Manna La Droit
Rating: NC-17 for m/m sex
Warnings/Notices: I use spoilers for all sorts of episodes, in my universe the series ended with "Flashback," and there's major hot Mountie love ahead.
Subtle vibrations along the smooth, but uneven floorboards alerted the wolf that someone was coming. The strengthening pattern was complex, but unmistakable: the deliberate tread of his pack leader and the syncopated footsteps of the Donut Man.
Diefenbaker sniffed as he rose to his feet. Sometimes the other one was Ear Rub Man, and sometimes he was Make Wolves Slide Around in Backseat Man, and sometimes he was Loud But Comforting Presence Man. It was hardly an efficient naming system, but with his leader's friend's place in the pack so ill-defined, it was the best a simple wolf could do.
Dief growled in anticipation. That was definitely sugar and lard he was smelling, and vanilla and strawberry too. When the door flew open, white-furred ears flattened down in submission, and the sensitive nose twitched.
"Are you actually telling me you're gonna get a bad grade?" Ray demanded, nodding at Dief and lifting the bag of donuts high over his head as Fraser closed the door.
"Down, Diefenbaker," the Mountie ordered before the wolf had made it all the way back onto his hind legs. Dief whined and Benny sent him an "I'm not kidding" look.
"Nothing but kibble all day, huh?" Ray said with sympathy, fishing a jelly donut out of the bag.
"I wish you wouldn't, Ray."
"Aw, lighten up. Besides, he'll just beg all night for one if I don't."
Fraser said nothing as he hung his brown jacket on its hanger inside his closet. He knew when Ray got six donuts at least one would be headed down Diefenbaker's gullet within the half-hour. Turning, he rolled up his shirtsleeves and watched his two best friends go through the familiar ritual: a donut, an ear-rub, a stern admonishment-not believed-that none of the remaining donuts were to be shared.
"I have no plans to get a bad grade in the course, Ray, but my involvement in the Perkins case has required me twice to ask for extensions. I believe the instructor is growing understandably impatient with my excuses."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Benny, it's not like you were out partying! Besides, you've gotten As on everything you've turned in so far."
"Course grades are assigned on more than simple project grades, Ray. I'm certain Ms. Townsend incorrectly believes that I do not value her class."
Ray frowned in thought, then looked at him long enough to make Fraser realize he was really frowning because he didn't have a cup of coffee in his hand.
"Oh, sorry, Ray," Fraser murmured as he walked into his kitchen. Ray nodded to show it was all right, then wandered over the to kitchen table where he sat down the bag and fingered the open sketchpad. Fraser's latest project was exposed: a detailed depiction of Diefenbaker running through an arctic forest that caught the sense of movement, the coldness of the air, the light of the hunt in lupine eyes...or at least Fraser hoped it did. When he looked at his own work he felt its lack of sophistication acutely, and wondered what Ray saw.
Ray stared down at the drawing a long time, Benny thought. It was only when the coffee and tea were ready that the man sighed and went to look out the window at a cool autumn evening.
"I took an art class once," the man said softly, his back still turned.
Ray turned around now, scowling. "You don't have to drop your jaw. Yeah. It was in college. Got a C." Ray shrugged. "I would have done better, but the guy was always telling us to draw stuff we couldn't see." Hands flew in disgust. "'Draw the wind! Draw the sunlight!' I'd draw an apple, and he's go on about how I should draw the sweetness of it, and how crunchy it was and stuff. Like that made any sense."
Benny felt his eyebrows rise up. "Sounds like he thought you had talent, Ray."
"Nah, he said that to the whole class. The guy was a fruitcake."
"Well, Ms Townsend has been most helpful to me in developing my perspective, Ray, and in strengthening the discipline of my lines."
Ray sat down and blew at his hot coffee. "Yeah, I'm sure they were running riot, Fraser."
He sat as well, aware that his embarrassment was showing. "Well, actually, Ray, they continue to be a great deal less than satisfactory, and indeed I was hoping...well, that is, before I realized the danger in which I had placed my grade, I had been hoping she would allow me to attend her masters' class."
"So what'd you do that was so terrible, Benny? Draw something upside-down?"
"Tomorrow afternoon we have our final class, Ray, and my final project will not be ready."
Ray, his face half-buried in a chocolate donut, widened his eyes in apparent shock. Fraser braced himself.
"You?" Ray said as soon as he'd backed away from the donut. "You have class tomorrow and you're not ready?"
Fraser buried a sigh. "That's what I've been trying to tell you, Ray. I was so busy at the Consulate and with you that I allowed myself to fall behind in my studies and now I'm afraid it's too late for me to complete the final assignment." With another sigh, he reached for his own vanilla cream and took a bite. Comfort food indeed.
Ray frowned at him. "Benny, you still got tonight, right? I mean, I'll get out of here and you can get to work on it."
"It's not that simple, Ray."
"It never is with you, Fraser," Ray grumbled, eating half his donut in one go.
"I'm afraid it's not so much the actual drawing that causes the complication, Ray, so much as the subject. Ms Townsend arranged for a special sitting, but I was unable to attend, and the subject matter is quite specific. I would gladly draw something else, but I believe she would take that as yet another sign of my disrespect for her teaching."
"You can't just go borrow this thing you're supposed to draw?" Ray asked around the rest of his donut.
Fraser felt his face grow warm.
"Ha!" Ray jabbed a finger on his, smile stretching. "You gotta draw somebody naked, don't you?"
"It's called a 'nude,' Ray."
But Ray just laughed at him and grabbed another pastry. "Aw, gee, Benny. And there's only about five thousand women you could get to do it for you by going outside and asking 'em."
Fraser carefully did not say, "Like your sister, Ray?" There were some things one did not say to an Italian man, even if he were your best friend, and teasing you unmercifully.
The problem was indeed that he could ask a number of women. His apartment was surrounded by ladies of the evening who would take a small fee to pose nude. But they would be doing it as a sexual act, not an artistic one. Besides, having a naked prostitute in his living quarters under any circumstances would not be the best way to ensure the future of his career in the RCMP.
He could ask a female friend, such as Ms Besbriss, but the overt nature of her interest in him made him concerned that she might take his request in the wrong way. He could ask one of his friends here in his building, but the possibility for miscommunication seemed all the more fraught, and besides, most of them had families who might object for any number of reasons.
Ray nodded suddenly, his green eyes soft and thoughtful. "Yeah, that's a bind you're in, Fraser. Some of 'em would get you arrested, and the other would think it's a marriage proposal."
"You do see my dilemma, then, Ray."
"Sure, Benny. I wish I could help."
"Do you, Ray?"
An easy nod and shrug. "If you'd told me about it earlier, I maybe could have found someone for you, but you've left it too late. I don't know any girl who'll come here and strip just if I call her on the phone. Wish I did."
"Well, actually, there is another way you could help, Ray."
"Yeah? What's that?"
Fraser looked into his friend's guileless, beautiful eyes, feeling guilty, feeling ashamed, feeling terrified, and deep down below feeling a lovely, guilty, terrified thrill.
Ray's eyes bugged. He stumbled back out of his chair.
"No!" His voice was flat with panic. "No way in *hell,* Fraser!"
Benny bent his head in acceptance. "All right, Ray."
"Don't you 'all right, Ray,' me! I'm not going to do it!" Vecchio stomped into the other room, turned and stomped back.
"I understand that, Ray."
"Don't you give me that look!"
"This isn't like taking you for a ride somewhere, or risking my life on some hair-brained scheme. This is *weird,* Fraser! I'm not doing it!"
Benny was on his feet, his hands making soft, unconscious "calm down" gestures. "I really do understand, Ray. I do. I didn't even want to ask you, and it was only because of how much I wanted-" Fraser let his hands erase the words. "No. I'm sorry I asked you, Ray. It wasn't fair. Let's pretend I never brought it up."
Ray seemed to fold in on himself, his head falling forward, his shoulders curving in as his hands came to rest on his legs, right above his knees.
"I'm sure Ms Townsend will understand that a policeman isn't always available, even if he wants to be. Perhaps I can get another extension." He laid an apologetic hand on Ray's shoulder.
Ray shrugged away from him. "Don't touch me."
Fraser winced and shrank back. "Ray, if I had realized how you much you would dislike-"
"You touch me even once, as an accident, whatever, this is off."
It hurt. It actually hurt in his chest when his heart opted not to beat.
Ray's hand had gone to the button of his jacket. Pale, nimble fingers undid first one, then the next one...
Fraser turned to the table so fast he whacked his hip on the edge. Smothering his "oomph," he grabbed at the sketchpad and then went to the kitchen counter where he had left his best pencil. With a knife from the drawer he whittled it down to get a clean, sharp point, listening to the sounds of cloth being drawn from a body, being folded over a chair, being discarded to leave Ray bare and pure and...oh dear. He had to get his breathing under better control.
Had he left things too late on purpose? Had he manipulated them both to this moment? With anger and shame he got his face into guard-duty flatness, then turned.
Oh who cared how he had come to this moment when Ray was standing there in nothing but his black briefs and the gold Crucifix around that incredible neck and asking him if he were supposed to stand or sit and he had to breathe in a minute or he was going to pass out and that would give him away completely and Ray wouldn't...oh dear.
"You okay, Benny?"
"Because you know I'm the one at a disadvantage here. I mean, if anyone should be looking like he's going to faint, it's me."
"Indeed, Ray. It's just..." He stared helplessly into his friend's eyes. "Thank you, Ray."
The cop drooped his shoulders and looked a little helpless himself. "It's okay, Benny." He fingered the waistband of his briefs with discomfort. "So. Sitting or standing?"
"Whichever would be more com-"
Benny nodded and frowned at the kitchen chairs, shaking his head. He pulled the table out into the center of the floor and cleared it off, then motioned for Ray to get on.
"You don't wanna put a sheet or nothing on it?"
"Good idea, Ray." Fraser fetched a blanket from the bed and spread it over the table, then took his chair, his pad and his pencil into a corner and sat. Ray stared at him, then sighed, pulled down the briefs and climbed up on the table.
Fraser's voice came out absolutely flat. "Just assume a position you can keep for a while without growing uncomfortable, Ray."
"I don't think one of those exists, Benny," Ray muttered, twisting his legs around, leaning back on his arms, sitting up, crossing and uncrossing his legs. Diefenbaker, watching from under the window, made a low, inquiring noise in his throat, and Ray told him to shut up.
A little trickle of sweat made its way down Fraser's back. He'd told Ray nothing but the truth. The thought of not doing well in Ms Townsend's class had troubled his sleep this past week, and he had tried to think of some other way to ask someone to take off their clothes without making them think he wanted to do anything other than draw them. And he had tried to find out about professional models, but there had been no time. He and Ray had been working the Perkins case almost eighteen hours a day on top of his Consulate duties. Still, he was profoundly ashamed of himself.
"You're very beautiful, Ray."
Ray froze, staring at him.
"All strong lines, planes and shadows," Fraser said simply. "The best subject I've gotten to draw."
Prepared as he was for anything from a temper tantrum to Ray's drawn gun, Fraser could only stare as Ray's eyes dropped and his shoulders rolled.
"Aw, Benny. I'm just tall and skinny, right? But if I'll do for your picture, then it's okay. Just draw me, huh?"
He took up his pencil and prepared for the first line.
Benny took a calming breath.
Ray scratched his nose.
"Ray, if you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you be?"
"Five miles beneath the Earth's surface?"
Ray sighed. "In Miami, on the beach."
"With the warm sun, and the sound of the waves..."
"And a bathing suit."
"And weeks off, with no cases to solve, nothing to do..."
Ray sighed again and leaned back on his elbows, his muscles straining just slightly against his tight skin. His long right leg was bent in front of him, his leg stretched out before and hanging just slightly off the table. His soft penis rested against his left thigh, and his face was turned slightly up into the imagined sun, eyes open but relaxed. Every line was the sprawl of pleasure and sharp, hard male.
Fraser's hand fluttered over the page, hovered, alit: lines joining, sweeping, shading, catching that hard edge, smoothing down each soft curve. It was an impossible task, drawing his best friend. Instead, it was easier to draw the man he would have made his lover, and simple lust formed the line of shoulder and hip. Pure elegance next for the slope of his skull down to the flair of his neck and the filigree of curving fingers.
And then it was just finished. Another line would ruin it.
"Thank you, Ray."
"Yes." The temptation to ask for a second pose was squashed as flat as his voice and expression.
Ray sat up and stretched, smirking when joints popped. Then he got off the table and dressed while Fraser put the blanket back and made another cup of coffee and of tea.
When he returned to the table, Ray was looking at the picture.
"This was very kind of you, Ray."
Puzzled green eyes rose to his. "What'd you need a model for, Fraser? It doesn't look anything like me."
Alarmed, Fraser looked back down at his work.
"It looks just like you, Ray."
"Me if I were Superman or something, Benny." Ray laughed. "Hey, what am I doing? Complaining? Thanks for the thought, you know?" He laughed again. "Makes me wanna go work out or something. At least I don't have to worry anybody's gonna recognize me off it."
Benny looked up at Ray's laughing face, seeing there a hint of-what? Nothing he liked, certainly. Down, looking at the picture he had drawn, he saw nothing but his friend. There were Ray's eyes, his distinctive nose, his strong shoulders and the cute little curve of his almost non-existent belly, his endless legs, the small extra curve of his buttocks resting on the table.
"Aw, it's all right, Benny, really." Ray patted him on the shoulder and set down his empty cup. "I gotta get going, all right?"
"Thank you for this, Ray. I really do want to get into her advanced class."
"Well, just warn me next time, okay? I'll get you a proper model."
Fraser didn't want to lie anymore today, and so he just smiled.
*Chicago Arts* -- November 11
"Today's exhibition of student art from seven Chicago art schools yielded few surprises among the devotees of post-pop-culture pseudo-irony and careful mimesis, but those few did make the experience worthwhile for those tired of over-priced haute couture.
"SUNRISE, by Janice Bleekon, depicts a savage assortment of apocalyptic figures in calliope array. A strong grasp of color manipulation and neo-Cubist perspective leads the viewer through a nightmare of clashing conflation. Bleak without desperation.
"BACKDROP FOR FORGROUND, by Senora Derkin, juxtaposes a nebulous expanse and gray-toned emptiness for a compelling display of thwarted expectation. While formless, the payoff is stark. Future work anticipated.
"FRIENDSHIP, by B.F., blends platonic and homoerotic love, strong lines and 18th century-reminiscent elegance as despairing and unrequited lust blends into an almost angelic understanding of soul. *Playgirl* meets *Romeo and Romeo.*
"ALBATROSS, by Keeper Pipe, allows the Ancient Mariner a final freedom within the organic construct of visual poetry, yet restrains the viewer from undeserved emotionalism. Classic style if shaky voice."
"B.F." slid the already yellowing clipping back into its plastic file, then put the file back into his father's trunk.
Ridiculous, really, that he had told the entire world about the love he couldn't tell to his best friend. And yet there was such an unexpected comfort in having gotten away with it. He'd almost suffered a coronary attack-well, that was an exaggeration. He'd been most distressed indeed when he first saw the article, and saved himself from despair only with the certain knowledge that Ray never read *Chicago Arts,* and that no one who did read it would ever guess the significance of the critic's insight.
In any event, today was his first day to enjoy the second benefit of the article. Ms Townsend had extended him an invitation into her masters' class at the same time that she had told him of his A in her course. As the masters' sessions were all on Saturday morning, he would be able to spend the entire day contemplating his technique...as soon as Ray had dropped him off and then removed his distracting presence, of course.
Taking up his new sketchpad-the previous one was now filled with drawings of Ray's naked body, including some admittedly unsubtle close-ups-and a small wooden case of drawing tools, Fraser nodded at Dief and headed for the door. It was a fine day. He would wait for Ray outside.
The Riviera pulled up only a few minutes later. Diefenbaker assumed his place in the back with dignity as there was no hint of food in the car, and Fraser took his place in the front with his habitual delight. It was odd and wonderful that in his Chicago life he had specific places where everything was just as it should be. While his affection for Ray's car was nothing compared to the detective's adoration, and indeed was more a product of his love for the driver than concern over the automobile itself, the satisfaction Fraser derived from being right *here* was startling.
"Got plans for the weekend, Benny?"
"No, Ray." Shameful, really, how easily he lied to Ray these days.
"Nobody I care about's playing tomorrow, so how about some hoops before dinner? I think Ma's got the beans on the stove."
Fraser had long since become addicted to Mrs. Vecchio's pasta fagiole, but... "I thought she only made that on Tuesdays, Ray."
Ray shrugged. "Family's headed down to Aunt Lucia's in a couple weeks. I think she's already trying to stock up the 'fridge so I don't starve."
"I'd enjoy dinner, thank you, Ray," Benny said flatly as images of Ray in his family's otherwise empty house assailed him. He could drape Ray over his bed, spread him out on the floor of the kitchen, bend him over the sofa, and just take him and take him.
Ridiculous. Ray would hit him. Or laugh at him.
"I'll tell Ma you're all excited," Ray muttered. A few blocks went past. "Something on your mind, Benny?"
Fraser had long since developed a list of responses to this question. "I was just wondering if some of Ms Townsend's techniques might not be incorporated into police procedures while debriefing witnesses, Ray."
Ray frowned. "Weren't you thinking about that a couple days ago?"
"Was I?" Fraser swallowed. "Well, it's worth a great deal of consideration, Ray."
Vecchio shrugged. A few more blocks passed.
"Where is it, anyway?"
Fraser thought carefully. "Where is what, Ray?"
"You know. Me."
Ray looked at him, then turned left without signaling. "Yeah. Ah."
"I...it's...Ms Townsend wanted...that is to say, she requested it."
"There's a naked picture of me hanging at the *school*?" Ray ran a stop sign.
They had to stop at the next corner for the red light. The car ahead of them honked at a man on a bike. Ray snorted, then turned to glare at his friend.
"You're lucky no one could ever figure out Superman is me, Fraser."
Ray lasted about two minutes.
"Where is it at the school?"
"Ms Townsend's masters' courses are actually held in her studio, Ray. I should have explained that the picture is actually there."
"Ah. So only, like, other artists see it."
"And it's, like, in a corner."
"Well, actually, it's in the foyer at present. At least, that's where she told me she was going to hang it, along with some, ah, other pictures by the class."
They reached the row of warehouses in which Ms Townsend and a variety of other artists paid top dollar on the rent for their converted studios. Ray pulled the car into a space in front of the gourmet coffee house and switched off the motor.
Fraser pronounced sentence: "You want to see it, Ray."
"You got that right." Ray swung out of the car.
Fraser led the way up the stairs and felt his stiff muscles pull on the familiar ache of an old knife wound. He heard above them the murmur of the other students and gripped his pack of pencils and pad close to his chest. At the second landing he turned and opened the fire door into a stark hallway that needed painting. He knocked on the door of 3G with a numb fist.
Ms Townsend opened the door with a smile, her dark brown eyes lighting up with a sparkle echoed in the silver-gray locks streaking her waist-long chestnut hair. Smile lines of five decades' duration eased into the web of-he had discovered in time-genuine welcome. "Benton." Those brown eyes went to the man at his side and flickered with instant recognition.
"This is Ray-my-friend."
"Hope you don't mind that I wanted to see the place." Ray smiled.
"Hardly," Ms Townsend smiled back. "Any chance of getting you to-"
"I was worried I was late," Fraser stated.
The teacher and the cop blinked. Dief gave an inquiring growl.
"I see you brought your wolf again," the woman noted smoothly enough. "I had been wondering if you would mind the class' being able to draw him." She stepped back as she spoke and allowed them in.
"I'm not sure he would be willing to remain motionless long enough to pose properly," Fraser explained, ignoring his wolf's snort of indignation, his eyes fixed on the framed sketch behind his art teacher's head. He could feel Ray's eyes upon the work like the accusation of a warrant.
Ms Townsend's answer was lost in a squeal of delight as red hair and freckled hands flapped towards them.
Janice Sanders, whom Fraser simply thought of as the Irish woman who drew everything from the top, grabbed Ray and pulled him into the room.
"Oh! We've all been dying to meet you!"
Fraser made to follow, and was confronted with his instructor and her low, serious voice.
"Is there a chance he might pose for us, Benton? It would be very good for the class."
Somehow Fraser kept from shoving her aside, but words still wouldn't form in his mind.
She frowned. "Are you all right?"
He watched, with horrible inexorability, as Janice plucked the clipping from Ms Townsend's cork board and shoved it into Ray's hand. Marcus came up from behind the detective and looked over his shoulder, standing very close.
"I don't think Ray would like to pose for the class, Ms Townsend," Fraser said, realizing his hands still clasped his pad and pack of pencils to his chest. He was wearing his red flannel shirt today. The cotton was soft against his knuckles.
Ray was handing the clipping back now, and saying something that made the students around him laugh. He walked back to the instructor and flashed her a killer smile.
"Nice to meet you."
"Very nice to meet you as well, Mr...?"
But Ray never stopped walking and the door was closed behind him before her lack of a last name could become an overt question. The woman looked at the closed door, then into Fraser's eyes. He could only look back.
"We need to acquaint ourselves with our own ambitions," Ms Townsend said as she turned to the studio full of students. "Only then may we know our own prejudices as we draw."
Somehow, Fraser followed her.
The constable added five drops of the liquid vitamins to the dried food, then set the bowl on the floor, not bothering to see if Diefenbaker ate it before he turned back to his bed.
Shameful, really, the hours he had spent today laying here, doing nothing more than berating himself and staring at the ceiling. The coats of paint he'd applied last year had created a nicely uniform tint, but the imperfections of the original surface, including more than one water stain, rendered a prolonged examination to be nothing more than an incentive to buy more white latex.
It had been a week since Ray had taken him to his first masters' class. During that week he had seen Ray seven times. On Monday, Ray had shown up to drive him to work and shown up again to drive him home. They had talked about Ray's current cases and Dief's continued resistance to maintaining a proper diet.
On Tuesday, Fraser had had the early shift and walked to the Consulate. Ray had driven him home and refused his offer of coffee on the grounds that he had to report back to the precinct for a strategy meeting on a double homicide.
On Wednesday, he had seen nothing of Ray, but when he'd called the station Elaine had told him that Ray had tracked down the murderer and was seeing to his booking.
On Thursday and Friday, Ray had picked him up, but on Friday he had not driven him home as Inspector Thatcher had ordered the entire staff to prepare for Sunday's conference on Canadian business. As representatives from power companies would be there, Thatcher had told Fraser he wouldn't be needed at the actual conference, so instead she had worked him almost until midnight preparing the more complex aspects of the arrangements.
Saturday morning, Ray had dropped him off at his masters' class. When Fraser had told him he would get a ride with a fellow students after the class, Ray had made vague comments about "doing the hoops and dinner thing this Sunday 'cause last Sunday didn't work out."
Fraser had agreed. Ray had pulled away from the curb.
Class had been most interesting. They had drawn a woman and discussed the use of light and shadow when dealing with human skin and human souls. Fraser's sketch, currently mocking him from the table, portrayed a gaunt and shrouded figure with her face turned away. Ms Townsend had pronounced the work quite good and asked with poorly concealed concern after his friend.
He did not quite say to her, "My friend is gone, and a talkative taxi driver has taken his place."
He had watched the progression of shadows over his ceiling for two hours now, he realized, and crowding in upon that knowledge came the understanding that he was waiting for Ray to show up.
When was the first time Ray had simply appeared when he was most needed? The diner? Or before that, at the Consulate, telling him about the names of men who might lead him to his father's killer?
Since then Ray had been all but magical in his ability to show up when Fraser would be lost, or hurt, or dead if not for his intervention.
And now, what? Had he lost that? Couldn't Ray tell he was supposed to show up at his door and demand that they talk?
Or was it just time for Fraser to get out of bed and *do* something about his life for a change?
The last time he had followed love, it had almost destroyed him. But Fraser flung back a challenge at that familiar warning: he had been more willing to trust Victoria Metcalfe then than Ray Vecchio now, so what did he know about anything anyway?
He stood, and Diefenbaker looked at him.
"Don't try to talk me out of this," he commanded, reaching for his jeans. "Now that Ray knows how I feel it is past time for us to settle the matter. If Ray doesn't want my attentions, he has to realize that I do possess the self-discipline necessary to see to it that he is never made aware again of certain aspects of my feelings regarding him again. Ray has to understand that our friendship need not be at risk here."
The wolf growled a very special growl. Fraser, currently tying his sneakers, reared up to stand before him in astonishment. It took him a good twenty seconds to find his voice.
"I realize that the difference in our species provides us with equally varied perspectives, Diefenbaker, but I cannot fully believe you would suggest something so...untoward."
"It most certainly is an improper suggestion! And one which, I might add, would certainly mean the end of your donut supply should Ray ever hear of it."
Having shrugged into his jacket, Fraser glared at his companion, took one of his sketchpads from his table, then closed the door solidly between them. After placing his Stetson on his head, he walked briskly down the stairs and out into the cool afternoon where he found his wolf waiting for him.
Fraser sighed and looked up at the open window.
"Yes, I realize he's a member of your pack, but this is private."
"Fine. But when he complains about your presence, I won't be defending you."
Fraser turned then and walked on, unable to shake the feeling that he was completing a journey that had begun two thousand miles north during one impossibly cold and empty day.
It was almost dinnertime when he stood before the Vecchio house, though he could detect no scent of meat or vegetables cooking. If not for the Riv in the driveway, he would have believed the house to be uninhabited.
He knocked twice before he heard Ray's footsteps. Odd. He had been expecting one of the children to come to the door.
"Fraser?" Ray was in his suit pants and a green T-shirt. Some of his fingers were slightly discolored.
"Where's your family, Ray?"
"Aunt Lucia's. I told you about it last week. Remember? Ma was stocking up the 'fridge."
"Yes. Pasta fagiole."
They stood there, watching each other, until Ray moved aside. Dief trotted through first and took what had become his place on the soft rug between the sofa and television. The men followed slowly, for Vecchio had finally noticed the sketchpad Fraser was clutching to his body.
"You want something to eat?"
"No, thank you, Ray."
Fraser thrust the book out. Ray took a step backwards and yelped as he toppled down onto the sofa.
Fraser held the book out slightly lower.
Fraser stood there, legs slightly apart, back straight, hands clasped now behind his back as Ray flipped through the few initial sketches of trees, Dief, and a bowl of flowers. The first pause occurred with a rough sketch of Ray on the table, drawn from memory. The next page showed it again, better defined and delicate. Fraser had also moved Ray's hand so that it half-hid the penis resting on his thigh: a suggestion of modesty or reluctance, he hadn't known which.
The next page was only the back of Ray's head and the long slope of his neck. The next page was of his hands. The next of his thighs and genitals. The next rendered in the simplest lines his long, springing back shining wet in the shower.
Ray's hands were shaking as he turned the pages. A drawing next of Ray standing in his dark gray suit, then of Ray driving the Riv-first at the wheel, then through the passenger window. Ray dressed in Fraser's too-large uniform. Ray in his tux. Ray in judge's robes.
Ray giving Dief a donut. Ray running in his winter coat, his scarf unfurled. Ray playing basketball. Ray as a boy camping out with his mother's sheets. Ray in his dress blues. Ray as an elfin creature with fourteen-foot dragonfly wings. Ray drinking coffee. Ray asleep sitting up, his mouth slack, his lashes long and dark against his cheek.
Ray laughing, Ray glaring, Ray looking sad. Ray just looking.
The book closed. Pale fingers spread over the cover.
Then Ray stood up and left the room, walking quietly through the open arch into the dining room and standing there by the table, looking back to Fraser with guarded, frightened, determined eyes.
Only a few steps allowed Fraser to see that the table was covered in papers, many of them crumpled amongst two-dozen colored pencils.
Seemingly at random, Ray held up an uncrumpled page and presented it with a trembling hand. The paper steadied before Fraser knew he had taken it.
The drawing was precise, almost like an architect's rendering. A handsome man in a bright red Mountie uniform stood with his arms at his sides, staring straight ahead. Fraser looked to the table: dozens and dozens of Mounties standing guard.
"I can't do it," Ray said softly, a shocking noise in the silent house. "I can draw you, but I can't draw *you.*"
"You only see me in the uniform, on guard duty?" Fraser knew his voice was sad.
Ray laughed. "I can't draw, Fraser. You can see that. I thought..." He shrugged and looked down at the closed pad. "I'm not like you. I can't draw sunlight. I thought I could get it when you're standing guard, because of the uniform, because of how still you are."
"Get what? What are you trying to draw, Ray?"
But Vecchio shook his head, opening up the book again, looking through a few sketches, closing the leaves again. The sketchpad slapped on the table like a gunshot.
"You want me to be something I'm not, Fraser."
"I'm sorry, Ray." There was almost relief in knowing he was being rejected. Almost. "I know you can't return some of what I feel, but our friendship-that's always been real, Ray, and more than enough for me."
Ray sneered and stepped around the table as though the sketchpad stank. "That's not what I'm talking about! None of them-not a single damn drawing looks like me, Fraser! You've got my nose too small, my eyes too big, my hands too-I don't know what you've done with my hands. And I can tell you for a fact I'm not packing *that.* You're trying to pretend I'm something else, someone else."
Vecchio shook his head violently, then waved at the Mountie drawings on the table. "I like you for *you,* Fraser. I mean, what? You think I strip off for just anyone? You think I didn't want you to draw me and show me something there I could have used for a little courage?"
"Ray? Are you saying you want..."
"I'm saying I want you, Benny. That I have for a long time." Ray stepped back again, putting his hands up. "But I want *you,* like I said." Ray regarded his own work with sorrow and scorn. "But I can't draw. I can't show you what's wrong. I can't put you on paper the way I see you."
"But I've just tried to draw you the way I see you, Ray."
"I know that, Benny. But what you see isn't the man who's standing here. I'm not some sex god or pretty boy or whatever the hell that thing is with wings. I'm just a Chicago cop with a loud family and a nice car. I thought for a while, maybe I could be enough for what you need, but..." Ray bent over, locking his arms against the table, shaking his head and looking over his drawings once more.
"I know who you are, Benny. You're a Mountie and a lonely man who pushes himself too hard and wants to be perfect. You can't admit you're wrong, you have to know everything, and you'll use whatever you've got to get whatever you need. You love Victoria because she's overwhelming: beautiful and dark and strong and good and evil. I think you wanna love the Dragon Lady because she's harder on you than even you are. I thought maybe you could love me for being ordinary, for being someone who doesn't need to destroy you or own you or tell you what be."
Ray looked at him now, and already he had begun to withdraw. It had been years since that face was so closed to him.
"But you've just taken me and made me something worth your time. I thought when I saw that sketch at your apartment that you at least knew what you were doing, but when everyone at the class seemed to think we were lovers, I realized that's really what you want." Ray took up another drawing and looked at the tin soldier Mountie before setting it down between them.
"When you put on the uniform, you get to show everyone how different you are, what code you live by, and it softens you, Fraser. It's like I get to see what you are inside come out and get in the sun, you know? I thought maybe I could draw you like that because...because when you draw me without my clothes you put me in costumes."
Ray stepped away from the table again.
"When I take off my clothes, Benny, I'm just naked. I think we both know that couldn't make you happy."
Too many emotions answered those quiet words. So many, Fraser could only see them instead of feel them. Primarily, in terms of simple feeling, in fact, he felt astonishment. It was almost unbelievable that Ray could have gotten things so wrong.
Ray frowned but looked satisfied, if hurt. "You're agreeing. I'm not enough to make you happy."
"No. You're more than enough to make me happy, without or with your clothes on, Ray."
Ray shook his head in exasperation. "You never listen to me unless you want to, Fraser."
"I do listen, and you're usually right, Ray. But this time you're wrong and I don't know why you think..." Fraser reached for the pad and opened it to the picture of Ray behind the wheel of his car. "I see you like this almost every day, Ray. I assure you, it's a highly accurate rendering."
"Fraser, I can see the wind in my hair."
"The window is down."
"But I don't have any hair!"
"It may be somewhat more prevalent in the drawing, Ray, but only because I, err, want to touch it."
Ray's eyes looked pained. He scowled down at the pad and flipped a page. "You got me filling out your uniform in the chest, Fraser, which wouldn't happen if I took steroids."
"I just made the uniform fit you better. You see how your shoulders create a line and then the uniform goes down to your hips? You have extraordinarily narrow hips, Ray."
His lips set in a ruthless grimace, Ray flipped to the page depicting his cock. "Too big by about half, Fraser."
He was barely able to get his throat engaged, but the sounds did emerge. "I wanted to portray you as heavy with arousal. And in any event, you are quite, err, well-endowed, Ray, particularly considering your wiry frame."
"Skinny, Fraser, all right?" Ray flipped a few more pages and stopped at the drawing of him running, started to say something, then found the picture where he was looking sad, then slammed the book shut once more.
"I love you, Ray." Fraser could not believe the pleasure of saying those words. "I love you."
"Like you loved...someone else, Fraser? I won't pretend for you. I won't."
Fraser found he was smiling. Ray had played his trump card, said what was probably the most hurting, alienating thing he could think of, and all Fraser felt was triumph that Victoria's memory no longer even stung.
"You are beautiful to me, Ray. I draw you the way I see you, but what I see *is* you."
Ray shook his head, staring at his dozens of Mounties.
Fraser took a black pencil from the table and found a blank sheet of paper. It was very nice quality paper: cotton, nine-kilo weight.
He set the page and the pencil down for his friend, who eyed him with suspicion.
Fraser swept off his jacket and draped it over a chair, then pulled his Henley up and off.
"Draw me, Ray." Fraser toed off his shoes and undid his belt.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Ray was up against the wall now, doing a very good impression of man about to get shot. "Are you out of your mind, Fraser?"
"Maybe when I'm naked I'll be 'Benny' again," the man muttered.
Fraser's gaze snapped up to challenge Ray's green, unblinking eyes.
"You said I put you in costumes when you're naked. Very well, draw me without my clothes. Show me what loving *honest* eyes see, Ray."
"I never said I loved you," Ray protested weakly as Fraser's jeans slid off.
"Then it should be all the easier for you." The socks were placed on the floor over the shoes, then Fraser looked over the dining room with a critical eye. "Better light in the front room." He walked casually back out, waiting until he was just out of Ray's eye-line before stripping off the boxers and throwing them back behind him.
He stood in the middle of the room with his arms at his sides, his weight slightly more on his right leg than his left, a pose favored by the woman who'd posed for them this morning.
Forty seconds passed before he saw a shadow move in the door frame. Then the edge of Ray's head, then his eyes appeared. Fraser was studied with poorly concealed avarice, then the eyes looked away. Patience had never come more easily, let alone standing naked in the middle of a room.
Ray walked into full view, his hands holding the pencil and paper as though they might leap from his grasp and assault someone. Ray met his eyes.
"I told you, I can't draw."
"Can't you try, Ray?"
He suppressed a shiver as Ray looked at him again. Love, hunger, need, desire: they were all plainly evident, along with resignation, sorrow, and a blank sort of fear.
Ray shook his head. "You're the artist. You saw that." Ray was staring at his hands now. "When I got something on my mind, I just say it." He shrugged. "Shoulda said so last week."
"Then say it, Ray," Fraser gently urged. "Say what I look like."
Ray scowled up at him, then looked away. "You know what you look like."
"Not to you, I don't."
"You look..." The hand holding Ray's pencil came up, flapped, and fell down.
"You're a little shorter than me without your Mountie boots, you're pale as an ice cube in milk, and you're very solidly built. Now put your damn clothes on, get your wolf out of Ma's kitchen, and go the hell home."
"That's not much of a description, Ray. What are you afraid of?"
"Having you use my heart like a rag, Fraser. Having you make me think you love me and then watching you realize what you really get. What do you think I'm afraid of?"
"There's no need to fear me, Ray. Just describe me, properly. Tell me what you see. Then if you still want me to go, I will."
Ray's eyes begged him to stop, but the resolution that had followed men across ice, had followed Victoria's train, had followed Ray into the shadow of death once or twice let Fraser do nothing more than stand there as though an earthquake would be needed to shift him. Ray's shoulder's rolled, his eyes closed, then opened.
"You're gorgeous, right? You know that."
"What I know or don't know isn't important. How do I look to you?"
"Who am I to argue with every woman in Illinois? It's like talking about two and two equaling four. You're drop-dead gorgeous. You got a mink on your head, baby-blue eyes, and a chin every last Vecchio man would kill for."
Thrilling. Even angry and edgy and grudging, every word thrilled him.
"What about my shoulders?"
"Your shoulders? I ain't talking about your shoulders, Benny."
"They're too rounded, aren't they?"
"Rounded? They're broad and strong, Benny, and you know it."
"But my chest is too pale, and my pectoral muscles should be better defined."
"You're not fooling me. You know your body is strong and you're fit like a guy who does real work, not some gym-nut fruitcake doing bench-presses all day. And before you ask your stomach's nice and flat, even when you're on your heavier side, which you do have. Don't think I haven't noticed, and you got nipples-" Ray broke off, breathing hard.
"Yes, Ray?" Fraser's breathing wasn't light either. "What about my nipples?"
Ray wavered, firmed. "Pink, like a girl's, but flat and strong and I bet..."
"God. I bet sweet and...they're sensitive, aren't they, Benny?"
"As the tip of my penis."
"Aohhhh." Ray shuddered and staggered, hugging himself, eyes enormous, and it was all Fraser could do to stand there and not take Ray into his arms. The panic worried him, and he turned slowly.
"How about my back?"
"You mean, apart from where I blew a hole in it?"
"You find my scars disfiguring?" Fraser looked over his shoulder and found Ray's eyes transfixed by a portion of his anatomy somewhat below his back. He let his fingers trail over the smooth skin: one of the few places where he did not, in fact, bear any scars.
Ray made a soft, broken noise.
"Describe me, Ray. Sketch me with words."
Ray shook his head, trembling and mute.
"Chalky?" Fraser offered. "Ashen?"
"Alabaster. Snow. The way women look in those old paintings. You know, Botticelli? All soft and white, except you're a guy, so you're hard too. And smooth. God, like silk or something. You'd feel so good against me, on top of me, under...strong, like..."
"Like I don't know! Like a wild animal, like a bear or a horse or something. I ain't no poet, Fraser!"
Fraser turned again, watching Ray's eyes squint and waver. It took everything he had, but he got his voice wry. "So I'm an alabaster horse, Ray?"
There, thank goodness, a spark of anger in Ray's eyes, and with it, a mouth open to loose the flood of words he had so long awaited.
"You really wanna know what you look like, Fraser? You look like some kinda snow-god carved outta some glacier and made flesh one night to fulfill every last fantasy of some lonely-out-of-his-mind Canadian hermit. You look like someone they'd send to give a guy a last perfect night before they sacrificed him on the altar. You look like a horny angel that decided to come slumming and tomorrow fly back up without so much as a smudge on him."
Fraser let his eyes go to the crumpled paper in Ray's hand and edged just slightly closer.
"Could you draw me like that, Ray?"
"God, Benny." Ray was always miserable disappointing people. Even now that appeared. "I wish I could."
Another step forward. "Because you want me to be a snow-god instead of who I am?"
Ray scowled, then stared, rabbit-eyed and trapped.
"Because you'd rather I were an angel than just your friend? Because I'm not real to you? Because you don't know what sort of person I really am?"
He was close enough now to sense Ray's heat on his bare skin, to feel the vibrations of Ray's constant trembling, to see his nipples drawn tight against his T-shirt. "I know who you are, Ray. And I know what you look like so well that if I were blindfolded I could still sculpt you in clay down to the indentation on your lower lip and the line of gold in the green-hazel iris of your right eye."
Ray seemed to find his argument again and opened his mouth. Fraser darted forward and kissed it closed, sharp and hard, before speaking into the man's shock:
"It's all I can do, Ray: know you and love you. Could you say you'd do more for me?"
Ray's eyes closed. "You deserve more." He jerked back, falling violently against the wall, knocking a picture askew. His eyes were open now, shining terror. "I can't do this, Fraser. This isn't the way I act, the way I talk. I can't stand myself like this."
"Then stop talking, Ray." Fraser stepped forward as Ray flattened against the wall and put his hands to either side of that warm, spare body. He leaned in for another kiss, turning his head as Ray twisted, finding his lips dry and hard, then softening and wet, then luscious and sweet. They both moaned, and Ray's arms were around him and it was even better than he'd thought it would be. He pressed forward, instantly excited by the feel of his own skin against Ray's clothes, the undeniable eroticism of being here, like this.
And then Ray was gone, stumbling away from him.
"No, no. I can't. No."
"Ray?" He needed more, now. "Come back here."
Ray looked around wildly, making first for the kitchen, then, when Fraser moved to cut him off, back out to the dining room. Fraser ran after, his heavy genitals knocking his thighs and his heart throttling his larynx.
Ray was staring wildly at the table, forced to a halt by all those Mounties standing guard. Fraser all but tackled him.
"No, God, Benny."
A strong pull got Ray's T-shirt halfway up his chest, exposing lean muscles and heaving ribs. Ray struggled feebly and Fraser hugged him close, pressing bare skin to bare skin, snarling when Ray moaned. He crouched, then sprang back over the table, taking Ray with him. The oak creaked under their sudden weight, and the flock of Mounties fluttered, swirled, and stuck to sweating skin. Fraser got his fingers on a nipple and pet softly even as his teeth sank into a shoulder.
"Benny. God. Benny." Ray was losing himself now, kissing along his jaw line, rocking their hips together, shivering.
"Fuck me, Ray."
Eyes, dilated black, stared down, even as Ray's body bucked wildly.
Fraser spread his legs. "Now, Ray."
Ray reared back, still bucking, making some choked sound. His eyes went to the drawings all around them and quailed.
Fraser growled, reaching back blindly to grab a perfect soldier and shake it between them.
"He isn't me! This is just a uniform I wear, a job I do. I'm *here,* Ray. Come into me and find me."
Horrible, to see Ray's eyes timid and uncertain.
"I know you love me, Ray." The distraction allowed him to take Ray's hand, kiss it, and then draw it down to place gently over his aching arousal. Ray trembled but did not flinch, and in a moment soft, fine fingers had wrapped around him. "Yesss. Yes, Ray. Yes." The relaxation burned, and the sight of Ray's surrender was flame.
"We need stuff to do this," Ray muttered, but the voice underneath was soft with wonder. His free hand was pulling off his trousers and briefs, and there was the well-remembered length of him, longer and fuller with blood and heat, just as he had thought.
Fraser captured Ray's hand again and drew his fingers into his mouth, sucking, tasting graphite, feeling soft pads and fine bones over his tongue.
Ray groaned, stroking the cock in his hand, and Fraser pulled out the wet fingers to order him to stop. "I'll come."
Ray scowled but somehow looked happy for the first time that day. "You're going to be just as demanding as a lover as you are as a friend, aren't you?"
"Probably. Could you hurry, Ray?"
"God." Ray froze, his wet hand before his face, his other hand on Fraser's stomach, his legs already unsteady with the effort of kneeling on the hard table. "This is really going to happen, isn't it?"
"I very much hope so."
Ray's eyes still doubted as he brought his hand down, gasping a little as Fraser spread his legs wider. A cool, slick touch on his balls, then lower down. The ring of muscle contracted involuntarily, but Ray's touch was as insistent as it was gentle. Both of them, Fraser managed to note, seemed relieved the other wasn't completely inexperienced. It certainly helped him relax as Ray slipped a finger inside, making heat as the muscle stretched, crowding him with memories he'd thought long-forgotten.
He must have said something to that effect, for Ray smiled at him. "Me too, Benny. We'll take it slow, okay?"
"I'd really rather you didn't." He pressed down against Ray's hand, urging him to slip in another finger. Ray's other hand was stroking his shaft, experimenting with his foreskin, distracting him from the burn inside until it was soothed.
A green flash of anger.
"I'm so empty, Ray."
A groan, and then Ray's hands were at his hips, positioning him. A hot, firm nudge, another, and then some pain as pressure built and then-yes. Yes. In.
"Inside me where you belong."
"God You're perfect. You're so perfect."
"Tight. Hot. Soft. Does this hurt?"
"No. More. I know there's more of you."
"Yes. Take it. All of it, Benny." An almost rough thrust and Fraser screamed.
"Oh God! Benny? Benny, you okay? Oh, damnit."
Fraser grabbed two handfuls of Ray's ass, noting there was almost none to spare, and pulled him close.
"More. Harder. Harder until I come."
Tentative at first, until he screamed again and pulled fiercely, and then there it was, perfect as he'd known Ray would be: that whipcord body pounding into him with love and desire as though anything less would kill them both. He felt his knuckles slam the table, felt the hard wood against his head, but other than that it was only the heat and knocking of his prostate again and again, and there was nothing but pleasure in it now, all friction and having no place to hide, completely filled, impaled on Ray's cock, *taken* until he knew nothing but being taken.
He was screaming constantly, his hands gripping the colored sheets of paper that snapped and crackled around them, wiping out hours and days and years of standing like a statue.
The skin on his back was squeaking as they moved over the table, Ray's hips slamming into him even as a soft, gentle hand stroked down firmly. He sobbed as the end came, sparking white, sharp as a knife, rending him, rendering him. Hot liquid raced down his shaft, then the blessed explosion out, splattering them both. Ray howled in triumph, raising an echo from the kitchen, and then heat filled him again, a second orgasm that might as well be his own. Ray loomed over him, his face all hard angles as his green eyes stared into the little death. He swayed like a tree before its fall to the axe, and then toppled, splayed out, used up, with a little moan of sated bliss.
Fraser could not even gather the energy to grunt.
There is a certain and inevitable reaction to time. No matter how perfect, how right, how incredible, how long-wished-for, or how unique, every moment has to end. Such knowledge may bring little comfort to those whose moment is lost, but Fraser knew this moment, even as it slipped away, was only the portent of moments ahead. He let it go without regret. The sweat on his skin had cooled, the table was hard, Ray was heavy.
Vecchio groaned and slid off him. Fraser gathered him in his arms.
"Thank you, Ray."
"Sore?" The word seemed to come from lips too tired to move properly.
"Yes," Fraser said with satisfaction.
"My knees are gonna be bruised for weeks."
"Hmm." Fraser realized the hard thing under his hip was a #1 black pencil. He tried the soft point against his thumb, then wrote "I love you" on Ray's shoulder.
Ray got his eyes open during "you," and frowned.
"Don't write on me."
"Don't like being marked?" Fraser wrote "sexy" on Ray's other shoulder.
"You're lucky I gotta shower anyway." Ray rolled away slightly. Fraser reached towards the nearest spare buttock and Ray growled, hopping off the table. "I can't believe having sex with you just gives you one more way to be annoying."
"Will you fuck me like that every time I annoy you?" Fraser made sure his sprawled pose on the table was suggestive enough even for an irritated Italian.
Fraser smiled. Ray's eyes were telling quite a different story, roaming over him even as his body was sagging in exhaustion. Fraser licked his lips-quite unselfconsciously-and Ray shivered, scowled, and turned away.
Fraser's hand grabbed Ray's arm, pulling him in as he sat up and scooted to the edge of the table, gentling him into an embrace, then a kiss. Then another kiss, solemn and sincere, the sort of kiss he would share in church, if he could, or while wrapped in a walrus pelt.
*Hmm. Perhaps next summer.*
To his delight, Ray softened, just as he had always imagined, smiling in that endearing foolish way and kissing Fraser a few times himself.
"I'll do my best to make you happy, Benny."
"I'm happier than I've ever been already, Ray."
Ray sighed and kissed his neck. It was quite easy to print "next" on his ass.
Ray jerked back, craning around. "What did you write down there?"
Fraser gave him an innocent look.
Ray pushed away, stomping towards the doorway. "I'm taking a shower and you're not stopping me, Mr. Gallon of Cum."
Thrilling, that Ray could be so crude.
Fraser tossed the pencil on the table, tipping an imaginary hat to the Mounties on guard, then turned and chased his lover up the stairs.
Emerging cautiously from the kitchen, Diefenbaker went into the dining room and sniffed the air with satisfaction. Yes, it was an absolute good that his pack leader had taken a mate. He was devoted to the alpha male, of course, but for a wolf Fraser was incredibly ugly. Diefenbaker had begun to despair that he would ever find someone to love him.
Of course, the pack leader's mate was also supremely unattractive, on the outside, at least. But they would be a great match. After all, to him, they were both quite beautiful inside, where it mattered.