Thanks: Many thanks to Joan and Sprat for beta
Notes: For snoopypez in ds_con_envy
The bar was in a low-rent neighborhood on the South Side. Its fašade was shabby, with faded, peeling paint and there was dirty snow piled up on the sidewalk outside. Ray looked from it to Fraser and back again. "Of all the gin joints in town, you had to pick this one?"
Fraser scratched his eyebrow ruefully. "It's the only one we've found that will serve wolves."
His breath came out in clouds of condensation, and it was too cold to stand out here and argue. They'd already found a parking spot. Fine, Ray would at least check out the joint.
Fraser held the door open for Dief, and he and Ray followed the wolf down the half dozen stairs inside. Actually, inside it wasn't so bad. Run-down, sure, but it was clean, the bar was a beautiful slab of mahogany, and the bartender didn't look like an escaped con at least.
"I didn't know Dief drank," said Ray, trailing Fraser toward the bar, where Gordy (according to his lapel badge) greeted Dief by name.
Fraser perched on a stool and Ray took the one next to him. "He's not a big drinker, obviously, but it is his birthday, Ray."
"Ah yes, his birthday." Ray grinned at Fraser. "How do you know that, again? His mother wrote it on his birth certificate and got it notarized by a local walrus, right?"
The corner of Fraser's mouth twitched, which Ray considered only his due, considering. But all Fraser said was, "He told me."
"Of course he did." Ray unwrapped his scarf from his neck, and stuffed his leather gloves in the pocket of his coat.
"And while he doesn't drink often, on an occasion like this, he appreciates feeling like one of the—" Fraser gestured vaguely.
"Guys?" supplied Ray, narrowing his eyes. "He wants to be one of the guys? Fraser, he's a wolf!"
"Pack," said Fraser. He picked up a stained menu and started perusing the drinks list.
"What?" Ray blinked. "What pack?"
Fraser refused to look up. "He needs to feel like a valued member of our pack."
"Wait." Ray shrugged out of his coat and laid it on the stool next to him. "I'm in your pack?"
Fraser did look up, then, as innocent as an angel. "Of course, Ray. We hunt together—criminals, and also food." He took off his own coat, and laid it next to Ray's.
"I—" Ray scratched his head. "Huh." Good thing they were in a bar. Ray could feel the need for a stiff drink coming on.
"What would you like?" Fraser handed him the menu, like they were in a diner or something.
Ray waved it away. "Oh, I'll just have a beer. I'm driving." He looked to Dief. "What're you having, birthday boy?"
Dief flicked his ears forward and whuffed.
"He'd like a Happy Tail Ale," Fraser interpreted. Ray raised his eyebrows, and Fraser explained, "It's brewed especially for dogs. It's non-alcoholic, non-carbonated, and beef flavored."
"Beef-flavored beer. Some birthday." Ray shook his head with a grin. Trust Fraser to find the one bar in Chicago that not just served, but specifically catered to wolves.
"It's the ritual that counts, Ray." Fraser slipped a couple of blue bills out of his hatband and smiled at Gordy, who narrowed his eyes.
Ray sighed and reached for his wallet. Dief's beer got poured into a pretzel bowl, and they sat at the bar, sipped their drinks and discussed the con artist case they were working on. It was just like hanging out with the guys, except that one of the guys was a deaf wolf who needed continual translation, and the other was a Mountie. Also, Gordy was the least talkative bartender in the entire Chicago metropolitan area, from what Ray could tell.
Maybe he'd learned not to engaged Fraser in conversation.
Ray drained his beer all too soon and debated whether to have another. "Anyone want another round?"
Fraser shook his head. "Thanks, Ray." And they picked up their coats and started wrapping up for the cold again, while Dief licked his pretzel bowl and had a weird one-sided conversation with Gordy.
"So, what else do packs do together?" Ray asked Fraser. "Do they watch TV?"
Fraser settled his hat on his head and followed Dief to the door. "Wolves are very social animals, as you know. They sleep together, hunt, play, groom, mate, howl at the moon—"
Ray stopped in his tracks. "Did you say mate?"
But Fraser was already pushing through the door and still talking, "Not that there's much of a moon, tonight." He bent to talk to Dief. "We may have to save the howling for another week. I know it's disappointing."
Ray came up behind him. "Did you say—"
Fraser looked up, over his shoulder at Ray. "Well, yes, but since there aren't any females in our pack—" He straightened up.
"Oh." Disappointment mixed with Ray's relief. He nodded. "Right."
"—and we're different species, I don't think Dief expects that on his birthday."
"Benny!" Ray stared at him in outrage.
Fraser looked at him, a model of innocence and Canadianness, and raised his eyebrows as if he hadn't just made the dirtiest joke Ray had heard all year. But there was a gleam of humor hidden in his eye. And something else, too. Something that might be longing. Maybe.
Sometimes—times like this—he thought for sure Fraser knew how he felt and wanted the same things Ray did, but it never lasted more than a second, never long enough for Ray to work up the courage to make a move, and afterwards Ray could tell himself it was wishful thinking. He was just seeing what he wanted to see.
But today, in the gray evening chill with the half-wolf full of beef-flavoured beer and Fraser making dirty jokes—today all of the individual seconds from the last year came together, coalesced into a chance, a shot at breaking through the barriers their friendship put between them. Ray didn't let himself think about it—thinking was what tripped him up every damned time. He bent down and said to Dief, "Would you give us a moment? I know it's your birthday and everything, but I just—I'll make it up to you. I mean, what's a birthday without pastries and full-cream, fatty goodness?"
Dief let his tongue loll out, shook himself all over, then actually nodded and went to sit by the car.
Ray stood up. "Sometimes I think he understands every word I say."
"Of course," said Fraser. "Except when you speak in Italian. There wasn't much call for Italian in the Arctic."
Now Ray had him alone like this—now he'd asked for privacy—he didn't know where to start. "So, Fraser. How important is this—I mean, what keeps a pack—?"
"Except for listening to opera, but of course he's deaf, and there was usually a translation in the libretto." Fraser was rambling. Ray narrowed his eyes, took in the flushed cheeks. Or maybe Fraser was babbling.
"Benny! I'm trying to—"
"Ray, would you care to—"
They both stopped. "What?" asked Ray. His heart started thumping.
"What were you trying to say?" Fraser met his eye briefly, then tugged on the cuffs of his gloves, pulling them on more firmly.
But Ray wasn't letting him off that easy. "You go first."
"Well." Fraser shifted his weight awkwardly. "In the interests of pack cohesion—and as you can imagine, in an environment such as Chicago, Dief is frequently concerned about other—pressures on the pack."
Ray frowned. "Pressures?"
A couple of old guys walked up on their way into the bar, and Ray and Fraser had to step aside to let them through.
"Pressures such as, ah, such as Suzanne Chapin, and ASA St. Laurent, and so on." Fraser wasn't just pink from the cold, now. He was definitely blushing.
Ray's heart was trying to make a quick exit out of his mouth. "Benny."
Fraser didn't seem to know where to look. "I know he'd take it as a personal favor if we, ah—" He took a deep breath.
"Mated?" Ray choked out.
"What? No!" Fraser looked at him, startled, like a caribou staring down the barrel of a .22, and then visibly swallowed. "Yes."
He looked ashamed to even be suggesting it—as well he should! Ray grabbed his arm through his thick navy pea coat and dragged him around the corner into an alley. A couple of snowflakes drifted down between them.
Ray shoved Fraser against the alley wall and pointed at him severely. "You think I'd sleep with you to keep the wolf happy?"
Just the idea filled Ray with a complicated wave of confusion, incredulity, hope and overwhelming relief that Fraser, despite everything, after everything, was talking about the two of them getting it on without a hint of fear or disgust or innocent Mountie bewilderment.
Though he was already denying it, backtracking like crazy, and making soothing gestures like he was scared Ray was going to run for the hills. "No, no, of course not, Ray." He licked his lip. "I'm sorry. It was tactless of me to suggest it. Please forget—"
"Benny," Ray interrupted him before he talked himself into a monastery.
Fraser stood to attention. "Yes?"
Ray opened his mouth, then closed it again. "This is the weirdest conversation I've had in my life. And given how long we've been partners, that's really saying something." At least Fraser would agree this was weird, right?
Fraser nodded, but it was more sympathy than understanding, and then he leaned around the corner and held up two fingers to Dief.
Fraser untwisted himself to meet Ray's glare, and bit his lip. "It is his birthday, Ray."
"So I'll make this quick." Ray folded his arms against the cold. He couldn't believe they were going to talk about this in a freezing South Side alley full of newspaper that smelled like fish, but if that's what it took, that's what it took. "You ever wish there were females in our pack, Benny?"
Fraser's eyes widened. He slumped back against the wall as if he'd been caught out. "Well, in order to—"
"If you say anything about wolf cubs, I'm going to—"
"No." Fraser raised his chin.
Ray frowned. "Huh?"
"I never feel our pack is lacking in any way, shape or form."
"Oh." And there was another complicated wave of emotion, dragging Ray under. He barely noticed that it was getting dark and his nose was turning into an icicle.
Fraser took a deep breath. "Although—"
"Yeah?" Ray prompted, clinging to hope by his fingernails.
Fraser didn't answer in words. He reached out slowly, carefully, giving Ray plenty of time to stop him, and caught Ray's lapel, and then he tugged him slowly, carefully closer, further and further until their white cloudy breaths were mingling. Until their chilled noses brushed and Ray angled his head automatically, like it was a dream. Until their mouths were a whisper apartů and then, not even that.
The kiss was slow and careful, too. Fraser's lips were warm, soft, not rushing anything. Not taking—just offering. Ray started trembling, his stomach clenched. He didn't know what to do with his hands so he put them on Fraser's shoulders.
When he leaned back, he was breathing hard and so was Fraser.
"Oh, God," said Ray, and moved in again, helplessly. And this time, he was doing the kissing, and there was no holding back. He kissed Fraser hard, instinctively knowing he could take it, that he'd like it. He slid his tongue between Fraser's lips and tasted him. Fraser groaned and tugged him even closer, and Ray felt the sound travel through his chest, straight down to his dick. He slid one of his hands up to the bare side of Fraser's neck and rested his thumb along Fraser's jaw, and pressed him against the rough brick wall.
Fraser pushed him away. Ray resisted for a moment. The kissing was uncomplicated and true, and everything he'd been wanting to say for months. He did not want to stop and he didn't think Fraser did, either. Not really. But Fraser was insistent, and Ray gave.
"Diefenbaker's waiting," Fraser pointed out, sounding both dutiful and reluctant.
Ray swallowed. What if none of this made sense outside of this alley? "I know, I know, just—" He moved in and kissed him again, this time paying attention to how Fraser kissed back. No hesitation or shyness, or any of the things Ray might've expected—just earnest passion and hunger, like he couldn't get enough. Ray nibbled Fraser's lower lip. Then he stopped kissing and just leaned on him. "If you're doing this as some kind of twisted birthday present for the wolf, I will personally arrest you and everyone you know."
"Oh." Fraser actually sounded concerned about that. "Well, you know, he—"
Ray stepped back. Snowflakes fell between them. "He what?! He put you up to this?!"
Fraser tilted his head. His lips were ripe and shining wet, his forehead creased. "He's grown weary of watching me pine. Over you."
"You were—" Ray's heart swelled. On the street someone's laugh rang out, and Ray looked around. "Benny, this would be better with less snow and less clothes." He had to adjust himself at the thought, and smiled when Fraser blushed again. "Can we go back to your place now?"
"You promised Dief pastries," Fraser pointed out.
Ray groaned. Stupid wolf!
"And then I believe he was hoping for a game of canasta," Fraser said, so solemnly that Ray had no way of knowing if he meant it or was just tormenting Ray for the fun of it.
Ray closed his eyes and counted to seven before he had to open them again. "The wolf plays canasta?" he asked, as evenly as he could.
"He's very good, actually." Fraser pushed off the wall, and did something at the front of his coat.
It took Ray a second to register that he'd had to adjust himself too, and when it did sink in, Ray felt dizzy.
"But after that I think he'd understand if we wanted to be alone." Fraser's voice deepened, and Ray'd had no idea anything could be that sexy. Not even Fraser.
"Fraser, sometimes your pack drives me crazy," he ground out.
"Our pack," Fraser corrected him. "I know."
He looked nervous, like maybe he thought he'd pushed it too far, so Ray pulled him close again, hugged him tight, and said into his ear, "But the truth is, I been pining too, so if I gotta feed danishes to a wolf and play Canadian canasta to get you alone, then I'll do it. I'll do it for you."
Fraser hugged him back. For a second it felt like they were just friends again, but then Fraser melted. He tightened his grip and pressed his face to Ray's ear. "I appreciate it."
And that was it, exactly. Their embrace was like the sum of their friendship and their lust, bundled up together, simmering and full of promise. They held each other until Ray's feet started to ache with cold. Then they broke apart, squeezed each other's hands and headed for the car, where Dief was waiting smugly.
"Oh, I forgot," said Fraser, as Ray unlocked the passenger door for him. "Dief also rented Gone With the Wind. It's his favorite."
Ray threw back his head in despair. "Oh my God," he howled to the heavens.
Dief joined in, joyously.
"You're joking, right?" demanded Ray, as the echoes died away.
Fraser waved Dief into the backseat and then slid into the car himself. "Yes, Ray," he said, grinning, and shut the door, leaving Ray speechless.
And then it struck him—maybe all the deadpan jokes had been Fraser's way of flirting. Maybe—or maybe he was just nervous. Either way, those kisses hadn't lied, that was for sure, and neither had the fact that Fraser was turned on. Ray hurried around to the driver's side of the car and nearly dropped his keys on the icy road in his eagerness to get them home.