This is an erotic character study (aka PWP) featuring the characters Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski from the television series Due South. Set immediately following the end of the 4th season episode "Good for the Soul;" contains minor spoilers for that episode. Rated NC-17 for graphic sexuality (M/M). If you're considered a minor in your community please do not read this . If you're narrow-minded, easily offended, or have something against Chicago Flatfoots with Experimental Hair, you may want to take a pass as well. Characters property of Alliance, yadda, yadda, yadda. Everything else is my smutty intellectual property.

Soundtrack: Marc Cohn: Strangers in a Car and True Companion & Savage Garden: Truly, Madly, Deeply.

Thanks to Betty, AuKestrel & Meghan for Beta.

A Thousand Words
©1999, KMatthews

The 27th's Christmas party was still going strong, but for Benton Fraser it had ended the moment an exasperated Ray had pried an inebriated Francesca off Fraser's chest and announced he was driving her home. Even if he wasn't really her brother, there were appearances to be maintained. After that, the party had lost much of its luster. Deciding it was time to take his leave, he headed for the door, sensing rather than seeing Diefenbaker at his heels. It was clear the wolf felt no particular compulsion to stay, especially in light of the facts that he had already been fed numerous snacks by various partygoers, and Ante had gone home with Francesca.

Stepping outside, Fraser was mildly surprised to find it snowing heavily. He buttoned his coat, pulled on his gloves and carefully tucked his Christmas gift into his pocket where the snow couldn't reach it. Walking the familiar route toward the consulate, he noticed that traffic was extremely light. Not entirely unexpected. He supposed most people had already gone home to their families. Family. He found himself smiling a little as he walked, thinking of the welcome but completely unexpected gift. Of course, it was altogether puzzling how his father had managed to make that happen. After all, he was quite incorporeal, yet the photograph was undeniably real.

"I didn't. After all, I am dead."

Ben almost jumped, startled, and turned to find his father walking beside him, leaving no tracks in the slushy snow on the sidewalk. He frowned.

"You didn't? Then how. . . ."

Robert Fraser shook his head solemnly. "I just planted a seed, son. That's all."

"Then who . . . ." His voice trailed off as he ran through possibilities.

"You really should learn to finish your sentences, Benton. Unfinished sentences are a sign of a disorganized mind."

Fraser controlled his irritation. "If you didn't give it to me, then who did?"

His father looked at him in silence for a moment, and then sighed, shaking his head. "Not much of a detective, are you, son?"

"Dad!" Fraser snapped in exasperation.

The older man held up a gloved hand. Fraser found himself wondering why he would feel the need for gloves when he couldn't actually feel cold.

"Oh, no. I'm not going to make it easy on you. Some things you just have to figure out on your own."

With that he ceased to exist. Well, he'd ceased to exist some time ago but that hadn't stopped him from making irritating appearances now and again. Fraser stared into the snow where he'd been standing and scowled. "Thanks, Dad. You're always such a help."

If his father hadn't gotten him the photo, who had? It had to be someone who knew him well, knew what it would mean to him to have that memento. But who knew him that well? No one did. Not a soul. That was his own fault, he knew. He didn't let people get close. Truth to tell, he had no idea how to let people get close. The few times he'd tried it, he'd ended up deeply hurt. After that he'd decided he simply was not destined for closeness. It said a lot that his best friend was really only pretending to be his best friend in order to protect the life of a brother officer.

He sighed deeply and started walking again, then stopped. He just couldn't face going back to the Consulate, to that cold, empty, nearly sterile room he called home. He didn't want to face the fact that at nearly forty years of age, he was still spending every holiday alone, and it looked as if he always would. As if to chide him for thinking he was alone, Diefenbaker nosed his thigh, and he smiled faintly as he looked down at the wolf. No, he wasn't quite alone. Someone, at least, chose to spend time with him of his own free will.

"Would you like to go to the park?"

The wolf responded joyously and Fraser altered their route, the photograph still occupying his thoughts. He clearly remembered the occasion on which it had been taken, his parent's anniversary, shortly before his mother's death. He sighed, trying to push that thought from his mind before it led to a cascade of self-pity. As if he wasn't being bad enough without that thought. He wished Ray hadn't had to go. Ray could always take his mind off his darker moods, shining into the tangled forest of his thoughts like the sunlight he was named for. His mother had chosen well.

He wondered if Mrs. Kowalski had sensed, even in those first hours, how brilliant a soul she had birthed. He was drawn to that light like the proverbial moth to the flame, and had to constantly strive to keep himself out of the fire, because he knew it would burn him irreparably. He would have to be satisfied to stay far enough outside the heat for safety. Outside the glass. Wanting in.

Lord, he was depressing tonight. It was just as well Ray wasn't here, because as sensitive as he was he would pick up on Fraser's emotions and worry unnecessarily. He quickened his pace. Though the park was sculpted by man, at least it had grass and trees, and some semblance of naturalness to it. He often retreated there when the city became too much for him, or when his thoughts demanded the solace of solitude.

* * *

Ray pushed through the double doors into the bullpen and the party enveloped him. He could smell the whiskey-spiked hot cider that had done in Frannie, and grinned, feeling ridiculously pleased with himself for having managed to rescue Fraser from her somewhat sloshed clutches. The sheer panic he'd read on his friend's face when Fraser had realized he was unable to politely disentangle himself had brought all Ray's protective instincts to the fore.

Of course, his inherently jealous nature had something to do with his reaction, too. Not that he wanted Frannie. No, life couldn't be that simple. But it was manifestly unfair that she got to break the rules, since he'd spent months now making an idiot of himself around his ex-wife in order to make sure Fraser didn't suspect that his partner wanted to be plastered all over him like a certain civilian aide had just been. Then he remembered he was, after all, Frannie's 'big brother,' and voila, problem solved.

A half hour time-out to take her home and drive back, and now it was time to find Fraser and hang for awhile. He even had special videos for tonight. He was pretty sure that "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" and "It's a Wonderful Life" would meet even Fraser's exacting standards. The problem was finding Fraser. He didn't see the Stetson anywhere. Or any red serge, for that matter. He did see Huey and Dewey standing next to the crock-pot full of cider, staring at each other with really peculiar expressions on their faces. He wondered briefly what that was all about, then he spotted Welsh, still clutching his box of Cubans like he was afraid someone was going to take them away from him, and headed that way.

"Detective, I thought you'd left us," Welsh said as he settled in next to him, people-watching.

"Just had to take Frannie home before she passed out."

"For which you have my profound appreciation, Detective. And, I suspect, Red's too."

Ray chuckled. "Yeah, I suspect so. Speaking of which, have you seen him?"

Welsh thought about it, then shook his head. "I haven't seen him since just after you left. I suppose I thought he was with you."

"What about Thatcher and Turnbull? Did they all take off together?" Maybe there was some Consulate Christmas thing he didn't know about.

"No, Inspector Thatcher is still here somewhere," Welsh said, glancing around the room thoughtfully. "Turnbull left a few minutes ago, after he ran down the battery on his ray-gun. Fraser's been gone much longer."

Ray frowned. "Oh."

"He probably didn't see much point in hanging around once you left," Welsh said blandly.

"But I was coming back!" Ray protested, and only after he'd done so did he realize he sounded suspiciously whiny. Then he wondered what had made Welsh think Fraser would only hang around if he was there, and he stared at his superior officer narrowly. Welsh looked innocent, so Ray carefully slouched back and tried to reassert his cool. "Oh well, no big deal. Think I'll go check out the chips and dip."

Welsh nodded solemnly, and suddenly Ray had the oddest feeling he was wearing a huge sign that said "I want to screw my partner." He shook himself and slunk over to the goodies table, chowing down on a handful of chips, getting a cup of cider which he sipped, not really intending to drink it, just wanting something to do with his hands. Welsh was watching him, which was a little unnerving. He wandered over to his desk and his toe caught something on the floor under it. Something that clunked.

He put down his cup and stooped to look, a silly grin spreading over his face as he realized what it was. He toed the item deeper under his desk. After all, it wouldn't do for Thatcher to see it there, or worse, Dewey, especially after that 'Calling Dr. Freud' remark. Of course, Fraser the Clueless wouldn't realize that leaving his sword under Ray's desk might cause comment. He'd probably just figured he didn't want to take it outside in the snow and had left it in a safe place until the weather cleared up.

He pretended to poke around in a drawer looking for something until he saw the Ice Queen walk up to Welsh, which got the man's attention real fast. Funny how ever since the Henry Allen thing, Welsh and Thatcher seemed so much . . . easier around each other. What was up with that? In any case, with his superior's eagle eyes thus occupied, Ray was out of there like a shot. He couldn't believe Fraser had gone home. Why wouldn't he have stuck around for Ray to get back? 'Well, maybe because you didn't say he should, idiot,' he thought to himself. Still, he knew where home was, and the way Fraser always took to get there. No problem.

Except Fraser wasn't en route, and he wasn't at the Consulate, which was dark behind its elegantly coordinated Christmas decorations. Ray sat in the car watching snow collect on the windshield, trying to think where he could be. Okay. Christmas Eve. Parties everywhere. Maybe someone had invited Fraser? Maybe the Vecchio's? Nah. He'd just been there. No party. Tonight they'd be going to Mass, tomorrow they'd party. And Fraser didn't really know anyone else to party with. Besides, he would have mentioned it.

So, think, Kowalski. You're a detective, detect! Where did Fraser go when he wasn't home, and wasn't at work, which were the same thing in any case. No, that didn't work, because the answer was Ray's apartment, and Ray was pretty sure Fraser wouldn't be there without him, though it had happened once before. Still, those had been extenuating circumstances. Where else, then? Suddenly it came to him and he felt like he had a cartoon light bulb over his head. He grinned and started the car, waiting for the wiper blades to clear the snow before setting off. He knew exactly where Fraser would be on this cold, wet, snowy night.

* * *

Fraser sat on a park bench staring vaguely in Diefenbaker's general direction as the wolf romped in the snow, apparently pouncing on invisible rodents. Or, considering that this was, after all, Chicago, perhaps real rodents. Fortunately the wolf was more than capable of entertaining himself, since Fraser wasn't being much help there. Periodically Dief stopped playing and wandered over to nudge his hand, chiding him for having-- how had Francesca put it? Ah yes, a 'pity party.'

He knew he was being self-indulgent, but allowed himself the luxury. After all, it had been a particularly trying few days, and his faith in mankind, and in himself, had been sorely shaken. And though Ray, the lieutenant, and the rest of the division had come through for him in the end, he couldn't help feeling it was more from embarrassment than from true commitment. He shook his head, annoyed with himself. That was a completely unfair assessment, and he knew it. The fact that he'd had a difficult week did not excuse unkind thoughts. He knew better, he really did. About a great many things. Ray was not his friend out of obligation, and embarrassment had not been the primary motivation for what had occurred at Warfield's club.

So, those subjects dealt with, at least superficially, he shifted position on the bench, preparing to stand, and the ornate silver frame of the photograph in his coat pocket poked him a little, reminding him of its presence. He wondered again who could have gotten it for him. For that matter, how could his father have 'planted a seed' in anyone he knew? So far as he knew he was the only person to whom his father had ever appeared. Other than Sergeant Frobisher, of course . . . ah. Yes. That made sense. Somehow his father's old partner was involved in this, of that he was certain. Still, it had not come in the mail, it had been placed beneath the tree in a beautiful box. Someone here in Chicago had been involved. Turnbull couldn't keep a secret if his life depended on it, and the Inspector wasn't one for sentimental gestures. So who could it have been?

Suddenly the sound of an engine brought his head up, and he watched, puzzled, as a car crept down the sidewalk toward him, snowflakes whirling in the twin paths of light that blazed from its grille. As he considered the fact that it was probably illegal to drive through the park on a sidewalk, whether or not there was any pedestrian traffic, he realized he knew the vehicle. It was, unmistakably, a somewhat snowy, black, 1967 Pontiac GTO. Ray. Immediately his mood lightened, a slight smile curving his mouth. The car eased to a stop a few feet away, and the passenger side door was flung open from the inside, revealing his partner's beaming face.

"Pitter patter, Fraser. Time for good little Mounties to come in out of the cold. You can sit and mope some other time. Not tonight. Tonight is not a moping night."

"I'm not moping," Fraser said defensively. "It's a lovely night and Diefenbaker needed a run. I thought I would enjoy the night."

"Yeah, right. You're moping."



"Communing with nature."


Fraser sighed, and inclined his head, admitting defeat. "Moping."

Ray chuckled, and slapped the empty passenger seat. "You gonna get in, or are you gonna stay out?"

"How did you know I would be here?" Fraser asked, puzzled, walking over to stand next to the car. Dief was already there, waiting with obvious impatience for Fraser to put the seat forward so he could take his usual station in the back seat.

Ray rolled his eyes. "Fraser, we worked together how long now? Went by the Consulate, you weren't there, so I think, where else would he be? Bingo. Here."

"Ah." He supposed somehow that was a logical deduction, at least for Ray. Fraser let Dief into the car, then got in himself, closing the door.

"Good. We're good," Ray said happily, giving the car a little gas and slowly moving forward down the road. Or rather, the sidewalk. First things first.

"Ray, isn't it illegal to drive on the sidewalk?"

"Not if you're a cop looking for perpetrators."

"And are we looking for perpetrators?"

"We're always looking for perps, Fraser," Ray said grinning. "That's our job. Don't worry, I won't hit anybody."

"Of course not, Ray."

"You be shotgun, keep an eye out for mal . . . malfeasants."

Shotgun. Ray had insisted he ride 'shotgun' earlier that week, he'd told him he was proud of him. That simple, unlooked-for comment had warmed places that hadn't felt warmth in years. Someone he cared for was proud of him. Such a little thing. So important. Somehow he'd managed to forget that in the last few minutes. Suddenly it hit him. Ray had known to come here to look for him. He'd known. Instinctively. Ray was the only person who knew him well enough to know exactly where to search for him on a snowy night, the only person who would bother, the only person who would know he was, as he'd put it, moping.

The car lurched a little as Ray exited the sidewalk by simply driving off the curb and onto the street. Fraser removed his gloves and slipped a hand into his pocket, taking out the photograph. Ray glanced over, saw what he held, and a smile curved his mouth before he quickly turned his attention back to his driving. But the smile told Fraser what he needed to know. He remembered Ray's voice, a little over-loud, asking what that silver box held. Misdirection. Very well done.

He'd have to remember that Ray was so very good at hiding things. That thought made him wonder just what other things Ray might be hiding, what other things he was covering through misdirection. The possibilities were. . . intriguing. Still, before he leapt to an unwarranted conclusion, he had to pursue his deduction.


"Yeah, Frase?"

"Thank you, for this."

Even in the darkness Fraser could see a flush paint Ray's face, and that just confirmed the smile. He didn't even need the words which followed.

"How'd you figure it out?"

"It could be no one else," Fraser said quietly.

There was a moment of silence, then Ray cleared his throat. "Thought you might like something like that since all your stuff got burned up, between the fire at your place, and the one at your dad's place."

Fraser frowned, puzzled. "How did you know about the fire at the cabin?"

Ray flashed him a quick grin. "You're not the only one who can read a guy's file, Frase."

"You checked up on me?"

"Just wanted to know who I was working with. Interesting reading there."

"Surely not."

"No, I mean it. They busted you pretty good for what you did, didn't they? Even though you were right to do it. Guess the network is pretty much the same no matter if you wear red or blue. You got shafted, Frase. You're too damned good to be stuck here on guard duty."

An embarrassed blush made Fraser tug at his collar. He wasn't good with compliments.

"But then," Ray continued, "I've got reason to be grateful for it, since if you weren't stuck here on guard duty, then you and I wouldn't've met, and that'd just . . . suck."

Ben's head whipped around so fast he cracked his neck again in the other direction. He stared at Ray, whose gaze was carefully straight ahead. He suddenly felt short of air, as if the other occupants of the vehicle were using it all, leaving none for him. Surely Ray had not meant that quite the way it sounded. But no matter how he'd meant it, it deserved an answer. An honest one. He cleared his own throat.

"I too would feel the lack had we not met."

Ray shot a look at him, an oddly shy, tentative glance, and one corner of his mouth lifted in that self-deprecatory smile Fraser both loved and hated. He found his hand actually moving to smooth the dimple from Ray's face and had to quickly do a little misdirection himself. Glancing around a little desperately for a distraction, he noticed something stuck to the ceiling of the car with a small Christmas bow. He reached up, touched it, and realized what it was. His eyebrows lifted.


Ray glanced up and grinned. "Frannie strikes again. Didn't notice she left it."

Fraser stared at the mistletoe, then at Ray, then the mistletoe, then at Ray again, frowning. Ray looked back at him, frowning too.


Fraser couldn't very well admit he was jealous that Francesca had been here, in Ray's car, with a sprig of mistletoe, couldn't admit he wanted badly to know if it had been used in the traditional manner, and not because he was desirous of kissing Francesca. Not at all. Nor could he admit he would rather like to use it in the traditional manner himself, right now, with Ray. So he sat there, tongue-tied, and feeling his face slowly turn the same color as his tunic, unable to think of a single coherent thing to say. Ray looked at him, looked at the road, looked at him, and then he was steering the car over into a mostly-empty parking lot, putting it into neutral, and setting the brake.


Swallow. Moisten the tongue. Loosen the jaw. There. "Yes, Ray?"

"Um. . . You know it's, uh, bad luck, right? To not use the . . . stuff."

Either his brain was on holiday or that hadn't made any sense. "Excuse me?"

"The stuff." Ray pointed upward in that odd way he had, using both index and little fingers.

"The mistletoe?" Fraser asked, just to be sure.

"Yeah. The mistletoe. Bad luck."

Ah. Ray was telling him that he had kissed Francesca. Well, that was his business, although they would need to be circumspect, considering their relative roles. "Ray, it's perfectly all right. I certainly have no objections." Well, he did, but Ray didn't need to know that.

Ray looked shocked. "You don't?"

Oh dear. Ray must have somehow gotten the impression that Fraser was interested in Francesca. He had to put that to rest at once. He shook his head. "None at all. After all, we are talking about two consenting adults, are we not?"

"Uh. . . yeah. Yeah we are. I just never . . . I mean I thought you were, I mean with Frannie and all . . . ."

"Oh no, Ray. I've no interest at all in Francesca. She's like a sister to me. All women are, after all, our sisters."

Ray's eyes got wider. "Sisters?"

"That's right."

"Uh hunh. Okay. Well. That. . . ah. . . you sure you don't mind?"

"Quite certain, Ray. You should just, as they say, go for it."

Ray stared at him for a moment longer, shook his head, and grinned, looking rather as if that Ed McMahon person had come to his door with a large check. "Go for it, hunh? Okay, Fraser. I'm going."

And then Ray was reaching out, and pulling him over toward him, and before Fraser could quite figure out what he was doing, their lips met.

* * *

It was definitely Christmas, and his present was all wrapped up in very seasonal colors. Ray might not have much experience with men, okay fine, he had zip experience with men, but he damned well knew how to kiss. And it couldn't be that different. A mouth was a mouth. Two lips, teeth, a tongue. But what lips, what teeth, what . . . he couldn't resist. He had to find out, even if it got him punched. He cupped that square jaw in both hands and coaxed those surprisingly soft, warm lips apart and ohgod. Tongue. That was. . . that was Fraser's tongue, tentatively slicking against his own.

Fraser wasn't fighting. Wasn't going to punch him for being forward. Was, in fact, leaning closer, one hand coming up to rest on the back of his neck, fingers warm against his skin beneath the collar of his coat, and vest, and shirt. A tingle that went right down to his toes spread through him. It was the strangest thing. Why should a hand on his neck suddenly seem like the sexiest, most intimately erotic touch he'd ever felt? He didn't know. But it did. He angled his body, trying to get closer, hands sliding down from Fraser's jaw to his chest, trying to work through layers of protective clothing, desperate to feel more. Suddenly Fraser turned his head, breaking the kiss.

"Ray. . . Ray, please . . . ." he gasped.

Belatedly noticing that his partner was struggling to pull away, Ray released him instantly, sitting back, sucking in a deep breath, staring at the metronome sweep of the wipers against the windshield. Jesus! What the hell had gotten into him? A friendly buss under the mistletoe was not an excuse to play tonsil-hockey and try to rip your best friend's clothes off. Or maybe former best friend, now.

"Sorry, Fraser. Guess I got a little. . . carried away."

There was a moment of silence. Well, not quite silence. They were both breathing pretty heavy. Ray hoped Fraser's heavy breathing was due to anger control efforts, because he really didn't want to be punched, even if he deserved it, and then some. When Fraser finally spoke, he sounded really strange. Polite, but strange.

"That's quite all right, Ray."

"No, it's not. Just 'cause you said you wouldn't mind if I . . . ." He couldn't quite say it out loud. Doing it was easier than saying it. "Well, anyway, I took advantage. Sorry. You can punch me if you want."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"Well, 'cause I went too far. 'Cause you didn't want me to do . . . that."

"I don't recall saying I didn't want you to do that."

Ray really wanted to look at him, really needed to look at him, but he couldn't do it. He just couldn't stand to see the disappointment and pain he knew was there. He knew Fraser was just humoring him, trying to make him feel better about being a jerk. Typically Fraser. He knew that as sure as he knew his name was Ray Vecchi. . . er, Kowalski. "Look, I know you didn't. You were trying to get away, had to practically whap me to get me off you."

"Ray, I simply needed to change position, and couldn't, the way we were, well, ah . . . sitting."


"The handbrake was digging into my thigh, making it somewhat difficult to enjoy the situation, what with that sensation being rather painful."

It took about three run-throughs of that sentence in his head for Ray to decide he'd really heard that correctly. He chanced a quick glance at Fraser, whose color seemed a little high but who seemed to not be mad-looking. In fact, he had an odd, almost hopeful expression on his face. Hopeful? Combined with that sentence?

"Uh, you telling me if the brake hadn't been there, you wouldn't've stopped me?"

Fraser flicked his fingers against his eyebrow, cleared his throat, cracked his neck, and tugged at his collar. Whoa. All four. Bigtime nervous here. Ray had never seen him do all four in a row before. Finally he spoke.

"Yes, Ray. Precisely."

Ray felt his mouth drop open in shock, and shut it again. Holy cow. Fraser hadn't minded. Not only had Fraser not minded, Fraser had kind of enjoyed it. Well, aside from the handbrake thing. "Oh. So, um, you . . . want to try it again? Without the brake?"

There was no verbal response to his question, but there was a very physical one. Fraser leaned over, looking like he was about to tell him a really good secret, and then they were doing it again. Kissing. Funny, Fraser's mouth didn't look that big from the outside. Maybe it was just 'cause Ray was used to kissing Stella and she had a smaller mouth. Fraser's tongue was, not surprisingly, very inquisitive, almost agile. They'd said he was agile. They hadn't been kidding.

Ray shifted, leaning into the kiss, reaching out to pull Fraser closer, and-- ouch! Damn it. This time it was him with the damned brake poking into him. Crap. Making out in cars was a really bad idea. He started to shift away, only to have Fraser's hand come over the brake lever, covering it, softening its bite into Ray's thigh and incidentally bringing that broad, warm hand within ames ace of his crotch. Which he noticed. A lot. All the sudden his normally comfortable jeans were waaaay too tight. He moaned. He actually moaned. He was kissing Fraser, in the car, with a hard on. Colonel Mustard, in the library, with the candlestick. He was losing his mind. He moaned again.

Fraser released him with seeming reluctance. "Was that . . . are you all right, Ray?"

Hooboy. How to answer that? Work, brain. "Yeah, yeah, I'm good, Fraser. Real good. You?"

"I'm, ah, 'good' as well."

Oh, was he ever. Ray tried to think. They'd done about all they could do in the front seat of the GTO in the middle of a public parking lot. Of course there was always the back seat. . . but it was snowing, and there was Dief. So back to Plan A, with a few modifications, he hoped. Somehow 'The Grinch' suddenly seemed much less interesting.

"Um, we probably ought to go to my place, get out of the weather," he offered.

"That would seem to be a wise idea," Fraser said, sounding amazingly calm.

"You good to go?"

Fraser looked at him, eyes warm, lips parted . . . shit, do not even think about it.

"I'm good to go, Ray."

Good to go. There was a lot in those words. A lot more than had been said aloud. Trying to ignore his increasingly insistent erection, Ray fumbled for the keys in the ignition turning them, grinding the starter since the car was already running. He winced, took off the brake, and they set off again. God in heaven. All this time and he hadn't figured out that Fraser was gay, or well, maybe bi, whatever. Was he stupid or what? The man ran like a cheetah from nearly every woman he knew, and Ray couldn't figure it out until Fraser hit him over the head with it? How dumb could one guy be? But he had a clue now, and he was damned well going to use it.

* * *

Fraser had never been so grateful for a miscommunication in his life. He would never have discovered that Ray wanted to kiss him had he not made the assumption that Ray was talking about himself and Francesca, not about himself and. . . himself. He wondered briefly if the beating in the alley had addled his brain and he was actually in the hospital dreaming all this. If so, he was going to 'go with it,' as Ray was fond of saying. A little fantasy never hurt anyone.

It certainly didn't feel, smell, or taste like a fantasy. The flavors of cider, whiskey, spice, and Ray still lingered from their kiss, and the warm, natural scent of his partner seemed to fill his senses headily. He was intensely thankful that Ray did not favor cologne, since that meant he always smelled like himself, with faint hints of soap and shampoo, which was infinitely preferable to the cloying aroma of perfume.

Good Lord. He'd kissed Ray. Ray had kissed him. With apparent relish. Had wanted to do it again. Had wanted. . . more, as evidenced by the way his hands had burrowed beneath his coat and attempted to unfasten his tunic. Envisioning those hands succeeding, baring him, lips against his skin, accompanied by the erotically- charged rasp of stubble, Fraser had to close his eyes and practice biofeedback techniques to bring his excitement down before he embarrassed himself.

They were going to Ray's apartment. Privacy. A couch. A bed. Dared he think of that? No. It was too soon, of course. This would have to be taken slowly, cautiously, to make sure he noticed any hint of reluctance. It would take day, weeks, perhaps even months. But oh, how he wished that were not so. He'd wanted Ray for so long, had driven himself slowly toward madness imagining circumstances in which they could possibly come together. He was ashamed to admit that amnesia had been a common scenario, but this was so much better. A fully cognizant and still attracted Ray was infinitely preferable.

An awkward movement from the driver's seat caught Fraser's eye and he snuck a glance at his partner. In the staccato flare of the streetlights they passed he saw Ray tugging at the inseam of his jeans, adjusting the garment over a substantial erection. A rush of heat shot through him, achingly powerful. Ray was hard. For him. Because of him.

He experienced a momentary burst of insanity and actually thought about reaching over and unzipping those jeans, freeing the hard, heated flesh trapped beneath unforgiving denim. His mouth watered. No. No, you are unhinged, just as Ray always says. Control yourself. A kiss does not mean more. Not necessarily. 'But it could,' his traitorous id whispered.

Neither of them spoke. The silence was meaningful, but strangely not uncomfortable. Finally Ray pulled into the parking lot of his apartment building, eased into a space, and they were there. The silence took on new dimension with the absence of engine noise, heater fan, and the sound of tires on slushy pavement. Ray rubbed his hands on his thighs. Were they damp? Fraser's fingers curled, testing his own palms. Yes. Faintly. They sat a little longer. Finally Diefenbaker whined from the back seat, clearly confused by this odd behavior. Why weren't they leaving the car's cramped confines and going to Ray's apartment, with its intriguing kitchen and comfortable furniture? As if that whine had broken a spell, Ray pulled his keys from the ignition.

"Okay, well, we're here. C'mon. Let's go in. It's cold out here."

Truthfully Fraser had no idea what temperature it was. He was warm. Hot in fact. He nodded. "As you say."

On the brief walk up to the apartment Fraser found himself surprised that they weren't thawing the snow on the ground around them, simply from the energy they were both radiating. It was nearly palpable. He'd always thought the 'heat of passion' was simply a metaphor. Perhaps it was not. Perhaps he ought not be thinking about passion. Ray unlocked the apartment and opened the door. Diefenbaker bounded in, clearly pleased. Fraser hesitated, and saw Ray flicker a glance at him, shift his gaze to the floor, then lift it again, intently focused.

"Nothing happens you don't want to, Frase."

'Oh God. Don't leave this up to me,' Fraser thought desperately. 'I don't know how.'

Ray's gaze softened. "Me neither," he said a little sheepishly.

Until that moment Fraser hadn't realized that he'd spoken aloud. He blushed, and stepped into the apartment. It did ease his mind somewhat that Ray had not seemed upset by that comment, or that Ray was apparently as ignorant as he, at least in the etiquette of this particular situation. He removed his coat as the door closed behind him, heard Ray doing the same, tossing his jacket onto an empty chair. Fraser hung his coat neatly in the closet next to the door, placing his hat on the shelf above it. Ray cleared his throat.

"So, I, uh, got some stuff from the deli. Got some videos. Jimmy Stewart, and Dr. Seuss. Figured I couldn't go wrong there. Don't know what you want to . . . ."

"Ray," Fraser interrupted his recital gently. "Would you . . . I mean, that is if you would be . . . ."

"Yeah," Ray interrupted right back. "I would. A lot. If you would."

"I would, very much."

It came to him that their conversation was actually quite amusing, the way they were both dancing around having to actually say what they meant. But Ray always had been adept at dancing, and he was not too bad himself, under the right circumstances.

Ray grinned suddenly, shaking his head. "This is so weird. But then, I always liked weird. C'mere."

And like that they were in each other's arms, and mouths were meeting, and it was just as shockingly wonderful as it had been in the car, more, perhaps, because now they could touch full-length, which was even better. He'd kissed before, but never so freely, with such a lack of concern for his partner's fragility. Because Ray, for all his slenderness, was anything but fragile. In fact, Fraser found himself flinching a little from the strength of the hold in which he was enveloped. Ordinarily it wouldn't have bothered him, but he was still tender from his encounter with Warfield's associates. Despite his attempt to hide his discomfort, Ray noticed the flinch and pulled back.


"It's nothing. Just that one of my buttons was pressing into a bruise."

"Bruise?" Ray looked blank for a moment, then frowned. "You got bruises?"

"Just a few. From the other night."

Ray looked at his face, eyes tracking from the healing abrasions on his cheek to the bruise on his temple. His hands curled into fists as his mouth thinned. "I'd like to find those sons of. . . "

"Ray," Fraser said softly, shaking his head.

Ray's eyes met his, and he sighed. "Yeah, I know. You can take care of yourself. I get it. Okay, out of the red thing. I want you comfy. No brake. No buttons. Just us. And if you hurt, you tell me, right?"

Fraser nodded, fingers feeling strangely thick as he fumbled at his buttons. Ray watched him for a moment, then shook his head. "Follow me."

A little nervously, Fraser followed Ray to the bedroom. He tried very hard not to look at the bed as Ray went to a bureau, digging in drawers until he finally found what he'd been searching for. He held out a wadded bundle of heather-gray fabric.

"Here. Go change in the bathroom."

Fraser took the proffered garment and headed for the bathroom, feeling distressingly relieved. He did want to be . . . naked. With Ray. There. He'd thought it. However, undressing in front of him, well, he wasn't quite ready for that yet. Or for being completely naked, despite his fantasies. One step at a time.

Wondering if there was any possible way something of Ray's would fit him, he reached for the item Ray had given him. It turned out to be a pair of athletic shorts which looked more than adequate to his substantially broader physique. Curiously he checked the label, found they were XL's. Musing on why Ray possessed a pair of shorts that would probably go around him twice, Fraser unbuttoned his tunic, much easier now without an audience, and unfastened his braces, then removed his boots, socks, and jodhpurs. Pulling on the shorts, he found they were even loose on him, his own boxers showing a good two inches above the sagging waistline.

Frowning, he tucked the bottom of his henley down between the two layers so it looked a trifle neater. Turning, he caught a glimpse of himself in the long mirror that backed the bathroom door and had to smile. Even he realized that he looked ridiculous. He pushed his sleeves up above his elbows, and untucked the shirt again, letting it hang over the loose waist. Better. He felt rather slovenly but at least he didn't look like he'd grabbed the wrong footlocker at roll call. He looked . . . casual. As odd as that was for him. Gathering his clothing, he took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped out.

The bedroom was empty, and the apartment mostly dark, a single table lamp glowed on a low setting. There was music on the stereo, something instrumental and not annoying. The chili-pepper lights around the pass-through were lit, shedding a soft ruby glow over the man who was busy in the kitchen. Placing his carefully folded uniform on a corner of the dining table, Fraser turned to find Ray coming out of the kitchen holding two mugs. Ray stopped, looked at him, and smiled, then held out one of the mugs. Fraser took it, sniffing. Tea. The astringent scent was vaguely familiar, not a standard commercial brand.

"It's not the bark stuff you like," Ray said diffidently. "I couldn't find that at the store, got twig tea instead. Bark, twigs, they're close, right?"

Feeling a warm glow at the thought that Ray had actually tried to find bark tea for him, Fraser sipped the brew appreciatively. While he didn't normally indulge in caffeine, perhaps a little extra energy wasn't a bad idea tonight. "Yes, they're close," he said, because in principle Ray was correct, if not in specific. The strong, faintly bitter, but surprisingly mellow flavor stirred a memory. "It's very good. Kukicha, from Japan, right? Cured in iron kettles?"

Ray grinned. "I should've known you'd know. Yeah. It's not half bad with a little sugar."

Knowing how Ray usually took his coffee, Fraser suspected there was more than a 'little' sugar in Ray's cup. But that was all right, Ray might need the extra energy as well. He couldn't believe he had just thought that. He was glad of the dim lighting, knowing he was blushing. Ray studied him, and smiled.

"You look good, Fraser. Relaxed. Don't think I ever seen you look relaxed before."

In truth he was far from relaxed, but he knew Ray meant his clothes, not his body. "Thank you for the shorts. I was surprised they fit. Aren't they a trifle large for you? "

Ray made an odd sort of snorting sound. "Yeah. Gag gift. When I got divorced the guys at my old division gave 'em to me, said I didn't have to keep my girlish figure to impress Stella anymore."

Fraser absorbed that, and put his hand on Ray's shoulder, squeezing gently in reassurance. "That was cruel, Ray."

Ray shook his head. "Nah, they didn't mean to be. They just were trying to be funny. I knew that." He turned away and went to the couch, putting his mug on the coffee-table as he sat down and patted the couch next to him. "Park it."

Fraser sat, sipped from his mug again.

"You want to watch a movie?" Ray asked after a moment.

Fraser put down his mug, carefully, next to Ray's. Nearly touching. He turned back to his partner. "No."

Ray studied him, swallowed, moistened his lips. Mesmerized by that unconscious flicker of tongue, Fraser watched him take a breath, and speak.

"Oh. So, um, you want to . . . ."


Ray grinned, a quick, amused flash of teeth. "Yeah. Oh yeah." He chuckled. "Guess we are guys, after all." He leaned forward again, finding Fraser's mouth with his own.

Sweet. Sugar sweet, and tea, and Ray. Fraser licked, learning that flavor, imprinting it in his memory. The corner of his mouth hurt a little, the split was mostly healed, but the bruise lingered. He ignored the pain. The other sensations he was experiencing far outweighed that slight discomfort. Lifting a hand, he skimmed his fingers across Ray's triangular jawline, feeling the rasp of perma-stubble on his fingertips, shivering a little in reaction, imagining that phenomenon on other responsive places.

He let his fingers slip higher, traced the curve of an ear, and felt Ray shiver this time. Ah. Sensitive ears. He filed that fact as he continued learning his partner in ways he'd never expected to be able to. Ray had a truly wonderful mouth, better than any woman he'd ever kissed. Surprisingly delicate, that tongue, touching lightly, sensually, in the inner curve of his lip, against his teeth, finally, finally against his own questing tongue. That slick slide made Fraser want to lay back and feel it on his throat, his chest . . . perhaps lower. He was getting braver, thinking these things was getting easier, now that he knew it was permitted. Permitted. Wanted. Needed. Yes.

* * *

Ray was in heaven. Kissing Fraser. A rumpled, casual, and unmistakably horny Fraser. He surely hadn't expected to find this in his stocking tonight. He was putting his all into these kisses, needing to make them memorable, needing Fraser to keep wanting him, wanting more. He shivered under Fraser's exploring hands, and decided to do a little exploring of his own.

Sliding a hand down his partner's chest, he barely skimmed a nipple beneath the gray cotton henley that almost matched the shorts. Even in borrowed gear Fraser was coordinated. He'd have to work on that. The guy needed to learn how to relax. A smile curved his mouth against Fraser's. Relax. He knew some really good ways to relax. And he pretty much figured if they worked on him, they'd work on Fraser.

Why did it feel so weird all the sudden to be calling him Fraser? That was easy. Because he didn't usually make out with people with whom he was on a last-name basis. Reluctantly he dragged his mouth away from Fraser's, and the man was obviously just as reluctant because he almost didn't let go of Ray's lower lip, sucking at it until Ray put a finger up and broke the suction, at which point he started sucking on his finger, which sent a fist of excitement straight to his crotch and he almost groaned.

"Fraser? Hey, earth to Fraser!"

The tongue stroking his finger stopped, the suction released. Fraser looked at him, a little dazed. "Yes, Ray?" he managed after a swallow or two.

"Can I call you Ben?"

The smile that lit his partner's face was incandescent. He would kill for another smile like that. "Yes, Ray. I'd like that very much."

Ray grinned back. He couldn't have not smiled if he'd been at gunpoint. "Greatness," he said, diving for that lopsided and reddened grin. Their lips met, and this time tongues were much less tentative. He slipped his hand up underneath the bottom of Ben's shirt, found skin, and stroked. Ben moaned. Yeah. Oh yeah. If fingers way above the waist got a moan, then this was going to go just fine. But he wanted to touch more. Gradually he began to work the shirt higher, until it was up around Ben's ribs. Ray leaned forward, until Ben got the message and let Ray push him down onto the couch.

He wanted to see, as well as touch. It was the weirdest thing, but after all this time Ray could count on one hand the number of times he'd seen Fraser . . . Ben . . . anything less than fully clothed. He was normally so shy he simply never allowed anyone to see him in a state of complete undress, yet at the same time, he was so naive that he could yank down those damned suspenders and drop his pants in an impromptu strip-tease without the slightest hesitation. Ray was surprised he wasn't protesting the fact his midriff was currently exposed. He lifted his mouth from Ben's, pleased to hear him panting a little, and raised up a bit so he could see what his fingers were exploring. Silky skin, almost no body hair, pale, save for a dappling of peculiar shadows thrown by the chili-pepper lights. He shifted a little, moving his hand, and noticed that the shadows didn't change. That was odd. Shadows always changed with movement . . . oh. He sat up.

"Ben, would you take your shirt off?" He asked it with deliberate casualness, not wanting to scare him off.

Fraser blinked at him as if he'd just asked the question in Mongolian, though knowing Fraser, he probably spoke Mongolian. Then he sat up too, slowly, and Ray saw the slight downward pull of his mouth as he did. He carefully didn't react to that sign of discomfort. Fraser cleared his throat.

"You want me to remove my shirt?"

Ray nodded.

Fraser swallowed, but his hands went to the hem of his henley. He hesitated, lifted it an inch, put it back, then his mouth tightened and he tried again, this time getting it all the way off in one slightly awkward movement. Ray looked, then closed his eyes, fighting fear, and fury, and an ache that brought tears to his eyes.

"Jesus Christ, Ben," he breathed, opening his eyes again. "You should've let me take you to the hospital."

Ben looked down at himself, then lifted his gaze to Ray's once more. "They're just bruises."

Ray scrubbed his hands over his face, up into his hair, frustrated. "Ben, they could have killed you. Looks like they were halfway there, maybe more. And I let it happen, goddamn it. I let it happen. I left you there alone."

"You had your own job, you were working," he said quietly, forgiving.

"I should have been there. We're partners, damn it. I had to almost lose you before I'd buck the system. That's wrong. Christ!"

"Ray, please calm down." Fraser was starting to sound distressed.

Ray started to push himself off the couch, to stand up and pace, but Fraser caught his arm in a surprisingly strong grip and refused to let him move. Ray looked at the floor, miserable. "How can you stand to be here with me, how can you even think of letting me touch you?"

"I want to be here," Ben said softly. "I want you to touch me. Ray, I lo . . . . "

Ray felt a tremor in the fingers on his arm as Ben's sentence halted abruptly. He discovered he was holding his breath. Oh please, please say it. Please. But this was Benton Fraser, and he didn't talk about things like this, so it wasn't ever going to happen, so stop wishing for it . . . a sudden, sharp intake of breath interrupted his thoughts, then Ben spoke

"Ray, I love you."

Ray's head snapped up, his eyes locked with Ben's. And damn, there it was. In his eyes, in his face. Truth. And terror. A full house, laid out on the table. No bluffing. Ray pulled Ben into his arms, holding hard, felt him shudder as his arms went around Ray in return, holding him just as hard. Then he realized he hadn't said anything back, and he tried to pull away, but Ben wouldn't let him, and he was very strong. He settled for turning his head, so his lips were against Ben's ear.

"I love you, Ben." He wasn't going to say "I love you, too." He knew how empty that could feel, like it had been prompted, an afterthought. No way was he going to let Ben feel that way. "Loved you for a long time. Didn't think I could tell you. Slipped once, had to cover it up. Didn't want to give you the wrong idea."

"You were very persuasive. I didn't suspect at all."

"I know, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Sorry I wasn't there for you, sorry I didn't tell you, sorry . . . ."



Fraser drew back a little, looked into his eyes. "Shut up."

Ray started to get offended, then saw the gleam in Ben's eyes, and thought better of it. "Understood," he said, in that same smooth tone that Ben always used.

Ben smiled, and the ache inside Ray eased a little, though he still hurt when he looked at the bruises that stood out on his partner's pale skin like tattoos of strange, dark flowers. He leaned forward, and brushed his lips against the one that bloomed below his left nipple. Fraser's breath caught. Ray moved his mouth higher, just a finger width or two, stroked his tongue across the rose-dark disc of nipple, felt it pebble beneath his lips, heard the caught breath become a gasp. And it came to him how he could apologize without words.

Searching out another bruise, Ray feathered his lips against it, then another, trying to take the pain of each one with his mouth, searching out every mark, not matter how faint, always careful to use the lightest pressure so it wouldn't hurt. After a few minutes of that, Ben was flat on his back on the couch, Ray half lying above him, kissing and licking all over that big, beautiful body. And who would have guessed Fraser would be so damned . . . vocal? He was moaning, and groaning, and ohgod, grunting like they were both naked and seconds from liftoff. It was the most erotic thing Ray had ever heard. He was hard as steel, and with his hips between Fraser's thighs it was nearly impossible not to rock against the matching hardness he felt beneath him. Only the worry that there were more bruises under those baggy shorts kept him in line.

But the couch was just not big enough for this. It simply wasn't designed for two adult males to make out on. After the third time they nearly fell off, Ray sat up.

"That's it. That is enough," he said definitively.

Ben's eyes opened in alarm. "That's it?" he echoed, sounding, and looking almost comically disappointed.

Ray realized what he must think, and chuckled. "Not that. Relax. We haven't had nearly enough of that. But we are definitely done with the couch."

He stood up, wincing as a crease in his jeans pinched his erection painfully. He reached down and adjusted. Better. When he looked back at Ben, he found his gaze was pinned to his crotch like a butterfly on a collecting board. His tongue curled across his lips in a fashion Ray could only describe as lascivious, and then those smoke-blue eyes lifted to his, wide and bemused. Tongue, again. Swallow.

"Good lord, Ray. That's . . . ."

Ray felt his face heat. "Don't. Just come on."

"As you wish," Fraser agreed, coming to his feet with surprising speed.

Ray's gaze slid down his partner's torso, and he was annoyed to find that the overlarge shorts were quite concealing, though he knew from the feel of it pressed against him that Ben had nothing to be embarrassed about in that region. Ben cleared his throat, and Ray looked up and grinned.

"Turnabout's fair play," he said, leading the way to the bedroom, blessing whatever premonition had led him to change the sheets that morning. He yanked the covers down, baring the pristine expanse of slate blue sheets. His mom had great taste in bed-linens. The color was nearly a match for Ben's eyes. God, what a sappy thing to think. But he liked that he'd thought it.


He turned, eyebrows raised. "Yeah?"

Ben's face was faintly flushed, his eyes on the floor. "Do you think you could, ah, that is, would you mind terribly . . . ."

"The only thing I'd mind terribly is if you walked out that door, Ben. So whatever it is, yes, I will."


Ooh. All in one word. Still said 'please.' He grinned. "I'll go you one better." He stripped off his shirt and vest, dropping them to the floor, then shucked his jeans with a sigh of relief. Damn, it had been getting tight in there. The knit boxerbriefs he was wearing were stretchy enough to be comfortable even now, but denim was just pitiless. A little self-conscious, he glanced at Ben, saw he'd turned away, and smiled, shaking his head. Shy. Amazing.

He noticed suddenly that there were more bruises on Ben's back. Almost rectangular ones, a good four inches wide across the backs of Ben's thighs. Another, similar, mark marred the small of his back just above the waist of his boxers, which showed above the shorts. Fraser looked like a skateboarder in those baggy things with his boxers showing. That momentary amusement faded as he saw that just below Ben's left shoulderblade there was a bruise that looked alarmingly like a shoe print. Above that, across the tops of his shoulders, another rectangular bruise stretched their entire breadth.

Ray almost slipped back into a fit of self-revulsion, but then he remembered how upset that had made Ben, and he dragged himself up out of it again. Instead he padded across the room, glad he'd taken his shoes off much earlier, and dropped to his knees behind Ben, pressing his mouth against first one bruised thigh, then the other. Ben shivered, and gasped. Ray licked, feeling the roughness of hair against his tongue, strange that, but he tasted good; clean, fresh skin. Ben moaned. Ray slid his arms around Ben's hips, supporting him as he repeated his actions on the other side, then straightened a little to trail a series of kisses across the bruise in the small of his back.

As he did, he realized suddenly that the only thing that could have left that mark was a two-by-four wielded like a baseball bat. God. Ray shuddered. He could have lost Ben. Lost him before they'd gotten here, to this moment. He would have died if that had happened. Just shut down inside and died. There would have been no reason to live.

"Ben, I love you," he whispered against that gaudy green and purple skin. "I love you."

"Ray. . . ." Fraser moaned, shuddering. The emotion in his voice was almost tangible.

Ray stood, stooped to layer kisses over that shoe print, then to soothe the bruise along Ben's shoulders with this tongue, lingering at the base of his neck until he felt Ben swaying in his arms, moaning his name in an almost continuous stream-- 'rayrayrayrayray' only without the usual tinge of affectionate exasperation. He lifted his head, and Ben turned in his arms, and their lips met, and meshed, and he knew he had to get them to the bed before they ended up on the floor. He wasn't about to let that happen, not with the state Ben was in. So he did the most natural thing he could think of. He slid his right arm carefully around Ben's back, took Ben's right hand in his left, and danced them over to it.

Fraser didn't even try to lead. And he let Ray dip him onto the bed without hesitation. It was amazing how pliable Ben was in this state. Ray had never seen him so relaxed. Well, except for one part. That was anything but relaxed. He never would have guessed that Fraser could be so responsive, so completely uninhibited. Of course just the fact that he was here, in Ray's bed, and hadn't run screaming the opposite direction from that first kiss was miraculous in and of itself, so he supposed after that he had no business being surprised by anything else. Except maybe the fact that he hadn't run either. That all the months' worth of internal protests to himself that he wouldn't really like it if it happened were wrong, wrong, wrong. He liked it. He loved it. It felt dead perfect right.

He saw a bruise on the outside of Ben's knee that he'd missed, and went for it. Noticed a small scrape across his thigh, a few inches higher. Kissed that as well. From there he could see the rise of Ben's erection beneath that soft gray fabric. And couldn't resist. He took those hips in his hands, leaned down, and put his mouth over that rise. Ben practically did a sit up, and Ray rode him like a bronco until he settled again, panting. He lifted his head, grinning.

"Liked that?"

"Oh, lord," Ben breathed in a voice that sounded like he'd found religion. "Ray, please."

Ray didn't have to be asked twice. He slipped his hands beneath two elasticized waistbands and carefully stretched the fabric past straining flesh. "Lift up," he asked, and was obeyed, and then there was nothing between him and Fraser but air. And 'Oh lord' was exactly true. Beautiful. Different. He grinned.

"Looks like you got the cold-weather package."

Ben looked down at him, obviously puzzled, and Ray chuckled.

"You'll see. Later." He hoped. Depended on how well this went. He was thankful to find no new bruises had been hiding beneath that fabric, and he ran his nose along the soft, fair skin of Ben's hip, wondering just how to approach this. He'd kind of assumed that touching Ben would be like touching himself, but it wouldn't be. He didn't quite know how to deal with a foreskin, though it was kind of . . . cute. Then he had an idea. He found one of Ben's hands and brought it to his lips, kissing his fingers.

"Show me," he said against his palm.

"Show you what?" Ben asked, looking confused.

"How to touch you. What you like. What feels good."

He'd never seen Fraser blush quite that dark before. It almost looked painful. Deciding maybe it was time to show Ben why he'd asked, he got to his knees and peeled off his undershorts, tossing them aside, then stretched out next to Ben. "See?"

There was a moment of silence, then Ben cleared his throat. "That's. . . well . . . you're quite . . . quite impressive."

Ray sighed. "Not fishing for compliments, Ben. Notice anything different?"

Another silence. "Ah. Yes. I see."

"That's why I need to know what works for you."

"I would imagine the procedure is much the same, there's not that much difference."

"Still, I don't want to get it wrong," Ray said, embarrassed by his ignorance.

Ben turned toward him, his hands coming up to frame his face, storm-blue eyes locked with his own. "Nothing you do could be wrong," he said quietly, and then they were kissing again.

So sweet. So good. So damned easy. Fraser's hands slid down to his hips, shifted him closer, closer, until their bodies moved together, legs tangling, arms enfolding. They matched. Chest to chest, belly to belly, thigh to thigh, groin to groin. Ben groaned, thrusting against him. God that felt good. Ray pushed back, closing his eyes, reveling in the slide and catch of sweaty skin against skin. Again. Again. Maybe he didn't need to worry so much about technique. Maybe some things were just natural. Like this.

Ray was shaking, and suddenly, startlingly close. Being here, like this, with Ben, was overwhelming. Completely. A few more undulations, a little more moisture-- the hot slickness of pre-ejaculate. Ben rolled onto his back, pulling Ray over him, spreading his thighs so their bodies could mold even more tightly together, so their erections could align even more closely. Their desultory thrusting grew more rhythmic, more intense, and Ben's husky and maddening moan became a sigh and there was a flood of wet heat between them. Need, desire, and love exploded through his body in a savage flash and Ray shuddered, feeling himself falling, falling over the edge, and he was coming, with Ben's name on his lips.

* * *

Fraser came to awareness slowly from the depths of sleep. He smelled food-scents, mingled, so it was hard to identify any one specific smell without more concentration than he currently possessed. He was warm, and deliciously comfortable. More comfortable than he could recall having felt in a very long time. Which meant that wherever he was, it was definitely not on his cot at the Consulate.

He shifted his fingers over the firm surface beneath them, felt the smooth weave of good cotton sheets. Assuredly not at the Consulate, where wool would have met his touch. Besides, he would never be able to sleep in such a wanton sprawl on that narrow berth. And beneath the scent of food, an earthier, more primitive fragrance stirred his senses, bringing with it memories of flesh on flesh, of sweat, and need, and pleasure. And he knew where he was, and why he was, and with whom, and he nearly cried.

Although he was alone in Ray's bed, he could hear his partner moving about in the other room, hear him humming softly under his breath, occasionally singing a phrase before switching back to humming. The sound reassured him, relaxed him. He knew Ray well enough to know that if he were having second thoughts about the previous night's events, he would not be singing. Nor would there be those tantalizing food scents in the air. His stomach growled, reminding him that he hadn't eaten since the party last night, and that had been some time ago.

He opened his eyes and looked at the alarm clock on Ray's nightstand. He blinked, focused again. The display didn't change. Eight twenty-eight. Good lord, even Ray was already awake! For a moment he almost panicked, thinking he was going to be late for work, then he remembered what day it was and relaxed again, feeling wickedly self-indulgent.

Movement at the door caught his eye and he looked up to find Ray there, watching him. Their eyes met and they stared at each other, unspeaking, until Ray started to grin that impossible-to-resist grin of his and Fraser found himself grinning back like a fool. He sat up and started to get out of bed, only to have Ray hold out a hand in a stop-signal, as if he were directing traffic on a busy street.

"No! No, stay there, okay?"

"I really should take Dief out . . . ."

"Already done. And I fed him, too. Just stay, all right?"

Fraser nodded and waited curiously while Ray disappeared for a moment, then returned holding a mug in one hand and a plate in the other. The plate held a chunk of french bread, torn raggedly in half, and a squat bottle of something with a butter knife in it, probably preserves, though the label faced away so he couldn't see what kind. Ray handed him the mug and he discovered it held the same kind of tea that Ray had made for him the night before. That surprised Ben a little as he'd thought he smelled chocolate. Then he remembered that Ray often put Smarties in his coffee, which explained that.

He sipped his tea as Ray sat down next to him on the bed, put the plate on his knees and started spreading whatever was in the jar on the bread. The spread was dark, some sort of berry, perhaps, and strangely thick and smooth in texture; maybe it was a fruit butter, not a preserve or jelly. Ray put down the knife and picked up the bread, tearing off a moderately sized piece.

"Open up."

"I can feed myself," Ben said, putting his mug down on the nightstand.

"Open up," Ray insisted.

Feeling more than a little silly, Fraser complied, and Ray put the preserve-slathered bread in his mouth. He closed his mouth, started to chew, and stopped, both shocked and stimulated as the tastes and textures burst over his senses. Yeast and wheat and a little salt, but also chocolate-and-something. Creamy-sticky-smooth, on softly-chewy with a slightly crunchy crust. The combination was incredibly sensual. He chewed more slowly, savoring, all the time aware of Ray's amused gaze on him. Finally he swallowed.

"What is that?" he demanded.

Ray turned the jar so he could see the label. Chocolate hazelnut spread. His gaze skimmed over the nutritional content listing and his eyes widened. He said the first thing that came to mind. "That's not a very healthful breakfast, Ray."

Ray laughed. "Jeez, Ben, it's Christmas morning! Relax! Unbend a little! Nobody's gonna cite you for poor nutrition, not today anyway. Besides, this is a traditional Christmas morning breakfast in the Kowalski family. You said you never had any traditions, so I figured it was time you got to experience some." He tore off another chunk and held it out, but when Fraser tried to take it from him he yanked it away. "Ah-ah. I get to do it."

"Is that traditional as well?" Fraser asked, amused.

"No. Well, maybe it is now. We can make our own traditions, right?" He waved the bite in front of Fraser's face again, and when he opened his mouth, slipped it inside.

It was good. Very good. Sinfully good. But not nearly as good as waking up in a comfortable bed after having had sex with one's partner, whom one has wanted to fuck senseless for months. Fraser felt his face heat, and was annoyed that he blushed just thinking that word, let alone saying it. He frowned.

"What's wrong?"

Ray's voice sounded anxious, and Fraser looked up. "Fuck."

Ray's eyes widened. "What, right now?"

Ben laughed. "No, no, I just wanted to see if I could say it."

"Oh. Darn. Uh, why? I mean, um, why'd you want to say it, not why not do it."

"I was just thinking it."

Ray's smile went wicked. "'Zat so?"

Ben's blush came back, and Ray chuckled.

"Here, have another bite."

He fed Ben another piece, and while he waited for Ben to finish chewing he scooped a fingerful of chocolate out of the jar and sucked it off. Watching him do that, Ben shuddered in reaction, his penis coming almost instantly erect.

"Ray . . . . "

Ray looked up. "Yeah?"

"That's, ah, not very . . . sanitary." He couldn't believe he'd said that. It was the farthest possible thing from what he'd intended to say. It had just sort of slipped out.

Ray looked at him oddly, probably because his voice sounded rather strange, sort of husky, as if he had a cold. Then he looked at the jar. Then back at Ben. And he grinned. Evilly. And three fingers went into the jar, came out with half its contents, and within seconds those contents had been spread liberally over Fraser's chest and Ray was cleaning it off with his tongue. Ben fell back against the pillows with a moan, thinking it was terribly unfair that so far Ray had gotten to do all the licking.

Well, two could play at this game. He groped on the bed until he found the jar, and dug out his own handful, then realized he was at a severe disadvantage because Ray was fully clothed. One-handed, he grabbed the back of Ray's t-shirt and tried to get it off, without much success. Ray lifted his head, saw that chocolate-laden hand and grabbed it. Fraser tried to pull it away but Ray had a good grip on his wrist and he was hampered by trying to keep the chocolate off the sheets.

Ray managed to steal most of his ammunition, and then the sheets were yanked aside, and that hand was heading for his . . . oh good lord in heaven! Those long, long fingers were wrapped around him, liberally coating his erection with a substance probably never intended for that purpose. And Ray was curling over him, and his lips brushed once, twice, tongue flickering against heated, chocolate-smeared skin before he opened his mouth and took him inside, swallowing him whole. Someone made a very loud and truly lascivious sound, somewhere between a groan and a grunt. Fraser was shocked to realize it had been him.

But oh, it was so sweet, sweeter than the chocolate that still lingered in his mouth. Ray was sucking, then he was lifting, and Ben was terrified he was going to stop, and he reached down, fingers tangling in those soft blonde spikes, but oh. . . yes. Down again. Up. Then down. A pattern. A rhythm. His hips began to echo that rhythm. One of Ray's hands curled around the base of his shaft and began to stroke as he sucked, and Fraser shuddered and moaned as Ray's tongue swirled around him, found the tiny eye at the tip and teased it, before starting that incendiary suction again.

Spellbound, Fraser watched Ray make love to him with his mouth, and the expression on Ray's face and in his blue-gold eyes told him that it was lovemaking, not anything less. This was an even better gift than the photograph. This was real, and urgent, and present, not a faint echo of the past. And then Ray's free hand was curving beneath him, gently caressing his testicles, which was delicious, but then those long fingers were pressing up into a place just behind them, and there was no more thought possible. He bucked and cried out, trying to pull Ray away from him, but it was too late and the pulses were shuddering through him, even as Ray kept making it go on longer, and longer, and his mouth was so warm, and wet, and slick around him, finally he couldn't bear the pleasure any more, it was so good it was almost pain.

"Ray, Ray please!" he managed to gasp.

Ray released him slowly, sitting up, licking his lips and smiling that same wicked smile that had started this. Fraser caught him by the arms and pulled him down for a kiss that tried to pour everything he felt into the touch of lips and tongue. And that was answered by the feel of strong arms around him, and yielding mouth opening to his, and the taste of chocolate and himself in Ray's mouth. And he wanted beyond reason to find out what Ray tasted like. He felt unutterably deprived at not knowing that.

Suddenly forward, he manhandled Ray out of his shirt, then yanked open his jeans with indecent haste, tugging and pulling until he managed to peel them down and off, along with his rather seasonally red-and-white striped briefs. Thankfully Ray was already barefoot so there were no shoes or socks to deal with.

"Ben, hey, you don't have to . . . ." Ray began, sounding a little concerned.

Ben sealed his mouth over Ray's again, cutting off the words, and only when he could feel Ray begin to rock against his thigh did he let up. Ray looked a little hazy, but after a moment he tried to speak again.

"Ben, really . . . ."

Ben kissed him again, stealing the air Ray needed to speak, occupying his tongue and lips with other things until finally he lifted his head, looking down into Ray's flushed, sweaty face. "I need to," he said huskily. "I need to. Do you understand?"

Ray nodded, solemnly. "I do. God, I do."

Fraser smiled. Yes, Ray, of all people, would understand. Sometimes he thought the only reason Ray objected so much to his licking things was because he'd rather like to do it himself, but couldn't quite overcome his cultural conditioning. But he always had something in his mouth-- gum, toothpicks, food, pens, once even a rubber band. He smiled. And people said he had an oral fixation.

Easing back a little, Ben stared down at the impressive erection that rose from the dark blonde thatch between Ray's muscular thighs, and tried to think of how to start. Ray's spontaneity with the chocolate was absent now, and this was a little more awkward.


He looked up to find Ray holding out the jar to him, grinning. "Appetizer?"

Ben shook his head, moistening his lips with his tongue. "No, thank you. I think I'll go right for the main course."

Ray was still laughing when Ben curved his fingers around his shaft. The laughter turned into a shuddering gasp at that, and a moment later when he bent and took him in his mouth, that gasp became a darkly satisfying moan. He liked making Ray laugh, but even more he liked coaxing those other noises from him. That hot, needy sound was the antidote to all the nights he'd been tormented by just this fantasy. Now it was no longer a fantasy. It was hotly, slickly, achingly real.

Ben held that beautiful, hard length in his hands, holding Ray, caressing him. He knew he was a little awkward, but he was learning quickly by reading Ray's responses, which were so very, very open, nothing held back. Each sigh, each tensing, each twitch added to his lexicon of knowledge, adjusting grip, pressure, the movement of his tongue. And he was learning other things as well. The taste of flesh. The taste of desire, of pleasure. He loved it. He wanted more. Much more. He tried to remember what Ray had done for him, the touches and strokes that had quickly driven him past control.

Judging from the reactions he was provoking, he was doing at least passably well, though he had to ignore the slight ache in his jaw from holding his mouth open for so long. How had Ray managed it with such seeming ease? Perhaps all that gum-chewing had positive side-effects. He closed his eyes, concentrating on other sensations, the satiny slide of wet skin-- Ray's cock, against wet skin-- his lips, the quiet gasps and held-back moans, the scent of need, of sweat, the rhythmic flexing of muscles beneath his hands, the racing pulsebeat he could feel against his tongue. Somewhere in all that, he remembered that place Ray had touched that had felt so amazingly good, and slipped a hand down between his partner's thighs, in that smooth space that was neither buttock nor cock, and pressed a knuckle up into it.

Ray shuddered, and that word Ben could barely speak slipped with utter naturalness from Ray's mouth, and it was very, very erotic. He knew what caused that reaction. Once he'd realized just how he felt about Ray he'd educated himself on what exactly was involved in making love with another man. However, vicarious knowledge was quite, quite different from having Ray here, in his mouth, in his hands. Just to be sure, he repeated that touch, winning a soft grunt, and a bucking thrust into his mouth.

Recalling that according to his reading, external stimulation was deemed not nearly as pleasurable as internal for this particular activity, he let his fingers range tentatively back and up, touching the hidden opening, circling it with just a fingertip. Ray sucked breath through clenched teeth, fingers scrabbling at the covers like claws. Worried, assuming the reaction to be negative, Ben immediately started to withdraw his hand.

"No!" Ray gasped. "No, it's . . . good!" he panted.

He would have said 'Ah' had his mouth not been otherwise occupied. Speaking of which . . . he drew his hand away, and deliberately slicked his fingers with saliva before sliding them back into position, and this time he
was less tentative. Ray's appreciative moans and wriggles made him ever bolder, and finally he gave in and satisfied his own curiosity and Ray's apparent desire for him to continue. He slipped a wet finger into that small opening, searched, found, judging by Ray's moan of appreciation, and massaged.

Ray arched like a bow, but Ben had been prepared for that and rode it out as Ray tried ineffectually to urge him to lift his mouth, and then he was coming, and coming hard, moaning something that might have been 'Fraser!' as his release came. Though Ben knew intellectually that ejaculate traveled at approximately 28 miles an hour, and was comprised of water, sodium, zinc, acid phosphatase, citric acid, fructose and neutral alpha-glucosidase, that had told him nothing about how fascinating the spurts would feel against his tongue and his palate, thick, and hot, and so, so good. Nor could it have told him that Ray would taste like. . . like salted mangoes, salty, and sweet at the same time, very fitting, very Ray.
* * *

Ray sagged back against the mattress in a panting, sweaty sprawl as Fraser let him go with a last lingering lick that made him shudder with its intensity. No wonder he'd wanted Ray to let go faster, if he'd been this sensitive afterward. Holy cow. And that last bit . . . wow! Stella taught him about that place right behind his balls, but Ben had gone her about ten times better. Damn, that had been something else. Surely nobody could give a blow-job that good without some practice! Feeling Ben's gaze on him, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly in a contented purr.

"Mmmm. Damn. You, uh, you've done that before, hunh?"

Ben looked at him blankly. "That? You mean . . . ah . . . ."

Ray grinned. "Yeah, I mean 'ah.'"

"Ah." Fraser stared at the sheets. "Well, no."

"Really?" Ray said, surprised. "Never, ever?"

"No, Ray, never."

Ray shifted onto an elbow, studying Ben intently, suddenly wondering if he'd jumped to a conclusion. "Um, you ever done this kind of thing in general, as opposed to this kind of thing in specific?"

"Well, I suppose that depends on your definition of 'this kind of thing.' I am not entirely unfamiliar with the . . . ."

"You know what I mean. You ever sleep with a guy before?"

Ben looked at him with a wide-eyed naivete Ray had come to know was usually faked. "Well, certainly I have. You know that. I've slept with you before, among many others."

Ray sighed. "Do not pull the dense routine with me, Benton Fraser. I do not mean 'sleep with' as in 'snooze' and you know it. I mean 'sleep with' as in 'fool around with.'"

Fraser's gaze returned to the sheets, and Ray could see a rosy flush rising up his neck, though his face was hidden.

"No," he finally replied, after a long, long moment.

Ray processed that, completely stunned. He'd just kind of assumed that Fraser must have done at least some of this stuff before. He could hardly believe he hadn't. He shook his head with a low whistle. "Wow."

Ben lifted his head just enough to look at him, eyebrows raised.

"That was. . . uh, pretty darned impressive for a beginner there, Ben. Guess I need to work on my technique."

Ben faced him fully, shaking his head solemnly. "Oh, no, not at all. Your technique was delightful. All I did was mimic you."

Ray snorted. "Oh yeah, right. You were just copying me. Uh-hunh. Nope, don't fly. Like usual, you're just better at pretty much everything."

Ben frowned, looking concerned. "But that's not at all true, Ray!"

Ray held up a hand. "It's okay, Ben. I'm used to it."

Ben chewed his lip for a moment, then his gaze fell again. "Well, I suppose I should confess then, rather than let you make such an erroneous assumption."

Confess? Fraser had something to confess? The only thing Ray could think of was that he'd lied about not having done this before, but that would just be. . . wrong. Fraser didn't lie. He might bluff, he didn't lie. "Confess what?" he managed to ask, with some trepidation.

"I, ah, I read some materials on the subject," Fraser said in a strangled whisper, his face extremely pink again.

Read some mat. . . . Ray started to grin. He had some research materials too. "These materials, would they happen to be in a magazine format with glossy stock and a lot of ads for 1-900 phone lines?"

Fraser stared at him, looking puzzled. "No. They were from the university library. They have a rather extensive collection of works on human sexuality."

Ray sighed, shaking his head. "Ben, only you would read a textbook to find out how to give a spectacular blowjob, and then get embarrassed about it. But I'm damned glad you did." He lay back, one hand curving over Ben's shoulder, stroking idly. It was so nice to be able to touch him like this, just touch, because he wanted to, not worried about anyone, including Ben, getting the wrong idea. Speaking of which. . . . "So, uh, how long ago you read those books?"

"Ah, quite recently, actually."

"Mmm," Ray said, noncommittally. "And what prompted you to search out such atypical reading materials, if I might ask?"

Ben stared at him. "That was a . . . ."

". . . beautiful sentence. I know. I can do it, I just choose not to. Doesn't fit my style. You didn't answer my question."

Ben regarded him steadily with those smoke-blue eyes, and for once didn't blush. "You did. Or rather, my feelings for you. Once I had identified the source of my discomfort in your presence, I decided I needed to find out more about alternative sexualities."

"Including the 'how-to' section, eh?"

A tiny smile lifted one corner of Ben's mouth. "Well, one should try to be prepared for any situation, no matter how unlikely one thinks its chance of occurrence."

Ray chuckled. "Yeah, well, this wouldn't be the first time I've had reason to be thankful you were a boy scout." He stretched, arching lazily, then turned onto his side and ran a hand down Ben's torso, not trying to arouse, just because he could, then suddenly he stopped as he noticed there were bruises on Ben's abdomen and thighs that he didn't remember from the previous night, and he thought he'd been pretty observant. He scowled, soothing a finger across one of the marks. "Did I do that?"

Ben looked down, saw what Ray was doing, and started to smile. "Yes, I'm afraid you did."

What the hell was Ben smiling about? Ray felt awful. He'd had no idea he'd been that rough. "God, Ben, I'm so sorry!"

"Ray . . . ."

"I don't know what got into me! I'm scum!"


"Next time just hit me if I get that . . . ."

"Ray, it's chocolate."

That got through. He looked at the 'bruise.' Licked his finger, rubbed at it. It smeared. Relief flooded through him. "Oh. Okay. Whew. Good."

"You look about the same," Ben commented, surveying him. Ray looked at himself and saw he too was covered with smudgy brown hand and fingerprints. A glance at the sheets revealed that they were similarly festooned. He poked at a stain, groaning. "Guess I'll have to call Mom and find out how to get chocolate out of my sheets. She's going to love that."

"You might try dishwashing liquid before you bother her."

Ray looked up, eyebrows lifted. "Dishwashing liquid?"

Ben nodded. "It's generally quite effective for getting oil-based food residues out of washable fabrics."

Ray shook his head. "Thank you, Heloise. I do not even want to know how come you know that. Come on, shower time. Good thing skin's a lot easier to get chocolate off of than fabric."

Fraser looked at him oddly. "Shower?"

"Yeah, you know. You stand under running water, kinda like rain or a waterfall, but nice and hot? Or don't they have those up in the Northwest Areas or the Canadian Consulate?"

Fraser gave him his 'silly question' look. "Of course we have showers, Ray. It's just that, well, I generally shower alone."

Ray chuckled. "Then you're missing a bet. Besides, we have to make sure we get all the chocolate off, frontside and backside, right?" he asked with a broad wink.

"Ah. True enough," Fraser said, finally seeming to get a clue that maybe showering together might not be a bad idea. "I would suggest stripping the bed now, though, so the stains don't spread through to the mattress pad."

"Good plan." Ray bounced out of bed and held out a hand to Fraser, who took it and let Ray brace him to his feet. He was still moving a little slowly and stiffly, which made Ray want to go hurt someone, but he controlled that reaction, knowing Fraser didn't like it. He wanted Fraser to have a good day. A good Christmas. No, a great Christmas. Listening to him at the party the night before, Ray could still see and hear traces of a little boy struggling with year after year of disappointment, and hurt, and loneliness. There wasn't any way to make that up, but he could make sure today was special. Already had it in the works.

Ray stripped the bed quickly and tossed the sheets in the general direction of the hamper, then grabbed Ben's hand and pulled him toward the bathroom. Fraser resisted.

"So, what time do you have to leave?"

Ray looked at him blankly. "Leave?"

"I assume you're going to want to visit your parents at some point today."

Ray could sense hints of the stoic, 'get prepared for disappointment' Fraser in that question. He smiled gently. "No reason to go sit in an empty trailer in Skokie, Ben. They're at my brother's until after New Year's, seeing the grandkids."

Fraser brightened visibly. "Then you don't have to leave?"

"I'm not going anywhere. It's just you, me, the Grinch, and George Bailey." He tugged on Ben's hand, and this time he let himself be led into the bathroom, where Ray started the shower and stood adjusting the temperature.


"Yeah, Ben?" He had to practice saying that, thinking that. Ben. Ben. Ben. Not 'Fraser.' Ben.

"Does it bother you that your parents are away for the holidays?"

Ray smiled. "Nah. Two grandkids'll beat out a Chicago flatfoot every time. That's just the natural order of the universe and all. How it should be."

Fraser absorbed that thoughtfully. Ray wondered what it would be like to have so little clue about 'normal' life. Hard, he guessed. Lots of guessing, lots of coping, lots of envy, probably. He reached over and pulled Ben into his arms, felt Ben's slight hesitation, as if he didn't quite know how to react, then his arms slid around Ray in return, and they just stood like that for a moment, and it felt really good, really right. God. It hadn't even felt this right with Stella. So often he'd had a sense there that he was somehow disappointing her a little. He never, well, almost never, got that feeling with Ben, and when he did, it was usually his own head trip, not reality.



"Ah, we appear to be wasting a lot of water."

"Oh, yeah. Right. C'mon then. In. Scrub time. Then vegging. Then dinner."

"Dinner?" Fraser asked interestedly as he followed Ray into the stall and closed the shower door behind them.

Ray stuck his head under the spray to wet down his hair, let the heat sluice over him for a moment, then stepped away to trade spots. Fraser leaned against the wall and let the spray beat down on his shoulders. Ray started shampooing his hair as he replied.

"Yeah. Dinner. It won't be the whole nine yards 'cause I didn't have time to plan, but between the QwikieMart and my freezer and my mom, we got it covered. I had a chicken, so we got baked chicken, and the QwikieMart had stuffing mix and that maroon cranberry gunk in a can, and my mom brought over a pumpkin pie before she left so I wouldn't feel abandoned. Oh, and that green bean stuff with the mushroom soup and onion rings 'cause it's just not Christmas without that."

Because his eyes were closed to keep the soap out of them, Ray was startled into jumping and gasping when Ben's arms closed around him and his lips came down on his. But he relaxed immediately, and it turned into a very gentle kiss, very sweet. He was starting to lose himself in it when Fraser drew back and guided him under the shower, big, square hands in his hair, rinsing the shampoo away. Felt great. Really great. He made an appreciative sound, and turned around to face his assistant.

"Toldja you were missing a bet," he said reaching for the soap and working up a good lather, before easing his hands gently across Fraser's chocolate-sullied torso, trying to clean without hurting him. Under his fingertips he felt Ben's nipples harden, and smiled, though a glance downward confirmed that nothing else was stirring. Yet. It was pretty soon, and neither of them were teenagers any more. Later, maybe. He was more than a little interested in finding out just what other things Ben had learned from his textbooks. And he'd picked up a couple of items at the QwickieMart that were not normally used in a kitchen, though that might be fun someday, too.

Together they managed to get each other cleaned up, though there was chocolate in some pretty odd places and it was surprisingly difficult to get out of hair. Ray didn't bother to spike his hair, though it sort of did it on its own as it dried, it was just that way. Fraser put his henley back on with his borrowed shorts and Ray put on his sweats and a tank, and they headed out to watch videos while the chicken finished baking. Ray set up the first tape then plopped down on the couch. Fraser joined him, but kept staring over at the roll-top desk, frowning a little.

"Okay, what's up, Frase?"

"Something's different."

Ray grinned, realizing immediately what Ben was trying to figure out. "Yeah. I put away an old picture I didn't need to keep looking at any more. Actually, I did that a couple of weeks ago."

Fraser's gaze went instantly to the spot next to the fan where the photo of Ray and Stella had stood for a very long time. "Ah," he said quietly, acknowledging the change. A faint smile curved his mouth, then his gaze moved on to the family pictures on the wall, lingering pensively before he turned back to Ray. "Might I ask how you obtained that photograph you gave me?"

Ray fiddled with the remote control, hunching a little, embarrassed all of the sudden. Funny, he could have sex with Ben, no problem, but couldn't talk about this without blushing. "Well, I. . . ah, had a little help."


"Yeah. I, uh, I knew I wanted to do something for you, something nice, something special. I even snagged your name off the tree so nobody else could have it. Then I took a second name for cover."

"You did?"

"Yeah." Ray grinned. "I cheated."

"I thought Inspector Thatcher. . . ."

"Nope. All mine. Thatcher got both you and Turnbull something, and I think she gave Welsh something too. Weird."

Fraser refused to be distracted by that. "I see. So, after you 'cheated,' then what?"

"Well, then I have this weird dream about some old Mountie guy showing me your baby pictures and droning on about your uncle this and your aunt whoosit and how the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree and how a picture's worth a thousand words. Then I remember that when you come over, you always look at my pictures. So I'm thinking about Christmas, and I remember that dream and bang, it hits me. All your stuff got burned up, and you need a picture. I figure you've got relatives and family friends up there in the Big Fridge, so I talk to Welsh, and he puts me in touch with this Afrobush guy . . . ."

"Sergeant Frobisher?"

"Yeah, that's him. Frobisher. He's kind of trippy, y'know?"

"Yes, I do indeed," Ben said, sounding amused and vehement at the same time.

"Anyway, he says he can help, and voila, the picture shows up, next-day air. So all I had to do was get a frame for it, and stick it in a box. I didn't really do much of anything. Glad you liked it, though. But you know what the weird thing is? The guy in my dream looked just like an older version of that guy in your picture."

"You mean my father?"

Ray looked up at the odd tone in Ben's voice. "Yeah. I . . . yeah. Guess he is your dad, hunh?" He grinned, and shook his head. "Funny, I know you got a mom and dad, and knew he was a Mountie, too, but I guess I kinda always thought your parents must've found you in a little crashed space ship wrapped in a red blanket with a big blue 'S' on it."

Ben actually smiled at that. "No, Ray, so far as I'm aware, my origins are entirely terrestrial."

"Good, 'cause that man of steel thing sounds kinda painful," Ray said with a wink. "Think I like the man of flesh and blood a lot better." He slid his fingers underneath the bottom edge of Fraser's shorts. Fraser made a little squeaking sound and grabbed his hand, which made Ray laugh, and they wrestled for a moment, Ray pretending to try to cop a feel and Fraser pretending he objected until they ended up kissing again, and that led to petting, and things got rather breathless until Ray realized that he must've accidentally hit 'play' while they were struggling, because all the little Whos were singing "Da hoo dooray" and not even he could fool around with the Grinch on.

Catching his breath, he leaned back and pulled Ben back against him with an arm around his waist, found the remote, and backed up the tape to the start.

"You ever seen this?"

"No, Ray, I'm not familiar with it."

Ray grinned. "Fraser, you are in for a treat."

Fraser's expression went solemn. "I've already had a treat, Ray. Or rather, a gift. Many gifts. I only wish I had one for you."

Ray rolled his eyes. "Ben, don't get all O. Henry on me here, okay? You gave me a home run. A buddy-breath. A woman's life off my conscience. A partner. And now yourself. That's plenty. More than plenty. More than I ever expected. And probably more than I deserve. But I ain't complaining. You?"

Fraser looked at him, and there was a hint of something in those smoky eyes, something deep, and profound, and a little frightening, because it looked the way Ray felt when he thought about Ben. Then a smile bloomed, and Ben shook his head.

"No, Ray. I 'ain't complaining,' either."

* * * Finis * * *

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