Small cove

Today's view from the lanai was just as pretty as yesterday's. Ray shook his waterlogged thoughts like Dief after a swim. This whole thing, the sex thing, was strange. Ben was strange, yeah, but beyond that, he was also a stranger. Ray felt like he knew Ben down to the ground, but they'd only met two days ago. Ray had never done it with anybody he didn't -- well, anybody, for that matter. Except Stella. And they'd been together for two years before they finally did it, not that he hadn't wanted to.

"Just because I come from a shitty neighborhood doesn't mean I'm a whore," she'd say firmly, almost angrily, when she pulled his hand out of her panties. He figured it was more the effect of living with her mom, who wasn't around much, and when she was, seemed to have an endless supply of boyfriends. Enough so that he wondered if money was an object. So Stella was pretty much a prude about everything, not just guys together.

And that was another thing all by itself. As nice a guy as Ben obviously was, and as pretty as he was, he was still a guy. He hadn't given that any real thought, just listened to his dick. Who knew it could get so pushy? Sure, Ray'd been walking around for a couple months with asses on his mind, and the half moon of a woman's ass looked a lot like the one Ben had. Ben's ass was better, but Ben's ass was still Ben's ass. Everything that was a little fuzzy in Ray's fantasies was all of a sudden standing, big as life, in his shower.

This attraction -- this thing he felt for Ben -- was a little . . . okay, it was a lot. Whatever the hell it was, it was definitely a lot. This could be his only chance. They might see each other in Chicago, or Ben might be with somebody else. Ben didn't seem like he'd love 'em and leave 'em . . . even though he had to be a chick magnet, his place up on the mountain was not the Love Shack. But, as Ray well knew, stuff happened. He couldn't count on a month from now or two months from now. Hell, not everybody could depend on tomorrow.

Then again, what if Ben wanted to keep his ass to himself? Maybe a shower and dinner was all he really wanted, despite his talk about fucking. It wasn't right for Ray to assume anything else. There was no telling whether Ben still wanted to do the horizontal hula. Men talked crazy after their brains spewed out their dicks.

'Will you marry me?' had to be at least in the top ten, he thought ruefully.

Somehow, he had to get his head straight, yeah, the big one and the little one, and not lay his fucked-upness on somebody he barely knew. He still remembered some stuff from the marriage counselor. He wasn't a half-assed kind of guy, but the two full-bore options -- jumping Ben as he came out of the bathroom vs. running away screaming -- no, they just didn't make it, either one.

He was so wound up that he almost did scream at the warm handprint on his shoulder. He whipped around reflexively, his right hand reaching for the small of his back. Thank God there was nothing there.

"Sorry, I thought you heard me."

Ray saw the mouth move, but barely registered the content. Ben on his deck, bare-chested, seemed to be loaded with more meaning than "Ben doesn't have a clean shirt." Maybe it was because Ben was about two inches away. Jumping the guy was looking more and more like the right choice. Too bad Ray was frozen in place. It was the 'ice' in 'indecisive.'

Ben was wearing the ripped-up jeans again. His only alternative was a Speedo, Ray remembered. Both were good choices. Ben had a farmer tan that would be a joke on anybody else. It was beautiful. The contrast of browned arms, with their fine sun-bleached hair, against the creamy, untouched skin of his torso was DaVinci. The triangle of tan at the base of Ben's neck pulled his eyes like a magnet.

Dammit, didn't any part of his body want to take orders anymore?

Helplessly, he followed a drop of water down the smooth, pale path from collarbone to waistband. He watched as the drop touched the denim and bloomed into a tiny damp spot. Under that -- was he really seeing what he thought he was seeing? Oh, yeah. The vertical line of Ben's fly was getting less up-and-down and more curved forward.

Holy fuck. He was watching the guy get a hard-on. Ben was getting hard from him watching. That was just, it was just . . . So. Fucking. Hot. He could feel his own dick push denim in response. He tried to clear his throat, but ended up just making a strange noise.

A firm hand caught his chin, tilting his head back. The deck railing was digging into his ass in back, and Ben's denim-covered cock was rubbing against his in front. There was nowhere else to go. Deep down, Ray was glad about that. The decision was made for him -- what little there was left to decide. His lips parted on their own for a kiss. He could hardly think over the wolf-howl of his dick.

"Open your eyes, Ray." The sound of his name was urgent on Ben's lips. "Talk to me."

Was there something to talk about?


For a split second, he thought Ben was psychic or something. But no; it was just his loose lips sinking ships. He opened his eyes, knowing damn well that his horniness and confusion was written all over his face. How the hell did he do so good at undercover when he wore everything he felt like a tattoo?

"Have . . . have you done this before?" Ben's voice was totally wrong. A good hundred seventy pounds leaned up against Ray. With those too-tight jeans full of hard cock, Ben's body was all, "Sex, now!" But he sounded a little . . . lost.

"Uh. Well, not exactly." It was really tough to get the words out without panting. "You'll be my guinea pig."

Long pause. Uh oh. There was an uncomfortable amount of nothing coming out of Ben's mouth.

"That's okay, isn't it?" Some more silence, with what had to be an equal amount of horniness and confusion on Ben's face. A year or so later, he spoke.

"Ah. I'm afraid that this is a brave new world, Ray."

What the hell next? He burst out laughing, shaking his head at Ben's frown. "Hey, that's great! We can bash each other with our elbows in delicate places and nobody has to be embarrassed."

A yelp of laughter echoed in Ben's chest. "I should have known I could count on you for a fresh outlook, Ray."

"Oh, hell, yeah. Fresh, that's what they call me."

Ben was so close he could smell his toothpaste. It wasn't PearlWhite. Warm breath whispered into his ear. "Then why do I want to despoil you?"

He was saved from answering by Ben's mouth. It settled over his, gently but firmly. Ben's lips were drier than he would have thought, but everything was different on land. Here, nothing held him up except Ben, when his knees lost traction and didn't want to do it. There was nothing moving him except the shudders, the ones that seemed to start at his lips and bang off the inside of his skin down to the soles of his feet.

The early evening breeze ruffled his hair as he tried to find Ben under the mint. It felt like an extra hand, sending messages from his scalp to everywhere.

Ray was spoiled already. Nobody else could possibly kiss like Ben. It wasn't just lips, and that was the only kind of kissing he knew about. The tongue snaking the arch of his teeth was just a bit player. Kissing Ben was a full-body blast, from the hands making their way down to his back to the denim scuffing his legs.

He was still wearing the damned towel. The thing could give at any time, and it would be pretty embarrassing to have it fall right off his ass. He didn't have much to hold it up, after all. Except unless it just hung like a flag off the end of his cock.

God, he was a mess. What was he thinking? Ben had already seen his naked body. He just wasn't used to thinking naked. Especially not thinking naked with a soft mouth working down his neck, behind his ear, along his jaw. The dampness from Ben's tongue left a cooling trail across sensitive skin. The man himself pulled the neck of the shirt back inch by inch, biting lightly along the top of Ray's shoulder. Ray could feel every tooth, even the crooked one. Especially the crooked one.

"Now . . . now you're, uh, jesus . . . tasting me." He was stupid, yeah, and he didn't even have to get fucked stupid, 'cause Ben could do everything, anything, just with his tongue. Oh, Christ, what did everything mean to guys? What could, or would, Ben do with his tongue? The way he was going after Ray's neck, he wouldn't be shy about it, and Ray was already swirly-headed. What would everything be like?

"You taste -- ah -- you are delicious." Ben was sounding a little messed up himself. "Don't mind if I have . . . another bite."

An almost-painful nip at his earlobe took Ray by surprise. His back arched sharply, giving him an extra jolt from skin skidding against warm, moist skin. They were so tight up against each other that Ben must have button prints in his chest. His knuckles hurt from hauling against Ben's belt loops, but the pressure on his terry-covered dick was exquisite. He squirmed, whimpering into the curve of Ben's neck.

He'd never thought he could break a sweat wearing a towel and a flapping shirt, but Ben's body heat was making fusion. He knew damn well his molecules were excited. Must be a law. Energy equals Ben times Ray. He could feel it all around him, being stirred by the breeze. It crackled from nerve to nerve, even where Ben wasn't touching him.

He couldn't take it any more, his head was spinning, shit, he had to get some air before he passed fucking out. He pushed at Ben's slick chest, accidentally-on-purpose thumbing across two hard nipples on the way -- that at least gave him an inch or two of breathing room -- and looked into a pair of dazed eyes. Staring into them, reaching for brain power, he finally figured out that they had moved, were still moving. Trying to ask where or maybe why, all Ray could get out was a questioning mumble.

It was right about then that the towel called it quits. When Ray made that noise and moved a little, Ben pulled back too, and the towel slithered straight down onto their bare feet.

The soft evening air was all around him.

Looking down, Ben sucked wind. "Oh, dear."

"Oh, shit." Like getting bonked with that rubber hammer, he let go of Fraser and dropped, grabbing the towel. About the time his hands were full of towel and his face was flush with the bulge in Ben's jeans, he wondered what the hell he was doing. Then he decided he was probably in the right place at the right time.

The towel turned out to make an okay kneepad.

Curiosity killed the cat, he thought, as he scratched a fingernail down the fly. Ben's gasp made him look up. He'd never seen a man's chest from that angle before. The guy was sweating outright now, showing muscle, pecs tense. Ben was a lot bigger, taller, broader from down here. His eyes were half-mast, looking at Ray like he was a tall cold one on a long, hot day. The sun coming in through the door highlighted the sheen across his chest. He was dangerous, all right.

Absolutely fucking killer.

He ran the same finger under the waistband of the jeans just to see Ben's skin flinch, then wrestled the button. It took both hands and all the concentration he could muster to open the damn thing, but the zipper slid down real sweet, open sesame, and Ben's cock popped out in his face. Because Pearly Ben wasn't wearing any underwear.

He didn't know why that shook him up a little, but it did.

There was a heartfelt groan as Ben's cock swayed in front of him like something that uncoiled out of a basket. Yeah, unpacking that was some serious relief. Lord, he'd thought Ben was about the same size as he was. It sure looked bigger when he looked it in the eye; it was red-hot and begging for attention. He moved a hand up toward it, then wavered.

"Can I, uh . . ." Way to go, Kowalski. The fuck! Was he turning Canadian, or what? There were times to be polite, but this was not his sainted granny's birthday party. This was another kind of party altogether.

Ben only said, "Please do, Ray." His shaky voice ground down to a hoarse whisper. "Do . . . anything."

Holy wow, holy cow. This was awesome, it was unbelievable, it was greatness. But what was he supposed to do? "Anything" left a lot of latitude, but he was at the equator now. Or at least a hell of a ways from Chicago.

He reached up and touched it carefully with the tips of his fingers, as if it might turn on him. Ben's stomach muscles jumped, and his dick jumped up, too. Startled, Ray almost jerked back when it moved by itself. He should remember they had minds of their own -- God knew his had caused enough trouble back in the day. Hell, enough in the twenty-four hours.

Hard-ons were supposed to be threatening, weren't they? Manly. Tougher-than-you. Phallic symbols were for a reason. He'd seen enough National Geographic pictures as a kid to know those gigantic dildo things on the natives weren't there to keep their dicks from falling off.

From Ray's-eye-view, though, Ben's was kind of . . . pretty. Soft and flushed and it looked vulnerable, even when it was standing up proud. It was the foreskin. He'd never seen an uncut cock before. It wasn't slid all the way back; it was like a tiny turtleneck -- made Ben's equipment seem a little shy or something. The head peeked out, looking for a friendly touch.

Enough waffling. Listening to his dick got him here, didn't it? So he should listen to Ben's, now.

Ray reached up and wrapped a hand around the shaft. It firmed even more in his hand -- a familiar feeling, only pointing at him. A long, slow exhalation told him Ben had been holding his breath. Well-washed cotton crumpled under his left hand. Ben smelled good. Somehow that wild outdoor smell of the ocean still clung to him, even over the soap. Salt and ocean. They'd forever mean Ben in his head.

The skin was so soft, and there was so much of it, different from all the times he'd touched himself. He smoothed the foreskin up and down with the circle of his thumb and forefinger, fascinated by the slick drop he coaxed out. It was almost as good as the little noises he heard from above. Then he rubbed the backs of his knuckles along the vein, sliding down to Ben's balls, brushing against the hair there.

Ben shivered, which made Ray feel better. It meant he wasn't the only one feeling shivery.

He tried an experimental stroke all the way down. It tightened up the skin and made Ben's pretty red cock look bigger, vein-ier, needier. Then all the way up, up over the head, pulling and rubbing. That got big applause. Ray felt a surge of triumph when Ben's hips started to move, jerking a little backwards and forwards, like he couldn't help himself.

God, it looked good. Hot. Hot and tasty.

Ben, standing there in the middle of the room, feet spread, jeans hanging above his knees, hard dick shiny with the slick Ray was spreading, was good enough to eat. It gave Ray kind of a dirty little thrill to even think about that. Sucking dick, yeah, that would make him -- what, different? Somebody he wasn't already? Or maybe just the same lonely man he'd been for months now, with something new in his mouth.

Fuck it all.

He was fucking eating the guy with his eyes, anyway. Didn't that make him some kind of hypocrite?

Leaning in, not looking up at Ben because he didn't want to distract himself and besides this was potentially really embarrassing, he just kept going. His eyes unfocused, but that was okay. Kept him from second thoughts, or at least any more of them.

Okay, tough guy. Time to get to business. Time to push away the Stella voice in his head, the nasty one, the one whispering, "Cocksucker." She didn't do that. Had never. No penises came between her virgin lips. So what the fuck did she know? And sucking cock didn't sound so bad right now, anyway. With a deep breath, he stuck out his tongue. Took a lick. Tasted Ben. It wasn't . . . okay, it was a little weird. But it wasn't bad. It was . . . nice.

Now, there was a word he hadn't thought of. Nice. But it was true, it wasn't disgusting or dirty or gross, or even sexy in quite the way he thought it'd be. The tender skin tasted kind of sweet, and Ben was, like, the essence of clean anyway. Inside and outside. He licked along the shaft, bathing it with his tongue just for good measure. Sweet and juicy and just right in his hand, and Ben seemed good with him drooling all over it.

Better than good, if Ray was any judge.

The thing was bigger than it looked, it was the world's biggest all-day sucker, or was that Ray? It was work, opening up for it. He wasn't even going to make all night at this rate, if he didn't figure out how to do it. He was trying not to scrape with his teeth -- the tooth marks were never going to come out of the inside of his upper lip. Ray had no idea what the fuck he was doing. With any luck, Ben was too horny to care.

He tried his damnedest to just go up and down without strangling himself.

The sexy part was not the slippery head against his lips or the taste of gonna-come, it was the way Ben was going nuts that made his head spin, made him feel like a million bucks, like a goddamn love god. The whimpering and the whining and the fast shallow gasps did it. The sudden wrench of Ben's fingers in his hair did it. The way Ben yelled when Ray opened his mouth and took Ben in. Oh, yeah, that did it.

Finally, Ray looked up. Ben was still staring at him with that crazy, pleading look in his eyes. Ben was focused. Oh, hell yeah. He was definitely into it, no matter how crappy a blowjob it was. It all depended, Ray knew, on how long it was since you got some -- and by his calculations, it could have been years. Anybody's hand, anybody's mouth would be good by this time.

He couldn't help but hope that there was a little something extra in it for Ben because it was Ray's hand, Ray's mouth.

Either way, Ben was swaying a little, moving more than he should be given the hardness of the floor and the genuine possibility of falling on it. He looked like he didn't have any idea that all around him was thin air, that he was the only one holding himself up.

Why were they in the middle of the floor, again?

It actually took him a minute to deglaze his brain enough to remember. They were there because they never made it anyplace else. There was a pretty good king-size bed not a couple feet from them; Ray should know, he'd slept alone in it the first two nights.

"Ben. Ben," he said against the long vein. His only answer was a groan. "Ben, we have to get you down."

The laser pointer focus wavered. "What?"

"Glad you're having fun." Ray winked, but only got a hand reaching toward his face and a sad look for his trouble. Ben licked his bottom lip, making it shiny and inviting. His mouth was moving a little, like he was trying to say something but couldn't, quite. Which made Ray feel even more like a love god. Fuckin' A.

"Move. Back." Ray held onto Ben's hips so he didn't crash and burn, and managed to shuffle Ben a few footsteps backwards toward the bed. Ray followed him on his knees, moving the towel with him. Jesus, getting off his knees would be a good thing. "Sit."

Small words had been doing the trick, but Ben didn't sit down. Ray pulled at Ben's knees, and Ben got the picture finally, dropping awkwardly on his bare ass. Then a gentle push, and Ben was tipping back onto the quilted bedspread.

Finally, Ray could crawl to comfort. Doing it over Ben's body was just a plus. He latched onto the pretty mouth like he wanted to suck that dry, too. His hand found a happy home back around Ben's cock, and they kissed and moaned and thrashed around and Ben did his level best to pull all Ray's hair out and Ray didn't give a living shit. He pushed his own stiffie against Ben's hip and jacked him until they were both ready to erupt like volcanoes.

Winded, he leaned back and licked the taste of Ben off his own lips. Ben's eyes were bleary with pleasure, pupils too blown to even see straight. "Ray, don't stop, oh, God," he whispered, and Ray didn't even bother to correct him. Sucking Ben off was suddenly the most important thing Ray ever thought of.

Every time he tried to go down on Stella, she'd pushed him gently away. Ben was everything but pushing him away. Maybe now he could have what he always wanted, to really do something great in the sack for somebody. Things here were already pretty good, and he had a feeling Ben wouldn't push him away no matter what he did. That thought set the wires buzzing all fucking over.

He wanted to see that hard dick up close and personal again, wanted to feel it slide over his lips, wanted to make Ben come so hard he wouldn't splash down 'til tomorrow. So he started downward in sort of a leisurely way, giving Ben some time to think it over, if there were any thoughts in his pretty head right now.

He managed to pay a side visit to a couple lonely-looking nipples, to make sure they were good. An accidental scrape with his teeth got Ben rigid all over. "Oops, sorry, I'm . . . " He couldn't get any more out because his mouth was full again, with a firm hand pressing him down. He went back to work. Ben twisted over and sort of curled around him like he never wanted Ray to be anywhere else.

It was a very good place to be; all in all, one of the better places Ray'd been lately. Still, he had ideas of his own that needed fleshing out. Along the bottom of Ben's lowest rib, hey, that looked pretty appealing, and it was on his way, so two birds there. Either Ben wasn't ticklish, or he had incredible self-control. Ray would be happy to bust it up, but not that way, so he moved on, broad licks down the flat stomach, feeling muscles tighten rhythmically under his tongue.

The man was seriously in shape. That was pretty damned hot, too. All that power, and right now it was rolling under him, for him. He could hardly wait to get between those legs, just grab that ass and hang on while Ben went crazy. It was a whole new world, but he was navigating by instinct now. There was no question where all roads led to.

Ray's lips stretched wide around Ben's dick. He couldn't take it all in, even though he wanted to. There was no way in hell he was going to do a Linda Lovelace on that thing. His mouth felt too full, and every other nudge threatened to gag him. His eyes teared up; there was nothing he could do about that except grab onto the bottom of Ben's cock and try to hold the guy down. Good leverage was hard to find. Still, the gasps and stuttered nonsense he got in return more than made up for it.

A tongue circling the head set Ben to grabbing at the sheets, and he mentally filed that. For . . . later? Was he planning on doing this again? Oh, hell, yeah. If Ben would. If things went his way, there would be a later tonight, one where Ben would find a way to relieve that low heavy ache, the one like a vise around Ray's dick. He'd take whatever he could get, for as long as he could get it, and think about what the fuck he was doing later.

His jaw already hurt. The extra skin made it a little easier; it sort of followed his mouth up and down. Stretched out on the way down, bunched up a little on his way up. There were so many different levels of soft and hard that he couldn't sort them all out. Even Ben's nuts were hard, pulled up tight like they wanted to crawl into his mouth, too. Staying safely up there at the head so he didn't get too much by surprise, he reached down to cup them in his hand, but his elbow slipped in the sheets. His fingertips stubbed into the soft spot right behind the jewels.


He could feel Ben's groan right through his dick. A blast of come filled his mouth before he could get away, and as he pulled back, another shot hit his cheek, gooey and dripping. There was a lot of it. Without thinking, he spit the stuff out into his hand. It wasn't really disgusting, just . . . strange. Not like he'd never touched his own before, but this was somebody else's. Jeez, it was sticky. Slippery. He rubbed his fingers together.

Oh, yeah. Good, good, everything so far was good. His hand knew where it needed to be, and moved down. Slippery would feel so damn good on his own cock. Slick himself up with Ben's come. Plow through that mess on Ben's belly, have a log ride of his own, come all over . . . Ben.

Just the thought of spraying all over that pale smooth skin made his ears buzz.

He didn't get anywhere near it.

Ben was leaning up and over -- how the guy could even sit up after pumping out all his body fluids, Ray didn't know. A thick voice slurred low in his ear, but he had no idea what the words were. A big, hot, fumbling hand caught him where it was most important and tugged once and that was all.

Thar she blows, he thought, watching himself spurt over Ben's wrist. Okay, he'd hoped to do better than that. But he couldn't be too bummed when he was vibrating like a tuning fork. He might never move again, and that seemed pretty okay. The music was nice, after all, and he had Ben Fraser right next to him.

Sunrise palms

He woke up with his stomach growling. God, he was hungry. Then he remembered why. Once that appetite was settled, there'd been no need or want for anything else. The two of them had just wadded themselves up in the blankets and passed out unceremoniously. He wondered if Ben had ever even gotten his jeans all the way off, or if they'd been around his ankles all night.

Speaking of all night, it was morning now, and speaking of Ben, the man was either outside or invisible. He smiled at his own really lame joke, just because he felt like smiling this morning. Smiling a lot. All over his body. Even though all over his body was kind of -- yecch. Covered with yesterday's sunscreen and salt and last night's come, he was downright crusty. He took a deep breath, loving the smell of Ben in the blankets.

Where was he, anyway? At least today he wasn't worried about the guy flaking off. If Ben'd had anywhere near as good a time as Ray did, he'd be sticking around for more. Experimentally, Ray stretched out an arm. Huh. Still worked. A little stiff, though. Must have used a lot of muscles last night that didn't get much action. Mmmm, good.

Carefully, he crawled out of the blankets, admiring the coccoon he left behind. It looked just about right for two people to crawl back into. Although, he amended, the sheets could really stand to be washed. So could he.

Good thing there was a coffeemaker in this place, along with some of Ben's favorite local coffee. He wandered to the door after starting a pot. Sure enough, there was Ben in the Speedo, pounding barefoot down the beach with the dog, bare skin gleaming, the sun over the mountaintop giving him a golden glow. Or maybe that just came with. Maybe glow was part of the package.

Ray leaned in the doorway and watched, still in his birthday suit. His dick was hard from just watching Ben's body move in concentrated rhythm, and he absently stroked himself in anticipation. Both Ben's eyebrows went up when he cleared the screen of the bushes.

"Ah . . . " A little throat-clearing; a big smile. "Good morning, Ray." Beautiful smile.

"A very good morning. Wanna see if we can make it even better?"

"Perhaps I could take that off your hands. I wouldn't want you to be, ah, overworked."

Ben fell on him like he was starving, but not for pancakes. That running stuff had to really crank the feel-good quotient. A hot hard hand around his cock was almost as good as the feel of Ben's ass under his fingers. He groped mindlessly, exploring. The second skin of the Speedo felt like the real thing; nothing between them except wishful thinking. Ben's tongue invaded his mouth, stopping at nothing, not that Ray was trying to stop him. They were just . . . together, in a way he'd never been together with anybody.

Only trouble was, he didn't know what to do with it.

"What . . . " he mumbled around Ben's mouth. "What do you want?"

All he got in return was a "Huh?" before the next takeover bid.

"You. What you want?" It sure was hard to talk with somebody else's tongue in the way.

"Your address," Ben breathed against his jawline. "And phone number." Nip. Suck. "In Chicago."

"Oh, shit, yeah." He pulled Ben's ass even closer as the man worked his way across Ray's collarbone. Flexibility, that was the ticket. Then he let go as Ben dropped to the floor.

"No, wait," he managed. "Can't do that." How stupid was he, really? Pretty stupid, he must be, to distract somebody about to give him his first ever blowjob. Not just somebody -- Ben. But he really was disgusting. No sense in grossing the guy out before he even started.


Ben was not good with mornings, he guessed. "Need -- " enough air to talk " -- shower."


"Yeah. You know. Water. Hot water." He pulled at Ben's shoulders.

Ben looked as out of it as Ray felt. "Yeah. Yeah, okay."

"Come on. I always wanted to do it in the shower, anyway." Stumbling a little, he led Ben into the bathroom and under the spray.

Hot and wet, yeah, that was the whole shebang; it felt so good to rinse off the grime and crust, but not as good as Ben felt, as good as he looked -- shiny and slippery and naked as fast as Ray could get the Speedo down. It wasn't as easy as it might have been if Ben wasn't plastered all over him, sucking anything that hove into range of his mouth.

He pulled Ben's face up for another tongue twister and wrapped his arms around that wide back. They were almost the same height, close enough together to be joined at the dick, rubbing and panting, water beating down on their heads. All of a sudden, Ben threw in an extra sideways move that was just -- wow. The fuse sizzled all the way from his cock to the top of his head. Dry, it would have meant a whole new hairdo.

It was all he could do not to blow on the spot.

"What -- " he spluttered weakly, laughing, "what the hell you call that?"

He'd never noticed that evil twinkle in Ben's eyes. "The French call it frottage, Ray."

Frantically, he dug through his memories of one semester of French. "Cheese?"

"Not fromage. Frottage, meaning . . . " Ray's teeth on his neck seemed to cut him off in mid-explanation, but he started again. " . . . the -- ah -- rubbing of bodies together for -- uh! -- sexual satisfaction -- "



"Shut up and do that again."


Ray knew he was no Einstein. It didn't matter. It didn't take a genius to understand that the crazy, jumbled up feeling he got inside, watching Ben's dark head at his hip, didn't have anything to do with physical sensation.

Afterward, when they were sitting propped up half-dead against the walls of the shower, the water pounding away any muscle tone he had left, Ben raised his head. His words sounded more tentative than Ray would have expected.

"You will come to Oahu with me, won't you, Ray?"

He would.

Banana palms

There wasn't much vacation left, so he packed up and took his bag along to Oahu. He sure as hell wasn't going to waste any vacation time with just himself for company. They had to leave Dief with Brenda, since Ben said plane rides made him sick.

The people sleeping on mattresses or just on flat cardboard boxes outside the airport in half-hidden corners shocked him. Shouldn't have; after all, this was the big city too. Book 'em, Dano, and all that. It just seemed like there shouldn't be homeless people in paradise. He shook his head -- same shit, different city -- and they went off to pick up his rental car.

The wait at the Alamo place was forever. He might as well try to figure out what was going on here. "Is this lady really your aunt?"

"No, Aunty is often an honorific."

"So, there must be some reason why you're honorifying her."

"Shortly after I came to Hawaii the first time, I became friends with Delmar, whom you've met. He was taking his master's degree in marine biology at the University."

"Yeah?" So Delmar was no dummy.

"He took me on a tour of Maui, along the famous Hana Highway -- it's a beautiful trip, but on this occasion, it had been storming for days, the worst storms in a decade. We decided to drive down along the Keanae Peninsula to observe the heavy surf."

"That must have been pretty amazing. I've seen those kind of waves -- on tv shows, anyway." Ray finally got them onto the main drag from the rental parking lot.

"It was most certainly that." Ben's voice was wry. "As we were getting out of the car, six people who were standing too close to the rocky edge of the Keanae Landing were swept away by twelve-foot waves." He sighed. "Despite the efforts of Delmar, myself, and another man who lived nearby, two visitors lost their lives in the ocean."

Ray turned to him, forgetting all about the traffic for a second. "You jumped into twelve-foot waves to help a bunch of people who were too stupid to stand back? I wouldn't jump into Lake Michigan."

"But you don't swim, Ray." The guy was way too reasonable. "It's not quite as dangerous if you know how the current is running, and you know how to swim along it."

"Yeah, not quite," Ray grumbled. "Right." Jesus, this guy really was a nut. "But it was your first time here! How could you know how to swim in the freakin' ocean? You grew up in," -- someplace up north, that was all he could remember -- "in the middle of nowhere."

"Well," it sounded like a rap on the knuckles, even if it wasn't as hard as the nuns used to, "of course I took the time to read up on such possibilities before I came."

"Of course." Ray rolled his eyes. "What does this have to do with the Aunty lady?"

"When we returned to Oahu, somewhat the worse for wear, Delmar's Aunty Meli took us in. She fed and coddled us for several days. When she found out what we had done, and discovered that neither of my parents are still living, she insisted on adopting me into her extended family. She's the one who gave me the quilt with the emblem of the Hawaiian flag. It was quite an honor."

"You are her family, then, sort of." He negotiated around a big truck in the middle of the street. "Aunty Meli, huh . . . Aunty M." Ray burst out laughing. "Ben, you got a Aunty M!" He couldn't help the sing-song. "There's no place like home, there's no place like home."

He laughed again, but Ben looked serious, almost sad. "Hawaii does feel very much like home to me, Ray. It's one place I really feel like I belong. It's hard to leave each year to go back to teaching."

"Why don't you stay, then?"

"I do need to make a living, and given the shortage of open positions here . . . but perhaps some day."

Ben gave precise directions; he'd expected no less. When they pulled up in front of a little yellow house, that had to be Ben's Aunty M washing the siding. Ben hollered and she waved back as they came up the neat walkway.

"Ben!" he whispered behind his hand. "Are they all this hausfrau here?"

The neighborhood looked pretty nice, small neat post-WWII houses like some areas of Chicago, although it was hard to tell whether everybody was out scrubbing their houses on a regular basis. And in Chicago, those areas didn't look nearly this good.

"Meli is very proud of her house and her neighborhood. Understandably so, since she's the person who dragged it out of the clutches of the drug dealers and hoodlums that were taking it over." Ben smiled broadly. Jeez, he was pretty. "Her area didn't always look this good. This renewal happened in just the last few years."

They were close enough to be heard, now, and the round, brown woman tossed a thick braid over one shoulder as she stepped up to squish Ben in an enormous hug. It took a lot, considering how short she was. Her sun-spangled smile reminded him of Ben's, even more so in contrast with her skin. Going by the crinkles around her eyes, he bet she laughed a lot.

"Don't be silly. The whole neighborhood worked together, all of us." Her voice was soft and musical. "And you were the one who started it all."

"What?" Ray was baffled by now.

Aunty M turned the full effect of her teeth on Ray and took his hand. "Hello, I'm Meli Ahuna. Just call me Aunty Meli. Any family of Ben's is family of mine." She squeezed his hand. "The man next to you is the one who instigated the renewal of our neighborhood. He encouraged us to fight back against the 'ino, the bad guys, by starting the neighborhood watch. He convinced us we could make a difference."

Ben broke in with the introduction. "This is Ray Kowalski, a friend from Chicago."

"Delmar told me you'd be bringing your ipo." She looked happy about Ben dragging in a friend. "The more the merrier."

Ben looked at Ray over her head, apologetic about something. "Well, it's . . ." He straightened his already straight shirt collar with his free hand. He was wearing Ray's gift shirt.

Meli tugged on both their hands, leading them into the house. "It's almost lunch time. Come on in."

Aunty M was pulling a surprising array of dishes out of the refrigerator, and he wondered how she managed to make all that stuff in her tiny kitchen. The mess had to be unbelievable. She caught Ray's look of amazement. "Leftovers from a party last night," she assured him. "My sister's youngest turned sixteen. Big luau over at Ewa Beach."

"Don't believe her," snorted Ben. "She's simply a person who follows the old Hawaiian adage, 'Don't eat until you're full. Eat until you're tired.' "

"Don't give me any of that, Ben Fraser. I've seen you eat, remember?" Aunty M's smile lit up the room.

They fell on all the double-your-fun food: huli-huli chicken, looked and tasted like barbecue only better; lomilomi salmon, which looked like raw fish only he just closed his eyes and ate it anyway; and laulau, meat wrapped in leaves. After a while, he totally got the 'eat until you're tired' theory.

He was happy to pass on the poi this time, and he discovered Ben hadn't been kidding about the whiteness of side dishes. There was macaroni salad made from just macaroni and mayonnaise, potato salad with, guess what, potatoes and mayo, and, of course, on the side, rice. The fruit salad had fruit in it that he didn't recognize, but it tasted great anyway.

He was too relaxed and stuffed to join their chatter, and it was mostly about people he didn't know, but that was okay. One thing he'd already figured out, it was fun just to watch Ben in his native habitat.

"You were sorely missed at the luau, Ben, and not just because Kanoe has a crush on you. There were only two guitars."

"I wanted to come, but I needed to take some samples yesterday."

Which was no lie, since the guy had been coming his brains out, samples all over the sheets, neglecting to mention any family get-together. It was kind of nice to know he was that important for the few days he was here, when these people were a big deal to Ben. Even if it was only because Ben wanted to get laid. Well, that wasn't fair. They'd done other stuff together, too. He was pretty sure Ben honestly liked him.

His friend leaned back and stretched, evidently as full as Ray. "I'm sure there were plenty of young men around to keep Kanoe happy. She inherited your sunny personality and lovely eyes."

"Flattery will get you everywhere. Why don't you play for us now?"

"You mean my guitar is still here?"

"You know I only give away your things when I'm mad at you."

Ray caught Aunty M's wink, and grinned back. He didn't even bother to ask what that was all about.

The way Ben played the mellow old twelve-string was nothing like he'd ever seen or heard before. It was a finger-picking style, but not like country music. It was soothing and sweet and Ray could almost feel the cool breeze over the water in it, the way he could almost feel Ben's nimble fingers on the inside of his elbow, along his back . . .

"Uncle Cyril would be so proud of you," Aunty M murmured, and Ray watched Ben's answering smile from under his eyelashes. He was halfway into a dream of him and Ben on the warm black sand when the phone rang, a shrill whine jolting him from his happy thoughts.

Ben stopped playing and looked up, brows raised.

"I've been letting the machine pick up lately," Aunty M said with a sigh.

It did. The electronically-disguised voice made his skin crawl. "Good to see you outside cleaning your house this morning, Mrs. Ahuna. That's where you belong, not out giving speeches. If you insist on doing that, we'll find a way to stop you." Click. Buzzzz.

"They're back." Fraser was frowning.

Aunty M nodded tiredly. "They never really left. I'd always find things on my email. Nothing anybody was willing to do about it. They've escalated since I started speaking to groups from other neighborhoods. I don't want to stop giving out my phone number. There are people I want to be able to find me."

All of her good nature had drained away. Even the gray in her hair stood out more. "I think it's new dealers now, whoever's bringing in that new drug. They call it Island Roulette, you know? It's always a great high, except when it kills you."

Threats. That just sucked. Pretty handy that the bad guys could phone 'em in, send 'em online. For some reason this woman brought out his protective instincts, maybe just because she was Ben's friend.

"I take it you weren't washing your house merely for the pleasure of seeing it clean." Ben's flat words suggested he was feeling the same way.

"Somebody tagged me last night. I suppose it'll just keep on. I did call the cops, and they were here earlier, but they don't have enough manpower to hang around my house waiting for something to happen."

"You're kidding."

Two heads swiveled toward him. They were probably stunned that he'd finally opened his mouth.

No manpower meant no money. He was forking over $550 a night on the empty grass hut. "This place is crawling with tourists, and there's no money for cops?"

Aunty M sighed. "Most of that tourist money goes back to hotel corporations in Japan or on the Mainland. Making beds doesn't pay much, and tourism can't employ everybody. There are a lot of people living in poverty."

Ray revised his idea of why there were shacks in Hawaii.

"So you're thinking this will continue?" Fraser reached over and covered Aunty M's hand. "There's got to be something that can be done."

"It won't continue, because we're going to stop it," Ray said firmly.

Even he wasn't sure why, when he finally had something to say, that's what it was.

Scratch that. He knew, all right. Ben might be able to do everything, but Ray could do one thing well, and he was damn well going to. He was a good cop.

Ben and Aunty M both talked at once.


"Ray, I -- "

"You both know the taggers and the callers aren't the sweetest pineapples on the tree. The head guys don't do that picayune shit. Um. I mean. We're going to follow us a tagger, and he's going to take us straight to the Big Kahuna."

"Pineapples don't grow on trees, Ray." But the look Ray got was full of approval.

He didn't really want to hang out in the bushes outside Aunty M's house half the night waiting for some punk kid, but Ben's admiring gaze turned him inside out. He'd do anything for another look like that. If they got lucky, the whole problem could be solved before he went home.

Place of Refuge

Which was how they ended up locked in the drug lab.

Following that kid had been good in theory, but the back alley to this place turned out to be a dead end. The kid had walked back here and he'd just . . . disappeared. Ray was with Braveheart, he had to go too, to see where the kid went, didn't he? Bad move. When they got jumped, the alley started looking like their own dead end. He didn't get much time to think about it before something hard connected with his skull.

He came to under bright lights, tied back-to-back with Ben, a post in between them. It didn't help anything when Ben yelled, "Release us immediately! This man is an officer of the law!"

It only seemed to start up an old argument between the two guys wearing tuxedoes. They had their debate while minions hauled out drugs and cash by the bushel.

"I hate to do this. It's my life's work!" That was the little one.

"You always knew we were going to empty the lab. Now that we have the cops here, there's only one good way to get rid of all the evidence. You'll get another lab. You'll have everything you could ever want. Once we have the submarine, we'll restore to Hawaii the glory it deserves."


Even after a knock on the head, Ben was fast. "You're the ones who illegally operated the Low Frequency Active Sonar, looking for the submarine."

"Shut up." The little one again. Mouthy bugger.

"No." The big one. "They should know who they're dealing with. Their sacrifice is not in vain." He lifted his arms up high, which sort of went with the distinguished gray beard and the crazy eyes. "My name is Randall Bolt. This is my brother Francis, and when we use our nuclear capability to free these beautiful islands from the chains of the oppressors, the whole world will know our names!"

"Oh, stop it, Randall. We're not the liberators of Hawaii, we're drug pushers!"

"Things will look quite different in the morning, Francis." He said it with as much dignity as a genuine loony could possibly have. "History is always rewritten to favor the winning side. Come along, we have a price to negotiate."

It took the two of them what seemed like hours to get free of the rubber tubing that bound their wrists and feet. Who knew Ben would carry a folding pig-sticker in his field boot? Or, for that matter, that Ben could twist far enough around for Ray to pull it out with his teeth? Okay, Ray had known that already.

"It's always good to be prepared, Ray."

"I'm gonna write that down." He looked around their prison glumly. "Benton, my pearly friend, if I ever have any more of these good ideas, just kick me in the head." Although, come to think of it, the goon outside the building had already done that once tonight, and it hadn't helped.

"We'd never have known about their nefarious plans any other way. We can still stop them."

Ray was more worried about getting out of this death trap in one piece.

He'd spent the afternoon in the shade of a palm tree by the ocean, snoozing on the white sand, while he waited for Ben to finish up at the University. If he'd known tonight might be his ticket to the Big Luau In The Sky, he'd have at least taken the opportunity to fuck Ben over his office desk. Never let it be said that Stanley Ray Kowalski didn't have his priorities in line.

Now, he wiped the sweat off his face with his t-shirt, feeling like he might suffocate before the bomb went off. The heavy, acrid chemical smells in the room were getting to him. Didn't these guys ever hear of ventilation? He stalked along the rows of tables, only barely managing to stop himself from banging on them with his fists. He wondered if he was going to end up like the guy on the road in Kona by osmosis.

He wondered if he was going to live that long.

Don't think that. Don't even think it. They had to get out of here. He was the cop, he was the savvy one, and he'd fucked up everything so bad that he was going to get the both of them stretched out on a slab. Shyeah, he had to be a tough guy, hoping to impress Ben. If his cell phone had been tucked in his pocket instead of in his hand when he got nailed, they could just call for help. Imagine that.

Momentarily still, Ray watched his friend silently, trying to absorb the line of Ben's back and the quiet sureness of his hands.

The door looked like a typical old-fashioned metal bank vault door, except it was inside out, with the combination lock facing them. Maybe the Nut brothers -- no, the Bolt brothers -- had bought the thing; it looked antique. Or, figuring these guys, they stole it. From the outside, it was covered with matching siding; you couldn't even tell the door was there. Until somebody opened it and pulled you inside.

Ben looked up warily from his crouch, as if Ray might go off just like the thing counting down seconds over there in the corner. There was a bead of sweat trailing along his hairline, his skin white against the dark of his hair. His jaw was clenched so hard he looked like he had trouble talking. "We have several minutes left, Ray. I'm sure we'll be fine." He leaned back down and listened at the lock, fingers twisting for the fall of tumblers as he tried to safe-crack their way out.

He didn't know whether the guy could do it, but right now he was betting his life that Ben's unseen talents ran to more than mind-bending blowjobs in the shower.

There must have been somebody in the lab all the time. The bigger, crazier brother had to be the one who'd lived in here. The fumes had obviously gotten to him long ago. The better-living-through-chemistry brother seemed a lot saner.

He prowled restlessly around the white and gleaming-metal room, jittering and shaking, mostly because he'd finally realized why there was no air circulation. The bomb didn't look like much; it was really little, but it wouldn't have to be much when it ignited the fumes of whatever the hell Bolt, Inc. made in here. He and Ben would look like what got scraped off the grill when it was all over.

"Ah." The sound was long, drawn out, and full of good feelings.

God bless words of one syllable. "We're out of here! Get a move on!"

"Ray, we can't, there are people living near this building --"

"We can't defuse the friggin' bomb!"

"There must be a way!"

"Ben, you don't know how to defuse the bomb. I don't know how to defuse the bomb. What are we waiting for?"

By his best guess, they had two minutes. Maybe they could clear out the locals if they hurried. He wasn't a goddamn professor of geology, but he knew enough to run away from a bomb.

They were practically wrestling now, Ray trying to push Ben out the door as Ben struggled to get to the bomb. Ben got closer to what he wanted than Ray did. In one last desperate shove, Ben went down, falling against the metal table, landing with a thump on the scuffed floor tiles. Ray watched in horror as the bomb wobbled on its perch and a big beaker swan-dove off the table. He leapt for it, ending up in a three point landing on Ben. Air left Ben's lungs in a huh.

The bomb plopped neatly into his outstretched hand.

The beaker spewed clear liquid, soaking them both, crashing to the floor. He closed his eyes against flying shards as he struggled for breath.

"Are you all right?" he gasped, levering himself up and off.

" 'm fine." Ben answered as best he could around coughing and spitting stuff out of his mouth.

"Good. Let's get this thing out of here." Grabbing the coil of rubber tubing from the floor near the table leg, he left Ben to get up by himself.

"What?" Ben had said he was okay, but he looked pretty confused.

"Come on, we're going to master the laws of physics. If this thing is right,we have -- " he checked the timer on the bomb, " -- fifty seconds."

They sprinted up the fire escape to the top of the three-story building, looking for a launch pad. Ben seemed a little wobbly; at the end, Ray was pulling him by the shirt.

He had a hell of a draw, though. Made sense; he was heavier than Ray. It was all Ray could do to stand against the pull from behind him as Ben leaned back. The rubber tubing worked better than he thought. The bomb arced into the night sky, and there was a pop like a faraway rifle shot. He felt a sigh of relief coming up all the way from the basement. That should pull cops in from all over town.

Except that right on its heels, there was a boom.

The quiet spread of stars above them was filled with an across-the-sky shower of brilliant color. Then another, and another.


Well, shit.

"Wow," said Ben.

All of a sudden he was tired. Exhausted. "Yeah, wow." He wandered over to the edge of the roof and peered down. There was nobody on the street. When he looked back, Ben was still watching the fireworks.

"Let's go find a place to call this in."

He had to take Ben's arm to get him to move, and once back down the guy was trying to look over his shoulder as they walked. Didn't they have fireworks in North Bufu?

In the alley, scattered on the pavement, were the munched remains of his cell phone. He'd been calling the cops when the big bozo tried to crack open his skull. Ben must have scuffled with the guy before he got hit, and they stomped it. Dispiritedly, he kicked at the plastic bits. Would this count as a business expense? He did need one for work. Maybe he could deduct it.

Surprisingly, they were only a few blocks from the hotel zone. There were people on the streets here, but not a lot of them. Couples, arm in arm, walking back from a night on the town or a moonlight walk on the beach. The first hotel they came to was a pretty fancy place, all marble everything and giant displays of flowers.

"Might as well make a stop before we call in. Two minutes isn't going to matter right now, and my back teeth are out for a swim."

When he got out of the can, Ben was playing with the water on the stone surface of the countertop, rubbing it around. His eyes were kind of glittery in the mirror when he looked up at Ray. Funky lighting, he thought. Then Ben leaned down to take a drink from the running tap.

Ray laughed and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "Man, I can't take you anywhere, can I?"

He was only kidding, but Ben turned to him, looking like a mulish five year old.

"I was thirsty," said Ben. That lip thing -- it was almost a pout.

Weirder and weirder. He was starting to wonder if Ben's brain was scrambled from getting hit. "Come on, we'll get you a glass of water in the restaurant."

"With ice?" Hopeful look.

"Sure, yeah, water with ice." He never thought that offer would make anybody so happy.

In the hall he found a pay phone and punched in 911 while Ben traced a fingertip along the dark curved grain of the marble wall. What was so interesting about that?

"911, what is your emergency?"

"I'd like to report a drug lab, a kidnapping, and an attempted bombing."

There was a pause. He could just about see the dispatch operator's expression. "Where are you, sir?"

" . . . uh, I don't know. Some fancy hotel." He looked around to see if there was a sign; there hadn't been one on the outside of the building, but the first thing he noticed was that Ben was gone. Jesus, the way the guy was acting --


A wet, sucking mouth at the back of his neck nearly left his boots on the floor and the rest of him spread like peanut butter on the ceiling. He felt the rebound in every cell.

Ben, eerily quiet, whispered, "Ray, they're here."

He forcibly quit shivering. "What? Who's here?"

"Sir, where are you?"

Where was he? He was in some kind of bad dream. Wasn't this supposed to be his vacation?

"The men who captured us, the Bolt brothers. They are eating a late dinner in this establishment's restaurant."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure." Irritation was crowding long-suffering patience off Ben's face as he stared down the hall.

"Listen," he said into the phone. "I gotta go, but I'll be back." He left the receiver hanging as he hustled after Ben.

Even though it was almost midnight, there were plenty of people in the restaurant. There were men in good suits and tuxes and women in slinky dresses. Ben hadn't been kidding -- the two men were right there, at a table near the entrance.

A string quartet played romantically off in the corner as the Bolts chewed on fine cuisine bought with their dirty money. Man, that just chapped his ass. The three guys with them must have the submarine. He turned to Ben, about to ask him to go talk to 911 while he kept watch, when Ben's mouth opened. Just as the quartet went silent, he straightened up and spoke in a voice that could be heard all over the elegant dining room.

"Randall and Francis Bolt, I am performing a citizen's arrest. It will be best if you come quietly."

He looked like he belonged on one of those three-masted ships, saber in hand, crying, "Take no prisoners!" How did he even remember those guys' names?

A babble of confusion circled through the diners as the Bolts . . . bolted for the far exit.

Ray threw himself after them, knocking over a couple chairs and nearly a couple diners on his way. He managed to tackle the weasely one, getting a punch to the guy's head in as an afterthought. He shook out his hand and thought maybe he really did belong in the WWF. Gah, no handcuffs. As a UFO zoomed past his head, Ray turned fast enough to watch the follow-through. Ben had grabbed a tray from a hapless waiter and spun it out underhand like a frisbee. Nice throw.

The tray itself was a near miss on Bolt, but the food landed like destiny on the sequined bosom of a big, and big-haired, woman. Her high C of outrage shattered crystal for five tables around. She stood up, gravy dripping into her serious cleavage, grabbed a pheasant off a nearby plate, and winged it at Ben. No arm on her, though. It hit a tuxedoed man a couple tables over.

Within seconds the musicians were cowering in the corner. What they needed was a piano; no good cover under violins. The place was filled with flying food and curses, some that even Ray had never heard, some in languages he didn't understand. A dignified gentleman was pitching pastry from the dessert table. Pasta hung from the chandeliers and sauces splattered the walls.

The delicate scent of expensive perfumes and burning candlewax was washed over by toasty-delicious smells that reminded him that, as much as he'd eaten for lunch, it was the middle of the night now. His stomach growled.

As Ray tried to stand with his struggling prize, a hunk of something solid caught him hard on the back of his head. It wouldn't have hurt that bad, but it hit square on the lump that was already there. The pain seared all the way to the tips of his fingers, and he swayed drunkenly. He almost dropped the bastard who'd tried to ruin his Hawaiian vacation by blowing them up.

Some kind of cold sauce was trickling down the side of his neck. Eww. He swiped at it and soldiered on.

Eventually, dragging the swearing and kicking weasel behind him, he caught up to Ben, who was now the cleanest person in the room. Ray couldn't see a crumb on him. Ben was standing over a prone Bolt, waving half a broken plate like an avenging Iron Chef. He stopped waving it when he realized Ray was beside him, beamed, looked back at the plate, and licked it.

"Mmmm. Steamed Big Island green beans with braised fennel. Garlic mashed potatoes, just a bit of scallion, made with real cream. Kiawe-grilled ono with a ginger and lemon grass glaze."

Ray pulled the plate out of Ben's hand. "What was all that? You never heard of sneaking up on somebody?"

"But this is so much more fun! I've discovered a technique. It's all in the wrist, really." Ben was practically hopping over his new hobby. "I haven't had this much fun since . . . yesterday morning." Then he winked, smoothing his tongue over his lower lip in a way that made Ray's hips jerk forward. Damn his reflexes.

The next thing he knew, he was tasting fennel and garlic too, because Ben's tongue was in his mouth like it belonged there. Which it did, but not right now. Because Ben's fingers found that same damn lump on his head.


"I'm so sorry, Ray. Let me kiss it better."

"No! Stay away!"

Good lord, he'd created a monster.

Ray looked at Ben carefully. Even in the low light of the gold dining room, which was getting less classy and more food-covered by the minute, his pupils were going under in the deep blue sea of his irises. His cheeks were bright red. Was it excitement, or was it the shit that he got a mouthful of in the drug lab? They'd find out at the hospital, because now this joint was crawling with cops.

He waved his free hand. "Officer! Officer!"

"Ray, let's leave. Now." The purr was followed by a grope of his ass. From inside his apparently way-too-loose jeans.

"Are you crazy? We're getting you to the emergency room!"

Ben looked offended. "I'm perfectly fine. I feel better than I ever have." The mulish scowl was back, and then it changed to something more . . . seductive. "Let's not go to Aunty Meli's tonight. I know of a nice little hotel -- "

"Yeah, and we might go there after why we find out why you feel so good."

"Ray." Pout.

He finally snapped. "Knock it off, or I'll make them restrain you."

"I'd rather you did."

Oh, that smile was so very . . . bad. Which was good. Or it would be good, next Wednesday.

"Officer, this man needs a ride to the hospital. Immediately. And, uh, can somebody take this scumbag away?"

He spent practically the entire trip, the two of them in the back of a squad car, trying to keep his hard-on in his jeans and Ben out of them. Then, just as they pulled up to the emergency entrance, Ben's eyes rolled back in his head and he passed out, hitting the window with a clunk.

Ray freaked. He reached for the door handle on his side before he remembered where he was. "Let's go, let's go, he's unconscious!"

The cop on the passenger side jumped out, but by that time the orderlies were outside with a gurney.


He was deliriously grateful when Ben woke up again. A nurse shining that tiny light in his eyes made him snuffle, shake his head, and look around. He still looked dazed, but he wasn't dead, and that was what counted. They wheeled him away to poke and prod, and Ray was left to talk to the cops.

At least giving a statement took his mind off being in the hospital. Man, he hated emergency rooms. Funny how there was always something bad going on in them.

He had plenty of explaining to do. Hawaii's finest did not take this escapade lightly. The cops were more interested in booking them for drunk and disorderly than looking for mythological parties selling nuclear submarines. They gave him a breathalyzer and made the nurses go vampire on his ass. He was too worried about Ben to care.

At least he had the satisfaction of knowing the drug lab was still there, so there was evidence to back him up. He could only hope the Bolt guy's mouth was just as big around cops as it was around people he tried to blow up.

During the endless wait to find out what was up with Ben, he made a decision. Ben was going to be pretty upset about being drugged, much less being held prisoner. Again.

Ray checked his watch. The big hand was on the ten and the little hand was on the eleven. Maybe he could deduct a decent watch, too.

Moseying past the intake area, he saw that it was almost four in the morning. That meant . . . what? Five hours difference. Nine o'clock in Chicago. Welsh would have been sucking down coffee and riding herd on the bullpen for a couple hours by now. He headed for the pay phone.

Frannie put him through with a minimum of squealing about his vacation.

"Look, Lieu, I really need a couple extra days."

The answer snapped his head up so fast it started to hurt again. "Don't worry, Kowalski, take all the time you need." Welsh's usually gruff voice was . . . he finally identified the unfamiliar tone as sympathy.


"Despite what my detectives may think of me, I know that family is important. Now that Vecchio's back, we can cover you for this, at least."

"What? What family?" He was losing it again; it was late, it was early, his head hurt -- "What the hell's going on?"

"Your mother called late yesterday, didn't she ever talk to you? Your dad is in the hospital. He's stable now, but they're doing tests. I thought that was what you called about."

Yesterday afternoon, which meant he'd been stuffing his face at Aunty M's, Hawaiian time. He didn't have his phone on all the time here; just checked his messages once a day. Or not.


"Thanks. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know." He hung up without waiting for an answer.

Oh, fuck. His dad. Fuck. Bad things were supposed to come in threes, weren't they? He couldn't even keep count today. Yesterday. Whatever the fuck day it was.

His mom would be at the hospital, so no point in calling her. He managed to get through to Ron at work.

His brother was way too cheerful. "Don't stress out, okay? They think he'll be fine. He's having an angiogram this afternoon -- I'm going over at lunchtime."

Ray smacked his palm against the wall. "They think, they think, what is that shit?" The painted cement block wall was frigid under his hand.

"Take it easy. I know how you feel about Dad, but he's a tough old bastard. And mom's holding the fort. Don't worry, just come. I know he'll be glad to see you."

Black sand lagoon

He got a special dispensation to visit Ben, even though it was the middle of the night. Ben's now-hyperactive appeal got him a single room. Either that or he had some serious health insurance.

"Don't worry, we're just giving him some fluids and keeping him overnight for observation. It's okay to keep him awake -- in fact, because of the head injury, we'd just as soon he stayed awake until he sobers up a little." The scarily chirpy little nurse closed the door behind him.

With everybody and his brother telling him not to worry, why did he feel like that bomb was ticking off time in his guts?


Ben looked so happy to see him that he couldn't help cracking a smile. Then again, he reminded himself, the guy'd been pretty happy about a glass of water, too.

Most people looked pitiful in a hospital bed, even sicker than they really were, but Ben made a joke out of that. Against the white sheets, he was bursting with health and vitality. He wouldn't be going to sleep soon. Ray wondered what he'd feel like when he finally came down. His pupils were still so small Ray could hardly find them.

When he went to put his hand over Ben's on top of the covers, the silly bastard pulled him right down into a wet, messy kiss. At least one thing was still right with the world.

Gently, he disengaged Ben's clutch.

"Wait, Ben, this is serious."

Instantly, Ben's expression changed again. This time, an attentive curiosity radiated from him. Drugged up, everything showed in plain sight. If the guy could cock his ears forward, he'd look just like Dief.

"It's my dad. He's sick."

"Oh, Ray, I'm so sorry." Gentle sympathy. A clumsy attempt at a hug, which wasn't easy since Ray was standing up, sort of.

"I have to go. I need to go see him, he's in the hospital. He's always been my . . . well, you know, we had the usual teenage things going on. But when I got my badge, he said it was the proudest day of his life."

Ben looked at the wall for a while.

Finally he said, "I miss my father. Even though I never really knew him, I miss him." He looked up at Ray. There were tears in his eyes. "You need to be with your father. I hope he recovers soon."

"Thanks, buddy. I wish I didn't have to go."

Ben nodded solemnly. "Will I see you again?" Big, blue, hungry look.

"Of course you will! Look, wait, there's gotta be . . ." and there it was, pencil and paper, and he wrote down his address and phone number. There was no good place to put it, so he stuck in on the bedside table under Ben's cup of water. "You're gonna call me in Chicago, right?"

"Why, yes, I believe I will." Ben looked all cheered up again.

"You won't change your mind?" Ray gave him the eye.

"No. I won't."

Their goodbye kiss tasted like hope.

Cactus sunrise

His luck finally managed to change from shit to gold.

By the time he got to the hospital in Phoenix, after his brother picked him up at the airport, after a good ten hours spent staring out the freakin' window at clouds from planes while he counted the minutes and pacing through the LA airport wishing he had a fucking cigarette even though he'd quit years ago and you couldn't smoke in there anyway, his dad was eating dinner off a hospital tray and teasing Ron's little girls while they giggled up at him. The old man didn't look like he'd had surgery a couple hours ago.

He leaned against the doorway, just happy to savor the sight for a moment. The piano wires in his neck eased up for the first time in fourteen hours, and, along with them, the blistering headache.

"Ray, honey, come on in. We're having a party." His mom bustled over and pulled him into the room.

Sure enough, there was cake and ice cream and lemonade in paper cups.

"You notice I don't get ice cream any more," his dad said wryly, as Ray hugged his mother and got a kiss on the cheek.

Ray made his way to the bed, his legs not as steady as he thought they'd be, and grabbed his dad's hand. "You old -- you scared the, the crap out of me." His breath came out in a stutter, and to his embarrassment, his eyes filled with tears. He tried to blink them away before his dad could see.

"I know, kid. Sorry." His dad squeezed his hand. He had big, callused hands and serious grip strength from all those years at the packing plant. It was a relief to feel it now. "If it helps, I wasn't too excited either. But they do amazing things with balloons these days. I'm just lucky my insurance sprung for an overnight stay."

"I'm glad. Dad, you look good."

The old man looked him up and down. "I look a damn sight better than you do."

"Damien, the girls!" His mom was being grandmotherly, so things had to be pretty much back to normal already.

"You know me and planes, we never got along," grumbled Ray sheepishly.

"Yeah, right. Some of us in this room spent the week watching babes on the beach and partying all night long."

"Watch it, Ron, my man, you're turning a little green."

"Who, me? I've got my beautiful babe right here." Looking innocent, he put an arm around his wife.

"You better say that," muttered Susan, and they all laughed.

"What's a man got to do to get some peace and quiet, anyway? I'm the one who's supposed to be on vacation. Go on home, I'm gonna watch the Diamondbacks."

"Traitor!" That was from everybody, including Ron's wife, who was a Cubs girl from way back.

"That's enough. I don't have to take this from my own kids." His fierce scowl was see-through even to Amanda and Julie, and Susan lifted the girls up for a goodnight kiss. "Go on, get out of here. And you," he poked two fingers at Ray, "get some sleep."

He sure did -- in the car. He woke up to a hand patting his cheek.

"Honey, if I could carry you in like when you were little, that would be fine, but those days are long gone." She brushed his hair off his face with a smile. "You're going to have to walk in under your own power."

"Gotta call Ben," he mumbled, working his way out of the car like he was wading out of a vat of caramel.

"What you've got to do is go to bed," she answered, as he stumbled on his way up the steps.

"No, gotta -- he's in the hospital. Was when I left."

"Oh, Ray, a friend of yours is in the hospital? Why didn't you say so!"

It took his mom's help; she called information while he tried to make his brain work. Despite being pretty much nonfunctional, he managed to identify himself as a detective with the 27th Precinct, Chicago PD, badge number and all.

"I'm sorry, sir," said the receptionist, who wasn't really sorry but made it sound good, "Mr. Fraser checked himself out earlier today against medical advice."

"Do you have any idea where he went? His phone number, anything. It's really important."

"I'm sorry, I can't give out that information."

His hand, with the phone on it, was up over his head and in motion before he remembered it was his parents' phone, and they wouldn't thank him for throwing it out the bay window, which was theirs too.

Ray woke up early with a comforter under his chin, a crick in his neck, and a burning need to talk to Ben.

The only fast way he could think of to do that was through Aunty Meli. Her name was in the book; she'd said so. Now, if he could only remember her name. Sounded like Luna. Luna, Juna, Moona, Hoona . . . Ahuna! That was it! A little 411 action and he'd be plugged into Ben faster than he could turn around. Whoa, that thought juiced his orange. Humming happily, he smiled as he punched in the number Information rattled off.

"Aloha, this is Meli Ahuna."

It sounded so much like her that he started talking before the, "I can't come to the phone right now. Please leave your name and number at the tone. Mahalo."

Oh, shit. Of course she couldn't come to the phone. He was calling in the freakin' middle of the night. Goddamn time zones. It was a conspiracy. He could just hear the time zones twittering in glee, like blackbirds on the phone line. There was no way he was getting back to sleep again, so he made a pot of coffee and waited for his mom to get up.

It wasn't as good as the coffee in Hawaii, but it didn't seem like anything here was as good as what was in Hawaii. His mom was happy to sit down for a cup with him, though, rubbing her eyes.

"How was your vacation?"

"It was good, Mom. You know, me and my friend in Hawaii, we . . . " he left the sentence hanging as he paused for a swig of coffee, and he choked on it when it dawned on him that he'd been about to out himself to his mother. Jesus wept!

He staggered up out of the chair, coughing and swiping at the coffee he spilled on himself. What was wrong with him? And what would he tell her, anyway? That he and Ben met by accident and in two days were fucking each other stupid, and by the way, he was gay now?

"Tough night, Ray?" His mom knocked back her dregs and smiled, still only halfway awake. Another thing to be thankful for. He could feel the back of his neck turning red.

"Got a crick sleeping on the couch. Ruins me for all day."

"You and your friend," prompted his mom.

"Uh, yeah, I was gonna say, we went snorkeling."

"You went in the ocean?" This time, surprise mugged sleep and wrestled it to the ground. "What was that like?"

"It was great. I'd go again. Ben's a scientist. He took me to see a lava flow."

"That's nice. I'm glad you had a good time. I wish I could talk your father into going."

"Good luck. He's worse with planes than I am."

They had gotten his dad back home and comfortable before he had another chance to phone Aunty M. This time, she was awake and available. Her voice sounded like Hawaii.

"Ben stopped by to tell me what happened. He seemed really down, but I just thought he was tired. I don't think he got too much sleep the other night. Where are you?"

When he explained what happened, she clucked in sympathy. "I hope your father feels better soon. It's hell getting old."

"Yeah, I'm beginning to understand that myself."

She gave him Ben's work number.


"Hello, this is Hawaii Volcanoes Observatory, Renfield Turnbull speaking."

"Turnbull! This is Ray."

"I'm so glad you called." That was encouraging. "Ray who?" That wasn't.

"Ray Ray, Ray the guy who was out on the lava with you guys on Monday! Ben Fraser's friend."

"Oh, Mr. Kozlowski." Turnbull's voice seemed to be dripping icicles all of a sudden. What the hell was going on? "I imagine you wish to speak to Miss Larsen."

"Oh, yeah, how is Brenda?"

"She is doing very well. We are all grateful for your intervention." He didn't sound grateful. "However, Mr. Kozlowski, I must warn you that I have taken it upon myself to serve as her protector. She has agreed to become my affianced bride."

"Wow, congratulations -- "

"Any effort you make to turn her head will be looked upon very poorly."

"Turn her head? Oh, you mean -- "

"Yes, Mr. Kozlowski. You shall make advances to her at your own risk."

Every extra minute of this was keeping him away from Ben. Exasperated, he yelled, "I don't care about Brenda!"

"You dog! How dare you toy with her affections and then fecklessly admit you have no real feelings for her?" Turnbull was sputtering, he was so mad. "I am speechless!"

Ray could only wish he really was.

"I am outraged-- I am -- "

Ray opened his mouth to cork the flow, but the metallic buzz shut it for him. The stupid bastard hung up! Even knowing what happened to make him that way, Ray was still ready to crawl the walls. The man was one puck short of a game. Ray dialled the number again, and then once more, but got busy signals both times. Fuck. And it was time to sit down to dinner with the the family, the whole family. They were glad to see him. They talked at him and he tried to sound normal. He just wanted to be somewhere else.

Later that evening, yawning and almost stupefied, he counted the time difference on his fingers. Somebody should still be in the office, and he hoped to hell it wasn't Turnbull. He cranked his fingers against the end table while listening to the rings. One, two, three four . . .

"Hello, Hawaiian Volcanoes Observatory, Brenda Larsen."

He melted into the couch. "Hey, Brenda. How are you?"

"I'm fine, thanks. I mean, really -- thanks."

"No need." He waved that off, even though she couldn't see him do it. "Listen, uh, congratulations."

She must have heard the uncertainty in his voice. "You mean, 'Congratulations, I think'? Her musical laugh made him feel better. "He's a little nuts, but I love him."

"Good, that's good," he replied, happy that at least one of them was happy. "Can I talk to Ben?"

"He's not here." Her tone sharpened. "What the hell did you do to him? He's been like a zombie the last couple days. I thought maybe it was the drugs, but he's not coming out of it."

"I didn't do anything. I didn't! But I really, really need to talk to him."

"Okay, he should be back in tomorrow. But you know, it's his last day. He's packing up and moving out so he can teach first semester. If you don't call tomorrow, forget it."

He'd never forget it. "Thanks, Brenda. And take care of Turnbull, okay?"

"You bet."

Cactus flower

He woke up early again, with an entire morning to kill before he could count on somebody in the office on the other side of the world. He ate breakfast with his mom and dad, scrambled egg whites and vegetarian sausage patties -- "It might not hurt you either, just this once," said Mom -- while trying to pretend there was nothing eating him back.

He worked half a crossword puzzle with his mom and changed the oil on his dad's car. He shot the shit with Dad about the GTO, about work, about life without steaks, about the Diamondbacks -- "Diamondbacks suck!" "Nah, Cubs suck!" -- and they laughed. He mowed their tiny patch of grass, set in some shade in the back yard, a reminder of where they came from. They all ate lunch. He did everything but outright twiddle his thumbs.

Finally, at ten after one, he couldn't stand it any longer. This time, he was praying when somebody finally picked up the phone.

"Hawaiian Volcano --"

"Ben! Thank God it's you! I've been trying to get you for days."


The short response had Ray off the couch and pacing the thick flowered carpet. "What do you mean, why? I wanted to make sure you were okay."

"I'm fine. There's no need to worry about me."

Even for Ben, who feared no man or volcano, that was a little much. "It's not like I just quit thinking about you when I got on the plane," he said, confused.

"Are you sure?"

"Hey," his voice softened down low, "you know how I feel about you."

"Yes, I'm afraid I do know. I don't think we need have any more contact."

"What? Why?" His fingers turned white around the phone. "What did I do?"

"I'm hardly going to discuss that in these relatively public circumstances, Ray. I just think it's best if we part friends."

"You are not making any sense!" He almost shouted into the phone. "Part and friends don't go together!"

"You're right, Ray. They don't." Now Ben sounded almost sad. "Thank you for calling to ascertain my state of health. Goodbye."

"Wait!" Three seconds of empty silence preceeded the dial tone.

Two hours later he got on a plane.

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