I was in the kitchen preparing dinner when I heard Ray at the front door. I moved to open it for him, but before I got there he had succeeded in turning the key, and was nudging the door open with his hip. He had grocery bags dangling from his arms from wrist to elbow, and the hand that wasn't holding his keys was maintaining a rather precarious grip on a luxurious potted plant that completely hid his face. I wondered how he had made it up the stairs without falling, even as I reached for the plant and a few of the bags.

"No, Fraser, hang on," he said. "I'm balanced, you take the wrong thing and I'll drop it all. Here. Do something with this plant."

I took the pot. "Let me take some of the bags," I said.

"Nah, I'm good. Just grab my keys out of the door," he said, moving past me and depositing his load on the kitchen table. I pulled his keys out of the lock and shut the door, then looked around for a place to put the plant. The pot was too large for the windowsill, so I put it on top of the bookshelf for the time being. We'd have to buy a stand for it.

"Why the houseplant, Ray?" I asked, picking up one of Ray's bags and beginning to put away the contents.

He chuckled. "That, my friend, is a birthday present for you from Vecchio and Stella."

I turned to him in surprise. "What?"

"It came care of me to the precinct," he said, and rummaged in his jacket pocket. "Here's the card. I didn't open it, it was just stuck in the pot on a little stick, you know how they do."

"Indeed," I said, taking the proffered card. "'Joyous birthday wishes, today and always,'" I read aloud. The card was signed "Ray and Stella Vecchio." I looked up, meeting Ray's laughing eyes.

"I don't understand," I said. "Ray already sent me a gift, last month."

"When it was actually your birthday."

"Well, yes." Ray Vecchio, once he'd been informed by Francesca of the date, had given me a gift certificate to a bookshop for every birthday I'd had since we'd met, save, of course, the time he'd been undercover. I had actually spent this year's on a book about classic cars, which Ray and I had both enjoyed. Ray had taken great pleasure in explaining to me the ways in which his own GTO surpassed the various cars pictured. In any case, the gift had been received weeks ago, and Ray properly thanked; I could see no reason for this sudden botanical gesture, especially as I've never been particularly good with plants. "I confess I'm puzzled, Ray."

He grinned. "I'm not," he said. "I recognize the hand of the Stella."

I raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Yeah. See, Stella doesn't trust any man to remember important dates. When we were married she kept this calendar with all the anniversaries and birthdays of pretty much everyone we knew, and took it upon herself to send out birthday presents, Christmas cards, you name it. But sometimes she'd get busy and miss a couple and end up just going to the florist and sending everyone she'd missed a plant, and sign both our names on the card. She sent Steven one with flowers, once, and he got hives. Annie never let her live it down."

"She must have been quite distressed at having caused your brother discomfort," I said.

"Well, yeah, but mostly she was embarrassed that she didn't remember his birthday or his allergies. She made a note in the calendar for the next time, though, and stuck to foliage from then on. Hey, Dief." He pulled something out of one of his bags. "Speaking of presents, I ran into Mrs. DiJulio on the way up and she sent this up for you." A flick of his wrist sent a large rawhide bone through the air; Dief caught it neatly and jumped onto the couch to begin gnawing on it.

"You're like a spoiled child," I told Dief, having long since given up trying to keep him off the furniture. Ray grinned, stuffing empty grocery bags into a holder that was nailed to the pantry door.

"You know," he said, "they say that childless couples treat their pets like they're their kids."

I snorted. "One would hope that a child would have at least a glimmering of respect for one's wishes."

"Yeah, and I bet you wouldn't make your kid eat on the floor, either. Go with the metaphoric flow, Fraser."

"As you wish." I pulled a jar out of the last bag. "Ray, honestly."

"It's Nutella!" he protested. "It's got nuts in it, it's healthy."

"It's chocolate paste," I said.

"Yeah, well maybe I should just take it to work and eat it when you aren't around."

I paused, remembering how the flavor of hazelnuts and chocolate lingered behind Ray's teeth and in the corners of his mouth. "Well," I said, "Hazelnuts are low in cholesterol and saturated fat."

He grinned, and kissed me in passing, a quick kiss that fell half on my cheek and half on my ear. "So, whatcha got in the pots?"

"Beef stew," I replied. "And rice, but that's not quite ready to cook yet, I've just got the water ready."

"Smells good," he said. "Reminds me of Canada."

"It's not as good as yours, though," I said.

Ray shook his head. "Nah, you just remember mine as better because we were always half-starved when we ate it."

"That may well be. My grandmother always used to say that hunger was the best sauce." I checked the stew. "I think we can start the rice now; it only takes a few minutes."

"I got it." Ray pulled the canister from the cabinet and began to measure it out. I moved aside to give him room, leaning against the dishwasher and watching him. The lid clanged as he covered the rice, and I smiled, feeling a surge of thankfulness that I'd been given this chance at domesticity and peace.

"That'll be a few minutes," Ray said. "I'm gonna change, you watch the stove."

I nodded, and as he disappeared into the bedroom I followed his movements with my hearing; he'd been in court this morning, and so was unusually dressed up in suit and tie. I heard a sleek rustle, as he slid his arms out of the coat sleeves; a swish as he pulled his tie from around his neck without undoing the buttons that held down the points of his collar; twin plinks as he dropped his cufflinks into the ceramic tray on the dresser. I knew from his muffled grunt when he shrugged his way out of the shoulder holster, and I gave the rice an absent stir as I listened to the metallic clicks he made as he unloaded his gun and locked it away, separate from the clip. The holster thudded onto the dresser, followed by his wallet. When I found myself straining for the sound of his zipper, I shook myself and returned my attention to dinner, in time to turn down the heat on the stew before it scorched. The warm flush I felt on my skin was, I knew, due more to Ray's aural striptease than to the steam that issued from the rice pot.

He came back into the kitchen, slipping his arms around my waist and resting his head on my shoulder. I let myself lean back into him, relishing the tickle of his hair against my ear. "It about ready?" he asked, quietly.

"Yes, Ray."

"I'll get the table," he said. "Milk?"


He pulled down bowls for the stew and set them on the counter at my left, then gathered up a handful of silverware and set the table with it. I dished out bowls of stew over rice while Ray poured out drinks, and we carried our dinner to the table. I sat, exchanging one of the bowls of stew for my glass of milk. Even in this, we functioned smoothly together.

The stew was good, though I still didn't think it as good as Ray's. We talked quietly as we ate, discussing the case for which Ray had finished his testimony that morning. I'd spent the day at the Consulate, going over some fine points of the Illinois criminal code with Constables Mitchell and Taylor. I watched Ray as he spoke; as he warmed to his topic, his entire body got caught up in the conversation. The arousal I had felt while listening to him undress simmered and grew with each gesture.

I pretended not to notice as he fed Dief bits of stew meat with his fingers, and he curled one long bare foot around my calf.

"Missed you today," he said.

"Yes," I replied, the intensity of my voice disproportionate to the amount of time we'd actually been apart. I worked with Ray probably three days a week or more, but the heart is ever selfish; I always felt a nagging sense of wrongness on the days when my duties kept me at the Consulate without him.

He shot me a sharp look, then eased, a sly smile curling his mouth at the corners. "There's no fooling around until after the dishes are done," he said. "You wouldn't want them to take away your Scout badge."

"They don't give badges for having poor priorities, Ray," I said sternly. "I do, however, remember hearing a great deal about the virtues of initiative, persistence, and working towards a set goal."

His eyes sparkled. "Now, see, I'm getting pretty fluent in Mountie," he said. "That means you're about to jump my bones and do unprintable things to my body, and the dishes can go fuck themselves."

"Yes, Ray." I rose, and pulled his chair out from the table a few feet, kneeling between his conveniently widespread knees.

"So, I take it this is that initiative thing you were talking about?" he asked, conversationally.

"Yes, Ray," I said, leaning close to him to breathe in his scent. My eyes fell to his thigh, seeing the RCMP crest printed on blue fleece. "I believe you have something that belongs to me," I said.

"I always give 'em back, Ben," he said.

"I was talking to the pants."

He laughed, his hands moving to card gently through my hair. "You're a nut."

I closed my eyes as he bent to kiss me, slick sure mouth and inquisitive tongue. His fingers flexed slightly on my scalp, a bare tremor of feeling, and I let my head loll backwards into his hands. He made a pleased sound and turned me a little, adjusting our position to a more comfortable angle, his thumbs stroking at my temples. Kissing Ray was like sinking into bed at the end of a day of hard labor, welcoming and soft and indescribable.

I pulled away at last, refusing to be distracted from my purpose, no matter how pleasant the distraction. Ray let me go, his hands still on my head, his mouth wet. I let my hands slide up his legs, over his sides and down again, taking care to brush his nipples with my thumbs in passing. He exhaled sharply, arching into the touch.

I tugged his hips forward and he slid towards me, his back bowing as I urged him to the edge of the seat. He let his hands fall, hanging limply by his sides as though he simply hadn't the attention to spare them. I leaned forward, again, my face bare inches away from his groin, and inhaled deeply. The scent of him, sharpened with arousal, seemed to pass like a wave from my lungs into my bloodstream, carrying heat throughout my body.

"Ben?" his voice had gone higher, and tight; I could feel tension in the strong thighs beneath my hands.


"Are you just gonna stay down there sniffing me all night?"

I nuzzled at the bulge which had appeared in his (my) pants, smiling to myself at the small involuntary noise he made. "I wasn't planning to, no."

I ran my mouth over his fleece-covered erection, biting at it ever so softly through the cloth. It pulsed beneath me, and I felt my own body aching in response.

"Then what--ah! What's this about?" I could see his hands, balling into fists at his sides. I looked up, trying not to smile.

"Persistence, Ray," I said, and bent again, mouthing at the tip of his penis for a moment before taking the tip into my mouth, sucking at the fluid that had started to form a damp patch in the cotton. Ray's flavor was easy to separate from those of detergent and fabric softener, and I was seized with the desire to taste it straight from his body.

"Lift up, Ray," I said.

"Thank God," he panted, lifting his hips from the seat. I grasped the waistband of the pants, thankful for their looseness on him, and pulled them to his knees. I raised an eyebrow. "Do you often do without undergarments when wearing borrowed clothing?"

"They're not borrowed, they're yours. Ben, please."

His words shivered through me, bright and hot. "As you wish." I took him in one hand, delighting in the way he filled it, heavy and alive. I lapped at the tip with my tongue, savoring the unadulterated taste of his pre- ejaculate, rolling it over my palate. He moaned, bucking up into my fist, and unconsciously kicked his heel hard against the floor, making the chair rock.

I wet my lips and began to move down Ray's erection, licking and mouthing it while Ray surged beneath me, his staccato movements punctuated by small needful noises and muttered cursing.

Once I had thoroughly moistened Ray's flesh, I moved away for a moment, glancing up at him. His head was thrown against the back of the chair, the tendons of his neck rising into prominence; his hands clutched at the chair legs, as though to give him leverage for the thrusts he was refusing to make. His eyes fluttered open, blinking at me in some confusion. "Ben?"

"Shh," I murmured, rising on my knees so that I could reach his shoulders. I ran my hands quickly down his trembling arms, pulling his hands away from the chair legs and placing them on my own shoulders. I turned my head and kissed one, even as I bent again to take his straining flesh into my mouth.

As I worked him deeper, he cried out, clutching convulsively at my shoulders. He was always careful not to touch my head when we did this; from the things he deftly avoided saying, I surmised that Stella had disliked it. The knowledge filled me with a rather petty desire to convince Ray that I had no such aversion, but the opportunity to do so had not yet arisen.

Ray's hips rolled beneath me, and I was hit with a wave of arousal made even more enveloping by my momentary inattention. Pulling back to snatch a breath, I blew over the head of his penis, reveling in the way his body tensed. He was close.

I took him into my mouth again, this time moving inexorably downwards until I could go no further. I sucked, hard, as I drew back up, and he came with a cry just as the tip of his erection withdrew from my throat.

I wrapped my tongue around him, suckling gently as he pulsed, his hands pulling me closer with an unconscious urgency. After a moment I let him slip from my mouth, resting my forehead on his lower belly, which heaved with his rapid breath. I wrapped an arm around him, stroking a thigh with my other hand as it relaxed. His grip on my shoulders loosened, and he ran clumsy fingers over my hair, carelessly petting.

"Mmm," he muttered. "Gimme a minute, Fraser, and we'll get you taken care of."

I smiled against his skin. "Not until after the dishes are done, Ray."

He lifted his head, blinking down at me. "You're kidding."

"Not at all." I straightened, reluctantly, and rose, wincing a little.

"A-ha," Ray said. "There, you see that? No way you're anywhere close to comfortable." Pulling himself up a bit on his chair, he reached out a lazy hand and pulled me closer by my belt loop. He let his hand ghost over my hip and down to my crotch, and I couldn't hold back a grunt at the feeling. He grinned, slowly. "Lemme help you with that," he said, moving his fingers to my waistband, slipping the button through its hole, and easing the zipper down carefully. His hand moved inside my boxers, now, a scorching presence between the cotton and my skin. I bit my lip, and forced myself to catch his wrist and draw his hand gently away. I knew from experience that the longer I could make myself wait for him, the more intense the result would be. It was an odd form of self-indulgence, but a pleasurable one. Ray turned his hand to hold onto mine.

"You can't seriously want to do the dishes first," he said, fingers tracing idly over the veins in the back of my hand.

"The stew will congeal, Ray."

He laughed. "Yeah, you say that," he said. "But I know you, Benton buddy. You, my friend, get off on the tease."

I catch my breath, unable to stop from squeezing his hand a little too hard. "It's been well-documented that a period of anticipation heightens the perceived value of a desired goal."

He smirked. "You get off on it."

I cleared my throat. "In a manner of speaking--"

"You get off on it."

"Yes, Ray."

His smirk widened, taking on a rather unsettlingly Machiavellian quality. "I can help with that, too."

I blinked. "Oh, dear."

He grinned, and then stood, arching his body in a long stretch, and pulled his pants back up, seemingly unconcerned that our bodies were so close I could feel his heat tickling my skin. He started towards the bedroom, leaving me looking rather ridiculous, standing before an empty kitchen chair with my erect penis welling out from in between the denim flaps of my unzipped jeans. Ray paused, glancing back over his shoulder at me.

"Those dishes ain't doing themselves, Fraser," he said, peeling out of his shirt and dropping it on the floor before moving again.

I shook my head, trying to jar myself out of the sensual daze I'd drifted into at Ray's actions. "Ah. Right you are." I turned back to the table and started picking up the dishes.

There's a creaky spot in the floor by the door to the bedroom, and another one next to the bed. I heard the first creak, a few soft rustles--that'd be the pants--then the second creak.

The sound of the drawer in the bedside table that always sticks.

The squeak of bedsprings, unmistakably the sound of Ray falling heavily into bed.

"I don't hear water running," Ray said, his voice smug. I looked down at the dishes in my hands, realizing that I'd stopped moving so that the clinks of ceramic and cutlery wouldn't drown out the noises Ray was making in the bedroom.

I firmed my resolve and picked the rest of the dishes up, carrying them over to the sink. On the way I couldn't resist shooting a look through the open door to the bedroom, catching sight of the end of the bed, and Ray's legs moving as he drew his knees up and apart.

"That stew congealed yet?" he called, his voice low and thick, and I heard a soft humming exhalation. My body lurched; it's the sound he makes when he's first penetrated, and my mind busily supplied a vivid picture of what he might have been doing in there to elicit it.

Ray has very long fingers.

I turned the water on, so hard that it splattered out of the sink, wetting my stomach. I turned it down to a more reasonable level, putting in the stopper and the soap, filling one half with the wash water, and leaving the other clear for rinsing. The noises I made as I carried out the work drowned out any sounds Ray might have been making, but they could do nothing to quell my imagination.

After what seemed like much longer a time than it really was, only the stew pot remained. As I reached for the scouring pad to clean the thickening remnants of our dinner that coated it, I heard Ray moan, low in his throat. My erection, which had subsided a bit, leapt, and I had to stifle an answering moan.

I looked at the pot again, then squeezed a generous amount of detergent into the bottom of it and turned on the faucet, unbuttoning my shirt as the water ran. It would do very well soaking for an hour.

A few hours.

I shut off the water and hurried toward the bedroom. By the time I crossed the threshold I had my shirt wadded up in one hand. I looked at the bed, and let it fall to the floor.

Ray had flung the covers off the bed and was lying on his side in the center of it, facing the door. He lay with one knee raised, nude except for the bracelet that glinted on his wrist as he circled a nipple with his forefinger. His other arm reached behind him and--I moved towards the foot of the bed to make sure--his hand was glistening with lubricant as he buried three fingers inside his body with languid, rhythmic thrusts.

He wasn't fully erect--it would have been shocking if he had been, so soon after orgasm--but his hips rocked easily back to meet each thrust of his fingers, and he was humming just a little with each exhalation, his eyes closing with pleasure even as he tried to give me an impertinent look.

"Dishes done?" he asked, his voice husky.

"Yes," I said, then added, "except the pot. But that needed to soak."

He chuckled, though the laugh was interrupted in the middle by a little huff of breath as he seemed to push his fingers deeper. "C'mere," he said.

I went to the head of the bed, ignoring the foolish way my erection bobbed as I walked. I kept my eyes on Ray's face, forcing myself to ignore the tantalizing way his shoulder and upper arm flexed before disappearing behind the curve of his flank.

"Look at me," he said, and I complied.

"Did the pot really need to soak?" he asked.

I noticed that the small muscles around his eyes tensed and relaxed in time with the roll of his hips. "No, Ray."

Another laugh, low and caressing. He reached out with the hand that had been on his nipples and ran a finger down my erection, making my entire body jerk. My face was hot, my body tense and heaving, my skin tight and hypersensitive.

"You know what you look like, Fraser, with your shirt off and your cock sticking out of your pants like that?" His voice was even rougher now. I licked my lips, then groaned when he echoed the gesture.

"What, Ray?"

His eyes slid shut. "Porn," he said. "Really good porn."

My fingers curled, wanting to touch him, to grab and hold and keep him with me as I let desire take me. I squeezed my eyes closed, taking the hand that was still stroking idly and holding it tightly in both of mine. It seemed that my skin extended several inches out from my body, so that the gust of warm air as the central heating clicked on made me flinch in surprise. Still, I struggled for control.

Soon, I thought, soon. A few more moments of sweet suffering to earn the greater reward. "What--" my voice cracked, and I cleared my throat hastily-- "What's the difference between good pornography and any other sort?"

Another low laugh, choppy with his growing arousal, curled around my body. "The difference, Ben?" Fingers closed around my penis with a sudden, shocking heat, moving slickly over my skin, coating it with lubricant. I looked down at the hand I still held, and realized with a jolt of visceral lust where the fingers wrapped around me had come from.

My control slipped away with one twist of Ray's clever fingers, and I did not mourn its passing.

"I know it when I see it," he said, and then I was moving, diving, pushing his wrists down to the pillow above his head while I grasped his hip and flipped him over onto his back. He bent beneath me, helping me, lifting and spreading his legs as I scrambled between them, only dimly aware of his low, delighted laughter as I shouldered my way under one knee. I looked down on him, lying wet and flushed, open and laughing beneath me, and then his laughter choked into a moan as I buried myself inside him, deeply and without preamble.

I forced myself still for one lengthless moment, looking at the dull gleam of sweat between Ray's collarbones. The leg not flung over my shoulder was around my waist, powerful muscles flexed, holding me in; I could feel the plush slide of his body, fluttering and pulling at my flesh within his. I couldn't remember a time when I hadn't been hard.

"Ben," he said, and pushed against me, and I began to move. I knew nothing, then, save the hot grab of him, the sounds he made, the tighter ring of muscle sliding up and down my cock as I thrust, and thrust, spreading him with my hands to press further inside him, deeper inside him, inside him, Ray, fuck, Ray--

And he held me as I broke into his body.

It was some time later, I don't know how much, when I regained the ability to focus on anything besides my sensual repletion. Ray was playing with my hair, winding bits of it around his fingers to make them curl. His penis, tucked up against my belly, was soft and sticky; a good thing, as I hadn't the strength to do anything for him at that point but watch approvingly as he masturbated.

Which was, of course, a splendid thing to do, but hardly counted as reciprocation. I moved my head a bit, settling more securely into the hollow of Ray's shoulder, and inhaled deeply, savoring our scent on his skin. At some point, I thought vaguely, I should expend the necessary effort to get my pants the rest of the way off.

Ray chuckled, a warming and joyous sound, and squeezed my shoulders a bit. "So Fraser," he said, apparently concluding, despite months of evidence to the contrary, that aware enough to nuzzle and sniff him meant aware enough for conversation.


"Hey, pitter patter. I want to talk to you."

I sighed, unwilling to stir. "The last time I did this to you I got scolded for disrupting the afterglow."

"This isn't disruption. Think of it as a pause between the primary afterglow and the post-afterglow... glow. Or something."

"You're blithering, Ray." I sat up, sighing again as our skin separated.

Ray laughed. "You are such a punk."

I leaned against him, somewhat mollified by the way he slung his arm across my shoulder and pulled me in, seemingly without thought.

"You love it," I said.

He snorted. "Yeah, Fraser, I love you for your punkish ways." He rested his head against mine. "You awake now?"


"Cause I want to talk to you about something."

"So you've said." I looked over at him. "Is everything all right?"

He patted my thigh. "I'm fine, Ben." He sighed. "I just... well. You know how we were talking about going back to Canada this summer?"

I nodded.

"Well, Steven called me this morning. He and Annie want me to visit them in Arizona this summer when the kids are off school. I told them I'd think about it."

I was rather unreasonably disappointed, but quashed the feeling mercilessly. I knew that Ray hadn't seen his brother's family since before his divorce, although he was very fond of them.

"You should enjoy that very much," I said. "I'll have to ask Maggie if she could put me up for a few days--"

"What do you mean, Maggie?" he demanded, sitting up so that he could look at me. "I'm not taking my vacation apart from you, Fraser, you'd be coming to Arizona with me."

I blinked. "Ah." While his vehemence was gratifying, I was surprised that he'd consider asking me to join him. "Ray, I thought you weren't ready to tell your family," I said, gently.

He settled back down, curling into my side. "I'm not, not Mum and Dad, anyway, but I think it would be OK to tell Steve and Annie. We've always been close, you know? Now so much lately, but before. I think it would be OK."

I kissed his forehead. "I'd be pleased to accompany you to Arizona, Ray, if it's all right with your brother for me to come."

"Good. Great. That's great, Fraser." He roused a little. "What time is it?"

"Nine forty-two."

"Mmm. I should call them now."

"Won't the children be asleep?"

"Nah, not yet. They're never in bed before nine." He got up and went into the living room; I took advantage of his absence to peel myself out of the remainder of my damp and rumpled clothing. He returned shortly with the cordless telephone.

"Would you like me to go?" I asked, nodding towards the living room.

"What? No," he said. "Would I have brought the phone in here if I didn't want you to hear me? No, I want you to stay." He sat on the edge of the bed, resting a hand on my stomach. "You can help me not to freak out."

"I'll certainly do my best."

He took a deep breath and dialed, then waited, his body tense, while the phone rang. I could faintly hear the ringing: once... twice... and then a greeting, and Ray sagged, relief painted in all the lines of his body.

"Hey, doodlebug," he said, his voice fond. "It's Uncle Ray. Yeah." He listened, nodding, and I heard a high voice chattering faintly.

"Oh, wow," he said. "She did? And then what did the teacher say? Oh. No, I don't think that was fair, but you gotta do what the teacher says or you'll get in trouble." He listened again, and then blinked in surprise. "Uh, yeah, he's here. Um, sure. Just a minute." He covered the mouthpiece with one hand. "Lauren wants to talk to you," he said.

"How does she even know who I am?" I asked.

Ray looked down, flushing a little. "I've told her about you," he said, softly. "You know, talked about the adventure, our work, stuff like that. She likes to hear about Dief, too."

"Ah." I took the phone. "Benton Fraser speaking." Ray rolled his eyes at my formality.

"Uncle Ray says you've got a wolf," Lauren said.

"Yes, I do. His name is Diefenbaker."

"Uncle Ray says he reads lips."

"Yes, he does," I said. "In three languages."

"There's a boy in my class at school who's deaf. He has hearing aids in his ears to make him hear better."

"Yes, that can work well for humans, but I'm afraid they don't make hearing aids for wolves."

"Huh." She was silent for a moment. "They should make some for wolves. So they could hear better. Are you wearing your big hat?"

I glanced down at my naked torso, pulling Ray's hand back out from under the sheet that covered us from the waist down. "Er, no. Not at the moment."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's not considered polite to wear a hat indoors."

"Oh. OK." She paused. "Mommy says I have to give her the phone now. Bye."

Before I could reply, I heard fumbling noises, and then a woman spoke. "Corporal Fraser?"

"Yes, speaking."

"This is Anne Kowalski. I'm sorry about Lauren, she got to the phone before I could reach it."

"That's quite all right, ma'am," I said, feeling helplessly awkward. "Would you like to speak to Ray?"

"Thanks, that'd be good."

"Very well." I handed Ray the phone, laying a comforting hand on his back as he appeared to brace himself for an awkward conversation.

"Hey, Annie," he said. "Nah, don't worry about her, I always like to talk to the kids, you know that. Yeah. It's fine. No, mostly robberies this week, actually. Maybe the wackos have all flown south for the winter." He winked at me, squirming around while he talked until I was sitting up, leaning against the headboard, with Ray in between my legs, leaning back against me. I wrapped my arms around his waist and felt him sigh.

"Um, Annie? Is Steven home? Yeah? Can you, um, could you get him on the line too? There's something I want to talk to you guys about."

I leaned forward a bit and kissed the back of his head.

"Hello? Hey, Stevie, it's Ray. Not bad. Pretty damn good, actually, which is kinda what I wanted to talk to you about. Yeah. Um." He took a deep breath, his muscles tightening. I started stroking his chest, a touch meant to soothe rather than to arouse, and his tension eased a little.

"Yeah," he said. "Well, um, you remember I told you about my partner? Yeah, him. Remember we went to Canada a while back--yeah. And you know he's been living with me since we got back. Yeah, zoning issues, right, only. Um. There weren't any zoning issues." He said the last sentence all in one rush of breath. "He's living with me because we--" he broke off, listening, then sat bolt upright. "How the hell did you know that, Annie?" Another pause, and then, "my mother? Holy fuck! My mother? But I didn't-- we never--oh, shit. Hang on a sec." He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Annie says my mum told her we were, you know, living together living together, two months ago. I just don't get it, Fraser, we were always so careful around them. How could she have found out?"

I drew him gently back down against my chest, and kissed him. "Your mother is a very perceptive woman, Ray," I said, "and she loves you very much. It was probably an instinctual knowledge, rather than a logical deduction."

He relaxed against me with a rueful little laugh. "Yeah, you're probably right, Ben," he said. "Mum always did say I'd inherited her women's intuition." He raised the phone back to his ear. "Annie? Stevie? OK. That news caused a minor freakout, but I seem to have recovered." He paused. "So, what I was calling to say was, I'd love to come see you guys this summer, but I want to bring Ben with me. Is that OK?" He listened, and a wide smile spread across his face. "OK, great. That's great. Greatness. We'll be there." I held him closer, and kissed the skin behind one ear. "OK, Annie. I will. I love you guys, too. Tell the kids I love them. OK. I will. Bye."

He turned off the phone with a beep, and sat looking at it for some time.

"That was a lot less painful that I thought it would be," he said at last.

I smiled. "You've got a very loving family, on the whole, Ray. I should imagine they just want you to be happy."

"Yeah." He shook his head. "I can't get over Mum, though. I don't know how I'll look her in the eye next time I see her."

"She's known, or at least suspected, for some time, Ray. If she were going to react negatively, surely she would have already done so."

"Yeah, I know, it's just. Wow. I can't believe she knows."

"She doesn't know you know that, though," I said. "If you want to wait a while to talk to her about it, I'm sure nobody will be able to tell the difference."

He grinned. "Yeah, I think one of these kinds of conversations a week is more than enough for me."

"So we're going to Arizona?"

"Yeah, Fraser. We're going to Arizona. And you are not allowed to bring the serge. You'd pass out from heat exhaustion in ten minutes down there."

"You're probably right."

"No probably about it, Benton buddy. I'm totally right." He yawned. "Wow, I'm sleepy all of a sudden."

"You've had rather an intense evening, emotionally," I said. "It's understandable."

"Yeah, and I had rather an intense evening physically, too," he said.

"Well, there is that."

He turned and kissed me, then settled down with his head on my shoulder. "Hey Ben? All that seduction stuff today? You did that on purpose."

"I do everything on purpose, Ray."

He chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you do. But how on earth did you hold it that long? I'd have tripped you on your way back to the bedroom and had my wicked way with you in the middle of the floor if you'd teased me like that."

I stretched, every muscle as warm and loose as if I'd been given deep-tissue massage. "It's really quite simple, Ray," I said, stifling a yawn. "I masturbated in the shower after I got home from work this afternoon."

He laughed aloud at that. "The five Ps, again?" He squeezed me. "You're such a freak."

I sighed, cherishing the way he lay pliant and tangled with me. "Yes, Ray," I said, and he whispered with me, "Understood."


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