This is an erotic character study (aka PWP) featuring the characters Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski from the television series Due South. It is part of my "Fishing" series, and is a sequel to Garnish. Timeline-wise this, like The Catch, and Garnish is set in the indeterminate time between the episodes "Hunting Season" and "The Call of the Wild," FYI, although this series began as a DS/HL crossover, there are no crossover aspects in this story.

Rated NC-17 for graphic sexuality (M/M). If you're considered a minor in your community please do not read this (do your parents know where you are, you young whippersnapper you!?). If you're narrow-minded or easily offended, you may want to take a pass as well. Characters property of Alliance, everything else is MINE ALL MINE!

Thanks to my beta readers: AuKestrel, Andreshan, Julia Kosatka, & Marina Bailey, and to my 'technical advisors' Doug Dinnell & Kevin Robnett. ;-D

Something Green
© 1999, Kellie Matthews

" Hey there, Ray," Shannon said, leaning over as she refilled his coffee and picked up his now-empty plate.

Ray's eyes widened as he realized that her blouse was unbuttoned awfully far down. And she had that look in her eyes, the one that said those buttons hadn't worked their way undone by accident. He couldn't help himself. He grinned. "Hey, Shannon, how's it . . . hangin'?" he asked with a wink.

She grinned. "You tell me, Ray," she said saucily as she straightened, turned, and walked with a lot of hipswing back toward the kitchen.

Ray stared after her, feeling like he was in a parallel universe or something. He must have hit on Shannon at least a dozen times in the last year, and she'd never done more than slap his check down on the table with a roll of her big brown eyes. Now she was flirting fit to beat the band. Why? As he groped for his coffee cup, still gazing after her, it suddenly came to him. It was the Love Karma thing. That weird universal law that said as soon as you had somebody, everybody else got interested.

Too strange. In the last two years he'd had about six dates, most of which had been unmitigated disasters in one way or another. Most chicks had taken one look at him and run the other way as fast as they could. But ever since he and Fraser had become lovers, it seemed like everywhere he went, he was getting hit on. Weird as that was, it was kind of nice for a change, to not feel like a pariah. Not that he was the slightest bit interested in what was offered. What he'd found with Ben was way too good to give up. Not just sex, but love. Partnership, in every sense. Someone who understood him, down to the bone. He shook he head, smiling a little, still overwhelmed by it.

Misreading his smile, Shannon sashayed back toward the table with a pitcher of water, and then stopped, a good three feet away, her eyes widening. She backed up a step, blinked, with the strangest expression on her face. Like she was a little scared, and a lot disbelieving. Then someone at another table called her name and she turned, walking quickly, and without the backfield motion she'd had before. At his feet Ray heard a soft growl, oddly echoed from somewhere close by. A growl? Dief almost never growled. He looked down, saw the wolf was watching Shannon. Now that was even weirder. Dief was a sucker for females, of any species. He really never growled at women.

Ray looked at Fraser to ask what was up with the wolf, and he stopped, the words stuck right in his throat. Not only did the wolf never growl at women, Fraser never did either. Until now. But his eyes were narrowed, and darker than Ray had ever seen them, and his lips were curled in what Ray could only call a baring of fangs. He'd never noticed before what sharp incisors Fraser had, not even with his tongue.

"Uh, Fraser? You okay?"

Fraser's attention snapped back to him, and for just a moment Ray could have sworn that the eyes staring into his held a hint of green in their usual dusty blue. And for that same moment he realized what he was seeing in them and it made his breath catch in shock and amazement. Ben was jealous. Over him. He was snarling at Shannon because of him. He'd noticed her flirting and was warning her off, like some alpha wolf over his . . . well, don't go there, Kowalski. But still. He'd done it. Ray felt a flush of heat shoot through him that made him shift uncomfortably on the leatherette bench of the booth. And then he saw the flush climbing Fraser's cheeks and grinned.

"Guess we better find a new place for late-night breakfasts, huh Fraser?"

To his surprise, Fraser didn't get all apologetic and appalled. He just nodded.

"Yes, that would be a good idea, Ray." He stood up suddenly, reaching into his hat for money, leaving a handful of mixed green and pink bills on the table. "Let's go."

"Sure thing. Just let me . . . " he reached for his cup to take one last sip of coffee, only Ben beat him to it, his hand flat across the circumference of the cup, denying him access.


Now? Just like that? Not even waiting for the bill, or change, or for Ray to finish his coffee? That parallel-universe feeling came back in spades, but hey, this was unusual enough that Ray wanted to see where it would lead. He looked at the hand, noticed it was shaking slightly. His gaze traveled slowly upward, noting the rapidity of the breathing belied by the slight movement of his leather jacket, noticed the parted lips, the lash-shadowed fire in his eyes. Looked down a little, and saw the more-than-normally prominent bulge behind indigo denim. Oh yeah. Now. Right now.

"Now it is," he said, practically leaping to his feet, calculating the distance to home and the amount of traffic that would be on the street at this hour of the morning and the odds that any of the lights between here and his apartment would have a traffic cop anywhere near them.

Then they were outside the dingy little diner and heading around the corner to the alley where the car was parked, and suddenly Fraser was pushing him up against the closest wall and kissing him, hard, and deep, his hips grinding against Ray's as if he wanted to do it right there. Ray dragged his mouth away from Ben's, gasping for enough air to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing, but then Ben lowered his lips to Ray's throat and kissed him there, just where the shoulder and the neck joined. It was one of Ray's 'sensitive' places, and he moaned a little as he felt Ben's tongue against his skin. Then he started sucking, which was even better, until it went hard, stinging, and suddenly Ray knew what Ben was doing and he laughed huskily.

"Yeah, I am. Now let me go and let's get in the damned car so I can prove it to you."

Ben lifted his head, finally, looking raw, and hazy, and like he'd just been kissed, which of course, he had. "You are what, Ray?" he asked after a moment.

Ray grinned. "Yours. All yours. Stem to stern," he said, going with the nautical motif from the day before. That had worked out pretty good. "Outside, and in. And I want you inside and out. So come on. It was your idea."

Fraser nodded and headed for the car. Ray had to hurry to catch up. He unlocked the passenger-side door and started to go around to the other side, but Fraser caught him by the wrist, careful to shift his fingers above Ray's bracelet so his grip wouldn't hurt. Ray wasn't quite sure what was up but he waited as Ben opened the door and looked at Dief. Dief looked back, clearly puzzled when Ben didn't put the seat forward for him.

"Front seat, Dief," Fraser snapped impatiently.

Ray could swear the damned wolf did a double-take, but he hopped in and moved over to the driver's seat. Then Ben put the seat forward, put a hand on Ray's head and pushed gently, but firmly, toward the back seat.

Ray balked. "Ben, what . . ." he began, only to have Fraser's mouth cover his, cutting off his objection.

After about a hundred and fifty seconds of some of the most erotic tongue-action he'd ever experienced, any thought of resistance went the way of the Dodo and when Ben finally released him and urged him into the car, Ray went without protest. And then Fraser was in the car too, pulling the door closed, pushing Ray backward, his big, warm body pinning him down against the seat. They were crotch to crotch, Fraser's hands holding his face so he could kiss him again, hard, almost desperate, as if he were trying to suck his soul right out of his body, hips moving, dragging the rock-hard bulge between his thighs over the matching one confined behind Ray's button-flies.

Jesus, what had gotten into him? Not that Ray was objecting, but in the car? On the street? Who was this and what had he done with Fraser-the-Proper? Doing it in the back of the GTO? God damn, this was like a dream come true. All that was missing was some dumb movie on a drive-in screen. It dawned on him suddenly that probably Fraser had never done this before. Dogsleds and snowmobiles didn't exactly have backseats, not that you could make out in, anyhow.

He grinned against Ben's hot mouth. Okay, if Fraser wanted to experience necking in the back seat like a teenager, Ray could get behind that. Or underneath that as the case might be. With enthusiasm. After all the diner wasn't a cop hang-out and it was three a.m., and it was a nice dark alley not a lover's lane where they might get busted by some patrol-type looking to scare a few kids out of a year's growth. He put his hand to Ben's face, stroking the line of his cheekbone, then he let his fingers slide down to the corner of Ben's mouth. Ben made a soft growl and turned his head, catching Ray's middle finger in his teeth, his tongue worrying at it, sucking.

Ray's already-taut cock hardened more as his brain made the association between what Ben was doing and what he wanted to be doing. Realizing he was just lying there letting Ben do all the work, Ray moved his mouth, bit lightly at Ben's jaw, then let his tongue flicker out to lick at the sandpapery line of beard-shadow, loving the roughness of that texture next to the silken heat of his skin, the way he tasted, faintly salty, yet fresh, and somehow reminiscent of some sort of fruit, though Ray couldn't figure that one out. He found the sensitive spot beneath Ben's ear and sucked at it softly, careful not to raise blood. He didn't want to mark him-- not where someone might notice, and comment, but that place turned him on so bad he couldn't keep himself away from it.

Somehow Fraser managed to work his hand into the almost nonexistent space between their bodies and started opening buttons. The movements he made as he worked were incredibly arousing, even though Ray knew he wasn't even being intentionally erotic. It was amazing how good Ben had gotten at undoing a pair of jeans one-handed, after only a few days practice. Fast learner. Fraser finally got the last button undone and his hand slid into the newly-opened gap, broad warm palm wrapping around Ray's rampant erection, stroking him hard enough to drag a moan from his lips and a shudder from his body.

Jeez, they were in the car and Ben had his pants open, he was really doing this. Ray couldn't believe it. Fraser? This was Fraser? Shit, he should stop this before it got out of hand, but it was already out of hand, and ah, man, so good, he knew just exactly what to do, how to touch, how hard, how fast. . . . A sudden image rose in his mind of Ben doing this to himself on some of those long, lonely nights at the consulate, and knew where he'd gotten this experience. The thought of watching him do that sent Ray reeling, drove rational thought from his mind. He found himself trying to spread his legs so Ben could stroke him more easily, but was hampered by his jeans. Still, he pushed up into that hand, panting, as Ben worked him hard. Oh god, he was gonna, he was gonna . . . then suddenly Ben stopped, and let go. Ray moaned in abject denial.

"Noooo, please, oh god, please don't . . ."

Ben turned suddenly and Ray instinctively covered his head with his arms as Ben's hiking boots came dangerously close to his face. The new position had Ben straddling him on the seat, facing away, knees on either side of his waist. What the . . . ? Ray heard something rip, felt the sudden easing of constricted fabric across his thighs, then Ben was bending almost double in the confined space of the back seat as he leaned down and took the full length of Ray's cock into his mouth. All the way down, all the way, clear to the base. Just like last night . . .

"Ohmigod, oh god, Ben, that. . . ah, damn, oh keeerist, yeah, please, please."

God, he was panting and moaning and begging, and completely stupefied and hot and out of his effin' mind. That broad back bent over him, that beautiful denim-shielded butt almost close enough to bite, the slick, silky heat of his mouth, the motion of tongue and teeth and everything . . . Ben, in his car, doing this to him in fucking public? That did it. He bit back a scream as bliss exploded through his body and he shuddered as Ben slid upward to use his lips and tongue to suck him dry, the feeling almost too much on his hypersensitive glans. He moaned in pained-pleasure, body jerking a little with each suckling draw. He wanted Ben to stop but at the same time he never wanted him to stop.

But he did, finally, with a last, long lick, and then he was lifting his head and turning, carefully, to look down at Ray with a smile that gave him a momentary kinship to the wolf in the front seat.

"Hooooly shit! What the hell was that?" Ray asked breathlessly.

Ben frowned a little, as if he were surprised by the question. "I believe that it's called fellatio, Ray."

Ray lost it, laughing out loud. At least now he knew it was really Ben, not some alien clone or something. "Jesus, I know that, Fraser! But, I mean, we're in public for god's sake! You just gave me a blow job in the back seat of my car!"

Ben's expression grew more puzzled. "But, Ray, I thought that was what you asked for."

"Me?" Ray boggled. "I did? When?"

"Well, first you said we should get in the car, then you said you were mine, and I quote 'stem to stern,' and 'inside and out.' So I was merely attempting to do as you requested. The car is clearly both 'inside and out,' and we were, in a way, 'stem to stern.'"

Ray stared at him, gaping. Trust Fraser to take him literally. "Ben, I didn't mean . . ." Then he stopped, noticing even in the dark the suspicious twitch at the corners of Fraser's mouth, the mischievous gleam in his eyes. "You're putting me on," he declared.

Ben grinned. "Yes, I was."

Ray groaned, running his hands through his hair, wondering if someone slipped something into Fraser's food. First sex in public, then a joke? But he loved the smile. And the sex, well, he couldn't complain. Not by a long shot. He propped himself up on his elbows and looked up at Fraser, grinning, shaking his head.

"Never knew you were such a wild man."

"Nor did I, to be completely honest, Ray. Though, I have, at times, suspected that I might have such proclivities."

"Mmm? What made you think that?" Ray asked, honestly interested. He wanted to know everything about Fraser, everything that made him tick.

Ben leaned down and kissed him, softly, almost tenderly, then straightened, the fire in his eyes well-banked. "The things I used to fantasize about doing with you."

Ray's eyebrows shot up. "You fantasized about me?"

Ben's mouth curved in a slow, seductive smile. "Frequently."

"Like, what?" Ray asked, licking his lips, fascinated.

"Ben looked around the car, then back at Ray. "Like this."

"Oh." Ray absorbed that, felt himself blushing. "Uh, well, fantasy is usually better than reality."

"Not at all, Ray. I found the experience to be quite . . . stimulating."

Instantly Ray's gaze lowered to Fraser's crotch. He couldn't help himself. He had to look . . . no, no wet spot, not one obvious enough to see in the dark anyway. But a definite bulge. That he could see, especially at this range. He grinned, and reached out, catching Fraser's hips in his hands, drawing him forward. Much to Ray's surprise, Ben resisted.

"Oh, dear! No, Ray, please!"

Ray looked up, saw the flustered expression on Ben's face. He frowned. "Let me get this . . . it's okay for you to do me in the damned car, but not for me to do you?"

"It wouldn't be . . . well, proper."

"For crying . . . Ben! Since when is it okay for me to get off and not you?"

" I'm fine, Ray, really."

Ray squirmed out from under his lover and sat up. "Okay, so what'd you usually fantasize about me doing to you, after you did me?"

Ben bit his lip. "I ah, rarely got that far," he admitted wryly.

Ray considered that, and shook his head, chuckling. "Fraser, we've got to work on these fantasies of yours. Most people fantasize about having other people do them, not about them doing other people. Come on, let's go home where I can ravish you proper without you getting all maidenly about it."

* * *

I can't believe I just did that, Fraser thought as Ray put the car in gear and edged it out of the alley. He had just made love to his partner in a car. In public. Where any casual passerby could have seen them. He must have lost his mind. But god, it had been delightful. Addictively so. Listening to the little moans and gasps, feeling Ray's body respond to his touch, tasting him, smelling him, drowning in the sensations of his pleasure. Wonderful. It was very nearly as fulfilling as if he had reached his own completion. Ray didn't understand that, thought it impossible, but it was true.

From the back seat, Diefenbaker grumbled, and Fraser looked back, frowning. "Yes, well, I didn't say a word to you about your involvement with Maggie, now did I? Or when you chose to court Ante, who, I might add, was not up to your size."

The wolf made another comment and Fraser threw up his hands. "Oh fine. Be that way. Next time you can wait outside."

Ray looked at him, wide-eyed. "Next time?"

Ben blushed. "Well, metaphorically speaking, that is."

"Ah. Okay. Good. Because, I was thinking if you were gonna make a habit of this, maybe I should get the windows tinted or something."

"I don't think that will be necessary, Ray."

Ray shot him another look, then grinned his best light-up-the-night grin. "Darn."


"Hey, can't blame a guy for a little fantasy, can you?" He winked. "So, what set you off? I mean, one minute you're snarling at poor Shannon, and the next you're dragging me off to your lair. Or well, maybe it was my lair but you were borrowing it pretty good there."

"I did not snarl at Shannon!" Ben protested, shocked.

Ray chuckled. "No? Bet she'd say different. Dief? Whatta you think? Did he snarl?"

Diefenbaker, the traitor, yipped an affirmative. Ben looked from the wolf to his partner. "Oh dear. Did I? I'm afraid I didn't realize. I shall have to apologize to her next time."

"Thought you said we shouldn't eat there any more."

"I, ah, was joking."

"Mmmhmmm. Right," Ray said dubiously. "Well anyway, she's probably forgiven you already, considering a) that you're you, and two, the amount of money you left on the table."

Ben frowned, fingers automatically sliding into his hat, searching for folded bills. He was surprised by what he found, or rather, didn't find. Ray was right. He'd left at least three or four times as much as the check would actually have been, and in a mixture of US and Canadian bills that was sure to drive the poor girl to distraction.

"'Course, if being jealous always gets you all bothered like that, eating there might get to be a real interesting experience."

"I can restrain myself, Ray."

"So I noticed," Ray said, grinning as he guided the car into the parking lot of his apartment building. "Okay, here we go. Home. C'mon Fraser, your turn now."

"My turn . . ." Ben started to ask, then he understood. "Oh."

"Oh? That's it? That's all I get? 'Oh?' Boy, talk about your enthusiastic . . ."

Fraser leaned over and covered Ray's mouth with his own, cutting off his diatribe. Ray stopped talking, and started kissing. Reluctantly Ben drew back more quickly than he would have liked, as they were no longer in the relative privacy of a secluded alleyway.

"I merely meant to convey my understanding of your statement, Ray," he said quietly. "Nothing more."

Ray scrutinized him carefully, then grinned. "Okay. No problem then. Come on."

Ray got out of the car and pulled his coat across the gap at the lower edge of his fly where Ben had ripped the crotch seam open about three inches to get better access. Another thing he couldn't believe he'd done. He hoped he could mend the tear, because otherwise he owed Ray a new pair of jeans. Poor Ray couldn't really afford to lose any of his clothing to Ben's somewhat overly enthusiastic lovemaking. Ben followed him inside, having a hard time keeping his eyes off his lover's trim posterior as they ascended the stairs. He walked carefully, aching a little. Although he had assured Ray he was fine, he was definitely uncomfortable now, though he really couldn't have let Ray . . . not in the car. He felt a blush fire his face at the thought of it.

Ray unlocked his door and opened it, motioning Fraser inside. As Fraser entered the room, Diefenbaker made a questioning sound and Ben stopped, looking down at him.

"Yes, we are. And if you have a problem with that then I suggest you wait in the hall."

The wolf sat down then, outside the door, deliberately not looking at him.

Ray laughed. "C'mon Dief, quit being jealous, you're still the one he feeds, right? You can sleep on the couch. I might even have some cookies or somethin'."

At that Diefenbaker got up and trotted into the apartment, still not looking at Fraser. Ben looked at Ray and sighed, shaking his head. Ray grinned and shrugged, then he closed and locked the door, and almost before the sound of the bolt sliding home had faded was all over Fraser, pulling off his jacket, dropping it on the floor, tugging his flannel shirt from his jeans, stripping it off and tossing it aside with equal disregard. His fingers went to Ben's waist where he quickly opened his belt, undid the button and eased down the zipper. His eyes widened.


Ben couldn't meet his eyes, knowing exactly what he was surprised about. "Yes, Ray?"

"You're not wearing . . ."

Ben shook his head, blushing. "No. I thought I would, I mean, I wondered what it . . . felt like. To you. Since you do it all the time, I was curious if it might not be, well, uncomfortable. Or something."

"Or something?" Ray purred. "You mean like, sexy? Like hot? Like arousing?" Fraser nodded, unspeaking. Ray laughed. "And?"

"And, what?"

"Do you like it? Because I do. Only you got to get some 501's, because it's too dangerous to do this with zippers."

Ben looked at him, puzzled. "But, Ray, you have trousers with zippers, and I know you don't . . ."

"That's because I'm a professional. You're an amateur. 'Kids, don't try this at home,'" Ray said with a chuckle. "Still, love it. I'm a bad influence on you."

"Well, I don't plan to make a habit of it," Ben confessed. "It's far too . . . distracting."

Ray studied him for a moment, then he smiled, hooking his fingers in Ben's belt-loops, tugging lightly. "Ooooho, I get it. This is what did it, isn't it? You couldn't handle it."

"That might possibly have, ah, some basis in fact," Ben hedged, though it was absolutely true.

The experiment had probably not been a good idea, considering how little sleep he'd had the night before. All through the meal he'd sat there watching Ray, and thinking of the fact that he was probably just as naked beneath his jeans as Fraser was. Which was quite silly because everyone was, technically, naked beneath their clothing, so why should a single additional layer make any difference? But somehow it did. It surely did. The dark, uncontrolled part of himself had fixated on that, and he'd had to struggle more than usual to keep it contained.

He'd barely touched his own meal, having to keep focused on acting normal, on being 'good' in public. That was essential for them, as it would be foolhardy in the extreme to allow their changed relationship to become known. While he had been raised surprisingly prejudice-free by his missionary grandparents, he knew such was not the case with far too many people, especially those in law-enforcement. But then when Shannon, a very nice young woman whom he had never found anything but pleasant, had flirted innocently with Ray, something inside him had broken free of its barriers in an overwhelming rush.

Ray was his. His. Every last bit of him, from long, bony toes to haphazardly spiked hair and everything in between. Ray was his friend, his lover, his soul. How dare she even consider claiming him for herself? He remembered it now, remembered looking at her narrowly, feeling the lift of his lips in what he'd told himself was a smile, but was actually a snarl. Good Lord, he'd actually growled! Perhaps when he went to apologize to her, he could safely blame that on Diefenbaker, who, picking up on Ben's emotions, had done the same thing.

As if snarling at the waitress wasn't bad enough, he had then dragged Ray out to the car and proceeded to demonstrate the truth of that possession, claiming him. He'd used his mouth to mark him as his property. Ray had even known what he was doing , understood it, and hadn't objected. 'I'm yours, Ben. All yours.' Even now Ben could see the bruise he'd left, just above where the ribbed collar of Ray's t-shirt covered his shoulder. Disgraceful behavior. Revolting. Juvenile even. How could he have done that? He owed Ray an apology, too. He reached out to gently soothe that spot with a finger.

"Ray, I'm sorry."

Ray looked surprised. "What for?"

"For, well, for thinking of you as a possession, as something I could own."

Ray studied him for a moment, head tilted slightly to one side, then he smiled. "But I am. You do own me. Everything I am now, I owe you. I'd lost myself somewhere, and you showed me where I was, who I was. Without you, I'm not me. Don't you know that?"

It was as if he were reading Ben's mind, saying the things that he felt. "I, too, was lost, Ray," he breathed softly, and couldn't bear to see the curve of his mouth any longer without tasting it. He moved, bringing their bodies together, their mouths together. He could taste the smile, taste the heat and passion behind it, and the gentleness, and the commitment. Could one possibly taste any of those things? Yes. Absolutely. And over and through it all, he could taste the essential Ray.

He heard a moan, knew it was his own voice, and for once was not embarrassed by that. He needed Ray, not just in a sexual sense, but in every way he could think of. That awful feeling of incompleteness that had been a part of his life for as long as he could remember was only eased when he was with Ray. He moved, backing Ray toward the bedroom, stopping when they came up against the wall beside the door. Another wall, another kiss. Gentler this time, but still too hard, he knew that, couldn't seem to help himself, but Ray only gave him more, didn't protest his roughness, just as he hadn't last night. No. He wasn't going to do that again. It might, as Ray had said, be all right to be selfish sometimes, but not all the time. He forced himself to draw back, breathing hard. Ray opened his eyes, licked swollen lips, and sighed.

"Mmm, nice. I kinda like it when you're butch," he said with a wicked gleam in his eyes.

Butch? Fraser frowned. He failed to see the relevance of a masculine personal name in this situation. Before he could ask for clarification, Ray spoke again.

"So, let's stick with that. What do you want me to do to you?"

Images flashed through Ben's mind, and a single word, "Everything," escaped his lips before he could think to stop it.

Ray grinned. "That might take some time, Ben."

Time. That was it. Oh yes. He craved that. Time. Slow, sweet, almost torture. Ray was always in such a hurry, so fast, not that it wasn't good, but he wanted it to go on forever and it never did. "Yes," he whispered finally, ducking his head to kiss the bruise on Ray's shoulder. "I know. That's what I want. Time. I want it to take time." He pushed himself, reluctantly, away and took a step back, giving Ray room to move.

Ray stood there for a moment, looking at Ben with that look he got when he was making a major discovery, then he smiled. Slowly. "Gotcha. Come on, then."

He stepped into the bedroom and began to undress. Fraser took off his t-shirt, then paused to watch Ray remove his own, admiring the play of muscles and tendons beneath his skin. Beautiful, but so thin. He really should eat better. Ben tried, he really tried, to get Ray to eat properly, but it was a losing battle. The man had virtually no nutritional sense whatsoever. And half the time his attempts worked in reverse, and he found himself eating what Ray usually ate instead of vice-versa. He was going to get as soft as Diefenbaker if he wasn't careful. His metabolism simply wasn't geared for such quantities of sugar and fat.

Ray tossed aside his shirt and his hands went to his belt, unbuckling it, not bothering to remove it from the belt-loops as he unbuttoned his jeans and shoved them down, then raised a foot and used his toe to push both pant-leg and boot off together in one movement. A moment later he repeated the process on the other side. Then he was naked, his clothing lying discarded on the floor. So easy, so quick. Always ready, with his body, his mouth, his mind. Ben loved the spontaneity of him, so different from his own measured deliberation. Although he found that Ray's spontaneity had a way of provoking unusual levels of casualness in him. Casualness, and aggression. For instance, that whole embarrassing but arousing incident in the back of Ray's car.

He hadn't lied about having fantasized about that. That and more. The car. The closet at the precinct. In the park. He couldn't even remember all the places he'd thought about wanting to have Ray. Truth to tell, there had been days, especially those occasional days off when he had not had Ray's actual presence to help keep him on the straight-and-narrow, when he had spent the better part of his waking hours daydreaming about making love to Ray. He'd driven himself half to distraction, doing it hopelessly, knowing it would never happen, yet now it was. Happening. And it appeared that it would keep happening. Ray actually wanted to be with him. To . . . stay, with him. He shivered, remembering the way Ray's voice had sounded as he'd said that. Just a few hours, yet a lifetime ago.

"Whatever you're thinking, you keep right on thinking it. Love what it does to you," Ray teased, sliding a hand inside the open fly of his jeans to stroke a single finger down the length of his cock.

Fraser sucked in a breath, shivering in reaction. For someone who wanted it to last forever, he was being far too responsive. He let the breath out slowly, and lifted his eyes to Ray's.

"I was thinking of you, Ray."

Ray grinned. "Oh yeah? Doing what?"

"Actually, it was more what I was doing to you," Ben confessed, feeling a faint, annoying flush in his face. For God's sake, he was a grown man, he should be able to talk about sex without blushing!

Ray shook his head, sighing. "Like I said, we've got to work on your fantasy life." He went to his knees and began to unlace Ben's hiking boots.

Staring down at the man kneeling at his feet, a definite fantasy came to mind. Ray finished the first boot, tugged it off and tossed it across the room, then started on the other. He got it done just as efficiently, and threw it aside. Fraser bit back a protest, knowing it was useless. Ray simply didn't care about the proper care of personal possessions. However, he took very good care of other things. Ray reached up and tugged his jeans down, carefully, easing them past his erection, then slid them down, and off, urging Ben to step out of first one leg, then the other. Still kneeling, he looked up.

"Tell me what you want, Ben."

"I want to make love to you, Ray."

Ray gave him a look. "What do you want me to do to you, Ben?"

He thought of his momentary fantasy, and felt heat that wasn't entirely embarrassment. "I, ah, your mouth, that is, if it's not . . ."

Ray chuckled softly, interrupting his attempt at politeness. "That's better." He sat back, surveyed the lie of the land, and nodded toward the wall. "Over there. Might need something to lean on."

Oh, yes. Definitely that. Ben moved until he could lean back against the wall for support. Ray moved toward him on hands and knees, sparking another surge of imagination. He swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. Perhaps Ray was right about his fantasies. Then Ray put his hands on Ben's hips, and leaned in, and fantasy became reality. The gentlest brush of lips against heated, swollen skin. His face half in shadow as the hall light illuminated the scene, lips opening, tongue flickering out to take the shimmering droplet at the tip, retreating, the movement of muscles as he swallowed. Eyes closed, deceptive innocence in his face as those sullen lips parted again, breath feathering over taut flesh just before the wet silk of his mouth closed around him.

Ben moaned, hands clenching, wanting to thread his fingers into Ray's hair, hold him still, and take him. He fought it. No. No, slowly. Achingly slow. That's what you wanted. Let him do it. He timed his breathing to Ray's exquisite indolence, drawing air in with each descent, letting it out with each ascension, working himself into a place of abstract pleasure. Suddenly something new was added, shocking him from his trance. Teeth, oh god he loved Ray's teeth, sharp and hard and dangerous, but never painful, at least, not too painful.

Attention refocused, Ben watched again, saw the frown of concentration on Ray's face as he worked. So sensual. The gleam of light on sweat-sheened skin, the trickle of a salt-laden bead of moisture down his temple, over the sharp curve of cheekbone, down to his mouth, to mingle with other salt there. Those long, elegant, golden fingers, dark against his own pale flanks, flexing, half-stroking. Beautiful. He reached down and soothed his fingers over the path that bead of sweat had taken, and Ray rubbed his face into Ben's hand like a cat might, never slackening his oral caresses. He moved one hand from Ben's hip and let it slide down his thigh, moving between Ben's thighs, to stroke and caress. For a moment he indulged himself, letting Ray take him higher, closer to the edge, but no, that would be too much.

"No, Ray. Not that."

Ray faltered, and looked up, questioning, his eyes like blue fire. Ben shook his head. "Not yet, it's too soon."

He felt Ray smile around him. He gasped, and shivered. Ray drew back slowly, letting him slip free, reaching to cover him with his hand instead of his mouth, stroking softly, slowly.

"I want to do what you did, but I don't know how. How do you do that?"

Ben frowned. "Do what?"

"You know, the 'deep throat' thing. I want to do that, I keep trying but I can't. Makes me, well, I mean it's not you. It's me. I want to but I can't."

"Ah," Ben said, understanding. "It makes you gag?"

Ray nodded, looking embarrassed. Ben smiled. "I don't think I can teach it to you. I suspect that it's mostly a case of my simply having more conscious control over my autonomic reflexes than most people."

Ray grinned, shaking his head. "In other words, you just do it."

Ben looked at him apologetically. "Well, yes. I'm sorry. It involves relaxing the esophageal muscles, and suppressing the uvular reflex, but somehow I doubt that you will find that particularly helpful."

Ray's grin became a laugh. "You're right, I don't. But someday, someday I'll get it." He slanted a narrow-eyed look up at Ben. "Who'd you practice that on?"

Ben understood suddenly, that look. He smiled, gently, not mockingly. "No one. I recently overheard someone at the station speaking of a film in which the performer did such a thing, and thought it would be . . . interesting to try it. So I did."

Ray's eyes widened. "Somebody was talking about 'Deep Throat' in front of you? Who?"

"Well, it was in the lavatory, and I'm sure they weren't aware that I was present . . ."

"Uh-uhn, no hedging. Spill. Who? I've got to have a little talk with 'em. Nobody corrupts my Mountie but me."

Ben found himself smiling in what he was sure Ray would consider a 'goofy' manner. 'My Mountie.' He was oddly gratified by that possessive statement. Perhaps he wasn't alone in the way he felt about Ray. Perhaps Ray felt much the same about him. He'd just had longer to get used to people flirting with Ben, since it happened so regularly, embarrassing as that was.

"What's the goofy grin for?" Ray asked.

Ben chuckled. "Nothing important. But are you sure you wish me to reveal my source? After all, you did appear to be quite pleased with the results of it."

Ray grinned. "Oh yeah, you could say that. Okay, but next time, tell me. I was killing myself wondering who you'd learned that from."

Ben frowned slightly. "Ray, you know . . ."

Ray's face clouded. "I know. But that doesn't mean I have to like it." He sat for a moment, slouched and head-down, then he sighed. "Sorry, I'm just being stupid jealous."

"I understand, Ray. For some time now, every time you've mentioned Stella, I've felt the same way."

Ray looked up, brightening. "You have? Cool." His sudden moodiness dispelled, Ray stretched, catlike, and got to his feet. "C'mon, bed, the floor's hard on my knees."

That feline stretch gave Ben a sudden insight. In many ways Ray reminded him of a cat. He was easily riled, but well able to defend himself, with claws, and fangs, and deceptive intelligence, yet at the same time he was lazy, sensual, sleepy-eyed, and perhaps a little too fond of creature-comforts. Yes, very catlike. Odd that he got along with Dief so well, considering that, but he did. Still thinking on that revelation, Ben let Ray take his hand and pull him toward the bed.

* * *

"Penny for your thoughts, Frase," Ray said, pushing Ben down onto the bed, urging him onto his back, crawling over him on all fours, looking down into his face curiously.

"I was reflecting that at times you remind me of a cat."

Ray thought about that, he could see it, a little. "Guess so. Eat like a goat, though, or so everybody tells me," he said, grinning.

A cat. He thought about that some more. What did cats do? They prowled, and yowled, and fought. Not good. What else? They rubbed. They did that head-butt thing. They purred. They tom-catted around, and they licked themselves in rude places. He grinned at that image. He wasn't that flexible, but he could lick Fraser, for sure. He liked licking Fraser. Two years ago if anyone had suggested that he might enjoy licking a six-foot tall, dark-haired, blue-eyed, square-jawed and very male Mountie, he'd probably have socked them one, but here he was. He leaned down and rubbed his nose along Ben's jawline, up to his ear.

"A cat, hunh? 'Zat mean you want me ta lick you all over?" he whispered, letting his tongue steal out to lap at Ben's earlobe.

Ben closed his eyes with a little shiver. "That would be . . . would be very nice."

Ray snorted. "Very nice, hunh? We'll see about very nice," he muttered under his breath. He was definitely going to have to do something about Ben's tendency toward understatement.

He drew his hand slowly down Ben's chest, then lower, cupping the hard thrust of his cock in his palm. Ben lifted into his touch, rubbing himself against Ray's hand, shamelessly. Ray laughed, and leaned down to kiss the side of his throat, to lick the hollow of his collarbone, then first one nipple, then the other, tongue flicking over the hardening nubs before he settled in to suck on one. Ben arched into his caresses, first his chest, then his crotch, undulating, eyes closed, hands clutching at the sheets.

I'll show you nice, Ray thought, as he released the nipple that was taut beneath his lips and traced his tongue along Ben's ribs. Catching one of Ben's hands in his, he stretched his arm above his head and proceeded to lick his way up his side, up that soft, pale skin that never saw the sun, under his arm, into the soft tangle of hair that grew there. Ben shuddered, and gasped. Ray grinned, moved his mouth down a little, and bit lightly at the curve of muscle just beneath the arm, almost on the back.

"Ray!" Ben's voice was hoarse, and hard.

Ray ignored him, retracing his route back to a nipple, which he tortured for a moment before switching to the other one, all the while his free hand stroked and squeezed and played between Ben's spread thighs. He started moving toward Ben's other side, little licks, just like a cat. This time he didn't have to show Ben what to do. As soon as he understood where Ray was headed, Ben reached above his head, catching the bottom of the headboard in his hand as Ray's tongue worked magic up along the sensitive skin along his ribs, and then higher. Ray found a spot that made Ben gasp, and settled in there for a moment, sucking, knowing it would be safe there, if nowhere else. No one would ever see this place but him.

Ben gave a choked groan, sounding like a man in pain. Ray was starting to ache, even though it had been only a short time since he'd come; when he was doing something this erotic he couldn't help but become aroused, himself. He loved the taste of Ben on his tongue, the scent of his arousal, sea-bitter and rich. He headed south again, down ribs, over belly to navel, where he lingered, teasing him with tongue-strokes into that shallow indentation, as if he were somewhere else entirely.

Ben was moaning now, his hips thrusting against Ray's stroking fingers. For a moment Ray was tempted to take him over the top that way, but, no, he'd said mouth. Mouth it would be. Time to give Ben his fantasy. He lowered his head to the flushed, swollen shaft, kissing just the tip, as he might kiss Ben's lips, or his cheek, feeling the slick tears of his arousal against his lips, tasting them. Ben shuddered, and Ray automatically tightened his fingers around the shaft, pinching back the orgasm that threatened. Too soon. He wanted slow. He wanted mouth. That's what he would get.

Or, wait. Wait a second. Mouth had been Ben's second choice. First had been 'everything.' Ray grinned. Oh boy. Everything. He frowned, trying to figure out a way to do several things at the same time. Couldn't. Would have to be a contortionist to manage it. So, what first, and what second? Probably needed to ask. With a last, flat-tongued lick at Ben's cock, he drew back and propped himself on his elbows.

"So, what next, Ben? What part of 'everything' do you want now?"

Ben opened his eyes and looked down, blinking, looking utterly dazed. "What?" he finally managed, after a tongue-flick to moisten dry lips.

Ray grinned, and leaned forward to put his lips against Ben's erection once more. "This? Or. . . " he slid a hand between his lover's thighs, trailing his fingers lower, and lower, finally touching a fingertip to the sensitive opening between his cheeks, " . . . this?"

Ben shuddered with his whole body, his cock jerking tautly with response. Oh, that definitely got a reaction. Ray smiled, and pretended he hadn't noticed.

"Or maybe something I haven't thought of yet?"

He watched Ben swallow, three times before he could speak. Finally he located his voice.

"Ray, please, I want . . . ." Words failed him. He bit his lip, looked helpless again, as only Ben could.

Ray shook his head. "Oh no. Not this time. You've got to tell me. Nothing happens until you tell me."

"Ray, I . . . I can't."

"Yes you can. I know you can. You're the man who knows a blow job is really fel. . . whatever. You can tell me. You have to. Or we can stop, if you want."


Well, that word was certainly easily said, Ray thought, hiding his smile.

"And it's fellatio," Ben said, blushing.

"Right. Blow job," Ray returned, giving no quarter. "What do you want, Ben? I need to know. Just tell me."

"I don't know. No one's ever asked me that before. I don' t even know how to frame an answer, when I want everything, and nothing, and it s. . . ." he stopped suddenly, lips clamping shut on whatever he'd been about to say, eyes closing, jaw going tight.

Ray couldn't believe what he was hearing. No one had ever asked Ben what he wanted? Never? He believed that, knew it was utterly true. It was so obvious, and so sad. He could see him, the boy, and the man, never asking for anything for himself. Always putting others first. Damn. That sucked so bad it hurt. Worse was that everyone let Ben do it, himself sometimes included, Ray thought guiltily. He felt anger welling up inside him, not at Ben, but at everyone who had contributed to Ben's deeply-held certainty that he was not allowed to have needs or desires of his own. That was so wrong.

And what 's' word had he been about to use? He had a feeling the end of that sentence was '. . . and it scares me.' Ben was still afraid of this, not of the sex, that was clearly okay, but of allowing himself to be needy. It came to him suddenly that this was the same issue as last night, just a little different expression. And with that knowledge Ray realized they would probably have to work through this again, and again, until Ben finally started to believe that it was okay. That wanting, that needing, was normal. Even right. Ray shook his head.

"Then it's time, Ben. Time you got to say. Time you got to choose."

Ben dropped his head back against the bed and stared at the ceiling. "I don't know how," he said, in a strangled-sounding voice, body tensing. "I just don't."

Ray almost swore. This wasn't what he wanted. He could feel Ben losing his arousal, and he didn't want that to happen. No way. He wasn't a fool. Someone had to yield. Ben couldn't, so it had to be him. He could. This was too important not to. There were times to be stubborn, but this wasn't one of them. So, since Ben was much better at doing than he was at saying, at least in this sort of situation, maybe they could go with that.

"Then show me, Ben. Just show me. Use your hands, use your mouth, your body. Show me what you need. Say it with your body. Anything you want. Anything. Everything."

The words were barely out of his mouth before he was being hauled bodily up Fraser's chest, his mouth taken in a kiss that was hard, and hot, and hungry as Ben turned them onto their sides, facing each other. Taking Ray's right hand in his own, Ben drew it down between them, shifting his hips a little until their cocks were aligned, touching. Then the hand that held his was urging his fingers around not just Ben, but both of them. He shuddered a little in erotic anticipation. Jeez, he'd never thought about this, but it could work, could be cool-- or would that be hot? Trust Ben to think of something way different. There might be a disconnect between brain and mouth, but the ideas were certainly in there.

Ray felt Ben's, big, broad hand curving around his own narrower one, completely covering it, urging him to stroke them in unison. Ray looked down at their hands, their cocks, fascinated by the differences, by the samenesses, by the sensations evoked. Ben's fingers soothed and stroked his hand, occasionally sliding beneath the chain around his wrist, making it glide smoothly against his skin. Suddenly Ray got his own outlandish idea, and slipped his hand out from under Ben's. Ben protested that with a small, wordless sound, and Ray kissed him silent again, then turned his head to use his tongue to trace the ridges in Ben's ear, making him shiver and sigh.

"Just a sec, half a sec, don't worry," he breathed into Ben's ear.

Quickly he found the catch on the bracelet and opened it, let it fall free, then caught it and closed the catch again. Then he moved his hand back down, and looped the warm, polished metal beads around them both. The length went around them twice, loosely, just as it did around his wrist. Ben had gone very still, and his eyes were closed, but his quick, shallow breathing told Ray he was deeply involved in the sensation. Catching the beads in his hand he slid them cautiously up, then down, making sure they didn't catch or tug at anything. They didn't. They were smooth enough to move easily, and the sensation was both strange, and erotic as well. He did it again, still slowly, experimenting, and Fraser moaned, a shudder going through him that was powerful enough that Ray felt it as well. Oh yeah. Successful experiment.

Still not entirely sure the chain wasn't going to pinch, he kept up the slow, sliding strokes, feeling the beads slither over taut flesh, hearing the faint sounds they made each time, and felt an echoing shiver run through himself. Never would have thought it would be such a turn-on, but it was. The two of them, bound skin-to-skin like this, with something that was such an intimate item for him, his lucky charm. Very, very lucky. He could feel Ben's pulse against himself, fast, hard, strong, felt his breath, hot against his skin as Ben put his head down against his shoulder. He was breathing raggedly now, an almost continuous tremor running through him, his hand tightening around Ray's, urging him to a faster pace.

Taking a chance, Ray let Ben guide him, still holding back a little because it just felt too good to rush yet, then he felt Ben push into their hands, straining against flesh and beads, once, twice, and then there was a gush of thick, hot fluid over his fingers, his cock, and his stomach, and Ben was gasping and moaning what sounded a lot like Ray-Ray-Ray-Ray, but not in his usual faintly exasperated tones. Oh no, not this time. Ray couldn't keep a grin off his face at Fraser's almost reverent inflection.

Still, whoa, the Vesuvius thing was a bit of a shock. He hadn't known Ben was quite that close. 'Course, he hadn't had the benefit of a back-seat blow-job to take the edge off, either. In fact, when Ray thought about it, he realized that Ben had been pushed way past any normal man's limits. Yet another example of the incredible self-control the guy had. And he'd broken that self-control, twice in two nights. He felt rather insufferably pleased with himself. He lay still, waiting for Ben to recover a little, not wanting to rush a separation. After a moment he thought he probably ought to take the bracelet off now, and slipped his fingers beneath it to lift it off. Ben's hand caught his wrist.


The single word was whispered. Ray opened his eyes, looked into Ben's, and saw something he couldn't quite identify in their smoky blue-gray depths. Lashes shuttered those eyes before he could figure it out, as Ben's fingers caught the bracelet and held it in place as he eased his own softening penis out of its embrace, then moved to coil another loop around Ray's still-hard shaft. Ray shivered at that touch, wondering what Ben's very creative mind had come up with now. Then Ben turned onto his stomach with one knee flexed to the side, and hid his face in the crook of his arm.

"I want you in me, Ray. I need you in me," he whispered, barely audibly.

For a moment Ray just stared at him. He'd done it. Ben had really done it. Admitted both, need, and want. Said 'I need.' Said 'I want.' Yes! Progress! Then the full impact of those hoarsely whispered words hit, and his entire body tightened with reaction. This they hadn't done yet, mostly due to Ray's newfound and slightly selfish obsession with being on the receiving end of things. Oh God. He wants you in him. Needs you. Like this, right now. Oh God. Could he even last long enough to get . . . yes. He could, damn it. Ben wasn't the only one with the ability to control himself. He could do it. He started to reach for the night-stand drawer, only to have Ben reach back and catch his hand, shaking his head.

"No. You're fine. Now."

"But . . ."

"Use what I gave you."

It took him a minute to understand, but then he did. Damn. "Does that . . . will that work?"

Ben nodded.

Ray swallowed, hard. "I don't want to hurt you ."

"You won't. Please, Ray."

Please. Ray shuddered. He realized suddenly that if Ben wanted it this way he'd need to hurry, and not just because their erstwhile lubricant was rapidly drying on his skin. He closed his eyes and used his fingers to collect the satiny wetness of Ben's semen from his stomach where most of it had ended up. It was still faintly warm from his skin, though not hot as it had been a few moments earlier. Leaning to kiss Ben's spine, just above his buttocks, he eased his fingers between those perfect hemispheres and, damn, it worked fine. Ben moaned as Ray's fingers pressed gently into him, working that slick warmth deep. So did Ray, just from the idea of doing this. He was so glad Ben had eased his urgency in the car, because otherwise between the bracelet still wrapped around him, and the thought of being inside Ben, he'd definitely have lost it by now.

"Now, Ray," Ben whispered.

Now. Yes, now. A little scared and almost unbearably aroused, he fit himself against that narrow aperture, eased his fingers out and his cock in. He closed his eyes, panting as he was sheathed in heat. So tight. Never felt anything so tight. He froze. He had to be hurting . . .

"Please, Ray, please. It doesn't hurt," Ben said, reading his mind. "Please."

Oh, too much, too much. All the barriers were down, and there was nothing, nothing between them, nothing held back. Was this what it was like for Ben when he was on top? Why on earth had he waited so long to do this? Oh, God, there couldn't be anything better than this, except maybe when Ben took him this way. There were things he desperately wanted to say, to howl even, but some corner of sanity remained and he didn't want to offend Ben by screaming obscenities at the top of his lungs. With a shudder he eased the rest of the way in, and held himself there, trying to find some sort of control.

"Oh, fuck, Ray," Ben moaned. "So good."

Eyes flying open, Ray stared at Ben's back, so shocked he actually forgot what he was doing for a second. Fraser just said fuck? And here he'd been concerned about offending him! He almost chuckled, but then Ben spoke again.

"More, Ray?" he said, his voice hoarse, ragged, pleading.

More. All thoughts of laughing went right out of his head. More? What more could he . . . oh yeah. There was that moving thing. Instead of the staying-still thing. Move. More. He closed his eyes again, braced his hands on the bed and rolled his hips in a long, slow curl. The damned bracelet slid and clicked against itself, and him, as he moved. He did it again. And again. Slide-click, hot-tight. Yes. So much more. Tentatively he put a little more power behind his stroke, and Ben sobbed something that sounded like "God, yes!"

"Christ, Ben, I'm sorry, I can't wait, I can't . . ." Ray gasped, and then he was driving in hard, and fast, and he could feel the swell starting at the base of his spine and then it broke and light and heat and ecstasy detonated through him with a concussive blast he was half-surprised didn't throw them out of bed.

So good. So damned good. He felt lazy and contented, his body completely relaxed and suffused with residual pleasure. He eased himself out of Ben's clasping warmth, caught the bracelet as it slithered off and put it on the night-stand, then molded himself bonelessly against Ben's back, his cheek against his shoulder as his breathing gradually slowed to normal. Well, it had been good for him, anyway. Hopefully he hadn't been too hideously inept for Ben. He turned his head to nuzzle Ben's neck.

"Sorry, do better next time," he offered optimistically.

He heard Ben sigh, an oddly contented sound. "You did wonderfully, Ray."

Ray snorted derisively. "Yeah, sure. But I'll get the hang of it, and practicing is fun, right?" He sighed and rubbed his nose along Ben's shoulder. "Y'know, for somebody who don't know what he wants you got some really great ideas. Just got to work on ways to tell me what they are."

Judging from the sudden surge of warmth in Ben's skin, he was blushing again. Which reminded him. "By the way, tsk, tsk. Language, Ben," he teased affectionately.

More heat. "I'm sorry, Ray, I just . . ."

Ray laughed. "Give it a rest, Fraser, I loved it, it just about killed me. Just didn't know you had it in you."

There was a moment of silence, then Ben spoke again, sounding embarrassed, but maybe a little pleased, too. "Oh."

"You know, you're gonna use up your surprise quota if you're not careful."

"My what?"

Even though he couldn't see Ben's face, Ray could 'see' the consternated frown on it. He grinned. "Surprise quota. You know. You only get t'spring a certain number of surprises on a guy per day, otherwise you get marked down on your predictability scores, don't you know? And I've got to say, you used up about three or four days worth tonight. In fact, in the last week or so I'd say you're waaay over the limit. Mind you, I'm not complaining."

He heard a soft chuckle from beneath him. "That's just silly, Ray."

"Yeah. It is." A yawn snuck up on him from nowhere, and he couldn't stifle it. Jaw-creaking, and wide, he shivered with it and then sighed. "Sorry. Not used ta all this exercise. You're wearing me out. I haven't had this much sex since . . ." He stopped. He'd been about to say since his honeymoon, but no way was he going to go there.

Besides, it wasn't true. Even that hadn't been like the last few days. Since he and Stella had been together for quite a while before they'd actually gotten married, there hadn't been this kind of urgency to their honeymoon. Frankly it was a wonder he and Ben were getting any work done at all, as often as they were finding excuses to sneak off together. "Well, actually, ever," he finished, truthfully.

Ben shifted beneath him, pushing up a little, turning his head to look at Ray.

"Is it . . . all right?" he asked, sounding anxious, looking it too.

Ray laughed. "You don't usually ask stupid questions, Ben." Another yawn hit him, and he shook his head. "Man, I sure wish tomorrow was Saturday. I'm too old to be staying up this late, m'not a kid any more. But guess I shouldn't complain, since you've got to be up even earlier than I do."

Ben suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Ah, well, actually, Inspector Thatcher demanded that I take the day off. She said my oversleeping this morning was proof that I am under stress and that stressed employees are inefficient. I tried to tell her I was fine, but as I couldn't very well explain to her the reasons for my lapse, she was quite insistent. So, well, it appears that I have the day off," Ben said, clearly embarrassed.

Ray stared at him, frowning. "You got the day off? The whole day off?"

Ben nodded, avoiding his gaze. Ray scowled. "Well, that sucks. I mean, not for you, but for me." He rolled over and stared at the ceiling thoughtfully. A whole day off. He could think of a lot of things to do with a whole day off, with Ben. In bed. Or out of it. Like, maybe even the Art Institute, to prove to Fraser that he wasn't a complete barbarian. He scowled a bit more.

"I'm sorry, Ray," Ben said solemnly.

"Hunh?" He turned to look at his lover. "What for?" He frowned. "For having a day off?" At Ben's nod, he sighed, shaking his head. "Like you said before, that's just silly. 'Sides, I got an idea." He reached over to the phone on the night-stand and hit the speed-dial. Waited for it to ring through and for Welsh's voice-mail to pick up. When it did, he coughed, and pitched his voice low and hoarse.

"Uh, yeah, umn, look, I'm sorry to do this to you, but I'm not *cough* feeling too hot, and I'm gonna stay home and see if I can kick it. I'm gonna unplug the phone so I can sleep."

He saw the implications of what he was saying begin to dawn on Fraser, who looked properly appalled. Ray covered his mouth with his hand to keep him quiet while he finished. "Anyway, don't think I got any emergencies on my desk. I'll call Fraser and tell him not to show up and get in everybody's hair while I'm out. See you." He coughed once more, for effect, and hung up, then grinned and lifted his hand.


"I know, I know, that was conduct unbecoming, right? But see, it wasn't really a lie, because I am sick."

Ben looked concerned. "You didn't mention you were feeling unwell."

"Yeah, well, I am. I'm sick of working and I'm sick of not having any real time to myself. And I'm really, really sick of the Duck Brothers' jokes. So I'm gonna use a sick day, which, I remind you, I have not done all year. I mean, if they're gonna give 'em to me, I might as well use 'em, right?"

"I really don't believe that any of those 'illnesses' qualify for sick-leave," Ben admonished in his best Librarian Mountie tones.

Ray gave Ben the 'puppy-eyed' look that always used to work on Stella, catching his lip in his teeth, pausing, then speaking in a quiet voice. "You want me to go to work? You don't want to be with me?"

Ben stared at him, looking distressed. "Of course I do, Ray, I just feel . . ." his voice trailed off and he looked at Ray narrowly. Ray somehow managed to hold his innocent, wounded expression, and Ben apparently decided he was sincere.

"I'm sorry, Ray. I do want to be with you. I just wish you hadn't resorted to subterfuge to take time off. Couldn't you have asked for personal time?"

Ray snorted. "Yeah, with what for the reason? Got to stay home and boink my best friend?"

Ben blushed, but looked pleased at the same time. Ray wondered if it was the boink part or the best friend part he was pleased by. Both maybe, but he'd put odds on the latter.

"I suppose it would be awkward, wouldn't it?" Ben allowed.

"That it would, Fraser, that it would." Ray dragged one of his pillows over and bunched it under his head, curling the rest of his body against Ben's. "'Night, Ben."

"Ray, may I ask you a question?" Ben said, sounding oddly tentative.

"Sure, shoot. Anything."

"You seem so . . . comfortable, with this."

"That's not a question, Frase. With what?"

"With . . . us. With what we're doing, together, now.

Ray lifted his head to look, amused, into Ben's face. "You mean the sex? Or the rest?"

Ben flushed faintly, but held his gaze. "Both, Ray. I've wondered about that. Since I've known you, you've never really evinced any interest in men, not in anything other than a comradely fashion. You were married for many years. Your, ah, short-term romantic relationships were always with women. You watch women. Not men. So I am puzzled by the ease with which you seem to have accepted . . . what we've become."

Ray stifled a sigh. He'd wondered when this was going to hit. He'd thought about this a lot in the last week or so, and come to some conclusions for himself, but he hadn't quite known how to bring it up, or even if it needed to be brought up. Clearly, it did. So much for sleep. Well, that wasn't a problem, since neither of them was going to work now. He smiled gently.

"Yeah, I know, Ben. I could joke, and remind you that I told you I'd try anything, but it's a lot more than that here, and we both know it, right?"

A hint of relief crept into Ben's expression. "I . . . I know I felt that way. I hoped you did."

"I do. This is . . . this is special. Real special. I mean, I only felt this way one other time, and that was with, well, I know you don't want to hear it, but it was Stella. I tried to tell you that, but I'm not sure you got it."

Ben blushed. "I 'got' it, Ray. But that's not what I'm asking. I guess, well, I suppose I'm simply asking if it bothers you that I'm a man. It doesn't seem to, but I know that appearances can be deceiving."

Ray propped his chin on his forearms, gaze steady on Ben's. "No. It don't bother me."

"Why not?"

"Why not? I'm not sure what you're asking there, Ben."

"I'm sorry, I know I seem to be pushing, but this is important to me. I need to know how deeply your . . .
acceptance of this goes. Once before when I thought there was, there was not, and if there isn't, I need to know that now."

Acceptance of what? There was what and then there wasn't, and isn't and what did he need to know now? Ray studied Ben, just about ready to be exasperated by his muddled attempt at communication, but then he saw the pain in his lover's face, and understood. Once before he'd thought someone loved him enough that it made no difference that he was a man. But that had been wrong. And that was why he needed so badly to know this now. A rush of protective instinct came over him and he had to actively suppress the anger he felt toward the man who'd done this to Ben, knowing Ben would misunderstand it. He reached out and put his hand on his lover's shoulder, stroking his fingertips soothingly over that pale satin skin.

"Yeah. But I'm not him. Remember? This is me, Mr. Instinct, and I go by what my gut says, what my heart says, not what my head says, or what somebody else told me I was supposed to do, or say, or want. I want you. I need you. Have for awhile now, though I didn't really want to admit it because I thought you wouldn't want me to, or would be offended or somethin'. I mean, you come off like the straightest straight-arrow I ever met. How was I supposed ta know you're not when you never give a guy a clue?"

Ben nodded thoughtfully. "I do understand that, Ray. I felt much the same way. However, I still come back to the fact that you have always, at least outwardly, preferred women to men."

Ray laughed drily, thinking of all the months he'd spent sublimating his own desires because Fraser 'wasn't like that' because Fraser 'liked women.' Jesus, they'd wasted a hell of a lot of time.

"Like you didn't? I mean, there's the Ice Queen, and the Bounty Hunter, and Lady Shoes. Even Maggie, well, until you found out she's your sister. Like they aren't all female? Like I don't ask this same question myself? No, I thought about it, thought about what you said when you told me about Miss Interpol, and all that stuff about having two-spirits. I got that, it felt right to me. Ever since I can remember it's been that way for me, but I just made myself not notice guys because, well, you know why. It's dangerous in our line of work. Hell, it's dangerous in any line of work, because there's a lotta people out there who get freaked out about guys liking other guys. That way. You know that."

His eyes held Ben's a little anxiously. Believe me. You have to believe me. You have to see the truth here, know it, viscerally, instinctively, not logically. Remember, sometimes logic doesn't work. Believe in me, Ben. Believe.

"Yes, Ray. I do."

"You do, what?" Ray asked cautiously, having learned that sometimes he assumed that Ben meant one thing when he really meant another thing entirely, and he didn't want to assume here, and find out later that Ben had really been talking about caribou droppings or something.

"I do know that it's dangerous. That people, most people, I fear, do not understand that love is not a thing which can be defined by well-ordered boundaries, that sometimes, in fact most of the time, and especially this time, love happens outside the lines."

Ray grinned so broadly his face felt funny. Not only were they on the same wavelength, but Ben had just said 'love.' A warm feeling suffused him, made his eyes tear despite his delight. "Yes! Exactly! That's it! And we're outside those lines. Never liked lines anyhow."

Ben smiled. "Yes, I could see that about you from the first day we met."

"Just like I could see that you live for 'em, at least on the outside. Inside, you got no lines."

As Ben absorbed those words, his eyes were the warmest blue that Ray had ever seen, full of a deep satisfaction, and pleasure. "And I believe that you are the only person who's ever realized that about me, Ray. You're the only one who's seen that, instinctively. That means a great deal to me."

Ray smiled and ducked his head a little, feeling pleased, and possessive, but unaccountably shy. "Good." He stretched and lay back, then realized he wasn't tired any more. Or at least, he wasn't tired in the right way to fall asleep now. Noticing he'd left all the lights on in the kitchen and living room, he got up.

"Ray?" Fraser sounded concerned.

"Relax, just going to turn off some lights. Wasting electricity. Plus I've got to put down some water for Dief," he said as he left the room. He went into the kitchen and filled a big mixing bowl with water and put it down for Dief, who had wandered over when he'd come out of the bedroom. He stroked the wolf's thick, coarse fur, and turned to leave, only to turn back at a low vocalization from the animal. Oh yeah. Cookies. He grinned, and opened the cabinet next to the refrigerator and pulled out a bag of ginger-snaps, tossing a couple to the wolf who waited expectantly. Dief caught them deftly, they were gone in a flash, and he groaned again softly. Ray chuckled and put a handful of cookies down next to the water dish.

"Sorry, no chocolate, Dief. Besides, that stuff's bad for you and Fraser don't like it when I give it to you. Got to make do with these."

Dief complained, but then nosed the cookies and started to eat. Ray chuckled, pulled a cookie out of the bag and stuck it in his own mouth, then put the bag away. Turning out the lights gave him an idea, and he collected a book of matches and the half-dozen dusty votive candles he'd had sitting out since the last power outage, and headed back to the bedroom. Ben was lying on his back, eyes closed, the messy covers straightened and drawn up in an almost perfectly horizontal line across his chest so only his bare shoulders and arms were above them. Ray grinned, shaking his head. Fraser even slept neatly. As opposed to Ray who usually ended up sleeping upside down in bed and pulling all the covers off. Well, when he slept alone, that is. When Ben was here, he wasn't so restless. He could sleep all night in one position, so long as he could feel Ben's big, warm body against his own.

Quietly he put down his stash of candles on the dresser and struck a match. He'd lit one candle and was starting the next when Ben sat up with a gasp.


Startled, Ray turned and stared at the other man, stunned by the naked pain and fear in his expression. The match burned down to his fingers and with a muttered curse he shook it out and dropped it into the candle he'd been about to light.

"Please, Ray. Don't. No more."

Ray nodded. "No more, no problem." He looked at Ben again, frowning. Pale as a ghost. Of course, he was normally pale, but this was even more than normal. Even his lips were pale. There was tension in the lines of his throat, his shoulders, his back. A lot of it. Cautiously, wondering what was wrong, he ventured a tentative query. "Um, you want I should blow this one out?"

Ben shook his head. "No. No, that's fine. But no more."

Ray nodded and turned to sit down on the bed next to Fraser, who was rubbing his thumb across his eyebrow.

"You got a thing about fire?" Ray asked after a moment. Not that he could blame Ben, after he'd nearly been incinerated the first day they'd met.

Ben shook his head again. "No, not fire. Candles."

Ray frowned. "Candles?"

Ben nodded. "Yes, sorry. Bad . . . associations."

Ray thought about that. Most people thought of candles as being romantic. He found himself frowning as he tried to think of what might change that to pain, and fear. Potential answers came to mind, things he'd read about, heard about . . . anger bloomed again as suspicion came that this was probably something else he could lay at his namesake's door. He frowned. "Jeez, Ben, what'd he do to you? Was he into kinky stuff or something?"

Ben's head snapped up and he stared at Ray in shock. "Who? What?"

"Vecchio. Did he do something to you with candles?"

"Ray Vecchio? Candles?" There was an edge of almost-hysteria to Ben's tone. Then suddenly he began to laugh. "Oh, no, no Ray. It wasn't . . . No, nothing like that. I'm sorry. I should have thought. No, it wasn't Ray Vecchio, not at all."

"What then? I mean, it's obviously something, or you wouldn't've freaked out like that."

Ben shuddered, turning his face away. "It was me. They were my idea."

Ray's eyes went wide. "Your idea?" Fraser was into kinky shit with candles? Now that was something he never would have suspected in a zillion years. Wait. No way. This had to be one of those crossed-wire sorts of things. "Um, want to tell me about it?" he ventured.

Ben turned away. "No. It's not something I'm proud of."

Oh no. No way was he going to let this slide. Not now. He reached out to put a hand on Ben's shoulder, as Ben had done for him that night outside Beth Botrelle's house, then leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Ben, as he'd wished would have happened that night, but that had been before either of them had realized that more comfort could be offered, and not rejected.

"Never figured it was, Ben. Look, we all got stuff we wish we hadn't done, but if we're gonna be together I need to understand you, and I can't if you don't let me. Talk to me. Tell me about it. Don't shut me out. I can deal with anything but that."

A ragged sigh shuddered through Ben's body, and he stared off into space. "There was someone in my past. A woman."

"Victoria Metcalf?"

Ben nodded. "You read my file?"

Ray smiled. "Hey, you read mine. Turnabout's fair play."

Ben chuckled a little. "I suppose that's true. I won't ask how you got it. So, you know about Victoria."

"Some. Just what was in the file, officially. Wasn't much, but I could read a little between the lines. She really had you in a knot."

Ben sighed. "That's one way to put it. God, Ray, I was so lonely, and I loved her, or maybe just the idea of her, so much. I would have done anything for her. Anything. The night we . . . were together, there were candles. So many, almost like a church, a church of passion and deceit. And when she left me I lit the candles again, trying to draw her back to me, trying to create that feeling again. I allowed her to take a part of my soul with her, and my essential self has been darker since that night."

"Ben, don't." Ray said quietly. "Just don't. Don't think that about yourself. You're the brightest soul I know. Don't torture yourself over it. We all make mistakes."

"Not like this. Ray, I was going with her. I was going to go with her, to abandon everything I've ever been taught was right, simply because I thought I loved her. If Ray hadn't shot me by accident, I would have been on that train with her, against every principle I have."

Ray sighed. Damn it. Here it was again. This was starting to suck. He needed to find a new way to approach this. Like everybody didn't sometimes do this kind of shit? Oh. Wait. Yeah, that was it. That might work.

"C'mere. If we're gonna go wading in the deep stuff here we might as well get comfortable." He eased down onto his back, pulling Ben with him, pushing and pulling until he had Ben turned, his body alongside his own, his head resting against Ray's shoulder. That way he could see his face, touch him, but it wasn't as easy for Ben to see him, especially his face. Fingers idly playing through the thick waves of Fraser's hair, he started to talk.

"Yeah. I get that. I really do. Love makes you crazy. I mean, look at me, I was stalking Stella, even though I knew that was wrong. You tried to make it sound better, but I knew what I was doing and she had me pegged. Loneliness can make you kinda nutty too. I mean, I done some stuff I'm not proud of, either."

He looked at Ben, saw his color was a little better. There was less tension under his fingers. He was taking a big risk here, opening up to this extent. He could barely stand to think of this himself, he could imagine how Ben would take it. Ben, whose idea of a hideous sin was a white lie. God. He was scared. He swallowed hard, hoped Fraser wouldn't understand why his heart was suddenly pounding in his chest, wouldn't smell that fear-smell on him. He breathed in a deep breath, and let it out again, then cleared his throat.

"After Stel and I split up, it got bad sometimes. So much of what I was seemed to all be tied up in her. I had no idea who I was any more, if I was a good guy, or a bad guy. Sometimes I did stuff, stuff that was kinda bad. Like, there was this hooker who worked in my district, Keesha Mullins. Kind of pretty. Nicer than most. Too young, barely eighteen I found out later, though she looked more like thirty. She was trying to go it freelance, but there was a pimp who kept trying to tie her to his string. One night after work, I was in the bar she usually worked, drinking my way through a fifth of Scotch, because that was the only way I knew to make it stop hurting."

Ben made a soft protest, but Ray shook his head. "Nah, it's okay. I'm over that. Anyway, she comes over and asks me if I'd help her. She knew I was a cop, but I was an okay guy, didn't hassle the working girls, they're just trying to make a livin'. She thought maybe I could make the guy's life tough and he'd leave her alone. Offers to 'help me out' if I'd help her out. Work out a trade. Guess it was pretty obvious I was lonely." He closed his eyes, remembering the desperation in her eyes, feeling a little sick. He could feel tears running down his face, but didn't dare lift a hand to wipe them away because then Ben might know he was crying. Somehow he kept that out of his voice.

"And I did it. Instead of trying to get her some help, maybe see if we could find her a real job, maybe put her in a program somewhere. I did it. I let her get me off, and then when I sobered up, well, I knew it was a dumb idea, but I couldn't back out, not after I promised her. So I went to see the guy, did my Bad Cop routine, told him t'lay off her, let her work her spots, no hassles, or I'd bust him. The guy says okay. Two days later, they find her in a dumpster. Overdose, or so they wrote it up, maybe accidental, or maybe somebody did it on purpose, no way to tell. Now, tell me that isn't worse than anything you ever did."

* * *

Ben waited through Ray's confession, feeling the body under his taut with something more than simple tension, understanding that for some reason, he needed, really needed to say this. He also understood that Ray didn't want him to look at his face as he spoke, the hand in his hair told him that, even after it stopped stroking and just rested there, unmoving. When he finished, Ben could think of nothing to say at first. He was shocked, more than a little, at what he'd heard. Yet this was Ray, and he knew that his friend was at heart a good and decent man. If he had indeed done this thing, it was only because at the time he had been hurting so much he had not been able to think clearly. Troubled, but knowing that his silence must be excruciating to Ray, he spoke.

"Ray, there was no way you could have predicted that outcome. You were simply trying to help her."

Ray shook his head, Ben could feel it. "No, Ben! Don't make excuses for me! If I really wanted to help her, I'd have done it right. No, I knew it was wrong when I did it, and I did it anyway. Yeah, I was crazy-lonely, and feeling like shit, and so screwed up I couldn't see straight, but even then I knew it was wrong, dead wrong. I know it, and you know it."

Ben felt a drop of hot moisture on the back of his neck, and suspected Ray was crying. That was confirmed a moment later when he sniffed a little, and lifted a hand, probably wiping his eyes. It wasn't the first time Ray had cried in his presence, nor would it be the last, he suspected. Ray was so much more emotionally open than he was, so much more honest. Ben turned, sitting up, reaching out to take his lover in his arms, but Ray shook his head and pushed Ben away, staring into his face intently.

"See, the difference between you and me, Ben, is I know I'm human. I'm flawed. I make mistakes. I screwed up, and I admit it. I regret it, and will for the rest of my life, but I'm human and human beings make mistakes. We screw up. That's where we're most different. Even though I'd give anything to go back and fix the mistakes I've made, when I screw up, it may take awhile, but eventually I pick up the pieces and get past it the best I can. You screw up, it's like the end of the world. You get stuck there, like one of those strips of twisted paper that you make into a circle that connects back on itself. I don't do that. You do. You understand what I'm telling you, you thick-skulled Canadian?" he ended, almost yelling in his need to make himself understood.

Ben stared at him, wide-eyed, but thoughtful. A Mobius strip. Yes, an amazingly apt simile, if inelegantly put. He was, indeed, like a Mobius strip, endlessly looping back onto his own pain. Ray was right. He had to find a way to break that pattern, to move past the pain. Ray was the first step on that new path, the break in the strip that would allow him to change his destination. Finally he nodded. "Yes, Ray. I think I do."

"Tell me then, so I'll know if you got it right."

"You're saying that I should forgive myself for the mistakes I made with Victoria."

Ray closed his eyes in relief. "Yes. Yes, that's it, exactly. But not just her. Everything. Every mistake you've ever made. Let them go, Ben. Let 'em go."

It was so much easier said than done. "I don't know that I can," Ben sighed.

Ray sighed back. "Try. Promise me you'll try. Because until you do that, you can't really be alive and it freaks me out when you play dead, okay? I get scared you might not make it back."

Ben smiled a little at that, remembering Ray's voice calling him back from within the well of catatonia. Obligations. Perhaps this was one of those obligations his father had mentioned, though he had his doubts. No, this was an obligation he owed himself. The obligation to really live. The obligation to love. The obligation to go forward, instead of back. His father was in the past. All his life was in his past. He needed to create a future. "I will try, Ray. I give you my word."

Ray grinned, that quick, open, brilliant smile of his, incongruous with the tears that still gleamed on his face. "Yeah!" he exclaimed, punching the air with a clenched fist. "That's like saying it's a done deal. I know that, Ben."

Well, there was no contradicting that without chasing away that smile, so Ben let it go. Trying was a big step in the first place. He looked over at the single candle on the dresser, and suppressed a shudder. It wasn't going to be easy. Ray's arms went around him suddenly, pulling his attention from the flickering flame.

"Cut it out, Ben. Don't think of her. Think of me. Told you I don't like to share, especially not with some heartless bitch. Think of me. See me. Not her."

Think of him. Oh yes. He closed his eyes, and thought of Ray, his strong, slender body, his generous heart, his quick smile, and sarcastic humor. Ray. Candle. Ray. Ray burned golden, like the flame. Ben leaned in to kiss him, only to have him pull back.

"Hey, don't, I'm all yucky . . . "

Ben held his face between his palms and kissed him anyway, cutting off his protest, tasting the salt where tears had touched his lips, using his tongue to cleanse the taste away, then going after the tear tracks on his face, and his eyes. Ray started to laugh, pushing at him feebly.

"Ben, you're worse than Diefenbaker! Enough licking me!"

That made Ben laugh, and he had to stop. Ray wiped at his face with one hand.

"That's better. Jeez, next thing I know you'll be jumping on my stomach while I'm on the couch, and begging for doughnuts," Ray said, scowling at him, but his eyes were full of humor.

"I can think of many things I might beg you for, Ray, but doughnuts aren't among them," Ben said, attempting a sultry look.

It must've worked, because Ray looked rather as if he'd been hit in the head with a brick. He swallowed, hard.

"Damn it, Ben, do not do that. I couldn't get it up now if my life depended on it. We've got to get some sleep, sometime, or I do anyhow. I know you can sleep while you're walking and talking but I can't. So just cut it out. Okay?"

Ben sighed. "Very well, Ray."

Ray looked at him, and sighed theatrically. "Oh, man. Not that look. Please. Not that one."

"What look?" Ben asked innocently.

"You know what look. That 'I'm disappointed but I'll live, maybe, if I don't die in the next ten seconds and it's all your fault' look. With the eyelashes and everything. How the hell did you learn that look? That's a chick look."

Ben tried not to smile, didn't manage it. "Well, I must admit, I learned it from Francesca."

"I knew it. I knew it! Not fair! You know I'm a sucker for. . . " he stopped momentarily as Ben bent and tasted the hollow at the base of his of his throat, licking there.

Unable to resist the smooth, sleek skin, Ben slid a hand over the firm arch of pectoral muscle, fingers playing with a nipple, which hardened instantly. .

"No. Oh, God," Ray moaned. "Ben, I can't. I really can't. I just don't have it in me."

Ben slid his tongue along Ray's left clavicle, then up the side of his throat, enjoying the sensual rasp of stubble against his tongue. "You don't need to have it in you, so long as I can have it in you."

Ray groaned, Fraser wasn't sure if it was because of the pun, or something more primitive, and shifted a little beneath his weight. He wedged a thigh between Ben's, and shook his head as he felt Ben's erection against him.

"God, Ben. You are unreal! You been lying about your age? You can't be more than sixteen."

Ben lifted his head, staring into Ray's face, puzzled. "Why do you say that, Ray?"

Ray grinned evilly. "Because nobody but a teenager gets hard this fast, this often. You're a freak of nature, Ben. Course, that isn't necessarily a bad thing. . . ."

Ben smiled. "Well, I suppose I'm merely making up for lost time. Or perhaps you might call me a late bloomer."

"Mmm, blooming you certainly are," Ray breathed, eyes closing his hand skimming down Ben's back to curve over one cheek, long fingers searching out the sensitive opening there, pressing inside. Ben shuddered against him, moaning, hips moving. He really, really liked that. And Ray was getting really good at it, too. Ray pushed deeper, harder, and Ben jerked a little, gasping, thinking somewhat less than coherently that fingers were definitely a good invention. Someone should be commended for that.

Needing something to taste, he found Ray's mouth again, and kissed him deeply, licking into his mouth, feeling the slick, hard surfaces of teeth, the soft warmth of his tongue, now playing teasingly with his own. Tears gone, there was no more salt, now he tasted sweet, and faintly gingery. Ben lifted his head, momentarily distracted.

"Did you give Diefenbaker cookies?"

Ray nodded guiltily. "Just ginger-snaps, they're low fat."

"They are not, however, low calorie," Fraser said sternly.

"But, I promised him, remember?"

"Ah. Right you are. Next time, don't promise."

"I won't," Ray promised. "No more cookies. What about you? You want a cookie?"

"No, I want you."

Ray chuckled, easing his fingers from Ben's body, making him gasp as they were withdrawn. "You really are butch tonight, aren't you?"

Ben frowned. "You said that before, but I don't believe I know anyone by that name, at least not down here. There was a Butch Throcklehurst up in Yellowknife, but I'm sure you're not speaking of . . . " Ray's laughter finally made him shut up, and he lifted his eyebrows. "What?"

"God, Ben, I do love you, y'know. You never worked Vice, did you? Anywhere?"

Ben shook his head. "No, Ray. Never."

"Figured as much. Okay, Ray's Vice-Squad Dictionary time. Butch means masculine, or aggressive. It mostly refers to the dom half of a couple."

Ben looked at him blankly. "Dom?"

Ray sighed looking a little exasperated. "Dominant, Ben. Kinda the same as butch, as in 'butch' and 'femme' or dominant and submissive. Okay? Got it?"

Ben nodded. Butch. That did explain a couple of overheard conversations about Inspector Thatcher. He frowned. He would have to speak to Detective Dewey about that. Entirely inappropriate. He went over Ray's definition again in his head, and feeling a trifle mischievous, he looked down at Ray.

"So if I'm 'butch' that would make you . . ."

"Do not go there," Ray said with a severe look. "Do not even think it, at all. Not if you value your life."

Ben noted the use of correct English and nodded. "Understood."

"Good. Now, where were we?"

"I believe you were protesting that you couldn't possibly have sex again tonight and I was attempting to convince you otherwise."

Ray laughed. "Oh yeah, that was it. Good memory. Well, keep goin'. Convince me."

Ben rolled his hips forward, stroking himself against the hard arch of Ray's thigh where it rode between his own. Ray's arms curved around Ben, petting his back as he rubbed his nose along the line of Ben's collarbone, licking at it absently. Ben put a hand under his chin and lifted his face so they could kiss. God, he loved Ray's mouth. That beautifully drawn upper lip, contrasted with the fuller lower one, the slight upcurve at the corners that betrayed his essential amusement. He sucked softly at that fullness, flicking it with his tongue until Ray opened his mouth and gave him access to the ginger-sweetness within. Ben kissed him deeply, stealing his breath, body moving against Ray's like an exotic dancer's, working hard to convince him. Finally he lifted his head, staring down, panting a little, asking his question with his eyes. Ray smiled that lopsided, engaging smirk that drove Ben half crazy.

"Okay, okay," Ray said a little huskily. "So maybe I could, one more time, just for you. But after that, sleep. I'm gonna be quick-fried to a crackly-crisp if I don't get some rest soon."

Ray's words were said with affectionate amusement, but something in them made Ben look at him more closely, and he saw the dark circles under Ray's eyes were darker and his usually warmly-golden skin was paler than normal. He did look tired. Very tired. It suddenly dawned on him that he was being exceptionally inconsiderate. He'd kept Ray up all night the previous night, and the night before that. Work had kept them out late tonight, but after that . . . appalling. What had gotten into him? He'd spent years ignoring his body's demands; there was no reason to indulge them now at Ray's expense.

"I'm sorry, Ray, I'm being thoughtless. Please, go to sleep."

Ray looked up at him, startled, then his eyes narrowed. "What did you just say?"

Oh dear. He probably should have put that another way. Ray had a 'thing' about him being selfless. Although, frankly, Ben didn't see how a relationship could possibly work when one party was continually insisting that the other should be more selfish, at his own exp. . . Oh. It dawned on him suddenly, that what he'd just been thinking was exactly what Ray had been trying to tell him for some time now. He'd simply been too dense to see it. He felt a blush heat his face, and unconsciously rolled his head to crack his neck. Ray was watching him, looking puzzled, and a little annoyed. Ben smiled a little, and faked a yawn, consciously willing his arousal to fade.

"Actually, I find I'm a little fatigued myself, and since, ideally, what I'd like to do with you would involve a shower, let's just wait until we wake up, all right?"

Ray's eyes widened. "A shower? What . . . ?"

Ben smiled, mysteriously, he hoped. Ray had taken the bait, and in so doing, was completely distracted from his annoyance. "You'll see."

"I want to know now."

"Where's the fun in that? There's no anticipation."

"How can I anticipate unless I know what it is?" Ray complained.

"Imagination is an interesting thing," Ben commented blandly as he rolled out of bed and went to blow out the candle. It was a fire hazard. In the darkness, he slid back into the bed, found the covers, and drew them up around himself, and Ray.

Ray made a sound remarkably similar to Diefenbaker's grumble. "Hrmmm. I smell a rat."

"I didn't know you had such a keen sense of smell. Perhaps you should have an exterminator in."

Ray punched him in the arm, lightly. "I meant the large, intelligent kind."

"It's true that Rattus norvegicus, also known as the brown, or Norwegian rat, can grow relatively large, and is considered to be quite intelligent."

"Mmhmmm. What about the Canadian rat? They smart too?"

Ben smiled into the darkness. "Of course they are, Ray. They're Canadian."

* * *

Ray woke up, sprawled face-down, diagonally across the bed. Automatically he reached for Ben, but his hand encountered nothing but sheets. He tried the other side, found a pillow, and more sheets. No Ben. He pushed himself up on his elbows and looked around the dimly-lit room, squinting at the clock. 12:16. The 'p.m.' indicator glowed beside the letters. Thinking that it was awfully dark for noon he looked over at the window, and realized there were a pair of towels draped over the curtain-rod, darkening the room far more than the curtains usually did. So, Ben had definitely been up and industrious. But where was he now?

A quick glance around told him that Ben's jeans, socks, and boots weren't on the floor by the bed where they had been the night before. For that matter, neither were his own. No, wait, his boots were over by the dresser, neatly side-by-side. And his t-shirt was folded and on top of the dresser. Obviously Fraser had been neatening up. His mom would like that. Ray experienced a brief moment of panic at that thought, until he remembered that she'd already been in to iron his shirts this week, and wouldn't be back until next. Whew. Actually, knowing his mom, she'd be shocked at first, but then she'd just pretend nothing unusual was going on and while she was at it, decide to adopt Fraser and start feeding him. No, it was his dad who would be the problem. Dad wouldn't understand this. At all. But he wouldn't be able to ignore it, either. Putting that thought firmly out of his mind, he wondered where the hell Fraser was, and why he wasn't in bed where he belonged?

Ray stood up and went to the doorway. Fraser was sitting on the couch, with what appeared to be a pile of blue fabric in his lap, a needle and thread in one hand, sewing intently. Sewing? That was taking the domesticity thing a little too far, in Ray's opinion. What the heck would he be sewing on anyway? For that matter, where would he have gotten a needle and thread? Ray didn't do mending. Stuff got holes in it, he threw it away and bought new. Or just kept wearing it until it was impossible to wear any more. He didn't mend.

Tantalizing food-ish sorts of scents drew him toward the kitchen, where he found a pot of coffee, real coffee, not instant, keeping warm in the pot on the coffee-maker. Jeez, he hadn't used the thing in months. He was surprised it still worked. Guiltily he wondered if he'd remembered to empty it last time, or if Ben had been forced to clean dried-up, moldy coffee sludge out of the pot. But coffee wasn't the smell that had drawn him . . . his gaze moved around the kitchen, looking for anomalies. First off, it was clean. How'd Fraser managed that without making enough noise to wake the dead? Then Ray spotted the source of the smell, something in a pie-tin sitting on the stove. Pie tin? He didn't own a pie-tin. Or hadn't until today. He eyed it askance; the contents didn't look much like pie. Didn't smell like one either. In fact, it looked suspiciously like. . . .

"Hello, Ray. Did you sleep well?"

Ray turned quickly to find Ben watching him from the couch, a smile on his face. He felt himself smiling back broadly as he raked a hand through his hair and stretched a little. "Yeah, great, actually. But you shouldn't've let me sleep so long. Half the day's gone!"

"Clearly you needed the rest. And really, it was only a normal eight hours from when you fell asleep at any rate."

Ray grinned. "Fraser, the words 'normal' and 'eight hours' and 'sleep' do not belong together. Not on my planet. What is that?" he asked, pointing at the pie-tin.

"Ham and broccoli quiche."

He'd been right. It was exactly what he thought it was. Fraser cleaning up, sewing, and making quiche? He shook his head.

"Fraser, this will not do! You're making me dizzy."

Ben stared at him, wide-eyed. "Excuse me?"

"Butch last night, now this? Settle somewhere, okay? I don't do schizophrenia well."

"I'm afraid I don't understand . . . "

"Nah, you wouldn't, would you?" he sighed, shaking his head. "Never mind, why should this be any less weird than the rest of my life these days? Didn't anybody ever tell you real men don't eat quiche?"

"No, Ray, I wasn't aware there were any gender-based dietary restrictions in this country. Though, I believe that at one time in the Hawaiian Islands, the consumption of bananas was limited to men only, an interesting proscription when you think about it, considering the highly phallic . . ."


Ben looked up. "Yes, Ray?"

"Enough with the history lesson."


Ray couldn't help it, he chuckled. "You're a freak, Fraser. But you're my freak. And I guess I'm pretty much a freak too, so that's okay. Quiche, hunh? Smells good."

Ben frowned. "I thought you said . . . ."

"It was a joke, Fraser. A really old and dumb one, but I guess one that never made it to the Land of Ice and Snow. Just let it go, okay?"

"Certainly. Are you hungry? It's probably cooled enough to eat by now."

"Where'd you get the stuff to make it? Borrow it from a neighbor?"

"No, I went to the market."

"Ben, the closest grocery store is two miles away!"

"Well, Diefenbaker needed a walk, and I was feeling restive, so . . ."

"Did you go to a fabric store too?"

Ben frowned. "No, what makes you ask that?"

Ray gestured toward Fraser's lap.

"Oh, that." Ben blushed, and held up what he was working on.

Ray squinted, and the shape resolved itself into a pair of jeans.

"I was attempting to repair the damage I did last night," Ben said sheepishly. "Fortunately I was able to find a sewing kit at the market, and it looks as if I will be able to make the repair, though I wouldn't recommend doing any strenuous exercise in them."

Ray chuckled, shaking his head. "I'll keep that in mind." He reached into the cupboard and got out a mug, poured coffee into it, reached for the drawer where he kept his usual sweetener, and stopped. Since Ben had gone to all the trouble of making real coffee, he ought to treat it better. He was about to go searching for the sugar bowl to see if there was anything in it, when Ben spoke again, closer now, he'd put down the mending and come to stand on the other side of the pass-through.

"Try it."

Ray looked at him, looked at his cup, shrugged, and tasted. Coffee. Chocolate. Just a hint of sweetness. But no trace of the sludgy texture or faint 'candy shell' flavor the M&M's usually gave it. He swallowed, and looked at Ben. "Nice. How'd you do that?"

"About a quarter of a Ghirardelli dark chocolate bar."

Ghirardelli? Would wonders never cease? Fraser knew his chocolate. Ray grinned. "Now I know you love me," he teased. "Not only did you make me breakfast and fix my jeans, you sprang for the expensive candy."

To his surprise, Ben didn't seem amused by that. In fact, he frowned slightly. Ray felt a little moment of fear, wondering what mistake he'd just made.

"Ray, I know . . . I mean, I'm not good at, at saying--"

Oh. Now he knew. He smiled gently. "'S'okay, Ben. I know. I was just teasing you."

Ben nodded, looking relieved. "I'll just get out the plates. How hungry are you?"

"Starving. You know that. I'm always starving."

Ben smiled, and headed for the quiche. Ray decided he felt a little strange standing around in his birthday suit while Ben was fully clothed, so he took his coffee back to the bedroom and rummaged around until he found his favorite sweat pants. Holey. Stretched-out. Paint-stained. Nothing at all like Fraser's sweats. He pulled on the pants, and a muscle-tee, and still felt oddly naked. Then he realized why and reached for his bracelet where he'd left it on the night-stand. It wasn't there. He frowned, and leaned down to see if it had fallen off onto the floor.

"Here," Ben said softly from behind him. "Hold out your wrist."

Ray straightened, startled. Fraser stood only a foot or so away. He held the chain, dangling from his fingers.

"I thought you might want it. I cleaned it up."

Polished was more the word for it. It probably hadn't been that shiny when it was new. Ray held out his arm and Ben looped the chain around his wrist once, twice. Their eyes met and held, and a shiver of sensual awareness went through Ray. Ben's tongue flickered out across his lower lip, then he took a deep breath and closed the catch with fingers that shook slightly. His fingers lingered on Ray's wrist, sliding the beads around.

"I do, you know," he said quietly, his voice as shaky as his fingers.

Ray couldn't breathe for a moment, so he nodded, and finally found breath, and voice. "I know. I do know. You don't have to say it. I know it's hard for you."

Ben 's eyes lifted to his, their bright blue shadowed, shook his head. "I want to say it, I need to, but . . ."

Ray felt an overwhelming desire to go back in time and pound some sense into Ben's family, but that wasn't possible. Instead, he pulled Ben into his arms. "No rush, Ben. We got time," he said, stroking his back, holding him wordlessly, absorbing the feel of Ben's strong, sturdy frame against his own slighter one.

Their breathing synched up, and he could smell the faint hint of sweat that came from wearing the same clothes two days in a row and going for a four-mile round-trip run to the grocery store with a rambunctious wolf. He nuzzled Ben's neck, breathing deeply, wondering when he'd gotten so hooked that he even found the scent of Ben's sweat sexy. He felt the rasp of stubble against his temple and realized that Ben hadn't shaved. He pulled back and looked. Sure enough, a strong line of beard-shadow darkened his jaw and framed his mouth. He'd been up, probably for hours now, and still hadn't shaved? In fact, his flannel shirt wasn't tucked in, and both t-shirt and jeans were faintly wrinkled from their overnight stay on Ray's floor. Ray smiled.

"Boy, get a day off and your personal hygiene goes all to pot," he teased.

Ben colored instantly. "I didn't want to wake you by making noise in the bathroom . . ."

Ray laughed softly. "I like it. You scruff up nice."

Ben looked at him sideways, intently. "Not as nicely as you do."

"You really are unhinged," Ray said affectionately, wondering if he should even bother to try to convince Fraser that he was the most gorgeous thing on the planet, scruffed or not. It wouldn't do any good, and it would just make him blush, and all that blood could be better used somewhere else. "Speaking of personal hygiene, didn't you say something last night about a shower?"

Ben closed his eyes, teeth closing on his lower lip, and a soft sound escaped him, not quite a moan, not quite a groan, not quite a sigh. "Yes. Yes."

Apparently Ray wasn't the only one who repeated himself under stress. Now he was really starting to wonder what Ben had in mind, if it made him react like that. God, just watching that reaction made him hard, and he was glad he'd chosen something loose to wear. Then Ben took a deep breath and control slipped back over his face like a veil.

"You said . . ." Ben had to stop and clear his throat, then he went on. "You said you were hungry. We should eat first."

"I'm always hungry," Ray said huskily. "I'd rather fuck first."

Cooking-cleaning-mending Ben disappeared in a heartbeat and Ray found himself pulled up against a veritable wall of solid chest and thighs, and his mouth was being devoured. Oh God, it was good, the thrust of tongue like a second cock in his mouth, twinned erections pressing against each other, grinding a little as Ben spread a hand over his ass and pushed his hips forward. Oh yeah. This beat out food any day. Ray pushed forward a little, until Ben got the hint and started to back toward the door, still kissing him, hand tugging and pulling at his sweats until he could get his hand inside and fingers cupped bare cheeks.

Somehow they made it to the bathroom, and Ray was disappointed when he had to break contact and turn away in order to reach in and turn on the shower, but then Ben started kissing and licking the back of his neck and he wasn't disappointed anymore. God, he'd discovered more erogenous zones in the last week than he had in the entire life previous to this. Who would have guessed the back of his neck could possibly have so many direct nerve-attachments to his crotch? After some fumbling, he managed to get the water adjusted to a reasonable temperature, and stepped back from the tub, only to have Ben's arms go around him from behind, to catch the bottom of his tank, and yank it unceremoniously off over his head. Then those hands were dragging his sweats down, and off, and he was naked again for the second time in less than ten minutes.

He reciprocated, helping Ben strip off his clothes as well, and then he was being urged into the shower, Ben stepping in behind him and pulling the glass-door closed to spare the bathroom from the splashback. Ray braced a hand on the wall, waiting expectantly, and was very surprised when the next touch he felt was not Ben's naked body against his back, but the firm, slippery weight of soapy hands on his shoulders. Okay, well, since he'd been encouraging Ben to do what he wanted, he couldn't exactly object if what he wanted was to play 'Bath-time Ben' first. And actually it did feel pretty good, as those strong fingers worked their way down his shoulders, under his arms, over his chest, his stomach. There they paused a little while, and Ben pulled him back against his wet, naked, and obviously aroused body as he stroked at Ray's erection until the soap all washed away in the streams of warm water spilling over them.

Too soon, those big, clever hands left him again, just for a moment, then Ray smelled the strong, citrusy smell of his shampoo and the fingers were in his hair, massaging across his scalp. Felt great, actually. He didn't think anyone had ever washed his hair for him before, well, anyone intimate, not a hairstylist. It was different this way. Very different. Strangely sensual. Ben finished with the wash cycle and guided his head back under the spray to rinse, and then the spray was suddenly gone, moving, as Ben unclipped the shower-massage unit from its holder and used it to rinse all the leftover soap and shampoo from Ray's body.

Just when Ray was starting to wonder if a shower was all he was going to get, Ben moved forward again, pushing a knee between Ray's legs to nudge him into lifting one foot and bracing it against the rim of the tub. Ray shivered sensually. Now. Now he was going to . . . no. The shower spray moved again, between his spread thighs, angling up so the pulsing water played over his crotch like a thousand warm, wet fingers. Or tongues. Oh yeah. Then there were more fingers, real ones, big, blunt ones, slippery with soap, working there too, stroking, sliding, teasing.

He gasped, knees going a little weak, nearly pitching him head-first into the wall as one of those fingers slipped inside him probing shallowly. Oh God, oh good, so good, never thought of soap as sexy before. More, damnit, more. But more wasn't to be. Instead the finger was withdrawn, and he heard the change in the hum of the massage unit as it was dialed up to a stronger pulse, then the water was back on him, harder now, and held close enough that it was actually. . . jeez, sometimes Ben had some really weird ideas, but damn, it felt kinda good, especially when combined with a slow, gentle stroking of his cock. He was really starting to get into it when suddenly both the water and the hand left him.

"Hey!" he protested, hearing the water shut off. Opening his eyes, he blinked back the water that dripped into them from his hair as he looked back over his shoulder at Ben. "Why'd you stop?"

Ben lifted his eyebrows. "Who says we have?" He slid the door open again, stepped out, then reached back to take Ray's hand and pull him toward the opening. "Come on."

Ray shook his hair back and followed, reaching for a towel, only to have Ben tug it from his hand and toss it aside, then he was guiding him toward the bedroom again, and pushing him down to sit on the bed, soaking wet. Oh well, it would dry. He'd started to scoot back from the edge of the bed when Ben planted a hand in the middle of his chest and pushed him down onto his back with his legs over the edge, feet flat on the floor. Then Ben was spreading his thighs apart with his hands and kneeling between them, sliding his hands under his ass and lifting, hands firmly parting his cheeks, the hot wet flicker of tongue against extremely sensitive flesh, slipping deeper, inside. Lick, flicker, tease, probe.

He writhed, moaning, out of his mind, stunned, and riding the bliss of that hot, silky touch, almost ready to come just from that incredibly intimate caress, until some tiny, rational corner of his mind protested and his whole body went taut as he realized exactly what Ben was doing and . . . oh fuck, no way. Oh God.

"Ben! Jesus, stop that! That's, that's dis . . . "

"No, it's not," Ben interrupted, lifting his head, looking simultaneously seductive and mulish, if such a thing were possible. "It's very erotic, and I find it extremely arousing, as, clearly, do you." he said, with a meaningful look at Ray's erection.

Caught. No lying possible with that sort of evidence at hand. "God, yeah, it feels . . . it's incredible, but you're gonna catch something . . ."

"Ray," he sounded exasperated. "I knew you'd react like this. That's why the shower. I could 'catch something' from eating at that hot-dog stand you favor. Frankly, I could 'catch something' from eating food prepared in your kitchen, at least before I cleaned it. However, at this moment, I suspect I'd be more likely to 'catch something' from kissing your mouth than your . . ."

His sentence ended suddenly, as if someone had hit the stop button on a cd-player, and Ray watched as a blush spread into Ben's face, and knew, he just knew that Ben couldn't bring himself to say it. And that was so damned funny he started laughing. Fraser could kiss it, lick it, put his tongue in there, and he couldn't say the word. Any word. Even a nice clinical, anatomical, non-slangy word. And he also realized that Ben was probably right. He probably could catch something more easily from his mouth. Since Ben was pretty much always right that reassured him a little.

Apparently taking his laughter for consent, Ben lifted him again, bent his head, and that incredible tongue went back to work. Laughter stopped instantly, choking into a low moan as sensuality warred with caution. Sensuality won, hands-down, no contest, and Ray surrendered to this new delight as Ben licked, and sucked, and tormented him until he was whimpering and sobbing and so hot he was trying to fuck thin air. He felt as if his whole body were one big, supersensitized nerve-ending, but still he needed more. So much more. He didn't want to come like this, not alone. He needed Ben with him. In him. All the way.

"Ben, stop. Now," he ordered in a ragged voice.

Ben stopped, immediately, and looked up, a worry line forming across his forehead. Ray smiled, sat up, and slid off the bed onto Ben's lap, careful not to come down hard on anything vulnerable. As the concern began to fade from Ben's face Ray kissed him, hard, and deep, slowly rocking his engorged penis against Ben's in a delicious torture. Finally Ray drew back and looked down into Ben's passion-slackened face.

"I need you to move, Ben. Sit with your back against the bed, 'kay? Can you do that?"

Slowly, as if coming back from unconsciousness, Ben blinked, and nodded. "Yes, yes, I can do that."

Ray shifted his weight, moving aside to give Ben room to move, then as soon as he had done so, he was back again, straddling his lover's thighs, knees on the floor. Reaching down, he found Ben's erection stroked it, spreading slick pre-ejaculate over the head, down the sides, then wrapping his fingers around it, holding it firmly in place as he eased down.

"Ray!" Ben gasped. "You're not . . ."

"Sssssh," Ray said, preventing further objections by the simple expedient of kissing Ben, though it was difficult to maintain that contact when what he really wanted to be doing was moaning, and panting as his body adjusted to the intrusion.

It was getting easier. Even now, without anything more than nature provided to ease the way. He was getting the hang of how to relax, so even that first little bit wasn't so difficult, and the part after was still as spectacular as ever. God, was it. Not just the sheer physical pleasure of it, but the incredible intimacy, the trust. And he did trust Ben, with his body, his life, his soul. For the first time in his life he felt secure, knowing that Ben wouldn't hurt him. He didn't have it in him to hurt anyone. It simply wasn't in his nature. Of course, the sheer physical pleasure certainly wasn't the worst thing about their arrangement, either, he thought, easing his hips in a slow circle. He was finding that Fraser was indefatigable. Loved that word. It was so Ben. Oh yeah.

He moaned into Ben's mouth. So good. So good. Ben moaned right back, his hands coming up to fan over Ray's hips, not guiding him, or pushing, no, Ben would never do that, but just . . . encouraging. Ray rocked against him, finding this position gave him amazing control, and better yet, let them be face-to-face, so they could kiss, so he could watch the ebb and flow of pleasure on Ben's face as he moved. One of Ben's hands slid down from his hip to stroke his cock, making Ray gasp, and buck hard against him. He clutched at Ben's shoulders with both hands, panting, riding him for all he was worth. The strong, muscular thighs between his own tensed as Ben tried to push upward in counterpoint to Ray's downward strokes, but gravity and a hundred-fifty-some pounds of fiercely aroused and determined Chicago detective conspired to keep him restrained.

"Ray!" Ben moaned, eyes squinted shut, his expression almost pained, shuddering, close to falling.

Ray took his face between his palms and kissed him, then drew back. "Look at me. Look at me now."

Ben opened his eyes, met his gaze. Thin rings of smoky blue iris surrounded pupils so huge and dilated they made his eyes nearly black. Ray could fall into those eyes and drown in them. Was drowning in them, in Ben, in the pleasure, in the . . . God, in the love he saw there, naked and shining. Pushed over the edge by what he saw in those eyes, Ray cried out softly as his body was racked by shuddering waves of delight, feeling the wet splatter of semen against his own skin. Ben's gaze lost all focus then, and rolled back slightly as he came, too, teeth caught in his lower lip, a raw, throaty groan torn from him, one hand clutching hard at Ray's hip, as if to make sure he didn't move.

* * *

Ben held Ray tight against him, feeling the trickle of sweat, and semen between them, feeling his breathing slowly calming as the storm passed. With a little murmur of discomfort, Ray shifted his hips, disengaging them, then settling closer against him, relaxing all the way at last, all without moving out of his arms. Ben worried at the sound, concerned by the lack of lubricant, though the friction it had created had been stunningly erotic.

"Ray, are you all right?" he asked quietly.

"Mmmm, never better," Ray replied huskily, nuzzling his neck, licking that spot under his ear that he seemed to have a fixation on.

He sounded all right, and Ben trusted Ray not to lie to him. Relaxing a little, Ben let himself go back to feeling stunned by what he'd seen in Ray's eyes. So honest, so open. Ray loved him, he really did. Even knowing him so well, knowing he was stubborn, opinionated, sometimes even arrogant, Ray still loved him. Ben still had a hard time believing that. Believing that he deserved it, that it was something he could really have, for himself.

Intellectually he knew why he felt that way. He had enough understanding of the human psyche to understand that the loss of his mother and subsequent lack of open affection in his childhood years had made him feel unworthy of love, had led him to put up walls that kept people out, because that was what he thought he was supposed to do. Knowing it didn't make it any easier to stop feeling that way. But unlike most people who were content to let those walls stand, Ray had insisted on more. He'd kicked down the walls, and stormed past the remaining rubble like some sort of commando intent on capturing the high ground. Which he had done. Utterly and completely.

Where Ray Vecchio had opened a chink in his armor, Ray Kowalski had destroyed it completely, using his own insecurity and vulnerability as a battering ram. Ben could no more keep him at arm's length than he could ignore a cry for help in a dark alley. No one else had ever needed him like Ray Kowalski. He needed that need. He thrived on it. Ray Kowalski was slowly, but surely, showing him how to open himself up, how to be vulnerable, with the right people, the right person. Just as he was slowly teaching Ray how to be less so, with the wrong ones. Equal needs, both of them supplying something the other lacked.

With Ray Vecchio he'd only had half the equation. He'd needed, but not been needed in return. There had been nothing for him to give Ray Vecchio. Nothing he couldn't get elsewhere, with less guilt. Not so with Ray Kowalski. Ray gave and took in equal measure, and expected no less in return. Both halves were there, and they produced a whole as a result. Ben shuddered to think of what he might have become had Ray not been there when he returned from Canada; had he not accepted that first, tentative overture to possibly be more than just work-mates. Ray lifted his head.

"You cold? I could turn up the heat."

Ben shook his head. "No, Ray. I'm fine."

"You shivered."

"Just thinking."

"Of being cold?"

Ben smiled wryly. "In a manner of speaking." Knowing Ray wouldn't let it go until he explained, he went on. "I was just thinking of what my life would be like without you in it."

There was a moment of silence, then Ray spoke, his voice husky. "I know what mine would be like."



Over? What did that mean? Ben frowned and tried to lean back enough that he could see Ray's face, but apparently he didn't want to be seen, as he kept his face turned away. "I don't understand," he confessed after a moment.

Ray shook his head, and sighed against his shoulder. "No, you wouldn't. And that's okay. Don't need to."

No. It wasn't all right. There was only one thing he could think of that made sense in context, and he couldn't bring himself to think that was what Ray had meant. He was too alive, too vibrant for that to ever have been a consideration, wasn't he? Ben shifted position, still trying to see Ray's face, and Ray still avoided letting him.

"Ray, I do need to. I need to understand. Are you saying you would have . . . ?"

"No, not like that," Ray said, interrupting him, saving him from having to ask the question he didn't want to ask. "But I think I might have, sort of by accident. You know how easy it can be. Just stand up at the wrong moment, or go into one wrong spot without backup. I was that low, when I took Vecchio's place. I really was. Then you showed up, and things just got . . . different. Crazy, but in a good way. And all the sudden, I start to know who I am, when I didn't before."

Ben closed his eyes, remembering how fragile Ray had seemed when they first met. He realized suddenly that perhaps he had not, after all, discerned just how unhappy Ray had been then. But he had known something was wrong and gone about trying to help in the only ways he could think of. By reminding Ray at every turn that he was a good man, a good cop, by protecting him from the barbs of his fellow officers while he got his feet under him, and by trying to protect him from being hurt by Stella yet again, though that hadn't worked well. Unfortunately he'd allowed his protective instincts to become a bit stifling, but they had worked through that during the Henry Allen incident.

The fact that Ray had stood up for himself, and fought for his needs and his equality then had shown Ben how far he'd come. Had brought him, shockingly, to realize that he needed Ray every bit as much as Ray needed him. It had also shown him that Ray believed in himself again. The man with no self-esteem was now willing to argue procedure with Federal agents, and disregard their demands when Ben's life was at stake (Huey had told him about that after the fact). Even to defy Welsh' orders when they contradicted his 'gut instinct' about how a situation should be handled. It amazed him that really, he had done nothing more than be Ray's friend, and it had made that much difference.

In his heart Ben understood how important that was. There had been days when it was all that had kept him going, as well. And somewhere along the line that friendship had deepened, grown, evolved, now, into this. Love. It bothered him that he could hardly bring himself to even think the word, though he knew he felt it, deeply. He remembered telling his father that he wished he had said it while he was alive, and the reaction that had gotten. It was no wonder he had trouble expressing affection.

"I'm glad I was able to be of assistance," he managed finally, and winced at how stupid that sounded.

To his surprise, Ray chuckled in response. "Assistance? Jeez, Ben. One of these days I'm gonna have to teach you to speak American. After all, you do live here now."

Ray shifted his weight a little, leaned back, and looked into Ben's face. Ben was pleased to see that his eyes were warmly amused, all trace of upset gone. Quicksilver moods, unlike Ben's longer-lasting ones. Perhaps he could learn a little of that from Ray, learn how to let go. A sigh welled up inside him, but he suppressed it. No need to spoil the moment with his own emotional handicap. Ray looked into his eyes, and a slight frown appeared on his face.

"Something wrong?"

Ben shook his head, smiling. "No Ray, nothing at all. Everything is very, very right." Not a lie, a simple truth he needed to be more aware of.

Ray studied him narrowly for a moment, then grinned. "Okay, good. But I've got to move. Floor's hard on the knees, and probably on your butt, too."

Ben considered that portion of his anatomy, and nodded. "Perhaps a trifle."

Ray chortled. "Trifle? There you go again. On second thought, I won't teach you American because I like you this way. Trifle. Shit. Too much," shaking his head he braced his hands on Ben's shoulders, got his feet under him, and stood up, then extended a hand down to Ben, who took it. Ray had to struggle a little to maintain his balance as he helped Ben to his feet, and he shot a look at him, shaking his head.

"I don't get how you can outweigh me as much as you do and not be fat when we're almost the same height."

Ben shrugged. "I simply have a larger frame."

"Oh right, that 'big boned' thing," Ray said, then he laughed wickedly and slanted a glance toward Ben's crotch. "Oh, yeah. Definitely."

Ben felt the heat of a blush, and dropped his gaze, embarrassed. "Ray, please!"

"I know, I know, your virgin ears and all that. So, let's get a move on here, I want to go out and do something fun with you, and the day's wasting away."

Ben's eyes widened, and Ray laughed, reading his mind.

"I meant something fun we can do with our clothes on, Ben, don't worry. Ever been to the Art Institute?"

Ben forgot his embarrassment as he realized Ray was serious, and felt a warm glow spread through him. While he really did know that Ray didn't just want him for his body, as the saying went, it was nice to have proof. Of course, judging from his own actions the past few days, Ray couldn't know that for certain either. He smiled, wondering if this was what he had heard referred to as 'honeymoon syndrome.' He realized Ray was still waiting for an answer, and brought his thoughts back to the question.

"No, Ray, I haven't."

"You been living here how long now and you never been there?" Ray asked incredulously, looking shocked. "Jeez, don't you have any culture, Mountie? I like the moderns best, but just for you we can check out the Hudson River School landscapes too. You can put up with my Moderns and I'll put up with your Romantics. That way we're both happy."

"I would like that very much, Ray, although, I assure you, I do appreciate modern works as well as the classical ones."

Ray snorted. "Yeah, right. Tell me another one. Come on, let's finish up that shower thing for real this time, eat, and get out of here."

Ben let Ray drag him off to the shower, feeling pleased. A date. They were having a date. Not just eating together, not just working together, not just making love. Although, 'just' was an insufficient modifier for that last one. Still, a date. Ray looked up from adjusting the water, and lifted his eyebrows.

"What are you grinning at?"

Ben didn't even bother to try to hide his smile. "You, Ray."

Ray ducked his head and blushed, looking embarrassed. "Oh. Well, water's ready."

Ben tested the warm spray with a hand and shook his head. "Oh no, this won't do at all if we're going to shower together and you want us to leave the apartment any time soon. Allow me." He leaned over and turned the cold water up substantially. The shower spray cooled to a comfortable chill, and Ben nodded, satisfied. "There. That should do it."

Ray laughed, shaking his head. "Looney. Totally looney," he said, and stepped in, gasping as the water hit his skin.

Ben smiled, and stepped in behind him. A day at the Art Institute was worth a few minutes of discomfort. Plus he still owed Ray dinner, steak, as he recalled. And perhaps he could convince him about that salad. Or a vegetable. Something green, anyway.

* * Finis * *

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