, the jut of his jaw determined, his mouth a straight line, almost grim.
Fraser's breath caught. "Ray?"
"Yeah." The single syllable was ambiguous, but Ray's eyes weren't, nor his nervous gulp.
Fraser put one hand on Ray's shoulder and the other over Ray's on his knee, and started to lean forward, drawn toward him helplessly, and then stopped and yelped, as his back seized in protest.
Ray's mouth twisted with humor. "Aw, Benny. Nothing's ever easy with you." He knelt between Fraser's knees and looked at him seriously. "You sure about this?"
'This' was more than Fraser had dreamed of — loyalty and tenderness such as he'd never known, now coupled with a mutual desire. He nodded jerkily, and when Ray's mouth pressed against his, he closed his eyes and kissed back.
It was a soft, tentative kiss, exploratory and new, and for Fraser it was like waking from a dream. His heart thudded into double time, his senses focused. Everything was real and immediate, and Ray. Ray — the taste of him, coffee and an underlying sweetness, his smell, his touch. The warmth of his neck under Fraser's fingers. The murmur of encouragement when Fraser slid his tongue between Ray's lips, into the slick heat of his mouth.
Fraser was distantly aware of an excruciating twinge in his mid-back, but he didn't care. He widened his knees and pulled Ray closer, pulled him tight against him, kissing him thoroughly.
Ray met him, measure for measure. Not hesitant or shy, as Fraser might have expected. Almost aggressive in his desire. Fraser arched into their embrace and then gasped in agony. It took a few seconds for Ray to stop, to realize Fraser's moans weren't inspired by passion. "Jesus, your back!"
He sat back on his heels and shook his head. "You gotta work on your timing, Benny." He brushed Fraser's hair back from his forehead, dislodging more plaster. "Why now?"
The spasm subsided and Fraser smiled through his grimace. "I could ask you the same thing, you know." He huffed a dry laugh. "I've spent far too many nights in the last month or so, trying to determine whether or not my — this — would be welcomed."
"And today you decided, yes?" Ray smiled at him. "With your back out of sorts and your hair full of plaster. That's a real smooth seduction technique you've got there." He kissed him again. "We're gonna have to work on that."
"It turned out to be surprisingly effective," Fraser pointed out. "But— ah." He pushed Ray away reluctantly. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to — well." He met Ray's eye and grinned apologetically. "I need to rest my back. Would you, ah, would you care to join me?" He motioned toward the pillow.
Ray's smiled widened. "Smooth. That's more like it. Yeah, Benny. Yeah, I'd care to. Give me a minute, I'll get these boots off you." He bent his head and started unlacing them, and Fraser watched, overwhelmed by the simple matter-of-fact generosity of the gesture.
"I thought you'd be more — startled," he blurted. "I didn't realize. I—" He wondered how much time he'd wasted, how much energy he'd expended on needless worry. They spent so much of their days together. How could he not have known sooner?
Ray looked up at him, and said frankly, "If this'd happened last week, I might have been. I only — it took me a while to figure it out, what was making me so crazy. Turns out it was you." He tugged the left boot off gently. "You make me so goddamned crazy." His voice was soft, at odds with his words. "Your hands, your mouth, your stubborn, crazy, Canadian heart. Trying to save everyone." He peeled Fraser's sock off and rubbed his thumbs over Fraser's foot. "You're a good man, Benny, as well as being too damned sexy for your own good. I never— I didn't know I could feel like this about a guy, and now — well, now I don't know how not to."
Fraser bit his lip. "Only last week?" Perhaps this was an aberration. What if Ray changed his mind?
"It's been a long week," Ray assured him. "And I've been giving this a lot of thought." He pulled off the other boot and helped Fraser lie down flat on his back, leaned over him and kissed him again, until they were lying together, both breathless, and their hands were roaming each other's bodies hungrily. Ray leaned up on his elbow and started unbuttoning Fraser's shirt, and said, "Get ready for some first aid like you've never — well, like I hope you've never seen before."
Fraser laughed and carefully pulled him close again. "I'm sure it'll be unique. I feel better already."
They made love with their hands, gingerly negotiating their way around Fraser's injury. Ray apologized every time Fraser winced, until Fraser kissed him hard and said, "It's okay, Ray. It's perfect."
Which made Ray laugh incredulously and call him a masochistic Mountie, which in turn, spurred Fraser to prove that the pleasure was the purpose, not the pain. And the pleasure was immense, intense, liberating and deep. Ray's hand on him, a revelation; the slack-jawed awe on Ray's face, a blessing. Fraser reciprocated in kind, and afterwards they lay together, sweaty and rumpled and still half-dressed, with a smudge of plaster on the collar of Ray's shirt and several stains on both of their pants.
Fraser arched his back a little, experimentally, and then smiled to himself and tightened his hold on Ray, who was dozing with his head on Fraser's shoulder.
"That appears to have been most therapeutic," Fraser told him.
"Your back's all better?" Ray nodded sleepily. "What did I tell you? Hands of magic."
"You know, when you first made that offer, I thought you were going to massage my back," Fraser teased. "If I'd understood correctly, I might've been more concerned about your relationship with your grandfather."
Ray screwed up his eyes and smacked Fraser in the chest. "Eww! Thanks for scarring me for life with that image, Benny. I'll be sure to send you the therapy bills."
Fraser nodded solemnly. "I hope they take Canadian funds." And then he pulled Ray up to kiss him, reveling in the opportunity — the string of opportunities that lay before them, spreading out into the future. A world of possibility. "Perhaps I can help you keep your mind off it."
Ray nuzzled his neck and wrapped himself around Fraser, his breathing slowing. "Off what?" he asked drowsily, and he fell asleep in Fraser's arms. And Fraser brushed plaster dust from his cheek and shoulder, and let himself drift off to sleep too, as late afternoon sunlight slanted in the window.