On the Road
by Maxine Mayer 8/7/99
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[This story is a sequel to my first "due South" story, "Road Trip." RayKowalski/Fraser pairing. These characters belong to others, not to me. Rated "NC-17" for mature themes and a sexual relationship between two men. Time to bail and delete, if this offends you or you're underage to read NC-17 rated material where you live. Archive at will, but let me know when and where, please. Not beta'd. This one is for Lisa, who introduced me to "due South" telling me I'd love it - she was right! And to Te and Crys, who inspire me to write "more." Feedback happily accepted at . Thank you kindly.]
Ray's been driving steadily, still going very fast on the highway north. We're in Canada now.
His demeanor has changed drastically from the tense way he drove the first day of our trip. He appears to be less distracted by memories of his ex-wife Stella. He pushes on without stopping to smell the roses, so to speak. Pushes on, pausing only for gas and to eat and sleep. He hasn't offered to let me drive.
He's still quiet, speaking only occasionally. Apparently, he's entertained sufficiently by the endless sound of the music CD's we play on a small contraption he's connected to the cigarette lighter socket on his dashboard - an interesting set-up replete with wires, a small CD "walkman," and a padded CD holder Ray put me in charge of.
I studied the musical offerings but recognized no group, nor have I heard any of the songs before. Not to say they are unpleasant - actually, some of the music is beautiful - but it is unknown to me, unfamiliar, and therefore disorienting.
I'm drifting.... My eyes close, occasionally, although I've had enough sleep.
Last night we bedded down for the night in a small motel with twin beds. Ray avoided the question of whether a wolf would be permitted in the room by driving around to the back where no one from the office could see us, leaving his car - and me and Dief - there, and registering himself.
We were both exhausted. I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Ray was still sleeping six hours later when I woke at dawn.
We performed our toilettes then went to breakfast in the nook the motel manager had set up near the office. Dief trailed in behind us but no one said anything about him so he ate with us.
And now we drive - or should I say Ray drives and I simply - sit. Without saying anything to one another.
I let his music settle around me, over me, into me, and I drift....
It's the third morning of our trip. Two days, two nights, we've been on the road.
I awake feeling refreshed from another night in a twin bed next to Ray's. I'm not sure whether he slept as well last night. He is up, in the bathroom, at dawn.
"Ray?" I call out from my bed.
He pops his head out, toothbrush in hand, hair sticking up in bushy tufts, eyeglasses on. "Ya up, Frase? Good! Gotta get movin' - pitter patter!" He smiles and disappears into the bathroom again.
"Ray!" I repeat.
"Yeah, what, Fraser?" Now he's disgruntled. I've interrupted his morning ablutions. But nothing much is needed for him to be irritated with me. Particularly, in the mornings.
"Shall we call home today?" I ask. "We've been away three days. It will take us at least that amount of time to return. I asked for a week's leave -"
"Yeah, well, I asked for *leave,* period," he retorts, wiping his mouth with a towel, then tossing it into the bathroom. "I didn't say when I'd be back."
"You didn't?" I query, incredulous.
"No, I didn't. I got lotsa time comin' to me. I know you do, too, Frase. What's the hurry?"
"I - I don't know. I thought - a week. Maybe. Inspector Thatcher will be - distressed - if I'm absent from duty longer than that."
"Ya got somethin' goin' with Inspector Thatcher, Frase? I mean, personal-like?" His eyes narrow.
"No, nothing like that -"
"Well, fuck 'er, then! She's your boss, right? When a week's up, you'll call in and tell 'er you're still on the road. The car's messed up. You can't get back."
"But I can't do that, Ray. I have a duty to my government -"
"Ya tryin' to tell me the Canadian government's gonna fold if you ain't there, Frase?" he asks with a glint in his eyes.
"No, of course not -"
"So - that's it, then. We're stayin' on the road as long as we wanna, and that's that." When I don't reply, he adds shakily, "Unless ya don' wanna go on with me. Ya wanna go on, dontcha?"
"Well, yes. Actually, I do. But -"
"But what?" he pushes.
"As you can imagine, I'm - unaccustomed to simply - taking off - with no thought for my duty," I reply stiffly.
"So - yer tryin' somthin' new!" he explodes with a happy smile and a little dance in place. "That's good, ain' it? Somethin' new, somethin' differen'? That's good, right?"
"Well, I suppose it is, when you describe it in that light -"
"Yer what, thirty-five, thirty-eight, huh, Fraser?"
"Well, yes, I am -" I answer, perplexed as to where he's going with this.
"So, ya been doin' yer duty for - what - fifteen, twenty years?"
"Actually, fifteen. I've been with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for fifteen years - I'd been a Mountie for thirteen years when I first came to Chicago -"
"On the trail of the killers of yer father, yeah, I know," he interrupts with a grin.
"Well, yes -"
"I think yer entitled to some time off for good behavior, Frase. More than a week. Whaddaya think?"
I'm silent for a full minute. I'm about to tell a lie of omission. I've had time off - more than a week. I just returned from a long holiday, to find that Ray Vecchio was gone and Ray Kowalski had taken his place. He doesn't remember this.
Of course, I have many vacation days still owed me, but certainly the idea of taking a good number of them so soon after my last rather lengthy vacation never occurred to me, nor would it be something Inspector Thatcher might expect.
I stare at my hands on the counterpane - I'm still in bed, nearly nude. Nearly nude.... I'm drifting....
Finally, I speak. "I think you're right, Ray. Fifteen years. That's a great deal of good behavior, even for me." I smile at my own small joke. "I think I'm entitled to at least one *special* vacation day for each year of service."
"Attaboy, Fra-zoor," he shouts, throwing both hands up, fists beating the air in a jerky motion I've come to call "right on," dragging out his mispronunciation of my name. He does another happy little dance, this time with an imaginary partner, making good use of the few feet of space the small motel room affords. "So, we're good to go?"
"Yes. I'll call Inspector Thatcher and inform her of my plans."
"Yes, Ray. I plan not to return to Chicago for at least fifteen days -"
"From two days ago, or today?" he counters with a quick smile and a lift of his eyebrow.
"From today," I say resolutely, simply to see the dance-in-place that I know will follow my words.
"Way to go!" he shouts.
Suddenly, he's grabbing my hands, pulling me out of bed, pulling me around into his embrace and a few dance steps that end with a dip. I'm stunned. I manage to stay on my feet, not drag him down to the floor.
Our eyes meet for a moment. His expression is intense but happy. There are no questions in his eyes. There are, in mine.
He drops my hands abruptly. "Get dressed, Frase. Dief and me'll wait in the car," he says roughly.
Then he's out the door, gone.
I stand where he's left me, in the middle of the motel room, half-nude.
I am speechless. What's happening to me - to Ray and me - is too serious for a simple "oh, dear."
If we start off in this fashion, where might we end?
My heart beats very fast.
What is Ray thinking?
No. That's not the question.
The question is, what is Ray *doing?"
No, that's not it, either.
The question appears to be - who is Ray Kowalski? And *why* is he doing these things to me?
Inspector Thatcher is not as upset as I expect her to be when I tell her I'll be away from the Consulate for more than two weeks. She tells me that I've earned the time off, that it would be good for my health, and that I'll return refreshed and more dedicated and sharp than ever.
I agree with her verbally, but I'm not entirely certain she is correct. Judging from the few days that have already passed, I'll be more confused and disturbed after fifteen days on the road with Ray than I already am now.
Be that as it may, I've set my course and intend to follow it wherever it may lead. And I repeat this to myself as I join Ray where he's talking on the other pay phone to Lieutenant Welsh.
"Yeah, thanks, Loo. I knew you'd understan' - 'spechully 'bout it bein' good for the Big Red, too."
I tap Ray's shoulder. "You're not telling the Lieutenant that prolonging our trip is my idea?"
He brushes my hand off his shoulder, nods his head emphatically "yes," and swirls around, talking again. "Yeah, I'll let ya know, Welsh. Shouldn' be more 'en two weeks, tops. But I'll keep ya posted. Bye."
He hangs up and lets out a big sigh. "Well - it's done! We're free - two weeks with no crime, no criminals, no Stella, no Thatcher! Freedom! Gotta love it!"
"I don't find our work and our friends and employers so - enslaving, Ray."
"No, you wouldn', wouldya, Fraser? But I do. So - " and he does a two-step in place and punches my arm - "ready to travel, Red?" he asks with a grin. "Hmm? Ready to ride?"
"Why, yes, Ray, of course. Although I'd like to stop for breakfast, first. Before we get started."
"Sure thing, Frase! Eats on me, today - how 'bout it?"
"Actually, I was thinking about that, Ray," I say as I start towards his car.
He stops walking and asks, "About what - eatin'?"
I turn to face him. "No, about our expenses. You've paid for everything thus far. I think it's only fair that we share travel costs. For example, food, petrol, lodging. Naturally, I wouldn't expect you to pay for Diefenbaker's meals - and I'd certainly wish to pay for my own -"
"Fraser, here's my cash - I took out six hun'red from the bank before we started. I got four hun'red left. You handle the money. I can't hack that Canadian exchange rate, anyhow."
With that, he pulls several hundred dollars in crumpled bills out of his pocket and shoves them at me. I take them, and to cover my surprise and discomfort, begin to smooth them out and sort the individual pieces of paper.
"An' let me know if we run short - I'll stop at an ATM - 'kay?"
It strikes me that he's waiting for me to accept this new duty, so I reply, "Of course, Ray. If it's easier for you that I take care of our expenses -"
"Yeah, well it is, so just do it, okay?"
We lapse into silence as we get into the car and Ray drives away from the motel, scanning the road for a diner where we can eat breakfast. I take the time to search for my notebook in my backpack, so I might make careful notes of what we've each spent so far, and how much I owe Ray for my share.
He doesn't notice, or at least, doesn't comment. I suspect that at the end of our journey he'll examine my records with a show of interest, then tear up the slips of paper, toss them into a wastebasket and tell me that we're even, and let's leave it at that.
I resolve, therefore, to make certain we *are* even. I wish never to take advantage of Ray's largesse and trust, not in any way, or about anything.
I notice that on the fourth morning.
Ray and I both have stopped shaving.
We've both begun to wear our t-shirts outside our jeans, leaving our belts off. It's more comfortable when you spend long hours sitting in a car, not to be wearing a belt the buckle of which bites into your belly.
Yesterday I did a laundry in a small town where we stopped. But there wasn't much to wash. I've only used a few t-shirts and boxer shorts and socks. Ray favors one black t-shirt. He's worn it since we left Chicago. Strangely, it doen't smell badly - he has a very pleasant body odor and doesn't sweat much.
I managed to convince him to take the shirt off - so I could wash it with our other things - by offering him one of my own clean shirts in exchange, although they're all white.
Now he won't give me my shirt back, although his former favorite is fresh and clean.
I refuse to consider why not.
I decide to chalk it up to laziness on his part and let it go.
We've begun to take our meals irregularly. Eat while we drive, sometimes. Our sixth night, we don't get to a motel until past midnight. For the first time, I sleep in. It isn't until eight in the morning that I waken. Ray is still sleeping.
That night we drive even later, well past suppertime, in the dark. It is an odd feeling - against my spirit, I believe. I'm accustomed to being awake in the day, sleeping at night - it's nature's way.
But I've done this before - been awake when it's dark. In Chicago. When I've followed a lead on a case.
It's different now.
There are no bright lights. No big city.
Just Ray and me on long near-empty highways.
Darkness, stars, rain, clouds.
Music, and more music, from the car radio - slow, beautiful songs. And songs with no words, from Ray's collection.
Just the sounds of music and Ray's breathing and Dief's huffs and puffs, to lull me to sleep as we drive. Or keep me awake.
And I'm happy.
I've grown accustomed to his face. His quick changes of expression. There are no distractions.- neither by day nor by night - on the road.
He asks me no questions. Doesn't expect me to say anything much, although occasionally I tell him a story when one comes to mind. My stories seem to have ceased to irritate him. He is relaxed, too.
If I didn't know how mercurial his moods can be, and what a wonderful undercover agent he is, I'd imagine Ray is happy as well as relaxed.
But I know better.
On the eighth night I begin to tense up. I anticipate a storm, after all this calm....
I must be strong.
The storm comes but in an unexpected guise.
Our motel room has only one bed. A double.
I don't notice that until Ray says, "Ya got yer bedroll wid ya, Frase?"
My eyes widen. "Yes, of course, it's in the trunk of your car -"
"So - bring it in. I'll sleep in it - you take the bed." He tosses me his keys, which I just manage to catch.
I don't reply. I go back out and fetch my bedroll, return to our room and open the roll out.
"It's ready, Frase?" he asks, eyeing the floor doubtfully.
"Well, yes." I glance around. "I'm sure there's an extra blanket in the closet," I tell him, opening the door to what I think is the closet. It isn't. It's the bathroom. Apparently, there is no closet. "I'll ask the motel manager for blankets -"
"Never mind, it's okay. I'll wear my jacket. It's warm enough."
"Ray, I'm accustomed to a bedroll. You take the bed -"
"No! There will be no selfless acts from your end on this trip, Fraser," he retorts angrily. "You get the bed, okay? You - need this trip. It's a mental health thing. Ya need yer sleep."
"You drive all day. Surely, it's equitable for you to get a good night's rest," I protest. It's unimaginable to me that I will sleep in a bed while Ray tosses and turns on a hard wood floor. I wouldn't sleep for a moment.
"Ya wanna share the bed, Red?" he punches out. I'm silenced by the suggestion. "No? Thought not. Well, then, we do it like I said."
I'm angered by this threat, and the imagined understanding of my mind that it implies. I don't voice it but I think how dare he presume to know what I'm thinking.
After a moment I find my voice and call Ray's bluff.
"That's an excellent idea, Ray. It's a double - quite large enough for us both. We'll share."
I turn and go into the bathroom. I don't remember to take my toothbrush and toothpaste.
At this point, I'm so angry, it doesn't matter to me whether my teeth rot on this trip. I decide I'll most likely die of sheer rage before I'm old enough for tooth rot to set in.
"Fraser?" I don't answer him so he calls to me again in the bathroom. "Fraser?"
"What is it, Ray?" I come out dressed only in my boxers and t-shirt. Not quite half-nude....
"I was just teasin' ya, ya know. You can take the bedroll, if ya wan' - I don' mind. I'll take the bed -"
"That's not necessary. We can share the bed," I insist smoothly, moving past him and pulling the sheet, blanket and coverlet out of their tight fit around the mattress. I walk around to the far side and get into the bed, pulling the covers up over me, to my chin.
"Come on, Frase, enough's enough. I was jokin' about sharin'. We can't share a bed -"
"Why not? I assure you that I sleep quite soundly. I scarcely move at all. I won't disturb you."
"What is it, Ray?" Then, as if the idea's just dawned on me, I ask, "You don't think it would be uncomfortable in a - sexual way, do you, Ray? It wouldn't bother me in the least, I assure you."
"It wouldn't?" he repeats, dazed.
"No. Of course not. You're my partner and my friend, and I trust you implicitly. You would never do anything to - shake - our relationship. And neither would I. So, sharing a bed is perfectly in order, under the circumstances. From now on, though, we should specify two beds when we register for the night. Don't you agree?"
"Yeah, sure, whatever. I agree. Yeah, sure."
Ray turns toward the bathroom, kicking off his shoes and hopping from one foot to the other as he takes off his socks. When he returns he's not half-nude. He has disrobed completely.
"Move over, there, Fraser," he orders, and I can tell he's furious with me, that I've forced this on him.
Have I done that? Forced this?
Or has he?
I shift in place on my half of the mattress and he gets in under the covers.
He squirms. He rolls. He thumps his pillow and turns several times, first from one side - his back to me - to the other - facing me.
He's forgotten to turn off the overhead light, realizes this, and jumps up to get the switch.
He's quite quite nude.
I can't breathe. And I can't look at him.
But I dare not close my eyes. I don't trust my ears to tell me what he's doing. And I *must* know what he's doing.
He gets back into the bed. This time he settles onto his side, facing me. There's sufficient light shining through the window from a lamp on the porch outside our cabin for me to see his face.
He's looking at me, his eyes wide open. His hair is white in the lamplight, his skin pale. His mouth is closed, relaxed. His bottom lip is full. In this light, it looks black, as do his eyes.
It's many minutes before I realize that he's waiting for me - before I connect the look on his face with the emotions it expresses.
Not fury, any longer.
Trust. Patience and trust. Total, absolute trust.
Ray is here next to me in a bed in a motel room in Canada. He is unclothed. He is vulnerable in every way. And he is at peace.
Is this who Raymond Kowalski is? And why he is doing this to me?
Because he can only be at peace with someone he trusts, and that person is me?
I don't know.
As a matter of fact, I come to the conclusion that I know nothing, with a vengeance.
I continue to look at him until a small smile starts in his eyes and then illumines every inch of his face.
"What, Ray?" I whisper.
He does an odd thing with his mouth and tosses his head. "What what, Fraser?" he asks.
"What do you want, Ray?"
"If I tol' ya, what then?" He smacks his lips, like he's just tasted something delicious. Which I imagine he has - tasted something delicious, to him. Danger.
"You know 'what then,' Ray," I murmur.
"You'd give it to me, zat's it, right, huh, Fraser?"
"You know I would." I swallow the lump in my throat. I try not to be shocked by my weakness. Perhaps, after all, it's a kind of strength - Ray's brand, maybe - to allow oneself to be weak. Sometimes....
"So, you'd give it ta me, sight unseen, no questions asked?" I nod and he goes on. "Well, I want *you.*"
I nod again. I force words past my lips. "All right."
"You wanna try?"
"Ya done this before?"
"Yes." When his eyes widen I hasten to add softly, "Many years ago." For some reason I take it into my head to add, "He's - dead now. Has been for twenty years." Ray doesn't say anything. "I don't - love him - anymore."
"So it wasn't Vecchio?"
Shocked, I reply quickly, "No, of course not -"
"Just askin' - don't jump down my throat."
"Ray Vecchio and I are good friends," I say stiffly. "That's all."
He shifts up onto one elbow, looking down at me. "What about us, Red? We're friends, too."
"How's it different, then?"
"I - feel - more, more...." I stop talking.
Ray lets me off the hook. "I know. So do I. Did, from the minute I got a look at ya. Like ya say - more."
He touches my cheek. I've got several days' growth of beard, as does he. His is golden stubble, and it looks soft. Mine is bristly. He smiles. "Ya look - dirty, ya know, Frase."
"I like it." He grins, rubs my cheek harder, then bends quickly and covers my mouth for an instant - a kiss. "Those red lips an' that black stubble and yer white skin." He laughs. "Ya look like Snow White!"
"Yes, I suppose I do." I swallow again. "But I don't feel like Snow White."
"Who do ya feel like, Frase?" he asks softly.
I turn on my side, finally, then raise my body over his and press myself against him with my entire length. He grins up at me, pulls his arms out from where I've trapped them between our chests, and slips them around my back.
He waits for me to answer him. I think hard. Should I say?
"Come on, Fraser, who ya feel like?"
"I feel like - the Beast."
His brow wrinkles. "The Beast?"
"As in, 'Beauty and the Beast.'"
"In the fairy tale?"
"He was awful gentle - the Beast in the fairy tale - wasn' he?"
"Well, perhaps he wasn't. We don't know the whole story, do we? Only a few bits. There may be entire episodes in the Beast's life we know nothing about -"
"I'm sorry, Ray. But you did ask."
"Well, now I'm askin' somethin' else! Show me."
"Show you what, Ray?"
"What the Beast was really like," he replies with a mischievous grin.
"You're sure it wouldn't bore you, Ray?" I ask, tongue in cheek.
"I'm gonna find out, ain' I?"
"Yes, you will."
In the morning there is no awkwardness, although we don't speak. Perhaps we surprised one another, I'm not sure. Ray is a most accommodating and inventive lover. I - I am demanding, far from gentle, very focused. Not surprising - it is my nature. Underneath all the perfection, I am a "beast." I am fortunate that the bestial side of me doesn't disturb Ray.
It has often disturbed others. Or I anticipated that it would, and didn't allow it to surface.
Ray is very different from most people. I knew that the moment we met - was it only a few short months ago?
We shower and shave separately. Ray dresses quickly and takes a few bills from my pocket to pay for gas. Dief accompanies him, leaving me alone in the room to dress.
I look in the bureau mirror and touch my smooth-shaven face. I'm not sure what it means - that we've shaved. That Ray put on a fresh t-shirt - one of his own - this morning.
We've been on the road for a long time, it seems. I wonder whether Ray is ready to return to Chicago, to our work and our lives there.
I try to determine how I feel about going - home. I want to be prepared, should Ray ask me.
I find myself thinking odd thoughts, imagining strange settings, unusual scenarios.
The scenarios have in common the fact that Ray and I are both in them. And that we're both civilians....
I shiver, though it's not cold.
I'm - daydreaming. That's the word for it.
About a life not in the Mounties. Not in the police department. As something other than officers of the law.
I'm daydreaming about a diner where I serve behind the counter and Ray is short-order cook....
About a dude ranch where Ray keeps the books and greets the customers, and I accompany them on the trail and teach them to ride....
About a bookstore where Ray sits on a high stool in the back, reading every volume he can get his hands on. And perhaps for the first time in his life, enjoying the words. And I'm doing everything else....
I'm dreaming of a life in which I am so happy, so content, and so at peace that I cannot breathe.
I swallow tears. I brush my hand across my eyes, wipe away a tear.
I smile at my image in the mirror.
So much joy, for such a short time. A moment, really. The moment it takes to dream....
It's worth the pain I know will come. When we return to Chicago, to our work and our lives.
To who we are. Officers of the law who live without love, do our duty with scarcely a complaint, and disappoint one another on a regular basis.
It's worth any amount of pain, to know that Ray loves the Beast, before I return to being the Beauty....
I believe he will agree that it's worth any amount of pain, to have been the Beauty rather than the Beast, for one brief moment, with me.
Love is like that. A flash, an instant - fierce, lovely, true. Then - over.
I would never give up one touch of Love, no matter how harsh the pain when it's gone, nor how long the suffering lasts....
I know Ray Kowalski feels the same.
If only in that, we are alike, Ray and I.
He and Dief walk over to the car. I'm standing by the passenger door and Ray comes to me, puts an arm around my shoulders.
"Time to head home, Frase?" he asks sweetly with a slow sad smile.
"Yes, I suppose so. If you drive steadily, we'll be back in Chicago on the fifteenth day."
"Ya don' wanna just - take off? I mean, keep on drivin' like we've been? North?" he asks evenly.
"We can't, Ray," I say. I'm begging him not to insist, not to push this. Because I won't refuse him, if he wants to try. To make one of those daydream scenarios come true. I could refuse him nothing.
"We can't?" he asks.
"No, 'course not, Fraser. I was jus' yankin' yer chain. I know we can't." He winks, squeezes my shoulder, then lets go. Walks around to the driver's side and gets into the car.
After a moment I open the passenger door, usher Dief in, then get into the car myself.
We drive for a hundred miles due south without speaking. But we're both smiling.
Finally, Ray speaks. "Ya know, Frase, I get four weeks a year."
"Four weeks?" I echo.
"Yeah, four weeks vacation time. How 'bout you?"
"Ah, about the same, Ray."
"An' we got at least seven days drivin' before we hit the Chicago city limits."
"Yes, at least that," I reply.
"Seven days," Ray repeats, glancing at me. "An' seven nights."
"And seven nights. Right you are, Ray." I turn to him, lick my lips, and grin.
"Maybe ya know a couple more fairy tales you can tell me, huh, Frase?"
"And if you don't understand them, I could always show you...."
"Well, I always been a slow learner," he says solemnly.
"I'm a good teacher, Ray. At least, I think so. Do you agree?"
"Oh, yeah, Red, I agree!"
I'm amazed to discover just how many fairy tales I remember, while we're on the road. When I run out of new ones, I revisit "Beauty and the Beast."
It's certainly Ray's favorite. I can tell. It will always be mine, as well.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ F i n i s ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
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