For Judy, the Goddess of all good things PG. Thanks for the tapes!

Thanks to JiM and Ness for handholding, and Livia for making me a beautiful page. Warm beta gratitude to Kit Mason. Any vestige of plot you can scrape out of this is by way of my lovely Bad Angel Mandalee.


by Kalena

Fraser was back from his visit to the Northland. Well, it wasn't very far north, just over the border at Niagara Falls, but it was still inside that big empty outline map of Canada. And right now he wanted to know less about Canada than ever before. Canada was the place where Fraser's new girlfriend lived, and he didn't want to think about that at all.

But he couldn't help it, sometimes.

It all started at the liasing thing they did for the Niagara Falls PD--no, detachment. It was cheaper to import the two of them than to send the whole detachment, cops and civilians, on a booze cruise to Chicago. They did their day's work on Friday, and Ray was thinking food. Friday. Fish. Sea bass would be tasty, and he wanted to go eat someplace decent on Canada's tab.

Looking up, he did a real live double take at how close Fraser was standing to--a woman? Dressed in civilian staff uniform, she had dark curly hair and a big open laugh and didn't need high heels to look Fraser in the eye. Ray had as much appreciation for a woman in uniform as the next guy; usually more, if the next guy was Fraser. But this was ridiculous. Five thirty on a Friday night, and some woman had cornered his partner.

It was annoying, that's what it was. Ray wanted food, and Fraser looked like he was digging in for the long conversational haul. They'd be lucky to get out at midnight. Ray was just about ready to go over and break it up when Fraser offered the woman his arm, and she tucked her hand in his elbow. The two of them came his way with a matching long-legged stride. It was almost a clip on the jaw when Fraser announced, "Judy has graciously consented to show the two of us her fine city."


He eyed Judy for signs of possibly fainting, in case they needed the EMTs before dinner, but she seemed weirdly normal about it. Was Fraser losing his looks? "Hello, I've heard all about you," she said with a smile, and offered her hand. Instead of dialing Canada 911, he shook hands and made nice.

They all three of them sat in the revolving restaurant of the Skylon Tower, stupid name that sounded like pantyhose, and Ray saw a whole fuckload of water go downriver while Judy and Fraser traded childhoods. They tried to get him talking, too, but having the world turn was kind of making him queasy.

He watched the restaurant lights ricochet off their matching white Canadian teeth, and tried to look interested in what they were saying until he couldn't anymore. The mist rising from the falls came all the way up to the windows, almost, and somehow his vision was going like that, too. He was more tired than he thought, and his glasses were back at the hotel.

He made his excuses and left before dessert.

Fraser came back to the room after midnight.

Ray wanted to tease him about it, and he would have, but he couldn't come up with anything even remotely funny, so he just pretended to be asleep.

Fraser stayed the weekend. Ray left for Chicago Saturday morning.


Ray honestly did wonder what it was that women saw in Fraser, that they fell all over him. He had magazine looks and sterling character out the wazoo, but there was no . . . zing. Not that Ray got much zing from other guys, but he knew zing when he saw it. He didn't get how a big handsome guy like Fraser could be so sexless, but there it was. There was Turnbull, but Turnbull was just plain weird. Not to mention the Ice Queen, about as sexless as a beautiful woman could get, so it had to be a Mountie thing.

Not that they didn't have their passions; yeah, Turnbull with his feather duster and the Ice Queen looked like she was headed up the career ladder. He'd seen that somewhere before. And God knew Fraser had his passion for truth, justice and the Canadian Way. But Ray was pretty sure it wasn't the same.

Never did a woman strike sparks off of Fraser. The guy was wet wood in the campfire of life. The only thing he could think was, they just dreamed of messing up his hair. He tried to imagine Fraser all messed up and panting for it, but it was so unFraserish that he just laughed.

Judy was nice, even if she didn't seem like Fraser's type. But then, who the hell knew what that was? He spent more time ducking out on women than checking 'em out.

Even with that Morse woman, he seemed more interested in her pack of brats and whether she could hogtie a buffalo than in her good looks and charm. Good thing, too, since the charm was mostly not happening. Ray should have known that smooth wouldn't count. Lady Shoes? She thought she had Fraser snowed. Hell, Ray thought so too. In the end, Fraser had all the cards.

One thing for sure, this one was what she looked like: All-Canadian, no rap sheet, no matching DNA. Maybe she really was just what the doc ordered.

For Fraser, maybe.

Not for Ray.

For Ray, Fraser's girlfriend thing was not all that great. No boring igloo stories. Never mind what Ray used to think about them, not having them turned out to be not a plus.

Especially since he had to hear stories about what the two of them did in Fraser's native habitat. And not even much of that. Frase was really sticking to his job at the Consulate; Ray figured he was pushing for a promotion or at least a transfer to the right place. They didn't hang out like they used to.

Worse yet, unless they were knee deep in a case together, Fraser was mooning. Walking around with that little uptwist to the corner of his mouth that said he was looking at something good, and it wasn't the Sears Tower.

Sure, Ray'd been there, took out the mortgage. He shouldn't spit on the guy's parade.

But he wanted to.

"Fraser? Fraser. Fraser." He looked down at the sidewalk as it passed under their feet. The sidewalk was paying more attention.

"Yes, Ray?"

"Look, since we have half the day off after throwing Vernon in the can, why don't we go over to Wrigley Field and catch a game? Cubs are in town."

"Yes, of course."

Uh huh. "Then afterwards, we could go over to Rush Street for a few beers, pick up some chicks, uh, have an orgy."

"A very wise notion."


"I'm sorry, Ray, what were you saying?"

Never fucking mind. "Nothing."

Fraser's distraction left a big, gaping hole in Ray's life, and it wouldn't go away. It followed him around like some kind of . . . big gaping thing, waiting to suck Ray in. He wandered around lost on the weekends, hanging in the park with Dief or flipping channels. He had friends, right, so what was his problem? Well, he knew friendly people, anyway, lots of people who would be glad to pound a few beers with him and shoot the shit, or catch a movie. Unless they were trying to avoid him, the way people had been trying to get out of his way at work the last few weeks.

At work, he twitched every time the phone rang, and some days he could hear every phone in the goddamn precinct. That stupid prick Dewey had to call him on it, too, sneaking up behind him, poking his ribs to watch him jump.

"A little nervous, there, my man?"

"Ain't your man, sweetcheeks. Want some?" He leered, Dewey pushed, he pushed back, and then Huey walked in between and put the Vulcan neck grab on his partner.

"Break it up! This isn't a day care center! Let's go, we've got work to do." Dewey went along, he didn't have much choice, after an exchange of hand signals.

During one of the rare moments of silence in the bullpen, this time after he'd blown up about something so stupid he couldn't even remember it, Frannie asked him did somebody lick his lollipop, and everybody hooted. After that, he started collecting Tootsie Pops and jawbreakers along with the dirty looks. There was a new pile on his desk every morning. It was always gone by clockout.

Days went by like walking through water. Every step was more work than it ought to be, getting out of bed was almost more than he could stand, and the days felt like weeks. When he finally slogged through another eight or eighty hours, he didn't want to do anything when he got home. Wasn't really hungry, although he shoved food in his face regularly anyhow. Didn't even want to watch tv, just stared at it with his mind as blank as the screen.

Frannie was good. She ragged on his attitude and dragged him to the mall. It was a sure cure, she said. He didn't ask for what. There were three silk shirts hanging in his closet, so he knew that wasn't just a bad dream.

Sunday nights were such a relief that he wove and ducked around the apartment, throwing shadow punches at the dirty dishes, and Monday morning was like waiting for Christmas, but then when they met for lunch, Ray couldn't shake the feeling that half his friend was still up north. They were together, but Ray was still mostly alone.

They had to find a new place to eat. The food at DeLillo's was really going downhill. Half the time now, his lunch tasted like something Fraser would eat off the sidewalk.

It was just no good. He was up, down, he was all around. There had to be some better way to let his best friend go.

He knew he couldn't hold on to Fraser forever. Hell, he didn't want the guy to be alone. He wouldn't wish that on anybody. Just that with Fraser, Ray wasn't alone. Fraser stood like a great big stop sign between him and the rest of the world; they were buddies. The best.

Sure, working with Fraser was like he checked yes on the form that said, "Do you like to be recklessly endangered?" But they were great together. They got more done without capes than any other partners in Chicago. He knew he could count on Fraser. The man pulled his nuts out of the fire more times than he threw them in. It hurt to know that sometime soon he wouldn't be around anymore. Hurt like hell.

If only there had been something, anything he could do to make Fraser happy enough to stay in Chicago. But he just couldn't see his friend giving up the chance to go back to Canada to a woman he loved. Not when he was the only guy around who sometimes looked as lonely as Ray felt.

Ray counted on their Monday lunches. It was the last thing he could hold on to, except for a deck of Vecchio ID. In his mind, his best--only--friendship had already gone north with the caribou. He clutched at lunch like the tag end of a tattered kid's blanket, until the Monday his partner didn't show.

Ray waited through two cups of unchocolatized coffee before he decided to get his ass in gear and go find the man. Getting ditched pissed him off. But it could just be something that couldn't be helped, after all. Nobody was more dependable, if you could keep him away from those day-to-day time sinks like kidnappers, drug dealers, and international terrorists.

Maybe he wasn't in town at all.

Ray couldn't help hoping there were drug dealers.

It was better than thinking that maybe Frase took an extra day off, was still up in Canada, still with Judy, that maybe they were celebrating, maybe congratulations were in order.

He kept an eye open all the way to the Consulate, in case there was a flash of red in the pedestrian crossing with some old lady. When he sauntered in, trying to look cool and collected instead of on red alert--at least he didn't slide in on his knees screaming this time--his buddy was sitting right up at the front desk. What the fuck was wrong with this picture? Well, wrong for sure was the way Fraser looked straight at him without even seeing him. Meaning he was pretty far away, but he didn't look like he was in Canada, or if he was, he wasn't happy about it.

People are like houses, mum always said. You got your suburban split levels, your genteel old Naked Ladies. Whatever happened over the weekend had turned Fraser into a burned-out building, and what was left was shaky, like the smoldering timbers could give any minute. Smoke still drifted across his empty eyes.

Serious bad in Canadaville.


"Ray! Oh, I didn't see you come in."

No shit. "Lunch?"

"Pardon me. The time seems to have gotten away from me. I do apologize."

Another long look pretty much convinced Ray that the man hardly knew what day it was or who was Queen this week, either.

"Why don't we head out now? You look like you could use something to eat." Hell if he knew what Fraser could use, but food seemed like a start.

"Thank you, but I'm not very hungry."

Hungry? He looked more like zombie. He looked, Christ, he looked a lot like he had on Mort's table, waxy and gray, and Ray's stomach slid one step to the left. If that woman had done this, he was going to have to kick her in the head.

"That's fine, that's great." He jittered, resisted the temptation to crack his knuckles. "Meet you for dinner, then."

"I'm sorry. I really can't." More tinny wind-up voice, more zombie face.

Fraser wanted space. He needed time for the salvage operation. Fix what could be fixed, bulldoze the rest. He thought he had to do it alone. Screw that.

Space wasn't the final fucking frontier, goddamn it, it was just something in between two people. Between Ray and what he wanted. What he might not get if he couldn't make it across that space. Even though he could hear her screaming, "Don't push me, Ray," that twist of anxiety made him push.

"I'll pick you up at six."

He turned around and walked out.


The takeout was in the car with him when he pulled up to the Consulate. No way was he taking any chances that Frase would wiggle out of this one, and it didn't sound like anything he'd want to talk about in public. Fraser must have had a change of heart, because he was just walking out the door. He still looked like a candidate for his own funeral. Again.

"Where's the furbag?"

"Sulking. Well, he was, anyway. I told him I'd had quite enough of his personal comments, and he declined to come along this evening. He claimed that he wanted to go home with Turnbull. Really, he just prefers Turnbull's cooking. He's making bruschetta all'aglio, braciolini and crostoli."

"Man, you let a wolf save your life, and he deserts you for crostoli."

Fraser stared out the car window. "Get it, deserts?" No answer. All right, can the humor. Nothing was going to lighten up this disaster, whatever it was, so he might as well roll with it. Better roll right now before Fraser changed his mind and jumped out of the car. Not that moving cars stopped him. Ray pulled away from the curb with a chirp of rubber.

They ended up not eating anyway. Fraser, after pushing around his quesadillas and refried beans for a while, just got up and wandered around the apartment. He picked up Ray's grandmother's milk glass chicken, the one that was always full of candy when Ray was a kid, opened it up, and gazed into it like he was trying to read the secret message inside. Then he looked out the window for a while.

Then he stared at the turtle, who stayed mum just like the chicken.

Ray scraped the plates into the garbage and put on some water for tea.

Then he sat down on the couch. "Fraser, spill. Come on, you know I'm going to drag it out of you sooner or later."

Fraser went statuesque, just like in front of the Consulate, except he was facing the wall now. He stared silently for almost as long as Ray could stand it.

"I . . . Judy and I . . . we won't be seeing each other any more."

"What? Why?"

"She said--" he coughed, then spoke in a rush, "she said that I wasn't all there."

Ray exploded off the couch. "That crazy bitch! What's wrong with her, Fraser? Why, I oughta go right up there now and clean her cuckoo clock!" He stopped short, seething. Shit, there was nothing he could do to fix this, and he knew it.

"Ray, it's all right." The slump of his shoulders said it was all wrong.

"Whaddya mean, 'all right'? That--that--woman--needs her head examined!" Kicked. "Good Lord, she could have had you, and she threw that away? That's grounds for lockdown at Read Mental right there!"

Fraser smiled sickly. Seeing him try to put a good face on it made Ray want to punch something. Hard. He stalked to the counter and boiled a tea bag instead.

"I'm sure she doesn't need hospitalization, but thank you for your championship, Ray. Sadly, she was right. It was my fault. I . . . wasn't always truly with her. Often, I was distracted by other things, ah, things here in Chicago."

Jeez. Even with a woman, the Mountie was still a Mountie. Remembering the way life was lately, though, Ray could almost work up some sympathy for Crazy Lady. Being around Fraser when the man was thinking about something else, so close and yet so damn far, was tough. He and this chick had more in common than he'd have thought.

"Look, don't you think things would change once you moved up there? You'd have your job up there, and Dief, nothing to worry about back here."

"I'm afraid it simply wouldn't have worked." Fraser made his way carefully over to the couch; Ray almost went to help. He sat down like he needed oil. "I didn't--I didn't love her, Ray. Not really."

Yeah, right. "It'll work out when you find the right person." Could he get any more desperate? What the hell did you say when there was nothing you could say? "When it's the one you want, the one you need, you'll know."

"Oh, I know, Ray." Fraser turned to face him, and to Ray's horror he saw the last of the smoking timbers come crashing down. "There are things I want that I can't have in this life. Without them, I just wanted to have something. Someone." He cleared his throat, his voice dying down to a whisper. "I thought I could have what other people have. I think she was my last chance."

Other people, like normal people, like not Fraser. "What? You're saying, what, you don't think somebody can love you? Like, how you need to be loved?"

If he couldn't dig this out of Fraser soon, they'd need Jaws of Life to pry his chin out of his chest.

"It's personal, Ray."

"Personal, my friend, is where it's at." He shut his mouth and stared and tried to wait it out.

Finally, Fraser spoke, barely moving his lips. "It's not just love that I want.

I need . . . a particular kind of satisfaction. Please, Ray, let it go." He drew a shuddering breath. The red of his face would've stopped traffic on Wacker.

Not regular love, but some other kind. Ray hit the back of his couch with a thump.

Fraser wanted something bad. He wanted something bad bad. Wanted something so bad that he couldn't, he wouldn't . . . Oh, Jesus. Was Fraser crying? Ray's mind went blank, and he blurted, "Fraser. You're . . . you're a pervert."

Bright color pictures splashed on the blankness, and he wished they hadn't. They weren't nice pictures, but they fit together.

Sometimes his bullheaded partner looked a whole world of pissed-off, right before he smoothed over with plaster-of-Mountie. Sometimes Fraser was way more stressed out than Ray could understand. He ran from any woman who seemed to like him, unless she was tough as nails.

Fraser wasn't shy about women, he was fucking trying to protect them! Was there a bad guy duking it out with the good guy inside that hard Canadian head? Everybody had a dark side, but what would be a dark side to Fraser? For all Ray knew, he could be half an Oreo.

"I know you've been in women's clothes. Regular weird stuff, it doesn't bother you. It's gotta be something really different."

There were so many things out there from the harmless to the nutso; some of that stuff made his skin crawl, and now they were all playing on the back of his eyelids. Fraser. Lust. What did Fraser lust for that he wouldn't take? "Rubber dresses, golden showers, 'I Love The Dead'?"


"Worse than that?" He could hardly bear to think of Fraser in the same city with some of the things in his mind. The soundtrack got louder, more discordant, blaring in his head. "Prostitutes. Little kids. Whips and chains."

He couldn't stop the movie, scenes flashing by of the perverse shit he'd seen, nasty sex gone bad. Blood. Pain. His empty stomach tried to climb out his throat.

"Oh, God, Frase. Do you wanna . . . hurt people?"

"Ray!" Fraser's voice reached him at the movies and he grabbed onto it like a lifeline, letting it haul him out. "Stop. It's not like that."

"Then what!"

"I'm not a monster."

The perfect skin was unnaturally white in the muted early evening light straggling in through the window blinds. A tear track slashed down his cheek like a scar.

He watched uncomprehendingly as Fraser sank to his knees on the floor next to Ray's feet. For a second he thought Fraser was asking forgiveness and then it was a proposal, and who was gonna wear the dress? 'Cause he didn't look good in white anyway, and there was something about Fraser on his knees that made Ray itch, made him shift uncomfortably on the couch.

One of those broad hands rose up in slow motion toward his face. He reached out to stop it, to ask why, who the hell knew what for, because the next thing he knew Frase had his hand in a gentle grip and pressed a kiss into Ray's palm.

He could feel the scratch of evening beard against his fingers, the faint moisture between the lips on his palm, and Fraser's too-fast pulse thumping his fingertips. Completely thrown, he could only make a funny noise in his throat.

Fraser looked up over the heel of Ray's hand, and Ray'd never seen that look on his face, scared and hungry like a kid out on the street.

He'd have given fucking anything to take that look away.

So he didn't move, didn't say anything when Fraser kissed the tips of his fingers, one by one, when his warm breath puffed singing telegrams up the blue vein at the inside of his wrist, or when Fraser carefully bit down on the thick pad of muscle at the base his thumb, a rise and shine for every freakin' nerve he had. This was not buddies, this was way beyond buddies, holy shit, it was two years, and nobody ever sucked on his fingers before.

As he looked down on his best friend's dark head, Ray was torn. His mind demanded an explanation while his body yelled out for more. When he watched his knuckles disappear between Fraser's lips, thoughts and senses exploded in flaming wreckage because the last time his fingers had been pressed together in a place that warm, that wet was inside Stella.

Fraser's mouth. His fingers. Fraser and sex. This was his Fraser on sex. That was what all those women wanted, that closed-eyed blissed-out glow and the little moans humming on his skin. Now he knew, understood the draw, wanted to see . . . more. It surprised him so much that he jumped a little, pulling away, and his fingers made a soft wet sound as they came out.

He heard another little cut-off noise, but maybe it was his imagination. He could only see the top of Fraser's bent head as his partner stared at the floor.

He just sat there counting the hairs, trying to file the evidence; hell, he needed a new jacket for it, or maybe a whole new file cabinet.

Finally, Fraser looked up. He'd straightened out his face, but there were sad crinkles around his eyes that Ray had never seen before.

"You have your answer now, and I have mine." His voice was almost perfectly normal. "You know, it's funny, but the man was right. The world really did end with a whimper." His mouth stretched from side to side, but it was nothing like a smile. "I'm sure you'll understand if I ask that we not speak of this." He was up on one knee and ready to get up, walk, amscray.

"Don't even think about it!" Ray shouted. "This man says you are not walking out of here!" Ray grabbed Fraser's elbows, shoving his left foot down for leverage, but all the weight shifted at the same time as Fraser tried to get up, and the resulting whump left them both flat on the couch. He'd been landed on by Fraser before, but this knocked the stuffing out of him in a whole new way.

He squirmed under the pressure of a ton of hard body, and it freaked him a little 'cause he'd never been laid on with intent by anybody bigger and heavier than he was and Fraser had intent all right, but intent to what? "Get off of me!" He gulped with relief as most of the weight was levered up, but it was only lifted onto Fraser's elbows. They were still up close and personal, though, so close that he could smell the bay rum. Fraser wore aftershave? At least it was taking his mind off the pressure settled on his crotch.

The face above his was bigger at upside-down eyeball level. Fraser was looking at him all wide-eyed, like he wasn't sure how he got there. Maybe that was true, but he wasn't getting up to leave, either. Ray's own eyes crossed as that straight nose came closer and closer, and then he scrunched them shut, not sure he was ready to see what came next.

Fraser was pushing his face against Ray's cheek, learned that from Dief or something, shushing him with indistinct sounds. He stayed there, and they nuzzled each other until Ray relaxed with a sigh, wrapping his arms around his partner. There was a lot to hold on to.

Fraser was touching his hair now, like he couldn't quite believe it--patting the spikes with his palm, then brushing his hand back and forth over the top of it.

Fraser was giving his hair the troop review, running a fingertip along the scalp and stopping in places to pull gently along a clump of hair from root to tip. It made his whole body light up, all the way down to his toes.

God, he missed that so much. He missed being touched, now, more than he missed her. Not being touched after almost a whole lifetime of Stella, all the way back to holding ice cream hands, made him feel like a ghost even more than being Ray Vecchio. At least Ray Vecchio was a real person. Stanley Ray Kowalski didn't have anybody to show him where the inside started and the outside stopped.

He carefully peered up into the bigger-than-life face above his, straight into the open, waiting eyes. He saw a National Geographic special just like that once, Blue Planet, and didn't it figure Frase would be out in space? There wasn't a whole lot of air or gravity around here, either. He could tell by the way his hands were floating around all by themselves along flannel-covered ribs, and by how hard it was to catch his breath.

Pulling away from the eyes, he tried to get a grip, but since his whole view was full of economy-size facial features, the next thing he got stuck on was the mouth. Which was in the middle of lip-licking. He watched, fascinated. What always looked like an open mouth before was now looking a lot like an open invitation.

Come as you are.

Bemused, he snaked his arms up under the cotton-fuzzy chest. Fraser must have caught an elbow in a sensitive spot; he tried to move away but Ray was faster.

Catching a couple handsfuls of hair, he brought Fraser back in for that RSVP.

The guy had a big mouth, like that was a surprise. There was just more than Ray was used to. It was like his first kiss all over again, all noses and teeth and a little fumbly and confusing. Confusing 'cause what was he doing kissing his freaky partner, a man who made him nuts and threatened his life, why was he horizontal with Fraser? Then his taste buds kicked in and it was more like his first beer, smooth with an edge and straight to his head, and he never trusted commercials but this time he went with it: why ask why? And so there they were, swapping spit like they were hormone-enhanced, and jesus did it feel good, tongue on tongue, so good it was almost scary. But there was nothing to be scared of--nobody could get pregnant, and if they didn't come together nobody would get pissy about it--unless that really was a pistol Fraser was packing.

He had to say it, he just had to. But when he looked up again, "Are you happy to see me?" dried up and tumbled away. He could see it all now, Fraser's hair mussed by Ray's hands, face flushed, mouth open, eyes closed. He looked . . .

crazy with it, as lost here with Ray as Ray was while Fraser was gone. Looking up at Fraser was like looking down the abandoned mineshaft in the ghost town they went to when he was a kid.

The need in him went so deep that Ray couldn't see the bottom. Shit, Fraser had his own black hole he carried around with him.

It hit him like a slug in the chest, slamming the air out of his lungs and making him dizzy. This was it. This was what Fraser wanted, what would make him stay. He knew it like it was tattooed across that broad forehead. Maybe it had been, all this time, and Ray just hadn't been looking. God knew Ray was available.

No more wondering where his next friend was coming from. He could make it happen, and it sounded . . . good. He could keep Fraser. He could do it.

Something big and cold living under Ray's ribs since way before the divorce started to melt away.

Fraser's eyes opened, and he was trying to say something. The guy hadn't said a word so far or hardly made a noise, like he was afraid if he made the wrong noise they'd both disappear in a puff of dust.

"Ray, I . . . I want . . . to be with you . . ."

It ripped Ray's guts out to hear him stumble over words.

"Shh, it's OK. I want to be with you, too." And he did. Right now it was the only thing he wanted. "We're all right, it's all OK."

Fraser looked like he wasn't sure, or like nobody ever said stuff to make him feel better. Maybe nobody ever had. That went on the list. First, he had to get Fraser's attention. So he leaned up and laid another one on those pretty red lips, wet and slow and soft.

"Let's go, Frase."


He didn't look so much worried anymore as dazed, and that was good. Keep him that way. He got a real charge out of that; he was flying high just from being in control for once, and that wasn't nice, but it was satisfying.

Christ, Fraser was his. Right now. Not as a favor, not as a duty. He wanted it, here, now, with Ray, so bad he would risk everything--their friendship, life as they knew it. That blew his fucking mind.

Unresisting was a new look for the man who didn't hesitate to put his life on the line, as long as there was a weapon in some miserable bastard's hand. A friend with a boner, hey, that made him nervous. Ray wanted to see those barriers down, smashed all to hell. All he had to do was figure out how.

"We're headin' to the bedroom, buddy." He had to make his point with a little push.

It was worth it just to see those glazed eyes work so hard to focus. Ray wasn't sure his partner even understood the words. He pushed and pulled until they were both pretty much upright and at least moving in the bedroom direction.

When they got there was when Fraser came back from la la land.

Ray knew how agile those hands were--could whittle The Last Supper out of Irish Spring--still, it amazed him how fast they could get a shirt and jeans off somebody who wasn't really a whole lot of help. He was actively trying to hold Fraser in one place, trying to hang on to something safe. Kissing was his specialty, it was familiar--not like whatever else was going to happen here.

The nudge of Fraser's fingers tugging at his fly made his hips hitch forward all by themselves for more, and that zipper noise he always thought was so sexy almost deafened him. Fraser stripped himself on automatic pilot, his eyes never leaving Ray's face. They were asking him for something, but even with no clothes on he wasn't exactly sure what.

He had to get results here. It was a big fucking deal, this deciding to screw your partner. Kinda cold, and that wasn't his style. He shifted his weight from foot to foot, scrambling to get his act together. After dragging Fraser into the bedroom, now was not a good time for second thoughts.

It ought to be all the same, everybody had the same number of lips and fingers--but the reality was different. Bigger, for one thing. Kind of overwhelming, all that bone and muscle. He thought he'd just naturally know what to do, where to start, but he didn't. He only knew how to use his fists on men.

Maybe it was time to get out of the car and ask directions.

"Um." Pause. "You ever done this before?"

"I've had dreams." That voice, he'd never heard Fraser talk like that before, low and rough and coming from someplace dark. He shivered.

"Frase, help me out here. What do I, can I. . ." He trailed off.

"Will you do something for me?" That watchful face was all eyes, that sandpaper voice all sex.

"Yes." No questions asked. Ray held his breath.

"My name," lick of that bottom lip, "is Benton." A long look. There were the sparks. "Call me Ben."

"Yeah, sure . . . Ben." For three letters, Ben was a motherbig name. It filled up his mouth. It was like lovers, more than kissing, more than everything else.

"Say it again."

That voice rubbed all over him, making his skin crazy.

"Ben. Ben." He was croaking around the lump in his throat.

Then those I split logs in the Yukon arms were around him and that bare body glued up against him. It was a relief and a reward and he couldn't sort out what else. They were moving. He was moving backwards, following because Fraser was leading. They weren't quite in sync, awkward and bumping and rubbing for more. The brush of curly hairs and soft skin on his long-ignored cock was about enough to send him through the roof. Fraser--Ben--backed him right up against the bed, holding him tight and easing him down when his knees buckled.

Ben was on his knees on the floor again. Ray's itch was back even stronger, but now it was hotwired to his groin. He'd thought he couldn't get any harder. Wrong again. Ben's lips along his chest had to be leaving welts; he tingled everywhere they'd been. He couldn't help the moan that washed through him when he felt teeth skate a nipple. He reached out to steady himself, holding tight to those sturdy shoulders.

Without warning, Fraser leaned into his lap and swallowed him like a shot of cheap tequila. Oh, God, oh shit, it was way too much after way too long. He almost screamed when that wet, warm mouth sucked in the head of his cock and slid down the shaft. He lost all control when those lips hit bottom, jerking and yelling as his partner sucked. He'd never come so hard so fast, and it left him stupid. He flopped back on the bed, panting, fingers wound in that heavy hair, holding Fra--Ben's head on his stomach.

When he could think in words again, right after wow came oh, shit, what now? It was time to put up or shut up, keep Frase or throw him back, and Ray didn't have a fucking clue.

Wait. There was one thing he could probably do; he had plenty of experience.

He scrunched himself up to sit against the headboard, shoving pillows behind him. Spreading his legs, he said, "C'mere. I can take care of you." At the shocked look, he backed up quick. "No way, not that! Forget that! Come over here and sit down." He hoped he didn't look as uncertain as he felt. Just for good measure, he pulled Fraser down to sit facing away. This would be a lot easier if he couldn't see those wide eyes tracking his every move.

It was kind of a nice view, really. Wanting a better look, he clicked on the the mostly worthless bedside lamp, the one you couldn't hardly read by, and found out there really was a good use for it: it made Ben's skin glow, a halo around him on the darker room. It was really . . . nice. His long fingers splayed against that broad back looked right at home, somehow.

For all the time he spent watching Fraser's back, he didn't have much chance to look at it. He took his time now, skimming his fingertip down the tiny rollercoaster of Fraser's backbone, trying not to think about the scar, following the path of muscle as it firmed around bones. That was what held Fraser together. The magic of genetics and wildly woolly outdoor life, all neatly tucked into a Mountie suit.

Ray wished there was something so simple that could hold him together.

He ran his hands along the traps, using some pressure this time. Whoa. The guy was stiff, and not just where Ray expected. His shoulder blades could pass for the friggin' Canadian Shield. He gave the shoulders a gentle shake and said, "Relax, willya?" Digging his thumbs in along the edges, he worked until he felt the landscape ease up some. It was a familiar rhythm of long practice, kneading and smoothing and shaping.

After a while they were both floating, and he'd have thought that Fraser was falling asleep except for the quiet happy noises coming out of him. He pulled back, fixing that bulk up against him, started to work down the front, and realized for the first time that Fraser--Ben--had, well, breasts. Not round and bouncy; more like flat and firm. But still. He palmed and squeezed them a little. Ben groaned like a dying man, his head falling back, mink coat hair tickling Ray's shoulder.

There were neat dusky nipples that he tweaked, pinching just a little to hear Ben make little sounds back in his throat. It was a trip to coax those sounds out, to hear the pleasure and watch it cross his face, light chasing shadow.

He smoothed one hand down across those late-night infomercial abs, closer and closer to the final destination. OK, this was it, this was for all the money. He could do it. Gingerly, he cupped his hand around Ben's erection and curled his fingers tight.

Ben came right up off the bed. "Ah! Ah, ah!"

For the first time, Ray knew exactly what that meant.

Jerking another guy off was all sorts of strange; it was how familiar it was that made it freaky. The throb of blood under that tender skin, the hardness underneath, the slick he was squeezing out--all the times he'd looked down the slope of a chest to see his fingers wrapped around a hard cock, it was his own chest and his own cock.

He'd never even thought of what it would be like to look down at his hand around somebody else's. It was like being one of those optical illusions that was full of birds until another look made them fish, and then they turned back. Like he ought to be feeling the pull of his hand on himself.

Ben's hips were rolling with the steady strokes, and his moans echoed through Ray's chest. Ray's half-hard cock was snuggled up in the valley of Ben's spine, and liking it better all the time. He could feel their sweat mixing around him and easing the way.

"Ray." A whisper from alongside his ear; a tongue and a hot breath sneaking into it.

"Oh, Christ!" He shivered at the invasion. "Yeah, Ben, you want somethin'?" He smiled, loving this, loving to be skin-tight, looking to hear Ben say something sweet. Guys did that, when they were just about there.

"Ray," so low he could hardly hear, even with that mouth pressed up against his neck. ". . . fuck me."

Goddamn, he hadn't even been sure Fraser knew that word, much less it would pass his lips. Maybe only Ben used that word, kind of like multiple personality. They'd be heads and tails, for sure, and only one guess who got to be the tail. It wasn't hard to tell them apart--Ben was the naked one. Then the meaning dribbled in. His hand just stopped, fingers clenching. Ben gasped, and he loosened his fingers a little.

"You serious, here, hey, I tried that once, didn't work, hurts." Wasn't Stella's idea in the first place. He couldn't even remember why he thought it sounded so sexy, back then. "Don't wanna hurt anybody. No way, no how." Now Ray was the one who was babbling. Fraser was rubbing off on him. Oh, man! He was just plain losing it.

"It won't hurt, Ray." The rasp in his voice said loud and clear he didn't care either way.

This was Ben's party. Better to know now if he couldn't bring the presents. "OK. Just--just--hang on a minute, OK?"

He leaned back and rummaged in the bedside table drawer for the KY he used on himself sometimes. He already knew that spit was not gonna do it for this adventure. When he finally found it under the pile of junk in there and looked up again, it was Porn-o-vision.

Ben was kneeling, ass up--it was an awesome ass, too, rounded and muscular, just crying out to be grabbed onto, held, fucked--sliding his fingers into himself, getting ready. It was the smuttiest, strangest, most brain-melting thing he'd ever seen in real life, and it was right there. In front of his face.

It totally eliminated the idea that maybe he couldn't get it up for his partner. Nope. Not just friction after all. And it was way, way too hot in here--stifling, he could hardly breathe. He was dripping with sweat and he hadn't moved a muscle. Wasn't sure he could. He just--watched. And listened. Mainly he was hearing his own heartbeat bang in his ears and Ben's harsh breathing; he couldn't really be hearing long wet fingers moving slowly in and out.

Strained words broke into his trance. "Ray. Ray. Please."

Ray started in surprise, licking the salt from his lip. Oh, yeah. Time to join the party. No rubbers, why the hell would he have any? All that asking women out was just bullshit, and even if somebody had gone out with him, he just couldn't do it on a first date. He couldn't put his dick in somebody he didn't even know. Although--he was doing it with Fraser, and it looked like there were still questions there.

He should probably say something. "Fraser, Ben, I don't have any, um, condoms."


"Yeah, OK, I got it." T-minus ten seconds here. He smeared himself up and rubbed a dollop against that tiny space those fingers just left. Ben shivered but held his ground. At least you couldn't get a ticket for breaking the law of physics. Only Fraser could explain how this was going to fit, and Ray wasn't in any shape to listen.

He put a not-too-steady hand on Ben's hip, used the slippery one to aim, pressed the tip of his cock into the right spot, closed his eyes, and . . . pushed.

Holy mother.

His determination not to hurt anybody almost evaporated right there. As soon as he was a heartbeat into that tight, slippery heat, everything else fell out of his head. Only a gut-deep moan, wow, he felt that, brought him back. Fuck, get with it, Kowalski. Deep breath, take it easy, "--you all right, there, Ben?"

"Y-yes. Please, continue."

Please, continue? If he was using real words, then Ray wasn't doing it right. Guys did this for fun, there had to be a way to make it good. Touching, Ben liked to be touched, everybody liked that, sure winner. And that perfect ass was perfectly touchable, so he slid his palms down it as he tried to move into that resistance. Oh, beautiful, the feel of those heavy muscles filling his hands.

He was moving farther in, and he couldn't believe it. Sometimes he'd wondered what Ben looked like naked, just that they were so different, and hey, the guy was built. Now he knew. He was under the uniform, under Ben's skin, and Ben wanted him there. He was inside, and wanted to stay there forever.

Oh, God, it was good, just so damn good as he felt himself sliding in all the way. "You're beautiful, Ben, you feel incredible," he crooned as he leaned over to lick at the gleam of sweat on the rope of muscle alongside Ben's backbone. Ben tasted just as good on the outside as he felt from the inside, salt against his tongue and he wanted more, so Ray licked up with long strokes as he rocked his hips gently. He felt Ben shudder beneath him.

The way was easy now, slick and easy all around him, pushing slow up to the hilt and leaning back. That alone would have made him come if he hadn't just. Now, there was so much more he wanted. So much to touch, so much to taste, and it was all right here, waiting. He let his hands roam, trying not to miss a square inch of that fine skin or a curve of muscle, sucking and nipping in time with the gasps of his partner.

He had to make sure. "What do you want, Ben?" His voice cracked. "I got it, all for you, give you anything."

A caught breath. "See you. Want to see you. Want you to see me."

"Sure. We can do that." He gave the strong back one more caress and carefully pulled out, hating the loss. He was repaid big time when Ben dropped gracefully, rolled over and stretched out, reaching up for him. The sight of his pink face, eyes dilated and dreamy, nailed Ray right where he lived. Oh, God, Fraser . . . wanted.

Just like Ray.

He followed the pull of Ben's hands down to kiss that wobbly smile. Ben was born to kiss. His in-and-out tongue move could start forest fires, was doing a dandy job on Ray. A surprise of lust flared in his insides, and Ray let it burn. He pressed his on-top advantage, licking deeper, holding Ben's twisting body down, getting off on using his strength, ignoring the wordless pleas.

He moved on down, sucking and biting at the stubbly jawline, making his way to the vulnerable white skin below. Long hard licks up Ben's corded neck had both of them moaning.

"If you want me to beg you again, I will." Needy, naked Ben.

Fuck. That turned Ray's crank so hard. He sank his teeth into the firm flesh just above a nipple.


"Pull your knees up." He almost got Ben's foot in his ear, but it didn't matter. They were together again and he was inside and there was nothing in between them, no space, not even air.


When he woke up, nobody was there.

Could have been the empty that woke him up, or just that he'd had eight hours of unbroken sleep for the first time in weeks.

Empty. Not right, not good. Reality check: 5:21, Tuesday morning, The Morning After, and Hurricane Fraser had already blown out of here, leaving him asleep like a bad pickup. His arms were clenched across his chest, fingers leaving prints on his arms, missing that big warmth.

Wait. Wait. Settle down. Think about it.

They could let it go. Whatever it was. What the hell was it, anyway? They weren't together, not that way. Fraser could--would--let it go. What had possessed him to think that fucking Fraser would keep the guy around? Well, the look on the man's face. Right before he said what he said.

Yet, Ray knew damn well that Fraser could just say no. He could walk away and use that incredible brain to never think about it again. If he did, there wouldn't be a damn thing Ray could do about it. There were good reasons, and then there were Fraser reasons: unfathomable, unarguable, and thick as a brick. Shit, the man was on his way back to normal.

Ray rolled out of bed and landed on his ass with a thump, blanket and all, lurching for yesterday's socks. If Fraser got to the consulate before Ray got to him, he wouldn't have a chance. Fighting off the blanket and hauling on his jeans--where was that other fucking sock?--he knew what would happen. Last night would be history. Write it down, stick it in a book.

One nobody would read, ever again.

He found his keys in his jacket pocket, dropped the keys, groped under the refrigerator for them, didn't bother to lock the door as he slammed out. Even crackhead B&Es were asleep at this hour.

After he floored it out into the street--burned a year's wear off the directional tread Hoosiers right there--he realized he hadn't even looked to see if there was any traffic. There wasn't a whole lot even in Chicago at 5:26 on a Tuesday, but not good to get killed in a stupid-ass car accident outside his apartment on the way to find the rest of his life. He put the cherry on top for safety, thinking if they were awake they'd at least know enough to get the hell outta the way.

He wanted to go eighty, but he had to watch the damned alleys. Who knew when Fraser would take a short cut, or take off after some criminal? Finally, finally, about three blocks from the Consulate, Ray spotted his partner on the sidewalk. He'd seen the man walking by himself lots of times, but for some reason Fraser had never looked more alone.

Ray about pulled a muscle rolling down the passenger side window. "Hop in, I'll give you a ride."

"Thank you, Ray, but I'd rather walk."

That did it. He didn't have time any more to argue it out from the goddamn car window. He hit the gas a little and drove ahead into the next alley cut, blocking Fraser's path. Fraser made a course adjustment, going to walk around the rear end of the car, but Ray jumped out, actually managing for the first time to back him up. The guy moved away from him like he was poison. Terrific, the only one who could make the Mountie back off was now Ray.

"I need to talk to you, and if you don't come quietly, I'm going to yell it all out right here on the street!"

"Very well. In the alley, then."

At least it was conveniently right there. "After you."

Ray tried not to think about Fraser and alleys. The two just didn't have a good history. He had no idea what he was going to say, as usual. The best defense was to get offensive, he had a good handle on that one already, but all that came out was what was sticking like a needle in his brain. "You left." Christ. What a loser opening line that was.

"Yes, I felt it important to get ready for work."

"Fraser, are--are you gonna come home? I mean, back? Tonight?" Jesus, that was pathetic. He could hardly talk.

"Thank you for . . . what you did last night. I'm very grateful."

So, no answer. Or was that the answer? He wouldn't look Ray in the eye, and he for damn sure wasn't dripping gratitude. Not that Ray wanted any, but his partner looked tired, sad, almost angry.

Everything was all mixed up. It wasn't supposed to be like this. Fraser was supposed to be happy. Now there he was with that freeze-dried Mountie face on, the one Ray never wanted to see again. The hard set of his features flickered oddly in the flash of the rotating red light.

"Whaddya mean, uh, grateful?" This was not looking good, so far. Christ, he'd hoped, he'd counted on his partner being with him on this one.

"I know you've said that you'll do anything, and I'm honored that your willingness extends to . . . comforting me."

"Is that what it was?" He scrubbed his palm nervously against the outside seam of his jeans.

"Yes, Ray. It was a gesture of real kindness." He sounded like he was going to gag on it.

"Ben!" That got him a straight look, full of pain and dismay. "Don't look at me like I'm taking your name in vain! If I wanted your goddamn gratitude, I'd--well, shit! I don't know what I'd do, but taking my clothes off and grabbing your dick is not it!"

"I'm not under any illusions in this situation. Please, don't make things any harder than they already are."

"The only thing I wanna get hard is you, you dumb Canuck! Why are you arguing with me about this?"

"I took advantage of your kind nature and your own need for physical contact, and we had sex. You seem to want to continue on that basis, but I assure you, it wouldn't be a good idea."

Supercilious fucking Mountie. That was a word he'd learned since Fraser.

There was some truth to what he said; Ray had wanted Fraser to feel better.

He'd screwed the man's brains out hoping just for that. He was not going to let this get away just because his partner was messed up. He couldn't let it go wrong. He rolled up and down off the balls of his feet.

"Basis, what basis? Did you ever stop and think that what you think is not the right basis? Did I stand up and say, 'Hey, this is a mercy fuck?'"

The bitterness in Fraser's voice startled him. "You didn't have to."

"Oh, yeah?" Great, down to rug rat already. Getting nowhere. He shook himself down, trying to shake off the frustration, but it wouldn't go. "Look, I can't prove it, Fraser. I can't prove what you are to me. I tried that for twenty years and it didn't work, and in the end it didn't matter. You gotta trust me."

"I trust you with my life."

"But not with your heart."

Fraser shook his head slowly. "I'm not even sure I have one to give." Then, without any warning, he came out with his own big-bucks question.

"Why did you have sex with me, Ray?"

His jaw came loose. He had to work it a little from side to side before he could answer. "You can stand there and ask me that?"

"I'm afraid so."

"Because. I. Because." He honestly didn't have an answer. It was too big, that why. It stretched all the way from there to here, in a choppy, broken line of surprises and circumstances.

"What am I to you?" Fraser was on edge, clearly exasperated at Ray's dogged pursuit and lack of explanation. "What do you want from me?"

That was easy enough. He'd always known the answer to that one. "Everything. I want everything you got."

"Well, that seems new. I've never noticed that about you before. And, Ray?" He pinned Ray under his gaze, eyes narrowed. "I notice everything about you."

"Give me a break, I didn't know myself until yesterday!" Fraser's look--jesus, did he sharpen his buck knife on that look? "Well, I knew, but I didn't know know. How the hell could I be expected to know something like that?" It was easy to see that he hadn't been nearly convincing enough. The bitch of it was, Fraser wanted to be convinced. He was sure of it.

He had to bluff it out, but man, this was a tough audience. After everything he'd done all this time, why should his partner need so much convincing? Wasn't it obvious whose side Ray was on? "All right, smart guy. Just tell me one thing. Why would I? Why would I do something like that? Just to make you happy? Why would I follow you all over hell and back, why would I make love with you, if I didn't--"

Out of the mouths of Rays. Oh, shit. Deep shit. He was in serious trouble now. It really was too big, it was the lake they call Michigan. He was under water. Sinking fast underneath him was a formerly burning car, the swirl from its sinking trying to pull him down, and somewhere up there was something to breathe. He'd been under water from day one. He was finally coming to the top at last, been sucking water for months, a year, dammit, couldn't he get some help here! Fraser knew he couldn't swim! All the blood left his head in a big rush, and he was vaguely surprised and relieved not to see it pooling on the ground at his feet. He was shaking. He had to sit down. He sat down right there in the alley, in the gravel and trash and leftovers of everybody who passed by. He propped his elbows on his knees and rubbed his face.

A big warm body, cozy with flannel, came up behind him and sat down too, legs on the outside of his. Big warm arms circled his chest and held on. He grabbed them like a life preserver.

"Don't go back, Ben. Just don't go back."

"To work?" The surprise was clear.

"To normal, OK? Don't go back to normal."

A snort came from behind him. Then, insanely, a giggle.

No. No. Not even. Fraser did not giggle. Ray turned his head, staring in amazement as the years fell off Fraser's face like calendar pages in those old movies. He was laughing now, big old guffaws that went right into Ray and started him laughing too, that goofy way it did when you didn't even get the joke.

They rocked back and forth and laughed their fool asses off. Fraser fell over backwards, pulling Ray with him, and he let his head bounce up and down on Ben's chest, and that was pretty funny, too. They held on tight to each other, giggling up at buildings sticking into the sky. They howled like goofs and made pig noises when they snorted air, which only made them laugh again.

This was definitely Ben here and not Fraser; he'd never seen Fraser laugh like this, or at all, really, and he wondered if anybody else had ever seen Ben laughing. Then he wondered if anyone else had ever seen Ben.

"Um, Ben?" He wiped the tears off his face, still smiling, listening to the occasional choked noise underneath, feeling happiness rattle around inside him. "Was there anything funny about what I said?"

Ben pushed them both back up to sitting. "You were presuming," he was still choked up a little, "that there was anything normal about me to start with. Certainly that's a unique viewpoint, one that I can appreciate, but I'm not really sure that I could find normal from here."

"You got a sextant. You got a compass." That pulled another one of those beautiful smiles, and a squeeze.

"Even so, it could be difficult. Besides, I, well, I like it here. Well, not here, precisely. It's quite uncomfortable to sit on the ground this morning."

"Oh, hey, sorry." Embarrassed, he moved to get up, but was tugged back down.

"Don't be." The warmth of Ben's voice almost made up for the fact that Ray's ass was freezing onto the cold, cold ground.

"So, Ben, you got any ideas about this relationship stuff?"

It took a minute to get an answer, and it was soft and wistful. "I've had dreams."

"Good. Then we can work it out together. 'Cause I have a feeling it could take a while. Let's go get breakfast. You hungry? I'm starved."

But they sat there for a few more minutes anyway, while out on the street the traffic picked up and the early morning brightened around them.


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