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Since I must love your north
of darkness, cold, and pain,
the snow, the lovely glen,
let me love true worth,
the strength of the hard rock,
the deafening stream of wind
that carries sense away
swifter than flowing blood. ...
-- Kathleen Raine, "To My Mountain"
When you go to the north, first thing you do, you gotta learn how to see again.
First day we were out on the ice, Fraser stopped the sled and said, "What colors do you see, Ray?"
I couldn't see any goddamned color at all. It was so bright it hurt my eyes, and exactly the same bright in every direction, like looking at a light bulb from the inside. I tried to spot the horizon, but it made me squint so bad I couldn't see anything.
"You're right," I told him. "No color at all. It's amazing."
He said, "Ah," and stepped back onto the sled behind me, and off we went again.
Nothing changed when it happened. That was the cool thing. I went to bed with Benton Fraser and nothing changed.
I'd been thinking about it since the day we met, honestly, though it took a while for the thought to climb up out of the dim place in the back of my head and make it into the actual brain part. By the time we'd both turned down transfers, I'd stopped thinking, Why me?, and started thinking, Why not?
I mean, why the hell not? Wasn't like I never did a guy before. Never did one I liked, OK, never did one that was my friend, not since junior high, anyway -- but, you know, so what? That would make it all easier, right?
So then I stopped watching Fraser like a hobby and started watching him like a pro. Like for evidence. And when I had probable cause, I backed him up against my kitchen sink and kissed the hell out of him.
And, you know what, he didn't even hesitate. He had his tongue in my mouth in five seconds and his hands down my jeans in five minutes, and I sucked him off right there in the kitchen and then let him jack me and kiss me till I came all over the front of the cabinets.
Afterwards he gave me this goofy smile, and I messed up his hair. And then the cheese toast started burning and set off the smoke alarm, and while Fraser was standing on a chair taking the batteries out the phone rang, and it was Welsh telling me to go down to Loyola and figure out what psycho stuck a homemade bomb in the girls' locker room.
We zipped up and drove over and worked that case just like normal. Fraser sniffed all the gym bags and I stared down everybody that looked guilty -- Bad Cop, Canadian Cop. Couple hours of that and Melissa Vonachen confessed she'd made the bomb, trying to scare the other girls on the lacrosse team for some bullshit college-girl reason, so we handed the whole thing over to the school's Court of Honor and walked out feeling like we'd done a good day's work. And then I took Fraser home and sucked him off again and let him jerk me off again, only on the couch this time.
He said no to a ride and walked back to the Consulate to get a couple hours of sleep. I lay there on the couch like a guy who just got laid, closed a case, and then got laid again, which was a situation that couldn't possibly be improved, except by pizza.
Life was good.
You'd think sleeping on ice would be god-awful, but I wrapped up in a sleeping robe and then I wrapped up in Fraser, who I swear can put out heat on purpose when he wants to. One thing nobody ever believes about that trip is that I was almost never seriously cold, not for more than a couple of minutes. We used to make a stop sometimes just so I could stick my nose down Fraser's neck and get it warm again.
Your body burns food like crazy out there, even if you're doing nothing but sitting, like I was at first. I ate the weirdest shit while we were out on the snow. Dried jerky everything and beef fat and fish fat and fat mixed with raisins. If you'd have handed me a stick of butter I'd have eaten it like candy.
Lot of it tasted like shit, frankly. But the weird thing was that taste didn't ever seem like an issue. I didn't get why I wasn't craving pizza or coffee or doughnuts, but I wasn't. Fraser said it was because my body understood that I wasn't eating for pleasure any more -- I was eating for survival. Shoveling down blubber wasn't like eating Chinese, he said. More like putting gas in the car.
After about a week, he asked me again: "What colors do you see, Ray?"
Well, he'd said it twice, so it must be like those hms and ahs -- it must actually mean something. I looked really hard. Even dug my glasses out of the pack and looked through them for as long as I could before my breath condensed on the lenses and froze solid. But whatever he wanted me to see, it just wasn't there. It was just like before. White.
I was gonna make something up, but I didn't. "Lotta white, Fraser. Sky's white, snow's even whiter."
"Ah," he said, and we drove on.
In bed he was cooperative enough. But I couldn't believe all the stuff he'd never done, even stuff that seemed pretty tame to me, so I had to be kind of careful with him. Plus he never made any noise, so I couldn't tell if he liked stuff or if he was just going along. And he'd never ask for anything, just lie there and breathe and look at me.
Anything I asked, he'd do, though. And he seemed to like pretty much everything I did, near as I could tell.
One weird thing was that he seemed to want it fast and slow at the same time. I mean, he'd lick me until I was about three seconds from coming and then it was like he'd get distracted, wander off down to lick the inside of my knee or something.
When it was my turn, I'd try to show him how it was done -- nice and steady, see? and no stopping at critical moments? But I was never really sure he got it.
At first I wasn't much of a traveling companion. More like luggage. Sometimes I wondered if Fraser'd been half as stupid when he first came to Chicago as I was out there.
I bitched and moaned for a while, and then one day I thought, Hey, if I can't be helpful I can try being cheerful, right? So next time we were setting up a tent, I tried it. And after Fraser checked me for fever and asked if I was having hallucinations, I said, "You took care of me all day long, so how about if I take care of you now?" and stuck my tongue in his ear.
An hour and a half later, when I finally let him come, he panted, "I believe your division of labor is very promising, Ray." He was probably ready to return the favor on the same scale, but he only got about thirty seconds, because that's as long as I could hold out. And that was really trying, too. Thinking cold thoughts. Lots of them.
Even after all that there was plenty of daylight left. To keep out of Fraser's way, I hauled up some snow to melt for drinking water while he took care of the gazillion other things he always had to take care of. The look he gave me when he figured out what I was doing -- well, this is why I never got cold.
"What colors do you see, Ray?"
I really wished I could see whatever it was he wanted me to see. "Sky's white, snow's white -- maybe kind of blue-white here. Sort of gray-white over there ..." I was fumbling helplessly, and I blew out a breath. "You gettin' the theme here? Just a lotta whites, here, Fraser. Sorry."
He seemed to think something was funny. "Ah," he said, and went back to his fishing line.
Well, it was good, me and Fraser, but it wasn't normal, you know? I mean, not just the two guys thing -- it was even more not normal than that.
We'd be going along just fine, and then something weird would happen. Like everything was perfectly OK and then one day out of nowhere Fraser was saying stuff that started with "Perhaps it would be advisable to ..." and "I imagine you'll be wanting to ..." until finally I said, "Holy shit, are you breaking up with me?"
And he said, no, no, but it turned out he was trying to help me break up with him. Which is not any better and is actually probably worse.
Stella's the only other serious relationship I ever had, and the nonverbal thing never worked with her -- never worked for long, I mean. We had plenty of fights that stopped with her coming over and climbing into my lap and sticking her hands under my shirt, but sooner or later we'd have to put our clothes on and pick the fight up again and talk it the rest of the way through.
With Fraser, though, I had a hunch that talking was going to make things worse instead of better. So I did a weird thing: I pushed him down on the bed and got on top of him and just python-wrapped myself around him and said, "Shh, shh, shh." And after a few minutes his arms came up around me, and I could feel him get a whole lot tenser and then a whole lot looser.
"Fraser," I said after a while, "what the fuck --" But I could feel him tightening up again. It was just like I thought: Talking wasn't going to get us anywhere but exactly where we didn't want to go.
"I'm sorry," he said very quietly. I pushed up on my elbows and looked at his face. He looked like he hadn't slept for a while, but the other thing was that he looked ... still. Like he was already sending his real self a million miles away so it would be somewhere safe when his life blew up.
Pissed me off. "You gotta trust me," I said, and then I kissed him hard so he couldn't lie to me.
Kissed him and kissed him, felt his breathing speed up, felt him get hard under me, felt his hands fist in the back of my sweatshirt and then push up underneath. God, he was hot like this, when he was trying so hard to keep his control and he just couldn't do it.
It came into my head suddenly that he wanted me to fuck him. Dunno where that came from, but I was glad he didn't say it out loud, so I didn't have to tell him no.
Wasn't that I didn't want to. Well, OK, I didn't want to. The couple times we'd done it, I was so busy worrying that I couldn't get off. What it came down to was, he'd never done it except with me, and I didn't trust him to tell me if I was hurting him.
I could see why I got the idea, though, because it was just what we needed right then. Something that gets you both off at the same time, something deep and slow and face to face. Something you don't do with just anybody.
"Do me," I whispered fiercely to him, "fuck me, Fraser, do it." When I straddled him and rubbed my ass down against him, his eyes fluttered, and he dragged his hands down my back to grab my ass, pushing me down harder for a second before he pushed me up and started yanking off my clothes. It seemed like about five seconds before I was back on top of him again, only we were both naked and he had two wet fingers in me.
"God, god, you're good ..." If a job calls for patience and thoroughness, Fraser's your guy. He had hold of my face with one hand, and the other was stroking and twisting and sliding, never going too far one way and hurting me or too far the other way and making me come before he wanted me to. And any time he wasn't kissing me, he was watching my face with the most intense look, like he was trying to hypnotize me again. "So good to me ..."
I knew when he was ready, we were so in synch, and I was kneeling up before he even started to pull his fingers out, and then I felt his cock nudging me and I just leaned back and sank down on it, nice and slow. When I got there, he grabbed hold of my hips, and it felt so good I just let him move me wherever he wanted me.
Jesus, he knew just how to hit the right spot, Fraser did -- you never had to tell him anything twice. He was rocking nice and easy, like he could go on forever, except that every move sent that little zing through me, and I knew I couldn't last very long. He canted his hips sideways a little, and when I shifted my weight to follow him, I found I didn't need to lean on my right hand any more. So I started jacking myself in the same rhythm, and his eyes went all hot like that was what he wanted all along.
Even when he came he kept his eyes on me, which ought not to be possible, to come that hard with your eyes open. The look on his face was so intense that I came right after him, almost right at the same time, spattering all over both of us, and then his eyes finally fell shut, and he opened his mouth like he was going to say something, but all that came out was a sigh. And then I crashed down on top of him and just shook with it for a minute, until I'd milked out all the pleasure my body could handle.
I lifted up my head and there he was, still looking at me, so intense and somehow sad, too, though I don't know why he'd be sad. We didn't split up, we were still together, we were good together, right? We could figure it all out, right?
I guessed maybe when we'd been together longer he'd start to open up to me a little.
Nights were still pretty short out there, which threw my time sense all to hell and made everything seem kind of like a dream. I literally leaned on Fraser for survival, which you'd think would have chapped me bad, but it didn't. For once I was just coasting, doing like I was told and letting somebody else do all the worrying. Kind of a mental vacation.
Being dirty hits a crisis point at about the end of the first week. That's when your stubble is scratchy and your skin is itchy and your body smells totally disgusting to you. After that, you get used to it.
I got to where I felt like I could read the smells, like the dogs did. If I smelled different to myself, I'd say, "Fraser, am I doing OK?" and he'd look me over and sniff my breath and hand me a vitamin C or a wrinkly dried-up apple or a hunk of suet.
If Fraser ever got to smell any different -- well, but he never did.
After a while on the ice, I guess he thought I was strong enough, or used to the climate, or whatever, and then he taught me to ski so I could ski with him instead of riding on the sled. Spare the dogs, plus then I didn't get so bored.
That's a sweet way to travel, fast as a bike but with hardly any noise at all -- but after a couple hours of it, you're so tired that if you fall over it seems easier to lie there and let the dogs eat you than to get up.
I admit it: When I fell down for the fourth time, I let Fraser pick me up and put me back in the sled. Told him that if we went back to Chicago and he fell off the el or something, I'd do the same for him. "Thank you kindly," he said, and tucked another fur around my feet.
When he asked me the color question again, I guess my eyes had adapted to all that light or something, because now I could see some bits of snow that weren't the same color as all the other bits of snow.
I told him that: "Sky's white and pinkish-white. Snow's white and bluish-white and pinkish-white and plus it's reflecting some pink over there."
One time in Chicago we were watching a hockey game on TV when Fraser picked up my hand and started looking at it.
I gave his hand a squeeze and leaned over for a kiss, but he said, "Don't let me interrupt your game, Ray." So I figured, OK, sure, fine, whatever.
He turned my palm up and just rubbed and squeezed for a while -- like holding hands in grade school when you've never even kissed and this has to be all the touching you get to do. And then he ran a fingertip really lightly over the base of my fingers.
"Jesus christ!" I went hard in about half a second.
"Watch the game, Ray," he said. He looked all smug. And then he did it again, even lighter, and I heard myself whimpering.
I watched the game. I did. They could have been doing the lambada on the ice for all I knew about it, but I kept my eyes on the TV while he found hot spots in the hollow of my palm, and in the pulse point at the base of my thumb, and along the lowest knuckle of my ring finger ...
"Fraser --" It was getting hard to catch my breath. His dark head was bent over in concentration as he mapped my hand. He hadn't even kissed me yet. "Fraser, god, I'm gonna come in my pants if you don't --"
His head came up. His eyes were hot. "Another moment," he murmured. "Unbutton for me?" He firmed his touch on the insides of my fingers. Even so, I barely made it, getting all unbuttoned one-handed, panting like I was running.
He reached over with his other hand and gave my cock a long, slow stroke, up and down and back up again, and then he kept on doing it while he raised my hand up to his mouth and licked a thin wet line down the middle of my palm to my wrist. His hair tickled my fingertips, and I gasped and spilled all over my stomach.
After about five minutes, when I came to, I discovered I was running my fingers all over his face. His eyes were closed, and he was breathing hard.
"Fraser, jesus," I said hoarsely. "Does that work on you, too?"
"I don't know," he said without opening his eyes.
"Come to bed," I told him, "and let's find out." But I got so distracted by his ears that I didn't get to the hand thing till a couple of nights later.
It's really not dead out there. I was expecting, I don't know, a desert only with snow instead of sand. Only I guess a desert isn't dead either. Anyway, there were tons of animals. They steered clear of us, but once I knew what to look for, I could see traces of them all over the place, all going about their lives in this wilderness just like anyplace else.
Fraser's body language got bigger out on the ice, or something. It was way easier to tell what he was gonna do. Sometimes he'd toss me something and I'd put up a hand and catch it without even looking.
He seemed to get a real kick out of me doing that.
"What colors do you see, Ray?"
"White-gray and pink and gray-pink and purple. Snow's cool gray and warm gray and green-gray."
"Over there, see?"
"Ah. Yes. Perhaps we should adjust our course."
We'd been on the snow about a month when we came to a shelter Fraser knew of -- hardly more than a shack, really, but we needed to clean some stuff and mend some other stuff and put up some more meat and fish. And see each other naked again before we forgot how to do anything that couldn't be done with longjohns on.
There were a couple of cots, but we just shoved them over in the corner and then piled up all our bedding in front of the fire. It was warm and soft and actually smelled like something other than sweaty me and sweaty Fraser.
Even so, I didn't sleep too good, like you don't when you're in a hotel instead of in your own bed. When I woke up for good, I'd wriggled almost all the way out from under the covers, but Fraser must have been up in the night to build up the fire, because it wasn't cold. I looked at the light coming in around the shutters and figured it was about a half-hour before dawn.
I could feel that Fraser was awake already, but he wasn't jumping up to start the chores right away like usual, so I didn't, either.
I opened my eyes and saw him lying on his side a foot or so away, head on his hand, looking like he'd been there a while. He was looking at me. Not my face, but my hands, which hadn't been out in the open a whole lot for a while -- on the snow we wore our glove liners even in bed.
He's always had a sort of a thing for my hands, and I could see he was thinking unprintable thoughts about them now, which was cool. Anything he wanted me to do with them, I was definitely up for.
I'd abandoned the bracelet a couple days in -- metal conducts heat, and I wanted all my heat to stay right exactly where it was, thank you very much. But Fraser missed it. I wished I'd thought to dig it out of the pack and put it on before we bedded down, or do anything else to get pretty for him.
Didn't seem to matter, though. He was looking me up and down now, and I could see him wanting me, see his eyes getting hot.
I guess I moved a little, or didn't move when I should have -- something or other tipped him off I was awake, and his eyes came back up to my face.
And, christ, what eyes.
I could see everything on his face. Fucking everything.
That he liked what the north had done to my body. That he was proud of how snow-fit I was getting. That he wanted me.
God. That he loved me.
"Why didn't you say something?" I whispered. But he was saying it now.
What I wanted to say back, I couldn't say with words. I scooted over there where I could touch him -- his face all rough and red with windburn, the rest of him all creamy white like nothing I'd ever seen. Like something that maybe didn't even exist when I wasn't here to touch and taste, which makes no sense, but he's so private with his body that it's hard to think of it as just a body like everybody else has.
His mouth tasted like morning mouth, but I didn't give a fuck, plus mine was probably much worse. His cheeks and throat and ear tasted like soap, which was all wrong, but there was a familiar Fraser taste underneath if I kept at one spot long enough.
I pulled back to look at him, feeling mischievous, and I took a handful of brown silk longjohns in each hand and pulled hard, and click click click they unsnapped for me, nice and easy. Long wedge of bare skin from throat to crotch.
I tugged at them on one side and he pulled his arm out, baring half his chest for me, and then, like he was reading my mind, he gave me a little I-dare-you smile and tucked that hand up under his head.
I've got a serious thing for his pit hair, which, OK, I know it's weird. But he's so smooth everywhere that any hair on that body is just insanely hot, like a peek at the animal side that nobody else gets to see. And it was perfect here because he wasn't using anything, so there wasn't any reason I couldn't get up close and sniff and lick and bite, with him squirming all around like it tickled him and got him hot, too.
And hey, inch or so southeast and I was looking at a nipple, and it was looking back, standing up so it could see better.
"Cold?" I asked him, just in case.
"No," he said, and pushed my head down, and I went, snickering.
He tries to pretend they're not sensitive, but I made him come like that once -- granted this was after two weeks apart and then about an hour on stakeout in a motel room where we weren't supposed to touch each other, but still. Anyhow, I worked it as long as his body was saying Yes Yes Yes, and kept on for a minute after it started saying No No No just to show he couldn't push me around, and then I sat up and got my own longjohns off in a big hurry.
He turned back on his side, staring at me with this hungry look on his face, so I stayed on my knees playing with my dick a little and let him look at me for a minute. No big hardship -- there was a yellow-pink sunrise glow coming in around the shutters, and he'd let me strip him half-naked, and he was breathing hard and shaking a little with wanting me. When that thought hit me, I quit dicking around and got his longjohns the rest of the way off him and licked all over the inside of his mouth until he was writhing under me and grabbing my hair with both hands and not even remembering to be gentle.
After a minute, he flopped back down from the kiss and spread for me, wordlessly, and I wanted it more than I've wanted anything for a fuck of a long time. I held up a tube of salve to double-check it was OK to use, and he gave me this look like there was one toy he hadn't dared ask Santa for, and there it was in his stocking.
When I got a finger in him, I knew he was OK. Tight as hell, but not tense, just taut, muscular. And he was breathing loud, with a little voice in each exhale, like he was trying to be quiet but he couldn't quite manage it.
I got up on my knees again, getting ready to grease up. His eyes went to my cock and his nostrils flared, and he looked back up at my face with this pleading look, and I figured out what he was asking for about ten seconds before I was flat on my back with his mouth about a half-inch from my cock.
And then he just hovered there for a second, until I got with the program -- sometimes he wants to take it, but sometimes he wants me to give it to him. "You want a taste, Fraser?" My voice was gravely. I got my cock in my fist and just smeared the juice over his lips, made them all shiny -- I'd be able to smell that on him all day -- and then pushed past his lips and in.
I let him lick me for a few minutes, just tasting, playing, not doing anything that would make me come. But the look on his face made everything a little more intense than he meant it to be, and pretty soon I had to push him back before it got too tempting.
He wanted to put the stuff on me, I could tell, but I shook my head. "Better let me," I told him, and he nodded and lay down for me, spread for me again. His cock was so hard I could see his heartbeat in it, and if I'd been him I wouldn't have been able to keep my hands off it, but he was saving that for me.
He was a little stiffer than he used to be in Chicago -- the north is great for muscle tone but not so good for flexibility -- and he wadded up some bedding under his hips while I got him up where the backs of his thighs were against my chest, so he wouldn't have to work so hard at it.
I went insanely slow. I half expected him to rush me, but he didn't -- he had his eyes closed, breathing deep and slow, and seemed like he was focusing on every single half-inch and how it was different from the half-inch before. I loved watching his face, every little flicker of pain and pleasure -- and then he opened his eyes to look at me, and that was better still.
When I got there, I rested a minute, and then I made one long, slow stroke, and he nodded, sleepy-eyed, and dropped his legs around my hips so I could come down on my elbows and kiss him.
When I really started moving, though, it was so sweet it made it hard to keep on kissing, and I propped myself back up so I could see his face, hear him gasping.
He kept his eyes open as much as he could. I was getting noisy, saying his name and who knows what kind of stupid stuff you say in bed, and his breath was loud going in, now, as well as coming out.
I was getting close, and he needed a touch, but I was using both arms to support myself. "You," I panted, "you do it, Fraser, let me watch you," and damned if he didn't blush -- but it turned him on, and he took his cock in his hand and started to pump, first with my rhythm, and then against it, and then double-time.
His mouth got that undershot look it gets when he's about to come. "Love you," I whispered, and he panted, "You -- Ray --" and in a second I could feel him coming all over my chest and rippling all around my cock.
That was so sweet it got the first buzz started, and I had to move, had to go faster, not pulling out too far so it wouldn't be too intense for him. And when the first spasm hit, I forced my eyes open and saw him looking at me, open-mouthed, like I was a light so bright I hurt to look at. And then I shut my eyes again and saw every color in the universe.
I don't know how long I lay there, forehead to the floor beside his head, before I felt his hand in my hair and realized he needed to breathe. When we separated, he hauled me in and wrapped me up and held me so tight I could feel both our hearts beating.
We had a hard couple of days coming up, days where we were gonna be working like dogs while the dogs rested like us, but for now we could take a little time to lie in this warm pocket that smelled like woodsmoke and gunpowder and both of us together.
"Ray," Fraser said, and he sounded deadly serious. I looked up at him, and he put his hand on my face, looking like he was feeling something so deep it almost hurt him.
I kissed his eyes and his hairy chin and his kiss-bruised mouth. "Sh," I said. "I get it. I get everything."
... Heather is harsh to tears
and the rough moors
give the buried face no peace
but make me rise,
and oh, the sweet scent, and purple skies!
-- Kathleen Raine, "To My Mountain"
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Back to in medias Res
December 2, 2001