Rating: NC-17 for m/m sex
Warnings/Notices: This story is a sequel to "Siren Song." I use spoilers for all sorts of episodes, in my universe the series ended with "Flashback," and there's major hot Mountie (sort of) love ahead.
Ray looked up to see his lieutenant beckoning from his office door, his white shirt straining at his gut, his brown tie a little askew -- never a good sign. What was worse, the blinds were drawn, and Ray could see a dark blue suit behind him.
Vecchio rose from his desk and slipped into the office, well aware that Huey and Gardino were eyeing him.
He'd never really gotten along with his fellow detectives at the 27th, but ever since his trip to Nova Scotia last year, Ray had felt their insults less and less, until his refusal to join in their name-calling had led to an unexpected cease fire. They weren't exactly buddies now, but Ray was more comfortable with them than he would have thought possible not long ago.
Of course, the truth was that he felt more comfortable with himself than he'd ever imagined he could. Sure, he was still just a balding cop with no future, a family that would sponge off him until the day he died, and a caseload straight from hell, but not long ago he'd stood at the edge of the world and known there was magic out there that came in here, at least a little.
Real, honest-to-goodness magic, not that "spirit of Christmas" crap: the real thing.
Nevertheless, the suit in Welsh's office did turn out to be a Fed.
"Detective Vecchio, meet Special Agent Wilson. He's investigating a kidnapping case that bears marked similarities to that botched-up assault you handled last month."
Ray nodded to his boss and shook Wilson's dry, slightly chapped hand. Ray noticed the guy's shoes weren't shined too well, either, and that his gray eyes were tired.
"You been working this kidnapping long?" Ray asked.
"I got the case on my desk still."
Wilson frowned. "Your lieutenant said it would be in Records."
Ray shrugged, shooting Welsh a conciliatory look. "I didn't like something about it."
"I don't know."
He led Wilson back out to the file and spent the next two hours sitting at his desk going over everything about the case. A young woman, Georgina Knox, had been going to her car after class. A man had jumped out of the bushes and tried to grab her. She'd known Tai Chi and had beaten him off. He ran. She called the cops on her cell phone.
What Ray hadn't liked had something to do with her description of the man. She'd said his height was only five-six, but kept talking about how he loomed over her, even though she was herself five-seven. That was hardly unusual, though. He was attacking her.
But there was also the speed at which he must have run to get away. She said he was out of sight when she looked up from the last tumble, but there had been no cover nearby. It was a big parking lot, and they'd been near the center.
And there was something else, but as he told Wilson, he couldn't put his finger on it.
Finally, Wilson leaned back and shook his head.
"Not what you were looking for?" Ray guessed.
"Exactly what I hoped not to find, actually."
"It's the same man. It has to be." Wilson rubbed his eyes and coughed. "It was another girl, Jessica Nichol. Same age, same type of look to her, same MO in his approach, except that he took her. We haven't been able to find anything, not a trace of either of them. I had hoped "
"That she was still alive, that he was still busy with her, somehow. If he's moved on, then she's dead."
Ray didn't try to comfort him. After fourteen months, whatever hope Wilson had been hanging on to was made of too many bad dreams.
"I have that same feeling about him, you know," the Fed confessed, looking over the contents of the file one last time, then tucking everything away. "Something weird about him I just don't get." He met Ray's eyes. "I'll need a copy of this."
"Sure." He looked around for Elaine.
It was quiet at home when Ray walked in: a rare occurrence, indeed. He found Ma in the kitchen, stirring polenta.
"Raimondo," she greeted him, leaning her cheek out for his kiss. "Hard day?"
"It was all right, Ma. Is there any soup? Where is everyone?" He sat on the stool by the counter and was soon busy snapping beans.
"Maria took the children to a sleep-over party. Fran is out on a date. Tony is working. Alfonse is upstairs, doing God knows what."
Ray smiled and watched her stir the polenta with one had and his soup with the other.
"Ma, you know I got my ticket yesterday. I'll be leaving in three weeks."
"For another two, yes?"
She smiled. "I'll mend your blue shirt before you go, the nice warm one."
Ray's eyebrows went up. "Yeah? That's it? No trying to tell me I shouldn't go?"
She looked offended. "How could I be anything but happy that you're going, considering what it meant to you last time? You were so unhappy, caro. You've been so much better since, but I think, lately, you need another time up there, yes?"
"Yeah, Ma. I'm really looking forward to it."
She smiled and served up his soup.
He'd thought a lot about telling her about Benny, but in the end he'd had to decide against it. It was the only secret he'd ever really kept from her, except for stuff about his marriage that Ange wouldn't want shared, and stuff like that.
But it was for the best. His mother's view of the world suited her, and he didn't want to force her to choose between it and belief in her eldest son. Besides, if she decided not to believe him, it would distance them, and he didn't want that.
It would be nice, though, to have someone to talk to about Benny. He found some details in particular just begged to be turned into a story: that red fish tail, Eek's love of chocolate, that mad dash up the coast in the rented Ford.
But instead he just talked about the parts of the day that wouldn't give his mother nightmares and listened to her complain about her sister in Florida and the latest "lousy Miami bum" in her life.
Afterwards, he gave her another kiss on the cheek and went up the stairs, too tired to watch TV. He took a hot shower, got into his pajamas, and then just about got into bed.
He stopped in the middle of pulling back the covers, sighed, let his head slump forward, and then straightened up to walk to his dresser, opening the bottom drawer to take out a pair of sweats.
He couldn't talk about Benny, but this was almost as good, even though after a year whatever smell of sea and sweat had ever been in the material was doubtlessly long gone unless the magic had made it into the cloth, because when he closed his eyes and pressed the sweats to his cheek he could see the black and white roiling waves in the yellow moonlight and hear the crash of surf at the base of the cliffs below. He could see Benny telling him goodbye. He could feel the kiss, the heat of his white body. He could hear the noise Eek was making in his wish to be gone. And most of all he could feel the hope and sense of purpose that had come back to him, as though he were once again a kid just out of college, joining the Chicago PD, ready to save the world.
Where was Benny now? Was there a chance in the world that merpeople knew what an "anniversary" was? When he went back to Nova Scotia in three weeks, would he see Benny and Eek again?
After a few minutes, he put the sweats away and got into bed, thinking about his plane ticket in the night stand, planning what he would pack, besides his warmest sweaters and some candy bars.
His vacation was only three days away when the phone on his desk rang.
"Detective? This is Agent Wilson. I'm in St. Thomas."
"Perhaps. He's taken another young woman, a tourist when she was getting into her car after a scuba diving class."
Several different kinds of dread filled up Ray's stomach.
"There's something else, some evidence I'm having some trouble with. I could use your help."
He could leave for Nova Scotia from St. Thomas. It would cost him, but he could do it.
"Let me speak to my lieutenant."
"I er already have."
Twelve hours later he was in the Caribbean. He slept on the plane, so he was almost coherent when he met up with Wilson at the airport. The sun was just about to come up, and the road got progressively worse as they got to the crime scene.
"Our relations with the local police are not too bad," Wilson said after filling Ray in on the details of the case so far, which were few. The only witness was a little kid who was currently in the hands of a social worker who didn't want him "further traumatized." There had been no ransom note yet. No prints. No leads, except for something Wilson wanted to show him, not tell him about.
"Some people around here are complaining, though." Wilson turned down a round that bounced them around like Pamela Anderson. "She's a popular kid."
"What aren't you telling me?"
"I really need you to see for yourself."
Ray turned away rather than bawl the guy out, distracted by the sight of the sea on their right.
He hadn't seen the ocean for a year. If he jumped in, could he find Benny's city?
*Benny, be there. Don't make me wait up there for two weeks like a jerk. The moon's full the fourth day I'm up there. Please come.*
They got to the site, marked with yellow tape and some pylons, and Wilson pulled the car into a small parking lot, keeping away from the scene as much as he could.
"It rained two days ago, and the mud here comes right up to the beach line, which is how we got it."
"Got what?" Ray pulled himself out of the car and listened to his bones pop. The sun was really up now, and the morning light was beautiful. This was no place to have to go to work.
He followed Wilson to a marked-off site, then looked down at the ground.
A long, deep trench had been made in the mud, as though something long and heavy had dragged itself along from the sand up into the small patch of yellow-lined asphalt.
"A canoe?" Ray said, the dismissed it. This had undulated, like a snake, pushing mud out to the sides. And besides, all along the edges were these little prints, like like nothing he had ever seen.
"You get someone out here to look at this?" he asked.
Wilson nodded, his red eyes looking out over the sea, then back at the parking lot, then back down at the mud. "I had an expert on the local sea life, and the chief of police."
"What did they say?"
"That it was some sort of hoax, that nothing that lived around here, or anywhere else, would make that sort of track."
Ray firmed a sudden suspicion. "And what did the kid tell you that you haven't told me yet?"
Wilson looked, finally, at Ray.
"That the man who took her changed in height, and came up out of the sea like a serpent."
Ray counted his mistakes as he got ready for bed.
First, he should never have come down here to St. Thomas. His plane ticket to Nova Scotia was for departure in less than forty hours, and it was looking less and less likely he'd make it without ruining his career, which he hadn't decided yet he wasn't going to do.
Second, he should have told Wilson he was crazy faster. He'd stood there looking at that mud and hesitated just a little too long. Wilson could tell he believed it was some monster from the depths, or at least that it might be.
Third, he should never have tried to talk to the kid. Waste of hours and effort.
Fourth, he shouldn't have tried asking the locals for sea-serpent folklore. He'd been cursed, cussed, and laughed at until he wanted to shoot someone just as a distraction.
Fifth, he'd forgotten to pack his toothbrush.
He laid his body down carefully, sighing with pleasure to be off his feet. It was a big bed, with one of those big leaf-patterned comforters and a headboard of bamboo. He could smell the ocean, and while it was nice, it made him lonely too.
He'd had dreams of walking unencumbered through snow and ice, of watching seals and merpeople swim in the icy green water, of lying naked and warm in the middle of a blizzard. It was wrong for it to be so hot and humid here. He was sweating even now, just a little.
But he closed his eyes and listened to the waves. It made him wistful enough that he actually thought he heard a seal barking.
With a sigh, he rolled over and buried his head in the soft white pillow. Tomorrow was another day.
Ray's head shot up.
The hotel was situated right on the beach, with one of those indoor/outdoor patio arrangements. When he pulled back the curtain from the sliding glass door, he saw an incredibly beautiful naked man standing in the light of the tikki torches, his eyes blue even in the flickering light, his face wreathed in a smile.
"Ark!" Eek said, and Ray looked down at the white seal.
"Get in, get in, before someone sees you," Ray said, pulling back the door and ushering them in with his free hand. He made himself slide the door closed, lock it, and then pull the curtain back into place before looking at Benny again.
"Benny, what are you doing here?" Ray wrapped his arms around himself to keep from hugging him.
The brilliant smile slipped a little. "Are you not pleased to see me?"
"Pleased?" Ray laughed, looking over that little wedge of a nose, strong brow, and cute little mouth and trying to pretend he was just making sure Benny was okay. "I'm thrilled! I can't believe it!"
But Benny was frowning now at Ray's arms, at the way he was holding himself. Ray wondered if maybe sea creatures wrapped their tentacles up to be snobby, or something. He made his arms let go, but then his hands wouldn't stay still, and he dropped to his knees to rub Eek behind the ears. The seal laughed at him with fishy breath and pushed his nose into Ray's chest. He hugged the slippery creature, then stood and gave Benny his best smile.
Benny smiled back and moved forward, his arms going around Ray for his own hug. Ray made himself not stiffen up, even though he was drowning in the salty smell and the heat of his naked body. His arms went around those broad pale shoulders as though he'd been rehearsing the move all year.
Which he had, if he were honest.
"Ray, I have missed thee."
"God, I've missed you too, Benny." There were tears in his voice, damnit, and he knew he was shaking a little. He pulled back to look his friend in the face. "I was coming up to Nova Scotia, you know? Where we met? I was going to go up there in a couple days and see if you were there."
He nodded, smiling like a fool until Benny leaned in and kissed him.
There was no wind to carry away his moan this time, nor did the kiss end with Benny's throwing himself into the dark waters.
No. In fact, this kiss showed no signs of ending at all, which suited Ray just fine. It was old-fashioned and even a little chaste, lips pressing sweetly together, just enough to rock his world without sending him into a total panic. Warm hands were caressing his back, enjoying, Ray thought, the feel of his soft pajamas. When they slid lower and gently cupped him, however, he yelped.
"Ray?" Benny's eyes were soft with concern. "Is this not I did not " He started to pull away.
Ray squeezed him harder. "Sorry, Benny. You just kind of took me by surprise." He could tell he wasn't being convincing and managed to get out, "I haven't done this before."
Benny looked at him in amazement. "You mean you are untouched, Ray?"
"Hey, no, no, that's not what I'm saying here." Ray knew his face was hot, and probably red. He was also aware that something was poking him in the hip, and since Benny was naked, there was likely to be only one thing going on here, merman or not. But the guy had nothing on his drop-dead gorgeous face but such tender regard that Ray's insides were going through the spin cycle.
"I'm just saying this is new to me, with a guy, I mean. That's all."
Benny frowned. "You have only made love with women?"
"Yeah. Uh. Yeah." Ray licked his lips and felt like his hands and feet were suddenly too big, to say nothing of his giant nose. But hey, for all he knew big noses were in style under the sea, like the hammer-head shark look, or something.
"Oh," Benny said, his eyes growing just a little dark and slightly predatory. He breathed in with what sounded a lot like anticipation, and the grin he flashed was suddenly just a little wicked. "Oh yes, indeed."
The kiss was infinitely hotter this time, and it landed everywhere: his lips, his nose, his cheeks, his ears, his neck, his shoulders. Ray realized Benny was pulling his pajama top up and off and wriggled out of the sleeves. Hands helped him push the bottoms away too, and then his briefs, and suddenly he was all naked and Benny was holding him so tightly he wasn't really sure his feet were still on the ground.
"I have longed for thee, dreamt of thee," Benny was whispering against his skin, making him shiver. His fingers rose up to curl curiously in Ray's chest hair, then tweaked his nipples mischievously.
"Oh, God." Ray finally got his own hands to work again and started running his palms over the strong, smooth back. "I want oh, God."
"What do you want, Ray? I want it too."
"I want I just want to be close to you. I want to touch you. Kiss me some more." Ray sought and found Benny's lips, then gently opened his own, running his tongue over Benny's bottom lip and finding its taste delightful.
This time, Benny pulled back in surprise.
"What was that?"
Ray blinked, then grinned. "Don't tell me you never kissed like that before?"
Benny shook his head, bringing fingertips to his lips in a charming gesture that made Ray's knees wobble. "It was most pleasant." His lips curled. "Thy lander's ways have much to teach, I see."
"'Lander'? Is that what I am?" Ray laughed.
"Thou art a demon," Benny murmured, pressing his lips against Ray's neck and making his skin shiver as though a hundred little tongues were licking him from head to foot. "A sorcerer whose spell has held me even in the merworld."
Benny nipped at his chin, making Ray groan as he plundered the mouth that opened now easily to him, twining his tongue around that slippery pink organ and sucking as gently as he could. A hand passed over his scalp, and his hips bucked, reminding Ray that a bamboo bed stood nearby, waiting for them.
"Uh, Benny "
Someone knocked on the door, insistently.
Benny went rigid in his arms. Eek, who had been watching them attentively from the corner, scampered towards the bathroom.
"Damnit," Ray moaned, mourning the loss of warmth as Benny's arms slid from him. The knocking came again, louder, and he was standing alone while Benny hurried after Eek.
Cursing under his breath, Ray shrugged back into his pajamas and went to the door, which was getting pounded a third time. He opened it without surprise to Wilson's face.
"Vecchio. There's been a sighting." Wilson walked inside, brushing Ray's shoulder.
Man, did that sound familiar.
Ray blinked. That *did* sound familiar.
"Of what and where?" he stalled.
Wilson looked around Ray's room. "We don't know what, but it scared the crap out of some tourists staying at the Hilton. I've got Parsons, he's the local agency liaison, holding off the camera brigade until we can get a look at the site."
Ray realized with dismay that Wilson expected him to get dressed.
Wilson looked towards the bathroom in surprise, his body tensing.
"Uh, look, I'm not alone."
Wilson shot him a look of total incredulity.
"I ran into an old friend in the lobby." Ray tried a smile, but his face just wasn't up to it. "Look, the Hilton, right? I'll meet you there."
It wasn't that easy, of course, but he did eventually manage to hustle Wilson out of the room. Closing the door, he turned for the bathroom and found them both huddled in the shower stall.
"The coast is clear," Ray said, swinging open the door and smiling at the white-on-white effect of their bodies and the tile. In the harsh lighting, it was hard to decide who was paler, Eek or Benny.
Eek bobbed his head a bit, then waddled out of the shower. Ray was still watching him when a hand grabbed at his pajama top and hauled him into the stall.
"Hey! Give a guy some .mmmm."
Benny's lips and hands were everywhere, and in a very few seconds Ray was naked again and lost in hot, deep, wet kisses once again. When one of Benny's hands trailed down to one spot in particular, however, they did not discover what they seemed to seeking.
Benny pulled back from nibbling on Ray's ear.
"Something is wrong, Ray?"
Ray hovered, torn between responding verbally or physically. Benny's hand was so warm and soft but
"Why are you down here, Benny? It wasn't for me."
The hand retreated, going around behind to rest on a pert curve. "Not truly so, for I was traveling to thy world when I was summoned by the Lady."
"Our leader, Ray. I could not refuse her orders to help the Seeker." Benny gave a shy smile. "Besides, she told me you were coming to this place, so she knew I would not want to refuse."
Ray tried to get through everything at once, failed, and started from the beginning.
"You were coming to Nova Scotia? To meet me?" Benny nodded. "Really?"
Benny's eyebrows rose up. "Why is this so hard for thee to fathom? Haven't you been listening to me? I would travel to the sun for you, Ray."
A slow, sweet, sliding smile almost made Ray's legs wobble into nothing. "Yes, of course. My heart being there, where else could I go?"
"I I'd go to sun for you too, Benny." He avoided the merman's lips then with pain. "But what did you say about the Seeker?"
Benny's eyes grew sad, though they were looking hungrily enough at Ray's lips. "Yes, the one who seeks among your kind." A slight blush tinted those porcelain cheeks. "The Lady knew I had almost become one myself, did she not? Though I know not what good I may do, what can I do but offer my help?"
"Benny?" A spot in Ray's heart that had been warm for a year was feeling the cold return, spreading its ice through his guts as well. "Are we talking about some sea serpent that's kidnapping women?"
Benny thought this over, his hands absently stroking Ray's skin. "I believe you are speaking of the Seeker, Ray. From thy kind's perspective, it might seem such."
"Are you telling me it's not abducting women, Benny?"
"And you're here to help it?!"
Benny looked at him in surprise. "Of course, Ray. The Seeker must find."
The ice sealed up, and Ray stumbled out of Benny's arms, out of the shower, almost tripping on Eek, out into the bedroom, where he stood naked and cold, trying to figure out where his clothes had gone to.
"Ray?" Benny was standing beside him now, Eek at his feet, an adorably bewildered expression on his face. "What is the matter?"
"The matter?" Ray reached for his anger, but it was pitifully weak. He was tired. Going back to bed and staying there for a month seemed like a good idea. That, or shooting someone and running for a thousand miles. "Is that what humans are to 'thy kind,' Benny? Some monster comes up here and grabs women and you want to help it? What, are you going to grab me too if I don't please you? I thought " Ray closed his eyes and turned away, shamed down to his bones, to his hair and nails, to his soul. How had he ever thought the magic of the world would be kinder than the rest of it?
"Arkle." The seal's call was full of concern. Ray tried to block the sound from his heart, but it wormed in, and squeezed.
"Ray." The effect of Benny's voice was worse. And he'd thought so much beauty had to mean something. "Ray." A hand took his shoulder and turned him, another cupped his face. "Ray, please. You don't understand."
He wanted to pull away. He wanted to demand answers and put on his best suit. He wound up with his face buried in the crook of Benny's neck, pleading, "Make me understand, Benny. Tell me what this means." And he thought then, somewhat incoherently, but sincerely, that if Benny did grab him and carry him down to the depths of the sea, he wouldn't even struggle. In Benny's arms, literally, he would be content to drown.
"I cannot explain, Ray. But I can show you."
"Yes, Eek. I know it was your idea."
Ray didn't move, speaking against warm, smooth skin. "Eek's idea?"
"Yes." Benny took his arms and held him close, squeezing a bit. "You must come see this, Ray. You must see what the Seeker is looking for. Then you will understand." Benny pulled back to smile at him brilliantly. "You will understand, Ray. I know it."
"Come see?" Ray looked around vaguely. "I'm supposed to go to the Hilton. It's taken another girl. I I have to meet up with Wilson."
"That man cannot understand, Ray." Benny's eyes pleaded now. "I can show you, Ray, but you must come willingly. You must allow the Seeker's song to reach you." He leaned forward with an attitude of great daring and gently kissed Ray's lips. "Please, Ray."
And there it was, Ray thought in near exhaustion: a choice between his career and Benny, between the real world and the world of mercreatures and Seekers and intelligent seals and who knew what else? It was the choice he had known was coming for a year now, a choice that allowed no returns, no second thoughts. Did he stay in the world he knew, or did he aw hell. Benny's eyes were bluer and warmer than any possibility of blue or warmth he had ever known before.
Like any man about to plunge into the surf, Ray knew enough to bow his head.
Benny kissed his crown.
A few minutes later, Ray formulated the game plan.
"First, we gotta get you dressed, and I gotta get some wheels."
"Are we going in your machine again?" Benny asked with some excitement. "Eek and I both enjoyed that greatly."
Benny thought a moment, then smiled. "The Ford."
"That wasn't my machine, it was just a rental. I'll have to get another one, too." Ray went to the phone. Fortunately, the hotel rented out jeeps for tourists. Unfortunately, the rental counter was closed, but after a few heated comments and the verbal flashing of his badge, Ray got some cooperation.
Meanwhile, Benny followed Ray's somewhat frantic hand motions to the closet, then to the unopened suitcase, which, when opened, produced warm-weather clothes and bags of Snickers and Milk Way bars.
"Ark! Ark! Ark!"
"Don't eat 'em all at once," Ray admonished, his hand over the phone. Benny nodded, grinned conspiratorially at Eek, then gave them both a bar, chewing happily while Ray finished.
"Okay, now we gotta get you dressed," Ray said, rubbing his hands together to keep them off all that gorgeous pale skin. From the drawer under the TV he pulled the shorts and flowery shirt he brought for the sun and passed them over. For shoes, he offered flip-flops that Benny practiced walking in while Ray slipped into loose khakis, sneakers, and another flowered shirt.
His cell phone rang.
"Better leave it," he muttered, thinking again of the end of his career. "It's gotta be Wilson." He stared at his phone a moment, then turned it off and set it down on the dresser.
"Let's go, Benny."
He got the jeep, relieved it was the closed-in kind, pulled up right to the door, then gave the all-clear for Eek to waddle inside. It was quite dark, the moon and blocks of stars blotted out in intervals by the thick but passing clouds. It smelled a little like hot rain. Winters in St. Thomas, Ray guessed, were wet.
"So where to, Benny?"
"Okay, but this island only goes north a few miles. We can't drive to Nova Scotia, you know."
"That's silly, Ray."
Ray laughed. He felt silly, and a little drunk. But he cringed every time he thought of Wilson, and of those fourteen months Wilson had spent looking for a young woman taken by by what?
"What can you tell me about this Seeker, Benny?"
Ray looked in the rear-view mirror and saw golden eyes and a whiskered snout bobbing up and down.
"What's with Eek?"
"He knows the Seeker better than I, Ray."
"Well, maybe, but I don't speak Seal."
"Ark! Ark ark!"
"Now, Eek. I'm sure Ray meant nothing by that."
"Ark er ark."
"Yes, I'm sure he could, if he had time."
"Yes, it is most exhilarating."
"What?" Ray demanded, turning right when the road began to curve west.
"Riding in the Ford."
"The Seeker, Benny. Why is he taking young women? Where is he taking them, and what the hell is he doing with them once he takes them there?"
"He's not taking them anywhere, Ray. One must choose to come to the Seeker."
"Benny!" Ray's exasperation burst from him
Lovely blue eyes blinked in confusion, then turned away urgently. "There, Ray! Stop here."
Vecchio pulled the Jeep off the road, digging his tires in sand, and looked around, leaving the headlights on, pointed towards the surf. They were definitely off the tourist track. The wind was strong, and the narrow stretch of beach was littered with rocks that scattered out into the rough surf. The black sea was dark here, each wave a lonely pull against gravity, futile in the crash back to sea foam.
"Do you feel it, Ray?"
Ray looked into the wind, his feet walking over the empty space, sand crunching against his sneakers, protesting the intrusion. So harsh and cold, and sinister in the blinking moonlight, this recognition that some things could never be warm, no more than they could find rest. Another wave broke before him, sinking back, defeated, into the relentless sea.
Home. God. He wanted to go home.
Someone was calling a name. That was sad.
"Ark ark ark!"
"Ray!" His shoulder, someone was shaking it.
"Help me," he whispered.
"Ray, I've got you. Ray, I'm here. I'm here."
There was some warmth there, wasn't there? A body pressed against his own, lips touching his face.
"Ray, I'm so sorry. I had no idea well, that is, I had some idea, but not like this. Ray, please, I'm here."
He focused on a pretty pale face. Who was this?
Warm arms, strong and comforting, surrounded him now and held him up. He was shivering.
"I am here for thee, Ray."
Something wet with whiskers nudged his leg.
And these were just waves, this just a beach. The moon disappeared and the light from the Jeep was stark and cold.
"Benny what the hell just happened?" Ray blinked in the light, finding his own arms wrapped tightly around the warm body pressed to his own. Eek was making snuffling noises that sounded worried.
"I did not realize and I should have, Ray. I should have."
He shook his head, coming back now as though he had been feeling dizzy. The wind whipped at them.
"I did not realize the Seeker would call you. I was given to understand that you're not his type." Benny's voice was somewhat indignant and possessive.
"Type? What? You saying this thing's looking for a date?"
"Yes, indeed, Eek."
"Indeed what?" Ray get his head back so he could look into Benny's white-lit face.
"Your beauty is so great, Ray. What seeker could resist you?"
"What? The seal thinks I'm beautiful?" Ray closed his eyes. "Are you saying there's more than one Seeker? And what was that, damnit?!" He got his eyes back open and tried his best to glare.
"A sea serpent, Ray."
"Sea serpents are seekers?"
"Well, this one is. Errlaee used to be a guard of the realm. The Lady cursed him for his cruelty and now he must seek until he finds that one who can rule his heart."
"Yes, I realize his cruelty wasn't purposeful, but his carelessness did cause a great deal of suffering, Eek."
Ray wanted to start screaming, or shake Benny until his teeth rattled. "So you're saying what? He's coming after these women to find what? His true love?"
Benny smiled brilliantly. "I knew you would understand, Ray." He leaned in for a kiss.
Ray evaded him. "And what? When he doesn't get what he wants from these women he attacks them and drags them away?"
To Ray's astonishment, Benny looked faintly annoyed. "He wouldn't have had to drag you away, Ray."
"Don't try to turn this on me! I was just I couldn't feel it was so lonely. I just needed "
"That was the Seeker's need you felt, Ray. The women who have gone felt that need as well, and responded to it."
"But if Jessica Nichol went with him last year, why is he taking more girls? How many does he need?"
"Ah, Jessica." Benny smiled fondly. "She came to us some time ago, you are right. I only met her after I returned from Siren's Cove. She helped me greatly in the mastering of your dialect." Benny frowned. "Surely you don't believe we would hold her against her will?"
Ray just stared.
"Ray, the women come with the Seeker to the Lady. She is the one who determines if the search is over. Jessica was not the women for Errlaee, and she was offered guidance back to your world. It was her own choice to stay, and we honored that choice."
"What about Georgina Knox? He attacked her!"
"Because she was not what he needed, and his violence only shows how desperate he has become. And my apologies, Eek, but it was that desperation which caused his act of cruelty in the first place. I have to help him."
"I don't know."
"You don't know? You mean, you're not some seeker expert?"
"Not really, Ray."
"Then why did the Lady send you?"
Benny looked suddenly shy, his eyes dropping and a pink tongue wiping nervously at his lower lip.
"I have sometimes felt the pull of seeking myself, Ray. I longed so for you before I met you. The Lady knows this, knows that I must have the power within myself to have called you to me before, or to have answered your call, I am not sure which. But she knows that we have found each other. In fact, I was thinking, that is, if you think it's a good idea, Ray, we might go before her ourselves."
Ray could not help his slow smile. "Are you asking me to marry you, Benny?"
"If the disappearance of these women is causing distress in your world, Ray, then you should come with me to see them for yourself. You could tell your friends that you have seen for yourself that they are well."
Ray was still smiling. His fingers smoothed along that pale, whisker-free jaw, and he felt the touch through his whole body. "You don't have to talk me into a visit, Benny. I don't think I can make it through another year without you."
"Ray." The word was both a name and a vow. The man who drank in the sound of that lovely voice did not evade the kiss that followed this time, and it was both delightful and overwhelming to be lost in this warm embrace, exchanging promises of the spirit with lips that did not need to speak a word.
"Vecchio! Is that you?"
He would have jumped back, had his hands not been carded through thick hair, and his backside cupped in strong hands. As it was, he leaned away and saw a man silhouetted against a second set of headlights. The kiss had been even more distracting than he realized.
As the shape began to move towards them, Ray looked around wildly for Eek, and found nothing. Very quietly, Benny chuckled.
Wilson was up near them now, trying not to stare in shock at Benny and not doing a very good job.
"This your, uh, old friend?" Wilson asked.
Ray couldn't get out of Benny's arms without an effort he discovered he had no interest in making. Let Wilson think whatever he wanted.
"Yeah. Benny, this is Special Agent Wilson."
"Pleased to meet you," Benny said.
"Uh, yeah. Vecchio, you were supposed to meet me at the Hilton."
"Yeah, well, I got a call."
"A sighting." There. About time he got to pull that one out.
Wilson gave a token look around the beach, his protests already filling his mouth, when he froze, shot Vecchio an assessing look, then walked towards the water. Ray recovered enough to follow, not even noticing that he slid his hand down into Benny's and held on tight.
The long, side-dappled track came out of the water about thirty feet, turned, and went back into the waves. Ray saw something in his mind's eye, a tall, dark shape draped by the curl of a moonlight wave, and the loneliness poured inside him once more. He pressed against the solid figure at his side, and shivered at the thoughts that brushed his mind.
"Damn, this looks fresh. When did the call come in?"
"When I was on my way to meet you."
Wilson looked at him. "From whom?"
"A guy I talked with this afternoon about sea serpent lore. When he stopped laughing, I guess he started looking around."
"They found her."
"Found who?" The wind kicked sand at them. Where the hell was Eek, anyway? Hiding behind one of the rocks, but which one?
"Becca Frerer, the woman taken this afternoon -- or rather, she wasn't taken." Wilson shook his head and smothered a yawn. Ray wondered when the last time was the guy had had more than five hours' sleep at a stretch. "It's the same as in Chicago. A man attacked her and she beat him off."
"Some bruises, scared real bad. I got her statement."
"You got the local cops on alert, right?"
Wilson frowned at him. "Yeah."
"There's nothing more we're going to do about tonight. Get some sleep."
Wilson looked down at the sand, figuring, as Vecchio had, that the tide would wipe the tracks away within the half-hour. He snorted suddenly, and looked up in demand.
"What is this thing? What the hell does it want?"
Ray held back a grunt of surprise. Wilson expected him to have an answer.
"Come on, Vecchio." The tired gray eyes, a little yellow in the moonlight, darted over to Benny, then back. "What's going on?"
"How should I know?"
"I don't know, but you do, don't you?"
"Get some sleep, Wilson. You're punchy."
"How does he know to target these girls? Why does he pick ones with lousy families? How come Frerer could fight him off when she weighs in at ninety-nine pounds and doesn't even remember what she did to get away? How come I get nothing for over a year and then some 'local' calls you up about tracks in the sand? And who the hell is this?" Wilson's hand was almost a fist as he flung it towards Benny.
Ray let the silence answer him first, then replied, "Why it's my friend, the magic sea serpent mugger, of course." He let another beat pass, then: "I mean, you know you can't trust gays, right?"
Wilson made a visible effort, wavered, then slumped. "Don't pull that homophobe crap on me. Vecchio " His voice was almost pleading now. "If you got anything on this, man, you gotta level with me."
"It's late. Nothing's gonna make sense right now. It will be morning in a couple hours. Get some sleep. In the morning we'll have a big breakfast and go over everything we've got, all right?"
Wilson looked at the waves eating their way up the deep track in the sand, then sighed and nodded.
"All right, Vecchio."
Wilson moved back towards the cars, then stopped, turned, and looked down at the pale hand Benny had settled onto his shoulder.
"Ray is right," the merman said softly. "You need to sleep. A long, deep sleep to rest you all the way through."
Wilson stared into Benny's face, then nodded slowly. "Yes. God. I can't remember when I slept like that."
Benny nodded. "Go on then." He released him.
Wilson blinked at them both a moment, then turned again and walked to his car. The headlights dimmed as the engine caught, then the car -- a Ford, Ray noted -- turned in the road and headed back.
"What did you do, Benny?" Ray rested his head on his friend's shoulder.
"Just helped him to sleep, Ray, for as long as he needs."
Benny turned, holding Ray up, holding him close.
"Will you come with me, Ray?"
"Let me turn off the headlights, okay? We can put the clothes in the trunk, keep people from thinking they got drowning victims."
"Good thinking, Ray."
"Ark!" Eek waddled out from behind a nearby rock, following them as they headed back to the road.
Ray shed his khakis and floral print, folding them up with his shoes and putting it all next to Benny's clothes in the Jeep's pop-trunk. The wind whipped between his legs, making him shiver, as he leaned in to turn off the lights, then bent down to hide the keys in the exhaust pipe.
Would he ever come back here? Just what was he giving up? He thought of his family, but they were distant, as they had been in Nova Scotia last year.
Sand brushed his face, grit aiming for his eyes. He flinched away, and wound up bumping knees with the reason his life didn't matter anymore.
"Can we go now, Benny?"
A quick embrace, and he almost yelped at the heat of it.
"Come with me, Ray." A hand slid into his. "Come see my home."
He nodded, and they walked over the cold, tiny dunes to the sea. The water was warmer then the air, but still too cool against his skin, and he realized he was crushing Benny's hand in his own.
"Are you all right, Ray?"
"I'm scared to death."
Benny smiled at him, looking just a touch rueful.
"That's probably wise."
A little kiss against his lips, then Benny was walking backwards into the surf, pulling Ray with him. Eek had already dived in, "arking" happily.
"Don't be frightened, Ray," Benny called against the roar of a wave that swirled around them. "I'm here."
Ray lost touch with the ground, struggled slightly as Benny's hands pulled him under, then let the water pass over his head, fill his ears, and cut off all sight and sound and sign of the world he knew.
There was no telling what he'd expected. Coral reefs, maybe, and some deep-voiced guy telling him about the feeding habits of the hermit crab. Instead, it was dark and endless, and he couldn't breathe.
Oh God. He couldn't breathe.
Why hadn't he thought about this one before? He'd seen too many movies. This was water, swirling warm and cold and dark and wet and not something that was supposed to get into his lungs.
He kicked, arms flailing for the surface, heart squeezed in his chest.
Arms caught him, and he fought, jerking away, needing air. God, needing air.
Something pressed up against his mouth, smothering him, and when he opened his mouth to scream, he suddenly could, sort of.
Air yes, actual air was getting in. He blew out his nose and sucked in through his mouth and it was a deep, rich, double-lungful of air. The strong arms holding him let him ease back, and he was looking through the dark water into sparkling blue eyes.
Then Benny leaned in, slowly this time, and fit their lips together again. Ray breathed out again through his nose, then in through his mouth, almost chuckling when a pointed tongue-tip teased his own. When the buddy-breath-kiss ended this time, he followed Benny back and nipped his chin. Benny laughed without making bubbles, the sound almost husky in the echoing sea.
Ray let his eyes go down the glowingly pale torso, shaking a little in awe as he once again saw the iridescent red fishtail that completed Benny's merbody. God, he was beautiful. Ray was ashamed of himself for noticing that Benny's genitals were hidden away in the scales, and for being disappointed by it.
Eek swam by, bumping Ray's hip, a white swath that twirled playfully and circled around them.
Ray found that he could hold his breath quite easily, and wondered if Benny were giving him oxygen-rich breaths, or if it were just magic.
Daringly, he tried his own underwater maneuver, chasing after Eek, who let him catch hold of his tail, and suddenly they were racing through the water, Benny at his side, the ocean floor flying past beneath them.
Benny swam close and kissed him breaths every few minutes while the water grew warmer and somehow softer. Darker shapes and glowing things began to blur past him, above and below and all around. Benny's next kiss lingered, a hand caressing his head, fingers tickling his palms. Eek shook his tail, dislodging Ray's hand so it was free to entwine in Benny's hair, thick as a pelt to his inquiring touch.
He wrapped his arms around Benny's warm, smooth back and his legs around that fishtail, delighting in the unexpected softness of those scales and the way they tickled the skin on the inside of his thighs. His stiff cock burrowed into Benny's soft belly, and when sharp teeth nipped his neck, Ray threw back his head and bubbled a shout at the shocking pleasure of it.
Ray's eyes opened to see an impatient seal hovering over them. Eek turned his snout to the right, and Ray craned his neck to follow.
He gasped, the bubble rising languidly from his lips to pop its sound to the surface perhaps miles and miles away, perhaps never.
What ocean floor was this, that rose and fell like a range of mountains, that nestled a valley to hold a city below the sea?
He had, perhaps, expected spires and buildings, but common sense should have warned him that fish would have no need for high-rises.
Instead, the dwellings piled up like plates, or self-contained lakes -- they were too big to be called swimming pools, but Ray though of that too -- that had been half-carved into the mountains. Long, draping -- yet unmoving -- arches twisted up, and Ray could make out shadows moving along them. Were they roads?
And everything glowed, in every color of the rainbow, but most especially blues and greens.
He had to look away to take a breath from Benny.
Not everything was in the valley, Ray noticed next. Lights and shapes moved up the mountains, and at the top of the tallest, furthest mountain -- how odd to realize he was looking down on it -- was a hazy red glow, almost as though it were a volcano.
Benny kissed him again, then motioned for him to take Eek's tail once more. There flashed by another joyfully dizzying ride, and the city was behind them. The red-capped mountain loomed above. He let go of Eek, then followed the seal into a cave, swam up, and broke surface.
"Ah!" His startled cry filled the cavern.
"Are you all right, Ray?"
Ray wanted to turn to Benny, but the walls of the cavern were studded with glowing jewels and in their light several naked women were lounging about, watching him, their wild, long hair falling all about their lovely laughing faces. About a dozen pink, perfect little perky tits were jiggling all over the place, and there were pale, graceful arms and smooth slopes of waist, and long, curvy legs and tight bushes in gold, ebony, ruby and and two very annoyed blue eyes were glaring at him.
Ray groaned. "Aw, have a heart, Benny."
His friend's expression startled, then gentled slightly. "They are the Lady's Court, Ray," he whispered. "And you are supposed to be in love with me, not captured by their charms."
"I'm not captured," Ray protested, "just appreciative."
"Eeeeask eesss eeaki, ireekss," said the blond-haired woman closest to them.
Benny flushed, then replied with obvious restraint, "Eeiuuaak eeiko."
The women laughed. One with fiery red hair dived into the water. In the light of the stones beneath the water Ray could see her pale legs come together into a red fish tail. She broke surface right before him, her eyes flashing in a way, Ray had to admit, he had always been attracted to.
"Eeeeeelik?" she drawled, one eyebrow raising in a dare.
"I uh " Ray looked to Benny, startled by the unhappy look on his face. Resolution firmed instantly. "Is she inviting me to what I think she's inviting me to, Benny?"
"Yes, Ray." Those beautiful lips pouted.
A woman with dark curly hair shifted against the rock she was draped over and laughed in a husky, thrilling voice. Ray would have found her beautiful, but the laugh was cold, and Benny looked more miserable than ever.
Ray swam just a little to his right, and when the red-haired mermaid went to intercept him, he ducked to his left and swam up against Benny's chest, wrapping his arms around his merman and then giving him a loud smack on the lips.
"What's merlanguage for 'I'm in not interested,' Benny?"
He'd seen sunrises give off less light than Benny's smile. He was grabbed and pressed against that hairless expanse, kissed so properly his toes curled, and then treated once again to all the blue sunlight he could bask in.
"I believe you have conveyed your intentions, Ray," Benny whispered.
And indeed, when Ray could look around again, he saw that the mermaids were basically ignoring them, though they remained most artfully arranged on the rocks. Eek broke surface, "arkled," and then turned to look at a small opening in the wall.
Ray turned as well, just in time to see a merman swim through, his red fishtail flashing beneath the surface, his long face creased in anxiety.
"Eeesssik, eeessik," the merman said, his hands flailing a little on the water's surface. He stared at Ray in nervous concern, then beckoned. "Eek, issienk."
Ray caught the seal's name, and looked at him. Golden eyes looked back, then Eek dived down in the water, nudged Ray's knee, and swam towards the merman.
"Come, Ray. The Lady will see us now."
Vecchio felt a little nervous despite himself, then smothered a laugh, taking Benny's hand in his own and swimming along as best he could. He was in some mercity surrounded by magic seals and naked mermaids. The Boogey-Man could show up, for all he knew, and what, exactly, did he think he was going to do about it?
*The things you see when you don't have your gun.*
The passageway they were swimming through now looked like one of those tunnels that got made when lava flowed. He remembered the look of this mountain from a distance, like a tamed volcano, and had a quivering moment of claustrophobia. Benny squeezed his hand, though, and he felt better.
The glowing stones grew a little brighter, and the tunnel turned to the right and left at intervals.
"Eoootk aeeeiokiki?" their guide called back.
"He's asking if we had a pleasant journey, Ray," Benny murmured.
"Tell him it was great."
Benny smiled, but Ray got the impression of a slight formality in his voice when he replied, "Eoootk aeee kiki kok."
The tunnel turned again, and opened up to a sort of enclosed lagoon. To Ray's surprise, the merman leading them pulled himself up on a flat rock just above the water, wiggled his tail, and broke it apart into legs. He stood then, revealing a well-built, very solid body just as pale as Benny's, but, Ray thought, much less beautiful. Benny to sat up on the rock next, and Ray watched his transformation with wonder.
"The rock there rises up, Ray," Benny said, pointing, as though he could look at anything besides his friend's body at that moment. "You can just walk up."
Benny turned, joining the other merman at a rock-carved counter on which rested a number of red drapes and things Ray couldn't make out. Ray swallowed, got his legs working and walked up out of the warm water into the warm air, hardly able to tell when the water receded away. It was incredibly pleasant, and the glowing stones here were brighter and more lovely than ever.
"Ark, ark ark," Eek said, nudging his knee again.
"Right. Don't want to keep the Lady waiting," Ray muttered, joining the others at the counter and realizing with surprise Benny and the other guy were getting dressed.
They weren't proper clothes, of course, just long swaths of red cloth and garland-like things made, Ray guessed, of red kelp. They felt like satin, and Ray stood still while Benny arranged some over his shoulders, around his waist - giving him back his modesty, thank goodness - and then tying little garlands around his wrists and ankles.
Ray realized the other merman was frowning.
"Reet objects to your wearing the red, Ray. But I'm sure the Lady will understand."
"Red's a mermaid color?" Ray did feel faintly ridiculous, but it sure beat the hell out of being naked.
"We of the Red serve the Lady, Ray. By donning the color, one is supposed to indicate one's loyalty."
Ray shrugged. "Yeah, I can see that. But it's not so far off, is it?"
The other merman was making little gestures, but Benny put a hand on Ray's shoulder, looking into his eyes.
"What do you mean?"
"You serve this Lady, right? So I guess I'm going to too, at least a little, at least, you know " Ray was faltering as Benny's eyes sparkled at him. " as your friend, anyway."
Ray thought a minute. "Partner?"
"Eaaetik!" the other merman urged.
"Yes, quite. Come, Ray."
The tunnel was smooth and scented with lilac, or lavender, or something like that. The glowing stones got really clear and bright, almost dazzling, like diamonds lit from within, then began to mix in with dazzling ruby lights which slowly took over, until the tunnel was filled with crimson.
It was getting hotter, and Ray smelled something burning. More importantly, he could feel Benny tensing up a bit, and wanted to hold his hand. But there was something formal now, something that put his back straight and warned him it was no time for jokes or public displays of human affection or merpeople affection, for that matter.
The tunnel ended at a staircase, which everyone, including Eek, climbed without comment. The stones were smooth enough that he didn't have to worry about the seal's stomach, but not so slippery he worried about falling down and making a fool of himself.
Of course, one of the garlands chose that moment to start tickling him in a sensitive place, but it was nothing he couldn't handle. In fact, it allowed Vecchio to know for certain that the sight of Reet's pale, muscular butt did nothing for him. He wondered what Benny saw in his eyes that made him smile so when he turned to look at his friend.
The steps ended at a board landing of smooth stone, and the cavern arced so high overhead Ray couldn't see the ceiling. Ahead of them rose a small mountain of limestone, its sharp peaks and points reminding Ray of skyscrapers. He had a sudden pop of homesickness, but it was quickly gone when the mountain moved.
The red-lit, pale rock split near the front to reveal one brown-hazel eye. Two small openings down the ridge from the eye puffed out white smoke that rose to the unseen heights of the cave. Two enormous pale things fluttered off to the sides, and Ray realized they were wings.
"Lady," Benny said, his back straight, his manner exuding respect.
The dragon's head rose up, and up, until two hazel eyes were looking down that snout quite imperiously.
"You have failed," the ruler of the merworld intoned. "The Seeker has found no peace."
Only as Benny searched for an answer did Ray realize she was speaking English. Reet was standing just as stiffly as Benny, but his face was as puzzled as it was diffident.
"I am determined to help the Seeker," Benny said at last, "but there is the matter of the women he has brought here as well."
"The women are not of concern. What matters is the Seeker."
"Not of concern?!" Ray took a step forward, glaring up at that snooty face. "I got a guy who's spent the last year and a half looking for someone who's down here. I got people who are friends and family worried about women they love. I got a manhunt going on for a sea serpent. So don't be saying it doesn't matter!"
The hazel eyes shifted to him while several more puffs of white smoke emerged and drifted up.
"You," the dragon rumbled with a half-lifted brow of disdain, "are Ray?"
"The women are of no concern because they are not in need of assistance. Becca has been given permission to leave and will return to her world after she has rested. Jessica has been staying with us, and has no desire to return."
"Well, she needs to come back long enough to let people know she's okay."
A white puff billowed from just one cave-sized nostril.
"It is her choice to stay."
"Let me talk to her." Ray looked around. "Where is she?"
"Her peace of mind need not be disturbed by your agenda."
Ray felt his body drawing up tight, but fought off the need to start shouting. Poor Benny looked ready to faint.
"Look, there's a Fed, a man whose job it is to find her, and he's not going to get over this until he finds her."
"Jessica told us people would look for her only for a short time."
"Well, that would have been true, but Wilson's let this case get to him. It's personal. From the look of him I'd say he hasn't slept or eaten right since he got the case."
"Perhaps you could simply explain the situation to him as best a human could understand it?" the dragon seemed to be getting both bored and impatient, an enormous tail flicking near the back of the cavern and falling to the floor with controlled thunder.
"It's you who doesn't understand! Wilson he's let it get to him. I can't just go back and tell him to forget it! Don't you " Ray's hand flew up, then fell to his hips. "Don't you get it? Wilson's become a Seeker too."
The Lady considered this. Ray felt a touch at his wrist, and then Benny was slipping a warm hand in his own. He felt tight and hot at the love that pounded through his heart, but it was wonderful to stand there at his friend's side and know he was right. He hadn't gotten to know that often lately.
"EEEOOTTAK!" the dragon boom-snapped, scaring him half to death. But she was only talking to Reet. A few more squeaks followed, and Benny leaned in to translate.
"She's ordering him to take us to Jessica. We're to help her visit Wilson and reassure him, then she's to return while we help the Seeker."
Ray nodded to Benny as Reet bowed before the Lady.
"Aarer," the Lady said, startling all of them.
"Lady," Benny responded, making Ray belatedly realize this was his friend's merman name.
"You have chosen well."
Benny bowed this time, his hold on Ray's hand tightening. When he stood up again, Ray caught bright blue eyes and a transcendent smile. It occurred to the man that he and this otherworldly creature had just received an official blessing.
The dragon settled back into a curling slumber, and Reet led them all back down the stairs, through the tunnel, and then to another tunnel, and finally to a chamber filled with pillows surrounding a table filled with food and drink.
"Eeorrik," Reet said.
"Irrrk," Benny replied.
The mermen nodded to each other, then Reet left. Ray turned to Benny and waited for the next wonder to occur. The smile on that incredibly beautiful face did not let him down.
"We have a while before Jessica arrives," Benny said. "Are you hungry? We could sleep. I know you must be tired."
Ray wanted to say that he was raring to go. Some of those pillows looked big and soft enough to roll around on for hours. But in truth, he was starving and exhausted.
Benny chuckled and took him into a strong, warm hug that invited his whole body to relax. As it was an invitation he gladly accepted, and they stood together a long while in the glow of white and red stones, in silence and at peace, intertwined with hands and arms and thoughts of all that lay before them.
"I can believe there are mermaids and dragons," Ray mumbled into the pale, smooth shoulder that so perfectly held up his weary head. "I can believe in magic and Seekers and cities beneath the sea. But I can't believe I get to love you. I can't believe I get to have you in my life."
"Having found you, where else would I be?"
Ray tightened the hold of his arms. "Is this what the Seeker is looking for, Benny?"
"I believe so."
He sighed and kissed the spot where his cheek had lain. "Then you're right. We have to help."
Ray ate some fish --cooked, thank goodness! -- and some dried kelp that tasted almost like crackers, then curled up with Benny on some pillows, hoping at least for kisses, but falling quickly asleep
and there was nothing in that darkness but a reflection of my inner lack. I was frightened, Ray. To see nothing for myself in that endless expanse of ocean."
There was a warm, soft pause. He drifted further, floating up.
"The heart's need can know no bounds. I had my friends, and Eek, and my duty but it wasn't enough, Ray. And I could see myself given over to it completely, spending my every moment dedicated to the search. Needing the level of need so great."
The voice caught, and those incredibly comforting arms held him tighter, deeper against the curve of the strong body protecting him.
"It was at this time that I met Orea, the fair woman whom you saw in the cave, Ray, with raven hair and eyes and a voice but she never loved me, Ray. I was an amusement to her, nothing more. When that ended, I felt I knew despair for the first time. My journeys out became longer and longer and then one day Eek said he had something to show me, and I saw you, and understood the true nature of need.
"I could feel it as we stood upon the shore, Ray. I could feel your need to help him, his need to be helped. And yet I had no compassion for him, because he was trying to take you, Ray. I should have sorrowed for him. But I could see only thee, only your eyes upon the water, unseeing "
"I was out of it, Benny."
The merman's body startled, then calmed. "I did not mean to wake thee, Ray."
Ray shifted around, sliding the naked bits of his body against Benny's and smiling when he felt the man well, creature he loved shiver. He opened his eyes to look into little blue oceans, admiring the gray and turquoise of their depths.
"I could look at your eyes forever," he mumbled, drunk on love and sleep.
His answer was a dazzling smile, almost too much for so early in the morning, especially since he was a whole reality away from a cup of coffee.
"Your eyes hold my attention as well, Ray." A warm, soft, strong
hand smoothed down his side, creating long, slow shivers all down his body.
"Are we going to be interrupted any minute for something, Benny?" Ray whispered.
"Eek is on watch," Benny whispered back, letting his breath swirl inside Ray's ear and feather over his face. It was only a small effort from there to a kiss.
Yet they did not, not yet. There was such a luxury in anticipation. Ray rolled back slightly, letting both of Benny's hand wander over his chest and small, tender stomach. He sighed in contentment, letting the surprising sensations build up a bit, then couldn't help chuckling when Benny looked at him with excited eyes.
Dark brows frowned. "What is amusing, Ray?"
"It turns your crank that I haven't been with a man, huh?" Ray's voice rolled with indulgence.
Benny smiled, just a little, and Ray's bones melted. "I believe my 'crank' cares only that it is touching your thigh," Benny muttered, pressing himself closer with a gentle thrust of his hips.
Ray groaned and turned at last into their kiss, hot sparks filling his belly and falling lower, where his body announced it was damn tired of waiting. His hands were all over that smooth skin. Dang, but Benny didn't have hair anywhere except the top of his head and there oh, man there at the base of that incredible cock.
"Shhh," he soothed, though Benny had not said a word nor made a sound as Ray explored blindly with his fingers, then moved his head, kissing a trail along that firmly rippled torso until he could see.
Uncut, pale, long and graceful, moving against his hand in little jerks. The pink tip peeked out and back as Ray wrapped his hands around the foreskin and stroked, a precious secret, almost shy, but hungry too. A clear pearl of moisture oozed from the red slit and Ray leaned in without consideration to lap it up.
Salt, incredibly strong, unpleasant, really, until he remembered where it came from. A little taste of caviar appeared when he tested it again on his tongue, almost masked by the deep brine.
Trembling now and struggling a bit to breathe, Ray laid his tongue flat on the side of the shaft, letting that pulse drum against him. Benny shivered but did nothing to rush him, and he rewarded him as best he could by letting his tongue-tip curl around and around, then lightly up to the rim of the foreskin and then down, inside, hot brine and skin as soft as a woman inside, wet and overwhelming.
"Ray by the Lady Ray "
"Tell me what you like," Ray panted, sweat and maybe a tear or two in his eyes making him blink wildly, his eyelashes tickling at Benny's scrotum. "Tell me what you want."
But speech, even the fish kind, seemed beyond Benny at that moment. A pale, broad hand simply caressed Ray's face, pulling just slightly, and with a smile the man bowed his head and suckled gently at that succulent tip.
Almost immediately, Benny came, but it wasn't the shocking bitter salt for which Ray was prepared, more the taste of caviar and warmth of sex. He swallowed, savoring, imagining for a moment all those disappointed seaman semen, and giggled.
"Thou art full of joy, Ray," Benny mumbled, his hands moving weakling along Ray's shoulders, trying to pull him up to lay beside him.
"Never been happier, Benny," Ray told him, moving between Benny's heavy legs to press his now urgent erection against that flat stomach, rocking slightly. It certainly wasn't going to take much.
Hands on his hips stilled him, and Benny's smile was pure smug seduction. The long, pale legs bent back, exposing the dark pucker beneath, and then the hands at Ray's sides were guiding him down and forward.
"I don't "
"Oh, God!" He slipped in with no more effort than it would take to enter a woman, and yet once inside he felt the tight heat pump all along his shaft, as though his lover had muscles specially saved just for this. It was almost as alien as the taste of his cum, and yet it was part of Benny and as natural as breathing, as sex itself if sex with a merman "Oh, oh, God, Benny."
He was lost and he never wanted to be found again. It was impossible that this felt so good, like being wrapped in steaming towels of peppermint, like being sucked by a hot mouth with no teeth and eight tongues, like fucking but so much better. He was bucking now and thrusting and ohGodohGodOHGOD!!!
He screamed and saw honest-to-goodness sparks behind his eyes while his best heat shot out of his body, rubbing sweet pleasure along his cock and twisting his heart until he thought he just might die and didn't give a rat's ass.
"Fuck," he groaned, feeling himself start to fall. "Fuck oh, fuck, I love you, Benny."
Strong arms caught him, held him close, and he just didn't think about anything for a long, long time.
Benny chuckled, rocking Ray gently up and down.
"Ray? Someone will be coming soon."
Ray mumbled against a soft pink nipple.
The heavy head turned slightly. The voice that spoke was even heavier. "That would finish me off, Benny, but if you want to, go ahead."
The merman puzzled over this for a moment, then shook his human lover by the shoulder, admiring the warm skin. "We need to make ourselves presentable for guests, Ray."
Benny blinked. "I can assure you you're alive."
"Tell them I'm dead. I can't move." Ray's arms belied him, sliding tightly around Benny's body. "Tell them I'm never moving again."
"I would tell them that, Ray, but they will easily see that I'm lying. Your body is far too enchanting not to admire, and then they will see that you are breathing and that your pulse " He paused to kiss the spot on that incredible neck. " is beating."
Something in there made Ray awaken fully at last.
"Someone is coming in here, Benny?"
His body protesting every inch, Ray eased himself up to look down in Benny's open, smiling face.
"As in, someone is going to come in and see us laying here naked and covered in " Ray looked down and saw their bodies coiled together. " in nothing but each other?"
Benny's smile turned dreamy. "Yes, Ray."
"Benny!" Rap leapt up, then balked as he realized the only clothes on hand were those red things. When he looked back to Benny in distress, the merman made his way over to a cover of the cavern, pulling back a long red drapery to reveal a pool of clear water. The sides of the pool rose like a bowl, and, with a sigh of pleasure, Benny lowered himself over the side and into the water, his legs turning quickly to red fishtail. There was plenty of room for him to splash around and send Ray a come-hither over his shoulder.
Resistance, had Ray been the slightest bit interested in putting up a fight, would have been futile. His feet took him to the pool and the rest of his body eagerly slid in, surprised at the warmth of the water. He tried to see Benny swimming below him, then laughed as his left foot was kissed and hands caressed his knees.
"Excuse me?" a voice asked from the cavern entry.
Ray's head went under as he froze in surprise. Then, sputtering to the surface, he grabbed the side of the pool and pulled himself up to see a tall woman standing in the doorway looking somewhat amused.
"Uh Jessica?" Ray hazarded, jiggling a pair of lips off his right foot. She looked like the pictures Wilson had shown him, except a little older and much happier. Frankly, she looked smooth and groomed and rich, somehow.
"Ray?" She smiled and walked further inside to settle herself gracefully on a red-draped rock. She was the first person not wearing red herself that he had seen. Her dress was a sort of kelp green. "I was told you wanted to see me."
"Uh yeah." Lips were tickling the back of his left knee now. He squirmed, fingers gripping the side of the pool until his knuckles showed white. He managed to get through his explanation regarding Wilson even as his legs were kissed up and down, up and down, while hands stroked his buttocks and feet. If Jessica noticed the film of sweat that began to cover Ray's face, she made no mention of it, frowning as his somewhat abbreviated story came to an end.
"You're saying you want me to leave here with you?" she finally reasoned out, running a hand through her long, undeniably glossy dark hair.
"Yeah." Oh God. Benny was nibbling on his butt now, and all he could do was spread his legs. "But only to show Wilson you're okay."
"Are you out of your mind?" she asked, though her tone with dry, not angry. "I'm never leaving this place."
"You can come right back."
She stared at him, shaking her head. "Are you telling me you can go back there? After you've seen what this place is?"
A tongue licked his balls.
"Ray? Are you all right?"
"Ark! Ark ark ark!"
A wild splash at Ray's left turned into Benny's dark head. As Eek waddled into the cavern, the merman grabbed the side of the pool-bowl as Jessica stared at him in surprise.
"Truly?" Benny demanded of Eek.
"Come, Ray," Benny ordered as he pulled his long fish body out of the pool. "We have to hurry."
Ray gaped at him, his dick trying to drill a hole in the stone side of the pool. "Hurry where?"
Benny shook out his tail and grabbed the red drapery from the rocks. Even as he responded, Ray could hear sounds of voices and running feet outside the cavern.
"The seeker, Ray. He has returned."
"Arret? He's back?" Jessica, her face washing into a bright smile, leapt up from the rock. "Who's with him?" she asked Eek.
To Ray's disappointment, though she listened to Eek's response, she could not understand it.
Benny translated: "He doesn't know. The Lady is summoning the court."
"And you as well, of course."
Again to Ray's disappointment, this last was directed at Jessica, not him. He supposed he would have to badger his way in, and that might make Benny look bad. At least all the let-downs helped something else go down, though, and, grabbing a bit of red cloth for a little strategic covering, he hoisted himself out of the bath.
"I'll leave you to it," Jessica said, throwing Ray a glance. "We'll talk later, all right?"
"You just need to go up for a minute. The guy's hurtin' bad."
She ducked her head, shot Eek and Benny a smile, then walked out.
"So, you gonna help me get dressed, or what?"
Benny unwrapped the wet cloth from around Ray's waist, gave his still-swollen genitals a pat that left the man gasping, then draped him with dry red bits while Ray fidgeted. "We should hurry, Ray."
"Yeah," Ray muttered, "I guess you can't be late to the court thing."
"Ray realizes the need we have to make a good impression," Benny told Eek. "After all, this will be his first meeting at court."
"I'm invited?" Ray asked, his voice a little high.
Benny met his eyes and frowned, then seemed to understand his confusion. "Of course, Ray. As my other, you are a member of the court. The Lady herself accepted you as such."
"Yeah?" Ray thought about that a second, trying not to show how important that made him feel. "Cool."
The trip back to the Lady was not much different from the first, except that when Reet came to guide them the mermaids had all disappeared from the ante-cavern and Reet himself looked even more flustered. He kept squeaking at Benny, who squeaked soothingly back.
As they walked through the threshold to the dragon's keep, the missing mermaids and a whole lot of other sea people had gathered all around, almost all of them dressed in red, which made it easier for Ray to spot Jessica. Next to her was a strangely cowed-looking man, his hair a mix of gray and brown, matching a somewhat elderly body. The red garments hung on him awkwardly, like the clothes of a homeless man, and seemed as poorly kept. He was shivering and gazing with adoration into the eyes of --
Wild eyes turned to Ray along with the eyes of everyone else in the court.
"Vecchio?! What the fuck?!"
Only a few half-jogged steps brought Ray to Wilson's side. He noted the dark, sweat-stained and wrinkled suit, well aware that Wilson was checking out his own red attire, then balked when the old guy shoved himself in front of Wilson, blocking Ray's path.
Ray put up his hands, trying to soothe. "Hey, hey."
"Iooirk ack Ray orookit," Benny murmured from Ray's side.
The old guy's eyes gazed narrowly at the human.
"Ray, this is the Seeker, Arret. Arret, this is my other, Ray."
"Yes, the man from the beach."
Arret looked slightly embarrassed. "Irooat."
"It's quite all right." Benny smiled suddenly at Ray. "I understand the impulse."
"Vecchio," Wilson demanded, stepping firmly out from behind Arret. "What..?" He spread his hands.
"You've met Jessica?" Ray nodded to the woman at their side.
Wilson blinked. "Jessica Nichol?"
"You're the federal agent Ray was talking about?" Jessica asked, stepping forward with a bright smile. Then her eyes went soft. "Have you really been looking for me all this time?"
Arret growled slightly while Wilson stammered out something about his duty.
"I thought you said the Seeker was a sea serpent," Ray muttered to Benny.
"He is while in the water, Ray," Benny replied patiently.
"So is that why you brought me here?" Wilson asked Arret, looking somewhat askance at the man/serpent. "To meet Jessica?"
"Errorer," Arret purred, smiling.
Ray blinked. For such an old guy, Arret had a great smile. Ray felt the slightest tug, an echo of the experience on the beach.
Wilson, on the other hand, looked flattened by a truck. His eyes, looking enormous, blinked several times, and the man swayed. Arret put out a hand -- Ray noticed the only thing not dirty about the guy was his fingernails -- on Wilson's arm and both steadied and caressed him. Wilson, Ray couldn't help noticing with a grin, leaned slightly into the touch.
"Arret," the Lady boomed, causing everyone to go still, then turn to the dragon attentively. "You have chosen well."
Arret fell to his knees, kissed the ground, then stood and gazed adoringly once more at Wilson, who gazed uncertainly back.
Ray noticed the court was breaking up as people started leaving out through the corridor. He turned to Benny uncomfortably. "What if Wilson doesn't want to stay?"
"Stay?" Wilson bleated.
"Look, if you can tell me what happened to you, maybe I can fill in the blanks," Ray offered, trying to keep his tone gentle.
"I was looking for you," Wilson said. "I called Welsh, told him you'd disappeared."
"He said you'd likely turn up with the case solved."
"He did?" It was Ray's turn to blink in surprise.
"Then I was out on the beach, just trying to think things through, and then I felt " His eyes went to Arret. "I felt this sort of music." Wilson looked embarrassed, but forced the rest out. "Like something incredibly beautiful. And then I saw this thing and it turned into him."
Arret smiled fondly.
"And then he kinda grabbed me, and we went damn, we went into the ocean, Vecchio, and then here " Wilson looked around, and Ray's eyes followed. All the mermaids and others had gone. The Lady was regarding them with somewhat impatient yet bored eyes, and a puff of smoke wandered up from her right nostril.
"Perhaps you would like to share dinner with us," Benny offered, edging back slightly towards the cavern entrance where Reet was dithering.
"But you said I had to stay here," Wilson accused, looking at Ray.
"You don't have to do anything," Jessica said, drawing his attention. "But Arret brought me here while he was still looking for you, and I stayed." She smiled, and Ray couldn't help thinking once more that she looked like a million bucks. "I think you'll like it here."
Arret squeaked a bit.
"He says he'll come back with you to your world, if that's what you want," Benny translated, shooting Ray a look to let him know the same was true for him.
Ray grinned. Wilson just looked more dazed.
"Look, let's eat," Ray said, gently nudging Eek with his foot so they could walk out without having to step over him. The seal seemed to smirk, nuzzled Ray's hand, then turned to waddle before them. Between Eek's lead and Ray's fussing, the others managed to move into the corridor. After a few steps, the cop hung back, taking Benny's hand even while he watched Arrek take Wilson's -- something the Fed didn't object to, Ray noted -- and leaned over to a small, perfect ear.
"Think Wilson's got a chance, Benny?"
"I think they won't make it through dinner, Ray," Benny answered solemnly, making Ray smother a snicker.
"Just as well," Ray muttered, grabbing a perfect ass with complete satisfaction and thinking of their interrupted bath.
At a strange sort of groaning noise, Wilson turned around, hardly aware that he did not let go of Arret's hand. Vecchio and the other guy were kissing, locked in an embrace right off the cover of some woman's Fabio romance. He couldn't help thinking how good they looked together.
Beside him, Arret purred.
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