This is a Due South/Highlander crossover, featuring the character of Amanda, from Highlander, and a bunch of characters from Due South, most notably Benton Fraser & Ray Kowalski. It is a sequel of sorts to my story "The One That Got Away," written with Julia Kosatka, though this time the crossover aspects are rather negligible and to be honest it's a bit of a PWP. ;-D

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 or easily offended, you may want to take a pass as well. Please note this is not a 'fixit' story. If you're going to get upset by seeing Fraser with Ray K., then you probably want to skip this one. Characters property of Alliance & Rysher (no, NOT used with permission, are you kidding??), everything else is MINE ALL MINE! :-)

Timeline-wise this is set after the final episode of Highlander: The Series, and before the first episode of Highlander: The Raven, as well as in the meager gap between the Due South episodes "Hunting Season" and "The Call of the Wild."

Thanks to Julia Kosatka for helping me in some stuck spots and smacking me around when I needed it. More thanks to my beta-readers, Marina Bailey, Debra Ann Fiorini, Mary Alice Davis, Cathy Downes, and any others I may have neglected!

The Catch
© 1999 Kellie Matthews

Two years, or almost, anyway. Had it really been that long? A lot had happened in two years. Amanda had meant to get back to Chicago before this, but things just hadn't worked out that way. Now, with Mac off searching for spiritual enlightenment, Methos mostly incommunicado, Joe too busy as the new head of the Watchers to do much else, and Richie . . . gone, she was lonely and wishing for friends, people who knew her secret, with whom she didn't have to pretend. There weren't that many. That was what had brought her here.

She looked up at the unprepossessing brick facade of the Division 27 building and wondered if Ray would remember her. She figured he would, after all, he'd seen her die and live again. Among other things. She smiled, reminiscing, and sighed. Maybe this wasn't a good idea. Right now she wanted nothing more than someone to be with, to relax with, to talk to without having to lie, or hedge, or conceal, but she was well aware that their previous experiences together might lead to-- expectations. Well, that could be dealt with if need be.

It suddenly occurred to her to wonder if Ben was even still even posted in Chicago. If a lot had changed for her, how much had changed for them? Well, only one way to find out. She walked into the building and just like last time was surrounded by barely-controlled chaos. She walked past the milling masses and found the bullpen. She still remembered which desk had been Ray Vecchio's, and went to it.

Half-hidden by paperwork, she could see the edge of a nameplate on the desk. What she could see of it read 'CHIO', which was a reassuring sign. No one sat at the desk, but there was a still-hot cup of coffee steaming on a stack of papers, so she figured he wasn't far away. She took a seat in the interview chair next to the desk and waited.

After a few minutes had passed, a tall man in his mid-thirties with spiky blonde hair and bright, intelligent blue eyes wandered over, picked up the cup, took a sip, and then looked at her. His gaze slid up and down her, assessing, before he spoke.

"Can I help you?" he asked hopefully.

"Possibly," she confirmed, eyeing him back. Not bad. Slender but muscular, with a kind of Dickensian, two-thirds Artful-Dodger one-third Oliver charm. "I'm looking for Ray Vecchio."

He grinned. "You got him, lady. What do you need?"

Nosy little bugger, she thought. "That's between him and me."

He sat down, took another sip of coffee, and then put the cup down. "Well then, go ahead and spit it out because I got work to do."

Hmm. Not getting anywhere. Amanda figured he must have somehow misunderstood her. "I'm sorry, maybe you misheard. I need to talk to Ray Vecchio."

"I am Ray Vecchio," he said, slightly exasperated. "If you need to talk, talk!"

She sat back, staring at him, thoroughly nonplused. " You're Ray Vecchio?"

He crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair, looking slightly defensive. "I'm the only Ray Vecchio in this Division."

She leaned forward, trying to see any trace of the man she remembered. The two men were around the same height, maybe even the same weight, but there all resemblance ended. The Ray she remembered had been lanky, balding, big-nosed, and olive skinned with gray-green eyes. This man was a lot more muscular, had considerably more hair, a kind of cute little nose, fair skin, and sleepy-lidded blue eyes. They didn't even sound alike. She considered what might be possible with plastic surgery, hair plugs, contact lenses, a dye job, and regular workouts, and still came up short. Still, she supposed it was remotely possible. In that case. . .

"Do you remember me, Detective Vecchio? Think dark hair, January thunderstorms, and three-am discussions of immortality."

Something that looked a little like panic flashed across his face. "Ah, no, ma'am. I'm sorry, I don't."

That cinched it. This was definitely not Ray Vecchio. Not her Ray Vecchio anyway. While a man might forget a woman he'd slept with once, sort of, he wouldn't forget seeing her take a Quickening, and everything that had come after that. It seemed unlikely that two men with the same name would work for the Chicago police department, even use the same desk, but maybe it was true. She sighed and stood up. "I'm afraid I've made a mistake. Sorry to have troubled you, Detective."

"I'm sorry, too," he said, looking genuinely regretful. "I think I might have liked remembering you."

She smiled. "Quite possibly." She stood to leave, and then paused. He still might know something useful. "I don't suppose you'd happen to know a Constable Benton Fraser, would you?"

"Fraser?" Surprise and dismay colored his voice. He stared at her. "Um, has it been kind of a while since you been here?"

"It will be two years in January. I've been abroad."

"Uh hunh," he chewed on his lip, looked around the office, then stood up. "Come on. We have to talk. Not here."

As he took a step away from the desk, his phone rang. He rolled his eyes and held up a hand for her to wait as he picked up the phone.

"Vecchio," he said into the handset. He listened a moment, and frowned, looking around the office. "Yeah, yeah, Mr. Mustafi. Wait, just a second, just a sec, let me. . . " He put one hand over the mouthpiece and waved the other at a dark-haired young woman with a tag that read 'civilian aide' on her blouse. "Hey, Frannie! We got a TV around here? Would you get it and put it on Channel Six?"

"What do I look like, your wife?" the woman groused, but she got up and went around the corner, returning a moment later with a television on a rolling cart. She plugged it in, turned it on, and flipped the channel selector. The picture wasn't very good, but it was clear enough for them to see that it was a live news broadcast. The aide messed with the antenna until the picture cleared a little and the sound unfuzzed.

". . .where there is apparently an unfolding hostage drama. Carl, can you zoom in a little closer? Let us see what's going on?"

The camera jostled a bit, then the focus tightened up on what appeared to be a waiting or lobby area visible through large plate-glass windows. A small group of people were backed up against a wall, and in front of them were two men, one clearly holding a large handgun just under the jaw of the second. Amanda leaned forward, eyes narrowed. That jawline looked awfully familiar . . . Just about the time she noticed that, the man claiming to be Ray Vecchio groaned. She turned to look at him and saw all the color drain out of his face, leaving a scattering of freckles to stand out in sharp relief.

"Oh no, it can't be. Tell me it's not . . ." the blond whispered.

That told her volumes. He might not be the same Ray, but he was clearly close to Ben. Very close. She wondered just how close. For some reason she could 'see' this wiry working class street-tough with the All Canadian Boy more than she'd been able to see the other Ray with Fraser. She'd always wondered if that Ray had been able to overcome his upbringing enough to accept Ben's love for the gift it was. She'd always hoped so, but there had been an edge of doubt there, too. Macho-Italian-Catholic was a lot to conquer.

"FRASER!" The civilian aide suddenly shrieked in a voice that brought all work in the bullpen to an immediate halt. Within seconds everyone in the room was clustered around the television, trying to see what was going on. Vecchio thanked whoever it was on the phone and hung up, then put his head in his hands, moaning softly.

"How does he do it? How come he's always at the wrong place at the wrong time, every time?"

A familiar-looking stocky, dark-haired man stuck his head out of his office. "You all having a party and didn't invite me? I'm hurt."

Vecchio looked up. "It's Fraser."

"On television?"

"On the news."

The man sighed. "Do I even want to know?"

"It's apparently a hostage situation, sir."

"Fraser is holding someone hostage?" the man asked, incredulously, moving closer to peer at the television himself.

"No, sir. Fraser seems to be the hostage. One of them, anyway."

The man sighed again. "Why am I not surprised? Okay, lets get on this folks. How come it's on the news and we haven't heard about it yet? Where is it, how long has it been going on, and is it in our jurisdiction? Get a move on. That's one of ours out there. Besides, we have to get him out before the Canadians find out and get mad. There's nothing worse than a mad Canadian."

Several people chuckled, and the crowd dispersed instantly, everyone scattering toward desks and phones, leaving Amanda alone with the fake Ray, and the stocky man, who turned to look at her, frowning faintly as he tried to place her.

"Excuse me, but do I know you?"

She shook her head, not wanting him to remember where or when they'd met before. After all, technically she'd been dead the last time. "No, I don't believe we've met."

"Ah." He absorbed that, then spoke again. "May I ask what you're doing here?"

"I'm a friend of Ray Vecchio and Ben Fraser. I just dropped by to visit for a moment when everything . . . happened."

Vecchio looked as if he were going to protest her claim of friendship, then closed his mouth on whatever he'd planned to say.

"I see. Well, I'm sorry you had to find Constable Fraser in such an unfortunate manner."

She looked at the screen and nodded. "So am I, but perhaps I can be of help?"

Both men looked at her, surprised. "Help, how?"

She smiled, and fished in her bag, bringing out her wallet and her latest identification, courtesy of Methos' Magic Makeovers, blessing whatever gift of prophecy had made him give her the least likely occupation imaginable. She proffered it to the older man. "Allow me to introduce myself. Amanda Waring, Interpol."

He looked at the ID, looked at her, and looked impressed. "Lieutenant Harding Welsh, ma'am, Chicago P.D."

She shook his hand in a businesslike manner, ignoring the way the blond was staring at her, goggle-eyed. "Nice to meet you, Lieutenant. Welsh. Now, I assume that if you could get a team in there without the suspect knowing it, it would be preferable to a frontal assault?"

"Always," Welsh agreed. "But how could you help us?"

"Get me the blueprints to the building and I'll get you in. I specialize in security, which includes determining alternate routes into, and out of various buildings." Well, at least it was partly true.

Welsh studied her. "You really work for Interpol?" he asked.

She nodded. "I'm a part-time security consultant for them. Normally I work out of Paris but I'm in the States on personal business. If you'd like to check my credentials, you can contact a gentleman named Justin Case at their Security division."

She had a little trouble saying the name with a straight face. Methos had thought it up, and she hadn't expected to have to actually say it. He'd insisted she had to have a contact 'just in case' she needed confirmation of her identity. 'Justin' was a fellow Immortal who'd been working at Interpol for some time, and the name had been chosen to tip him off as to the purpose of the call.

Welsh hesitated, and the blond shot her a suspicious look. Maybe she hadn't quite managed not to smile when she'd said the name. Her attention was caught again by the television, by that image of Ben with a gun pressed to the curve of his jaw, and she swallowed, hard.

"Please, I couldn't bear to think I might have been able to help, and didn't."

The suspicion faded instantly from the blond's face and he nodded. It was clear he understood. They all did. People like Benton Fraser were a rare and precious commodity, and they would all do their best to assure his safety. Finally Welsh nodded too.

"Welcome aboard, Ms. Waring. I'm sure we can use all the help we can get."

* * *

"I assure you, sir," Fraser said in his most persuasive tone. "I would be happy to stay and assist you in your mission, however I do feel it would be prudent for you to let these others go. After all, keeping track of seven people, plus myself, could become wearing."

The cylinder of metal against his throat wavered slightly.

"You want to stay?" the man asked suspiciously. "You want to help? Why?"

Fraser pondered the proper response to that for a moment before answering. The man's temper was clearly unstable, he would have to tread lightly. "My reasons are twofold. First, I'm sure you must have some compelling reason for your actions. Secondly, it seems clear that someone must stay, and I, being an officer of the law, albeit in another country, should be the one to assume that responsibility."

"You're a cop?" The man asked, his voice up an octave.

The gun dug harshly into Fraser's throat, making him wince. Perhaps he should not have been quite so forthcoming. "Well, not in the United States. Only in Canada."


The gun pulled away slightly again, and Fraser swallowed, trying to ease the constricted feeling in his throat.

"What are you doing here if you're Canadian?" the gunman asked.

"I first came to Chicago on the trail of the killers of my father . . ." Fraser began, only to have his disquisition interrupted by the gunman.

"I mean here, at the IRS."

"Oh," he said, making the slight mental adjustment necessary. "I came to assist a friend of mine with a difficulty he has been having with his taxes. Mr. Mustafi is being audited, as he seems to have incorrectly filled out a form, probably a simple error in calculation, which I believe I can show to be entirely understandable, given the complexity of the instructions and Mr. Mustafi's relative unfamiliarity with written English."

"Hunh," the gunman said. "Okay. But I'm not letting them go. More is better."

"Actually, that is an erroneous assumption. More is not always better."

"You're weird," the man returned.

"So I'm often told," Fraser agreed. "But I can explain. For instance, take salt. While a small amount of dietary salt is necessary to maintain proper health, too much salt can result in high blood-pressure, dehydration, and eventually even death. So, in that case, less is better."

That was contemplated, and after a moment the gun left his skin to wave in the air.

"All you civilians, outta here! The IRS people stay. And you folks tell them I want to talk to the mayor!"

"Ah, sir?" Fraser ventured. "The mayor won't be able to assist you if your problem is with the IRS. Being a state, rather than a federal official, he holds no sway over them."

"Oh." That was duly considered. "Uh, who would be the boss of the IRS, then?"

"I believe the IRS falls under the purview of the Treasury Department which is headed by the United States Secretary of the Treasury," Fraser said, without thinking.

"Okay." The gunman turned to the four hostages who were in the process of moving cautiously toward the door. "Tell 'em I wanna talk to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury."

Oh, dear. Ray was right. He really should be more careful about being quite so helpful. It seemed likely that he should have withheld that information. It was highly doubtful that such a highly placed official would be willing to fly to Chicago to meet with a disgruntled taxpayer holding a Mountie and a few IRS agents hostage. Fraser resigned himself to a long wait. The last 'civilian' hostage, Mr. Mustafi, edged toward the door, and stopped, looking back at him apologetically. Fraser cleared his throat.

"May I speak with my friend for a moment?"

"Yeah, sure," the gunman said magnanimously.

"Mr. Mustafi?" Fraser called. "Would you call Ray Vecchio and tell him I will be unable to make our appointment this afternoon?"

His former fellow-tenant nodded, his face lit with understanding. Clearly he realized Ben was telling him to call the police. "Sure, Benny. I call him. Right away."

"Thank you kindly, Mr. Mustafi."

His friend nodded and slipped out the door, running as soon as he was out of the room. Ben sighed. He felt better knowing that at least some of the others were safe now. There were still three other hostages left, but that was better than seven.

"So, now we wait," the gunman said. "You people, sit down over there, together so I can keep an eye on you."

Fraser tried to ease the muscles in his neck, which were starting to stiffen from being held in an unnatural position for so long. "Sir? May I ask your name?"

The man tensed. "Why?

"Well, under the circumstances I may feel it necessary to get your attention, and should that occur, it would be more polite to use your name, rather than, say, 'hey you.'"

"Oh. It's Roberts. Captain Louis Hover Roberts."

"Pleased to meet you, sir," Fraser returned automatically, as if he were at a formal reception, not standing there with a gun to his head. "Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

"Uh, nice to meet you too, I guess," Roberts said, not moving the gun, sounding a little embarrassed.

"Captain Roberts?" Fraser asked after a moment.

"What?" the gunman snapped irritably.

"I would be appreciative if you could see your way clear to allowing me some freedom of movement. My neck is getting a little sore."

There was a moment's hesitation, then slowly the gun was eased away, and the man let go of him. "Yeah, go sit over there by the others. Don't move, and no tricks."

Ben took the indicated seat, and looked across the room at Roberts. He seemed ordinary enough. He looked to be in his late fifties, relatively fit, with graying dark brown hair cut militarily close and rather intense blue eyes. Not the sort of man one expected to take hostages in an IRS office. Of course, one didn't generally expect that sort of behavior in any case. The man stared back at him, frowning slightly.

"It's nothing personal, you know," he offered a little apologetically.

Ben nodded. "Understood."

"May I ask the basis of your complaint?" Ben asked conversationally. Perhaps he could find a way to help the man reach some sort of resolution. The other hostages looked at him like he'd lost his mind. He ignored it. He was used to that.

"My complaint?" The man asked, his voice tense, his eyes, which a moment earlier had been almost normal, went flat and hard. "My complaint is that as leader of the Patriot's Militia, I have a right to military exemptions which these," he waved the gun at the three IRS employees cowering together, " . . .these idiots refuse to allow me to claim! They have no right to tell me otherwise!"

Oh dear. Fraser decided that he had made a distinct error in judgement. He had assumed that the man was basically rational, just driven to take action by desperation, perhaps financial hardship. Clearly that might not be the case. While he knew little about the U.S. Tax code aside from what he had studied to assist Mr. Mustafi, he was fairly sure that military exemptions did not as a rule apply to civil militias. Also, after having lived for some time in the United States and having kept abreast of the news, not to mention having had direct, personal experience with the Bolt brothers, he knew that some of the people who were drawn to participate in those organizations were not the most stable of individuals. Still, he had to try.

"I see. Well, being unfamiliar with your laws, I can't really address that, however it seems to me that your case would be better addressed by your local legislator. Perhaps you could send him, or her, a letter stating your belief and suggesting that the tax codes be amended to allow for exemptions of this nature?"

"Legislators?" The man started to pace. "Politicians? Corrupt sons of bitches, every one of 'em. They make their money off the backs of people like me. Writing a letter to one of them would be like flushing it down the john. The only thing they listen to is power, and I got that now."

Ben swallowed his sigh, and nodded. "Yes, sir, at the moment, you do appear to," he said conciliatorially. "However, appearances can be deceiving," he couldn't resist adding.

The pacing stopped and the gunman turned to him. "Shut up. I did what you said because I wanted to, and because you were polite, but I've heard enough now."

Ben nodded wordlessly, his mind already evaluating cover, searching for exits. If he couldn't reason their way out, he might have to get them out some other way. His gaze lit on an air return vent located at floor level on a wall behind a desk and low partition. He looked at the other hostages. None of them were particularly large individuals. It could work. Possibly. Providing there was enough going on to distract the gunman. He wouldn't be able to fit through it himself, but the others could. He would need to gauge his opportunities carefully.

For just a moment he wished Ray were here. The other man's quicksilver mind would lend itself well to evaluating the problem. Guiltily he shut down that thought. He certainly would never want to put Ray in any danger. In point of fact, he found himself trying very hard to keep Ray out of danger, because he knew from painful experience that losing someone as close as Ray had become was like losing part of his soul. He couldn't go through that again. He didn't have very much soul left to lose.

* * *

"Got the location, sir!"

Ray jerked his attention from the television screen as Huey started waving a slip of paper triumphantly. "IRS office over on Milwaukee. The Channel 6 news got a tip about some kind of protest to be staged there today, that's how come they were there when it happened."

"Great!" Welsh barked. "Get me blueprints, fast! And tell Channel 6 if they ever withhold information on us again I'll slap their asses in jail so fast they won't have time to say 'first amendment!'"

A ripple of angry agreement went through the room, and Ray grinned. Nice to see he wasn't the only one pissed off. He saw movement on the screen and watched as the asshole with the gun finally turned loose of Fraser and his friend crossed the room to sit with the other hostages. He relaxed, marginally. Though the situation was still bad, it was better than seeing him with that damned gun shoved up under his jaw in that spot that always made Ray's mouth water.

Desperate to get rid of that thought he picked up a pencil, flipping it through his fingers like a majorette's baton as he stared at the TV, trying hard to see if Fraser looked scared. He couldn't tell, the picture wasn't good enough. Suddenly the hairs on his neck prickled and he looked up to find the Interpol chick was watching him, her gaze narrowed and speculative. Instantly he stopped flipping the pencil and gripped it hard. It broke, and he swore, throwing the pieces into the trash, and ran his hands through his hair.

"What're you staring at?" he demanded, low-voiced.

"You," she said candidly. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine," he snapped. "Why wouldn't I be?"

She smiled gently. "You know why. You're as worried about him as I am. More, probably. How long have you known him?"

He closed his eyes. "All my life," he whispered. It felt like it. Until Fraser, he hadn't had a life in a long time. Suddenly he realized he'd said part of that out loud and his eyes shot open again, a blush washing his face. "I mean, a few years. Since he got to Chicago."

"Ray," she paused and looked at him significantly. "May I call you Ray? Or would you be more comfortable with some other name?"

He bit his lip, avoiding her gaze. She knew. He was sure she knew. She must have known them, Fraser and the other Ray, before . "Ray's fine."

"Mmm," she said, noncommittally. "Just before this started, you were going to tell me something. What was it?"

He flicked a glance at Welsh, who didn't appear to be paying attention to anything but the scene on the television. "Nothing."

"Look, I'd like to step outside for a moment, get some fresh air. Would you care to join me?"

Ray hesitated, then nodded. "Sure, why not?" He grabbed his worn leather jacket from the back of his chair and stood up, going to Welsh. "Back in a minute, sir, gonna get some air."

Welsh nodded, and waved him on. Amanda moved smoothly toward the door and Ray found himself admiring her the way he had for a moment, before all this started. Sharp-lookin' lady. Classy. Great everything, especially legs. He liked the short, silvery hair that was actually kind of similar to his own, except lighter and, well, flatter.

For a moment he felt a little disconcerted. Sometimes he even confused himself. Here he'd been waking up for months to hot, wet dreams of a certain very male Mountie, but he was still noticing women, too? Maybe it had just been so long since he'd gotten laid that everything was starting to look good. If he started dreaming about Diefenbaker he'd better see a shrink. Or a hooker. Anything.

He stepped out of the building and inhaled a deep lungful of frigid, exhaust-scented air. He coughed, and the chick patted him on the back. He waved a hand at her to tell her it was just the shock of the cold and took a smaller breath through his nose. Okay, better, though the little hairs in his nose all crinkled as the cold hit them and that felt weird. She waited a moment, then put her hand on his arm.

"Look, you and I both know you're not really Ray Vecchio," she said. "But I can also see you really do know Ben, and you care about him. Please, tell me what's going on."

Welsh would kill him. Ben would kill him. The other Ray would kill him. Of course he didn't much care about that one. Still, this chick was sort of a cop, and he'd been right. She had known Fraser, and Ray, back then. He sighed.

"Can't tell you much. It's an undercover thing."

She nodded thoughtfully. "I thought it must be something like that, since everyone else was calling you Ray, too. It's not too often you find an entire building full of totally delusional cops. What's your name?"

"Stanley. Stanley Raymond Kowalski, and yeah, my folks were big Brando fans. But I go by Ray." Except with Fraser. Sometimes. In my dreams. Where he calls me things that will never, ever come out of his mouth. Stop it, idiot.

"Nice to meet you, Stanley Raymond Kowalski," she said, smiling. "So, you've been working with Ben for how long now?"

"Almost two years. Thought I was gonna strangle him at first, but now . . ." Ray shrugged helplessly. "He kinda grows on you."

She grinned. She had a great grin, mischievous. "Yes, he does, doesn't he? I don't suppose you can tell me what happened to the, um, the other Ray Vecchio?"

He shook his head. "Nope. Can't. Too dangerous. Shouldn't've said anything I already did."

"I understand. And thank you for that much."

"So, how'd you know them, before?"

"We, ah, met on a case."

He frowned. "You did? I don't remember you from any of the case files. Course, I mighta missed one."

"My involvement was strictly confidential, it probably didn't make it into any official report," she said, her glance flickering to the side.

Funny. She was lying about something, or holding something back. His gaze sharpened. "What case was it?"

She shook her head. "That's not important. Why don't we go back inside and see if they have the blueprints yet?"

He paused for a moment, staring at her. "What're you up to?" He asked suspiciously.

She gazed back at him innocently. "Nothing. Except trying to save lives."

He stared into her eyes a moment longer, and finally gave it up. She was good. He wasn't going to get anywhere. "Okay, come on."

* * *

"For the last time, absolutely not! We can't risk it."

"Lieutenant Welsh, for the last time, I'm your best bet. I've done this before. Look around, how many of the people in this room do you think will fit in that duct? Myself, and Detective Vecchio here are about it. The rest of you, no offense, are simply too big in one dimension or another. Let me do this!" Amanda finished her speech and glared at the man in front her, daring him to deny her this. He knew she was right, damn it. He had to.

He glared back at her, and then Ray Kowalski stepped up, right in Welsh's face.

"She's right, sir. We can do it. We're the only ones who can. Let us go in there."

Welsh sighed. "The SWAT team is more experienced at this kind of . . . . "

"The SWAT team are a bunch of cowboys who'd rather shoot first and ask questions later, and you know that. They'll get him killed." Ray's voice softened, almost pleading. "Sir, he's my partner. He's my friend. Let me, let us go."

Amanda studied his face, his eyes, the timbre of his voice, and smiled inwardly. Oh yeah. Kowalski was definitely hooked. He'd told her he'd known Fraser about two years, that meant Ray Vecchio must have gone undercover very shortly after she'd left them that night. She sighed. Poor Ben. That had to have hurt. She wondered how long it had taken him to work through it.

Welsh sighed. "Look, I know you're his partner and his friend. That's half the problem, Kow. . . Vecchio." Welsh's eyes slid toward Amanda as if to see if she'd caught his slip. "How can I trust you to be objective?"

Ray rolled his eyes. "This isn't brain surgery, you know. It's 'go in, get the bad guy, take him out.' How hard is that?"

"I don't want to have to see charges of excessive force in the Sun-Times, Detective."

Amanda put her hand on Welsh's arm. "Get us tranquilizer guns. We'll go in with those. No one can accuse you of excessive force then."

He stared at her, surprised. "Tranquilizer guns?" He frowned thoughtfully. "Interesting idea." His gaze shifted to Ray, who looked as if he were about to launch a punch if Welsh didn't agree. "What's your take."

"Whatever it takes, sir, I'll do it. Just make sure whatever it is works fast."

Welsh nodded. "Okay, we'll go with it. Let's get this show on the road."

* * *

The duct was tight and close, Ray had gotten stuck in it twice already, and only eased free with a liberal application of the silicone spray Amanda had insisted they both carry. She'd teased him about being 'bigger than he looked' and he'd growled something in response about showing her just how much once they got out. But he hadn't meant it. All he wanted to do when he got out was to grab Fraser and get him the fuck outta there. Stick him someplace safe and warm and never, ever let him out again.

The closer he got to Fraser, the tenser he got. His heart was pounding, his palms slick. What if he screwed up? What if, God help him, what if he got Ben killed? He froze, unable to move past that thought as it played over and over in his head. He'd seen dead people before. Messily dead. No way could he let that happen to Fraser. Cause that. Oh God.

"Ray?" Amanda whispered. "You okay?"

No, I'm going to puke, he thought, but didn't say. "Uh, I'm not too sure about this," he said, trying to communicate his unease.

"Can't back out now, sweetie. Keep going. We're halfway there. You can do it. They told me you're the best marksman in the Division."

They'd told her that? Cool. He squirmed a little, pushing his leg against the side of the vent until he could feel the uncomfortable bulge of his glasses case in the thigh pocket of his borrowed black fatigues. Reassured that it was still there, he could relax a little. As long as he could see, he could make the shot. He started to move again.

* * *

Fraser could see Roberts was growing more and more tense. The police had arrived to surround the building and evacuate other offices some time back, and Roberts had ordered the blinds closed then, fearing, not without cause, that sharpshooters might take him out through the window were they given a clear shot. Negotiations had been established and broken off several times. The Secretary of the Treasury was unavailable, being in Belgium at the moment. Several lower-level officials had been suggested and rejected. Roberts was starting to talk about shooting hostages.

That was unacceptable. If it came to it, Fraser would simply have to prevent it. And, the situation being what it was, he knew it was entirely possible that he would not survive. Yet as was so often the case, his duty was clear, and unavoidable. He had no choice. As always, duty gave him none.

As he thought that, a lifetime, or at least two years, of regrets seemed to well up inside him. He thought about how little he would leave behind, and had to swallow, hard. He leaned forward a little, snagged a piece of paper from the computer printer on the desk in front of him, and slipped a pencil from his pocket. Roberts lifted his gun.

"What do you think you're doing?" he snapped.

"Just writing a note, sir. To a . . . friend."

Roberts scowled. "Why?"

Fraser looked at him silently. They both knew why, there was no need to verbalize it. After a moment Roberts looked away, no longer able to meet his gaze.

"Okay, fine. Write. But keep your hands where I can see them," Roberts snapped, them stalked across the room to cautiously move the blinds aside with the barrel of the gun so he could look out.

Fraser smoothed the paper over his knee, and began to write. To his left, he heard one of the female hostages begin to cry. He looked over at her and smiled reassuringly.

"I'm sure everything will be fine, ma'am. Don't worry."

She sniffled, and looked at him suspiciously. "Then, why are you . . . ?" Her eyes went to the paper.

He smiled again. "I intend to make sure of your safety," he said simply.

She weighed that, and her eyes widened. "I-- I-- thank you."

"You're quite welcome," he said automatically.

She straightened in her seat, and sniffed a few times, but no longer cried. Fraser felt somewhat better. He returned to his note, trying to find ways to express what he felt that didn't come right out and say it. He couldn't do that. He'd never been able to do that worth a damn. Not with his father, not with Victoria, not with Ray Vecchio, not with Meg Thatcher, or Janet, and certainly not with Ray Kowalski. Every time he tried, he got hurt a little more, a little worse. He'd finally given up trying.

He stared at what he'd written. 'Dear Ray: Diefenbaker is at the Consulate with Constable Turnbull. If you don't mind, would you please pick him up and take care of him for me?' That was it. He felt his mouth curve in a bitter smile. Oh yes. That would certainly do it.

His eyes and nose stung. There must be something in the ventilation system . . . He straightened, frowning, and inhaled deeply. Something actually did smell odd. Something kind of chemical, like an aerosol propellant. His gaze went to the air return vent he'd noticed earlier. He heard a slight creaking sound, like the sound that ductwork makes when it expands with heat or contracts in the cold.

His gaze narrowed and he listened harder. The other hostages were whispering amongst themselves so it was difficult to be certain, but he thought he'd just heard a very familiar voice whisper "Ow, geez!" He also thought he detected a hint of movement behind the grating that covered the vent. He calculated Ray's dimensions against those of the vent, and almost smiled. It would be tight, but he could do it.

Quickly he turned the paper over and wrote on the back, then passed it to the woman to his left. She read it, glanced at the vent, then back at him, and nodded, showing it to the two next to her. They both looked at the vent, then carefully back at him. He lifted his eyebrows, they nodded. The woman wrote something on the paper and passed it back to him. He read it, thought about it, and wrote his answer, outlining what they were to do. Passing it back, they all read it, then Ben held up three fingers in succession. She smiled, they all nodded. They had a plan. He stood up suddenly, and Roberts swung around to sight at him.

"What are you up to? I told you to sit!"

Fraser spread his hands in a pacifying gesture. "Yes, sir. I'm aware of that. But, well, frankly we've been here for several hours now and the call of nature is, ah, pressing." He felt a faint flush rise in his face at discussing bodily functions in mixed company, but it had been the first plausible reason that had sprung to mind and he had to distract Roberts from the vent. "I suspect the others are in the same, er, boat," he offered.

They nodded. All of them.

Roberts scowled. Clearly bathroom breaks hadn't been part of his plan.

"There's a bathroom there," the woman who had cried said, pointing toward the opposite side of the office, in the back. A small sign on the door read 'private.' Roberts walked over and flung open the door, sighting into the closet-sized, windowless room as if he expected it to be occupied. It wasn't. And it was indeed a bathroom. Fraser glanced at the door, noting it was an inch thick, and like the other doors in the office, was fire-proof-- solid, and steel-cored. Excellent. Out of the corner of his eye, Fraser saw the vent cover bow outward. He coughed several times as it popped open, drawing Robert's gaze and covering the slight sound it made.

"What's your problem?" Roberts snapped.

"Sorry," Fraser apologized. "My throat is a bit dry."

"Okay, you first," Roberts said, pointing to the woman who'd told him about the bathroom. She got to her feet, hesitantly.

"Go on, get it over with!" Roberts snapped, watching her carefully as she sidled toward the room, his gaze flicking back and forth between her and the others. "The rest of you go stand next to the door where I can see you all."

As Roberts spoke, Fraser glanced over to see the grate being slowly eased aside, and a pair of hands emerged to place a small pistol on the floor. Elegant, long-fingered hands faintly dusted with golden hair and freckles. He knew those hands. He dreamed about those hands. Seconds later a familiar, spiky blonde head emerged from the vent, followed shortly by the rest of Ray's body as he slithered out of the duct, keeping flat on the floor where Roberts couldn't possibly see him. Attired in all black, he looked surprisingly dangerous. And stunningly attractive.

Their eyes met, and Ray's face lit up, his blue eyes shining with . . . Fraser's breath caught. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. No, Ray was just pleased to see him. That was all. His friend gave a thumb's up sign as a second figure appeared behind him, no one Ben knew, not with that bright platinum hair. Probably SWAT personnel, judging from their clothing.

Afraid to look at the vent too long, Fraser shifted his gaze back to Roberts and stayed put as the others slowly made their way to stand beside the bathroom. They stood there, waiting. The first woman stepped inside, and looked back. Fraser tapped first one finger, then another, then finally a third against his thigh. At that signal, the other two hostages rushed into the bathroom and slammed the door shut, the lock clicking into place behind them.

Roberts howled with outrage, and aimed at the door, then spun to look at Fraser, then back at the door, torn between targets. As he hesitated, Ray rose in a fluid, athletic glide, his glasses firmly in place, and took aim. Roberts saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and his weapon wavered between Fraser and this new threat, the other hostages forgotten just as Ben had hoped. Ray pulled the trigger, but instead of the ear-splitting bark of exploding gunpowder, there was just a soft hiss of air and a slight 'thwack'-ing sound.

Fraser's eyes widened as Roberts turned toward him, furious, and time seemed to slow down as his finger tightened on the trigger. Out of nowhere, a slim bright-haired figure in dark clothing was suddenly between him and Roberts. The gun fired, the muzzle flashed, and the figure between them stumbled forward into Fraser, who caught the person, a 'her' he realized on impact, automatically in his arms. He finally saw her face as she looked up at him, a strange smile on her lips.

"Hey, Ben," she said breathlessly. "I've been dying to see you again."

Beyond her, Roberts staggered, and dropped the gun, then slowly collapsed to the floor. Fraser felt something hot and wet beneath his palm, and lifted it slightly from her back to see what he'd feared. Scarlet. At least this time it didn't frighten him. He knew better. He sighed.

"Amanda," he began, admonishingly.

She lifted a hand to his lips and stopped him. "I know, I know. We've got to stop . . . meeting . . . like this." She laughed weakly. "Oh, damn it. I didn't . . . mean for it to be like this. Sorry." She shivered a little and took a deep breath. "Remember. . . no hospital, no doctor. . . no autopsy. Promise?"

He nodded. "Promise."

She sagged against him and he held her up so no one would know she couldn't support herself. Her black clothing hid the blood well. He looked past her to where Ray knelt, handcuffing the apparently unconscious Roberts. His eyes met Kowalski's, and once again Fraser couldn't believe what he saw in those anxious blue eyes. No way. No. That wasn't pain, was it? Could that possibly be . . . jealousy? He shook off the sudden hope that look engendered as Amanda's fingers dug painfully into his shoulder.

"Ben, please."

Fraser realized he had only seconds to act before the place was swarming with law enforcement personnel. "Ray, is your car here?"

"Yeah, right outside, around back. Why?"

"I'll tell you later. I'll be right back. Oh, and Ray, please tell the others it's safe to come out of the bathroom now." He slid an arm around Amanda's waist and caught her hand to pull one of her arms across his shoulder. She gasped, teeth drawing blood from her lip as the action pulled at her wound. Ray looked lost for a moment as Fraser walked Amanda toward the door.

"Fraser?" he said, quietly, sounding as lost as he looked.

"It's okay, Ray. Really. I'll be right back. Ms. – ah," he realized he had no idea what her name was this time around, and quickly shifted gears. "Amanda is feeling faint and needs to rest for a bit. I'm taking her to your car."

Ray dropped his gaze, his mouth pulling to one side in a self-derogatory moue. "Yah, sure. Whatever."

Fraser hesitated, torn between reassuring Ray, and getting Amanda out of there. Both needs were equally urgent. Amanda started to slide from his grasp, making his decision for him. He walked her around the corner, then lifted her in his arms and headed for the rear entrance, knowing that the front was about to be invaded. Then it dawned on him that there were likely officers at the rear as well. Logically, they would be watching all the exits. He stopped, and sighed.

"I'm sorry, I have to stash you for a bit. Is that all right?"

She smiled weakly. "Just keep me . . . away. . . from pathologists."

"No pathologists. I promise." He pushed open the door to the ladies' room and looked around. A small closet at the back appeared promising, and he opened it to find it full of custodial supplies. Turning over a bucket, he seated Amanda on it and went to his knees to look into her eyes, his hands around hers.

"I don't know how you did it, but thank you for saving my life, again."

"Anytime. Now, out."

He nodded, got to his feet, and realized he had blood all over his hands, and his jacket. He washed his hands quickly, peeled off the jacket and placed it around her, then closed the door and headed back to try and mend the breach he'd just created between himself and his partner.

* * *

Ray stared after Fraser, feeling bereft. He'd never seen Fraser act like that around a woman before. He'd held her. He'd touched her, pulled her to him. God, he'd almost kissed her, their mouths had been that close. He closed his eyes, swallowed hard, and shook himself.

Give it up, Kowalski. You knew he wasn't for you anyhow. Just 'cause he don't seem ta like women don't mean he likes men. Besides, since when do you like guys? A little voice inside the voice in his head whispered 'since about sixth grade' but he ignored it like usual.

He heard other voices, real ones, as his fellow officers started to invade the building. Concentrate. You got work to do. Resolutely, he stood up and went to what he assumed was the bathroom door, and knocked.

"Hey in there, it's okay to come out now."

"Who's there?" A female voice asked suspiciously.

"Detective Vecchio, Chicago P.D."

"Where's the Mountie?"

"Fraser? He'll be back in a sec. Had to step out for a minute. Come on, he's my partner. It's okay, really."

There was a hesitation, some whispering, then the door was unlocked and opened. Three people practically tumbled out of the close confines of the tiny cubicle, all looking shaken. One, a smartly-dressed woman in her mid-thirties, studied his face.

"You said you're his partner?"

Ray nodded. "Yep. Sure am."

She looked him up and down, and sighed sadly. "I knew he was too good to be true. Why is it all the good ones are either taken, or gay?" She looked down at the paper in her hand and held it out to him. "I'm guessing this was meant for you, then. What he started to write, anyway."

Confused, he took the paper and looked at it. It appeared to be an outline of the escape plan they'd just used. He looked at it blankly, then at her.

She smiled. "Turn it over," she said, walking away.

He turned it over, read the brief request that graced the page, and started to smile while at the same time blinking back tears. "You bet," he said softly, folding the paper and pocketing it. At least now he knew he meant something to Fraser, even if it wasn't what he wanted. Fraser wouldn't trust the wolf to just anyone.

He looked up and saw Fraser standing in the doorway, gazing in his direction with an expression that made his breath catch. He turned, automatically looking to see who was standing behind him, Amanda, maybe? Nope. No one. Just the empty lavatory, and nobody in their right mind looked at a bathroom like that. Course, that assumed Fraser was in his right mind. Sometimes he wondered. He turned back, but now Fraser's attention had been distracted by Lieutenant Welsh and the moment was gone. What the heck had that been about?

He could ask Fraser about it later. If he could get his courage up. If Fraser didn't run right off with Little Miss Interpol. Now, that wasn't fair. She'd helped a lot. Her plan had worked like gangbusters, and he'd even liked her, until he saw the way Fraser reacted to her. It was jealousy. Pure and simple. Thing was, he wasn't quite sure which one he was jealous of. Both, maybe.

He sighed. Why did life have to be so weird? Or maybe it wasn't life, maybe it was just him that was weird. Probably so. He mentally shook himself and got to work, still trying figure out why that lady said that stuff about 'the good ones' being either 'taken or gay.'

* * *


Ray looked up at him, eyes shadowed. "Yeah, Fraser, what?"

"I need your assistance."

Ray straightened, rubbing the back of his neck tiredly. "Shoot."

"I have to go back to the IRS building, I left something there."

"Yeah, I noticed your coat was missing."

"Yes, my coat." Fraser hedged. It was a good excuse.

"Let's go then, time to blow this pop-stand," Ray said with a weary smile. "Sometimes I spend so much time here I start wondering where they put my bed. Been a long day." Suddenly he frowned, and looked around. "Hey, where'd Miss Interpol go?

Fraser looked blankly down at him. "Miss who?"

"The cute blonde in the SWAT suit who thought up our daring rescue. Thought you were gonna put her in my car."

"Well, I was, but plans changed."

"Oh," Ray absorbed that, and then frowned some more. "You know, I never saw her after you left with her. Where'd she go? How come she doesn't have to do paperwork?"

"Well, her presence was technically unsanctioned, and she prefers to avoid the public eye whenever possible."

"Ah, gotcha," Ray said, winking. "Black Ops and all that."

"Something like that," Fraser agreed. "Also, Ray, I'd like to have an opportunity to talk with you," he hesitated a moment, then added the dreaded word. "Alone."

Ray looked up at him, looking as if he was expecting some sort of lecture. "Uh, yeah? About what?"

Fraser looked pointedly around the bullpen and lifted his eyebrows.

"Oh, right. Alone. Well, come on, then." He shot to his feet and loped out of the office.

Fraser wondered where he found the energy to move that fast, and followed him, moving much more slowly, willfully hanging back. He had made the decision to speak to Ray but the reality of actually doing so was on the verge of terrifying. There were really two discussions involved. Since he might need Ray's help to retrieve Amanda safely, he had to divulge a secret that wasn't really his to divulge. That was actually the easier of the two discussions.

The far more difficult one involved what he had seen, or thought he'd seen, in the other man's face, in his eyes, earlier that day. It wasn't the first time he'd gotten a look with ambiguous interpretations from Ray. Not by a long shot. That ambiguity was what kept him constantly on edge, constantly half-aroused in his presence. For a long time now he'd been fighting that, telling himself it was just wishful thinking, that he was just transferring his feelings for Ray Vecchio onto Ray Kowalski. At the beginning that might have been true, but today had told him that had changed. Drastically. He didn't know how Ray felt, but he knew how he felt. This wasn't transference.

Four things had changed his adult world irrevocably. First, his father's death. Second, meeting Ray Vecchio. Third, God, third had been Victoria, a dream turned to nightmare. Fourth was once more Ray Vecchio, who had saved him from Victoria, and then, stunningly, had done more. For far too short a time Ray had loved Fraser back, unlike Victoria, whose love had amounted to simple obsession. Fraser had loved both of them, given them everything he was, withholding nothing. He knew no other way to love.

Out of those things he'd built a new dream, one with Ray Vecchio at its heart. Then Ray had gone, and that dream had died a slow, lingering death, killed by absence, which he could have withstood, and silence, which was far worse. For a long time he'd lied to himself, telling himself that it was simply impossible for Ray to contact him at all. But, the difficulty was, he knew better. Even deep undercover, there were ways. A postcard. A third-hand message passed through a secure contact. There were ways, and Ray's decision not to avail himself of any of them was a message in and of itself. Ray's heritage, his upbringing, and his basic nature had won out.

It had taken months, but Fraser had finally understood that message. It didn't mean that Ray had never loved him, or even that he no longer loved him, at least as a friend. It did mean that Ray could not be what he needed him to be. He still loved Ray Vecchio, probably always would, but that part of his life, that relationship, would never be the same. Everything wasn't going to somehow, magically, be okay again. Trained from his cradle to be a pragmatist, Ben had accepted the truth, accepted the pain, and moved on.

That was when he had stopped dreaming. Not just daydreams, or fantasies, but any dreams, except for those persistent waking-dreams which involved his father. When he slept, which wasn't much, there was nothing but unconsciousness. It was strange, not to dream. For as long as he could remember, his dreams had always been vivid, filled with symbols, images, guides and guardians. Without them, he'd felt muffled, shut away from part of the universe he'd always known.

That had been frightening, but strangely comforting as well. If he didn't dream, then his dreams couldn't be taken away. Recently, though, he had started dreaming again, dreams that most often took the mercurial, maddening, sometimes downright annoying form of one Ray Kowalski. Dreams that woke him, drenched in sweat and panting, but not from a nightmare. Dreams of desire, and assuagement. Dreams of friendship, and . . . more. Dreams that were probably every bit as unattainable as his earlier ones.

So, his world was changing again, or trying to. The question was, try one more time, bare his throat for the knife one more time, or continue to hide, and pretend he was something other than human?


Fraser whipped around, startled, to find himself staring into his father's face. Oh, great. What timing.

"What is it, Dad? I'm in a bit of a hurry."

His father's shrewd blue gaze seemed amused. "Is that so? It appears to me that you're dawdling"

"Ray's waiting for me," Fraser began.

"Yes, son, he is," Robert Fraser interrupted portentously.

Fraser tried to read his face, his body language. Nothing. "Spit it out, Dad."

"Don't think I need to, son. You've figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"You know."

"No, Dad, I don't," he snapped, exasperated.

"That hiding doesn't help. Not in this situation. If you're going after an armed suspect, sure, but in matters of the heart, well, son, you can't hide from yourself, and that's God's own truth."

"Matters of the . . ." Ben stared at his father, puzzled. "Dad, are you saying . . ."

"All I'm saying, son, is that a man needs to look inside himself, and to find peace with who he is. He needs to know his own heart, or he isn't truly a man."

They stood for a long moment, silent, eyes locked. Ben found no judgment or recrimination in his father's gaze, only understanding. His own gaze flickered toward the door Ray Kowalski had just used, then back. He blinked. His father was gone. He mulled his father's words for a moment, and shook his head, confused. He wasn't entirely sure, but he thought he'd just gotten his father's blessing. He wasn't sure which was more frightening, that idea, or the thought of talking to Ray.

* * *

Uh oh. Fraser wants to talk. Alone. Looks like you blew it, Kowalski. Again. Somehow he knows. He saw it in your face, in your eyes. He's gonna drop the boom. Gonna kiss you off. If only. He sighed, and unlocked the GTO, climbing in and reaching across to unlock the other door.

"There you go, climb on in."

As Fraser got in, Ray started the car and sat there clenching the wheel in both hands, staring straight ahead. Fraser settled into the seat, buckled the belt, and then looked at him.

"Ray, it's all right," he said quietly.

"What's all right?"

"Whatever you're worried about."

"If you don't know what I'm worried about then how do you know it's all right?"

Fraser paused a moment, sighed, and shook his head. "I don't. But I think I might know. And if I'm right, then I'm also right."

Ray looked over at him. "Hunh?"

"If I'm right about one thing, I'm right about both things."

"Fraser, Fraser, speak English!"

Fraser sighed again. "Drive."

"Right," Ray said, and put the car in gear.

They drove in silence for a few blocks, then Fraser spoke again. "Ray, I need to tell you some things."

He trailed off, and finally Ray had to prompt. "What kinda things?"

"Ah, confidential things."

"About you?" Ray asked, shooting him a sideways glance. Fraser looked very uncomfortable. He was smoothing his eyebrow with his thumb, always a dead giveaway.

"About me," Fraser confirmed after a short pause. "And about – other people."

"What other people?"

"Ray Vecchio. And Amanda."

"Sounds pretty juicy there," Ray teased.

His tease was met with silence, and as he pulled up to a stoplight he looked at Fraser. He didn't think that the red in his friend's face was entirely due to reflection from the traffic light. He considered what he'd said. He looked at Fraser. He considered some more. He looked at Fraser again. His jaw dropped.

"You are shitting me!"

Fraser winced. "Ray, please."

"Sorry, Fraser. I mean, you're kidding me, right?"

"Ah, no. I'm not."

Ray stared at him, openmouthed. Behind them someone laid on the horn long and loud. Ray jumped and looked up to find the light as green as it could get. He hit the gas so hard he peeled a half inch of rubber off his tires and drove, trying not to think about it, trying not to see it in his head, tangled limbs and flushed faces, and soft sighs and moans. It wasn't working, and he was getting really, really turned on. Finally, thankfully, he had to stop for another traffic light. He looked back at Fraser who was still staring straight ahead as if his neck were in a brace.

"Okay, so let me get this straight. You, and Vecchio, and Miss Interpol, had a . . . thing?"

Fraser sighed. "Not a 'thing' Ray. A liaison. An affair, if you like. But not a 'thing.'"

Ray rolled that around in his head. He'd known about the psychobitch, Victoria Metcalfe, who'd just about killed Fraser. Well, technically that had been the other Ray, but it was her fault anyhow. So he'd known Fraser knew what to do with his equipment, so to speak. He'd seen the way Fraser looked at the Bounty Hunter chick, there'd been something there, even if it hadn't been acted on, so clearly the guy had feelings, even if he hid 'em most of the time.

And somehow he'd always known, deep inside, that there was something more than partnership between Ray Vecchio and Fraser, something intense enough that when Fraser came back from his vacation to find Ray Vecchio gone, it had wounded him, badly. But he'd never guessed it was this. Never would have in a million years.

"Way to blow my mind!" he gasped, finally.

"The light's green," Fraser pointed out helpfully.

Ray drove some more. Then he started to wonder, and it got too big to hold in. "Why did you tell me that?"

"I . . ." Fraser hesitated.

Ray snuck a look. His friend was gnawing on his lower lip like he hadn't eaten in a week. "Frase, if you're hungry we can hit a drive-through," he joked, trying to lighten the mood, and get his own mind off the thought that he'd really like to be gnawing on Fraser's lip, too.

Fraser looked at him blankly, not getting the joke. Their eyes met, held, and Ray's pulse picked up. Another horn shocked him back to consciousness and he swerved back into his own lane inches from an oncoming taxi, squinting in the headlight-glare.

"Shit. Maybe I should pull over."

"That might be a good idea, Ray."

Whoa, Fraser hadn't even chastised him for swearing. He was way gone. He looked at the street-sign as he passed an intersection, and sighed. "Hel-uh-heck, we're almost there anyhow. We'll just stop when we get there. But no more bombshells until then, okay?"

"Agreed," Fraser said, seeming relieved.

They drove in a burgeoning silence the few blocks it took to reach the building that housed the IRS offices, then Ray parked the car in the space closest to the door, shut off the engine, and turned to look at Fraser. "Okay, spill."

"There's more I need to tell you," Fraser said haltingly. "But, I don't know how."

"How about you just open your mouth and let go?"

"I . . . yes, that might work. Or it might not, but there's really only one way to know, isn't there?"

"Only one way to know what?" Ray asked, baffled.

"If you want me."

"If I . . ." Ray felt like his brain had just hit an invisible wall past which no thought was possible. Could this really be happening? Was it even remotely possible he wasn't dreaming again? He stared at Fraser, sitting there with the pale yellow-pink glow of a streetlight illuminating his perfect, perfect face, asking if he wanted him.

"God, yes!"

He heard the words spill from his lips without conscious volition, and saw Fraser's face light up with pure, unashamed joy. I have to be dreaming. The alarm clock's going to go off and I'll wake up in a puddle of come like a thousand other times and he'll be gone. Maybe I died today and I went to heaven and this is my reward. Maybe I'm lying unconscious in a hospital and drugged to the gills and feeling no pain.

"Yes?" Fraser questioned, his gaze apprehensive, as if waiting to be told Ray had misspoken.

"Yes." Ray said, more firmly. "Yes. Yes!" That ought to be enough even for Fraser.

Something touched his face, and he opened eyes he didn't remember closing to see Fraser, still there, still yellow-pink in the streetlight, one hand reaching to touch the stubbled surface of his cheek, to trace a finger over his lower lip. A shudder went through him and he reached up to grab that hand and still it before it sent him over the edge with just that simple touch. When his fingers closed around that broad, square hand, he gasped in shock. It was there. It was real. Not a dream. How was that possible? Why was it possible? What had changed the day so radically that it was a whole new universe?

"Ben, why?" He dared to use the name. The one he never used because it was so much easier to keep Fraser at a distance than it was to keep Ben there.

"Because I could have died today. I sat there, trying to write to you, to say goodbye and tell you how I felt, and I couldn't because someone might see it, and not understand, or understand too well. And I realized that if I died, you would never know and I couldn't bear that. And because I thought, for a moment, when you came to help me, I saw something in your eyes that looked so familiar I had to take the chance."

It was an answer, a wonderful answer, but to the wrong question. Ray tried again. "I just meant why did you wait so long?"

Fraser made a sound halfway between a laugh and a sob. "Because I was afraid. Because it hurts so damned much."

It took a minute for the words to sink in. Then they did. Oh boy, did that make sense. Perfect sense. Perfect. Just like Ben. Like called to like. They were both the same that way. Lonely, afraid, outcasts, trying to find a place to call home. How could that have happened to someone like Ben? Ray knew he was no prize, but Ben was . . . perfect. He knew he was overusing that word, but there just wasn't a better one. How could someone perfect be an outcast? How could anyone have done that to Ben? It made him mad just thinking about it.

"Fraser. Ben," he said.

"What, Ray?"

"Nothing. I just wanted to say it," he said, lamely. No reason, no real reason. They stared at each other, and suddenly Ray remembered the paper the woman had given him. He squirmed around until he could wedge a hand into his pocket and pull it out, unfolding it with shaky fingers. "I got your letter, Ben. It was the nicest thing anyone ever wrote to me."

"My letter?" Ben said, taking it from him curiously, holding it to the light so he could read the single line, and then smiling ruefully. "Ah. I'm afraid I'm not very good with words."

"You're wonderful with words, Fraser. You use words I never even heard of. "

Fraser looked embarrassed. "I realize that sometimes I can be a little verbose," he said.

"Ver-what? Who cares? Whatever it is, I like it because it's you. So, what are we doing sitting here in the parking lot? Go get your damned coat and get back here fast. I got a perfectly good apartment going to waste."

Fraser suddenly went tense. Ray could actually see it happen. "My . . . coat."

The way Fraser said it rased the hackles on Ray's neck. "Yeah, your coat. Okay, out with it. I can hear it in your voice. There's something you're not telling me."

"Yes, there is, Ray, but, well, it's very hard to explain. Wait for me here, please?"

Stupid question, Ray thought. He'd wait for Fraser until hell froze over. "I'll be here."

* * *

Fraser stepped out of the car and walked over to the doors, hoping they would be unlocked, since he saw lights on in some of the upper offices, though the IRS offices where he'd spent much of the day were quiet and dark. He'd been delayed at the District for some time, and he wasn't even sure she'd still be there. He had no idea how long she normally stayed 'dead' or if she'd woken long ago to slip away unnoticed. No matter, he had to check, because he surely couldn't leave her there if she hadn't woken yet.

Fortunately the door had not been bolted, and he stepped inside, making his way past doors taped off with yellow crime-scene tape, back through the dimly lit corridor until he found the ladies' room where he'd left Amanda. He pulled open the door quietly, listening for other occupants. The room was dark, and silent. He reached in and flipped on the lights, squinting a little as the banks of fluorescent bulbs blinked into life. He crossed to the closet and opened the door. The closet was empty.

Trying not to feel guiltily relieved, since it made things so much simpler, he started to close the door and noticed that there was a folded paper towel on top of the bucket where he'd left Amanda. His name was written on it. He picked it up and unfolded it, read the message, "4 pm tomorrow at the Drake for tea? Bring Dief and Ray." It was signed with an illegible scrawl that sort of looked like 'Amanda' if he squinted.

He smiled. She knew he'd be there. Besides, she'd taken his coat. She did have a penchant for that. He left the room, turning out the lights behind him and returned to the car. As he settled in, Ray looked at him curiously.

"So where's your coat?"

"Amanda took it. I'll get it back from her tomorrow."

"Oh," Ray's bright gaze shadowed. "You're seeing her tomorrow?" he asked, a little forlornly.

Ben heard it, and he met Ray's eyes evenly. "No, we are."

Ray thought about that, and frowned. "Fraser, I'm not . . . I don't want to . . . ." He stopped and sighed. "I'm not real good at sharing," he finally blurted out.

Fraser smiled. "Frankly, neither am I."

Ray absorbed that, then he grinned happily. "Oh. Good." He paused, then shot a look at Fraser. "You sure we have to go see her tomorrow? I'd kinda like to have . . . other plans."

"Well, it would be rather rude not to go, Ray. And I do need to get my coat. Besides, I'd like to ask her how the children are."

Ray dropped his keys and stared at Fraser in shock. "Children? Fraser! You have children with this woman and I don't know about it? Two years we're partners and you never think to say, 'Oh by the way, Ray, I've got kids.'?"

Fraser stared at Ray with a look that more properly belonged on a deer in the path of an oncoming train. After a moment he ran a finger nervously along his collar and cleared his throat. "I'm afraid you're laboring under a misapprehension, Ray. I have no children, with Ms. Darieaux or otherwise. I was referring to the children she was attempting to assist by working against Mr. DeBoer."

Color washed into Ray's face. "Oh. Sorry. The way you said it, It sounded like . . . ."

"So I realized, by your reaction." Ben relaxed, finally, and even smiled a little, genuinely amused. "It did rather sound that way, didn't it?"

"Yeah, it did. Okay, so now what?"

"Now, Ray, I'd like to go to your apartment, if that's all right with you."

"If that's all . . . Fraser, you are crazy, aren't you?" he laughed, starting the car. "So when do I hear the rest of this stuff you want to tell me? The stuff that's hard to explain?"

"After we are safely off the streets," Fraser said firmly.

* * *

Ray's head was spinning, and he hadn't even tasted the Scotch he'd poured when they'd gotten to his place. He looked at Fraser and shook his head. "Surely that all can't be true," he said, hopefully.

"It is, every word. I swear it on my honor as a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

"Every word? About the lightning, and the heads, and the two-spirit thing? All of it? You didn't make anything up?"

"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and no," Fraser answered, smiling a little.

Ray had to count back to figure out what was yes and what was no, but it matched in the end. That two-spirit stuff had been wild, but it had resonated in him. He knew that feeling, that strange duality, had since he'd been a kid. Over the years he'd learned to pretend he didn't find both sexes intriguing at times, but that didn't mean he didn't know it himself. Some of the rest had been pretty uncomfortable to listen to. Like the part where they got naked and . . . well. . . .

He swallowed hard. Yep, it had been very uncomfortable, in a bunch of different ways. He'd found himself bouncing between jealousy, resentment, arousal, fear, and just plain disbelief. But this was Fraser talking. Fraser didn't lie. Though he was careful not to reveal much in the way of detail, Fraser had he met his eyes, and blushed, and stammered, plainly as uncomfortable with the telling as Ray was with the hearing.

Finally, as if he could bear no more, Fraser had abruptly dropped the personal subjects and gone back to the more fantastic story, the one about how Miss Interpol was really some kind of sword-wielding, superhuman being. Ray had let him do so. They would probably need to talk about the other things someday, but he understood that Fraser couldn't do it yet. He didn't blame him. There were some things that were just too painful.

After a few questions to satisfy himself that Fraser hadn't fallen asleep watching 'Xena, Warrior Princess' and dreamed the whole thing, Ray had allowed himself to become fascinated by the concept, and kept coming up with questions regarding the extent of her abilities, mostly in an effort to keep Fraser's mind off his pain.

"So between then and now she just woke up from being dead and walked away?"


"Huh. How long does it take?"

"I'm not sure. Apparently the time it takes to regenerate varies according to the amount of damage done, and there may be other factors of which I am not aware."

"Oh. Okay. Hey! That's why Forensics couldn't find the slug Roberts fired, isn't it? It was still in her."

Fraser nodded. "Yes."

"Oh." Ray was saying that a lot, but there didn't seem to be much else to say. "Um, Fraser?"

"Yes, Ray?"

"What happens to the bullet after she, uh, gets un-dead?"

Fraser thought about that, and finally shook his head. "I'm afraid I really don't know, Ray. I suppose you could ask her tomorrow."

Ray shook his head. "This is too weird. I feel like I'm tripping."

Fraser's eyebrows shot up as he stared at Ray in surprise. "I wasn't aware you were familiar with that state, Ray."

Ray shot Fraser a disgusted glare. "Give it a rest, Fraser, I'm a city boy, and it was a long time ago. For that matter, what about that stuff your shaman-spirit was smoking you with? Tell me that's not tripping."

"The controlled use of medicinal psychotropics has long been an accepted practice in many shamanistic religions, Ray. It's not the same thing at all. Besides, that was in a vision, it wasn't real."

"Real enough to send you, right?"

"I suppose the point is semantic."

Ray's eyebrows went up that time. "The point is what ?" he demanded, trying to figure out how that figured into the conversation.

Fraser stared at him for a moment, then he smiled, then he giggled. He goddamn giggled. Ray had never seen him do that before. He almost giggled himself. After a moment Fraser got himself under control.

"Oh, my. No. The word is 'semantic', Ray. From the Greek, 'semantikos' meaning 'to signify' or 'to have meaning.'"

Ray licked his lips suggestively. "I love it when you talk dirty to me, Frase."

Fraser blushed. "I only meant that the point was in language only. I suppose that there is little actual difference."

"Oh, well, damn," Ray said, trying his best to look disappointed.

Fraser grinned, that beautiful, sunrise smile that so rarely graced his face. Suddenly feeling very brave, Ray pushed Fraser down and back until he was no longer sitting on the floor, he was lying on it. Then he leaned over and caught Fraser's chin in his hand, holding him still.

"I have to do this. I can't wait any longer."

He moved in, and put his mouth on Fraser's mouth. There was a moment when neither of them moved, too surprised to do anything more, then Fraser's mouth softened and his lips parted. Ray dove in, drinking him, tasting him, tongue sliding over tongue, over the sharp, smooth edges of teeth, dipping into the well between teeth and lip. Even after a day of use, his mouth tasted clean and sweet, and, well, Fraserish. Unique. Then to his utter delight, Fraser was kissing him back, sucking at his tongue, using his own to slide past and God, into Ray, finally, finally. What he'd wanted from the first time he ever saw Fraser put something weird in his mouth and wondered hotly what else he might be willing to taste.

That hit him like a hammer. Had it really been that long? He'd gotten used to thinking the attraction was more recent, just since the Henry Allen. It had all fallen into place then, after that desperately shared breath, the near-destruction of their partnership, and his own realization that he'd been angry with Ben because he wanted him, and that just wasn't kosher in the world as he had thought it was. It had gotten worse since Maggie had come and gone, and her leaving had made him realize that he'd only wanted her because she was so much like her brother. But here his subconscious was telling him it had been since the start.

Two full years of wanting. No wonder he was washing his sheets every other day. He was an idiot. He should have listened to himself forever ago. Then he wouldn't have had to wait so long to find out how right this felt. He let his lips trail down Fraser's jaw until he could nuzzle the side of his neck, smelling him, feeling the warm satin of his skin against his lips, tasting sweat and gun oil and cordite on his tongue where the gunman had pressed the barrel of his pistol against Ben's throat.

He licked harder, washing away that trace of terror. Ben tipped his head a little to one side and his fingers bit into Ray's thigh just above his knee. Right in that spot that when he was a little kid, and even now as a grown man, sent him screaming with laughter. He jerked upright, laughing wildly, and Fraser snatched his hand away in shock. Ray grabbed it and put it back down where it had been before, but this time not gripping him.

"Sorry, sorry, sorry!" Ray gasped around his laughter. "I'm just a little ticklish there."

"A little?" Fraser asked drily.

"Okay, well, a lot," he admitted sheepishly.

Damn. Broke the mood. Have to get it back. He went for Ben's mouth again, and within a few seconds had satisfactorily reestablished communication on a purely sensory level. Growling, he pulled back and started dragging Fraser's red chamois shirt out of his jeans in fistfuls of fabric, ripping buttons off in his haste, finally getting it open only to find a pristine white henley beneath it. He groaned and dropped his forehead to the broad, cotton-covered chest, nuzzling in the general vicinity of where he thought a nipple might be.

"God, Fraser, you wear too many clothes," he moaned, finding the waistband of his jeans, sliding a hand beneath it, trying to locate the bottom of the damned shirt, and suddenly coming hand-to-um-anatomy with something he hadn't expected to find quite so quickly. They both went still. Ray gentled his pawing a little, and eased his hand over the shape, feeling the soft, thin cotton that covered it shift with the movement of his hand. He grinned.

"Living up to your nickname, are you?" Ray teased, his voice a little raw.

"Ah, what?" Fraser asked, sounding confused, and aroused, and pretty much adorable. What a stupid word, but perfectly fitting. If ever there was a grown man who was adorable, it was Benton Fraser.

"You know, 'Big Red.'" Ray found the buttons on the front of the boxers and slipped them, Ben's hips lifted jerkily, and he gasped as Ray's fingers found their way inside the fly and warm flesh made contact with much warmer flesh.

"Ray, they don't really mean that. . . do they?" Ben choked out.

"Nah, I don't think this is what they had in mind. Or maybe it is, who knows?" His fingers explored higher, up toward the . . . He drew in a sharp breath, surprised. "Oh, wow."


"You're . . . different." He stroked a fingertip along the flare, felt the slide of loose flesh. "Cool."

Ben levered himself up on his elbows. "What do you mean, different?"

Ray grinned. "I can show you, if you want. Gimme your hand."

Ben held out his hand. He had big hands, broad, with long, blunt fingers. Fitting, Ray thought, since he was big, broad and blunt elsewhere too. He took Ben's hand in his and put it on the waistband of the black fatigues he was still wearing. Slowly, a little awkwardly, Ben managed one-handed to unfasten the buttons. The delay was excruciating, but when he finally had them undone, he lifted his eyebrows at Ray as the spreading fabric revealed that Ray had nothing on beneath.

"Told you that you wear too many clothes," he said, grinning.

"I suppose it would appear so in comparison to you,. However, they do keep me warm," Ben said, managing to sound very Fraser for the first time in, well, a couple of minutes at least.

"I don't think you have to worry about that now. Keep going."

Slowly Fraser eased his fingers into beneath the concealing fabric and Ray caught his breath in delight as that hand found him, cupped him, stroked, explored . . . Ray whimpered. Fraser let his fingers move back and forth over the taut tip, the smooth skin, the faint ridge where the scar-tissue remained.

"Ah," Fraser said after a moment. "I never realized you were Jewish, Ray."

Ray laughed. "I'm not. Most American guys my age are cut. It was 'the thing to do' back then."

"I suppose we weren't very trendy in the Territories. Does that bother you?"

"Hell no. It's kinda neat. Oh, God . . ." Ray's eyes closed, his mouth opened to gasp for air as the exploring fingers grew more deliberate. He collapsed backward, his head smacking the floor with a soft thunk.

"Ow, damnit."

Fraser chuckled and stretched out next to him, one hand sliding under his head while the other one slid over his . . . other head. Fingers massaged the sore spot where his head had contacted the floor, feeling almost as good as the stroking going on lower. After a moment both motions stopped, and Ray opened his eyes to see why. Fraser slid his hand out from under Ray's head, looking puzzled, and rubbed his fingers together.

"Your hair is . . . slippery," he stated, still puzzled.

Ray reached up and touched his hair, found Fraser was right. Slippery. Slick even. Weird. He couldn't figure it out for a minute, then he grinned. "Oh yeah. I forgot. I never got a chance to shower." He dug in one of the thigh pockets and extracted the silicone spray, giving it to Fraser to examine. "It was Amanda's idea. Had to use this stuff in the ducts a couple-a times when I got stuck. Must've got in my hair. Guess it doesn't dry up."

Their eyes met over the small canister. Ray swallowed. Oh man. He wondered if the stuff was safe for more than just topical application. He knew Fraser was wondering the same thing. Oh wow. He'd done stuff before, a long time ago, twenty years maybe. Done quite a bit, really, but never that. He'd been too scared and hung up then. Not any more. The mental image of himself spread beneath Fraser's bulk was like gasoline on a flame. Yes. God, yes.

He found himself wondering if Fraser had. Done that. With the other Ray. He felt a sudden flare of the most intense jealousy he'd ever experienced, hotter even than his jealousy of Stella when he'd found out she was dating again. He reached up and grabbed Fraser, rolling over on him to pin him down and kiss him senseless, grinding his hips against the other man's, trying to mark him, to claim him.

Ray growled, hands working at button, and zipper, and finally getting that damned henley up out of the way so he could put his mouth all over that sleek, pale chest and suck already-tight pink nipples, and get his hand down inside the confines of boxers to grip and stroke and make Fraser moan, low in his throat, like he was trying really hard not to. Ben tried to stroke him in return, but Ray caught his hands, forcing them away.

"Me later," he gasped in explanation, not wanting anything to distract him now. Kissing Ben's chest all over, sucking between each kiss, Ray happily left little red marks all over him, possessing him. He had to have him. Now. No more waiting, no chance for anyone else to stake a claim. Now.

Grabbing jeans and boxers in his hands, Ray hauled them down, then started kissing lower. He felt Ben's breathing speed up as he edged onto the flat plane of stomach, swirling his tongue into the declivity of his navel, tracing the fine line of hair that led downward from there into the seal-pelt thickness of pubic curls, momentarily bemused by the contrast between sleek skin and soft, almost-fur. He licked along the line of demarcation there, which sent Fraser squirming. He grinned. If that made him squirm, then what would this do . . .

He stroked a finger down the underside of his cock, then wrapped his fingers around the shaft and eased them down firmly while at the same time engulfing the glans in his mouth. Fraser arched upward, fists clenched, head back, gasping. Oh yeah. That was nice. Real nice.

He swirled his tongue around, in, over, back, tasting the salt-sweet tears that leaked from him. Fraser shook and moaned. Not Fraser. Ben. His Ben. His hand slid downwards, cupping the soft folds below, rolling the heavy weight of them in his hand, feeling them lift and tighten . . . Suddenly Ray felt Ben's hands tugging at him, fingers trying to slide between his mouth and his prize, and he finally realized Ben was saying something and started paying attention.

"Ray! Ray, please! Ray, no, stop, I don't have, I didn't bring. . ."

Reluctantly Ray released him and lifted his head, looking up the long, bare expanse of him, past the crumpled folds of shirt and henley, up to Fraser's flushed, sweat-glazed face. His. All his. Somebody Up There had finally decided to be nice to him. "What, Ben?"

The flush on Ben's face deepened. "I wasn't expecting . . . I mean, I didn't bring anything."

Bring anything? Like what? Flowers? Candy? A casserole? What the . . . oh. Ooh. He got it. He felt himself grinning like an idiot. Ben cared. Enough to make him stop when he was that close. Well, Ben might not have any, but he did. Ever hopeful. Unfortunately they were the kind that you really did not want to put in your mouth. Nasty tasting things. So, save those for . . . later. Still stroking the thick, silky-hot shaft with one hand, he sighed and shook his head. Gotta deal with it.

"You been tested?" he asked, bluntly.

Fraser nodded. "Every year, at my regulation physical. It's not required, but it seemed prudent."

"Me too. You negative?"


"Me too. So what's the problem?" Ray asked, lowering his head again. Just before his lips made contact, Fraser balked again.

"Ray, sometimes it doesn't show up, the test might not be accurate. I could be . . ."

Ray sighed and lifted his head again. "Ben, how many people have you slept with? No, scratch that, let me say it so you can't beat around the bush. How many people have you had sex with, ever?"

"Ah . . . three," he admitted reluctantly.

Ray somehow kept himself from grinning. "Three. Total. And one of them was a cop who gets the same exams we do, and one of them was a chick who can't even get a disease. Granted, you should probably have got yourself steam-cleaned after the other one, but that was, what, nearly three years ago? Really, Ben, I think you're safe. I know I am. Any more objections from the floor?"

He didn't wait for an answer. Ben sounded funny trying to gasp, moan and laugh all at the same time. He went for the kill, using every trick he'd ever learned, every trick that had ever been used on him, determined that Ben wouldn't even remember the others after this. Biting just hard enough, sucking, tonguing, wrapping his hand tight around the base, he set about driving Fraser out of his mind, stroking fast and hard, like he knew would bring it on, exactly the way his own body was screaming at him to do.

He slid a finger into his mouth, alongside his tongue, alongside Ben, slicking it with saliva and pre-ejaculate, then eased his hand lower, between round, muscular cheeks, pressing slowly inside then firmly down until finally Ben arched like a drawn bow, sobbing, and then he was coming, and coming and Ray caught it all, swallowing greedily, until the last faint spasm subsided and there was nothing left to take.

* * *

Fraser couldn't move, couldn't speak, could barely breathe. Drained, and panting, he lay there until he managed to form enough coherent nerve impulses to get his hand to move, to curve around Ray's arm and tug him up from where he lay with his face pillowed on Fraser's thigh. Ray resisted for a moment, then finally let Ben pull him into an embrace. It took a few more moments of sensory recovery to realize that the shoulder and back he was stroking was taut to the point of trembling, and that Ray was keeping his face tucked under Ben's chin so he couldn't see him. Something wasn't right.

That realization brought every sense back online instantly. He tried to read the tension with his fingers, was it just unmet need? No, he didn't think so. This wasn't that simple. It felt more like fear. But, why? As soon as he asked the question, he knew the answer. Much like himself, Ray was a mass of insecurities. Unsure of his abilities, his intelligence, his attractiveness, and probably his desirability. How to ease that, to defuse it . . . he smiled suddenly, knowing how. He tried to speak, had to clear his throat, still tight with the effort of not screaming. Finally he managed it.


"Yeah?" Ray's voice was as tense as his body.

"Am I still alive?"

There was a momentary increase in tension, then suddenly Ray's head lifted and his eyes met Ben's, a slow, sweet grin curving his mobile mouth, the fear fading quickly from his gaze.

"That good?"

Ben nodded, and sighed. "Yes, Ray."

The grin widened. "Cool."

Ray was back. Intense, impulsive, mercurial, earthy, explosive Ray, who fit into all his gaps as if hand-tooled to do so. The relief he felt was almost as intense as the pleasure Ray had given him. He wanted nothing to go wrong, no misunderstandings, no assumptions. Ray hadn't let him touch him before, or give to him, and now he wanted to do nothing else.

Easing back, he slipped his hands beneath the long-sleeved black tee that completed Ray's 'SWAT Team' look, pushing it up as he let his hands explore the taut, rounded muscles of his chest. Ray reached down and caught the bottom as it rose, pulling it off over his head in a quick tug.

"Black suits you," Ben said, as Ray emerged from the folds of fabric, hair looking perfectly normal in its disarray.

Ray grinned. "You like the bad boys and girls, don't you, Fraser?"

Ben smiled ruefully. Clearly Ray knew him quite well. "I'm afraid I do, Ray. One in particular."

"Well hallelujah! It's about time you figured that out!" He rubbed his nose. "Though it took me too damned long, too. I'd've saved myself a ton of laundry if I'd been smarter about this a long time back."

Fraser stared at him, puzzled, and Ray's grin went sly.

"Come on, Frase. You get it. I know you do." He licked his lips.

Fraser got it, and blushed. He too had done rather more laundry than he otherwise might have. "Oh. Yes, I see."

Ray laughed. "Nobody ever said I was too swift when it comes to this kinda thing."

"I'm afraid it's not my strong suit, either," Fraser sighed.

"But we figured it out now, so it's okay."

"More than okay, I hope," Fraser said, then wished he hadn't.

"Way more." Ray said firmly, deliberately tangling a foot in the jeans and undershorts that were still snarled around Ben's calves, pushing, trying to get them the rest of the way off. Unfortunately they caught on his boots and refused to budge. Ray sighed and shook his head, then looked at him, his gaze amused and aroused. "Want to get rid of some clothes there, Fraser?"

For some reason that made him blush again, but he did strip off both his shirts and then sat up to work on his shoes. He was glad he hadn't known before this how little Ray was wearing. It would have made things much worse. In fact, if he discovered that Ray made a habit of that, it probably would still. Knowing everything was so close to the surface . . . He shivered.

"You cold?" Ray asked, revealing just how closely he was observing him.

Ben smiled. "No, Ray, I'm not."

"Ah." He sounded pleased by that. "Look, I'm just gonna go check on something, back in a sec."

Ray moved off toward his bedroom. Ben had managed to get one boot off when Ray opened the bedroom door again. He stood there, slouching insouciantly against the door frame in his unbuttoned black fatigue pants and nothing else, watching him. Fraser found himself staring in fascination at the way the untied blousing-tapes of the pants dangled across Ray's feet. Why on earth he should find that erotic he had no idea.

It was hard to keep his mind on what he was doing when what he really wanted was to launch himself across the room and tackle Ray to the floor. But that would be disrespectful. His hands were shaking a bit by the time he finally finished and his second boot hit the floor with a thunk.

"It's safe!" Ray announced proudly.

"What is?"

"My room. No moldy pizza, no takeout boxes, and the sheets are even pretty clean. So, we can go in there if you want, instead of using the floor, though I know you're probably more at home there . . ."

"Why does everyone seem to assume I have no appreciation of comfort?" Fraser asked, feeling defensive.

"Because they've seen how you live," Ray shot back.

So he had somewhat of a point. Fraser acknowledged that with a faint nod, and lay back, lifting his hips so he could haul his jeans back up, as they were too tangled to get off without some rearranging. Ray looked horrified.

"Whoa there! That's the wrong direction, Frase! Off, not on!"

Before he could explain, Ray was straddling him, trying to interfere. Fraser finally stopped him by the simple expedient of rolling over to pin him to the floor with his greater bulk. Immediately Ray's eyes closed and he licked his lips, lifting his hips in a blatant request for more contact.

"Guess I don't mind the floor if you don't," he said huskily.

Fraser put his head down on Ray's shoulder, trying not to laugh. This seemed almost frighteningly right. Where was the angst? The guilt? This felt so clean, so innocent, so natural.

A weight he hadn't even been conscious of seemed to lift from his spirit and he took Ray's face between his palms, brushing his mouth back and forth across that slightly sulky lower lip that had been haunting his dreams, then coaxing, with very little effort, those lips apart so he could taste deeper, learning Ray's flavors, branding them into his memory.

Aware on some level that Ray was gasping for breath, Fraser lifted his mouth and began to a leisurely exploration of the lithe body beneath his own. He knew Ray felt he was ordinary, but he was not at all. Though they were of a height, Ray's elegant dancer's frame was gracile, all long, fluid muscles over dense, but narrow bones. His skin was warm, and soft, faintly dusted with blond down, and an occasional freckle. His nipples were bronze disks that Fraser had long ago noticed hardened at the slightest provocation, sometimes enough to show through the tight t-shirts he favored-- or perhaps had ended up with after doing laundry at the wrong temperature.

Raking one nipple lightly with his teeth, Fraser felt Ray arch beneath him, breath hissing through clenched teeth. He gentled his touch, swirling his tongue around first one, then the other, tasting sweat, feeling the tiny hairs that surrounded the areolae. Ray caught his head in both hands, fingers digging almost painfully into his hair, holding him still while he gasped something not quite coherent about stopping. He filed that fact. Ray was very, very sensitive.

Once Ray's fingers finally unclenched, Fraser began to move again, tasting the long indentation that troughed between Ray's sternum and navel, finding the golden down that began to thicken below that, silky and rough at the same time. There was only a narrow vee of flesh exposed between the open edges of Ray's fatigues, and Ben teased him, tasting only what was uncovered there, lapping back and forth in the gap but never dipping beneath the fabric despite the insistent arching and pleading. Finally he lifted up to look into smoky blue eyes.

"Tell me what you want, Ray."

The smoke turned to fire. "You know what I want, Ben. I want you in me."

That was a shock. No, he hadn't known that. He'd been expecting something much . . . less. He had to clench his teeth against the urge to comply with that request before Ray could change his mind. But, no, he couldn't do that.

He stretched out beside Ray and traced a finger down the long curve of one of his thighs, then back up, careful to avoid the spot he now knew was ticklish, then he flattened his palm against Ray's hip and turned him slightly so they lay on their sides facing each other. Almost without conscious volition his hand slipped down to fan over the curve of one cheek. Ray caught his breath, almost a sob, trembling slightly. Fraser frowned.

"Ray, have you ever . . . ?"

Ray sighed. "No. Have you?"

Fraser considered carefully, and shook his head. "Not-- like this."

"Like what then?"

He should have known Ray would ask that. He rubbed his eyebrow, avoiding his gaze. "I've been, well, I was on the . . ." he stopped, unable to finish.

Ray got it anyway. His eyes narrowed and he frowned. "Oh." The frown turned into a scowl. "I'm gonna have to belt my namesake if we ever meet. That's not right. Should be shared, should be both, should be equal."

Ben closed his eyes against a hurt he hadn't even realized was there until Ray verbalized it. "No, Ray, it's all right. I didn't mind," he said, meaning it. He really hadn't, and he'd understood that was how it had to be. Not that he hadn't wanted it to be different, but, well, some things just weren't meant to be. "But, Ray, I do think we should start slower. I can . . ."

"No." Ray interrupted mulishly, then his gaze softened. "Please, Ben. It's what I want. What I need."

He ached to give in, to learn what it was like to have someone trust him that much, to want him that much. But . . . .

"You won't hurt me. You know that."

Ben looked into his eyes, startled. How had Ray known that was what he was afraid of?

Ray smiled. "After two years you think I don't know you? You won't hurt me."

"Yes, Ray, I will." Ben said deliberately, trying to make him understand.

Ray stared back at him, and he saw it hit. He sucked in a long, slow breath. "It hurt you."

He nodded, unable to meet Ray's gaze, blushing. "At first, yes."

Ray leaned down until he could look into his face, then started to smile again. "But not bad enough to make you want to stop? So you want to hog all the good stuff for yourself, hunh?"

Fraser put his face in his hand, shaking his head, then looked back up. "Ray . . ."


The single word was husky and the desire on Ray's face was raw and open. Oh God. How could he turn that down? He couldn't. He didn't have that much willpower. No one on the planet had that much willpower. He rolled to his back and stared at the ceiling for a moment, then sighed.

"Bedroom," he managed.

Ray rolled to his feet and held out a hand. Ben let himself be drawn to his feet and toward the bedroom. The covers had been turned back, messily, and on the night table lay couple of familiar looking plastic-and-foil strips, and a small bottle of a popular polymer-based lubricant. He lifted both eyebrows at Ray, who blushed. That had to be a first.

"I, uh, well-- it works good for other things, too."

Fraser hid a smile. "It does?" he queried artlessly. "Squeaky hinges, perhaps?"

Ray laughed. "Cut it out, Fraser. You aren't that innocent."

"I wondered when you were going to figure that out," Fraser said with amusement.

"Hey, gimme a few. Shocks like that take time to absorb."

Ben sighed. "I know. Believe me."

He was still absorbing one himself. Several, actually, not the least of which was Ray's stunningly matter-of-fact acceptance of the attraction between them. He closed his eyes momentarily, swallowing the lump that tried to rise in his throat. Before he could open them again, Ray was there, his body warm and hard against Ben's, his mouth roaming along his jawline. When he got to the juncture of jaw and throat, he licked and sucked there again, as he had earlier. Ben was a little puzzled by his actions until he spoke softly, between licks.

"It's a good thing Miss Interpol made me take a tranq gun. If I'd had a real one . . . well, I'd probably have gone a little postal. When I saw you with that gun shoved up here. . . " he licked again, his tongue a wet, silky caress. ". . . all I could think about was doing this, to make you forget it. Don't ever get in trouble without me again, damnit!" He caught Fraser's earlobe in his teeth, biting almost hard enough to hurt, then quickly let go, and soothed the bite with a lick. "Got it?" he whispered, his breath warm and ticklish against the sensitive skin there.

Ben nodded automatically, although he knew logically he could not possibly promise such a thing. It just felt so good to have someone care.

Ray sighed. "Good. Now," his hands caught the side-seams of Ben's jeans and started tugging at them "Get. . ." He tugged harder, "these," he managed to get them halfway down his thighs, ". . . off!"

"You do realize, Ray, that it would be slightly easier to do so if you let go of me," Fraser said evenly.

"I know, but where's the fun in that?" Ray said sliding down to his knees, taking Fraser's jeans with him. This time they made it all the way down. Ray tapped his left ankle. "Step out, Frase. We're almost home, here."

Fraser complied, steadying himself with a hand on Ray's shoulder. Then it was done and he was completely bare and feeling vulnerable and faintly embarrassed. Ray leaned back, looked him up, then down, then back up, and sighed, shaking his head.

"Goddamn, Fraser, you're gorgeous everywhere. It's just not fair."

"Ray, are you trying to make me blush?" Ben asked, mortified.

"Yeah, and succeeding, too," Ray said, cockily unrepentant. "You're cute when you blush."

Fraser studied him for a moment, wondering what it would take to turn the tables. Ray had seemed embarrassed by the implications of his having a personal lubricant readily available, but that would be difficult to exploit a second time. Then he smiled. He had it.

He held out his hands and drew Ray to his feet, then stepped back. "I believe it's your turn now."

Ray looked at him blankly. "My turn?"

"To finish disrobing," Fraser explained.

"Oh. Yeah." He stood worrying his lip with his teeth for a moment, put a hand on the waistband of his pants, then hesitated. He flicked a surreptitious glance at Fraser from under his eyelashes. Fraser continued watching him intently. The lip went back in his teeth and, and sure enough, a faint tawny glow began to rise up from about mid-chest.

"Do you have to watch?" Ray asked.

"I enjoy watching you, Ray."

The blush deepened. "Yeah, well, I'm not much to look at."

"That's entirely a matter of opinion, Ray. I think you're beautiful."

Ray shot him a surprised look, then took refuge in his usual defensive tactic, sarcasm. "Had your eyes checked recently?"

"As a matter of fact, yes. My vision is twenty-twenty."

"Okay, so it must be exposure. You just haven't been around enough good-looking people."

"My grandparents were librarians, Ray. I've been exposed to centuries of art. I know the classic balance of proportions, the flow of line and the harmonies of form, the play of light and shadow on musculature. You're beautiful."

"I'm scrawny," Ray countered.

"Lean," Fraser corrected.



Ray raked a hand through his hair, looking frustrated. "You're making me crazy."

Fraser smiled. "That was my intention."

Ray's eyes widened, then his gaze lit with mischief. He hooked his thumbs in his belt-loops and eased his pants down a few centimeters, just enough to show the prominent curve where the muscles of his abdomen met the hip-bone. Then he slipped his fingers down into the shadows beneath the edges of his fly, stroking ever so slightly. He let his eyes drift shut, let his lips part slightly, tongue flickering half-seen across the edges of his teeth. Fraser felt his temperature rising and decided perhaps it was better not to tease, unless he was fully prepared to be teased in return. One would think that he would long ago have learned not to provoke wild things. Of course, that went both ways.

He took a deliberate step forward. Ray let his pants slide a trifle lower, still not low enough. Ben took another step. Ray turned away, then looked back over his shoulder and pushed his trousers lower until the base of his spine and just a hint of the upper curves of both cheeks were in view. A classic cheesecake pose. Or, he supposed that should be beefcake.

Fraser moved, fast, pouncing, carrying both of them to the bed, startling a surprised 'oof' out of Ray as he landed mostly on top of him. Without a pause he rolled to one side, grabbed the loose folds of fabric, and stripped Ray's pants down, and off, tossing them aside with an uncharacteristic disregard for neatness. Ray shoved himself up onto his forearms and looked back at Fraser with a wicked gleam in his eyes, then very deliberately shifted his thighs apart.

Fraser's mouth went dry. He closed his eyes, trying not to see the afterimages that seemed burned into his retinas. He heard himself make a sound, a half-sob, and fought for control. Control. Ray had no idea how difficult he was making this. This shouldn't be rushed. It was too dangerous. Finally he managed to rediscover a little composure, and opened his eyes again. Ray was looking at him, an uncertain frown on his face. Ben smiled weakly.

"I'm sorry. I, ah, wasn't quite prepared for my reaction."

A slow, pleased smile curved Ray's mouth as he looked at him smokily. "Then do something about it, Fraser. What are you waiting for?"

Fraser reached out, placed a surprisingly unsteady hand on Ray's shoulder, stroked it down his back. Can't rush this, he thought. Take it slow. Get him relaxed, prepared. He stared at his hand, pale against gold. Relaxed. He sat up, and swung his legs over the bed. Ray frowned again.

"Hey, where're you . . . ?"

"I'll be right back, I promise," Fraser said, moving swiftly out to the living room to pick up the glass of Scotch that Ray had left there, untouched. Returning to the bedroom, he found that Ray had rolled over, and was sprawled tantalizingly across the bed, all golden-pale against dark blue sheets, looking not a little put out by Fraser's abrupt desertion. Fraser handed him the Scotch.

"Drink," he ordered.

Ray chuckled. "You've got it backwards. It's supposed to go like this: first you get me drunk and then you proposition me."

"Drink it anyway."

Ray's eyebrows drew down in a puzzled frown. "You, Mr. Teetotaler, want me to drink?"

Fraser nodded. "Yes, please."

Ray shrugged, and knocked back half the glass in a single swallow, grimacing slightly at the burn. "Okay?"

"Finish it."

"What do I get if I do?"

"What you asked for."

That took a moment to sink in, then Ray's face lit up and he finished the contents of the glass in three quick swallows, and set it down on the night stand with a decisive thunk. "Done. Any other requests?"

"Lie back."

Ray settled back, though his eyes widened as Fraser knelt to straddle him, then he relaxed as Ben brought his hands down on his shoulders, fingers circling, searching for tension, massaging it away. Closing his eyes, Ray let his head fall back on the pillow.

"Aaaah, that's nice," he sighed, shifting a little under Fraser's touch.

"Good," Fraser said, moving on, letting his fingers slide down over taut pectorals, along the arched fan of ribs, cautious there, knowing if Ray was ticklish in one place he could easily be elsewhere as well.

Slowly, thoroughly, he worked his way down Ray's lithe form, carefully avoiding genitalia, but neglecting nothing else, even doing his feet, which elicited husky groans of appreciation. As he'd hoped, between the massage and the alcohol, Ray was relaxed to the point of dozing. Finally finished with the front side, he put a hand on his shoulder and pushed gently.

"Roll over, time to do your back."

Ray blinked up at him owlishly and grinned. "You been moonlighting at a massage parlor?"

Fraser shook his head. "No, however, I have done extensive reading on various techniques and therapies, and received advice from physical therapists during several hospital stays."

Ray looked up at him incredulously. "You read about it?" He shook his head. "I guess it figgers you'd be good right off the bat." He sighed again, and then flopped over onto his stomach. "There you go, have at me."

Fraser paused for a moment, admiring the view, then set to work again. He soothed the last dregs of tension from surprisingly broad shoulders, worked deep into the muscles flanking Ray's spine, slipped down to dig into narrow hips and flanks, and on down long, lean thighs and calves before starting back up on a return journey that, this time, ended with the tight curves of his buttocks. As Fraser's fingers stroked and circled firmly, Ray shifted restlessly, bringing one knee up and to the side, consciously or unconsciously asking for a more intimate touch.

Sitting back, Fraser reached over and uncapped the bottle of lubricant, pouring a small puddle of it onto the nightstand, then braced his hands on either side of Ray and leaned down to place a kiss on the small of his back. Ray made a little 'mmmm' sound, encouraging more. Ben traced his tongue down his spine from there to his tailbone, and the shallow divots to either side of it. At the same time he slid a hand beneath Ray's thigh, searching, finding.

He was partly aroused, in that soft-hard state halfway between flaccid and erect. Fraser cupped him without stroking, and let his tongue edge down to where the gluteus maximii separated into two distinct mounds. As his mouth touched that spot, the shaft in his hand hardened considerably. He smiled. If he'd needed proof that Ray had no reservations about what they were doing, he'd just gotten it. He stroked slowly, running his thumb across the tip, which slickened under his touch. Ray jerked a little at the touch, gasping.

Letting go, Fraser put one hand on Ray's shoulder, the other on his hip, and pulled him back until he was lying on his side in front of him, his backside just inches away from Fraser's groin. Easing one knee forward, he used it as a lever to lift Ray's uppermost thigh, giving himself better access. Reaching back to the night stand, Fraser dipped the fingers of his free hand into the pool of lubricant. They shook slightly, and he had to concentrate hard to stop the tremors as he stroked his fingers down the silky crevice, down, then up, then down again, tracing abstract patterns over the sensitive flesh there. Ray shivered, his hips moving in an involuntary response.

"Fraser . . ." his name was a raspy sigh. "Please." Ray leaned his head back against Fraser's shoulder, eyes closed, a half-smile on his mouth, pushing languidly into his hand.

Fraser closed his eyes and put his head against Ray's as he found the narrow aperture and slipped a fingertip within, soothing lubricant inside, shallowly at first, but slightly deeper with each stroke, until finally he'd eased past the tight inner ring of muscle to push deeply into the smooth heat of his body. Ray caught his breath, then let it go in a hissing sigh as Fraser stayed motionless, letting him adjust, waiting until he could read the relaxation returning to Ray's body.

"Are you all right, Ray?" Fraser asked, needing to be sure. His voice sounded odd to his own ears, tight and hoarse, as if he'd been screaming.

"Kind of . . . weird, but good," Ray said huskily. "Keep going."

He pushed back against the invading digit with a little wriggle that nearly undid every bit of control that Fraser had so far managed to retain. He sucked air in through his nose and released it through his mouth, yoga breathing until some semblance of calm returned. He slid his finger most of the way out, then back in.

"Oh, yeah," Ray sighed, and wriggled again, his head dropping forward onto his arm.

Fraser could see his lower lip caught in his teeth, but his expression wasn't that of a man in pain, at least not any kind of pain he wanted to stop. He repeated his caress, then again. It got easier each time, and after a little bit he was brave enough to try adding another finger.

Ray gasped, and the process started over again, tension, then slowly, relaxation. The wriggle finally came back. God, that was going to kill him, Fraser was sure of it. Every time Ray did it, he had to fight to keep from shoving him over onto his belly, grabbing that perfect posterior in both hands and taking him, hard, and fast. Only the knowledge that he might actually injure Ray by doing that kept him from acting on the impulse. He couldn't hurt Ray. Ever.

Still stroking gently, Fraser added a third finger. Ray yielded easily this time, no gasp, no tension, just a steady rhythmic undulation of his hips as Fraser pushed his fingers deeper, angling downward, searching for the spot he knew would change what Ray felt from merely sensually pleasurable to explosively arousing. He knew when he found it. Ray jerked in his arms, and moaned, shuddering.

"God, Ben! That's . . . that's . . . " he whimpered, hips bucking as Fraser continued to stroke the sensitive gland.

"I know, Ray," he whispered against his ear, nuzzling the taut tendon at the side of his throat. "I know."

"Fraser, please, now? Please?"

Fraser knew he was lost. He put his head against Ray's shoulder, and nodded. "Yes, if you're sure, Ray, if you trust me to . . . ."

"With my life, Fraser, with my life. Now fuck me, damnit!"

It might not be romantic, it might even be crude, but it was one of the most beautiful things Fraser had ever heard in his life. Awkwardly he worked his unoccupied hand back to slap it down into the remaining lubricant on the night stand, coating his palm and fingers. Bringing it forward again, he wrapped his hand around his own aching cock, covering it with the stuff, though he hardly needed it at this point. He'd been dripping for what felt like hours now, as hard as if Ray hadn't given him a mind-blowing orgasm with his mouth within very recent memory. He hadn't dared think about how aroused he was, because he would have been gone in an instant if he'd done that. He'd only managed to keep from embarrassing himself by concentrating his entire focus on pleasuring Ray instead.

He pushed his knee upward, opening Ray further, then slipped his fingers out, replacing them with the tip of his cock, pressing inward a tiny bit. Ray went tense as he was breached, his breath catching, and Fraser hesitated.

"DammitFraserifyoustopnowI'mgonnasockyouone!"Ray gritted, making the sentence a single word.

From past experience Fraser knew that was not necessarily an idle threat. Against his better judgement, he allowed Ray to make the decision, gave Ray the same trust that Ray was giving him. Ray knew himself. Ray knew his own needs, his own desires, and his own capacities. If he said he wanted to continue, then he did. Reaching forward he interlaced their fingers, giving Ray something to hold onto. He remembered needing that. Ray tightened his fingers around Fraser's and . . . wriggled. Fraser lost the battle, and lost his mind. Rational thought ceased. With a growl, he rolled Ray onto his belly and pushed inside, not hard, not fast, but relentlessly.

Blood-hot. Almost painfully tight. Softly yielding, yet resistant at the same time, friction thankfully lessened by the lubricant. The shock of realization, the knowledge that this was Ray he was inside, that it was Ray, his partner, his friend, his . . . lover. No one had ever given him this kind of trust before. No one. Ever. Hot wetness streaked down his face, as hot as Ray was around him.

Ray's fingers clenching painfully on his brought Fraser back to marginal awareness. He heard Ray's breath coming in sobbing gasps and remembered pain almost made him withdraw, but then Ray spread his thighs wider and tucked his knees up, making it even easier for Fraser to take him. Fraser lifted onto his knees so he could change the angle of entry, to give him the pleasure he'd learned this could give, and started to pump slowly in and out. Ray relaxed finally, and loosened marginally around him, his sobs becoming sighs as Fraser found the same spot he'd used his fingers on, this time hitting it with his cock

Fraser reached down to find Ray's now-flaccid cock, stroking it, fondling it, rolling his heavy testicles in their soft, loose folds of flesh until the stimulation both outside and within restored his erection to its former dimensions. It was an awkward position, though. He wanted to be able to touch all of Ray, to stroke everywhere, to have free access to his cock, and those amazingly sensitive nipples. . . Sliding his arms around Ray he eased back onto his haunches, pulling Ray upright as he did, so they knelt, bodies fused.

Ray grabbed onto his forearms where they curved across his chest, clutching as if he were afraid of falling, then he managed to shift his weight backward, which had the dual effect of stabilizing their position, and embedding Fraser even deeper inside him.

"Uhnn. . . Fra . . . ser!" Ray panted, arching back, his head against Fraser's shoulder. "God!" He shivered and bucked, hips moving in a fluid glide. He reached back to wind his long, lean arms around Fraser's waist, holding him.

The position gave Ray most of the control over their movement, and he used it, driving himself back roughly with a desperation that Fraser understood all too well. Hands free now, Fraser fanned one over Ray's chest, fingers rubbing and rolling one tight, hard nipple as his other hand slid down into the curling thatch of dark-gold between Ray's thighs, finding the rigid shaft and fisting around it, stroking hard, and fast.

That was all it took, Ray shuddered, and moaned, and came, and the pulsations echoing inside him set off a matching explosion in Fraser, waves of ecstasy slamming through him like rough seas. Finally they collapsed together onto the bed, breathing slowing as the pleasure ebbed.

* * *

Wow. Ray knew that was a pretty lame way to describe what had just happened, but his brain wasn't really functioning good enough to find a better word. Wow. He could still feel Fraser inside him, though he was starting to slip free now that he wasn't hard any more. Yeah, it had hurt some at first, but it had hurt so damned good, and then it had stopped hurting and all there was left was the good. And it had been good. Better than good. Fabulous. The best. He lay there, trying to absorb the fact that he'd just been well and truly fucked, and by Fraser, of all people. He sighed happily, content to just lie there, surrounded by Fraser's arms, his big body sweaty and sticky all along his back. It felt great. Until Fraser suddenly let go of him with a gasp.

"Oh my God! Ray!"

That didn't sound so good. Ray turned over to look at his Mountie. Definitely not good. Fraser's face was white, his expression horrified.

"What? What's wrong?" Did he really want to know? No, but he had to ask anyway.

Fraser closed his eyes, swallowed hard, then looked at Ray again, miserably. "I'm so sorry, Ray. I forgot."

"Forgot what?" Ray demanded, dreading the answer, a hundred dire possibilities chasing themselves through his brain.

"I didn't use protection," Fraser said, as if confessing to serial murder.

Ray stared at him. That was it? That was all? He started to laugh, unutterably relieved. "Geez, scare a year off me why don't you? Didn't we already have this conversation? It's okay! You can do me bareback any time."

Fraser sat up, raking his hands through his hair. It looked exactly the same after he got done as it had before he started. Ray was momentarily distracted by that phenomenon, then Fraser started talking again, his voice hard.

"No, Ray, it's not all right. It shows a disregard for your well-being that borders on criminal carelessness."

Ray sighed. Sometimes Fraser was just too Boy Scout for words. He sat up, and wound himself around Fraser's stiff-backed form, sliding his arms around him, pressing his lips against the back of his neck, just below his hairline. His skin was still damp with sweat, and Ray let his tongue slide along his spine, tasting the salt. Finally he lifted his mouth.

"It's okay, it really is. I liked it," he said. "I liked you that way. I wanted you that way. And the idea that you wanted me so bad that you, Mr. Perfect, actually forgot is pretty damned cool. We already covered the risk factor thing, and I really don't think we have a problem. Frankly, I ought to be the one apologizing for not making you do it because you're at a lot more risk than I am. Now, we're not gonna have to have this conversation every damned time we fuck, are we?"

He was deliberately vulgar, hoping it would cut through the self-recriminations he knew were going through Fraser's head right now. Fraser stiffened a little more and didn't answer for a moment, then he turned his head to look questioningly, almost shyly, at him.

"Every time?" he asked softly.

It took a second to figure out what that meant, then he grinned. "Yeah, every time, what'd you think? I'm a one-night-stand kind of guy?"

Fraser shook his head. "No, Ray, but I didn't know how you would feel, after . . ."

"Fishing for compliments, Fraser? Okay, you got 'em. It was great. Better than great. Best ever. Got it?"

Fraser blushed. "I wasn't . . ."

Ray rolled his eyes. "Oh for crying out loud, Frase. I know that! You have to learn when I'm teasing you. The first part was a tease. The last part wasn't. Capice?"

Fraser nodded, still red. Exercising his capillaries. Ray sighed, and rubbed his nose along Fraser's neck smelling the warm, sweaty sweetness of him. "Now, lay back down, okay?"

Fraser nodded. "Okay, Ray."

As they lay back down, it occurred to Ray for the first time how often Fraser said his name. He said it constantly, all the time, like he couldn't stand to not say it. Funny. He tried Fraser's first name out in his head, 'Benton.' 'Ben.' It felt weird. He'd been calling him Fraser, or Frase, for so long that 'Ben' felt awkward. He would have to work on that. As he stretched out, curling up against Fraser, his head on his shoulder, it occurred to him that he was going to have to wash the sheets again. But that was okay. It was definitely okay.

* * *

Ray walked into the bullpen and headed for his desk. People were staring at him. He looked down, wondering why. There wasn't even any food on his shirt or anything. Then he saw that there was someone sitting at his desk already. A lanky, bald guy. The desk looked funny, too. There was stuff on it that wasn't his. Stuff he didn't know. Funny, the desk looked like it had when he'd first started at the 27 th .

Something cold touched his face, then another, and another. Puzzled, he realized it was snowing, inside the office. Now that was weird, too. He looked at the guy at his desk again, and sudden tension cramped his stomach. It couldn't be. They'd have told him, right? Warned him that the other guy was coming back? They wouldn't just have let him walk in and take over, right?

The other man looked up, gray-green eyes narrowed as he studied Ray from head to toe, sneering a little. He stood up, hand sliding beneath his coat toward where his weapon would be if he wore it in a shoulder holster.


Fraser's voice, behind him, full of warmth and happiness. Ray started to relax. Fraser was here. Everything was okay. He turned to greet Fraser, but the greeting died in his throat as Fraser brushed past him to go to the man at the desk, to put his arms around him just as the other man brought his gun from beneath his coat. With one arm around Fraser, the man looked straight at Ray, sighted, and pulled the trigger.

* * *

Sitting bolt upright, Ray could still hear the echoes of that shot in his mind, still feeling the bullet tearing into him, blasting through bone, to explode his heart. Which was beating so fast it really did feel like it might explode.

"Ray?" Fraser's voice was sleepy, and concerned.

Ray jumped, startled. What the fuck was Fraser doing in his bed . . . oh, yeah. He looked down at the long, solid form that lay beside him, and tried to swallow with a mouth gone suddenly dry. Fraser, in his bed. Oh yeah. The dream returned to him. Ray Vecchio, with Fraser in his arms. He closed his eyes.

"Is something amiss, Ray?" Fraser asked, sounding less sleepy and more concerned.

Ray raked his fingers through his hair and cleared his throat. "Nah, nothing, Fraser. Just got to use the can," he lied, and rolled out of bed, just barely keeping himself from running.

In the bathroom he snapped on the light, closed the door, and leaned back against it, staring at the ceiling, blinking hard to stop his eyes from watering in the sudden light. That was it. He wasn't crying. It was just the light. After a couple of minutes, he went ahead and used the john, so what he'd told Fraser wouldn't be a lie any more, and he flushed.

He looked into the mirror, and saw his own pale face stare back. He flinched. How could anyone love that? No wonder even in his dreams someone else got the prize. He rubbed at his chest, where it still hurt from the dream, then ran water and splashed it on his face. Then he paced the tiny room until he figured Fraser would have gone back to sleep.

Finally he snapped the light off again, and opened the door. He took a step toward the bedroom, hesitated, then went into the living room instead. He picked up the bottle of Scotch and looked at it, then put it back down. Getting drunk would only make him feel worse. And he'd have to explain it to Fraser. He sat down on the edge of the couch, and winced a little, shifting his weight. Fraser had been right about it hurting. Of course, he was always right so there was nothing new about that. It wasn't too bad, just a slight ache he knew would fade quickly, unlike the other pain he was feeling. He put his face in his hands.


In the darkness, Fraser's voice sounded uncertain. Startled, Ray sat upright. He hadn't heard the other man come into the room. "What, Fraser?"

"What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Go back to bed."

There was a moment of silence, then Fraser spoke again, from closer now. Ray could see him, a pale shape in the darkness. "Ray, please."

"Really, it's okay. Just a dream, you know? Don't you ever have weird dreams?"

That was met by a chuckle. "Ray, you have no idea."

Ray tried not to let that laugh warm him. He had to guard himself from that, from letting Fraser in any deeper. Protect himself. Sex was one thing. It didn't mean anything. It was just need. He could do that part okay. It was the rest that would never work. He just wasn't the kind of person people loved.

"It's okay, go back to bed," he repeated.

Instead, Fraser came and crouched in front of him and looked into his face. But it was dark, and he couldn't see anything, could he?

"What did you dream, Ray?"

Ray started to feel panic well up inside, so he did what he always did when he was afraid, he got mad.

"It was just a stupid friggin' dream, okay? Now leave me alone!"

Fraser didn't move, didn't speak, for several long seconds. He just breathed. There was a slight catch in his breathing. Ray felt like shit.

"Ah geez, Fraser, I'm sorry. I just need to work it through, okay? By myself."

Although Fraser didn't physically change position, Ray swore he'd felt him recoil. As if he'd slapped him. Slowly Ben lifted his hands, and stood up.

"Very well, Ray. If that's what you want."

No, Ray thought. No that's not what I want. I want you to hold me. I want you to love me. But I can't have what I want, I never can, and so I have to protect myself so it doesn't fuck me up so bad when the real Ray comes back and you leave me like I know you will 'cause you told me you love him but you never said you love me and I shoulda figured that out way before now and damn it, I really am crying this time it's not the light . . .

Warm arms slipped around him, pulling him against a warm, solid body, warm hands stroked his back, his hair, his face, a warm voice whispered his name, made hushing sounds, as if he were a baby, and it was all wonderful and horrible at the same time. He'd never lost it like this before, not in front of another guy. He tried to pull away but Fraser wouldn't let him go, just held him until the storm passed on its own. Finally, a long time later, Fraser spoke.

"Talk to me, Ray."

Ray shook his head. "I can't."

"I thought you trusted me."

"I do," Ray said instantly.

"Then trust me now, Ray. What did you dream?"

Ray knew Fraser wouldn't let this rest, not now. He'd push and push, and push in that polite, but firm Mountie fashion until he got his way. Until Ray told him. He sighed.

"I dreamed Vecchio came back. Oh, and it was snowing in the office." For some reason that seemed important now. "And then you came in, and you went to him, and then he shot me." He forced a laugh. "Pretty stupid, hunh? I mean, like, it's obvious, trust me to have obvious dreams, right? But it's okay, 'cause I understand you love him, you said so, an' so it's okay. Okay?" he ended lamely.

Fraser didn't speak for a moment. For a long, long moment. God, say something, Fraser. Tell me what a moron I am. Laugh about it. Anything.

"Oh, Ray."

Not that. Don't say that. Don't sound like that.

"Ray, I'm so sorry. I thought you knew."

Ouch. The knife went in deeper. "I do know, Frase. Like I said, it's okay. I understand."

"No, I don't mean . . ." Fraser reached over, picked up the remote and fumbled with it until the TV came on. The room lit with its pale blue glow, and Fraser hit the mute button to cut off a used car commercial, then turned and looked into his eyes, which, now that there was light, he could actually see. Ray figured that had been Fraser's intention all along, since they both knew that what was on the tube at this hour pretty much sucked.

"I meant that I thought you knew I love you, Ray. I should have said it before. I should have told you. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you. I'm just not very good at saying things like that."

Ray wanted to believe him, wanted it so bad it hurt, but there was one problem. "But you love Vecchio."

Fraser looked at him sadly. "Yes, Ray, I do."

"And when he comes back . . . "

"When he comes back, nothing will change, Ray. May I ask you something?"

Warily, Ray nodded. "Yeah, I guess."

"Do you still love Stella?"

He'd been right to be wary. He thought about the question, carefully, and finally nodded. "Yeah, I guess I do."

Fraser looked at if he'd expected that answer. "What would you do if she were to come to see you tomorrow and tell you she wanted to get back together with you?"

Oh. Ohhhhh. Okay, so some people, apparently himself included, had to have the picture not just sketched out, but colored in, framed, and hung, too. He felt a tentative little smile tugging at his mouth.

"I get it, Frase."

"And your answer would be?" Something in Fraser's gaze told Ray that he was dreading the answer. He understood that. He could also put that fear to rest.

"It'd be no. Partly because even though I still love her in lots of ways, I know we can't ever have back what we had. I've known it for a long time, I just didn't want to know it, if you know what I mean. But the real reason the answer would be no, is because I love you now, Ben."

There. He'd said it. Even used his name. And it hadn't even been that hard. Fraser looked so relieved that Ray realized he, too, had felt uncertainty and fear. Sometimes he wondered why people ever fell in love, it was such a dangerous thing to do. Then Fraser put his mouth on his, and he knew the answer.

* * *

Amanda stood outside The Drake, watching for Fraser and Ray. In her hands she held a dog harness. She checked her watch again. Four minutes to four. They were late. Well, no, they weren't late, but she'd really expected Fraser to be early, it just seemed in keeping with his personality. She fidgeted nervously. What if they didn't come? They had to come. She scowled, annoyed with herself. What difference did it make?

A lot, she admitted to herself after a moment of pretending otherwise. She was lonely. She needed to be with people. People she liked, people she could be herself with. Of course, in that case she probably shouldn't have asked Ben to bring Ray, since he didn't know about her, which meant she couldn't really be herself. But she hadn't wanted to make Ben uncomfortable, and she'd known instinctively he would be more at ease with Ray at his side. She sighed. Sometimes being an Immortal was a royal pain in the ass. It would be so much easier if she could just tell people what she was.

Two minutes to four. She paced. She fidgeted. The doorman eyed her curiously and she turned away from him, pretending to admire the tall windows with their luxurious draperies. She looked at her watch again. A minute after four. She bit her lip, trying not to let herself give in to disappointment. They weren't coming. Ben would never be late. Three minutes after four. Well, that was that. What now? She turned to go back inside, and heard someone shout.

"Hey, Miss Interpol!"

Recognizing that raffish, slightly nasal voice, Amanda turned so fast she nearly fell off her heels. Ray Kowalski and Ben Fraser were walking toward her, Diefenbaker trotting at their side. Fraser was looking rather edible in jeans and a blue cable-knit turtleneck sweater. Beside him, it was clear that Kowalski had attempted to tame his hair. She steeled herself to not grin at the result, which was vaguely reminiscent of something from a bust of Julius Caesar. He too was in jeans, with a very tight black t-shirt, and over that a very rumpled gray linen suit-jacket that looked as if it had been stuffed in the back of a closet for some time. She had a feeling that was his concession to the understated elegance of the Drake's Palm Court. She ran forward to hug Ben, and plant a kiss on his lips. Just a little one. Friendly, not sexy.

Kowalski gave her a jealous, slitty-eyed glare at that, so just to be egalitarian she hugged and kissed him, too, then stepped back.

"Nice work there yesterday, Ray," she said. "I knew you could do it."

"Yeah, well, it would've been better if that stuff had worked faster," Ray grumbled. "Then you wouldn't've gotten shot . . . Ooops." Ray looked guiltily at Fraser.

Amanda's eyes widened, and she looked at Fraser accusingly. "You told him?"

"I had to," Ben said uncomfortably. "It was important. I had to explain some things about me. To do that I had to tell him."

She considered that, not quite understanding why knowing about her would make any difference, but knowing that Ben wouldn't lie about it. She sighed. "All right, I forgive you, this time, but don't ever do it again. And you," she rounded on Ray, "you keep your lips zipped! It's a secret!"

Ray nodded solemnly. "Secret's safe with me, sweets. Safe as houses."

Amanda refrained from pointing out that houses weren't particularly safe and knelt to pet Diefenbaker, who nuzzled her arm and greeted her with a vocalization. She held up the harness and looked at Fraser. "May I?"

Fraser sighed deeply. "If you must, though I still feel that you're abusing a privilege."

"They don't care as long as I pay for it," she fastened the harness around Dief, put on her sunglasses, and turned toward the door.

Ray chuckled. "I like her, Fraser."

"I like you, too, Ray," Amanda shot back. "Coming?"

* * Finis * *

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