Author's notes: My first story with a beginning, a middle, and an end! Those three things belong to me. However the characters of Benton Fraser and Ray Kowalski (and various and sundry others) belong to Alliance/Atlantis and the Pauls.

Spoilers for "The Ladies Man," "Mountie on the Bounty," and "Eclipse."

Thanks and thanks and more thanks to Carla and Christine for beta. And Christine gets one more "thank you" for acting as midwife at the birth of my first ever story.


"Touch and Go"
by Beth H.
(c) October 2000


" . . . okay? Something like this happens again, don't let me go off half-cocked, huh, Frase. Not that I need you to - hey, ya think that maybe when the paperwork's put to bed on this thing, we could . . . ."

Ray's erratically-paced narrative continues as it has done most of the afternoon, energetically jumping from topic to topic but always, always returning to the events of the past week.

" . . . that it worked. I still kinda can't believe it's over. Keep thinkin' that I'm gonna wake up and it's gonna be too late. You ever dream about stuff like that, Frase? You know, where . . . ."

At the station this morning, getting a start on the interminable paperwork associated with closing a case of this type, Ray's demeanor was professional and calm. However, since leaving the station at noon and returning with me to his apartment, his mood has transformed into a curious mixture of ebullience and sudden brief flashes of panic. Perhaps he cannot quite believe that his determination and dogged effort on behalf of Beth Botrelle has finally paid off. Nor does he seem able to remain seated for more than a minute or two at most, although his near-exhaustion is plainly written in his uncharacteristically awkward movements.

" . . . said she was okay. I know you told me I could . . . "

I watch his progress around the room and wonder when the recent lack of food and sleep will force him to rest. Steeling myself, I resist the impulse to play nursemaid and urge him to eat. Last night, when Ray broke down and wept in his car in front of the Botrelle home, the tentative comforting touch I tried to offer proved wholly ineffectual in stemming his sudden rush of tears. I wish I could find a way to be useful to him in some more practical fashion this afternoon.

Ray pauses and leans against the back of the couch on which I'm seated, brushing the knuckles of his hands against my shoulder blades as he does so. I question briefly whether I should lean back into his touch, but before I can determine whether the timing is right, the moment passes. Ray returns to his circuit of the livingroom until the muffled sound of his cell-phone rings from somewhere deep within the heap of jackets, bags, and papers he threw on his bed earlier. He mutters some comment I cannot quite make out and then grins at me over his shoulder as he goes in search of his phone.

At a time like this, I must question my own rarely-shaken belief in my powers of observation. How is it that I could have remained so long blind to the depth and degree of Ray's affection for me? The signs were there from the outset of our admittedly unorthodox partnership, and had I only opened my eyes to what now seems so very obvious, I have no doubt but that I would have seen them for myself.

When I refer to signs of his regard, I do not include such things as Ray's willingness to risk his life for me, something which he demonstrated from the very start. Ray is a fine police officer, and despite his early protestations that he would not risk his "neck for anybody," I have come to believe that his deep sense of duty and honor will always demand nothing less than full acceptance of his sworn promise to protect and to serve.

Nor do I wish to suggest that it is simply the amount of time Ray has spent in my company over these past months which has indicated to me that he feels something deeper than the closeness which I have learned can arise with a good partner and friend. The truth is that neither partnership nor friendship are concepts with which I have had a great deal of personal familiarity in my life, and I believe I have Ray Vecchio to thank for helping to teach me that I am still capable of forging a lasting relationship with someone other than a deaf wolf. For some time, despite ample evidence to the contrary, I naturally assumed that Ray Kowalski's primary motivation in spending time with me on and off duty was due to the nature of his undercover assignment, yet I have slowly come to be disabused of that notion.

Instead, there is something in the way Ray reaches out to me with both his heart and his hands that drove me to reappraise the nature of our relationship and to realize that I, too, share Ray's feelings. It is true that neither he nor I have taken any active steps to change our partnership to one of a more . . . intimate nature, but I believe this change will come soon, and I am certain that Ray believes this as well, for all of his actions point to a desire for more intimacy. Almost before I had discovered anything so basic about Ray as his real name, he afforded me a glimpse of the vulnerability that lives just below his prickly surface, and since that long-ago day in the crypt, I have noted an increasing reluctance on Ray's part to bury any of his true self underground, at least where I am concerned.

Recently, I have made a great effort to respond in kind, but my lack of any sustained experience in this area makes expressing myself on an emotional level extremely difficult, even with Ray. It seems that far too often my attempts to open myself to my partner fall somewhat flat, and what begins life as self- revelation tends to end up as a rather impersonal anecdote - something from what Ray laughingly calls my anthology of caribou stories. Lately, however, I believe I have started to learn how to share something of my inner self with him, as Ray shares his with me.

" . . . want a drink, Fraser? I'm gonna go put some water on . . . ."

Perhaps part of the reason it took me so long to recognize that Ray's feelings were engaged is because the typical American style of interpersonal communication - at least among the people I have met during my time in Chicago - is still something quite alien to my nature. Instant familiarity and casual embraces seem to be the rule here, rather than the exception, even among the merest of acquaintances. Ray touches me frequently, but so do many other individuals in this city, so it took me some time to understand that his touch signaled something more meaningful.

I share the same need for simple human contact as other people do, yet I find this need hard to convey, and my innate emotional reserve has always proved disconcerting to those around me. I recall that even as a small child I drew back slightly from physical contact, even from the rare embraces of my grandparents, the result of which was that these embraces became less and less frequent in my life. I have always believed that both my grandmother and my grandfather cared for me, and I have no doubt whatsoever that in distancing themselves from me physically, my grandparents believed that they were giving me what I needed and wanted. Yet sometimes I hungered for them to just ignore what they believed they knew about me and simply take me in their arms.

Ray, though, opened his arms to me on the first day we met. I do, of course, understand that he was doing no more than playing a role at that time, but his arms have remained open from that day. How strange it is that even before Ray and I have actually discussed the nature of our feelings, I should already have found more much-needed affection in the person of a Chicago police detective than I ever found in my family or the friends of my youth.

Not even Ray can keep his slightly disjointed monologue going indefinitely, although up until this point he has seemed content with my occasional interjections of "ah" and "hmm." It comes as something of a welcome surprise that Ray has so quickly learned to interpret my evidently peculiar responses to a degree even Ray Vecchio never quite managed. Ray appears to understand that I am not, this day, challenging or questioning his words, but merely attempting to acknowledge his feelings about the case and to provide him with some encouragement to continue making sense of his still turbulent thoughts.

The whistle of the kettle on the burner in the kitchen coincides with one of his rare silences. Ray has given up pacing back and forth across the room and has finally sat down, so I automatically rise from the couch to go and prepare something warm for both of us to drink.

"Hey, Frase, you don't have to . . . I mean, I know I've been talkin' yer ear off for hours." Ray makes an effort to push himself back off the couch. "The least I can do is make you something."

"Don't be silly, Ray. I am perfectly capable of finding my way around your kitchen." As if needing to demonstrate my foraging abilities, I reach into the back of his cabinet and triumphantly draw out two slightly dusty coffee mugs, one bearing the cartoon image of Bugs Bunny and the other of Elmer Fudd. "Sit, Ray. Everything will be fine in here."

"Yeah? Okay, then."

I watch out of the corner of my eye as Ray sinks back tiredly into the cushions, and I feel an almost embarrassing rush of tenderness. Although I rarely wear my heart on my sleeve, I know my own weaknesses where emotions are concerned, only too well. My affections have been given foolishly in the past, but this time, the sense of rightness and certainty that Ray feels what I feel is so strong that there remains no room for doubt.

By this time, Ray has stopped talking entirely, but he has come to join me as I finish preparing the drinks. The tension I could sense in him earlier seems to have disappeared; he has abandoned the stiff posture he wore like a shield through this very difficult week and has once again adopted his more habitual slouch. Ray leans his hip against the kitchen doorframe, blocking my way back to the livingroom.

The sun has just set, and most of the lamps have yet to be switched on for the evening. The only light in the apartment is provided by a single small table lamp in Ray's livingroom, but this provides relatively little by way of illumination. Ray is backlit by the lamp so that I, even with my excellent vision, initially see little of his features. Instead the light wraps his body in a soft glow. I smile at the picture this sight presents, and I can see Ray return the smile, tilting his head slightly as he does so.

Increasing warmth against my fingers reminds me that I am still holding our freshly-made drinks, his coffee and my tea. I turn slightly and place the steaming mugs on the kitchen counter, and then I move forward, closing the gap between myself and Ray. I don't know where I finally find the courage, but the timing, the mood, the setting could not be more right. Tilting my head until it is in perfect counterbalance to his own, I lift my hands and trail my fingers lightly down Ray's cheeks. When they come to rest, cupping his beautiful face in their palms, I lean in, close my eyes, and touch my lips to his lips for the first time since that day on the Henry Allen.

Almost undone by the sheer joy of finally sharing our breath in love, I deepen the pressure of my mouth against his and flick my tongue out to nudge it against Ray's teeth, sure it will find entry. However, Ray is strangely still.

I pull back slowly from the kiss and open my eyes.

I see no hint of any of those things I had so foolishly come to believe I would see in Ray's face at this moment. No relief. No contentment. No excitement. No joy. Instead, I see only a slowly dawning understanding and the merest touch of pity on Ray's countenance directed at me, his partner, who has clearly misread each and every sign from the start.

Ill at ease as I have never before felt with Ray, even on the day we first met, I force myself to keep my own face from registering the extent of my humiliation, wanting desperately to believe that masking the resultant emotion will somehow erase the fact of its origin. I am aware of that brief instant when my tongue darts out to moisten my dry lips, but in that usually comforting action I find no relief. My lips taste bitter, as if this freshly burning shame is already leaving layer upon layer of ashes as it moves swiftly through my body.

To his credit, Ray has not allowed the shock he must surely now be feeling to breach his surface calm and explode in a display of anger. However, perhaps the uncharacteristic stillness and silence is, in fact, the calm before the storm, for the truth is that although he has yet to move at all, an almost palpable tension radiates from his body. Finally, however, Ray's innate energy takes over and impels movement. The fingers of Ray's right hand curl inward as he begins to raise his arm, and I am ashamed to confess I instinctively take a half step backward in self defense. But of course Ray has no intention of hitting me. His hand continues on its path until it reaches a habitual spot near his mouth, thumb pressed slightly against his lower lip. Ray reaches across his stomach with his left hand to support his right elbow, moves backward two steps, and stands like this for a second or two, still saying nothing.

Breaking into the silence is a rapid staccato beat, the sound growing increasingly louder in my ears as the moments pass, and I belatedly recognize the sound as my own accelerating heartbeat. If Ray will not or cannot speak, then I must. Amends must be made, somehow, if I am to salvage any shred of this partnership. This friendship. I draw as deep a breath as I possibly can from my suddenly aching lungs and speak.


I find I can manage only this single word.

"So, Fraser," Ray begins, slowly and more gently than I deserve. "What was that? Some kind of Canadian thing?"

I close my eyes for an instant, trying to provide some relief for the unusual stinging sensation that the sound of his careful words engenders. "It was a kiss, Ray."

"Yeah, I figured that much. I mean . . . like buddy breathing? Or . . . like something else?"

Only honesty will serve. "Not like buddy breathing. I thought . . . ." I pause, searching fruitlessly for the right words.

"What did you think, Frase?" Still that same odd gentleness in his voice; I can feel my control start to slip away.

"I thought . . . we've been so . . . your touches, Ray. They . . . I came to believe that they meant something. That . . . that they meant something more than you . . . . I see that I was wrong."


"No, Ray, please don't say anything." I cannot meet his gaze. My hands start to tremble slightly, needing to hold something to still their motion. I move forward awkwardly, careful to avoid touching Ray as I do so, and my eyes dart frantically about the livingroom until they settle on my Stetson, which is still resting on the speaker where Ray is accustomed to place it. Walking briskly across the room, I take my hat and grasp it tightly in my hands. "I am sorry, Ray."

All thoughts of explaining myself further - for Ray's sake as much as my own - disappear in the midst of my rapidly growing anxiety. I walk out the door and head for the relative safety of the Consulate before he or I can say another word.

* * *

Fraser still isn't talking.

Words are coming out of his mouth - "Yes, Ray." "No, Ray." "Three bags full, Ray." - but he's not really saying anything, not like before . . . before whatever the hell it was that happened at my place last week.

Before the kiss.

Except for a couple days when I didn't see him or hear from him at all, Fraser's been coming down to the station like he always did, but these days, even when he's sitting at my desk like he's doing now, he's got that frozen-in-place, sentry-duty thing going on: feet planted firmly on the floor, shoulders back, eyes straight ahead. Might as well be standing guard outside the Consulate as here at the station.

I take a step closer, trying to get a look at the file he's called up from the CPD database, and he flinches like I'm gonna pop him or something if we get too close. Or maybe it's not a flinch, exactly, but whatever it is, he's making damn sure that foot-wide gap between us doesn't narrow.

Some perverse side of my nature forces me to test the waters a little, so I brush up against his shoulder with my hip. The back of his neck flushes. I can tell he's uncomfortable having me hovering over him, and it doesn't take more than a couple seconds before he stands, clutching my notebook to his chest.

"I'm going downstairs to speak with Sergeant McKellar, if that's all right with you, Ray. Perhaps he has been able to locate the whereabouts of the missing Parker file."

"Knock yerself out, Fraser. You get anything from McKellar, I'll be here sparring with the computer."

He glances over at the antiquated machine that sits on my desk and says stiffly, "Of course, if you need my assistance with something of a technical nature, I can put off going to . . . ."

"Nah, go on."

The look of relief on his face as he walks away from me is so obvious I can't believe the whole squad room don't notice, but everyone's minding their own business for once.

Except I can't ignore it anymore. Half the time, it's like the guy can't stand being around me, and it's starting to piss me off.

I'm not the one who did anything wrong.

I sigh and drop heavily into the chair Fraser's just vacated. There's a lingering warmth there, probably something to do with that extra layer of sub-something fat he's always talking about. Could probably use a layer of that myself; maybe you grow it if you live in the Territories long enough?

I shake my head and try to get back to the work in front of me. The information up on the computer's probably important - hardly ever known Fraser to get any info that wasn't - but everything's sort of a blur on the monitor, and I can't get my eyes to focus.


Okay . . . so he didn't do anything wrong, either.

* * *

Hard to believe I'm still chewing on that same thought three days later, but it probably makes some kind of screwed-up sense that this Fraser thing is running around my head like a hamster on a wheel.

It's like in that book that my mom made me read when I was a kid because she liked it when she was a kid, sort of like the way they always make you go put a sweater on when they're the ones who are cold. Anyway, in this book - Through the Looking Glass - there was this thing that I memorized when I had to recite something for school. This girl, Alice, is being dragged all over the place by the Red Queen from a chess set. They're running and running, and Alice can't figure out why they're not getting anywhere, until the Queen says, "here . . . it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run twice as fast as that."

Right now, I got that running-in-place thing going with Fraser, and I know the reason I'm not getting anywhere is 'cause he ain't budging an inch.

I swear, Benton Fraser is the stubbornest thing I've ever met in my life, and that's including Stella. I've been waiting for him to say something - anything - about how come he kissed me and then left me hangin'. I'm no Supreme Court justice, but even I can recognize kissing-with-intent, especially when it's a Mountie planting one on me. Fraser meant it, all right. But it's been over a week and he hasn't said anything. For about a minute I could've sworn he thought I didn't want him, but now, well . . . I don't know. Maybe he's figuring the kiss wasn't up to Mountie standards or something, and if he don't talk about it, it'll go away. And you know, that's sort of pissing me off, too. What? The kiss sucked that bad?

Okay, maybe it did suck that bad; maybe I need a refresher course. I know I haven't been so turned on by a guy since those make-out sessions with Danny Kessel during my Academy days, and that was before me and Stella got married.

But it sure don't look like a Fraser refresher course is gonna happen anytime soon, especially if he keeps giving me the silent treatment instead of talking everything to death like usual. Every time I get even a little close to pushing at him about that day, he puts on that blank Mountie stare and acts like he don't know what I'm talking about, or worse, he waits until my back is turned and does a vanishing act.

Take today. Things had been going pretty good. I mean, he wasn't looking like he was gonna pass out every time I opened my mouth to talk to him. Some kind of improvement, right? So I kinda forget for a minute that we got this alternate universe thing going, and I ask him if he wants to come over after work and watch the game. Okay, maybe a few vague thoughts having to do with a little replay of that kiss are whirring around somewhere in my brain, but I'm not showing it. Don't want to spook him.

Anyway, you never seen a guy work so hard to come up with some bullshit story. I'm hearing something about tribal elders and beavers and ice floes and I don't know what-the-fuck else. Yeah, Fraser's starting to sweat a little as his story gets to the finish line, but it still sounds just weird enough to be true.

Except I'd run into Turnbull this morning, and he was practically salivating over the fact that the Consulate was closing down this afternoon for a long weekend and he was going up to Windsor to play for the RCMP Curling Team at a bonspiel and did I know what Constable Fraser's plans were because he'd invited him to come and cheer on the side, and perhaps I too would find it an enjoyable experience and . . . yap, yap, yap. I mean, good for Turnbull, but the upshot of the whole deal is that there ain't no Consular duties for the next four days.

Which means Fraser lied, and that's even weirder than the story he told.

Anyway, about five minutes after I ask Fraser over to my place, he starts making noises about remembering he has to pick something up for Dief and that he'd only be a minute. That was over an hour ago, and I haven't seen him since.

I figure he must've done a runner, and I've resigned myself to spending the rest of the day working on a stack of boring paperwork alone, when out of the corner of my eye I see a flash of bright red. It's gotta be him, right? I keep my eyes down on the case file in front of me . . . don't want to freak him out again by getting in his face too soon

I look up casual-like, magnum . . . um . . . magnanimously intending to hold off interrogating him about where he went for at least thirty seconds.


When did Stella start wearing bright red suits?

"Hi, Stella."


"No, what? I haven't asked you anything."

"Just a little long-range planning, Ray. Like building a fallout shelter." Stella says over her shoulder as she passes by my desk and heads for Welsh's office.

"Ha ha. Yer such a wit, Stella," I call after her, but the door to the lieutenant's office has already been shut.

That's great. I got nothing but doors slamming in my face these days.

* * *

By the time Welsh and Stella are done talking, I'm actually getting some real work done and don't even notice Stella until she sits down on the edge of my desk. I look up, but don't say anything. Don't want to get my head bit off again.

"I'm sorry, Ray." Stella reaches out and covers my hand with her own. "I really don't know why I act like such a bitch around you so often."

"You know what they say, Stella . . . you only hurt the ones you love."

"Ray," Stella begins, "I don't . . . ." I just grin at her, and finally she laughs, still holding my hand.

And that's when Fraser decides to come back to the station.

I must've been watching for his return 'cause I notice as soon as he walks in the door. I see him out of the corner of my eye, just standing there, and I don't know how I know, but I just know that the only thing Fraser's taking in is the scene at my desk - me sitting with Stella, holding hands and laughing - and just as quick, he's back out the door.

All right, this is getting ridiculous. I grab my jacket, and start after him.

"Ray? What is it? Where are you going?"

Wow. Forgot all about her. I force myself to stop for a second and say, "Sorry Stella, gotta run. Got an emergency I just remembered I gotta take care of."

"You forgot you had an emergency, Ray?"

"Yeah, well, you know me, mind like a . . . " I trail off, still looking at the door. Maybe if I get out of here fast enough, I'll catch up with Fraser.

"Go, Ray," Stella sighs, and I do.

* * *

Of course, there's no sign of Fraser when I get out of the building.

I check Welcome Waggin', the pet supply store Fraser sometimes goes to, just in case he really did have to get something for Dief, but they say they haven't seen him all week.

Okay . . . where else could he be? Come on, detective: detect, already.

I head back to the station, planning to stay just long enough to let Lieutenant Welsh know I'm leaving for the day. Stella's back in Welsh's office, some files spread out on the lieutenant's desk, but it don't look like they're talking about any of her cases.

I knock on Welsh's door, and Stella looks up first. "Emergency over, Ray?"

I shuffle my feet slightly and look at the floor. "Yeah, well, not . . . um . . . not completely . . . um . . . no." One of these days I'm not going to revert to being a twelve year old when I'm around Stella.

Welsh glances quickly at Stella, then looks back at me. "This department prides itself on finding solutions to emergency situations, detective. So may I take this opportunity to encourage you to take care of your . . . emergency. And may I suggest further that toward this end you might find it useful to liaise with Constable Fraser, who I am given to understand has just walked into the Canadian Consulate."


"Constable Turnbull just called, looking for you, Kowalski." Both Stella and I jump a bit at Welsh's use of my real name. "He was saying something about Constable Fraser not looking quite the thing, which I believe is Canadian for looking like crap . . . and expressing some concern that he would not be able to aid the Constable as he was setting off to attend some Mountie . . . well, honestly, I stopped listening at that point."

Welsh gets up from behind his desk and pats my shoulder. "Run along, detective. Go take care of your emergency."

* * *

I pull up in front of the Consulate and park the GTO. The car's already locked and my keys are pocketed when I hear that voice start in my head: "You know, Ray, this spot is . . . ." Shit. Now I'm getting legal advice from Fraser even when he's not around.

Get back in the car, drive two blocks down, park the car again . . . legally, slam the door behind me. There, you satisfied now, Mountie?

Walking back to the Consulate, it hits me that I'm not even sure what I'm doing here. I mean, what am I gonna say to the guy? "Hey, Frase, how ya doin'? So, you wanna be my boyfriend?" Yeah, that's going to go over real good. Don't even know if he wanted more than just that one kiss and I'm already thinkin' about going steady with the guy. Maybe I am twelve years old.

The Consulate door looms up in front of me, and . . . weird . . . I'm feeling kind of shaky. Enough that I almost turn around and go back to the car. But I stand my ground; one of us has to make a move here, and it doesn't look like it's gonna be him.

It's quiet inside. The only sound I hear is the steady tick of the hall clock counting off the seconds.

The door to Fraser's office is open, but no lights are on inside, and I wonder if maybe he's gone. Then I hear the soft whine of Dief from somewhere in the darkened room, and I walk in.

Diefenbaker pads over to greet me, pushing his muzzle up into my hand, and I lean down a little to scratch behind his ears. When I straighten up and switch on the overhead light, Dief slinks off to hide under the desk.

"Don't, Ray."

I turn to the sound of Fraser's voice. His uniform exchanged for jeans and an old cream-colored sweater with a tear in the neck, Fraser is facing away from me, leaning against the top of his file cabinet.

"Don't what, Frase? Don't turn on the light . . . or don't be here at all? 'Cause I gotta tell you, whatever's been going on between us, well . . . it ain't buddies." I'm getting mad now. "You want me to fuck off, tell me and I will. But I can't keep playing this game of yours when you're not even telling me the rules."

Fraser's shoulders stiffen. "There's no game, Ray."

"Well what is it then? Dammit, Fraser!" I'm almost yelling by this point. "If all this weirdness is because you think the kiss was lousy, then say something. Or tell me if it's something else. I'm not a damned mind reader."

"It's not . . . it's . . . " His voice sounds scratchy, tired.

"What? What is it? Come on . . . tell me." I walk across the room until I'm standing just behind him and take hold of his shoulders. "Come on, Frase. Talk. Maybe whatever it is ain't that big a deal."

Fraser whirls around abruptly, ashen faced. "It is. It is that 'big a deal' to me, dammit!" he barks out, voice suddenly thick with tears, then lowers his head and wraps his arms around his chest.

In six seconds flat, I've gone from almost wanting to deck the guy to wanting to hug him. I reach out hesitantly and push at Fraser's forehead, tilting his face up toward mine, but he still won't look at me.

"Hey," I whisper, "It's a big deal to me, too."

Tears slip out from beneath his lowered eyelids, and when he doesn't make a move to wipe them away, I do. My hands come up, almost of their own volition, and my thumbs brush softly across his cheeks.

Finally, shaking slightly, eyes red-rimmed, Fraser meets my gaze. I reach out, wanting nothing more than to hold him, but before I can touch him, he pulls back. His face instantly turns into a mask, expressionless - nothing to read there - and his shoulders are drawn back and stiff. Almost everything about the way Fraser looks right now says "hands off."


So what's the deal? He's okay now? Doesn't really want me to touch him? Doesn't want me? Maybe me thinking he did is just another example in a long line of Kowalski relationship screw-ups.

The thought's barely crossed my mind when I wonder how the hell this became all about me so fast. It was supposed to be about Fraser.

Fraser was crying, for fuck's sake. Fraser never cries. Now me, I can cry over anything, just not so anyone else can see . . .

. . . and then I know.

I move closer to him. Once again, I reach out to him, and once again he stiffens at my touch.

But this time I'm not letting him go.

* * *

Ray's arms are curled loosely around my back, hands sliding lightly over my shoulder blades across the top of my thick cable sweater - so lightly I can barely feel it, then over the edge of my collar . . . touching my skin. My skin burns where his fingers touch.

Again I pull back, the old instinct to break free such a strong one, but my body will not cooperate. I cannot break free. His hands are so gentle on my neck, my face . . . so damned gentle. He's barely touching me, and I still cannot break free. I have wanted his touch for so long, but not like this . . . not in pity. I want . . . .

I don't know what I want.

Then Ray takes his hands away from me.

And that's all it takes, such a little thing . . . such a little thing and I know what I want, what I need. I need Ray. I need him. God, I need him. My chest hurts.

I cannot move.


I wet my lips to reply, but can find no words.


And all at once, Ray takes me again in his arms, holds me, tightens the embrace, his right hand snakes up, fingers burying themselves in my hair, drawing me to him.

God. This feels so good, so right . . . just to be held by this man.

Then it is no longer enough to be held, but I must hold Ray as well. I enfold him in my arms, close the space between us, brush my lips against his chin. I press harder, tracing Ray's jaw line with my mouth, needing to feel the sharp rasp of beard stubble scraping against my lips. Ray tightens his own embrace, twists his head around to join his mouth to mine . . .

. . . and a breath I think I have been holding for more than thirty years is released.

* * *

I am not at all certain how much time has passed, but I do know that at some point, Ray has steered me out into the hallway. We sit down on the stairs, Ray's arm wrapped around my shoulders.

Diefenbaker emerges from my office and trots over to Ray's side. He rests his head on Ray's knee and stares up at me with a reproachful expression. I fear it will be quite some time before Diefenbaker allows me to forget my recent behavior.

Too tired suddenly for any contest so draining as matching stares with a wolf, I concede temporary victory to Diefenbaker and drop my head slightly. Ray chuckles, and I can feel his fingers brush against my neck, then bury themselves in my hair and start to rub the back of my head. I glance up to see Ray's other hand occupied with ruffling the fur behind Diefenbaker's ears.

"Okay, Frase, up and at 'em," says Ray, tugging gently at my belt loops and pulling me up with him. He nods in the direction of the door, where Dief is now waiting. "Looks like the wolf's got the right idea. Let's get out of here."

"Ray, shouldn't we discuss . . . " I start, but before I can complete my sentence, Ray's mouth is back on mine, effectively driving all thoughts of speech from my mind.

Still holding me in his arms, Ray drags his mouth away from mine and rolls his eyes. "Okay, here's a discussion topic." Immediately he begins nibbling at my bottom lip, then says, "You like the subject so far, Mountie?"

I do.

* * *

Three o'clock in the morning, and still sleep will not come, yet I am oddly content just lying awake here in Ray's bed . . . in Ray's arms. I shift slightly and Ray turns with me, matching his movements to mine even in sleep, and not even the sharp memory of my childish behavior these past days can erase this almost overwhelming feeling of happiness.

After arriving at Ray's apartment, we talked for hours this evening, Ray and I, really talked for the first time in weeks - or maybe for the first time ever, I am not certain which. And yet we both acknowledge there is still so much more to be said, so much more that cannot yet be put into words.

Perhaps there will never be enough time to say all the words we need to say to each other. Never enough time to simply hold each other. To love each other.

But we have made a start.

* * *

Chit chat, Critiques, Gratuitous Praise: Beth H

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