Your World, Beginning
First DS fic, written for the Flashfiction "apocalypse" challenge. I tried making it about the end of the world. I didn't *quite* succeed, but I'm hoping it...kind of works. Maybe.
With thanks to Anna who beta-ed and held my hand and poked me. A lot. And made me touch her stump. (All mistakes are mine, etc.)
“Ray, it is not the end of the world, I promise you.”
Fraser had all but given up on making Ray see reason, but then, it seemed wise to let Ray get all of his frustrations out, let him exhaust himself on emotion, and then calmly explain to him, in a logical and coherent manner, that their situation really was not as dire as Ray had imagined. In some far corner of his mind, Fraser was aware that exhausting Ray on his own ranting served to render him quite immobile and ready to finally listen. Or, perhaps, if not listen, then at least hear what Fraser had to say. Fraser sighed and rubbed his eyebrow. Ray continued stomping around the snow like a petulant five year old whose sled had been taken away by a herd of angry otters.
“Fraser! We are almost out of supplies! We are in the middle of Nowhere-I-Can-Call-Home, all we have left is a bag of pemmican, we have to sleep on snow just to get water, Dief is almost gnawing his own paw off, and you think it isn’t the end of the world? It’s the end of my world, Fraser! I hate pemmican!”
Fraser looked at Ray’s red face, wind-beaten and scruffy, and tried not to let his fears show. He was almost certain that their supplies would last them long enough to get to the nearest RCMP posting, but there was always a chance of something going horribly wrong. However, Fraser rarely allowed himself to think this. The first thing he learned, when starting out as a member of the RCMP out in the Territories, was to trust your instincts and never allow your fears to defeat you. He had come close to death too many times to be afraid of it at every turn, but he had a bigger weakness than fear of dying, now. He watched as Ray, finally exhausted and beaten down, sank onto the makeshift seats they had assembled, and clapped his hands together for warmth. A cold breath escaped his lips and Fraser watched as it dissipated into the dark air around them.
He knew that he was being unfair to Ray. He knew that Ray had every reason to be worried, he knew that Ray had never experienced a loneliness this profound, this empty. If anything happened to either of them out here, the other might not be able to help. They could easily perish here, and Ray was certainly not ready to die. This, Fraser knew. But he also knew what Ray couldn’t possibly know, or perhaps, couldn’t possibly imagine. He knew that he would never, not for as long as he had breath left in his body, let anything happen to Ray. That was the one weakness that Fraser had allowed himself to feel, in all the weeks that they had traveled. The one fear that gnawed at his mind each night before he drifted off to sleep, listening to Ray’s uneven breathing in the sleeping bag next to his, was that one of these days, they would slip up, not watch their step, and he would lose Ray forever. After a while, the thought had become like a dark bedtime story, always present at the edge of his mind, always waiting to claim him before sleep did; and, every night, he allowed it, allowed himself that one weakness, knowing that it would only make him stronger in the morning. It would keep him alert, it would keep him from making that fatal mistake; it would keep him from losing Ray.
He sighed and sank down next to his friend, turning his own palms toward the fire.
“Ray. Look at me.”
Ray turned toward him, mute but listening.
“Nothing will happen to us. I have done this before, and I am capable of handling our situation. My calculations tell me that we are within five days of the nearest RCMP posting, and we certainly have enough supplies to last us for three to five days. If we keep up our strength, and persevere, we will be able to restock there, and continue on our quest, should- should we choose to.”
Should Ray choose to.
“Look, Fraser...” Ray’s voice was hoarse now, all the life gone out of it, like a punch to the gut. Fraser had never heard that voice sound so defeated. He made himself listen to Ray, but Ray had stopped. Fraser waited, and waited some more, tracking the time automatically, knowing that if Ray had not spoken by now, he wouldn’t, and Fraser would have to pick up the shred of the conversation, because somebody had to. They would get through this.
Ray was looking down, away from him, and Fraser wanted to take his face and tip it toward his own. He wanted to cup the sunken cheeks and look Ray in the eye and show him, somehow, that they would be all right. But he couldn’t, and so he settled for laying his mittened hand on top of Ray’s, and trying to make Ray look him in the eye without asking again. “Ray.”
“What, Fraser.” It wasn’t even a question. And Ray continued staring down, though this time, Fraser thought he must have been looking at their touching hands, studying them, perhaps, or perhaps not really noticing them at all.
He had to say it. He had to convince Ray to go on, he had to let him know they would succeed, because if he couldn’t, Ray might give up. And he could not let that happen. Tired, Ray looked like he hardly had any fight left in him, and if that was so, Fraser would just have to fight for him. He had to be strong enough for them both, because - because he had to.
“Ray, I can get us through this.”
“I know that.”
“I can’t, Fraser. You can. I can’t.”
“Ray–“ he began, but was interrupted when Ray jerked away from him and stood up. Instantly, Fraser’s left side felt colder, emptier.
“No, Fraser. This is the end of my world!” He began pacing again, and some part of Fraser was rejoicing, because it meant that Ray had not entirely given up, but another part knew that something far more dangerous had taken the place of complicity.
“Ray, I don’t --”
“Let me finish, Fraser.” Ray stopped, standing directly in front him, just across the fire, pinning Fraser in place with his gaze. “I have been pretty self-sufficient my entire adult life. Whatever I couldn’t solve on my own at first, I eventually figured out, you know? You live, you learn, that kind of deal. I learned to shoot, and as long as I had my glasses on me, I was good to go. I learned to pay bills on time, I learned to go to the doctor when there was a problem, hell, I even remembered to make regular visits to the dentist’s.”
He ran a hand over his hat, a gesture achingly familiar to Fraser, even if he couldn’t see how the touch ruffled Ray’s hair. He was slowly understanding what Ray was trying to tell him, but decided to wait it out and hope he was wrong. He remained silent. Ray remained standing in the same spot, only his arms and torso moving to the rhythm of his argument. That, too, had become achingly familiar to Fraser, and he watched, unable to do much else.
“But this, Fraser. This I do not know. Do you understand me? I want you to understand me. I do not know this, Fraser. If something happens to me, I won’t survive without you, and if something happens to you, we won’t survive at all!” He resumed his pacing, back and forth, never leaving Fraser’s line of sight. “I’m entirely useless here, and this - this isn’t my world. Say, we make it to the RCMP, what then? We restock, great, terrific, we don’t die this week. What happens afterwards? Do we just keep on walking until we walk the entirety of Canada? Are we even headed in the right direction? What am I saying, of course we’re headed in the right direction, because your calculations are always correct. But Fraser, what happens then, huh?”
“I- I’m not sure what you mean, Ray.” Fraser had to tread carefully. Ray’s thoughts seemed to be going a thousand directions all at once, spinning around and making Fraser dizzy with possibilities, most of them leaving him with a feeling of dread. Ray waved his hand around, and made an incoherent noise.
“You know, you know– after the quest, what then? This is not my world, Fraser, I never learned this. I still don’t know what to do if my left toe accidentally freezes to my right ankle, or if my balls tie themselves up in a knot around my dick. I don’t know anything, I am a dead fucking weight to you, Fraser, don’t you see?”
Fraser had to stop this. Ray was becoming delusional - perhaps, he was suffering from hypothermia. They hadn’t talked about what would happen afterwards; not quite yet. Fraser thought about it, every night. Between the fear of Ray dying, and sleep, there lay the fear of Ray leaving him and never coming back. But he would never allow that to become a weakness for him, as well. Fraser had always been good at planning ahead, but he let this future stay uncertain for as long as he possibly could, evading his fears. He had thought that perhaps Ray had, as well. Apparently, he had miscalculated. And maybe, Ray was trying to tell him that that uncertain future was now.
“So, you’re saying -” He broke off at the sound of his own voice; he barely recognized it. “Ray-“
“Fraser, this is your world.” Ray’s voice now sounded distant and quiet and terrifying to Fraser’s ears. “What am I doing here?”
There it was, then. That which had hung between them ever since they had set off on this expedition. “Adventure” or “quest” notwithstanding, they had never actually discussed why Ray had decided it was now, and with Fraser, that he would leave to go walking in the cold and snow for weeks and not resume his own life back in Chicago, under his own name and with his own friends.
“What– what do you think you’re doing here, Ray?” Fraser made himself look Ray in the eye and hold the gaze. Ray was teetering on the verge of breaking; that much was obvious. It was a look Fraser recognized well from all their previous fights, and he steeled himself for another battle. But Ray did not say a word. He looked Fraser in the eye, then he looked away, and then he sighed, his chest collapsing with it.
“I don’t know, Fraser. I really- I don’t know.”
Fraser felt a tug of disappointment, though he would not look too closely into its origin; not yet. Ray needed his help. He would provide as much help as he could, without his own desires gnawing at his chest. This was not about him, after all.
“Do you want to go home, Ray?” He made his voice as steady as possible. Slowly, even while taking in all of Ray’s reactions and movements, he was resigning himself to the inevitable. It was over now. They had reached the end of their world.
“Yes.” The answer, when it came, was quiet, and Fraser found himself rising quickly and turning away from the fire, turning his back toward Ray.
“All right, then. Once we reach the outpost, I will make sure that you are -”
“–All set up to go, and we will find you the --”
“–Quickest way possible back to Chicago –“
“Fraser!” This time, Ray’s voice was significantly closer, and Fraser was forced to acknowledge it at last. With reluctance, he turned his head, half-facing Ray, who now stood directly behind him. “Fraser, turn around. Come on, turn.”
When he didn’t obey right away, Fraser felt sure hands tugging at his sides and twisting him around. He let them guide him. Ray looked worried, twitchy. A frown creased his forehead, the lines in his skin taking up a familiar position. Fraser had noted a while back how easily those frown lines could come into view, and how easily they could disappear a moment later, like they had never been. So much like Ray, his moods constantly changing, his emotions shifting. For a while, he merely studied the face in front of him, still beautiful despite its wind-beaten ruddy tint, and the scraggly stubble. He waited for Ray to speak again, not trusting his own voice to carry them through anymore.
“Fraser, I want to go home.” A beat. “But I don’t want to go back to Chicago.”
Fraser knew the look on his face was one of disbelief, but he could hardly control it any longer. Ray made a frustrated noise and let go of him, tugging at his own hat and scrubbing his face.
“Ray, I’m not sure --”
“Fraser, do you want me to stay or not? Because- I could, you know, try and continue this quest thing, I could try and become more than just another piece of luggage to carry around, but I’d rather- I’d rather just stay like everybody else does. In a house. You know, with furniture, and- and a bathroom, and a kitchen --”
Fraser had often played dumb where offers of this kind were concerned. He hadn’t had any reason not to. They had never meant much to him, because they either came from people who had known him for too short a time to actually want it, or from Frannie, whom he loved, but not quite in the way that required co-habitation. This time, his heart pounding so loudly, he was certain even Diefenbaker could hear it, he waved a mental goodbye to the old routine of “no, thank you kindly,” and threw himself into “yes, please, God, why did it take you this long.”
“Yes,” and he cupped Ray’s face with his hands, and their lips met, chapped, cold and hot at the same time, and a moan reverberated through them, maybe his, maybe Ray’s. “Okay,” and hands scrambled up his sides, holding him tight, and his hands enveloped Ray’s neck, and the world was no longer his, and it was no longer Ray’s, but it was theirs now, because they could, and they would, and, “Yes,” it was.