Author's Notes: Many thanks to Mia, Gear, Terri, and Linda for helping me work on this! I am blessed with wonderful, smart and sharp-eyed friends! My deep apologies to the Russian people!
Quis custodiet ipso custodes
Who guards the guards themselves?
This was not hockey. Ray put his elbows on the bar, shoved his hands into his hair, and stared dolefully up at the screen. This was not hockey. Hockey was this game you played with sticks and a puck. You skated around and tried to whack the puck toward the net, maybe even into the net—which was good, getting it into the net, they gave you points for that. Then the big sign with the score on it would change, and that would be pretty good, too. It might say something like
Oilers 4, Blackhawks 1
Oilers 4, Blackhawks 2
Oilers 4, Blackhawks 0
which was what it had said for a really goddamned long time now.
The bartender drifted his way and swiped his empty beer glass off the bar. Ray glanced at him and pointed to the tap, signaling for another.
Four-zip would probably be the final score, he should probably face that now. At this point, it would take a miracle to turn it around—-like maybe somebody could drop a piano on Bariev, who didn't seem to be capable of missing a shot, even if he were blindfolded, spun around three times, and in a different stadium entirely.
The bartender put his beer onto the bar. Ray took a sip and licked foam from his lips.
Just then, his phone rang.
Ray put down the glass, squirmed on the barstool, and worked the phone from his back jeans pocket. "Yeah, what?"
"Ray—thank God." Fraser. Fraser was somewhere noisy. Fraser should have told him he was going somewhere to watch the game, they could have maybe hooked up.
"What God, Fraser?" Ray flung his hand toward the screen, which still relentlessly said, "Oilers 4, Blackhawks 0." "There is no God. God would never allow there to be hockey this bad."
"Uh." Fraser sounded lost. "Ray, I—"
"No God I could believe in would give you three power plays and then nothing ." Ray swiped a handful of peanuts out of the bowl, and then stuffed them into his mouth. "Mmmph—did you see the end of the second quarter? It was like Losers On Ice out there—"
"Are you watching this thing or what?" Ray interrupted, taking another swig of his beer. "Or am I suffering here all by myself?"
"No, Ray, I'm not." Fraser at least had the good grace to sound sorry about it. "Um—who's playing?"
"You are. And we are. Oilers vs. Blackhawks, Fraser—four-zip, can you believe it? God works for you people, God must be Canadian, has to be, what with Bariev—"
"Ray, I—" There was a chink-chink-chink, the sounds of coins falling into the slot, and when Fraser returned, he sounded a lot more urgent. "Ray, I apologize on behalf of Canada. And I'm running out of change. So please. Listen to me. I—"
Ray suddenly sat up straight, staring at the screen, as—whoa, fuckin' Bariev slammed Polchek into the wall! Penalty! Penalty! Oh God, please, penalty! "Power play number four!" Ray yelled, still holding the phone to his mouth, "Fucking power play, Fraser, oh, God, please, let us lose with a little more fuckin' dignity—"
"Ray, I need you."
Ray's eyes were still on the screen but it was like the sound had suddenly dropped out of the universe. "What?" Ray yanked the speaker up toward his mouth. "Fraser, where are you?"
"The opera," Fraser replied. "Turandot. Ray, I need you, you have to help me—"
Ray braced one hand on the beer-soaked bar. "What you got over there? Terrorists? Killers? Mad bomber?"
"Olga," Fraser said inexplicably.
"Olga?" Sound returned in a rush, and Ray put a finger into his ear to block out the noise, bracelet falling softly against his wrist. "Fraser, did you just say Olga?"
"Olga Kassilov. Ray, she won't— I can't— Ray, I don't know what to do, she just won't stop—"
"Wait, whoa, slow down." Ray slid his ass off the barstool and turned his back to the television. "Tell me again—where are you and who the hell is Olga?"
He heard Fraser take a deep breath. "I'm at a pay phone at the Civic Opera House. Olga Kassilov is a famous Russian ballerina who defected to Canada in 1983. She's currently a guest at the Consulate, and she's requested that I be her bodyguard and escort her to a number of local cultural events—"
Ray frowned and stole a glance up at the television set. 4-1, thank you, God. "So what, the opera's bad or something?"
"The opera's fine, Ray," Fraser said tightly. "The problem is Ms. Kassilov. Her interest in me appears to transcend even the broadest notion of 'security'. Or perhaps we're simply not defining 'bodyguard' in the same way. There may, I suppose, have been a translation error—"
Translation error? It took him a second and then he got it. "Fraser—are you saying she's hitting on you?"
"Hitting on me?" Fraser sounded desperate now. "Ray, she's beating me to death. She won't get her hand out of my lap—I keep moving it, she keeps moving it back. I don't know what to do other than break both her arms—and of course I can't do that, she's a Canadian national treasure. But I can't move, I can't leave, I'm trapped here—"
"Did you tell her to stop?" Ray asked.
"Ray, I've begged her to stop, I've pleaded with her to stop. She doesn't seem to recognize that word in any language—"
"Oh boy," Ray muttered.
"—and she's had three vodka tonics. Please help me."
"Okay, all right, okay." Ray scratched his head. "What do you need me to do?"
"The opera ends at half-past eleven—can you pick us up in front of the opera house? We have a limousine waiting, but—"
"Tinted windows, right, I'm with you." Ray braced the cell phone under his chin and fumbled for his wallet. "I'll come get you, drive you guys back to the Consulate—"
The line cut in and out, and Ray listened intently as a number of coins again jangled into the slot. "Ray?" Fraser sounded nearly frantic. "Ray, are you still there?"
"I'm here, I'm here!" Ray shouted down the line.
"Please—pack a bag. I don't want to be alone with her, and to leave her alone would be a dereliction of—"
"I will be right there, Fraser," Ray assured him. He turned and tossed a number of bills onto the bar. "And I will be packing heat."
Ray parked his department-issued Chevy in front of the Civic Opera House and leaned against the hood of the car, waiting for Fraser. Thankfully, he was easy to spot, even in a crowd—he was the guy in the bright red serge fighting off the lady in the black beaded gown. Fraser's expression, when he finally saw Ray, bordered on the ecstatic. "Ray!" Fraser said, pulling Olga Kassilov toward the car. "I'm so happy to see you!"
Olga Kassilov was—well, pretty fuckin' gorgeous in a Natalie Wood-type way—but she sure didn't look happy to see him. She narrowed her eyes and looked him up and down slowly, her high pile of dark ringlets bobbing. Ray smirked at her and waved his fingers jauntily.
Fraser's hair was all messed up, and he seemed to have broken out in some kind of rash—except, no, not a rash, lipstick. Fraser had smears of bright red lipstick under his ear and on his neck. Olga Kassilov's color, perfect match.
"Ms. Kassilov," Fraser said, turning to her, "this is Detective Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department. He has most graciously consented to drive us back to the Consulate—"
Olga Kassilov pouted and pointed a blood-red fingernail down the street. "Limo." In her mouth, it sounded like leemo. "Ve take limo, no?"
"Er, no." Fraser coughed nervously. "I'm afraid that the limousine isn't quite as...safe...as I'd hoped it would be."
"I like limo," Olga purred, stroking Fraser's arm. "Ve take limo."
Fraser stiffened at her touch. "We're much safer with Detective Vecchio, I assure you. This is an official police vehicle, and it's especially secure." Olga looked confused, and so Fraser repeated, "Ray is with the local police department. Police."
Gamely, Ray fished his badge out of his jacket and showed it to her. She bent forward and stared at it, then shot him a look that could've soured cream. "Po-leece," Olga repeated softly, and then, to Ray's surprise, she suddenly hocked a great big goober onto the hood of the car. It sizzled on the hot engine.
"Oh, I like her already," Ray said to Fraser.
"Yes, I thought you would," Fraser replied, and opened the back door. "Ms. Kassilov, please, if you would kindly get into the car..."
She turned to Fraser and shot him a smile of dazzling brilliance. "Da," she said, and curled her arm around Fraser's. Fraser bent over to help her settle herself in the car—and suddenly he was stumbling, half yanked into the back seat, half on top of her. His Stetson flew off and landed on the sidewalk behind them. "You come here!" Olga declared. "Seet wit Olga!"
"No!" Fraser was trying to back out, to get his feet under him. "Nyet! Nyet! Perestavat'—"
Ray grabbed the back of Fraser's jacket and pulled hard. "C'mon, lady—let go! Play nice!"
Olga growled low her in throat, and Ray suddenly felt like he was trying to yank a chew toy out of the mouth of a pit bull—Christ, the lady was strong! He growled back, and Olga sneered at him and released Fraser, who reeled backwards, hitting his head on the doorframe as he flew out.
"Ow," Fraser said, leaning against the trunk of the car.
"You," Olga said, stabbing her finger at Ray. "I dun like."
"Non comprende Inglese, lady," Ray muttered, and slammed the door shut. He bent over, swiped the Stetson off the sidewalk, and offered it to Fraser, who was wincing and rubbing his head. "I hate the fucking Russians—it's genetic, it's biological, it's Warsaw all over again—"
"Ray, please," Fraser murmured, clutching his hat, "let's just get her back to the Consulate, all right?"
Ray nodded grimly and moved toward the driver's door. "Yeah, fine. I'm just glad this isn't my car."
"On your left, you can see the Wrigley Building," Fraser said, "and there, just ahead on your right, is the Tribune Tower—"
Ray glanced up at the rear-view mirror: Olga Kassilov was slouched in the back seat, pale arms crossed over the front of her low-cut gown, fuming. "She doesn't care, Fraser."
Fraser sighed and rubbed at his forehead. "I know," he murmured. "I just don't know what else to do." He cleared his throat and then added brightly, "And there, up on the left, is the Terra Museum of American Art, which has one of the finest collections of Andrew Wyeth in the—"
"Telik pizdoi nakrylsja," Olga muttered darkly.
"Hey!" Ray lifted his head and glared at her in the rear view mirror. "The man is trying to be nice to you, so just shut up!"
Fraser stared at him, horrified. "Ray, please don't—"
Olga sat up and skittered forward on the seat, looking interested in Ray for the first time. "Pa Russki, da?" she asked, folding her arms on the seat between them.
"Like I need to," Ray said, angrily flicking the turn signal on. "Your English is just fine, lady. Ty mne van'ku ne val'aj."
"Hah," Olga said, and slid back in her seat with a brilliant smile. "Pa Russki."
"Nyet. Polish, okay?" Ray snapped. "If you really have to know."
"Ah...Polish." Olga tilted her head and regarded him thoughtfully. "Da, da—I know a leetle Polish, ty bydlak," she said, pointing at him. "Ty masz maly hujek."
Ray slammed hard on the brakes in front of the Consulate, and whirled around, but Olga just laughed and leapt out of the car, one hand holding the skirt of her gown.
Fraser looked apologetically at him as the rear door banged shut. "Should I even ask...?"
"That woman is a fucking evil bitch, Fraser," Ray said, stabbing two fingers after her. "And she doesn't know jack shit about the size of my dick!"
"Oh, I believe you, Ray," Fraser said, and got out of the car to chase after her.
Ray parked the car, grabbed his bag out of the trunk, and walked up the steps to the Consulate. The wood-paneled front hallway was dark and quiet, so Ray went back into Fraser's office and pulled an extra blanket and a pillow off the top shelf of the closet. He figured he might as well set up camp in the reception room, where he'd stayed last time—he seemed to remember that the sofa in there was pretty okay.
He came back through the hallway toward the front of the building—and then stopped and turned around.
Fraser was sitting on the staircase behind him, head in his hands.
"You get her to go to bed?" Ray asked.
Fraser's head moved vaguely up and down. "Yes. I used you as an excuse to make a quick escape." He took a deep breath and raised his head to look at Ray—and Ray took a few steps forward, peering at him in the dim light. Even in the darkness he could make it out—more lipstick, this time on Fraser's cheek and staining one corner of his mouth.
Fraser must have seen the look on his face, because he nodded unhappily and tugged his handkerchief out of his jacket pocket—the thing was already streaked with red. Fraser wiped his face grimly, looking like he wanted to crawl out of his skin.
"Look, I mean," Ray said, feeling helpless. "Normally you guys are ahead of us on this sort of thing. Don't you have sexual harassment laws in Canada?"
"Certainly." Fraser's head dropped again and his shoulders slumped; he looked oddly defeated, sitting there, clutching his soiled handkerchief—and Ray didn't like that at all. "Difficult to implement, as you know. Particularly in a situation like this, when the genders are reversed. Difficult to explain why one is not finding the attentions of such a beautiful woman...desirable. I'd be a laughingstock. More of a laughingstock," he added, after a moment.
"Still," Ray insisted, furious on Fraser's behalf. "You shouldn't have to put up with—"
"It's only for a couple of days," Fraser murmured. "I'll manage if you—"
"It's harassment, Fraser. It's illegal, it stinks —"
"It's embarrassing." Fraser's eyes were locked on the floor at his feet. "It's mainly just embarrassing, and I can live with that. No one's ever actually died of embarrassment, Ray, despite what they say."
"She's got no right to touch you," Ray said with quiet vehemence. "She's got no right to put you in that kind of position—"
Fraser's eyes flicked up at him and then away again. "Yes, I know. They never do. But they do, and unless one is prepared to make a scene about it..." He trailed off and then gave an oddly un-Fraserish shrug. "Which I'm not. I think it's best to keep quiet about certain things, don't you?"
Fraser wasn't even looking at him, but still Ray felt the question like a loaded gun to the head. Fraser knew—Ray was sure that Fraser knew all about him, in the same quiet, perceptive way that Fraser seemed to know about everything. Not that Fraser'd ever said, or even insinuated—but it was there, sometimes, in the occasional strained look that passed between them, particularly when things got rough, or when somebody said something stupid like, "Ray, are you seeing anybody?" or "Fraser, I know the perfect girl for you." Then, sometimes, they would catch each other's eyes and look away, and Ray would start searching his desk for he didn't even know what, or Fraser would sit down and start furiously typing at a keyboard, spine stiff and fingers flying.
But this, though—this was as explicit as Fraser'd probably ever get on the subject. You know why I can't, Fraser was saying, in his own Fraser-evasive way. You of all people know why I can't make a fuss, Ray, so please, don't make this harder than it is.
Except that it was getting harder and harder to watch Fraser go through this, Fraser of all people. Benton Fraser wouldn't stand for a busboy getting slapped, but he was apparently prepared to endure all sorts of humiliation himself, the stupid bastard.
Tell him no, Ray thought, already furious with himself, already knowing he was gonna coward-out, chicken-out, say no—he's your friend, for fuck's sake! Tell him not to take it, tell him he doesn't need to take this sort of bullshit from—
"Yeah, well, maybe," Ray heard himself say.
Fraser nodded slowly and heaved himself up off the steps, as if he had expected no other answer. "I can't thank you enough for coming," he said, resting his hand on the wide wooden railing. "For staying. I'm incredibly grateful for your protection."
Ray tightened his grip on his blanket and pillow—there you go, they were back to the cover story, business as usual. "I'll ask Welsh if I can do a little reverse liaisoning this week," he said finally. "Chauffeur you guys around, keep an eye out."
Fraser looked relieved—and goddamn him, even grateful. "That would be wonderful, Ray. And perhaps Inspector Thatcher might at least revise the schedule, eliminating the venues that allow for...an excess of privacy."
"Yeah, okay," Ray muttered, looking away. "That's the beginnings of a plan, anyway. I'm gonna go crash back there," he added, taking a step back and jerking his head toward the reception room door, "so you just yell if you need me, all right?"
"Yes. Yes, Ray, thank you." Fraser nodded curtly. "Do you have everything you need?"
Ray slapped an answering drumbeat against the pillow. "Oh yeah. I'm good."
"Please make yourself at home," Fraser said, and then he turned and began to walk down the dark hallway toward his office. Ray just stood there for a moment, watching Fraser walk away with that particular stiffness that he knew enough to read as humiliation—and then he felt it like a compulsion, a thrumming pressure in his head and heart and groin. Don't leave him with this. Don't let him be alone in this.
"Fraser," Ray whispered, and Fraser stopped and turned around.
For a moment, Ray was paralyzed with fear, utterly tongue-tied. And then the fear lifted, and Ray shoved the blankets and pillows onto the reception desk and strode down the hallway toward his partner.
Fraser took a few, curious steps back toward him. "Ray? What is it?"
Ray didn't know what to say, exactly; he just got there and gripped Fraser's forearm tightly, fingers digging into the scratchy red serge. Fraser's eyebrows flew up, and he stared down at Ray's hand. And when Fraser looked up again, Ray realized that maybe he didn't need to say anything at all.
He said it anyway.
"Do it with me. Do you want to do it with me?"
Even in the darkness, Fraser's face seemed to go pale, and he instantly averted his eyes. "I'm not sure what you—"
"It's just us, here, Fraser," Ray said softly. "It's just us, okay?"
Fraser went utterly still, like a rabbit caught in a trap; he was barely breathing, totally mute and motionless. And then he let out a long breath and his shoulders seemed to relax a fraction.
"Just us," Fraser repeated, finally daring to look at him.
Ray nodded slowly, holding Fraser's eyes. "Just us, yeah."
No glance between them had ever lasted this long, and now Ray understood why—this thing between them was huge, explosive, potentially destructive. Fraser was licking the corner of his lip nervously—hell, he knew it, too. "We shouldn't," Fraser said finally.
Ray tightened his hand on Fraser's arm, because this was exactly the point. "Says them. Fuck them. Do it with me."
Fraser stared at him for what seemed like an eternity, then shook his head. "It's too dangerous."
"I know it is," Ray said softly, deliberately. "Let's do it anyway."
Another eternity stretched out between them, until Ray's clenched fingers began to ache—but this time he wasn't letting go. Finally, Fraser gave a brief, tense nod—and jerked his head in the direction of the office.
Fraser raised his hand and flicked off the light switch as he walked through the door to his office, plunging the room into darkness. Behind him, Ray stopped and blinked rapidly, trying to force his eyes to adjust, and then he pushed the door shut behind them. It closed with a soft click, and Ray squinted to look for the lock.
There was no lock.
Ray lifted his head and peered through the darkness at Fraser. "No lock?"
Fraser's mouth tightened. "No."
Angrily, Ray swiped a chair from the side of Fraser's desk and jammed it under the doorknob. "Bastards. Fuckwads—"
When Ray turned, he saw that Fraser had removed his jacket and was standing there, waiting for him, looking calm and patient in the darkness. Except that was bullshit—that strong, silent act was just Fraser's weird-ass way of showing terror, the reverse mirror opposite of Ray's own current, jittering need for fight or flight.
Shit, they had to do it, and they had to do it now—because one of them was gonna chicken out in a minute, and he wasn't entirely sure it wasn't gonna be him. So Ray closed the distance between them and made two deliberate fists in the soft, knit fabric of Fraser's undershirt. "S'okay," Ray said, looking straight into Fraser's eyes. "It's all gonna be okay, Fraser—" and then Ray leaned in for the first kiss, thinking, fuck those bastards, just fuck them—fuck them all.
And then Ray forgot about fucking anybody except Fraser in particular, because Fraser's mouth was opening under his and—hey, wow, there was some real kissing going on here, mouths melting together and tasting each other's tongues. And suddenly everything just went nuts—his hands were buried deep in Fraser's thick hair, and he was trying to get his tongue down Fraser's throat, and, lo and behold, Mr. Strong and Silent turned out to be a moaner, which Ray wouldn't have guessed in a million years. But yeah, that was Fraser all right, moaning steadily into his mouth, and Fraser's hands were—
—on his ass, yeah, okay, squeezing and kneading, and those were some good hands Fraser had there, linebacker's hands, and he seemed to know how to use them, the way he seemed to know how to do everything. Fraser was cupping his ass and tugging him forward, rhythmically grinding their cocks together—and god, that was good, that was just so mighty fucking fine.
Ray locked his arm around Fraser's neck and helped the humping along, feeling totally desperate for it. Fraser tightened his hands, picked up Ray's rhythm, and doubled it—Christ, yes, thank you kindly! Ray's cock was surging and straining and leaking and hell, he was going to come in his jeans if they kept this up.
It felt like ages since anyone had touched him—well, it was ages, and longer still since anyone had touched him who'd actually given a shit. Stella, probably—for all the hell he'd put her through, Stella was still the only one who'd ever cared about him, who'd meant it when she kissed him, who'd meant to kiss him in particular and not just the nearest warm body.
Cause that was the thing with guys—they were all pretty much bastards, with all the emotional connect of a broken radio. "Hi, hey, how are you?" and at the time he'd thought it was cool the way they'd just cut to the chase like that, say yes or no within seconds of laying eyes on you, but now he thought it was sort of sad. And it was sad, really—he was sad, they were sad, all the guys like him were sort of sad. All the guys who, for one reason or another, couldn't let go of the cover story, who told their moms and wives and girlfriends that they were just going for a drink, just going to watch the game, just gonna hang out with the boys—carefully omitting the part about doing the boys, electing not to mention the fact that sucking cock was a serious and sincere part of the night's entertainment. Getting tapped on the shoulder in this bar or that nightclub, making your split-second decision about whether he turned your crank or not, and then finding yourself in the men's room or the coat closet or in the alley or in the cab of some guy's truck.
Which was a totally different thing from this armful of warm, nice-smelling Mountie. A totally different thing than being with Fraser, who'd needed two years of friendship, a near-rape by a demented ballerina, and some serious arm twisting before he'd even given Ray the time of day.
Say what you want about Fraser—easy, he was not.
Ray suddenly ran out of air and shoved Fraser away. Gasping, they broke apart and stumbled sideways, crashing into the side of Fraser's desk. They braced themselves there for a moment and looked at each other, red-faced and panting.
Finally Ray took a deep breath. "Okay, so, like—that's good, huh?"
Fraser lifted his head and nodded slowly; his eyes had gone dark, and his perfect Mountie-hair was all messed up.
That look made Ray's cock twitch. "See, I told ya," Ray said hoarsely, "I told ya, Fraser—" and Fraser reached for him, turned him by the shoulders, and pulled him back against his chest.
"I—oh, god..." Fraser's hands moved over him, drifting down his chest, his ribs, his stomach, and settling between his legs. Fuck, Fraser was feeling him up, groping him through his jeans, rubbing the hardening length of him up and down, up and down. Ray let his head fall back against Fraser's cheek and sucked for air, because the whole world was narrowing down to his cock and Fraser's hand, the way Fraser was stroking him, driving him crazy, touching him just the way he liked to be—
Fraser eased Ray's zipper down, and slid his hand in—oh yeah, yeah, there we go. Fraser's lips touched Ray's neck just as Fraser's hand dived deep into his jeans to cup his balls. Ray had to struggle to breathe, to keep his knees locked and legs under him, because Fraser's warm hand was fondling his cock, now, caressing up and down the shaft.
Fraser's tongue skimmed his sideburn; it was hot and wet and—
"God, you're lovely," Fraser murmured against his cheek, and that was wrong, that was weird, that was just a totally ridiculous thing to say, there. Lovely? Ray couldn't think of a worse word to describe himself, and Fraser was normally pretty good with words. He would've figured it for a joke, assumed that Fraser was pulling his leg—except that wasn't his leg Fraser was pulling, and this felt nothing like a joke.
Fraser's hand glided to a stop, and just held him—a gesture of intimacy that made Ray tremble. "Ray." Fraser's lips brushed the soft skin behind his ear, and then his tongue caressed Ray's earlobe suggestively. "Ray...can I?"
A fireball of heat shot up Ray's spine; any more of this and he was going to hit total nuclear meltdown. "Oh, Fraser—yeah," Ray managed. "Please..."
Fraser let go of him, turned him, then slipped down his body to nuzzle his cock with his lips, his nose, his cheek, kissing and biting. Ray tried to restrain his hips; his body was already mutely begging for it. Fraser took Ray's cock into his hand and carefully guided it into his mouth, and Ray—shaking, gasping, near to hyperventilating—pushed forward helplessly.
Fraser bent into it, urging him on, and so Ray gave another shallow thrust, and then another, and then another, and then he was sliding in and out, deeper and deeper—and if anyone was lovely here it was Fraser, kneeling on the thin, beige carpet with his eyes closed and his mouth open. Fraser's tongue seemed to be everywhere, making him sweat and tremble—and then Fraser curled a hand around the root of him and began to move it in short, hard strokes.
That was it, double assault, and Ray felt his hips jerk into double time. He couldn't help it, he had to move, thrust, fuck, fuck, fuck—and Fraser seemed to want it, seemed downright hungry for it, was urging him on with rapid strokes of hand and tongue. Close, close, close —God, he was nearly there, he needed to come, his nipples were hard and aching, hurting where they scraped against his shirt. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon—and he was so close, except the rhythm was off, and so with a groan Ray reached down and made fists in Fraser's soft hair, yanking his head forward, fucking his face, feeling the resistance of Fraser's tongue against his—god, please, yes—
That was it, that was it, and he was coming in frantic spurts. But right behind the pleasure was a rolling aftershock of guilt—this was no casual fuck, no barfly looking for a warm body. Ray pulled back, yanked his cock out of Fraser's mouth, and awkwardly dropped to his knees. Fraser was red-faced and gasping, still swallowing, and Ray grabbed his shoulders and kissed his come-smothered mouth. He licked strands of himself from Fraser's lips, Fraser's jaw, kissed come from the corner of his mouth—and suddenly Fraser was forcing him backwards, getting on top of him, practically pinning him down to the carpet.
Fraser moaned into his mouth and started moving forcefully against him, one hand deep in Ray's hair, holding his head down for kisses. Ray was torn between struggling for control and just giving in, letting Fraser take him. And then he decided that he would just let Fraser take him, take whatever he wanted—and he relaxed, ready to soak up whatever Fraser wanted to dish out.
Fraser was hot and heavy on top of him. Ray closed his eyes and let Fraser kiss him, let Fraser stroke his face and hair. He felt Fraser's erection digging into his hip, needy and demanding—and then Fraser tightened his grip on Ray's hair and forced Ray's mouth wider, deepening the kiss with his tongue. Ray's cock gave a surprising twitch—and then Fraser's other hand gripped Ray's wrist and held it to the floor near the side of Ray's head.
Ray started to get hard again.
"Ray," Fraser muttered. He was panting hard against the side of Ray's face, thumb rubbing circles on the inside of Ray's wrist.
Ray struggled for breath. "Take your clothes off, Fraser. Take some clothes off, for God's sake..."
Fraser lifted his head; he was flushed; he was breathless; he looked great.
"I—uh. Yes." Fraser sat back, and flicked his suspenders off his shoulders—and Ray reached up, grabbed a fistful of his shirt, and pulled. Snap, snap, snap—the undershirt opened to Fraser's breastbone, and Ray trailed his fingers down the strip of exposed flesh before letting his hand fall back onto his stomach.
Fraser unselfconsciously moved his hand to his chest, fingers gliding over the same patch of exposed skin that Ray had just touched. Ray realized that Fraser was staring down at him, taking in the open V of his jeans, his rucked-up t-shirt. Slowly Ray moved his hand up his own body, pushing his t-shirt up further, and pressed a fingertip to his nipple.
Fraser started breathing faster. He'd broken out into a light sweat.
Ray'd never seen Fraser sweat before. It was kind of cool. In fact, this whole situation was kind of cool. He moved his finger slowly back and forth over his erect nipple, then trailed a line across his chest and touched the other one. He'd been doing it just to see Fraser's reaction, but abruptly he felt another twitch of pleasure in his cock; he was turning himself on.
Ray slid his hand down, over his stomach, to his cock—he was hard again, all right. He moved his fingers lightly over his filling erection, which felt unusually sensitive. Fraser was breathing raggedly now, eyes locked on Ray's slowly-stroking hand—and then Fraser was fumbling with his own pants, unzipping himself, and without really thinking about it, Ray tightened his grip on himself and sped his strokes.
"Yeah, Fraser. Yeah, Fraser, come on—" and Fraser was holding himself, touching himself, jerking himself off with his face turned to the side and his eyes closed. Ray stopped his own hand, dry-mouthed at the sight of Fraser masturbating—and suddenly Fraser opened his eyes and leaned forward over Ray, bracing himself on one outstretched arm, still jerking himself. Helplessly, Ray leaned up to kiss him, and Fraser wobbled a bit, his bracing arm faltering. Ray grabbed him and pushed him onto his back, rolling with him and coming up half on top. He reached down, shoved Fraser's hand away, and replaced it with his own. Fraser's cock felt fantastic, hot and wet and thick.
"Hurry," Fraser murmured. "Please, Ray—hurry," and Ray sped his strokes faster and faster as his palm grew slick. Fraser twisted his head away and gasped, and gasped, and Ray tightened his grip, forearm straining and aching. Fraser squeezed his eyes shut and Ray felt the splatter of wetness on his fingers, soaking them. He relaxed his grip and gently eased Fraser through his orgasm, eventually slowing his hand to a stop.
Fraser just lay there, eyes closed and panting harshly, chest rising and falling as he struggled for air. Beautiful. Lovely. Ray reached up and gently skimmed Fraser's jaw with his come-wet fingertips, and Fraser inhaled deeply and opened his eyes.
"Oh," Fraser breathed, staring up at him. "Ray..."
Ray touched two fingers to Fraser's lips. Fraser licked a line up between them, which made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. "Yeah, I know. I know. We did it—and it's good, Fraser, it's really, really—"
"—dangerous." Fraser's mouth was soft as his lips moved under Ray's fingers. "Ray. Do you know how dangerous this is?"
Ray slowly stroked his thumb over Fraser's lower lip and nodded. "Yeah, Fraser. I know. Good and dangerous."
Ray woke to the sound of the door handle jiggling. He lifted his head blearily, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand; he seemed to have been drooling on the back of Fraser's neck. Last night they'd stumbled around like zombies, keeping upright just long enough to spread Fraser's bedroll out on the floor and fall down on it, and Fraser was still totally zonked out beside him, sleeping the sleep of the finally-got-laid.
Except the goddamned doorknob was jiggling above the back of the chair, and even as Ray stared at it he heard Olga's soft, guttural voice. "Constable," Olga whispered—and she put the emphasis on the second syllable, turning it into Con-STAY-ble. "Eet's Olga—come open for me!"
Ray groaned and sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes with the heels of his hands. Come open for me—yeah, lady, good luck; it's taken me nearly two years over here. He dropped a hand on Fraser's shoulder and shook him roughly. "Fraser, wake up. It's Olga."
Fraser's blue eyes instantly flew open, and a second later he was sitting bolt upright beside Ray and staring at the closed door. On cue, the doorknob jiggled, and this time the chair beneath it bobbled.
"Ray!" Fraser looked at him with something like panic. "It's Olga."
Ray nodded grimly and ran an idle hand over his head; man, his hair must be looking something fierce. "Yeah, I know, Fraser. I told you that—" and suddenly Fraser was grabbing his hand, hauling him up off the bedroll, and pushing him into the far corner of the room.
"Hey, wait, what!" Ray whispered furiously, raising his hands to fend Fraser off. "What're you doin' to me?"
"Ray, it's Olga," Fraser repeated, glancing over his shoulder at the still shaking knob. "She can't find you here."
Ray opened his mouth to ask why—and then he stopped, and nodded, because he knew why; he knew all a-fuckin'-bout it. Fraser was right, exposure was dangerous, and doubly so for him: he wasn't just a cop, he was an undercover cop. If he was lucky, exposure could cost him his job. If he wasn't so lucky, there was Ray Vecchio's life to think about.
"Constayble Fraser!" Olga called, banging on the door. "You vill open please!"
"I—one moment, Ms. Kassilov!" Fraser called back to her. "Just give me one moment!"
Fuck, but it hurt to go back to this sort of siege mentality after last night—though some part of Ray's brain had no problem snapping back into its old track, familiar and ugly as a prisoner's cell. He swiped his shirt off the floor and wriggled it on. Fraser shoved his boots at him, and Ray took them and looked around. There didn't seem to be anyplace to hide.
"Where do you want me?" Ray whispered to Fraser.
Fraser jerked his head. "In the closet."
"That figures," Ray muttered, and opened the door.
It opened onto a large, airy room with a spectacular view of the mountains. A white-haired Mountie stood just inside, hands clasped behind his back and beaming.
Ray shut the door and turned around. "Uh, Fraser—"
Fraser was rapidly pulling up his pumpkin pants and tucking the tails of his undershirt inside. "Ray, hurry. Please..."
Ray clutched his boots to his chest and frowned nervously at the closet door. "I don't wanna go in there, Fraser. It's weird in there."
"We can talk about it later." Fraser was now fumbling nervously with his belt. "For now, please, just—"
Ray nodded grimly, steeling himself to open the door. "Yeah, okay, okay, all right—" and suddenly Fraser was beside him, one hand gripping his arm, and giving him a quick, awkward kiss. Ray leaned into it helplessly.
"I'm sorry," Fraser said softly, when they broke apart.
"Yeah, me too," Ray replied.
The chair fell over with a bang. Ray instantly stepped into the closet, and pulled the door shut behind him.
III. THE TWILIGHT ZONE
It was a pretty nice room, really. Homey, what with the wooden walls and the roaring fire and the thick carpets on the floor. Plus the moose-head—Ray thought that was a particularly nice touch.
"Hey, look, I'm sorry for barging in on your thing, here," Ray told the old Mountie guy. "Just, you know—there's this crazy ballerina, and I'm not supposed to be here, and...well, you know how it is."
"Of course, of course," the old Mountie said, nodding like he knew exactly how it was. "Sit yourself down—I've just made us some tea."
Ray suddenly noticed that there was a small table set for two—and yeah, there were two cups of tea, and a china plate piled high with sugar cookies.
"Wow, hey, that's nice," Ray said, backing away from the table, "except, you know, I really can't stay for..."
"A cup of tea will do you good," the old Mountie insisted. "Besides, it'll give us some time to talk. We should talk, son, don't you think?"
"Uh—talk?" Ray winced, then glanced uncertainly back at the closet door.
"Yes. Most definitely." The old Mountie pulled up a chair, then gestured impatiently for Ray to sit down.
Reluctantly, Ray took the other chair.
"You know, I'm a great believer in tradition," the old Mountie said in a low voice, almost confessionally. "And this sort of talk is a tradition. Now, granted, under the circumstances," the Mountie added, stirring milk into his tea with a spoon, "we'll have to bend the rules a bit, but—well," clink, clink, as he tapped the spoon against the side of the mug and set it down, "we'll uphold the letter of the law if not the spirit." The old Mountie showed him a warm smile, took a sip of his tea, and then frowned thoughtfully. "Or is it the other way around? I can never remember..."
Ray realized after a second that he was still holding his boots, and he bent over to put them on. He figured he might have to make a run for it any second, so he'd better be ready.
"I hope you don't mind if I ask you a few questions?" the old Mountie asked politely.
Ray quickly zipped the sides of his boots and lifted his head. "Not at all. Shoot."
"What's your yearly income?" the old Mountie asked him. "Before taxes, of course."
The question surprised him. "Hey, that's a bit personal, no?"
"Personal is what you just did with my son, son," the old Mountie said gravely. "Whereas income is a matter of public record in most countries."
It took Ray a second to process this, and then he leaned forward, eyes wide. "Your—Fraser's your—"
"Son, yes." Fraser's father folded his fingers neatly on the table in front of him. "So spill, son—how much do you make?"
"Forty-five, seven," Ray said numbly.
Fraser Sr. brightened. "Oh, that's very good."
"Yeah, well, they give you extra when you go undercover, sort of like hazard pay..." Ray shook his head quickly, trying to clear it; this was nuts, this was nuts, this was totally nuts. Behind him, through the door, he could hear Olga's voice, purring at Fraser—shit, what was he doing here, having a nervous breakdown, when Fraser was back there and in danger?
"So," Fraser Sr. continued, "tell me. What are your intentions toward my son, son?"
"I—uh—" There was a loud crash from Fraser's office, and instantly Ray leapt out of his chair and rushed back to the door. He pressed his ear to it, listened intently, and then dropped to his knees to peer through the keyhole. He caught a glimpse of—what was that, fur? White chiffon. Fur-trimmed white chiffon—oh, man, she'd gone after him in a negligee and heels. This was so not good.
Ray turned, still on his knees, and looked at Fraser's father, who'd stood up and was watching him curiously. "Is there any other way out of here?"
Fraser Sr. shook his head and waved his hand around the room. There was no other door.
Ray got to his feet, thought for a moment, and then quickly crossed the room to the window. "What about the window?" he asked, peering through the glass. Man, but there was a whole lot of nothing out there—just mountains and sky and snow and nothing else.
"Well, you could get out through the window, I suppose, yes," Fraser's father mused, "but I'm not sure what it would get you."
Ray raised his hands, scrubbed at his face, and then dropped them quickly. "Wait, wait—I'm doing this all wrong. This is my paranoid delusional fantasy, right? Right?" Ray stared out the window, again. "Right. So I'm betting there's a shed, somewhere. You got a shed?"
Fraser's father looked surprised. "Well, yes, there is a shed, but—"
Ray heaved the window up and—fuck, it was cold out there! He wrapped his arms around himself. "You got a coat I could use by any chance?"
Fraser Sr. pointed at the far wall; there was a parka hanging from a hook. "Be my guest."
Ray crossed the room, grabbed the parka, and thrust his arms into it. "Okay, tell me where this shed is," he said, zipping it up and pulling the hood up over his head.
"Well, it's around on the left," Fraser Sr. replied, "about fifty feet from where the cabin would be if this was really a cabin, which it isn't quite. You can't miss it."
"Okay, gotcha," Ray said. He was about to slide one leg over the sill—and then he stopped, darted back to the breakfast table, and grabbed two cookies off the plate. He stuffed one in his mouth, jammed the other in his pocket, and went back to the window. "Okay, take a left, go fifty feet from the imaginary cabin," Ray repeated, and climbed out the window. Instantly, he sank into the snow almost to his knees, thoroughly soaking the legs of his jeans and his leather boots. "Oh, shit..."
Fraser's father stuck his head out the window. "It's only water, son. There's no need for profanity."
Ray took three or four stumbling steps away from the cabin, then stopped and turned around. "Hey—thanks for the cookies, Mr. Fraser." Fraser's father modestly waved that away. "And I'll—you know, come back," Ray added. "Like, I've got all sorts of intentions toward your son, except right at the moment I gotta save him from this ballerina, so I really can't make plans."
Fraser Sr. nodded understandingly. "Well, good luck!" he said, giving Ray a jaunty salute. "Go get 'em!"
Ray returned the salute and again started stumbling through the snow. A few moments later, Fraser's father's voice rang out through the cold, Canadian air: "You're not a vegetarian, are you?"
"No!" Ray called back.
"Good, good," Fraser Sr. said and slammed the window down.
Ray trudged his way around the cabin to the left and yeah, there, fifty feet away, was the shed. Ray tried to pick up the pace except his fucking legs and feet were freezing, and this slogging through the snow really took it out of a guy. It seemed to take a year before the shed grew any closer, but then finally it was looming before him, old and weathered and looking like it might fall down at any moment. Ray reached for the latch with his freezing hand, pulled the door open—
—and stepped through the front door of the Canadian Consulate. He took a step forward, skidded, and nearly lost his balance—the fucking floor was wet—man, he was soaked and dripping water all over the fucking floor. Ray threw out his arms, got his balance, and then grimly headed down the hall toward Fraser's office.
Olga was on one side of Fraser's desk, and Fraser was tensed on the other side, still wearing only his pants and his undershirt, clearly looking to run for it. There'd already been something of a struggle, Ray could tell—the desk had been yanked out of position, and both chairs had been shoved onto the floor.
Fraser looked up, saw him standing in the doorway, and did a double-take of pure astonishment.
"All right, nothing to see here," Ray said in his best beat-cop voice, waving his hand. "Move along, lady—take off."
Olga whirled to stare at him, her long curls flying—and then she flung her arms into the air and let out a streak of Russian profanities.
Fraser just stared at him, mouth open.
Olga's dark eyes flashed fire; she stabbed a finger at Ray and shouted, "Oto'idi, a to jebnu!"
"Oh yeah?" Ray retorted. "You and what army, lady?"
"What on earth—?" Ray jerked and turned around. Inspector Thatcher was standing behind him in the hallway, staring at him all bundled up in his parka like an Eskimo, and then her eyes moved past him to take in Olga's fur-trimmed lingerie, Fraser's half-dressed state and his open-mouthed stare, and the general chaos of the room around them. "Ms. Kassilov!" Thatcher said, shoving past him. "Is something wrong? Is there a problem?"
"Nyet, nyet, no problem," Olga said sweetly, just as Ray snarled, "You bet there's a problem—"
Thatcher looked from Olga to Ray and then back to Olga. "Ms. Kassilov, I assure you, this is all highly irregular. I don't know what he's doing here, but—"
"Detective Vecchio is here at my request, sir," Fraser said; he seemed to be getting back with the program. "I made the determination that additional security was required..."
Olga glided a couple of steps forward on her high heels and pressed both hands to her chest. "Eeet was my fault. I wake up early. I stumble to ze kitchen." She threw her arms out and mimed stumbling blindly down the stairs. "I open ze wrong door." She threw her hands up, miming surprise. "I disturb ze Constayble in his sleep!—how I scream! Ze Polack comes running up ze hall!" Ray rolled his eyes. "And now here ve are—ve zhree!—like something out of Feydeau." She smiled, wrapped her fur-clad arm around Inspector Thatcher's, and looked at Fraser. "Eees so, Constayble, da?"
And you had to give the lady ten out of ten for brains—that was smart, what she did just there: she'd got Fraser's number but good.
"Yes," Fraser said slowly; and goddammit, Benton Fraser would stand up for anybody on God's Green Earth except himself. "That's...exactly right."
Olga smiled at each of them in turn and then announced: "I go dress now!" She whirled and stalked from the room, brushing past Ray in a cloud of chiffon and fur and perfume.
Damn strong perfume. Ray sneezed.
Thatcher looked from him to Fraser and back again. "Are you sure everything's all right?"
"Fine, sir," Fraser said, as Ray sneezed again. "Perfectly fine. Totally under control."
The Ice Queen gave them each a final, suspicious look and then strode off down the hall.
In an instant, Fraser had grabbed him and pulled him into the office, shutting the door behind him. "Ray. How on earth—?"
"You should have told Thatcher the truth, Fraser," Ray said.
To his surprise, Fraser suddenly looked angrier than Ray'd ever seen him. "Which truth did you have in mind, Ray?"
Ray crossed his arms over the front of his parka and stood his ground. "The truth that Olga's sexually harassing you. The truth that she can't be with you for five seconds without trying to jump your bones—"
"Oh yes, that's a wonderful idea, Ray," Fraser snapped. "'Inspector, I'd like to accuse our honored guest of sexual harassment. She came to my room in her night-clothes and made a pass at me—'"
"Well, it's the truth, isn't it?" Ray demanded. "Aren't you the one who's always so het-up about telling the truth?"
Fraser's blue eyes flooded with some emotion that looked a lot like sadness, and he looked away. Ray suddenly regretted that he'd said anything; who the hell was he to be pointing fingers at a time like this? Or at any time, really. "Maybe not the whole truth," Fraser admitted quietly, still averting his eyes. "Some truths are hard to tell, Ray..."
Ray sighed and ran a hand over his head; his hair was still cold and felt brittle. "Yeah, I know that, Fraser. I know all about it, believe me. Some truths you can't even tell to yourself, they hurt so much—and then there's the other kind, the kind you can't tell anybody because nobody'd ever believe you. Like the way you've got all of Canada in your closet—"
Fraser's eyes instantly snapped back to his. "What?"
"Canada," Ray repeated, pointing. "In your closet—what, you thought I'd miss that?"
Fraser turned, stared at the closed closet door, and then turned back to him. "You mean you were—you saw—?"
"Sure, I saw," Ray said and reached into his pocket. "Look, your father gave me a cookie."
Fraser's eyebrows flew up. "My father gave you a cookie?"
"Yeah." As an afterthought, Ray ate the cookie. "He also asked me how much money I make. I think he wants to know if I can support you in the style to which you've become accustomed—"
Fraser slowly sat down in his desk chair. "Oh my God..."
"—which I figure I can, actually. You're not accustomed to much."
Fraser put his elbows on the desk and covered his face with his hands; the back of his neck was bright pink. "Oh my dear God..."
"Hey, really, it's okay. Believe me, I get it: family's weird, family's embarrassing—" He reached out and put a reassuring hand on Fraser's shoulder, like he'd done a million times before—except this time Fraser seemed to lean into it, seemed to seek the comfort of his hands in a whole different way. That small movement—that new feeling of connection between them, of being-drawn-together-ness—made Ray feel suddenly, ridiculously happy.
"Hey," Ray repeated softly, tightening his grip on Fraser's shoulder and bending forward to stare at him—and a moment later, he was holding Fraser in his arms, one hand rhythmically rubbing the back of Fraser's tense neck.
Really, it was just like any other shadow he'd ever done, except he'd never shadowed a Mountie and a Russian ballerina before. Ray sat at the coffee bar at the Cultural Center and sipped an overpriced latte out of a paper cup, watching as Olga Kassilov graciously signed autographs for a group of rabid fans.
Fraser stood guard just behind her, keeping the fans at bay with a gentle arm or a soft word of caution. Despite himself, Ray was impressed with the number of people who gasped and ran over to Olga, clutching programs, shoes, sweatshirts—anything they could get her to sign.
Ray lifted the latte to camouflage the transmitter. "So this lady's really somebody, huh?"
Across the room, Fraser appeared to scratch his ear. "Yes. Very much so, I'm afraid."
"Guess she's used to getting her own way with everything," Ray muttered.
Fraser's lips didn't seem to move, but his voice was clear enough in Ray's ear. "Understatement."
Ray looked away, stifling a laugh. When he looked back he saw that there was another group of people crossing the lobby toward Olga Kassilov, and these people she seemed to know—she shrieked and ran toward them, arms waving wildly, hugging each of them in turn. "Who are they—dancers?" Ray asked.
Fraser looked across the room at him and nodded, once, before following Olga across the lobby. The dance fans, apparently awed by the great gathering of talent, held back, whispering and pointing.
As Fraser reached the group, Olga suddenly whirled and grabbed his arm and tugged him forward into their circle, chattering eagerly to them in Russian. They all looked at Fraser, then looked him up and down, pointedly, grinning. Fraser visibly stiffened, and through his ear piece Ray could hear him saying, "—ton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police," which appeared to send them all into gales of laughter. Olga tightly twined her arm around his, and Fraser stiffened even further.
Ray leaned forward and whispered, "Tell 'em you like boys," and across the room, Fraser's head instantly jerked toward him, eyes wide. Ray grinned. "Tell 'em you like boys, Fraser—tell them that Olga's a lying, sexually harassing demon and you wouldn't fuck her if she was the last woman on earth."
Across the room, Fraser suddenly burst out laughing and then quickly raised the back of his hand to his mouth and mimed a coughing fit. Olga let go of him and took a nervous step back, and one of the male dancers took a concerned step forward and touched Fraser's arm—which sent Fraser into a renewed fit of coughing, and made Ray blow bubbles of laughter into his latte.
Fraser's voice came to him tinnily through the ear piece. "I'm all right," he managed. "I'm fine. Really—"
"Ja see wszystko w porzadku," Ray murmured into his ear.
"Ja see wszystko w porzadku," Fraser instantly repeated, and they nodded and stepped back again, giving him room to breathe.
"Ono see wlasnie od perfumy," Ray added darkly.
"Ono see wlasnie od perfumy," Fraser added, and Olga wheeled on him and smacked him hard in the face with her open hand.
"Hah—see?" Ray declared triumphantly, as Olga and the dancers turned and strode toward the recital hall. "She knows more than a little Polish—"
Fraser glared across the room at him, rubbing his cheek.
Ray felt the smile fall off his face. "Uh—sorry, Fraser."
"Don't help me, Ray," Fraser muttered, and then hurried after her.
They got a break at lunch; Olga's dancing buddies took her to eat in a swanky restaurant down the street, and Fraser felt secure enough to keep watch with Ray from another table.
"I'm really sorry," Ray said, pulling his earphone out and stuffing it into his shirt pocket. "I didn't think she'd belt you or anything."
"Well, I can see where you'd think that, Ray." Fraser pulled his napkin out of his wineglass and smoothed it across his lap. "After all, Olga Kassilov has already proved herself to be a woman of tremendous restraint—"
Ray groaned and put his elbows on the table. "Hey, I'm sorry, I said I was sorry. Did it hurt?"
"Like hell, yes," Fraser told him. "I suspect it's a practiced move on her part. Dance can be a brutal art; there's unfortunately a long history of choreographers beating their dancers, dancers beating each other... High temperament and athleticism don't mix, I'm afraid."
"Yeah," Ray said, nodding gravely. "Good thing that opera stars are not agile."
"Very true," Fraser replied, nodding.
"So what's next after this?" Ray asked.
"Well, she's going to be supervising a rehearsal here at the hall after lunch, and tonight she attends a gala performance in her honor—"
Ray winced. "Do I gotta come to that?"
Fraser licked his lips and looked away. "We've been given a private box."
"Oh, great," Ray groaned.
"But the box seats four," Fraser added, "so you could easily sit with us. You could be my date for my date with Ms. Kassilov—"
"Your date for your date?" Ray repeated, lifting an eyebrow.
"My date for my date, yes," Fraser confirmed, and then he coughed. "I realize that it's somewhat unusual to bring a date on a date, but then again, desperate times call for desperate—"
"Your date?" Ray repeated.
Fraser stared down at the tablecloth, his forehead creased in a slight frown. "Do you mind that particular...appellation?"
"I—" Ray made himself stop and think about that for a moment. Did he mind? After a moment, he decided he didn't. "No," he replied quietly. "No, I don't mind, I just—" He stopped and glanced around at the neighboring tables. Everyone seemed to be minding their own business, but Ray leaned forward and lowered his voice again anyway. "I don't mind. Just I've never been in this situation before."
Fraser lowered his voice to match Ray's own. "I should think that this situation is quite unique, Ray."
"I don't mean that. I'm not talking about you or Olga or anything like that. I'm talking about the idea of a date. I haven't—never—" Ray stopped, bit at his lip, and searched for the right words. "I haven't ever been in a relationship like that. My experience with this kind of thing—-it hasn't been like this."
Fraser looked up at him curiously. "Oh?"
"You gotta understand..." Ray blew out a breath and then began to talk quickly, quietly. "See, I was together with Stella before I was even in high school—you know that already. But like—it was like that scotch ad, you know the one where it says about how you don't really want to be having the same haircut you had in 1978?" Fraser looked blank, and so Ray struggled to fill in the gaps. "Just—I was with her before I really knew much about who I was. And one thing led to another and suddenly I have this wife, this job..."
Fraser gave him a barely visible nod of encouragement, and Ray saw Fraser's hand move a millimeter forward, and then stop, as if Fraser wanted to reach out for him—wanted to, but couldn't.
"Then later you find out that maybe there's other things that you want, but meanwhile you've made decisions, commitments..." Ray felt the familiar gut-clench in his stomach, even now. "I didn't want to lose what I had, okay? I had some good stuff and I didn't want to lose it. So I got into this whole bad scene—lying to Stella, lying to myself. I told myself it was the kind of thing I did when I got drunk, like it would be less my fault like that. Which only meant that I was drinking a lot, going out a lot and getting drunk—you gotta understand this, Fraser: I gave Stella a hell of a hard time."
Fraser nodded again, more broadly this time. "Yes. I understand, Ray."
"I gave Stella a hell of a hard time," Ray repeated; it felt both terrible and wonderful to get this whole fucking thing off his chest. "She's got a lot of right on her side, Fraser—plus, she's been good to me, she didn't say nothing, she didn't tell anyone, and she sure could have." Ray stopped and sucked thoughtfully at his lip. "Net result, Fraser—I lost her anyway, plus I got a lot of self-loathing about this whole thing. Because I didn't gain anything, Fraser—what did I gain? Fuckin' nothing at all. What I want you to know is—that I've never done anything that you couldn't do standing up, wasted, in the back of a bar. Nothing that you could possibly call a date, do you understand?"
"Yes," Fraser said quietly.
"Nothing you could even dignify with the fucking word," Ray said with soft savagery. "So I am no role model for anything—what I am is a fucking chickenshit who put the only woman who ever loved me through hell. Which I want you to remind me of, Fraser, if you ever sense me getting high and mighty about this whole thing. I got no right to lecture you about anything. I got no moral ground here at all."
This time, Fraser shook his head. "I'm not sure I agree with that, Ray."
Ray looked away and watched a woman at a neighboring table eat her linguini. "I'm not asking you to agree, Fraser. I know it's the truth."
Fraser didn't say anything for a moment, and when he did speak, Ray wasn't expecting him to say what he said. "My own experience is the inverse of yours," Fraser said quietly, and Ray looked back at him: not in a million years had he expected Benton Fraser to talk about his own experience. "More depth, less breadth...but hardly more admirable."
"You don't have to tell me about it," Ray said quickly. "If you don't want to."
Fraser didn't reply to this; he seemed really intent on getting out whatever it was he wanted to say. "I think it's...difficult to behave admirably. I think that circumstances make it difficult to behave admirably. That's part of...that's one of the things that..." It was odd, totally weird, to hear Fraser stumble over words. "That's essentially what oppression means," he said, finally.
Now it was Ray's turn to frown and shake his head. "I don't follow you..."
"Having no options," Fraser said softly, leaning forward over the table. "Or having only a few options, all of them bad. Being forced to lie, only to be branded a liar. Needing to be secretive, and then being accused of deceit. What does admirable behavior even look like under such circumstances? The only respectable position seems to be one of self-denial—and that itself is a species of what you would call chickenshit, isn't it?"
Ray burst out laughing, but Fraser didn't laugh, didn't even crack a smile.
"Well, isn't it?" Fraser insisted. "We're poultry either way, Ray—damned if we do and damned if we don't. Unless, of course, we're prepared to throw everything else over in favor of this—risk everything else that makes us who we are. What kind of choice is that?"
"No choice," Ray replied; he'd stopped laughing, he didn't feel like laughing now. "No fuckin' choice at all."
"No," Fraser agreed bitterly. "It isn't. There's no honesty permissible in our position, that's the worst thing—"
He stopped suddenly and sat up straight; the waitress was approaching, and Ray quickly glanced down at his menu.
"Good afternoon, welcome to Tivoli's, may I take your—"
"Ravioli," Ray interrupted; it'd been the first thing he'd seen on the menu.
"—drink order?" the waitress finished; she now looked a bit nervous.
"Coffee," Ray said. "And the ravioli."
She jotted it down and turned to Fraser, who ordered a bowl of minestrone soup and asked for a glass of water.
Fraser sat there neutrally, politely, as the waitress walked away—and then leaned forward to speak the moment she was out of earshot. "I've had one lover," Fraser said quietly, and instantly Ray leaned forward over the table so that he could hear, so that Fraser could keep his voice as low as possible. "He was quite a bit older than me—at the time, I thought he was impossibly old, though he was a few years younger than I am now." Fraser stopped for a moment, apparently to gather his thoughts. "Which is just another way of saying that I was quite young at the time," Fraser continued, and now his voice was the barest murmur, barely audible, though Ray found himself tuned to every word. "If you think I'm an arrogant, pig-headed, know-it-all now," Fraser murmured wryly, "you should have met me when I was twenty, Ray. I assure you I was quite unbearable."
Ray couldn't help it; he grinned helplessly. That much he believed—Fraser at twenty must have been a total nightmare.
Fraser showed him a smile and a self-conscious shrug. "I see I won't have to belabor the point. In any case, he and I became...involved, and he...he..."
Fraser was struggling for words again, and if it'd been a half-decent world, Ray would have reached out and touched his hand. But it wasn't, and so he didn't; instead, he just waited patiently, and put on his most encouraging look.
"He...awakened certain desires in me," Fraser said finally, and Ray found himself nodding; he knew what that felt like, he had been there, even now he could see Andy Rienko, sweaty and grinning and standing half-naked over him on the mat. C'mon, Ray—whattya say—two out of three?
"At the time..." Fraser's face was deep in concentration, like he was picking his words with extra special care, "...it seemed to me that...having made me conscious of these desires, he—proved himself incapable of fulfilling them. That sounds cruel," Fraser added, frown deepening, "and I suppose it was. I think I was very cruel to him, but it didn't seem that way at the time. At the time, his concerns, his fears, seemed to me petty and insignificant. I wasn't exactly a font of empathy, Ray. I felt...mistreated, I think."
Ray nodded again, trying to project understanding—but inside, he felt worried and sort of doubtful. That Fraser had been a pain in the ass, he could believe. That Fraser might have held whoever this guy was to an impossible standard—yeah, he could believe that, too. But some part of him was sure that if Fraser'd thought he'd been mistreated, then Fraser had been mistreated. Because Fraser could be self-righteous, but he wasn't a whiner. If he was one part prig, he was maybe three parts masochist.
"In hindsight, of course," and here Fraser showed him a thin smile with no smile in it at all, "it all seems quite different. Not least because I later heard he was dishonorably discharged from the RCMP. I believe that the official reason involved excessive drinking," and again, Fraser showed him that smileless smile, "though as you so aptly point out, Ray, people do seem to drink for a staggering variety of reasons. And later, of course, I'd had more life experiences myself, and had become a little less naive—yes, Ray," and now at least there was some humor there, some something, which was an improvement, Ray thought, over that thin, bitter tone, "believe it or not, this is the new, improved, less naive me."
Ray sat up suddenly, as the waitress approached, and Fraser instantly glanced in her direction, picking up the cue. Coffee—good—plus the ravioli actually looked nice, smelled great, even though there were only four of them, which hardly seemed a meal for a still-growing boy like himself. Fraser looked down appreciatively at his soup, then thanked the waitress, who beamed at him and blushed a little.
If she passed him her number, Ray might be forced to break both her arms.
There was a loud burst of laughter from across the room, and Ray's head jerked to look—it was Olga and her fellow dancers, and they were screaming with laughter, pounding the table with their fists and generally making a spectacle of themselves. And then he noticed, with not a bit of surprise, that one of the guys at the table was holding another guy's hand.
"They're not us," Fraser said flatly. "Don't think for a moment that they are."
"Hey, I coulda been a dancer," Ray protested—and it was worth it, totally worth it, to see Fraser break out into a big ol' genuine smile like that.
"Not ballet!" Fraser was all blue eyes and irony.
"Why not ballet? I got your plee-ays, and your leaps and your Swan Lake—I coulda done the first proto-punk Swan Lake." Ray waved his fork around. "Woulda been a sensation."
"A sensation," Fraser appeared to be on the verge of tears of laughter, "is exactly what it would have been, Ray."
"Plus you were in Swan Lake, I know you were, I saw the picture," Ray said, suddenly remembering. Fraser dropped his spoon into his soup with a splash, and that was a serious breach of Mountie-type table etiquette there, except Fraser was covering his eyes with his hand and trying so hard not to laugh. "So there you go, Fraser—we're just like those guys, except for the fact that we're nothing like those guys."
Fraser snuffled silently for another moment, not meeting Ray's eyes, and then gasped weakly, "Point."
Ray smirked triumphantly, and cut into one of his ravioli with the side of his fork.
Shit, there was shrimp inside. He hated shrimp.
They sat up in the empty balcony and watched as Olga Kassilov inspected the assembled corps of dancers, barking out orders and giving them little karate chops here and there to improve their posture.
Ray rested his forearms on the edge of the balcony and stared down at the stage. "It's kind of neat, actually. She's like a general or something."
"Indeed," Fraser agreed.
Ray glanced at him over his shoulder. "Do you like ballet?"
"I don't really know," Fraser replied thoughtfully. "I've only seen one, and it was rudely interrupted."
"By what?" Ray asked.
Fraser smiled. "By me."
"Oh, yeah, right," Ray said, and turned his attention back to the dancers.
He was surprised at how much noise they made without music—it was like watching a herd of elephants go at it, even though they all looked like they weighed near to nothing. Still, though, every time they went up they came down with an earth-shattering THUMP! The whole thing was a lot more athletic than he would have imagined, and really kind of cool to watch.
Olga strode around the stage, clapping her hands sharply, her sleek, black-clad figure easy to spot among the white leotards. Again, she had her black hair piled all up on top of her head, and her face was all pale skin and huge, dark eyes—and, hey, all right, her body was pretty sensational, too, to tell the truth.
"She's actually real pretty," Ray admitted. "Olga, I mean."
"Yes," Fraser said quietly. "I noticed."
Ray kept his eyes fixed on the stage, on the thump-thumping dancers. "You ever love a woman?"
There was a long pause. "Yes."
Ray leaned forward, watched as Olga grabbed a dancer by the chin and jerked it upwards, straightening her posture by pure force. "What about the guy, did you love him?"
A longer pause still. "I don't know. I suppose I did. I don't think I loved either of them very well."
"Sounds like you tried," Ray replied softly as the dancers burst into frenzy of synchronized movement, dazzling in its intensity, filling the entire stage space. It was like watching a human fireworks display—the whirling bodies, the blurring of powerful limbs, explosive and exciting. "God knows it ain't easy..."
"I'll try harder with you." Ray jerked his head around to stare at Fraser—Fraser looked weirdly apprehensive, like he'd caught a dose of Ray's jitters. "I mean, I think I can do better," Fraser added with quiet urgency. "If that's what you're asking me."
That hadn't at all been what he'd been asking, but suddenly Ray could see where Fraser would think so. You ever love a woman? Did you love that guy? Do you think you can love me?—that would have been the next, natural question, he supposed. Except it wasn't a question he would ever have asked. It wouldn't have occurred to him to ask for those kinds of assurances—and he realized, with some shock, that he hadn't really even understood that the question of love was on the table. He was finding it hard enough to deal with the parts of this thing that he did understand—that they'd come out to each other, that they'd had sex, that sex was dangerous, that they had to weigh that danger against their desire, assess all the risks. Love was a whole other factor, something he hadn't yet considered, new to the equation—
—except, of course, that wasn't true: it had been there all the time, underlying everything. It was why he couldn't let Fraser go to bed alone, feeling dirty and humiliated after his encounter with Olga, and it was why Fraser had gone to bed with him so easily last night—hell, it was why Fraser had called him up in the first place. Because Fraser knew Ray loved him, and would come running. And he had come running...
"You're already doing fine, Fraser." Ray quirked a small smile. "You've been doing fine all along."
"So have you," Fraser replied in a low voice.
"Yeah, so have I," Ray agreed, because he thought that was pretty much true. He sat back, turned, and then reached for Fraser, gripping his arm and leaning in for a kiss. And then, mouths only inches apart, he stopped—because here was the crux of the thing, knowing Fraser, loving Fraser the way he did. "Can you live with this?" Ray whispered. "Can you live with the lying?— active lying, Fraser, not omission, not just silence like before. Cause you know that's what it's gonna take, that it's the only way. Sooner or later we're gonna have to lie something fierce, and—"
"Yes," Fraser said levelly.
Ray's eyes narrowed. "Yes, what?"
"Yes, I can live with it." There was an edge in Fraser's voice that seemed entirely new, a tone he wouldn't ever have imagined hearing from Fraser twenty-four hours ago. "What about you?"
"Me?" Ray's lips tightened into a sneer. "I'm a professional liar, Fraser—I lie for a living, I'm so good at it. If we do this thing, being with you, that will be, like, closer to the truth of me than anything else in years. It's you I'm worried about, cause you hate this, I know how you hate this—"
"There are things I hate more," Fraser said quietly.
"—and I don't want you to hate me, Fraser," Ray continued, tightening his hand on Fraser's arm, "because like you said at the restaurant, that's how oppression works. Where we have to lie and then you hate me for makin' you into a liar—"
Suddenly Fraser's hand was gripping the back of his neck, and Fraser was kissing him hungrily. Ray opened his mouth and let Fraser's tongue glide sloppily against his. They kissed for a long time, lost in the dreamy, dizzy bliss of it, and reality seemed a rude, harsh thing when they finally separated, mouths slick with each other.
"That won't happen," Fraser said, sounding utterly sure about it. "I've been down that road before and I tell you, Ray—it won't happen."
Ray took a deep breath and nodded grimly. "So all right. Okay. Count me in," he said, leaning forward to mouth the soft skin at Fraser's jaw. "Here's to lying our asses off."
"Ta-da!" Ray appeared in the doorway to Fraser's office, feeling pretty pleased with himself. He'd found a suit in his closet after all—dark blue, almost black, just the thing for the ballet—and hey, it had even been clean. The only problem with suits was that, being all one color, they made him look so fuckin' skinny, a dark line topped with a brush of blond hair.
Fraser was bent over his desk drawer, searching for something. He glanced up at Ray and smiled. "You look very nice."
"Actually, I look like a Q-tip," Ray told him, coming into the room, "but hey, I am a classy Q-tip, don'tcha think?"
"Yes," Fraser agreed; he'd found the form he wanted, and now he pushed his center drawer shut. "Make sure you give me receipts for any expenses you incur on our behalf, Ray—meals, gasoline, anything you can think of. I'll make sure you get reimbursed."
"Do my tie up for me?" Ray asked, stopping short at the side of the desk. He'd tried it twice himself, but both times it had ended up looking sort of pathetic. Fraser nodded, stood up, and reached for the ends. Ray tilted his head back and stared at the ceiling.
"Con-stay-ble." Ray jerked his head to the side, and there was Olga, this time in a gown of pure white satin. "Detective Vecchio,"—and boy, Olga really knew how to put the ecch in Vecchio. "Olga ees ready to go now."
Fraser didn't lift his eyes from Ray's tie. "Just one moment, if you please."
Olga crossed her arms and made an impatient-sounding noise. Fraser went still for a moment, and then deliberately picked apart the bow he'd just made and started again. "Wasn't straight," Fraser murmured.
Ray grinned wildly up at the ceiling. The fuckin' tie was the least of what wasn't straight around here.
Finally, Fraser hmmed his approval and took a step back. Ray lowered his chin, raised his hand, and gently touched the tie with his fingertips—it felt perfect. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," Fraser said and turned to Olga, who was slouched against the doorframe with her arms crossed and her great, kohl-lined eyes narrowed at them. "Ms. Kassilov," Fraser said politely, "I believe we're ready to go now."
Ray closed his hand around Olga's arm just as she was about to step through the heavy red velvet curtain into their private box. "Are you gonna behave yourself in there?" he asked, stepping close to her and dropping his voice to a harsh whisper. "Because he's too polite to sock you—but I am not, you understand me?"
"Sock?" Olga repeated. "Vhat das that mean—sock?" Ray grinned ferally and raised his closed fist a foot or so, then let his hand fall back to his side. Olga pursed her lips and shot him a look of pure challenge. "Hmmph. Vhat ees eet you say—you and vhat hhaarmy?"
Ray leaned in and whispered in her ear. "Just me. No army."
"You jest try eet, Mr. Polack. I vill toss your skinny ass right over the balcony."
The red velvet curtain parted and Fraser stuck his head through. "The box is secure, Ms. Kassilov. If you'd allow me to escort you to your seat?"
Olga shot Ray a last look of defiance and then stepped through, taking Fraser's arm. The booth was fairly spacious, and sat four; there were two seats in front, and two seats behind, the latter raised slightly higher. Fraser escorted Olga to one of the two front seats, and settled himself next to her. Ray took the seat immediately behind him, which was good really—it gave him a good view of both the stage and of Olga and Fraser.
The lights in the recital hall flickered, and then darkened completely. In the pit below them, a white spotlight picked out the conductor. The crowd clapped enthusiastically, and Ray doggedly put his hands together. The conductor then introduced himself—his name was Boris Roshinko, (more Russians, Ray thought grimly; the place was just crawling with them)—and then threw an arm out toward their box and announced that this performance was respectfully dedicated to that great artist of the dance, Olga Kassilov!
The spotlight swung around to illuminate their booth and for a second, Ray was blinded by the glare. And then Olga was standing up, both arms raised, waving to the cheering crowd like visiting royalty. Which Ray supposed she was, in a way.
Finally the spotlight swung back to the stage, the orchestra started up, and the huge red curtain trundled open. The first piece on the program started and Ray found himself utterly entranced. What he'd seen this afternoon paled in comparison to this, to the lights, the costumes, the perfect fluidity of movement, bodies moving with grace beyond imagination. He'd expected something classical and sort of fruity—Swan Lake or the Nutcracker, his own cliched idea of what ballet was. But this was somehow more modern, more edgy—and, to his surprise, it was sexy as all fuck-out.
He leaned forward in the darkness, and put his mouth to Fraser's ear. "Fraser," Ray whispered, "this is amazing, are you seeing this?"
To his surprise, it was Olga who answered him, turning to show him a smile. "One of your people," she said, sort of dreamily. "Jerome Robbins. Ees beautiful, no?"
"Yeah," Ray said vaguely, eyes glued to the stage. "Yeah, it is."
The second piece in the program was very modern; dancers all got out all in black like giant spiders, scrabbling across the stage on crooked arms and legs. The lead ballerina from the last piece finally emerged out of a cloud of black gauze—Ray figured she was supposed to be the black widow or something, because she seemed to be having sex with the other dancers and then killing them. Very neat.
During the third piece, something much more recognizable as ballet, point shoes and tutus and everything, Ray felt the curtain flutter behind him, and a young woman slipped into the booth. Ray glanced at her, and then touched Fraser's shoulder; Fraser's head turned around, and then a moment later Olga also turned to look. "Martina!" she whispered, and rose to her feet, extending her hand. "Eees so wonderful to—"
In hindsight, Ray blamed the ballet—he'd been totally engrossed, forgetting that he wasn't there to enjoy himself. So it was Fraser who reached out and seized the knife from Martina's hand, Fraser who leapt, with his own distinctive grace, over the seat to grab her wrist and yank it hard up behind her back. Martina let out a soft, stifled-sounding shriek, and Olga gasped, one hand flying to press against her heart.
"Suka ty zlo'ebuchaya!" Martina spat. "Suka! Suka!" and then Fraser pulled her out of the booth, and she was gone.
Olga looked woozy, and Ray instinctively put a hand on her waist to steady her. "You all right?"
Olga nodded quickly. "Da, da—ees fine."
"You know her?" Ray asked. "What's her name—Martina what?"
Her long fingernails suddenly clutched at his arm and dug in. "You not arrest her, no?"
"Me arrest her yes," Ray said firmly.
Olga started shaking her head wildly. "Please, no, no, nyet, dun't—"
"Olga, she attacked you—"
"Nyet, nyet, she's jest—vhat do you say?—a child, une bebe, eet means nothing." Olga gripped his arms tightly and stared into his face, eyes pleading. "She vould never hurt Olga—"
"She sure seemed like she wanted to hurt Olga," Ray said doubtfully.
"Nyet, nyet—please, find them, stop him, make him let her go!"
Ray hesitated for a moment, and then sighed and nodded. "All right—if you won't press charges then you won't press charges. I'll go find them, okay?"
Olga seemed to go weak with relief, and sank down into her chair.
He found Martina in the lobby surrounded by Fraser and five members of the recital hall's security personnel. Fraser watched his approach with anticipation, but Ray just shook his head slowly as he loped across the lobby toward them. "Let her go," he said, fishing his badge out of his jacket pocket and showing it to the security guards. "Just see her off the premises—Ms. Kassilov doesn't want to press charges."
Fraser frowned. "But—"
"I know, I told her," Ray interrupted. "She doesn't want to press charges."
At this, Martina burst out crying and covered her face with her hands. Ray had a moment of almost feeling sorry for her—and maybe Olga was right, maybe they didn't want to be arresting this girl after all.
"Make sure she leaves," Ray told the security guards, and then he grabbed Fraser's arm and drew him aside. "We'd better get back up there. Olga's alone, and maybe she needs extra security after all."
Olga didn't seem to want extra security—what Olga wanted was a drink, and Ray thought she looked like she could use one. So they took her out to the empty bar behind the mezzanine and watched as she knocked back three straight shots of vodka like a pro. Ray was very impressed.
"Like my own child, she vas to me that one," Olga said, slamming the third shot glass hard against the bar. "I start to train her as a leetle girl, back in Leningrad. Then, I get the chance to defect to the Vest, and so I go!" Olga threw her arms up into the air and waved them wildly to mime rapid fleeing. "Martina I leave behind! But vhat could I do?" she added, giving them a pleading look. "Vhat choice do I haf? I cannot take a leetle girl vis me! I am lucky to escape alive myself, c'est tout!"
Ray nodded grimly, reached for the bottle of cold vodka, and poured Olga another shot. She downed it and then shot him a look of immense gratitude.
"Should we return to the hall?" Fraser asked her, and his voice was kind. "Or do you wish to go back to the Consulate?"
Olga was staring moodily down at the shot glass, and now she shrugged. "Eet dun't matter, Constayble. Stay...go...feh."
They took her back to the Consulate.
Fraser and Ray watched as Olga disappeared tiredly up the stairs, one hand trailing along the broad wood banister. "That's rough for her," Ray said, yanking at his tie, undoing the knot. It slipped off, and he shoved it into his pocket.
"Yes," Fraser said, staring up after her. "I think it is."
They turned and began to walk down the hall to Fraser's office. "Still," Ray added, "she's a pretty tough lady."
Fraser smiled at him. "Indeed," he said, pushing the door closed behind them. "You're lucky she didn't throw you over the balcony, Ray—"
Ray grinned and pointed a finger at him. "You heard that, huh?"
"Yes. I heard." Fraser took off his hat, then pulled his lanyard up over his head.
"Thing is, she probably could've too," Ray said, taking off his suit jacket. "That little lady's all muscle, where I'm pretty much skin and bones—"
Fraser's fingers fumbled with the buttons and straps on his jacket. "Oh, I think you're rather a bit more than that, Ray."
Ray raised his head, crossed his arms, and showed Fraser his most seductive grin. "Oh yeah? You think so?"
Fraser pulled the jacket off his shoulders, nodding firmly. "Yes, Ray." He dropped his jacket onto a chair, took Ray's shoulders in his hands, and pushed him back against the desk. "Yes, I do."
Ray just leaned there, edge of the desk hard against his ass, and stared into Fraser's face, enjoying the feel of Fraser's hands on him. "You really think I'm lovely?" he asked, feeling his seductive grin going all big and goofy.
"Yes." Fraser touched a fingertip to Ray's cheek. "I think you're gorgeous."
Ray blew hot laughter into Fraser's face and shouted, "You're blind! You're completely and totally blind!" But Fraser's hands were on his waist, and Fraser's mouth was on his neck and gently sucking. "I look like Bill the Cat, I'm a fuckin' freak—"
Fraser's hands slipped down and cupped his ass again, and this time Fraser stroked two fingers down between his buttocks, making him shiver. "Do it with me, Ray."
"Yeah. Yes," Ray said instantly, "but just I remind you about what I said before, how I never did anything you couldn't do standing up and wasted and—"
"—in the back of a bar, yes, I remember," Fraser murmured, and then his mouth found Ray's, and all was warm and wet and wonderful for a while. Fraser licked Ray's lower lip as he pulled away, and said: "So do it to me, Ray. I want it; it's wonderful, you'll see."
Ray felt his heart jackhammer into triple time. "Are you serious?"
"Yes." Fraser looked serious; Fraser sounded serious; Fraser was seriously playing with his hair, and wow, how wild was that? "Very much so."
Everything went a bit blurry, and when Ray came back to himself he realized that he'd somehow managed to get Fraser half out of his clothes and shoved back on the desk. Ray lifted his head, gasping, and looked down at Fraser—jeez, Fraser looked totally molested down there, hair all messed up, neck and chest all covered with red, sucking kisses.
Fraser looked—god, totally fuckable—and Ray felt lightheaded and realized that this, yeah, was the idea that had blindsided him in the first place.
Do it to me, Ray. I want it; it's wonderful—and that was an engraved invitation and a half if Ray'd ever heard one. Fraser wanted him; Fraser wanted to be fucked by him—and if there was ever anyone, anywhere, ever that Ray wanted to fuck it was this particular man right here all sprawled out beneath him. His dick was aching at the thought, and the rest of him was already anticipating the reciprocation, getting Fraser to fuck him right back. It's wonderful, you'll see, and that was a promise, wasn't it? Cause it sure sounded like a promise—except not here, they wouldn't do it here, they'd go somewhere with a bed, a big bed, where it could be slow and great and—
The door burst open and banged into the opposite wall. Ray lifted his head and boggled.
It was Olga! fucking Olga! standing there in her fur-trimmed negligee. And him with his shirt open and his pants down and sprawled all over Fraser, who was lying there, breathless and moaning and waiting to get fucked.
"Uh," Ray said stupidly—
—and suddenly Olga was grabbing him, yanking him off Fraser and pulling him around the desk. And shit, Fraser was right, he had been lucky that Olga hadn't thrown him off the fucking balcony—because the bitch was strong and damn if she didn't fight dirty. Olga made a fist in his hair and pulled hard, bringing tears of pain to his eyes, forcing him down to his knees.
"Ray?" Fraser pushed himself up dizzily and stared at them. "Ray?!"
"Shhh!" Olga hissed, and then she was crouched next to Ray and shoving him under the desk.
"I—owwww!" Ray moaned, and Olga shoved the heel of her palm into his mouth.
"Shhh!" Olga wedged herself in beside him, and above them Ray heard Fraser slide off the desk and zip up his pants, and—
"Constable Fraser!" Holy fuck, the Ice Queen! Ray shot a terrified look at Olga, who nodded rapidly, still pressing her hand to his lips. "How dare you not report to me when our honored guest is attacked with a knife? Do I have to hear about such things on the eleven o'clock news? If you'd be so kind as to remember, I am still in charge here! This is my Consulate, Fraser, and your authority here is entirely contingent on your keeping me abreast of important—what on earth is the matter with your chest?"
"Uh—it's a rash, sir," Fraser said, and Ray and Olga instantly both looked up at the desk top overhead; they could hear Fraser hurriedly putting on his shirt. "I find that I'm highly allergic to...ballet."
Lie Number One, Ray thought with something like terror, something like elation.
"Where's Ms. Kassilov?" Inspector Thatcher demanded.
"Um...she was tired, sir, she went up to bed about an hour ago..." Only a half-lie, this; Olga had, of course, gone up to bed about an hour ago, though Fraser was conveniently neglecting the part about her hiding under the desk right behind him.
"And Detective Vecchio?"
There was nothing—total silence—from above them; Fraser was apparently stymied by the question. Ray stared at Olga, and Olga stared back at him, shook her head, and shrugged.
"Constable," Inspector Thatcher repeated patiently. "Where is Detective Vecchio?"
"I—I don't know, sir," and that was Lie Number Two.
"You don't know," the Ice Queen repeated.
"Did he go home?"
"Not to my knowledge, sir, no."
"Then he's still here."
"Is that his jacket?" Ray exchanged another anxious glance with Olga; shit, damn, they'd forgotten his jacket.
"It would appear so, yes."
"So he's here."
"As you say, sir, yes."
"So where is he?" Thatcher sounded like she was losing it.
"I couldn't say for sure, sir."
"Take. Your. Best. Guess."
"I wouldn't like to speculate."
Thatcher's voice had a definite edge to it now. "Speculate, Fraser."
"I suppose he might be with Ms. Kassilov," and that was better than a lie, that was a misleading truth. Ray widened his eyes at Olga. She stared back at him and then pursed her lush lips in a kissy-face. "They are, of course, adults, sir, and what they do is their own business."
"That is...that is disgusting, Fraser. I will not have such goings on in the Consulate, do you understand me?"
"Yes, sir," Fraser replied briskly. "Should I inform Ms. Kassilov?"
"I, uh—no." Inspector Thatcher sounded lost for the first time. "She's our guest and...it's Detective Vecchio who I'd like to have a word with—"
"Might I remind you, sir, that Detective Vecchio is currently off-duty? And that he's here in the Consulate upon my invitation...and presumably the invitation of Ms. Kassilov?"
This time it was Thatcher who went silent. It didn't take her long to recover, though. "I want a full report now, Fraser. In my office. I want to know what happened at the performance, I want to know about the woman with the knife, I want to know why she isn't currently in custody—"
"Yes, sir. Certainly, sir. Right now..." and Fraser pulled the office door shut as he followed her out.
Olga removed her hand from Ray's mouth and Ray blew out a long sigh of relief. "Jeez, you saved our bacon, lady."
Olga modestly waved that away with a toss of her fur-clad wrist. "Eees nothing." She folded her arms over her bent knees and peered at him intensely with her huge, dark eyes.
Olga's next words surprised him. "Me, I am forty-four and a half, you know?" she said, resting her chin on her folded arms and looking at him expectantly.
It took Ray a second to realize what he was supposed to say. "I—uh—well, you look great." It was true, too—even close up, Olga Kassilov was a staggeringly beautiful woman.
Olga smiled faintly and tilted her head to one side in acknowledgment. "I admit only to thirty-five."
"You don't look a day over thirty-two," Ray told her.
Olga looked immeasurably pleased. "You are too kind."
"I'm thirty-eight," Ray confessed; he wondered if this was some sort of Russian custom, to confess your age when in adversity. "Fraser's about the same, I think, give or take a year. I'm not sure, I've never asked him."
At the sound of Fraser's name Olga grimaced and crossed her arms over her chest. "Thees ees my punt exactly," she said, and it took Ray a second to make sense of that. Punt? Point, that was her point—right, okay, with you. "Constayble Fraser. Ve haf a saying een Russia, perhaps you know eet? Kazhdy drochit kak on khochet."
Ray didn't know it, but all those kha sounds instantly put his mind on the right, dirty track. He frowned, trying to frame it in English. "Everyone...fucks the way they like?" he ventured finally.
Olga laughed and clapped her hands. "Da—very good, da! Everyone fucks as they like!"
Ray laughed bemusedly. "Hey, I admire the sentiment, but—"
"Vhy does he not jest tell me zhat he fucks you?" Olga demanded. "Make everyzhing simple, no? Bat no, he has to give Olga a complex." Olga raised her fur-trimmed hands and pushed her black ringlets away from her face. "Olga thinks—she ees old! She ees—as you say—past it! She has lost the sex appeal!"
"No, no..." Ray protested, reaching out to take Olga's hand.
"Da, da!" Olga insisted. "Forty-four and a half! No spring chicken, me!"
"No, you are a spring chicken. You are the springiest of chickens—"
Olga leaned forward worriedly, and patted the underside of her chin with the back of her hand. "Maybe time for a facelift, no?"
Ray smiled ruefully and shook his head. "No, Olga," he said, rubbing her other hand between his. "Just leave it alone."
"At the wery leest I need spectackles. Two days eet takes me to see, but finally, vhen the Constayble does up your cravat..." She pointed a finger at Ray's now-bare throat, then struck her forehead with the heel of her hand. "Blind! Stupid!" She snorted, shook her head as if utterly frustrated with herself, and then squirmed to get up.
Ray changed his grip on her hand and helped her to her feet. "What should we do? Should we go save Fraser or—?"
Olga grabbed his left arm, pulled it up, checked the time on his watch. "Eees only tventy past meednight," she mused, letting his arm fall. "Fuck it—come on, ve get the Constayble, the night ees still young!"
Okay, so somebody'd done something to his spine, replaced it with something real boingy, because Ray was having trouble not sliding out of his chair. Fuckin' all his life he'd lived in Chicago, and yet somehow he'd missed ever finding this place with its wall-length glass refrigerator and its fourteen thousand different kinds of vodka.
He blinked and slid down again in his chair—and then felt an arm come around him, lodge under his armpits, and haul him back up again.
"...can see..." Fraser said from somewhere far away, like Mars maybe, "...I'll be driving us home..."
Ray put his face down on the table—the marble surface was nice and cold against his cheek.
"...ees too skinny..." Olga said, disapprovingly, from somewhere like Jupiter, and then she and Fraser resumed their conversation, talking about cold and snow and what it was like to abandon everything to go and live in another culture where everything was totally different. Feeling like an outsider, a weirdo, a freak—and it was funny, but he'd lived his whole life in Chicago, and still he felt like a freak, so maybe it didn't have anything to do with where you were living, that feeling. He wanted to maybe throw that idea into the pot, except somebody had wrapped his head in concrete when he wasn't looking. He also wanted to tell them that he thought they were pretty damn lucky actually, because privately he thought it might be nice to just chuck everything and go somewhere else. He wanted to tell them that deep down he was maybe a bit jealous, because they'd each of them done something pretty fucking adventurous, had set off bravely into a new world. In that way, neither of them were chickenshit, not like he was. He was the real poultry here, still living less than fifteen miles from where he'd grown up, still trapped in a life where too many of the edges bit and pinched. Even his parents, his fucking parents, had piled into their Winnebago and gone west. Would he ever get his chance? He was getting old now, and he despaired of it.
"...een trouble?..." Olga was saying.
"...fixed...fairly well, Olga...kindly..." Fraser's hand landed on his back, rubbed a little, pulled away. "...home, I suppose..."
"...een your office?..."
"...burned down...performance arsonist..."
Arms around him again, but from behind now, and he gathered the strength to lift his head and push himself off, away from the table. "M'okay," he said, taking several deep breaths, and really he was, he was fine, just a little loose. He braced his palms on the table and pushed himself up, and there was Fraser, looking lovely in a leather jacket and jeans, and there was Olga, looking lovely in a tight black shirt and skirt. Lovely people, lovely adventurous people: his friends. He wanted to give them each a hug.
Like they were reading his mind, they came close and hugged him—except they weren't really, they were just providing him with a little extra support as they pulled him toward the exit, through the door of The Russia House, and out on to—
—the deserted streets of the South Side. Everything seemed especially bright, especially clear: the line of streetlights stretching out into apparent infinity, the cold night air against his face. They walked to the car, and Ray watched as Fraser opened the back door and gestured Olga in. And then Fraser's hands were on him, carefully guiding him into the back seat next to her, one hand protecting his head—and it was like a weird, deja vu flashback to last night at the opera house, except he'd been trying to pull Fraser out of the back seat, and now Fraser was pushing him into the back seat, into Olga's welcoming arms.
So he let himself fall into the car beside her, then rested his head on her shoulder and closed his eyes. Dimly, he heard the car start up—it screeched unhappily as Fraser put it into the wrong gear, then made a horrible, grinding noise as Fraser fucked around with the clutch. Finally, Fraser shifted into the right gear and they lurched away from the curb.
God, he was glad this wasn't his car. Plus hey, he might just throw up.
Together, Fraser and Olga somehow wrestled him into the Consulate, and then he was standing there, with Fraser's arms around him, just inside the door. Olga touched his arm and wished him good night, and he bent down to kiss her cheek, missed, and ended up kissing her hair. And then she was moving up the hallway, climbing the stairs to the Queen's Bedroom, and Fraser was gently pulling him sideways toward the reception room sofa.
Ray turned in his arms. "Kiss me."
Fraser stared at him for a second and then did, leaning forward to brush his mouth against Ray's, and then pushing harder for more. Ray gave him more.
"You lied for me," Ray said when they broke apart. He noticed almost offhandedly that he'd buried his hands deep in Fraser's hair.
Fraser seemed to like that, seemed deeply turned on by the intimacy of it. "Yes," he said. "I told you I would."
"You love me. I feel that."
Fraser nodded slowly, holding his eyes. "Very much, yes."
"I can't wait to fuck you," Ray told him, and Fraser's lips twitched—looking at Fraser, now, looking into Fraser's eyes like this, was like seeing a whole other person, a much naughtier person. Ray grinned and added, "I can't wait for you to fuck me either."
Fraser smiled and began to push him back toward the sofa. "I have some ideas on that score, myself, Ray." Fraser lowered him onto the sofa, coaxed him to lie back, then reached down and swung his legs up, tugging off his shoes. "Wait here a moment," Fraser said, straightening up and unzipping his leather jacket. "Just relax," and Ray did relax, relaxed and waited, until Fraser returned carrying blankets and pillows.
Fraser slid a pillow under Ray's head, then unfurled a blanket and spread it out on top of him. "What about you?" Ray asked and reached out for him.
Fraser took his hand, squeezed it, then sat down on the floor beside him. "I'm right here, Ray," he said and spread out his bedroll.
Ray rolled onto his side to watch him set up camp. "I can come down there—"
Fraser looked up and shook his head. "No. You stay up there—that's why we're here and not in my office. You shouldn't be on the floor."
"You shouldn't be on the floor, either," Ray protested as Fraser took off his hiking boots. "When Olga leaves, will you come home with me?"
Fraser smiled down at his boots. "Yes, Ray."
"I have a bed," Ray explained.
Fraser's smile widened a fraction. "Yes. I know you do."
"We could sleep there. Have sex there." Ray watched Fraser get up, cross the room, and snap the lights off. The room went dark. "I'd like to live with you, Fraser," Ray told the darkness—and a moment later a Fraser-shaped shadow knelt beside the couch and grinned down at him.
"I'd like that, too."
"We'll have to lie about it," Ray reminded him.
"Of course," Fraser replied.
"I could lie and say I was getting evicted. Then I could get a new apartment, with two bedrooms. Then I could put up a flyer in the bullpen saying that I wanted a roommate. Little tear-offs at the bottom." He could see it all in his mind, like a technicolor movie. "You could go around and ask everybody whether they think it's a good idea for you to ask me about it. They'll probably tell you to go right ahead—more to see my reaction than anything else. They'll think it's funny," Ray mused. "Kowalski and the Mountie—it's a sitcom, hilarious."
"You're awfully good at this." Fraser sounded genuinely impressed.
"Like I said, it's my job. Then finally you mention it to me, somewhere nice and public, and I'll show them what they've been waiting to see—me looking all surprised and freaked out. And then I'll tell you that I have to think about it, and meanwhile I'll go around and ask all the same people if they think it's a good idea or what. And then I'll let you move in, but only on a trial basis."
"Of course," Fraser agreed. "You couldn't possibly be asked to commit to more than that."
"It'll be kind of elaborate but I think we can pull it off," Ray said thoughtfully. "We'll get by as long as we don't stop complaining about it. Or me—I'll have to do most of the complaining. You'll have to look all long-suffering and stoic but be totally tactful. Make lots of weirdly positive statements: 'I find living with Ray...really interesting.'"
Fraser burst out laughing, and the sound made Ray start laughing, too.
"'I'm learning a great deal about American culture,'" Fraser suggested.
Ray grinned up at the ceiling. "'It's turning out to be a highly educational experience—'"
"'I'm developing keen insight into the mind of American law enforcement—'"
"'I've discovered a new strain of bacteria in the fridge—'"
"'I'm writing a monograph on the cultural significance of hair gel—'"
"'I'm studying how much squalor a human being can tolerate—'"
"'I consider it a species of anthropological research—'"
"'It's like living with the Inuit. Except different,'" and then they were laughing hysterically, so much that it fucking hurt—chest, lungs, gut, everywhere.
They fell asleep in the darkness, holding hands.
Ray woke up wrapped around a lot of warm, naked Mountie, and with the crack of his ass still wet, which was by far his very favorite way of coming awake. He kissed Fraser's shoulder absently, then lay back under the layers of heavy blankets and stared up at the low beams of the ceiling, trying to gear up to move.
He didn't much feel like moving.
He was warm and comfortable and flooded with memories of last night. It had been good—the sex was almost always good—and whenever Fraser fucked him he always found himself flashing back to the first time, the night after Olga left, when Fraser'd taken him back to his apartment and spread him face-down on the bed. Even now, Ray could close his eyes and go back to that moment—the long, slow swipe of Fraser's tongue down his back, then down deep into the center of him. He'd never felt anything like that before. His experience had been much more whiz-bang—quick hand-jobs and blow-jobs, pull your pants up, bye now, seeya. This—the fucking patience it took to do this, to coax your partner open, to love him until he was weak with wanting it—was a whole new world to him. He'd gasped and sweated and fisted the sheets until he was lying in a fuckin' puddle—and then Fraser'd pushed his thighs apart and slid into him.
Ray inhaled sharply and closed his eyes. Just like last night. It had been just like last night—except now, Fraser felt freer to be rough with him, to give it to him hard if he said he wanted it hard, which mainly he did. That first night, he'd been stupidly grateful for his lack of experience, figuring he could at least give Fraser something he hadn't already given to every pathetic closet-case in Chicago. But then Fraser had fucked him, and Ray realized that he'd gotten it all backwards—he wasn't giving anything to Fraser, Fraser was giving everything to him. His patience, and his strength, and last night—god, he could still feel Fraser's hands on his hips, tight on his hips, holding his bony hips up and giving it to him but good. He'd braced himself on his arms and let his head hang—and Fraser'd made him come four different ways.
Ray shivered, and smiled, and rolled on his side to look at Fraser, who was still out of it, totally zonked, sleeping the sleep of the just-got-laid. Now Ray knew why Fraser always collapsed like that—cause the man worked for it, worked as hard as he did at everything else, and it was a hell of a thing to be on the receiving end of all that dedication, attention, and energy.
And in fact, Ray thought, raising his hand and slowly moving it down Fraser's bare back, Fraser deserved a little payback this morning. Ray smiled, rolled toward the nightstand, and carefully lubed up his fingers.
He rolled back, wrapped an arm around Fraser's chest, and pressed up tight against him. Now he was close enough to share body heat, close enough to kiss Fraser's neck, close enough to touch him with his fingers.
Patience. Patience. Fraser suddenly rewarded his patience by drawing one leg forward and shoving his ass back. Ray grinned into the nape of Fraser's neck, pushed two fingers into him, and whispered, "Good morning."
Fraser let out a long, low moan, and bore down. "Yes, indeed, Ray..."
Ray kissed his neck, then moved his lips to Fraser's ear, slowly twisting his fingers. "Sleep okay?"
"I—yes," Fraser murmured; his body was all relaxed and sleepy-warm. "I slept wonderfully. I—" Fraser exhaled another soft moan, and then began to breathe hard, chest rising and falling more rapidly.
Ray took this as his cue to speed up the action. He twisted his fingers again, then began to move them in and out. Fraser gasped and began to shudder, and Ray rubbed his chest in soothing circles. "Easy," Ray whispered, "nice and slow..." Fraser murmured his assent and let himself sink back against Ray, who kissed him and steadied him, still moving his fingers rhythmically. Fraser was now making soft, ragged noises that went straight to Ray's crotch, making him hard, making him leak, making him rock lightly against Fraser's ass.
Ray squeezed his eyes shut. Patience. Gotta be patient. Gotta be—
"God, Ray..." Fraser's voice was hoarse, his back slick with sweat. Ray opened his eyes and realized with a start that he'd been stroking Fraser's prostate with his fingertips. "Please...I can't wait...would you...?"
The urgency in Fraser's voice grabbed him, pulled him forward—and next thing he knew he was sprawled on top of Fraser's muscular back, one hand gripping Fraser's sweat-slick shoulder, the other braced against Fraser's hip. God, he was ready, he was there, he was hard and pushing in. Fraser was tight, hot, wonderful, opening up for him, taking him in.
A groan escaped him through gritted teeth, and then he was jerking his hips helplessly, humping Fraser with short, sharp strokes. Fraser wrapped his arms around his pillow and buried his face in it, but Ray could still hear his muffled moans. Man, Fraser was such a moaner, and now Ray understood why—because Fraser felt everything so fucking deeply. That was the reason, sum total, for the tight hold, the iron control. Because once Benton Fraser started feeling something, he just couldn't fucking stop.
Like now, just like now: Fraser was rocking upwards, shoving back against him, wanting it more and more and more. Ray only had a moment to prepare himself, but it was enough—he was ready when Fraser lurched upwards, braced himself on his arms, and started driving hard back against him. This was a fight for control, but Ray was ready for that, totally prepared for that.
He held on tight to Fraser's hips and let Fraser drive for a while—Fraser was fucking himself, fucking Ray, fucking both of them together. And then Ray steeled himself to take control back, which was hard because, hell, how good was this? But that's what Fraser wanted—he knew that, he was sure of that. So he leaned forward over Fraser's back, seized Fraser's arms, and pulled, yanking them out from under him, toppling Fraser face-first onto the bed. And then he was on top again, literally on top and fucking Fraser until Fraser was sobbing, which was the way this thing always ended, or mostly so anyway.
He felt the first, soft tremors of Fraser's approaching orgasm and slipped a hand underneath him, loosely taking Fraser's erection into his fist. Then it was just a matter of following Fraser's lead, tightening his fingers in sync with Fraser's ragged gasps, helping him maximize the experience. He played this right, Fraser would come his fucking brains out, and that was the goal here this morning. Payback for last night.
Ray gently slid his thumb over Fraser's smooth cockhead and down the soft crumple of foreskin, knowing this would trigger off the first wave of coming—and yeah, Fraser instantly moaned and spurted against Ray's palm, against the inside of his wrist. Dimly, Ray felt Fraser's muscles spasming erratically around him, felt his own orgasm announcing itself: whoo-hoo, hello there, remember me? He took a deep breath and tried not to think about it for just a few more seconds, because if he did, he would lose it, big time. Instead, he focused on working Fraser's cock with his hand, jerking his own cock into Fraser's ass—because there were right moves and wrong moves right here right now, and the right ones would—
—yes; the right moves would trigger another gasp, another convulsion, another quick pulse of semen against his hand. Fraser's moans had all run together into a soft, steady wail, and Ray tightened his arm around Fraser's chest and rolled sideways, pulling Fraser against him, three-quarters on top of him. This had the fortunate—or unfortunate—side effect of largely stopping the jerk of Ray's own hips, but it let him stay hard and buried deep in Fraser for a bit longer. Fraser was still coming around him, still shaking with sexual aftershocks, and Ray wrapped his arms tight around him and murmured a lot of comforting nothings, "...yeah, that's good, that's great, let it go, take your time, let it all go..."
Fraser let it all go, each part of his body seeming to have its own separate orgasm and then melting and relaxing against him: arms, legs, chest, head. And as Fraser slowly sank back in his arms, Ray's attention was drawn back to his own cock, which was pretty much the only thing that was still hard around here—hard and buried deep in that warm, pliant body. Suddenly it was all that mattered, and even under a lot of heavy post-orgasmic Mountie he couldn't help but jerk his hips upward. Now he could let himself feel everything: Fraser's body tightening around him, muscles trembling and squeezing him, the feeling of being joined together, cock to ass, cock in ass.
He pushed Fraser forward, onto his side, so that he could thrust better, because he really, really, really needed to come now. Two, three, four strokes, and then Ray looked down and caught a glimpse of himself, the top two thickest inches of himself, because the rest of him was buried deep in Fraser's pale, perfect ass. "Oh—oh god," and he didn't realize he was saying anything aloud until Fraser's fingers grasped his, laced through them, and tightened. He shuddered and groaned his way through his own orgasm holding Fraser's hand, then felt Fraser pull his palm up to his mouth and kiss it.
He woke up, sweaty and groggy, with his forehead pressed between Fraser's shoulder blades. "Fraser," Ray said, and his voice seemed to scrape out of his mouth—man, he'd gone down hard. He cleared his throat and tried again, raising his head to look over Fraser's shoulder at his face. "Fraser?"
Fraser'd gone back to sleep too, still clutching Ray's hand to his chest. Ray grinned to himself—mission accomplished—and carefully pulled his fingers out of Fraser's grasp. He kissed Fraser's bare shoulder, then lay back and stared up at the ceiling, trying to gear up to move.
He still didn't feel much like moving. But the fire was guttering low, and there were dogs to feed, tea to make, shit to do—and if he didn't do it, Fraser'd have to. Reluctantly, Ray pushed the blankets aside—and fuck, cold! cold! The cold sent him skittering out of bed, into his bathrobe, into his slippers. The bedroom was tiny, tinier still since he'd convinced Fraser that they needed a decently sized bed, since it took up all the space—but hey, that was why they called it a bedroom, right? There was maybe only two feet of maneuvering space on each side, and the ceiling was low over his head to keep the heat from escaping.
Two steps brought him to the door.
Diefenbaker was instantly underfoot on the other side. He let out a good morning bark and Ray instantly glared at him as he pulled the connecting door shut. "You wake him up, you're goin' out in the snow." Diefenbaker gave a low growl, trotted back to his food bowl, and looked up at Ray expectantly. "Yeah, I know, I know," Ray muttered, "you ain't gotta draw me a picture. Hang on a second, first things first."
First thing was getting that fire tapped up. The wood stove was built into the wall between the two rooms of the cabin, so that it could heat both. Ray opened the glass doors on the living room side, closed the damper, and swept last night's embers and ashes into the bucket. Then he built the fire back up until it was blazing, and went to go feed Diefenbaker. Finally, he put the kettle up on the kitchen stove and went back into the bedroom.
He dressed himself quickly in his dirty clothes—no point in putting on clean ones until he was clean himself—and then leaned over the bed. "Fraser, going out to feed the dogs, kettle's up, listen for it." Fraser murmured something that sounded like acknowledgment. Ray dropped a kiss on Fraser's forehead and pulled the blankets up around his neck, then went back into the living room to put on boots, sweater, parka, hat, gloves. "You comin'?" Ray asked Diefenbaker, and Diefenbaker instantly bounded across the room toward him.
Ray opened their front door, stepped out onto the porch, and looked around—mountains, sky, snow, and not a hell of a lot else, but how very fucking beautiful it all was. A new world—his brand-new world, where he could be who he wanted, do what he wanted, and not have to make any explanations to anybody. Kazhdy drochit kak on khochet.
Grinning, beating his gloved hands together to warm them, Ray went down the two wooden stairs and stepped into the snow. Instantly he sank halfway to his knees, but that was okay, he was used to it, and now he was wearing the right boots. Diefenbaker ran beside him in crazy, happy circles, barking and leaping into the air. Impulsively, Ray broke into a run and chased him around the yard. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and cold, and maybe he could get Fraser to go play hockey with him down at Macavoy's Creek—
Ray flailed, slipped, and crashed down on his ass in the snow. Diefenbaker turned back, and then trotted over to study him curiously. Ray grinned at him, waved him away, and got back on his feet—and then he laughed, looking at the crazy path of footprints leading away from the cabin. They looked like they were made by a fourteen year old, not by a forty-year-old.
Still, though, he felt like the springiest of chickens—and vhy not? He still haf the sex appeal, ees true, da?
Whistling happily, Ray turned and made for the shed.