Buddy Breathing

by Caroline Alert

It all started with that goddamn buddy breathing thing, Kowalski thought. All of it.

So it was really Fraser's fault. Not his. That much was obvious.

So why do I feel so damn guilty? Why do I feel like a freak?

He turned over in bed and stared at the ceiling, frustrated. I'm not the freak in this partnership, no way. It's Fraser! he insisted to himself. If he'd known when he'd taken this gig that it would involve partnering up with a whacked Canadian with an encyclopedia for a brain, a deaf wolf, and a disgusting habit of tasting and smelling everything, (not to mention endangering his life at every possible turn, in the weirdest possible ways) -- well, things would've been different.

If I'd known, he thought, I never would've taken the job. I sure never should've taken the job. And I sure as hell should never have stayed with it, after finally getting mad enough to slug Big Red by the lake that day...

So what the Hell am I still doin' here? he asked himself.

But that was a stupid question, because he knew why he couldn't leave. Oh yeah, he knew. It was Fraser. The same person who'd made him want to leave had also made it impossible for him to go.

That goddamn buddy breathing!

He twisted under his covers, just thinking about it. It had happened at the worst possible time, right when their differences had started to seem unbearable, just when they were finally both considering separating, taking transfers to get the hell away from each other because their partnership just wasn't working... Just when he'd almost done the sane thing, and made a break for it.

Then Fraser had to go and do that. That thing...

Kowalski bit his lip. "Buddy breathing!" he snorted aloud. It sounded so innocent, even childish. Ha!

He just couldn't get past it. It had been weeks now, and it still haunted his dreams, replayed itself in his head at least ten times a day...

It'd been dark there in that underwater corridor of the rapidly sinking Henry Allen. And so cold that he'd told himself, as he followed Fraser in what was no doubt a suicidal plunge into the murky waters filling the ship, that he probably didn't need to worry about drowning. He'd freeze to death first...

Then somehow they were under, and swimming through the corridor. Well, Fraser had been swimming; and with his usual grace, too, despite his heavy uniform. (God, was there a thing under the sun the Mountie couldn't do, and do well?) Whereas he'd floundered along behind him, clumsy with the cold, frightened out of his mind at being in the dark, enclosed, flooded space. He'd tried to do what Fraser said, the flower and kick thing, but he must not've done it right, because he moved forward so slowly, too slowly. And all he could hear was the terrified thumping of his cowardly heart, all he could think was don't leave me, as Fraser swam confidently forward...

He'd tried his best to follow him, but then they came to a dead end. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it would burst his chest, and the pressure was building, building inside there, like a bubble expanding outwards relentlessly. He tried to hang on, floated desperately behind Fraser as he fought with the door in front of him, his broad shoulders flexing powerfully as he tried to force it open. But it wasn't working, and he couldn't hold on any longer. He needed to breathe, I can't breathe, I can't--

Panic had set in briefly. God, open that damn door! I'm gonna die!

Then it ebbed, because he couldn't see the horrible, stuck door anymore. Couldn't see Fraser anymore either, because a black mist started to roll across his vision. And he let the darkness come, let it take him. Because anything was better than the agony of hanging there in the cold, unable to breathe... His whole body seemed to go numb. He felt himself floating away and couldn't stop it, didn't even try because he had no strength left. I can't breathe--

He felt something tugging at him. Strong hands touched him, but he didn't respond. The hands grew more urgent. They slapped him, shook his head, but he didn't care. He just kept floating into the comforting darkness, blacking out... And then it happened. Those strong hands gripped his face, cradled it -- and he knew that his last crazy fantasy as he died was that someone was going to kiss him...

Then someone did. Full lips closed over his, confident, sensual, commanding... He could still feel the warm shock of that hot mouth claiming his, closing over his in the icy water, calling him back to his body with a jolt like an electric current -- claiming him. He gasped, or tried to, struggling weakly, but the warm lips and big hands clung to him, holding him easily. Then a silky tongue firmly parted his willing lips and dove inside, and he hung in the water, captive to this strange, undreamed-of sensuality as the stranger breathed warm, sweet air into his mouth.

Air! Oh God, I can breathe again! He'd forgotten how that felt... His chest heaved convulsively, his tongue meeting the stranger's, sucking at it frantically, sucking air and life. He felt himself hardening as the stranger gave it all to him, as bubbles rose around their faces, just another dreamy kind of caress--

And then he opened his eyes, and got the greatest shock of all. It was Fraser! Fraser's strong hands holding him, Fraser's mouth glued to his, giving him what he needed--

And turning him on unbelievably in the process.

Logically, Kowalski knew that what had seemed like a long, dreamlike eternity of weird aquatic lovemaking to him was really only a matter of a few seconds. All too soon, it was over. Fraser let him go, gave him a high sign and swam away, back to the door to continue trying to force it open. He'd treaded water behind him, dazed, confused and aroused as he'd never been before in all his life.

All he could think of, when Fraser finally forced the door open and began towing him down the next corridor, was that a man had touched him, a man had kissed him -- the crazy Canadian had done that -- his own partner had kissed him--

And he'd loved it. He wanted more.

So as soon as they found a pocket of air and surface, gasping, he choked, "What was that, Fraser?"

Fraser was busy looking around them, floating expertly as he floundered clumsily in the water beside him. "What was what?" he asked absently, his blue eyes roaming the small space, assessing their next move. Kowalski's heart sank. Those few seconds under the water had been one of the strangest, most intense moments of his life; but they obviously hadn't meant much to Fraser. He looked calm, cool and collected, as usual. Maybe all he was doin' was helpin' me breathe, he thought, his chest tightening with disappointment. But he had to know.

"That... thing you were doin' with your mouth!" he answered, frustrated. That incredible thing, that kiss that made me hard as a rock, that gave me life when I thought I was dead--

"Oh, that," the Mountie said carelessly. "That's buddy breathing."

Those few words crushed him. He was just savin' my life, he thought. He knew his disappointment was illogical, that he should be grateful instead; and he was. But he'd been hoping against hope that it had been something more, something impossible, forbidden -- something magical--

"Yes. You seemed to be in a bit of a-- well, having a problem, and I have excess lung capacity, so..." He shrugged, looking away from him again, as if the whole thing had been too trivial to mention.

Saving his life was too trivial to mention. Touching him, kissing him, was too trivial to mention! Kowalski swallowed hard, sick with anger and disappointment. "Buddy breathing," he repeated stupidly.

"Yes. It's standard procedure," Fraser said. Stan didn't bother to question that. He knew Ben could probably quote the page and paragraph number in the RCMP manual where that information was contained, and that he would, given the slightest encouragement. And if he did that, he'd have to hit him again.

"Well good," he panted. "Okay. All right." Of course it wasn't, but he was stalling, trying to cover his confusion. He was trying to sound Fraser out about that watery kiss, without being obvious about it. Because he couldn't let it go. The memory of his partner's hands on him, his mouth, still had him shaking. So he tried one last time to find out if it had done anything to him, anything at all...

"So nothing's like... changed or anything, right?" He made a helpless gesture with his hands, trying to say what he couldn't put into words: between us.

Fraser shook his head. "No."

Damn you! He almost hated the big Canadian then, for being so unmoved by something so wonderful, something that had completely unnerved him. Because, of course, that meant that it was never going to happen again. And he wanted it to, more than anything.

But he swallowed his desire, and his pride, shoved it all aside long enough to say, "Thanks."

And Fraser had turned to him with sudden pleasure in his eyes. "You're thanking me?" he said happily. It was the first real emotion he'd seen in him since their fight.

And then, for a second, Kowalski did hate him. Oh, yeah, he cared all right -- cared about their stupid partnership more than he did him. He just wants someone to drag along on his crazy adventures, Stan thought. It wouldn't matter if it was me, a bag lady, or the paper boy. He kisses me and doesn't turn a hair, but give him a hint that he's got Boy Robin back to fight crime with him again, and his eyes light up like Christmas! I'm just a tool to him, that's it!

Stabbed with disappointment, feeling he was being used, he'd snarled at him. "Look, don't get too excited, Fraser. The jury's still out on this partnership thing, okay?"

He winced, remembering those angry words. He'd lashed out, wanting to hurt, and it had worked. The Mountie's eyes had hooded over, his momentary happiness blanked out as if it had never been.

"Oh well, don't worry, Mr. Instinct, I'm not excited," he'd snapped back.

Kowalski grimaced, remembering that. "Mr. Instinct", all right -- Fraser had no idea how well that little nickname fit! Or that most of Mr. Instinct's instincts, at that moment, had been centered on the delicious thought of exciting him. On what it would take to get him that way -- and keep him that way. The other half of him had been furious at Fraser for not feeling as turned on as he did.

He'd sunk under the water again, so confused by his conflicting emotions that he was unable to look at his friend for one second longer, for fear of what he might say.

Five weeks later, Kowalski was picking at his Chinese food at Fraser's apartment, safe and sound on dry land, but still trying to find the right words to explain what had happened to him underwater. "Frase, umm... I need to talk to you," he said awkwardly, his heart beating hard. This is stupid, I rehearsed this a hundred times in my head! I shouldn't be so friggin' nervous...But no matter how many times he'd gone over it in his mind, it was different trying to say the words while face to face with his best friend.

Ben looked back at him. "Well?" he asked politely. "What is it that you want to talk about?"

Sex, Kowalski thought. The fact that I wanna have sex with you. That I've fallen in love with you, you crazy bastard. But nothing in his life had prepared him for this, nothing in his background or experience gave him any clue how you said those sort of things to another guy. He took a deep breath. "Well, umm... Remember when we were on that ship?" he started awkwardly. "The Henry Allen?"

"Oh, yes. The gold bullion robbery," Fraser said, his eyes lighting right away as he lifted a forkful of rice to his mouth. "That was exciting, wasn't it? Finding the stolen gold, bringing the miscreants to justice--"

Yeah. And remember the part where you french kissed me underwater? he thought wryly. That's the part I really liked... "Yeah. Exciting," he said aloud. "See, there was one part o' that case I wanted to talk to you about, that I've kinda been thinkin' about a lot lately..."

Fraser must've picked up on his tension all at once, because he put down his fork, his eyes narrowing. "You're not thinking about transferring again, are you, Ray?" he asked.

Kowalski hoped he wasn't imagining the hint of anxiety in his friend's voice. "No, no," he shook his head. "It's nothin' like that."

Fraser looked relieved, but Kowalski's nervousness was growing. "See, I've been thinking about... Well, about that 'buddy breathing' thing you did. How you... gave me air by mouth, when I was gonna pass out," he said carefully.

"Ah. Yes. Actually, I learned that technique as a teenager, from a trapper whose partner had fallen through pack ice, and--"

"Fraser! Frase! Whoa!" He held up a hand, knowing he had to cut this off now or he'd be in for a boring, probably incomprehensible story about trappers, caribou, and God only knew what else. Most of Fraser's stories were about things like that, and as far as he could tell, he never forgot a single thing he saw, or that anyone ever said to him. So they also tended to be not only extremely detailed, but extremely long as well. And he couldn't let him distract him now; this was too important.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Ray. You were saying?" Fraser smiled.

God, this is hard! He'd known it would be, but it was even rougher than he'd imagined, harder than anything he'd ever done, to try and say the words out loud to those innocent blue eyes. Because it even scared him; he could only imagine what it was going to do to Fraser. "Ya' see, the thing is," he went on, "I haven't been able to stop thinkin' about it. That buddy breathin' thing. And--"

I want you to do it again. I want to kiss you, I want to fuck you, I want you to fuck me...

Fraser stared at him, a tiny frown gathering between his perfect dark brows. Kowalski groaned to himself. This was just what he'd expected, what he'd been afraid of. "You don't have a clue what I'm talkin' about, do ya'?"

"Well yes, I--I think you're saying that..." Ben swallowed, shifted a little in his chair, and finally shook his head. "No. No, I don't," he said helplessly. "Are you saying that you want swimming or scuba diving lessons, perhaps?"

Kowalski shut his eyes. Scuba diving lessons! Christ! Anger filled him, mingled dangerously with his frustration. How in hell had he managed to fall in love with the one man in the world who didn't even know what that word meant? Who wouldn't have understood what he was trying to tell him if he'd printed it out on flashcards complete with diagrams and shoved them in front of his nose?

"No. No, I do not want diving lessons, Fraser," he said. He was trying to be patient, but he could feel himself breathing through his mouth, feel his temper rising.

Fraser must've seen it too, because his blue eyes started to look anxious. "Then what--"

Yer hopeless, he told himself. Abso-friggin'-lutely hopeless! Because he even found his friend's confusion endearing. And he hated himself for it.

I can't do this, he thought. I can't. There's no way, no words that could ever make him understand that I want him without freaking him out completely. Even if I do get the message across, it'll probably backfire. If he knows I'm in love with him, he'll probably be so terrified I'll lose him forever.

And nothing, nothing was worth that. "It's nothin'. Never mind," he said in despair.

"It's just that I don't understand what it is you--"

He made an incredible effort to be patient. Bit his tongue, counted to ten, hid his feelings. "It's okay, Frase," he repeated, trying hard to sound calm. "It's not important."

Fraser blinked. "Then why did you--"

God dammit! You just can't leave it alone, can you? He couldn't take any more. He slammed his fist down on the table so hard that their plates rattled. "I'm sorry, okay! Sorry I ever brought it up! I said, it's not important!" he yelled.

In the ringing silence that followed, Fraser studied him intently. Kowalski knew that he knew he was lying. It wasn't exactly hard to guess, with the way he'd lost control. You didn't need to be a detective to know that such a passionate outburst had to mean something. Though of course, Fraser wouldn't have a clue what that something was.

Why does he have to be so goddamn smart about some things, but so hopeless naïve about this? he raged inwardly. And suddenly, he couldn't take it anymore. Couldn't even look at him. The beautiful, innocent concern in Fraser's eyes was unbearable. "Forget it. Just forget it! I'm outta here." He grabbed his jacket off the back of Fraser's chair and headed for the door, seeing red. "Just forget I ever said that, forget I ever came here--"

But of course, this time, Fraser was the one who couldn't let it go. He jumped up and came after him, worry plain on his face. "Please don't go, Ray," he said. "I didn't mean to upset you, I just don't--"

He whirled, taut with frustration, spiraling rapidly towards a nuclear meltdown. "I know!" he snarled, pulling on his jacket so roughly it was a wonder he didn't rip it open. "You don't understand! Why am I not surprised by that? When have you ever understood anything about me? When have you ever even tried?"

Fraser's frown deepened. "Well, I understand that you're upset, but--"

"Oh, that's good. That's really rich, Fraser. That'll get ya' brownie points, for not missin' somethin' a blind man could see!" He stepped closer to him, his fury growing. "You don't understand anything! Not a damn thing!" he hissed.

"I'm trying, Ray," Fraser said quietly. Pain flickered in his blue eyes. "But it's hardly fair to blame me when you won't tell me what's bothering you--"

"If you can't figure it out, I'm not gonna tell you!" he snapped, furious. He knew that was illogical, but he didn't care -- didn't even care if it hurt him. A small, mean part of him wanted Ben to hurt, wanted him to have some concept of the pain that was flooding through him now. The agony at his total failure to make this man understand how much he loved him, how desperately he wanted him...

Fraser opened his mouth to protest, and he cut him off.

"And since when has life ever been fair!" he snarled. Look what it had done to him: it had made him fall in love with a man, a goddamn man! And for all the wrong reasons: his strength, his decency, his sweet innocence that not even being a cop had been able to destroy... All the same qualities, of course, that kept him from being able to understand the fact that he loved him. He tried to push past Fraser then, tried to make it to his door before he blew up, but he surprised him again. Caught his arm in a firm grip that stopped him in his tracks.

"Ray, please don't leave. Can't we talk about this?" he asked, a note of pleading in his voice that Stan had never heard before. But it was too little, too late. He didn't want to talk to Fraser anymore, didn't want to listen -- there was nothing left to say. And the feeling of his big, strong hand on his arm was torture. He felt it burning him, right through his jacket.

"No! Don't do that!" he said gruffly, throwing him off.

Fraser's face darkened with a bewildered pain even he couldn't hide. "Don't what? Don't touch you, Ray?"

"Damn right!" he hissed, livid as he moved towards the door again.

"Why ever not?"

He couldn't answer that, didn't even try. He just knew he had to get out, get out now or he'd lose it. The pain was too much, his anger was too much, he wanted him too much. Too much! It was building in him, rising, a dark tide of rage and pain and frustration. He couldn't contain it, and it scared him. He took another step towards the door.

But somehow, Fraser got there first. He suddenly stood between him and the door, blocked it stubbornly. "I really don't think you should leave, until we have a chance to talk about what's bothering you," he said in a low voice.

Kowalski's rage soared, the black tide filling him, beating at his rapidly eroding self control. He bit his lip so hard it hurt, trying to hold it back for just a few seconds longer. I just have to make it past Fraser, past him into the hall, he thought blindly. Then he'll shut the door and I can let go, slam my fists into the walls and no one will get hurt... "Just step aside, Fraser. 'Cuz I don't think you wanna know," he ground out.

But the damn Mountie stood his ground, confident as usual. Like he knew everything, like there was nothing he couldn't handle. "Yes, I do, Ray," he said.

And that did it. Those four simple little words pushed Kowalski over the edge. The bomb burst inside him. His heart pounding, his head throbbing with rage and pain, he lost it. He couldn't hold back his towering rage another second. He moved forward without conscious thought, until he was just inches away from the tall, handsome man who'd been crazy enough to try to block his way.

"You wanna' know?" he grated. "You wanna know how I feel?" he yelled, his face darkening with rage. "What I want?"

Fraser blinked, his beautiful pale skin turning a shade paler in the face of his searing rage. But he stood his ground, as Stan knew he would. "Yes," he breathed.

That sealed his fate. Beyond words, beyond hope, and far beyond reason, Kowalski grabbed him. Forced him back against the wall, pinned him there with his body. "This," he ground out, taking the Mountie's pale, handsome face roughly in his hands. "This! I want you..."

Before Fraser could react or even blink, he leaned upwards and fused their mouths together. Ignoring Fraser's shocked gasp of astonishment, the way he froze in his hold, he kissed him hard. Forced Ben's mouth open with his tongue, not in the gentle, life-giving way he had once done it, but roughly, not caring if it hurt. Ben's lips parted in a breath of surprise, and he plunged deep into his mouth, feverish with desire. Another small sound came from Ben's throat, whether of rage or pain he couldn't tell -- nor did he care. He pushed even harder against him, fusing their bodies. He ground their hips together so that Fraser could feel his arousal, feel the terrible, awful truth he hadn't been able to put into words...

Somehow, Fraser managed to tear his mouth away. "Ray!" he gasped.

Kowalski heard himself panting, and knew he'd lost it. But he couldn't give up, not even then. Because the taste, the smell, the feel of Fraser was so incredible that he moaned in spite of himself, in spite of everything. Driven, he clung to him, sucked at the beautiful, vulnerable spot on Ben's neck that he'd exposed when he'd turned his head away, the place just under his jaw where his pulse beat frantically... He fastened on it with tongue and teeth, until he felt Fraser's heart beat even harder. It gave him a surge of satisfaction, that rapid thumping under his tongue. And that one small, involuntary response took away his blind rage. He started to kiss him, really kiss him instead of ravaging him, the blackness inside of him gentling to love again at the touch of this man he wanted more than anything in the world.

And then he heard it. Heard Fraser whispering, "God. Oh, my God--"

It turned him cold. He shivered like someone had thrown a bucket of ice water over his heated head. Some measure of reason returned. He realized, far too late, that Fraser wasn't fighting him. Though he was taller and stronger and could've easily fought him off, he hadn't even tried. His big hands had settled on his shoulders at some point, probably in an instinctive effort to push him away; but other than that, he hadn't touched him. Hadn't kissed him back, hadn't even moved.

But he wasn't responding, either.

Oh my God... In a flash, he understood. He's gentle, he doesn't wanna hurt me, even after this -- but he doesn't want me, either. He's horrified. Disgusted...

In a second, Kowalski's rage drained away. Sick, shaken by what he'd done, by the way he'd humiliated himself in front of his partner, the way he must've hurt him, he forced himself to let go. In a small, far off corner of his mind, he noted dully how hard that was, even now. To pry away the fingers that had fastened hungrily around Fraser's arms, so tightly that he could feel his big biceps through his shirt; to unclench the hands that wanted to go further, feel more of him. He had to force them to let go...

But he did it, though he knew he'd never get this chance again, that this would be his one and only. Knowing, too, that he'd blown it, ruined it beyond repair. He stepped back, breathing hard.

"I'm sorry," he heard somebody say hoarsely, realized with a sense of shock that it was him, that he'd somehow forced words out past the terrible knot in his throat. He heard Fraser's breathing, as unsteady as his own, but he didn't say anything. Maybe he couldn't. Stan supposed he should've been glad -- any other guy would've been calling him something unprintable. But somehow it only made things worse.

He just stood there, exhausted in the wake of his own explosion, shaking with the leftover adrenalin still jolting through his system, with the memory of Ben's surprised mouth opening suddenly under his, trembling while he plundered it--

He didn't look at him. He couldn't. He fastened his eyes on one of his shirt buttons, stared hard at it as he mumbled, "I'll... I'll go now. Just lemme go."

"Ray--" Quiet, almost a whisper. Even so, it hurt him. He couldn't bear to hear the curses he deserved, or even the gentler questions that Benny was bound to ask. He had nothing left. No strength, no excuses, no defenses. Nothing but pain, and a desperate need to get away and hide it where no one could see him.

"Lemme go!"

Fraser moved away from the door, away from him, slowly. Stan reached for the door, surprised he wasn't running. He wrenched it open, still without looking at the man he'd just attacked. "I'm sorry," he said again over his shoulder, more miserable than he had ever been in his life. "I didn't mean to--I mean I never..."

He hesitated in the doorway. It was the buddy breathing thing, he wanted to say. But he didn't, because he knew it wouldn't make any sense to him. That Fraser wouldn't understand it, would probably never understand any of this. Hell, how could he, when he didn't understand it himself? He didn't understand how he could've fallen in love with a man at all. He just knew that he had, and that it hurt more than he'd ever thought possible.

"Ray, it's all right. You don't have to go." Fraser's voice was quiet, carefully gentle, but it cut him like a knife.

It was just like him, to offer comfort when he was the one who'd been wronged. When he was the one who'd been manhandled, shoved up against a wall and kissed roughly, against his will. He was still trying to reach out to him, still trying to smooth things over. It was too much. The memory of his stillness, his passivity, shook Kowalski still. He didn't try to stop me, he thought. Not once. How far would he have let me go? Would he even have stopped me if I--

The thought made him shudder. "Oh yeah," he said bitterly. "Yeah, I do."

What the hell had he thought he was doing? Why had he come here? What the hell did he think was going to happen if he told him the truth? Christ, Fraser was beautiful, the most beautiful man he'd ever seen -- even his name was beautiful: Benton Fraser. Strong, masculine, original, dignified. But not him. He was just plain Stan R. Kowalski, one of a million Stanleys in this world. Nothing original, or even interesting about him. Inside, he was still the skinny little Polack kid with glasses and a face that was all sharp angles, a face only a mother could love. He hadn't really changed that much, even as an adult. His face was still unremarkable, his hair was still untamable, and he still had that damn tattoo he'd long since regretted on his right arm. Had he really thought, even for a second, that a prince like Ben would want him? Hell, even if I was a woman, I wouldn't be the kind Fraser would ever look twice at, he thought hysterically. Even Frannie, whose good looks secretly knocked his socks off, hadn't managed to seduce him...

What were you thinking? he asked himself hopelessly. But it didn't matter anyway. Nothing mattered anymore, because he'd slipped, he'd lost it, he'd screwed up completely. Acted like a total jerk. Fraser was never going to be his lover. Hell, after today, I wouldn't blame him if he didn't even want to be my partner anymore!

"You should file assault charges," he said thickly as he closed his door behind him. Because he'd gripped him so tightly he knew he must've left bruises on that beautiful, snow-pale skin... On those full lips. It made him sick.

He thought Ben said his name, called out to him one last time after he shut the door, but he wasn't sure. He didn't turn around to find out.

He never knew how he made it down Fraser's stairs without falling, how he made it out to his car. He moved in a blur of loss and pain, found himself standing out on the street somehow, blinking stupidly in the sun like a mole who'd blundered out of a deep hole into daylight by mistake. Or like a frog, who'd dared to kiss a princess but found that he only revolted her. God. Oh my God...

He forced himself to move, to walk to his car.

"Ray! Ray!"

Fraser was calling him. And since he wouldn't be able to hear him unless he'd left his apartment, he was obviously coming after him. Shit! I can't look at him, I don't ever want to see him again--

With hands that shook, he unlocked his car, climbed inside, locked the doors and revved the engine.

Just in time. There was a thump on the door he'd just locked; big, pale hands knocked hard at his window, spread out pleading on the glass. "Ray! Come back. Please, don't--"

He couldn't listen, couldn't look at him, couldn't bear it. His eyes full of tears, he stomped on the gas and pulled away from the curb with a screech, without even checking to see if there was anyone behind him. Miraculously, he wasn't hit. He sped away, resisting the temptation to check the rear view mirror for that tall, handsome figure he knew was standing there forlornly watching him run, watching him take the coward's way out. As usual.

What had he said to Fraser, that day long ago in that crypt, while he was waiting for Marcus Ellory? I'm a fraud, a con artist... My whole marriage was based on a lie.

Some things never changed.

He didn't go home that night, not until it was very late. He knew Fraser would call him, might even come looking for him, and he couldn't face that. He went to a bar instead, a place Fraser didn't know about, and tried to get drunk. But it wasn't working. He'd belted four straight shots, but he was still sober; he still remembered what he'd done. How it had felt to briefly gain his heart's desire, and stupidly lose it in the same instant, because he couldn't fucking control himself... He'd never done that before, never. Not with Stella, not with anyone. Why had he done it with Benny? Benny, who was so gentle he wouldn't even push him away?

He stiffened as an ugly suspicion filled his mind. Was that why? Because I knew I could get mad, could even hurt him, and he wouldn't hurt me back?

Shit! You fucking abusive shit! You coward... He hadn't realized it was possible to hate yourself as much as he did in that moment.

He heard a crunching sound, and looked down to find that he'd crushed his glass in his hand. No one was more surprised by it than he was; he hadn't even known he was holding it that tightly. But as the vodka spread over the bar in a thin, transparent stream with little pink streaks in it, he realized slowly that the colored streaks were his blood. Then, and only then, he felt the pain. He looked down and found that his palm was a mass of cuts. He picked the jagged pieces out of it, noted absently that most of the cuts were small. There was only one long, deep, diagonal gash that might bleed a bit...

The bartender rolled his eyes, then came over and handed him a clean towel to wrap his hand in while he wiped up the spilled liquor. "No more for you, buddy," he said gruffly. He was a hard-looking guy, but his eyes were kind. "You need to go see a doctor. Or go home at least, and take care o' that."

He tied the towel awkwardly around his hand, not caring that it hurt, not caring that blood started to soak through it before he was even finished. Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll bleed to death and never have to see Fraser again, he thought, smiling bitterly. Then he got to his feet, disappointed that he was just a little unsteady, and left the bartender a tip with his good hand.

It shook so much the bartender noticed it. He frowned at him. "You okay?"

"Oh yeah," he mumbled. "I'm great." For a guy who just jumped his best friend...

He was never sure, afterwards, if he'd said that last part out loud or not. But he didn't really care, since it was the truth.

He checked his watch as he stumbled out to his car. It was 3 am. Surely even Fraser would've given up trying to contact him and gone to bed by now. So he could go home safely.

Or so he thought. But thirty minutes later, as he lay nursing a drink on his bed, staring at the ceiling and drowning in self loathing, his doorbell rang. He took another sip, waiting for whoever it was to go away. But they didn't. The doorbell pealed again and again, until he was tempted to get his gun and shoot the asshole who was out there plaguing him at such an unreal hour.

Then the knocking started. Over and over.

And he tensed, knowing who the asshole must be. He'd probably known all along. But then he relaxed again. After all, since he didn't have a key, and Fraser was far too polite to break down a door, he couldn't get in unless he let him. And he wasn't about to. So all he had to do was wait him out. The knocking grew louder. He took another sip, morose, ignoring it.

"Ray! Ray!" Was he imagining it, or was he really yelling for him? Something tightened inside him. God damn it. He was going to have to respond after all, or one of his neighbors would get pissed off eventually, maybe even get the landlord or call the cops, and he'd have an even bigger mess on his hands than he did already.

God damn Mountie... He got to his feet, cradling his injured hand against his waist, and padded toward the door. A bit more unsteady than he had been. Good. The drunker the better, tonight.

"Ray! I know you're in there. Please answer the door!"

It was him all right. Still saying please. Still. After what he'd done... It was incredible. When they handed out the politeness genes, he must've got a few trillion, he thought darkly. Then he finally found his voice. "Go away!" he snarled.

There was a brief pause. Then: "No. Let me in, please."

Goddamn stubborn Canadian... A trace of his earlier anger flickered dully in his chest. "Go away and leave me alone, dammit!"

"I'm not leaving until you talk to me."

He closed his eyes, set his jaw. "Go away," he yelled gruffly, "before I shoot you through the door!"


God! I can't take this. He moved even closer to the door, so he wouldn't have to yell so loud, then called out, "Go away! Go fuck yourself! Just leave me alone!" He hoped against hope that profanity would scare the crazed Mountie away when nothing else would.

"That's not just silly, Ray, it's anatomically impossible," Fraser observed calmly.

Kowalski hung his aching head, rested it against the door for a minute. He knew, then, that he wasn't going to go. That nothing would make him leave short of killing him; and that he couldn't do. He swayed forward and slowly, reluctantly, unlocked the door with his good hand.

Fraser stepped in calmly, as if it had been a foregone conclusion.

And maybe it had. He'd never really been able to say no to him about anything, had he? That was the problem. Maybe it didn't really start with that buddy breathing thing after all, he realized suddenly. Maybe he'd really been in love with him for a long time, without knowing it. Maybe that was why he'd always gone along with him no matter what he did, no matter how many times he endangered his life in weird ways. I love him too much, he thought painfully. He dropped his injured hand behind him so Fraser couldn't see it as he shut the door again.

"So okay, you're here. Why are you here, Fraser?" He had to force the words out, still found it hard to meet his eyes, though they were calm, betraying nothing.

"You know why, Ray." His voice was quiet, his face unreadable.

It isn't right, he thought. He shouldn't be so calm. He should get angry, yell, maybe even shove me around some, like I did to him...

But Ben didn't. That kind of anger just wasn't in him. And knowing that -- being reminded that he might've even somehow counted on that when he'd lost it with him -- made Kowalski feel lower than pond scum.

"I told you I'm sorry," he ground out. "I got nothin' more to say."

He turned and walked away, into his bedroom. Closed the door behind him, hoping Fraser would take the hint. He laid down on his bed again, praying he'd go away, and took another swig of vodka for good measure.

But he'd forgotten to hide his hand while they stood there talking. And Fraser must've seen it, because he opened his door and came in. "Ray, I can see that you're hurt," he said. "I don't think you should be alone right now."

"I knew I should've put a lock on that," he answered sourly. As Fraser sat down on the bed beside him, his face shadowed in the dim light, he closed his eyes and cursed savagely to himself. He didn't want him here! Didn't want him sitting right where so many of his erotic fantasies about him had been played out. It did dangerous things to his insides. He didn't even want to think about him like that right now, not after what he'd just done...

"What happened to your hand?"

He swallowed hard. He'd known that question was coming, but it still embarrassed him. "Cut it," he said, not wanting to admit how.

Fraser's mouth tightened. He reached out and caught his wrist before he could stop him, in a gentle pounce. "Let me see."

Stan tried to pull back, doubly ashamed at the way his pulse leapt at that casual contact. But Ben wouldn't let him. He held his wrist in a firm grip as he swiftly unwrapped the bloody towel, his movements graceful and efficient as always. Stan gave in, too tired to fight him. He just stared, sucked in as always by the pull of Ben's beauty, his kindness, his gentleness that was all he'd ever wanted...

Staring at Ben helped to dull the pain in his hand as Fraser freed it. Stan sucked in a breath when he finally got the towel off. It was stiff with dried blood, and his hand was red and swollen. "This needs stitches," Ben said, meeting his gaze at last. "You should see a doctor."

Up until then, his face had been blank, unreadable, but now Stan saw a trace of anger in his clear blue eyes. He couldn't believe it. Even after he'd nearly jumped his bones, Fraser was mad at him for not taking care of a stupid cut!

"A doctor? A doctor! Oh God, that's good... A-- doctor!" He started to laugh. He laughed and laughed, unable to stop. Fraser just sat there looking at him, not saying anything. And then suddenly, somehow, the laughter turned to tears, and he was sobbing, tears running down his face. "I'm so... sorry!" he choked, his chest burning. "I didn't mean... to hurt you, I--"

And he didn't know what was worse; what he'd done, or the humiliation of breaking down in front of Fraser. But he couldn't help it, couldn't stop the pain that was flooding through him.

"Stan, don't. Don't cry..."

But he couldn't stop. Fraser eased him down as he wept, down onto his back on his bed with his big, gentle hands. And a tiny part of Kowalski's brain knew that this was what he'd wanted, what he'd dreamed of for a long time... But he hadn't wanted it like this. Not like this... This wasn't a dream, it was a nightmare.

"I know you didn't mean to hurt me. And you didn't. You didn't hurt me, " Fraser said, putting a gentle hand on his shoulder.

Stan couldn't believe that. Benny was just being kind, like he always was. He knew what a bastard he'd been, knew how hard he'd grabbed him, how he'd shoved him up against a goddamn wall and kissed him against his will, forced himself on him... The memory of Fraser's surprise, the way he'd frozen helplessly while he assaulted him, ripped through his head. It made him nauseous, made him weep even harder. He knew then that the liquor must've affected him far more than he'd realized, because he couldn't stop shaking, couldn't control his sobs. He tried to cover his face with his hands.

But Fraser wouldn't let go of his right wrist. "You didn't hurt me, Ray," he repeated again, his voice urgent, compelling. "But I don't want you to put pressure on this hand right now. One of those cuts is very deep, and it could start to bleed again. I want you to lie here and be still for a minute, and don't move this hand. All right?"

He nodded, put his free arm across his eyes so he didn't have to look at his friend. He was tired, so tired, and he couldn't ever remember feeling so depressed. He had no energy, just then, to fight with Fraser. "Yeah," he choked through his tears, surrendering.

Fraser finally let him go. He got up and left the room and for a time, Stan lay alone, trying but not able to stop crying. He didn't know what Ben was doing, and he didn't really care. He was too grateful at being able to cry without an audience to worry about it. But then Ben came back with a washcloth, some bandages and a tube of antibiotic ointment he'd found in his bathroom, and he suddenly realized what he meant to do.

"No!" Stan groaned. Fresh humiliation surged through him. It was too much, he couldn't bear it after what he'd done-- He tried to get up, to get away.

But Fraser read his intention and caught his arm, held him easily. "Let me do this," he said in a low voice. "I want to. And you... you owe me that much."

It was the first mention he'd made of what he had done; and his timing couldn't have been more strategic. Goddamn you, he thought, anger flickering dully in him at the Mountie's cunning, his ruthlessness. He knew just what to say, the one thing that he couldn't argue with--

He laid back down with a groan. "Okay, dammit," he breathed. If Fraser was that determined to help him (though God only knew why), he'd have to let him. But he kept his arm over his eyes as Ben picked up the cloth and began gently cleaning the dried blood off of his hand, so that he wouldn't have to look at him. And as he lay there, tears began to run down his cheeks again.

Fraser must've seen them. His hands stilled. "Am I hurting you?" he asked quietly.

He shook his head mutely, but he was only partly telling the truth. Fraser's touch didn't hurt him. Not physically, anyway. He was very gentle, and his careful probing at his wounds had nothing to do with Stan's tears. They came from the pain that twisted his insides at his touch, his nearness. Kowalski wondered for a second if Ben knew that, if he was deliberately teasing him in revenge for what he'd done, but he knew that couldn't be true. Fraser didn't have a mean bone in his body. Whereas he...

Fraser kept on wiping carefully at his cuts, and he bit his lip. "These cuts," he said haltingly. "You weren't... I mean, did you-- Did someone do this to you?"

Kowalski couldn't understand why he cared, but he shook his head. "No. That screw-up was me. Just me, bein' stupid as usual."

"You're not stupid, Ray. Nor is this entirely your fault."

Stan didn't understand. "No, I was tellin' the truth. I did this, Fraser. By accident."

"No, I meant... that I bear some responsibility for what happened earlier," he said at last. "I knew what you meant," he confessed. The cloth stilled, then was removed from his hand.


A soft sigh, so soft he almost couldn't hear it. Then the lightest of touches over his cuts, and a cool sensation that soothed the burning... He was applying the antibiotic, Stan realized. Then: "About the buddy breathing, that is."

Kowalski froze, his heart turning over. "What?" He lifted his arm from his eyes at last, and tried to focus his blurred vision on Fraser.

The Mountie wasn't looking at him. He was taking out some bandages now, really small ones. "I found these butterfly strips in your medicine cabinet," he explained. "Since you don't want to see a doctor, these are the next best thing to stitches. This may hurt a little, but I have to press the edges of this deep gash together while I apply them to it. They'll help it knit together while it heals."

Stan bit his lip. Benny was trying, in his pedantic way, to avoid answering him. "I know how butterflies work," he said, impatient with Fraser's evasion. "But whaddid you mean about-- You mean you knew all along?"

Fraser flushed as he bent over his hand again. "No, of course not. I didn't realize until you were trying to leave, when I saw--" His blush deepened, and he faltered.


"Well, I noticed that you... were looking at my mouth," he confessed at last. "Rather... intently. And then I knew... I mean, I realized..."

Jesus! Kowalski groaned to himself. He'd hoped that his words had given him away; but no. Fraser had seen the hunger written plainly on his face. He closed his eyes again, mortified that he'd been that obvious, so horny that even a choirboy like Fraser could see it. Tears leaked out from underneath his closed eyelids. "Then why did you-- why didn't you let me go?" he choked. "Why didn't you just let me go?"

Fraser's hands suddenly stilled. Stan felt him move, and the next thing he knew, a gentle finger was wiping away his tears. "I'm sorry, " he said, his voice very low. "I thought we should talk about it. I didn't know you were going to--"

"Jump you?" he finished bitterly, because he knew Fraser couldn't even say the words to describe the ugly thing he'd done.

"Kiss me," he corrected gently after a moment. "I never knew. I never even suspected you felt this way--"

"Don't," he grated, turning his head away. Though it was meant to comfort, his pity seared him inside. He couldn't bear it. "I know you didn't!" he hissed. "Hell, I didn't even know myself until that time on the Henry Allen--"

Fraser sat down again, picked up his hand and resumed gently laying butterfly bandages across his deep cut. "I see," he said. "It's... it's all right, you know," he said awkwardly.

Sure. Stan set his jaw so tightly it hurt. It was far from all right. After what he'd done, things would probably never be all right again.

Fraser fell silent then, as he finished bandaging his hand. It was obvious he didn't return his feelings. Which was nothing Stan didn't already know, but it hurt to feel it all over again. Still, he didn't dare say anything about it. He figured he'd done enough damage for one night. A silence fell between them, charged, uncomfortable. It was all he could do to lie still, not to pull away from those strong, skillful fingers, that torturous touch.

When Fraser finally finished and let him go, he let out a breath he hadn't even realized he'd been holding. "Ya' satisfied now?" he asked darkly, trying to drive him away. "Will you just go away and let me be?"

He felt, rather than saw, his friend shake his head. "No. I think I should stay, Ray," he said quietly.

Kowalski drew a ragged breath. He knew what that meant. Fraser must've got it into his silly head that he was suicidal, just because of that stupid cut on his hand. Goddamn mother hen, he thought resentfully. He longed to throw him out, but didn't have the strength. He was tired, so goddamn tired that he couldn't even get up, couldn't even think anymore. He wanted to lose himself in sleep, so he could stop feeling too.

"Suit yerself," he shrugged. "I'm goin' to sleep."

His eyes had long since closed, but he could still Fraser's eyes on him, burning into him in a futile effort to understand what had driven him to this. He knows I want him, but he has no idea how much I love him, Kowalski thought. And he never will...

He turned over, turned his back on those beautiful blue eyes and their painful, impossible questions. Laid his aching hand on the bed beside him and tried to forget them -- and what he had done.

When Kowalski woke, it was twilight. He rubbed at his eyes, glanced at his bedside clock.

"It's 7:32," Fraser said quietly, precise as always.

Stan blinked, shocked to find that he'd slept an entire day away -- and even more surprised that Fraser was still there. He was sitting in a chair by his bed, wearing the same clothes he'd had on yesterday. My God -- he never left! He's been here the whole time I slept, watchin' over me. He was stunned by his partner's devotion despite what he'd done.

"Benny," he rasped, sitting up awkwardly. "What're you still doin' here?"

"I've been thinking," Fraser said haltingly. His face looked strained, as if he were exhausted, as if he hadn't slept a wink. Stan had no doubt that it was true. He'd probably sat up all night, watching over him. And there was no need for him to guess what he'd been thinking about all that time, either.

"Look. It's okay," he said, dying a little inside even as he tried to smile, to act cool. "You probably don't want to be my partner anymore, and that's all right. I understand. I acted like a jerk, and--"

"No." Fraser shook his head decisively, looked at him directly. "I don't want a new partner."

Something inside Kowalski eased, something that had been drawn unbearably tight. But he shook his head nonetheless. "Maybe you should," he said, ashamed at the memory of what he'd done. "We can't go back... I mean, things won't be the way they were between us."

Fraser cocked his head. "Well, not precisely, no... I mean, now that I... now that you--after what you... I mean, the buddy breathing thing and--"

God, he's babbling again, Stan thought. He finally took pity on him. "Now that you've found out that I want you," he finished for him.

"Exactly," Fraser agreed, turning red again.

Stan sighed. "Maybe I should get a transfer. That would probably be the best thing--"

"No." Fraser shook his head again. "I don't want you to leave because of this. Because of me."

He closed his eyes. "Fraser--"

"I'm sorry I didn't react very well to your... news," he said carefully. "It's just... this was so... unexpected, Ray," he said awkwardly. "I never--"

"Don't apologize, Benny," he gritted. "It's not your fault."

"All right. But it isn't yours either, Ray. I think," Ben said, "that we should give this some time. Feelings can change, and perhaps this is just temporary. Maybe it's the result of you missing your wife... Or the fact that you haven't met another woman you really like."

No -- you're wrong, he thought. I was lonely, but only until I fell in love with you, Kowalski thought hopelessly. But he didn't say it. He'd already hurt and embarrassed his partner enough. Let him think this is just lust, some casual thing that'll go away in time. He's better off that way, and it'll give me enough breathing time to get a transfer.

"Maybe," he said aloud, pretending to agree.

"I wish that I could--well, that I could--that I--" Fraser stammered, blushing crimson. "But I--"

Stan's hands clenched into fist. God, he can't even say the words! The pain of it lacerated him far deeper than the broken glass had. "Don't," Stan choked. "Just don't!"

Fraser looked down at his hands, and once again, an awkward silence fell between them.

Finally, Stan broke it. He had to. He couldn't take much more of this without starting to cry again. "Okay. I'll stay," he said gruffly, lying for Fraser's own good. "But on one condition." He waited until Ben's blue eyes lifted to his, then went on, "We never talk about this again -- we don't even mention it. We just go on like it never happened."

Benny frowned, and looked at him doubtfully. "Are you sure that's wise, Ray? I thought you just said--"

"Forget what I said. Either we forget about this, or I leave. It's that simple. That's the only way I can get through this. It's your choice, Frase."

Fraser got to his feet. "Then there's no choice to make," he said quietly. "You're my partner and my friend, Ray. I don't want to lose you."

"Okay. Then we'll just forget about it," he said.

Fraser's mouth worked unhappily. "Yes," he said at last. "We'll forget it."

Guilt twisted inside of Stan. He didn't deserve to be forgiven so easily, didn't deserve such loyalty. He knew that. Small wonder that Fraser couldn't love him back; he didn't deserve that either. What Fraser deserved, though, was a partner he could trust, that he could feel comfortable with. And Stan knew, he just knew, that Ben would never feel that way about him again. He didn't believe that Stan was going to be able to forget what had happened, or his feelings for him. He could hear that in his voice. So he was going to have to leave -- there was no other way.

Because when you love someone, really love them, you want what's best for them. And Fraser deserved a better guy than him for a partner. No question. He'd ask Welsh about it first thing Monday morning.

"Okay. Then it's settled," he said aloud. "Go home now, and get some sleep, Frase. I'll be fine. And I'll see you on Monday. Okay?"

Fraser shot him a long look, frowning slightly. "You're sure?"

"Whaddya want, a signed statement?" he tried to smile. "I'm fine. Go home."

But still, the Mountie hesitated, and Kowalski felt himself bleeding inside. Fraser cared about him, that was obvious. He'd always known that, and he'd really proved it in the past few hours. Any other guy would've knocked his teeth out for what he'd done. Instead, he'd come after him, tended his wound, watched over him while he slept off his drunk, even tried to make things right...

But that only made things worse. It proved that they were friends, all right. Maybe even best friends. But that wasn't enough anymore. Not for him. It would never be enough.

"What'll it take to make you go?" he asked gruffly, trying to mask his pain. "Do you want my gun? Izzat what you're worried about?"

Fraser's jaw tightened a bit. "Should I be?"

He shook his head bitterly. Not that he hadn't been tempted, mind you, but shooting himself would mean he wouldn't get to spend a few more weeks with Fraser. So he couldn't do it.

After I go, he thought darkly. When I leave, I'll go somewhere far away, and then... Then we'll see.

It might be okay then, because Fraser wouldn't be the one to find his miserable carcass. He could spare him that agony, at least.

"No. There'll be no .45 sandwiches here tonight," he said truthfully. Not tonight... "Go home, Benny."

After a long moment, Fraser finally decided he evidently wasn't suicidal, and nodded his head. "All right then. See you next week, Ray," he said.


Only one week to go, Stan thought wearily a month later. Just one more week. It had taken time to get his transfer -- positions didn't just open up when you wanted them to -- and it was tougher when you were dealing long distance. But a spot had finally come open in a California precinct, some place called Santa Clara. On the ocean, apparently. Not that he cared. He would've gone to Canada, if necessary, just to get away.

Because being with Benny was pure hell for him now. He'd been right, things hadn't been the same between them since his awkward little secret had come out. Ben was polite to him as always, but there was a distance between them that hadn't been there before. And he noticed that Fraser was careful not to touch him now either. No more brotherly pats on the shoulder when he was upset, no affectionate looks when he said something funny... Nothing. Just perfect formality, and a careful politeness that cut deeper than a knife.

It made him feel sick inside. Worse still, he knew he wasn't doing it out of revulsion or anything like that. Fraser was doing it for his own good. Because he'd figured out how much he craved his touch, and because he didn't want to tease him. Christ! I gotta get outta here...

Knowing all the while that when he did leave, when he couldn't ever see Fraser again, it would be even worse. That it would be more than he could stand.

He'd never felt more miserable in his life. In his darker moments, alone in his apartment where he spent sleepless nights staring at the ceiling, he even planned how he would do it. Once he was safely away in Santa Wherever, he'd play a role for awhile. Be a good cop, do what he had to do.

For awhile. Then eventually, when enough time had passed for Fraser to forget him and go on with his life, he'd pick up a pen and write some notes: one for his folks, one for Stella, and one for Benny. Just to say goodbye, really; because he had no intention of telling any of them why. It was too corny, for one thing, and it would hurt Fraser too much for another. So he'd tell them all that it had nothing to do with them, so they wouldn't feel guilty about what he'd done. Especially Benny. He knew, both from personal experience and from talking to Lt. Welsh about the mess he'd read in Vecchio's file about Benny's lover, Victoria Metcalf, that the Canadian had a considerable capacity for guilt. He'd seen himself how Benny was always ready to take on other people's problems, and to suffer for what they did; and he wasn't going to let that happen regarding him.

So in his notes, he'd just say he was unhappy, that being a cop had shown him too much of life's dark side until he finally couldn't take it anymore. That he'd hoped his transfer would make him happier, a change of scenery and all that, but that he'd finally realized the problem was inside him, that he was just depressed and that it wasn't going to go away. It was a plausible story. And he'd hardly be the first cop to be done in by the job, so he knew they'd all believe it. At least, he hoped they would...

Then, once the notes were written, on some quiet night in far-off California, he'd just go for a walk on the beach. Wade out silently into the water, and let it take him. It was simple. And it seemed right. That way, if he was lucky, there would be no messy corpse for anyone to find. No one would be traumatized by his going, and maybe he'd finally be at peace.

And a watery death seemed fitting, since he'd been underwater when he first found out he loved Fraser...

It comforted him to think that there would be no loose ends, that he'd figured out just the right way to leave his pain behind. Of course, nothing was perfect; and no matter how he did it, it would hurt his family and Stella and Ben. But they were all strong, they would absorb the loss and go on. His mom and dad had each other, and for all he knew, Stella would be happily involved with some other guy by then -- and Ben would have a new partner. And as long as he didn't think he was the cause of it, Kowalski knew he'd be all right. After all, Fraser was really strong, one of the strongest men he'd ever met.

Besides -- no matter much he wished things were different, Fraser wasn't in love with him. And he never would be. And that was life in Chicago: love and pain and hopeless desire that was wearing him down, tearing his soul apart.

He wouldn't be sorry to leave that behind -- not the pain part of it anyway. Just Benny. But that couldn't be helped.

Fraser stared at Kowalski covertly as he drove. Why didn't he tell me? he thought for the thousandth time, trying not to get angry, not to feel betrayed. But he couldn't help it. He'd come by to pick Stan up for dinner earlier that evening, answered his phone because he wasn't at his desk, and been shocked when a Captain Toller in Santa Clara, California left the message that Stan needed to call him back to finalize the last few details of his impending transfer to his division!

He'd set the phone down and sank into a chair, feeling cold and numb. Because he knew -- he knew why Stan was leaving, and why he'd kept it a secret from him. Probably from everyone. It was because of him.

He'd been wrong to say that Kowalski had some kind of crush on him, to suggest that it was something slight that would be banished by time, or dating a woman. Stan didn't just want him, he loved him -- and he should've recognized that. That was why he'd gotten so angry and frustrated when his attempt to explain that had failed. That was why he'd broken and kissed him so passionately, and why he'd gone out and gotten drunk afterwards. His feelings ran far deeper than mere casual lust, which also made them difficult to control.

Stan loved him deeply, with his whole heart, the way he'd once loved Victoria. Fraser could see that clearly now. He supposed that was why, when they hadn't been getting along before, Stan had changed his mind about getting a transfer. Because he'd inadvertently wakened Stan's own unconscious desires when he'd given him air by mouth under water that time... He remembered that Stan had seemed rather upset afterwards, but he'd put it down to his close brush with drowning. Now, he realized that he'd been shaken by the discovery that he was, in fact, in love with his own partner.

But what bothered Fraser the most was that his failure to understand, and then to reciprocate Stan's intense feelings, was what had driven him to hurt himself that night. He wouldn't talk about it, but the cuts on his hand were so deep and sharp that they could only have been caused by glass. And the fact that he'd ignored them, hadn't bandaged them and refused to have a doctor patch them up, was further evidence of how dangerously upset he had become.

He was lucky he didn't bleed to death! he thought grimly, remembering his blood-soaked towel and lacerated hand, sliced open in at least ten places. And the worst of them, the terrible gash that had sliced diagonally across the length of his hand, was so deep that it had cut through several layers of muscle. The injuries were so bad that he'd assumed he must've acquired them in a bar brawl when someone hit him with a bottle. But he was unmarked otherwise, so Fraser had had to believe his statement that he'd somehow inflicted those vicious cuts himself. He'd said they were accidental, but he still wasn't sure. Stan had been so guilty over losing control and kissing him roughly, and had sobbed so bitterly about it afterwards, that he'd wondered if he'd savaged himself deliberately, as some kind of terrible self punishment.

The way Ray Vecchio took a bullet for me, to make up for shooting me accidentally that time...

That particular truth made Fraser feel sick inside. What was it about him, that he always caused those who loved him such pain? First Victoria, then Ray, and now his new Ray... He didn't know, but he knew beyond doubt that those cuts on his hand hadn't ended it. Stan was still hurting, and hurting badly.

Because it was also clear that Kowalski found his love for him as frightening as he did. So frightening that he hadn't ever put it in into words; so frightening that he'd made him promise not to even mention his kiss again -- so frightening that he'd applied for a transfer, to try to escape it.

But he still felt it. Fraser was sure of that. Though he never spoke of it, and tried hard to hide it, Fraser could see it in his eyes at times: a desperate kind of yearning that knew it would find no answer but couldn't stop wanting. Fraser had felt that terrible hunger himself, had let it tear at him for all the years that Victoria was in prison. In fact, he knew the look so well that it amazed him that he hadn't seen it sooner, that Stan had had to grab him, to kiss him before he realized...

Guilt tore at him. He'd ruined every intense personal relationship he'd had in his adult life. He'd sent Victoria to prison for years, gotten Ray Vecchio shot, and now he was responsible for Stan requesting a transfer. And despite his promise not to, Fraser knew that he must've planned to go away from the moment he'd learned of his feelings. His transfer process was so far along now that he must've initiated it weeks ago, probably right after that disastrous night that he'd lost control and kissed him.

Fraser was ashamed. Not that Stan loved him, but of his reaction to that. Even though Stan had asked him to, he was ashamed that he'd agreed to his request not to discuss what had happened between them. He should've refused that, should've insisted that they hash the matter out somehow, then and there. He realized belatedly that his very willingness to ignore it must've sent a clear message to Stan that he'd found his kiss repulsive. No wonder he'd been in a hurry to transfer away from him.

He'd made a bad mistake, and for all the wrong reasons. He'd agreed to ignore the incident partly for Stan's sake, but mostly for his own, because it spared him the necessity of discussing Stan's emotions, a task that he dreaded. Because that kiss, and the power of the emotions raging behind it, had terrified him. He loved Kowalski like a brother, but he'd never seen him lose control like that before. Nor had any man ever touched him like that before. He'd never even imagined such a thing... He was perfectly well aware of the existence of homosexuality, of course, and due to his work in the RCMP, some of its practices as well. But knowing it existed, and discovering that his own partner was gay (or at least bisexual), and that he wanted him, were two vastly different things.

Stan's kiss, and his passion, had taken him completely by surprise. He knew Kowalski thought he'd frozen in his arms because he was heterosexual (maybe even homophobic, like so many policemen were) and completely unable to return his desire. Fraser had let him think that, but it wasn't true.

Though he'd never had a homosexual encounter before, he had no prejudice against it either. It was just another form of love after all, and God knew there was little enough of that in the world. He'd been lonely all his life -- who was he to condemn men who found others attractive? And though he'd never really thought of him in those terms before, when he considered it, there was nothing about Stan that displeased him. His hair was thick, a handsome shade of dark blonde like ripe wheat, his eyes were alert and intense, and he was slender in a way that reminded him of Ray Vecchio. Slender, compact and surprisingly strong. He was very attractive, and he cared very deeply for him as well.

So given time, it was possible that he could respond to him physically as well as emotionally. But he was afraid of that truth. So he'd hidden it from Stan, had refused even to think about him in that way. Partly because the feverish hunger in his desperate caresses had brought back memories of Victoria, and his own hopeless, equally feverish desire for her, so strongly that it chilled him. The one time he'd ever allowed himself to love someone in a romantic way, he'd lost her, and ended up with a bullet in his back. And the deepest bond he'd ever had with a friend had resulted in another bullet, that had almost cost Ray Vecchio his life. Fraser had decided that he was cursed, that he wasn't meant to know passion.

So he'd been as gentle as he could, but he'd said no to Stan that night. And not just because he was terrified of loving a man. He was frightened of loving anyone, of love itself. He'd sworn that he would never again get involved with anyone as deeply as he had with Victoria, that he would never let himself love anyone -- or be loved -- like that again. He couldn't risk it. He didn't want his curse to touch Kowalski too. Deep down, he was afraid that if he so much as touched him, if he even tried to love him in such a new and unfamiliar way, he'd mess things up irreparably again, and lose Stan just like he'd lost Victoria and Ray.

He'd reassured him that he didn't want him to go away, though, and that his knowledge of Stan's feelings wouldn't change anything between them. But in retrospect, that had been naïve, because it had. Nothing had been the same since. He still enjoyed being with Kowalski, working with him, but the mere knowledge that his physical presence had the power to arouse his friend kept him from being comfortable around him. He tried to be careful not to touch him, so Stan wouldn't think he was teasing him in any way, but the loss of their old physical camaraderie, of the simple luxury of being able to put a hand on his shoulder if he felt like it, saddened him.

And the pain in Kowalski's eyes tore at him. He looked like he was losing weight, and his eyes were shadowed like he wasn't sleeping. He never said a word about it, but Fraser felt his despair like a weight on his shoulders. Stan was so desperately unhappy that he'd tried to decide if it was kinder to see him, or stay away. In the end, he'd opted to keep seeing him. He couldn't forget what Kowalski had done to his hand when he'd first revealed his feelings. And he was afraid that if he cut off contact with him, he might do something even worse.

And now he knew that Stan already had. That he was leaving him, unless Fraser could figure out a way to stop him. And a reason to make him stay...

Stan studied Fraser secretly as he drove. The Mountie had been acting strangely ever since he'd picked him up for dinner, and he wondered what was bothering him. When he'd found him at his desk, he'd been white as a sheet, as if he'd just been dealt a blow of some kind. But when he'd asked him about it, he'd just smiled automatically and said he was fine, and where did he want to go for dinner?

Stan hadn't questioned him about it. He was used to being shut out by now, though it had never stopped hurting. Just one more week, he'd told himself as they drove to a nearby café. One more week, and the torture will be over...

And the real torture, of trying to live without Benny somehow, would begin.

All too soon, it seemed, they reached Fraser's apartment building. Stan rolled his car to a stop at the curb, already resigned to the fact that Fraser wouldn't invite him in. He'd stopped doing that when he'd found out how he felt. Not that he blamed him...

"Would you like to come up and have a cup of coffee?" the Mountie asked.

Stan blinked in surprise, forced away the ridiculous hope that leapt in him at Fraser's smallest gesture. He told himself sternly that nothing had changed between them -- Fraser was just being polite, as usual. But he was so lonely, so goddamn lonely (and it would soon be worse) that he couldn't say no, though he knew he should. "Okay, sure," he said.

He followed Fraser up his stairs in silence, forcing himself not to stare at the long, strong legs in front of him. Still, he noticed that his friend was moving with a hint of stiffness, and he frowned a little. "Hey, Frase -- you been stabbed, or shot or somethin' lately, and forgot to tell me?" he teased. "'Cuz yer walkin' a little funny there."

Fraser shook his head. "It's just a back ache," he said as they climbed.

"That's right -- you hurt it fallin' outta that window, on the 'Lady Shoes' thing," he remembered.

"Yes. It still gets a little stiff at times, that's all."

You oughtta go see a doctor, Stan started to say, then caught himself. Other than a scar he suspected was permanent, his hand had finally healed up pretty well. But in light of his refusal to see a doctor about it despite the loss of several pints of blood, he could hardly lecture Fraser on the subject. But he knew no one else would, and it gave him a pang.

Who's gonna look out for him when I'm gone? he thought suddenly. That bitch he works for doesn't give a damn if he gets shot, as long as he can stand guard duty outside her damn Consulate. And Vecchio's gone now... And Benny's such a stoic, he'd rather die than ever let anyone know he's hurt. What if something really bad happens to him? He'll be all alone. He could die in that little hellhole of an apartment, and no one would know.

His gut twisted at the thought of that, and as Fraser opened his door, he said hesitantly, "Maybe... if your back's still buggin' you, you oughtta go see someone about it." He avoided looking at him as he spoke, not wanting him to think he was saying that because of... you know. Because he wasn't, he was just being a friend. But he wasn't sure either of them could tell the difference any more. "I know a good back doctor, if you need one," he added anyway, for Fraser's sake.

To his surprise, Fraser turned and smiled at him. "That's very kind of you, Ray. I'm sure it will go away on its own, but thank you."

He shrugged. "Yeah, sure." It made him uncomfortable when Benny smiled at him like that. He was so beautiful, it was like having a sunbeam dazzle your eyes -- it hurt him to look at it.

"Have a seat," Fraser invited. "I'll get you some coffee, and make tea."

"Okay. Thanks. D'you want any help or anything?"

"No, I can get it, thank you."

Needing some place to direct his eyes other than at his partner, Stan played with Dief while Fraser puttered around in the kitchen. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw him wince a little when he reached up on a shelf for their cups, and he knew in order for him to betray even such a small sign of pain, his back must be killing him.

He waited until they were both sitting at the table, sipping and talking casually, before he brought it up. "Ya' know, if your back is botherin' you, sometimes a massage can help. You ever tried that, Benny? I'm pretty good at it--"

Fraser froze suddenly, and lowered his eyes.

Stan closed his silently, cursing himself, knowing what he must be thinking. He got to his feet, picked up his coffee and carried it into the kitchen to break the sudden tension between them. He was so tired, so tired of wanting him so hopelessly and not being able to show the slightest sign that he cared, ever, in any way -- not even as a friend.

It isn't fair, he thought. But who said life is fair?

He forced his feelings down, way down deep inside, and slammed the door on them so that he could speak again. He was getting pretty good at that now. "And I know this woman... She's a friend of a friend, her name's Lisa Talick. She's a certified massage therapist, she's got magic fingers. She doesn't live very far from here. I could get you an appointment, take you there if you want--"

Fraser watched Stan fumble around in his kitchen, heard the barely repressed pain that leaked out around the edges of his voice as he explained about Lisa's magic fingers, and the last bit of his resistance died. He was ashamed for tensing up the way he had, at the very mention of Stan touching him, even in a therapeutic way. Obviously he'd seen it, and it had embarrassed him so much he couldn't even look at him.

What's wrong with you? he asked himself. This man loves you, loves you so much that he worries about your slightest muscle ache, for God sakes; and instead of thanking him for it, you keep insulting him! Stan deserves better than that.

Something inside of Fraser shifted at that. He suddenly saw things in a new light. Stan deserved to have someone care about him, and maybe he did too. He'd secretly been lonely, so incredibly lonely for so long... So why was he so determined to turn love away when it stood patiently by him, trying hard to help even in the face of his rejection? Just because that love came in a different shape than what he was used to, and because he'd made such disasters of his past relationships, was he really such a coward that he couldn't let it in? Couldn't try again?

Surely his father had taught him to have more courage than that.

And there was still the matter of Kowalski's transfer, too. He hadn't told him he'd found out about it, but it had been weighing heavily on his mind. It wasn't what Stan really wanted, and he knew it. It was his fault. Stan was only going away to escape the pain of loving him hopelessly -- a pain he understood better than anyone.

He's going. Unless you do something, change this terrible standoff between you, you'll lose him.

And nothing, nothing was worth that.

He sat there feeling the pain in his back and in his heart, and knew there was only one way to try to right things for himself and his partner. He had to face what had happened, had to decide what he really felt about it. He tried to remember the precise sensations he'd felt when Stan kissed him. It certainly hadn't been pain, as Stan had thought, or revulsion either. Setting aside the strangeness of a man's body pressed against his, of a lack of the soft curves he was used to, and Stan's nervous roughness, it hadn't really been unpleasant. Stan's lips were warm, and he even realized suddenly that when Stan had kissed his neck, sucked at his skin, he'd felt a kind of thrill. He'd denied it to himself, said it was fear, but it hadn't been.

It was pleasure, he thought, amazed at the way he'd hidden that fact from himself for so long.

Then he heard himself saying, "I'm sure your friend is very qualified, Ray, but I'm rather tired. Would you perhaps consider giving me a massage? If it's not too much trouble."

There. It's out, Fraser thought, his heart beating fast. I said it. This seemed the perfect opportunity to see how he felt about Stan touching him, so he was going to take a risk. Try to find out what they could be to each other, if there was any possibility of a romantic relationship between them if he didn't let fear get in the way. And if it didn't work out, neither of them would've lost anything. Stan was going away anyway...

But Stan hesitated, his face drawing tight with a look Fraser recognized as pain and fear together. "You sure, Fraser?" he asked warily. "'Cuz I can take you to Linda's, I don't mind--"

Fraser took a deep breath, and looked him right in the eye. "No. I'd really rather you did it, Ray," he said, his heart beating even faster.

Kowalski still looked confused, but he gave in at last, unable to back out now since the massage had been his idea. "Okay then," he said in a low voice. "I guess I can..." He took off his jacket slowly, reluctantly, and hung it on the back of a chair while Fraser took off his uniform coat and put it in the closet. Stan didn't say anything else, but his eyes were shuttered, his shoulders taut; and Fraser could feel his tension. He knew Stan wanted to help him, but that he was afraid he might inadvertently become excited while touching him, and that he'd sense it and be disgusted by it.

A wave of feeling swept over Fraser for him: compassion, tenderness, understanding... There was nothing of disgust there, no revulsion, only warmth and trust. Stan was so concerned for him, and he'd been so hard on himself over what Fraser considered a minor loss of control before, over one slightly rough kiss, that Ben knew he would never hurt him. He already loved Stan, he thought. It only remained to be seen if he could want him as well.

"Do you want me to take my shirt off?" he asked, with perfect innocence. He tried not to smile when Stan's eyes widened visibly, and he gulped.

"Yeah. Yeah, that would be good," he mumbled, trying to sound casual, not to betray his surprise. "That'd make it easier."

He smiled. "All right." He slipped off his suspenders and then pulled off his undershirt, trying hard to suppress a grin at the way Stan's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. I'm enjoying this, he realized, a bit shocked at his own wickedness. But there was no doubt about it: he was having fun. His heart was beating hard, he was incredibly amused -- and even a little aroused. Partly by the unfamiliar thrill of taking an erotic risk like this -- and partly with anticipating the intimate touch of Stan's hands on his body. What would it be like?

Fraser couldn't wait to find out.

I'm dreaming, Stan thought. I must be. Or else he was on some mind-blowing drug, because he thought he'd heard Fraser take him up on his offer to massage his back; that he'd specified that he wanted him to do it, and not Linda. And then the fantasy, hallucination or whatever got even weirder, because he could've sworn he'd offered to take off his shirt, too -- and now he could see him standing there smiling at him, wearing nothing but his pants and boots!

I woulda' thought I'd died and gone to heaven, but I don't remember dyin', he told himself, incredulous. So this must be real. Fraser was really standing there half naked and smiling, waiting for him to massage his sore back. God, he's beautiful! Kowalski thought in awe. Snow pale, perfect skin, broad shoulders, a perfectly smooth, hairless, muscular chest, big biceps and a washboard stomach... Not the huge, artificial, pumped-up look guys got lifting weights, but the graceful strength of an active man. He'd always known Fraser had a well-built body under his uniform, but he'd only seen glimpses of it in a t-shirt before. Half naked, Benny was awesome. For a moment, he just stood there gaping at him, unable to tear his eyes away.

And then... "Baby oil," he heard himself muttering thickly. "I need baby oil."


He started, and felt himself blushing. "Umm... I need oil, for my hands, it just... It makes it easier to--"

"To give a massage?" Fraser finished brightly.

"Yeah," he choked, trying hard to keep his eyes off that gorgeous chest, to remember to look at his face...

The Mountie's eyes gleamed. "I think I've got just the thing," he said. He disappeared down the hall for a second, then came back with a feminine-looking little bottle labeled, "Eau D'Amour: Aromatherapy".

It's oil all right, Kowalski thought, bemused and a bit jealous; but there was no way in hell Fraser had bought this stuff. "Where did you--"

Fraser gave him a little smile. "Oh, it's not mine. Frannie left it here," he said, with his best wide-eyed, innocent look. But he never got a chance to question that tantalizing revelation, because Fraser handed him the bottle and went on briskly, "Well then. Shall I lie down on the bed? Would that be best?"

"Yeah, sure," Stan said, trying to control his jealousy, and not to even wonder what Frannie had been doing here with a bottle of love oil. Jesus! It didn't pay to think too much about stuff like that, to wonder if she'd seen Fraser half naked like this too, or even nakeder... But he couldn't help it. For a second, he stared at Ben and wondered.

"Is something wrong, Ray?"

Stan's eyes narrowed suddenly. There was a hint of something in Fraser's clear blue eyes all at once, a hint of something unbelievable, like-- laughter? He almost felt like he was being teased. But that was impossible, unthinkable... He blinked, unable to take it in, and the momentary gleam was gone. "No. No, this stuff will be fine. Just lie down, Benny," he said, shaking his head in bemusement at his own crazy fantasies.

Fraser laid face down on his bed, trying to slow the rapid beating of his heart, so as not to betray his excitement at the idea of Stan massaging him. He supposed he should've been sorry he'd further teased his poor partner by presenting him with that bottle of oil Frannie had left behind long ago, when she'd stayed overnight at his apartment for safety's sake... He'd known that would make Stan jealous, but he couldn't resist doing it. After all, he'd said he needed oil, and that was all he had -- and besides, if things went as he hoped, Stan would soon discover that he had no reason to feel jealous of Frannie. No reason at all...

"Are you okay like that, Benny?" Stan asked. "That doesn't hurt your back?"

He sounded reluctant, as if he were trying to put off touching him. But Fraser could smell Frannie's oil, so he knew he was rubbing it onto his hands, which meant that he did in fact mean to go through with it. The light, flowery scent made his head spin. His heart skipped a beat, and he took a deep breath. "No, I'm fine, Ray," he said. "Go ahead."

"Okay." He felt the bed dip slightly, and realized that Stan had sat down next to him. "You just tell me if this feels too cold or anything," Stan advised, his voice a little hoarse.

"All right." Fraser smothered a smile in his pillow. Kowalski was trying so hard, so incredibly hard to be good, it was really rather touching -- and at the same time, hilarious. But then his hands settled lightly on his back, and Fraser forgot about laughter, about how he'd teased him, and concentrated solely on his touch.

"Where does it hurt, Benny?" Stan asked, kneading gently at his muscles. His voice was low and throaty, and Fraser's pulse jumped in instinctive response. He'd only heard that note in his voice once before -- the night he'd kissed him. So he realized instantly what it meant: though Stan had barely touched him, and against his will, he was already aroused.

And that thrilled Fraser. He found himself wanting to excite him, wanting to make him forget himself, lose control as he'd done before--

And it amazed him.

"My lower back, Ray," Fraser said calmly. "At the base of the spine."

Stan swallowed hard. Dear God -- right where that beautiful spine dipped slightly, where the back flowed into the tightly muscled buttocks... Oh God, why did I ever offer to do this? I'm a dead man, he groaned to himself. Because if Fraser ever knew, if he ever suspected for one second what this was doing to him, he'd probably leap up off his bed and throw him out of his apartment bodily.

I'm helping him, he told himself desperately, forcing his hands lower on his partner's beautiful back. This is like bein' a doctor or somethin'. Just pretend you're a doctor and he's your patient... But as he began to move his hands over his lower back, rubbing and kneading strongly, trying to work out the knots he found in the muscles there, he didn't feel remotely clinical, disinterested or therapeutic. Fraser's skin was so beautiful, so smooth and perfect, and it flushed under his hands--

He dug his fingers in at the base of his spine, using both hands. Fraser made a small sound deep in his throat, a little sigh of pleasure; and Kowalski was lost. He could do this all day, he could do this forever, he wanted to tear off his clothes and bare all of him, touch him all over... It was all he could do not to pant like a dog.

Fraser found his breath coming faster. He felt the strangest impulse to move, to arch his back up towards the strong hands that were doing such incredible things to him. "Ummm... yes," he sighed, as Stan found a tight spot and kneaded it slowly, expertly, until it loosened like magic. Kowalski's touch was fascinatingly different from a woman's, he'd discovered. His long, slender fingers were far stronger, amazingly strong, and his touch was alternately hard, almost ruthless, then lighter, almost like a caress. No one had ever done this to him before, and Fraser loved it. It was amazingly sensual, almost like--

He caught himself. Almost like making love.

Stan forced himself to keep going, tried to disguise the tension that was building in him as he stroked and rubbed and kneaded his partner. It was getting harder and harder to keep his movements even remotely therapeutic. He was copping a feel in a major way and he just couldn't help it. Fraser seemed to love what he was doing; his breathing had grown slightly faster, and he was moaning softly deep in his throat, almost like he was purring. Stan felt like he was fucking him somehow with his hands, and it was unbelievably erotic. "Does it... feel better now, Benny?" he ground out, hardly able to keep his voice steady for even those few seconds.

"Yes. It's getting there, Ray," came the husky reply. "Just a little more, please, if you'd be so kind..."

Kowalski swallowed hard. This was going to kill him, and he knew it... But what a way to go! And at least when he left Chicago, he'd have this memory to warm his lonely bed... He dug his fingers deep into the muscles at the top of Fraser's buttocks, thinking about that. Wondering how he was ever going to leave him after this...

"Ummm... yes," Benny groaned, and Kowalski caught his breath. God, this was unbelievable! If it was anybody but the Mountie, he would've said they were teasing him, trying to turn him on... But this was Fraser. Fraser, Ice Prince of the Yukon. So that couldn't be it. Stan pushed harder, unable to stop touching him.

Finally, Fraser had to put a stop to it. As wonderful as it was for him, he knew that poor Stan was suffering. His breath had become audible panting, and his hands were beginning to shake -- probably because he was struggling to keep them in line, and not let them wander further south. Fraser smothered an insane impulse to giggle. But he'd learned what he needed to know from the exercise: he wanted Stan the same way Stan wanted him. He'd loved the feeling of his hands on his naked body. He wanted to feel more of them. So though it was still a scary prospect to him, this idea of making love with a man, he had to let him know that. It was the least he deserved, as recompense for this bit of erotic torture.

He rolled over finally, not without regret. "I think that's enough. But that felt wonderful," he said, smiling to disguise the way his heart was pounding.

Stan's eyes were dark with desire, his pupils enlarged, his cheeks flushed. Fraser found the sight thrillingly erotic; as was the knowledge that touching him was what had caused this sensual response. He sat up beside Kowalski. ""Thank you kindly, Stan. You really are amazingly skilled at massage. Where did you learn it?"

Stan suddenly looked hard into his eyes. Then his face darkened, and he shook his head. "What're you doin', Fraser?" he asked, a touch of anger in his voice. "What the hell are you doin'?"

Fraser blinked, confused by his reaction. "I'm trying to thank you, Ray, for--"

Stan jumped to his feet, his face reddening. "The hell you are! Yer teasin' me!" he hissed, his anger rising. "What, you think this is funny? Did you plan this whole thing? Are you laughin' at me?"

Oh dear! Kowalski had finally seen through his apparent innocence, and thought he was being toyed with. Fraser got to his feet too, embarrassed. He had been teasing Stan a little, but in a loving way. He'd wanted to arouse him, but since it had backfired, he knew he'd better set things straight right away, before Stan's always volatile temper got the best of him and he blew up.

"No. I would never laugh at you, Ray," he said quietly, holding Stan's eyes with his. Kowalski opened his mouth, then shut it again, subsiding a little. He was still breathing hard, still visibly angry, but he was listening, so Fraser seized the moment. This wasn't how he'd planned to do this, but that just meant he'd have to improvise. He took a deep breath. "But I have to tell you... I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about-- the buddy breathing thing, and--"

Stan blinked. "You what?"

"Yes. I've been... thinking about it. Remembering it. And I decided... that I want to try it again. With you. So I admit, I was... Well, when you offered to massage my back, it seemed... Then just now, when you-- that is, I wanted--" He couldn't say it. He was trying to tell Stan this was his fault: I was trying to seduce you. But he couldn't force the words out, and he felt himself turning red as incomprehensible blather poured out of his mouth instead.

Stan stared at Fraser, who was blushing furiously and babbling something stupid about 'buddy breathing'. Freak! he thought. But then he suddenly got it, and his anger returned, hotter than before. His earlier suspicions were right. "You were tryin' to seduce me!" he blurted. "That's why you asked me up here! Why the massage! You deliberately-- you--"

He was so mad he was sputtering.

Fraser stepped closer to him, met his angry gaze directly. "Yes," he admitted.

Kowalski's blood pressure went up another ten points. I hate it when he's honest like that! And why'd he have to do it now, when he's been lyin' like a rug ever since we pulled up in front of his place? He planned the whole thing, invited me in then let me grope his back and pant and-- He saw red. "I oughtta pop you one!" he growled, seething.

Ben ran his knuckles across an eyebrow in a familiar nervous gesture. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you, Ray, but I needed to be sure--"

Kowalski cut him off. "Oh, no! Don't try to give me that, Fraser ole' buddy ole pal, 'cuz we already settled that little question. I know you don't want me. I kissed you, you almost puked -- end of story!"

Fraser shook his head in that stubborn way he had, and moved even closer. "No it's not, Ray."

Kowalski's hands balled into fists. "Remember that day by the lake, when I told you not to correct me anymore?" he spat. "I meant it!"

Fraser grimaced. "I'm not correcting you, Ray, I'm trying to explain that my feelings towards you have changed!"

"Is that right? Since when?"

"Since you touched me," Fraser said, holding his eyes. "Since you kissed me."

Despite his sarcasm, a tiny bit of hope grew in Stan's heart at that. He stared at Fraser, and his rage receded a little. Was it possible? Could it be that Fraser hadn't been playing with him, he'd just been trying to figure out how he really felt about him? Then insecurity set in. That same little voice that had once whispered to him that Luanne Russell was lying to him too, that anyone that beautiful couldn't possibly really want a guy like him, told him that Fraser was no different. He stiffened as an ugly suspicion crossed his mind. "I don't believe you," he hissed. "You found out about the transfer, didn't you?"

Ben nodded reluctantly. "Yes, but--"

"No buts! You came on to me to try and make me stay! You lied to me! My own partner..." Furious, feeling betrayed, he headed for the door before he lost it completely, and attacked him.

Fraser went after him, feeling a distinct sense of deja vu. Hadn't they just done this a month ago? Only this time, he had to do something, make sure things didn't turn out as badly as they had then.

On an impulse, he grabbed Kowalski suddenly, took his shirt in his fists and pushed him against the wall, as Stan had done to him that time. Not roughly, but firmly enough to hold him there.

Stan grunted in surprise, lifted his hands reflexively as if he meant to push him away.

"Listen," Fraser said, before he could. He stared down into his stormy eyes and held them with his own, willed him to listen. "I am not lying to you!" he said loudly. "I want you! Do you understand? I didn't know it before, but now I do. I found out for sure just now, while you were massaging me. And you can stay or you can go, that's your decision -- but I want you to know the truth before you leave. I want you," he repeated, feeling dizzy and breathless with the effort of making him understand. "I don't want to lose you, and I want you like you want me."

Stan stared at him, and the anger slowly drained away from his face. Still, he shook his head. "I don't believe it," he said.

"It's true!" he insisted. Then he took a deep breath and lowered his eyes to his friend's mouth, as Stan had done to him that day, in this very same spot. "Please..." He pressed his lips to Stan's gently, awkwardly. They were warm and soft, just like he remembered. He didn't want to let them go, so he breathed a plea against them. "Please don't leave me," he whispered.

Stan sucked in a ragged breath. "Oh man... Don't do this!"

"Please," Fraser whispered again. He felt him wavering, and he wanted to maintain physical contact, but he didn't dare take him in his arms. So he leaned his forehead against Stan's. Stan caught his breath, but he allowed it, didn't try to push him away. Fraser closed his eyes, encouraged but knowing the moment was fragile. He had to think of a way to make him see that he was telling the truth, or he could still lose him.

He concentrated fiercely for a second, searched his heart for the right words to convince him, for the words that would make him stay. Then he had it. "I swear on the honor of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that I want you, Stanley Ray Kowalski," he breathed. "For yourself, and for no other reason."

"Jesus," Stan whispered, rocked. "You mean it. You do..." He lifted his hands tentatively then, rested them on Fraser's arms.

"Yes," Ben whispered.

Then, somehow, at long last, they were kissing. Softly, gently, even tentatively. Fraser was almost afraid to breathe, afraid to spoil this perfect moment when his partner finally accepted the love he couldn't put into words.

When he lifted his head, Stan didn't move, or try to kiss him back. But his eyes dropped to his lips, and he said, "Again." It wasn't a command, more like a plea. "Kiss me again, Benny," he whispered.

Though he found the plea erotic, Fraser wondered, even as he bent his head to obey it, at Stan's unusual stillness, his passivity. His heavy-lidded gaze was dark with desire, and his breathing had quickened, but he still hadn't made a move. Then suddenly, he understood -- this was a kind of penance for the rough kiss he'd taken that night weeks ago, in this very spot. This time, Stan would hold himself back ruthlessly, wouldn't so much as touch him without his permission.

Fraser was partly relieved, but partly disappointed. He supposed he'd been counting on Kowalski to... well, get things going so to speak. Overwhelm him, like he had before. It was a bit scary to have control placed squarely in his hands. He really wasn't sure what to do.

Kiss him. He asked you to kiss him... "Buddy breathing," he murmured, remembering.

Stan smiled a little. "What?"

"Nothing..." He slipped his arms around Stan gently, pulled him closer. As he bent his head, he noted how different it was to hold him than it had been to embrace Victoria. Stan's body was like his, all hard planes and angles. Instead of soft breasts, he felt muscles pressing against his chest, more muscles along his back... And he could smell the flowery oil on his partner's hands, overlaid with Stan's own scent, which was stronger and completely different. Spicy, musky, cologne mingled with sweat -- masculine.

The mingled aromas were intoxicating, even exciting; and so was holding him. And he'd never imagined he could do something like this, but here he was bending his head and covering another man's mouth with his own again, his partner's mouth... It was heady, it was risk taking beyond anything he'd ever imagined. He melded his mouth with Stan's and just tasted him gently, learning the shape of his mouth until he heard his breath come faster in response, felt his hands tighten their grip on his biceps.

Other than that, Stan didn't move. But Fraser sensed what a tremendous effort it was for him not to, and it made his head spin. He was both touched and perversely excited by Stan's consideration. But part of him wanted to break his hard-won self control, to make him react -- to arouse him. So he angled his head to vary the pressure of his kiss, made it harder, used his tongue to part Stan's lips. Then slid it slowly, gently into his mouth, over the warmth of his tongue, caressing, sucking every so lightly...

Stan gasped, and his heart beat harder. He tore his mouth away for a minute, breathing raggedly. "Benny," he said huskily, his hands finally letting go of his arms to slip tentatively around his back. "You're sure about this? 'Cuz I... I don't just wanna kiss you, you know that--"

Ben put on his best wide-eyed, innocent look. It seemed that, inexperienced though he was, his kisses were having the desired effect on his partner. And he thought he knew just how to push him even further, to remove the brakes he'd clamped down on his libido. "Don't you like kissing me?" he teased with a straight face, deliberately misunderstanding him.

"Oh yeah," Stan suddenly grinned. "See?" Without warning, he pulled Fraser around so that he was the one pressed against the wall. Then he wrapped a hand around the back of his neck and kissed him hard, thrusting deep with his tongue, his lips hard and hungry. Fraser's knees went weak. Stan kissed him with a feverish intensity, devoured his mouth until his head spun. Fraser swayed, drunk with erotic pleasure unlike anything he'd ever known before. "Mmmm..." He moaned helplessly, and started to slide down the wall. Only then did Stan let him go.

"Oh yeah," he smiled, propping him up again. "I love kissin' you," he whispered against his neck, as he planted hot, slow kisses along his jawline. "Can you feel it?"

Ben took deep, gasping breaths in a vain attempt to clear his head. "Yes, Ray," he croaked.

He felt Stan smile as he sucked, then lightly bit at his neck. "I wanna do everything to you, everything," he panted, his breath deliciously hot against Fraser's flushed skin. "I just need you to tell me it's okay."

Fraser swallowed hard. Those words shook him to his core. He had some idea of what that everything was, and though he wanted it as badly as Stan did, so badly that he was panting too, he'd still never been with a man before...

But he loves me, he thought suddenly. And I love him. He would never hurt me... So there's nothing to be afraid of. Nothing at all.

"Yes," he said simply. "It's okay. I want you to."

"Okay. Okay, Benny. " Stan took his face in his hands and kissed him gently then, almost tenderly, just brushing his lips.

"Come 'mere." He took his hand and led him back to his bed. Without another word, he sat him down, then took off his holster, his gun, his socks and his boots. He never took his eyes off of him for a second as he did. He wasn't smiling now, he was serious, his eyes dark with a hunger that he didn't try to hide. Fraser felt a brief flicker of fear, but he fought it off. He'd known it would come to this, after all -- Hell, he'd lain here just moments ago trying his damnedest to arouse Stan so that he would do it!

But a small part of him just hadn't really expected that he'd succeed.

He waited for Kowalski to start taking off the rest of his clothes, but he didn't. Still wearing his shirt and jeans, he sat down beside him instead. And as Fraser watched, mystified, he took his hand in his, raised it to his mouth and kissed it gently, searching his eyes all the while. He smiled a little.

Then he laid back on the bed, put his head on Fraser's pillow and stretched his legs out beside him. "You know what I want, Benny," he said in a low voice. "You can... You can do whatever you want to me," he whispered. "Anything... Anything's okay. I won't... do anything more than kiss you, if you don't want me to."

Fraser was simultaneously moved by Stan's generosity, his unexpected sensitivity, and embarrassed by his own ignorance. He felt himself flushing. "Thank you, but I... I don't know how-- that is, I don't know how men-- how they--"

Stan looked at the blushing Mountie, scared and aroused and innocent all at once; and he knew he'd never, ever seen anything so beautiful. "Let's start with the buddy breathing thing," he said, smiling wickedly. "Yer good at that, Frase. Real good. Trust me."

Fraser was visibly relieved. "Do you think so?"

Stan laughed, and tugged him down to him. "Oh, yeah. I know so..."

Some time later, they lay panting beside each other on the bed, flushed and dazed from long, deep, drugging kisses that had gone on and on. Kowalski had loved every minute of it, and it had seemed from the way he was moaning that Fraser had too; but he was still a bit frustrated. He'd been gently toying with Fraser's nipples while he kissed him, and trying to lie back and pull him on top of him, but Fraser kept resisting.

"Please--" He tugged at Ben's shoulders, trying to pull him down fully on top of him, but Fraser only tensed up, raising himself up on his forearms instead.

"Lie down," he pleaded. "Please. What's the problem?"

The Mountie shook his head. "I'm afraid I'll crush you," he admitted breathlessly at last.

He laughed. "Come on-- whaddayou think I am, a paper doll? I don't crush that easy," he teased. He ran his tongue over his lips, desperate to seduce his partner, watched as his blue eyes dropped to track the movement of his tongue. It sent a thrill right down to his groin. "Please," he whispered, not kidding now. "I wanna feel you. All of you, on me--"

Even as he spoke, he pulled gently at him again. "Come on," he urged. "I promise you, guys do this all the time, Benny. All the time... And you did it with Victoria, didn't you?"

"Yes." Fraser admitted.

"Yeah well... If she survived you, I'm sure I will too," he teased.

Fraser smiled a little then, at his own foolishness, and finally gave in. His shoulders loosened and he sank down slowly, carefully, until he was lying fully on top of him. As Ben slipped his arms around his back, embracing him, Stan almost groaned out loud. This was heaven, this was better than any dream: Fraser's strong arms around him, his big body covering him, the hard weight of him pressing him down into the softness of his bed.

"Is this okay?" Ben asked in a soft, faintly embarrassed whisper against his neck.

"Okay? It's wonderful!" he breathed. "God, you feel good," he whispered, moving his hands over the broad, muscular back, down to his waist. Kissing his neck.

"So do you," Fraser said. "But I..." He sat up again suddenly. "Would it be okay if I... took your shirt off too, Ray?" he asked shyly. "I want to see you."

Kowalski groaned to himself. He'd just gotten him down, and how he was up again! But he wasn't really irritated with Fraser, he was actually a bit scared. He'd kind of been dreading this moment ever since Ben had confessed that he wanted him; but he could hardly expect Fraser to do all of the stripping, or to keep his eyes closed when they made love, either. So he supposed he'd better just do it, give in and get it over with. "Sure," he breathed, trying to conceal his reluctance.

And in seconds, it seemed, Fraser had his shirt off and was kneeling beside him, staring at him.

He looked at him intently for a long moment. So long that Stan twitched a little, vastly uncomfortable with his gorgeous partner's scrutiny, knowing he couldn't possibly measure up. The longer Ben looked, the more uneasy he got. "So, what... Like you already knew I'm no Schwarzenegger type guy, right?" he joked nervously at last, putting himself down before Fraser had a chance to.

Fraser blinked. "I don't know who that is, Ray, but--" He faltered, shaking his head slightly.

"What?" Stan groaned. He wasn't entirely surprised that Fraser didn't know who Arnold was, but he was suddenly scared that he'd changed his mind now that he'd seen what a skinny, scrawny little guy he really was.

Fraser lowered his head and kissed his cheek. "Well, it's just that I never realized before... You're sleek, muscular, fit... like a dolphin," he whispered against his skin, his voice husky with wonder.

Kowalski didn't have a clue what he meant. Did he just compare me to a big fish? he thought, confused. He'd been called a lot of things in his life, but never that. He decided that Fraser had to be joking. "Oh-- you mean that Dolphin Boy thing I did that time?" he smiled, remembering. "Well, I know that was stupid, but I--"

Fraser lifted his head instantly. "No, no, Ray! That's not what I meant at all. I mean... dolphins are strong, graceful, supple creatures. Beautiful." His eyes were serious, without the slightest hint of laughter. He ran his hands over his chest and arms as he spoke, caressing him. "Like you."

Kowalski's jaw dropped. He stared at Fraser in openmouthed disbelief. Fraser -- with his mile-deep blue eyes, thick dark hair, square jaw, broad shoulders and long legs, thought he was-- beautiful? He found himself shaking his head reflexively. "Benny... that's crazy," he protested. "I'm... this little skinny guy. I can't even see straight without my glasses, and I got this ugly tattoo on my arm--"

Stella always hated that thing--

Fraser just shook his head. "I think you're beautiful," he murmured again, smiling ever so slightly. "And you know I don't lie, Ray. I like your tattoo as well..."

To Stan's amazement, he shifted a little and turned his right arm upward a bit, baring the blue lines on his bicep. Then he lowered his head and kissed it. Stan closed his eyes, trying not to groan at the sheer unexpectedness of it... It mingled with the incredible idea that Fraser actually thought he was beautiful, until the pleasure grew so intense he thought he might come right there--

"I'll show you," Ben whispered. And then he touched it with his tongue. Started tracing the lines he'd thought ugly with his warm, silken tongue -- making them beautiful with his touch, his mouth. No one had ever done anything like that to Kowalski before, he'd never even imagined it... Feeling surged through him like a storm, a wave of warmth and pleasure and arousal so intense that he could hardly breathe.

"It tastes salty, Ray," Ben whispered huskily, lingering over it, learning its shape. He even scraped it lightly with his teeth, biting it gently. Stan groaned out loud, his fists knotting in the sheets. He'd reached rock hardness long ago, and now he was pulsing, throbbing -- he didn't know how much longer he could hold out. Beyond words, he reached down and pulled Fraser's head up to his again, and kissed him.

He sucked at Ben's tongue, drew it deep into his mouth then plunged his own deeply into Ben's, back and forth, suck and thrust, suck and thrust in a steady, erotic rhythm, mimicking what he really wanted to do to him. Fraser moaned out loud, a sound of surprise and pleasure that tore away still more of Kowalski's rapidly eroding control. He was going to lose it, he knew it. He couldn't stop it, and he didn't even want to try. He sought blindly for Fraser's hand, found it pressed against his waist and pulled it down, down against the pulsing, throbbing hardness that was pressing painfully against his jeans.

"Feel me," he whispered hoarsely. Fraser breathed a shocked breath into his mouth as he splayed his hand over his cock, moved it, made him stroke it--

After a few seconds, he felt Ben respond, felt his fingers curl around him in a tentative, awkward caress -- and that did it. He came. Breathlessly, explosively, at the mere touch of Ben's hand through his jeans. Still kissing him, he arched upwards, his whole body shaking. He cried out loudly, helplessly into Fraser's mouth, a ragged cry of ecstasy...

And that was only the beginning.

The next morning, Kowalski talked to Lt. Welsh, then called Santa Clara and cancelled his transfer. They weren't too happy about it, but he didn't care. He was happy; happier than he'd ever been. He and Fraser were lovers now. Lovers...

He could hardly believe it. But they'd made love three times the night before. By Fraser's standards, anyway. They hadn't done much according to Kowalski's, but he knew Fraser wanted to take his time, and he'd do whatever he wanted. He still found it hard to believe that the big Mountie wanted him at all, it still seemed like a miracle. He would've been happy just to be allowed to massage him! Anything more was pure gravy. Being able to get in bed with him, touch that flawless skin and incredible body, was mind-blowing.

But after about a week went by, Kowalski decided to get bolder. He wasn't satisfied with them getting each other off with their hands anymore, he wanted to try something else. He whispered an erotic suggestion in Fraser's ear, and waited for his inevitable blush.

It wasn't long in coming. Ben shook his head, a dull flush creeping up his gorgeous neck. Kowalski watched it, loving it. He'd never seen anyone in his life who blushed as sweetly as his Mountie did. "No, I--I mean, I've never... That is, I never let anyone--" Fraser stuttered.

Stan blinked. My God -- thirty some years old, so handsome he was blinding, and he'd never let anyone do that to him? He shook his head in wonder. Fraser never ceased to amaze him. "No one? Not even Victoria?" he asked.

Fraser blushed to the roots of his hair. "Victoria was... umm... rather passionate," he choked. "She wanted to once, but..."

Kowalski grinned. "You didn't want to get bitten."

Fraser's adam's apple bobbed, and he looked away. "Something like that," he admitted.

He was so genuinely innocent that Stan felt guilty for teasing him about it. "I getcha'," he said gently. "And I don't wanna push you. We don't have to, but I'd love to. If you'll let me." He caught Fraser's eyes and held them, asked him silently if he trusted him enough.

Still, Ben hesitated. "Why... That is, I mean, why... why do you want to?" he stuttered at last.

Kowalski smiled, loving his naivete. "Because it feels good, Benny," he said very gently. "And because I think you're beautiful, and I wanna love you all over. Kiss you all over. I wanna please you." He laid his head on Fraser's chest and kissed him softly, letting him think about it. He really didn't want to rush him or make him uncomfortable. Fraser liked to take things really, really slow, and he had to respect that, though sometimes the waiting made him hard as a rock... Like it was now.

Stan felt Ben's hands in his hair, stroking gently. "God, I love your touch," he whispered to himself . "I love it..." He'd longed for it hopelessly for so long, it felt like magic to him, like sunlight, like being healed.

"I love yours too," Fraser said huskily, surprising him. "It's just that... well--I'm afraid that I'm too--well, sort of large, and that you--I mean, I wouldn't want you to-- uh--"

Kowalski suddenly realized where this particular nervous blither was going. "You're afraid you'll choke me," he said, touched. He'd thought Benny was afraid, and he was, but not for himself. God, I love him... He lifted his head and looked at him directly. "Okay then. How 'bout this," he proposed. "I'll just kiss you a bit, I won't take it all or anything. Okay? I'll be careful, so you won't have to worry."

Fraser finally swallowed hard, then nodded. "All right."

He still looked a little doubtful. Kowalski knew he was only going along with this to please him, but that was okay. He was betting that once Fraser got a taste of this particular kind of lovemaking, he'd be sorry he'd never let anyone touch him like that before. He'd make this good for him, or die trying.

So he lowered his head and started kissing him. Down the broad chest, some light touches to those oh-so-sensitive nipples, just to get things started... He had to be careful not to go at Fraser too intensely. He was so incredibly responsive that he'd found if he lost control and loved him hard, caressed him strongly, he'd come almost instantly, before he even touched his cock. Sometimes that was what he wanted, but not right now. He wanted this to be drawn out, wanted it to last, make him crazy...

Fraser moaned in the back of his throat as he kissed him, a soft sound of pleasure that reassured him. He laid his head back on the pillow and closed his eyes, and Kowalski was encouraged by that evidence of his trust. The thought that he was the first, the first person ever to do this for Benny was incredibly erotic. God! If he wasn't careful, he'd come just thinking about it.

He forced his mind back to Ben's body, to caressing it slowly, to the wonder and pleasure that gave him. He ran his tongue over his flat abdomen, gratified to feel Ben shiver under him. He was easy to excite, and he couldn't help but wonder what this was going to do to him. Blow his mind, he hoped.

He reached down and found him as he lingered at his navel, tonguing it until Ben started shaking and arching his back. He felt him hardening rapidly, and started sucking at his belly with tongue and teeth as he caressed his balls, rolled them gently between his fingers.

"Ohh... Oh!" Benny whispered, quivering.

He smiled. Okay... onto bigger and better things.

He moved down to his hips, parted his legs and knelt between them, then pulled Ben's tight, muscular butt up so that it rested on his knees. He swallowed hard, moved as he always was by the sight of his large, beautiful, pale cock that was flushed now, and hardening even as he watched. "God, you're beautiful, Benny," he whispered as he bent to kiss him. "So beautiful..."

He kissed the head of it very gently, and kept on stroking his balls. Ben twitched, and moaned involuntarily. "Okay?" he asked, praying that he was, that he wouldn't make him stop now, when he was so close... When he'd dreamed of this so much...

"Yes," Ben panted, his breathing harsh. Kowalski smiled. Oh, yeah, he likes it...

He closed his lips over the head of it then, drew on it softly, with a moan of pleasure of his own. Ben jerked in his hold, crying out harshly, his hands reaching out blindly, lost in what Kowalski knew was a wave of unexpected ecstasy. He held onto him firmly, ignoring his own already painful arousal, concentrating solely on his lover. He drew his lips back until he'd almost let go, then took him back in deeper.

"Oh, god!" Benny cried out hoarsely. "Ray, I... can't--"

Kowalski sucked harder, took more of him into his mouth, until Ben bucked so wildly that he almost couldn't hold on to him. He tightened his grip on his legs, rolled his tongue around his cock. He tasted salty and sweet, and he was smooth and hard and pulsing hot, like heated silk. Kowalski had never tasted, never felt anything so good in his life. He sucked and sucked, loving it.

Fraser was moaning helplessly now, beyond words, almost sobbing, his fingers moving desperately over the blankets as he tried to find something solid to cling to in the midst of his ecstasy. Kowalski just sucked harder, until Ben was writhing, and his hands fisted in the sheets. He felt an almost savage delight, watching him. This was what he'd wanted for him, this total, scream out loud, mind-numbing pleasure. This was what Benny deserved; and it filled him with joy to do it to him, for him.

Stan tightened his grip on him, then went down, way down, taking as much of him as he could, sucking as hard as he could, swirling his tongue. Ben screamed, his head going back, his whole body arching like a bow as he shuddered uncontrollably and came hard. Stan held onto him as best he could, until his wild cries subsided and he went limp. Then when his climax was finally over, he eased him gently back off of his legs and onto the bed again.

He moved back up beside him and stroked his hair gently. Ben's eyes were closed, his face was still darkly flushed, and his chest was heaving. He didn't try to talk to him, just caressed him gently until he could catch his breath. Then finally, when his breathing had slowed to something like normal again, he asked, "Was that okay?"

Shocked blue eyes opened and met his, filled with a wonder that made him smile. "That was... that was..." Ben broke off, searching for words, still breathing hard. "It was wonderful. Beyond anything I ever imagined." Then he raised himself up on one elbow, and cupped Stan's face in his hand. "Je t'aime," he said huskily, kissing him. "Je t'aime, mon amour, mon coeur..."

Stan was surprised. He knew Fraser spoke French, he'd read it in his file, but he'd never heard him do it before. He didn't know the lingo, but he didn't have to understand it to know what Ben was saying. The words were soft, musical, a verbal caress; and the warmth and tenderness in his voice translated perfectly. He leaned his forehead against Fraser's, happier than he'd been in years. "Yeah, Benny," he whispered. "I love you too."

The End

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© Caroline Alert 1998