Line of Sight
The childhood shows the man
As morning shows the day.
John Milton, Paradise Regained

Line Of Sight

"I can't sleep."

Despite Ray's claim, Mark is not the type of man to complain of minor things. Fraser examines his friend, wondering what he's leading up to. He doesn't have long to wait.

"Suck my dick."

If Mark's memory had been in question, it certainly was no longer.

The yearning in those beloved sea-gray eyes softens the crass demand. Fraser considers, sorely tempted. Since the first glimpse of Mark in front of the liquor store, he's been besieged by memories of the two of them together, graceless limbs entwined. Visions of what had been shimmered on the periphery of his thoughts at midday and dampened his sheets at night. Distant past was brought to the fore abruptly by the sight of Mark in the flesh; he'd become inured long ago to hearing his name on the radio or seeing his flying form on television.

His friend has grown into a deeply self-interested man, but when Fraser looks at him, all he can see is the sweet, impulsive, happy boy who lit up his youth.

It's never been in his nature to share intimacies with a stranger. Does he know this man? Does it really matter, when Mark's laughing eyes have haunted his dreams ever since childhood? Those same eyes are before him now, watching and waiting.

"Are you sure that's what you want?" His dry words cover the frisson of interest that's curling up from his groin.

"It's what I've always wanted. Come on over here, and we'll both sleep better, eh." Soft-voiced words, coaxing now.

"Mark. . ."


No one's called him that in years except his father's friends.

His common sense vanishes when Mark holds his arms open. How long has it been since another human being offered anything so basic to him as touch -- touch that he could accept? Real touch, not just casual fingertips against his shoulder or a palm on his back . . . or worse yet, a clammy handshake meant to simulate real human contact.

Yes, the warmth, the heat of another human body reminds him that he, too, is human, has needs. This is something he's tried to forget over the years. Remembering only refreshed the ache of not having. Sometimes it seems as if his very skin is cracking from the drought of touch . . . of love.

Fleeting memories of arms circling around him, holding him tight, coalesce with a snap as he slides into Mark's embrace. It's not what he remembers -- golden-limned fumblings in the days before either of them knew what this meant. It's harder, and hotter, and the fingers pulling at the buttons on his wool union suit are stronger and surer. They know what they seek, and he moans as they find it.

Long, strong fingers wrap around his hard cock, making him squirm and gasp. He feels as helpless against the onslaught of warmth and touch as he did twenty years ago--a callow, lonely boy whose being clamored for the press of skin against skin the way it demanded protein and carbohydrates.

"Wait, please. . ." He can't bear, one more time, to drench the woolens as if he were asleep in his narrow bed.

On his knees, he pulls at the underwear, freeing it from his shoulders, peeling it away. He's desperate now; Mark's heat seems to reach out to him, inflaming his long-denied senses. Mark's hands are on him, knowing him as no man has since he was thirteen. Those hands guide him to stretch out full length; he feels so heavy, leaden with the weight of years of desire, as his mouth fastens on Mark's. He delves into it as if searching for what he lost so long ago.

Fraser's body has its own agenda. He can't help it; he moves against the body beneath him, thrilling to the rough friction. Mark is harder, more heavily muscled than Fraser, nothing like the slender boy he once was. Mark's penis juts upward, forging a pathway of its own across Fraser's belly.

Mark's learned how to kiss in the intervening years. There is no tentative swipe of tongue-tip on Fraser's lips; no, Mark plunders his mouth with precision and determination. Long fingers clutch Fraser's hair, holding him in place for optimum penetration, as insistent lips suck away his misgivings. The earth moves--but it's only Mark, pressing him onto his back, pinning him to the sheet.

Even though it's warm in the room, he can still feel the snow cold against his buttocks, just like the first time they were together this way. So many years have passed that the tale could be told in the classic fashion: once upon a time, a long, long time ago . . .

The thick early-evening shadows had cloaked them in privacy at the end of the pond; no one from the house would have seen them. It was nearly dinnertime. He should have gone home an hour ago; he knew his grandmother was waiting. Still, Mark had egged him on into yet another skirmish after the other boys left, even though they could barely see the puck. Now both of them were gasping with exertion, flopped on top of the snowbank surrounding the pond.

"Wow, that was fun."


Ben began to laugh in sheer exuberance. These precious moments of freedom were the best times he'd ever had. It was so wonderful and rare to have a friend, someone his own age who seemed to understand him. Someone who didn't treat him like a pariah because he knew what that word meant, or look at him warily because his skin was a different color. He had fond memories of Innusiq, but it was two years since they'd seen each other. It seemed like forever.

His voice cracked in the middle of his laughter, going from a chortle to nearly a trill, which made him and Mark both hoot until they had to wipe their eyes. The stars had begun to appear, twinkling in what Ben knew was simply an interruption of light by the vagaries of the earth's atmosphere.

"I like you, Ben. I like you a lot."

It was no surprise to hear Mark say that; Mark tended to come right out with whatever was on his mind, so unlike Ben that sometimes he wondered how they got along so well. What surprised him was Mark's warm breath caressing his cheek, and the fleeting touch against the corner of his mouth. Mark was just accidentally too close; after all, they spent most of their time within arm's length of each other. He looked at Mark's face, unable to see the expression on it.

"And I you, Mark."

Cold lips found his and suddenly they were warm; Ben turned towards that warmth instinctively, like a flower towards the sun. He'd never tasted anything like the sweetness that was Mark's mouth, and he leaned up after it when Mark tried to pull away. "No," he mumbled against Mark's cheek, wrapping his arms around his parka-clad friend and holding on for what felt like dear life.

"You. . . okay?" Mark whispered. In answer, Ben grabbed at that thick dark hair and zeroed in blindly, skidding frantic, closed-mouth kisses across Mark's face. Sometimes their mouths connected and sometimes not, but neither cared. They pulled at each other, as close as they could get with half a dozen bulky layers of clothing between them. The weight settled on Ben felt unimaginably good, but he wanted a better angle, and that meant he needed to be on top. Flipping them over, he planted another kiss as his flag. Mark sprawled beneath him was something he already wanted more of.

Mark had other ideas, and without further ado they were grappling, laughing and tumbling and coated with snow, the way they'd done so many times before. But it was better this time, so much better that he wished they never had to stop--

He stopped. He stopped moving, he stopped laughing, and he almost stopped breathing.

Mark's concern finally broke through his dismay. "Hey. Hey! You all right? What's the matter?" Warm hands, mittens discarded, turned Ben's face. He knew Mark was peering at him, trying to see Ben even though it was full dark. He was truly grateful that there would be no witness to the wave of red that was even now engulfing him from head to toe.

This had happened to him before. Mystified and embarrassed, he'd just gritted his teeth until it went away. His grandmother's medical texts had much to say about the care of bleeding wounds, but not a word about how to get rid of. . . this. A tourniquet, no matter how tempting, was not the answer.

There was no way he could bring himself to ask his grandfather. He was sure he'd get an answer, but in this case, asking for the cure would be worse than the disease. And the disease itself had never before been accompanied by these unfamiliar, and most uncomfortable, feelings now arcing up from his gut. He had no idea what to do about his predicament. What if Mark noticed?

"I . . . I feel funny." Uncertainty thinned his words. He had no other way to describe the lassitude that had settled on him, nor a way to explain why he was suddenly burning with fever. At this rate, he'd soon melt through the snowbank, through the permafrost, maybe even through the mantle of rock underneath, and they'd both end up in Siberia. He choked back a nervous giggle. Something was definitely wrong.

"Whatever it is, we'll fix it. Let's go into the house."

Oh, dear. Always pragmatic, Mark had an enviable attitude towards problem-solving, but Ben had no intention of going anywhere so that this problem could be examined.

"No! I don't want --" he started. Then, Mark pushed his hips against Ben's in the process of getting up. The pressure of his friend's weight and his sudden, shifting movement doubled the ache in his groin and sent unexpected pleasure rippling through his entire body. He moaned. Mark stilled.

"Is that it?"

Mark moved to one side, and to Ben's horror, a hand came to rest against the cause of his distress. A whimper escaped him.

That felt so . . . good.

" 'S okay, I got one too." Mark pulled Ben's hand over onto his own hard penis. It was obvious even through the layers of wool and denim. Shocked, Ben jerked his hand back as if scorched. "Come on, I'll do it for you," Mark whispered. "Um, I mean, can I?" He gasped as Mark's hand heeled down on him, massaging firmly, and he twitched like a puppet.

"Can you . . . can you what?" At that point, Ben barely knew Mark was talking, much less understood what he was talking about.

"Make you feel good, you nitwit."

"I feel good now." Indeed, the sensations were nearly overwhelming. He was lightheaded; dizzy even though he was lying down; he couldn't think for the odd tension rising inside him. Mark took the ragged words for assent, and went directly to work on the button and zipper.

Within short order, despite the darkness, Ben had a wicked-cold hand down his jeans. It was wrapped around a body part Ben wasn't even sure he ought to touch that way himself. When Mark's hand began to move, the tension became unbearable. His hips lifted all by themselves to get more pressure, more friction, more pleasure. He could barely breathe, smothered by the strange and wonderful feelings that took up all the room in his chest. Only moments later, they erupted. His wintry world cracked and heaved, the deafening crash of spring breakup ringing in his ears.

He lay beached on his snowbank, clinging to Mark, as Mark kissed his face and held him tight. He'd never felt bliss before, but surely this had to be it. Groggily, he noticed Mark was fumbling in his pockets.

"Get you dried off, before it freezes, okay?"

Only then did he realized his belly was covered with something wet, and Mark was mopping him up. "What is that?"

"It's come." Ben would have sworn he could feel Mark giving him a funny look. "Wait, didn't you ever do this yourself?"

Ben decided to leave the mystery of "come" for a later time. "Not -- well -- I mean . . . no. How did you know . . . " He stopped. He wasn't sure if he should ask how, where, or when Mark had gotten the particulars of this new pastime.

"Got older brothers, don't I?" Mark sounded insufferably smug, and Ben suspected he would be for quite some time. "Saw Junior doing it in the barn one time."

"Get out! You spied on Junior?" Ben was more amazed at Mark's daring than appalled by his snooping. Junior was as big as a bull moose and meaner than a spring grizzly. How the two of them could have come from the same parents had to be a small miracle of genetics.

"Hey," Mark said, sounding aggrieved. "I was there first. That's not spying. Anyway, how else am I supposed to learn what's what? Nobody tells me anything."

"Are you still, do you still . . . I mean, now?"

As always, Mark translated. "Yeah, I'm still . . . " He allowed the sentence to trail off as Ben had, but in his mouth it sounded completely mischievous. "Will you do it for me?"

"I -- I . . ."

"You don't have to if you don't want to."

"I want to."

Later that evening, Ben was most grateful to be sent to bed immediately after dinner for his tardiness. He had much to think about. He drifted off to sleep hours later, still feeling the tenderness of Mark's lips against his own and the heat of Mark's penis in his hand.

As for their daily games, Mark still badgered the other boys to stay late at the pond playing hockey, but not every night. It would become the happiest time of Ben's life, and did not end until the Frasers moved on in June, after the school year was over. It was the first time he ever felt truly loved.

Really, he thinks now, as he reflects over the arc of two decades, the only time.

And now the boy who'd given love and affection so easily -- as if he had an endless supply, and there was no one to whom he'd rather give it than Ben -- is a man grown, and lying here with him in his bed. Holding him; holding him down. He's kissing Ben, slow and deep and hungry, as if these kisses are the best thing he's had in twenty years. Mark is not that boy, but that boy is still in Mark, and Ben would do anything to be with that boy again.

Memory duels with reality against Ben's mouth. A roughness of beard salts the face that now has fine lines around the eyes. Crisp curls of hair catch at his lips below Mark's collarbone, when he pulls away to taste there, where once the skin was bare and smooth. Everything is different, but somehow Mark's arms around him are still the same. He smiles at Mark, inviting his friend to feel the joy that he does, and that boy smiles back.

"Missed you, Ben."

It's so good to hear his name from Mark's lips, spoken with the soft richness of affection and longing. He returns the favor. "And I you, Mark."

It's strange how their adult bodies can bring them back to the time when the world was small and their land was as wide and free as their hearts. There's no disillusionment in Fraser's bed, no crippling pain, no anger. There are just two men who were boys together, who loved each other as much as they loved life.

He slides his hand up Mark's side, tracing the v-shaped scar from when Mark fell off the tractor in the dark, to find that spot between the third and fourth rib that still dissolves him into laughter. Mark, of course, is forced to retaliate; with a firm grip on Ben's wrists, he licks the soft crease inside Ben's elbow. They mock-wrestle and laugh together in the yellow lanternlight that flickers off their skin, turning Ben's shabby apartment into a campfire circle against the dark. Moving shadows paint a forest of privacy on the walls in his peripheral vision.

Mark cradles Ben's head in his hockey-hardened palms and drops dry kisses on his face. They begin to move against each other again, more slowly this time, and Ben's eyelids slide shut as his breathing deepens. Mark kisses them, too. His cheeks are warm with wanting as Mark dips his head lower, and Ben can feel the faint sting of teeth against his neck. It makes his breath catch in his throat.

"Have -- have you considered working for the Red Cross?" he asks shakily. "I hear they're taking applications."

"Screw that. They don't go get their own, they just take donations. Besides, I only want to suck on you." He nips at an already-upright nipple to make his point, and Ben feels a shiver spread along his skin.

"Well, then, you'd best get to it," he returns smartly, lips quirking.

He's somewhat taken aback at his own boldness, but that's the way it's always been between them. Ben's never been an oddity or figure of fun to Mark, neither a party favor in red nor a rigid symbol of law and order. He's always been a friend -- not merely another age-mate, something better; someone special. He can be himself without fear of censure. The unfamiliar freedom exhilarates him; it's like flying, lifting him above the boundaries that hem him in -- boundaries he can't seem to step across on his own. The fullness of his grin comes all the way from childhood.

Mark, competitive as only he can be, has to have the last word. "Demanding, aren't we? Let's just see what that gets you, eh."

It gets him small pink marks dappling his belly, a dew of sweat on his collarbone, and a heart rate that would gain him admission to any local clinic. He can feel the pulse pounding in his erection, echoing in his head. Mark looks up, his face and broad shoulders framed by Ben's thighs, short hair scuffed awry and eyes gleaming. The sight is so incredibly erotic that he tips his head against the wall and groans aloud. Mark sticks his tongue out lewdly, then licks along his penis from base to tip, leaving a hot wet streak that reflects the lamplight. The silver shimmer of his stare never wavers from Ben's. It's too much, and he has to close his eyes or lose control altogether.

"Watch." The command is abrupt, nearly curt. When he looks down in surprise, Mark -- and surely this is a first -- blushes a painful shade of red. "I want you to see me, Ben." Turning his face away, he mumbles, "People don't see me."

He's seeing more of Mark than he had expected to, and the two of them have more in common than he could have known.

"I'm watching," he says softly, fingering Mark's thick wavy hair with his near hand. "I see you."

"Then give me a hand here." Mark pulls Ben's hand down and neatly interweaves their fingers, providing him with a vision of their two hands curled around his penis, the head shining wet with his own secretions above their hold, and Mark's lips hovering. When those lips descend, touch, every muscle in his body spasms. He moans uncontrollably. The only thought in his head is that he must keep watching as promised, and he does. He cannot take his eyes away.

Briefly he feels gratitude at Mark's insistence. He's seen the same thing so often while his eyes were closed that he needs to watch, just to make sure that Mark is real this time. He lets the intoxicating scent of their passion seduce him, lets the heat of Mark's mouth burn him. He's twisted inside with wanting, every cell of him screaming for release, given over to the need for his friend's touch. A buzzing tension creeps up the back of his thighs as he digs his heels into the bed. His hips jerk upward roughly until Mark simply drops his weight across one leg, never stopping the relentless rhythm.

The sounds of Mark's excitement and his own are so far removed from his experience that it's as if they come from other people, from another room. He can't hold on to himself. He has no choice but to let go. It's the strangest mixture of loss and triumph as he groans out Mark's name. His fingers clench hard, with Mark's wedged firmly between them, as together they wring out his climax. It's more than he'd have known to want, the knowledge that his best friend is doing this to him, for him, swallowing his semen as if it were the most natural thing in the world, taking Ben into his own body.

The pleasure ebbs and flows, until its gentle wash is part of him.

"I haven't seen you smile like that for a long time." Kneeling over him, Mark uses the back of his hand to wipe his mouth, positively dripping self-satisfaction.

Ben can barely lift an eyebrow, it seems, as he hazily eyes his smirking friend. His limbs seem to have adhered to the bed. He has to concentrate in order to make his tongue shape consonants; English feels like a foreign language. "You always did like to leave me speechless."

"Hell, it was the only time I could get a word in edgewise." Mark moves up alongside, his erection hot and hard on Ben's hip, his breath soft in Ben's ear as he says, "Besides, I'm the best." He bites the vulnerable earlobe none-too-gently. Ben rouses from his torpor enough to cuff Mark's shoulder, but it's backhanded and there's no force behind it. The tips of their noses touch, and Mark's ear-to-ear grin must be a mirror image of his own. As his eyes cross, Mark crows with laughter, startling Ben into chuckles as well.

Mark cups a hand behind Ben's neck, stroking against the grain of the fine hairs at the nape, the callused fingers making his skin tingle in response. "Hey. Can we . . . can I fuck you?" Mark's strangely wistful tone is at odds with the laughter of a moment ago. "Thought about it for a lot of years now. What it would be like, to have my cock in that beautiful ass of yours."

The admission reverberates through his bones. It's as if he can feel Mark's voice deep inside him. Good lord, he wants that too. That scenario, Mark pressing into him, filling him, covering him, has been a prized feature of the dreams that haunt his lonely bed. Unstrung with pleasure, his normal tenor has dropped half an octave. "I have a tin of bear grease on the bedside table."

Mark's eyes widen, but just as quickly they narrow with rueful amusement. "Bastard," he murmurs around a smile. "I forgot what a fuckin' smartass you are, eh."

"Actually . . . I have a . . . a bottle of . . . personal lubricant there." He's mumbling now himself. His mouth is dry; it's hard to get those words out, hard to admit that he has such a thing in his possession, even to Mark. Especially to Mark. He certainly has no intention of admitting that he made a trip to the drugstore to buy it, simply because he had . . . hopes. Because he had, yes, fantasies of being with Mark this way.

It's a lot easier to pluck up the small plastic bottle without looking and hand it off behind him as he rolls over onto his belly. It's a position that protects all his vital organs, and yet he feels utterly and completely exposed in a way that he didn't, even when Mark's lips wrapped around his penis.

Then there's silence.

He can feel himself tensing up, getting colder. He looks over his shoulder to find Mark staring at him.

"Huh," Mark says, as if that ought to mean something, and deals him a questioning look. When Ben stares back, confused, he says, "So you never . . . Never trusted anybody enough, or just never wanted to?"

"Ah." He'd rather hoped this wouldn't come up. "Why do you ask?" He's been aware for some time that his lack of lovers sets him apart -- even more so than his other unusual habits. Americans, at least, shrug those off with a casual, "He's Canadian." Those things are nothing personal. To be always alone is a rejection that is so very personal.

It didn't matter as much in the harsh lands he was used to. People saw him as separate, as different from them, regardless. Lack of companionship did not make him less of a human being, or at least not any more different than he already was. Here in the city, in this crush of humanity, he feels his aloneness like pack ice in his soul. It's the one thing that's always with him.

"Seal's still on the bottle."

Oh. He turns his face back to the pillow.

"That, and, as much as I like to look at your ass," Mark reaches out and draws an imaginary line down Ben's back with one finger of his free hand, raising gooseflesh along its trail, "you're laid out like a human sacrifice."

Mark is not trying to humiliate him, surely. His voice is kind, a bit concerned, not jeering. He's simply trying to ascertain Ben's level of expertise. It says good things about his friend that he's willing to ask questions first. Of course it does.

Nevertheless, he can't help the feeling that he's being driven to the edge, about to jump. He blinks and tightens his lips against the certainty of Mark's pity. With a disturbing cynicism, he wonders how much having sex with him will interest Mark now, when he knows Ben has hardly progressed beyond their childish fumbling. Mark, who prides himself on being the best. Mark, who probably has some idea what "the best" actually is. He takes a deep breath. "There's never been . . . another man." Only a trace of bitterness seeps into his words. "Is that what you wanted to hear me say?"

"Oh, fuck yeah."

There's no pity in that voice, and, when he looks again, none in those flashing gray eyes. Instead there's a growing intensity, a possessive hunger that rocks him. Mark must see his surprise, because he lets out a snort of laughter. "Jesus Christ, Ben, it's a good thing I'm an old man now, or I'd have just come all over your ass. And I wanted to save that for later."

He doesn't have to formulate a response. Mark's reaching over the side of the bed to shake his wallet out of his jeans, fishing for a condom. He'd bought condoms, of course, with the lubricant, but he wasn't thinking any too clearly. Protection had slipped his mind. So much for his pride in proper preparation. Everything is moving too fast for his comprehension. He wants to savor this experience, imprint every look -- every touch -- into the layers of his skin, and hoard this precious and unexpected gift for the alone times.

A hiss interrupts his thoughts. Mark has the condom packet between his fingers and has torn off the top edge.

"Wait." He's not sure what to say, but he knows they've got to slow down. There's more that he wants, more that he needs. He shoves up and around to sit next to Mark.

"Change your mind?" A flash of what Ben suspects is irritation crosses Mark's face, but it's gone instantly. "You don't have to, eh. But I promise, I'd make it good. You'd like it." The wistful note is back.

"I need to -- I want to -- that is, if I might . . ." The words trail off. He cannot ask. His temerity has limits. Even when they're not face to face, his ability to be direct in this situation is apparently nonexistent.

"Spit it out, Ben. It's all right, you know that. Whatever you want." Turning to look at Ben, his face softens in amusement as the corners of his mouth edge up. "That's what we're here for. Goes both ways."

The offer, like a solid punch, sends him reeling.

He has spent his whole adult life, and all his strength, mental and physical, in striving. He's used strategy, force, ingenuity, and manipulation to get results. He has given his all to meet the expectations of others: the demands of his superiors, the legend of his father, the hard line of his grandparents. In this way, he has done his level best to maintain the right.

No one has ever offered to give to him -- just give.

Some days, he manages to convince himself that he has no personal desires, that all his wants center on the greater good. It's an enviable state, one that involves little risk and less disappointment. Mark in his bed, naked, makes his ascetic notions seem as ludicrous as they may in fact be. Even now, the desire, the craving to have what's there in front of him is eroding what equilibrium he has left.

His hands tremble like an alcoholic's reaching for a glass of whiskey as he slides behind Mark and reverently kisses the nape of his neck. He can feel the drag of fine hairs rising against his tongue. He inhales deeply, memorizing the mint of Mark's shampoo, knowing that he'll be at the corner drugstore looking for that brand. It's mixed with the close, heady scent of sex in the room. For him, it always will be. He pulls Mark back against him, wrapping his arms around the expanse of chest. His mouth slides around and down Mark's neck to where the platysma covers the trapezius.

" . . . mmmmm." As he purrs with pure happiness, Mark echoes it back, his throat vibrating against Ben's lips. Mark has a bigger smile now as he scratches his cheek against Ben's smooth one.

"So I'm thinking body English here. You're saying it's your turn."

"Yes. Yes," Ben murmurs against the curve of his shoulder. His hands roam the low topography of musculature, sliding his fingertips in the indentations between ribs, molding the palmholds of pectorals.

"Then . . . maybe we should get more comfortable." The words are casual, but the hitch in that rough-smooth voice isn't. He's got something Mark wants. It feels good. Knowing that Mark wants him, needs him, feels almost as good as the man looks now, propping -- arranging -- himself up against the wall, hands behind his head, one knee canted aside, just room enough for Ben to slide between his legs. "Bring it on, cowboy." Mark's eyes snap with something he's never seen before, but he's feeling that same thing burn inside him right now.

Mark's hard. Hard for him.

His friend's penis is flushed and full, resplendent against the whiteness of his abdomen. It curves slightly to the right. It's circumcised, as he knew from childhood -- Mark had been endlessly fascinated by Ben's foreskin -- and the head flares, deliciously exposed, above the shaft. He carefully touches the tiny pool of pre-ejaculate that's dripped onto Mark's belly, and uses it to paint a sticky line down the center, along the pulsing vein. The line dries immediately on the hot, delicate skin, shiny in the moving lamplight. He dips his head to clean it away.

There must be a way to describe the flavor, but it's beyond him now as the musk of arousal fills his head and Mark's penis fills his mouth. God, he's missed this, missed it even though he didn't know what he needed, missed it like water in the desert, like the glitter of stars in a polluted Chicago night.

It's hard, yet so fragile. He follows the curve of the shaft with his tongue, the head blunt against the back of his throat, and he swallows convulsively as if he could really take it inside him. The taste, the smell, how could he have lived so long without this? It seems now that his whole life was barren without the knowledge of Mark's body.

He pushes a hand into the dark curls to feel their coarseness as they coil around his fingers, leaning his weight on Mark's hips when their jerking threatens his concentration. Along the crest of his consciousness, there is the drone of an annoying insect. He ignores it, closing his eyes, the better to feel the slippery solidity caressing his lips. The rhythm catches him up, up and down, so right. It's perfect, exquisite, but no matter how much he wants to, he can't ignore the brisk tug on his hair. The annoying drone snaps starkly into relief against the quiet night around them.

"Ben! Ben -- fuck! Ah!"

Regretfully, he looks up. The edges of the room blur as Ben tries to focus on the hands in his hair and the voice in his ears. Mark's penis slips, glistening, from his open mouth, smacking down wetly.

"G-gotta," Mark stutters on an outbreath, then tries once more. "Gotta stop, Ben. Won't be any left otherwise." The forest of shadows crowds in on his vision as he laps up the last of the small puddle on Mark's belly. Licking his way upward, he obediently lets those hands guide him to that sensual mouth. The thick hot invasion of a talented tongue
is his reward. "You are fucking incredible," Mark whispers, nuzzling around to Ben's ear, warm breath tickling in the whorls. "It's going to be incredible fucking you." This pronouncement is accompanied by a sharp and rather painful nip.

Mark's teeth and his ear seem to meet regularly. Ben simply turns his face, removing temptation, and gives Mark's mouth something else to do. Time stretches among his fractured thoughts as they move together. Is this really happening in slow motion, or is it
some sensory aberration? It doesn't matter. He feels his body molding to Mark's hard frame.

He doesn't even tense up when Mark, with a twist of his hips and a braced foot, rolls them both over. The weight should be uncomfortable -- Mark is heavy -- but it's not. It feels good, wonderful, to be pressed into the mattress underneath that rangy body.

Now there's no more talking, only the squeak of the bed under their combined weights, with a counterpoint of wet sounds and sighs. There's only Mark's body on his and Mark's mouth over his and Mark's hands on the sides of his face. He's licking and biting Mark's lips almost frantically before he realizes it, brought back to the surface only by the timbre of his friend's groan.

Mark pulls away, braced up on his elbows. "My turn."

Ben watches that secretive smile and gets one more kiss, just a brush of lips on his own. Those eyes . . . this must be what 'bedroom eyes' means: seductive, enticing, full of promise. Possibilities spill from them, bright and clear.

It's been so long since anything was possible.

He can feel himself spreading out, what an odd metaphor for what's happening inside him, and then he realizes it really is happening. Mark's settled between Ben's legs, pulling them up like they were before, stroking them, kneading the muscles. Somehow the lubricant has materialized on Mark's fingers, and they're sliding between his buttocks. The idea alone makes him gasp. Mark wants to know if he's all right, but he can't find any words, they've drifted past him, and Mark never stops fondling so he can reach them. The slip-slide of those fingers against the sensitive skin around his anus is making him arch and moan.

When a finger enters him, it's as if the world stops. When he's dreamed of having sex, this was never part of it. This is strange, unnerving . . . delightful. Having Mark's finger up his ass for his own pleasure is so decadent it stuns him.

"Breathe, okay? Breathe."

He tries to follow the order, panting and pushing back in sloppy cadence, until a burst of sensation lifts his hips right off the sheets. All the air explodes from his lungs. "Easy, there's more coming. Just relax." He can't possibly; how insane is this man to think he can relax when . . . another finger joins the first one, and he welcomes it with a whimper.

"That's good, baby, you're doing great." Those hoarse, gentle words melt him completely. He's never been anyone's 'baby,' doesn't remember an endearment from anyone's lips, never got praise for no reason. It's as unlooked-for as the warm touch of Mark's soft kiss on his belly, and just as sweet. It starts an odd glow in his heart that's like a twin of the heat lower down. And it's Mark. He's with the hard-bodied man who is the boy he loves.

He thinks the fingers never leave him, but he realizes vaguely that they've been replaced by something else. Oh, God, it feels good. So big. So consuming that he can feel nothing else. Mark moving into his body is possession, and he's glad. He's giving up something he's always wanted to discard, his loneliness, and it's so good. He's finally, finally going to be joined, not alone but together, as one --

Panic. Every muscle in his body grinds down to a halt and there is unexpected, immobilizing panic. He knows it when he feels it, even disguised as it is by the spume of adrenaline in his veins.

He has to allow this. Wants it. Needs it. And he doesn't know how. He's always been alone, except for that too-brief time. Alone is part of him. How can he give it up? He has hoarded all the pieces of himself all these years in the hopes that he would someday find some way to parcel them together -- the pride and passion and duty -- instead of leaving whole chunks of himself neatly boxed away, stapled down and taped over. Will giving away this piece make him stronger, or break him?

Mark isn't moving, which seems only fair since Ben isn't breathing, can't breathe, his chest wrapped in iron bands, tightening unbearably. Fear courses through him. He feels closer to death than he ever has before, suffocating in his own indecision. He can only make faint noises, pleading for help. Something has to give, and it's him, curling up tighter and meeting Mark as best he can given the angle. Mark slides home with a sharp exhalation and leans down, mouth sealing over Ben's, sharing the air that saves him.

The panic bleeds away into long deep kisses, Mark inside him, Mark holding him, just like in his dreams. Yes. Yes. So deep, so slow. He's letting Mark set the pace, so easy now to just let go. He's hard again but not desperate anymore, there's no hurry, not for him and apparently not for Mark. They rock together, long generous thrusts that curl his toes and surge up his spine, every move pushing him towards oblivion, the best kind of oblivion. He moans. He can't stop moaning.

His cock is heavy, full, lodged tight against his belly; the throbbing keeps time with Mark's movements, competing for his attention until everything blends together. The inhale, the exhale, the ingress, the egress. He is babbling something that flows from him in the same measured beat. Mark holds his hips, so strong, so focused on their pleasure. He cries out when the rhythm changes, harder, harder, and it's him begging for that reckless pounding that's pushing them both to the limit.

His hands rake the sheets, unable to find purchase. He can't move, can't push back, he's open -- helpless, with his knees over Mark's shoulders. He wants to take his need into his own hands, but he can't make his body do his bidding. Thank God Mark understands, wrapping those long beautiful callused fingers around his burning flesh, pulling, squeezing, stripping him of his veneer of civility, leaving only the rawest element behind. Words and sounds rip from his throat as orgasm shakes him.

He barely registers Mark's sated groan or the subsequent rearrangement of their bodies. Mark must have shifted him like a giant rag doll. Right now, he's luxuriating in the comfort of Mark's weight, fairly sure he'll never move again. Even if he wants to.

He can't imagine wanting to.

Dozing, he's lost track of the hour. It's been effectively dark out since 4:37 pm, so there are no visual cues. He'd have gratefully treasured this profound peace until morning if not for Mark poking him in the ribs.

"You ready?"

"What?" His voice has turned into a croak, but clearing his throat doesn't help. "For what?"

"I can't sleep."

Mark always was charming, but he's devastating now. Ben's annoyance vanishes against his will; he smiles up at that grin. "What's the matter?" Like an oversized parrot, he has been reduced to a limited number of syllables.

"It's seven o'clock." Mark makes this pronouncement as if time has meaning any more. "Get dressed, Ben. Let's go hit the ice." With a kiss on the tip of Ben's nose, Mark is up and moving, making his own lethargy look ridiculous.

To his surprise, apartment doors open surreptitiously as they pass. Surely his neighbors are used to his comings and goings by now. He opens his mouth to greet Mr. Moustafa, but the man cackles with what Ben can only think of as glee and shuts his door without a word. Nonplussed, he turns to Mark. "Why . . ." He gestures back down the hall.

"Why do you think? Jesus, you almost brought the roof down. They must've thought there was an air raid."

He looks away, not wanting Mark to see the traitorous blush he knows is creeping up from his neck. In doing so, he catches the eye of elderly Mrs. Weinbrunner in 2B, who winks at him and giggles girlishly before her door shuts with a click and a snap of locks.

It seems that he has broadcast his activities throughout the building. There's no way he can ever apologize for disturbing them without making everything that much worse. What on earth would he say? "I'm so truly sorry, I was enjoying sodomy with the star forward of Chicago's professional hockey team, which led to an unseemly display of excitement on both our parts." And then, to make up for the inconvenience, perhaps Mark would offer Mrs. Weinbrunner a signed photograph. Of the two of them, naked, in a compromising position.

He swallows a groan, only wishing he had such a photograph himself. Something to note this occasion -- as if it isn't branded into his memory. Still, it would be proof that it really happened. Mark's said nothing about taking up their former friendship. For that matter, he's said nothing of the possibility that they might make love again. Why should he? They live in different worlds now; they're just ships passing in the . . . late afternoon.

He misses Mark already. Even with the man's arm flung companionably across his shoulders, he can feel the gap between what he has and what he wants becoming wider. He's glad, in that moment, that everyone knows. He's scandalous now, an object of gossip, but not of pity. Everyone knows that for once he wasn't alone. He was with someone who wanted to make him scream, not trying to muffle a cry of release in an empty room.


It seems like a much longer climb up the three flights of stairs to his apartment than usual. Each step drains what little energy he had left after an unbearably tedious day, trying to erase what he saw on videotape with the consulate's bureaucratic detail. Despite his efforts, it hadn't been enough to blank out the image of Mark choosing the scored stick.

He'd been positive. "I know him," he'd assured Ray. Pompous ass. "People don't change who they are." Wrong, he'd been wrong about time and change and Mark, and it's a bitter pill.

He can understand the lying; it's become a lifesaving habit. What he can't understand is a Mark Smithbauer he doesn't know.

He wonders who Mark is now. If he'll ever see him again. Last night's smiling lover is no doubt gone the way of all good things, now that the man has what he wants. The villains who tried to kill him are incarcerated, awaiting trial, and Mark is free, with the money in his pocket.

He must have laughed at Fraser's naivete, at how easily he could be convinced of Mark's innocence and coaxed into bed with just a few words. No, no, that's unfair, he chides himself. It was his own decision. He is a responsible adult. Foolish, perhaps, but still the instigator of his own actions.

Wearily he opens the door and greets Diefenbaker, who spares him only a glance. Not that that's so unusual, but . . .

Speak of the Devil. Mark has made a surprising last appearance, offering thanks for Fraser's friendship. He's not really interested in accepting thanks for misguided loyalty. He'd rather hear the truth, just once. "You took the money from Broda, didn't you." It's not a question.

Mark starts in with some evasion, but he can't hear the words. They mean nothing anyway. He jerks open the refrigerator door and grabs the milk, anything to distract him from the anger that's been building behind his thoughts ever since he saw that video clip. Breaking the rules, breaking the law is not the issue. How dare this stranger betray Ben's friend, that beautiful, innocent, idealistic boy who never wanted anything but hockey?

The milk carton bows inward under his clenched hand.

When Mark walks into the kitchen, still talking, rage wells up in him like blood from a wound. It bubbles across his vision, washing all of his energy into the three strides it takes to reach Mark and slam him up against the wall. There's a sordid satisfaction in watching Mark's head snap back. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knows that this is unjust; it's not his wrong to right, nor his punishment to mete out. The stale apartment air is choking him. He drops his head, still holding onto those rawboned shoulders, unable to look Mark in the face. The floor is spattered with milk. "I . . . I'm sorry."

"Ben, come on." Instead of pushing him away, Mark's pulling him closer. "I get banged up against the wall every day." Mark has long arms, long enough to let him get his hands on Ben's ass when he leans forward. "But that's not how I want you to do it." Eye to eye, he's shocked to realize that Mark is pleading with him. Is Mark offering his body as penance, or is he simply feeling the same lust that's roaring in Ben's ears?

It doesn't matter.

Ben hooks his fingers in Mark's belt loops, anchoring their bodies together. He's already hard. Ravenous, as if yesterday's encounter was but gruel after a lifetime of famine. This is a second chance. He's willing to accept this guilt-edged invitation. It's like an apology, he tells himself. The truth is, he's not going to stop caring for Mark over his infraction. And even though he's angry, he wants so very badly to make love with Mark again.

Mouth against mouth, teeth and tongue demanding submission, he thumbs the button on Mark's jeans open. The rasp of the zipper echoes Mark's indrawn breath. Mark is not wearing underwear. His half-hard penis is silky and hot as it rises to full length in Ben's hand. They both moan when he drags the much-laundered cotton down and away. The guttural sounds hang on the air like dust.

"Need you," gasps Mark, jerking into Ben's fist. "Do me. God, Ben, fuck me."

Yes, he thinks, but he doesn’t say anything. He's already on his knees in front of Mark, pushing his face into the fragrant curls. Mark smells fresh and faintly of sandalwood, as if he's just showered using costly soap. That's not what he wants. He wants the real thing, and he's going to get it. He skims his lips down the tender skin to the lightly furred scrotum. Mark's lips tasted like memories; this tastes like here and now. He pulls at the hairs with the tip of his tongue, exultant when Mark's knees sag. That's real, and so is the brief scrabble of Mark's nails across his scalp. Oh, yes, he will have what he wants.

Sucking at the crease of thigh and groin, he knows he'll leave a bruise. At this moment, it feels like art. Mark's shoes slip off his feet easily enough, one at a time, still tied. It's a good thing the man's braced up against the wall, because he looks like he'd be unable to stand. It's very, very . . . satisfying. Giving a parting lick to Mark's now-tight balls, Ben tries to concentrate on getting the jeans off. Mark is no help. He's leaning his head back against the wall, mouth open, chest heaving, struggling for oxygen.

Inexplicably, there's another stab of anger. His fingers dig into the hard-hewn thighs under them. "Look at me," he snaps. It's important; he just can't remember why.

Mark's voice is heaped with gravel, but his eyes are clear and bright. "I see you, Ben."

That's it. Any patience he ever had evaporates in the flash-fire of needing this man under him, crying out, abandoned to his ministrations. He fights the denim from first one leg and then the other, and stands, head swimming as he rises. Giving in, he simply follows the dizziness into Mark's mouth. It's wet and bottomless and so good that he's lost, blind with the rapture of the deep.

Somehow he gets his hands working again, pulling up on the hem of Mark's shirt. He seems to have mislaid his coordination. It's a surprise to discover that even though Mark's raised his arms, he can't get the shirt off. Their chins are in the way: they're still kissing. It almost hurts to shove himself back. His swollen lips itch with the need to be on Mark's again. As he pulls the shirt up and over, he rubs his face in Mark's shoulder and sinks his teeth into a firm pectoral. The choked groan he hears is everything he hoped for.

He's gone almost all his life without the feel of someone else's body heat; he didn't even know it would affect him this way, doubling his own, making him sweat and shudder. He's been wanting, needy, for what seems like forever. That he'll soon satisfy himself inside Mark is all he can think about. It takes a large fist filled with brown uniform, as Mark reaches out to steady himself, to make him realize that he's still fully dressed.

There's no easy way to get undressed and get to the bed that doesn't involve relinquishing his hold, so the two of them stumble across the floor, Ben using one hand to strip as best he can. Trying to toe his shoes off while they're walking, if it can be called that, almost lands them both in a heap on the floor. Mark moves along with him, reaching for buttons, but he's not very successful. It might be the tongue in his ear that's distracting him, or perhaps the hand that Ben has on his naked buttocks, fingers sliding greedily into the crease.

Mark drops onto the cot like he doesn't have enough energy left to stand, and watches Ben expectantly. Even though it's increasingly difficult to find air, Ben tries to finish disrobing. When he stands on one foot to take a sock off, Mark stares him in the eye with a smile and gives a lazy full-length stroke to his own penis that has Ben wide-eyed, twisting, balance compromised. The thump of him, toppled, vibrates from the hardwood floor. He'll feel that landing in his shoulder tomorrow. If he hadn't sanded the floor down when he moved in, he'd have slivers. He's felled like an oak, thumbs still in the top of his sock.

Mark, naturally, finds this hilarious, snickers cascading from him that Ben's glare just seems to fuel. He looks down his nose at Mark with that essence of wounded dignity that he's so good at, quite a challenge from here on the floor, just to hear the snickers turn to belly-laughs. Which, in the end, last too long and are too distracting.

"Fine. Fine." Mock-aggravation skirts genuine aggravation -- it wasn't that funny. "Laugh while you still can, Smithbauer."

It's interesting how Ben's mouth, tight and wet around that stiff penis, turns the last laugh into a shout. He'd laugh out loud himself, if his mouth wasn't so satisfyingly full; the chuckles he can't hold back vibrate in them both, drawing a moan from above his bent head. But then he's past caring about that; there's too much pleasure available in Mark's lap. The smells and sounds fade back as he lets the flavor of Mark absorb him completely. He follows it with his tongue and lets it work down his throat. It's the taste of his dreams becoming real.

Mark's circumference is making his jaw ache. The bump of the smooth, soft head against the back of his throat brings water to his eyes. It's all so good. He's traced every vein, every imperfection with his tongue, licked every tiny ridge, savored every drop of pre-ejaculate. He wants to make it last, eke every scrap of sensation from it, but he can't help responding to Mark's urgent movements.

Faster. More. Now.

He picks up the pace, sliding his lips along that exquisite shaft. God, and it's so perfect to feel the surprising first strike of Mark's orgasm. It fills his mouth against the backdrop of Mark's cries. He can't swallow fast enough to take it all; he wanted all of it, all the sweet briny heat, but it dribbles along his chin and onto Mark's belly. A whine of frustration escapes him. He licks his lips clean, swipes at his chin and licks the come off his fingers. Then he sucks at the last sticky drops on Mark's skin.

Mark is entirely limp. He's so much taller than the cot is wide that his head and shoulders hang upside down over the far edge. Ben judges that he'll be panting for a few moments yet, and tries once again to take off his socks.

"Always so fucking practical, eh." Mark's propped up on his elbows now.

Ben can hardly deny the charge, but he does silently hold up his socks, now stretched beyond future wear by too-thick fingers that don't work very well. Mark smiles in return, still looking a little shaky, despite his teasing. And Ben knows full well what Mark can do with that so-smart mouth.

It feels like he's been hard ever since last night. One hand is dragging down his zipper, freeing his erection finally, oh, God, one hand at the clasp, when Mark throws a foot over his head and rolls over. He swallows so hard the wrong way he has to cough for air. There's Mark's rounded ass, so close, so available . . . so vulnerable. For a moment, he's so near to coming that he has to push down his boxers and give himself a hard squeeze. His attention is completely riveted, and his trousers hang forgotten, snagged on the waistband of his underwear.

He's seen Mark with no clothes on, but this is so naked it makes a mockery of 'undressed.'

What Mark is offering is so profoundly intimate, there's no precedent in Ben's life. No one has ever placed this much trust in Ben's hands. How did the urge to protect became entwined with the urge to have? His anger is long dispelled; all that's left in his head is love and lust and sheer wonder.

Moving between Mark's legs, he reaches out almost tentatively to touch. Skims a palm over Mark's ass, so lightly that he can feel the faint nap of downy hair on skin that's never seen the sun. When he brushes his lips against that same skin, Mark shivers all over. When he sucks lightly, edging his teeth along the defenseless rise, the shiver becomes a moan. The moan becomes all he can hear.

For once, there's nothing between him and what he wants. Even last night there was his own inexperience and insecurity. He holds Mark's hips down firmly with spread fingers, thumbs exposing what has been hidden. As he finds the spot he's seeking, the moan turns into a strangled yelp.

Sandalwood and the faint bitterness of soap dissolve under his tongue into the unquestionably real taste of Mark. He rubs his nose along the slick crease, fondles Mark's hardening cock. He's taking liberties, yes, doing something that most people -- even Mark -- might find distasteful. That excites him even more. He feels . . . wicked.

It's a feeling he's never known.

How strange that working his tongue into that tight space should expand his world.

The way Mark is grinding back against his face suggests that his world has been expanded, too. It's electrifying. He licks in, harder, sloppier. With a groan, Mark subsides completely, draped bonelessly over the cot. He's amazed to feel Mark blossom under his tongue, opened wide for Ben's exploration. Finally he listens to the noises Mark's making.

"Fuck me, jesus fucking christ, Ben, come on, come on."

And he doesn't hesitate, just leans back up and rolls on a condom; it's a talent he never knew he had, economy of motion blending with unstoppable lust and a coating of lubricant. He fits the head of his cock against the wet warmth and just pushes, slow and easy. Mark wails, but it doesn't sound like pain and he keeps pushing, pushing, relishing the slow slide into the inferno of Mark's body. It's like nothing ever.

Now he's making noises too, a low rumbling he can feel more than hear, vibrating all over him as he eases in and out with as much care as he can stand. Or maybe that's just the world shaking. At this point, he can't tell inside from outside. It's all of a piece; he's a live wire conducting anything and everything.

The creak of the cot beneath them flows like music in his veins; that long back curves ahead of him like the road less traveled. Mark's cries sting him into moving faster, harder. Forces beyond his control are riding him like he's riding Mark. He's so open that it could be him splayed across the bed, offering up his body. He wanted to take, and he's damn well doing it, but it feels like giving, they're giving each other all they've got. With his last coherent thought, he reaches around and yanks raggedly at Mark's cock.

Mark stiffens and clamps down every muscle. That's when Ben knows inside from outside. Fireworks go off under his skin; colored lights flare in his eyes. He's not sure how long he's slumped over Mark's back, just waiting for his apartment to come back into focus, but it's long enough that Mark starts trying to shift out from underneath him.

"Get off. I feel like I got hit by a Zamboni." The deep voice is slurred with satisfaction.

"You always wanted to be taller," he mutters, scrubbing his cheek on the back of Mark's neck.

"That was you, asshole. I'm fine the way I am."

"Very fine, indeed." Ben sucks thoughtfully at the sweat drying on Mark's shoulder, pats his ass, and stiff-arms himself upright. Perhaps kneeling on the bare floor wasn't the best idea. It hadn't done his uniform trousers a bit of good. He lets them crumple to the floor in a heap.

"I want you to know -- a family of dust bunnies under this so-called bed drowned for your sins."

"Perhaps we can get their surviving relatives compensatory damages." He uses all that's left of his strength to haul Mark up onto the bed, then flops back onto the pillows himself. They squirm against each other for a few minutes trying to get comfortable, and end up with Mark spooned up against Ben's back.

He's almost asleep when he hears the question he wasn't going to ask. "What for, Mark?" The hand around his bicep tightens noticeably, then relaxes finger by finger.

"What for -- what?"

Mark knows what he meant, but he asks again anyway. "The money. What for?"

A sigh. "I was broke. I didn't want my family to know." The seemingly-disembodied hand in front of his face gestures that idea away. "Except for investments, it was all gone. All of it." Mark twists a short strand of Ben's hair around one finger. "Junior . . . he was boozing again. This time he was skimming money from the construction company he worked for. Got caught."

"They wanted restitution?" Ben catches the again-floating hand and layers his fingers between Mark's.

"Yeah, big surprise. And they figured they could get it from me. They promised community service instead of prison time if he got treatment."

"But you didn't have the money, so . . ."

Mark huffs again, ruffling Ben's hair, and talks, muffled, into the back of his head. "So I did a stupid shithead thing. Yeah. Then my dad mortgaged his house to get Junior off the hook anyway without telling me, so it was just a huge fuckup. All for nothing. For nothing. Son of a bitch. What a fucking waste." Anger and frustration mix in his words. "I paid him back, though -- Dad, I mean." Mark's fingers squeeze his own. "Not with Broda's money, with mine. I sold the BMW. And I cashed out enough stock to send Junior to Hazelden." He snorts. "Maybe it'll take this time."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I don't know." They just breathe together for a while, contemplating the invisible future.

"I don't think I can play anymore. Knee's fixed that." Mark's voice cracks and fades. "I never wanted to be just a washed-up hockey player. Guess I made it. Now, I'm a washed-up hockey player and a failed criminal." It hurts to hear the derision in his tone.

Ben rolls over and rubs Mark's shoulder, trying to extend some comfort, reading the lines of defeat on his face. "You don't have to live with this kind of regret. There's still something you can do." He wills Mark to listen. This is important -- important to Mark, important to Ben. He can't bear knowing that his boyhood friend has lost faith. In hockey. In himself. "You can have back the game you love."

"Oh, yeah? And how do you think I'm going to get over being a fucking sellout?" Angry gray eyes meet Ben's for long seconds before Mark realizes he's said it out loud, and looks embarrassed.

Ben doesn't reply, but he sees Mark's eyebrows go up when he understands what Ben's suggesting.

"Don't look at me like that," Mark scoffs. "The A on my sweater is for asshole, not angel, eh." He touches Ben's lips carefully, edging them with his knuckles. It tickles, and Ben kisses them. There's a long silence, and Mark's all but whispering when he continues. "I didn't want you to know. Didn't want you to see me that way."

He doesn't know what to say to that. He's tired. It's been a long day. Probably he wouldn't know what to say even if it hadn't been a long day. "We're none of us perfect, Mark." Ben rolls over again, pulling Mark's muscular arm around him, a campfire of Mark warming his back. His friend will do the right thing. People don't change, not who they are.

Before he sleeps, he pushes away the question that has no answer: Who will see him -- in all of his own goodness and imperfection -- when Mark is gone?



Fraser had been happy, really genuinely happy. It was the first time he'd ever seen that kind of happiness on Fraser's face. Ray understands; he'd have been happy too, if he'd gotten some. But it only lasted until about two minutes after the hockey has-been blew town. After the burst of energy in his friend's stride and smiles all around, there was a long strange slide into quiet. Any other guy would have been kicking trash cans and crying in his beer; Fraser just got quiet. At this point, Ray would settle for one of those crazy stories. As fast as his mouth runs, he can't keep up with the silence. It's giving him a friggin' headache.

So here he is, hanging out in the dingy apartment when Benny so obviously wants him gone, even though the man's too polite to put it on the line. He's hoping that getting out the pry bar will stimulate those underused vocal cords.

"Go away, Ray."

Not so polite after all. Ray's prepared for this; he knows damn well Benny doesn't want to discuss it. The man can throw enough bullshit to line a farmer's field, but now, when he's really got something to say, he's got nothing to say.


"Sure. I'll go away, just give me one stinkin' minute. You've been moping around the joint ever since Dickhead left." Good riddance, Ray wants to say, but he doesn't. Fraser's lost a lot in the last year. His old man, his old job, his home, his country. Miserable bastards. He's worked some tough cases lately -- been in the loony bin, sighted down on Dief and came this close to pulling the trigger. Now the latest, Adventures With Asshole, and it's just fucking enough.

Smithbauer's nothing compared to all that, nothing more than a pimple on the butt of hockey, but he was the last thing Fraser had of his old life, and he fucked off with hardly a goodbye. As Ray knows from long experience, it's not the little shit -- it's the size of the pile.

There's no reply. He didn't figure there would be one. It's up to him, then. "You won't talk to me. So I'm going to have a talk with you. I'm gonna tell you what you won't tell me." Fraser just stares off into space, and to the untutored eye he's blank, looking like he didn't even hear. Ray knows better; he's getting good at Fraser-face. For his next trick, he's going to try getting through to the guy.

"You're gay. You were together with Mark while he was here. And he's gone now."

Fraser's face gets even whiter, if that's possible. He doesn't even make an attempt to talk his way around an answer. That means it's worse than Ray thought. Every line of that rigid body draws a bleak landscape.

"You smell like him. You've been wearing his cologne, for chrissake. This nose isn't just for looks, you know." Ray settles onto the cot next to Fraser and pulls his friend against his side, wrapping an arm around the flannel-covered shoulder. "It's okay, Benny."

Fraser sits like a board, not saying anything, for at least two minutes. It's like cuddling a ventriloquist's dummy. Too bad he doesn't have the magic to make this better. Finally, Ray cracks. "I know you love him, no matter what." He's heard rumors about love and loyalty. "And you'll miss him like hell." He squeezes that flannel shoulder reassuringly. "But it'll be okay."

To Ray's silent shock, Fraser seems to shrink, hunched into himself like a crab. A hermit crab, he thinks. He turns toward Fraser and gathers him into his arms as best he can, making soothing noises as if to a toddler. Benny's shoulders shake, just a little, but no sound comes out. Not knowing what else to do, Ray simply holds on and starts to sing a lullaby, the only one he remembers, the one his aunt Venezia used to sing to him when he was sick and cranky.

Slowly, tentatively, hands reach out from the huddled mass practically on his lap, hands that move around Ray's waist and hold on tight. He smooths down Benny's hair, just petting him, singing the same damn song over and over again mindlessly -- hell, it's in Italian anyway -- until Fraser's breathing evens out and he relaxes into sleep.

Ray leans against the wall, trying to get comfortable with Fraser's arm around his back, and settles in to keep watch.


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