Soundtrack: V.A.S.T "Somewhere Else to Be." Aside from that,
mostly Melissa Etheridge, particularly "How Would I Know?"
"My Lover," "Enough of Me," "Truth of the Heart"
and "Sleep," from 'Breakdown' as well as "If I Wanted
To" and "Come to My Window" from 'Yes I Am.'
Benton Fraser, Ray Kowalski and a whole bunch of these other people belong
to Alliance, which if you ask me is slavery and isn't that illegal?
Rated NC17 for m/m intimacy ("That
means 'sex' in Fraserspeak." "Thank you Ray.") Warnings:
This is an AU, wherein many things happened quite differently from the
way they did in the series; however, there are moments of resonance.
Thanks to Audra, Andre, Betty and Judi for help along the road. Special
thanks to Betty for assistance with one particularly recalcitrant scene,
and to Audra, Betty & LaTonya for unparalleled beta-work. My humblest
Somewhere Else to Be
© 2000 Kellie Matthews
"Hey, Doc! This
baby giving you trouble again?" the tall, slender man in mechanic's
coveralls asked, looking surprised. "You're gonna ruin my reputation
Fraser flicked a thumb nervously across his left eyebrow. "Yes,
well, I'm sure whatever is wrong must be my fault, Stanley, I'm just
not very good with mechanical things," he said, absolutely truthfully.
He was positive that what was wrong was his fault, as he had spent the
better part of an hour working on the fan belt with a file to be sure
it broke without looking like it had been cut.
the scruffy blond said.
me?" Benton asked, puzzled.
name's Ray. Not Stanley."
Benton looked again at the embroidered patch which embellished the man's
coveralls over the smooth curve of pectoral muscle. It plainly read
'Stanley,' just as he'd remembered. "Forgive me, I thought. . .
man looked down, following his gaze, and then back up, flashing a quick,
spontaneous grin. "Yeah, well, okay, so my name really is Stanley,
that's my first name, but I go by my middle name, Ray. The boss sees
Stanley on the job application, though, and that's what goes on the patch.
Three years I work here, and he still never got it through his head that
I go by Ray, and then the new guy took over and I figure why fight it?
So, just think of me like Superman or something. By day I'm mild mannered
mechanic, Stanley Kowalski, by night I'm . . . Ray."
was diverted by the flight of fancy. It was part and parcel of the easy
manner and open friendliness that Benton found so appealing about the
other man. Stanl. . . or rather, Ray, was the only person he knew in
Chicago who didn't treat him like some sort of consumable, like the young
women in his classes, or like a pariah for getting the fellowship that
slightly less than half of the department had wanted to award to someone
else. He knew it was pathetic for him to resort to sabotaging his own
vehicle for a few moments of real conversation, but he was, frankly,
desperate. He wasn't sure how he was going to survive another day of
accepted the fellowship, nine months in Chicago had not seemed like such
a bad idea, and it would give him access to the collections he needed
for his research; and though he'd been lonely, the first month or so
hadn't been so bad. But each successive month got worse as departmental
politics failed to resolve themselves and he discovered that some American
women were rather . . . forceful about their attentions, leading him
to have a strict open door policy during his office hours. He'd grown
more and more homesick, and then on top of it all, summer had
hit, and the combination of negatives became almost more than he could
bear. Which is what had driven him here, of all places.
what does Stanley's alter-ego do at night?" he asked, grasping at
straws to continue the conversation.
stared at him for a moment, eyes wide and surprised. Benton gazed back,
wondering what he was so surprised about, and rather intrigued by the
way his eyes seemed to catch the light, as if there were gold in their
blue. He'd never seen eyes quite like that. After a moment Ray shrugged.
really. No secret crime-fighting for me. Couldn't get into the academy.
So I watch TV if there's anything good on, which there isn't usually.
Once in a while I go out for a beer, shoot some pool. Sometimes I go
over to the Senior Center and play chess with Albert Hanrahan."
"You play chess?"
Benton winced, inwardly, sure his surprise sounded insulting. Still,
he would never have guessed this man was a chess player.
slightly defensive expression flashed across Ray's angular face. "Yeah.
My dad taught me when I was a kid. I like to keep my hand in, and Mr.
Hanrahan is a tough guy to beat. Strange old bird, crazy as a loon but
plays a mean game. Now, let's see what's wrong with this baby . . .
" Ray said, popping the T-clamps on the passenger side of the hood.
"I play chess,"
Ben volunteered diffidently, hoping that hadn't sounded as feeble as
he thought it had.
nodded in acknowledgment as he straightened and moved around to the other
side, released those clamps, and lifted the hood. He planted both hands
on the fender and leaned in, searching, poking, prodding. He had remarkably
long, slender fingers. That was obvious despite the grease and scrapes
that marred his narrow hands. He had the hands of a pianist, not a mechanic.
Benton had noticed he wore no wedding ring, nor had Ray made mention
of a girlfriend in his recitation of potential evening activities. For
some reason Benton found that surprising. He would have thought a friendly,
attractive person like Ray would be married or at least have a girlfriend.
"Here's the problem."
Ray said, straightening up, the broken belt dangling from his hands.
"Fan belt. Hunh. . . " Ray sounded puzzled. "I just
replaced this puppy at your last tune-up. It shouldn't have broken this
fast. Must've been detrac. . . I mean, defective. Look, I'll replace
it free, okay? Don't want anybody thinking I'd use defective parts."
Oh dear. Now that he
couldn't allow, not when he knew perfectly well that it hadn't been defective.
He cast around desperately for a reason to refuse. "I couldn't
let you do that, Ray. Wouldn't the cost of the part come out of your
twisted around to look over his shoulder, grinning. "I don't think
it's gonna break me, Doc. And I should have noticed if it was bad, usually
I can spot a bubble or a flaw in a belt before I put it in. I must've
been tired or something that day."
wouldn't be right," Benton said weakly. "I insist on paying
for the cost of any needed repairs."
frowned. "Look, Doc, I make good money, it's okay. Let me do it,
I'd feel better. I mean, you've been in here twice a month for the past
three months. That's not right. You shouldn't keep having problems
like that. I mean, she's a good, sound piece of machinery even if she's
got a few miles on her. And you're not that rough on her, it's not like
Chicago's any kind of hardship for a vehicle like this. I can't figure
why you keep having all these problems."
could feel a blush rising in his face and hoped the spotty fluorescent
lights hid it. "Yes, well, as I said, I'm not very good with mechanical
things. And I was out on gravel roads last week, perhaps a stone was
thrown up by the tires and nicked the belt." God. That had sounded
unutterably stupid, hadn't it?
shook his head, grinning. "Nice try, Doc, but theories probably
work better in the classroom than in a garage. I gotta find a replacement
belt, I'll be right back, okay? You stay put and don't touch anything."
Ray sauntered, away,
and Benton stayed, despite being a little irked by the command, uttered
as if he were a child who might hurt himself, or worse, damage some precious
piece of equipment. He was half tempted to pick up a wrench or a tire-iron
just to be contrary, but realizing that would prove him to be as childish
as the command had assumed, he refrained. A moment later Ray was back,
a new belt in his hands.
ought to do her," he said, leaning into the engine compartment again.
"Y'know, I always wondered how a guy like you ended up with a jeep.
You don't look the type."
now what did that mean? It sounded vaguely insulting. "What type
do I look, then?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
Ray lifted his head,
studied him a moment. "Volvo. Maybe Saab," he allowed, then
returned his attention to the engine.
Now that hurt. "I see," he said morosely. "I hadn't
realized I looked like a pretentious yuppie."
mechanic lifted his head, rather too quickly, and whacked it on the hood.
He winced and rubbed at the spot with the back of one hand. "I
didn't say that," he said, frowning.
suppose not, but the implication is there."
not. It's just. . . ." he paused, clearly groping for words, and
gestured toward Benton with an oddly helpless little movement of his
hands. "You're all. . . buttoned down, neat, tidy, tweedy. Jeep
guys, they're usually jeans and tee-shirt guys. They have dogs. They
He was beginning to understand. "I have a dog," he offered.
"Well, a wolf, actually."
looked at him, surprised. "You do?"
nodded. "Yes. And I camp. It's rather a hazard of the profession,
actually. And most of my wardrobe is jeans and tee-shirts. I just don't
wear them to work. You're looking at my one and only blazer," he
admitted, looking down at the classic tweed jacket he'd bought at a second-hand
store in Toronto.
was looking at him like he thought he was being put-on. "Hazard
of the profession? For a college professor?" He sounded incredulous.
Suddenly Benton didn't
feel quite so badly about being surprised that Ray played chess. "I
teach archaeology and anthropology. Most summers I spend in the field,
on digs and doing research."
hunh? Like Indiana Jones." Ray grinned. "Bet the girls in
your classes write 'love you' on their eyelids just like in 'Raiders.'
You got a hat?"
smiled wryly. "Actually, yes. Not a fedora though."
studied him. "Yeah, that wouldn't work for you. Wrong shape face.
You got a whip, too?"
eyes were sparkling, literally, with humor. It was contagious. Benton
found himself smiling back, and replied without thinking. "Tried
that once, it wasn't really me."
eyebrows went up, pushing several parallel furrows into being across
his forehead. After a second he laughed, shaking his head. "You're
full of surprises tonight, Doc. So this dog-wolf of yours, how come
I've never seen him?"
Surprisingly, Ray nodded.
"Oh yeah. Hadn't thought of that. But we're careful here. We
got a lot of stray cats around, I always make sure things are disposed
of so they can't get into 'em. Bring him with, next time, I'd like to
meet him. How'd you end up with a wolf-dog?"
that's rather a long story. I'm sure you wouldn't be interested in that."
The sparkle went out
like an extinguished candle and Ray nodded. "Right. Okay. Well
then, I'll just finish up here and you can get on your way." He
leaned back into the engine, deftly sliding those long, thin hands into
the oddly-shaped, narrow spaces between parts to secure the new belt.
Benton was acutely
aware that he had done something wrong, but he wasn't sure what. The
conversation had been quite promising until . . . oh. Oh. Perhaps Ray
had taken his reluctance to start what everyone had assured him was an
extremely dull story as a reluctance to talk in general. He cleared
really want to hear about how I ended up with Diefenbaker?"
Ray frowned. "What's
wolf. I would tell you the story, but you'd probably just fall asleep.
I'm told I have a tendency to ramble."
chuckled. "You're a professor, you're supposed to ramble."
He wiped his hands on a rag and put down the Jeep's hood, latching the
T-clamps into place. "There you go. All done. Denise already
went home, so if you go back out front I'll lock up, then bring this
baby around and write up your ticket for you."
nodded, went back through the door into the office area and Ray locked
the door behind him. He stood, waiting patiently, pleased that he seemed
to have restored the ease between them, looking at the generic mountain
scenery calender by the door. Movement caught his eye and he looked
through the window in the door to see Ray open a locker. Bored, he kept
watching as Ray peeled down the zipper on his coveralls. He was about
to turn away, embarrassed, when Ray shrugged out of the top half of the
coveralls to reveal he was wearing a black, tank-style undershirt beneath
it. Oh. All right. He wasn't being a voyeur after all.
Ray shimmied out of the lower half of the coveralls, revealing a pair
of jeans which, though by no means tight, were still a great deal less
baggy than the brown coveralls. The man had very long legs. He took
a short-sleeved shirt out of the locker and hung the coveralls up in
its place, and closed the locker, then pulled the shirt on over his tank
and toured the repair bay, flipping switches. That done, he got into
Ben's jeep and backed it out into the parking lot. He stopped, set the
brake and jumped out, jogged back inside, pushed a button by the door,
then dashed out again, ducking to avoid the garage door as it rumbled
later the Jeep was out front and Ray was walking in the front door.
With a grin and a wink he tossed the keys to Benton, who caught them
and tucked them into his pants pocket. Ray's gaze followed that motion,
then slid away as he walked over behind the counter and flipped through
the job orders until he found the one he wanted. He leaned on the counter,
writing for a moment, then tore the top copy off and slapped it down
on the spike next to the register. The other copy he held out. Benton
took it, saw what he'd written, and sighed.
told you I wanted to pay for the repair. Your time is valuable, and
the parts cost money as well."
guarantee my work, and that's the last I'm saying about it," Ray
didn't want things to end on this note. He recalled that Ray had said
he sometimes went out for a beer, and decided to chance that. "Well
then, thank you kindly," he said, then continued, awkwardly. "If
you won't let me pay for the repair, can I at least buy you a beer?"
Although he did not drink, himself, he had seen the ritual played out
often enough amongst his students to know that it was a common offer,
and would likely not be refused.
hesitated for a moment, his gaze sharp on Ben's face, then he shrugged.
"Sure, why not? I could use one. Where do you want to go?"
"You choose, I'm
not familiar with the drinking establishments in this area."
Ray's eyebrows went up.
"Drinking establishments? Where're you from, anyway? Oh, never
mind. I remember now. Some place North. . . um. . . Northwest Territories?"
Benton stared at him,
nonplused, certain he had never discussed his origins with Ray. "How
did you know that?" he demanded.
closed his eyes and put his hand to his forehead, frowning dramatically.
"Telepathy," he said, then he dropped his hand, grinned, and
winked. "License plates on the Jeep."
couldn't help but laugh at that. "Oh, lord, I hadn't thought of
that! I wondered if perhaps someone had put a sign on my back."
Ray shook his head, still
smiling. "No, no worries there. Where is that, anyhow? I mean,
I get north and west, but north and west of what?"
much anything," Benton said wryly. "It's north of Alberta,
who? Oh, hang on." Ray dug in a drawer under the register and
produced an atlas. "Here y'go. Point. I never was good at geology."
"You mean geography?"
Benton corrected automatically.
thought he saw a bit of a flush on the other man's face, and felt badly
about embarrassing him. He resolved not to correct him next time. Clearly
Ray had not had an extensive education, but then, Benton couldn't repair
an engine, either. He opened the atlas, flipped through it until he
found a full-page map of North America, and pointed toward the coastline
along the Beaufort Sea. "There. That's home. Inuvik."
Ray studied the map,
whistled softly, and looked at Benton. "Geez, practically the North
Pole. You ever see the uh, thing. . . the aurora?"
nodded, suddenly feeling homesick. "Many, many times."
"Wow. Bet that's
it is," he said simply, because there was no need for more.
Ray looked at him speculatively.
"Bet the heat here's killing you."
nodded. "I am finding it a . . . challenge."
are you doing down here, anyway?"
sighed. "I often ask myself that very thing."
gave him an understanding look, and nodded toward the door. "Let's
get outta here. We'll go over to The Rose. You'll like it, it's air
was true, air conditioning was proving to be a godsend for him, no matter
that he felt guilty for the environmental repercussions. He couldn't
bring himself to purchase a unit for his apartment, but if it was already
in use in the public buildings he frequented, that wasn't his responsibility.
He nodded and followed Ray out of the little office. "Where is
this place? I'll need directions."
turned and pointed up the street. Benton followed his finger, and saw
the big neon flower about two blocks away, and smiled. "I'm not
really sure how I managed to miss that before."
grinned. "People don't see what they're not looking for."
Benton looked at him
for a moment, startled by the simple profundity of that statement, and
nodded. "Yes, that's exactly right. Well, shall we?" he nodded
toward the sign.
nodded back, and Benton headed for the sidewalk. Ray looked surprised
for a moment, then fell into step beside him. "Good idea. No point
in driving two blocks." He looked around mock-furtively, and grinned
again. "Don't tell anybody I said that."
lips are sealed," Ben promised, amused.
* * *
The Doc seemed to un-wilt
a little after about fifteen minutes in The Rose's air conditioned comfort.
Ray wondered why he hadn't just taken off the tweed jacket at the garage.
Wool and button-down collars were not summer gear in Chicago. Maybe
he was just so used to cooler weather that it hadn't occurred to him.
As soon as they sat down, Ray noticed they were getting looks from the
regular bar-chicks across the room. Not surprising, as the other man
was almost ridiculously good-looking. He hadn't ever really thought
of another guy as handsome or attractive before, not a real guy, one
he knew, as opposed to some actor or singer. But this guy, wow. He
was something else. Six feet, give or take a bit, with a build like
a Greek statue and a face right out of a Superman comic. Perfect features,
dark hair, fair skin, cloudy blue-gray eyes.
also noticed he hadn't ordered a beer, or even a soft drink, just water.
It made him feel a little funny about his own beer, but it was too late
to change his order. He wondered if the guy was a recovering alcoholic.
Didn't look like one, but you could never tell. So he sat across the
scarred booth-top from the man, wondering about him as he sipped his
beer, and tried not to feel self-conscious. A little to his surprise,
things grew easier as they talked.
Fraser did indeed ramble a little, but it was at least semi-interesting
rambling, all about the place where he'd grown up, the Northwest Territories.
Sort of like growing up in Alaska, Ray figured. The last holdout of
the frontier. He liked the wolf-dog story, had laughed out loud when
Fraser got to the part where the adolescent wolf knocked the timber into
the mineshaft and brained poor Fraser for the second time. Fraser looked
startled at that, then oddly pleased. Ray got the impression people
didn't listen to the guy very often, not on a personal level anyway.
And boy, he knew that feeling.
though he'd only drunk half of his beer, he was sort of starting to feel
it after having skipped lunch. He glanced at his watch, saw he had time
to eat before he needed to head over for his regular Thursday chess match
with Mr. Hanrahan. He waited for a break in the rambling and then spoke.
order dinner, you want something?"
way Fraser's face lit up you'd think he'd just been invited to dinner
with the President. Or the Queen, maybe, since he was Canadian. He
must not get out much. But man, what a smile. It made Ray glad he'd
asked. He signaled the waiter who brought over menus, and he ordered
the house special burger and fries. He watched Fraser eye the burger
side of the menu, sigh, and flip it over to the healthy stuff side, and
grinned. Reaching across the table he flipped the menu back over.
"Go for it. You
only live once."
really not very healthy, Ray."
tastes good, Doc."
call me Benton."
did a double-take. "Benton? Your name is Benton?" Fraser
nodded, and Ray shook his head. "That's kind of a mouthful. You
mind Ben, instead?"
other man frowned thoughtfully for a moment, then shook his head, smiling
a little. "No, no, I wouldn't mind that."
Ben it is. So go for it, Ben. Get the special, it's a double bacon-cheeseburger
with barbeque sauce. Out of this world. Maybe even some fries. Live
a little. It's not like you have to worry about your weight."
"Actually, I have
to be quite careful here. At home I'm used to consuming far more calories
than I can use here. I don't get the exercise I'm used to, and I don't
expend nearly as much energy simply keeping warm."
laughed. "No, you definitely don't have to worry about keeping
warm here, at least not this time of year. Give it five months and you
might. Still, it's not gonna kill you to have a hamburger now and then,
I suppose not." He turned to the waiter, who had been hovering
patiently through the discussion, and duplicated Ray's order. As the
waiter took off, Ray could see past him, and he groaned as he saw the
petite brunette woman who was coming toward the table.
lord. What the heck does she want? Just what I needed today. No, don't
turn around, maybe she won't notice you. . . damn. Too late."
He saw Frannie pause in mid-step, her gaze cataloguing and evaluating
Benton Fraser, and he shot a dark look in her direction. She ignored
the look or didn't see it, one or the other, and resumed her approach,
this time with a sway in her backside that better belonged on a bar top
in a strip club. She got to the table, struck a pose, and smiled sweetly.
"Hey there Ray."
he acknowledged sullenly. "C'n I help you?"
could introduce me to your friend here. Your very interesting friend,"
she purred suggestively, leaning toward his companion a little, the scent
of expensive perfume wafting off her, her Wonder-Bra pushing her smallish
breasts into actual cleavage beneath her equally expensive silk knit
tank. Ray knew silk when he saw it, he hadn't been with Stella all those
years without learning that. He stifled that thought. Was it his imagination
or did Fraser seem to edge away from her marginally? Maybe he was more
savvy than he looked.
could but I'm not gonna, Mrs. Zuko," he said with deliberate
emphasis. "Now go pick on someone your own size."
Ben exclaimed, sounding horrified.
shot a quelling look at him. "My neighborhood, Doc. I know what
I'm doing. You do not want Frannie's old man gunning for you. Does
predatory look melted into a forlorn little sigh. "No, Ray. He
doesn't. You're right. I'm sorry. It's just. . . well. . . oh, never
Poor Frannie. Married to a guy she didn't even like just because her
brother wanted a piece of the guy's action. He toned down his outrage
and gave her a sympathetic look. "I know, Frannie. I know. But
you gotta not do this. You know what always happens. How many more
guys do you want to end up in the hospital?"
she said in a low voice. She sighed again, shot a longing look at Ray's
companion, and made a wry face. "Well, guess I know where I'm not
wanted. See you around, Ray. Nice not meeting you, handsome."
She started to walk away, then stopped and turned back. She had an odd,
apologetic look on her face.
Ray, you heard Stella and my brother set a date, right?"
flinched, and nodded. "Yeah. I heard."
nodded. "I figured, but I thought you'd probably want to know,
if you hadn't."
Yeah, now I know when to plan my vacation."
gave him a sympathetic smile, and then was gone. He sighed. Sensing
eyes on him, he looked up to find Benton Fraser looking at him with a
slight frown, his expression a mixture of curiosity and disapproval.
After Ray looked at him, he took a breath, hesitated for a moment, then
wasn't very. . . polite."
I know. But believe me, you're better off. First off, she's married.
B, she's married to a mob guy. And if that wasn't enough, Vecchio, that's
her brother, is an even bigger mob guy. Trust me, Doc, the lady's not
seemed nice enough."
is. Frannie's got a good heart, she just doesn't have much sense."
He eyed Ben, seeing him watching Frannie where she stood at the bar,
and wondered if he needed a bit more of a whap from the clue-bat. Yeah,
maybe so. He seemed a little on the gullible side. "And like
I said, she's married, to a guy you do not want to meet in a dark
did it. The eyes snapped back to meet his, and a distinct flush painted
the other man's face. "I assure you, the simple fact that she's
married would have sufficed," Ben said, clearly embarrassed.
Ray looked at him for
a minute, and smiled. "Yeah? Okay. I'll remember that. Wouldn't
matter to lotsa guys."
matters to me," Ben said firmly.
that," Ray said, taking a long swallow of his beer, needing it after
the invocation of Stella. He felt those eyes on him again, glanced over
to see that Ben was watching him thoughtfully. He put down the bottle
and lifted his eyebrows, encouraging him to ask the question he clearly
are there really 'mob guys' hereabouts?"
better believe it."
I suppose I had thought that stories of the dominance of organized crime
in Chicago were exaggerated by the entertainment media for effect."
Ray stared at him, impressed.
"Wow. You talk like that all the time?"
looked puzzled. "Like what?"
grinned, shaking his head. "Never mind."
waiter appeared and set two identical plates before them. Suddenly his
burger and fries weren't nearly as appealing as they had been a few minutes
earlier. Funny how thinking about Stella and Vecchio could completely
ruin his appetite. Still, he had to drive, and he needed food. He picked
up a french-fry and chewed, slowly. Swallowing it was like swallowing
sand. He took another swig of his beer to wash it down, fidgeted with
the label on the bottle, then put it down and poked at the garnish on
his plate. Ben seemed to be having no difficulties with his meal. He
watched Ben eat, pleased that his suggestion had obviously been a good
one. After a few moments Ben wiped his mouth and looked up.
right, this is quite delici. . . " Ben stopped, his gaze going from
Ray to the nearly untouched sandwich on his plate and then back. His
eyebrows lifted in concern. "Is something wrong with your food?"
"No. No, I just
kinda got . . . not hungry."
The other man tilted his head slightly, studying him with slightly narrowed
eyes and a faint frown. "Might that have something to do with the
woman Mrs. Zuko mentioned? Stella?"
dragged a hand through his hair with a groan. "God, is it that
wouldn't say obvious," Ben hedged.
you wouldn't say it because you're polite." Ray sighed. "Yeah.
Okay. Yeah. It is. Her, I mean. I just can't handle thinking about
her an Vecchio. Just kinda. . . eats at me, here." He rubbed at
his chest, then swore. "Damn. Sorry. I got no business putting
that on you. You don't even know me."
sat back and smoothed his fingertips across his left eyebrow. "You're
quite correct. However, I'm told I can be a good listener, when I stop
talking long enough to realize the other person is speaking."
Startled, Ray looked
back up at him. Ben was smiling a little ruefully, but sincerely.
"You really wanna
hear about . . . her?" he ventured.
listened to my Diefenbaker story, it's only fair."
made a face. "Not exactly the same thing. Your story was kinda
I would be happy to listen, if, that is, you wanted to talk."
Ray shook his head, knowing
full well no one in his right mind would want to sit and listen to him
whine about his ex-wife. "Nah. Not right now. I gotta meet Albert
for chess in half an hour, and Stella would take a lot longer than that
to go through. But thanks for the offer."
thought he saw disappointment flicker across the other man's face as
his gaze dropped to his plate and he started poking at his fries like
Ray had been doing a moment earlier. Well, obviously he couldn't be
disappointed that he didn't get to listen to Ray bitch, so it had to
be something else. . . oh. Maybe it was the meeting Albert thing. Maybe
he wanted to hang some more. That was kind of cool. He perked up, suddenly
remembering something the other man had said earlier. "Hey, you
got plans tonight?"
looked up from his plate, almost eagerly. "No, Ray, well, not other
than grading papers, which, frankly, is absolutely the last thing I want
to do. Why?"
looked interested. He sounded interested. Ray didn't blame him. He
couldn't think of much that would be worse than spending the evening
grading papers. Maybe a root canal, or getting pulled over for speeding.
"You said you play chess, right? I bet Albert would love to have
somebody else to beat. He already knows all my good moves. You wanna
light-up-the-dark smile flared briefly again, and once more Ray felt
like somebody had just punched him. Geez, the guy ought to come with
I'd like that very much. I think I'd rather face the wrath of my entire
class for not having finished the grading tomorrow than look at one more
paper right now."
grinned. "Great. Greatness. Albert'll be thrilled." Albert
wasn't the only one. It had been a long time since he'd had someone to
hang out with, someone his own age, who actually seemed to like him.
After he and Stella split, most of their 'friends' had gone with her.
He understood, that, really, after all, most smart people would choose
to side with the half of the couple who's dating the mob guy. . . just
to be safe. Feeling a little, no, a lot less morose, and also hungry
again, he picked up his burger and took a bite. Yeah. Good. Very good.
* * *
Lord, it was hot. Ben
had just about decided that he must have been an axe murderer in a previous
lifetime, and that his tenure in Chicago was his punishment for that.
What else could explain the fact that the only summer he had spent here
in his life would coincide with one of the worst heat-waves in recent
memory? His wardrobe was all wrong for the climate, having been purchased
for the cooler Northern summers. Unfortunately he couldn't afford to
buy new clothes out of his meager stipend, so he was suffering through
it in heavy jeans, T-shirts, and hiking boots. During the day it wasn't
so bad: he could hibernate in the various air conditioned campus buildings,
and he kept Diefenbaker in his office most of the time, against campus
policy, to spare him the worst of the heat. He'd actually thought about
taking his bedroll to work and sleeping in his office, but he had a feeling
the security guards would frown on that.
nights, however, were awful. His apartment had next to no ventilation,
so even though he left his single window open, mostly all that accomplished
was to let in the constant city noise and the smell of exhaust fumes.
His neighbors thought he'd lost his mind for leaving his window open,
but as he had nothing in the apartment that anyone would want to steal,
he wasn't overly concerned. What had so far saved his sanity were his
weekly assignations with Ray and Albert Hanrahan, which in the last ten
days of intolerable heat, had somehow transformed into nightly dinners
out in blessedly air conditioned restaurants and chess matches at the
air conditioned Senior Center, or in Ray's air conditioned apartment
if it was just the two of them.
felt vaguely guilty, hoping that Ray didn't think he was just using him
to get cool, but it had been his friend's suggestion, after all. Perhaps
he had just realized how much the heat was affecting Ben and taken pity
on him. He smiled wryly at that. Apparently he was dependent on the
kindness of strangers. How appropriate that was, considering Ray's real
name. His parents should be ashamed of themselves, saddling a child
with a name like that. He was still having trouble with the rather astonishing
coincidence that Ray had once been married to a woman named Stella.
He'd gotten that much out of Ray, though no more.
three weeks after his offer of a sympathetic ear, Ray still hadn't talked
much about his marriage, or what had happened to end it, but it was clear
he'd been badly hurt. Ben could empathize. He still burned with pain
and humiliation every time he thought of Victoria Metcalfe. He hoped
she was happy. No, that was a lie. She'd used him and hurt him and
stolen from him and with uncharacteristic viciousness he hoped she was
utterly miserable in her comfortable, well-paid, tenure-track job. He'd
thought they were in love and he knew she was the only woman he'd ever
felt so deeply for. And she'd encouraged that, used him, all the while
making sure that the painstaking research that had gotten her that job
could never be linked to him, its rightful author.
the depths to which that line of thought could lead, he tried to stop
thinking about her, but it seemed as if the more he tried not to, the
less he succeeded, and he felt the darkness pooling in his mind. No.
It was foolish to have these thoughts. He hadn't loved her. It had
just been an infatuation. That was all. To lose control like this over
an infatuation was unconscionable. He started to pace, but it only seemed
to make him hotter. He had to get out of here. Had to find some place
cool, some place with people to distract him. But he couldn't leave
Diefenbaker to suffer alone in this heat. Where. . .
looked at the phone. No. He shouldn't exploit Ray like that. He couldn't.
It was impolite. And even if he were to call, surely Ray would be busy
on a Friday night. But, God, he was so hot. . . maybe for Dief. Not
for himself. For Dief. He picked up the phone, dialed. It was answered
on the second ring.
"Doc! Hey, I was
just thinking about you. How you holding up?"
fine Ray, but Diefenbaker is having a little trouble in the heat. I
was wondering, could I bring him over to your place for a bit? I realize
it's a terrible imposition but. . . ."
butt over here, Ben," Ray interrupted him. "Both your butts.
Immediately if not sooner."
you, Ray, I do appreciate it."
See you when you get here."
hung up, and quickly yanked a T-shirt on, pulled his jeans on over his
boxers, and shoved his feet into his boots, not lacing them all the way
up, hoping that would keep his feet marginally cooler. Finally he looked
at Dief who was lying under the window, panting heavily.
on, Dief. We're going to see Ray."
answered with an ecstatic moan and leapt to his feet. Ben knew just
how he felt. As they left the building the heat radiating off the asphalt
of the parking lot seemed to lick at him like invisible flames, and Diefenbaker
whined miserably, almost dancing to keep his paws from burning. Feeling
badly, Ben stopped and crouched beside his companion.
sorry, Dief, forgive me, I should have thought." He slid his hands
beneath Dief's chest and hips, and hoisted him with a grunt of exertion.
He felt the lick of a grateful tongue at his arm. It felt cool. He
put Dief in the passenger seat, already buffered with a ragged old towel
so the vinyl wouldn't be so uncomfortable, and got into the vehicle himself.
He could barely touch the steering wheel for fear of burning his hands.
He sat for a moment, thinking of chucking it all and running home. He
could get a job on an oil-rig, perhaps. Or work as a guide. Anything
but this. If it didn't cool off soon, he was sure the heat would kill
him. Cool. Ray. Yes. He started the jeep and pulled out, going faster
than he should, just for the sake of the hot breeze it created.
* * *
Ray opened the door,
took one glance at the utterly miserable-looking man on the other side
of the door, and grabbed his arm, worried he was going to keel right
over there in the hallway. Diefenbaker looked nearly as bad, panting,
his feet leaving little damp marks on the floor because feet were the
only place a dog could sweat. Dief almost shoved him off his feet in
his eagerness to be in the cool haven of the apartment, and Ray pulled
Ben inside and shut the door on the oven-like hallway.
in, I'll get you both some ice-water. Jesus, you look like you're gonna
pass out. Go stand in front of the air conditioner, on second thought
hang on," he grabbed a chair and hauled it over in front of the
cool blast, pushing Ben down onto it, ". . . sit in front
of the air conditioner. Stay!" he said as Ben started to get up.
"I mean that. I said I'd get you both water. C'mon, Dief. "
He clattered around in his cupboards, finding the biggest mixing bowl
he owned, filling it with tap water and dumping half a tray of ice into
it then, finally, setting it on the floor. "There ya go, bud.
Drink up." Once Dief had his muzzle in the bowl, he tossed the
rest of the tray of ice into his largest glass and filling it with water
too, then after a moment he grabbed a dishtowel, wet it down, and fished
two cubes of ice out of the glass and wrapped them in the towel. He
went back out to the living room and handed Ben the glass, then took
the cold, wet towel and slapped it on the back of his friend's neck.
Ben straightened with a gasp.
what . . . ?"
you down before you stroke out on me. Drink. Don't you know people
die in heat like this? What the hell are you doing to yourself? Take
your shirt off."
I can't very well drink and take my shirt off at the same time,"
Ben said in a faintly exasperated tone. "And why should I take
off. . . aaaah!" he yelped as Ray yanked his t-shirt out of his
jeans and halfway up his back so he could apply his impromptu cold-pack
to more skin.
been over a hundred for eight days in a row, Doc. You gotta take care
of yourself. What were you doing?"
Ben snapped. "We were simply at home. I would have tried to sleep,
but it's just so hot!"
your air conditioner, you dense Canadian you."
haven't got one."
then, and a spray bottle."
was a pause, a sigh. "No fan, either."
fan? None? Tell me you at least have a window."
do have a window, but just one, and it's impossible to get any cross-ventilation.
Ray groaned. "Okay,
that does it. You guys are staying here until the heat wave breaks.
I got a couch, I got a bed, they both work good. You can have whichever
one you want."
couldn't inconvenience you like that, I'm sure we'll be fine at home,
we just needed to cool. . . ."
narrowed his eyes. "You refusing my hospitality?" he asked
with what he hoped was a dangerous edge to his voice.
was a short silence. "Well, ah. . . ."
bit the inside of his lip to hide his smile, even though he was standing
behind Ben and he couldn't be seen anyway. "Good. You want bed
couldn't put you out of your bed. . . ."
it is, then." He tugged some more on the t-shirt in his hands.
"Raise your left arm."
to his surprise, Ben complied, and Ray managed to get that arm out of
the shirt. "Other one now." Compliance again. Quickly Ray
took advantage and peeled the sweat-soaked shirt the rest of the way
off, still a little stunned by his success. Would wonders never cease?
In the few short weeks they'd known each other, he'd come to realize
that the Canadian was just plain contrary, and somewhat of an alpha dog.
Never say yes when no would do just as well, and never let anyone else
The fact that
Ben was sitting here letting Ray take charge, was acquiescing to Ray's
demands, told him he was more of a mess than he looked, which was saying
something because the guy was drenched in sweat and looked like shit.
Well, no, that wasn't true. Even looking like this he didn't look like
shit. Probably couldn't look like shit if he was dipped in it. So
what the hell was he doing here of all places on a hot Friday night,
instead of out with some luscious co-ed in a temperature-controlled loft
paid for by Mommy and Daddy's money?
you have a girlfriend, Doc?" he blurted out nosily, then wished
he hadn't when the back beneath his hands went tense and Ben jerked upright
from the slouch he'd slipped into when Ray had finished wrestling his
Whoooboy. There were
stories in that word. Lots of 'em. Amazing how much a guy could say
with a single syllable. It suddenly dawned on Ray that he wasn't the
only person in the room with 'relationship issues,' as Stella had liked
to call it. Well, that explained a few things.
hunh?" he said sympathetically as he swiped the wet towel down
Ben's broad, pale back, across his neck. After a moment the bent head
nodded a little.
was all he was going to get, he could tell. At least at the moment.
Hunh. Maybe that was why Ben had encouraged him to talk about Stella.
Compare war wounds. He got that now, hadn't before. It just seemed
impossible that somebody like Ben could have problems in the romance
department. Ray let his hand rest on Ben's hot shoulder, briefly squeezing
to convey his understanding, then, noticing that some time in the last
few minutes Ben had managed to drink all his water, he reached over and
took the glass from his hand. "Why don't I fill that up again?"
Ben gave up the glass
without protest and Ray went back to the kitchen for more water and to
rinse out the towel and put more ice in it. Dief had finished half the
bowl of water and gone out to sit at Ben's feet, where the full stream
of air from the window-unit could hit them both. Jesus, not even a fan.
Ben was a smart guy, what the hell was he thinking?
come you don't have a fan?" he asked.
"A fan. Don't you
read the alerts? We got an actual heat emergency going here, and you
don't even have a fan! You trying to fry that big brain of yours?
You know better than that! I mean, if you were up north and it was blizzarding,
would you run around without a coat?"
course not," Ben said, sounding a little miffed. "That would
bet it would. So's trying to get through a heat emergency in Chicago
without a fan, at least."
didn't reply, which was unusual enough that Ray hurried a little as
he headed back to the living room, but relaxed when he saw Ben sitting
there ruffling Dief's fur to let the air cool the underlayers. As he
moved to stand next to them, Ben looked up, his expression a little sheepish.
"I suppose I hadn't
thought of it in those terms before. I was just trying to be environmentally
well, so recycle my beer bottles or something. Don't kill yourself."
Suddenly the slouch was
more profound, and Ben's gaze dropped to the floor again, and with a
shock Ray suddenly realized that he'd thought about it. Maybe not today,
but sometime. Jesus Christ! He'd actually thought about it. It was
like he could see it written in the air or something, he just knew.
He went to his knees next to the chair, and grabbed Ben's chin in his
cold, wet fingers, dragging his startled gaze around until their eyes
Not over a chick. No way. Not worth it. Y'hear me? If I could get
through it, you can get through it. I know it feels like the end of
the world but it's not. Got that?"
nodded slowly, eyes still wide, looking at him like he was a teddy bear
that had just snarled. Ray was a little startled himself. In fact,
a lot startled. Where the hell had that come from, that sudden rush
of anger and . . . feeling? He carefully didn't define that other feeling.
Too dangerous. Especially not kneeling on the floor less than a foot
from Ben's half-naked body, so close he could smell the dark, clean scent
of his sweat. Realizing he still had Ben's chin in his hand, he let
go abruptly and backed off. "Okay. Okay, good. Good. Here,"
he handed Ben the towel and glass, ". . . cool off. I'm gonna.
. . um. . . use the can."
escaped to the bathroom, nearly slamming the door behind himself as he
tried to control the sudden rush of blood into his face, and. . . elsewhere.
He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked wild-eyed and skittish,
like something only half-tamed. Felt that way too, all the sudden.
Wow. Where the hell had all this stuff been hiding? Howcome it was popping
out now, like some kind of snake in a can? Sure, there'd been a few
times in his life when he'd looked at another guy and thought . . . mmm,
yeah. Interesting. But not like this. Not this. . . strong, this fast,
this . . . God. Why this, why now, why Ben? Must just be way too
long since he'd gotten laid. He liked Ben, a lot, but this attraction
had really snuck up on him. And he wasn't going to mess up a friendship
by acting stupid about it.
took a few deep breaths, thought about Stella and Vecchio, and. . . yeah,
that did it. No more incipient hard-on. Okay. He was good to go.
He flushed the toilet and washed his hands just for cover. Opened the
door, walked out again and took a seat on the couch a good three feet
away from his half-nak. . . stop that. Ben. Just Ben. Ray stared at
Ben narrowly, at his face, saw color rise and wash across those broad
Doc. Spill. What's going on inside your head?"
nothing that need concern you, Ray."
Right. Look, I know we don't hardly know each other, and I'm not what
you call your best friend, but . . . ."
you are," Ben said quietly.
looked at him, puzzled. "Yes I are. . . I mean, I am what?"
"My friend. I daresay
even my best friend. Well, except for Diefenbaker," Ben allowed
with a slight smile as the wolf made an interrogatory sound at his feet.
Whoa. That rocked
him back a little. He liked Ben. A lot. (More than a lot, apparently,
he thought, then pushed that thought away.) But he hadn't figured Ben
was doing much more than killing time. The guy was smart. And fun.
And incredibly good-looking. And apparently good at everything he did.
Even if he was a little irritating sometimes, and a little on the weird
side. So. . . why the hell would he say something like that? He felt
himself blushing a little. "Um. . . you don't gotta say that, y'know."
Ben straightened, looking
offended. "I wouldn't say it if I didn't mean it."
He wouldn't. Ray hadn't known him long but that much was obvious. He
was so honest he sometimes made Ray cringe. Ben looked at his hands,
raked his fingertips across his eyebrow in a way that Ray had come to
realize meant he was nervous, and then looked up, eyebrows raised, his
expression so earnest it hurt.
do mean it, Ray. I'm not. . . I don't. . . I don't make friends easily.
I never have. I don't know why. My fault, I'm sure, I'm not good with
people. I'm just not. . . like most people. I know that. I'm difficult,
and opinionated, and not very tactful. I suppose it comes from being
raised as I was . . . ."
was? I mean, I know you're from the Northern Whatsis, but you never
say much about it. Talk about college, about chess, about books, about
your students, but not about you. How come?"
. . suppose I never thought you would be interested."
rolled his eyes. "Well I am, okay?"
looked surprised. "Really?"
Really. So, tell me about you. Where'd you grow up?"
over the place, actually. Well, all over the Territories at any rate.
I went to live with my grandparents when I was six. We moved a lot.
They were traveling librarians."
like a bookmobile?"
smiled. "I suppose you could say that. They had a huge trailer
full of books. We went to places where people had no easy access to
such things. They had a circuit they traveled, lending on the way out,
and retrieving on the way back."
nodded, his mind still worrying at an earlier thought. "So, what
happened when you were six? Howcome you had to go live with your grandparents?"
Once again Ray wished he hadn't asked, as he saw Ben's face go still
and closed. "You don't gotta say, if you don't want."
He watched the struggle
between silence and speech on Ben's face, and finally speech won. "It's
difficult for me, I'm sorry. My mother died when I was six. She was
murdered. And. . . and then my father went to prison, so I had to go
to my grandparents."
jaw dropped. "Your dad killed your mom?"
looked up, startled. "No! Oh, dear, yes, I suppose that did sound
like that. No, he killed the man who killed my mother."
rubbed his face, stunned. He looked at Ben. "Wait, back up. Whole
story, please. Who killed your mom? Why'd your dad go to jail if the
other guy killed her?"
stood up suddenly, and went to the window, staring out at the sunset.
He took a deep breath. "My father was sergeant in the Royal Canadian
Mounted Police. He discovered that a friend of his, a trapper and guide
named Holloway Muldoon, was actually dealing in endangered species.
When my father discovered this and attempted to arrest him, Muldoon shot
my mother, assuming that my father would be too busy with her to come
after him. However, intentionally or not, he killed her rather than
wounding her, and my father went after him immediately. When he found
him, he killed him, then turned himself in and was sent to prison."
Ray scowled. "That
not right. Wasn't that like. . . self-defense or something?"
"No. It was revenge.
Pure and simple. Not that I blame him. He loved my mother dearly and
was deranged by grief."
Ray thought it might've been nice if the guy had spared a thought or
two for his son, but he kept his mouth shut on that subject. "He
. . . um . . . he still in prison?"
closed his eyes, shook his head. "No. Former officers of the law
rarely last long in prison. He was killed by his fellow inmates a year
and three months into his sentence."
stared at him in shock. "God! That's. . . that's. . . Ben, I'm
sorry." God. What a fuckup. Drag the guy's worst moments out
for a look-see, why don't you, Kowalski? "Geez. Just tell me to
shut up already, Ben. My mouth is way too big."
Ray. It's all right. It was many years ago. It no longer carries the
weight it once did." Ben's
mouth might say that, but his face didn't. He looked. . . lost. Like
a little kid, like that six-year-old boy whose mother was murdered, whose
father was suddenly gone, leaving him alone with two old folks who no
doubt loved him, but had no idea what to do with him. Ray's first urge
was to hug him. But Ben wasn't a chick, and he'd already gotten out
of line once tonight. But Ben really looked like he could use one.
Oh the hell with it. Ray got up and went for it.
crossed over to stand beside Ben, put a hand on his shoulder, then pulled
him in, close. Ben resisted for all of a quarter of a second, then he
was there, holding Ray hard, really hard. The guy was strong, it was
almost hard to breathe, and not for illicit reasons this time. He managed
to keep his own hands chastely on Ben's upper back, patting gently, like
he would a baby, managed to ignore the feeling of skin under his hands;
managed to pretend he wasn't bothered by the faint rasp of stubble against
his neck; managed not to rub his cheek against the soft, sweat-damp curls
of Ben's hair.
felt a faint shudder go through his friend and heard a sigh. Then Ben's
arms loosened and he pulled away, looking flushed and embarrassed, but
oddly. . . happy, too. Ben's fingertips skimmed his eyebrows again,
and he licked his lip. Another of Ben's habits that Ray had become more
and more attuned to in the last few weeks. Fingers on eyebrow meant
nervous, lip-lick meant pause-to-think, and neck-crack meant really
nervous and uncomfortable, usually related to discussions of certain
of his female students and their continual come-ons.
you, Ray," Fraser said quietly.
time, Ben," Ray said seriously, thinking how nice that had felt.
He was instantly ashamed of himself. Oh, very un-cool, Kowalski. Put
the moves on the guy when he's down. Not Smooth. He stepped back.
"Um, you hungry? I could call May Wah for delivery, or Tony's,
but we had pizza last night."
looked as if he were going to refuse, but just then Dief whined, and
he looked down at the wolf. Dief made several noises. Ray swore sometimes
it seemed like the wolf was actually talking. And what was even weirder
was that Ben talked back like he was making sense. Weirdest yet, sometimes
Ray thought so too.
you're quite right, I'm sorry. I could blame the heat for my forgetfulness
but that's beside the point. Certainly." He looked back up at Ray.
"Dief would like sesame chicken. I'll just have a few bites of
at him for a minute, trying to decide if Ben was joking, finally decided
he wasn't, and grinned, shaking his head. "You're a freak, y'know
to understand he didn't mean it negatively. He smiled back, tentatively.
winked. "But then, so'm I. I'll go call in dinner."
* * *
Ben woke up sweating.
It was hot again. Hot, and close, and far too quiet. His own rapid
breathing sounded harsh and over-loud in the absence of any other noise.
But the heat of the air wasn't the only reason he was sweating. He gritted
his teeth and tugged at his now-uncomfortable boxers, trying to adjust
them so they didn't bind as he recalled the disconcerting dream he'd
been having. It must be the heat. Why else would he be dreaming such
things about . . . Ray? Or was it just having someone seem to really
care about him that had triggered such a response? Probably.
still felt a little off-balance from Ray's reaction earlier that evening.
How had he known? How could he possibly have known that it had been
just that bad for him at one time? He threw off the sheet and thin cotton
blanket that covered him and sat up on the couch. Dief lifted his muzzle
and whined a question.
I don't know. Perhaps it's on a timer." He started to get up,
intending to go check the air conditioner. He would have to move very
carefully in the dark to keep from banging into the furniture. Ray certainly
liked a cluttered apartment. Suddenly it dawned on him that it wasn't
just dark, it was too dark. Even with the main lights out, there should
be some illumination from the street-lights outside, and from the faces
of several appliances as well. He knew when he'd gone to sleep that
Ray's VCR had been showing the time in faint blue numbers. Now there
was nothing but darkness. Ah. Power failure. That explained why it
sat there trying to decide if he should get up and open the windows or
just hope the power came back on soon, he heard a sound from the bedroom,
then light flared, erratic and pale. A moment later Ray appeared in
the doorway, flashlight in hand, illuminating a long, lean, mostly bare
body. All he wore were a pair of thigh-length knit briefs in a heathery
gray. Ben's dream flashed back through his mind, his body shocking him
with the immediacy of its response. He twitched a fold of blanket across
his thighs and lap, heartily glad of the darkness. Ray looked over when
he moved, saw he was sitting up, and smiled.
Too hot for you to sleep too?"
nodded, refraining from adding 'in more ways than one.'
stretched, yawned, and scratched his chest. "They're probably doing
rolling brown-outs to conserve power. They do that when things get bad,
wait until after dark so it's a little easier on everyone. Damn. Sorry."
"It's not your fault,
know, but I wanted you to be comfortable here. I'm gonna open some windows,
at all, let me help."
lit a couple of candles for light, and together they got the windows
open, both in the living room and the bedroom. A faint cross-breeze
stirred the sheers, not exactly cool, but not hot either, and at least
the air was moving. Ray put both hands on a window-sill and leaned down,
looking out at the darkness. "Man, that's weird. No lights. Not
used to that here. Haven't seen it this dark since the last time I was
up at. . . well, shit! I'm stupid!"
looked at him, concerned. "Ray, you're not stupid. Why would you
turned toward him, a candle-lit smile curving his mouth. "Sorry.
Can't read my mind, hunh? I just realized I have the perfect place to
go to beat the heat. My uncle owns some property up in the Dells, it's
a little cooler there, and there's a lake . . . well, really it's an
abandoned stone quarry. They hit a spring, and the thing just filled
right up. It's a great place to swim if you don't mind the water being
colder than all get out. It should be just about perfect for this kind
of weather. We can go up there tomorrow. . . or, I mean, today since
it's about four, by my watch. You up for that?"
eager exhalation echoed Ben's own internal response. To get out of the
city. . . away from asphalt and concrete and glass, to smell the earth
instead of hot tar and exhaust, to feel the cool silk of un-chlorinated
water on his skin . . . "It sounds like heaven," he blurted,
and was glad Ray didn't look over to see his embarrassed blush.
Ray pushed himself upright, raked a hand through his spiky hair. Ben
had often wondered if he intended for it to look like that or if it just
had a mind of its own. It would appear that the latter was the case.
"Hell, we're both awake, probably not going back to sleep at this
point, let's just go for it. Cooler driving in the dark anyway. We'll
go by your apartment so you can pick up a few things, swing by McDonald's
for break. . . " he looked at Ben's face, grinned, and amended his
plan on the fly. "Okay, not McDonald's, but someplace for breakfast,
and then head out. Sound good?"
nodded. "Very good."
headed for his bedroom, and Ben picked up his jeans and t-shirt from
the coffee table where he'd put them before falling asleep. His shirt
was regrettably aromatic, but he could change it when he got home. As
he pulled on his jeans, it dawned on him that he didn't own a swimming
suit. He was still standing there, half-dressed, trying to solve that
dilemma when Ray came back out of his bedroom in hiking boots, cargo
shorts and one of his ubiquitous bowling shirts over a tank-style undershirt,
carrying a duffle bag in his hand. He stopped short, studying Ben.
how to work a zipper?" he asked, amused.
Ben pulled his jeans the rest of the way up, fastened the button and
zipped. "No, not at all. I just remembered I have no swim trunks."
Ray dropped the duffle-bag
by the door and turned to grin at him. "It's private property,
Benton-buddy. Nobody's gonna care if you got your Speedo on or not."
Ben's jaw dropped. He
couldn't mean. . . well, yes, he could. Ray was quite a lot more casual
than he was, about a lot of things. He cracked his neck with a quick
jerk of his head, and ran a nervous thumb across his eyebrow. "Ah,
I'm not . . . I don't . . . ." he began, trying to figure out how
to say it.
"Wear your boxers, Doc. Just don't expect me to."
stood there for another few seconds, trying very hard not to think about
the implications of that comment, then he shook it off and pulled on
his shirt. He was tying his boots as Ray opened the closet and pulled
out a cooler, then got into the refrigerator and dug around in it taking
out various items. "Might as well take this stuff with, so it doesn't
go bad if the power stays off. Got some beer, some of those mineral
waters you like, some hot dogs. You eat hot dogs?"
if I can avoid it," Ben confessed.
chuckled. "You're a snob. Wonder if I have any marshmallows. .
. ." he opened a cabinet, closed it again. "Damn, no."
"I have to say that
sounds rather. . . revolting."
don't eat 'em together, doofus. Hey! I know. We'll stop at the store
and get some, get the other necessary things, too. Graham crackers and
looked at him, puzzled. "Ah. . . Will there be children present?
If so I really think trunks are not optional."
looked equally confused. "Just you and me, Doc. How come?"
chocolate bars and hot dogs simply seem more appropriate fare for children."
Ray laughed out loud.
"I can tell you were way deprived up there in the North. Those,
my friend, are camping essentials. Along with hamburger, onion soup
mix, and aluminum foil. Maybe some potatoes. Yeah. Oh, eggs. Can't
forget those. And bacon. Lots of ice. Um . . . anything you want?"
"Are we camping?"
Ben asked tentatively, having thought they were simply going to go swimming.
There's a little cabin, almost more of a shack, but it helps keep the
bugs away. I figured we'd hang there tonight, come back late tomorrow,
put it off as long as possible. God knows I don't want to be stuck here,
I can only imagine it's worse for you and Dief. Come on, help me with
his head in bemused wonder at this unexpected turn, Ben took one of the
cooler's handles and lifted. Together they carried it out to the parking
lot. They argued quietly for a few minutes over whose vehicle to take,
but Ben finally acquiesced to Ray's insistence on taking his (a sleek,
sporty black thing he called a "Goat" for some unknown reason)
because it had air conditioning. As they settled in, Diefenbaker sprawled
on the back seat, Ray started the car, then looked over at him.
"Need your address."
Ben hesitated. Ray noticed,
of course, and looked offended. "Look, I'm not gonna come over
when you're not home and steal your stuff. It's okay."
course not!" Ben exclaimed, embarrassed. "I know that. It's
just. . . well. . . it's not a very good neighborhood."
snorted. "Like I live on the Gold Coast? Gimme a break. Where
"221 West Racine."
frowned. "Holy cow! You weren't kidding bad neighborhood. Okay,
I won't ask. We'll just go get your stuff, if it's still there."
"It's really not
as bad as all that. My neighbors are quite nice."
you say. Um, how'd you end up at First National Garage if you don't
live around there?"
was recommended by one of my students. He said you were the best."
Ray grinned. "Yeah?
Cool. Next time you see him, tell him I owe him a free tune-up for the
* * *
It only took a few minutes
to get to Ben's apartment building. There wasn't much traffic at this
hour. Ray pulled up in front of the building, looked around, and whistled
softly. "This is home?"
nodded, looking embarrassed. "Yes. I'll just go up and get my
things. You might want to wait with the car."
nodded solemnly "Yeah, I can see that. Okay. I'll wait."
Ben got out, looked at
Dief, who declined to move from his sprawl on the back seat. "Lazy,"
he admonished softly, looking amused, and then closed the door, heading
up to his apartment. Ray sat for a moment, tapping his thumbs on the
wheel. Boy, good thing Ben's old Jeep didn't look like as good a car
as it was, or it would be long gone, left parked around here. He shifted
a little on his seat, wishing he'd remembered to put a towel down so
the backs of his thighs didn't stick to the seat. The only drawback
to shorts, in this weather. Shorts. He looked at Dief.
gonna think to grab a pair of shorts?" he asked the wolf, feeling
as silly as he always did when he talked to Dief, even though Dief talked
Ray sighed. "That's what I thought. You wait here. Don't let
anybody steal the car, okay?"
faint yip answered him, and he grinned. "Thank you kindly."
He jogged up to the building,
stepped into the lobby, and was surprised by how clean it was. Maybe
Ben was right, the neighborhood wasn't as bad as he'd heard. He realized
he had no idea even what floor Ben was on, and looked at the mailboxes,
though he didn't figure they were marked. To his surprise, they were.
Neatly, too. And someone had put a little heart and rainbow sticker
on the one with Ben's name on it. Cute. Still, it gave him the number,
Apartment 3-J. He looked at the elevator . . . the open-cage kind.
. . and shuddered. Stairs. Definitely stairs. He didn't run, because
the stairs were uncarpeted wood and he knew that would make a lot of
noise and after all it wasn't even five o-clock yet.
got to the third floor, impressed with his own fitness since he wasn't
even panting, and found 3-J easily, partly because the door was standing
wide open. He tensed, worried by that open door, until he stepped into
the doorway and saw that Ben was okay. He was kneeling on the floor
next to a narrow, single bed, rolling up a blanket and sheets into a
neat bedroll. Oops, forgot to tell him he didn't need that. There was
bedding at the cabin. No biggie, though. Reassured that Ben hadn't
stumbled on a break-in, Ray looked around the tiny, airless efficiency
and shook his head in amazement.
place was clean as a whistle, which didn't surprise him a bit. The single
other door in the room also stood open, revealing a closet in which hung
surprisingly few items of clothing. He was a little puzzled by the
fact that he could see no bathroom door. Was the access inside the closet
or something? There was a small table, two mismatched chairs, the bed,
and a footlocker. That was it for furniture. No television, no stereo,
no bookshelves, though there were plenty of books. Stacks of them, neatly
arranged along one wall. No posters or art, either, though there was
what looked like a Smokey-the-Bear hat hanging on one wall. He smiled.
Ben really did have a hat. Not a fedora. He imagined the odd, pinched-crown,
flat-brimmed hat on Ben, and could actually see it. It probably looked
great. He cleared his throat
Ben spun, startled.
"Ray!" His gaze was wide, and wild, then he looked away, a
flush spreading across his cheeks. "I thought you were going to
wait in the car."
but I remembered I should tell you to bring a pair of shorts. Dief's
Well, then. I ah. . . ."
seemed oddly embarrassed. Maybe he was ashamed of his place? It was
awfully . . . basic. Finally he seemed to get himself together, and
looked at Ray.
Ray said, tugging at his. "Like this. You know."
afraid I don't own any."
don't own . . . ." Ray gaped. "Uh, you wear long pants on
"How'd you keep
from dying of heat prostration all these years?"
of my fieldwork was done in the Northwest, as that is my focus area."
"Oh. Guess that
explains that. No shorts, hunh?"
shook his head. Ray sighed, then had an idea. "Got an old pair
looked down at himself. "These are relatively old."
eyed the still-dark denim and shook his head. "I mean old-old.
Like, you wouldn't wear them except to work on the car or paint the kitchen
a moment's thought, Ben nodded. "Ah. Perhaps." He went to
the closet and took a pair of jeans from their hanger. "Like these?"
he asked, holding them out.
took them, noted that they were nearly worn through in the knees, and
nodded. "Yeah, just like these. Now, do you have a pair of scissors,
and can I sacrifice these to the Gods of Summer?"
eyed him dubiously. "Excuse me?"
grinned. "Can I cut 'em off? Easiest way I know of to make shorts."
Ben had that look he
got sometimes, that sort of embarrassed, 'why didn't I think of that'
look. "Of course. That's a good idea, Ray. Yes, I have some shears
in the kitchen drawer." He crossed the room as he spoke, opening
the drawer, getting out the requested item. Ray followed.
trade ya," he said, exchanging jeans for scissors. "Good,
now put those on."
"You hard of hearing
all the sudden? Yeah, on. You have to be in them or I won't get 'em
the right length."
Oh, yes, of course."
watched, somewhat bemused, as Ben took them back and walked into the
closet and closed the door. He shook his head, laughing softly. Ben
had wandered around his living room in his boxer shorts, but once they
were both fully awake he had to change in the closet? Funny. A moment
later the door opened, and Ben stepped out again, wearing the faded jeans.
Ray motioned him over. "C'mere, the light's better in here."
Ben complied. Ray knelt
beside him, steadying himself with a hand on Ben's hip. It occurred
to him that someone looking in the still-open doorway might think they
were doing something indecent. That thought reminded him instantly of
his earlier reaction to being this close to Benton Fraser, and his shorts
started to feel a little tight. Damn. He distracted himself by trying
to find a little slack in the outseam of Ben's jeans to make the first
cut. It wasn't easy. Ben usually wore his jeans a little tighter than
Ray did. Of course, he actually had the body to fill them out, as opposed
to being a skinny-ass geek like Ray. Still, these seemed like they must've
been bought when he weighed a few pounds less. They were snug with a
finally managed to grab a fold of fabric at about knee-level and looked
up to find Ben gazing down at him with a strange expression on his face--
almost fearful. He figured he might do the same thing if someone was
waving a pair of scissors around in the general vicinity of his family
jewels. "Don't worry, I'll be real careful. Take good care of
the important bits." He grinned and winked, then turned his attention
back to the task at hand and made the first incision, then turned the
blades upward and cut along the seam until he got to mid-thigh. That
should work. Not too short for Ben's excessive modesty, and not too
long for the heat.
began to shear the denim horizontally across Ben's thigh. He could feel
some surprisingly nice definition there under his hand. Probably from
running with Dief. Ben made a soft sound and shifted a little, Ray froze
in mid-cut, looking up with a frown. "Hey, stand still or I won't
be responsible for your safety!"
nodded, tongue flickering nervously over his lower lip. Heat that had
nothing to do with the room temperature washed through Ray. Damn. Stop
it. Just because your nose is about three inches from his crotch does
not mean you need to get all fired up. You're doing a favor, that's
all. Unfortunately that got him thinking about what other favors he
might be able to do in this position. Christ. You were a married man.
You're still in love with Stella, aren't you? You. Like. Women.
Lay off the horn-dog thoughts about the Canadian and do NOT look at his
. . . don't even think about it. Concentrating on the task at
hand, he started to cut again. Ben made that sound again. A low, throaty
sound, almost a gasp. Ray stopped again.
almost . . . relief, seemed to flicker in Ben's blue-gray gaze, and then
his eyes were shifting away as he nodded. "Yes, Ray. A little."
"I'll try to be
he managed to get the jeans cut off to his satisfaction, and then sat
back. "There. Donesky. And you can swim in 'em too, if you want."
Ben nodded. "Yes,
thank you Ray. I appreciate it. Why don't you go back out to the car,
and I'll collect my things and be right with you."
a plan," Ray said, heading back out to the car, faintly relieved
that he hadn't managed to completely embarrass himself. It had been
a near thing. That was the last time he'd volunteer to get that close
to Benton Fraser's crotch. It was just too damned dangerous.
* * *
Ben was amused. Ray
clearly didn't know the meaning of the word 'shack.' The cabin was a
sturdy, two-room affair with a wraparound porch. It had a good quality
wood stove inside, and a brick fire-pit with a built-in grill outside,
which meant they didn't have to get the stove going in order to cook.
In this heat, that was a good thing, though he estimated it was a good
ten degrees cooler here than in the city. Part of him wondered how much
of that difference was due to the asphalt streets and parking lots, black
tarred-roofs, and solar-reflective windows of the city. It was amazing
how much impact man could have on his environment without even trying.
The cabin was furnished
in what Ray referred to as "early junkyard," mismatched but
comfortable, somehow homey. He liked it. Ray threw his stuff down,
rolled his shoulders, sighed.
it's nice to be out of there for awhile."
of the car?"
of the city. Nicer here. Even without an air conditioner. Speaking
of which, help me open things up, okay? You take the bedroom windows,
I'll get the ones out here."
nodded and opened the door to the bedroom. He noted instantly that there
was only one bed. His second thought was to imagine Ray there. Oh,
dear. This was not going to help the little problem he'd been struggling
with since he'd looked down to see Ray kneeling at his feet. As he'd
done in his own apartment a few hours earlier, he told himself to breathe.
Just breathe. Slowly, deeply. Control. Calm. Yes, there. Some semblance
of sanity was returning.
transformation of his jeans to shorts had been, without doubt, the most
uncomfortable few minutes of his life. He'd had to resort to thinking
about the dullest textbooks and lectures he'd ever endured in order to
get through it. Fortunately conjuring memories of Professor Gilbert
Wilkins had been just about the least erotic thing imaginable, and suitably
wilting. Even with that hoary, snarling visage berating him for shoddy
scholarship firmly in mind, he'd still been half-hard after being that
close to Ray, for that long, in such an inadvertently intimate position.
He should have refused
as soon as he'd realized what Ray intended to do, but he hadn't been
able to think of a way to do so that didn't involve confessing why
he was refusing. From what he'd learned of American culture, that would
not have gone over well at all. Despite his rather conservative upbringing,
he knew from his studies that sexuality was more flexible than most people
assumed. He'd just never encountered a man who attracted him. Until
now. And Ray did. Very much. Yes, he felt friendship, strongly, but
he also felt. . . more. Ben was attracted, physically, to Ray. He liked
his lean, rangy body, his wild dark-blonde hair, his angular face, his
blue-gold eyes, that incandescent smile . . . everything.
more he thought about it, the more he realized that he had been attracted
all along. In fact, the lengths he'd gone to in order to ensure that
he could see Ray on a personal, rather than strictly professional basis
were nothing short of mortifying. Good lord, filing through his fan-belt
. . . a blush burned his face. He'd behaved like a teenage girl with
a crush. Well, at least he'd recognized the problem before it really
became a problem. He could back off, put a little distance between them
before he alienated his friend completely. Sexual frustration could
be dealt with in a way that didn't involve embarrassing Ray. Unfortunately
there would be no opportunity for that sort of thing in the near future.
It was just as well there was only one bed, he'd be more comfortable
on the couch which was in an entirely different room.
him he heard Ray opening windows and shook his head. Windows. Open
the windows. He completed his task quickly and a cooling breeze feathered
through the fine-mesh screens. He stood for a moment looking out at
the trees surrounding the cabin. They were thick, lush, and threw plentiful
shade. To be able to look out and see plants, earth and sky; and a hint
of topographic relief rather than cars and buildings seemed to ease the
homesickness that had been building in him lately.
view, hunh?" Ray asked quietly, from far too close.
jumped, startled, staring at the other man, who stood only inches away,
looking out the window, too. Out the window. . . "Oh, yes. Yes,
it is, very nice."
know of a nicer one, though. C'mon. Let's go freeze our asses off."
"I beg your pardon?"
Ray grinned. "Swim."
"Ah. Yes, of course."
"You bring a towel?"
He felt foolish. "No."
"'Sokay, got some
here. In the bathroom. Forgot to tell you."
Ray nodded at one of
the two doors off the bedroom. "There. Uncle Josef put in a septic
system. There's a well, too, so we got water without too much trouble.
Could run the generator if we want electricity."
smiled, shaking his head. "This is a pretty nice 'shack,' Ray."
Ray looked a little sheepish.
"Yeah. Guess it is, at that. I forget when I haven't been up here
in awhile. Stella hated it, she's the one who called it a shack."
Ah. Stella. Ben almost
didn't ask. Every time her name had come up, Ray had managed to divert
the conversation to other things. But he wanted to know. Needed to
know. "It doesn't sound as though the two of you were very well
suited," Ben said carefully.
sighed. "Yeah, you got that right, in the long run, anyway. I
could have done it, stuck with it. Me, I'm kind of a dog when it comes
. . . dog?" Ben queried, puzzled.
gave a wry, lopsided smile. "Yeah, you know. Faithful, loyal,
and dumb as a post. Drool a lot," he looked at Dief apologetically.
"No offense, Dief."
urge to reach out and hug was almost irresistible, but somehow Ben managed
not to. A childhood spent with undemonstrative caretakers stood him
in good stead. "Ray, I'm certain that's not the case. You're certainly
not 'dumb,' nor do you drool. And I don't see how being loyal and faithful
could be considered negatives."
well, it's dumb when your wife has an affair with the local mob boss
and you don't know about it until someone rubs your nose in it. D-U-M,
at him steadily. "I don't believe it's 'dumb' to think that you
should be able to trust your. . . " he paused a moment, searching
for a word that included his own past relationships as well as Ray's,
and came up with a rather awkward but appropriate one, ". . . your
stared at him for a long moment, then shook his head. "My delusion
and welcome to it. Nice to know I'm not alone in the nut-house, buddy."
"No, you're wrong,
Ray. It is, perhaps, idealistic, even naive, but not stupid or delusional.
Believe me, I've given a great deal of thought to this, and come to
the conclusion that trust is perhaps the single most important aspect
to any human relationship."
love?" Ray asked, his eyes narrowed, almost dangerous-looking.
Ben shook his head.
"No. Not love. Love, that is, romantic love, which I believe you
mean, is made of equal parts friendship and lust, but without trust,
it is simply inadequate to the task."
hard, brilliant gaze seemed to pin him in place for several seconds,
then his brow furrowed, and his eyes fell. "Y'might be right there,
Ben, you just might. Hell, I know you're right. Trust, that's the hard
thing. Especially after . . . after you get burned."
nodded. "Yes. It is."
stood in silent commiseration for a few seconds, then Ray cleared his
throat. "Come on, grab a towel and let's go see just how cold that
water is. And after we chill, we can swap war stories."
smiled. War stories. Strangely appropriate. "I'd like that,"
he said quietly. Trust, indeed. He stepped into the small bathroom
and found a towel in the linen closet, then followed Ray outside.
It was an easy half-mile
walk to the quarry, the path through the woods so overgrown it was hard
to see, and Ray seemed to be relying more on memory than on vision.
It made him feel strangely at home to see maples, along with red and
white oaks, hickories, and basswoods. He saw several chokecherry bushes,
though the fruit wouldn't be ripe for some weeks. He also noted the
position of a good stand of poison ivy, pointing it out to Ray who laughed,
and said he remembered from baths in calamine lotion that the woods here
were full of the stuff.
feeling of something other than cement under his feet was delightful,
and Diefenbaker was acting like a puppy, frolicking and chasing squirrels,
though he didn't seem particularly intent upon catching one. The land
was surprisingly heavily forested and wild. He supposed he should have
done a little more investigation about the area outside of Chicago. If
there was wilderness within a two hour drive, he'd been unnecessarily
depriving himself of something that was completely necessary to his soul.
If he could get out, get away like this periodically, he might just survive
his appointment at the university.
she is," Ray said, coming to an abrupt halt.
turned to pay attention to his companion instead of Diefenbaker, and
looked past him to the inviting expanse of water ahead. It was larger
than he'd expected, roughly twice the size of a regulation Olympic-size
pool. The approach to the water was littered with tumbled limestone boulders,
their creamy beige a pleasing contrast to the cool jade color of the
water and the darker greens and browns of the surrounding trees and plants.
Ray asked him, a faint smile on his face, a knowing look in his gaze.
He knew the answer already. Ben replied anyway.
looks wonderful. How deep is it?"
on where you are. I think it's about thirty feet down at the deepest
point, over against the west side, but over here it's more like six."
He shaded his gaze and peered toward a tree whose branches overhung the
water. "Hunh, looks like the tire-swing's gone. Rope probably
rotted through. Too bad. It was kinda fun. Watch the rocks, they're
not unstable but since they're uneven it's easy to lose your balance.
Geez, lookit that, somebody's been up here littering."
crossed the rocks and picked up several long-necked glass bottles and
what appeared to be old fast food refuse. He looked disgusted as he
threaded his way back over to where Ben stood. "They could have
the decency to take their trash with 'em when they left." He looked
at the bottle and made a face. "Yuck. Coors. I guess if you're
gonna drink this crap in the first place, you probably don't have enough
class or brains to clean up after yourself." He put the trash down,
shaking his head. "Don't let me forget to take this stuff back
to the cabin when we go."
nodded, inordinately pleased by the fact that Ray cared about such things.
For some reason it just made Ray even more . . . perfect, to him.
"Well, time's wastin',"
Ray said and sat down to take off his rather disreputable running shoes,
and socks. Leaving them at the beginning of the rock field, he scrambled
across the rocks with startling grace to a large, squarish boulder right
at the water's edge and put down his towel. Ben started to untie his
hiking boots to leave them with Ray's shoes, then glanced up to see what
Ray was doing and stopped, staring. He found himself mesmerized as Ray
pulled off his faded orange bowling shirt and dropped it on the rock,
then grabbed the hem of his tank and with a lithe twist pulled it off
over his head, letting it fall to join the shirt. When his hands went
to the waistband of his baggy cargo shorts, Ben felt heat flood his face
even as he caught his breath in anticipation. Suddenly Ray turned his
head and looked straight at him. After a moment a wry smile curved his
mouth, and his hands dropped away from his waist.
Doc. I won't embarrass you," he said, then he turned, and jumped.
He hit the water with a tremendous splash and went under, only to surface
seconds later with a howl of what sounded like pain, followed by unintelligible
sounds. Ben tensed, ready to dash across the rocks and dive to the rescue,
until he realized Ray was laughing and gasping at the same time.
friggin' cold in here!" Ray yelled, grinning. "C'mon in.
It feels great!"
Judging by Ray's reaction, he wouldn't have made that assumption but
he supposed it was all relative. He finished untying his boots and after
removing them placed them, socks inside, next to Ray's shoes. He made
his way across the rocks to the one Ray had chosen as a base of operation
and put his towel there too. He removed his own t-shirt, carefully folding
it and placing it where it wouldn't get splashed. Leaving his shorts
on, he took a deep breath, and jumped, following Ray's lead.
Searing, sweet, familiar cold, stealing breath, sending heart-rate skyrocketing,
making every square centimeter of skin contract in shock, instantly easing
that heavy feeling that had been plaguing him since Ray had knelt at
his feet that morning. Yes. Perfect. It did feel good. Delightful.
He surfaced, gasping, feeling the water sheet off of him, feeling the
sun warm his hair, his face, his shoulders where they broke the water.
It occurred to him he should have brought sunscreen. He would have to
take care, since his skin was so seldom exposed to the sun that he burned
turned in the water, found Ray just a foot away, his water-flattened
hair and cocky grin making him look about seventeen.
Ben said, hearing the relief and reverence in his voice, feeling his
face crease in an unaccustomed smile.
from that grin," Ray said. "Where's Dief? Does he swim?"
probably still trying to catch a squirrel, though he's gotten so soft
I doubt he'd know what to do with it if he actually managed to do so.
He'll be fine, don't worry." Even in the cold water, Ray's proximity
was a little disconcerting, and Ben slipped sideways in the water with
a little kick and stroke, increasing the distance between them. Better.
Looking around the quarry, an outcropping of pinkish stone on the far
bank caught his eye, and he swam over to examine it more closely. The
faint ripples in its upper surface and the lack of wear on the cut sides
exposed by quarrying confirmed his suspicions. He turned, excited.
"Ray! This is quartzite!"
Ray called back.
find it occurring in such close proximity to limestone indicates that
this area was once an extremely ancient sea-floor. Quartzite is, in
fact, a form of sandstone, yet unlike most stone of this type it's incredibly
hard, one of the hardest rocks you can find. If you come over here you
can even see the ripple marks from duneing, when it actually was sand.
he heard splashing, a lot of it, and he turned to watch Ray awkwardly
dog-paddling toward him. He frowned, wondering why he wasn't using
a more efficient stroke. He finally made it over to Ben's side and trod
water, breathing a little heavily.
doc. Lecture time?" Ray asked between breaths, grinning."
Ben blushed. "I'm
sorry, I shouldn't . . . ."
I like it. I like to learn stuff, watch Discover all the time. Don't
tell anybody but sometimes I actually wish I'd paid more attention back
in high school. Just couldn't seem to focus then. Hell, still can't,
but now I can learn stuff in little pieces and that works better. Now,
show me your rock."
reached up to touch the exposed upper surface of the stone. "See
this? The wave-like pattern?" Ray nodded, and Ben went on. "It's
fairly unusual to find such perfect preservation of the dune effect.
The fact that it's there would seem to indicate that this rock is close
to two billion years old, created well before there was much in the way
of life on the planet, although the reddish coloration of the stone means
that there were probably iron-eating bacteria present which stained the
stone. Judging from the extreme tilt of the formation, on the order
of twenty degrees, at least, it's also clear that this area was once
subjected to tremendous orogenic activity.
looked at him dubiously. "Oro-what?"
The process of folding and uplifting which eventually forms mountain
ranges. As I recall from my studies, this area was once on the edge
of the continent, so this may have been a subduction zone, that is, created
through the movement of one tectonic plate beneath another. I believe
this area is too far south to be part of the Laurentian Shield, so we're
probably in the Central Lowland here, although I suppose it could be
part of the Till Plains . . . and, sorry. I think I'm getting carried
away," he said apologetically, noting the slight glazing of Ray's
Doc, like I said, I learn better in little bits and pieces. So this
stuff's quartzite, and the paler stuff is limestone, right?"
said, hoping he sounded encouraging but not condescending. It occurred
to him to wonder if Ray had ever been tested for Attention Deficit Disorder,
or hyperactivity, or both. His short attention span and usual frenetic
energy level seemed symptomatic. He made a mental note to ask, sometime
when the conversation seemed appropriate.
Learned something. You earned your hot dog and s'mores tonight."
Ray said smugly. "I'm getting cold, I'm gonna go lay on a rock
for awhile. You still okay?"
nodded. "Yes, I'm used to colder temperatures, plus I have a good
deal more insulation than you do," he said, smiling.
snorted. "Yeah, I'm skinny."
Ben said, dismayed. "That is, I really only meant to say that due
to genetic and other factors, my subcutaneous fat layer is thicker than
yours. I meant no offense."
I know I'm skinny, you don't have to make a big deal out of it. Scrawny,
funny-looking. I got no illusions, Doc."
that's not true, Ray. Not at all. You're not skinny, and you're not
funny-looking. You're quite an attractive man."
stared at him, frowning slightly. "You think?"
if he was digging a hole from which he couldn't escape, Ben swallowed.
"Yes. I do."
Ray said thoughtfully, then flashed a shy smile. "Thanks."
That response was unexpected.
Ben was still struggling with it when Ray started to swim away from him,
then turned back abruptly.
after I get warm you wanna show me how to do that whatever you were doing
when you swam over here?"
. . . you mean the Australian Crawl?"
what it's called? Yeah, that. Never really had much in the way of
swimming lessons, just pretty much know how to float, tread water, and
be happy to show you. It's really quite easy."
But I gotta warm up first." He turned again, heading back toward
where their towels lay.
turned his attention back to the quarry. After a few moments Ray's splashing
stopped, and Ben glanced over to see him standing on the rocks where
they'd jumped in, toweling off his hair. A moment later he dropped
the towel, and his hands went to his waist, unfastening the shorts, unzipping,
then the shorts were sliding down, and off, leaving him in the same heather-gray
knit boxer-briefs he'd worn earlier that morning. Only now they were
soaking wet, and clung to every line and curve beneath them. Every single,
not inconsiderable inch, every au-naturel curve. His temperature rose
despite the cold water. Lord, the man certainly had nothing to be ashamed
of in that department.
wrung out his shorts and bent to drape them over the rock to dry, and
water flooding into Ben's open mouth alerted him to the fact that he'd
forgotten to keep treading water. He closed his mouth abruptly and resumed
his strokes, and when he looked back Ray was lying back on the rock,
arranging himself in the sun like a cat on a cold day. He looked eminently
pettable. Ben scowled, annoyed with himself. Now that he'd become aware
of the attraction, it was suddenly hard to keep it in hand. . . which
was not really a very good metaphor to be using at the moment, even in
his own thoughts. This was going to be more difficult than he'd thought.
Spotting another striation in the rocks, he swam over to examine it,
using geology to keep his mind off Ray.
* * *
Ray lay in the sun, soaking
it up, grateful for the warmth now, after being thoroughly chilled.
Sometimes it took a shock like that to make you appreciate its opposite.
He heard the quiet slosh of Ben's smooth, graceful strokes through the
water, and turned his head to watch as he swam along the wall of the
quarry, examining the rock face. He smiled. It had been a good idea
to bring him here. Not only cooler, it was. . . natural, at least a
hell of a lot more than an apartment in Chicago, and it was becoming
very clear to him that Benton Fraser was Nature Boy incarnate. What
the hell he was doing in Chicago was the $64,000 question. He was clearly
thought made Ray a little sad, because he knew it meant that the minute
he could, Ben would be heading home, back north, without a backward glance.
Not that Ray could blame him for that. It was only natural. But he'd
miss him. A lot. Funny how attached you could get to someone in such
a short time. He was like that, though. He'd been that way with Stella,
too. He'd seen her, and known, right then, that she was meant for him.
Of course, it had taken him years to convince her. And he probably shouldn't
that wasn't true. They'd had some good years, some good times. It was
just, after a while something had changed. He was never enough for her.
She always wanted more, and better, always wanted him to be classier
and smarter and richer than he was. He'd tried to be what she wanted,
but it just wasn't. . . him. And in the end, that hadn't been enough.
He sighed, rubbing at his eyes, and watched Ben climb out of the water
to examine something over on the other side of the quarry. Wet or dry,
his shorts clung like a second skin, and the man had a really amazing
ass. Near-perfect hemispheres, just a suggestion of tuck beneath them
that hinted of softness beneath the firm curves. Better than most chicks,
No longer tamed
by the cold spring-water of the quarry, Ray's cock twitched a little
at that thought, and he decided he needed to look at something else.
A rustling in the woods caught his attention, and he turned to watch
Dief trot out from the underbrush, looking wolfily pleased with himself.
Ray wondered if there was one less squirrel in the woods now. Oh well.
Survival of the fittest and all that. The animal paused to sniff their
shoes where they sat at the end of the trail, then scrambled over the
rocks to where Ray lay, licking his face, his ears, his. . . yuck, mouth,
then as Ray shoved his muzzle out of his face, moved down to Ray's groin,
sniffing there too. Ray pushed the wolf off his crotch with one hand
and glared at him.
Dief, quit acting like a dog! That's private property there!"
Dief looked offended,
and stalked away to sit on a nearby boulder with his back ostentatiously
toward Ray. Ray grinned, ridiculously pleased to have gotten the last
word with the wolf. He closed his eyes and lazed, not quite asleep,
but almost. Sometime later, splashing brought him up from his doze,
and made him turn to look toward the sound. Ben had abandoned his geological
survey and was swimming back toward Ray. As he reached the near shore
and climbed out of the water, Ray couldn't help noticing again what a
nice build he had. He was awfully pale, though, like fresh, whole milk.
It looked good. He looked good. Especially at the moment, with his
skin wet and sleek, dusty-rose nipples hard from the chill of the water.
Christ. Just stop noticing things like that, moron!
enough?" he queried.
for the moment," Ben said, reaching for his towel, ruffling his
hair with it, then blotting moisture from his torso. "I'm afraid
I'm terribly out of shape. I was getting somewhat fatigued. I thought
that the runs I take with Diefenbaker would be keeping me fit, but I
can see now they're not enough."
stared at him, then snorted. "Yeah, right. You're out of shape.
On what planet?"
looked puzzled, as he sat down a couple of feet away. "Well, on
this one, clearly, but I suppose I would be equally unfit on any planet,
unless the gravity were less than Earth normal."
laughed, shaking his head. "Doc, I am amazed your students don't
eat you for lunch. Do you really not know that 'on what planet' is the
same as saying 'you're out of your mind?'"
looked at him, and slowly a tide of color washed across his face. "Oh.
No, I'm afraid I didn't. So that means you . . . disagree with my assessment?"
"Oh yeah, you could
say that. Jesus, Ben, you're . . . well, put it this way. If I was
to look up 'perfect' in the dictionary, your picture would be right there
next to it." Oops. Well, just go putting your foot right in it
why don't you, Kowalski? He prayed fervently that the deeper implications
of what he'd just said would go right over Ben's head.
color deepened considerably, and he looked down at himself, then over
at Ray. "I suppose one's self image is always substantially different
from how others perceive one," he said quietly. "Case in point,
your insistence that you're 'scrawny,' which I don't see, at all."
It was Ray's turn to
color. "You really think I'm attractive?" Shit. Fine time
for his internal censor to go on vacation.
looked at him, and his tongue flicked out to moisten his lips as if they
had suddenly gone dry. "Yes, Ray. I do. Very much so."
Well, that was blunt.
A little disconcerting. This wasn't really a subject that two guys usually
talked about. Still, it was kind of nice to know. Or was it? What
did it mean? How did you react when someone told you they thought you
were attractive. . . when that someone was another guy?
wondered for the first time if maybe Ben was feeling some of the same
things he was. That . . . well, there was no other word for it, that
attraction. He thought back to when he'd been kneeling there, cutting
Ben's jeans, and remembered that sound he'd made. Hadn't sounded like
he was being tickled. At all. Nope. As a matter of fact, it had sounded
a almost. . . sexual. Aroused. It was a sound he suddenly wanted to
fingers curled into fists as he fought the urge to reach out, to touch
that pale, perfect skin, to stroke a thumb over one taut nipple, to lick
the water droplets off Ben's neck where they trickled from his damp hair,
to cup his hand between those thighs and feel the rise of flesh against
his palm . . . God! He looked up into Ben's eyes, and saw something
there, something familiar, and a little frightening, all things considered.
Whoa. He wasn't really ready to go there right now. He sat up.
"Um, I'm getting
a little warm again, gonna hit the water," he said quickly, and
then he was sliding off into the water, the cold shock of it stealing
his breath momentarily. He knew he'd just been rude and it made him
feel guilty, but hell, he had no idea how to deal with what was happening.
He'd never before experienced the overwhelming desire to kiss another
man, to touch him intimately. He'd never seen that desire reflected
in another man's eyes before. It scared him. It exhilarated him. It
swam out for a bit, realized he was near the tree that used to hold the
tire swing, and he wondered if he could find the tire, maybe pull it
out of the water and get some new rope to hang it from. It seemed wrong
to let it clutter up the bottom of the quarry. The bottom here wasn't
that deep, maybe ten, eleven feet. He'd been down there lots of times.
It would be a good distraction, anyway.
a deep breath, he dove down and looked around. A shadow some feet away
in the hazy green depths seemed about the right size and shape. He surfaced,
swam over until he thought he was above it, and tried again. His hands
found the flexible, treaded surface easily. Yeah. That was it. He
pulled at it but it was surprisingly resistant to being moved. He needed
back up to the surface, Ray scouted the shore until he found a dead branch,
which he proceeded to pull into the water and take with him over to the
spot above the tire. He dove down again, holding it, which wasn't easy
because of its buoyancy but he finally managed it, and he got one end
of the branch under the tire and pushed, and it lifted. He put his feet
under the tire to keep it up, let go of his lever, moved forward and
caught the tire in his hands, then started toward the surface with it,
only to be stopped dead. Something seemed to be wrapped around his leg,
and keeping him from moving. He reached down and felt it, realized it
was a section of rope that was still tied to the tire. It was also wrapped
around his ankle, and apparently snagged on the bottom.
couldn't seem to get a good purchase on the rope, his fingers slid on
the algae-covered stuff without impacting the twist that held him. He
tried going back down toward the bottom to loosen the tension on the
rope, but it didn't make any difference, the knot held. Damn it, he
had to get. . . his lungs were starting to ache, his head to pound.
It began to dawn on him that he was going to drown. He almost panicked,
but what the hell good would that do? He'd just drown quicker that way.
Fuck. Think. How can you get out? He tugged on the rope, trying to
free it from whatever it was caught on, without success. The water seemed
to be getting darker, or was that his vision fading? Christ, he didn't
want to die. He really didn't.
a pale shape flashed into his field of view. For a moment he thought
it was Diefenbaker, and then he realized it was Ben. Broad, strong hands
slid down his body, searching, finally finding the problem. They tugged
at the rope as well, and then suddenly were gone, and Ben turned in the
water, his face mere inches from Ray's as his hands came up to frame
his face, and he sealed his mouth over Ray's, tongue prying at his lips,
trying to get him to open them. It was surreal. He was going to die,
and Ben was kissing him? He must be hallucinating. He supposed if he
was going to die hallucinating, he should be glad it was a good one.
He opened his mouth, feeling his hard-held, exhausted air escape in bubbles
from nose and mouth, and then suddenly he was breathing in, and air,
not water, was filling his lungs. Warm, moist, Ben-flavored air.
Shockingly, Ben's lips
left his, and cold water replaced their warmth. Clamping his lips closed
again, Ray opened his eyes, saw Ben make a circle with thumb and forefinger,
an 'okay' sign, and then he was swimming away. What? Where the hell
was he going? Was he just going to leave? Some sliver of rational thought
surfaced, and he realized that Ben probably had some sort of plan. He'd
just have to trust him, trust that he'd be back before he ran out of
air again. Trust. His life was in Ben's hands, and he trusted him.
Absolutely. It was a stunning revelation. He just wished he was having
it under less drastic circumstances.
closed his eyes, trying to relax, trying to use the least amount of oxygen
he could, then he heard a muffled sound, and looked up to see Ben beside
him. Once more his friend leaned in, put his mouth over Ray's and this
time Ray opened his lips without prompting, taking the air Ben gave him,
tasting him again. When Ben moved away, Ray could see he held something
in his hand. A broken beer bottle? What was up with that? Then, as
Ben sank lower in the water and began to saw at the rope with the edge
of the bottle, he understood. Brilliant. The broken glass cut through
the rope a strand at a time, taking an ungodly long time, but finally
he was free, and Ben was grabbing his hands and hauling him toward the
light, and warmth on his face. Ray floated on the water, gasping, realizing
for the first time just how good it felt to do something as simple as
breathing. He was vaguely aware that he was moving, Ben was towing him
with an arm around his chest, but he was too busy discovering the delights
of having air in his lungs to really pay much attention until he felt
strong hands under his arms and he was being dragged out of the water
and draped across a boulder, and Ben was straddling his butt, hands on
his back as he pushed, hard. All his newly-breathed air whooshed out
of him in a rush and he coughed, then wheezed a fresh batch in. He felt
Ben's muscles tense, realized he was going to do it again, and managed
to croak a sound around his coughing.
The hands left his back,
the weight on his rear-end lifted. He was roughly turned onto his back
and then Ben was over him again, this time straddling his front-side,
which felt almost as good as breathing. Ben stared into his eyes, his
gaze intent, and worried.
Are you all right?"
nodded. "Yeah," he croaked. "Yeah, fine!"
sure? You didn't breathe in any water?"
shook his head. "No."
absolutely certain? Water in the lungs can lead to pneumonia . . . ."
Without waiting for an answer, Ben bent his head, put his ear against
Ray's chest. "Breathe, deeply."
Ray obliged again, and
as he did, he felt some of the tension ease from the big body over his.
"Your lungs sound
clear," Ben said quietly, and his almost painful grip on Ray's shoulders
eased, fingers fanning out, almost a caress, almost an embrace, his head
still resting against Ray's chest. He stayed like that until Ray started
to wonder if he was all right.
Ben?" he said tentatively.
lifted his head, and Ray was shocked to see tears gleaming in his eyes.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I'm just. . . relieved that you're all right.
I was afraid I couldn't get to you in time, that I wouldn't be able to
free you quickly enough. I thought you might . . . ." the tears
spilled a little, streaking down his face, and he looked away.
"Yeah, I know.
Me too," Ray said huskily. "But you did good. You got me.
it seemed completely natural for him to reach up and use his thumb to
brush away the moisture from Ben's face, to let his thumb slide along
the line of that perfect cheekbone, down to the jaw. It felt right to
let his fingers slip around the back of Ben's neck, cupping the base
of his skull, exerting just the barest pressure. The way Ben yielded
to that urging also seemed right, as did his confused, hopeful gaze as
Ray urged him down, and their lips met, and this time it really was a
kiss, not just shared breath. Sweet, warm, just lips at first, then
a tentative flicker of his tongue into Ben's mouth was welcomed and echoed.
Ben drew back, looking worried. "Ray, you've had a shock. . . ."
"Shut up, Doc,"
Ray said succinctly, reaching for him again. "I wanted this before
I got shocked." Sudden worry shot through him, and he backtracked.
"I mean, unless you don't want . . . ."
mouth covered his before he could complete the sentence. No, Ray had
definitely not misread the signals. Oh no. That fascinating tongue slid
along his lower lip, licked at his teeth, caressed on his own tongue
in a delicate thrust that made him shiver. He licked back, and felt
an answering shudder in the body that pinned his own to the rock. After
a few more forays like that, Ben had abandoned his straddle and stretched
out over him. They matched all along their lengths, shoulder to shoulder,
belly to belly, hip to hip, and . . . oh yeah, definitely that too, cock
to cock. Ray lifted his hips, pushing his own burgeoning hardness into
the matching one above, heard-felt Ben's groan against his mouth, and
suddenly wondered if he was still hallucinating. It was the world's
longest hallucination, if he was. He threaded his fingers into Ben's
hair and tugged gently until Ben lifted his head.
real?" he asked, though why he thought a hallucination would tell
the truth was a question he avoided asking himself.
studied him for a moment, seeming to come back into himself from a long
way away, and then he smiled, slowly, and nodded. "Oh, yes. Very
good. Just checking." He pulled Ben back down to him, and his
free hand came up to rest just above the swell of Ben's butt, stroking
softly, pushing those hips down against his own. God, it felt strange,
but so good, to feel that hard swell against his own, even separated
by layers of wet cloth. What didn't feel good was the way his back was
getting scoured against the rock. Reluctantly he broke the kiss again.
hand me a towel or something?"
looked puzzled. "Why?"
to be honest, the rock's not really very comfortable. . . ." he
Lord! Ray, I'm so sorry!"
scrambled off of him in seconds, blushing madly . . . or was he getting
sunburned? Uh oh. The last thing Ben needed was a sunburn, considering
how poorly he dealt with heat to begin with. Ray rolled to his feet
and stood, extending a hand to Ben. "Time to move this party indoors,
I think." Ben stared up at him for a moment, a question in his
eyes. Ray felt heat wash through him, a scalding tide of need. He licked
his lips. "Don't. . . um. . . don't want you to get sunburned,"
he said, giving them a good excuse. Ben nodded.
that's a good idea."
took his hand, and Ray braced him to his feet. Their hands stayed linked
for a few moments, then they looked at each other, grinned in mutual
embarrassment, and let go. Silently they gathered their things and headed
back through the woods. As they walked, Ray felt a growing sense of
. . . something. A strange combination of anticipation and fear. Damn.
The delay made things awkward. Made him think about what they were doing,
instead of just acting and reacting. Made him wonder what the hell he
thought he was doing, what the hell Ben was doing, and why, and brought
up all the fears he'd ever had about whether he was normal, or even sane.
When they stepped
into the cabin, Ray stopped to drop his shoes, towel, shirts, and shorts
by the door while Ben took the garbage from the quarry to the trash,
then put his things down neatly on the formica counter, then stood looking
out the window, his back taut and straight. Suddenly realizing that
Ben was probably feeling and thinking exactly the same things that he
was got Ray moving. He crossed the small space that separated them,
standing next to Ben, but not touching him, trying to give him enough
room to be comfortable, or as comfortable as they could be.
okay?" Ray asked after a moment.
looked at him then, finally, catching his teeth in his lower lip for
a fraction of a second, an action almost as sexy as the little licking-thing
he often did. "Yes, I'm fine. You?"
Ray said automatically, then it struck him how ridiculous they sounded
and he shook his head. "God, listen to us. We sound like strangers.
I know this is hard, I mean, I know it, deep, because I think we're in
the same place, like what the hell is going on here but it's good, too.
So no more strangers, this is us. You and me. And what I mean is, are
you okay, really okay? Are you okay with what we did? Do you . . .
." he stopped, swallowed hard, and plowed ahead. "Do you want
to do . . . more? 'Cause it's okay if you don't, and I think it's okay
if you do, because I could do that, I think, I mean I could go either
way, heck, I'll try anything, but I don't know if. . . ."
He stopped. "Yeah?"
Ben smiled a little.
all right. I think . . . well, it's not an easy situation."
"No. That's true."
"So. . . ah . .
. ." Fraser began hesitantly.
Ray answered firmly.
looked at him quizzically. "I didn't ask a question yet."
Ray grinned. "Doesn't
can you say that if you don't know what I was going to ask?" Ben
asked, still quizzical.
I trust you," Ray said, meeting that questioning gaze head on.
Ben looked like someone
had just socked him a good one, and before Ray could do more than wonder
why, he had a mouth on his again in a hot, open, almost desperate kiss.
He met it, welcomed it. Felt strong arms slide around him, pulling him
in close, feeling again the unfamiliar but not unwelcome weight and shape
of Ben's cock against his own, hard enough to feel through denim and
chrome-plated copper buttons. Wow. He'd never thought about how that
would feel . . . to someone else. Or the way someone else would feel
to him. Very strange, yet strangely. . . erotic.
let one hand slide down Ben's bare, damp torso to even damper cloth,
and he cupped his palm over that familiar yet alien hardness, fingers
spreading, curving, delineating. Ben shivered against him, pushing his
hips forward, his erection into Ray's hand and moaning into his mouth.
It was the sound of need, of desire, pure and uncomplicated, unlike everything
else in the universe. All the potential awkwardness fell away in the
face of that need, and the emotional involvement it implied. Even after
only a month Ray knew instinctively that Ben could never do this with
someone he didn't care for, care about. This was . . . right. He could
do this. He wanted to do this.
strangely in control, all things considered, Ray started moving forward,
slowly, urging Ben backward. It was a lot like dancing, the rhythm and
sway of bodies in movement, together, matching, dancing without music.
A nudge here, a step there, all the time his hand working, stroking,
gripping, fingers sliding that first button free, then the second, the
third and, oh, they were there already? He pushed a little and the bed
caught Ben behind his knees. He went over onto his back, boneless. .
. almost, and Ray followed easily, slipping those last two buttons free,
finding thin wet cotton beneath the heavier denim, feeling the heat and
pulse in the hardened flesh beneath that flimsy barrier. Ben moaned
and pushed up against his palm, one hand covering his eyes, as if he
were afraid to watch. Ray grinned and reached up, pulled his hand away.
Look at me, at you, at us. Watch."
eased his fingers beneath the waistband of Ben's boxers, and pushed them
down with the back of his hand, carefully, freeing the thick, hard shaft.
Flushed, and perfect. Uncut. That was new, different, wow. He touched,
tenderly, with just a fingertip, stroking. Ben's breath caught, making
his stomach tighten, making his cock tighten, too. Ray looked up, looked
at Ben's flushed face, eager, anxious eyes, at his parted lips . . .
had to have those again. He leaned in, nipped lightly at Ben's lower
lip, then converted the bite to a kiss. Ben's hands came up, holding
him, kissing back deep, his tongue slicking hotly into Ray's mouth, exploring,
thrusting, all the while making little noises in his throat as Ray stroked
him, pumping hard into his hand.
tightened his grip, stroked harder, faster, found himself rocking against
Ben's hip, matching their rhythms, and then Ben's hands were sliding
down Ray's back, gripping his butt, pulling him hard against the soft
indentation below his hipbone. He shuddered, taken utterly by surprise
by the intensity of his reaction to that touch and pleasure exploded
through him, wracking shudders of delight. Before the pulses in his
own body began to ebb, Ben shuddered and damn. . . grunted, a
sound that dragged more shivers of release from him as the thick silky
heat of Ben's semen flooded over his fingers. Good. So damned good.
Amazing. Perfect. Yeah.
slowing, Ray could feel the previous night's lack of sleep creeping up
on him, and from the soft yawn he heard, it sounded like Ben was feeling
it too. He moved closer, burying his nose in the curve of Ben's shoulder,
loving the smell of him, and the smoothness of that pale skin. Ben's
arm tightened around him, and he felt the brush of his cheek against
his hair, then Ben was pushing him away a little. He fought that, wanting
to stay close, wanting to just be, with Ben. Ben pushed a little harder.
Ray shook his head.
No. Don' wanna."
for a moment, Ray, we should clean up a little," Ben answered with
if you really want to be stuck to your clothing when you wake up . .
. ." Ben said, sounding amused.
Right. That. Okay. Good point. Ray sighed, and rolled away, preparing
to strip off his damp-in-more-ways-than-one briefs. God. He hadn't
come in his shorts since he could remember. It would have been kind
of embarrassing, if they hadn't both done it, sort of. He heard rustling,
felt movement, but didn't watch as Ben stripped off his own shorts and
boxers, knowing how awkward it was to undress in front of someone for
the first time. He reached down to take off his own briefs, and was
startled when Ben's hands came between his, and his waistband.
Ray tried to pretend
indifference, but for some reason he suddenly felt shy as those big,
square hands slipped between fabric and skin. He closed his eyes.
He lifted. Felt the
garment peeled away, carefully, down his thighs, and off.
Down again now."
let his butt meet the bed, and then was startled to feel fingers against
his now-bare cock, stroking. He jerked a little, mostly in surprise,
a bit in sensitivity. "Shhh, it's okay," Ben said, then he
was touched again, softly, so softly, with heat, and. . . moisture?
His eyes flew open as he lifted his head to look, and oh God he hadn't
imagined that! Ben's eyes were closed, pleasure written on his face
as his tongue slid up the length of Ray's softened shaft.
cow! Ben! What are you . . . you don't gotta do that, you know!"
Ben's eyes opened, their
slate-blue depths full of amusement, and . . . something more. Something
Ray wasn't quite ready to really think about . . . yet. Maybe after
a nap. Ben bit his lip, looking a little. . . sheepish.
wanted to. You taste . . . good," he said, with a hint of an apologetic
smile lurking around the corners of his mouth.
Ray let his head fall back against the bed so hard it bounced a little,
then he lifted it again. Needing to know if he'd heard that right.
apology disappeared from Ben's face, and his smile became a grin. "Yes.
Ray felt himself
blushing. "Um, uh. . . thanks. I guess."
you," Ben said, his voice a little rough, a lot warm. He slid upward,
and pulled Ray into his embrace, hugging him tightly. "Thank you."
* * *
Ben drifted, not quite
awake, not quite asleep. From the angle of the light, he judged they
had slept several hours. It was probably close to two in the afternoon.
He could hear birds outside, the rustle of leaves in a light breeze,
Diefenbaker snoring in the other room. He smiled at that. It was warm,
but not so warm as to make him miserable, though he was sweating a little
where his skin touched Ray's, which was pretty much all along his left
side, since Ray had gone to sleep half on-top of him, head heavy against
his shoulder. That could have been uncomfortable, but it wasn't. It
was . . . cherished. Sweet. Right. For the first time in weeks he felt
. . . comfortable. More than that, for the first time in years, he felt
do that. He knew that, logically. Sex was simply a biological drive,
as easily satisfied by masturbation as by intimacy, yet, right now, with
this man, he knew it meant much more. Ray had trusted him, when he had
nothing to gain by this and much to lose. Ben knew how Americans were
about homosexuality, especially in the 'blue collar' stratum of social
classes. While he was used to the freer environments and attitudes
of academe, Ray didn't have that luxury. The people Ray knew would
care whom he slept with. At least some of them would, in all likelihood.
Of course, that concern
was predicated on what might be an incorrect assumption: that Ray would
want to continue with such activities. He had said he'd wanted . . .
this, even before almost drowning, but Ben knew that might have been
said in the heat of the moment, and near-death experiences often brought
about a need to procreate. He shouldn't have taken advantage of that,
no matter how lonely he was, or how attractive he found Ray. It had
been a mistake. He only hoped it wouldn't ruin their friendship. Lord,
he was thinking in tattered old clichés, but then, there was a
reason why clichés became what they were. He sighed, and Ray
stirred against him, stretching, rubbing his body along Ben's, flinging
an arm across his chest.
held his breath, hoping Ray would go back to sleep, but then the hand
on his arm started a slow stroking of his shoulder, and he knew he wasn't
going to escape so easily. At least Ray hadn't woken and scrambled
out of bed in a panic. That was a good sign, wasn't it? Ray rubbed
his cheek against Ben's shoulder, abrading it a little with his stubble,
which didn't really feel unpleasant at all. Without looking up, Ray
of a deep sigh, there, Benton-buddy. Problems?"
frowned a little, trying to figure out how to respond to that. "Ah
. . . no, not as such."
Ray acknowledged noncommitally, then pushed back a little and lifted
his head, meeting Ben's gaze evenly. He didn't look regretful, just
curious. "So, Doc . . . um . . . you ever done this before?"
asked, confused. "You mean, with a man?"
no. Well, not exactly. I mean with . . . anybody."
anybody? What did that mean? Had he been so inept that Ray
thought he was a virgin? Well, he might as well be, under the circumstances,
but really! "You mean, have I ever had sex before?" he asked
defensively, face heating with embarrassment
took one look at his face and broke into a grin. "Whoa, whoa there,
Doc. Chill. I know you were with what's-her-face, so I figured you
had, and you definitely know what you're doing and all that, but it's
just you got that whole. . . innocent thing going on, and it's hard to
tell if it's real, or just something you do to keep people off you."
Ben stared at him in
surprise, feeling his momentary surge of humiliation begin to fade.
This was unexpected. Extremely. This was not one of the reactions he'd
thought Ray might have. He studied Ray, those all-too-knowing eyes,
and shook his head. "You're very perceptive, Ray."
mean no one else has ever made that connection before, and you're quite
right. There was a time when it was real, but that was a long time ago.
And yes, I do use that. . . mask, as a way to keep others at a distance.
I find life much less painful that way."
the person who hurt you, that would have been the chick you were . .
. um . . . down about, last night?"
perceptive was an understatement. "Yes. Victoria."
smiled wryly. "Victoria? She got her own line of underwear?"
Ben laughed at that,
surprised that he could, but apparently he'd recovered to the point where
he could find the irony amusing. "No, although she wasn't above
using such things as bait in her trap."
sighed, his gaze fixed on the window so he didn't have to look into Ray's
eyes, didn't risk letting him see inside. "Oh, yes. There really
is no other word for it. And not only did I walk right into it, I didn't
even have the sense to struggle until it was far too late."
"What the hell did
she do to you?"
laughed humorlessly. "She . . . used me. Body, and mind, though
I believe that my mind was the only thing she truly wanted."
Ray drew back, looked
at him, and shook his head. "No way. Nobody in their right mind
wouldn't want both, Benton Fraser, so if she really didn't then she needs
to be locked away for the good of society."
I wouldn't disagree on that score, though for different reasons."
"You're gonna make
me pry, hunh? Okay, I'm easy." He winked. "What reasons?
You haven't told me what she did. Tell me a story. How'd she use you?"
Ben was quiet for a moment,
trying to organize his thoughts, trying to see this as a story to tell,
impersonal. Finally he started. "We were both same field, and
it was, I thought, natural that we would gravitate toward each other,
having so much in common. She was always very interested in my work,
very helpful. Eventually we became . . . closer."
Ray said, reading his shorthand.
Ben admitted. "Lovers. Though I later realized she probably did
that in order to have better access to my private files and research.
She stole everything, my concept, my research, my words, and made it
look as if they had been hers all along. I never suspected a thing until
I got the journal with her paper in it. . . my paper, with her name on
it. And when I confronted her with it, she just laughed, and dared me
to prove it was my work. That's when I discovered that all along when
I thought she was helping me, she'd been altering my data files and re-copying
my research notes so that it looked as if they were her work, not mine.
"It was years,
Ray. I'd known her for two years, we'd been lovers, and the entire time
she'd been lying to me, stealing from me, planning it . . . " his
throat clamped shut on the sob that threatened, and he wound his fingers
into the bedspread, struggling for control over his emotions. In the
eighteen months since it had happened, he hadn't told a soul any of this.
He'd just sucked it up and started over again from scratch. He didn't
expect Ray to understand. No one outside of his field would understand.
Ray's hand kept
stroking over his shoulder, his arm, finally it slid down to find his
hand where it was tangled in the covers, sliding his fingers under and
around Ben's, squeezing gently. "She stole your ideas, that's gotta
be like having your soul stolen. That's one evil bitch, Doc. Evil."
Ben stared at him, stunned.
He did understand. He did. "Yes. Yes, it was very much like having
part of my soul stolen."
slid his hand free and linked his fingers together over Ben's chest,
resting his chin on them, studying his face intently. "But you got
a lot of soul left, Doc, or you grew more or something. And you know
she'll never be able to match what you did, or what you'll do, so she's
stuck, she clipped her wings, but you can still fly."
God, what response was there to that? He tossed his head back, trying
desperately not to let the tears come, and Ray was pushing himself up,
hands on his shoulders, face grave and concerned as he peered down at
managed a nod, managed to unclench his teeth a little. "Yes."
"Don't look fine."
"I will be,"
he whispered, ". . . now."
got it. His concern faded, and he smiled. "Yeah. Now. Geez,
at least Stella only screwed me over emotionally, she didn't try to get
me canned or anything."
looked at Ray hopefully, wondering if he were finally going to find out
just what had happened between Ray and his ex-wife. Ray met his gaze,
sighed, and nodded.
yeah, I get it. I did say we'd compare war stories, but yours has mine
beat six ways to Sunday."
not a contest, Ray," Ben chided gently. "But you don't have
to tell me anything. You know that."
know, but it's . . . I do want to, it's just . . . it hurts."
"I do understand
that pain," Ben said quietly.
I get that. That helps." Ray reached out and tangled their fingers
together, casually, obviously without even thinking about it. Ben envied
that instinctive knowledge of 'the right thing to do.' He had always
had to work at that. He remembered little of his family life before
his mother died, but after-- well, his grandparents had not been demonstrative.
"I want to
tell you, but it sounds so cheap, so stupid."
would agree, Ray, that anyone who would willingly leave you must indeed
be stupid. As for cheap, her price was, if I gather correctly, monetary,
not emotional, so yes, she was cheap, as well."
laughed at that, wryly. "You're good for a guy's ego, Doc."
"I merely stated
the truth, Ray."
blushed. "Yeah, well, maybe I do better with guys or something.
Stell. . . poor Stella, she never really belonged in my world, I just
wanted her to. She was never comfortable in it. See, until she was
about twelve, she was a real Gold Coast girl. Her parents were rolling
in money, and she was their only kid, so she was like a princess. Then
her dad got hooked on gambling and all that money went down the tubes,
fast. They were nearly on the street, would have been except her mom
had a bit of dough of her own, enough to buy a little place in my neighborhood.
Not that it was a bad place, but for them it was a real comedown. But
for me. . . she was like the damsel in distress from all those stories
about knights, and so I was gonna do that, be her knight."
sighed, shifted uncomfortably, and looked away. "What I didn't
know then was that mechanics can't be knights. You gotta go to college,
and get a degree to be a knight. They don't take high school dropouts."
Ben suddenly remembered
something Ray had said that first night they'd going out together. 'No
secret crime-fighting for me. Couldn't get into the academy.' He
looked at Ray, suddenly understanding. "You wanted to become a
looked startled. "Um. . . yeah. I did. How'd you know?"
You once made a comment about not being able to get into the academy,
and the term 'knight' is often used colloquially to designate a police
officer, and those things, coupled with your strong sense of justice,
would seem to lead one in that direction."
shook his head. "God, I love how you think. You got the coolest
compliment, inelegantly expressed but heartfelt, warmed Ben in a place
that hadn't been warm in years, heat-wave notwithstanding. "Your
brain is quite 'cool' as well, Ray."
gaze slid from his and one corner of his mouth pulled downward. "You
been smoking something, Doc? I just told you I flunked outta high school."
"Education has nothing
to do with intelligence, Ray. You are, without doubt, one of the brightest
people I know. Your intelligence simply takes a less common form, a
more practical one. You know so much about things, about people . .
. you have a native, bone-deep intelligence that people like myself are
made a rude sound. "Yeah, right."
are smart. You just have, I suspect, an organic dysfunction which prevents
you from learning the way most of us do."
"I think you may
have a learning disability, possibly coupled with mild hyperactivity.
It's a common combination. Were you ever tested for either?"
Ray stared at him, frowning.
"No. You. . . are you saying something's wrong with me? Like,
I'm not right in the head?"
tightened his fingers around Ray's. "No, no of course not! You're
perfectly sane, saner than most people, I think. It's just that your
brain works a little differently. There is nothing wrong with that difference,
nothing inherently wrong with being different, but our society simply
isn't equipped to deal well with differences."
considered that, then smiled a little. "Yeah, okay. That's true.
Kind of like if I was black, or Hispanic, or . . . ." he grinned,
and winked, ". . . bisexual."
grinned back. "Yes. Precisely. Different, but not less. I l.
. . like that difference." He caught himself, panic-stricken that
Ray would understand his slip. It was far too soon for that word, might
never be time for it. To his relief, though, Ray sighed, and seemed
what I like about you, Ben. You never expect me to be something I'm
not, someone I'm not. Everyone else does. My folks . . . Stella, they
wanted me to be something. They didn't seem to get that I am something,
just like I am. Maybe not rich, or important, but . . . people need
me. Some people anyway."
gaze flicked up to his, surprised, pleased. He smiled. "You do?"
"Yes. And not because
you can repair my car."
pleasure in Ray's eyes seemed to warm and deepened, and he moistened
his lips. "Yeah, need you, too."
was suddenly, intensely aware of how close Ray's mouth was to his own.
As if hearing his unspoken thought, Ray's gaze moved downward, and a
hint of a smile played around the corners of his mouth. He looked up
again, meeting Ben's eyes.
. . wanna see if we can go for more than three minutes this time?"
Well, that answered the
question of whether or not Ray would want to do anything more. He didn't
seem a bit reluctant. That surprised Ben, quite a bit. Enough that
instead of responding the way his body thought would be appropriate,
he opened his mouth instead, and words emerged.
you done this before? I mean, with a man?"
didn't move, suspended there, so close that Ben could feel his breath
against his cheek. "Nope. Thought about it some. Okay, more than
some. Off and on. Never did anything about it. I was married, I didn't
fool around. And then after, well, it's not like I get a lot of offers."
He looked sweetly embarrassed,
shy, a little wistful. Strangely, Ben knew exactly how he felt, even
though he'd had more than his share of offers, none of them had been
deep enough, meaningful enough, to take. It had to feel similarly .
. . lonely. Suddenly it didn't matter any more, whether either of them
had or hadn't, or whether anyone else cared. All that mattered was the
two of them, Ray and himself. He reached down, trailed his fingertips
against the stubble on Ray's jaw, and smiled.
believe I might be able to try for a more satisfactory endurance record."
Ray grinned, that bright,
blinding smile that had drawn Ben in from the first. "I am all
over that," he said, one eyebrow lifting suggestively as he
bent down, and their lips met.
was strange to discover that the faint burn of stubble against his skin
could be erotic, that masculine hardness against him instead of feminine
softness could send shivers of sensation through him more profound than
any he'd known. Was it simply knowing that Ray cared? No, Ben had thought
Victoria cared, too, and she had never made him feel as if he'd been
plugged directly into some socket which fired the electricity of touch
and sound and scent and taste into his blood like a drug.
slid his fingers into the soft, wild tousle of Ray's hair, angling his
face a little so they could kiss more deeply, and the stroke and slide
of tongue against his own was delightful. He let his other hand slide
down Ray's back to his hip, then slid it forward, only to tangle awkwardly
with Ray's hand and arm as he made a similar gesture. Ray laughed against
his mouth, breaking the kiss.
you got any idea how this is supposed to work?"
chewed his lip, frowning. "Well, I suppose it depends on exactly
what you mean by 'this.'"
. . two guys."
thought you said you'd thought about it."
yeah, I did, in a general kind of way."
Well, I've read. . . some things. Texts mostly, human sexuality, tribal
grinned smugly. "Yeah, I knew it. Knew you'd know something."
"I'm not exactly
sure how useful it will be, as I don't think either of us were planning
to insert small bells into slits in the foreskin and. . . ."
Ray's eyes went wide
and he interrupted quickly. "Whoa, too much information there,
Doc. Can't you just kind of do an overview?"
chuckled. "I believe that there's an applicable saying . . . "
If it feels good, then it's all right."
yeah. I can get behind that," Ray said, his voice husky, and rough.
He reached out and ran a fingertip across Ben's lower lip. "I can
soooo get behind that," he whispered. His finger slipped from Ben's
mouth to his chin, traced his jaw back to his ear, circled that, then
slid down the long tendon in his throat to his collarbone, and finally
stuttered over his chest to come to rest atop one suddenly-taut nipple.
He stroked his fingertip back and forth across it curiously, then bent,
and took it in his mouth. Warm, silky, wet heat, gentle nip, harder
suction. Ben arched into that caress voluptuously, making a soft sound
deep in his throat. After a moment or two Ray lifted his head, and
Ben frowned at the abandonment.
did you stop?"
I mean, I know chicks are supposed to like it but I always wondered if
guys were the same."
looked at Ray's chest, then his face, saw the question there, and smiled.
Ray had taken the lead before, and now here again, perhaps it was time
to change that. Ben reached out, put a hand on Ray's shoulder, and pushed
him over onto his back, coming up over him in a surprisingly smooth movement.
"Would you like to find out?" he asked softly, mouth poised.
Ray rasped back, breathlessly.
was surprised that after several years of marriage Ray didn't already
know the answer to this, but he supposed Stella had not been particularly
adventurous and for whatever reason, Ray hadn't asked it of her. Still,
it pleased him that there was at least this one small thing that was
his alone. He brushed his closed lips across the cinnamon-colored nub
of flesh once, twice, felt Ray shiver under him, then he let his tongue
steal out to lick softly at it, and finally he drew Ray's nipple between
his lips and sucked. Ray practically came off the bed with a moan, one
long-fingered hand coming to rest lightly over the back of Ben's head
as he worked, fingers stroking his hair, urging him to continue. Ben
put a hand in the middle of Ray's chest, holding him down, and sucked
harder, felt his victim shudder beneath him, hips lifting since his chest
Ray gasped. "That's. . . that's. . . no wonder they like it!"
He writhed a little, moaned. "I think I could come, just from that.
. . wow!"
lifted his head, looked down that long, lean body at the straining length
of Ray's cock, and smiled, once more feeling the intense compulsion to
taste. It was, he knew, an idiosyncracy of his, to want to taste everything,
he'd done it as a child, learned to control it ruthlessly as an adult,
but it had never gone away. "Don't. Not yet," he said softly.
Ray laughed. "You
should see your face! You got like . . . I dunno, like this 'kid in
a candy-shop' expression."
couldn't help but grin, though he knew he was also turning red. "Well,
that's entirely appropriate." He kissed the silly grin off Ray's
mouth, then swivelled around, an arm across Ray's thighs as the fingers
of his free hand closed carefully around the resilient flesh of Ray's
cock. Leaning in, Ben drew in a deep breath, inhaling the scent of
sweat, and excitement, then lowered his head, engulfing that hot, smooth
shaft in his mouth. He had to loosen his jaw a little, tilt his head
at a different angle, then it was all right. He loved it, the taste,
the feel, even the ache in his jaw. He heard Ray gasp sharply, and
Using his tongue,
Ben studied the subtle contours of the thick shaft, feeling the pulse
of Ray's heartbeat racing against his lips, echoed under his restraining
arm by the rapid lift and fall of Ray's belly as he almost panted. He
tasted the first hint of that fascinating flavor he'd found there before
they'd slept, and desperately wanted more than that faint offering.
He stroked with hand and tongue as he sucked. Ray moaned, and Ben could
feel the taut clench of his quadriceps as he fought the urge to thrust.
He lifted his head, slowly, letting Ray's cock slip free, continuing
to use his hand to stroke, running his thumb across the slick, sensitive
head of it.
all right," he said, his voice a bare whisper. "Go ahead.
I want you to." He let his tongue flicker across the gleaming shaft,
and Ray gasped, shuddering as Ben's hand stroked faster.
God . . . Ben!
bucked and strained beneath him, rhythmic pulsations beginning to sweep
the long, sleek shaft in his hand. Quickly Ben leaned to take him into
his mouth just as the first spurt hit his tongue. He moaned his satisfaction
aloud around his prize, heard Ray echo him, fingers threading into his
hair with gentle fierceness as each consecutive pulsebeat brought them
both more pleasure. Finally Ray shuddered one last time, and relaxed
with a groan, his hands falling limply to the bed.
my lord . . . ." he sighed deeply. "That was. . . am I dead
the rich and complex flavors on his tongue, salt-sweet and bitter, Ben
gave a last swallow, a last lick, and slowly released Ray. He put his
head on his thigh and looked up the length of his rangy body. Seeing
that Ray was watching him, he smiled
call it the little death, you know."
cultures, though I believe the French are most famous for it. 'Le
wasn't so little, Ben."
grinned, running a finger along the softened, but not insubstantial length
a few inches from his nose. "Indeed, not."
groaned, putting his arm across his face as if that would hide the blush
that started much lower. "Ben! Jesus!"
smiled. "Robert, actually."
lifted his arm, looking confused. "Who's Robert?"
am. Benton Robert. Not Jesus."
groaned again, flopping back onto the bed. "You always turn into
a comedian when you get horny?"
only with you."
sobered, nodded. "Yes. Very."
opened his mouth, closed it, clearly at a loss for words, after a moment
he cleared his throat, his expression oddly earnest. "You too,
Doc. You too. Ben. Benton. Benton Robert Fraser. I never thought
it would be good, to be with a guy. So it's gotta be you, I think.
This is new for both of us, a . . . a brave new world, I think somebody
once said." He offered it apologetically, obviously waiting to
closed his eyes for a moment, and smiled. The Tempest. And Ray was
Ariel, oh yes. Strangely . . . right. Strangely easy. Strangely wonderful.
Wonderfully strange. All that, and more. "'O brave new world,
that has such people in 't,'" he quoted. "Yes. It is."
* * *
ever said he was special before, not even Stella. And no one ever quoted
anything for him before. He felt weird about that, like he shouldn't
like it, but he did. Maybe he was sick, but he liked this, all of it.
He liked being with Ben, both in a sense of plain old liking, and in
the sexual sense, too. He liked being touched, and touching, a man.
It was just kind of amazing. And maybe he . . . liked Ben in another
sense too, a way he thought had been cut out of him when Stella left.
But that was too scary to think about right now.
looked at Ben, wondering what someone so damned smart and perfect saw
in him, hoping that whatever it was, he could keep it up. He couldn't
quite believe this was happening. Or that he'd gotten that quote right,
either, but he had. He remembered Ben's comment that he might have a
learning disability, and for the first time in his life felt like he
might not be just plain stupid.
Shakespeare, right? The one about the shipwreck?" Ray ventured,
suddenly remembering where he'd heard the 'brave new world' thing before.
"Yes. The Tempest,"
Ben confirmed, seeming unsurprised by the question, though it surprised
Ray that he had gotten it right.
made us . . . um, took us, one time. Actually, I kind of liked it.
The words had . . . patterns. And it was kind of like a fantasy movie.
I couldn't understand everything, but I got more than I thought I would."
"As I said, Ray,
you're by no means unintelligent."
some reason that made Ray blush again, and he looked away from Ben's
face, only to realize he was staring at the smooth pale curve of his
flank, and his gaze kind of automatically tracked across to the flushed,
semi-erect cock in its thatch of dark silk. It hit him then, that he'd
just let Ben blow his cock and his mind, and hadn't even touched him
in return! What kind of selfish jerk was he? And he hadn't lasted a
lot longer than the first time, either. Kind of embarrassing. So, time
to put up, and make it good. Really good.
turned onto his side and reached out to lay his hand on Ben's hip. His
fingers looked almost sallow against the creamy glow of Ben's skin.
He couldn't get over how much that fair skin turned him on, considering
that tan had been 'in' for his entire life. Maybe that was it, actually.
The fact that Ben was nothing like anyone else he knew or ever had known.
He stroked the firm curve of Ben's thigh, heard his breathing catch,
and looked at his face, saw him moisten his lips with a slow, sensual
slide of tongue, and wanted to feel that again, against his own mouth.
He turned, and then stretched out slowly along Ben's body, running his
nose up the center of that strong, pale stomach, up the line of sternum,
to clavicle, up his throat over his chin, finally reaching his mouth,
already open, waiting for him.
of tongue on tongue, the twitch of hardening cock against his thigh.
Remembering his own reactions, he slid his thumb into Ben's mouth for
a moment alongside his tongue, then slipped it out again and reached
down to stroke it slickly across one of Ben's small nipples. For that
he got a sound that was almost a purr, vibrating lips and tongue against
his own. It tickled and made him laugh, breaking the kiss. Torn, he
finally lowered his head, moved his thumb away from Ben's nipple and
put his mouth there instead.
purred again, a little shiver going through him as he reached down and
caught Ray's hand, bringing it to his mouth, catching his thumb again,
nipping it, sucking it. Tingles ran through him, electric sparks of excitement.
It was almost enough to get him hard again. Ray did his best to ignore
his own responses and concentrate on Ben's instead. He shifted to one
side and slid his free hand down Ben's chest, then lower, cupping his
fingers over the thrust of his cock. Ben bit hard on his thumb and pushed
into his hand. Ray grinned. Okay, so maybe Ben wouldn't last all that
by Ben's uncircumcised cock, he let his fingers curl gently around the
shaft. It felt so different from his own, somehow less. . . naked.
It was cool. Well, not literally, literally it was warm, or rather,
hot, and soft-hard, velvet smooth, and flushed with arousal. He stroked
slowly, let his fingers trail down over the soft weight of his testicles,
playing the way he liked to be played with, gently massaging beneath
the base of his cock where it felt so good. Ben moaned, and drew up
a knee, letting it fall to the side so he was completely vulnerable.
Ray glanced up at Ben's face to see his reaction, and found himself just
were closed, dark lashes feathered on flushed cheeks, head thrown back
against the bed, his throat taut and his teeth sunk in his lower lip
as he arched into Ray's touch. The barest hint of stubble shadowed his
cheeks, giving them a hint of hollow that they didn't normally hold,
and his dark hair was a mass of sweaty ringlets. He looked . . . edible.
Fuckable. Splayed out like that, Ben gave Ray ideas he wasn't sure either
of them were ready for. He swallowed hard, trying to control the urge
to satisfy a curiosity he hadn't known he had until that moment.
"Do you have any
idea how beautiful you are?" Ray breathed, stunned.
eyes opened, their slate-blue depths hazy and unfocused. "I find
you equally beautiful, Ray."
so the guy needed glasses, it was still a nice thing to say. Ray kissed
him again, soothing his tongue over the teeth-prints in his lower lip.
Ben humped up against his hand which still encircled and stroked him,
sucking on his tongue like it was something else, something that was.
. .unbelievably, half-hard again. Geez, he felt like a teenager, where
a change in wind-speed could give him a hard-on.
hand found his, and quite deliberately moved his fingers lower, down
to the base of his cock, pressing them hard against himself there, arching
up with that damned little grunt again. Not stupid, Ray took the hint
and massaged there, firmly, and got a muffled groan and a buck. This
was kind of fun. After a moment he realized there was something else
he wanted to try, and he slipped his tongue out of Ben's mouth. Feeling
a little awkward, he bent to find out for himself what Ben felt like,
what he tasted like. He put his lips against the side of Ben's cock,
found the skin against his tongue hot, silky, clean. Not at all unpleasant.
Cautiously he slid
his tongue up to the tip, tasting there, too. Ben shivered, gasping.
Slick, and smooth, and even hotter, salty-sweet, surprisingly good, considering
the amount of protest Stella had always put up over this very act. Braver,
he lowered his head, taking the head of Ben's cock in his mouth, sucking
Ben moaned. "Ray . . . ."
Ray asked around the thick shaft in his mouth. Tactical error. Ben bucked
hard, going so deep Ray nearly gagged. He backed off, letting go, taking
over with his hand instead. Not as fun, but safer until he got the hang
. . . ." Ben gasped, relaxing a little, panting. "You have
no idea. . . ."
Ray asked, smiling a little.
That made him want to
do it again. Boldly he took Ben back into his mouth, and very deliberately
made a soft vocalization. This time he was prepared for the thrust,
and rode it out, then he did it again, and again, sucking, humming, and
breathing through his nose. Ben turned into a wild thing, bucking and
moaning, hands fisting in the sheets. Remembering where Ben had urged
him to put his hand earlier, Ray slipped a hand beneath the tightening
folds of flesh below Ben's cock, between his thighs searching for that
spot that had earned that delicious grunt before. It was harder now,
because Ben was moving, and he was sweating, and things were slick and
. . . whoops!
shuddered, his whole body going taut. "God. . . yes!" Ben
was not what he'd meant to do but judging from the reaction it wasn't
a bad thing. He tried it again, stroking a finger across the sensitive
opening. Ben shivered and sighed. Ray lifted his head to look up at
like that?" he whispered, just to make sure.
rosy flush of color swept upward from Ben's midriff, and Ben put one
arm over his face before he could bring himself to reply, a single syllable.
maybe those things he'd been thinking earlier weren't so out of line
after all. But not yet, too soon. Still, he could. . . play. Before
he lowered his head again, he deliberately licked his fingers, and when
he bent to engulf the taut shaft in his mouth, he slid his fingers between
Ben's cheeks at the same time, circling, pressing gently. Ben pushed
back, made that sought-after grunt again. Oh yeah, he liked that. Audaciously
he let his finger slip deeper as he sucked, and was answered by an instant
shudder, a moan, and a flood of alkaline-sweet slickness in his mouth.
Startled, he swallowed, and swallowed again, and once more, as the taut
body under his suddenly sagged into a boneless sprawl. He gently disengaged
and slid up to pull Ben into his arms.
stretched, and sighed, then smiled, eyes still closed. "Far more
than okay. My God, Ray, I had no idea!"
me either." Ray grinned sheepishly. "But I . . . liked it.
I like being with you. A lot."
liked being with you a great deal even before this, Ray, but this is,
well, quite astonishing."
know. I keep thinking I'm dreaming. I mean, like I said, I sometimes
thought, 'yeah, that guy's good-looking,' but I never let myself think
much more than that. Never thought it would be this . . . good. Or
this easy. I always thought it would be kind of, um, kind of . . .
Ben asked, and at Ray's nod, he went on. " Yes, I thought it would
be, too. But it wasn't." He frowned a little.
grinned. "Go figure. Guess some things come naturally."
Ben studied him intently.
"Ray, is this . . . all right? I mean, we didn't talk about it,
didn't plan, and I know this isn't something you normally do."
Ray said, eyeing him cautiously, not sure what kind of response Ben was
me either. But I'm asking you. Is this all right? I don't want to do
anything that would in any way jeopardize our friendship."
Ben. Me either. I mean. . . but. . . damn." Frustrated, he rolled
onto his back, staring at the ceiling, thinking hard, trying to find
a way to say what he was feeling. Ben was quiet, letting him sort it
out. Or at least that's what Ray hoped he was doing. Finally he managed
to put something semi-coherent together. "Yeah, I'm all right with
it. I guess, it's like that old joke, 'but will you still respect me
in the morning?' And the answer is yeah, I do. Plus, I don't feel wrong
about it, inside me. In fact, I feel pretty good about it." He
turned his head, looked at Ben, concerned. "Is that. . . is that
what you wanted to know?"
although there is another aspect, one I almost hesitate to bring up,
and would not, were it not so important."
turned his head, looked at Ben's solemn face and lifted his eyebrows.
ah, I would imagine this is not something your friends will be 'all right'
with, am I right?"
smiled ruefully. "What friends, Ben? Since when have I got any?
And even if I did, what business is it of theirs how I get my jollies,
as long as it's not kids or animals or something like that."
"Some people might
consider this to be the moral equivalent."
scowled. "Well it's not and you know it."
I do, but I also know that not everyone feels that way. Can you deal
with that, should it become an issue?"
sighed. "It's not gonna be an issue because there's nobody who
cares, Ben, other than you and me."
co-workers? Your parents?"
co-workers could care less, so could my parents. No, that's not true.
My mom might care, but if it makes me happy it'll make her happy. She's
looked at him steadily. "And your father?"
looked away, staring toward the window, unseeing. "My dad hasn't
talked to me since the day I dropped outta high school, I don't see how
this'll make much difference one way or another, Ben."
was quiet for a moment, then he put his hand on Ray's shoulder, gently,
just resting it there. "I'm sorry, Ray, I didn't realize."
"No reason you should,"
Ray said. "I never told you. It's okay."
not okay. I don't understand why he would do such a thing."
"Because he wanted
me to be important, be a doctor or something."
smiled. "You are a doctor, Ray. You just work on engines made
of metal instead of flesh and bone."
laughed. "Where were you eighteen years ago, Benton Fraser? I
really coulda used that explanation back then."
it's true. You're every bit as skilled, and with as broad a knowledge
base, your medium is simply different. And you know, if a car dies on
you, it's much less traumatic."
that depends on the car, Ben. If the Goat died, I'd have a funeral."
Ben smiled. "I
believe you would, at that."
stomach chose that moment to make a very loud noise, and Ray looked down
at himself, grinning sheepishly. "Another country heard from,"
he said. "I think it wants dinner."
the other room they both hear Diefenbaker whine forlornly. Ray laughed.
"I have no sympathy for you!" he called to Dief. "I know
you had squirrel for lunch. Ben and I didn't get anything. . . well,
not food, anyhow. Time to fire up the grill. Come on, Ben. Up and
groaned. "Up? Do I have to?"
laughed. "You trying to prove you're a guy? I already know that.
Come on. We slept half the day. Just 'cause we had sex doesn't mean
we need to sleep more."
thought it was in the handbook, Ray."
one issued to every male at birth, of course. At least according to
. . . someone I knew."
caught the hesitation, and guessed who had told him that. "Ah.
Her. Well, I guess I didn't get my copy. You can snooze if you want,
I'm gonna go scare up some chow." He got up and scrabbled on the
floor for his briefs, remembered they were a mess and dropped them again.
He'd just have to settle for his shorts, which, he remembered, he'd left
by the front door. Oh well, it wasn't like Ben hadn't seen him naked,
for God's sake.
walked out to get his shorts, pulled them on, then opened the cooler
and pulled out the package of hot-dogs and the condiments. Then he pawed
in the grocery bags until he located the buns, graham crackers, chocolate
bars, and marshmallows. He'd been thinking about s'mores since four
a.m. and he'd be damned if he was going to wait until dark to have one.
Especially since it didn't get dark until after nine. A soft brush against
his leg drew Ray's attention down, and he saw Diefenbaker there, gazing
hopefully at the package of hot-dogs. He grinned. "Maybe. Gotta
ask the boss. See if you can roust him, I didn't have much luck."
Dief trotted off toward
the bedroom, and a moment later Ray heard a muffled 'oof' from the other
room, then a muttered curse he hadn't thought Ben even knew. Chuckling,
he headed out to fire up the grill. Realizing he'd forgotten the matches,
he put down his armload of supplies on the picnic table next to the grill
and headed back inside, stopping dead in his tracks as he glanced into
the bedroom. Ben was standing there looking out the window, buck naked,
stretching lazily, running a hand through his hair.
sheer physical beauty of him was almost staggering. Art was one of the
few subjects that Ray had enjoyed and been good at in school, he remembered
artists, paintings, and sculptures easily. And Benton Fraser was like.
. . like a DaVinci, or a Michelangelo, or whoever it was who did that
Dying Gaul sculpture. Ray's gaze roamed from broad shoulders to those
perfect buttocks, to the muscular thighs and calves, and his mouth went
dry. He was still completely amazed that someone like Ben, who could
have pretty much anyone, actually wanted. . . him.
he did. Clearly. Wow. He shook himself, and went to get the matches.
As he searched the kitchen drawers for the box he knew would be there
somewhere, he suddenly felt arms go around him, felt himself pulled back
against a strong, warm body. He relaxed into the embrace after a momentary
startle, putting his own hands over the ones at his waist, squeezing
for?" Ray asked, puzzled.
grinned. "I'm stubborn that way. Can't really be anybody else,
even when I try."
God," Ben said softly. "And thank you, also, for accepting
me. For not trying to change me, for not expecting me to be someone
or something I'm not."
man. That sounded so familiar. Ray sighed, and stroked the strong forearms
that surrounded him. "Same here, Ben. Same here."
over by the door, Diefenbaker let out a whine, and Ray laughed. "Okay,
okay, I'm coming. I get it. Can he have a hot dog? Can he, hunh?
laughed. "I suppose. It's probably better for him than pizza,
at any rate." He let go of Ray and stepped back.
tons," Ray said, winking. "You know, I never knew anybody
more addicted to junk food than me before. Come on, what do you like
on your dogs?"
as I said, I don't generally eat them."
just brown mustard then, that's how I like 'em. When I don't have onions,
and kraut, too, that is. There they are!" Ray spotted the matches
he'd been searching for on the counter behind a roll of paper towels,
and grabbed them. "Now it's time to eat."
it take time for the coals to ember properly?"
Lucky for us, it's propane, so we don't have to wait forever. And then
it's time for s'mores."
grinned. "Not 'some more', Doc, s'mores. Food of the gods. You'll
see. In fact, life is short, so we're gonna eat dessert first. I'll
start the grill, you go find a couple of sticks for roasting the marshmallows."
Ben looked at him dubiously
and Ray shooed him with both hands. "Go. I mean it."
Still looking doubtful,
Ben nodded and moved toward the door. Ray headed for the grill again,
and in moments had it fired up. He had placed half the hot-dogs on to
cook and assembled the necessary ingredients for the s'mores when Ben
returned with a pair of sticks. Ray nodded approvingly. "Good
work, Doc. Now pay attention, I'm gonna teach you one of the most sacred
rituals of American boyhood."
took one of the sticks and skewered a marshmallow on it, then stuck it
over the fire, between the bars of the grill so he could get as close
to the flame as possible. When the puffy white candy started to brown
and sag, he picked up the pre-assembled graham-cracker and chocolate
bar sandwich, slid the half-melted marshmallow between the layers, and
mashed them together. Ben watched, frowning, and as Ray extended the
concoction toward him he pulled back a little, nose wrinkled. Ray eyed
your sense of adventure, Doc? Bet you'd eat roast bugs if somebody offered
'em to you. You gonna refuse this?"
Ray had fully expected him to Ben bristled a little. "My sense
of adventure is perfectly fine, Ray," he said a little snappishly,
and he took the s'more from Ray, and bit into it.
watched smugly as an astonished expression spread over Ben's face. He
swallowed, licked his lips, then looked at Ray, frowning.
was a very bad idea, Ray."
I will undoubtedly refuse to eat any real food from now on, and I'll
end up a diabetic with coronary disease."
laughed out loud. "I knew it! I knew you'd like it. You're a
looked momentarily puzzled, then his expression cleared. "You mean
not, not really."
So that was somebody else in bed in there letting me suck him, and wanting
to lounge around all day, and getting hooked on s'mores?"
turned red. "Ah, no. It was definitely not someone else. But
there's no reason to be insulting."
yourself isn't a sin, Benton Fraser. I don't care who toldja it was.
Admit it. You like it, all of it."
was quiet for a moment, then he smiled, slowly. "I do, Ray. I
like it, all of it, all of you. I like it very much." He deliberately
took another bite of the s'more, then extended it toward Ray's mouth,
holding it while he took a bite. Chewed. Swallowed. Then Ben was reaching
out with his other hand and pulling Ray close, lips closing over his
in a kiss that tasted of childhood memories.
* * *
Standing in the kitchen
stirring canned spaghetti sauce with a few additions, Ray heard the key
in the door and smiled. He'd had to get on Ben's case about knocking
recently, and apparently it had finally, after nearly three weeks, sunk
in that Ray wouldn't have given him a key if he wanted him to knock.
Diefenbaker jumped up from his favorite spot under the air_conditioner
and went to greet Ben, who spent a moment greeting him back.
Ben," Ray said, acknowledging his arrival. "How'd it go handing
back exams today?"
straightened. "About as I expected. Some glee, some tears, a few
threatened lawsuits. All fairly standard."
Ray craned around to look at him in surprise.
smiled, nodding. "Some students seem to expect an automatic 'A'
just for having enrolled. They also seem to think they can intimidate
the faculty, particularly non-tenured faculty, into complying."
put down his book-bag on the table and came to stand in the door to the
kitchen as Ray went back to stirring his spaghetti sauce. He was quiet
for a moment, which was unusual enough that Ray looked up at him, eyebrows
lifted in question as he saw the somewhat solemn expression on his friend's
. . . his lover's face.
I went to the GLBT resource center on campus today."
looked up from the stove. "The what?"
gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered resource center."
slapped his forehead in mock shock. "Oh my God! You're a lesbian?
I'm shocked, shocked I say!"
shot him a amused but quelling glance. "I borrowed some literature
from their lending library."
"Yes, and picked
up some. . . other things, at a shop they recommended."
seem to be repeating everything I say."
prompting you, you keep dropping tidbits, I'm hoping for more. You know
me, I'm a show-don't-tell kind of guy."
bit his lip, then slid a hand into his jacket pocket and came out with
the 'other things' he'd mentioned, extending them on his open palm.
Ray glanced down, then his mouth dropped open slightly in shock as his
gaze snapped back up to Ben's face. "Ben!"
expression was a mind-bending combination of wickedness and innocence
"Yes?" he asked artlessly
gaze darted from the assortment of condoms and the small bottle of lubricant
in Ben's hand, to his face. "You, um. . . you really. . . um. .
. wanna do . . . that?" he asked, still stunned by the implications
of what Ben had in his hand. He'd thought about it a lot. In
fact, almost every time they made love, in any of the delicious combinations
they'd so far discovered. They'd done just about everything else. He
wasn't sure why it surprised him that Ben would be interested in taking
that step as well, but it did.
yes," Ben said warmly, without hesitation. "I want this, very
much. I want you to make love to me."
. . . that was backward from what he'd thought Ben meant. He thought
that Ben wanted to do him, not to be done by him. Now that he thought
about it, he wasn't sure why he'd thought that, because it made more
sense this way considering how much Ben liked him to kind of take the
lead in bed. Completely flustered, Ray dropped the spoon he was holding,
bent to pick it up, tossed it into the sink, then studied Ben carefully,
trying to figure out what had prompted this. "You sure? I mean,
that's . . . um, that's a big step. You think we, uh, you . . . ."
he trailed off, feeling lost. "Well, you know."
gaze fell, he looked disappointed, and resigned. "I'm sorry, Ray,
I've been presumptuous. If you don't want to, we certainly don't have
his eyes, one hand clenching on the edge of the counter. "Don't.
. . want. . . to? Jesus, Ben, you have to know I've been thinking about
it since that day at the quarry!"
about what, Ray?" Ben asked with a naïveté so perfect
it had to be faked.
eyed Ben suspiciously, and decided that he was being had. A mischievous
grin curved his mouth. ""Come on, Ben. Nobody is that dense.
About fucking that perfect ass of yours, what else?"
was Ben's turn to gape. Apparently he hadn't quite been expecting such
a forthright answer. He swallowed hard, his gaze darkening. "Ray
. . . ." he said hoarsely.
knew that voice. Knew it, loved it. He reached over and turned off
the burner under the spaghetti sauce, and grabbed Ben's hand. "Come
himself be drawn along without hesitation, stripping off his shirt as
they reached the bedroom, awkwardly one-handed because he was still carrying
his 'items.' Ray grinned and put his hands to Ben's waist, unbuttoning
and unzipping, then easing the loosened jeans down. There was a damp
spot on his boxers where the tip of his cock touched the fabric. Ray
went to his knees and caught Ben's hips in his hands, putting his mouth
over that prominence, licking and sucking it through the thin fabric.
God, he loved the way Ben tasted. It still surprised him, even after
weeks of tasting him like this at every possible opportunity.
Ray, please. . . ." Ben said, half laughing, all-aroused.
please what, Ben?" Ray said without taking his attention from the
hidden prize. He licked the length of Ben's shaft through the cotton.
He was getting to be quite the connoisseur of fabric softener.
looked down at the jeans tangled around Ben's ankles, and laughed. "Improvisational
bondage," he said. "Just a second." He pushed Ben's boxers
down to join the denim manacles, untied Ben's shoes, then patted Ben's
calf. "Pick up your foot." Ben complied, and Ray pushed his
boxers, jeans, sock, and shoe off. "Other one now." Ben complied
again, and Ray finished stripping him. That done, he yanked his own
shirt off over his head, dropped his shorts, and was naked in mere seconds.
They looked at each other, breathing hard, and spoke simultaneously.
Ben hit its rumpled
surface first, Ray covering him a few seconds later, bringing their cocks
together in a long, slow thrust. Ben spread his thighs, bringing them
up on either side of Ray's hips. "Ray, please."
know, I know. So what's your literature say? What should we do, what
shouldn't we do?"
took a breath, opened his mouth, and Ray suddenly put a hand over it.
Just gimme the basics, okay?"
nodded and Ray lifted his hand.
basically go slowly at first, use lots of lubricant, and do some preparatory
stretching, especially if one's partner happens to be, ah . . . well-endowed."
Ray felt himself coloring
as he always did when Ben got into the size thing. "Ben!"
he complained. "Enough with that." He frowned thoughtfully.
"Um, stretching? How's that supposed to happen?"
smiled, and took Ray's hand in his, sucking a finger into his mouth for
a moment before letting it go. "Have I ever told you how much I
like your hands, Ray? You have very . . . long fingers And you're very
good with them."
Okay. He got it. "So, like we been doin', but more?"
Ben nodded. "More,"
he said huskily. "You have no idea how much I've wanted this."
Ben nodded, coloring
smiled a little. "Well, whatever you want, but. . . howcome?"
He was a little worried that somehow Ben had sensed that he wanted to
try this, and was doing it just to humor him.
can't really explain why, it's just. . . whenever you touch me, I want
to feel that, feel you, inside me . . . ."
shivered, and reached up to drag Ray's mouth down to his for a hot, wet
kiss. The kiss, and the way he moved against Ray said far more than
words. He was really turned on. No faking, Ben couldn't fake if his
life depended on it. Reassured, Ray started to get excited about it
himself. He liked pleasing Ben, and if that's what he wanted, that's
what he'd get, so long as it didn't hurt. Ray wasn't into that, not
at all. But if it felt good . . . well, he could definitely go there.
He shifted over
to one side and started to play, sliding a hand slowly up and down Ben's
sleek, pale body in a sensual massage. Over the round curve of shoulder,
to the hollow of his collar-bone, over the arch of pectoral, down the
slope of ribs . . . interesting, every curve out seemed to have a matching
curve in. He'd never noticed that before. He kept exploring, waist,
hip, then thigh. Ben shifted restlessly under his touch, and Ray leaned
in to kiss him again, little nipping kisses that he knew made Ben a little
crazy, wanting a deeper, longer contact. He let his fingers slide from
the strong quadriceps muscle to the soft, fine skin of Ben's inner thigh,
so soft, so silky, it seemed strange to find such fine skin on a man.
Curious, he touched his
own thigh in the same place, found the skin equally soft, and smiled.
Okay, so he just had never paid attention to himself with the same dedication
that he paid to Ben. Before he could move his hand away, Ben's hand
found his, covered it, stroked, then curled around his hand to move it
up over his erection. Ray grinned, and stroked himself idly for a moment,
just to indulge Ben's thing about watching him touch himself, then he
put his hand back on Ben's thigh, up high, fingers stroking the soft,
warm skin there, shifting upwards to stroke the back of a finger over
the velvet, blood-flushed length of his cock, wanting to taste him, wanting
that like he'd wanted to breathe when he'd been trapped underwater.
He loved the taste, the feel, the whole experience of it, needed it.
Well, nothing said he couldn't indulge himself, too. He slid down in
the bed, shouldering Ben's thighs wider apart and took him deep in his
mouth as his fingers slipped below the heavy, sweaty weight of his balls
to find and stroke over the small pucker between his cheeks.
gave an abortive buck into Ray's mouth which reversed itself to become
a push against his questing fingers. Ray sucked gently, stroking his
tongue up and down the sensitive underside of Ben's cock in fast, butterfly
flickers, all the while massaging gently, feeling that tight furl loosen
a little under his touch, as it always did. This he'd learned, this
he was good at. He just needed to take it further to give Ben everything
Ben's voice was a whisper, dark, and needy. "Give me your hand."
He held out his free
hand and something was pressed shakily into his palm. He looked, saw
he held the bottle of lubricant. All right, Ray thought, feeling suddenly
unsure of himself. No, not a good time to go all insecure. He could
do this. He could. He eased off Ben's cock and slid his hand from beneath
him so he could open the lube and rub some of its contents between his
fingertips. It was incredibly slick, and gave him Ideas, which he supposed
was the point. He summoned up everything he'd ever heard or seen about
having sex this way, which wasn't a whole heck of a lot. Still, he had
Ben's summary firmly in mind. Slow. Stretch. Lube.
pushed Ben onto his side and slid up alongside him, pulling him close,
nibbling along his throat, his jaw, finally coming to his mouth and settling
in for a long, sweet kiss there, humping languidly against Ben's hip,
feeling Ben's erection against his belly. The position was comfortable,
familiar, and hot. Ben kissed him back wholeheartedly, holding him,
one hand smoothing down his back to his hips to push him even closer.
After a moment or two, Ray finally got his nerve up enough to let his
slickened fingers ease between Ben's cheeks.
lubricant changed things radically, made penetration almost effortless,
eased the way to that spot he knew made Ben crazy. He found it, stroked,
and was rewarded by a low groan. Ben's mouth left his as he pressed
his forehead against Ray's shoulder, panting a little. Ray dared another
finger, the first time he'd tried that. Ben moaned, gasped. Instantly
Ray slid his hand free, his heart pounding like he was running a marathon,
and he recognized the feeling of fear, not arousal.
you okay? Did I hurt you?"
Ray, no, you didn't hurt me, it was wonderful. Please, I need more, need.
. . you."
fear subsided in the face of Ben's obvious need. He groped for the
lube, uncapping it, drizzling more of its contents onto his fingers,
then sliding them back into place, easy, so easy. He was starting to
think this might actually work, though two fingers wasn't enough, he
didn't think, not with skinny fingers like he had. Ben's broader ones
maybe. And, oh, God, that was an image he shouldn't have thought of.
Pushing it firmly out of his mind, he attempted another finger.
Ben groaned, a hot, dark
sound, and arched back a little, licking at his lips, his face flushed
and sweat-gleamed, open-mouthed, eyes hugely dilated. No trace of discomfort
showed on his face, none at all. Ray stroked, again, again. Ben's hips
followed each movement in a sinuous undulation, then suddenly he was
pulling the bottle out of Ray's hand, pouring some onto his own hand
and reaching down between them to close his big, slick palm around Ray's
came right there. He literally had to bite his tongue so the pain would
distract him. He tried to think clearly, but his body had other ideas.
So did Ben, who was way ahead of him, freeing himself from Ray's fingers
with a twist of his hips, then rolling onto his belly, thighs spread
in a provocative sprawl. There was no resisting that invitation. Moving
into place between Ben's thighs, Ray leaned over him, kissing what he
could reach; ear, temple, cheekbone, jaw, corner of mouth, as he took
his cock in his own hand and guided himself . . . home.
bare breaching of that unknown place, slick, and tight, and startlingly
hot. He managed a scant half inch, but Ben was breathing in a way that
sounded like sobs. When he pulled back, worried, Ben reached back to
grab his hip in a grip that would probably leave bruises, and shook his
stop, please," he gasped.
hurting you," he guessed.
Ben whispered. "Please, I want this, God, I want this." The
hand on Ray's hip relaxed its hold a little, stroked. "Just keep.
. . ." He shook his head. "Steady pressure, I think, and
I can relax into it. . . ."
made it sound so easy. Ray tried again, nudging inside, pressing steadily,
not hard, fighting the urge to thrust, and then suddenly it was easy,
and he was sliding in slow, and sweet, and deep, not pausing, not stopping
until he was there, all the way there, the curves of that perfect ass
against his hips, the familiar music of Ben's moans reassuring him that
he was giving pleasure, not pain. He stayed there, not daring to move,
surrounded by the incredible heat and tightness of Ben's body until he
felt some of the tension leave the body beneath his, until Ben shifted
his hips restlessly, and turned his head.
managed, almost coherent.
you. . . " Ben hesitated, Ray saw him catch his bottom lip in his
teeth, saw a flush wash across the skin he could see. "You didn't.
. . ?"
on Ray what Ben was asking, and he laughed, his forehead against Ben's
shoulder as he shook his head. "No, no. I'm just . . . scared
digested that for a moment. "Why?"
I'll hurt you," he confessed.
was met with a moment of silence, then Ben pushed back against him, startling
him. "Ray," he said, his voice husky and thick. "Fuck
obeyed even before his mind stopped being stunned by the rawness of that
command, hips pushing forward.
gave a throaty grunt and, followed by an exhaled "Yes!"
Ray moved, again, again,
subsumed in the sweet clasp and slide, God, so good, so good. Nothing
like he'd expected. Familiar, yet unknown. The ancient, ageless rhythm
of skin-on-skin, heat, and need. The reality a confusing nova of sensation,
of understanding, power and helplessness. He kissed what he could reach
of Ben's face, temple, eyelid, cheek, the corner of that panting mouth,
and then Ben was groaning and shuddering beneath him, a shudder that
surrounded Ray and pulled him under and held him there until he drowned
* * *
Perfect. More than perfect.
The delight of being taken so, the depth of the intimacy so sweet that
it had negated the fleeting pain. He'd known he wanted it but not why.
Now he knew that too. He'd needed to trust again, and that had been
the deepest expression of it that he could imagine. To trust someone,
no, not someone . . . Ray. To trust Ray so utterly and completely, and
to have that trust affirmed and cherished, that was what he'd needed,
and gotten. He reached up and took Ray's hand where it lay on the bed
near his shoulder, lacing their fingers together. Ray stirred then,
squeezed his fingers, and rubbed his nose against the back of Ben's neck
in an oddly affectionate gesture.
Ray breathed, and Ben could hear him smiling.
Ben said simply.
laughed. "That's the shortest sentence you've ever said. Is your
brain fried now?"
Ben repeated with a contented sigh.
Mine too." Ray said, and yawned, then he lifted a little, and slipped
his softened cock free of Ben's body.
it was unexpected, Ben couldn't suppress a gasp at that. Funny that
it should hurt a little now, after it was all over. Ray's hand settled
tentatively on his back.
I hurt you?"
Okay. Good. I didn't want to . . . ." Ray's voice trailed off
and he looked at Ben suspiciously. "Hang on, you didn't answer
Ray was catching on to the little verbal tricks he sometimes used to
keep from having to lie. He sighed. He couldn't, didn't dare confess,
quite how uncomfortable it had been at first, or Ray would never do it
again. But he wouldn't lie, not even if it meant he had to forego knowing
this pleasure again. He sighed. "There was a certain amount of .
. . discomfort at first, but it was brief."
was quiet, and Ben turned over to see him frowning.
hurt you," he said flatly. "Damn it, I was afraid I would.
Ben. . . I'm sorry."
squeezed Ray's hand again. "Ray, please. It's all right. I'm
quite certain that it was merely due to our mutual unfamiliarity with
the process, and future attempts should be both easier and more comfortable."
"Future. . . ."
Ray gaped. "You can't mean to tell me you want to do it again!
Not if it hurt!" His gaze slid away, he looked unhappy and guilty.
Ben reached up and turned
Ray's face back to him. "Ray, the pleasure far surpassed any pain.
I loved it, and I would do it again in a heartbeat."
stared into his eyes, and gradually the suspicion there faded. "You're
sure you're okay? I can't stand thinking that I hurt you."
"I know, Ray, and
you didn't, not really." He smiled. "And if you need proof
that I enjoyed it. . . ." His smile became a grin as he poked at
the bed where he'd been lying.
looked, and chuckled. "Yeah. Time to change the sheets. Again.
I'm gonna have to buy a couple more sets. I'm tired of doing laundry
all the time." He flopped back onto the bed with a sigh, and then
got an odd look on his face and reached underneath himself, coming out
with the mylar packets Ben had brought home. He looked at them, at himself,
at Ben, and that guilty look came back over his face.
. . I . . . ." he started.
was swift and sure. "It's all right, Ray. I trust you."
Ray put a hand over his
face, hiding behind it. "You shouldn't. Not after this. God.
I can't believe I forgot. Jesus!"
leaned over him, wrapped his fingers around Ray's wrist and tugged his
hand away from his face so he could look into Ray's guilt-shadowed eyes.
"Ray, stop. Please don't do this. It's all right. I mean, we've
not been very safe up until now, as it turns out, and now I didn't think
of it either. In the heat of the moment, we both forgot. Please,
I don't regret a moment of it, any of it. I hope you don't. I wanted
you to enjoy it as much as I did."
drew in a deep breath, let it sigh out again, and his expression lightened.
"Enjoy it? That's the understatement of the year, Ben. But that
doesn't make what I did right."
sighed. "Ray, please. It happened, we can't change that."
He settled a little, propped on his elbow, studying Ray's face. "Tell
me something. Have you been intimate with anyone since Stella left you?"
Ray frowned. "Been
sex," Ben clarified.
eyed him warily. "Why?"
looked embarrassed. "Um, well. . . no."
carefully controlled a smile. That hadn't been easy to admit, he was
sure, but he was equally sure it was true. "And you were married
for how long?"
were you ever intimate with anyone else while you were married to her?"
"No, never! I'm
not like that!" Ray said forcefully. "I don't cheat."
"I know that, Ray,
just bear with me. So, then before you married, how many sexual partners
did you have?"
eyed him. "Including Stella?"
Ray fidgeted, his blush
deepening. "Um. . . one. And maybe kind of a half, or maybe a
third. You know, the petting kinda stuff."
blinked in surprise. "I did say you could include Stella."
Ray looked away. "I
stunned. He couldn't have understood Ray correctly. "One?"
he asked, in sheer disbelief.
one, okay? Happy now?"
felt his mouth curving in a grin. "Yes, actually. Very happy.
I thought . . . well, I had thought you had rather a lot more experience
that I did. Of course, the sheer duration of your experience makes it
far greater than mine, but so far as number of partners goes, we're even."
Ray's gaze snapped to
his face, and he looked as stunned as Ben felt. "What?"
"I said we're even
as far as the number of . . . ."
heard you." Ray turned over and stared at Ben with rather disconcerting
directness. "I just couldn't believe it. But you said it, and
you don't lie. I don't get that. I just don't."
eyed him doubtfully. "You don't get it that I don't lie?"
"Not that, not the
lying stuff. I mean, the other. You're. . . Jesus, Ben, you're smart,
you're gorgeous, you're even kind. Women are always all over you, I've
seen it, heck, even at the Senior Center we show up and it's like they're
flies and you're maple syrup. You're not like me, women hardly notice
me. But you're a babe magnet. And hell, even if you weren't into women
you'd still be a babe magnet. . . or, well, a fox magnet. I mean it's
not rocket science why I'm a one-timer but you? It don't make sense."
"I think you've
summed it up quite nicely, Ray. Being, as you say, a 'magnet,' tends
to get old, quickly. It's not very pleasant to be wanted solely for the
way one looks. And apart from my appearance, I'm not what most women,
or men for that matter, are looking for. I was raised in semi-isolation
by my grandparents, I'm far more comfortable being alone than with others,
present company excepted, of course. Because of my upbringing, my mores,
manners and outlook on life are decidedly atypical. To put it bluntly,
I'm . . . odd, and it never took long for anyone who was interested in
me to discover it."
scowled. "You're not weird. You're just. . . you. And that's
again. He simply couldn't help it. "And that's why I'm here, with
you, now. Because you're the only person I've ever known in my entire
life who would say that, and mean it. You see the whole person, and
accept the whole person. And that's why I trust you, Ray."
Ray sighed. "Ben,
you can trust me, that way anyhow, but that doesn't mean I didn't screw
both screwed up, Ray. But I don't believe either of us has reason to
be concerned about the consequences of that act."
cocked his head. "What's that mean in American?"
means that as far as risk factors go, both of us are practically in negative
numbers. Neither of us are hemophiliacs, medical or emergent care professionals,
or IV drug users, and our sexual histories are about as far from promiscuous
as it is possible to get."
smiled a little. "Yeah, well, I guess you got a point."
"Will you stop beating
yourself up about it now?"
think about it. But you shoulda told me I hurt you."
Ben said, exasperated. "It was negligible. I told you that."
"I don't care.
Even a little is too much."
closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'll not ask it of you again."
He tried not to let his disappointment and resignation show in his voice,
thought he'd been successful until he felt the bed shift, sensed the
warmth of Ray's body closer to his own. He left his eyes closed, not
wanting to let Ray see what he was feeling, since it was, when viewed
objectively, a good thing that he was so concerned about not causing
Ray was close, so close he could feel his breath against his cheek.
"Mmm?" he answered,
really liked it?"
there was no avoiding this. Ben opened his eyes, and sighed. "Yes.
it really didn't hurt that much?"
gazed up into Ray's changeable blue-gray-gold eyes, and shook his head.
"No, Ray, it didn't."
looked thoughtful. "Oh." He idly traced a finger down the
center of Ben's chest, watching it, then he looked back into Ben's eyes,
a little hesitantly. "So, um, some time you could show me? See,
that way I can tell for myself, and then maybe it will be okay, you know?"
"Show you wha. .
. ." Ben suddenly understood what Ray was asking, and his eyes
widened. "Show you?
blushed a little. "Yeah. Like I said before, I'm a show-and-tell
was stunned. "You would do that?"
shrugged. "Hey, you liked it, why wouldn't I?"
question. Ben shook his head. "Well, I just thought . . . you're,
well, you're American."
grinned. "Well, geeze, Ben, I didn't know you Canadians had a lock
on that position. Is this one of those cultural protectionism things
you were talking about with Albert the other day? Do I gotta get a
visa or something before we can try it?"
found himself laughing, shaking his head. "No, no, of course not,
Ray. It's just that, and I know I'm being terribly nationalistic here
so forgive me, but Americans in general tend to be far less open-minded
about such things, and from what I've read there seems to be a tacit
assumption that while it might be all right to be the . . . er. . . ."
he blushed, but plowed on, ". . . fuck-er, it's not considered at
all acceptable to be the, ah, fuck-ee."
had started chuckling when he'd said to the first expletive and by the
second he was cackling gleefully. "Oh my God, Ben. You can do
it, but you can't say it without blushing. That's pretty damned funny."
not very nice of you to make fun of my disability."
not making fun of it, it's cute."
moaned. "Oh, God. You've lost all respect for me."
dropped a kiss on his mouth, then pulled back. "Never, Benton Fraser.
Never. Fuck-er or fuck-ee, I don't care, you're still you, my best friend,
with benefits, as some Canadian once said. So, next time, my turn, right?"
Ben nodded slowly, wondering
just how he was going to manage to convince Ray it didn't hurt when he
knew damned well it did. Perhaps he simply needed to be more patient,
take more time, and there was the added advantage that his fingers were
broader than Ray's, and he was not quite as impressively endowed. It
might be possible to keep the discomfort minimal.
smiled. "Okay. Great, greatness. Come on, let's go shower and
then you can help me with dinner, since it's your fault it's not ready
think I had a little assistance in that endeavor, Ray."
a little, maybe." He rolled out of bed and turned to look at Ben.
* * *
Ben looked out at the
sea of glassy-eyed faces and suppressed a sigh as he turned to shut off
the overhead projector. He hated freshmen survey classes. At least
seventy-five percent of the class were only here because they had to
have a science class for their core curriculum and anthropology was the
closest thing to non-science available. The fact that it was summer
term only exacerbated that problem: it meant many of his students had
already failed the class once. But the remaining twenty-five percent
were really there to learn and it wasn't their fault the rest of the
class was more interested in what movies were opening that week. He
squared his shoulders then turned back to face the class.
you've all had a chance to look over your exams now, and since you all
did so well," he said sarcastically, "who would like to define
for us all the difference between archaeology and anthropology?"
He was answered
by foot-shuffling and throat-clearing. In the first row, not six feet
from him, Stephanie Wilcox was drawing what looked like a kitten in her
notebook, which he found intensely irritating.
Wilcox? How about you?"
. . . ." she said eloquently, staring at him as if he'd just suggested
she perform brain surgery with a plastic spork, then leaned forward,
arms crossed, which had the effect of pushing her thinly-veiled and not
inconsiderable mammalian endowments together and forward. That move
probably had earned her an automatic 'A' in some classes. "Uh,
archaeology is, like, studying rocks and old buildings and stuff? And,
anthropology is, like, dead people?"
counted to ten, slowly, barely hanging onto his temper. "Thank
you, Ms. Wilcox, for that completely erroneous summation. Anyone else?"
Apparently no one else
cared to make an attempt Ben sighed. "Archaeology can be defined
as the systematic study of the material remains of past human life.
Originally considered separate disciplines, today it's generally accepted
that they are closely related. In fact many feel that archaeology is
actually a branch of anthropology. Anthropology focuses on the study
of human cultures while archaeology is generally perceived as the study
of the material manifestations of those cultures. Thus, archaeologists
may study an ancient pot as a time marker, to help date the culture being
studied, or as an object in itself, possibly possessing significant aesthetic
value, while anthropologists view the pot as one means of understanding
the thinking, values, and culture of its maker."
turned to the blackboard and drew a quick sketch of an object they should
all recognize if they had read their textbooks. "Who can identify
this for me?"
hands went up. A little surprised that Levon Jefferson knew the answer,
he nodded toward him. "Mr. Jefferson?"
the gold mask thing that Schliemann guy dug up in Troy, right?"
"Very good, Mr.
Jefferson, you are essentially correct, although the site is more properly
known as Hissarlik. The discovery of the mask is, and remains, a stunning
example of some of the shoddiest archaeology ever practiced, as well
as being illustrative of the differences between the disciplines. Due
to the primitive and thus clumsy archaeological methods used in excavating
Hissarlik, we can learn very little about the culture which originally
produced the item. Anthropologically, however, we know at least one thing
about the culture of the people who dug it up: they placed a far higher
value on gold than on knowledge. Now, the anthropology versus archaeology
question will be on the final, and this time I expect you all to be able
to answer it. Is that clear?"
sheepish nods answered him, and he turned to sketch another figure on
the board before turning to the class. "Identification, please?"
Anna Mei, an intense
and serious young woman who was a feminist studies major waved her hand
instantly, as he'd expected she would. "Ms. Mei?"
the Venus of Willendorf," she stated firmly.
Ms. Mei. And can anyone tell me what she is? Goddess representation?
A portrait of someone's mother? Stone-age pornography?"
garnered a chuckle from the class, and someone at the back of the room
raised a hand, but since he was sitting behind Levon Jefferson' massive
frame, Ben couldn't see who it was. Still, he could see the hand. "You,
in the back, behind Mr. Jefferson."
hand went down, and the student cleared his throat. "Well, ah,
could be any, could be all. Nobody really knows for sure, 'cause there's
no written records back that far. Best you can do is study, and make
a kind of. . . educated guess, based on the. . .uh. . . the evidence
about it, but you can't really know for sure."
stood frozen in utter shock as he recognized the voice, and when Levon
shifted a little in his seat to look back at the speaker, that recognition
was confirmed. How had he missed Ray coming into the room? Was he that
unobservant, or had Ray deliberately hidden? He must have, he must have.
Even more shocking was that beautifully simple answer to the question.
He'd known Ray was far more intelligent than he liked to let on, and
that just proved it.
realized he was staring, and had been for some time. His students were
starting to look at him oddly and a few turned to see what he was staring
at, and Ray was starting to look worried. He cleared his throat.
"Thank you kindly,
Mr. Kowalski, that was a beautiful explanation of the discipline."
He glanced at the clock in the back of the room, and saw with relief
that it was close enough to the end of class to dismiss it without seeming
too lax. "And on that note, I believe we'll adjourn for the day.
Check your syllabus for tomorrow's topic and readings, and remember that
your final papers are due on the last day of class so you should have
them in progress now."
was a thunderous stampede for the doors, and within an amazingly short
time he was alone with Ray and Levon Jefferson, who were sitting and
talking now, as if they knew one another. Then he remembered that Levon
was the one who'd suggested he take the Jeep to Ray to begin with, so
they were obviously acquainted. He slid his lecture notes and overhead
transparencies into his book-bag and walked to the back of the room.
got the Goat, Ray?" Levon was asking.
yeah. She's my pride and joy, you know that. I wouldn't part with her
for a million bucks," Ray said, grinning, then the frowned thoughtfully.
"Well, on second thought, for a million, I probably would. I can
be as greedy as that Schliemann guy."
all laughed at that, and Levon looked at Ben. "Hey, Professor Fraser,
good class today."
looked at him in surprise. "You really think so?"
I totally loved it when you called on that chick in the front row. Too
funny. But yeah, I think I'm starting to get this stuff. I thought
at first that this was just gonna be one of those boring classes you
just have to take to graduate but I really like it. It's interesting."
And that, Ben thought
to himself, was why he'd gone into teaching. For rare moments like this.
He smiled. "I'll try to keep it interesting for you, Levon. Ray,
I was. . . surprised to see you here."
chuckled. "He loves to learn, Professor Fraser. He's pretty militant
about it. He used to coach me, and when I was gonna drop out of high
school he just about chained me to my desk, said I had to finish, and
go to college, so I wouldn't end up working at Micky D's. Even got me
a job at the garage part time so I could earn money for tuition, though
I got a scholarship now and don't have to any more."
looked at Ray in surprise.
Levon, anybody would have done it," Ray said, his face distinctly
pink as he looked at the desktop in embarrassment.
anybody wouldn't have done it," Levon said, with a mock glare.
"But you did." He looked at his watch and gathered his books.
"Sorry, gotta run or I'll be late to my next class. See ya around,
we gotta go to a movie or something," Ray said, waving as Levon
still a little flushed as Ben studied him intently. "Coaching?
What sort of coaching?"
Levon's really good, but so many of these kids think they'll turn pro
and get a zillion bucks, and it hardly ever works out that way. I just
didn't want that to happen to Levon. I made him have a back-up plan."
"I didn't know you
anymore. Not in a long time. Stella hated it, said it wasn't classy,
so I gave it up, but I was pretty good, and when I started doing Big
Brothers, it came in handy."
surprise. "Big Brothers? I knew you did volunteer work at the
Senior Center, but you never mentioned that you work with youth as well."
Ray shrugged. "Well,
Levon's pretty much grown, so I don't do much these days. We used to
hang a lot more when he was younger. I met him when he was twelve 'cause
he didn't have a dad and he was getting into gang stuff-- there was this
guy in his neighborhood that Levon idolized, Andreas somebody, a few
years older, moving up in the gang ranks. So his mom put Levon in Big
Brothers, and that's when we met. No reason to mention it. It's no biggie,
Ben. Just . . . something to do, that's all."
looked at him steadily. "No, Ray, it's not just something to do.
It's an admirable thing. Very selfless, and giving."
it wasn't. I did it for me, Ben. I just like kids, and when I figured
out Stel didn't, and that we wouldn't be . . . well, it was kind of a
way to get part of that feeling."
be what, Ben wondered, then he understood. Wouldn't be having children.
He put his hand on Ray's shoulder and squeezed lightly. "I'm sorry,
Ray. I didn't realize. . . ."
shook his head. "It's okay, Ben. I worked through it."
"I'm glad, but I'm
still sorry you had to go through it."
well, life's funny that way. Sometimes you get what you want and it's
not what you wanted at all, and other times you get something you thought
you didn't want, and it's exactly right."
looked at Ben as he spoke, his gaze warm and steady, and Ben felt himself
blushing, but he nodded, knowing he needed to acknowledge what he knew
Ray was saying. "Yes, it is interesting how that works out. Unexpected,
yet welcome. And speaking of unexpected, what are you doing here? Why
aren't you at work?"
broke the tension that had begun to build between them, and Ray waved
a hand vaguely toward the east. "There was a gas line break about
half a block from the garage, the City says it won't be fixed for three
or four hours so they sent us home for the day. I thought I'd come see
what you're like in your natural habitat."
was a little startled by your presence."
grinned. "Yeah, I got that. Sorry, didn't mean to mess you up
in front of class like that. Thought you were teasing me when you said
'you in the back,' but then Levon moved and I figured out you couldn't
see me behind him."
nodded, and then the question that had been bothering him for several
minutes now just had to be asked. "How did you know the answer,
answer? Oh, you mean that answer." He looked oddly shy and tentative.
"Well, it just seemed. . . right. From what we've talked about,
what you and Albert talk about. And I, uh. . . I've been reading your
books, some. The ones you've been keeping at my place."
was puzzled. The only books he had left at Ray's were some books he was
using for reference, not the sort of thing he'd ever imagine Ray reading.
"You've been reading
my books? Why would you do that? They're awfully dry." He almost
said 'even for me' but closed his mouth on that before it slid free.
He suspected that Ray would take that to mean he was less intelligent
than Ben, and that was simply untrue.
shrugged. "I just wanted to know more about you, about what you
do. Don't think I get more than about one out of four sentences, but
I get that there's a lot of certification, no. . . uh, special . . .
." He shook his head in frustration, and Ben doggedly held his
tongue, having promised himself he wouldn't correct Ray again. Finally
Ray's face lit as he remembered the right word. "There's a lot
of speculation in what you do."
there is. A great deal." Ben looked at him for a moment, feeling
a surge of more-than-affection welling in him at the fact that Ray wanted
to know more about him, so much so that he would actually read reference
books in an attempt to reach that understanding. "Ray, I . . .
doors opened, and three students stepped in, then saw him and stopped
uncertainly. He cleared his throat. "It's all right, we're finished
here, come on in. Ray, I need to stop by my office, then why don't we
go to the student union and get something to eat?"
eyes lit up. "I am all over that, Doc. Lead on."
he'd discovered that Ray was pretty much perpetually hungry, that didn't
surprise Ben at all. He pushed through the double-doors, past another
wave of incoming students, and led Ray up the stairs to the fourth floor,
where his office was located. Unlocking the office door, he motioned
Ray inside, following him a moment later. He pushed the wooden wedge
of the door-stop beneath the door with one foot as he put down his book-bag,
Ray turned in a tight circle, surveying the small room. Finally he turned
back to Ben, eyebrows lifted.
work here?" he asked incredulously.
smiled wryly. "I try."
'office' was the only office on that floor, which primarily housed the
anthropology department's collections. He didn't mind being alone there,
because those collections were the main reason he was in Chicago, and
their proximity to his office was fortuitous. Before his advent, the
room had been used to store audio-visual equipment. It was about the
size of a large walk-in closet, but he was spared total claustrophobia
by the grace of a small window. The presence of that window puzzled
him because he was fairly sure the room had never been an office until
his arrival. What kind of storage closet had a window, even one of security
glass with embedded chicken-wire?
A bookshelf and desk had been shoe-horned into the room. There was a
reasonably comfortable desk-chair behind the desk which must have been
lifted over the desk because there was no other way it could have gotten
there. A second chair, a spartan wooden affair that was probably at
least forty years old, was wedged against the bookshelf to make a place
for students to sit during his office hours. Because the place was
so small, Ben had to keep even the normal clutter of research papers
he would have accumulated in strict check, filing them away every time
he finished with them. Fortunately his laptop was small enough to store
in the deepest desk drawer.
was still looking around, scowling. "This isn't right. Geez, Ben,
I've seen phone-booths bigger than this!"
Ray, it's much larger than any phone-booth. And it is right next door
to the collection I'm working with, and also has the advantage of being
air conditioned," Ben said, trying to placate Ray, who was clearly
working himself up to a fit of righteous indignation on Ben's behalf.
"It's not so bad. I actually thought about sleeping in here, before
you rescued me from the heat wave."
motioned at the desk. "There. It's just barely long enough, if
I were to curl up on my side."
eyed the desk, looked at Ben, and shook his head. "No way."
That was one colloquialism
Ben had discovered the proper response to, thanks to an evening spent
with Ray watching a surprisingly amusing film about two not particularly
bright young men and time travel. "Way, I assure you."
Don't believe it."
cleared the pens and papers on the desk, moving them and his book-bag
to the chair, sat down on the edge of the desk, then scooted back until
he was three-quarters on top of the desk. He then curled a little, not
quite into a fetal position, tucked his feet up onto the surface of the
desk and looked at Ray challengingly. "As I said, way."
Ray took a step back,
as if to study the scene, then toed the doorstop out of place and as
the door swung shut behind him, he leaned over the desk, smiling lecherously.
"I always did want
to try sex on a desk," he whispered, then his mouth closing over
Ben's startled gasp, his tongue silky and warm and devastatingly persuasive.
Ah, God, he should
not be doing this, not in his office, on his desk. It was stupid, dangerous,
but. . . he had very little sense when it came to Ray. He put his hands
up, framing that thin face, feeling the hard curve of bone beneath the
skin of Ray's jaw, and the prickle of stubble against his palms. He
opened his mouth to that persuasive tongue, licking back, sucking gently.
Ray braced an arm on the desk, and reached down with the other hand,
stroking the firming bulge between Ben's thighs, urging his legs to part,
to come up so Ray could move between them, body a warm sweet weight.
That warm rush of
more-than-affection returned, even stronger, so strong he almost hurt
inside. His analytic mind worried at the feeling, puzzled by the strange
emotion, so foreign to him. Something that compelled, and distracted
and involved, and broke down all the walls he'd built inside himself.
What he'd felt for Victoria had been a pale shadow of what he felt for
Ray. And with that understanding, finally the knowledge bloomed inside
Ben like some exotic flower. Not just affection. Not just sexual attraction.
Love. God, how had he lived most of his life without ever knowing this,
on the realization of exactly what he was feeling, it hit him suddenly,
that he had less than a month left here in Chicago; then he would have
to leave, go back to Canada, to the job he had lined up in Vancouver.
Go back to a city he didn't know, to emptiness, aloneness. He'd deliberately
put off thinking about this, knowing it would hurt, but he'd had no idea
just how much it would hurt. How could he ever live without this again?
Ben couldn't. He could not do it. He would simply wither up inside,
die, emotionally, if not physically. No, don't think about it, don't
count the days, the hours, the minutes. Just live now. Tomorrow didn't
exist. Nor did August twenty-first. Only today.
reached up and wrapped his arms hard around Ray's bony form, pulling
him close, reveling in his nearness, his scent, the feel of him. He
kissed Ray frantically, hands sliding down into the loose waistband of
his jeans, pulling his shirt out, searching for skin. Ray broke the
Ben," he breathed, his voice low and rough. "You are so. .
. so. . . perfect." His voice sounded wistful as his fingers caressed
Ben's face stroking a long thumb across Ben's lower lip. Ben sucked
it in, licking it, as Ray dropped kisses along his cheekbone, headed
for his ear, and then suddenly it was too much, and he could no longer
push away the knowledge that he would lose this. He reached up and pushed
Ray's face into the crook of his shoulder, so he couldn't see the tears,
couldn't hear the catch in his breathing. It worked, for a moment or
two, and then Ray was pulling away.
Ben, what's the matter? God, did I hurt you? What's wrong?"
Ray sounded worried,
upset. Ben curled away, managed to find his voice, ragged and thick.
"No, Ray. It's not you. I'm fine."
are not fucking fine, Benton Fraser. Tell me what's the matter."
There was anger
in his words, but Ben knew it was anger fueled by concern. He sat up,
scrubbing a hand across his face, hiding behind his palm. "I'm
sorry, Ray. I'm sorry. I'm just. . . I don't want . . . don't want
to leave this, leave. . . you."
who said you had to, freak?" Ray asked in an oddly gentle voice.
"The voices in your head?"
knew Ray was trying to tease him out of his upset, and smiled wanly.
"No, Ray. But my contract with the university is almost over.
I'm going to have to go home."
pulled back, looking as stricken as Ben felt. "Go. . . home?"
he asked tentatively.
back to Canada. I have a job in Vancouver, starting mid-September."
Ray's pale face went
even whiter. "You're leaving?"
have to. My job ends with the semester, and after that I'll have to
"The semester ends
in a little over a week, though I don't have to be in Vancouver for two
weeks after that."
eyes darkened, and he looked away, his beautiful, long hands clenching
into fists at his sides. He started to speak, several times, and then
stopped, each time. Finally he looked back at Ben, his normally expressive
face unreadable. "Three weeks? And you didn't think I should know?"
Ben's gaze fell under
Ray's intense blue-gold stare. "I. . . was trying not to think
about it, myself. Foolish, I know, and cowardly. And unfair to you.
sighed, and leaned back against the door in a despondent slouch, raking
a hand through his hair. "Damn it, Ben, you could at least be a
jerk about it so I could stay mad at you."
I'm sorry. I don't want to go. You know that, don't you?"
"No, I know. I
know. God, I know." He shook his head, rubbed at his eyes, then
straightened and looked at Ben hesitantly. "Ben, you could stay
. . . with me."
. . if I didn't have that job lined up, Ray . . . you have to know I
wouldn't leave, otherwise. When I set it all up, I had no idea, there
seemed no reason why I might want to stay, need to stay, longer, or I
would have tried to find a job here. Thanks to NAFTA, if I can find
university-level employment I could stay without much trouble, but. .
. I didn't know, and I didn't look here, and now I'm committed. I have
to go home."
Ray, whose color had just begun to return, paled
again. Once more he started, several times, to speak, and finally shook
his head. "Guess that says it. I. . . uh, look, I just remembered
something I gotta do. I'll see you later."
turned quickly, and was out the door before Ben even realized he was
going. Ben was after him in a heartbeat, but as he stepped into the
hallway, he nearly ran into the tall, gaunt, white-haired form of Dr.
Morten Gustafsen, the department chair.
he said in his Old World accent. "I wanted to ask you if you've
filled out last month's grant report. We have to get it turned in, but
Marla can't seem to locate it."
sir," Ben said, trying not to be short. "I gave it to her
last week. I can give her another copy."
thanks. You know how she is. I can't wait for Sharon to get back from
maternity leave. Marla just isn't up to her standards. How goes the
going quite well, sir, thank you. I, ah . . . did you see a man going
downstairs as you came up?"
that be a tallish fellow in a yellow shirt with rather. . . experimental
"Yes, that would describe him well."
saw such a gentleman making for the main hallway. A student of yours?"
"No, sir, an acquaintance.
I was hoping to catch him before he left. He. . . forgot something in
my office. If you'll excuse me?"
Gustafsen nodded. "Certainly, but stop by soon, we should chat."
Ben nodded distractedly.
"Of course, sir." He turned and headed for the other staircase,
the one that led down to the main stairs, guessing that Ray would be
headed that way to exit the building. He barreled down the stairs, but
there was no sign of the other man. He even checked outside, but didn't
see him. He sighed, and sat down on the stairs, feeling despondent.
What had he said? Why had Ray reacted like that? He didn't understand.
Or not entirely, at any rate. It was completely understandable that
Ray was upset, but that hadn't made him leave. Something else had triggered
that, Ben was sure of it. He just didn't know what.
he had left his office unlocked, he started back up the stairs at a slow
trudge, and as he passed the department office on the second floor, Dr.
Gustafsen stuck his head out of the door and waved to him.
there you are. Come in"
to his fate, Ben stepped into the office.
wanted to see me?"
did. Have a seat."
followed him with some trepidation. Over the years he'd learned that
'we should chat' was usually followed by bad news. He sat, and Dr. Gustafsen
know, Benton, your evaluations from last term were outstanding, really
quite impressive. And from what I hear, this term looks to be no different.
You've impressed a lot of people here, even some of those who objected
to your hiring in the first place."
blinked in surprise. "I, ah, thank you sir," he said awkwardly,
not sure how to respond to the unexpected compliments. If they were
so pleased with him, why did they treat him like a pariah?
love to keep you on here, but as you know, I can't. I do, however, have
a little news that might interest you."
being, sir?" Ben prompted.
just got a call from an old friend of mine at Rainier University in Cascade,
Washington. He's looking for someone to fill a vacancy there. It's
only a two-year non-tenure-track appointment, but it's right up your
alley, and there simply aren't that many people in Northwestern Aboriginal
Cultures out there. He heard through the grapevine that we had someone,
and called to sound me out, see what we thought of you. When I told
him how pleased we were with your work, he wanted to know if you might
be interested in the position. You'd be doing undergraduate and possibly
graduate classes, depending on the interview. Possibly some thesis supervision.
There would, of course, be time for research and writing as well."
Ben stared at his superior,
wondering if he had fallen asleep and was dreaming. It was tempting
to pinch himself. It sounded like a wonderful job, far better than the
one he had lined up in Vancouver, which was just cataloguing a musty
old private collection for the heirs of an estate. It was even in the
States. But. . . it was still a very long way from Chicago and Ray.
Almost as far as Vancouver would be. He sighed. "I. . . don't
know what to say, sir. I have committed to a position . . . ."
"You're better than
that, Benton Fraser. Don't sell yourself short."
consider it, sir."
nodded, looking pleased. "Good, good. Here," he held out
a piece of paper, "I've written down a few details, and my friend's
name and phone number, in case you should be interested. Off with you
now, I have an Executive Committee meeting to referee. . . I wonder if
I will need the Zulu spear this time to keep Dr. Cartwright away from
Dr. Cortese's throat?"
* * *
Ray walked as quickly
as he could without running, feeling a little nauseated and dizzy. Realizing
he was hyperventilating, he stopped and leaned against a cement planter,
forcing himself to breathe normally until the dizzy feeling passed and
he felt better, at least physically. But, oh God, he hurt inside, down
deep. He should have known better, damn it, he did know better, really.
He and Ben were from different worlds. Hell, different universes. And
as any good sci-fi fan knew, things from two different universes couldn't
occupy the same space at the same time.
it had hurt to hear the word 'commitment' come out of Ben's mouth in
relation to a job, not. . . him. He knew Ben hadn't meant to hurt him.
He knew that, in his head, in his heart, but that didn't make the pain
go away. Men were supposed to be afraid of that word, the 'c' word.
Real men, anyway. Maybe it just proved that he wasn't a real man, but
he wasn't afraid of it. He craved it like a junkie craved a fix. And
he was just as delusional about his drug of choice as any junkie, too.
He felt tears stinging
his eyes and shoved his sunglasses into place with a muttered curse as
he headed for where he'd parked the GTO. Get a grip, Kowalski. This
is real life, not Barbie's Dream House. Or should that be Ken's Dream
House? A rebellious welling of amusement hit him as he wondered if there
was such a thing as a Castro Street Ken. He should look next time he
was buying presents for his niece and nephew. The amusement faded too
quickly, leaving him once more pondering the imponderable. Benton Fraser.
Definitely imponderable. The man had a Ph.D. in confusion.
the stairs in the parking garage, he puzzled over how had things ended
up like this. It seemed like one minute they'd been making out on Ben's
desk, the next he was listening to Ben calmly explain that he was leaving.
And sorry, but Ray had to take a back seat to a job. In his head he
understood. Ben wasn't like him, jobs were harder to get, a lot harder.
Somebody always needed a good mechanic, not so many people needed a professor
of anthropology. Still, he'd have liked a little more time to prepare,
mentally, for Ben leaving.
hell, who was he kidding? At this point, a decade wouldn't have been
enough time to prepare. He was in love again. Truly, madly, deeply,
as the saying went. And just as futilely as always. Once a fool, always.
. . no. He shook his head. No. Not a fool. An optimist. Similar,
the right floor, and the right car, he unlocked the door of the GTO and
got in, then sat for a moment trying to decide where to go. He could
head home and mope, but chances were good Ben would show up there pretty
soon, and he wasn't quite ready to face that yet. Didn't have his "I'm
okay" face quite firmly in place.
could go to the Senior Center and see if Albert was up for a game, but
he was a sharp old bird and would probably figure out something was up.
And he'd pester Ray about it until he 'fessed up, and though he kind
of thought Albert suspected about him and Ben, it was one thing to suspect
and quite another to have your nose rubbed in it. He could find a bar
and get drunk, which sounded pretty good until he remembered how bad
his post-Stella-revelation hangover had been, and he might be a bit of
a masochist but not that much.
he decided to head back to the work and see if the city crew would let
him back in if he promised not to do anything that used gas or made sparks.
There was plenty of stuff he could do like that. All the mechanics had
been complaining that the parts lockers needed to be inventoried and
organized. He could do that, if nothing else. Hopefully it would keep
his mind off . . . things. He started the car and headed out.
Twenty minutes later
he had the contents of the belts locker spread out on the floor, the
inventory print out on a clipboard, and was checking things off. When
he finished the list, he started putting the belts back, in size order.
It was a mindless job, and didn't keep his thoughts off Ben, or their
conversation like he'd hoped it would. He started to think, to put things
together. And as he was hanging the last set, the thing that had been
bothering him since he'd practically run from Ben's office finally came
to the surface. If Ben wasn't serious about them, if he hadn't made
as much of a commitment as Ray had, then why had he cried?
wasn't like Ben was an emotional guy. In fact, he was so reserved Ray
sometimes thought of him as his own private Mr. Spock. But he'd cried,
when he said he had to leave. And then there was the fact that his grandparents
had instilled in him a work ethic so strong it bordered on obsessive.
So. . . basically Ben was trapped. Damned if he did, damned if he didn't.
Okay. Ray was starting to get a clue. It had only taken him an hour.
So much for not being stupid. He swore, and slammed the locker. Home.
Ben was probably there, wondering where he was, what he was doing, and
feeling a lot like Ray did.
hurried to the front office to put away the inventory sheets, and was
about to hightail it home when the door swung open, even though the "Closed"
sign was out. He quickly hooked the clipboard on its nail and was about
to turn and tell the person to get lost, when a large, white form jumped
up next to him, forepaws braced against the counter, and whuffed at him
familiarly. Funny, on his hind legs, the wolf wasn't that much shorter
wanna do inventory too, Dief?" Ray asked the wolf, ruffling his
fur, then he turned and grinned. He couldn't help it. Leave it to Ben
to figure out just where he'd be. "God, Ben. You know me inside
and out, doncha? And I, uh, didn't mean that the way it sounded,"
he said, hoping to relieve the apprehension on Ben's face.
smiled a little, obviously relieved by Ray's grin, and his humor, though
he still looked concerned. "I suppose I know you fairly well.
Enough to guess that you would be here if you were upset. Not enough,
unfortunately, to understand the cause of the upset. I . . . I'm very
sorry, Ray. I know it was wrong not to mention it sooner, but I just.
. . I just couldn't believe it was real."
frowned a little, puzzled. "Couldn't believe what was real?"
"You, Ray. Or us.
Any of it. All of it. I just never expected to be . . . happy, or for
what we have to come to mean so much."
shook his head. "Shit, yeah, Ben. That's it. That's exactly it.
I didn't either. And I don't want to lose that. I don't want to lose
won . . . ." Ben began, but then the door opened again, the bell
on the pneumatic hinge jingling. A tall, thin man in an expensive Italian
suit stepped into the office, flanked by two very large sweaty men in
bad American suits . Ray took one look at the newcomer's balding pate
and prominent nose, and tensed.
he said flatly.
stepped forward, wrinkling his nose distastefully at the mingled scents
of gasoline, oil and metal in the air.
he acknowledged with a faint, haughty lift of his head.
closed," Ray said, lifting his chin, feeling his mouth tighten
as he stared arrogantly at Vecchio.
pointed at Ben. "No, you're not. You got a customer."
Not wanting Vecchio to
know anything, even the slightest scrap about Ben, Ray held his tongue.
"Fine. Whattaya want?"
car needs a tune up. I want it in perfect shape for the wedding."
Ray managed not to flinch.
Yeah, he and Stella were long past, but it still hurt to feel the knife
twist in the old wounds like that. He shrugged. "So take it to
the Beemer place like you usually do."
I thought I'd keep my business in the neighborhood. You can do it.
I mean, it's not rocket science, even if it is a finely crafted piece
of German engineering, not a crappy little piece of American shit like
bristled, then forced himself to settle down, shrugging nonchalantly.
If Vecchio didn't know what a great machine the GTO was, that was his
loss. "Gimme the key and I'll take care of it. Though, you know,
I hear Beemers sometimes have these problems with their brakes,"
he said with a smile. "I'll check those out real good."
Vecchio's eyes narrowed.
"You better. You wouldn't want Stella to have an accident on the
way to the altar."
lifted an eyebrow. "You're taking Stella to the wedding in your
car? Surprised she'd let you, that's bad luck, you know. I guess that
doesn't matter to a guy like you. Stella always liked limos, said they
had class. But I guess that doesn't matter to you either. Course, they're
pretty expensive . . . guess that does matter to you, hunh?" He
scratched his ear with his little finger, nonchalantly, insolently.
Vecchio's face started
to turn an alarming shade of red. "You got a smart mouth on you
Kowalski," he said, stepping forward, fists clenched.
bodyguards stepped forward too, and Ray braced for a blow, but then a
white flash shot past him, growling, and jumped up onto Vecchio, sending
him reeling back into one of his goons as he recoiled from the snarling
the fuck is that?" Vecchio asked, tearing free of his goon and
staring at Dief in obvious fear. One of the goons reached into his
jacket, obviously going for his piece. Ray was about to hurl himself
at the guy when
Ben stepped forward suddenly, snapping his fingers.
"Dief, come here!"
He turned to Vecchio with a bland, pleasant smile that Ray could tell
was completely faked. "I'm very sorry, sir. Diefenbaker is normally
quite docile and friendly, but you see, as a pup he was attacked by a
goose, and I'm afraid he's rather taken exception to anything that reminds
him of the incident. I'm sure he meant no harm."
brushed at his suit, looking distracted. "Damned dog messed up
my suit," he snarled, rounding on Ben.
tried desperately not to laugh as it sank in exactly how Vecchio reminded
Diefenbaker of a goose. That neck, the beak, the honking voice. Oh
yeah. Ben slipped a hand into his pocket and brought out his wallet.
"I'd be happy
to pay to have your suit cleaned if Diefenbaker sullied it." He
pulled out a handful of pink bills and Ray almost lost it again. Canadian
money. Too good. Vecchio reached for it, saw what it was, and let his
hand fall, staring at Ben suspiciously.
goose?" Vecchio said after a moment. "A goose attacked that
he wasn't full grown at the time, and geese are notoriously bad-tempered."
Vecchio was frowning,
obviously trying to figure out the whole goose thing. He didn't have
it yet, but he would soon, and he'd get ugly. In a fit of protectiveness,
Ray stepped forward, catching Ben's eye and jerking his head toward the
take that dog on home, mister. He's not supposed to be in here anyway."
Ben frowned a little,
then he got it. "Ah, yes. Of course, sir. I'll just be on my
as Ben left, relieved that his friend had figured out that he didn't
want Vecchio to know they knew each other. He turned to his nemesis.
Vecchio dug in his pocket and extracted a set of keys, removed one, and
held it out. "Here you go, Stanley," he said, his voice dripping
sarcasm. "Be sure to check those brakes."
took the key, even the use of his first name not enough to send him flying
at Vecchio. Use your head, think, like Ben would, don't just react.
Keep cool. Suddenly Vecchio's expression changed, a dark scowl drawing
down his eyebrows and mouth. Ray knew Vecchio had figured out the subtle
insult in Ben's explanation of Dief's behavior when he turned swiftly
and crossed to the door, looking out into the parking lot, but apparently
Ben had had sense enough to get out of sight fast.
Who was that jerk, Kowalski?"
put on his idiot face and shrugged. "Some guy looking for directions."
Ray lied glibly.
turned to one of his goons. "Jimmy, go to Moretti's, find him,
and bring him to me at my office. I want to have a little talk with
him about showing proper respect."
couldn't believe Vecchio had fallen for the lie. Even though he knew
Ray hated his guts, he'd take him at his word? The guy was an idiot.
But the fact that he had was reassuring, since it meant that the chances
of the goon actually finding Ben.were just about zero. Ben was as likely
to be in a hardware store as he was likely to walk down the street naked.
He casually wrote up a job ticket for Vecchio's BMW, and put a tag on
the key. "You can pick it up tomorrow, we'll call when it's ready."
"I'll send Vito
do that," Ray said, and walked out of the office and into the repair
bays. He heard the front bell jingle a moment later, and knew Vecchio
had gone. He sagged a little in relief, and started to reach for the
phone, then realized Ben wouldn't have had time to get home yet. He
checked his watch, and thought about the BMW. He really hated that car.
Big. Expensive. Classy. Everything Stella craved.
wasn't like he didn't make decent money, he did, and he'd never been
cheap with her, either. In fact he'd been shocked at how much money
he had managed to save since the divorce. Since they'd settled their
assets up front and there was no child-support to pay, all of the income
she used to spend was now his. He hadn't realized quite how much money
she'd been going through, since he'd let her handle the finances. He
had nearly ten thousand in savings now, and more in CDs and mutual funds.
But that was peanuts compared to what Vecchio could give her.
thing of it was, unlike Stella, Ray knew that money did not equal class.
That was something he'd never have. Didn't even want to have. It was
constraining, like a straight-jacket. All the do's and don't's, hanging
with the 'right people,' wearing the right clothes, having the right
haircut. It wasn't him. She'd been chasing after it her whole adult
life, without understanding that she already had it. Inborn. Natural.
Damn her parents anyway, making her think that she needed money, instead
of just herself.
glared at the BMW in the parking lot. It really was tempting to 'fix'
the brakes, but he'd never do anything that might hurt Stella, even if
she didn't exercise the same restraint. He might have fallen for Ben,
but there were still feelings there for Stella, muted and dimmed, but
there. He wasn't a person who could just turn love on and off like an
engine. He walked over to the big doors and looked out the windows into
the street. The city maintenance crew was gone, their barriers removed,
not even a caution sign remaining. Clearly they were done with their
work, which made up his mind for him. He hit the button to raise the
door. He'd get the damned BMW done tonight and then he wouldn't have
to face it in the morning.
was on his way to the office to get the key when the phone started to
ring. He almost let the machine take it, then instinct told him it was
Ben and he picked it up. "First National Garage," he said,
just in case he was wrong.
He wasn't wrong. He
smiled. "Hey, Ben. You get home in one piece?"
course, Ray, but I was concerned about you. You were being rather. .
. provocative, and I recalled that you had mentioned that name in connection
with a local organized crime figure, as well as in connection with your
snorted. "Yeah. Smalltime mob guy, that's Vecchio. Also the guy
who was boffing The Stella before she wasn't my wife any more. And who's
gonna marry her this weekend. Good thing we weren't married in the
Church or he'd be up a creek."
was a short silence, then Ben spoke again. "I'm sorry, Ray. Dealing
with him must be difficult for you."
one way to put it."
you think it wise to antagonize him that way?"
used to it. I always do that, even before him and Stell . . . you know
I always wondered if that was what made him go after her to start with,
just trying to get at me. Not that it matters now. Anyway, glad you
called. I wanted to tell you I was gonna do the tune-up on the Beemer
before I come home. I don't want to have to come in here tomorrow and
look at the damned thing. Be a couple of hours, or so."
was a slight hesitation. "Ray, we do need to talk."
know, Ben. I got that. And you're right, we do. I'm not avoiding,
I promise. We'll talk. I just can't have this hanging over me when
we do. Okay?"
right, Ray. I'll get dinner started."
like a plan, make something that will keep, since I'm not sure how long
this'll take. Y'know, you're pretty good at being provocative and antagonistic
yourself. Surprised the hell outta me. That goose thing just about
killed me, thought I was gonna laugh out loud and we'd end up statistics
in next week's crime reports. Speaking of which, you stay away from
here for a while. Vecchio wants to talk to you about improper respect,
and I don't want him finding you. I covered, said you were some guy
off the street looking for the hardware store. He bought it, if you
can believe that."
I'm sure. I can read him. I'm good at body language."
certainly are," Ben said, his voice low and husky.
shivered, then smiled. "I'm onto you, you sneaky Canuck. You're
just trying to get me to come home sooner. I'll be there when I get
there. Relax. Like I said, the tune-up will take about an hour and
a half, then I gotta close up. Two hours. I'm home. I promise. Be
patient. You're usually good at that."
well, Ray. I'll try."
try, do,'" Ray said in his best Yoda voice. "See ya."
"Yes. See you."
Ray hung up, feeling
like he'd just kicked a puppy. But he really couldn't go home yet, he
needed to deal with this, work off some anger first. Not anger at Ben,
but at Vecchio. He pulled the BMW into the repair bay and set to work,
using the special metric tools that the European engine called for, and
taking extra care all around. The car was a damned good one, despite
who owned it, and he wasn't going to let it suffer because of that.
And no one was going to question his workmanship, especially not Vecchio.
He was so into his
work that he didn't even notice he was no longer alone until he turned
around to grab a rag and wipe his hands, and found Vecchio standing there,
flanked by his three thugs this time. Damn, he should have closed the
door, then they couldn't have snuck up on him. He managed not to jump,
or yell, though his heart was pounding from surprise.
hard of hearing or just need a new watch? I said it'd be done tomorrow.
Not tonight. Got it?" he asked, crossing his arms and lifting an
didn't look amused. "Think you're a funny guy, don't you Stanley?"
Ray shrugged. "Sometimes.
Whatta ya want?"
lied to me, Stanley. I don't like being lied to."
used to it. Everybody lies." Except Ben, Ray thought. Ben didn't
lie. Thank God.
to you," Ray asserted. He figured Stella did. One thing he was
sure of, Stella had been into sex with him. That was the one thing she'd
said she would miss when she left. But he'd bet, with money even, that
she'd never told Vecchio that. "What'd I lie about?"
said you didn't know that guy who was in here with the dog."
Fuck. Somehow Vecchio
knew about Ben. Well, maybe not everything, but he at least knew that
Ray and Ben were not strangers. "I never said that," Ray hedged.
It was true, he hadn't. He'd implied it, but not said it outright.
me, Kowalski. Stella said Frannie's been telling her all about some
gorgeous guy with dark hair and blue eyes, and a white dog. And turns
out that you've been hanging with this guy lately. She's seen you guys
at The Rose a bunch of times, said they even let the dog in there, which
I'm going to have to see about, since that's a health-code violation."
Frannie. Damn that woman.
Her mouth was going to get Ben killed if she didn't watch it. If Zuko
found out she thought Ben was 'gorgeous' (and he had no doubt that description
had come from Frannie) that was nearly as dangerous as insulting Vecchio
to his face. "So what? Like there can't be lots of guys like that
pretended to think about that, and nodded. "Yeah, there probably
are. But not who hang out with your skinny ass. Where is he, Stanley?"
"How the hell should
I know? He didn't tell me where he was going."
let's try this one. Who is he?"
"Where does he live?"
"You gonna make
me do this the hard way, smart guy?"
nodded. "You bet. But you won't do it. You'll let them do it for
you." He nodded toward the muscle flanking Vecchio. "You
don't have the guts to take me on without them."
I didn't have to look good for the wedding, you'd eat those words, Kowalski!"
Ray said sarcastically.
made a sound low in his throat, a growl of sorts, and looked at his thugs.
"Take him to the warehouse, I'll meet you there. Then we'll see
if we can't persuade him to talk."
started to put up a fight as Thug #1 (was he Jimmy, or Vito? Ray couldn't
remember) grabbed him and started to march him toward the big dark-blue
sedan with tinted windows that sat outside the garage, but the hard snub
of a gun in his ribs made him stop. He could handle getting smacked
around some, it wouldn't be the first time, but he really didn't want
to get shot, and he had no doubt that the threat was serious. Vecchio
didn't hire guys with senses of humor. He let himself be pushed into
* * *
Five hours. It had been
five hours since Ben had talked to Ray, who had promised to be home in
two. While Ray was not always the most punctual of people, it wasn't
like him to be this late, not without calling, not after he'd promised.
Ben had tried the phone at the garage several times now, only getting
the answering machine which gave the hours and encouraged him to leave
a message. He had left two, the first after Ray was an hour late, the
second after an hour and a half. He'd not bothered with another, figuring
that either Ray would call him back, or he wouldn't. He really hadn't
expected it to be the latter.
chili he'd prepared for dinner sat untouched, growing cold. Needing
something to do, he found a large bowl and put the chili in it, storing
it away in the refrigerator with plastic wrap over the top. Diefenbaker
whined at him, again. He'd been whining for some time, and not just
because he'd picked up on Ben's upset and worry. He needed to go out,
but Ben was afraid to leave, for fear of missing a call from Ray. Or.
. . worse, from someone else-- a hospital, or a police station.
Finally deciding that
the answering machine would get any calls that came in and he could check
them when he returned, he took Dief out, heading for the garage to see
if they could find a clue there. As they neared the garage, Ben began
to have awful imaginings about finding Ray pinned, injured, beneath a
car he'd been working on. He shouldn't have let him stay there working
alone. It was too dangerous. He was disconcerted to find the garage
lights on, the repair-bay door wide open, and the radio tuned to Ray's
favorite station. Feeling slightly reassured by that, he looked around
the room, and frowned. Ray wasn't in sight.
There was no response
to his hail. He walked over and checked the office. Not there, and
the lavatory door stood ajar, dark inside, so he wasn't in there, either.
He frowned. The car Ray had said he was going to work on sat on the
lift, making it easy to see that Ray was not pinned beneath it, and it
was the only vehicle in the garage. Puzzled, he made the rounds of the
garage again, checking every alcove and shadow.
was nowhere to be found. At nearly ten at night, the garage was wide
open and unattended. Ray would never be so careless. Diefenbaker was
cris-crossing the room in a grid pattern, searching for Ray as well.
Suddenly he stopped, sniffing the floor, growling faintly. Ben crossed
to where the wolf stood and knelt to see what had upset his companion,
but even after careful examination, could see nothing, which meant that
Dief must have picked up a scent. Someone he knew, and didn't like.
There weren't many people Diefenbaker didn't like, but he'd shown a definite
animosity toward that Vecchio person this afternoon.
suddenly felt cold. Ray was missing, after antagonizing a mobster.
He couldn't let this go. Even if Ray was safe somewhere, he had to report
the open garage before someone walked in and robbed them blind. He was
rather surprised no one had already. He supposed the lights and radio
had probably warned off anyone who might have been tempted. He thought
for a moment, then headed to the office and after a moment he managed
to locate a rolodex full of phone numbers. Quickly locating the owner's
number, he picked up the phone and dialed. It rang three times, and
a youthful-sounding woman answered.
"Hello, may I speak
to Harding Welsh please?"
hang on," there was a muffled sound as a hand was placed partway
over the receiver, then the woman called out. "Dad? It's for you!"
A moment later a
man spoke. "This is Welsh, who's this?"
name is Benton Fraser, sir, I'm a friend of Ray Kowalski's. We've met
once or twice, at the garage."
You mean Stanley? Oh yeah, I know you. You're the Canadian guy, the
college professor. What can I do for you, Professor Fraser?"
"I was wondering
if you'd heard from Ray this afternoon or this evening."
not since I sent everybody home around one. Why? What's up?"
"Well, I'm afraid
your door is, at the garage, I mean. And the lights are on, as is the
radio, but Ray isn't here. He came back here this afternoon to get a
few things done after the maintenance crew finished on the gas-line,
and . . . "
a second, hang on here. You're saying he went back to work today? When
he could have had paid time off? He's a lunatic."
is very conscientious," Ben said defensively. "In any case,
we were to meet for dinner several hours ago, and he didn't show up,
nor did he call. After some time without hearing from him, I became
concerned and came over to check on him, and that's when I found the
place open, the lights on, but no one here."
sir, I've searched."
not like him." Welsh declared.
it's not," Ben agreed. "Nor is it like him to not inform me
if he were unable to meet me at the agreed-upon time. So I take it you
haven't heard from him?"
a word. Look, can you stick around there for a few? I can be there
in . . . ah. . . ten minutes, I'll close up and we can see if we can
figure out where he went."
man was as good as his word. In fact, it was only eight minutes later
when he pulled up outside the garage, parked, and got out. He was a
big man in his late forties or early fifties. Several inches taller
than Ben, and proportionately broad, he looked like he ought to be playing
football, the American kind. He had a square, bulldog face, and kind
eyes. Ben noted he was limping slightly, leaning on a cane as he came
into the garage and quickly moved forward to meet him.
sorry, sir I hadn't realized you were injured."
waved off his dismay. "It's my old war wound, Professor. Just
acts up now and then. Makes it hard to do stairs and stuff."
Ben nodded. "Vietnam?"
Welsh said with a wry smile. "Wounded in the line of duty, had
to take early retirement. Decided to take over this place from the guy
who had it before."
hadn't realized Ray's employer was an ex-police officer. That might
be fortuitous. Welsh looked around, spotted the BMW on the lift, and
Vecchio's car, isn't it?"
sir, it is."
wasn't here when I left."
Mr. Vecchio came in while I was here earlier talking with Ray. Insisted
that Ray take his car, even though the shop was officially closed."
Welsh looked at the car,
looked at Ben, and sighed. "Kowalski shot his mouth off, didn't
he? To Vecchio?"
ah, I'm afraid so."
older man shook his head. "Those two. . . oil and water. Or maybe
fire and gasoline. This is not good. You know who Vecchio is?"
"Ray mentioned that
he has organized crime connections."
he does. Out the wazoo. He pretty much runs this part of town."
"Should we call
sighed. "No, won't do a damned bit of good, not with the yahoo
they got running the 27th these days, a creep I used to lock
horns with back in my day, name of Brandauer. He lives in Vecchio's
back pocket. And even if he didn't, Kowalski hasn't been gone long enough
to make this an official Missing Person. No, we're better off handling
this ourselves. How bad did he piss Vecchio off?"
frowned, thinking back. "Well, I didn't think all that severely,
but I left before they were finished discussing the car, I suppose he
could have said something after I left that precipitated more of a response.
I rather thought that I had been more provocative than Ray was."
Welsh looked at him oddly.
"You always talk like this, Professor?"
smiled ruefully. "I'm afraid so. Ray has been trying to teach
me more vernacular, however I'm just not very good at it."
daughter used to read Sherlock Holmes stories to me when I was in the
hospital. You sound like him. All proper and correct." He looked
at Ben speculatively. "Kowalski said you were smart. You good
Ben said, trying not to sound immodest.
think of this like a puzzle, one we have to solve to find Kowalski.
If he's findable. That will depend on just how pissed off Vecchio is.
If he's just a little pissed off we'll probably get our guy back pretty
soon here. If it's a lot. . . well, let's just say I don't want to have
to hire a new mechanic, it'd be hard to replace Kowalski."
sliver of cold that had pierced him when he'd first thought of Vecchio
in connection with Ray's disappearance speared him once more. "Irreplaceable,"
he said under his breath.
looked at him, frowning a little, then he shrugged. "Let's solve
this puzzle, Professor. First we've got to figure out if Vecchio really
has him, or if he's just flipped his lid and taken off or something.
I guess he could have hurt himself and gone to the hospital, so we gotta
check that too. I'll start calling around to the local emergency rooms,
that's a good job for me since I can sit to do it. With my bum leg I'm
not so good for canvassing the neighborhood. You go next door to the
mini-mart and see if they saw anything. When you finish there, head
down to The Rose on the off chance he's there, he likes to hang out there
after work. Um, was he upset about anything? The only time he tends
to get irresponsible is when he's hurting. Oh, hell. It's the wedding,
isn't it? Vecchio and his ex?"
shook his head, slowly. "No, I don't believe so. He's actually
been handling that relatively well." He thought for a moment about
what had happened in his office, wondering if Ray could still be upset
about that, and decided against it. Ray had seemed fine when he'd visited
earlier, when they'd spoken on the telephone. He didn't think Ray could
dissemble that well if he had still been upset. Of course, they hadn't
gotten to talk, but . . . no. It wasn't that. He was sure. Ray was
many things, but a coward was not one of them.
Professor, let's get at it. I'll start making phone calls. I'm going
to close up back here, you come to the front door and I'll see you and
let you in."
nodded and headed over to the mini-mart. Unfortunately no one there
had noticed anything unusual. He walked the two blocks to The Rose with
Dief at his side, moaning softly as he picked up on Ben's increasing
tension. He stopped outside the door to spend a moment calming his companion
with soft words of reassurance that were as much for himself as the wolf,
then he straightened. "Stay here, please, Dief. I'll be as quick
as I can."
moved over beneath a bush to the left of the door and settled down.
Ben took a breath and headed into the restaurant and did a quick, fruitless
scan of the booths and tables. That left the bar, a smaller room, somewhat
segregated from the main room. He moved to that part of the room and
started to check the tables, and the bar itself. It was harder there,
darker, smokier, but he saw no spiky hair, no smugly kissable mouth.
He was about to give up in resignation when he felt a touch on his arm
and turned, startled, found himself looking down at a vaguely familiar
petite brunette woman. He remembered having seen her here several times
there," she said, almost shyly. "You look like you lost something."
someone. My friend, Ray Kowalski. Have you seen him here tonight?"
She frowned thoughtfully,
and shook her head. "No, sorry. Not tonight. So you're all by
yourself?" she asked hopefully.
the moment, but I do need to find him. I'm quite concerned."
"He was supposed
to meet me for dinner, but never arrived."
I wouldn't worry too much, this is a pretty safe neighborhood,"
she said, smiling.
you get on the wrong side of those who run it," Ben said, staring
around at the darkened tables in the far corner of the bar, trying to
see if any of them held a familiar face. His companion was silent for
a moment, then she spoke, her voice suddenly sounding a little tight.
"What do you mean?"
Ben sighed. "I'm
afraid Ray antagonized someone he shouldn't have today."
woman seemed to pale and droop a little, then she straightened, a determined
look coming over her face. "Look, where are you going to be? I've
got connections, I'll see what I can find out."
It came back to him suddenly. In his upset he'd forgotten they had met
once before. She'd made a pass at him, and Ray had warned her off.
He'd said she was married to a 'mob guy,' and another 'mob guy' was her
brother. Vecchio. He frowned.
wasn't asking for your help, ma'am. It might not be wise. . . ."
her head. "Look, I'm not stupid. I know my family is into . .
. stuff. And I know my brother's got testosterone poisoning even worse
than my husband. Ray's a nice guy. He lost his wife 'cause my sorry
excuse for a brother can't keep his dick in his pants and he's got more
money than God and my future sister-in-law has shit for brains, but Ray's
not gonna lose anything else to my family if I can help it," she
said, amazingly all in one breath. She paused to replenish her air supply
before continuing. "I know you weren't asking, and maybe it's not
smart. But that doesn't matter. Sometimes you just have to do what's
hesitated. He didn't want to endanger anyone, but he needed information
about Ray from any source he could get it. He eyed her narrowly. "You're
sure you want to risk it?"
smarter than I look," she said with a lift of her chin. "I
can do it, easy. That's the advantage to having everybody think you're
a moron, they'll tell you stuff they shouldn't."
certainly don't think you're a moron," Ben said, wondering why she
would say such a thing.
beamed. "See, I knew I liked you. Where can I reach you if I find
be at the garage, with Mr. Welsh."
nodded. "Okay, good. I'll call as soon as I can."
took her hands in his. "Thank you. I can't properly express how
much your assistance means to me."
blushed and tugged her hands free. "Hey, don't mention it. Go
on back to the garage and let me get to work. Vito's got a crush on
me, I bet I can get something out of him. If they've got Ray stashed
somewhere, I bet I can find out where."
nodded. "Thank you again, ma'am."
wrinkled her nose at him. "Gosh, make me feel like my great-aunt
Antonia! Call me Francesca."
he offered, since she had given him her first name. "It's a pleasure
to meet you, Francesca."
sighed, shaking her head. "The only man who calls me anything but
'Frannie' and he's already taken. What a crock. Oh well. Talk to you
headed off across the bar. Ben stood a moment longer, then turned and
made his way through the crowd and out into the night once more. Dief
greeted him with a questioning whine as he stepped outside and he sighed,
shaking his head.
I'm sorry. He wasn't there. But we may have a lead shortly. Come
on, let's go see if Mr. Welsh has turned up anything."
walked quickly back to the garage. The lights were on in the main office,
and through the door Ben could see Welsh seated at the reception desk,
talking on the telephone. He rapped lightly on the glass to alert the
man to his presence, and Welsh looked up from the phone holding up a
hand. Ben nodded and Welsh listened a moment, spoke, then hung up the
phone and came slowly over to open the door for Ben.
luck?" he asked as soon as Ben had stepped inside, which answered
Ben's unspoken query as to whether or not the other man had discovered
any useful information.
as such, but I did run into someone who might be able to be of assistance.
She's trying to find something out for us as we speak."
Who was it?"
woman named Francesca. I'm afraid I don't recall her last name."
Welsh did a double-take.
"Francesca? A skinny little brunette with nice legs and a big mouth?"
"She is a rather
petite brunette, yes," Ben allowed.
That's Vecchio's sister!" Welsh exclaimed, horrified.
I'm aware of that. She doesn't seem particularly pleased by the fact."
"No, no she's not.
Especially not since he made her marry that jerk, Zuko."
that's why she felt compelled to help. She was going to try to find
out if they have him, and where. She'll call here."
nodded. "Good idea. I checked around the shop, nothing's missing,
nothing seems out of place, except that the car's on the lift and not
done. I closed up to make things look more normal."
that's a small comfort then."
rather lose a shop full of tools than one annoying mechanic," Welsh
said, sounding disheartened.
nodded, turning away quickly to hide the sudden welling of tears in his
eyes. It had been bad enough to think he'd have to return to Canada
and leave Ray behind. This was a thousand times worse. As he stared
out into the street trying to will his tears back, he felt a warm hand
descend on his shoulder to squeeze briefly.
find him, Professor. If he's findable, we'll find him."
nodded again, wordless, not trusting his voice. All they could do for
the moment was wait.
* * *
Cold. He was so damned
cold. How he could be cold at the back end of the hottest August on
record, was what Ray wanted to know. He curled around himself, trying
to huddle into what warmth he had, and moaned as pain shot through him.
Oh yeah. That was right. He'd forgotten the pain for a moment, in thinking
about the cold. The concrete floor beneath him was hard and frigid,
leaching even more heat from him, giving back more pain.
awake yet, Stanley?"a hateful voice asked, its whining tone softened
slightly by amusement.
wondered what was funny. He decided not to answer, because he didn't
want to be called Stanley. He'd never liked that name. Memory began
to return, and he wished it hadn't. He knew where he was now, knew why
he was there, why he hurt, who the voice belonged to. Still didn't understand
the cold part, though.
pick him up."
moment later Ray was hauled to his feet, sort of. He mostly just hung
there by his arms between the two larger men who held him, knees as floppy
as overdone spaghetti. He let himself stay limp, kept his eyes closed,
hoping they would think him unconscious.
'Ben,' Stanley?" the voice asked reasonably.
God. How did they know that? He forced himself not to tense, not to
open his eyes. He felt something wet slip out beneath his lashes, and
prayed they wouldn't notice. The tears ran down along his cheek, down
to his mouth, down his chin.
boss, he's really out of it. He's drooling on himself," a disgusted-sounding
voice said, very close on his left.
The guy on his right said.
All right. I guess we have to give him a while longer. Funny, I didn't
think he had it in him, to take it this far."
a tough little bastard," the man who had spoken before said, grudgingly
respectful. "I'd want my friends to be this loyal."
up, Hughie. Jimmy, you and Vito go bring the car around, I gotta get
home, Stella's expecting me. Hughie, put him in one of the lockers.
We'll take this up again tomorrow. "
man on his right let go of his arm. Deprived of that support, he fell
hard into the man who held his left, and it was all he could do not to
gasp as pain exploded through his battered body when he was caught and
held firmly in muscular arms. Just above him he heard a quiet, "Shhh,
this is gonna hurt." and realized the man who was holding him up
was aware that he was conscious. The guy shifted his grip, heaved him
up and started walking. Ray was sure he'd screamed then, but the sound
only echoed in his own head. A moment later the man carrying him bent
to ease him down onto the floor again. The man crouched down beside
him, a big, warm hand on his shoulder, his face close as he began to
to me now, the door to this unit sticks when you try to close it, so
I'm going to lock the door but I won't close it all the way. It'll be
locked, but unlatched so you can get out, okay? Is there somebody I
should call to come get you?"
squinted up at the guy. It was hard to make out details in the light
that entered the room through the open door, but he finally made out
that his would-be rescuer was a black guy, built broad and strong, like
Ben. Good-looking too, though not in Ben's league. Surprisingly well-dressed.
He hadn't been one of the guys with Vecchio at the shop earlier, this
was a new guy. Ray wanted badly to tell him to call Ben, but. . . it
could be a trick, to get him to talk. He shook his head, which hurt
like hell. "Nuh-nobody," he managed to grate out through swollen
The guy sighed.
"Look, it's all right, man, you can tell me. I'm a cop."
A cop? What the fuck?
Why would a cop be hanging with Vecchio? Didn't make sense. Ray remained
stubbornly silent, just as he had all along. He wasn't going to let
them trick him into talking. Not now. After a moment the guy sighed
Have it your way. You got guts, Kowalski. Look, if I leave that door
unlatched, will you be able to walk out of here?"
go. You'll follow," Ray said mulishly.
other man sighed. "I'm not going to follow you. I just want you
out of here."
Won'," Ray gritted out, and just that effort left him gasping and
came down, touched his shoulder gently, felt the tremors in him, and
the other man sighed again. The hand withdrew. Ray heard footsteps moving
away from him, rustling, then the footsteps returned and a moment later
something was placed over him, something heavy and stiffly-soft, that
smelled faintly of motor oil and gasoline.
must be messed up worse than I thought. This will keep you a little
warm. Just hang on, and I'll see if I can scare up some help for you."
Ray's fingers crept up
to keep the covering from sliding off, explored, realized it was a furniture
pad, like movers used. He pulled it closer around himself, still shivering,
and the other man swore.
it. How the hell am I supposed to just leave you here like this? Christ,
I never thought about stuff like this when I took this gig."
Ray couldn't make sense
of the other man's words, so he just put his head under the covering,
like a kid hiding from the closet monsters. He heard the footsteps grow
faint, but he never heard the click of the door into place. It was just
like the guy had said. For a moment he was tempted to try to escape,
to go to Ben, but he couldn't do that. It wouldn't be safe. Besides,
he was so tired, and cold, and everything hurt. He missed Ben, but if
he stayed, then Ben was safe. He was safe, and that was all that mattered.
Ray should have
guessed Vecchio wouldn't let it rest, since it concerned him. The bastard
might have Stella now, but that wasn't enough for him. He had to make
sure Ray had nothing, to break him down, to break him, period. Like
an old-fashioned horse-trainer would break a wild horse. Vecchio wanted
to break him, break his spirit. He wasn't going to let him.
concrete flooring was killing him. He wondered if he was shocky, and
that's why he felt so cold. It could be possible, he guessed. He was
pretty messed up. He needed to try to insulate himself from the cold
better. Painfully he got to his knees, and looked around. In the dim
street-light glow coming through the high-up warehouse windows, he saw
an amorphous shape that looked promising, over in the direction he'd
heard Hughie walk before he'd given Ray the mover's pad. Easing down
onto his hands and knees, he headed that way. crawling for what seemed
like forever, before finally bumping into a yielding pile of something.
He reached, explored
with both hands, yeah. A whole stack of the things. Perfect. He pulled
a dozen of of pads down off the stack for a cushion for the floor, pulled
two or three more down to add to the one he had for a cover already.
Exhausted just by that little effort, he curled up between the layers
of padding, pillowed his face carefully on one arm, and closed his eyes.
Sleep. Sleep would be good. But it didn't want to come. He hurt too
much, worried too much.
tried to think of better things, good things, and smiled at a memory.
Once when they were lying in bed, Ben had said something about sleep,
something from Shakespeare, about knitting. That had been cool. He
strained, trying to remember, and got it. 'Sleep that knits up the
ravell'd sleeve of care.' That was the easy part. Everybody knew
that part, but it was the rest, the stuff Ben knew . . . he wished Ben
could tell him. Then oh, yeah, it was there. Ray could almost hear
Ben's grave, serious voice soothing over him. '" The death of
each day's life, sore labor's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's
second course, chief nourisher in life's feast.'" Yeah. That
was it. Balm of hurt minds, and hurt bodies. Warming slowly, comforted
by memories, he finally felt sleep rising to claim him.
* * *
"Would you get me
another cup of coffee, Professor?" Welsh asked quietly.
stopped pacing, crossed to the desk and took the chipped, stained mug
from the other man. He certainly could put away the coffee. This was
his fourth refill in an hour. As he lifted the pot to refill the cup
he looked over at the older man.
that make it difficult for you to sleep tonight?"
looked at him and sighed. "Who says I'm going to sleep tonight?"
"You need sleep,"
do you," Welsh cut him off. "But you're not going to sleep
shook his head, slowly. "No. I couldn't. Not . . . without knowing."
"I feel the same
way, Professor. I don't sleep when one of mine is in trouble. I mean,
I know I'm not in the PD any more, but if I were, I'd be proud to have
him. Did you know he wanted to be a detective? We talked about that
once, right after I bought the place and he found out what I used to
do. Unfortunately they only want smart-asses with degrees these days,
and he wasn't so good in school. But he's quick, and he's smart, and
he's tenacious. He would have been a real asset. Too bad the people
upstairs can only see that piece of parchment that means you know how
to keep your butt still in class and bullshit on a paper."
smiled ruefully. "I can certainly attest to the percentage of people
who seem to be obtaining degrees on that basis."
snorted. "Yeah, you would. My coffee please, Professor?"
Ben filled the cup and
handed it to him, thinking of Ray, wondering if, wherever he was, he
was sleeping now. He closed his eyes momentarily and thought of Ray's
face, peaceful in sleep. Sleep. 'The death of each day's life, sore
labor's bath, balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course, chief
nourisher in life's feast.' A shudder chased itself down his back.
He seemed to ache in a dozen places, and exhaustion tugged at him. He
shook himself, frowning. Where had that quote sprung from? What had
made him think of Macbeth? He shivered again, remembering the next line.
'Glamis hath murder'd sleep.' He prayed that Vecchio had not
done the same to Ray. And somehow knew, with utter certainty, that he
had not. Not yet, anyway.
time is it?" Welsh asked.
looked at his watch. "One seventeen."
sighed. "I hate waiting. I hate it."
completely understand," Ben said quietly, then headlights in the
parking lot drew his attention , and he watched a medium-colored sedan
pull into a space and park. A moment later a tall black man got out
of the driver's seat and went around to open the passenger door for a
familiar petite brunette. Ben was at the door in seconds, unlocking
and opening it for them. He eyed the man warily, but he didn't seem
threatening as Francesca walked in ahead of him and stopped dead in her
tracks, staring at the man behind the desk.
Welsh?" she squeaked.
grinned. "In the flesh, Ms. Vecchio, or should I say Ms. Zuko?
But it's just Harding Welsh now. It's been quite a few years since our
last meeting. Do you still draw moustaches on the statues at St. Agnes'?"
She blushed, laughing
as she shook her head. "No, no, I haven't done that since they
made me talk to you about vandalism and defacing private property. Not
that I haven't thought about it. . . ." she teased.
to see I put the fear of the law into you." He looked past her
to her companion, and frowned. "Don't I know you?"
black man nodded and stepped forward, sending an uncomfortable glance
at Francesca. "Yes, you do, sir. Jack Huey. I, ah, I worked
for you for a little while, when you were. . . well, before Brandauer."
Francesca Vecchio stared
at the man, looking puzzled. "But. . . I thought your name was
the name I'm using at the moment," the man said, uncomfortably.
Apparently the use
of a pseudonym was not unheard of in Ms. Zuko's world. She nodded,
unfazed. "Oh. Gotcha."
stared at him, then a light seemed to go on in his face. "Right,
Jack Huey, I heard you moved on to. . . ." he stopped abruptly,
his gaze sliding toward Francesca, and Ben could almost see the wheels
turning in head. "So, what's your interest here?"
at the moment I work for Ms. Zuko's brother, but I'm going to be leaving
soon, resuming my old position in a different part of the city. I haven't
been happy with my current employment and tonight was the real clincher,
I don't like being a part of things like that. So when I realized Ms.
Zuko here was trying to worm information about Kowalski out of Vito,
I figured maybe I could help her out and do us both a big favor. I just
have to do it kind of. . . quiet."
gaze kept going between Welsh and Huey, puzzled, hearing undertones and
unspoken meanings in nearly every word. What on earth was going on?
What was he missing?
We'll see if we can't do this without, ah, jeopardizing your employment."
that, sir, I'm not quite ready to go back to my old job yet."
"I got that. So,
we were right? Vecchio does have him?"
nodded, an expression of resignation on his face. "I'm afraid so."
"Where is he?"
"A&B Moving and
Storage, over on Wacker. I managed to convince them that they weren't
going to get anything out of him tonight so they had me put him in one
of the lockers. I left the door unlocked so he could walk out, but he
wouldn't trust that somebody wouldn't follow him. Not that I blame him
for not trusting anyone right now. And he's in rough shape, probably
wouldn't get far in any case. He needs a doctor."
What's wrong with him?" Ben demanded, automatically moving toward
grabbed onto the back of Ben's belt and held him in place as if he were
restraining a large dog by its collar. "Hang on Professor, we can't
just go taking off. We gotta have a plan."
wrong with him?" Ben demanded again, glaring at Huey.
took a cautious step back, making sure he was out of range of Ben's clenched
fists. "And you would be?"
friend of Ray's."
studied him, eyebrows lifted. "You go by Ben?"
Ben said, a little puzzled by the question.
got a white dog?" he asked, then he looked around, saw Diefenbaker
curled up under the old steel tubing and orange vinyl sofa against the
wall, and frowned. "Man, you should not be down here right now.
You're the one Vecchio wanted, he just took Kowalski to make him tell
who you were and where to find you. If Vecchio catches you, you're in
worse shit than Kowalski."
stared at him. "Me? Why would he want me?"
said you insulted him, and that you've been messing with his sister."
Francesca snorted rudely.
grinned. "Hey, if you're looking. . . ."
eyed him up and down speculatively, and Ben felt a burst of anger.
"Do you think we
could kindly remain on track?" he snapped. "Ray's life is
sobered both of them quickly and Huey nodded. "Vecchio will get
suspicious if it looks too easy. It's got to look like something unrelated
happened, something he won't find unusual, so he thinks that Kowalski's
getting away was just a consequence of that."
wasn't entirely sure why they had to bother with that. "Why don't
we just walk in and get him out, if there's no one guarding him?"
Welsh sighed, and let
go of Ben's belt. "Trust me on this, Professor, we can't. What
are you thinking, Huey? A fire?"
other man shook his head. "No, too dangerous. I haven't been able
to come up with something that will work."
thoughtfully. "You know, Ray's always complaining about the gangs
down in that neighborhood. Says they run for a guy named Volpe who won't
come into the fold, wants to be his own man."
nodded. "Yeah, I know the guy. Andreas Volpe. This is gonna sound
weird, but for a hood, he's not bad. He's even done. . . me . . . a
few favors now and then." Huey rubbed his fingers together as if
testing a piece of fabric between his fingertips and his gaze slid toward
Welsh, who nodded minutely, scratching his nose with the ball of his
looked strangely familiar, and it suddenly hit Ben where he'd seen it
before. In an ongoing effort to expose Ben to more popular culture,
Ray was always showing him 'classic movies.' One of his choices had
been "The Sting." And that thumb-to-nose was the gesture Paul
Newman and Robert Redford's characters made when communicating regarding
from Welsh to Huey and back, recalled that Huey had said he worked for
Welsh before Brandauer had replaced him, not afterward, and he
understood. Huey was a police officer, working undercover in Vecchio's
organization. Favors done for him, then, might indicate that Volpe was
a paid informant or friend of the police, in some fashion.
that'd work. See if Volpe would run some kind of action around the warehouse,
nothing big, maybe some B&E, some vandalism. The place is so old nobody
uses it for anything real any more, it's not even alarmed. But I don't
have a way to contact him. He'd probably be real suspicious of me now,
anyhow, since I work for Vecchio."
"It's not a common name," Ben said, something nagging at him,
trying to surface in his memory. Suddenly it came to him. "You're
sure his first name is Andreas?" he asked intently.
and no, it's not a common name, especially not around the 'hood. I hear
his old man was Dutch. Why'd you want to know?"
might know a way to contact him." He turned to Welsh. "You
used to have a young man named Levon Jefferson working here. Do you
still have his number?"
I should." Welsh flipped through the rolodex, and after a moment
extracted a card. "Here it is."
you," Ben took it, lifted the phone, and dialed.
rings later, a sleepy-sounding voice answered the phone. "'Lo?"
"Levon? It's Benton
Fraser. Forgive me for calling so late, but it's a matter of some urgency."
"Hang on, who. .
. Professor Fraser?" Levon sounded stunned. "What time is
it? Oh man, did I oversleep? Did I miss class?"
Levon, it's nothing to do with school. I need your assistance. Ray's
in some difficulty."
You mean like, he's in trouble?"
Levon. Exactly. Very bad trouble."
do you need?" Levon asked, sounding much more awake, and determined.
"Whatever it is, I'm there."
you know a man named Andreas Volpe?"
was a sudden silence, then, "Oh, fuck. Ray didn't get on 'Dre's
bad side did he? I thought he was cool with 'Dre since I got out of
that scene. What'd he do?"
a man named Vecchio, not Mr. Volpe, who's the problem. However, Mr. Volpe
may be able to be part of the solution."
Ray ticked off Vecchio? Oh man, he's got a death wish. What do you
need from 'Dre?"
distraction, so we can get Ray out without casting suspicion on someone
in Vecchio's organization."
silence. "You want me to ask 'Dre to take on Vecchio?"
Ben tried to phrase a
reply, but before he could, Levon was speaking again.
mind. I'll call him. It'll be up to him, but I'll ask. Where are you?"
"At the garage,
at the moment. Ray's being held at a moving and storage facility on
get him for you. I'll be at the garage as soon as I can, okay?"
"Levon, it may not
be safe for you to . . . ."
safe, Professor Fraser. This is Ray. He's family. I'm coming."
Ben understood. "Very
well, Levon. I'll see you."
hung up, and Ben looked up to find three pair of curious eyes on him.
"He's going to contact Mr. Volpe and will join us here."
Everyone nodded, and
suddenly left with nothing to do for a moment, a dawning sense of horror
spread through Ben. He'd done this to Ray. This was his fault. If
he'd just kept his mouth shut, everything would have been fine. He dropped
the phone as he tried to fumble it back into its cradle, and Huey spoke
a tough customer, wouldn't even tell Vecchio your name, but he guessed
it because somebody Vito talked to at the bar earlier remembered it.
It was kind of. . . weird. Like watching a POW movie or something.
Name, rank, serial number, that's it. He'll talk about himself, his
ex, his job, anything but you. He hasn't said one word about you, not
one. I couldn't have done it."
supposed that was supposed to make him feel better. It didn't. He felt
worse. /You should have told them, Ray/' he thought desolately, /you
should have told them./
* * *
Voices dragged Ray up
out of a dream in which he wore a gun, and a Chicago PD shield, and Ben
was dressed in some weird hunter-safety-red coat that did Things for
the line of his jaw, and the clean taper of shoulder to waist. The first
thing to register as consciousness returned was the pain. It made him
clench his jaw and swear as he shifted beneath the heavy furniture pads,
trying to hear with the ear that wasn't all sore and swollen. At least
he wasn't so cold now, not quite. That was good, right? After a few
moments he figured out he wasn't just hearing things. There were voices.
A lot of voices. Laughter? Breaking glass? A strange sort of hissing
sound. More laughter.
No. Wait. He
really was hearing things, he had to be. Because no way could he be
hearing Ben's rough baritone, with its funny Canadian vowels. Or if
he was, he didn't want to think about it, because that meant they had
Ben, and he couldn't, wouldn't think about that. No. They couldn't
have Ben. He wouldn't let it be true. He refused. He was just dreaming.
That was all. Dreaming he was awake. Not so weird. Happened all the
time. There was always the possibility of hallucinations. He'd rather
be hearing things than have Ben at risk.
click, and the groan of dirty, unoiled hinges made him go still, and
he tried hard not to whimper as the sudden tension amplified every ache.
No. Not Ben. They didn't have Ben. They didn't have Ben. They didn't
have Ben. He thought it over and over, as if by thinking it he could
make it true. From under the edge of his pile of pads, he thought he
saw a glimmer of light, not a lot, but more than the pitch-blackness
that had been there before. He heard a voice.
He's gone. He must've taken off after all. I didn't think he would,
even after I told him to. Frankly, I didn't think he could."
Familiar voice. The
guy. . . Hugh? Hughie. Yeah. The one who'd told him he would get help.
Funny, that sounded like
Welsh. Weird dream. Really weird.
He was right here, but he's not now."
realize you've been trying to spare me, but it's important, I need to
know. When you left him here, alone, how badly was he injured? How
far could he have gotten on his own?"
again. He sounded really. . . worried. Scared. And something else
too. Something he'd never heard in Ben's voice before. Angry. He wondered
if he should say something, but it was just a dream, so it wouldn't do
far. Parking lot maybe. A block or two, max."
you find him, Professor Fraser?"
now why the hell was Levon in his dream?
but I will. Diefenbaker? Find Ray."
excited yip. Snuffling. Dief. The gang's all here, he thought. The
scritch of claws on concrete. That slight glimmer of brightness lifting,
expanding, a wet nose pressing against his arm. Excited voices, too
many to sort out, loud, piercing his aching head like nails, then the
padding over him was yanked back and he was looking up into Ben's face,
seeing the sad-angry-worried-scared expression that went with the way
his voice had sounded. Damn it. It wasn't a dream, or a hallucination.
Ben was here. They had him.
tell 'm. . . " he said thickly, wanting to make sure Ben knew that.
It was important.
tell them what, Ray?" Ben said, his big hand, surprisingly gentle,
touching his cheek, his jaw, reaching down to tug open his torn shirt
and bare his torso.
Where you. . . "
of course you didn't. I know that."
Ray wanted to ask how Vecchio had found him since Ray hadn't told, but
just then Ben probed his ribs and Ray yelped in pain. Instantly the
pressure eased, fingers soothed again.
it's all right, I'm sorry. We have to get you to a doctor, Ray. We're
going to have to pick you up, and it's going to hurt. Can you bear up?"
Doctor? We? Ray squinted
past Ben, saw Welsh there, and Levon, and that Hughie guy, and.. . and
shit, was that Levon's old gang-friend 'Dre Volpe in the back of the
room with. . . Frannie Zuko? What the hell was going on here? Suddenly
he wasn't entirely sure he wasn't hallucinating. He thought about
pinching himself but he hurt enough already. So instead he reached out
and put a hand on Ben's thigh. Felt real. He felt a warm hand cover
his, and squeeze. Yeah. Nice. Definitely felt real.
real? This real?" Deja vu. Hadn't this happened before, only
laugh, or act like he thought Ray was a nutcase. He just nodded, serious-like.
"Yes, Ray. I'm real. This is all real. Don't worry. Everything's
going to be fine. I'm going to carry you out to the car now."
He leaned down, and Ray
grabbed his arm, remembering from when Hughie had carried him just how
bad that was going to hurt.. "Nuh-uh. Not carry."
sighed. "Ray, please, don't be difficult."
Ribs. Walk." He had a hard time talking around his swollen tongue.
He'd lost count of the times he'd bitten it.
seemed to get it finally. He looked at Ray, and nodded. "Can you
managed to roll sort of onto his hands and knees, and moaned as he moved,
hurting in places he hadn't even known he had. He'd been in fights before,
but this was different. Worse. At least in a fight you knew you'd given
as good as you'd gotten. Being held down and whaled on was not the same
thing at all. He tried to push himself into a sitting position, and
failed miserably, ending up with his face in the diesel-scented mat.
"Ray, can I
help? I . . . where can I touch you?"
turned his head enough to see Ben hovering over him, looking anxious.
Feeling a little like Indiana Jones on that ship with Marian, Ray pointed
at his upper arm. "There," he said, and grinned weakly.
He stopped that instantly. That hurt, too. Not too surprising, considering
how many times Vecchio had backhanded him across the mouth. He just
hoped he'd left a toothmarks on the guy's hand.
wrapped a hand cautiously around Ray's biceps, and with that help, when
he tried again he made it to his knees. A moment later Ben's arm slid
around his waist, and he forced himself up another stage, coming to his
feet unsteadily, shaking, trying not to let on that Ben's arm there really,
really hurt his ribs. Fortunately once he was on his feet the pressure
eased, and the pain receded back to a dull, throbbing ache. He felt
cold again, shivering even though sweat beaded on his face. He leaned
into Ben's strong, solid bulk, needing his warmth, his . . . presence.
He felt a slight tremor go through Ben and looked at him, saw his eyes
were worried, and troubled. He forced a smile, not caring if it hurt.
"'M good, 'sokay,"
troubled look deepened. "No, Ray, you're not good, and it's not
okay. I'm so, so sorry."
had a screw loose. What did he have to be sorry about? "Whaffor?"
he could reply, Welsh's gruff voice interrupted, startling both of them,
reminding them that there were other people around.
can't hang around here all night, Professor, let's get out of here."
Ben nodded. "Yes,
we're coming. It will be slow going."
got your back. Just make it as quick as you can."
seemed to take forever to reach the car, each step bringing a fresh surge
of pain through him as he had to lean into Ben's supporting arm. He just
concentrated on walking, on putting one foot in front of the other. Finally
they reached their transportation, a big blue Caddy. Welsh's car. Ray
had tuned it up often enough to know it on sight. He loved those big
old Detroit monsters. Classics. And way comfortable, he discovered
after Ben slid him into the seat. He hardly hurt at all. He leaned
his head back, closed his eyes. . . .
He startled awake, sitting
bolt upright, then collapsing back with a groan. Fuck, that hurt. Ben's
hand was warm on his shoulder.
at the hospital."
What happened to the warehouse? He blinked, looking around. No warehouse.
Brightly lit drive-up marked "Emergency." Okay. Somebody
must've invented the transporter.
me help you get out. We've got a chair for you."
chair? He looked past Ben, saw a big guy in blue pajamas there, holding
a wheelchair by its handles. He shook his head. No. No way. He wasn't
crippled, just beat up. Setting his jaw he tried to get out of the car,
nearly fell on his snoot, only to be caught by Ben who proceeded to pick
him up and put him in the chair like he was some kind of oversized baby.
Being picked up
made him feel like his ribs were in a vise, and he was too busy choking
back a scream to think of much of anything until he was through the foyer
and in a little curtained alcove with a paper-sheeted gurney in it.
A stuffed bear in a red-cross shirt sat on the tray off to one side,
and it made him wonder if there'd been a little kid in here before him.
He hoped not. Or if there had been, he hoped it was one of those things
like falling off a swing-set and spraining a wrist. Nothing worse.
They made him take off
his clothes. Okay, well, they were going to do it for him, but he put
a stop to that. In the end, since he couldn't quite manage it himself,
Ben had to do it and then help him get into one of those dumb nightie-things
without a back. Then they made Ben leave, so he had to be alone when
he was poked, prodded, and X-rayed. They wouldn't let Ben stay, even
though Ray managed to tell them he wanted him to stay. The nurse just
gave him a look like he was being a pain in the ass, and he got a sudden
inkling of what it must be like for gay couples, that whole next-of-kin
thing. It sucked. Then he almost laughed at himself for thinking about
'gay couples' like he wasn't part of one. God, there was a weird thought.
They put stitches
in the cut over his right cheekbone and his left eyebrow, and another
one behind his lip where his teeth had cut it badly. They taped his
ribs tight, which helped a lot. The shot of something that they gave
him helped even more. In fact, he was feeling almost human. A very
tired, sore human.
they were done with all the poking and naked stuff, and they let Ben
back in, along with the doctor who cheerfully informed him that he wasn't
going to die, even though he might feel like he was once the painkiller
wore off. He had a bunch of cracked ribs, more bruises and contusions
than they could count, a few loosened teeth that would probably be okay
but he should see a dentist to be sure. Somehow they hadn't managed
to break his nose, though it was swollen enough that it was hard to breathe,
and oh yeah, he was probably going to be peeing blood for a day or two
until his bruised kidneys recovered. Great.
The guy gave him a prescription for some serious painkillers and told
him he should go home and stay in bed for a week or so. He then proceeded
to give Ben, the designated caregiver, a detailed list of instructions
on the care and feeding of Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Finally they were
alone. Or as alone as they could be with nothing but a thin curtain
between them and the rest of the ER. Ben put his shoulders back, and
picked up Ray's jeans, holding them out.
you need help?"
thought about it, hated to admit it, but he sighed. "Yeah. Please."
Ben helped him step into
them, pulling them up his legs, fastening the first few buttons, leaving
the rest so they weren't overly tight on his bruises. He helped Ray
into his shirt, which was tattered, and missing buttons, but Ben somehow
managed to lap it over itself so it provided at least a little coverage
for his banged-up, bandaged body. That done, Ben knelt at his feet to
put on his shoes, tying them for him like he was a child. Finally he
stood, still not looking him in the face, and pulled the wheelchair around.
"If you'd be so
good as to sit down," Ben said evenly.
c'n walk, Ben," Ray protested.
believe it's hospital policy, Ray."
sighed. He just didn't have the energy to fight. He sat. Ben pushed
him out to the waiting room, where Welsh was waiting for them. He seemed
pleased to see them, and stood up immediately.
you doing there, Kowalski?"
live," Ray said, feeling embarrassed. "They're letting me go
home. Said I have to stay in bed for a while, though."
frowned. "You can't go home."
looked up, startled. "Howcome?"
the first place they'll look for you when they figure out you're gone."
He looked at Welsh.
"You really think they'll come back for me? I mean, what's the
point is you got away. They won't like that. It shows they screwed
about that. One thought led to another. None of them good. He suddenly
realized just how much trouble he was in, and had to fight the urge to
just break down and cry. He settled for swearing. "Oh, fuck."
Welsh sighed. "That
sums it up nicely. I hate to lose my best mechanic, Kowalski, but I'll
give you the glowingest letter of recommendation I can write."
Ray nodded. "Wonder
how far ten thou will take me?"
far. You might be able to start a shop of your own, once you settle
somewhere. Look, I'll go bring the car around, give me five minutes."
Ben nodded and the older
man left the two of them, mostly alone, save for a scattering of worried-looking
souls all waiting word on their respective loved ones.
me, I don't understand . . . ." Ben said, moving around to sit
where Welsh had been, looking at Ray, clearly puzzled.
sighed. "I can't go home, Ben."
understand that, you can stay with me until you're feeling better, I'll
even get an air conditioner."
shook his head, gingerly, not wanting to hurt himself. "No, you
don't understand. I can't go home. Ever. I pissed off a mob guy, then
made him look bad by getting away. I go home, I'm dead. I go back to
work, I'm dead. And I don't want to be dead, so I better start looking
for a new place to live, and a new place to work, preferably someplace
real far away from Chicago."
face went dead white. He was always pale but this was. . . different.
He looked about ready to pass out. And he still wouldn't look Ray in
the eyes. Ray had had enough. He didn't know what was wrong but he
knew damned well something was.
The single syllable seemed
to hit Ben like a blow. He actually jerked a little, and finally his
gaze lifted to Ray's, his gaze tortured and dark. "I'm sorry, Ray,
sighed. Back to this. "What for?"
"This is all my
fault. . . if I hadn't taunted him, hadn't allowed myself to . . . ."
Ray had heard enough.
"Benton Robert Fraser," he said, surprising himself that he
managed to actually say every syllable clearly. Geez, he sounded so
much like his dad it was scary. "Get this through your head. Vecchio
hates me. Has since the day we met. It wasn't your fault."
Ben was silent, then
he sighed. "But, Ray, Jack Huey even said you were taken because
Vecchio couldn't find me."
sighed. "It was just an excuse, Ben. I figured it out, see. He
came over with that damned car hoping to pick a fight. He's doing this
like some kind of . . . mating thing, like you see on Discover. Proving
to Stella that he's better than me. He'd have found some excuse to do
it, no matter what. He thinks I'm like. . . a threat."
thought about that, and a trace of color started to return to his face.
"He did seem to be quite . . . belligerent from the moment he walked
into the garage."
was. See, I know this guy, Ben, and I know he was just trying to get
to me. So like I said, not your fault. Vecchio's fault, from start
to finish. You didn't do anything wrong. You saved my life. And that
goose thing was pretty damned funny." He smiled, and tentatively,
but clearly, Ben smiled back at him.
was rather amusing, wasn't it?"
bet. And I'm still not sure how you did it, how you got Welsh, and Levon,
and Frannie, and Vecchio's guy, and even fuckin' 'Dre Volpe to help me
out, but I know you're the only person who'd have figured out a way,
so I owe you, Doc. I owe you bigtime."
owe me nothing, Ray. Nothing at all. If anything had happened to you.
. . ." A shiver shook his solid frame hard enough for even Ray
to see, and suddenly he was on his feet, moving behind the chair. "Mr.
Welsh should be waiting by now. Let's go on out."
nodded, suddenly feeling the strain catching up to him. He could barely
keep his eyes open.
* * *
"Benton? Dr. Fraser?"
How odd. They seemed
to be having an earthquake. Ben blinked owlishly up at the gaunt, yet
oddly cheerful, visage of his department chair and wondered why he seemed
so calm about it. Then he realized that there was no earthquake; he
was being shaken gently by the shoulder. An embarrassed blush heated
his face and he sat up, hoping his tweed jacket didn't show the spot
where he'd been drooling on his arm in his sleep. He ran a hand through
his hair and tried to act alert.
Gustafsen, forgive me, I. . . ."
man waved a hand dismissively as he sat down in the creaky wooden chair
across the desk from Ben. "It's all right, Benton. I've just been
concerned about you, as have some of your students. A couple of them
have commented to me that you don't seem at all yourself, that you've
seemed rather tense, and overtired. I thought I should come and check
on you myself. Is everything all right?"
sorry, sir. I. . . I'm fine, really," Ben lied, wincing inside,
knowing he was, as Ray would say, about as convincing as a prostitute
at a prom.
frowned, the expression startling on his normally amiable face. "Please,
I dislike lies, and you're quite a terrible liar. Really, Benton, if
you can't do a thing well, what's the point in doing it? Now, would
you like to tell me what's wrong? I realize this job hasn't been easy
for you, but I hadn't thought it was that difficult."
sir, it's not that at all! No, the job has been fine, though I will
admit that the department politics have been a little wearing at times.
Still, it's really quite fine. It's not that."
then? Is it about that job? My friend is quite sincere, you know.
He would love to have you. I have a letter of recommendation on my computer
just waiting for your word so I can print it."
sir, it's not that either. It's entirely . . . personal."
his superior breathed, studying him closely. "A matter of the heart,
felt his face heating, and struggled to contain his reaction. "In
. . . a manner of speaking. Emotions are involved."
older man sighed. "Are you going to make me dig for this, Benton?
You can trust me, Benton. There's nothing you can tell me that would
shock me, I've heard it all in my day, from the worst to the best."
He tugged the sleeve of his linen suit-jacket up a little bit, and turned
his forearm upward.
saw the faint blue-green letters and numbers inked into his skin, and
for a moment he couldn't understand what he was being shown. Then he
made the connection, and he stared, shocked.
lord! Dr. Gustafsen . . . ."
don't you call me Mort, Benton? Dr. Gustafsen is such a mouthful,"
the older man pushed his sleeve back down, covering the tattoo.
Ben lifted his eyes to
the lively blue ones that gazed back at him, and nodded. "I would
be proud to do so, sir," he said seriously. "I mean, Mort."
Mort beamed. "Good.
Good. Now, would you like to talk to me about your. . . situation?
I promise you that whatever it is, it shall go no further."
Ben sighed. I'm sorry,
sir. You see, a friend of mine was. . . injured, and I've been caring
for him during my off hours. It's taking more of a toll than I'd thought."
"There, that wasn't
so difficult, was it?" Mort said, looking satisfied. "Now
if you would tell me why you felt compelled to lie about such an admirable
undertaking, I would be pleased to hear it."
important that. . . certain persons. . . not find my friend. I suppose
I've gotten into the habit of choosing my words carefully."
His gazed at him thoughtfully,
his fingers steepled on the desk. "These certain people, would
they happen to be law enforcement officers?"
sir!" Ben exclaimed, aghast. "In fact, just the opposite."
"Ah, good. I had
thought I'd read you right. So your friend is in some sort of trouble?"
It occurred to Ben to
wonder why on earth was he being so forthcoming. Perhaps it was simply
that Dr. Gustafsen seemed so fatherly, and kind. He supposed axe murderers
could appear to be fatherly and kind, but the man had always been kind
to him, had always made an extra effort to offset his colleagues unpleasantness.
He had a gut instinct that the man was just what he seemed, and the revelation
about his past only served to reinforce that belief. He usually trusted
his instincts, and with one notable exception they had served him well.
And that one exception had been female, which was rather like being an
entirely different species.
there anything I can do to help?" the older man asked, still looking
"Not unless you can provide armed security for him for the next
week or two."
it truly that bad?"
. . . could be," Ben said reluctantly. "Ray thinks I'm worrying
unnecessarily, but I do believe his life is in danger, yes."
"And he's staying
is. Which is part of the problem. My neighborhood is rather . . . well,
it's inexpensive. And the people who are looking for Ray tend to frequent
such areas, and some of the people who live there wouldn't be averse
to earning a little extra money by answering questions."
see." Mort tapped his fingertips together, then looked up. "You
know, I live in a gated community with restricted access. I have a large
house, and since my children grew up and moved away, and my wife passed
on, I have far too much room and no one to fill it."
looked at him, wondering if he was hearing correctly. "Sir?"
"Mort, not sir.
I realize that it's not exactly armed security, but it's not far removed,
and I should be quite pleased if you, and your friend, were to come
for a visit."
jaw dropped. "But. . . you don't even know him!"
know you, Benton Fraser, and that is good enough for me."
* * *
Ben's boss, Mort, was
a kind of a cool old guy, even if he did go around singing opera a lot.
Ray could deal with that, since he was mooching off him bigtime. He
put down his magazine, sat back in the armchair, looking out at the manicured
lawn and brilliant flowers outside the window. He could get used to
this life, way too easily. Better not, though. It wasn't going to last.
As soon as he was healed up enough, he had to start figuring out how
to get a new life. Where to go, what to do, how to get there. He sighed,
pushing away the nagging certainty that whatever he did, he was going
to have to do it alone. No Ben. That was the worst part of it
all, and he couldn't even blame Vecchio for that one.
Kowalski, can I get you anything?"
startled a little, then relaxed. It was just Mort's housekeeper.
"No thanks, Mrs.
Karlz, I'm good. And it's just Ray, okay?"
couldn't get over it. The guy had a housekeeper. A real, honest-to-god
housekeeper. Even though she was older and kind of thin and elegant
instead of rounded and homey, she reminded Ray a little bit of his mom.
At first Ray had been kind of uncomfortable around her because he was
making more work for her, but she just smiled and said she'd missed having
more people around, and she didn't mind. She fussed over him, making
sure he had soft things to eat the first few days, until his teeth and
tongue healed up, and bringing him treats because he was 'too skinny'
which made him laugh because that was like his mom, too. Dief adored
her, because she snuck him treats when Ben wasn't around.
been with the family forever, since the kids were little, and Ray was
pretty sure that sometime after Mrs. G. had passed on, she and Dr. G.
had started fooling around on the sly. He wasn't sure why he thought
that, because they were very proper around him and Ben, but he just had.
. . a feeling. Of course, he might be reading things in, because he
was getting kind of frustrated. He . . . missed Ben. And they didn't
have much longer together. But here they were in separate bedrooms with
a very proper older couple in residence, one of whom also happened to
be Ben's boss for a few more days. And even if they couldn't do anything,
he was still able to touch, to hold. He sighed.
"Yeah, Mrs. K?"
he said, looking at her, finding her gazing at him with a speculative
expression on her face.
I'm to call you Ray then you must call me Gladys. Tell me, how are you
every day," he said, mustering a smile for her.
look tired, are you sleeping all right? I thought I heard you up last
night, quite late."
shot her a speculative look right back. What had she been doing up at
that hour? Still, he wasn't going to lie. "Yeah. I've been having
a little trouble. Keep waking up, think I'm back in that warehouse."
She nodded sagely. "I
thought as much. Do you think it would help if someone were to be in
the room with you?"
stared at her. "Someone?"
smiled. "Yes. You know, I was thinking we could move you to the
green room, where David and Jonathan used to sleep before they moved
away. There are two double beds in there. I'm sure Professor Fraser
wouldn't mind sharing the room with you, to help you sleep, of course."
He stared some more.
She looked back with determinedly innocent eyes.
think Professor Fraser has been having trouble sleeping too, you know.
I'm an old woman, and I don't sleep much these days, and I've heard him
up, too. Maybe he's having nightmares as well."
Was she saying what he thought she was saying? He and Ben hadn't so
much as patted each other's shoulders since they'd been here, so how
could she have figured it out? And if she had figured it out why was
she being so . . . cool about it? Old ladies weren't supposed to be
cool about things like that. He cleared his throat.
uh, well. . . I dunno. I guess we'd have to ask Ben."
smiled and patted his hand. "Why don't you do that, dear? It won't
take a moment to get the room ready. And I do so hate to think of you
two having trouble . . . sleeping. You're such lovely boys."
Boys? Before he could
protest, she patted his hand. "I have cookies in the oven I need
to check on. I think I heard Professor Fraser's jeep a few moments ago,
I'm sure he'll be right in."
left him there, wondering, still. He was still wondering when Ben came
in a few moments later, with a box in his arms which he put down on the
floor next to Ray's chair. Kneeling, he studied Ray's face.
Ray. You're looking better today."
better today," he said. "First time in days I'm not peeing
"Good. That has to be reassuring. Mrs. Karlz said you wanted to
ask me something?"
yeah. What's in the box?" Ray asked, procrastinating.
compact discs. Levon brought them by today. He and the other mechanics
have pretty much finished moving your things to storage above the garage
but he thought you might want these."
I have to admit I'm getting a little tired of opera."
suspected you might be.
Vecchio been around looking for me?"
apparently he's still . . . away."
away. What Ben meant was he and Stella were on their honeymoon, but
he was too careful of Ray's feelings to say it.
tells me that there is something called a 'turf war' heating up between
Volpe and Vecchio," Ben said, changing the subject, marginally.
Ray frowned. "Not
good. Folks could get hurt."
their decision to make, Ray. It's their culture."
helped me out. Don't want him to get hurt."
chosen a lifestyle which makes that unlikely. Remember, he chose to
help us for his own reasons."
Any other fallout? Frannie okay? Huey?"
what I understand, Agent Huey is nearly finished with his undercover
assignment, and with Francesca's assistance has gathered quite a bit
of material which will be used in bringing racketeering charges against
Vecchio and his organization. I believe that Francesca is planning to
enter the witness protection program. She has already filed for divorce."
Ray stared at him, shocked.
"Frannie? Divorced? Zuko's gonna kill her!"
don't believe Agent Huey plans to allow that," Ben said with a slight
Like he's gonna have twenty-four hour guard duty over her or what?"
The smile broadened.
"I do believe they've already established that."
He got it, finally. Ben was being subtle. "Frannie and Huey? Oooohkay.
Now that's one I wouldn't have thought of. He is a big, good-looking
guy, though, and she goes for that. And if it gets her away from Zuko,
that's cool." He thought for a moment, analyzing how this affected
him, and realized it didn't. "Gonna take time, though, for the
racketeering thing to come through. And even if it does, there's no
guarantee he'll go down."
there's not," Ben agreed solemnly.
I still gotta scram," he said, and sighed.
would be wise."
nodded. Looked out the window. He'd lived in Chicago all his life.
It was going to be hard to just pick up stakes and move. Alone. He
closed his eyes.
I . . . ." Ben stopped.
couldn't look at him. He knew what would show in his eyes. "Yeah,
you . . . would you . . . like to rest?"
he didn't think that had been what Ben was going to say. He faked a
yawn. "Yeah. Kinda tired. Oh, um. Gladys wants to know if we
want to change rooms."
She says we could take the boys' room, there's two beds there."
Ray could almost feel
the intensity of Ben's gaze. "Why would she have suggested that?"
"Guess she heard
me up, after I had a nightmare last night. Wondered if it would help
for me to have somebody there."
having nightmares? Why didn't you tell me?"
not a big deal. I can handle it okay."
course you can handle it by yourself, Ray, but you should have told me."
"I just did. So,
uh, do you want to?"
put his hand on Ray's arm, squeezing lightly. "Do you want me to?"
Ray finally looked at
him. "What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I do! Damn
it, Ben, I've missed you!"
blushed. "I've missed you as well. But I thought. . . it would
be best to be circumspect here."
well, Gladys thinks we're both having trouble sleeping and it would be
good if we did something about that."
eyes widened. "She said that?"
grinned, enjoying the shock on Ben's face. "Yeah."
blush on Ben's face deepened. "She . . . knows?"
shrugged. "Got me. Could be she means just what she says. After
all, there are two beds."
expression of relief on Ben's face was amusing. He cleared his throat.
"So there are. Well, if you think it would be all right. . . ."
'all right' does not begin to cover it. I . . . need it. Need
you. I don't mean. . . ." he felt his own face getting a little
hot as he tried to find the right words. "I don't mean we have
to . . . do stuff. I just want you to be there, be close."
"As do I. I'll
move my things. And yours, as well."
can . . . ." Ray said, trying to sit forward, wincing.
Ben said sternly shifting his hand to Ray's shoulder to gently press
him back into the chair. "You are recuperating." He picked
up the box of CDs and set it on Ray's lap. "Why don't you choose
couldn't very well move with a box of CDs on his lap, and Ben knew it.
"Sneaky Canadian," he muttered as Ben stood and walked toward
American," Ben returned evenly.
grinned, and started pawing through the jewel cases, looking for something
he could listen to that wouldn't send the other inhabitants of the house
running for cover. He settled for Sinatra, figuring he couldn't go wrong
there. And Billie Holiday for the next slot in the changer, but had
to wait for Ben to come back and take the box off his lap before he could
put them in though. It was pretty sad how much better he was feeling
all the sudden, just because he was going to get to sleep in the same
room as Ben. He was such a pussy sometimes. He grinned at himself and
shook his head.
are you smiling about, young man?" Gladys asked, coming into the
room with a tray that held a plate with cookies, and two glasses of milk.
He couldn't exactly tell
her, so he held up the CDs. "Ben brought my music."
put the tray down on the coffee table and took the cases from him, smiling.
"Oh, my, lovely. You have good taste. I haven't heard these in
years. Morten is just so dedicated to his opera. I'll put them in for
can. . . ."
just sit. You need to conserve your strength."
what, he wondered. "You and Ben are conspiring against me,"
we are, dear," she said, her back to him as she put in his CDs and
laughed. "Okay, so conspire to get Ben in here to get this box
off me. I can't reach the cookies."
you decide about the rooms?"
tried, he really tried not to blush. "Yeah. Ben's moving his stuff."
She beamed. "Wonderful.
I'll just go make up the beds."
She shooed at him with
her hands. "Go on with you now. Don't be silly. It's just practical.
You both need your rest."
chuckled as he watched her walk away, and sniffed, trying to tell what
sort of cookies she'd left. Didn't smell like chocolate chip. Too spicy.
He heard Ben talking to Gladys in the hall, voices, no words, then Ben
was coming into the room, looking a little red. He sniffed. Looked around.
Spotted the cookies, and smiled at them the way he usually smiled at
Ray when he was getting ready to pounce.
he said in a voice that nearly made Ray hard. He filed that fact. Ben
liked gingersnaps. A lot.
felt a little jealous. Of cookies, for God's sake. This was getting
bad. It was a good thing they were going to get some alone-time tonight.
"Hey, would you put this box over by the stereo for me?" he
took the box, and carried it over to the stereo, setting it down there.
As he did, Ray managed to lean forward far enough to grab the plate of
cookies, even though it made his ribs hurt like hell to do it. Putting
the plate in his lap, he covered it with the magazine he'd been reading.
He was still wincing when Ben turned back.
you all right, Ray?"
fine. Just a little twinge."
sure," he said, and settled back to wait. He didn't have to wait
long. Ben stretched, rolled his shoulders, and turned to look at the
coffee table. He frowned. Looked puzzled. He glanced at Ray, who managed
to gaze back at him innocently, the residual pain in his ribs helping
a lot. Ben frowned some more. By which time Ray was having a hideous
time not cracking up. He slipped his fingers under the magazine, snagged
a cookie, teased it out from under the pages.
for something, Ben?" he queried casually, holding up the cookie
as if he were contemplating taking a bite.
turned back to him, saw the cookie. "Where did you. . . ."
"You want this?"
Ray asked, the same way he'd ask Dief.
crossed his arms, looking at him with narrowed eyes. "What are
you up to?"
asking. If you don't want it . . . ." he moved it toward his mouth.
"I didn't say
that," Ben said.
stopped. "No, you didn't. Didn't say you did, either."
"I assume I have
to do something in exchange?"
grinned. "Smart. That's how come you've got all the letters after
your name, right?"
my grandmother once said, book-learning only takes one so far. Name
want a kiss."
eyes widened. "Ray, we can't. Not here."
G's not home, Gladys is making beds, why not?"
. . . ."
took a nibble of the cookie. It was still warm, sweetly spicy with the
hot bite of ginger. "Mmmm. How bad you want it, Ben?"
"Ray, it's not seemly."
"Fuck seemly, Benton
Fraser. You want this cookie as bad as I want you?"
saw the heat rise in those blue eyes, saw them darken, saw the tongue
slide out to flicker across his lips. Unconsciously he echoed that,
moistening his own lips.
the cookie, Ray Kowalski," Ben said huskily, and before Ray could
recover from the shock, Ben was there, bending down, his mouth hot and
hard and wet against his own.
Yeah. That was what he needed. Wanted. Craved. Touch. Any touch.
Especially this touch. Mouth like wet satin, moving on his, hands buried
in his hair, stroking. He reached up, curving his fingers around the
back of Ben's neck, holding him. He couldn't do much more, just lifting
his arms made his ribs hurt, but, God, it was worth it. The kiss softened,
the edge of desperation fading, gentled, sweetened. Finally Ben pulled
back, breathing heavily. He looked down at Ray's lap and the corners
of his mouth quirked upward.
that a plate of cookies in your lap or are you just happy to see me?"
he asked, his voice husky and amused.
laughed out loud, then moaned, holding his ribs. "Damn, Ben. I
didn't know you had it in you."
Ray, I haven't had it in me recently, which is something I'd very much
like to remedy as soon as possible."
it . . . Ray's mouth dropped open as he stared up at Ben in surprise.
"Whoa, I've created a monster!"
grinned. "No, Ray, that would be you."
flashed into his face as he realized what Ben meant. "Jesus, you
know I hate that."
shrugged and grinned. A noise in the hallway brought him upright, and
he took a step back, automatically smoothing his hair as Gladys came
into the room.
forgot to tell you boys, Morten and I have tickets to the opera tonight,
and I'm leaving in a little while to go into town and join him for dinner.
There's leftover grilled chicken from last night in the refrigerator,
one assumes you can do something with that without instruction?"
Ben nodded. "Of
course, we'll fend for ourselves. I hope you two have an enjoyable evening."
"I fully intend
to. And you two enjoy your evening as well. Play some loud music and
dance in your undershorts or. . . something."
grinned at the puzzled expression on Ben's face. He'd have to explain
later. They hadn't gotten around to 'Risky Business' on movie night.
"We will, Gladys. Mind if we run an escort service out of this
laughed. "Not at all. Just be sure to clean up before we get home."
* * *
to drive Gladys to her rendezvous but she declined, saying that taxi
rides always made her feel delightfully decadent. Almost as soon as
the door closed behind her, Ray was in the kitchen, right behind him,
arms wrapped around him, cheek against his shoulder, holding him, though
not tightly. It would be some time before he could do that. He put
down the lettuce he'd been shredding for salads and put his wet hands
over Ray's where they rested on his belly, absorbing the feel of him,
the smell of him. God, he'd missed this.
I missed this," Ray said against his neck.
shivered a little. "I was just thinking that very thing."
"No surprise there.
It's the first time we've gotten to touch in days." His hands moved,
fingers flexing, finding, pulling Ben's t-shirt out of his jeans. "Skin.
He understood that. Though he should resist, he didn't, and a moment
later those long fingers were on his belly, stroking a little. The water
from Ben's hands made them feel cool and a little damp, and they were
anything but soothing. He pulled them away from himself, and turned
to take Ray's face between his hands, and kiss him. He was still rather
battered, but healed enough for that, at least. After a moment Ray drew
that, too. Funny, you'd think I could go a few days without it, considering
how long it's been since . . . well, you know."
easy to get accustomed to something . . . to someone." Ben said.
"Ray, we need to talk."
looked at him, his eyes suddenly shadowed. He sighed, and stepped back,
turning away, fidgeting with one of the kitchen chairs. "Yeah.
Been waiting for that. We kind of got. . . interrupted."
we did. Have you thought about where you're going to go, once you're
took a deep breath, winced, and shook his head. "No. Not really.
Never been anyplace but here. My folks are in Arizona, but Stella knows
that, so Vecchio would know that too, and we're not close so there's
no point in that. Don't like the heat anyway. Guess I'll just get out
an map, close my eyes, and point. Gotta find somewhere else to be."
Well, that was good,
sort of. If Ray didn't have a definite destination in mind yet, he might
be more amenable to what Ben was going to suggest. "Have you ever
been to Washington?"
looked at him as if he'd lost his mind. "Washington? Nope, well,
not since I was a kid. It was boring. Museums, the White House, the
Washington Monument. It's hot, dirty, and the crime rate's astronomical,
and that's just counting the senators and congresspeople."
Wrong Washington. "I meant Washington state, not the District of
Well, no. Hadn't thought about it. Hadn't thought about anyplace, really.
told it's really quite nice. Rather like southern British Columbia.
Mountains, ocean, temperate climate."
yeah, land of the free, home of the Starbucks. I get it. Yeah, it's
probably nice. You thinking about a vacation?"
no, it's . . . I've. . . ah. . . ."
got a point?"
a job Dr. Gustafsen told me about in Cascade, Washington. It's a two-year
looked confused. "Hang on, I thought you were going back to Canada.
was, but this opportunity is much better, and . . . it's in the United
Ray said slowly. "And that makes a difference how?"
you see, even after NAFTA it's much more difficult for someone from the
US to live and work in Canada than it is for someone from Canada to work
starting to look annoyed. He pulled out a chair, turned it around, and
sat down in it backward, his arms crossed along its back. "Yeah,
I got that last time we had this talk. Okay Ben, could you maybe back
up and explain what the hell you're saying, in grade-school terms for
frowned. "Ray, you're not a dummy."
I sure as hell feel like one right now."
bit his lip. This wasn't working. He was saying all the wrong things,
or not saying enough things. Ray stared at him steadily, unblinking and
Ben cracked his neck, once. "I . . . ."
it out, Ben."
applied for the job the day after the. . . incident. I just heard back
today. I got it. And, I. . . well, I thought. . . his gaze went to
the wooden floor, as if it held mysteries, or perhaps the answer he wanted
to hear and dreaded. "I thought perhaps, since you have to move
anyway, that you might be interested in. . . Washington."
silence lengthened. He could feel Ray's eyes boring into him and he started
to feel a little sick. He should have found a better way to ask; his
hesitancy undoubtedly sounded less than flattering . . . and there was
always the awful possibility that Ray wouldn't understand, wouldn't know
how much courage it took to ask, how much his assent meant to Ben, that
Ray would think he didn't really want . . . . Ray interrupted, finally,
his spiraling panic. "Ben, did you just ask me to move to Washington
he said, his voice coming out a whisper.
silence. Then; "You applied for this job four days ago?"
Ben nodded, relieved
that they were talking but unable to gauge Ray's reaction from his voice,
which sounded curiously flat. "Yes. I faxed my application, and
did an interview by phone, and another via satellite link. After what
you and Mr. Welsh said, about you not being able to stay in Chicago.
. . ."
didn't think I might want to know about that four days ago?" Ray
interrupted, his voice no longer flat but definitely not happy.
Ben felt a clenching
in his gut and scrambled to explain. "I wasn't sure it would come
through. There were no guarantees. I didn't want to raise false hopes."
chair scraped against the floor as Ray lurched to his feet, fists clenched.
The clenching in his
gut twisted again, harder. "Ray, I . . . ."
held up a hand, shaking his head. "No. No, it's my turn now.
You usually do all the talking, but now I have to. How can you ask me
to do this, to go with you? Why would I do that, when you don't trust
me? No. No, been there, done that, bought the t-shirt, burned it and
scattered the ashes. I can't do it again."
turned, and was gone from the kitchen before Ben could translate the
colloquialism into something he understood. He shook his head distractedly
and followed Ray immediately. He found Ray back in the living room,
kneeling beside his box of CDs, apparently intent on finding a particular
one. Ben stood near him, uncertainly, waiting for him to finish, to look
up. Eventually it became clear he wasn't going to. He cleared his throat.
Still no reaction. He fought for words, which usually came so easily
to him, but in the end all he could think to say was, "I do trust
you, Ray." He said it quietly, barely audible over the clattering
of the CD cases. "Implicitly."
continued to sort through CD cases for a moment, but finally he looked
up, his gaze level, his jaw clenched. They stared at each other for a
moment and then Ray said, quietly too, "What kind of trust is it
when you leave me in the dark about the important things, Ben?"
"I-- just wanted
to spare you . . . ."
shook his head. "No, Ben. Trust isn't sparing. Trust is telling.
And if you can't see that, if you can't understand that, if you don't
trust me enough to tell me everything, good or bad, then there's just
no point in even trying. And if you can't figure out that I'd rather
know than not know. . . " he shook his head. "I just don't
know how to say it. I can't say it so you'll understand." He lifted
his hands, then let them fall to his thighs in an eloquent expression
exploded through Ben, making him ache with the clarity of the vision.
First he had failed to tell Ray that he would have to leave until the
event was nearly on them. Adding insult to injury, he'd finally confessed
it the same week that Ray's ex-wife was to marry the man with whom she'd
been unfaithful. Even if Ray no longer loved her as he once had, that
had been painful nonetheless. On top of that mental pain Ray had endured
the physical pain of a brutal beating out of loyalty and care. . . for
Ben, then on its heels realized he must leave the security of his home,
and job, and friends, simply in order to live.
in the midst of that, Ben, who supposedly cared for him, had left him
totally in the dark about the one thing that might have made it all a
little easier to bear. Ray was right, absolutely right. He had not
trusted him. Every time he'd had a problem, he'd tried to deal with it
on his own, without involving Ray, because that was how he had always
done it, what he knew. Or perhaps it wasn't Ray he didn't trust. Yes.
He could feel the certainty of that deep in his bones. That was it.
not you," he admitted in a whisper.
looked up at him, puzzled. "What?"
me. I don't trust myself. After. . . Victoria, I don't trust myself,
my own judgment. I don't trust my ability to give what's needed, to
make someone . . . want me."
sighed, shaking his head. "Ben. Benton Fraser. No. You can't
make someone want you. It either happens, or it doesn't, and no amount
of trying will force it. But that isn't our problem, Ben, you know that.
I trust you. You need to trust me, and trust yourself. You're not stupid.
Yeah, you got burned, but you learned, too. Right?"
. . .like to think I've learned."
Ben asked, suddenly feeling lost, almost despairing. That was the problem,
right there between them, a raw, open wound. Show him. He couldn't.
He didn't know how. Never had. Probably never would. He shook his
head, backing away. "I'm sorry, Ray. I don't. . . I don't . .
. know how." He turned away, fighting tears, thinking he should
probably go pack up his things and go back to his apartment. Ray wouldn't
want him to stay here now. He took a step toward the hall that led to
Ray's voice stopped
him. He sounded irritated, but also strangely amused.
it, no. No." The word was said firmly, no quarter given. "There
you go again. That's exactly what you've got to not do! You just gotta
talk to me. Tell me things!" Ray's voice softened suddenly. "That's
all it takes, Ben. That's all."
made a soft sound then, clearly in pain, and Ben turned to find him struggling
to get to his feet. Immediately he held out his hands and helped Ray
up. Ray shook his head.
I feel like I'm eighty," he complained, then looked into Ben's face,
his expression an odd mixture of anger, exasperation, and affection.
"Look Ben, you want me to come with you, I'll come, in a heartbeat,
but you know it's going to be work," he said, startlingly solemn.
"It's not all fun, not all roses. It's got to be sharing, everything.
Everything. Hopes. Disappointments. All of it. Not just the good
stuff. Tried that once, it doesn't work. Has to be everything. You
got that? 'Cause if you don't, this won't work. It'll be hard enough
as it is, you know we're gonna be freaks. But sharing is caring and
caring is sharing and you can't cut me out because you don't want to
upset me. Understand? For four days, I could have been worrying with
you, hoping with you, and instead you do it all yourself. That's not
buddies, Benton Fraser, and it's sure as hell not lo. . . um, more."
Ray stopped suddenly and looked at the floor, his face flushed, his mouth
his mouth open slightly in amazement as he realized what Ray had almost
just said, before something had stopped him. Probably the same feeling
of fear and social inappropriateness that had stopped Ben from saying
it at least half a dozen times. "Ray? You . . . love. . .?"
he couldn't finish the question.
looked up again, through his lashes, obviously embarrassed, endearingly
awkward, but, as always, honest. "Yeah."
God. That rocked him to the core. He had never thought to hear those
words, had thought probably those words weren't meant for him . . . and
then, another gift, another example of trust, from Ray, and the combination
made them sweeter than he'd ever imagined. But he knew that look, that
tentative, almost fearful look. Had felt it in himself, so often.
And that look he could do something about. He knew how and what to say,
even if he'd never said it before. "I . . . I love you, as well,
face lit with a smile that made Ben reach out and pull him close, holding
him carefully, with his injured ribs in mind. Ray stood in his embrace
for a moment, then pulled away, a serious, intent expression on his face.
"Love's a lot,
Ben, but I know from experience it isn't always enough. I gotta know
you heard me. From here on out, we share, right? Everything. Good and
to swallow around the lump in his throat before he could speak, but he
nodded. "Yes. Good and bad."
looked at him for a long moment, then he grinned, and shook his head.
"Right. Like I believe that. But I know you'll try, and that's
what I need. Need to know you'll try. I'm tough, Ben. I can take a
lot. Don't treat me like a chick, okay?"
image that sprang into Ben's head at that comment made him grin. "Trust
me, Ray, I would never, ever, think of you in that context."
Ray grinned back, and
winked. "Good. That's good. 'Cause, y'know, I just don't have
the legs for mini-skirts."
he managed to stop laughing, Ben found his voice again. "Ray, you
know, it's sometimes quite unnerving how much alike we seem to think.
It's almost as if you're . . . ." He paused, groped for a non-technical
head?" Ray asked, softly. At Ben's surprised look, he nodded.
"Yeah. I get that. Feel that way with you, sometimes. Like, we
got a . . . connection. It's not like we're singing the same part, but
kind of like we're two parts of the same song. A-- whattayacallit, a
grinned back, sheepishly. "Yeah. I, um, sometime get a little
mushy. . . "
would say, rather, romantic. And I like it."
do?" Ray's disbelief was patent.
nodded. "I haven't had much. . . experience with that."
Ray studied him for a
moment, then started to grin. "Oh, Ben, you so should not have
told me that."
shouldn't? Why not?"
just continued to grin. "No reason. None at all."
eyed him narrowly. "Why do I have a bad feeling about this?"
a suspicious sort. Can I ask you one more thing?"
can ask me anything."
come before you were all committed to going to Vancouver for that job,
but now you'll take a different one?"
looked at him steadily. "Because you mean more to me than a job.
Before. . . well, I've learned not to assume that just because I feel
a certain way that the feeling is mutual. My own desire to continue
our relationship, to offer you a commitment, seemed presumptuous in light
of the fact that you had expressed no sentiments that might have led
me to believe you felt similarly."
frowned for a moment. Then Ben saw understanding spread across his face
and his gaze dropped, his expressive mouth turning down at the corners.
"I'm sorry, Ben. I should've said. I knew you'd been burned.
I should've said sooner how I felt. My fault."
shook his head. "No, Ray, there is no fault here," he said
vehemently "We both have understandable reasons why we would be
reluctant to express our feelings openly. And I must confess that, at
the time, I was simply . . . afraid. . . to speak up. I made an assumption
that should you desire another long-term relationship, it, like your
first, would most likely be with a woman, not a man."
grinned. "Yeah, well, I have to admit that it wasn't exactly on
my list of things I figured would happen to me, but . . ." he shrugged,
"it did. And I'm glad it did. So I guess we were both coming from
the same place. We wanted more but were afraid to ask."
nodded, and Ray smiled. "Ben?"
got it. Now, when do we eat?"
soon as I finish making the salads, why? Are you in a hurry?"
Ray grinned, and kissed
him briefly, then stepped back. "Yeah. Sooner we eat, sooner we
can go to bed."
frowned. "Ray, are you sure you're up to . . . ."
know I'm a mess," Ray said ruefully. "We don't have to. .
. do anything. I probably couldn't do much of anything even if I wanted
to, the way my ribs are. I just want to, need to, be with you again.
I . . . miss you."
missed you as well, Ray," Ben said, reaching out to pull him close
in a careful embrace. "Very much."
stood, leaning into each other for a moment, and then Ray sighed.
"No, are you?"
stood a moment longer and then Ray pulled away a little, looking at him.
Ben nodded, a smile shaping his mouth. Ray grinned and they headed for
* * * finis * * *
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