Rating: PG
Pairing: Fraser/Smithbauer post-slash
Notes: For miss_zedem

Interlude

by china_shop



Morning

The air was sharp with ice, and the kids' shouts echoed around the outdoor rink. Mark stood on the sidelines, a thermos cup of coffee in his hands, and leaned on the railing between Ben and his wolf.

"What do you think?" asked Ben, unusually diffident.

But then, thought Mark, he should be. Inuvik was a hell of a way to drag a guy to see yet another promising young hockey player. Mark tracked Ben's protégée, a native kid called Gus, as he flew across the ice. Fast, sure-footed, determined. He was good. Still, Mark would've found an excuse not to make the trip if it hadn't been for his parents — and the prospect of seeing Ben.

"You've been up here, what, less than two weeks and you're already sticking your nose into everyone's business," Mark said, smiling but keeping his eyes on the game. "I thought you were supposed to be on vacation."

"They tell me a change is as good as a rest," Ben replied. "This is a far cry from law enforcement."

Mark laughed. "At least until you find a law being broken."

There was a shout, and Mark looked over to see one of the smaller kids crashing to the ice. Gus had the puck. He passed it to the forward and skated over to the prone player, who was maybe the youngest kid on the team. "You okay?"

The kid nodded and Gus helped him up, and they both headed straight back into play.

"Good kid," said Mark.

Ben looked pleased. "Yes, he is."


Lunch

Gus' mother, June, fed them hot tea and pound cake.

"How'd I do?" Gus asked Ben, his gaze darting to Mark and back again.

"You played well, son." Ben wasn't wearing his Stetson, but he might as well have been.

June stroked Gus' hair flat and smiled at Ben. "I remember when we were kids, you boys used to play behind old Carlisle Grady's shed. Your grandmother used to ask me about the games, Ben. She said, 'He's got a sweet temperament but he's stubborn as a mule. I sure hope he doesn't get it into his head to play that game for a living.'"

Mark snickered. "Is that why she brought you home all those books about plants and animals and folk tales?"

"She would have done that anyway," said Ben, colouring. "She was a librarian."

"And yet somehow she never managed to put her finger on that book about Eddie Shore you wanted." Mark elbowed him in the ribs.

June grinned, then raised her eyebrows and pointed at Ben. "Wait a minute, didn't she teach you how to box?"

"That was from a book, too," said Ben. "She had great faith in the written—"

"Boxing was okay but she didn't want you to play hockey?" June interrupted, tilting her head.

"Ah, well, you see, boxing is a gentleman's sport," recited Ben, and Mark chimed in with the second half, "Ice hockey is for thugs."

"Ben!" pleaded Gus under his breath, and Ben shook himself a little and fed Dief a small piece of cake.

"Can we please stop talking about my grandmother?"

June tousled Gus' hair. "It's all right, boy. I know when I'm outnumbered." She glanced at Mark. "That is—"

"Yeah," he said. "I think I can pull some strings. Make some calls."

Gus sprang to his feet and whooped, and Dief joined in with a howl. Mark and Ben exchanged grins.


Afternoon

"So, where are you staying?" Mark took the turnoff to the river and glanced across the cab of his father's SUV.

Ben turned back from talking to Dief in the backseat. "The RCMP detachment had accommodation available. Well, it's more of a storeroom, really."

"If you want somewhere more homey, I reckon my parents would be happy to have you." Mark winked. "They'd probably even let us bunk together."

Ben flushed. "Much as I appreciate the offer—" He trailed off.

Mark pulled onto the verge, next to the stubby arctic trees, and switched off the engine. "Yeah?"

"Well, it's just that I—" Ben cracked his neck, and Mark had to fight the urge to slide across the seat and kiss him. "I have, ah— that is—"

"You're seeing someone?" It was disappointing, but not really a surprise. A guy like Ben in a city like Chicago? Mark had been lucky he'd had a chance the last time.

But Ben shook his head. "Not as such."

"Then—?"

"It's complicated." Ben stared out the front windshield. The road twisted ahead of them, piled with snow on either side, hiding whatever was around the corner.

Dief sneezed in the backseat, but Mark and Ben both ignored him.

"Guy or girl?" asked Mark, quietly.

"A man," said Ben, after a moment. "A friend."

"Is he bent?"

"I don't know." Ben scratched his eyebrow. "Sometimes I think— well, it's hard to know what's real and what's wishful thinking, sometimes."

"I know what you mean." Mark dragged his gaze from Ben's mouth. "Does he know you're bent?"

"Do we have to talk about this?" asked Ben, plaintively.

Mark put his hands on the steering wheel. "You drag me all the way up here and keep me at arm's length." He tried to keep his tone light. "The least you can do is dish the dirt."

"I'm sorry." Ben looked him square in the eye. "It's not that I don't want to."

"It's okay," Mark told him, and wondered when he'd started playing the saint. It must be Ben's influence.

Ben's mouth twisted ruefully, and Mark let go of the steering wheel and pulled him into a tight hug. "You should tell him. Whoever he is, he'd be an idiot to pass up the chance."

Ben hugged back. His face was warm and smooth against Mark's cheek, and he smelled of fresh air and warm male skin. Mark started to respond despite himself, cock hardening, lips tingling in anticipation, but when Ben pulled away, he didn't resist.

Mark sat back and raked his fingers through his hair, glad of the early evening chill.

Ben rested his hand lightly on Mark's thigh, and Mark glanced down at the strong blunt fingers. He knew an apology when he saw one. "Well," he croaked, and cleared his throat. He put his hands back on the wheel. "If you're not going to indulge me like that, it's your loss. At least we can strap on some skates and play some hockey, eh?"

Ben smiled. "It would be my pleasure."

Mark started up the truck and pulled a U-turn, and took comfort in the fact that, despite everything, there seemed to be reluctance in the way Ben withdrew his hand.


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