Ray shouted and threw out his arms, laughing. “Damn, but it’s beautiful here.”
Fraser turned, wincing with hope. “You think so, Ray?”
Ray met his eyes, understanding everything. “Yeah. It’s growing on me. Still nothing compared to civilization, you understand.”
“Of course, Ray.”
“But it’s not bad.”
Green eyes smiled. “Yeah…Benny?”
“You told me I was a ‘little out of it’ at the clinic, and that I said some things that were not entirely appropriate, but nothing that should cause me concern.”
“You told me Constable Davenport didn’t seem interested in reporting our relationship to anyone.”
“Yeah. She’s all right.”
“You said nothing about how I told you how beautiful you are, or that I blackmailed you for kisses.”
Ray’s eyes had gone wide. “How did you –“
“I remembered two nights ago. I dreamed it, actually. Then when I woke up I realized it hadn’t been a dream. I’m afraid my comportment must have been most distressing to Constable Davenport. I would apologize to her, except that such an apology would be likely only to cause her more discomfort.”
“You are beautiful, Ray.”
Ray looked ready to object, then shot him a little smile that made his heart race. “Last time you waited until I was naked to say that, if you remember.”
“I do remember, Ray. I also remember that despite my objections, you got dressed too soon.”
Ray’s smile never wavered as he shrugged out of the gray flannel shirt, looked around, then walked the few steps to their make-shirt workbench and draped it over a roughly hewn board. He peeled off his undershirt, then got out of his boots, his socks, his pants, and then, slowly, his black briefs.
Benny made no moves, nothing to distract him from the still-unexpected sweetness of Ray’s trust and desire for him. He knew his body was swaying just slightly, rocking with the ripples of heat through his body.
In just a few of his wildest moments of sexuality before had Ray allowed him into his arms, he had known what it was to be lost. It had frightened him, thrilled him, fascinated and enthralled him, much to his sorrow. This feeling, now, in his body, he had known before only at the cost of himself, whether with Victoria or…yes, that moment on the train, with Meg.
Everyone he had ever loved, with the possible exception of his dimly remembered mother, had insisted that he love them only on their own terms. His father would take a handshake, not a hug. Girls he’d tried to woo, awkwardly, hesitantly, as a youth had thrown down challenges for mere kisses: from telling him to stand up to that otter-swinging bully to scoring the winning point in a hockey match. Victoria had claimed his soul. Meg had demanded his patient obedience.
Only Ray…only his sweet Ray would allow him to make demands, to take and give control in equal measure. Only a few days ago Benny had offered himself up like a prize, and had been claimed in a way that still made his toes curl to contemplate. But Ray wasn’t interested in ownership. Ray Vecchio was trying to offer him a type of love he’d never known before…just as he had done that night in the diner, bringing Benny in his lonely grief home to a loud, almost violent display of familial love over an Italian dinner of pasta and polenta.
And now looking at his lover standing naked and gently aroused against the backdrop of a perfect spring late-afternoon made Fraser feel he had stepped into some sort of allegorical painting, something drawn to represent pleasure, rather than something he was actually allowed to…to…
“I want you so much, Ray.”
His lover’s grin widened. “Then come over here and get it, Benny.”
He managed to walk forward until he could feel Ray’s heat. Those clever fingers went to the buttons on his shirt, but he took them softly in his own hands, kissing each finger one by one. Then for a long while there was only the sweetness of Ray’s mouth.
Each time he kissed Ray he loved it more, yet somehow he found the discipline to leave those gentle lips and talented tongue to trail kisses down the kilometer of a perfect neck, through the downy softness of chest hair, until he found one of those spice-sweet nipples and sucked. Little shocks ripped through his own body and the body in his arms. It was amazing, holding a naked Ray while still fully dressed, sucking this pert nub while his hands felt that smooth, fire-hot skin flush. When Ray moaned, he felt the vibration between his lips. His pants were beginning to hurt, but he couldn’t let go.
Those long fingers were in his hair now, stroking his scalp, teasing his nape, never protesting, accepting, urging him on.
He sought the other nipple and began it all over it again.
Ray groaned and forced his hands flat between them to open Benny’s shirt. He hadn’t put his undershirt back on, having washed it in the river and left it to dry over a rock. He shuddered and sucked harder as his bare back felt the sun and heat of Ray’s hands. This is what it means to drown without fear, without the need for fear. This is what it feels like to be loved without conditions, to be taken in with joy, to be wanted back as much as he wanted.
He left Ray’s chest at last to savor another kiss, then another, then simply let his knees buckle and bring them both softly down to the dry, cool ground. He laid Ray back gently and watched the limber body roll out without protest of any sort. He’d expected Ray to insist that he fetch a bedroll from the cabin, but then, the state of Ray’s arousal might have something do with it. He put his palm tenderly against the hot, wet length of him, feeling the pulse. Again, the expected protest did not emerge.
Instead, Ray spread his legs out a bit, his eyes turning to the soft moss of a Japanese garden, inviting him inside yet again.
Benny fumbled at his jeans, easing the pressure of tight cloth there, before bringing his own wet cock to the open air, feeling the foreskin pulled well back from the head.
“Oh, yeah…” Ray breathed. “Do it, Benny.”
Fraser groaned in frustration. “The…the lubricant’s in the cabin.”
Ray only smiled again. “Check the pants, Boy Scout.”
Benny reached behind him, found Ray’s jeans, and dug into the pockets until he came up with a small tube and a foil packet. The latex went to its place and the gel went over his fingers, then he was applying what he hoped was a practiced touch to Ray’s warm cleft, seeking that butter-soft opening. The skin quivered, Ray gasped, and then he was inside, carefully stretching, wandering the garden of Ray’s eyes once again, until with surprise he found that his third finger was snugly inside.
He folded Ray’s legs back, so very gently, then slid home, resting on his arms, adjusting, accepting. Ray’s lithe arms came up to his neck, stroked his nape, pulled him down, sighing into his mouth as Benny moved his hips just slightly.
“You feel so good, Ray. God. You feel so good.”
“Yeah?” Ray’s smile was pure indolence, and then the channel around his uncut cock squeezed down, tighter, making Benny gasp so hard he almost choked, eyes wide, then shut tight with pleasure.
Feathery kisses over his lips drew his eyes open again, but though Ray’s expression encouraged him to thrust, he could not make his body move. To move was to begin the end of this.
“I want to stay here inside you forever, Ray.”
Ray looked ready to make a joke, then simply shook his head slightly before kissing his lips once again.
“You are always inside me, Benny. You will always be inside me, Benny.”
Ray let go of Benny’s neck with his right hand and let it fall quietly back on the ground. Then his left hand went to the ground, before his arms stretched out, wide, spread out like his fingers, like the openness of his gaze, without guard. Ray’s back arched slightly, then settled to the earth.
“Do whatever you like, Benny. If you like it, I will too.”
It wasn’t an out-of-body experience, but Fraser did see himself suddenly, his pants down around his thighs, flesh bare above, still in his boots; Ray, naked, spread out before him; joined together where Ray had let him inside.
He gripped those slim hips and raised them. Ray seemed to weigh nothing. He bent forward and thrust deep inside, controlling the motion with his hands, bringing them gently together.
“Oh, fuck,” Ray groaned, his eyes rolling back slightly. “Oh, yeah. God. That feels…” another gentle, rolling thrust, “…fantastic. God…Benny…”
Ray was a sheath of pure energy, fire and sunlight made flesh, and as Benny moved with him they joined like the dance of flame, consuming yet sustained, moving together and apart, merging without the loss of heat and light.
Pleasure threatened to spike, and he clamped down on his control. He wanted more of this, more liquid bliss bubbling through his veins and pouring from his skin like sweat.
“Yeah…oh yeah…oh *yeah,* Benny…”
“Can you feel me inside you, Ray?”
“God…feel you? There’s nothing…nothing else, Benny. Just you.”
He couldn’t help moving just a little faster, pressing just a little harder. He would need to let go of Ray’s hips soon to caress his cock. They had to climax together. He’d be useless after he came, and he had to see that look on Ray’s face, the almost-pain of orgasm that allowed him to know his love for Ray was a good, worthy thing, not just the selfish need he had now, the need for more fire to melt away so many years of ice.
He groaned Ray’s name and angled his hips to contact the small gland inside perfectly with each stroke. Ray was shaking and calling his name in return, yet still those arms remained, splayed out, letting Benny do this, do whatever he wanted to this perfect, beautiful body.
“I love you…Benny.”
“Ray!” Oh no, the heat was rushing up from his thighs, propelled by the heat from each breath drawn to moan Ray’s name, drawn by the inner heat of Ray’s body. His eyes locked on the hard, swaying length, so exposed, so beautiful. He needed to touch it, but he couldn’t let go, not when it was change the connection of their bodies, so perfect, so perfect. He called out to Ray to touch himself, emitting the words in a garble that only made Ray moan. He sobbed, unable to hold back.
And watched as Ray’s cock released his seed into the air. His perfect lover was coming from the penetration alone.
Ray spasmed around him, and even as his eyes sought for and drank in the sight of Ray’s expression he was lost, sinking deep, seeking and finding even more than he sought, in pleasure, in love, in pure sweet lust.
He felt his own body fold, felt a strong, furry, slightly sticky chest against his cheek, and then for a while he felt nothing at all, except the glow of embers banked safely inside.
Not fifty feet away, the lightning-hollowed tree stretched up against the deepening blue Alberta sky, and a pair of dark, unseen eyes peered steadily through the high, narrow crack to watch two men sleep amongst the almost impossible snarl of long arms and legs.
Snowglobe. A small village inside, a little universe of perpetual snowfall. A hand gripped it, shook it, set it down on the table. Except there was no table, and the water and glass and snow and village all tumbled together and fell on the concrete, breaking up the dream.
There was a light flurry of snow outside. He could smell it, faintly: most unusual for this late in the year…except that here it would snow whenever it pleased. The sky knew no calendar.
Snow, yet he was so warm. How had thought Ray only fire? He was the sun, brought down to Fraser by the Raven, tricking him into love and contentment.
He had broken the snowglobe himself, to get the key and save Ray. Only then had there been hope, even then the heat had reached him.
He was here, at last, in the cabin with Ray. And Ray said he liked it here, and Ray had acknowledged the significance of it when he said it. That hurdle, one of the thousands that had lain before them, was now behind.
*I will not let them take you from me, Ray.*
He sealed the vow with a kiss on the warm, smooth shoulder in the middle of his chest. Ray was half-on, half-off, and the blankets and sleeping bag were tucked in around them, the bedroll between them and the floor that needed sanding. Lots and lots of sanding.
He was assaulted by the image of tying sandpaper to Ray’s back and buttocks, then moving him around the room with each thrust. Ridiculous. It made him laugh and stirred his cock and it felt great. He hadn’t known any of this, before Ray.
Ray was stirring too, probably because his personal Mountie mattress was still rocking up and down with each poorly suppressed giggle. He should calm himself, let Ray sleep, but Ray awake might mean Ray making love to him. It was far too early – just after midnight – for them to work on the cabin.
Deliciously, he let his hands slide down between the warm covers and that long, smooth back. Ray was so well-proportioned: long in both the waist and his slimly muscled legs. And his neck, of course. His incredible neck.
He rolled them over, staring at the dim low-lantern-lit line of the perfect white column. He savored that instant of art history before he was pressing his lips to the pulse-point. Ray’s heart awakened and beat along the warm artery. So fragile. So full of life and light.
“Ray.” So apt a name, really. Too obvious. Like Big Ben.
“Benny?” Ray’s voice was muffled, but it led him to his lips. Sleep turned that sweet mouth a little dry, like paprika. Benny pressed down with his hips, and Ray moaned. He ended the kiss, gently, and settled over his lover.
But Ray moved slightly away, and Benny tensed.
“Sorry.” Ray’s face seemed uncomfortable. “Really. But you’re right on my…I gotta go, Benny.”
Fraser relaxed, loosened his hold…and then found himself suckling gently at Ray’s nipple.
“Benny!” Ray’s voice was half-protest, half-anger, and half-breathless. Or something like that. “Benny…really…I gotta…”
“Go on if you like, Ray.” He slid his hardening cock along Ray’s thigh, reveling in strength. “But I think it’s snowing outside.”
He captured another long, slow, sugary kiss. Ray responded with enthusiasm, and yet when he tightened his arms again, Ray squirmed.
“Damnit, Benny. I’m in pain here.”
He made himself let go, withdraw, pry his hands off hot satin skin and move away.
Ray kissed his lips with regret.
“I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll keep the bed warm.”
Ray took a breath, then got up and put on the many layers he needed, stomping into but not lacing up his boots, shoving the knit cap over his head, twining the scarf around his neck, zipping up the jacket, not bothering to fish the gloves out of the jacket’s pockets.
Ray’s eyes, gray in the low-lantern-light, met his before he pushed open the make-shift door, letting in the mist of flying ice, then slipped outside.
With a sigh, Benton Fraser rolled onto his stomach and pressed his pelvis down into the warmth of the bedroll where Ray Vecchio had been. He was surrounded by Ray’s warmth and Ray’s smell. He had this sudden feeling of being protected by Ray, as though the sleeping bags and blanket were a magic cloak. For some reason, it made him think of the Stetson currently being tested for insecticide in the Danes lab.
Duty nudged at him. He nudged it firmly back and away.
He closed his eyes and drifted. Any second now, Ray would return, slide inside these covers with him, and then…
Would Ray be cold? He’d say he was cold, of course, but would he feel cold? Benny almost couldn’t imagine it.
He humped the bedroll a few more times, and thought of ways to take his pleasure with Ray over and over and over.
Benny realized he was drifting off, and snapped awake. Ray had been gone a long time. Much too long. Something was wrong.
But even as he was about to sit up, the door opened, and he let his eyes close in pleasure, shivering simply at the thought of the snow coming through the door as its chill wind blew over his face, stirring hair that needed a trim.
Only when Ray didn’t move from the door did he open his eyes.
Only then did he see it wasn’t Ray.
“You’re waiting for him, aren’t you? But he’s not coming back.”
Oh, God. He knew that voice.
Ray looked down at Benny, and knew if he weren’t in serious danger of ruining his entire Canadian wardrobe, he could never make himself walk out that door.
*Damn,* but it was cold out here. He hadn’t thought it would be so cold, or he’d have invested in industrial-strength wool underwear before coming up here. At the time, he’d thought all they would have to be careful about was the plane not crashing.
He made it to the nearest tree, keeping his hands tucked under his arms so he wouldn’t freeze his dick off with his own fingers. He made short work of the fly, then finally, oh, yes…oh, that felt good. He wanted to hurry, to get back to Benny and their bed. But this was going to take awhile.
“You sure you don’t want to bring your faggot out here to help you do that?”
Ray closed his eyes and felt his shoulders slump. His old man could even ruin a good piss, never mind being dead and all.
“I ain’t discussing it with you, Pop.”
“My own son.” The words dripped with disgust. “If you are my son. Maybe your ma –“
“You being dead doesn’t mean you can bad-mouth Ma,” Ray snarled while pain chopped up his guts like kindling. Even for his old man, that was out of the ballpark. He’d never talked about his wife like that before.
“Well, how’m I supposed to explain it? My own son a fag? Maybe you’re the limp-wristed milkman’s kid.”
Ray shook his dick and shoved it back into his pants. His father was standing between him and the cabin, so he plunged into the trees, taking the long way around.
“You make me sick. You make me glad I’m dead so I don’t have to listen to the guys talk about my son the pervert. I just wish I’d left Frannie the house. You’ll probably sell it to buy your bitch jewelry, or something.”
“Who the hell do you think you’re talking to?” Ray turned on his father, hands curling into fists that didn’t know they had nothing to punch out. “You can’t talk to me that way!”
But his father was gone.
He looked around, adrenaline loud in his ears, shaking in his hands, setting fire to the kindling in his belly. Nothing but trees and snow. A little filtered moonlight. No stars.
Where the hell was the cabin? He’d only walked a few feet, but it was so dark. It was stupid to have walked into the woods like this, but it was only a few feet.
He kept calm and undid his scarf. There was a young tree next to him. He tied the scarf around an eye-level branch, set his back to the tree and walked ten steps forward.
He turned completely around and walked ten steps back.
Ten steps out, ten back.
Ten steps out…the cabin, behind just a few more trees.
And Eric, and Benny, getting into Eric’s jeep. Ray ran forward, but the jeep was moving off when he broke through the trees.
What the hell?
He rushed to his own jeep and started the motor after a few tries.
He didn’t know why, but he knew where they’d gone.
He’d sensed it, as much as he’d tried to think only of Benny and logs and ridge-polls. He’d known it wasn’t over. Just like he’d known it wasn’t just insecticide that had made Benny leave their cot in the shelter.
Was it his pop? Could his father have some sort of…gang? But his pop wasn’t really a ghost, right? He was just…all those years of fearing and hating and loving him, refusing to go away just because the old man had boozed himself into the grave.
He’d felt eyes on him. He’d known they wanted Benny. Everybody wanted Benny. Was it supposed to end because “they” weren’t…weren’t whatever they weren’t?
And Anna and Eric had known it all along. They were in on it. They wanted his Benny too.
*You can’t have him. You can’t have him, you bastards.*
The jeep sped over the road, its headlights just skirting the promise of the outline of the jeep ahead of him.
She had a gun. She wasn’t pointing it at him, but she let him see it. She didn’t offer to turn her back so that he could get dressed.
She was beautiful, as beautiful as she’d been on that train, reaching for him. The hood of her black coat was pushed back, twinkling faintly with melting snow. The cloud of brown hair floated around a face bright and flushed with cold.
*Come with me.*
And he almost had.
“Did you think I wouldn’t come for you?” Victoria asked now, as though their conversation had only been broken by the passing of minutes.
“How did you know we were here?”
She frowned at the flatness of his tone, then relaxed as she seemed to know, as she had always been able to know, that it was a mask, covering a depth of feeling that shocked him. How could he still be so…open there? So raw and desperate for something to keep him from shattering: he couldn’t believe the loss of it. In three seconds…perhaps two, everything had changed.
“I love you,” she said, her voice snow and a poem repeated over and over, rising and falling.
False snow, in a snowglobe, but still snow, falling around them as it had amongst the candles in his apartment. He remembered being drunk with it, with the possibility of that impossible second chance.
“I want you back.”
“Or else?” His eyes went to the gun.
She held it up. Shook her head. “It’s only to cover my retreat if you say no.”
“Does that mean if I’ll say no you’ll leave?”
She looked at him, looked through him. She always knew how to possess him with that look.
“Are you saying no?”
Benny found that he’d made a little laugh, sort of.
“What did you do with Ray?” If she’d hurt him…oh, God.
She frowned, as though the matter weren’t important. “He left in the jeep. There’s nothing for kilometers so I don’t think he went for bread and milk. I’d say he’s decided he can’t handle it.”
He had no idea if she were telling the truth, but her eyes held his. She lied, but he felt the truth of her. She always made him feel it.
“Handle what? What did you say to him?”
She smiled, a smile that knew what was going on inside him. “I didn’t speak to him.” Her eyes made it a dismissal. “I saw you with him. You always did ask so much of others, too much. I saw what you demanded of him, the level of love you need. Did you really think he could give it to you? Did you think anyone could but me?”
He did that laugh thing again. “You love me?”
“As much as I hated you.” She looked away, looked back, and suddenly he knew it was true. This second chance wasn’t a lie, a con. She had come back to him, as she had never come to him before.
“I will always hate you,” she whispered. “Hate you for every year in prison, for taking the money, for not doing what I needed you to do for me.” She faltered.
“For not letting you go.”
He nodded, sitting there on the floor in the bedding that smelled of Ray. But all the heat had gone.
And then she said it, giving him more than he had thought she could, even before, when he had believed her innocent of all but one bank robbery.
“But I love you. I belong to you. You can’t let me go.”
He said nothing.
“And you belong to me.” She smiled, and he could feel her relaxing. “You know it’s true.” She held out a hand, and a drop of melted snow slipped from her wrist. “Come with me.”
He stood, straight and tall and naked. Her eyes widened, and he waited for her to settle before he stepped forward and took the gun from her, as he had before. He took her hand in his own, felt the reality of her.
“You were right,” he said. “I can’t let you go.”
The jeep was running low on gas. He probably couldn’t get back to the cabin without more. But it didn’t matter.
The shelter was empty and cold. No sign of Eric’s jeep.
He went up the hill, calling Benny’s name, first and last. Damnit, but this was the creepiest place in the world. He felt the eyes on him even before he reached the top.
And then, there was a wave of it: nauseating. It actually stank here with the press of that…desire.
“Benny! Benny, answer me! Benny!”
“Fraser ain’t here, Raymond. Get out of here.”
He turned away. Pop was the last person, or whatever, he wanted to see. Hadn’t he said enough already?
“Raymond. Look at me.”
He frowned, staring into those eyes out there that had Benny. Pop had almost sounded like he was begging for something. Pop never begged. God, he was cold.
“Damn Yank. No good to Benton at all.”
Ray blinked. Who the hell was this guy? Dressed like a Mountie, but not in the red uniform, or the blue one: snow clothes, but there was a badge on his hat. The guy was old and looked a little like Benny.
Ray realized he hadn’t bad-mouthed him for that racial slur. Opened his mouth. “Where’s Benny?”
“Where do you think he is?” The old guy jerked his head down the hill, into all those black eyes. “Go get him!”
“Don’t listen to him, Ray. That ain’t Fraser’s father.”
“Unlike you, I don’t doubt the paternity of my own son.”
“I don’t either!”
Ray stared at his father. Were those bruises on his face? Did ghosts get into fist-fights? He’d never seen his pop look so scared, either. For the first time since his old man had died, those eyes looked at him with…entreaty?
“You gotta get out of here, Raymond. They wanted Fraser, but when they saw you, you’re the one they want now.”
“I can’t leave without Benny.” His teeth were chattering.
“He ain’t *here.* He’s back at the cabin. They tricked you.”
“Some friend to Benton you are. The boy needs you, Yank. Get down there. Can’t you hear him?”
Ray whirled around. He *had* heard it, hadn’t he? Hadn’t he heard his name?
His father was in front of him again. “Think about it! Would Fraser have just left you like that? Just gone off with that Eskimo and not said a word?”
The old man was right about that. Except…”I saw him. I saw him get in the jeep.”
“You see me, Raymond. You see…him.” Vecchio waved at the Mountie. “You can see them too, can’t you? Looking at you? They want what you got. It’s a trap. You’re supposed to be a cop, damnit. Can’t you see it?”
“What do I got they want?” It was snowing harder.
His pop looked uncertain. The Mountie snorted. “Same thing you tried to beat out of him.”
Vecchio Sr. flashed in anger. Same old Pop.
“It doesn’t matter what you got if you can’t keep the world from ripping it off you. Ray wouldn’t be here if he’d listened to me in the first place.”
“Listen, Yank.” Ray realized the Mountie was talking to him, not his father. He was beginning to get numb now. It helped bring the nausea down. His forehead was icy from sweat. He couldn’t feel his feet, though. How could he find them? He looked into cold eyes that looked like Benny’s, a little.
“You really think anyone would want you over my son?”
“Don’t listen to that crap, Raymond.”
The Mountie sneered, and suddenly it hit Ray: the truth in bight neon lights.
No *way* was this creep Benny’s father.
He stumbled back. It was some sort of sick dream, except that he was awake, and about to freeze to death.
Oh God. He would have frozen in the woods, wandering around, looking for Benny, who was back at the cabin and probably scared out of his mind.
From the forest below: “Ray!” Very distant, Benny’s voice. But not Benny’s voice. The wind, more like.
“Go, Raymond. Get out of here.”
It hurt to obey his father, but he was so numb anyway. What difference did it make? He stumbled and tripped down the hill and almost lost his boots because they weren’t laced up. He realized he had gloves in his pockets. Why hadn’t he put them on?
Benny. He’d abandoned Benny at the cabin.
He started the jeep, swore at the gas gauge. He didn’t have enough to make it back.
Eyes were on him again, pressing on his neck. The snow stung. The wind and his name.
Think of Benny. Benny strong and beautiful and waiting for him in their bed.
He got the jeep on the road and pointed it towards home.
Over twenty pesticide traps had been recovered so far, most of them around Tears Creek, but some as far as right outside Little Ro and Dearhorn. The Danes lab had reported that preliminary findings showed massive pesticide traces in Fraser’s clothes, and not a little in Vecchio’s as well.
To Davenport’s surprise, and to that of Dr. Talfard’s, the insecticide used had no hallucinatory properties when applied to humans. Fraser’s illness was explained, but not the level of mental impairment before treatment. Though his reaction could simply have been stress- and dehydration-related.
Jane sat back in her chair, nodding slightly at the dawn light now making its way through the station windows. She’d neglected to go home and rest once again. Good thing she had McDermot for company.
He was curled up on the desk now, or rather, on the large pillow she had on the desk with his name embroidered over the top. He’d caught his rear left paw in the gold brocade tassel once again, and he tugged on it slightly in his sleep, twitching as he chaced mice or caribou through snowy fields.
She told herself firmly that today she would pay a visit to Fraser and Vecchio. It was really far past the time that she should have consulted them on the case. The traps had rather obviously been set by Del Rae Industries, but she had to find a more tangible connection than Peter Lookstwice’s fingerprints on the canisters and some unexplained money in Lookstwice’s account. There was, of course, the fact that Del Rae Industries made the sort of pesticide used, and that their local corporate representative was stonewalling her, but she needed more to prove that Lookstwice had been “bumped off” to keep him quiet.
The coffee she’d started was ready, but a cup of it wasn’t nearly enough to make her forget she hadn’t slept more than a couple hours on the couch by the front door of the station. McDermot got under her feet as she went to the radio to check in, and she set him out some dried food that he ignored with a sniff. He accepted a scratch behind the ears, however.
The radio crackled, and she sent back her codes.
“Yes, H. T?”
“You send that American over to Tears Creek a couple hours ago?”
“No, Harvey.” Vecchio? What was he doing there? If he’d wanted to help with the investigation, he’d have involved her, wouldn’t he?
“Well, one of my men says he saw the guy last night, acting awful strange, too.”
“Yeah. Walking around talking to himself. Says he shouted out to the guy, but didn’t know his name, eh? Couldn’t get his attention. Was pretty far away, anyway.”
“Well, I’m going to see them today. I’ll ask about it.”
“Yeah. Let me know, eh?”
“Will do. Out.”
Jane thought about that for a while, and didn’t like any of her thoughts. Where was McDermot? She always thought better when she was petting him. Just as she found him by the desk, however, pounding at her front door sent him scurrying under the couch..
“Davenport! Constable! Hey!” *Pound pound pound.*
Vecchio’s face, wild-eyed and pale, stared through the door’s window at her as she approached, and she felt her hand settling by her gun. She opened the door with caution, ready to strike or protect, but found herself half-catching the man in her arms as he burst inside.
“I need some gas for the jeep!”
“What’s wrong? Where’s Constable Fraser?”
“At the cabin!” Vecchio stared at her, staying within her arms, just staring at her like she should realize the world was about to end. “I need gas for the jeep!”
Had he stumbled into another pesticide trap at Tears Creek? “Detective Vecchio –“
“Please.” His voice had gone so quiet and soft, and his green eyes pleaded. She wasn’t exactly sure she’d ever seen a man before with legitimately green eyes. “I need some gas.”
“I store some in the shed. In the back.”
He nodded and turned from her, walking back out the door. She grabbed her keys off the desk and followed.
Promised what he wanted, Vecchio seemed to be making an effort to explain himself when she caught up to him.
“…didn’t think he would be there, of course, but I had to check. But I should have just realized he’d be right back…from going outside, I mean.”
“Yeah.” Vecchio wouldn’t meet her eyes now. She suspected he was lying.
“But he’s gotta be worrying about me. He might be trying to track me or something…thinking I’m lost in the woods. I gotta get back before he calls out the National Guard of Mounties, or something.”
Vecchio’s hands were shaking. His voice was too, for that matter. But nothing he was saying was actually all that suspect. It was what he wasn’t saying…
“Why did you go to Tears Creek?”
He rounded on her in shock. His mouth opened, worked, finally spoke. “How did you know I was there?”
“We have people in those woods looking for pesticide traps. One of them saw you. Said you were acting strangely.”
Vecchio relaxed in a *whoosh.* “Oh. That.” He turned back to the shed and waited for her to open the padlock. “I was just trying to walk through the night Benny got hurt. You know, reconstruction.”
“In the middle of the night?”
“It was the middle of the night when it happened. But I should have told Fraser where I was going.”
She swung the door open and reached down for a gallon of gas in its red plastic container, then stood up to face him, blocking his entrance into the fume-filled shed.
“Why didn’t you?”
His eyes slid off again. “I told you. He was out, taking a…you know.”
*Oh, that story is completely believable, Detective. Not completely full of holes or anything.*
Yet even as she stood there, Vecchio was getting close to panic again, and she had no reason to stop him from returning to Fraser and the cabin.
“Detective Vecchio, in return for the gas, I want you to tell me the truth.”
He looked at her in open apprehension.
“Do you think it’s just pesticide and Del Rae Industries? Or is something else going on at Tears Creek?”
“I don’t know!” The words exploded from him, echoing behind her from inside the shed. His arms flailed. “Benny knows more about this stuff!”
“I told ya I don’t know!” He put his hands on the gas container. Warm hands, but she didn’t let go.
“I gotta get there,” he said, voice soft again. “Come with me and you can ask him about it yourself.”
She met his green eyes and felt her hands leave the rough red plastic. He looked almost obscenely grateful, and she could only turn from him and get another gallon, muttering as she did so that she would be up there later in the day. By the time she stood up again, he was running back to the jeep.
They got his tank about half-full before he roared off under the last of the dawn sun.
The day was getting on. She spent a few minutes with the cat, radioed in, then got into her own jeep and headed for Toyotuk.
Anna’s Café hadn’t changed a bit. And somehow she wasn’t surprised that the parking lot was full.
“Be okay, Benny. Be there and be okay. Oh, God. Be okay.”
He took the turn onto the dirt road too quickly and almost went into the ditch. It was several more miles to the cabin. He couldn’t walk from here without taking up the whole day. He forced himself to ease up on the accelerator.
Davenport had wanted an explanation. And she deserved one. But what the hell was he supposed to say? He had no idea what had happened, and it was starting to feel a little fuzzy. He remembered Pop and that other guy…but come to think of it, he’d seen a picture of Fraser’s father, back when he was working on the “dead Mountie thing,” before Benny came along. He must have…used that somehow, when he was…what? Hallucinating?
But he’d felt eyes on him, from the forest. And he’d never had such a strong case of the heebie-jeebies before in his life.
Oh, that would work. *You see, Constable Davenport, I had a case of the heebie-jeebies...*
“Be okay, Benny. Please be okay.”
He couldn’t believe how long it was taking, like some dream where he would run down a hall and not go anywhere, his feet stuck to the ground and his whole body straining and not getting even a foot father along the –
There! The cabin was in sight. He stomped on the gas, roared up to the structure, skidded to a stop, flew up the step, burst through the door, and felt his heart stop working.
Victoria. Sitting on the chair by the table, her hands in her lap, her beautiful hair falling around her face, her beautiful little demon face.
“Ray!” Benny came at him from the side, smothering him in arms and shaking him out of it.
“Benny?” He turned inside the embrace, looking into and losing himself in deep blue eyes tight with worry, but easing now as he reached up, touched Benny’s pale face. “You okay?”
“I’m fine, Ray. Are *you* all right? Where did you go?”
“The woods.” Ray shook himself, looked back across the room. “What’s she doing here, Fraser?”
“She came for me, Ray. But I arrested her.”
“Arrested?” Ray squinted in the lantern-light and finally saw at last the dark ropes that bound her to the chair at the waist.
“I told you I would, Ray. What woods?”
“Your dad’s forest. You just arrested her, Benny?”
“She came here right after you left. Why did you go to Tears Creek?”
“I thought I saw you going there, with Eric. Something really strange is happening, Benny. How did she know we were here?”
“She didn’t say.”
“Didn’t you ask her?”
“Yes, but she only says that she loves me. I haven’t been able to get anything else out of her since I arrested her.”
Ray turned to look into her face. She was saying something, all right, but he shut her up easily by turning away again.
“So she came up to the cabin and asked you to go with her?”
“Yes.” Benny flushed suddenly, and his arms tightened around Ray’s still-shaking body. “She’s been watching us. She saw us…yesterday.”
Ray’s eyes narrowed. If there were anyone in the world who could be trusted to tell the whole damn world about him and Benny…Oh well. It couldn’t be undone. And he refused to have her taint that moment. In fact, before he even thought it through he was kissing Benny, open-mouthed, hungry and desperate. Claiming him? A little. But mostly just reveling in him, feeling him, knowing at last, only with the press of those soft lips and the gentle suction of his breath, that Benton Fraser, RCMP, was here with him.
Everything else would just work itself out in time, wouldn’t it?
Benny broke tenderly from the kiss, and seemed to understand, his eyes shining a little in the light through the door.
“I made you coffee, Ray.”
Ray smiled, even laughed a little. “Yeah, Benny? That sounds great.”
Benny nodded, pressed a quick kiss to his lips, and released him. He threw what seemed like a practiced look over his shoulder to check on Victoria, then walked out the door and down the stairs to the coffee pot on the fire.
Ray let himself collapse on the chest Benny had yet to open and buried his face in his hands. His heart still wasn’t beating right. Last night…like a nightmare, but he hadn’t really woken up yet. Did that mean he hadn’t been asleep? Did it mean it was all real somehow?
He looked up at her, saw the hate in her eyes. Something else was there too. Something like shock wearing off.
“You hurt him,” she whispered, “and I will kill you.”
She didn’t mean to make those words anything more than a threat, no sense of camaraderie in repeating his words back at him. No sense of being connected because they both loved the same man.
And yet he felt his latent anger bubble up only to begin to dissolve. He still wanted to shoot her about twenty times through her whole body on a search for her heart, but he knew he’d done worse than that. He’d done to her the worst thing he could think of, the very thing he couldn’t forgive her for for trying to do to him: he’d taken Benny from her. She must have realized it, even when she was watching them yesterday, the perverted bitch. She must have known he and Benny belonged together now.
“Hurting him’s your department,” he told her.
She didn’t answer, not even with her eyes, and a moment later Benny returned with Ray’s coffee.
Ray took the cup and sipped at the strong, bitter, life-giving liquid while Benny sat beside him on the trunk, put an arm around him and was just sort of *there* for a quiet long while.
“I need to talk to Eric, or Anna, or somebody, Benny.”
Benny’s voice was low and ashamed. “Were you in a great deal of danger, Ray?”
“I don’t know, Benny.”
“I could feel it. I could *feel* that you needed me, but I couldn’t leave Victoria. I couldn’t let her escape again and come after us and…I thought she might hurt you. I couldn’t let her –“
“I was miles away, Benny. There wasn’t anything you could have done. I’m glad you stayed.”
Both arms were around him again, and Benny’s face was buried against his neck. Ray turned his head to whisper in his ear, “God, Benny. If she wasn’t here I’d just throw you on the floor and take you right now.”
The strong body holding him shuddered, then warm breath caressed his own ear.
“I’d let you, Ray, even with her here.”
Ray was shuddering pretty fiercely himself when he heard Dief bark outside.
Benny eased out of his arms, stood up and went to the door, explaining, “He’s checking to see if I’m all right. I couldn’t let him stay in here, not with Victoria. He kept growling at her.”
“I always knew he was the brains of the outfit.”
Fraser frowned at him, then turned to wave out the door at Diefenbaker, who wolfed back.
“She did shoot him, Benny. You can’t blame him.”
“We need to take her to the station, Ray.”
Vecchio stretched, lazily, enjoying it, then scratched his stubbled cheek.
“Davenport’s coming up here later today to talk to us about the pesticide stuff. We can hand Victoria over to her, or go with her back to the station. We go there now, we might miss Jane.”
Benny considered this and nodded.
“I say we keep an eye on her and get some work done around here. Our damn vacation is going to be over, and we’re not even going to have the door hung.”
“But Ray…” Benny walked back to him, squatted down, looked at him gravely. “Where were you? What happened last night?”
Ray tried, but it was like remembering a dream. Mostly he only knew that he had driven for hours. His ears ached now from the cold, thawing out in the warmth of the cabin and the morning sun.
He’d never told Benny about the way he talked to his dad sometimes. He didn’t want to start talking about it now. Later, when they’d lived together for a few years, he might be able to convince Fraser it didn’t mean he was completely screwy. Then he’d talk about it.
Besides, that was just him seeing something out of his own head, some sort of, what do you call them, manifestations.
“I gotta talk to Anna, or Eric, or someone…someone who knows about spirits and visions, Benny.”
He looked into Benny’s eyes. He thought he could spend his life looking into those eyes.
“Let’s not talk about it now, okay? Just for a few hours. I want to work on the cabin and just…just be normal awhile, Fraser. Okay?”
His friend, his lover, the other part of himself looked bewildered, but nodded.
“All right, Ray.”
They took Victoria outside, still tied to her chair, and left Dief to watch her, with strict instructions not to bite. Fraser was making the door, so Ray went around the cabin filling up the space between the logs with mortar. Then he went up on the roof and measured everything exactly before setting out the shingles and cutting them exactly.
They broke for lunch, feeding Victoria, who did not speak again, until she announced at the end of the meal, defiantly, “I need to be untied.”
“Hold it until Davenport gets here,” Ray snarled.
“Ray…” Benny looked at him.
Vecchio shook his head, ready to fight for it. “No, Benny. She’ll use your embarrassment and get away from us, or something. I’m not risking it. She’s a grown woman, she can cross her legs and hold it in.”
Fraser sighed, then nodded.
“It’s not too late for us, Ben.” Her voice had never been more beautiful.
Ray watched Fraser look down at her, shaking inside with joy now with the lack of love in those deep blue eyes.
“Do you know that I offered to let Ray own me, Victoria? That’s what you taught me. But Ray doesn’t want to own me, he just wants *me.* Looking at you now, I know you can’t even understand the difference.”
Her dark, cold brown eyes narrowed at him.
Benny shrugged. “I’m only trying to make you understand that I’m not even remotely tempted by your offer.”
And so Ray kissed him again, defiant before Victoria, standing on a stage before evil spirits and nights he couldn’t remember properly and a whole future that threatened them both.
Constable Davenport kept having to fight the sensation that she was some sort of token white marshal of a “Native Pride” parade.
With Anna Silvernail sitting impassively at her side, and two more Inuit leaders in the back, Davenport’s jeep currently led a long line of trucks and rovers southeast to Fraser’s cabin. Whatever was going on in the “spiritual” world had tribes as far as Runamukluk consulting the winds and calling each other on the phone.
She hadn’t understood much of the conversation at Anna’s Café, but she’d downed two cups of coffee and three fresh donuts, and no one had said anything about whites having to wait outside. Doubtlessly only because Anna found her useful now, the woman was looking into her face when she talked and treating her like she had those first few weeks of Jane’s tenure here.
Davenport knew that when this crisis, whatever it was, had passed, she would again be the outsider, but for just this drive to Fraser’s place it was nice to be simply a Mountie doing her job.
Fraser’s cabin came into view only a moment before the entire vista became clear: a woman sitting in a chair, Fraser working on a thick plank of wood, and Vecchio painting a cabin wall. All three of them watched her approach.
She pulled the jeep into position and killed the motor. Vecchio set down his brush and began walking down to her. Fraser and the woman stayed where they were.
Jane realized the woman was tied to the chair.
Other engines switched off behind her. She saw Vecchio and Fraser looking behind her.
Vecchio reached the side of the jeep, nodded to Anna, and looked at her.
“We got a fugitive. Wanted for murder and a few others things. Victoria Metcalf.”
Jane blinked, then opened her mouth to acknowledge his words and said instead, “The elders want to investigate this area for spiritual disturbances.”
Ray blinked at her, and then, suddenly, those impossibly green eyes twinkled, and Jane Davenport knew as she had never known before that she was in danger of falling head over heels…and for an American no less.
*He’s *gay,* sweetheart. Forget it.*
“It’s just one big party up here in Canada, you know that?” Vecchio asked her, very cop-to-cop, and she felt her buried concerns ease. She wondered if the man would care that he’d just made a friend.
“Well, since you two showed up there’s been more partying than usual.” She nodded back. “You know Anna Silvernail. This is Con Dupont and James Beartree.”
“Nice to meet ya,” Ray said, stepping back from the jeep to let her climb out. The elders simply nodded at Vecchio and began to walk around, joined soon enough by the riders from the other cars.
Fraser had come up to Ray’s side. Was it the fact that they were almost exactly the same height, and yet filled out the space from their heads to the ground so differently that made them look so…*right* together? She felt a strange flash of annoyance at the elders as they walked around sniffing the air. If they wanted something to sniff…
“They’re checking out the place for spiritual disturbances, Benny.”
Fraser looked surprised.
“That’s all right, eh?” Davenport asked, automatically. She doubted Fraser would file trespassing charges.
“Of course.” Fraser looked around. “I’ll be happy to cooperate with their wishes regarding any such matters.” His gaze rested on the woman in the chair, and Davenport shook herself and pulled out a pad.
“Victoria Metcalf,” she noted. “Wanted for homicide, you said?”
“Yeah, of her old bank-robbing partner.” Vecchio’s voice was oddly subdued, and it might have been that tone which made Fraser turn almost sharply away from Metcalf and look at Ray.
Fraser spoke, however, to his fellow constable. “She was the driver in the get-away car of a robbery eleven years ago. She was arrested and jailed for that crime. Upon her release from prison, she attempted to launder the unrecovered money through an illegal diamond transaction, during which she shot Peter “Jolly” Roth and Diefenbaker, though Diefenbaker did recover. She also attempted to frame Detective Vecchio and myself for conspiracy. She is guilty of several other crimes as well.”
Davenport kept her eyes from going wide, even as she finally noticed that Diefenbaker was watching the woman as though debating which way to tear her throat out.
“Sounds like a lot of paperwork,” she managed.
Vecchio laughed, and Fraser’s face echoed a smile.
“You got that right,” the detective said. “Look, why don’t I help you get Victoria to the station, and Benny can stay here and look after our guests, okay?”
“Ray, I’m technically the arresting officer. I should go with her.” The reluctance in Fraser’s voice was obvious.
“What? And rob you of the chance to gather up who knows how many new Inuit stories? Besides, you’ll have to be there later for the full reports and all. We’ll just get the ball rolling.” *And get this bitch out of here.* The unspoken words were clear on Vecchio’s face.
“Thank you, Ray. I would like to stay here and learn what I can from Ms Silvernail and the others.” Fraser’s face was all innocent duty. Davenport filed that expression away for later consultation.
She and Vecchio fell into an easy pace, a loud contrast, she knew, to the vague milling about from the dozen-plus elders consulting the winds. Diefenbaker lifted his nose to her when she passed, but she thought it was simply a greeting. Perhaps he could smell McDermot, though.
The woman, Metcalf, looked quite calm, and rather like she’d just come out of a beauty parlor. As she and Vecchio untied her, Davenport noted the care towards comfort that had been put into the knots. Metcalf hadn’t struggled against her ropes. There were no signs of chafing. But she did stand up somewhat unsteadily and her muscles seemed cramped.
Vecchio looked like he’d rather die than touch her, so Davenport helped her stand. Metcalf walked around a bit, then accepted the Mounie’s handcuffs on her wrists before heading without word or instruction to the jeep.
It really wasn’t right not to have Fraser join them, but he could come later to deal with the formalities. Just to be safe, at the jeep she went through the official arresting procedure. When Metcalf had to acknowledge that she understood what was happening to her, Davenport made sure her eyebrows didn’t go up at the sound of that musical voice. Metcalf got in the back of the jeep while she and Vecchio climbed into the front. The detective sat sideways, keeping an eye on their guest.
Davenport watched the road.
So, last night while Vecchio was wandering around Tears Creek, this woman magically appeared to Fraser. Vecchio hadn’t mentioned the woman when he came for gas. Had Ray somehow known Fraser was in trouble? It weren’t as though there were phones at the cabin or the shelter, though.
The thing was, she would have asked Vecchio about it all if it weren’t for their prisoner in the back. Instead, she let the jeep take up the miles in silence, then slowed down to turn onto the road to Axehandle.
When Vecchio lunged back she kept the vehicle from swerving, took her foot off the gas and braked gently to a stop. When she turned, Metcalf’s eyes were furious, but she’d been unable to get out of Ray’s two-handed grasp.
“Trying to jump from a moving car isn’t very wise, Ms Metcalf,” Davenport instructed as she reached back to remove the handcuff from around the woman’s rather dainty wrist. She looped the cuffs through the roll-bar, then clicked the metal ring back into place.
It was a relief to get the woman locked up in the small cell at her station at Axehandle. Her assistant, Carlton, was there, thank God, along with some reports from the Danes lab. Vecchio sat at her computer with open technophobia and typed in his part of the report and a statement, which he then printed and signed. Jane did everything she could as well. After a couple hours, she got orders from her chief to hold Metcalf overnight. Fraser would need to be there in the morning, around 10 AM, for the wagon and the official transfer.
“You want some lunch before we head back?” she asked Ray, watching him drink up the last of the coffee he’d made. Damn good coffee, too.
“They got caribou burgers to go around here?”
“No, but I know a place serves chili dogs out the window.”
Green eyes lit up again, and she warned her stomach away from any flip-flops. “Sounds great!”
She checked with Carlton, forced herself to see that Metcalf was all right in her cell, then led Vecchio out to the jeep and headed for Mandy’s.
“So…” she began, not looking at him.
She saw him shrug anyway. “She and Benny got some personal history. She showed up to talk. He arrested her instead.”
Jane nodded, then pressed her luck and then some. “She know about you and Fraser?”
“When she went to see him? Yeah.”
Jane nodded, let a moment go by. “Dumb bitch.”
Vecchio laughed, startled and breathless, and Jane felt rather pleased with herself. Mandy’s A-frame wooden house came in sight.
“Hey, you weren’t kidding about the window,” Vecchio announced, his voice still bubbling.
She drove up the gravel path and rapped on the window. Mandy herself opened it, though her son, Keith, was hovering behind her in the same color T-shirt. Keith was always trying to make things more professional. Mandy bore it with motherly pride and refused to buy new pots.
“Four dogs, please.”
She turned to Ray. “You want onions?”
“Onions on all of ‘em!”
Mandy’s voice drifted through the window. “Right.”
“What do you want to drink with that?” Keith asked, sticking his head through.
She drove the jeep next to a hill looking over Axehandle, what there was of it to look at, and they stretched out a little, their dogs in their laps and their Cokes on the dashboard.
The account Ray gave of Fraser’s relationship with Victoria Metcalf was doubtlessly incomplete, but it told her more than she had any right to claim. He told her more about his own role than anything else, protecting Benny, more than likely. She let him know she appreciated it by telling him a bit about her life up here, and her troubled relationship with Anna and the others.
He nodded and started on his second dog. “People like that, you can’t ignore them, not when they’re so useful and other people turn to them and all, but it…it’s a pain when they gotta make you feel like a jerk just for wanting to help.”
She said something appropriate and was glad she’d told him. She did *not* dwell on the sudden memory of two men kissing at the clinic.
“You gonna be here a while, then?” he asked.
“Until I’m ordered to leave, I guess. I love it here.”
“Yeah.” Vecchio breathed the word out with a depressed sigh, but she only waited.
“Benny loves it here too. If you’re here in a few years…it’ll be nice, knowing someone else.” Vecchio laughed a little. “Maybe you can help me hunt down a job.”
“Something wrong with your job in Chicago?”
He shifted, restless, his hand wadding up the grease-stained napkin. “Gay detectives don’t make lieutenant. I’ll stay until I’m not doing my job well, then I’ll leave. Fraser misses Canada, so if he’s out of the doghouse by then, I figure we’ll come up here.”
She really shouldn’t say what was coming to her lips, but she did anyway. “Does Fraser know you’ve made all these decisions?”
Vecchio shot her a somewhat sly look that made flip-flips threaten again. “I ain’t decided nothing. Just talking aloud to hear how it sounds.”
She nodded, then grabbed the litter bag so they could clean up. She started up the engine again and got back on the road.
“So, you got any idea what the spirits want?”
Ray shrugged, turning troubled eyes from hers. “That’s Fraser’s department.”
Proceed to Part IV