Thanks: With many thanks to aerye and mergatrude for beta
Notes: From snoopypez' prompt, "I don't think that's what they meant when they put the hot tub in..."
"Hey, Fraser, you've done the place up." Kowalski pulled his black-framed glasses out of his parka pocket, shoved them on his nose and peered around at the renovations.
"It's positively palatial," I agreed, stripping off my scarf and gloves. Though the walls were still bare lumber, the shelves had been painted a cheery Mountie red and there was a well-stuffed brown couch and a thick rug on the floor in front of the fireplace. I clapped Fraser on the shoulder through his ancient cable-knit sweater. "One of these days you're gonna have to stop calling it a shack and admit it's a house, Benny."
Fraser blushed like he'd been caught gold-plating his bathtub. "Maggie came up in the summer with her friend Jeffrey and, well—" He cracked his neck. "It was rather satisfying, actually. We did the construction ourselves in between capturing a salmon poacher and arresting the managing director of NWT Air Scouts for fraud."
"Maggie's got a boyfriend?" Kowalski zeroed in on the gossip like a bloodhound. "He'd better be up to scratch."
Kowalski was always far too interested when the subject of Maggie came up, and it didn't help that from everything he'd said, she sounded like the perfect combination of Fraser and Stella. I resisted the temptation to smack Kowalski upside the head and dumped our bags on the floor of the new guest room instead.
Fraser had furnished it with a decent-sized bed. It looked like coming out was going to be redundant. I met his gaze with raised eyebrows, trying not to feel self-conscious.
"Francesca wrote me. I was very sorry to hear about your family's reaction," he said, softly, before turning to Kowalski and folding his flannel-clad arms across his chest. "Maggie and Jeffrey are just friends. In fact, he and I spent rather a lot of time together while Maggie was out with the team—"
He was interrupted by the arrival of the wolf, who bounded in with two carbon-copy puppies at his heels. They circled first me and then Kowalski, all sniffing us pointedly.
"Sorry, furface. We had to surrender all the pastries at Customs." Kowalski crouched down and buried his hands in Dief's ruff. "Biosecurity."
"You got the coffee through okay," I pointed out.
Kowalski grinned over his shoulder, his eyes sparking. "I know how you get when you don't have any."
I nudged his butt with the toe of my boot. "You're a fine one to talk."
One of the puppies growled at my foot and snapped at it playfully.
I glanced over and caught Fraser watching us with a weirdly rueful smile. Maybe he'd been missing Chicago more than he'd admit. He cracked his neck. "As I was saying—"
I couldn't remember what he'd been talking about — and figured it was probably going to turn into a treatise on the rights of indigenous wildlife, anyway; I'd noticed from our phone calls that living alone so long meant Fraser had developed a tendency to ramble — so I grinned at him, because man, it was good to see him, and led him back into the living room. "It's been a long trip, Fraser. What do you say we settle in before we catch up?"
Dusk came early, and bedtime with it, and we were too tired to take full advantage of Fraser's new indoor plumbing. Which meant we both woke up the next morning smelling like we'd been dragged backwards through half a dozen airports and then trapped in a locker room for a week.
"Man, you need a shower." Kowalski raised his head from my chest with a grimace.
"So get your nose out of my armpit," I grumbled, rolling over in search of more sleep.
"Your loss." He stumbled out of bed, stretched and yawned loudly. His t-shirt rode up a little, and I got distracted from sleeping, but by the time I'd thought of better things we could do, he was already out the bedroom door, towel in hand.
I let my head fall back on the pillow for a few minutes, sighed and forced myself upright to meet the day.
Fraser was in the kitchen, eating oatmeal.
"Morning, Benny." I slumped into one of the hand-crafted kitchen chairs. "Gonna offer me a cup of tea or do I have to die of thirst first?"
Fraser smiled. "I thought coffee was your drink of choice." He filled the kettle and set it on the stove.
I shrugged. "When in Rome. Speaking of which, what have you got planned for us? I'm expecting a week long adventure of skinning wild animals, carving our own cooking utensils, and falling down ice crevasses."
"I'm loathe to disappoint you, but I haven't made any plans at all. There's plenty to do, of course — cross-country skiing, hunting, ice fishing, and so on. The choice is entirely up to you. I'm afraid I have to go over to the Braggs' this morning and help them empty out their hot tub," he said. "But aside from that I'm entirely at your disposal." He looked directly at me. "Both of you."
I frowned, trying to catch the significance, but he'd already gone back to making the tea. I rubbed my hand over my face and thought about how much I needed to shave.
Kowalski stuck his head around the doorway. His hair was damp and sticking up all over the place. "Did I hear someone say hot tub? You got a Playboy Mansion up here in the Far North, Fraser?" He waggled his eyebrows at me suggestively, and leaned far enough into the room to reveal he was only wearing a towel.
"I don't think that's what they meant when they put the hot tub in," Fraser said, turning to face him with his hands full of cups.
He stopped dead and his gaze dropped to Kowalski's waist and lower, to where the soft bulge of his dick was obvious behind the towel. Kowalski was scratching his jaw and didn't seem to notice, but I sure did, along with the pulse fluttering at the base of Fraser's neck.
Fraser cleared his throat and when he spoke, he sounded like he was reciting the RCMP Administration Manual. "Mrs. Bragg's mother has arthritis, and I believe— that is to say—" He turned back to the stove. "Tea?"
"After I've dressed," said Kowalski easily, "and even then, only if you don't have anything more American."
"Where's the coffee?" I asked, half-distracted by the flush that was spreading up the back of Fraser's neck.
"Buried at the bottom of my bag. I can dig it out if you want, or you could come take a look yourself." The invitation was plain in his tone, if not his words.
"I still stink," I reminded him.
He grinned and shrugged one shoulder — "Later then." — and turned on his heel, nearly tripping over one of the puppies as he left the room.
Everything went quiet, except for the puppy crunching on kibble from a dish under the window, and water bubbling in the kettle.
"You don't smell, Ray," said Fraser without turning around.
But I wasn't going to let him change the subject, even if we hadn't started talking about it yet. I folded my arms and rocked my chair back, and watched him putter for a few minutes: he spooned tea leaves into the teapot and set the sugar on the bench with too much care.
I gave in first. "If I didn't know any better," I said evenly, "I'd say you had a thing for my boyfriend."
My words were almost drowned out by the whistling of the kettle.
"Tea," said Fraser, rescuing it and not looking at me. When he went to fill the teapot, he spilled boiling water on the stove top and the counter, narrowly avoiding giving himself second degree burns. He stopped and his shoulders slumped. "I beg your pardon, Ray."
"I should think so." I let the legs of my chair thump to the floor, but I tried to keep my voice down so Kowalski wouldn't hear. "We come all this way to see you, you already know we're a couple—"
"Ray." Fraser's gaze flicked to the empty doorway and back to me.
"—and now it turns out you got the hots for Kowalski?!"
"Why the hell didn't you make a move on him when he was available?"
"Ray! It's not Ray," said Fraser, somehow sounding both strangled and formal. His tongue darted out to lick across his lip and I felt a familiar pang of attraction — so familiar that it barely registered at all.
Meanwhile Fraser stared at the bare floorboards between us like he was hardly aware I existed, and tried to explain. "Or rather it is," he went on, "but it— it's both of you. Both of you together."
Wait a minute.
My jaw dropped. "You. You're not even gay!" I blurted, clinging to what little I knew, the mantra that had kept me sane while we were working together. "Let alone—" I didn't even know the word for what he was saying.
"I could be!" said Fraser defensively. "That's what I was trying to explain yesterday, about Jeffrey."
I blinked. "You spent a lot of time with him," I said, slowly, the undertones sinking in after the fact. Trust Benny to come out in the most oblique way possible. And it was crazy how quickly I went from Benny is out of bounds to a bitter jolt of jealousy at the thought of him with someone else.
Fraser nodded. "He's significantly younger, of course, but he was kind enough to listen to me rattle on about—"
"Caribou?" I said, automatically, still in a daze.
"Chicago." Fraser turned back to the stove and belatedly emptied the rest of the boiling water into the teapot. "You're both very important to me, Ray," he added in a muffled voice. "You must know that."
The back of his neck was flushed right up to the hairline now, and his shoulders were tense and unhappy. Not without reason, either — talk about taking a gamble! But I couldn't let him get away with lying to me.
"Important to you, sure." I picked a rubber band out from the papers on the table and fiddled with it to keep my hands busy. "And anyone with eyes could see how you feel about Kowalski. But you never—" I swallowed. "Admit it. You never had feelings like that for me, Benny."
A chair scraped, and Fraser sat down across from me. "None that I couldn't ignore for both our sakes," he said. "The same was true of Ray when I worked with him. My position in Chicago, and its temporary nature, weren't — conducive to me expressing— feelings." He ground to a halt, and I forgot about pride. My heart went out to him. He looked like a man who'd lost everything. Again.
"I do find you attractive, Ray," he said, quietly. "Very much so. But it's the thought of the two of you together that I find myself unable to resist."
I shivered, moved by the admission. Turned on by it, to tell the truth. Feelings I'd been ignoring for nearly ten years were welling up inside me, filling me with panic. If I lost Kowalski over this—
I wanted to tell Fraser it was okay. Even more, I wanted to give him a hug — Benny, my best friend — but I couldn't. The ease of our friendship had evaporated. We stared at each other across the table.
"Listen," I told him, "I have to talk to Kowalski. It's okay. I'm not mad—" I closed my eyes for a moment to gather my thoughts. "I just— I gotta talk it over with him. We can't simply—" I flapped my hand in the air.
"Of course." Fraser studied me a moment, and even though I tried to look like I knew what I was doing I guess he didn't like what he saw because his lips firmed and he withdrew into himself like Kowalski's turtle pulling its head in. "Of course."
I bit back my stream of reassurances and squeezed his shoulder in passing instead, and then I went through to the guest room, shut the door and leaned on it with my eyes shut. Jesus. Jesus Christ!
Kowalski was in jeans but apparently hadn't got as far as buttoning his shirt before Dief and the other puppy waylaid him, demanding attention. Once I could marshal my thoughts, I told him what had happened.
He was as thrown as I had been. "I'm— I mean, I never—" He paced the room, then sat on the corner of the bed facing me.
I leaned on the window frame with my hands in my pockets and waited.
"I mean, I — we both love him, right? It's Fraser! That's why we came all this way. And he's, he's—" He got a faraway look in his eyes and a chill climbed my spine. I had to force myself to stay where I was, not to push Kowalski back onto the bed and blow him until he remembered about us, or forcibly dress him and bundle him back to Chicago.
He was still searching for words.
"He's easy on the eye," I supplied, eventually.
"Ha!" said Kowalski. "Ain't that the ticket. But I never, I never thought—" He ground to a halt again. I could see his pulse racing at the base of his neck, beneath his Adam's apple.
"Liar," I said softly.
The corner of his mouth quirked and he nodded slowly. "You know me too well."
I didn't point out that there wasn't a single adult past the age of consent who'd met Benny and hadn't thought about it. Me included. "So?"
Kowalski came over and set his hand on my hip. His chest was goose-pimpled and pale in the snowy light from the window. He was serious for once in his life. "Could get complicated."
"Ain't that the truth," I said wryly, mocking us both. There were so many possibilities: that it was a disaster and the strong bond between the three of us got warped and broken. That two of us — and I could hardly bear to think it might be Fraser and Kowalski — could decide three was a crowd. That if it was good, if we all clicked into place like a puzzle, the question of geography was insoluble and heartbreaking. And yet— "We both love him. And, I gotta be honest, the thought of the three of us doing it—" I trailed off, distracted by mental pornography.
Kowalski blinked, laid his hand flat on my chest and tugged at my chest hair in the V of my shirt. "You got a really good point there. Why are we even taking the time to talk about it?"
"Because that's what we do," I said quickly. "Partners, remember?" His skin was cool under my fingertips.
He wound his arms around me, held me fiercely, and I slid my hands under his shirt, around his waist.
"It's the two of us or it's the three of us." He cupped my neck. "I know you two are, uh, that this thing is from way back. I know that. But you are not leaving me out in the cold."
I shut my eyes, couldn't reply past the lump in my throat.
"One divorce is enough," Kowalski went on. "I'm not doing that again."
"No one's divorcing anyone," I managed to murmur against the side of his head. "The question is do we let Fraser in, too?"
Kowalski dug out the coffee grounds, and by then Fraser was on his way out the door to the Braggs' and was still behaving like the turtle. "Please make yourselves at home. I don't expect I'll be gone long."
"You need backup?" Kowalski offered, making no move to get his jacket.
After a brief pause, Fraser said, "It's only a hot tub, Ray. I'll be fine," pulled on his Stetson, and left with Dief at his heels.
By mutual consent, Kowalski and I didn't talk about Fraser for the rest of the day. We took the puppies, Rose and Gil, for a walk to the top of the nearest rise where Fraser's mother was buried under a small Inuit rock sculpture, and if we were both distracted, at least we knew what was on each other's minds.
The puppies bounded through the snow and knocked each other over, growling at stubby trees and play-fighting until Kowalski stepped in and separated them, and then he and I somehow launched ourselves into a full-on snowball battle, complete with shouted sound effects on Kowalski's part.
Finally the barrage died away. "Let off enough steam?" I asked, giving Kowalski a hand up from where he'd fallen into a drift. We kissed with cold lips and hot tongues.
"Still got plenty of steam left," he countered.
I laughed. "Save it for later."
I shied from admitting to myself what I really meant — save it for Fraser — but Kowalski understood. "Yeah," he said, softly, and then leaned in and murmured in my ear, "You know what I want? I want to watch him give you head. Just— fuck, that would be something else."
An embarrassing noise escaped the back of my throat, and then one of the puppies barked from right behind me, making me jump, and snapping us out of the moment.
We headed back to the cabin around three when it started getting dark, dusk settling over the land like a fine wine, touching every corner and cranny.
The kitchen cupboards were well-stocked with things I'd never heard of and didn't know how to cook. There was no alcohol, either, which seemed like a shame under the circumstances.
I rummaged until I found enough ingredients to form something resembling dinner. Kowalski helped chop potatoes and carrots, and then retreated to lie with the puppies in front of the fire and tell them stories about Dief saving the day.
Once the stew was simmering over a low flame, I plucked a deck of cards from the sideboard, tapped them out of their packet and stood over Kowalski, shuffling.
Kowalski looked up. "Five card stud, aces high."
"What're we betting for?" Kowalski left the puppies chewing sleepily on an old slipper, came over and reversed a kitchen chair and straddled it. He grinned. "Clothes?"
"Not today." Usually we bet chores, but that didn't figure when we were on vacation.
That was some weird tradition he had I never figured out. He'd once told me it was Fraser's idea but I wasn't sure I believed him. It seemed kooky even for Benny. Not that it really mattered — I always won at poker.
We'd just finished our third hand by the time Fraser's boots and Dief's paws sounded on the porch, and the door opened, letting them in along with a blast of freezing air. Kowalski looked down at the cards and dealt Fraser in without asking.
Luckily, Benny's always been quick on the uptake. He pulled off his gloves and hung up his hat and jacket, and then sat down at the table looking bland and amiable, and telling a story about the Braggs' youngest kid getting her hand stuck in a drain. He picked up his hand, gave it a lightning fast glance and then folded it face down on the table.
"Aces high," I told him.
"All right." It was hard to tell if he was poker faced because he was regretting making a move, because he didn't know how to interact with us now, or just because we were playing poker.
Dief herded the puppies into Fraser's bedroom exactly like Frannie bundling her kids off to bed. I half expected Rose and Gil to chorus "Goodnight, Uncle Ray." And then we were truly alone, the three of us.
I discarded a pair and signaled to Kowalski for replacements. Fraser finished his story and we played in near silence for a few minutes. Then Kowalski, ever impatient, broke. "So, Fraser." I could tell he was trying to sound casual. "This, uh, this thing. What exactly did you have in mind?"
Fraser blushed but looked from Kowalski to me and back again without flinching. "I suppose—"
The fire crackled and I went over to stomp out an ember and put up the fireguard.
Fraser cleared his throat. "I suppose I hadn't planned very far ahead."
"You thought we'd say no." I came back to the table, but couldn't bring myself to sit down and pretend this was a civilized conversation instead of the start of something huge for all of us. I stared at him, trying to get my head around the enormity of the risk he'd taken. "You thought we'd shut you down, but you asked anyway."
"I've let a lot of opportunities pass me by for want of asking."
"You sure you aren't just lonely?" Kowalski had his head bent and was shuffling the rest of the deck.
"Yes." Fraser reached out and stilled his hands. "I'm sure."
Cards scattered all over the table. Kowalski bit his lip and then slowly splayed his fingers, letting Fraser lace their hands together.
My heart started banging against my ribs. This was moving faster than I'd bargained on — that was Benny for you. Always jumping out of windows and diving into sewers while I was two steps behind, still reaching for my gun.
Kowalski cleared his throat. "Okay?" he murmured, and for a second I thought he was talking to Fraser. Then I caught the uncertainty on his face.
"Yeah," I told him, told both of them. I braced my arms on the table, on the chaos of our discarded game, and leaned across to kiss Kowalski, to take my part in it.
There was a sharp intake of breath from Fraser, Kowalski's tongue slid against mine, and my head reeled in response. Having Fraser watch made every motion, every sensation more intense. The last of my reservations melted away, leaving only heat and hunger.
Kowalski must have felt the same. "Oh, Jesus," he said into my mouth.
We both tried to move around the table, reaching for each other, trying to get closer without breaking the kiss. Between us, the table scraped loudly across the floor — Fraser had shoved it aside — and a chair crashed to the ground.
I opened my eyes and Fraser was standing at our side, eyes dark and intent, lips parted, watching us. Kowalski was breathing hard, still gripping Fraser's hand.
I reached for Fraser's other hand and used it to draw him toward me, hesitated just before our mouths met. It had been over a year since I'd kissed anyone but Kowalski.
"Do it." Kowalski's words were hot on my cheek, and with his murmured encouragement, I fell forward into Fraser.
It started off careful, hushed and awed like kids coming into a church for the first time. Then Kowalski bit back a curse and Fraser parted his lips, and the embrace caught fire. There were hands everywhere, touching me, pulling at my clothes, holding me tight.
I reached up blindly and found familiar stubble under my fingertips, felt Kowalski's mouth on my cheek, down to my jaw. I shuddered helplessly, and wrapped myself around both of them as well as I could.
Fraser grunted, maybe the most undignified noise I'd ever heard him make, and Kowalski snorted in response, grabbed his jaw and pulled their mouths together, completing the circle. I started working on the buttons of Fraser's shirt. I felt greedy for all of it, for both of them. Seeing them devouring each other, catching hints of tongue and hearing the soft urgent sounds of their mouths. Heat poured off them, and all of it made me giddy and desperate.
I bared some of Fraser's chest, peeling his shirt aside, and let myself taste him, licking down to his nipple and tugging at it with my teeth, despite the awkward angle. His skin was scarred and slightly softened with age, and perfect. I closed my eyes and explored him with my hands and mouth.
"I believe—" Fraser cleared his throat, and I straightened, nearly catching my head on Kowalski's chin. "I, ah, suspect we'd find this easier— That is to say if we—"
"Are you inviting us into your bed, Benny?" My voice was hoarse with desire.
He laughed breathlessly. "I thought I was inviting myself into yours."
"You're on," said Kowalski. "Right, Vecchio?"
I didn't bother to answer with words.
Benny in the sack was a revelation. He was all hands and mouth, eagerly tasting and pleasuring whichever of us happened to be in reach, and moaning like he could barely contain himself. And then, the next minute he was seemingly content to pull back and watch as Kowalski and I succumbed to the habits and patterns that reliably worked for us — Kowalski tweaking both of my nipples as I humped him, then us rolling so he was on top and me grabbing his ass and rubbing our dicks together.
Fraser's cheeks were flushed and his hand kept sneaking down to his own erection.
"Kowalski," I said when I noticed this, "if we don't do something about Fraser soon, we're going to miss our chance."
"Mnnrf." Kowalski blinked his eyes open and peered blurrily at Fraser. "Can't have that."
Fraser licked his lip and lay down beside us, and reached for us with shaking hands. My heart broke open.
The rest of the week, we saw the sights — built an igloo for the hell of it, went out on snow mobiles (we couldn't take the sled out because Fraser had lent his team to Spiny Joe Jackson and Muskrat Sally), watched the northern lights from the shore of a frozen lake, and made love over and over. It was about as idyllic as you could get in sub-zero temperatures, and it was amazing how quickly Kowalski and I adapted to having Fraser in the mix, at the center of things with the two of us.
Like it had always been this way. Like it was supposed to be this way.
I started daydreaming about the three of us working together. The one time we'd tried it, I got shot and ended up in the hospital, but hell, the first time I worked with Fraser I got blown up and things had settled down after that. And between the three of us, I was pretty sure we could solve any crime the CPD saw fit to dump in our collective lap.
"So, Fraser, when are you moving back to Chi-town?" Kowalski was sprawled on the couch with his socked feet in Fraser's lap. "I know you have to wrap things up here first, but soon, right?"
"Soon and for the rest of our lives," I chimed in from the floor by the fire where I was reading a booklet about the First Nations Whale Conservation and Opera Society.
The puppies snored.
"I'm not coming back," said Fraser quietly. "That is to say, I'd like to visit from time to time, but—"
I dropped the booklet.
"But what?" Kowalski sat upright and poked Fraser in the chest. "You'd rather stay here all alone? That's brainless!"
"I'm not alone, Ray. I have Dief and Rose and Gil." He squared his shoulders under the ferocity of Kowalski's glare. "There's Sergeant Winters and Constable Espenson at the detachment, and the Braggs, of course."
"So that's it — one week of messing around and we're through?" I stared at Fraser, too shocked to be upset.
"I presumed — hoped — you'd visit again," said Fraser, softly. "Soon. I'm sorry, I thought you realized."
"I don't believe this!" Kowalski flung himself to his feet and started pacing. "Vecchio, talk to him!"
I watched Fraser watching Kowalski, and my heart ached. "You thought this through, Benny?"
"I believe so." He went and got in Kowalski's way, took him by the shoulders. "Ray, there are such things as telephones and letters and, I hope, frequent vacations."
Kowalski shook him off and poked him in the chest again. "You're a nutcase! You're saying you want a long distance thing."
"If you're amenable." Fraser flattened Kowalski's accusatory finger to his chest and held it there.
"Amenable." Kowalski scowled. "Right."
I went over to them. "What if you meet someone else? What about Jeffrey?"
Fraser smiled. Actually smiled! "There's no one else for me, Ray."
"You say that now." I shook my head. I'd seen long-distance relationships fall apart before.
"This. Us. This is everything I could hope for." Fraser's voice deepened. "Truly."
"That's the thing." Kowalski pushed between us and grabbed Fraser like he wanted to shake him. "That's the thing! This is fucking — the best, Fraser! Why wouldn't you want it twenty-four seven?"
"I'm not like you," said Fraser.
"No kidding!" Kowalski took a couple of steps back and wrapped his arms around his waist. I was torn between agreeing with him, wanting to comfort him, and seeing how this could actually work, with Fraser up here in the north.
And now I came to think of it, the idea of the three of us in a Chicago apartment was kind of crazy. Within a week we'd be biting each other's heads off.
"I can't live in Chicago again," Fraser was saying.
"You haven't even bothered to ask if we'd move up here—"
Fraser held Kowalski's gaze. "No, I haven't."
For a second there was no sound save the crackling fire.
"Fuck." Kowalski wheeled away and threw a log onto the flickering embers in the grate. "Fuck."
"You'll have each other the rest of the time," Fraser pointed out.
"And you?" I asked.
"This is my life," he said. "This is where I belong." He hung his head as if he were searching for words. From the fireside, I could almost hear Kowalski listening, his attention fixed and frustrated. "I'm accustomed to solitude," Fraser said at last, "and the luxury of knowing the solitude isn't permanent— well, that is a luxury."
Kowalski sat back on his heels, his face closed. I went to him, rubbed his shoulder, and he twitched, almost shrugged me off, before he remembered himself and shot me an apologetic grimace.
I looked at Fraser, standing by the window. "You change your mind, you just say the word," I told him. "We'll figure something out."
He gave me a small smile. "The gods can't annihilate time and space, Ray."
"Maybe not," I allowed, "but we'll think of something, I promise."
"There's Welsh," said Kowalski, sounding strained. "I bet we could get Welsh to pull some strings."
"It's certainly something to keep in mind," Fraser agreed.
I knew he didn't mean it, and from the way Kowalski slumped and leaned into me, he knew it too. "We, uh, we're really doing this, huh?"
I took a deep breath.
"Okay," said Kowalski. "We're really doing this."
We got to the airstrip the next day with plenty of time to spare. The pilot, Chuck, strolled over with a lollipop in his mouth and said a cold front was blowing in from the pole and we should get out quick before it hit. So instead of the lingering goodbye I'd expected, with our last chance to connect properly in God knew how long, and make plans for the future, Fraser efficiently helped us stow our luggage and bundled us into the plane before I knew what was happening.
A quick, tight embrace and one for Kowalski, and then Kowalski was muttering under his breath — he hated prop planes at the best of times — and Chuck fastened the doors and we taxied away, leaving Fraser and Dief and the puppies lined up like a family photo at the edge of the field.
Kowalski stayed quiet during the first flight, and I didn't have anything much to say either. His knee pressed against mine, and I dug my elbow into this side and left it there as we looked out our respective side windows at the blank and darkening landscape below.
I slept most of the way from Yellowknife to Chicago. O'Hare bustled and blared and it took forever for our bags to appear. Kowalski looked tired and pale, and I refused to take that personally and made it my job to guide him around like he was visually impaired.
We went past an airline booking desk, and on impulse I went over and gave the girl in the airline uniform my credit card. "Two tickets to Yellowknife for the 18th," I said. "Back on the 23rd."
Kowalski stared at me. "That's less than a month away, Vecchio. You think Welsh is going to let us take another vacation so soon?"
"Do I look like I care?" I said. "This is important." I signed the credit card docket and took my card and the ticket printout. "Thank you kindly," I said to the girl behind the desk.
Then I shepherded Kowalski over to the phone bank, put the receiver in his hand and dialed. As he listened to it ring, the tired set of his face lifted.
I leaned against the plastic divider, watching and keeping an eye on our bags, and my throat ached. I threaded my fingers through his, felt his answering squeeze, and listened in.
"Hey, Fraser. We made it."