by Speranza

Author's Notes:  A word or two about this story.  Mairead asked me, after I wrote Enduring Distance, if I would write her a story with lots of sex in it--a "sex-fest", as she so charmingly put it.  Certainly, I said;  and here it is, Mairead.  Now when I first got interested in Due South, I wondered why it was that so many of you guys produced these honking long stories.  My own natural length is about 50K or so.  Now I get it--it takes fucking 130K just to build the fucking psychology.  A friend of mine called it "Benton Fraser Syndrome"--the fact that it takes so damn long to get the guy into the sack and ready to party.

In any case, the length of this story is just the first thing.  As you will notice if you glance down, it's written rather peculiarly, with a double POV. (Yes, I'm on crack, my friends have told me so at length.)  My own feeling is that you shouldn't let yourself get too caught up in word for word accuracy--just glide around, read across and down, sideways, double back, have fun.  Otherwise you'll give yourself a headache.  I've tried to make it all jibe so that it'll be fun to reread--you might get different bits on the second glide-through.

There are two versions of this story--one for Netscape and one for Internet Explorer.  I've tried my damndest to make sure that it all lines up nice and neat for each browser, but if  it's really fucked up, drop me a line, okay?

Massive thanks to Resonant, Naomi, Anna, Cin, Hope, Sandy, Maygra, and  Livia.  These guys are the best guys in the whole world, and I love them dearly.

There's a canyon of buildings on either side of Westlake Avenue. They tower overhead, forcefully, awesomely, as if carved from an alternate earth made of steel and glass.  We come here, Ray and I, because of the rather staggering variety of eateries in the vicinity, which tend to be empty during the in-between hours when we manage to fit in our lunch. So we're standing on the corner of Westlake Avenue.  Big buildings all around, lookin' like what the future used to look like--back in the movies, before the future went out of date.  We come here, him and me, a lot on account of the fact that there's places to eat and nobody in 'em.  That's about 5, which is when we eat if we eat at all, which sometimes we don't. 
I admit that I'm not particularly fond of this part of town, despite the impressive architecture.  It's unbearably crowded, particularly at this time of day, when the people--well, there's really no other word for it.  They swarm.  There's also a devastating sameness about them--not just in attire but in affect. Then again, 5:00 is  a shitty time to be downtown--what with the buildings letting out and the sidewalks all jammed.  Around us, everyone's late for something--they're running for trains, catching buses, hailing cabs.  They all look the same to me--guys with ties, chicks in chunky heels and power suits.
No.  It's more than that. Nah, there's more to it.
I can't pass a sky-rise without thinking of her.  All that bronze and silver and whirling, spinning glass. The doors revolve, the cylinders defining the space they enclose.  And within them I can see softly falling snow, and dark hair, and blood.  Westlake Avenue is lined with these orbiting capsules, and outside some of them, men in formal coats stand stiffly at attention, ready to offer assistance. All the women look like Stella--Stella now, not Stella then.  Stella then hung out in jeans and sneakers.  Stella then wore her hair long and  pulled back in a sloppy ponytail.  Stella then spent all her time sitting at our crappy linoleum-topped kitchen table, surrounded by books and gnawing her pen.  Stella now--well, the pen's sterling silver, and she'd probably break her teeth if she tried.
Sometimes they remind me of me. I bet they all got silver pens, these guys.
But Ray likes the restaurants here;  I should focus on that.  He looks as lost as I feel--a gritty, dark cowboy, out of his element, too naturally warm for all that cold glass and steel.  But the setting sun comes to his rescue, exploding off the buildings and turning everything briefly orange and then gold.  Those colors are warm, and they suit him. It's easier to be here with Fraser--at least I ain't the only one who sticks out like a sore thumb.  Maybe I don't fit but he don't fit either--Fraser's real, like he's the only thing that's in color, bright red in all that black, gray and blue.  The sun turns its brights on and blinds me--shit, this whole scene gives me a fucking headache.
He thrusts his hands into his jacket pockets and turns to me. Or maybe I'm just hungry.  I mean, that could be it, too. 
"So whattya say, Frase--Lenny's?"  Ray is scowling now; he's really hungry.  Yet his suggestion is meant to please me, as indeed it does.  Left to his own devices, Ray would as soon have a frankfurter on the street.  Three bites and it's gone--and Ray is ready to go, too.  It's for me he eats in restaurants, knowing I need peace and quiet to recharge.  God bless him. "So whattya say, Frase--Lenny's?"  Fraser's looking distracted, but Lenny's'll cheer him up quick.  Underneath that starched exterior, the Mountie's got a thing for French fries.  Guy loves 'em, and no one ever guesses, but he'll eat all of his and half of mine.  Then again, he'll give me his pickle and cole slaw, so we'll come out even like we pretty much always do.
Ray's looking expectant, and I realize I haven't answered.  "Yes, certainly. Lenny's would be--" "Yes, certainly," Fraser says quickly, and he looks grateful--even a half smile.  "Lenny's would be--"
And then I see her.  There, in the white coat--dear God, not possible.  A delusion, a visualization.  But-- Yet-- And then the smile's gone, and he's lookin' right past me, face intense, his eyes narrowing slightly and--
I have to try.  I must have hope.  And even this panic is a form of hope.  And even this pounding in my chest is a form of hope.  If I'm running, I must be alive.  If I'm panting, I must be alive.  If I'm this terrified, I must be alive, then, mustn't I?  I think it must be so. The thrill of the chase is still thrilling.  My muscles move as I ask them to. I've run through canyons before, I've jumped off cliffs before.  This is no different.  This is no different. --he's off, bang! running!--dodging and weaving between the stunned suits and the power chicks with their short skirts and leather satchels.  And this is normal enough, the sort of thing we do all the time--so I whirl and turn and I'm right behind him, yanking my gun out of my shoulder holster.  I figure it's like, you know, the usual--terrorist monks, guys boosting a car, or maybe a pickpocket that Fraser's spotted from  four blocks away.
Cabs instead of caribou.  Black tar instead of white snow.  Running through the canyon, cutting across a river of traffic, the air full of noise, blaring, honking--the  cries of exotic animals. And he's really running, now--full out, full-tilt, faster than me--then turning, swerving, cutting across the street at an angle.   The taxi horns blare and the SUVs slam on the brakes. 
Her white coat billows out behind her.  Her long, dark hair tails out behind her.  Reaching out for me.  Hope swells in my chest.  She's so close.  Reaching out.  So close, I'm reaching out, close, reaching, my hand stretches out and-- He takes the high road and I take the low road, always and forever--and so I cross a little further down, figuring I'll take rear flank on this one.  I go up, scrambling over the hood of a car, sliding and running and flicking the safety off my gun.
I grab her coat, it's soft, I've got her-- Because he's stopped, he's there, he's got her.
--and I turn her and look and--she's not.  It isn't her, nothing like.  Her green eyes are surprised, then confused, then frightened and dimly I can hear Ray's voice, yelling, I think. Eyes, nose, shape of the face--all are wrong.  And yet, if I squint, I can see Victoria in her, through her.  Part of me wants to indulge this fantasy as long as I can, just let myself hold her and stare and dream.  But she's scared, struggling, throwing her purse at me--and in her fear and hate of me she is very like Victoria. "FREEZE!  CHICAGO PD!  DROP IT!" and I'm in a crouch, my gun aimed at her chest.  Fraser's got her, is clutching her tightly and she lets out a shriek and flings her snazzy little black bag down onto the sidewalk.  It spills open, everything clattering out, and I half expect to see--I dunno, the Hope diamond, or a kilo of coke, or at least a gun or something.  Instead there's a scatter of cosmetics, a wallet, a palm pilot, a set of car keys.  Maybe ten round gold tokens for the express bus.
Her face suddenly contorts, but she isn't looking at me.  She's looking beyond me, past me.  I turn and I see Ray, crouched and--dear God, he's got a gun, he's got his gun out, he's going to shoot me, it's happening again, Christ, no, please.... Now she's shrinking back against a shop window and cowering and fuck me if she doesn't look terrified. Fraser's staring at her blankly, and then his head turns slowly toward me.  His face instantly changes and he gasps, "Christ, no!" 
And I'm braced for the pain as I rush him.  I'm braced for the sound of the shot.  In the front, this time--in my lungs or heart perhaps.  Not a bad way to go, quick and easy and symmetrical.  But he doesn't fire. And that's my first, fat-ass cue that something's off, because Fraser's blaspheming.  And then he's on me, grabbing my arm and twisting and shoving it down, forcing my gun down.
And then the moment has passed.  The danger has passed.  Ray looks angry, which means he's frightened, and that is my fault. Behind me, I hear the sound of weeping, and that is my fault, too.  "Put the gun away," I plead quietly, "please put the gun away.  Mistake." The woman bursts into horrible, ragged tears.  Fraser's got this look on his face I've never seen before--he looks sick, anguished, confused.  "Put the gun away, please put the gun away."  And then the second, fat-ass cue as he swallows and whispers, "Mistake."
The anger drains from his face;  he looks puzzled, confused, disappointed.  I've literally led him astray, wronged him as certainly as I've wronged the poor woman behind me. Mistake?  This is a mistake?  Fraser made a mistake?  Wow--holy shit.  I can see why he's so miserable, being as he probably hasn't made a mistake since 1974. 
I can't bear to look at him, or her, and so I turn and busy myself with collecting her belongings together.  I've done a terrible thing, made a horrible error.  I've accosted an innocent woman, put her in danger, made her cry.  "I'm so sorry.  My mistake." He's on his knees now, and he's deadly pale, staring at the ground and collecting the bric-a-brac from the chick's handbag.  "My mistake," he's saying over and over, and his hands are shaking as he reaches for her compact. "I'm so sorry.  My mistake." 
I pick up her car keys; they're heavy in my hands.  Powder compact.  Into the bag. Lipstick.  Into the bag.  Above me, the sound of sobs.  Such a near miss--Ray could have shot her, could have shot me.  I've endangered an innocent woman's life--and why?  Chasing a dream?   I fumble her wallet and it flips open.  Margaret Saunders.  Dear Margaret, I am so very sorry. The word is freaking me out.  On Fraser's mouth, it's a worse blasphemy than "Christ."  And if it's true, if Fraser's made a mistake, I've practically pistol-whipped some poor lady for no good reason.  Pulled a gun on a crowded street and aimed it at one of the citizens I'm supposed to be trying to protect.  Bad, bad juju--and a public relations nightmare, at the very least.
Ray's boots step forward.  He's apologizing to her. He's apologizing, although he's done nothing wrong.  My fault; a moment of weakness.  If I'm honest, more than a moment.  This loneliness is my weakness.  "We thought you were..." Dear Ray.  Trying to explain.  "You resemble somebody we want." I flick my safety on and quickly reholster my gun.  "I'm sorry," I say, raising my empty hands and trying to look as non-threatening as possible.  She ain't buying, though--she's looking at me like I'm some kind of nutcase--but what else can I do?  "You...we thought you resemble somebody we want."
Dear God.  Does he know what he's saying?  Does he know,  or has he just put his finger on the matter in that odd, instinctive way he has?  Ray's instincts, his intuitions-- what he calls his "hunches" in that offhand, self-deprecating way--never cease to astound me.  It's a talent he has--reading people, seeing through them, and then moving with unerring grace toward the mark.  I take the high road, he takes the low road, but he's always in Scotland afore me, grinning and impatient. At my feet, still gettin' the lady's stuff together, Fraser flinches--and okay, so maybe it's not true, but you'd think he'd cut me some slack for a lie considering that he got me into this mess in the first place.  And it's gotta be at least partly true, I figure, even though I'm flipping through my own personal mental mug-shot book and I ain't coming up with a suspect of this description.  Female, mid-thirties, brunette, slim, olive-skinned--real long, thick hair, all corkscrewing and wild like that.
I'm dumb, numb--but he's already there and smoothly taking control.  All I can do is offer Margaret her purse.  And the way she looks down at me, on me, makes her seem very like Victoria, my dearest mistake. Fraser's still on his knees, but now he's clutching the bag in his hands like an offering and staring at her.  "My mistake," he says softly, like it's a prayer or something.  "My mistake."  I wish he'd quit it.
And when I blink and refocus, it isn't Victoria at all, but just poor red-eyed Margaret Saunders.  And that look on her face isn't sneering pity but fear--fear of me. I can't explain, I haven't the words to explain, but I can apologize. He extends the bag to her and she takes a nervous step forward and snatches it from his hand before skittering back again.  "I'm so, so sorry," he says, and I can't stand seein'  him like this, so--so--shocked and penitent and off-kilter. 
"Listen, really," Ray says smoothly, taking control, knowing I'm not in control, "I'm sorry, lady.  Is there anything we can do to--"  Margaret looks at him and then at me, and then, quite sensibly, flees.  From her perspective, we are undoubtedly lunatics.  Fair enough. "Listen, really--I'm sorry, lady," I say again.  "Is there anything we can do to--"  I'm trying to force myself to fess up my name and badge number, but she just takes another step back.  She eyes Fraser, then she eyes me--and then she runs for it, away down the street.
"Shit," Ray groans.  "That was a fuck-up."  A fuck-up indeed, a dangerous lapse of judgment. "Shit," I sigh, rubbing my eyes with the heels of my hands.  "That was a fuck-up."
I've been ambushed by my own desires.  They've seized me, reasserting themselves with a vengeance.  I'm a danger to myself.  I'm a danger to Ray.  I'm endangering others--and for what?  What do I need so badly? Why do I still feel compelled to get up and chase that white coat? Fraser's still on his knees, but now his head has turned--he's watching her run away, watching her back disappear, that wild hair flying behind her.   I watch him for a moment and he's looking like he's having trouble getting his Mountie face on, a thing I never seen him have a problem with before. 
She  hates me.  She's always hated me.  Maybe I need her to hate me. Finally, he takes a deep breath and slowly gets up to his feet.
"Fraser." Ray's voice is oddly gentle. "What the hell was that? "Fraser," I ask him, tryin' for casual.  "What the hell was that?
And that's precisely the right question, of course. Again, Ray's in Scotland before me; again, he's gone straight to the mark.  What answer can I give him?  Ray, I'm so empty inside.  I'll take hate, love, anything.  Slowly his head turns from where she's disappeared, and he looks at me.  He's still corpse-pale, but he tries on a smile.  He isn't really one for smiling anyway, but this--this one is godawful.  Thin, fake, and all wrong.
I try to tell him.  I try to be honest; he deserves my honesty, my fealty.  "That was a very sad and pathetic spectacle, Ray." "That," Fraser says finally, in a voice as dead as he looks, "was a very sad and pathetic spectacle, Ray."
He frowns at me, waits, look like he wants me to say more.  But there's nothing more I can say right now. Now what the hell does he mean by that?  I keep my mouth shut, but he looks away, like he's said all he's gonna say.
Something will have to change.  Something will have to give. And so basically, that was the last normal day we ever had.

It's a problem, but I can't seem to solve it.  It's like a puzzle, except some of the pieces appear to be missing.  Or maybe I just can't manage to put them together.  Maybe it's me, some sort of intellectual or emotional deficiency on my part.  Again and again I try to start from basic premises, from what I know for sure, little as that is.  That's what logic indicates, and yet, this situation seems to defy all logic. It's drivin' me nuts.  He's different somehow.  Two weeks worth of different--two weeks of him sort of quiet and caved in on himself.  Like his insides have collapsed.  Something's brewing, but I don't know what it is and I can't seem to find the right place and time to ask him about it.  We barely manage to get ourselves lunch each day, never mind some decent place for a real conversation.
My--susceptibility--is a problem.  Ignoring it has ceased to help, and in fact, seems to leave me and the people around me unacceptably vulnerable to danger.  So perhaps it's time to--give in to my yearnings.  I am nearly forty years old, after all. Not a child.  And yet, in this, I am a child, I think.  Utterly inexperienced, particularly in this context. Still, though, I try to like--check in with him whenever I can.  "Hey Frase, you okay?"  He always looks a bit surprised, like he's forgotten who he is and where he is.  Then he answers, always the same.  "Yes, certainly, Ray."  Insert nervous gesture--sometimes he rubs his eyebrow, sometimes he tugs his right ear a bit.  "I'm fine."
Ray could help me.  If I only knew how to ask. Yeah yeah, right right.  Fine and dandy.
I know he would help.  I know he's concerned about me--he asks me if I'm all right about three times a day.   I never know what to say, how to start.  So I'm both grateful and nervous when he finally corners me. Finally, you know, I can't take it no more and I take the best chance I got.  I'm droppin' him off outside the Consulate, and he's reaching for the handle, about to get out, when I reach across and grab his arm.
His long fingers dig into my arm.  He's looking at me across the front seat of the car--and he's right, as always.  The car is as good a place as any, and better than most. The car ain't perfect, but it's as good a place as any, and more private than most.  Better than the station or our booth in the diner or under the Ice Queen's nose, right?
I wait for his question, and try to form my own.  "Frase," he says, his voice nearly a whisper.  "Really, man--are you okay?" "Frase," I say quietly, trying to tell him--now. Here. Talk now, talk here. I ask him if he's okay, and keep my fingers crossed.
I understand his tone of voice; it is meant to promote and encourage confidentiality between us. I'm grateful for it.  I love him for it.  "Yes, I'm fine, really," I assure him. He looks at me and says, "Yes, I'm fine, really,"--and damn, if I don't want to pop him one.  But wait--he's letting go of the door handle, he's sitting back in his seat.
How to put this?  For God's sake, I'm nearly forty years old--why does everything have to be so bloody difficult? He's got that constipated look that means he's trying to figure out how to say something embarrassing.  Paydirt.
"I've just been...thinking," I manage, as if that weren't startlingly obvious to anyone, let alone someone as strikingly perceptive as Ray. "I've just been...thinking," he says, and it takes everything I got to keep my face neutral.  Yeah, Frase, I got that part already.
"Um," I continue, and that's good, that's highly articulate, a prize utterance.  Eloquence incarnate. He falters, and I'm like--trying to send him the vibe.  C'mon, c'mon, attaboy, you can do it...
I steel myself and claw into the moment with my nails. Ridiculous to let myself be defeated.  This is my friend, my best friend, and he's kindly offered me his ear. I gotta say, though, when he spits it out it ain't nothing like I've been expecting.  I don't think my face stayed in neutral--I think I upshifted into drive, there.
"I wondered if I could ask you...well, about women."  "I wondered if I could ask you...well, about women." 
Ray looks--well, shocked.  Nearly comically so.  "Women?" he repeats, and it's funny, really, but his sudden lack of balance helps me to find my own. Women?!  Fraser wants to ask me about women?  Fraser wants to ask me about women?  "Women?" I blurt, but he's nodding--he's confident again.
"Yes, " I confess.  "I find--I'm not sure how to proceed." "Yes," Fraser replies.  "I find--I'm not sure how to proceed."
Ray shifts uncomfortably in his seat.  "Uh--go on?" Proceed.  Women.  Um.  Uh.   "Go on?"
"Well."  I seem to have a ridiculous number of questions.  "For one thing.  Where--do you go about meeting them?" He coughs a little, into his fist, but he's doing great, doing fine. "Well.  For one thing. Where--do you go about meeting them?"
He stares at me for a second and then suddenly he's grinning, gripping the wheel in his hands and letting his spiky, blond head hang forward. The back of his neck is flushed. All right, just fuck neutral, because the answer to this is so preposterous, this whole situation is just so fuckin' preposterous, that I'm never gonna make it through with a straight face anyway.
When he looks up, his blue eyes are sparkling, laughing, and I'm already smiling in anticipation. I look down and grin, mainly to pause for the timing.  Timing is everything in comedy, so they say.
"Sixth grade," Ray says, and then he falls back against the seat, loose and lanky and hooting with laughter.  My smile widens. Then I fix him with my eyes.  "Sixth grade," I tell him, and it's all the funnier cause it's God's honest truth, and he knows it.
He presses his hand to his belly and says, "Seriously, Fraser-- I'm the wrong person to ask." "Seriously, Fraser," I say, when I can breathe again, "I'm the wrong person to ask."
"But surely," I object, still smiling, "you've pursued someone since Stella." He smiles and shakes his head.  "But surely you're pursued someone since Stella."
Oh dear.  I've said something wrong, something tactless. Suddenly I don't feel much like laughing no more.
Ray winces a little , then shifts in his seat to cover it up.  "Yeah, sure, maybe I've pursued one or two people, but not like that makes me an expert or anything." This is dangerous territory, thin fuckin' ice.  "Yeah, sure, maybe I've pursued one or two people," I hedge, "but not like that makes me an expert or anything."
"I'm not looking for expertise," I say quickly, feeling embarrassed.  "I'm simply looking for...suggestions." Fraser's red-faced now--fuck, I'm fucking this up.  He asks me for advice, but what advice have I got? 
"Yeah, well, I don't think I have any," Ray mumbles. I'm the wrong guy for this, I got nothing, I tell him. 
I nod slowly, and try to think of a way to apologize without compounding my error. He nods and looks away, and god, I feel like a shit.  The guy cracks himself open like a lobster, and I give him grief.
He's squirming uncomfortably now, and I can see he's thinking hard, too.  Of course, he'll get there first;  Ray always does. Maybe I could remember that this is supposed to be about him?  Maybe the whole world doesn't revolve around me?  Ya think?
"So, I mean, you're thinkin' about--maybe getting a girl?" "So, I mean, you're thinkin' about--maybe getting a girl?"
"Yes.  I...have been thinking about it." He nods--god almighty, he's really thinking about it.
Ray looks away, out his window.  "Anyone in particular?" I look away, I can't look at him, somehow.  "Anyone in particular?"
"No," I explain to the back  his head.  "That's part of the problem." He tells me no, and somehow that makes things better.
"So, you're just thinking like--generally, then, huh?" "So, you're just thinking like--generally, then, huh?"
"Yes, exactly," I say, grateful that he's understood.  "And I'm--rather out of my depth, here, in more ways than one." "Yes, exactly," Fraser says quickly.  "And I'm--rather out of my depth, here, in more ways than one."
He turns back at that, and now he's frowning, seeking clarification. I'm not sure what he means.  "What ways?" I ask, turning around.
"Well, Chicago for one.  American girls.  It's all...quite different."  This feels like a pose, like a lie, and I hasten to explain.  "Not that I have a great reservoir of experience to draw from in any case." "Well, Chicago for one.  American girls.  It's all...quite different."  He looks rueful for a second, mouth twisting wryly.  "Not that I have a great reservoir of experience to draw from in any case."
He smiles faintly.  "Yeah, I get that." I wonder if that was hard to say. 
"I thought might help me negotiate..."  I seem to have run out of  words unexpectedly, unfortunately. "I thought might help me negotiate..."  Fraser waves his hand around and I think: the car? Chicago? Life?
But Ray fills the gap in my sentences.  "Yeah, okay, sure.  I'll negotiate whatever you want--treaties, whatever."  I smile my thanks at him, but his brow is creasing; he's frowning. Then again, it doesn't matter what he means.  He wants my help with any or all of those?  He'll get it.  Treaties, whatever.  What bugs me is that he wants help.  That--worries me. 
He knows me far too well, I think. That worries me very much.

My first task was to come to terms with Chicago.  If I were even going to entertain thoughts of marriage, I had to reconcile myself to the idea of making Chicago my home.  And of course it was, had become so--had welcomed me, a stranger, with all due warmth.  And yet, of course, I had been resisting the idea on some level, refusing to settle in, to make a real home or life for myself. All in all, that didn't get us much further, except that now I know what's on his mind--sort of.  A woman, Fraser wants a woman.  Which I guess I can understand, except well--really thinking about it, I could maybe list a couple of things he needs more, or maybe just first.  Like maybe moving out of his office.  Getting a place of his own with a sofa and a TV.  A place to hang his hat.
To my relief, this proved easier than I expected.  After some consideration, I realized that I didn't actually mind the idea.  There was Ray, of course, and Chicago had a number of other amenities which I tend to take for granted unless I'm particularly focused on them--international cuisine, cultural variety, dry cleaning.  There were, I realized, several neighborhoods where I could see myself living. I always sort of wondered why he never bothered to find himself another place.  It seemed like he was sending a message--I'm not here, I'm not staying, don't get too used to me or anything.  I got used to him anyway, though, so that didn't work.  Maybe his old place was such a pit that he figured the office was better. Or maybe he just wants to sleep on Canadian soil, as close to home as he can get.
So that part was easy enough.  Much harder to find a suitable someone to share that life with. Still, if he's thinking about getting a girlfriend--well, he must be thinking about staying, right?
Chicago is full of women, and yet it sometimes seems that there are no women here at all.  I've tried to school my attention, to note more specifically the faces, voices, and smiles of the women I encounter each day.  And yet, none of them--  They don't-- What's funny is, now that I know he's thinking about girls, I can see the small, shy doubletakes he's making.  I mean, I watch him pretty closely, but I never woulda seen it if he hadn't told me what he did.  But now that I know what to look for--I can see it.
I can't see-- He's looking.
I can't picture-- He's imagining, lingering.
It seems impossible that-- Thinking over the possibilities.
The world is empty, bereft--worse so now that I've bothered to notice. The world is his banquet table, his smorgasbord, his fuckin' oyster. 
I've never felt so alone. I'm happy for him.  Really.
Again and again, my mind returns to Victoria.  What did she have that I wanted so badly?  Was it her dark good looks that attracted me?  Her brains?  Her courage?  Her steeliness? Sometimes I play this game with myself where I try to anticipate who the girl's gonna be.  Does he like 'em tall?  short?  blond? brunette?  bodacious? slinky? wholesome? nasty?
It's hopeless.  I don't know.  It was, perhaps, a fluke. I'm just dyin' to  know what type is his type.
And then it occurs to me that perhaps I'm looking at this the wrong way.  I've been selfishly focused on what I want, and that's probably the wrong question to ask. Perhaps the correct question is--is there anyone who wants me? Cause face it, Benton Fraser can have his pick.  I've seen it a million times--the glassy look, the sudden smile.  They all go down like ninepins--thud, thud, thud.  It's a show, I'm tellin' ya;  I think they call it "universal appeal."
Put that way, the answer is obvious. Wish I had half a pound of that.

Next time I'm at the station, I approach her with my hat in my hand.  She looks up and shows me the most sensational smile.  The warmth of that smile, the joy in her face, simply crushes my reservations.  Or at least dents them.  Well, nearly.  Almost.  "Vecchio," Welsh calls, and I look up from my desk.  He's standing in the doorway of his office, tapping his watch.  I look up at the clock--fuck, nearly 4:30, and Welsh wants me to see Wilson before 5:00, and plus we haven't even had lunch yet.  Typical.
Really, though, her smile is quite sensational. I sigh and look around for Fraser.
"Yes," Francesca whispers creamily, "oh, yes, yes, yes.  Whenever.  I'm ready.  Any time you say--any night this week." Hell, Frannie's got him.  Great, now I gotta stage the Battle of Normandy on top of everything.  First--a beachhead.
Ulp--this week? Or should that be bitch-head?
Yes.  Yes.   No retreating now--indeed, it must be this week! "Frrrrrraser!" I call, rolling my rrrrs, announcing my approach.
I hear Ray call my name and glance over.  He's striding over, determined to stage my rescue.  I have to do this quickly, or I won't do it at all. Ollie, ollie, oxen free.  Eeeeeverybody out of the pool.  You don't have to go home, Frannie, but you can't stay here.
"How about tonight?" I suggest--and then I clutch her arm, because she seems like she's about to fall over. "Frase, I need you--we gotta go talk to Wilson about what he mighta seen over at the Country Kitchen--"
"Tonight?" Francesca repeats breathlessly. "Tonight.  Oh yeah.  Sure.  Yeah." He shoots a look at me, then he's grabbing Frannie, who lookin' kinda sick, really.
Ray is nearly upon us now, and so I murmur, "Perhaps I'll....pick you up about eight?"  I barely get the words out. "Hey, what's goin' on--she okay?"  I look at Frannie, who's maybe gonna throw up or something.  "You okay?"
"Eight," Francesca repeats.  "Right."  And then she gasps, "Oh god, I gotta do my hair, gotta get a dress, gotta--" Frannie ignores me, so what else is new. "Eight. Right.  Oh god, I gotta do my hair, gotta get a dress, gotta--"
She turns and bolts out of the bullpen.  I turn my attention to Ray and put on my blandest look, hoping it will deter questions. Frannie takes off like a bat outta hell, which is fine by me.  Fraser gives me his blank face, like I'm a moron or something.
It doesn't, alas.  "What the hell was that all about?" "What the hell was that all about?" I demand.
From far away I hear Francesca shriek, and I grit my teeth. Something squeaks in the other room--sets my teeth on edge.
"Nothing important," I assure him, and of course in the grander scheme of things that is true.  "Was there something you wanted to see me about?" "Nothing important," Fraser says mildly, and bang, he's on the offense, calm as you please. "Was there something you wanted to see me about?"
His curiosity is warring with his desire to get on with his duties, and thankfully, Ray is first and foremost a policeman.  "Yeah," he admits, scratching his head.  "Come with me on this Wilson thing?" And yeah, of course there is--I want him to go with me to interview Wilson, cause the guy's a scumbag and that makes me angry, and when I'm angry, I miss stuff. "Yeah.  Come with me on this Wilson thing?"
"Of course," I say, and off we go. "Of course," he says, and off we go.

Mr. Bartholemew Wilson really does strike me as a most unconscionable liar.  I can see Ray starting to twitch with anger.  He looks very like a jungle cat flicking his tail. So we go to see Wilson, who really is a scumbucket and a half.  He didn't see nothing, he didn't hear nothing, he don't know nothing, and still he keeps us till it's past six o'clock.
Ray wheels on me as soon as we're in the car.  "You don't believe that guy, do you?" I gotta  know what Fraser thinks of this--he didn't buy that geezer's story, right?
"No," I assure him. He smiles a little at the question.  "No."
"Well, thank God," Ray mutters and turns on the engine.  "Okay, so I'm thinking subpeona.  I'm thinking, shake his cage, see what comes crawling out."  He glances at me and I nod;  I approve. Well thank God for small miracles.  If we both think it, then it must be true.  "Okay, so I'm thinking subpeona.  I'm thinking, shake his cage, see what comes crawling out."  I shove into drive and pull out.
Ray looks relieved, then cracks his neck.  "I'm also thinking lunch, you thinking lunch?" Fraser's nodding;  he approves.  Greatness.   Now if we could just get some freakin' lunch. 
I glance at my watch--it's nearly half-past six.  "It's nearly dinner time, actually."  And I have a dinner to arrange. To my surprise, Fraser ixnays lunch.  I look at him, and he's starin' at his watch, the window, anywhere but my face.
I've given something away, and now that his work is done, he'll have it out of me.  "Spill it," he demands, and I suppose I'd better. "All right, spill it," I say, looking quick between him and the road. "What're you looking so antsy about suddenly?"
"I have a...well.  A date, I suppose you'd--" "I have a...well.  A date, I suppose you'd--"
Suddenly the car lurches to the right, the tires squealing in protest.  Dear God.  He'll kill us.  I clutch at the dashboard. Date.  Eight.  Hairdo.  New dress.  Christ.  I'm off the road and on the grass divider before my head stops spinning.
He stops short, shifts the car into park.  "Are you out of your freakin' mind?"  he yells and that's the last clear idea he articulates. "Are you out of your freakin' mind?"  I yell.  "Why the hell would you-- You could have--  She is--  You don't--  How could--" 
"Ray? Ray? Ray?" I had no idea he'd be this upset.  "Ray?" "Ray?"  Fraser is pale, embarrassed, trying to reach me I think.
I duck away as he waves his arms in the air so that he doesn't smack me in the face by accident. I realize I'm flapping my arms like some kinda demented bird, and grab the wheel tightly.
"Why?" Ray wails finally--now, he's banging his head against the wheel. "Why?" I ask him, letting my head fall forward on the dash.  "Why, why, why?"
Carefully, I raise my  hand and drop it gently on the curve of his bowed back.  He flinches and turns his head to look at me. I feel his hand on my back--goddammit, I've made this about me again, haven't I?  But hell if it doesn't feel like it's about me.
I try to explain;  Ray deserves an explanation.  "She's... fond of me, I think." "She's fond of me," Fraser confesses, like that's some big secret or something.
"So?" Ray looks agonized, exasperated. "So she's fond of you!  I'm fond of you!  Vecchio's--"  I clamp my hand to my ears; for God's sake, he just doesn't understand! "So?"  God, I can't fuckin' believe this.  He could have anyone.  "So she's fond of you! I'm fond of you! Vecchio's fond of you!  Everybody's fucking fond of you!"
It isn't enough anymore, this fondness.  I'm tired of being the stray cat everybody feeds. A novelty item, amusing but disposable.  And Francesca Vecchio's attentions have been...persistent. I can't believe it--the Mountie's covered his ears, looked away, tuned me out.  I smack the steering wheel so hard that for a second I think  I've broken my goddammed, motherfucking hand.
Right now, that seems more precious than gold. "I think I'm going to kill you," I tell him.
I don't think I've ever fully appreciated--Ray touches my shoulder. He doesn't answer and I sigh, reach over, tap his shoulder.
And as I turn to look at him, I have the strangest wish. He turns to look at me, and, man,  his eyes are so sad.
I wish Ray Kowalski had a sister. God, I'm sorry, Fraser.  I'm such a pain in the ass.
"Okay," Ray says quietly; he's calm now.  "You want Frannie, I'll do my bit to help." "Okay."  I'm throwing in the towel, making my apologies.  "You want Frannie, I'll do my bit."
He starts the car again, and I feel my heart pounding in my chest.  Put into words, it seems wrong, patently untrue.  I shift back into drive and roll us back onto the parkway.  I have a plan now, at least I can do something positive. 
You want Frannie.  Except  I don't want Frannie.  But I want to want her, and maybe that is enough. And really, Frannie's not bad.  She's pretty, she's got a good body, plus she's warm and she's got a big heart. 
I mean, that might be enough. You know what they say--big heart, big mouth.
God, get a grip on yourself, Benton!   It's just a date! Man, I hope he knows what he's doing.

Dazed, I realize only when we're there that he's pulled up in front of his apartment, not the Consulate.  "Ray," I say, turning to him.  "I need to go--" I pull up in front of my building and turn the car off.  Fraser snaps out of his zone, looks around, and opens his mouth to protest.  "Ray, I need to go--"
"I know, Fraser." "I know, Fraser."
He reaches down and pulls the keys out of the ignition.  Then he picks up my hand and presses them against my palm. I yank the keys out, slap them into his hand, and close his fingers around them, forcing them into his fist.
I don't know what to say. He looks down at our hands, then back up at me.
"I can't," I protest. "I can't, " Fraser says.
"Shut up and take it."  Ray's smiling at me, still holding my hand between both of his.  "Fraser, ya gotta have a cool set of wheels." "Shut up and take it," I say, and then I smile.  "First rule of successful dating, Fraser?  Guy's gotta have a cool set of wheels."
But not these wheels.  I can't take his car.  Ray loves this car.  Ray loves the GTO more than almost anything else. He's trying to find the words to say no, but I'm not gonna let him win this one.  I'm not backing down this time.
"Just take it, okay?  I want you to take it."  He's still holding my hand tightly, and so all I can do is nod.  Yes.  Thank you. "Just take it, okay?  I want you to take it."  C'mon already.  Say yes, Fraser.  Whoa--he's weakening.  Nodding.  We're good.
Ray reaches for his door handle;  I reach for mine. Outside, in the twilight, we pass each other in front of the GTO's glossy hood.  He follows me back to the door. I let go of his hand and reach for the door.  Fraser gets out, too, crosses past me to the driver's side door.  I watch as he gets in and rolls down his window.
He leans down and says,  "Don't do anything I wouldn't do." "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."  A joke--more than he knows.
Considering how Ray drives, I'm not sure what I could do that he wouldn't.  Still, I promise to be careful, and he pounds the roof and waves me off. He looks confused for a moment, and then says, "I'll be most careful, Ray."  I nod and straighten up, then thump the roof twice to to send him away, with luck.

My date with Francesca....clarifies things.  She does, I admit, look staggeringly lovely as she opens the door.  She's put her hair up, swept it off her face and neck into a graceful pile pinned to the top of her head.  This serves to emphasize her huge, dark eyes, which are fixed on me and are warm, warm, so warm. I take advantage of my wheel-less state and go for a walk.  Fraser walks all the time, and look at him--he's in better shape than I've ever been.  I let myself wander around the city, not thinking where I'm going, and I'm halfway to the Gold Coast before I realize what I'm doing and switch directions abruptly.
I am, I realize, really quite fond of Francesca Vecchio. You can't go home again, boyo--best to remember that.
She steps back carefully in her pale pink dress and welcomes me into the hallway.  A glance around reveals no one else about, but I can hear the shuffle of feet, and the muttered "shush!" as Mother Vecchio hushes someone or ones huddling in the kitchen. So I let myself drift in another direction, and really, the city's different on foot--warmer, realer.  This is Fraser's city, I realize--this is how he experiences it.  Not from the window of a car but on foot, where you can really see people's faces and hear music and smell--well.
She asks me if I would like a drink, and I thank her and decline.  It's only when I notice her curious gaze, the way her dark eyes keep shifting downward, that I remember to give her the corsage I'm holding.  She opens the cardboard box and brightens at the sight of the flowers.  As I watch, she takes a deep breath and thanks me with a gravity that's not at all natural to her. It's dark and I cross into the park, disregarding the signs that tell me it closes at dusk.  Screw that, I'm a cop, and plus it's a stupid idea, closing a park.  Even Fraser, law and order guy that he is, breaks this law--he can't get his head around the idea that they can close the damn park at night.  The park's pretty at night--still and empty, 'cept for the occasional rat.  And me.
She's trying.  I'm trying too. No, ho, wait, spoke too soon.
I explain to her about the dinner reservations I've made and she nods and fetches her wrap.  She smiles at me when she sees Ray's car parked outside, and the smile blossoms when I open the door for her and help her inside. There's a guy sitting on a bench, looking over at the pond. He looks up as I approach down the path, and tenses a little, so I try to make my walk say, "Hey, I'm not a serial killer."  I see he gets it, he nods and relaxes back a bit. 
Ray was, of course, right as always;  having the car helps a good deal. Course, any good serial killer would know the walk too, but whatever.
And if our conversation at dinner is slow, stilted--well, that at least gives me time to think.  I stare at her across the table and try to project myself into this future.  She is a beautiful woman with a good heart.  I like her family very much; her brother is my dear friend.  She would care for me, I think--she would make a lovely home, she would feed me, literally and otherwise.  And I--- As I get closer to the bench I change my walk again, just to see what happens.  He stiffens, he shifts, he looks--and hell, I've got him if I want him.  Do I want him?  Is that why I came here?  Maybe yes and maybe no, I guess.  Now that I'm closer I can see what I'm dealing with--not bad, not bad at all.  Sandy brown hair, longish, sorta flopping over his face.  Decent body.  Kind face.
And I-- "Heya,"  I call in greeting.
I would-- "Hey yourself," he replies.
Well, certainly I would protect her.  That's one thing.  I would work for her, put myself at her service and-- Nice voice.  "Whatcha doing, just hanging out?"  I stop in front of him, jam my hands into the pocket'o'my coat.
Well, perhaps I His eyes shift away.  "Yeah."
Christ!  Why can't I put myself into this picture? "Mind if I sit?"
Think.  Think.  I would come home to her at night, I would provide for her needs, father her children and try to care for them-- He shrugs, slides over a bit, making room for me on the bench.  Still, our shoulders brush and I feel that old tingle.
Our children, I mean, of course. To my surprise, he turns to me and cuts to the chase.
But you don't love her.  You know you don't love her. You don't want her--listen to yourself.  You're  thinking of this as work. "We can't," he says, and at least he looks sad about it.  "There's a regular patrol here--cops--we're sure to get caught."
Well, of course it's work--it's all work in the end. I nod and glance down at my watch.  9:14.
In the end--perhaps.  But this is the first date. "Next sweep's not for sixteen minutes," I explain.
"Fraser?"  I blink;  it suddenly occurs to me that her mouth has been moving for some time now.  "Penny for your thoughts?" It takes him a minute but then he gets it, I see him getting it.  He's quick--I like that in a casual fuck.  "Sixteen minutes?"
"I was thinking," I blurt, "that a life of service is a wonderful thing." I grin at him.  "Fifteen, if you keep on yammering." 
She frowns, then nods, then tries on a smile, indulging me. He looks around quickly and then slips to his knees.
I am still so alone. God I need this--connection.
And this won't stop you chasing white coats.  This isn't what you were looking for.  This isn't what you wanted. He sucks me quickly, expertly, and my head lolls backwards. I look at the sky, gasp, feel my balls tighten.  Need, want this explosion.
And in a flash I know what I wanted from Victoria, and the thought is--obscene.  It's not everything, but it's maybe enough.  This is enough.   This is--god.  Enough.

I bring Francesca home and walk her to the door.  She looks up at me expectantly;  she wants me to kiss her.  But  I don't think I can.  I feel desire within me, coiled like a poisonous snake, but I've learned something tonight. I don't expect to see him again that night, but I do.  He knocks, I open the door, and I see everything right there on his face.  Which means, you know, that I  really see nothing--it's that nothing look on him that's really something.
My desire is--not for this. See, the thing you gotta understand about Fraser--
She kisses me anyway, as I knew she would.  And if I were normal, I'd be flushed with heat;  if I were normal, I wouldn't feel so ice cold.  If I were normal, I might presume upon Francesca.  Take liberties, cup her soft breast in my hand, pull her close to me. Well, okay, maybe there's more than one thing.  But one of the things you got to understand about Fraser is that he's hot inside.  Inside, he's red.  Whereas most people think he's hot outside, in the more conventional sense, and plus he's got all that red serge on.
I don't, of course. Wrong-o.
When she pulls her face away, she smiles--but I know she knows.  I see pity in her eyes, and affection too, an affection we share.  She smiles at me and I smile back.  I care for her.  And I know she cares for me. Outside, he's blue.  Ignore the stupid uniform and Fraser's blue--cool, controlled.  Fraser's got himself trained to be calm, rational, distanced, polite.  He's good at it too, cause it's not phony, it's what he believes in.
But I've killed something tonight, without even trying. But the inside, the red side, that's what Fraser is.
There used to be something else in her eyes, something that's now gone.  Heat, perhaps.  Or hope, or lust.  Whatever it was, I've killed it.  And I shouldn't be surprised.  The law of nature is kill or be killed, and Francesca isn't a killer. Scratch the surface and you get the real story--Benton Fraser, a hundred and eighty pounds of pure fucking will, raw energy, and sheer drive.  And see, I get this, mainly because I've always been a major fan of John Lennon's.
I am, of course. Lemme back up.
And so was Victoria, my darling Victoria, my dearest mistake, twice made.  She nearly killed me in Canada, she nearly killed me in Chicago.  Did I want her to kill me?  Almost certainly, I think.  Even now I'm chasing her, hoping to find her, and find her armed. Lennon, if you don't know, was a seriously violent fuck.  Probably kicked his bassist to death--Stuart Sutcliff, not that prick George Harrison.  Beat his wife, drank, drugged, half killed himself even before that fruitcake Mark Chapman took his shot.
Francesca touches my arm, asks me if I'd like to come in for ice cream or a cup of tea.  I thank her, but no--I should go, I should return Ray's car to him.  She nods, and smiles, and in that moment I do want her--or rather, I want to want her, and ice cream, and tea, and children, and all those sane, normal things.  I want to want them, so badly that I ache. Now a lot of people can't handle this--it upsets them, ruins the image.  But it makes sense to me.  'Course the guy was a peacenick--Give Peace A Chance, All You Need Is Love, Imagine.  Way I figure it, you only crave peace like that if you ain't got any.  It's McCartney, essentially a poofter, who writes Helter-Skelter--ooh, tough guy, I'm so scared.  Bite me. 
I duck my head and kiss her cheek before heading down the steps to the car.  She stands in the pool of porch light, watching me go, then lifts her arm and waves.  I wave back, and then slide into Ray's car, which smells like--his sweat, his hair gel, the cigarettes he sneaks when he's distressed. So see, Fraser's just like Lennon, or that's how I see it anyway.  The guy's so into order because he's disordered.  Follows rules cause he ain't got any of his own.  We all want what we haven't got, and Fraser's no different, I think.  See what he shows you, and you know what he ain't.
I drive slowly to Ray's apartment, park the GTO in his usual spot, and go upstairs to bring him the keys. So when I see him there, on the other side of the door, wearing that nothing look that's all control--
I knock and he answers. I get the picture.
He's just out of the shower, I think--hair still damp, still wet behind the ears.  He's surprised to see me, I think, but still he greets me. "Hey.  You're back."  Fraser, perfectly calm, more calm than he's been in weeks, it seems.  Bad news--must be, gotta be.
"I just wanted to return the keys to your automobile," I explain, and offer them to him.  "And to thank you." "I just wanted to return the keys to your automobile.  And to thank you."   Oh boy.  Automobile, not car.
Ray frowns and absently rubs the towel over his hair.  "So how'd it go?  Or shouldn't I ask?" He's gone polysyllabic.  Nuh-uh, not good.  "So how'd it go?  Or shouldn't I ask?"
"It went very well, I think.  A most enjoyable evening." "It went very well, I think.  A most enjoyable evening."
Ray looks skeptical.  "Uh-huh.  Well, that's good.  You wanna come in?"  He jerks his head toward the living room. Most enjoyable.  Riiight.  That's why you look so fuckin' happy, buddy--I hear the song in your heart.  "You wanna come in?"
"No, I think I'd better be getting back.  I have several important tasks to oversee in the morning." "No, I think I'd better be getting back.  I have several important tasks to oversee in the morning."
He seems disappointed, but I'm hardly fit company at the moment.  My thoughts are whirling, spinning, violent. Worse and worse, but what can I do?  No way I can break through this; he's nearly a machine, he's so locked down.
"Yeah, okay.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon?  I could maybe use you then." "Yeah, okay.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon?  I could maybe use you then."
Of course I'll meet him.  Work is all that makes sense to me now. That gets me a smile.   "Why, certainly, Ray.  I'd be delighted."

The afternoon turns out to be most invigorating.  Ray needs to investigate a list of delivery companies patronized by the mendacious Mr. Wilson.  All is well at the first and second establishments we visit, but the third--it's like stumbling into a den of wild animals.  They look up, their eyes flash, and suddenly the air is full of machine-gun fire. Fuck, I'm sorry I asked!  Wilson's papers throw us a list of delivery companies, and so we go to check them out, right?  First one, check, family business, no problem.  Second one, old, established, everything in order.  Third one--it's like a fucking prison movie in there, three guys and a stolen van, and every one of them a hard-ass felon.
 I dive left, Ray dives right, and then I'm on the floor, hands and knees, my palms scraped.  My heart is pumping wildly, and I scuttle across the floor and take cover behind a wall of filing cabinets.  They reach down, they come up, and they're spraying the air with bullets.  Fraser's a red blur, and I dive sideways myself, and just in time, cause the wall behind me is suddenly full of little holes.
I crouch and peer out on the other side.  They're looking around the room, looking for Ray and me, waving their guns wildly. Hell hell hell hell.  I've lost Fraser, but hey! I've found a two by four.  Mr. Two-By-Four, you are my new best friend.
Cautiously, nervously, they split up, triangulating outwards.  The one who is coming toward me is slow, lazy.  I can handle him easily. I tuck the board under my arm and shimmy under the huge metal desk.  I see feet coming, and I calculate all the angles before making my move.
As I watch, Ray springs out from underneath the desk and takes out the thug closest to him with a two by four.  The board makes a most satisfying sound, and that gives me an idea. HOLY COW, he makes it!  It's up, up, it's away, over the fence, this is a goner, folks, this is a grand slam, a home run, and the crowd goes willllllllllllld!  Ko-wal-ski!  Ko-wal-ski!
When my attacker turns nervously at the sound of Ray's blow, I step out from behind the file cabinets and straighten my hat.  Perhaps he senses my presence, because he turns and stabs the gun in my direction, as if wielding a bayonet. Bang, down, like a sack of potatoes, and I've got his big gun off him before he hits the ground.  I spin, covering the room with it, and fuck me if Fraser isn't standing there, totally unarmed, having a polite chat with a guy carrying a machine gun.
"If you would kindly give me the gun." God, I hate when he does that.
He looks confused, and for a moment I think he's going to open fire.  Quite an exciting thought.  However, I don't give him a moment--I simply reach out, sieze the barrel, yank it out of his sweaty hands, and clobber him with it. Fraser's smiling, and then he's got the gun and he's lifting and BAM! he just nails the sucker like he's playing whack-a-mole. Guy goes down, and now Fraser's doing this precise little military move, revolving the gun and unloading it.
I unload the weapon and put it down.  Ray's got a machine gun trained on the third perpetrator, who turns to flee. Fraser's fine, so I turn my gun on Guy Number Three, who considers the new odds here and runs for it.
I love the chase.  The thrill of the chase is still thrilling. And he's off!--Fraser's off, after him--and so off I go, too.
He's the youngest and most fit of the three, which is just as well--no fun otherwise.  I'm perhaps ten feet behind him when I burst out through the back door, and that fact tells me that I'm faster than he is.  Ah, but he's clever--good boy, he's going up the fire escape, moving vertically.  Points for thinking outside the proverbial box.  When I get to the door I have to stop myself from blinking--cause they're gone, poof, like a magic trick.  Now Fraser's fast but he ain't that fast, not speed of light fast.  But I can't think to where he's gone--until I hear a clang and look up.  The Third Guy's two flights up, on the roof, and Fraser's right behind him.
I like that in a perpetrator. Catchin' up,  too.
I climb quickly and then step onto the roof.  He's there, just a boy, really, standing unsteadily and pointing his gun.  But  I am rock steady.  I smile a bit, and walk toward him, hand extended. I cross the alley and crane my neck to see if I can see something.  Yeah, I barely can--I can see a bit of red serge, Fraser's arm, then a bit of dirty white jumpsuit.  I'm steelin' myself to go up there when--
He's unnerved, because he doesn't understand.  I.  Don't.  Care. Oh my God.  Oh god no oh jeezuz no--no, no, no, no--
He fires then, and I dodge and weave and rush him.  He tightens his finger on the trigger even as I force the barrel down, spraying the tar-paper roof with bullets.  They're bouncing, ricocheting, and they could strike either him or me--it's anyone's game, really.  We lurch from side to side, bullets flying all around us, and then I realize that we're quite near the edge and-- The air is suddenly full of gunfire, and I race for the fire escape, leaping onto the first rung and scrambling upwards.  Christ, and Fraser's unarmed, let him be okay, God, if you can hear me, God, please please please.  Just--take care of him, God, make him bulletproof, God, don't let him be hurt or (killed) or nothing like that, 'cause I just won't survive it.
Oh yes.  Do it. I freeze, clutching the ladder, as they--
---I shove us over it. Oh Jesus....
The free-fall is fucking fantastic!  The scream in my ears is fucking fantastic!  And even the smash, the jolt, as we bang into the awning and then roll, crash hard to the ground, is fucking fantastic!  The world is spinning and I've dislocated my shoulder and I might throw up but who gives a good goddamn?! They blur past me, they're falling, I hear screaming, and then they're hitting the awning and pulling it with them to the ground.  I stare at them, I can't move, I can't breathe, they're not moving.  And then Fraser does move--he lifts his head and rolls onto his back and clutches his stomach in pain--
I'm alive.  I'm really alive. No.   No.
God,  I feel wonderful. I think he's laughing. 
Suddenly Ray is looming above me, spiky yellow hair framed by blue sky.  He looks frightened, and when he touches my face; his hands are absolutely freezing.  "Fraser...?" Way to go, God!  I race down the ladder and drop to my knees beside him--man, he's laughing all right.  His face is flushed and he's breathing like a freight train. "Fraser...?"
I smile at him.  "Hello, Ray."  The light shines through his hair, and the edges gleam gold. His smile is absolutely glorious--god, it's like he's high or something.  "Hello, Ray."
He looks like an angel.  "Fraser, tell me you're all right." "Fraser, tell me you're all right," I beg him.
"I'm fine."  I know that telling him isn't enough, and so I take a deep breath  and sit up.  The world around me looks bright, and new, and beautiful.  "But I suppose we ought to check on our friend there." "I'm fine," Fraser says, and then he's sitting up, looking happy as a clam.  Guy falls off a building, no problem, doesn't even bother to say ouch.  "But I suppose we ought to check on our friend there."
With Ray's attention momentarily distracted, I grab my elbow and shove my shoulder back into place.  It hurts like the dickens, and I see stars, but only for a moment.  The pain fades into a dull ache. A look at "our friend" tells me he hasn't come through this as well as Fraser.  He's breathing, but I can already see that one of his legs is broken.  God knows what kind of internal damage he might have.
Ray turns back to me, concern creasing his fine features.  "I'll call an ambulance." I look back at Fraser--he's sweating a little, but he seems pretty much okay.  "I'll call an ambulance."
"Yes," I agree.  "I think that would be wise."  I look over at the young man and see that his leg is badly broken.  That's a pity indeed.  "Poor man.  It's important to know how to fall." "Yes.  I think that would be wise."  He's coming off of it now, returning to his normal self.  He looks at the other guy and sighs.  "Poor man.  It's important to know how to fall."

I know better than to argue with Ray when he looks at me like this--and so I let the doctors examine me.  I'm bruised, yes, and my shoulder is turning black, but I'm otherwise fine and the doctors pronounce me good to go.  Ray's still edgy, I see, so I decide to be as agreeable as possible.  It's the least I can do, since I worried him so. The doctors cart them all away--the two concussions inside, and Jello Boy, out here on the sidewalk.  Just  because I'm a stubborn bastard, I insist the docs take a hard look at Fraser--and damn if he ain't all bruised up under there.  Plus black around the armpits means dislocated shoulder--I ain't blind or stupid or nothin'.
So I find myself accepting his offer of dinner and television at his apartment.  I suspect he wants to keep an eye on me, but that's all right--there'll be nothing to see.  In any case, I enjoy Ray's company immensely, so it's hardly a punishment. They let him go and I tell him he's coming to my place tonight.  We're gonna chill the fuck out, order a pizza, rest our weary bones.  Plus that way I can keep an eye on him, in case he starts speaking in tongues or nodding out into a coma.
We stop by the Consulate so that I can check on Dief and change my clothes.  Ray dogs my every step--I really must have scared him this afternoon, and for that I am sorry. Fraser wants to stop by the Consulate to check on the wolf and wash up, which is fine but I ain't lettin' him out of my sight.  Thank God, he doesn't argue with me about it. 
I should have considered his feelings.  He's my partner. I think he's sorry about it.  Well, he damn well oughta be.
I pack a few things and then reach for my jacket--which hurts.  Ray sees it, but he just rolls his eyes and says nothing. He changes into jeans and a shirt, wincing a little as he puts on his jacket.  Well, gee.  Why am I not surprised? 
I lock up the Consulate, and we return to the car.  Ray drives us home, and he must feel better, because he's humming softly. The car feels like halfway home, and my spirits lift.  I look across and Fraser's there, banged up but okay, and that helps, too.
Upstairs, in his apartment, Ray orders a pizza and then goes to change his own clothes.  I drift to the television and flip it on. I order us a pizza and then go off to wash and change my clothes.  In the living room, I can hear Fraser flipping channels. 
He calls to me from the bedroom, his voice oddly muffled.  "Anything good on?"  "Hey--anything good on?"  I yell to him as I pull a clean t-shirt on over my head.
I consider the question  as I search. "No.  Not really." It takes him a moment to answer.  "No.  Not really."
He's smiling as he wanders out of the bedroom,, and he takes the remote control from my hand.  He flips his glasses onto his face and stands there, majestic, working his way up from 02. I grin to myself--god only knows what that means.  I go collect the remote control so I can see for myself.  Maybe Fraser can jump off buildings, but I'm still king of the remote in my own house.
Ray stops at 19 and gives a little exhalation of delight.  I glance at the television and see John Lennon. Hey!  John Lennon:  Behind The Music--a two hour special, yet.  Nothing on--well, what does he know?
The man was a wifebeater and a heroin addict.  Hardly a role model. Triumphantly, I throw down the remote control.  Case closed.
Still, it makes Ray happy, so we sit down on the sofa to watch it.  Three slices of pizza later and I'm full and surprisingly groggy. We sprawl out to watch it, and when the pizza comes I drag it over to the television, so I don't have to miss nothing.
Lennon's reedy voice keeps lulling me nearly to sleep--I keep catching myself, though once I was nearly napping on Ray's shoulder. But Fraser's nodding in and out--and that ain't good, not yet, not so early.  He keeps sliding onto my shoulder, and then snapping awake.
I awake again to find the room quiet, and Ray glaring at me. Sighing, I flick the television off, and give Fraser a shove.
"You can't sleep yet, Fraser." "You can't sleep yet, Fraser."
"Yes, I know," I admit guiltily. He looks embarrassed.  "Yes, I know."
"I need you awake to see if your brain's working right." "I need you awake to see if your brain's working right."
"Yes.  I know.  I'm sorry." "Yes.  I know. I'm sorry."
Ray looks at me thoughtfully and I feel terribly guilty.  He's my partner, and I've been such a burden to him.  I stare at him and consider the problem.  TV's putting him to sleep--I need to keep his brain engaged for a while.
Suddenly he quirks a smile, snaps his fingers, and gets up.  He disappears into the bedroom, and I sit up, my interest piqued. Wait--I got it.  If it's still there.  I think she left it--now where did I see it?  Closet.  Bedroom closet.  Top shelf.  Dusty but useable.
He returns carrying a battered game of Scrabble. Scrabble.  So okay.  Let's see what he's got.

All right, I admit it--I'm intrigued.  The box is old, and more than a bit dusty, but the corners have been reinforced more than a few times with now-yellowed scotch tape.  In other words, this set has been used, and used often.  I look up at Ray, who is frowning, glasses perched on the edge of his nose, contemplating his letters, arms crossed over his chest.  He knows how to play--he really knows how to play.  I sneak a glance at the score sheet--it's worse than I thought.  We've had six turns each, and he's just creaming me--104 to 57.  I'm not sure exactly what I'm doing wrong. 
Wow, he sucks.  He really sucks.  And what's funny is that he sucks in just the same way Stella sucked.  I used to be able to beat Stella's skinny lawyer ass by a hundred and fifty points, maybe more.  Fraser's got the same disease--he's got to be clever.  Clever people shouldn't play Scrabble.  Me, I'm the king of the four letter word--in more ways than one.  While they're trying to get thorax onto the board, I'm playing J and K and Z and hogging all the triple word scores, game over.  I mean, look at this damn board.  He's left me the G, the K, the A--I could spit on this board and earn 50 points. 
Just as I'm ready to give up, Ray sighs, throws his glasses down onto the table, leans forward, and begins to explain. "Fraser, listen up, okay?  Cause I'm only gonna say this once. Let me preface my remarks with 'you suck'--and lemme tell you why."
"Contrary to what you're thinkin', this is not a game of vocabulary, but a game of strategy, okay?  Like GENERA--whatever the fuck that is--is all well and good, but it's earned you a total of 7 points, which is pathetic, all right?  These letters are worth points, and you wanna be sticking the high ones on those little colored tiles that say DOUBLE  and TRIPLE SCORE, okay?  You also wanna be stopping me from doing the same thing, which you ain't at all.  Right now, I can have any corner I want--so if I do this--here--see--now I've got JACK.  Nice four letter word. Jack is worth 18 points by itself, plus the J is on a triple, so call it 19 times 3 equals 57.  And that ain't even thinkin'--that's just picking letters practically at random."
Oh.  Oh, I see.  I understand now--of course. I look at him closely--he's nodding, he's gets it.
"All right.  So if I understand you correctly--then--perhaps--I should do something like this?  I add an H and an A to the G and make HAG.  H is 4, A is 1, G is 2...multiply that by three for the triple word score...and that's twenty-one points.  I've used two tiles, gained twenty-one, and I've also successfully blocked you from using that space.  Have I got it?  Is that right?" 
Boy does he get it.
I look up at Ray for confirmation and find that he's grinning at me.  I grin back. Attaboy, Fraser--I love you. Now we're cookin'--now we've got a fucking game.

What a marvelous game.  Ray won, of course, but I managed to close the gap to within a hundred points, which seemed a reasonable goal.  And Ray appeared pleased with my efforts--certainly, he seemed to approach the second part of our match with considerable interest. So yeah, I beat him, but not nearly as bad as I used to beat Stella in the old days.  First of all, I'm rusty.  But second, Fraser--unlike Stella--may be teachable, might be a good player yet.  We let the game stand, as a testament to our greatness, and clean up from dinner.
Ray throws away the paper plates and leftover pizza while I wash and dry the glasses we used.  My mind is still on the game--I can't wait to play it again, now that I fully understand the rules. Meanwhile, I'm rehearsing for our next big fight--he's gotta take the bed, no question.  He won't want to, he never wants to, but bein' that he fell off a building today I just gotta insist.
I dry my hands on Ray's tea towel and turn to him. I guess maybe I should just spit it out and hold my ground.
"Fraser," Ray says, "take the bed and don't argue with me." He turns and I say:  "Fraser, take the bed and don't argue with me."
"Ray..." I protest. He shakes his head.  "Ray..."
"Take the bed and don't argue with me.  Take the bed and don't argue with me.  Take the bed and don't argue with me. And again--take the bed and don't argue with me.  And once again, to grow on--take the bed--" "Take the bed and don't argue with me.  Take the bed and don't argue with me.  Take the bed and don't argue with me. And again--take the bed and don't argue with me.  And once again, to grow on--take the bed--"
Ray can be so damned infuriating.  "All right, all right, all right.  I'll take the bed.  I won't argue with you." "All right, all right, all right.  I'll take the bed.  I won't argue with you."  Great--and all I had to do was bust a lung.
He looks relieved, then swings his arms upward and stretches.  "Good.  Great.  Go.  Goodnight.  Adios, nice knowin' ya, get out of here. Bye." "Good.  Great.  Go.  Goodnight."  I stretch and wave him toward my bedroom door.  "Adios, nice knowin' ya, get out of here.  Bye."
What's your hurry?  Here's your hat.  I smile, turn and walk into his bedroom.  The bed seems huge, unbelievably luxurious. He takes the hint and finally splits.   I check the door, turn out the lights and stretch out on the sofa with a pillow and a blanket.
I  fall asleep thinking of words containing the letters J, X and Z. All in all, gunfire and terror aside, it's turned out to be a pretty nice day.

Maybe it's the couch, but I wake up the next day earlier than he does.  The couch is narrow, and I'm more than a bit cramped, but all and all I'm glad it's me out here instead of him. 
I dislocated my shoulder once, and I know he'll be feeling it this morning, whether he shows it or not.  Bastard thing hurts like a motherfucker.
I try to stretch out, but I'm jammed into too small a space.  It's time for wakey-wakey, so I heave myself up to my feet and stretch and then I feel better.
I go for a pee and that helps, too.  I peek into my room on the way back, and yeah, Fraser's still zonked out, one arm draped across his chest.  At least he looks comfortable.
I glance at the clock on my way to the kitchen--it's just a little past seven, so I can give him another half-hour or so.  I set the coffee going--cause I can't even make it out for coffee before coffee--and then pad over to the kitchen table as the warm, coffee smell fills the room.
Now this is where I freak out.
I'm--like--a hundred percent sure that we left the Scrabble board as it was at the end of the game.  Full, and with all those dumb words on it: laicize, genera, antic.  Except now, the center of the board has been cleared away--except for two words.
HELP BENTON.  Or maybe it's BENTON, HELP!  Either way I don't like it, I really don't like it, not least of which because I can't for the life of me figure out how it got there.  I mean, yeah, sure, Fraser could've maybe gotten up in the middle of the night and spelled his own name out, wanting to see it in lights or something.  But that don't strike me as likely.  And then why--HELP?  HELP isn't a bad word per se, a good four letter one and nine points--plus it's on a double letter for the H which brings it up to thirteen.   In fact, wait--BENTON is on the center star, which means double word, so the whole thing actually comes out to twenty-nine--not bad at all, really.  Though of course it would have taken two turns to get down.
I dream of my father.  At least I think  it's a dream.  He's standing in the snow, wearing his casual uniform, the mountains of the North ranging behind him.  He looks oddly worried, almost imploring.  His lips are moving, though I hear no sound, which is strange.  Normally I can't not hear him, even when I don't want to hear him.  But now  he looks like he's trying to tell me something urgent, something very important indeed. "Dad, I can't hear you," I say, and I step closer to him, hand cupping my ear.  Snow crunches under my boots.  "Dad?  Dad, I'm sorry.  I can't hear you.  I can't--"
Which doesn't at all answer the question of how it got there, or what the fuck it means.  HELP BENTON or BENTON, HELP!--either way it's scaring the pants offa me.  I've never been much for that oujia board crap, or the Psychic Friends' Network, but somehow--like--I'm sure this ain't coming from Frase or me.  And that's freaky---freaky, freaky, freaky.  I mean, I know Fraser's good and all, but he's gonna be really overworked if he has to start being Supercop in both this world and the next.  And if it's the other way--the HELP BENTON way--well, how the royal fuck am I supposed to do that?  I reach out, and pick his name off the board.  It puts me into a panic just seein' it there.
When I wake up, I can't remember where I am for a moment.  Oddly, it's my nose that provides the answer:  this bed smells like Ray, ergo it's Ray's bed.  I realize that I can really stretch out on this gigantic mattress, and so I take advantage of the opportunity and do.  It feels good to move my sore muscles, and just as I'm enjoying that sensation, my nose reports in with further information.  Ray's making coffee.  I've never been a coffee drinker, but then again, I've never smelled freshly brewed coffee first thing in the morning.  It does smell most delicious.  Perhaps I should have a cup, in the spirit of things.  I get out of bed and rub carefully at my shoulder, which still aches badly.  Perhaps a hot shower will help.
I pick through the letters, now piled in one corner of the box, and pull out an O and a W.  HOW? I spell out, hooking onto the H from HELP.  Cause that's the question, ain't it, either way--"how can he help you?" or "how can I help him?  In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, I got another question--so I search through the letters till I find the other H and then add that and a Y onto the board, too.  There.  That's about all I can do at the minute, unless I'm gonna call a medium or something, which I ain't gonna do quite yet.  There's a little noise, now, from the bedroom--Fraser's up, I guess.  Part of me wants to tell him about this, but a bigger part of me don't, so I guess I'll keep my big mouth shut for the moment.
Ray's standing by the kitchen table, looking tired and a little lost.  I presume he hasn't had his coffee yet.  Ray doesn't do very well until he's had his morning cup of coffee.  "Ray?  Do you mind if I use your shower?"  When I look up, Fraser's standing in the bedroom doorway in his boxer shorts and undershirt.  I step away from the table and try to look as normal as possible.  He asks me if he can take a shower, like I'm gonna say no.
"Sure, man.  Help yourself.  Towels in the closet." "Sure, man.  Help yourself.  Towels in the closet."
Ray waves me toward the linen closet and I fetch myself a towel.  The shower is hot, the pressure excellent, and the stream of water against my shoulder really eases the pain.  I think again of my foolhardy desire to acquire a wife, and realize that--if I'm honest--Ray Kowalski is the real reason I like Chicago so much.  Sometimes I tell myself that he needs me, but that is a lie.  He doesn't need me--it's me who needs him.  I've never had such a friend before, and I doubt I'm likely to have another like him.  Whereas he--well, he'd do just fine without me, I think.  Better, perhaps.
He goes to take his shower and I get a cup of coffee. I chug the first mug and pour myself a second, and then decide to just skip the shower and get dressed--and then I look down at the Scrabble board and fucking drop the fucking coffee, which fucking shatters and splatters but who gives a flying fuck!  BENTON LOVES DEATH, it says, and there ain't no way I can convince myself it's the opposite, though DEATH LOVES BENTON don't give me the warm fuzzies neither.  I strike the table so hard that the pieces leap off the fucking board, which is fine, good, great by me. 
I hear a crash and quickly switch off the faucet.  "Natural Bullshit!" Ray is yelling, rather inexplicably.  I call out to him.  "Ray?  Are you all right?"  For a moment there is no answer and then he yells, "I'm fine, I'm fine!"  I listen closely for another second but I don't hear anything, so I switch the shower on again and quickly rinse myself.  FUCKING SUPERNATURAL BULLSHIT! and then damn, I hear his voice and realize that I've been yelling this crazy-ass shit aloud.  "I'm fine, I'm fine!" I yell to him and then I realize that my socks are soaked with coffee, which is everywhere, plus pieces of mug and what the fuck does that mean--BENTON LOVES DEATH?
I dry and dress myself, then rapidly gather my things.  Ray may want the use of his bathroom some time this century. I grab the Fantastic and some paper towels but goddammit, my hands are shaking.  Get a grip, boy.  Get a grip.
I find Ray crouched by the kitchen table, scrubbing at the wood floor with a wad of paper towel.  "Everything all right?" I ask him. A minute or two later, Fraser appears at the door again, this time dressed and carrying his gear, though his hair is wet.  "Everything all right?"
"Yeah, fine, I dropped the coffee."  He stands up, tosses the sodden paper into the trash, and puts down the spraybottle of cleanser.  Then he looks at me.  "Fraser.  Leave your stuff here." I stand up and mumble, "Yeah, fine, dropped the coffee."  And then suddenly my mouth's goin' someplace without letting my brain know and I blurt, "Fraser.  Leave your stuff here."
For a moment I can't think what he means.  He looks back at me, puzzled.  "Pardon?"
"Your stuff.  Leave it here.  Come back tonight."  A moment later he's moving forward, bouncing on the balls of his feet like a pugilist.  "Rematch, buddy.  You and me, here, tonight.  I'll give you a second bite at the apple, okay?" "Your stuff.  Leave it here.  Come back tonight."  Suddenly I realize how totally weird that sounds, but wait, I got it, I'm there, I got it.  "Rematch, buddy.  You and me, here, tonight.  I'll give you a second bite at the apple, okay?"
Oh.  He means Scrabble.  Yes, I would very much like such a rematch.  He smiles and I'm near-woozy with relief.  Benton loves death.  Help Benton. 
I can't wait. Jesus Christ.

Perhaps Ray didn't sleep well last night.  Perhaps it was the sofa, though I've always found it to be comfortable enough.  But he's definitely--edgy, I suppose, is the word I want.  I suppose it could be the case.  It seemed simple enough at first, but there have been several complications.  Mendacious Mr. Wilson led us to EZ Delivery, now EZ Delivery seems to be leading us toward a Mr. Charles Latham. All day it runs through my head, Benton Loves Death, Death Loves Benton, Benton Loves Death, Death Loves Benton, until I'm nearly outta my mind.  I can hardly concentrate on anything, and plus this whole Wilson case is violent, sad, bad news, which scares the hell outta me, cause you don't want to be dealin' with violent fucks when your head's not screwed on straight, which mine is definitely not.
While Mr. Latham has no known history of criminal activity, there is something deeply suspicious in the way that he has distanced himself from the delivery business he owns.  It suggests method.  I think it highly likely that he was responsible in some fashion for the three murders that occurred at The Country Kitchen.  I know I shouldn't jump to conclusions like that until all the facts are in. Still, though--it does seem highly likely. Late in the afternoon it comes through that the guy who owns the delivery company that Jello-Boy used to work for is one Mr. Charles Latham.  This was kind of a difficult thing to find out since the guy stuck the business in shell after shell.  I can see why, too, because EZ Delivery was the worst kind of racket and Mr. Latham's apparently so clean that he squeaks.  Or at least he ain't got a record, which is near to the same thing in this town.
In any case, a visit to Mr. Latham seems warranted, though Ray is strangely reluctant.  I suppose it's because he's so tired--like any of us, Ray prefers to be at the top of his game when confronting criminals.  Fairly, it couldn't be said that either of us is on top of our game at the moment, unless of course the game is Scrabble.  Ray is clearly tired, and I myself am still sore.  Still, it's what we do. So Welsh says, "Go talk to Latham." Except I don't want to, I really don't want to.  Because I'm half out of my mind already and Fraser's right here and I can't figure out a way not to take him with me.  And I don't wanna take him with me.  Mr. Latham, I figure, ain't gonna be happy that we've connected him to EZ Delivery, and I'm betting dollars to donuts that he's gonna turn out to be a nut.
I'm perfectly happy to take this duty upon myself, and tell Ray so, gently suggesting that perhaps he might return home for a short nap. But Fraser's got his hat on and then he says, nail in the coffin, "If you're not feeling well, Ray, I could have a chat with Mr. Latham myself."
He shakes his head, gets up, and checks his gun. So now I gotta go.  God help us both.

Mr. Latham has certainly done very well for himself, but I'd be more inclined to appreciate his lakeview property if I didn't suspect that he'd acquired it through graft, greed, and multiple murder. The man himself looks like the picture of gentility, soft and pampered, but there's a steel glint in his eye that warns me not to take the surface picture as a given.  There's not much this man isn't capable of. Turns out we need God's help more than I could ever have anticipated.  Latham lives in this huge fucking house on the lake, all iron fences and landscaping and huge glass windows lookin' out on the water.  The house is decorated with more gold leaf than I ever saw outside of St. Mary's Church, and Latham's clothes cost maybe a thousand bucks, unless he shops discount, which I doubt.
However, he preserves the niceties smoothly enough, offering us our choice of carved wood chairs, tea or coffee.  Ray shakes his head and then begins to ask him questions, easily, elliptically. He invites us to sit down, offers us coffee, which we turn down.  I decide to go at the thing in a roundabout way, sorta dodging and weaving and sliding up to it.  Some bases you gotta steal.
I rather enjoy watching Ray play "dumb cop."  He's scratching his head and flipping back and forth through his notebook like he couldn't remember his questions unless they were written down.  Finally, he gets near to the heart of the matter:  EZ Delivery, The Country Kitchen. So I play dumb and ask him if he owns a company called EZ Delivery, like I don't know that already for sure.  He says he thinks he might, like he's not sure he remembers, and I say, "Oh? Yeah? Well, see, a couple of guys from EZ Delivery killed a couple of guys at The Country Kitchen."
Mr. Latham doesn't bat an eye, which I think is suspicious in itself.  He offers, however, to pull his business records, and Ray agrees before I have a chance to-- No response, not that that means anything.  Latham just shakes his head and offers to give us his business files.  Yeah, sure, I say, and he moves to his desk--
I leap up and interpose myself between Latham and Ray. The gun is huge, chrome-plated and shiny, an antique I think. Fraser's on his feet and forward, he's gotten it before I did, but he's still not fast enough and now Latham's got a gun.
Latham looks at Ray and growls,  "Move and I'll shoot him." My hand's on my gun when Latham says, "Move and I'll shoot him."
I sigh and shake my head, then extend my hand. I freeze, still clutching the handle.
"Mr. Latham, if you would give me the gun."  Latham sneers at me, lips curling, and I recognize the look--it is the look of a hunter.  Latham thinks he's the hunter, thinks that Ray and I are the prey.  He's wrong, of course, but his ego may be something I can use against him. My stomach falls onto the floor as I hear Fraser calmly ask for the gun.  I can't see Fraser's face but I can see Latham's face, and this guy won't give it up, this guy's the real deal, arrogant and egotistical and thinks he can get away with shooting two nothing cops like us.
The key thing, I find, is to keep perfectly calm. This will show him that he can't win. Benton loves death.  Benton loves death.  Like a flash, I get it, I don't want it but I get it.
Even if he shoots me, Ray will drop him in a matter of mere sec-- This isn't work for him.  On some level, Fraser's looking to get killed.
Suddenly I'm blind--I've got blood in my eyes--and I drop and roll for cover, scrubbing furiously at my face.  My hands, I see my hands, I can see my hands now, and they're red, bloody, red with blood, smell the blood--am I shot?  I look around wildly for Ray, my heart exploding, and see him standing there, calm as anything, holding his gun in both hands.  I jerk at the bang even though I know it's me.  For a second I think I've got it wrong though, because Fraser's on the ground first, and I'll eat my gun if I've shot him by mistake.  But no--I see it now--Latham's got a big fucking hole in his chest and he's crumpling.  I look down at Fraser, whose face is spattered with blood, but it's Latham's not his own.
Christ, I love him, I love him, I love him! He looks--ecstatic.
Ray reholsters his gun and then comes to help me up.  I'm dizzy, the world is spinning, I can barely find my feet but his arm is strong.  A few deep breaths and things steady a bit, though the adrenaline in my system makes everything bright and sharp. When I go to help him up, Fraser's shaking, but he's not shaking for the same reasons I'm shaking, I don't think.  Fact is, some part of me's wonderin' if he's come in his pants.  This is more than loving death, this is fucking death, for god's sake.
He holds me till I come down.  God, I adore the fucking ground he walks on. "Fuck" isn't in the dictionary unfortunately, but if it was, it'd be worth 13 points.

Things soon grow mundane again, and we are immersed in the details of police work.  I bear it, and it ends soon enough, but I'm exhausted when Ray wheels on me in the car. I wait until he's cleaned up, till the backup arrives, till the statements are made and we're in the car going 65 mph before I let loose with the million dollar question.
"Fraser?  Are you happy?" "Fraser?  Are you happy?"
For a moment I can't process the question.  "What?" He looks at me like I'm speaking Latin.  "What?"
"Are you happy, I said." "Are you happy, I said."
What kind of question is that?  "Am I happy?" "Am I happy?" Fraser repeats.
"Are you happy, yeah."  Dear God, he's in a dogged mood. "Are you happy, yeah."  I'm not lettin' this go.  Woof, woof.
"It's a ridiculous question." "It's a ridiculous question."
"Fraser." "Fraser."
"Yes, certainly." "Yes, certainly."
"Fraser." "Fraser."
"Of course.  Usually.  My share." "Of course.  Usually.  My share."
"Fraser." "Fraser."
Why is he pushing this?  "All right!" I exclaim angrily.  "No!  Not particularly, though I do try to appreciate what day to day life has to offer." Suddenly his eyes are blazing. "All right, no--not particularly," he almost snarls, "though I do try to appreciate what day to day life has to offer."
I don't know what I expected him to say to that, but Ray just nods and turns back to his driving. Finally.  Jesus.  And all I had to do was shoot a guy, lock Fraser in the car, and bust a lung.
"Right.  Good.  That's what I figured." "Right.  Good.  That's what I figured."

I don't think I want to go back to Ray's but I don't know how to say no.  He saved my life.  He was magnificent and he saved my life.  But that doesn't entitle him--that doesn't mean--he can't ask me such questions. We stop by the Consulate and do the Dief thing and the clothes thing.  The way Fraser's going through uniforms this week, he's--yeah, I called it, he's going for the brown one, packing it up in a bag.
Or does it mean precisely that? He's dragging his feet but tough shit.
This having a friend thing, I'm not at all sure that I like it.  I've let too much slip,  Ray knows far too much,  knows me much too well. Finally Fraser slings his bag over his good shoulder and follows. He probably feels like he can't say no, since I saved his life and everything.
We return to Ray's apartment and I buy myself some time alone by going to take another shower.  I have blood in my hair, and thinking about it makes my head spin. I drive us back to my place and Fraser avoids me by asking to take another shower.  Okay, granted, he needs another shower--but the timing is suspicious.
It seems a lifetime ago that I was here. At least it gives me a minute to think.
Why did he ask me if I were happy?  What has he seen, what does he know?  That question--it's almost enough to make me wonder if he sees in me what Victoria saw in me.  If he knows, like she did, what I'm really like--underneath.  Victoria--while, of course, psychotic and mean as they come--was terribly clever.  What an  eye she had for weakness! All right, what do I know, what do I know?  Fraser's not happy, Fraser's an adrenaline junkie, Fraser wants a woman, Fraser loves death.  Okay, the first thing is true, the second thing is definitely true, the third thing I'm not sure about though.  I'm no logician or nothing but if Fraser wants a woman and Fraser loves death than death is a woman, right?
It's what makes her who she is. Wait, wait.  Cha-ching!
It makes me crave her. Female! Mid-thirties! Brunette! Slim! Olive-skinned! Long, thick hair!
My chest tightens, it hurts to breathe--dear God, I still crave her.  I try and I try and still it comes back to her, my Victoria. Right, that's it, that's where this started, I'm a moron.  It all starts and ends with that woman--Veronica Something.
I doubt I shall ever see her like again.  It was the perfect time, the perfect place--and I blew it.  Twice. So all I have to do is introduce Fraser to a nice brunette who wants to kill him.  Solve everything.  Greatness.

I put on my sleepwear in order to send the message that I am not up for an extended conversation.  In fact, I've even lost my desire to play Scrabble tonight.  He comes back from the shower wearing his boxer shorts and t-shirt, hair wet and slicked back.  For a deranged, jilted lunatic with a death-wish, he looks great.
I practice the words in my head:  I'm very tired, Ray. Perhaps some other time. Me, I'm a guy with no plan.  Except I did get Chinese food, which is something at least
But when I come out of the bedroom there's no sign of the Scrabble board.  Ray's sitting on the sofa, eating Chinese food off the coffee table.  He looks up at me and waves me over.  "I got you that--whatever.  That stuff.  With the vegetables."  I sit down next to him and he pushes a paper carton toward me. "I got you that--whatever.  That stuff."  I know perfectly well what it's called--fuck, I ordered the shit over the phone--but sometimes it don't pay to seem too smart.  "With the vegetables."  Fraser comes over, looks at the food, and instantly sits.  I can see he's damn hungry--I think I made the right call.
And then, to my surprise, Ray nudges an open bottle of beer toward my plate. Lemme try to make it two for two.  I slide a beer over toward him;  it glides on a wet spot.
"Ray," I chide.  "You know I don't drink." He frowns at it.  "Ray, you know I don't drink."
"I know," Ray replies, grinning at me.  "I just think you should.  So Fraser--this is a beer."  He waves his hand.  "Beer, this is Fraser." "I know."  And I do, but like I said, sometimes it don't pay.  "I just think you should.  So Fraser--this is a beer.  Beer, this is Fraser."
The formal introduction is quirky and odd and funny and makes me smile despite myself. He looks down at the beer, up at me, and then suddenly he's smiling.   I'm two for two.
Ray laces his fingers, leans toward me and says, "Fraser, I been beatin' my brains out about how to help you but I ain't got a clue.  I wish I did but I don't.  I just got this one thing to offer you, and so here it is:  I think you'd be happier if you drank more.  Day you've had today--I'd drink a lot.  So I figure we'll start you with a beer and maybe next week--martinis.  How does that sound?" This is my best shot, right here, so I take it.  "Fraser, I been beatin' my brains out about how to help you but I ain't got a clue.  I wish I did but I don't.  I just got this one thing to offer you, and so here it is:  I think you'd be happier if you drank more.  Day you've had today--I'd drink a lot.  So I figure we'll start you with a beer and maybe next week--martinis.  How does that sound?"
I take it for what it is--a comic turn.  He's sweet to do it, and it would be churlish not to reply in kind.  So I smile and I nod and I reach for the bottle, taking a swig and then wiping the foam from my lips with the back of my hand. He gets it, he's smiling, we're cool.  Then--whoa, boy--Fraser reaches for the bottle and puts it to his lips and tilts up--and I got this weird, tingly feeling all over.  Like Fraser probably gets when somebody's about to blow his head off. 
Ray grins at me and he's tense, taut, feral.  I can picture him holding his gun and I shiver. He's slowly wiping his lips and looking at me and, damn, if Fraser only did guys--
I wonder, idly, if I could take him. Now there's an idea.
I'm 20 pounds heavier but he's tough and he's quick and he's cagey-- Fraser, old buddy, I could blow your  head off in a whole new way.
So maybe.  And maybe not. I swallow.  My throat is dry--hurts. 
"Benton," Ray says, and his voice is soft and sort of dangerous, "I really think you ought to go on a bender every now and again." "Benton," I say, (Benton? Where the hell did that come from?)  "I really think you ought to go on a bender every now and again."
A bender?  I laugh a little:  the word is charmingly quaint.  I grant it might be fun, under the right circumstances, to go on a "bender" with Ray. I'm saying "bender" but  I'm thinking:  You ought to get laid, Benton.  In fact, come to think of it, you ought to do it with me.
Ray's grin is growing, and he's getting that gritty cowboy look I love so well, that suits him so. I shot a man through the heart today.  I communed with the dead via Scrabble board.
I'm totally unprepared for what he does next. So what the fuck.  I grab him and lay one on him.

Oh My Dear God.  Ray-- He-- I--  His mouth is-- His hands are--  He's got my-- I can feel his--his-- Oh shit, what the hell am I supposed to do about this? Bang! he freezes, he stiffens, it's like kissing a freakin' wall.  Still, whatever, I do my bit, I move my mouth against his, mainly because he tastes so fucking fantastic.
Finally Ray pulls away, and smiles, and shrugs, like this was a totally normal thing to have happened between us, like this is something he does every Thursday evening. When I pull away he's staring at me like he's never seen me before, which I guess maybe this part of me he hasn't.  Okay, well, whoops.  He's totally straight. 
God, does he do this every Thursday evening?! I guess I shoulda stuck with the drinking thing.
Maybe he does--he's so damn casual about it!  "Hey,  sorry," he says. "Just an idea, never mind." "Hey, sorry," I say, wincing a little;  oh, this was top ten stupid.  "Just an idea, never mind."
Just an idea?!?   What kind of idea is this? I pull away from him, try to give him some space.
He's backing away from me--wait, wait, not so fast, cowboy.  I reach out and fist his shirt with my hand. But he grabs me, stops me, holds me in place--so hey, I get it, this is what they call "arm's length."  Neat.
I find I don't know what to say.  "No, I just...I never...I didn't...I hadn't didn't occur to me that..." He's entered the babbling stage.  He never thought, he never dreamed, he's never had a gay thought in his pretty little head. 
Ray groans softly.  "Yeah, I can see that, Fraser." Just my luck, too.  "Yeah, I can see that, Fraser."
"You were married," I hedge. He looks so confused.  "You were married."
"And divorced." "And divorced."
"Oh." "Oh." 
"Right."  Ray's squirming, he looks miserable.  "So I take you've never...uh..." "Right."  I should just stick to killing people.  It's easier. "So I take you've never...uh..."
 I can't look at him. "No."  Honest to God.  "Never even..." "No."  Fraser's flushed and staring at his lap.  "Never even..."
Ray's voice is kind.  "Yeah, well, it's okay, forget it." I try to let him off the hook.  "Yeah, well, it's okay, forget it."
"It was --um--a  nice thought."  God, I sound like an idiot. "It was --um--a  nice thought," Fraser says politely.
"Yeah, well, I'm just that kind of guy." "Yeah, well, I'm just that kind of guy."
I don't want to hurt his feelings.  "Just that I never--"  "Just that I never--"  He's still trying to explain.
"Really, I got it, Fraser.  It's okay." "Really, I got it, Fraser.  It's okay."
"It never even occurred to me that--that you and I--that you and I could--" "It never even occurred to me that--that you and I--that you and I could--"
It never occurred to me.  It never occurred to me.  And even now, it's as if I'm not letting it occur to me, as if I'm refusing to engage the question.  It has never occurred to me that Ray and I--that we could--well--have sex together.  Make love together.  Be sexual together--carnal, even.  Ray would, I'm sure, be carnal.  I--do like that thought.  Rather a lot.  I think--I think it's occurring to me. I suppose I'll just have to let him talk it out.  I guess it's a trauma for him.  Which I suppose I can see--you're hanging out, eating your sauteed string beans, and your best friend comes on to you.  Makes a guy question some things.  Not me, of course.  When it happened to me it made my whole life make sense.  Or as much sense as it could make, being that it's my life and everything put together. 
And I do--I do love him.  I knew that already;  that was already a conscious thought.  So if I love him, if I do love him, and I do love him, then-- Suddenly I tune into what he's actually saying.  Fraser is staring at me and he's murmuring, "I do love you, I do so love you..."
I move my face close to his and close my eyes. I hold my breath and go very still.

I brush his mouth with my own and it's almost a dare--just to see if I can, just to make myself do it.  I can do it, I can breach this boundary, this morality, and that in itself feels very exciting.  It's not a kiss precisely--he just touches his mouth to mine and pulls away.  Still, it's something, though--it's a start, anyway--and it can't be so bad because he's back in a second and trying again.
I try again, go back for more--dip in to feel his lips, their texture, their shape.  They're different--dryer, harder--and I can feel rough stubble at the edges. I try to stay real calm--calm and still.  Don't wanna frighten the horses, but Christ, I could grab him, I could tongue him, I could do him, I want it so much.
This, too, is exciting;  this is very exciting;  I can hear my heart speed up and my blood pound.  I've felt this way so rarely--I've had but two lovers, Elizabeth and Victoria, the saint and the demon--that it feels more natural to name this feeling "fear" and not "lust". He's staying longer and longer each time--first brushing my lips with his, then tracing the contours, and now pressing--he's pressing his mouth to mine.  Still, he's hesitant, tentative, like he's exploring, and I gotta just chill out and let him set the pace and--
But this is lust, and I like it.  This is Ray and I like it--I like him.  I want more, I want to go further-- He's cupping my head, god, he's pulling me in.  We have forward momentum, boys and girls, we have--
I touch the tip of my tongue to his lips and shudder.  His lips part-- His wet tongue is tracing my lips--I open my mouth for him--
--and I slide in, I pull him close and slide in, and this is a real kiss now, he's kissing me for real, now, hot and wet and-- Christ, he's in, his tongue is in my mouth and I let myself kiss back, kiss back, kiss back, kiss him over and over until--
Oh yes.  Yes.  I want more of this.  I want all of this. Fraser pulls away, panting and breathless, face intense.
Ray shows me a slow, knowledgeable grin. I grin at him, thinking c'mon, c'mon, take it.
And I slowly grin back. He looks at me, and his eyes--glitter.

I pin him with my weight so that he's still.  All I have on Ray is 20 pounds, so I figure I'd better use them now.  I trap him against the sofa back and lean in close.  I smell his breath, his hair gel, his shaving cream--good, strong smells now that he's near.  I can't stop myself, I lean forward and trace his face with the tip of my tongue.  Tastes, textures--the bristle of beard disappears as I move up his cheek, the thin skin of his nose, more softness and hardness and roughness on the other side.  When he comes back, and pushes me hard against the sofa, I figure that we're gonna do some serious necking here, which is fine by me.  But he doesn't--he just brings his face close and stops, and then suddenly he's trailing the tip of his tongue all over my face.  A wet streak glides up my jaw, across my cheek, up over the bridge of my nose and down the other side of my face.  I'm fucking gasping from it, my dick is rock hard and pounding in my jeans, my muscles twitching with shocked delight.
He gasps, a sweet sound.  It draws me back to his mouth.  He's panting, now--I can feel his breath on my lips.  I breathe him in, knowing that he's taking my breath in return.  I open my eyes and look at his mouth and feel a shock of desire--truly shocking.  I never thought of this, and yet--how wonderful, how perfect it all is. I lean forward, wetting his lips for him. The cool air dries the traces of him across my face as he comes back to my mouth.  Now! I'm thinking. Now he's gotta kiss me.  But again he doesn't--again, he comes close, but he stays away, an inch away.  He's so close I can feel his breath, feel him inhaling me, exhaling against me.  His tongue comes out, hot, heavy, and warm, and strokes across my lips. 
He leans forward--hm! cheeky, aggressive,(unsurprising, really)--and quickly I pull back, denying him.  He wants me to kiss him, I think.  But I won't yet.  Right now I have another goal--to coax the tongue out of his mouth. I lean forward--I want it, I want it in me--but he tilts back, doesn't let me close the distance.  I stop, and he leans forward again, and again stops short.  His tongue darts out again, this time to nudge and caresses my lower lip.
Come on, Ray.  Come on. Let me have it. I--  I--  God, wait, I get it.  He's inviting me to play.
Finally he understands and pushes his tongue out of his mouth, sending it to meet mine.  The feel of that muscle arouses me deeply--its strength, its slick heat, the profound intimacy of the gesture.  I think this act arouses him as well;  his tongue caresses and provokes, licks and teases.  It's almost too much pleasure to bear.  I tighten my hand on his shoulder, and beneath my fingertips I can feel him-- So I play, I slide my own tongue out of my mouth to touch his--and Fraser moans a little and shudders.  Christ, this is the hottest thing that I've ever done in my entire life--we're licking each other, playing tongue-hockey, out in the open air.  With my eyes closed, I can feel nothing but his tongue against mine, his hand tight on my shoulder holding me back and still.  His tongue is muscular, hot, wet, and I--
He's shaking. I--
Ray is shaking; trembling; dear God, he's close, I can feel it.  But he's fighting it, fighting hard, trying to beat it down by sheer-- I won't make it if he plays this way, if this is how he plays it, 'cause I'm fucking throbbing now, my dick is throbbing, jerking--
He's losing-- I--oh, Christ--
It overcomes him and his face contorts, agonized, beautiful.  He tries to turn from me, tries to hide from me, but he doesn't understand. I gasp and squeeze my eyes shut and turn my head away, turn my face away, cause I don't want him to see--god, I'm sick with myself--
I need to see this. I'm coming.
I seize his shoulder, seize his face in my other hand, and turn it toward me.  That look--it's pain without pain, transcendence without suffering.  It asserts life without threatening death--the involuntary contraction of the muscles, the release dampening his jeans.  He is in the grip of climax, and it makes him so beautiful. He grabs me hard, his fingers like steel, and I can't look at him, I can't open my eyes, I can't believe this.  Hot, wet jerks in my pants, I'm soaking my pants, and I wanna kill myself, kill him, kill somebody.  I feel his hand on my face, he's cupping my face--god, please leave me alone, don't make this worse than it is.
I speak his name.   Ray. "Ray.  Ray."
And he--actually apologizes  to me.  "I'm sorry, Ben--I'm so--" I can barely form the words.  "I--I'm sorry, Ben--I'm so--"
I pull our bodies together and press my mouth to his--and this isn't a dare now, or a game. This isn't anything but want.  I want to go to the place that he's gone.  I want him to go with me, to be there with me, to live there with me.  I want to feel his body, his heat, the life force raging in him.  And then he's everywhere, he's all over me, hot and everywhere and pressing me up against the sofa back, driving into my mouth.  He's kissing me--more than kissing, he's devouring me, eating me alive.  He kisses me like he's fucking starving, and I'm stunned, limp, spent, just soaking it up.
I want to push and have him push back. His actions bring me back, call me back to front and center.
I want a lover.  I want an opponent. I kiss his ear and whisper: He moves his mouth to my ear, bites gently, and whispers to me:
"I liked seeing that.  I want to see that again." "I liked seeing that.  I want to see that again."

I move against Ray, my passion building.  I take his mouth and then presume a further intimacy--I put my hands in his hair.  It's soft, spiky;  it slides over my knuckles and caresses my palms.  I feel his wiry, muscular body hard against mine, and more importantly, I feel the force of him, of his will.  He fights me for control, loves me and fights me every step, his hands moving, invading, hard and cold against my back.  Here we go, now we're there.  We're finally down to some serious necking--hot and nasty, the way I like it.  He's kissing me deep--no teasing, no reservations--plus he's got his hands in my hair which I love.  I wrap my arms around him, and god, he's solid, huge, heavy--and blazing like a furnace.  I move my hands on him, then slide them underneath his t-shirt and up his back.  Hot, hot, hot--all that hot, smooth skin.
Ray's touch ignites me.  I feel the familiar surge of power, of raw energy coiling inside me.  It wants out, wants release, builds toward explosion.  This feeling is familiar;  it's the outlet that's different.  Without thinking, I'm moving;  I'm pinning him down and shoving against him, driving against him, any part of him, anywhere, wanting friction, the push and push of him-- His hands tighten in my hair, almost hurting, and now he's twisting, turning, trying to thrust against me.  He's hard--he brushes me, wanting me, seeking for  place to drive into.  He's holding me down, and he wants it, he really wants it, I can feel how he wants it.  Blindly, I move my hands over him, around, down, over his hard stomach muscles and down into his boxers.
I'm groaning, I'm frustrated, I've enountered the sudden, hard fact of biology.  And then Ray's hands are fumbling between us, and he's kissing me, and muttering,  "Give it to me, give it to me--" Fraser wants it so bad that he won't let me get there.  I have to half punch him in the stomach before I can get past his waistband.  I kiss him and try to tug his boxers down.  "Give it to me, give it to me--"
I can't--think.  "How?" I gasp. "Where?" Fraser's not with the program.  "How?  Where?"
"In my hands, in my hands, I want it, give it to me--"  "In my hands, in my hands, I want it, give it to me--" 
Ray's hands close around me and I gasp, thrust--and go into freefall. Then I've got him, and he gasps, pumps into my hands, and comes.

Fucking fantastic.  Fucking fantastic.  Want more, not enough, he's still wearing everything.  Can't feel.  Can't touch.  He's still moving--stop moving, Ray,  damn it, I can't touch you.  Lift your arms, lift your  damn arms already.  You'd think he's be worn out but no--Fraser's high on momentum, high on adrenaline.  I've seen this before but it's never been aimed at me.  He's practically ripping my arms out of my sockets trying to get my t-shirt off over my head. 
Yes, finally--neck, collarbone, chest, salty-sweet and delicious.  Tiny brown nipples, tight and hard and not like a woman's at all.  Hard, but I can make them harder, I can tweak them with my tongue, arouse him further.  Oh yes.  Ray is carnal. Then whuff, I'm flat on my back, and his tongue is skimming over my chest.  He finds a nipple, and fuck, Fraser's good with nipples, he's a veritable nipple-meister, tonguing and lapping and tugging and--Christ, can I possibly be hard again?
If I push him he will push back. I'm nearly forty.  I ain't no spring chicken or nothing.
He lurches upward, pushes me back, and tugs my shirt off.  He looks at me, then dives down and kisses my chest,  sucking and biting his way downward.  Yes, Ray.  Do it harder. But the night is young, even if I ain't.  I heave upward and knock him off balance, then I sit up and shove him down.  I yank his shirt off and fling it onto the floor, then I'm on him.  Chest, nipples, everything.
He does it harder, and I have to steady myself.  It's wonderful, brutal, unendurable.  The world is full of bright colors and sharp angles, and I can't trust my hands--I would hurt him, I would rip him apart from loving him so. He flings his arms out to brace himself, one hand clutching the sofa back, the other grasping the arm.  This gives me access to God's Country, Benton Fraser from neck to knee, and I don't need to be told twice.  I am so there.
Ray loves me as I wish to be loved--with rough, irrational passion.  His hands grip me and his mouth mauls me and that's what I want, that's what I've always wanted.  He's moving lower, though, and that scares me, exhilarates me, embarrasses me.  I can't--I can't let him do that to me.  But I can't move, I can't breathe, I can't say no. I feast myself on all that hard-soft skin--so white and soft, and rock hard underneath. I can't get over that he's letting me do this to him, that his arms are spread and he's letting me do this.  An' it's just my nature to push things, so I drop lower, slide back, and drop lower, till I'm half on the floor and my head's near his lap and I gotta have his cock, I just gotta.
Ray doesn't even hesitate;  he just curls his hand around me and begins to fellate me.  It feels--fuck! I don't have words for how it feels.  I can't hold my hand back;  I bury it in his hair and suppress the urge to thrust. He's still half-hard; I take him into my hand, pull his cockhead into my mouth, and begin to suck.  He groans above me, and I take him deeper.  His hand cups my head, and I think:  yes, yes, make me, show me.
But despite the sensation, and--yes--the charge I get from seeing his blond head in my lap, some part of me is sobering, coming out of it, growing cold.  I--there's something not right here.  I'm not--enjoying it. I work him carefully, wanting it to be good for him;  it's sure as hell good for me.  He's lovely, luscious, stiffening in my mouth--but the rest of him is stiffening too, tensing up,  and not in a good way. 
I try to tug his head away; I want him to stop.  "Ray, stop, wait--I don't like it."  "Ray, stop--wait."  Suddenly Fraser's pulling my hair and gasping.  "I don't like it."
He stills for a moment, then he's lifting his head, letting go of me.  The air feels cool on my erection, but now that Ray's looking at me I don't feel so cold inside, up here where I live.  "I love it," Ray says quietly, and he's meeting my eyes but his face is reddening. Reluctantly, I let his cock slide out of my mouth.  Benton Fraser must be the only guy in the world who doesn't like getting his dick sucked.  I look up at him and blurt, "I love it," and that's the truth, too.  I love sucking cock, love the thrust of meat into my mouth.
Oh dear, I didn't mean to imply--  "No, I like it, I do--it's just--it's cold." Fraser stammers to explain, looking upset.  "No, I like it, I do--it's just--it's cold."
Ray looks puzzled.  "Cold?" "Cold?"  That's a new one on me.
How can I explain?  "You're too--far away.  You're not here enough, you're--" Fraser nods quickly.   "You're too--far away.  You're not here enough, you're--"
Ray reaches up and presses two fingers to my lips.  For a moment, I think he's shushing me--but he isn't, he's offering them to me.  I kiss the tips and open my mouth, and instantly he pushes inside, invading and caressing my tongue.  I bite down gently, and then massage them with my tongue--the smooth sides, the bruised knuckles, the sweet tender webbing where the fingers meet. Suddenly I'm havin' a brainstorm--I get what's wrong;  I know just what he means by cold.  I test it out by reaching up and pressing two fingers to his lips.  Fraser takes them instantly--just opens his mouth and takes them.  First he bites down so that I can feel the hard press of his teeth, and then he sucks, tongue twining round my fingers, sliding and caressing everwhere, up and down.
I love his hands.  Strong hands, yet tapered. Graceful and scarred from work.  I have the entire contradiction of him in my mouth. Can we say oral fixation, ladies and gentleman?  That mouth ain't happy unless it's within' reach of something.  I want it to be me.
He pulls back too soon;  I don't want to let him go, but I must. I tug my fingers back and Fraser moans, sucks harder, looks disappointed.
Ray grips my hand.  "Come on," he says.  "Something else--but not here." "Come on," I murmur, taking his hand.  "Something else--but not here."

Ray tugs my arms, pulls me off the sofa, pulls me to my feet.  My boxers are half-on, half off, and I tug them upwards, unthinkingly.  And then I realize--Ray still has his jeans on.  We're both shirtless, we've both achieved climax once, and Ray still has his jeans on.  I groan inwardly--clearly, I'm an incompetent lover.  I grab his hands and yank, and he comes up, off the sofa, stumbling a little.  His boxers are down around his thighs, where I've pushed them, and he pulls them back up so that he can walk.  Then he looks at me, and I can feel his eyes moving over me--my chest, my arms, my groin, my legs.  God, I hope he still wants me.
I reach out to undo his top button; it's suddenly imperative that I have the jeans off him.  Ray shoves my hands away, but playfully, and then he grabs my boxers and tugs me forward, towards his bedroom. He still wants me--he's reachin' out and fumbling with the waistband of my jeans.  I half fight him, batting his hands away and pulling him backwards--not here, not now, wait till we get to the bedroom first.
I cut the Gordean knot by unworking his jeans and pushing him back toward his bedroom at the same time.  This makes the task somewhat more difficult, but it's worth it, because Ray is laughing. He gets the message and starts driving me backwards even as he's still undoing my pants.  They call this multitasking, I guess, and it's fun even if it is sort of nutty awkward.  Plus it tickles.
Damn this button.  Damn this zipper.  Ray always claims that my uniform seems complicatedly constructed, but it is simplicity itself compared to this.  I try to keep my hands steady--if the zipper jams, I'm going to have to rip the fucking thing right off him.  Finally it gives and I push the heavy denim down his slim hips.  Ray's not fighting me any more--he's helping now, moving so as to ease the process.  I can feel his body shivering under my hands; he wants this as much as I do, I think.  Ray wants it, too. He's got the button open and the zipper down by the time the back of my legs hit the bed.  Fraser shoves my jeans down, and I help him--I want them off, too, and fast, like yesterday.  Inside, I'm fucking dancing that he still wants this, that he's still with me.  Cause after all, a hand job is one thing, and getting a blow job--guys might do that, now and again--but when a man's pulling your pants down, well, you gotta assume that he knows you've got yer own dick in there, and that he don't mind too much.
Finally Ray's jeans are down, puddled on the floor.  I can't help myself--I topple him backwards, onto the bed, so that I can look at him.  He looks up at me, surprised, from where he's landed--but then he understands.  He sees what I want.  And his lip curls into a grin and he shows me. Finally the jeans are down and off me.  I'm about to grab him for a kiss when he shoves me, sorta hard.  I lose my balance and fall onto the bed--and I'm just wondering whafuck? when I see his eyes.  Fraser's standing above me, naked, face intense--and I get it, he wants to see me. 
He's terribly lovely. Wiry and hard and muscled all the way down.  Strong limbs, a touch of light brown hair on his abdomen, thickening down to his groin. Well, sure, he can see me if he wants.  I let myself sprawl back, let my arms and legs relax.  See anything you like, Fraser?  You can have anything you want.
His erection curves out and up onto his belly.  It's blood-dark and beautiful, smooth-hard and slightly scarred at the tip, where they've cut him.  If I squint I can still see faint tan lines across his abdomen and legs, and I can imagine what kind of swimsuit he wears. Best part is, I get to look back.  Dark hair, but unbelievably pale skin, pale all the way down, like he's never seen sun.  Makes his skin fuckin' gorgeous, though, unlike mine, since I did the baby oil and mirror thing back in the seventies, a bad idea but not nearly my worst.
He's golden, shades of gold from head to toe.  He looks like--summer. Turned me half to leather, but he's glowing white, like snow by moonlight.
When Ray breaks the silence, his voice is surprisingly hoarse.  "Well?  You seen enough?" "Well?" I say finally, and my voice comes out all thick and scratchy.  "You seen enough?"
"No," I say without thinking, and then I catch myself.  "I mean, yes.  I mean, for now.  I--" "No," Fraser replies vaguely, and then he starts. "I mean--yes.  I mean, for now.  I--"
Ray half-sits up and reaches out for me.  I've never seen anything so appealing.  "C'mere." I prop myself up on my elbow and reach for him with my other hand.  "C'mere."
I take his hand and he tugs me down onto the bed, onto his body.  I shudder--we're skin to skin, now.  His hand cups the back of my head and he pulls me down to his mouth.  He gives me his hand and I yank him down on top of me--he's warm, heavy, smooth, wonderful.  I pull his head down to mine and kiss him hotly.  I want him, I love him.
His kiss is--masterful, purposeful. I want him to suck me.
Ray's hand is in my hair now and he's yanking, pulling, wanting to move me.  I let myself be moved, I like submitting to him, to the force of his will.  His throat is long and pale and beautiful, and I suck it roughly, wanting to mark him as mine. I make a fist in his glossy dark hair and tug his head down to my neck.  He goes willingly, and sucks my throat hard enough to leave marks.  Man, I like that--I really fucking like that--but I want more, I want that suction someplace else.
But Ray pushes my mouth off his neck and pulls my hair again, making my scalp tingle.  Downward, he's forcing me downward--and now I understand, I know what he wants me to do.  But I've never--done anything like this before.  The idea is frightening, and also thrilling.  His erection seems huge, threatening--a gigantic dare--will I really do this thing?  Will I really put my mouth on a man's penis? I tug his head downward, to my groin, waiting to see if he'll revolt.  But I suspect--nah, I know--that Fraser will obey if he understands.  He's come this far, and he's put grosser things in his mouth than me, right?  Plus Fraser is, like, really, really teachable--more so than I ever suspected.  It'll scare him a bit, but he'll love it--Fraser loves being scared, he responds to pressure like nobody else I've ever known. 
Ray's hand is hard on my head--pressing, pushing--and suddenly the question changes.  Will Ray make me do this thing?  Will I succumb to his desire for it?  Let him move me?  Let him use me as he likes?  The thought sends a jolt of desire through me--oh yes, I will, I most certainly will. So I press him.  Fraser kisses my stomach and then lets me force him lower.  He hesitates there, though, and for I moment, I think I'm wrong, that he won't do it, doesn't want it.  But then he relaxes, and the pressure of my hands moves his head forward until my cock is touching his lips.
Ray's erection is brushing my closed lips and I think about resisting, just for the sake of resistance.  But I can't resist, and almost certainly Ray knows that.  He's leaking onto my lips and I want to taste it, taste him. I nudge his closed mouth gently--christ, I want this, I want this so bad.  Finally, he gives in and licks my cockhead, sending sparks flying through my dick and up into the rest of me.  I hope my hair doesn't catch fire.
When I open my mouth he pushes forward, and I think--yes, yes, please, do it.  He's holding his erection steady with one hand, pushing my head forward with the other--and it's wonderful, so fucking good-- I reach down and grab my cock and guide it into his open mouth.  God, he takes it, he just opens up and takes it, and it's better than I ever--I never--I can't believe how--oh, shit, oh fuck, Fraser, Fraser--
The hot thickness of him on my tongue, the explosion of tastes and textures, and yes--yes, damn it--the hard pressure of his hand on my neck, the complete submission this requires.  Yes, Ray--do it, use me, make me. I can't stop myself, I've got my hands on his head and I'm fucking his beautiful mouth.  I must stop myself.  This wasn't the plan--this wasn't entirely the plan--but it's good, it's so good, it's so fucking, fucking, fucking--
Give it to me, harder--harder-- Gotta stop, can't stop, gotta--
Ray rolls sideways, but I wrap my arms tight around his thighs and roll with him, hanging on.  He's gasping, shifting, moving--I don't know what the fuck he thinks he's doing but I. Don't . Care.  I'm not letting go of him, not letting go of this.  I pull him closer, deeper--his body is so wonderfully warm.  I feel his blood pulsing, pumping just beneath the heated skin,  the vein throbbing against my tongue. I shove Fraser onto his side and he goes, rolls, still sucking me furiously.  Christ, I can't think, gotta think, brain no work no more--but I wanted--this together--me and him--together, reciprocate--something something.  I turn myself, I reach for his legs, trying to rearrange us--pull--move!--set us up to sixty-nine.  Fraser's pliable but focused--fuck, I've created a monster, he won't let go, he won't stop.
Suddenly my own erection is engulfed in wet heat and I understand now what Ray was trying to do-- clever, wonderful Ray.  It's like a circuit, the heat and power cycling from him to me and back again, him to me, me to him, him to me, round and round and spinning and building, fucking amazing, so fucking fantastic!  My hips are moving helpessly, thrusting into him as he thrusts into me.  I'm plugged into life, I'm encased in hot flesh--I'm alive and whole for the first time in my entire goddamned life. But I'm there now, I can curl myself around him and get to him, pull his dick into my mouth.  It's beautiful, hard and smooth, and I try to concentrate on it.  I want this to be good for him, I want him to know how good it can be.  I work at stimulating the head, flicking it fast with my tongue, and--god, Fraser's good, he's amazing, he's blowing my freakin' head off.  I can't--fuck, I'm thrusting again--not good, too much, too rough, too fast for a first time.  This is all much too much for a first time.
God, yes, it's building, we're building--yes, yes, please, now-- This is out of control.  Out of--  Christ, I'm gonna come--Fraser, stop--
He's shuddering, jerking--yes, Ray, yes, yes, yes--and dimly I feel him release me, hear his voice, don't care, not listening, want it, give me, give me-- He's not stopping, and fuck, I'm lost, I'm trembling, he shouldn't swallow.  "Gonna come, coming--Frase, let go!  You don't--!  You don't have to--god, Fraser!"
Christ, he's flooding my mouth, spilling over my tongue, Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, I've got you, I've got you, let it go, let me have it, give me everything! I convulse and he's got me, he's taking it, sucking me through the sweet, sharp agony pains of it.  He's the sweetest, bestest, most fucking wonderfulest--
Ray takes me, sucks me, loves me--coaxes me to let go.  And I want to let go of of everything;  I want to fall hard. I turn my head and take his cock back into my mouth, sucking in time with my own desperate surges.
Want to, want to, make me--yes!--nearly!--fuck!--Ray!-- Love you, baby--let me have it, let me have you--
Yes let me yes take it yes yes yes yes. His cock jerks and spurts in my mouth.

I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning, how you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turned over upon me, andparted the shirt from my bosom bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart... Mush.  Total mushness. Complete mushitude.  Creamed like mushrooms, lost and dizzy, weak, hopeless, helpless, curled around him--hot, warm, beautiful, fucking, Fraser--and now would be a really good time to pass out, I think.

When I wake up it's dark, and I'm cold everywhere I'm not pressed up against Fraser.  I lift my head and squint at the clock--it's three in the morning, and there's the two of us, naked, on top of the covers, curled together and shivering.
No, Ray, please--don't go. I'm cold, come back.  I grope, but I find only air beside me, and must open my eyes.  Carefully I disentangle myself from his limbs, which is hard, he's holding me pretty tight. He moans a little, but eventually lets go-- Fraser, shh, wait, I'll be right back, I swear to God. 
Ray is moving in the darkness, naked skin glowing white in the light from the window.  He goes to the closet, stretches up, then returns,  his arms full of blankets.  I lean up for a better look. I go to the closet and pull the extra blankets off the shelf, the soft heavy ones.  Carrying them, I return to the bed--and he's moved, he's awake, he's leaning up on one elbow and staring at me.
"Hey," Ray whispers, and I can see his warm smile even in the dim light.  "You're awake." "Hey.  You're awake."  I'm sorry I woke him, but I'm happy to see him.  Sprawled out on my bed, he looks like a dream.
"I'm awake," I confirm. He smiles at me, nods.  "I'm awake."
"I brought extra blankets.  We should get under the covers:  it's cold." "I brought extra blankets.  We should get under the covers:  it's cold."
I nod and get up, pulling the blankets back and crawling beneath them. Ray spreads out the extra bedclothes and gets into bed with me. He gets into bed with me, and it's so deliberate, so intimate, so very exciting.  I can't help myself--I reach for him, pull him close to me.  I could get used to this, I honestly could. Fraser nods and obeys, ducking under the covers.  I unfurl the blankets I've brought, drape them over the foot of the bed, and get in beside him.  He pulls me close and I wrap my arms around him--he's still so warm.  My traitorous cock freakin' leaps to attention--whoa, down boy!  You've had yours for the year.
I don't intend--I don't intend to presume upon him, but as I pull him close I feel his penis brush my abdomen.  He's hardening.  He kisses my cheek and I feel my blood start to burn again. I kiss his face cause I can.  I rub his back, the base of his neck, cause I can.  Sex is good, but it ain't everything, I remind myself.  This is nice, too.  Cuddling and kisses and--
I nudge my own erection into his hip and hear his quick, sharp intake of breath.  Maybe this isn't such a presumption after all. Okay, whoa, wait, hold the presses--cause Fraser's turning toward me and he's sporting wood, I can feel it.  Let's rethink this.
Ray is breathing hard, now, and that gives me the courage to ask the question.  "Is there...something else you would want?" Our eyes met and his are dark, dilated.  "Is there...something else you would want?"
He doesn't answer immediately, but I can hear his heart pounding.  "Haven't you had enough for one night?" Is he kidding?!  Christ, I ache for him!  "Haven't you had enough for one night?" I ask him, just to be perverse.
Enough?  Of this?  "No," I manage to say.  "I --don't think I'll ever have enough of this." He looks confused at the question.  "No," Fraser says finally.  "I--don't think I'll ever have enough of this."
His hands tighten on me and I shiver with lust and anticipation.  Ray's mouth tightens too, and then he hisses, "Fuck me, then." A jolt of lust slams into me.  If that's the way he feels, then fine.  "Fuck me, then," I whisper, and Fraser trembles in my arms.
I can't speak;  I want him so badly it hurts.  "I--yes.  But I don't know how." "I--yes."  He said yes. He said yes, he said yes!  "But I--don't know how."
"I know.  It's okay.  I'll show you." "I know.  It's okay.  I'll show you."

Ray shows me, and some part of me just--snaps.  I never thought--I never even imagined--that we could fit together this way, nestled together, hand in glove.   Ray is spread out before me, legs wrapped tight round my waist--and he's mine, mine to have, flushed and panting and so goddamned gorgeous. Oh yeah, oh God, I think I musta died yesterday,  I think that fuck Latham must've shot us, me and Fraser both, and we're dead and just too dumb to fall down.  'Cause Fraser's above me, gasping and horny and fucking me halfway to holy heaven.  He's clutching my hips tight and fucking me hard.
He's begging me to thrust, push, shove-- "...oh God...yeah...please...Fraser..."
--so I thrust, push, and shove, driving into him, harder into him, and harder still as I see how much he likes it.  I already feel how much I like it--I like it, I fucking LOVE IT. I knew he'd be like this, I knew he was like this underneath, on the red side, on the inside, dark and wild and out of control, it's who he is, it's who he--CHRIST, FUCK!
Ray jerks and yells, "There! There! Right there!" and I'm really not sure what the fuck he's talking about, but I stay there and drive into him again at the same angle, again and again. There!  There!  Right there! Oh, please God--God, God, right there!  There, don't stop!  Again, again, again, oh fuuuuuuck, please, please, please--
Before my very eyes he's coming, splattering semen up across his belly and chest, and the sight, the smell, the feel of him convulsing beneath me drives me out of what's left of my mind. Fraser's cock jerks inside me just as I feel the splash of my own jism, and I'm dead, I'm sure I'm dead, because there's no way I was ever good enough to deserve this in life, no way, no how.

I wake up not only before Ray, but on top of Ray--and I quickly roll off him.  It's a wonder I haven't smothered him, but he looks fine, tranquil in sleep, face and body utterly relaxed.
In the early morning light, it all feels like a dream.  Especially--what we did in the middle of the night, the--intercourse.
I stare down at his face and think:  I've made love to him, I've been inside of him, I've actually--ejaculated--within him.  It seems impossible, but I know that the surging emotions I feel are real.  And if the proof of my feelings were not proof enough--well.  My penis is--um--very, very sore.
I don't think I can go to work, today.  I don't think I can confront other people.  I feel as if three layers of my skin have been ripped away, stripped away.  I feel naked, vulnerable--entirely new.
I wonder if Ray will stay home with me.  I wonder if I can stay here, in Ray's home.  Perhaps I should get an apartment, so that I can have a real home to which I can invite him.  Perhaps he'll consent to split digs with me--
Perhaps I'm rushing things a bit.
Oh hell--who cares?!  I can't seem to stop myself, in any case.  My brain is spinning with plans and possibilities.  I've never felt like this--well, perhaps I have, but not for years.  I feel very, very young this morning--like my entire life is still in front of me.  It's been a very long time since I felt this much--hope.
I think it's hope.
Hope that Ray will live with me.  Hope that Ray will love me and make love to me.  Hope that Ray will stay home from work with me, and do to me this morning what I did to him last night.
Suddenly I'm laughing out loud--my life has changed completely.  In less than 24 hours, yet.  Incredible.  I look down at Ray's face, and notice he's staring up at me with his blue, blue eyes.  This, I'm afraid, only makes me laugh harder. I wake up to the sound of Benton Fraser laughing his ass off, which is the nicest thing in the whole entire world, it seems to me.
"Hey, you're in a good mood."  Ray eyes crinkle when he smiles. I stretch and pose a bit for him.  "Hey, you're in a good mood." 
"Well, yes, Ray," I say very correctly, in my best voice, "you do have to admit that I have every reason to be in a spectacularly good mood this morning." "Well, yes, Ray," Fraser says blithely, being very Fraser-ish, "you do have to admit that I have every reason to be in a spectacularly good mood this morning."
Ray bursts out laughing, and that starts me going again.  I fall onto the bed beside him and giggle into the pillow like--well, rather like an idiot, really, but who cares?  The pillow smells like us, and that is enough. I stare at him for a moment and then I'm hooting with laughter.  He laughs, too, and collapses down onto the pillow beside me.  His hair's mussed, his face flushed, and he looks very un-Fraser-like, very Ben-like.
"Wow, Ben.  I didn't know you could put it on like that."  Ray's grinning at me "Wow, Ben," I say, trying it on him.  "I didn't know you could put it on like that."
"I can, yes,"  I confess, smiling back.  "It's rather like your dumb cop routine, really." "I can, yes," Ben admits with a smile. "It's rather like your dumb cop routine, really."
Disconcertingly,  Ray's grin fades and he lurches upwards.   "Holy shit, what time is it?" Oh, hell--you mean that thing I do for a living?  "Holy shit, what time is it?"
I stop him;  it's now or never.  "Ray, I--I had been thinking--" To my surprise, Ben grabs my arm.  "Ray, I--I had been thinking--"
"What?" "What?"
"I--well."  I take a deep breath and blurt, "How many sick days do you have?" Ben blushes and looks away.  "I--well.  How many sick days do you have?" 

Ray has, it turns out, over twenty-eight sick days--nearly an entire month.  So I wheedle a little, promise him coffee and pancakes and--well, more.  I inspect the contents of the kitchen, very quietly, while he makes his call to the precinct.  So Ben and Fraser are in many ways two totally different guys.  Ben laughs a lot, fucks like a demon, and wants to stay home and play hookey--whereas you need a tranquilizer gun to keep Fraser home from work.
I don't think I can do pancakes, actually, but I should be able to manage French toast. Not only that, but it turns out that Ben is the kind of guy who stays and makes you breakfast.
Ray hangs up the phone and wanders into the kitchen.  "I'm cool--call the Ice Queen."  I nod and put him in charge of the whisk. I hang up and go into the kitchen;  Fraser's beating eggs.  "I'm cool--call the Ice Queen."  He nods and hands the eggs over to me.
I hesitate as I pick up the telephone.  "Ray, what if she asks me where I am?" Fraser picks up the telephone and then frowns.  "Ray, what if she asks me where I am?"
"Tell her you're with me," Ray replies, as if it's the simplest thing in the world.  And maybe it is. "Tell her you're with me," I tell him, and man, those are some sweet, sweet words, there.

We eat, we clean up; we digest and wash ourselves.  All the time I'm thinking--how to put this, how to ask? He waits till after breakfast, after the dishes, after we've each taken our morning shower--to spring it on me.
Finally, I decide that in this case, actions might be more eloquent than words.  Especially considering that while I seem to have no problem thinking the word "fuck", I have a rather difficult time getting it out of my mouth. Actually, he doesn't so much spring it on me as spring on me--jumping me and throwing me down onto the bed.  Thank you, God--thank you, so, so much--you're a real and total pal.  Though you know, if Fraser keeps it up like this, I'm gonna end up in the hospital.
So I kiss him, and bite his face, and worry his earlobe,  and drive my erection into his hip. He's fucking mauling me.  Who do I have to kill to get this every day for the rest of my life?
"Yes, yes, okay," Ray blurts finally.  "Anything you want--just tell me what you want." "Yes, yes, okay," I gasp finally.  "Anything you want--just tell me what you want."
Ah.  Well.  Here we go.  "I want," I begin, and then I just spit it out.  "I want you to do to me what you let me do to you.  Um, last night." He lifts his head, and I can see him struggling for words.  "I want--I want you to do to me what you let me do to you.  Um, last night."
Ray looks rather shocked.  "I--Ben, are you sure?" I just stare at him;  I can't believe this.  "Ben, are you sure?"
"Yes.  Very sure," I reply, and then I kiss him again and start pulling his bathrobe off. "Yes," Ben says calmly.  "Very sure," and then he's on me again and trying to rip my clothes off.
"Wait," Ray gasps.  "Wait, wait, wait--"  But I just can't wait. "Wait!  Wait, wait, wait!"  He won't wait, though--he's unstoppable.
He makes me wait, though--he tenses and throws me off him.  I fall onto my back, shocked and gasping. This time I gotta stop him though, so I wrestle with him and flip him off and across the bed. 
"Now look," Ray says, and his voice is oddly sharp, "if you're serious about this you've got to give me a minute." "Now look," I tell him, wanting him to get that this is no joke, "if you're serious about this you've got to give me a minute."
I give him a minute, because I am very very serious. He nods, all contrition, looking like Fraser again.
Ray gets up, goes over to the nightstand, and checks the bottle of lubricating gel that we used last night.  It apparently meets inspection, and then Ray opens the table drawer and fumbles inside.  Apparently, he can't find what he's looking for, because he shoves the drawer shut, gets up, and disappears into the bathroom. I check to make sure we have enough lube, which we do, and that's important, cause it's Fraser's first time and he's gonna need a lot of stretching.  Then I look in the drawer for condoms, but I swear to God there's everything in the world in that drawer except condoms.  I hope there's some in the medicine cabinet.
He returns, looking pleased, carrying--I can't tell what.  "All right, here we go, now we're cooking."  He tosses his prize onto the bed and I look down at it.  TROJAN LUBRICATED CONDOMS.  SENSITIVE. There are--a whole strip of them--and I return to the bedroom relieved and triumphant.  "All right, here we go," I say, flinging them onto the bed.  "Now we're cookin', now we can--"
Condoms.  Dear God.  But I didn't--last night I didn't-- That's when I catch the new expression on Fraser's face.
"Ray.  I didn't use a condom last night."  God, what was I thinking?  How could I have done such a thing? "Ray," Fraser says, and his voice is agonized.  "I didn't use a condom last night."
Ray just shrugs, looking confused.  "Course you didn't, Fraser--I didn't tell you to.  And why should you?  I'm sure you're clean.  It's me I don't know about." "Course you didn't, Fraser--I didn't tell you to."  I don't get what he's all upset about.  "And why should you?  I'm sure you're clean.  It's me I don't know about."
I feel like there's an icy hand clutching my heart. Shit, he looks like he's about to have a heart attack.
"Don't get me wrong, Fraser--I'm sure I'm fine," Ray says quickly.  "Just I'm not risking your life over it, okay?" I hurry to assure him.  "Don't get me wrong, Fraser--I'm sure I'm fine.  Just I'm not risking your life over it, okay?"
I don't know what to say.   No, it's not okay?  I can see from his face that it ain't the least bit okay.
There are things I want to know, things that are none of my business.  But I have to ask.  "Ray?  Have you been with a lot of men?" "Ray?"  Fraser asks finally, looking like he'd rather die than ask the question.  "Have you been with a lot of men?"
Ray sighs and sits down on the edge of the bed.  "Depends what you mean.  By your standards--yeah.  By regular standards--no, not at all."  He's not meeting my eyes and that scares me.  "Look--I may have given you the wrong impression.  I'm--pretty deep in the closet, Fraser.  For, like, obvious reasons.  An' just every so often, the pressure builds up.  An' I go out and do something stupid." My knees give way and I sink down to sit.  "Depends what you mean.  By your standards--yeah.  By regular standards--no, not at all."  I take a deep breath and decide that I'd better have it all out.  "Look--I may have given you the wrong impression.  I'm--pretty deep in the closet, Fraser.  For, like, obvious reasons.  An' just every so often, the pressure builds up.  An' I go out and do something stupid."
I do understand; perhaps better than he thinks.  "Like jumping off a building," I say quietly. His voice is gentler than I expect; and kinder, too.  "Like jumping off a building," Fraser murmurs.
His head jerks up.  "Yeah, exactly.  Except my buildings are people." "Yeah, exactly," I say, surprised.  "Except my buildings are people."
"I understand, Ray." "I understand, Ray."
"Glad one of us does, cause I sure don't." "Glad one of us does, cause I sure don't."
I have two more questions.  "Ray, is there--someone in particular I should know about?" "Ray."  His voice is serious.  "Is there--someone in particular I should know about?"
He quirks a smile and shakes his head.  "No." Know about?  I don't even know most of their names.  "No."
"One more question." "One more question."
"Okay, shoot." "Okay, shoot."
"Are you happy?" "Are you happy?"
His smile widens and he blushes.  "Yeah, sure.   You know--my share.  Okay, not really."  He leans close and murmurs against my lips, "I am now." An' that's fair, I guess.  "Yeah, sure.   You know--my share.  Okay, not really."   Then I lean forward and whisper into his mouth, "I am now."
"Me, too." "Me, too."

Ray actually kisses me then, and his mouth is warm and very sweet.  I pull him close, wanting his body against mine.  Ray's kisses are suffused with tenderness, and I find that the driving lust of the last twenty-four hours has  abated.  I also find I don't mind. I push forward and kiss him, and Fraser pulls me down on top of him.  It's been a long time since I've done this kind of necking--not hot and nasty but real loving and sweet.  It's nice, actually--plus it feels great.  His body feels great, his mouth feels great;  it's all good.
Eventually I feel sleep sneaking up on me.  Which isn't surprising:  last night has left me well-nigh exhausted.  It seems all right to drift off, and so I do;  Ray is beside me, holding me tightly, and I feel loved and safe. We sort of settle in together and then we're dozing.  I'm holding him--or maybe he's holding me, I ain't quite sure about that.  But I'm happy to go off for a bit--I need the sleep, I think.  He's totally zonked me.
I sleep and dream of whale music, I'm not sure why.  At some point I wake up and feel compelled to share this with Ray, even though he's well asleep, and so I kiss his forehead and whisper into his hair some words I love:   "They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent."  Ray snuffles a bit and I kiss his head again before continuing.  "And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages on the depths of the seven seas, and through the salt they reel with drunk delight and in the tropics tremble they with love and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods."  The words lull me back into the deep. We must both be really dead because we basically hang in bed for a good couple of hours.  Mainly I think we're both sleeping at the same time.  But once or twice I wake up and get a good look at Ben, who's lying heavy in my arms, totally conked out and breathin' deep.  An' while I think I might've dreamed it, I've got this weird memory of waking up at some point and Fraser kissing my hair and whispering something to me.  Something rhythmic--some kind of poetry, maybe.  Except I seem to remember that it was about--well, whales, I think--which is just so weird that I really must have dreamed that part.  Though I remember that the words were kinda nice.
I wake to find Ray lying beside me, watching me, and I instantly decide that I want to wake up this way as often as possible in future.  I smile at him, and he smiles back, and I feel somehow healthier, like I've been sleeping in the sun. Eventually I wake up and Fraser stirs a second later, which means that me and him are finally gonna be conscious at the same time.  He's all Ben-ish again, mussed and sleepy, and he smiles up at me as he comes awake. 
"Hey," Ray says. "Hey," I say.
"Hey," I echo, trying on the word. "Hey," Ben says, and it's weird to hear him say hey.
"Guess we needed that, huh?" "Guess we needed that, huh?"
"Yes, very much," I reply. "Yes, very much," he replies.
"I'm always beat after heavy exercise," Ray says, and winks at me.   "Hey, are you hungry at all?" "I'm always beat after heavy exercise."  I wink at him and he grins.
"Hey, are you hungry at all?"
"For food?" I ask in my blandest voice. Fraser goes all wide-eyed.  "For food?" 
Ray's eyes crinkle;  he isn't buying it.  "For anything." That innocent look don't fool me none.  "For anything."
"Well..." I begin, and then I grow serious;  this is a serious request.  "I still want to--you know.  What I asked you before." "Well."  He gets that "this is hard to say" look on his face again.   "I still want to--you know.  What I asked you before."
Ray's face grows serious, too.  "And I'm gonna ask you again, Fraser:  are you sure about that?  Cause you really don't have to--no one's keeping score, least of all me.  I'm really happy with what we got going here, Ben, just the way it is." Yeah, I know--but now I'm thinking that it ain't such a good idea.  It's all been too fast.  An' Fraser's, like, an essentially competitive guy.  I try to tell him he doesn't have to, that this ain't tit for tat.  I could be real, real happy with what we've already got.
I'm happy, too, but I want all of it--everything.  "Ray, I want to." He's already shaking his head.  "Ray, I want to."
Ray sighs and throws up his hands.  "Okay, fine--so let's do it." Stubborn Mountie.  I hope I'm doing the right thing, here.

He touches me.  He pushes his long, slim fingers inside of me.  It's uncomfortable.  It's wonderful.  It aches.  I'm aching.  He's being so careful.  He's touching me with such care. Careful.  God, I gotta be so careful here.  Everything else has been so fast, but this can't be fast, this has gotta be as slow as I can make it, as I can take it.   I gotta do this right.
I can't breathe.  I can't breathe.  Ray looks up at me and murmurs, "Relax, Ben.  Breathe.  In and out."  He's lying there, all tensed up and breathing in tight little gasps.  Not good.  "Relax, Ben.  Breathe.  In and out."
I breathe, and Ray rubs my leg reassuringly.  I ache, and I'm sweating.  Ray's hand is cool against my fevered skin.  Ray's other hand is-- Nearly there--hang on, buddy, you're okay, you're doin' great.  Nice and slow, breathe deep, it'll be better soon, it'll be good soon.
--slowly moving inside me, caressing the inside of me, and my breath catches.  The ache fades and pleasure rolls over me like a wave, engulfing me. There you go, nice and slow, and you're loose now, and slippery, and god, so beautiful.  Easy, I'm not gonna hurt you.  Just let yourself feel it.
Ray's fingers slide into me, impossibly deep, and then I'm blinded by white-hot ecstacy.  "Ray," I gasp.  "Ray, Ray, Ray--" I'm fuckin' him with my fingers,  but I still haven't hit the money spot.  I try again and Ben jerks wildly--okay, there we go.
In my head I can hear Ray's voice, hoarse and trembling.  There!  There!  Right there!  He's closed his eyes, and he's gasping and trembling around my fingers.  My god, he's beautiful.
I understand, now.  I want more, now. He's trembling under my hands.
"Ray..."  I call for him and open my eyes, and Ray is staring down at me, his face strangely pale.  "Please.  Do it--I want you."  Ray touches deep again, and I moan. Ben opens his eyes and looks at me, still shivering from it.  "Please.  Do it--I want you."  I stroke his prostate again, just to watch his face when I do it.
This is so different, not at all like our frenzied couplings of earlier.  This isn't explosive, this is implosive. A different kind of death--held underwater to drown. He wants me.  And god knows I want him.  But I just can't--I'm freaked, I'm overwhelmed, he's so fucking beautiful.   I don't think I could get it up or keep it up.
"Ray, please," I beg. He's begging for it.  "Ray, please."
Ray's face is pained.  "I can't. I can't.   I'm too freaked out." I pull my fingers out of him.  "I can't.  I can't.  I'm too freaked out."
I gasp for breath and try to get my bearings as he withdraws from my body.  "Ray, come here."  I reach for him, pull him down beside me, and kiss him for a while, trying to soothe him as he's soothed me.  Slowly he hardens in my hand. I feel like makin' a run for it, I'm so freakin' embarrassed.  But Ben grabs my wrist and pulls me onto the bed.  He kisses me deep--sucks my tongue and strokes my cock, both together--and I start to get hot again. 
By the time I've gotten him adequately sheathed and lubricated, Ray is fully aroused.  Ray in full arousal is a wonderous sight to behold--chest heaving, cock erect and straining, nipples tight and dusky with blood.  My hands shake as I smooth the lubricant onto his shaft. An' then he puts the condom on me. He puts the condom on me.  He just leans over me and tears open the packet and rolls  it down.  Then he reaches for the lube and--and it's the sexiest thing anyone's ever done to me, ever, ever.  I'm just desperate for him, now. 
I don't know what to do, now.  " you want me?" Ben's looking pretty desperate himself.  " you want me?"
"I-I don't know," Ray replies.  "How do you want it?" "I-I don't know," I stammer.  "How do you want it?"
"I don't know.  But I do, I really do--please, now--" "I don't know.  But I do, I really do--please, now--"
Ray takes my shoulders and pushes me down onto my back, and he's heavy, and strong, and inside of me, penetrating me. I push him back and get on top of him--and I musta done a good prep job, because I slide inside of him easy as anything.

Afterwards, Ray holds Ben real tight, nuzzles his hair, and whispers, "Was that all right?  Was that okay for you?"
Ben nods and presses closer, burying his face in Ray's shoulder.  There are no words for this.  Words are meaningless;  they don't matter. 
But that ain't true;  there are always words that matter, and Ray finds some.  "I love you.  Haven't said that yet, but I do.  Figured you figured that already."
Ben has indeed figured that.  Ben tightens his arms around Ray.  Home.  He's come home.  He need never be anywhere but--
Except he must.  Ben raises his head.  "Ray.  I need to go back to the Consulate."
Ray looks confused.  "The Consulate? Now?  Why?"
"Dief.  I've been completely neglecting Diefenbaker.  He has to be fed, he has to be taken out..."
"Oh."  Ray thinks about this for a minute, then nods.  "Okay, fine.  Let's go get him."
"Get him?"  Is this an invitation?  For Dief as well as himself?
"Yeah."  Ray lets go of him, rolls up off the bed, and stretches.  He's got a plan, now--he's the man with the plan.  "We'll get him, bring him here.  An' we'll get you some more stuff."
"Oh?"  Ben is cautious, not wanting to presume too much.  He doesn't want to show Ray how much he likes this idea, lest he pressure him. 
"Yeah.  We got a date tonight, right?  Our rematch," Ray adds, and he's grinning now, he's got it, he's there.   "You know.  Scrabble."
Oh.  Scrabble.  But Ben doesn't think that Ray intends for their rematch to take place on the Scrabble board.  That suits him fine.  "Scrabble, yes, I see."
"I think maybe I'll keep you here, giving me sexual favors and stuff, till you can beat me at Scrabble."
"Oh, dear."  Ben keeps his voice even, but inside he's laughing. "But you're a much better player than I am."
Better than you know, Ben.  Just wait and see.  "Yeah, but you're a fast learner.  You could beat me if you'd just leave off with the big words."
"Ah."  Ben nods thoughtfully.  "Indubitably."
And then Ben catches Ray's eye and smiles.

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