It really had been his duty to go along, but it was also his duty to stay. And having to ride in the jeep with her, to have her so close when he felt…
What did he feel for her now? He pitied her. He disliked her. Or better yet, he pitied and disliked the man he had been when he loved her.
How could he ever love Ray enough to thank him for saving him from her?
“I know,” he soothed, almost absently. “You don’t need to come with me when I make out my report.”
Dief laid his ears back, then nuzzled his hand.
“No, I think you did very well, considering the circumstances.”
Dief wuffed gently, agreeing, and Fraser looked up to see Anna and James approaching him. Eric was coming towards him as well. It was odd to see the man behaving almost diffidently towards his many elders.
James Beartree, of whom Fraser had heard long before, squatted down by Diefenbaker and offered his weathered hand for sniffing. His eyes had gone almost completely gray with age, grayer even than the sparse hair on his head. Fraser was tempted to believe that the faded but untorn jeans were as old as the man who wore them. His black shoes were startlingly new by comparison. The plain shirt was buttoned to the neck under a long beaded necklace. “Was he with you last night, or Ray?”
James nodded, then looked into Fraser’s eyes. The sensation was quite unsettling, but Fraser didn’t turn away.
“You’re in love, then?”
Fraser almost shouted a denial, tasting Victoria’s name still bitter in his mouth. But then realized that wasn’t what James Beartree meant. But the man hadn’t waited for his affirmation anyway.
“New love. Fresh and passionate.” James nodded to himself. “You gotta watch those Italians, you know, son. I watch *The Sopranos.* HBO. Scary stuff, but probably pretty nice in bed, eh?”
Before Fraser got his wind back, James was up and walking towards the cabin.
“They can’t resist it, you know.”
Fraser followed him, almost knocking the chair down as he parted from it. “No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“They can smell it, like blood. They would have left, we figure, with spring, except for sensing you. They almost got him last night, too.”
Fraser sputtered slightly.
“Winter chills,” Anna spoke from behind him. “Freeze a man to death, take his spirit, steal the warmth of his soul.”
“Ray’s got fire in him, eh?” James was laughing at him openly now. Fraser knew his face was red.
“And magic,” Anna added. *For a white man* was implicit.
Somehow Rita Hawke was standing at his shoulder now. He’d certainly heard of her before too – had seen her once, actually, at a lecture on native religions at Ottawa.
“Not a little fire and magic in you too, Mountie. I guess you two never stood a chance.”
Everyone within hearing distance, except Benny, laughed hard at that. And yet it was easy to see they were all worried, all concerned. Fraser couldn’t shake the feeling that he had been surrounded by a rescue party.
“How much of this will he believe?” Rita wanted to know.
Fraser felt himself shrugging, arms wide. “I’m not sure how much of this I -- that is…I mean –“
“You mean you respect our beliefs, but you don’t share them,” Rita said calmly.
“I…I mean that if you have need of my assistance, you…have it.”
“He means he respects our beliefs,” James said, walking through the cabin door.
“…but doesn’t share them.” It was Eric’s voice now, and Fraser turned gratefully, even though the dark eyes that met his looked stern. “We need you and the cop to stay here tonight, so we can ask the spirits to leave.”
“You sure you haven’t seen any spirits, Fraser?” Rita asked suddenly. “They take the shape of spirits you know. Spiritual Tupilak.”
Fraser blinked, a possibility striking him like a flash of memory from a bad dream. The last time he’d seen his father…had it been something else in his father’s form? The question made him flail inside, and he grasped what he could.
“You’re asking me if you should tell Ray that he has fire and magic in his soul that has made him an attractive target to spiritual forces.”
“That’s right,” Rita acknowledged.
“You can tell him all you like, but I doubt he would find your information credible.”
“Ahh,” James said, emerging from the cabin. His necklace was gone. “But will he respect our beliefs?”
Fraser flailed again, though he kept his arms at his sides. “He’s…Catholic,” he managed.
James frowned. “Don’t they disapprove of gays?”
Fraser had settled finally into parade rest. And he’d thought facing Victoria was a struggle.
James laughed suddenly, but it wasn’t cruel. “I bet you two came up here to be alone together, eh?” Fraser nodded cautiously. “Didn’t work out though.”
They basically let him be after that, though Rita drew him aside for a request that made him blush to his hairline and eventually sink down into the chair. He watched, hands pressed together in his lap, as fires were lit and arranged, and various other preparations he dimly understood were made.
After a couple of hours, a van pulled up and five people got out carrying food. It looked to be an impressive feast from they were preparing, but Fraser hoped they finished gutting everything before Ray came back.
Several more bits of jewelry were placed inside and around the cabin. Circles and other shapes were drawn in the ground. Several people, including Eric, pulled drums from the van and set them aside.
And, of course, the sweat lodge was soon puffing away.
Ray and Jane Davenport made it back just before it occurred to Fraser to worry about them. He couldn’t help smiling at Ray’s relaxed posture. It had done his friend good to be a cop for a while, he reasoned.
It was something of a long walk from the jeep to his chair, so he had a while to admire the view. Ray’s jeans were a little tighter than his usual attire, and though they were new they hugged his body just right. The green flannel (but not plaid) shirt brought out his jeweled eyes and the afternoon light played around his close-shorn hair like a halo.
“So what gives, Benny?”
Fraser stood, nodding at his fellow Mountie. “They feel this location will be a good place to perform their ritual to end winter, Ray.”
“They need a ritual for that, Benny?”
“This year, yes. They feel the spirits of winter have been tempted to remain here too long and must be encouraged to depart.”
“The guests who won’t leave, huh? Guess you just can’t pretend you’re out of beer and call the spirits a cab.”
It felt good to smile. “Yes, Ray.”
A presence at his elbow got him to turn. “Ray, this is James Beartree.”
“Yeah. Jane introduced us. Nice to meet you.”
James smiled at Ray and Fraser braced himself. “Benton has explained the ritual?”
“Yeah. Sounds cool.”
“Then you don’t mind being the bait?”
Ray blinked, then looked at his friend. “Something you need to tell me, Benny?”
“I hadn’t gotten to that part yet, James.” Fraser swallowed. “The elders seem to feel that the spirits are attracted to us, Ray.”
“Us?” Ray looked around, frowning. “What’s so special about us?”
James lifted his brows, and looked expectantly at Fraser.
“Heyyo!” someone shouted from the treeline, and everyone looked to see Con Dupont holding up a bright red scarf.
“Hey, that’s my scarf!” Ray said, moving towards the man.
Benny put a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Ray, I think they’re going to want that for their ritual.”
“Fraser!” Ray rolled his eyes, frowned at James and Jane, then dragged Benny up the stairs and inside the cabin, mustering all his will to keep from trying to slam the temporary door closed.
“What’s all this crap?” he demanded, barely managing it keep his voice down. Beaded necklaces and other trinkets hung about the room like Christmas decorations. Someone had hung make-shift curtains over the windows as well, and filled all four corners of the room with dried flowers. He shuddered at the thought of what they might have done in the unfinished john.
“Part of the ritual, Ray.”
Benny leaned against the wall he had helped to build only a few days ago. James was right. Little had worked out as planned.
“Ray…” No, he couldn’t just announce his news like that. He frowned, then remembered. “Ray, are you ready to tell me what happened at Tears Creek last night?”
Ray looked embarrassed. “Yeah, of course, Benny. It’s just…geeze…” He ran a beautiful hand over his head and Fraser fought the urge to follow that touch with kisses. “It’s stupid, now, thinking about it. I was sleepwalking.”
Benny blinked. “Sleepwalking.”
“Yeah, you know, and dreaming. I thought I was awake. And I guess when I was driving I was awake, but when I got there, it was so cold and all, and I haven’t slept well in a while, Benny, what with being so worried about you. So I was just seeing stuff. Doesn’t matter.”
“The Inuit elders believe their winter spirits are coming after us because we’re so much in love.”
“You told them we’re in love, Benny?” Ray’s voice echoed around the almost empty cabin and was doubtlessly heard outside.
“No, Ray.” Fraser’s voice was quiet.
“Then how did they…aw…damn it to hell, anyway. A bunch of strangers can take one look at us and know. You think we’re gonna keep it a secret for long at home?”
Fraser was so torn he felt almost schizophrenic. “But the spirits, Ray…”
Ray put his hands on his hips. “Benny, do you honestly believe in these spirits?”
Fraser thought about it, and felt himself shaking his head, just slightly. “I believe that their opinion is to be respected, Ray.” James was right. It wasn’t enough, but it was all he had right now.
That *hadn’t* been his father, had it? But perhaps Ray was right, and he had just been feeling the effects of too little sleep…and the insecticide as well, perhaps.
His lover’s wiry body shrugged. “Then let’s respect it, okay, Benny? What do they want us to do? Go out there and dance around the fire?”
“No, nothing like that, Ray. They just want us to eat dinner with them, and then sleep in here…in the cabin.”
“Well, we can do that.”
“And make love.”
It would be harder to say which opened wider: Ray’s mouth or his eyes.
“Benny! You can’t be *serious!*”
“It is what we have been asked to do, Ray.”
Pale hands whipped through the air. “But you want to…with all those people out…Benny, I can’t believe…”
“I don’t think we actually have to have sex, Ray.”
“But you just said –“
“Making love can be all sorts of things, Ray. We can agree to their terms without agreeing to do anything that would make us feel awkward.”
“But…the door…and it doesn’t lock.”
Benny shrugged. If Ray hadn’t been able to see his hands shaking he thought he might have had to hit him. “We can leave our clothes on, Ray, and just hold hands and say…nice things to each other. That’s ‘making love’ too.”
“But that’s not what they meant, Benny.” Ray’s eyes were weakening, however,
“Actually, I believe it is, Ray. They want us to…call up our love for each other. To ‘make love’ quite literally. To lure the spirits.”
Ray sighed, and the sound tore at Benny’s heart.
“It’s just the one night, Ray.”
“Yeah, and then we gotta spend all day tomorrow processing Victoria. And then we gotta help them find out what jerk-off’s been poisoning the birds. Then God knows what it will be! Our vacation’s half used-up as it is, and then we gotta go home and…”
“…and tell everyone something that may well offend them.”
Bleak eyes met his, then melted, and Benny’s arms were suddenly, wonderfully full of warm Ray Vecchio.
“You wanna make a little love right now, Benny?”
“Yes. Yes and always yes, Ray.”
God, how many hours had it been since their last kiss? How had he gone so long without this sweet taste and the warmth and tenderness of it? When Ray began to ease back, he heard himself whimper slightly and pressed forward, demanding more, and even more was given to him. Ray’s arms around him kept him on the ground, but he soared, and Ray was there with him.
A long time later he allowed Ray a moment to catch his breath.
“So, you will do it, Ray?”
“All right, Benny, if only to thank ‘em for helping us with the cabin.”
Fraser nodded, then sought another kiss. And another, his hands warmed by Ray through the soft flannel of his shirt.
This was making love, all right.
Outside the cabin, inside the sweat lodge, Anna Silvernail poured another cup of water on the rocks and breathed the steam in deep.
The woman with her made a noise of pleasure, then frowned at herself and fell quiet and still.
“You’re allowed to enjoy it,” Anna said dryly.
Jane Davenport shifted slightly in her towel and looked uncertain, then closed her eyes and made a visible effort to relax.
Anna closed her own eyes and tried to get the image of Jimmy Bearclaw telling her she was being unfair out of her head. She didn’t need some white-loving man, no matter how many winters he’d seen, telling her about fair. Did anyone talk about how unfair it was when she’d been only fifteen three white men raped her? And this woman in the lodge with her who had eaten her food and become a friend to her friends, when she had needed Davenport’s help, had it been given? Had Anna done anything that wasn’t fair? No. No. And no.
Those three men had died within a year of touching her, all in different accidents, and she hadn’t lifted a finger to make it happen. That’s when she’d first known what her life would be. For so long it had sustained her. But then her own daughter, the flesh of her flesh, had turned from her, and she’d doubted. But her faith was strong.
Even now, with this woman in the lodge with her, she slid easily into the vision, running to the call of her spirit guide, a wild cat with sharp claws and kind eyes. She followed her guide as they ran now through the trees, but unlike times before the cat didn’t stop. He seemed different today, tamer, but more mischievous. She was almost ready for it when her guide stopped and spread out, turning black, flapping wildly as the Raven laughed at her, leaving her amid the tangle of forest, his eyes flashing with the triumph of his trickery.
Her eyes flew open as she gasped, the Raven’s call still sharp in her ears.
“Anna?” Jane asked, worried, as her hands helped the woman regain her balance and sit back. “You all right?”
Anna’s retort, sharp as the Raven’s beak, never came. Jane’s sweat had flushed her cheeks and brightened the dark, deep eyes. Anna felt the gentle touch of her hands on her shoulders, heard the genuine concern of her voice, saw sweat-plastered night-black hair falling to shoulders softly curved, felt the strength of a solid, beautiful body, and within Anna something she’d thought long-dead…stirred.
Biting back nothing less than a moan of horror, flushing with shame, Anna stumbled out of the lodge with unintelligible words and stood blinking in the sunlight a bare moment before she marched down the short path to the stream and its cold, clean water.
*This will pass,* she chanted defiantly. *This will pass.*
And the Raven laughed at her.
Jane watched her go, then scooped up her clothes and had to follow down the same path to get clean. She went quite a ways down the creek, however, and turned her back, giving the woman privacy and waiting long after Anna had left to take her own quick, chilly bath.
She admitted to herself she’d hoped for something, some sort of understanding with the woman, after Anna had invited her to be her lodge partner. She’d even thought she’d had a vision in there, sort of. She’d wanted to share it with Anna, and perhaps get her to laugh. Foolish hopes.
By the time she was back in her uniform the party – that is, the ritual – was starting to get underway. She went to take her leave of Fraser and Ray, and ended up accepting a warm invitation to dinner. Everyone was grabbing plates and sitting on whatever they could find. Rita Hawke got the chair, she saw, but quickly gave it up for Con, who had arthritis. Jane sat on the cabin steps at Ray’s side and traded cop stories until her stomach was full and her entire repertoire depleted.
Benny spent most of his time talking to James and Rita, and what she heard of the conversation sounded so academic she almost sneezed from the dust.
“What’d you do to Anna, anyway?” Ray asked her while discreetly picking caribou out of his teeth. The woman had been giving Jane strange looks all night.
Jane shrugged, and her brown eyes looked a little sad. “I believe she had a vision she disliked.”
“How was your vision?” Ray asked, then was surprised when Jane’s eyes darted away. “No way! You really had one? Get outta town! What was it?”
Jane licked her lips and Ray grinned.
“I’m not sure it was a vision. I saw my cat.”
Ray roared with laughter and clapped her warmly on the shoulder. Off to his left he saw Anna frowning at them. Talk about uptight! He was tempted to give his new Mountie friend a kiss on the cheek, but didn’t want any lectures from Benny.
“That’s a great vision,” Ray said finally, wiping his eyes a little. “Did your cat do anything special? Play with yarn? Dance under the moon?”
“You’re a smart-ass, Vecchio,” Jane said, enjoying herself.
Ray roared with laughter again.
“You didn’t go in the lodge,” she noted when he’d calmed down.
He shrugged. “Nah. Only thing I ever used one of those for was getting…uh…friendly with someone.”
Jane smiled, then frowned at herself. Ray could tell she’d thought something she shouldn’t, and wondered what it was.
The evening still came quickly, and the sky was only beginning to darken when James stood up and touched Fraser on the shoulder. A moment later, and an extremely self-conscious Mountie was walking back to Ray, who stood to meet him.
“Time to go inside, Benny?”
Fraser’s smile was innocent as a baby’s. “Yes, Ray.”
He turned to Jane and wished her goodnight. Her eyes twinkled at him.
“Are you staying here for the night, Constable?” Benny asked.
“Yes, in case there’s any sort of trouble on *this* astral plane,” she said quietly, her eyes making it clear she wasn’t being disrespectful. Ray grinned to himself. “I’ll camp out in the jeep.”
“I set up a tent,” a quiet voice said from behind Ray, making him fight the impulse to jump out of his skin. They turned to see Anna, who was already moving away. “You can use that.”
“Thanks,” Jane called, surprised.
Anna waved vaguely and went over to James.
Ray shot Jane his own look of surprise, then grinned at his partner and walked up the steps, shivering a bit as the air temperature went down along with the sun.
It was actually pretty cozy inside the cabin now. The fire was going and the lantern was on low. Their bedrolls and blankets made a soft-looking nest on the floor. The dried flowers even made it smell nice.
“Well?” Benny was asking Dief as Ray turned back to the door. “Are you coming in or not?”
Diefenbaker whined slightly, then turned around and laid himself down over the step just outside the door. Before Benny could close the door, Ray walked over and patted the wolf on the head.
“I owe you a donut for this one, furball.”
“Don’t encourage him, Ray.”
Dief’s tail thumped once, then he set his muzzle on his paws and closed his eyes. Benny closed the door gently.
Ray smiled and was about to reach for his lover when the drumming started. It was a deep, steady thrumming, a little uneven for a moment, then perfectly in rhythm, the clockwork noise of the entire night sky.
“What’s wrong, Ray?”
“They gonna do that for long, Benny?”
Fraser shrugged. “All night, I should think, Ray. Although if they feel the ritual has been successful, they’ll stop then.”
“Awww.” Ray moved back towards the fire, pacing. “How we supposed to sleep with that going on?”
“Well, actually, Ray.” Benny looked at him uneasily. “We’re not supposed to sleep at all.”
“All *night?* You mean, we’re supposed to make love all night?”
Benny smiled in just that way that let Ray know he couldn’t help it. “Does it really sound so bad, Ray?”
Ray felt himself flushing a bit. “Well, right *now* it doesn’t sound bad, but later…”
“It’s not later now, Ray.”
Ray smiled and let the heat of Benny’s eyes curl his toes. “No, it’s now, now.”
Benny took a step forward. “Now?”
Another step for both of them, and they were in each other’s arms. Ray laughed. “This part is always so easy.”
Benny breathed him in deep, and held it, for all the world like someone savoring a joint, and Ray smiled as his fingers carded through that silk-soft hair. “You’re so beautiful, Benny.”
But his words had the opposite effect from what he intended, and Fraser drew back.
Uncertain blue eyes, almost green again in the light of the lantern, met his. He was biting his lip, and Ray wanted so much to kiss him.
“I don’t want to keep anything from you, Ray.”
Ray tightened his arms and nuzzled Benny’s snow-white neck. “So tell me what’s on your mind, then.”
“James and the others…they said that you’re full of fire and magic, Ray.”
“Mph. Hope they said the same thing about you, Benny.”
“Ray…” Benny drew back with purpose and Ray looked up with a sigh. “They’re serious, Ray.”
“And so am I, Benny. It’s nice that they said that, but what am I supposed to do about it? Sounds mostly like they’re blowing a little white-man smoke our way, trying to get us to go along with this whole crazy ritual thing of theirs. Besides, I bet they *did* say it about you too.”
Benny frowned. “Well…”
“Yeah, yeah.” Ray pulled gently and Benny got back up next to him where he belonged. The drums had an almost hypnotic rhythm going, and for a while they stood there, swaying, almost dancing. When Ray realized he was about to fall asleep in Fraser’s arms, he reached up for a quick kiss and disengaged.
Ray wanted to head for the bed, but Benny gently tugged him towards the chest, and they sat down together on the floor as the Mountie produced a key.
“I finally get to see what’s in the chest?” Ray asked, smiling like a boy presented with a new bike.
“Yes, Ray,” Fraser said almost shyly, then reached for the lock.
Ray’s long fingers covered his hands, holding them. Benny looked up in concern into troubled green eyes.
“Fraser, I shouldn’t be keeping things from you, either.”
“What things? You know you can tell me anything, Ray.”
“Yeah.” Ray sighed. “I know, I just…damnit, Benny. I really wanted this time to be *ours,* you know? And look at us, half the Inuit nation outside the door beating drums and thinking we’re doing the nasty all night long!”
Benny seemed puzzled. “You haven’t been keeping your irritation from me about that, Ray.”
“No. I know.” Ray collapsed slightly, with a breath, then straightened. “I was talking to Jane today, just talking, but I got to thinking out loud, and I was thinking about the future.”
“I love you, Benny. I said that yet today?”
“Now you have, Ray.” Benny smiled, dazzling. Ray took the kiss he couldn’t resist, then settled back with a will.
“I was just BSing about how I’ll need to be looking for a job up here in a few years. I want you to know, I’m thinking along those lines, okay? I ain’t thrilled about it, but it’s okay and all.”
Benny was frowning. “But your own career –“
“Is pretty much over when people realize about us, Benny. I ain’t saying I’m going down without a fight, but if it ever, you know, comes down to a choice, I just want you to know I’ve made up my mind.”
Ray rolled his eyes. Did Fraser need *everything* explained to him all the time? “Yeah, a choice. Like, between you and my career. There’s no contest, you know? I’m a cop, but I’m not a cop like you’re a Mountie. I can be other things and still be happy.”
He looked Benny in the eye now, and it was like a straight shot of joy to see how brightly they shined, how much they loved him. He swallowed, the noise clear over the drumbeats, and a square, pale hand lifted to his face, stroking his cheek. Those perfect pink lips smiled faintly, and Ray just felt faint.
“What else could you do, Ray?” Benny whispered.
Ray tried to shrug, but only shivered. “I dunno, Benny. All sorts of things. I could, like, open up a store, or sell men’s clothes, or run a bowling alley.”
Benny laughed and stroked his other cheek, so gently it felt like a kiss. “You’d be miserable running a bowling alley, Ray.”
“Yeah, I guess so. But I’ll find something, Benny. I don’t want you to worry about it, okay?”
“But you did say you’d fight it, Ray.”
“And you’ll let me fight at your side.”
“I feel like I couldn’t do anything if you weren’t with me, Benny.”
“Thank you for telling me about this, Ray.”
Ray nodded, leaning into the new caress on his face, and then they were kissing again.
A while later, Benny got the trunk open, and they spent a solid two hours going over the things inside: some books, and old Sam Browne belt, a cigar box with medals in it, a shoebox full of old photos, one of Benny as a baby with no clothes on, sitting in the mud, more photos of Fraser Sr., of the grandparents, of people who were just names to Benny and barely faces to Ray, a broken watch, two compasses, more books, drawings, maps, a tiny pair of shoes Ray couldn’t help holding in his hand.
Somewhere in the middle of all the memories Benny let Ray slip him out of his shirt and, eventually, cover all that luscious, creamy skin with kisses. Ray was separated from some of his clothes as well, and Benny’s hands and lips had touched him everywhere they could reach.
The trunk was empty, but Ray peered inside to be sure, exposing his neck to gentle nibbling that made him forget what he was looking for. He made to lean back and seek those warm lips, but Fraser put a hand flat on his back, keeping him there. He let out a moan and dropped his head lower, leaning over inside the trunk, breathing in the light dust of old books and the sweet tang of neatsfoot oil.
“I love your neck, Ray.” Fraser’s breath feathered across his skin to dance on scattered nerves, making him shiver. “I love that it’s so long.” Little kisses now, right where it counted. “I love that it’s so sensitive.” A tiny bite over the jugular made Ray grip the rim of the trunk with hands knuckle-white. “Will you always let me touch you like this?” Another nip, lower down, near his collarbone.
“Ohhhh. Yeah. Whenever you like.”
“Wherever I like, Ray?” Fingers found his right nipple and played with it.
“Oh, yeah. Benny. Yes.”
“In the Riveria, Ray?” Fraser had found his nape now, and was licking it, stroking it up and down with his tongue, tickling himself on the bristle-hair at the top, lingering along the warm, salty skin sloping towards the shoulder.
“Can I do this to you in the Riveria, Ray?”
“You wanna neck in the car, Benny?”
“Mmmm. Neck.” *Nibble.*
Ray moaned again, shivering and shaking as Benny’s other hand toyed with his other nipple. He arched back into the warm curve of Fraser’s body, his rear pressing into a somewhat lumpy lap.
Benny groaned at the gentle pressure, rocking slightly in rhythm to the drums, unable to prevent the vision before him of Ray looking as though he had appeared from inside the trunk, pulled out like family photos to be cherished. He moaned softly as this combined with another vision of Ray naked with his legs spread, waiting to be gently ravished over and over.
They really shouldn’t go that far, though. It was hard enough to stay awake without adding in post-coital stupor.
“Ray, I want you so much,” he whispered, pressing that long, lean back to him with hands laid flat.
“You have me, Benny. Anytime you want me, take me.”
Benny’s moan was rather loud this time, and his urgency went to his arms and his cock with equal force. “Me as well,” he was mumbling into Ray’s neck. “My body…for you, anytime you want me. Just tell me, or touch me…”
Ray sighed and leaned back, whispering pleasure as Benny’s lips lightly nipped his ear. When he spoke, however, his voice was full of regret.
“Any time but now, of course.”
Fraser stilled, then resumed rocking, more gently now. “That does seem to be our predicament often, of late.”
“I dreamed of being up here, Benny, of the cabin and wood furniture and no one knocking on our door for days. I saw the two of us only getting out of bed to roast up some caribou and use the john.”
“I saw myself returning from a starlit walk, half-frozen, to thaw in your arms. I saw you telling me the forest isn’t so bad, and agreeing to come back here not because you had to, but because you wanted to.”
“I saw your blue eyes happy because you’re home.”
“I saw your naked body lit by firelight.”
“Damnit, Benny. As soon as this stupid ritual is over, I’m gonna…oh man, the things I’m going to do to you…” Ray buried his face in his arms, and Benny followed the arch of his body to bury his face in Ray’s neck. For several long moments, they did not speak, could not speak.
Finally, Ray mumbled, “Aren’t there islands around Tahiti where people have still never gone?”
“We could…find one of them.”
“Live off the land?”
“Spend the days making love in the sand and swimming around naked and stuff. You’d look really hot with a tan.”
“I’d just burn. But I could stay in the shade during the really intense sun hours.”
“I’d go out and get fish and bring it to you, and you could reward me for my service by…”
“…pleasuring you, Ray?”
“Yeah, Benny. By pleasuring me.”
Benny kissed his shoulder.
“Of course,” Ray continued, “Dief would get all hot, so maybe we could shave him or something.”
Benny’s breath caught, his arms squeezing so tight Ray cried out into a sudden silence. Frantic kisses covered Ray’s back as the arms loosened and warm hands caressed his chest and sides desperately.
“Ray, Ray, Ray…” Benny was chanting, his voice rusty with need.
“Benny!” Ray pushed back against the trunk, lifting them both up until he was sitting in Fraser’s lap again.
“Yeah. I mean, it’s so quiet.”
They sat there, hearing only their own breaths.
“That’s good, isn’t it, Benny? Doesn’t that mean the ritual’s over?”
“I think so, Ray.”
But they didn’t move, their breathing growing ever-more controlled, their ears roaring with silence.
“It’s so quiet,” Ray whispered. He shivered. It was getting cold.
Benny’s hands felt Ray’s skin cool slightly. “It’s all right, Ray. I’m sure they just –“
Benny’s head whipped around to stare at the wall. Was someone watching them? Perhaps…he looked to the windows, but they were covered completely. Yet somehow he felt he could feel someone, perhaps several people, standing just behind the curtains, trying to peer through, seeking them: a crowd covered by the thin fabric, dozens of eyes staring blindly.
They were both shivering now, both staring at the windows. Benny thought he could see Ray’s breath curl up in the air, like a finger beckoning.
Ray’s frozen hands grasped his wrists, making his bones ache. There was a shuffle, or scrape, some sort of half-heard noise, and Fraser was gripped by the insane urge to run to the fireplace, grab a burning log with his bare hands, and set the whole place on fire simply to feel some heat again.
Ray twisted, brutally, lifting up his legs and then settling them on either side of Benny’s flanks, and they were face-to-face, or rather chest-to-chest as Ray pressed his face into Benny’s neck. Benny did the same, and finally there was warmth, a flicker of it, and the sound of Ray’s heartbeat. After an endless moment, he could hear his own as well, a counter-rhythm, frantically beating, until it seemed that his own heart slowed, or perhaps it was Ray’s heart, and the sounds joined, two hearts drumming as one.
Drumming. That ritual beating of the Inuit who needed winter to leave.
“Benny,” Ray whispered, his breath warm on Fraser’s chilled shoulder.
“I hear it, Ray.”
The drums had never stopped. Their vibrations filled the room.
Ray laughed, his body heat returning as he pulled just slightly away. Ray’s eyes were wild and wide and his smile shaky.
“Ha! Geeze, Benny. We really freaked ourselves out, there.”
“Ray? Are you all right?”
“Yeah, of course I am. You’re all right, aren’t you?” Ray’s eyes were calming now, though they took on concern.
“Yes, Ray.” They pulled away from each other completely and stood up. Ray shivered and grabbed his shirt and Fraser’s white, high-necked sweater. Benny covered himself with his Henley and Ray’s extra-large sweatshirt.
They regarded each other solemnly, then Ray broke into giggles.
“I guess we killed the mood there, huh?”
Benny couldn’t help laughing either. “Perhaps we could just hold hands for a while.”
“And say nice things to each other?” Ray asked, sounding almost shy.
Benny finally felt warm again, and reached out his hands, smiling as Ray’s hands twined around them.
He was hardly at peace with himself. The demand for truth almost made Fraser object even to a momentary delay, but what was the truth? If he insisted that they had just narrowly avoided being killed by winter spirits, would that even be close to what had just happened?
He and Ray had found many truths together in their past. This was no different. Whatever magic or religion needed to be confronted would be, in time. It would have to be.
For now, he reveled in being pulled once more into Ray’s arms. Moments passed in a dozen sounds: the drums, the crackle of the wood in the fireplace, the rustle of people moving and occasionally talking or singing outside, the creak of the settling wood of the cabin, Ray’s breath and heartbeat, and his own body echoing his lover’s life.
The drums fell silent once more.
They froze, not breathing, but then there was a cheer raised outside, and the sounds of people evidently congratulating themselves.
Ray broke from Benny’s arms and raced to the door, flinging it open and almost off its make-shift hinges. Benny was right beside him.
The Inuit elders were still celebrating the evidently successful end of their ritual. Bottles were being pulled out of the trucks and jeeps and those who looked to the cabin laughed and waved to the men in the door. Constable Davenport crawled out of her tent and squinted at the sky. Benny was astonished to realize that it was almost dawn.
“It can’t be,” Ray objected when Benny spoke.
“And yet,” Benny gestured to the sky, “it is.”
Ray sagged against him. “Tell me this is the end of all this freaky stuff that’s been happening to us, Benny.”
Fraser opened his mouth, but could not, in all conscience, quite bring himself to say the words.
Diefenbaker got up and barked at them. Ray sighed and knelt to scratch the wolf behind his ears.
Jane walked to the bottom of the steps and yawned as she looked up. “I guess the spirits are all right now?”
Ray shrugged and laughed. Only Benny could see the forced quality of it. “I guess so! Looks like we’re gonna have some drinks now.”
“Actually, I need to stay sober. They’re coming for Metcalf at 10 AM.”
“That means we should get on the road soon, then,” Benny noted.
Ray sighed. “So much for the vino.”
“Ray, I hardly think drinking is foremost on the elders’ minds now.”
Ray looked at him, the green eyes gray in the starlight, but unmistakably wry.
“Benny, in about twenty minutes, your lawn is going to be lousy with drunken Inuit. I say we get outta here before they strap us down and cover our bodies with celebratory tattoos.”
“I doubt they would do any such thing, Ray.”
A long, pale, elegant finger curled in the air. “Ah. But do you know that for certain?”
Fraser regarded the milling crowd a moment, then went into the Cabin for his boots. Ray flashed Davenport a grin, then went after his own footwear.
Ray and Benny managed a shower in the tiny bathroom at the station in Axehandle, separately, to their mutual but unexpressed disappointment. Not that there was ever a chance for such things, but Benny told himself it was a shame to waste the water, and Ray just ran through a few dozen swear words in his head when the water made him hard and Benny wasn’t there to let him take advantage of it.
Ray avoided the cell and spent the morning at the station helping Davenport with her background checks on Del Rae Industries. He’d done all he could with his Victoria stuff, so at first he only read about pesticides and lumber to keep himself occupied.
About 9 AM, he asked Jane for the use of her computer.
Benny stood outside the door to Victoria’s cell and tried to know what he was feeling.
This was not, he recognized with a private smile, his strength.
He did hate her a little. He had loved her too much not to. And he supposed he would always feel guilty about her.
Fraser opened the door. She was reclining on the cot and reading a magazine. She was beautiful, the dark beauty of snow in the night. One look at her made him ache for the sight of Ray’s eyes.
“The officers who will take you to Ottawa will be here in an hour.”
“Are you sure you’ve made the right choice, Ben?”
A thousand answers came to his mind, and yet the only one to make it to his lips was truly his response.
“My life does not concern you. It never did.”
Her paleness stared at him: the arched brows perfectly poised.
“Do you need anything before they come?”
He nodded and left. Her head was bending back to the magazine before he finished turning away.
Ray and Constable Davenport were hunched over the computer.
“I don’t believe this,” she was muttering.
“Crooks! Always stupid!” Ray announced. “And thank God for it, or we’d never catch ‘em, right?”
“Benny! Come ‘ere!”
Fraser walked over and looked at the screen. It was an inventory of damaged goods from a recent fire at Del Rae Industries’ central Alberta warehouse. Though a few other items had been placed on the list, evidently for obfuscation, the inventory read almost exactly as a list of the devices and chemicals found in the woods.
“Someone panicked big time,” Ray said.
“It’s so obvious I would never have thought of looking for it,” Jane breathed, looking at Ray with open admiration.
“That’s me, Mr. Obvious!”
“It’s extremely incriminating,” Fraser acknowledged.
“Oh, it’s better than that, Benny. The guy who made out this list is none other than our lumber-buying friend himself. At least, it was done by his department. I bet Jane here goes up to Del Rae’s PR guys with this and a few suggestions about how they shouldn’t let their people run wild, and they’ll be turning him over to the law so fast his Rolodex will make skid marks on his desktop.”
“Hooray for damage control,” Jane said with a somewhat glum smile. She’d rather have the higher-ups who doubtlessly knew what their man was doing, but she’d take this and count herself lucky.
Victoria Metcalf’s transfer took up the rest of the morning, especially as she came complete with some of the most meticulously circumspect reports ever filed in the history of the RCMP.
Helping Jane Davenport close the Del Rae case took Fraser and Vecchio two more days.
They spent another day traveling to Ituokvuk, so they could attend Peter Lookstwice’s funeral. At the services, they found Doc, who needed a place to stay, and happily settled for one of the beds in their hotel room while Benny took the floor and Ray stared at the ceiling from the center of a mattress ditch.
It was noon, with only a few more days to go in their vacation, before they were within five miles of the cabin again. Ray was speeding, and Benny didn’t mention it.
“So I just told the plumbing guys on the phone to leave the stuff. We’ll figure out what to do with it, or we can just store it.”
“Makes sense, Ray.”
“We can get the shingles up, at least, and do the weather-stripping, board up the windows, and finish the door. It will be here for us next time.”
“Yes, Ray. I’m not worried about the cabin. We still have a few days.”
“That’s what I’m saying, Benny. We can do the rest of the stuff we *have* to pretty quickly. That gives us…somehow in there we can manage a full day and two nights in bed, even though I told the guys not to deliver it. I mean, bedrolls and some damn privacy is bed enough for me, Benny, if you’re in it.”
“Could you…hurry, Ray?”
Ray scowled and drove even faster, though he had to slow down for the final bit of road. Then…
Jane’s jeep was parked in front of the cabin.
But then they both noticed that the cabin looked…strange.
It was painted, for one thing, and a lovely, solid-looking door, stained dark and lightly filigreed, hung in the equally solid-looking door frame. The roof was shingled.
“The plumbing’s done too,” Jane told them as they walked up to the steps on which she was sitting. Diefenbaker ran ahead to sniff her hand, looked up at the cabin, then bounded off into the woods. “Furniture came yesterday.”
She stood and held up two sets of keys. “Anna and I took the liberty of getting you guys some curtains and linen. Hope that’s okay.”
“Thank you kindly,” Fraser said, taking his set of keys in a sort of slow-motion gesture and putting them in the pack thrown over his shoulder.
Ray leaned over and kissed her cheek, then grabbed his keys and laughed. “You Canadians! I’m gonna have to get a maple leaf bumper sticker, or something.”
Jane laughed and headed for the jeep.
“Don’t you want…shouldn’t…some coffee?” Benny called after her.
“There’s some in the cupboard, along with some food you’d better eat.” She made it almost to the jeep, then turned around as though remembering something. “Oh. You guys got some mail. It’s on the table.”
She drove off then without looking back.
Ray and Benny exchanged a look, then walked up the stairs and inside. Both set their packs down on the floor with a *thump.*
The fire was going and the lantern lit. Benny’s chest was in the corner. All other similarity to the last time they had seen the room ended there.
There was a bed made up with dark, soft linens and a wooden headboard, a chest of drawers, a table and two chairs, a rug in front of the fireplace that went nicely with the bed, light curtains over the windows, a dark blue sofa that screamed “Make out on me!” and an armchair perfect for reading.
Ray went into the bathroom and whooped for joy. The water worked in the sink and the shower, and the toilet flushed, quietly.
Benny looked at the beautiful but currently empty bookshelves along the east wall. Above them, the ceiling had been sealed and painted and the beams stained dark brown.
“They must have had a city-full of people working on this place,” Ray said, his expression dazed as he walked back into the room.
Benny looked at him. “They’re not here now, Ray.”
“And do you know what now is, Benny?”
“Now is later, Benny.”
Ray crossed to the door and shut it tight. Benny was already taking off his shirt.
“Let’s not put our clothes back on, Ray. Not until we absolutely have to.”
Ray stripped himself bare in less than thirty seconds, then threw his clothes into the corner. He reached into his pack and came out with a tube and a box.
Benny flushed at the possessiveness in Ray’s tone, and the sight of his lover, already hard, walking towards him let him feel that first rush of warmth even before Ray’s perfect hands reached him.
“Benny…I gotta be inside you, Benny.”
This is what it feels like to count on love, Fraser thought, sinking back to the soft, firm bed that even Ray couldn’t claim was uncomfortable. This is what it feels like to take love for granted, to know it without question, with no more concern for its existence than for that of the sun or the moon. In Ray’s eyes he could see everything he needed his lover to feel, everything he felt himself. And when Ray’s eyes burned even brighter he knew his own eyes were showing what Ray needed to see.
“It’s so easy to love you,” he whispered, reaching up to stroke Ray’s cheek.
Ray reached down to kiss him, and the bed was big enough to allow Benny to roll him over, pressing him down with his weight, clasping his long, whip-like body to his own pale, solid self. He plundered Ray’s mouth, and there was the honey-fire he needed, the nectar and elixir and pure, straight drug of him.
Ray rolled him back over and draped himself over Benny’s chest. Hot kisses blessed his face and neck while Ray’s knee nudged his legs apart. Nimble fingers danced over his chest and found his nipples, and his own hands followed this perfect example with a dance of their own.
When their cocks brushed, it was almost all over right then, but Ray pulled back, moaning Benny’s name and reaching for the cool gel that he warmed with his hands.
Benny scooted to the middle of the bed, waited until Ray was looking at him, then raised up his legs and spread them wide, holding his shins in his hands.
Ray’s eyes went even wider in astonishment than they had gone in fear, though perhaps there was a little fear there as well.
Ray groaned and closed his eyes, then opened them and dropped down over Benny’s body, nestling between his legs and nuzzling his chest.
“You look so hot, so sexy, I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you, Benny. I love you so much, Benny.” A hot tongue licked at his nipples, lapping heat into his body that collected low in his belly. When a slick finger grazed his cleft, his body strained to welcome it home. A stroke along the sensitive rim of his opening, and then pressure, sweet and hot: a prelude to bliss.
Benny’s eyes were closed, but he could see everything clearly anyway: the light on Ray’s body, the flex and play of his lean muscles, the love etched in his tender care and jade eyes.
“Your cock will be there, where you fingers are now,” he hummed joyously. “You’ll take me, and make it last as long as you can, and then you’ll come inside me.”
Ray groaned, and the lips on his chest were sucking at him now, deeply, leaving marks, probably. He hoped so. He reached down and caressed the hard flesh poking his hip. Ray was so soft, the naked length so bare, and his warm sac was like fine tissue or an antique silk scarf. The soft hair tickled his palm.
“Will you let me touch you like this all the time, Ray? Even in public?”
“Oh, God, Benny. You know I can’t stand it when you talk like this.” Benny felt himself stretch as Ray added in the third finger. Not long now.
“I was thinking, if I lock the door to my office at the Consulate, I could suck you off while you sat on my desk.”
“Benny!” Ray wailed, the fingers retreating. Benny heard a foil pouch being ripped open.
“I can’t think of a good place to have sex at the precinct. I doubt Lieutenant Welsh would allow us to use his office.”
Hands moved to his thighs, caressing him, and then lower down, parting him. Blunt pressure nudged his center, shooting heat up his erection as it dripped onto his belly.
He forced his eyes open, and there Ray was, just as he should be, golden and magnificent. If the Inuit elders could see him like this, they’d know it was no secret Ray was made of fire and magic.
Ray met his eyes, and held them as he pressed his hips slowly, delicious forward. Pressure increased into pleasure, painfully, then eased, and he was filled up, replete.
Ray rested, leaning on his arms. A bead of sweat slid redolently from his neck and landed near Benny’s right nipple. Ray eyed the drop, then arched down to lick it off.
Then he moved, and Benny could think only of drums. The vibrations of Ray’s rhythm seemed to fill the cabin, and he, Ben Fraser, was spread gently open further and further until the gentleness itself was a type of violence. His heart, his life, his soul, his every last emotion lay exposed under the knife of those tender, perfect thrusts -- his skin, his reserve, his fear discarded, dry and empty on the barren rock of his past life.
“This is…who I want…to be,” he whispered, cresting the wave of heat in his body, made desperate by the tingling lights that signaled the end.
“Yes,” Ray whispered back between his own labored breaths, as though he had spoken Benny’s words. “Oh God.” His head rocked back, and the speed of his thrusts increased. A hot hand found Benny’s cock.
Benny sobbed once, but the end only meant they could do it again, didn’t it?
“For the rest…of my life,” he whispered next, then began the long, low moan that would be with him through the last of it.
“Yes!” Ray shouted, thrusting hard, stroking in time. “Oh, God!”
Benny felt him convulse inside, and the hot flood, and then he was lost in his own writhing, white-burn release. His arms released his legs and reached up to urge Ray down, softly, down onto his stomach and chest, their thundering hearts pressed once again together to calm and soothe in a union that released passion as though it were the bonds of gravity which hold men to earth. Together, they drifted.
It would be hours before they’d remember Jane’s words about the mail on the table, and another hour after that before they would open the letter from Ottawa that commended them on their exposure of corporate corruption and environmental tampering, as well as the incarceration of dangerous felon. In recognition of his heroism, Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP, was granted an additional two weeks’ vacation time, and in what both of them considered recognition that Ray would scream bloody murder otherwise, Detective Ray Vecchio, Chicago PD had been granted two more weeks with pay from his superiors as well.
Ray pronounced the letter a miracle, but later he would have to admit that the true miracle came later. In the following almost-three-weeks, not a single visitor came to their door, not a single femme fatale came to steal one of them away, and not a single dead bird fell from the sky.
“It’s downright unnatural,” Ray muttered at one point.
Benny his thrusting for a moment, wiping the sweat off his face with a hand still a-tingle from a lengthy session of sensual finger-sucking. “What, Ray?”
“Nothing, Benny.” Ray gripped him tight, smiling into the pillow as he heard his friend gasp. “Get back to what you were doing.”
“Ray, tell me –“
“I love you, Benny.”
A quick kiss between his shoulder blades, then the perfect drumbeat
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