101 Ways To End Up In A Canadian Shack:
A series of short-short stories

"The Ubiquitous Canadian Shack -- every fandom should have one." --Terri

Writers: 30

AnnaS  |   Arduinna   |   Aristide  |   Basingstoke  |  Dorinda  |  elynross
Francesca  |   Gearbox  |  Julad  |  Justine  |   Kass Rachel
Katrina  |   Kestrelsan  |   Lanning Cook  |  Laura Shapiro  |   Livia  |   Merry Lynne
Mia  |  Pares  |  Rae  |  resonant  |  Rheanna  |  shalott
Sihaya Black  |  Speranza  | Te  |  torch  |  tzikeh  | Viridian  |  Yahtzee

Fandoms: 62

Angel (AtS) Holmes/Watson (H/W) Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead
Austin Powers (AP) Horatio Hornblower (HH) The Sentinel (TS)
Batman Iron Chef Smallville (SV)
Boy Meets World (BMW) I Spy South Park (SP)
Brimstone Invisible Man (IM) Sports Night (SN)
Buffy (BTVS) Jeeves/Wooster Star Trek (ST)
Buried On Sunday (BoS) Kung Fu:The Legend Continues Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG)
Cherry Aimless/Nancy Clue (C/N) Lord of the Rings (LOTR) Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9)
Dark Is Rising (DiR) Lost Boys (LB) Star Trek:Voyager (VOY)
Dead Last (DL) The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (MFU) Stargate (SG)
Dr. Who M*A*S*H Starsky & Hutch (SH)
Due South (DS) Monty Python Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (PM)
Eroica Moonlighting (ML) The Tick
Forever Knight (FK) NSync The Usual Suspects (US)
Gundam Wing (GW) Once A Thief (OaT) Vampire Chronicles (VC)
Hannibal Pinky and The Brain (P&TB) Velvet Goldmine (VG)
Hard Core Logo (HCL) The Professionals (PROS) West Wing (WW)
Harry Potter (HP) Quantum Leap (QL) Witchblade
Hedwig and the Angry Inch Queer As Folk (QAF) X Files(XF)
Hellboy (HBoy) Ravenous Xmen 
Highlander (HL) Red Green

The Story of the Story

Authors' Notes


I Spy
Dead Last
Lost Boys



"Goddamn weather," said Jim for the twentieth time. Blair thought it funny he was complaining about the cold. Stoic Jim, with his big manly biceps and a permafrost thermometer up his ass to measure all that cool.

"It's not that cold," Blair said, flipping the flapjacks. Flat, they were. Flatjacks. Flapcakes.

"You're too drunk to notice," Jim said broodingly, arms folded, staring at the snow outside the window.

"Hey, man." Blair paused, because he had a big important sentence to follow that ejaculation. Ejaculation. Heh. "I'm an...arctic fox." Whatever the fuck that meant. He chuckled, sort of. It was a heh-heh sound, the one Jim hated. Especially after three weeks. He could tell.

Jim turned. Surveyed him. Manly biceps. Plaid. Shadow on the jawline, the jawline of taciturn tension. The shore of sorrow. Blair flirted his gaze back. Jim hated chipperness and wilderness minimalism and the deep, terrible silence of snow. Blair tried to distract him with the first on the list, so that he'd never go deeper.

They'd headed to Canada, to the shack, because Sands had escaped prison. Killed a few guards. Vowed revenge. Yadda. Simon said: get out of Dodge. "What is this," Jim had growled, "Miami Vice?" Whatever that meant.

But then came the notes, calls, dead cat, break-in, warnings in blood on the walls, bad poetry smeared in shit, and finally their neighbor, raped and sobbing.

They were the magnets for this lunatic. So they headed north, because Sands would stay behind, keep searching, get caught. Such was the theory.

"I need to get the hell out of here," Jim said. He moved abruptly, toward the door, next to which his coat hung, and Blair shoved the pan banging across the burner, off the flame, and flung himself after Jim, because that's what he did. It was the thing he did.

He grabbed Jim's arm and didn't let go, and Jim's arm pulled itself away, it might well have had a will of its own because the rest of Jim was far gone. And Blair was a fisherman holding tight to his line. The water was deep here, but he'd go down with the struggle if he had to. And it was a struggle--Jim shaking him off now, angry and absent as only he could be, and then the two of them dancing by the door, shoving and furious and grabby and desperate. And then Blair leapt into Jim chest to chest and held his shoulders and shoved him, pinned him to the door, thumped him against the planks. Hated him, drunkenly loved him, exasperated. Exasperated, kissed him. Kissed him, driven by fear.

There was a silence, where Blair tucked his head against Jim's shoulder and Jim's arms curled up, willed or unwilled. Blair could always count on him to be protective, and to succumb.

And Jim's arms came around him and he sniffed Blair's hair. His hands soothed.

"Dinner's ready," said Blair.

"Good," Jim said at last. "Sounds good."

Said at last.

--by AnnaS  (502 words)

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Ray wished the hippie kid would give a little fuckin' ground on the armrest.  Christ, his legs ached, his back hurt, and the hippie kid stunk like the Body Shop had exploded all over him.  He ventured a jerky little shove with his elbow, and the kid whipped down his headphones and shrank back.  "Sorry."

Now he felt like a prick.  "S'okay, yeah," Ray mumbled, fumbling in the seat pocket for something to read.  What to do when you crashed--well, that wasn't gonna happen, being as Fraser was 1500 miles due North.

Beside him, the kid reached into his knapsack and pulled out--hell, you had to be kidding.  "Were you there?" Ray blurted, before he realized he was going to say anything.

The hippie kid glanced down at his program--24th Annual Conference of Local Law Enforcement, embossed in gold yet--and then back up at him.  "Yeah."

"You're a cop?" The kid sighed and reached into his pocket.  Not just a cop but a detective, gold badge and everything, in a carefully worked leather case that looked Native American.

"Me too," Ray explained, squinting at the case--definitely Native, how weird was that?  The beads looked just like the ones on his dreamcatcher.

"Blair Sandburg."  Sandburg awkwardly offered a hand. "Cascade P.D."

Ray took his hand, shook it;  Sandburg had a firm grip.  "Ray Kowalski."  It took him a second to figure out what to say.  "Former Chicago P.D., now I work with the Mounties."

"Oh yeah?" Sandburg seemed interested, but Sandburg struck him as one of those guys who, like Fraser, could be interested in sand.  Sand?What kind? Tell me more... "Where?"

Ray waved that away.  "Little town, you wouldn't know it."

"Try me."

"Inuvik," Ray said, rubbing at his dry eyes.  "It's--"

"--in the Northwest Territories, really far north."  Sandburg was grinning at him now, and there was a bit of 'fuck-you' there which Ray figured he deserved.

"Yeah, that's it.  Thrill a minute," Ray muttered, "but my partner got transferred, so..."  He shrugged.  "Whatever, it was a partner thing, I don't mind so much."

Sandburg was nodding slowly, like he understood that, which no way could he understand that.  "Is your partner Canadian?"

"Yeah," Ray muttered; the guy was starting to give him the creeps, and he wished he'd never started this conversation.  "Plus he don't like cities.  Plus he's kind of a freak, so, whatever, we work in Canada now."

"Freak how?" Sandburg looked curious.

"Well, he's polite and he's got ears like a bat and he tends to lick stuff," Ray said, hoping that this would maybe creep the kid out and he'd put his headphones back on.

But Sandburg didn't look creeped out;  Sandburg looked fascinated.  "Really.  What kind of stuff?"

Great, maybe the guy had a licking thing.  "You know--electrical sockets, dogshit, mud..."

Sandburg went perfectly still, then murmured something that sounded a lot like, "Bang, Wholly Girltime,"-- and something about the way he said it made Ray shiver.

--by Speranza (504 words)

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"Are we there yet?" Chris demanded.

The skinny, freaky guy turned around.  "Shut your fucking trap or I'll gag it again."

Justin squirmed against his bound arms.  "We've been flying for hours.  Without TV."

"Or cute flight attendants," Joey added.

"I agree," Lance said scornfully.  "Getting kidnapped should be a lot more exciting than this."

"Are we there yet?" Chris demanded.

Eventually the plane landed, and the door opened to reveal... snow.  Lots of it.  Mountains of it.

"Are we there yet?"

"Not just yet, no," the Mountie said.

"I think," Lance told him, "that you were acting out of your jurisdiction."

"Nope," the skinny, freaky guy said, waving them along with his gun.  "Chicago PD.  This is an American diplomatic mission."   They climbed into a snowmobile.

"Are we there yet?"

"Actually, Ray," the Mountie said to the skinny freaky guy, "my reservations about this exercise have lessened significantly.

"Told ya," Ray said, grinning madly, chewing on a toothpick.

"Are we there yet?"

They had pulled up at a cabin.  Well, not so much a cabin as a ... shack.  A small shack.  They were frogmarched toward it, Ray behind them shouting "left-right-left-right!" until the Mountie reached the front door and asked them to please do come in.

"Now," Ray said.  "Food drops on Saturdays, don't eat all of it at once.  This is your carrier pigeon, Barney.  You only get one, so make sure you feed him.  You could try to escape, but you'll die in the snow.  Any questions?"

"Whatever the ransom is," JC said tiredly, "we'll pay it.  There's a party in LA tomorrow, and I have to be there."

The Mountie rubbed his eyebrow.  "Bathroom over here, you'll find sufficient clean towels and linen in this cupboard, and do take care to mop up water from the floor, or the wood will warp."

"Firewood out the back, first aid kit under the sink, all the water you need outside, just thaw it on the stove when you need it."

Justin stomped his foot.  "Somebody had better fucking explain what this is about!"

Ray was shoving logs of wood into the stove.  "I love good music, that's what this is about."

They froze, suddenly aware that they were dealing with a madman.  "You want us to write you a song?" JC said carefully.  "Sure, we can do that, can't we?"

They all nodded sincerely.

Ray looked at him and shook his head sadly.  "You're a bright boy, you'll figure it out."  The Mountie nodded politely, and he and Ray left, followed soon after by the sound of the snowmobile roaring off.

"Oh my god," Chris shrieked suddenly.  "Can you see a TV?  I don't see a TV!"

"There's--what? No!"  A frantic search failed to produce a television.  Or a laptop.  Or any magazines.  Or a cappucino maker.  Or even a half-tin of frozen instant coffee.  Lance sat on the floor and wiped his eyes.

"I still don't get it," JC said, turning away from the bare shelves.  He held up their three albums, and a book called No Exit.

"Oh, I can explain everything," a voice boomed, and they turned around to see another Mountie standing by the kitchen table.  "When Buck Frobisher and I were chasing Monty McGrafton down the Aldernall Pass..."

--by Julad (550 words)

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"Fraser. It's dark."

"Well, yes, Ray. It's after sunset, and the cabin, as I mentioned, has no source of artificial light."

"All right. One. It's two-thirty in the afternoon. Humans were never meant to live in places where it's dark at two-thirty in the afternoon. Being dark at two-thirty in the afternoon is an abomination in the face of --"

"Close the woodstove, if you would, Ray; the fire burns too hot with the door open. And I believe I did warn you about the psychological effects of --"

"And second, why in the hell would you build a cabin in a place that gets dark at two-thirty in the afternoon and not put in any ... oh, god."


"Oh, god. There's no lights because there's no nothing, right? Am I right? No phone, no lights, no motorcar -- Fraser, why are we even here?"

"I believe your exact words were, 'If you don't get me off the fucking snow right this minute, Fraser, I'm gonna cut you in sixty pieces and feed you to the --' "

"Did you just say 'fucking'?"

"You're not afraid of the dark, are you, Ray?"

"No, I am not afraid of the dark, I am bored in the dark. You can't do anything in the dark. I mean, you can sleep or you can just sit there and be in the dark -- what?"

"What what?"

"You're giving me a look."

"How would you know? It's dark, as you've pointed out at length."

"I don't have to see you to know you're giving me a look."

"I am not giving you a look. But I confess that I'm ... surprised at your lack of imagination."

"Well, forgive me if I don't meet your high Canadian standards. Maybe you people do Pitch-Dark Chess or Midnight Monopoly or something, but where I come from there's only two things to do in the dark, and one of 'em you sure as hell don't wanna be doing with me."

"No, it's true, you do snore rather loudly."




"Now I'm giving you a look."

"You're giving me a heart attack, is what you're giving me -- Fraser, I know you don't mean what it sounds like you mean, so maybe we should -- "


" -- start over, here, with you telling me all about Canadian Cave Charades or whatever --"


"-- because I know you don't want my brain going where it's going, and --"


"-- so you gotta give it someplace else to go or -- oh."




"Oh, Fraser."


"Lemme -- sorry, hands are cold --"


"What -- oh. Oh god. Fraser."


"Yes. I mean, no, don't stop, I -- Oh. Fuck, that's -- Fraser. Can I do that to you?"

"Yes, of course -- oh, my."

"Mm, yeah, nice and warm now -- get this off, yeah? You won't be too cold?"

"It's -- oh, yes -- it feels quite warm to me -- Ray. Can I?"

"Fuck yeah. Wait, easier if I get the buttons --"


"Oh god yeah. Mm. Yeah."

"Perhaps -- can I --"

"Oh -- oh -- Fraser! Good so good so -- "


"Oh jesus Fraser gonna -- god!"


"Oh, god, Fraser. I want -- "

"Anything. Yes."




"Yes yes yes yes -- Ray!"



"When did you say the sun comes up?"



--by resonant (539 words)

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"Yeah, hi, Donna. You said you got us a room."

"I did get you a room."

"A room implies certain...I mean, solid walls. That didn't grow out of the ground. Certain luxuries, Donna, which are not present in this ...lean-to...thing..."

"I'd actually call it a hovel," Sam supplied helpfully.

Josh gripped the cell phone so hard the plastic creaked. "Sam says it's a hovel. I think he's, he's just being generous."

"The proprietress called it a charmingly rustic cabin with views of mountains and lakes, with five-minute access to the thriving heart of Inuvik."

"Yeah, well, turns out that's five minutes by dogsled, and the thriving heart of Inuvik consists of a post office, an RCMP station, and a bait shop. But I do appreciate you taking a whole ten seconds for research before sticking us out here with the, the wolves, and the abominable snow thing, and--"

"Hey, is Toby there? I need to ask him about the--"

"Sam wants to know --"

"Is this about the speech for the Daughters of the American Revolution? Toby says he can't deal with--"

"She wants to know is it about --"

Sam leaned in. "Tell him it's about Keith Richardson, the DMCA, and a threat to our most basic freedoms."

"He can't deal with that either."

"Did you say 'a threat to our most basic'--"

"I said the whole thing, Sam!"

"Donna, I want you to call me when you've arranged transportation out of here powered by something doesn't bark. Then I want you to clean out your desk."

"That's your hyperbole voice, Joshua, you don't--"

"Just the first part, okay?" He snapped the phone closed and slumped against the door. "How do I not fire her?"

"You really should try looking on the bright side."

"It's January. There's not gonna be a bright side in this part of the world until...I dunno, July? We're going to miss our meeting with Trenton, which will probably mean war with Canada. We have no electricity, we have only a wood stove neither of us knows how to use to provide warmth and prepare sustenance..."



"We have four days of absolute safety from electronic surveillance of any kind," Sam said, and waited.

Josh blinked. He blinked again, then tilted his head. "Oh."

"Yeah," Sam said softly.

Something business-like shut itself off in Josh's brain. Something else shifted, and changed color. "I should've known something was up when they broke out the snowsuits and asked for our medical histories."

"I really think you should stand over here now, Josh."

It got him a pair of warm hands on his hips and a look from Sam that made the wood stove redundant. Josh ran a finger down one side of Sam's face; it burned. "Think this place has room service?"

Sam smiled. "Possibly an air-drop, later in the week."

"Do you think it's okay? That we do this? Now?"

"I believe that if we do this now, and something bad happens, a reasonable case could be made that it was Donna's fault."

"Oh." Josh grinned and moved his finger to Sam's mouth. "'Kay."

"Josh? I know how to use a wood stove."


"And I'll protect you from the abominable snowman, also known in some regions as the Yeti, or--"

"Now you're just posturing."

"Sasquatch, I think, but that's possibly only in--"


"Yes? I--oh." Sam shuddered pleasantly under Josh's hands. "Oh."

Hours later, in the warm, quiet dark, Josh's cell phone rang.

No one answered.

--by Merry Lynne (594 words)

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Clark looked away from the shifting glaciers and listened. Yes, there it was again. An engine. He got up and flew down from the roof.

A snowmobile was pulling up outside the Fortress gates. Clark sighed. Apparently putting the place in the middle of a snow field in Canada wasn't enough to ensure privacy. At least where some people were concerned.

Lex climbed off. "Nice little place you have here."

"What do you want?"

"Do I have to have a reason to visit?"

Clark went inside and locked the door. Lex would find a way in eventually, but maybe he'd get bored first and leave. He really wasn't in the mood.

Five minutes later, there was a gaping hole in the side of the building, Lex was inside, and he was in an even worse mood.

"You're grouchy today," Lex said. "Put me down." He poked Clark in the stomach with a funny-looking gun that faintly radiated kryptonite energy.

Clark ground his teeth but let him go. "You blew up my wall!"

Lex shrugged. "You shouldn't have locked me out."

"You weren't invited."

"But I knew that was just an oversight." Lex looked around. "Nice. The spartan look. Hey, is that Kandor?"

"Tell me what you want or get out. Or I'll take you in for trespassing."

"You can't." Lex handed him a piece of paper.

Clark read it and frowned. Apparently, Lex now owned the land the Fortress of Solitude was on.

"I'll move it," Clark said coldly, handing back the property deed.

"Not unless you want to be arrested."


"You're a squatter," Lex said. "I get to inspect anything you want to remove from the property to determine whether it might be mine."

"There was nothing here but ice and permafrost!"

"That's the law for you."

Clark stared at him with a sinking feeling. There were hundreds of dangerous artifacts lying around the Fortress. Lex had even made some of them. If he got so much as a glimpse at some of the more powerful ones--

"On the other hand," Lex said, "if you wanted to stay, we could come to an arrangement."

"Like what?" Clark said warily.

Lex smiled. "Rent."

"You want me to pay you rent?" Clark couldn't figure out what Lex was up to. "Fine. How much?"

Lex's smile widened. "I don't want money."

"I'm not going to do errands for you--"

Lex just kept smiling as he slowly peeled off his gloves.

Clark paused. "Oh."


Clark didn't say anything, stunned.

"I'll take that as a yes."

Clark blinked at him. "What--"

Lex kissed him. Very seriously.

"Oh," Clark said again, when Lex had stopped.

Lex smirked. "So--"

Clark interrupted.

Lex wobbled back after a couple of minutes. "Oh," he said, his face surprised. It was a good look for him, Clark decided.

Some time later, with Lex asleep on the bed Clark hadn't used much before, he stretched and put his arms behind his head, grinning. This could work.

--by shalott (500 words)

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"You know what we should do?" Chris said.

"Shut up," Joey said. Lance looked miserable--blue-lipped, wind-burnt and wincing whenever the makeup girl tried to pat more foundation on him. Joey fingered his pendant and wished suddenly and stupidly that he could fly Lance somewhere tropical, superman-style.

"We should fly a thousand miles to the middle of buttfuck nowhere--"

"I swear to god, Chris," Joey said evenly. "I will bury you up to your neck and leave you for the wolves to eat your head if you don't shut up."

"--to get our fucking pictures taken in the snow."

"I said I was sorry," Lance said. Which was totally unfair. It had been a stupid idea, but they'd all signed off on it, even Chris. And Joey opened his mouth to fucking say so. But then the ice was dipping under his feet. Beside him, Chris went sprawling.

"The hell?" Justin said. He helped Chris up, and glared at Bob the cameraman, like it was his fault.

Bob rolled his eyes like he'd never seen such a bunch of pussies. "Look, this is a fjord, and the surface shifts occasionally." He pointed at JC. "You, the skinny one! Smile! You're in a winter wonderland here."

"Um. Are we in danger?" Joey asked.

"Of course not. It's just--"

The ice moved again, and this time they all fell.

"Because it kind of seems like--" Joey said, and then he stopped. Lance was staring wide-eyed at something just beyond Joey's shoulder.

Oh God. Joey thought. It's a polar bear. He fingered his pendant again. Please God, please don't let it be a polar bear. Please. I'll go to church. Just please don't let it be a polar bear.

He turned around. Slowly.

It was a submarine, rising out of the ice.


"We're not going to actually shoot them, are we?" said JC. "I mean, just because we found the guns, doesn't mean we actually have to--"

"They have a nuclear submarine, Jayce," Lance explained, patiently. "That guy down there just said he was gonna hold the world hostage."

"Yeah, but we're not going to shoot them, are we?"

"What about ammunition?" Justin said, ignoring them both.

Chris shrugged. "We'll run out, of course. But you can throw, I can throw. And we have plenty of hair product on the sled."

They were hunkered down behind one of the submarine's turrets. Below them, the white-bearded crazy-man gestured wildly, looking like a demented Santa Claus. "Let's kill some Mounties!"

"What's he talking about?"

"I dunno, but we're definitely going to need reinforcements," Lance said.

Bob the cameraman glared at them. "All of you, just shut the fuck up. And someone pass me an uzi."


"I think we just saved the world," Justin said. He sounded a little awed.

Joey ripped the Superman chain off his neck, and let it fall onto the snow. "Whatever," he said. There was a cabin in his future. A warm one.

--by Mia (498 words)

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It's true, when Poison Ivy suggested Canada, Harley had been quietly doubtful-- okay, loudly doubtful-- okay, loudly whiny and argumentative. But then. Lightbulb!

Canada. No Batman. No Joker, which was usually no good but lately he was being so unreasonable, what with the contract assassins and all... He'd come around, Puddin' always did, but maybe he'd come around to find out she'd moved on. Ha! He'd plotz. What a laugh. Probably somebody's last laugh, but hey. Can't egg a window without breaking eggs.

Now Harley's nose is cold but her ears are warm, and she's jingling merrily as she prances through the snow, fuzzy hood pulled tightly around her face. Usually her bells are just decorative; can't be stealthy and jingle. But last night she sewed actual bells on and they're great. Everywhere she goes, there she is. Badabing.

Ivy didn't notice, tapping away at her solar-powered laptop, and she said no when Harley asked her to come build snowpeople. This was a working trip, not a vacation, Ivy said.


Harley got up at dawn. Put on the fur-lined costume and built two curvy snowpeople leaning against each other. Standing victoriously over a third, fallen-over snowman with a cowl and pointy ears. And a belt made out of pebbles.

The tableau is sort of blocking the pile of dead sticks they use for firewood. Ivy won't burn it unless it's already fallen off the tree, and chainsaws are definitely not kosher. Anyway, she'll kinda have to squeeze by the snowpeople every time she wants firewood.


But come on. Harley wears a skin-tight costume and tags along with a mass-murdering clown, and when you're standing next to the Joker you gotta scramble for some spotlight.

Not even Harley's asylum-bound friends accuse her of subtlety.

But Ivy remains clueless, with her books and test tubes and cold-resistant seedlings sprouting in the greenhouse, bigger every day. She coos at them. Pets them. Glances up at Harley blankly and says things like "Didn't we eat a few hours ago?"

Harley leans against a pine tree and sighs.

It's like Ivy thinks she's stupid or something. Okay, she's pulled some wacky stunts in her life, but hello! Harley is not dumb enough to spend three months in a shack in Canada just for the ambiance.

There's a creak from the shack and Harley whips her jingling head around. Ivy trudges out in lab coat and boots, observing the snow people for just so long as it takes to figure out a path around them.


"Mornin', Red!" Harley yells as Ivy comes back with a bundle of sticks. "And green-- and dorky all over--"

She trails off as Ivy glances up absently. Twitches a hand, then turns to the doorway.

She moves before she thinks. It just feels right. Story of her life. Double handful, densely packed. A lovely piff! and there's snow in Ivy's hair and down the back of that stupid white coat.

Ivy turns around, arms still full. She glances up expressionlessly at the sky over Harley's head, and Harley's heart sinks.

Then Ivy smiles. And the pine tree, branches laden with snow, twitches-- shakes-- oh dammit she left the tiny umbrella in the other suit, that would have been hilarious-- "Mother?"


It's heavier than it is cold, which is a slight surprise. Can't laugh, her ribs hurt. Her left foot is maybe sticking out of the snow and also part of her head.

Harley cranes her neck experimentally, cheek scraping against the icy surface of the snow, as footsteps approach. A bell rattles sadly.

Ivy laughs.

--by Livia (598 words)

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"C'mon, where's your sense of adventure?" Blair'd said this enough times that Jim now had answers.

It's eloped to Mexico with my sense of humor.

It's on my sofa, watching my television and drinking my beer.

It's up your ass, keeping your head company.

He didn't say any of these things.  He just stared at the fog of snow ahead of them and kept his hands on the wheel.  "You said Vancouver."

Blair shook his head so vigorously that Jim could feel cold waves of displaced air.  "No, you heard Vancouver.  I said Canada. I said--"

Jim chirped his hand in Sandburg's face.

"Hey--lighten up!  Mountain cabin.  Fresh air.  We can ski, snowmobile--"

"--break our legs, die."

Blair threw up his hands.  "Whatever, yeah.  You know everything."  He leaned forward, turned up the heat, and switched on the radio.  Jim listened to the faint static-y music and kept his eyes trained for Sasketoon Pass.

When he finally saw it, he was so relieved that he forgot to be angry.  "It's up ahead.  Maybe a mile."

Blair's face was barely visible inside of his large, fur hat.  "Take the left."

The turnoff was uphill, and poorly plowed.  This brought their speed down to 10 m.p.h., and honestly, there was nothing like sitting in a frozen truck with an irritated Sandburg while you drove in slow motion.  "So, Jim said, as they approached a snow covered bush, approached, passed, passed the bush, goodbye bush, "how 'bout them Jags?"

Sandburg said nothing.  Tree, Jim thought, watching it loom into view.  Hello tree.  Here we come, tree.  Almost there....There were ice crystals on its low hanging branches, fluffy clouds of snow on top.

When they finally passed the tree, Jim got his first look at the cabin.

It was at the top of the hill, dark against the snow, and behind it ranged the mountains, impossibly majestic, impossibly beautiful shades of white and blue and pink.

Jim suddenly realized that Sandburg couldn't see this, that his partner's slightly damaged vision wouldn't allow him to see ten feet in front of them, let alone across the vista.  They churned a few more yards before Jim shifted into park, switched off, and grabbed Sandburg's mittened hand.

"What?"  Blair seemed to have been jolted out of his mood.  "Something wrong?'"  He held his fur hat to his head as Jim yanked him out of the cab.

"Just come on," Jim said, dragging Sandburg uphill through the snow.

Sandburg held his free hand in front of his face, like he was worried they'd slam through the fog into a brick wall.  "What are--? Where--Jim, the cabin's over--not this way, it's--"

At the top of the hill the fog suddenly cleared and Jim stopped and shoved Sandburg forward so that he could see.

"I--wow.  Wow.  That's just...that's..."

And there was something about seeing Sandburg awed that made Jim's heart thump in his chest.  Something about those blue, blue eyes going wide.

When Sandburg turned back to him, his mouth was hanging open slightly and he looked beauty-dazed.  Jim felt beauty-dazed too.  "See I told you," Sandburg said vaguely, "that it was going to be--"

Jim leaned forward and kissed him--a sloppy cold kiss that landed mostly on Sandburg's slightly-open mouth.  Sandburg's mouth opened further, and Jim took advantage and went deeper.

Sandburg was gasping when they finally broke apart.  "I--but you never--"

"Where's your sense of adventure, Sandburg?" Jim said, and began to drag Blair back toward the cabin.

--by Francesca (595 words)

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Harry spat out the mouthful of silver hair and shoved Malfoy off. "You bastard, I'm going to--" He stopped abruptly and looked around.

Getting up, Malfoy scrambled for his wand, then stopped also. After a moment, he said, "You absolute idiot."

Harry turned and glared at him. "Me? I'm not the one who--"

"Oh? And I suppose you didn't--"

"That wasn't--"

"Don't even try to get out of--"

"Oh, forget it!" Harry snapped. "This isn't going to help us get back."

Malfoy scowled. "Where are we, anyway?"

Harry went to the door and pushed it open. Snow whirled in unpleasantly.

Malfoy came and stood by his side. "Lovely."

They watched the snow fall.

"Well. We're someplace where it snows."

"Really," Malfoy said.

"Oh, shut up." Harry closed the door.

Malfoy sniffed and went to the fireplace, tapped it with his wand.  "Ignatius."

Harry reluctantly sat down next to Malfoy in front of the fire. "At least we're in a cabin."

Malfoy looked around the room disdainfully. "A shack."

"It's better than being out in the snow."

"Not by much."

"Do you want to complain, or do you want to get out of here?"

"I'm staying here until someone comes to get us. But by all means, go out and freeze to death."

"I wasn't suggesting we walk," Harry snapped.

"Then by all means, apparate yourself somewhere else. Into a brick wall, for instance. Without me, this time."

"How do you expect them to find us?"

"You're Dumbledore's pet, he'll find a way."

Harry rolled his eyes, but though he hated to admit Malfoy was right about anything, Dumbledore probably would find them. He couldn't actually think of a way to get back, anyway.

There were a few tins in the cupboard, mostly soup and vegetables, and some crackers. Pretending complete disinterest, Malfoy nevertheless watched him open a soup tin as though he was performing surgery, and Harry felt a bit of mean satisfaction that Malfoy couldn't take care of himself.  He'd probably never done for himself in his life.

Malfoy had made the fire, though. "Want some?" Harry offered grudgingly.

Malfoy looked surprised. "I suppose," he said stiffly.

They shared the soup and crackers in front of the fire. It was still cold.  Harry noticed Malfoy looking at the woodpile, and realized that it wasn't all that high.

"We'd better lower the fire for the night." Malfoy said.

There was a single large cot, and piles of blankets. They dragged it up to the fireplace and got in without discussion, lying side by side. Malfoy was thin, all edges, elbow poking Harry uncomfortably every time he shivered. Harry finally nudged him onto his side and curled up around him.

Outside, the wind was blowing.

--by shalott (459 words)

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I first returned to Inuvik on the trail of the killers of my partner.  Naturally, they were quickly apprehended with no further casualties, and their drug pipeline from Russia soon dismantled with the invaluable assistance of the local authorities.  I was several months chasing down loose ends--suppliers, distributors, waystations--ensuring that justice was served and the lucrative Northern Heroin Trail would remain forever closed.

By the time the matter was resolved to my satisfaction, I had of necessity made repairs to my Father's cabin, and through shared purpose made valuable friends among the local population.  It seemed only natural, then, to end my leave of absence from the RCMP by requesting a permanent transfer to Inuvik.

Life here is... satisfying.  To wake up cold, to step outdoors to fill the kettle with snow and gaze over the white horizon, feels appropriate.  To start a day in hollow silence is easier than fighting a city's clamourous sounds and smells.  Composure comes easily here, as does kindness.  To nod at familiar faces in the small street, to exchange pleasantries in the supply store, to discuss the weather at a hockey game, to receive orders and information from the Yellowknife office -- there are many small pleasures to be found here.  It is a relief, one finds, to go about life amid people as isolated as oneself is, and be regarded as such without judgement.  One gets on with life, here in Inuvik, although American visitors sometimes comment loudly that we have escaped from it.

There is no escape, I know this.  Nights are long, here, sometimes days long, and sometimes lit so brightly that sleep is an unattainable dream.  Ghosts have a habit, in this place, of lingering, but I am immeasurably fond of the ghost who visits me.  He lacks the tenacity of my father, or perhaps his meddlesome purpose, because my ghost never speaks.  He leans against the wall, or slouches on the sofa, watching me.  Sometimes I look up from my dinner and see him sitting in the chair across the table.  I smile, of course, and he always smiles back as he fades.

To leave here is unthinkable.  I grow unsettled at the very thought.  My ghost is too precious to risk losing amid too much noise, too much colour, too much distraction.  His body rests too near by, at the end of an aborted adventure.  Duty, it seems, must always cut pleasure off at the knees, but if duty calls me to another region, it will go unanswered.  Duty took Ray from me, and I am done with Duty the minute it would take me from Ray.

My audience, it seems, grows impatient with my tale.  He only asked how I found Inuvik; he is new in town and this is, perhaps, more information than he desired from our interaction.  I hand over the money, and accept my package and the change.

Thank you kindly, I say, and take the paper-wrapped bottle home to my ghost.

--by Julad (500 words)

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He rolled to his feet as the door opened, out of sleep and into wakefulness. His skin prickled with awareness of the waxing moon. "They told me no one else would be here," he said, and then he took a deep breath and every hair on the back of his neck stood up.

The young man who had walked in through the door stood very still. He was slightly built, under the layers of bulky Muggle winter clothing, and his eyes were watchful. "Janey said that?" He pulled off a glove. There was purple polish on his short nails. "Figures. Oz."


"My name. Oz."

"Oh." He moved forward, instinct at war with courtesy. "I'm Remus. Are you with the wolfwatch program?"

"In a way."

Oz stretched out his hand, Remus took it, and they both snarled. Their eyes met and locked together, and the stare lasted for long, hot moments. Remus hissed and made his fingers loosen their grip, one at a time. They each took a step back, eyeing each other warily.

Very slowly, Oz tipped his head back and to one side. Remus let his breath out and closed his eyes. "You don't have to do that," he said.

"Well." Oz pulled off the other glove. "You're older. And bigger."

"This is your territory."

"Not really." Oz unzipped his coat, and Remus took it, hanging it with his own. "I'm just passing through."

"So am I."

"I guessed. The Britishness is kind of a giveaway." Stepping out of his boots, Oz walked towards the iron stove. Remus had spread his bedroll in the warmest place he could find. "I woke you."

"I wasn't sleeping very well." His dreams had been a confused jumble of rats and dogs chasing each other through a dark forest. "I'm not used to the," he almost said 'Muggle clothing,' "sound of the wind."

"You can't sleep in jeans." Oz began to unbutton his own. "Only drunk people sleep in jeans."

Remus nodded. All clothes felt wrong and confining when his skin tingled like this, and he saw the same feeling in the way Oz moved. He stripped down until the chill began to numb the sensation. "Was it recent?" he asked, not sure why except that Oz smelled new.

"A few years. You?"

"I was a child."

Thirty years of bones pulled out of alignment and thoughts skewed out of true. He turned and barely kept himself from another growl as Oz got into his bedroll, putting his scent on the blankets.

Oz reached up. "Come here."

The heat of skin against skin was alien enough to be terrifying, and the scent went straight to the darkest part of his brain. Remus felt a craving that seemed to belong equally in his human self and his wolf self, and he shook his head. "I'm not sure this is such a good idea."

"It's all right." Oz tipped his head back again, sweet pale throat, and his eyes grew narrow and languid. "We can't hurt each other."

And it was true.

--by torch (509 words)

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You couldn't call this a shack, really. Not with insulated cedar walls and thermopane windows and Scrabble and thick rugs on the floor you could sink an inch into. And a breadmaker.

It was decadent and wrong and Blair must have been getting old, because all of it fired a small, secret fondness in him, a fondness for comfort and warmth. He felt guilt, but he was no longer a grad student, damn it, and he'd left his twenties behind. These days he didn't eat toast and cheese at three a.m. while grading papers, didn't steal toilet paper from the Hargrove Hall men's room or cadge sugar packets whenever he bought over-the-counter coffee, didn't have to decide between paying his loans and buying avocados.

Was being a grown-up really so wrong?

Blair flexed his toes and dislodged sections of the week-old newspaper from the end of the couch. From his chair, Jim glanced up, glanced down, gave him a brief look that said absolutely nothing, not pick up the paper, not I haven't read that yet, not were you raised in a zoo. Jim was positively mellow. Jim was on vacation. Jim was getting laid.

I'm a shallow, shallow man, thought Blair, taking in an eyeful of Jim while pretending to read the Canadian Outback Freezing Cold Living section, which had a front-page feature on cookstoves and another one on squirrel. Jim shifted in his chair, prickling at the scrutiny, moving as if his blue sweater itched him, or maybe the tee-shirt underneath the vee-neck, the fit of his cords.... Oh yeah, itchy Jim.

I am a shallow man.

Blair gave up his pretense of reading, tossed the newspaper over the back of the couch, and stretched out. I am a man wearing striped pajama bottoms and wire-rim glasses and I'm terribly attractive with my tangled bed head, Blair assured himself with lazy sexiness and satisfaction.

Jim looked up as if reading his thoughts and peered at him over the top of the sports section. He had a critical and abstractedly suspicious look now, the look he wore when sniffing out week-old coffee grounds from somewhere in the loft, but Blair remained breezily confident in his allure. He drew up one leg, leered cheerfully. Jim dipped his gaze once, then returned to his paper, which rattled in a businesslike way.

How could someone who'd been so grateful earlier that morning for a genuinely professional blowjob be so cool and unhusbandlike an hour later, wondered Blair, fingering the knee of his pajama trousers. Where has all the romance gone? he asked himself, and played a tiny violin for himself in his own imagination.

Then he said to hell with it, and rolled off the couch and kneed his way over to Jim, who put down the paper and seemed in the space of thirty seconds surprised, uninterested, interested, annoyed, and mischievous. Mischievous. Jim. It was decadent and wrong, but their Canadian shack seemed to have a powerful mojo.


--by AnnaS  (508 words)

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Darien zipped up, fast but careful, and turned to retrace his steps to the cabin. The door opened before he got anywhere near it. He stopped, holding his breath.

"Give it up, Fawkes, I can see your footprints, you're right there," Hobbes called, pointing straight at him.

Busted. He started walking again. Damn, but it was cold. The Official was gonna pay for sending them here. 'You'll be fine, boys. Piece of cake. Just meet the contact and come back home, nice and quiet.' In Canada, yet! Like they even had jurisdiction here!

Hobbes closed the door behind him to keep any more heat -- such as it was -- from escaping. "You know you're not supposed to-- Dammit." He crouched to tie his right boot, glancing up at Darien sternly. "You're not supposed to be going invisible for the hell of it." Hobbes' voice trailed off toward the end, and a grin spread across his face. He pushed up off the ground with both hands and rose back to his feet.

"Yeah, well, quicksilver makes for good waterproofing. It's still snowing like hell, if you hadn't noticed. And what's so funny, anyway?" Suddenly suspicious, Darien moved a hand to his fly, then was exceedingly grateful that Hobbes would never know he'd been that idiotic.

"Relax, pal, it's not like I'd know if your fly was open," Hobbes said, smirking slightly.

Man, they really had to stop spending so much time together. "Yeah, right, Hobbes, like I really thought that. What, then?"

Hobbes leaned carefully back against the door. "You remember the sasquatch thing? Bigfoot?"

Darien stopped again, glaring. "Yes. And thank you so much for reminding me."

"Now, Fawkes -- you know you can't choose your family."

Darien took a deep breath. "So is there a reason you brought that up, or are you just bored and torturing me?"

"Appealing though that sounds... no. It's just, now I know why it's also known as the Abominable Snowman." With that, Hobbes whipped a snowball from behind his back and straight at Darien, laughing his head off.

Darien looked down at his snow-outlined self and started to grin. He raised both arms and howled, rushing at Hobbes, who whooped and dove at him.

Within a few seconds Darien had shed the quicksilver; no sense pushing himself closer to madness, and Hobbes could see him anyway. Too late, he realized he'd made a tactical mistake. Hobbes was wily and quick and only too willing to drop snow down Darien's now-visible back, grinning like a demon as he danced back out of Darien's longer reach.

"You want me, partner? Come get me," Hobbes taunted, arms spread wide.

He always had loved a challenge.

The wrestling match got him warm for the first time since they'd gotten stuck in this godforsaken shack, and fifteen minutes later, sitting naked in front of the fire ("Jeez, Fawkes, don't get the blankets wet! We'll freeze later."), he reveled in it.

"This is nice," he said, glancing over at an equally naked Hobbes.

Hobbes wasn't exactly meeting his eyes. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."

He looked at Hobbes looking at him for a few seconds and smiled slowly. Maybe nice was gonna get nicer. "You want me, partner?" He stretched, feeling his smile turn feral as Hobbes' eyes followed the movement.

Hobbes licked his lips and raised gleaming eyes to meet Darien's.

"Come get me."

Hobbes always had loved a challenge.

--by Arduinna (572 words)

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He propped himself up on one elbow, and a chill ran, almost like water, over his shoulder and the back of his neck. Dorian felt the goosebumps rise, and closed his eyes for a moment, focusing on that feeling, the cold air, the way it bit into his skin. He listened to the wind outside. It was a constant background noise, and half the time he forgot about it, and half the time it made him want to scream. At the moment, it felt distant and inconsequential.

The floor was hard. The expensive sleeping bag was warm, but not particularly soft. His joints would be stiff come morning, and he would feel old. Dorian smiled, eyes still closed. Years of this. Years of ending up in strange and uncomfortable places, of being too hot, or too cold, or too wet. Shouted at. Punched. Shot at, from time to time, and not a civilized shop or restaurant in sight. He wondered if it was snowing outside.

Dorian wiggled his toes. The back of his neck was cold, and his shoulder was cold, but the rest of him was warm. Very warm. Slick with sweat in some places. He breathed in, and the air smelled of cold dust and oil and grease, but then he bent his head a little and found human warmth.

He opened his eyes. He wanted to look secretly and privately, wanted this moment to himself, but Klaus was awake and looking back up at him with a neutral expression. Dorian sighed. "I want you to be asleep," he said.

"I'm not. You woke me up." Klaus shifted, and Dorian held his breath, but it was only a small straightening of arms and legs, and the fingers resting over the curve of his hip flexed once.

"I wanted to look at you." It sounded silly when he said it.

"You're looking at me now." Klaus' eyebrows drew together ever so slightly. He looked away from Dorian. "Is it snowing outside?"

"I don't know." He couldn't tell the whispers of wind around the corners of the house from whispers of snow, and at the moment, he didn't care. He wanted to say several things. "You look different when you sleep."

"I'm not going to sleep just so you can look at me." Klaus' mouth tightened, too, and Dorian felt tense, and the cold air on the back of his neck bit deep.

"Klaus," he said, "are you... regretting this?" There was no word for it other than 'this'--this first memory of bodies moving together, and the awareness of Klaus pressed against him, close, as close as breath, as close as touch, smelling of sweat and gun oil. Something so miraculous and strange needed its own language.

Klaus looked at him again. "No," he said. And then, "I don't know. I don't know what this is."


"No." Turning, Klaus worked his hand free and put it on Dorian's cold shoulder, and pulled him back down into the warmth and the closeness. "No regrets. Go to sleep."

--by torch (508 words)

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"He's not coming back." Dan paced to the window to stare mournfully into the driving snow.  Again.

Casey turned a page in the dictionary.  Murder. 1: to kill a human being unlawfully and with premeditated malice.  "He's coming back," he said.  Again.

"He isn't," Dan insisted.

"He said he'd be back in four hours; it hasn't even been two."

"We're going to die," Dan moaned softly, pressing his forehead to the glass.  Again.

"We're not going to die," Casey repeated.   2: to slaughter wantonly: SLAY.

"There's no food."

"He's bringing the food."

"There's no water."

"There's snow."

"There's no toilet."

"There's snow."

"We're going to die."

"We're not going to die."  3: a: to put an end to. b: TORMENT. c: MUTILATE, MANGLE d: to defeat badly ~ vi : to commit murder.

"This plan sucked, Casey," Dan observed.  Again.

syn: see KILL.  "There was a plan?"  He flipped to the K's.

"Like you couldn't snowmobile in Vermont, or New Hampshire, or Maine."

"Or upstate," Casey intoned. Again.

"Or upstate. No. No, we had to have some sort of exotic, micro-brew, double-Y snowmobiling experience in the middle of the goddamn Canadian outback--"

"Wilderness."  Kill: 1: to deprive of life.


"Wilderness. Canadian wilderness. Canada has no outback."  2: to cause extreme pain to.

"Do I look like I care what Canada has?"  Dan turned away from the window to stare at him with wild, dangerous eyes.

Casey started flipping to the C's. "Now that you mention it? No, not particularly."

"There's a very good reason for that, Casey. Do you want to know what it is?"

"No."  Cabin fever: 1: uneasiness or distress resulting from a lack of environmental stimulation as when living in a remote, sparsely populated region or a small enclosed space.

"Because we got lost, Casey."

"So he tells me anyway."

"Because you got us lost. Because you dragged me to Cariboufuck, Canada and got us lost and caught in a blizzard and we had to be rescued by Dudley Do-Right and Deuteronomy the Wonder Dog."

A low growl emanated from the rug beside the wood stove.

"Ix-nay og-day," Casey said, clearing his throat. "Olf-way."

"Ask me if I care about his fucking species," Dan hissed, gesticulating wildly.  "Go on, ask me!"

Casey leaned back on the cot, eyeing his friend warily. "I'll pass."

"You have driven us to desperate times and desperate measures, my friend. For our noble Dudley is no doubt a Mountie-cicle by now. There will be no moose burgers and beaver buns tonight, no-sirree-bob. We must either eat or be eaten."

"So eat me," muttered Casey, paging energetically toward the P's.

"I have therefore come to the inevitable conclusion that Deuteronomy must make the ultimate sacrifice."

The wolf displayed its prominent incisors with considerable enthusiasm.

"Relax, Dief."  Psychosis: fundamental mental derangement characterized by defective or lost contact with reality.  Casey sighed and closed the dictionary, then rose from the cot to stand beside Dan.

"And stop talking to that dog like he understands you," Dan snapped.

"He does understand me," Casey murmured, rubbing Dan's shoulders, making contact, stimulating. "Don't you?"

Dief cast him a pitying look.

Dan cleared his throat. "That cuts no ice with me, my man. I am cold. I am ruthless. I am hard--"

"Show me." Casey yanked Dan close and seized his mouth hungrily, then threw himself against him, sending both of them toppling to the cot.

Dief heaved a sigh and rolled over to face in the opposite direction, every hair and whisker radiating long-suffering exasperation.

--by Lanning Cook (595 words)

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The tires spun uselessly in the snow. Jim shifted gears and tried again.  Even worse.  It was getting dark, and he had a hundred miles to go.  A thousand miles.  His shoulders ached, and his eyes kept slipping out of focus.

He choked back a sigh, even though there was nobody here to see it.  A million miles to go, and every direction away from Cascade would just take him back again.  He couldn't get off the road; he couldn't stop driving.  Away, away, every cell in his body screamed, not knowing that the world was round, that he was fated, in the end, to stand in some doorway and look at him again, perhaps short hair now, perhaps some gray in it; look at him and see the thing he'd never stopped running from until he'd run back to it once more.

He pulled leather gloves over his wool ones, braced himself, and opened the truck door.  The wind was ice, razor-edged, laden with cold wet grit which stung his eyes.  The rubber around the rear door was frozen together, and he had to haul with frozen muscles, gritting his teeth against the cold-hot-cold pain, until it opened.  The snow chains rattled loudly as he hauled them out, momentum leaving them sprawled, like splattered bloodstains in the dying light, on fresh British Columbia snow.  There was a scarf tucked carelessly in the corner of the tray, a promising warm red peeking out from behind canvas bags; Jim lunged for it gratefully as snow began to melt into his neck.  He unwound it and then froze, catching a faint scent of chamomile, catnip--a zone-flashback-zone of his hands relaxing as Blair tugged it from them, whining, and then the familiar irritation-adoration-lust as he discarded it again a minute later.  That smile, that smile, that 'I know what you're thinking' smile, and Blair had handed it back to him, and Jim had thrown it in there and then clapped Blair's shoulder and said, "let's go".

On a road so far north that the sun spent hours in a tenacious dusk, Jim hurled the scarf into a snowdrift and clenched his relaxed hands and set to work hauling chains for the tires.  He'd do this, and then he'd drive.  Away, away, away from here, away from there, away from every scent and sight and sound that had led to... where it went, and every trigger which brought the memories of what he'd done, dark and raw and gut-wrenchingly good, cascading back.  Drive, and then stop somewhere, and sleep, and get up and keep driving, until the only direction left to him was down.

And then, Jim supposed, he'd go back.  He'd swallow his pride.  He'd face his fears.  He'd embrace his future.

The chains were on; his cheeks were numb, eyes held stiffly open by frozen tears.  He couldn't feel his hands.  He climbed into the driver's seat and slammed the door shut after him.  The empty passenger seat seemed to stare at him reproachfully, like it expected better of him than this.  Jim ignored it, put the truck into gear, and drove on.

--by Julad (530 words)

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One good, hard kick of the boot and the door splintered open.  Joe Dick looked at the dusty bar, the overturned tables, the crushed beer cans and broken bottles, the slant drift of snow from the two broken windows.

Behind him, a low wheeze of a laugh, and then Billy pushed past him, set his guitar case on end, and propped his elbow on it.  The ends of his scarf swung in the draft.  "Great venue."

"Shut up," Joe growled.  He turned around and looked at Pipe.  "Get back in the van."

"No, really, I love it.  Fuckin' love it," Billy insisted, waving his arm around.  "You want a non-commercial scene--well, this is fuckin' it, isn't it?  This is the least fuckin' commercial scene I've ever--"

"Wait, but--"  Pipe was wandering off through the snow with a frown on his face.

"I said get back in the fuckin' van, you idiot!" Joe yelled after him, but Pipe didn't stop.  "Hey!"  The outrage was building.  "Numbnuts!  I'm gonna fuckin'--"

"--middle of nowhere with no fuckin' people even.  We're talkin' deeply authentic, true fans only, the gig to end all gigs, here, man.  So tell me where to set up, because I am just rarin' to--

Pipe skidded to a stop and turned around.  "Fuckin' Ox wandered off!" he called back.  "He's fuckin..."  He trailed off and gestured frantically to the north.

"What the--?"  Joe quickly strode around the front of the van, and fuck, hell, yeah, the moron was off in the distance, a lone, dark shadow lurching away toward the mountains. For a moment, watching Ox grow smaller and smaller, Joe felt a sort of clenching despair.  He took a deep breath and muttered to Pipe, "Go get him.  Before he fuckin' breaks his head open..."

Pipe nodded and began stumbling after Oxenberger.  Joe sighed and turned back to the shack, where Radio Free Billy was still goin' strong, without commercial interruption.  "--this place is you, man.  Fuckin' on its last legs in every possible way."

Joe walked into the shack and slammed the battered door.  The sound was satisfying.  "I said shut up."

Billy stared at him with narrowed, black-rimmed eyes.  He was pale with cold.  "Who the fuck's here to hear me?"

"I am," Joe snarled.

Billy smiled a slow, sweet smile that made Joe want to bash his face in.  "Like I said.  Who the fuck's here to--?"

Joe kept his voice deliberately light, deliberately casual, as he righted a chair.   "I could kill you right here and now and nobody'd know.  Nobody for miles and miles--"

"My point exactly," Billy said softly, almost seductively.  "End of the line, ends of the earth, middle of--"

Joe couldn't listen to this;  he made a fist and stepped forward.  "Quit yer bitchin'.  Now."

Billy straightened up and raised his chin defiantly.  "I don't think you're gonna make me."

Joe stared at him for a long time.  Around them, the endless nothing.  They were very, very alone.

"You're wrong," Joe said finally.

--by Speranza (505 words) (492 words that aren't "fuck")

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"Come out with me."

Louis's eyes flicked up and met mine over the top of his book.  "That depends on where you're going."

I examined the room with distaste.  This one, at least, had walls.  Walls, and very little else.  "Toronto isn't far.  Someplace with music.  Lights.  People..."

"Who will sing your praises and wonder in voices only you can hear, is that him?  Is that Monsieur Lestat de Lioncourt, the Vampire Lestat?  Could it be?"

"And I will tell them the lovely raven-haired vampire at my side is the fabulous, beautiful, brilliantly melancholy Louis de Pointe du Lac, who has consented for once to roust himself from amidst his dusty tomes to grace them with his silently disapproving presence."

"I've mostly got over the melancholy."

"By whose standards, exactly?"

Louis removed a pillow from the sagging sofa and lobbed it at my head.

"Please," I said softly.  "Come with me tonight."

Capitulation was already in his eyes, a warmth I'd come to expect, a warmth I'd longed to see again.  He would fight, my Louis, he would deny me, and sigh at me for my vanity.  He would do these things, but while he did them he would begin to smile, a slow, gentle smile that would break my heart.

"Lestat," he said quietly.

"You will come, then?"

"I should simply say yes, and send you off to get dressed.  I give you five minutes in front of a wardrobe before you forget you ever asked me."

I ventured the most injured look I could summon, but I was secretly pleased.  It was irrational, it was insanity, but the more I could irritate Louis, the more I loved him.  "You insult me," I said huffily.

He examined me.  Was it my imagination?  Could his eyes have lingered on my golden hair, the narrow span of my hips?  Could those eyes have warmed as they returned to mine, green and liquid?  Oh, how I loved the way he looked at me now.

"I suppose," he said critically, "you'll do."

Immediately I looked down at myself.  Black leather, white silk -- I was a vision.  An absolute visitation.

Indignant, I frowned at Louis.  "What's wrong with what I'm wearing?"

"You dress like a vampire," he scoffed.

"I am a vampire," I pointed out gently.  "I'm sorry; I thought you knew."

"You're a walking cliche; still, I suppose there are advantages.  Beside you, I'll be practically invisible."

"This will be splendid." I gazed at him fiercely, as if I could possess him utterly by committing him to memory.  "We will own the night completely. It's ours for the taking, Louis--"  And I held my hand out to him.

He took it, frowning slightly -- he thought me silly and impetuous, and of course these things were absolutely true.  But he took my hand, and I closed my fingers around his.  They were cool and strong and curiously fragile. It made me careful, gentle, and when I met his eyes, he was smiling again.

"Are you sure you're willing to be seen with me?"  He sounded dubious, and for the first time I could remember he looked down at his clothing in appraisal.

"You'd be beautiful in a gunny sack," I said impatiently.  "You'd be beautiful lying in a gutter covered in filth, begging for your supper.  You're clean and your clothes appear to be less than five years old; you dazzle me."

"You want me to change," he said, smiling.

"No," I said fiercely, and surprisingly, I meant it.  "That's the very last thing I ever want you to do."

--by Merry Lynne (597 words)

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A distant buzzing added itself to the symphony in Peter's head, alien noise fitting in seamlessly, percussion to the wood and brass of wind and birdsong. Gradually it shifted from snare drum to bass, heavy beat filling the air.

It stopped abruptly, and Peter smiled at the silence that rushed to fill the space before the smaller noises could be heard again.

Percussion again; Peter blinked and unfolded from lotus to answer the door.

Green sunglasses stared at him from within mounds of coat and hat and hood and scarf. "Kermit."

A gloved hand reached up and tugged the scarf down a few inches. "I was in the neighborhood," Kermit said.

Peter looked around at acres of snow unbroken by anything but stands of trees, and one lone snowmobile trail running off to the east, and looked back at Kermit. "Oh?"

"Gonna let me in? It's freezing out here."

"How can you tell?" Peter asked, grinning. "C'mon in -- here, give me that." He grabbed the bag swinging from Kermit's hand and got out of the way as the other man walked in. "I'm impressed that you can even move in all that."

"Yeah, well, not all of us have internal Shaolin temperature controls, you know." Kermit started shedding layers near the stove. He sighed in pure pleasure as the last of the outerwear hit the floor and he held his hands over the heat. It was odd seeing him in jeans and flannel, but somehow it suited him.

Peter grabbed the snowy clothes and hung them on nails in the wall to dry, waiting for Kermit to finish thawing out.

"Nice place you have here," Kermit said, glancing around. It didn't take long; there was a bed, a stove, and a cabinet for dishes and food, plus assorted clothes and buckets along the walls. "So give me the tour."

"Okay. Here we have... the cabin."

Kermit grinned, turning to warm his backside. "This is really it, huh? No palatial master bedroom hidden in a dimensional pocket somewhere?"

"Heh. No. This is it. Been in the family for years."

"I didn't think Shaolin went in for owning property."

"I wouldn't say 'owned'. But my great-grandfather built it, a hundred years ago, on one of his journeys. He didn't get north much, but he loved it here -- the space, the snow, the smell of the air. He left the cabin for anyone who needed shelter. Lots of people have stayed here over the years. When I read about it, in his journal.... I had to come here."

Kermit nodded, glancing around again. "So, you're up here meditating?"

"Meditating. Listening. Just... being." Peter shrugged, then smiled as Kermit nodded again. Kermit always had understood, somehow. "You want coffee?"

"God, yeah."

"It's only instant," Peter warned. "I never learned how to make real coffee without a coffeemaker."

"At this point, I'd drink mud if you told me it had a coffee bean in it once."

Peter laughed and went for mugs and spoons.

Within minutes, they were settled at opposite ends of the bed, mugs in hand. Peter shut his eyes, testing the feel of the cabin with two people. It sounded right; it felt good. "So, really," he said, taking a sip and opening his eyes. "What brings you here?"

Kermit held the mug in one hand, head tilted down to look into it. Slowly, he reached up and took off his sunglasses, then leaned back against the wall and raised his head to look straight back at Peter. "I told you. I was in the neighborhood."

--by Arduinna (594 words)

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"Skatchoon?" Justin repeated.  "Where the hell is Skatchoon?"

Lance rolled his eyes.  "Canada, fuckwit.  It's only the size of Texas."

"Oh," Joey said.  He turned to Justin.  "Sas-katch-ew-an."

"Oh," Justin said.  "Saskatchewan."

Chris hit Lance over the back of the head.  "Pronounce it like an American, you fool."

Lance hit Chris back.  "After you pronounced it Horses Doovers on French MTV?"

Chris hit Lance back, harder.  "After you got into fucking Time Magazine with the immortal faux pas--"

Lance shot out of his chair.  "Shut up! Shut up! Don't say it!"

"--Ellie Wizzle!"  Chris put his feet on the table and crowed loudly.

"Fuck," Lance said, and collapsed down.  "Fuck."

JC looked confused.  "So, we're going to Skatchoon?"

"No," Justin said, "we're going to Saskatchewan."

Chris' cellphone rang. He looked at the caller ID and turned it off.

"Hey!" JC said.  "I lived with Canadians.  When I say Skatchoon, it means--"

Joey leaned forward and clamped a hand over JC's mouth.  "Okay, there's no way in hell we're going to record in-- in--"

"Skatchoon," JC and Lance said.

"Sas-katch-ew-an," Justin and Chris said, louder.

"In this shack in the wilderness.  Because--"

Lance's cellphone rang.  He looked down and turned it off.

Chris looked at JC and nodded.  "Bad idea. Very bad idea."

Justin's cellphone rang.  He turned it off.

JC mmmmphed until Joey took his hand away.  "I'm not going to say it anymore, I promise.  Can we go to the cabin?"  His unspoken 'eh' lingered heavily in the air.

"Absolutely not," Justin said.  "I don't want you within 200 miles of a Canadian accent."

There was a rap on the window.  They turned and smiled into the camera flash.

"Um."  Lance cleared his throat.  "I didn't say we'd be recording there."

Four sets of eyes finally settled on him.

"I said," Lance repeated carefully, "that this guy I met in Chicago had a shack in--" he paused delicately, "Canada.  And he said we could go there."

Chris narrowed his eyes.  "And do what?"

Lance shrugged.  "Don't know.  All's I know is, it doesn't have electricity."

JC's cellphone rang.  He handed it to Lance, who studied it for a minute and then found the off button.

"Does it have a phone line?" Joey asked.

Lance shook his head no.


Lance shook his head again.

"Satellite cell coverage."


Justin's cell rang.  He leaned back and shoved it under the couch cushions.

JC scratched his head.  "Well, how do our publicists contact us?  And our managers?  And our lawyers?  And our assistants?  And our stylists?  And our dieticians?  And the press? And the fans?"

"There's a road," Lance said.  "Well, kind of.  A track, Fraser said.  Well, not so much a track as a pass between thousand-feet-high mountains and thousand-feet-deep crevasses.  You can get there with a snowmobile and a very good map, apparently."  He waved a piece of paper with precise, hand-drawn lines on it, and small terse instructions like Avoid the southern slope--frequent avalanches.

"Oh," Chris said, eyes lighting up.  "Skatchoon."

"It only has one bedroom," Lance added.

Justin looked around their tourbus and nodded.  "No problem."

"And if it snows, the pass will close, and they'll have to do food drops."

"Well," JC said brightly, "they can always drop down a fax if it's really urgent."

Chris stroked his chin thoughtfully.  "All that white paper might get lost in the snow."

"Exactly.  It's really very convenient," Lance concluded.

"So!" JC clapped his hands, delighted.  "We're going to Canada, eh?"

--by Julad  (588 words)

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He was chopping wood when he felt it, the supply having nearly run out during the unexpected blizzard that'd only lifted the day before. His sword was in the shack, but he could do some damage with the axe, if necessary.

Muffled curses preceded the walking snowman that waded through the chest-high drifts, a large pack on his shoulders. Chest tight, Duncan had to fight equal urges to sigh and smile. "It's a bit easier getting here on a snowmobile, I'm told."

Methos looked at him narrowly. "I'm sure it is, but the road took a sharp left a ways back, and I didn't."

The smile won. "Are you okay?"

"I died in tremendous pain, but I got better." That elicited a wince and a grin, which earned Duncan a black look. "Hell of a place you picked for a vacation."

Duncan shrugged. "I wasn't planning on much company." He turned back to his chopping.

"Optimistic of you, really." Methos shrugged off his pack and stood looking him over while brushing snow off.

Duncan paused. "Something you want?"

Methos shrugged. "Nothing, really. I just had a whim."

"I'd think those could be dangerous to a man of your advanced years." He was very aware that Methos was still looking, and he was glad he was down to his thermal shirt.

"They keep me young. I try and indulge them once every few centuries or so, keep myself limber."

Duncan swept up part of the log he'd just split and tossed it at him. "So, now that you're here, make yourself useful."

Methos watched the wood fall at his feet, then looked back up. "I hike here through miles of chest-high snow, and you want me to work? I'm freezing!"

"And you'll stay freezing until I get some more of this wood chopped."

"We could burn the shack." Methos eyed it unfavorably. "How is that still standing, anyway?"

"Sheer will power." Duncan bent to gather some wood. "Are you going to help?"

Methos gave a long-suffering sigh and started to help, picking up a few sticks in one arm and grabbing his pack with the other.

Duncan walked behind him to the porch, dropped his wood in the bin, then took what Methos had carried. Methos headed towards the door, but Duncan put a hand on his shoulder.

"What now, MacLeod? Need me to dig out the privy?"

Duncan smiled, pushed him up against the wall, and kissed him. He swallowed the small sound Methos made, then pulled him in tight and just held him a moment, burying his face against Methos' throat, feeling the chilled skin. "Let's get you inside."

Methos nodded wearily and let Duncan take his pack, following him inside. Duncan pushed him into a chair, grabbed a blanket, and wrapped it around him before bringing in some wood and building up the fire. Then he poured Methos a cup of coffee. Methos took it and sighed as Duncan pulled off Methos' snow-encrusted shoes and socks.

Duncan chafed his feet firmly, trying to get the circulation going again. "I didn't expect you so soon."

"Yeah, well, I thought maybe I'd beat the storm."

Duncan looked at him. "You should have stayed in town. I had enough to last a few more days."

"I'm Immortal. What could have happened?"

"If you'd gotten buried in an avalanche, you might not have gotten out until spring. What would I have done for entertainment?"

Methos smiled.

Duncan lifted his feet, one by one, and kissed them.

"Next year, I get to pick where we vacation," Methos said.

--by elynross (599 words)

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"Isn't Minnesota cold enough for you?" Daniel asked. Jack loved it when Daniel got snippy. The word Daniel would use was dour, if it wasn't him being the snippy one.

"Right now it's too American for me," Jack said. "You know they've bugged my place up there. After the deal with Carter and her alien boyfriend I don't trust anybody."

Daniel sighed; he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "So we just sneak out of the country?"

"They'll notice if we get on a plane, they'll notice if we use the 'gate, I fucking hate Mexico, and I..."  This look-but-don't-touch thing was worse than nothing at all. "It's like we're flying out there," he said finally, whooshing his hand around to illustrate, "and nobody's clearing us to land."

"I get that, Jack." Daniel's voice was quiet, and it hurt a little to look at him, because the guy was just starved -- he was starved for touch. Jack wanted to feed him--with his hands, his mouth, his whole body, with its shitty knees and scraggly-old-man body hair. And Daniel was on the bus--Daniel Jackson, inexplicably, wanted to give it all right back.

"Get your stuff," Jack told him. "Friend of a friend of mine has a place way up north. Not much on the amenities, but it's warm enough if you're friendly."

"I can be friendly," Daniel said, piling up his books. "I can be very friendly."  It was almost a threat.

Jack felt a pleasant shiver down the back of his neck. "Well, good."

They took separate flights, Daniel to Arizona and Jack to Chicago, and then to Seattle, where they drove north through BC, which was, okay, gorgeous, and which Daniel said reminded him a little of Tollana in spots.

They parked a lot, on back roads with no number and no name. They fogged up the windows and ran the heater and ran out of Kleenex.  And then there were only snowmobiles, and no roads at all, and that was okay too, Jack reflected, feeling Daniel snug up against his ass.

The 'gate wasn't the only way to travel.  Sometimes it paid to go the long way, to see Daniel get sulky and five-o-clock shadowy without there being some kind of extraterrestrial menace on their tail. Just the terrestrial kind--and the thing was you couldn't just vaporize those sons of bitches. There were rules, and you were supposed to follow them, even when the other guy didn't.

Bugs in their apartments.  Unbelievable.  Simmons was gonna get a bug shoved up his ass. Sideways. By a pissed-off Jaffa, and Jack would cheer Teal'c on.

But meanwhile, they were four days up to the cabin, and eight days there, eating canned soup and beef jerky and a hundred other gross things that weren't, at least, MREs.  And they pretty much didn't get out of bed except for the screaming fight about P3X-888, which probably needed to happen anyway, and which led to fucking Daniel's unholy mouth up against the cabin wall, so that was okay.

Daniel drove the snowmobile back, which Jack felt showed a little faith on his part, and also allowed him to grip Daniel's leather-clad ass and thighs the whole way, which in turn showed the benefits of delegation. They flew back together, so somebody might raise an eyebrow...but, as Daniel put it, it was always better to ask forgiveness than to beg permission.

And for once--just once--Jack agreed with him.

--by Justine (589 words)

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Mulder came back to consciousness in a small, cold, rustic-looking room.  Tied to a chair, his head ringing, with no idea where he was, he wondered when his life had so derailed that waking up like this was normal, even a bit blasé to him. When he heard footsteps behind him, he stayed limp and tried to keep his breathing slow and steady.


He jumped a little.  He couldn't help himself.  Seeing no more point in trying to pretend unconsciousness any longer, Mulder opened his eyes and said, "You're dead.  I saw you die." Once again, his weird life made this moment a little less dramatic than it would be for most people.

Krycek sat across from him and smiled.  The smile barely touched his mouth, let alone the dark green chips of ice he had for eyes.  "And you didn't shed a tear."

Mulder remembered Skinner delivering the final shot to Krycek's forehead like a perfectly cold-blooded executioner.  It still chilled him, even though-- "You were going to kill me."

Krycek could take another shot at it now and no one would even know to look for them.  Mulder had already left Scully to keep her and the baby safe after telling her that it would be better for her if she didn't know where he was....

Krycek radiated a stillness so total that he might as well have been dead, yet it didn't detract from his old dark allure, just changed it. How was that possible?  "That was a mistake.  The clones can turn out feeble-minded sometimes.  They seem perfect at first, but the neurons wear down too quickly, affecting their reflexes and thinking processes. You don't ever want to put too much trust in alien technology."

"You're saying it wasn't you."

"Of course not.  I'm here right now, aren't I?"

"No hard feelings then."

"I didn't say that." Krycek leaned forward.  "Though it is useful having so many people think I'm dead."

That really didn't bode well for Mulder coming out of this alive.  He surreptitiously tried to work his numb hands and wrists loose of his restraints, but he couldn't even feel them well enough to know if he had any hope.  "Then why show yourself to me?"

This time Krycek's smile showed teeth.  "I never could leave you alone."

--by Viridian (388 words)

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"What was his crime?"

"He was a killer," I said, and damn him, there was a note of defensiveness in my voice. "He planned tonight to take a woman, a young woman, from this very street."

Louis smiled, a fey tilt to his head.  It made me furious--furious that he'd watched me, that he'd judge me for this now, when everything had been so perfect just moments before."Truly, then, his death was just."

"I don't kill the innocent. And I didn't play with him--I just ate him, okay? And now it's done."

"It was an extraordinarily clean kill, Lestat," he said mockingly. "I do notice."

"A service to the community.  An execution."

"For my crime," Louis said softly.  "My crime, and yours."

I turned from him, from his quiet and his beauty and his shining, pitiless morality.

"Was his death truly just?" He whispered. Louis was my tormentor as much as he ever had been; it was idiocy to think it could be otherwise. He shrugged indifferently.  "Shall we go?"

"Are you sure you wouldn't rather stay and fight among the rats?"

"I haven't fed," Louis said simply. He smiled at me, showing me his fangs. "And I believe that somewhere in this city there is une jeune femme awaiting an appointment with Death." He looked down at the body I'd dropped amid the trash and grey snow. "Someone should keep it."

I didn't believe for an instant that he would do it.

The image had been clear in the young villain's mind; defiantly, I led him to the ramshackle prayer of walls in an ugly district of downtown Montreal. She looked up as we pressed toward her through the crowd. Her eyes met mine and skated off, and then she found Louis.

It was as if a path had opened between them. He moved through it serenely; I was as entranced as she, this beautiful creature, this doomed child. Louis walked in the footsteps of the killer I'd diverted, and took her in his arms.

Their bodies moved inevitably to the throbbing beat. He held her tenderly, like a lover, and before he took her he looked up at me for just an instant, his bright eyes afire with bloodlust, and something else. Something colder.

His mouth was at her throat, his teeth bared, glittering. Shaken to my very foundations, I left him.

I no longer wondered why Louis preferred to hunt alone. Leaning against the plank wall outside the shack's entrance, eyes turned up to the silent northern stars, I merely hoped my attendance would not be requested in the future.

A sound drew my attention to the doorway, and Louis staggered out, muttering in French and smiling at someone still inside. A wanton, pretty sight he made: disheveled, sleek, flushed with heat. My skin crawled, and yet--

He came to me, eyes hot, and pressed his body against mine. My hands found his shoulders and tightened, pulling him closer.


"You murdered that girl," I hissed. "You!"

"Yes." His voice was pleasant, but distracted. His eyes wandered over my face, heavy-lidded. "It's a thing I do when I get hungry. As do we all."

He tasted of her. Dizzied, I opened my mouth to him and sank into his embrace. There was no decision in it, no choice, just the heat and the blood -- and where was my Merciful Death now? My Louis? I shoved myself away and leaned, panting for breath, against the wall.

The night lay in ruins around me, the night that could have been ours.

--Merry Lynne (596 words)

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Jim stopped to catch his breath. They'd just cleared the high point of the hike, and the view rivaled anything he'd seen on any other planet. No matter how far he went, this would always be home, this planet, this sky.

He looked back at Spock, who was bent over, examining some of the local flora. Jim smiled; he'd long since given up on insisting Spock conform to his methods of relaxation, and there was something endearing -- and reassuringly familiar, not to say human -- about the Vulcan's insatiable curiosity.

"Find something unusual?" He was glad that this shore leave hadn't happened in a colder season. Spock could deal with the thinner atmosphere up here, but the cold would have made such a trip impossible, and Jim really wanted to share this with him. He hadn't been up here in decades, but Chekov had confirmed that there was still some sort of building at the site, and they'd have thermal tents, if necessary.

Spock looked up at him. "Yes, Captain. It is rare to see this variant so far south."

Jim laughed and stretched, the sun warm on his face. "Just Jim, Spock. I want to forget all about the ship and being Captain for a week." He sat down on a nearby rock, untying his boot to find the rock that had slipped in on the hike up.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I find that hard to believe."

Jim imitated the raised eyebrow. "You don't think I can let go for a week?"

Spock regarded him quietly for a moment, as if considering his words. "I believe...that you will find it difficult to restrain yourself."

Jim looked up and grinned devilishly, letting his eyes drift over Spock in his jeans and flannel shirt. On him, such common human garments looked exotic, and damn sexy. "Oh, I didn't say I was going to try." He wasn't close enough to see Spock's face flush, but he did see the minimal shift in body language, which for Spock was tantamount to a convulsion.

"I didn't--"

Jim laughed again. "We should be able to see the cabin just over the rise." He finished tying his boot and looked back at Spock, who stood there looking both awkward and faintly pleased. "I'm glad you came with me."

Spock moved to stand in front of him. "I look forward to seeing a place that holds such good memories for you."

"You don't think I'm being foolishly nostalgic?" Jim looked off over the valleys and mountains, thinking back to his last trip here. "It was a great summer."

"I don't see anything foolish in honoring your grandfather this way."

Jim smiled. "He was a cantankerous old coot, but I learned a lot from him. He was fascinated by people who went off into the wilderness, the miners, the farmers, the trappers. We spent the whole summer looking for remnants of old camps and mine shafts, digging through trash piles and privy dumps." He stood and picked up his pack. "I'm not sure any of it was entirely legal, but I don't think he cared." He checked for Spock's reaction. His spine may have gotten a bit more rigid, but it was hard to tell.

"He didn't have permission to excavate?"

"I'm not sure we even had permission to be in the park. Grandpa wasn't much for formalities and regulations." Spock didn't say anything, but his eyebrow went up again, and this time, Jim was the one who blushed.

"C'mon. We're almost there."

--by elynross (586 words)

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"Cold.  Tired.  Miserable."

"Ice hockey.  Sled racing.  Curling."  Casey throws his suitcase on the bed next to Danny's and flips it open.  "What's a little frostbite in the service of sport? Toughen up, this is why we make the big money."

Danny goes to fiddle with the thermostat.  "It's not the weather, it's the two freaking AM!"

"Um, no. New York time, it's 6:19 AM. If you wanna get technical."

"Yeah, and my point is, I got up at four freaking AM yesterday morning."

Casey finishes with his own clothing and starts hanging Danny's.  "I know. I was there, remember?"

"That's different. You're younger!"

"Again, you lose on technical point. I am four years older, and you are just wrong, wrong and wrong."

Danny rolls his eyes.  "For certain values of 30, I am older."

Casey laughs.  "Oh, yeah, great, we're in a fucking shack in the fucking Yukon, doing experimental mathematics.  That's wonderful..."

"It's not a shack, it's a three-star cabin, and I am older in base twelve!"

"Again, alas no. It has wooden walls and dirty windows--it's definitely a shack, and in base twelve, you are 36, and I am 37."

"No, no. See, you read ahead."

"I know math better than you know math, so don't fuck with me."

"My age, in base twelve, is more than your age in base ten.  So there."

Casey thinks about this. "True. Yes."

"Thank you."

"You are admittedly older in base twelve than I am in base ten."

"And I feel every year of it.  Your problem, Casey, is that you don't listen to me."

"Not when you're making inaccurate comparisons in base mathematics, no."

"I hadn't even made the comparison before you deemed it inaccurate."

"I didn't need the comparison. I knew, from the fact that I am always right and you are always wrong, that I was right and you were wrong."

"My point exactly."

"What point, exactly?"

Danny finishes with the suitcases and puts them in the closet.  "The point that I am right and you are wrong about."  A pair of hands creep around his waist, and Casey's chin digs into his shoulder.

"Hey, Danny?"

"Mhmm?" Danny says, eyeing the bed.

"All your base are belong to me."

Danny thinks for a minute.  "Can't argue with that, no."

Casey puts aside Danny's drafted rendering of the bus trip from Yellowknife.


"Every word drips malice, pettiness and spite.  If I didn't know you better, I'd think you had plans to be a travel writer in your dotage."

"You know me too well, my friend; I do have plans."

"You?  Who pukes on planes?  Who pukes on trains?  Who pukes on--"

Danny held up his hands.  "So I get a little queasy in rough weather, who--"

"Who complains about the beds in the Bangkok Hilton?  Who speaks not two, not one, but zero foreign languages?"


"You, who does nothing but complain once I start packing your suitcases for you?"


"You have plans to be a travel writer?"

Dan rolls Casey over and presses his face in the pillow.  "Your problem, Casey, is that you don't listen to me."

Casey mffff's his disagreement.

"I have plans," Dan announces happily, "for us to be travel writers."

Released, Casey flops onto his back, and studies his surroundings.  "Well. Can't argue with that."

"You will, though."

Casey looks over and grins.  "Need to pass time between beds somehow."

"And yet here we are, in bed, arg--"

--by Julad (574 words)

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There are times in a man's life when he has to speak the truth and speak it frankly. This was such a moment. I spoke frankly.

"Well, really, Jeeves."

"Yes, sir."

"I mean, well, really, Jeeves!"

"Yes, sir. May I suggest that it would be advisable to move indoors? The wind chill factor is considerable."

He was perfectly correct, as Jeeves so often is. The wind howled around us like a roaring lion, seeking whom it might devour; it had already devoured my best hat, and it appeared as though the next thing it intended to remove from my head would be my ears. Still, one has certain standards. If you ask around at the Drones, they'll tell you that Bertram Wooster is a pleasant, easy-going sort of fellow, not too high in the instep, always ready to enjoy the charms of the simple life, but there are limits. "Not even a cousin of Pongo's could possibly live in this benighted rest home for elderly caribou. We must have taken a wrong turn."

"Sir, your ears are turning blue."

I thought with regret of my hat, which I rather suspected would live out its days as a silk-lined bird's nest, instilling an appreciation of the finer things in life into the next generation of Canadian tundra warblers. "Very well, Jeeves." I opened the door, and we went inside. "Jeeves?"


"Pongo's cousin doesn't appear to have much in the way of furniture."

"No, sir. But there is a fireplace." Jeeves put the bags down and began to build a fire. I took a turn about the room, wiggling my toes, as there seemed to be some question regarding whether all of them were still attached to my feet.

"Still, one must look on the bright side. I don't imagine Aunt Agatha will ever find me here."

"No, sir."

Said aunt is something of a hellhound in human shape even at the best of times, and after the affair with Claude, Eustace, and the game-keeper's trousers, she had taken an even more radical anti-Bertram stance  than usual, bringing to mind a tropical storm working up to flattening a peaceful south sea island. It had seemed wise to put a safe distance between self and aunt for some time, and Pongo's offer to look after his cousin's rustic cabin had seemed just the thing.


"Yes, sir?"

"This cabin doesn't appear to have a bathroom."

"No, sir."

I went to the fireplace, where, thanks to Jeeves' diligent efforts, several logs were now burning merrily. "Nor a kitchen."

"No, sir."

"Nor a bedroom."

"No, sir. I will put the mattress next to the fire."

"Right-ho." I lent a hand with the heaving and dragging, since mattress-moving is not, strictly speaking, a part of Jeeves' usual duties. "But where are you going to sleep?"

"Here, sir."

"Oh." I pondered that for a moment. It seemed to me that he was leaping to conclusions. "But dash it, Jeeves, that isn't--I haven't--it doesn't seem--"

"With all due respect, sir, I believe Mr. Claude, Mr. Eustace, and the game-keeper would disagree."

"Oh. Ah. Yes." Honesty compelled me to admit that he had a point.  He usually does. "Well. Carry on, then, Jeeves."

--by torch (544 words)

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"I thought you said he was expecting us or something."

"Kowalski, cut me some slack, huh? You're lucky I could even find the place."

"At least you've been here before. Where's the...uh. Facilities."

Laughter. "Remember that even smaller shack we passed on the way here? Near where we parked the snowmobile?"

A pause. "You're kidding, right?"

"I wish. Benny and me were gonna come up here, fix the place up. Always my plan, get some indoor plumbing up here. But you know, one thing and another..."

"Hey, cut that out. I gotta --"

"Go, already. I'll see if I can figure out how to heat the place up without you."

Ray shut the door behind him. Ray shucked his gloves, rubbed his hands together, and began dragging wood into the stove. Matches, matches, where would Benny keep matches? Probably in his pockets, so that no passing ruffians could accidentally set fire to anything.

He wandered into what passed for a kitchen -- Benny'd obviously had time to add it on since the last time Ray had been here. Boy, that was a long time ago. Ray smiled in spite of himself. What the hell he thought he was doing, dragging his butt outta bed and over a thousand miles of snowy wastes...but Benny was worth it. Always had been.

Ah, matches. Right on the window sill. Next to it, a framed photo of the three of them, taken the last time Benny was in Chicago. Sweet. That was a nice shot of Ray, great smile.

The door banged. "Jesus Christ it's cold out there...hey, where --"

"Hey, c'mere and look at this."

Ray wandered in, hands under his folded arms. His cheeks, nose, and lips were pink with cold. He moved closer, looking over Ray's shoulder.

"Yeah, I remember that. Franny took that." A cold nose invaded Ray's neck.

"Hey!" Ray squirmed. "You're freezing!"

Cold hands crept under his sweater and t-shirt. "So where's that fire already?"

Ray turned and met his lips, cold and a little chapped from the weather. "Stanley," he said, against the stubbled cheek. "If you don't knock it off, Fraser's gonna find us frozen into a solid lump in his kitchen."

"You call me Stanley again, Vecchio, and I will--"

"Kick me in the head?" Ray picked up the matches and headed out toward the stove. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard it before," he tossed over his shoulder.

"So, seriously, Fraser knew we were coming?"

"Swear to God. He's probably out catching some poor schmuck who went duck hunting in rabbit season. You know Fraser." Light, you stupid stove.

Ray gave a little laugh. "Hey, I love that cartoon."

"What cartoon?" Flames licked the newspaper, releasing a welcome, toasty smell.

"Geez, Vecchio, could you even pretend to catch a pop culture reference once in a while? It's not like you grew up without a TV like --"

Just as the kindling began to catch, they heard footsteps. Then Fraser's voice,

"I'm not saying that at all. I just find it very unlikely that they would bother to bring you deep-dish pizza all the way from Chicago."

Ray turned to Ray. Both men were already smiling.

--by Laura Shapiro (530 words)

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Billy dreamed he was back in Canada, in one of those horrible fucking band houses they used to stay in, back before there was a record company to take care of everything, to do things the right fuckin' way for a change.  Now the record company blew into town, did the promos, got the song in rotation, roused the fan base, and booked them into the very best five star hotels, usually the penthouse suite.  Back then there were band houses, these fuckin' shacks in the middle of nowhere--coffee-stained mugs in the cabinets, bleach-stained towels in the bathrooms, cum-stained mattresses on the floor, the marks of a thousand other wankers who'd been there before them.

What was weird about this particular band house was that there was nobody running the joint, plus no Pipe and no John.  Just Joe, sprawled across from him on the mattress, shoulders back against the wall.  Just watching him, smoking a cigarette, sort of half-smiling.

He had a hole in his head.

As Billy watched, Joe took a final drag and dropped the butt down the neck of an empty Jack Daniels bottle.  It went out with an audible hiss.  Joe smiled again, peeled his shoulders away from the wall, and started crawling toward him up the blood-stained mattress.

Billy figured it was maybe time to move, haul ass up and off this mattress and maybe get out of here.  He moved, and pain shot through him--bad pain, like knives.  Bad, fuckin' excruciating, from his--

He looked down at himself, at his boot, at his leg, which was bent at a really weird-ass angle--

Joe was crouched at his feet now, staring up the filthy denim at him.  Gasping, Billy mentally ordered himself not to move, not for anything, no fuckin' way.  Joe put a palm on either side of his legs, careful not to nudge the broken bones, and crawled upward, over his body, head lowered like some faithful, rabid dog.  Billy gritted his teeth and looked at Joe's blood-matted hair and the piece of his ear that was missing.  And then Joe lowered his head even further, put his face into Billy's dirty denim crotch, and took a deep sniff.

Billy flinched helplessly, and his muscles tightened, and the shattered bones ground against each other.  Holy fuck that hurt, that hurt so fuckin' bad, that was--

Joe was mouthing him now, and this was so much pleasure-pain he could hardly stand it, couldn't stand it, could not fucking stand it.  His hands tightened helplessly into fists and that's when he realized he was still holding the gun.

With a start, Billy woke up, heart jackhammering, and his pants--fuck, his belly was sticky, his sweatpants were soaked with it.   Billy rolled on his expensive sheets, flicked on the beside light, and looked over the current penthouse suite.  Lovely.  Perfect.  Typical.

"God," Billy mumbled, fumbling for his water glass, "I'm so glad that fucker's dead."

--by Speranza (500 words)

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His parents hadn't been thrilled, but they let him go ("But it's a birthday present"). If Clark's response about their destination ("Up north") was deliberately vague, it was for their own good.

It was a trip of firsts: first trip in a private jet, first flight in a helicopter, first trip to Canada. First... Well. His first. He hoped.

The luxury was nice, but it made Clark uncomfortable to see Lex's behavior change, to see how others treated him, as if he was something hard and distant and apart. It was a relief when they got to the canoe rental place and it was just the two of them.

It was two days to the shack, and to Clark's frustration, Lex slept in his own bag on the other side of the fire. He'd catch Lex watching him, but he didn't know if it meant anything more than suspicion. He knew how to make lifting and carrying not look too easy -- he'd canoed enough, fishing with his dad, not to betray himself there -- but Lex's company was too relaxing. He'd forget and throw a rock just too far, pick up just too much at the portages, and every time, Lex would just smile that smile, the one he'd had after showing Clark the car. After Clark had lied, also smiling. Clark wondered if that was what kept the distance between them. He didn't want to lie to Lex, but he also didn't want Lex to stop looking at him like he wanted to take him apart with his bare hands -- and maybe his mouth -- to see what made him tick.

It was near dark the second day when he steered them too close to a submerged rock. He'd been trying to keep an X-Ray eye out, but he was too busy admiring Lex's shoulders moving under his shirt, and the warning came too late; he not only managed to topple Lex out of the canoe, but also to overturn it, spilling all their gear. Clark learned words he never dreamed existed. He wondered if they even had words like that where he came from.

Lex, grinning, caught Clark as he surfaced. "I could get used to the wet look on you." His breath ghosted along Clark's mouth, and Clark froze. Lex's gaze drifted down, and the touch of his mouth was almost superfluous. It was brief, but promising. "We'd better get to where we can build a fire."

By the time they reached the shack, Lex was shivering.

"It's...nice," Clark said. "Rustic."

Lex snorted. "It's a disaster." He dropped his sodden pack on the ground, stripped out of his over-shirt, then his T-shirt. "If you breathe too hard on it, it'll collapse." He looked at Clark and started slowly unfastening his jeans. "At least the last people left a good pile of wood. Everything's wet. I guess we'd better start a fire."

--by elynross (502 words)

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God. Goddess. Something. Dawn had slapped her, like she was some kind of crazy irresponsible addict person dragging a teenage kid into the crack house of witchcraft. Buffy, Tara, Dawn ... Xander would be next -- Willow would slip and do something horrible to Anya, maybe make her resume her scaly, slimy demon form --

Stop. Stoppitstoppitstoppitstoppitstop.

She couldn't sleep -- it was working through her like static. She couldn't, wouldn't, hurt anyone again. But without the magic, she wasn't anybody. She wasn't any use.

Willow slipped out of the house, into Sunnydale. Fangmarks in a victim's neck; maybe Buffy'd dusted the vamp. She dumped the body out of a car and told the car to drive. Slowly, hands on the wheel. Due north.

The phone call broke the silence. The Scoobies were staring blankly at each other, so Tara got up and answered it. "Magic Box."

"Hey, um. I'm looking for Willow?" A man's voice. Familiar.

"Do I -- do I know you?" Something was making her stutter. She did know the voice. "Oz?"

"Tara, right? Okay, pretty awkward. Is Willow there?"

"No, she's not. I mean." The Scoobies were all looking at her, or at Oz, maybe. Hopefully. "She's -- there's a problem."

"You know, I thought so," Oz said. "Because I kinda wolfed out in Chicago and wound up at her dorm room, only she doesn't live there anymore."

"You'd better come here," Tara said.

"Willow Rosenberg?" It wasn't worth keeping the surprise out of his voice.

"I think that's why we let it get so out of hand," Buffy said. "Because it was Willow."

"I should have said something way before."  Tara was twisting her hair in knots.

Oz felt sorry for her. "She -- likes to fix things," Oz said. "When she messed up," he glanced at Xander, "she always wanted to just make things--pfft. And now she can really do it."

Nods all around.

"She can't stop," said Buffy, and that was when Oz knew.

"She's gone north," he said. "There's a place. I wrote her a letter, because, well, no contact." He glanced at Tara. "Middle of nowhere in Canada. I got my control back."

"And she knows where this place is?"

"If she got close enough," Tara said, "she could just find it. Any witch could."

"Tara," Oz said, "get in the van."

Oz threw her a bone. "She'll be okay."

"I think .... She thinks I don't love her. Without the magic."

"She can be really stupid sometimes."


They rented a snowmobile in Whitehorse; Tara even knew how to drive it.


Willow was safe enough, in a cabin that might have been Oz's and might not. It was warm, there were canned goods, she had blankets. And she didn't need the magic. She didn't.

Someone was scrying her, that tickle on her neck.  She'd given up the power but not the ability -- some things just happened on their own, it wasn't her fault--


"You don't talk much," Tara said when they stopped.

"Neither do you."

"I used to stutter."

"Then what?"




Willow didn't open the door, but the lock lifted anyway, which meant an apportation spell --

"Oz? Oz!"

"Hey. Thought you might want company." He looked embarrassed. "So I, um. Brought some."

Tara? "Tara! You came together?" Her warm hands ... bright Aradia.

"I found you," Tara whispered. "I'll always find you."

"For once," Oz said, "Let somebody else fix it, all right?" He touched her hair, and Willow shook with crying.  They didn't let go.

--by Justine (598 words)

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A near-perfect silence hung over the snow-softened Canadian landscape, the rolling hills blanketed with white, the majestic pines standing sentinel over all. Struck by the pure brilliance of the scene, my companion and I paused in our weary journey to take in the magnificence before us, to contemplate this rare moment of complete and utter stillness, of endless peace, unmarred, unbroken --

"Brain, are we there yet?"

"Pinky," I said, calmly, "I am going to have to hurt you now."

Shortly thereafter, we resumed our trek, hampered only slightly by Pinky's limp.


I wondered briefly if Einstein or Newton had suffered similar torments.  "Don't, Pinky."

"But Brain--"

"Pinky, I assure you, when we have arrived, you will know."

"How will I know, Brain?"

"Because, Pinky, instead of being outside in the snow, we will be inside a shack."

"A shack like that one over there?"

I stopped and turned to see where Pinky was pointing. Indeed, there it lay, the Mecca of our pilgrimage.

"Yes!" I exulted, the savour of my long-awaited victory already on my tongue. "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

"Well, I think so Brain, but why would Celine Dion agree to put on edible underwear?"

Fortunately for my own sanity, I had long since given up hope of comprehending the mysterious processes of what passed for Pinky's higher cognitive functions. "Never mind. Onward!"

We struggled on through the last drifts of snow that lay between us and our destination.


So close to my ultimate conquest, I could be generous. "Yes, Pinky?"

"What's inside the shack? Will it be good to eat?"

Through clenched teeth, I explained the plan to my small-brained companion yet again. "No, Pinky. I have discovered that this shack has recently become the singular locus for a truly staggering quantity of concupiscent encounters, despite its isolated location. The massive quantities of energy being generated here will be sufficient to fuel my conquest of the world."

We drew up to the door of the shack and I took a moment to gloat. "And now, Pinky, we will harness the power of this fortuitous fornication, using this duct tape and four small rocks. Come!" I thrust open the door, which swung easily.

"Oooh, a bearskin rug!" Pinky dashed inside.

"Pinky, wait!" I cursed his foolhardy spirit and followed him in. Fortunately, nothing had happened -- Pinky was rolling about on the hideously tacky rug. There was no sign of any other visitors.

Then I realized there was no sign of any other visitors. "I don't understand," I muttered, running through the calculations in my head. "At the most recently projected rate of activity, another encounter should be taking place at this very moment! How could I have been so mistaken?"

"Narf! Does that mean you don't need the duct tape anymore, Brain?" Pinky sat up.

"No, it's useless now," I said disconsolately, sitting down in front of the fireplace to brood over my misfortune.

Pinky came and sat down beside me, toying with the duct tape. "As long as we're here, Brain..."

"What?" I said. Then his meaning became clear. "Oh. Yes, Pinky, that's an excellent idea. We may as well stay busy until tomorrow night."

"What are we going to do tomorrow night?"

"Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!"

--by shalott (557 words)

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The hotel was old, with a staircase that creaked - even under Chris's light step. "It used to be a consulate," Lance said. "And Michael Jackson once stayed for a month." Lance knew everything.

Chris thought he liked it at first, because it was old, and had strange, winding corridors and kitschy paintings of the Queen. But after a while, he decided he didn't.

JC kept disappearing.

The first time it happened, no one thought anything of it--JC had a cat-like knack of finding quiet places to sleep. In Germany, Chris had once found him curled in a stairwell.

But then Joey wanted to take them all to a club, and no one could find him. Chris tried to tell himself that the butterflies in his stomach were just too much caffeine. But he felt a sharp stab of relief when he opened the door to JC's room, and saw him sitting on his bed, humming quietly to himself.

"You wanna go clubbing?"

JC shook his head, smiling. "I thought of this great new riff."

He was gone again in the morning--this time for six hours. Chris found him in the kitchen, eating a sandwich. It was 90 degrees outside, but JC's face was speckled with white. When Chris touched his cheek, his fingers came away wet. "Where have you been?"

JC blinked at him slowly, as though he'd just woken up. "Nowhere. I was in my room," he said.

That evening, Chris piled blankets on the floor next to JC's bed. JC watched him, looking indecisive--like he wanted to tell Chris to go, but didn't have the heart. He made a small, choked noise when Chris reached over his shoulder and opened the closet door to get another blanket.

JC murmured and hummed in his sleep--wordless noises that made Chris shiver and feel reassured at the same time. The room was quiet when Chris woke, though. And when he looked at JC's bed, it was smooth and made up.

"You have to stop doing that," Chris said, when Lonnie had finished squeezing JC in a tight, angry hug, and they were alone again.

"I know." JC looked at him apologetically. "It's just. It's so quiet there, Chris." He stood up and stared out of the window, where there were two hundred girls with banners and sharp voices. "I can think about music. Without. The rest."

Chris bit his lip. "Will you show me?"

The closet looked exactly the same as the one in Chris's room--small, with cheap, thin shelves. It smelled faintly of applewood and smoke.

"Close your eyes," JC said. His own eyes were closed already. "Or it won't work. I kept walking into the shelf until I realised."

"JC," Chris said. He stroked his thumb over the sharp line of JC's cheekbone, and after a moment, JC opened his eyes. "JC," Chris said again.

"It's okay," JC murmured, and Chris felt JC's hand cover his.  "It'll be okay.  Come on."

--by Mia (498 words)

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"Could be worse," Bodie said.

"Yeah? How's that?" Doyle flung himself into the only standing chair, gritting his teeth as it wobbled dangerously under him.

"You could've been partnered with Anson for this obbo, 'stead of me."

"Reckon that's worse, do you?"

Bodie shot him a wounded look. "C'mon, Ray, it's not so bad."

"We are stuck in the middle of nowhere, in a bleedin' blizzard with a car that won't start. We've a packet of biscuits and a roll of mints between us. Probably get attacked by Indians next."

"Indians!" Bodie stared at him. "You're a complete nutter."

"Bears, then!" Doyle glared. "Point is, everything that could go wrong, has gone wrong. Brilliant idea of yours, this."

"It's not my fault!"

Doyle bared his teeth. "'Deliver the duke, lads, that's all I want you to do. Hand him over, get a night's rest, and head home.' Remember that, Bodie? Eh? But no, you had to drag me off to the fucking wilderness. We coulda been snug in a hotel somewhere now, not hunkering down in a hovel with walls that are more holes than wood. Good thing it's snowing, really, we can plug up the holes with snowballs, keep out the drafts. Like Eskimos."

Bodie winced, then rallied. "You were keen enough on it until it started snowing. And you were the one listened to the weather, said it was going to be clear and sunny!"

"Oh, right, blame this on me! Who was the one hired the car, eh, Bodie?"

"Well, you're the bloody genius mechanic!" Bodie took a deep breath and shut his eyes. "It's too soon to start fighting."

"Oh, right, wouldn't want to spoil tomorrow's entertainment." Doyle looked around the barren room. Christ, they'd need something, that was certain. "So now what?"

"Get more wood, for one." Bodie glanced at the window. "Now, before it gets any darker. And if you spot anything that looks remotely edible, bring it in. Should still be something around. It's early yet."

"Christ, I forgot all about it!"


Doyle held his hand out. "Keys."

"The car doesn't start, Doyle," Bodie said patiently. "And we already got the bags out."

"No, really?" Doyle marvelled. "Give me the fucking keys!"

Bodie handed them over with a glare, and Doyle went outside, bending his head into the wind and swearing as he stumbled over to the car. He found the boot and opened it, grabbing the basket sitting there in lonely splendour.

"Don't think you get out of hauling wood!" Bodie shouted over the wind as he heaved an armload up and headed back indoors.

Doyle grinned and closed the boot.

"I don't know what you thought you were doing." Bodie kept stacking wood carefully as Doyle walked in. "It's not like a hire car is gonna have blankets in the boot."

"No, but it might have food," Doyle said, grinning at the speed with which Bodie whipped round. He put the basket on the table. "Surprise!"

"Where the hell did that come from?"

"Was gonna take us on a picnic," Doyle admitted. He rubbed his nose and squinted at the fire, then glanced sidelong at Bodie.

Bodie beamed. "What's in it?"

"Oh, this and that. And a bottle of wine." He looked at the traces of snow still on the basket. "Nicely chilled."

"You're my hero, Doyle, have I ever told you that?"

"A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, and thou," Bodie said, slipping an arm around Doyle's shoulders as they sat staring into the fire.

Doyle sniffed and leaned into him. "Sentimental sod."

--by Arduinna (597 words)

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"Where did you find this place, Tom?" Harry set down his pack on the shaky bed, looking around the building for which the word "ramshackle" must have been invented.

"Hmmm?" Tom looked up from where he was trying to build a fire. Maybe he should have paid more attention in Boy Scouts. Harry nudged him out of the way and started stacking the kindling on top of a rumpled piece of paper.

"Where did you find a place so low-tech? Don't tell me you're out of credits again?"

Tom grinned, unrepentantly, and kicked back on one of the wooden chairs, appreciating the view. "Harry, my man, I'll have you know I spared no expense this trip." He gestured around the room, taking in the waxed paper windows, the log walls, the rope bed. "I'll have you know that you are staying in a totally faithful historical recreation of a genuine, 19th century Canadian shack."

Harry looked over his shoulder. "My cup runneth over. As does the toilet, probably."

"No toilet, I'm afraid." Tom pulled a brochure out of his pocket. "Experience life on the Canadian frontier! Invigorating atmosphere, rustic comfort. Hunting and fishing in season." He tossed it at Harry. "Here, use this."

"Paper advertising? How quaint." Harry looked around. "How do I start this thing? Where's the starter?"

Tom stood up and looked on the mantle. "Here -- matches. I wonder how period that is." He handed them to Harry, who shook his head.

"This is supposed to be a relaxing vacation after being stuck in the Delta quadrant so long. What was wrong with a little comfort?" Harry got the kindling to catch, and started adding some larger pieces of wood.

Tom shrugged. "Too many people, too much publicity. I wanted you all to myself."

Harry looked up, his expression softening. "I can deal with that."

Tom looked down at him intently. So much time had passed, so many things had happened, and yet, in the end, here they were, together again. Harry came up easily into his arms, and the fire had nothing on the heat that built between them. God, he'd been a fool.

The shack was still cold, but it didn't stop them from fumbling their clothes off, touching and licking and relearning each other's bodies. Tom almost came when Harry touched him; he put his hand on Harry's, holding him still and shuddering, until Harry grinned wickedly and dropped to his knees. Tom's right side was prickly with the heat of the fire, and it merged into the warmth of Harry's mouth, which seemed likely to make Tom forget everything else and make him wish they never had to go back.

He stroked Harry's golden skin, his soft, soft hair, and then he was coming, pouring himself out, and he was on the floor, kissing him desperately and wrapping himself around that warm, solid body, opening to it, taking him in, and he'd forgotten how good it was, to open to someone like this, to feel this vulnerable. This safe.

After, Harry pulled a blanket down and wrapped it around them and just lay there with him, watching him.

"You miss her, don't you?"

Tom drew a deep, shuddering breath. "Yeah. Sometimes." He looked at Harry. "But I missed you, too." They lay there, quietly, and Tom watched the flickering of the fire for a long, long time.

--by elynross (564 words)

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Fenster was getting harder and harder to understand, which was damned worrying.

Fenster was, after all, his friend, his homie, his amigo, his partner, and dammit, McManus treasured his ability to decipher the crazy sonofabitch's... English.



Spanafenglish. Yeah.

But... no one ever mentioned that the man would start wearing scarves.

That was just unfair.

He never wore scarves back in the city, and, okay, sure, so it was about ninety degrees colder up here, or whatever it was in Celsius, but McManus had always assumed that the scarf thing was more a style issue than a comfort one.

Granted, Fenster would look pretty fucked up if, say, his jaw froze off, and those killer blowjobs would come to an end, but... dude.



"Amoco? Does the snowmobile need gas? Do they have Amocos up here? I thought you liked Shell."

And why did getting hit always hurt more when it was cold, anyway?

"Look, if you'd just take the damned scarf off --"

"AMGO, mmph arda argh!"

"Fine. Whatever. But if you hit me again, you're sleeping outside."

McManus threw more wood on the fire, ignoring Fenster's glare as best he could. It wasn't like it'd been his idea to drive all the way to Asshole, Canada just to meet a guy who knew a guy.

No, that was Fenster's plan.

All about their moving up. Bigger scores, going international.

Going blue in the nuts as far as he could see. What was wrong with the hit 'em up jobs anyway? Fast money, the fences never stole more than their due, even a patrolman or two in their hip pocket.

Sure, it wasn't the high life, but they'd gotten out of that shithole they'd called an apartment months ago, you know? Fenster said he needed to get a little ambition.

Though with the way the communication wasn't happening lately, it was just as likely that he'd said something about tuition.

Or maybe, like, trees.

"When is this guy supposed to show up, anyway?"


"Fedda. Right. Are you ever gonna take that fucking scarf off?"

"Eh. Ah. Go."

"Be that way. Is there any beer? No, wait. Just nod. Or shake your head. Or, you know, something other than fucking glare."

McManus sighed. No TV and no beer make Homer something something.


"No TV and no beer make McManus something something."


More silence.

Enough fucking silence that McManus was considering being seriously pissed off when, "... bow ayee?"

"Don't mind if I do!"

And McManus pounced happily, sending them both into a moderately painful sprawl against the thin rug in front of the fire.

Lean, hard muscle beneath him. Sweetest body he'd ever seen, moles and scars and all. His skinny spic bastard, and anyone who had anything to say about it could just suck his left one.

Which, really, was a great fucking plan.

Got Fenster out of his pants, wave of heat and scent hitting like the world's welcomest brick.


"I'm going, asshole!"

Swallowed him down fast and careless, just the way they both loved it. Ran his teeth up the shaft and, okay, Fenster's fucking mittens were just not the same as Fenster's long, strong fingers, but McManus could definitely deal.

Oh, yeah.

Hot and slick and tangy-sweet, pistoning into his throat like a Detroit wet dream and God, yeah, he could do this all day. And by the sounds he was making, Fenster would clearly let him.

This, at least, did not require actual words.

Never did.

McManus grinned around Fenster's cock and thought warm thoughts.

--by Te (598 words)

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It wasn't the Luthor Mansion, but it was big and empty, and had the same watery light.  Clark sat cross-legged in the middle of an upstairs hallway, eating Ritz crackers and waiting.

Lex hadn't said anything yet, but it was coming.

"I didn't know you had property in Winnipeg."  Clark's voice echoed off the tile. "Then again, I wouldn't have bet on Smallville, either."


"Want some of my crackers?"

Lex smiled, sharp and practiced. "You're wondering why I brought you here."

"Uh, yeah."

"I know everything about you. You know that, right?" Lex tilted his head. "The strength.  The meteor shower. Where you didn't come from."

He could see it in Lex now--the hard line of his mouth, the certainty in his eyes, the hurt in the tense set of his shoulders. Clark swallowed.


"Does it matter?  I know.  I asked you so many times.  Did you think I would expose you?  I never would have hurt you, Clark. Not for the world." Lex leaned back against the wall. "I asked you."

"Why did you bring me all the way out here, Lex?"

"Because it's all the way out here.  Because...I wanted to see if you'd come."

"I did."

"Yeah." Lex nodded slowly. "You did."

"I'm glad you know. I'm glad, Lex." Clark crouched next to Lex, trying to smile.  "I'm sorry I couldn't tell you myself."

"Oh, so am I.  You don't know how much."

Mouth on his, furious and liquid.  Clark tried to push back and couldn't, nausea rising in him; there was a green gleam at Lex's throat, and no strength in Clark at all.

"I had it made," Lex said softly against Clark's throat, "just for you; do you like it?"

"Lex--God, please, Lex, don't--" and he was in it again, sick and hot, hurting.  Lex kissed him, drove his leg between Clark's thighs and his tongue into Clark's mouth until he couldn't breathe, couldn't think around the pain and the thick, rising need.  Until he was fighting for more, not less, and couldn't find any strength for it.

His hand found the necklace and stripped it away. Lex laughed, and let him, and the pain faded. The weakness was gone.

Lex wasn't. "Halfway there."  He leaned down and bit at Clark's mouth, grinning fiercely.  "No point in turning back now."

Clark couldn't breathe.

"'Please, Lex, don't,'" Lex mocked softly. "Do you ever stop lying, Clark?"

Lex moved.  Clark met him, blind with it, stupid, but the rub was just right, it was perfect: Lex pulling it out of him, knotting his mind and grinding pleasure into his body.  "Is this difficult, Clark? Are you confused?"


Lex reached between them and squeezed, stroked; he bit Clark's nipple through his T-shirt. "So young;  I shouldn't, but you know what I think?" He unzipped Clark's jeans and reached inside; his hand was cold, shocking, and Clark cried out, flexed into it.  "I think, if you're old enough to lie to me?  You're old enough to fuck--"

It was as much the word as anything, ripping the convulsions out of him. As much as the drive down onto Clark's cock, the sharp teeth at his shoulder, the shudder in Lex's body as he shouted--

Clark's name.

And then lay there, panting, a shaking, angular weight on Clark's chest, his face pressed into Clark's shirt.  His wet face.  "Clark."

Clark reached up and cupped his hand over the smooth, fragile shell of Lex's skull.

"I'm old enough," he said softly.  "It's okay, Lex.  I'm old enough."

--by Merry Lynne (595words)

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He peered through the swirling snow at the dark shape that loomed ahead.  Shelter.  He nudged his companion's shoulder, and when the pale, snow-rimed face turned to him, gestured toward the building, receiving a weary nod in response.

They passed a woodpile, carefully covered, as they circled the building, looking for an entrance.  The boards of the door were rough hewn but well fitted, and he reached up to undo the latch, fingers clumsy with cold.  The room was dim from snow piled on the windowsills, but there was a wooden floor, a few items of furniture, and most important, a small, iron stove in the corner.  This was far better than the frigid caves where they had spent the past few nights.

"I'll get a fire going," he said, his voice rough with exhaustion.  "You sit down, Mr. Frodo, and rest a bit."

Frodo, face drawn and pinched from cold, shook his head.  "I'll fetch some wood, Sam.  Then we can rest and eat."

Before Sam could answer, he was out the door, closing it carefully behind him.  Sam turned and opened the stove.  It was cold, but whoever had been here last had put kindling and paper inside, ready for a fire.  He got out his tinderbox and struck a spark;  the paper was dry and burned quickly.

There was a thump and a thud and he ran across the room to open the door.  Arms full, Frodo staggered in and dumped the wood beside the stove.

"There," he said, dusting off his chapped hands and unpinning his cloak, draping it over a chair to dry.  "That should last us through dinner, at least."

They built up the fire, and sat before the stove, hands and feet extended.  Once his fingers and toes warmed, Sam rose and looked around.

"Men made this," he said with a nod, running his hand over the smooth surface of the table that was level with his chin.  "Wonder if they left any food."

Frodo got slowly to his feet, face still as pale as parchment.  "There's a cupboard."

"Sit down, Mr. Frodo."  Sam didn't like the look of his companion.  "I'll go see."

Frodo didn't argue.  Sam kept an eye on him as he rummaged through the cupboards.  There were some containers on the shelves, with pictures of green beans, peas, potatoes, stew, and one with a fish wearing a hat.  He managed to open one container with his knife, and warmed it in his frying pan.  They ate the odd but satisfying stew quickly.

Afterward, Sam washed up as Frodo dozed by the fire.

"You take the bed," Sam said, wiping his damp hands on his trousers and spreading a blanket on the floor for himself.

"Don't be ridiculous."  Frodo climbed onto the bed and turned, his arms open.  "There's plenty of room for the both of us."

Sam looked at him for a moment, then snatched up the blanket and joined him.  He never could say no to Frodo.

--Sihaya Black (500 words)

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"This is hell."

Sandburg stood by the window, glaring out, leaning hard on the chair.

Jim let out a breath slowly. "Look, the weatherman didn't predict--"

"The ice sucks. But that's not why this is hell."  Testy.

The ankle again.  Jim tried to sound conciliatory.  "I said I was sorry, Chief."

Sandburg turned, awkwardly, and maneuvered to sit down. "I don't entirely understand how you can slip on a rock and yet I'm the one who winds up soaking wet with a twisted ankle and a fishhook in my ass."

"We got the fishhook out."

Sandburg narrowed his eyes. "And you know, amazing as this sounds, that isn't why this is hell, either."

Starting to get frustrated, again, Jim flopped back onto his cot and stared at the ceiling. "Why, then."

"Because you're obviously waiting to drop something on me!"  The vehemence in Sandburg's voice was surprising; Jim  rolled over to face him. "You've been bottling it up ever since we left the city, and whatever it is, I wish you'd just say it.  What: you're still pissed about the book thing, you don't want me to start the Academy on Monday, you hate my guts, what?"

Jim's heart sank.  Could this whole thing have gone any worse?  His teeth clenched.

"Just say it already! What are you afraid of?"

Stung, he spat words back: "Forget it, okay? It's obvious I've been delusional, I'm the last person on earth you'd want to be stuck with in a shack with no power during an ice storm, so let's just..." Last person on earth.  Oh, God, he'd just said that out loud.  He felt sick.  He rolled to face the wall.

"What?" Sandburg didn't sound venomous now, but his sudden calm made Jim nervous.

"Nothing." Curt.

"What, did you--did you think you were someone I'd want to be stuck in a shack with for two days?  I mean...you thought I wanted...?"

Jim felt his face blossoming crimson. "Forget it."

"No, wait, because I think we're operating under a pretty serious misunderstanding, here."

"I get it, okay?" Where had the lump in his throat come from? "I was wrong, you're not interested, forget it."

He heard the bump and shuffle of Sandburg making his way across the small floor to sit on the edge of his cot. He stiffened.

"You know why I thought this was hell?" He didn't answer, but Sandburg kept going. "Because it sounded like torture to spend two days locked in here with you, going out of my mind with wanting to fuck you and not able to do anything about it."

Having his desire thrown back at him like this was humiliating. Jim swallowed hard. "Sandburg, please. I'm an asshole. I get it. Let it go, please."

There was a pause. "Jim, what--you--" Sandburg sounded surprised. "I'm not yanking your chain, you idiot, I'm serious."

The world ground to a halt. "You're..." Jim couldn't speak. He rolled over and looked up at his partner in the fading light. What he saw there set his body ablaze.

"You know, the next two days suddenly don't look so bad after all..."

--by Kass Rachel (525 words)

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Mulder sat shivering, wrapped in all his blankets, even the roaring fire insufficient to take away the chill he felt deep into his bones. He didn't know how long he'd been here; he doubted he'd ever leave. Here there was nothing to disturb him, nothing to make him remember -- nothing that allowed him to forget. Just pines, and snow, and the occasional mating moose.

He never heard the door open, but then when had he ever been prepared for Krycek? Suddenly, he was just there, sharp-cut pants and leather jacket, his artificial hand artfully posed in his pocket, his real, equally cold hand holding a gun idly aimed somewhere over Mulder's shoulder.

"Here to finish the job?"

Krycek smiled at him. "You were never just a job to me. It made everything that much more complicated."

Mulder shifted on the couch, standing up to throw more logs on the fire, carefully keeping distance between him and Krycek. Oddly, he felt nothing.

"You ran out on me, Mulder. I always thought we'd finish up together. You, me, beaten to a bloody mutual pulp."

"You're just saying that to cheer me up." Mulder sat back down on the couch, pulling his blankets back around him.

Krycek laughed. "Here you are, all alone, at the ass-end of nowhere. Don't you have things to take care of? What about your partner?"

Mulder shrugged. "Not my job anymore. I died, didn't you hear? Gets you out of all kinds of things: work, family, marriage." He looked up. "You oughta try it -- oh, wait, you did!" He enjoyed the gleeful note in his voice. "Took long enough."

"And even then, in the end, you didn't have the stomach to do it yourself. That was always your problem, Mulder; you let sentiment get in the way. If I'd been you, I'd have been dead years ago." Krycek brushed his fingers over the small hole in the middle of his forehead, feeling the edges. "Instead, I got love taps and fist hickeys. And you say it wasn't love."

Mulder felt sick. "It wasn't love. I never loved you."

"Maybe not, but it was the closest either one of us had ever been." Krycek wandered around the shack, running a finger along the mantel. Sparkling motes of dust drifted through the light from the kerosene lamp as he rubbed his fingers.

Mulder snorted. "That wasn't love. It was lust. And loathing."

Krycek crouched down in front of him, hands busy between Mulder's thighs. "Close enough for government work." Then Krycek's mouth was on him, hot and wet and damning, and Mulder was arching up, trying to get closer, trying to lose his pain and his guilt and his fear in the circle of Hell Krycek had reserved especially for him. He took Krycek's cold, cold hand in both of his, bringing it up to his mouth. Gun metal and nitrates on his tongue, lips spreading to take Krycek in, tilting his head back, and finally he was warm, flames sheeting through him.

The single gunshot echoing through the woods disturbed no one.

--by elynross (515 words)

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Light: a pale sky before dawn.  ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN are standing where we last saw them in Act Three - which should remind us of where we first saw them in Act One.  GUIL is irritated, ROS is bemused.

GUIL:  This is intolerable.  (Pause)  There was an end to it.

ROS (looking about): Apparently not.

GUIL: We had closure.

ROS: A false step.  At least we're not dead. (Walks forward, looks over the audience. )  At least we're not on a boat. (He waits for GUILDENSTERN'S reaction; gets none. ) Unless death is, after all, not being on boats.  Being not on boats.

GUIL: It could be--

ROS (suddenly wild): You said we couldn't not-be on a boat, and here we are, not being on a boat!

GUIL: Rosencrantz --

ROS: I should have jumped over the side -- then I'd be certain to be both dead and not on boats at once!

GUIL: Guildenstern!

ROS: What?

GUIL:(patiently explaining): It could be England.

ROS (looks about in all directions): Well, if it is, it's not at all how I imagined it.

GUIL: You said you don't believe in England.

ROS: I don't.  And this isn't at all what I imagined it wasn't. (Sits.)

GUIL (pacing): Perhaps we are working from a flawed assumption that the two conditions are mutually exclusive -- that our journey must have brought us to be either dead or in England. It is conceivably equally likely, if we allow that we exist under the erstwhile un-, sub-, or supernatural forces, that we are not dead, and this is not England, or that we are dead, and this is England.  (He looks about) Though I had hoped for something more than a ... shack, in death. (Pause)  I had hoped for something more than a shack in England, as well...

ROS (tugging at his money bag): It's all the same to me.

GUIL (stops pacing, stares): What - death and England?

ROS: Well, it doesn't really matter what it goes by, does it? (He pulls a coin from his bag) Death, England, either way, here we are.  Choosing a proper noun won't alter the circumstances. (He spins coin) Heads or tails?

GUIL: Not now.  (Resumes pacing)  Fact: You don't believe in England.  Supposition: England and death are one and the same. Situational conclusion: You don't believe in death.  Derail.

ROS (slapping down coin): Heads or tails?

GUIL: NOT NOW!  (Slightly frantic) I will have answers!  There was a beginning and a middle, and by rights, there should be an end!

ROS (looking): Tails.

GUIL: Mockery?!

There is a BANGING, like a fist on a window shutter, from O.S.

VOICE (O.S.): Hoy! Guildenstern! (ROS looks up, fearfully) Rosencrantz! (GUIL looks at ROS, drained).  The King commands your presence at Elsinore!

A  long pause.

GUIL: We've done this ... before.

ROS: Yes.  Before.

GUIL: And... we will, again.

They look at one another.
ROS: You have your answer, then.  But...

GUIL: Not for long.

ROS stands.  They right their clothes, settle their money bags.

ROS (a brave face): We have many things to be thankful for.

GUIL (almost gently): Yes?

ROS: We're not dead.  And ... we're not in England.

GUIL: True.

ROS: And, we won't have to know any of this again... until...

GUIL: We do.

ROS: Yes.

GUIL: Yes.

Silence.  Then, GUIL claps his hands together briskly.

GUIL: Right!  Let's get on with -


--by tzikeh (578 words)

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Kelly grabbed one fold of the thick woolen muffler wrapped from brow to collarbone around Scotty's head and yanked him inside, closing the door behind them and shooting the heavy bolt with a satisfied slam. The clipboard on the table confirmed that no one was due back until the end of the week; it was supposedly a sporadically-manned weather station, but of course it was really run by spies listening for other spies. There probably weren't any actual weather stations up here anymore.

"Hey, man!" Scotty's protesting voice was lost beneath the orange and yellow-striped wool monstrosity he was wearing. Kelly grabbed one fringed end and started to unwrap. He wondered if he could just pull hard and spin Scotty like a top.

"You can come out now," he said to one of Scotty's eyes as he uncovered it.

The eye squinted at him. "Break it to me gently--how lost are we?"

"We're not lost," Kelly said, unwrapping the other eye.

"Excuse me, Columbus--" He stopped to sputter for a second; it sounded like he had sucked in a fold of scarf. Kelly stuck two fingers into the wrappings and pulled gently down to reveal Scotty's mouth. Damp yellow and orange threads clung to the dark chin, and Kelly carefully brushed them away as Scotty finished: "--this station is way out of bounds. It's not even on the training map."

"That's why it's perfect." He watched Scotty's mouth for just a second more. Hello there. So nice to see you. Wish you were here. Like here here.

"Okay, now I'm scared. The cold has gotten to you. You're not planning on inviting me to no Donner Party now, are you, Kel?"

Kelly unwrapped the last couple of layers with a flourish, and there was Scotty's face in all its glory. "Listen, man," he said, whipping the giant scarf completely free and tossing it onto the table, "I know what I'm doing."

"Uh huh. I'm not even sure you know what day it is. Look, this refresher course is called 'Escape and Evasion.' Remember?" Scotty gestured vaguely with one parka-and-mittened arm. "Short for running around and hiding like crazy people. Very crazy people. Very crazy and very cold people."

Kelly pulled off Scotty's mittens, and then his own gloves. "Exactly. We're off the map, right?"

"Right," Scotty said, eyeing him warily from beneath his red stocking cap. Okay, at least it wasn't orange and yellow-striped, but the cap had to go. Off it came.

"So, have we or have we not successfully escaped from their little exercise in frostbite?" He ran one thumb up the seam of Scotty's parka until he found the zipper. It came down with a few brisk tugs.

"Ah," said Scotty, brows lifting. "Yeah. And tomorrow morning we're gonna circle back, sneak into home base, win the game, and evade responsibility."

"By George, I think he's got it."

"I think I got it."

Kelly moved in closer, unzipping his own coat, and grinned as Scotty reached up to push off his cap. Scotty's big hands felt so good in his hair, cool against his scalp. "You can go to the head of the class."

But they weren't going much of anywhere for a while.

--by Dorinda  (540 words)

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"It appears to be a rather primitive planet."  Obi-Wan stacked the wood next to the simple metal stove and rubbed snow out of his eyebrows with the back of his hand. "No sign of any advanced energy technology, and I can't say I'm too impressed with their building standards."

Qui-Gon looked up from his attempt to fuse the broken glass back into the window frame. "We cannot judge an entire world by a single abandoned shack, Padawan."

Obi-Wan nodded. "No, Master. Abandoning this shack does indicate a measure of common sense, if  nothing else." Building and lighting a fire was familiar work, quickly done. He straightened up and held his hands over the stove as the metal began to heat. "I still think we should attempt to find whatever passes for civilization around here. Perhaps this is a common occurrence, and they have means of getting us back that don't involve waiting in a drafty one-room cabin in the middle of a vast field of snow."

"This is where the temporal rift opened." Qui-Gon came over to warm his hands, too. "I feel it would be unwise to leave."

"We have no food," Obi-Wan pointed out.

"We were ripped away from the middle of a fourteen-course dinner. You can't possibly be hungry."

"Not yet," Obi-Wan said darkly. "But I will be."

Qui-Gon looked down at him. Then he reached out and pulled Obi-Wan into a close embrace. Obi-Wan blinked, but put his arms around Qui-Gon in return; his master gave off more heat than the stove. He pressed his cold nose into Qui-Gon's chest. There were meditations that began like this, face to face, although that always seemed to translate into face to clavicle for the two of them. Qui-Gon's hands on his back were large and warm. Obi-Wan smiled.

"That's better," Qui-Gon said.

"I was just thinking that it is advantageous in some circumstances to have a large master. You give off more body heat." Obi-Wan tilted his face up. "You are going to keep me warm, aren't you?"

"It is my responsibility to see to your bodily comfort," Qui-Gon said gravely, and kissed him.

Obi-Wan laughed into the kiss. "If the rift reopens now," he said, "we'd land in the middle of the banqueting hall like this--"

"Surely this is nothing to remark on. I can think of more compromising positions," Qui-Gon said, and dropped to his knees.

Obi-Wan shivered. "Yes?"

"Yes." Warm hands. Cold air. Hot, hot mouth.

"Oh, yes." He closed his eyes and shifted his hips, pushing forward, deeper, taken in without hesitation. Qui-Gon's hand moved up and down the back of his thigh. "As compromising positions go," Obi-Wan got out, "this is one of my--favorites--"

The cold air on the back of his neck seemed deliberate, an enhancement, something to bring out the heat of Qui-Gon's mouth in sharp, exquisite contrast. Obi-Wan flung his arms out, arched up as though he could fly. White lightning embraced them both as he came.

--by torch (523 words)

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 "Winnipeg."  Methos grinned and squinted up at the sun.  "I can't believe it."

"Yeah," Mac muttered darkly.  "So I've heard.  About fifty-seven times."

"Sorry."  Methos didn't sound sorry at all. "But who would've thought?  Winnipeg."

Mac sat on a rock, elbows on his knees, sword dangling idly from his hands.  He'd been listening to Methos marvel over the locale for what felt like decades.  It wasn't like Mac had bought a travel guide and picked the place for its cultural value.  It wasn't like he'd said to himself, Time for the Gathering, MacLeod, let's have it somewhere that will really piss Methos off.

Nothing could make a guy long for the end of the world like having Methos around for the last five minutes of it.

Methos turned in a slow circle, awestruck.  "Winnipeg!"

"Oh, dear." Mac dropped the sword and hung his head.

"Think of the copy.  'Lo, and at the end of days, the last living Immortals were drawn by unfathomable powers to their sacred last battle -- behind a burned-out shack two miles north of the fabled city of Winnipeg!'"

"Well," Mac sighed.  "When you put it like that."

"Our origins are lost in the mists of time, but our final seconds tick away within shouting distance of a donut shop and a 7-11."  Methos laughed delightedly.  "Irony like that is proof of a Higher Power."

"I won't fight back, I swear.  The Prize is all yours, just cut clean."

"Duncan."  Methos knelt in front of him and picked up Mac's fallen sword.  "That wasn't the plan, and you know it."

"It was a stupid plan."

"It was your idea!"

"I know," Mac said fervently.  "But now that we're down to it, I'm terrified we'll screw it up and end up lying side by side, half-decapitated, for all eternity--and you'll never shut up."

"Oh? Better that one of us should survive to rule the world with a benevolent iron fist?  You with your pathetic devotion to opera and blood sports, or me with my insidious charm and complete aversion to sobriety?  History won't thank either of us for surviving the other; we might as well get on with it."

Mac stood up so fast his legs tangled.  "You mean it?"

"Well."  Methos smiled dangerously. "There's a new plan."

"A guillotine, maybe.  Very sharp blade.  Make it quick for myself."

Methos lifted Mac's chin with gentle fingers and kissed him.

With five thousand years of dedicated practice behind it.

When Mac regained consciousness, he was horizontal--grass below, Methos above.

"Pay attention," Methos said.  "There can be only one.  Now, literally, we couldn't both survive that kind of mandatory term limit.  It's just not in the math.  Figuratively, however--assuming we do it right--there could be a moment when we're close enough to be...well...One."  He blushed.  "If we were to subscribe to a rather Harliquinesque view of the act in question, which, being a big strong manly Scot, I'm sure you don't."

"Methos."  Mac groaned. "Kill me or fuck me.  I don't care which.  Just don't talk while you're doing it."

"You think it will work?"  Methos frowned, suddenly pensive.  "What if it doesn--mmph!"

Hours later, when the sun had sunk beneath the horizon and the last evening had darkened into the last night of the last day before the End, two long, lean survivors curled close to one another in the dew-drenched grass, panting and spent and happy.

Until one of them said in a bright, wondering tone:  "Winnipeg!"

And the other reached behind him for his sword --

--by Merry Lynne (598 words)

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I've been gettin' up real early since there's so much to do.  Gotta hunt, eat, fold up the thermals and the tent.  Wind the ropes, pack the gear.  Load it up, lock it down.  One last check, tighten the straps, and alley-oop--I'm on, I'm off.  Ride all day, couple hundred miles, search for shelter, set up camp, and do it again.

I'm going a little blank now and then but that's okay.  Your mind goes blank and your hands just go on without you.  Fold, stuff, tighten.  Shift, drive, steer.  Ignore the pain, ignore the cold.  Just keep going and remember to eat.

This is almost second nature now.  It's becoming instinctive, which is good.

I traded the GTO back in northern Manitoba, when it looked like the roads were pretty much all she wrote.  That car...hell, I loved that car, but one way or the other I won't be needing her anymore.  I'm moving up, moving out, plus the snowmobile's got a nice engine, too.  I can really get the speed up if the wind's not bad, which I like a whole lot, even all cold and everything.

I figure it's maybe another three days before I make the ice highway, and then I'm gonna have to trade it in for dogs.  If I make the ice highway--but that's the whole point, here, ain't it?  One way or another, come hell or high water.  Cause after four months of adventure with Fraser, maybe I do got something to prove.  3,500 hundred miles from Chicago to Inuvik, and if I can make it on my own...if I can make it...

Then maybe it's okay to stay.  Then maybe I can look at myself in the mirror and feel okay about this whole thing.  Less of a deadweight, more like someone who can maybe live in Buttfuck, Canada from now on.

I'm doing okay, I think, though this has been the easy part so far, I know that.  One little slip-up, one wrong swerve and I won't make it, which you know is maybe okay, too.  Anything is better than what it's been--useless up north, lonely down south.  Trapped in an avalanche, wedged in the ice, frozen like a popsicle--that ends it, anyway.  Fraser don't have to know, and he won't ever find out, since I covered my tracks but good with the usual sign-off, "Goin' undercover, see you when I see you."

Everybody bought it.   Fraser won't have to know.

But if I have a little goddamn luck then maybe I will make it.  And I can't wait to see his face when I knock on the door.  "Hey, I'm back!" and I'll shove my way in--back into his bed, his life, the shack, everywhere he'll have me.  Maybe I'll even let him fuck me this time.  If I make it up there in one piece and semi-sane, everything'll be different, anything's possible.

Fold, stuff, tighten.  Shift, drive, steer.  He's up there.  Remember to eat.  Load it up, lock it down.

--by Speranza (521 words)

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Gus woke to the smell of fishcakes burning. "Bunsy," he said before his eyes were open.

He opened his eyes. No Bunsy. Just burning fishcakes and roiling smoke. As he watched, a flame licked up the side of the pan, fed by the grease.

He rolled out of bed and lunged for the stove, turning off the propane as he dragged the cast-iron pan off the fire. Breakfast was still burning. "Rosy-eyed Jesus!" He looked around, but the lid was nowhere to be seen and Sil had borrowed the fire extinguisher and never brought it back.

Gus grabbed the nearest fabric--a plaid flannel shirt--and the pan. Shoving his feet into boots, but not bothering with any other clothes, he kicked open the door. Then it was easy enough to carry the pan across the greening grass of the mini-golf course and onto the pier, where he threw the contents, still fitfully spitting, into the harbor. A glob of grease seared his hand, and Gus dropped the pan. It landed on the planks rather than in the water. "Thank God for small mercies," Gus muttered.

Now that he was up and out, he looked around, breathing deeply. Wind from the east, off the water, the sun coming up. A clear day, always a mercy in April when there was so much repair work to be done...and there came Bunsy, back from answering a call of nature.

"Morning, Gus. What happened?"

"Breakfast. Stove fire. Wake me up next time you leave the stove on, would you?" Gus bent to pick up the pan, beginning to feel the cold. Even in summer, boxers weren't practical on Solomon Gundy. Not with nothing else on over them.

Before Gus'd straightened up, he heard Dempster Millard someplace behind him, saying "Solomon Gundy's unique and natural beauty. . ."

Gus stood quickly and turned, but not before he caught a glimpse of the stranger next to Dempster, checking out Gus' behind. The man smirked.

Dempster hesitated.

The man said, "Introduce me?" He wore a polo shirt and khakis, the fake-casual clothing of city people. His shoes, at least, were honest: old sneakers with fraying laces. His face, surprisingly, also looked honest.

"Ezekiel Bunsy, and our mayor," how it pained Dempster to say that, "Augustus Knickle." Dempster turned to the smirker. "This is Sam Seaborn, from the United States government."

"Mayor Knickle," Sam held out his hand to Bunsy.

"Ah, no, that would be me," Gus said, shifting the pan from right hand to left, and shaking. The hand was soft but the grip was firm. All else being equal, Gus was inclined to like this Sam Seaborn.

"Mayor Knickle," Sam repeated, taking the correction in stride. "I was just admiring your island." He grinned, keeping his eyes conspicuously on Gus' face, rather than farther down, "And its natural beauty." The innuendo was obvious. Gus' cock twitched.

"I'd like to talk to you," Sam was saying. "Maybe later this morning?"

Gus grinned back, aware that if he didn't get dressed soon, he'd have an even more embarrassing situation on hand. "Hold on a minute, and I'll take you to breakfast at Lydia's."

He stalked into the tar-paper shack, ignored the lingering smell of burning fish, and rooted for his clothes. For a moment, he considered leaving off his clerical collar, but no. If Sam really was flirting, he'd have to deal with Gus being a minister. If he wasn't interested, it'd be best to know that soon.

Gus smiled and fastened on his collar over the old suit.

--by Gearbox (596 words)

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Of all the ideas Ethan ever had, Ripper decided, this was probably the worst.

Given that Ethan's other ideas included summoning up the demon Ementep, throwing gin bottles through the front windows at Harrod's and doing that very suspicious hash they'd gotten from Deirdre, this was saying something. But as Ripper staggered through the snow, devoid of Ethan's companionship, any Canadian dollars or a buzz on any substance, legal or otherwise, he was ready to stand by his judgment.

Of course, he'd agreed to all this. It had all sounded glorious as they lay about in their London flat -- with holes in the windows, junk-food wrappers around the mattresses on the floor, African-print cloth serving as drapes or coverlets or rugs, depending on where it fell. Ethan lying next to him, spinning plans as wide and unformed as the smoke trails rising from the grass they were smoking. Nothing in the world had seemed real besides Ethan's body and the music blaring from the speakers --

Curt Wild.

Everything dark and dangerous that Ripper was running toward -- all of it was wrapped up in one man's voice, one man's guitar, one man's glittering body. Curt Wild was everything that was shameless and ecstatic, and when Ethan suggested that they go seek him in the American Midwest, follow the murky trails of rumor about Wild's disappearance, it had seemed a great adventure.

But now -- after bad leads, missed trails, a lack of cash and a serious falling out at the border, Ripper was very much alone, and very much lost. And he was pretty sure he could hear wolves howling.

Ethan, damn him, was probably back at the hotel by now, getting high with some pretty girl or prettier boy, and thinking as little of Ripper's fate as he did anyone else's, besides his own.

Just then, when Ripper was on the verge of giving in to either self-pity or panic, he saw a faint flickering of light. At last, he thought. Some shelter.

He made his way to the shack's rickety door, pounded against it. When it opened, the light streaming forth seemed blinding. Ripper blinked.. "I'm so sorry -- I'm lost, y'see -- "

"You'd never guess." That voice. Wry. Seductive. Familiar.

"Get in fast." Ripper felt his arm being tugged, and stepped into the tiny shack. He could see a small, wood-burning stove, firelight peeking out from it, and there, in the uncertain light -- Good God.

Curt Wild closed the door behind them. On the floor, his pallet was thick with blankets and, yes, even fur. One candle burned on a nearby crate, and a dog-eared copy of "The Picture of Dorian Gray" lay atop the fur.

"What are you doing here?" Ripper blurted out.

Wild didn't seem to care what Ripper asked or why. He smiled slightly as he began stripping off Ripper's snow-soaked coat. "The wolves," he said simply. "What are you doing here?"

Wild's hair was even more golden than it looked on television. His eyes were darker than they looked in newsprint. His voice was a thousand times more seductive speaking than singing, and Ripper would never have dreamed that possible.

He thought about Ethan, his lover, in a flat in London. He thought about Ethan, laughing his ass off at Ripper's expense back at their hotel.

"You," Ripper said. "I'm here for you."

--by Yahtzee (562 words)

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Duncan shouldered through the door, strode to the fireside and thrust the severed head into Methos' field of vision. "Where's the rest of him?"

Methos glanced up from his seat on the hearthrug, then continued polishing his sword. "Back, are we? What's for dinner, then?"

"Goddamn it, Methos, I leave you alone for four hours--"


"--and you kill somebody!"

"Your point being?"

"My point?"

"Put it back where you found it. It's dripping on my clean floor."

"I won't have a man's head on a stake at my door!"

"It's a hell of a do-not-disturb sign, MacLeod." Methos put aside his sword and drew his sweatshirt over his head.

Duncan restrained the urge to either run Methos through or fuck him senseless. "Where's the rest of him?"

Methos considered the question. "I ate him." He tossed his sweatshirt aside and pulled off his shoes.

"You did not eat him!"

Methos licked his lips provocatively and plucked off his socks. "I did, you know."


"Succulently simmered over a low fire with potatoes, carrots and basil--"

"So help me God, if you--"

"With just a hint of wild sage--"

"Where is he?" bellowed Duncan.

Methos looked up at him through seductively lowered lashes as he undid his fly. "Are you sure I didn't eat him, MacLeod?"

"Yes," snarled Duncan. "I'm sure you didn't eat him."

"Sure of anything else?"

Duncan paused and raised the severed head, looking at it closely for the first time. He recognized the face. "Keane?"

"Bright boy." Methos slithered out of his jeans.

"What the hell was he doing out here?"

"Making the same mistake twice." Methos began stroking himself.

"He challenged you?" Duncan heard his voice squeak and sternly called his rebellious body to heel.

"MacLeod, can you think of nothing you'd rather be doing?"

"He challenged me," Duncan snapped, managing to stir enough indignation to ignore his swelling erection.

"Me. You. Us. What difference does it make?" Methos lay back against the pillows he had purloined from the bed, continuing to stroke himself hard. "New subject. I bore easily." He moaned shamelessly.

Duncan closed his eyes. Get thee behind me, Satan. Methos was moving. Duncan could imagine the sensuous abandon, the firelight licking that fair skin, and riveted his attention on the gruesome object that dangled from the wet hair clenched in his hand. "This was my fight, Methos."

"I said new subject! I've spent six bloody weeks freezing my arse off in this hovel--"

"We're going to bury him."

"--listening to the moose bellow all day and the wolves howl all night--"

"It's the decent thing to do."

"--and I'm not going for decent, here, MacLeod! Fuck me, or I'm not telling you where he is."

Duncan opened his eyes. "Tell me where he is, or I won't fuck you." He met Methos' gaze squarely.

Methos' eyes narrowed, his hand stopped moving, he looked away. "Boy scout," he snapped petulantly.

"Where. Is. He."

"Out the back door. You can't miss him, he's hanging from the eaves."

"Sweet Jesus."

Methos shot him a baleful look. "Well, you will have two doors to this pencil box, won't you? I do not wish to be disturbed."

"Despite your wishes," said Duncan between gritted teeth, "you are profoundly disturbed."

"Put the sign back on the door, Duncan." Methos started stroking himself again, smiling.

Duncan glanced from the severed head to Methos and back again, then turned toward the door. Oh, hell. The decent thing could wait a few minutes. Hours. Days. Smiling, Duncan opened the door and slammed the head back on its stake.

--by Lanning Cook (599 words)

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"Tell me again, English."


"Why not?"

Wes sighed, scrubbed a hand through his hair. "Because I've told you nineteen --"


"Eighteen times already, and if you don't understand it yet, then it's not my problem anymore."

"That's cold. Not as cold as this frozen fucking tundra we're trudging through, but cold just the same. And I understand, I just don't believe."

"What's so hard to believe about random rips in the space-time continuum? Relatively, I mean."

"Oh, so now you're going to stop being pissy?"

"I wasn't -- " Wes stopped. Sighed. "Yes. Talk to me, Gunn. It might help keep us warm."

"Do you know where we're going?"

"No. Don't start."

Gunn snorted. "I wasn't. It's not like I can tell where the fuck we are in all this white-out. We're living Amiri Baraka's nightmare. You realize this, don't you?"

"I can think of quite a few people for whom this would constitute a nightmare. We don't have to play the race card."

Gunn snickered. "No justice, no peace."

"Don't make me hit you."

"Your fist would snap off at the wrist."

"I would at least have the satisfaction of ramming it down your throat first. Beating it in with my stump, if I had to and yes, fine, all right, I'm being pissy. It's bloody cold and we're lost, and we're going to die out here and that's just...stupid."

Wes was several paces ahead before he realized Gunn had stopped.

Turned around, hugging himself a little. "What?"

"You think it's stupider to die out here than it is to die anywhere else?"

"Don't you?"

Gunn just looked thoughtful, standing perfectly still and making Wes freeze by association.

"Come on, man! Think while we walk."

Gunn shrugged, picked up the pace. Taking this far too bloody well, really.

"Why aren't you suffering?"

Gunn smirked. "Didn't you know? Black folks radiate heat."

"Black... what? Have you gone insane?"

"It's true. Inner cities are always the hottest -- all them Negroes, packed in together."

"... I hate you."

"I'll remember that when it's time to decide whose ears we cut off first for food."

"We won't live long enough to starve."

"Yep, we will." Gunn pointed into the white. "Shelter up there."

Wes squinted fruitlessly. "I reiterate; are you insane?"

"Nope. But I am fully equipped with 20/10 vision."

"I --" Wes bit off some particularly choice invective. He could allow a dying man his fantasies. Gunn was bald as a bloody egg -- he had to be losing heat by the nanosecond.

But it was Wes whose legs stopped working several yards from the building that did, in fact, exist. Gunn hauled him along companionably, and they were in...

Well, it was a shack, no bones about it.

But it was clearly an insulated shack, with a small fireplace, a stack of wood that came from Lord knew where, blankets, a two-way radio --

"Gunn. I'm in love."

"English, please, we haven't even had sex yet."

Wes blinked. "With the shack, you lunatic."

Gunn snickered and proceeded to build a fire. And then stripped them both with a sort of silently snarky efficiency.

Well, the snark didn't come in until Wes protested.

Body heat, of course.

Cocooned together in blankets in front of the fire, naked and very much entwined.

Wes failed spectacularly at not thinking about it.

"I'm not gay, you know."

Gunn kissed him. Slowly, roughly, and with intent.

"... I still hate you."

"Yeah, well, death is stupid everywhere."

"It's a part --"

Gunn kissed him again.


--by Te (588 words)

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"Oh, Canada." Blair sounded satisfied. "Hey, Jim, this is our turn." They pulled onto dirt.

"Explain to me again why this thing had to be across the border?" Jim gestured out the window. "It looks exactly like it did a mile ago, only now the pine forest's, what, particularly Canadian?"

"Liminality. Transgression. The deeply satisfying feeling of crossing over." Blair glanced, saw Jim wsn't buying it, and rolled his eyes. "I just thought it'd be fun."

"So whaddaya think?"

Jim considered carefully. It was small, wooden, featuring a woodstove and a futon (not a cot, thank God; those tended to creak, or, worse, collapse) and a set of bare shelves. It was a shack, pretty standard-issue. What was he supposed to think?

Blair took his silence as answer. "Help me get the stuff in and the fire started, and I'll show you why I picked this one."

"What do you hear?"

"Fire," Jim said automatically. The woodstove roared, in comparison with their little fireplace at home.

"Past that."

Filtering out the fire, Jim heard...almost nothing. An owl. Small feet skittering over crusty snow, a mouse maybe, or a small fox. That was it. "Nothing," he said.

Blair grinned. "And you know what the corollary of that is, don't you?"

What was Blair going on about? Jim shook his head.

"No one can hear us, either." His voice soft but silky with intent. "Strip."

Jim shivered as his hands obeyed. Behind him he heard Blair sliding out of his own clothes, rummaging in their bags, placing something near the edge of the mattress. Fire warmed his front side; his back side was cold.

Not for long. Blair was behind him, and Jim felt his heat, even from inches away. Blair reached around and cupped slick fingers over Jim's cock. Jim gasped.

"You want this?"

Jim sighed a yes.

"You're going to have to want it a lot more than that."

The hand slipped away. Jim sighed in protest.

"Hands and knees." Decisive.

The mattress was stiff, but gave slightly under his weight. Blair's hand returned to pump Jim's cock, once, and Jim moaned softly. A tug at his balls, and he gasped.

And then Blair's hand was gone, and before he was prepared for it the first smack came down. It wasn't long before his breathing was heavy. His ass was hot and his cock and balls dangled down, the lack of stimulation almost unbearable.

"Please," he managed.

"Please what?"

God, he loved this. "Please touch me. Blair."

But instead of the anticipated stroke along his erection, Jim felt wet fingers gliding into him, sparking fire along his spine. He groaned.

The rhythm was fast, Blair's strokes were deep, and Jim discovered that once he'd started making noise, he couldn't stop.

"Yeah? You like that? You want more of that?"

Jim moaned a desperate reply. Just then the fingers were withdrawn, and he opened his mouth to beg for their return, and then he felt Blair coming up behind him and pressing inside. Two hard strokes and Jim came, helplessly, keening a long string of "oh"s into the silent Canadian air.

Blair kept fucking him; boneless with pleasure, Jim sighed into the pillow, which smelled like woodsmoke. When Blair came, his shout would have woken two floors of neighbors. But of course, there weren't any.

And they'd be here until Tuesday.

Jim fell asleep with a smile on his face.

--by Kass Rachel (571 words)

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He pushed the door open, trying not to break the lock too badly. It was almost dark inside. Lex huddled by the far wall, next to the stove, wrapped in a blanket, shivering. "I don't want you to be here," he said. "Go away."

"Jesus, Lex. You have to build up the fire. It's freezing in here." Clark closed the door and  crossed the room in five strides, dropping down by the woodstove. He opened it and began to put more wood on the embers, stirring them with one finger to make sure the logs caught.

"You lied to me." Lex's voice was flat, and there was no force behind it.

"Lots of times." Clark looked down. His cheeks burned, and not from the cold. "Lex, give me your hands." They were like ice, and Clark shuddered in sympathy. "Your father's issued a reward."

"Really." He had to lean in closer to hear what Lex was whispering. "I thought Kents didn't take anything from Luthors. Or was that another lie?" A racking cough. "Oh, I forgot. You're not really a Kent, are you."

Clark breathed on Lex's fingers. "I'm just me." An unknown quantity even to himself, but this was not the time. "I'm not here because of the reward. Lex. You have to come back."

"Why? So you can lie to  me some more? So my father can lie to me some more? So I can lie to everyone some more?" Lex's eyes gleamed with reflected firelight. Clark touched his shoulder, thinking of the unbroken field of snow outside. "Don't."

"You can't stay here, Lex. You'll hurt yourself."

"It seems to be the thing to do." Lex turned his face away.

Clark rested his head in Lex's hands, hot cheeks against cool palms. He could feel the pulse beat at Lex's wrist, a thin thrum of life against his lips. "I do trust you," he said. There was no answer. "I do."

Lex pulled one of his hands free and threaded it into Clark's hair. "That's nice." He sounded very remote. "I don't trust you, Clark." He stroked through Clark's hair in short, gentle movements. "I don't trust you."

Unbreathing, Clark could not find his voice. "Oh." He tried again. "Lex." Fingers tightened in his hair. "Your father--"

"Wants his heir back." Lex sat so eerily still, except for his moving fingers.

Clark squeezed his eyes shut. "I want my friend back."

"Do you?" Lex tugged at his hair, and he lifted his head. He would not resist. Not this. "Do you really?"

The dancing shadows darkened the bruised skin under Lex's eyes. Clark didn't want to see through him. He opened his mouth to say yes, and then, between one moment and the next, he knew. "You're not my friend." He shifted forward, unafraid now, and put his arms around Lex and pulled him in close. "I want you to come back, Lex. Please."

"I don't trust you," Lex said into his chest.

"I know. I'm sorry." He pulled the blanket around Lex's shoulder, and Lex softened against him. "Can I. Um. Can I kiss you?"

"No," Lex said, and pushed at him, and then Lex's arm was around his neck and their mouths crushed together. Lex tasted like snow and shadows. Clark decided to kiss him until he melted.

Until the night was over.

--by torch (557 words)

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Dumbledore recommended the portkey over the floo powder. "Severus was a bit twitchy the last time I looked in on him," he said thoughtfully. "I wouldn't want him to do something regrettable before he realized who you were."

"No, sir, by all means," Harry said. "He's quite capable of doing something nasty after he's gotten a good look at me."

Dumbledore smiled at him. "Oh, I think that's very unlikely. Very unlikely indeed." He looked around. "Now, where did I put... Ah, there it is." He gestured with his wand, and the tea table walked over, dancing like a kid goat. "Careful, careful, don't spill anything!" It gentled, and sidled the last few feet more carefully. "Take this, Harry. It will put you a short walk from the cabin. Severus can send you back, when you're ready."

Harry took the carved maple leaf and tucked it in his robes. "Thank you, sir."

"Good luck, Harry." His keen eyes looked into Harry's, and once again Harry felt that Dumbledore understood much more than he said.

The cabin was just visible through the trees. Hermione had wished him luck, but Ron had just shaken his head and Harry's hand, asking if he were sure, looking like he thought a good stiff dose of Caribelle's Copacetic Concoction might be more in order. And really, he might be right; maybe a good belt would settle things down, clear his mind. Or maybe not.

He took a deep breath and started off, arriving well before he was ready. He stood there a moment, staring blankly at the door. Then he shook his head, took another deep breath, and knocked.

The curtains at the window twitched, but there was no sound within, and the door stayed resolutely shut. Harry's mouth firmed, and he pulled out his wand. "Alohomora!" The door swung silently open, and Harry stepped inside before he lost his courage.

It was shabby, but more comfortable than the outside revealed -- and larger, though not too large. Overstuffed furniture, thick rugs, a crackling fire in a large fireplace; it looked for all the world like a cozy bedsit -- save for the man wrapped up in a plaid blanket, glaring at him from his seat by the fire.

"Most people wait until they're invited before breaking into someone's home."

Harry shut the door. "I don't think it's breaking in, if you have an invitation."

Snape glared at him. "What do you want?"

Oddly, Snape's attitude put Harry more at ease than anything else could have. "I wanted to see you."

"Harry Potter, wanting to see me? Whatever is the world coming to?"

Walking over to him, Harry could see that Snape looked thin, and tired, and older than he had. They all looked tired and older. "It isn't coming to an end anymore." He looked around. "This is nice. Family place?"

Snape looked at him witheringly. "It's my cousin's. If you don't mind, I'd like--" He stopped when Harry sat down on the footstool and took his hand, holding it in both of his. They stared at their joined hands mutely, as if the contact had triggered a silence spell.

They sat like that for long moments, the only sounds those of the crackling fire and the shallow, nervous breathing of two scared men. Then Harry looked up and saw he needn't say a word.

He rested his cheek on Severus's knee. A hand stroked softly through his hair, fingertips tracing his features. The shaking was almost imperceptible. Harry sighed contentedly.

"You're a fool, Potter."

"I love you, too, Severus."

--by elynross (595 words)

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I looked up from the book I was perusing, my eyes tracking the tall, lean figure that restlessly paced the limited confines of our rustic quarters. Dark brows were lowered over implacable eyes, flaring nostrils quivered beneath the proud arch of the nose, thin lips were pressed so tightly together that they resembled a fresh gash in the stern countenance. Fortunately, the paucity of furniture, merely a bed, a table and two chairs, permitted my companion a certain freedom of movement.

A quick glance at the windows confirmed my suspicions and my heart sank. The snow was still falling heavily, and we could not yet venture to abandon our place of sanctuary.

"Holmes," I said, as he continued his peregrination of the chamber. "Have you checked on the dogs recently?"

His hooded glance was brief. "Yes. I fed them while you slept." He stood at the window, his back to me, his body fairly vibrating with tension.  Inactivity was anathema to him at a time like this.

"If we are snowed in, so is he. Once the storm eases, we will catch him." I spoke more optimistically than I felt. The blackguard had managed to elude us for over a month, the chase leading us across the Atlantic and into the wilds of this frozen north.

Holmes snorted, then turned and began to pace again, his long legs covering the distance from wall to wall in a few strides. "We are close, Watson. The tracks I saw before the blizzard engulfed us were fresh, no more than an hour or two old." He looked longingly at the door. "We must be ready to move as soon as the snow lets up."

"We shall." I closed my book and laid it aside, wincing slightly as I stretched my legs under the bedclothes. The iron stove glowed in the corner, but the room was still cold, even by English standards.

"Metcalfe is a crafty opponent," Holmes said. "We must not underestimate him."

"Victor Metcalfe is a murderer and thief," I replied frostily. "I have no intention of underestimating him."

Holmes suddenly whirled around and slammed the flat of his hand on the table. "This inactivity is unendurable!" he cried. He faced me, his chest heaving, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. His face remained implacable, but his eyes asked the question he was incapable of voicing.

My breath was constricted, as if a gigantic hand were squeezing my chest. Only I could provide this relief for him, and he would accept the same only from me. I would not allow the fact that I was already tender from his use stop me from offering again.

"Yes, Holmes."

I flung back the bedclothes, shivering a little at the sudden chill, and turned onto my stomach. I spread my legs and felt his warm breath and cold hands trail up my thighs.

"Ah, Watson," he murmured as he entered me. I closed my eyes and pushed back against him, savoring the pleasure and the pain.

--by Sihaya Black (503 words)

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"Lady Shiva's way ahead of you." Babs' voice -- Oracle's, it was scrambled -- was tinny in the cockpit of the Batmobile. "Looks like she's crossed the border."

Well, that made sense, Dick decided. You drive vehicles capable of speeds over 300mph straight north for long enough, and it was time to get a new national anthem. "Not sure I know the words to 'O, Canada,' Batman," he said. "Why does she want you so far from Gotham?"

Batman made a grunt that signified amusement. Or agreement. Dick was never sure. "Oracle, what's happening in Gotham?"

"It's Dullsville," Oracle reported. "My eyes and ears have nothing to report. Robin's still following that fence you wanted tailed. And before you ask, Wondrous One, the citizens of Bludhaven are snug in their beds." Dick was startled; he'd forgotten he'd started an evening's work before Batman called him in.

For help. Because Batman needed him.

Dick found he was still grinning.

"Keep me apprised, Oracle," Batman said. "Nightwing thinks it's a trap."

"I'm inclined to agree. Lady Shiva . . . well, this isn't her usual style." Even with the scrambler, Dick could tell Babs was worried.

She's too good for either one of us alone, Dick wanted to say -- but didn't. "We'll keep our eyes open," Dick promised her.

"Do so. If she's got an accomplice waiting for the two of you to leave your posts, we've got you covered." She'd call in Robin, Batgirl, the PD, Black Canary, and even (expletives deleted) Azrael. . . and then she'd roll down to the action herself and put the big bad on the business end of her escrima stick.

And then -- only then -- she might call the Huntress.


"Shiva's got something up her sleeve, Oracle, but I don't think it's a goose chase."

Well, of course not, Dick thought. It's a wild bat-and-bird chase. He was glad he no longer felt compelled to say these things when they popped into his head.

"All right, Batman. Just watch yourselves. Oracle out."

When Barbara cut the connection, Dick realized how far from Gotham they were. Oh, he'd been much farther, and so had Batman, but rarely together, alone.

He wasn't certain that had ever happened, actually. Certainly not since Dick had turned in his wings as Robin, and left. Time before then -- his youth, his adolescence -- blurred. Memories were . . . inaccessible.

He'd destroyed his youth, burnt it down, with one searing kiss on his eighteenth birthday. And nothing -- not his love for Barbara (substantial) nor his fear of rejection (considerable) nor his admission of Bruce's weaknesses (hard-won) could keep him from coming back to that night, from circling around it as though it were prey. The way Bruce had leaned into him, a sound Dick had never heard coming from his throat -- and then backed away, in horror, as if Dick were purest poison.

The thundering slam of the Batcave door.

Years ago, now.

"I don't think you and I have ever been this far out," Batman said then.

"You're not sure?"

"I'm never sure," Batman (Bruce) said then. "I forget sometimes that you were Robin, once." Bruce (Batman) didn't look away from the road. "That you were ever that child." The silence yawned between them as Shiva's battered hangout appeared on the radar. "Sometimes I think you were born as Nightwing. On your eighteenth -- when you turned eighteen."

Dick knew then that their minds were running in parallel, racing together at three hundred miles per hour. "I was."

--by Justine (593 words)

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The heavy tread of boots upon snow, the crackle of a fire, the hiss of water boiling on the stove -- these were the quiet sounds of his freedom, every one carefully catalogued, remembered, stored away for the times when he would need them the most.

Here, there were no rules to follow, no orders to carry out, just the simple feel of an ax in his hand, striking hard against the chopping block.  The fresh smell of sweat lingering in the air after a hard day's work.  The sound of his heart pumping to the thrill of the chase -- hunting, instead of hunted.

It was a life without structure, without duty, absent pain.  Warmth without strings.

Priceless, yet always with a price to be paid.  Nothing worth having came easily, nor was it free.  Especially not for him.

Kenneth would come.  He always did.   It was the price Nottingham paid for a few brief moments of freedom.  The price he paid to be Ian.

It didn't matter how far he ran, or where, Kenneth Irons would eventually find him.

As a small boy he'd learned that lesson early, but Ian never stopped trying.  He hid in plain sight.  In his mind, in every dark corner he could find, but still Kenneth came.

He'd found him in the sprawling city streets of Los Angeles, in the rural outback of Australia, in the teeming slums of India, and now, he stood on the doorstep of Nottingham's small Canadian shack, so far into the wilderness that most men would have turned back days ago.  But no one ever claimed that Kenneth Irons was most men, nor would they claim him ordinary.

Irons had come to claim his pet.  His flawed pet.  Again.

Flawed, but perfect in body.  Trained.  Conditioned.  A pet able to respond to any physical threat.  Master of the killing arts.  Introduced to every vice, every flaw, every weapon that could be used against another man or woman -- a pet as expensive as he was deadly.

For Irons, Ian was simply another weapon to be maintained.  There was always another training session for Ian to endure, another lesson to be learned.  It never ended, never changed.  Kenneth Irons owned him, body and soul.

He had been bred for one purpose.  Bred to kill, bred to protect -- bred to serve.
Never allowed to think, act, breathe, or live for himself.

He owed his life, everything that he was, to the man standing before him -- a debt that Irons would take great pleasure in collecting.

Some small part of him screamed that he should run, hide -- fight back.  The clock ticked.   Hard, brittle eyes dared him to test Kenneth's patience further.  He bowed his head, the dog showing its belly to its master.

His screams poured across the icy, white lands; the debt took a long time to pay.

Then, but for the closing of a door, there was silence.

Ian slept -- only to awaken changed.  Hard, bitter.  Whole -- alive.

A man cannot have two masters.  Even one can be a living hell.

--by Rae (510 words)

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"THRUSH does this on purpose, you know," Illya muttered darkly. Obviously, his mood hadn't improved. Napoleon had ignored it during the trip up on the Sno-Cat, too busy studying map coordinates, but now he could spare a moment to re-adjust his partner.  He turned away from the small, icy window to face Illya, who was huddled in a corner, glaring over his glasses at him.

"Does what."

"Builds their R&D facilities in the most ludicrously remote places known to man."

"Just to annoy us."


Napoleon pursed his lips, considering.  "You know?  I wouldn't put it past them."  That got him a half-smile.  "I like those glasses.  They make you look smarter."

"Smarter than the old ones did, or smarter than I actually am?"

"Take your pick." And that got him a full grin.  So little effort, after all this time, to tip Illya back into play.

"Shouldn't you be looking through your new glasses?" Illya indicated the fancy binoculars on the window sill with a nod of his head.  "The sooner you do your job--"

"The sooner we get sent somewhere else ludicrously remote."  Napoleon swiveled back around to the window, resuming his surveillance.

"Maybe it will be warmer." Illya shifted slightly to afford himself more support from the wall.  "I don't like them."


"These new glasses.  I don't like them."

"Get different frames."

"I don't mind the frames; I just don't like bifocals."  He stood, smacking the dust off of his terribly expensive, experimental-thermal-polymer ridiculous-looking pants. "And I don't like snow."

"I'm not particularly fond of the snow, either."

Illya snorted. "You love snow."

"Under any number of various but particular circumstances, of which this situation meets none."  Napoleon thumbed the focus-wheel over a notch.  "Snow should be side-dish, not an all-you-can-eat buffet.  A lagniappe, if you will."

"An accessory."

"Exactly."  Napoleon grinned slid off the stool and handed the binoculars to Illya.  "There's nothing out there, but --" a brief shrug, "--ours is not to question why." Illya hitched himself up onto the stool and rested his elbows on the sill, tilted the binoculars up, and promptly bumped his glasses into his face.


Napoleon chuckled.   "Take them off."

"Then I will see nothing through these binoculars."

"You're going to see nothing through those binoculars anyway. Besides, you don't need to see detail, just color and movement--and there isn't any."  Napoleon held out his hand. Illya sighed and gave over his glasses, which Napoleon quickly donned.  "What do you think?"

Illya rolled his eyes.  "Take them off."

Napoleon glanced around the bare room.  "We don't have--Ah." He picked up the binoculars and studied his reflection in them.

"You're going to stretch them with your big head."  Illya snatched the binoculars back and held out his hand, waiting... but instead of glasses, he got Napoleon's hand, clasping his own.  "What --"

Napoleon turned Illya's hand over and gently pinched the back. He let go, and the fold disappeared almost instantly.  Then Napoleon pinched the skin on the back of his own hand, and it sank, slowly, back into place.  Illya looked up at his partner.

"I hate glasses too, Illya."

Illya lifted his index finger to the bridge of Napoleon's nose, nudging the glasses up a last, unnecessary centimeter. "You wear them well."

--by tzikeh (564 words)

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"Scott, it's a shack," Lex said. Horrified. Luthors did not need to live in squalor, even in the Canadian wilderness.

"It's my dad's idea of being funny. Come on inside." Scott opened the door.  Lex looked back at the giant, luxurious igloo shaped like Dr Evil's head, sighed and stepped inside.

And blinked in surprise. "Well, all right then." Scott grinned and shucked his coat.

Inside it was warm, almost hot. The walls were covered in silver lame and Scott's music posters. A spiral staircase led down into the ground, where Scott's guitar, amps and king-sized bed flanked a fireplace lined with--glass brick? On black granite tile?

He was in Eighties hell. But it was draft-free and the bed looked comfortable, so though he doubted he'd have good room service, it would do.  Although why they were here when his father had a perfectly serviceable and well-guarded mansion in Metropolis... "I really do not understand evil scientists," Lex said. He shrugged out of his parka and dropped it on the floor.

"Me neither, man. But you don't have to understand. Just go with it." Scott made the devil fingers, banging his head for a few beats before swinging onto the stair railing and sliding down backwards.

"My father is cackling now," Lex called. "He got a cat. A Siamese. Named Hecubus. Do you realize what this means?"

Scott landed on the bed, spread-eagled. "Evil! Does he have a nemesis yet?"

"Mm. Sort of. That farmer." Lex tugged off his gloves and tossed them into the corner. He walked down the stairs slowly. "Not very inspiring. But. His son."


"You have no idea." Lex slipped his suit jacket off and dropped it over the railing onto Scott. "Should I bother asking what your father has in store?"

"Nah. He's doing the big reveal tomorrow. I think he's turning the oceans to ice or something." Scott sniffed Lex's jacket.

Lex snorted.

"Austin Powers will stop him from doing it. He always does. It's the dumbest thing ever." Scott skinned out of his shirt. "Like? Watch. He'll catch Powers and then, like, not shoot him, just do some really complicated thing that gives him a million different ways to escape, and then of course he will escape and foil Dad's plot."

"Sounds pointless." Lex unbuttoned his shirt.

"It is! It is!" Scott reached up his hands; Lex tossed the shirt into them. "Which is why I'm saying."

"Yeah?" Lex stopped on the bottom step.

"Since, like, we know how this is going to go." Scott sat up, brushing Lex's clothes off the bed and wiggling his silver-flame-bedecked New Rock boots. "We could just stay down here."

"In your shack."

"Yeah." Scott grinned.

"All week."


"While our fathers fail to take over the world."

"There's room service." Scott raised his eyebrows in invitation.

Lex leaped onto Scott. "That sounds like a fantastic idea." He tugged open Scott's trousers, finding that Scott's penis was now accessorized with a ring through the head. The bead in the center was an 8-ball. "This is new."


"Looks like a fun toy..." Lex bent down and flicked the bead with his tongue. Scott twitched.

Very fun toy. Dicks were the best toys. "I could spend a week doing this," Lex said.

"Rock on." Scott fell back on the bed. He whooped when Lex sucked his dick into his mouth.

--by Basingstoke (571 words)

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Albert shut the door carefully, wary of the ramshackle construction, then put the bags down. There were, perhaps, more bags than strictly necessary for such a short trip, but his not to question why. He surreptitiously rubbed his shoulder as he peered around the dimly lit... cabin, he supposed.

The bearlike shape near the fireplace moved, claiming his instant attention. How could it not? Such power, such authority, emanated from it, that Albert couldn't help a quiet sigh of admiration.


He started. "Yes, sir?"

"Fire, Eberts."

Albert blinked. "There's no fire, sir," he said gently. Perhaps the cold had been too much, although considering his many layers of warm clothes and the fact that he'd also been wrapped in Albert's sleeping bag for the trip, it didn't really seem likely that the he was suffering from hypothermically induced hallucinations --

"I know there's no fire, Eberts. That's the problem. It's cold in here, or hadn't you noticed?"

"Oh, I am so sorry, sir, here, let me get a fire started, it will only take a moment -- "

"Shut up, Eberts," the Official said, sounding weary. "Just get the damn thing lit."

"Of course, sir," Albert murmured, ducking his head. The Official should never have had to tell him to do something so obvious. It was Albert's job to anticipate, to smooth over all those little worries so the Official could concentrate on the thing he was so good at: power, in all its forms.

Within a few minutes a fire was crackling merrily away, with a pot of water heating on a clever hook contraption over it. Albert dragged the sturdiest of the chairs over to it. "Sir?"

"Ah, Eberts, good."

Albert thrilled to the absentminded pat on the shoulder the Official gave him as he walked past. What greater joy could there be, than to bring peace and contentment to this man?

"God, almost two whole days of this before the damned Canadians get here. I don't know if I can take it."

"Well, sir, there was a small hotel in the last town we passed through. If we started back now, I'm sure we could make it --"

"Hotel! No, no, no. This is fine. And it's free. No sense wasting money on a hotel when there's a perfectly good..." the Official looked around and grimaced, "building, that we can stay in."

"Of course, sir," Albert agreed. "I'm sure we'll be completely comfortable. It was very kind of our esteemed colleagues to offer us these accomodations before the meeting."

"Eberts, you don't have to suck up to them when they're not here."

"No, sir." Albert dragged a second chair over to the fire and sat, allowing himself to relax for a moment.

The Official shifted in his chair to get comfortable, leaning his head against the back and shutting his eyes. "Wake me up when the coffee's ready."

"Of course, sir," Albert murmured, waiting for the first soft snore before stealthily leaning forward to swing the pot a few inches toward the room, to slow the boiling process. The Official needed his rest after such a long journey. And this way, Albert could just sit and watch the firelight flickering across the Official's noble face, limning it in golden-orange--lion colors, to match his lion's heart.

Slowly, Albert let the warm glow in his heart suffuse him. Nearly two days, just the pair of them. Could life be any better?

--by Arduinna (571 words)

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He had given some thought to the mechanics of it; it could be seen as a problem of applied physics. Tender skin and teeth, the best way to breathe--how to fit an object into a space not really designed for it. He'd considered all these things, but he hadn't taken into account some factors that he now realized were important. The smell, the taste, how the balance between slickness and friction felt on his tongue and all the way down into his throat. He had never thought, considering the possibility beforehand, that Duo's hand knotting in his hair would send jolts down his spine.

It was different, because he was on his knees on a cold floor in a dark room, and Duo was fucking his mouth, and applied physics seemed a secondary consideration. There was a small beginning pain in his jaw, and he was going to come in approximately thirty-five seconds. He took his hands away from Duo's hips before he could grip them too hard, and tried to keep his balance without any support.

"God," Duo said, the single word ragged and wavering, and his hips pushed in a new rhythm. Heero found that he didn't really need to breathe. He closed his eyes. A little saliva ran from the corner of his mouth. A subvocalized hum tried to work itself free of his throat, and Duo's hand gripped even harder.

The next movements had no rhythm that he could discern, and they were exactly what he wanted. Duo cried out. Semen was thick and hot and salty, a new taste that seemed completely natural, and his spine fused, and everything tightened, and he passed through the whiteout of orgasm.

He'd been wrong. Twenty-seven seconds.

Duo staggered back and leaned against the wall, panting. It took him three tries to get himself tucked away and zip his pants up. He fingered the end of his braid, petting it like a living thing. "Why did you do that?"

Heero looked up, surprised. "I wanted to know what it was like." He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and got up off the floor. They were here for a reason, and this was not it. "I think you should attempt to coordinate your attack on the ground transport with mine on the air transport for maximum effect."

Duo stared at him. "You cold bastard," he said, and this was a different kind of ragged. He went to the door and jerked it open, and a flurry of snow spilled in. "Send coordinates on the usual frequency."


"Fuck off." He walked out, slamming the door shut. Heero stayed where he was, waiting for the hum of engines. Science was a dependable, straightforward thing. In physics, experiments could be repeated to produce the same results. He wasn't sure he would care to repeat this one, though. He ran his tongue around his mouth, trying to find the taste again. That part had been good, but this part was not.

Heero heard Duo's plane take off and went to the door. He'd send the coordinates, and if they both lived, perhaps he could try a different experiment next time.

--by torch (534 words)

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What a long, strange trip it's been, Lindsey thinks.

He should have known, of course, that it wouldn't be that easy. That he couldn't just quit, walk away, get in the truck and drive out of L.A. toward the wide open horizon. He was naïve to think he could. He sees now he was naive about a lot of things.

The last of his naiveté was beaten out of him -- literally -- in Phoenix, where a Wolfram & Hart lackey caught up with him in a bar. But they'd sent a human, and Lindsey was that much faster, that much more desperate to live. He's found that it helps, sometimes, to have the hand of a murderer.

There were others after that. In Salt Lake City, three people asked Lindsey if he knew Jesus and one assassin tried to arrange a personal introduction. In Wyoming, he sold the truck to a man he met at a gas station, and felt a pang of loss as his last tangible link to another life vanished down the highway in a cloud of dust. He used the money to buy a fake passport in Montana; it shows a photograph of Lindsey next to the name 'Michael Burley'. He practiced his new name as the freight train rattled over the frontier into Canada's wide, empty spaces: Hi, I'm Michael, call me Mike.

Saskatchewan. Alberta. Finally, in British Columbia, the shadows stopped falling behind him.

The shack is tiny and anonymous, and if anyone ever owned it, no one remembers who they were. At any rate, no one's challenged Lindsey (Michael, he reminds himself, Mike) since he moved in. One room, no plumbing, intermittent electricity, but he thinks of it in a way he never thought of his apartment in L.A., stuffed with luxuries. He thinks of the shack as home.

Four nights a week, he serves drinks in Charlie's place, the only bar in town, remembering skills he learnt as an impoverished law student, funding his education without the advantage of wealthy and indulgent parents. Sometimes he shoots the breeze with the regulars, listens more than he talks, but that's okay, people seem to like that. It turns out Mike's a good listener, better than Lindsey ever was. Lindsey was a lawyer, paid to listen, but Mike's different. Mike's interested.

He absorbs the stories they tell him, strips them down to reveal plainly the emotion at the core, and hands them back to their owners in song, raw and beautiful.

Once or twice a month, he brings his guitar and stays on after hours to play the guys whatever he's working on right now. His right hand moves as smoothly as his left, finding the notes, and the chords sweeten the air like rich, golden honey. He sings of old regrets and new hopes, and the men nod their heads as they listen, recognizing truths older than music, older than words.

Lindsey could tell his own stories, if he chose to: stories about vengeful demons and vampire lovers, about magic and obsession and revenge. Most of all, about what it really means to sell your soul. Lindsey could tell one hell of a story.

But Mike -- Mike's different. Mike strums his guitar with a hand that's a little darker and a little rougher than the rest of him, and tells other men's tales, and is content.

--by Rheanna (563 words)

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SCENE: The camera pans down a familiar, and very cluttered hallway...

HAROLD:  And now, the show that dares to go where no man has gone before--and has the rash to prove it--The Red Green Show! And here's your host, a man who has gone before, and none of us dared to follow for at least thirty minutes--your hero, my uncle--RED GREEN!

RED:  Well, thank you Harold, for that, uh, informative introduction. Well, we got a heck of a show for you today. We've got some visitors up at the lodge--at least, they're visitors now. Before that, they were trespassers. And before that, I'm pretty sure they were just lost. It all kind of blends together after a while--American beer'll do that to you--

HAROLD:  Uncle Red?

RED: What, Harold?

HAROLD: If you're talking about Constable Fraser and Detective Kowalski, they're gone.

RED: What? Where are they? They said they'd be on the show--

HAROLD: They went off with Ranger Gord.

RED: Oh... oh, no.

HAROLD: Yeah. I guess Ranger Gord started telling Constable Fraser all about his leaf catalogues, and his comparative tree-growth data, and his wild-animal-dropping lending library, and the next thing they were headed for the Watchtower.

RED: And you let them go?

HAROLD:  Well... yeah, I mean, Constable Fraser seemed kinda interested...

RED: Constable Fraser thinks fungus is interesting, Harold. You should have seen how excited he got when he met Old Man Sedgewick.

HAROLD: So what are we gonna do, Uncle Red?

RED: The only thing we can do, Harold. We're gonna let the freaks bore each other to death while we get Ray out of there!


SCENE: Outside Fire Watchtower 13. RED and HAROLD stand at the foot of the steps. From above there comes the distinctive and infinitely disturbing sound of RANGER GORD and RAY and FRASER giggling...

RED:  Ray? Are you... you okay up there? Are you... oh my Lord, Harold, they must've driven him insane... Ray?

RAY:  Ah... uh... um... that you, Red? Goddamit...

RED:  Yeah, it's me 'n Harold! We thought... you might need... something.

RAY:  Uh... thanks, but... no. Don't need any help. We're okay--we're good. We're just...

RANGER GORD (giggling madly):  We're counting things, Red!

RAY:  That's right, we're counting things! All those things that need to be counted--we're counting 'em.

GORD:  There's one!

RAY:  And hey, here's another one, whaddya know--

FRASER:  And there's a third. Impressive. My word!

RAY:  That ain't your word, Fraser. If it was, I wouldn't tell you to shut up. Ever.

RED (puzzled): But... Ray! I have duct tape! And car parts! And beer!

No answer. Only giggling.

RED:  Oh, nevermind. Come on, Harold. Let's go get ready for tonight's skeet-golf tourney...

RED and HAROLD exit. The camera holds on the empty stairway.

GORD: Oooh! D'you count it if it's... undercover?

RAY:  Mmmumph!

FRASER:  Don't talk with your mouth full, Ray. Oh, my...

GORD: ...much better than tree sap and beavers...

--by Aristide (500 words)

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Logan was up and bristling in a second, fist drawn back, ready to shiv.

"Whoa.  Easy.  I come in peace."

"Who are you?  Who sent you?"

"Valid questions."  There was a thoughtful pause. "Can I close the door first?"

Snow was blurring the hardwood beneath the man's booted feet.

"You can close it.  But don't bother to get comfortable."  The stranger had to put his shoulder to the door to close it against the wind.

"So." He tugged off his hat.  Just a goddamned kid. "Bold fashion choice."  It took Logan a moment to remember he was shirtless.  He flicked a glance at his shirts and socks, in a heap on the floor by the cot, his sewing kit on top.

He met the kid's gaze and narrowed his eyes.

"Can't say I feel the cold much.  And you have about thirty seconds before I throw you out into the snow."

"Yeah.  But.  You're probably going to do that anyway."

"You oughta get yourself a psychic hotline.  Talk."

But the kid was...looking at him, flaring his nostrils.

Logan frowned and took a quick, deep sniff himself.  What the--?


"Werewolf?"  The kid said, at the same time.

"That's what you are?"

"Uh. Yeah.  Oz.  Me werewolf."  He actually held his mittened hand out, and Logan just scowled at him until he dropped it.  "I came here to hide out for a while.  Stay out of the way.  Of people."

"I'd ask you to join the club, but there's a membership cap of one.  Go squat somewhere else, Rover.  I've got things to do."

"But it's gonna be nightfall soon."  The kid shifted, the only sign of unease he'd shown since he'd turned up.

"Uh huh.  Shove off, kid."

"You don't want me out there.  In fact, you don't want to be here so much, either."

"Don't tell me what I want.  Just clear out.  Or should I throw a stick first?"

"Look.  The moon's full tonight.  And I'm...a werewolf?  It's.  Kind of a heavy scene."

"I can take care of myself."  He let his claws out, gauging the distance so they ended just in front of the kid's nose.  Oz's eyes widened a bit, but he didn't give any ground.  And Logan could smell something that made his hackles rise.

Oz nodded.

"See?  I'm sorry.  But this place was empty last month."

"Well, that explains the shackles bolted into the wall." Logan considered Oz, sniffed again.  Tussling with a werewolf would only get him more shredded clothes.  Which meant more goddamned sewing.  "Okay. Gimme the keys."

The kid dug into a bag he had slung over his shoulder and handed them over.  Then he unzipped his parka.

Before he knew it, Oz had skinned down to his briefs. His belly was as hairless as a child's but his feet and hands were broad and callused.

"Too warm in here?"

The kid wasn't quite blushing, but Logan could sense the heat of it behind his skin.

"Clothes.  Hamper the wolfing out process."

"Uh huh."  He followed Oz with his eyes as he buckled himself into the shackles that had been screwed into the wall near the wood burning stove.  After he'd tested the fastenings, he hooked his thumbs into his underwear and shoved them off.

Logan didn't even pretend he wasn't staring.

"I uh.  Chafe.  And I only brought one pair."

Logan shook his head and sat down with his back to the kid, darning socks and ignoring him until--

He felt the hot, stinking breath of a beast on his neck.

--by Pares (594 words)

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It's not exactly walking in a winter wonderland.

But Frannie's prepared. She has on seven layers on top and eight layers on the bottom, two hats, two pairs of gloves, three pairs of socks. She looks like the abdominal snowman in this get-up, but it's not as though he ever noticed her body when it used to be visible, so she doesn't suppose it will make any difference in the reception she gets. When she gets there. If she gets there.

Frannie pauses in the thigh-deep snow and squints at the compass, double-checking her direction. Of course she knows how to read a compass. She isn't stupid.

So it should be just over this rise, and slightly to the west ...


He's in, too; firelight is visible through the iced-up windows, and she can hear a guitar, a voice singing softly. She takes a moment just to take it all in. This is what she has, now. She's given up everything -- her home, her city, her family, her job -- and she's found her way here on her own, and it's for this. He'll take her in, or. Or he won't. He'll love her, or he won't. But this is what she has.

Her eyes are blurry when she knocks on the door.

The guitar falls silent. The door swings open. Jeans and a flannel shirt, but the hair is wrong, and ...

"Miss Vecchio?"


"It's the wrong shack. I'm sorry. I've come to the wrong shack. If you could just tell me ... if you could give me some directions ..."

"If you were looking for a shack at this latitude and longitude, then the shack you've found is certainly the one you're looking for, as there's no other shelter for fifty miles in any direction."

His voice sounds strangely thin. Frannie focuses her attention on unlocking her knees, and after a moment the swimming feeling leaves her head and she hears the voice again: " ... for my annual retreat, as the constable and the detective live in RCMP housing in Fort Good Hope and come here only in the summer ..."

Don't fight with your brother, cara. When you're a little older, you'll be glad to meet his friends.

When she closes her eyes for a moment, ice forms on her lashes, sealing them together, and it costs her an effort to open them again.

When she does, though, it's still Turnbull's amiable ugly face in the place of the one she came here to see.

Every princess grows up to marry the prince. If the first prince turns out to be a toad, she just has to wait patiently in her tower and another prince will come along. And if he doesn't fall for her? What's a prince for if not to marry a princess?

"Miss Vecchio?"

It's been an hour or so since she's been able to shiver. She was happy to see the reflex go. But a gust of warm air from the doorway starts her shaking again. It hurts; she remembers reading that. If warmth comes back into a frostnipped extremity, it's going to hurt like hell.

"Miss Vecchio. Come in and get warm."

And so she does.

--by resonant (533 words)

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"You told me you like fishing."

"Yes, I did," Daniel said, eyes on his notes.

"And yet, I ask you to join me for a long weekend of fishing at this perfect little place I found -- with great effort, may I add -- and you look at me like I have six heads."

"Jack." Daniel leaned back in his chair. "I will be happy to go fishing with you -- between May and October. Fishing in February, in Canada, is not my idea of a good time."

"What if I gave you an archaeological reason?"

Daniel blinked. "To go fishing?"



"Come with me, and you can see for yourself."

Daniel looked at Jack, standing there with hope blazing out of him. He sighed. "Okay, I'm in. But I'm warning you, if I'm bored, or if I fall into a lake and freeze to death, you are never hearing the end of this."

Jack beamed at him. "You're gonna love this," he promised, rubbing his hands together as he turned to leave.

Daniel shook his head and went back to work.

"Okay, give," Daniel said, closing the cabinet as he put the last of the supplies away. "We're here, we're unpacked, and there's at least an hour of daylight left. What's the great archaeological reason to go fishing?" He crossed his arms and stared at Jack.

Jack winked. "C'mon, I'll show you."

About a hundred yards from the lakeshore, Jack stopped near some tumbled rocks. "Here," he said.

Daniel moved to his side and looked where Jack was pointing, then dropped to a crouch to peer more closely. "Petroglyphs!" He twisted to stare up at Jack, who beamed.

"Cool, huh?"

"Very cool," Daniel admitted, smiling. He stood up. "It's getting too dark now, though. Let's go back."

Jack nodded, and they walked back and into the welcome warmth of the tiny cabin.

A couple of hours later, replete and sleepy, Daniel lay in his sleeping bag in front of the fire, staring into the flames. Jack dropped his bag on the floor next to him, settling cross-legged near Daniel's head.

The silence was comfortable and familiar, part of the pattern that made up their lives, and Daniel's eyes started to drift shut. A hand brushed his face as Jack removed his glasses, then he felt the faintest pressure on his head when Jack stroked his hair once. Daniel relaxed more, not questioning the warmth that flooded him.

Then he heard Jack's quiet sigh as he slid into his own sleeping bag.

Daniel's eyes opened. He stared into the fire as he listened to Jack rustling into a comfortable position, and thought. About familiarity, and comfort, and patterns. About how connected he felt to Jack by one simple, barely felt touch. About Jack beaming as he showed off petroglyphs half-buried in snow.

Daniel turned his head, watching the firelight playing across Jack's face. Slowly, he reached across the few inches that separated them, and rested his hand lightly on Jack's cheek.

Jack opened his eyes and looked at him, gaze steady and quiet. "Daniel?"

"Just..." Daniel shook his head, letting his eyes trace the lines of Jack's face, letting his fingers follow. Jack stayed still under the exploration, eyes still quiet but starting to brighten.

"Daniel?" he repeated, gently.

"Sometimes," Daniel said, ruefully, "I'm an idiot."

Jack smiled, and lightly kissed Daniel's fingers as they ghosted across his lips. "That's okay. Just leave the thinking to me."

Daniel laughed. "Deal," he agreed, and leaned closer.

Jack met him halfway, like Daniel knew he would.

--by Arduinna (594 words)

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Ron poked his head out of the pot-bellied stove and groaned. "Not yet, Harry!"  He extracted an arm and placed it on the icy wooden floor.  There was a thunk behind him, and his legs were squashed.

"Bloody buggery buzzard-balls!" Harry shouted.  "Oh, my neck!"

"My legs," Ron shouted back, trying to free his other arm.  "Go back!"

"Can't," came Harry's muffled voice.  "Filch was coming."

Muttering, Ron squeezed his other arm through, then hauled himself out and onto the floor. Harry's legs emerged, then his body, and finally his head and arms, every inch covered in soot.  Ron started to laugh, but Harry beat him.

"You're covered in soot!"

Ron scowled. "You, too.  Where are we?"

Harry looked around.  It was a small shack, a slab of wood for a table, kettle on the stove, blizzard howling outside.  The ambient temperature was a moderate freezing.

"Oops."  Harry's eyes widened.  "Fred and George gave me that floo powder."

"Well," Ron said, trying to dust himself off, "we got away from the dance."  They both grinned.  "Honestly," Ron burst out, "Bill says girls get better, but when?"

Harry shrugged.  "Hermione's getting worse.  That thing with the dress--"

Ron nodded glumly.  "And the hair."

"And the shoes!  Red?  Burgundy? What do I know?"

"It's us against them, I say."  Ron wandered around.  "Here!" He picked up a ladle and smacked it into a large bucket.  There was a crack, then a splash.  "Bit cold to wash with, though."

Harry fumbled for his wand, then pointed it at the stove.  "Ignatio!"

Nothing happened.  "Maybe I broke it," Harry said, shaking his wand.  "Ignatio!"

"Let me try."  Ron waved his battered wand.  "Ignatio!"

"Okay." Harry pointed his wand at the table.  "Reducio."  Nothing.  "Ron," he said slowly.  "Where are we?"

Ron's blinked.  "Does your scar hurt?"  Harry shook his head.  "Dad says magic doesn't work some places.  C'mon, Harry, light it the Muggle way.  I'm getting cold."

It took longer, but soon they had a good fire. They washed off and hung their clothes to dry.

"I love Muggle food," Ron said, chewing on beef jerky.  "It's so...primitive."

"Dumbledore should be here by now," Harry said.

"Hey.  Harry."  Ron put an arm around him, draping his blanket so it covered them both.  "He can't scry us with no magic here, but Moody will be on it. And Sirius will be looking..."

"Hermione always figures something out."

"That's the spirit! She'll know the Muggle ways to look."  Ron looked over.  "People care about you, Harry.  They'll be here as soon as possible."

Harry wiped his nose.  "Yeah."

They sat, the wind howling, the fire crackling merrily.

"Harry," Ron whispered.

"Yeah," Harry said, hair hanging thick over his forehead.

"I don't think I'll ever like girls."

Harry sighed.  "Me, neither."

Ron shifted closer.  "Harry?"

Harry turned, and smiled.


Sprawled on the mattress, panting, they heard a loud Pop! from the stove.

"Oh! Pardon me!" Dumbledore gasped and vanished.

"No! Wait!"  Harry scrambled over and put his mouth right over the flue.  "Professor, help! We're stuck!"

Snape's voice drifted out.  "...always disobeying rules...I'll go."

"No!"  Dumbledore's voice echoed sharply.  "Boys, I'm coming."

"Oh, criminy," Ron said, throwing clothes at Harry.  They were mostly dressed when Dumbledore apparated, hands over his eyes.

"Please, take us home," Ron said.

Dumbledore pointed his wand.  "Relocatius,eh," he said and Ron vanished.

"Huh?" Harry said.

"Dear boy, you're in Canada.  And that's Ron's shirt.  And Professor Snape awaits your arrival."

Harry whimpered.  "Help?"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled.  "Perhaps," he said, and waved his wand.

--by Julad (596 words)

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When Fraser opened the door to the shack, Ray saw a really big guy in a bright blue, skintight outfit tenderly in there untying a groggy-looking smaller guy in a... bunny suit? from a chair.  A bunny suit?  Even Fraser looked confused.  Maybe they'd been out in that storm too long.

The blue guy--who had antennae on his head that moved, maybe depending on his moods--saw them and declaimed, "Citizens! My apologies if this is your shack, but we were kidnapped and left here by wrongdoers out to continue their reign of light-fingered evil unimpeded."

"They Canadian?" Ray whispered to Fraser.  It would make more sense.

"I don't think so," Fraser whispered back, then said louder, "You're hardly trespassing.  This shelter is open to all travelers.  I'm Constable Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and this is my partner, Detective Ray Kowalski of the Chicago Police Department."

"Then you understand our primal calling to fight crime.  I am The Tick, and this is my sidekick, Arthur."

So much for finding out what the white suit was supposed to be.

The Tick continued, "We must return to The City to chastise evil with the pointing finger of justice."

"Which city?" Ray asked.

"The City, chum. The City."

Oh, God.  Ray listened to the snow scouring the exterior walls of the shack and the wind howling, then whispered, "How long do these storms last, Fraser?"

"Hours.  Sometimes days," Fraser whispered back.

"We can't go back out there and survive, can we?"


"Can we throw him out into the snow? I'm sure he's nigh-invulnerable or something--"


--by Viridian (270 words)

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Pellew woke to a dash of seawater in his face and found the leader of the mutineers bending over him.

"We're putting you off, Admiral," he said. "We took a vote on it. You was just a passenger. We agreed you had nothing to do with how Deacon treated us."

Pellew struggled to sit upright, lifting his chin. "Captain Deacon."

"Not no more." The traitor grinned. "Put him ashore, lads."

They hoisted him up; he planted his feet and caught the man's eye as best he could in the stagnant darkness of the cable tier. "And my officer?"

A shrug. "You sure he won't want to come along with us?"

Pellew gritted his teeth and did not reply.

"Aye aye, sir." Mocking laughter followed him as he was dragged away.

"Marooned, sir?" Hornblower's throat worked in a hard swallow. "Marooned?"

Pellew looked away from the shivering man beside him and stared hard at the ship as her sails passed beyond the horizon's curve, into the clouds and the looming dark. The alien shore beneath his feet felt leaden, heavy, and he found it intensely irritating. "Don't lose your nerve just yet, Mr. Hornblower." And then, abashed, he made himself turn back and meet Hornblower's eyes. "Captain Hornblower," he said, hating the stiffness of his voice.

That smile, warm and somehow shy, the boy eternally visible beneath the face of the man. "Aye aye, sir."

No mockery in those words, not from him. Pellew heard the trust there and had to turn away again, clasping his hands tightly behind his back.

They retreated from the shore into sparse woods, seeking shelter from the night and the cold, and against all hope they found it before the sun had fully set--not just shelter, but a sign of human  habitation. The structure was small, crude, and stale with the lingering smell of dead fish, but it did not seem likely to fall down upon their heads in the night, and so they took possession.

An open fire in a hearth was strange, almost exotic, after so long at sea. The cabin afforded him as an important passenger, and an Admiral at that, had been spacious and comfortable, but of course there had been no fire. Nor had there been a young man curled before the blaze, his features washed with rippling amber light. A Captain now, famous in his own right, and still he was as he had always been. Brave. Clever. Kind. And because of that kindness, vulnerable.

So beautiful.

Pellew shifted away and wrapped his arms around his knees.

"Are you still cold, sir?" Hornblower half-rose from his nest and pulled the heavy greatcoat from beneath himself. "Here."

Damn him. Pellew held as still as he could, looking hard into the fire so that he would not have to see those eyes. "Captain," he said. "You need not minister to me. A Captain may be led by his Admirals, but in the end he is his own master."

Strong hands draped the greatcoat over his shoulders. "He is," said Hornblower, so close to his ear, so hushed and confident. "I am."

Pellew closed his eyes at the touch of a hand on the nape of his neck. And it seemed to be he who was not his own master, for he leaned into that hand, and that body, and that embrace, as if he were falling from the topmast into a dark and welcoming sea.

Deep into the night, he whispered the secret of his heart against the warmth of Horatio's throat, and was content.

--by Dorinda (595 words)

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"Don't.  Please."  Lina Napartuk raised one leather-wrapped hand in protest, well aware of the gesture's futility against the four huge, heavily-armed poachers.  "These animals are needed by the village.  If you kill them--"

"Out of the way."  The largest poacher gestured at her with his gun.  "Now."

"--Ivjujivik will starve," Lina continued implacably.  "Please.  I ask you--"

Lina clutched her chest at the shot, certain that it had been meant for her.  But after a moment, she raised her head and saw that the four poachers were staring at two newcomers who had appeared behind them, thin men dressed entirely in black, their faces wrapped in scarves against the cold.

"Right, then--fuck off," one of the men said, raising a sleek black gun.  "Now."

One of the poachers stepped forward, growling.  "And who's gonna make us?  You?"

The two strangers exchanged looks.  "Yeah.  Us," the first stranger replied--and shot the gun out of the poacher's hand.  It flew through the air and disappeared.   The poacher stared down at his bleeding hand, as if he'd just witnessed a magic trick.

"Any other takers?" the first stranger asked, sounding amused.  The poachers raised their guns.  "Right.  Persistent buggers."  He glanced at his partner.  "Shall we?"

"Blimey, right out of Tarantino, this," the other stranger said, adjusting his gun.  "Right, okay--here goes!"

The air exploded with gunfire.  Lina threw herself to the ground and covered her head.  When all had gone quiet she glanced up and saw that only the two black-clad strangers were still standing.

"Not exactly suave," the first stranger sighed, lowering his gun.

"What do you mean, 'not exactly suave'?"  The second gunman's voice had a plaintive edge.  "What's not suave about that?"

"Good shooting, though," the first gunman mused, bending to pick up one of the poachers' guns.

"What wasn't suave?" The second gunman repeated.  "I thought that was suave..."

"Yeah, well, you would."  The first gunman pocketed the pistol, and kicked idly at the poacher's head.  "Bonus points for accuracy, minus ten for style."

"That was stylish!  What wasn't stylish about that?"  The second gunman began to pace.  "What, did I miss this month's issue of Modern Vigilante?"

"Here goes,'" the first gunman repeated, mimicking and exaggerating the other man's accent.  "Shooting now if that's all right.''  Bang-bang."  He shook his head.  "Stop being so bloody English.  'We'll shoot now if it's all right with you, mate, all right?  Or is Thursday better?'"

"I didn't!"  The other man nearly jumped up and down in protest, while the first man made his way toward her.  "I--oh my God, is she all right?"

"Dunno yet."  The first gunman crouched and studied her;  all that was visible of him were his long-lashed eyes.  "You all right?"

Lina nodded.  Instantly the second gunman was gripping her hands, pulling her up, and fussing over her.  "God, she's probably freezing.  Sitting here in the snow--"

"She's Inuit, isn't she.  I think she can handle it."

"Perhaps tea," the second gunman suggested to Lina.  "You want a cup of tea?  We've got some back at the cabin--water's still hot, I think--"

The first man was unwrapping the scarf from his head.  He was lovely--all dark curly hair and pale skin.  He took his partner by the shoulders, turned him away from Lina, and tugged his scarf down with his thumbs.  The second man's face was kind.  "Not too bloody English, are you, Vince," the man murmured, and then he kissed his partner slowly, and with very great affection.

--by Speranza (597 words)

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Picard looked around in satisfaction. It had taken the better part of two days, but he was ready for the incoming storm. The temperature had already dropped significantly. He'd hauled in supplies, forgoing shuttles and transporters, and had just finished chopping the wood stacked neatly by the shack.

He'd needed special permission to be here, because of the time of year, because of all the regulations surrounding both his position and the use of this park space. He wasn't the only one, in this age of instant travel and miraculous provision, who sometimes needed to get away from everything, to see if he could take care of himself without all the frills and furbelows. Without all the technology. The machines.

He looked up at the gathering clouds. The Canadian wilderness had that strange silence that came before a major storm. A delightful silence.

Long, endless hours with Counselor Troi, and still he had difficulty being around others, following his daily routine. She'd supported his plan and helped him carry it out. So now, here he was, miles from any other sentient being, nothing to rely on but his mind and his own two hands. Sometimes he still heard them in his head, and thought he would go mad. The nights were the worst.

"Very nicely done, mon Capitaine! The rustic look suits you, you know."

Picard clenched his jaw, and his fists. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Q climbed up the slope of the hill. His leather clothes and fur hat were like something out of a museum. He looked like pictures Picard had seen of early American trappers. The tail on the hat was the last, ridiculous touch.

"I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I'd come borrow a cup of rancid fat." Q looked at him piercingly. "That is what they used for cooking in this quaint time period you're emulating, isn't it?"

Picard turned and headed for the shack.


He stopped, but he didn't turn around.

"I...wanted to see you. I was...worried about you."

Picard laughed, and it was an ugly sound in the quiet air. "If you were so worried about me, why couldn't you stop them?" Why couldn't you save me? He swallowed hard at the note of hysteria in his voice. He didn't need Q's help for anything.

"Jean-Luc, I..."

Picard shuddered at the note of compassion. "Petty tyrants, playing at being gods, amusing yourself with your cheap tricks and useless games, and when a real threat like the Borg--" He stopped. "Go away, Q."

Snow began to fall. He ignored Q's outstretched hand and went into the shack, closing the door.

After long moments, there was a knock. When he didn't answer, it opened. "Jean-Luc." The door shut behind him.

"Go away."

"I just--"

"Leave me alone!"

Q disappeared.

Picard sat on the bed, the wind rising. It grew colder, but he didn't move to rebuild the dwindling fire. He huddled in on himself, and when he started to cry, he couldn't stop.

The fire blazed up, and he felt a warmed blanket around his shoulders. He didn't look when a weight settled on the mattress next to him. Then an arm came round him and pulled him into a strong chest, and a hand was stroking over his head, down his back. Somehow, it eased the tightness in his chest.

"I wanted to be alone." His breath hitched, and his voice was muffled.

Q laughed. "I'm hardly real. You can be alone with me."

--by elynross (591 words)

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Jane met a dead lady librarian after the gig in Yellowknife. She might still be on the trail of the Guide to Snowy Egrets, checked out in 1963 and never returned. The dead librarian didn't like Scotty's attitude or Vaughn's hair, which left them wide open to the dead Mountie who wanted his cabin rebuilt.

Yeah, right. But apparently ghostly Mounties were just as persistent as live ones. Dead Dudley Do-Right had been annoying in ways ghostly multitudes before him hadn't even dreamed of. Plus he had a wolf, which wasn't a ghost.

Scotty was pretty sure that was cheating. Vaughn caved when it chewed up his favorite Sex Pistols T-shirt. And they built the Mountie a shack.

Scotty's surprised by how much he didn't exactly hate it. Well, he's a big guy and the cold's not so bad. Plus Vaughn's been in hell: always good for a laugh. Little guy wasn't meant for this climate. Or solitude. Or manual labor tougher than fronting a band. Or tact; it's been incredibly amusing watching him try to hide his surprise at Scotty's not-so-shabby construction skills, and fend off the wolf.

Scotty's beginning to think it has a thing for Vaughn, the way it keeps staring. The Amulet of Soren lets Scotty, Jane and Vaughn communicate with ghosts, not animals. But Scotty's almost sure his bandmate's broken down and started talking to the big fuzzbucket. Especially since this afternoon, when they hammered in the final nail and Dead Dudley Do-Right went wherever good Mounties go.

Further north, Scotty thinks drowsily. He got the floor last night, so he's in the cot, half-asleep when Vaughn comes back from taking a leak. And then something, not a ghost or a dog, climbs in with him.

"Hey, c'mon," Scotty protests, rolling over.

"Shh." Vaughn scoots closer so he's tucked against Scotty's chest. His eyes are closed, dark eyelashes against winter-pale skin.

They've hugged before. Some manly hugs, some not so manly. Scotty's wrestled Vaughn, dragged him away from bar brawls, slung him in the back of the van, totally wasted. They've even all slept together. When the van broke down, or they couldn't afford anything better. Usually Scotty gets the middle. He assumes it's because of Jane and Vaughn's ex-thing that they never discuss. But then, he doesn't really know...

"Fuck, your feet are cold." he announces. "Guess this is what it's like to be in NSYNC--hey, watch those hands! This is such a Behind the Music moment."

"God, Scotty!" Vaughn sounds seriously hurt, and Scotty blinks in the dark. "Am I allowed to not want to be alone tonight?"

"Oh." Well. It's true, they are kind of... alone, now. Fifty miles from the middle of nowhere. And dead Mountie was a freak, but at least he broke the silence. Knew how to start a fire, and catch rabbits, and tell time by the sun. "It'll be okay. We'll get back. We've got the dog, right?"

Vaughn sighs, his weary what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you sigh. Paradoxically, this close, it doesn't cut quite as sharp. "He's half wolf."

"Whatever, man, go to sleep."

"You don't want a blowjob?" Vaughn snarks.

"Not if you were the last slut in Canada, man." Vaughn's breath is hot, tangible even through Scotty's layered shirts. "Jane's told me all about you."

Vaughn laughs softly and Scotty pets him between his bony shoulderblades. He never noticed how alive most people were, until he met the ones that weren't.



It seems like Vaughn holds his breath for a moment. And then he breathes.

"Nothing. Go to sleep."

--by Livia (598 words)

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Xander thinks they might be in Canada. Which is actually kinda cool, considering that they did it without passports or ID or anything remotely like... anything.

But then, nobody questions wolves crossing borders. Not even really big ones. Probably especially not really big ones.

It's one of those thoughts he's reasonably sure would've been easier to have and/or just plain different were he still entirely human.

As it is, though... things slip.

Change the way he still has to every moon-time.

Oz has trained him to change at will over the past year, but the moon still exerts a pull.

Xander isn't sure he wants that to change, anyway. It's just another way of never being alone.

A sister for their pack.

Most full moons Xander runs alone, Oz choosing to stay more human than he is at any other point during the month, holed up in whichever of their dens is closest. He paints on the walls. Plays the guitar.

Writes letters for Xander to take in to the nearest town to be mailed, whenever they get around to it.

Xander does his best to keep the envelopes clean, but, well.


Everyone they write to knows the truth of things, anyway.

They keep post office boxes in little towns along the Northwest coast. Xander's always the one who reminds Oz that they need to be checked, and always the one who does the checking.

Oz has pretty much absented himself from the human side of things recently, which is sad, but not unexpected.

If there was ever anyone in Xander's life who disproved the whole social animal thing, it was Oz. Give him a mate and a den and he's a happy little wolfman.

Which only doesn't make sense when Xander tries to think logically -- wolf + man should equal ubersocial creature, right? No one's ever paid Xander to think, though, so...


In another world, it would be Willow here instead of himself.

She would have beautiful fur, soft and red.

She would be the one Oz curled around in the glare of daylight, and she would've probably figured out the whole control thing immediately. Willow's brilliance like something unearthly.

Love for her the one common bond he and Oz have never called on to cement their relationship.

Some things are better left.

Misses her maybe more than anyone else, which probably has a lot to do with the way Willow pretty much defined his human existence.

Anya is dating a Watcher named Evelyn.

Giles has taken to going on weirdly vision quest-like things in the desert that Xander can just barely remember the feel of. Heat no longer seems like something natural, or remotely related to himself.

Tara writes long, cheerful letters full of worries about being too forward that make Xander smile and Oz look thoughtful.

Better left, yeah.

Xander never shows him those letters unless he asks.

Neither Buffy nor Willow have written yet, but Tara says they will.


Xander is idly considering Christmas cards when Oz takes off east in a sudden burst of speed. Catches the scent himself a heartbeat later -- a place of men -- and wonders if this is...

If this is when he'll actually have to fight Oz.

Closer, though, and the scent stabilizes into Deserted.

It's a shack, just a sprawl of weathered wood in the middle of nowhere.

Oz shifts just enough to speak while they piss on it.

"Didn't want to do the snow-fort thing tonight."

Xander butts the furred hand and licks his thanks and understanding.

Maybe there'll be paper.

--by Te (598 words)

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"You gonna let me in, or do I have to stand out here till a polar bear eats me for lunch?"

There was a pause while Fraser stared at Ray, his face pale and slack.  Ray shook his head and pushed past him, into the shack.

"May I take your coat?"

And his hat, and his show shoes, and his top two sweaters, and his boots.  Ray stripped down to normal street clothes, which took a year and a half and left him feeling like a new man.  Fraser, now holding all Ray's worldly goods, looked like a politely baffled department store mannequin.

"What happened to your new best friend?"

Fraser blinked.  "My--oh.  You mean Ray Kowalski."

"Yes, I mean Ray Kowalski, unless you've got some other me-impersonator hiding out under the floorboards.  What happened to the guy who stole my life and my job and my family and my, well, you?"

"Things...ended badly, between us."

Ray raised an eyebrow.

"He met an Italian expatriate snow-blower with a hair-gel fetish in Edmonton, and stayed behind.  I'm told they've opened a salon."

Ray snorted and settled down in front of the wood stove.  "Like we couldn't see that one coming."

"He's been a dear friend to me, Ray.  I won't hear a word against him."

Ray glared.  "I didn't come all the way from Florida to play Siskel and Ebert with your love life. I've been heading north since last Tuesday.  Didn't think I'd make it here for New Year's, but there was a guy with a hot air balloon back at the last outpost of modern civilization."

Fraser's expression eased into something more familiar.  "Really, Ray.  If I'm expected to believe you were brought here by a man with a balloon--"

Ray grinned.  "Nah.  But the guy with the balloon knew a guy with a snowmobile who knew a guy with a one-horse open sleigh.  Jolly little fella.  Red suit, funny hat.  Bit on the pudgy side, but that's what too much pemmican will do to a guy."

"Why did you come, Ray?"  Fraser's gaze steady, warm.  "This is a long way to travel for a vacation."

"Yeah."  That was Fraser, straight down to business. Ray cleared his throat.  "Well.  It's not exactly a vacation."

A spark lit behind Fraser's eyes.  He crouched down beside Ray, a soft pink flush in his cheeks.  "What is it?"

"I...well, I heard you and Mr. Spike-head had called it quits, and, I just, fuck."


Ray sighed.  "Ditched Stella. She was sweet, but geez. I used to think you were high maintenance."

"Oh." Fraser looked down at his hands, but that couldn't hide his grin. "Sorry, Ray."

Ray grinned back in the other direction, feeling not really bad at all about his life at that moment. "I didn't show up on your doorstep looking for a consolation prize, Benny."

Fraser looked up.  His eyes were dark, and he reached out to Ray with a significantly shaky hand.  "I've missed you."

Ray grabbed his hand and squeezed hard.  "Yeah?"

"Why did you show up on my doorstep?"

"I guess--I don't know.  I guess I thought, you struck out, I struck out...misery loves company?"

"I'm not at all miserable now, Ray."

"Ah, Benny."

"Will you stay?  Stay with me."

"Got no choice, Fraser.  Guy who dropped me off won't be back through till next year." He grinned.  "Even then, only if I'm nice."

"Ah." Fraser examined Ray critically.  "Well. Given the odds, perhaps we should think about citizenship."

--by Merry Lynne (594 words)

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A sunny morning, on a Canadian hillside, in a quiet clearing. Outside a rustic shack, a gentle shepherd minds his flock...

<Baaa baaaaa... flap flap flap ... WHOOSH!>  Thud.

"Bet you lose a lot of sheep that way. Plummeting, like."

The shepherd turns to see a stout man in tweed, carrying a walking stick. The woman with him is leading a small penguin on a leash. The penguin is stamped "Property of the zoo." She wanders off behind the shack.

"Fair number, yeah." He turns back. "Harold's fault. Clever bugger."

They watch in silence as another sheep plummets, followed by a pig.

"Oh, that's a surprise, that one!" says the shepherd.

The tweed-clad man digs in his pocket. "Care for a Crunchy Frog?"

The shepherd looks over. "That's disgusting."

"No it isn't!"

"Yes it is!"

"It isn't!"



<flap flap flap ... WHOOSH!>  Thud.

A man crawls from behind the shack, followed closely by an annoyed serf pulling a cart. "Right, into the cart with you!"

"I'm not dead yet! I'm getting bet--!" Fleeing musicians, chased by a group of knights, trample him into the dirt. The sound of clapping coconuts floats through the clearing.

As the musicians disappear in the trees, one of the knights halts and puts his finger to his lips, and the others pile into him. Recovering, he creeps up to the door and quietly opens it -- then sticks in one of his heads and shouts, "NI!!" while his two other heads grin and twitch their eyebrows. To the sounds of screams and anguish, the knights fall down and roll around, sniggering.

The shepherd sighs in disgust. "Knights. Prats."

And a disembodied voice announces: "A...larch."

A clump of manly lumberjacks enter the clearing, and music swells. One of them steps forward. "Oh, I'm a lumberjack--"

He is immediately buried in a pile of lumberjacks. A bra and panties come flying out of the heap. The knights stop laughing and leap to defend the damsel dis-dressed, and the lumberjacks are buried in a pile of knights. Soon body parts are flying across the clearing.

A cow comes hurtling through the air and lands on the pile, accompanied by a faint voice: "...smells of elderberries!" The knights and lumberjacks lie stunned, and a naked figure is seen splayed beneath the cow.

One knight left standing stops and picks up the flung underwear. "Ni?" Everyone cringes, and he peers about, stuffs the garments under his chainmail, and scurries off down the hill. As one, the mobile lumberjacks and knights leap up in pursuit, and soon the clearing is quiet again.

The man with the cart begins picking up the bodies left behind.

"Hey, wait! Not dead!" cries a knight with no arms or legs. "Fight me like a man, you coward!"

"I'm only mostly dead!" says another.

"I'm, uh, I'm pining for the fjords!"

The serf ignores them all, piling up body parts and bodies, then hauling them down the hill, singing under his breath...."Spam spam spam spam spam spam spam spam..."

The shepherd looks at the tourist.  He leans over and nudges him. "Is, uh...Is your wife a goer, eh?? Nudge nudge, wink wink, saynomore?"

The tourist looks at him. "Not really, but I wouldn't mind a quick shag."

"Yeah, all right then." They head into the shack, and the clearing is quiet once more, interrupted only occasionally by the sounds of plummeting sheep.

A rustling is heard through the trees. A flock of Cardinals burst into the clearing.

"NO ONE EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION!... Oh, bugger, they've gone."

--by elynross (595 words)

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Lindsey ran.

Of all the places where he might have imagined himself interrupting an arcane ritual of dark and powerful magic, the Canadian wilderness had been near the bottom of the list. The men who chased him had big swastikas on their jackets. He wanted to shake his head, but that would make him stumble.

"Over here," someone called. Big red guy. No swastika. Lindsey veered and stumbled and ran smack into an invisible wall. The big red guy picked him up by the scruff of the neck and hauled him--

--into a tumbledown shack. "This wasn't here," Lindsey said stupidly.


He hushed. Outside, the pursuit thundered past. Lindsey eyed his rescuer, who wore a scruffy trenchcoat and had a weird forehead. And a tail. When he'd counted to a thousand, he said, "You look like you should have horns."

"I cut them off." The red guy frowned. "How come you could see that ritual, anyway? Do you have mystical powers?"

Lindsey shrugged. "I have an evil hand," he said, holding it up.

The big red guy looked interested. "Those can be tricky. What does it do?"

"Well, after the guy it belonged to died, not so much, actually." The red guy looked suspicious, flexing his right hand, which was easily twice the size of the left one and looked as though it did demolition. Lindsey realized he was three seconds away from being thrown out of an invisible shack. "Look--I have some... stuff in my past. I'm trying to do better."

That got him an understanding look. "I was supposed to be bad news.  Sometimes you have to make a choice. Fight all that fate crap."

"Yeah. So what's your name?"


Lindsey stared. "Hellboy." The red guy nodded. "Hellboy. If you're trying to be good, have you thought about changing that?" Pause. "I guess not. So. What do those Nazi guys want?"

"It's complicated."

He understood complicated. "End of the world stuff?"

Hellboy nodded. "Yeah." Lindsey felt he should step out of the way of the horns that ought to be there. The guy wasn't wearing a whole lot under the trenchcoat, and he had a very nice chest.

In the distance, the chanting started up again. "Do you think they'll succeed?"

"I don't know."

"Should we go out and try to stop them in a stupidly heroic way?"

Hellboy grinned. "I'm waiting for reinforcements. It's a long ritual."

"Good. I think I'm all out of heroic." But not all out of stupid, because the next thing out of his mouth was, "Want to have some possible-end-of-the-world-so-why-not sex while we wait?"

Hellboy shifted. He was very large. He could probably snap Lindsey in half with one hand. "You want to have sex."


"With me."

Lindsey shrugged. "I used to have a thing for vampires. I'm trying to broaden my horizons." He scratched awkwardly at the back of his neck. "I guess you don't go for humans."

Hellboy stared, and then he looked away. "I've never really thought about it."

"You've never... thought about it." Lindsey tried to control his smile. He leaned in and licked at the strong throat. Red, slick, tough skin. Hellboy jerked, but didn't move away. Lindsey ran his hands in under the trenchcoat and started to push it off. "Are you thinking about it now?"

"Yes." A short, awkward kiss turned into a long, gentle one. When it ended, Hellboy looked thoughtful. "What if the world doesn't end?"

Lindsey gave up on controlling his smile. What the hell. "Then we do it again," he said.

--by torch (598 words)

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He stood at the balcony and looked over the mountain range, a trim, sleek man with his hands clasped behind his back.  Clarice paused, then raised her own well-manicured hand to the door frame and cocked her hips, posing.

"Champagne?" she asked.

Hannibal turned, and she saw his eyes appreciatively sweep up her black capri pants to her cream-colored Merino wool sweater, which gently hugged the curve of her breasts.  "Here?  In this shack?  No, no..." He walked toward her, both palms extended, and she took his cold hands in hers and squeezed.  "It's entirely the wrong milieu for champagne, Clarice.  Much too rustic.  Perhaps a hot toddy instead."

"I didn't think there was a wrong time or place for champagne," Clarice said with a smile.  "And this is hardly a shack."

"Then I still have more to teach you, Clarice."  He bent his head, and kissed the tips of her fingers.  She felt his tongue give a rough, catlike lick.

"Maybe.  But don't be too certain, Doctor."  She pulled her fingers away and turned, moving back through the glass doors and into the chalet proper.  "I suggested champagne for a reason..."

"Ah, I see."  She could feel him right behind her and nearly moaned aloud;  it was still a delicious sensation, turning her back on him.  "Forgive me, darling," he murmured.  "I failed to take the menu into account.  What will be we having tonight?"

"For first course..."  She led him into the kitchen, where the French skiers were still twitching a little, but had largely settled down. "Frogs' legs.  To be followed by a light lemon soup."  Hannibal mmmed approvingly.  "For main course," she continued, "a roast, I think."  She opened the pantry door and thoughtfully regarded the Mountie hanging there.  "I was hoping you'd do the honors."

"Hm," Hannibal said, cocking his head and tapping his lips with his finger.  "This will be something of a challenge, I think.  English cuisine is so very dull."

"Well, I've still got my daddy's recipe for pot roast," Clarice told him.  "It's a bit simple, but--let's just say it's comfort food."

She saw his maroon eyes glitter;  oh, he liked that idea, very much.  "Oh, yes, a pot roast," he said.  "How very charming.  With potatoes and yams and two vegetables--and I'll make ambrosia.  Will that please you?"

"Yes," Clarice murmured.  "Very much."  Hannibal moved toward her and gently rested his hands on her hips.  He looked like he was just barely keeping his distance, like he wanted to devour her.  "Say please," she murmured.

"Please..."  His voice was the barest whisper.

Clarice turned her head and felt his lips brush her cheek.  And then a hand clutched her ankle.  She looked down curiously:  one of the skiers--the one who'd groped her, in fact--had managed to crawl his way over to them.  Hannibal went very still, then leaned forward and murmured into her hair, "Shall I?"

"Yes, please," Clarice said and handed him the ax.

--by Speranza (505 words)

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How had they gotten here?

Fraser's cheek was pressed to the sweaty tangle of Ray's gel-stiff hair.  The other man's head was heavy on his shoulder, his lips grazing Fraser's neck as he muttered an obscene litany that drove Fraser's arousal ever higher.

He was leaning hard against Ray, now, Ray's head falling forward, the creak of sweat-damp denim as Fraser pushed Ray into the cabin's wall, Ray's profile golden and sheened in the dim light of the fire.  The wind howled outside, and Fraser set his teeth in the collar of Ray's black leather jacket, far too flimsy for the knifelike cold of this place in winter, biting down to keep himself from marking Ray, chewing on the leather, his mouth full of salt and dry want.

Ray's hand was knotted with his, and as they went from leaning against the wall to making love to it, writhing against split logs, the other man took their joined hands and rapped them twice rather painfully against the wood.

With a loud, breathless whisper Ray ordered Fraser to do impossible things, things that twisted Fraser's gut even as they drove him to grind his hips against Ray's narrow backside.  Ray's free hand flailed blindly, his elbow bent, his hand curled at the back of Fraser's neck, now grabbing a handful of Fraser's short hair and tugging until it brought moisture to Fraser's eyes.

"Come on, come on, fuck me --"

Ray bucked against him, his head on Fraser's shoulder once more, the bristle of his hair maddening against Fraser's bare throat.

"I can't.   I can't, Ray.  I don't have any--"

"Fraser--" and there was something like terror in Ray's voice as he seized, stiff and heavy in Fraser's grasp, as he fisted Ray's cock, holding it, squeezing rhythmically.  "Oh, jesus, yes, just like that--"

On the edge of climax, Ray had shuddered to a halt, a fine tremor running along his limbs as he pushed up once against Fraser's hands, standing almost on his toes in his ecstatic moment.

"--finish me off, Christ, oh Christ--"

And Fraser pressed him against the wall and then let go of him, arranging him with his hands until Ray 's shoulders were against the wall and he was facing out, looking paralyzed and aggrieved.

"You can't let go when I'm there, Fraser, jesus, how can you--?"

And Fraser knelt, slowly, carefully, and Ray shut his mouth with a click and swallowed audibly.

The thick, glazed head of Ray's cock was blunt and gamy.  Old sweat and fabric softener.  The metallic edge of desperation.  He felt Ray's cock throb with his rapid pulse as he ran the pad of his thumb along the base of the shaft.

Something naked and alive, admitted past his lips, drawn in with the wet massage of his tongue and the softest suckling kiss.

He had never performed this act, and there had been something decidedly efficient about it the few times he'd been on the receiving end of this particular motion.

It was new and strange, but he wanted to absorb it.  Wallow.  The rapid clicking sound of Ray's gulping and the stiffness of his hips precluded much exploration.

He drew hard, and felt Ray's hand cup his neck, his thumb stroking Fraser's skin.

"Just like that--" and then the soft glottal cry of completion, as Fraser pulled away to watch Ray's release spatter his own navy cable knit.


--by Pares (571 words)

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"Computer -- initiate holographic program Canadian Shack."

The holosuite shimmered around Julian Bashir and Miles O'Brien as it changed from a simple black-and-gold grid to the Canadian woods. Sunshine filtered through ancient trees. A nearby river supplied the sound of rushing water. And a small shack stood next to them, offering shelter.

"Grand," Miles said, clapping his hands together. The awkwardness of their reunion seemed to be melting away from him. "So, what great historical enemy will we face here? Apaches? Huns?"

"Huns? In Canada?" Julian grinned. God, but it felt good to be with Miles again.

Miles shrugged. "Never been much on Canadian history."

"Me either. See, the shack's far better shelter than it might look at first. Hovermattress, insulating blankets, even a cookstove. You can indulge in your bizarre, old-fashioned habits --"

"Cooking isn't bizarre, man," Miles laughed. "You never could get used to the idea of food that began as real food, not some microchip pattern. You and Keiko --"

Miles' voice trailed off. Julian wanted to ask about the divorce, but knew through hard-earned experience that asking Miles a direct question was the surest way to deny yourself an answer. He'd learn the truth soon enough. Miles didn't cross the galaxy to see him for nothing.

(But what did he come here for, what is it that he does want to say?)

"Well, she was never much on cooking," Miles finally said. "On anything traditional. Anything -- real." They were quiet together for a moment before Miles laughed. Funny complaint comin' from a fella who spends all his time in a holosuite."

"Our games here are real," Julian said, trying to find a way to say what he meant without actually coming out and saying it. "The battles and enemies and forts -- they're shadows and light. But what we come here for is the challenge. For each other. That's real."

Miles pushed up the sleeves of his plaid shirt and stepped inside the shack. Julian followed, dropping their bags near the door. "You're right," Miles said. "This is nice. You come here often with Ezri, do ya?"

And now we get to it, Julian thought. "Ezri and I aren't together any longer." At Miles' surprised glance, Julian shrugged. "All those years, I thought I was in love with Dax. Turns out I was in love with Jadzia."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Miles said, and for the first time in a very long time, Julian was sure his friend was lying to him. He fought back a smile as Miles continued, "So, who's the enemy again? You never did tell me."

Julian sat down on one edge of the hovermattress, looked up at Miles. "There's no enemy. This isn't a combat scenario."

"It's not?" Miles looked confused, as well he might

"The Canadian Shack scenario is, um, interpersonal," Julian said carefully. "It's meant to let the team discover more about one another."

"Ah," Miles said. He sat down on the edge of the mattress too. The sunlight glinted through the windows. "How long does it last?"

"As long as it takes," Julian said. "How long do you think that will be?"

Miles slowly, almost hesitantly, rested his hand on Julian's shoulder. "Maybe not too long."

-- by Yahtzee (540 words)

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Boyd is unhappy.

Boyd is always fucking unhappy, so Ives really should be used to it by now.

He isn't.

Ives knows precisely how good it can be, how good it is when Boyd manages to rip the fucking plank out of his ass and enjoy himself.

Remembers the way Boyd's eyes had changed in that moment just before he'd taken Ives' wrist...

Anger and guilt and the hunger, so sweet and wild and he'd bitten into the wound on Ives' hand so viciously that the scars are still there, silver pale against pale. Bitten and bitten and chewed and lapped and then they'd been on their knees in the muddy snow that sucked at their legs like some vast, brown mouth.


Known something like surrender in the white-hot flares of pain, in the calm of knowledgeable terror -- Boyd, in that state, could have very easily chewed Ives' hand right off.

Thankfully, the man hadn't started with his fingers.

All of it like some impossibly pure version of sex that had been denied to God's lesser children.


And when Ives had finally thrown Boyd off, the man had just lain there, moaning like a sick calf.

He hadn't fucked him then, though, and sometimes Ives wonders if it would've made a difference.

The Art of War and all that -- strike at your enemy's weakest point, temporally and physically, and Boyd, right then, had been nothing but weak.

Ives hadn't wanted prey, though, and he still doesn't.

Lingering sentiment, perhaps, and all of his research, all of the Natives stewed in the search for information... well, the Wendigo is not a social creature.

But the Wendigo is a predator, he is a predator, and weren't the most successful predators the ones that traveled in packs?

What better than to have a strong right hand, a belly that knew the hunger of your own?

Perfection when Boyd has starved himself to near-insensibility, when they lay in wait for the fatted wagon trains, never guarded by more than a few would-be farmers with cheap rifles.

No match for soldiers.

The children are sweet.

Sweeter when Boyd hovers, bloody-mouthed and feral over whatever old duffer on which he's deigned to dine, watching Ives at his own feast and... wanting.

Sweetest when Boyd challenges him for the rights to muscle marbled with the fat of childhood, to the delicate eyes that crunch and bleed into the mouth.

When they claw at each other to the sound of crackling fires and the wails of those pioneers portable enough for them to carry off.

When Boyd slams him to the ground and enters him, bloody and vicious and it's all so close to what Ives wants.

To what they both need.

And so he placates the man as best he can. They move further and further north against all sense and season.

The wagon trains become sparse, and Ives is not a fool.

Boyd is clearly seeking to remove himself from temptation, but...

He'll be hungry again.

And Ives knows this countryside far better than Boyd has ever cared to. They'll be coming on the trappers soon enough, no matter how decrepit this latest shack of theirs seems.

Ives would like to believe Boyd knows this. Knows and has made peace. Grizzled Frenchmen for his palate. Who knew? Perhaps the man developed a taste for the blubber-smeared Native wenches.

But Boyd is unhappy, just the same, and one of these days Ives may have to admit that the experiment is a failure.

Still, though... the Wendigo has nothing but time.

--by Te (598 words)

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"We're here." Shawn stopped the car in front of a small cabin that had been hidden by the trees.

"Thank God. Where's here?" Cory shivered as he got out, rubbing his hands together before moving to join Shawn by the trunk.

"My uncle Tony stayed here for a while a few years back," Shawn said. He started hauling out bags, handing Cory's to him. "It's not much, but it's free, and it's about as far away from the city as I could get us in a car."

Thoughts of the city brought memories crashing back. Before he knew what was happening, his bags were taken out of his hands and put on the ground, and Shawn was holding him tight.

"It's gonna be okay, Cory," Shawn said, mouth right next to Cory's ear. "I promise you. Everything's gonna be all right."

Cory clutched at him, burying his face in Shawn's neck for a minute. He sniffed hard and lifted his head, resting his forehead against Shawn's. "Thanks," he said quietly.

Shawn smiled. "Any time. C'mon, let's go in. It's cold out here."

"Okay, I admit it, this was a good idea," Cory said the next morning, after waking up to bright sunshine and the sight of Shawn making pancakes. "I could get used to this."

Shawn lost the wary look he'd had a second earlier, and beamed as he carried plates of pancakes over. "I'm glad. Now shove over -- we're having breakfast in bed."

"Great!" Cory held the blanket up for Shawn to slide in next to him.

Breakfast was warm and cozy and happily sticky, and Cory felt knots he hadn't realized were there start to unravel deep inside. He put his plate on the floor and leaned back against the wall, staring at Shawn. "Shawnie?"

"Yeah?" Shawn turned to look at him, swallowing his last bite of pancake. "Cory, what is it?"

"Why'd you do this, Shawn?" Cory asked softly.

Shawn smiled sadly. "Because I figured you needed some time away."

"You were right. But why did you do this?"


"Shawn." Cory's entire life kept clicking into place, and he couldn't stop looking at Shawn.

"Cor, don't," Shawn whispered. "Just... just enjoy the pancakes, okay?" He started to slide out of the bed.

For an instant, Cory was tempted to let him go, tempted to forget what he'd just figured out. His life was all mapped out, and this wasn't the right road.

Except -- it was. Or at least, he was starting to think it should have been. He reached out and touched Shawn's arm.

Shawn froze, lowering his head to stare at the blanket. "Cory, please. Don't."

"Topanga's really gone this time, Shawn. She really left me, and she's really not coming back."

"I know."

Carefully, Cory slid his hand down Shawn's arm until he could twine their fingers together. The last shred of uncertainty vanished when Shawn's fingers tightened on his. "And that hurts. A lot."

Shawn tried to pull his hand free, but gave up when Cory just held on tighter.

Cory took a deep breath. "But it doesn't hurt as much I keep telling myself it does. You know why?"

Shawn shook his head.

"Because you're here. You're always here."

"That's what best friends are for," Shawn said, slanting a glance at him before looking down again.

Cory rubbed a thumb across Shawn's hand. Shawn shivered. "Is that what we are, Shawn? Best friends?"


"Because I'm thinking maybe there's more to it than that." Cory held his breath.

Then Shawn was holding it for him.

--by Arduinna (593 words)

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"How in God's name am I supposed to get from L.A. to Saskatoon with thirty bucks?"

"Well, I had been planning to let you use one of my cars --"

"Not another hellcar."

Satan shrugged, casually elegant in his plantation-chic. "It would've gotten you there. Or closer."

"Riiiight. But you won't, because you're evil."

"Well, there's that, but you really do need to learn to watch your language, Ezekiel."

"My lang -- oh, I take it back. You're not evil, you're just petty."

"Sulking is highly unbecoming for a member of the Host."

Canada. Thirty dollars. Fuck. "Satan's petty! Do you hear me, world?! Satan! Is! Petty!"

Satan just smirked at the passers-by, most of whom were determinedly looking everywhere but at Zeke.

"You're being invisible again."

"I must admit, I never get tired of watching people blatantly ignoring those in obvious need of assistance."

"Well, that's... in character."

"I do my best, Ezekiel. And I expect you to do the same."

Gone with the usual threat, and really, if anyone had ever told him he'd eventually get used to Satanic threats...

He probably would've backed away. Slowly.

Now that's comedy.

Or irony.

Or, well, his life.

Which didn't improve over the course of the week it took to hitchhike to the border.

Four rides convinced they'd picked up a serial killer, two serial killers left moderately beaten in the care of local police, one day spent being questioned by a frighteningly interested sheriff, three rides from the automobilically suicidal, and the vast majority of Washington passing to the tune of the most cheerily offensive polka ever produced.

Satan had joined them for that ride, singing along and dancing in the backseat while the mildly psychic driver slowly drove himself into a full scale panic attack.


Still, though, he made it across the border with a friendly schoolteacher who'd cheerfully lied to the guards about Zeke being his brother.

And then proceeded to get friendlier in a motel outside of Coquitlam. The fact that he'd kept the radio tuned to the 'oldies' station for the entire drive probably played a major role in Zeke's decision to help the man out.

"The road does strange things to a man's mind, Ezekiel."

"Shut. Up."

Mr. Friendly blinked up at him. "I'm sorry...?"

"No, no, not you."

The long, long drive East was entirely uneventful, and Zeke wondered if Canadians really were better people than Americans. Which was a thought that should've brought Satan to his side, but didn't.

Lasted until he caught up with the latest demon in a shack somewhere in Saskatchewan, smack dab in the middle of cleaning and dressing two... fur trappers.

Dale Charbonneau had been one of Canada's first and most radical animal rights activists, with a love of irony Zeke could appreciate.

Managed to shoot out one of the guy's eyes before he was seen, and after that it was just a matter of slipping around in blood and... other things, some wrestling, and one firm poke.


Sardonic applause and Zeke made a rude gesture in its general direction.

Satan clapped him on the shoulder. "There's my boy." Took a deep breath. "I love the smell of carnage in the morning, don't you?"


"Tch. Well, you will before you're done. Good enough for me." Satan slipped his arm through Zeke's, a gentleman with his lady on the promenade.

Zeke rolled his eyes. "So what's next, boss?"

"Same thing we do every night, Zekey --"

"You hate me, don't you?"

Satan... snuggled. "You just keep on believing that."

--by Te (594 words)

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Bran sniffed the candle curiously.  "Beeswax," Will told him.  "No--don't light it yet."

They were in Will's office at the university; it was cluttered, books piled at random on the desk and floor. Bran stepped back onto something that crackled, and he shifted uncertainly.  Beside him Will was relaxed, his eyes unfocused as he studied the wall above the bookshelf. "What should I do?"

Will blinked and refocused.  "Nothing, yet."  He tapped his own candle against the side of his nose, then straightened and seemed at once very sure of himself.  "We can light them now.  Here---"   He lit his candle and passed the matches to Bran.

Bran looked up from his candle's glow to find Will studying him seriously.  He tried to quell his nervousness.  "What should I do?" he repeated.

Will studied him a moment longer.  "It will be easier if you closed your eyes.  Try to relax."  He looked concerned.

Bran returned the look steadily, and after a moment, Will nodded.  "Okay."

Bran shifted again to find room free of the clutter and closed his eyes.  The candle shook slightly in his hand. Shut off from sight, he could feel the light draft from beneath the door of the office and the way candle flame warmed his face.  Something stirred the air; his eyelids twitched, and he jumped a little when Will's hand touched his wrist.


Bran opened his eyes.  They were no longer in the office. His fingers were numb, and Will took the candle from his hand before he lost his grip.  He took a quick breath, then a slower one.  "Where are we?"

In the center of the room was a wooden table grey with dust, and two candles twin to their own. Will lit them with those they had brought.  He blew out Bran's and laid it on the table, and propped his own up next to the two now burning.

"Canada, I believe."

Bran mused on that.  He looked around the room.  The walls were greyed and weathered, and there were wooden pegs in the joints of the wood.  "When is this?"

Will tilted his head.  "It doesn't matter."  Bran wrinkled his nose, and Will smiled.  "Whatever happens will happen outside of it."

At the words, Bran shivered slightly and crossed the room. There was a window on the other side with boards across the opening.  Through the cracks he could see snow and the smudge of trees in the distance. Cold air crept through the wool of his sweater, and he gripped his hands into fists to warm them.

"I don't know what you need me to do."

He could hear Will's breathing, light and steady.  "You've helped me face them down before."

"I don't remember."  He tried not to let the bitterness show.

There was a pause.  "I know," Will said.

His breath was frost-tinted.  There were footsteps behind him, and then Will's warmth was against his back, arms around his waist.  He breathed slowly, feeling by steps warmer even as the cold drifted in.

After a minute, he said, "Aren't there any preparations we should be doing?"

Will tightened his grip.  "Not really.  And this is important, too."

Bran leaned back against him for another moment, then shifted forward.  Will kissed him lightly on the back of the neck and released him.  He crossed back to the table and retrieved his candle, then returned to stand by the window.  Bran saw his face grow still and his eyes darken.

"They're coming," Will said, and blew out the candle.

--by Kest (592 words)

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Bilgewater's Vanderhoof.

A few handclaps echoed in the restaurant--restaurant, Lorne thought sadly, more like a shack--as the echoes of the guitar faded away. The band began putting up their instruments, but to Lorne's delight, the singer came and sat down at his table.

"I couldn't help but notice the green," Hedwig said. "Bold choice, especially this far after Labor Day. I said to myself, this is perhaps the only chance I'll ever have to meet someone more jaded than me."

"Sensational act," Lorne said. "As soon as I heard you on the radio, I thought, here is a gal I have got to hear for myself. In person. When I heard you were doing a West Coast tour--well, I haven't been this excited since I heard about the all-Brady Bunch version of the Weakest Link. Of course, when I thought 'West Coast,' I thought L.A., maybe San Diego. Not British Columbia."

Hedwig shrugged and said, "My manager isn't all that committed, despite the best efforts of the New Jersey Department of Mental Health." Her wig was honey-gold, her lipstick fuschia, her jacket blue lame. Lorne smiled as he thought that the two of them probably represented half the color in all of Canada.

She's tired, he thought. I didn't have to hear her in person to see that, but it's so clear now. And so unfair. But then, I don't have to tell Hedwig about unfair.

"So telling, you know," Hedwig said. "That the green-eyed monster itself should come to hear me. You've inspired most of my best work, you know."

"That's where you're wrong," Lorne said, leaning across the table to look into Hedwig's glitter-lashed eyes. "First, my eyes are red. The rest is green. Second, jealousy's not your source. It's genius. The real deal."

"Am I to be inducted into a sort of glam-rock Mensa?"

"You oughta be, honey. But they don't even have the temples worthy of worshipping you."

"You're different from most men," Hedwig said. "So perceptive. So--green."

"When people sing, I can see their souls. And you, my dear, have a beautiful soul."

"Do you mean 'beautiful soul' in some sort of quasi-religious context, or more, say, Sam Cooke?"

"All of it wrapped up into one. And more. That's you."

Hedwig cocked her head to one side; he could see emotion and skepticism warring in her painted face. Finally she said, "Most men--after they've really seen me--that's not their reaction."

"You're talking about the body," Lorne shrugged. "This hang-up people have, linking bodies and sex. I mean, sure, the bodies get linked eventually, if you're doing it right. But it ain't the be-all end-all, any more than the point of climbing Mount Everest is the really nifty hiking boots. In the end, it's not about mechanics and tools. It's about souls. And you're the richest one I've ever found."

Lorne watched Hedwig consider what he'd said--all her skepticism and anger were at the surface now, but they were fighting with something else, something stronger. That overwhelming need to find just one person who'd take her for who and what she was. Lorne knew he was the one to do it. Plus, God, the duets! Just let her give me a chance, he thought.

Finally, she gestured for some wine. Lorne grinned. As the waitress put the box on their table, Hedwig said, "So, when Michael Bolton sings, you can see his soul?"

Lorne took her hand as he shook his head. "You seriously think he has one?"

"Not really."

--by Yahtzee (598 words)

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Hawkeye compulsively stirred the contents of the pot again, then paced along his chosen path: stove to door to table to bed to stove again. He started to rub his arms against the cold and caught himself, shoving his hands into his pockets instead.

It had been a bad idea, getting here first. There was too much time to think.

Stir, pace.

He stopped at the table and stared at the bottle of scotch sitting in the middle of it, painfully tempted. The ice in his stomach would melt away with the liquor's heat -- just one glass, and he'd be calm, ready to face this.

This. God.  How could he be so scared? It was just --

"Hawkeye?" Cold blast of air, uncertain voice, heavily-clad figure in the doorway.

"Trapper." He managed a smile that he hoped was welcoming, forcing himself to move forward and take Trapper's bag.

After a few minutes of bustling around getting rid of coats and boots and luggage, they were standing a few feet away from each other, staring.

"You as nervous as I am?" Trapper asked.

Hawkeye started to laugh. "I damn near reached for some liquid courage just to be able to say hi to you," he admitted. "Hi, Trap."

"Hi, Hawk."

A heartbeat later they met in the middle in a tangle of arms and the pressure of solid torsos, and before he knew it Hawkeye was crying into Trapper's neck. He could hear ribs creaking, but couldn't tell through the pressure inside his chest if they were his or Trapper's. He held on tighter, feeling his own neck getting wet before they finally managed to pull away a few inches.

"How did things get so weird?"

"I don't know, but God, I'm glad to see you." He hugged Trapper quickly again and let go. "I can't believe we had to come to another foreign country just to say hello in person." His eyes started to prickle again at the sight of the quick, bright grin he remembered so well.

"That stew I smell?" Trapper asked suddenly, looking toward the stove.

"Yeah. My dad's specialty -- he sent a ton of it along. I think he doubts our cooking ability."

"Great. I'm starving." Trapper dropped into a chair and waved a hand imperiously. "Garcon!"

Hawkeye moved to the stove and lifted a spoonful of the stew. "You really want this in your lap?"

"Well, if you're gonna be like that..." Trapper laughed and got up to help himself.

"It's just like old times," Hawkeye said later, eyes half-shut as he listened to the wind battering the cabin.

"Yeah. Except for the good food."

"Well, yeah. And no tent."

"And no still."

Hawkeye sat up straighter. "To the still -- a noble soldier who served with honor under trying circumstances."

Trapper raised his brandy in salute. "To the still."

They both settled back into their chairs again. "But other than that --"

"And no one bleeding on us," Trapper added.

"-- and no one bleeding, it's just like old times."


Hawkeye wriggled his toes, gazing contentedly at them in all their black-socked glory. Not an inch to the side, Trapper's feet in their brown socks were propped up on the same ugly plaid footstool. He uncrossed his ankles and leaned his left foot into Trapper's right. Trapper promptly returned the pressure.

Hawkeye sighed and let his eyes close. Too few people appreciated the joys of holding feet in front of a fire.

--by Arduinna (578 words)

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"It's a shack."

"That's true, thank you for noticing."

"It's cold." Turlough could apply his statement to the Doctor's voice as well as to their surroundings.

"Again, you have a fine eye for detail."

"It's Earth. Again. Still. Just ten years later."

Sitting across from him at the tiny, rickety table, the Doctor only answered that with a hunted, haunted look.

Turlough sighed.  "With Tegan gone, I have to complain enough for two people now." Despite everything, he missed her.  His father would say that a Turlough never formed attachments to peasants, but his father had also said that the republican upstarts lacked the firepower necessary to be a threat to the regime. A Turlough had never been tried and sent into exile before either, yet the whole family had been splintered and tossed across the galaxy like trash.

"You've done quite enough, I assure you."

The death and carnage caused by Davros and the Daleks, Tegan's departure as she fled in horror from it all... these things had taken their toll on the Doctor.  Physically, he looked as young as he had before, but some spark had faded from his dark eyes, making Turlough wonder how much longer he'd go before his next regeneration became necessary.  He was an engine losing fuel and going cold.

It scared Turlough, even if a Turlough never admitted fear either.  "How much longer are you going to stay in this bare hellhole of a lean-to before you've finished punishing yourself?" To remain in character, he added, "And me.  What do I need punishing for?"

They were alone.  Nyssa had left long before. Tegan had left. Kamelion remained, but the android hardly counted as company, and the Doctor hadn't brought it with them into the shack.

They were alone together.

"You're right," the Doctor said with a fake version of his hearty tone, a false, nearly hectic, light in his face replacing the usual sunny brightness of his features.  He stood up.  "I did my best, so I have no reason to punish myself.  All of you leave me eventually; that's the way it goes." He gave Turlough a look so heavy with meaning that it made Turlough's skin crawl.

Turlough returned fake brightness with fake brightness.  "Perhaps a goal might help get us back on track."

"A splendid idea.  I'll take you somewhere warmer.  You'd like that, wouldn't you?"

"Yes.  You have no idea how much."

--by Viridian (404 words)

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Obi-Wan stood, arms hugged tight around his body. The shack was small, barely room for the desk and chair, and two pallets. It wasn't nearly large enough for them both, if Obi-Wan were to have room to breathe. The screaming wind outside, the constant rattle of tailings, made it even more confined. He was going mad.

Kenadian ore was important enough to Republic industries for slowed exports to trigger the dispatch of a Jedi team. The Kenadian government, professing eager cooperation, had failed to explain how factionalized their political system was -- and how isolationist some of those elements were. Obi-Wan was ready to curse the lot of them.

The unseasonal storm was no one's fault, though. The mountain mines were only accessible during certain times of the year, but this had been a surprise to everyone. It was sheer luck they'd been able to find shelter, and it could have been worse -- they could have chosen to go into the mine itself. Obi-Wan shuddered, and held himself even tighter. He was barely holding himself together; if they'd--

Nor had anyone known that a second mineral, less prized, had an odd effect on Jedi abilities -- which explained why Kenadia didn't produce many force users. If he and Qui-Gon made it, they would have much to report. He was lucky his master wasn't as badly affected. He'd retained his peace of mind, his--


Qui-Gon's voice sent shivers through Obi-Wan; he hoped they blurred into those from the cold. "Yes, Master?"

"You should try to meditate. With the interference--"

"I know, Master." He didn't turn to see Qui-Gon, kneeling on his pallet, features maddeningly calm, eyes serene. It would only make his own distress worse. His own desires--

"It's not your fault. The tailings--"

"I know." Hysteria tinged his words.  He breathed deeply, seeking the calm ripped away by the constant shriek of wind and banging of rock. He could not do this. He could not be in this place with this man, air thick with the scent of unwashed bodies and need. His need. Ten days... He was too young to control this. A man grown, but still not strong enough. Nowhere to go, nowhere to escape until he regained himself, as he'd done other times.

"Come, Padawan."

Obi-Wan's movement was abortive, a single jerk of his head.


His name was laced with command -- and a quality that pulled Obi-Wan around. He walked, in slow motion, drawn by something unnameable in that voice. He knelt in front of Qui-Gon, eyes on the floor, his body in an agony of need, a claustrophobic hunger.

"Look at me." The command was gone; only a plea remained.

Obi-Wan looked up. The noise inside and out crystallized, and he saw he was not alone. He reached out a trembling hand.

Qui-Gon took a shuddering breath. "Stop-- Stop me, Obi-Wan. We mustn't--" The words had no force, and when Obi-Wan touched his face, Qui-Gon cupped his own over it and turned his mouth into the palm. He grasped Obi-Wan's braid with his other hand and slowly wound it tight.

They drowned the noise of the storm in soundless murmurs and quiet gasps. The first touch of Qui-Gon's tongue on his skin made him come; the feel of Qui-Gon's body wrapped in and around him gave him the peace he'd lacked, and drove away the darkness.

They woke to a clear morning, and prepared to leave. As they stepped outside, Qui-Gon turned to him.

"We can never speak of this."

And then he kissed him in blessed silence.

--by elynross (599 words)

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"This is not a stakeout."

"It's a stakeout."

"This is not a stakeout."

"It's a--" Victor resisted the urge to slap his partner. Barely. "Why isn't this a stakeout? Not enough donuts for you?"

Mac rolled his eyes. "What, exactly, are we staking out here? Are we waiting for the lichen to do something criminal? A caribou uprising? Fifty Mounties to do a ride-by striptease?"

"The Director said--"

"I think she just wanted us out of her hair. Did you see the way she looked at that guy from the French agency?"

Victor stared. "Why would she want us out of the way for that?"

Mac stared back. "Because the guy from the French agency was checking out your ass, dumbass."

"He wasn't," Vic denied automatically. Then he rolled one shoulder, trying to make sure his shirt was hanging down. "If he was... doing that, why would it help to get us out of the way? Won't he just go for Dobrinsky?"

They looked at each other, and both shuddered.

"Don't say things like that again. I might not make it out of here before I throw up." Mac sat down on the cabin's one rickety stool and stretched his legs out. "There are people who like both men and women, Vic. I realize it doesn't go with your rigidly dualistic world-view, but then, very little does except jeans and pickup trucks."

Vic snorted. "Like you're so open-minded. When that guy in the pink bunny costume patted your ass, you hid behind Li Ann."

"Vic, for fuck's sake, he was uglier than a third world civil war, and the bunny suit wasn't exactly doing anything for his figure. I'm open-minded, not brain-dead."

Vic shuffled his feet. "You are?"

Mac blinked, then shifted on his stool and stared out the window. "Brain-dead?"

"Open-minded." Vic dug his hands into his pockets. "About... things like that."

"Maybe I am." Mac squared his shoulders. "If you're going to freak out, make it entertaining. I'm about to die of boredom here."

"No, I'm not. I just." There was nothing outside the window. Not even a caribou. "I don't think I get it."

"No one said you had to get it. You can spend your whole life not getting it. And not getting any, but that might just be because of your abysmal fashion sense."

Vic looked at Mac, who was balancing the stool on two legs. He bent forward and pressed his lips to Mac's.

Mac lost his balance, and the stool crashed backwards. "Ow! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

Vic shrugged. "I still don't get it."

Mac got up off the floor. His expensive pants were smudged with dust and soot, and there was a dangerous light in his eyes. "You know, you're really asking for it." He darted forward and pressed Vic into the wall. His mouth was hard at first, and then it softened.

Outside the window, fifty Mounties rode past.

Vic shook his head and pushed Mac away with one hand, but not very far. "Okay," he said. "I think I get it."

--by torch (517 words)

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"It's not the same."

Ray glared at the shack.  "It is the same.  It's exactly the same, Benny.  We worked from pictures."

"Yes.  Yes, we did."  Fraser very carefully looked at the snow.

"For two weeks, we worked from pictures.  Was there a single moment when I wasn't doing exactly what you told me to do?  No!  There was not.  And do you know why?"

"Sixteen days, to be precise."

Ray sighed.  "Yeah. I don't know why, either."

"Ray, I'm not complaining.  I'm simply stating a fact.  There are subtle differences that affect the overall presentation.  And of course there's the age and grain of the wood, which couldn't have been helped in any case.  Even Diefenbaker sees it."

Ray leaned down into Dief's line of sight.  "Dief, you see any difference between this cabin where I fed you pancakes not three hours ago and the cabin where you nearly died of mountie-inflicted wounds three years ago?  What's that, boy?  You want me to throw Fraser down a well?"

"The windows used to be higher, I think."

"There's something wrong with you.  You need help.  You got a head mountie in Inuvik?  Somebody I can call to come out here with a straitjacket?"

"And perhaps a level."  Fraser squinted up at the roof.  "Something in the angle of the light..."

"Oh, for--you can't tell that just by looking."

Fraser looked at Ray, smiling faintly.  "I can, actually."

Ray tried to see it.  It looked like the same damn roof to him.  He sat down on the steps and looked at Fraser.  "I don't see a difference."

"Perhaps I have a different perspective."

"Yeah.  The perspective of a lunatic."

"There's no call to be snippy, Ray."  Fraser settled comfortably on the step beside him.  That close, Fraser smelled like work and pine trees.  "I like the light from here."

"I guess there's no way to get it back just like it was, huh."  Ray shook his head.  "Shoulda known."

"A lot has happened since it was built.  If Victoria hadn't burned it down, it would still be different, I think.  I've come back to it a different man."

"I liked this place the way it was."  Ray let out a long breath, staring at his hands.  "I never should've left, Benny."

"I'm not so sure."  Fraser looked up at the door.  "The original was good workmanship, for the time and the materials, but rebuilding made it stronger.  We were able to avoid most of the defects of the prototype."

Ray looked up at Fraser sharply.  "Why do I think we just stopped talking architecture?"

Fraser smiled, soft and warm, and Ray's stomach turned to water.  That was Fraser distilled down to his most basic elements in that smile, and Ray-- Ah, hell.  Ray was blushing, he could feel it.

"I stopped talking architecture three days ago.  You're a very literal man, Ray."

Ray closed his eyes and laughed hoarsely.  "Benny--"

"We are who we always were, Ray.  Just--older.  Re-modeled, perhaps, on the inside, but essentially the same."

"You, maybe.  Me, my grain is wrong, and my windows used to be higher.  Not exactly a deft touch with the metaphor there, Benny."

Fraser put an ice-cold hand on the back of Ray's neck.  Ray, who knew a moment when he landed in one, took it like a man.  "I like your windows, Ray.  Your windows make me very happy.  They always have."  Gentle fingers stroked over Ray's face; he shook under them.

"That's-- Yeah."  Ray swallowed hard and shifted closer.  "I got nice floorboards, too."

Fraser smiled.  "Show me."

--by Merry Lynne (599 words)

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Strange how the need to record persists, even now, when everything else is gone. Clumsy pencil-marks in a child's exercise book. Outside, an expanse of whiteness; inside, one small ivory rectangle, balanced on my knee. Room enough for a few sentences each day.

A world of things left to say. No time or space left to say them.

Words are precious; a non-renewable resource. We use them sparingly, recycle where possible.

"You think they got out of L.A. in time?" Gunn asks.

"I'm sure they did. They've probably been held up somewhere. How are the supplies holding out?"

"We still got enough. Your leg any better?"

"Much. Thank you."

"Hey, Wes. It stays dark for half the year up here, right?"


"So what's that light in the east?"

"Probably nothing. Just one of the pipelines burning."

Simple questions, and every answer a lie.

The light in the east is not fire; the glow is too constant and too bright as it illuminates Gunn's face each time he moves to the shack's only window. He knows it is not a fire.

He knows the true state of affairs in regard to our supplies, too: they are stored outside in the lean-to, where I cannot go. Food is not a problem--we brought enough for five adults and an infant -- and we are surrounded by mile upon mile of water in handy solid form. But when the last of the wood is burnt, and the flame in the stove gutters and dies, so will we.

"Don't sweat it, Wes," he says. "We got enough."

I wish I believed him.

"Daddy had a cabin," Cordelia said. "The IRS repossessed it, but I guess it's still there. I mean, it's not like the developers are about to move in."

"And definitely not after the apocalypse," Fred pointed out reasonably.

Angel cradled the child closer, arms rigid. Looked at me.

"Gunn and I will go ahead," I said. "You can follow later."

I was in charge. I was supposed to be in charge. If I had made better choices --

Too late now.

I have learned a lot since we arrived here.

I have learned that there is nothing more profoundly sad than a child's teddy bear, lying in the corner, without a child to hold it.

I have learned that the winters here are cold enough to freeze fuel. Today, Gunn brought the snowmobiles into the hut. They rest against the wall by the stove, nestling against each other, handlebars locked together like lovers' fingers entwined.

I have learned that warmth is warmth, and an embrace is an embrace, and that it is more important that love is given freely than who gives it.

I have learned it is impossible to use a snowmobile with a broken leg.

Today, Gunn burned the teddy bear.

Today, the light in the east grew brighter again.

Today, he said, "I'm not leaving you here. I won't leave you,"  and I believed him.

The snow is deep, and the earth beneath hard, like iron, making a burial impossible. He empties the tank of the second snowmobile and douses the body. It is frozen in the attitude of supplication in which he found it, half a mile from the shack.

He watches the blaze until it has died completely; then, returning to the shack for the last time, he pins a note to the door. The message is written in dull pencil on a page torn from a child's ruled notebook:

'I am going east. Follow me.

--by Rheanna (594 words)

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I'm goin' down Due South Park gonna have myself a time,

Friendly faces everywhere; humble folks without temptation,

I'm goin' down Due South Park gonna leave my woes behind,

Ample parking day or night, people spouting, "Howdy, Neighbor"

I'm headin' down Due South Park gonna see if I can't unwind,

I like fucking Mountie back, in my li'l Canadian shack.

So come on down Due South Park, and meet some friends of mine....


(Enter BENTON FRASER and STANLEY RAYMOND KOWALSKI, both wearing parkas.)

BEN (pushing through the door, tugging a reluctant DIEFENBAKER on a leash): Just stop it, okay? You're making me ill!

STAN: (pointing) Dude, I'm serious! That dog is gay!

BEN: No way! He's part wolf! He's the toughest dog in Inuvik!

(BEN shuts and locks the cabin door behind them, and instantly DIEFENBAKER is pawing at it, whining loudly.)

STAN: (shaking head): Toughest to get off, maybe. That dog is a big gay homosexual, Ben.

BEN: He's just confused.

STAN: Confused, my ass. That's the third time he's run away. You never shoulda took him to Big Gay Al's Inuit Veterinary Emporium--

BEN: But he had worms up his ass!

STAN: Yeah, and now he's got--

(From outside, the sounds of frantic barking. DIEFENBAKER goes nuts, howling and scratching at the door like he's going to smash through.)

BEN: What the hell's that? Grab his leash!

(STAN grabs the leash and BEN opens the door. In the distance, a dark shape is barreling through the snow toward them, barking furiously. It appears to be a Black Lab.)

BEN: (squinting across the mountain) That's Turnbull's dog--Trudeau!

STAN: Turnbull's big gay dog, Trudeau! (He sighs.) Oh, for the day when Diefenbaker liked pussy...

BEN: (frowning) I don't think a dog can ever be properly said to like pussy, Stan.

STAN: (nodding grimly) Yeah, like I said. Gay dog.

(As the dog approaches, we see that he is dragging something behind him which is leaving a deep trail in the snow. As he nears, we see that it is RENTON TURNBULL, who is--well--rather blue and dead, as the dog's leash has gotten rather tightly wound around his neck, strangling him.)

BEN: It--oh dear, it's Turnbull!

STAN: Oh my God, you killed Renny! You bastard!

(With a vicious jerk, DIEFENBAKER pulls and the leash slides out of STAN's hands. Instantly, Dief is crouched on the ground, and Trudeau is behind him, fucking him furiously.)
STAN (jumping up and down, nearly hysterical): Stop that! Stop that! Ben, Trudeau's fucking our dog!

BEN: (watching curiously) Yes. And he seems to be enjoying it.

STAN: He...? (STAN stops jumping and watches more closely; DIEFENBAKER is nearly purring with contentment.) Okay, yeah, he's enjoying it.

BEN: He's really enjoying it.

STAN: Huh.

BEN: You know, Stan--being gay is just part of nature, and a beautiful thing.

STAN: Oh yeah?

BEN: Yes.

STAN: Well, we're in nature, here, right? This is nature?

BEN: Indeed.

STAN: (grabbing the sleeve of BEN's parka and dragging him back toward the cabin) So, c'mere. Maybe you got worms up your ass, too.

BEN: (smiling) Oh, I'm sure I do, Stan.

--by Speranza (535 words)
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The afternoon was waning when I arrived: cold, pale light tinting the far brown hills purple. The shack stood alone, and for a moment I doubted I had come to the right place-but this was where my sources had led me. This had to be it.

The door was unlocked; I let myself in, placed my snowy boots neatly by the door, added wood to the woodstove and waited. The floor, at least, was neatly-swept, and sitting in seisa helped to warm my feet.

It wasn't long before the door opened, the man I sought nearly blocking the outside air as he shouldered his way in. He had to enter sideways because his parka was so puffy.

When he saw me, his face took on an almost comical expression of startlement.  "Hattori-san!"

"Always a pleasure," I said, trying for dry humor. It didn't work: his downcast eyes, although surprised by my presence, didn't hold their usual spark.

"How did you find me?" Removing his coat, placing a bucket of snow on the stove to melt-for tea, I hoped, or maybe miso.

"The dishwasher at Nobu."

"That bastard." His voice was without rancour, but it made me shiver. "They weren't supposed to tell."

"He said you were collecting morels."

Morimoto smiled grimly. "Which you believed...?"

"Not for a second. It's the dead of winter, Masaharu."

If he noticed my unusual use of his first name, he didn't show it.

There was silence. I couldn't help noting the healthy pink of his cheeks, the way his hair-uncut for some weeks now-threatened to almost curl.

We sat in silence. Perhaps his time away had taught him patience, but it galled me to see him so still. Where was his trademark energy? Finally I couldn't stand waiting for him to respond; I spoke out of turn.

"You have to come back."

He appeared to be studying the pattern of cracks in the floor. "After that defeat?"

"The other chefs note your absence."

"What are they preparing?"

Was that a hint of life in his voice at the suggestion of food, or was I imagining?  I recalled Kobe-san's most recent offering, a stalk of asparagus with a single drop of hollandaise sauce decorating its tip, but I said nothing.

Morimoto shook his head. "It doesn't matter. I am staying here."

"You are missed," I said, finally, desperate.

He looked up, sharply. The intensity of his near-whisper cut to my heart. "Does Kaga speak of me?"

Forget Kaga, I wanted to shout. Has he ever noted the wild succulence of your dishes? Is he the one who came all the way to Canada to find you? Are you blind?

But I said nothing.

Outside the snow continued to fall, like bonito flakes perfectly scattered under a waning moon.

--by Kass Rachel (466 words)

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"You have GOT to be kidding me." Maddie Hayes wrinkled her nose as she peered into the cobwebby shack.

"What, you thought we were going to the Sheraton Vanderhoof? Dream on," David Addison spun on his heel as he backed into the room, holding out his hand. "What we have here is a gen-yoo-ine huntin' and fishin' shack, where many manly men have done many manly things, such as --"

"Don't tell me." Maddie stepped inside, her bright white sneakers snowy against the dingy clapboard floor. "Hunting. And fishing."

"A very astute guess, Miss Hayes." David grinned as he slipped off his Ray-Bans and leaned against one wall.

"Yeah, it's almost like I'm a detective or something. David ---"

"Don't tell me. You're about to ask --"

"Why are we here?"

"Why we're here." David gave her his best come-hither grin. "C'mon, Maddie, let's face it. You read the other stories. You know what's coming--and that pun IS intended."

"David, shhhh!" Maddie waved her hands. "We're not supposed to admit we're fictional!"

"We do it all the time!" David protested. "We read our viewer letters, we tell 'em what's in the evening's script --"

"That's just the teasers! This isn't a teaser. This is fanfic."

"So what? Before we were working in VHS; now we're in Times New Roman. What's the dif?"

"I don't know." Maddie shrugged helplessly. "I just feel like the suspension of disbelief matters here."

"You're tellin' me. Rupert Giles and Curt Wild? And they need proof that estrogen makes you gals insane. Some guys won't go along with the feminists on the PMS murder defense, but I'm right there with ya. Hear me roar."

Maddie whacked David with her clutch bag, hard. "Good. Now I'll know what to tell my lawyer."

David's grin never faded. "This shack has been home to many, many sordid rendezvous so far, Miss Hayes. Many manly men redefining what it means to do manly things. A few ladies have set the shack to rockin' too. Let's face it, Maddie. In fanfic, everybody's got round heels. We roll over on our backs faster than, I dunno, something that rolls on its back real easy."

"I don't know, David. The last time we did this, I got pregnant. Plus our ratings plummeted, and then there were all those Herbert Viola episodes."

"Can't help it, Maddie. This is what the shack was made for. It's why we're here. It's why the shack comes conveniently equipped with a vibrating waterbed, mood lighting and a minibar. It's the heart and soul of fanfic, and it is our author-given duty, as fictional creatures, to doff our clothes and have more earth-shattering orgasms in the next two hours than mere mortals could have in a year."

"Well. When you put it that way --"

David grinned at Maddie. Maddie grinned back at David. She stepped forward and said in a low voice, "So. We going for a stylized PG-13, a steamy R or a no-holds-barred NC-17?"

"The PG-13 thing--we did that onscreen already," David said. "Let's you and me corrupt some minors."

"Ohhh, yeah. But so help me, David, if you sing so much as one line of 'Love Shack,' I will hurt you. Bodily. I mean this."

"Tiiiin--roooooof --"

"Daaa-vid? I'm warning you --"


--by Yahtzee (552 words)

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They've just about gotten the place into something more than a shack. It's insulated, and the windows are new. Michael makes good money doing repairs on people's snowmobiles and trucks.

Sammy makes less tutoring the local Inuit children, but he likes it, and that's the most important thing.

Michael knows Sammy wishes he'd lighten up some, but they wouldn't be here, like this, if it wasn't for him.

Sammy hadn't even gotten to graduate.

And he'd insisted it was his choice to leave, to follow Michael after their grandfather had kicked him out, but...


It never should've started.

And it had been Michael who started it.

Michael who'd never gotten the scent of his brother out of his head, even long after all the vampire-related mess was burnt and gone.

Never forgotten the thud of Sammy's heart under his palm, sleekly hairless skin and bath-damp hair and... the hunger hadn't so much gone away as changed.

Or maybe changed back.

Michael knows he's fucked up.

Michael knows he fucked up.

But, for a while, it'd been... easy.

Crawling into each other's beds, into the shower.

Once bent over the kitchen table because Sammy had still been growing and Michael had wanted to see...

What it was like.

Doesn't remember much beyond hot and sweet and Sammy's shocked little gasps above him, those strong, good hands moving restless all over him as Sammy. Took him.

The way Sammy had held him after.

The way he'd needed to be held.

Though as stupid as it had been to do it in the kitchen, that wasn't what had gotten them caught.


Sometimes, when Michael is surrounded by grey slush and the scent of oil for vehicles he won't be able to afford anytime soon, he can blame Sammy.

Sammy who had never once said no.

Sammy who had... thrown himself into this thing between them, always wanting harder and faster and new and Sammy who'd been jerking himself off that day.

Jerking himself off and staring at a magazine that wasn't one of Grandpa's ancient Playboys.

Michael remembers the way the sunlight had been too bright for him to see the glossy pages at first, the way he'd just assumed...

And he'd never been able to stay away from his brother, not when he was like this. Blue eyes wide and sweat on his upper lip. Naked to the waist in the summer heat, filled out since... since they'd started, but still so lean and the magazine...

God, where had he even found it?

Men. Boys. Tied up and tortured and beaten and Sammy stroking himself and he remembers --

"Michael, please... can we?"

Flashes of reddened skin, of Sammy's eyes, wide and unfocused. Bedsheet-ties twisting as Sammy writhed.

Flash of his grandfather's eyes on them both as Michael pounded into his brother, unable to stop even when the smell of vomit reached the bed.

Later, coming back to the house to find his things stacked outside. Forcing himself not to listen to the argument going on just inside the door.

Michael remembers those first few months on the road, and after he'd arrived here. The peace of them.

There'd been a rightness to getting kicked out, a freedom he'd never thought he'd actually have.

A chance to get his life together. To make a life away from...that.

Over the minute Sammy walked in the door, of course.

No one knows they're brothers here.

No one's tried to find either of them, which is probably for the best.

And Sammy...

Sammy always holds him when he needs it.

--by Te (599 words)

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Cherry pushed the door open and stepped into the small, well-made shack, carefully shaking the snow off her coat and wiping her feet. "Oh, look, Nancy," she exclaimed, "what a cunning little stove!" She turned back to see that her friend was taking off her warm, yet stylish, anorak and fluffing out her trademark Titian curls. "Nancy," Cherry scolded, "you're getting snow on the floorboards!"

"Relax, Cherry," Nancy said, with a husky tone in her voice. "It's just us here. No one will notice if the floor has a tiny smudge."

Cherry set her sturdy boots aside and walked towards the stove which radiated welcoming heat. Her stomach was fluttering. Was it wrong of her to go with Nancy into the Canadian wilderness, so far away from San Francisco and her steady girlfriend, Jackie? Cherry blushed as she thought of Jackie's warm brown eyes and strong arms. But Nancy had sent her a letter saying that she was needed urgently, and as a nurse, Cherry knew her duty.

"Nancy?" she said a little nervously. "What is it that you need my help with? Do you feel sick? Or are you expecting a friend who will need help from a professional nurse? I've read up on all the best treatments for frostbite."

"I'm not expecting anyone," Nancy said. She came up behind Cherry, and Cherry saw that Nancy was wearing an elegant cashmere sweater. Cherry felt dowdy in her home-knit pullover. Still, she would rather be poor and happy with Jackie than rich with--with anyone else! "It's just you and me. I've missed you, Cherry. We used to have such good times together."

"Yes," Cherry agreed. "Why, we should all have a big get-together soon! Midge, and Velma, and Joe, and Frank, and Jackie..." Cherry shivered. It was chilly, even this close to the stove.

"You're cold," Nancy purred. She put her arms around Cherry and rubbed up and down. Cherry knew that this was an excellent method of getting warm and increasing blood circulation. It seemed to be working, too. "Cherry? You were the best girlfriend I've ever had."

Nancy pressed herself against Cherry's back, sharing body heat. She rubbed gently up and down Cherry's front. "I'm beginning to feel quite warm now," Cherry said quickly. She gasped as Nancy's slim fingers stroked the thin band of lace on her bra. "Nancy, you know that Jackie and I are very happy together."

"So you keep saying," Nancy breathed against Cherry's ear before nibbling gently. "When was the last time Jackie could afford to give you something new and pretty?" Nancy's hand slipped under the waistband of Cherry's warm, fleece-lined skirt. "When was the last time Jackie made you moan like this?"

Cherry's head was spinning. She loved Jackie, she truly did, and she knew that Nancy was a hardened flirt. Nancy had showered Cherry with gifts and then broken her heart, and she had promised herself that she would never again be taken in by Nancy's persuasive ways. But oh, Nancy's clever fingers felt so good! "Nancy, you should be ashamed of yourself," she gulped.

"I'm not the one who has a faithful, boring girlfriend waiting in a dreary apartment." Nancy kissed the back of Cherry's neck.

Cherry's head fell back onto Nancy's shoulder, mussing her curls. Nancy smelled of expensive, delicious perfume. "Oh, Nancy!" she gasped, tingling everywhere. "Oh, don't-- Oh, please don't-- Oh, there--"

It felt so good, and San Francisco seemed so very, very far away! I'm such a terribly bad girlfriend, Cherry thought to herself. I'm a... Golly! I'm a slut!

She came.

--by torch (599 words)

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He'd seen the fire from a mile away, flickering through the window of someone's cabin, like a homing beacon in the killing night.

Logan breathed slowly, trying to stop shivering.

Toad's mud-colored eyes glinted gold in the firelight as he stared at Logan from the ceiling. "If you're going to try to kill me, then just fucking do it," Toad said.

Logan's nose warmed up enough to register scent again. His nostrils flared.  Blood. Toad was injured--that explained why he hadn't attacked.

Logan hadn't attacked because he wasn't wearing a coat. He'd been caught flat-footed in this leather queen X-Man getup that might as well be tissue paper in real Canadian cold. His battles could tear apart even sturdy buildings... With no coat and no shelter he'd freeze to death--or close enough to death that he wouldn't mind dying. He'd done that once already in his life. That was enough.

"Truce," Logan said, shivering.

Toad didn't blink. His eyes weren't human. His scent wasn't human. He smelled like mud, like the underside of rocks. His blood was human, though. "Yeah. Okay. Truce."

"You don't attack me. I don't attack you. And when the sun comes up, we go our separate ways."

"I know what a fucking truce means." Toad's tongue flicked in and out of his mouth as he talked.

"Just stating the terms." Wolverine forced himself to blink and break eye contact. He looked around the tiny shack, acutely aware of Toad's position on the ceiling.

"There's some blankets in the corner," Toad said. "And a bed."

"You sleep on the ceiling?" Logan glanced up again. Toad was wrapped in a blanket directly over the fire.

"Yeah. Can't stand beds."

"Fair enough." Logan investigated the corners; sure enough, there was a cot piled with blankets shoved against the wall. Logan dragged it as close to the fire as he could get.

Shreds of blanket and drips of blood dotted one side of the room. Logan wondered where Toad was injured, and how badly, but didn't ask.

Logan bundled himself under the blankets--they stunk; what he'd give for a cigar--and felt better. Felt like he wasn't going to die by morning. He closed his eyes.

He wondered where the rest of the team was. He could only hope they hadn't gotten themselves killed.

Flash of movement by his head. Logan jumped upright.

Toad crunched, chewed, swallowed. "Not you. Mouse."

Jesus. Logan looked into the fire.

"Wolverine," Toad breathed.


"Heard you're working with one of us now. That true?"

"Who's 'you' and who's 'us' here?"

"You. The X-Men. And us. Mutants who can't hide." Toad's green skin and inhuman eyes both were gold by firelight.

Logan opened his mouth, then shut it again, thinking of all the kids at the school. All the normal-looking kids, plus Hank, smiling and spectacled and blue. "Beast," Logan said. "Yeah."


"We don't have anything against mutants who look weird. That would be pretty fucking fucked up." Logan glared.

"I meant why's he with you and not us."

"Why wouldn't he be? We don't go around kidnapping little girls." Shit. Temper. Temper. No picking fights tonight, no matter how much he wanted to slice Toad's face off.

"None of you X-Men have a clue how it is not to be able to hide like you hide. Not to look human. He said anything about it?"


"Ask him, maybe," Toad said, and closed his eyes. "Tell him the Brotherhood gets it, even if Xavier can't."

Logan didn't answer.

He watched the fire and didn't let himself sleep.

--by Basingstoke (598 words)

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"Onward, Arthur!" The Tick bounded through the snowbanks.  He beamed up at Arthur, fluttering and shivering above him.  He waved the red bag he held in his fist.  "It's Christmas Eve--we have to hurry!"

Even though he expected no more success than the previous five times he'd tried to talk some reason into his partner, he took a deep breath and tried a sixth time.  Maybe now that they were in the Yukon, he'd have better luck. "Tick... I really don't think that's Santa's bag."

"Of course it is, chum!"

"How can you be sure?"

"Because it's...."  The Tick slowed down and, to Arthur's relief, stopped next to an abandoned shack.  "It's... red?  As red as that jolly old elf's nose!"

Arthur landed.  "Yes, just like Santa's bag.  But it's plastic, right?"

The Tick held the bag up to examine it. "Right you are, Arthur.  Your deductive powers are as sharp as the pointy thingie on Captain Liberty's torch."

"Uh-huh."  Arthur tucked his hands under his armpits.  "And what does the bag say?"

"It says..."  There was another long pause.  "'Rimmer's Drugs.'  That's our drugstore!"

"Great."  Arthur allowed himself a glimmer of hope--this was the first time since Duluth he'd gotten the Tick to stop and talk.  'Who was the last person you saw holding it?"

Snow was beginning to collect on the Tick's antennae.  "Why, that's an easy one, Arthur!  Friendly Fire was holding it when we bumped into him.  He sure seemed anxious to get back to the Fiery Blaze, didn't he?"

Arthur decided not to answer that.  "So let's examine this.  What you're holding there is a red bag from our drugstore that Friendly dropped when you collided.  So that means..."

"That means-- oh!  Arthur!  I know what that means!"

Arthur closed his eyes thankfully.  "Great."

The Tick leaned close.  He whispered, "I never realized that Friendly was one of Santa's Little Helpers."

"Oh, God,  Tick...."

"I know!  I'm as shocked as you are, chum.  Do you think his partner knows?"

"I wouldn't think so."

"Then we have to protect that young sidekick's secret!  On, Arthur!  North Pole ho ho ho!"  The Tick turned and prepared to leap, then stopped.  He stared at the virgin expanse of snow before him. "Arthur,  look!  We can make snow angels!"  He threw his arms to the side and, stiff as a board, let himself fall into the snowbank.  As so often happened with the Tick's landings, a mighty rumble arose...

"TICK!"  With a haste born of long experience--and a good knowledge of the way avalanches worked--Arthur pulled his partner into the shack seconds before the wave of snow would have engulfed them.

"Ah.  Change of plans, chum.  We'd best stay here until Santa finds us."  The Tick looked at the contents of the bag, which had spilled on the floor.  "But how can we keep ourselves occupied with just mistletoe and...ooh! It's the same kind of tube Friendly left in our bathroom!"

--by Katrina  (499 words)

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"Well?" Nick asked, looking around. "Is this great, or what?"


He turned, beaming, then swallowed hard as he saw Lacroix's forbidding expression. "You said you wanted to get away, just the two of us!"

"Yes, but I meant to a five-star hotel, with silk sheets and large baths and staff that are discreet enough not to notice, much less mention, the occasional bloodstain. Not... this." Lacroix grimaced as he gestured at the room.

Nick looked around again, trying to see the charming cabin through Lacroix's eyes. Rough walls, coarse bedding, a distinct lack of a bathtub. And an even more distinct lack of a staff. "Oh." He shot a stealthy look at his watch, confirming what the twitch at the back of his neck was telling him--dawn was less than an hour away. "Well. We've stayed in worse places," he said gamely.

Lacroix, the epitome of frozen dignity, settled onto a chair and stared at him. "Yes, we have," he said, every syllable precisely clipped. "Usually while being chased by a horde of angry peasants waving torches and pointy wooden sticks."

Nick winced and went to look out the window, clasping his hands behind his back.

"So. See any peasant hordes out there?"

Nick lowered his head to the cold glass and shut his eyes.

"No? I confess, I thought I saw something earlier. Didn't quite look like peasants, though. More like... bunnies."

Nick started banging his head gently, unclasping his hands to brace himself against the wall for better leverage.

"Is that it, then? Hordes of peasant bunnies chased us in here?"

Bright pain in his palm distracted him from the dull ache in his skull. "Ow." He lifted his head long enough to look at his hand: blood was welling up from where a splinter had speared him. "Great," he sighed.

Lacroix was at his side in an instant, elegant fingers cupping his wounded hand and drawing it up to narrow lips. He pulled the splinter out with his teeth, glancing up into Nick's eyes as he spat it delicately aside, then lowered his mouth to lick up the drops of blood.

Nick shivered, pressing his palm into Lacroix's mouth. Lacroix took the hint and sucked, and Nick bit back a moan.

Gold flecks fading from his eyes, Lacroix raised his head and licked his lips, never letting go of Nick's hand. "Not much of a dinner," he said, voice nearly a purr.

Nick took a deep breath, striving for normalcy. "Want me to go catch you a bunny?"

Lacroix grinned, clearly delighted. "That's my Nicholas." He released Nick's hand and turned away, trailing a finger across Nick's lips in blatant tease. "But I don't think it will be necessary. Always assuming you plan on getting us back to civilization soon?"

"We'll be in a hotel by tomorrow morning," Nick agreed. "But --"

"Yes, yes, we're stuck here for now. We may as well make the best of it." Lacroix rubbed his hands together and looked around. "The window will be a problem," he said, frowning. "We'll have to put one of the blankets over it."

Nick nodded. "That's only going to leave one," he pointed out carefully.

"Then we shall simply have to share, won't we?" Lacroix asked, quirking an eyebrow at him.

Nick's palm throbbed once, hard, and deep inside something twisted. He shut his eyes for a moment to savor it. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, we can do that." He opened his eyes and met Lacroix's faint, knowing smile. "We can do that."

--by Arduinna (590 words)

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Skinner felt almost relaxed as he headed back through the trees towards the lake. A couple of weeks had taken the edge off his feeling that those things were still crawling around inside, waiting for someone else to come along and take over.

It was the closest he'd ever come to killing himself. And yet, in the end, his hold on life was stronger than his fear of someone else being in control.

As he walked out of the trees, he could see a man sitting on the stump that served as chopping block, throwing rocks into the water. A second canoe was pulled up on shore; there was a good-sized pack next to it. Skinner stood there, considering whether Mulder would leave if he didn't show.

Not a chance. "What are you doing here, Agent Mulder?"

"I'm not an agent anymore, Assistant Director Skinner." Mulder tried a grin, but it looked wrong. "Scully and the baby are doing well. They send greetings to Uncle Walt."

Skinner looked at him. Mulder's eyes were shadowed and heavy; he could almost see the layers of pain in them. He didn't want to hurt him anymore, but he didn't know how to stop. "Why are you here?"

"Scully told me you'd taken open-ended leave." He spit out a few more sunflower shells.

Skinner shoved his hands in his pockets, staring out over the lake. He could feel his jaw tightening. "That still doesn't answer the question."

"Did you know there have been numerous reports of some kind of large, possibly amphibious creature on this lake?"

Skinner turned his head to look at him. "You just happened to be in the neighborhood."

"I'm betting on a giant otter, or maybe a displaced walrus, myself. Have you heard anything?"

"You aren't an agent anymore."

Mulder cracked another seed and sucked out the meat. "Nope, private citizen now. The pay's crap, but the people you work for don't treat you like a lunatic."

Skinner didn't react. Wouldn't. "Just passing through, then?" Mulder looked at him. "No. Absolutely not."


"I came here to get away, Mulder."

Now it was Mulder's turn to stare out over the water. "I know."

Skinner turned away and walked towards the shack. He'd gone about fifteen feet when he stopped. Without turning, he said, "If you stay, it's on my terms." He waited a minute, and heard Mulder move to pick up his pack.

They got inside, and Skinner turned on him, grabbing his arms, pushing him roughly against the wall. The pack dropped to the floor unheeded. Mulder made a small sound, of pain, of submission, of need -- it didn't really matter.

He tasted of sunflower seeds and misery, and he wrapped himself around Skinner like a drowning man would grab a lifeline. Shirts pulled out of jeans, and Skinner shaped Mulder's back with his hands, grinding his hips against Mulder until the cloth between them became unbearable.

Skinner leaned back, carrying Mulder, and moved the few feet necessary to drop him on the slab table. Calmly, methodically, he stripped him down, then held him with one hand as he opened his own jeans with the other. Mulder swallowed hard and nodded, spreading his legs.

Skinner took him hard and fast, staring down into those shadowed eyes, and he was hurting him again, and he didn't care, he didn't care...

Much later, they lay on the hard bed, listening to the crackling fire.

"I'm glad he's dead." Mulder's voice was muffled and sleepy.

Skinner stroked his hair lightly and stared at the flickering shadows on the ceiling.

--by elynross (599 words)

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An albatross is bad luck.

My dad told me that while we were out on the yacht once. He liked to pretend he was all nautical with his legends and technical terms and navy-blue, Thurston-Howelly blazer. He never actually did any work on the yacht, but he owned it, and that gave him the right to tell me about red skies at night, and mermaids, and the albatross.

An albatross circling overhead is bad luck. The worst luck. No ship with an albatross overhead will ever find dry ground or escape the Sargasso Sea or do anything else the sailors try to do. People will fall overboard or get scurvy or, I don't know, get attacked by pirates or whatever else would happen to sailors back then.

But the only thing that was worse luck than having an albatross above your ship was killing an albatross. That didn't make any sense to me when I was a kid. If you were unlucky with it, then why couldn't you get rid of it?

My dad, who wasn't enough of a sailor to know, didn't answer me when I asked him that. He got me to pour my mother one more Bloody Mary.

"I think we can keep you warm," Angel says. He's been building the fire in the little stove -- he wouldn't let me do it, despite the fact that I could, max, end up with burnt fingers. Vamps, on the other hand, seem to go up in flames at the slightest spark, like cheap poly-blend fabrics. But Angel's still the one making the fire.

He feels guilty -- humongous shock there. But this time it's for not being able to protect Connor, for having to let Wesley and Gunn take his son away for his own good, for letting me come along with him to get Wolfram & Hart totally, 100% off Connor's trail. We've been chased all the way out of the country, all the way to this shack that's getting swallowed up in drifts of snow. We know Connor's safe. But me and Angel -- not so much.

I'm not scared, not really. Angel's not gonna let me starve. If he has to go out and hunt something down, whatever would live in woods like these, he'll do it. We're way north now, and it's deep in winter, so we only have a few hours of daylight for him to avoid. He can take care of me.

He'll enjoy taking care of me, and I'll enjoy being taken care of. In some ways, this is the scariest part of the whole situation.

I'm still shivering, despite the glow from the fire, as I sink down into the nest of blankets Angel's made on the floor. He comes to lie next to me, curling along my side. He doesn't have body heat to share, but he traps my own warmth next to me like a blanket.

I've seen what loving Angel can do to you. Not pretty. But I draw his arm tightly around me, rest my head on his chest, all the same.

I looked the answer up in one of Giles' old books, one time back in high school. The reason sailors never killed an albatross? The legends said they were the souls of sailors who had died at sea, trying to find their way back to shore, to those they loved.

And no matter what bad luck they brought to you, you had to let them live. You had to give them that one last chance to make their way home.

--by Yahtzee (594 words)

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Ray leaned the motorcycle against the side of the cabin, brushed the road dust from his trousers, and shouldered his leather overnight bag. Dis, as they said in the gangster movies, must be da place.

The key from Benny's letter slid into the lock smooth as...now, don't jump to conclusions, Detective.

Because whatever you think it is, it's always something else, he thought wearily as the figure by the fire stood up fast and revealed itself to be a vibrating bundle of scrawny, furious Polack. "What the fuck are you doing here?"

"Hey, hey, easy, Kowalski. I come in peace."

"And if you're not outta here in thirty seconds you're gonna leave in pieces." Kowalski dropped gracefully back into the ladderback chair and turned his head away, firelight picking up colors in his hair that might even have been natural. "I'm expecting somebody."

Aw, jesus. "Anybody I know?"

"Might be."

The place was warm enough that the fire must have been going for a couple of hours at least. "He told you he was coming?" Kowalski's clothes were spilling out of a plastic grocery bag under the table. Ray was pretty sure there'd be a few extras from the drugstore in there, just like the ones in his overnighter.

Still without looking at him, Kowalski nodded at a piece of paper on the table. Instead of picking it up, Ray pulled a matching sheet out of his inside pocket. White notepaper, blue-black ink.

"Fuck." Yeah, he got the situation right off. Not a stupid man, Kowalski. Sloppy dresser but definitely not stupid. Ray began to feel less disappointed and more sympathetic. Or something.

"Yeah. Evidently when the Mountie sent me out to the sticks because he wanted me to --" He unfolded the note to get the wording right -- " 'develop a relationship in which I take a keen interest,' he wasn't talking about one that actually involved him."

If he read the guy right, this would be the time for a good offense. "Never figured you for a queer, Vecchio." Yeah, there it was. He sounded like a kid who knows being mad's the only thing keeping him from bawling.

Ray, who had some experience with toddlers, went on as though he hadn't spoken. "Dunno what it is about the Mountie. Got something everybody wants to be part of."

For a city kid, Kowalski'd built a pretty good fire. Ray scooted closer to it. "You'd do any stupid thing for him," he went on.  That made Kowalski look, but Ray went on looking placidly at the fire. "Sacrifice your suit, your day off, your car ..."

That got something close to a smile. "Harbor spies in your apartment. Drive a burning car."

"Yeah." Ray dared a glance. Kowalski was looking into the fire, too, dangling his hands between his knees. The bracelet picked up the glow.  Not a stupid man, Kowalski, and a hell of a dancer, and they had a hopeless romance in common -- wait, now they had two. Maybe the long drive wasn't wasted after all. "You here all weekend?"


"Another country."


Ray scooted his chair a little closer. "I won't tell nobody if you won't."

Kowalski looked him in the eye and smiled for real.  "Oh," he said, "you're gonna want to tell."

--by resonant (549 words)

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Starsky's life passed before his eyes.

"Put them down."


Hutch approached menacingly.  "And keep your hands where I can see them."

Starsky clutched his burden to his chest defiantly and backed away.  "Forget it!"

"You've got too much to live for, Starsk."

Starsky's butt hit the wall.  "Live for?"  He laughed bitterly.  "Look at me!  I'm shot up, stuck on disability--"

"It's temporary," Hutch interrupted soothingly, stepping closer.

"--and then dragged off and locked up in this North Pole outhouse for six weeks--"

"It's for your own good, Starsk."

"--by some basket-weaving nature-freak--"

"You'll thank me for this, you'll see."

"--who lied to me--"

"I didn't exactly lie..."

"Does this look like St. Thomas to you?" Starsky shouted, kicking the wall behind him for emphasis.

"Now, look," Hutch said in a businesslike tone.  "The doctor said you need quiet and fresh air and healthy food, and that's what you're going to get.  So put that poison down."

"Don't come any closer," Starsky snarled.  "One more step and I start chug-a-lugging the M&Ms."

Hutch stopped where he was, then assumed a hurt expression.  "You really want to die, Starsk?  You want to leave me?  I thought we had something.  Something special."

"You scum-bag rat," Starsky said in a deadly tone.

"I guess I was wrong," Hutch sighed, turning aside, shoulders bent in defeat. "Well, don't expect me to make love--"

"I hate your guts, you mangy yellow-haired freak."

"--to a man who wants to kill himself."

"I hope a moose eats you."

"Because I love you, Starsk, and it's just too painful to watch."

"You would stoop this low?" Starsky hissed, clutching his treasure so tightly he felt the Snickers bars squish.  "You would make a man choose between sex and food?"

"Yes," Hutch said solemnly.  "That's how much I love you."

Starsky locked his gaze on those sorrowful, evil eyes for a moment.  "Fine," he said finally.  "I'll lose it."  He paused, watching the slow smile of triumph spread across Hutch's face.  "When you shave your mustache."

Hutch's jaw dropped, his eyes widened, his hand flew to his upper lip.  "My mustache?  Why?"

"Because...it's unsanitary.  It gets food stuck in it, and it attracts bugs."

"It does not attract bugs," Hutch said indignantly.

"It's bad for your health," Starsky insisted with great earnestness.  "And I love you too much to let you hurt yourself like that."

Hutch's eyes narrowed dangerously.

Starsky smiled sweetly.

"You first," Hutch said between gritted teeth.  "In the bucket."

Starsky sidled past Hutch to the door, raised the latch and stepped outside into the bitter cold.  Stifling a groan, he dumped his treasure into the bucket that passed for their toilet.  He looked up to see Hutch watching with wide, disbelieving eyes.  "Now you."

Hutch stood stock-still, horror-stricken.

"Don't even think about welching," Starsky growled.

Hutch swallowed hard, then picked up Starsky's coat and threw it to him.  "Take a walk."

"Now just a--"

"Take a walk!  A man needs to be alone at a time like this."  Hutch walked to the small table beside the bed, picked up his razor, and turned away.

Starsky shut the door and strolled to the side of the shack.  Pausing beside the snowdrift, he glanced around cautiously, then squatted and dug into the snow a few inches.  He was instantly rewarded with the bright glint of many candy wrappers.  He pulled one out, unwrapped it, and popped it into his mouth.  "Oh, yeah," he murmured. "Best served cold."

--by Lanning Cook (590 words)

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The first thing Sam saw was the stove, a fire crackling inside. The second thing was the Imaging Chamber door opening in the middle of the couch. Al barreled in, stopping short when he saw Sam. "Hey, kiddo--you all right?"

"I'm fine, Al. I mean, I just got here myself."

"Yeah. We got a real zapper of a signal lock - it about fried Ziggy's lower array. Took a while to get her back up to speed...." he looked up. "Well, try harder, Gushie!"


"Just a sec, Sam." He whacked the handlink, which squealed piteously.

Sam checked his pockets for I.D., found none, then searched the cabin for clues to his identity. He found a small book on the windowsill - "101 Things to Do In Winnipeg". It didn't look like anyone had ever opened it. A square table was littered with a map of Canada, a sewing kit, a transistor radio, and an ashtray full to overflowing with cheap, mentholated cigarette butts. A green glow from under one of the chairs caught Sam's eye, and he bent down to investigate.


"Yeah - hang on - here we go. It's December 31, 2001, and you're here to...deploy the shock? Shack. Destroy the shack." Al paused. "Well, that's just weird."

Sam came up from under the table, gripping a small green rock on a chain. "Destroy it? Why?"

Al squinted at the handlink. "Ziggy says..." He became engrossed in the readout, then darted a panicked look at Sam and started shouting again. "Are you sure she hasn't fritzed out?... A hundred percent?! Okay, okay!" He looked back to Sam. "Uh - destroy the shack." He bounced a few times on his toes. "Do it."

Sam put his hands on his hips. "Al. What's going on?"

Al assumed an innocent expression which was wholly unconvincing. "Whaddya mean? This is what you were sent here to do." He gestured about with his cigar. "So -- go ahead. Get your Demolition Derby Merit Badge, and bing bang boom. Shortest leap on record. Except maybe the cat up the tree."

"Why? Ziggy's gotta give me some reason, Al--"


"--I don't know who I am, there don't seem to be any other people around--"


"--and it doesn't make any sense. I'm not gonna destroy my only shelter in a snowstorm--"

"Sam! It doesn't matter. You destroy the shack, you leap, you don't worry about the weather."

Sam opened his mouth to protest, but before he could speak, the shack changed.

The walls were closer. The stove was much smaller, and on the other side of the room. The table was round and completely bare, save for the ashtray. The book on the windowsill was lying open -- it appeared to have become a dictionary. And instead of a green rock on a chain, Sam was holding a bright red plastic bag which said "Rimmer's Drugs".

"Oh, boy."



"This is Hinky House, U.S.A."



"Okay. Okay." He turned to sit down on the couch, but it had become a sleeping bag, so he took one of the chairs at the table. "Now you're going to tell me what Ziggy says, Al."

"Uh--well. Yeah. This is not an ordinary leap."

"No kidding." Sam set the Rimmer's Drugs bag down by his feet.

"Ziggy says you were drawn here - you were pulled here because this--place--is goofing up the past and the future. It's some sort of dimensional vortex." He looked up. "It's interfering with the fates of thousands of people, Sam. You gotta destroy it."

Sam looked incredulous. "So, you're telling me I'm here to take out the competition?"

"No no no. You're the good guy, and this is a space-time-sucking demon shack from hell. Hey, an axe!" Al pointed to the woodpile with his cigar. "Just take down a wall or two and we're outta here."

"You think that'll do it?" Sam stood and reached for the axe, hefting it over his shoulder.

"Yeah, sure! Just wreck the place. It'll be good for you. Like primal scream therapy. My fourth wife--"

Sam swung the axe, hard, at the wall -- and was thrown to the floor, the axe skidding out of his hand and coming to rest in Al's feet.

The wall remained unmarked.

"Sam... this is bad."

"You think?"

The shack changed again.

The bag from the drug store became a cell phone. Manacles were bolted to the wall, and the axe had become a pair of Ray-Ban sunglasses. A spiral staircase gave access to a brand-new level; the ashtray was resting on the newel post. It had stopped snowing.

"This is bad."

"You said that already." Sam sat up and flipped open the cell phone. After studying it for a few seconds, he hit 'talk', and then 'spd dl' and then '1'. He looked up at Al and shrugged. "Any clue is better than none."

The ringing brought Sam's attention back to the phone. The LED readout said "POTUS DIRECT". It rang once more, and then a voice said "Yeah?"


"Who is this?"

Sam's looked to Al, who shrugged and shook his head in bewilderment.

"Uh, this is Sam."

"Sam? Why are you calling me? Where are you?"

"Canada, I think."

There was a somewhat ominous pause at the other end of the line.

"Sam, is this you being funny?"


"Because you were in Canada last week. Also? I just saw you. So, unless you've got a time machine, which I think the government would know about, my guess is that this is you trying to be funny."


"Crank-calling me, while possibly engendering a humorous anecdote for your autobiography, to be read and enjoyed many years from now by young and eager poli-sci majors, is not one of your better ideas. And do you know why? Because there will be punishment, Sam. And it will be dire, and it will be dramatic, and it will be very, very public."


But the phone changed into a carving of a maple leaf, and the walls moved again.

"I think I just got someone in trouble."

The dictionary was gone, replaced by a copy of The Portrait of Dorian Gray that looked like animals had gotten hold of it. There were snowmobiles leaning against the far wall, and the table had become an ugly plaid footstool draped with an equally awful orange and yellow scarf. The ashtray was on the floor, weighting down a Japanese scroll. Sam made out the characters for "battle" and "chairman" and "ingredient" before abandoning it as pointless.

He took one of the snowmobiles outside, aimed it at the house, and let it go at full speed.

It turned into a guitar on impact.

"Sounds like The Who."

Sam gave Al a hard look.

"Hey, d'ya notice how the whole sky over there is glowing?"

He doused the front of the shack with gas from the second snowmobile, put a match to it, and stood back, warming his hands. Al stood beside him as they watched it burn. And burn. And burn.

"And behold, the shack was burned with fire and the shack was not consumed. And the hologram spake again unto the leaper that the place is hinky."

"Thank you." Sam walked around to the back of the house in hopes of finding a tool shed. "Any ideas how I can put it out?"

The ground shook, a blue pickup truck popped into existence not twenty feet away, and an extremely contained weather system dropped eighteen inches of snow directly on to the shack, dousing the fire.

"Well--like that. "

Sam had to slog through the new snowfall to get back inside. By that time, Al had scoped out the newest iteration of the shack and was frantically beckoning him down the stairs, which were iron now.

"You gotta see this, Sam. It's like the Project, only with ten times the stuff."

Sam looked around in awe. The gleaming room was lined with racks and racks and racks of computers, seemingly infinite cables linking them in complex patterns. In the center of the room stood what could only be the host server, marked "Trickster Gods International." The only other furniture was a small occasional table which sported what appeared to be a miniature city under glass, and the ashtray.

"Al--this is it." He grinned hugely and started following cables, walking back and forth as he tried to untangle the design.

"Yeah? That's great, Sam! This is what?"

"Some sort of command control center. I bet the whole place is wired! If I can hack in and get root access, I can change everything - rewrite the program to allow me to damage the shack! I've gotta find a terminal--"

"Or you could just unplug it."

Sam looked back at Al to find him standing over the power supply.

"Oh. That will probably work, too."


Sam took one side of the cable in each hand--"Here goes nothing!"--and pulled.

The sound of decelerating drives overpowered everything and the lights went out. With the little illumination afforded him by the weak sunlight coming down the stairs, Sam made his way to the table, picked up the ashtray, and dropped it. It broke with a satisfying crash. He grinned at Al.

"Well, that was easier than--"


"Run, Sam!"


Sam climbed the stairs as fast as he could, but they were cluttered with, among other things, a picnic basket, a tea kettle, a large sword, a bearskin rug, a cylindrical pommel which hummed, and a sheep. He tripped twice.



Al was gesturing frantically from the top of the stairs. Sam jumped the last three steps, ran the obstacle course of the numerous couches, beds, stools, stoves, chairs, tables, and charming sets of matching luggage which populated the room, and was out the door and behind a large snowbank by--


The shack exploded. Flames shot twenty feet into the air, windows shattered outwards, planks cracked and burned. Smoke rose in thick black clouds. Splinters of glass and wood rained down, hissing when they met snow. Sam covered his head with his arms and kept behind the snowbank, listening to the devastation, hardly daring to peek out and glimpse the carnage and ruin.

"That was better than the Fourth of July!"

"Is it over?"

"Huh? Oh! Hey, yeah, you can come out now, Sam."

Sam stood up carefully, gingerly made his way to Al, and surveyed the gently smoking remains.


"Ain't that a kick in the butt?"

"More like a nuclear warhead in the butt."

"Well, that'd be bad, I guess." Al turned the handlink over, looked at the display, and then grinned.


Al waved at him. "Bye, Sam."

Sam leaped...

Sam looked down at the body of the youth crumpled on the floor. Then he turned and looked at the blond head that had kicked up against a pillar. The sword in his hand was red with blood. Beside him, a tall, thin man shook his head. "Oooops."

"Ohhhh, boy, " Sam said.

--by tzikeh (more than 500 words)

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