© by Starfish
Thanks to BethH, Kellie, and AuKestrel for read-throughs, beta and general hand-holding. And thanks to Aral for early-stage encouragment and dinner.
Ben had seldom seen such a storm of emotion, and never from Ray. Certainly Ray got angry -- in fact, it seemed as if Ray had been angry for days, and with good cause. After the show-down in the warehouse, when they'd gone back to clean up the mess in Ray's apartment, Ben had been hard-pressed to keep up with the elemental force that his partner had become. And after Ms. Botrelle, back in her home again, called Ray and asked him to walk her through the night of the arrest, Ray had been strung so tight Ben was almost afraid to even speak around him, for fear of seeing him fly apart.
And now ... never had Ben witnessed such sheer anguish, and felt so powerless in the face of it. The best he could manage was a hand on Ray's neck, gently squeezing comfort and acceptance, and the offer of a clean handkerchief. Ray smiled blearily when he saw it. "Only you, Fraser," he said.
After Ben had determined Ray had regained some composure, he held out his hand silently for the keys. To his credit, Ray made no protest, just handed them over. Ben waited a moment to see if Ray would start his usual wriggle-over-the-gearshift to switch places, but then realized with a small pang that it wasn't going to happen. He got out of the car and walked around to the driver's side. Ray seemed startled by the opening door, but he got out and gestured Ben into the driver's seat with a small smile.
The drive back to Ray's apartment was accomplished in near silence, Ray evidently being either too overwrought or too embarrassed at his outburst to comment on Ben's driving. When Ben pulled up to the curb and shut off the ignition, Ray shook his head, as though just waking up.
"Oh good," he said flatly, "we're here. Come on up, Fraser, you want to?"
"Of course, thank you, Ray," said Ben, and it was no more or less than the truth. Ray led the procession up the stairs to his door and beckoned Ben and Dief inside as if they were visiting royalty. He kicked off his boots and hung up his jacket, then turned to the CD player, pushed two buttons and started music playing. Ben thought he recognized the voice, but before he could ask, Ray was on the move again, stalking toward the kitchen. Ben could hear the refrigerator door open and close, and the clink of glassware: familiar, normal, end-of-the-day sounds.
"Get comfortable, Fraser, you want anything?"
"Perhaps some tea, if you're having some."
Ray appeared in the doorway, a wry smile on his face. "I wasn't exactly talking about tea." He opened the cold-frosted bottle and poured a shot into the glass he'd set on the counter. Capping the bottle again, he held the glass up to the light momentarily before quickly tossing back the shot.
"Ray, give me the bottle."
"Why should I? You're not the boss of me, Benton Fraser. If I want to get wasted tonight, it's none of your business."
Ben arched an eyebrow. "I beg to differ. The last time you consumed more than a few drinks, you made me promise -- solemnly, no less -- that I would prevent another occurrence of what you termed 'the worst hangover known to Western Civilization.' "
"Changed my mind," said Ray mulishly, still clutching the bottle of Grey Goose vodka. "This is different. Besides, it's a time-honored tradition, Fraser. You don't want to mess with tradition, do you?"
Ray blinked slowly. "Wha-at?"
Ben allowed the small smile he was hiding to surface. "Something my grandmother used to say. You're being deliberately difficult, Ray. Alcohol is hardly the only traditional remedy for stress."
"Well, I could go punch something, but the gym's closed." Ray threw a few fake punches into the air, then slumped against the counter again. "What really gets to me is I should have seen ... I should have known, somehow, that Sam was dirty. But no-o-o-o, not me, I just go whistling merrily along, until it's almost too late. This whole thing makes me wonder what I've been doing all these years, pretending to be a cop. And it's not so much stress, Fraser, it's more like -- like I got a big hole in me now, and I don't know what goes there."
"I see," Ben said, and it echoed in his own empty space inside.
Ray laughed, harshly. "I doubt that very much, Fraser. I doubt you ever screwed up this bad in your whole life."
Ben flinched. "Ray," he said, "I think you have a somewhat unrealistic view of me. I've not always been so ... I'm not as perfect as you seem to think I am. I've made mistakes, terrible ones. Mistakes that still haunt me, from time to time. And one of my mistakes nearly cost me the two best friends I had at the time."
Ray regarded him thoughtfully. Then he walked back into the kitchen. Ben heard the freezer door open and close again, and Ray returned, empty-handed this time. "Okay," he said, walking into the living room and sitting on the sofa. "Tell me."
Ben sat down beside him and stared at the coffee table. "Her name was Victoria. She drove the getaway car...." By the time the story was over, Ray was pacing, Dief shadowing his steps.
"No offense, Fraser, but that story sucks. I mean, not just in the 'not quite the right story to tell your way-depressed best bud to get him un-depressed' sense. God, it makes me crazy to think about you going through all that."
"That's not why I told you. I didn't want sympathy, I wanted--"
"Yeah, I know, I get what you wanted. The moral of the story is even the great Constable Fraser fucked up once in his life."
Ray stopped short. "That's not the moral?"
"The moral is I'm not 'the great Constable Fraser,' Ray. I never was. It didn't take Victoria to show me that. She was merely the most ... egregious of my mistakes."
Ray looked as though he might take issue with 'egregious' but then seemed to think better of it. "And she's still out there."
Ben nodded. "Somewhere. I doubt she'll be back, I'm sure she's moved on with her life by now."
"Yeah, maybe." Ray darted a quick glance at the window, and then the door, as though to reassure himself that both were secure.
"And it doesn't matter, that's not the point. The point is, sometimes things happen and we have little or no control over the situation or its outcome. One can only do the best one is capable of, and try to prepare for the deluge, as it were."
Ray sidestepped the coffee table, moving again, his hands restlessly swinging. "I guess. But that doesn't mean it makes it all better. Doesn't make the anger or the hurt disappear."
"I know," Ben said softly.
"Yeah, I suppose you do," Ray said, glancing at him thoughtfully. "Still wish I could get drunk though. I mean, talking is good, my grandmother used to say 'pain shared is pain halved' -- but this stuff, Fraser, this pain is just ... it's too big. I feel like I'm gonna bust apart over here."
"Well, if you wanted, I could --" And Ben stopped, not at all sure if the suggestion he'd been about to make was a wise one, under the circumstances. Not at all sure if he might not be projecting what he wanted onto the situation.
"What? Come on, Fraser, give."
"I just don't ... it's perhaps not the best idea."
"Right at this point, any idea would be a good one. What've you got? Some traditional Northwest-Areas relaxation technique? Inuit throat-singing? Counting walruses? Visualizing vast herds of caribou sweeping majestically across the tundra?"
Ray stopped in mid-stride. His foot slowly lowered to the floor as his jaw dropped. Then he turned and looked at Ben. "Did you just say 'massage?' As in, you, uh, want to give me a back-rub?"
Ben willed his hand away from his eyebrow. "I was thinking of rather more than just a back-rub, but essentially, yes."
"Hunh." Ray nodded slowly, his face unreadable.
Ben realized he'd gone too far, and tried to backpedal. "It's nothing untoward, Ray, I assure you. I've read a great deal about therapeutic massage, and --" He stopped as Ray held up his hand.
"Fraser -- Ben -- I wasn't, um, questioning your motives or training or anything. It's a great idea. It just took me by surprise is all. Most guys wouldn't've thought of it."
Ben felt his face get hot and had to turn away. He was well aware that his reactions where Ray was concerned were not those of 'most guys.' When he felt Ray's hand on his shoulder, however, he turned back around.
"Hey," said Ray, "what now? What'd I say?"
Ben shook his head. "It's nothing, Ray," he said. "We should -- if you want to ...." He gestured feebly toward Ray's darkened bedroom, unable to voice the suggestion -- one he'd made previously only in certain dreams he didn't care to discuss.
"Right you are," said Ray, reading at least the surface of Ben's mind, as he so often did. He led the way into the bedroom, turning on the bedside light and then stripping off his shirt with every appearance of alacrity. "Pants off too?" he asked, with his hand already working his belt-buckle.
Ben choked, his face heating again. "It's, ah, most books recommend that the recipient be as, er, unclothed as possible, yes."
Ray nodded, pushing his trousers down his long legs. "More comfortable for sure." He sat on the edge of the bed to remove his socks, standing again to toss them in the direction of the laundry bag by the closet. "I can leave the boxers on, though, if you want me to."
"It's not up to me, Ray."
"Okay, off they come, then," Ray said, hooking his thumbs into the waistband and beginning to tug.
"Wait," said Ben, desperately trying to regain some composure -- and failing miserably. Watching Ray's enthusiastic disrobing had put his senses on overload. He cast about in his mind for something to delay the moment when Ray would be nude before him, knowing he'd lose all hope of concentration then.
"I ... just ... you're taking this all very much in stride."
Ray grinned lopsidedly. "Thought you'd have to convince me, huh? Fraser, I used to box. I know what massage is for." His face became more serious. "Plus ... I trust you. I know you wouldn't ... do anything 'untoward.' You and me, we --" He looked down at his feet, then back up at Ben. "It's important, how I trust you. 'Cause I don't think I could do my job without you. In fact, I know that for sure now."
"Ray, I don't --"
But Ray was shaking his head. "Nuh-uh. I grant you, maybe my trust-o-meter's not very reliable sometimes, but I have no doubts about you."
"Maybe you should," muttered Ben before he could stop himself.
Ray gaze narrowed. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Ben turned and walked a few paces away, toward the door, as it happened. He lowered his head and closed his eyes. "I've not been ... completely honest with you, Ray." He felt, rather than heard, Ray come up beside him.
"Is it something that you think'll hurt me?" Ray asked softly.
Ben shook his head blindly. "I don't know," he said. "I hope not, but sometimes it's the fact of the secret being kept, rather than the secret itself, that does the most damage. As you should know."
And once again Ben felt the touch of Ray's hand on his shoulder, pressing in slightly and easing his tension. "Yeah. But ... you don't have to tell me anything, Fraser. Ben. I think ... I think I already know."
Ben's head came up, his eyes opened, and he turned to look at Ray. "You do?"
Ray nodded. "I think so, yeah." He shrugged. "So let's get this show on the road. Thought I was gonna get a massage." With one last squeeze of Ben's shoulder, Ray walked away toward the bathroom. "We need oil," he commented. Ben followed in a daze, aware he'd lost control of the situation totally and completely.
Ray didn't know. Couldn't know, and still be willing to ... let Ben touch him. So whatever it was that he thought he knew was something else, something Ben didn't know, and that was ... very confusing. Ben opened his mouth to try once more, to make another stab at clearing his conscience, when Ray turned with a plastic bottle in his hand.
"Smell this, see what you think," Ray said. "I like it, but I got some unscented if you want."
The oil was lightly herbal -- rosemary, sage and lavender, Ben thought -- and not at all what he'd expected. "It's quite pleasant," he said. He examined the bottle more closely. "Ray, is this a bear?"
Ray snickered. "Yeah. It had honey in it when I bought it. It works really good for oil, though. See, you can open the top just a little, and the nose and paws help you keep a good grip on it."
"That's very ... inventive."
"Not my idea. I stole it from a girl I used to date. She, um, she was a massage therapist. Hang on, let me get the other stuff."
Ray opened his closet, reached behind the clothes hanging there, and pulled out a folded exercise mat and what looked like a flannel sheet. "You okay doing it on the floor? Darlene had a table, but she said even the floor was better than a bed."
"The floor is ... fine."
"Okay, cool. I'll set it up, why don't you lose a few layers? It's pretty warm in here, and plus you don't want to wreck your clothes."
Ben swallowed hard. While it was true that Ray's apartment was warmer than the Consulate by far, he was not at all comfortable with the thought of being so ... exposed ... in front of Ray. He compromised by removing his boots, socks, sweater and flannel shirt, leaving himself in jeans and a T-shirt. Ray looked up from arranging the sheet over the corners of the mat.
"Better, I guess." He knelt in the center of the mat with his back to Ben and quickly shimmied out of his boxer-briefs, tossing them aside and laying down with his arms along his sides. He wriggled for a moment, then blushed. "Sorry, Frase, I just gotta ...." He lifted his hips slightly and snaked one hand under himself. "There, that's better." Ben looked away when he realized what Ray was doing, but not before a tantalizing glimpse of golden-brown hair and lax genitals caught his eye. "Any time now, Fraser," Ray said, closing his eyes.
Ben's heartbeat quickened. He could do this. He could. He'd made the offer, he certainly couldn't back out now, just because Ray was ... eager. This was not about him, anyway. It was about Ray. He reached back for the words he'd first read so long ago - words he'd committed to memory one painfully long winter. To do massage is physically to help someone, to take care of them. It is for anyone with whom you feel prepared to share an act of physical caring. So far, so good. Ben knelt down beside Ray, shifting his knees for balance. Balance. Center. Breathe.
Contrary to myth, massage is a healing art and not an advanced sexual technique. Well, that was certainly true. Ben took one more deep breath. He had nothing to fear. Trust, empathy and respect, to say nothing of a sheer sense of mutual existence, for this moment can be expressed with a fullness never matched by words. Yes. That was what he wanted. And if he enjoyed the process, so much the better.
But really, Ray had been right. The jeans were cutting into his stomach and thighs most uncomfortably. And so, before he could stop to talk himself out of it, he stood and quickly stripped to his boxers.
"Everything all right up there?" asked Ray, opening one eye. "Oh," he said when he saw Ben. "Told you so. That's much better, isn't it?"
Ben nodded. "Yes, thank you, Ray. I'm sorry for the delay." Ray smiled lazily and closed his eyes again, wriggling his shoulders in a manner Ben found most inviting. His hands almost itched to touch.
He knelt above Ray's head, thighs spread a bit, and found a spot to put the oil -- out of the way, just in reach but not close enough to be knocked over. He squirted a small amount into his palm and held it for a moment to let it warm. "I'm going to start with your back, if that's all right, Ray," he said quietly. "I don't want you to talk, unless something hurts or make you feel uncomfortable."
"Gonna be tough," mumbled Ray, a small smile still on his lips.
"I have faith in you," said Ben. He slowly started to spread the oil over Ray's back and shoulders, moving down his arms a bit; not using any technique yet, just getting used to the feel of skin and muscle under his hands. Ray shifted slightly, then lay still. His skin was warm, the sparse hair prickling Ben's palms, and Ben could see the lamplight reflecting gold, as though Ray's body was glowing.
When Ray's skin was sufficiently coated, Ben began to work in earnest. Long, slow strokes from the shoulders to the top of the buttocks, moving to the sides, careful to exert enough pressure not to tickle. After three such passes, Ben gently began to knead Ray's shoulders. As he'd suspected, there was a good deal of tension contained therein, and Ray moaned slightly as Ben's thumbs dug in. He immediately eased up, but Ray said, "No, s'good, Ben," and he resumed the pressure.
It took a good ten minutes before he could feel the muscles loosening, and when he gentled his hands again Ray sighed. He took this as a sign to move on, and moved his hands down to the shoulder blades, where he felt more tightness. This time when Ray moaned, he just kept going, sure that Ray would tell him to stop if need be.
Methodically working each section of Ray's back, Ben found a rare pleasure in this interaction of his hands and Ray's skin. He hadn't touched anyone in such an intimate way in far too long. He began to wonder how he'd ever go back to the way things had been. Perhaps, he thought, he could convince Ray to make this a weekly event.
When he reached the base of Ray's spine, though, he was hesitant to continue lower. While all the books he'd read said that the buttocks were 'fair game,' as it were, and that most people found it very pleasurable, he had to wonder how Ray would react to the touch of his hands ... there.
He thought it safest to move on to Ray's legs, and shifted his position so he was kneeling on Ray's left. More oil on his hands, applied to the long muscles of Ray's thighs and calves, stroked onto his feet and even between his toes. Ray made a small sound like a giggle at one point, but it wasn't repeated and Ben continued with his work. He found the play of muscles and tendons to be fascinating, and he spent long moments stroking gently down each leg from the thigh to the ankle, alternating that with gentle kneading of the thigh and calf muscles.
When he judged he was done with the legs, a decision had to be made. And since Ray was familiar with the process of massage, and since he had voluntarily stripped, Ben thought it probable that the time had come. He drew a deep breath, let it out, and steeled himself for the consequences. And then ... he did it.
With the first touch of Ben's hands on his buttocks, Ray's whole body quivered, but instead of tensing, as Ben had expected, Ray relaxed even further, as though he'd been waiting for the touch. Anticipating it, even. As though it was welcome. Ben's hands gained confidence, as he felt more of Ray's tension slipping away. He wondered why he'd ever worried about this. Obviously Ray was enjoying what Ben was doing to him. To stop before the massage was finished would have made far more of the situation than necessary.
A glance at the clock on the nightstand indicated nearly an hour had gone by, and Ben's hands were beginning to tire, so he started the last series of strokes, the long, neck-to-ankle strokes to bleed off the very last remnants of tension and wind up the massage. He tried to keep the pressure light, but found it becoming more of a caress than was, perhaps, perfectly proper.
And then Ray's hips began to move.
Ever so slightly, in a very familiar motion. A motion Ben couldn't take his eyes off for even a second. A motion that Ben had often dreamed about feeling against his own body. He felt himself beginning to harden and quickly looked away, placing one hand in the middle of Ray's back and patting softly.
"I -" he started, and had to clear his throat before continuing. "I think we're done now, Ray. If you, er, need a few minutes I can get a sheet for you, if you'd like. So you don't become chilled, of course." He somehow stopped before his words turned into a true babble, and sat back for a moment to test his legs. He'd been so engrossed he'd forgotten to shift his position as he should have, and he wasn't sure how steady he'd be if he tried to stand too soon. At the same time, he wanted to give Ray space, and not appear to be hovering over him. So he moved an arms-length away, and tried to stretch out his own cramped muscles. He stopped when he noticed Ray's eyes were open ... and staring at him. More specifically, at the fly of his boxers, which was tenting quite noticeably. He turned away and struggled to his feet, mortified by what Ray must be thinking of him.
"Frase?" he heard, but he couldn't answer. He heard the rustle of Ray's movement off the mat and was shocked by the strength of his urge to turn and look. He clenched his fingers into his thighs and prayed that Ray would leave the room, just for a moment, just long enough for him to get dressed.
Please, he thought to any deity that might be about, whoever you are, whatever you are, just please let me leave without destroying everything I've built with this man.
He nearly jumped out of his skin when he felt a hand on his shoulder and the warmth of a body at his side.
"Hey, you okay, buddy?" asked Ray, and the irony of that question made Ben laugh.
"Far from it, Ray, but thank you for asking."
"I'm, um, not sure what that means."
"It means I think I should be going now. It means I'm aware I've probably overstayed my welcome by quite a lot. I can only hope I haven't -- I -- I'm sorry, Ray. I -- well, I tried to tell you."
"Tried to tell me what, Fraser? That you get off on giving massages?"
"No," said Ben, mildly exasperated at having to spell it all out, "that I 'get off,' as you put it, on you, Ray. Although ... I truly didn't intend to take advantage of the situation."
"Yeah, well, you're not the only one here with a hard-on. In case you didn't notice."
Ben sighed. "It's nothing to be concerned about. It's merely a simple autonomic reaction to pleasant sensual stimuli."
"The hell it is."
"I said the hell it is. I think I should know what turns my crank, Fraser."
"And?" Ben asked, so softly he could hardly hear it himself.
"And ... evidently it's you."
"I ... oh. Me?"
"Yeah." Ray's hand on Ben's shoulder tightened and tugged; Ben turned to face him. "So unless you want me thinking you're some kind of tease -"
"I'm not," Ben said quickly.
Ray's smile was beautiful. "Prove it," he said hoarsely.
Ray's mouth was warm and wet and just as Ben had imagined it would be. There was the faintest trace of vodka left from earlier, but mostly just ... Ray.
Ray, naked and willing and in his arms. Writhing against him, as he had in dreams. Arms twining around his neck, knees bumping against his own. Erection jutting against his hip, searching for ease.
Ray, tugging him back toward the bed, stopping to scoop up the bottle of oil as they went.
Ben's brain threatened to overload. "Ray, what-?" he gasped.
And then Ray pushed, and Ben fell on his back onto the bed. Ray stood over him for a moment, holding the oil and looking predatory and somewhat smug.
"Ray, your sheets -"
"Will wash. Now get the boxers off."
Ben quickly did as he was told, unable to take his eyes from the sight of his partner standing over him.
"Lay back and close your eyes, Ben."
Ben did. And then ....
Feather-light touches on his face, trailing down to his neck. Swirls around his ears, dipping inside and gone. A warm puff of breath across his chest followed by fingers on his pectorals, rubbing across his nipples gently. His eyes flew open to see Ray watching him closely.
"Tell me what you want, Ben."
Ben shook his head. He wanted this to never stop. He wanted Ray to keep calling him 'Ben,' to keep looking at him like that, to keep touching him forever. "Anything," he said. "Everything."
Ray nodded as though that made sense. Then he picked up the bottle of oil from the nightstand and squirted some into his cupped hand. "Anything?"
And evidently in Ray's vocabulary, 'anything' meant just that. He started with Ben's feet, pushing his thumbs into the arches and stretching out the joints of the toes. It was just short of too rough, and Ben loved every second of it. When both feet had been thoroughly worked over, Ray moved upwards, bending one leg and then the other, poking and prodding until he found each tight spot that Ben would have sworn wasn't there. Ray's approach was unorthodox, no surprise at all, but what Ben really didn't expect was that Ray would look so ... satisfied while he was doing it. And Ben ... Ben never wanted it to end. Touching Ray had been wonderful; but being touched, being cherished like this was far and away the best thing to happen to him in what seemed like years. More than he'd ever thought to hope for.
Ray's hands continued to move over Ben's body, making him twist and writhe with the sensations they produced. Ben's armpits, his collarbone, his upper arms, even his hands all got their share of attention. It was torture, of the very best kind, and Ray's concentration on the task of giving Ben pleasure was evidenced by his smug smile and very obvious erection. This was foreplay of a kind Ben had never considered possible.
When he finally felt Ray's hand on his penis, Ben closed his eyes again, unable to watch any longer. The slick sensation of callused skin sliding over and around him was almost more than he could bear. He felt the bed dip as Ray knelt over him, straddling one leg. Felt the touch of Ray's other hand, also slick with oil, tease between his legs, which he immediately spread as wide as he could. Felt one finger slowly glide across his perineum, and then further back.
"Everything ... like this?" Ray whispered.
"More," Ben whispered back, and raised his hips in invitation.
Ray's finger dipped inside, just barely, and Ben moaned. "God, Ray, can you -- will you -- ?"
Ben nodded, then moaned again as another finger introduced itself, and the familiar but almost forgotten stretch and burn felt so good, so right, so perfect that he wanted to cry, or laugh, or maybe both.
"Oh," he said softly when Ray's fingers found his prostate, and then again a moment later when they withdrew. "Please, Ray, I need -- I want you -"
"Back, side, or front?" asked Ray softly. Ben rolled to his side and drew up one knee. He heard Ray's sharply indrawn breath, and then felt the warmth along his back. Lips, teeth and tongue on his shoulder blade, and Ray's hand on his hip. Then, finally, the nudge of Ray's penis in the cleft of his buttocks. He moved backwards, impatient, and suddenly it slipped inside.
They moaned simultaneously, he and Ray together in this as they always had been, always would be. Ray pushed in, and Ben pushed back, and there it was, the fullness, the connection he'd sought. He scrabbled for purchase on the sheets and wound up with his hand against the nightstand, which rocked a bit with each of Ray's thrusts. Thrusts which started slow, agonisingly slow and deep, and then got faster, and harder, until Ben could no longer maintain the rhythm of his counter-thrusts, but could only brace himself and pant harshly.
When he felt Ray's mouth on his nape, felt the sting of teeth there, holding him, claiming him, he lost all control. His body stiffened and he groaned as he came, too soon, far too soon. Dimly he heard Ray's answering groan, felt the pulsing of Ray's own orgasm and the clutch of Ray's arms around him as he fell too.
Days, maybe weeks later he opened his eyes to see Dief looking at him worriedly. He smiled and whispered, "I'm fine. Go to sleep." Dief chuffed in reply, and Ben felt Ray's arms squeeze him again.
"You too, Ben. Sleep."
"You're not the boss of me, either, Ray Kowalski," he murmured, and he felt Ray's laugh against his back.
"Even if I say the magic words?"
"Maybe then," Ben said, and drifted off before he could ask exactly which magic words Ray had in mind.
Author's Notes: The book Ben quoted from was The Massage Book, by George Downing. It was first printed in 1972, and the copy I have was given to me in 1981. I saw no reason why Ben mightn't have seen a copy somewhere and read it, perhaps in bored desperation at first. It's a straightforward text, with simple illustrations and no meta-physical jargon.
It's entirely possible that the CD Ray was playing was Cassandra Wilson. If you're wondering.
Comments? Tell me all about it.