Notes & Disclaimers: I mean no disrespect to Alliance, truly I don't, but Fraser and Ray sometimes go off on their own, you know, and I'm powerless to stop it. Really. They'll be back, eventually, along with anyone else from the Due South universe who might have wandered off, having had no profit made from them, and no lasting scars.

This basic idea has been jangling round my brain for nearly a year, and while it was satisfying as that -- an idea, in its particular shape -- once I got it on paper, its shape and form and well, basically everything but the hockey premise, altered. But then, what would you suspect when you pick up the pen after 9 straight hours of Kowalski??

Timeline:This considers all events through "Hunting Season" -- "Call of the Wild" is not considered, 'cos as far as I know, they're not back from their vacation yet. No spoilers, really, although it does assume that you've seen the 2nd season episode "The Blue Line", if you haven't, click here to find out who this Mark guy is.

Rated: NC-17 slash for artfully graphic descriptions of wholly consensual m/m sex, and descriptions of the Mountie putting more than mud in his mouth, and the fact that we're not on TV, so Ray can curse as much as I know he wants to.

feedback is always welcome

Center Ice
by Caile Donachaidh Kane

Chicago Blackhawks emblem

Ray Kowalski's eyes grew progressively wider as Fraser excused and pardoned their way closer and closer to the boards. When at last the Mountie halted before a pair of seats at centre ice, just behind the high wall of protective Plexiglass, Ray thought his eyes were going to come out of his head, Roger Rabbit style.

"This?" he blurted in shock. "This is where we're sitting?"

Fraser turned to his partner with a look of concern. "I'm sorry, Ray, my friend got us the best seats he could..."

"These seats are incredible, Fraser! What're you sorry for?"

"You're not disappointed, then?"

"Disappointed?" Ray repeated incredulously. "No, man, I just... I never sat this close before. I was surprised."

"Well, then." Fraser smiled earnestly. "Happy birthday."

"This is great. Greatness," Ray murmured happily, settling into his seat. "Centre ice, gonna see the Hawks whoop ass for my birthday..."

"I'm glad you're plea..."

"HEY!" Ray barked, waving a hand in the air. "Beer guy!!" He turned and grinned at his partner. "You're drivin', okay?"

"As you wish."

Ben put his Stetson in his lap, relaxing now that he knew his gift met approval. Making Ray happy was important to him, sometimes disturbingly so. Thankfully, years of mental self-discipline kept deeper analysis of that fact at bay. Right now, he was content with the fact that Ray was content.

"Content" was probably too sedate of a definition for Ray's present state. From the drop the man was on his feet, bouncing up and down, shouting obscenities of varying degrees, arms flailing and beer sloshing. Ray's usual high-strung energy was running at red-line, and Fraser half suspected that his hair would soon start throwing sparks.

It was an excellent game, and the seats couldn't have been better. Ben had called up his old friend Mark Smithbauer, in a last desperate attempt at the perfect gift for Ray's 38th birthday. The next day a FedEx envelope was on Fraser's desk at the Consulate, containing the tickets and a note that read:

Ben -- show your guy a good time with my compliments. Hope it works! All the best, Mark

What Mark thought he meant by "hope it works," Benton was sure he had no idea. In his thank-you note, he'd made that very clear. At least, he hoped he had. The last thing he needed was his old friend coming up with some fool notion regarding his intentions toward Ray...

When the buzzer sounded the end of the first period, the Blackhawks were leading 2-1, and Ray dropped back into his seat, beaming like a lighthouse.

"This," he said emphatically, "is the best gift I've ever gotten. Way better than a chemistry set."

Fraser returned the smile, albeit with some confusion. "Are you saying that you'd have liked a chemistry set instead?"

Ray's grin widened. "Got one. When I was a kid, see, I begged for one for years n' years. I thought I was gonna be Dr Frankenstein, you know? Blow shit up."

"Strictly speaking, Ray, in the novel, Dr Frankenstein did not actually blow up..."

"My point, Fraser," Ray interrupted, "is that when Ma n' Dad finally decided I was 'mature' enough to play with lethal chemicals, I thought the chemistry set was the greatest gift I ever got. But this is." He punctuated his final statement with a squeeze of Fraser's arm.

Ben shivered at Ray's touch, and logically enough attributed it to the cool air in the arena. "You're quite welcome," he replied, highly satisfied at having truly pleased his partner, however oddly Ray expressed his gratitude.

Ray flopped back in his seat, looking up into the rafters with an unrepressed dopey smile on his face. Beyond greatness. This was happiness, pure, undiluted... joy. He stole a glance at his partner, who was sitting with customary perfect posture, watching the zamboni clear the ice before the end of the intermission. He knew, from the past 2 years of watching quite closely, that Ben's relaxed looked an awful lot like other people's uptight. Still, he couldn't keep the note of concern out of his voice as he asked,

"How about you? Having fun?"

Fraser turned a surprised expression on him. "Of course. I enjoy hockey very much." He paused, running his thumb quickly over his brow. "Although, I must admit I wish Vancouver was putting up a bit more of a fight," he said in a low voice. "It rather reflects badly."

Ray couldn't help laughing. "In case you ain't noticed, Frase, like 90% of the Chicago team is from the ole homeland. Even Dougie Gilmour is Canadian, much as it pains me... I'd say your countrymen are reflecting just fine."

"If you put it that way..."

"I do."

"...then it appears I won't have to arrest them for being a national disgrace."

The Mountie was joking, Ray realised. What a birthday -- Hawks tickets at centre ice and Fraser discovers irony. Wonders wouldn't freakin' cease.

A few minutes later the players took the ice once again, and again Ray was on his feet. Hockey, he firmly believed, was an audience participation sport. Without the hollering and the carrying-on and the insults, for example, the opposing team would rarely get mad enough to slash somebody or punch somebody, and therefore not get tossed in the box, and therefore not allow for the Hawks to score on the powerplay. In Ray's mind, it was all quite simple, and he'd worked it out very carefully, so he could explain it when the inevitable reprimand from Fraser came.

But it didn't come. For once, he wasn't pursing his lips and going, "Language, Ray," every time he swore at a player. He was sure it was probably driving the other man up the wall, keeping quiet like that. A surreptitious glance at his partner belied his assumption, though: Ben was sitting forward in his seat, elbows on his knees, watching the action with intense concentration. Looking as perfect as any man could, and Fraser had cornered the market on perfect. Now and again his lips would move or he'd shake his head; other than that, he was fixed on the game.

Leave it to Fraser, Ray mused, to know how much this would mean to him. Among the many things he'd wanted desperately as a kid, sitting centre ice for the Hawks (hell, for any team!) had been near the top of the list. Oh, his dad had been a season ticket holder 'til his move to Arizona, but Kowalski senior was a frugal man. Okay, he was cheap. And he'd never bought seats any closer than the F's, despite all of his son's begging.

In the A's now, Pop. Ray didn't particularly guilty for the uncharitable line his thoughts were taking, birthdays were for indulgence, and,

"HEY! What the fuck kinda call was THAT?!" he yelled, as Dougie Gilmour was sent to the box for icing. He glanced at Fraser.

Something, though, something niggled at him about this whole deal. What kind of "old friend" had the pull to get these seats? As far as he knew, the Mountie wasn't buddies with Wayne Gretzky. Maybe the Ice Queen had done him a favour. Nah. He looked at Fraser again, who hadn't moved. Didn't make sense. If he could get these seats on a whim, he sure as hell wouldn't be giving them away to rogue Mounties.

Knock it off, he ordered himself. Does it matter where he got the tickets? Just go ahead and enjoy the game. Thank Fraser again (and again and again) and accept the gift. But how to thank him? Although it had been approximately a year since he'd figured out that his edginess around the man stemmed from intense sexual repression, he'd stuffed those feelings into a little box and gotten on with life. Besides, he mentally pointed out, you weren't gonna think about that stuff tonight. Yeah, but, the morally flexible part of his brain suggested, what better thank-you than to...

"Shuddup," he muttered, looking down at his feet. "That is the stupidest thing I ever heard."

"I'm sorry, Ray?"


"Were you speaking to me?"

"No, I uh... nothin'."

Mercifully, then the period ended, score holding steady at 2-1 Hawks, and Ray escaped to the can.

Well, Benton thought, that was odd. In the space of 10 minutes, Ray had apparently gone from jubilant to annoyed. About what, he had no idea. It didn't make sense that Ray should be unhappy about anything tonight. But if he was it was up to Ben to do something about it.

Glossary notes: :) (not all of these may be germane to the text, some of 'em are just funny)

icing = an offsides play

boarding = skating into someone who has the puck so hard that they bounce off the boards

boards = the big plexi-glass walls that keep the audience from being killed

charging = skating into someone (who has the puck) really hard

slashing = swinging at someone with the stick (not to be confused with several other kinds of whacking players with sticks, such as hooking, butting, spearing, et cetera)