Just a Minute of Your Time

"Damn, damn, damn."

The thunk of a fist striking semi-flexible metal followed the muttered curse. Life wasn't fair. That was something he'd known most of his life, but periodically he forgot- whenever life seemed *really* good, there'd he go forgetting that Life Wasn't Fair and he'd start expecting things again. Last time it was the stain cleaned out of his best black jacket-- cleaned out with a pair of scissors apparently. Now it was the fumbled footed way he'd tried and failed to casually ask his best friend out.

Not *out* out, although he'd admit that would be nice too. But just out, to do whatever it was two guys found worth doing in Chicago in the middle of summer. It was the first day in two weeks that he and Fraser had had compatible schedules, and he'd jumped on the chance to do something *fun* with his friend for a change. Not work, not a case that dropped out of the sky and distracted them from what he seemed to recall was termed "relaxing". He just wanted a few hours to kick back and laze about someplace airconditioned.. and Benny wasn't free.

"I'm sorry Ray," he could hear that voice, its carefully measured tones sounding as if he truly were sorry and yet also wasn't. "But I did promise to be at the youth center all afternoon."

Something to do with kids in trouble, Ray didn't know exactly what-- but knowing Fraser it was something noble and worthwhile. He hadn't asked, didn't want to risk being talked into spending his free weekend with Benny doing something helpful, sincere, and charitable-- because those things always involved a hell of a lot of work. It also tended to involve watching Benny devote his energy and attention to what should have remained total strangers. In the time Ray had known Fraser, he had learned to forgive a lot. But asking him to watch his best friend devote himself to those strangers was asking nearly more than he could give. Fraser focused his energy on lending a helping hand to those in need.. never seeming to notice the need which walked beside him. Ray knew he couldn't put himself through that today.

Not that he was crazy about spending the afternoon in any of the other ways he could have chosen. Taking his mother shopping? No thanks. Frannie's bailiwick and she was welcome to it. Poker game? All his gaming buddies were still on the day shift. Pool at Marco's? In the afternoon, you had to be kidding.

Ray sighed. Surely his life hadn't become so encapsulated that he couldn't amuse himself for five hours without the help of a Mountie. There *were* plenty of things to be done, actually. More than enough chores around the house that even he wanted taken care of. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that he was heartsick over wanting to be with Fraser and not quite able to do without. Now he couldn't do with, either. He leaned back against the hood of the Riv and stared at Fraser's apartment building. Dirty, ugly, stinking place it was, and he vented some of his frustration at the unyeilding facade. Unfairly, he might have admitted, for with the cleaning and decorating of the interior had come a change of the exterior as well. Something not quite definable, unless it was simply the attitude of people who were happy with their home and glad to call it so.

How the hell concrete walls could reflect something like that was beyond him. He didn't really care, anyway. It was a stupid building.. even if it *did*, by virtue of its location, give him an excuse to see Benny a lot more often than he might have. Driving Benny to work whenever he could grab the chance had become one of the little highlights of his life.

Little highlights. Had it come to this? Ray shook his head. 'Go home, Vecchio. Repaint the garage or something.' He pushed himself away from the car, and without glancing back towards the front entrance-- as if hoping Fraser would do something totally out of character and change his mind and spend the day goofing off, walked around to the driver's side door. He never heard the screech of tires and blaring of Chicago style horns.

Dief was apparently hiding under the bed. Fraser knelt down and pulled up the blanket, peering into the darkness. Bright unrepentant eyes stared back. "Diefenbaker come out of there right now!"

The wolf ignored the stern command.

"I told you, we are *not* going to the Senior Citizen's Center. This is the youth center, and no one--"

The news was apparently worse, for Dief turned and ducked his head between his paws. Fraser sighed at this sight of lupine 'if I can't see it it doesn't exist' stubbornness and shook his head. "Don't think you can get out of your duties so easy every time." He let the blanket drop, knowing from experience that extracting a wolf from under a bed was generally more trouble than it was worth. Since he refused to resort to bribery, he was left with leaving Dief behind.

Standing, he tugged at his shirt to straighten it and reached over for his jacket. First Ray, now Dief-- for a moment he considered that his friend (the human one) had been responsible for corrupting what had once been a duty-conscious member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Then his brow furled. No, to be honest Dief had never been completely duty-conscious. It was only that in order to survive in the wilderness one had to be rather more stringent. Here in the wilds of civilisation, Dief's true nature was coming to the fore.

Just what he needed. He'd feared that city would change them, and now it looked as though it was-- insidiously and decisively, and Fraser felt unable to affect it. Where Dief was concerned, the changes were probably ultimately harmless. What he feared, though, were the changes in himself.

He tried to ignore the impulses, and stood ever more firmly on his ground, doing and being just exactly what he'd always set out for himself to be. Usually he found no difficulty in it, for although the city did not seem to be exactly the sort of place for a man like him, he found that often as not the city could change around him, molding itself to fit against his staunch barriers. Those changes were good-- the people he helped could attest to that. One need only look at the very place he lived, to see the positive effects of a little northern-bred inculcation.

It was the times when the city refused, and insinuated itself into his soul that worried him. Those times when he found himself fighting back the impulses to ignore those around him, or forget for the moment his purposes here, those times when all he wanted was to call in sick and take the day to enjoy himself, for himself, and no one else. Not laziness, that he didn't fear. But something.. simply looser than he was. Than he wanted to be.

Take today, for instance. He'd made promises to spend the day teaching some of the local youths the finer points of the game of hockey. Inline skates and a basketball court made it a suitable activity for the middle of summer. He'd spoken with the center director only last week, confirming their plans and although the regular recreation director would be on hand to coach, Fraser had a responsibilty to be there. Then Ray showed up, finally with a day off at the same time as he, wanting to while away the afternoon.

"We could do anything, Frase," the man's tones smoothly easing their way into his plans. "We could go to Shedd's-- it's a really cool aquarium, used to go there all the time when I was a teenager. Or we can go down to Andersonville to the Swedish bakery-- research, you know? Never know when the Dragon Lady will send you out for something weird." Ray had rattled on, listing places they could go for candy, pastries, even an offer of a museum-- the International Cinema Museum.

At the time Fraser hadn't thought much of the offers, thinking that Ray was simply so glad to have a day off that he was jubilantly chattering. Now, though, as he recalled his friend's face when he had begged off, citing promises made and duties to be kept, he wondered what else had been behind the offers. Museums? Gourmet food shops? Aquariums? Suddenly he saw that none was very much like Ray's typical day-off fare, unless only peripherally. Then there was the disappointment-- obvious, and Ray hadn't done much to try to hide it. But he hadn't pushed Fraser very hard to change his mind. Not after the first ten minutes, anyway. But the look in his eyes when he realised Fraser wouldn't be swayed, had been more than disappointment.

He wasn't exactly sure what it had been, but it had made-- was still making, him regret saying no. He fastened his jacket and shook his head. Whatever it was there was no doubt the man would tell him about it sooner or later. Ray was never one for stewing in silence, and Fraser knew that eventually he'd hear every last bit of whatever it was he had done. Then he'd apologise, make an offer of his own, and all would be forgiven and forgotten. Nothing really, to worry about.

He hit the door running when he heard the screech of tires and slamming of metal.

Ray slowly opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. What had he been saying earlier about life not being fair? With a groan, he put an arm over his face. What had he ever done to deserve this?

His Riv now had a crumpled rear fender-- 'crumpled' was probably a polite term for the folds of metal now occupying a tenth of the space nature had originally intended. The Chicago DMV was now apparently issuing licenses to the blind, for there was no other way to explain the truck which had swerved only at the last minute to avoid a stalled delivery van. Swerved right into his car.. 'into' being the operative word. Not 'against'. Into. He'd been staring in shock at the damage when Fraser had come up beside him, asking him if he was ok.

He'd barely nodded, then pointed to his car when Fraser was gone, headed for the truck to check on the driver. He'd been fine, at least until Ray'd pulled out his badge.

Now Ray was home, too upset to consider amusing himself alone for the day. Although what had possessed him to turn down Benny's offer to go with him to the garage... 'Didn't argue too much, though, did you Benny? Just offering to help, weren't you, just being polite.' He rolled over and buried his face in the pillow. It was really proving to be one hell of a day. Maybe tomorrow would be better. Maybe the blind idiot would have insurance enough to pay for the repairs. Maybe Benny would have time to meet him for lunch. Maybe Frannie would finally get her sweaters out of the bathroom. Maybe he'd sleep through until Wednesday...

The woods was quiet, at least to a city boy. He could hear birds, faraway animals, the slight brush of the breeze against the leaves. Ray smiled, looking over at his companion still sitting on the blanket they'd spread for the picnic. He leaned up against a tree, feeling its rough bark press against his back through the light jacket he wore.

Fraser glanced over, and saw the dreamy smile. He stood up, and walked over. "Enjoying yourself, Ray?" His tone was casual, calm, beautiful as ever, Ray noted.

"Yeah.. " He leaned his head back against the trunk of the tree, watching as Benny moved closer, enjoying the sight of the mountie out of uniform- although Ray would be quick to admit, he'd prefer the mountie *out of uniform*. He grinned, and wondered what Fraser would say to the suggestion. "This was a great idea."

"But?" Benny tilted his head slightly at the questing tone, knowing it meant there was still something missing.

Ray stretched, looking up at the canopy of branches, glancing around to make sure that no one but he and Benny were in attendance. Then he looked Benny directly in the eye and said, "I haven't had dessert yet."

For a moment Benny stared at his friend, Ray knew he was thinking that of course he had, the pastries though store bought had been excellent- most of them even escaping Dief's eager jaws. Then he must have interpreted the gleam in Ray's eyes, and realised what exactly he meant. "Oh," he half-nodded, and stepped a little closer, now within easy reach but still with his hands loosely at his sides. "I see."

Ray grinned, having seen that moment of confusion and wondering if Benny would *ever* get with the program. But now everything was great, and in a moment or two he'd be getting his just desserts. He brought his hand up to lightly caress Benny's arm. The sweater bunched beneath his fingers and he found skin. He wanted to pull him closer, but instead he waited, letting Fraser take the lead.

The mountie took a half-step forward and kissed him, leaning his body against Ray's and pressing him against the tree. Ray was glad he'd thought to breathe, as Benny plundered his mouth like a certain wolf going after pizza. His lips, tongue, teeth and cheeks were nibbled, sucked, and caressed and all Ray could do was remain still and let it happen. He held on, wrapping his arms around his lover's waist and feeling the delicious warmth of his body pushing against him.

He gasped for air when Fraser leaned away, giving them both respite. The aroma of fresh air and dirt and pine filled him, tinged as it was with the scent of Fraser, so close, coming at him again for another kiss. Ray gave his mouth up again, letting Benny do as he wished. He suspected his legs wouldn't have held him had it not been for Fraser and the tree to hold him. He felt himself shiver as Fraser's hands began moving at his chest, pushing clothing up out of the way.

Fraser's mouth left his and he felt lips on his chest, kissing and nibbling with the same devouring ferocity. Ray closed his eyes, hands on Benny's shoulders to guide him, hold himself up. He reminded himself to breathe, although the first breath became a gasp as he felt Ben's fingers working at the buttons of his slacks.

He moved his hips slightly forward at Fraser's tug, letting him open and pull down his slacks until they were just at his thighs. In anticipation of this particular dessert he'd worn no underwear, and only now wondered how soon- for of course he had, Benny had noticed. Then he wasn't thinking of anything except how good those hands felt, resting on his hips, how good that mouth tasted, how warm and hard the body pressed into his was. He squirmed, wanting more, and felt the bark dig into his buttocks.

They both heard the moan, and Fraser looked up. He didn't say anything, simply measuring Ray's expression, feeling the way he still squirmed lightly. When Ray looked at him, Benny smiled. "You like that, don't you?"

Ray couldn't nod as Fraser leaned forward, pushing him against the rough bark. Fraser moved his body, pushing Ray's back and forth. Ray moaned again, letting his head drop back against the tree.

"Benny.." he pleaded. He felt himself hard and as aroused as he'd ever been since he'd first learned how to fantisise in bed.

Fraser kissed him, quickly, then stepped away. Ray looked after him, feeling and looking bereft. Before he could ask or protest, Benny told him to strip. He did, not asking questions of the stern faced man now regarding him. He wasn't entirely sure what was going on, but if it meant being naked and being with Fraser then he was all for it. When his clothes lay on the ground, he waited for Benny's next move.

"Over here." He gestured, and started walking. Ray followed, feeling both thrilled and fearful at this- Fraser hadn't yet removed his own clothes, and Ray wasn't entirely convinced this patch of woods would remain deserted for long. But he did as he was told, following Fraser to the other side of the small clearing they'd laid their picnic in. "Sit down."

"Here?" Ray stared at the fallen tree Fraser was pointing at.


"But.." His protest died away as Benny simply looked at him with that no-nonsense, stern, you will do as I say expression that Ray wasn't sure he'd ever seen on Benny before, though he'd seen it on every other cop he'd ever known. He swallowed, and gently moved to sit.

"Not like that. Straddle it."

Ray didn't say anything, only turned to place one leg over the trunk, and sit down on the tree. He winced as the bark bit into his legs, the soft inner thighs and into his crotch. But his feet rested on the ground and he held himself up a bit, away from the sharp crevasses of the bark.

"Good," and Ray felt as if that tone was something he'd willingly die for. He felt Benny's hand on his shoulder, and then Fraser was sitting behind him. The denim of Fraser's jeans melded with the rough treebark at his upper thighs and buttocks; Ray wanted to lean back against his friend but didn't dare move until Fraser told him to. Fraser put his hands on Ray's thighs, and then slowly began to lean forward.

Ray whimpered as the weight of Fraser's body pushed his down onto the tree. He squirmed involuntarily as if to move away, and the motion made the bark dig deeper into his skin. He heard the gasp, and felt the heat in his groin. He didn't move as Benny leaned farther forward, concentrating on the places where the trunk dug into his legs and crotch, and the palms of his hands.

Hands rubbed the tops of his thighs, moving his legs slightly and increasing the bite of the bark. He closed his eyes, and could feel the sweat which broke out on his brow. He wanted to wipe it away but didn't want to break the slow motion forward. He left his hands on the trunk, where they rested lightly not resisting the push but feeling the bark in the tender palms as on his legs.

Hands pushed his knees wider, and then suddenly he felt rough bark against his cock. He held back a moan and moved again, squirming away from the pressure but only increasing it. He could hear Benny's heavy breath in his ear and wanted to say something, but couldn't think of what. Then Fraser was pushing him with his hips, thrusting as if fucking him, but he was still clothed and all Ray could feel was the tree beneath him. He groaned, wanting something, anything, that would end this painful dig into his body.

Benny leaned forward a litte bit more, and Ray was very nearly lying down on the trunk, entire body laid flat against the harsh surface. He trembled, and Fraser's hands rested on his sides as if to hold him still. "Move, Ray."

"H-how?" He thought to ask, uncertain that Benny could mean he should stand up and move away.

"Back and forth. Bring yourself off."

"On the tree?" He couldn't believe it, this hadn't been on the list of things to do while alone in the woods with Fraser. Benny's hands answered him, pushing against the small of his back, forcing him down onto the tree. He cried out as the bark dug into him, his cock throbbed and he began moving slightly. Fraser's hands continued pushing, encouraging him, and he let Benny hold him down as he moved back and forth.

He could feel the rough bark on what seemed like every tender part of his body, biting and scraping his skin. He shivered, wanting to jump up and massage those places until the pain went away. Instead he moved as Benny told him, back and forth against the tree, body trembling and cock growing harder as it was thrust against the bark.

Suddenly he was aware of only two things- the bark, and Fraser's body on his back, pressing him from either side. He found himself thrusting automatically, urged on by the panting behind him and the rough sensations below him. With a yell, he felt himself come, still rubbing himself up and down against the tree.

When he collapsed, Ben still lay on him, pushing him against the tree. The feel of the bark heightened, then it faded away as Fraser leaned back, drawing Ray with him, and moving Ray to sit on Fraser's thighs. Ray sighed as hands began massaging his legs, gently rubbing away the last prickling bites of pain.

Ray moved his head, wanting to get another kiss from that wonderful mouth when he opened his eyes. His bedroom formed around him, dark ceiling staring down, soft blankets gathered beneath his body. He rolled onto his side, reaching down for the towel he kept underneath the bed for such occasions. As he cleaned himself he sighed ruefully.

Apparently his subconscious had decided that as long as he wasn't going to get any of Fraser, it might as well indulge in the most he would't ever get. Even *if* Ray managed to manipulate his friend into a kiss-- and don't think he didn't have a dozen plans to lead up to just that, there was no way in the frozen tundra of hell that Benny would do what he'd just dreamt.

Gathering up some clothes from the laundry hamper, he took the towel down to the utility room and began a load of wash.

The darkened ceiling wasn't telling him much, but then he didn't expect it to. Lying on his bed in the dark, he found himself for a moment wishing to be home again, where life though never easy was incredibly simple. Simple in a way he'd never realised until he'd come down here to Chicago and discovered that somehow by increasing the indigenous population by 4022 percent increased the level of complexity in interpersonal interactions by 4022 on a *logarithmic* scale.

Or was it 4023? He began going over the calculations again, when he was interrupted.

"It's a hell of a lot."

He looked over. "Dad. Yes, it is. I was just checking--"

"Yes, yes." The ghost walked over and sat in the chair by the bed. Neither noticed Dief raising his head to look things over before putting his head down again to sleep. "That's not what's worrying you, is it son?"

"No, it isn't." Benton sat up, putting his arms around his knees and clasping his hands. "I'm worried about Ray. He hasn't been.. acting himself lately."

"Oh? What's bothering him?" Fraser Sr looked interested-- which rather surprised his son, though he didn't show it.

"I don't know. He hasn't said anything to me about anything worrying him. Which is unusual, usually he's quite disposed towards expressing his displeasure or concern with matters."

"Uh-huh.. so what do you think is bothering him?"

Benton gave his father a short glare. "I don't know, that's my point."

With a sigh, Fraser Sr stood up so he could stare down at his son. "But what do you *think* it is? Read the signs, Benton."

Fraser began to think back to all the times he'd been with Ray recently, catalouging all the things he'd done which had lead him to realise there was something bothering him. He hadn't asked Ray, because as he'd told his father-- usually Ray was forthcoming with his problems, especially around Fraser. He'd assumed this was something his friend prefered to keep private, so he hadn't asked.

He spoke aloud, listing the things Ray had done or not done, over the past few weeks. "He's quieter. Normally when he picks me up to take me to the Embassy, he's quite talkative. Often he tells me about his family, what each of them has been doing in the time since he last informed me of their activities. Or he is complaining about his work, more specifically about the people he has to work with-- generally it's someone in the DA's office, or a member of the judiciary. Unless we're currently working on a case, then he's more likely to discuss his suspicions concerning the evidence already uncovered-- he's very conscientious about that, in fact--"


"Oh. Sorry. Well lately he hasn't been quite so talkative. Several mornings he's said absolutely nothing except in direct response to an inquiry of mine. Yet.. he doesn't seem upset, particularly. I'd even say that on occasion he seems quite content to sit quietly during the entire drive." He was sitting up straighter now, realising truths as he brought them into focus. "That could simply mean that it is his habit to keep people at a distance by talking steadily, and that he no longer feels the need to do so with me."

That thought pleased him-- if it were true. "What else?" His father prodded.

He blinked, and returned to his mental list. "Well, there are a number of incidents like the one today. He invited me to spend the day with him, and suggested several places we might go. All of them involved places which I would not have anticipated that he would enjoy-- but he sounded eager to visit them."

"Why didn't you go?"

"Dad.. I had already promised Mr. Dalton I would assist him at the youth center. I did ask Ray to join me."

Fraser Sr waved one hand in dismissal. "Didn't any of Ray's suggestions sound interesting?"

"As a matter of fact, they all did. Which is puzzling. It's as if he wanted to spend the day doing something that *I* particularly would enjoy."

"What's so odd about that? Maybe he knows you work too hard. You need to relax, son, get out and enjoy yourself once in a while."

"I enjoy helping people-- I got a great deal of satisfaction teaching those kids to play hockey." Fraser gave his father a flat stare, challenging him to accuse him of lying.

"I know that, Benton. But there comes a time when you have to do something for *yourself*. Do you suppose that's all your friend was trying to tell you?"

He nodded, thinking it over. "Ray *is* rather good at.. enjoying himself. You could be right, and that's all he was doing." He trailed off, and sat silently for a bit.

"What are you thinking, son?"

"I'm considering his reasons for doing so."

"What? He's your friend, why shouldn't he show concern for your welfare?"

Fraser shook his head. "We've been friends for some time now, and yet he has only recently changed his behaviour." He leaned forward, and explained, "For example, he has often invited me over to his family's house for supper. It has become a regular thing in fact; Mrs. Vecchio has informed me I am welcome any night I wish, to attend for supper."

"You should take her up on it more often, you know. She really is fond of you."

Benton ignored his father's interruption. "Yet three times in the last four weeks, Ray has invited me to supper at his house on occasions when the rest of his family is not in attendance. He's never done that before."

"Is that all?" His father was starting to sound bored.

Affronted, he turned to face him. "It's another of the many things which has changed lately."

"Yes, yes.. so what do you think is wrong?"

"I don't know, dad. If he were simply.. feeling more comfortable about our friendship, he wouldn't be so reluctant to say something. He isn't like other people; Ray is just as willing to express his positive feelings as his negative ones."

"So why don't you ask him?"

Benton shifted uncomfortably. "I don't want to intrude. If it is a matter which is none of my business..."

"But he's doing all these things around you, to you.. doesn't that mean it might have something to do with you?"

"Perhaps," he agreed. "Perhaps not." Suddenly his eyes gleamed with the 'I've got it' expression. "If his behaviour has changed around others as well, and he has chosen not to discuss it with me, then it is not anything to do with me, and therefore not my business. If it is only around me that he has changed.. I could then perhaps ask him about it. I shall go to the precinct tomorrow, and talk to Elaine." He gave his father a nod. "Thank you for your help."

With a shrug, his father faded. "Why else do you ever call me?"

The next morning Fraser showed up at the station early, near the beginning of Elaine's shift. He had a bag of warm bagels, and a cup of coffee with him, which he was valiently keeping out of reach of Diefenbaker. Dief whined once more, as they approached Elaine's desk.

She looked up and smiled broadly. "Good morning!"

"Good morning, Elaine. Would you care for a cup of coffee and a bagel?"

Her smile grew wider. Anyone else she would have accused of bribery, with Fraser the notion simply wouldn't have occurred to him. Though she wouldn't have minded his offering to bribe her... "Thank you. Did Ray come in with you? I have the files he was asking for."

"Ah, no, I believe he will be in just barely on time as usual. I've spoken to him about that before, but I must admit I don't think he will be changing that habit any time soon."

"Is there something I can do for you, then?"

"As a matter of fact there is." He moved to sit in the chair beside her desk and tried to find a decourous way of posing his question. "I was wondering if you had.. noticed anything unusual in Ray's behaviour lately." Well, perhaps that was decourous enough.

Elaine grinned suddenly, surprising him. "Of course! You've noticed it, too, huh? Do you know who it is?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Oh." Her grin softened a bit. "Hasn't he said anything to you about it?"

"No, that is why I thought to ask you if you knew anything. I am beginning to get concerned."

"Well.. I *could* be wrong, but.. and don't tell him where you got this information--"

"Of course not," he agreed, thinking the admonition was unnecessary.

"Ray's in love."

Fraser said nothing. Of all the possibilities he'd considered, this had never even crossed his mind. But perhaps she hadn't meant it the way it sounded. "Excuse me?"

"In love.. it's obvious, really, he's always staring off into space when he should be doing paperwork. And he smiles at me when I bring him files or coffee-- he's even started saying 'thank you'. He hasn't argued with Welsh in weeks."

"And that means he's in love?"

"Trust me, it means he's in love."

Fraser frowned. "He hasn't mentioned to me that he's been seeing anyone, nor have I noticed that he has been dating someone."

Elaine lost her grin, and nodded. "That's the sad part. I don't think they're dating."

Now he felt completely lost. "Not dating?" What was the other choice for two people in love?

"Well, I'm not so certain about this, but.. he's not exactly happy, you know? He's frustrated." Elaine knew she didn't have to explain that she didn't mean it *that* way. "It's like she isn't returning his affections.. or more likely, she doesn't know. He seems happy enough to be in love, but he isn't.. well every other time he's fallen in love he's come in here and told the world. Every five minutes we hear her name, when they saw each other last, when they'll see each other again. This time, there's nothing. It's weird, really, because if he isn't seeing her at all he'd be *impossible* to work with. But he acts as though he is seeing her, but not.. not the way he wants to."

"I see." He almost felt as if he did. If Ray were encountering difficulties with a lady friend, then he wouldn't be likely to broach the subject with him. Ray seemed to have the idea that Fraser knew nothing about women. "But you do think he is seeing her?"

"All the time. He's too happy, to not be."

"Ah. Well, thank you kindly, Elaine." He stood, and as he moved away he stopped and looked back at her. "You're a fine detective, if I may say so."

She smiled. "You may."

With a nod, he turned and left, trying to fit the new pieces of the puzzle into their places.

Ray stared at the phone. Mr. Mufasti had assured him there was nothing wrong not only because Fraser had said so, but because Mr. Mufasti could see it for himself. So Ray wasn't worried that Fraser had decided he didn't need a ride to work today.

He was incredibly disappointed. Waiting until lunchtime and hoping nothing interferred with either of their schedules was a reasonable course of action. But Ray didn't want to wait. He didn't want to wait four hours when he'd been expecting to see Benny this morning.

'Raymondo, you have it bad.' He nodded to himself and hung up the phone. He was tempted to drag his feet and get to work late, just to show the world it couldn't push him around like this. It wasn't fair.. but then, he already knew that. All he asked for was a few minutes of Benny's day, half an hour in the car here, ten minutes there, an evening huddled on stakeout sitting close, saying nothing, listening to him breathe and smelling his scent.

Ray laughed at himself. Given that the day was going to be pretty bad-- it always was when it began with this kind of pain, he'd be better off either showing up early and getting all his work done or going back to bed and calling in sick. He realised that he was going to have to learn to live with this, somehow, so he grabbed his coffee and headed for the door.

He didn't think about the Chevelle they'd put him in while the Riv was being repaired.

"Good morning Ray."

Ray stared for a second, feeling his heart being torn between sheer unexpected joy and bitter pain. "Benny. What are you doing? Mr. Mustafi said there wasn't anything wrong, so what are you doing here?" He wanted to cringe at the tone he heard. Fraser didn't deserve his anger. He tried smiling. "Is this part of the Invasion Conspiracy you don't want me to know about?"

Fraser blinked in confusion, apparently trying to place the 'Invasion Conspiracy' then shook his head. "No, Ray, I simply needed to.. get some information from Records. I saw no reason to ask you to bring me, as it would have involved your arriving at work much earlier than necessary. I didn't think--"

"Hey, I don't mind. It's not like I don't already spend 75% percent of my time here anyway." He continued up the stairs, with Fraser following.

"Actually, that's not true. While you do perhaps spend a great deal of time working, most of it is not in fact in this building. I'd say it's closer to thirty--"

"Fraser, I really don't care, ok? You shoulda told me-- it's silly for you to walk over here when I'm driving here anyway. Hey, you need a ride to work, now?" He cringed again. Surely he hadn't sounded that eager? It really would have been pitiful, had it not felt so necessary. Being with him in any way possible, it wasn't a desire of desperation. He was just in love. He'd just have to learn to accept it. He tried smiling again. "I gotta go back out anyway, do the usual door knocking."

"I.. I'd appreciate that, Ray. Thank you."

Ray found himself grinning and decided at that point to stop worrying about it. "Great, let me check in and we're off."

"Don't say anything about the car," he warned, before Fraser could turn his inquisitive look into a question.

"I wasn't, Ray. I was only going to inquire if your car was badly damaged-- other than the damage to the rear fender which I observed at the scene."

Slamming the door with a thunk, Ray sighed. "No, nothing else. I'll have my car back tomorrow." He looked upwards. "I'd better have my car back tomorrow." He pulled into traffic. After a moment, he noticed Benny shifting nervously in his seat. "What's wrong, there a spring getting at you?"

"What? Oh, no. I was just.. Ray, would you mind if I asked you a personal question?"

"Nah, why should I mind? Ask away. I'll warn you, though, I don't know when molting season is."

"Molting season for which species?"

"Any of them."

"Well it's usually in early spring, although of course it depends on the local climate. Animals which molt shed their extra coat for the warmer weather of summer, and--"

"Benny? There was a reason I don't know when molting season is."

"What's that, Ray?"

"'Cause I don't care. What's your question?"

"Ah. Well, it's.. I understand completely if you would prefer not to answer, it's entirely your perogative. If I am overstepping my bounds I apologise, and I wouldn't mention it again if you prefer."

"Uh-huh.. why don't you just ask, then wait and see if I yell at you?"

"Oh. Are you likely to yell?"

"I wouldn't know. I don't know what you're gonna ask me."

"Oh yes. It's just that you haven't mentioned it, and that leads me to conclude--"

"I *will* yell if you don't ask."

"Are you seeing someone?"

Ray knew Fraser didn't notice that they almost served into oncoming traffic. He blinked, and asked in a normal tone of voice, "Am I what?"

"Seeing someone. Dating."

"Oh. Why are you asking me that?" For a wild second his heart screamed it was because Fraser was going to ask him out and just wanted to make sure he wasn't interfering with anything. Ray told his heart to shut up. He grinned at Fraser. "Did you want to ask me out?" So his heart hadn't been listening to him all month, why should it start now?

Benny was taken aback. "Uh, no, that wasn't.. I was just.. well to be honest, Ray, I've been worried about you. Your behaviour has changed rather markedly over the past four weeks yet you haven't said anything to indicate why. And then--" He broke off abruptly.

"Then what?" Ray was shocked to find he could still speak after having died quietly of embarrassment.

"Someone told me that you are in love."

"Someone told you that?" He repeated it casually. This wasn't the sort of conversation he ought to be having while driving.. then again, it *was* a loaner.

"Yes. I didn't.. that is, I wasn't certain if it was true, as you haven't said or done anything.. I mean.. Ray, who is she?"

The final question almost sounded plainitive, as if Fraser were hurt that his friend hadn't shared this bit of important news with him. In the space of two seconds he sorted through his options. Then he spoke quietly. "I'd rather not tell you."

"I see."

The short, accepting phrase said it all, and Ray felt like crying. He tried to explain. "It isn't that I don't want you to know, it's just that.. nothing gonna happen, and I don't want to.. embarrass anybody by spreading it around."

"I wouldn't say anything, Ray."

"I know," Ray apologised. "It's not that I don't trust you, I just.. it's easier this way. If I thought that telling you wouldn't...ah hell, Fraser, don't do this to me!"

"I'm sorry, Ray. I didn't mean to.. please, forget I ever said anything."

"I can't, I can't now." Ray realised he'd started crying out of frustration, and he jerked the steering wheel sideways, pulling into a moderately open slot. He tried to ignore the shocked look on Benny's face, and the soft insistences that they could drop it, that Fraser didn't intend to do any of this by asking his question. He turned sideways and looked at Fraser. Dief had draped himself over the center of the seat, the first time Ray even noticed the wolf was with them.

"Fraser, I can't just forget it because you're upset that I won't tell you. You're gonna think I don't trust you, or don't want you to know something that's happened to me which could be one of the most important if worst things to ever happen to me. Not worst, I don't mean that, it's wonderful but I can't *do* anything about it, you see? I mean I can't.. if this was just a regular falling in love kinda thing you'd have been the first person I'd tell. But it isn't, and I can't tell anyone. I can't."

"Of course, Ray, I understand." Fraser started to put his hand out, and stopped, drawing it back hesitantly. "I didn't mean to upset you, and I am not angry at you for not telling me." He seemed at a loss for what to do. Dief licked Ray on the face, twice, and Ray rubbed the wolf's head. "If there is anything I might do, I hope you'll ask. I..." Suddenly Fraser remembered what Elaine had said, which hadn't and still didn't make any sense. "Ray.. forgive my asking, but do you see her? I mean, very often?"

He looked away, still absently rubbing Dief's neck. "Yeah."

Fraser said nothing. Then he quietly suggested they continue the drive to the Canadian Embassy. Ray said nothing for the remainder of the trip, nodding only at Fraser's offer to meet for a late lunch. Fraser headed inside, grateful for the morning's tedious duty.

It still didn't make sense, of course. Fraser sorted the morning's mail with precision, taking barely enough attention to notice the proper mailbox for the pieces he was handling. He returned to his conversation with his father, then with Elaine, then all of the conversations he'd had with Ray over the last few weeks. Who was she? Why didn't Ray think they had a chance to be together?

It was when he slid the Spanish costumes catalouge into Constable Thornbill's box that he understood.

"Oh dear."

Ray slid deeper into his seat. The Chevy bench seat wasn't even remotely comfortable, and the steering wheel didn't adjust. His shoulders were going to ache, if he had to drive this thing much longer. One reason to be happy to be stuck sitting on the street, waiting for someone to come home for questioning.

Likely the guy wouldn't know anything about the co-worker currently under suspicion. Ray would have wasted an hour doing nothing, with nothing to show for it. All in all, a typical day in the life of Raymond Vecchio. Ray sighed.

One corner of his brain which wasn't bored, suddenly wondered what it would feel like if Fraser were sitting here and reached over and placed his hand over Ray's genitals. Ray wanted to slap that part of his brain. Warm, no doubt. His hand would be warm, not at all heavy.. how much weight would he use? Would he press? Or barely touch? Would he try to wrap his fingers through the fabric of Ray's pants? Or stroke lightly, up and down, with just his fingertips? Ray bit back a moan.

He wouldn't do it at all, he told himself sternly. Benny wouldn't do something like that in a car, in the middle of the day where anyone and everyone could see. He wouldn't do it on a stakeout regardless.

Ah. But what if I picked his hand up and put it there? Would he move it away?

Groaning, Ray conceded. Yes, Benny would likely leave his hand wherever Ray put it. He'd probably ask-- no he would definitely ask why Ray had done it. But he wouldn't move his hand. Wouldn't be polite. He'd let Ray do anything he thought Ray needed, and just write it off as something else he didn't understand about his friend. Now, if Ray *explained* it...

He'd snatch it back. And then there'd be that sidelong nervous glance, the unobtrusive edging away, and the polite rejection. Always polite. Ray sighed. You sure know how to put a damper on things, he mused to that part of him which had started this. He'd snatch it back and get very uncomfortable, might even get out of the car and walk off. And then where would Ray be?

Except that didn't sound exactly right. Ray considered it, still watching the street before him. Imagine he *did* reach over, pick up Benny's hand and nestle it gently between his legs. And then explained, saying he liked it, and wanted Fraser's hand there? Benny would.. stare at him, blankly, and say something like 'oh' or 'I see'. He'd leave his hand where Ray'd put it, but he say something like 'Are you certain you ought to be doing this now?'

Nah, that'd imply he would be willing to do it later. But it'd be something like that. Something like, now isn't a good time, this isn't a good place. Then he'd remove his hand, apologetically, and then sit quietly as if nothing untoward had occured.

That's it?

Yeah, brain, that's it. So forget ever making out with him in the car, or anywhere else ok? Now shut up and let me work.

Ok. It would be warm, though. Bet he wouldn't move his fingers at all.

Ray groaned.

With a moan, Ray rolled over and looked up at the sky, sandwiched in between two buildings, dotted by fire escapes and wires. Wasn't his day. Was it ever going to be his day?

"You ok?"

"Yeah, I'm ok." Ray let the uniformed cop give him a hand up from the pile of trash he'd landed in. "Tell me we got him."

The woman grinned. "We got him."

Ray returned the grin, suddenly feeling better, despite half a dozen bruises. "Oh good." He indulged in a mischevious impulse. "I don't suppose he fell off the stairs, too?"

"Well.. not the *stairs* precisely. I think he'll be limping for a bit. Tore his jeans, too."

"Too bad, they looked kinda expensive."

Ray headed down the alley with the other cop, enjoying the knowledge that the idiot who had done his best to make Ray's day *really* miserable had come to such an unfortunate end. He found himself looking forward to getting the paperwork done, so he could spend the weekend knowing the guy was well on his way through the system.

"Oh damn." He'd looked at his watch. All thoughts of gleeful vengance vanished, replaced by emptiness.

"What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing.. missed a lunch date with a friend." He brushed by her casually, heading for his car. No, not *his* car. Wasn't fair. He just wanted to brighten his day with lunch. Rubbing a hand over his face, he decided the trade off was almost fair. Besides, he was almost used to missing Benny.

He was quiet when he picked up Benny after work. His friend didn't press him to talk, apparently content to stare at the traffic and refrain for once pointing out the vehicles Ray came too near to missing. Ray didn't really notice, only glad that he was left alone. Even Dief had curled up in the back seat, not even barking at the bakery where he usually asked for free day-olds.

Finally, when they pulled up in front of Fraser's building, did Ray look over at Benny.

"Ray.. would you come up for a moment?"

He wanted to say no, and go home, bury himself in supper dishes and then bed. But he noticed how nervous Benny was and said yes. Pushing his own problems aside, he started asking, as they entered the building, what was wrong.

"Please, Ray, I'd rather discuss it in private."

"What's private? In this building you gotta go up to the roof to be private. You know how thin these walls are?"

"I believe you are exagerating, Ray."

"So what else is new? Come on, Benny, what's wrong?"

Fraser didn't bother answering, until he had his door closed behind them. Then he turned and looked at Ray, apparently at a loss for words. Ray moved forward, dropping a hand on Benny's shoulder.

"Benny? What is it? Are you in trouble?" It seemed incomprehensible.

"No. I simply wanted to ask you a question."

"What, all this secrecy over a simple question?" Ray felt a steel rod stab him through the stomach. "Benny, this isn't..."

"Ray I know I promised not to ask you about this, but I feel I must. If I am right... Ray, who are you in love with?"

He turned away, stalking over to the window, praying that he wouldn't get thrown out. Or wouldn't have to jump. "Does it matter?" he asked quietly.

"Yes, Ray, it does." By the sound of his voice, Fraser hadn't moved from his spot.

Closing his eyes briefly, he then opened them and turned back to face Fraser. "I fell in love with you."

For a second Fraser said nothing, but it was obvious he was not surprised. "I see. I'm sorry."

"For what?" Ray told himself not to lose it, not here, not in front of Fraser.

"It must have been very difficult for you, these last four weeks."

Ray just shrugged. "You get used to it."

Fraser blinked, startled. "I'm sorry?"

Calmly Ray explained, surprising himself that he could muster so much control. "I mean, I've gotten used to it. I'm not gonna.. embarrass you or anything. You don't have to worry. And I'm not.. gonna waste my time mooning after you." He knew it was a lie, but only because he would continue longing for Benny.. it just wouldn't be a waste of his time. It could actually be quite nice, loving someone, even if...

"I'm afraid I don't understand, Ray. You sound as if you don't intend to do anything about how you feel."

He laughed. "Of course I'm not going to do--" He froze, and stared.

Fraser was walking over. "I am honoured, Ray."

"You what?" It came out as a squeak.

"May I?"

Ray didn't answer, didn't ask, and he found the question had merely been a formality. Fraser cupped his face with his hands, and leaned closer. Ray barely remembered to kiss him back as Fraser's lips touched his.

His hands were warm. He had a moment to realise just how warm, his attention zeroed in on palms against his cheeks. Fingers trailed down to his shoulders leaving paths of shivering skin behind. He wasn't sure exactly when he'd lost his jacket; one part of his mind that was not otherwise occupied decided to worry about it while he pressed himself into Benny's embrace.

When he finally had to breathe, his head fell forward and he gasped, discovering that the warm skin of Benny's neck was right beneath his mouth... Ray kissed him. Hands rubbed his back, encouraging, and he kissed again, moving slightly down towards the collar of a rather obstructory item. Ray continued placing kisses along Fraser's neck, and brought one hand up to begin unbuttoning.

He stopped, his hand flat against Fraser's chest. He could feel a heart beating even more quickly than his own. Benny smiled at him; Ray forgot precisely what it was he was going to say.

"Allow me." Fraser moved half a step backwards, out of reach, and swiftly unbuttoned his shirt. Ray felt a stab of disappointment, whether at losing his chance or for the breach of contact, he didn't know. He didn't say anything, because really, what right did he have to complain about any of this? Benny, willing and apparently eager to make love to him, and he should criticise how they went about it?

"You're beautiful." Ray startled himself. How long had he wanted to say it, even knowing it wasn't the sort of thing he'd ever actually mean? How many women had heard him say such things when he wasn't just trying to get himself out of trouble? How could he say it to someone, when all he meant was, you are the most wonderful thing I've ever seen and I want to look at you forever. He looked now at bared skin that he could not ever remember seeing before.

"Thank you." Benny had hesitated only a second before kissing him again, and this time Ray brought his hands up to find that Benny was warm all over, at least above the waistline. He wanted to explore the mouth that had latched onto his, he wanted to explore the skin underneath his fingertips, and he found himself frustrated at not being able to concentrate on both. He didn't dare stop doing either.

"I feel I should tell you one thing, Ray."

Oh god, here it is. Ray stiffened, breaking all points of contact, only to be grabbed and held close.

"I only needed to tell you, I love you," Benny's voice whispered in his ear.

Oh god. What had he done? For a moment Ray stood still, utterly unable to fathom the purpose of the world around him. Life was supposed to be unfair. Wasn't it? Hands broke through his shock, touching him gently, warm on his arms, his back. "I love you too, Benny." Then he was floating, on golden waves, and the uncertainty of touching his friend was less important than staying where he was, happy and in love. What had he done to gain such a man?

Hands removed his shirt; Ray only noticed when the cold air made him shiver, then shivered again as his chest was brushed lightly. Benny was staring at him the same way he'd been stared at and Ray wondered why this expression hadn't been so painfully obvious before now. It suddenly occurred to him that Benny might be feeling just as nervous as he, unwilling to ruin it all by making a wrong move, unwilling to move too fast and totally unable to stop.

He took Fraser's hands in his, and held them tightly. When Benny looked up at him, waiting politely, Ray found himself grinning. "We have a lot of time to get it right, Benny. Let's just do it."

His grin was returned, and Fraser nodded, donning for the moment a facsimile of his polite duty manner. "Of course, Ray." Then it dropped as Benny smiled, and Ray saw a glint of delight such as he'd never seen before in Benny's eyes. He had to kiss him.

His hands were very warm. They were gentle, as well; Fraser seemed to be considering every motion as he made it, whether to avoid frightening either of them or simply concentrating Ray couldn't tell. He pushed himself against Benny's hands, closing his eyes against the pleasure. For a moment his fantasies came back to him and he opened his eyes; Benny smiled at him.

"What is it, Ray?"

"This is nice." As he said the words he knew they weren't enough, but he couldn't think of anything more.

Fraser kissed him-- Ray's shoulder being the closest, it was kissed first, then Benny worked his way across Ray's back. When he reached the middle, after pressing his tongue against the ridge of Ray's spine, he stopped. Arms surrounded him from behind, and Ray leaned back. "Yes, I know." The voice, so soft in his ear, echoed tones he'd only imagined. Real life was infinitely better.

"I love you." He was desperate to say it now that he could, wanted to say it a thousand times a day. The body pressed up against his own told him he was already saying it-- and hearing it. He turned in Fraser's arms and lost himself for the remainder of the evening.

"What is that?"

"What is what?"

"That! Look.. put that down and look! Quick, before he gets out of sight."

"Where?" He craned his neck, looking. "Oh.. yeah, so?"

Elaine nudged him in the arm. "Don't you see that smile? He did it. He finally did it!"

Huey looked back, momentarily uncomprehending. "Did what? Oh, you mean that girl you think he's got under wraps?"

"What do you mean, 'think'? It's obvious! He's in love, and he's finally happy about it!"

"Oh.. I thought that look meant he got some," the detective smirked, and then ducked the file aimed at his head.

"You men are such neanderthals."

"D-u-h?" Huey dropped his jaw and rolled his eyes back, then laughed as he walked away. Elaine headed for Ray's desk.

"Good morning, Detective Vecchio." He hadn't appeared to notice her approaching, so she pitched her voice a bit more loudly and brightly than usual.

"Huh? Oh, hi Elaine. How's it goin'?"

Yup, he's in love. *And* he got some. Elaine smiled and said aloud, "Oh, pretty good. And you?"

"I'm ok." He smiled back, and Elaine knew that it was only a *slight* understatement.

She leaned against his desk. "Are you going to tell me who she is?" Suddenly he turned red, and looked down at the papers on his desk, muttering something about not knowing what she meant. "Detective," she leaned closer, lowering her voice as she teased him. "You've turned almost as red as a Mountie's uniform. That means--"

He had turned even redder. "Don't you have work to do?"

"As a matter of fact, I do. And if you'll tell me her name, I'll be outta here."

He looked up at her. "Not a chance, Elaine. Go file something, would you?" He tried to glare at her, but she could tell he didn't have the motivation to get very angry. Not today.

"What about just a few details? Where'd you meet? What does she look like? Does she really like you?"

Ray did glare at her this time, but as he opened his mouth to send her on her way, his expression changed. A small, silly grin flashed, replaced by a brave attempt to look as though everything were perfectly normal. Elaine grinned-- she was here, at the station! Wondering if it were a colleague, Elaine turned around.

"Good morning, Elaine. How are you today?"

"Morning, Fraser," she replied, trying to look past him, then it dawned on her-- Fraser was wearing the same happy look. She stared at him, then back at Ray. She had never seen that particular look on Fraser's face, and had wondered if she ever would. Now, Ray Vecchio made him happy? Slowly she smiled. Well, at least somebody was.

They didn't seem to be aware of her anymore. She cleared her throat. "I'll just go get you some coffee, ok?"

They both looked at her then; Vecchio seemed startled. She winked at him, and moved off. She beamed at Lt. Welsh, who spent the next half hour wondering what was going on.

"What are we gonna do?"

"What do you mean?" Benny turned his head to look at him, lying beside him under the thin wool blanket now draped across them.

"I mean.. we can't.. can we.. I mean, do you.. Benny, are we gonna tell anybody?"

"Ah. It would depend, of course, on who the 'anybody' was. Given the most likely responses of the majority of the population, I would not recommend shouting it from the rooftops."

Ray poked him, grinning. "Get serious, would you? God, I don't believe I just said that to you. But I mean it, Benny. We could both get into a lot of trouble if the wrong people found out."

"Who are the wrong people, Ray?"

"You know, superior officers, journalists, the defendants' lawyers..."

"Family, friends?" Fraser asked it hesitantly.

Ray reached up and caressed his face. "Oh, no. If you think you're getting out of a proper 'welcome to the family' Vecchio style dinner party, you're sadly mistaken."

There was nothing to be said to that, so Fraser kissed him. Then there was no more talking for a while.

"Benny, your hands are cold."

"Sorry, Ray."

"Hey! What are you doing?"

"Warming my hands."

"You have to do it there?"

"It is the most efficient method, given our surroundings--"

"Shut up and get back in bed, Fraser."