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Ten Things To Get Used To

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One Pizza, Two Hours.

It took a while to get used to the idea that pizza was no longer fast food. No, pizza's more like an all-day project up here—but then again, everything's an all-day project up here, which is just as well since you got all these real long days to deal with. No more whiz-bang anything; the only thing that's whiz-bang up here is death, which can hit you real fast, blink of an eye. But while the dying is fast, the pace of living is what you might call on the leisurely side.

To go back to the pizza, you first of all have to radio in to town, let 'em know that you're coming, because you coming out for pizza is like a local event and ain't nobody wants to miss it. Then you gotta hitch up the dogs or unhook your FU-V from the block heater or warm up your snowmobiles or whatever, though generally when we get pizza it's the FU-V because it seats two and Fraser wants to come—it's an outing. Then it's an hour drive over roads if there's no snow, longer if there is, and roads is like, you know, a compliment, really. Roads is what these want to be when they grow up.

Thing is, though, you begin not to mind the fact that it takes at least an hour to get basically anywhere, because the trip is—you and Fraser and the road ahead of you and the hugest sky you ever saw and fuck-all else. At night it's even better, though it's more dangerous and more with the potential of quick death, but still better because the headlamps only extend out a few feet in front of you and so it's you and him and pitch dark all around you except for the stars overhead, thousands of them, millions of them, all those gold points of light up there, practically a solid blanket. Sitting there in the front seat with Fraser, staring out at the hypnotic black or white road out in front, it's kind of like being at a movie except without the movie. Which somehow makes it better. Better still when he reaches out and holds your hand, or maybe you reach over and rest your hand on his thigh, which is strong and warm and—really, I think my favorite part of getting pizza is getting the pizza.

Exponential Heat.

He's not Diefenbaker.  Sometimes I forget Ray's not Diefenbaker.  I'll be sitting before the fire, wrapped in blankets and reading, and a simple word like fire or home or machinery will jog my memory and I'll say, "I wonder if the weather tomorrow will allow us to start work on that roof." And the voice coming out of the darkness actually startles me: "Nah, I don't think so. Day after, maybe, though we could start the prep if you want to."

I stare across the dim cabin at the mess of blankets on my bed; I'd forgotten he was there; I'd forgotten that he speaks English; I'd forgotten that we're really a we, Ray and I, and not the more honorary we of myself and Diefenbaker. But Ray's no wolf, though he bears a comforting resemblance to one on occasion.

I close my book and set it down gently on the end table. Then I unwrap myself from my blankets and stand. For a moment or two I'm shivering, but a few quick steps bring me to bed, to the mess of blankets. They are warm already, warm from Ray's body heat, and as I slide beneath the covers I feel his rough, slightly sweaty hands reaching out for me and pulling me close, anchoring me against the source of that heat from shoulder to feet.

I'd developed techniques for coping with the inevitable chill of the bedclothes—hot water bottles slipped between the sheets ten minutes before bed, meditation exercises to control involuntary shivering and other muscle twitches, a mild program of nightly calisthenics to get the blood pumping and my heart rate up.

This is better. This is much, much better. I hadn't ever realized the exponential heat generated by two living bodies in the same space—oh, as an emergency technique, certainly, as a way to stave off dying—but how much nicer as a way of living? The nature of my sexual encounters with Victoria led me to the unfortunate association of this wonderful warmth with impending death; it has taken a man like Ray, with Ray's courage, to make me understand what should have been simply grasped from thermodynamics. Cold equals death, heat equals life.

His arms come around me, his scratchy cheek brushes against my ear, his leg lodges solidly against mine and I sleep in blazing heat, in utter comfort.

Protecting Benton Fraser.

I think that maybe the biggest shock of moving north was—not the snow, not the cold, not the dark, not the isolation, not the stupendous beauty of the landscape and the eerie feeling that you're living in the middle of the Chicago Zoo because yeah, those are bears and that's a moose and those are wolves and that's a giant fucking bird, whatever it's called. It wasn't even the fact that it gets freakin' hot here in the summertime and turns into a whole different place. No, I think the biggest shock was realizing that Benton Fraser is not like other Canadians.

So many times in Chicago we rolled our eyes and said, "Well, Canadian," like that explained it, like we were saying, "What else can you expect from Canadians?" Except here I am, an official ex-pat and surrounded by 'em, and let me tell you, Canadian doesn't begin to explain Fraser. Okay, yes, as a rule Canadians are politer than people from Chicago, except I don't even think that's so much Canadian as it is small town versus big town, because here, if you piss somebody off, there's like only two hundred and ninety-nine people left for you to hang out with. Whereas in Chicago you can afford to lose a few friends because, hey, millions of people to choose from.

Couple of good fights up here and you can alienate the entire town, what with friendships and family ties and shit like that. "Fuck you, Phil!" you say, except Phil works in the mines with Jack, Billy, Martin, Fred, and Pauli, and the five of them live at Mrs. Groton's boardinghouse and her sister runs the general store, plus Phil is dating Caroline and Martin courts Alice and each of those chicks has two sisters, not to mention that Alice's dad runs the gas station and his best friend of thirty years owns the only pizzeria for a hundred fucking miles, so the next thing you know you've got something like seventy-five people in a town of three hundred actively mad at you, and you get nasty looks buying gas and they deliberately skimp on the cheese when you order a pizza. So you sigh and bang your head against the wall of the cabin a couple hundred times and then you suck it up and go apologize to Phil, who buys you a beer, thank you kindly, and then Mrs. Groton smiles at you on the street again and Alice's dad tops you up for free and you get extra cheese on your pizza.

Not that this has ever happened to me or anything. This is all purely fucking hypothetical.

Anyway, once you get the hang of this, you realize that it's normal, makes total psychological sense. What doesn't make sense is Benton Fraser, who doesn't even live in the dinky town of three hundred but has to live fifty miles outside of it in the middle of absolute nowhere. And they're grateful he does, because if someone out there is in trouble they are in real trouble, and it's Fraser you call when your husband's hunting party is lost or your brother hasn't come home yet or your son's prop-plane hasn't shown up on schedule.

So they're grateful for Fraser, but they don't understand him, even though he's never told Phil or anybody to fuck off and even though he always politely inquires about Alice and her two sisters. They don't get him because he don't hang with them, which means in a way they don't like him, because you can't really like someone you don't hang with and can't identify with or even relate to at all. Not like they dislike him, they just don't particularly like him, which means that for all that he's the guardian angel of hundreds of people and thousands of square miles, Benton Fraser is the most vulnerable guy in this whole town.

Which is where I come in, and not in a million years would I have ever believed that my main job up here would be protecting Benton Fraser, but that's what it is—I hang out behind him, in the field, in town, everywhere, watching his back—and if they think he's crazy they think I'm maybe even crazier, because they all at least know he was born to this life whereas me, I chose it. Sometimes they look at me funny, like maybe they think I did something really bad in Chicago like chop my grandmother into pieces, but they're too polite to ask because there's a real, "We mind our own business" mentality up here, plus I think they're grateful now to me, too.

Because I protect him, and he protects them, so it's all good, it's greatness, and did I mention how stupendous the scenery is up here?

Call Me Mother.

Ray is standing at the bar of Mackenzie's Tavern, settling our bill while I mop up the last bit of my stew with a crust of bread. Behind me, I hear the soft thumps and raucous laughter of a game of darts in progress, while in front of me, Billy and Jimmy Henderson are playing a game of billiards that's fraught with their usual sibling rivalry. Ray is pulling cash out of his wallet, and then he turns to me and says, "D'ya want some tea, Mother?"

I must confess that while I expected many things when I asked Ray to accompany me on my life's adventure, being routinely called "Mother" in public was not one of them. I think it's something he picked up from old Mitch Reilly at the repair shop; I know Ray likes him and his wife...hmmm...well, I don't know Mrs. Reilly's Christian name, which is precisely the point. Mitch has been calling her "Mother" for as long as anyone can remember, even though, strictly speaking, she isn't, as the Reillys are childless.

Ray spent a lot of time with the Reillys when we first settled down, and Mitch taught him a lot he didn't know about things mechanical, and also, apparently, that the sobriquet "Mother" need not be restricted only to women who have given birth. Admittedly, I am not a woman who has given birth, but I still think that Ray is being rather overly literal-minded. Or perhaps it's simply that Ray saw something in Mitch Reilly that he liked; I think he may have looked at old Mitch's lean frame and tough arms and sunny Irish smile and decided that this was the sort of old man he'd like someday to become.

I suppose I could have stopped it if I really wanted to, right at the beginning. I suppose, therefore, that I really didn't want to stop it. The first time Ray said it—we were working together at the carpentry bench to replace some rotting planks in the shed door. Ray had been planing some boards to fit, and then suddenly he stepped back from the bench and passed a hand across his sweaty forehead and said, "Whattya say to some lunch, Mother?"

I nearly dropped the saw. I jerked my head up and stared at him, but he was just grinning at me insouciantly, a splinter of wood-cum-toothpick poking out of the corner of his mouth. His look was half-cheek and all dare—daring me to say something about it. But I wasn't yet sure what to say.

So I said, "All right," and I put the saw down carefully and brushed sawdust from my hands. Ray just laughed and jerked his head toward the cabin, and off to lunch we went.

I think it was a joke then, but now it isn't—now he just forgets, particularly when he's concentrating. Ray, frowning down as he rummages through the toolbox, "We got any more quarter inch nails, Mother?" or "God, you're freezing—here, have some coffee, Mother, it'll do you good."

Mostly, thank goodness, he still calls me Fraser, and in bed it's always Ben—Ben, whispered into my ear like it's a secret, which of course it is. Ben...Ben... when I'm buried inside him and the angle's just right and he's convulsing around me, so tightly, so sweetly. Ben...

But more and more, when he's not thinking about it, it's "Mother," that slips out—and I think I'm all right with that, however strange it is, because I hear, "I love you," every single time he says it.

Nails, Bullets, and Gas.

Now that I'm up here, I'm starting to get Fraser's weird attitude about money—which is to say his total blasé indifference to it, which used to baffle me in Chicago. Here, though, it makes sense—money's irrelevant, almost entirely irrelevant, and certainly completely separate from any reasonable concept of work. Back in Chicago, work and money, milk and honey, peanut butter and jelly, couldn't have one without the other. Here, work is something you do because it needs doing, and every day is full of it until you can't even tell work from fun anymore. Set the fires, maintain the equipment, work on the house, feed the dogs, feed yourself—this is all work, and it takes all day, and none of it's about money.

Money is this thing that shows up in Fraser's bank account in town once a month; money shows up in my account too, pension checks from taking early retirement, interest from my savings; and what's funny is that we shouldn't have any of it, except we've got loads. Because money is for basically three things: nails, bullets, and gas.

Okay, so occasionally we need something that we can't make, find, or grow ourselves—tools when something breaks, fresh vegetables, milk, and bread when we can get 'em, tea and beer of which we both like the imported varieties. But we hunt our own meat and we chop our own wood and we make our own soap and candles. With the rest of it, you take care of the things you have and they pretty much last forever: Fraser's taught me how to oil my boots and sew reinforcing stitches on my clothes, and we sharpen our knives and keep our engines running just as smooth as you please.

Which takes us back to the three main things—nails, bullets, and gas—that we can't make ourselves and that we need practically every day. Still, you can't imagine how far your money goes when these are your needs, not to mention that half the time you're working on a barter system anyway—chop wood for Mrs. Groton and she'll pay you in butter, help Fred build a new shed and he'll pay you in nails.

I am poor up here, but I am rich up here; my gun is my credit card, my knife is my checkbook, and my sweat is crude oil, baby, my own personal gusher. We are rich, Fraser and me. We are rich and we are free.

My Turn Will Come.

In the dim flickering light of a ring of kerosene lamps—the portable generators have not yet arrived, the town vehicles have not yet arrived—there is movement, and quiet grunts, the bending of backs, the flexing of hands. We pull bodies from the water.

Three of them, their brightly colored parkas visible through the almost-translucent black ice. God please that these aren't Michael Kelly's boys;  I'd heard they bought new snowmobiles, but there are no identifying tags on these wrecked machines. Backs bend, hands flex, and there's a sucking sound like the water doesn't want to let go of them, and then I'm grabbing legs, long legs, strong legs and pulling Jonathan Kelly onto to the solid ice beside me.

I settle him down as gently as I can. I try to close his wide, staring eyes but I can't; they're frozen open, forever locked on the star-lit sky. Still crouching beside him, I look back at the gash in the ice and see Ray in his green-gray hip waders and his bright orange jacket. He's stepped down into the water and he's got Sean Kelly in his arms; he's locked his arms underneath Sean's armpits and he's pulling him from the water's clinging grip.

With a splash I'm beside him in the icy water, fishing for Sean's legs—he's wearing brand new boots, cheerful purple and white plastic with all the latest insulating chemical fibers and fancy rubberized treads. Together, Ray and I heave and haul and we pass the boy into the waiting arms of Big Jackey, a mountain of a man wrapped in animal skins and oilcloth.

I watch Jackey lay him out, holding still with something like reverence in my heart, but Ray's already sloshing back to help Martin and Pauli pull the third body from the water. The body is so slight that for a horrible moment I'm thuddingly sure it's Patrick, youngest of the Kelly brothers by a full four years.  But it isn't Patrick—I know this the moment I hear Pauli Giroux howl with grief; and of course there had been rumors at church about Sean Kelly and Katherine Giroux, that there had been some flickerings of mutual interest between them.

I turn and help Martin carry Katherine's small body onto the ice, because Pauli Giroux is crumpled and howling but Ray's got him. Ray's got him.

Ray has got Pauli by the collar of his parka and Ray is hauling him out of the freezing water. Ray has wrapped his arms around him and is crooning all those nonsense words I never know how to say: "It's gonna be all right," and "You're gonna survive this," and "Nothing's ever gonna hurt her now, not any more," and "Think of Amelia and Chris," Pauli's wife and young son, "you gotta be there for them in this. Okay? Okay, Pauli?"

And perhaps it's because Ray's crying right along with him, tears streaming down his face even as he says, "You gotta be strong for them, okay?" that Pauli listens to him, starts pulling himself together with deep, sucking breaths that cloud around him like mist. And then Ray looks at me and I nod at him, for I am already being strong: my eyes are dry, my bearing straight, as only befits the ranking officer on the scene.

But I know my turn will come; the ambulances will arrive, and the official reports will be filed, and we will see that Pauli gets home safely to his wife and son. And then we will go home, and Ray will press a hot drink into my hands and say, softly, "C'mere, Mother."

And then it will be my turn to grieve.

Perfectly Alone.

When we are alone, perfectly alone, Ben relaxes. Hell, Ben more than relaxes, Ben sometimes even slouches—Ben sinks down deep into the couch cushions and stretches out his long, strong legs and puts his feet up on the coffee table, daring me to yell at him the way he yells at me when I do it. When we are perfectly alone, Ben allows himself to be a hypocrite, just a little bit.

If I'm next to him, he might play footsie with me on the coffee table, or put his hand in my pants. When we're alone, he likes to play with my dick—it's like his favorite toy in the world. No, actually—I think I'm his favorite toy, or maybe scratch that too because I'm pretty much his only toy, not that I'm complaining.

It took me a while to figure that out, how he liked playing with me, why he liked playing with me, but when the light bulb finally came on it was because I noticed that Ben's main sexual organ was his eyes. This, I gotta say, I didn't expect—I was betting on hands or tongue because Ben is just so good with his hands and tongue. But no, uh-uh, not true, because Ben's got this kinky little voy—voyerage—Ben likes to watch.

More specifically, Ben likes to watch me, and when I figured that out it eased my mind a lot because I'd been wondering if maybe he didn't like sucking me so much. Because given the option, Ben will use his hand on me more than his mouth, which was what made me wonder being that he's so otherwise orally-fixated. Now I see that it's important to him to see me when we're doing it, and now it makes sense: the view is better when he's using his hand instead of his mouth.

So Ben will put his hand on me and sometimes he'll put two fingers inside me and he'll jerk me off real slow, bring me off so slowly from inside and out while he watches. I get this now that I really know him, and frankly it makes all kinds of sense. If there's one naked body Ben knows really well it's his own, so I am the new attraction around here, the thing of interest. It's like—I'm not just his lover, but I'm also his own personal pornography, which is all about how Ben's different from everyone else up here because the town is just full of it.

Not real obviously, not like there's porn in all the shop windows or anything, but the fact is that the ratio of guys to girls is like three to one, maybe even four to one, which means that there's porn. Practically every other guy up here, they've got a box of magazines or a stack of videos or something, because what with girls being so thin on the ground they got their choice of guys but not vice versa. You treat a girl bad up here it's like bye-bye, seeya, she'll go date Phil or something, plus a lot of the other women are widows who got this look like they've already been hard done by and so, no thanks, they'd rather sleep with the dog. So yeah, three to one ratio means that there's porn around here, except for Ben.

Ben's got me.

This relates to another thing I found out about Ben, which is that he's really much more like his grandfather George than like his dad. Bob—I've read Bob's journals, and Bob's a much more jovial kind of dude, all "Ha-ha, son!" and "Well, there you go! har-de-ha!" which, I'm with Ben on this, can get on your nerves after a while. But Ben, he was really raised by his grandfather, a guy born in 1892 which himself didn't marry Martha until he was forty, so I'm seeing a certain similarity of temperament there. Plus in my mind, that explains a bit of the friction between Ben and Bob, because it must have been weird for Bob to have his son turn out exactly like his father. Bob probably did his share of rebelling against his dad, except here's Ben and he's George all over again, all that nineteenth century disapproval coming from, like, a ten year old. Could almost make you feel sorry for Bob, except I'd feel a lot sorrier if he'd been around more, taken the time to leave his own mark.

The other thing that makes Ben make sense is the Inuit—you hang out with the Inuit for a while and it's oh! I get it! here's the other piece of it! The Inuit are amazing, totally grounded—they take death and life with the same kind of grace, plus they got history and a set of skills that any guy up here would envy and that Ben's mostly learned. So you look at Ben and think, okay, half 1890s, half Inuit, and then you've got something like the picture—and neither of those cultures is real approving of porn, which explains that part of it too.

So if Ben wants to look at me, let him look at me. He gets more turned on by looking at me than he does by touching himself—I'm figuring he's touched himself plenty over the years, while watching me have three orgasms on his hands, on his fingers, is new and exciting and a little bit kinky-dirty to him, and Ben deserves a little kinky-dirty. Plus I am not complaining, because me and Ben run, like, three-to-one on orgasms—on long nights he'll bring me off twice before he fucks me, and by then he'll be so hot and turned on that he's freakin' wild for it. Whereas by that point I'm limp and incoherent and pretty much begging, and that third orgasm happens inside of me where Ben's cock is buried in my ass. I have ass-orgasms as well as dick-orgasms now, which takes some getting used to but is a win-win, believe you me.

And if Ben wants to watch me come, if Ben wants to put his hand in my pants and fondle my dick so he can watch my face while he does it, if Ben wants to kiss me and finger-fuck me till I'm writhing and gasping on my back like his dream-porn-imaginary, then let him do it. I don't mind being his boy toy. Let him play all he wants.  You know, if it helps him relax.

Ray's Way of Hacking It.

The environment here can change quite radically from day to day, and quite spectacularly from season to season. Perhaps in compensation for a climate with over a hundred and fifty degrees' range in temperature, the social climate up north changes little, if at all.

Oh, certainly people come and go—migrant workers on the oil pipelines, in the fisheries, young men who want adventure. These same young men leave when they realize the limited possibilities for romance (a key part of adventure, surely, even by my own definition) and they very often take our young women with them when they go, whisking them to places that offer less adventure but, perhaps, other amenities.

But underneath the coming of the men, the departure of the women, the structure remains the same: the Mackenzies have run the tavern as long as anyone can remember, and Reillys have owned the repair shop. Mrs. Groton inherited Groton's Bed and Breakfast from her husband, who inherited it from his parents; no doubt her daughter Ellen is already being groomed to take over the establishment, or at least I hope so. And Frasers, too, have long been in the area, though I'm the only one left now. Underneath the comings and goings, the steady pulse of change, there is a backbone of family. A daunting array of interpersonal relationships, some stretching back for generations—Colin McGregor and Mitch Reilly's sister, my own father's dalliance with Mrs. Mackenzie—

Ray's mastered it. In fact, on occasion he has opportunity to correct me. "Jim," he'll say, unexpectedly, and I'll stare at him, "Jim, not Jake," he'll explain, "you said Jake. Jake is the Pierson kid, and I think he's five, so I doubt if he's gone off to work on a tanker. Unless that's some real newfangled day care they got there."

"Jim, then," I say, feeling vaguely miffed.

Ray just grins at me, and if he's chewing gum, he snaps it. "Yeah."

"Right. Well, Jim sent word back to his parents that the tanker employs the most backwards of environmental practices—" except that isn't important at this particular juncture. What is important is Ray's grin, the snap of his gum, that triumphant look that says, "You didn't think I could hack this, didja?"

He's quite wrong. I was utterly certain he could hack it; what takes some getting used to is Ray's way of hacking it. Ray talks to people; Ray talks to almost everybody. Ray also listens closely, and when he listens, I recognize the look on his face; it's his detective look, a certain narrowness that says, "I am paying attention. I am organizing these facts in my brain. I am taking notes. I will remember this." Ray, of course, has had to master many a situation in the course of his undercover work, but still, I had not anticipated the degree to which he would apply those skills here.

But Ray's way of hacking it isn't simply about cerebral intelligence; as in his detective work, Ray applies his emotions to the case. Ray feels, Ray befriends, and—most significantly, in terms of changes to my life—Ray accepts invitations. Ray plays poker in a revolving game that we've actually hosted in our turn—six men, way out here, all at once. Ray plays pool on Friday nights at Mackenzie's Tavern with Pauli Giroux; they used to play for money, but Ray doesn't seem to care much about money anymore. Ray has a standing monthly invitation for Sunday dinner with Mitch and Mother Reilly. Ray also plays left-wing for our local pick-up hockey team—and what this all means, in practice, is that I now play poker in a revolving game, and I drink beer and play darts with whomever dares take me on at Mackenzie's, and I've really come to like Mother Reilly's special Sunday meatloaf. And how does one resist the pressure to join a pick-up game when five men are assembled and in need of a sixth? "C'mon, don't be a drag," Ray says, waving his stick at me. "Besides, you can play all the positions—you're a fucking Type O hockey player, Fraser."

How could I possibly resist such an invitation? How to explain how this changes my life?

No Regrets.

"Gotta find that hand," I told Fraser, even though I was chattering my teeth out, what with being stuck two hundred feet down a crevasse. "I gotta find that reaching-out hand."

Fraser knew what I meant; Fraser speaks a whole lot of languages including Ray, so he knew what I meant by the hand, and he knew what I meant when I brought up regrets. Because seriously, I thought we were gonna bite it right then, because that was one of those sudden deaths that the Territories offers you fourteen times a day—crushed under twenty feet of snow, strapped to the side of a mountain, or maybe hey, a crevasse! This place gets you coming or going, up, down or sideways.

So we're squashed in a fucking ice crevasse and yeah, regrets, I've had a few. Mostly all about Fraser—never kissed Fraser, never touched Fraser, never fuckin' licked Fraser's nipples, never saw him naked, never ate pizza in bed with him, never got drunk and sloppy together, never went to the beach, never saw him in a speedo, never put my mouth on his dick, never saw his face when he comes, never took a shower with him, never fucked him or got fucked by him, never licked his knees, tasted his tongue, never never never never...a million of them, pounding in my head like bad techno.

So the hand, that reaching-out hand—God, how I wanted that hand. And Fraser got it, he knew just what I meant, and I knew what he meant when he asked me to go on an adventure. Because that word?  In Fraser's mouth?

It sounds different, and hell, it was different, is different. Fraser's got his own way of talking, which takes some getting used to, but he says adventure and I know it's a proposal. I mean, yeah, it was a proposal, but I mean a proposal proposal, not just "You wanna go look at some ice over there?" but "You wanna, like, live with me? You wanna be with me?"—and okay, yeah, not just to be with him, like to be there, but to be with him. To be with him in the kind of biblical-being-way.

So yeah. Yeah, okay, yes—count me in.

Meanwhile, I kind of envy the simplicity of Fraser's proposal, because in my first marriage I had maybe seen too many movies and so I thought it had to be a whole big shebang with the restaurant and the fancy suit and getting our song played on the radio and the diamond engagement ring in the ice cream. Okay, so I was twenty-one and a dope, so what do you want? She liked it, even though a pistachio got stuck in the diamond, but then again she was twenty-one and a dope, too. Fraser, meanwhile, just—back at the cabin, hands me an ax, says, "Ray, would you come on an adventure with me?" and there you go, bang, done deal. Nice and direct, no ice cream or power ballads involved. I think we had some salted meat afterwards, but no biggie—we eat lots of salted meat up here.

That night, I moved from the couch to the bed and that was pretty much it—okay, no, I take it back. That was pretty much it about three days later, because there was a no-pun-intended snowball effect with the sex life, by which I mean, we started slow and by the third day I'm tied to the headboard and Fraser's hanging upside-down like a bat and we just fucking did everything because it turns out that neither of us has got any goddamned patience, plus we're kind of competitive.

Which, you know—that's just fine.

Fraser went after me with such starvation those first days that I was worried he'd make himself sick, like when you eat too much Chinese food and think, whoa, I never want Chinese food  again. I thought Fraser might say, "Wow, I have had just too much dick here—I have had all the dick I can stand, so just—dick and Chinese food, please never again." Except Fraser wouldn't have said it like that, and besides it never happened anyway, so that was a couple of wasted hours of my life I spent worrying.

Fraser wants to live his life's adventure with me, Fraser means it, Fraser don't say shit he don't mean, not like that. Plus he's been living up here all these years without sex and not even with pornography. So I think this marriage is really pretty solid.

Still, though, as good as it is, I want us to go on vacation. We got the money, we got the time racked up, and the folks around here are just gonna have to watch their own asses for a week or two.

I want to take Fraser due south, to Mexico. I want to take Fraser to the beach.

Because you never know when death comes for you up here, and basically I got my nevers narrowed down to the beach and one really small black speedo.

And next time I'm in an ice crevasse? I'm just gonna close my eyes and smile.

Fricatives.

When we make love, sometimes there's nothing to hear but our labored breaths and his whispered obscenities.

"Ben...oh, Ben...fuck..." and it's all shivery fricatives when he says it, ffffff and then the soft ck—and that soft click in this throat sometimes triggers my orgasm, because I can hear his tongue moving in his mouth, hear his throat working, hear the soft, wet gasps that mean he's struggling to breathe through his pleasure.

I can't take my eyes off him.

"Ben...Ben, goddammit!...fffffuck," and sometimes his lips move, his teeth lightly pressed against his lower lip as he struggles to get the word out, "fffffuck...oh god, fuck me..." Sometimes he doesn't quite manage it. I watch his lips frame the words. "Fuck me...hurry..."

I can't hurry. I can't hurry, even for him, though I'd do anything else in the world for him. Instead I lean down and touch my mouth to his. Ray's lips are dry from panting and I twist my fingers inside him just to feel his lips move against mine. "Ohhh, fffffffu—"

I smother the word on his lips, then coax his mouth open so that I can taste his tongue. His body is convulsing around my fingers. It's so beautiful. I almost can't stand it.

When I lift my head to look at him, Ray's face is strained with wanting;  I'm sure I look the same to him. "Ben, if you don't fuck me right now," the words spill out in his urgency, "right fucking now...I'll...you'll..." and he's losing his thought; it's slipping away. "Please fuck me now...soon, or..." He closes his eyes and swallows hard, whispers, "Kiss me. Kiss me."

I stare at him for long seconds; my heart is thudding and I am twisted with want. His beauty is as unnatural as a saint's, his face contorted in pleasure-pain. I want to imprint the image on my retina, on my memory; I want to be able to conjure this each and every time I close my eyes. Saint Sebastian, hands bound behind his back and pierced with arrows. And then I kiss him again, longer, deeper, as I drive my fingers inside of him, groaning into his mouth when I feel the pulse of his second orgasm between us. Oh, Ray...

When I lift my head again, Ray grabs hunks of my hair in both fists and pulls my mouth back down to his. He breathes the word against my lips—"motherfucker..." and presses his hot, sweet mouth to mine, tightening his hands in my hair whenever he even suspects me of pulling away; he'll let me go when he's done with me. And then he's done with me, and he eases my head back, licking my mouth with his tongue until there's too much distance between us. "Now," he says.

I swallow hard and shake my head. "A minute." I need a minute; I need to gather myself, otherwise I'll come the moment I'm inside him.

"Now. Hard and fast—fuck me hard and fast," and I have to close my eyes tight and fight for control of myself. My head drops and Ray cradles it—I feel his mouth move across my cheek, brush over my jaw. "C'mon, your turn," he murmurs, and now he's kissing my face, "you're entitled to your turn..."

"I'm h-having my turn." I lean into the warmth of his kisses. "It's all my turn."

"Do what you want then," Ray says, and this verbal yielding is matched by a physical yielding as he goes pliant beneath me, giving me tacit permission to do anything to him, everything to him. Ray's flexibility is his strength, in this as in all things.

I brush my cheek against his, then open my eyes. Ray has closed his—he knows I like to look at him, he knows everything about me. I pull myself up, off him, and instantly he squirms his legs further apart to give me access to him. His cock is half-erect and diminishing, his taut abdomen is splattered with ejaculate. I feast my eyes.

Finally impatience gets the better of him and he opens his eyes. They study me with pale blue intelligence, and then Ray slides his hand across his belly, through the puddle of ejaculate, and palms my erection. I shudder, only barely managing to keep myself on my knees while he grasps me, slicking me first with his own ejaculate and then drawing his fist down to gather my pre-ejaculate with his thumb. I shudder, and Ray's lip suddenly curls at the corner, like he wants to grin. He bites the inside of his cheek, then looks up from my cock to my face and says, "I fuckin' love you, you know that?"

I watch him stroking my erection with such care, so gently and I want to say, "Yes. Yes, I know that," but the words won't come. "I love you.  You amaze me," but the words will not come.  Ray's remade my entire world, and still the words won't fucking come.

Ray moves his eyes back to my erection, giving it a final slippery tug that squeezes it out of his grasping hand. "I fuckin' love you," he tells it much more soberly, or at least it seems that way, and then he's settling back on the bed again, his arms relaxed around his head.

I am reminded of the time, our first weekend together as lovers, when I tied him to the headboard, and I inhale sharply. The grin Ray's been stifling suddenly blazes onto his face, and he shifts most—most—well. Most provocatively indeed.  My throat tightens with wanting him;  I don't think I'll ever get used to this.

It takes me a moment to find my voice, but then I do.

"Turn over and I'll—f-fuck you," and for a moment Ray just grins at me, and then he does.