Rated NC-17 for very unsafe M/M sex. As usual, Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski belong to Alliance/Atlantis, not me. This is the 'sequel' to which Leap ended up being the prequel. It turned into rather more than a PWP, at least length-wise.

Soundtrack: Great Big Sea: Donkey Riding *snicker*. Jann Arden: Ode to a Friend & Piece Of It All.

Beta thanks to Betty, Judi, Kass, and sort of obliquely, Otsoko (No Shampoo!). :-) --Kellie

© 2001 Kellie Matthews

"Earth to Fraser, Earth to Fraser, this is Ray down here in Mission Control. Come in Fraser."

He doesn't bat an eyelash. His gaze is locked on something over my left shoulder. I crane around to look over my shoulder and see if I can figure out what he's seeing. There's a bunch of kids around a table, seven or eight, it's hard to tell because they're moving all the time. There's also a couple-- probably mom and dad, and two other grownup-type kid-wranglers. Not surprising. For a group that big you need more than two.

It's somebody's birthday, they've got candles on their pizza. One of the kids, a boy in a red and blue striped sweater, leans forward and blows out the candles with one big, sloppy breath. Ugh. Glad I'm not sharing that pizza. A second later all the candles relight themselves and the kids scream with laughter. Trick candles. I chuckle, turning back to face Fraser, and from the distance in his eyes I think he's a lot further away than this restaurant.

For a second or two I just stare at him. Sometimes it almost hurts, how beautiful he is. He has all different kinds of beautiful, too. There's his buttoned-up in red serge beautiful, and his casual in jeans and a sweater beautiful, and then there's the one only I get to see-- the eyes-closed in ecstasy naked and sweating beautiful. I have to reach down and adjust myself at that thought. His mouth right now has a little of that slackness, and it's all I can do not to reach across the table and slide a finger in it, because I know what his automatic reaction would be if I did.

I shiver a little, and decide I don't want to be the only uncomfortable person at this booth. Under the table I toe one of my boots off and slide my foot up the inside of his leg, all the way to his crotch. He chokes, sitting up, fast, eyes wide, his attention back on me.

"Ray!" he hisses, scandalized.

I grin, putting my foot back in my boot. "Hey, I said your name ten times. You were a zillion miles away there."

He smiles a little apologetically. "I'm sorry, Ray, I'm afraid I was woolgathering."

"Yeah? About what?"

He shakes his head, eyes hidden behind his lashes, hiding whatever he's thinking. "Nothing important."

I stifle a sigh. I know better than to try to get it out of him. The more I try, the more he clams up. I've been working on him, but progress is . . . slow. One of the not-so-fun things about working, and playing, with Benton Fraser. But hey, we've all got our little quirks. I'm sure I've got some that annoy the snot out of him.

"So, we done here?" I ask.

He looks at his abandoned slice of pizza and nods. "Yes, I think so."

I wave at Tony and he brings me a box for the rest, shaking his head. "You boys sick? You left half the pie!"

"Nah, just had breakfast kind of late. This'll be great for a midnight snack later."

Tony nods and smiles, and heads back to the kitchen. I fish out my wallet and start counting out my half as Fraser reaches for his hat and arches an eyebrow at me.

"Midnight snack?"

I shrug. "Hey, we gotta keep our strength up."

He looks back at me so calmly that if I couldn't see the gleam in his eyes I'd figure he was as innocent as I always used to think he was, back in the days before I rode a motorcycle through a window and the fight we had about it turned into something . . . else. God, there I go again. I'm going to have to sit here for a few minutes so I don't give the other diners an eyeful. Jeez, I keep thinking this teenage shit has to wear off one of these days.
Fraser's gaze drops, and then lifts knowingly. It's like he can see through the table. He smiles and that just makes it worse. I rub my forehead, hiding my eyes. "Don't look at me," I grit out through my teeth.

"Why don't I take the money up to the register?" he asks, tugging the bills out of my other hand. "You finish your soda."

I nod. He gets up and heads for the counter. I don't watch. God, I would pay money if we could just go home now, spend the rest of the day in bed, or on the floor, or in the shower, but we can't. I still have to finish up the paperwork on the damned Mullins case or Welsh will have my ass on Monday. And that concept is enough to wilt me down to manageable proportions real fast. I suck down the rest of my Coke and join Fraser at the register where he and Tony are talking about the sorry state of government-sponsored art in Russia and Canada.

I shake my head. "Look, we got the likes of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond running the NEA so don't tell me about how bad things are where you come from," I say. "Sorry to break this up, Fraser, but the longer it takes me to get to work, the longer I'll have to stay there."

He nods apologetically at Tony, and we head out to the car. "Dief'll be happy we brought home leftovers," I say thoughtlessly.

"Ray! Please, don't give him any pizza."

I look at Fraser. "Oh come on, one slice won't hurt him."

He shakes his head more firmly. "If it were just one slice it might not, but it's not. It's half a bagel with cream cheese at breakfast, a slice of pizza at lunch, leftover spaghetti at dinner. All of that on top of his regular food. It's not healthy, Ray."

"Doesn't seem all that different from how I eat," I say, starting the car.

"Yes, well . . . ." he says, and I grin.

"Okay, that's enough. You sure you want to come hang around today? I can drop you at the park or something on my way in."

"I'm sure. I promised Francesca I would help her learn the new case management software."

I shake my head. "Above and beyond, Fraser, above and beyond."

He smiles at me. "At least it gives me a reason to be at the 27th on a Saturday."

I look at him and grin like a fool. I want to kiss him, but I know better than to even start thinking about that. Welsh. Think about Welsh. Think about him yelling at you, putting you on foot patrol. Yeah. Okay. Whew. I pull the car into the lot behind the 27th and pull into a spot, kill the engine. Tip my head back and let out a big sigh. "Fraser, I think there's something wrong with me."

"Are you sick?" he asks, concerned.

"Yeah. Sick of having a cock that won't do what I tell it to," I say with a rueful grin.

He looks down at my crotch, back up to my face. "You talk to it?" he asks, his gaze innocently puzzled.

I laugh, and sit forward, shaking my head. "Stop that. I got your number, you know what I meant. How come you don't have this problem?"

His tongue flickers out across his lips and his gaze warms. "What makes you think I don't?"

I glance down at his crotch, currently hidden by the blue wool of his peacoat. He's been wearing that a lot late . . . . Oh. "Cheater," I say. "No fair."

"Perhaps you should invest in a new coat?" he asks reasonably.

"Perhaps so," I echo. "Seems like a good idea at the moment. Well, come on, it's not getting any earlier."

We head inside and I go to my desk, get out my files, and set to work on Mr. Troy Mullins. Look up occasionally to see Fraser with Frannie at her desk, patiently pointing from the keyboard to the screen, his expression encouraging. She keeps putting her hand on his arm, and I shake back the need to go tell her to lay off. It would be way stupid, and she wouldn't understand. I just wish people wouldn't treat him like he's public property. And yeah, okay, I'm a little bit possessive, but even if we weren't. . . whatever we are. . . I wouldn't like it, because he's kind of a private person and you shouldn't touch him without permission.

Permission. My mind drifts from the sheet in my printer to the sheets on my bed, to him splayed out on his belly, naked, his hands curved around the edges of the bed, holding on like he's afraid he might fall up. I kneel between his thighs, my hands working his back, loosening knots of tension from his pale, sleek skin, careful around the ugly scar he carries. Well, he's got lots of scars, I have a few myself, but that's the one that nearly killed him. The bullet in his back makes him move kind of stiff sometimes, too.

Moving lower, I use the heels of my hands firmly on the sides of his glutes, getting a satisfied-sounding moan out of him. It's almost funny how much tension you can carry in your ass. I'm trying hard to ignore the fact that his hips are rocking slowly, lazily, into the mattress as I work. This is not about sex, despite the fact that my own cock is rock hard and aching. I just want to help him relax and get to sleep. He can't sleep a lot. He holds all the day's stresses in his body, and usually by the time he manages to let them go it's nearly time to get up. I thought this might help. He seems to like it, but he doesn't seem to be going to sleep.

"Ray," he says, his voice low, and rough. "Touch me."

"I am touching you," I say, puzzled.

"No, touch me," he says again, and this time he shifts his thighs wider, and cants his ass up toward me. Oh. . . God. Permission.


"Mmm?" I say breathlessly, wondering what he'll say next.

"Would you like a coffee?"

Okay, that's not what's supposed to come next. Coffee? I blink, realize where the hell I am and feel my face get hot. I look up to find him standing across the desk from me, eyebrows lifted.

"Um. . . coffee. . . yeah, that'd be good."

"Two sugars, no cream, right?"

I feel a stupid smile spreading over my face. "Yeah, thanks, Fraser." He remembers how I like my coffee. I know it's a stupid thing to get all mushy over, but even after we'd been together forever, Stella only ever gave me one sugar.

"Not at all." He smiles back at me nearly as goofily as I feel like I'm doing. "Francesca wanted some and I thought you might as well. How goes the report?"

I glance at the blank page on my screen and grin. "Great. It's going great. We'll be out of here in no time."

He nods and heads off to get coffee, and I grab the file and my notes and start typing for real. He brings me back a cup of the bitter sludge that passes for coffee here, and I sip it, making a face. Oh well, it should keep me grounded. I watch him and Frannie looking at some magazine she's got on her desk, wondering what she might have found that would interest him. He's looking very serious, and pointing at things on the page. I keep typing, occasionally looking up, and after a few minutes they start working again.

I'm making some progress now, but I keep finding myself thinking about the way he watched the birthday kids with that funny, distant gaze. That makes me think about the bizarre un-birthday party he threw for 'me' the day of the eclipse. I shake my head with a grin. Bobbing for trout. Kick the cabbage. And I wonder why I love this guy? And suddenly I'm wondering when his birthday is. Jeez. I should know that. It's kind of embarrassing to be sleeping with someone and not know when their birthday is.

I guess I could ask him, but that seems even more embarrassing. I look at them again. Frannie probably knows. But she'd want to know why I want to know and I don't want to get into that. I sit there for a while, staring at my report again, then it hits me. Reports. Files. Records. There's a file on Fraser up in Records. I know, because I looked at it a long time ago, before we even met, back before I knew I would someday want to know when his birthday is. I push back my chair and stand up, start across the office. He looks up.

"Finished?" he asks hopefully.

"No, sorry. I need to go find something up in Records."

"I'll get it for you, Ray," Frannie says.

"That's okay, Frannie, don't interrupt the lesson, I can get it."

She smiles at me. "Thank's Ray. I really think I'm getting the hang of this now."

Not much I can say to that, so I head off upstairs to the Records area, only I check the door on the left, into Personnel Files instead of the one on the right, into Case Files. It's locked, and the room behind the pebbled window is dark. I didn't think there would be anyone there on a Saturday and I was right. I look around to make sure no one's watching, and slip the lock with my credit card, ducking inside fast. I head to the files, and find his, squinting a little to read it in the light coming in through the windows.

Finally I locate the date. November fifteenth. And today is November sixteenth. Well, that explains why he was watching those kids today. And of course he couldn't just tell me his birthday was yesterday. "Fuck," I breathe softly, banging my forehead against the file cabinet. I missed it. I missed his birthday. Everybody missed his birthday, from what I can tell. The consulate was business as usual, so was the bullpen, nobody said anything, not even Frannie. Maybe she didn't know after all, since I can't imagine her letting it go by uncelebrated if she'd known.

I stand there feeling guilty until a noise in the hallway makes me realize I need to get back to my desk. I quickly put his file back and go wait by the door until I'm sure the hall is clear, then slip out. Frannie's desk is deserted when I get back downstairs. I stand there for a second wondering where they are, looking down at her desk blankly. There's some kind of catalog there for . . . thermal underwear? I can't help but grin. No wonder Fraser looked interested. Most guys might get worked up over Victoria's Secret ads, but not Fraser. No, he gets excited about neck-to-ankle skivvies.

I pick up the catalog and leaf through it, notice a couple of dog-eared pages. One has some kind of nightshirt thing with lace on it that I'm sure Frannie picked out, but the other page is a guy in plain old thermals. Or I think they're plain until I take a better look. The model is a good-looking guy built a lot like Fraser-- nice, solid chest, muscular thighs and calves, well-packed basket-- but the thermals aren't red and baggy like Fraser's thermals. No, they're white, and snug, and they have a kind of sheen, and you can sort of almost see a hint of skin through them where the light hit the model's forearm and thigh.

I read the text next to the picture. No wonder they look different. The advertising blurb goes on about the insulating qualities of silk but I just keep looking at the guy and seeing. . . Fraser. Fraser in silk. Smooth like his skin. Snug. Soft. Sensual. There's a telltale twitch in my groin again and shake my head. Gotta stop doing that. I make a quick trip to the copier and shoot copies of that page and the order blank, then put the catalog back where I found it. Back at my desk, I quickly dial the 1-800 number as I dig my credit card back out, watching for any sign of Frannie and Fraser's return.

Seven minutes later I've got the order placed. Even authorized the extra charges for rush and next-day delivery on a Sunday. Since I was already shelling out an ungodly amount for the shipping and rush, I figured I'd make it worthwhile so I ordered all the colors-- white, navy, and black. White sounds good, navy sounds good, but black . . . Maybe it's kinky, no, there's no maybe about it, it's definitely kinky, but the idea of Fraser in black silk longjohns is turning me on more than I ever got turned on by Stella in silk.

Okay, so it's as much a present for me as it is for him, but at least I can be pretty sure he'll actually use these, as opposed to if I bought him a CD or something like that. And it's a hell of a lot more personal than a gift certificate, which is what I'd probably have ended up with even if I had time to really shop, since I have no idea what to buy him. He's the guy who has nothing and he's still hard to shop for, because he doesn't want anything, either. And even if he did, he wouldn't want to bother anyone about it.

Fraser finally shows back up, sans Frannie, and with dirty knees and hands. I lift my eyebrows, trying not to think about how he got them that way. "Frannie been making you crawl? Didn't know she was that dom."

He looks amused. "No, Ray. I walked Francesca out to her car after we finished the tutorial, and as I was about to come back in I noticed Detective Dewey struggling to change a flat tire on his car. Apparently he'd left it in the lot overnight, and come back with a spare today, but he didn't seem to be familiar with the method."

I roll my eyes. "Why am I not surprised that Dewey can't change a flat by himself?"

"Well, I'm sure he could have, I simply facilitated things. He seemed appreciative."

"Yeah, I bet he did. Notice he made you do the dirty part."

"Well, it's difficult to change a tire without getting dirty. I'm going to go wash up."

I nod, and he heads toward the men's room. I watch the way his jeans hug his ass until he's out of sight, and sigh. I've got to stop doing that before someone notices. I do not want to get caught without backup because someone thinks I'm screwing Fraser. . . which I am, but that's beside the point. We don't live on Planet Tolerance. Report, Ray. Report.

I turn my chair back toward the computer and type determinedly. Amazingly it goes pretty quickly after that, since I force myself not to moon over Fraser, even when he comes back out and sits down in the chair next to my desk to wait for me. Finally I finish the last page, send it to print, which I remember how to do now, and look up at Fraser. "There. Done."

"Excellent," he says, reaching for the pages sliding out of the printer, turning them over, glancing at the top sheet. He frowns a little. "Ray, did you spellcheck this?"

I sigh. "No, Fraser, I did not. And I'm not gonna."

"Well, if you're planning to submit this report to . . . ."

"Fraser. Persnickety is not an appealing quality in a person."

He opens his mouth, stops, smiles a little. "Understood. I suppose now that I think about it, the document does speak to your . . . unique personal style."

"Yeah. It does. And a man with style. . . ."

"Is a man who can smile?" he asks,

I grin. "Exactly. Now let's get out of here. I've had enough of this joint for one weekend."

"I am, as you say, all over that," he says with a wink.

Well, that gets me pointing the car back to my place, with definite ulterior motives in mind. But when I pass this little bakery that I've been known to haunt on occasion Fraser clutches his hat with white knuckles as I switch lanes abruptly and make a right to go around the block and park on the side street.

"Is there a crime in progress?" he asks, looking around alertly.

I grin. "Yeah, it's a crime I got nothing sweet at home, and I was about to pass my favorite bakery. Come on. I'm buying."

"I really don't need anything, Ray," he says.

"Okay, fine, then you can help me pick out something for Dief."

"He doesn't need anything either."

"Did I mention the word 'need,' Fraser? No, I did not. So if you don't want me to buy him a chocolate croissant . . . ."

"Coming, Ray," he says, unbuckling his seatbelt.

Inside I pace the cases, surveying the goods, and nod at the display. "So, Dief?"

He studies everything critically, finally nods at one item. "I suppose he could have a ham and swiss croissant. That at least has actual nutritional value."

"But it's not sweet," I protest.


"He'll be mad at me."

"No, I'll explain."

"Then he'll be mad at you."

He looks at me with amusement. "It's not a novel occurrence, Ray."

I snicker. "Well, true. Okay. And you?"

"Nothing, thank you."

I stifle a sigh and go back to looking for myself, and watching Fraser out of the corner of my eye. I notice he keeps looking at one particular case, and sidle over that direction, checking it out. Fruit tarts. Little individual ones. Well, doesn't that figure? Practically the healthiest goodie in the place. But if that's what turns his crank, then by God that's what he's gonna get.

But which one? The kiwi-strawberry? That doesn't seem his style. There's apple, but that's boring, and I refuse to buy him something boring for his birthday. There's a mixed-berry thing with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries that looks good even to me, and one that's cherry, bright red pie cherries gleaming in a sugary glaze, not the deep burgundy eating-out-of-hand ones you can buy at the farmer's markets outside of town in the summer. Tart cherries. Yeah. Something tells me that's the one.

I deliberately walk over to the other side of the store and order one of the croissants for Dief, and then add a couple of eclairs and some of these cookie things I've had here before, two pieces of hazelnut meringue stuck together with a chocolate buttercream filling, both ends dipped in dark chocolate. Evil things. Completely. I'm hoping I can talk him into at least tasting one. The clerk packs everything up in a nice box, and I pay for it, and after she hands me my credit card I slide it under the edge of the register while no one is looking, then pick up my box and nod for Fraser to follow me out to the car. I unlock his side first and he's already in when I smack myself in the forehead.

"Damn, I forgot my credit card! I'll be right back."

He nods, and like I hoped doesn't make a move to come with me. I dash back inside and quickly grab my card, and order one of each kind of tart just to be sure, explaining that they're a birthday surprise. The clerk figures out how hide them underneath the things I already bought by putting some little pieces of cardboard in between the tarts, then a big flat piece across the top of those to keep the top stuff from smooshing the bottom stuff. I pay with cash to make things faster, and hope I'm not taking too much time. Fortunately when I get back out to the car, Fraser doesn't seem suspicious.

We get back to the apartment, and my landlady, Mrs. Custis, is out front watching Carlos-the-Maintenance-guy repainting the railing next to the door. Fraser has to stop and yack, despite the fact that he knows I'm dying to get upstairs and naked. When it's clear they're going to be awhile, I excuse myself, holding up my boxes, one from Tony's, the other from the bakery.

"I'm going on in, I need to get this stuff in the 'fridge. I'll see you in a few."

He nods, and they continue talking about the frequency of trash pickup and the way some of my neighbors aren't very careful when they take their crap to the dumpster. Trash. God help me. I stomp upstairs, grouching under my breath. I have to say, occasionally politeness has its drawbacks. I sometimes wonder what Mrs. C. thinks about how often Fraser's over here. I know she notices. She notices everything. And she lives right below me so she has to have heard us making the bed buck like a bronco. Guess if it bothered her she'd say something. She's not exactly a fainting flower.

I hear Dief whine as I'm unlocking the door. I think he can smell the food right through the wood. I push open the door about an inch, and his nose shoves through, sniffing eagerly. I open the door just until I can see one of his eyes. He's looking up at me. Good. "Get back from the door or you get nothing," I say firmly.

He backs up. He's not a stupid wolf. I get in the door and push it closed with my ass, leaving it unlocked for whenever Fraser decides to meander on upstairs. Slide the boxes neatly into the 'fridge and look critically at my provisions. I think between the 'fridge, the freezer, and my pantry I'm okay for the rest of the weekend. Good. I don't want to waste time going to the grocery store. I start to close the refrigerator and Dief moans pitifully. Oh yeah.

"Sorry," I say, getting the box back out and putting his treat in his bowl.

He sniffs it, looks at me disdainfully.

I shrug. "Look, don't blame me. Fraser said I had to."

He grumbles, sniffs it again, and deigns to pick it up and drop it on the floor where he can make a bigger mess with it. Damned passive-aggressive animal.

"Like Mountie, like wolf," I mutter.

Dief lifts his head and eyes me with what looks like amusement. Sometimes I swear he can't possibly be deaf. I think he's got Fraser snowed. I guess I can't blame him. Hanging around with Fraser has got to beat living on his own in Freezerland. Hell, hanging around with Fraser beats just about anything.

Which reminds me that I'm still wearing all my clothes, so I head for the bedroom, fingers working buttons as fast as I can. I hear the front door open and glance out to see Fraser step inside. Dief dashes up to him-- he must've finished his roll already, guess he 'wolfed' it. I grin at my own joke. Lame, Ray. Fraser has a conversation with him that I can't hear, as I strip off my shirt and pull off my undershirt. I'm starting on my belt when I hear Fraser's voice.

"Ray, I'm going to take Diefenbaker out. He needs a run."

My fingers flatten on my belt, and I sigh. Yeah. I can't argue with that. He's been cooped up in here for hours. And if we want Mrs. Custis to keep on letting us have Dief here, we have to make sure he gets outside regularly. "Yeah, okay, Frase. I'm gonna take a shower."

"Enjoy," he says, and I hear the door open and close again.

I wander over and start to lock it, then realize he can't get back in if I do that. I need to give him a key. I'm halfway back to the bathroom when it hits me. Shakes me a little. Wow. Key. That's . . . serious. I guess my brain's been thinking about this stuff without me realizing it was. I test it out. Fraser. Key. Fraser coming and going whenever he wants to. Fraser making himself at home. Maybe some clothes in the closet instead of an overnight bag. Toothbrush. Razor.

Okay, scary. Don't think about that yet. It's just sex, right? Two pals not getting any, finding a way to make life a little easier for each other. Yeah, that's . . . nope. That's not it. A little shiver runs down my back, like somebody walked on my grave. Oh, I am so fucked. I just don't learn. And I just don't want to go there so I'm just going to pretend I didn't think about it. I may as well enjoy it while it lasts, however long that is. He's gorgeous, he's nice, he's good in bed, and he likes me. I'm having a hard time seeing a down side here. Well, aside from him chatting up the landlady and taking Dief for a run when all I want to do is trip him into bed.

I sigh. A run. That's half an hour at least. Enough time to get something started for dinner and still take a nice long shower. I throw a couple of chicken breasts in a baking dish with a can of cream of celery soup and some frozen broccoli, turn the oven on, and stick it in. I have a can of biscuits in the 'fridge that'll go with it. Learned the quick-n-dirty one-dish meal thing pretty quick after Stella left. Take out gets old fast. Fortunately Fraser's concept of haute cuisine pretty much matches mine.

I finish stripping and head into the shower, get nice and clean. It's tempting to do more than that-- kind of a Pavlovian thing: shower equals jerking off. But I resist. If I wait I'll get something a lot better. I shave carefully, brush my teeth, and head in to the bedroom to get something clean to wear. Look at the bed, and start to smile. It'd be interesting to see how Fraser reacts to the MaryAnne Whatserface treatment. I'm not about to do the saran-wrap and a bow thing, but waiting for him in bed could be kind of fun.

I put fresh sheets on the bed, after last night they needed changing. Two guys, twice the wet spots. . . though we've got ways of dealing with that too. I find my tongue sliding slowly across my lower lip, kind of like Fraser does, thinking about the taste of him. I can't yell at him about licking things any more. Not when I like to lick things too. Though I'm still not keen on mud or electrical sockets. Though licking him can be pretty electric, come to think of it. Okay, just stop that or you'll be doing that Pavlov thing again.

I check supplies. Towel-- check. Water. We always get thirsty. I dump the two inches or so of Coke left in a two-liter bottle, wash it out and fill it with water, then take it in and set it next to the bed. As I do I notice my 'Elbow Grease' just under the edge of the bed. I pick it up and stick on the nightstand where it belongs, thinking slightly smugly that I won't need it tonight, at least not for its more traditional use. It's been kind of fun using it on Fraser. Blew his mind a little. He's never used anything but his hand. It's nice not to have needed to use it by myself in a while, except for a couple of times when Fraser and I were on opposite work schedules.

Thinking about that starts making me horny, and I find myself whistling an old Carly Simon tune under my breath. Ketchup commercial or not, she was onto something. Fraser would probably say something poetical, like 'absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Well, that's true too. Even if it's only a half hour absence. Speaking of which, I need to get into the bed or I'll still be puttering when he gets home. I turn back the covers and slide in. God, clean sheets feel good. I stretch out, rolling a little on the cool, smooth cotton.

Five minutes later I'm bored. I hate waiting. I grab my glasses and the Asimov novel I picked up the other day. I've read it before, a long time ago, junior high, probably, but it's a good one. Plus sometimes R. Daneel reminds me of Fraser, though I think Fraser is a better detective, and he's definitely no robot. Propping my pillows behind my back I settle in to read until Fraser gets home.

* * *

It's not until Diefenbaker and I are in the second kilometer of our run that my brain finally manages to decode what's bothering me. While Ray's voice had been neutral as he bid us have a good run, his body language had told a different story, and I'd been thinking of Dief's urgency too much to notice what was right in front of my face. A bad habit of mine. I stop in my tracks, remembering. Ray's shoulders had been slouched, his head bent, hands stopped in mid-motion at his waist. Oh, hell.

I'm such an idiot. I know I'm a reasonably intelligent man, but at times I exhibit all the social skills of an orangutan. Less, probably, as orangutan are relatively social animals . . . for God's sake. I have the attention span of a gnat. I can't even berate myself effectively. I suppose I could assuage my guilt at my own thoughtlessness by saying I'm simply inexperienced at intimate relationships, but Ray deserves better even so.

How is it that I can put myself out to spend ten minutes indulging the desire of a woman I barely know to talk about garbage, and yet be completely oblivious to my own . . . partner's. . . obvious need and desire? Desire. He wants me. He wants me. I'm already flushed from running, but I feel a wave of heat rise in my face as I think that. I'm still having trouble dealing with the idea that my feelings are requited. He shows no sign of tiring of me. In fact he seems to want to spend even more time with me now. My previous experience has left me completely unprepared for that.

Diefenbaker has finally noticed I've stopped and circled around to find out why. He's sitting a few feet away, staring at me with an irritatingly knowing expression. I stare back at him, torn, as usual, between duty and desire. He needs far more exercise than I've been giving him of late, and to cut short our usual ten kilometer run so I can go home and make love with Ray probably won't meet with his approval. I open my mouth to sigh, and my voice emerges instead.

"I don't suppose you'd like to go back now?" Good lord. I sound revoltingly plaintive.

Dief looks at me a moment longer, sneezes, and turns, off like a shot, in the wrong direction to go back to the apartment. I suppose this is my punishment for not allowing Ray to buy him a sweet. I set off after him, picking up my own pace, determined to spend as little time at this as possible while still making good on my promise.

Even pushing myself, it's still nearly half an hour later when we arrive back at Ray's building. I pace the parking lot, cooling down a bit before going in. As Dief and I head up the stairs I realize that perhaps pushing myself wasn't such a good idea. I'm not as young as I once was. In point of fact, I'm officially a year older now.

I think for a moment of the little boy I saw earlier, with the candles on his pizza. The memory stirs a little eddy of bitterness in me. Like Christmases, birthdays were not particularly special occasions for me growing up-- at least not after my mother's death. They still aren't. But that's not something I want to think about, so I head on up the stairs, hoping that Ray won't mind if I take time to shower, because I reek.

I'm about to knock when some impulse makes me try the door instead. The handle yields. Ray left his door unlocked for us. Considering how security-minded he is, that's quite a concession for him, and it makes me feel ridiculously happy. I push the door open and we step inside, Dief sniffing the air ostentatiously. I sniff, too. Something smells very good-- some sort of chicken dish, I think. I don't see Ray at first glance, but the sound of Dief slurping water thirstily out of his dish sends me into the kitchen to fill a glass and gulp it down.

A faint click as the heating element in the oven turns itself on to stabilize the temperature draws my attention, and it dawns on me that it's very quiet in the apartment. No television, no stereo. Odd. It's been nearly an hour since we left, Ray can't possibly still be in the shower. I listen. No, definitely not. Maybe he went out? Maybe he's gone down to the laundry room? That's probably it.

I head for the bathroom, pulling my sweater off as I go. An odd detail registers as I step into the bathroom, one that makes me step back out again and glance into Ray's bedroom. Oh dear. The light on the bed table is on, that's what caught my eye, and Ray is actually in his bed. Propped against his pillows, glasses on, one finger sandwiched between the pages of a book, and quite clearly sound asleep. He looks startlingly young, like that, all the stress and worry and. . . attitude, smoothed out of his face. I stand there for some time, just watching him, well aware that I'm smiling fatuously, but I just don't care.

Usually I don't dare allow myself to think of my feelings toward him. I'm afraid of giving myself away in public, I know I'm not a good liar. And honestly, I'm afraid of giving myself away here, with him, as well. Afraid that if I hold on too tightly, he'll slip from my grasp and flee like the wild thing he is. I try to confine my feelings to the physical, because I suspect that he's more comfortable with that.

It's not a difficult thing. My God, he's beautiful. I know most people think of me as beautiful. I don't. My upper lip is too thin, and I have a twisted tooth, and when I smile I look. . . silly. Not to mention that my eyebrows are too short, and my face occasionally reminds me of the molded plastic visage of a male fashion doll. My body is functional, but not all that aesthetically pleasing, at least not to me, I'm slightly bow-legged, and a little on the stocky side.

Ray is everything I think of as attractive in a man. All the interesting planes and angles of his face, his mouth a sensual, smiling curve, blue eyes that catch the light and spark as if set with chips of citrine. Well, that's terribly fanciful, but who's to know? It's not as if I said it to anyone. His body is lean and strong, dense muscle over hard bone, all of it lithe and elegant. And his hands, those exceptional fingers, so long, so expressive, so capable . . . . I shiver a little, remembering his fingers wrapped around me, around us, last night. My penis . . . my cock, he's been trying to get me to call it, stirs a little at the memory.

All right. Enough mooning. Ray sleeps quite soundly once he actually falls asleep, and if I'm quiet I expect I can get a quick shower, and then perhaps slide into bed with him. Decadent thought, that. Sleeping in the afternoon. Though we didn't get all that much sleep last night, so I suppose it's not surprising that he's tired now. I try to stifle a yawn, and correct myself. It's not surprising that we're tired now.

I finish stripping and get into the shower, turning the water on very hot, and enjoying the scent of the shower gel he uses. It's organic, and contains colloidal oatmeal-- he buys it at a local natural food store because he says it's the only soap that doesn't make him itch. I'd always wondered why he smelled a little like oatmeal and rosemary, but could never bring myself to ask before we became . . . intimate. It's simply not the sort of question one goes around asking one's partner.

Apparently his ex-wife started him using it. I suppose it's one thing I can thank her for. Well, in actuality I suppose I should thank her for leaving him, as well. Had Ray still been married, I know I wouldn't be here in his shower, using his shower gel, planning so slide into his bed and wake him in some hopefully-appreciated fashion. Sometimes I wonder about their relationship, of such long standing yet irretrievably broken now, and I feel a moment of terror that one day I will have to look at Ray the way he sometimes looks at Stella. That happens less frequently now, though, both to him, and to me, as we find a sort of equilibrium in our . . . relationship.

It's probably a sign that I spend far too much time in my head, but at times I can't help but wonder how someone who was involved for over twenty years with the same woman could have slipped so easily into a relationship-- there's that word again-- with another man. With, as far as I can tell, nary a second thought. If Ray has any reservations about us, other than the practical ones needed because we live in a homophobic society and work in a homophobic profession, he's been remarkably good at hiding them. Better, I think, than he is capable of. I suppose that old adage regarding gift horses would stand me in good stead here. I'm capable of a certain level of willful blindness, and I'm going to make use of that.

I should also wonder about my own ability to fall in love so easily-- and I have no doubt that's what I've done-- with another man. Once before I mistook need and loneliness and desire for love. It's not the same thing. Not remotely. I realize that now. I never felt this feeling of . . . connection, of not-aloneness, of camaraderie and simple affection, with Victoria. Despite telling my father that I needed to be with her because I was lonely, the truth is, I never stopped feeling lonely with her, even at the height of passion.

With Ray I've never felt alone. Not from the first. The connection was instantaneous and fierce, and it was there long before we became sexually involved. I think we would have gone on feeling it even without that. We're friends first, and . . . lovers second. I know he feels the same, and I hope for but mustn't count on more. He's affectionate and open, but his heart is guarded, rather like a turtle in a shell. I understand why that is. Frankly I don't understand why my own is not, at least not with him. But in the end my own feelings trouble me far less than Ray's. I suppose that's because I know what I'm thinking but I can't know what he's thinking.

I finish up my shower and towel off, pull on the sweatpants I've started keeping here, and go into the kitchen to check on the contents of the oven. There's a baking dish full of something bubbling invitingly, lightly browned. I can make out lumpy green broccoli florets here and there under the sauce, and I'm sure my nose is correct in identifying chicken as one of the other ingredients. The smell makes my stomach growl like Dief with a particularly tasty treat, but it would be rude to eat without Ray. I find the hotpads, take the dish out of the oven and set it on the back burner of the stove to cool. It may not be done but the residual heat will finish it off and it won't overcook.

Finally I refill Dief's water dish, warn him sternly away from the cooling food, and head for the bedroom. Even though Ray is asleep I still feel slightly self-conscious and awkward as I slide the sweatpants off and fold them, putting them on his dresser. I doubt I'll ever be able to disrobe with the unconscious grace and ease that Ray does. I stand next to the bed for a moment, regarding him with a foolish grin on my face, then I carefully turn back the covers on the side of the bed he's not occupying and ease myself down.

Somehow I manage to get all the way stretched out without waking him, though his breathing changes a little, and he stirs slightly. His book slides away from his place-holding finger and off the side of the bed. That's probably just as well. I contemplate how I should wake him, and foremost in my mind is the thought of taking his penis, soft, and sleepy, in my mouth, and licking and sucking him to full erection, feeling his pulse close to the surface, feeling the thickening and lengthening as he wakes both to desire and pending satiation. My mouth waters so much I have to swallow. It's shameful how little self control I have around Ray.

My getting into bed must have roused Ray to a more conscious level, though he's not truly awake. He turns in toward me a little, and somehow that simple, unconscious act sends a pang through me, not of lust, but of aching tenderness. The light from the lamp gilds his skin, his hair is perfectly spiked-- he must have done that after his shower. Done it for me, because he knows how much I love the studied wildness of it. The heavy, dark-framed glasses which on anyone else would likely look. . . well, all right, I can admit it, rather unattractive, just serve to render him seem serious and studious. I can also tell that he shaved, probably after his shower. He showered, shaved, spiked, and came to wait for me here.

I look at his hands, lax on the covers, one index finger still extended to mark his place in his missing book, and smile. He's told me before that he's not good at waiting. But I am. I shift a little, propping myself on an elbow, and he reacts to the movement by sliding further down in bed, his glasses pushed askew by a pillow. It looks uncomfortable, and I reach to remove them.

He startles a little as I slide them off, and his eyes open, blinking sleepily, then he focuses on my face and a slow, sweet smile curves his mouth. That tenderness racks me again, nearly painful, and I touch his face with my fingertips, letting them slide down his cheek to the corner of his mouth, then across his lips. He touches the tip of his tongue to my fingertips teasingly, then he stretches and smiles ruefully. "Fell asleep, hunh?"

"Yes. I didn't mean to wake you."

He gives a wide, jaw-cracking yawn, then leans into me, slinging an arm across my waist, nuzzling my collarbone with his nose, following that a moment later with another flicker of his tongue. "Why the hell not?" he asks against my skin.

I take a moment to fold his glasses and stretch to put them on the nightstand before rolling back to hug him close. His skin is warm and smooth against mine, and I can feel the muscles shift and flow over his bones as he hugs me back. I nuzzle his neck, licking the prominent tendon there, and sigh.

"Because I was enjoying watching you sleep," I admit sheepishly.

He lifts his head, an oddly vulnerable expression in his eyes, but then he studies me for a moment and grins knowingly. "You were thinking about doing me asleep, weren't you?"

I feel a hot flush climb my cheeks, and know that even if I denied it he would know I was lying. "Well, I was trying to think of a way to wake you that you might enjoy," I allow.

He cackles. "I knew it!" He pushes away from me and lies back against the pillows, closing his eyes ostentatiously, crossing his arms beneath his head. "Go for it."

"It's not quite. . . the same," I protest.

"Yeah, well, you can do it for real some other time. This'll be a practice run."

I find myself laughing too, something I only recently realized I've gotten out of the habit of doing. "A practice run?"

"You're the one who's always going on about proper preparation . . . ."

For answer I slide down and over, ducking under the covers, moving between his sprawled thighs. The covers make a dark, warm cocoon filled with the rich scent of him. I lick his hip, trying to match taste to smell, run my nose along the crease of his thigh, feel the firming length of his penis against my cheek. He's not quite hard yet, and I turn my head to take him in my mouth eagerly, wanting to experience that transformation, wanting to make up for my obliviousness earlier.

It's difficult to ignore my own insistent arousal. The taste of him triggers it strongly in me. His pulse beats against my tongue, just as I imagined, and I can feel him twitch, and fill. The sensation sends shocks of need through me. I push that down, sublimating it, concentrating on him. I relax my jaw a little to accommodate him. There's a reason why Ray tends to wear his slacks a little on the loose side, but fortunately I have a large mouth. I start to suck a little, letting my tongue stroke the velvety skin of his penis. His hips lurch upward at that; there's a sudden movement, and my dark cocoon disappears as Ray flings back the covers.

I glance up to see him looking down at me, his mouth slightly slack with pleasure. I hold his gaze with mine as I bring one hand up to caress the warm, heavy weight of his testicles. His lashes droop for a moment, then lift again, as if he can't bear to lose eye contact. His hips have settled into a slow, liquid rocking that echoes my sucking. My fingers stray lower, to his perineum, searching for the place I've found before, the one that makes him . . . .

"Ooohgod," he moans softly, eyes closing again as he pushes down against my fingers. "Yeah."

I've been reading lately. Not unusual, but my choice of materials is new. I've been increasingly desirous of adding to our repertoire of lovemaking. Not that what we've done so far is in any way lacking. I'm afraid it's just in my nature to want as much as he will let me have, and to push for more if there is more to be had. And I know there is. I want that. I want him, all of him.

I let my fingers graze lower, between the shallow curves of his buttocks. He shivers. I've strayed there before and he's not objected, but I've never done it with such deliberate intent before. I tap his thigh and nod slightly at the nightstand, pointing. He grins, reaches out a long arm and picks up the jar, takes a moment to twist the top open, then he offers it to me, clear acceptance in his actions.

I dip my fingers into the jar, coating them liberally with the creamy contents, as usual faintly amused by the name of the product. Somehow it just seems very . . . Ray. He bends his knees, canting his hips upward a little. I don't know why, but his ready consent surprises me. Somehow I hadn't thought it would be this easy. It shakes me as well, the trust he's showing me, the complete acceptance.

I stroke gently, one finger moving in a slick, circular motion. He makes a soft sound, his hips lurching again, then settling, almost . . . pushing, against my touch. I look up again, find his eyes open, watching avidly, his gaze sultry and heavy-lidded. I realize I'm neglecting his cock, and stroke him with my tongue as I tentatively press a finger against him. It slips in the first little bit with startling ease, then deeper I find resistance, and draw back.

He makes a frustrated noise in his throat and pushes against me again, his breath catching on a gasp as his body yields more quickly than I think either of us had intended. The sudden, unbidden thought of filling him with my cock instead of a finger nearly sends me crashing over the edge and I shudder with the effort of control as I let him go so I can speak.

"Ray, are you . . . ?"

"Good," he gasps. "'m good. Just-- wow. That's. . . ." his voice trails off, his eyes drift closed for a moment, and he breathes deeply, so deeply I can feel it from this strange new vantage point.

I look at him worriedly. "Am I hurting you?"

He laughs, and I feel that too. So does he, I can see it in the way his eye widen, but he shakes his head. "Hell no! God. Could you. . . use your mouth again? And, um, do this?" He lifts a hand and crooks a finger at me as if he's beckoning.

It's no hardship to take him in my mouth again, the bittersweet flavor of pre-ejaculate very strong now, which means he's close to orgasm. When he's not close his taste is far more neutral. I start to suck again, bringing up my left hand to wrap it around the base of his penis and stroke as I try his suggestion with the single finger of my right hand that occupies his tight, hot channel.

He nearly comes off the bed, his cock surging in my mouth, nearly choking me. Somehow I manage not to cough him out, and it takes a moment or two to get everything coordinated-- hand, fingers, mouth. Then I get the hang of things and he's twisting and bucking under me like a wild thing, using my mouth. Finally he arches, fingers fisting in the covers, inarticulate gasps and moans spilling from his mouth the same way his seed spills into my mouth.

When his breathing has evened out a few minutes later, Ray looks down at me with a bemused expression. "Did you come?" he asks.

I feel my face get hot as I shake my head. It's ridiculous, I know, but I can't seem to get used to the frankness of his speech. He grins, and fortunately his reaction helps cool my embarrassment. I wish I had some sort of control over that.

"Good," he purrs, "'cause I've got plans for you." He reaches for the jar.

I tense, and though I relax again almost instantly, it must not have been instantly enough, because he looks at me for a long moment, then puts the jar down.

"Ray, I . . . ."

He shakes his head, turning onto his side as he reaches down next to the bed while he speaks. "'Sokay, Fraser. Not a problem," he says, and then twists back around holding an empty soda bottle.

I'm puzzled for a moment, but then he unscrews the cap and starts gulping thirstily, eyes closed as he drinks, and I realize it's not empty after all, but full of water. I realize there's a towel on the nightstand as well. Planning ahead. Perhaps I'm rubbing off on him. And perhaps I ought to allow him to rub off on me. I can hear him, in my head: 'Every single time, every single time I got to trust you. Just once you trust me. Go that way.' Go that way indeed.

I watch his throat move as he drinks, watch a drop of water slide down his jaw to disappear behind his ear, and I pick up the jar. When he lowers the water bottle with a satisfied sigh, I hold out my empty hand for it. He grins and hands it to me, and after I take it, I put the jar in his hand. His eyebrows lift and he looks at me long, and hard.

"You sure?"

I nod, taking a drink for a moment to compose myself. "Yes, Ray."

"'Cause it's no big deal, you know. Just thought. . . it felt good, though it'd be nice for you too, but if you aren't into that, I'm g. . . ."

"Ray," I interrupt rudely. "I said yes."

"I know you said yes, but I want to make sure yes means yes, you know? Because sometimes yes just means . . . 'oh all right, go on.'"

I hear the echo of someone else's voice in those words. A voice I know, though not well. And there are shadows in his eyes. I feel a strange mixture of anger and pain, and my voice is rough when I reply.

"Yes never means that to me," I say curtly, my gaze holding his, needing him to acknowledge that, to believe me.

For a moment Ray responds to the challenge in my eyes like he normally does, bristling a little, but then he tilts his head slightly, studying me assessingly, and the shadows dissolve in a slow smile. "Yeah. Okay."

He leans forward and kisses me. Both our mouths are cool and wet from the water at first, but they warm rapidly. One of his hands strays to my groin, finds me, slightly but not fully deflated, and he strokes the back of a finger up and down my penis, lightly, almost ticklishly. It responds quickly, tightening, lifting, as if seeking out his touch. He settles next to me, playing idly with my organ, cupping it, stroking it, sliding my foreskin gently over my glans and back.

He's been fascinated by my natural state ever since the first night we spent together, though it wasn't until the second time we made love that he noticed it. The first time was rather too fast and too frantic. I suppose it's only fair, because his bare, sleek-looking penis fascinates me just as much, though I have to admit that I noticed his difference long before the first time we touched one another with sexual intent. I suppose perhaps the fact that Ray never minded sharing a bathroom stall with me would have been a tip-off to anyone more versed in standard American male restroom behavior.

He leans over and investigates the head of my penis with his tongue, slowly, maddeningly. It's been quite gratifying to find that he's as fond of licking things as he teases me about being, though he insists he's more particular about just what he licks. He lifts his head and looks up at me mischievously, tapping my penis with a fingertip.

"What's this?"

I stare back at him, puzzled. "My foreskin?"

"No, the whole thing."

"My penis?"

He shakes his head, disappointed. "Your cock, Benton. Cock. Say it. Let me hear you say it."

I don't know why I find that so difficult to say. I suppose it's the blatant sexuality of the word. Penis is rather bland and clinical. Cock is. . . well, it makes me think of Ray, bare and proud and aggressive. "Cock," I say, my voice rough. I can say it when I think of him.

He licks me, a lazy flick of his long tongue. "Yeah. Just like that," he says, pulling back, looking at me again as his fingers surround and stroke me. His eyes are practically aglow with some emotion I can't identify. "I want you to fuck me with this cock, Benton."

Ordinarily I don't react without thinking, but there's no thought involved as I grab his hand, pulling it away from my cock, and push him down onto his back so I can kneel between his thighs, my mind and body electrified with joy. I reach down beneath his scrotum, searching, finding where he's still slick from before, seeking entrance with two fingers this time. He spreads his legs wider, knees coming up as he takes a deep breath. I press in. There's resistance, but I persist, and his body yields slowly to my touch.

After a few moments he seems more relaxed, looser, though still disconcertingly tight around my fingers. His breath is coming raggedly as he moves his hand to my forearm where I'm braced above him, caressing it as if he still held my cock. I work my fingers inside him, slowly, imitating the in-out movement my body craves. He whimpers, but the sound holds no pain. His throat is arched tautly, the tendons elegantly raised. I lean down and lick one, and he shivers, his anus clenching around my fingers.

That makes me shiver in return, and my cock twitches, painfully needy. I know what I want, and I realize I need to move him. I don't want to, I want to see his face when I enter him, but from my reading it seems it works better the other way. I lick my way back up to his mouth, take it roughly, probing him with my tongue as I want to do with my cock. He opens, sucking greedily on my tongue, stroking it with his. I lift my head, move my mouth to his ear, lick there too. He laughs and shivers. "Ray, roll over," I whisper.

He shakes his head 'no,' against the pillow. "Do me like this," he says, pushing himself harder onto my fingers.

"It'll be easier the other way," I explain, a little impatient with the delay. I want him, now.

"Fuck easy, Fraser. I want it this way," he says, his chin lifting in a familiar, belligerent challenge as he raises and lowers himself again, catching his lower lip in his teeth at the sensation.

"Ray, from my studies . . . ."

"Studies? You mean books, don't you?"

I nod.

He grins. "Well, from my studies of gay porn flicks, it works just fine this way. So do me now, like this." He reaches over and grabs the open jar, still lying on the bed where we left it, digs his fingers into it. "C'mere. Let me get you ready."

I don't want to fight with him, I want to . . . fuck him. Face to face, as he wants. I want his touch on me. I want his body around mine. I nod, and shift forward until he can reach me, his fingers stroking the slick cream over me from root to tip, easing my foreskin back carefully to make sure he anoints me everywhere, working until I'm shuddering with the effort of not coming in his hand. He lets go, rubs his slippery fingers across my thigh, massaging almost comfortingly, and my arousal backs down enough that I think I may be able to actually do this.

"How?" I whisper, because for this he'll have to lead.

He shifts his hips, hooks first one leg, then the other, over my shoulders, and oh. . . God, it's perfectly obvious, of course.

"Now," he says huskily.

I slide my fingers out, take myself in hand and press against the narrow opening closing my eyes because I can't bear that much sensation. I hear myself moan as he opens to me. So tight, so warm, so perfect. He's panting a little, breath hissing through his teeth as I penetrate him, very slowly, because neither of us have done this before, and I know it must be slow, for all that my body demands speed. His hand clutches at my shoulder, halting my forward progress as I sense a hint of distress in that slick clasp.


"Jesus . . . wait," he pants. "Just wait. Gimme a sec. . . . fuck, Benton, don't you dare back off," he says, anticipating my next action.

My whole body is taut with the struggle for stillness. I feel him around me, feel his heartbeat, inside him, inside me, echoing my own, fast and wild. Feel him slowly easing around me, his breathing less distressed, until finally he nods, and shifts his hips a little, giving a surprised-sounding gasp as he shudders. His cock twitches a little against my belly, and that surprises me as well.

"Do that again," he says huskily.

"I didn't do anything. . . you did."

"Well, do it again anyway," he says, grinning. "You try it."

I shift my hips, trying to recreate his movement, and his hand on my shoulder tightens, and his other hand finds the back of my thigh and pulls me in toward him.

"Yeah. Jesus. Again."

I repeat the movement, a slight shift back, then forward again. His cock is nudging my navel now, more than halfway hard. He shouldn't be hard this soon, I can't believe it, but I can't deny it. "Ray?" I manage, not sure what I'm asking.

"Ben, you would not believe how good you feel!" he gasps out. "When you do that, oh yeah, that, just like that," he says as I deliberately start to rock against him, pumping myself in and out of his tight, smooth heat. "There's something. . . it's like coming, only . . . not . . . God!"

He's shaking, pulling at me, urging me to move faster, lifting into my thrusts as best he can. It's gone to that now. Not shifting, or pumping, but thrusting, long, and deep, all the way to the root. I can't believe it could possibly feel any better to him than it does to me. His body seems reluctant to let me to withdraw when I pull back to thrust again, but welcomes me eagerly on each return. He feels. . . amazing.

Suddenly he shudders, outside, and in. I see ecstasy paint itself across his face, his eyes dilating, his mouth slack as I feel the spread of wet heat against my belly, feel the rhythmic clasp of his body around me as orgasm takes him. The last thread of sanity deserts me. I set my mouth against his shoulder and suck, slamming hard into him, once, twice, and then I'm lost in the mind-stealing delight of my own orgasm, marking him as mine, inside and out as I come.

I'm falling asleep when Ray's voice brings me up to the surface again. "Um. . . Ben?"

He's never called me Ben before tonight. I like that. "Mmm?" I ask into the side of his neck, warm, and a little sweaty, and smelling of sex and rosemary.

"I . . . kinda can't breathe," he says a little thinly.

I open my eyes, realize we're in an amazingly convoluted position, and remember why. I push myself up off him faster than I would have thought possible, given the fact that my bones seem to have un-solidified. "I'm sorry, Ray," I say, helping him untangle himself from me. I'd already slipped out of him, somewhere in the mindless, post-orgasmic fog. He stretches out, wincing a little as his legs slide down against the sheets, looking nearly as boneless as I feel. He looks over at me, and a smug little smile curves his mouth.

"Toldja it would work."

Well, I can't let that stand as is. I look at him with my best wide-eyed innocent expression. "Perhaps we should make our own educational video?"

He laughs, and then an odd look crosses his face. I lift my eyebrows and he grins at me sheepishly. "Okay, that feels really weird."

"What does?"

"I'm. . . um . . . never mind. I'll be back."

He rolls out of bed and I watch him head into the bathroom, walking a little peculiarly. I lie in bed, trying to think of what might feel odd, and listening to him run water, and it dawns on me what he probably was talking about and I feel myself blush. Still, I can't help but remember the intensity I felt in claiming him so. I wonder suddenly, how it feels from the other side, and despite my lethargy a subtle thrill shivers through me.

Ray comes back, slides into bed next to me, settling back with a sigh. Just as I'm about to reach for him he sits bolt upright again, wild-eyed. "Shit! Dinner!"

I catch his hand. "It's all right, I took it out of the oven about . . . " I glance at the clock. "About thirty-seven minutes ago."

"Thirty-seven minutes, hunh? You sure about that?" he asks, amused.

"Give or take," I say, well aware that I'm being teased, enjoying it.

"So, you hungry?"

I consider that. The urge to sleep is no longer quite as strong as it was a few minutes ago. "Slightly."

"Me too. More than slightly." He tries to tug his hand free of mine so he can get up, but I hold on, refusing to let him go. "What's up?" he asks.

"Not you," I answer. "Stay here."

He looks puzzled, but settles back. "Why?"

"Just wait." I get up, grab my sweatpants off the dresser and head to the bathroom to use the toilet and clean up a little before getting dressed. With that accomplished, I head into the kitchen and get out two of Ray's whimsically patterned plates, and check the temperature of our dinner. It's still warm, barely. I put it in the microwave to heat up a little more, and get the bread out of his refrigerator. Putting a slice on each plate, I ladle a chicken breast, broccoli, and sauce over the bread. A few strokes with a knife and all is ready. I put a fork on each plate and take them back into the bedroom. As I hand him one he stares at me narrowly.

"Dinner in bed? Okay, where's the real Benton Fraser? You're obviously an imposter."

I chuckle. "I have been known to eat in bed prior to this, you know."

"If I'd known I wouldn't think you were an imposter. When have you eaten in bed?"

"Well, primarily when I was ill, however, there's always room in life for new experiences."

He snickers. "Oh yeah."

He holds my plate while I strip and get back in bed, and we eat, passing the water back and forth between us. When we've finished he puts both plates on the floor by the bed.

"Hey, Dief!" he calls into the living room where Diefenbaker has been lounging on the couch, eyeing the dark television screen forlornly.

"He's deaf," I remind Ray.

Ray nods solemnly. "Yeah, sure. Dief, come clean the plates!"

Ten seconds later the sound of claws on the hardwood floor, followed by noisy slurping, alerts me to Dief's arrival. "He must have smelled the food," I say defensively.

Ray laughs. "Face it, Ben. You've been had. By a wolf."

I look at him, trying not to smile. "I've certainly been had, but I don't think I'd call you a wolf, Ray. Vulpine, perhaps."

"What's that?" he asks, looking at me suspiciously.

"Vulpes vulpes, more commonly known as the red fox."

He frowns. "What's that guy from Sanford and Son got to do with anything, though yeah, he was pretty vulgar."

"Not the actor, Ray, the animal. Vulpes vulpes is the Latin name of the fox in the same way that Canis lupus is the classification for the gray wolf, or Canis lupus arctos describes Diefenbaker's kin, though I sometimes speculate that he may be Canis lupus tundrarum, or Canis lupus mackenzii, considering where we met. Possibly even Canis lupus hudsonicus."

Ray processes that, then grins. "You saying I'm a fox, Benton Fraser?"


That gets me kissed soundly, then he pushes me back onto the pillows and arranges himself over me like a blanket. He squints at his bedside clock and sighs. "I can't believe it's only a little after six. I'm tired. I'm gettin' old, Fraser."

"Well, we were up rather late last night," I say, refusing to dignify his other statement with a reply, even if I was thinking something like that earlier. "It's not surprising you're tired."

"Yeah, you sex maniac you. Anybody ever tell you it's not normal to have sex six times in one night once you're past your teens? Not that I'm complaining."

"I'm making up for lost time."

He grins. "I don't think that's possible, but you can keep right on trying if you want."

I hug him close and he cranes up a little to kiss me, then relaxes again with a wide yawn. "Go to sleep, Ray," I say, stroking his hair.

He nods. "Wake me if anything interesting. . . comes up," he says with a broad wink before settling down again.

His breathing evens out quickly. I envy his ability to slide so easily into sleep. Despite jokes about power-napping, I'm rarely able to relax and sleep with so little trouble. However, even though he sleeps easily and soundly, he doesn't sleep still, and it doesn't take long for him to decide I'm not a particularly satisfactory mattress and slide away.

The food has reenergized me a bit, so I ease carefully out of bed and go around to pick up the dishes from the floor on his side. If he got up in the night and forgot they were there and stepped on them, the results could be unfortunate. Feeling unaccountably bold, I remain naked as I take the dishes into the kitchen and place them in the dishwasher. I start to scrape the leftover sauce from the baking dish and then stop and look at the dish, and put it on the floor.

"Dief! Come clean the dish," I call, doing my best to recreate Ray's tones and accent.

A moment later he trots eagerly around the corner, then skids to a stop looking at me in dismay as he realizes I am not, after all Ray. I grin. "Busted, as Ray would say. I'll keep that in mind next time you pretend you can't hear me."

He whines glumly, and I point at the dish. "Go on, you can at least do your duty."

Pretending reluctance, Dief sniffs the dish, finally deigns to lick it, and when he finishes, I rinse it off and put it in the dishwasher as well. Slightly bored, I wander Ray's apartment, trying to decide what to do with myself. I glance into the bedroom again, and know what I'd like to do, and not with myself, but he's sleeping, and I really shouldn't wake him this soon, but it's not easy, not after. . . Lord, I had no idea it could actually get better than what we'd already done. None of the reading I'd done had gone beyond method to sensation.

That leads me to think of Ray's response to my efforts at preparation. He'd definitely been right, it had worked. I suspect that visual demonstrations probably are more effective than written. I will admit to having been a little confused by some of the instructions in the book, having had difficulty envisioning precisely what they meant. My eyes are drawn to the cabinet where Ray stores his videotapes. I've never really been tempted by such things, at least not as an adult. I did find those pictures from Uncle Tiberius' trunk quite fascinating at the age of fourteen. However, I hate being unprepared and ignorant.

I open the cabinet door, and look through his tapes, not entirely certain what I'm looking for. Bullitt, The Great Escape, Rocky, Hombre, Raging Bull, something called Videodrome that I pull out to check, but it has a woman on the cover so I put it back. Blade Runner, Easy Money, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Buckaroo Banzai. All three Star Wars movies, but not, I note, the Ewok Adventure. There's also Flash Gordon. He likes science fiction, not that that surprises me. I notice a distinct lack of what I'm looking for, though. Ah, wait, perhaps. . . I pull out The Hustler, but no, it's Paul Newman. Highly unlikely to be pornographic. I smile a little to see Slap Shot there as well. No wonder he's bilingual.

I'm tempted to put that in the VCR, simply to fulfill that visceral Canadian need to watch winter sports, but resist, a little irked that I'm coming up empty-handed. I wonder for a moment if he only rents the videos he spoke of, but the thought of police officer going to a video store and renting explicit homosexual pornography seems unlikely. Just as I'm about to close the cabinet, I notice a stack of parcels tucked behind the neat row of videos. Three padded mailing envelopes, each the right size and shape to contain a videotape.

I tip the front row of videos forward and pick up one of the envelopes, which definitely contains a videocassette. I slide it out, the cover depicts three men, one in a red flannel shirt open to the waist, jeans, and a cowboy hat. The other two men are barechested, wearing jeans, gilt masks, and beads. The title of the film is Cowboy's Mardi Gras. And it's definitely what I was looking for. Curious, I retrieve the other two mailers, and find that both of them contain videos in the same vein. One called Country Idol which is apparently about a 'city boy' finding love in the country, and one called Illuminations which from the description appears to be a series of erotic vignettes.

As I try to decide which to watch, I have to wonder if there is any overarching significance to the predominately country/city theme of his chosen tapes. It's tempting to assume so, but assuming is a dangerous thing. It's a difficult choice between the three. In the end I choose the one with the vignettes. Since I don't want to wake Ray by turning the sound up to an audible level, it seems that a lack of plot might actually be preferable. I put the tape in the VCR, turn on the television, mute it, hit play and sit down on his couch, preparing to expand my educational horizons.

Ten minutes later, my educational horizons aren't the only thing expanding, and I'm feeling flushed, aroused, and more ignorant than I've ever felt in my life. The sheer inventiveness is rather breathtaking, but that only explains part of my own irregular breathing. I feel like Dief in a bakery. Speaking of Dief, I glance around guiltily, and relax a bit when I see him stretched out at the foot of Ray's bed, head on his paws. Though I suppose one can hardly corrupt a wolf.

My gaze returns to the television screen, and I shift a little uncomfortably, marveling at the flexibility of some of these men. I wonder if they practice yoga? And good God, it's a wonder they don't pass out from hypotension once they're fully erect. I mean, I'm quite well aware that there is a wide variance in genital size between men, that's borne out just between Ray and myself, but this is rather stunning. I have a momentary worry that Ray might have been expecting me to be . . . like that. But then I reason that even if he had, he might actually be grateful that I'm not. Watching them makes me squirm, and not entirely from arousal. It looks, well, painful is the word, I think.

My hand hovers over the remote. I should turn this off. I should. But . . . my gaze slides toward the bedroom again. No. Don't even think about waking up Ray. That would be the height of selfishness. It's not as if I can't take care of myself. I've done it for years. And he did say it wasn't normal to be as . . . resilient . . . as I am, at my age. Though as he said, he's not objected, and he's been nearly as resilient. However, I woke him up enough last night, I don't need to do it now. He needs rest. I turn my attention back to the tape, and . . . lord! That can't be particularly . . . hygenic. Though I suppose if one showered first. I must admit, the idea of doing that with Ray is compelling.

My eyes close as I imagine him on his stomach, my hands on his hips, my mouth on his spine, tongue tracing a path lower, and lower. All right-- one hand on his hip, the other on my cock. The word is coming more easily now. I slide my hand across myself, my grip loose and light, the way Ray usually starts out caressing me. I arch up into my own touch, my hand tightening instinctively, stroking harder as I imagine his response to the touch of my tongue-- he's gasping, moaning, saying . . . .

"Hey! You startin' this party without me?"

No, that wasn't what I . . . my eyes snap open, and I'm not looking at the television, but at Ray, standing in the doorway to his bedroom, eyeing me with an unfortunately familiar mixture of amusement and irritation. I let go of myself instantly, feeling my face go hot. "I . . . ah . . . didn't want to wake you."

"Why not?" he asks, indignantly.

"You. . . you were tired. You said it's not normal . . . ."

He sighs, shaking his head. "Fraser, I was joking. It's great. No red-blooded American male is going to bitch about getting too much sex. Or Canadian male for that matter." His gaze goes to the screen, and his mouth curves upward in a smile that makes me want to kiss it off him. "So, you see anything you like?"

"Yes. I mean, no! I was simply curious. I wondered how you learned what you did, earlier."

"Oh. So it's purely educational?"

I nod solemnly. "Yes, Ray."

"Uh hunh. And that was some educational wanking you were doing there?"

"Ah . . . well . . . ."

He grins. "It's okay, Fraser. It's supposed to turn you on." He looks at the screen, his eyes slightly glazed. "Some of those guys're. . . kind of something, aren't they?"

Something about his voice makes me wonder if he's feeling the same momentary twinge of inadequacy that I did, despite the fact that he's built more like they are than I am. "Honestly, Ray, it looks rather uncomfortable," I assure him.

He chuckles and looks back at me, his eyes warm with humor and affection. "Yeah, I'll say. You're plenty for me."

My face warms. His gaze drops to my lap, and he smiles ferally.

"So, you gonna do something about that?" he asks, nodding at my erection, which has failed to subside much despite my embarrassment.

I stare at him, my face even hotter than before. He can't mean what it sounds as though he means. "I don't understand."

His smile broadens. "Yes you do. Come on, Fraser. You were doing fine there. I shouldn't have said anything."

Apparently he does mean what I thought he meant. "I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"It's . . . I don't . . . you're . . . ." I can almost hear my father chastising me for incomplete sentences, and try to finish one. "It's private!" I manage.

He looks surprised. "You never jerked off with anybody watching before?"

I shake my head, unable to meet his eyes. It suddenly dawns on me from the way he said it, that he probably has done such a thing. My mind suddenly presents me with the image of him masturbating while I watch. Long fingers surrounding his heavy penis, pale gold against the flushed, swollen organ they cradle, stroking. I feel a surge of arousal that nearly wrings a whimper from me, and I expect he can't help but notice my physical reaction.

"Mmm," he says, moving closer. "Nice."

I glance hopefully at his groin, thinking perhaps I can distract him, but he's not hard. He follows my gaze and smiles ruefully.

"No joy this time. I think you wore me out."

"I'm s. . . . "

"Don't say it. I like being worn out. In fact, I fucking love being worn out. And I want to watch you wear you out."

It takes me a moment to parse that sentence, but when I do, my embarrassment returns. "I can't," I whisper, simply unable to contemplate doing such a thing . . . which I realize is entirely unfair because I would love to see him do it, and I'm fairly certain he would be willing to indulge me.

He sighs and ruffles my hair. "Okay, let's see if I can help here." He sits down beside me. "Sit forward a second," he says, and when I do he slides in behind me on the couch, lying on his side, then pats the cushion in front of him. "Okay, now you lie down here."

I'm not sure what he plans, but I stretch out, and he pushes and prods until I'm lying mostly on my back, but propped against him as well, so I'm turned slightly toward the television where the video is still playing. His right arm is wrapped around my waist, one of his knees rides casually between mine.

"There," he says, sounding satisfied. "Now, next step." He takes my hand in his, and wraps both of our hands around my erection, mine on the inside, his on the outside. He squeezes a little, strokes a little, causing me to do the same. "There, see? We can do this. You can do this. Just watch the pretty pictures."

I glance at the television, at the two men having rather enthusiastic anal sex. They're both bulky, oiled, gleaming, they look like they belong in a gymnasium. There's nothing even faintly natural about them. As before, the scene makes me more uncomfortable than aroused.

"Hey, what's the matter?" Ray asks, feeling my reaction to the scene reflected in my diminishing erection. He shifts a little, moving his head so he can see the television better. He chuckles. "Oh, I get it. Okay, hang on." He lets go of my hand for a moment, finds the remote, and fast forwards a bit. "Lessee, forty-seven minutes ought to be about right, " he mutters, and then hits play again.

Two men once more, unsurprisingly. This couple has none of the artificial steroidal bulk of the previous pair. One man is broader, one leaner. One dark haired, one fair. They're lying in a bed, kissing langorously, the lean, fair man's hand stroking the his partner's penis with lazy strokes. Immediately my interest is piqued. Ray puts down the remote, puts his hand back around mine, and licks my ear.

"Watch. You'll like this one. This is why I bought it."

He matches our strokes to those on the screen. If I unfocus my gaze a little, I can imagine that the couple is us. I wonder if Ray has watched this, thinking that same thing? It seems significant that he knew exactly where this scene was on the tape. I feel a flush climb my body, not the prickly, uncomfortable heat of embarrassment, but the rolling blaze of arousal. My hand tightens without his prompting.

"Yeah," Ray breathes approvingly in my ear. "That's good."

I close my eyes for a moment, trying to calm myself a little, and when I open them again, the scene has changed. The blond is on his back, the brunet kneeling between his thighs, caressing his penis, his scrotum, then his fingers move lower still, parting spare buttocks, one finger, then two, disappearing into the small opening there. The blond writhes, his penis hard and leaking. Ray and I stroke me harder, my hips rocking, thrusting a little into our grip. Ray shifts his knee upward a little between my legs, pressing lightly against my testicles, and I shudder with reaction.

I look down to where our hands are cupped together around me, finding the sight a thousand times more erotic than anything on his tape. Everything about Ray is a contrast to me. His fingers long and almost bony where mine are heavy and blunt; his skin is a beautiful pale gold, where mine is milky; the muscles in his forearm that bunch with each stroke are lean and striated and I can see the tendons flex in his wrist. My arm, all the same components, looks nothing alike, my muscles are rounded, the tendons hidden.

Suddenly Ray shivers a little, his hand tightening, throwing off our rhythm, his breath indrawn in an almost-gasp. I look up at the couple on the screen once more. My own breath catches. Oh. I understand now. Yes. This is how he knew. And he's telling me so much here, by letting me see this. He's letting me see his desire for me, he's letting me know that he's watched this, wanting me, many times before. Any residual embarrassment I felt at handling myself in front of him disappears instantly in the face of that revelation. I watch as flesh enters flesh, feel Ray's lips against my shoulder.

The images are frankly erotic and I could watch them and be aroused, but the reality was so much more beautiful. I close my eyes, remembering, reliving, feeling him yield to me once more. Remembering, he no longer has to guide my hand. I know my own rhythm and take it up.

"Yeah, oh, that's it. That's it," he croons against my ear. "That's good. Keep it up. I'm just gonna move a little here."

His fingers leave mine, and I feel the couch shift. Bereft of his warmth, I find myself on my back, but then his long hands are moving up my thighs, urging them apart so he can caress between them, cupping the tightening weight of my scrotum. The pleasure is very nearly unbearable, and my own strokes grow shorter, and more erratic, my hips pumping. I remember the blind, mindless delight on his face as the hot spurts of his ejaculation hit my belly, my body buried deep in the tight heat of his, and I sob, every muscle in my body locking up as the pleasure hits.

Just before the first pulse reaches air, his lips close around me, surrounding me with warm, wet closeness. I sob again, trembling, as he sucks and strokes me with his long tongue, swallows, sucks again, until the last shuddering wave fades leaving me wrung out and exhausted. He lifts his head finally, drops a kiss on my navel.

"So good," he murmurs against my stomach.

I reach down, stroking the hedgehog-spikes of his hair, so much softer than they look.
"Ray . . . I . . . ."

The words won't come. I'm too afraid of them. That should make me sad, but I feel him smile against my skin, and nod.

"Yeah, me too."

Somehow that makes everything all right again. After a minute or two he scrabbles around, finds the remote, and turns off the television and VCR.

"Come on. Bed."

I nod, and let him pull me, a little wobbly, to my feet, and I follow him into his bedroom. This time I can feel sleep waiting for me, and as soon as the light's turned out and the covers pulled up, I wrap my arm around his waist, pull him close, and let it take me.

* * *

I keep trying to hit my alarm clock to turn it off, but it's not working. The damned thing just keeps buzzing. I lay there staring at it, squinting, trying to figure out why, and after a moment it dawns on me that my alarm beeps, it doesn't buzz. The buzz is the intercom. Someone's leaning on it. I look at the clock. Nine-fourteen in the morning? Who the hell would be buzzing me at nine-fourteen on a Sunday morning?

"Are you going to get that?" Fraser asks, sounding like he's been awake for hours, even though a quick look shows me he's sleepy and rumpled and has sheet-wrinkles on his face. It's kind of disgusting that that's a good look on him.

"Yeah, yeah," I say, getting up and going over to the intercom, grumbling. "Who's there?" I bark into it, holding down the 'talk' button.

"Federal Express," a woman says.

Federal Express? On a Sunday? Since when do they deliver on Sun. . . oh yeah. Since I paid extra for it that's since when. I feel myself grinning in anticipation as I hit the button to let her in. "Come on up. Apartment 309."

Fraser's up on his elbows in bed, looking at me curiously. I grab my robe and wave him back down. "It's okay. I'm expecting this. Stay there."

He nods, but settles back, still curious. Dief nearly trips me as I pass the kitchen, and I pat him. "Hang on buddy, one thing at a time, okay?"

He whines but settles back down, looking longingly at the refrigerator. I'm just getting to the door when there's a knock. A glance through the peephole shows me a woman in a FedEx uniform so I swing it open. Her gaze sweeps from my bare feet, up my ugly robe, to my no-doubt severe case of bedhead, and I can see her trying not to grin. I smile at her ruefully. "Forgot you guys were coming. I was still asleep."

She smiles back. "Sundays are like that. You wouldn't believe some of the things you see doing Sunday deliveries. You Ray Vecchio?"

I nod, and reach for the clipboard she's holding out, scribble 'my' name, and grin, thinking that someday the original Ray Vecchio is going to look at his old Visa bills and wonder what the hell I wanted with three pair of silk thermal underwear. She takes back her clipboard, hands me a box that's surprisingly light, and smiles.

"Have a nice day."

"You too," I say, closing the door behind her. I hear rustling from the bedroom and shake my head. "I said stay there, Fraser. I meant it!"

I know he's got to be going nuts with nosiness by now. He does not like to be left in the dark. Fortunately it won't be dark for long. Dark. Oh hell. Candles. I don't have birthday candles. I think for a minute, and start to grin as I get an idea. No birthday candles, but I do have a box of emergency candles. I go in the kitchen and get one out, set it on a plate. It promptly falls over, but that's okay, I have another idea.

I get the bakery box out of the fridge and put it on the counter. Get the pizza box out and give Dief a slice. Put the pizza box back, then open up the bakery box and carefully get out the tarts, putting them in on the plate a little circle with just enough room in the middle to stick the candle. Just like I figured, that's enough to hold the candle upright. Dief has finished his pizza and is eyeing the bakery box with felonious intent, so I put it away, then I find some matches and light the candle, put the plate on top of the Fed-Ex box, pick up the whole shebang and head for the bedroom.

Fraser looks puzzled as I come in. Even more so as I get to the bed and hold out the stuff out to him. "I'm not gonna inflict my singing on you, Fraser, but happy two-days-after-your-birthday in any case."

Whatever reaction I expected, it isn't what I get. He looks at the stuff in my hands, looks at me, does that whole survey over again, and then the next thing I know he's got his face in his hands and is crying. Not just sniffling, either, but that awful, stomach-turning crying pretty much like I did the day I got served with those fucking divorce papers. I stare at him for a couple of seconds, trying to wrap my brain around what the hell just happened, and then I'm trying to find a place to put down all the stuff without setting something on fire. Finally find a clear space on the dresser and unload, then crawl into bed, hands awkwardly looking for a place to pat or hug, trying to figure out how I'm supposed to deal with a Fraser who's lost it. Because I had no idea he could.

Fraser isn't having any of it. He pulls away from me, one hand still clamped over his eyes, the other waving me off. I let him get away with that for about ten seconds, and then I get kind of pissed off that he'll let me suck his cock but he won't let me help him deal with whatever his problem is. I wrap myself around him like that stuff they put on new CD's that you have to peel off and it always ends up stuck to you in about ten places. I can feel him shaking in my arms, and he's trying to wipe his face with his arm, which I know from experience doesn't work worth a damn. I pull one hand off him long enough to grab a handful of tissues from the box on the nightstand and stuff them in his hand.

He wipes, blows, and takes a deep breath. It catches on a sob, he shakes his head, hard, like he can shake the sadness out of himself. I reach for the water and hand it to him. He still won't look at me but he takes a long, long drink, making the sides of the bottle buckle in. It makes a funny suck-pop sound as he lets go of it, and he laughs shakily. I squeeze his shoulder gently.

"Okay now?"

He nods, his head hanging. "Yes. I'm terribly sorry, Ray. I don't know why I . . . I just. . . ." he shrugs helplessly. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, just tell me what's up. You always react like that to having bir. . . ." I catch myself before I say it, suddenly paranoid about triggering another go-round. "Well, you know," I finish lamely.

He sighs and lies back, staring at the ceiling. "I don't know."

"How can you not know?" I ask. "Either you do or you . . . ." It suddenly dawns on me how he might not know. I look at him, remembering how he stared at those kids yesterday, and the fact that not even Frannie knew it was his birthday. And I remember him having a party for my birthday that wasn't really my birthday, which says something about how important he thought that was. "When's the last time anyone celebrated your birthday, Fraser?"

He stares at the ceiling for a moment. "I suppose that depends on your definition of celebration. One year my cohort at Depot thought it quite amusing to supply me with several glasses of ethanol-laced punch when they found out when it was. While my memory of that night isn't very clear, I believe they felt it was a celebration."

It takes me a minute to remember that the Depot is the Canadian version of the Academy. I know he was pretty young when he went through there, seventeen or eighteen, I think, and probably even worse clueless than he is now. God. Fraser, spiked punch and asshole cadets. Ouch. Yeah, I can imagine that, not that I want to.

"What about your family?" I ask, looking for a better memory.

"Well, as I said, it depends on your definition of celebration. My grandparents usually celebrated it by lightening my chore load for the day and giving me literature they felt would improve my character."

I roll my eyes. "Shows how much they knew. If your character got any more improved there'd be a bunch of guys from the Vatican following you around taking notes. Look, I'm talking birthday cake, stupid songs, presents you like, stuff like that."

"I thought you probably were."

"So you avoiding the question?"

"Possibly," he says with a little sigh.

"Come on. I told you about the bank."

"I told you about the Depot," he shoots back.

"Fraser," I say warningly.

"I was five," he says, kind of fast.

"Five? Jesus. You remember when you were five? I don't remember much of anything before about eleven."

He smiles a little. "Well, not well. But I do remember that birthday. I got a set of marbles from my mother. My father said I'd swallow them and have to be taken to the nearest hospital which was three days away by dogsled, but I was very careful with them, and I never once put one in my mouth."

"That was before you got into the whole licking thing, hunh?" I ask, winking.

The corners of his mouth turn up in a quick little smile. "Yes. Quite a bit earlier. I still had them, until last year." He looks sad again.

"What happened last year?"

"Greta Garbo."

Oh. Ohfuck. I get it. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."

He shakes his head. "No reason why you would. But at any rate, it doesn't excuse my behavior, and I apologize. You simply took me by surprise."

"That was kind of the point," I say ruefully. "But guess it wasn't such a great idea." Neither was my gift, probably. Now I'm wishing I hadn't gotten him something practical, but it's too late now. Hopefully the fact that they're silk will make up for the fact that they're useful.

His head comes up and he looks me square in the eyes. "No, no, it was a wonderful idea. But . . . how did you know it was my birthday?"

I feel my face get hot. "I, um, snuck into the Records office and looked in your file."

"Ah," he says, and I think maybe he's smiling a little, which is good.

I look over at the dresser, see that the candle has burned about halfway down. Another half inch and we'll be having toasted tarts. "So, you ready to make a wish now?"

"I am," he says firmly.

I unstick myself from him and go get the stuff, coming back over to hand him the plate. He thinks for a minutes, closes his eyes, and blows. The candle goes out and a thin trail of waxy-smelling smoke snakes up from it. He opens his eyes again and smiles.

"What'd you wish for?" I ask automatically.

He smiles at me like the damned Mona Lisa. "According to tradition if I tell you my wish then it won't come true, so I'm afraid you'll just have to remain curious."

Damn. "Didn't know you were superstitious."

"I'm not usually," he says, looking a little sheepish.

"Hungry?" I ask.

He nods, his fingers hover over the plate, then he looks up. "You choose first."

"Fraser, it's your birthday not mine. You get to choose. In fact you can have all of them if you want. I've got eclairs in the 'fridge."

"Well, if you're sure. . . ."

"I'm sure."

He picks up the cherry tart. I grin. Bingo. I am a detective. He bites in, and the expression on his face is almost as good as when he comes. "Like cherries?" I ask after he finishes chewing and swallows.

He nods. "Very much. We rarely got fruit, other than apples and whatever berries grew wild in our area. Any sort of orchard fruit was a treat. Peaches. Pears. But cherries. . . I remember once my father came back from a trip to Ottawa with ten pounds of cherries, half were pie-cherries like these and the other half were Bings. Grandmother made pie filling and jam with the tart ones, and I made myself sick on the Bings."

"You? You made yourself sick?" I ask, teasingly shocked.

He looks at me with a slightly wicked gleam in his eyes. "You may have noticed that when I really enjoy something, my self-control is less than stellar."

I laugh. "You know, now that you mention it, maybe I have noticed that. Okay. Finish up there. You've got a present to open." Suddenly I'm self-conscious again. "It's not like. . . a really cool present. I didn't know what you'd want. It's just. . . ."

"Ray," he says softly. "I realize it's a cliché, but in this case it's also quite true, it's the thought that counts." He holds out his hand. "The box?"

I know I'm blushing as I hand it to him. I paid for gift-wrap so they'd better have done it. He pulls the zipper-thingy on the FedEx box and opens it, tips it, and a second box slides out, wrapped in a masculine-looking green, black, and red plaid paper. Okay, cool. They won't get a nasty phone call from me. His fingers slide carefully under the tab at one end, lifting it, then he turns the package and repeats that move on the other end. I stifle a sigh. I should have known he wouldn't be a ripper.

I try not to fidget impatiently as he lifts the tape along the underseam, also carefully. He's making me crazy. Finally he's got it unstuck everywhere and he folds back the sides, and opens the inner box, lifts out the top layer, which happens to be the top part of the black set. He studies it for a moment, looks at the bottom half, still in the box, and starts to grin, big, his whole face lighting up.

"Ray! I've always wanted a set of these, but could never quite justify the expense. How on earth did you know?"

"I. . . um . . . saw the catalog on Frannie's desk. Thought they seemed kinda. . . you. And you got a funny definition of expensive, Fraser. I mean, I spend more on lunch in a week," I say, feeling embarrassed that he thinks I spent a wad on him.

"Well, I suppose I probably do," he allows, pulling out the bottoms to look at them, then stopping, staring into the box with a little frown as that uncovers the white set underneath the black ones.

He looks at me, speechless, for once in his life. I grin. "Keep going."

He pulls out the white set, finds the blue set, and looks back at me like he's going to start bawling again.

"They were on sale," I lie weakly, trying to head off the cloudburst that I know will mortify him past words. "I figured hey, as long as I was paying for shipping, I might as well get you one of each. I mean, they gotta be more comfortable than those Doctor Denton's of yours, cute though they are."

He arches an eyebrow at me. "Doctor Denton's? I can assure you, Ray, they don't have feet."

Whew. It worked. I blink at him in fake surprise. "No, really?"

He seems to pull himself together as he looks at the clothing in his lap again, taking a couple of long breaths as his fingers smooth over the fabric, and then he looks at me with a funny little smile. "You know, yesterday as I looked at the catalog I was thinking that blue is really more your color," he says.

I open my mouth to tell him no, he's got that blue sweater and the blue plaid shirt and he looks hot in both of them, when suddenly I get it. He was doing what I did. Looking at the catalog, seeing me in place of the model. Okay, my brain thinks that's really strange but my dick likes it. I manage a crooked grin. "That right?"

"Yes. You know, you could always try these on, just to see how they suit. . . ." he says in a 'please sir, can I have some more' sort of voice, pulling the blue ones out of the heap.

"Well, I guess I could," I say, thoughtfully, trying not to react to that voice. "But you got to, too. I mean, what if I didn't get you the right size?" I say, looking pointedly at the rest of the pile.

"I'm sure they'll be . . . ." He stops, looks at me, and I see the lightbulb go on. He smiles again, and starts to pick up the white ones. I shake my head a little and his fingers instantly shift to the black ones. Ohyeah. I stand up, shake out the blue pants-half and bend over to step into them. Fraser's hand cups my butt and squeezes, and I nearly fall over, laughing. "Hey! That's . . . ."

"Mine," he says possessively.

I shake my head. "Boy, you let a Mountie nail your ass and you pay, and pay, and pay. . . ."

He laughs and gets out of bed, too. On the other side I notice, probably to head off any attempt at retaliation. Without his 'help' I finally get the pants on. They're kinda loose and want to ride just below my navel, but then stuff usually is loose on me if it's long enough. But they feel really . . . good. Cool, and, well, silky. Duh.

I pull the top on, and it slithers down over my chest, making me shiver in a good way as my nipples go tight. I rub a hand across my stomach, feeling the slide of silk across my skin, smooth and soft, raising the little hairs that run down my belly. I look up to see Fraser has the black bottoms on, and is pulling on the top. They fit him tighter than the blue ones fit me. Quite a lot tighter. Snug. Pretty much like I imagined, only better.

I rub my stomach again, and it's really tempting to move that hand down a few inches. I notice that I can see a faint hint of pale tan through the black across his biceps, forearms, and thighs. Sweet. Looking at his thighs makes me notice that his thermals are snug in a way that's got nothing to do with what size they are. I'm so used to seeing him hidden behind boxers or the red things that the way they cling to the heavy length of his cock is a turn on all it's own. My own cock is taking interest in things now, and the silk feels nice against it as I start to firm up.

I look up and find him looking at me like Dief looks at pizza, which throws me for a second. I can't get used to that . . . intensity. Or the fact that he thinks my skinny ass is attractive. More proof that he's unhinged, probably, but hey, I can dance to it. I'm unhinged too. I nod at him. "Looking good there, Fraser."

"You as well," he says instantly, his gaze sweeping down, then back up again, and there's heat in his eyes, and in the way his tongue slides across his lower lip. He's got a couple of ways to do that. I think I'm the only person that's seen this particular version.

"Yeah?" I ask. I'm not proud.

"Yeah," he says in a growly, very definite way, and then he's moving like a hunting wolf as he comes around the bed, pulls me up against him, and takes my mouth with his.

It's a hard kiss, harsh and fantastic. His hands on my ass, pulling my hips tight against his, rubbing his cock against mine through that soft, smooth fabric. It takes only a few strokes for me to start to feel a damp spot where the head of his cock is pushing against my hip. Oh yeah. Sometimes I think he really is trying to make up for thirty-six years of doing without. Like I mind.

I get a wild hair and try to pull back a little. He catches my lower lip in his teeth, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to let me know he doesn't think much of that idea. I push my tongue against his teeth until he lets go and opens up, slide my tongue into his mouth and pretend it's my cock for a second, then slip it out again, fast, and break the kiss so I can slide down to my knees, put my mouth against that silk-covered bulge between his thighs.
He moans, one of his hands clutching at my shoulder, the other cupping the back of my head, like he thinks I might stop. I grin and shake my head, which rubs my nose over him. Lick. Tastes funny, feels funny, but I can taste familiar Fraser under the new flavor, feel him under the strange texture. I use my teeth and tongue to lever him away from his belly so I can get my mouth around the flared head of his cock, the knit silk like a weird condom between my tongue and his skin.

". . . Ray!"

It dawns on me that he's been saying that a while. I look up without letting him go. "Mmm?"

He gasps, bucks into my mouth, his eyes rolling back a little as his eyes close, then he shakes his head, hard. "Bed. Get on the bed."

It's not a request.

I don't usually let him order me around but I guess I can make an exception this once. One last suck, and I let him go. Notice that the blue silk I'm wearing is getting pretty wet even without anybody's mouth on it. He puts a hand down to help me up, then when I'm on my feet he reaches over and cups my cock, squeezes it, strokes it. I'm still lost in that feeling when he lets go and pushes me backward. I fall onto the bed, laughing, legs spread, and he follows, trying out on me what I was doing to him. I reach down and tug at his ear until he spits me out again and I jerk my head at the bed.

"Turn around."

He looks skeptical. I roll my eyes. "Plant your ass up here." I whack the bed beside my head. "Then we can both have fun."

Oh. He gets it. I can see it in his face. God. How someone this hot can be so . . . ignorant. . . I just don't know. I'm going to have to show him more videos. He shifts around on the bed until he's where I want him. I put a hand on his ass and tip him forward onto one hip, rest my head on my arm for a second, waiting for him to get back in the groove. Oh . . . yeah. Like that. Just like that. Feels funny with something between me and his tongue, wonder if it felt like that to him? I rock into his mouth a little, just a little, I don't want to choke him. Well, not at the moment anyway. He puts a hand around my cock, strokes it as he sucks on the head. Sweet.

My hand still on his ass, I lean forward and suck him in. His whole body jerks, and he does this sort of gasp-inhale thing around my cock that ends on a sound a lot like a bark, and a skim of teeth that makes me jerk too.

"Hey! Watch the teeth!"

He glances up at me, a wicked spark in his eyes, and before I have time to think more than 'I'm in trouble now' he rakes his teeth over me on purpose, lightly, carefully, just enough to make me moan and shiver.

"You rip 'em, you fix 'em," I manage to say. "I don't sew."

He licks me from bottom to top, still through the damned silk, a long, flat-tongued lick that ends with a little flick against the very tip. I look at the black silk bulge about a finger's width from my face and figure it's time for payback. I slide my fingers into the fly and pull him out, cupping his ass and playing there while I suck him in. Gasp-choke- whimper out of him this time, and the clutch of his fingers in my hair, tight enough to bring tears, but that's cool, I like making him forget to be polite.

He's very not-polite right now, pulling my hair, bucking into my mouth, not even remembering he's supposed to be doing me while I'm doing him. Still new at this. It's probably just as well, since if he touches me much more I'll probably go off like a rocket and make an even bigger mess of these nice new drawers. Suddenly he's trying to pull me off him instead of holding me still so he can fuck my mouth. My first thought is 'the hell with that,' and I keep sucking, but then I remember it's his birthday, sort of, so I guess I ought to find out what he wants. I let him go and wipe my sloppy mouth as I look down our bodies to his face and grin at his flushed face. Love the way his hair curls when he's all sex-sweaty and hot.

"What'd you want, birthday boy? Your wish is my command."

He twists around, straining to reach the nightstand, and finally gives a grunt of satisfaction and curls back down, holding my jar of lube, his eyes dilated to the point where he looks half-stoned, just thin rings of dark blue around wide black pupils. Stoned on sex. Pretty cool. He puts the jar down where I can reach it, and licks his lips.

"Fuck me, Ray," he growls.

Hoooolyshit. Down Ray. No, you may not come yet. You got miles to go before you sleep. I look at him again, he looks serious. Well, as serious as he can, all things considered. I kind of have to ignore how silly it looks to have his cock hanging out of his fly like that when I'm not latched onto it. "Fraser. . . you mean, you want me to, uh, fuck you?" I ask carefully, wanting to make sure I didn't get that wrong.

He flashes me that goofy grin of his. "Did I just say that or do I have a head injury?"

I can't help laughing. He's got me cold. Days like this I'm pretty sure there's a God. Some kind of weird God with a hell of a sense of humor but a God in that big, fingers-in-the-pie kind of way. Maybe one like Fraser once told me about, a trickster. Makes more sense than the kind I grew up with. That one would definitely not approve of what we're doing here, and I'm getting that approval-vibe bigtime. I take a deep breath, let it out.


He looks at me like I'm unhinged. "How?" he echoes. "Well, I assumed that you. . . ."

I roll my eyes. "Not that how, Fraser. The other how. You want it the easy way or the hard way?" I ask, just trying to sound him out.

He goes red, chews on his lip, then looks up at me, still earnest. "Easy."

I grin. I had a feeling. And I got to see his face when he came before. This time's for him. I tuck him back inside his fly, don't want to risk that getting caught when he takes them off, and lay a gentle smack on his backside, feeling the curve of his ass under my palm as I push him over onto his front. He turns over easy, can't resist a little hump into the mattress, but then he reaches up and pulls a pillow under his hips. Smart boy, Fraser. That's enough to kind of lift his ass a little. The light gleams on black silk, and faintly through it, on the pale skin beneath.

My mouth goes dry, and I have to lick my lips too, and the touch of my own tongue makes me shiver a little. I lean down and lick a line across his back, just above the waistband, cupping his ass, massaging it a little with both hands. He puts his forehead against his arms and splays his legs. I trail my tongue down the back seam of the thermals, following it down to where it dips between his cheeks, and I pause there for a second. I've had this done for me, never done it to anyone else. Never wanted to. But I want to now. In fact, it's kind of a compulsion, and the fact that there's fabric between me and him makes it a little easier to tell myself that I'm not licking Fraser's ass, even though I am.

Use my hands to spread him a little, flick my tongue down into that black silk valley. Feel him go tense, and lift my head, but he's not objecting, just breathing hard. Okay. Keep going. First two or three licks are dry and just taste like silk, but then the wet starts to spread and I'm tasting him under there, just like I tasted his cock, and he's whimpering and humping the pillow and canting his ass back toward my mouth. I have to shift my hands to his hips to hold him still because all that squirming is making it hard to hit the target.

Finally I get tired of being coy, and yank the backside of the thermals down to just under his cheeks. He yelps a little, and I realize I need to do the front part too, because they're stretchy but not that stretchy and they're caught a little. Slide my hand under his hips and carefully extract his cock from the tight fabric and pull the front down to match the back. Much better. Nothing between me and him now but air and spit. I dive back in, tonguing the little pucker there until it's getting all soft and relaxed, and his whimpers are turning to moans and he's humping that pillow pretty steady. Whoops, don't want him to come yet. Next step.

He turns his head, panting, when I stop, looks at me with so much want in his eyes that it just about kills me. Okay, work fast before you lose it, Ray. Damn it, where'd the lube go? Not on the bed, not on the nightstand. . . I hang my head off the bed and yeah, there it is, it fell off. Grab it and come back up and goggle for a minute. Fraser's head's still on his crossed arms, but he's got his knees up under him now, putting him wide, wide open for me, leaving his flushed, swollen cock right where I can reach it.

My hands are shaking as I open the jar and dig two fingers in, and I rub his back and his ass and his thighs a little with my left hand as I work the slick stuff around the opening, then up into him. His breathing catches and I freeze.

"You okay?"

"Mmmm," he says, and the smoky sound of his voice tells me what I need to know. I don't know why I'm so nervous. I wasn't worried about it when he did me. I just really don't want to screw this up-- though I do want to screw him up, down, and sideways, but that's different. He's hot around my fingers, and I can feel his muscles working, grip, relax, grip. . . God, if he does that while I'm in him I won't last six seconds. But he's definitely ready. I slide my fingers out and shift up behind him, dragging my own thermals down to mid-thigh. Guide myself into place with one hand, holding his hip with the other as I start to feed my cock into him.

He takes me in without a sound other than the heavy rush of our breathing. I try to find something to think about besides how great he feels around me, notice how smooth his thighs and ass are. He's got practically no body hair. I don't have much, well, not up top, but my legs . . . compared to him I'm a bear, all over blondish-brown fuzz. He's smooth inside too, sweet, and so damn tight.

He does this little move then, kind of a hip-rolling thing, muscles moving fluidly under sleek skin, my hand clenches on his hip, trying to hold him still. He looks around at me, licks parted lips.

"Ray . . . ?"

"Youfeelsofuckinggood!" spills from my lips in a rush, punctuated by a push of my hips. He takes me a little deeper, with a guttural grunt that pushes every button I own. Pull back and do it again, get another one of those rough exhalations. Again. Again. Searching. Yeah. This time he moans, his head dropping, his ass pushing back against me, he wants more of that. Got the sweet spot that time.

"Ray . . . God. What . . .?"

We can do the anatomy lesson later. Now that I know where it is, I start working it smooth and steady, hitting it every damned time. He's shaking, doing this little lift-shove thing back at me every time so I hit him harder. I reach under him, find his cock; thick, heavy and wet in my hand, drooling pre-come like water. Makes it nice and easy when I start to jack him as I pump my cock in and out. He's got his face in a pillow, muffling his moans and grunts a little, enough so the neighbors can't hear but not enough that I can't hear.

I can't wrap my mind around it. I'm fucking him. I'm in him. He's open to me. Wide open, his body, and, I think, more than that. I want it to be more than that, but he's like me, he can't say it with his mouth, he has to say it with his body. Giving me his body like this is his way of saying it, just like giving him mine was for me. He turns his head, gasping in fresh air. He was probably half-suffocating himself down there trying to keep quiet.

"Harder," he growls when he has enough air to speak.

I can do harder. I start stripping his cock, hard, fast, hammering it as I pound his tight, sweet ass. His hips are moving, he's humping my fist, my cock, taking everything I can give him, asking for more. My balls are getting tight, and my toes are curling, I can feel the flood starting down in my spine, and then it's there, exploding through me and out of me in an blazing rush of joy. I slam my cock deep as my spunk pumps out into him, like shooting hot honey. He moans my name, his hand coming back to touch the base of my cock, feeling the spurts. My hand falters on his cock, I can't do anything but come, so hard it feels like it's coming from my teeth.

He gives me a while to recover. Not long, though. Then his hand covers mine, stroking himself with my hand, his hips are doing that amazing rolling hump again, and my mostly still-hard cock is sliding a little in him, sliding more now, he's all full of my jiz, hot and slick. That sensation on my cock is almost too much right now, but he needs it, so I try to cooperate, tightening my hand, stroking harder.

Oh yeah, that's what he needed. He's fucking my fist again, and his ass is squeezing me so tight I'm seeing stars, but finally his whole body goes tight and his head goes back and he comes. I quick cup my hand over him, catching all that hot, slick stuff in my palm, using it to stroke him until he's a twitching, moaning mess and he collapses like someone knocked all the supports out from under him.

I lay on him for a second or two, then remember that I'm not exactly a lightweight and I shift my hips so I slide out of him. He moans at that, reaches for me, finds a leg and squeezes.

"Don't go."

"Like I could," I say, laughing a little. "It's a damned good thing it's Sunday because I'm not moving for the rest of the day. Or at least ten minutes."

He sighs, nods, and rolls over with a deep, contented sigh, eyes still closed. "That was. . . amazing."

The man has a gift for understatement. "You could say that."

He opens his eyes, looks over at me, his gaze sweeping down, then back up, and his mouth twitches a little. I look down, and start to grin, look at him and grin bigger. We look . . . ridiculous. Both of us mostly dressed, with the pants-halves of our thermals peeled down just enough for access, and both tops and bottoms wet with sweat, splashed with come in a couple of spots. I start to laugh. "Please tell me these things aren't dry clean only!"

He chuckles. "Fortunately for your local cleaner, they're washable."

He stretches, and gets a funny look on his face. I know what's up and with a grin and a wink I grab the towel off the nightstand and hand it to him, deliberately looking elsewhere for a few seconds. "Kind of weird, hunh?" I say, watching the way the light's coming through my blinds.

"A little disconcerting," he says, shifting a little. "I hadn't thought about it."

"Me either. Well, before last night," I say,

I'm thirsty again, and I find the water and swig almost all of it, only stopping because I realize Fraser might need some too. The water hits my stomach and it feels weird and cold and empty. All the sudden I'm hungry. Really hungry. And I'm going to get a headache if I don't get some coffee in me soon. I'm lying there trying to find the energy to get up, when Fraser says my name.

"Ray?" I look at him. He's got the plate, with the three leftover tarts on it. "You never got yours."

I laugh. "Oh yeah, I got mine Ben. I did."

He looks at me, eyebrows lifted.

I laugh again. "It's a whattayacallit. . . a colloquialism. Saying 'I got some' means I got laid."

"Ah," he smiles. "In that case, would you like a tart?"

I grin. "No thanks, don't need one 'cause I already got mine. Besides, tarts are illegal and I'm a cop. I'd have to run 'em in."

He rolls his eyes, grabs one of the pastries, and pushes it against my mouth. I open up, laughing, get a mouthful of crumbly crust, sticky-sweet glaze and the taste-feel explosion of a blackberry against my tongue. He leans in and kisses me as soon as I've swallowed.

"Sweet," he says into my mouth.

I smile against his lips. "Yeah. Sweet."

I don't think either of us are talking about pastry.

* * *

Sweet. He's that. He'd not thank me if I said it unambiguously, but I think he knows what I mean. I think I know what he means. We can say it if we don't say it. There are unwritten rules here, ones I understand. He's a man, I'm a man. We speak the same language. We understand one another. We are partners, friends, lovers. All three. I don't know how I ever existed without that unique and necessary triptych.

There's a part of me that keeps expecting to wake up, to find I'm only dreaming this intense, erotic fantasy. There's another, larger part that knows better. I could never have imagined the things he's taught me, or the taste of him, or the feel of him. I know, because I tried, and failed utterly. I watch him finish eating his pastry, see the nervous energy simmering in his body, and smile. "You need coffee, and some real food?" I ask, before he can say it.

He laughs. "God, you do know me."

"Well, I've had ample opportunity to observe your habits."

He sits up, brushing crumbs off his chest. "True. And you know I need regular feeding. Gah, I stink. Shower with me?"

"You want to shower before breakfast?" I ask, surprised.

"Yeah, because I want to go to Earl's for breakfast and I don't think they'll let me in there if I smell like a whorehouse."

I should have anticipated that. Sunday breakfast at Earl's Diner is somewhat of a Ray tradition. "You don't smell like a whorehouse." I say firmly, though I have no idea what a whorehouse actually smells like, never having frequented one. Even so, I seriously doubt that Ray smells anything like one.

"No?" He sniffs himself ostentatiously. "I think I do."

"No. You smell . . . wonderful. Sexy. Hot."

His eyes go wide at that, his tongue stealing out to moisten his lips as if they're suddenly dry. He clears his throat and puts on a stern look, which doesn't sit well on him. He's not meant for sternness.

"Benton Fraser," he says, severely. "I am shocked. Breakfast first, okay? I gotta have something to keep my strength up."

I sigh pretentiously. "Well, in that case let's shower immediately. And may I suggest the steak and eggs, with hash browns and orange juice and several cups of coffee?"

He gets out of bed, pulls up his thermals and stretches, laughing. "You telling me I'm going to need a lot of fortification?"

I nod, getting out of bed myself, adjusting my own underclothing. "Yes, Ray."

He gives me a half-shy, half-cocky grin and shakes his head. "Just make sure I can sit down on Monday, okay?"

For a half-second I worry he means that, then I realize it's more teasing. "I understand they make inflatable rubber rings for . . . ."

I don't get any farther before he's laughing so hard he stumbles as he walks to the bathroom, and has to brace an arm against the wall until he catches his breath and looks at me with brilliant eyes. "You are evil. I didn't know they let Mounties be evil. I should report you to the S.P.E.M."

"The what?" I ask, trying fruitlessly to put meaning to the acronym.

"Society for Prevention of Evil Mounties."

"I don't believe there is such an organization, Ray."

"Well there should be, don't you think? I mean, think of the terrible consequences to the world if there was an Evil Mountie Overlord or something."

I look around furtively. "Shhh, Ray. We're not allowed to talk about the Plan for Canadian World Domination outside our own borders. I wouldn't want to have to silence you."

He grins. "Yes you would. Admit it."

I open my mouth to deny it, stop, sigh, and shrug. "Well, yes. I would."

"See, I knew it! Evil Plotting Mountie."

I silence him the best way I know how. It's some minutes later when I let him go, and he licks his lips, looks at me slyly.

"So, this World Domination thing . . . ."

More silencing ensues. I let him go again, watching closely. He still looks sly.

"Okay, we won't talk about it. For now. But you know, Fraser, you'll never succeed in your evil plot," he says conversationally, stripping out of his clothing and reaching in to turn on the shower.

"And why is that?"

He winks. "Because I got a secret weapon to use against you."

"That being?"

He sighs, shakes his head. "See, now if I told you it wouldn't be a secret, now would it?"

"I could torture it out of you."

He grins. "You could try."

"After a shower and breakfast?"

"Sounds like a plan."

It does indeed. I'm already planning the best means to discover his secret weapon, though I expect I know what it is already. It's laughter. Nothing evil can stand against that. My own reserve and darkness have already begun to fade in its light. I think about my father's words, said on a dark, fog-wreathed dock as our partnership hung in the balance: 'A partnership is like a marriage, son.'

God. I hope so. I hope so. With this badge I thee pledge. I shake my head at myself as Ray steps into the shower. What a ridiculous thing to think. Almost as laughable as a birthday wish to someday sled off together into a long arctic sunrise like two characters one of Francesca's romance novels. Ludicrous or not, the thought makes me smile as I step into the shower behind him and pull the door closed, reaching for his rosemary- scented soap. 'Rosemary, that's for remembrance; pray love, remember.'1 Shakespeare's words seem very apt right now. I'll remember this man until memory is no more. I slide my arms around him and kiss the back of his neck, trying to communicate my feelings. He turns in my arms and kisses my mouth, then pulls back, smiling.

"No torture until after breakfast, remember?"

"Of course not. That would violate the Chicago convention."

"I hope you're planning on having a good breakfast too," he says, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

"Perhaps I should follow my own advice?"

He nods. "Yeah. Torture is hard work."

I grin. "You should know."

He grins back. "I should. Okay, enough jawing. Get clean. I'm hungry."

So am I. For him. For all of him. Something tells me that the hunger that's haunted me for so long may finally be slaked in him, by him, with him. I start to scrub, smiling a little to myself, daring to let myself be happy. For the first time in my life, that's not an unattainable goal. There's something stable and steady between us, it seems we've melded pieces of him and me into an 'us.' I even think it may be strong enough to bear the stresses and strains that life will put us to. I honestly do. And that's the greatest gift I could receive.

* * * fin * * *

1Hamlet, act IV, scene V: William Shakespeare.

Thermoform: (transitive verb) To give a final shape to, with the aid of heat and usually pressure. (Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary).

The Canadian World Domination website: http://www.standonguard.com/

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