Darkness, of course, and Benton Fraser was swimming.

He wasn't in pain, exactly, but it was incredibly unpleasant. He was drowning more than swimming, and his arms were just flailing around.

His heartbeat was loud and clumsy, and the water was thick with mud. Was this Lake Michigan? He'd die from the poisons. But that was the point, right? Not dying.

He pushed up, and *knew* the surface was above him somewhere. His arms steadied into a rhythm, one, two, three, four…until he reached a hundred and started again at one.

How was he breathing? His ears were filled with it and he couldn't hear anything except his heart and the rasp of his breath. God, he was tired.

Up! Up, damnit! The surface couldn't be too much farther, could it? He'd break out and then he could rest. He was so weak.

No! His arms weren't allowed to slow, and now that he thought about it, he got his feet into the act, kicking and kicking at the muddy lake, forcing him up to the air.

He was dying, too weak to make it, his arms were slowing. His legs were useless.

He told himself he was a Mountie and didn't even get his heart to beat faster.

*Ray. Ray is up there, waiting for me. If I die, he'll be so angry with me.*

And now he was pushing again, and pulling too with his arms, against the water. Push and pull, up and up and further up until the surface *had* to be there. It had too.

"Benny?" a rasp, almost a voice, a command and a plea and there was such insistence in it he opened his eyes in the dark, horrible water to see the skin-wrapped skeleton of his friend's God-lovely face. A few feet away, there was some sort of commotion: people were coming. A wolf whined.

"Ray?" he wheezed.

"I remember, Benny," Ray's skeleton said, and then there were people in white everywhere, and Fraser didn't know if he'd lived or died or why Ray was falling from him, or how he could keep his eyes open another second.

And the darkness returned, but not the water.


Elaine hung up the phone, and took a breath before she looked up into a dozen pair of eyes trying to drill their way through her skull. Huey's face was tight, Welsh's resigned, her own…God knew.

"He woke up," she said, surprising everyone in the room and shocking the hell out of Welsh.

"What?" the lieutenant asked, his coffee cup just seeming to float their next to his hand. It didn't quite fall to the floor.

"He woke up," Elaine pronounced with care, "walked over to Fraser's bed and woke him up too." Someone did a little gasp. "The nurse said they're probably both going to be fine."

They all stared at each other for several seconds, even the suspects and criminals allowing a respectful silence.

Then Huey shook his head and said with overt affection:

"That son of a bitch."


Fraser hadn't slept so much even after he was shot in the back. Of course, the doctors explained, this had been more difficult for his body in many ways than that had.

They'd been in comas, and their brains were still showing signs of that long hibernation: temporary lack of fine muscular control, blurred vision, sensitivity to sounds. But they'd both in been restless comas -- remarkable only in that their restlessness had been so strangely mutual -- and that meant their bodies were also exhausted and sore from the unaccustomed muscle usage. They'd both been strapped down during the worst of it, but there'd been no way to stop them from grinding their teeth and drawing every muscle tight over and over.

The first few days of recovery had been spent mostly in sleep and responding as best they could to the occasional visitor. They'd been moved from ICU soon after that first return to consciousness, but they'd been placed in the same recovery room after Ray had thrown his impressive tantrum.

Only Benny knew the anger was an act, though he didn't know why. Ray's voice and body language had been the same…just different. Fake. He wanted to ask what was happening, but he and Ray had not yet had not a moment alone when both were conscious.

So he did his best, following Ray's lead. When the doctors had asked what they'd dreamed of in their comas, Benny had said he couldn't remember. When the doctors had described their restlessness, Benny had feigned great surprise. When the doctors had produced the read-outs of their abnormal brain waves, Benny had displayed his most baffled cluelessness, and when one of the doctors all but accused him of hiding something, Benny had let his eyes fill with hurt innocence.

Of course, the doctors were still being gentle. The woman in front of him was not.

"I'd like more information than that, Constable," Inspector Thatcher stated.

*And I'd like to know if Ray remembers that I love him.* The thought stung him with its bitterness. He closed his eyes against it and the harsh light the inspector seemed to be radiating. Over these last days, Ray's eyes had sought his across both hospital rooms, and there had been warmth and affection there, along with the exhaustion, but what did that mean? What did it count for? Even now Ray was sleeping, his soft snoring noises impacting equally on Benny's heart and his groin. Ray had said he remembered, but *what* did he remember?

Fraser remembered every bit of it…or almost. He remembered that Ray had seen Heaven, that they had been to the station house twice, that Buck Frobisher had been talking to his father, and that once, towards the end, he had kissed Ray. But he wasn't sure Ray had kissed him back, or how, exactly, he had talked his friend into getting back into their bodies.

"I'm sorry, sir," Fraser said. "I was in a coma at the time."

"Your wolf leaves the 27th Precinct, comes here, and then Detective Vecchio wakes up, wakes you up, out of a two-week coma, and you don't have any idea how that could have happened."

*Ray saw Diefenbaker,* Fraser remembered with a little explosion of light that made him wince. *And then he thought of his family.*

"None, sir," he gasped.

"Ma'am?" a quiet female voice asked from the door.

Slowly, Thatcher turned.

"I'm afraid it's time for the patient to sleep. You may come back here tomorrow at ten."

Dark eyes flashed over an impeccably tailored shoulder. "I'll be back then, Fraser."

"Understood, sir."

She walked out. The nurse took his pulse, tipped him a wink, and checked his IV. Both he and Ray were still getting fluids to help offset the dehydration.

"Let me know if you have trouble sleeping," she told him. "We're moving the two of you tomorrow to the east wing, and you'll both get some therapy to help you get back on your feet."

"It's nice?" he asked inanely, not wanting her to go. "The east wing?"

"Oh, yes. You'll be able to spend some time out on the lawn in the afternoons, get some sunshine to get your color back."

"Sounds nice."

She smiled and walked out, turning off the lights, and Fraser closed his eyes with resolution.

Ray chuckled softly. "I thought for a minute there we were going to have to fake relapses to get the Dragonlady outta here."

Fraser smiled and opened his eyes. Ray's voice sounded so *normal.*

"The inspector is concerned about what happened to someone under her command, Ray. It's quite understandable that my inability to explain why I lay in hospital for two weeks evidently carrying on a conversation with my unofficial partner who was similarly indisposed would be…a source of frustration."

"Just as long as she keeps her mitts off," Ray muttered.

Fraser flagrantly disobeyed hospital rules and sat up in his bed. "What did you say?"

"I see the way she looks at you," Ray said mildly enough as he sat up as well. It occurred to Fraser that if they kept their voices down they wouldn't be disturbed, and the pulse he had managed to control as the inspector disemboweled him with her eyes shot up to three times normal. "It's like she can't decide whether to shoot you or rip your clothes off. I swear, sometimes I think she's worse than Frannie."

"Ray? How much do you remember?"

Ray grinned, his face just a little more normal after a few days of being fed every few hours by the hospital and snuck snacks whenever Mrs. Vecchio came to visit.

"Enough to know it'll be a while before I trust you in a closet again."

Fraser felt his stomach sink to his knees. Ray took one look at his expression and grabbed the IV tree. With a grunt, he pushed back his covers and set his bare feet on the floor.


"Ugh. Just a minute, Fraser," the detective muttered. It took him a few minutes, leaning heavily on the tree the whole time, but Vecchio made it to Benny's bed, rested against it, then managed to sit up on the side where Fraser now sat. If his legs -- the ligaments of one badly strained by the explosion -- had been able to hold him up, Fraser would have carried his friend back into his own bed, but as it was he could only put his hands on Ray's waist, holding him steady.

"Oh, remind me not to try that again soon," Ray breathed as his body leaned against Benny's. Minutes passed as Ray caught his breath, then he turned and got one arm over his friend's shoulders.

"Ray?" Benny asked helplessly.

"Benny, I'd love to tell you I want to rip your clothes off, but frankly I'm not in any shape to make love with anyone for a while, so we're going to have to take this slow, all right?"

"Do you want to make love with me, Ray?" Benny asked, his voice flat with doubt.

Ray chuckled, and pressed up against him in awkward intimacy before turning the whole thing into a prolonged hug. "I love you, Benny. You know that. And I want to make you happy. I'm sure the sex part will work out in time."

At first, Benny was too distracted to think about Ray's words. The body in his arms…good Lord…in his bed was so thin, but it burned off that Vecchio heat, and even under the medicine and soap that was still Ray's Heaven-smell, even sweeter than he remembered. Ray's hair was a little long for his shorn style and tickled Fraser's ear, and there were whiskers on those cheeks that rubbed his shoulder where Ray's chin rested.

And Ray was so pliant, so firmly wrapped around him, that despite the painkillers for his leg Fraser felt himself grow warm. The mere idea of its actually being possible to hold Ray beneath him, above him, with him…

But Ray's words were too disturbing to be ignored for long.

"I don't want you to become physical with me just to humor me, Ray." He tried to end the hug and couldn't. He'd wanted Ray close for too long.

"Oh, don't get snippy," Ray murmured, and Fraser felt Ray's smile against his cheek, skin and whiskers. "A few sessions kissing your cute little lips and I'm sure I'll be begging for more."

"It's not a joke, Ray."

"Benny, just don't *worry,* all right? We've been through too much to worry over this. When we're all healed up we're going to figure everything out, okay? That includes the sex stuff." And Ray leaned back and around until his lips were next to Benny's and Fraser stopped breathing.

Warm and soft, prickling with whiskers above and below, tasting a little of the orange juice Ray had been sipping. Over too quickly, but there was no protest when Benny sought a second kiss, and then, so gently, a third.

They pulled back enough for Ray to smile into his eyes, and the hand not holding the IV brushed through Fraser's hair.

"You believe I love you now, Mr. Skeptical?"

Benny looked down at the white sheet, then realized where his eyes were really looking and looked up at the ceiling, his face red.


"You do love me, Ray. But you don't desire me."

Ray put his head on Benny's shoulder. "I will. Just give it time."

"Ray." A small, sad sound.

"Shhh, Benny." And then Ray's hands were settling his friend back in the bed. "You're tired and you're not thinking things through. Sleep now."

Fraser watched Ray's regal hands fuss about the bed, pulling the covers up, settling the pillows, before reaching up to touch his cheeks, first the left, then the right, then smooth back over his forehead. Finally, long fingers stroked through his hair, over and over, soothing the dizziness in his belly, relaxing his muscles, taking the pains away, until the warmth and his own exhaustion did the rest.

The next time he woke, Ray was back in his own bed, snoring softly. The next time, it was morning, and they were being moved to the east wing.

It was three days before they could talk properly again, three days of physical therapy that left them both exhausted, three days of being taken off the drugs, three days of eating and drinking and going to the bathroom because neither of them could stand bed-pans and because they wanted the additional exercise no matter how tired they were.

They spent hours out in the garden, in the shade for the most part, and Nurse Browne was right: their color returned along with their strength.

The days were also filled with questions, but inevitably the focus was shifting away from them towards Elaine Bresbiss and Jack Huey. After all, Vecchio and Fraser were only the victims of the professional assassination ring that catered to convicts seeking revenge on the officers who had arrested them. Elaine and Jack were the civilian aide and officer who cracked the ring and led the way to the multiple arrests.

The headlines were screaming about the case of the century, and Fraser had worried that Ray would resent getting no credit for the collar so much that he'd tried to hide the paper from his friend when he found it outside on the bench.

When Ray had finally seen it that evening when Frannie brought it to him, he'd only smiled and phoned Elaine to congratulate her.

"Yeah," he told the woman on the other end of the phone, "I think they should pay your way through the academy. It was cracker-jack police work, and about time you got a badge." Ray looked over at Fraser and rolled his eyes. "I would, but he's asleep. I'll tell him you said hi….Yeah, you too." He hung up, and Frannie jabbed a finger into his chest.

"You told her Benton was asleep!" she accused.

"Yeah, so?"

"Yesterday you told *me* he was asleep!"

"He was!"

She snorted. "Yeah, right." She turned to Fraser with a special little twist. "Is there anything I can do for you while you're in here, Benton?"

"No, thank you, Frannie. The hospital and Ray are more than enough for me right now."

Frannie frowned over his choice of words, but shrugged it off.

"I'll see you tomorrow, then." She reached down to give Ray a kiss on the cheek -- her habit every day since they'd been in the hospital -- and walked out.

"Planting the seeds there, Fraser?" Ray asked with a smile.

Ray was sitting on his bed, the window behind him, and Benny caught his breath at the picture he made, his eyes glowing and soft. His body temperature rose several degrees, and blood began to channel towards a central spot. His leg wasn't hurting him today, and if he weren't careful his condition would be all too evident through the thin hospital gown.

"It can't hurt to prepare her should you decide to reveal that our relationship is…something other than she believes."

Ray sighed and rolled his shoulders. "Benny, Benny. Would you stop being so *careful?* We're gonna live together, for Pete's sakes."

"You agreed to that under circumstances that I'm sure no one would expect you to --"

"This ain't some court of law!" Ray pressed his lips shut. Fraser smothered a pleased inner tug. Ray was so unnaturally serene these days.

"I love you, Benny. Would you *please* get that through your head?"

With a glance at the closed door of their room, Fraser sat up slightly, spread his knees, and allowed the paper-like cloth to rest on his erection. Ray's eyes flickered, and he swallowed before he could smile. Fraser felt his face go tight and turned away, laying down and addressing the wall.

"Do you understand now, Ray? I'm happy you love me, but you need to stop pretending you can just choose to be attracted to me. I don't want chaste kisses that work up to closing your eyes and pretending you're masturbating when you touch me. I don't want to force myself on you, and I can't stand the idea of taking you to bed so you can prove something to both of us."

He closed his eyes. Even the wall was glaring at him.

"I'll never leave you, Ray. You know that. I can stay here in Chicago and we can be close friends…best friends. You don't have to give me more than that to make me happy."

He knew Ray was standing by the bed. He could feel the heat on his back.

"Have you ever made love to a guy, Benny?"

Fraser opened his mouth, then sighed.

"I didn't think so." Ray's hand settled on that turned shoulder, so warm and gentle Fraser felt his heart thud as though he'd been groped.

"So, you feel like going to Biggle's with me, Benny?"


"Yeah, it's a sex shop over on Charleston. We could get some lube and butt-plugs and maybe check out some videos to brush up on our rimming techniques."

With a hurt gasp, Fraser pulled away from Ray's hand and rolled off the bed, squaring off with his fists down at his sides.

"Now who's uncomfortable?" Ray asked, his color high simply at the words he'd spoken.

"I don't --"

"And I don't either, Benny. Does that mean we're not serious here?"

Fraser deflated slightly. "Then what was that about?"

Ray shook his head. "That's about how things take some adjustment, some getting used to, all right? When I made love to my first woman after my divorce, I was a basket case. Nothing worked right, and thank God she understood or I think I would have sworn off sex for the rest of my life." Ray took a step forward, deep into Benny's personal space. "Can't you do that much for me, Benny? Can't you just give me a little time and little faith?"

Benny felt the smile come easily. How did Ray always know the right thing to say?

"I have nothing but faith in you, Ray."

Ray's own smiled with brilliant. "Good. 'Cause I figure we're going to need to hang on to each other tight while we figure the rest of it out."

"The rest of it?"

Ray shook his head and moved forward once more, winding up in a sort of loose hug now. "You're not telling me you're just going to go back to being a Mountie, are ya, Fraser?"

He blinked. "I hadn't really thought much of it, Ray. I suppose…" But there was nothing. He truly hadn't thought beyond what was happening between himself and Ray Vecchio.

"Yeah," Ray sighed. "I sort of saw Heaven, Benny. I sure as anything felt it. I can't just go back to being a cop. Besides, for a while there, we could do it all, couldn't we? Sort of takes the thrill out of the chase."

"We knew who the assassins were," Benny mused, "just by thinking that we *wanted* to know."

"Yeah." Ray was quiet for a time, a long lovely time of sharing warmth.

"And I figure I could do that again," Ray continued at last, "if I worked at it." He laughed. "And I don't want to end up with some sort of psychic helpline for a living, you know? And I don't want to be a freak on *Sixty Minutes.* And I don't want…"


Ray ducked his head, pressing his face into Benny's neck. "I don't want to be a prophet, Fraser. I thought about it, you know? I really did. But it's not me. I mean, can you see me on television trying to explain about how Heaven is like having all the money in the world? And think of what that would do to Ma. It's going to be hard enough trying to convince her I'm okay when I quit the force. She's gonna think I've got brain damage or something."

"Quit the force? What will you do instead?"

"Like I know, Benny? What's an Italian Catholic in the Twentieth Century supposed to do once he's seen Heaven? Give testimony? And what about when I tell people I came back to my body because I couldn't disappoint a wolf?"

Ray hugged him now in earnest. "Don't you see I need us as much as you do, Benny? I gotta have something to make the center of my life, because everything else has gone bananas. People are supposed to make something out of their gifts, but I'll be tied to a tree if I can figure out what to do with this one. But I'm betting it won't happen here in Chicago, and I'm betting I won't even recognize myself when I'm done."

Ray broke off for a moody while, then sighed. "I'm not even sure you'll love me when I figure it out."

"Of course I'll love you, Ray."

"You better, Benny. I have a feeling I'll need it."

Fraser tightened the embrace until he could feel Ray's heart beating.

Vecchio sighed.

"It sure would be easier if we were just two gay cops."


They were to be released the next day, so their therapists were a little harder on them than normal. Fraser flexed his leg and didn't care about the distant ache. He'd healed quickly and cleanly, and within a week would be declared fit for active service.

If he wanted active service.

Fraser shook the thought off. Of course he wanted active service. He was a Mountie. The uniform had followed him into the spirit world. Ray could shed his job -- and probably should, considering everything that had happened to him -- but Benny's Mountie-ness went far down deep into his flesh. No doubt the readjustment period would involve some trial to his will, but sixteen years in the service tempered a man. He would resume his place smoothly and efficiently.

Of course, the leg he'd injured just *had* to be the same one he'd been stabbed and shot in twice.

"I swear, she gets a kick out of watching me suffer," Ray was moaning from where he lay sprawled across his bed. Fraser allowed himself to regret that they had both graduated out of their hospital gowns. Not that Ray's long legs weren't well-suited to the caressing contours of his sweats, but there had been something so…indecent about the idea of Ray Vecchio clothed in nothing but underwear and a thin robe open all the way down the back.

"She's a professional therapist, Ray." The words were easy and automatic. "I'm sure she takes pleasure only in watching you recover."

Ray snorted. "You can say that. Your guy can't stop kissing up to you now that he knows you're from Canada." Ray raised up his head for a stern look. "You *really* know his cousin in Edmonton, Benny?"

The Mountie colored slightly, and Ray laughed.

They both lay there looking at the ceiling for a while, then Ray sat up.

"So, how are you feeling, Benny?"

"Quite well, thank you, Ray."

"Not tired?"

"No." Fraser frowned. "Do you want to go for a walk, Ray?"

"No, not really, Benny." But Ray did get off the bed and stretch, seemingly up from the sneaker-encased toes to his fingers held over his head. Fraser rolled over for a better view, unable to resist the sight of that long, lithe body elongating and twisting in an unconscious and unself-conscious movement that was almost a dance.

And then Ray was standing there with his hands on his hips, smiling faintly.

"You really find me attractive, Benny?"

"Very much so, Ray."

Those made-for-kissing lips smiled. "Wow."

"In fact, I would have to say that if I were allowed to create someone to find attractive, that someone would look a lot like you."

Ray grinned. "But female and with more hair, right?"

"Actually, Ray, I've always been more attracted to men than women."

Ray's jaw dropped.

"It was one of the reasons Victoria was so important to me." Fraser looked down at the sneakers on his feet. "I'm not proud of having been relieved to be bisexual, Ray. The life of a homosexual Mountie is just as difficult as it is for any other homosexual law enforcement officer. It quickly became apparent to me as a young man that my…tendencies would only make my life more difficult. Indeed, until I met you, I had believed I had buried those feelings down so completely they weren't a part of me anymore."

Benny's smile was rueful. "And then I went down to the holding cell, and there you were. Everything I found attractive in a man: slender, graceful, distinctive, sensual, with your incredible hands and green eyes -- do you know how few people in the world have green eyes, Ray? And they turn hazel when you're calm. It's extraordinary." Fraser looked at him, then away. "At first, I thought I was to be spared, as you were so brusque with me I felt quite safe from your physical charms. But then…you were so kind, so loyal, so *good.* I fought it for so long, but it was hopeless."

"I don't have much of a chin."

"Your chin is perfect."

"My nose is huge."

"It keeps your eyes from making you look feminine."

Ray looked genuinely surprised. "Yeah? I hadn't thought of that one."

"In fact, there is only one thing about you I would change," Fraser mused.

"Too much neck?"

"You must be joking. I've spent many nights dreaming about your neck."


"Yes. In fact, I have raised the issue before, Ray."

"My neck?"

"Your clothes, Ray," Fraser voice was timid and teasing at once, then rushed out: "They're too loose, remember?"

Ray grinned, and his "Yeah?" this time was husky.

"Even those sweat pants aren't helping," Fraser complained. "I think you purposefully choose sizes that are too large to hide your charms."

Ray stood there a moment more, then walked over to the door and clicked the lock over.


"You know, sometimes my great sense of timing amazes even me." Ray beamed. "It's two hours until we can have visitors, and this is supposed to be our post-therapy rest period, but I'm not feeling that tired, Benny. How about you?"

Fraser swallowed the enormous lump in his throat. It didn't help.

"My charms, huh, Benny?" Ray ran a hand over his chest, then stripped off his shirt. "And here I was hoping this whole time I could get you to suck on my nipples." Ray shook his head. "I have really sensitive nipples, you know. Ange used to tease me about them, the little minx." Ray pointed a long finger at his friend. "You are not to tease me about that, you understand me, Benny?"

"Er…yes, Ray."

Vecchio nodded., then heeled off his shoes, stripped off his socks and peeled himself out of his sweat pants.


Vecchio stopped, his hands on his hips and his body bare of everything but the hospital-issue briefs. Even his Crucifix was missing.



The shorn (though slightly prickly) head nodded, and those green eyes shone. "Take 'em off, Benny."

The protest surprised both of them: "It doesn't work this way."

Ray waited a few beats. "What doesn't work what way?"

"I don't know. It just seems…casual."

"Casual?" Ray began to walk towards him, so very slowly. "Benny, we almost died. I saw Heaven! Everything I thought was true about my life isn't. Are you saying that getting physical now seems casual to you?"

Fraser shook his head without conviction.

Vecchio had reached him now, and simply took the bottom of Fraser's sweatshirt in his hand and pulled up. When it was free, he went after the T-shirt and Ray was standing there and Benny was sitting on the edge of his bed, and there was just a few inches of warm air between their bare chests. Fraser couldn't meet the man's eyes.

"I'm not Victoria."

Those eyes came up now, white-blue in shock.

"I don't want to drive you so crazy we fall into bed for three days and forget about the rest of the world while it falls down around us. We're not under some frozen lean-to huddling together for warmth." Ray smiled so gently it was almost all in his eyes. "We're going to make love with our eyes open, slowly, and we're going to be happy about it. You been happy much in bed, Fraser?"

Benny just looked at him.

Ray sniffed. "Didn't think so." He stepped closer, then closer still until they were actually touching, a mere brush of flesh lasting all the way from breastbone to waist, a line of heat and the tickle of hair, and Fraser moaned, swaying forward for more.

"Easy, Benny," Ray whispered, right before Benny's mouth swallowed further words and soft lips and the taste of sweet, moist *Ray* under his own open mouth and seeking tongue that pushed inside, getting more, inhaling, engulfing…When Ray pushed back, he pulled them roughly together and demanded another kiss, then another, hands pressing on the back that was smooth, hot skin over bone and long, lean muscles. A final struggle, and then he felt the laxness of surrender, mouth opening wider, body sagging against him, dark green eyes closing even as his own stayed open, guarding against the chance that Ray would change his mind.

"Please, please, please," he was muttering through his kisses, breaking away from that mouth to scorch lines down and up an endless neck of soft skin silk-smooth near the shoulder and peppered with tiny whiskers under the chin.

"Sure, Benny. You need it this way, do ya? Sure."

The man groaned now, his hands pushing down Ray's body and grabbing *at last* two perfect handfuls of taut buttocks and pulling in and up against the place in his own body to which all his blood had long since rushed. Ray licked his ear and murmured something that made him press harder, his hips bucking from the mattress.

Ray moved and Benny froze, but the man in his arms only whispered now, "Back on the bed, okay? The floor's too hard."

The words were soft and affectionate, and nothing else.

Fraser shoved Ray back and fled almost to the other side of the room, turning from him, arms straight now at his sides, fists ending like bolts in steel, leverage for control. He had to find control somewhere behind his clenched eyes.

"Benny?" Ray's hand on his shoulder was hot.


"What's going on? Benny, I don't understand."

Fraser didn't move.

"I know you want this, Fraser."

"But you don't, Ray!" Fraser winced at the echo, waited to see what the punishment for his shouting would be, then forced his words quieter. "You don't want me, Ray. You love me, I know that, but…"

"Oh, Benny." Ray's voice was sad, and the kiss behind his ear was soft. "I do want it. I do want you."

"But what of me do you want, Ray? Do you -" He forced it, his words more breath than voice now, getting softer and more indistinct with each syllable. "Do you want me inside you? Do you want to be inside me? Do you want me to cherish you in my mouth until you scream? Do you want kisses all over your body and my tongue…Ray…"

Ray kissed him again, down further on his neck. "Benny, you've been in love with me, and knew about it, for a long time. Fantasies build up, you know?"

Fraser nodded, tendons under Ray's lips betraying the strain of it.

Ray lapped at one sharp ridge. "I have some fantasies too, Benny. I want to see what your soul looks like. I want to see if we can touch our souls together. I want to walk through Heaven and have everyone there know we're not ever going to be apart. I want to ask God why he makes some people so good and use you for an example. I want…I want things I can't have, and I know, I really do, that being together really close has to involve sex -"

"'Has to,' Ray?"

"Because I can't get any closer to you than that until we die for real, and now that I'm away from it all, I gotta admit I'm not in any hurry to leave, what with Ma and all." Ray's hands had been insisting for some time that Fraser turn around. Together they managed a half-turn that allowed long, nimble fingers to weave paths through Fraser's hair and stoke his face.

"Don't ya get it, Benny? You could throw a hundred naked women in here and I wouldn't know what to - well, I would *know* what to do with 'em, but I wouldn't want to. I want *you,* Benny. It's sex in general I'm a little…slow about right this minute."

"'Slow?' Ray, you're not even -"

Ray placed the softest kiss right there over Benny's jugular, smiling at the tremble it caused.

"No, but I'm breathing hard, Benny. Can't you tell? And feel my heart." He took the man's unresisting but less-than-cooperative hand and placed it over the thump-thump-thump of his chest. "See?"

"You're just nervous." Fraser's mouth was trying not to smile, and the frown over his clouded eyes grew heavier.

"You're the nervous one," Ray chuckled. Benny's thumb flickered over his nipple and Ray shivered…or shuddered, Fraser wasn't sure which. "Come on, Benny. Bed."

But Fraser couldn't unfreeze. "Are you sure you want this, Ray?"

Ray looked down that slight distance necessary to be looking directly into Benny's eyes, then dropped his hand down between his friend's waist, fumbled just slightly, smiled, and petted the blood-heavy flesh right through the cotton. When Fraser gasped and shut his eyes, Vecchio turned the petting into a caress, and then a downright stroke.

"Ray!" A death-grip on that strong, slender shoulder.

Vecchio stopped negotiating and started navigating, getting Benny back on the bed with simple pressure and several clumsy steps. The man groaned as Ray sat at his side, pulled off the sweat pants and briefs, and then settled between his legs and put his hands on the blocky thighs, gazing down.

"Didn't see many of these growing up," Ray murmured, fingering the drawn-back foreskin with his right hand, then wrapping his fingers around the length and stroking, stroking, smiling at the sound of it and the peek-a-boo dance of the flushed head.

Benny groaned a few more times and came, fighting it the whole way. The orgasm had barely finished when the shame rose up, and he was certain Ray could read his entire aching lack of sexual expertise in on his body like a map. He tried to turn his head away, but he was still dizzy and managed only a weak loll.

Then Ray was there, lying next to him, his face only inches away, his eye enormous.

"God, Benny. When you came, you're so…wow."

Fraser tried to think of something to say, then lost the cohesion of his few remaining thoughts when Ray brought up his extremely wet and sticky hand and sniffed. When Ray look a tentative lick, he moaned weakly.

"Not bad," Ray muttered, then smiled at Benny wickedly and sat up. Fraser rolled over to watch, and stopped breathing. Ray stripped out of his sweats with his clean hand, put the other hand around his own gently unfurling cock and rubbed the semen into his skin. One stroke, another, and Ray's eyes rolled back.

"Ray. Ray. Ray," Benny chanted with each stroke, not making noise, really, just mouthing that name as he reached out, needing to join his hand with Ray's. A few soft, slow strokes, and Ray let him take over, leaning back and watching with glittering eyes.

"Do you believe I want you now, Benny?" Ray asked, eyeing his own eager erection with a wry smile.

"Yes, Ray." A little.

"Good." Ray put his hand on Benny's, stilling it, then leaned down for a kiss, then another, pulling Benny's hands up for more kisses, then settling between his legs, pressing his hard cock to his friend's softened one with a smile. Fraser's eyes asked questions, but the fear was at least momentarily gone, and Ray anointed each with a kiss. Then he kissed Fraser's nose, cheeks, chin, forehead, temples, nose again, lips…lingering…then his lobes and all around his ears. He started for Benny's neck, but was stopped short by a hesitant:

"My turn."

Ray smiled and sighed with pleasure, and as they rolled over carefully in the narrow bed, Ray's eyes were peaceful with love and satisfaction.

Fraser regarded Ray's eyes a long moment, wondering yet again how well he now knew the man he loved and less than pleased with himself that Ray's new element of mystery only made Benny love him more. There was no question that Ray was aroused. The two of them were keeping the proof of that pressed tight into Benny's stomach. Yes, Ray loved him. His eyes, his gently stroking but passive hands, the set of his kiss-swollen lips showed that plainly enough.

But it was somehow *not* enough when Benny had come so quickly, and was even now recovering like a teenager. It had been so long since Victoria, and so much longer since anyone before that. He was starving for this, and while Ray's eerie serenity no longer filled him with despair, it was nonetheless most unsatisfactory.

Then Fraser remembered something, and with his own little smile bent his head to touch the tip of his tongue to the soft nub of Ray's left nipple.

Ray gasped and the nub hardened instantly.

Nuzzling through chest hair, Benny made his way to the other nipple, chuckling when Ray shivered and clutched at his shoulders. He kept his touch as gentle as he could, lapping at one nut-brown peak, then the other, back and forth until Ray was moaning and humping his stomach.

Next, a soft line of bites down the concave stomach, licking the navel on the way, nose through soft, tickling hair that smelled of Ray and excitement and got him hurt-hard again. Pulling back slightly, he regarded Ray's cock with both desire and trepidation. It was all very well for him to complain that Ray didn't want this enough, but now his own inexperience with men was reminding him that he wasn't completely certain what to do next.

It should be nothing to reach down and take Ray into his mouth, but it wasn't. Somehow something that seemed so easy and desirable in the abstract seemed so…extreme when it was right there in front of him.

"You have a lovely penis, Ray," he said, half-stalling, half-wanting the intimacy of sharing his appreciation.

Ray laughed and moaned together. "Thanks, I'm sure."

"Long and a little thicker than I thought you would be."

Ray grinned. "You thought about it a lot?"

"Yes, Ray."

Ray was going to say something else, but Benny saw to it that his tongue put a stop to that, what with gentle licks around the warm flesh of his testicles. Ray thrust with his hips, restrained himself visibly, and held out his arms.

"Benny. Please. Up here."

Sighing with relief and lust and something else that was nice, Benny moved up the bed and pressed up tight. Their movements against and toward, closer and closer, were instinctive and maddening, addictive, perfect.

"Heaven," Benny gasped at one point. "Heaven, Ray."


"That too."

Ray strangled and choked on a laugh and came anyway. Benny followed, seeing stars and strangling on his own laughter when they began to burst into rockets.

A moment, then another of perfect nothingness, of unmoving bodies, of an understanding so complete…

Was this what Ray had wanted? Fraser got his eyes open, but Ray's were closed over a luxuriantly sleepy smile.

"We should get cleaned up," Benny said. "Visiting hours."

Ray made a noise of protest and wrapped his legs up around Benny's.

"'Nother minute."

And Fraser rested his head on a chest seemingly custom-made for his cheek and chin, breathing in the air and its heady scent: a witness to what had occurred just now in this quiet, clean room.


"Fraser, it will look odd to have *all* the windows open."

Benny flushed. "Ray…er…yes." He closed one window.

Ray rolled his eyes. Oh well, it didn't matter. If Fraser thought the smell of sex was lingering despite thirty minutes of hurricane-force breeze, Ma and Frannie would doubtlessly just think the yawning windows meant the Mountie was missing the frozen north.

"While I'm talking with Ma," Ray instructed gently, "you should feel free to answer whatever questions Frannie has honestly. You know, I trust you and I'll go along with it, okay?"

Fraser stared at him. "Are you saying you think I should reveal our relationship to your sister? Today?"

Ray nodded. "This is the time, I think. She's gonna ask about us, and I don't want you to lie. And it will be better for her to hear it from you."

"What makes you think she's going to ask me today?"

Ray shrugged. "Just have a feeling."

Fraser nodded, but there it was again, that little thrill at the base of Fraser's spine, stronger this time than the times before, strong enough to be recognized as trepidation. Ray was beginning to scare him, causing a flavor of fear he hadn't tasted since he had looked into the eyes of a dark-haired woman who had wanted to posses him, along with some diamonds, and his soul.

He had trusted Victoria, not much, but enough for her to come within a bullet's length of ruining his life. And now the man he trusted more than he did himself, more, even, than Diefenbaker, this man was becoming…something. And so now that it was clear to them both that wherever one went the other would follow…


He looked into Ray's dark eyes.

"Yes, Ray?"

"Get Frannie to tell you if the Riv got damaged, okay? She keeps telling me there's nothing wrong with it, but she won't meet my eyes. If there's something wrong, I wanna know, you got it?"

"Y-yes, Ray."

Vecchio frowned. "What?"

"Nothing, Ray."

"Then what's with the smirk? Mounties don't smirk."

"I think I hear your family now, Ray."

Ray turned, his narrow eyes on Fraser until the last second, then braced himself for the body-slam hug of his mother in full flight.

"Oh! Caro! Your last day in this awful place! The house has been so quiet without you!"

"Ma, the kids ran into the coffee table last night and knocked over your glass bowl. Any more noise and we'd have needed parade permits." Frannie rolled her eyes at Benny. "Those little glass candies were everywhere. At first we thought Dief was trying to eat them, but he was just helping to clean up. He's so handy to have around…just like his owner."

"Ah…yes. Thank you for looking after him, Francesca," Fraser said, watching as Ray finally, but gently, managed to pull back from his mother's arms.

"Ma, this place ain't so bad, really." Ray's smiled was the full-blown Vecchio special: a match for fiery DAs and stone-faced lieutenants. His mother surrendered instantly.

"I just want you to come home, Raymondo."

"I know. What say we go for a walk?"

Fraser watched Ray go without comment, then turned to look at his lover's sister, who was looking after Ray as well. She looked at the Mountie with puzzled eyes.

"Is it just me, or did he just leave us alone together?"

Fraser felt himself beginning to flush. "Well, Ray…that is…ah…"

Frannie smiled at him, eyes lighting up, and Fraser felt sweat on his forehead. "Francesca, I…I mean to say…that is…"

"Oh, Benton," she purred, moving just slightly closer. "You can tell me anything. You know that."

"I'm glad to hear that! You see…ah…"

She took another step forward, almost pressing again his chest, and put a hand on his arm. "Benton."


"I've heard that near-death experiences can make people rethink their lives, reconsider…old choices." She blinked and smiled, then licked her lips and smiled. "So if you want to tell me that you and I --"

"Ray and I are lovers!"

Frannie looked at him. Fraser looked back. The moment passed, and they continued to look at each other. Both of them blinked. Frannie took her hand off his arm and stepped back. She rubbed her neck, and for once the gesture didn't emphasize the line of her tightly-wrapped and slim body.

She looked at him some more.

"Francesca --"

She held out a hand, traffic-cop-style.

"I just --"

The hand insisted.

"I thought there was something," Frannie muttered to herself, and Fraser would have responded had it not been so obviously a private conversation. Her dark eyes looked around, and Ray was right: suddenly the neatly made beds and open windows seemed to scream "Sex happened here!"

She had been looking away from him for over thirty seconds now, and as she began to turn back Fraser braced himself for hatred, anger, amusement, dull horror, blank shock, murderous rage, philosophical acceptance, disgust, and/or a combination of any or all of the above.

But he hadn't expected awe.

"When you guys were both in comas, you talked to each other," she whispered.

Fraser swallowed and nodded. He couldn't have spoken then even if Ray had told him to.

"The doctors didn't pay attention, and Ma and Maria were always talking, but I stood there sometimes, between the two of you. Once, I heard you both saying something about Diefenbaker. Another time you both were talking about Heaven." She bit her lip, and talked around it. "Did you…see Heaven, Benton?"

"No." He wanted to sit down after managing the word, but she was waiting for more. "But Ray…" He shrugged.

She started shaking her head. "So…what…God told you guys to be gay?" Her voice was going up with disbelief and anger.


"Spit it out, Benton. I'm a big girl."

He blinked, cleared his throat. "I thought we were dead. We both did. We…we had to solve the crime of our deaths. The bomb."

"I saw that on *Magnum!*"

"Err…yes. So Ray said, I believe. I mean, that he saw it. I don't know whether he knows that you saw the --"


"Yes." He felt his body going into parade rest. This was a report, after all, not so unlike any other report. "We needed to ascertain who had planted the bomb, and then, when we discovered that it was Carver, we needed to know whom he had hired to commit the crime on his behalf."

Frannie was frowning, but it wasn't in rejection. "But Elaine and Detective Huey…did you tell them in a dream or something?"

"Something like that. When we spoke to some people, we were able to reach their subconscious."

"And you…managed to get things done that way?"

"With Diefenbaker's help." Fraser colored slightly. "I'm afraid Ray and I saw you when you were alone in your house. We got Dief to get you to let him out the front door."

"I remember that," she said slowly, then narrowed her eyes at him again. "What was I wearing?"

Fraser blinked a few times, but replied easily enough, "A short navy blue skirt, a blue and red silk shirt, and low-heeled red shoes."

She swayed, and ended up sitting on Ray's bed.

Fraser took a breath. "I hope you can appreciate…Ray and I aren't going to share this story with many, perhaps only you and your mother. We have no desire to end up…" He spread his hands.

She roused herself, and nodded. "So you're just going to go on with your lives like before?"

"Actually, I do believe Ray intends to leave the police force. He has been quite altered by our experience."

"Yeah, we kinda noticed that, Benton. Ma's talking with him now about it, in fact." Her eyes, finished with their elaborate roll, widened and stared at him. "Ray's not going to tell Ma about all this, is he?"

"I have no idea. But I will support his choice, whatever it is."

"Yeah, yeah, of course you will." She waved a hand and stood up. "Well, we'll just have to -- Hey! What were you going to say?"

Fraser frantically searched his memory. "I don't…"

"About Ray and Heaven."

"Ah! Yes. Ray saw…or rather, smelled it. It was then that he became…as you see."

"Ray got gay from smelling Heaven?"

"No, no." Benny took a deep breath and gave himself a stern command to get on with it. "I don't believe Ray is, in fact, gay."

She put a hand on her hip and seemed only barely to refrain from tapping her toe.

"I believe, rather, that Ray is humoring me. You see, when we were dead, or so I believed, I took advantage of the situation to explain to him that I had been in love with him for some time." A smile wanted to get on his face. He had no idea if he managed to fend it off. "I was rather insistent about it, actually. I felt quite liberated by the knowledge that I was dead, that I was allowed to be selfish in resolving all of my…unresolved issues. Ray kept trying to focus on the crime we were investigating, but I…" He trailed off in the embarrassment of knowing the smile had won, and was currently gloating openly on his lips.

Frannie's look was kind. "You finally got to say what was in your heart."

"Yes." He took another breath and cleared his throat. "Ray explained that he loved me as well, but only as a friend. It was only after he almost opened the door to Heaven that he became comfortable with my feelings. I believe he believes that sexual orientation is too trivial to stand in the way of…other things."

Frannie's eyes were a little moist now. She blinked a few times and cleared them, then shrugged. "He loves you with his soul." She smiled at Fraser's expression. "I heard him say so."

"I…er…yes." The smile was gloating again.

"Either that, or it was 'I was a little troll.' I wasn't sure which."

Fraser was instantly ashamed of his snicker.

"So." She leaned back slightly and crossed her arms. "If he has to go to some Tibetan temple somewhere and meditate for the rest of his life, will you go with him?"

"I believe so. Yes."

"I would have loved you with my soul too, Benton." Her eyes were damp again.

"I would never have made you happy."

She reached up and clapped him lightly on the shoulder, the way he had once seen her do to her brother, while he watched through the interview room window.

"You would have made me close enough."

And he could say nothing more as she walked from him and looked out the open window upon the hospital grounds.


"So after that we just thought about who the hit guys would be, and it was easy. We were standing there in the apartment. Me and Benny went to the station and I yelled at Elaine until she put the name in the system and that was it for the bust."

Ray ran hand over his head. He wanted to get his buzz cut again. The orderly he'd bribed for a shaver hadn't gotten a very sharp one.

"It was Dief who got us to the hospital, so we knew we weren't dead. Then we got back in our bodies, sorta. I mean, I just thought about how I wanted to come back, and after awhile we woke up."

A nurse wheeled some old guy across the rolling lawn. It was a big lawn, and it took a long time.

"Ma?" He touched her shoulder, feeling the rough texture of the wool coat under his fingers, sharp and warm.

Mrs. Vecchio startled slightly, the rosary in her hands swaying before she gathered the beads up in one fist.

"Are you going to leave the church?"

Ray blinked and sat up straight.. "What? No! Of course not, Ma. Yeesh. What gave you that idea?"

She looked at him in concern. "When people see God these days, they end up leaving the church and founding some cult in Texas."

Ray had to think about that one for a minute.

"I couldn't live in Texas, Ma. Besides, Benny would melt."

"You're not going to tell me the Catholic Church is wrong?"

"About what?"

"About Jesus. About salvation." Mrs. Vecchio was tense, her fist around her beads. "If all anyone has to do is walk through some door…well…"

"Jesus said he was a door, right?" Ray shrugged. "Look, I'm Catholic and they were gonna let me into Heaven. You think I'm going to screw up a free lunch?"

"Raymondo!" The tone was scolding, but Ray could see the laughter spark in her eyes before she closed them.

"Ma, I'm not interested in changing anything like that." He turned and took her hands, making sure some of the beads wound up in his own hand. "I just want to be happy, okay? This really incredible thing has happened to me, and I gotta figure out what I should do with it."

His mother looked at him in suspicion. "And it has to do with Benton?"

Ray shrugged. "I think so. Why do you ask?"

"You said he would melt in Texas. You and Benton…" But the question in her eyes remained unasked. Ray gave her a minute to let her make sure she couldn't, wouldn't ask, that she would never ask. Then he smiled.

"Ma, me and Benny were walking around in the next world together. Two guys don't just agree to write letters and call on Christmas after that. I figure whatever I'm supposed to do, Benny's supposed to help me with it. And Benny feels the same way. I mean, I'm sure he'll stay a Mountie, and all, which is good, probably, considering what I'll lose when I stop being a cop."

Mrs. Vecchio stared at her son.

"Ouch!" Ray winced, pulling his hands out of the death squeeze of his mother's fingers and shaking them out.

"I -- I'm sorry!" she exclaimed, but kept staring at him. "You're going to give up being a policeman?"

Ray sighed. "Ma, I can't go back to that -- stakeouts and busting pushers and shooting at people." He laughed next. "In fact, I don't think I could do it, shoot someone, or even pull a gun on them. I'd try to talk them out of shooting me, and since I'm not Benny I'd end up dead. Which isn't something I want to do now even though I know it's not bad at all." Ray shook his head, clearing out his mouth.

"Look, I know I done a lot of good as a cop, and I'm proud of my life, don't get me wrong. But you gotta be hard inside, Ma, or really good at faking it, to be a good cop - at least, the kind of good cop I know how to be. I'm too old to relearn the whole deal. I gotta figure out a new way to help people. Can you -- does that make sense to you, Ma?"

She stared down at her hands so quietly. He put a hand on her shoulder, and only then realized it was shaking.


"Oh, Raymondo!" She buried her face in her hands and cried.

"Ma! Ma, I'm sorry!" His arms were around her, holding her to him as he cooed in distress. "I…I just gotta…oh, Ma…I'm sorry."

She sat up, cupping his face in her hands, and said right through her tears. "No, no. You don't understand what a mother feels when her son, her beloved boy, goes out every day and might not come home again. You don't know how many nights I have worried about you, wondered if you even thought of what you might suffer, what might happen to you. Young men…" She broke off to sniff and rooted in her purse for a folded Kleenex. "They think they're untouchable, that they can dodge bullets. You would come home so tired, so hurt, and you didn't even notice. I worried about you so much."

Ray's eyes took up half his face. "But you never said anything!"

"What was I supposed to say? 'No, don't become a policeman? Stay with Zuko and the boys and turn into God knows what?'" She shook her head, wiping her nose. "I was proud of you. If you still wanted it, I wouldn't have said a word. But if you can be something else…Oh, Raymondo!" She started crying again.

He just held her a long time, patting her warm woolen shoulder and thinking about the last years of his life, the over-night stakeouts, being shot in the shoulder, the bomb, shooting Benny, the Rivs, Carver's toys, and his mother never saying a word.

Well, Ray reflected, she had let him know how much she worried. Maybe he just hadn't really listened to her before.

Eventually, she straightened up to give him a kiss, wiped her face, and sat looking over the lawn with him. He'd need to get back to his room soon.

"So," she said with a determination he knew so well. "What will you do instead?"

Ray shook his head, running his hands over his head again. "Get a haircut."


He sighed now. "I don't know, Ma. I've been thinking about it, but nothing's jumping out at me, you know? I know I'm going to be better than ever at knowing things, at figuring things out, at being able to help people, and I'm trained to be a cop, but I can't do the politics and the tough-guy stuff anymore. I swear, one hooker in the tank and I'd probably be crying and buying her a bus ticket home.

"I want to stay in Chicago, which means that everyone's still going to see a cop when they see me, which pretty much rules out any sort of counselor position, not that I'd be good at that sort of thing, anyway. I thought about just joining some charity organization, but what can I give to them? I know about busting bad guys."

She sniffed quietly and wiped her nose again. "What about becoming a private investigator?" At her son's blank look, she raised her eyebrows. "With your own firm, you could choose your own cases, yes? And being a police officer would be a good thing. And you wouldn't have to carry a gun." She nodded in satisfaction.

"I know on the television they're always showing some private eye shooting at people, and I think about my son on the force and what he would do to such a man. And Benton could continue to help you, just as he does with your cases in the police department." She smiled. "He will help you just with his uniform, yes? And he's such a nice young man. You could use him to make TV commercials for you." She put up her hands, the rosary swaying again. "Think of all the women who would call to have him check up on their husbands!"

She sniffed again. "There is no need to laugh at me, Raymondo. This is a good idea I have."

Ray wiped at his eyes and got his body to calm down. Damn, but he felt great.

"It's a terrific idea, Ma. I love you. You're the best mother in the world."

She allowed him to hug her and kiss her on the cheek.

"You are a pretty good son as well, Raymondo."


Fraser sat on his bed, trying to determine its precise level of discomfort.

For him, all beds were uncomfortably soft for sleeping, though the bedroll was obviously lacking as a pallet for lovemaking.

Next, he walked the length of his floor, noting the creaks, the uneven places no amount of sandpaper could put right. The walls were next, the shabby -- no other word would do -- fixtures, the tiny kitchen, the bare windows, the second-hand furniture, his father's trunk, the whiteness of the place.

He liked it, but he still understood the words from his own mouth as he had surveyed his apartment while suffering from amnesia: *I live like this?*

Everyone had asked that, upon first viewing these rooms. Everyone but Ray. Only Ray hadn't needed the answer of his silence: *Yes, I do live like this.*

He found his hand was resting almost reverently on the kitchen counter. As he turned his head, he stared at the cupboards that held his candles. He could light them all now, for Ray. They would create wonders inside jade eyes. But Ray would object to the fire hazard. Perhaps just two on the table.

"Benny!" Ray was home.

No, Benton corrected himself. Ray was here.

"Damn, it's cold out there." Ray took off his long black coat and threw it over one of Fraser's kitchen chairs, then rubbed his hands together and looked around. "Kinda chilly in here too."

"I turned on the radiator approximately fifteen minutes ago, Ray. It should get warmer soon."

Ray scowled. "Where you been?"

"Walking." Saying goodbye. "How are things at the station?"

"A little noisy and a lot nosey." Ray rolled his eyes and walked into the kitchen to make them both coffee in the maker Ray had bought last night. Fraser found the intimacy thrilling.

"Your resignation caused them concern, I'm sure," the Mountie offered.

"Welsh told me to take a month off with pay and think about it." Ray threw a grin over his shoulder. "You should have seen Jack's face when I told him he could keep the snowglobe. Ha! They'd all put the stuff back on my desk. I gave 'em back what they had, near as I can remember, then cleaned the rest of my junk out. They were all wondering who the snitch was. Left the box in the Riv."

Ray breezed out, headed for the restroom, and Benny realized he was smiling.

Within a moment, the coffee was dripping, preparing for their first night together in his apartment after a full week of being apart while Ray slept in his own house and insisted everyone go visit family in Florida. Of course, Frannie had stayed to work at her new job, but then, apart from a vague coolness towards them both, Frannie was aiding and abetting them willingly enough.

They'd made love in the afternoons, and the mornings, and lunchtime, but at night, laid out on his bedroll, Fraser had missed Ray's body next to his acutely, and when he had slept, had dreamed rather predictably of the sensation of sharing his bed all night with that slender length of restless heat…and the body attached to it.

"You're smirking again, Benny," Ray mumbled as he appeared and gathered up the man in his arms to nibble-kiss his way up and down Fraser's neck.

"Did you show Leftenant Welsh your private investigator's license, Ray?"

"Yeah, even got him to say something non-committal about sending cases my way. He thinks it's a phase. I could tell when I left everyone's expecting to see me back at my desk next week."

Fraser groaned as a hot tongue roughed up his earlobe. "I -- I think you'll still see a great deal of the precinct house in your new line of work, Ray."

Vecchio's sigh went right into Fraser's ear, weakening his knees considerably. "I don't want to see it, Benny. I mean, it was great watching Elaine drop her teeth when I gave her a hug, and everybody was great, but, God, that place…it was hard, Benny."

"I understand, Ray."

Vecchio pulled back, revealing surprisingly anxious eyes. "Do you, Benny?"

"Yes." Fraser's hand took the liberty of pleasuring itself over Ray's delicately curved skull. The new "buzz cut" tickled his palm delightfully. "I went by the Consulate today, Ray. Just for a moment. The sensation of being there was…disturbing."

"You wanna quit, you wanna be a Mountie forever, you know I'm behind you a hundred percent, Benny." Ray's eyes were as serious and earnest as ever. Fraser grabbed the narrow hips and ground his hardness forward shamelessly, almost laughing with joy when Ray's eyes fluttered shut and his whole body started trembling. A week of lovemaking, however odd the hours, had taught him a great deal about exciting a certain Italian PI.

Ray had been learning as well, as the firm two-handed grip on his backside confirmed. The husky moan, "You get me so hot, Benny," was an unexpected extra.

"I bought something at the drugstore this afternoon." Benny winced instantly at his own words. So much for romance! And it was obvious Ray knew just what that "something" was by the way his body tensed up and his head drew back.

"Yeah?" Ray's voice was a little breathy, but mostly hesitant.

"If it's too soon, Ray, I understand." And Fraser only knew he didn't mean those words when Ray's eyes clouded with doubt.

"I tried it once before, Benny." Ray shrugged around Benny's body. "She really liked it and all, but she'd been doing it for a while. I asked her about it, and she talked about enemas and lesions and stuff and I gotta tell you I almost threw up."

Fraser blinked rapidly. "That does sound unpleasant, Ray."

"But you still wanna do it."


Ray sighed.

"I think of what it would be like to have you inside me," Benny murmured, then swallowed his next words as Ray shuddered and pressed against him. He could *feel* his lover's sudden heat against his body, focused on that insistent pressure. However, Ray's face was now buried in his neck.

Fraser steadied himself, unaware that his shoulders were set guard-duty style.

"I think of your strength caressing me intimately. I think of how much energy there is in you, how much passion and honesty and…you have such fury for life in you, Ray, so much that I have never had, never known. And all that could be inside me and -"

"Oh, God, Benny. Shut up."

With Ray's eyes still safely closed against the hot skin of his neck, Fraser smiled.

"Does that mean 'yes,' Ray?"

"That means I want to know exactly what you bought."

Ray pulled away a few moments later, and Fraser did not let himself blush or stumble as he retrieved the small paper bag and poured out the half-dozen condoms and the tube of personal lubricant. A while went by. Ray looked up into his friend's sky-blue eyes.

"It's the closest we can get without joining souls," Benny murmured, now at last blushing to his hairline.

Ray rolled his eyes. "And I thought the Big-Eyed Mountie Look was bad." He threw up his hands. "And yes, that's a 'yes!' But let's ease into it a bit, okay, Benny? We got all night."

"Certainly, Ray."

"'Certainly, Ray.'" The man strode to the coffee machine, and Fraser just might have had his feelings hurt if he hadn't seen Ray's hands shaking while he poured the steaming liquid into his mug.

He watched Ray drink, the curl of his lips when the steam reached his nose, the way his eyes closed when he took a sip, the long, slow bob of his Adam's apple as he swallowed, the slight relaxation along his slender frame, the glint of irritation in his darkened eyes.

Startled, Fraser looked away quickly.

Ray snorted and set the mug down, then rubbed his hands over his upper arms briskly and stomped over to the radiator, which he turned up. Then he stepped away from the windows and slithered out of his jacket, throwing Fraser a wink.

The Mountie's knees went slightly weak. By the time Ray had picked up the tube and condoms and carried them to his father's trunk, Benny was sitting on the bed with his hands pressed between his knees. Which meant that when Ray abruptly straddled his lap, his hands were in quite the ideal position.

Ray swooped in for a kiss, let it linger, and wriggled slightly. Benny felt sweat bead on his forehead.

"Benny, you may end up on the bottom, but that doesn't mean you're supposed to just sit there like a lump."

"Sorry, Ray!" With a flip, he had Ray on his back and was pressing kisses to his lips, to his cheeks, nose, eyes, temples. He would never, ever get tired of kissing Ray.

"They must kiss in Heaven, at least," Benny murmured, then captured Ray's lips again before he could answer. A week's practice came to the fore as he shed them both of their clothes and then got Ray's body to lay over his own.

Ray ended the latest kiss, his smile smug. "Good thing for you I'm so nervous, or this would already be over."

"Don't be nervous, Ray."

"Ha! That's easy for you to say."

"Not really, Ray."

Benny got another kiss for that., then a little series of them, long, slow, quick, hard, soft, deep. Ray's tongue was always so authoritative, confident in seeking pleasure. It was impossible to be coy or innocent when Ray was kissing him. Benny brought up his legs, caressing Ray's flanks with his thighs, and the strong, slender body above him began to shake.

Ray swallowed and pulled back, sitting to the side and looking almost frightened. "You'd better roll over, Benny."

Benny sighed luxuriously at the feeling those words gave him, but shook his head.

"I don't want this if you don't, Ray."

Vecchio laughed, a harsh, loud noise. "Roll over, Benny, or I'll roll you over myself."

Fraser brought his hands down from Ray's chest and crossed his arms, eyebrows raised.

Ray looked down at him, narrowed his eyes, then reached softly down to Benny's hard cock and stroked, teasing, finding that spot just there behind his testes, sliding a thumb into his slit, coaxing and spreading precum. Benny groaned and thrust mindlessly. The Mountie hadn't been the only one learning things about his lover's preferences in the past week.

Ray squeezed slightly, then put a hand behind Benny's shoulder and pulled. In less than a second, the Mountie was on his stomach.

"Ray…" The protest was too token to deserve any answer or to be repeated. Ray was covering his upper back in kisses and his lower back in soft, strong caresses that left him aching. Without thought he spread his legs and arched back, seeking. "Please hurry."

"Shhhh, Benny." Ray's breath on his neck was warm, then cool. "You got me on a hair trigger here. Just lemme…" Fraser felt Ray reach for the tube of lubricant, heard the snap of the broken seal, waited forever until gel-cool fingers slid down the parting of his body, finding the ring of muscle that protected this entrance to his body. He tensed, fighting his own tension.

A kiss on his spine. On his scar.

"I almost…" Ray whispered. "You have no idea what that did to me. But you know, when you forgave me for that, I knew we'd make it through anything that came after."

Fraser stifled a groan at the distraction, then wondered if Ray were doing this on purpose, for the slick finger teasing him pushed inside, and the pressure was uncomfortable in the extreme.

"Benny, if you don't relax I won't do this."

Fraser felt himself tense further in panic. "The body's responses to excitement are inconveniently similar to that to fear," he babbled. "I want you so much, we still haven't talked about it, about how I felt for so long, about how frightened I was that you would be disgusted by how I felt, that my dreams of kissing you…loving you…seeing your eyes soften as I touched you, as you touched me…oh, yes, Ray. That feels so good." His body began to push back against that penetration. He had never been more glad of the slender length of Ray's fingers. "Yes. Yes. Yes."

"Doesn't hurt?"

Fraser pressed his aching erection into the warmed bedcovers, sighing at the pressure there to match the sweet friction now inside. Ray had added another finger, slowly, gently, insistently. "Another source of heat, a new way to be loved."


"To know it's you doing this to me, Ray. You have no idea. I can imagine so easily your eyes now, watching your own fingers move inside me. I'm so open now, and you can watch and I can let you. I could always let you see me, Ray. Every ugly true thing about me your eyes have witnessed and…ohhh…yet you still love me, Ray."

"God, Benny."

"Now, Ray. Please."

Fraser felt Ray shift, reaching over him for a foil packet, felt the hot brush of Ray's cock on his oiled buttocks, brushed back against that hard pressure. "Hurry, Ray. Fuck me."

Ray made a helpless strangled noise and shuddered, and heat splashed Fraser's lower back. Another splash, dripping hot and smelling of sex, and then Ray's body boneless over his, gasping and moaning disconsolately, stilled fingers inside him.

"Ray?" Fraser felt disbelief cracking at his heart.

"Damn…damnit, Benny. Why'd you…Aw, damnit. I'm sorry." Ray shifted down, his fingers twisting slightly as Ray reached Benny's lower back with his tongue. Hot, penitent swipes. "Don't worry. I'll be ready again soon." The warm, moist gust of his chuckle. "You got me acting like I'm sixteen, I swear to God."

Fraser realized his eyes were squeezed shut. "You really want me so much, Ray?"

"Ha! Benny, you got no idea."

But Fraser thought he must have a good idea indeed, at last, as Ray spent the next few eternities licking and kissing his back, stroking him inside, fondling, petting, loving him. He almost couldn't bear it when finally Ray whispered a warning and nudged up against him. It was almost more than he could take not to come, not to scream and come, as he felt that pressure.

Despite the prolonged preparation, however, it still hurt somewhat when Ray first pushed himself inside, and Fraser almost welcomed the pain-loss of pressure in his groin. Ray rested, not moving, and the stretched ache eased.

"You made it, Ray." Fraser smiled into the pillow.

"Noticed. Does it feel okay?"

"Feels wonderful. Feels like something worth waiting forever for."

Ray eased back slightly, and pushed forward. Exquisite. Another push, another, and they were starting to rock together now, a gentle rhythm, and then a new pressure white-hot to match the heat of their bodies, and everything smelled of sweat and semen and latex and the breath of Ray's gusts at his back.

Yes, it was building now, and Fraser wasn't going to last long now, though he filled his mind with information about water currency marks…or was that currency water…marked with…something…oh. Oh. Oh!

"Ray!" He came, gloriously, on and on, thrusting into the slipperiness of it, impaled on Ray's cock

Ray was chanting his name, thrusting now, hands anchored at Benny's hips, groaning chants that broke, almost a scream. His name, choking almost. And then again that heavy, sweaty sprawl of Ray's weight, all arms and legs until Fraser felt woven into a cocoon, until there was only this one person in his entire world.


"Benny?" Ray's voice was mostly air.

"Mm?" Oh dear, the effort of that small noise.

"We don't have to move. We'll live here."

"Mm? Mm…what, Ray?"

"It would ruin it if you left, and you need to be helping them as much as they need your help. I'll have to learn to live with it."

Fraser tried to get his neurons to fire better. He wasn't hearing this right.

"I can see it," Ray was whispering now, his mouth mushing the words slightly as sleep stole upon him. "It's like you're in this stained glass window. If I took out the part that's you, it'd make everything break. Couldn't do it." Ray yawned and withdrew, drawing off the condom and tossing it in the trash.

Fraser turned. "But Ray, I haven't said a word."

"Saw it, Benny. When I came, you know?" Ray yawned again. "Very pretty window. I think I was in it too, somewhere."


"Shhhh. Sleep now, Benny. We gotta go shopping tomorrow."

"New bed?" Fraser lobbed the question like a dare…or a hand-grenade.

"Mmm. And a rug. Your floor is cold. Now sleep."

Benny looked into Ray's closed eyes and leaned forward, pressing himself against this man in his arms.

"Ray? I would have left here for you."

Ray half-opened his eyes. "And I'll stay for you." He nodded his head back to accept the kiss Fraser gave him, then closed his eyes with determination. Benny closed his own eyes and felt nothing short of bliss.

"Oh, and we'll need to take the Gamez kid to the doctor in the morning."

Fraser got his eyes back open, but Ray was mumbling and his breaths were evening out.

"Why, Ray?"

"Dunno. Sleep."

Fraser got himself relaxed and ready for sleep again, though it was a long time coming. His bliss hadn't left him, though it was tinged again with disquiet. Ray still frightened him, perhaps more than ever, and the responsibility of their lives now was beginning to bear down with a completely new type of pressure.

Then for a moment, it were as if Benton Fraser could see Ray's stained-glass window, or perhaps just the colors of its shadow on the floor, and each piece touched its neighbor in a May-dance spider's web, weaving out through the world and then back again, leading into the canopy of the unknowable future and then returning to cover him in the gentle cocoon of Ray Vecchio's warm arms.



They had put out stew from fresh meat and thick-cut vegetables with rice, the bowls steaming on the table. Darla had come in from the city, and her eyes were still wandering to the 'net-box on her wrist, checking for messages from work even though she said she'd taken vacation days.

Most of the village was there, well-aware that the rest of the world would call them "quaint," even though they subscribed to the gateway and had 'net-boxes in their homes just like everyone else. Yes, they still preferred to catch and prepare their own food and make their own clothes and generally take care of themselves. If that made them quaint, at least they now "owned" the land according to white-man's law and the only visitors here came by invitation of man or spirit.

Darla ran a hand through her city-cut hair and sighed, and the elders could only press their lips together for silence. This village daughter did not appreciate the honor the shaman was showing them this day, the same honor without fail he had shown them since that first day he had come to warn them of the early winter storm and help them save their modest harvest.

The 'net had destroyed secrets, of course. They knew who he was, though in all fairness before he actually appeared before them they'd believed him to be an urban legend.

"It won't matter," Darla said quietly to her mother, who flushed and looked around the room, beseeching everyone not hear those impatient words. "I'm marrying him no matter what this guy says."

The silence stretched now until everyone was staring at the floor or their hands. Even Darla flushed now, and she spoke much more harshly than she wanted: "Dinner is getting cold."

"I told you we were going to be late, Ray."

"Yeah, yeah, Benny. So I was supposed to just leave him there? He needed directions."

"And the fact that he was standing right in front of a store display where all the vids were showing the baseball scores had nothing to do with it, I suppose."

"Benny, you're hurting my feelings here. What smells so good?"

They were all on their feet now, staring at the men in the doorway. Robert Tangtree was known to the shaman best and was shaking his hand, talking of the new children and of the fire.

"God," Darla muttered to herself, thankful to have the attention turned from her, but frowning at what she saw. "They're ancient."

The bald one -- the shaman -- wore surprisingly stylish clothes, chosen with taste and care. They even hung well from his slender frame. Looking only at them, one might think the man to be in his forties. But his body was stretched skin and wrinkles, and his shockingly lovely green eyes…Darla shivered…even without the crow's feet, they looked about a thousand years old. Surely the man had passed the century mark long ago.

His husband was the same, except that he was totally different. His pure white hair grew thickly, his blue eyes were still pretty, and his clothes were all rugged mountain man stuff. He still had his Mountie hat. Amazing. There weren't even Mounties any more, but everyone knew about the hat.

But otherwise he was just as old and wrinkled and…still strong, bursting with health the way some people were until they drifted off to dead in their sleep.

"And this is Darla," Robert was saying now, and she steeled herself. "She's marrying a man from the city."

"And you wanna know if it's gonna be happy, huh?" the shaman asked. His eyes twinkled at her, and she bristled. It only made the twinkle brighter. "Can't you wait and see for yourself?"

"My father is dying." She winced inside at her own words, but they were the truth and this wasn't her idea. "I'm his only child. He says he needs to know before he can find peace."

The shaman shrugged. "Okay. After dinner, right?"

And with no more preamble they sat at the tables and ate. Everyone had questions for the shaman and his husband. Darla ate her stew and met no one's eyes.

After the meal, there were a few more words, then someone nodded and the shaman was led with his spouse to Robert's house. Then everyone withdrew to their homes and Darla had to keep herself from running back to her room. Thank God her 'net-box was beeping, her inbox was full.

Fraser watched the woman until she was out of sight, then stared after the turn in the road a long moment more.

"It's difficult to see how we can help her, Ray."

"So maybe we don't." Ray walked into the house and pulled Benny in after him. The door closed, then Ray was shedding his zip-clean-only clothes down to his crucifix and walking to the -- as he remembered -- nicely firm bed.

In only a few seconds they were in Ray's favorite position. After all, they'd gotten into Benny's personal favorite last time. Fair was fair.

It was easy, lying here on his back, to reach up Benny's smooth chest and tweak those sensitive nipples. His hands knew this body so well now, knew how to excite it, how to soothe, how to drive the man insane. He fluttered over hot spots and sucked on the callused fingers in his mouth, letting them go with a slurp before they headed south.

He thought suddenly of all the brands of lubricant they'd used over the years, fiercely loyal to first this product, then that. Of course, not too long into their relationship they really hadn't needed lubricants anymore, unless they were feeling ready for a hot-and-hard session. And now for years they'd used nothing more than spit and precum.

"You're thinking practical thoughts," Benny accused.

"I'm thinking of how much I love that we've been together forever. Did I have any sort of life before you came into it?"

"I didn't."

Ray moaned, spreading his legs wider, welcoming his husband inside. They'd been married in five separate ceremonies all together. The third one had made it legal in all courts, the fourth had appeased a western tribe. The last had been for their diamond jubilee anniversary. They'd done it in Vegas. Ray still had the disc.

God, he loved this. He loved kissing Benny, and touching him, and sucking and being sucked, and letting his tongue go everywhere, and fucking him, but this was the best. Even now Fraser could sometimes wonder if Ray's love were still as passionate as it had been during those early, somewhat turbulent years. Ray loved to show him, and despite the years and years, Benny still got that look of wonder in his eyes when he was deep in his husband's heat.

Yes, there it was. And the pleasure was white and burning bright, trying to distract him with visions of Darla's marriage. Three kids. That ought to keep Grampa happy, though his visions weren't guarantees, never had been. Just suggestions that had a habit of coming true.

Oh, screw the vision. Benny was fucking him now with piston-hips and it was incredible, incredible to be loved like this. Heaven here on Earth, that's what he'd found in turning from that door, because Benny had been there.

"Love you…Benny."

"Ray!" A hoarse cry.

"Benny. God. Benny."


The man opened his eyes. Diefenbaker was breathing his face.

"Ray?" Benny's voice behind him was so deep and pure.



Ray shook his head and sat up. Benny's apartment, his now too, with the new bed and rug and icebox. Ray even had a small TV hidden in the closet, for the game.

He turned, and his heart just about jumped out and danced on the floor. Benny was looking at him in the moonlight, his smooth face and kind eyes so beautiful Ray couldn't breathe.

"Are you all right, Ray? You were moaning. Were you having a nightmare?" Despite the concern, a smile was curling Benny's lip. Even Mounties knew men moaned in their sleep for all kinds of reasons.

Ray bit his lips and pulled down the sheet. That young, strong body, young like it should be, young like it would always be in his mind. Ray put his hand right to that spot under Fraser's ribcage and scratched lightly.

Benny sucked in a breath, his mouth making a little O of surprise, and Ray laughed. Oh yeah, he knew his Benny…

"Think we could make it to our diamond jubilee anniversary, Benny?" he asked, leaning down for a kiss. He was really going to surprise his lover in a minute. Where was the KY jelly?

Benny stretched and sighed, his face alight in simple happiness. "Sounds like…you know what it sounds like, Ray."

Another kiss, then Ray laughed.

"Yeah. I know all right."


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