Author: Manna LaDroit
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.
Ray Vecchio was flying.
The Riv was right there, right at the corner, looking exactly as it had three days ago when he'd left her outside the liquor store with the engine running and the Mountie in the passenger seat. For some reason, Dief had come with him. Ray knew the wolf blamed himself for that horribly.
The Riv wasn't moving, but he could see the exhaust coming out of the pipe. If some punk jumped behind the wheel, there'd be nothing he could do. He was out of breath, and the instructions had made it perfectly clear he couldn't bring his gun. Moreover, dressed in nothing but shorts and running shoes, he had no place to hide so much as a pocket knife.
Instead, he was praying as his feet brushed the ground.
be there be there be there be there be there
There had been nothing at first, no note, no call, nothing but the bare space at the curb and a run-over Stetson when Ray had come back, holding the paper in one hand and two coffees with the other. Dief had run ahead, sniffing at the ground, then sat back and howled so loudly everyone near the intersection had to turned to watch the guy in the overcoat drop his stuff to the ground, kneel in the street near the crushed Mountie hat, and fumble for his cell phone.
be there be there be there be there God I'll give my life be there
He reached the car and slammed his hands on the door as he looked inside the open window.
The seats were all empty.
The keys were in the ignition, and something about them made him stretch his way into the car and yank them out, killing the engine.
Not even noticing his own rasping struggle to get air in his lungs, Ray dashed to the trunk, fumbled the key into the lock and turned it, then pushed up.
At the first flash of red, he almost threw up.
Pale face shocking under that dark pelt, closed eyes, his uniform half-buttoned up, his boots and pea coat tossed in next to his bare feet.
He felt for a pulse at the neck. Fraser groaned.
"Benny," Ray whispered. The beat under his fingers was weak and too rapid.
His back popped in protest when he hauled Benny's body out of the trunk, but Ray didn't notice. The serge was cold to the touch of his chest, and he noted absently that he was shivering, tightening his hold on the heavy form of his best friend as best he could.
He struggled to the passenger door, got it open, and slid Benny inside, then ran around to the driver's side -- narrowly dodging a bike and not even hearing the rude words thrown his way -- and got behind the wheel. A crank of the keys got the motor purring, and then he was peeling out, headed for Cook County Hospital.
Beside him, Benton Fraser was as quiet and pale as death.
Ray didn't look up. His head was just too heavy.
"Have you heard anything?"
Ray closed his eyes in relief. Welsh wasn't here to tell him Benny was dead. Welsh was just here.
Wait a minute. Ray's brain tried to get around something.
Welsh was here.
Vecchio lifted his head, got his eyes looking up, and took in the sight of his lieutenant -- well, hopefully still his lieutenant -- looking down at him.
The last time he'd seen Welsh was the day before, after the man had told Ray to calm down and to get some sleep or to suffer being taken off the case. Ray had exploded, throwing his badge on Welsh's desk and storming out of his office with the whole precinct watching. The mere idea that he should sleep when Fraser was missing was obscene.
And he'd been right. What if he'd been asleep when the call came through on his cell phone early that morning with instructions for getting Benny back? What then?
But his eyes were still hot and ashamed as he lurched to his feet, shivering inside the blue Mountie pea coat he'd put on over his running shorts. It smelled of Fraser's sweat and Canadian wool and the exhaust of the Riv.
But that was all normal enough, unlike Benny himself, who'd smelled of strange chemicals and antiseptic, who'd had needle marks up both his arms, whose eyes had been dilated and unseeing when the doctor shone a light in them. His friend was dying. Ray had felt it when they wheeled Fraser away.
He tried to get his tongue to work. His mouth was so dry his lips were sticking to his teeth.
"The nurse said he's still alive." Vecchio looked at the clock on the wall. "Half an hour ago, she was in here. Marion, said on her tag."
Welsh nodded, looking down at Ray's bare legs.
"I'll go see what I can find out."
Ray sat down, his head rocking with a little wave of dizziness. He'd been pestering the nurse's station until they told him he had to wait in this beige-on-beige magazine museum of a waiting room or get thrown out of the hospital. Welsh might be able to get something out of them.
There had been no signs of torture, other than the needles, and no sexual abuse. Whoever had taken him hadn't cut off his hair or nails or carved words into his body.
Fraser was slipping away from them. He could feel it. When he closed his eyes, he could see it, which is why his eyes were open, why he barely dared to blink.
A Payday was in front of his face. And he smelled coffee.
"Eat it," Welsh grumbled at him.
"Did you find out anything about Benny?" Self-preservation of many sorts made him take the candy bar and nibble at a nut. His stomach protested, then growled, and he was abruptly achingly hungry. He took a sticky bite and felt dizzy with the instant sugar rush as the caramel melted against the inside of his cheeks. He washed down the bite with coffee, looking up as Welsh settled into the cold green plastic chair to his side. In his hands was a pair of scrub pants.
"He's calm," the lieutenant said. "He doesn't seem to be feeling any pain."
The bite threatened to rise back up from his gut. "He's not gonna make it."
"You don't know that."
"I could feel it on him. He's so weak, Lieu " Ray made himself take another bite of the candy, made himself chew, made himself swallow.
"I've asked for permission for you to see him."
Ray nodded. He knew what it meant if they said yes.
"We found the car outside. I'm having it dusted. So far, there's nothing but your prints and Fraser's."
Ray resisted this reminder that there was a world outside the borders of his own misery.
"There's nothing weird in the trunk, but you need to look the car over, make sure everything in it is yours."
"I should call my family." Ray thought of his sister's face, blaming him for what had happened to Fraser.
"I did already, told them not to come in, that you were busy helping us with the investigation."
Ray buried his face in the coffee, then met Welsh's eyes.
"Sorry about yesterday. I just couldn't "
Welsh nodded, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the detective's badge.
"A man's partner is his responsibility. And you found him."
Ray swallowed his protests and took the badge, tucking it away inside Fraser's coat, finishing his coffee, and then reaching with gratitude for the olive green scrubs.
"I got a call this morning, early," Ray reported. "The voice -- a man's -- told me to dress in nothing but running shorts and shoes, no gun, no back-up. He said I'd find Fraser at the corner of Division and Clark at noon sharp. I got there, saw the Riv, found Fraser in the trunk, brought him here."
"Detective Vecchio?" a nurse asked from the door, his tall, dark body like some sort of imperial guard at the door to a world Vecchio wasn't sure he could stand to live in.
Ray's hands made fists, and somehow he got himself together enough to stand up.
"You can see him, but you must be very quiet."
Ray started forward, vaguely aware that Welsh was staying with him, and followed the nurse out into the hall, into the elevator, down another hall, and into a room that hissed and buzzed.
Benny was laying there, vulnerable in the thin white gown, his pale face sickly in the reflected glow of the green sheets.
A doctor stood near the bed, looking at Ray, then at Welsh.
"His heartbeat is getting weaker, and we don't know why," the doctor said. "Can you tell us anything about where he's been, or what's been done to him?"
Some nurse had asked Ray that hours ago. Time to think over his response hadn't helped.
"No. I just " Ray had to clear his throat. "I just saw the needle marks."
The doctor nodded. "His blood chemistry has been severely tampered with through a method we don't understand. His body is showing the signs of starvation."
"Starvation?" Ray finally managed to get his eyes off Benny's face and look into the doctor's serious, tired stare. The man was in his late fifties: thick white head of hair, white mustache, deep smile and frown lines, and a dark tan that got white under his gray eyes. His tag read, "Dr. M. K. Marcus."
Ray wanted to smile. Before Benny, he didn't make such a habit of reading people's tags.
"Yes," Marcus said. "It's as though there's some sort of nourishment his body needs that we can't provide. The lack of it has made him very weak. We can't get his blood levels back up." Dr. Marcus paused, looking down at Fraser's form, then up again. "I'm sorry. We'll keep him hydrated, and we're running more tests."
Ray was looking at his friend. He dimly heard the doctor's words. Fraser's chest was barely moving with his shallow breaths. Would they put him on a respirator before this was over?
He stepped to the bed and noticed Fraser's right hand wasn't under the covers, the pale, chapped fingers sticking out and curling around the edge of the bed. Without thinking, he put his own hand over them, needing to do it, trying to tell himself that Benny was still alive, was still fighting it somehow. He found himself squeezing the broad, square palm, willing it to squeeze back.
"What the hell?" he heard the doctor mutter. One of the machines was making a noise.
Ray held on tighter. Fraser couldn't die, not like this, not on some hospital bed in Chicago, not right in front of him while Ray couldn't do anything.
"What did you do?" Marcus demanded, snapping Ray out of it. He looked up, eyes still not focusing right.
Marcus was leaning over Fraser's chest, his stethoscope pressed down once, twice, as the man listened to his heartbeat.
"The rhythm is getting stronger. What did you do?"
"Benny?" Ray asked, clasping that hand in both his own and swaying on his feet as hope made him dizzy.
"Vecchio," Welsh grunted, putting a steadying hand on Ray's shoulder.
"Are you wearing some sort of cologne?" the doctor demanded. "Some sort of insect repellent? Aftershave?"
"I I haven't even showered for two days," Ray mumbled, watching Fraser's eyes twitch under his closed lids.
Another doctor rushed in, the nurse at his heels. "What's going on?"
Marcus was using his scope again. "I'm getting elevated heart rate and stronger breath sounds."
The second doctor pushed Ray out of the way, bending over Fraser's body. Vecchio wanted to push back, wincing as his friend's cold hand slid from his own. Welsh firmly led him backwards to the wall.
"Yes no wait," Marcus said as the second doctor listened with his own stethoscope. "I'm losing it." He stood up, saw Ray and scowled. "Get back over here."
The second doctor stood aside, frowning, as Ray got back to Fraser's side.
"Take his hand again," Marcus ordered.
Ray eagerly complied.
"See?" Marcus demanded of his colleague. "The rate's increasing again."
"He made a noise, you know, he groaned," Ray said.
"When I took his pulse in the car, he groaned."
Marcus looked at the nurse, then jerked his head towards Ray. "Get a swab and a blood sample."
"What's going on?" The second doctor walked around to Fraser's other side to crowd Marcus and shine a light in the patient's eyes.
"Skin-to-skin contact is definitely affecting this man." He looked at Ray, then back to the second doctor. "There seems to be something on his skin that's providing the substance he's lacking. Perhaps something he's wearing, or secreting."
Marcus nodded at the heart monitor. Fraser's pulse was in strong sinus rhythm, beating almost less than ninety a minute. Even as they all watched, it got slower and stronger.
"Your arm, sir," the nurse said, and Ray shrugged his free arm out of the coat, revealing his bare, cold chest, and stuck out his open elbow, wincing at the brush of the swab on his chapped skin, but not even noticing the needle. Before his blood showed up in the tube, he was looking back at Benny's face. Was he crazy, or was there some color in those cheeks?
Another nurse had come into the room, Ray noticed, and was pricking a finger from Benny's free hand with a tiny hypodermic. Some paper was used, and then she made an announcement of Fraser's blood sugar levels.
"Take his other hand," Marcus ordered, dragging Ray's hand over just in case the dazed detective didn't understand. At the new skin-to-skin contact, Fraser groaned.
"I don't believe it," the second doctor said, staring hard at Vecchio.
"His blood pressure is still rising," the nurse who wasn't busy fooling with Ray's blood announced, ripping the band off Fraser's upper arm. "Ninety-five over seventy."
"Can you hear me, Mr. Fraser?" Marcus urged. Fraser's eyelids were fluttering.
"Fraser," Ray chimed in, his face near Benny's since he was all bent over to hold both his hands. "Wake up! Can't you wake up?"
"R " Fraser coughed, and his eyes came slowly, painfully open, squinting in the light of the room. "Ray?"
"I'm here, Benny. I'm here. You're okay. You're in the hospital."
"Hospital?" Fraser got his eyes open a bit more, looking around at the faces near his own.
"Yeah." Ray flashed him his best smile and fought back a sudden need to lay down and go to sleep. "You're here and you're safe and you're gonna be okay."
"You you went for coffee," Fraser mumbled. "And to find out about the game "
"When was this?" Marcus demanded.
"Three days ago," Ray said, staring at Fraser in renewed alarm. "When he got taken."
"Three days? Ray?" Fraser coughed again.
"Do you remember anything after that, sir?" Marcus asked, shining a light into Fraser's eyes.
"No just waiting."
The doctor held up his finger and watched Fraser track it. Ray saw that Fraser really did have his color back again and firmed himself up. Fraser wasn't out of the woods, sure, but he wasn't dying right this second anymore.
"Ray?" Fraser croaked.
"I'm here, Benny."
"Yes." The unfocused blue eyes managed to frown slightly at their hands. Immediately, Ray let him go, then watched in horror as Fraser flinched, went pale, and started to fade again. Before Marcus could even get out the order, he had Benny's hands in his own again.
"Don't let him go," the doctor growled, just for good measure. Ray nodded wildly, then staggered as his body protested.
"Are you all right?"
"Vecchio hasn't slept in three days," Welsh put in.
Fraser had his eyes open again, and seemed to be steadying.
"Ray," he murmured. "I'm tired."
"Hang in there, Benny."
"He does need rest," Marcus said. "Whatever else they did to him, they sedated him heavily. He needs natural sleep." The doctor looked at Ray, still half-out of the pea coat. "And so do you."
"I'll be all right," Ray mumbled, determined to stand there all week if he needed to.
Marcus snorted. "You're about to keel over." He straightened with determination. "Let go of him with your left hand and let the coat fall." He nodded at Welsh, who frowned but helped Ray out of the coat.
Marcus, meanwhile, took some scissors from the tray and cut open the front of Benny's gown, baring his chest.
"Lay down on him."
Marcus gestured impatiently. "You need to sleep and so does he, and I can't have you letting go of his hands until we can figure out what's been done to him and to you too, possibly. Get up here, put your weight over here to the side, and sleep laying on top of him."
Ray looked wildly at Welsh, who wouldn't really meet his eyes but nodded. "It's not like we're going to be taking pictures, Vecchio."
He looked into Fraser's blue eyes, reading the confusion and exhaustion and knowing Benny could see the same in his own.
"It's just this once, right? While they figure it out."
Fraser nodded somewhat vaguely, and Ray moved as best he could without letting go of his friend's hands, feeling the doctor whose tag he hadn't read yet help him up on the gurney. A little fumbling while he avoided all the tubes and things, and then he was settled half-on, half-off his friend, and laid down, pressing his chest to Fraser's with total resignation at the world's perversity.
"What?" Ray and Marcus asked Fraser together.
"My stomach it's settling. I don't feel as dizzy."
"Good," the doctor pronounced.
Marcus drew the covers over both of them while the nurse clamped a monitor on Ray's finger.
"Rest, both of you, while I see to the lab work. Nurse Harper will be right here."
Ray nodded, rubbing his chin against Benny's shoulder and not even caring. He could feel Fraser's heart beating against his own and knew his friend was alive. If anything happened to the Mountie now, in fact, he'd be the first to know.
Welsh was saying something about his family, but Ray fell asleep in the middle of it all to dream he was in a hospital cafeteria, manning the milkshake machine.
When the blood didn't react, Dr. Malcolm Marcus was fairly certain his career was over.
"Damnit, Mac. I told you this wasn't gonna work."
"You've seen his vitals." Marcus waved a hand at the monitor still clearly indicating that the patient's heartbeat, pressure, and respiration were continuing to improve. "You explain it some other way."
"Psychosomatic would be my first guess," Dr. Alcott mumbled.
"He was unconscious, dying."
Alcott grunted and rubbed his hands over his eyes. He'd been staring at these slides for hours. The case did not make any sense at all.
"I am afraid I will have to agree with Mac on this," said a quiet voice, and both men looked up into the calm dark eyes of Dr. Proctor.
"Ellen " Alcott started.
She held up a hand. "I can't pretend to understand the science behind this until we have a lot more data, but the empirical evidence here is conclusive. You've seen the tape. For whatever reason, bodily contact is destroying the enzyme."
"So you also conclude we need to keep them together despite the failure of the blood test?" Marcus prodded.
She inclined her head. "Of course, even if we have to tape them together. She paused, thinking. "We know this was done on purpose, and we know that this man wanted them to be exposed to this situation. The inert properties of the blood may be purposeful."
"You're talking about a sophistication in the gene sequencing so far beyond what's available " Alcott let his hands sketch out the range. "It's not possible."
"And yet it is," she replied. "If it were not, the subject would be dead."
His muscles ached with lactic acid, and his skin felt stretched and dry.
The warm weight over his body was Ray Vecchio, who'd been ordered to lie there by the doctor. He remembered that much even without opening his eyes.
But before that he remembered being in the car, waiting for Ray to come back. And there had been something, someone, a woman, perhaps? She'd come to the window to speak with him. She'd needed directions? He couldn't remember her face. Blond hair. He was fairly certain she had blond hair. And there was a scent of organdy.
Fraser stirred slightly. The olfactory memory was obscured by the smell he was currently enjoying. He sniffed delicately, trying to identify it. It wasn't apples, or leaves, or freshly plowed earth, or bread.
He sniffed again, and felt his body tingle with it, as though it were a wisp of air off freshly laid snow.
Fraser opened his mouth, tasting this aroma and feeling his tongue moisten with the stimulation of his saliva glands. He could not help pursuing the odor to its source and encountered a smooth, warm, delicious something. He lapped, his mind sharpening with each taste from the dull edge of sleep until he managed to realize that he was licking Ray's shoulder.
"Mmph." Ray stirred, and Fraser sucked his tongue back inside. He considered closing his eyes, but the dishonesty of feigning sleep was too much for him.
Ray wasn't exactly sure what he was dreaming about when Diefenbaker suddenly appeared to pant and drool into his ear.
"I don't have any chocolate," he said, feeling himself start to wake up as Diefenbaker, evidently deciding that an Italian was just as good as a Milk Dud, started licking on his shoulder.
The weird thing was, after he woke up and Dief disappeared, the licking continued. Then it stopped, and the body he was lying on got all tense.
Blearily, Ray propped himself up on an elbow and looked down into Benny's pink-flushed face.
"Were you licking me?"
Ray considered this.
"I don't know, Ray."
"You don't know?" Ray's voice lowered half-way through the last word, a sure sign he was truly taken aback. "You were licking me and you don't know why?"
Sometimes, talking with Benny was like sitting at the bottom of a dam when it broke. And sometimes it was like just sitting at the bottom of a dam.
"Were you maybe licking me because I taste good to you?"
"Do you feel better? You know, like your stomach and stuff?"
Fraser seemed to think about that one for a moment. "Yes, Ray. Thank you. In fact, I feel much better."
"What made you feel better?" a woman's voice asked, and they both turned to look at a diminutive Eurasian woman in her late forties with long gray-black hair. Ray figured from the lab coat over her tailored gray Versace suit that she was a special doctor of some kind, and that she was good enough to command a top salary.
She stepped into the room with Marcus right behind her, and outside, Vecchio could see a uniform standing guard outside. Damn, but he felt naked without his gun.
Although, come to think of it, he was pretty naked, period, right now. Thank God someone had tucked a blanket around his cold legs.
"I must confess to ingesting some of Ray's perspiration when I awoke a few moments ago," Fraser reported, sounding for all the world like he was telling them the weather. "I did it without thinking, but it has made me feel somewhat better."
"What about his saliva?" the woman asked.
Ray knew he was making a face, and the stiff protest he could feel in Benny's body was, he hoped, visible to the others as well.
"This is Dr. Ellen Proctor," Marcus announced, somewhat belatedly. "She's a specialist in genetics."
"You got any idea yet what's been done to Fraser?" Ray asked.
Before anyone could answer, the door opened again to admit Lieutenant Welsh and Inspector Thatcher, whose cool eyes widened at the sight of them on the bed. She made no comment, however, so Ray figured she'd been briefed. It was probably harder on Fraser to be seen by her in his current condition than it was for her to keep her tongue in neutral.
In any event, Thatcher and Welsh seemed to know who Proctor was, everybody nodding at each other until Proctor turned around and finally answered Ray's question.
"Yes, we have some idea of what is causing Mr. Fraser's condition," she said, "though we have no idea at present how or why." She paused to take out the large envelope she carried under one elbow and remove a strange-looking sheet with blobs on it.
"Hmm," Fraser said. "Those look like genetic blueprints, but there appear to be a number of abnormalities."
Ray fought a smile while the woman fought to keep her "I'm not impressed with you" doctor face on. "It is, and there are." She then pulled out some papers and explained quickly this time: "And these are screens for blood toxins, in particular antibody, white cell and enzyme analyses. Again, for reasons we don't at present understand, your own red blood cells, Mr. Fraser, are producing an enzyme that blocks your ability to convert calories into heat. If the process had not been halted, your body would have continued to lose functions until your heart stopped beating."
Her dark brown eyes turned to Vecchio, and Ray couldn't help giving Fraser a little extra squeeze. Whatever she was talking about, it didn't sound good at all.
"We're still trying to figure out what it is in Detective Vecchio's sweat that destroys this enzyme." Her gaze narrowed slightly, leaving Ray feeling like a stubborn bug.
Marcus took over. "So far, we can't find anything unusual in your blood sample, Detective, or in the swabs. You appear to be healthy, possessed of a somewhat high-running metabolism, vaccinated for everything one would expect for a man raised in America, drug-free, and in good shape." His voice betrayed frustration. "The obvious place to look, your blood, isn't doing us any good. Fraser's blood reacts so far only to your sweat, which is why we'd like to draw other kinds of samples, with your permission."
"Get me a cup and I'll spit in it," Ray muttered.
"We've run tests on swabs drawn from people on the staff with your blood type," Proctor said, "but none of them were effective."
"That suggests that whatever Ray has that I need to suppress this enzyme is as individual to him as his own DNA," Fraser offered.
"That's what it looks like." Proctor put her pages away and tucked the envelope back under her arm. Ray wondered when Fraser would ask to look in it for himself. "We know that whatever was done to you, they did it in only three days., which suggests this isn't permanent, or at least that it may be undone in the same amount of time."
"Thank God," Ray said. "I was thinking I was going to be spending my autumn years in this bed."
"The problem is, we haven't a clue at this point what was done, and if we attempt to correct the problem blindly, we could do damage. I understand that both of your find this situation distressing, but we will have to take this very carefully."
"That explains the brass," Ray noted, trying not to scowl at his commanding officer.
"Ray?" Fraser met Ray's sideways look.
"The lieutenant and the inspector are here to tell us to stay put, Benny. We don't get to work the case."
"That's right," Welsh acknowledged. Thatcher nodded.
Ray felt his temper rising and tried to keep calm. "That doesn't make any sense. We gotta get Fraser ambulatory and find out what's going on."
No one said anything.
"It makes no sense for anyone to do this to Fraser or to me, and that means it's personal. It's not a case or someone who's looking to get something other than messing with us. You can't expect us just to sit around while they do this to us! We gotta find out who --"
"We know who," Welsh said quietly.
"What do you mean?" Ray only dimly noticed Fraser's response was more coherent.
"Charles Carver died three weeks ago, state's penitentiary. Hepatitis. He contracted it in prison. Turns out he was working with a lab in Columbia. At first, it looked like narcotics trafficking, but when they went in there, the place was dry and clean. They did find samples buried around the area, however, that indicate genetic research."
Ray's anger froze, and he wondered vaguely if he sounded like he'd been punched in the gut. "So this is his little legacy, is that it? He kills Fraser from beyond the grave?"
"Constable Fraser won't die," Marcus said, "as long as he continues to receive what he needs from contact with you."
"You don't know that! Whatever they did to him could go sour! And if Carver's dead then someone else is running the show. You can't expect us to stay here like two lab specimens when Fraser's in danger!"
"Constable Fraser has the best hope of being cured here at this hospital, Detective," Thatcher told him, her lips pressed into that little purse Ray hated so much, "not running around on the streets with you."
Finally, Fraser got the will to speak.
"Ray, Inspector Thatcher and Leftenant Welsh are correct. Our best hope for success at this point is to stay here and help the doctors develop a treatment." He took a breath as though to get through the difficult part. "Besides, despite your kind service for me, Ray, I do not believe I would be capable of leaving at this point."
Ray felt stung with betrayal, even though part of him knew it wasn't fair. Looking down into Fraser's pale face, he couldn't help accusing him. "You said you were feeling better!"
"Uhm," Fraser murmured, waving at the distance Ray hadn't realized he'd put between their bodies when he'd sat up on the bed. He collapsed his arms immediately, just ignoring everybody while he got his chest back against Fraser's. He wiggled, getting the crucifix out of the way so it didn't stab them in the neck. Only when Fraser nodded that he was comfortable did Ray turned back to glare at the inspector only to find that Welsh was now standing by the bed.
"Vecchio." Ray craned his head around to meet his lieutenant's gaze. "Just stay here with Fraser. Let the rest of us do our jobs."
Ray couldn't keep the eye contact going, but looking back down at Benny wasn't much better.
"Well, I guess I always knew it would come to this," he said, smiling a little.
"Come to what, Ray?" Fraser asked.
"You, licking me. It was just a matter of time."
Fraser's lips pressed tight. "Now, that's just silly, Ray."
Less than an hour later, they were upstairs in the adjacent wing, glued to electrodes and enjoying the uncertain privacy of one of the rooms specially designed for terminally ill children. Ray ignored the bright colors and plastic flowers, grateful at least there was no picture of a big-eyed clown on the wall.
In any event, they'd been fussed over enough now that they had even managed to get rid of the Mountie-ogling nurses by claiming, honestly enough, that the urine and stool samples would be easier to get if they were left alone. Both of them had already been swabbed half to death, and Ray had spit into a cup and blown his nose into a plastic "tissue." He didn't want to think about what other sorts of samples they might come for next. Frankly, the little bottles they'd been left were bad enough already.
"Benny, this is by far the weirdest situation I've ever been in." Vecchio raised up slightly, shooting Fraser an almost coy look while he made sure to keep their bodies pressed together. "How about you?"
Fraser cleared his throat, giving the question some thought. "Well, there was an incident in the Yukon where I encountered a school of ptarmigans who had been dressed up by a local school " He shook his head.
"No, Ray. I would have to say upon reflection that I have never been in quite such an unusual situation."
"It doesn't make sense, Carver doing this. What did he hope to get out of it? I mean, what kind of lame revenge is this?" Ray thanked God Carver had reason to be mad at Fraser on his own now. He didn't think he could handle that sort of guilt again.
Of course, it was still ultimately his fault
"Er, Ray. I have to " Fraser nodded towards the bathroom door, and Ray grinned in unconscious relief.
"Yeah, me too." Ray allowed himself a nice, gusty sigh, taking Fraser's cold hands in his own, then moving slowly up until only their hands were touching. "How's that?"
Fraser considered his state of being, then sat up as well so that their legs were hanging over opposite sides of the bed.
"I believe I am well enough for us to separate for a brief time, Ray. After all, the enzymes must take time to build up, and if they do overwhelm me while we are apart, the substance in your body that destroys the enzyme will doubtlessly put me right again."
Ray scowled. "That isn't my idea of a perfect plan, Benny."
"Our options seem limited."
"You're telling me. You see The Crying Game?"
"Er, yes, Ray."
Ray let his mouth drop open. "You have?" The damn thing was NC-17, wasn't it?
"It's quite an important film." Fraser finally seemed to realize what scene Ray was thinking of: the one-guy-holding-the-other-guy's-penis-while-he-pees scene. "It need not be quite that awkward, however."
"Yeah. We don't have to uh you know for each other."
"Ah." Fraser's face was at least getting some color with this conversation. "Perhaps if we simply held one hand," he offered, albeit somewhat weakly. Ray knew he was already missing the enzyme-whatever from their bodies' not being in contact.
Ray frowned, squirming slightly as he thought, and then noticed his friend's sudden hungry look, as though Fraser's mouth were watering.
It was just about the hardest thing he'd ever done without gagging, but Ray wiped his hand through the hairs on his chest until he gathered up all the sweat he could, then held it out to Fraser.
He couldn't help a little wince, though, when Fraser fell on his hand like Frannie on a new *Bride's* magazine. It was like watching one of those lizards on the Discovery Channel, that tongue darting out to swab up every millimeter of knuckle, palm, and fingertip before you could say Sonny Crocket.
When he was done, Fraser looked a little horrified and Ray could think of nothing but washing his hand about five times. He got a smile going though, and managed to keep things casual enough.
"All done, Fraser?"
"Er, yes, Ray." Fraser paused, then smiled somewhat unsteadily back. "I believe I am feeling better, Ray. Much better."
"Good. Let's see how long it lasts." Ray scrambled from the bed, keeping contact with Fraser's left hand while he scooped up his bottles, and led the way to the bathroom. "You first."
For once, Fraser did not argue, and they held hands through the half-open door. When Fraser was done and had put his own bottles through the little door in the wall of the bathroom, they traded places, and then even let go of each other for a moment while they both washed up.
Fraser was definitely sagging by the time they were headed back for the bed, and sighed in open relief when Ray lay down on him again. There was a bit of fussing with the blankets, and then, actually, they were almost comfortable.
Ray listened to the buzz of the fluorescent lights for as long as he could, his chin resting on the Mountie's shoulder.
"Benny, straight up, how do you feel?"
Fraser swallowed. "I feel I feel ill, Ray."
"I feel weak, as though I'd been walking in an ice storm for days. But then, sometimes, I feel almost normal. But then I move, and I feel almost aloft and as fragile as over-baked porcelain. I think perhaps I owe Diefenbaker an apology for my harshness the last time he was ill."
"This is sure worse than pink eye, huh?"
"Benny I know you gotta be worrying about me, about how much of this I can stand, and how long it's gonna be before I don't wanna help you any more and all that." Ray wasn't surprised when Fraser didn't answer. "Well, I don't want you to worry about that, okay? I'm here for the duration, you know?"
The lights buzzed for a while.
"Thank you, Ray."
"In fact, I figure there's no way this is going to end in a day or two, you know? Carver wouldn't do it like that. So this is gonna take a while, maybe a long while, and I'm ready for it, okay? I'm set."
"Thank you, Ray."
He couldn't help giving those Mountie shoulders a little squeeze.
"You suppose they're even gonna feed us, Benny?"
"Perhaps whatever substance in your body blocks the production of this enzyme could be synthesized. Perhaps in the end I will need nothing more than regular injections, or a sort of patch."
For some reason, Ray couldn't keep from chuckling at this last image. "You gonna start rubbing me, Fraser?" He laughed some more. "Maybe they'll make some Vecchio gum, or something."
"You'd make a lovely pemmican, Ray," Fraser said, and then laughed with him.
"Glad to see you're feeling better," a nurse with Mountie-googly eyes said from her position in the half-open doorway. "Are you up to company?"
Ray groaned quietly, then forced a smile when the door burst open with loudly squabbling Vecchios.
"Caro mio!" cried his mother.
"Ray, you okay?" Tony was asking.
"Uncle Ray, why can't you come home?" Tony Junior wailed.
"What are you doing lying on Benton?!" Frannie demanded.
"Oh, like you didn't hear the doctor!" Maria scorned.
Everyone looked at Ray.
"Fraser's sick, let's all remember?" He made eye-contact with Tony Jr., who was trying not to sniffle. "Come on up," he said, beckoning with an elbow. "And everybody else take a stress pill and find somewhere to sit down."
While Tony Jr. climbed up onto the bed to lie in his uncles' arms, manfully remembering not to suck his thumb, the rest of them found seats, such as the counter top and the window sill, and radiated now-quiet frantic concern.
"Comfortable there, Tony-Tone?"
"Yes, Uncle Ray." The small dark head snuggled a little closer, and Fraser gently pet the young boy's hair. Ray couldn't help thinking about how Benny had really become a part of the family. His mother looked torn, like she couldn't decide which one of them to press to her ample bosom to comfort first.
"So they feeding you okay in here?" Tony asked, giving Ray a chance to complain about his growling stomach. After that, there was quite a bit of talk about the house, which needed more work on the plumbing. Ray had arranged to take a day off work to meet the guy next Tuesday, so now they had to decide who could do it instead, since his mother didn't know a pipe from a joint. When Maria and Tony got into it over his lack of household management skills, Ray chucked his nephew under the chin and gave him a wink.
He knew he was being manipulated, distracted with his family so he wouldn't be figuring out a way from him and Fraser to escape, but when his mother finally could stand it no longer and crossed the room to hold both him and Benny in her arms, he couldn't help being glad she was there. He let himself snuggle against her as best he could with his arms around his friend, and murmured words of encouragement when she sniffled into a handkerchief. He couldn't see Fraser's face from this position, however, and just had to hope he was doing okay.
It was funny, really, how the many things he and Benny had in common didn't include mothers. Their fathers were a good match, as far as Ray was concerned: both absent and both doing little for their sons' confidence, his pop by expecting too little, and Benny's dad by expecting too much. But when it came to mothers, Benny didn't have anything but dream-memories of someone warm and nice, while his own ma
How would he have made it without her?
He remembered that time Fraser was all freaked out that he called his mother several times during the day, but Ray wondered how much of that was envy. Why shouldn't he call his ma? She was the one person in the world -- besides Benny -- who'd never let him down, who'd always been there for him. She'd protected him as best she could from his pop, encouraged him to be a cop even when her husband's anger was directed towards her, and never held back an ounce of love, even when he'd been a bad kid and stole candy bars from Mr. Delaco's or told Mrs. Cooper to her face she was an old witch and should be put in jail.
His ma had been there when he graduated from college, and again when he graduated from the police academy, doing everything she could to make up for her husband's absence both times. She even had a picture of him in his uniform among the other special frames on her nightstand: between the picture of Maria and Tony getting married, and Frannie the day she'd won Miss Teen Chicago.
It killed him sometimes that Benny didn't have any of that, and so while Ma hugged them both too long for comfort, he didn't say anything, not until he felt Fraser squirm a little under him.
"It's okay, Ma. Really. It's going to be all right."
She sniffled, then announced, "I'm going to see why you haven't been fed properly." Ray didn't even think of arguing with her.
Maria went with her. Tony went into their bathroom, sighing loudly a minute later.
Ray couldn't put off meeting Frannie's eyes forever, but even so, it was pretty horrible to see her blatantly envious stare.
"Is there anything I can get for you, Benton?" she asked, finally taking her eyes off Ray. When she frowned, though, Ray followed her gaze to Fraser's closed eyes and relaxed, vulnerable face.
Benny was sleeping.
Damn, but he hated it when his back popped. It made him think of his mother, and the way she'd lean back after being bent over the sewing machine, popping and groaning before she'd smile at him and ask him to fetch her a Coke. It was hard enough looking more and more like his dad every day. Now he sounded more and more like his mother.
The swabs from the other Vecchios had not affected the subject's samples in the slightest, while the subject's blood reacted more strongly than ever to the sweat, urine, mucus, saliva, stool, and blood swabs from Raymond Vecchio. They'd need to do a semen test as well, but it was unlikely Vecchio would cooperate with either leaving Fraser's side or with providing the sample while the man was in the room, and though they were all professionals here, no one wanted to be the one to ask him about it.
Marcus shook his head. He'd seen a great deal of cruelty and perversion in his line of work as a matter of course, but there was something truly satanic about this type of torment. First, Carver had been a genius to create the infection or mutation or whatever they were dealing with, and secondly
Marcus sighed, left his hard chair in the lab with a numb ass, and got himself a Coke from the vending machine in the hall. He'd read a book once, *The White Plague,* by Frank Herbert, where some deranged genius hated women so much that he'd made a special disease that killed only females. At first, Marcus had wondered if the changes in Fraser's genetic make-up had been some sort of prototype of such a plague, a weapon against people with certain genetic tags.
But it was looking more and more that Fraser himself was the only target, and Vecchio the only intended cure. What had Carver been going through, what motivations could be driving that level of intellect for something so incredibly pointless?
According to the information from Lieutenant Welsh, Carver's contraction of Hepatitis in prison was not the result of a reported sexual assault, but probably had been contracted sexually. But what would Carver's having had sex in prison have to do with this obsessive method of retribution? And why the hell hadn't Carver put his extraordinary mental abilities to finding a cure for his own disease rather than creating a whole new one?
Marcus walked back into the lab and looked across the ERG to where Proctor was hunched over her own lab samples, busily scratching down notes. They were lucky to have her on this.
"I've gotta get some sleep," he announced, the words surprising him. The Coke wasn't keeping his eyes open.
She looked up, nodded, and then stretched out her own back. "I'm going to give them both supplements, then lay down for a while myself." She held up a tray with two prepared hypos.
Marcus reached for them. "I'm going to look in on them. I'll do it."
She hesitated, then smiled and handed over the tray.
Ray woke up when the doctor came in, groggy from too much sleep and uncomfortable as hell. Benny made a great friend, but a lousy mattress. And Ray wasn't helping his own case, pulling away from those bone-and-muscle lumps in his sleep. His neck hurt the most, his head having rolled off Fraser's shoulder onto the flat hospital pillow several inches down.
Marcus nodded at him then tilted the tray he was holding slightly to show the needles. Ray rolled his eyes and shifted back.
"We're getting shots, Benny."
"Just some vitamin supplements, with iron and potassium." He held up a hypo in one hand and a cotton swab in the other. "Mr. Vecchio?"
"Look, call me Ray, all right? I mean, you've seen me in bed more than my last three dates."
Marcus gave them both a weary grin and made quick worth with the needle. When he finished wincing, Ray turned to the man he was lying on, checking out his color with some satisfaction.
"You feeling better, Benny?"
Blinking blue eyes twinkled with some of their old light and warmth. "Yes, I am, Ray. Thank you."
Marcus finished with Fraser, then took their pulses, shone a light in Fraser's eyes, gave them another weary smile, and turned to leave, picking up the tray. He frowned, peering at the needles.
"What is it?" Vecchio asked, watching the doctor stand there like he'd seen something creep up on him in an alley.
Marcus shook himself and looked at them with a somewhat puzzled but meant-to-be-reassuring smile. "I can't get used to her handwriting. Thought the 'F' was an 'R.' My mistake."
"You gave me Fraser's shot?!"
That smile again, a little broader. "Doesn't matter, which is why I didn't really check. It's the same blend for both of you." He made a motion with his hand an drawled, "Doctor's oath."
Ray rolled his eyes and watched the man leave, then settled down. After a few minutes, however, it was obvious to both men they'd slept all they were going to for a while.
"Ray?" The word was hardly louder than the buzz of the lights in the hall.
"Did you, by any chance " Fraser's chest began to quake slightly, and Ray shot him a look. But those gray-blue eyes weren't clouding in pain or sorrow. Vecchio found a smile creeping across his own face at that repressed sparkle.
"What? What's going on?"
"Did you happen oh dear to see the expression --"
"On Frannie's face?"
They were both laughing now, sneakily, guiltily, both of them with their faces buried in a hand, not meeting each other's eyes, then darting a shared glance, then laughing harder.
"And just think," Ray managed to get out, "if Carver had *really* wanted to torture you "
Fraser faked a whimper, and they were at it again.
Later, Fraser shivered.
Ray turned his head a bit. "It's two in the morning. We should try to sleep, I guess."
"Yes." Fraser shivered again. Ray moved to cover him a bit better --
And promptly jack-knifed in pain.
"Fraser!" Ray gasped. "Oh God. Fraser."
The Mountie reached for the nurse's call button, but a slender hand clamped down on his wrist while Vecchio roughly shook his head.
"Ray? We need -- "
"Wrong needle." Ray wheezed a bit, then repeated. "Wrong needle, he said."
Fraser met his eyes, and Ray knew -- with the part of his brain that wasn't thinking about how bad he felt -- that they were both coming to the conclusion that "vitamins" shouldn't be making them sick. Then Fraser shuddered, convulsed, and then -- rather primly, Ray was to think later -- leaned over the side of the bed and revealed the entire contents of his last meal. Ray then found himself stumbling to the bathroom, ripping down his pants and re-living his own last meal in an entirely different way. The pains in his gut went from rifle shots to cannon fire, and it was all he could do not to start screaming, muffling his moans in his hands and hoping to hell Fraser would be all right on the bed while he was gone.
Another spasm wracked him, his body slick with sweat and his feet and hands tingling, as though all the blood in his body were needed elsewhere, like in his gut. In fact, he felt like he was bleeding out, but when he was steady enough to check, the toilet was simply full of loose stool. He fumbled for the handle and managed a flush, then went through another spasm.
When he felt Fraser's hands on his own, he probably would have melted through the dingy linoleum floor if he hadn't been able to smell Benny's puke-breath. As it was, he could almost laugh until he looked into his friend's chalk-white face.
Fraser leaned forward, his eyes both pleading and horrified, and then Ray was feeling a tongue licking over his forehead and down his sweat-damp hairline to his neck, where lips could actually suck at the sweat accumulated there.
The hands on his tightened, and Ray closed his eyes, making his voice as soft as he could. "Take what you need, Benny. It's okay. It's okay."
Ray's liver stabbed his stomach again, but he had nothing left inside. Fraser was resting now, his head propped on Ray's shoulder, his eyes closed. When he moved back, he pulled up Ray's arm to peer at the most recent needle mark. The skin around it was red and striated: a sure sign of allergic reaction. When Ray brought up Fraser's arm, the red stripes were even clearer against that pale skin.
Ray nudged Fraser away just enough to get himself presentable, then washed his hands and handed Benny a glass of water. They both ended up brushing their teeth, then moving together to the closet where their clothes -- such as they had had when they came in -- had been stored.
"When we take off the wires, we'll get the cavalry," Ray muttered.
Fraser nodded, pulling on his pants and noticing he didn't have any socks. "If I had the time, we could rig up something but perhaps we might simply get some help." His eyes went to the hall.
Ray nodded, already wearing his running shoes and shorts. He tucked in the hospital gown, hoping it would pass for a shirt at a distance once they got out of here. Carefully, they made their way into the hall, stretching their wires behind them. In the room next door, they found two children sleeping soundly, their own monitors blinking and hissing to their own needs.
Blue eyes met green -- though both pair were gray in the dark -- and Ray knew they were only going to do this if it's didn't disturb the two children: two boys, their breaths shallow and quiet.
In the end, the electrodes only reached the boy closest to the door, but he stirred not a bit as they laid their electrodes next to the boy's own. Anyone studying the monitors would catch on in a second, but hopefully the night shift wouldn't notice for a few minutes, anyway.
Fraser got the boots on over his bare feet and gave his coat to Ray, who looked ready to protest, then rubbed his stomach and took it gratefully enough. Back in the corridor, they moved smoothly, holding hands and watching the other's blind spots. All Ray could really see was that signpost of a uniform, flashing red and "Catch me!" all over the hallway. When they made it to the elevator, he expected the doors to release bloodhounds.
But the car was empty. During the ride down, Fraser licked Ray's neck again, and neither of them spoke.
The basement parking garage looked like something out of a late-night movie just before the well-dressed woman gets pulled into a van. Ray felt himself falter and leaned back against a crumbling concrete pillar, riding out another spasm.
"Ray?" Concerned hands moved over his arms. Benny's breath -- toothpaste over vomit -- tickled his face.
"Do you see the Riv, Benny?"
While Fraser looked around, Ray got himself vertical again. Fraser was shivering worse now, but he knew Mr. Mountie wouldn't take the coat. He should have a blanket in the backseat of the Riv.
Ray's mouth watered at the thought of coffee, then his guts protested and he was gasping and Benny was there, holding him up and not even trying to lick him or anything, just keeping him from falling down while he led him forward into the shadowy garage.
No white vans appeared, and they got to the Riv without major bodily harm -- from the garage, anyway. Ray pulled the keys out of the coat pocket, thinking dimly about when he'd stored them in there, while Fraser was lying on the damn hospital bed, dying.
Benny's face was pale in the darkness, but not too strained. He let go of that broad, square hand long enough for them to get inside the car, then grabbed it again.
"You'll find it somewhat difficult to drive without your hands, Ray," Fraser said.
"How you holding up, buddy?"
Fraser hesitated, then admitted, "I believe I'm feeling quite dizzy." His eyes looked somewhat hungrily at Ray's hand, then closed in shame.
"Hey, hey, Benny. Don't -- don't be -- it's okay, right? I've told you it's okay."
Eyes still closed, Fraser brought the hand closer, then sucked delicately at a knuckle, then another.
"Not a lot of sweat there," Ray muttered, worried.
Fraser shook his head.
With his free hand, Ray pushed and pulled until his coat was open, then tugged on Benny's shoulder. A deep shudder ran through Fraser's body, then, with a painful, tight little moan, he buried his face in Ray's chest hair, licking frantically.
Ray rested his head back on the seat and thought about where he was going to drive them, where they could get help, where he could get some coffee: about anything but what was going on three inches below his face. When that tongue hit a nipple, he cringed, but kept his damn mouth shut. A few more seconds, and it was over.
But Fraser's head wouldn't pull away, and Ray felt the heat of his friend's face on his cold body.
"I'm sorry, Ray."
"You got nothing to be sorry about, Benny. Nothing, you hear me? I mean, it's like hanging out with Dief. He can't help it either, and you don't see him apologizing."
Fraser gave a weak chuckle and didn't resist as Ray pushed him back gently into his seat.
"Hang on, Fraser, okay? Just hang on." He cranked the key, then revved the motor and grabbed Fraser's free hands, putting them on his bare thigh and hoping to God that cramp in his gut didn't mean he'd be needing to run into the bushes.
"Just hang on."
The drive to Moia's place took almost half and hour, and Ray knew he'd turned the wrong way at least twice. This early in the morning there was little traffic, at least.
They stood on her porch another two minutes until she finally answered Ray's knocking, and the small face that peered out through the crack between the door and the frame didn't stop scowling when she recognized just who had worked her up.
"What do you think you're doing, Raymondo? And who is that with you?"
"Constable Benton Fraser, ma'am, RCM --"
"RCMP!" Ray shouted. "Look, Aunt Moia, we need help. I can't go to Ma, and we can't go to Fraser's boss and would you just let us in, please?"
"Don't take that tone with me, young man! I turned you over my knee not too long ago --"
"And Ma didn't speak to you for two years afterwards! And only then because it was Pop's birthday."
"Perhaps if we explain --"
"What's to explain?! You got an explanation for this, Fraser?"
Benny looked at him helplessly, then began to sag.
"What's wrong with him?"
Ray shot his aunt a glare that could peal paint off the wall (he hoped), then took Benny in a familiar fireman's carry and waited for the door to open. Moia took the chain off the hook, fussing about having some soup on the stove, and then finally let them over the threshold.
It was a really ugly building. A Mountie, just like Fraser but not as cool, was standing outside the front door, and there were flags and things that made the building look official. But still, it was really pretty sorry, as far as buildings went.
Tony Jr. kept an eye on the Mountie, just in case, as he edged into the front door, which was really heavy to open. The guy stayed a statue, though.
Inside, there was a fru-fru room with another Mountie guy behind a desk. Tony Jr. walked up and stood there a long time while the guy was on the phone saying, "Uh huh," every second or so. Finally, the guy hung up.
"May I help you?" the Mountie asked.
"I need to see Inspector Thatcher."
"I see." The Mountie blinked at him. Tony Jr. got the idea he wasn't looking at the world's greatest intellect. "And may I ask what this is regarding?"
"No, but it's important. I was told I had to speak to her directly. It's about Canada."
"I get the feeling you don't see. Look, I gotta talk to the Inspector Lady. It's important, you got me?"
The Mountie looked at him oddly, then seemed to focus in particular on his nose.
"May I ask your name, sir?"
Tony Jr. couldn't help liking the "sir." "It's Tony Rezza, Jr."
The brown eyes under that GI-Joe hair were twinkling a little now. Tony Jr. gave him the piss-off look, and the guy behind the desk seemed to come to a decision.
"Are you related to Detective Vecchio, by any chance?"
"If you'll wait just a minute, Mr. Ressa." He Mountie picked up the phone. "Excuse me, Inspector. There's a relative of Detective Vecchio here to see you .Yes, sir." He hung up and stood up. "If you'll follow me, sir."
Tony Jr. climbed the stairs, looking at the cheesy wallpaper and wondering why anybody bothered to work in a dump like this when they could work in a big glass building and look out over the lake. The Mountie stopped before a door and knocked, then opened the door and ushered him inside. Tony Jr. worried about whether he should give the guy a tip, but Uncle Ray hadn't said anything about that in his note.
Inspector Thatcher turned out to be a real babe, though she was too snooty for Tony Jr.'s taste. He wondered if Uncle Ray ever dated her. She made him think about the time he'd heard Pete Raduzio talk about women who could freeze your nuts off. Of course, Pete was just talking about girls like Kathy Freeman, who could pop gum in class and then sit there so innocent the teacher would blame the noise on someone else. This lady looked like she could teach Kathy lessons.
"This is Tony Rezza, sir. He's Detective Vecchio's nephew."
"Hello," she said.
Tony Jr. shot the Mountie at the door the eye.
"I have a message for you. I'm supposed to make sure only you see it."
She nodded to the Mountie at the door, and he left. Only then did Tony Jr. take the folded note out of his jacket and hand it over the desk.
"Do you know where Detective Vecchio is now?" she asked.
"Just read the note. I'm supposed to take your answer back."
She pursed her lips, just like Kathy Freeman, and then opened the note. Then she read it twice through and looked at him. Then she put the note away. It was kinda creepy, really, the way she did things one thing at a time. It made his nose itch.
"Tell him yes. I'll arrange things on this end."
"'Yes.'" Tony Jr. considered that. "I'll tell him you said 'yes.'"
"That's right." She smiled suddenly, and she was really pretty. "I could help him more if you'd tell me where he is."
He shrugged. "I don't know where Uncle Ray is. He's gonna call, and I'm gonna tell him what you said."
"Do you have any idea why he and Constable Fraser left the hospital?"
Tony Jr. started edging towards the door.
"No. I gotta go now."
He got worried she was going to try to stop him, but he made it out of the room, down the stairs and outside without getting hassled. On the sidewalk, he shook himself a little, scratching his nose and eyeing the Mountie statue, then took the money his mother had given him and hailed a cab.
"You sure you wouldn't like some fresh bread with that?" Moia asked, hovering over her guest bed and trying not to notice the way her nephew was sitting so close to the nice but suspiciously pretty Mr. Fraser.
Ray rolled his eyes, determined to let Moia know later that she could be as subtle as a slap in the face with a frozen halibut. But all that mattered now was getting her out of the room before Fraser fell face-first into the soup.
"We're fine, and thanks a heap. You go on down, and we'll be outta your house and your hair before lunch."
She tutted around a little more, then left, leaving the door open behind her. Ray let his head hang from his shoulders until he heard Benny get ready to say something, then got up, closed the door, wedged a chair under the knob, stripped off the T-shirt Moia'd found him and climbed on top of Fraser.
A few minutes passed while the man's breathing steadied out, then eased into a pleased sigh.
"Thank you, Ray."
"No trouble, Benny. You think you can handle some soup now?"
"It would be worth a try." Fraser smiled at him, and did look a lot better for the sleep he'd managed last night.
Ray couldn't say the same for himself, though. Whatever had been in that shot Marcus gave him -- whether by accident or not -- he'd had chills and fever all night, and now his arm had a weird sort of itchy rash around the needle mark. At least the worst part of it, that horrible pain in his gut, had stopped in the early morning, and he'd stopped rushing to the john every five minutes.
"Let's see the arm," Ray said as he pushed the sheets down further and stripped off his pants. They'd have to have their legs together if they were going to sit up and eat. Fraser got his own legs bare, the pants poofing out as they landed on the floor, and then it was a case of "put your leg here" and "put my leg there" until they were settled with the food tray between them.
Fraser held out his arm, showing only a red, tender-looking needle mark. Next to it, a line of dots -- similar to one on Ray's arm -- testified to numerous other injections.
Ray took a sip of soup with one of the spoons, felt it hit his stomach without major repercussions, then nodded. Fraser tried a spoonful next.
"Delicious, Ray. Though, I must confess, not as good as your mother's."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, well, tell Ma that sometime, okay?"
"As you wish, Ray."
Ray took more soup.
"So, I figure, Benny, we had shots pretty much since we got in there."
"Yes, several, Ray."
"And who knows how many of those were like what we got this time, except we got the right shots, instead of each other's."
Fraser nodded. "She never did let me look at those charts."
"Right. Because maybe you'd notice something off. Because you didn't have any sort of genetic stuff done to you at all."
"Even if we have been getting regular treatments, Ray, it's still an astonishing procedure. If Dr. Marcus is not an accomplice -- and his behavior would suggest his innocence -- then our samples truly did interact as he described."
"So, something was done to us, an impressive something, but not a genetic something."
"Yet someone wanted us and others to believe it was genetic."
"Which means fraud but what kind of fraud? And why? What does us running around believing your genes were messed with get anybody?"
"I don't know, Ray. However, I have been giving some thought to the practical application of this procedure."
"It's a damn fancy way to torture spies."
"Yes, but an effective way to ensure loyalty. Say, for example, that you had someone in your organization whom you didn't trust. Such a person could be addicted to the substance currently in my body, then offered the antidote only upon completion of certain tasks."
"By you can do that already without all the hassle now. Why make the antidote come out of a person instead of a needle or a pill?"
"Perhaps because a person is more unique, more easily controllable, less easily lost or stolen."
"Maybe, but it's all so far-out. And it's not like they picked us by accident."
"Picking two good friends would be a good way to 'accidentally' discover my 'cure,' Ray."
"But how does Carver fit into this? And why pretend in the first place, out in public like this? I mean, if it's the Feds, they'd do it in a controlled lab somewhere, and if it's the Mafia, they'd do it in some villa in Italy."
"These are all good questions, Ray."
"Yeah." Vecchio stared glumly at the bottom of the empty soup bowl. "We got lots of questions, and the most important one is, now that we're not going to be getting shots, how long before this thing wears off?"
"I imagine whatever we were getting at the hospital was in the nature of a booster, Ray, though more for me than you. You weren't getting " Fraser blinked.
"You weren't treated before the event, so I was reacting to your body in its natural state. Why were they changing your body chemistry once we were in the hospital? Was I supposed to exhibit new symptoms? Was someone supposed to come forward and pretend to cure me simply by stopping the injections? But if this is some attempt to forward a scientific cause, you're correct: the circumstances are far too uncontrolled."
"Nobody goes to all this trouble for science, Benny. If this isn't Carver and his freaky revenge, this has got to be about money or fame. But how do you get money or fame out of pretending to cure someone? I mean, this is a lot of trouble for selling snake oil."
Ray looked at his partner, who looked back with a particularly pleased expression.
"A research grant, you mean?"
"Yes. Since the work done to me was performed by some a supposed genius, now deceased, someone would be in an excellent position to claim they needed money for de-engineering the procedure."
"So they make the whole scenario wacky enough to get on *Sixty Minutes*, then they 'cure' you and put out their hands for development money." Ray ran a hand over his scalp. "But would that be enough for all this?"
"And for the level of supposed success in genetics, Ray, they could conceivably ask for billions."
Noting that Fraser was getting a little pale, Ray slid his leg up on Benny's thigh a little, getting more skin-to-skin contact. The fact that it also gave him a minute to think was payment for his good deed, even without Fraser's grateful smile.
"So how do we expose them when you're still sick? We go in there with our theories and they flash more test results and they get their creepy hands on you again."
"If we wait for me to recover fully, Ray, that may well give them all the time they need to dispose of the evidence."
"We don't even know who 'they' are, Benny! We can't just go walking in there and wave warrants around. I bet if anybody gets slammed right now, it'll be Marcus."
"We need an independent physician to assist us, Ray."
"Yeah. You think the Dragon Lady can find one?"
"The RCMP's resources are considerable, Ray, but we might have to call one in from Canada."
"And then convince him we're not nuts."
"So who else do you figure is in on it besides Proctor?"
"Perhaps someone we were supposed to meet when I exhibited my new symptoms."
They stared at the bowl a while longer.
Ray shook himself got the tray ready to go. "You gonna be all right while I make the phone call?"
"I believe so."
"No need to lick anything?"
"Not at present, Ray."
"I could run up the stairs when I come back. Work up a good sweat."
Fraser looked at him.
Chuckling, Ray got off the bed, got dressed, and took the tray down to the kitchen. Moia was watching a soap and barely nodded to him as he passed by.
He dialed home from the kitchen phone, hoping Tony Jr. would remember all the instructions he'd smuggled to the house that morning via Moia's cousin.
"Good afternoon, sir. I'm calling from the *Chicago Tribune.*"
"We already got a subscription," Tony Jr. said, then hung up.
Ray hung up too, nodding. It was Thatcher's job to get Welsh there. Now he just had to concentrate on Benny.
"Did you want more soup?"
Ray tried to keep from starting out of his skin, just turning to her and swallowing the words knocking at his teeth. He shook his head and mustered a smile.
"No, thanks. It was great."
She sniffed slightly. "The bread is cooling on the counter. It would only take a moment to cut it."
"Fraser and I have to take off. Any chance we could get some to go?"
She smiled and looked put-upon at the same time. "I could wrap some. I could also hear a reason why you and your young man are sneaking around like this."
"He's a Mountie, Aunt Moia, not my young man. We're on a case, and you've been an angel to let us stay here."
"That's your father's tongue, sweet-talking me out of house and home," she scolded, nudging him out of the way with her hip and taking a knife to the bread.
Ray bit back words again, smiled, and escaped.
Moia had particularly steep and creaky stairs. Actually, he'd never liked this house, all dark and cluttered with two many things from the old country. He had to pass by several closed doors before reaching the guest room, and the carpet seemed dusty, the hall unused, aggravating his desire to sneeze.
Rubbing his nose, he pulled open the door he wanted and sidled inside.
"We can get going, Benny. She's packing us sandwiches, I think."
Fraser didn't answer, and Ray looked to the bed to see a pale figure laying on its back. Dull gray-blue eyes were staring unseeing at the ceiling.
He flung back the covers from the still body and pulled off his clothes, hearing an indignant seam rip in protest. "Benny? Talk to me, buddy. Benny, please. Come on." He laid himself down on Fraser completely, rubbing at those cold arms, staring into Fraser's blank face. He could feel a heart beating against his own, but it was so fast, and he couldn't feel Fraser's breathing at all.
He wiped at the sweat on his forehead and held it to Fraser's lips, eliciting no response. He rubbed harder at Benny's arms, called his name forcefully. Nothing.
"The hell with it," he muttered, and leaned down to press his mouth against the cold, lax lips of his friend. With his mind turned absolutely off, he got Fraser's mouth open wider, then shoved his tongue inside, sharing as much saliva as he could.
The reaction, blessedly, was immediate. Fraser's mouth sucked on his tongue gently, then vigorously. Ray could actually feel the flush of heat throughout the long, sturdy body beneath him, and was quickly enwrapped in two increasingly strong arms.
Another minute, and Fraser's entire body was pressing up against him, increasing skin contact. Ray let his mouth stay open, let that deft tongue drink all it desired from him, let Benny take whatever he needed.
Fraser groaned suddenly, and rolled them over, pressing himself down, deepening the mouth-to-mouth contact further, exploring inside now, looking for more moisture, wiping their tongues together now then retreating slightly to lick at his lips.
"God, you scared me, Benny."
Fraser pulled back slightly and kiss-sucked along Ray's neck and hairline.
"Ray," he whispered frantically. "Thank you, Ray."
"You gotta stay with me, Fraser. We gotta get out of this together."
Fraser drank from his mouth again, his breath and heartrate now slowing, his movements becoming calm, premeditated almost sensual.
Ray pulled back, determined not to freak out. Poor Benny looked like he'd run up eight flights with a caribou strapped to his chest, but didn't protest.
"You better now, Fraser?"
"Yes, Ray." The Mountie's smile was dazzling. "I feel wonderful, in fact." He took a deep, almost hearty breath.
Ray patted his shoulder, then slithered off Fraser and off the bed. They needed to get going. They needed to figure out a way to end this before he was forced to draw the line.
*What line would that be, Vecchio?*
Damn, that was Fraser's little-boy-lost voice. He looked back, grinning. "The Dragon Lady said yes, Fraser. We gotta get there before someone remembers my dad had a sister."
Fraser looked torn, then obviously decided whatever was on his mind could wait. They both got dressed, then went down for sliced, wrapped bread so fresh the plastic covering had fogged up, and a stern warning that they'd better return soon and explain themselves.
Ray promised, mental fingers crossed. The day he explained all this to her was the day they'd lock him up in the loony bin with Uncle Lorenzo.
Welsh waited, drumming his fingers on a double-homicide file on his desk. He was giving the case to Huey, though under normal circumstances it would have gone to Vecchio.
Welsh snorted into the phone. Since when did he think "normal" and "Vecchio" in the same sentence?
"Lieutenant," Thatcher said into his ear. "No, there's no sign of them yet."
"Right. I'll call back next time from Olympo's."
"A diner across the street from the station."
"Ah, yes. Indeed. Well, that will be fine."
Welsh rolled his eyes. The woman was more uptight than a Q-Tip up a kangaroo's ass. "Good."
He hung up, picking up the file and ignoring Elaine's eyes.
Where the hell were they?
Ray Vecchio leaned against the mirror and tried to catch his breath now that Benny's tongue was no longer down his throat.
It was only another couple of blocks to the consulate. But if they couldn't take it at a run this wasn't going to work.
Fraser had lasted well enough in the cab. They'd held hands where the driver -- a woman who crewed gum and looked like Fraser was her favorite flavor -- couldn't see. They'd even been okay on the streets they'd crossed from where they'd gotten out of the cab, a nice distance from the consulate so they could slip in the back. No need to make it too easy for the mad scientists. For a minute, it had looked slick as glass.
But now Vecchio was wishing he hadn't been quite so smart. After letting go of his hand outside the cab, Benny had flagged before they'd walked half a block. It had taken the last of the Mountie's strength, even with Ray's help, to make it inside the men's room of the Circle-K without falling down on the pavement.
"Fraser," he was saying now -- well, cooing, actually, like his friend was a little kid or something. A hungry little kid.
"Mph," Fraser sort of answered, his mouth seeking Ray's again, sliding his tongue back inside as if resentful of having been asked to leave. Ray felt the hot tip brush over his teeth, tickle his gums, slide like rough velvet over his --
*Stop it! God, stop it, please.* Ray's eyes were shut tight, cramping his forehead, his jaw aching as his opened it over-wide. He just stopped breathing and let Fraser do whatever he needed. It couldn't last forever. Unconsciously, his hips drew back a bit, protectively, but Fraser just held on tighter.
When it didn't end then, Ray sucked in a breath through his nose, wanting to gag on the stench of the public urinal bumping into his left hip. If he weren't careful, he'd catch sight of himself in the mirror over the sink to his right. He was probably gaping like a bald fish. As it was, he could see the curve of Benny's red plaid back in the warped glass, and, concentrating on it, he saw and felt his friend's suddenly exhausted slump.
"Benny?! What?" He pulled back, looking into glazed eyes. "Isn't it enough?"
Fraser stared at him some more. Ray grabbed the shoulders for a hard shake.
"Ray " Fraser drew in a shuddering breath.
"What else can I do, Benny?" Ray shivered in the cold and felt Benny press up against him as best he could.
"It I just need a minute, Ray. I can feel it." And Fraser's voice was steadying out. "I just need a few more "
"You take whatever time you need." Ray didn't even react when a warm tongue licked along the back of his neck. He just stood there, looking at his hands on Benny's back in the mirror.
Fraser nodded, and about three minutes later, he did stand away, smiling at Ray with a calm face.
"Thank you, Ray."
"Yeah. You good to run the rest of the way, you think? We gotta do this quick."
Fraser squared his shoulders. "Yes, Ray."
Vecchio nodded, then opened the door. Nobody was around but the clerk and some guy sneaking an extra sip at the Coke machine.
He kept his hand on Benny's for as long as he could, then they hit the street running so fast the guy at the counter automatically shouted for them to stop. They dodged traffic as they turned down the alley, but despite Ray's worries Fraser stayed right with him as they got to the service entrance. He tried to run faster, paying more attention to the sounds behind him than the sights in front. The door blessedly opened as they approached, and then, with just a few more strides, Ray was pushing Benny through before him, Arms grabbed them both from all sides, and the door slammed shut behind.
"Vecchio," Welsh grunted, catching the detective practically in mid-stride and preventing what he was sure would have been a nasty concussion against the narrow corridor's wall.
"Fraser!" Thatcher commanded at the same time, grabbing at a shoulder and a bare forearm.
Fraser writhed, moaning as though in pain, and wrenched from her grasp, practically cowering back against Ray.
Turnbull gasped loudly, and the moment froze, except for the harshly drawn breaths of two men now almost doubled-over in the corridor as they tried to get their hearts back to something like a normal rhythm.
But even as her lips began to twist in fury, she could see faint red marks from where her fingers had contacted Fraser's flesh.
"You doin' okay, Benny?" Vecchio was asking, while the constable tried to nod reassuringly even though he sounded like he was going to gasp out a lung.
"We're keeping you upstairs," Thatcher said, then remembered she had yet to be asked. With evident difficulty, she waited for Vecchio to pick up his cue.
The detective surprised her by nodding at her gratefully. "Inspector Thatcher, I hereby officially request asylum for fear of persecution by my government."
"Asylum granted," she said, helping as carefully as Turnbull, Cooper and Welsh were not to touch Fraser as they got the man and his American friend out of the corridor, up the stairs, and into the bedroom they kept ready for unexpected VIPs.
"Where's Dief?" Fraser asked indistinctly.
"Staying with the Vecchios."
He nodded vaguely.
By the time they reached the top of the stairs, Fraser was almost delirious and had begun licking at Vecchio's neck. Thatcher couldn't decide what was more peculiar: the sight of Fraser feeding off Vecchio, or the obvious fact that Vecchio didn't even notice.
In fact, Ray was noticing very little at this point except that the bed looked like it would easily hold Benny and himself. He was soothing Fraser's red-marked arm with his fingers and moving in his best synch with the Mountie until they were both stretched out on the bed and Fraser's tongue was back in his mouth where it belonged.
"Just rest, Benny," he said when he could, drawing his hands up and down the broad back, feeling for tension in his friend's muscles and relieved that he seemed merely urgent, not frantic. Long moments passed. Benny eventually stopped sucking and tucked his face under Ray's chin, his breaths growing long and deep. Ray tried to relax and realized they'd been left alone only when Turnbull came back with some sandwiches and Cokes. He set the tray on the nightstand.
"Benny, how about some normal food?" Ray urged quietly.
"I believe he's asleep, Detective Vecchio," Turnbull whispered.
Ray rolled his eyes. The guy was all on top of him and Turnbull didn't think he knew Benny was asleep?
"He needs to eat something besides me," Ray muttered, then felt his face burn while Turnbull blinked at him owlishly. He tried to sit up, and Fraser's arms clamped around him in protest. A mild struggle ensued, just in time to be the center of attention when Thatcher and Welsh came back, followed by some guy in a suit.
"Turnbull," Thatcher snapped, nodding at the men on the bed, and in a moment Ray felt two strong hands on his shoulders helping him into a more horizontal position. His back wound up on some pillows, Fraser's head rested on his shoulder and a warm hand was now entwined with his chest hair under his shirt while everyone just ignored the odd bulge and made themselves comfortable around the room.
Ray finally got his hands on a Coke and drank half of it up before he thought about biting into a sandwich. Meanwhile, Welsh was explaining that the suit was one Leon Bett, Esq., who going to be legal counsel for him and Benny with Vecchio's permission, of course.
"The official word at present is that you and the constable might be carrying an infectious agent. You've been ordered to report for quarantine."
"The worst news is that FEMA's been contacted. Their, ah, respect for diplomatic concerns might not do much for you here."
Ray nodded, finishing up the last of the sandwich, then gave his report on the mixed-up "vitamin" shots, their subsequent theories, and Benny's progress.
"Grant money?" Thatcher said finally, looking to Bett.
"I can see if the hospital, Proctor, Alcott, or any of their associates have made any proposals to the government. They're public record. If they're asking for private help, though, it will be tougher."
"I'm thinking for the kind of money they could get it's either the Fed or some pharmaceutical company." Ray shifted his weight slightly. His left leg was going to sleep. "I also think we might get some help from Marcus. It was just too stupid, him giving us that shot, if he had any idea what was going on."
Bett cleared his throat and Ray knew he wasn't going to like the next part of the conversation.
"I'm afraid Dr. Marcus is dead. A car accident last night."
Ray snorted, covering up the kick in his gut. Marcus had been a stand-up guy. "Convenient. But then, I was wondering why you guys were going along with this so well."
"That's not all, Detective," Welsh said. "Somebody fire-bombed Carver's supposed lab about three o'clock this morning."
"What stuff we got out of there to forensics panned out to be chemicals and organic matter, but no real support for the theory that genetic testing was being done."
"We also can't get Proctor, Alcott, or anyone at the hospital to return our calls," Bett added. "However, their lawyers have been trying to get at the consulate for obstruction of justice."
"Already?" Ray asked.
"They begin yesterday," Thatcher explained, "claiming we had to know your whereabouts. I'm afraid that's why we don't have a doctor for you, and I don't want to do so unless it's absolutely necessary. It would look too suspicious."
"So are we bracing for a FEMA raid?" Ray wanted to know. "Should Benny and I get out of here?"
"Yes, Detective, and no," Thatcher answered icily. "Ottawa has been notified that the Canadian government is being implicated in a medical fraud, and I have been authorized to employ whatever means are necessary to ensure your asylum. In fact, since last night the consulate has been host to a contingent of officers who will help us to see that America remembers this is Canadian soil."
"Damn," Ray muttered, looking down at Fraser's dark hair. "They wouldn't push it that far, would they?"
Fraser muttered something in reply, and Ray craned his head around to see half of a pale, troubled face.
"He's gonna wake up in a minute," Ray warned, looking up at everyone worriedly. "He'll ah "
Welsh nodded and stood. "We're in the Inspector's office, keeping Ottawa apprised and trying to figure out just how hard this is going to go down. When he's feeling up to it, join us."
Welsh went out first, Thatcher last, her eyes wanting to say something Ray couldn't figure out.
Alone in the dim room, Ray sighed, let his eyes close, and thought about eating another sandwich.
"Are they gone, Ray?"
They moved apart and together, until Ray could open his mouth to his friend.
Benny's tongue moved in somewhat dispiritedly. He felt a weak swallow.
"Not doing it for ya this time?" he asked, concern making the would-be light question tight and sharp.
"I believe my chemistry, or yours, has once again altered to the point " Fraser faded out slightly, and Ray held his breath until the almost bloodless lips moved again. "altered to the point that your saliva only has the effect of making me more needy." Fraser's hand rubbed through his chest hair again, and Ray leaned back to start peeling off his shirt. Unconsciously, his hips again canted back and away from his friend's body heat.
"Okay, so we're back to sweat, huh? Familiar territory."
Benny nodded and fumblingly assisted Ray in taking off his own shirt. After a few moments of having their chests pressed together, Fraser mumbled that his stomach seemed to be settling. In response, Ray got him to drink some Coke and take a bite of a cheese sandwich. When he tried to get another bite into him, however, Fraser brushed his leg over Ray's and managed a tired but genuine smile.
"The depth of your friendship never ceases to amaze me, Ray," the Mountie murmured.
Ray tried to shrug and find something clever to say, but in the next few seconds Benny bent his head down and began licking at his chest.
*Easy easy. Put the sandwich back and start breathing. Just little, normal breaths, okay? He'll be done soon. God, he's got to be. I've got a lot of sweat from all that running, and damn if it's not hot in here. He'll lick my chest, then maybe my neck oh! Oh, God, not my armpits, Fraser! Oh man, that's gotta be gross.*
"Ray? Ohhhh " Benny evidently had found the mother lode. Long, slow swipes of his tongue thoroughly extracted every drop of sweat from under Ray's left arm, then Fraser kiss-licked across his chest while Ray, teeth clamped on his bottom lip, inched his hips back once more.
*Soon he'll have to be done soon *
Abruptly, Fraser's head shot up, hovering alertly over Ray's chest, his nostrils flaring. Once, twice, the man of the frozen north sniffed. His throat worked in a thick, sensuous swallow.
"Ray?" he whispered. "What is that?"
Ray shook his head. "Nothin'."
But Benny was sniffing again, and moving down Ray's body, nose to his skin. The tongue darted out around the ribs, then the navel, then, evidently, over his belt buckle.
"Benny, no. Stay away from that!"
The hissed order was drowned out by Fraser's moan, whether of pain or anticipation, Ray couldn't tell. He tried squirming away, no longer able to order his body to passive obedience, but strong, determined hands had already undone his belt and fly. The thick column of flesh Ray had successfully hidden twice previously now revealed itself as though it had any business being proud, being needy, or glinting with precum even in the room's half-light.
"Benny," Ray whispered, voice cracking with shame.
The next moment the tongue that had unwittingly coaxed lust from a friend during what should have been nothing more than innocent saliva-swapping was now wrapped almost completely around Ray's erection. It was impossible not to pump, impossible not to moan and shudder when the rim of a lip stretched over teeth nudged that hot spot under his glans. Strong fingers squeezed his balls, and that was all she wrote.
Ray came right into Benny's mouth, and came some more. He felt his friend swallowing, moaning around him, and he was drained dry, trying to feel like a mother suckling her young, and instead feeling like Hugh Hefner, like every dirty thought he'd had about God's gift to America in the past few days was playing out on some Dolby-Surround-Sound I-Max Theater with Ray's finger on the slo-motion switch.
Fighting it, Ray gasped in breath, trying to frame an apology, when a heavy weight settled over his stomach and a long, strong body oozed contentment all over his legs.
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser murmured, already half-asleep. "Thank you so much."
"So much love " Fraser sighed again, and drifted away.
Suddenly frantic, Ray felt for a pulse on the man's neck, and found it easily, beating strong and sure.
Withdrawing his hand, Ray stared sightlessly at the ceiling.
*I'm going to hell,* Ray Vecchio thought as he gulped at his scalding hot coffee.
"The connection helps us in more ways than one," Bett was saying. "Since the grant originates -- indirectly or not -- from the Surgeon General's office, the tie to both the CDC and FEMA is clear."
"So the judge issued a stay?" Fraser asked, sipping from his tea and reading over the warrant issued by the federal agent currently standing on the sidewalk outside the consulate.
"Yes. It buys us two or three hours. After that, she'll be issuing a final judgment. If it goes against us, we can expect FEMA agents to enter the premises. If it goes for us, it's a sure bet the case will next go to the federal courts."
*I'll burn in hell fire forever. Jesus will spit on me. It'll break Ma's heart.*
"I am authorized by Ottawa to resist entry by any American agents into the consulate," Thatcher said tightly. "There are now thirty-two constables in the building, and as we're on Canadian soil, they're armed." She tossed her hair just slightly, eyes flashing. It was an oddly unfeminine gesture. "I intend to see to that if an international incident occurs here today everyone knows we didn't fire the first shot."
*She doesn't care that I'm going to burn in hell.*
"Considering the size of the press corpse outside," Bett noted, checking something off on his legal pad, "that much would seem certain."
*Bett doesn't care that I'm going to hell. He's a lawyer. He's going to hell too.*
"I do not believe it will come to that," Fraser was saying, his voice steady and his skin just a little paler than usual, despite the fact that he and Ray were not currently touching. "Judging by my increasing periods of self-sustainment, if we are granted just another twenty-four hours, I do believe I will no longer exhibit any symptoms."
"And then what?" Ray grumbled, barely able to see the room through his visions of burning tar and searing flames. "They get their hands on you, shoot you full of stuff, and you're back to the way you were."
"I must agree with Detective Vecchio, Constable," Bett said. "This will not be over until you and your partner are thoroughly checked out by a multi-national board of specialists."
Ray groaned and finished his coffee.
Bett's cell phone rang. While the attorney listened to the line, Ray got a donut from the table while he looked over Benny's condition. The Mountie wasn't looking too great, but he'd asked Ray to let him go as long as possible without contact to test his reserves. It had been twenty minutes now since they'd separated, and almost an hour since
*Straight to hell. Do not pass Go.*
Fraser had no idea, either. Benny had all but complimented him on his ability to force it. How stupid could Canadians be?
Bett hung up. "My source confirms it. The grant proposal was approved on the condition that Alcott and Proctor could prove the genetic manipulation had relevance to the human genome. The final figure, he thinks, would be over five billion dollars."
Welsh, currently listening in on the conversation via the speaker phone and a clean line, whistled.
"I find it hard to believe two such intelligent scientists wouldn't realize that my supposed predicament would strike others as being too convenient," Fraser said, nibbling a cookie.
Bett shook his head, glancing at his watch. Ray looked at his own. Fraser was getting a shade paler each five minutes.
"The grant has nothing to do with the sort of application of genetic aberrations Proctor and Alcott were claiming to find in your gene sequencing."
"What *was* their lousy grant for, then?" Ray demanded.
"They claim their work will allow medical treatments to strengthen humans' natural immunity to certain diseases and contagions. Lead poisoning and AIDS, just for example. I think the government is also interested in the idea of strengthening the immunity systems of soldiers who have to invade areas that traditionally cause trouble with malaria, dysentery, and so on.
"I believe their plan was and still is to create a sensation in the media with Carver's supposed revenge, then 'cure' the constable while creating fear in the general populace."
Ray grunted while the Canadians in the room nodded.
"That ain't the worst of it, now, though," Ray said.
Fraser frowned at him, but Bett nodded.
"Yes, now that the government has become so openly involved, they won't be eager to reveal that they've been made fools of."
"That ain't the worst of it either."
Everyone was frowning at Ray -- even Welsh through the phone line, the detective was sure.
"It may not be genetic stuff, but what they did to Fraser is still unreal. I'm guessing the drugs they used are experimental and probably fresh from some lab in a military complex."
"You're suggesting a conspiracy?" Thatcher asked.
Ray shrugged. "An inside guy, at least -- some part of the government trying to fool the other part into giving up some healthy cash."
A sound came over the speaker phone a second before Welsh hung up. It sounded a lot like a door being burst open.
"Been waitin' for that," Ray mumbled, looking into his empty coffee cup while Thatcher and Bett rushed to the phone to try to find out what was going on. Ray saw clearly enough when Benny's head drooped, however. "Been waitin' for that too."
At least Fraser had had the sense to sit on the small couch in Thatcher's office. Ray settled next to him and took the Mountie's square hands in his own, rubbing at the skin and noting wryly that this whole thing was training him entirely too well. Only a few seconds sitting next to Benny, and he was already starting to sweat. Of course, that might have something to do with what was going on with Welsh. If those bastards hurt him
Fraser's eyes fluttered open. Ray met his eyes as best he could. Maybe if he said Hail Marys for the rest of his life he wouldn't go to hell or at least not too far down. Maybe he'd get to hang out in the circle they saved for rock stars and freedom fighters and cops who committed moral sins in the line of duty. That wouldn't be so bad.
"Thank you, Ray," Fraser whispered.
"You're entirely welcome, Benny."
A knock on the door, and Turnbull poked his head in. "Sir, there's a situation developing with some members of the press and Constable Hitch."
"What sort of situation?" she asked, standing up and brushing some invisible crumbs from the skirt of his chocolate brown suit.
"He's er threatening to shoot them, sir."
"Not a horrible idea," Ray muttered, earning a glare.
"If you will excuse me," the inspector said, walking out the door and not commenting on Turnbull's stumble as he got out of her way.
"I'd better be around too," Bett said, following.
Ray wanted to ask Bett to stay, but Fraser's breath was getting heavy on his neck, and the guy was probably just being discreet.
When the Mountie didn't answer for a long time, long enough, in fact, for Ray to overcome his reluctance enough to do it, Ray turned to look at his friend's face. He cataloged the pale skin, the weary eyes, the worried brow, and the anxiously tight lips.
"Ray?" The voice was openly frightened.
Ray patted the hand he held. "It's okay, Benny."
"Do you hate me for it?"
"Do you think it was sinful?"
Ray looked away. Thatcher's office was so pre-planned.
"Do you feel that I raped you?"
Ray scowled at the rug. "Of course not. Don't be stupid, Fraser!"
"I did force --"
"Fraser!" Ray fought the need to jump off the couch and let himself glare at Benny instead. "It's not like I could fake that! I I had to enjoy it, didn't I?" He felt blood rush to his face and hated it, along with everything else about this particular moment in his life.
But Fraser shook his head. "The body responds, voluntarily or not, to certain stimuli, Ray. Stimuli that I was providing in my own blind needs. You shouldn't blame yourself for feeling violated. You should, in fact, blame me."
"I don't feel violated, and I don't blame you."
Fraser's eyes narrowed with impatience, though the grip of his hand was getting noticeably weaker. "Well, you're obviously upset about something I did, Ray, and that would seem to be the obvious candidate!"
"You did just what anyone would. You stayed alive, you took what you needed."
"And you gave it to me," Benny soothed.
"I gave it to you all right!"
"Benny " Ray's whine turned into a whisper. "Benny, I got *excited* because we were touching! Don't you realize what that means?!"
"I was all over you, Ray. Your body, just like anyone's body, couldn't care who was touching you so intimately."
"Benny, I refuse to believe other guys would have done that!"
"Other guys aren't you, Ray."
Ray realized he was about to squeeze Fraser's fingers off at the knuckles and, with effort, relaxed his grip. He took a few deep breaths, too, before looking back into those clouded blue eyes. "What's that supposed to mean?"
But Fraser smiled then, softly, full of so much obvious affection Ray felt his throat get tight. "Other guys, Ray, don't love with their whole hearts, don't give everything to people who need them, don't make the world a better place just because they're in it."
Ray opened and closed his mouth a few times. Fraser waited.
"You said you said once we're all saints, Fraser."
Benny nodded. "Yes, Ray. But some of us keep our sainthood closer to the surface than others."
But Ray shut his eyes, his voice strained. "Benny. The last thing the church would do to me right now is make me a saint."
When Ray could look at Fraser again, he saw deep concern etched now in that pale face.
"So, that is what bothers you, Ray. You think we've sinned."
"It ain't right, Benny."
"It was necessary."
"Just being necessary doesn't make it right."
Benny held up their joined hands. "Is this so much worse than taking someone's life? Do you think God doesn't forgive you for the times you've had to employ force to do your job?"
Ray closed his eyes again. But Fraser had a right to know. Besides, it wasn't like Ray could hide it anymore.
"I never enjoy hurting people, Fraser. Even that time with Zuko, you know it made me sick to my stomach."
"You haven't been enjoying our enforced intimacy either, Ray."
Vecchio didn't answer.
He just shook his head. The quiet in the room got very loud. Ray wished for a while that somebody would come back into the room. Then he wished Benny would say something. Then he wished for an earthquake, or perhaps a giant flood.
"Ray?" The name was soft, just slightly incredulous. He looked up to see Benny, of all things, smiling slightly.
Vecchio scowled. "What's so damn funny?"
Fraser looked surprised. "Nothing is funny, Ray. I'm just " The smile returned. "Do you mean that this hasn't been horrible for you, Ray? That we're good enough friends that our enforced intimacy has been tolerable even pleasant?"
God, Ray was tempted to let Fraser turn this into some sort of new-age spiritual brotherhood crap. But then again, looking into those eyes, maybe he wasn't.
"No, Fraser. I'm saying that about a year ago you were standing in your stupid uniform at your stupid post while I was waiting for the stupid clock to strike so you would get into the car and act like a normal person for maybe five seconds when I realized my pants were getting tight."
Ray took a twisted pleasure indeed at the expression on Benny's face. It looked like someone had blown their nose on his tunic.
"I'm saying I've stomped on it, prayed against it, read a couple of damn books on it, and I was *finally* getting to the point where it didn't make me want to jump off buildings anymore, and then I gotta kiss you and hold you and sleep with you and then --" Ray's hand waved around. "And it's like God hadda throw it in my face, you know? I mean, excuse me, but I didn't see this one coming!" Ray once again had to force himself not to jump up and pace the room. "So I'm a pervert, I'm bent, and I threw a rod because you kissed me, when all you wanted was my spit."
Ray's heavy breathing offset Fraser's absolute motionlessness for a full minute before the cop grimaced.
"It wasn't even sexual to you, was it? Not even when you were sucking it down."
Fraser's eyes answered, but eventually the man said it out loud, as well.
"I'm sorry, Ray."
He shrugged, shaking his head. "Don't worry about it, Fraser." He shot Benny a look. "I mean it. I've been keeping it under control, right? I mean, you had no idea."
Ray nodded. "So that's the way it'll be when this is over. I'll deal with it and you don't worry about it."
"Ray, I don't think --"
"That's right, don't think, because you can't understand this."
Fraser swallowed, obviously gathering bravery. Incongruously, his nostrils flared. "Do you really think I don't understand being attracted to someone against my will, Ray?"
Ray looked up from wiping a hand through his chest hair. "You better not be comparing me to that --"
"I'm not. I'm just saying --"
"Yeah, yeah." Ray waved his free hand again before holding it to Benny's lips. Fraser sucked the sweat off efficiently. "But that's not what I'm talking about."
Ray sighed, watching Fraser finish before he gathered up some more sweat on his hand. "When it first happened, all I could think about was that I was going to hell. I talked you know with a priest."
"God, no! Nobody you know, Fraser. Nobody who knows anybody I know." Ray shifted, easing a cramp in his calf. "At first, it all seemed pretty cut and dry, you know? I was having thoughts guys aren't supposed to have, and I couldn't stop them no matter what, so I was damned. But then I did the reading and talked with the priest, and it looks like as long as I don't act on my feelings, then I'm okay."
"That would seem to be the governing principle, Ray, according to the Vatican."
Ray sighed. "But that's where I started having real trouble."
"I don't understand." Fraser used Ray's hand to wipe along his neckline, then his chest once more, before sucking on his fingers.
"If the thoughts aren't bad, because you can't help your thoughts, and the feelings aren't bad, because you can't help your feelings " Ray shook his head. "Look, if I think about killing somebody, if I want them dead and I dream about it and want to murder them in horrible ways, that's bad, right? If I wish evil things on someone else, that's bad. It doesn't matter if I don't take physical action. I should work on getting rid of the hate and all that."
"Well, the initial impulse may not be deemed evil, Ray, but obsessing over it would seem to be unhealthy, and perhaps sinful."
"Right. But that's what sex is -- it's obsessive! How come if thinking bad thoughts is bad, but not if they're sexual I mean, not homosexual, because if you look at a woman with lustful thoughts, that's bad, right? But if I look at a guy with lust and just don't do anything about it, that's okay?" Ray shook his head.
"Look, Fraser, I'm just a cop, okay? Not too bright, certainly nobody to know what God's about, but I go to church, I go to confession, I try to be a good Catholic, you know?"
"Yes, I do, Ray."
"But this one, it threw me bad, Benny. It's made me think about stuff I can't hardly get my mind around." Ray got tired of the hand thing and just unbuttoned his shirt. Fraser smiled his gratitude and nuzzled his chest. "And then I started thinking about how the church used to look at scientists, and women priests, and all that, and uh I can't help thinking that in time the church will probably come to accept men wanting other men, will probably come up with some sort of sacrament to make it okay, or something. I mean, if I lived a few hundred years ago I'd believe in witches and think I was going to heaven burning some poor lady at the stake. I don't believe people are smart enough to figure out just what everybody should be doing all the time. It just doesn't make any sense.
"So in the end I figured that whatever I was feeling for you was just part of the whole deal, you know? I mean, I can't pretend for a minute that you being in my life is anything but good, right? So I just dealt with it. And I'm fine with it, really, as long as "
Fraser raised his head to meet Ray's eyes, his red lips shiny with sweat and saliva. Ray thought for a minute the guy could sell beer drinkers on wearing lipstick.
"As long as I don't hurt anybody else. As long as it doesn't touch you, or anybody else. As long as I don't corrupt an innocent lead others astray "
Comprehension soothed over Benny's face. After a moment, he nodded.
"So you see, ya gotta promise me something, Fraser."
Ray smiled, feeling the best he'd felt in a long time. "When this is over, just put it out of your mind. I can deal with it, and I want to. Don't send me to hell by making it weird between us. Just get on with your life, being Constable Benton Fraser, and letting me "
He shrugged again. "You know. Be your friend."
"You're my partner, Ray. The best a man could have."
One more shrug. "Well, don't forget that, is all I'm saying."
"Not in this lifetime."
It seemed to Ray his bones literally melted back against the couch. Fraser met his gaze square-on, then bent to rest his cheek against his stomach, and for a long time they just lay there like that, like the world had made up the sickest, more ridiculous thing it could think of to ruin what they had, and they hadn't let it. He ruffled Benny's hair, even now envious of its thickness, and Benny's head grew heavy with sleep.
"I don't believe it!" Frannie squealed. "They're not showing *Friends*!"
"Francesca!" Mrs. Vecchio scolded furiously.
"I'm not saying I'd watch it!" the woman defended herself, wedging down between the arm of the sofa and Maria, who was herself pressed up against Tony Sr. and holding Tony Jr. in her lap. "I'm just saying they're canceling prime time to cover this."
"Shh!" Maria said as Dief growled from his spot on the rug. The commercial was ending.
The TV snapped to a picture of Dan Rather in the studio, while behind him was the boxed image of Wolf Blitzer, on loan from CNN because he had been in the Chicago area covering a fire the day before.
"Wolf, has there been any further word from the Canadian Consulate?"
"None, Dan. There are only fifty minutes to go before Judge Osterman's stay runs out. Before that time she is expected to make a statement, in response to which either the agents you see behind me will storm the consulate, or the matter will go to a federal court, which, we've heard, has already been instructed by Washington to stand by."
"Have you been able to see anything inside the building? I see many of the windows have curtains drawn over them, but --"
"No, Dan. Actually, we've searched all the windows, and each of them is shut tight. The only thing we have seen is here on American soil, where yet another truck from FEMA -- that's the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- arrived here just minutes ago with what appears to be a combination military troupe and SWAT team. As you can see, they've barricaded off the area where the FEMA agents are set up, and they've rebuffed any attempts by the press to investigate the situation."
"But, Wolf, surely they're not actually going to storm the Canadian Consulate?" Rather asked with just the right amount of condemnation in his voice.
"I don't know, Dan." Blitzer looked back over the scene with just the right amount of despair. "FEMA insists that the contagion is a threat to the American people, and the Canadian Consulate insists that the officers who've sought sanctuary inside are victims of a fraud. It's a stand-off."
"Well, not if they storm the consulate, it's not a stand-off." Rather shook his sheaf of papers in indignation, then alertly looked off to his right. "I'm being told yes our legal correspondent, Trace Amherst, has been reached and is yes joining us here at the studio."
There was an awkward pause, then the camera pulled back to show a man in a gray suit arranging his microphone.
"Trace, can you explain to us whether FEMA has the legal right to enter the consulate?"
The man nodded, looked official, then began, "Yes, they do if you ask the American government. The question is whether Canada recognizes their right to take extreme measures to protect the American populace."
Rather frowned. "But surely the question is also whether there's a danger in the first place? The consulate claims that Officers Vecchio and Fraser are fine."
"Yes, but we haven't seen them for ourselves to make a determination. Nor has the man last known to be with them, Harding Welsh, been seen either."
"This is a nightmare," Frannie muttered.
"Madre de Dios," her mother agreed.
Listening to the increasing noise level outside, Ray figured there were really only a two possible ways this was all going to work out. The American government wasn't going to back down to Canada, no way, no how. More to the point, Canada wasn't going to be so impolite that's they'd push it to violence. Most importantly, Ray wasn't going to allow Benny to be caught.
So either he woke up Benny in time for a murder-suicide pact, or he woke up Benny and they got the hell out of here.
As for the Benny Issue, there was only one way to go on that, and he'd already set down the Vecchio Ground Rules. He knew Fraser would have trouble following them, especially at first. He'd feel all guilty about Ray's supposed "pain," and probably give him that deer in the headlights look a few times when Ray came near. But eventually Ray would show him that nothing had changed and they'd go back to the way it used to be. Ray himself would meet some woman who'd make him forget all about Benny, and after that, the crisis would pass.
He was even feeling okay about the whole semen thing. It had made Benny feel better, and, really, it had all been over in a couple minutes. Ray was determined he wasn't going to be haunted by the memory of that mouth sucking his dick or those hands digging into his backside and squeezing his ass in rhythm to the suck-suck-suck of red lips or the way he'd swallowed him down like he was nectar.
After all, he was nectar, right? Chemically speaking. No big deal. Really.
"Benny," he grunted, pushing at Fraser's shoulder. "You gotta wake up."
Blue eyes snapped awake: a good sign.
"This isn't working." Ray helped him sit up, then buttoned up both their shirts. "We gotta find some way out of here."
Fraser's question died unspoken as his attention was caught by the siren wail increasing outside, accompanied by angry shouting. He nodded and stood up, then smiled in surprise.
"Feeling better?" Ray guessed.
"Yes." Fraser moved around the room carefully, then stood still, swaying just slightly. He nodded again. "Yes, decidedly better."
"Good." Ray got up and arranged his clothes, needing to do something with his hands. The mix of relief and disappointment that Fraser didn't need to hang all over him made him shake a little, but he got it under control. He looked up at the Mountie's thoughtful expression. "What?"
"There may be a way out of here, Ray. In fact, there *is* a way out, though it will require the inspector's help."
"Hey, I'm not above begging."
Someone knocked softly at the door. Ray rolled his eyes.
"Come in, Turnbull."
The tall Mountie entered the room diffidently, then swallowed. "Lieutenant Welsh is on the phone for you, Detective Vecchio."
"Where's the Dra-- the Inspector?"
Turnbull's eyes went to Fraser in obvious panic.
"It's all right, Constable," Fraser said, then looked to Ray. "I believe she's down in the basement, Ray."
"As in the basement with the way out of here?"
Ray grinned with delight as they made their way past the now thoroughly befuddled Mountie.
"But what about the lieutenant?" he asked.
"If I take the call, he'll have to say whatever the Feds have told him to say. Since he's on the phone, we know he's okay. This way's easier," Ray said, walking down the stairs with Fraser, hovering slightly. Fraser kept his hand on the rail and placed his feet with care. Outside came the sound of breaking glass and some angry shouting.
"There you are," Bett said, appearing at the bottom of the steps. "You're not taking the call from Welsh."
"I'm not taking the call from Welsh," Ray agreed. "We're slipping out a secret Mountie tunnel."
"It's hardly " Fraser frowned and concentrated on the stairs. Ray's laughter could surely be heard by the inspector down in the basement.
"It is so! A secret Mountie tunnel, the underground railroad to the north and freedom!"
"Actually " *step step* " I believe it's a relic from your Prohibition Days, a means of bringing whiskey and other contraband into the building without alerting the local law enforcement."
"The local law enforcement was probably buying the whiskey," Ray muttered, breathing in relief when they reached the bottom floor.
"We need to hurry," Bett said.
"Not much point to it if Fraser breaks his neck," Ray said, though the issue became moot as they reached the first floor. From there, they went down a corridor Ray had never seen before to a door that opened to a brightly lit, very clean staircase that, naturally, led to an equally spotless basement.
Inspector Thatcher was already there with three Mounties Ray didn't recognize. They were wearing blue uniforms, though, so he assumed they were from Ottawa.
"We've got a car to take you to the airport," Thatcher was saying, pressing a satchel into Ray's hands.
"Wouldn't some scow over the lake be a better idea?"
"Yes, which is why we're going through the airport." Thatcher's eyes dared him to argue, and he kept his mouth shut only because Benny swayed a little.
"You okay?" Bett wanted to know. "You'll have to cover several blocks on foot."
"I'm just a little light-headed," Fraser said, squaring his already-square shoulders. "I'll be fine."
"It's a private plane," the inspector said, leading the way to a bookcase that had been pulled away from the wall. Ray saw the small open door behind. "They've already been cleared for passage to the Northwest Territories, but once they're in Canadian airspace, they'll be making an emergency landing in Hamilton. From there, we'll be taking you to a safe house."
"We're already in negotiations with Washington to have you both looked over by an international team," Bett said. "We're just going to be insistent on the location."
"Unless we get nabbed, in which case nobody sees us ever again."
"In all likelihood."
"You need to hurry," Thatcher said, ushering them to the door.
Ray resisted slightly. "Inspector "
She looked up at him suspiciously.
She frowned, nodded, and then nodded again. "Look after Constable Fraser."
Benny was right about the tunnel. The long line of light-bulbs looked like something out of *The Great Escape* and the stone and mortar even now stunk of cheap alcohol and old sweat though that last part might just be him and Fraser. Man, when this was over he was going to take the world's longest shower.
*And probably the world's longest jerk-off too.*
Fraser looked at him funny when he snorted, but he just shook his head and squeezed Benny's hand.
As they neared the end of the tunnel, the walls got narrow and damp. Ray figured they were about two blocks away now, and under one of the worst parts of the city. It was unlikely any of the press was camping out here.
The Mountie in the lead held up a cell phone, listened, then frowned and looked back at them in the harsh light of the bare bulbs. Ray was grateful the guy was on their side.
"We're going to have to bring the car here," he grunted. "They have two helicopters circling now." He nodded at the other Mounties, then looked at Ray. "Just stay here. We won't be longer than fifteen minutes."
"Got it." Ray held his hand out of a phone, but the Mountie pointed at the satchel.
"There's water and food too." Then he turned around, opened a rusty door to half-corroded metal steps and led the other two Mounties out.
Fraser leaned against him, licking a little at his neck. Ray had to admit there was plenty of sweat there. Throughout the ordeal so far, the weirdness of everything had cushioned him, but the bizarre circumstances were becoming ordinary. His brain was thinking again, and his body -- damn it -- responding.
"So you figure another day or so and you'll be okay?" Ray asked, shifting his weight away just a bit.
"I believe Ray!"
Vecchio looked at his partner in alarm. Benny's face had gone chalk-white, his eyes dilated near to solid black.
The Mountie hung to Ray's arms, looking into frightened green eyes. "Ray, I need "
Ray kissed him, open-mouthed, seeking his tongue, but Fraser pulled away. Ray stomped on the feeling the rejection produced and shook his head in frustration.
"What? What do you need? Just take it!"
Fraser sighed in relief and went to his knees.
"Oh God, here?!"
Fraser got his fly open even faster than last time, inhaling the half-erect member so roughly Ray held back a yelp of pain when his tender skin was pinched by the open zipper.
But as soon as the pain receded, Ray was aware only of the hot mouth desperately sucking his cock. He thrust his hips with all the finesse of a john getting his five dollars' worth in some dark alley, then slammed his head back against the damp, rank cement. His hands scrabbled over the crumbling seams of the decaying walls, leaving skin behind.
"Ray," Fraser groaned around the shriveling erection in his mouth. "Please "
Ray looked down, pleading back into those cloudy gray eyes. But this wasn't for him, wasn't even for Benny, really. They just needed to do it, to get it over with before their guard came back, before Benny fainted or whatever from the garbage they'd pumped into his system during those God-forsaken three days.
A firm hand rolled his balls, threatening what strength was left in his knees.
He whimpered and shook his head.
"We're at my place. Just us. Please I need it."
He cut out sight and light with hands over his eyes, chewing at his wrists and trying to see it: he and Fraser at the rat-trap apartment, Dief glaring at them from the corner for being on the bed, and Benny damnit Benny doing this because he wanted to. He rocked into the hand still massaging his scrotum, going with it when the mouth returned to his head, sucking, trying to be gentle.
"Benny," he groaned. "I love you. God, I love you so much."
The mouth sucked harder, the fingers pleading. Ray arched forward, reaching down to run his fingers through that dark pelt the way he'd dreamed a thousand times. And for just a second, it was just them, just this basic act with the need equal on both sides. He came, emptying his balls as best he could, his hands opening so he could see Benny swallow, sagging even now against the wall in self-disgust.
But he knew he'd remember that second for the rest of his life. God forgive him.
Fraser stood up quickly, tidying things up just in time, as it turned out, for the return of their Mountie bodyguards.
"You guys all right?" the lead guy asked, poking his head through the door.
"Is the car here?" Fraser asked.
"It's a van, actually, with a trapdoor. We'll be going up through a manhole, then through the floor." He held the cell phone to his ear, then nodded. "It's time."
Ray didn't bother paying attention to much during the rest of the trip to the van. Fraser led for the most part. The tunnel was damp and stank to high heaven, the trip up the ladder was a pain, but Fraser did it fine. The van smelled like bananas. The blanket someone covered them with smelled like dogs.
"Did they drink the water?" a man asked.
The blanket was pulled back slightly. Ray looked up into a Mountie's face, when froze at the sight of the hypodermic.
"They want to drug us for the plane trip, Ray. A simple sedative."
"Should we?" Ray was fairly certain he was about to go to sleep for a week, drugs or no drugs.
"We'll be very uncomfortable otherwise, Ray. It's for the best."
He felt the pinch on his hip, then a bit of dizziness, and then, for the first time in days and days, he felt nothing at all.
"So it's been confirmed?" Dan Rather wanted to know. "They aren't in the consulate?"
"No, Dan. Nor is there any definitive sign that they were ever here." Wolf Blitzer looked at the milling crowd of reporters and soldiers. "The Canadians are now claiming they were only aiding Vecchio and Fraser's escape by creating a diversion."
Frannie held her mother's hand tighter.
"What about the reports we're hearing that this is the same duo who prevented the destruction of Chicago from a nuclear explosion two years ago? Have we confirmed that Vecchio was involved, as well as Constable Fraser?"
"Yes, we have, though there's been no explanation so far as to why Vecchio's role was so downplayed in that incident. From what we're hearing now, the detective was perhaps even more crucial to the avoidance of that disaster than the Mountie, yet his name was barely mentioned."
"Are you saying we may have cause to believe that Detective Vecchio's position in law enforcement is more than just that of a policeman in Homicide?"
Blitzer looked skeptical and conspiratorial at the same time. "Well, we do know that Vecchio's immediate superior has been in conference with Federal officers now for over three hours and seems to be stonewalling on a number of questions, if reports are correct. Frankly, no one here knows just what really is going on here."
"But there may be cause to believe that Vecchio and Fraser are once again having to go against the system to keep the rest of us safe."
"If you're talking about some sort of biological weaponry, Dan " Blitzer shook his head in evident concern. "They're not giving us any straight answers."
"Any word on the men's families?" Rather asked after a suitably dramatic pause. "I hear they're being contacted."
The knock on the front door had everyone off the couch.
Blind panic woke Ray from his sleep, turning instantly into wide-eyed panic as his lids shot up to reveal the source of his fear: Benny wasn't in his arms. He looked about wildly. Benny wasn't in the bed. Benny -- was sitting in a chair, looking at him.
"Fraser?" he croaked, his throat raw and dry.
"Good morning, Ray," the Mountie said carefully. Ray saw his friend was dressed in clean blue jeans and a blue flannel shirt over a white Henley. He even had on new, brown leather deck shoes, and his hair was combed.
Ray's whole body sagged in relief.
"You're okay, Fraser?"
"Thank God." He let himself fall back into the bed. "Gonna sleep some more, okay?"
"Yes, Ray. Er that is, sleep as long as you like, Ray. I'll only be gone a few hours."
"Gone?" Ray sat back up, frowning. "Gone where?"
"There are two doctors here, both Canadian, I'm afraid, but both well-respected in their fields. They're going to examine my condition."
Ray nodded groggily, then sat up. He saw a glass of water on the nightstand and reached for it. The coolness down his throat made him feel better instantly. "I got time for a shower?"
"But you want to sleep."
"I'll sleep when it's over. They can look at me too if they want. Save time."
"I you have about twenty minutes."
Ray nodded again and looked around. It was a nice room, muted colors, the kind of warm that let you know it was cold outside. He saw clothes for himself draped over the room's other chair. Inside the bathroom were shampoo and soap and towels, razor and comb. Ray sneered at that last one. But the razor would be nice.
His head cleared a bit in the shower, but he didn't brood. *Now it begins,* he thought simply, having already prepared everything that came after this. In a few weeks, with a bit of Vecchio luck and charm, things would be okay again. He smiled into the shower steam. Fraser would be surprised that he wasn't going to push it.
Almost twenty minutes on the dot, he was back in the bedroom, flipping the covers up on the bed and helping himself to some coffee from a tiny machine on the TV table.
"Feels good to be clean again," he mumbled into the cup, smiling a little and working a kink out his back with some subtle pulling.
"Indeed," Fraser said, looking at him while trying to look as though he weren't looking at him.
"Canadian doctors, huh?"
"At least they'll ask before they poke me to death."
"Now, Ray -- "
Someone knocked on the door, then opened it. Ray found himself looking into the blue eyes of a very pretty nurse. She smiled sweetly at him, then turned rather nervously to Fraser.
*Sometimes I think I fell in love with you just to protect my ego,* Ray thought, smiling a little. It stung, but it really wasn't bad.
"They're asking for you, Constable." Fraser nodded and stood up.
"I'm coming too," Ray announced.
She seemed genuinely pleased. "If you'll come with me, gentlemen."
They were in some sort of super-rich convalescent home, Ray realized as they walked down a half-homey/half-antiseptic corridor past opaque glass doors marked "Pharmacy", "X-Ray" and "Sauna."
Eventually, the nurse saw them into a very large examination room where everything was either white or steel.
Six hours later, they were back in the muted colors of their room, though Ray was only their to gather "his" things in preparation for moving into another room.
Despite Fraser's objection, they had both indeed been subjected to a great deal of "poking," along with sample-taking, highly intrusive monitoring, and an endless round of Q & A that left Ray's throat rough and sore.
Fraser helped him pack, mumbled a "goodnight," and collapsed back on the bed. Ray followed the directions he'd been given to a room three doors away, then stripped, showered, and crawled into the bed to sleep like the dead.
He had to get up twice in the night to pee, and both times it was orange. Both times he was too tired to care.
"But have they said when you can come home, Raymondo? A mother needs to see her son."
"They haven't given us a date, Ma, but it won't be long. Fraser's already through his competency hearing, and now that everybody knows I'm not some secret agent, there's not much point in having us hang around here."
"I won't sleep until they have you back home."
"Ma, don't be like that. It's just a lot of formal stuff now. Everybody's trying to make it look as good as they can for the press."
"Oh! Those animals! Ray, if you could have seen the lawn when they finally left --"
A hand tapped his shoulder. Bett pointed to his watch.
"Ma, I gotta go, but I'll call back tonight, okay? And get your sleep. I'm fine, Benny's fine, everything's okay."
"The wolf doesn't sleep right either, Raymondo."
"Well, if you didn't feed him so much, he wouldn't have nightmares." His mother gasped in indignation. "Ma! I gotta go."
He snapped the phone shut and followed Bett back to the conference room. He couldn't believe once he'd actually liked the idea of being interviewed for the news.
*Ma isn't the only one not sleeping right,* he grumbled to himself. But he hadn't lied to her. He and Benny'd be home soon.
And everything would be back to normal, no matter what. Absolutely everything.
"Here ya go, Benny," Ray grinned as they pulled up in front of consulate.
"You seem particularly cheerful this morning," Fraser noted.
"I'm just happy we're still too famous for the Dragon Lady to make you pull guard duty." He nodded at Fraser's brown uniform. "It's too hot to be pushing anything but paper."
Dief grumbled in agreement.
"Now, Ray. It's not that hot," Fraser insisted, despite the film of sweat on his forehead. "A simple application of mental discipline --"
"Fraser!" Ray leaned forward, right into Benny's personal space, same as always. "Are you really telling me you're not glad to be getting out of signpost duty?"
Fraser rubbed his eyebrow with his thumb. "No, Ray."
Satisfied, the detective leaned back in his seat. "Don't forget, Ma's making fettucini tonight. I'll be back to pick you up at four-thirty."
Dief licked him.
"Gak!" Ray waved him away, reaching for his handkerchief. "No slobbering, furface!"
Fraser got out in the meantime and held the front seat forward. Diefenbaker scrambled out. Vecchio watched them go into the building, then pulled away from the curb.
It didn't get easier, but it got more familiar. In time, it would feel natural, and then they'd be fine again, just like Ray planned all along.
Whistling, Ray sped through a yellow light and headed for work.
"I'm telling ya, Benny, you gotta loosen up a bit more. She's a nice girl. Would it kill ya to smile at her?"
"Well, no, Ray. I don't believe it would cause me any physical harm, but it would do the damage of proving the lady in question with a mistaken impression."
"All a smile is a suggestion, Benny, a thought. You telling me you can't just *think* something nice about her?"
"Really, Ray. It's hardly that simple."
"No, Benny! I ain't gettin' in there!"
"It's just a rubbish heap from an office, Ray, filled with papers and perhaps a few staples."
"This is Armani! Forget it!"
"As you wish, Ray."
"Fraser! Fra-ser! Hang, on! Hang on. I'm coming. But you're paying the cleaning bill!"
"Fraser, if your wolf ate my last donut "
"Don't give me that innocent look. You know you ate it!"
"House-sitting? You're kidding me."
"It's just for the weekend, Ray. Inspector Thatcher made the request personally. And I understand that the house is quite nice."
"Well, you have a good time."
Their waitress returned, proving once again that tips had nothing on Mounties when it came to getting good service. Ray let her fill up his cup while never taking her eyes off Fraser's face, then asked for more jelly. He toyed with the idea of complaining about his cold toast, but it was too much trouble.
He had to watch that. Despite how good he was getting at being Mr. Normal, he had become aware a couple weeks ago that he wasn't complaining enough to suit Fraser. It was just hard to remember to throw a fit about small stuff, what with his whole concentration on getting his voice right, watching where his eyes went, keeping his hands calm and steady.
"Actually, Ray," Fraser said when they were alone again. "I thought you might like to join me."
"What? You want help walking the dog?"
"That won't be necessary. The owner has taken his five poodles -- ah, you're mocking me."
"The house, I'm told, is equipped with an impressive media center, Ray. I thought you might like to come over Saturday afternoon, as I know you have it off, and watch a movie in what's called, I believe, surround sound."
Ray debated quickly. Would this be the sort of invitation he'd have taken before? Yes.
"Sounds good, Benny. We can order pizza or something."
Fraser smiled. "Thank you, Ray."
Saturday mornings were some of the worst for him these days. Any day off, really, was the worst.
When he had to go to work, there wasn't anything to think about. Get up, get dressed, eat, get in the Riv, pick up Benny, drop off Benny, go to the station: the routine let him drift, let him concentrate on the hard stuff, like breathing in and out without panting like a dog, or whimpering like an idiot.
But on a day like this, who cared if he just stayed in his bed until the rats came and ate him? Frannie and Maria -- currently fighting over whose hair had clogged the drain -- sure wouldn't care. And Tony -- someone please explain to him how he wound up supporting Tony Rezza.
Well, Tony Jr. made it worth while, he supposed.
Ray rolled over and threw the covers over his head. He took a couple of deep, even breaths, and then reached down to pull off his pajama bottoms along with his black briefs. He even took off his top. No reason not to indulge himself completely.
Fortunately, mornings on days off were starting to develop a routine of their own. He started by reminding himself not to call up any recent memories of Fraser. Sometimes, he slipped up on this, but he was getting better at keeping the thoughts just to that foul-smelling tunnel, when Benny could be blamed for nothing more than wanting to survive. Benny's hair was so dark, shining so harshly under the bare lights. He felt the pleading touch at his balls, the hot mouth taking him in, the voice pleading with him to pretend it was something lustful on both sides.
That was the moment, he'd long ago decided, when he'd really lost it. Before that, he wasn't exactly doing well, but there was an element of control. Benny had sucked that right out of him, taking all the best that Ray Vecchio was and swallowing it right down -- probably about an hour before the Mountie pissed it out with relief.
Ray let the crudity cloy like the smell of old whiskey. It filled him up a bit, giving him some relief from being just the outlines of himself now, dancing to Benny's tune, trying to keep his steps straight.
And the worst of it was that he couldn't stop believing it wasn't worth it. He'd wanted Benny for so long, dreamed of touching him, of being touched by him so many nights now that having the memory, twisted and bizarre as it was, felt worth not only his oft-mentioned soul, but his sanity.
"Benny," he mumbled now into the pillow, humping his hand as though it were two red-bow lips under fire-blue eyes. "God, I love you so much, Benny."
He screamed into the pillow on cue, then lay quietly for a time, compiling the day's future events in his head to keep himself from falling too deeply into post-coital self-disgust. At least he'd finally shed the last reservations about "self-abuse." Masturbation wasn't just a non-sin, it was a downright necessity.
He was going over to that house today, he remembered, to watch a movie on someone's big-screen TV and eat pizza. Maybe he'd treat himself to a beer, or maybe even wine if the guy's cellar had anything decent.
He thought over things he would say about the film and food while his semen turned cold in his palm. He thought about how far away from Benny he'd sit, the comments he'd make about the new blond officer working the front desk, and his latest good dig at Thatcher. It was perfect, actually -- petulant like the irritation of a good friend, but not vicious enough to reveal his soul-burning jealousy. All she'd have to do was wiggle her hips, and Fraser would be on her like stink on shit.
Ray calmed himself with another deep breath, then let himself get to his favorite part: planning the times when he could indulge himself with a good long stare at Fraser without being caught.
*His ass, when he's putting the tape in the machine -- I'll tell him it's for his technological education -- and his lips, the first time he rubs his eyebrow with that thumb.*
Satisfied, even smiling, Ray finally got out of bed.
"This is the house?!"
"Well, if you were thinking of something grander, Ray --"
"Grander? This is a palace!"
Fraser smiled as he turned away from the door, letting Ray in and trying not to frown at the airs Diefenbaker was putting on as he stood at the bottom of the curving staircase.
"I don't think it quite -- oh, you mean figuratively, Ray."
Vecchio shot him an "I'm not buying it" look and promptly set off to explore the place. Lodged against a hill and nestled into a variety of deciduous trees cared over by an army of groundskeepers, the house had fifteen rooms, not including the servant's quarters, the five-car garage, and the sun-porch. Ray exclaimed over everything, poking through closets not to see the contents, but to make envious comments about the cedar drawers and hidden lights. He talked of his mother's joy if she could cook in the kitchen, his own desire to soak in the Jacuzzi, and Frannie and Maria's getting into a "cat fight" over who would get to use the spacious and well-equipped dressing room off the master bedroom.
Eventually, Ray settled in front of the large TV/stereo/entertainment center, made way for Diefenbaker, and wanted to know where they stored the movies.
Obediently, Fraser opened two side cases filled with DVDs. Ray whistled. "Not bad."
"What's your pleasure, Ray?"
"Oh, just close your eyes and pick one, Fraser, or we'll be staring at 'em all night."
Not looking, Fraser pulled one from the shelf. "*The Joy Luck Club?*"
The case went back. He pulled out another and peered at the print. "*Dazed and Confused?*"
"Not quite the mood I'm hoping for."
"Die Hard 2?"
"Now you're talking." Ray flashed him a smile and made a show of leaning back in comfort, just as he was making a show of being open and friendly and relaxed, just as he'd made of show of everything he said and did in the last hour and six minutes.
As Fraser was quite aware.
"It's not nearly as good as the original," Ray stated as the opening credits flashed over ominous snow-scenes. "But it's fun to count all the things wrong with it."
"Indeed, Ray," Fraser said, relieved that Ray was willing to concede that the film was flawed. "There are several other airports in the area which they could use to land the planes."
"Right, and I can't believe it would take them that long to figure out to use the outer markers. I mean, the second this happened they'd just tell the planes to land somewhere else."
Ray rubbed his nose. "Besides, if you tape off the ammo like that on an A-K, you'll jam it, no question."
"It's most unlikely that any group would be that calm about having others fire on them, whether they believe the bullets to be blanks or not."
Ray looked at him. "You seen this one before, Fraser?"
"Yes, Ray. But I did not mind that is " Fraser took a breath. "I enjoy seeing it again."
Ray looked curious. "Why? This kind of stuff isn't really your taste."
Fraser shrugged, petting Diefenbaker and watching in silence for a while as the plot established itself. When Bonnie Bodelia bristled at the obnoxious reporter, he nodded. "I enjoy the relationship between Officer MacLaine and his wife. It's so rare to see a happily married couple jointly experiencing an adventure."
"Yeah, I got it. The whole world's fallin' down around 'em, but they got each other, right?"
Fraser smiled easily, a little warm in the luxury heating. "Yes, that's it exactly." The action lulled, and he went into the kitchen to make popcorn, returning with a full bowl and two cold sodas. He waited until Ray's mouth was full.
"It reminds me somewhat of two others who manage to maintain a partnership in the midst of difficulties."
Ray frowned at him, and Fraser let his eyes twinkle. "Of course, our terrorists were on a train, not a plane, but otherwise there are several points of similarity."
Ray swallowed -- a truly impressive feat emphasized by his long neck. "You thinking about you and the Dragon Lady?"
Fraser shook his head.
Ray ducked slightly, clearly embarrassed. "We argue more than they do," he managed, shoveling in more popcorn.
"Indeed. There have been times since we met that I was worried that you legitimately disliked me."
Ray snorted, looking back at the movie. "Well, now you know that's garbage, right?"
"Are we having a mushy moment, Ray?"
Green eyes glared at him in suspicion. Fraser laughed, his keening giggle drawing Diefenbaker's tolerant gaze and another flash of pseudo-anger, Italian style.
"Canadians," Ray muttered, turning back to the movie in complete dismissal. The silence was pointed for almost a half-hour, until a blatantly impossible stunt on the TV had Fraser shifting uncomfortably on the sofa while Vecchio groaned.
"He'd be in a million pieces and on fire!"
Ray looked away from the screen, frowning at the empty bowl in his lap.
"You remember that case with the frogs?" he asked. "It was after the stolen car case, when you had me in that damn ditch?"
Fraser rubbed his eyebrow, hiding his delight at this unexpected progress. "As I recall, you were furious with me, Ray."
"Exactly. And I started asking myself, 'What the hell am I doing here?' I mean, it was a stupid frog, for Pete's sakes. We didn't know it was going to give us a lead on the homicide. We just thought anyway, so I'm knee-deep in mud, and it suddenly occurs to me that either you're the best friend I'm ever gonna have, or I'm a total schmuck."
Fraser made sure his voice was absently casual, his eyes mostly on the TV. "Was it then that you knew you were in love with me?"
Ray was silent, and Fraser nodded a little, as though signaling that it was perfectly all right for Ray not to answer him, that it was just a question, and not a big deal at all. After all, he might not be able to cheat people in a used car lot, but this was the body that could stand completely motionless for hours while children and tourists and the occasional exotic dancer tried to get him to react.
"Nah," Ray finally said, his voice just as casual. "That was later."
"Ah. I enjoy this part particularly," Fraser said, nodding at the screen. Bonnie Bodelia was walking up to Bruce Willis in the snow.
"Why does this keep happening to us?" she asked, falling into his arms.
Ray sighed, leaning back against the pillows and, to Fraser's well-concealed delight, just slightly against his right arm.
The rest of the movie played out quietly, then Ray walked up to the shelves and picked the next film, *Get Shorty.* When it was over, he insisted Fraser pick the next film, and during *Raise the Red Lantern* Ray's head began to loll back on the cushions, and, finally, onto Fraser's shoulder quite completely.
Dief met his packleader's eyes.
"Shhh. Ray is sleeping."
The wolf yawned.
Ray awoke with such an incredible sense of well-being that he assumed he was dreaming.
And it was a very nice dream. He was lying on Fraser, and Benny was lying on a lush, over-stuffed sofa. Dief was there too, draped over his legs and keeping him warm. They were in a really nice room, and it was really dark and quiet.
Benny's hand was on his waist, tucked in just a little, half-snuggle-half-casual. Gawd, it felt good. He'd have to get up in a minute, but for now there wasn't any harm.
Ray closed his eyes to savor it and promptly fell back asleep.
Ray grunted, rubbing his face into a soft pillow and snuggling down under a fluffy thing.
"No drooling before coffee, and get off me!"
Primly, Diefenbaker dropped off the sofa, ignoring Ray's vehement brushing at his pants and complaints about wolf hairs.
He looked up to see Fraser standing at the end of the couch holding a steaming mug. He'd changed his clothes, which made Ray suddenly aware that someone had taken his shoes off while he was sleeping. He doubted it was the wolf.
"Yeah." He took the cup and moaned with pleasure at the fragrant steam. "Kona, I don't believe it."
"Impressive identification, Ray."
"No nose comments."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
Fraser went back into the kitchen and it was only while he was watching that perfect ass retreat that Ray realized he hadn't had time to plan his morning conversation with Benny before it happened.
*Still did okay, though. Must be getting better.*
Ray sipped at the coffee.
*Oh yeah, much better.* He even felt himself smiling on the way to the john.
The breakfast table was laid out with eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, pancakes, fruit, milk, juice, and more coffee. While Ray stood staring, Fraser seated himself and took a pitcher of syrup to a high stack of pancakes. Dief was plowing through his own bowl, and Ray asked himself why he was standing there like a moron while the food was getting cold.
"These cakes taste like Ma's."
"She shared her recipe with me some time ago. I've been wanting to try it."
"Bacon's hickory smoked."
"Juice is fresh-squeezed."
"You sure you didn't get this catered?"
Ray laughed and guzzled more Kona coffee. "I gotta get Ma to share more recipes with you."
"You know, Ray, I realize I have no idea whether or not you can cook."
Vecchio shrugged. "I know my way around a stove, but I'd just as soon skip it. I'm much more the order-something kind of guy."
Fraser nodded. "Any particular recipe I should ask for next time we're having a chat in the kitchen?"
Ray stared at him. "You chat with Ma in the kitchen? Since when?"
Fraser thought about it. "Some time ago, I suppose. I was quite aware of the honor of being invited that first time. I believe you and Francesca were argu -- ah, discussing her latest career interest, and Diefenbaker wasn't interested in a walk. She asked if I'd like to help her prepare the snap beans."
"Had you scrubbing grease before you left, I bet."
"Indeed, I did clean the stove before we finished talking, but I don't believe that was her primary purpose, Ray."
"Sure." Ray snickered.
"Actually, I believe she was interested in telling me more about your family."
Ray shrugged. "Not much to tell."
"Ah, I know you're attempting to deflect the truth. Your family members are quite fascinating. Take your cousin Marilyn --"
"Not her, Benny!"
"Why not? Her attempts to reach her husband during the Gulf War were quite devoted. I was more than impressed by the obvious love between them. Though perhaps you feel it was a little extreme."
"Don't make me out to be the Grinch Who Stole Romance, Fraser! She got arrested over the guy, for Pete's sake."
"She was only trying to see --"
"She was trespassing on a military base! And this memory was bad enough before we had Ian pulling the same damn stunt over April."
"I believe you mean Audrey, Ray."
"Whatever! They're both Fruit Loops."
"Actually, you have a number of romantic figures in your family tree, Ray."
"You and Frannie, for instance."
Benny's lips pressed together as though he were irritated. "I was thinking rather of your cousin Armande and his partner, George."
Ray shot up in his chair, adam's apple bobbing. "How do you know about Armande?"
"Your mother, as I said." There wasn't the slightest tension in Fraser's face or voice. One foot was braced painfully against his chair leg, but it was out of Ray's line of sight. "Though I believe Francesca actually raised the issue."
Ray looked down at his empty plate, frowned, shrugged. "Yeah, they do all right."
"Ray." Fraser's eyes looked slightly alarmed. "Is it all right to talk about this? I don't want to, that is, er --"
Ray waved a hand in irritation. "Of course. It's not a big deal." Ray stood and took his plate and silverware to the sink. "You just you realize Armande's a totally different deal, is all. He lives in New York and makes money at being, you know."
"He's a fashion designer, Benny! He's allowed to be gay! It's practically a necessity!"
Ray turned around, took a look at Benny's puzzled face, and rolled his eyes. "What?!"
"Oh! I'm sorry, er, Ray. I just I was just surprised."
"Considering the viewpoint you discussed, it seems somewhat at odds with your family's that is to say --"
"You don't see why I'm so uptight about homosexuals when we got one in the family and nobody minds."
Fraser almost fell out of his chair with gratitude. "Yes, Ray."
"I told you, it's part of who he is."
"Ah." Fraser smiled neutrally and rose up to finish clearing the table. "Unlike for a Chicago cop, you mean."
"Right. End of discussion."
They cleaned in a surprisingly comfortable silence. Ray found himself shaking his head.
"It feels good to talk about it, you know, just like it's a thing, instead of the end of the world."
Fraser nodded. "I find myself envying you."
"I wish I could talk about Victoria, as though "
"You can, you know. Whenever."
Fraser looked into Ray's eyes, marveling to himself once again how green they got when Ray was letting his heart show.
"Thank you, Ray."
Vecchio shrugged and headed for the shower, figuring it was time Fraser took Dief for a walk. He knew his insides were calmer than they'd been in weeks. He'd never really thought Benny would follow his lead, let it be no big deal like this. He almost whistled, climbing the stairs, but controlled himself.
Fraser watched him go, then opened the backdoor for Dief, careful to key off the silent alarm. It was the only door that would let him turn off the alarm without notifying the guards at the main community gate, as it led only to the fenced-in yard. He hoped Ray wouldn't try to open one of the windows upstairs. He didn't want to talk about the alarm yet, or the locks.
Overall, he felt more at ease than he had thought he would. But then, things in general were going even better than he'd planned. He turned to watch Dief chase a cricket, whistling through his teeth.
They played pool until lunch, not talking about anything much. Ray groused about a felon who got off on a technicality in the 14th Precinct. Fraser went into some detail on his new liaison duties with Ottawa.
"Sounds almost like they're starting to realize what they have in you," Ray commenting, sinking the nine ball.
Fraser frowned. "I'm basically processing other people's decisions. I believe my recent visibility is simply being exploited for the image of the RCMP."
"As long as you don't have to spend all day standing in front of the Consulate, I'm for it."
Fraser sighed, and Ray frowned at the over-loud sound. The broad shoulders shrugged under the spotless Henley.
"Some days standing there are better than others. Some worse." He bit his lip. "After Victoria, I would sometimes imagine I could see her in my peripheral vision. The effort not to turn my head and see was sometimes I would wonder, if she came up to me, would I break form? Of course, spotting a known murderer approaching the Consulate would be reason enough to take action, but that's not what I meant."
"I wondered sometimes if my distraction were evident to my fellow officers. It's difficult to keep that sort of preoccupation from others trained to read body language." The blue eyes flickered, seeking understanding. Ray nodded avidly.
"Yeah." A long, somewhat difficult swallow. "When I -- you know, about you. Back when it was a problem, you understand keeping it to myself was kinda rough sometimes."
"'Was a problem?'" Fraser looked slightly lost. "You no longer " A hand rose up. "I -- I shouldn't --"
Ray shrugged in irritation. "It's all right. Like you said. We're just talking about it, like you wanna do about Victoria." He barked a laugh. "Who knows? Maybe after a few more rounds of pool, you'll spill the beans about the Dragon Lady."
"I have no beans regarding my superior officer, Ray."
With an inelegant snort, Ray sank the eight ball.
"That's two in a row, Benny. You're slipping!"
"She and I share an attraction, but we'll never be able to act on it." Fraser rubbed his thumb over his eyebrow, hiding the smile prompted by Ray's boggling. "Although, I must admit, our rank would be no impediment to either of us, I suspect, should our feelings be of sufficient intensity." Fraser finished racking up the next game, set the rack aside, and shrugged somewhat helplessly. "Indeed, it goes beyond suspicion, as far as I am concerned."
"Well, I have already encountered two people for whom the rules mean little, in comparison with their welfare."
"Two?" Ray gestured for Fraser to break. "You been holding out on me?"
Fraser sank the three ball with a nice, clean break. They both admired the scattered balls. "You and Victoria, Ray. That's two."
Ray swallowed and gripped his cue tightly.
"Of course, my situation with Victoria -- that is to say, my feelings regarding her have changed greatly. I was speaking of before."
"So if she showed up now?"
"I would take no pleasure in seeing her brought to justice, Ray, but I would appreciate the closure, particularly considering the threat she poses to you."
"She went after you before, Ray." Vecchio was treated to a full-blown Big-Eyed Mountie Look. "I have to confess that I worry greatly that she would try to harm you, Ray. She knew how much you meant to me before, and now " Fraser frowned at the table and set up his next shot. "It's not something I want to think about."
The five ball bounced away from the pocket. Ray shifted, straightened his shoulders, and moved to position. Blinking, he looked at his hand.
Fraser was holding it, a half-manly-half-possessive grip. For just a moment, he pressed Ray's hand against his heart, closing his eyes. Then he let him go, flashed him an apologetic glance, then stepped back so Ray could take his shot.
Ray sunk the ten ball, then scratched.
Benny made no move to get the ball out of the pocket.
"It'll happen for you, Fraser. Some great-looking Mountie's wife with your name stamped on her hand will come along. Of course, knowing you, she'll have to fall into your lap for you to notice."
"How about I start lunch, Ray?"
"If there are candles on the table, I'm outta here."
"I've given up on candles, Ray."
Ray spun around, glaring. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Fraser shrugged. "Just an observation. Is frozen pizza okay?"
"Uh, fine." Ray turned back to the table.
Fraser smiled and walked out, leaving Ray holding his stick and looking for his next shot.
Ray helped wash up after lunch, tripping twice over Diefenbaker.
"You got some kind of problem going on?" he demanded finally.
"His energy levels seem high," Fraser noted, putting away the milk.
"Yeah, he's stir-crazy." Ray rolled his head back, then his shoulders. "Know how he feels. How about a drive?"
Fraser let himself look uncomfortable. "I told the owner I wouldn't be leaving the premises."
Ray frowned at him. "All weekend?"
While Ray scowled and Fraser counted down seven seconds in his head, the Mountie allowed his mind to wander just slightly to the warm feeling of Ray last night, sleeping on top of him. With Dief at their feet, Fraser had experienced the heady sensation of knowing that everyone he loved in the world was sharing one piece of furniture.
"Of course," he said carefully. "If you would like to go out without me perhaps taking Dief --"
"Nah, that's okay. I'll be heading home in a while, anyway. Ma wants me to clean gutters." An expansive eye-roll turned into a shrug that rippled down his arms. "You know everything's normal at home when Ma starts talking about the gutters." He put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher. "She'll be on me about the furnace next."
Fraser smiled absently, then looked as though he just remembered. "Ray, before you leave, I wanted to show you the collection."
"Collection?" At a woof-whine, Ray reached down to pat Dief's head.
"Hmmm." Fraser picked some keys up from the side table. "I'm sure the owner won't mind my showing you, considering your ability to appreciate them."
Ray looked at him somewhat sideways. "You're being a little mysterious there, Benny. Something up?"
Fraser smiled, then led the way to the eight-car garage. Ray followed, then slammed to a stop as he saw the first vehicle over Fraser's shoulder.
The dark head turned back to reveal a supremely innocent expression. "Yes, Ray?"
"That -- that --" A long finger pointed, trembling just slightly. "That is a 1966 Ford Mustang in mint condition."
Fraser looked back into the garage. "Why yes, I believe it is, Ray."
"And that --" Ray rushed forward, eyes wide. "That is a '67 Camaro and -- Oh my God! A '73 Roadster!"
Fraser chuckled even as Diefenbaker padded into his line of sight, and snorted.
Several hours later, his head still half-inside the engine of a 1970 DeVille Convertible V-8 with automatic transition, Ray flipped open his cell phone. Fraser could hear the conversation easily from the kitchen while he added pasta to the boiling pot.
"Ma? Yeah yeah, something's come up. I'm having dinner out .Yeah, and I'll get to 'em first thing in the morning, okay? Turkey? What is this, Thanksgiving?..How much?..Yeah? Yeah, I can see that "
After stirring the pasta and setting the fire low, Fraser gathered up Ray's clothes. Since the cars were kept in pristine condition, "accidentally" spilling detergent on Ray had proven easy enough, particularly as Fraser had risked a genuine fall onto the concrete. Ray had been more concerned with whether or not he had hit his head than with his clothing, at least at first, and had not seemed suspicious when Benny produced a pair of sweats and a T-shirt for Ray to change into.
Fraser crossed to the laundry room, whistling softly as he added the powder and set it to gentle. Ray's voice reached him still.
"Al, you are never going to believe what I'm looking at .No .No .If I was looking at that, what would I be doing on the phone?..No! I'm looking at 1935 Super 8 Convertible .I shit you not. It's got the rumble seat restored charcoal with red leather interior and it looks like it's never been driven in the rain Nah, there's nobody to ask .Let's just say I got friends .Yeah .Yeah, it's still running. Guess there still are miracles."
In the kitchen, Fraser added salt to the spaghetti sauce before stirring in the fresh basil.
"Yeah? Well, I guess you don't wanna hear about the'56 Montclair?"
The intercom buzzed. The evening's security team was checking in early. Fraser traded the appropriate pass codes, then buzzed open the side gate, hidden from both the street and any window Ray might look out of.
"Smells good," Ray announced, slipping into the kitchen in his borrowed socks. He put the cell phone down on the counter and helped dish up the food. Without saying anything, Fraser maneuvered them into the breakfast dining area, rather than in front of the TV.
"I take it Al was impressed with the selection?" Fraser casually set a bottle of red wine on the table.
"Only as much as anyone with a brain would have to be." Ray stared at him as he eased into his chair. "What's with the bottle?"
"It's an excellent claret, Ray. I thought perhaps " Fraser bit his lip and looked down.
"What is it, Benny?"
"I confess, I was hoping that is to say " He squared his Mountie shoulders. "I feel some urgency in continuing our earlier discussion, Ray, and I thought perhaps a glass would " He gestured vaguely.
Ray grinned, confidence and indulgence in his eyes. "Women and wine, Benny, a time-honored mix."
Relieved, and showing part of it, Fraser opened the bottle and let the wine breathe while they began their salads. Soon enough, they were both drinking a glass a digging into their pasta. Fraser cleared his throat.
"I don't I'm not sure exactly why I find women so unsettling. It's true that I knew very few girls as a child, but I also knew few boys -- that is, I rarely had a chance for true socialization until I my teen years, when I made some very good friends, all boys. Also, as you know, my mother wasn't there, and my grandmother wasn't exactly what one would call " Fraser looked stumped.
Fraser nodded, smiling. "Quite."
"Who was your first girl?"
Fraser blinked at him. Ray snorted.
"Not like that. You know, the first girl you noticed."
"There was a lovely raven-haired girl at an animal clinic in Alert about whom I dreamed with some frequency."
"Broken leg," Fraser remembered.
"No, her goat."
"Yes, they had to put it down, I believe. The break was severe."
Fraser shook his head, topping up their glasses. "She cursed, actually. Most of them were words I didn't recognize at the time."
"An all-round education, then."
"So how long until you actually made it to conversation?"
"I was fourteen, she was sixteen."
"Yes. She was in love with someone else, but she was most kind in letting me know I had no chance with her."
"I bet. Name?"
"She marry the other guy?"
"No, she was killed in a car accident a few months later. I tried to make it to the funeral, but we were two thousand miles away at the time, and my father wouldn't let me take the team."
"Indeed, she had her whole life ahead of her."
Ray nodded and looked vaguely at his full glass.
"I managed a kiss when I was sixteen."
"I believe my technique left much to be desired."
"She still shouldn't have laughed." Ray's voice was soft and sad. Fraser met his eyes.
"I'm afraid I had little more experience when I met Victoria."
Soft green eyes glinted with sympathy and pain. "So she was "
Ray shook his head. "You deserve better, Benny."
"Do I, Ray?"
Surprised, Ray sent him a sharp look. "What? Of course you do."
"Then you don't think it would be wrong, that is, if I pursued happiness, rather than continued to wait for it to come to me of its own accord?"
Ray's bark of astonishment rattled the table. "Yes! Finally the man gets it!" A broad, brilliant smile lit the room. "You get to pursue, Benny, not just be pursued. That's what the trouble is, you know, the way you keep finding yourself on the ropes. You need to chase a few, catch a few, get comfortable with the whole thing. I mean, you got the same needs as the rest of us. Pushing 'em down all the time's what makes you so nervous." Ray drank to his own words. "Yep. Make up for that childhood, like any man with your looks should."
Fraser set down his own glass and gazed in slight confusion at his friend.
"I must confess, Ray: I'm surprised to hear you say this."
"Why? You're a man, with a man's desires."
"How would you know?"
Ray stared at him in shock, his eyes glinting now with hurt.
Fraser winced. "I'm I'm sorry, Ray. I didn't mean to say it like that."
Diefenbaker growled softly from under the table.
"What what the hell *did* you mean to say it like, then?"
"I just mean that before when we were talking about our feelings for each other, you seemed to assume a lack of of sexual drive on my part."
"I assumed a lack of *homo*sexual drive, Fraser." Ray flushed and stared at his mostly empty plate. He reached for the wine, then pulled his hand back. "I never meant to make it sound like I don't think you got a normal man's needs."
"A normal man? Do you think even the most 'normal' of men would be unaffected by the intimacy of our time together?"
"Fraser, don't go mistaking discomfort for whatever the hell you're talking about." Ray stood up from the table, then seemed confused about where to go.
"Don't forget dessert, Ray," Fraser said, standing as well and putting out his hand. Avoiding the touch, Ray ended up back in his chair. "I have black-bottomed pie."
Ray nodded, steadied himself with a breath, and then leaned back, gathering strength.
"It wasn't discomfort." Fraser disappeared into the kitchen, returning shortly with pie and coffee.
Ray waited until his friend was sitting, then leaned forward.
"You wanna talk, Benny? Let's talk. You kissed me, held me, slept with me, and even put your mouth on me, and you didn't get excited. You barely even knew what you were doing --"
"Which would seem to be the main point to recall, Ray. I wasn't feeling well, Ray. I couldn't even entertain sexual thoughts."
Ray was shaking his head vigorously. "No, no, no. You couldn't think
about sex while you were, in fact, having sex. I was there, remember? You
need to get off this trip you're on, whatever you're thinking. You didn't
get excited during gay sex. That makes you straighter than most guys, believe
"It wasn't sex, Ray."
"I'm fairly certain polling the audience would get a different answer, Fraser."
"I'm not interested in what an audience would think, I was there too, Ray. All I could think of then was staying alive, and I knew you would allow me to take whatever I needed to do that. Sucking you --"
" might just as well have been suckling you. You were sustenance to me, Ray. My lack of sexual response would have been just as pronounced if you had been a woman."
"Aw, listen to yourself, Fraser, trying to pretend that *not* getting excited means I've got a chance with you."
"Is that what you'd like, Ray?" Fraser's voice was soft and low. "A chance with me?"
Blind panic filled Ray's face. Fraser immediately held up his hands.
"Please, I'm not pushing you, Ray. I'm just wondering could you think about it?"
Ray's body twitched like a scared rabbit's. "Think about..?"
"Us, as a possibility, something that might happen someday."
"Someday?" Ray blinked at him. "What are you talking about?"
"I would just appreciate it if you wouldn't completely dismiss the idea. Though, if you like, we can discontinue this discussion until another time."
"When you're more comfortable."
"Comfort --" Ray shook himself. "Fraser "
"I'm just suggesting that you don't know everything about me, Ray." He smiled, letting his feelings -- some of them -- into his eyes, watching Ray's tension ease slightly. "I felt before, when we were talking, that you were dismissing me."
Ray shook his head, though it was somewhat uncoordinated. "I would never dismiss you, Benny. I just don't think --"
"Thank you, Ray." Another smile. "I would never dismiss you either. Your pie is going to melt."
"Your pie. It's frozen. Or rather, it's thawing." He took a generous forkful himself, and nodded with approval. "An excellent bakery."
Ray looked at his pie a long moment, then ate a bite. When Fraser moved to look at his watch, however, he flinched.
"I meant to tell you earlier, Ray, there's a game tonight, an important one, I believe."
"Yeah, with the Mets, but it's blacked out."
"We have satellite television."
"What?" Ray shoveled down the pie, his body half-off the chair. "Why didn't you say anything before?!"
Fraser attempted a disjointed explanation, well aware that Ray was no longer listening to him. After a moment, he was free to take their plates to the kitchen.
When everything was clean and the dishwasher was going, he joined Ray on the sofa, keeping a safe distance between them. He knew Ray was using the game as an excuse to ignore him. It was hard not to feel incredibly pleased with himself. He looked around for Diefenbaker, but the wolf was still in the kitchen, sniffing for crumbs.
The game was into extra innings when Fraser felt himself begin to nod off.
Fraser was vaguely aware that he had fallen asleep, just as he was somewhat cognizant of the sofa. Mostly, he was aware that the heavy warmth of Ray's body against his own was incredibly soothing, so much so that when he realized he could not hear the TV, he attributed it to nothing more than the all-encompassing glow of Ray's presence.
Fraser frowned. The voice was masculine, but not Ray's. Still sleep-confused, he tried to react without waking Ray.
Except that Ray wasn't sleeping: Ray was awake and tense.
Fraser opened his eyes. A man with a gun was regarding them with scorn. Fraser easily remembered the innocent face and cold eyes.
"I thought you were dead, Carver," Ray said.
"I thought news of my death would be so welcome you wouldn't investigate it properly," the man replied smugly. "But then, properly investigating things isn't your strong suit, is it, Detective?"
"What do you want?" Ray snarled.
"Ah, I see you're fully with us now, Constable," Carver said, shifting his attention just slightly. "Enjoy your nap? I imagine with everything that's been going on lately, you're quite tired."
"How did you get in here?" Fraser asked, giving nothing away.
Carver shrugged. "It's really not much of a security system. A simple glass cutter took care of the window, but I have to admit I never thought I'd just wander in here to find the two of you snuggled on the sofa." He smiled, smug and malicious. "We have unfinished business, Detective."
"Yeah, I need to put you back in jail with the other nut cases."
The blast of the gun echoed through every bone of Fraser's body. For a frozen moment of horror, he looked at the gun pointed in Ray's direction. He felt more than saw Ray's body jerk in reaction. He grabbed blindly for Ray's body, searching for the wound, then managed to realize the bullet had gone into the cushion between Ray's legs.
He sat staring into Ray's eyes, becoming aware that he had shouted his friend's name, perhaps more than once.
"I'm all right, Fraser."
"Sit *back,* Constable." When he turned, Carver waved the gun at him.
Ray squeezed his forearm and nodded, but Fraser found it difficult to muster the discipline necessary to the order.
"It's okay, Fraser. We're gonna talk. Right, Carver?"
"Oh yes, Detective. We'll talk, and then I'll kill you both. The only question to be decided is which one of you will go first."
Fraser gave up trying to relax, but he did press back against the cushions and unclench his fists. It was true that Carver loved to talk when he thought he had the upper hand. Perhaps in this instance, as before, it would be enough.
"So who went looking for who, huh?" Ray was asking. "I mean, I'm thinking you had to be going stir-crazy to come up with something like this."
"Actually, they came to me." Carver leaned back slightly, savoring his moment with blatant enjoyment. The house was excessively quiet.
"Where's Diefenbaker?" Fraser demanded.
"I let the mutt outside," Carver said vaguely, frowning at the non sequitur. He looked back at Ray. "They needed someone from your past, someone with sufficient intelligence to 'frame' as your arch nemesis." He chuckled. "Overly dramatic, really, the whole thing, but too delightful to resist, particularly as it got me out of prison."
"How much they pay you to be remembered for some prisoner's dead bitch?"
"I am going to be remembered as your killer, Detective." Carver's eyes flickered, but the smug smile only slipped a moment before returning. "I was promised a healthy cut of the grant, but I didn't do it for the money."
"Yeah? So me and Fraser end up in the subjects of some big genetic thing. How's that help you out?"
"You were supposed to be remembered as each others' bitches, Detective. There were supposed to be pictures of you all over each other in every newspaper in the country, and then " Carver shifted slightly on the chair. "Then you would be dead, the first tragedy of the revolution in genetic engineering. I'm sure there would have been some sad faces on the news, but no one would really have cared, not with the promise of change you two represented."
Fraser could never remember being prouder of Ray than at that moment. He himself had been prepared for the arrival of the security force, two of them dressed in black and holding assault rifles as they eased silently into the room. Ray had had no warning, and yet he betrayed not the slightest sign of their rescuers. Carver droned on, oblivious.
"And the best part of it was that even after the fraud was uncovered, as it had to be in time, there would be little anyone could do. The government was never going to admit to the public that they had spent billions unlocking the secrets of an elaborate poisoning scheme. Prosecution would be far too messy."
"I'd be more concerned about private assassination," Ray noted.
"I'd be more concerned about how I'm going to kill you," Carver snapped, then once more the unctuous smile. "Now, considering how you two obviously feel about each other, I'm sure the greater burden will be on the second man I kill. Having to watch the other die, knowing there will be nothing you can do: I'm sure that's something both of you would rather avoid. So tell me." Carver's gun pointed in the space between them. "Which of you is going to beg me to kill you first?"
Neither man answered. Carver opened his mouth to urge them on, and only then realized the end of a rifle was pressed against his temple. The other guard whisked the gun away while Carver was still blinking, and then the intruder was on the floor, being handcuffed.
Ray said little after the preliminary showing of his badge, and it was Fraser who ended up explaining Carver's infiltration of the grounds. Despite his careful words, it took several tries to convince the guards that Carver wasn't a thief.
"But he knew about the merchandise, right?" Jeff Holland, the senior guard, asked again, his assault weapon lowered, but not relinquished, now that Carver was immobilized.
"Rent-a-cops," Carver grumbled into the carpet. Holland shot him a glare.
"I do believe that Mr. Carver entered the premises purely to converse er threaten myself and Detective Vecchio," Fraser said, rubbing his thumb over his eyebrow and darting a look at Ray, who gazed back placidly.
Holland's partner, Jude Notte, walked in then, rifle slung. "Perimeter's secure, and they're getting the combo out for the timelock on the gate. Chief's coming, along with some lieu from -- yours?" He nodded at Ray.
"He's mine, and I bet he brings the inspector with him."
"You're probably right, Ray, as well as some federal agents."
"This guy's wanted by the feds?" Holland asked, impressed.
Fraser waited a beat for Ray to speak, then reported: "Mr. Carver is involved in a conspiracy to defraud the government. It was the failure of this conspiracy which drew Mr. Carver here to attempt to, ah, regain something from his involvement." Fraser hesitated, then knew Ray would hear it sooner or later. "I'm afraid Mr. Constance will not be pleased that I allowed this to happen in his home."
Holland waved a hand. "Nah, the guy'll love it. Paid more for this fortress to hold his stuff in than he did for the junk in the first place, and we haven't had any action yet. Three years of guarding this place like a military installation, I was about to go up the wall, I admit. Feels like we had a good drill."
"Worried Constace'll take the window out of your salary?" Nette asked, not meaning anything by it. "We'll just tell him it's a casualty of war." He and Holland laughed.
"Hey, seriously," Holland said, "you kept the situation under control until we got in, both of you." He looked at Ray. "Fraser drilled you on the routine, right? Hey," he turned to Nette, "that's a real buddy, huh? Don't know if I'd agree to be cooped up in this place for three days straight."
"Just going through the videos." Ray shrugged. "And the cars."
Holland chuckled, then snapped on his cell phone before the first ring ended. "Yes, sir." He pocketed the phone and adjusted his grip on the rifle. "He's coming."
Thatcher was first through the door, followed by Chief Roward, Lt. Welsh, and two men who flashed FBI badges and muscled Carver into custody.
"This isn't over, Detective," Carver sneered at Vecchio as he walked out.
"What, you gonna Fed-Ex me a headcold?" Ray asked.
Thatcher congratulated Fraser on a job well done, making sure Welsh heard her talk about the value of having a Canadian helping to guard a fellow countryman living on American soil. Holland and Nette were informed that Fraser was "undercover," having taken the job as an official favor to Mr. Constance while he was out of the country.
Welsh seemed suspicious that Fraser had somehow planned for Carver to appear, but Ray's honest innocence eventually had him grumbling congratulations as well. He took everyone's statement, told Ray to be sure to come in the next day to type up his report, then adjusted his belt and offering the inspector a ride home.
Ray finally spoke without first being spoken to. "Tomorrow is my day off, sir. Considering that the feds have him, can't the report wait until Tuesday?"
"If you're going to have to leave tomorrow," Nette spoke up, "you'll have to leave now. We're going to set up perimeter again."
"I suppose you've earned the time off," Welsh said, shooting one last glance at Fraser before scowling at his detective. "First thing Tuesday."
Welsh nodded and escorted Thatcher out. Or rather, he made to escort her, and she walked ahead of him, chin high. Her eyes were slightly unfocused, however, and Fraser assumed she was already writing her own report to Ottawa and wondered with unaccustomed bitterness if she would mention his name at all.
After that, a temporary repair was made to the window, Fraser let a rather annoyed Diefenbaker back into the house, and Holland and Nette made ready to go back to their posts.
"You guys want some coffee before you go back?" Ray asked, friendly with men who'd proven their professionalism.
"Nah, we got some back at the shack," Holland said.
"And the tape's gonna show when we get there," Nette noted sourly, then winked.
"I'd stay out of the pool room for the rest of the weekend," Holland instructed. "We've set the motion detectors high to compensate for the compromised window."
Fraser nodded, his palms sweating, as Holland and Nette left.
Ray looked at him, hands in his pockets, limbs loose, head slightly leaning to the side.
"So, you gonna show me the set-up?"
"Er, certainly. If you like." Fraser took a step towards the monitors in the room off the kitchen.
Ray made no move to follow. "I mean, I figure it must be pretty elaborate. Timelocks. Perimeters. A special assignment from the Consulate."
"Ah. That is "
"And I figure it must have really called to your patriotism, what with lying to your buddy here and all about how this was a friend's house, and we could watch movies for an evening that's turned into a get-away weekend." Ray squinted. "What were you going to do when I insisted on leaving?"
"I, that is, I had hoped --"
"That I wouldn't want to? He got a collection of baseball cards upstairs or something?"
"Yes, actually! Would you like to --"
Fraser stared through his blinding panic at Ray's wide eyes. Clenching his fists, he did move as Ray stepped up close to him, his eyes going to Fraser's forehead.
"You're sweating," Ray muttered in apparent wonder. "Mr. Stands-Guard-In-The-Sun-Perfect-Mountie is sweating."
Ray looked into his eyes, his voice low and soft. "And you're trembling too."
"I uh yes."
"My God." Ray's breath was warm on his cheek. This close, he could see the gold threads inside his green irises, branching like veins. The eyes blinked. "Did you really do this to get me " Ray searched for words.
Vecchio shook his head, looking suddenly sad. "Benny, do you have any idea what you're doing?"
"Pursuing happiness, Ray."
"You think being with me is gonna make you happy, Benny?"
"Very much, Ray."
"And the fact that you're not gay? We talked about that."
Shaking fiercely now, Fraser slowly raised his right hand and traced, as gently as he could, the smooth curve of Ray's beautiful face. "Can't you understand, Ray? It doesn't matter to me that you're male. It can't. I'd love you and want to be with you if you were a statue, or a ghost, or " Ray was looking at him oddly now. "The mere fact that I can touch you with love is more than I would ever have known to ask for."
"You're concerned with the state of my soul, Ray. I do realize that." Fraser watched Ray's silence for a time. "My soul is my own to keep, Ray. But if I can give it away, I would like to give it..."
The rest of Fraser's declaration was lost in Ray's mouth.
*At last,* Fraser thought, relaxing into it, letting the sensation of warmth suffuse from his lips and tongue down through his body, his legs and arms, heating up the very tips his toes as they curled in his shoes and his fingers as they sunk into the curves of Ray's pert ass.
"God," Ray gasped, bucking his hips and then stretching slightly down to trace the ridges of Benny's teeth with a pointed tongue-tip. Fraser's hands kneaded encouragingly, and then, at last and yet before Fraser quite realized what was going on, Ray reached inside his jeans and boxers and stroked the tender skin of his backside. They shuddered together and stumbled awkwardly to the sofa.
"I'm gonna explode," Ray hissed, pushing Benny under him.
Fraser made no complaint, no words at all as Ray pushed and pulled at their pants, just getting enough fabric out of the way to allow their matched hardness to press and strop against each other. He had deliberately driven Ray to this. Finesse and holding each other and exploring and all the other things he'd been thinking about these weeks could wait. Right now, he wanted nothing more than to look up into Ray's face: eyes shut, lips pulled back, sweat beading, little gasps and groans coming out.
In any event, his own body's reactions were overcoming all other considerations. Previously, his weakened state had kept him from this mutual joy, this burning and this delight he had so rarely known. And never before had he felt this security, this sense of being able to do anything, feel anything, without danger, without loss of soul and self.
Ray pressed down harder, his movements frantic now, and Fraser felt something else new even as the pressure built beneath the base of his shaft: he felt Ray's green eyes looking down into him, loving him. Looking up, he was lost, returning love for love, and, finally, a pure, fiery joy that wracked through his body and burst out, splashing them both.
Ray gasped, grunted, and came only a few second afterwards, then, to Benny's further delight, collapsed on top of him, panting and holding tightly to his shoulders. For a very long time, neither moved or spoke.
Feeling quite wonderful, though not even remotely sated, Fraser eventually soothed his hands over Ray's back, under his sweater but over his shirt, then up over his shoulders. Ray eased himself up, met his eyes, then, reassured, leaned down for a perfect kiss.
"I never thought this would happen," Ray said a while later, then laid his head down on Fraser's shoulder again.
Fraser reached down to kiss the top of his head. "It had to. Thank you for not being angry."
"About what? Tricking me?"
Ray chuckled. "Kinda like someone who gets mad when they're thrown a surprise party, if you ask me."
"But you were so adamant --"
"Do you *want* me to be angry, Benny?"
"Because I can do a good rant if you really want one."
"May I take you in my mouth, Ray? Properly, this time."
Ray groaned weakly, then looked up, his eyes softer than Benny had ever seen them.
"Bed," Ray whispered.
Fraser giggled. "You sure you wouldn't rather use the garage?"
Ray moaned, his eyes twinkling. "All those back seats!"
They laughed and Ray kissed him again. "I didn't figure you for being fun. I mean, I never thought we'd laugh if we ever you know."
Fraser waggled his eyebrows and tried a leer. Ray groaned and pulled them both off the sofa, wrinkling his nose at the dried deposits on their bellies and clothes. His eyes darted around the room.
"The nut who owns this place doesn't have hidden cameras here, does he?"
"Yes, he does, Ray. However, I deactivated them."
"Same with the ones in the shower?"
"Actually, he didn't have any installed in the Oh, I see."
Ray grinned, then whipped Fraser's belt through the loops and pushed him backwards. Blue eyes narrowed, and then Ray was dodging back to avoid the hands reaching for his sweater. Fraser pursued. Vecchio darted towards the stairs, losing his own belt.
*Woof!* Diefenbaker appeared, tongue lolling, joining in the chasing game. Fraser pealed off his Henley and dropped it on the wolf's head, laughing as Diefenbaker indignantly shook it off.
His laughter was cut off, however, when Ray tackled him in a controlled tip up the stairs, then wrestled his shoes off, throwing them across the room for their third wheel to chase. Fraser retaliated in kind, and by the time they made it to the top of the stairs, there were both tugging on the other's underwear.
In the shower, things got business-like, at least, until Benny was rinsing off and realized Ray had gone on his knees.
For as long as Benton Fraser lived, he would remember the image of Ray kneeling before him in the warm rain: skin warm honey against the seafoam tile, eyes deep and green while warm and graceful hands reached up carefully to stroke him, to prepare him for that beautiful mouth.
Benny wanted to keep watching, but his eyes refused to keep from closing as he was drenched in heat, gathered up and cradled inside his best friend, and then -- almost obscenely erotic -- sucked deep. Blood cozied around the sensation and flooded, pounding, through his heart.
"Fuck!" he shouted, though he would have no memory of it later, when Ray teased him. His flailing arms smacked into the tiled walls until his hands twined up and around the shower head. "Harder! God, Ray! Fuck!"
The heat obliged, inglutting him, tickling somehow behind his glans, while fingers rolled his balls. He was emptied, giving and giving and as though surrendering his life's blood, and was swallowed down eagerly, the sensation teasing another shudder from him, and yet another.
"God," he sobbed, sinking down until strong arms caught him.
"I've got ya," Ray soothed.
"I have to be yours, Ray." The idea of being left like this, again, was too horrible. "I have to be."
"Shhh. You are. It's all right. Shhh."
Fraser recovered enough to look at Ray's face. The swollen lips invited kisses, but his aim was off. "Could we belong "
"The shower's no place for a proposal, Benny." Ray reached up and turned the water off. Fraser steadied himself on his feet, trying to correct his posture in the cramped space, then saw Ray looking at him, at his hair, his face, his eyes, his shoulders, chest, body, cock, legs, feet then slowly all the way back up again.
He shook his head, voice low, almost menacing. "If you think I'll ever let you go " A warm hand stroked Benny's chest, then pushed aside the curtain and reached for towels.
Fraser closed his mouth over words for more assurances. Ray meant it. Ray always meant it, when it was something like this. The man who'd almost gotten himself killed protecting Fraser on less than a day's acquaintance had threatened never to let him go. It was more than a proposal. It was more than a wedding ring.
Half-aware that he was smiling beatifically, Fraser floated from the shower and took the towel from Ray's hand to dry him off, taking care to rub that vulnerable scalp gently, covering the soft fur with kisses, before standing to bask in Ray's reciprocal attentions.
Dief was resting on the bed, but hopped down as they approached, curling up on the soft carpet with only a slight snort, and decorously closing his eyes.
"What's with him?" Ray asked, nibbling on Fraser's ear as they eased down together.
"I believe he's indulging me, Ray."
"Knew what you were up to, did he?"
"So he let me know frequently."
Ray rolled over, hanging his head over the mattress' edge. "You have no idea," Ray told him, "the problems you avoid being a wolf."
Dief whined, then barked.
"Don't give me that. She either wants to or she doesn't. Hell, you've already got kids. Five of 'em, that I know of anyway. I ain't like that for us, Dief. Count your blessings."
Dief laid his head back down on his front paws and more firmly closed his eyes.
"Regrets already, Ray?"
Ray rolled back to look at him, frown clearing when he saw Fraser's smile. Whatever he was going to say, however, was silenced by a gentle, slightly squared finger settling over his lips. Benny sat up, looking Ray's pose over with a critical eye. He adjusted Ray's arms, hooked up his left leg just slightly, then put a pillow under his head. Nodding, he settled down, pressing their skin together, touching every inch possible.
"I should have been terrified," Fraser murmured into Ray's shoulder. "I've always maintained a healthy fear of dying. A man unafraid can meet his end quickly in the wild. And I could feel my body trying to shut down, trying to keep me from breathing, and I should have been but I wasn't. I was with you." He kissed the soft prickle of Ray's skin and thought of cactus blossoms. "I knew you'd make sure I was all right."
Ray's arms tightened around him, and Fraser rested a moment, then sat up, just enough to reach Ray's lips with his own. A gentle rain of kisses followed, pattering down on softly closed eyes, noble brow, unmistakable nose, small ears, and then back down that impossible neck. He nuzzled a while in the soft hair of his chest, sampling flavor and scent.
His next movements bumped his chin into an unexpectedly dramatic hardness. He cupped the eager cock in his hand as though welcoming a friend, then kissed, nibbled and licked the head until Ray was thrusting into his hand and making little desperate noises.
He teased the slit, lapping audibly. Ray's hands fluttered around his head as he obviously fought the instinct to grab him and force his mouth down the shaft. Eyes closed in gratitude, savoring every sensation of the hot, spongy dick in his mouth, Fraser swallowed, letting the glans bump the back of his throat. He groaned at the undiluted sex of it, flushed and excited as he heard Ray gasp his name, choke out words telling him it was better, hotter, more incredible than he'd dreamed. Fraser retaliated by rolling plump balls along the fingers of his free hand, and then squeezing, gently, then more firmly as Ray's voice rose in pitch and volume, filling the room, drawing a sympathetic howl from Dief.
Another thrust, and Ray screamed, flooding Fraser's mouth and body with more heat. The taste was strong, repellent and curious and arousing all at once: salt and sugar and oregano?
Fraser stopped analyzing and lapped every drop, kissed the sensitive flesh with every whisper of love and tenderness in his soul, and then hoisted himself up the bed and humped Ray's thigh with abandon.
Dazed green eyes clouded with sympathetic arousal, and Ray spread his legs in an unconscious accommodation more exciting than anything they had done yet. Making sure not to press against Ray's doubtlessly still-sensitive genitals, Fraser let himself plow roughly against that smooth, delicate flesh where leg meets hip, folding Ray's body into his arms, gasping into Ray's open mouth, eyes locked, hearts pounding in near-perfect time.
But it was still his third orgasm of the night, and ultimately a quiet, though deeply satisfying, affair. They lay together afterwards, overly hot but not letting the other go. They could not stop looking at each other, could not stop saying without words that they were together, that they had found a way to each other despite everything.
"That we're happy," Benny whispered.
Ray did not ask him what he meant, only nodded and closed his eyes.
"Time for sleep, Benny."
"Ray? Why weren't you angry?"
Ray's annoyed sigh was reassuringly familiar, particularly as he was settling himself into a more comfortable cuddle even as it was emitted.
"Because I fought you, fought how I felt about you, fought what I wanted to do with you, as hard as I could, as long as I could." Ray shrugged with his top shoulder, then burrowed against him. "And you won, fair and square. No since bitching about it."
Another sigh. "Yeah?"
"I love you too."
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