Disclaimers: The due South characters remain the property of Alliance Atlantis. Written for pleasure, not profit. For adult readers only.

Notes: See, what happened is, Bone got infected with a plot virus, and we wrote this in an attempt to cure her of it -- feed a cold, starve a fever, smut a plot. Desperate measures, baby. Our boys don't have safe sex, but we strongly encourage you to.

Acknowledgements:  To Kat Allison and Crysothemis for awesome beta support, and to Mouse for a little discussion on perception.

Dedication: To nancy, from both of us. Wholeheartedly.

Pairing: Huey/Dewey (just kidding, geez...Fraser/Kowalski)

Rating: NC-17 (and we're not kidding on that one)

Summary: Randomness. Inevitability. Smut.

Feedback: Would be gratefully welcomed at jbonetoo@yahoo.com and mtriste@hotmail.com.

The Course

by Bone & Aristide

November 2000
 
 

March 18

Fraser put me in charge of the weather diary. Weather diary? What do we need a weather diary for? How many different ways we got to say, "Cold today"? He reminded me the Inuit have sixty different words for snow. I reminded him we weren't Inuit, we were plain old white folks who had one perfectly good word for snow, and he said that was because we lacked imagination, and I said I saved my imagination for better things than snow, and it went downhill from there.

Upshot is he does everything else, and I make like ballast in the sled and write in the weather journal that it's cold today. Personally, I think it's so when they find our skinny carcasses frozen in a snowbank somewhere, they'll know what took us out -- whether it was the nor'easter, or the Screaming Virgin, or the lefthook, chinhook, whatever else names they got for all those winds. Just like the snow, they got all these names for wind. Me, I just think it's fucking cold. And windy. Cold and windy. That should just about cover it.

March 20

Cold today. Cloud cover. No wind, no new snow. We made good time today, whatever that means. I'm just along for the ride. A little adventure, me and Fraser off on a little adventure with Dief and his buds. Woke up spooned around Dief this morning. Not a good sign.

March 23

Colder today. Light snow, sledding into the wind. Wind made me tear up and my eyelashes froze together. Fraser put his hands over my eyes and blew on them, breathed on them, thawed them out. Freaky thing to do. Felt...no, not talking about that. I can't imagine him out here doing this by himself, like I know he's done. What happens if his eyelashes glue up? Who blows on him?

March 25

Damn cold. Sky's a weird color. Looks bigger or something. Hope we find that hand soon. Think I'm headed down a slippery slope here, and it's got nothing to do with living on a sled. Fraser leaned over me today, reaching out to untangle a line, and there's his wrist in front of my face. Skin. Like, two inches of it. Blue veins, white skin, pinked up from the cold. It's 15 below 0 (and I don't speak metric, so that's fahrenheit), and I've lost some eyelashes, and we're in the middle of freakin' nowhere, and what happens? I'm popping a boner over two bare inches of Fraser. Not even a good two inches. Which is just...nuts. Stupid. Crazy. Not a good idea. Not a good idea.

March 26

Blizzard. Never heard anything like it. Makes Screaming Virgins sound like a choir of angels. Scariest thing I ever heard. Thank God for all that Mountie shit I give Fraser a hard time over. He got us cocooned in a cave in about twenty minutes. Dogs up front, us behind, smooshed together in the sleeping bags, riding it out. Couldn't stop shaking, no matter how close he got.

March 27

Still snowing. Embarrassed myself in the sleeping bag last night. Woke up rubbing him up. Guess it could have been worse. Could have been Dief, and wouldn't that have been hard to explain. Fraser took it pretty good, considering. Just rolled me over, patted my shoulder and said, "Perfectly natural, Ray," then went back to snoring. Perfectly natural to want his ass? Is there any chance that's what he meant? No. So. Okay. Not okay. Y'know, it's one thing to like a guy as much as I like Fraser. He's a great guy. So I can kind of make that okay in my head. It'd be weird if I didn't like him, right? But that's not what this is. Yeah, it's that, but there's more to it. The boner problem puts a whole different spin on things. This isn't like the kid stuff I've done before with guys. This is grown-up stuff, too important to fuck with. Probably just as well he's staying and I'm going. There's just no point going there. There's no there there. Leaving's gonna be hard enough as it is.

March 29

Three days of snow. Not the fluffy White Christmas stuff, either. This is sandy, stinging snow, feels like getting scrubbed with sandpaper going out in it. Hell, it looked like it fell up sometimes. Okay, okay, I admit it. I could use another couple words for "snow." We've been cooped up in here with the dogs since whatever day that was (should have been writing day and date, cuz I don't have a clue). It's smoky and I stink and I've gotten to where I won't even go outside to pee by myself. I make Fraser go with me, tied to me with some rope. No way am I letting him out of my sight in this mess. Gotta say, though, if you ever have to live unwashed in a cave with some dogs and an indoor campfire, Fraser's your man. He acts like we're at a Hilton. He belongs out here. Honest to God, he does.

March 30

Pen froze. Fraser told me to stick it in my mouth -- guess it's no stranger than some of the stuff he's stuck in his.

March 31

Blizzard wore itself out, temp's up a little, and we're on the go again. I don't know which direction's up anymore. Don't know which way we're headed. Don't care. The sky and the ground are the same color. Everything's white, or gray, really. Makes me look for color. Makes me look for Fraser.

April 2

Forget the Hand of Franklin. Give me the Hand of Fraser any day. I'm the reaching out one, totally at sea, and he's right there, one hand out, two sometimes. Mittened or bare. I don't even have to look for it. He's right there, giving me a hand-out. Some quality Fraser time. Hell, this is his idea of a vacation.

April 4

Cold outside. Cold inside. We didn't find Franklin. Doesn't matter. Wasn't why I went. We'll hit the RCMP outpost tomorrow. Civilization, Canadian style. Means we get to cook indoors, but we still have to whiz outdoors. I get a hopper from there to Wherever, and from there to Whocares, and eventually, I guess somebody'll take me back to Chicago. So we got one last night out in the wild gray yonder. I could try...but I won't. Don't want to ruin what we got, and don't want to get tangled up any more than I already am, so either way, it's no good. Nothing good about this not-being-together crap. Hate that. Hate it.

Fraser raised his head abruptly. Unconsciously, he'd drawn closer and closer to the slightly smoke-scented pages of Ray's journal, losing himself there so profoundly that his surroundings had completely disappeared. He'd been there, back on their adventure, a strange doubling of perspective as Ray's narrative was echoed by his own memories of Ray in the firelight, intent, writing.

Writing. If he'd known then, what Ray was writing, he'd... well, certainly he'd have been as flushed as he was right now, his face hot, his skin itchy. He closed the notebook and touched it to his forehead -- it was cool, almost cold, despite the length of time he'd been holding it, as if it had somehow absorbed the qualities of the atmosphere it had traveled through. He inhaled. Smoke, from a fire of scant wood. Something else, musky, perhaps a little spicy, elusive and faint, but compelling. Yes. Fraser made himself put the book down.

He had always enjoyed watching Ray write in the weather diary; it had provided a rare opportunity to look at Ray without words distracting him. Ray had been very dear to him in those moments, very dear and very strong, glowing against a backdrop of nighttime ice-field, almost fire-bright himself: an adventurer. His companion. His partner.

But now, in the wake of reading what Ray in all probability had never meant for him to see, Ray was even more dear, somehow; his fortitude visible in a whole new way, even more impressive than before. And that really should have been a good thing, except...

Fraser sighed, loudly enough that Dief whined at him.

Except that Ray had gone. And was still gone. And only now was Fraser becoming aware of how much he'd lost, that day he'd waved good-bye until Ray's departing flight was no more than a speck on the low horizon.

Reading Ray's words had brought Ray closer, yes, for a moment. And the surprising content of the journal entries had engendered... something... a sentiment, a feeling wholly unconnected with (and much warmer than) simple 'surprise' -- but now the words were read, and the discoveries made, and Fraser found that he was not happy. He could only be overwhelmed anew with how much distance lay between them, could only feel even farther away.

The exact opposite of what he'd been striving for in opening the book in the first place.

The extent to which he missed Ray had been so all-encompassing that, for the first few days, he hadn't even been consciously aware of it. At first he thought he might have contracted a low-grade virus of some sort, or that perhaps his body had adapted to Chicago's urban environment, and returning to the northern clime had exposed him to germs his immune system could no longer combat. Either would have explained the fatigue, the insomnia, the mood swings, the restless, jittery feelings.

But there were never any substantive symptoms of illness. And so the next most likely explanation was that his unrest stemmed from the fact that he didn't know what to do with himself. He was, for the first time he could remember, actually bored -- an unheard of, and vaguely shameful, occurrence.

The RCMP central office had requested that he commence his next posting with a clean slate, and so he had an extra month of leave left after Ray went back to Chicago. He had decided to spend it in Tuktoyaktuk, as much of a home as he'd ever had; an interim alternative while he made his decision regarding which outpost he'd like to be transferred to.

Carte blanche, he'd been told. Wherever he'd like to go, that's where they'd send him. An unusual offer; he knew that. An apology of sorts. He knew that, too.

So all was right with his world. He was home. He was back in the good graces of the RCMP (at least for the moment), he had three more weeks to spend however he liked, and he had the Canadian world as his oyster. All he had to do was...choose.

He should have been happy. He wasn't. Even in the very moment when he'd received the RCMP's offer and carefully veiled apology, what had suffused him was neither a righteous sense of justice done to the memory of his father, nor a feeling of satisfaction in amends for his own sacrifices, but an impression, somehow, of conclusion: a closed chapter of his life.

Yet another thing that had passed away from him. Something else to mourn.

And so he'd taken his leave and filled his days as best he could, and tried not to pay too much attention to how he was constantly weary, and irritated, and couldn't sleep more than thirty minutes at a time. He hadn't known what was wrong with him, and he might never have figured it out at all if he hadn't one day turned in the street to tell Ray something, and Ray...wasn't there.

He'd stood there with his mouth open, looking stupidly at the empty air where Ray wasn't, feeling pieces click into place inside him. An unhappy sort of epiphany, but an epiphany just the same. He missed something...someone...he hadn't even realized he wanted.

He wasn't sick. Yes, he was bored, but it was more than that.

He missed Ray. That was all.

But that was enough.

And so tonight when he'd been exhausted from doing nothing but entirely unable to sleep, Fraser had decided to go to the shed behind the cabin he'd rented, and break down the gear he and Ray had used on their adventure.

The task should have been done as soon as they'd returned, but Ray had left the next day, and Fraser had just put everything away, already feeling that hum of exhaustion in his ears. In retrospect he was glad he'd done so, even though it had been frightfully neglectful of him. It gave him something to do, and a way to reconnect. A means, hopefully, to find a way to move on.

The shed had been cold, but that just woke him up a little, which didn't seem like a bad thing. He'd made quick work of his own pack: a few articles of clothing, an extra pair of mukluks, some rations, maps, flashlight and batteries, waterproof matches, and the tool kit he'd vowed on the Henry Allen to carry with him from that point on, and had.

Ray's pack took longer. He remembered Ray handing it over with a grin the morning he left, saying, "What do I need dehydrated peas for? I'm calling Sandor on the way home from the airport."

Fraser opened the pack and peered inside, and marveled at the mess. No wonder the sled had felt so heavy. He removed a variety of items, none of which were suited for the arctic environment, grimacing when he came upon a half-eaten chocolate bar stuck in one corner.

And at the bottom of the pack, wedged under one of the aluminum struts, was a notebook. Small. Spiral-bound, black. Their weather diary.

He'd thumbed through the pages, wondering how many different ways Ray had found to say, "Cold today."

Blue scribbles filled some pages, while only a line of text adorned others. A couple of entries rambled on for pages, and Fraser saw his own name flicker up at him from time to time. Any mention of the weather was apparently incidental.

Ray had kept a journal. Just like Dad had. And like his father, Ray had left it for him. Given it to him, really; surely some small subconscious part of him had to have known it was in the pack he deliberately handed over.

Fraser had pushed aside the empty pack, then leaned back against the wall of the shed, opened the book, and begun to read.

Dief huffed at him again, breaking his reverie. He looked down at the small book. It couldn't hurt to read it again, could it? More carefully this time?

"Yes, it's past our bedtime. Again," he said, taking a handful of Dief's ruff and shaking it lightly. "Come on, let's go."

He sorted the gear quickly into piles for shipping, then tucked the notebook in his pocket and retreated to the comparative warmth and comfort of the cabin.

Sleeplessness was customary now, and so the exhausted tossing and turning process was intimately familiar to him. But tonight, this darker-than-usual night after finding Ray's diary, the constant flow and chatter of his thoughts was more absorbing, and yet more enervating than ever. He felt bombarded with bright shards of memory, far too many to close his heavy eyelids upon, and haunted with phrases, auditory echoes that he heard in Ray's solitary voice, as if Ray were there, perhaps by the window where the best light was, reading out loud to him, one line after another of missed chances.

One line after another, and oh, he was so tired, so very, very tired and it was so good to hear Ray's voice and he wished, he wished he could, because hearing Ray's voice would be --

Skin. Like, two inches of it. Blue veins, white skin, pinked up from the cold

He lifted his arm, looked at his wrist, then stroked two fingers down the tendons, across the veins. Ray had found his wrist...arousing.

He dropped his arm abruptly, feeling his pulse speed up. His eyes drifted closed. God, he needed sleep, wanted it, wanted it, wanted...

Woke up rubbing him up.

Voice and memory combined, that time: Ray's voice as it was when he was rueful, or ever so slightly embarrassed, and memory, of waking to Ray burrowed hard into him, almost under him, Ray (oh, Ray) arching in his sleep and sighing, so gently. Voice and memory combined and that didn't make him any more awake but now he was certainly a different sort of sleepy, the sort of sleepy where he didn't think twice before dragging his pillow down to his hips and rolling over on it.

As he could have done back then, perhaps. If he'd known he wanted it. If he'd been paying proper attention. He could have had that, had this, had he known then what he knew now; could have had Ray aroused and happy under him, could have been the sole inducement to those so-gentle sighs. Ray would have sighed, he was sure of it. Ray would have moved with him, against him, Ray would have moved like a perfect partner.

He knew now. He knew, and wanted, and Ray...

Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray -- it occurred to him, perhaps belatedly, that thinking about this, about Ray like this, wasn't the sort of thing that was likely to make missing Ray any more tolerable. But with a certain sense of ironic parity he realized that in either case it was too late -- too late to stop Ray from leaving, and entirely too late to stop himself from pushing hard into his abused pillow and spilling out and shuddering, Ray's name on his lips, Ray inside and outside and everywhere and all around him--

And not really there at all.

God, what a sucky way to start a day. Any day, but especially another Day Without Fraser. He had seven of those under his belt now, all of them shitty, and from the look of things, Day Eight was gonna be even shittier.

And had Welsh's office always been this hot? He breathed in deep -- coffee and copy machine toner and somebody's nasty aftershave, and missed the smells of Canada. And Fraser. Even Dief's funky, wolfy smell was better than the 27th on a Friday morning.

"You've got to be kidding."

"No, Detective, I assure you, I'm not."

Oh, this wasn't good. Wasn't good at all.

He knew what the trouble was. Wasn't any big mystery. That woman, the fancy dancy counselor chick he'd gone to when he and Stella split up, she'd even had a name for it. They'd made him go cuz he'd kicked a few people in the head, scared some folks, destroyed some public property. He'd laughed in her face when she said it: "No shit, lady. I'm separated. Of course I'm anxious."

Then she'd tried to sell him on some other malarkey that basically implied he'd still be breast-feeding if he could -- at least that's what it sounded like -- and that pretty much took care of counseling.

But the phrase lingered. Two words.

Separation anxiety.

Still, knowing what to call it didn't help much when it came to knowing what to do about it. People were either with you, or they weren't. With you in body, in spirit, or...not. And the tough thing about Fraser was that he'd been there, right there with him, and now he just...wasn't.

Seven days in, and it just kept getting worse.

He'd been doing his part, showing up every day, moving papers from one pile to another. That oughta be good enough some days, right? He was, what was it, in a transitional period. Yeah, that was it. Remembering how to move around without snowshoes, fourteen layers of clothes, forty pounds of equipment. So how come he felt heavier not lighter? And why couldn't Welsh just leave him alone, let him do it his own way?

He could remember, back when he'd been freezing his ass off in the middle of nowhere, fantasizing about everything that was waiting for him back home: pizza, and hot showers, and streets to walk on that didn't slope down into crevasses. Right. The hot showers had been pretty outstanding, granted, but every time he thought about food all he could hear was Fraser talking about the long-term preservation benefits of nuts and pemmican, and boy, didn't he feel like a total idiot sitting in his dark apartment eating peanut butter and beef jerky sandwiches...

"Why pick on me? Why not somebody else for a change?"

Yeah, the whine was new. He didn't much care for it, but he didn't seem to have much control over it. Over anything, really. Flying blind, that's what he'd been doing. Get up, go to work, eat, sleep, just like the ad said. All of it sort of unreal, fuzzy. Nothing as clear, or as pure, as the snowiest day up north. He could feel the city on his skin now, like somehow he'd been peeled up there and now he was getting rolled in a daily coating of Chicago grit. Weirdest goddamn sensation.

Welsh's face was the clearest thing he'd seen in days, and still, looking at him was like aiming at something when his glasses were dirty. Focus, come on, focus. Big dealies going on here.

"Kowalski, you've been twiddling your thumbs for a week now. I thought you might actually appreciate the opportunity to, oh, I don't know, work for a change?"

Still a surprise, hearing that name and it not being attached to "Assistant State's Attorney" at the front of it. Not much chance of hearing that now, was there? Not even Mountie bat-ears could hear that all the way from F.L.A.

Nope, he was the only Kowalski game in town now.

Welsh's snide tone was surprisingly comforting. Familiar. People'd been walking on eggshells around him since he got back, sure he'd go postal over Stella hooking up with the Style Pig. Wasn't Stella he was mooning over -- not like before, anyway, which was kind of funny when he thought about it -- but she made a damn good excuse.

"There's gotta be somebody better for the job, sir. Somebody, um, smart," he said. Chances weren't real good on talking himself out of this one, sure, but that was no reason to just bend over and take it.

Welsh snorted and crossed his hands over his chest. "It's not Harvard, Detective. It's a community college in Glenview."

"They don't have, whatsits, campus police?"

"They have four security guards, two of whom are under suspicion themselves."

"If they've got a drug ladder going on, why not bring in one of their own guys?" Seemed like a reasonable question.

"The town has a force of nine officers. Nine, Detective," he said. "In addition to which, one of the college administrators is an old friend, who asked a favor. A favor, I might add, I was perfectly willing to grant."

Oh, now he was getting the real story. Old friends, favors. Same shit, different day. Not sure how that added up to him going undercover in the freakin' suburbs, but there you go.

"I got any choice?" he asked.

"None whatsoever," Welsh replied succinctly. "Come on, Detective. Doesn't a change of scenery sound good?"

"I just got back from the Arctic, sir," he felt compelled to point out.

"Be that as it may, I think this will be good for you."

"Good for you," Ray muttered. Welsh pursed his lips at him, but let it go.

Damn. Undercover again. He wondered how often he could do that without turning all Sybil. Hadn't been too hard with Fraser there, keeping it real for him. This time he'd be all by his lonesome.

All by his seriously lonesome.

Speaking of which...he'd have to get somebody to feed the turtle (again), he had about eight loads of laundry to do, he'd have to figure out how to get word to Fraser...Oh, shit. No, not really any reason to expect that Fraser'd be looking for him. But still...just in case.

"Um, when I get a new cell phone, can I give you the number, in case...anyone calls?" he asked, stumbling over his words.

"What happened to the old one?"

"Crevasse, stuck, squished, long story. So...that okay?"

That look on anyone else might have been sympathy, but Welsh managed to hide it well. "I don't think she's going to call, Kowalski."

She? She who? Ohhh.

"Well, still, you know, just in case anybody's looking for me," he mumbled.

"Not a problem, Detective," Welsh said. "Now, get out of my office. Some of us have work to do."

How was it possible that everything he had once longed for now no longer seemed enough? How could he have so much of what he'd asked for -- his good name, a home base, air and barren vistas and clear bright skies -- and find it totally lacking?

How could he feel so...empty?

Was he old enough for a mid-life crisis? Was he in love? Or was it just worms? Frankly, none of the options appealed.

Fraser reached the end of one street and turned down another, counting his steps, searching out the indent of his own bootprint from the day before. It took exactly 432 steps to get from his cabin to the RCMP office, then it was another 628 to Miriam's almost-restaurant, where (for a small donation to her Ohio State-bound son's college fund) he could get a sandwich and a canteen-sized bowl of soup. He'd only been there a week, and he had already established routines.

He had little enough else to do. Dief stayed at his side most of the time; worried about him, he supposed. Or else Dief was as bored as he was. Dief hadn't had a month's leave since they'd teamed up, and he, too, seemed restless and out of sorts.

"Isn't this what we've been hoping for?" he asked. Dief cocked his head and yipped once.

"No, I didn't know it would be this way. How could I?" Honestly, he thought Dief expected clairvoyance sometimes.

Diefenbaker snuffled softly and bumped his leg. "Yes, Dief, I miss him, too."

Acknowledging it didn't help. Turning his mind to other things didn't help. Nothing helped, not even being home -- the thing he'd desired most, then found simply wasn't enough.

He was home. He repeated the fact to himself multiple times a day, hoping the doggedness of the message might overcome the inherent weakness of the delivery. He was home, not just to a climate and landscape he recognized, but to Tuktoyaktuk, whose streets he knew as well as the lines in the palm of his hand. He could walk its perimeter in an hour, and in that time see twenty faces he knew; older, plumper, some wreathed in lines, others simply adult versions of faces he knew as a child.

He was surrounded by people he knew, and he'd never felt more alone.

Despite the visible decline of native culture and the audible increase in the number of snowmobiles, nothing much fundamental had changed in Tuktoyaktuk in the time he'd been gone. There, in the corner store, he could see shadow images of a much younger version of himself, stalwartly trying to hold together a scout troop of three. If he closed his eyes when he walked by the place where his grandmother had set up her small traveling library, he could almost hear her voice, hushed and insistent; the peremptory whisper as effective as a shout from anyone else.

One more ghost.

During the long, hot summers in Chicago, he had sometimes dreamed of being here, in the familiar, the known. He would lie at night in an undershirt and boxer shorts, with Dief panting on the floor beside him, and he'd remember how things were here, how they had always been, how they would undoubtedly still be. If he closed his eyes and concentrated, he could almost feel the cooler breeze, see the slant of midnight light, and it had soothed him.

He didn't find it soothing anymore. Instead the sameness of it felt sluggish, mired, as if the world had left this place behind, and he'd moved on, too, no longer capable of matching its sleepy rhythms, no longer able to find contentment in its narrow borders.

Now he lay on yet another cot, in another familiar cabin, set on a street he could walk blind-folded without getting his boots muddy, and he longed for more. It wasn't Tuktoyaktuk's fault. It still offered everything he'd thought he wanted.

The town hadn't changed.

He had.

Geography was no longer enough. Neither was the ritual comfort of the RCMP. His father had had both of those. His father had spent his life in the environment he loved, providing the duty he lived for, and then he'd died. Alone.

As Fraser himself might. Would, probably, if he stayed here. Here, where he belonged. Here, at home.

At least his father had found someone to love, had fathered not just one child, but two. He had managed all that, but still, he'd lived a solitary life, warmed only by satisfaction, not the body of a loved one. Fraser had accomplished far less, and faced the same fate. A solitary life. A solitary death.

If he stayed. If? For the first time, it seemed a question worth asking.

His father was now gone. For good, it seemed, although he'd learned not to take anything for granted. His mother was long gone. His grandparents, too. A sister he barely knew followed her own duty, and his few true friends were scattered across the continent like leaves blown from a raked pile.

And Ray...gone.

What a woefully short list of people to care about, who cared about him.

Fraser shook his head, clapping his mittened hands together with a dull thud. Excellent, yes, by all means add self-pity to the heap.

He picked up the pace, making the forty-five degree turn down toward Tom Brirweaver's place, where Diefenbaker had made a lady friend on one of their previous walks. No reason to deprive Dief of companionship. No reason why they both had to suffer. He wasn't looking forward to explaining why Dief only had three more weeks to spend in courtship. Although for a wolf, three weeks was probably enough to cement a lifelong mate.

Yes, three weeks should be plenty of time.

He stopped in the middle of the street. Dief barked at him, surprised at the change in routine, he supposed.

He still had three weeks of leave. Three weeks of unfettered, unscheduled free time. Thirty years of duty remaining, and three weeks now with no heavier responsibility than making sure he ate breakfast.

The surge of energy that coursed through him startled him. A little bubble of hope blended perfectly with incipient panic. What good could three weeks do? What would the RCMP think if he took his holiday in...Chicago? What would Ray think? Ray, who hadn't wanted to risk the friendship they had with something more. Who had no desire for additional...tangling. Ray, who had left without ever saying with word or deed how he felt.

All right, so the plan had some flaws. After all, it was perfectly possible that Ray had succumbed to a mild form of Stockholm Syndrome, transferring affection to the person who held his life in his hands. Or he could have become mildly delusional from the cold. Or perhaps it was Fraser who wasn't thinking clearly, responding to the erotic charge of Ray's journal entries at the expense of his common sense.

But the lines in Ray's journal that meant the most, that stayed with him, burning through his mind and searing his heart night after night, weren't the ones that implied sexual desire (although heaven only knew what sort of penance he would have to perform to absolve himself of the punishment done to his pillow in the past few days.) No, it was more than the compulsion of his body; it was the echo he felt inside, deep in his core, of the connection that Ray had written he felt, the sense that they were supposed to stay together, to be together.

Being together made everything better; being with Ray, being with him, might fill the empty space that yawned inside.

He knew it. As certain as the sun setting, as sure as geese fly south for the winter, he knew.

Now, of course, the trick would be to convince Ray.

"Kowalski." Short, to the point. The staff lounge, even deserted as it was, wasn't the place for official business; the only kind he ever seemed to conduct over his cell phone.

"It's Welsh. You ever think about checking in? You've been out there, what, four days? They on radio silence or something?" he heard through the wonders of digital wireless.

Great. Welsh in sarcastic mode. Just what he needed. Perfect.

"I got nothing. If I'd had something, believe me you'd have been the first to know. And, sir, with all due respect, I want to know what it was I did to make you do this to me," Ray said. "What terrible, awful thing I did that this is what you do to me."

"What's the matter, Detective?" Welsh sounded harassed. Well, fine. He wasn't the only one.

"I can't do this," he said.

"You're doing it, Kowalski. I don't need any lip about it, either," Welsh said. "Come on, you like kids. How bad can it be?"

"I suck," he snarled. "And they're not 'kids'. Ever hear of continuing ed? Half of them are older than me; they call me 'Sonny,' for God's sake. Get it? Sonny? Ray? The other half don't care about anything except who's getting some off who and where their next beer's coming from. And none of them listen to me, let alone talk to me. I'm a big old dead end. And I have to wear a tie."

Bitch, moan, complain. Four days' worth spit out in one big gush. If Fraser'd been there, he could have doled it out a little every day, and then he wouldn't have to be here copping a 'tude with his boss. Yeah, he knew he could find a way to pin it on Fraser.

A significant pause on the other end of the line told Ray his little diatribe hadn't gone unnoticed, but all he got was a mild, "What are you teaching? Auto Mechanics 101? Shop? VoEd for the New Millennium?"

He paused, trying to decide just how much this would cost him when he got back in the swing of things at the 27th. "Creative writing."

Ray held the phone away from his ear to let the shout of laughter disperse to the universe, but his terse response sobered the Lieutenant with surprising speed.

"Now, Detective, we don't need that sort of language," Welsh said.

"Sorry, sir, just getting...creative."

"Save it for the classroom." He could still hear a smile in Welsh's voice.

"Yeah, yeah, okay. I'm in. Don't know what kind of college has its druggies in the English department, but I'll keep my ears open. Just don't hold your breath."

"I expect to hear from you, news or no news, every forty-eight hours. Is that clear?"

Good old Welsh. You know, he put up a pretty crusty front, but underneath, he was mush. Mush with butter.

"Yeah, clear." Okay, how to ask. Just ask. Go on, couldn't hurt anything. "Um, did I have any...I mean, anybody wonder where I went?"

"I told everybody who needed to know, Detective. You've got a good strong cover."

Wasn't what he'd asked, but he had the answer anyway. Nobody was looking for him. Nobody'd missed him.

Pretty much what he'd expected, but still, it stung a little.

He ended the call, then looked at the silent little phone. There it was -- his only connection to the real world. Pretty sad, huh?

Wasn't the first time he'd been alone, but somehow it felt different this time. More alone than usual, or something.

That first day in class...man, that had been a rowser. Standing up in front of a bunch of strangers, pretending to be someone he really wasn't, to know things he really didn't. All by his stupid self up there, writing his name in big scrawly letters on the board, wondering if the kid in the front row could tell his hand wasn't exactly steady, wondering just how long a fifty minute class could be...

...and getting a weird little rush off the adrenaline, the total impossibility of it. Standing there, balls to the wall, alone and hating it, and God, it felt familiar...

Something about it reminded him of his own time in school-- not college, when he'd finally lost his Dad and gained a Stella, but back before then, high school, back when everything seemed to be a big weird messy combination of way too fast and way too slow, too little and too much, all at the same time. Back when his life was so up and down, always up and down, riding the coaster highs of sweet, perfect kisses and swiped beer, or digging through the endless seconds of an hour-long eternity of detention.

He'd hated detention, which was too bad because he ended up spending a hell of a lot of time there. The hardest thing about it, always, was to sit still. The not talking thing, that was a cakewalk compared to the sitting still thing. He didn't need to talk. He could think about Stella. But Stella moved with music in his head and of course he moved too, and his assigned desk rattled like crazy and the dickweed detention hall monitor, Mr. Frickey, wouldn't let him swap, and so he had to sit still. Or get more detention.

And as it turned out, his desk rattled like that because somebody'd stuffed a bunch of ball bearings into one of the legs, and he managed, over the course of one eternal hour, to work one out, and after that he was never in detention without it, that ball bearing, small and solid and packed so smooth and flawless within itself-- cupped in his palm, pressed between his fingers. His detention distraction, his shortcut to avoid the heebie-jeebies.

He'd press it hard between his fingers until everything went numb, until his fingers looked blotchy and his muscles shook from the strain. But when he finally let up and dropped the bearing, his finger would have a perfect, round little divot in the center, like someone took a miniature ice cream scoop and just dug out a bloodless chunk of him.

It was actually kinda cool looking, in that gross, teenage way.

And then he would touch things-- his desk, his books, his own knee, whatever-- and every time get blown away by how much it felt like whatever it was he was touching had a big old hole in it-- he could have sworn that there was a hole, there had to be a hole, because that was exactly what it felt like. Exactly.

But eventually he'd take his finger away and look, and there it was, his desk, his books, his whatever -- no hole there, no hole at all, there never was. Never had been.

An illusion. What he was touching, that was perfect. Perfectly smooth. Perfectly intact.

The hole was in him, all the time.

Oddly enough, the first person Fraser saw was the last person Ray ever mentioned to him: Sandor. The man quite literally ran into him just outside the doors of the station, walking fast and grumbling in the direction of his watch. Dief, of course, recognized him immediately, and gave a hopeful whine.

"Pardon me, Sandor, I'm terribly sorry." That was automatic, even though Sandor was the one who'd run into him. He might have gone on (probably would have, since he seemed to have less control over his verbalizations when he was nervous, and it was silly to be nervous about this but, well, he was, so...there you are), but before he could even open his mouth, Sandor slapped him on the back so hard he lurched forward.

"Hey, Fraser. Hey, wolf." Sandor didn't sound particularly surprised to see them. He merely sounded heavily congested, much like he'd always sounded. "Didn't expect to see you back here so soon. Tony, though, he said you'd be back -- swears there's no decent pizza in Canada."

Dief made a noise of resentful agreement, and it was impossible not to smile at that, as erroneous as the sentiment might be. "Indeed. Well, I must say that even I myself wasn't expecting--"

"Hey, hold on," Sandor interrupted. "I almost forgot -- jeez, I can't believe I almost... I mean... he woulda skinned me if..." Sandor drew a fairly amazing stack of folded, crumpled papers from his pants pocket and began to sort through them. Fraser waited patiently until Sandor thrust one at him, with an occluded but triumphant, "There you go."

Fraser blinked, and focused on the grease-spotted paper. "One large extra-sausage caveman special with hot peppers on the side?" Sandor snatched the paper out of his hand, flipped it over, and handed it back. A scribbled telephone number -- one of the Chicago area codes, but an unfamiliar exchange. That was all. "What is this?"

"It's a telephone number," Sandor explained sagely. "Look, Fraser, I really can't hang around and talk -- I was, like, late with Ray's pizza, and he reamed me out so bad he threw off my whole schedule, here."

"Oh, of course," he said instantly, stepping to the side. "It's good to see you, Sandor. Oh, and thank you very much for..." he waved the paper at Sandor's wide, retreating shoulders. "This."

He watched Sandor hurry away while he folded the mysterious paper and placed it in his hat for safekeeping, and at the same time kept his peripheral vision trained on the faces entering and leaving the station, alert for anyone he knew.

But all the faces were unfamiliar, and not a single one of them was of any help at all with the low, nervous flutter in his stomach that for some strange reason brought to mind spawning salmon. Eventually Sandor disappeared from view, and Fraser squared his shoulders, opened the police station door, and bowed fifteen or twenty people past him until an elderly woman tried to tip him a dollar, at which point he finally went inside.

His first feeling was shock: Ray had cut his hair brutally short. It took a bit of the wind out of his sails, so his initial, hearty "Ray!" was perhaps not quite so hearty. But Ray looked up anyway.

Which led to the second feeling: extreme shock. Because unless Ray had aged twenty years and gained thirty pounds and bleached his buzz-cut hair white and had plastic surgery, that wasn't Ray sitting at Ray's desk, although he did bear a striking resemblance to Ray's father.

"Yeah?" The stranger asked casually, picking at a pizza slice.

The sense of deja vu was... preternatural. "Ray?" he said again, helplessly, unable to articulate anything about the sinking feeling inside, about how he couldn't, couldn't do this again, not again, no, not this time --

"Ray. That's me. Can I help you?"

Fraser stood up straight. It was some consolation, at least, that he hadn't been expected, that this stranger hadn't come running at him with an enthusiastic cry of 'Fraser!' and a hug. That would have been simply too much. "Let me guess," he answered, his voice harsher than he liked it to be when talking to blameless parties, "Ray Kowalski, I presume?"

The man shook his head abruptly. "Nope. Ray Schumacher, I just transferred in from Detroit PD. Kowalski, he's--"

The man (Detective Schumacher, presumably), cut off abruptly and stared at him a moment, and then at Diefenbaker, blinking. "Wait a minute. You're that Fraser guy, that Mountie guy, right?"

"Yes. Yes, I am. I was hoping to locate --"

"Wait a minute," Detective Schumacher repeated, scanning the wall next to his desk, which Fraser now noticed was quite covered with an astonishing assortment of notes, all of them bright orange. "Yeah, here we go." The man peeled off one note and handed it to him, a creased, folded note with a now-familiar telephone number written on it, somewhat blurred due to a brown stain that seemed to be... indeed... that tasted plainly of one of Francesca's excellent cafe lattes.

Detective Schumacher was frowning at him. "Yeah, you're that Fraser guy, all right."

Fraser placed the note likewise into his hat, and nodded. "Thank you kindly, Detective." He walked away from the desk toward Lieutenant Welsh's office, waving a come-along to Diefenbaker before he took it upon himself to discover where Detective Schumacher kept his snack drawer.

By the end of the day, Fraser had collected five post-it notes (three yellow, one orange, one pink); one page torn from a memo pad; a cocktail napkin from some establishment called The Groove Thing which had been written upon with bright red lipstick; one pizza receipt; a racing track bettor's form; and a sheet of instructions on the proper method of tatting an Irish lace doily -- all of which had the same phone number on them.

Ray's landlady had given him the racing form. The doily was Turnbull's contribution, which somehow seemed fitting. Diefenbaker had certainly appeared to find it amusingly apt.

Of course, Lieutenant Welsh had been able to provide him with much more than a telephone number -- specifically, an address, which he'd noted gratefully on his own pad, and also, most importantly, an explanation. A conjunction which managed to dispel the dark ball of dread that had begun to sink into his stomach, and impelled him right back into that spawning-salmon feeling. Which, by comparison, was infinitely preferable.

So no, he hadn't needed to go any further than Lieutenant Welsh, hadn't needed to seek out any other acquaintances-in-common in order to have all the necessary information.

He hadn't needed to, but he'd done it anyway. Because Ray had taken the time to put such a system in place, because Ray had gone to the trouble. For him.

Perhaps.

Several of the people he'd talked to had spoken of Stella, about how Ray just hadn't been the same since he came back, and of course it must be because of Stella, the future Stella Kowalski-Vecchio. The notes could, indeed, have been for Stella -- goodness knows there was no way that Ray could have expected him to come calling. But still, something, perhaps one of Ray's 'hunches' that lingered in the vicinity of all his familiar haunts even though the man himself was far away, suggested that it was otherwise.

And he couldn't for the life of him, despite spending considerable time on the matter, convince himself that Ray had ever expected Stella to contact Turnbull in order to locate him. Such an eventuality did more than strain logic; it confounded reason.

In the space left there, where Ray's surprising thoroughness met Fraser's innate meticulous attention to detail, hope bloomed.

So collecting the notes had been in part a tribute, in part an investigation, and, he had to admit, in some part, a delaying tactic. Because now that he knew what he knew, there was nothing else for it but to... well, to finish his own personal quest.

To go to Ray. And to learn, perhaps, whether or not Ray's hunches worked for both of them.

To learn what worked for them both.

Fridays used to be good. Fridays used to mean two days of nothing to do, nowhere to be, nobody to answer to. Well, okay, that wasn't what it meant while he was married, but he wasn't married anymore, so his weekends should have been...his.

But no. He'd spent Friday night at the library. He'd spent Tuesday and Wednesday nights there, too, and by Thursday, the librarian was calling him by name and intercepting him at the reference desk with handouts and copies of articles and complimenting his 'admirable academic interest' in the art of creative writing.

Right. Write. Not write.

He wasn't getting anywhere. Forget the case; he could barely get his students to put pen to paper. And, yeah, 'forget the case' wasn't going to win him any bonus points with Welsh, but he couldn't figure out a way to put any major amount of effort into it when he was all tensed up, waiting for someone to yell 'fraud!' at the end of every class.

He'd found one book he thought had real potential. 'Writing Down the Bones,' it was called. All this timed stuff, using your river of consciousness, or whatever they called it. Thing was, not to lift your pen off the paper for the whole time -- twenty minutes straight writing about a painting or a poem or an idea. But his students, those shining examples of the Ritalin Nation, had looked at him like he'd lost his mind when he suggested it. So, fine, how about ten minutes? he'd asked. No? Five? They acted like he'd asked them to pull off their skin instead of write down their bones.

So now what? He was running out of reference books. At least that one had seemed easy. Everything else used way bigger words and asked way too much -- not of the students, but of him. Wasn't like he was switching professions, you know? He just needed something to get him through.

He'd even tried thinking about what Fraser would do, but he couldn't imagine Fraser ever finding himself in this kind of pickle, and anyway, he'd probably be a really good teacher. He knew everything, for a start, and he had a way of making even little accomplishments seem like big deals without ever sounding like he was praising a toddler for going in the potty.

Students'd probably be all over that. Yeah, Fraser could probably teach creative writing with one eye shut. So thinking about how he would do it wasn't much help, except that thinking about Fraser was always better than thinking about most other things, even now, even though it was even dumber than it was before, and it had always been pretty dumb.

But thinking about Fraser wasn't getting the work done.

The librarian had taken pity on him at closing time the night before, sending him home with two of her precious "library only" reference books, suggesting he get a good night's sleep and telling him things would look better tomorrow.

Well, tomorrow was today and it looked like shit. He looked like shit. He'd been half asleep when he shaved, so he had patchy bits of fuzz here and there. His boxer shorts and undershirt had seen better days, and he really needed to do laundry, but the possibility of running into any of his students at the Suds-n-Duds seemed too awful to risk; the potential of talking to one of them outside of class totally overwhelmed by the dread of any of them seeing what passed for pajamas in his world.

Some things were sacred.

Like ratty boxers. And weekends.

He sighed, scratched his hair, thinking idly how weird it felt when it wasn't up. Hell, even his hair was depressed.

When the knock came, he decided he'd wished it into being, since nobody'd missed him, and Welsh wasn't likely to appear at his door at 9:00 AM on a Saturday, and even less likely to appear at what wasn't really his door, since he was borrowing the digs, just like he was borrowing the job.

But thinking he'd wished the knock had nothing on the shock of opening the door and seeing Fraser standing there. Out of uniform, holding a knapsack, Dief sitting at his side; standing there on the stoop of somebody else's house with a little half-smile on his face, like he wasn't quite sure he was where he was supposed to be.

"Hello, Ray," he said, like he'd seen Ray just the night before. "I hope I didn't wake you."

Whoa. None of the previous week had seemed entirely real, but none of it had seemed as unreal as conjuring up Fraser out of nothing. So Ray reached out and poked him. Hard. Right in the center of his chest.

Fraser looked down at Ray's finger, then back up. "Perhaps I should have called."

That broke the spell. Fraser shouldn't have to call ahead. Fraser was...Fraser. His partner. His buddy. Buddies didn't have to make appointments. If they wanted to drop in from North Buttfuck on a whim, who was he to complain?

He stepped back, gesturing for Fraser to come in. For some reason, he couldn't feel the floor under his feet at all. He had to force himself not to look down, not to check and see if he was really floating.

Fraser stepped inside, with Dief right behind him, but stopped short in the foyer, looking around. Dief immediately wandered off, and Ray spared a fleeting thought to the fact that if Dief was expecting to find unguarded Chinese take-out cartons on the floor here, he was in for one big wolf-sized disappointment.

"Got my message, huh?" Ray asked, impressed with how normal his voice sounded, under the circumstances. But of course Fraser'd got his message -- had to have, unless he'd tracked him, which, knowing Fraser, wasn't entirely impossible to imagine.

The smile Fraser turned on him then was all different, not the polite one he'd thrown out on the stoop. This one was warm, and full, and it made Ray feel like that, too. Warm. Full. Oooh. Been a while since he'd felt that way.

"All of them," Fraser said. "I believe I got them all."

"Uh, good. That's good." Ray stuttered a little, still off-kilter from that smile.

Real. Not real. Fraser wasn't supposed to be here. Of course, neither was he. But he was here, and...he blinked...so was Fraser, tall and sturdy and utterly out of place in the stuffy foyer.

"Come on in," he said, leading the way into the study. Books and papers littered the desk, the floor, the coffee table and two of the three chairs. He cleaned off one seat, then waved Fraser into it.

"Whose house is this, Ray?" Fraser asked. "I was expecting something..."

"Like my place? Yeah, I know. I've got a bull/china shop thing going on; afraid I'll break something," Ray said. "I think Welsh said it belongs to one of the deans. He's on some kinda leave, religious vacation or something."

"A sabbatical?"

"Yeah, that's it. Jewish, I guess."

Fraser opened his mouth, then closed it again. "It's very nice," he finally said.

"Yeah. Hey, you want anything? Breakfast or anything?"

"No, thank you, we ate earlier," Fraser said.

Earlier. Only Fraser had an 'earlier' than this on a Saturday morning. But there, he'd done the host thing. Sort of. Good enough. Time to figure out what the hell was going on.

"Fraser, what're you doing here?"

While he watched, Fraser turned a little pink and cracked his neck. "I still have more than two weeks of leave left, and I thought, well, that is, I decided I had plenty of time to spend at...up north...and--"

"You're spending your vacation in Chicago?" Excuse the disbelief, here, but he'd seen the look on Fraser's face in the middle of that snow field. Wasn't exactly the look of a guy who'd head south a couple weeks later.

"Yes," Fraser said simply.

Before Ray could figure out what he was supposed to ask to get the kind of answer that was an answer and not just whatever that was Fraser'd just said, he got the tables turned on him.

Fraser gestured to the piles of papers and books and asked, "What are you doing?"

Ray followed his glance. Looked pretty sad, he had to admit. "Remembering why I dropped out of college."

Fraser raised his eyebrow and tilted his head. God, he'd missed that. Fraser's undivided attention. Fraser's brain, working on something. Fraser...he'd really missed Fraser.

"Welsh tell you what I'm doing here?" he asked.

"Only that a student or students appear to be connected to a larger drug issue, and you're here to see if you can identify those students, without drawing undue attention to the fact that the college has a drug problem," Fraser said. "I'm afraid I didn't wait for additional details."

That almost sounded like the guy'd been anxious to see him. Ray squelched the fizzle of happiness that tried to bubble up inside. Could have been a lot of reasons Fraser came back. Didn't matter anyway. Didn't matter what had brought him. He was here. In the flesh. Helping already, just sitting there, and who knew what good ideas he might have once he heard the whole sorry story.

Ray handed Fraser one of the reference books from the floor, took a deep breath, and spilled.

"Okay, here's the deal. They've got me substitute teaching a course -- creative writing, if that's not good for a laugh and a half -- three sections of it, so I'm screwed in triplicate. I don't know what the hell I'm doing, and even if I could figure out what I'm doing, that's only half the problem. The thing is, they're never gonna trust a teacher with this. It's not like I'm making buddies in there. In fact, I'm not even supposed to be buddies. They got rules. Policies. All that shit. No hanky-panky, no beers after class, none of that."

Fraser nodded. "I imagine fraternization would be frowned upon."

"Uh, yeah." Just like cops weren't supposed to... "So to boil it down to a nutshell, we got a month left until graduation, the Powers That Be want the thing resolved by then, and I'm not getting anywhere. Went about this whole thing wrong. I mean, come on, you really see me being a teacher?"

Hearing it out loud made it sound even more impossible, but Fraser was already nodding again.

"Yes."

There was that word again. Damn, he made it sound good.

"Fraser..."

"Yes, Ray, I can see you as a teacher," Fraser said, and he sounded pretty darn sure of himself. "You coached Levon, didn't you? What's that if not teaching?"

He had to see the difference; he was just trying to make Ray feel better. "That's different."

"No, it isn't."

Wow, that was almost...insistent.

"I know how to box, Fraser; some anyway. I don't know anything about writing," he said.

There was an odd little pause, then Fraser put the textbook down, stood, and said, "Yes, you do."

And again with the yes thing, with the confidence, but Ray knew he was a fraud; just had to get Fraser to admit it, then they could start hatching the Plan B he was sure Fraser had in his back pocket.

Back pocket. Fraser was reaching in his back pocket, pulling something out. What? A picture? His wallet? Holding it out, some little black thing with a spiral...

Oh, shit.

Fraser had imagined a dozen scenarios that might lead to the revelation that he'd read Ray's private musings, that he'd absorbed Ray's interior barometer, each line written on his heart. It seemed a critical step, a necessary confession -- openness offered in hope of receiving the same. Never had he dreamed an opportunity would be, literally, handed to him.

Fortuitous didn't begin to describe it.

Miraculous came closer.

But it didn't appear that Ray shared his delight. Fraser had expected to see Ray flush -- as he himself had when he first read the scribbled pages, but instead, he watched the blood drain from Ray's face, leaving him pale, the only color in his face the bright blue of his eyes and the sharpened shadow of his stubble.

He knew it wasn't Ray's writing skills that caused the reaction, but that seemed a logical place to start.

"You write well, Ray. There's an energy to it, an immediacy," Fraser said, taking one step toward Ray, who stood and backed up one matching step. "You express yourself...very well."

Ray backed up another step, tripping over a footstool laden with stacks of paper.

"You...um, you read that?" Ray whispered.

Fraser took one more step -- toward, not away from.

"I memorized it."

Ray halted his retreat and stood, suspended, not moving, not even blinking. "Why?"

"Because there's 'nothing good about this not-being-together crap. Hate that. Hate it.'"

So strange, to hear Ray's words in his own voice. Strange, but perhaps symbolically apt.

Now Ray's eyes did blink, and, finally, a tide of red started to steal up from under the thin cloth of his undershirt, spreading across his shoulders and neck, washing into his face.

"You weren't supposed to see that," Ray protested, his voice cracking.

"Then why did you leave it for me to find?" Fraser asked mildly.

"I didn't. I didn't. I mean, no, I..." A vehement denial. And yet...

Fraser held the book up. Hard to deny the physical evidence. He took another step closer. Ray had run out of room, backed into an olive-colored wall, trapped between a painting on one side, and the mantel on the other. Now Fraser stood close enough to see the rapid pulse in the base of Ray's neck, the unconscious clench of his fists at his sides as Fraser leaned closer.

"You wrote it," Fraser said, placing the notebook on the mantel beside Ray's head. Start with what couldn't be denied, and move on from there.

Ray closed his eyes. "Fraser, what are you...? We can't--"

"Why not?" It wasn't their first touch; no, they had touched often. But the hand Fraser reached out, placed on Ray's shoulder, was a first of sorts. It was the first time his touch provoked a moan. He prayed it wouldn't be the last.

"We can't," Ray said again, sounding desperate, breathing hard. "Come on, Fraser, we're like a fish and a bird."

A fish and a bird. Yes, he was a salmon straining upstream, instinctively seeking his destiny. And Ray was wary, ready to take flight. But there was no denying the spark between them, not now, not when they were this close.

"You wrote it," he repeated. "Do you still feel that way? Do you?"

Ray shook his head, but his hand came up, lighted on Fraser's chest.

Contact. Connection. Fraser felt heat begin to burn low in his stomach.

He leaned in, sliding his hand around the back of Ray's neck. "Do you?"

The hand on his chest grabbed a fistful of shirt. "I...okay, yeah. Yeah."

Fraser let his relief propel him the rest of the way, his mouth finding Ray's, homing in there on lips that had opened for a breath, taking the gasp that Ray puffed into his mouth.

Ray's mouth worked against his, the hand fisting his shirt twisted, pulled, then Ray melted into him, opening his mouth wide, and dropped back against the wall, drawing Fraser down with him.

And so there he was, with his arms full of pliant Ray, having achieved the goal he'd set out for, and he had only the vaguest idea what to do with him. He'd always imagined them naked, prone, in the dark. Standing Ray up against a wall in the light of a Saturday morning flummoxed him.

Now what?

Ray had sounded, in his journal, as if it wasn't the idea of attraction to a man that struck him as wrong -- it was his attraction to Fraser. Ray had stated his reasons quite clearly; valid enough reasons, he supposed. Reasons Fraser still intended to tear away one by one, until Ray lost interest in reason, in excuses.

Perhaps simply keeping his mouth on Ray's...forever...would do the trick of keeping him in one place. Kissing was good. Kissing was...wonderful. Ray's mouth was wet and hot, his tongue an agile muscle stretching to meet his own.

It seemed plausible, given what he'd written, that Ray had some experience with this, this experience that was all new to Fraser. It wasn't so much the mechanics that confounded him; he was simply out of practice, and unprepared for the flare of heat slowly dissolving him. The reality of Ray, the solidness of skin and bone, the softness of hair under his fingertips, of lips against his, was so much more than he'd ever imagined in his lonely cot, so much better than his battered, unresponsive pillow.

Ray was not in any way unresponsive. In fact, he was so responsive that Fraser was having a hard time hanging onto him. Every time he tried to pull Ray's undershirt over his head, Ray slipped from his grasp, his own hands finding some part of Fraser's back or shoulders or neck and touching him in ways that made thinking difficult and coordinated movement virtually impossible.

He felt...awkward. Too forceful, too rough. Only his mouth seemed to communicate his want appropriately; kisses blending, deepening, until he breathed Ray's air, and Ray breathed his, until his heartbeat shook in his chest, until the pressure in his groin demanded equal pressure to meet it, and he rocked his hips sharply into Ray, thrusting hard against him.

Too hard. Ray yelped into his mouth, the hands that had been stroking across his back now moving to his sides, easing him back.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Fraser moaned.

"You got any idea what you're doing?" Ray asked, panting against his mouth.

"None at all," Fraser admitted. "At least, not...like this."

Ray groaned. "Fraser, this is, oh God, this is a terrible idea."

"No, no, it isn't," he said, sliding his mouth down to Ray's jaw, biting down softly. "You know what you're doing, right?"

Ray dropped his head back, exposing his neck to Fraser's mouth. "Fraser, that's not the point. We can't. You don't even know--"

"Teach me," Fraser murmured, licking his way up to Ray's ear.

Another groan, and Ray's hands clenched hard into his sides. "Wha..."

Good, yes. Incoherent worked. "Teach me."

Jesus.

Think. He couldn't think. Couldn't breathe, couldn't do much of anything except squirm under the enthusiastic untutored tongue making intimate with his ear and wonder what the fuck he'd do when Fraser got good at it, cuz even using the finesse of a thirteen-year-old on his first stint at "five minutes in the closet", Fraser wasn't having any trouble at all getting him worked up.

Fraser, licking his ear, whispering things to him. Fraser, here, which was enough of a shock already without him suddenly turning into Sex In The City. And God, did Fraser have any idea what that breathy little 'teach me' did to him?

Fraser reading the damn journal was bad enough without him creeping into Superhot Fantasy #139, the one where The Innocent Mountie hit up The Man About Town for some love lessons. He'd hidden that fantasy pretty good, he thought. Smothered it down there with the one featuring Dr. Fraser and Ray as the Helpless Patient; crushed it right beside the one where Fraser watched admiringly while he performed the perfect lube job. And you know the sad thing about that one? It was about the car.

But fantasy was one thing, and this was, God, this was something entirely else.

He cocked his head, pulling his ear out of Fraser's mouth. "Slow down, Fraser. Back up."

Immediately, Fraser's grip loosened and he took two steps back. Wow. Fraser'd never minded him that good when they were working together. Maybe there was something to that teacher/student thing. He bet Fraser was a great student. He bet Fraser followed directions, listened closely, played well with others...

...and damn Fraser looked good all messy and hot. Made his knees go weak. Weaker. Whatever.

"I didn't mean back up," he said, his body swaying toward Fraser's, leaning in again. "I meant whoa, time out, let's talk about this," he said.

"Ah." Fraser paused to poke his tongue into the corner of his mouth. Oh, man. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

"Don't apologize, Fraser," Ray said. "It's just, it's kind of a shock, you know?"

Fraser nodded. "It was to me as well, Ray."

Oh, yeah. He bet that was an understatement. He took a breath. A little easier to breathe without Fraser plastered to him.

"Let's start over. What are you doing here?" he asked. "And don't give me that baloney about two weeks' leave, cuz I'm not buying it. Thought you were dying to get back to the Great White North?"

Fraser took a matching deep breath. "Well, it all started when I thought I was ill."

Incredible, the kick to the stomach that thought brought. "Thought? Were you or weren't you?"

"I wasn't. I had thought I might be. I couldn't sleep, I wasn't hungry, I was tired all the time," Fraser said, lifting one hand from behind Ray's back and ticking off the symptoms one by one.

Now that was a familiar tune.

"Eventually, I realized the problem was that...I missed you," Fraser said. "Then I found your journal, and--"

"Wait. Wait a sec. You figured out you missed me, and then you found the journal?" Had to be the other way around.

"That's right," Fraser nodded.

"You missed me first." Gotta make sure.

"Yes."

What difference did it make? But it did. It meant it wasn't just some weird horny Fraser surfacing for the first time, like, ever. Although, now that he thought it through, it really just made it worse. It was one thing to think Fraser'd come eight hundred miles due south for...what...a few rounds of groping?...but to think that it was because Fraser missed him. Him. Ray. Kowalski.

One-sided fantasy was bad enough. Two-sided reality...sucked.

Because Fraser was Canadian. And a Mountie. And Canadian Mounties belonged in Canada, doing Canadian Mountie things, not hoofing it to the 'burbs of Chicago for extended recon. Fraser wasn't cut out to be an urban guy -- not long term. And three weeks of being ballast had proved that Ray wasn't really rural material. So, yeah, fish and bird. Doesn't matter how well they get along -- where are they going to live?

Fraser would still be going home. Ray would still be staying.

Nothing had changed.

Except everything. Because Fraser's hands were still moving on him -- uncoordinated, eager -- and his own were all over Fraser, like he couldn't help himself, cuz he...couldn't.

He knew better than to do this. Knew better. But the knowing parts were losing out, big time, to the wanting parts. The parts that told him to get everything he could, store it up in his cheeks like a squirrel, put some away for a rainy day. He had plenty of time to be without Fraser; what was wrong with enjoying the time he had?

Well, except for the fact that two weeks was all he had, and if he didn't watch himself, if he didn't make up some basic rules and stick to them like wolf hair to cheap upholstery, he was gonna be one sorry bastard two weeks and one day from now. Sorrier than he already was.

He couldn't do that, not again. No way. So he'd just have to do the other thing -- lay down some rules, and stick to them. He'd just keep it...simple. Nothing wrong with showing Fraser a move or two. The simple, non-involved kind of moves, anyway; kissing and groping and stuff -- that couldn't do too much damage, right? So Fraser was curious. And he'd missed Ray. Liked him. He'd come all this way.

So yeah, rules. Right. His last remaining tidbit of self-preservation finally won a point. He was in deep enough as it was. They'd keep it light, fun. Fraser was on vacation, he deserved a little fun. Ray could keep it steady. Sure he could. He could keep it together making out with a Mountie. No sweat.

Of course, it would be a little... frustrating, but hey, he knew how to deal with that, and besides, if he had anything to say about it, Fraser would be nice and frustrated and needing to deal with it himself. Abruptly Ray decided to give Fraser the bed in the first guest bedroom -- the one that had squeaked so bad his first night that he'd bagged it for the smaller room across the hall. Oh yeah...

"I, um, I missed you, too," he blurted out, realizing Fraser'd made kind of a big confession there, and Ray'd mostly just been staring at him like a doof.

He had to close his eyes against the smile Fraser gave him then. Could've blinded him, that smile. Could have taken his steady, simple plan and torpedoed it before he even had a chance to test it out.

"I know," he heard Fraser say, close now, close as before. Against his chest he could feel the brush of Fraser's shirt, then the heat of his body. There, and lower down. Fraser kept coming, pressing in, pressing up. A little shuffling got his legs in the right place -- solidly planted on either side of Ray's. Yeah, Fraser took direction real well.

"You were quite eloquent, Ray," Fraser said. "You followed the first rule of writing -- write what you know."

Ray opened his eyes. That was a rule he hadn't come across in any of the too many books he'd read. There it was, a golden rule that actually made some sense, and it took a lusty Mountie to come up with it.

"Maybe I could try that on my classes," he mused. "What was it again?"

"Write what you know," Fraser said, leaning in to lick his ear again. "What you see. What you...feel."

The last phrase, whispered against the ridiculously sensitive skin behind his ear, turned him on so bad he almost lost his train of thought. But damn that cop part just never completely turned off, and so he found himself clutching Fraser and reaching for the elusive thread of coherent thought at the same time.

"Yeah, okay, worth a try, but...but...oh yeah, Fraser, right there, just like that," he whimpered. "But even if that works, it still only solves half my problem. They're still never gonna open up to me, unless one of them writes it all down and hands it in."

Fraser bumped him softly, then again. "Because you're their teacher?"

"Yeah," Ray said.

"Would they open up to a fellow student?" Fraser asked, bringing his hands up and tilting Ray's head to get better access to his throat.

"Maybe, but it's a little late for that. No way could I switch gears now," Ray said, amazed that he could still put whole sentences together with six feet of Mountie rubbing against him. Rubbing nice, now, not too hard, not too soft, just, mmmmm, right.

"I could be your student," Fraser whispered softly into his ear.

"Yeah, yeah, thought we covered that, and can you please do that tongue thing some more? I think you're starting to get the hang of it."

"I meant in a more literal sense, Ray. I could go undercover as a student in your class."

Ray pulled back, holding Fraser away from him. "Fraser, you'd stick out like a sore thumb."

The guy actually looked hurt, like he'd never thought about how he looked better than everybody else -- cleaner and better and smarter.

"I can assume some sort of camouflage," Fraser said. "I'm not entirely without resources. And I do have experience as a student."

Unlike him being a teacher, Ray filled in. Well, hell, it might work. Probably wouldn't do them any harm, though he still couldn't quite picture Fraser working his way in with the Eminem groupies. Still, it was worth a try.

"You really want to spend your vacation working a case?" he asked.

"I really do," Fraser answered, sliding his hands a little further down Ray's back, until it didn't even really count as back anymore. No, he'd have to say Fraser was feeling up his ass now. Wow.

Fraser's nostrils flared. Fraser was sniffing him, and God, even that was hot, zinged right through him, but he hadn't had a shower yet, and he'd slept in those clothes, and...and Fraser's eyes got a little bit wider, and he made some sound that wasn't quite a growl, but wasn't far from it, either, so maybe all that was okay. The upside of making out with a freak.

He wrapped his arms around Fraser's back and tugged him closer, nudging his head to the side to get at one of those pink, squeaky-clean ears, a licking tease up and around and then in, just your basic tongue-in-earfuck technique, but Fraser gasped and pushed against him in a way that suggested maybe basic was just the thing, then mirrored the motion immediately. Oh, yeah, they were gonna have some fun.

"I still can't believe you read it," Ray muttered before turning his tongue's attention to the tendon at the side of Fraser's throat. He sighed as Fraser found the same spot on his own neck and targeted it.

"You must admit, Ray, that I had no way of knowing you would be writing anything of a personal nature," Fraser said against his skin. Made even Mountie-ese sound sexy.

"Yeah, I know," Ray admitted. "It was a dumb thing to do."

Fraser paused, stilling for a minute against him. "No, Ray. I'm sure it was a welcome release. I do wonder, though...why didn't you ever say anything?"

Why? Fraser wanted to know why?

"Because I still think this is a terrible idea."

"Ah."

Whatever the fuck that meant.

Terrible, terrible, terribly tempting. God, the guy was a walking, breathing, rubbing, sniffing...holy cow...fondling temptation.

And the thing about teaching was you just couldn't let the teachees get the upper hand. One week had shown him that in class; only took one minute with Fraser.

So he tugged Fraser's hand out of the back of his boxers, gave himself a little breathing room, and shook himself like Dief coming out of a rainstorm.

"There's stuff we can do, and then there's stuff we can't do," he said sternly, wagging a finger under Fraser's nose.

Fraser's eyebrows said he wasn't entirely with the program, and damn if it didn't look like he was gonna argue about it, so Ray held up all five fingers -- 'stop' in any language.

"Okay? Some stuff yes, some stuff no, and you gotta trust me to know the difference," he said. "That's the deal."

Fraser nodded, but those eyebrows still looked pretty skeptical. "If you say so, Ray," he finally said.

Oh, yeah, Ray'd heard that tone before. It was the same one that said, "My dog ate my homework."

Possibly the only double bill ever of smart-ass suburban kids and Mounties, and it had to be on his watch.

Figured.

Truth be told, Fraser had never thought of himself as the kind of person who was averse to hardship. Throughout his life he had gone without. He had persevered despite all kinds of obstacles, both internal and external, and he had taught himself to enjoy the simple rewards of asceticism.

Nevertheless, his long years of fortitude and self-denial obviously hadn't sufficiently prepared him for this.

For Ray. For Ray, giving him so much with every kiss, every caress, and yet somehow withholding...everything. It was what he'd come for, yes, it was what he wanted, but it was only the most fleeting taste of the meal he'd hoped for, and in a way it just left him hungrier than ever.

Fraser turned over gingerly, in deference to the bed, which was outrageously noisy, and to Diefenbaker, who seemed to feel that, with all this extra space available, he should be awarded the lion's share of it. No need to wake Ray with his tossing and turning -- even though their rooms were on opposite sides of the hall, he could often hear Ray mumbling in his sleep; obviously the man needed his rest.

It seemed utterly unfair that he'd come all this way and yet still spent each night in a restless daze, fighting not just imagination now, but memory, and worse, the stark reality of Ray's proximity. No longer out of sight, out of reach, out of touch. No, Ray was all too close.

Fraser took his too-puffy pillow and pressed its smooth coolness firmly over his hot face, trying to put the thought out of his mind. The thought of Ray right across the hall, sprawled and loose-limbed, warm and possibly naked and smelling like Ray-at-rest: deeply layered Ray scent, cotton, and (more often than not these days), a lingering trace of chalk.

Terrible, what the smell of chalk on Ray's skin did to him. Absolutely disgraceful. Worse than Diefenbaker at a confectionery.

The persistent chalky scent carried with it thoughts of the classroom, of notebooks and the quiet scratching of pens and pencils, which at other times in his life might have quelled his carnal imagination, but now simply fed it.

Ray was a very good teacher. In class and out.

He'd only been a student in Ray's class for a few days, but already, he could see that.

On Fraser's first day (auditing, he'd explained to the young woman behind him, who introduced herself as Mandy and wanted to know where he'd been all her life. He hadn't been able to give her a complete answer before Ray arrived, but at least the pertinent information had been imparted), Ray had walked in with an armful of exam notebooks, small pale blue books with lined paper, and handed one to every student.

Over the room-wide groan of discontent, he'd said, "Not a test. Cool your jets."

Then he'd written what he now referred to as 'The Golden Rules' on the chalkboard -- big bold letters, strong slant to the right -- pointed to them, and said, "Write what you know. Write what you see. Write what you feel. When you fill one book up, come get another. Don't waste 'em; they cost me 14 cents each."

The class had tittered, but as Fraser watched the motley crew of students, a little light came on here and there. Even Bruce, a young man who'd challenged his selection of desk on arrival and seemed to be referred to universally as "Bruise", had nodded. On a few desks, paperbacks and CD liners were pushed aside, the little blue books were opened, and a new sound started: pens on paper.

Quiet reigned, for however brief a time.

And Ray had looked...good. Proud. Relieved.

Fraser had wanted to go to him, take him by the shoulders and say, "You see? I told you so."

But Ray had never appreciated being told that, and so Fraser had remained at his desk, suffused with arousal and tenderness, aching inside and out.

Ray was a good...a very good...teacher.

Fraser shifted again, carefully, put his pillow back beneath his head and re-settled the overabundant blankets more tightly over his body, his arms and hands resolutely above the covers. Where they would stay. No matter how awfully he ached.

He had turned himself over to Ray, had accepted him as his teacher and guide in this strange new place that seemed more thrilling and yet somehow more perilous than the slickest glacier. He had indentured himself to learn, and so learn he would, and he would take no independent action that might interfere with that goal.

Even if it meant coming to feel as if his whole body was nothing more than a series of twisted, needful knots. Extremely hard, rhythmic knots.

He was inured to hardship. He would endure this, too.

He would stay the course, even if it meant accepting less than he wanted in the short-term, because he'd seen the truth, read it.

He wanted more from Ray, much more, and he knew that deep in his heart, Ray wanted it, too. He could sense Ray's frustration nearly as keenly as he felt his own, and Ray had demonstrated, repeatedly, that he was not a patient individual. Ray was just...afraid. Of ruining their friendship, of becoming attached; afraid, it would follow, of then being abandoned, as he had been before.

But taking this step hadn't ruined their friendship -- if anything, it had reinforced it. Never before had they seemed so in tune, their minds and bodies humming together with electric ease.

And he had no intention of abandoning Ray. None at all. He couldn't imagine ever turning away from Ray, from the essential sweetness of his nature, the tartness of his tongue, the heat of his...

Fraser caught his right hand sneaking towards the straining, overheated, blanket-throttled lump at his groin, and forced his hand grimly but resolutely back to his side. That insistent, demanding ache of his: Ray had cupped him there this evening, during the embroiled tangle that had become their good-night embrace. Had cupped him for long, endless minutes, murmuring appreciation against his open mouth and stroking him through his jeans, just a little but so deftly, so tenderly, that Fraser lost himself in a complete dissolve into bliss, and when it stopped, he almost couldn't bear it.

But he did. And he could. And so he would.

Besides which, he knew even if he did succumb, his own hand held none of the mastery of Ray's simplest touch. Even on himself, his hands felt clumsy, fumbling, ungainly in comparison to Ray's easy confidence.

He couldn't touch himself the way Ray touched him. He wouldn't settle for a half-measure when the brimming whole slept restlessly less than thirty meters away.

He would wait.

Still, despite this resolve, his mind inevitably returned to the first time he'd ever heard Ray express a fear that he would 'die of waiting', and how very silly a concept that had seemed then.

Somehow it didn't seem quite so silly now.

And perhaps (just perhaps, mind you), he should give some thought to what he might be able to do about that.

"Kowalski."

It had taken him a minute to remember what the cell phone bleep sounded like. McConlan's Dairy Planet on a Thursday night was noisier than the teacher's lounge at lunchtime, but at least he didn't have to worry so much about blowing his cover.

"I thought we had an agreement, Detective? News or no news?"

Oh, shit. What with one thing and another, checking in with Welsh just hadn't made the list, not since he'd filled him in on the Fraser part of the deal, when was that? Sunday? Yeah, not a school day. He was pretty lucky, actually. If Welsh had called thirty minutes earlier, he'd have had a panting, tongue-rattled, kiss-addled detective to deal with.

Ray'd finally made them leave the house, head out somewhere where there weren't couches to stretch out on, corners to get backed into, beds sending siren calls that, after five days, Ray was doing his damnedest not to heed. They had a case to work, right, they were there for a reason, and now that class was starting to chug along a little better, maybe they could get down to it.

But when they were home, alone, just the two of them with all that upholstered furniture screaming 'use me! abuse me!', well, the case just wasn't the first thing that came up.

They had a job to do. So out they went.

For ice cream, a deliberate choice on Ray's part, who couldn't imagine anything more wholesome, anything less likely to send them careening back to the wonderfully claustrophobic house, where they could get seriously into each other's spaces.

Boy, was he wrong. What Fraser could do with a banana split and a plastic spoon...well, it brought to mind another word the counselor had laid on him in the aftermath of Stella: sublimation. He hadn't gotten it at the time, but now he licked his plain scoop of chocolate almost hard enough to knock it off the cone, and it made all kinds of sense.

Fraser kept telling him he was a good teacher, and maybe, finally, even he thought he was starting to get somewhere. But he had nothing on how good Fraser was as a student.

Which was a good thing. Good for him. But even more important, good for the case.

Fraser'd taken the undercover thing damn seriously, which was also a good thing, even if it meant he was working his way in with a kinda rough crowd. Still, it wouldn't do the case much good for Fraser to take up with the Mother's Morning Out gang, there to think about something besides toilet-training and apple juice for an hour, or the Elderhostel slackers, who reminded him whenever they didn't like the assignment that they were auditing and didn't have to do anything they didn't want to. No, only took them about an hour and three conversations to figure out they weren't gonna find the connection in the frazzled moms or blue-hair set.

So kids it was. Kids who still doodled through class. Smacked gum. Chewed on their pencils. Sighed when he made them do an in-class exercise. Kids who were a lot like he'd been, back in the day. Made him want to slap them around a little, kick some sense into them, actually stand up on a soapbox and give them the "stay in school" song and dance.

If asked, he'd have said no way could Fraser hook up with those kids. No way could he blend. But he did, and he was, and the girls drooled all over him, and the guys thought he was cool because he'd taken apart a desk with a Swiss Army knife on a dare after class one day. And of course, since underneath it all he was still Fraser, he'd picked the desk with the wobbly leg, which looked catalog-new by the time he got finished putting it back together.

"Kowalski, you there?"

God, he had to get his shit together. "Yeah, sorry."

"How're you doing? Is Fraser getting anywhere?"

If only he knew. He glanced across the table at Fraser, and Lord knew what Fraser saw on his face (probably the same look that Dief was giving him right now, only Dief was after the ice cream and Ray wasn't), but whatever it was, it made him slide down further in the booth, and then Ray felt Fraser's feet snug up on either side of his own. Jesus, even that was sexy. He was in big trouble.

"You know Fraser; he's good at everything."

Two could play at that game. Ray sent what he hoped was a wicked leer across the table. Fraser responded by licking a spoonful of ice cream in a way that could have been outlawed in six Southern states. Jesus. Spoon envy. Go figure.

"How much longer you think it's gonna take? I got people breathing down my neck, here," Welsh huffed.

Breathing down his neck. Ray liked Fraser breathing down his neck. Licking it. Biting it with those strong, white teeth. Fraser'd learned a lot in a little bit of time.

"I dunno," he said. "We got two more weeks of class, but Fraserís leaveíll be up by then."

God, it hurt to say that. Even thinking it made his stomach hurt. He tossed the rest of his cone in the wastebasket next to the table.

There was a long pause, then he heard Welsh say, "I believe the RCMP would understand if Constable Fraser were at a key point in an investigation, especially since he's ostensibly working on his vacation..."

Hope, that bitch, sent a flare through his already burning gut. He covered the mouthpiece, leaned across the table and said quietly, "You okay to stay a little longer, if Welsh can get it approved?"

Fraser leaned forward, bringing their faces close together, and said, "Of course."

Staying for the case? Or for him? Did it matter? Lean back; go on, back off. Ray thought they might melt all the ice cream in the place with the sparks they had going on.

"Yeah, Lieutenant, he's good to go." Wow, listen to that. He sounded just like always. Never know he was sporting a woody you could hit a home run with.

"I'll work it from this end, but tell Fraser he'd better follow up, confirm it," Welsh said.

"Yeah, okay. Um, thanks."

"Don't thank me, Kowalski. Get me something I can use."

"We're working on it, sir."

"And Kowalski...keep in touch. I mean it."

"Got it. Over and out."

Ray clicked off the phone.

"Thanks, Fraser. I mean, you know you don't have to do that. If you're rarin' to get home..."

"I'm happy to help, Ray."

And what did that mean? "Okay, good, good."

Before he could start asking those questions, the ones that would figure out if Fraser was staying cuz he should, or cuz he wanted to, Fraser shot him a meaningful look accompanied by a quick glance over his shoulder, and said, "So you're suggesting that each query letter can be slanted differently, according to each publication's preferences?"

"Uh... yeah, that's about it--" That was as much as he got out before a heavy hand clapped down on his shoulder.

"Hey, Sonny!"

Ray looked up. Three of his students stood behind the booth. The girl, Mandy, he thought it was, smiled at Fraser. The boys, the ridiculously named 'Bruise' and the other one, whose name he never could remember, were smiling, too, but not in a nice way.

He glanced at Fraser. 'Be polite,' Fraser's face told him. Dief growled a little, low and rough. Didn't sound like the wolf version of 'be polite' at all, but then if he'd followed Dief's advice he'd have been licking his own balls six times a day, so...

He took a deep breath and turned, so the hand fell off his shoulder. "Call me Ray," he said, trying for hearty, but only managing civil.

"Better not," Bruise said, sliding a slow glance between Fraser and Ray. "You know the rules. Wouldn't want anyone to think..."

Arrogant little shit. Ray had rules this punk had never even heard of.

"Here, have our table. We were just leaving," Ray said, rising, forcing the kid to back up. A minor victory.

"Have a good evening," Fraser said, following his lead.

Once they got outside Ray pointed out the bastard's bike and told Dief to go pee on it, but even though Dief seemed to be all for it, Fraser put his foot down. No fun.

As they walked back toward the house, Fraser said, "Was he implying...?"

"Yeah," Ray bit off.

"Which would be counter to school policy."

"Counter to most people's policy, Fraser," Ray said, thinking about how Fraser'd looked eating that banana, and how much rules, any rules, even his own, just...sucked.

The sheer ugliness of his damned rules hit home when, a couple hours later, Ray pulled himself off the saddle of Fraser's lap, grabbing his hard-on through his jeans so it wouldn't unzip and climb down Fraser's throat all by itself.

Fraser didn't help. Fraser clutched at him, murmured sexy little sounds against his stomach through his shirt; shit, he could feel Fraser's breath there, right where... He jerked away, stumbled, mumbled a "'Night, Fraser," and hauled his unhauled ashes off to bed, where he lay staring at the ceiling, wondering what the hell he was going to do.

Two weeks, he'd promised himself. Just two weeks; he'd accepted that. Two weeks making out with Fraser, teaching him a few things, nothing to get too bothered about.

Ha. What a joke.

Now his two weeks could get extended, with the full blessing of both their bosses, and how on earth was he ever going to resist Fraser if Fraser didn't leave?

If, three weeks ago, anyone had asked him whether he could imagine himself contemplating less than entirely scrupulous behavior in order to erode the self-imposed walls his partner had erected, well, he would have assessed the chance to be infinitesimal.

But desperate times sometimes called for desperate measures.

The problem was one of approach. Ray seemed to be even more mercurial and skittish than usual, and so it was difficult to think about saying something -- anything -- that very well might make him retreat altogether. At this point, that would be unbearable.

So -- better by far to hold his tongue, to wait. To work the case. To be Ray's partner, friend, student. To stay the course.

However, just because he wasn't prepared to take action on one front didn't mean that he couldn't do so on another -- the requisite call to his superior officer, when he took the opportunity not only to confirm his current role in Ray's investigation, but to break the news that, yes, he'd determined his preference for his new posting, and his choice was the Canadian Consulate, Chicago; thank you kindly. It had taken a good five minutes before he'd been able to convince Sergeant Merrill that he hadn't recently suffered a massive blow to the head.

So that decision was now made, and the part of him that felt he should have consulted Ray first had been submerged completely under the part that decreed the only sure way to achieve his goal was to stay within reach.

The decision itself had been surprisingly easy. Making the call had been harder. As always, it seemed easier to do than to talk about doing. But he felt no twinge at the thought of remaining, no lingering regret or disappointment at the idea of not securing a position much farther north. On the contrary, having the transfer in process lifted his spirits -- something concrete accomplished, something positive achieved.

Now all he was waiting for was the right moment to tell Ray. So far, however, no such moment had presented itself. In his own mind it seemed tantamount to a complete confession of all he felt, and, well, if he couldn't bring himself to suggest that he and Ray increase the degree of their physical intimacy for fear of Ray's response, disclosing all the rest of it seemed... perilous, to say the least.

Of course, alternatives suggested themselves, and some of them were quite tempting. Perhaps he couldn't say anything to Ray, not yet, at least, but he and Ray were communicating, corresponding now in many new and delightful ways, and so whenever he saw an opportunity to let Ray know, without words, what he wanted, what he intended, he took it.

Which presented an idea of learning on a whole new level -- up until now he'd been a rather passive student: doing nothing more than remaining receptive, eager for whatever lessons or edification Ray might choose to give him. But there was something beyond that, something that was somehow both simple and terrifyingly complex at the same time, something rooted in the dreamy, dark hunger that Ray evoked in him.

He'd begun this journey with a great leap of faith, a certainty he trusted in the face of his nearly absolute lack of knowledge. He hadn't known, not really -- about himself, about loving a man, about loving Ray.

But he knew some things, now. And he suspected still more.

Ray's kisses, touches -- the moments of pure and sensual languor that emerged in those few precious seconds when Ray forgot his reserve -- these things had been a revelation to him. Not simply because of Ray's gender, that was more akin to a profound discovery, but because of what it had revealed about himself.

There was no question that, before Ray, his own interior erotic landscape had suffered, almost withered under the combined influences of neglect, ravenous need, and blight. Now for the first time there was something more, glimmers of a wholly unexpected vista, ripe and luxuriant. Nearly decadent. Which was every bit as extraordinary as it was wonderful.

Whenever he glimpsed that, whenever he felt the awareness of it within him, it was as if Ray's touches illuminated him somehow, warmed and fed him and made him glow from the inside, and it was all he could do not to just plead for more, to take, to guide Ray's hands right to where he needed them. Shameless. Even the thought of it stole his breath.

But he never did it. For all he knew, Ray still thought this was a terrible idea. So, no grand gestures. Not yet.

Subtle gestures, on the other hand...

Well, Ray would probably deem them devious, but Fraser preferred to think of them as... resourceful.

There he went, with the slouching again.

Like it wasn't bad enough, having to deal with having Fraser's brain and Fraser's body in class with him, ready to trip him up one way or the other at any given moment. Like it wasn't bad enough that Fraser was 'blending in' in a succession of sneakers and loose-fit jeans that somehow still managed to be tight across the back...and the front...and untucked t-shirts that made him look like some half-angel, half-jock, all-gorgeous sin waiting to happen.

Like Fraser hadn't already frayed every nerve Ray had with the kissing, rubbing, groping thing they'd been doing, nonstop, for hours, for days now. And man, he hated being the prom date, the 'that's far enough' one, especially when Fraser didn't want to stop. Fraser wasn't at all interested in stopping. Fraser had his light stuck on green, and it was up to Ray to put his hand up (take it away from whatever hot smooth spot it had found itself in and put it up) and be the stop-right-there-paradise-by-the-dashboard-light guy for once. Not his usual thing. Not at all. And Fraser, who'd always been the brains of their particular operation, was suddenly coming up all balls.

He'd caught himself, more than once actually, sitting at his desk and waiting out the minutes of an in-class assignment with his head propped in his hand, staring moonily at Fraser and dwelling on stuff that had no place in the classroom. Stuff like Tuesday's after-school grope-session, for example, when he'd touched, slipped, and subsequently inadvertently discovered how incredibly warm and silky Fraser's pubic hair was. Pulling his hand back from that took... well, he didn't really know what it took, all he knew was that he was amazed he had it to give.

It made him shiver every time he thought about it. It made him want... so much, so many things that were Out of Bounds. It made him...

It made him dismiss class early, because he had stupidly forgotten his jacket that day and he wasn't about to earn himself the campus nickname of 'Sonny Boner'.

Ray Kowalski, you've entered the Twilight Zone. Fraser's climbing down your throat and up your ass and around every corner you've got, and you, my friend, are trying to put the brakes on.

So really, all that was pretty much enough.

But now there was the slouching thing.

Of course, this was the first long-term undercover assignment Fraser had done in a while, so it seemed inevitable that Fraser, being Fraser, would get better at it every day. Fraser knew how to pay attention, after all. But apparently, what Fraser had been paying attention to was the kids in class who never paid attention to anything other than sex, drugs, and music straight from hell.

And yeah, that was sort of the point. But it didn't help matters any when he was trying to concentrate on something besides whether Fraser was dressing left or right.

He knew Fraser was thirty-something, but damn if he didn't drop ten years when he got those jeans on, when he stopped brushing his hair every fifteen minutes. He'd look at Fraser there, front row, leaning on his elbow with his head tilted, and think to himself, 'That's what jailbait looks like. This is why teachers get fired.'

Of course he was doing it on purpose. On purpose for work, but had to be for play, too. Fraser was getting a kick out of it.

Fraser was enjoying himself just a little too much. Fraser was, duh, on vacation.

Which, for Fraser, was pretty goddamn weird. He'd have to take it up with Adelle Brubaker, the head of physics: matter and antimatter meet up, result isn't any kind of explosion -- just a guy who almost made him come in his pants from all the way across the room.

Slouching. Sprawling. Pen-licking. God god god...

Pen-licking. Slouching. Sprawling. Sprawling out with his thighs wide open under the desk, faded denim pulled tight over his thighs, over his --

-- and then, like he needed to do one thing more than just sit there and be, there went Fraser's thumb, back and forth on that sprawled thigh, little rhythmic motion back and forth, rubbing, stroking --

Ray stuttered, but it was covered by the clock in the quadrangle, booming out the chimes that signaled the end of the hour. Thank you, Lord. He cleared his throat.

"Mr. Fraser, you got the short straw, you get to see me after class. The rest of you, don't forget -- this week's assignment's due tomorrow. You better be ready to wow me."

A few nods, and Fraser got a few sympathetic (and some that seemed slightly more than sympathetic) pats on the shoulder as everyone else filed out. Fraser re-packed his books in a careless, leisurely way, without even a glance at him, until the door banged shut behind the last chattering student. Then he was just Fraser, standing up straight and moving to his side quickly, all business.

"Ray? Is there a problem? I--"

That was as much as he let Fraser get out before he grabbed one arm and hauled him bodily into the supply closet. Closed the door. Propped Fraser hard against it and pinned him there.

He heard Fraser suck in a surprised breath. "Is there some danger? Did you--"

"Shut. Up. Fraser." Shaking, he was shaking -- not Fraser. Him. "Look -- are you trying to kill me?"

One of Fraser's hands touched his bicep for a moment, then fell away. "I...? Of course not, Ray, I would never--"

"Then stop licking your goddamn pen in class."

He couldn't see a thing, but he could feel Fraser giving him that clueless Mountie look. "I'm not sure I understand how that could possibly endanger--"

"Just cop to it, Fraser. The pen-licking thing. The slouching--"

"As you've reminded me many times, Ray, I'm supposed to be undercover, portraying a role. I observed that the licking of pens is a widespread occurrence, evidently a common unconscious self-stimulatory oral behavior--"

That was as much as he could take. Just hearing Fraser use the words 'stimulatory' and 'oral' in the same sentence was bad enough, but knowing, even in the dark, that that wicked, evil, pen-licking mouth was just an inch or two away, saying it -- it was too much. He latched on, happy to swallow Fraser's surprised grunt, happy to keep his mouth there where it could do some good while he swiped Fraser's shirt up and out of the way, took his foot off the brake, floored it, and went straight for the button-fly.

Hadn't undone a button-fly from this direction before, but wow, pop, pop, pop, there they went, one after another, easy as you please, and he didn't care where they were, and he sure didn't think about red lights or green lights, or brakes, or stopping. He'd seen one sprawl too many to think about stopping.

Fraser was decently quiet until Ray got his cock out, but five or six fast strokes later and not even the greediest kiss could keep that kind of noise in, so Ray pulled back and slid his free hand quick over Fraser's mouth and just kept pumping. He pressed his whole body close, as close as he could, wishing that the crack under the door was just a little bigger so that he could see, see and not just feel Fraser's heat, sudden sweat and wet slick slip-and-slide dribbling cock -- oh, shit, that's a foreskin -- not just pull Fraser away from the door, so he wouldn't bang it as he tried to climb Ray like a tree.

God, he wanted to see him. Wanted more than that. Wanted it all at once, all at once. Put him in a dark room and off went the blinders -- Ray wanted it all. Now, if possible.

If he hadn't had his hand over Fraser's mouth, Fraser would be bellowing. As it was, it suddenly became very clear that choked-off, desperate, needy Mountie sounds were not any less sexy for being choked-off. He leaned into Fraser's neck, felt the vibration there go right through him all the way to his toes and then he squeezed, stripped, pumped Fraser hard and found Fraser's hip with his own raging dick just in time to... ohh...

Fraser's stifled grunts were just perfect, the absolute perfect thing to hear while shooting off in his pants and getting another load tossed on him by a big, hot Mountie cock for good measure. He was soaked in it, he could tell from the feel. Inside and outside his pants, and what were the chances that Fraser hadn't had a single drop land on his tight, faded slouching jeans?

Ray sighed, lowered his hand from Fraser's mouth, and gave him what he hoped was a sincere 'that was your own damn fault, you can make it up to me later' kiss.

...About the same time he realized he was supposed to be up in front of the room again, teaching, in fifteen minutes.

And maybe it hadn't been the best time or place to have a sudden lack-of-virtue attack, but damn he felt good. And Fraser felt good. And he'd made Fraser feel good. And if that meant keeping his jacket buttoned for the rest of the day, okay, so be it. Small price.

Well.

That was...

Fraser found himself grinning as he walked the mile or so distance from the college to their temporary abode, pausing every so often to enjoy the sunshine while Dief investigated some intriguing springtime smell. The afternoon sun felt good on his face and bare arms. He liked the casual clothes that had become his de facto uniform. They were comfortable, easy. Had he been in regulation RCMP garb, Ray never would have had time to...do what he did...he'd have been struggling with fastenings and knots and his next class would have filed in before he'd ever had a chance to...

As good as the sun felt on him, the close darkness of the closet had felt better. Without any input from sight to distract him from the heat of Ray's touch, those desperate fingers flicking through the buttons on his jeans like they were reading braille, he'd only been able to feel; had, amazingly enough, forgotten their surroundings, the inappropriateness of their actions, and surrendered to the driving, almost punishing rhythm Ray had set, propelled beyond thought into a place where nothing existed except the churning need in his gut and the remedy of Ray's hand.

A wave of dizziness washed over him. Renewed lust? Or sense memory? Most likely a hazy combination of both. He felt light-headed, his skin still tingling in places, awash with a feeling startlingly close to giddiness at Ray's sudden capitulation. He supposed some of that feeling could be attributed to pure physical gratification, that oh-so-elusive satisfaction finally within his grasp, or, rather, within Ray's.

His minor word play pleased him. The walk pleased him. The mild sunlight on his face pleased him. The world suddenly seemed a brighter, better place. Quite an achievement from a few seconds' mindless pleasure. Yes, certainly some of his 'all's well' feeling was undoubtedly owed to the endorphins released in his body, but it wasn't entirely chemical.

More had passed between them than a smothered exchange of bodily fluids: he'd found a chink in Ray's wall, and he fully intended to continue chipping away at it. Because, well, that was...what had happened in the stuffy dark of the supply closet had been worth waiting for. Worth striving toward. Certainly worth repeating.

And yet...he knew there was still so much more there to be discovered. Ray had shoved him to climax in what was probably a matter of (he was embarrassed to realize) seconds. If he'd lasted a minute, it was only because shock delayed his precipitous heave. But as delightful as it had been to finally feel the grip and heat of Ray's fingers where he'd wanted them so desperately, he wanted...more.

He wanted to linger. He wanted to draw it out. He wanted to watch it happen. He wanted to be unclothed, lying down, and for Ray to be unclothed with him, his body pressed against Fraser's. He wanted to touch, too, to learn the length and breadth of Ray, with his fingers, with -- if Ray would permit it -- his mouth.

Ray, in an apparent attempt to assuage his own hunger, had merely whetted Fraser's.

Fraser kept his eyes firmly ahead, wondering if the people he passed could see these things, see what he was thinking about written plain on his face. For once, it didn't seem to matter. He didn't know them; they had no intersection of life or work except the sidewalk they shared, and it suddenly seemed as freeing as the sun on his skin to walk down a street and not care what people saw when they looked at him.

Well, except for Ray, of course. He cared what Ray saw. And it seemed a good bet that if Ray were there, he would have looked at him with pleasure. No matter what his face was giving away. Or, actually, because of it.

Fraser entered the cool quiet of their borrowed home, put away his things and made a snack for himself and Dief. Routine, everyday activities, but somehow they didn't feel at all routine. Not today. He caught himself testing the textures of things when he touched them, losing himself in long spun-out moments of recollection: some meltingly warm, some breath-robbing, some simply, achingly fond.

He'd left Ray still looking mildly flushed, flustered, babbling apologies as he poured half a bottle of water down the front of his pants, washing away the evidence of their indiscretion, practicing his 'I'm a klutz' rationale in case anyone asked. Ray had one more class to teach before he could rejoin Fraser. A fifty-minute class, a fifteen minute walk home. A little over an hour, then, before they could once again be together.

He thought it interesting how very little it had taken to push Ray over the edge. All right, he had to admit the phallic qualities of the pen had crossed his mind, but he'd never imagined Ray's visceral reaction to it.

Subtle had worked...beautifully.

He wondered (after he'd showered, as he slid, naked and still damp in places, under the covers of Ray's bed), what overt might do.

How dumb could he get? Really, did they measure that? Degrees of sheer stupidity? Forget that he was a cop posing as a teacher (strike one, strike two), but to engage in full-out sexual relations with a fellow cop (strike three) posing as a student (strike four) in a closet? On school grounds? In between fifth and sixth periods? Strikes five, six, seven. Baby, you're so out you're in the parking lot.

And what would he have said to anyone who opened the door, looking for chalk, or an envelope, or a ream of copy paper? Anyone who could have seen him with one hand clamped tight over Fraser's mouth, the other frantic on Fraser's dick?

What could he say? 'I've been drinking' wouldn't help him out much.

He'd screwed up. In a big old way. Knew it as soon as the glow faded, which just happened to be right about the time Fraser left the building. Probably not a coincidence, that.

Should've expected it. Could've predicted it, probably. Pressure like that's gonna blow eventually. Could have been worse, he guessed. He could have grabbed Fraser in the middle of the cafeteria, dropped to his knees and sucked him off right there, with the jocks on one side of him and the geeks on the other.

--Whoa, hey, that was one hell of an image, there--

Ray ran one hand through his hair and tugged on it, hard. Hard enough to make his eyes water. He was thinking about how he fucked up -- right. Not thinking about fucking, or sucking, or any of those 'ucking' things he wanted to do so bad. Nope.

But knowing how much worse he could have fucked up didn't make what happened any better. Come on, he was a grown-up, not some kid with his first itch. He could control himself. He'd been doing pretty good (at least, he'd been doing pretty good in the real, non-fantasy world), right up until then. He could do it again. It just took...self-discipline.

He shook his head. The walk home from the college, usually good decompress time, good chill out time, wasn't doing anything for him today except giving him more time to think than he wanted. Self-discipline. Yeah, right. That was Fraser's deal, there, except Fraser wasn't self-disciplining. Fraser was as amok as a guy could get who still measured his shoe laces to make sure they were the same length.

Fraser'd put it all on him, counting on him. Depending on him. Ray was the know-it-all, Fraser was the how-do-I? guy.

Which, when he thought about it, was kind of a heavy responsibility. Another one. Which seemed to be a theme, lately. Not a good theme.

He let himself in the front door, said a quick hello to Dief, who was lounging in the late-afternoon sun streaming in through the living room's western window, then put down his bookbag and took a deep breath. Amazing. All he had to do now was walk in the door and his gut went tight, warming up, all systems on overdrive -- a sort of 'where's Fraser-where's Fraser-is-Fraser-still-wearing-those-jeans' kind of thing.

Ray took a deep breath. Down, okay? Not right now. Need to talk. Need to work the case. Put it in neutral.

But neutral just slid right into hyperdrive when he walked into his room and found Fraser asleep in his bed. Not wearing those jeans. Not wearing anything. Naked, in his bed. Funny, he'd never have taken Fraser to be a nap guy.

Of course, he'd never have taken himself to be a Canadian-craving, closet-defiling pig, either, which was why he was going to get a friggin' grip and not act like one.

He perched himself on the side of the bed and shook Fraser's (mmm -- warm, smooth) shoulder. "Fraser. Wake up."

Fraser murmured under his breath, a seductive little "Ray," which didn't do much for the 'hold back' part of his argument.

"Fraser. We gotta talk."

Fraser opened his eyes, smiled at him, rolled on his side and slid his arms around Ray's waist. "No."

"What do you mean, no?"

"No, I don't want to talk," Fraser said, and Ray felt his shirt getting tugged out from the back of his pants with a newly learned expertise that made his dick throb to life again.

Oh, God. What good was it to have a brain if it constantly lost out to his dick? No way could he hold back. No way could he have that, warm and sleepy and ready for him, and convince himself it was a bad idea. No way he could pull back, not when he could have Fraser (sleepy, naked, horny Fraser!) under him in five seconds flat.

Ray licked his lips, and felt all his resistance, all his arguments, all his reasons of 'why not' just seeping away, like someone'd just drilled a hole in him to let it all out. Goodbye, brain -- see you when the dick's done boogeying down, okay?

But hey -- maybe he had something there. Maybe instead of trying all the time not to do it, he oughta just get it the fuck out of his system.

Oh yeah. Oh, that would be... yeah. Yeah. Oh hell yeah.

Okay, okay. Fine. TGIF had never been more profound, cuz he had two days in front of him. Two days. He'd break one rule and make another. He'd do it, go for it, the whole shebang, let it all hang out, just for the weekend. That was it. That was all. They'd fuck themselves unconscious and then, maybe then, he could work the case, concentrate on class, do something (anything) besides look at Fraser and want him.

He felt better already. "Okay."

Fraser, having finished with the untucking, moved on to Ray's tie, working through the knot. "Really?"

Funny -- ties sucked, but there was something about wearing one and having Fraser take it off him that suddenly made it worth all the hours of feeling like he was being slowly strangled.

"Yeah, we'll call a ...what...a memoriam, a moratorium for the weekend," he said, reaching under Fraser's hands to unbutton his shirt.

He looked at Fraser. Fraser looked at him. Oh, right, right, he was in charge.

"So, we can... uh, I mean... it's your party, Fraser. What do you want?"

Fraser licked his lips, and pulled the tie off him. Slowly. The sound of the fabric snaking through his collar seemed awfully loud. Ray stayed cool, stayed steady, as if there weren't random bubbles of carbonated lust fizzing up all over, popping like crazy and building up the pressure. Steady.

"I want... that is, I'd like to..." and he pulled one of Ray's hands away from its button task and licked a warm stripe up the inside of his thumb.

Pop. Crackle.

Snap.

"Or, ah..." and damn if Fraser didn't take that thumb, stick it in his mouth, and...Christ on a crutch...start to suck on it.

He could, he realized. He could come from getting his thumb sucked; he could sit right there and watch Fraser's mouth work on him, and shoot another load in his no-drycleaner-wants-to-see-that pants.

Wasn't what Fraser had in mind, though, cuz he stopped as soon as Ray started squirming and said, "I'd like to learn...that."

"Uh-huh." Oooh. That didn't sound very steady. That sounded kind of like a fourteen year old trying to play it cool. But Fraser didn't seem to mind, or even notice -- Fraser was blushing, seriously red-faced, yeah, but even so, Fraser didn't look away for a second, or hide himself under the sheets, or anything like that. It was all just... right there, Fraser being shy but right there and right with him -- in body, in spirit -- all the time now, wanting it. Wanting him. Wow.

Suddenly that was almost too much, like if he kept staring at Fraser's shy-but-wanting-him face he was gonna lose it -- one way or the other -- so he stood up, and used taking off his clothes as an excuse to look somewhere else, just for a minute. Just enough so he could breathe.

So he breathed. And stripped. And when he was done with both he looked at Fraser, and Fraser looked the same except with the addition of mildly raised eyebrows of interest -- curiosity, that was Fraser's curious look, aimed right at his hard-on -- and then, somehow, it was okay.

"Okay?" He asked, and then felt stupid -- he wanted to know if Fraser was okay, but the way the question came out it sounded like he was asking Fraser if his dick passed muster. Idiot.

"Lovely, Ray," Fraser replied, eyes catching his with a quick glance before they bounced right back down again. "Wonderful."

Sounded like the answer to both questions at once. Good enough. Ray slid onto the bed and partially onto Fraser, trying to take it slow because this was the first time, the first time naked and both of them and they weren't gonna stop, not this time, so he tried to go slow. Fraser sighed, not just warm against his neck now but warm against all of him, finally. Finally.

"Kiss me," he said without knowing he was going to, and Fraser did. Familiar, something familiar and he needed that right now, for some reason, needed the amazing and familiar miracle of making out with Fraser. Taste and warmth and both of them wanting and God that was good, wonderful, yeah, he hadn't realized how much of this he'd been missing, being all wrapped up in knots of don't-go-too-far. Better this way. So much better.

Fraser rolled on top of him and crushed him hard into the mattress, and Ray let out a groan of pure happiness because he didn't have to stop, not this time, Fraser could pretty much go to town on him as far as he was concerned. And Fraser did. Fraser licked him, nibbled, bit down in a couple of surprising places and slurped occasionally, messy and wet, which made him grin.

"You taste good, Ray." This came from somewhere around his navel.

"Huh. You'd think that. No shower since this morning."

"Mmm..."

Freaktongue. Mmm. Yeah. He closed his eyes and thrust up with his hips, just a little, only a hint in case Fraser was looking for clues.

"Ray? May I...?" Breath. Warm breath, right on the tip of his cock. Oooh, jeez...

"That'd be, uh, yeah. Good. Uh-huh."

Fraser's mouth. Hot. Slick. Deep -- oh -- and brief. Gone.

"Fraser? You okay?"

No answer. Just Fraser's mouth again. Wow-oh-wow yeah, like that -- so good -- and -- gone.

"Fraser?"

That unmistakable Fraser throat-clearing noise. Ray opened his eyes to find Fraser scrutinizing his wet erection like he was looking for instructions written on the back. "Fraser?"

Fraser looked up at him, and his cheeks went bright pink again. "I'm...it's just that...this is more difficult than I imagined," he said.

"You been imagining?" Ray liked that idea. Liked it a lot.

Fraser's eyes went smoky on him. "Frequently."

"That so?" He had to smile at that. He just had to. "Well, maybe it'd be easier if you just... um... if you didn't, you know, try to wolf the whole thing."

Fraser blinked, looking very serious for a guy who was busy fooling around. "But I want... I'd like you to enjoy yourself, Ray."

"Oh, I'm enjoying myself, Fraser, no doubt about that." He reached down until he found one of Fraser's hands, tugged it up to where he needed it, and wrapped it around himself, solid. "Here -- just let the hand deal with the bottom part, okay?"

Fraser looked weirdly out of place and yet weirdly perfect, naked, frowning, with Ray's dick in his hand. "Are you sure --"

"Open wide, Fraser." Enough of that, get started discussing method and they'd be here all night and nobody'd be getting any. He kept his hand on Fraser's head, gentle but definitely there, and Fraser followed, and opened wide, not another word before he had Fraser's hand, stroking him slow, and Fraser's mouth, sliding on-off-on the needy tip of his cock in a way that made him feel like his spine was melting.

Which was just...perfect. Wasn't the first time he'd had a mouth on his dick, not even the first guy's mouth on his dick, but none of the other mouths did it for him like Fraser's did. Not even close. Okay, maybe Fraser wasn't gonna win any prizes for technique, but he had the natural aptitude thing going for him. Tongue down, lips down, down to where Fraser's fingers were squeezing, until he was smothered, covered in Fraser.

Suck, lick, back it off, bring it on, squeeze. Hot mouth, strong fingers, tongue...Fraser might be a freshman, but that tongue was working on a P.H.-fucking-D.

Oh, yeah, Fraser had it down now, had going down down pat, and it was sort of amazing just how good it was, how good it felt. God, yes, yes, oh, shit, that's it, that's it, that's --

"Leggo, Fraser." Fraser didn't seem too enthusiastic about letting go, but Ray could only stand so much Mountie-tongue without totally losing it, and he'd be hitting that point in about three more of those messy, enthusiastic stroke-sucks. Or maybe two. Oooh, one. "C'mon, Fraser, let go."

Fraser made some weird, almost Dief-like growl, and that was that. Ray was laughing and rocking and -- oh, shit, gonna come right now, goddamnit -- so he latched onto Fraser's head and pulled hard, up and off, and got one fist in Fraser's hair to hold him still while the other hand wrapped around Fraser's and took charge of Old Faithful, quick pump and squeeze and let's point that somewhere away from Fraser, shall we? thank you kindly--

--watching Fraser watch him with eyes so blue and so amazed; Fraser watching him stretch right up into it and shoot all over his own stomach. Damn, that felt...mmm, oh, yeah--

And probably he shouldn't have bothered getting Fraser's mouth pried off him before the crucial moment, because Fraser shook off the now-weakened grip on his hair like it was nothing, flared his nostrils and went for it anyway: one long slow lick through the nearest trail of spunk and then right back down on him in time for the last gasp and shiver, in time for Ray to push once, hard, helplessly, and spit out one last little bit of come right on Fraser's tongue and moan way too loud, and wonder what the hell he'd gotten himself into this time.

How...delightful. How utterly, surprisingly, delightfully...delightful.

Not that he'd expected any less, of course, but still...the intimacy of what he'd just done, what Ray had encouraged him to do, showed him how to do...

He couldn't say it had been beyond his expectations -- between Ray's emphatic erotic lessons, his own tutored imagination, and the torturous delay, his expectations had reached stratospheric levels. But oddly enough, the somewhat awkward reality had been better.

He would take the stutter of real over the fluent of fantasy any day.

And nothing in his imagination prepared him for the swell of primal possessiveness that coursed through him when he realized that his mouth, his touch, had reduced Ray to this -- shivering, panting, his body still jerking roughly in the final tumultuous throes of orgasm.

He had done that to Ray.

Ray tasted salty. He should have expected that; he wasn't entirely ignorant. But Ray's saltiness was unique, blended slick and hot with whatever else it was that made his throat tingle, that lingered on his tongue, echoes and afterthoughts, undertones of the stronger flavor he'd lapped off Ray's stomach.

He wished with all his heart that Ray hadn't pulled away at the critical moment. As much as he'd enjoyed watching, he would rather have completed the act, absorbed everything Ray had to offer. He wished he'd been allowed to literally drink him in.

Perhaps another time.

Soon. Very soon, if the renewed squirming underneath him indicated what he thought it might.

The thought made him shiver. Ray had given him the weekend. Sixty hours, give or take. A moratorium, Ray had called it, although Fraser would rather think of it as a respite. Two days of no longer having to curtail his desires, and two days to demonstrate beyond question to Ray that they were meant to be this way.

This way. Connected at the core. The way it should be.

With one last lick, Fraser released Ray's softening penis and crawled up his body, lowering himself slowly, sliding his arms underneath Ray and gathering his pliant form close until they were twined together, skin to skin from head to toe. As good as it had felt to hold Ray in his mouth, having all of him pressed against him felt even better.

Against his own pulsing erection, he could feel the damp tracks his tongue had made as he cleaned Ray. Of their own volition, his hips surged forward, pressing into the slick space, and underneath him, he heard Ray groan.

"Ray, did I hurt--"

"No, no," Ray said with a sigh. "Do that some more."

Permission. Encouragement. No more restraint, no pulling back. He could do...anything. He thrust again, short, sharp, and felt Ray's stomach muscles ripple beneath him. Ohh, that felt good. So very, very good.

"Yeah," Ray murmured. "S'good. Don't...don't stop."

Fraser smiled at the slur in Ray's voice. Finally, he seemed to have reduced Ray to the state he himself had been living in for too long; that place where there were times when he would have literally begged for one more stroke, one more kiss, one more minute pressing his jeans-covered erection into the heat of Ray's hand.

And he remembered the sleepless nights in Tuktoyaktuk, spent just like this, face-down, thrusting, wanting, needing more than the softness of cloth beneath him. Needing this -- the solidity of Ray's body, the heat of it, the strength so apparent in it, even in its current, tranquil state.

He leaned down, kissed him again, and felt Ray's tongue dart into his mouth. He opened wide and wondered briefly what Ray thought of his own taste, then slipped easily, naturally, into the rhythm he knew, the one he'd learned and they'd practiced countless times, for timeless minutes, the deep, drugging kisses exponentially better when accompanied by the smooth spread of Ray's naked body beneath him.

He writhed against Ray, needy sounds scratching at his throat, demanding voice. The unbridled pleasure bolting through him felt foreign, decadent. So long, so long since he'd just...let go. He couldn't even remember when, or who, and it hardly mattered now.

Only Ray mattered.

Ray, whose arms wrapped tight around him and held him, who spread his thighs and lifted them around Fraser's hips, holding him firm, a steady, solid force Fraser could pound into without hesitation. It was almost enough. Almost. Beneath him, he felt Ray's groin begin to swell again, astonishingly soon, and for long, ragged, precious moments, that, too, was enough.

The mutuality of it, the give and take of motion, the friction, the ease, all of it merged with a shimmering, joyous feeling building inside. Arousal, yes, but more than that, more than just physical pleasure. He wanted to share that with Ray, wanted to be part of Ray, wanted Ray to be part of him.

Part of him. More than tasting him, more than rubbing rhythmically against him, more than melding their mouths until he could no longer distinguish Ray's taste from his own. He wanted...Ray. Yes. If Ray were willing.

He supposed it couldn't hurt to...ask. He drew away from the well of Ray's mouth and looked at him, but had to close his eyes against the brilliant shine in Ray's eyes. Now that might have been enough.

"Ray?" A whisper, now licked against the tendon straining in Ray's neck.

"Hmm?" Another whisper, breathed into his ear, while strong hands moved down, down, then gripped hard and pulled his hips, rocking up to meet him.

"Have you ever...that is..." Words failed. There were things he could express, and things he...couldn't...and this apparently fell into the latter category.

"What?" Good, that Ray wouldn't let him retreat. Good. It would be...so good...if he could just find a way to say it. Surely he could find some way to express his desire.

"I want you to show me one more thing."

He sat up, straddling Ray's torso. He shivered as air cooler than Ray's warm skin touched him. The shift in position had one immediate benefit -- Ray's now full erection rested snugly between Fraser's buttocks. Perhaps he wouldn't have to actually come out and ask. Perhaps they could rely, once again, on non-verbal communication.

It had worked admirably so far.

Fraser winced.

And this wasn't exactly an ideal moment for wincing. Ray smacked the back of his own head against the wall one time, not too hard, just enough so that he could keep it together for just a little longer, and made sure his hands on Fraser's hips weren't doing that grabby, pulling thing, made sure his dick in its crushingly tight new home wasn't going on without him. No way. He was gonna do this right, even if it killed him. Which it felt like it might, especially when Fraser squeezed down on him. Steady. He was steady. He might be sweating like Welsh at the annual summer picnic, and yeah, so maybe his heartbeat was rattling on every nerve ending he owned, but for right now he was steady enough.

"Hurts?"

Fraser grunted, his brows drawn down low, and shook his head fast, once. "Oh, no. No."

"Uh. Good." That was all he felt like he had breath for, because Fraser was on his lap in a whole new brain-destroying way now. Fraser was on him, around him, surrounding him, everywhere. He hoped Fraser wasn't lying. He'd just worked a pretty big thing into a pretty small space, and it hadn't been easy, and it had taken longer than he'd have thought it would, and they'd needed a whole lot of slippery stuff and some serious exertion on both their parts to get where they were, which was in a good place. A really, really good place. The staggering fact of being inside Fraser kept washing over him every few seconds, and he was terribly afraid that he might hurt Fraser, or come, or probably manage to do both at the same time.

He hadn't really believed it at first. God knew Fraser'd never come out and say, "Fuck my ass, Ray", but damn if his body hadn't said that. Just right straight out like that. He'd sat up, wriggled around until he got Ray's dick right in that hot, humid space, and then he'd moved...like he was moving now, only now it was better. Now Ray was in there.

Fraser rocked slowly, moving like a dance, the best dance, liquid and not stiff at all, except where it counted. Ray took a deep breath and let himself relax just a little, holding steady, holding still, ready to go with it -- ready to chew through his own lip if that's what it took not to get pushy -- but then Fraser went still, and winced again.

"Fraser--"

"It's not...it doesn't hurt, Ray. But I'm...that is, I don't want to..."

Ray looked down. Fraser's dick was hard and thick and standing up straight and had already dripped a nice little puddle of clear fluid onto his belly, and as he watched, it bobbed, twice, and Ray dimly wondered if he would have been able to see the veins pulse there if he'd had his glasses on. "You gonna come, Fraser? You that close?"

His hips wanted to thrust so badly at the thought that his spine tried to turn itself inside out, but he held on. Christ, he'd never imagined anything like this when he'd been thinking hot, hot thoughts on cold, cold nights. Never dreamed up Fraser, stretched around him, doing a little holding on himself, trying to drag it out, trying not to come just from this. Not from getting touched, not getting sucked, just...this. Fucking sexiest thing he'd ever seen. Good thing he hadn't imagined it -- he'd have come all over that RCMP bedroll.

"Mmmm," Fraser hummed, and his cock bobbed again, dripped a little more. "Ohhh..." Another slow rock, then a gasp, wince, and still again.

"Fraser--" Ray found the slippery threads of his patience from somewhere, and stayed still, held on, even though his whole body was starting to shake. "It's okay, go on, go on, you can...you know, just go for it. Come your brains out. Go nuts."

"But--" Fraser swiveled, just the littlest bit, and Ray hoped his eyes weren't actually crossing the way it felt like they were. "But we've barely begun."

Ray surprised himself by coming out with his own Dief-style growl. "So what?"

Was he really going to do this? Was he really going to kick into an argument while they were...while Fraser was...

Fraser stopped moving again. Ray couldn't stop shaking. So yes. Yes, apparently, he was. "Fraser, whenever you're ready, you just go for it. That's what you're supposed to do, that's what we're here for."

"But it doesn't seem very courteous," the guy actually said. Well, panted.

"Oh Jesus--" and that was enough of that, really, the idea of courteous fucking; so Ray let go of some of that control that had been twisting everything from his balls to his innards to his brain in knots, then went ahead and tightened his hold on Fraser's hips. Squeezed gently. Pulled down, carefully. And lifted himself up, finally finally finally, moving smooth and deep and shivering from the sweetness, in and out and together and apart and goddamn, that was fucking wonderful--

...Oh, wow...

And yeah, he'd kind of noticed, before, that Fraser went a little wild when he got really close to coming, but that was nothing compared to this, to being pinned down and held there with solid Mountie muscles while Fraser threw back his head and drove himself down and shuddered and just took from him, no longer seeming to care about anything except taking, humping, using him in a fierce and desperate way that knocked Ray flat and jacked him right up and gave him time to get out one surprised grunt before he came, hard. Then he felt sudden wet spurts, hot on his stomach, and Ray shivered under them, under Fraser, who had bent abruptly and was groaning right in his ear in a very uncourteous way and panting.

He'd never felt this. Nothing he'd ever known had felt like this. A day in the cold with the dogs came close, in terms of that feeling of rightness in the universe, the spike of adrenaline. A night wrapped warm by a fire created a similar lassitude, a languorous, lazy torpor. But never had he experienced both feelings at once -- exhaustion and exultation sliding seamlessly together, singing in his nerves, slipping across his skin.

He sprawled on a warm bed of Ray, feeling him soften in minute increments inside the stretched boundary of his body; still part of him, still vital inside him. He wished they could just stay this way, literally connected, fitted together. It seemed strange, on drowsy reflection, that he hadn't considered just what it would mean -- what he'd asked of Ray. What he'd offered. Given. Taken. He'd thought of it in physical terms -- how good it would feel to have Ray inside him, part of him, sharing an elemental connection.

He hadn't known it would seal his fate.

There would be no turning back, now.

The decision he'd made with his heart had just been confirmed by his body.

He sighed and let his full weight sink onto Ray.

"You okay?" The words were whispered against his shoulder. He dragged his heavy body up again, supporting his weight on his elbows. Ray gasped, his eyes sliding shut, and deep inside, Fraser felt one last twitch, then Ray slipped free of him. The emptiness he felt startled him.

"Very much so. And you?" he asked.

Ray stretched his arms over his head and yawned. "I don't know what I am, Fraser, but I'm pretty sure I'm not okay."

Fraser stilled, looking down at him. He could interpret Ray's words in a variety of ways, some of them better than others.

"Great, maybe, or awful," Ray continued. "One or the other, none of that in-between stuff. Not sure yet. Ask me Monday."

"I don't follow."

"You're, um, you're a force of nature, Fraser," Ray said sleepily.

"Is that good?" he asked. Agonizing, to feel so uncertain.

"It just is what it is, okay? Don't make me try to explain it."

Fair enough. Maybe it was very different being on the giving end. On the penetrating side of the equation. He knew Ray had enjoyed what they'd done, as he'd enjoyed Fraser's mouth on him. Maybe it was the enjoyment itself that dismayed him.

They were now -- beyond question -- tangled.

Perhaps he could show Ray what it meant, how it felt, prove to him that the literal link of their bodies was merely the most powerful manifestation of a soul-deep union.

Yes, he would do it. Ask, in their own private code. He would.

As soon as Ray woke up.

He hovered for hours in the warm, soft space between waking and sleeping, opening his eyes every few minutes to look at Ray, at the changes the dwindling light gave the planes in his face. He chafed at the thought of sleep, not wanting to waste a single moment of his allotted reprieve, his body charged again already, ready, aching.

But Ray needed his sleep. Teaching was hard work, regardless of subject matter. Ray deserved a chance to rest. He didn't even stir when Fraser eventually untangled himself and went into the connected bath to wash up.

Fraser mopped Ray off, too, then climbed back beside him, drawing him back into his arms, exhorting patience.

They had time. Just not enough.

They were naked, prone, in the dark. Just as he'd dreamed. Finally.

For a little while, it was enough to be there, hearing Ray's breath in sleep, the little murmurs he'd been hearing across the hall even more seductive up close. For awhile, he was satisfied just having Ray present in his arms, his body boneless in sleep, molded to him..

But the time came when it wasn't enough just to be there. He wanted more, needed it, could no longer ignore the arousal throbbing through him, so he rolled, shifting Ray onto his back beneath him, and started to wake him the best way he knew how -- with slow licks, and soft, tiny bites, and long, smooth kisses on all the places he'd learned Ray liked them best. The darkness gave him courage, their closeness paved his way, and it was surprisingly easy to let the hunger sweep over him, burying the courtesy that would have allowed Ray his sleep, smothering any impulse to wait to be invited.

He couldn't wait. Not anymore.

Ray awoke in stages. His penis woke up first, lifting, filling under Fraser's deliberate touch. He moved, thrusting slowly into Fraser's hand, shifting slowly on the bed, and Fraser moved with him, kneeling up between Ray's legs, spreading his thighs wide. In the weak glow from the streetlights through the blinds, he could see when Ray opened his eyes, and he paused for a moment, one hand lightly holding Ray's firm erection, the other still resting on Ray's thigh.

"Ray...Is it all right if I..."

"Yeah, Fraser, yeah. Anything you want." The right answer, murmured in the sultriest voice imaginable. Sleepy Ray, with his hot skin and malleable limbs, offering Fraser...everything.

Fraser took a deep breath and tried to think of glacier walks, Miriam's elderberry pie, anything to hold on for a few more minutes. What he wanted to do was launch himself at Ray, rub against him until they both came, then do it again, and again. He wasn't sure he could ever get enough. But he'd had a goal in mind, earlier, a way to bridge heart and mind and body, and this sleepy, unguarded, tractable Ray might just let him do it.

Curbing his own craving, he set about bringing Ray to his level, using every skill he'd acquired (and a few he'd only imagined) to arouse Ray. It took gratifyingly little time or effort on his part. Ray was with him in startlingly short order, writhing beneath him, reaching for him, struggling to pull Fraser down on him.

When Ray spread his legs wider of his own volition, cocking his thighs around Fraser's hips, Fraser knew he'd succeeded. He left one hand stroking Ray's leaking penis, then slid his other hand underneath, pressing the pads of his fingers firmly against the swollen root.

Ray gasped, his head lifting, and his hands scrabbled on Fraser's hips. "Jesus."

Fraser did it again, even further down, almost to where...and then he was there, feeling the tender muscle contract around one finger while Ray groaned deep in his throat and rocked up into one hand, then down onto the other.

Not too rough, not too hard. The litany wove through his hunger. He needed something to ease his path. Reluctantly, he let go, ignoring Ray's protests long enough to reach for the open tube of lubricant on the nightstand, grateful that Ray had shown him what to do.

Two slick fingers slid in with almost no resistance, and he realized Ray was consciously trying to relax, taking deep breaths, continuing to rub his penis into Fraser's clasping hand, distracting himself.

A third finger made Ray's face scrunch up with discomfort, and immediately, Fraser withdrew.

"No, no, you're doing good," Ray gasped, grabbing Fraser's hand and pushing it back between his legs. "It's gonna hurt, you know? But it's okay. Just go slow."

"Ray, I don't want to hurt you," Fraser said, startled when he heard his voice crack.

Ray laughed under his breath. "It's not this. This won't hurt me."

Before Fraser could pursue what he meant, Ray had taken his fingers and pushed them back inside, holding his wrist tightly, so he could only move forward, not back. Move forward he did, his fingers stretching up inside, stretching out, opening Ray as carefully as he could. Ray's grip on his wrist slackened, and then he lifted his hands over his head, turned his cheek into the pillow and said, "Go on, Fraser. Do it."

He was Fraser's for the taking, now; a sacrifice draped around him. Sweat broke out on his skin at the picture Ray made there, his lithe body utterly open.

Good. Better than good. He liked his active role, he liked Ray's easy acquiescence. And he loved the heat of Ray's body around his fingers, the tight ripples inside, the smooth clutch of muscle. Time, it was time now. He withdrew his fingers, took his hand from its curled spot around Ray's penis and slicked down his own erection with a healthy amount of the cool, slippery gel. Then he lifted Ray's legs over his, moved in closer, close enough to smell Ray's arousal, close enough to feel it, and began to squeeze his way inside.

Time. Not enough time. The sensation he felt at the clench of Ray's body around him as he entered, slowly, slowly, pushing his way through, and in, and deep, was something he would like to have dragged out for hours, for days. He had the strangest sense of tunneling his way home. He felt his thighs tremble under the weight of Ray's legs, felt Ray's legs also begin to shake.

Somewhere in there he knew there was a place that would give Ray the same degree of pleasure he himself was feeling. Somewhere. He moved, lifting Ray, changing the angle of penetration, the depth, and everything he did seemed to suit Ray, who was making sounds now that said there was no pain in his world, none at all; only pleasure. Then Fraser moved again, jabbed his hips up, and found the place he'd been seeking. He knew immediately: Ray's back bowed, his muscles contracting wildly. Ray whimpered through clenched teeth, and his complacent hands abruptly turned urgent, reaching for his own cock, grabbing at it.

"No, Ray. No. Don't." Fraser trapped Ray's hands solidly in his own and took them with him right back to Ray's hips, lifting, pulling, and Ray tugged a little but without much strength behind it. "Just this, Ray... just this --"

He angled forward again, pushing, feeling his way, knowing he'd got it again when Ray's head arched back into the pillows, revealing the tempting cusp of Adam's apple under sweat-glossy skin. It made him thirsty.

"Fraser -- you don't -- I mean, I'm not like you, I can't... I don't... Oh, God." But the words, like Ray's struggles, lacked strength, and Fraser suddenly needed this, needed it so much, and so he just kept moving, thrusting, holding Ray open to him and going deep, going deeper. He closed his eyes and just listened, felt: sensed Ray's beautiful, responsive body shaking, lunging in his grip, groans that washed over him and pulled him under, guiding him where he needed to go.

"Oh... Fraser... That's... I'm... But..."

"Please, Ray." He opened his eyes and moved harder, faster, lost in the heat of Ray and the unfamiliar heat of being sure, yes, this was where he should be, this was right. So right. A drop of sweat fell from him and he imagined it splashing into the well of Ray's navel, a juxtaposition of detail that somehow brought Fraser fully back into himself, seduced utterly to the furthest edge.

Ray's bared, stretched throat was etched with darker lines of muscle and tendon, tight with a litany of 'fuck, fuck, fuck' that seemed more sacred than profane at the moment. When tense words became wild cries and Ray jerked, shuddered, and thrust greedily downwards, Fraser cried out himself, losing his grip, letting Ray's hands go as he drove in and in, groping for whatever handhold he could find to secure Ray to him. Blinded by pleasure, he held Ray tightly through every shiver, every echoing tremor of his own.

And he decided, then and there -- still shaking, his hips thrusting without discernible form or rhythm, clawing for the last dregs of sensation -- that a lifetime of this, of Ray, might be enough to satisfy him. Anything less would cheat them both. They had so much together, on every level, so much still to be explored, so much already known between them.

People did this; he knew that. People managed to merge the diverse facets of their lives, successfully coalescing work and love and the mundane details of life into a unified whole. He wanted that with Ray. Wanted to take all the good things they had going for them and shape them into something strong, something lasting.

Something real.

Ray thought he could still pull back. Thought he could put a time limit on this, that he could stop what he'd started. He was wrong, and Fraser would prove it to him. If Ray tried to rebuild the walls between them, Fraser would scatter the bricks, hide the mortar. He knew how to do that now.

He stroked Ray's stomach, feeling the muscles quiver beneath his fingers, then reluctantly tugged himself from the heat of Ray's body. Ray protested, a short moan that might have signaled discomfort, but the hands that clutched his hips spoke only of pleasure.

Oh, yes. Thanks to Ray, he'd learned exactly what to do.

He had created a fucking monster.

Literally. And maybe he should have seen that coming, but he hadn't. He'd been paying so much attention to the dividing line, to the thought that their weekend of wild nookie was over and now they were on the case and he was seriously committed to not getting more hooked than he already was, so Fraser was now his cop-partner, his cop-partner. That, and nothing more.

Only, Fraser didn't seem to have really grasped the rules as they'd been laid down -- or maybe he had, but he didn't think Ray's reasons for them were good enough. Whichever it was, Fraser didn't seem to be too concerned about holding up his end of the deal. Didn't, in fact, seem to remember that there had been a deal at all. Might have been a good idea if Ray'd reminded him that there was a deal.

It was on Monday, after their day was done, their first day back on the case after what Ray had come to think of as The Weekend, when Fraser first jumped him. Ray had been trying hard to make the adjustment to thinking of his current situation as 'being at home with Fraser his cop-partner', rather than 'being in a place with a roof over it that would keep him and Fraser dry while they screwed each other senseless'. He wasn't doing so hot. Every place he saw -- the kitchen counters, the shower, most of the floor, the wall in the hallway, the recliner in the den -- provoked an instant and intense memory of him and Fraser pawing each other there, going deep together there, turning on, getting off, and getting it on again.

He must have been nuts, to think that would work. Just fucking nuts.

He was pondering his own stupidity, and staring kind of longingly at the ottoman in front of the fireplace, when Fraser's arms suddenly came around him from behind -- one hand pressed against his chest and the other at his crotch, and a whole lot of hot Fraser snugged up against his back. "Fraser!" he said, kind of scandalized, and more than a little shocked, but no matter how shocked or scandalized he was he didn't do dick about it when Fraser pulled him back, draped him back so that his head got a nice lolling-spot on Fraser's strong shoulder, or when Fraser unbuckled, unbuttoned, unzipped, and fucking undid him.

Determined Mountie. He hadn't expected that. He hadn't expected that at all, and that was probably a good thing. Because if he'd expected it he would have spent a whole lot of time wanting it, because Fraser being determined was such an amazingly hot concept he couldn't believe the fantasy department of his brain hadn't come up with it before.

So he didn't do anything, or say anything. Well, that is, he didn't do anything except come really fucking hard about a minute and a half after Fraser grabbed hold of him, about two seconds after Fraser had clamped down on his hips, humped his still-pants-covered backside fast, twice, and grunted like an animal right in his ear.

And after that, he just didn't know what to say. Like... yeah, rules were rules, and he'd had a lot of practice at discipline lately and so he knew that it was important, really important, to lay down the line and then stick to it, but...

But how the hell was he supposed to bawl Fraser out for... for... for that?

And so he didn't say anything.

And so on Tuesday after school, Fraser barely gave him time to close the door before he was on him, grinding and licking and stuttering half-articulated suggestions in his ear, things that he never, ever expected to hear coming out of Fraser except maybe if he lucked out in the wet-dream sweepstakes. He'd barely hauled his own dick out of his pants in time for that one.

After that, patterns had developed. Fraser seemed to be following certain paths of research, satisfying one kind of curiosity at a time before moving on to the next. For example, Fraser had Orifice Exploration Day, where he went from his tongue in Ray's mouth to his fingers in Ray's mouth to his cock in Ray's mouth, and then his tongue, fingers, and cock, in that order, in Ray's ass; and by then Ray was out of suitable orifices, as well as most of his bodily fluids, and was nothing more than a drained and sopping guy-shaped puddle in the middle of the bed.

Fraser teased him. Fraser jerked off with him. Fraser straddled him and rode him slow and sweet until Ray felt like he was risking whiplash by all the thrashing around and begging he was doing, and Fraser had the gall to come first and then held way too still, held Ray too still while he slowly rubbed all the splashes and dribbles into Ray's skin -- a task he attended to with Mountie-like thoroughness. Ray would have killed him if he'd been able to do a single thing other than whine and shiver and make pathetic clawing motions.

Fraser the lust-monster. His monster. His own creation. And, yeah, the Frasermonster was seriously fucking with the original plan, the one he'd been counting on to keep him less-than-entirely-wrecked, and that was bad -- but, as he'd come to realize in those few dreary minutes he'd had on Monday before Fraser snuck up and monstered him --

For something that was supposed to help him stay sane, that sure had been a stupid plan.

The weirdest thing of all, the part he was having the hardest time figuring out, was that in between the hours of school and the bouts of hard-core hi-jinks, they were working the case now, and they'd actually started to make some progress. Stuff that had flown right by last week suddenly looked like a map this week, and he finally decided there really had been something to that get-it-the-fuck-out-of-his-system deal. Even if it was still in his system. Even if getting it the fuck out seemed to get translated into getting it the fuck on.

Still, getting over that proverbial hump seemed to have given his remaining six brain cells the ability to work on something else for a change, something besides his Resistance Is Futile partner.

Or maybe it wasn't the cave-in. Maybe the real key here was that when he and Fraser worked together, they worked. When one thing worked, everything worked. They were in the zoom zoom zone, hitting their marks in every department, which rocked. Hell, they were practically finishing each other's sentences, and this was what he'd wanted, way back when. This was how he'd loved it best, what he remembered most, only it was even better now. Yeah, it was all that and then some.

All week, Fraser'd been doing his Mountie thing, MTV-style, going like a house on fire. First, Mandy'd made a slip of the tongue in class one day when Fraser casually expressed concern over the health of a fellow student. Then there'd been a little after-school observation session behind the gym. And finally, a real break: a conversation in the caf that Fraser lip-read while pretending to choke down creamed corn and salisbury steak; a conversation that led a little trail of bread crumbs right to Bruise's door (surprise surprise), and if the goombahs coming and going were any indication, it looked like Bruise might be able to take them one more step up the ladder (and maybe more) if they played it right.

And now it was just a matter of watching and waiting, and adding a cursory stakeout to the list of things to do in the day. Only took one time trying to watch Bruise's place together to figure out that Ray plus Fraser plus nothing to do equaled cock-sucking in the front seat, so they took to trading off, and Ray'd ended up doing chicken scratch lesson plans on the backs of envelopes while he waited for some action. No point wasting Frasernaked time with that kind of busy work.

So he worked while he worked, then played guilt-free when he got home.

All work, all play. All good.

Except... God, what a mixed bag. Mixed up. Whatever. Not get hooked? Not likely. And it sucked as much as he'd thought it would, cuz every step closer they got to solving the case was one step closer to Fraser going home. He knew -- and if he knew, then Fraser probably knew, too, since that's how they usually worked -- that they could've picked up Bruise at any time: probable cause, get a warrant, done deal. See the problem? Done. He just couldn't deal with being done yet.

So he had some bitter mixed in with all that sweet. Fraser was marking him so deep he'd be scarred for life, and there wasn't a goddamn thing he could do about it. Which was... ironic, that was it. Ms. Gottlieb, the old bat who always sat in the back row and always went on and on about irony and how 'delicious' it was, she would've loved this, once she got her blue-rinse hair to stop standing on end, that was. Irony. Ironic.

Ironic that, smack in the middle of finding out that he really could do more than he ever thought he could, he should find this one thing that he couldn't do at all. Here, Ray, juggle these three balls: undercover case, teach writing, bang a gong with your partner -- no problem, no sweat. Just don't get too deep, that's all. Don't forget none of that's real, none of it's gonna last. Okay, easy, should be easy. Nothing he had going on here would be something he'd have going on in, say, a month. Or a year. He just had to keep those balls in the air a little longer.

So...easy.

Except...

Not easy. Not easy at all.

He loved working with Fraser, pointing their opposite minds in the same direction and getting stuff done. They were good together. He loved that. And all that teamwork, shared thoughts, diametrical viewpoints thing worked even better in the bedroom (and the kitchen, and the floor of the bathroom).

He loved seeing Fraser let loose, loved seeing him put into practice something Ray'd shown him. It just got better and better, the more they tried, the more Fraser managed to show Ray what he wanted, the more Ray listened to the stuff Fraser couldn't say. Fraser soaked up everything Ray threw at him, absorbed it, then turned around and used it on him, and there was something...geez, it sounded dumb...magical that happened when they moved together, rocking in a rhythm all their own, just theirs.

Sex hadn't always been this good. Okay, truth, sex had never been this good. He remembered the closest thing -- the early days with Stella, crowded in the little single bed in her dorm room, surrounded by fluff and stuffed bears, and he remembered thinking then that all that pink and white and soft he was smothered in made him feel like a man. Not a boy, not a teenager. A man.

Didn't hold a candle to this, though. No, not like being man to man with Fraser. Fraser pushed him, wanted him to use his strength, wanted it rough sometimes, wanted it fast and hard, liked being manhandled, liked to manhandle back. He was like a big puppy in bed sometimes, all oversized paws and wet tongue and playfulness. Fraser wanted it all, and he made Ray feel like he had it to give. He could do stuff with Fraser he'd never have thought of with Stella.

Which made it better than anything he'd known before.

He couldn't put his finger on what made it so. It could've been because anything Fraser put his mind to, he could get a blue ribbon in. Or it could've been because Ray'd wanted it so long, waited for it, worked for it.

Or -- and this was his cold-light-of-day thought -- it could've just been Fraser giving him a hand-out again, spreading a little of that quality Fraser time his way one last time. One for the road, one for the Gipper.

He could see it all -- all the different sides. He could see that they were living in some dreamworld, where the living was easy, the case was falling into place, and he could have sex on demand. Not even demand. He could have sex on the slightest suggestion. And he could see how little all that really had to do with him being a cop in Chicago, and Fraser being a goddamn Mountie.

See? Mixed up, messed up. Upside down, inside out. Nothing resembling simple anymore. No, this was about the most complicated course he'd ever tried to navigate.

So far, so good.

His weekend respite had stretched to almost a full week now. He kept waiting for Ray to admonish him, to back up, back off, holding his hand up so he could tick off all the reasons why they weren't going to continue.

He never had. He'd never protested, never shunned an advance, never done anything except open up to Fraser, accept and return Fraser's caresses, drawing them deeper, forging a stronger bond every day.

At least that's how it felt to Fraser. He still wasn't sure about Ray. Ray offered up his body, his experience, his willingness. He just never said anything.

Fraser looked up from his book, watching Ray across the room. For once, they were spending a quiet evening at home. Dief had laid claim to the large rug in front of the fireplace, picturesque even though there was no fire, and Ray was reading blue books, one after another, writing comments in the margins.

In the pile was one of Fraser's own little blue books, half-filled this time -- a description of Inuit fertility myths. Although it hadn't been a deliberate choice, he realized he had shied away from writing anything particularly personal. He'd never been able to be dispassionate about anything relating to the native culture of his homeland, and so undoubtedly some of that ardency bled through, but he never achieved the same degree of intimacy, or self-awareness, in his own writing that Ray had in his. Ray never said anything about it; never wrote comments in what he turned in. Seemed surprised, in fact, that he actually did the homework assigned.

He'd told Ray that it helped with his cover, working as the students did, and there was some truth to that. But down deep, he knew he was also trying his best to equalize the situation between them, even if he didn't succeed with the written word. Ray had written, and he had read it. It seemed only fair that he should write, and let Ray read.

He'd asked Ray once what he tended to write when he made comments, and Ray had turned self-conscious and defensive, then finally muttered something about trying to be encouraging. Fraser hadn't asked again, but he liked the idea that the Mandys of the world would be on the receiving end of Ray's motivation and support. Heaven knew he had certainly benefited from the same, which he *felt*, even if Ray never wrote it...or spoke it.

"Have you thought about your final exam topic?" Fraser asked. While Ray never seemed entirely comfortable in his teacher role, he'd persevered, cajoling his students into handing in their assignments, browbeating the few who resisted with a combination of humor and sharp-tongued tenacity.

Ray finished scribbling something, then looked up. "Um, sort of. Thought I'd make it a take-home, no more than one of these," he said, holding up one of the exam books. "About a person. Anybody they want. Somebody they love, hate, someone they feel strongly about, whichever way. They can make somebody up, I don't care."

"That sounds like a good idea," Fraser said.

Ray shrugged and returned to his work. "It's a slide course, I know that. Wish I'd had me when I was in school."

Fraser smiled. Ray continued to deride his abilities, but Fraser knew he'd made an impact on at least some of the students in his classes. The pile of blue books still waiting for Ray's penciled comments was testimony to that.

"Can't believe graduation's in a week. Hope we can kill the case before then," Ray said.

"The time has certainly passed quickly," Fraser said, nodding.

Ray's pencil stilled on the paper. "Yeah," he said quietly, then started writing again.

"Ray? What is it?"

"You're supposed to be home now," Ray said, closing the book he was working on and slapping it on the coffee table. He pointed the pencil at Fraser. "I mean, your leave was officially done, when, Tuesday?"

He'd wondered if Ray had been keeping track. He nodded. "Yes, but --"

"But you stayed."

He nodded again. He felt off-balance, unsure what Ray was trying to say.

"Why?"

Why. He could tell Ray now, not only that he'd stayed, but that he didn't intend to leave. He could swallow hard, take a deep breath, and tell him. It was time. Perhaps it was past time. Why was it so hard to say?

"I stayed because my supervisors allowed me to," he said, stalling a little, then talked right over Ray's scoff. "And because I wanted to."

It was a place to start.

"Because you asked me to."

There.

"You stayed for me." Ray said, his voice low and flat.

"There would be no other reason," Fraser said, still feeling his way, still uncertain.

Ray dropped his head onto the back of the chair. Fraser could see the arch of his throat, every centimeter known to him now, intimately.

"Wouldn't be because you felt sorry for me, would it?" Ray asked.

Shock pulled Fraser to his feet, tugged him closer to Ray. "Sorry for you? Why on earth would you think that?"

Ray had his eyes closed. "Cuz of the stuff I wrote, all that stuff." He waved his hands in the air. "Pretty schlocky."

A word not in Fraser's lexicon, but the meaning was clear enough. "Ray, the only person I felt sorry for was myself."

At that, Ray opened his eyes, seemingly surprised to see Fraser hovering over him. "Huh?"

Fraser leaned even closer, putting his hands on either arm of Ray's chair, boxing him in, and spoke slowly, clearly, wanting to be sure Ray heard every word. "I missed you. I liked being with you. I still do. I came to be with you, that's all."

The pinched look on Ray's face eased, and the corners of his mouth lifted in a little smile. "Yeah?"

"Yeah," he said, leaning over to punctuate the affirmation with a kiss. Ray lifted his face, meeting him halfway, his lips parting reflexively, and Fraser felt his throat tighten at the implications of Ray's instinctive response.

He pulled back before they could follow their traditional route from kissing to more intimate touches, feeling compelled now to tell Ray the rest. He crouched in front of Ray's chair. "Ray, there's something I need to tell --"

Before he could finish his sentence, the doorbell rang.

They froze. It was the first time the bell had rung since Fraser himself rang it, almost three weeks earlier.

Ray leaned forward, and Fraser stood, giving Ray room to get up. "I'd better get it," Ray said.

Fraser went to the edge of the foyer, out of sight of the door. He was a little surprised at his protectiveness, but he'd learned the hard way to trust his instincts, and his instincts said to stay close.

Ray opened the door. "Hey, Bruce, what brings you out so late?"

Bruce. Bruise. The mountain had come to Mohammed. Fraser was proud of Ray's nonchalant tone.

"Came to see Ben, actually," Fraser heard him say. "He around?"

Fraser felt his heart kick. They hadn't made any serious attempt to camouflage the fact that they were sharing quarters, although they'd been careful not to arrive or leave the campus at the same time. Obviously, that hadn't been sufficient.

Ray hadn't said anything more, and the silence stretched uncomfortably. Then Fraser heard Bruce again.

"Come on, Ray. I know he's here." The tone was insolent. Yes, they had a problem on their hands.

Fraser heard the door open further, and he stepped out into the foyer just as Bruce came in the door. Under a thatch of dirty blond hair, the boy's eyes narrowed when he saw Fraser, and Fraser found himself being scrutinized, from his bare feet up to his own tousled hair.

"Come in, Bruce," Fraser said, indicating the study. He glanced into the room. Ray's work was spread around one chair. His own book lay face-down on the couch. The scene could hardly be misconstrued. "Can I get you something --"

"Save the happy homemaker shit. I'm not here on a social call," Bruce said, jamming his hands in his jacket pockets. "Just came to tell you something."

"What's that?" Ray appeared in the study doorway, leaning on the jamb. Again, Fraser was impressed with how well he was keeping his cool.

Bruce looked from one to the other. "I don't need no goody-goodies screwing up my life, got it? You been watching me," he said to Fraser. "I've seen you. And don't think anything you say to Mandy's gonna stay just with her. Girl's got a mouth the size of Texas. I want you to leave me alone."

"Bruce," Fraser started to say, but the kid cut him off.

"You been watching me, but I been watching you, too. You know about me, and I know about you, so I figure we'll make ourselves a deal."

"What kind of deal?" Fraser asked, although he knew very well what Bruce meant. They needed Bruce to say it.

"You forget you even know my name, and I won't get Ray here fired."

At that, Ray moved, coming into the room in stealthy strides that brought him within arm's length of Bruce. Fraser waited, tensed, ready to act if necessary, but willing to see what Ray had in mind.

"That's a pretty big threat, there, Bruise," Ray drawled. "How you gonna do that?"

Bruce laughed. It wasn't a pretty sound. "You're kidding, right? You're living with a student. A guy. You're doing a male student. You're fucked."

The sneer on his face doubled in his voice. "You're breaking all the rules, man. All the rules."

"And you're not, with that crap you're selling?" Ray's voice matched Bruce's. To Fraser, they sounded like snarling dogs.

Bruce backed up a step, then stopped, as if he hadn't meant to show that minor weakness. "Hey, I'm covered. I got people behind me. Who you got?" He pointed to Fraser. "Him? Pretty boy? You sure he's worth it?"

That seemed to try the last of Ray's patience, because he snapped, one hand going out, taking Bruce's arm and twisting it behind his back. "I got people, too, you little shit. I got the whole Chicago P.D. behind me," he growled into Bruce's ear, pulling his badge out of his pocket and shoving it in Bruce's face. "And you just made what sounds an awful lot like a confession to me." He turned to Fraser. "That sound like a confession to you?".

"Well, technically, Ray --"

"Fraser."

"Yes, it did sound something like a confession," he said.

To Fraser's surprise, Bruce laughed in Ray's face. "A cop? You're a cop. Oh, now that's funny. No, I guess you're not worried about losing your teaching position, are you? That's nothing on the shit they'll shower on you if your precious Chicago PD finds out you're a fag."

"Don't think I need to worry about that," Ray said, turning Bruce against the wall and holding his hands tight behind his back while Fraser handed him the handcuffs he'd left sitting in a crystal bowl on the mantel.

"How come? What makes you think I won't scream it from the rooftops?" Bruce said. Fraser felt a moment's flickering admiration for the young man's poise under duress.

"Well, for one thing, you're going to need all the character witnesses you can get, especially if there's a chance we might toss you back in return for some bigger fish," Ray said calmly. "For another, who you think they're gonna believe? The two-bit hood? Or the Mountie?"

Bruce deflated a little, sagging in Ray's grip. "Mountie?" he muttered.

"Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," Fraser said, refraining from putting his hand out given Bruce's current hand-cuffed predicament.

"Well, fuck," was Bruce's only response.

"Case closed."

Usually, he loved saying those words. Not tonight. Might as well have just said, 'Thanks for your help, Fraser, have a nice life.'

Ray closed the door, shutting out the sight of the blue-and-white with Bruce slumped in the backseat.

Case closed. Welsh would be so proud. Ray'd get to go back to his dumb little life, and Fraser...Fraser'd get to go back to his. He turned and went back into the study. Fraser was standing in the middle of the room with his hands in his jeans pockets. Jesus, he looked good.

Fraser rocked once on his bare feet, and said, "Good work, Ray. I think Bruce will be quite helpful once he loses the chip on his shoulder."

Ray snorted. "Which should be right about the time he spends his second night in jail."

Fraser didn't smile, but he nodded. "A harsh lesson, perhaps, but a necessary one."

"Yeah. And hey, we beat the deadline by a whole week. Cool beans."

He wondered if Fraser could hear the hollowness of the victory in his voice. Fraser started to say something, hesitated, then cleared his throat.

"What?"

"Ray, you should know that I wouldn't lie...about us...if asked. I couldn't do that. It would never be a case of my word against his."

No shit. He knew that. Fraser knew that. But with any luck, Bruce didn't know it. Still, it was just the latest example of why it was good that Fraser'd be headed home. It was for the best. Really, it was.

He wondered how long he'd be telling himself that, and how much longer than that it would take before he believed it.

He walked back to his chair, stacking the unmarked blue books in one pile, the marked ones in another, then wondered why he'd bothered. They'd been living out some Joe College sandbox daydream, but everything Bruise had said was true, even if he'd gotten some of the parameters wrong. Didn't matter how well they got along -- where the hell would they live? And how?

"Yeah, I know. Probably just as well we're all done here."

Fraser swiveled towards him, his eyes intense. "Did what he said bother you that much?"

"He had a point." Did he ever. When it took a punk like that to open Ray Kowalski's eyes wide to the world, something was seriously screwed up.

"You wouldn't even be willing to...try?" Fraser asked. He looked funny. Pale. Ray thought that should've been his line, there. Thought he was the moony one.

"Come on, Fraser. Let's think this through. How would we ever make this work in real life? Admit it -- we've been living in some fantasy world here."

Fraser moved toward him, not letting him look away, and then he was there, his hands firm on Ray's biceps, filling up his whole field of vision, filling up his world, looking him straight in the eye.

"It's hard to predict what the future might hold, Ray, but I suppose we'd face whatever obstacles we encounter the way we always have."

"Which is?"

"Together."

He looked at Fraser. He'd been right all along. This was a terrible idea, getting choked up like this over Fraser, getting in this deep. How could he possibly watch this man walk away from him?

"Fraser, it's gonna be hard to do that if you're in Canada."

"Well, technically it's true that the Consulate is on Canadian soil, but..."

...the hell?

"What Consulate?"

"The Consulate in Chicago."

"What about it?" He felt like he'd come into a conversation that had already been going on for awhile, cuz he didn't have a clue what Fraser meant.

"That's the closest I plan to get to Canada in the foreseeable future."

"Fraser, what are you talking about?"

Fraser wasn't looking pale anymore. He looked flushed, and stubborn, and damn, Ray knew that look. That was Fraser's determined look. He'd seen it a lot in the last couple weeks, usually followed by some touch that drove him out of his mind.

He backed up. Fraser stepped forward. Man, deja vu all over again. Wasn't this where the whole crazy thing had started?

"I'm sorry, Ray," Fraser said, barreling on until Ray was backed into his habitual spot next to the mantel. "This is what I was trying to tell you earlier this evening, and I should have told you sooner, days ago, but I didn't know how you'd...and then we...and there just never seemed to be the right time..."

Amazing how much more Fraser's body told him than his mouth. Patience, Ray. Let him work his way, he'll get there. Nope, no patience. Not this time. His heart was pounding, and going way too fast. All of it, everything, too fast, and still, he felt slow himself.

"Fraser. Spit it out before I pop you one."

Fraser took a deep breath and straightened his shoulders, and he might have looked like a Mountie if he'd had his shirt tucked in and a pair of shoes on, but as it was, he just looked like the guy Ray kept waking up with.

"I've asked to be transferred, permanently, to Chicago."

Huh? What was that?

"Permanently?"

"As opposed to temporarily."

Permanently, as opposed to temporarily. That meant, shit, that meant...oh, no way. No way could he let Fraser do that...for him.

"But...but...I thought...Fraser, you can't."

"It's already done."

"Then undo it."

"Why?"

Christ, Fraser'd picked a bad time to be dense. He couldn't believe he was having to stand there and explain to Fraser why he had to go home.

"Because you belong up there. I saw your face, Fraser. That's your home."

"Home is more than the space you occupy, Ray. It's where you're happy. And I'm happy...happier...here."

Oh, no, no, he wouldn't do it. He would not give in to that scratchy feeling in his throat and that hot feeling behind his eyes, even if it wouldn't be the first time Fraser'd seen him bawl his eyes out. He didn't know what to say. Had no idea what to say to that.

Fraser was turning down wide open spaces. For him. Fraser was leaving home and coming to...him.

He still didn't know what to say, and so he just stood there, probably looking like a total idiot, and stared at Fraser, blinking back the hot stuff in his eyes, swallowing down the scratch in his throat.

Then Fraser backed up, one little hesitant step.

"Unless you don't want me to...unless I've misinterpreted--"

Whoa, okay, time to reel that bad boy back in. Just cuz it was a shock didn't mean he wasn't coming around.

"Fraser, you didn't misinterpret anything. Like you would."

He swallowed. Come on, Kowalski, spill it. If it all goes straight to hell, don't let it be because you didn't have the guts to say it out loud... "No, once I stick, I stick pretty good. You're gonna have to pry me off, and even then I won't go quietly. Got it?"

Fraser's eyes widened, and only then did Ray realize how tense he must have been. Waiting. Wondering. Only then did the sheer weight of what Fraser had been carrying make itself known.

"I think so," Fraser said.

Like he wanted to get it, but still wasn't quite...

"Don't just think so, Fraser. Be sure."

Hard. Tough. He sounded so hard and tough, even to himself, and that wasn't what he meant and it wasn't what he felt, but somehow Fraser seemed to know that because his eyes and his mouth went gentle, all gentle and glad all in a moment.

Gentle Fraser. Mussed-up hair, so shiny it looked almost oily, even though it never felt that way. Faded jeans. Bare feet. Sexy goddamn feet.

Hard to believe all that was...his. Fraser was right there, not going anywhere.

Fraser was his to take. His to keep. Really hard to believe that. Might take some convincing. Might take a little time. He shook his head. Looked like they had plenty of that now. Time. Space. Place.

And he could look at Fraser now, really look, with no rush this time, no gobble-it-up need, no God-we-can't desperation to color it, to cover it, and when all that got subtracted out of the equation, what was left was this: this beautiful Fraser, standing there, looking right back at him, looking at him like they were twisting up the sheets already, looking stark naked and sweaty at him, with all his clothes still on.

Couldn't look at that and not touch, not start to take, not try to keep, so he moved a little closer, and Fraser met him halfway, and then there they were, together like they'd been, only better. Fraser burrowed his head into Ray's shoulder, butting against his collarbone, and his hands grabbed at Ray's back, digging in, holding on.

Yeah, looked like Fraser might do some taking, too. No argument there. No, no more arguments from his end of the deal.

"You're really staying?" He rubbed Fraser's head with his chin, blowing a strand of hair out of his mouth.

"Yes," Fraser said, his voice muffled by Ray's t-shirt.

"Okay. Okay. Good."

Fraser heaved a deep breath against his shoulder and relaxed against him, like he'd been waiting to hear that, that it was okay with Ray, that he was okay with it. With him staying. The guy was staying here, city streets, city eats, no air anywhere.

"Um, maybe we can get up there some. Like, vacation, or whatever," he offered. "Maybe go in summer next time."

He felt the smile that Fraser pressed into his shirt. "That's a fine idea, Ray."

That helped. Made the whole 'permanent' thing not sound so...permanent. Couldn't let the man just give it all up like that, not without even trying to see if the other shoe might fit. So. Okay. Looked like it was gonna turn out okay.

But one little niggle still pricked at Ray, and he found himself asking, "And what about the rest of it? The kid made some damned good points."

Fraser lifted his head, so Ray could see his face, and he shook Ray lightly by the shoulders.

"We'll...cope."

We. He had to admit it sounded good.

It even sounded...possible.

Could it really be that simple? After everything he'd gnashed his teeth over, agonizing the rights and wrongs, and ins and outs of it? Could there possibly be a lesson that simple?

The look on Fraser's face said yes. That was a good look, there, the one Fraser was wearing. It was his determined look, only there was more to it now, something warmer and...like he'd said...happier. It said they were starting something here, not ending it. It said this was just the beginning of whatever they were gonna be.

Together.

Yeah.

He loved that. Loved it.

The end.

Feedback would be very welcome at: jbonetoo@yahoo.com and mtriste@hotmail.com.