A Heart Alone

by BJ Cochran

Disclaimer: Alliance Atlantis own the millieu. I own the ideas.

Author's Notes: Karen/s, for the lovely Christmas holiday. Anita, who's with me everyday. ZZ, the best roommate a person could ever have. Bast, for the quick and painless beta.

Story Notes: This story is one that happens every once in a while. I sat at the keyboard without a clue what I was going to write, but it was going to be a quick little something. 20 pages later, I'm done. Enjoy.

The night was forecast to be cold and clear. Well, not so cold, minus seven Celsius only felt cold for a day or so. Nineteen degrees Fahrenheit was merely brisk. For that reason, Fraser chose to wear his old leather jacket. He hadn't worn it for a while, no need here in the territories - his issue parka was substantial enough in mild weather. And wearing the sweater Maggie had knit him for Christmas would keep him plenty warm. She had many talents and knitting was one of them.

This year the sweater was scarlet red, flat knit, funnel-neck and soft as a doe. Nicer than the bottle green roll-neck from last year. He hadn't thought that was possible, but he did, indeed, like it better. It seemed logical to wear it to the Christmas/Solstice festivities, since it was, in fact, festive. And the leather jacket, though old, was somehow dressy.

Not that it mattered. The people of Cold Blade were not folks for formality. They were a kind, accepting people who tolerated Benton Fraser's presence as the only RCMP presence in 15,000 square km. His solitary presence.

Solitary was the best thing for Fraser. He'd come to accept that. The solitude. He was better alone. He might as well be alone.


He had a Scout troop. He was in the church choir. He was making a life here. And it was Christmas. As in all things, the people of the area included him. They wouldn't let him be by himself.

So, he bathed, shaved, cleaned his teeth, and put on his Christmas sweater, not wanting to let them down. Didn't want them to ask if he was okay. The solitude was bad enough. The solicitude was far worse.

Picking up his guitar case, he stepped into the cool evening air and set his Stetson firmly on his head. Time to face the music.

The light coming from the civic centre was warm, and welcome. Fraser had to admit that he was glad not to be at home by himself. The last years had taken away the tough layers. The years in Chicago had been much too friendly. For all its hard edges, it had a soft underbelly. Sometimes the soft underbelly was hidden under pain and refuse, but it was there. Honestly, there were times when he missed West Racine Ave. and Wacker, and the 27th.

Alice Longhouse was used to being in charge. A native woman of undetermined age. Of undetermined native origin, as well. One did not say no to Alice. One simply fell to.

This year, members of his scout troop were in charge of the tree. It had been imported from Edmonton at a ridiculous expense. But, it had been paid for by the citizens, so Fraser remained silent. It was Christmas, after all.

It stood close to three meters in height, with full, generous branches. Old-fashioned, multi-colored bulbs were already strung on the tree, and various ornaments made of pipe cleaners, sticks, food-colored salt dough cut-out ornaments hung from gold Mylar ribbon. It was a higgledy-piggledy amalgamation of homemade delights that spoke of the care of children, and indulgence of adults, in preparation for the winter feast.

Fraser waded into the clutch of children of various sizes and ages. They were all in his scout troop. Technically, it was four troops: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Brownies and Girl Scouts. Six children, four troops; it required meticulous record keeping, as well as parental help. It amazed Fraser the extent to which the thing came together as smoothly as it did. A lot of things amazed Fraser.

"The oldest should put the angel on the top of the tree," Harold Oxnose said. That was logic, of a kind. At 12, Harold was the oldest.

Heather Menzies stomped her foot. The tiny blond was five years old, and the youngest. Her blue eyes were flashing, telling Benton what she thought of Harold's logic.

"Ben," Harold whined, looking up to him as an ally. Oh, dear. A thumb to his eyebrow. "Perhaps we should have a lottery." Well, that was, what's the word? Lame. The children groaned.

"I think we should go with oldest," Alice interrupted, and pushed her ninety-something mother towards Fraser. The three exchanged smirks, and Benton said, "Splendid. Daisy, it would be an honor if you placed the angel for us." He gave a quelling look to Harold, as the boy blew out an irritated breath. For all the good it did.

The step ladder was moved forward, and for all her good intentions, Daisy allowed Fraser to settle the gauze and ribbon angel at the top of the tree, securing it with a hidden wire.

Ephram Luce stood silently beside Fraser. The boy had just come to Cold Blade to live with his grandmother. His own mother was in prison for drug dealing, his father had died several years ago in an oil field accident on the British Columbia side of Alberta. Painfully shy, education woefully neglected, socially inept, ears like jug handles, the boy hadn't come easily into Fraser's troop. If Benton didn't walk him to the meetings every Tuesday night, he was certain the boy would not come.

Which is why Fraser did, and why Fraser would until the boy was an Eagle Scout. He knew Ephram Luce better than anyone.

"Gramma said we wouldn't have a tree this year," he muttered.

Fraser didn't look down at the boy, not wanting to make him nervous. He saw a tentative hand reach out to finger one of the fir's branches.

"We never had a Christmas tree." A gentle nod from Fraser and the boy continued. "Never had the money. Mom didn't think it was important."

"My grandmother would dress a bush," Fraser offered.

"That must have been attractive."

Yes, it was said with a certain amount of derision, heavy sarcasm, but it made Fraser smile anyway. The ten year old was comfortable with him. "No, not attractive so much as practical. My grandmother was practical."

Ephram snorted in commiseration. He understood practical grandmothers very well. Now he was fingering the popcorn they had strung at the last scout meeting. "It's the most beautiful tree I've ever seen," he whispered.

Fraser probably couldn't have spoken if he had to. His throat clogged, his eyes burned. He nodded when the boy looked up at him, the youth's eyes as bright as his own. Whatever the tree cost, it was worth every penny.

The buffet dinner was set along one wall, cafeteria tables flanking it. A big haunch of caribou filled in for the Christmas Goose. There were many other favorites as well. Fraser had contributed Green Bean Casserole, having delivered it, ready for the oven, earlier in the morning. It was what he brought back from the US, recipe straight from Barbara Kowalski's kitchen. It wasn't that it tasted good, precisely, but he found that the ingredients, the ease of preparation, as well as the apparent enjoyment by all, made it somehow the United States in a Dish.

Melinda Franklin, the itinerant minister, stood in front of him, looking up at him with smiling eyes. She had brought a date, a strapping ox of a man, for which Fraser was grateful. He liked Melinda. Found her to be winning company, but not the kind of company those around them would have wished. Perhaps it's just human nature to want to find a companion for your friends.

"Isn't Maggie coming up this year?" she asked, picking up a melamine plate from the pile of utilitarian tableware.

"No, she is on duty. The junior officer at her detachment has two little ones. She's taking his shifts."

"Admirable," Melinda said, tilting her head. "You two are very much alike."

Very much. "Except she's prettier."

Melinda rolled her eyes. "Nice sweater. Is it new?"

Melinda was just making conversation. Fraser knew that. "Yes, Maggie's Christmas gift."

"Red suits you."

He nodded, raising his chin a little bit. The conversation could politely end there since Melinda was now filling her plate. Fraser chose some of everything, including a goodly portion of the casserole he'd brought. Some men took comfort in drink, he took his in green beans and canned mushroom soup.

The door opened behind him, the stiffening wind surely bringing a late comer to the party. He placed a roll on his plate, only turning when he managed to anchor it in the mashed potatoes.

"Maggie?" He cocked his head. His sister wasn't to be here. His sister had duty. The frown deepened when she stopped just inside the door, stepping aside allowing the man behind her to blow into the room.

"Man, it's cold out there."

The plate stayed upright, but his silverware clattered to the floor. "Ray?"

"Yep." Ray Kowalski was pulling his gloves off with his teeth and his hat off with his other hand. "That plate for me? I'm so hungry I could eat-musk ox?"

"Caribou," Fraser supplied, automatically, still not sure of what he was seeing.

"Same thing," Ray said, pulling the plate from nerveless fingers. He grabbed a knife and fork and went to sit down at a table with a couple of free seats, introducing himself to the people at the table.

Fraser's mouth closed. He blinked. This is what pole-axed felt like, he was sure. Shaking himself, he turned to where he last saw Maggie, only to find her smack in front of him. "I thought you were working." He was trying for sarcastic, but achieved petulant.

Maggie smiled up at him, her teeth nearly blinding him. "I was, until Ray showed up at the detachment telling me I had to drive him up here to spend Christmas with you."

"But your shift-"

"Is being handled by Constable Thompson."

Fraser still frowned. "But I thought you were taking his Christmas shifts."

"I was, until the wind from the south blew in." Maggie was smiling fondly in Ray's direction. "Constable Thompson was quite amenable. Ray made quite an impression."

Ray would. He would, indeed. He was, in fact. Right now he was listening intently to whatever Lavern Oxnose was saying, nodding, interested. He couldn't even begin to imagine what the man was telling Ray, and whether Ray would be able to discern the tall tale from the truth.

"He's fine, Ben. Let's get something to eat." Ben nodded, dragging his attention from mirage that must be Ray, not wanting to lose sight of him.

As it was, he spent more time watching Ray than his plate. He looked down to see that Maggie had filled it. Looking into her laughing eyes, he admitted his transparency. "Thank you," he murmured, now fascinated with his plate.

Maggie butted his shoulder with hers. "That's what family's for."

Fraser wanted to say something, in fact he licked his lips, looking for words. He looked at Maggie, before returning his gaze to the back of Ray's head.

"I know," his sister said softly beside him. "Let's eat."

"Glad you could join us, Fraser," Ray said, smiling up at him. He had gotten a cup of coffee from somewhere, a large pot of tea already sat on the table. "This is great. Just what the doctor ordered." Fraser blinked. Doctor? After a moment of fear for Ray's health, Fraser realized it was a euphemism for "I was hungry." He relaxed a fraction.

Benton clasped his hands, and bowed his head.

"What you doing, Fraser?" Ray asked.

"Giving thanks." Never more so than right this minute.

"I'm all over that," Ray said, clapping him on the back. "All over that," he repeated, stealing a forkful of green beans from his plate.

Benton realized he no longer had an appetite. Excitement. Adrenaline. Disbelief. All three. He looked at his plate and lifted a full fork to his mouth. And again. Repeating the process until he'd eaten half of his dinner. Now, he could put his fork down. Lean back. Look at Ray.

Getting comfortable was not to be. The scouts were to help clear the tables, and put out dessert. The choir was washing dishes. As ever, duty called. "Excuse me," he said, pushing from the table. Ray's warm hand grasped his thigh.

He swallowed and looked up at Ray, who was looking sheepish. Again, Fraser felt concern surface. "I'm gonna go kill a butt." He was smoking again. That saddened Fraser as much as it seemed to embarrass Ray to admit it.


But Ray's look told Benton that there might be more to understand. He picked up plates and headed toward the kitchen, resisting the desire to follow Ray. He knew that Ray was here, that he wouldn't disappear as suddenly as he appeared.

Ray, though was pushed from his mind when Heather decided to bypass clearing dinner dishes and go straight to dessert set up. However, that involved tugging at a covered cake plate that was on the counter. She stretched with all her might, grasping for purchase where she could. Her angle and height were such that she could in no way know that a container of raspberry sauce covered only by plastic wrap was perched precariously on top of the cake plate. Fraser watched in morbid fascination as the blood red liquid arched unerringly in the direction of Heather's white lace frock.

The scream alone would have woken the dead. Heather's mother was there in an instant. As was Heather's Uncle Claire. Claire Humphries had the particularly detestable habit of video taping every incident in Heather's life, more annoying since the arrival of his digital camera. The child wailed, Tina, her mother fussed. The boys were laughing. Adults, too. Heather's crying rose over the din, indignation obvious. Although no occupancy limit was posted in the kitchen area, Fraser believed it had been exceeded. The cacophony certainly exceeded normal decibel ranges. The situation was deteriorating at an exponential rate. He pressed the bridge of his nose with a thumb and forefinger before spending the fingers across his brows. Raising his head to command calmness, he was beat to it.

"There's nothing to see here," Ray shouted as he bulldozed his way into the crowded room. "Let's break it up." He narrowed his eyes on Claire Humphries and the digicam. "You, get that thing out of here. What, you trying to immortalize the kid's shame? What for? To humiliate her in front of the boyfriends in her future? Get it out of here." Chastised, and gaping like an unattractive puffer fish, Claire left the kitchen. "You." He pointed at Fraser. "Take the kids and play Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Reindeer."

"Ray-" Fraser began only to be stopped by a look. A don't mess with me, I know what I'm doing look. "Understood."

As it happens, Alice was also turned out of the kitchen and they consoled themselves in their exile by leading the children (and shirkers) in carols. Her forceful piano style often precluded the need for acoustic guitar, but her heart was in the right place. Benton strummed chords that he could not even hear himself.

The children had deserted him for their dessert. Ben was alone now for the first time in hours, but not lonely. He picked the notes of Silent Night, concentrating on the tune. He knew it was Ray that eased into the folding chair beside his own and his contentment rose. A smile quirked at his lips.

"You want some pie or something?"

"No." Fraser leaned back into the chair now, still picking at Silent Night and encountered Ray's arm flung across the back of the chair. A brow went up as he stole a look at the man beside him. Both arms claimed chairs on either side, legs splayed open, Ray Kowalski looked like the master of all he surveyed.

"Thought you'd have the pumpkin pants on."

He gave a negative shake of the head. His review order hadn't been out of its garment bag since he'd applied his fourth star to the left sleeve. Most days it was just the blue utility uniform--a convenient poly-cotton blend. Some days it was a Henley and flannel. No need to dress like a target.

Fraser blinked. "This isn't an official function, Ray. This is a personal event."

Ray made no comment, just held his chewing gum between his teeth. On someone else that would have been unattractive.

"I've missed you," he said softly, his fingers stilling on the guitar.

Ray blew out a sigh. "Yeah. Me, too. I missed you, too." He didn't look at Ben, and his concern grew. "I've had a bad couple of months."

Forcing himself to continue breathing, Fraser remained silent, only nodding.

"Um-" There was a long pause. "I kinda let my drinking get out of control." Another pause. "Bad."

Fraser hid the grimace by wincing, deep lines furrowing around his eyes. "I didn't know."

From the corner of his eye Fraser could see Ray rolling the gum around in his mouth, like it didn't taste good anymore. "Not many people knew. Um, I made it into work everyday, that wasn't the problem. It was the other fourteen hours I'd had to deal with.

"One day Frannie showed up at my desk, dragged me to the car and drove me to a drunk tank." He pulled a serviette out of the pocket of his jeans and disposed of his gum, taking refuge in the action. Fraser watched Ray's hands, unable to move with the weight on his chest. "Pretty close to the worse day of my life. Right up there in the top ten."

"You're-" Fraser didn't know what to call it.

"Dry? Yeah. It sucks."

"I'm sorry, Ray."

"No, Fraser, being dry doesn't suck, it's the process."

Fraser didn't know how to respond to that. His first hand experiences with addiction were very limited and the effects devastating. He looked at the ground, then the stained ceiling tiles. There were no answers there.

"One of the steps, the one I had the worst time with was the apologizing one."

Looking straight ahead, Fraser felt his jaw tense.

"I mean, you don't apologize to Frannie for being a pain-in-the-ass almost brother. I'm no way going to apologize to my dad for being a cop. My mom, I apologized for the years I didn't speak to my dad. It was hard on her. Stella, she doesn't get an apology. She was mean to me."

Fraser couldn't help the turn of his lips at his whine. When Ray didn't continue, he bravely turned his head to look at him full on. Ray was toying with the zipper of the jacket he'd yet to take off. Like he may not be staying after he has his say.

Makes his apology.

The seizing in Fraser's chest intensified. Swallowing was nearly impossible.

"So, I had to come myself. Had to set things straight. Meet my issues head on." His tone of voice is telling, rich with sarcasm, laced with anger. "I'd rather meet a train head on."

Not willing to bleed in public, Benton set his guitar in its case, closing it with a snap. He was at the door when Ray caught up with him. "Fraser, where are you going? I'm not done talking."

The battle for composure was not one Fraser had made in some time. Strong emotions had not been experienced in several years, now he was wallowing in a morass that threatened to swamp him.

"Ben?" It was Maggie.

His eyes closed as his lips thinned. "You have a place for the night?"

"I do," she said.

He nodded. His eyes were open now, but they were on the door. And escape.

"You're letting your sister stay somewhere else on Christmas?" Ray's agitation was obvious. He was hopping nervously beside Benton, drawing attention.

Fraser looked at Maggie and saw her acceptance and understanding, and again felt swamped. Maggie spoke clearly, "I've already made arrangements."

"Then, I'll see you in the morning."

Through the doors and out into the night. Fraser heard the doors open as he walked down the cold street. That would be Ray.

"You forgot your coat."

"I assumed you'd bring it."

That made him quiet. Ray lagged behind a moment, lighting a cigarette before jogging to catch up. In a fleeting moment of flight of fancy, the scene reminded Fraser oddly of Ratzo Rizzo and Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy, himself striding stiffly, Ray hunched over against to cold, lighting a cigarette into the wind.

The silence between them stretched on. The ice crunched underfoot, the wind whistled around buildings, snow swept by them. Fraser felt as cold on the outside now as he did on the inside as he walked toward his cabin a little further than the edge of town.

Ray mimicked Fraser, kicking the snow from the soles of his boots, following him up the step to his igloo shaped cabin. Fraser had purchased the place from the estate of ex-patriot, ex-hippy Yank. It seemed to project an off-balanced view of ergonomics in a barren wilderness. The windmill also lent a whimsical quality, and was responsible for his hot water. When the blades weren't frozen.

Easing onto the bench inside the door, he began to unlace his boots. He scooted over to allow Ray to do the same. A light over the sink cast a soft glow on the room, lighting Fraser's way to the woodstove to make sure the heat was sufficient. It warmed his face and hands. The stove wasn't large, it wasn't necessary since the cabin was superinsulated. Too much fire in the stove baked the interior.

And the room was still warm, heating Fraser. Padding to the refrigerator, he removed the pitcher of water and poured himself a mug full.

But he didn't drink it. Cold water was not going to give him what he needed. Turning from the counter, he saw a rather stunned Ray standing in the middle of his living quarters, scratching his head.

He handed the mug to Ray who downed it in one gulp and received the empty mug back.

"So, plaid," Ray said as Ben put the empty mug in the sink. "I would have figured plaid."

Ben looked around the room, actually acknowledging the plaid for the first time. With a Dress Stewart duvet on the iron bed, a Black Watch chesterfield, a rather yellow imbued Fraser hassock, and Hunting Stewart curtains, it looked like a Tartan tag sale. It was overmuch, but it all came with the place; he'd only added bookcases, and books.

Ray was staring at him when he finished looking around the room. Head cocked to one side, Ray was studying him getting ready to speak again. Fraser wasn't ready for that.

Grasping mandibles and ears, Fraser brought Ray's mouth to his. The water had toned down the taste of tobacco was an idle thought as he insisted the slack lips open. Warm, wet, beautiful. The taste, a distant memory, now came flooding back, threatening to knock him over.

He could now add taste to the onslaught of emotions that had swamped him since Ray had blown into the community centre, and taken him by the throat. Now he had Ray by the literal throat and he doubted that he'd be able to relinquish his hold.

Then Ray pulled back, pushed back with some force. Fraser was not going to relinquish his hold.

"Fraser-" He started.

"This isn't what you came for?" It was a cruel thing to ask when evidence pressed against his hipbone.

Ray looked at him a long time, like he wanted to deny it. "Maybe," he sighed finally.

His was a 'mmmmm' of non-commitment. And it was said he didn't lie. His lips were once more against Ray's, tongue exploring the sandpaper that stubbled his jaw to his ear. Eye-teeth worried the lobe he found there. "I want-"

Ray made a burbling sound, but rubbed himself against Ben's hipbone. It was an answer that both men could understand. Ben began pulling Ray's thermal shirts over his head, and pushing his loose jeans down over his hips, all while moving backwards towards the bed.

They could talk tomorrow. They would talk tomorrow, but for tonight actions would speak louder than words. If this were the gift he would be given for Christmas, Ben would take it.

Removing the clothes was part of the whole sensory experience. Waffle weave thermal, a silk undershirt full of snags, blessedly furred skin, hip bones, ribs to be counted by Braille.

"Fucking 501's," Ray was muttering as his fingers jerked the buttons of Fraser's jeans. That would have to be Ray's concern because Fraser was not detouring from his current bent. Ray was here, Ray was amenable. Fraser was not going to miss this opportunity. He might never get another one.

His tongue lapped at the hollow where collarbone met shoulder, flat tongue on tangy skin. Up the neck to where the stubble of his beard began. The taste was beyond anything he remembered. Their search for Franklin's hand had put them in close proximity, but the line was drawn and he could no more cross it than put his own eye out. The long days of travel, the exhausted sleep that took their nights, the smell of their own unwashed bodies had precluded intimacy of this sort. The tenuousness of their future kept their communication terse and pertinent only to their travels. Few insights were shared.

Too much time was lost.

Both now naked, save Ray's woolen socks, Fraser straddled the man in his bed, most of his weight on his knees and elbows. The glitter Ray's eyes almost manic as he examined Fraser. A small smile touched Fraser's mouth as he, too, looked his fill. The lines around the eyes deepened as Ray smiled. Grooves were deeply carved around his mouth, stubble etching them with texture. Fraser could not resist running the pad of his ring finger over Ray's bottom lip. Ray could not resist exposing his lower teeth on the pad of his finger, his eyes so baldly inviting that Fraser groaned, growled deep in his throat, arching his hips into Ray's.

Touching Ray was like nothing else. This full skin contact could not have been imagined to be as glorious as it was elemental. Fraser could not help but want to touch everywhere, with his hands, with his tongue, rub his face on the chest offered to him. Eyes closed, he took a deep breath to fill his lungs with an essence long denied.

Oh, God. Listen to him, sounding like a Victorian heroine, when all he wanted to do was behave like a dog. A rutting, pathetic animal.

Nuzzling Ray's belly would be an outstanding place to begin the rut, his nose, then his tongue seeking refuge in a most attractive navel. "That tickles," Ray said. Fraser murmured an unintelligible reply into Ray's navel. "That tickles more." So, Fraser moved on.

Ray's penis, like Ray, was exquisite. Well-veined, strong, full. Fraser curled his tongue around it, moving to its tip, tasting forbidden fruit. Tonguing the slick slit, Benton felt the reaction. Ray writhed beneath him, his fist rhythmically knocking the side of Ben's head. It didn't hurt, so Ben assumed it was love tapping and continued his worship.

"Yeah, that's perfect. Perfect. Per-fect."

Ben hardly believed his ministrations to be perfection. That would take a lot more practice. He was simply aiming for assiduous diligence. Well, a mind blowing blow job. His effort was not any trouble at all and Ray was generally very easy to please. In fact, right now, he seemed to be quite pleased. Pleasured.

Benton had to firmly tell his inner conversation to cease.

Firm arms gripped his shoulders wrenching him up nose-to-nose with Ray. Again, Ray seemed to be searching for words. Again, Ben silenced him with his lips, exploring the teeth and tongue of the man he loved, taking the breath he needed like it was the breath of life. That was too close to what was the true.

Ray was a dancer. Horizontally, vertically, he had a grace that translated movement in a way that humbled Benton. His movements were languid, his hands moving deftly from his shoulders to the small of his back. Thumbs settled in the dimples above his tailbone, fingers spreading out, then clutching the flesh of backside, pulling Ben's organ into contact with Ray's.

"Not gonna last another minute," he muttered against Ben's face, arching up into his body and his hardness. A skittering breath left Ben as he met Ray's thrust, heat gathering in him, forcing its way to the surface. Eyes squeezed shut; he thrust again, and again, letting the sensation wash over him, exploding with white fire taking him close to heaven.

He slumped then, nearly falling on top of Ray, his arms trembling under his own weight. But strong arms tugged him down to lie heavily on Ray. Dropping his face onto the pillow beside the beloved head, he allowed himself to begin breathing again. His skin still tingled, tingled in a way that it did not when he took care of himself, himself. Ray, too, was twitching in his own aftershocks.

As reason returned, Fraser was aware that he would have to experience this act again. Maybe more than once before Ray left. Sensory stimulation of this degree could not be turned off, and away. Fraser once again cursed his weakness.

"What was that?" Ray wanted to know.

"Frottage," Fraser supplied.

"Better than I guessed," came the exhausted mutter beside his ear. Ray had turned his head toward Fraser and was now rubbing a cheek along the ear bringing a sigh from Benton. "Yeah, that's how I feel."

Then Ray was asleep.

A primal urge may have been satisfied, but adrenaline still pumped through Ben. He pushed himself from the bed, nearly stumbling on strewn clothes toward the bathroom to clean up. Returning to bed, he swabbed gently at Ray's groin with a warm washcloth.

After he'd rinsed the washcloth and hung it to dry, he returned to examine Ray. Lighting the lamp, he pushed the covers aside. The sleeping Ray didn't like being exposed to cool air and curled into a ball. He was thin, thinner than the last time Ben had seen him. Ribs, always prominent, shown sharply against translucent skin. Shoulder blades threatened to poke through his back. Ben ran a hand from shoulder to elbow, jumping off to savor hip and buttocks. Nothing was more beautiful than this skinny ass.

Ray shivered in his sleep. It was time for Ben to end this flight of fancy and cover Ray for the night. Easing down beside him, Ben pulled the blankets over both of them. He accepted Ray into his arms, sharing his warmth.

Arms full, he lay very nearly content, still amazed at the gift of Ray. One he was sure he did not deserve. He was sad that Ray felt he could not confide in him his alcoholism. That he'd suffered alone. More dead wood to add to the pyre of his guilt.

He should have never let Ray go all those months ago. Years, now. He should have selfishly devised a weirdly bizarre reason to keep him by his side. He shouldn't have been so selfish as to not return to Chicago. But, there was no reason to return to Chicago, he had his pick of postings and for the first time ever in his life chose something he wanted.

All of it added up to a loneliness that ate at his very soul. Yes, he'd written newsy letters to Ray, and Frannie, Lt. Welsh and Ray Vecchio. Letters telling much of his posting and his duties, but nothing of his loneliness. Rousting drunks on a Friday night, tracking poachers across the tundra, while an exciting read, told little of Benton's heart.

Pulling Ray closer to him, Fraser rested a cheek on the top of his head. He willed his breathing to slow, forced thought from his mind and allowed himself to sleep.

Fraser awoke find himself alone in bed. Noise from the kitchen and the smell of bacon further roused him. Propping himself on an elbow, he saw Ray standing at the small propane stove, fork in hand, fist on hip worrying over a hissing skillet. Dressed in his baggy jeans and Fraser's discarded Henley, even his back was endearing.

Ray noticed Ben was awake when he turned to take a sip from his mug. A slow, shy smile appeared on his face. "Merry Christmas, buddy." Ben felt himself blush as he returned the smile. "Merry Christmas to you, Ray."

"Come and watch this bacon while I go have a cigarette." Ever obedient, Fraser pushed the covers aside and stood. "But, put some clothes on, you're way too distracting." His blush deepened, but obediently, he bent to pick up his jeans, his boxers still inside. Pulling a clean shirt from his bureau, he made his way to the bacon.

"Where's Dief," Ray asked when he came back inside.

"Out to stud."

That made Ray stop and look at Fraser with disbelief. "Stud?"

"Yes. Maggie's Uncle Clem had two bitches that he wanted to breed. Dief will be there 'til the first of the year."

Ray's smile broadened. "So, you got him sex for Christmas?'

Ben was rueful. "What does one get the wolf that has everything?"

"Too true." Ray sat down to a bacon and cheese sandwich, he raised a brow at Ben.

"I only have powdered eggs." Ray grimaced at the thought. "I thought a sandwich would be tasty and filling."

"A new Christmas tradition."

If only. Ben straightened and moved to the refrigerator, only to stare at it, not opening it. He didn't hear Ray approach him, but realized he was centimeters behind him. "You know I love you, don't you?" The question was a murmur.

"I figured that out a long time ago," Ray said.

Ben turned to stare, dumfounded. Ray knew, he knew all this time, yet said nothing. Had they been separated for no reason?

"If you'd wanted me to stay, you would have said so, right? When you let me go, I figured you had your reasons."

Benton Fraser realized at that moment that he was the most unutterably stupid man on the face of the earth. He focused his attention on his feet, his head as heavy as his heart.

"You know, I'm just as big an ass as you are." Ray's socked feet appeared toe-to-toe with his own. "I coulda picked up the phone any time, but - see - hearing your voice - it wouldn't have been enough. Not nearly enough." Ray grabbed a handful of Ben's shirt. "But, I had to keep going. Had to hang on for my fucking twenty years on the force."

Ray was closer now. His other hand had insinuated itself under his shirt to hook his fingers into a belt loop. "But, that twenty year bullshit - it sucked. Knowing it was taking time away from being here with you. It sucked like the bottom of my shoe." Ray jerked Fraser bodily until his forehead rested on his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Fraser whispered.

"Shut up. I'm the one that's apologizing."

"Ray, there's no need-"

"I said, shut up."


Ray shoved him into the refrigerator, the front of Fraser's shirt still gripped in one hand; the other was cocked back, fist ready to fly. "Son-of-a-bitch," he growled.

"I'll shut up, Ray."

"Yes, you will."

As quickly as Ray was ready to strike, the tempest passed, and Fraser was back in his arms. This time in a hug. Fraser allowed himself to return the embrace, slipping his fingers up under Ray's shirt. "All that time - when I was eyeball deep in gin - this is all I ever thought about. I'd wake up fucked up, knowing I had to go to the fucking station and put in fucking time. Duty was the only thing that dragged me out of bed, that kept me from packing it in."

The bleakness overwhelmed Ben, the helplessness. He tried to pull away, but Ray wouldn't relinquish him. There was no escape from the pale eyes that were baring his soul.

"I owe Francesca a debt of gratitude."

It took a moment for the non-sequitor to register, and Ray smiled. "Oh, boy, do we." Ray's smile was captivating, and Fraser was captured. Without thought or analysis, Ben moved his mouth to Ray's letting the warmth engulf him again. Ray kissed magnificently. Ben had guessed he would. Tongue tasted tongue - fighting, mating, exploring until Ray pulled away. "That makes my tongue tired."

"Sorry, Ray-"

"Freak." He butted Ben's forehead with his own. "That's a good thing."

"I was thinking that myself." Fraser tilted his head for another kiss. When they came up for air, Ray said, "You wanna neck on the couch?"

Fraser was now doing a flat-tongued cat lick of collar bone. He paused a moment. "I have a perfectly good bed, Ray."

"Yeah, but your sister might be a little uncomfortable if she gets here and we're in it."

Fraser straightened, a frown between his brows. Ray smiled. "I called her when I was outside. She's bringing all my stuff over."

"All your stuff?"

"That's okay, isn't it? I can stay, right?"

Oh, yes, Ray. You can stay. Ben pulled Ray into his arms certain he would never let him go again, could never let him go. He'd been stupid enough to let him go before. Lied to himself that it was for the best. But it hadn't been for the best. Not for either of them. They both suffered at the altar of duty; the time missed could never be retrieved. Now Fraser would take this gift and cherish it so fully every day he had left. So, he said, "Necking on the couch could be fun."

There was nothing like colossal understatement to bring a wide, wild smile to Ray's face. His precious, beautiful face. Ben pushed Ray toward the couch wondering if they would end up embarrassing Maggie after all.

The end.

End A Heart Alone by BJ Cochran: BJCochran@aol.com

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