We set up camp as always, our respective roles practiced and smooth. Ray, who has become a surprisingly good trail cook, has made stew. We sit side-by-side, eating and watching the flames in comfortable silence. The night is clear and cold, the stars hard points of brilliance through the flickering sheen of the aurora.

Ray sighs in contentment and sets down his bowl. He looks around, at the trees and the snow and the sky, so much more present here than in Chicago, and smiles. He slings an arm around my shoulders and pulls me over, so that we touch all down the sides of our bodies, shoulders and hips and legs, and leans his head against mine. I can barely feel him through the layers of quilting, down, and Thinsulate; there is nearly a foot of padded winter gear between us. Still, the weight of his arm and the press of his head cause something in my chest to catch. 

I am behaving like a schoolgirl, but I cannot bring myself to be overly concerned with my folly when Ray turns toward me, gilded in the firelight, and smiles. His lips glisten with the Vaseline we use to prevent windburn; my tongue flicks out to taste my own, and I wonder if the gummy flavor would be any different licked from his mouth. 

"You know, Frase," he says softly, "being with you, out here, I'm the happiest I've ever been."

I let my head fall more heavily against his, permit my body to lean into his, and his arm tightens around my shoulder. "I, as well, Ray," I whisper, remembering years of dark nights in Spartan lodgings when I didn't know enough to long for the vitality and joy he carried with him when he entered my life like a whirlwind.

"We're good together, Fraser." His voice is quiet, contemplative. 

"Red ships and green ships?"

"You know it, buddy." He smiles, and gives my shoulder a little pat.

We fall silent, and I take entirely too much pleasure in the fact that he doesn't move away from me. I remind myself that he has always been tactile; I shouldn't invest his actions with too much significance.

We remain in that position until it's time to retire. Ray squeezes my shoulder again before he rises; I know that the heat I feel lingering where he touched me is purely a psychosomatic phenomenon.

I find myself touching him more the next day, finding excuses to tap his shoulders and pat his arms, standing a bit too close to him so that our bodies brush against each other. He makes no objection; in fact, he seems to take pleasure in the unnecessary contact, sending me occasional brilliant grins over his shoulder. I am ridiculously in love with him.

We make camp later than usual that night, and have to go to bed as soon as we've finished our meal. The wind has picked up and the temperature's dropping; Ray curls up in his sleeping bag like an exhausted child, one hand pillowing his face. I want very badly to kiss his hair, his forehead, to slip down the arch of cheekbone through the blond beard that helps to warm his face and find the flavor of him.

Without forethought, I have placed my hand on his head, fingertips stroking little circles on his scalp. He pushes into the touch, smiling sleepily. 

"Feel like a cat," he murmurs. "You got good hands, Ben."

I stop moving. "What did you call me?"

He leans up on one elbow, and my hand slides to the ground. "Ben," he said. "I'm sorry, Frase, I won't call you that if you don't like it. God knows I, of all people, should know that not everyone likes their first name."

"It's all right," I say, knowing that I sound overly formal but unsure how to correct the lapse. "My family and my closest friends have always called me Ben. It is fitting for you to do so as well." 

He smiles at that, open and sweet. "Thanks, Ben," he says, his voice gone gentle.

"Thank you, Ray," I say, clearing my throat. "Sleep well."

"You too."

I fall asleep to dreams of Ray, naked and eager and warm as I paint him with my tongue. His voice is husky, urgent, intimate, whispering "Ben, Ben, please," as I explore him with the zeal of a conquistador hunting for gold. When I wake, he is snugged against my back. 

We make good time that day. The cold is coming in on the fringes of a storm; we've been pushing to make Beaver Creek before it hits. We've waited out storms before, of course, and are capable of doing so again, but it would be foolhardy to weather a blizzard in tents and sleeping bags within a day's sledding distance of a heated boardinghouse bed.

Ray gives me a mug of tea, blessedly hot, leaving his hand on it a fraction too long so that our fingers brush as I take the handle. He settles beside me to drink his own tea, the taste reluctantly acquired and tolerated as long as sugar stores remain plentiful. He uses me as a windbreak, fitting alongside me so that I block the worst of it. Without thinking, I put my arm around his shoulder, mirroring his gesture of a few nights ago, and settle him more firmly into my side. He slumps against me and leans his head on my shoulder; he's tired, we both are. It was hard going today.

"I will never again complain about Chicago being cold," he mutters into my parka.

"Well, it can get quite chilly there, Ray," I say. "It's just that the Yukon is much colder. Most of the US seems temperate by comparison."

"Bet you see little baby booms nine months after every storm like this," he muses. "When it's this cold, only thing to do is curl up in bed with someone warm and wait it out."

Oh yes, Ray. I can keep you warm.

I clear my throat, searching for a more appropriate reply. "My father once told me that I was conceived in an igloo."

He laughs; I can feel it, a distant vibration through the coats. "Only you, Frase."

"Well, actually, Ray, when you consider the statistics on igloo usage across the Territories, particularly in earlier historical periods, it's highly likely that--"

He stops me with a gloved hand on my mouth. "Fraser. You know what I meant."

"Yes," I say, wondering if he can feel the movement of my lips through his gloves, over-enunciating so that he will be able to. "I know."

"It is known," he murmurs, and I turn my head, drop a kiss that he probably couldn't feel onto his hat.

We finish our tea.

He shivers that night in the tent, the slick sound of his sleeping bag brushing over the tent floor filling the silence.

"It would be warmer if we zipped the bags together," I say into the darkness. I am answered by a flurry of movement as he propels himself out of his bag, tugging the zipper down. I make the requisite adjustments quickly, moving to the edge of the bag to make room for him, turning away from him lest my body betray me.

Ray sighs as he re-enters the bag, an utterly unconscious sound of pleasure, and molds himself against my back, wriggling a little as he settles. He pushes his face between my shoulder blades, rubs his nose against the thick flannel I'm wearing. He always complains about his nose being cold.

"Mmmm," he says, already sleepy. "You're warm, Ben."

"I am now."

He drowses quickly, body going lax against me. I remain awake for a long time, just feeling the way his breathing makes a humid place against my back.

I wake in his arms the next morning. We turned and moved during the night, and have ended up facing each other. My cheek is pressed into his collarbone, and he has one wiry leg hooked over mine, holding us together. I can feel his long fingers carding through my hair.

He feels me stirring, and drops his hands to cradle my skull, pulling me back from him a little so that he can see my face. I don't know what he looks for in my eyes, but he appears satisfied with what he finds there. His smile is bright and pleased; I cannot help smiling back. He leans forward and brushes a tiny kiss over the corner of my mouth, tentative and sweet. A promise.  My vision blurs a bit and I have to hide my face in his neck and tighten my arms around him, feeling the give of clothing and the firm resilience of the underlying flesh. He strokes my back, my hair, and his warm breath tickles my ear when he whispers, "It's OK, Ben. I'm here."

When we break camp that morning, we do not separate the sleeping bags.

We say no more about it; there is little to be said. We seem to share a certain urgency to reach Beaver Creek unrelated to the looming snow clouds; I think of lodgings there, of a room with central heating and a double bed, and urge the team to run a little faster. We arrive around midday, and before doing anything else we rent what we learn is the last room in the boardinghouse, and settle the dogs in a kennel. Diefenbaker, of course, remains with us, jumping happily onto the double bed and lounging while we bring our luggage up. I catch Ray staring at the bed, his expression a strange mixture of happiness and nerves. I understand the feeling.

We spend the remainder of the day efficiently, restocking our provisions, replacing or mending worn bits of harness. We have dinner at Ruth's Home Kitchen restaurant, reveling in the food's variety and flavor. The proprietor, a kind woman with, it seems, a propensity for gossip, lingers at our table for as long as she can, angling for information about our adventure. Ray obliges her with several stories, charming her easily with his fluent hands and exotic accent. I find it oddly difficult to be courteous; I'm quite unreasonably envious of the time Ray spends in conversation with her. It feels strange to be among people after so many weeks alone together. Beaver Creek is far from urban, but it still seems busy and crowded and loud after our nights of silent communion with only the dogs to witness. We do not linger over dessert and coffee, choosing instead to return to our room for the night. The snow has begun to fall in earnest.

We go up to our room in silence. Even Dief is subdued, sensing, no doubt, the tension in the atmosphere. There are two bathrooms on the floor, one at either end of the hall; we each take one and begin our preparations. I shave, carefully, although it would be more sensible to leave the whiskers in place for their insulating properties. I make it back to the room before Ray does, and fill the time by turning down the bed, smoothing it with unneeded thoroughness. I am close to shaking with a sudden wave of doubt. He has never said, not really. What if I have been reading him wrong, imagining reciprocation where there is none? I cannot sacrifice the most important relationship in my life to the whims of my libido. I sink to the edge of the bed and let my head drop into my hands.

I hear the door open, then shut, hear the sound of the lock being turned. 

"Ben?" Ray's voice, hesitant and yearning.

I look up, and cannot help smiling. He, too, has shaved. I rise, and start towards him, and he meets me in the middle of the small room. I stop within arm's reach of him, suddenly unsure. The room is warm, we are alone, there is carpet on the floor and a proper bed. Nothing prevents us from doing whatever we please, and yet I am tentative as a cage-bred bird released into the wild, unable to believe that I won't hit a barrier if I attempt to fly. I look into his eyes, mutely appealing.

His mouth quirks, his eyes warm. He understands me without words, as he so often does. I can be a coward, here, with this; Ray has enough bravery for two.

He reaches across the space that divides us and lays his fingers against my cheek, letting his thumb trace idly along my jaw line. "You shaved," he says.

"I thought it would be... prudent." 

I didn't want anything interfering with the feel of your lips on my skin.

Again that quick flash of grin, and my heart turns over. "I'm all over that, Ben."

His thumb moves over my chin, over my mouth. He presses down on the center of my lower lip, pushes in between my teeth, under my tongue. He spreads my own saliva over my lips, and I can scarcely breathe. His other hand comes up, curving warmly around my neck, and pulls me forward. Now suddenly his body is a hard heat against mine, his hands tilting my head as he comes closer, closer. The first warm touch of his mouth is shocking, unreal. Jarred out of my strange lethargy, I open my mouth, licking at his until it opens and exploring its soft intricacies. My arms go around him, holding him, and now that the thermal underwear and six shirts and goose down parka are gone I can feel sleek muscles moving as he pushes against me. I want to strip him bare and taste each one.

He pulls back from the kiss, watching me with dazed eyes and glistening lips. "Ben," he whispers. "Bed."

"Yes," I say. "Yes," and I pull him back to my mouth, our tongues slipping strongly against each other. We stumble towards the bed, engrossed in the taste, the feel of this dream kiss at last made reality. 

The backs of my legs hit the bed sooner than I had anticipated, and we fall. I land on Dief's tail; he scrambles off the bed with an offended yelp. One of Ray's feet catches the bedside table, knocking it over, and the alarm clock starts to ring. He scrambles to shut it off. We stare at each other, unmoving, for a moment, and then Ray heaves a sigh and gets up. He rights the table and starts gathering up the things that fell off it, cursing quietly but with remarkable fluency and vigor.

There is a knock at the door.

I straighten my clothing hastily and ease it open. "May I help you?"

A large man, one of the other guests, is standing outside. "I'm terribly sorry," he says, "but would you mind possibly being a bit more quiet? The walls here are very thin, I'm afraid, and I need to rise early tomorrow."

I feel my face grow hot. "I do apologize," I say. "I-- tripped, and knocked the table over." I can hear Ray snort behind me.

"That's all right, then," our neighbor says. "Good night."

"Good night," I reply, and shut the door carefully, locking it, and lean my forehead against it.

"Damn it," I say, fervently.  Ray chokes, and then begins to laugh; after a moment, I join in, sitting next to him on the bed and twining our fingers together, just because I can.

Our neighbor knocks on the wall.

"Oh dear."

"God," Ray gasps, trying to regain his composure. "God, Ben, I love you."

I squeeze his hand. My stomach aches a little from laughing. "And I you."

We turn out the light and slip under the blankets, still shaken with intermittent tremors of laughter. Ray turns into my chest with a sigh, kissing the base of my neck, a soft promise of a kiss that makes me shiver. I kiss him back, pressing my lips into his hair, and I know that this time he feels it. 

The storm keeps us in Beaver Creek for three more days, during which time I understand as never before Ray's assertion that it is indeed possible to die of waiting. In all the time since I first looked at Ray and wondered how his graceful body would move with mine in a more intimate venue than police work, I have but rarely balked at waiting for that discovery. I was, after all, trained in patience from an early age. But he shaved, he shaved and he kissed me, and his cheeks were smooth and soft and slightly damp under my fingers. Now all I can think of is the texture of that skin, and the newly sculpted muscles I can feel beneath his clothes at night. We sit at Ruth's for dinner on the third day, and while she makes conversation with Ray I stare at his forearms, bared by pushed-up sleeves, and wonder if the right one tastes any different from the left.

That night, the third night, he settles into my embrace as though he's been doing so for years instead of days.

"We gonna leave tomorrow?" he asks.

"We should be able to," I say.

"You got any ideas for the next stop?"

"Well," I say, "we should head northwest from here to continue looking for Franklin's Hand. Of course--" I pause, suddenly nervous, and clear my throat. "If, say, you have grown tired of the sled, or should you wish for a respite from trail living, my cabin is a few days' travel southwest of here."

"That the one Vecchio went to?"

"Yes, Ray."

"The one you rebuilt last summer?"

"I only have one cabin."

He is silent for a moment. "You got indoor plumbing?"

"Yes, Ray."

"Is it warm?"

"Probably not at the moment, but it can be made so."


"The closest neighbor lives nearly two kilometers away."

"In that case, I vote we head in that direction tomorrow."

"And the Hand of Franklin?"

He finds my hand where it rests on his hip, moves it to his mouth, and brushes a kiss across the knuckles. "I'm pretty happy having found the hand of Fraser."

His response overwhelms me. All I can do is tighten my hold on him, and I can feel his answering smile on the back of my hand, so warm I am surprised it doesn't glow in the darkness.

The next morning we turn the dogs towards the south. We set a rapid pace during the day, and at night we eat quickly before retiring to our sleeping bag, touching each other with sweet languor before falling into deep and restful sleep. We have come to a silent agreement to wait until we reach the cabin before indulging in any deeper physical involvement, choosing to wait for walls and a roof, for comfort and the luxury of time. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we are companionably silent; always we are together.

We reach the cabin on the afternoon of the fourth day since we left Beaver Creek. The sight of it, a dark smudge against the snow, starts a lump of anticipation and apprehension burning in my chest like an indigestible meal. Ray turns. "Is that it, Fraser?" He has to shout to be heard above the wind and the shush of the sled.

"Yes," I say. He nods, and turns back around; our awareness of the proximity of heat and shelter and privacy falls between us heavy as wet snow. We know what will, in all likelihood, occur as soon as we are able to undress without risking frostbite or hypothermia.

Stepping over the threshold is like jumping into freefall. A rush of adrenaline floods my system, and I reach over without looking and latch on to the first part of Ray I encounter-- the sleeve of his parka, crusted with ice. He covers my hand with his own; I imagine I can feel the warmth of it even through our gloves.

"Hey," he says softly. I hear rustling, and then he is cupping my cheek with a bare cool hand, turning me to face him. His expression is serene, and he leans forward to kiss me, lightly, cheeks and nose and mouth, the glancing touches somehow contriving to be both soothing and inflammatory.

"Why don't you do what needs to be done in here while I settle the dogs in the barn?" he suggests. 

"A very sensible plan," I agree, relieved, the normalcy of it calming my nerves somewhat. Making camp, that's all it is, just in a slightly different location.

"You must be rubbing off on me," he says, pulling his glove back on and going outside. "Hopefully that's something we'll be doing a lot more of from now on."

I am still laughing as I light the lantern.

I set fires in the fireplace and cookstove, thankful for the stores of wood I laid in last summer. As the cabin begins to warm, I busy myself with inspecting it, looking for signs of any damage that may have occurred while I've been gone. There is none. Paul Thibodeau comes up once a week to check on things for me; he's been doing it for nearly fifteen years, save only the time after the fire and before I got the chance to rebuild. My father used to pay him, sending a check once a month, and I continued the arrangement.

I take an armload of linens and blankets and start to make up the bed, then pause. I had never before envisioned bringing a lover here, and had furnished accordingly. The narrow bed in its small alcove and the folding cot in the closet were eminently practical for a place where I expected to come alone, or possibly with a friend; they left much to be desired, however, as a setting for a romantic tryst.

I gather up all the pillows in the house, the mattress from the bed, the cushions on the battered armchair, and arrange them on the floor in front of the fire.   I cover it with sheets and blankets, creating, I hope, a warm, comfortable place for us to sleep. I use the sleeping bags for extra padding and insulation from the chill of the bare boards.

I feel the draft as Ray opens the door, and turn to greet him as he enters the cabin. He is alone; I wonder for a moment why he left Dief in the barn, but that thought is quickly subsumed by my growing excitement as I look at Ray. His nose and cheeks are reddened by the cold, and the wind has stung tears from his eyes. He sniffs a bit; going from cold to warmth always makes his nose run. He looks like he's suffering from some sort of virulent illness.

He looks beautiful.

He pauses just inside the door, watching me. I cross the room to him and lift my hand to stroke his face; he jumps a little at the warmth of the touch on cold skin. The lantern light falls on his face, softening it. I want to see his hair; I pull off his hat and run my fingers through it, fluffing it up into a semblance of its accustomed spikes. He smiles, and turns his head to give my wrist a quick kiss.

I take his hands, next, removing his gloves one by one and chafing the cold fingers until they pink from the friction. I unwind the scarf from around his neck, taking care not to let it drop snow down his collar. I can see his pulse beating in his throat, and my breathing quickens in sympathy. I tip his chin up, run a finger lightly over where his carotid artery runs beneath the skin. He swallows, hard, and a tremor runs through him.

"Cold, Ray?" I cannot keep my voice from shaking a little.

He shuts his eyes, hands clenching. I unfasten his parka and push it off, letting it slither down his arms to the floor. He leans in toward me, letting our foreheads touch. His breath tickles my lower lip.

"Hell no," he whispers, his voice fervent and rough, and before I can reply he kisses me, fervent and wild.  The feel of his agile tongue exploring all the crevices of my mouth makes me shake, and suddenly my arms around him are too far away from him, padded as they are by sweaters and flannel and thermal underwear. I burrow under layers, sighing into his mouth when I reach the warm skin of his back. His lips curve against mine. I tug on the shirts, managing to get them bunched up around his armpits before I have to break away from his kiss to pull them over his head. The buttoned cuffs of one shirt are too tight to fit over his hands, leaving the bundle of clothes hanging from his wrists by the sleeves. He starts to pull the shirts back on so that he can undo the buttons. I catch hold of each arm in turn; two sharp pulls and the shirts fall to the floor, the loose buttons clattering. Ray is laughing, the sound of it against the hiss of flames is precious to me. I strip off my own shirts and pull him close, unable to repress a small sound of delight at the feel of his chest against mine, still shaking with laughter. He cups my face and brings it up to meet his shining eyes.

"Bad Mountie," he teases. "No biscuit."

"I don't want a biscuit, Ray," I murmur.

"No? Then what do you want?"

"I want--" I break off, breath catching in my throat. I slide my hands down his sleek back, feeling the muscles quiver under my touch. I brush against the waistband of his pants, slipping a finger under it and then back out, and then move down, tracing the curves of him through weatherproof fabric. "This," I say at last, hiding my face in the place where his neck meets his shoulder. "I want this-- you." I clutch him, fisting my hands in the loose fabric of his quilted snow pants. "I need you, Ray." 

I feel his hold on me tighten, and he speaks, so softly I can barely distinguish the words. "You got me."

We stand silent for a moment, reveling in the chance to stand half-naked and embracing, rocked by one another's breaths. He draws back a little, hands skimming over my sides to rest on the fastening of my pants. He raises an interrogative eyebrow and jerks his head towards his hands, asking permission.

"Yes, Ray," I say, and the sight of those long fingers beginning to undo the button forces me to shut my eyes in order to maintain my composure. I bite my lip as he eases me out of my remaining clothes, each touch a caress. He moves away for just a moment, then he presses up against me, naked. My eyes fly open at the shock of his skin against mine. Ray smiles, and kisses me again, pulling my lower lip into his mouth and sucking at the place where I had bitten it. When he pulls back, we are both short of breath.

"You got a bed in this place, Ben?" he asks.

I indicate the pallet in front of the fire, and a slow smile spreads across his face. "That's perfect," he says. "Greatness. You think of everything." He takes my hand and pulls me across the room, gives me a little shove. "Down," he orders, and I kneel on the cushions obediently. He kneels in front of me, facing me, firelight and shadow defining his muscles, painting his skin with gold. My hands itch to trace the lines of his body. 

"Ray," I say. "May I-- please, let me..." I trail off, uncertain how to phrase my desire. He takes my hand, squeezes it. "Anything you want, Ben," he says. "I'm your guy. Anything."

"Thank you kindly," I say, aware even as the words leave my tongue how inane they sound at such a time. 

Ray laughs. "I think maybe I should be the one thanking you."

I ease him over until he is lying on his stomach, and begin to comb through his hair with my fingers, massaging his scalp.

"Oh yeah," he breathes. "Definitely me doing the thanking, here."

"Shh," I say. "Please, Ray. Lie still." I let my hands move to his neck, feeling knots of tension left over from this morning on the sled. I reach over to the pot of Vaseline that I left by the fire earlier and rub a little over my hands. I massage his neck and shoulders thoroughly, working the stiff muscles until they relax and then gentling my strokes into caresses. I move down his back, delighting in the feel of him twitching beneath my hands. The side of his body nearest the fire is hot to the touch. 

When I reach his buttocks, I linger over them, enjoying his soft groans, his little unconscious movements, the give of his soft skin and resilient flesh. I leave that area reluctantly, moving to massage his feet and legs. He grunts as I reach a sore spot on his left foot, then relaxes as I knead the muscle. "You really do have the best hands," he sighs.

"Thank you." I pat his calf. "Would you mind turning over?"

"Anything you want," he says, rolling over. I have been so focused on Ray that my own arousal had been pushed into the background, but at the sight of him it rushes to the fore. He is stretched out on his side, head propped on one hand as he watches me. The soft light plays over his body, picking out its contours in gilt and shadow. Lying like that, among the blankets and cushions, he looks like a Victorian painting of some debauched Roman courtier.

I had planned to give his front side the same leisurely treatment as the back, to let my hands learn the geography of him there as well, but my eyes are drawn down his body, over erect rose-brown nipples and down a trail of fine, nearly invisible blond hair to the golden tangle from which his penis rises, flushed and swollen. As I watch, a drop of moisture wells from the tip, and I feel my own erection throb.

"On your back, please, Ray," I say, forcing the words past the sudden tightness in my throat.

He complies, shooting me a curious glance, and I slip one of the pillows underneath his hips and move between his legs, bending down to taste him. I flick my tongue across the head of his penis, lapping at his pre-ejaculate, moaning as the taste of it spreads over my tongue.

"Ben," he protests. "This isn't fair-- I can't just lay here and not do anything for you."

His voice is breathless, husky. Because of me, of what I've done, Ray sounds like that. I smile.

"This is what I want," I say. "You can do anything you want to later, only please, Ray, let me do this now." He looks at me for a long moment, then nods, falling back onto the cushions and letting his body go slack.

I bend again, stroking the hollows of his hips as I nuzzle his groin, taking deep breaths and small tastes of him, nibbling along the line of hair that connects his navel and his penis. I can feel his erection brushing my cheek each time he takes a breath, each contact sending a shudder through him. Ignoring that need for the present, I move down, entranced by the crinkled softness of his scrotum. I wet him with slow, wide licks, then blow gently across the moist skin, which tightens at the chill. Ray cries out, bucking against my hands. I pause, wondering if perhaps this area is too sensitive for stimulation to be pleasurable for him.

"Is that too much, Ray?"

"No, don't stop, 'sgood," he pants. "Greatness."

I lean forward to look at his face. He is flushed and sweating, and his mouth is ruddy and swollen, curved in a reassuring smile. I have to kiss him, then, and as I bend to do so our erections brush, making us both moan at the sensation. I start to pull away; he heaves beneath me, and suddenly I'm on my back, Ray straddling my waist and pinning my wrists down, his face alight with mischief and desire. He leans down, so close to me that my eyes cross when I try to focus on him. "It is my-- turn-- now," he says, punctuating each word with a hard kiss. "You had your turn, now it's mine. Now you have to just lie there and do whatever I say while I drive you completely insane. Deal?"

I tremble. "As you wish, Ray."

He flashes a brilliant grin. "OK, then. Stay still, and shut your eyes."

I obey. He kisses me softly in the middle of my forehead, much as I imagine he would kiss a child goodnight.   He traces my eyebrows with his fingers, brushing them the wrong way and then smoothing them down again as he kisses a line down the bridge of my nose. His touch skirts my eye sockets and moves over my cheekbones, then he cradles the sides of my head, pushing his fingers through my hair. I can feel him hovering just above my mouth; his heat and his breath play over my lips, agonizingly insufficient contact. I try to close the distance between us, but he pulls away. "My turn, Ben," he says, amusement and arousal dancing in his voice.  "Stop moving."

I subside, and he rewards my obedience with a kiss, sweet brushes of his lips over mine. I open my mouth beneath his, and he chuckles. "That an invitation?"

Opening my eyes, I look up at him. His tongue darts out, moistening his lips; his eyes are bright and happy. "Yes," I say.

He leans forward again and traces around my mouth with the tip of his tongue, and as I moan he slips it inside. He kisses much as he dances, wrapped up in barely-leashed passion, frenetic energy, and grace. He settles more firmly astride me, slides downward, and at last allows his groin to settle over mine. His first thrust seems to drive all the air from my lungs; I tear my mouth away from his, gasping, and try to maintain a firm hold on his Vaseline-slicked back.  We move against each other as though performing an exhibition samba, and I know I'm babbling something, but none of it makes sense-- and it isn't worth bothering about, anyway, not with Ray a hot weight on top of me matching the thrusts of his tongue to those of his penis, and I have time to marvel briefly at his coordination and control before he pulls his head back and slams his hips down and says my name like an ecstatic dervish as the hot pulses of his orgasm spurt across my groin and belly, triggering my own.

He drops his head to my shoulder, both of us panting and amazed, still clutching each other. When I feel the semen and other fluids smeared between us starting to dry, I reach for a cloth that I tucked under one corner of our makeshift bed and nudge Ray, indicating it. He smiles, lazy and sated, and rolls off me. "Proper preparation, that's my Mountie," he murmurs. "What kind of badge you get for that in Scouts?"

"Well, we could hardly have a badge for frottage with June in the troop," I reply, wiping us off and tossing the cloth aside. "So we just had a more general Housekeeping badge."

He sits up and stares at me, wide-eyed, as if unsure whether to laugh or take me seriously. "Housekeeping?"

"It was something of a euphemism," I say primly, and he collapses on top of me, laughing; I cannot help but join him. 

"God, Ben," he says as our laughter begins to quiet. "Warn me before you do that." 

"But then it isn't any fun," I say, yawning.

"Everything I do with you is fun," he says, drawing patterns on my chest with a fingertip.

"Even when I risk your life in wildly bizarre ways?"

"Well, not then," he admits, drowsily. "And the parts in the morgue are pretty gross. But everything else is fun."

I pull a blanket over us, guide his head to the hollow of my shoulder. "I, too, enjoy our time together, Ray," I whisper. His soft smile is the last thing I see before I fall into sleep.

The fire has settled to embers when I wake to a chorus of mournful howls coming from the barn. Diefenbaker is offended at being made to sleep with the rest of the dogs, and is expressing his displeasure with great force. I briefly consider leaving him, but the next volley of howling convinces me otherwise. I ease away from Ray, who is sleeping pressed close to my back with an arm slung over my waist. He mutters something in his sleep and rolls to his stomach.

I dress as quietly as I can, and stir the fire up a bit, adding another log. I'm pulling on my parka when Ray's voice, blurry with sleep, asks, "Where you goin'?"

"Go back to sleep, Ray," I say. "I'm just going to get Diefenbaker out of the barn." 

He sits up, the blanket sliding down his bare skin to pile in his lap. "Can't we leave him?"

"He'll keep that up all night if we do," I say, nodding towards the source of the din. "Besides, he always comes inside with us. Why didn't you bring him in with you before?"

He flushes, and looks away. "I just-- it wasn't very private."

"I beg your pardon?"

"I didn't want to do it with him staring at us!" He is steadfastly refusing to meet my eyes.

"He can be civil, Ray. He won't watch if we ask him not to."

He snorts. "Yeah, and then he acts like a martyr for two weeks. I just didn't feel like holding my love life up for inspection to a wolf."

"You two are going to have to work out some sort of arrangement, you know," I say. "It wouldn't be fair to make him wait out in the hall every time, once we're back in Chicago." 

Ray's body tenses a little, and he gazes intently at the fire. "Maybe you could stay at my place sometimes," he says, his tone deliberately casual. "Dief could watch TV in the living room."

"He would enjoy that, I think." I pause. "The RCMP feels that it's inappropriate for me to continue living in the consulate after I take my new position. I suppose I'm going to have to start looking for another apartment."

"You could stay with me," he says to the hearth. "While you're looking."

"I would like that, Ray."


"Very much."

With a wide grin he rises, and I catch tantalizing flashes of his skin as he drapes the blanket around himself like a toga. He comes close, and I draw him all the way in so that he's leaning on my chest. "Go get Dief," he says, and kisses the corner of my mouth. "I'll put some food on, it's past time to eat."

He pulls away, and starts rummaging through our supplies. I shrug into my parka and pull on my hat, watching him as he pulls out a packet of spices and sets it aside. He catches my eye and grins. "You waiting for the snow to melt, Fraser?"

I feel my face heat, but I tell him anyway. "I was just looking."

"Go get Dief, Ben," he says, "and after supper you can look as much as you want."

"After supper I hope we'll do more than look." 

He groans, and makes a shooing motion towards the door. "Go get Dief before I change my mind and tear all those clothes right back off you," he says.

"You can do that after supper," I say, and force myself to open the door. The sound of his laughter follows me into the snow.

I take some time to check on the dogs and collect Diefenbaker. When I return, the cabin smells warm and savory. Ray has donned a pair of my wool long johns and some thick socks, and is mumble-humming a song to himself as he stirs something atop the cookstove. His hair is tousled, with no governing principles to determine which portions stand up and which lie flat. He should look rather comical, but at the sight of him I feel myself harden.

I shut and latch the door.

Diefenbaker stalks over to the fireplace and curls up on the hearth, refusing to look in Ray's direction. Ray chuckles, a little warm sound that does absurd things to my precarious composure. "Yeah, that'll last about as long as it takes the stew to cook," he says.

I take off my outer gear, hang it neatly on the hooks beside the door, and bend to unlace and remove my boots.  Ray glances at me and smiles at my stockinged feet.

"You could strip down to the long johns," he says. "Then we'd match."

"All right," I reply, and begin to unbutton my shirt. He stares at me for a moment, squinting a little. He hasn't worn his glasses since we've been here; I don't even know if he brought them along. I miss them, suddenly.

I fold my pants neatly and set them aside; Ray laughs, that warm small intimate laugh again. "You didn't really have to, Ben," he says. "I was joking."

I cross to where he's standing, still stirring, and wrap my arms around his waist, propping my chin on his shoulder. The aroma of cooking stew wafts up from the saucepan with each turn of his wrist, and his body is warm and firm and fuzzy in red wool. 

He lets go of the spoon, lets his hands cover mine, his fingers smoothing small circles over my skin. He relaxes, leans back into my hold. I want to squeeze him hard and close like a child with a favorite stuffed toy. 

I kiss the hollow behind his jawbone. He sighs, lets more of his weight rest on me, and I welcome it, the sweet living warmth of him.

"Ray." My throat tightens, and I push my face into his neck, breathing in the smell of the damp salty skin behind his ear. His hair prickles against my forehead. "Ray."

He tries to pull away enough to turn around, but I tighten my arms around him so he can't face me. I don't think I'm strong enough to look into his eyes right now, when everything is tender and free and perilous in the quiet space between us.

"What, Ben?" he says.

"Just-- you, Ray," I say, helplessly. "Just you."

He pulls at my hands. "Let go a sec," he says, and I ease my grip. He turns and hugs me hard, slipping his arms underneath the unbuttoned shirt I'm still wearing and reaching to suck at a tender spot behind the angle of my jaw. No doubt by tomorrow his marks-- there, and at the point of my collarbone, and in the soft flesh underneath my chin-- will have darkened into rather obvious proofs of his affection. I look forward to seeing them when I shave in the morning.

Dief huffs from his hearthrug, and Ray pulls away, twisting his body strangely to look over his shoulder. "What, Ray?"

"He's staring at me."


"The wolf is watching us, Fraser." I look. Diefenbaker is watching the proceedings with disdain. He grumbles a little.

"Don't even start," I warn him. "You should be happy for me; at least this one won't shoot you." 

He snorts.

"No," I continue, severely. "I don't want to hear it. Now you turn around and mind your own business, or I'm going directly over to the Vecchios' as soon as we return to Chicago and telling Ante about that Alaskan Malamute you picked up in Beaver Creek." 

Diefenbaker subsides, turning his back to us with a longsuffering sigh. Ray sighs as well, shaking his head in a half-resigned, half-amused manner. "Sorry, Ben," he says, his voice oddly tentative. "Kind of a mood-killer, huh?"

I pull him to me, rubbing my cheek against his. "No, Ray." I push against him a little, letting him feel my unabated arousal. He sucks in a breath and pushes back against me, turning his mouth up to mine, letting me feel the mutuality of our desire. I am distantly aware of moving, and then my back falls against the wall of the cabin with a thud that jars me loose from Ray's kiss. I let my head rest against the wall, grateful for the support of its sturdy unfinished beams. Ray's touches alight on my jaw, my shoulder, my stomach; he slips his fingers into the spaces in between my buttons and caresses my skin, coming tantalizingly near to my nipples before withdrawing and returning his attention to my neck and arms. I groan in protest, tightening my grip on him, rubbing against his long body.  Bending to suck on an earlobe, I earn a breathless curse. 

"It's your own fault, Ray," I say, and he shudders at the feeling of my breath in his ear. I move my hands over his back, tracing the long muscles, then slide them down to cover the hard curves of bone beneath the skin of his hips, skim them down his long thighs. He raises his head a little.

"Hipbone's connected to the thigh bone," he says, laughing. "What's it called? The femur?"

"The femur," I agree, stroking my fingertips over the place where it lies.

"You know them all?" he slips his hand between my body and the wall, runs it over the curve of my lower back. "What's this one?"

I catch my breath. "The spine."

He splays his fingers over the small of my back. "That the best you can do?" His voice is roughened, dangerous. He nudges one lean thigh in between my legs, and I can feel his arousal, burning hot through two layers of wool. I cannot repress a moan.

"The lumbar spine." 

Triumphant smile, and I get a fast kiss as his hand moves lower. "Here?"

"The sacrum."

Lower still, and his finger moves in idle patterns, making me tremble. "Here?"

"The coccyx." My voice is unsteady, breathless. He presses closer to me, hips thrusting lazily against mine. His hands slip around my sides and settle on my hips. "What are these?"

"Iliac… crests," I gasp. His hands come around, curve around the hard bulge at my groin. He opens several buttons and reaches inside.

Hot, hot hands, dexterous fingers. I make a strangled noise in my throat and push into his grip.

"What's this one called?" he asks, his voice husky, teasing and intimate. He is panting into my ear as he pushes against me.

"That isn't… a bone, Ray," I manage to say, and moan at a particularly gifted flick of his long fingers.

He laughs again, that low rough stirring laugh of his. "Depends on who you ask," he says, and swallows my welling laughter. I am a broader man than Ray, and yet somehow it is he who envelops me. I can feel the heat of the cookstove on my right side, the heat of Ray before me; the wall against my back is cool. My chest heaves; I struggle for breath, quivering and overwhelmed by my desire for this man, whose thigh is rocking between my own as his mouth leaves brands of ownership on my throat. His elegant hands pull my erection free from the confinement of cotton and wool, the air shockingly cool on my overheated skin. I try to get my hands between us, to touch him, but my arousal makes me clumsy and all I can do is scatter random caresses over his back and arms and shoulders. He rubs my left nipple hard through the wool, and I throw my head back with a cry, scarcely noticing the pain as I hit the wall hard.

Ray has freed his own penis, now, and pushes it up against mine, grasping both organs in a hand slippery with our fluids and pulling them tightly together. I strain against him, feeling him vital and pulsing beside me, feeling the calluses worn on his hand by pencil and gun as additional jolts of sensation.  He has somehow found time and coordination to undo another half-dozen buttons of my long underwear, and his other hand slides in hot and quick against my skin, moves back, and down, and down, teasing me, and when the barest tip of one finger slips between my buttocks I feel myself jerking, exploding, gasping and trembling under his hands as his own orgasm bathes us both in heat.

I drop my forehead to his shoulder; the back of my skull aches where I banged it into the wall. He sags against me, letting the wall of the cabin support us both as we gasp for breath and wait for our hearts to slow. He eases his grasp on us, wipes us clean with the tail of my open shirt, begins to set our clothing to rights. His movements are gentle, soothing. I cannot stop shaking.

"Ray--" I stop, unable for once to find any words at all.

"Hey, easy, it's good, you're good," he says, hands moving to my head to comb rhythmically through my hair, as though he were trying to make a cat purr. His voice is soft, wondering, as though he has only just discovered the truths he speaks.  He draws back, and his face changes, expressions moving across it like wind-driven clouds as he settles into his new knowledge. A slow smile curls his mouth. "We're good, Ben."

I smile back at him; when can I not do so? "We are indeed, Ray." I lean forward, brush my lips gently over his.

"Better than good," he murmurs, sounding almost sleepy but watching me with bright aware eyes.  Our next kiss is less gentle, more possessive. He is running his hands from my scalp down onto my shoulders when he jumps and pulls away, narrowly avoiding biting my tongue.

"Dammit, Diefenbaker!" he says, glaring at Dief, who is trying to get his attention, in utter fury. "See, Fraser, I told you he was watching us."

Dief whines anxiously and glances towards the cookstove. I sniff; there is a slight smell of scorching. "Oh dear," I say. "I'm afraid you're right. Ray, the stew is about to burn."

He hurries over to the stove and pulls the saucepan to the back of it. "It's, uh, ready to eat," he says sheepishly. "Sorry, Dief." He divides the stew into three bowls, hands one to me, and sets another down for Diefenbaker. We move to the small table, and I'm glad I thought to purchase two chairs when I was refurnishing the cabin.

The stew is delicious, despite its near mishap, and at the first taste of it I realize how hungry I've been, although I wasn't paying attention to it before. Ray seems to have come to a similar realization; he is eating with a relish he seldom displays. He occasionally cuts the fat off a bit of stew meat and offers it to Diefenbaker, who has apparently forgiven him for their earlier argument and is watching him adoringly from beside his empty bowl. It's an expression I've felt on my own face, from time to time.

"So, Frase," Ray says, looking intently into his bowl, "once we're back in Chicago and you start your new job and all, you still gonna be able to come down to the station?"

"Yes, Ray," I say. "Of course, I'll be spending a considerable amount of time working with the new staff, now that Turnbull and Inspector Thatcher have left. But once we've gotten everything organized at the Consulate, I should be free to continue working with you as I did in my former position. Of course, the scheduling will depend to a certain extent on Inspector Thatcher's replacement."

"You know who's taking over for the Ice Queen yet?" He rises from his seat and begins gathering up the dirty dishes.

I shake my head. "I spoke to Buck Frobisher while we were in Beaver Creek. He says he's heard some rumors, but nothing definite enough to pass on, and the appointment hasn't been announced yet."

He stacks the bowls next to the dishpan and starts to wash them, muttering to himself.

"What was that, Ray?"

"Nothing." He shakes his head, then flashes me a grin. "It wasn't anything important. You wanna dry?"

I return his smile. "You're only asking that because you don't know where the towels are."

"Darn, you caught me."  He tosses me a dripping tin mug. "Get to work, Mountie."

I fetch a tea towel from the closet and begin drying the dishes he passes me. We work in unhurried synchrony, and I revel in the simple luxury of knowing that, for a while, we are free to enjoy our time together with no duties save keeping the dogs fed and the fire lit. Ray talks desultorily about the latest news from the 27th precinct, speculating the chances on Huey and Dewey's nightclub becoming a success, wondering who convinced Ray Vecchio and Stella to buy a bowling alley, of all things. His voice, when he speaks of her, is wistful and a little sad.

"She was always real high-class, you know," he says. "I can see her going for Vecchio, she always wanted me to dress slick like that. Used to get mad when I wouldn't. But I'd have thought the bowling alley'd be too blue-collar for her." He makes a sound somewhere between a snort and a laugh. "Kinda like I was."  

"Ray--" I stop, unsure what to say, unable to think of any remarks on the subject of Stella that aren't jealous or unkind or petty. I never liked her anyway. I thought she was cold and unfeeling. She never appreciated what a gift you are.

She didn't deserve you.

I try again. "We'll be in Chicago soon enough, Ray." He meets my gaze, squinting a little like he always does when he's tired. I suppose it's further evidence of my infatuation that I consider the trait endearing. "Let's go to bed."

He laughs, the shadow that thoughts of Stella always cause him leaving his face. "Again? Damn, Fraser, no wonder the Mounties always get their man."

I can feel my cheeks flush. "No, Ray, I just meant-- well, it's been a long day, and we got up early, and…"

He stops me with a quick, soft kiss. "I know, Ben, I was teasing." His hand wanders over my face, tracing an eyebrow, a cheekbone, the bridge of my nose. "And it's 'Maintain the Right,' anyway."

"Maintiens le droit," I murmur.  

"You are so sexy when you do that," he says, and blushes.

"Say the RCMP motto in French?"

"Say anything in French."

I take his hand, pull him over to our makeshift bed. "Bienvenue au Consulat du Canada," I whisper. He chuckles a bit as we settle before the fire, and I pull him close, tucking a blanket around us. Diefenbaker curls up on the hearth, and Ray strokes him with a lazy hand. I close my eyes. "Dors, mon cher ami."

He sighs, and relaxes against me, and we do not so much fall asleep as float there.

I am awakened this time not by howls, but by the sound of a log, falling and breaking apart. I open my eyes and see Ray. He is curled into my body, for once still, none of his usual fidgets. He is awake, and watching me. When I open my eyes he smiles, and it's like a wash of warmth against my skin.

"Hey Ben," he says, his voice barely audible over the hiss of the flames.

I pull him in a little tighter. "Hello, Ray." He leans in and kisses my nose. His face is open and soft in the firelight.

"I do love you," he says, as though reading my desire for him to say it again.

I glance away for a moment, gathering courage to ask. "Symbolically, Ray?"

He reaches up to touch my cheek, following the line of it with his clever fingers. "Nah," he says. "Really. Actually. Concretely." I risk a look, and see the pure truth of it in his eyes. I capture his hand, holding it still against my face. 

"I... I feel the same, Ray."

"I know," he says, and then he is moving again, his hands stroking over my skin, setting the seal on his words. "I know."


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