due South



Title: Bounty

Author: Bone

Author's E-mail: thisisbone@aol.com

Author's URL: http://www.mrks.org/~bone/

Date: September 2000

Fandom: due South

Category: Slash

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Summary: Fraser finds an unexpected bounty after Janet Morse leaves.

Archive: Do not archive, repost, publish or link without discussing it with me first.

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

Comments: Spoilers for "The Bounty Hunter." Thanks go to Gearbox for inspiration, and to Kat Allison, Aristide, and Crysothemis for beta-reading.

"Whatcha feel like?" I hear in my ear as Ray steers me through the corridors of the station, his hand on my shoulder a combination of comfort and determination. My peripheral vision catches a last glimpse of Janet as she shepherds her small brood in the other direction, but when I start to turn my head, the hand on my shoulder clamps down harder, then we turn a corner abruptly, and she's gone.

Ray's unexpected query regarding my emotional state is a shock, and with my defenses as low as I can remember, battered between my father's revelation (and my own vision) of eternal loneliness, and the sure knowledge that once again, given the choice, I might have followed a woman wherever she led me, I find myself answering just as shockingly.

"Hollow," I tell him. "I feel hollow."

He keeps his arm solidly around my shoulder, even though I'm quite capable of walking to the car without his assistance, and at my response his hand tightens, squeezes my neck. "Yeah, me, too. I could eat a mule. So what's it gonna be? Chopsticks, forks, or fingers—you pick."

Ah. I misunderstood. Again. Is nothing as it seems? Does everyone speak in half-truths and riddles? Or is it simply that I don't understand how the world works? I don't know how people ever connect and make it last. How does that ever happen?

My father was lonely every second he was away from us. Every second. Which immediately begs the question, why the hell didn't he come home more? Why didn't he put the time we had to better use? If I couldn't connect with my own father, how can I ever expect to…

"I'm not really very hungry, Ray," I say as I'm propelled out the back door of the station and towards Ray's car.

"Still gotta eat. Feed a cold, starve a supermodel," he says, then deposits me at the passenger side with a final pat to my back and heads around to his side of the car.

I don't understand half of what Ray says on a good day, and this has been anything but. I lean both hands on the roof of the car.

"Ray, I don't have a cold, and I'm not hungry." I hear the irritation in my voice as clear as day, as must Ray, because he pauses in the act of unlocking the door and puts his own hands on the roof, staring back at me. His playfulness melts away as I watch, and in the surprising stillness that follows, his face tells me what his words can't: he knows exactly how I feel.

"I'm…lonely," I confess, surprised and vaguely appalled at how easily the truth slips from me. Ray leans toward me, sliding his hands across the roof, not reaching for me, just closing the distance.

"I know," he says. "Get in the car, Fraser. You're eating whether you want to or not."


Using good judgment, Ray's taken the choice of eatery out of my indifferent hands. I wouldn't have thought of the mall as a culinary choice, but here we are in the food court, near the place where Ray, Inspector Thatcher, and Lieutenant Welsh had a chance to experience what my life is like on a regular basis—seeing things differently from everyone else. I'm staying put, which was Ray's order, while he caroms from stall to stall, loading down a tray with food I have no interest in eating.

He manages to balance the laden tray as he returns, then leans over so I can remove an assortment of cutlery and straws from his mouth. Chopsticks. Forks. What was the third? Ah, yes, fingers. Ray's spreading a feast of Chinese, Mexican, and Italian food on the laminated tabletop, obviously proud of himself.

"Dig in," he says, reaching for a slice of pizza.

I don't want to belittle the gift, so I pick up the chopsticks and eat some rice and a mixture of ingredients that may have, at one time, masqueraded as kung pao chicken. He nods approvingly. I can't think of anything to say that won't be worse than what I've already admitted, so I just sit, pushing rice around on my plate while he works his way through most of what's on the table.

I don't mind the silence. After several days with the cacophony of children underfoot, the ambient sounds of the mall—people's voices, the hum of the escalator, the rush of the fountain—seem soothing.

Ray swallows a last piece of eggroll and haphazardly wipes his mouth with a paper napkin. Then he leans toward me and says, "I saw a movie once, had a guy in it who sat around in restaurants and made up stories about the people he saw."

"Why did he do that?" I ask. I'm not really interested, but I don't want to be rude. I do appreciate the effort Ray's making.

"Trying to cheer his buddy up. Want to try it?" he asks. "I'll start."

He's trying to cheer me up. I must be worse off than I even knew. I listen with half an ear as he tells one ridiculously outlandish tale after another, providing the good people sharing the food court with us with histories far more glamorous and/or notorious than they probably deserve. Nothing quite as fanciful as the one about the pool boy, but it's a good effort on his part, an exercise his quicksilver mind and mouth seem to enjoy.

He winds down once he understands I'm not going to play, and gets up to empty the tray into a nearby trashcan. I realize I haven't moved or spoken in quite some time and shift in my seat, bracing myself to go back to the Consulate, where I'll have more time than I need to reflect on the solitude of my life. At least there I needn't inflict my self-pity on anyone except Diefenbaker, who's become quite accustomed to it, and who, indeed, contributes his own whimpers from time to time.

Ray waves me back down and reseats himself, then leans back in his chair and stretches his long legs out in front of him. "Take a chill pill, Fraser. We're not going anywhere."

I subside in my own chair, but without the props of eating to distract me, I have nowhere to look except at him. He stares back at me steadily, his eyes clear and bright, intense in his unusually serious face. I squirm a little under his regard; I feel he sees too much of me.

"You're in a rut," he finally says.

"I'm what?" I ask, startled.

"In a rut. You keep doing the same thing over and over. What is it with you and these chicks?" he asks.

Before I can respond, he's trampled onward.

"Oh, yeah, I know all about it. The whole long dark hair thing. It's practically a clich, for Christ's sake. They get you going with that 'help me, help me, no, I can help myself' shtick and you fall for it every time," he says. "It's a rut. Rut, rut, rut."

It appears Ray has been doing some reading. I can't even protest, having come to much the same conclusion myself. It's a flaw in my character, this need I have, and the women I find to fill it. What I can't understand is why it seems to bother Ray so. They're my mistakes, yet he's the one who seems concerned about it.

"Least this one didn't completely screw you over," he tosses at me. A final jab, I suppose. I hope.

That part's true enough.

"But it never would've worked out, you and her," he continues matter-of-factly.

I feel my face flush. All right, that's enough. I can manage to beat myself up over this just fine without additional help from Ray.

"There was no 'it' to work out," I say.

"Sure there was. You think I'm blind? Wait, don't answer that. I got eyes, Fraser, I can see a church by daylight," he says, nodding sagely.

Shakespeare? Ray knows Shakespeare? He correctly interprets my surprise: "I saw the movie on pay-per-view. Emma Thompson, my man Denzel, Michael Keaton. Don't change the subject."

"Why wouldn't it have worked?" I ask, horrified to hear what sounds like a whine come out of me.

"Too much alike," he says. "You'd have been arguing over who got to go shoot the buffalo and meantime the kids'd be using puppies for target practice and leaving the stove on."

"Bison," I feel compelled to point out. He has a smear of tomato sauce on his chin, and I find myself rubbing the same spot on my own chin.

"Huh?" he asks, rubbing his chin with his hand, then wiping it on a napkin.

"They're generally referred to as bison now," I tell him. "Buffalo is a more universal term, encompassing several species of wild oxen from Africa and India in addition to the North American bison."

"Buffalo, bison, whatever, Fraser. You were too much alike," he insists. "Both good at the same things—"

"And bad at the same things," I finish for him.

He rolls his eyes. "Not bad, Fraser. Nobody's good at everything. That's why you gotta find somebody different from you. Yang to your yin, out to your in. Opposites attract, get it?"

"Is that why you and Stella ran into trouble? You were too much alike?" I ask. It's unforgivable, I know, but I find myself resenting his analysis of my non-existent romantic life.

He snorts at that. "Me and Stel went too far in the opposite direction. Opposites attract, sure, right up to the part where they want to kill each other."

I mull that over. He seems to be saying you can't be too much alike, and you can't be too different. This is the conundrum I've also found, along with myriad other difficulties, starting with my own ineptitude and ending with the inescapable fact that I live in an office and sleep on a cot.

"So you're saying it's better to look for a person who complements your strengths," I say.

"Um, yeah, compliments are good, but that's not really what I meant," he says, scratching his collarbone.

I decide to let that one go. Otherwise we could be here all night.

"In essence, you need someone who's different, but not too different, right?" I say. "But how do you find that person? How do you know when you've found someone like that?"

He turns to me, sighs and leans his elbows on the table. "If I knew that, my friend, I'd still be sitting at home with my wife, instead of Taco Helling with you."

It's an excellent point.

I believe, when it comes to this particular topic, Ray and I are a sad case of the blind leading the blind.

I also fear that rather than Ray cheering me up, I have dragged him down. His rapid-fire conversation dries up as we sit there, until we simply stare at each other across the table, then he scoots his chair back, stands, and says, "Let's get a move on, Fraser, don't want you turning into a pumpkin."

"It's only seven-thirty," I say, then wonder why I protested.

"Okay, fine, a squash," is his only reply, and once again, I'm left wondering what it is that I've missed.


As verbose as Ray was on the drive to the mall, he's unnaturally quiet on the way back downtown. The quiet is merely a harbinger of the long night to follow, and another day after that, and again, and again.

I manage all right as long as I don't think about it. Desire can be suppressed. Thoughts of the future can be pushed aside in favor of the present. I try not to dwell on what is lacking in my life, but after this…after her…it's hard to think about anything else. It seems unnecessarily cruel for the Fates to show me what I'm missing in such exquisite detail.

I liked all the things Janet and I had in common. It seemed a good foundation, not a rut, not the recipe for disaster Ray described.

Of course, that was before I knew she was married. Before she took $300 that didn't belong to her. Before I realized that she had lied, by omission if not worse, about her motives for tracking her quote bail jumper unquote. I slept on the floor outside her door, an asinine gesture of protection for a woman who carries more firepower on her person than the entire inventory of many provincial police departments.

Even then, even knowing all that, she still awakened needs, urges, desires in me that I hadn't felt…allowed myself to feel…for a very long time. My mouth ached to kiss her. My hands yearned to tangle in her hair, to touch her back, her waist. Closing the door between us that night took every ounce of strength I had.

She wanted someone to trust. She was lonely.

So was I.

I still am.

Desire should be a good thing, shouldn't it? Something welcome? Aren't we humans designed to mate? And if that's true, then why is it so damn hard?

This is partly my father's doing. If he'd left well enough alone, I might not have…well, all right, I probably still would have, but he didn't help matters any. Not one bit. Grasping at straws, that's what he was doing. He caught scent of a woman—a woman aside from Inspector Thatcher, for whom he seems to have no affection whatsoever—and started his own version of match-making, afterlife style. And I started to think maybe he was right. Maybe this time would be different.

You need someone, he told me.

That much is certainly true.

Someone sturdy.

Sturdy. What a word to describe a woman. As if perseverance alone were enough of a quality to make a woman desirable. Perhaps, for him, it was. Perhaps it was the one thing that made my mother a perfect match for him. A woman who would wait four months to see him, then let him sleep with the dogs.

I want more than that.

I want to build a foundation, walls, a roof with a chimney to let smoke out, a door with a window to let light in.

Shelter from the cold.

I want a bed, not a cot.

I want a house, not a room.

I want more than I've got, more than I've ever had, more than I think I'm allowed.

I want someone of my own.

"You're pretty quiet over there, Fraser," Ray says suddenly, splintering the calm. "You're not hashing out the coulda, woulda, shoulda, are you? Cuz that mess'll drive you barefoot up a wall."

Barefoot up a wall? Where does he get these things? I suppose my silence is enough of an answer for him.

"Okay, all right, stupid question. Want to come back to my place? Watch some TV?" he asks.

Do I? Or would that simply delay the inevitable? My sore heart decides the inevitable might as well be delayed as long as possible.

"I don't want to disrupt your evening," I say, offering him a reversal of his offer if he wants.

He shrugs. "I'll be doing the same thing with or without you. Me and the TV, we're buddies."

It strikes me that for a man who seems to gain as much energy as he does from interaction with people, good and bad, being best friends with a television is a sorry state of affairs.

"All right, Ray. Thank you for asking," I say, succumbing to the lure of more time in his company, more time not on my own.

In addition to my own reasons, I want to go because I recognize the tone in his voice—subdued, but there. I remember the look on his face when I admitted to loneliness. I am not alone in this, this feeling.

Ray is as alone as I am.

He's as lonely as me.


I've never acquired the knack for watching television. Lack of practice, I imagine. I certainly haven't learned to appreciate the wonders of 'channel surfing' as Ray refers to it. A nearly constant blur of images passes before my eyes, accompanied by a steady stream of mutters from Ray, who disparages virtually everything that flashes across the screen before settling on a soccer game on a station that apparently broadcasts solely in Spanish.

"I didn't know you spoke Spanish, Ray," I say, as he moves from his spot in front of the television to drop beside me on the couch.

He hands me the remote, saying, "I don't. For some reason, it gets my brain in gear, helps me think. Good stuff. Sometimes puts me right to sleep, though. I thought it might, you know, veg you out a little."

Vegging out doesn't sound like something I'd particularly enjoy, but I do know a little Spanish, and I'm so relieved that the blur of images has settled, I'm quite willing to watch his choice.

"Relax, Fraser, it's not like there's going to be a test on it later," he says, pushing on one shoulder until I'm slouching down on his couch. I don't find the position as comfortable as Ray, who has mirrored my position—back bent, legs sprawled—but I try to do as he asks and just relax, letting the sound of the foreign voices soothe me, the rhythm of the game a visual lullaby.

After fifteen minutes or so, I have to admit that Ray was right. When I turn my head to tell him so, my neck cracks in three different places. I don't even have the chance to open my mouth before he turns to me with a grin and says, "Told you so. Works every time."

I smile back at him, and his gaze drops abruptly to my mouth. His smile fades, and I'm staring again at the serious man who faced me across the table at the mall.

"Is something wrong?" I ask him.

He lifts his eyes immediately back to mine. "No." Quick. Too quick.

"Are you sure?" I know he's not being completely honest with me, and after the week that I've had, even his mild prevarication rankles.

"Sure I'm sure, Fraser. I'm not the 'kiss goodbye' guy here," he says sharply.

Good Lord, I'd forgotten. For all of fifteen minutes, I had managed to forget what brought me here in the first place.

I don't know what he can read on my face, but whatever it is, it brings him closer, and I feel his hand come to rest lightly on the top of my head. I close my eyes, fighting the urge to lean into his hand, to take that comfort.

"It'll get better," he says quietly.

"When?" I ask, opening my eyes again, my voice rising. "I've been waiting my whole—"

I stop short. I can't tolerate the sound of my voice like that—pitiful, needy. It infuriates me, or perhaps I'm forcing fury; anything's better than pathetic.

"Maybe you've been looking in the wrong places," he says, apparently unfazed by my outburst.

"I haven't been looking at all," I retort.

"Maybe that's your problem," he says with a shrug.

I resent his calm in the face of my anger. I want him to be as provoked as I am. I managed to maintain a hold on my temper when he casually dismissed Janet's requests, but his interference into my woeful love life, on top of dear old Dad's, is too much.

"Where do you suggest I start, since you seem to know so much about it?" I can't believe I'm using that tone with him, the one I use with my father.

His hand leaves my head. He pushes himself off the couch and goes into the kitchen. "Want something to drink?" he asks, and I hear him open the refrigerator.

"No, Ray, I want you to answer my question." I twist around so I can see him.

He closes the refrigerator, then braces both hands on the kitchen counter, looking at me.

"Closer to home," he says.

Closer to…

"Inspector Thatcher?" I ask.

He laughs out loud at the suggestion. "Oh, yeah, like she wouldn't flash-freeze your balls if you got within poking distance. No, not her."

Not Inspector Thatcher. My life is populated by very few women, so I'm confounded by…

"I hope you don't mean Francesca," I say slowly.

"As if," is Ray's succinct reply. "Wouldn't wish her on Dewey."

"Because Ray Vecchio has made his feelings on that particular subject abundantly clear," I tell him. "I wouldn't —"

"Not Frannie, Fraser. Geez. Could you give the brunettes a rest for half a minute?"

He comes back around the counter and stands in front of me, blocking the television and putting me at what feels like a disadvantage. Before I can even straighten my back, he's continuing.

"I know you're into linear thinking and all that jive," he says, "but think outside the box if you can. Curlicues and swirls and shit. No lines. Think outside, not inside. Think…blonde."

Blonde. I don't know any blondes except Stella, but if that's who he means, I'll eat my hat.

Ray cocks his head, lifts his eyebrows at me.


Surely not.


Surely so.

I can see it now, in his face, in the way he deliberately lets his eyes drop again to my mouth. I can no more control the flush that sweeps into my face than I can the impulse to move. Before I can restrain myself, I'm pushing off the couch, compelled to stand, to put myself on some semblance of equal footing with him.

I missed this essential thing about Ray; I had no idea. I really don't understand him at all, do I? I thought it was language, idioms, cultural conditioning, but it's more than that, deeper.

"I'm at a loss, Ray," I say, my voice rougher than I expect it to be.

"I know. I mean, I didn't know, either." Ray's voice is even rougher than mine. "Big surprise, I gotta tell you. I didn't used to be, um, I wasn't always…I guess what I'm trying to say is, I think it's just you."

Just me. Ray has…feelings for me. Feelings he didn't expect…for me.

He backs up a step and puts his hand up. "But now's not a good time for it, even if you…which it doesn't look like, so just…forget about it. Don't know what I was thinking. My bad."

"Ray," I start to say, but have to stop. I have no idea what I was going to say. My mind, which has been filled with too many images all day, has gone mercilessly blank.

"Look," he says, backing up another step, "let's do one pity party at a time, okay? We can do me later."

A pity party. Distress. Temper and irritation and loneliness.

Over a woman I knew for a handful of days.

And where did I find solace? With a man I have known only for a matter of weeks, but it seems much, much longer. A man I call my partner and my friend. Who knows me well enough to offer the universal comforts of food, relaxation, the pleasure of good company, in ways specific to my distress. A man who has apparently looked at me in ways I never noticed, while I focused my attention elsewhere.

A man. Not a woman. Not a brunette. A blond.

Completely different from the kind of person I usually…

You're in a rut, he said. Think outside the box.

As if to make up for the regrettable blankness before, my mind now spins a kaleidoscope of images; its own version of channel surfing.

I see Ray, bargaining down his price for helping with the investigation, despite the blue flu.

Ray, leaning across the roof of his car, acknowledging my loneliness, recognizing it, and then trying to assuage it.

Ray, having the courage to stand before me and tell me how he feels, facing possible resistance, rejection. It can't have been easy for him. I've certainly never been that brave. I've never even tried.

But perhaps it's time I did.

I clear my throat. "It's all right, Ray."

He looks at me sharply. "What is?"

"What you just told me," I say. "It's an…adjustment, that's all."

His raised hand drops to his side. "Tell me about it," he mutters under his breath.

Hearing his own disconcertment helps abate some of my own. Opening up is never easy, but perhaps if we both try, together…

My first step toward him makes me dizzy. My whole world is a box—closed, sealed, without any air holes. To leave it means turning my known universe upside down.

My second step isn't much easier. I hear my breathing turn rapid, harsh. He's standing his ground now, no longer backing away, and I see him take a deep breath, too, see his cheekbones flush red like mine, his eyes catch blue fire.

Good. I couldn't do this alone.

My third step brings me close enough to touch him, close enough to feel the heat pouring off him. He lifts his chin, gives me that direct gaze I have only just now begun to fully comprehend, and I upend the proverbial box, dump out its meager contents and crush it underfoot.

His mouth meets mine as if it's been waiting for me. My mouth, unsatisfied from before, awakened from its abstinence-induced slumber, opens wide for him, welcomes him. Immediately, he pushes forward, his hands coming up strong, holding my head still, plunging his tongue into my mouth, all strength, and heat, and uncurbed want.

There's no resisting this. No resisting him. No need to resist. My body has no apparent reservations over the fact that he's a man, and my mind, once adjusted to the idea, doesn't seem to care. Perhaps I should care; our current culture certainly does. But when have I ever felt in step with society? My own or anyone else's?

I feel myself respond to the want rolling off him in waves, strength to strength, answering his power with my own. Equal footing, yes. Equal strength. It's a revelation.

My heart lightens for the first time in days.

Maybe this is a connection that will last.

If my father interrupts us now, I'll shoot him with Ray's gun.

I close my eyes tight, not to shut out the sight of Ray, but the better to feel his mouth, incendiary against mine, his tongue tracing my teeth, slick inside me. His wiry body leans heavily into mine, and I accept his weight gladly. He's hot, and against my hip I can feel him now, the blunt hardness of him. So fast, he's hard so fast. I feel my own groin swell in response and press back, rocking slowly into him.

I slide my hands under his worn t-shirt, across the silk of his back. His skin is smooth, like warm glass, the muscles playing under my fingertips. He mirrors me, reaching down to tug my shirts from the waistband of my jeans, spreading his long fingers wide on my back. In my fevered imaginings of Janet, I always thought of touching, never of being touched. The shock of it, the strangeness of it, the sheer uncomplicated pleasure of feeling his hands on me brings me to full, aching arousal in a matter of seconds.

It's startling, but welcome. Wanted. Needed.

I pull my mouth from his, dazed, and stare into eyes as wide and amazed as I imagine my own to be.

"Wow," he says, only no sound comes out, just the word, formed on his lips.

I move my hands to his hips and nudge him closer, so he knows that I'm with him, just as affected as he is. I leave one hand there, holding him to me, and lift the other to his hair, stroking through the close-cropped strands to cup the back of his head.

"Blond," I whisper.

He nods. "Yeah."

"I might not…I would never have thought of it," I confess.

He moves slowly against me. "Yeah, you're late getting on the clue bus sometimes."

"And here I've prided myself on my observational skills," I say, drawing him in again.

He wraps his arms around me, holding on tight, and laughs at me. I don't mind at all.

"We don't have to —" he says, stuttering a little. "We don't have to…"

…do anything. We don't have to do anything, I think is what he's offering. But while I'm apparently late to embark on his clue bus, I do know myself well enough to know that if I don't let this happen now, I probably never will. I'll restore my walls, reshore my defenses, and then where will I be?

Lonely again.

I lean toward him, rub my nose under his ear, into the clean, soft space left bare by his short blond hair. When I lick there, tasting soap and his own essential flavor beneath, he trembles against me. He's sensitive there, just like the few women I've known. When I breathe lightly in his ear, he moans under his breath. His body responds to me, and mine to him, in familiar ways.

"I think we do," I whisper in his ear. "I think we have to. I…want to."

"Fraser," he gasps, his hips moving in the cage of my hand, his breath hot now on my neck, once again following my lead, mimicking my actions. I wonder if he feels he needs permission to touch, and I wonder how to give it to him.

"I'm not entirely sure, that is, what should we—?" I fumble to a halt, embarrassed at my incoherence.

"Beats me, Fraser, we're dumb and dumber here," he says with a laugh, which gets strangled a moment later when I slide my hand across the front of his jeans, learning the shape of him for the first time.

"Shit," he mutters. "Okay, okay. Bedroom. Lose the duds. Now."

I'll have to remember that particular technique the next time I feel a need to provoke Ray to action. It achieves entirely satisfactory results.


What should feel awkward, what always has, is easy with Ray. I'll have to remember that, too. He gives me a hard time about the layers of shirts I'm wearing. I am struck speechless to see just how little he wears—a shirt, pants, that's all. He's already naked and stretched out on the bed before I can even peel off my undershirt, and then I'm so distracted by the sight of him that I get a knot in one boot lace and have to discipline my shaking fingers not to just reach for my Bowie knife and hack it loose.

But eventually I'm as naked as he, staring down at him while he stares up at me. The laughter has left his eyes, and the look on his face is even more vulnerable than his bare body.

"C'mere," he says softly, patting the bed beside him.

I drop down onto the bed and stretch out beside him on my back. He rolls to face me, propping himself up on one elbow. I look him over from head to toe, and all the parts in between. He is as hard as I am, his penis twitching when my gaze rests on it. My own erection twitches in response, the tip already leaking, and it feels as if all the blood in my body has surged to that one place, throbbing heavily in the tightened skin.

When I see his hand moving toward me, heading directly to the hottest, neediest part of me, I close my eyes. I feel my pulse pounding in my cheekbones, my hands, my thighs. I can't completely stifle the groan that works its way out through my clenched teeth at the first tentative touch of his hand on me.

I feel him hovering over me, barely touching, and my hips lift, thrusting up to meet his hand, pushing into his palm. I couldn't stop now if I tried. He closes his hand around me and pumps once, then again, and again, the rhythm off, the grip not tight enough, but it doesn't matter. It's as close to perfect as I need it to be.

I'm close stunningly fast, fighting for breath, struggling against the overwhelming rush of feeling, jolts of pleasure shooting through me. I'm going to climax from his simplest touch. I can feel it coming, tumbling through me, but I don't want it to be over. It's not enough, it's nowhere near enough.

"Wait, wait," I blurt out, then bite my tongue when I hear how it sounds. I certainly don't want him to stop.

It takes a few seconds for me to figure out that while Ray's touch has changed, he's not drawing back, not pulling away. Instead of driving me toward release, he's gentled his hand on me to light, random strokes, until finally, I can breathe again.

"Been a while?" he asks, pressing his mouth to my shoulder.

"A very long time," I pant, grateful that it's not over yet, that I can build to that amazing sensation again.

"Feel good?" The uncertainty in his voice dismays me. How can he wonder?

"Unimaginably so," I reassure him, reaching for his hand on me, pressing it down again, urging him on. When I try to lift my hand, he laces his fingers with mine, drawing my hand back into the motion.

"Show me what to do," he says, gnawing gently on the bony point of my shoulder, then brushing his lips back and forth in the same rhythm as his hand on my increasingly desperate erection.

"You know—" I protest, but he talks over me.

"What you like, show me that," he says, moving so that his hand's wrapped around my penis, with my hand on top of his. "Please."

Oh, God. One stroke. Two. My hand guiding his, his fingers tight around me. I've never felt anything more erotic in my entire life.

"You're…that's…oh, Ray…" I'm lost again, lifted by the touch of his hand, and my own, the new shining world receding until there's only the feel of him against me, the strength of his hand under mine, the perfect, rocking rhythm of our touch.

I let it build, then back off, then let it swell again, riding the crest of feeling until I'm wet with sweat, until his hand starts to shake under mine, until I feel him thrust his hips against me, feel the scalding heat of his erection on the bare skin of my hip. When I can't stand it any more, when I think it might indeed be possible to die from pleasure, I press down hard, and he follows my lead, squeezing me, then flicks his thumb sharply over the tight, swollen head, and I convulse, spurting stringy semen across my belly, every muscle in my body contracting as it fights to steal every second of sensation.

Ray makes a soft sound deep in his throat, and I open my eyes in time to see him push off the mattress, swing his body over mine and straddle me. Sitting up on my thighs, he looks…electric, from the stand-up shock of his hair to the sheen of sweat on his skin. The fine tremble in his muscles travels through him to me; he's vibrating with sexual energy.

I slide one hand through the mess on my stomach, coat my fingers with it and reach for him. I think there will be time enough later for caresses, for long, drawn-out kisses, for exploration. Right now, I understand the need that's paramount; I understand it very well.

He drops his chin to his chest when I clasp his erection firmly. It leaps like a wild thing, trapped in the grasp of my hand, and he sucks in a breath.

"Christ, Fraser," he moans, jabbing his hips up, his stiff penis stabbing into the circle of my fingers. He leans back, resting his weight on his hands, and thrusts his pelvis up, his whole torso displayed before me, his erection prominent, proud. I can see the heaving of his breath in his chest, see tiny drops of sweat curl down from his throat to his navel.

I let go until he stops moving, then grasp him again, repeating the slow, torturous motion I just used on myself, wanting to give him some measure of that same spiraling pleasure. He lets me, gives himself over to me, letting me draw at least this much out as long as he can stand. I see the strain in his arms, in the tightly drawn muscles in his thighs, and wonder that he can continue to hold his awkward position, but one look at his face convinces me that he's no longer aware of anything except the exquisite tension mounting inside him.

My hand slips smoothly on him, the slickness taking away the delicious friction I experienced, but replacing it with an ability to glide freely that seems to give Ray different, but equal, enjoyment. From my vantage point below him, I can take my cues from his body, and when I see his testicles draw up, see the muscles in his stomach start to flutter, I ease off, slowing my strokes on him, as he did me.

"Not yet," I tell him.

He grunts, dropping his head back, exposing the long line of his throat. "You're killing me, Fraser."

"Not yet," I say again, but I've underestimated him. "Now," he growls, heaving himself back upright. He spreads his thighs wide, leans over and presses against me, trapping his wet penis between his stomach and the well of my hip. "Now, now, now."

He's hovering over me, his arms locked on either side of my head, and he lunges against me over and over, his mouth open, his eyes closed, humming under his breath with each thrust. He's a sight to behold like this, wild and open, taking what he needs, battering his body on mine, shoving himself against my hip until he finally comes, his whole body shuddering, a keening sound ripped from his throat.

He drops down on me as soon as it's over, his legs draped on either side of my hips, his hands wrapping snugly around my shoulders, plastering the length of his drenched, shaking body to mine. I feel my throat tighten at the trust implied in his surrender. He's so much more than I could have known to want, to ask for. And it's more than just what he gave me; it's what he let me give him.

In the aftermath, he looks different. Tension I hadn't noticed has been erased from his face. He looks younger, more handsome.

Perhaps it is simply that I see him differently now.

Or perhaps it is the world itself that has changed.

My world.


"You were jealous of Janet," I murmur into his hair some unknown moments later. I can still feel the manic flutter of his heartbeat against my chest.

"Pretty much," he murmurs back, still trying to catch his breath.

"But you helped her anyway," I remind him.

"No," he says. "I helped you. There's a difference."

"The end result was the same," I tell him.

"Yeah, funny how that can happen," he says, reaching up to pat my head.

Now that my constraining box has been so thoroughly demolished, rather than not understanding him at all, I see layers of meaning in his words.

I don't believe he planned this. I do believe if there had never been a right time, he would have continued to suppress his own desire, as I have so often suppressed mine. Instead, we managed to find our way here, comfortable and comforted. No longer lonely.

It's an unexpected reward for honesty.

Funny how that can happen.

My dead father wants grandchildren.

Tough luck, Dad. You've got a better office than I do. It seems to me if you could swing that, you could lend a hand in the begetting of said grandchildren if you really, really tried. If not, then kindly butt out. I managed all right without family dinners and father-son talks when you were alive; I can continue to do so now. My dream (his dream?) of a house with a firm foundation, with walls and chimneys and windows, dissolves along with the lingering tremors in my muscles, the sweat and semen that dry on me in random patterns. No lines. Just swirls and curlicues.

It was just a dream. No more, no less.

The reality is that the first rule of survival in the wilderness is to go for the shelter you find. An overhang, a sleeping bag, and body heat provide all the protection you need against the cold. Keeping warm is the only essential; insulation is the key. It doesn't make the air any less cold, it just helps you withstand it better.

Anything more is a luxury.

I curl myself around the smooth warmth of Ray's body. He mutters something less intelligible than usual, but leans against me, molding his body to mine unselfconsciously, and I open up to absorb him, finding comfortable spots for my arms and legs, finding a cradle for my head between his neck and shoulder.

You were right about one thing, Dad. I needed someone.

I needed someone, and now I think I have someone.

I have Ray, who's a lot like me in some ways, and different enough in others.

He complements my strengths.

Tomorrow, when he wakes up, I'll compliment his.

His empathy, his open-mindedness. His courage.

I believe we'll need no firmer foundation than that.

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