due South



Title: Smooth

Author: Bone

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

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

Date: December 1999

Fandom: due South

Category: Slash

Rating: NC-17

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Spoilers: "Mountie Sings the Blues"

Summary: It's got a good beat, I can dance to it. I'd give it an eight.

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

Disclaimer: The due South characters remain the property of Alliance Atlantis. For adult readers only, please. Written for pleasure, not profit.

Notes: Soundtrack (and title) courtesy of Carlos Santana's "Supernatural" CD. A veritable plethora of beta readers had their grubby little mitts on this, and I thank them all.

Moving like a block of wood.

The phrase has been stuck in my head ever since he said it—matter-of-fact, honest. Succinct in the way only Ray can accomplish, summing up my lifetime of feeling out of step in just a few words.

I hadn't let it bother me before. Certainly hadn't dwelled on it. I'm not sure I'd let myself recognize that something was missing from my enjoyment of music, my pleasure in it. I can hear it. I can look at a score and hear it in my head—something I've found most people can't do. I can analyze, break down a piece into its congruent parts, discern small ways of making minor improvements. Minor third improvements, in the case of Tracy Jenkins' latest song.

I can sing on key, count the beats, blend my voice to others.

I can do all of that.

But I don't feel it in my bones. I can't bring it inside myself and live with it, the way Ray does. I can't seem to let it lift me up, move me—I can't float on top of it, the way Ray does when he dances. I've only seen him dance once, with Stella, on the dinner cruise, but seeing him, seeing them…

They looked like everything I'd been missing, clasped warmly, moving smoothly across the rolling deck, two people merged into one in their own little world.

Despite the circumstances, despite the fact that, however cohesive they looked on the dance floor, their duet had ended long before; despite all that, I envied them. I envied him for his depth of feeling, for the ease of his grace. I envied her for having had him, rhythmic and present in her arms.

It isn't that I don't feel things. I do. Too deeply sometimes. Too deeply for words. Too deeply for comfort. I feel them, but can't seem to show them very well, haven't found ways to express them appropriately. I feel them, but out of step sometimes, out of proportion, off-kilter. Too much or too little, and seemingly never in the same cadence as anyone else.

Moving like a block of wood.

I sang tonight on stage with Tracy, sang my heart out, enjoying the camaraderie of the band, the appreciative crowd. Virtually everyone I know was there, feet tapping, heads bobbing, hands clapping, moving almost as a single body, in perfect unity, in rhythm, making the music as much theirs, listening, as it was ours performing.

I haven't any idea how that feels. Part of me wanted to be out there, immersed among them, as if what they felt, what they heard, might rub off on me if I sat close enough. I could only experience it from the outside, watching, when what I wanted to do was live it, from the inside.

Had Ray been there, I might have succumbed to the temptation.

But Ray wasn't there. I don't know where he went after he pushed…that is, encouraged…me onto the stage, but he wasn't in the wings, or in the crowd in front, and I felt his absence like a chink in a wall, letting in cold air. Somehow, his not being there made the evening something less than it might have been otherwise; made my glaring flaw stand out even more. Without Ray there, I could only feel the "moving like a block of wood" part, couldn't bring myself to enjoy the other four words he gave me:

Singing like a bird.

Yes, he covered his compliment with a flippant remark about not having said what kind of bird. But I saw his face when he said it. I've been watching that face for months now. I've seen it drawn tight with grief, seen it stretched into a smile. I've seen him pull on the face of a stranger to get what he wants, and I've seen him relax into himself, showing me the essential Ray beneath the machinations of his many names, the life he's assumed.

So when he said I sang like a bird…well, he meant it.

And I can't shake this feeling I have that if anyone can teach me rhythm, if anyone can show me how to feel it in my bones, it's Ray.

Ray, who sometimes vibrates from head to toe, moving to his own internal beat. Who never seems out of step, even if he's the only one who hears it.

Ray, who moves…



I know the way to his apartment. I haven't been there often, and when I have, it's usually in an official capacity. I'm not a casual person. I don't "drop by." I suppose he'll wonder, when he opens the door to me this late, if something's wrong. If someone's in trouble.

Yes and no. Nothing's wrong—at least nothing new. And no one's in trouble, at least not in our traditional sense. But still, I'm drawn to his door, wanting something from him, needing it, hoping he can give it to me. Hoping he's there.

I want and need more than he'll ever be able to give, I know that. But if he can help me with this, that will be enough—a gift from him to me. I don't think he ever needs to know the rest of it: how I felt watching him dance, how I feel when he touches me. I don't think he needs to know any of that.

Staccato rap on the door—too precise, even that.

Muted music filters through the walls. Light, a latin beat. Of course Ray has music playing. I hear his footsteps on the floor, then the door opens.

"Fraser! Everything go all right?"

I get a smile from him, a hand waving me in, and a knot in my stomach starts to dissolve.

He takes my hat, tosses it on the table. "So?" he asks with his whole body—voice, hands, face—expectant, vibrant. I feel the focus of his attention like a spotlight, warm and bright.

"It went well," I say. "No security problems."

"Didn't expect any," he says. No, of course not. Had he expected trouble, he would have stayed.

"You were missed," I say as I walk into the small living area, not wanting to look at him as I say it.

"Yeah, well, I figured you had enough of a cheering section," he says, following me, dropping down on the couch and motioning me into a chair.

"I had?" I ask.

"You know, 'Go Fraser, Go Fraser'," he says, rocking in his seat, sweeping his arms in a circle. He looks ridiculous, which makes me smile. Which makes him smile.

"So, you gonna cash it in and go on tour with her? Sing for your supper? Looks like she likes you pretty good," he says, slouching down on the couch.

"And give up all this?" I say, striving for humor I'm not really feeling.

"Yeah, that'd be a hardship all right," he says. "That luxury apartment you got, that cushy job." He snorts, scratches under his chin. "If she offers, you oughta think about it."

I wish he hadn't taken my hat. It proves useful at times like these, when I want something in my hands, when I want to keep myself from touching something I shouldn't.

Go on tour with Tracy? Give up all this?

No, thank you.

"I'm quite happy where I am," I tell him.

He looks at me, tilts his head. Nods.

"You still jazzed from the show?" he asks.

I have no idea what he means. I shake my head, not in denial, but in confusion.

"Adrenaline, my friend. Did you know more people are afraid of public speaking than dying in a plane crash? And you're not exactly Mr. Put-Me-In-Front, you know?"

Ah. That's a good, reasonable explanation. I should probably accept that, tell him, yes, that's what it is. Performance-induced adrenaline. That's why I came to his door so late, that's why I feel so…unsettled. I think perhaps there's some truth to it—that being there, with all those people who so obviously felt more than I did, who heard something I couldn't, shook something in me.

I'm tired of feeling out of step. I want what they have. I want that connection, that core-deep feeling. And I want Ray to give it to me.

Ray's still talking, telling me how he used to stay up all night after dance competitions, keep dancing until blisters bled on his heels, until he crashed. I think he misses that.

His voice dies down, and I can't think of anything to fill the silence that follows. Under our silence, I hear a guitar solo hum in the background, something sweeping and clear. I don't know how to raise the topic, or what it is exactly that I want from him. What I can ask him for. There are limits. Self-imposed. Imposed by society.

I suppose the best thing to do is state the obvious.

"I enjoyed performing," I tell him. "It isn't something I'd want to do every day, but I can see the appeal."

Something in my voice must tip him off. It makes me wonder if he's been watching me as closely as I've been watching him.

"But?" he asks, leaning up, resting his elbows on his knees.

I take a deep breath. I can ask him for this. There's nothing wrong with asking him for this.

"I seem to have no sense of rhythm." There. I got it out. I brace myself for a repeat of his edged remark, but he just sits there, watching me.

"You just figured that out?" he asks.

I shake my head, glance at him, then down at my knees. "No, it's something I've always known."

"But now you care about it?" he asks.

Yes, that's it. That's it exactly. I knew, but didn't care. Knew, but didn't know anyone who I thought might be able to change it. Change me. I thought that was just the way it had to be, but Ray makes me feel that maybe, just maybe, it could all be different.

I could be different.

I nod. "I want to learn."

He's shaking his head. "I think it's something you're born with. Not sure it's teachable."

The knot tightens up in my stomach again. "But you'll try?" I ask.

That seems to startle him. He twitches, a less graceful move than I usually see him make. "You want me to teach you rhythm?" he asks. He sounds dubious.

I've made a mistake. I've confused what I'm missing with what I want. I'm asking for something impossible, and it only scrapes the surface of what I need.

I stand, move toward the door. "I'm sorry, Ray, I don't know what…I'm sure you're right—it's adrenaline—"

He moves, the way he does, quick and smooth, cuts me off at the door. "Hang on, Fraser, don't get all fluffed up on me."

He's so close I can feel the heat of his body radiating toward me, his hand on my arm warm and steady. I take shallow breaths, trying not to absorb the smell of him. It only makes it worse. I feel something tight take hold in my gut, something hungry, something lonely.

Something bordering on desperate. It's alien, this need unraveling inside. I'm not…comfortable with it. I don't recognize it, don't want to recognize it. I don't want to feel incomplete with what I have, who I am. I'm all I've ever had. I'm all I'll ever get. Anything else is as fleeting as a song, spun on air, twisting up out into nothing.

But there's his hand, on my arm. There's his warmth, in front of me. His voice, moving into reassurance mode. Filling that empty space inside me, shoring me up.

"Okay, look, I'll give it a try, but I'm not making any promises," he's saying, squeezing down on my arm.

I think he's not sure what to do with me. No wonder. I'm not sure what to do with myself.


"Okay, okay, think," I hear Ray muttering to himself as he pushes me back to the center of the room. He makes me take off my tunic, my boots, and curiously, my socks. When I ask him why, he points to his own bare feet, wiggles his toes.

"Freedom," he says. "Breathing room. You've gotta relax."

Relax. Hmmmm. He makes it sound so easy.

He leaves me there, standing solitary, and moves to the stereo, hits a button or two, then turns the volume knob hard to the right.

I'm assaulted from all sides by a driving, staccato beat—drums, bass, electric guitar. I put my hands up, the protest automatic.

"Ray! It's late!" I yell to him, motioning for him to turn it down. He grimaces, but complies, ratcheting down the noise level to something less than ear-splitting.

"You've gotta feel it," he says.

"Yes, but your neighbors don't," I retort, still a little rattled from the noise.

He curls his lip a little at that, but then nods. "They're always bitching about something."

If that's the sort of clamor he subjects them to on a regular basis, I'm not surprised.

"Look, the only way I know to teach it to you is to show you how it feels," he says. "And for that, there's gotta be a little noise."

I knew this was a bad idea. I can't imagine learning anything from the cacophony he just played for me, and if feeling it grinding in the pit of my stomach is the only way to learn rhythm, then perhaps I'm better off not knowing.

He's eyeing me curiously, as if he knows I want to give up, but I've come this far and I'm not sure what it would take to work up the courage to try again, so I just keep standing there. If he thinks it's impossible, I'll leave. But he'll have to tell me that.

He rubs his knuckles on his chest and cocks his head to the side. "How about if you watch me, try to do what I do?"

That sounds like a good plan. I smile at him, nod, and he takes a step toward me, then another. Now we're close enough that he could put his hand on my arm again, or I could reach out, touch his shoulder. A smile drifts across his mouth, and I think perhaps he's a little self-conscious about what he's doing.

I can understand that.

He closes his eyes, which makes it easier for me. He moves his head from side to side, rolling right into the rhythm of the music still pouring from his speakers. Light from a lamp in the corner slants across his cheekbones, his hair, plays on his skin as he moves. I try moving my head the way he is, but I want to concentrate on him, want to watch him, and I don't think I'm doing it right.

Then he starts to move his body. First his shoulders, rocking from side to side. Then his hips roll, his knees bend, and his feet start to move on the hardwood floor.

He looks…beautiful. Alive and enrapt and utterly unaware of his beauty, or the effect it has on me. He is the music—he owns it. He's pulled it out of the air and into his body, where I can see it. I want to do more than that. I want to feel it, and before I can finish the thought, I've put my hand out, placed it on his shoulder.

He opens his eyes wide, stares at me, and I know he's been somewhere else. He's been gone, off to some other plane of existence. I think he forgot I was there—I know he did because I can see it when he remembers. He stumbles briefly, loses the beat, and his face flushes pink. His eyes are bright on mine, but instead of pulling away, moving away, he takes one step closer.

"Yeah, okay," he says. "That could work. Do what I do." I've never heard an order I'm more willing to follow. He keeps his eyes open this time; I can't look away from his face. His smile is gone, his eyes serious as he starts to move again. His shoulder rolls under my hand, and I try to mimic the movement. On him, it's smooth as silk. On me, it's jerky, discordant.

"Keep going," he says, and we stand there, rocking back and forth. I'm throwing him off. I'm a split second behind him. I'm so aware of him, of the warmth of his skin beneath the T-shirt he's wearing, that I can barely hear the music anymore, let alone try to think about it. It feels as if the space between us is charged, filled with his energy, with my…desire.

I feel my face heat, feel my fingers start to tremble, and I bear down on his shoulder, harder than I mean to, trying to stop them.

"Easy, easy," he says. "You're trying too hard."

The story of my life.

"Don't think about it so much," he says, poking my forehead with his index finger. "Come on, Fraser, let go."

It's the one thing I can't do; the request I can't honor. If I let go, if I let go of my guard, I'll pull him to me, try to absorb this lesson through his body. Somehow, I doubt that's what he had in mind when he said he'd give it a try.

I force my hand off his shoulder, stop the awkward motion of my body, and struggle to control my ragged breathing. This isn't going to work. I can't keep my mind on the project at hand, and Ray looks…not exactly frustrated, but…confused. Yes, he looks confused. He takes a hesitant step back, and immediately I can breathe more freely.

I watch as he shakes himself all over, and even that casual move has a grace to it that I envy. I hear him mumbling to himself, "Right, okay, that's…that's not the way. Time for a Plan B."

I have to admit that Ray's tenacity hasn't always been something I've appreciated, but tonight, I'm grateful for it. For that, and for his ability to view the problem (for that's what it is), from a variety of angles. He sees things differently than I do. It is, perhaps, the core of the occasional arguments we have—the fact that we see the world through such different eyes.

Just once, I'd like to be able to see through his eyes, to be able to let go, to give myself over. If he's willing to try a Plan B, then I'm willing to try to do what he tells me.

No matter how hard I have to try not to try so hard.


"Tell me what you think music is. Three words, that's all you get," he says.

We're back to sitting. He's guided me back, pushed me down on the couch. He's sitting beside me now, close enough that my body shifts towards his, to where his body weights down the sofa cushion. It's automatic, the gravitational pull, and I let myself lean toward him.

I have to drag my attention back to his voice. Music, in three words.

It takes me a minute, but I finally say, "Notes, tempo…" I can't think of a third.

His eyes narrow. "That's it?"

I think it was a test, and I failed it. He turns toward me on the couch, pulls up a knee. It brushes against my thigh, but he doesn't move, and neither do I.

"Where's your voice come from?" he asks. "When you sing."

What an odd question. "From my lungs, my throat," I say, mystified.

He shakes his head. "Really? It's all mechanics? Breath from the lungs, vibrating the vocal cords? That's all there is to it?"

"Essentially," I answer. It is. But it isn't. Talking requires the same mechanics, but rarely provides the same joy, the same rushing wondrous feeling that singing does. There's more to it than that. Ray's watching my face, waiting for me to continue.

"All right, there's more to it than that," I say.

"Good. What is it?" He's pressing now.

I struggle for a minute, try to find words to give him what he's looking for, but finally, I just shake my head, look away from him. I hear him take a quick breath beside me, then I feel his hand on my chest.

"It comes from inside, right?" he says. "Not just your lungs. Deeper than that. Right?"

I feel the brand of each long finger, the weight of his palm. My heart kicks up to meet his touch. I wonder if he can feel that, feel the way my heart sped up.

"Here's where it starts," he says softly, and for a stolen, shocking second, I let myself think he means something very different.

"Right here," he says, pressing down on my chest. I think now he must be able to feel how fast I'm breathing, how hot I suddenly feel under my shirt. I feel like I'm drowning in touch, in warmth, in his quiet voice.

"Close your eyes," he says.

And now there's nothing to ground me, nothing to distract me from him.

"What do you hear?" he asks. I know he's asking about the music, still audible in the background, and I try to listen, because he asked me to. I hear words, something about putting your lights on, something about monsters under the bed. It's far away, indistinct.

I shake my head. He presses his hand against me again, harder. "What do you feel?"

I don't know what I expected from him, but it wasn't this…unmasking. He's burrowing under the surface, scraping at me. I don't think we're in step at all. I don't think he has any idea what he's asking of me.

When I try to move away, he holds me there, holds me with just his hand, with his knee against my leg. "Come on, Fraser, chill. Just…tell me."

No, I can't. I can't. I'm whispering it out loud, embarrassed, but apparently incapable of stopping.

I hear him sigh. I can't open my eyes. I don't want to see us, so close in the quiet light, the muted hush of the music dancing in the air.

"Fraser…" He's not going to let me give up. He doesn't give up; why should I?

"I…feel my heart…beat," I stutter out.

He pats me, twice. "Good. What else?"

"I can feel myself…breathing," I say, and it's a little easier this time.

There's a moment of quiet between songs, then a new one starts. Upbeat. Dark and light at the same time. A low voice rumbles out, overlays the beat.

Against my chest, Ray's hand moves, taps out the syncopation, the offbeat, and I realize he's matching the rhythm of my pulse. He's mirroring my heartbeat, showing it to me in his hand.

"Feel that?" he murmurs.

"Mmmm hmmmm," I murmur back, clenching my fists at my side to keep from covering his hand with mine.

"Where?" he asks, and he sounds closer than he was before.

Oh, God. Heat slithers down my chest, washes through my stomach, rushes into my groin—intense, unexpected. Undeniable.

"Everywhere," I gasp out.

He makes a soft noise in his throat. "Feel it in your fingers?"

I nod.

"Feel it in your legs?"

I let my head drop back onto the couch, feel my throat close up as I swallow.

His hand moves, slowly, down, down, down, and I'm stretching, giving him room. He stops just above the waistband of my uniform pants, presses down again, hard, low on my belly.

"Feel it here?"

Can't he tell? Doesn't he know? I'm seeing lights under my closed eyelids. I'm sweating. I'm hard. Just below where he's pushing against me, I'm hard. Two more inches and he won't have to ask. Two more inches and we'll both know.

Without knowing it, without wanting to, my hips hitch up. As soon as I feel it, I freeze, grasping for control, struggling for it, but his hand moves again. Not down, not where I need it, but over, reaching his arm around my waist, heavy on me.

"Feel that?" he asks, and then it doesn't seem to matter what my brain wants. My body takes over. My hips move again, and again, and again, strong, unchecked, thrusting up. I catch my lower lip between my teeth, trying not to moan, trying…


I hear his voice, hear him say my name. He wants my attention. He wants me to pull myself out of this swirling darkness, the heat, the pounding beat of my heart in my groin. He wants me to listen to him.

I open my eyes. Turn my head. He's looking straight at me. Not at his arm across my stomach, not at the disconcerting bulge in my crotch. He's looking at my face. I feel a bead of sweat drip down from my temple, feel my pulse in my cheekbones.

"That's rhythm," he says, and he sounds a little hoarse.

What? What?

I force my hips to still, try to think over the thunder of my heart in my ears. I don't know what he sees in my face, but he smiles at me.

"You gotta get out of your head, that's all. Your body gets it," he says. He thumps me on the head with a knuckle. "You're just living in the wrong place."


I've been living in the wrong place. I've been living in my mind, where I feel comfortable, and certain, instead of my body, which betrays me regularly. My body gets it, he tells me, and I can find nothing inside to contradict him.

I try to talk, choke on the words. I'm burning up. I feel that steady, rhythmic pulse in every inch of my body—the one he's still tapping out with his fingers on my side. I'm aware of my body in ways I never expected. It's nothing like the fumbling, desperate groping with Victoria, where my mind was so torn over what I was doing that my body could barely perform its required functions. It's nothing like that.

Instead, I feel energized everywhere, alive and focused. Turned on in all the possible variations of the phrase. I want to go under again, I want to let it sweep over me. I want to feel it from the inside out again. I want to let go again.

I want him to come with me this time.

I watch my hands reach for him as if they belong to someone else. I watch light come into his eyes, watch his face soften minutely. One of my hands goes behind his neck, pulling him to me. The other settles over his heart, where I can learn him, learn him where he lives.

It surprises me, how easy it is to bring his mouth down to mine. It's no effort at all. I tug him closer, turn him, settle him against me, line our hearts up to beat against each other, perfectly matched. Perfectly in rhythm. I'm flying inside, moving, singing like a bird.

I'm not sure what kind.

Maybe Ray can tell me.

Tell me later.

Right now it's plenty good enough to feel his mouth, hot and wet on mine, his tongue stroking in and out to the same beat as the music surging into my ears. I match it easily, smoothly. God, when it works, it's so easy. It's a miracle.

"That's it, that's right," he whispers into my mouth. "Just like that."

He approves. Dear Lord, he's with me on this. I let my eyes drift shut, let his heat curl around me, inside me, let him show me the tempo he wants, he likes. I'm quite certain that whatever rhythm he chooses will suit me fine.

He's pushing my shoulder, pushing me prone on the couch, and just that fast we're lying down and I'm taking his weight on top of me, holding his hips between my thighs, making room for his arms over mine. It's stunning to find myself here, with him, with so little effort, so few words. The distance from apart to together has always seemed almost insurmountable—a mountain riddled with slippery slopes and unexpected drops.

But not with Ray. With Ray, it's as natural as breathing. It's as regular as our balanced heartbeats. I want to tell him. I want him to know how amazing it is, how good. I pull my mouth away, hold him away, difficult as it is to do.

"Ray," I choke out, but he stops me, puts his mouth back on mine, kisses me hard.

"We're done with the talking part, Fraser," he says when he's finished.

I force my eyes to focus on his face. He's lit up, flushed, his smile a bright white flash in his face.

"There endeth the lesson?" I ask, and he just shakes his head at me.

"Whatever, Fraser," he says with another flashing grin, and brings his hands into play.

I can hardly hear the music anymore. It's submerged under the pounding of my pulse—I can feel it beating behind my eyes, between my legs, in my bottom lip, feel it speed up and slow down, depending on what he's doing. When he raises himself up enough to strip off his T-shirt and push his jeans and briefs below his hips, I think I feel my heart skip not just one, but two beats, then stutter back into rhythm, faster, harder.

He doesn't ask me to do the same. Instead, he just pulls up my shirt, tugs it above my ribs, then drops down and rubs himself against me until I groan, until I wrap my hands around his back and lunge up against him. I feel his fingers below my waist, opening my pants, pushing aside the placket, freeing me to the air.

I jerk at his first touch, at the feel of those long fingers moving on me, tentative at first, but with growing assurance.

"Feel that?" he whispers against my neck.

Oh, yes.

"Don't think about it," he murmurs. "Just feel it, okay?"

"I'll try," I manage to murmur back before I let the pleasure of it, the reality of it, wash over me. I can't tell my heartbeat from his anymore. His hips are moving now, gliding between my thighs, pressing his erection firmly against me, while his hand echoes the rhythm on me, and I feel myself lifting to him, meeting his thrusts with my own, slipping into the throbbing tattoo of his body on mine.

We're moving as one now, and it feels the way I imagine dancing must, when done right. When Ray does it. Pinned underneath him, moving my whole body with his, I feel light as air, open and full and…then his hand is moving faster, harder, sliding at just the right pace, in just the right place, and I hear myself moaning, hear him repeat the sound back to me, pitched lower…

Moaning back to me in harmony.

I tighten my hands on his back, pull him against me, holding onto him as if he's the only thing between me and oblivion, and I guess he is. His body, holding me down. His hand, holding me up.

"Come on, Fraser," he pants in my ear. "Let go."

So I do. I let go. I let his fingers push me over the edge, and I pull him with me when I go. I explode into his hand, still following his rhythm, even then. I feel him shudder against me, feel him pulsing against my hip, feel warm wetness seeping through the cloth.

Slowly, slowly, I catch my breath, feel my heart rate drop down to a safer level. He's heavy on me, boneless and hot. He's still holding me lightly in his hand, squeezing gently in our new slow rhythm.

It feels…wonderful.

He sighs against me, lifts his head, then smiles at me, and I feel that smile all over my body

"See? You did it," he says, propping himself up on an elbow so he can look down at me.

"I think you did it," I tell him.

"You loosened up good," he says, stroking softly, soothing me before he releases me. "Wasn't sure you could, you know? You're pretty stiff." I can't help it: I glance down our bodies, to where I am, in fact, no longer stiff, and he barks a laugh at me.

"You surprised me, Fraser," he says. "You're just a big old box of surprises."

I clear my throat. "I surprised myself, Ray."

It's hard to believe we're really here—aligned, in equilibrium. Attuned. I press my hands on his back, slide them back and forth, and when he slowly starts to move against me, I realize my hands have picked up the rhythm of the music still playing around us without my knowing it. Without my thinking about it. His grin delights me.

I close my eyes, concentrate on my hands sliding over the smooth skin of his back, and I feel…whole. It's not the music so much as him I feel down deep in my bones, solid and sure. We're breathing at the same pace now, synchronous and steady. And against my chest, I feel his fingers tapping lightly again. He can feel my pulse, I'm sure, reaching up for his hand. Reaching for him.

He's teaching me something I didn't know I could learn.

He's teaching me the rhythm of my heart.

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