A Christmas tale. And, per James' Yuletide request, Dief is indeed in this story. My sincere thanks to K and J for beta-reading this sucker; it's the better for their input, and any remaining mistakes are entirely mine.

written February 8, 1998


Not a Creature Was Stirring

by Arduinna


Fraser looked doubtfully at the jumble of boxes on the floor. "Ray, I think --"

"It'll be fine, Benny."

"But I think --"

"It'll be fine, Benny."

"But --"

"Benny. It. Will. Be. Fine. Trust me. I do this every year. No problem."

Fraser sighed softly. "All right, Ray, if you say so," he agreed. "But I really don't see how --"

"Look, it's a system, okay? It's a perfect system. I've got it all down to a science. Lights are there, garland is there, tinsel is there, ornaments for the tree are there, decorations for other places are there... no problem."

"And do you usually do this by yourself?"

"Of course not! You know perfectly well the whole family is usually here -- and they're usually in the way. This time it's gonna be great. We've got the whole weekend to ourselves, and everything's gonna go like clockwork. No kids breaking ornaments, no Frannie thinking she knows more about lights than I do, no Ma convinced that everyone needs a sit-down snack after every other decoration. We put the tree up this morning, decorate the rest of the house by lunchtime, eat, maybe watch a game in the afternoon." He checked to make sure Fraser was still with him; Fraser nodded encouragingly. "Then late afternoon we decorate the tree, and then we have until tomorrow night just to ourselves before the others get back from Aunt Gina's. Perfection."

Ray lost himself for a moment in thoughts of him and Benny, alone together in this nice, big, warm, comfortable house, with plumbing that always worked and a mattress that wasn't made to poke holes in spines. No matter how great the family was about the two of them, none of them were real happy actually seeing any of it beyond close friendship, so they tried to be careful about stuff like kissing and cuddling when anyone else was around. And they tried to make it easier on Ma by staying at Fraser's the nights they were together. But now -- oh, yeah, this was going to be a perfect weekend...

"Yes, Ray. ... Ray?"


"Wouldn't it be easier to put up and decorate the tree if we had a tree?"

Dragged rudely back to reality, Ray shot him a filthy look. "Of course it would, Fraser. And how lucky for us, there's a tree sitting in the back yard." He grinned suddenly, looking like a kid. "I picked it out last night after I dropped you off. C'mon, help me get it inside."

The two men walked outside and Fraser studied the tree for a minute. "Very nice, Ray," he judged, turning to look at his friend. "Ray? Ray, are you all right?"

Ray straightened painfully, still gasping for breath. "I'm fine, Benny," he managed, bursting into chuckles again at the sight of his jeans-and-flannel-clad friend standing next to the pine tree. "I just have a sudden urge to break into song, that's all."

"Song, Ray? Any song in particular? A holiday carol, perhaps?" Fraser asked earnestly, prompting another bout of near-silent hysterics.

Getting himself under control with an effort, Ray wiped his streaming eyes and replied, "No, not really a holiday song. I was thinking more of 'I'm a lumberjack and I'm okay...'" Another bout of giggles held him helpless for a minute, the blank look on Fraser's face exacerbating the problem. "Never mind, Fraze," he said, a bit breathlessly. "Hoo. C'mon. Let's get the tree inside."

"All-righty, Ray," Fraser said, bemused but cheerful.

A few minutes of wrestling with a large, pitch-covered tree cured most of Ray's giggles, but they finally had the tree in the living room and had hammered it into its stand, checking carefully to make sure it was straight.

"Perfect," Ray decided.

Fraser reached out to tug gently on one branch, then nodded. "Perfect, Ray," he agreed. "So now what?"

"Holly, mistletoe, Nativity, angel on the table, garland on the railing, Christmas candy dish on the coffee table, wreath on the front door," Ray said briskly.

"Ahh... right. Where...?" Fraser started, looking dubiously at all the boxes again.

Ray grinned, walked over to a box, reached in, and started pulling things out. "Here, we can start with the Nativity," he said, handing several small, carefully wrapped items to Fraser. "Start unwrapping those and put them on that table there," he added, pointing. "Wait, wait! This first," he said firmly, passing by Fraser with a soft white cloth in his hands. "It goes over the table, and the Nativity gets set up on it."

Between them they soon had the Nativity set up, and Fraser stepped back to watch as Ray fussed over the final placement of each piece. Ray glanced over a minute later, catching a tender smile on the other man's face. "Benny? What is it?" he asked, smiling back without even thinking about it.

"This," Fraser said softly, gesturing at the scene in front of them. "It's very important to you, isn't it?"

"Yeah, I guess it is," Ray admitted. "It's tradition, you know? I've been setting up this Nativity set for as long as I can remember. Heh -- I remember, when we were kids, we used to drive Ma crazy," he added with a reminiscent grin. At Fraser's raised eyebrow, his grin broadened, and he admitted, "Me and Frannie, we used to set this up, right? But we got bored with doing it the normal way -- animals waiting with the shepherds, baby in the creche, Wise Men hovering over the creche, angel on the roof -- so we started doing things like putting the sheep on the roof and Joseph outside where Mary had sent him to boil some water, stuff like that. Ma might not have noticed if Frannie hadn't decided that the sheep looked lonely, and put the donkey up there, too."

That pulled a startled laugh out of Fraser, who had been grinning at the story -- mostly because Ray was grinning so brightly.

"Yeah," Ray agreed ruefully. "Ma didn't speak English to us for a week after that!"

"Poor Ray," Fraser said sympathetically, eyes dancing.

Ray tried a melodramatic sigh, gaining a "make-it-all-better" kiss from Fraser that turned rapidly into an "everything's-all-right-now" kiss on both their parts. They broke apart after a few minutes, smiled serenely at each other, and moved on to the next bit of decorating.

And so it went, into the early afternoon. Fraser would ask a question about everything he touched, and Ray would regale him with tales from his childhood, sharing precious memories he hadn't even been aware of storing until this chance to share them.

A soft whine interrupted them as they hung the last piece of mistletoe, christening it -- as they had all the others -- with a kiss. Ray leaned around Fraser to look into the kitchen, spotting Dief sitting in front of the refrigerator wagging his tail hopefully.

"Looks like Dief finally woke up," he commented. "And since he's in Ma's kitchen, he's expecting pasta, I bet."

"Really, Ray, you shouldn't..." Fraser began.

"Are you kidding, Benny? Ma finds out that we fed Dief kibble instead of food, she'll skin us both. C'mon, I'm hungry anyway," he added, glancing at his watch and blinking when he realized how late it had gotten. He tugged his friend toward the kitchen.

"Well, all right, Ray, but really, he's getting dreadfully spoiled," Fraser said, looking sternly at the wolf as they entered the kitchen. Dief met the look, then turned back to the refrigerator. Wolves know their priorities, and Ma Vecchio's pasta was high on Dief's list. Fraser sighed.

Ray ignored the byplay with the ease of long practice, rummaging around in the fridge for the food he knew his Ma would've left them, grinning when he found the dish with "Dief" written on it. He composed his face as well as he could as he stood up and shut the door, soberly handing Fraser the wolf's assigned meal.

"Guess Ma knew Dief'd be hungry," he said helpfully.

Fraser looked at the dish in his hand in disbelief, then shook his head and uncovered it. "Now, Dief," he said firmly, holding the dish just above the wolf's head, "I want you to remember to thank Mrs. Vecchio for this when you next see her. She didn't need to go to all this trouble for you, you know."

Dief barked once in reply.

Apparently satisfied with that, Fraser nodded and emptied the serving dish into the bowl that the Vecchios had started leaving out for Dief. The wolf happily turned his attention to his lunch, leaving the humans to fend for themselves.

"And you call yourself a wolf," Fraser muttered quietly, shaking his head again.

Ray, who had been watching all of this in indulgent amusement as he heated their lunch up, said, "He's a Chicago wolf, now, Fraser; he hunts for pasta instead of squirrels, that's all." He grinned as his friend turned an exasperated face to him, then held up one hand as the microwave dinged. "Lunch!" he announced happily as he carefully pulled the hot dish out. Fraser's expression changed as he inhaled the scent of pasta and sauce. "That smells wonderful, Ray," he said sincerely.

"Mmmm," Ray agreed. "C'mon - sit, eat. I'm starving."

The two men dug in hungrily, finishing rapidly, both ignoring the pleading eyes that the wolf turned on them as soon as he finished his own meal.

"Finished, Ray?" Fraser asked politely, reaching for his friend's plate. When Ray nodded, Fraser gathered up both plates and carried them to the sink.

"Leave 'em, Benny," Ray said lazily. "We'll do the dishes after supper tonight, okay?"

"Okay, Ray, if you say so," Fraser agreed a bit doubtfully. "Are we going to decorate the tree now?"

"Nah - have to give it a few more hours to fall out," Ray said. "I thought we could catch the game."

"Sounds good," Fraser agreed, and grabbed a couple of beers out of the fridge.

They settled into the living room to watch, relishing the chance to cuddle up together on the couch and neck a bit during commercials and particularly boring parts of the game. Dief wandered in and out for a while, then finally started whining at the kitchen door to be let out.

"I'll get him, Ray," Fraser said, untangling himself reluctantly from the long limbs wrapped around him. He let the wolf out with an admonition to not get into any trouble -- this wasn't West Racine, the people here weren't as familiar with wolves, and Dief should be very careful.

Ray smiled at the television as he heard all of that; he never got over Benny talking to the wolf like that, just like a real person. The smile brightened as his lover walked back into the living room, looking flushed and tousled and pretty much edible. He held out one hand, and Fraser smiled as he walked forward and took it, sliding back into his spot on the couch.

They settled in to a happy cuddle, but gradually their emotions started running higher. Shouts of pure passion erupted from the couch a while later; neither was sure who was moaning, or groaning, or yelling "Yes! yes! yes!" and neither cared -- they shared the feelings, that was all that mattered. When it was over, the two men collapsed back on the couch, exhausted and happy -- the Bulls had won, but it had been damn close.

"What a game," Ray said.

"Yes, indeed," Fraser agreed.

Ray rolled his head on the back of the couch to stare at the other man. "Now," he said seductively, "where were we when things started getting interesting on tv?"

"Well, Ray," Fraser replied seriously, laughter in his eyes, "I believe things were starting to get interesting on the couch, too."

"Hmm, yeah," Ray said, leaning over. The kiss was warm, and sweet, and promised much more, until Fraser pushed him gently away. "Benny? What's wrong?"

"Nothing, Ray," Fraser reassured him. "But I thought we should take care of the tree now -- so we don't have to worry about it later."

"That's what I like about you, Benny," Ray said approvingly, "you're always thinking ahead. C'mon, let's get the damn thing decorated and go to bed."

"Sounds like a good plan, Ray," came the earnest reply. Fraser grinned at him as they got up and walked over to the tree.

"Right, lights first," Ray said briskly. "We gotta check 'em before we put 'em up to make sure that none of the bulbs have gone out." With no further ado, they got down to the serious business of tree-decorating -- at least until the ornaments came out. Then it was story-time again. This ornament was the one Ray had made for his mother in second grade; that was the one Frannie had done in Girl Scouts; this one, packed so carefully in tissue, had been brought over from Italy; that one was the cheap Woolworth's ornament Ray had bought with his own money when he was six to replace the one he'd broken. Every ornament had a story, and Fraser seemed to want to hear them all.

The quiet spell being woven around them was broken by a scrabbling at the kitchen door. They blinked at each other, saying in unison, "Dief."

"I'll get him," Ray offered, handing the glass ball in his hand to Fraser as he moved off to the kitchen, smiling over his shoulder at the careful way the other man was placing it in just the right spot on the tree. He quickened his pace a bit as the scrabbling intensified. "All right, all right, hold your horses, willya! Jeez, what's the matter with you..." he was asking as he opened the door. Dief shot in past his legs, running straight for the cellar door, where he started scrabbling again. "Dief? What's the matter?"

"Ray? Ray, what's wrong?"

"I dunno," Ray called back. "Dief wants to go down to the cellar for some reason." Ray shrugged to himself and opened the door for the wolf, leaving it cracked open behind him so Dief could get out whenever he wanted. He headed back for the living room, wondering how he'd ever gotten to the point where he was catering to a deaf wolf, for crissakes -- then chiding himself for asking stupid questions as he looked at the Mountie studying the box of ornaments like it was a puzzle to be figured out, then carefully lifting out a gold and blue one.

He forgot about the wolf as he returned to his lover's side, gently taking the ornament from Benny's hands. "This one," he began, "came from Atlantic City, believe it or not..." and they were back to story time.

A few minutes later, when about half the ornaments were up on the tree, both men turned at the sound of paws pounding up the cellar stairs. They looked at each other, puzzled, as Dief burst into the kitchen and began barking around the baseboards.

"Dief?" Fraser asked. "Dief, what's wrong?"

They started toward the kitchen, both frowning. Suddenly, a tiny shape darted out of the kitchen, with Dief in hot pursuit.

"YEEeoooow!" Ray yelled. "Benny! Benny, there's a RAT in my house!!"

"It's not a rat, Ray, it's just a little field mouse," Fraser soothed, watching the small creature disappear under an end-table.

"It's a rodent!"

"Well, yes, Ray, it is," Fraser admitted. "But it's a very small rodent."

"It's vermin, and it's in my house, and your damn wolf isn't doing a thing about it!"

"He is trying, Ray," Fraser pointed out, looking on as Dief stuck his paws under the table in an attempt to catch the mouse.

"Yeah, well, he's not succeeding!" Ray snapped. "Oh, jeez, I can't believe there's a rat --"

"A mouse, Ray."

" -- a rodent in my house," Ray moaned. "Ma's gonna have a fit when she finds out."

"I'm sure it'll be no problem, Ray," Fraser said bracingly. "Dief will catch the mouse, and we'll get rid of it, and no one will be the wiser."

Ray looked at him incredulously, then pointed to the wolf who now had his nose stuck under the table. "You mean that Dief?"

"Errr... yes, Ray, that Dief."

"Right. Maybe if the mouse smelled like a Snickers bar. Face it, Benny, we're going to have to catch the damn thing our... watch out!" he yelled as the mouse broke cover, racing for the front hallway. Dief took off after him.

"Open the door, Ray," Fraser said urgently. "Maybe it will just run out."

Ray stared at him for a moment, then muttered, "Why not?" He opened the front door and propped the storm door open enough for a mouse to escape (without letting any more heat than necessary escape into the cold Chicago evening), shaking his head at Dief, who was trying to fit his paw under the radiator. Fraser walked in cautiously, sighing at the sight of the dust-covered predator with his nose jammed in the radiator.

"Dief," he said, "we simply must take you out to the wilderness soon to work on your hunting skills. This is completely embarrassing. It's a tiny little mouse, and you've been trying to catch it for more than five minutes now!"

Dief turned to glare for a second, and the mouse took advantage, running out from under the radiator between Dief's legs, back toward the living room. Dief yelped in outrage, twisting himself around to gallop after the tiny thing.

"No, no, you stupid mouse!" Ray yelled. "You were supposed to run outside!" He and Fraser ran back into the living room in time to see Dief overshoot his target and go sailing into the box of ornaments still on the floor. Both men winced at the sound.

"I don't think anything broke, Ray," Fraser said helpfully.

Ray glared balefully and stalked into the kitchen for a couple of plastic cups left over from the last party held at the house. When he walked back into the living room he dropped to his elbows and knees, a cup in each hand, and started crooning, "Here, mousie... here, mousie... c'mon, you rotten little mousie, come out come out wherever you are."

"Umm, Ray..."

"Well, don't just stand there, Fraser, come down here and help me find the mouse!"

"Right!" Fraser dropped to the floor and started looking under furniture. "There!" he said urgently, pointing toward the couch. Ray and Dief converged on him, snarling briefly at each other before they settled into position. Neither noticed Fraser's startled look.

"C'mon, mousie," Ray crooned softly. "C'mon out here so I can catch you, that's a good little mouse."

Dief just settled himself more firmly, ready to spring if needed.

The mouse just sat there.

After a few minutes of this, Ray was starting to feel a bit silly. "I don't think this is going to work, Benny," he announced, not taking his eyes from the mouse.

"No, Ray," Fraser agreed.

That got Ray's attention. "Well, you got any better ideas?"

"Actually, I do have an idea, Ray. We can move the couch, giving Dief clear access to the field mouse."

Ray's head thudded into the carpet.

"Ray? Are you all right?" Fraser asked, worried.

"I'm fine," Ray replied, a bit muffled. He lifted his head, and repeated, "I'm fine, Benny. I just can't believe I didn't think of that. C'mon, let's do it." He heaved himself to his feet, reaching a hand down for the Mountie, who came smoothly up next to him. They split up, each taking one end of the couch. "On three, ready?"

"Ready, Ray."

"Right. One. Two. THREE!" They lifted. The mouse squeaked, and ran. Dief barked, and ran. Ray yelped at the feel of little mouse feet running over his sock-clad foot, and dropped the couch, barely missing Dief, who was too busy to notice as he scrambled through the mess in the living room after his quarry.

"Ray! Are you all right?"

"I'm fine, Benny," Ray said, trying to control his shivers. "That damn thing ran right over my foot. God, I hate rodents." With a final shudder, he looked over at his friend, finding a faint smile from somewhere. "You can put the couch down now, Benny."

Fraser did, then looked past Ray's shoulder. "Oh dear."

Ray squinched his eyes shut. "I don't wanna know," he moaned. He twisted his head around, opening one eye a crack then shutting it again with a louder moan.

Dief was... bouncing, there was no other word for it than bouncing, around the base of the tree, shaking it with every step.

"He's gonna kill the tree, Fraser."

"He won't kill the tree."

"He's gonna kill the tree."

"He won't. He won't," Fraser repeated earnestly.

Ray shot him a disbelieving look, then brightened as he saw a little grey streak dash out from behind the tree while Dief was on the other side.

"Thank God," he said fervently. He very deliberately didn't look at the couple of ornaments that had fallen; he hadn't heard them break, and didn't want to go see if they'd been cracked. He most emphatically wasn't noticing the silver tinsel scattered over everything from where Dief had obviously crashed into the box holding it. Worry about it later, was his new motto.

Before Fraser could reply, a solid thud came from the front hall, followed be a softer thump. "I don't think I wanna know," Ray said again.

"Come on, Ray, how bad can it be?" Fraser asked, ever the optimist.

Ray, ever the pessimist, had a few ideas, but managed not to say any of them aloud.

They went back into the front hall, to find the wreath that had been on the opened door now resting on the floor, and Dief running from one end of the door to the other, trampling the wreath further with each pass.

Neither man dared look at the other for a minute, then Fraser cleared his throat. "Apparently, Dief ran into the door with some force, Ray," he said cautiously.

Ray just nodded. "Knocking off the wreath, yeah, I got that part. But what's he doing now?"

"Well, I'm not sure."

They watched for another minute. Dief would run to the near end of the door, the end with the handle, and reach a paw down between it and the wall. Then, looking frustrated, he'd run the few steps down to the other end of the door, the hinge end, and try to stick his paw under the door, with predictable results.

"I don't believe this," Ray said. "That stupid mouse ignored the open door to the outside so it could hide behind the other door and drive Dief crazy."

"Oh, I doubt it did it to drive Dief crazy, Ray," Fraser remonstrated.

"Never underestimate a rodent, Fraser," Ray said darkly.

Fraser wisely decided not to answer that.

"Hey! Look!" Ray whispered suddenly, clutching Fraser's arm. The mouse was creeping out from beneath the door while Dief was on a run toward the other end. Slowly, ever so slowly, it moved toward the doorsill, sliding through the tiny space left by the propped-open storm door just before Dief realized what had happened. Ray hastily closed the storm door, keeping Dief inside and ignoring his whines of disappointment. His breath whooshed out in a huge sigh of relief, then he glanced down at the wolf who was trying to get out. "C'mon, Dief," he wheedled, "I'll get you a cannoli -- that's better than a mouse, huh? Let him go."

Ma Vecchio's cannoli being even higher on Dief's list of priorities than Ma Vecchio's pasta, he agreed to the deal, letting the mouse disappear without a flicker of regret. It had been fun while it lasted, and that was enough for any wolf.

Ray picked up the ruined wreath from the floor with a rueful sigh, and closed the front door. Together, cop, Mountie, and wolf headed back toward the kitchen, resolutely ignoring the living room for the moment.

When all three had been fortified with more pasta, followed by cannoli and coffee (water for Dief), the two humans went back to the living room -- they still had a tree to finish decorating, after all. Dief curled up under the kitchen table to sleep, not wanting to be anywhere near at hand if things got dicey.

Fraser walked in first. "Oh, dear."

"That's not what I want to hear, Benny," Ray pointed out. "Why couldn't you say something like, 'Oh, that's not so bad!'"

"All right. Oh, that's not so bad!"

"I don't believe you. How bad is... oh."

Several ornaments had been knocked off the tree, although by some miracle they all still seemed to be whole from this distance. The boxes on the floor had been knocked around pretty thoroughly as well, and everything seemed to be draped with the scattered tinsel. What had caught both men's attention, though, was the Nativity -- it was completely disarrayed.

"Ray," Fraser began softly, stopping at Ray's lifted hand.

Ray walked slowly over to the table where the Nativity sat, reaching out carefully to check each piece and replace it where it belonged. Fraser stood silently at his shoulder, a solid bulwark, radiating support. The last piece placed, Ray turned to his lover, relief in his eyes. "They're fine, Benny -- every piece is fine, not a mark or a scratch or a crack on any of them."

Fraser closed his eyes in relief. When he opened them, they were glowing. "I'm glad, Ray. I know how important they are to you. And I'm very sorry that Dief knocked them over, although I'm sure he didn't mean to."

"No, it's okay," Ray assured him. "I mean, I was worried, sure, and I was ready to be ticked at Dief -- but hell, I wanted him to catch the damn mouse, too, right? So it's not his fault, he was just doing what he was supposed to be doing. Besides, how do you think that cloth became part of the setup? We used to bang into this table all the time, and Ma decided she'd better have something there to soften the fall." He grinned. "Really, it's okay. C'mon, let's check out the rest of the damage."

Fraser stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. Head cocked slightly to one side, the Mountie gave him a considering look, then leaned forward to brush a delicate kiss over his lips. "I do love you, Ray Vecchio," he murmured softly.

A smile broke across Ray's face, and he kissed Fraser back. "Love you too, Benny," he said. They stared at each other for a moment, then by mutual accord broke apart and turned to the rest of the room.

First on the agenda was scooping up all the tinsel, which didn't take as long as either had expected. Then it was on to the knocked-about boxes. The empty ones were no problem, they just had to be shifted; it was the one with the ornaments that they were both silently worried about.

But, by some miracle, the ornaments still in the box were all undamaged. Fraser let out a silent sigh of pure relief, and Ray reached out to squeeze his shoulder. "It's okay, Benny," he said again quietly. "Even if they'd all been wrecked, it'd be okay. Christmas is about family, not about stuff; the memories are always there."

Fraser smiled back. "I know, Ray, but I'm still glad that the 'stuff' is all right."

Ray tightened his grip for a second, then let go and picked up the box, carrying it back over to the tree. After he put it down, he knelt by the knocked-off ornaments, carefully reaching for them. "Most of these are fine, Benny," he said cheerfully. "Here, see? Only one got broken."

"Oh, Ray, I'm sorry," Fraser said, regret in his voice as he looked at the broken glass on the tree-skirt.

"Why?" Ray asked easily. "That's a tradition, too; at least one ornament gets broken every year while we're putting the tree up. Just that this year Dief did it instead of Tony or one of the kids."

"Tony?" Fraser asked in disbelief. "Ray, he's an adult."

"Yeah, well, he's an adult who breaks Christmas ornaments. Trust me. C'mon, help me put these others back up, then we can put up the rest of them."

Fraser set to with a will, bringing a fond smile to Ray's lips. He was obviously still worried about something, though, and after a few minutes Ray stopped long enough to ask, "All right, Benny, what's wrong?"

"Nothing, Ray."

At Ray's "yeah, right" look, Fraser qualified that to, "Well, nothing much. It's just that... clearly it doesn't bother you, but... well... all of these ornaments have stories, you've been telling them to me. So how can you be so blase about a broken one? You said you brought that one home from California the year you took a vacation there."

"Yeah, I did," Ray began, then interrupted himself with, "You remember which stories go with which ornaments?"

"Well, not all of them, Ray."

"Uh-huh. Anyway, that ornament was to replace the one Ma had bought in Miami a couple years earlier." He grinned at Fraser's uncomprehending expression. "Look, Benny; you've been listening to these stories, right?"


"So you've heard me talking about decades' worth of ornament-collecting, right?"


"So look at the tree." Fraser looked. "Now look at the box." Fraser looked. "Now tell me if you see enough ornaments for the amount of collecting I've been talking about."

Fraser looked back and forth some more, light slowly dawning. "You mean..."

"That we break ornaments all the time, and try to replace each one we break with something new, something with its own story. Yeah." Ray grinned again. "Sometimes there's enough time to buy one before that Christmas, sometimes there isn't -- so some of these are vacation ornaments, and some are five-and-dime ornaments. Since we have tomorrow, we'll go out and buy an ornament for Dief to contribute."

Fraser's slow smile was sunrise over a glacier, bright and glowing and filling the whole world with light. "I see, Ray," he said softly. "That's a lovely tradition."

"Yeah, it is. It's also necessary. I wasn't kidding when I said we break at least one a year! If we didn't replace them, we'd be down to about 5 ornaments by now." He winked cheerfully at his lover. "C'mon, let's get this finished; tomorrow's going to be bit busier than I thought it would be, since we have to get the ornament and a new wreath and all."

"Yes, of course," Fraser agreed. They got the rest of the ornaments up without any mishaps, although it took a while because Fraser insisted on hearing all the rest of the stories that went with them.

"Shall we do the tinsel tonight, Ray, or leave it for tomorrow?" Fraser asked as they put the last ornament up.

"Well, it is getting late," Ray said, ignoring the clock that said 9:27.

"Yes," Fraser agreed.

"And we do need to be well-rested for tomorrow's shopping expedition."

"Yes," Fraser agreed again.

"I think we owe it to ourselves to get plenty of rest, after the sort of day we've had," Ray decided.

"Quite true, Ray," Fraser agreed yet again.

They grinned at each other, turned out the lights, and went upstairs.

Ray almost tripped on the top step as a hand moved forward to cup his ass, squeezing gently. "Benny?"

"I was just thinking, Ray," Fraser said, low, not letting go.

"Oh yeah? About what? Or should I ask?" Ray wondered as they reached his door. He flicked the light on as they entered, then out of habit shut the door behind them before turning to wrap Fraser in an embrace.

"About how very tempting you looked earlier this evening." Both of Fraser's hands were now cupped around Ray's ass.

"When was that?" Ray asked absently, busy concentrating on getting Fraser out of his flannel shirt as he leaned back against those big hands. Damn, but the man looked good in red. Better out of it, though, of course. Ray licked his lips, then moaned as Fraser's tongue took over the job for him.

"When you were crawling around on the floor," Fraser murmured into his ear a bit later.

It took Ray a minute to figure out what Fraser was talking about, then he grinned. "Oh, yeah?" he whispered seductively. "Liked seeing that, did you?"


Ray shivered as that very talented tongue started exploring his ear, then groaned in relief as his hands finally succeeded in getting Fraser's shirt off. He flattened his palms against warm creamy skin, loving the feel of hard muscles flexing in response. Vaguely he felt answering movements tugging at his own shirt, but was too busy re-learning the feel of his lover's body to take much notice as Fraser started stripping him.

They stood there for a few minutes, locked in an embrace, with Ray's hands roaming all over Fraser's torso and Fraser's tongue roaming all over Ray's face. Finally Ray couldn't stand it any more and turned his head, desperately seeking Fraser's mouth, needing to taste him. Fraser practically dove into the kiss, sucking Ray's tongue into his mouth like he wanted to swallow it. Ray moaned helplessly, clutching at the broad shoulders, feeling Fraser's hands slide up his spine to cradle his head.

He broke the kiss with a gasp, staring into fathomless blue eyes. "Bed," he panted. Fraser just nodded, reaching for Ray's belt. Ray took a deep breath, then reached out in turn for Fraser's waistband. They finished undressing each other and stumbled toward the bed, falling in and hastily rearranging themselves into their favorite starting-out position -- Ray flat on his back, with Fraser blanketing him.

Ray smiled up at his lover, who promptly leaned down and traced the smile with his tongue. "I love the way you taste," Fraser murmured, and set out to make sure that he remembered the way every inch of Ray tasted, licking and kissing his way across olive skin, raising goosebumps when he blew cool streams of air over moistened flesh.

Deliberately, Ray stretched, rubbing his entire body against Fraser's, loving the way the other man's skin felt against his. He started sweeping his hands across the wide back, tracing the vertebrae in the spine, trying to span the shoulderblades with each hand, drifting down to brush lightly over the scar that was burned in his own mind. Fraser murmured softly, licking behind his ear, and Ray smiled, letting his hands move on. He couldn't get enough of the feel of this man, loved to touch Fraser as much as Fraser loved to taste him.

He wrapped himself around the bigger man, cocooning him in arms and legs, pressing their groins together briefly. Fraser groaned, kissed him hard, and slid down his body to start licking his way down Ray's narrow chest. Ray ran his hands up Fraser's back and into his short hair, almost purring.

"Skin like satin, hair like silk -- and I love satin and silk," he murmured, eyes shut as he catalogued the different textures.

Fraser licked delicately at a nipple in response. Ray arched up into the touch, begging silently for more, barely hearing Fraser's quiet, "While you taste of clean soap, and clean sweat, and salt, and Ray. I can't get enough of your taste." The dark head returned to its task, trailing a wet path from one nipple to the other, then down the line of hair leading straight down the center.

Ray mourned with one part of him as Fraser's progress pulled more and more of him away from Ray's hands, but the rest of him shivered in anticipation as his lover reached his favorite spot. Fraser could, and sometimes did, nuzzle at Ray's groin for what felt like hours, tasting him and breathing in his scent. It drove Ray absolutely crazy every time, and Fraser never got tired of it. He lifted up eagerly as warm hands slid beneath him to cradle his ass, tilting his pelvis to just the perfect angle to give Fraser the access he wanted.

Fraser turned his head for a moment, brushing his hair against the soft skin on Ray's belly, and Ray gasped at the erotic sensation. He clenched his fingers in the dark hair, moaning, "Benny, please."

"Patience, Ray," Fraser breathed, smiling up at him. Ray looked back, mute, eyes wide. Fraser would do this at his own pace, and Ray would love it, as always. Blue eyes disappeared from view as Fraser turned back to his self-appointed task. Ray could feel the intake of breath as Fraser inhaled, and smiled at the contented "mmmm" that followed it. Seconds later, a warm tongue started tracing patterns in his pubic hair, and Ray had to take one hand off Fraser's head to grab the sheets to keep himself from bucking. God, how could a simple touch get to him so badly?? He tried to slow his breathing down; if Fraser was in the mood to take his time, this was just the beginning.

But Fraser was eager for more, too -- after tugging gently on the wiry curls, he turned his attention to Ray's cock. Ray lost track of things for a while as that talented tongue licked him, from crown to root and then down to his balls, which got sucked gently into the warm mouth. Somewhere along the line Fraser had moved one arm to lie across Ray's hips, holding him still.

Ray's balls were released with one final lick. Carefully, Fraser shifted his position to gain the leverage he needed, spreading Ray's thighs and lifting gently so he could lick farther down, tickling the sensitive skin between Ray's balls and anus. Ray groaned, clutching the sheets harder, this time with both hands. "Please, please, please," he was chanting mindlessly. Fraser blew gently across the damp skin, and Ray whimpered, then cried out as the warm tongue touched his anus.

Frantic, Ray pulled his legs up and farther apart, lifting his ass into the air to let Fraser at him, pleading incoherently as the wet tongue rimmed him skillfully, darting inside at random intervals. He reached for his own cock and started pulling, urgency building fast. He was almost there... "Benny... Benny, Jesus, I'm gonna come..."

Fraser's tongue stroked across his sensitized anus once more, and dimly Ray felt the sting as he bit lightly at one asscheek before quickly lowering Ray's trembling legs back down to the mattress. He wrapped a strong fist around the base of Ray's cock, pressing firmly on the big vein to slow things down. "Wait, Ray," he whispered, "not yet."

"Benny," Ray moaned, "please..."

Deep blue eyes met his, and Fraser smiled. The dark head lowered, mouth opening, and Ray bucked straight up into wet heat as he was engulfed. Fraser eased his hand's grip as he started moving on Ray's cock, just the way Ray liked it. His free hand wriggled back underneath Ray, and one long finger brushed across his still-damp anus, triggering his explosion. He came silently, his whole body arched and tight, pouring into the mouth that sucked so greedily at him.

Slowly it ended, and he came back to the feel of Fraser's hands gentling him as the final shudders wracked through him. Finding his voice, he managed to croak out, "Beautiful, Benny. That was beautiful."

Fraser smiled at him. "I'm glad, Ray," he said softly. He shifted to lie closer, and Ray could feel the insistent nudge of the other man's erection. Gathering what little strength he could muster, he reached to grasp the hot cock in his hand.

"So what do you want, Benny?" he asked.

Dark lashes swept down, then back up again. "Roll over, Ray," Fraser requested huskily.

Ray smiled. "There's a tube in the nightstand," he said as he turned. "I hope lying down's okay, I don't think I could stay on my knees. You really wiped me out!"

"Lying down is perfect," Fraser assured him, reaching for the nightstand. Ray could hear the tube being opened, Fraser's hands moving on his own cock... the other man made no attempt to prepare Ray. "Benny? What are you...?"

"Shhh, Ray. Not inside, not tonight -- that's not what I want. Just relax."

Ray chuckled. "If I relax any more I'll melt into the mattress," he admitted. A slight shiver caught him as Fraser's tongue licked down his spine, then back up again. Warm hands stroked across his buttcheeks, then gently spread them, and hard heat nestled between them. Slowly, Fraser started thrusting, slicked skin moving easily against Ray.

The movements sped up, bringing a groan from Ray as the slick cock rubbed harder against his anus. Fraser's breathing above him was labored, and Ray's neck and shoulders were suddenly being covered in kisses that started turning into nips. Suddenly he could the other man's body tense; Fraser jerked once more, then came with a loud cry before collapsing on top of Ray. Ray lay still, breathing shallowly under the weight of the bigger man until Fraser rolled off him with a murmured apology and a brush of lips across one lean shoulder.

Ray grinned at him and started to turn sideways to hug him, but Fraser held him down with a hand in the small of his back. "A moment, Ray," he said, getting a bit shakily to his feet and leaving the room. He returned carrying a damp washcloth and a handtowel, and carefully cleaned and dried Ray's back.

"Can I have my hug now?" Ray asked cheekily when Fraser had finished and tossed the used cloths toward the laundry basket. Fraser looked thoughtful, eyed him up and down, and finally agreed. Ray laughed, pulling his lover close and hugging him tight. "Love you, Benny," he said.

"Love you too, Ray," Fraser replied warmly.

Nestled snugly together, they drifted off to sleep, sated and happy.


Ray hated shopping for anything this close to Christmas.

Dief had been left at home with stern instructions not to touch anything. Ray had promised him an extra cannoli if he behaved, just to be sure -- Fraser might not believe in bribes, but Ray was willing to go with anything that worked.

The wreath had been no problem; they were being sold everywhere, it seemed. The new ornament was another story, though; they wanted the perfect one, and couldn't find it anywhere.

Finally, after they'd been to ten stores and even Fraser was starting to lose patience a bit -- even a Mountie could only listen to "Must Be Santa" so many times without wanting to hit someone -- Ray struck gold. He stood doubled over in the store aisle, helpless with laughter. Fraser walked up to him, concerned.

"Ray? Are you all right? Do you need to get some fresh air?"

"No, thanks, Benny, I'm fine," he gasped. He lifted his hand, which was clenched around his find. "Here. Look at this. We're getting this one, Benny."

Fraser lifted an eyebrow, but took the item. "Oh, no, Ray..."

"Oh, yes, Benny. We're getting it. It's perfect. Absolutely perfect." Snickering, Ray brought his purchase to the front and paid for it. "C'mon, let's get this on the tree before everyone comes home."

Looking resigned, Fraser trailed after him, settling into the Riv with a sigh. Ray grinned some more.

When they got home, Ray gestured Dief over to the tree. "Now, Dief -- this is from you, okay? Because of the ornament you broke last night." The wolf lowered his head to his paws in shame.

Hastily, Fraser knelt in front of him. "It's okay, Dief; Ray isn't angry, and neither am I. You were hunting, and these things happen, we understand that. But the Vecchio family deserves to have a full set of ornaments on their tree, so Ray very kindly bought this ornament to replace the one you broke. All right? Say thank you."

Dief lifted his head and barked, then leaped up to lick Ray's cheek.

"Argh! Yeah, yeah -- you're welcome, okay? Jeez, Fraser, get him down, wouldja?"

Fraser tugged the wolf down, rubbing behind his ears in approval. Dief sat up, wanting to see the new ornament.

Ray ceremoniously drew the bag out of his pocket, and, right on the very front of the tree where everyone could see it, put up a pewter ornament -- of a mouse in waistcoat and jaunty cap.

Dief's ears flattened slightly. "Umm, Ray," Fraser said quietly.

Ray looked down and saw Dief's expression, glancing reassuringly up at Fraser before he leaned over to talk to the wolf. "Look, Dief -- see? A mouse just like the one last night. Except this is your mouse, and he's caught forever -- stuck up there on the tree at Christmas, and in the box the rest of the time. And everyone'll know that it's your mouse. Cool, huh?"

Fraser gaped at him; Ray smiled smugly. "Ray, surely you don't expect him to..." Fraser broke off as Dief rose to his feet under his hand. The wolf stared up at the mouse for a moment, then barked once and flopped down under the tree.

"See? He likes it!" Ray said brightly.

"I do not believe this. I absolutely do not believe that he fell for that story," Fraser murmured.

"Shhhh!" Ray said. "You'll hurt his feelings! C'mon -- let's see if Ma left us enough food for today, or if we have to order out. We gotta keep our strength up for the rest of the afternoon," he added, with a wicked glance over his shoulder.

He grinned happily to himself as he led the way into the kitchen. It was going to be a good Christmas.

~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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