He tried to wave the smoke away from his eyes, but what he got instead was more. He was breathing, care of the t-shirt he'd stripped off and soaked in the puddle at his feet. He could only be thankful that it was raining, but even combined with the fire hoses, it didn't seem to be doing a damn bit of good towards dousing the fire.
"Fraser! Fraaaserrr!" Like anybody could hear him. The fire made a lot of noise, crackling and rumbling like it was going to bring the walls down, and given what he'd seen so far, it might happen any minute. "Fraser!"
Whatever the hell was burning in the basement was seeping up a shroud of black smoke through the cracks. It was a choking drift in the hallway, gagging him even behind the wet shirt. He'd seen it billowing out the broken windows of the apartments.
The floor was getting hot -- he could feel it coming up from below. If he didn't find Fraser and the kid pretty damn quick, it was gonna be all she wrote. He opened an apartment door -- shit! hot knob! but there was nobody inside, unless you counted a wall of flames. He slammed the door as fast as he could.
He'd known it as soon as he heard the lady screaming, "My little girl is in there!" The fireman who was holding her back didn't have much choice. Suicide prevention really was the law of the land. He looked around anyway, but he'd known Fraser would already be gone. Stupid bastard. He had to go, yeah, Ray knew that. But he sure as shit didn't have to go alone. Ray would've gone himself, anyway.
Just because he didn't run into burning buildings to save a couple guppies didn't mean he wouldn't do it for four-year-olds.
That was the trouble with Fraser, he didn't have any sense of proportion. That's what he needed Ray for. That, and the little oxygen tank he'd swiped from the fire truck.
He didn't want to meet his maker, but he already knew that Fraser didn't sweat that small stuff. And if Fraser was there, Ray was there. All of a sudden, he was having one of those weird stress flashbacks, to last week, Fraser asking him to go see Lawrence of Arabia. It was like that movie, Lawrence's men following him into hell, because of who he was. Because they loved him . . . but then Ray was dancing around a burning swath of melted-off wallpaper that tried to get frisky with him, and the thought was driven from his head.
Right now, he was starting to figure that his partner probably took the kid out a window. If Fraser and the kid -- and Ray didn't have a shred of doubt that he'd found her -- were behind door number three, they were in a heap of trouble.
He tried to keep his head down. Tears rolled unchecked down his face, into the soggy t-shirt. The smoke was so thick he almost stumbled right over the two of them in the stairwell, even though the sprout was wailing at the top of her lungs. Fraser was unconscious on the stairs, feet to the upside. The little girl was crying and howling and trying to pull him down, step by step. She wasn't making much headway. Fortunately, she was so short her face was below most of the smoke.
"Hey, it's okay, I'm gonna get us outta here."
She didn't answer, being already busy crying and yelling.
He had the air along for the kid, never thinking that it would be the man of extra lung capacity, Fraser The Invincible, who needed it. Ray himself only needed an extra arm or two. Okay, one hand was full of t-shirt, one full of oxygen bottle. He pulled the now-gray t-shirt over the kid's head so that only her hair and eyes were sticking out the neck. It was so big on her that she could still put her arms through the sleeves. Then he grabbed her and sort of tucked her under one arm while he put the mask on Fraser, sliding the cylinder under the peacoat and buttoning it up.
All the while, the kid was shrieking, "Out! Out!" into his ear. Not that he blamed her, but he was pretty sure he'd never hear out of that ear again.
When he took off his wet leather jacket, he could feel the heat flare across his skin. It was kind of scary. "Listen, honey." He buttoned the little girl up into the jacket, and it covered her pretty much from stem to stern. She had for some reason decided to stop screaming, and he held her at arm's length so he could see her eyes under the frizz of hair. "We're gonna make a break for it, okay? You're going first. I'll be right behind you, and I'm bringing him."
The hallway he'd just walked through exploded into flames.
The noise was unbelievable, roaring in his ears worse than she did, and the heat was fierce. His bare back was burning. If they didn't get their asses out of there, bye-bye golden years. The girl just looked at him, like she had no idea what to do but hoped to hell he did. Ray hoped so too. "Okay, pretty girl, time for plan B. You go upstairs, I'm still right behind you."
The kid gave him a look that said, all too clearly, "There's smoke up there." But she didn't have too much choice now, so she went. "Just up to the landing!" he yelled at her black leather backside. Using strength he never expected to find in his skinny body, he knelt near Fraser and pulled the fucking heavy -- don't think body don't think just don't think -- over his shoulder, the oxygen bottle connecting painfully with the knobs of his spine.
There was a window at the second floor landing in this shithole, thank you God. He banged out the panes with the heel of his left boot. When the smoke rolled out over his head, he could see that below them was a slash of alley, dark with rain and the oncoming night. Now if Fraser had been the forest ranger for this fire, there would be a king-sized down-filled bed waiting for them, or -- or a freakin' lake. Instead, it was Ray's job, and for him there was . . . a dumpster. He still had enough brain cells unaffected by smoke inhalation to be grateful for the fact that it was an open dumpster.
He went down on one knee. "You're gonna curl up in a ball. This is really really important, do you understand me?" He made sure those big brown eyes said yes, even though the girl didn't move her mouth. "Okay. Sit down. Curl up. Stick your hands into the sleeves. Yeah, arms around your knees. Just like that." He pulled the jacket over her head, picked up the whole ball of kid, said, "Hang tight, honey!" and tossed her. He took enough time to see that she appeared unhurt in the pile of garbage before trying to pick up a now semi-conscious Fraser.
It was a lot harder to get him off the floor than it had been on the stairs, even though this time the guy was trying to help. Which sometimes said it all, really.
"Come on, buddy, we're goin' for a spin." Fraser mumbled something, but it was from behind the mask, and he really looked too spacey to do his own jumping. Good thing it was an old-fashioned long window, and the sill was no more than knee-high. They could step out and fly, just like teenyboppers on PCP. He hoped the landing would turn out better than that.
Getting Fraser up on the sill was All-Star Wrestling, but they were about to get broiled. Ray liked his meat rare, not well-done. He had Fraser in a full-body hug, and he held on to the hope that it wouldn't be his last.
"We're gonna shove off in just a minute now. But first we'll practice, okay? Bend your knees and stand back up. One." He heard a bigger roaring in his still-working ears. He could feel the fire get closer, almost hot enough to singe the hair on his arms. Sparks were landing on his bare skin. "Two." They flexed deeper and came up faster. The dumpster was about five feet away from the building, narrow end to, blocking the alley. If he missed, they'd break their backs on the dumpster's rim. "Three!"
The next thing he knew, he was being buoyed up by half a ton of garbage. It stank like last Easter's bigos and felt like the finest feather pillows.
The girl was balanced on the edge of the dumpster, peering at them from the inside of his jacket. Fraser was beside him, shaking his head groggily. All of their body parts seemed to be in working order, at least so far. He hadn't even ended up with Fraser times velocity times distance times the oxygen canister crushing his chest. He tried to think of something that would show his genuine appreciation, but all he could come up with was "Lord, we thank you for this bounty. Amen."
It really wasn't that far off.
He helped the kid, and a still-dazed Fraser, out of the dumpster. They looked fine, and he was too, except for a long scratch on his ribs. He'd probably be hurting tomorrow when he stiffened up and the bruises came out, but now he was just a little shaky. He wondered if the EMTs had some Bactine or something. God knows what he could have picked up rolling in garbage. They should have a look at Fraser anyway. He went to brush something mushy and disgusting off Fraser's coat, but changed his mind. He really didn't want to touch it.
The poor guy looked worse than Ray'd ever seen him, worse than he did after Warfield's goons.
It wasn't the bruises on his face, probably from falling down the stairs headfirst, that made him look that way, though. It wasn't even the slime of garbage on his peacoat and pumpkin pants that was slowly sliding off in the drizzle. It was more the defeated slump of his shoulders and the way he hung back when they took the little girl over to her now-ecstatic mom. He looked hollow. Nobody home, not even the lights on, like somebody gutted him with a spoon while Ray wasn't looking.
Fraser refused to see the EMTs, and Ray figured his scratch could wait. It was pretty damn cold, half naked out here in the rain, and he'd left his jacket on the kid. He'd never get the smoke stink out anyway, nevermind the garbage. Leading Fraser practically by the hand, he got them over to the Goat, where they got settled with the heater cranking.
"Man, are we stenchy. Good thing I had those moth-eaten blankets in the trunk." He shuddered at what the stink would have done to his upholstery. Would do anyway. Worse than the smell of cop work any day, he thought wryly.
Fraser turned to look at him, but he looked like he was seeing and hearing something on some other channel. Until now, Ray thought cloudy and dark was a weather report. Until now, he'd never seen it on Fraser's face.
"What's up, buddy? You look like the last dog that got hung."
Fraser just shrunk in place. Without a word, he put his face in his hands and didn't answer.
That was different. Well, Fraser'd been looking a little green ever since the dumpster, maybe it wasn't just the moldy lettuce, and he'd sucked up a lot of that black smoke. The basement of that slum must have been loaded with toxic waste. Maybe he wasn't feeling too good. In fact, driving the Chicago streets with a puke-o-riffic guy riding shotgun wasn't a good idea, so maybe they'd just sit here for a minute. "If you're feeling bad, maybe we should --"
"I can't do it any more." Fraser coughed, a racking sound that had Ray's shoulders clenching in sympathy. God, that had to hurt. The normally rich voice was choked with smoke.
He didn't look broken . . . but with Fraser, brain damage was always a possibility. "You can't do what?" Ray asked, honestly puzzled. "Maybe you didn't notice, you been busy, but once again, you're a hero. Solid gold. You just ran into a blazing inferno and saved a little kid's life."
Fraser looked up. "That's just it, Ray. I didn't save her. I failed." His eyes were empty. "Because of my ineptitude, she could have lost her life."
"Ah, my friend, that's where I come in. I, me, your partner. Remember me? It's my job to watch your back. You know. Your back, that thing you got with the bullseye on it." He gunned two fingers at an expanse of navy blue chest. "You set 'em up, I throw 'em out the window. Remember partners?"
"That little girl deserved someone who wouldn't let her -- down. As for you, you could have lost your own life, instead of saving mine, in the attempt to make good where I did not." A streetlight lit the car's interior enough that Ray could see his face losing what little flesh color it had. Pressing a fist to his mouth, he swung open the door. Ray was really glad he didn't have to watch, or clean out the car afterward, as Fraser tossed his cookies into the gutter. The stench was going to be bad enough already.
He popped the top on the Mountain Dew that had been in the back seat since Wednesday, letting it spritz out the window, and pulled some burger joint napkins out of the glove box. "You think about this shit too much, Fraser. Makes me tired." He gingerly patted the cleanest spot on the broad back, and handed over the napkins when his partner came up for air. "Here, rinse your mouth out."
Fraser took the Dew with a mumble that Ray couldn't quite catch.
"I said, I'm sorry." He hacked, a harsh, ripping sound that made Ray cringe all over again.
"Now, wait a doggone minute." He almost needed a minute to make a note of Fraser apologizing. "If there was somebody else in that building, you better tell me now. Did my eyes deceive me? They did not." He slapped an open hand on the dashboard, making Fraser jump. "There was nobody in that building except you. Because you are the freak who runs into burning buildings."
"Don't interrupt, I'm on a roll here. I know I said some stuff once about you not being Superman, but I learned a few things since we were on the Henry Aaron." He squinted suspiciously at his partner, but the guy niggled no niggles. Maybe he'd learned a few things, too.
"If I had a partner who didn't run into burning buildings, it wouldn't be you. That girl didn't have any choice, so you didn't have any choice. 'Cause that's who you are. I know that." Ray looked out the front window. There was nothing out there but some rain in the orange haze of the streetlights. "The scary part is, I been hanging around you so long, I'm beginning to think that it's who I am, too."
Fraser didn't say anything, but he didn't look quite as crumpled up as he had before.
"You okay now?"
"Yes, Ray, I believe I am somewhat better
"Good. Let's go get cleaned up."
Ray swung by the consulate to pick up Dief, who sniffed their smoky clothes with a worried whine. Once inside, Fraser started making good-night noises that Ray stopped right off.
"You're coming with me, Fraser; don't even start. Just go get some clothes." Fraser had his mouth open, but Ray cut off whatever he was about to say with a sharp gesture. "You hit your head, buddy. I'll go along with you not wanting the EMTs; I don't like hospitals, either. But that means I'm gonna keep an eye on you." Dief let out a low growl. "See, Dief agrees with me."
Fraser was stubborn, but Ray had his 'I'll jump Bogart on ya, just try something' face on. Fraser looked at him for a minute without a word and then nodded. "I'll just get some clothes." Ray blinked; he'd expected more of a fight, but Fraser had been pretty loopy post-fire.
"We'll wait in the car, okay?" he said finally. Fraser ducked back into the consulate. He was quick, and they waited only a few minutes before he returned, carrying his backpack.
Back at Ray's apartment, Fraser insisted that Ray take the first shower. Ray gave in, still flushed with his success. He washed up as fast as he could, wincing as he cleaned out the scrape on his ribs. Then he ducked into his bedroom, motioning Fraser into the bathroom. He dressed and stuffed his disgusting clothes into a garbage bag with a sigh. He'd really liked those jeans.
He flicked on the stereo and then sat on the couch, petting Dief.
"Feeling better?" Ray asked, when Fraser came back out.
"Much better, thank you." Fraser looked good, all the soot washed away along with most of the wasted look he'd been carrying since the fire. He had put on clean jeans and a sweater, and his hair looked perfect again. He looked like Fraser again, and that made something tight in Ray's chest ease. The freak-out after the fire had worried him more than a little. Fraser was a rock; it was something he counted on. But, jeez, had to cut the guy some slack, everybody had a couple of freak-outs in 'em.
Fraser still seemed a little too quiet, sitting tensely on the couch beside him, for Ray's comfort. He kept throwing Ray these questioning looks. Hell if he could tell what the question was, and it was driving him nuts. He knew one thing, though: if he had dropped Fraser off at the consulate, he'd just get all broody and think too much. Get him out of the consulate, keep him distracted; that'd do the trick. He hoped.
Ray pulled the newspaper off the coffee table. "Wanna catch a movie? Men in Black is playing at the cineplex."
Ray watched Fraser suppress his shudder not quite successfully and had to laugh. "Okay, buddy, you can pick." He tossed the movie section over. "Outta luck for Lawrence of Arabia, though. Last show started already."
"Ray, I asked you about the special showing last week, and you seemed very reluctant." Fraser looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
Ray laughed. "Fraser, I've seen that movie five times. With Stella."
"Oh." Fraser looked a little deflated and just...kind of sad, all of a sudden.
Something made Ray reach out and touch Fraser's forearm. "Nah, 's okay. It's not what you think. I'm not all weird about her, not anymore." And the funny thing was, he really wasn't. Huh. He thought it had started even before the whole Henry Allen thing, the gradual easing of the ache, that big Stella-shaped hole that he'd been carrying around for so long.
Fraser carefully folded the newspaper in half, pinching a sharp crease into the paper, still not looking up at Ray. He bumped Fraser's shoulder with his and kept talking kind of aimlessly, just wanting to make Fraser laugh. "Stella wanted to see it the first time, but I was the one who dragged her back again and again. She said I had a crush on Peter O'Toole, but she was wrong." He waited a beat, long enough to take in Fraser's startled glance. "It was Omar Sharif, see?" Then he was laughing, and Fraser finally joined in a little, a thoughtful expression on his face.
Ray flicked the creased newspaper in Fraser's hand with an index finger. "C'mon, pick your movie, Frase. I want popcorn."
While Fraser scanned the movie ads, Ray let his eyes roam over his friend's face. He looked pale still, a dark bruise forming on his forehead, and tight around the eyes.
Fraser looked up suddenly and caught him staring. He felt heat wash over his face and cracked his knuckles, a little irritated with himself.
"Do you ever get tired of it?" Fraser asked out of the blue.
High hard return to third from way in left field. "Huh?" He blinked. Tired of looking at Fraser? His face got hotter than ever with that thought for some reason, and he sat there with his mouth open.
Fraser hadn't noticed his doofus act and was looking at the floor. "Do you still resent my risking our lives all the time?"
Ray blinked at Fraser. "Fraser, deja vu much? I told you already. Hell, I thought we settled all this on the Henry Allen. You run into the burning building; I'm there. You get yourself held hostage; I crash through a window on a motorcycle. It's who you are, I get that."
Fraser was giving him this earnest, considering look, as if he still wasn't convinced.
Ray sighed and tried a different approach. "Look, it's like in that movie, you know?" He gestured with a hand, holding it right in front of Fraser's face. Sometimes you just had to paint a picture for Fraser, which was kind of strange for such a smart guy. Fraser might be book smart, like speaking Mandarin or quoting Milton, but he could be slow with the people thing.
"Here's Lawrence, see, and he's who he is and you just gotta take him or leave him. That's like you, Fraser. You are who you are."
He looked over at Fraser, who was looking thoughtful. Ray continued, "You know my favorite scene? It's that hellacious march across the desert; it should have killed 'em. But they actually make it; they're this close to the oasis, when Lawrence realizes one of his men is missing. And he fucking turns around, goes back for his man. It's stupid . . . crazy, right? But that's who he is, Fraser. It's what he does. And his men, they'll follow him into hell. Because of who he is. They'll die for him, because that's who they are. They'll die for him, because they love him . . . "
Ray froze, eyes wide. He'd been getting into his spiel, really riffing on the whole movie comparison, but he didn't know where the hell that last bit came from. It felt . . . it almost hurt. Like it'd been torn from his gut. He nearly ached with it; it surprised him just how much. Because he loved Fraser, sure, but like a buddy, symbolically or something, right? His brain just up and shorted out on that note, because he wasn't sure of anything anymore.
He shot a nervous glance over at Fraser, who was looking at him with his head cocked to one side. He looked calm, almost . . . serene. Damn, how'd this get turned around, Ray doing the freaking, Fraser all calm?
He cleared his throat raggedly. "So. So what movie you wanna see?" Smooth, Kowalski. Nothing to see here, move along.
Fraser took the bait, thank God. He unfolded the paper again, tapping one ad. "This one comes highly recommended."
Ray read the ad and winced. "The English Patient?" he asked, incredulous. "That's a chick flick, isn't it?" Fraser was giving him one of those steady looks, and he threw up his hands. "All right, okay. I said you could pick. But I'm getting double butter on the damn popcorn."
In the car to the theater, Ray kept flashing on what he'd said . . . sort of said . . . and then back to seeing Fraser unconscious on the stairs. When that happened, he felt his insides twist. It combined with the faint taste of smoke at the back of throat and made him slightly queasy.
They stood in line for the tickets and popcorn, and then Fraser led the way up to the balcony. Trust Fraser to find the only remaining balcony in any Chicago movie theater. It was quiet up here, deserted. The poor view of the screen, partially blocked by the railing, explained it. Fraser seemed happy enough, settling into a seat back a little from the railing. Ray plopped down next to him, and they had a brief friendly battle over the armrest between them. Somehow they managed to share the armrest, and the warm bulk of Fraser's arm against his made him smile.
Ray had munched his way through a third of his popcorn when he noticed something odd. Fraser was fidgeting. He'd glance over at Ray for some reason, and when Ray looked back at him it'd be like he was totally into the movie. The show itself wasn't bad, a little creepy since this afternoon with the whole burned guy thing. Fraser didn't seem to be paying much attention, though. Fraser was watching him eat his popcorn. It wasn't like he was hungry either, because he'd turned down the tub of popcorn a couple of times already.
He was licking butter off his fingers when Fraser started coughing again. He sounded horrible, like his lungs were going to come up any second. Ray handed over his Coke and patted the guy on the back until the coughing jag settled down. Poor son of a gun.
Fraser looked embarrassed as he wiped the tears off his cheeks. "Thank you," he whispered. "Sorry to interrupt the movie."
"No problem, just drink some of that. It's good for you."
Ray did a double take at the picture Fraser made, his lips wet and shiny, clamped around the straw. Right where his own lips had been. It was so intimate, almost like they were . . . touching. Mouth to mouth, at the straw. His eyes followed Fraser's tongue, which snuck out to catch a drop of pop from his lower lip.
Ray felt his face heat up and forced his attention back to the screen, but he could still feel Fraser sucking on that Coke. In about five seconds his eyes were back on Fraser's face, Fraser's lips. He found himself wondering what Fraser's tongue felt like; he could almost feel that too, just a little rough but soft, eager and curious, just like Fraser.
Before he could break out with a full-blown panic attack at where his head was taking him, he flashed again on the fire, seeing Fraser all limp, looking almost dead. A shudder started up in his gut, and he felt cold creeping out from it. Looking at Fraser's mouth blew that vision out of the water, at least. God. He'd almost lost this . . . lost the chance forever to have strange thoughts about Fraser's mouth.
Fraser's eyes were on him when Ray licked salt from the corner of his mouth, and the sudden in-drawn breath he heard meant something big, something important. An idea was growing, a hunch or something, and Ray's hunches were usually right. He licked up the length of his middle finger and Fraser licked his lips. He sucked a fingertip completely into his mouth and Fraser moaned, a low noise in his throat that was almost covered by the soundtrack of the movie. But Ray could hear it. It raised the tiny hairs on the back of his neck. Fraser was watching him and getting turned on.
And Ray was, too, heat pooling in his jeans when he looked at Fraser's lips. Ray's eyes were riveted to the shiny spot on Fraser's lip where it reflected endless sand from the movie. He wanted that spot. He wanted that man. Who wanted him, too.
He had this feeling for a minute like Wile E. Coyote, when the giant Acme safe fell out of the sky and hit him on the head. In his peripheral vision was the Roadrunner, flying by and yelling, "Beep beep!"
It's okay, he told himself. It's okay, nobody has to do anything here, sure as hell Fraser wouldn't. Fraser wouldn't make a move, never made a move on anybody. Or did he?
Then again, Fraser might really be braver than he was, and how could he live that down? Wasn't Ray the one who said he'd do anything?
Thirteen in a movie theater and his first kiss, who was it that said time was all happening at once? Because he was there right now, for chrissake. Who knew that thirteen never died, just faded away? And that it would be biting him on the ass at this inopportune moment? He remembered, now, why kids always closed their eyes when they kissed for the first time, because it was fucking scary, way worse than running into a burning building or jumping into the lake. If it was bad, they didn't want to see it.
Good or bad, this was something he needed to see. So he didn't close his eyes. The shiny spot got bigger as Fraser's lips got closer. And Fraser wasn't backing off, hell, he was touching Ray, holding Ray's shoulder in a grip that on any other day he'd think of as possessive, and he was pulling. Gently. Guiding Ray in for the landing. First kiss, only this was no tentative little kid kiss. It was more like the burning building, hot and wild and uncontrollable. This was Fraser, big hands holding him in place, big mouth going to town on his. The trace of Coke in Fraser's mouth was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted.
Suddenly, that wild animal freeze that Fraser pulled when a hot chick came on to him made the most perfect sense in the world.
He broke away, panting, and found himself tongue-dancing with Fraser in the open air. The tips of their tongues touched and slid together, a shower of sparks all over his skin like this afternoon. This was what buttered Fraser's muffin, and somehow that part wasn't that big of a surprise. Tongues did it for him. Men did it for him. Ray did it for him. Like a house on fire. If this happened, Ray would never be cold again. And . . . it looked like it was happening now.
A shiver ran up his ribs along with the two big Coke-iced hands, tugging his shirt from where it was tucked into his jeans. He sucked a deep breath in, along with most of Fraser's tongue, and he jerked when the hands hit the sensitive skin on his burned back. Really different from that first kiss at thirteen, after all. Fraser was moving fast, like if he didn't, there wouldn't be any kissing left. Ray would bet that the guy'd never been in a movie theater before age 30, but he was making up for that lost time. He might not have seen a lot of movies but he sure as hell knew how to kiss.
All thought fled his brain as Fraser latched back onto his mouth with more greed than he knew the man was capable of. Ray turned his head just so, and he almost got a lapful of Fraser's response. He thought Fraser only climbed fences and fire escapes. A lapful of Fraser could only be good, at this point. Goddamn armrest. Plastic and metal was only so much fun. Rubbing arms had been nice, but this thing was going to emasculate him if Fraser kept up. There was only so close you could get in the theater. That's why they let horny teenagers in.
Big hands on his belly, petting him, a slide over his ribs that made him jump. It was the surprise, that was all. Surprise, jesus, this was a freakin' carnival going on here.
"Sorry," Fraser muttered, and moved his hands away from the ticklish areas.
"Fuck sorry," Ray rasped out, and pulled that mouth back to his again, almost roughly.
He didn't even know who or what to thank first. The Gods Of Cineplex Odeon maybe. And the Gods Of Toothpaste, which he'd used before they left for the movie. The fact that Fraser's favorite movie house had a balcony -- how thankful was he for that? The dark must make Fraser wild or something, and he gasped when those roving hands tugged at the button on his jeans.
He'd been with his partner in the dark before, but it never worked like this. Desert flicks in the dark, gotta remember that. To think he'd bagged Lawrence Of Arabia, bad move. But then his mind was pulled just like his dick as Fraser zipped him down and freed him up. Another thing to be thankful for -- the soundtrack on this flick was so loud it drowned out his groan when Fraser wrapped a hand around him. Fraser huffed out little cut-off moans, breathless sounds that were so different, unlike anything he knew about Fraser.
Nobody was around. Anything could, and apparently would, happen.
"Ray, Ray, Ray . . ."
His name hovered between their lips, cushioned on Fraser's warm soda pop breath. He pulled his mouth away, wanting to see this. Fraser was strobed by odd flashes from the screen. Pale skin, dark eyes hot with something, and then that sweet breath was coming close again, tongue seeking his. Never again was he ever going to turn down a request for a drink of his Coke.
His tongue was pushing against Fraser's like dancing. Push and lap and turn of that tongue in his mouth, exploring him, the taste of sugar fainter now that he'd sucked Fraser clean. The taste of the man himself was every bit as sweet. That square palm and long fingers rubbed hard, almost rough, on his dick, pulling, with a little twist at the end that made his back arch. Push and push and lift and moan. There wasn't anything else in his world right now, no movie except the one they were making and no fire except the one Fraser was fueling.
That tasty mouth was gone just like that, and Ray wondered if it was all over, never got to see the end 'cause somehow Fraser woke up and was heading down the aisle, but instead he was on his knees between Ray's, almost roughly pushing them apart to make room, scrabbling to pull Ray's jeans down. Ray lifted his hips as best he could given the bad angle. Fraser's uncut nails scratched his ass, a tiny thrill of pain, and even that just notched up the excitement. He pushed his thighs as wide as they could go, barely noticing the tub of popcorn that lost its life for the cause.
Holy Christ, Mom always said never know what you'd find on the floors of movie theaters, and she was so right. Oh, god, Fraser looked up at him deliberately, pushing that tongue over his lips. Then he was leaning down.
Ray heard whimpers, little wet gasps, and on any other day he would have been embarrassed when he realized he was making them, but he was way beyond that here and now. So damned dark in here, or was that his eyes rolling back in his head, fuck! This was so far from his adolescence he knew it had to be real -- this had never even showed up in his imagination. No way would Stella ever have ruined her clothes on the sleazy floor of a movie theater, and he couldn't believe Fraser was doing it either.
Now he was getting it like he was onscreen, star of his own crazy porno. Fraser between his fucking knees, lips sliding down his dick like he'd done this every night of his life. Mountie Does Chicago. Fraser Does Ray. The light from the screen suddenly went very bright and white, or was that from behind his eyes? Fraser, electric, sucking on him, lighting him up like the Vegas strip. There, fuck, there it was, rack that bad boy and he was fucking covered, Fraser taking his come in hungry gulps as he jerked helplessly.
Fraser cleaned him thoroughly, his determined tongue almost too much on Ray's sensitized skin. He reached down, hands shaking, and put one hand on either side of Fraser's face, tilting his head up and away while Ray tried to get some composure. Fraser pulled away and stilled, head down, which let Ray play a little. Silky strands slipped through his fingers, and Ray smiled suddenly. He'd finally messed up his partner's perfect hair. When he tipped Fraser's chin up, there was no answering smile on Fraser's face.
From what little light got to his lap, Fraser looked . . . bad, like he was in shock. His skin was white enough to tell even in the dark that something was wrong. Ray tucked himself away hurriedly. Damage control time, couldn't let Fraser lose it. No way, not now.
"No shrieking, no freaking," Ray informed Fraser firmly.
"Ray, I . . . pardon me?"
The guy was confused, for sure. That was no surprise. How often did this man follow his hunches? There was no way to deduce a blowjob.
Fraser was back in his seat then, a move that looked jerky and awkward, not like his usual grace. His eyes were on the floor; he hadn't looked at Ray yet. Ray felt . . . lost without those eyes on him. Like if Fraser wasn't seeing him, somehow he didn't exist. It felt as bad as Fraser looked. He reached up and snapped his fingers by Fraser's nose. Fraser actually flinched.
"I . . . I . . . don't know . . . " Fraser was fucking stuttering, and Ray cut across the awful sound of that in a hurry.
"Fraser, it's okay."
Fraser still wasn't looking at him, so he reached out, turned Fraser's face with two fingers curved along his jaw. "Look at me. It's good. It doesn't matter how it happened, it only matters why," he whispered. "If you want me, that's a good enough reason." The swell of warmth at that thought, just the thought of Fraser wanting him, surprised him a little. He'd always known he loved Fraser. But it looked like he loved Fraser. And that was okay. He moved his mouth closer to Fraser's, slowly, sharing Fraser's breath. He knew how to convince him.
Fraser let out a gusty sigh, lips parting a little, and Ray took that as an invitation. The taste of him on Fraser's tongue sent a full-body shiver through him. Their kisses were lighter, softer -- fragile, even, but that only lasted until Ray put his hand over the bulge in Fraser's jeans. The moan that tore from Fraser's chest almost vibrated his fillings.
Fraser tensed all over. Instead of grabbing for Ray like he expected, Fraser grabbed the arms of his theater seat. He leaned up, arched his back, and was gone. Not coming, just totally pulled back into himself--gone. There was no other way to describe it. It was a little insulting until he realized that Fraser was so into it, there was no way for him to respond.
The guy was white-knuckling it, his face crisscrossed with ache and want and please.
That backwards sensation of undressing someone else . . . Ray had missed it, missed the sharp excitement of someone to touch in the dark like this. Someone he liked, someone he loved. His hand pushed down, over the soft skin low on Fraser's belly. Down into Fraser's boxers, until there it was. At his fingertips, Ray felt coarse curls of pubic hair and heat, the swell of an erection. Fraser was biting his lip.
He looked into Fraser's eyes, and they were open. Hell, open was nothing compared to what Fraser's eyes were right now. He was used to reading Fraser like the front page, but he'd never looked straight into him before. Never been so close. This connection in the dark should have felt strange and new, but didn't somehow.
He slowed his hand, petting instead of pumping, and Fraser relaxed a little, lips parted, breathing hard. Ray wanted to know what kind of baggage was going on in that guy. With Ray, it was all on the outside. Sometimes he wished he could hold back, be more reserved. With Fraser and his calm that almost nothing could ruffle, there was no way to know what was really happening. This might be his only chance.
Up front was the crate of duty and loyalty he showed to the world. Everybody got that. Next to it, there was the suitcase full of pride and determination, what mostly everybody saw and knew about him. It was what would always get him through, no matter what. Way over to one side was the loneliness that Fraser always carried in his backpack. That was part of the reason women hit on him so relentlessly; some days lonely hung around him like smoke. Behind it all was a tiny little ray of hope. That was dangerous; he hid it as far down as he could, down under his socks, so that nobody would see it and stomp on it.
Ray had to blink, look away from all that fear and hope, but Fraser was still there. Maybe it was just the dark, and the haze of his own arousal, but Fraser this close was like a hot buzz against his skin. Ray took a breath and screwed up his courage. That was part of learning his partner all over again, meeting Fraser's unblinking gaze.
Crowding at everything else was a licking fire of need. It flared higher and higher with every stroke of his hand, and it could torch everything if Fraser let it. Fraser had lust and need enough to turn them both to ash. He should have known before -- why didn't he know?
Then again, Fraser spent his whole life hiding that shit, and Ray probably knew more about him than anybody else. He knew Fraser from the inside now, the smell of Fraser's arousal and the taste of his mouth. Knew the feel of Fraser's hard length, and how his breath caught when Ray did this.
That little sound just did something to him, made him feel reckless and needy. Ray was doing this; Ray's hand driving Fraser higher and higher. The desperate sound of his name across Fraser's lips made his heart race. He reached over with his other hand, an awkward angle that made his shoulder ache, but he ignored it. He was all over this now; he had Fraser but good, one hand pulling and stroking, the other pushing up under Fraser's sweater to tease his nipples.
Fraser twitched, letting out stifled sobs with every stroke. That was it, really. Fraser's head arched back, mouth open, and the cries got louder and louder. One part of Ray worried that the whole theater could hear, but the rest of him wanted it to. Fraser shuddered, muscles seizing up, and the last cry filled Ray's head. Liquid heat and Fraser was coming, all over himself and Ray. Ray let his hand soften and fall away from Fraser's dick. He reached up with that hand, spattered with Fraser's come, and touched Fraser's cheek. Those dangerous eyes were closed now, lashes dark against his skin.
Then the lashes fluttered up, and Fraser sat there, just breathing, staring back at Ray. The calmly pleasant face he usually wore was gone, broken all to hell. Fraser's eyes were wide and dark with emotion, vulnerable, and Ray almost felt bad for pushing him into showing his throat like this. But his gut was telling him that Fraser needed to do this. It was telling him that Ray's place was to be right here for him, to hold him together if he cracked.
Here, now, with the smell of popcorn and come in the air, he knew Fraser. And he'd thought he'd learned it all. But now, there was something more, something hovering on the edge of his awareness.
He blinked his dry eyes and looked again, met that stunned gaze.
Yeah, there was more. Back there, by the hope, there was something else moving up to the front, something Fraser was trying to hold back, but now Ray had the eyes. He could see everything. And this thing looked a lot like love.
Maybe he was just seeing what he wanted to see. Maybe he was seeing what was really there. Only one way to find out. Dive, dive, dive, just like in that yellow submarine. Take a chance. Follow a hunch. Ray leaned in close, so that his lips brushed Fraser's ear. "Love you."
Which maybe was breaking some kind of cool guy rule, but fuck that, he was a rule-breaking kind of guy. He pressed a kiss against the ear, then moved back to finish what he'd started. His lips on Fraser's were the most perfect thing in the world. The kiss turned wet and messy, and he pulled away finally with a little 'see you later' suck on Fraser's bottom lip.
He took in that wet, slack mouth, and smiled, but Fraser didn't smile back. The uncertain look on Fraser's face just about broke him.
"Is this who we are, Ray?" The longing in his Fraser's voice shook Ray to the bone.
"Yeah," he whispered. "Yeah, this too."
"Ow, ow, ow, damn it!"
Lawrence of Arabia was up there on the screen, and Ray should have remembered that Fraser plus dark plus desert movie equaled horny Fraser. Ray was all over that, but his back sure wasn't. Damn seats with metal armrests, and Ray was still sore from that first movie adventure. He should make Fraser get him a 'hurt my back smooching the Mountie' badge.
But Fraser had asked, and the pleading expression was backed by a wickedly talented tongue. This all-new side of Fraser was so strange -- well, okay, strange and wonderful. It was all just so . . . un-Mountie. In fact, it was positively Antimountie. He sometimes wondered how so much Mountie and Antimountie could coexist in the same Fraser. In the end, Ray folded faster than Dewey playing poker, and here they were, necking in a movie.
Groping Fraser like this was adolescent and a little insane, which put it high on Ray's to-do list, but Ray had a sore back and a perfectly good bed to get jiggy in.
"C'mon, Fraser. Let's go home. Fool around. We can even rent this at Blockbuster."
"I . . . yes . . . home." Fraser looked a little snowplowed, but he was making a valiant effort to stand, still with his jeans undone.
"We can wait just a minute here." Ray smiled, and he couldn't help nuzzling Fraser's neck as he tucked everything in and did up the zipper. The guy was weaving in place, but then he just froze. The shirt was untucked, but Fraser just left it there, a strange look on his face.
"Home," Fraser repeated in a loopy voice. "Home." He looked happier than he had after that first big snowfall, when they'd had a snowball fight in Grant Park.
Ray reached out then, didn't even think about it. He touched that happy Fraser face, and Fraser kissed his fingers. Fraser grabbed his hand and held it and just smiled.
Someone shushed them noisily, which was stupid right off the top. Ray laughed and pulled Fraser down the aisle. He paused at the exit door.
"They all die in the end, and it sucks, okay?" he yelled out before he pulled Fraser out into the lobby, laughing like a loon.
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