Ray stared long enough that Fraser almost began to fidget.

"Did you…rent it, or something?"

"No, Ray."

Vecchio swallowed, but Fraser was starting to smile.  There were signs of that tell-tale flush along a certain endless neck.

"You had it delivered?"

"Yes, Ray."


"No, Ray.  Yesterday."

"When do you buy the sheets and stuff?"

"The day before yesterday."

"And you didn't say a word?"

"No, Ray."

His lover blinked, and Fraser looked at the bed in immense satisfaction:  a double, with a spring box frame and an orthopedically designed mattress that was very firm covered by a special layer to provide soft contouring.  He'd had to buy special deep-fitted sheets, very hard to find in just the color of moss green he'd wanted.  The duvet was a sensible off-white that would hide wolf hairs as well as the inevitable wear of use.  He was waiting now for Ray to pull back the sensible cover and see the sheets beneath.

Behind them, on the floor, were four suitcases full of Ray's suits, casual clothes, pajamas, toiletries, undergarments, socks and shoes.  Fraser had thought they would unpack quickly before everything got too wrinkled, but Ray had walked into the apartment, caught sight of the bed, and just dumped his things where they lay.

Benny weighed the advantages of having Ray naked in his new bed right now and the disadvantages of having Ray complain about the state of his clothes for days.

"Do you approve of the bedding, Ray?"

Ray caught the note in his voice and shot him a look before going to the head of the bed and tugging down the cover.  He stared at the moss green sheets for quite a while before looking up.

"We have to get blue sheets too."

"All right, Ray."

"Do you want to take off your clothes or have me do it?"

Again Fraser weighed the pleasures of careful diversion with the gratification of efficiency, then took off his shirt.  Ray grinned and began shedding his suit.  They climbed into the bed from opposites sides and met in the middle, smiling at each other now.  But when Ray leaned forward for the first kiss, Benny sat up and stripped the covers back, exposing the expanse of green, before reaching for Ray and positioning him in the middle of the mattress.

Ray gave him an indulgent look, then settled back and let Benny position and re-position his arms and straighten out his legs.  Eventually, the Mountie settled back to observe the result.

"Well?" Ray wanted to know.

"It does bring out your eyes and warm your skin tone, but I must confess I did not foresee the effect it would have in softening you so well.  You look…touchable."

Ray's grin was pure Cheshire Cat.  "Then go ahead and start touching, Benny."

A clean, work-worn hand settled at the top of Ray's thigh.

"Ray?  I hope you don't mind, but I must confess that knowing of your sister's approval of our relationship…"


"…arouses me."  Fraser waited for Ray to make a comical remark or to tell him he was being disgusting.  It didn't matter.  He had needed Ray to know.

But Ray's eyes were solemn.  "Don't go getting your hopes up, Benny.  Frannie was the one I was betting on would have the least amount of trouble with gays, even if I did think she'd kill me for stealing you away.  But she's not some sign the rest of the family's going to be okay with it, okay?"

"I do understand that, Ray.  But at least I know that someone you love doesn't hate me or want to punish you for the way I feel."

"The way *we* feel, Benny.  And you know, it's not a question of Ma hating you."

"If she believes I am the cause of your eternal damnation, Ray, I do not believe 'hatred' will be a strong enough term for her sentiments towards me."

"Benny, I'm naked and turned on.  Could we not talk about Ma right now?"

Fraser felt himself flush with guilt.

Ray rolled his eyes.  "I'd choose you."  Ray frowned next.  "That is what you're really worried about, right?  If she made me choose, it would be you, okay?  I mean I -- mmph."

The press of mouths was not quite a kiss, more the devouring of words too grotesque to be allowed freedom, utterance.  It was almost obscene that Ray could expose such private horrors, words and fears Fraser would never allow existence beyond the most distantly buried recesses of consciousness.  He pressed down to escape stark illumination:  to know himself capable of such selfishness was only bearable because Ray somehow saw it and did not turn from him.  The relief was as painful as the shame.

Warm hands soothed his back, so knowing and so kind.

"I'm so sorry, Ray."

"Shhh.  Kiss me some more, Benny."

Dozens of kisses, soft, deep, drunken, impossibly sweet in the way only Ray could be sweet:  Fraser kissed his way through all of them, until the feeling was too much even for sex, until they were just holding each other, his face buried in Ray's neck, Ray's hands petting his back, his hair, his neck.

"It's okay, Benny.  Everything's going to be okay."

After awhile, he got his head up.  Ray's lips were a little swollen, softened, relaxed.  His body was warm and languid within his arms, and his eyes were almost too much to see.  A man could lose all sense of decorum and restraint amongst so much acceptance.


"Yeah, Benny?"

Fraser pressed his lips together and shook his head.  He leaned in and kissed the faintest pattern across Ray's shoulder, then down his chest.  His face burned,

"Benny…hey.  Come on."

A hand cupped his chin, turned his face back up to the benediction of hazel eyes.

"What do you want, Benny?  You know you can tell me."

A frantic shake of his head, and he was reaching down to take Ray in his mouth.  But gentle hands stopped him, pulled him back up.  It took him many seconds to look back into Ray's face, to meet his gaze.

"I think I know, Benny," Ray whispered, and Fraser felt himself start to shake.

"I want you so much, Ray.  I love you so much, I can't…"

Ray waited.

"I can't do anything enough for that.  Nothing I can do…I can't express…"  Fraser turned away, closing up hot eyes.

Ray drew him close, kissed his ear, spoke in the faintest, more intimate murmur.

"Sometimes, Benny, I have this little day dream where you're in your dress uniform, and I take off just enough to get at you, and I watch you come while you're still in that high collar and all those brass buttons."

Fraser frowned.  "Do you want me to --"

"Shhhh.  You move and I'll never forgive you.  I'm just saying, I have this dream.  It doesn't mean I got something for uniforms, or I'm acting out some weird thing about Canada.  It's just that I think of us doing it all the time, and that's just one more way.  Fantasies don't have to be something big and dark and horrible, Fraser.  They don't even have to make sense.  They just are."

"I shouldn't want it.  I shouldn't want any of them."

"Well, that's probably why they turn you on."

Fraser groaned and tried to roll away, tried to will away the intensity, and then felt his breath cut dead when Ray grabbed his hip and shoved him back into place. His mouth was claimed and he seemed to know nothing but that sweet pressure for a long while, opening himself to the demands of a skilled, knowing tongue.

Ray pulled back, breathing hard, pressing solid evidence of his own arousal against Fraser's hip before leaning back and pressing the Mountie face-down into the soft green sheet.

"I figure we're not going into safeword territory or anything," Ray said, "but if I do something you don't like, then you just say so, got it?"


Ray grunted and positioned him, his hands never rough, never disrespectful, just…firm and…yes, so possessive.  Benny groaned as hot excitement lanced his belly, low and hot.  The ownership of those hands on his body, the absence of permission asked as slippery fingers slid inside him, preparing him efficiency.  Ray's left hand pulled back at his hip, urging him up slightly.  A noise of urgency escaped him, and Ray's "hush" was neither indulgent nor reassuring.  The call for silence was almost a command.

Fraser groaned again.  "How did you know?  How did you know I wanted this?"

"I paid attention, Benny.  What do you think?  Spread your legs a little wider there."

He complied and moaned low and long as Ray slipped in another finger, stretching so gently.

"Ray…please.  If I come, just…keep going.  Until you come."

"God, Benny.  You have to shut up."  Ray slid his fingers out and grabbed on firmly, canting his hips back.

"Hard, hard," Fraser chanted.  "Hard, please, just -- oh, oh yes."

"Shhh."  Another thrust had Ray all the way in, and with the next deep, firm push Benny's groan was matched by the one from the mattress.  Then a steady song of pleasure and squeaking springs accompanied Fraser's willful taking as the man let everything go, trusting himself to Ray's arduous care.  He stretched in luxury, and was brought back again, more firmly this time, to his proper position.

"Never let you go," Ray muttered, thrusting harder.  "Never let you get away from me."

His groan this time was more of a gasp, and in the heat down low something was uncurling, something that should terrify him.  He should tell Ray to stop, to turn him over, to stop treating him like…Oh God.  To stop taking him like this, as though he were claiming him, as though he were taking what they both knew Fraser shouldn't offer.

And yet what else could it mean but that he belonged to Ray when he was lying like this, his body bent over to be plundered, his hips locked in Ray's hands, Ray's cock so deep inside him?

But it was a fantasy, Ray had said, a bit of pretending between lovers.  The thought flashed that he might be Ray's harem-boy, but he winced away from the image of Ray in a turban.  Neither did he want to be Ray's prisoner, being fucked and read his rights.  He doubted Ray would enjoy any Mafia scenarios either.

Ray thrust harder still, wracking shudders through Fraser's body as he fought not to come yet, not to end this.  He was drunk on his own helplessness, intoxicated with the power of his own surrender, aroused beyond coherence by his own submission.

Ray was still muttering endearments and mild obscenities, gruff and indistinct, yet Benny made out the repeated words:  "Caught you, baby.  Never let you go."

And in a star dance he saw it, saw the moon chasing the sun 'round and 'round the Earth until Ray had caught him at last, and claimed him and taken him with silver-bright light that whirled through his head, calling the name of the brother who had become lover.

"Yes!  Ray!  Yes!"  And silver light raced down his shaft and out, and Ray was screaming too and all was silver light and deep, blessed heat.


Francesca Vecchio awoke, her whole body listening for a repetition of that sound.


Trembling, unbelieving, she rose from her bed and looked out the window.

A tall man in Mountie dress waved up at her with a smile.


Elaine climbed the steep steps with wide, slightly aghast eyes.

It was no secret Fraser lived in a somewhat depressed neighborhood, and Elaine had seen the outside of Benton's building before, but the inside was both better and worse than she had assumed.

It was unquestionably shabbier and more run-down than she had thought, but it was also cleaner and better-smelling.  It was obvious the people who lived here were trying hard to keep things as nice as they could.  It was also obvious they didn't have nearly enough to work with.

She reached the apartment and felt out of breath.  Perhaps she should have taken the elevator, except…it didn't look very sturdy.  Besides, if she were this winded she needed the exercise.

She raised a steady enough hand to the door to knock, but before she touched the wood the door moved back slightly.  She stared, then at a small whine looked down.

"Hello, Diefenbaker," she whispered, then frowned at herself.

The wolf seemed to approve, however, and nudged the door open wider before stepping back.

"Is something wrong?" she whispered again.

He whined and took another step back.

Hating herself, but, considering everything, greatly concerned, Elaine stepped into the apartment.  The morning hadn't burned away its haze, and there were no lights on in the apartment.  She froze, staring at shadows and listening, but she heard only Diefenbaker's panting.

*He lives like this?*

She met the wolf's eyes, then watched as he padded softly towards the back room.

Watching him, she was several steps towards the bed before --

Oh my God.

She turned and walked out, making it all the way back to the stairs without drawing a breath, then gasping as she shoved her shaking legs down two steps before sitting with a thump at the top.

My God.

My *God.*

"At least the sheet was pulled up," she blurted, then clamped her hands over her mouth to hold back the hysterical giggles.  She ended up resting her forehead on her hands and almost screamed when something wet and warm licked her neck.


The wolf eyes regarded her.

"Why did you want me to see that?"

He whined, and she thought of sharing ice-cream and divulging her Mountie fantasies to an attentive wolf.

"I already knew they're together," she hissed.  "I didn't need to see it!"

Dief cocked his head at her, and she found herself trying to understand what else she might have been meant to see other than…than two naked men sleeping in bed together.

Ray had been on his back, one arm luxuriously flung over his head.  Fraser had been on his side, his head resting on the pillow of Ray's chest.  His arms had been around Ray, and Ray's other arm had been curled protectively around Benton's back.


Yes, the entire scene had been one of protection, of infinite and tender care.

She laughed, a little, and turned to Diefenbaker with a grim little smile.

"I got it, all right?"

He growled in agreement and pushed his muzzle into her hand.  She scratched him behind his ears and stood up.  Her mission here, after all, was one of urgency.

She let her tread fall heavily as she returned to the door and pounded.

"Just a moment."

The door opened halfway to reveal Fraser, his hair mussed, his shirt half-buttoned over rumpled jeans.  Elaine's heart didn't even beat faster, really.


"I need to speak to Ray, please."

Fraser looked like he wanted to refuse, but stood back and looked over his shoulder, then allowed her inside.

Ray was standing in the bedroom doorway, his suit pants and turtleneck in place, but no socks on his feet.  For the first time in a long time she felt a flicker of attraction towards him and knew that Dief had been right, however unfair it had been.  She would have to buy him some Milk Duds.

"Ray, do you know where Francesca is?"

He blinked at her.  "Frannie?  What?  She missing?"

"Your mother called the station.  I did try your cell phone."

Ray frowned but looked guilty.  "Did Ma say she had a date last night?"

"Yeah, and she didn't.  She said Frannie went to bed last night, then when she went to call her to breakfast, the bed was empty and unmade."

"She doesn't always tell people when she's going out," Ray muttered, his eyes getting worried.

"Perhaps we might take a look at her room, Ray," Fraser said.

"Yeah.  Yeah, that's a good idea."  Ray turned around and got his socks and shoes off the floor.  Trying not to stare at him, Elaine got her first real look at the actual bed, noting its newness, its size, and the green moss sheets.  Or was it just the sheets that were new?  Had Ray bought them, she wondered?  Had they done it together?  Or had it been a surprise from Fraser?

"I'm sorry to come busting in like this," she told Benton, turning to watch him hastily assemble three cups of instant coffee.

"Your news certainly warranted any interruption," Fraser told her.  "Would you mind watching the kettle?"


He hurried into his closet, much to her surprise, and emerged only a moment later in his brown uniform, his tie and shoe laces all done up, his hair perfect.

*How does he do that?*

She took off the kettle before it whistled, and was pouring the water into the cups when the men joined her.  Fraser filled Diefenbaker's bowls with water and food, and the wolf took his fill of both quickly while they guzzled down their coffee.

"Anything gone besides Frannie?"

"Just some clothes and her purse."

"But not her car?"


Ray sighed and put his cup in the sink.

"She might be with a friend, Ray."

"She might be with the Zodiac Killer."

They all headed toward the door.  Was Diefenbaker sending her a special look?

"That's most unlikely, Ray.  Victims of the Zodiac Killer were almost all considerably younger than your sister, and besides, the killer, if still alive, would be somewhere in his late sixties by now, and --"


"Yes, Ray," Fraser replied quietly, and said no more.

Before leaving them to get into her own car, Elaine met Dief's eyes.


It was a beautiful church, familiar as all churches are, but not one she'd actually seen before.  The flowers were spectacular around the white and silver altar, and thin windows of stained glass stretch high into the arched ceiling.

"Lovely," Francesca whispered.

Warm lips trailed along her neck.  "Like you."


"Nothing seems to be missing," Vecchio muttered, eyeing his watch.  It really was possible Frannie had just gotten it in her head to go somewhere and had taken off.  She could be perfectly fine, which was good, because when she got back he was, of course, going to kill her.

"I’d better get you to work, Benny."

"It can wait a few moments, Ray."

Vecchio frowned.  "For what?"

Fraser opened his arms and wove them around his lover's body without a sound other than the exhalation of breath.  Frannie's door was closed.  The house was silent and still.

A very long moment later, Ray whispered.  "She better be all right, Benny."

"We'll find her, Ray."

But Vecchio shook his head.  "I got a bad feeling, Benny."

"About Francesca?"

"About this whole mess.  Louise, then Huey, now Frannie…do you think we're cursed or something?"

Fraser was silent for a moment, holding on tight.

"According to Greek and Roman myths, mortals could become happy enough in their lives to inspire jealousy among the gods, who would then sometimes plague them with deformities or evil spirits."

Ray leaned back, his teeth worrying his lip as he met Fraser's eyes.  "I was thinking of something a little more northwards, Fraser."

The Canadian's eyes grew wide.  "Do you mean the winter spirits, Ray?"

Ray scowled.  "I mean Victoria, Benny."

"I…I'm afraid I don't quite follow you, Ray."

"The only time before this I felt the whole damn world was crumbling for no apparent reason it was Victoria.  And she came to you so willingly, right?  Never really more than a token at resisting arrest.  What if she wanted us to bring her down here?  What if she's behind this somehow?"

Fraser swallowed his first response, his throat hurting.

"We should question her, Ray."

"You mean I should question her and you should get to the Consulate."

"Ray, Francesca is missing.  I can't just go to work as though it's a normal day."

"It could be nothing.  She could turn up any minute."

"I'm sure the Inspector will understand if I call and explain the situation."

"You shouldn't disturb your life that much, you shouldn't..."  Ray shrugged.

"I shouldn't care about your family so much, Ray?"  Fraser's fists tightened, hanging low at his sides.

"No!"  Ray shook himself and sent Benny a look of apology.  "No, Benny, of course that's not it."

"Then what is 'it,' Ray?"

Vecchio sighed and went to look out the window.  He could see where she had seen them the night before last.

"She said she was cool with it, Benny, but maybe this is...maybe she wants you to come riding to her rescue, and then you realize what a big mistake you've made and how much you love her.  Long fingers rubbed over the shorn scalp.  "It sounds just like something she'd dream up."

"Your sister is devious, Ray."

Vecchio snorted.

"But she isn't malicious, or cunning.  Nor does she seem to me capable of the sort of emotional control required to fool you into thinking her feelings are so completely different from what they are."

Ray turned to him with a crooked smile.

"Since when are you such an expert on my sister, Benny?"

"Since you became my entire world, Ray."

How did Ray do that, Fraser wondered, watching eyes go soft and bright  in a way that should almost be ridiculous?  He had meant only to expose this small part of his feelings, to comfort his lover in this small way, but now, looking into Ray's face, he was lost.

He realized he had reached out only when Ray looked down at his hand and shook his head slowly.

"Not here, Benny."

Fraser let his hand fall to his side.

"I want to go with you when you talk to Victoria, Ray.  If she has a plan she is implementing, I may be able to help you learn the details of it from her."

"She'll just make it a chance to hurt you somehow," Ray whispered.  "And I'll have to sit there and watch it because they'll make me check my gun at the door."


"Look, I'll take you by the Consulate and you see about getting time off.  Meanwhile, I wanna check with a couple of Frannie's friends Ma doesn't know to call."

"And what friends would those be, Raymondo?"

Ray's whole body winced as he turned to find his mother standing in the doorway.

"You're gonna give me a heart attack, Ma."

"What friends?"

"Just some old friends from the shelter where she used to volunteer."

Mrs. Vecchio hugged her sweater more tightly around her shoulders, her face lined and faded with worry.

"She'll be all right, Ma.  You gotta trust me."

Dark eyes met his.  "Something's not right, Raymondo.  I can feel it."

Ray shivered and talked twice as fast.  "It's gonna be fine.  I'm gonna talk to some of her friends and Benny here's gonna keep helping me and we'll be bringing her home before supper."

The eyes did not turn from him, though the strong hands clutched more tightly at the sweater, and Ray half-turned from her to look at his friend.

"You mind waiting for me just a minute in the car, Benny?"

Fraser set his hat on his head and nodded solemnly to his lover's mother.

"We will find her, Mrs. Vecchio."

She nodded back and tried to give him a smile.

Fraser walked through the house quietly.  The day had clouded over and the air smelled like snow.  He could almost see himself walking across the vast white expanse that led to Ray and bed and lying naked together with no one around for thousands of miles.  He could taste Ray's skin against his tongue, smell the wood burning in the stove.

He brought himself back to the present with difficulty, sliding into the comfort and home of the Riv.  A few minutes later, Ray opened the driver's door and slid in himself, his eyes shining.

"I told her, Benny."


"I told her and she doesn't mind, doesn't care.  She loves you like a son too, Benny."  Ray leaned forward and covered his face in kisses, surrounding him with warmth.  His hands were taken, his fingers kissed and sucked and nibbled.

"I love you, Ray."

"I love you too, Benny.  And now there's no reason for us ever to fear anything ever again.  Everyone knows.  Everyone accepts that we love each other."

He kissed Fraser then, and belonging and love flowed through him.  Ray took his hands once more, and there was nothing in the world but Ray Vecchio and joy.

"I just need to know that you two didn't say anything you're keeping from me," Mrs. Vecchio told her son.

"Ma, I promise.  We were just talking about stuff.  Fran wants a job, actually."

"A job?"

"Yeah, at the station.  I mean, she said she wanted one then, anyway.  Who knows what's she going after now?"

Ray moved up to his mother and gently enfolded her within arms that felt leaden but sure.  The weight in his chest was even worse, but the feel of his mother's own embrace steadied him.

"She's gonna be fine, okay?  I promise you."

She leaned back and kissed his cheek.  "You're a good boy.  You always keep your promises."

Ray flashed her a grin.  "I'll call soon with good news, okay?"

She nodded and patted his cheek, then walked down with him to stand by the front door as he went to his car.  When he stopped and spun around, however, she stepped out onto the porch.


Ray's eyes were frightened.  His voice boardered on hysteria.  "Where's Benny, Ma?  Do you see him?"

Together, they looked at the Stetson lying on the ground, then suddenly Mrs. Vecchio was running towards her son, her hands fluttering in dismay at the sight of him crouched there, muttering over and over, "Oh God.  Oh God."


The controlled boom of metal hitting leather snuggly fitting around metal reminded him of the day he had checked his cell phone, and the dry observation regarding his mistake made by the man who was then his best friend.

In fact, Vecchio still thought of Fraser primarily in such terms.  Yes, he was Also Lover, but somehow that was less than best friend, or only additional too.

He shook his head and concentrated on the moment.  Fraser was the one who worried that much about words.  His job was to worry about the witch in the cell.

Victoria Metcalf.  The first time he knew of her existence he had been overjoyed.  The mere *idea* that Fraser would come to the all messed up from sex and love just like any other shmoe -- it was incredible!  And there had even been something vague tickling him, something about a snowstorm and a poem and sticking cold fingers in his mouth.  Ray thought it must be something he saw once on a late-night movie, but it had made him think of Benny and his woman, and he had been so happy for his friend.

And then later, during and after the pathetic attempt to host a game of pool, his resentment towards this mystery woman had been proportional to his embarrassment.  He'd been hurt enough to be shamed by the level of his own misplaced trust...and further ashamed by his own satisfaction when he'd seen the red shirt racing towards him in his rear-view mirror.

The cell door slid back with its own controlled boom and there was just a long beige corridor left to walk down.  He put out a hand to steady his steps, his head lolling slightly.

"You okay?" the guard asked through the bars behind him.

"Yeah."  He banished the smile before he turned.  "Should have had that second cup of coffee."  He sketched a yawn but didn't over-do it and continued on down the halllway.

This was the fourth time he had been assaulted by a buzzing swarm of what he could only describe as blissful bubbles.  They gagged him like a breath full of sudden gnats, sickened him with their sensual happiness, terrified him with their unmistakable Benny flavor.

Somewhere very far away from him, Fraser was filled with joy.  He did not know how or why.

The final set of bars and then the metal door with its small thick glass window.  He saw her dark hair through it, but she did not turn as the door was opened and he walked through.

He stood there, looking at her back, his hands suddenly aching for the weight of his gun.

Dimly, though it was only the rush of his blood in his ears, he thought he heard drums.

"I'm going to ask you a question.  You say the wrong thing and I'm out of here and I'll never come back."

She waited.

"Do you know where Fraser is?"

She turned slowly, her dark eyes nothing more than dark.  She was astonishingly beautiful even in prison clothes.

She smiled.  "In paradise."

He sat down in the chair opposite her, the cold metal unpleasant against his thighs.

"You think it's such a good idea," he asked her, "getting Fraser into paradise while you're stuck in here?"

"I won't stay in prison forever."  Her voice was curiously without inflection, but her eyes skewered him with blame.  "But from paradise there is no return."

"Fraser ain't dead."

She shrugged.

"He will be.  I told him he couldn't be without me."

"He loved you for ten years," Ray said.  Her eyes narrowed slightly.  "But he doesn't love you anymore."

"Love isn't the issue."  She leaned back slightly in her own metal chair.  "I kept him alive in a blizzard for a day and a night and a day.  Do you know how I did that?"

Something was tickling Ray's mind again.

"I made him mine," she explained.  "So he was never his own to give himself to you."

Ray shook his head.  "He made you yours, but then he didn't want you anymore.  You're gonna have to learn how to live with that."  He leaned forward, his hands together on the table between them, his weight resting on his elbows.  "Besides, if you had had him, I would have taken him from you."

Her lips turned in scorn.  "You don't have him."

Ray shook his head.  "I want to be with him, not own him.  I know you can't understand that."  He let some of his sorrow show.  She wouldn't know what to do with it.  "Even he doesn't really get it yet, after being in your clutches so long.  But he will eventually, and I'll be there."

She shook her head.  "No.  He's lost to you now."

"He's lost," Ray agreed.  "He's been lost before.  He's been lost and blind and crippled...and without his compass."

She stared at him quite a while this time.  He let her see his eyes.

"You've changed."

He shrugged.

"This isn't about me.  This is about what sick thing you thought up plotting your revenge on a man who did nothing more than his duty.  This is about you telling me where Fraser is."

"I told you."

"Where his body is, then."

"He's not dead."

"You know what I mean."

She sparked with hate.  Ray noted it brought out the life in her, despite those dilated pupils.  "I don't know where to find him that way.  I do know he's waiting for me.  And I know that you can feel his happiness, can feel the thrill he's getting waiting for me to join him.  I wrote him letters --"

"Oh, give it up, lady!  Benny hides nothing from me.  You got that?  Nothing.  If you wrote him letters he'd show them to me to prove he's got nothing to hide, and then we'd throw them on the bed and make out on 'em."

She sneered openly now, not quite so pretty.

"You still feel his happiness.  You'll feel it even more when he dies."

"Anything happens to him --"

"And you'll kill me?"  She laughed quietly.  "Your threats only proved how little you understood.  That hasn't changed.  He has everything he ever wanted now.  Soon, whether you find him or not, he'll never want to come back."

"Oh God," Ray whispered.  "It's drugs, isn't it, you *bitch!*"

She smiled then.  "A bit more than drugs, Detective, but enough...more than enough."

"And you don't even know where he is.  You don't even care, do you?"

He stood up, shuddering in disgust.  "You're never getting out of jail, you understand me?  No easy exits or escapes for you for the rest of your life."

She smiled, dreamily, and he turned from her to bang on the door.


His next stop -- after a considerable amount of insistent conversation, was the office of her coordinator.

"We've already run drug screens.  She's clean."

"I don't mean coke and smack.  Metcalf's got something going on, and some version of it's being used on my partner.  I need you to run every test you've got."  He leaned over the desk.  "And if you don't run them all and give me the results as soon as possible, I'm going to let everyone know you helped one of your inmates kill a Canadian cop.  You think a law enforcement officer anywhere's gonna wanna work with you again after that?"

He stood up and straightened his coat, turning for the door.

"And put her on suicide watch."


The beach was warm and clean and endless.  She simply could not get over the color of the sky:  dark blue and unclouded, like the eyes of her husband.

Theirs were the only chairs on the beach with occupants.  It was the off-season, but unseasonably warm.  The balm against her skin of each tropical breeze warmed her just slightly ever forward into perfection.

"I can't believe I'm here at last," she murmured, eyes blinking in the bright sunlight.

"I can't believe you're here with me either," her husband murmured, his pale skin glowing with the warmth, shiny with sweat.  She leaned over to nibble at his shoulder.

He groaned with pleasure.  "I love what happens to my body when you touch me.  I love the thought that it is you touching me.  I love you."

"And I love that you have made my dreams come true just before I would have lost them forever.  I love that you're strong and brave but not perfect.  I love you."

He kissed her then, and that was better than the sun.

Fraser groaned, feeling the feather-light touch on his skin.  Knowing hands were leading him to joy and he would not let himself protest.  His hips ground down into the cradle of his lover's body without fear.

The sun was hot on his bare back and his lungs filled with the scents of his lover's lightly sweaty skin.  It had been inspiration to come here.

He found himself giggling.  He was coming here, all right.

She delighted in her husband's throaty laughter.  Strong arms were around her now, holding her against the world's multiple injuries, securing a haven strangely like that she had once found in the arms of her father, one day when they were at a petting zoo and he held her high above the goats that snapped at her dress.  She had squealed and kicked, and the hands under her arms had been too strong to escape, too gentle to cause harm themselves.  Perfect hands.

Like those roving over her hips, like the lips nibbling at her neck again.

"I love your neck," Fraser muttered, licking at the soft skin.  "It's the first thing I noticed about your body."

But he was muttering now into a kiss, infinitely sustained, impossible to better except with the next kiss, and the next.

He felt climax readying and held it off.

"Take me," Francesca whispered.  "Make love with me."

He spread his legs, welcoming his lover home.  Green eyes shone against the bare rocks and reflected white sparks back at the distant snow of the mountains.

She moaned, her body jerking against something hard.

*That hurt.*  Fraser went to rub his ribs, but Ray's hands were there, soothing him.

"I love you."

"But that really hurt, Ray.  Did you do that?"

"Do what, Benny?  Where does it hurt?  Let me kiss it better."

Fraser tried to look and see, but it was hard to turn his head.  He felt crowded, and there was something dark here even in the bright sunlight.

"Ray.  Ray, something is wrong."

Ray kissed him, but he leaned back.  Ray smelled funny, like musty clothes and vermin feces.

"Yes!" a woman was saying.  "Love you so much."


"Did you sleep with my sister, Benny?" Ray asked.

Fraser pulled back, and kept pulling even when the world retaliated by swirling around his ears and sundering his guts.  Bright-white pain, red-bright pain.

He had his hand on his side and felt something rough.  Cloth.  He was in his clothes.

"Benny."  The voice was distant, plaintive.  He turned back in guilt to his Ray-world.

"I'd love a colada," the woman trilled.  "And you could rub more lotion on my shoulders."

His eyes were closed.  Why were his eyes closed?

He pulled back with everything he had, stretching open his eye, propping up his lids, seeing dark colors and shapes.  Stars shot through his head.  He gagged on the stench of urine and choked on grit in his mouth.

Something was moving at his side.  A woman's legs, encrusted with the remains of stockings and the dried scraping of blood:  they twisted now and the woman laughed.


He tried to move.  Bright-white red-bright pain blocked sight and smell and sound.


"Ray, are you all right?"

He reached for the wall...and was off by about three feet.  Firm hands took his arm and pushed, leading him eventually to a wooden chair before pressing down on the back of his head to position it between his knees.

"Is there a problemm Ms Besbriss?"

"I'll get him to eat something, sir."

Welsh grunted, but everyone at the station knew what Ray's problem was, and he would never berate a man for being stressed out over his partner's abduction.  Miss Vecchio was still missing as well, and they had no leads.

Apart from the abandoned Stetson, which had only Fraser's prints, there had been no sign of a struggle at the house.  No had seen or heard anything.  There were no tire marks, no footprints, no fibers.  In less than ten minutes, someone had overpowered a fully grown, well-trained man and taken him to an unknown location for no discernable motive.

Vecchio was sitting up now and Besbriss moved in.  He left the man to her capable care and went to return the inspector's call.

"You heard me," Elaine scolded.  "You need to eat something."

"It's not that," Ray mumbled.

At a whine, they looked down to see Diefenbaker sitting at Ray's feet, a Milky Way bar held loosely in his teeth.

Ray slumped a bit and held out his hand.  The animal deposited the wrapped bar in his hand, and with a little growling about wolf slobber, Ray opened the candy and ate half of it in one bite.

She looked into golden, reproachful eyes.

She looked around, the pulled on Ray's arm.  "Break room.  I'll buy you a coffee."

"Leave it alone, Elaine."

"We need to talk."

His eyes went a little wide, dully reflecting the same fear he'd once shown her in a too-trendy coffeehouse when she had to tell him she wasn't going to rat them out.

But he went into the break room, and she followed, watching him chew up the last of his candybar and toss the shiny wrapper in the trash.

"Tasted a little stale," he noted.  "Dief must have a stash around here."

She stood near the door so she could watch for anyone coming, then leaned against the wall and crossed her arms.

"What?" Ray asked, looking at coffee machine.  "You want something?"

"I want you to tell me what's going on."

"My sister and my best friend have been abducted and drugged out of this level of reality by some sick jerk who's working with the woman this same best friend and lover once tried to run off with before I shot him in the back."

She felt herself blinking and made it stop.

"You tell Welsh that?"

"Is that your great advice?  You think I should tell Welsh?"  He put change in the machine.

She shook her head, but it didn't clear anything.  "No.  I think you...what happened just now?"

"When?"  He pounded on the machine, then kicked it.  A small cup slid down the dispenser and a thin stream of coffee filled it up.

"Ray, damnit.  I'm the only person in the world you can talk with about any of this.  And if you don't talk about it --"

"Nothing will be any different from me spilling my guts!"

Dief whined.  She resented the cue.

"Ray, I saw."

"Yeah, yeah."

"No."  She swallowed and felt a little sick.  She was worried about too many things, and what she was feeling had to be nothing in comparison.  "I was at Fraser's apartment."

"Yeah, I know."

"No, I was there and Diefenbaker let me in.  I saw...you and Fraser."

Ray's expression was equal parts horror and disgust, until betrayal mixed in and he shot a glare at Dief.  The wolf whined again.

"You were sleeping," she said quickly.  "And you were all covered up.  I just...I saw what you're like...together."

"What's that supposed to mean?"  Ray's flailing arm spilled an arc of coffee.

"He's nothing like I thought.  I mean, he was strong, and he's gorgeous and smart.  And it wasn't...he wasn't weak or feminine, but I couldn't..."  She hated herself intensely at that moment and wished desperately for cue cards, or at least a dictionary.  "I could never be that for him.  I don't think I would even know how to react to that sort of, that *kind* of need."

Ray just looked baffled now.

"You take care of him."  There, she was doing better now.  "I never even noticed it before, and he takes care of you too, sort of, but you...you protect him, you drive him around because he'd walk everywhere if you didn't.  You save his life on cases.  You used to tell me about that and I didn't believe you, but it's known around now -- did you know that?  He stands there and makes speaches and avoids getting killed only because you've got your gun pointed at the bad guys.  You watch after him.  I knew that.  But I didn't know...

"I had no idea how far that went.  You were *sleeping,* and you were still protecting him.  And he looked...sheltered.  Happy.  I could tell, that's what he needs.  You're what he needs the way everyone on the planet thinks they want to be needed.  But you know what?  I bet most people couldn't handle it.  I don't think I could.  You can.  And so I know it's got to be killing you that he's out there and you don't know where he is."

"So you know," Ray said tightly, his eyes almost shut.  "So what?"

"So I know!  So I'm here!  What else can a friend do except that?"

"A *friend* could leave --"  He swayed and turned the color of snow.


She caught him in her arms, getting a good slop of coffee on her shirt.  It only burned for a moment and she was putting all her attention into holding Ray up, then guiding him again into a chair.

"God," Ray whispered, not to her.  "Hurts.  God.  He's hurting so bad."

"Fraser?  Fraser's hurting bad?"

Ray practically whimpered.  She held on tight.



The waves of pain were getting easier to ride, and he was almost able to time them, like contractions.

The drip had been inserted in his side, and when Francesca slammed against him she had dislodged it.  The pain was caused by the recession of the drugs -- a heady, exotic mix of herbal hallucinogens he could not recognize by taste and effect alone.  As each spasm passed, he gained lucidity, and now that this last one was leaving him he could sit up and examine himself, Francesca, and their surroundings clearly for the first time.

There was a bruised puncture mark on the back of his left hand, supporting his theory that he had been darted while walking out to Ray's car.  His hallucinations had begun immediately -- which meant, he forced himself to realize, that Ray had not told his mother, the family had not given their blessing, he and Ray had not traveled around the country in the Buick Riviera with Dief in the back seat, and he had been transfered back to the Territory with Ray at his side.

No, instead he had been taken to this poorly lit and unventilated basement and layed down beside Francesca on an opened sleeping bag which bore the faint marks of Peanuts characters.

"I didn't know you could get these so cheaply," Francesca said.  Then, "You did?  You angel!  Did I marry the right man, or what?"

He knew he would have to take the drip from her body as well, but first he wanted to make sure he survived the process himself.  He had been unable to estimate how much time it had taken him to outlast the initial withdrawl reactions, and so had no idea how long he would need to be able to devote his attention to caring for her.

He had already carefully examined her body.  She had no broken bones, but a variety of contact bruises, probably self-inflected against the damp concrete wall and floor.  Her legs were particularly scraped up, but her underwear was intact and the pantyhose around her hips had not been pulled away or out of shape.  There were no defensive bruises or marks inside her legs or under her arms.  Her face was dirty and tracked with dried tears and saliva, but unbruised.

Another pain session began, but lasted only a few minutes.  The fact that it seemed to take much longer was a highly understandable, quite predictable psychological phenomenon.

He thought of Ray until the pain went away.

There, the worst was over now, and he had remained lucid throughout.  With a steadying breath, he reached for the tear in Francesca's dress and gently removed the IV.

"Your hands are so gentle," she whispered to her fantasy world.

Keeping a careful eye on her, he rose from the ground by leaning heavily against the wall.  There were no windows, and the door was made of deeply rusted metal.  He could see the tracks made by the door on the dirty floor.

There were no spiders, though he found an abundance of roach and rat droppings.  It was the excessive moisture, however, that finally made him realize they must be in an unused storage room underground, probably as a part of the city's sewage system.

"Ahh, that hurts, baby," the woman on the floor moaned.  "Stop that, please."

Quickly he crossed to her and knelt down.  Soon, she was writhing in his arms as he muffled her cries against his shoulder.  When his own pain returned, he buried his face against her hair, smelling faint lillies.


Ray was walking around the station house, in the parking lot, actually.  Elaine watched him pace.  When he stood still and glared at the ground, however, she came over.

"What, Ray?"


She looked down and saw them as well.  Little and black and busy:  they were just ants.

And Ray was walking to his car.  Dief barked and joined him.

At the driver's door, he looked back at her and growled something about her going back inside.

"I'm coming with you."

"Stay here."

"You need back-up."

"You ain't no cop."

"You'll need help with Frannie."

He stared at her.

"You do know where they are, don't you?"  It was astonishingly easy to say, to believe.  But then, had she even questioned that business with Dief and the Milky Way?  Had she questioned anything about any of them in forever?

She went around the car to the passenger side and roughly jiggled the handle.  "Hurry up."

He glared at her, looked -- inevitably -- at Dief, then opened up the car and got inside before pulling up the lock on her side.

Odd.  She could smell Fraser, sitting here.  She felt as though she was sitting at the head of the table, or lying in someone else's bed.

"Ants," she repeated as they pulled out of the parking lot.

"Yeah, ants.  Big flying ants."

"How big?"

"Giant.  Radiation, I guess.  It was always radiation, right?"

"This is a movie we're talking about?"

"Yeah.  *Them.*"



"What about them?"

"They had to find a place in the city to nest, someplace out of the sun with lots of little holes for their eggs and stuff."

"And they found..?"


"You think Fraser and Frannie are in the sewer?"

"You want out?"

She settled back into her seat.

It took her about five minutes to realize Ray was just driving around, making his way generally east.  She made herself say absolutely nothing.

"Me and Fraser," Ray said suddenly.  Then his cell phone rang.


"Yes, sir.  A hunch.

"Thank you, sir."

He darted a look over.

"Yes, she's with me, sir.  She's providing invaluable assistance.

"I think so too, sir.

"Yes, sir."

He put the phone away and almost turned right, then jerked the wheel straight again.

"You and Fraser?"

"It's nothing I want to talk about, okay?  I know you know, but I'm not some girlfriend who wants to share dating tips."

She watched him continue to go straight.  They were going a little faster too.

"Okay.  You're right.  I'm projecting.  If I were in love with someone like you're in love with Fraser, I'd want to talk about it.  That's just me."

"You mean that's just women."

She shrugged.  "Maybe.  But I do have some male friends who talk about everything that happens to them, and you're not exactly Mr. Quiet about most things, you know.  I guess it's only the important stuff you don't talk about."

"I talk about important stuff."

"Ray, your father was dead for three days before anyone at the station knew, and that was only because you had to request time off for the funeral!"

"I love him, okay?  That's all there is to it.  We're together.  End of story."

"Not as far as most people are concerned, though, right?  So we know there'll maybe be troubles.  I just want you to know...I want you and Benton to know I'm there for you.  That's all I'm saying."

"I let you in the car, didn't I?"

"True."  She turned away to hide a smile, unable to keep from seeing the two of them in here:  Fraser so polite and demanding and needy, Ray so loud and loyal and unable to take without a struggle.  They were too dissimilar even to be opposites.

Ray slammed on the breaks and parked so fast she thought at first they had crashed.  She was far behind him by the time she got out of the car, and ran after a yapping Diefenbaker as best she could.

She caught the names of the streets on the sign as they passed the corner and noted that they were in an industrial area.  Ray was headed for a power relay station that would have access to the sewers as well as the city's underground power systems.

He passed the obvious entryways, including the main fence, and ran around the back of a storage building.  Two men with utility belts and hard hats who were probably headed home for the day saw them and shouted out something, but Ray had reached a rusted shed now, drew his gun, and shot off the lock.  He had the door open when she got there and began racing down stairs into the dark.

"Ray, wait!"

He turned to her furiously, but she held out a hand, hoping like hell the men wouldn't spot the tell-tale signs in her cilivian aide's uniform.

"Police!" she shouted back at the men, who were running towards them.  "Give me your flashlights and call 991!  We have an officer down and a civilian in trouble.  Officers need assistance.  You got that?"

The men were looking at her suspiciously, but Ray stood behind her and subtly brandished his gun.  They got the flashlights and turned back to the stairs.

"God, this is just like out of that movie," Ray muttered.  "Hang on, Benny.  Hang on."

They must have gone down fifty feet by now.  She was grateful for the flashlights, but had the feeling Ray didn't actually need them.  He slipped and swore in a sort of automatic two-step, and Elaine wondered if she were maybe going just a little crazy herself.

But they reached bottom, and Ray was running now, and then he was standing still and she plowed into his back, stepping on Dief's foot and earning herself an ear-splitting howl.

"Shut up!" Ray shouted, and in the empty quiet they all heard it:  the faint wail of a woman in pain.

They ran now, all three, to that sound.  When Ray shot the lock off the rusty door, Elaine's eardrums burned in protest.

"God!  Benny!  Oh God!  Oh my God!"

Ray had his arms around Fraser but managed to cradle Frannie as well.  The woman, evidently unconscious, was moaning.

"Ray," Fraser whispered while Dief licked his face.  "I knew you'd come."

"Benny.  She all right?"  Ray's hands were all over Fraser's body, checking for wounds.

"She's over the worst of it, I think.  We need to get her to a hospital."

"Let me have her, Ray," Elaine said, moving closer and trying to keep her face away from Dief's swishing tail.

When nothing more happened, she looked up to see them kissing.  She wondered if Ray had even noticed the horrible stench of the place.

Finally, she pried Frannie out of their arms and took her into her own.  Her dress was wet with urine and torn at the side.

"Frannie!  Can you hear me?"

"Hurts," the woman whispered.

"We gotta get her out of here.  Can you walk, Benny?"

"Yes, Ray."

Fraser stood with Ray's help, then Ray took Frannie over his shoulder.  Elaine went to Fraser's side, ignoring his little "don't look at my messy uniform" gestures.  For the first time since she'd met him, he stank, but she only held on tighter.

They got more help by the time they reached the stairs, and the paramedics had Frannie on a gurney before they lifted her up and out.  Fraser didn't want to leave her, and Ray, of course, would leave neither, so they all spilled out together at the top, Diefenbaker managing to stay just this side of tangling everyone's legs.  She supposed they were quite the sight to the reporter who was snapping up pictures like mad as they made their way to the ambulance.  The guy must have been monitorin 911 calls.  Perhaps she should have given then the number to the station.  Too late now.  She'd know better next time.

Ray helped Benny inside.  Frannie took Dief and followed in the Riv.  She would have to remind Ray later about the way he'd handed over the keys without a thought.  He'd never believe her.

Welsh met them at the hospital, and with Ray restrained from following his family into the treatment room he stood by her as she made up a story on the go about Ray's hunch about the sewers and Dief catching Fraser's scent and their hearing Frannie scream.  Welsh told them it was good work, skewered Vecchio with a look the detective didn't even notice, and then made a call to the consulate and the commissioner on his cell phone.

Mrs. Vecchio turned up not long after.  Elaine supposed Ray had called her from the ambulance.  Then came the rest of the Vecchios, and the whole thing turned into exercise in crowd control.

When she could, she got Ray another candybar:  plain chocolate this time.  He looked too tired to chew.


"So we just had them stakeout the area and when he showed up with more happy juice they scooped him up with a net.  We got him in central holding now.  Though you'd want to have a talk with him."

"I would, Ray."

"I had a look at him last night, though."  Ray snorted and turned the corner smooth as glass.  "Dressed up like something from the *Wild Wild West.*  Had more peyote and grass on him than a praire.  I think Victoria must've thought she could use him, but he got her hooked on something and she's going through the withdrawal at Hope, under guard."

"I don't want to visit her, Ray."

Vecchio smiled and sighed.  "Nope.  Leave her to the professionals.  Drugs and Victoria.  No wonder she comes out of the woods like you're gonna fall into her arms.  You know he was sneaking the stuff to her in those death threats?"

"When she regains herself, she will doubtlessly try to exploit her addiction in her defense."

"No doubt.  Don't worry.  She's not going anywhere but back behind bars."

Ray rolled to a stop outside Fraser's -- their -- apartment.  They had come straight from the hospital, and would be going back there in the afternoon, since the doctors wanted Frannie to spend one more night under observation.


He stopped, hand resting on the door handle.


"Did you sleep at your house last night?  Or here?"

Vecchio smiled, looked around, then took Benny's hand and put it in his lap.

"Where do you think?"

Fraser shivered as the flesh under his touch moved.

"Now come upstairs and make at least three of the fantasies I had last night come true."

"Understood, Ray."

It took them both a moment to get ready to get out of the car, then it was a brisk walk up the stairs -- halted three times by neighbors who expressed pleasure in seeing Fraser back -- then on into the apartment, a pause to get Dief's tail all the way through, then the door was slammed and they were in each other's arms, pressing out the rest of the universe with each other's bodies.

Dief sniffed and took his place on the little rug under the window.  He eyed the woman in the corner with some satisfaction.

Ray opened his mouth to Benny's kiss and dropped his hands down to the Mountie's incredible butt for a slow, undulant squeeze.  Fraser moaned and shivered, and then froze, sputtered, and pushed Ray away.

"What the --?"

At the look in Fraser's eyes, Ray spun around, his hand going to his gun.

Then he froze, and thought seriously about passing out.

"I see," Mrs. Vecchio said.

Ray emitted a strangled noise.

"It took me too long to see.  I am an old and foolish woman.  But now I see."

"Ma."  Ray held a hand to the hot cramp in his side.

Mrs. Vecchio moved out of her corner, her eyes cold with fury.

"You make me wait in here to see the truth, sneaking around like a criminal.  You lie to me.  How long have you been lying to your mother, Raymondo?"


"Perhaps you have always lied to me, hmm?  Perhaps it's all I deserve for not being a better mother."


"Every day I see you and you make this lie to me.  I wake up in the morning and ask where you've been, and you're lying to me all this while."

Ray stumbled towards her.  "Ma."

"Mrs. Vecchio --"

The *slap* of a hand across Ray's face echoed in the bare room.  Dief whined.

Fraser strode across the room, intending to throw himself before another slap.


But she had Ray by the shoulders now, and one glare from her eyes turned Fraser to stone.

"How long have you been lying to me?  I want to know!"

"Since we were kidnapped.  Since we went up to fix the cabin."

"Which time?"

"Just a few weeks ago, Ma!  I was going to tell you.  I promised Benny I'd tell you."

Fraser unfroze enough to nod vigorously.

"He just didn't want to lose you, Mrs. Vecchio."

Her fury doubled and he quailed.

"Lose me?  What am I?  Some handbag in the market?"  She shook her son until his teeth rattled.  "This thing you're doing, the church calls it a sin, Raymondo."

"I can't believe that, Ma.  I won't."

"No."  Her rage vanished, as quickly as Fraser had ever seen it leave her son.  She sighed and looked at them both.  "Perhaps it is good you lie to me.  Perhaps before Frannie I would have...I don't know what I would have.  I'm just an old woman."

"Ma."  Ray moved toward her in protest.  "You're a lady, a first-class lady I never found another lady to match.  You were the only thing outside shootin' pool Dad ever got right."

She looked at him; her chin came up when he frowned.

"What *about* Frannie, Ma?"

"Your lieutenant tells me you found her and Benton with the wolf, that you followed her voice, but your sister tells me you just knew where to look.  She says you could find Benton anywhere, and that she just happened to be in the same room."

"Ma..."  But Ray seemed stumped for words to follow.  "Frannie shouldn't..."

"Her mother asked her a question, Raymondo.  Should she have lied to me too?"

Ray slumped inwards.

"Please, Mrs. Vecchio.  Ray loves you.  He just didn't --"

"Don't tell me what my son feels for his mother."

Fraser winced.  "Please.  He's the first person I've ever...Please don't hurt him by turning from him."

Mrs. Vecchio twitched and moved about the small room.  "When a son marries, another woman takes care of him.  A mother must stand aside.  I knew, when Raymondo brought Angela Carpelli home I knew she was not the woman for him, but I stood aside.  I held my peace.  Now you want me to do this again for you?  For a man who does not even belong here?  For a man who will return to his home one day and take my son with him?  For a man who even now takes him from his house to live in this..."  Her hand gestured.  "This barracks?"

"I don't want you to stand aside, Ma.  I just want you to accept that Benny's the one I'm going to be with."

She stood there while her son and his lover and his lover's wolf stared at her.  "You are in love with this man."

"Yeah, Ma."

"And what am I to do with this?  Am I to listen to my church and ruin my family?"  She was talking, again, to Fraser.  "He was the man of my house long before my husband left me.  He has taken care of us all.  Do you think I would just ban him from my sight because your pretty eyes led him astray?"

"Ma!  It's not like that!"

Her lips made a hard line.  "If I told you to pack your bags and return home with me, what would you do?"

"The same thing I would have done if you'd told me to leave Ange."

"We miss you.  The house is so quiet.  My girls argue and won't stop.  Tony won't get off the sofa.  The children keep asking about you."

"Ma...Benny and me, we been through too much.  I rely on him.  I can't be without him.  And I ain't gonna treat him like that -- coming here to be with him and then leaving him to sleep at my house like he's trash."

"You..."  Mrs. Vecchio smothered a look of distaste.  "You would want him to sleep in your room, then, with you?"

"What are you saying, Ma?"

"I'm asking you to pack half your bags, Raymondo.  Come home on the weekends, at least.  And...bring Benton with you."


She turned from them, her eyes bright.  "I talked last night with my little girl, and she tells me she has a vision.  I'm an old lady.  I don't have visions.  God doesn't take me to my children even though I pray for Francesca until I know God can hear me.  Am I to turn from my daughter because you find her through your feelings for Benton?  Am I to turn a dear ear to my daughter's talk of your empty eyes at Christmas?"

Ray shot Fraser a bewildered look.  "Ma?"

"Come home.  Live in your own house as well as...this man's.  Come home and behave and give me time, Raymondo.  Is it too much to ask for your mother?  A little time to say goodbye to holding your children in my arms?"

"Oh, Ma!" Ray wailed and stumbled now into her arms, holding her tightly, but turning his head to stare at Benny to mouth the same words he'd whispered in the ambulance, the same words he had told Benny faithfully, every day.  This time, however, Fraser knew Ray meant them for his mother too.

Which was fine.

He offered her tea when she'd dried her eyes, and though she declined she was nothing but civil.  She even tried to smile at him.  He kept a respectful distance and helped Ray see her to the door.

Ray leaned against the closed door a long time, long enough that Benny slid his arms around him from behind and rested his head on a soft, warm shoulder.

"Did that really happen, Benny?" he asked at last.

"Yes, Ray.  As you have told me before, your mother is truly a lady."

"Hurts where she slapped me, though."

Fraser kissed the reddened cheek, then licked it and blew softly.

Ray laughed wearily.  "You been spending too much time with Dief."

Ray leaned back from the door now and turned in Fraser's arms.  The soft kiss he bestowed on his lover was transformed, however, into something much more intense and certainly much deeper.

"Benny...give me a minute here."

"Sorry, Ray."  He nibbled on that cheek now, and pressed the ache in his body against his lover's heat.  "Thoughts of your mother's acceptance..."

"You got aroused over that?!"

"She doesn't hate you, Ray.  I didn't make her hate you."

"Oh, man."

In less than a minute he had Ray on his back on the bed, nestled among green sheets.  He wanted to light a million candles and chant Inuit blessings, but settled for stripping off the Armani suit and the jeans and plaid shirt at record speeds.  A hundred soft, well-placed kisses had Ray open and ready for his fingers, and then....yes!  He slid home, claiming his place in the world.  Almost instantly, he began to thrust.

"Oh, Benny.  I keep thinking about how I almost lost you.  Make me stop.  Make me stop thinking, Bennny, Benny..."

Fraser growled and laughed in triumph.  Ray's pleasure was his own private source of sunlight, and as he crouched over his lover's spread-open body he warmed himself down to his last particle of snow-frozen marrow.

Ray's shivered, and Benny, recognizing the warning, grapsed the base of his lover's beautiful cock as tight as he dared.

"Right there!" Ray called out as he rocked his hips up.  Benny thrust hard against the curving wall, knowing well now just how to knock back Ray's prostate gland.  The cockhead wept in protest.  Ray's back arched.

"Do you know what I dreamed when I could dream whatever I wanted, Ray?" Fraser whispered, knowing his lover was too far gone to hear, but too far gone himself to care.  "I dreamed of making love to you."

"Harder!  Yes!  That's it!  Oh, God.  Let me come!"

He held Ray's cock mercilessly, driving himself in again and again to the body that rose to meet him, that matched his own body, and heart, and soul in every way.

"Now!  Now, please, Benny...baby, please."

He let go, and Ray screamed, his body gripping his cock and demanding his own release, which he gave, along with the rest of himself, all over to Ray.  Everything, even as Ray returned it all and more.

They lay together for hours, for all the long hours until it was time to rise and bathe and dress for the hospital.

"We forgot to draw the blinds, Benny," Ray said quietly as they were leaving.

"I hope the whole world saw," Fraser responded with satisfaction.

Ray looked at him, smiled, and then turned back into the apartment to cover the window with the white vinyl.

"Sorry," he said, returning to Benny's side.  "I just had my fill of jealous gods this week.  You know what I'm saying?"

Fraser smiled and dared a quick kiss.  "You can't blame them for being a little jealous, Ray."

"Sure I can."

"Well, actually, Ray, tradition has it that --"


"Understood, Ray."


Return to Main Page