Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Various
Thanks: Many many thanks to Serial Karma for beta

The Art of Losing

by china_shop


1997

Frannie turned on him, her eyes round with disbelief. "Are you out of your mind?" she demanded. "Why the hell would you go undercover with the mob? You got nothing to live for?"

"It's a job, Frannie. Someone has to do it, and that someone is me." Ray looked at his sister across the dinner table debris. He wished she'd drop it and knew she wouldn't. He loved her for it, even while she drove him crazy.

"Yeah, well maybe," she said. "But the mob? They'll freeze you as soon as look at you."

"Ice," said Ray, trying not to think about it. "They ice you."

Frannie shrugged. "They freeze you till you're ice. Either way, you're dead. What about us? What about ma? Have you given even a moment's thought to how she's going to feel when they pull your body out of the concrete shoes?"

Ray hadn't. This wasn't about his family. It wasn't about him. It was about getting out of Chicago before Benny got back, about leaving with some sort of self-respect. "I'll see you in six weeks," Fraser had said, shaking his hand warmly, and Ray had known then that he had to either get out or admit to himself that he was queer as fuck and in love with his partner. Well, no way. No fucking way. He'd rot in hell first.

So that's what he'd agreed to do. Rot in hell.

 

 

1998

"Mr. Langostini. Whaddaya want we should do about Two Shoes Maddison?"

"Take him down," he said. "End it."

He'd been the Bookman so long now, he could hardly remember his real name. But somewhere in the back of his head a Mountie was watching him with sorrowful eyes, his own personal Jesus.

 

 

1999

Stella was all the things Ray liked about girls. All the things he remembered liking. She was pretty and small, with shiny hair and delicate hands and feet. She laughed like an angel. She didn't embarrass him, or make him feel dirty. When he buried himself inside her, he knew he was doing the right thing. "Marry me," he said.

 

 

2000

Kowalski looked like six kinds of shit. He was skinnier than ever, swimming around in his clothes like a kid playing dress-up. His hair was flat and stupid-looking. He had a popsicle in his hand, which was just about to drip onto his parquet floor. "Vecchio," he said, dumbstruck. He glanced over Vecchio's shoulder. "Lost your wife?"

"Yeah," said Ray, pushing into the apartment and taking off his coat. He glanced around for a place to hang it, gave up and draped it carefully over a dining chair. Then he turned to Kowalski, who was finishing his popsicle and watching him warily.

Kowalski threw the popsicle stick onto a table and stuck his chin out, looking for trouble. "What do you want?"

Ray answered that by checking him out, head to toe and back again, letting his gaze linger on the crotch of Kowalski's faded blue jeans.

"No way," said Kowalski incredulously, but Ray thought it was just a formality.

Ray raised his eyebrows, not wanting to take too much for granted. After all, just cos the guy was a homo, didn't mean he'd do anyone. But Kowalski was already moving towards Ray, repeating "No fucking way" like it was a question.

Ray didn't answer. Just pushed Kowalski, light as a Halloween skeleton, back against the wall and fisted his hands in Kowalski's t-shirt. "You tell anyone about this, I'm gonna kill you dead," he said, shivering inside as he heard the Bookman still talking out of his own mouth.

Kowalski raised his hands, a cop defusing the situation. "Hey, nobody's making you."

"That's right," said Ray. "Nobody's making me, and nobody's gonna find out. Got that?"

"What do you want, Vecchio?" Kowalski dropped his hands and shook his head a little, a curious gleam in his eye. "You want a piece of me?"

Ray leaned in close, keeping his eyes open and hard. "I want you to fuck me."

 

* * *

 

They did it on the bed, because that's where the lube was. Afterwards Ray lay sprawled across the damp sheets, burning and aching and wondering what the fuck he'd been thinking.

He heard the rasp of a lighter, smelled smoke. Kowalski was sitting on the floor, back against the bed, one knee raised. He was sucking on a cancer stick and staring out at the rain.

"What happened?" said Ray, waving a hand around at the empty apartment.

Kowalski's attitude sounded automatic. "What's it to you?"

Ray leaned over and removed the cigarette from Kowalski's hand, took a drag, then gave it back. "Just making small talk," he lied.

Kowalski nodded at that, then leaned his head back against the bed so his jaw stretched up, and closed his eyes. His voice was flat when he spoke. "He wanted to come out. After our third date he wanted to tell people. Fuck, we hadn't even had sex yet, not really, and he's like—"

Ray barked a laugh. "Didn't want to have to lie, huh?"

Kowalski smiled bitterly. "You know Fraser. He can't do undercover." He took another drag. "Guess he got Chicago confused with Canada. I mean, Welsh was cool with it—though he wouldn't let us work together anymore. But the others—shitheads."

"Yeah." Ray nodded. It was just like he'd always thought.

"Wouldn't give me backup. Wouldn't talk to me. I ended up on the desk for a while, but I got no head for paperwork. So I quit." He paused, gritting his teeth. "Then—private security."

"And Benny?"

"It didn't work out." Kowalski sounded like he was reciting a rap sheet. "I was an asshole, 24/7. He tried to stick it out, but he stopped—smiling. And then he caught me fucking someone—this guy, Vaughan. But he still didn't get it. He didn't get it. He wanted to 'work things through'. I had to kick him out."

"He went back to Canada?"

"Not at first. He took it hard. So fucking hard. Insisted we give it another try. But nothing had changed. My job sucked. My life sucked. I—" Kowalski shrugged and turned his head away so Ray couldn't see his face. "Fraser always hated Chicago, anyway. And the Territories gave me chilblains."

 

* * *

 

Ray told everyone he was going to Florida. "Going to see my aunt." He got a rental car and drove north. He didn't think about it, didn't plan. He just drove.

When he'd been on the road two days, he tried to phone Fraser, but he couldn't get through. The RCMP office didn't know where he was, and the cabin—the cabin Ray had meant to help rebuild, the one where Fraser and Kowalski had fucked and fought before they moved back to end it in Chicago—the cabin still didn't have a phone.

Ray swore and kept driving. He had nowhere else to go.

Days passed and the landscape got bigger and colder. Ray started to relax. He started to feel lost, but in a good way. No one was watching. He could say what he wanted, do what he wanted, and no one would shove a gun in his face.

He stopped in Saskatoon and bought plain warm clothes. He left his suits and silk shirts on the bed at the motel, figuring maybe the cleaning staff could use them.

 

* * *

 

The cabin was smaller than Ray remembered, packed with books and gramophone records. When he'd been here last, Fraser hadn't been living here.

There was no one home, but the door was unlocked, and the fireplace was still faintly warm. Ray stood by the window for a long time, looking out at all that snow. He felt cold through to his bones, but at least his heart was still beating.

 

* * *

 

Fraser was stomping snow off his shoes on the deck when Ray opened the door. He looked tired and serious, like all the kindness had worn away, but he dredged up a smile from somewhere when he saw Ray. "Ray! What are you doing here?"

Ray smiled back. "Ah, you know. I was in the neighborhood. Thought I'd drop by." He held the door open for Fraser, smelling sweat and dogs and damp wool as he sidled past. "Fire's good to go."

Fraser pulled off his gloves and coat, and started to loosen his hiking boots. "Diefenbaker will be sorry to have missed you."

"He's not here?"

Fraser shook his head. "He's away visiting relatives. I expect him back in a week or two."

So Fraser was living here all alone. That wasn't good. It wasn't right. Ray took the leap. "It didn't work out with you and Kowalski, huh?"

Fraser froze for a moment, his lips tightening, breathing shallow. Then he pulled himself together. "No," he said. "It didn't. Would you like tea? I only have basics, I'm afraid. And I'm all out of coffee." He pulled a ceramic jar off the shelf and took out the cork. His knuckles were white. "Lapsang Souchong?"

"Hey," said Ray. He took the jar and put it on the bench, then stood facing the guy, feeling his own heart expand and thud till his ears were ringing. "It's okay. It's okay, I promise." He took one of Fraser's hands and held it tight. It was rough and cold.

Fraser stared down at their joined hands.

Ray squeezed Fraser's fingers and let them go. "What do you want from life, Benny?"

Fraser went over to the window and braced his hands on either side of the frame, looking out at the same snow drifts Ray had memorized earlier that afternoon. "I want," he said, and then stopped and cleared his throat. "I want not to be alone anymore."

Ray came up behind him, but didn't touch. "You want that?" he asked, quietly.

"Yes." Fraser turned around and folded his arms across his chest. "Chicago spoiled me, I suppose. I grew accustomed to—people. To companionship."

Ray nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean."

Fraser frowned, like he was trying to remember what went on in the rest of the world. "What about your marriage?" he asked.

Ray snorted. "What marriage? Turned out she wanted me to be more like Kowalski, and I wanted her to be more like you."

Fraser's head came up, and their gazes locked. "Ray. You can't just give up everything you know, and—"

"Why not?" Ray dug into his pocket and pulled out his passport. "I know it's not a picket fence, but it's all I got. Yours if you want me."

He handed it to Fraser, who turned it over in his hands and flicked through the pages, understanding flushing his cheeks.

"I got nothing to lose now, nothing but time," explained Ray.

Fraser put Ray's passport on the counter, next to the jar. Slowly he came over to Ray, his eyes searching Ray's face for confirmation. "You'd stay here with me?"

Ray took Fraser's beautiful face in his hands and kissed him softly, like he'd always wanted to. Silently promised everything. And then Fraser was all around him, hugging him tight, smothering him in harsh kisses, his hands running down Ray's back, crushing Ray against his hard, tired body.

 

* * *

 

Sex with Benny was not what Ray had expected. He'd always thought Fraser would be slow and intense, respectful and—in spite of being queer—sort of wholesome. Like something out of National Geographic. And that he'd talk the whole time, because that's what Fraser did.

But no, sex with Fraser was like drowning in a pornographic whirlpool. Fraser writhed and sweated and begged to be fucked—and that was another thing Ray hadn't expected. He'd thought, coming up here and offering himself like this, that he'd be the one taking it. He'd been so sure, he'd done it with Kowalski, just to get that awkward painful first time out of the way. So he'd get it right for Fraser.

But Fraser was rolling over, was pleading for it. Ray turned him back. "Yeah, yeah, Fraser. I will, but I gotta see you." Because this had to mean something, and no way did Ray want to hump Fraser's back while Fraser ground his face into the pillow and thought about his ex.

 

* * *

 

Fraser was tight—so tight—and hot. His face contorted with something Ray couldn't identify, maybe pain, maybe pleasure. "Okay?" Ray murmured anxiously, once he was in, and Fraser just nodded and squeezed his eyes shut.

"Ray," he moaned.

Ray thrust into him, and hoped Fraser knew what he was doing.

 

* * *

 

In the week that followed, they had sex twice more. The rest of the time, they talked about everything—the law, Frannie, Dief, Canada and the States, old cases, wildlife, Inuit legends, snow. Neither of them mentioned Kowalski.

 

* * *

 

By the third time, sex was calmer, almost formal. Ray understood that Fraser was narrowing his reach, and that all the gestures from his past relationship—the fingers in the ass, the biting; things he'd seemed to think were perfectly natural and even integral to getting naked together—were stripping away as Fraser gauged Ray's responses.

When Fraser pressed soft sweet kisses against Ray's chest, Ray thought Yes! We're here now! For the first time since Vegas, he felt he was one of the good guys again.

 

* * *

 

Ray put on his plain Canadian wool sweater and his new red goose-down coat and went out with Fraser. He helped to chop wood and catch dinner. He put his life in Fraser's hands, did whatever he asked, and loved him every single second, even as blisters swelled up on Ray's fingers from using the axe.

One time Ray pushed Fraser down onto the snow and lay on top of him, feeling like a kid playing. He kissed Fraser out there in the freezing cold, their breath making clouds around them, both of their faces like popsicles. And Fraser let him.

 

* * *

 

The passport lay untouched on the counter for a week, as though Fraser was making up his mind. On the eighth day, the counter was clear. Clear and clean. Ray grinned at the sight, but he didn't say anything. He just hung the kettle over the fire and made Fraser a cup of tea.

 

* * *

 

When Ray went down on Fraser the first time—nervous, because he'd never done this before—Fraser flung an arm across his eyes and groaned Ray's name again and again until he came. Ray didn't know whether to be proud or sad or angry.

 

* * *

 

Ray couldn't find his gloves. He checked everywhere they could possibly be, then checked everywhere again. Fraser joined in the search, sliding his hands under the couch cushions and rummaging through the laundry basket. "'So many things seem filled with the intent'," he said, just as Ray found the gloves in the cupboard with the potatoes. God only knew what they were doing there.

"What's that?" said Ray.

"It's a poem by Elizabeth Bishop. One Art." But Fraser didn't even make a move toward the books to show him, which was a first. "Come on," he said instead. "We need to go while there's still daylight."

"Yeah, you can show me later." Ray picked up the rifle by the door. "Let's go kill something."

 

* * *

 

They'd eaten their hare stew and had just finished cleaning up. The fire crackled and popped and Ray looked around at the tiny cabin, feeling happy and satisfied and safe. "That poem you were saying earlier, the one by the bishop. Where is it?"

Fraser wiped his hands on the tea towel and hung it on the rail. "Elizabeth Bishop. It's not important."

"I know," said Ray. "I just wanna see."

Fraser hesitated, so briefly Ray wouldn't have noticed if he hadn't been watching. Then he sighed quietly and knelt down by the shelf next to the kitchen. He ran his finger along the books, looking for a particular volume. "You know, Bishop may have been born in Massachusetts, but she grew up in Canada, in Nova Scotia."

"You know her?" Ray sat down on the couch and made himself comfortable.

"I read her biography. She died in 1979. Ah." Fraser held up a slim book, and made to toss it to Ray, who held up his hands to stop him.

"Why don't you read it to me?"

Fraser's face went closed and blank, but he nodded and leafed through the book until he found the page. "'The art of losing isn't hard to master'," he read. "'So many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.'" He paused. "'Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.' You see?" Fraser closed the book, put it aside. "Door keys or gloves." He filled the kettle. "I'm making a cup of tea. Would you like one?"

"Yeah, thanks." Ray went over and picked up the book. In the normal course of things, you couldn't stop Benny from sharing information. Fraser and information were like water and wet, you took one and you got the other. So something was seriously wrong when he'd leave a poem half-finished. Something wasn't right.

Ray looked up the index and found the poem, turned to the page. He skimmed his eyes down the lines, then read through again.

 

One Art

The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.

— Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied. It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

When he'd finished, he looked up and Fraser was standing there, a mug in each hand. He had loss written all over his face just like in the poem.

"Benny." Ray had no idea what to do. He hadn't realized just how much of a replacement he was. There was more than a little irony to that, too, considering he was substituting for the guy who'd gone undercover as him.

"It's not important, Ray." The crack in Fraser's voice brought Ray back to his senses. Of course he'd known. He'd always known. And it didn't matter. Fraser had taken the passport, had let Ray in. That was what counted.

Ray went over and took the cups out of Fraser's hands, and wrapped his arms around him desperately. "Yeah, Benny," he murmured in Fraser's ear. "Yeah, it's not important. I'm taking care of you now, okay? I'm here."

"I know." Fraser was having trouble talking, was hanging onto his composure by a thread. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'm so sorry."

"Shhhh. You said it right. It's not important." He drew Fraser over to the bed and they lay down, and Ray held him, held him close. He tried to pour all his love into the embrace, into Fraser to make him better. Yeah, cos that's why he was here.

He wasn't here to prove anything or to get even, or even to hide. Not anymore. And whatever he'd been thinking last week, he wasn't here to make Fraser love him. No, the reason he was here was to look after Fraser, to protect him and ease the pain. That was all that mattered, and that was what he'd do. "It's okay."


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