Ray wasn't sure how they managed to keep the steaks away from Dief all night. Sure, they put them in the cooler and the cooler had a little lock, and they'd put the cooler up inside the cabin's remains where Dief shouldn't have been able to get at it, and Fraser had told the wolf in no uncertain terms, holding his muzzle so he couldn't look away, that he was not to go after the meat. But that didn't mean anything. When Benny walked back from the cabin in the morning with the steaks in his hands, wearing his longjohns, boots, and a grin, Ray's jaw almost hit the ground.
It was a true testimony to their hunger that they actually managed to eat the steaks once Benny finished cooking them over the little camp stove, though they did complicate matters slightly in the process.
"This must be some sort of special Canadian steak, Fraser."
"Actually, there's a good chance that the meat is American, Ray."
"Prepared by a Canadian, though, and he's a pretty tasty dish all by himself."
"Thank you kindly, Ray."
"Ha! Your face is turning all red! I can't believe how easy you are, Benny."
"Hm. When I'm done with my steak, Ray, may I fellate you for dessert?"
"Ray! You have your own steak! You don't need to encourage Diefenbaker by stealing from my plate."
"Well, I figure if you're going to plan on eating my m-"
"I trust you are not actually going to use such a crude expression as that to describe the act of love that I wish to perform upon your body when we're done with breakfast, Ray."
"What? You don't know 'going down on,' but you know that one?"
"Obviously a sign that my time in America has compromised me in ways I cannot even begin to calculate."
"Don't go giving me your little wolfie act! I already gave you part of my steak!"
"Yes, Diefenbaker. Since you have finished your breakfast so quickly, you would do better to get in a little exercise before we drive up to Toyotuk."
"Hey! You still got your own!"
"Hm. Your steak seems to taste better than mine."
"You have tasted both as well as I, Ray."
"I don't remember yours."
"Well, perhaps you should try it again...ohhh, dear."
"Don't you like that?"
"We...need to get to Toyotuk."
"You really think we'll make it all the way up there without a tide-me-over, Benny?"
"I'm done with my steak, Ray."
"Here, ya mangy mutt."
"Mmmm. God. I can't believe what happens to me when you kiss me, Benny."
"Ray? Would you..."
"Probably, Fraser. What do you want?"
"Would open up your shirt? I want to see you."
"It's chilly, Benny."
"We're in the sun."
"What do you want me to do when I get my shirt open, Benny?"
"Wet your fingertips and put them -"
For several casually confronted minutes they waited in silence.
"Anna wants to see you, Mountie."
For the first time, Benny felt a surge of genuine irritation towards Eric. He suspected - well, he was actually pretty certain - that Eric had the real masks, and that there would never be a way for him to prove it, or to return the masks to their rightful, or at least lawful owners. Yet he accepted Eric's deception as the work of the Raven and as the work of a man who valued and protected the heritage of his people.
But this was just plain rudeness, and he didn't for a minute believe Eric didn't know what he was doing. He'd seen them the day before yesterday, so he knew why they were really here.
"We're headed that way after breakfast."
"Yeah. Benny tells me she cooks."
Eric frowned at Ray. "She only said she wants to see Fraser."
"Ray is my partner. If she wants to see me, then she wants to see him as well."
Eric turned and walked back to his motorcycle, hands thrust into the black leather jacket over his jeans, his long hair slapping against his back.
"Nice to see you again too, Eric," Ray called out. "We gotta party some more real soon!"
"I'm sorry, Ray."
Those green eyes that undid him met his own, and Ray smiled. "He's just jealous 'cause he ain't got a sexy Mountie to talk dirty to over breakfast."
"Well, actually, I think he resents an American police officer's intrusion on what he perceives to be a native and spiritual matter, Ray."
Oh. Ray's eyes were letting him know he already knew that. They gathered their plates and utensils, made sure the tent was zipped up tight, and headed for the jeep.
The Inuit man looked over his shoulder, not taking his hands from the bars of his bike.
"We gotta stop for gas on the way!"
Eric nodded, then started up the bike and roared off. Ray followed him at a comfortable distance.
"So what do the Inuit think the birds mean, Benny?"
"I'm not sure, Ray, though obviously they're being taken as a bad omen."
Benny watched Ray's face close up. "Yeah. Obviously."
"Ray? What did I say wrong?"
Ray flashed him a smile. "Nothing, Benny. I'm just...thinking about our iceberg."
Benny's hand went to his shoulder, then trailed down softly, until it rested on his hip, and stayed there.
The open jeep and Eric's bike made enough noise that talking was an effort, so apart from the words they exchanged while they got gas, they spoke only through the touch on Ray's hip and the occasional kisses over Benny's hand that Ray would place there, bringing the hand slowly up in his own right hand, then lowering it again to the same spot.
Toyotuk was no Little Ro, but it was no Anthuk either. There were actually several roads crossing over each other, and a variety of houses and warehouses along one highway where trucks came by during the right seasons. The village had a combination store/gas station, and a place that served breakfast and lunch. Anna thought people should eat dinner at home.
While Ray followed Eric to the house at the end of Ard Lane, Benny looked around with calm familiarity, then in faint surprise.
He hadn't seen this village in years, and long before he'd first come to Chicago. Was that why it seemed smaller, grayer, flatter than he remembered? Was this what rural Canada looked like to Ray?
Just a whisper of it, but it was there, in his soul: a desire to be elsewhere, to be sitting next to Ray in the Riv, Diefenbaker panting in the backseat, the forest of buildings inviting another hunt, another chance to do something that made a difference. He wanted that feeling, but he resented it too. The Yukon was his home, and if he didn't belong here he couldn't help the people he'd been trained to help. He meant what he said to Eric about having two homes, and he wanted to belong to Chicago because that was Ray's home, but he didn't want to feel it this way, didn't want to be pulled away from the land that had made him who he was. He *needed* Canada to feel...like what? Like an extension of himself? Or just less gray and flat?
"Well, I see she keeps a low profile," Ray noted as he parked the jeep under the hand-painted "Anna's Caf" sign. "That's good coffee I smell."
Benny refrained from making a comment about the impatient look Eric threw Ray's way. Eric had no way of knowing how much coffee Ray had given up to be here with him. Benny had meant to make some to go with the steaks, but he'd gotten distracted. Ray had packed enough coffee to keep the entire Chicago police department alert on duty for a month. It had been quite inconsiderate of him not to remember. He made a little promise to himself about making coffee every morning from now on.
Ray got the door to Anna's place open, and Benny smiled as those green eyes lit up just slightly. There were just a few tables inside, and the chairs didn't match, but it was clean and the light from the windows made everything bright without actually having any tables catch the rays directly. Anna's two sons had grants from UT for producing native woodcarving, and several of their early pieces - including some very early pieces - hung on the walls, along with a neon Miller Lite sign and a framed needle work that read, "A clean kitchen is the sign of a disorganized mind."
"Smells great," Ray said loudly, looking around the empty tables. "We miss rush hour?"
"Everyone's at home." Eric looked at him blankly from his assumed stance just inside the door.
Ray was still looking around. "Where's the menus?"
"This isn't MacDonald's, Cop."
Benny hid a wince by looking down at the Stetson in his hands. Ray rounded on Eric with his knees just slightly bent, his hands waving.
"What's that supposed to mean? Did I say I wanted a Big Mac? You got something on your mind, why don't you give us all a treat and spill it?"
"The fact that you didn't know what you were protecting didn't matter last time. This time it does. Why don't you just go back to Fraser's cabin?"
"Eric -" Benny began.
Ray held up a hand, looking deep into Eric blank face. "You want to deal with Fraser, you deal with me too. Something concerns him, it concerns me just as much. If this doesn't concern him, then we're both out of here."
"The white men bring nothing but trouble here."
"You wanna know what they say about Eskimos in my neighborhood, pal?"
Eric's eyes narrowed. "You don't understand, and you don't want to."
"I understand that you're scared."
Fraser felt his eyebrows raise in surprise. He hadn't thought Ray had picked up on that. He hadn't even been sure of it himself.
He was now.
"You're so scared you can't even keep that Joe Cool act going, and I bet it's got something to do with the fact that you let Peter Lookstwice know you thought he was full of it, and now he's dead. I bet it's got something to do with how me and Benny have found more of those birds. And I know it's got something to do with you not wanting the White Man here, and your Anna woman wants to see Fraser!"
"It's not safe for you here, Cop."
Eric's voice was soft. Fraser wondered if his anger before had been feigned. Ray was staring at the man with open distrust.
"You should take the Mountie and go."
"What the hell is that -"
"Don't swear in my house."
Benny eye's flicked to the hard-weathered owner of that command, and suddenly it was eight years ago, and he was telling Anna that her only daughter had been found dead in Toronto after her Honda Accord had been pinned for two hours under a semi that had run a red light. She had been driving. Her two-month-old baby girl had been in the backseat. Anna had asked if he knew who the father had been.
When he'd said he didn't, she had turned from him and walked back into her kitchen. His posting had changed soon after, but he'd heard she went to Toronto for her daughter's body, leaving the baby's behind. It was then that Fraser learned the infant's father had obviously been white.
Ray had whirled around to look at Anna before the sentence was half-complete. She wore jeans and a man's red shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a grease stain over the right-hand pocket. A red beaded necklace hung around her scarred throat, her long gray-black hair twisted down her back, and her feet rested in slippers. Her body made her look forty, her hands a hundred, and her eyes older than anyone Benton had ever known.
"Yes, ma'am," Ray said quietly, Fraser found himself fighting a most unexpected smile. It was Ray's "Yes, Ma" voice.
Anna was looking at him now, Fraser realized, his back straightening that last millimeter. He couldn't help wondering what she saw.
"Eric told me you'd changed," she said, her own voice neutral. Her eyes dropped to Diefenbaker, who was standing directly beside him. "I'd prefer you left him outside."
The wolf whined, and looked up pleadingly into Benton's eyes as the man looked down. He wanted to argue on his friend's behalf, but it was Anna's house.
"Diefenbaker, I know you want to help. Perhaps you could wait outside for us. We won't be long."
The wolf's nose dropped along with his tail, but he shuffled to the door, which Fraser opened, and walked outside.
Anna was frowning at him when he turned back around, then flicked her eyes over at Ray. Fraser's back went even straighter. Some things were not negotiable.
"According to white law, your father owned the land near Tears Creek."
"Yes. And now I do."
"Then you could sell off the forest there."
Fraser felt himself blinking. "Legally...yes."
"There's a developer out of Moosejaw wants lumber like you got there. You could sell it off to him, and he'd chop it down by winter."
He blinked again.
"What the - what's going on here?"
Everyone looked at the Italian hands as they flew up and out. "No Inuit people are rude to a wolf, and no Inuit people want the *white man* to chop down trees!"
"Ray..." Fraser broke off, shook his head, and looked at Anna. "Ray is right. If you want me to help you, you need to tell me what's wrong."
Her eyes were hard now. "You won't sell the land."
"You're talking about almost a thousand acres of prime Canadian forest that my father bought specifically to protect. It was with the understanding that he would protect and refrain from developing it that the government let him have the land so cheaply. He didn't even build his cabin on it."
"You shouldn't have come here." She looked at Eric, then began to turn away.
"Anna..." He let himself turn slightly to Ray, then let the sudden hunch work his mouth. "Did the masks bring trouble?"
She looked at him oddly, then turned around and went into her kitchen. Benny turned his hat's brim around once, then looked over at Ray, who looked disgusted and fed up. Eric, however, made no move to the door.
Anna reappeared with a steaming mug of coffee and put it on the table next to Ray. He looked at her in surprise, then quietly sat at the table and brought the mug to his lips. She then drew out a chair herself and sat down, arms folded across her stomach. Benton and Eric sat as well.
"Wolves killed a boy up in Little Ro last week. Carrie Heartwood's dog went rabid, almost took off her hand. Eagles dying without their eyes. Pete Axel's rabbit farm's gone bust from some disease made his herd die off in six days."
Fraser looked to the door. "Ah."
"Ah, what?" Ray wanted to know.
"Eric told us, Ray. Bad medicine. Animal spirits express their displeasure through animals."
"But those masks weren't of animal spirits, were they? Or...wait. Is that the problem? The animal spirits don't like their neighbors coming back?"
Eric was looking at Ray with open surprise, then those dark eyes narrowed again. "You know nothing about spirits, Cop."
Ray shrugged. "No, but I know about turf wars." He took a sip of coffee with overt relish. "Ms Anna, I gotta tell you, this is just about the best coffee I ever had."
Anna didn't acknowledge that, but Ray happily took another swallow of his coffee. "What is this man to you?"
Fraser hesitated, wanting to avoid labels, and became aware of Ray's rather widened eyes on him.
"The man I'm going to spend the rest of my life with."
Well, now Ray was really staring at him, and when he managed to look back, Ray smiled.
Anna caught his attention by tilting her head to one side. "You have changed."
"You mean I'm not my father."
"When you came here eight years ago to tell me about my daughter, you were lonely and hard. What could you know of loss, of feeling the world take what you loved away? When I heard the spirits had come to your forest, I knew they had chosen a place no one loved, where no one hunts except the children who do not care. I knew the Raven had left this place because there was nothing for him to care about."
"What exactly are the spirits doing in Benny's forest?" Ray demanded.
Anna ignored him. "According to your laws, the forest is yours."
"Selling the land will not move the spirits, or solve your problems. There may be many reasons for the problems you've been having. I will do what I can."
Her eyes slid to Eric, then back. He could read nothing in them. "You came here to rebuild your father's cabin."
She nodded, and stood. "Build it, then go. That is what you can do for us."
"And just screw Peter Lookstwice if someone murdered him, huh?" Ray was standing now as well. "Look, I know you gotta worry about the spirits, but we got a corpse. Maybe he was a stupid kid, and maybe someone didn't like him knowing something, but little birds falling out of the sky ain't gonna tell us which one's true."
Always before, when Ray got pushy, Fraser found it easy to respect his friend. Anna and Eric didn't want them to know something - or several somethings - and Ray was objecting to their secretiveness when there was a murder investigation at stake. It wasn't the approach he chose to take in such matters, but it was often effective, and it was...well...Ray.
And certainly he still felt respect. He just also felt the blistering need to bury himself in a kiss upon Ray's lips until that quicksilver anger turned to fire, until the whole world became a backdrop for the smell and feel and taste and sound and sight of Ray: Ray who loved him, Ray who needed him, Ray his savior, Ray his lover, Ray his friend.
Ray who was making a somewhat grand exit now, flinging open the door and almost getting knocked down by an ecstatic Diefenbaker. He rubbed the wolf behind the ears, then stomped down the three squat steps and on out to the jeep.
Benny placed his hat on his head, looking at Anna, who was showing nothing but her clothes and her beads and her long twist of black and gray hair.
"If you feel you can help us in the future, just call us."
He followed Ray then, his body singing with anticipation. It was only two hours back to the cabin. He would lay his friend's body out over the sleeping bags inside the tent, and make love with him until dawn.
But only a few miles down the road, Ray grew restless. "Where's that forest, Benny?"
He pulled out his compass. "Take a right when you can."
"I didn't know your father had land and stuff."
"As I said, his rights over the land are limited. Despite what Anna believes, I couldn't have the area deforested. He basically paid a small fee to the Canadian government, then agreed to watch over it. I hadn't really thought of the forest until Anna -"
Ray stomped on the brakes, just a little softer than would cause the jeep to skid. Benny said nothing until the vehicle came to a stop, calming the fluttering thought that Ray wanted to make love again. Ray's body was tight with tension, his hands white-knuckled on the wheel, and when the jeep was still he cut the engine and leaned forward until his forehead rested on the ring of metal and plastic. A long, quiet minute passed.
"It ain't fair, Benny."
He didn't have to ask what Ray meant. Ray would tell him, of course, but he knew.
"You and me, Benny, for the rest of our lives, we're going to have to fight people about us. I just - you and me, we just wanted a few days not to have to think about it. We just wanted to come up here and happily screw each other's brains out while the rest of the world just left us the hell alone, and do we get that?" Ray was sitting up now, looking ahead into the road. "No! We get dead animals and people who don't care that we're gay, but think we're the devil because we're the 'white man!' Did I enslave these people? Did I oppress Eric or Anna? No! I just wanna find some kid's killer, if he has one, and make everyone leave us alone again. Is that just too damn much to ask?"
Fraser had no idea what to say. He and Ray could no more walk away from this case than they could get married in Ray's church. Before they had become lovers, what would he have said? That this was their duty? That things would look better in the morning?
He reached out. His hand was shaking, but he reached out and put his hand on Ray's hip. Ray turned almost instinctively towards him, and the ache in his heart loosened and fled as they huddled to each other.
The Ray was murmuring. "I can't believe you said that to her...about me. I can't believe you just said it out loud like you didn't care who knows about us. God, I love you, Benny."
Then Benny found something to say, stunned by the joy this discovery brought with it.
"Ray, there's an emergency shelter. My father built it, in the woods, near the river. It will have a cot and a stove, maybe a chair and a table. I have the key, on the ring with the key to the cabin. I brought it...I have it. We could stay there tonight."
Ray pulled back enough to show his slow, sly smile. "You think maybe we could make enough noise to scare off the spirits, Benny?"
Ray was warmth. His body, his eyes, the things he did to Benny's body with his words.
"We could try, Ray."
When lightning strikes a tree, one of several things will happen, and most of them involve fire.
One of the most common reactions is simply that: fire, which burns along the point of impact and consumes the tree in part or in whole, depending on whether the lightning is accompanied by rain. Usually, such trees fracture or splinter along impact lines as well, leaving long gash-marks from root to branch. Sometimes, trees receiving strong electrical discharges will simply explode. Occasionally, such trees will be sliced in half. Occasionally, all of the above will happen.
The grand fir tree which grew along the tree line around Bob Fraser's cabin had been struck by lightning many years before his son was born. Since there had been a long dry spell before the thunderstorm, the fire had burned quickly even as the bark had been saturated, hollowing out the tree just shy of injuring it fatally.
It stood now, gray with age and weather, having known Benton Fraser's hands and feet and the games he played there as a child, his presence no more damaging than that of the countless arboreal creatures that had nested or rested within its shelter. Being a tree, it had no preference in its usage by others, though perhaps it bore some vague ill-will towards the those animals that chewed upon its bark or dug around its damaged roots.
It certainly seemed unaware of the creature currently perched within its embrace, who had chosen it both for the shelter it provided and the wide but hidden crack high up in its trunk through which one could peer easily for a comprehensive view of the cabin and its land.
It was certainly a prime location to see such things as the men with axes as they climbed out of the truck, looked around, and got to work.
"I can't believe I've been living in the wild so long this place looks like a Hilton."
"Ray, my father's cabin is hardly 'the wild.'"
"Considering that your father's cabin is currently something less than a cabin, Benny, I'd have to differ with you on that one."
Benny let it go without regret, looking around in satisfaction at the emergency shelter his father had built. The walls were thick and windowless, and the stove and flue easy to clean. Using the ax from the jeep, he was able to gather up more than enough branches to see the fire through the night, and, once it was lit, the shelter began to warm up quickly.
He and Ray, who had spent his time airing out the covers on the small cot, brushing off cobwebs and stomping on spiders, until Benny objected and made him simple "relocate" them, left the place to warm and walked down the vague path to Tears Creek. It was still early enough in the spring that the creek was just a small ribbon banked by high walls of rock. Ray picked up a smooth pebble and flung it into the water.
"Does it ever flood?"
"Sometimes, I think. My father and I almost never discussed this place."
"So why does Anna think this place is haunted?"
"Well, she doesn't think it's haunted, Ray. She thinks spirits are expressing their displeasure here. Doubtlessly, she thinks that because this was the first place a dead eagle was found...or rather, about two kilometers from here."
"We only have about thirty minutes of daylight left, but we could make it to the top of that hill. You'll have a good view of the woods from there."
Ray started to walk. "It's funny. All this time listening to you talk about the Inuit, listening to how much you admire and respect them, and now I find out you're just one more bad guy to them."
"Well, we've encountered more than the usual level of antagonism, but I never have been in a position to help the Inuit do more than survive through a day, Ray. The Inuit have little use for me."
Ray stopped, turned, and reached up until Benny's face was between his hands. He leaned in, and his voice was soft and warm.
"Then they're fools, Benny."
Ray leaned in and allowed himself to become lost. Benny's arms went around him, so he knew he could find his way back when he was ready, when he had had enough of this sweetness and strength, enough of the knowledge that he was being kissed just as much as he was kissing. Benny's tongue explored his mouth, his lower lip was nibbled and caressed, even as he explored and caressed. They cherished each other, breathing softly, exchanging breath.
Ray rested his forehead on Benny's shoulder. "You're a fabulous kisser. Did you know that, Benny?"
"You'd inspire anyone to kiss well, Ray."
He chuckled and leaned back to meet those blue eyes. "Let's look at the forest, and then go get it on."
Benny smiled. "Understood, Ray."
Ray laughed and turned back towards the hill. "Good. I was afraid we were going to have to have another lesson in slang."
"Actually, Ray, I believe I've resolved that issue permanently."
"From now on, when an American says something I don't understand, I'm going to assume it's sexual in nature."
Ray laughed again, then thought about it. "Actually, that's a pretty safe bet."
"I believe so, Ray. After all, even if it's not sexual, as long as I'm vague enough in my reply, I should encounter no further difficulties."
"Ah. But what if the person you're talking to takes your vague comment as sexual, Benny?"
The Mountie thought this one over for several minutes. "Then I believe I will need you to come over and rescue me, Ray." Blue eyes darted over to him, sparkling slightly. "Perhaps your giving me a passionate kiss would be sufficient to convince them that I could not possibly have any interest in anyone else."
"You think that would work with - ooh, boy."
Benny smiled, looking out with Ray over the forest. "It is lovely, isn't it?"
The hill was higher than Ray had thought, and below them yawned a cliff and stretched out an endless dark green canyon. The woods were deep with twilight, jagged trunks and new leaves whispering up against the sky, reaching out from that fathomless expanse of miles. It was beautiful, but somehow cold, Ray shivered in unease that grew with the sudden feeling of being watched.
"Yeah, it's great, Benny."
"Ray, what's wrong?"
"It's gonna be night in a minute. Let's get back."
"All right, Ray." Benny kept an eye on him, obviously concerned, as they turned back.
"Around, Ray. He'll probably hunt something for dinner."
"Shouldn't we keep him inside with us? I mean, the spirits and all."
"Ray, you don't believe in spirits."
Vecchio took a deep breath, held it, nodded. No sense in panicking, even if this place was giving him the creeps. "Still, we should keep him with us."
"Well, I don't see him, Ray."
Ray stopped, looked around, then threw back his head. "Hey! Yo! Dief! Come out here!"
A high whine answered him, and the two men moved quickly back to the shelter. Diefenbaker was already there, standing by the door. When Ray opened it, letting out a pleasant wave of warm air, the wolf immediately slipped inside.
Ray looked at Benny, who shrugged, then they walked inside. It was quite toasty inside, and the room glowed from the light of the lantern Benny had brought in from the jeep. Diefenbaker curled up by the stove and went almost instantly to sleep, leading Fraser to believe his stomach was full of another rabbit.
Ray pulled out water and granola bars and pemmican, and they had dinner on the bunk.
"I'm sorry there's no coffee, Ray."
He shrugged. "Still feeling good from that cup at Anna's. Too bad she doesn't care for Italians in her place. I could sure go for more of that."
Benny finished off the bottle of water they were sharing and Ray gathered up the trash, paying no attention to the hand Fraser put on his arm. He knelt down and put everything into the pack on the floor, then stood for a minute by the stove.
Then, slowly, he turned around.
Benny was watching him from the bunk, his eyes soft and his mouth just slightly open. Ray could see the tiny wet glisten of his tongue.
He slid from his jacket and threw it behind him, over the pack. Next his top button, then each button in turn, was undone. He pulled the edges of his shirt apart slightly, then stood there a moment, feeling his body flush.
He hadn't even come close to getting used to the way he felt when he knew he and Benny were going to make love. Before - he made himself think it - with women, he'd enjoyed love and tenderness and possessiveness and joy, affection and lust, satisfaction and mutual appreciation. They were good feelings: challenging and comforting.
But making love with Benny was just as different emotionally as it was physically. It wasn't that he was self-conscious so much as he was just so incredibly self-aware. Everything had twice as much meaning when Benny was watching. And the vulnerability required was all hyped-up, too. Benny outweighed him, for Pete's sakes. And that solid body was all muscle and slick, white skin over - how *did* it all turn him on so much even while he was so frightened by what it meant?
He wasn't "normal" anymore. And even worse, he didn't want to be.
He wanted Benny.
The light from the lantern graced Benny in gold and turned his eyes jade. He looked a little like those dragons they sold in Chinatown.
Dragons. Ray knew Benny had only said that stuff before about belonging to him to get him over his moment of heterosexual panic, but it had been a nice thought: slaying dragons for Benny. He didn't own him, of course, though Ray was beginning to feel that he himself belonged to this man watching him, dictated to by those gold-glitter eyes.
But more than that, he felt they were making between themselves a private world, a safe house of words and understandings. It protected him now as he ran his fingertips up over his own chest, smiling slightly when Benny gasped. He brought his hands up to his lips and licked at his thumb and fingers, then lowered them until he could stroke his nipples, half-hidden by his shirt.
"Yeah, Benny?" Hm. He sounded like a blues singer again.
"Tell me what you want."
Benny held his breath, and Ray could see a hint of sweat on his brow. It wasn't that warm in here.
Vecchio just stood there. Benny could figure it out.
"Your shirt, Ray."
"What about it?"
"Take it off, please."
Ray shrugged out of the chambray shirt and let it fall over his jacket, then ran his palms over his chest slowly, savoring the way it felt. He was fairly certain he could make himself come just from the feel of his hands and Benny's eyes on his body. This was really kind of groovy. He'd tried doing this for Ange once, and she'd just laughed. It had been a sweet moment, though, if something less than hot. He could tell from the way Benny was breathing that laughter was out of the question. He shivered and pinched a nipple, shooting Fraser a little smile, then closed his eyes and let the little heat wave rock him.
Benny spoke, startling.
"Your pants, Ray."
"Hm. What about them, Benny?"
"Take them off...so...you'd better take off you shoes...first, I mean."
Hiding his broadening smile by bending over, Ray unlaced the water-proof hiking boots and pulled his feet out, then slithered off his pants and stood back up, his erection pressing against the one item still constraining it. Benny looked at his legs, his tongue moving over his bottom lip, and Ray let his hands play in his own chest hair a while.
"Your underwear, Ray."
"Take it off...slowly."
Ray didn't hide his grin this time, taking a good twenty seconds to slide the briefs down to the floor. He pulled off his socks too, while he was down there, then slowly straightened up again, running his fingertips over his thighs.
Yet somehow he was still unprepared for Benny's eyes. The color and depth he had seen before was giving way to a luminescence of...was it reverence? It seemed to go beyond appreciation, so far beyond that for the first time in his life, without a stitch of clothing on, Ray felt attractive. In fact, he felt absolutely gorgeous, and as a reward for this moment of insanity, he did a slow, hip-dropping turn, laughing just a little once he'd made it all the way around.
Oh God. Laughter died, and the enjoyable weight between his legs was taking on a hot, sweet ache.
Ray steadied his hands and brought them casually up to his shoulders. "Touch myself? Here?"
Benny shook his head.
"Here?" Ray put his hands on his head.
Ray pretended to consider things, frowning slightly.
"Touch your...cock, Ray."
He couldn't keep back a small moan as his hands went down his body and took gentle hold. He took a moment, steadying himself, then stroked with one hand while the other hefted the weight of his balls, amazed at the arousal he felt not only from his hands on himself, but from the feel of his own dry, soft skin and the hard flesh resisting his fingers. He concentrated, showing Benny what he liked, and soon there was a thick drop of moisture for his thumb to work with. He smeared it over his cockhead, groaning and staring so deeply into Benny's eyes he almost seemed to see himself. A few more hard strokes and he would come, and Benny would see it.
When his friend's pale-gold body slid off the bed, he faltered.
Those eyes met his only a moment, then the dark head bent, warm hands pushed his out of the way, and a hot mouth went down on him in one long, smooth glide.
"God! Benny!" Ray almost came, lifting himself up on the balls of his feet and leaning down over those broad shoulders. He tried to back off, but warm hands had cupped his butt, and Benny was sucking harder. "Geeze, Benny. Don't you want to be inside me?"
Benny looked up at him, not stopping the motion of his head, back and forth. His fingers spread, touching more of Ray, while those blue eyes closed in bliss. Ray felt devoured, as though he were nourishing his lover. The sensation spiked, and the shock of heat whipped his head back even as it rushed down his cock, spilling into Benny's mouth. Those warm lips continued to milk him, spurring aftershocks, then continued on, until the sensation became unpleasant on his overly sensitive skin.
"Benny. Hey...Benny." He pulled back, placing a gentle hand on Benny's chin, nudging him away to reveal wet lips and brilliant eyes. Ray stopped breathing, staring down into beauty that masked something almost feral.
With a growl, Fraser rose up and pulled Ray to the bed, pushing him down first and then himself a second later, sprawling over him and thrusting down in a jagged rhythm while he tore open his pants and shoved them down. Ray almost protested, then realized he didn't want to. It was so *hot* that Benny wanted him this badly, and even now his lover was taking care not to hurt him, not to smush him on the cot or grab him too hard.
He let his head loll back, and was nipped and sucked on his neck for his trouble. God, how had Benny learned all the hot spots on his neck so quickly? After all, he had a lot of neck and - "Oh, yeah! Oh, Benny, YES!" God, he was hard again, thrusting up into the honey-friction Benny was making. The hard cot only made the contact stronger, fiercer, and there was so much silky, sweaty flesh for his hands to stroke and his own mouth to seek.
Benny was arching up now, his eyes dark and seeking as his mouth worked soundlessly, then emitted a strangled groan, then finally a name, infinitely repeated, "Ray...Ray...Ray...Ray..."
"My sweet Ray..." Benny's movements lost none of their power, but slowed slightly, becoming tender. Ray met his gaze, and saw a need there he couldn't identify. Then Benny was kissing him, offering his tongue to be suckled, and Ray felt the heat flash again, stronger, coming at him. When Benny groaned down his throat he thought seriously about passing out, but instead matched it with his own garbled ecstasy, overcome and letting it all go...
It was heaven to drift, anchored only by Benny's body over his legs. Benny was making little soft snoring noises, and suddenly he realized he was going to go right to sleep, just like this, covered in semen and not giving a damn. Benny would probably wake up in a while and get out of his clothes the rest of the way. But Benny was a grown man, and could manage it on his own.
A little whine alerted him to Diefenbaker's presence by the bed. The wolf was sniffling instead of sniffing, and seemed a little spooked, his eyes roving. Ray reached out with his thankfully unsticky hand and rubbed the animal behind his ears until he calmed down. Dief licked his palm, and it tickled. Then he dropped down, evidently curling up under the cot.
It was so quiet outside.
The Mountie looked down at them: one man naked and sprawled on his back, the other draped over him with his pants pushed to his knees and his shoes still on. He frowned and tried again.
"Benton! Son! Wake up!"
"Yes, son. Get up. You're needed outside."
"Outside?" Fraser sat up, blinking and pulling up his pants. Had his father lost all sense of propriety when he was killed? He had thought his father was going to be careful when he and Ray were...engaged.
"Yes, outside, son. What's the matter? Hasn't the blood made it back to your brain yet?"
Blinking at his father's crudeness, he slid carefully from the cot, causing Ray to stir, mumble, and drop back into sleep. Great Scot. He was still in his jacket. It was a wonder Ray hadn't protested.
"Come along, Benton." His father seemed slightly angry. Odd. He'd never seemed angry before, not even when dealing with Gerrard. "They won't wait forever."
"Who?" he whispered.
Fraser Sr. looked startled, then frowned. "Hurry up."
Obediently, Fraser Jr. opened the door and slipped out. The night had turned bitter cold.
"Mphh...what? Dief? Where's Benny?"
It felt horrible to wake up alone, nothing to think about but the dry gunk on his stomach and chest, and how cold it was in here. Had someone held the door open? The fire was low. Ray got up and added some wood, then, feeling really gross, put his dirty clothes back on, stomping into his boots and shrugging back into his jacket. He and Benny *had* to find somewhere to shower tomorrow.
Benny...where was he?
Dief was standing by the door, and when he opened it the wolf slipped out, then waited, making sure he was following, before heading for the hill. Benny was standing at the top of it.
"Benny! Yo! Fraser!"
Nothing. Benny didn't turn, didn't seem to notice him or Dief at all. Ray began to trot. Damn, but it had gotten cold.
"I don't understand," Benny murmured when Ray got within earshot. "I don't see them."
"Benny? Benny!" He grabbed Fraser's shoulder and spun him around.
The eyes which met his were gray in the starlight, the face deadly pale. But even as Ray opened his mouth to ask if he were all right, Fraser shook himself slightly, blinked, and stared.
"Ray? What's going on?"
"You tell me, Benny! What are you doing out here?"
Fraser looked around, but didn't find whatever he was looking for. "I...came for a walk."
"Benny, don't even think about lying to me."
Those gray eyes met his helplessly. "I thought there was something out here I needed to see."
Ray looked out over the darkness hiding the forest, and again felt eyes looking back at him.
*You can't have him.* The words formed in his mind instinctively, irrational but right. *You can't have him.*
Something flashed, or was it just his eyes, hating the dark? Where was the damn moon, anyway?
"Come on, Benny. Let's go back." Dief was pressed against Fraser's legs, and the wolf was whining again.
"Of course, Ray." Fraser's voice was serene, but he didn't move. Ray grabbed his arm and dragged him back down the hill.
Inside, closing Dief in with them, Ray drew Benny to the cot, made him take off his shoes and jacket, but them kept them both dressed the rest of the way. It would only be a few hours until morning.
Benny slept, his head cradled in Ray's lap, while the detective listened to the roaring silence just outside.
Constable Davenport forced herself to acknowledge that if she had it to do over again, she'd have invited Fraser and Vecchio for a drink. Then she pushed harder, and admitted that she'd pay money to have it to do over again.
The just-post-dawn air stung her cheeks and chin as she drove the open jeep to Anthuk. She wanted another look in the shed, and she wanted to talk to one of the Corven women, who were bound to be back now from Little Ro.
Davenport considered herself a fortunate woman. While she was often lonely, it was not a chronic condition, nor one she considered permanent. At this time in her life, she was more concerned with the satisfaction she derived from her posting to what her brother-in-law had once called "the backyard to a vacant lot."
She had worked in cities, and found she spent her time "busting" everyone she met. Out here she knew people during the course of their daily lives, not just when they were drunk or guilty of some crime that would now ruin their lives. True, she didn't know many people, and the Inuit population would rather see the back of her, and sometimes she got snowed in for weeks at a time, but there was peace here, and a fellowship only known to those who not only worked for a living, but worked to live.
McDermot had come to her this way, a stray who'd been making his way on his own when she found him on her porch one evening, evidently attracted by some seed she'd put out for the birds. She fed him, and he regarded her with suspicion, and for over a week their relationship had consisted only of meals and snubs.
And then one morning she opened her door, and there he stood, sniffing slightly. She opened the door wider, and in he walked.
He almost never left her cabin now. Like this place, he'd walked into her heart and stayed there because it suited the both of them just fine.
Jane sighed. Benton Fraser was extremely attractive, and Ray Vecchio was sexy if annoying, but it wasn't the men she kept thinking of. It was their friendship. She'd never seen two people who more obviously belonged together as a team than the two of them. She'd noticed it subconsciously at first, then rejected it as a TV-style pose, then...thinking back over it later while she combed flour out of McDermot's coat, and while she made dinner and listened to her radio for calls from headquarters, she'd picked out a dozen little things only close friends did for each other that the two men had done with ease.
Not to mention that talk she'd interrupted about things not being Fraser's fault. She got the feeling Vecchio did that for the man quite often.
In any event, their friendship had made her feel her aloneness as she never had quite felt it before.
When she'd first come up here six years ago, she'd thought she was making a good friend right away with someone who would be very helpful to her in a number of ways. Anna Silvernail had first come to her door to discuss her daughter's problems with the last Mountie, Chester Claiborne. Rina Silvernail had been making a habit out of getting drunk and breaking car windows with rocks. Usually, the cars were old junkers, but sometimes Rina got too drunk to tell the difference between an abandoned vehicle and a parked one.
She'd taken to the woman immediately, and had thought it was returned. She'd been a regular at Anna's Caf for months, and through Anna she'd met Keri, and Doc, and the Corven sisters, and Justin Dearhorn, and Eric, and a few shamans and a storyteller named Ellis from Bushwood, and more, all socially, all so very friendly-like. She'd thought then that she was making a difference. She'd thought...
Jane frowned and concentrated on the road. She'd thought a lot of things, but not once had she realized Anna was simply keeping an eye on her, making sure the new Mountie didn't cause the trouble the old one did. The first time Davenport had had to arrest someone she'd met in Anna's Caf - for spousal abuse, of all things - Anna had come to her to request that she release the man from "white man's law" and let the local Inuit government - as if there were such a thing - handle the case. When Jane had refused, Anna had turned her back without a word, and that had been that.
She'd almost left then, just as she now suspected Claiborne had left. None of Anna's friends knew her after that. Oh, they'd say hello, but they wouldn't mean it. No more great coffee and fresh bread and sitting around in the room that never got too much sun and just talking about the weather and fishing for hours on end. Ellis the storyteller, himself half-white, still looked her up when he was in town. Sometimes he brought his wife, Kate Thistle. But that was it.
Luckily, she hadn't been so taken by the Inuit welcome that she'd forgotten to make white friends - though at the time she hadn't even thought of them as "Inuit friends" and "white friends." So she still had folks to keep her company, but that special charm of this place had died for her the day Anna had turned her back to her and kept it there.
Rina had come to her once, right before she'd left for the city, and asked her how she bore it, how she could possibly stay here when she was white and could go where she pleased.
"I like it here," she'd said. Rina hadn't understood, but it had been the simple truth.
Davenport gasped and stomped on the accelerator. She was about three miles from Anthuk, and over the trees where Anthuk would be rose thick black smoke. Soon, she could smell it: gasoline and wood burning hot.
Anthuk was half-gone when she got there: Doc's shed and house nothing but black embers. The wind, thank God, had kept the fire from spreading to the trees or the Corven house. Constable Davenport slipped into her rubber boots, then stomped on the few ground fires caused by the embers that had blown loose. She was just putting out the last of them when she saw the boots sticking out from behind the storage shed.
She ran to him and put her hands to the pulse point on his neck. Strong and steady. He had a nasty bump on his head, and blood had pooled back and caked in his hair. She worried about how to move him until he began to stir.
The man groaned, surprising her with the strength of it. Doc was almost in his sixties, but he had redefined the word "feisty" for her.
"Don't try to move yet," she warned.
"Mph. Damn bastard." Blue-gray, almost white eyes opened in pain and looked up at her.
"Did you see who hit you?"
"A man. I saw that much. Was in the shed."
She put a hand on his shoulder to keep him from sitting up, then took off her jacket and put it behind his head before going to her jeep for the first aid kit. When she got back, he was already bitching to beat the band.
"Don't know why everyone wants inside my shed all of the sudden. Peter used to go in there and sniff gas, but what the hell else was he supposed to do? Tried to talk him out of it, but was I supposed to throw the gas out? I locked the place up and he'd just bust it open anyways. Besides, the gas was for everyone to use. That was the point of having it there..."
She nodded and clucked a bit as she wiped the blood off. There was a lot of it, but the wound wasn't deep and the bone wasn't soft. It had been a glancing blow, meant to stun, not kill. She told him as much when he paused for breath.
"What did the fire get?" he wanted to know.
"The shed and your house."
He bitched a bit more, but it wasn't his main house, just a place to get away from Trudy for a while, and she doubt he kept anything of value there. Trudy wouldn't stand for it.
He was steadier now, and she let him sit up. She'd have to take him to Little Ro to get that wound looked at, but she'd take it slow and steady.
"So what exactly did you see?"
He frowned and looked embarrassed. "I heard noise in the shed. I was looking for one of the sisters. They're not back yet."
"So I see the door is open, and I know about Peter, so I'm thinking it's someone who wants to check out where someone died, or maybe some native fool doing a ritual about death and dying...so I go in there ready to shoo them off, and this man - I didn't see his face, and he had a knit cap on over his head - he turned and clops me one. Don't remember anything after that."
"What was he doing when you got in there?"
"Don't know. Looking at the ground."
Doc looked annoyed. "Yeah, the ground, I guess. Looking down, anyway."
"What else was he wearing besides the cap?"
"Jeans, dark jacket, boots."
"What kind of boots?"
"Dark...leather...you gonna take me to Little Ro?"
She nodded and helped him up.
"You said the Corven sisters aren't back yet. Do you know where they went?"
Jane almost stumbled in surprise. "Why did they go there?"
"Some sort of arts and crafts festival. Bunch of kids went."
"Guy and John Silvernail?" She shook off the small clutch of dread.
"Yeah." They came into view of the road and Doc groaned. "That jeep of yours bounces like a buckboard."
"I'll take it slow."
Doc sniffed and bemoaned the loss of her predecessor, who'd ridden year-long in his Range Rover. She hid a smile. Doc was feeling all right.
When they got to Little Ro, she'd have to call for backup.
*Well, you said you wanted company.*
Benny snuggled into the warm luxury of Ray's arms, oozing decadence. He'd never liked it when people exaggerated about love and "heaven on earth" before. Now he knew better.
"Benny? You awake?"
Ray's concerned voice scraped away some of the warm fuzz surrounding his mind.
"Mmm. Yes, I'm awake, Ray."
"Benny? You okay?" Ray's arms were moving him now, trying to get him to sit up. It was very hard to open his eyes. Had he been ill?
Diefenbaker whined, and was suddenly in his face, his front paws on the cot, licking at him and sniffing. When Benny realized Ray hadn't objected to this lupine intrusion, he managed to struggle fully awake.
"Ray?" He dodged a pink tongue long enough to see his friend's tired and pale face. "What's wrong, Ray?"
"What's wrong? You scare the hell out of me like that and you ask me what's wrong?"
Benny tried to think of what Ray meant, but his brain wasn't working right. Had he consumed alcohol last night?
"Benny...hey, are you all right?"
"What happened, Ray?"
Now those green eyes looked really scared. Diefenbaker snuffed up to Ray's chest, and those elegant hands sunk deeply into the white fur, seeking comfort. Benny felt a wholly inappropriate twinge of jealousy.
"You left last night, Fraser. Do you remember that? You left the shelter and went and stood out looking at the forest. And it's been creepy as hell all night."
Benny frowned and tried to think. "Left the shelter?"
"All right! That's it!" Ray was off the cot so fast Diefenbaker yelped and trotted backwards. "We're so outta here! Now! We're leaving! Help me pack everything we got!"
"No questions, no arguments, no discussing this in committee! We're gone!" Vecchio threw open the door to the dim gray of dawn.
Fraser reached for the pack on the floor, and almost fell on his knees. Ray grabbed him, getting him to stand on wobbly legs.
"Benny, you'll be all right." Ray soothed him as well as he could with such a desperate voice. "We just gotta get out of here." Dief whined and kept by their legs as Ray reached down for the pack, ready to throw Benny over his shoulder if need be.
Fraser rallied and got to the jeep pretty much under his own power. Ray tossed the pack in the back, waited only until Dief was safely settled, then started up the engine and sped away.
"Where's the nearest doctor, Benny?"
"Hmm. What, Ray?"
"Doctor, Benny! Damnit! Where's the nearest doctor?"
"There's a clinic in Little Ro, Ray. Go west"
Ray cursed. They were going north but the outlet road they were on now would hook up with the main road in a few miles. God, he could feel eyes on his back, and when a bird flew out of the forest on his right, he had a sudden vision of being attacked on all sides, a la *The Birds.*
It was just a crow though, or some big black bird. It didn't bother them.
"Benny? Benny! Talk to me! Tell me an Inuit story or something!"
"A story?" Fraser's head was rocking around with every bump in the road. Ray stepped on the gas.
"Yeah, damnit. For once I wanna hear one of your stories, okay?"
Fraser seemed to be thinking about it.
"Please, Benny? Okay?"
"There was...an Inuit man, who was unhappy because he wasn't a good hunter, Ray."
"Not a good hunter, huh?"
"Yes. One day he decided to leave his home. He left all his weapons and began to walk away from the sea, thinking all the while that he would rather be an animal, instead of a man."
Fraser seemed to drift off.
"Benny! Benny! It's bad that he wanted to be an animal, right?"
"It's bad that the guy wanted to be an animal, isn't it? He should have wanted to be a man!"
"Have you heard the story before, Ray?"
"No! No, please. Keep telling it to me. I really like it."
Fraser smiled. "You do, Ray?"
"Yeah. Go on with it."
"Well, the man saw some ptarmigan eating the leaves and berries and making little noises. They sounded very happy, Ray."
Ray grinned savagely as the main road came into view. Rubber burned as he turned west. "I'm sure they did, Benny."
"The man followed the ptarmigan all day. He wanted them to feel sorry for him and use their magic to change him into a ptarmigan too. Finally he found a village made entirely of ptarmigan who had become people. He asked them..."
"He asked them what, Benny?"
"He asked them to make him a ptarmigan too, Ray. But they wouldn't. They told him he wouldn't like it there because big birds would try to kill him, and men would hunt him."
"Yeah, that would suck, Benny. So what happened next?"
"The injury isn't severe," Dr. Talfard was explaining, his voice a little tired even though it was still mid-morning. "But I'm worried about the time he was lying on the ground. He's got a bad chill, and it may turn into an infection. I'm keeping him warm, and -"
"Where's the doctor?" a man shouted from the door as he carried another man in over his shoulder. A white dog was with them, but went immediately into a corner, as though it somehow knew it wasn't supposed to be there and was keeping out of the way. "Where's the doctor here?"
Talfard and Davenport rushed towards Ray Vecchio, whose eyes latched immediately onto the Mountie, pleading with her silently as she and Talfard eased Fraser off his shoulder and onto a nearby gurney.
"Ray?" Fraser said weakly, his eyes unfocused. "I can't feel my legs, Ray."
"Oh, God!" Vecchio grabbed Fraser's hand and stroked his hair back from his forehead. "You're gonna be all right, Benny."
Talfard was busy, shining his light in Fraser's eyes, checking his pulse, opening up his shirt and listening to his heart. He frowned and checked Fraser's throat, then felt his glands under his neck and armpits, then lifted up the man's unoccupied hand, staring at the fingernails.
"Sir, where did you find him?"
"We were at his father's forest, at the emergency shelter!"
"You were together?"
"Yeah! Except...he was walking in the woods, at night. I found him and brought him back. And he doesn't remember it!"
"Ray?" Very weak and thinly spoken, and yet Vecchio reacted as though shot.
"Yeah, Benny? Yeah?"
"I'm sure he is," Talfard muttered, grabbing the gurney to push it into the treatment room. Vecchio moved with him fluidly, helping to guide his friend inside.
"You know what's wrong with him?" Ray demanded.
"He's showing all the signs of toxicological shock. I'd say he's been poisoned."
"Poisoned?" Ray's eyes were enormous. Davenport looked away to grab latex gloves and then the IV. "How? By what?"
"I'll have to wait for the lab results, and that will take awhile. But it looks like a neural suppressant. Possibly an insecticide."
Ray stared. "You saying that because of the way he looks, or just because people get that around here?"
"You gonna get him something to drink, or what?"
Talfard was unfazed by Vecchio's tone. "There's bottled water in the lobby. You could help by getting it."
Vecchio nodded and went to leave, but Fraser tightened his grip on the man's hand. "Ray!"
"I'll get it," Davenport said, rushing into the next room, looking in on the recovery room as she passed. Doc was sitting there calmly, wrapped in blankets and watching the little TV. When she got back with the water, the IV was hooked up with a drip, Fraser's shirt was on the floor and the pants would soon join it. Vecchio and the doctor were both checking over Fraser's body for needle marks. She handed the water to Vecchio and helped get the rest of Fraser's clothes off.
Considering how shrill and whiny he could be, Vecchio's voice was amazing soft and musical as he spoke to Fraser, urging him to open his eyes and drink, soothing him as they turned him over on his stomach, then soothing him again as they got him again on his back. In-between his words, she could hear the little noises Fraser made as he drank the water. Vecchio, she noted with approval, was keeping him from gulping it down.
Talfard rinsed out Fraser's eyes with saline, then rubbed his body clean with solution and a soft cloth. Then he tied a robe around him and pulled up the sheet.
She kept her eyes averted while Fraser was naked. She'd never been one for peeking at people, and besides, she thought there was a good chance Vecchio might punch her lights out if he thought she was making moves on Fraser. Did the guy hide their relationship this poorly at home? Or maybe they didn't hide it, but she thought gays had a tough time of things in American cities like Chicago.
Oh well, it was none of her business.
Talfard was drawing blood now, and talking loudly enough to get Vecchio's attention.
"He's definitely been poisoned with something, so we're going to put a broad-spectrum anti-toxin in the drip and pump him with fluids. Keep making him drink as much as you can. And keep him awake. I'm fairly certain he's going to be fine, all right? But let's keep him awake."
Vecchio blinked several times, his body rocking slightly as he heard the good, if guarded news. Then he looked down with a smile. "You hear that, Benny? I told you you were going to be okay, but you gotta stay awake, okay?"
"Yes, Ray." Fraser whispered.
"He'll be a little out of it, because of the serum and because he's gotten so dehydrated. Don't be alarmed."
Vecchio nodded, then looked down at Fraser and got him to drink more.
"Get those clothes in a bag," Talfard whispered to her. "Then get this guy -"
"Get him to change into scrubs and put his clothes in another bag."
"I'll get the lab in Danes to compare it to whatever they find on the bird."
Talfard, who'd already heard from her about the eagle, nodded. Together, they looked at Vecchio and Fraser, then Talfard headed to his small lab.
"So what happened after the guy got good at being a caribou, Benny?"
"He...he wanted to see his family again, Ray."
Vecchio smiled and got Benny to drink from the bottle once more, slowly smoothing his hand back over the sweat-matted hair.
"Makes sense, Benny. But wasn't he still a caribou?"
"Yes, Ray." Another drink. "The chief caribou warned him...that it would be hard for him to be a man again, since...he'd become such a good caribou."
Davenport left the room for another bottle of water and two garbage bags. Doc waved at her, then went back to staring at the TV. She took a moment, looking out the window. It was getting cloudy, and the temperature was staying low. Perhaps it would snow, though it was very late in the year for it. She saw Vecchio's jeep parked outside. When she shot a look at the dog, he was pretending to sleep.
Benny was talking when she went in, his voice faint, but more relaxed now, probably picking up Vecchio's attitude. "He felt very foolish for getting caught in the trap, Ray, but he was so excited to see his family again."
"Makes sense to me, Benny." Vecchio took the bottle of water from her.
"You need to change into these scrubs and put your clothes in this bag. We'll need to test them."
He looked at her and nodded, then looked like he wanted to ask her a question. Fraser claimed his attention, however, and she turned her back. She would have left the room, but if Fraser got suddenly worse, she'd need to get the doctor back. Fraser's grip on Vecchio's hand looked tight enough to bruise.
"In the evening, two boys from the village came to the trap, and they were going to shoot him. But then the caribou spoke, and asked them not to kill him."
"I'm glad he could still talk, Benny."
She heard cloth moving now as Vecchio shed his clothes. "And then what happened?"
"He said they only needed to skin him with their knives. The boys did as they were told. Ray..."
"Just let go for a second, Benny. So I can get the jacket off, okay? See? There you go."
She heard the jacket being shoved into the bag. Then the thump of Vecchio's boots, then a zipper and what was probably buttons being undone.
"And what happened when he didn't have his skin, Benny?"
"You're so beautiful, Ray."
"Aw, geeze, Benny. We got company."
"But you are beautiful, Ray. Don't you like it when I say that?"
"More than anything, Benny. But I like it more when we're alone, all right? Now, tell me what happened next with the caribou guy."
"Well, he told them to take off his skin with their knives."
"You said that part already. And they did. So what happened then?"
"They saw that he was a man, Ray. And more than that, they realized he was their father, whom they'd missed for so many years."
"Aw, that's great, Benny."
"You still have a bruise on your back, Ray."
"Yes. From when he beat you, when he was going to -"
"Shhh. Let's not think about that now, Benny, okay? Finish your story."
"I did finish it, Ray. They saw he was their father, and then they took him home."
"What? No big dinner to celebrate?"
Benny laughed, then made a sound of distress that almost made Davenport turn around.
"Do you have to put clothes on, Ray?"
"I think the people around here would appreciate it, Benny."
"But I like seeing you naked, Ray. You look really great that way."
"Thanks, Benny. But it's cold, you know?"
"Oh, then you should get dressed, Ray."
"Thank you, Benny."
"Do you need your hand again, Ray?"
"Just for a minute...there. I got ya."
"Tell me another story, Benny."
"'Cause I like your stories."
"You hate my stories, Ray."
"Well, that was before. I'm, you know, warming up to them. So come on, tell me another one."
"Want a kiss."
"Okay. Later though, all right?"
"Want a kiss, then I'll tell you the story of why there are tides."
Davenport heard the very quiet noise of a quick kiss.
"I want a proper kiss!"
"Aw, geeze, Benny!"
"I want a proper kiss, then I'll tell you the story."
"It's a very long story, Ray."
"Yes, very long, goes on for ages, and involves the Fog Man and his hat."
Vecchio sighed, then for quite a while there were noises of a very long, very proper kiss indeed. Davenport risked it, and saw that neither man could possibly notice what she was doing, and grabbed the bag. She tied off the top, and brought both bags into the lobby. She got another bottle of water, checked in on Doc again, stared out the window, then went back into the treatment room. Vecchio looked sallow in the green scrubs, but Fraser's color had improved quite a bit. His lips also looked just a little swollen, and he was obviously enjoying the story he was telling.
She handed over the bottle, checked to see if they needed anything else, then went outside to get on the phone. She got a helicopter this time, and within three hours the two bags of clothes, two samples of Fraser's blood, one of Vecchio's, and one of the dog's (taken with surprising ease once Vecchio had told the beast it was important) were on their way to Danes. The chopper could also have taken Fraser, but it was clear by then that he was going to be all right. Talfard didn't even use the whole bag of drip he'd prepared, and switched off to plain saline.
The dog, whom Talfard told her was half-wolf right before he'd given "Diefenbaker" half his sandwich, stayed curled in his corner. Talfard's nurse finally arrived, and when they wheeled Fraser out so they could scrub down the treatment room the wolf/dog had gotten his front paws on the gurney and licked at Fraser's face until Vecchio had ordered him down. He returned to his corner and remained quite silent. When she thought about it, she wondered who had trained him so well, Fraser or Vecchio.
Not long after that, Fraser was allowed to sleep. Talfard wanted to keep him and Vecchio for twenty-four hours for observation, so Vecchio wound up on the sofa in the lobby, wrapped in blankets. Diefenbaker was lying with him, and was possibly asleep for real this time.
Davenport sat down across from him quietly. He was a cop. She didn't have to lecture him.
His eyes were closed, anyway, though she knew he wasn't asleep yet. She got a pen and pad from Talfard's desk and wrote the date at the top of the first sheet. Danes would be sending a team down to check the area around the shelter for toxins. She needed to make sure she had all her questions for Vecchio in order. She didn't want him to think she was some amateur.
But as soon as she sat down all she could think about was that kiss.
It should have looked awkward. One man was lying on the gurney, the other man was standing and leaning over him.
It should have looked freakish. It was two men kissing, on the lips, passionately.
It should have at least looked wrong.
It should *not* have looked so damn sexy.
"Why are you here?"
Vecchio's voice startled her, for all that it was so soft. He sounded bone-tired.
"Someone hit Doc pretty bad. He's in recovery."
"Doc...the guy with the gas in his shed, right?"
"Right. It was burned down, his house too. All he saw was a man in dark clothes and a knit cap."
"Hm. Yeah. We get that guy causing trouble in Chicago too."
Davenport felt herself smiling. "You think he might be out on parole?"
"Probably." Ray's sigh became a yawn. He blinked at her, then sat up slightly, not dislodging the wolf. Then he talked, in detail but without once straying off-topic, and reported he and Fraser's arrival at the forest, their sleeping in the shelter, his waking to find Fraser walking on the hill, and the subsequent hours spent until dawn.
She wrote it all down, nodding, then watched as he sat there in silence for many long minutes.
"I should have taken him out of there first thing, instead of waiting for dawn."
"You'd have gotten lost and you'd both be dead by now. You did exactly the right thing."
Vecchio shrugged, then looked at her with those green eyes that really made her regret his sexual orientation.
"You gonna put it in the report?"
She frowned, then realized what he must be talking about.
"Only if it's germane to the case." She let a few beats go by. "Is it?"
He shook his head, looking miserable. She got the distinct impression his next words occurred only because he was exhausted.
"We came here to get away, be by ourselves for a while. Last time we tried it, the plane crashed. I ended up carrying him then too. We're cursed."
She had to say it. "You have each other. That's pretty great."
Vecchio smiled. "Yeah." He leaned back against the sofa, one hand sinking deep into the dog's fur. Another moment, and he was asleep.
Ray cracked one eye and looked at his watch. 11:45 PM.
His legs didn't want to move, especially since Dief's warm weight was pushing them into the surprisingly comfortable sofa with a pressure just the right side of cozy.
There, that did it. He wasn't getting cozy with the wolf.
Davenport had taken her near-silent self elsewhere, but the door to the doc's office, that's furnishings included a cot, was ajar, the better to hear calls of help from his unexpected patients. Ray didn't have his shoes on, and Dief only crack-eyed him as he extracted his legs and put his stockinged feet on the cool floor.
The clinic smelled of antiseptic covering damp wood, but the heater was working great. In the glow of the outside light he could see frost on the windows, and would have been glad to be here instead of in the tent, except for the reason why he was here.
Only a few steps took him into the treatment room, where Benny's face could only be seen in the green glow of the monitor by the bed. He didn't want to wake his friend, but it wasn't just enough to mouth the words silently from the doorway.
He let his hand creep forward until it found the foot of the gurney, then walked around the side until he was by Benny's shoulder.
He bent down and placed a soft kiss on one smooth, pale cheek, smiling at the hint of stubble.
"I love you, Benny," he whispered, checking his watch again, superstitiously, to make sure he'd beaten the deadline.
He stayed another few minutes, risked another breath-close kiss, then padded back to the sofa.
A dark shape moved outside the window, and his heart thudded painfully in alarm.
But the shape moved closer, and took on a face, pale and flat.
Ray found the doc's coat and some green rubber slippers. Damn, it was cold outside. Shutting the door on the heat from the clinic felt like closing the lid on his coffin.
Eric nodded. "How's Fraser?"
"The doctor says he's going to be okay. He thinks it never was life-threatening, but that Fraser would've been sick a long time if we hadn't flushed it out." Ray stopped babbling and took in ice-air deep, chilling himself. He needed Benny's warm arms around him in the heat of their bed...except that they didn't have a bed yet, not here in the ruins of the cabin, not in Chicago in his family's house, not that single slab of discomfort in Benny's apartment.
They would have to make a bed, a life, a world. He loved Benny, but he didn't know if he could be strong enough to accomplish the tasks that love required, not when he was standing in the cold looking into Eric's quietly scornful face.
"They've already started in at Tears Creek," the Inuit man announced.
"The poison control guys?"
Ray felt his brain rev a bit. The pieces were all there, and in the bitter cold it was somehow easy to put them together.
"So the developer who was pestering you guys about buying wood decides to cash in on the dead-eagle thing by planting a few pesticide traps. A few more dead birds, and he or they figure you'll sell to get rid of the bad spirits. Benny trips a trap while walking through his father's forest. Now we can nail the bastards for illegal use of controlled substances, reckless endangerment, trespassing..."
Eric was looking at him in surprise. What? Had he thought Ray Vecchio was some sort of idiot?
"Did Anna know?"
The impassive mask returned.
"Did Anna know they were killing the birds? Did she wind Benny up so he'd deal with white men making trouble?" Ray snorted, and realized his nose was stopped up. He had to get back inside before he was nothing but ice. "She could have just asked, and saved Benny from getting hurt. But no." He threw up his hands, wincing at frozen fingers, and started back towards the door. "Constable Davenport will be dealing with it now. Benny and I got a cabin to build."
The clinic was so warm inside it hurt for a moment, and little black spots blotted things out for a moment. But then he shivered and began to move towards the sofa. Diefenbaker was awake, and got off the pillows to come nuzzle his hand. He buried cold fingers in that warm fur and scratched until things settled down.
He wanted to stand by Benny's bed all night and watch him sleep, but there was going to be a good day tomorrow, and he needed his rest. He took off the coat and hung it up, then went back to the sofa with Dief. The wolf settled over his legs again, and then there was nothing to keep him from going under, deep and warm.
He dreamt of some big black bird, and was surprised that it had eyes.
Diefenbaker whined, then panted happily, and Ray's eyes creaked open to the sight of Benny in a hospital gown squatting by the couch and patting his wolf on the head.
Ray's voice broke from sleep. "You shouldn't be up, Benny."
Serious blue eyes regarded him. "I feel fine, Ray. Thanks to you. Dr. Talfard says I'm quite recovered."
Ray sat up slowly, scratched behind Dief's ears, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He was still coming to the surface, but he thought he'd slept well. He ran over his plans for the day in his head and smiled.
"We need to chop down twenty trees today, Benny."
Fraser smiled and looked like he wanted to kiss him. "Twenty at least, Ray." He stood as Ray got up from the couch and looked around. Talfard was in the recovery room looking over Doc. No sign of Davenport.
"The constable has gone to Tears Creek. Dr. Talfard says they've found several wires tripped to small pesticide containers. It would seem I stumbled into one last night."
Ray nodded and told Benny his theory about that.
"In all likelihood, Anna probably did know," Fraser acknowledged. "But all that matters now is that Constable Davenport find a connection between the traps and Del Rae Industries."
"They the guys who want the wood?"
They were looking at each other carefully, neither wanting to offend the other with the suggestion that they weren't wildly avid to pursue the bad guys once again.
"Constable Davenport strikes me as a really competent officer, Benny."
"Agreed, Ray." Fraser thought a moment. "We will doubtlessly be called in to help at some point."
"Well, they know where to find us."
And, as incredibly as that, the matter was settled.
Ray didn't let himself think about what their trip to Little Ro's sporting goods store did to his credit card. Wearing borrowed and ill-fitting clothes, he and Benny got jeans and jackets and boots and socks and shirts, along with gloves and hats and two new packs. Then at the grocer's they bought food for several days, even though they still had food at the cabin site.
Then they pointed the jeep east and let the wheels eat up the miles. Ray's watch said they beat the noonday sun by eight minutes.
Ray's watch said nothing to explain the pile of logs next to the swept-out remains of the tarp-covered cabin.
They were really nice logs. Cut to length, notched on the ends, bark-peeled and smooth on the sides.
The burned walls of the cabin had been cut away, leaving only the west wall and three logs' worth of ceiling intact, though the charred ridge-pole would have to be replaced. The chest and table and one chair that had escaped the flames were placed under the thick blue tarp that now hung from the bit of roof.
There was no note, no explanation, only hundreds of mukluk footprints and a half-dozen charred bits of ground from campfires.
"Oh, wow!" Ray exclaimed, startling Benny slightly. "Oh, wow! This is like that movie! You know? *Witness?* Yeah, where Harrison Ford and the Amish guys all raise up a barn in one day!" He walked again to the pile of logs and gestured at it. "This is like...the community came out and did this. Wow. You'd never see this in Chicago!" The close-shorn head shook in amazement, flashing a happy, slightly bemused smile to the great outdoors.
"My father was greatly respected."
Ray shook his head and danced back over to Benny to punch him lightly in the arm. "I think the son's respected too, Fraser." Ray pulled a face, though his eyes were twinkling. "Besides, they probably only did it to make sure we left on time."
The Mountie smiled back, but his eyes were dazed. "It's an incredibly generous gift."
Ray clapped his hands together and rubbed them together as though starting a fire.
"Then it's not a gift to waste, Benny. Let's get cracking!"
Benny felt himself relaxing. Ray was always good at figuring out what to do next.
The next four days they only stopped building the cabin to eat, sleep, answer the call of nature, or make love.
The food came out of their packs and the occasional rabbit from Dief. Sleeping took place in the tent. The call of nature was answered downwind. Making love was usually a quiet affair, conducted with equal parts love and exhaustion. Both of them got as much, if not more from the touches and stares and talk they wove into the work, using the loom of the cabin's logs to intertwine Ray's wolf-whistles at Benny's bare arms glistening in the ever-warming sun and Benny's silent gazes upon Ray's litheness moving between the dwindling pile of logs and the growing structure covered by the crackling tarp.
Every one of those four days they worked until the last light flickered from the sky, and awoke the next morning to work at dawn. Every day each word not of love planned out the next part of the cabin. Every day they watched to see if Davenport needed them. Every day they were relieved that she did not.
They did have two visitors, both of them hired before they had left Chicago. One delivered glass in the frames and hardware, such as knobs and locks and hinges. The other brought paint, mortar, and shingles.
Early on the morning of the fifth day, they levered the last of the logs they needed into place against the ridge-pole, closing the cabin's basic pointy-box-with-bathroom-bump structure, sealing the inside from the rest of the world.
There was still much to be done, of course. They had to seal the logs to each other, replace the thin boards with glass-frames, make and hang the door, and sand everything in sight. They needed to work with the plumbers when they came. They needed to shingle the roof.
And somewhere in there they needed to repair the small damages done to the barn, so that a team of dogs could stay there in comfort. They had managed to clean it out a bit, so that it was now home to the rented jeep as well as to the small generator they were using for the power tools, including Benny's lifetime-guaranteed-not-to-rust power saw.
But it was hard not to feel a sense of completion as they finished the basic structure of the cabin. They'd even gotten the charred bricks of the chimney and fireplace cleaned up a bit, and cleared out, so they could light a fire and warm the place up. Smiling, they took down the tent and spread the bedrolls on the floor, then lit the lantern. After that, they agreed that the most important thing to do next was the windows.
By mid-afternoon the windows were set in place and the mortar was drying. The cabin was more than warm enough for their plans, especially since the spring had finally taken firm hold outside, and the day was sunny and clear.
They'd been using the stream less than a half-kilometer away for bathing, with all-natural soap and lots of elbow grease. But that was usually done in the late afternoon. The extra three hours of sun left made them feel decadent as they washed, gazing at each other, taking their time, posing a bit.
They dried quickly in the sun, and dressed even faster. The lazy mutual seduction was faltering a bit before the steady prospect of making love properly for the first time in days and days. The cabin would keep them warm as they spent the whole evening touching each other, being inside and around and within and pressed close to each other for hours and hours.
It was a perfect plan.
It didn't work out.
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