Double or Nothing


Manna La Droit


The suspect looked through the glass.

Yes, Benton Fraser, RCMP, was certain of it.  Those dark eyes, desperate and jaded and so much older than they should have been in the young man's face, were looking *through* the glass, resolutely aware that the mirror in the interrogation room hid unknown observers, perhaps a video camera.

When the eyes turned to Ray Vecchio, CPD, everyone in the room knew Trevor Durham, reputed "boy" of Vincent "Tiger" Perrelli, wasn't going to say another word.

Ray leaned back, signaling to Huey and Fraser, who sat in the room with him, and to Lieutenant Welsh, who was indeed watching through the mirror, that the interview could take a little break.

Everyone sort of relaxed a little, and Ray briefly met Benny's eyes, giving nothing away to anyone except his friend.  Vecchio didn't like this.  There was even a good shot that Durham knew nothing.  He wanted Perrelli in that chair, answering these questions.

But Perrelli was probably back in Italy by now, protected by the family.  If they were going to find Diana Marshet alive, it could only be through Durham's help...if the young man with the old eyes knew anything at all.

There was a good chance that he could help them if he wanted to.  Perrelli was known for being unable to keep secrets in bed -- a character flaw that had resulted in a string of dead lovers.  Durham himself might well have been next on Perrelli's list of permanently ex-confidants, and something told Fraser that the man knew it.

Fraser had not actually been in the room when they arrested Durham, a fact for which he was grateful.  The detailed descriptions already going around the station of a naked, oil-slick body handcuffed to a bar hanging from the ceiling were more than enough for him.  Just at the neckline of Durham's T-shirt Fraser could see the yellow-dark edges of bruises, and there was a healing cut on the man's lower lip.  Everyone in the room and watching through the mirror -- everyone, doubtlessly, by now, in the station house -- knew what Durham had done, and been, for Perrelli.

But Fraser pushed those thoughts away.  Durham was a man who had made his choices, and what mattered now was not his relationship with the criminal who had abducted Ms. Marshet, but what information he might hold because of it.

A uniformed officer, Corbin Schmit, knocked on the door softly and then came in with a slotted cardboard tray of coffees.  Durham was offered one first, and he took it with a slight sneer.

Fraser shook his head with a murmured, "No thank you," when the tray was pressed at him, but Schmit met Ray's eyes with a glimmer and Fraser realized the "coffee" next to him was actually tea.  He forced himself not to look at Ray when he took the Styrofoam cup and held its warmth in his hands.  It was cold in here, and the smell of the tea diffused for a moment the stench of sweat and fear and anger.

Fraser took a sip of the tea and felt its warmth in his stomach -- or was that the warmth simply of knowing Ray had thought to arrange this for him?  Certainly the heat of his feelings for Ray was as familiar as the sensation of drinking tea.  He saw as Ray's hand -- so fine and slender, hands that would look best plucking a harp or conducting a Russian symphony -- took the last cup out of the tray, and for a moment it felt as though they were sitting around Fraser's apartment, talking about nothing in that way Ray had, complaining, praising, dropping in a moment from his childhood, listening while Benny told the story of his mother's death, his father's duties, his grandmother's library.

Ray, he noticed with thoroughly smothered alarm, was looking at him strangely.  But then, with a hidden smile, he realized his friend was looking at his father's watch.

"I figure we got about maybe another hour before your lawyer gets you out of here," Ray said in an almost friendly tone.  Durham looked at him.  "But that doesn't matter.  If another hour goes by, I figure she'll be dead by then anyway."  Durham said nothing, and Ray shrugged.  "I guess you, living that sort of life, letting Perrelli use you all the time like you're nothing, I guess it's too much for you now, huh?  Worrying about another life, having to make an effort to care.  It's easier just to be hard all the way through."  Ray smiled bitterly and tipped his half-drunk coffee in a toast.  "Here's to looking out for number one, right?  After all, we can't prove nothing.  You're going to get off a free man."

"Vecchio," Huey murmured.  Not a warning, not in front of a suspect, but there…a reminder.

"Aw, come on, Jack.  He's outta here.  So what if she's dead?  She doesn't know anything about pain, about suffering.  I bet our friend Trevor here could write a book on what she doesn't know.  That's why she deserves to die, right, kid?"  Ray leaned forward suddenly, voice low and deadly as he stared into those ancient eyes.  "And see, that's the problem, right there.  You *do* care.  You care so much you're going to kill her.  And when this is over, you're going to have to live with that, live with the fact that you killed a woman you don't even know just because she didn't end up handcuffed to some psychopath's bed."

"Ray," Fraser spoke, the automatic protest of the "good cop" out before he even knew if they were still playing that role.  But it wasn't loud, wasn't commanding.  Just…a reminder.

And then, impossibly, Durham's eyes flickered.

"Just him," the young man muttered.

Fraser realized those dark eyes were on him.  They went back to Ray just as everyone else no doubt realized it as well.

"Just him," Durham repeated.

Ray stood up without looking towards his unofficial partner, jerking his head at Schmit and Huey to proceed him out of the room.

"Whoever's behind the glass too," Durham said.

Ray nodded.  "You got it."

"Ray…"  Fraser met Ray's green eyes and saw the man promise.  No one would be in the interrogation room.

He was alone with Durham, but neither of them moved until a soft rap -- Ray's -- on the mirror signaled the all-clear.

Durham looked at him.

"Will you tell me where Ms Marshet is?"

Durham nodded, then shrugged.  "I'm not sure, but I got an idea."

But Durham said nothing more.

"Is there something you want from me first?" Fraser hazarded.  Durham's hands were cuffed behind the chair, a result from his earlier physical protests at being interrogated.  If it were within the law, Benton Fraser would do whatever this man wanted to save Ms Marshet's life, and Fraser allowed his eyes to say as much.

"You're like me," Durham said softly.

Fraser shook his head without hesitation.  "Actually, I have never found pain or humiliation to be…a stimulant."  Having his heart stomped on, loving where it was impossible?  Yes.  Bondage and discipline?  No.

But Durham was shaking his head and shrugging impatiently at the same time.  "Yeah, yeah.  I'm sure you’d like it pure vanilla.  But you still want…what you shouldn't."  Durham's eyes suddenly, horrifically, tracked over to the closed door.  "And he doesn't even know.  Hasn't got a clue."

Fraser swallowed and knew he'd gone pale.

Durham leaned back now, enjoying himself.  "The guy wears it like a crown, don't he?  Italian-macho, Crucifix-wearin', Catholic cop!  Probably can't stand watching pride parades in his neighborhood, or seeing guys figure skating on TV.  You could probably show up naked in the clueless bastard's bed with Hersey's on your nips and he'd just think you crawled into his bed instead of his sister's by mistake."

Mr. Durham couldn't possibly know anything about Ray's sister.  He was just extrapolating on stereotypes.  The fact that his accusations were so accurate was just chance, just the desperation of a man who had been hurt, Fraser could tell, down to his soul.

For with every hateful, hurting word from his mouth, Durham was allowing his eyes to tell another story, the story of degradation and self-disgust.  Even as he writhed inside from the pain of Durham's knowledge, Fraser yearned to help the young man trapped in all that aching, empty pain.

"What can I do for you, Mr. Durham?" Fraser whispered.

Durham leaned in again, his eyes hungry now, his mouth poised at though to bite.  "Tell me about it.  Tell me how you feel."

No.  Fraser leaned back.  No, this wasn't something he could do.  He'd never even allowed the words in the quiet of his mind.  No.

The watch on his wrist flashed the image of time.  They knew Ms Marshet had been hurt.  They didn't know how badly.

"Why?" he managed.  "Why do you want that from me?"

Durham laughed, an ugly noise.  "Look at you."

Fraser couldn't help looking down.  He was, perhaps unfortunately, in his dress reds.  He'd been on guard duty when Ray had driven up just as the chimes were sounding, yelling at Benny to get in, to help, to come with him.

"You look like you should be on money," Durham said.  "And you got the respect of all the cops here.  They don't even wonder what you're doing here.  You not no jurisdiction.  I ain't Canadian and neither is Perrelli.  You must be special, huh?  All the girls watch you -- I saw outside.  I bet you go to church and always get your man, huh?"  Durham laughed again, a little more desperately.  "Get your man, but you can't get him.  He doesn't want you, would probably hate you, huh?  If he knew?"

The words came out before he was aware of their presence.  "Ray is my friend."

"Vinnie was mine, at first."  Durham's eyes were open now, showing what Fraser no longer wanted to see.  "I knew I liked men, but the rest of it, I had no idea, man.  None.  Vinnie showed me.  Little things at first, just a bit here and there, and it turned my crank and I came *so hard.*  And then…it was like a drug, you know?  The more I wanted, the more he gave, the more I wanted."  Durham broke off, leaning back again, defeated and yet so cruel.  "You want him to fuck you, right?  Suck his cock?"  Durham thought a moment.  Fraser couldn't quite remember how to breathe.  "Or does it never get that far?  Do you just think about those hands of his, and his eyes?  Prettiest eyes I ever saw on a man.  Got no right to be on a cop, do they?"

Fraser opened his mouth to object, but could think of nothing.  Ray's eyes weren't pretty.  Ray's eyes were beautiful.  Beautiful, not pretty.  Not much of an objection.

"What do you want, Mr. Durham?" he could only ask again.

"Tell me what you want.  Tell me one thing you want from him.  Sit there with your perfect little uniform and your superhero crime-fighting record and tell me something you want from your friend that would make him sick if he knew it.  Tell me so I know…"

"Know what?  You couldn't use it for extortion.  As you yourself pointed out, Ray would never believe you."

"Fuck you!"  Durham looked hurt, insulted, outraged.  There was no time for this.  "I ain't interested in telling anyone, you shit!"

"Then *why?*"  Fraser allowed his voice to go loud, just slightly…perhaps not so slightly.  "Why do you want it?"

Durham bit his lip, catching his teeth on the scab there, opening it up.  Bright, dark blood.  "Because if you want it, then I…then anyone can feel…and I can find my way back."  Durham's eyes pleaded.  "Save me, man.  Show me it's something anyone can want.  Save me, and I'll save the girl, just like a hero too."  Cynicism flashed bright and hard as blood.  "It ain't much, is it?  But it would be something.  I got nothing now."

Fraser felt himself beginning to agree, and fought it, like he'd once fought the freezing waters for his life.  Dief, however, couldn't save him from this.  He could save Trevor Durham, and Durham could save Ms Marshet.  There would be no one to save Benton Fraser, but the Mountie had known that for a very long time now, hadn't he?

Besides, there was no time.

"I'm…washing the dishes."  His voice was too low, too soft.  Durham was leaning forward now, hungry again, but hopeful too.  Needful.

"My hands are in the hot water, at my apartment.  I'm standing there in my uniform pants and undershirt, in my boots.  The water's hot and steaming."  He stopped.  It was too difficult to do this.  Durham just waited, face blank as a man might look right before the kill, or before a gasp of pleasure…expectant, hopeful.  Needful.

"Ray is there, talking, but then he stops talking.  He comes up behind me.  He says nothing."  Fraser was beginning to pant between and around the words.  His hand was crushing the foam cup.  The cool tea dripped between his fingers, but he couldn't let go.  "He slides off my braces.  He pulls up my shirt and pushes down my pants and…underwear…and then…I hear his pants slide down his legs and he…takes me."

"And you can't stop him?" Durham whispered, and there was compassion there, as painful as Fraser's own shame.

"No.  My hands are wet."

Durham's eyes closed, his body slumped forward, and a breath that must have filled his entire body was slowly released.

Fraser tried to clear his throat.  His forehead was sweating.  "Mr. Durham."

"Warehouse, on South Jefferson, between Twenty-Seventh and Pearl.  He sometimes stores livestock there.  He wouldn't have left anyone there.  She could be alone, in one of the pens for the dangerous animals."

Fraser stood up.  "Thank you, Mr. Durham."

"Thank you, Mr. Fraser," Durham said, the words lost as the Mountie opened the door and called out for Ray -- who was standing nearby, keeping an eye on the observation room door.  In seconds, everyone was in motion.

When they found Diana Marshet in the smallest holding pen, her hands and feet bound with tape, a slightly festering wound in her side, Fraser knew that whatever the outcome of his interview with Trevor Durham, he could never regret it.  But he also knew, even as he helped them load her onto the gurney, that something in him, some sort of control or sheltering wall, had been removed.  For the first time, being with Ray was painful, and, pleading his own equivalent of exhaustion, he asked his friend to drive him home.

"Yeah, long day, huh?" Ray asked before leading them, as he always did, back to the car.

"So," Ray asked as he sat behind the wheel, leaning just slightly away from the lupine tongue trying to drool down his neck.  "You wanna talk about what Durham said, or not?"

"Or not, Ray.  If you don't mind."

Ray shrugged easily, though Benny knew he wasn't pleased.  "I don't mind, Benny, but you know you got to write a report on it."

"He simply wanted to tell me what he knew about Mr. Perrelli without feeling that he was being judged."

Ray accepted that as the truth.  It was, after all, the truth, in its way. And Ray was his friend.

In his way.

Ray dropped him off and he climbed the stairs with Dief following.  It was very late, well past midnight, and he had duty early in the morning.  Not guard duty, thankfully.  There was a trade delegation coming in tomorrow, and Fraser was to oversee their comfort and security.  It was almost real work.  He would need to be fresh and alert, charming and quietly competent.

He washed in the communal bathroom, changed into his red longjohns, and bedded down.

And they came, as he had known they would:  a thousand fantasies fueled by the words he'd had to make form on his lips.  Ray kissing him, Ray touching him, Ray above him, below him, by his side, in the car, in this bed, in Ray's bed, on his desk, on Ray's desk, in a back alley, in the Yukon, amongst the ruins of a plane crash (rather difficult that one, since all his memories of the crash were formed by only four senses), at that leather club, in church -- shocking, that one -- and somehow even on Meg Thatcher's desk.  The inspector, at least, wasn't in the room.

Years of RCMP discipline, and years of self-discipline before that, weren't to be undone by fantasies, even thousands of them.  Fraser turned on his back, closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.  At dawn, he awoke and dressed and waited for Ray to give him a ride to work.

"Hiya, Benny."  Ray let Benny settle a bit into the seat, failed this time to avoid that drooling tongue, and made disgusted noises at man and wolf for almost the entire trip to the Consulate.

*How often have we done this?  How could I manage my days without it?*  Benny looked out the window and let the inevitable question come.  *How much longer can I stand this?  How long before…something…breaks?*

He went through another week, almost, getting up earlier to clean and iron and wash before Ray arrived, going to bed later and later, bringing Consulate work home with him while Diefenbaker sat at his feet and said nothing.

He thought more than once, when the mood struck him, that if he were truly the wolf that Dief took him for, matters would be so much simpler.  He would walk over to Ray, sniff his genitals, perhaps mock-fight him, and then, with luck…Wolves mated for life.

But light moods were becoming rarer and rarer, and finally, on a Friday night after he and Ray had eaten too much pizza, talked over their week, and made tentative plans for "a movie or something" Saturday afternoon, Fraser lay in his bed and thought about possibilities for survival.

Sex with Ray -- incredibly heterosexual, slightly homophobic, crucifix-wearing, Catholic cop Ray -- was out of the question.  Leaving, however frequently he considered it, was also out of the question.  What could there be in the middle?

Nothing, with Ray.  Nothing physical, that is.  Everything else with Ray, always with Ray.  Did the man realize, Benton Fraser wondered, that he would be seeing Benny for the rest of his life?  If Ray married again, as he probably would one day, Benny would be his best man.  He would be uncle to Ray's children, as he was currently to his nieces and nephews.  He would help Ray move, or fix his latest Riv, or do…anything.  Whatever Ray wanted.

Fraser was not a stupid man, nor naïve, however much people might believe that of him.  He knew that if he were going to live for the next fifty years at Ray's side, he had to find some sort of outlet, some release for the endless burn of his body.

Which would mean another man…if he were up to it, which he wasn't.  Too much chance of being caught, of having Ray find out.  Ray would hate him as surely for being gay without his involvement as he would for making a pass at Ray himself.

So sex was out.  Had anything else touched him?  Could any sort of connection be made with another man, a gay man?

And then he saw that his mind was playing with him.  He saw what he had wanted now, for days.

Trevor Durham was gone, faded back into the crowd huddled in Chicago's darkness where Benny only went to rescue or to apprehend.  But in the interrogation room, as horrible as it had been, a man, a gay man had known his secret.  There had been the briefest connection.  Did it perhaps not matter that the understanding had been unwelcome?  A man had known, had shared with him the desire Ray could never know.

Reckless, so reckless, Benny gasped at it.  To go into the night and find someone who would know, someone not a criminal, someone simply able to accept that he wanted his best friend, someone perhaps with those same knowing eyes -- though not as old, not as hurt -- someone who could look into his own eyes and know the truth and…commiserate?

Was it so impossible?

Certainly, it was a great deal more probable than that Ray would ever come here to his bed and hold him down and fuck him.

Benny moaned aloud.  The unbidden crudity had made him hard.  He could almost see Ray's hands on his thighs, holding him open, and then…oh God, then that part of Ray he'd never managed to get a good look at.  There had been glimpses during two showers, one at the house while the family paraded through -- Benny hadn't even wanted Ray then, and looked back at that episode as "The Great Waste of Opportunity" -- and then another, about two months ago, at the station where Ray had sluiced off "God only knows what" and yelled out his plans while Benny assembled the fake bomb they were going to bring to the embassy.  Benny had finished and gone to the back to tell Ray, managing only that glimpse before Ray's towel hid his body and that gently curving length from view.

But despite Ray's loose clothes, Benny had seen him wet -- had carried him once when he was soaked through.  He knew Ray's nose fit the stereotype nicely, and he knew that having Ray's penis inside him would be every bit the incredible sensation he dreamed.

With his right hand wrapped around his erection, coaxing it towards a release he hadn't been able to find for almost a week, Benny felt his left hand creep down and around before his finger slipped inside.  He gasped and shuddered and groaned and thought only of Ray, pretending it was Ray's hands on him.  Ray's beautiful hands would be so gentle, a little uncertain, but deft.  Ray's hands would be deft.

*Ray's hands would be covered in vomit.  Endless streams of vomit before he --*

Fraser forced himself not to finish the thought, but it didn't matter.  His erection was gone.

Cursing words that would shock Ray, and pretty much everyone else he had ever known, Fraser shot out of the bed.  After scrubbing his hands, he dressed.

He needed a distraction.  He needed something to keep his mind on sex and away from Ray's disgust.  Perhaps a dirty magazine, or a video…expect that he didn't have a VCR.  Or a TV either.

A magazine then.  Men bought them all the time.

Dief lifted his head, but Benny murmured, "No, please."  The wolf sniffed slightly, then went back to sleep.

But once on the street Fraser found that his feet did not know where to go, or perhaps it was that they did know, and the rest of him didn't.  In any event he seemed to wander for some time before the knowledge made it to his brain and he hailed a taxi.

Far, far out of the 27th Precinct, near the super-trendy dance places, he found a place that would do.  Clean, not seedy, with good drinks and music that didn't make your ears want to run off and hide…or so he had heard once, and committed greedily to memory.  Perhaps even then he'd wanted to do this simple action of walking into a place where every man in sight was Just Like Him.

In the end, he did nothing more than make that grand entrance.  He ordered a beer, which he did not drink, and watched other men dance.  He turned down a great many offers to dance himself in the first twenty minutes or so, but then word seemed to get around about him, in a friendly way, and he was simply accepted in silence.  He supposed the others thought he was waiting for someone.

And he was, though it wasn't until over a week later, on Saturday night now, that Benny saw him.

Another week had been spent with Ray, another week conquered, wrestled into submission.  And there was no doubt that the bar was helping.

He'd made a few nodding acquaintances by then, and recognized some of the couples.  It was a nice place, and no on here hated him.  He felt himself relax, and knew it was all right to do so.  And then while he pretended to sip on his beer that second Saturday night he saw him.

Tall, lean, Italian perhaps, or perhaps more vaguely Mediterranean.  He was American-born, no question, and liked loose, well-tailored clothes.  His hands were in motion as he talked to a man standing near him, and when he turned to scan the bar, Benny saw that his eyes were pretty.

And knowing.

The man looked at Benny for perhaps a second before he excused himself from his friend and walked in a straight line across the bar.

"Hello," the man said simply.  His voice was close enough.  "Charles Roth."

"I'm Benton," Benny began, and then somehow it was easy.  "May I buy you a drink?"

The man looked surprised, and for a moment Fraser believed he had ruined his chance, but then Charles smiled and laughed softly.  It was a pleasant laugh, if a little wry.  "Yes, you may buy me a drink."

He sat on the stool to Benny's right and ordered a beer.  Fraser put a five dollar bill -- American -- on the bar and then looked in those eyes.  In the light, he couldn't tell what color they were.  Brown with a touch of hazel, perhaps.  Charles wrapped his hand around the neck of the bottle and the fingers were so slender and nimble Benny felt his face heat up.

And he knew, without even shock now, why he had come here, what sort of distraction he needed.

And he was not shocked.  Disgusted with himself, perhaps, but not…surprised even.

He expected Charles to talk, but instead they watched the dancers together for a while in silence.  When Charles finally asked him if he wanted to dance, Fraser agreed eagerly, and the smile that came to his face when they stood up would not be banished.  Charles was just the right height.

The song was slow and steady.  Fraser shivered when Charles' hands went to his waist, and without thinking, without letting himself think, Fraser simply enfolded that long, lean body in his arms and tucked his face into the man's neck.  The smell was all wrong, of course, but the feel of that body seemed almost perfect.  It was so easy to pretend that it was frightening, but he calmed himself and moved with Charles to the music, and the need inside washed back a bit, giving him more ease than he'd had in months.

Charles pressed against him and Benny welcomed it.  Ray's hips, he thought, were narrower, and Ray's back was straighter, smoother.  He wondered if Charles' backside would be as pert and firm as the half-seen rear Ray sported.  But then, as long as Fraser didn't ruin his chances, he should be able to find out for himself soon.

The thought made him dizzy, and he leaned into Charles' warmth like a dream.

The music turned fast and they made their way to the bar.  Charles ordered another beer and Benny set out another five dollars, but the man waved it away.

"My turn to buy a round," he said.  Fraser smiled back.  Then Charles excused himself for the men's room.  After a while, Benny saw the man talking to some people in the corner, and was certain he was the object of their discussion.  Charles seemed thoughtful as he returned, but his smile was warm enough to remind Benny of Ray once more.

They sat through several songs together.  Charles spoke briefly of his business -- tax law -- and Benny tried to feign interest.  Information that made Charles less like Ray, however, was not what he wanted to hear.  The man seemed to understand Benny's lack of enthusiasm and talked instead of the bar, of how long he'd been coming here, of his surprise in not seeing Benny before.

"Yes, I just started coming here a week ago."

"Is that when you lost him?" Charles asked gently.

Fraser looked at him in confusion.  "Who?  What do you mean?"

Charles looked at Benny carefully, then ran an elegant hand through his thick but very short hair.  "Do you live around here, Benton?"

Fraser felt heat shiver through him.  "Yes.  That is…it's some miles distant, actually.  But I did walk here…this evening."

"A walk?  Sounds great."

And as easy as that, they were walking outside together, towards Benny's home, where they would take off their clothes and share however much Charles was willing to share.  If it were enough, Benny could take from it enough to make it feel like Ray, and the memory would last and last…

Until it wasn't enough, and he would have to find some other anonymous man with Ray's face or body or hands or voice.

Fraser was not, despite many people's impression, naïve.  He knew his body's needs must be met.  And he did not even feel guilty for using Charles in this fashion.  Mr. Roth wanted sex for a night with a stranger, and he was going to get it.

"We will need to stop by a drugstore."

Charles looked at him in surprise, and Benny faltered slightly.  "Won't we?"

Charles stopped walking, then started up again, keeping the pace very slow.

"I have what we need."

It was so late, there was no one about.  The cars were there, of course, playing music sometimes, sometimes with very loud motors.  Otherwise, it was quiet, and Benny realized it had rained just a bit when he was inside the bar.  He should have noticed right away.  His thoughts, however, were of his narrow bed.

Would Dief understand?  He couldn't let the wolf see him being mounted, or his role of dominant male in the pack would suffer.  He thought, perhaps, Dief might forgive him if it were Ray, but not some stranger getting him to submit.  Benny chafed slightly at the man's slow pace.  His body needed this so much.

"Is it my hands?" Charles asked.

Fraser faltered again, and they stood there in the slightly yellow streetlight.

"You keep looking at my hands.  And I think, maybe, my build, right?  They're like his."

Fraser just stared, and stared, and then managed to strangle out, "How did…you…?"

Charles folded his arms.  "Some friends at the bar told me they couldn't believe it.  You'd been coming there for days and wouldn't dance, didn't even seem to know what a line was.  And then I walk in and you're practically screwing me with your eyes.  Much as I'd like to think I'm that gorgeous, you don't want to talk to me, you dance with your eyes closed, and you keep looking at my hands."

Fraser's head bowed slightly in defeat.

"HIV?" Charles asked.

Fraser frowned at him, head coming back up.  "What?"

"AIDS.  Did you lose him that way?"

Fraser laughed, a grossly inappropriate response.  "I never had him.  I never will."

Charles smiled and shook his head.  "You shouldn't be so certain, you know.  He married?"



Fraser didn't answer.  Charles laughed softly.

"Hey, nobody's that straight, Beautiful.  You sure you made your intentions clear?"

"He can never know."  Fraser took a step towards his home, silently urging Charles to follow.  He should have hailed a taxi.  Charles would have the whole story out of him soon, because Benny couldn't lose him, and that wouldn't be fair to Ray.

But then another thought occurred, horrific and cold.

"Are you going to say no now?" Fraser asked, knowing Ray would know it sounded desperate, hoping Charles would only know it sounded a little flat.

Charles fell into step at last beside him.  "You're not going to want me to dress up like him or anything, are you?"  The question was wry, but slightly serious.

Fraser's eyes unconsciously raked the smooth, loose clothes.  "No need."

"Dresses like me already, does he?"


"A man of taste."

"Yes."  They walked several steps more before the words tumbled out.  "Excellent taste, intelligent in a way I can't manage, loyal, kind, honest, beautiful, volatile, so incredibly *there.*  He's done nothing but save my life since I met him."

"You guys firemen?"

Fraser frowned and said nothing.

"Cops."  Charles said it with the tone of the brilliantly enlightened.  Fraser hunched his shoulders just slightly, walking faster.  "This begins to make sense."  They covered another half-block.  "He your partner?"


"But you work together a lot, right?"

"Why do you want to know?"  Fraser rounded on him, then thrust his hands in the pockets of his jeans and walked on, making sure Charles was with him.

"Well, to tell you the truth, this is turning me on."

Fraser half-closed his eyes in pleasure.  The perfect response.  It wasn't far to home now.

"I wasn't always into the bar scene, you know," Charles said.  "I was with this guy for four years, thought I'd be with him forever."  The voice turned bitter over the roar of a bad muffler.  "I got a little sour on the whole True Love thing after that."

"I'm sorry."  The words were almost perfunctory.

"So what's his name?" Charles asked.


"Funny name," Charles smiled, but Fraser increased their pace again.  He wanted to run.

"Come on," Charles coaxed.  "You're only going to cry it out anyway."

Fraser slowed, hands clenched in his jeans now.  Charles was right.  He *wanted* to scream that name, loudly, over and over.


"Nice name."  Charles walked for a bit in silence.  "I bet he doesn't call you 'Benton,' right?"

Fraser didn't answer.


The Mountie was marching a bit now.


"Please don't."

"He the only one who calls you that?"

Fraser shook his head, but it wasn't a refusal.

A hand held his shoulder.  Charles leaned in, made sure Fraser felt his body against him, and murmured in his ear.  "Take me, Benny."

Fraser groaned, jerked away, rounded on him again, his hands out, flailing and catching Charles by the shoulders.

Dark eyes blazed back at him, and suddenly he was being pulled into the shadow of a doorway.  Hot, insistent lips found his mouth, and he was being kissed by a man, a Ray Vecchio-like man, but not Ray, not close enough, but too close to push away.  And someone was touching him, someone who had made another uninvited connection, someone who had power over him, unpleasant but intimate.  Fraser's hands went down the man's sides, feeling his leanness, and his callused hand cupped those pert curves.

Charles leaned back, grinding himself slightly against Fraser's emergent erection.  He started softly as the streetlights caught the shimmer of wet lashes.

"You really love this guy, huh?"

"Yes."  Yes, it felt good to say it.

Charles snorted, soothing a hand through Fraser's thick hair.  "You're gonna restore my faith in humanity, you know that?"

"I don't want to save you."  The words were harsh with truth.

"We could save each other."

"I never want to see you again after tonight."

"Yeah, I figured that part out."

Charles pulled slightly away, and Fraser suppressed a whimper.

"Look, Benton.  You sure you can't just tell him what's what?  If he's got good taste, he'll have to realize what he's getting here."

"He would hate me."

"How can you know that?"

A thousand reasons fell around them like leaves, like snowflakes, almost.  He always did this to himself.

"He's Catholic."

"Well, that's --"

"Italian, divorced and a ladies' man, the head of his household, American, homophobic, surrounded by hundreds of Italian Catholic homophobic cousins.  I could show up in his bed with chocolate on my chest and he'd think I was looking for his sister."  Fraser laughed, feeling so far from himself he feared he would never find his way back.  "She won't leave me alone, in fact."

"Oh yeah?"

"He once told me if he wanted anyone to sleep with her, it would be me."

Charles winced.  "Ouch."

Benny's breath caught.  "He's the best friend anyone could ever have.  And I want to touch you and pretend that you are him.  Decide now if you can tolerate that, please."

"How far is it to your place?  Should we take a cab?"

"Seven blocks."

"You can call me Ray, if you want."  Charles smiled at something Benny didn't get, but his tone was sincere.

They walked five of the seven blocks in silence.

"You hate yourself for this, don't you?"

Fraser hunched his shoulders again.

"You gonna hate me afterwards too?"

Fraser shook his head.

"It's amazing you're doing this for him."

Fraser stopped dead, his head swiveling to look into Charles' eyes.

"For him?"  Fraser's voice was hoarse.  "This is for me."

Charles shook his head.  "This is what you have to do to protect him from yourself.  It's so gawd-awful I can't stand it."

"Does that mean you're saying no?" Fraser's voice was half-panic, half-grief.

"How much farther, Benny?"

Fraser smiled, tremulously, and they walked the last part now in an unexpected, almost impossible accord.  His heart felt unexpectedly light, and his body was tingling with anticipation that was almost joyous.

He found to his relief that he liked Charles, and now that Charles wanted this -- no doubt it would make a good story on future dates -- there was no need for shame and guilt and…Oh dear.

"What is it?" Charles asked.

"Ray's car."  Fraser said the words like death.

It was there, parked in front of his apartment building.  Ray was inside, behind the wheel, talking on the cell phone, he thought.  It was hard to say at this distance.

"Ray?  He's here?"

Fraser was about to order Charles away from him when Ray turned his head and saw them.

And so tonight would be known to him forever as "The Second Great Waste of Opportunity."

"It was a pleasure to meet you, Charles."

The man walking with him towards Ray's car looked at him in alarm.

"What?  Oh.  You mean it's ruined, huh?"

Fraser said nothing, gathering himself, hardly hearing the man.

"Well, damnit," Charles muttered.

"Benny!"  Ray was getting out of the car.  "We got a line on Perrelli.  Looks like they didn't want him back in the motherland after all."

Fraser stopped now by the car.  Ray's eyes were bright and excited.  "Word is he's hiding on the south side, and guess who was just spotted coming out of Findango's?"

"Trevor Durham?"

Ray blinked in surprise, then wiped the air between them with his hands as though it were impossible Fraser had so missed the mark.  Benny noticed Charles noticing Ray's hands.

"No, no.  Mark Mateel, an old business associate of Frank Zuko's."  Ray voice dropped.  "You see, Zuko always wanted to do business with Perrelli, but Perrelli was too big for him.  Well, now that he's hurting and Zuko's in jail, someone's moving in for the opportunity."  Ray pulled away with a smile.  "We're staking the place out, and I thought you'd want to be there."

"I do, Ray.  Thank you very much."  He turned slightly, acknowledging Charles' presence.

"This a friend, Benny?"  Ray's face was completely open and happy, welcoming and kind.

"Charles Roth," Charles said, holding out his hand.

"Ray Vecchio.  Any friend of Benny's…"  Ray laughed.  "Well, actually, any friend of Benny's usually has me reaching for my wallet.  But you look gainfully employed.  Nice to see you moving up there in the world, Fraser!"

"Hadn't we better get moving, Ray?"

"Yeah, but I thought you might like to change into your uniform, Benny.  There's gonna be a lot of brass there.  I don't want you mistaken for a civilian."

"Well, technically, Ray, my position is not really enhanced by my association with --"

"We'd better get moving, Benny!"

"Of course, Ray."

"You need a ride somewhere, Charlie?" Ray asked.

The man shook his head, smiling back easily.

"No, I'm almost where I was going.  Good to see you, Benton."

"You as well, Charles."

Ray nodded at Benny's friend, then turned with Fraser and walked into the man's apartment building.

Charles Roth waited until they were out of sight, then looked around carefully, drawing an appreciative gaze over the green 1971 Buick Riviera, then turned and walked to a better neighborhood where it wouldn't be so hard to catch a cab.

He was disappointed, extremely disappointed, that he wasn't going to have a chance to make love to Benton.  It had been so long since anyone cared about anyone else in his bed that he wouldn't have minded at all that the object of such deep affection wouldn't actually be present.

He was also, he admitted, a little relieved.  Benton had "major heartache" written all over that gawd-lovely face.  Charles couldn't help realizing he'd been spared a lot of sleepless nights' pointless yearning for an impossible instant replay.

He was also, to his surprise, quite flattered.  Ray Vecchio had a huge nose and not much of a chin.  He was actually a little funny-looking.  But with those eyes and that way of moving and that warm heart stuck out like that for anyone to see his odd looks somehow bypassed handsome and went right into stunningly sexy and absolutely edible.  Benton had seen *him* in him?  That was a compliment indeed.

Charles realized he was walking for real now.  The night was fine, and home was only a few miles away.  It was somehow wonderful to walk through the world when love existed in it.  Tragic and unrequited and so beautiful like in the movies or something.

For days it sustained him, days where he stopped seeing all men only in terms of how sexy they'd be in bed and started talking to people again.  People were real to him again, and he found to his deep relief that it was possible to care about them, not just about their finances, but about their lives.  He ended up going to lunch with a woman he knew just so she could tell him about her kid, and he didn't even mind!

He ended up telling just a little of Benton's story to two of his friends, stripped of all identifiable aspects, and found to his amusement that they both refused to believe it was real.

But what did they know, anyway?  He'd seen love:  desperate, agonizing love.  Benton had saved him whether he'd wanted to or not.

It was Thursday morning, a quiet moment in his office, when Charles came to earth with a thud.

Benton was going to go out to the bar again, wasn't he?  Maybe he already had.  He was going to find someone else with Ray's body or smile and he was going to expose himself once more, a little more desperate this time even than the last.

And who knew what sort of pervert he was going to find?

Shit.  Didn’t Benton know about things like blackmail?  What if he stumbled across some dominating freak who hurt him?  What if he said one wrong thing and ruined his life?

Charles could see it so clearly:  some slimy creep with Ray's nose holding Benton down and fucking him while those gorgeous blue eyes were closed against the world, pretending it was his friend holding him down, making love to him while his body was used by a stranger.

Charles would have been gentle, and kind, and would have stopped the second Benton didn't want it anymore.  But how many people would be like that?  Charles himself hadn't even known he was like that until Benton said Ray's name.

Ray.  Ray Vecchio.  Charles had seen that crucifix glinting in the streetlights.  He knew a lot of gays with crucifixes -- some as tattoos, for that matter.  Italian -- that didn't have to be fatal.  And homophobic -- that might actually be a good sign.

Charles had made a few inquiries over the last few days, just a word here and there.  He'd found out that Ray was a detective with the 27th Precinct, and Benton a "deputy liaison officer" with the RCMP.  Bringing along some diplomat to a stakeout was really quite promising, and that business with Ray thinking about the uniform…

It wasn't his place to interfere, but Charles knew he'd get no sleep tonight, thinking about Benton fucking strangers and calling out Ray's name.

Charles left word with his secretary that he'd be taking a long lunch.  The drive to the station house got him into that really bad downtown traffic, but he found a spot to park in eventually.

He'd never been inside a police station before.  It was noisy and strangely dark, almost gloomy.  He asked for Vecchio at the front desk and was given somewhat grumpy directions.

The "bullpen," as it was called on TV, though probably not in real life, was busy.  Several women with somewhat elderly pantyhose and little else were lounging by the desk of a tall, sharply dressed black man who was holding an annoyed conversation on the phone.  A portly man in a white shirt who somehow screamed "I'm the Lieutenant around here" without saying a word passed by holding a cup of coffee and disappeared in an office.

There was Vecchio, sitting at a poorly lit desk and looking over a file.  Charles crossed the room, dodged one of the prostitutes and stopped at the man's desk.

"Hello, Detective Vecchio."

Beautiful green eyes looked up at him, and for a moment he found himself sympathizing with Benton.  Those eyes could really get to you after a while, no question about it.

"Charles Roth," Vecchio identified with a smile.  "Benny's friend."

Charles answered the smile even while he noticed the difference in Vecchio's manner.  The man wasn't any less polite, not was he distant, but there was little similarity here to the open-hearted man in the street.  Perhaps it had been the man's jubilation, or the presence of Benton that made the difference.  Or perhaps it was simply that he was talking to a detective in the station house, and one could only be so sincere as a matter of course.

"That's right."  He stuck out his hand and had it shaken.  Charles had always liked his own hands.  Vecchio's were nicer.

"What can I do for you?" Ray asked, motioning towards the wooden chair by his desk.

Charles sat.  "It's about Benton."

"He in trouble again?" Vecchio asked tolerantly.

"Yes," Charles said, almost as an experiment.

Ray's eyes went instantly serious.

"What's going on?"

"I need to talk to you, Detective.  I don't think you want to do it here.  If you could come with me for lunch?"

"Danger trouble or some other kind of trouble?"

"Dangerous, but not right this minute, probably."

Ray scowled. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I really believe it would be better if we talked this over in private."

More scowling, but Ray was already reaching for his jacket.  Armani.  Very nice.

Vecchio walked over to a beautiful woman at a computer who didn't quite look like a cop, then came back.

"I got an hour.  Olympo's okay for you?"

"Fine, Detective."

"Call me Ray."

Charles nodded and followed the man out, his palms beginning to sweat.  He'd never tried to save anyone before.  There was a really, really good chance he was only going to make things a whole lot worse.

They walked to the diner in uneasy but somewhat companionable silence that at first left Charles puzzled. After a while, however, he realized that Vecchio had actually meant that bit about "any friend of Benny's."


The diner was half-populated by cops in uniform.  Ray nodded and said "Hiya" to several of the other officers, and Charles made sure they ended up in the booth at the end of the wall, by the bathroom.  It wasn't much for privacy, but it would do as long as they kept their voices down.

Of course, if Vecchio started screaming Italian curses at him, it would hardly protect them from all the eyes in the place.  Upon reflection, however, Charles was grateful for all the police.  Vecchio wouldn't be able to draw his gun and shoot him here.

He hoped.

The waitress knew Ray by name and was more than tolerant of his Ladies' Man charm as he ordered a meatloaf sandwich and then made his escape into the Men's Room while Charles looked over the salt-and-grease menu with no sort of appetite.  What the hell did he think he was doing, anyway?

Ray scowled at himself in the mirror.  Okay, so he'd really needed to piss, and washing his hands before he ate wasn't a bad idea either, but coming in here was a stalling tactic, no question.

He'd been a little surprised at Benny the other night, when the Mountie hadn't been safely tucked away on that slab he called a bed, or stretched out on the floor while the whole world went to hell.  He'd actually been a little worried about Fraser while he waited in the Riv for the guy to show.  When he'd first seen Roth, he'd thought the guy was another grateful soul who owed Benny something or other.  But instead Fraser had been almost cold to the guy, and Ray figured it was just some sort of acquaintance deal.

But now…what the hell was this?  What sort of scheme was Fraser involved in now, and how did it involve this guy…this guy who was setting off Ray's "gaydar" something fierce, for all he seemed straight enough when looked at directly?

Ray couldn't help a little private smile.  "Gaydar."  Trust gays to come up with some cute way of pointing out that they stood out in a crowd.  He'd first heard the word from his niece Elena last week, and his mind was still playing with it.

Yeah.  Before that, he'd have just said the guy sent out signals.  Same dif, really.

Ray sighed and walked outside and back to the booth.  Roth had ordered and was sitting there with an ice tea.  Ray's coffee was steaming, and he drank down about half the cup before he settled into his seat and met the man's eyes.

Was it his imagination, or was there something sort of familiar about Roth?  Had they met before somewhere?

Charles cleared his throat slightly.  Ray wasn't being menacing at all, yet suddenly the man was certain he would never like to be interrogated by the man.  Visions of hot lights and "Where were you on the night of the 15th?" crowded him, and he didn't know whether to laugh or just excuse himself and get out of there.

But then another vision came:  those beautiful blue eyes wet with tears, and a lovely body mauled by some monster with his and Ray's hands.

"Benton speaks very highly of you," Charles said.

Ray smiled.  "Benny speaks highly of everyone, but thanks.  What sort of danger is he in?"

"He's looking for someone who might hurt him."

"A suspect?"

"No."  Charles realized he had no idea what to say next.  There was no way to ease into this.

Ray scowled.  "Benny's at the Consulate making like a statue and filing parking permits."

"Do the two of you have plans tonight?"

Ray folded his arms and reviewed him narrowly.  "No."

"Then he'll be back there tonight, looking."

"Back where, looking for what?"

"Back at the bar where Benton and I met."

"Benny doesn't drink."

Charles couldn't help smiling.  "Yeah, I noticed that.  He pretends to, though, to blend in.  He buys a beer and picks it up, but he never actually drinks it."

Vecchio looked at him.

"He'd do better to order club soda and lime," Charles rambled, then cleared his throat again.  "He'd been coming to Adray's for several days before I came in."

Ray's eyes widened at the name.

"You've heard of the place."


"You understand, Detective, I don't mean he was looking for a suspect or anything.  He was there for himself."

"Benny's not gay."

And there it was.  Vecchio didn't even say it insistently.  There was complete confidence instead, almost as though he were correcting Charles about the time.

The waitress came with more coffee and the assurance that their food would be ready soon.  Charles waited for her to leave, then set his hands palms-down on the table.

"Would you mind looking at my hands a moment, Ray?"

Vecchio frowned at him, then looked down.

"I'm half-Greek, but I have somewhat pale hands and very long fingers, do you notice?"

Ray looked up and shrugged.  "Yeah."

"They're a little like your hands."


"I'm a little over six feet, and slender."

"I got eyes, you know."

"But do you use them?"

"If you got a point, I'm waiting here."

The waitress came back and set their plates down.  Charles read her name off her tag.

"Nancy, I was wondering if you'd do us a favor, please."

She shrugged.  "You want catsup?"

"Yes, but actually I was hoping you could look at Detective Vecchio and myself and tell us if you think, at least superficially, that we look alike."

Nancy put her hands on her hips, a simple announcement that she expected a rather major tip in recompense, then sighed and looked them over for a moment while Ray fought the urge to squirm.

"Yeah," she pronounced finally.  "You're not gonna pass for brothers or nothing, but yeah, you look alike."

"Thank you, Nancy."

"Sure thing."  She smiled suddenly and reached behind her for the catsup on the bar, plonked it on the table, and turned to bring table four their coffees.

Ray didn't even look at his food.  "You saying Fraser talked to you because you look like me?"

Charles almost managed to blurt out the truth, but the words locked in his throat.  He tried once more, desperately.  "Anyone looking at you and Benton could tell instantly that you care about him, but do you care enough about him that you can accept he's not perfect?"

"Don't you be telling me about how Benny's not perfect."  Ray kept his voice down, barely.  "I know what Benny is and what he isn't.  I don't need some…you to tell me about Benny."

Charles caught the almost-said remark and felt his stomach dropping to somewhere around his knees.  God, forgive him for starting this, and for continuing.

"Do you want Benton to be hurt because you hate fags?"

Ray just stared at him, looking a little pale now, and Charles knew what he'd said was unfair.  It sure wasn't how he'd *meant* to spill the beans.  He leaned forward now, his hands pleading.

"From what I could tell, Benton's been in love with you for so long he just can't take it any more.  He'd do anything to protect you from himself, and so he's looking for someone to stand in for you.  I was his choice, and if you hadn't been there that night, we'd have made love while he called out your name."

Ray was standing.  A couple cops were looking at him, and when Ray realized it, he just turned around and walked out.

"Damnit," Charles muttered, digging into his pocket and throwing enough money on the table before he walked out after Ray as calmly as he could.

He was ready to run to catch up, but Ray was walking slowly down the street, pointed away, Charles noticed, from the station house.  Not knowing what else to do, Charles walked at his side.

They made it to the end of the block, crossed the street, dodged the traffic.

"I don't believe you," Ray said finally.

"Ray, I --"

"I said I don't believe you!"  Vecchio was shouting now, his finger digging a hole in Charles' chest.  "You're talking crap and it's only because I don't want to the paperwork that I don't bust your ass for something that will get stapled to every job application you ever fill out, you got me?"

"He said you had saved his life over and over, that you had excellent taste."

Ray threw up his hands and stormed away.

"He said you were loyal and kind, and honest."

That last one got to Vecchio, Charles could tell.  His feet sort of hitched in his walk.  He followed the detective for several yards, weaving his way through the busy sidewalk bodies.  Then Ray stopped by a shop window and stared through at cameras and frames, seeing nothing.

"Is it so unforgivable that he fell in love with you?" Charles asked him as quietly as he could.

"I don't believe you."

"Then go to him and ask."

Ray looked at him with terrified eyes.  Charles shrugged.  "I think we both know he couldn't lie to you."

"Benny lies, when he wants to."  The words sounded ugly.  "Benny can look you right in the face and play so clueless you're explaining to him how air works, but it's just…"  The man ran out of steam.  The next sentence sounded incredibly weary, but determined.  "He's not gay."

"So there was a woman then, huh?"

Ray's eyes flashed suspicion.  "He's your friend too, is that right?  You should know all about that bitch."

"He's not my friend.  He was going to be my quick fuck."

Ray's hands were clinching Charles' jacket before either of them was aware he'd moved at all.  Charles knew he was about one milli-second away from being punched in the mouth.  What worried him most, however, was that Ray seemed simply outraged on his friend's behalf, not jealous, not possessive.

"He's desperate," Charles whispered, not even knowing where the words came from.  "You're his best friend.  Can't you see him being desperate for love?"

Thank God, it was the right thing to say.  Vecchio let him go like he'd caught fire.  Charles could only guess that "that bitch" had made Benton desperate too.

"Ray," he pleaded.  But the man turned from him as though hunted and all but ran down the street.  Charles could only stand there and watch him go.


But there was nothing for it.  Charles turned back the way he had come, found his car, and went to work…where he did nothing for the rest of the day.

Adray's was the same as always.  But that's why people went to bars, wasn't it?  For the sameness.

Benton wasn't there, but Charles settled down anyway to wait for him.  After a while, someone he recognized showed up.

"Pete, man, hey," he said to get his friend's attention.

Pete Carter turned to him with a grin.  "Charles, this is great.  Wait until you see the piece of ass I got last night."

Charles went cold with dread.  But Pete looked nothing like Ray:  tall, yes, but built like a linebacker.

"He's coming back here tonight."

"He is?"  Charles knees were shaking.  Pete was a friend, but he was…well, kind of a pig.  And he liked water sports, and bragged about it.

"Yeah."  Pete took a swig from his beer and belched, not very quietly.  "'Course, can't compare with what you walked out of here last week with.  Haven't seen Precious Eyes since then.  You got him chained to your bed, or something?"

Charles felt dizzy with relief.  "He hasn't been back here?"

"Not that I've seen."

"Who you guys talking about?"

They turned to include Sean Massey in their group.  Pete went on at some length about "Precious Eyes" and Charles' good fortune.

"Oh yeah," Sean said, grabbing his martini off the bar as soon as it appeared and making it disappear just as fast.  "Saw him here last night just for a little while."

"Did he leave with anyone?" Charles asked.

"Ooooh," Pete and Sean said together.

Charles rolled his eyes.

"No," Sean said, taking pity.  "He just drank a couple beers and left, same as usual.  I guess you spoiled him, honey."

"And speak of the devil," Pete muttered, his eyes going over Sean's shoulder.

Charles kept it as casual as he could, but *damn* it was good to see Benton again.

They nodded to each other across the bar, then Benton headed for his usual spot.  Charles wondered if the man had any idea how that had indeed become *his* spot, whether he even saw people clearing the path for him, giving him room.  Beauty had its own power, though Charles was beginning to think Benton had no idea that he was beautiful, not in the way that really counted.

Oh, God.  He really wished he'd gotten his chance with Benton that night.

Because it was lost now, no question about it.  Benton had said "Stay away from me" with those blue eyes as clearly as other men would have to paint a sign to achieve.

Charles sighed, and thought of what it would have been like to see that face when Benton came.

He'd turned away by then, so when Pete chuckled and said over the music, "Straight guy alert," Charles had to turn to see, his heart stopping just a bit.

And yes, there he was, by the door, blinking at the colored lights and trying -- and completely failing -- to look casual.

Damnit to hell, Ray Vecchio was an attractive man, for all that he looked ready to crawl out of his own skin.  His eyes swept the place, skimmed over Charles and landed on Benton.  He must  have been waiting outside, watching, Charles thought.  Doing a "stakeout," wasn't that what it was called?

And now Benton had seen Ray too, and looked paler than Charles had ever seen, which was to say he looked like beautiful cousin in the Addams Family.

As Charles watched, unable to make himself look away, Ray crossed the bar towards his friend.

To Ray, Adray's was like some acre-long den of sin.

He'd been outside for about half an hour, waiting for Benny to show up, hoping he wouldn't.

He'd waited first outside Benny's apartment, feeling like an idiot, or a traitor, but just wanting to prove Charles Roth wrong.  He'd hidden the Riv down the street and stood in the dark doorway and just…waited.  He wanted to wait there all night, then find Roth and tell him to go to hell.

And instead, after really not long at all, Benny had walked out of the building dressed in a jeans and his leather jacket looking…well, like Benny, of course, but looking a little bit like someone who, if they weren't Benny, would have set off his "gaydar."  But perhaps it was simply that Benny looked a little…dressed up.

It made him sick, but it wasn't really with disgust.  He was frightened, he knew that much.  If Benny were really looking for a pick-up…God, didn't the man realize how dangerous that could be?

He knew he couldn't trail Benny without the Mountie's catching on, so instead he staked out Adray's.  After all, if Benny didn't show, then Ray had nothing to worry about, right?

But he did show.  He walked into the gay bar without so much as a glance around, and there was an eager look on his face that made Ray's guts twist.

After getting up the nerve to follow Benny through the door, he spotted Roth…and then Benny.  God, it was like seeing a little boy lost in a strip joint.  How could these perverts let Benny in here?

Except Benny came here too.  So not everyone here was a pervert.

He sort of just realized without warning that he was standing in front of Fraser now.  The Mountie face that met his eyes was perfect, except that it was so pale, even in the colored lights.

"Ray."  Benny was floundering.  No one else in the world could have been able to see that, besides Ray.  "What are you doing here?"  Benny's eyes were seeking Charles, however, and Ray figured Benny could figure it out.

"What am I doing here?"  Ray could feel his voice trying to scream, and the music wasn't that loud.  His hands were flying around and he tried to bring them to his sides.  This wasn't really where he wanted to make a scene.  "What the hell do you think I’m doing here?"  Oh dear.  He'd definitely been shouting that time.

Benny flinched from him.  "This place isn't for you, Ray," he murmured.

"But it's all right…for you?  So you can find some guy who looks…my God.  My *God!*  Is it true?  Have you been…"  Ray looked ready to throw up.

Fraser's eyes closed over red-hot shame.  "Please go away, Ray."

"Have you done it yet?" Ray demanded.  When Benny didn't answer, he grabbed the front of that leather jacket and pulled that pale face right next to his own.

"Ooooooh," Sean and Pete chorused softly from across the bar, enjoying themselves.  Charles just watched, his mouth dry and his heart pounding.

Fraser refused to meet the eyes staring into his.

"Have you?" Ray hissed, and it was hard to see Benny's face now through the blood in his gaze.  "Have you let some guy here fuck you yet?"

And Benny just shook his head, miserable and defeated.

Ray sagged slightly.  "Well, thank God for that at least."  He laughed, and it hurt.  Then he thought of what Roth had said.  "Was it really to protect me, Benny?  Is that what this is about?"

Fraser didn't meet his eyes.  "I wanted…"

Ray leaned in, straining to hear the whispered words over Madonna screaming about some asshole she had the hots for.

"What did you want, Benny?  God, tell me."

"I wanted to be the best man at your wedding."

"My wedding?"

"I wanted to be uncle to your children, and your friend, Ray."  At last, Fraser looked up, his eyes blue and open and earnest.  A knife in Ray's guts couldn't have been any sharper.  "I wanted to be your friend until I became so much a part of your life you couldn't think of being without me.  Until I became…necessary."

"You are necessary," Ray said petulantly, letting go of Benny's jacket.  "Don't you know that, you idiot?  You're my friend, the best friend I ever had."

Benny's eyes closed again.  "Just leave, Ray.  This doesn't have anything to do with you."

"The hell it doesn't."  Ray looked around and shook his head.  "We're leaving."

"Ray, don't you see?"  Fraser had suddenly become earnest.  Ray hated it instantly.  "This doesn't have to touch you at all."

"Fraser, I said we're leaving."

But the man shook his head and leaned back, his eyes defiant.  "Ray, go home.  It's taken too much out of me to be here.  I won't give it up and pretend this isn't a part of me.  Go home and either accept the fact that I need to be here or…"  And here Benny faltered.  His eyes closed.  "I need this, Ray, all right?  I just need it."

"Benny…" Ray voice was almost broken.  "Benny, please."

But Fraser shook his head.  "If it's not tonight, it will be some other night.  Don’t you understand?"  Blue eyes met his, and there was a hint of cruelty there, the cruelty of the tortured man who has a moment to take on the role of the torturer.  "I'm tired of being unable to touch myself because when I try to think of you all I can see is your disgust.  I need someone who will understand how I feel."

Ray stood there, all the breath in the world gone.

"Go home, Ray."  Benny's voice was gentle now, and full of regret.  "Just go home and pick me up for work in the morning, if you can.  I'll never ask more of you than that again."

The anger came back, and Ray welcomed it like a winning lottery ticket.  "What?  I'm a taxi service now?  Is that what kind of friend I've been to you all these years?  Is that the best you think I can do?"

Fraser was angry too now.  "What are you going to do, Ray?  Make love to me?"

"I will if that's what it takes to keep you from fucking some stranger who might cut off your dick for fun!"

"At least he'd want me!"

Benny's voice had been quite loud, for Benny, and in shock both of them stared at the other, trying to make what they'd said fit into their personal definitions of the universe.

Finally, Ray spoke.  "Just tell me what you want, Benny.  What do you really want?"

Benny sighed and slumped down on the barstool that seemed his only protection from those green, all-knowing eyes.  "I want to stop feeling bad all the time, Ray.  Can you understand that?  I just don't want to feel bad anymore."

"We'll figure something out, okay, Benny?"  Ray's voice was soft and pleading.  "Please just let me take you home, and I promise to stay there until we figure something out."

Something in Fraser's face changed, and there was a small glint of wonder in his eyes.  "Aren't you disgusted by this, Ray?"

Ray stared at him, then shook his head almost petulantly.  "You're my friend, Benny, right?  Aren't we friends?"

"Yes, Ray."

"When you tried to run off with Victoria after she tried to ruin us, didn't I forgive you?  And when I shot you in the back, didn't you forgive me?"

Amazing to hear Ray speak of that, to have the words make it so immediate between them.

"Yes, Ray."

Ray shrugged, looking uncomfortable at what he'd said.  "Well, there you are.  Now, come on, Benny.  I can't stand this place."

"Because there are gay men here?"

"Because they're playing *another* Madonna song!  I swear, if they play "Like a Virgin" I’m going to have to shoot someone!"

Fraser got off the stool and walked to the door, Ray at his side.  It was astonishingly easy.

Ray would never touch him, not in desire, and he wasn't that desperate for pity…yet, anyway.  But Ray knew now, and hadn't turned from him.  That alone was cause for celebration, wasn't it?

Charles watched them go.  Sean and Pete had turned away to check for new faces, but Charles just stood there and watched them leave, not knowing, terrified that he would never know if he'd made a horrible mistake or actually helped two men he hardly knew, two men who had become more important to him in the last few days than anyone else he knew.

God.  He *really* needed to get himself a boyfriend.

Ray said nothing in the car, and Benny could find nothing with which to break that silence.

And then Ray pulled out his phone.

"Ma?…Yeah…It is late, you're right….Look, I'm gonna crash at Benny's.  Just letting you know….What?...Okay…I *said* okay, didn't I?  Two loaves of the wheat bread….Yeah…Tomorrow….No, I didn't forget you have an appointment, but Frannie's driving you….Yeah…Yeah I know it's gonna be Sunday in two days, Ma….Yes, I will be there….I gotta go, Ma.  See you tomorrow, in the afternoon…Yeah, I love you too."

Ray put the phone away and turned a corner with a faint squeal of tires.

"Ray, could I hold you?"

Green eyes flashed at him.  "What?  While I’m driving?"

"Tonight.  Could hold you while we sleep?  I would be the perfect gentleman, Ray.  I assure you."

Ray shot him another look.  "Do I have to be naked?"

Benny shivered.  "No, Ray."

Ray went another two blocks, then shrugged.  "Yeah, I guess I could handle that."

"Thank you, Ray."

"We'll get a good night's sleep, right?  We'll talk in the morning until we work things out."

"All right, Ray."

Both of them relaxed now that they had a plan.  The rest of the ride to Benny's place went by quickly, and when they climbed the stairs it felt to both of them just like it always did…except for the curl of excitement in Benny's stomach, and the curl of…something in Ray's.

Fraser could not believe this was going to happen.  The very idea that Ray would allow this…this imposition was not to be believed.  And yet, he need only wait, and it would happen.

Ray found to his surprise that he was mostly tired, and the idea of sleeping with Benny in his arms was more touching than anything else.  He knew Benny wouldn't try anything…Oh dear.  His mind had blanked.  He couldn't think about things like Benny trying something yet.

When life gave you something you couldn't deal with, the only solution was to make it small, chop it up, and deal with the pieces.  Benny wanting to have sex with him was too big.  Benny wanting to sleep chastely in the same bed…he was pretty sure he could handle that.

They made it inside the apartment and Ray sighed with relief.  He leaned against the closed door and sighed a second time, reveling in it.  Somehow, now that they were back in Benny's rat-hole, somehow he knew things would be okay.

He opened his eyes to see Benny looking at him pensively.

"You know what you mean to me, right, Benny?"

Fraser smiled just a little, though his eyes looked a little sad.  "I'm your friend, Ray."

"Damn right," Ray sniffed, walking forward and taking off Benny's jacket.

"Ray…"  Benny looked lost.

"Shhh."  Ray stripped him down to that ridiculous red underwear and then nodded to the bed.  "Get in."

"May I undress you as well, Ray?"

Ray laughed a little.  "Sure, Benny."

It was odd, standing there, but it was hardly torture.  Benny's hands were gentle, and if anything he just felt like a little kid being undressed by Ma while she scolded him for getting dirty, or asked him how his day was at school.

Of course, his mother didn't look at him quite the way Benny was looking at him…but then, Benny wasn't leering or anything.  It wasn't like that at all, actually.  Benny just looked happy, taking off his jacket and hanging it up, then his shirt, then…it was a little weird when Benny got to the pants, but he was so efficient with the belt and the shoes and socks that Ray was standing there in his undershirt and boxers before he had a chance to freak out about anything.

"I'm sorry I haven't a pair of your pajamas here, Ray."

He shrugged.  "This will do."  An unfeigned yawn rose up through his body and passed on out, pleasantly.  "You got an extra toothbrush?"

In fact, Fraser had several boxes of brushes, to Ray's general bemusement.  Evidently Benny had purchased them in bulk to save money.  They made their trips to the bathroom separately, both of them finding a little time to rub Dief's ears, and when Ray was ready he simply slid into the uncomfortable bed and waited for Benny to join him.

It didn't take long.

Fraser had experienced a sufficient number of visions in his life to be confident in the difference between reality and dreams.  But somehow, as he watched Ray slip into his bed wearing nothing but his undergarments, that knowledge was of little help.

He had been having this difficulty in assimilation, he realized, from the moment Ray had walked into the bar -- or, to be precise, from a moment after that.

In that first instant, when his eyes had alit on the tall, lean figure, his heart had leapt at the possibility of a lover so very similar to Ray.

It was in the second instant, when recognition had more completely set in, that his body had begun to react to a world not quite there…or perhaps to the real world, but lagging a second behind.

His body flushed with warmth and he felt heat and weight between his legs as he pulled back the covers.  Ray was on his side, trying to make room on the narrow mattress, and his eyes were luminescent in the moonlight coming through the uncovered windows.


He could see Ray smiling, his generous lips shadowed by his even more generous nose.

"Yeah, Benny?"

"May I touch your hair?"

"There ain't much to touch, Benny."

Fraser decided to take that as assent and reached out with a hand he could not make steady.  The short bristles were so soft, tickling his palm.  Benny rubbed a sort of circular pattern, delighted, until Ray laughed and opened up his arms.

"Come on, let's go to sleep."

Benny moved slowly, savoring this, pulling the lean body into his arms, against his chest, shivering at the heat of Ray's soft skin.  He tucked his face into Ray's neck and breathed in deeply, and for just a second he actually felt faint.  When he felt Ray's lovely fingers stroking his hair, he moaned.

"Shhh.  It's okay.  Everything will be all right," Ray whispered.

"Will it?" Benny asked.  "I'm afraid I want you so much, Ray."

"Well, I’m a little afraid too, okay?  But…jeeze, Benny.  Really?  You really want my scrawny bod?"

Fraser shivered again at the blank curiosity there and felt, despite himself, an ache of hope that Ray didn't seem revolted.

"Yes, Ray, though your body is hardly 'scrawny.'  In fact, I find you beautiful, if you'll allow me to say so."

Ray evidently thought about that one.  "Beautiful?  Me?"


Several minutes went by, while Fraser thought only of the hand continuing to soothe his scalp and stroke through his hair.

"Cool," Ray finally pronounced.  "Now, let's get some sleep, okay?"  He took his hand away from Fraser's hair and let his arm drape over his partner's chest.  "It's been a long damn day."

Fraser obediently closed his eyes and relaxed his body.  He felt Ray relax as well, and Diefenbaker was panting through his dreams under the window.

An hour passed, pleasure and pain bright and sharp and equal.  To have Ray here was everything; to keep his body turned so that his erection didn't stab Ray in the side was discomfort spiraling upwards with every minute he didn't ease his cramped, protesting muscles.  To have Ray's scent filling his lungs, his body, was paradise; to keep from following that scent with a taste was to share the agony of Tantalus, bound by the gods to suffer hunger as food was dangled just out of reach, to suffer thirst as water receded just below his straining lips.

To know that Ray didn't hate him for what he felt was bliss; not to know what Ray might eventually allow him to do with those feelings was purgatory.

Another hour passed.  Dief growled slightly in sleep, the traffic kept up its intermittent rush, Ray turned over in his arms and sighed.

"Can't you sleep at all, Benny?"

"Am I keeping you awake?"

"No, I slept some, I think.  I just…"  Ray sighed again.  "I thought this would help.  I'm sorry.  Would you like me to go?"

"No!"  Benny's arms tightened until Ray yelped.  He loosened his arms with effort.  "Please don't leave."

"Okay, jeeze, I won't leave.  You don't have to go all python on me."  Ray's hands smoothed almost absently over Fraser sides, and Benny shuddered roughly.  "Hey, what are you doing all twisted around like…Oh."

"Ray…" Benny whimpered, unable to help it when Ray's wrist brushed him through that warm cotton.  Ray's body went completely still beside him, and then, with overt deliberation, one long-fingered, very warm hand draped carefully over what had become a painfully straining erection.

Benny flinched, held his breath, waited.  Ray's hand just stayed there, so warm and gentle.  In a slow trickle, Fraser released his breath as he tried to get his muscles to unclamp.  Still Ray's hand didn't move, and now the sturdy Canadian body, frozen for so long, began to shiver and shiver and wouldn't stop.

Ray's hand moved quickly, and even while Benny was protesting the lack of contact, the buttons at the bottom of his front were undone, and Ray's city-soft hand slipped inside.  Ray seemed startled as his fingers touched him, then there was a quiet laugh of what seemed like joy and a delicate but firm stroke.

Fraser lasted about eight seconds, and then he was coming and he couldn't stop, endlessly, almost more relief than it was ecstasy…almost.

"Ray!" he shouted during it, several times, his voice hoarse, catching, a roar in his ears joining in, and for a while he knew very little except that the pain was gone and everything was warm.

Ray's arms were around him, and he was…clean down there.  And all buttoned up.  Ray must have left the bed, dampened a towel, cleaned him off.  Yes, when he cracked an eye open he could see the towel on the floor.

"Thank you, Ray," he whispered.

"Shhh.  Go to sleep now, okay?"

Fraser might have nodded.  In the morning, he couldn't remember.  But then, he was distracted immediately upon waking by Ray's voice groaning out an "ewww" sound.

There was no need to ask the cause.  Diefenbaker was sniffing at the towel, ears pricked with curiosity.

"That is so *gross,* Benny!  Make him stop."

Ray.  Ray here in his bed.

Fraser's body came alive all at once, spinning him over to stare into Ray's sleepy-and-wanting-coffee eyes with a smile that stretched unused muscles in his face and even down his neck.

"Ray!"  The urge to fall upon him was almost irresistible.

Green sparkles, a knowing look, then Ray's hands slid to the sides of Benny's face, his thumbs lightly caressing his temples, his cheekbones.  One thumb brushed over lips that sought to capture the digit for a kiss.


"Just let me do this, okay, Fraser?  Just be still."

Benny nodded, just once, making it soft and slow.

Ray smiled, licked his lips as though nervous, then leaned in.

Soft, a little wet from Ray's tongue, undemanding, simple and unthreatening -- over too soon.

Benny kept himself from leaning in for more, and his restraint was rewarded with a slow, sexy grin.

"That wasn't so bad," Ray said softly.

"I love you, Ray."  Saying it was as sweet as sex.

"I love you too, right, Benny?  That's why I'm here."

"Do you want me at all?"

Ray's eyes went serious.  "I don't know."

Oh, but Benny's heart leapt wildly at the possibilities now, and he couldn't stop his galloping thoughts.  Not knowing meant maybe, and maybe meant…oh, maybe could mean…

"Last night was kind of fun, I guess.  And I'd like to kiss you again in a minute, if it's okay."

"I'm yours to kiss whenever you like, Ray."

Ray groaned and sat up.  Fraser followed him, holding on to Ray's hands as they regarded each other.

"You see, that's just it, Fraser, isn't it?"

Benny raised his eyebrows, wanting to understand.

"You…"  Ray's hands fluttered, chafing at the restraint, and Benny let them go with the sensation of loosing a bird.  And indeed, the hands flew up and spread out.  "You're offering me everything, aren't you?  That's…"  Ray blew out a sigh.  "That's one hell of a package.  If I take it…well, then everything changes, doesn't it?"

"I don't understand, Ray.  I'm not asking you for any promises, only that you give me what you can."

Ray regarded him sourly.  "Yeah, right.  I'm supposed to take your heart and soul and then drop you off while I go out with some lady I ran into in the meat section of Petit's?"

Benny thought a moment, knowing it was significant Ray had remembered so clearly.

"An animal in bed?" he offered finally, and Ray laughed.

"Yeah."  Ray shook his head.  "You're already the best friend a guy could ever have.  If I…if we become, like, lovers, well, I just bet you'd be the best lover a guy could ever be…but I don't know if I want to give it all up."  Hands fluttered again.  "I mean, think about it, Benny.  No more women."  Ray shook his head again, more seriously now.  "I don't think I could do that."  Hands clenched, Ray sort of made an inward hiss.  "I mean, no more…"  Another shake.

"No more what, Ray?  No more softness?  No more being allowed to stop acting man-to-man?"

"I think we passed the man-to-man thing a while ago, Fraser," Ray said with a rueful smile that made the man's heart beat irregularly.  "And I know you can be soft…hell, your lips are soft."  Ray broke off, almost making a face, then closed his eyes and steadied himself.  When the green irises were visible again, Ray skewered him with them.  "No more breasts, all right, Fraser?  No more long, shapely legs, no more cute little feet and no more…oh man, do I have to say it?  No more opening her legs and…being in there, you know?"

Fraser was silent for so long, Ray was getting visibly irritated by the time he managed his first word.

"There are many…different responses for that, Ray, but I'm not sure…but I want to be honest."  He took in a breath, held it, let it go.  "I could assure you that you could still seek the company of women, but I know that if I ever knew of it, even if you had never promised me anything…"  He shook his head.  "If you reject me, that I could understand, but knowing I wasn't enough for you, wasn't good enough for you --"

"Benny!"  Ray threw up those hands again, and almost got out of bed.  His restraint was obvious.  "That ain't the issue, right?  I told you once, though.  I like my women to be women."

Fraser cocked him a half-smile.  "And I said you were being picky."

"And we were halfway through dinner before you finally got out of that snit."

Fraser took another breath, a bit more steady this time.  "Another response is that you could simply try me out."

Ray grinned again.  "Like a test drive?"

"I do want you inside me very much, and while the sensation will not be the same as being inside a woman, you might find it…Ray?  Are you all right?"

The pupils in Ray's eyes had dilated to the point that the green could hardly be seen, and the man's breathing seemed oddly shallow.

"Inside you, Benny?" Ray squeaked.  "You want me to…you?"

Fraser's entire body seemed to blush, but he got out the words, "Very much, Ray."  And then, greatly daring.  "Do you find the thought arousing, Ray?"  His eyes strayed down to the unhelpful folds of the covers around Ray's waist.  Even his eye couldn't tell if one of those bumps might be made by an erection.  His own genitals, he acknowledged wryly, had begun to indicate their responsiveness some time ago.

"I…I don't know," Ray finally said.  "It's getting me bothered, but I don't know about hot."  The lean body shifted slightly, as though testing something.  Ray made a face.  "I guess you want to do that to me too, then, huh?"

Fraser had never been so tempted to lie.  "Only if you wanted it, Ray."

Ray seemed to consider it a moment, then suddenly leapt from the bed.  "Slower, okay?  We gotta take this slower, make this smaller!"  He was pacing now, his hands wild.  "I mean, I'm not even going to think about what this will actually mean to my life!  I never let that get in the way of it before.  I ain't gonna start now.  Where's the damn coffee?"

Fraser got up and made coffee and toast and eggs.  They ate almost in silence, with Ray brooding and Benny finishing quickly to dress and then take Dief outside for his walk.  When he returned to the apartment, the bed was made and Ray was sitting at the table with his pants, socks, shoes, and shirt on.  But not the tie or the jacket.

He was on the phone.

"Yeah, it's going to be a while, so can you get the bread?...How am I supposed to know what she needs it for?  Probably making food!…Okay, yeah, okay…Yeah, I didn't mean to…Frannie, it's just bread!…Okay, I'll owe you a favor, like getting you out of trouble the next time….Yeah, yeah.  See you later."

Ray shut the phone with a snap.  "Should have told her I'd get her a pair of your underwear."

Fraser sat down carefully in the other chair.  "Is Francesca's reaction another thing we're not considering at this stage, Ray?"

"Ha!  You got that right.  In fact, we'll just shelve that one forever, okay?"

Ray buried his face in his hands.

Benny cleared his throat.  "Ray, I feel I should remind you that it's still an option that we just…forget about this."

No reaction.

"Now that I know you're not shamed by my feelings, I'll find it easier to cope with being with you, and perhaps, openly this time, I could seek some sort of…alternative coupling that --"

"Shut the hell up, Benny."


Ray's head shot up, eyes flashing.  "You think I can stomach the idea of some guy touching you?  What do you think last night at the bar was about, anyway?  You think I'm letting any man put his hands on you?"  Ray was up and pacing again.  "If it was some woman, well, then, yeah, that'd be fine.  I mean, you know I really was happy for you and Vic…before, at the beginning, you know?"

"Yes, Ray."  Benny barely heard his own words, but he managed to get them out.

"I mean…damnit.  I was counting on being your best man too, you know."

Benny almost laughed at the hot bubble of happiness that popped through his body, leaving him colder for it afterwards.

"Ray…"  But he had no idea what to say.  Before, when he'd had the impulse to strip off his longjohns and show Ray that he had breasts and legs and feet that while, perhaps, weren't cute, were straight and relatively unscarred -- perhaps he should have given in to that impulse.  Perhaps that might have led somewhere better than to this cold despair.

His friend collapsed back in his chair, face buried again.  "It's all too complicated, Benny.  I can't see through it."

"Ray, what is the one thing you cannot give up?"

The lean, broad shoulders slumped.  Ray's eyes met his in defeat.

"Your friendship."

Benny shook his head, quickly.  "No, that's not at risk.  Whatever you decide, whatever we are or aren't to each other, I'll always be your friend, Ray."

The generous mouth smiled to show a generous heart.  "Yeah, that's right, Benny."

"So, with women, with love, what is the thing you must have?"  Ray regarded him silently, and Benny pressed, "Perhaps, the thing you lost with your wife?"

Ray shook his head.  "Nah.  She and I always had great sex.  She wanted kids  You want kids, Benny?"  His eyes twinkled.

"That would seem to be unlikely," Fraser answered gravely, then let the silence urge Ray to the real answer.

"I guess…this ain't gonna make me look good, Benny."

Fraser just smiled and shook his head.

"When I'm…filling her up, and she looks at me, and she knows how much I want it and she…she lets me know she wants it too.  And then we're together like that, and it's so good, so damn good I can't stand it, and she comes and I know everything's gone right and I can just…let go…"  Ray averted his somewhat flushed face.  "After that, I don't worry about anything for a long time, and nothing really bothers me, you know?"  Ray laughed through discomfort.  "I told you it wasn't going to make me look like a hero."

Benny tried to answer, but his throat wouldn't open up.  He should have known Ray's answer would be something that raw and sweet, kind and self-sustaining, compassionate and equal.  He wanted to offer himself now, more than ever, but the thought of giving Ray that sort of pleasure was intoxicating and the thought of not giving him that pleasure was…apocalyptic.

"I love you," he whispered at last.  "I love you so much, Ray."

With surprise, Fraser realized he was kneeling by Ray's side now, his hands on those skin-and-bone knees.  Ray was looking at him in confusion.

"Please," Benny found himself pleading.  "The idea of giving that to you, of finding that with you…please, can we try, Ray?  Can we try?"

Ray smiled then, a smile that could break someone's heart.  His fingers ran over the edge of Benny's hair, right where it stood up over his forehead.

"If you don't find what you need with me, Ray, I promise I'll let you go.  I'll insist on it, actually."

"Word of a Mountie?" Ray whispered, his eyes almost grieving.


Ray nodded, slowly, and Benny thought it possible he might simply shatter like the dry leaves of a tree in a sudden wind, or like the thin edge of ice crushed by footsteps.

And then Ray was kissing him, and he did shatter, completely.  How else to describe this loss of himself?  He seemed no longer to exist except as something Ray's lips were touching -- so hot and tender and now, slowly, demanding.  Benny opened his mouth with a groan and a hot, tender, moist, seeking tongue was inside him.  He suckled, filling his body with knowledge of Ray's tentative desire, astonished and robbed of breath by the sweetness there.

Ray broke away, harshly, gasping.  "God, Benny.  Who knew you could be…come back here."

Another kiss, and another, dozens of them as Ray slid forward in the chair and Benny raised up on his knees and they were pressed together:  a perfect fit.  Benny rained kisses over that adored nose, over his beautiful eyes, down his sexy, sensual neck.  Ray returned kiss for kiss over his face, across his brows, behind his ears until he was panting, dizzy, and whispering pleas for more.

Ray's hands got him out of his clothes, though they stopped at his starched boxers.  Then Ray pulled away, looking, and the heat of his gaze made Benny's skin raise up bumps, as though at the burn of ice.

"Do you see, Ray?" he asked, stroking lightly over his own torso.  "Breasts."

Ray laughed.  "Yeah, I see, Benny.  Bigger than mine too."  Ray's hand cupped Benny's left pectoral muscle, thumb brushing a nipple, and the man gasped.  That steady, cop-sharp gaze, and then Ray bent down to kiss, lap, and suckle until Benny thought he would go out of his mind.

When Ray pulled back to slip out of his own clothes, Benny tried to do nothing but watch, but as soon as that white undershirt was peeled up, he could not keep his hands from running over that strong, flat chest, tickling his fingertips through the tuft of dark brown hair, caressing nut-brown nipples, indulging himself.

Ray moaned.

Benny's breath was getting all wrong again.  "Do you like that, Ray?"

A flash of embarrassment.  "I've always had sensitive…you know."

Benny's eyes rolled back as he groaned, then he leant in to breath salt and musk and a trace of cologne before his lips found a sweet, puckered nub, and feasted.

Ray's hands ran through his hair, over his bare back, down his sides.  His smell changed, letting Benny know even without looking that Ray was becoming seriously, wonderfully aroused.

"Bed, Benny," he whispered, and it was all Fraser could do not to pick him up and carry him there.

Dief leapt from the mattress with a growl, then pattered out of the room in a huff.  His two packmates were finally mating.  The distraction would allow him to roam the kitchen at will.

"Oh, God," Ray moaned into the shoulder he was kissing.  "We need stuff."

"I have it, Ray.  Hold on."  Benny scrambled to the foot of the bed and opened his father's trunk, then returned with KY Jelly and two condoms.

"Two?" Ray asked.

"In case the first one is defective," Benny replied.

Ray shook his head and reached, gently, for Benny's boxers, slowly working them off and then down his legs.  For a moment, he simply looked.

"Yeah, felt that last night," Ray said.  Benny raised his eyebrows.

"You did indeed, Ray."

The Italian shook his head again.  "No, no.  I mean I felt that you're not cut."

Benny looked down at his uncircumcised member.  "Does that bother you?"

"Well…"  Ray sighed.  "Actually, I think it's better than it's not like mine, you know?  More mysterious, I guess.  But then, I'm not really sure how to touch you."

"You did very well last night."

"If you're telling me that's how long you usually last then I doubt we're going to get very far with this plan."

Benny blushed, and Ray watched the progression of red across his body with wide eyes.

"No, Ray.  I mean, I usually…last much longer than that."  Benny took a breath to hold in, then wrapped his hand around his foreskin and pumped, gently.  The skin made a familiar *slick, slick* noise.

"That looks like it feels good," Ray observed.

"Yes, very."  Benny's voice was more breath than vibration.

Ray smiled and pushed Benny's hand out of the way to try for himself a bit.  Benny simply collapsed backwards and spread his legs.

"Need you inside me so much, Ray."

Ray blinked, looking dazed.  "Yeah, uh.  Right.  Where's that lube?"

Benny waved with his hand, but first Ray reached for his own boxers, pausing when Benny's eyes fixed on him.  With a self-conscious smile he freed his body from the restrictive cloth, then looked into Benny's eyes where he could only see the worship Benny felt.

Long, elegantly curved and pointing straight ahead, darkly flushed, so that the veins that marked Benny's cock were hardly visible, blending as the skin swept up to the swollen knob of his flared glans.  Dark hair dusted the balls and made a swath at the base, and Benny longed to run his fingers and tongue over ever millimeter.

"Beautiful, Ray," he said simply, canting up his hips.  "Please be inside me as soon as you can."

But Ray's eyes were turning doubtful.  His awkward gaze was on the small pucker so deep inside Benny's body.  He took the tube of lubricant and squeezed some on his fingers, but each movement was getting slower and slower.

"You won't hurt me, Ray."

Green eyes met his and showed fear.

"Nor do I require extensive preparation.  I've been…getting ready."

Ray didn't like that.  "For some other guy, you mean.  You were going to let some other guy do this."

Benny's eyes closed in shame.  "Yes, Ray."

As if to punish him, Ray's finger wasn't particularly gentle as it slipped inside, but Benny hadn't lied.  The opening gave way easily, and both of them made a soft "Oh" of surprise.

Ray was all gentleness as he explored.  "You're so hot and tight inside.  Strong, too."

"Not like a woman," Benny whispered in regret.

"No…like…like hot butterscotch."

Benny's eyes opened now, and his lungs breathed in deeply at the pleasure on Ray's face.

"Ma used to make it…still does, sometimes.  Never thought of doing the deed with it before, though."  Ray laughed.

"Well, the Frasers are Scottish, Ray," Benny said, "though the lubricant is not butter."

Ray glared at him.  Then his lips twitched, and they were both laughing, Ray throwing in a few groans.

"Fraser, that was so *bad!*  I can't believe you said something like that."  Again, as though in retaliation he slipped in a second finger, and Benny's cock pulsed.  He groaned, and almost, he realized with alarm, came.

It was too much to have Ray here.  Too impossible.  Too glorious.

If he never had this again, could he survive the loss?  And yet he could not mar this moment by thinking of the future.  He just wanted to live in this moment…or perhaps in the next immediate moment, when Ray would finally fill the emptiness.

"Now, please, Ray."

The long fingers slipped out, and Benny's whole body mourned their absence.  He spread his legs wider, looking up into Ray's eyes as Ray snapped on a condom and lubricated his penis.

Then, horribly, Ray stilled.  A moment went by with nothing more.


"I'm greasing my cock to be inside you, Benny."

Fraser moaned and bit his lip.

Ray put a hand to the man's pale, muscular buttock.  "Nobody else, you got that?" Ray demanded.  "You don't let nobody else do this to you."

"No, Ray.  Only you."

"Damn right," Ray muttered, then leaned in, his eyes meshing with Benny's and his cockhead nudging, nudging, then with a sort of pop, inside, stretching, filling, easing deeper.  Deep discomfort for one second, then mild, then none and just the sweet, impossible pleasure.

They were both moaning constantly, sweating, reaching for each other, trying to make it all work, and Ray went in more and more until finally he was buried completely.

"Oh, yessss," Benny breathed.

"Oh, God.  You feel so good," Ray groaned, then pulled out and thrust in, one long smooth glide.

Benny screamed and grabbed Ray's hips, urging, and they were rocking together, closer, deeper, faster, better and better and Benny knew nothing but pleasure.  When the end approached all too soon he fought and fought, but it was simply stronger than he was, strong as Ray's cock inside him, strong as the shockwave that ran through his whole body and brought white heat and light and the command that he scream words of love as liquid sex rushed through and out his cock, splattering and scalding his chest and neck.

He heard Ray scream and used the last of himself to look up into Ray's face, bright with bliss.  The flesh deep inside him spasmed and Ray's whole body shuddered, and shuddered, and then collapsed in slow-motion with a sigh that did not end until, at last, Ray sobbed words unto his shoulder:

"Oh, God, Benny.  I love you."

His body cradled Ray's with a tenderness beyond himself, knowing the connection they had made was unbroken even as Ray pulled from him to dispose of the condom and then settle snugly into his arms.  For over an hour, they did not speak, though they did not sleep.  The contentment from Ray's body basked him like the sun.

Benny opened his eyes as he heard Dief walk back into the room, preparing himself for some sort of knowing lupine gaze.  Instead, the wolf nosed Ray's Armani jacket, then made a nest of it and settled down.

Benny's breath caught in alarm, and Ray, with a little groan, made what seemed to be the considerable effort to turn his head and see.

"Hmph," Ray said simply, and turned his head back, kissing Benny's chest on the way, and snuggled back into position with a sigh.

And Benny smiled.

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