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He always wakes up first. Some sixth sense brings him awake in the still of the early morning, while Ray is still deeply asleep. Lying with his head turned towards his partner, Fraser watches the play of the growing light across Ray's face.

It would be far more practical for them to sleep facing in opposite directions, his head by Ray's feet, Ray's feet by his head. The reason they do not is only one of many unspoken things between them.

Once Fraser has looked his fill, he pulls the day's clothes inside the sleeping bag with him and changes quickly. He only ever changes clothes inside his sleeping bag. "It's important to maintain core body temperature," he said to Ray, on their first night on the tundra. "You must avoid even momentary exposure." That was true, but it wasn't all of the truth.

Sometimes, Ray wakes while he is dressing. "Sleep a while longer," Fraser always says, then pulls himself out of their small tent to do the morning chores. By the time Ray emerges, tousled and smelling of sleep, Fraser has performed his necessary tasks, and breakfast is simmering over their small cookstove.

"Good morning, Ray. Would you like some coffee?" he asks, and Ray sits beside him, closer than is reasonable or necessary, and takes the steaming cup from his hand.

* * *

The days are full of hard work, but surprisingly pleasant. Early spring is a lovely time in the tundra of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. It is cold, but the sky is a clear jewel-blue and the glittering snow splits the light into rainbows. The starkness of the landscape is its own kind of beauty, and the few signs of softness and life are all the more precious because of their rarity.

After breakfast they pack up their small camp. Ray breaks down the tent while Fraser packs the sled. Then, Fraser pulls out their maps and navigation equipment and charts their course. Ray harnesses the dogs. He has bonded with Diefenbaker even more than Fraser had hoped, and this extends to their team. So, while Fraser decides where they will go, Ray is more and more the one who gets them there.

Today, Ray will drive the sled while Fraser travels beside on skis. They take turns, now; the first week of their trip was spent teaching Ray the skills needed to travel in the wilderness. Fraser would have been content to have him as a passenger, but Ray was not content to ride. He wanted to learn everything, and he was surprisingly easy to teach. Ray could survive here without him, now, and Fraser is proud of that.

They stop several times during the day, to eat light, calorie-dense meals, recalculate their course, and perform other necessary bodily functions.

Ray wrote his name in the snow once, just, Fraser supposed, to prove that he could. Fraser was envious, of course, but covered it well. He had laughed-- the last time he'd seen someone do that, it had been Mark Smithbauer, when they were 13. Boys' games. So he laughed, but carefully kept enough disapproval in his face that he could plausibly refuse when Ray said: "Your turn. Though I guess 'Benton' is a little harder. You got it in you?"

Oh, Ray, you have no idea what I have in me.

"No, Ray, I think I'll leave the despoiling of nature's beauty to you," Fraser said. But he was smiling and kept the words light enough not to sting.

* * *

After taking a couple weeks to reach the coast, they have been following the path of the Franklin expedition inland from the Beaufort sea for several days now, and each day brings new discoveries. A grave, an old campsite half buried under snow. "How is it even possible that none of these other explorers found any of this stuff before?" Ray wonders, as they are packing up the cookstove and dishes and preparing to move on for the day.

Fraser has known that questions were coming and this one, at least, he finds easy enough to answer. "Well, Ray, they didn't know where to look."

Of course, that leads to a whole new set of complicated questions. "So how do we know where to look?" Ray asks.

Diefenbaker barks.

Fraser smiles.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me," Ray says.

Fraser tucks the last of the equipment away and, still grinning, puts on the skis and lets Ray take the sled.

* * *

When they stop for the night, Ray takes care of the dogs, and Fraser makes their dinner. No fire this far north-- no wood for it. They cook over a small camp stove with concentrated fuel. Dinner is rice and beans, or soup, or pemmican. They drink tea for the warmth as much as for the liquid.

They retire while it is still light every evening. It is mid spring and sunset is much later than it would be in Chicago this time of year. Ray complains about how "unnatural" it is to sleep while the sun is still out, but he seems to appreciate the rest as much as Fraser does.

And, in truth, they are usually awake talking until long after the sun has set.

In the darkness, Fraser hunkers down in his sleeping bag, slipping quickly out of the day's clothing and putting on a fresh set of underclothes for the night. And if there is one more layer, one more undershirt, if it is a bit too tight and strangely designed, if his long underwear hangs a bit oddly about his and chest and groin, Ray either does not notice or does not comment.

Fraser changes clothes with his back turned. He knows Ray thinks him shy. Ray himself is shameless, waiting until Fraser is facing him before writhing his way out of his day's clothes, sinuously bending and twisting inside his sleeping bag, displaying skin in a flash of bare shoulder or exposed wrist, all the more tempting for being supposedly accidental.

Fraser knows better. Ray is playing a rather unsubtle game with him, trying to push him into admitting what has lain unspoken between them for so long. But the stakes are higher than Ray knows and Fraser cannot respond.

Dear God, Ray must think Fraser brought him here for -- was that why he proposed the adventure? Was he counting on their becoming, what? lovers? Partners of the domestic kind? Fraser feels a pulse of arousal swelling his groin at the thought. To have Ray, completely, perhaps forever. Perhaps, perhaps, but no. Ray doesn't know, Ray doesn't know and Ray can't know. Fraser couldn't stand to see the shock and disappointment on his face. Fraser couldn't stand to come so close and loose him over--

No, friends is better. And, if they go to sleep every night longing for what might have been, it still will be better than living in the aftermath of what is.

"Did I ever tell you the story of polar bear raised by musk ox?" Fraser asks, voice quiet in the darkness.

"No, Fraser, you haven't," Ray responds, sounding both exasperated and amused. They have rolled onto their sides, facing one another across the narrow space of the tent floor. Ray's face is a pair of ice chips in a pale blur, haloed by flickering light as the aurora spills in through the thin walls of the tent.

"All right then," Fraser continues, "And, mind you, this is a true story, not an Inuit or Dene myth." He continues, spinning the web of the yarn (only slightly embellished from what was reported in the news) out into the darkness, warming with their breaths and smelling so sweetly of Ray. He breathes in the pauses, deeper than necessary, and fights his traitorous body's urge to lean in, bridge the gap between them and bury himself in that heat. Because, what would he do, after all, if he were to find himself in the circle of Ray's arms? He knows that it is far, far, too great a gap to cross with will and affection alone.

He has kept his secret for this long. He can keep it for however long he needs to. He tells himself this as he drifts off to sleep.

People see only what they look for.

* * *

If Ray's facility with the dogs was surprising, his facility with snowshoes and skis was nearly miraculous. He had no experience with any method of travelling on the snow before coming to the north with Fraser and yet, less than a week into their journey, he was almost Fraser's equal. Fraser remembers his own difficult winter of struggling when he was a boy. What had been so difficult for him then comes easily to Ray now. Fraser sometimes forgets that Ray is a dancer, with all a dancer's knowledge of his body and its movements, and a dancer's ability to learn physical skills.

Watching Ray on his skis, Fraser thinks of how Ray excels at the physical skills of living in the North. Cooking over a camp stove, pitching a tent, guiding dogs or traveling on skis, all these things he learned as if he had been born to them. The mental skills-- following position and direction based on the movements of the sun and stars, navigation, assessing the weather and the conditions of the land with by subtle sights, sounds, scents and textures, come harder. Fraser is still the one who sets their course and keeps them on it, who decides when and where to pitch their tent for the night, and watches the horizons for the ominous clouds that are the only warning of a deadly spring storm.

So what happens is entirely Fraser's fault.

The storm comes upon them suddenly. The sky is bright, and then it is dark. The air is still, and then it is full of cutting wind. The snow is calm and silent, then it rises around them, hissing and biting. Diefenbaker barks as if to say, I told you so, I told you so! and Fraser realizes the reason that the team has been running so eagerly fast today. Trying to outrun the weather, which has caught him unawares, coming up behind as he has been watching Ray on his skis beside the team.

No excuse and no defense for his inattention, and it may have killed them both.

"Stake out the dogs and unload the tent!" Fraser shouts to Ray over the howling wind. "I'll clear us a space."

And he does, finding a flat spot in the lee of a snowdrift where they should be relatively protected from the wind. He took the pickaxe from the sled and started to hack out a footprint for their tent. The dogs are securely bedded down beside the tent space, protected on one side by the snowdrift and on the other by the sled-- the tent itself will form a third wall to keep them safe from the wind. Their coats will have to do the rest. Diefenbaker barks sharply, twice and lolls his tongue briefly, trying to reassure Fraser in his worry. Fraser nods.

Ray is already spreading the tent out in the space they have provided. It is darker than night, which is usually bright with stars, moon and aurora, and Fraser sees that Ray's hands are trembling as he stakes the tent's corners. Fraser himself is shivering with the cold. The temperature is dropping fast, and will soon become dangerous.

He helps Ray with the tent, but they are slowing. The cold seems to freeze them in place, making muscles lock and vision blur. Fraser looks up to see Ray stumbling, arms dropping by his sides, then swaying on his feet. He is at Ray's side in an instant, calling his name. Ray blinks blearily at him but does not respond. Fraser sees Ray trying, and failing, to focus his eyes, which fall closed again. "Ray you have to stay with me, you have to stay conscious."

He hasn't seen Ray this close to death since that first night following Muldoon.

He pulls Ray to the corner next to the sled and forces him to sit down near the dogs. "Dief, keep him warm!" Fraser shouts, and Diefenbaker complies, barking his own commands at the other dogs, who surround Ray in a furry, windproof shelter.

He has to get the tent up, and quickly. Without Ray's help, it will be hard to erect their shelter in time to save him. Fraser works as fast as he can, putting up poles and tying out guy-lines, his own limbs stiffening in the cold. His vision begins to blur. No. If he succumbs, Ray will die. He must stay awake, stay alive, for Ray's sake. Finally, the tent is up, and Fraser seizes Ray and dragged him within it, turning on the stove and pulling the sleeping bag in with them. "Dief!" he calls again, and Diefenbaker joins them in the tent.

Fraser strips Ray quickly of his wet outer layers, wraps him in an emergency blanket and tucks him into his sleeping bag. Ray is terrifyingly still, barely breathing. His heartbeat, thank god, is slow but steady. Diefenbaker, without having to be asked, shakes the snow off of his fur and crawls into the sleeping bag at Ray's feet.

Fraser shakes Ray sharply and slaps his cheeks. "Ray! Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray!" He grips Ray's shoulder hard enough to bruise, and still Ray does not wake. Fraser puts an ear to his lips and feels, hears, no breath against it. No. . .

No time to think, just act. Shuck off his pants, parka, sweater, long johns, socks, underwear, and climb in, wrapping himself around Ray's shivering body. Ray, deeply hypothermic, hardly seems to notice but, over time, his shivering stills, his breathing steadies, and he relaxes into a more natural sleep.

Diefenbaker, looking as relieved as Fraser feels, climbs out of the sleeping bag and moves to a guard position by the door of the tent. He looks back over his shoulder at Fraser and whuffles softly.

"I don't know," Fraser says to him. "I don't know what I'm going to do." He looks down at Ray's sleeping form. "I should have told him."

Fraser cradles Ray in his arms and wonders, desperately, what he is going to do when Ray wakes up. He was certain to notice the breasts.

* * * * * *

The last time Benton wore a dress was to Caroline Fraser's funeral.

Her father in red serge, her mother in the coffin, Beatrice Fraser wore black grosgrain with a white lace collar, which she itched until her neck was red as her eyes. Under the dress, her knees were skinned, her tights were torn, and her patent leather shoes were scuffed.

In the month that followed, she wore only blue jeans and t-shirts. Her father, deep in his own grief, didn't notice. When he finally roused himself from depression and took her to his parents' house, he stayed only long enough for dinner before leaving again-- to track and kill his wife's murderer, Benton would learn some 30 years later.

At first, Beatrice's grandparents had thought it was part of the grieving process. With mother murdered and father gone, they were inclined to let Bea choose her own path. Besides, they travelled enough that no decision was ever truly irrevocable. And, if George and Martha Fraser were bothered by the fact that their granddaughter's identity as a boy became more and more entrenched with each successive move, they never openly disapproved.

So, Beatrice in Alert became Bea in Aklavik became B in Tuktoyaktuk became Benton in Inuvik. The Frasers moved to Inuvik in the late spring and, for the first time, had access to a sizable public school that could rival their own teaching ability. They had every intention of enrolling their grandchild for the fall term but, among more practical considerations of grade level and class choice, the existential question of gender loomed large. What name would they give and, would they enroll the new student as a girl or a boy?

Everyone in town knew him as Benton. After being uprooted so many times, he was outgoing enough with strangers that he had trapped his grandparents into acquiescing. Either they retraced his every step and corrected every person to whom he had spoken, or they accepted his self-chosen name and identity and allowed others to treat him in kind. Years ago, they had gotten into the habit of allowing Benton to set his own terms on these matters and, only now that they were once again in a large community, did they realize how far down that path they had gone. Aklavik and Tuk had been small enough that a few quiet words spoken to a village elder would pass the word of their grandchild's unusual situation to the whole town. In Inuvik, no such simple option existed. And, so, when mid-June arrived, they still had reached no decision.

Unfortunately, nature forced their hand. In retrospect, they were surprised it had taken this long. Benton was twelve, after all. But one morning Martha called him to breakfast and he did not come. When she went to check, she found him still in bed. She set a hand on his forehead to check for a fever and found him cool and clammy. He begged her to leave him alone, but she insisted on pulling back the blankets. And it was then that she saw the blood.

"Oh, honey," she said and pulled him into her arms, rocking him softly as she would have a much younger child. "Shh, shh" she crooned into his ear. "It will be all right, I promise." But nothing she said or did could console him.

He remained quiet and subdued for the five days it took to pass. But, after that, he was completely ungovernable. He spent all his time with his new friends and they seemed hell-bent on getting into as much trouble as possible. Thank goodness his cycle did not repeat itself the next month. But his recklessness culminated in the incident of a stolen car and his grandparents dealt with that firmly. "I know you're going through a lot right now," George told him. "But that's no excuse for this sort of destructive, undisciplined behavior." They grounded him for a week.

The next morning he was gone.

Tom Quinn brought him back home five days later, more thoroughly chastened by the consequences of his own choices than by any punishment George and Martha could have meted out. Benton cleaned his equipment and went to bed early, and Quinn sat down to a cup of tea with the Frasers.

They knew each other to say hello in the street, but they had never spoken together at length before. But Quinn pulled no punches in telling the story of how Benton came to shoot the caribou. And George was equally direct when he described Benton's unusual circumstances. "You know she's a girl?"

Quinn nodded. "I know he was born female," he said, the rephrasing making clear his own thoughts on the matter. "But, with all due respect Mr. Fraser, have you thought about treating him as though he actually were a boy?"

"But we do!" Martha protested. "We let her use whatever name she likes, dress however she likes, don't correct people who call her 'he'. That's exactly what we've done, and look where it got us!" She shook her head. "We really thought she'd grow out of it. Now, I wonder whether we shouldn't have indulged her in the first place."

"Again, with respect, Ma'am," Quinn said, "But you haven't really been treating Ben like a boy. The. . . changes. . . he's going through. You're approaching them as if they're a normal part of development, and so they are, in a way. But they don't feel normal or natural to Ben. They feel like he's losing his identity. Try to see it from his point of view. I mean, Mr. Fraser, imagine how something like this would have felt to you?"

George Fraser, who was a great reader of speculative fiction, had entirely too good an imagination to avoid doing exactly that. "Martha, I think we need to take Benton to a doctor," he said.

If Dr. Stowe had been older, longer past his training, if he had not been from Toronto and attended college in New York City, if he had not had friends at Stonewall, the entire trajectory of Benton's life might well have been different. Though, of course the Frasers knew nothing of this.

All that they knew was that Dr. Stowe was a polite young man, who met with the family all together and heard their story without displaying any evidence of surprise or censure. Then, just as politely, he asked Mr. and Mrs. Fraser to step out so he could speak with Benton in private.

"So, then," he said, closing the door. "What do you think about all of this?"

Benton shrugged, staring fixedly down at the toes of his sturdy leather shoes. Stowe had to admit he never would have guessed. He had been introduced to the Frasers six months ago when they moved to town, and had thought Benton a very bright and pleasant boy (nothing at all like the sullen, depressed teenager he now saw before him.) Even knowing, it was hard to see. Benton was slightly built and finely featured, but it would be a real stretch to call him feminine.

Stowe sat down across the desk from Benton. "When did you know you were a boy?" he asked, as gently as he could manage.

Benton shrugged. "Always," he said.

"But surely you understood that you weren't like most boys. That your body wasn't like theirs."

Benton nodded, still not looking up. "It's a mistake," he said, quietly. "I was supposed to be normal. I'm a mistake. I. . . don't know how to explain it." He looked up now, and there was a heart-wrenching desperation in his eyes. "I know it sounds unhinged," he said, and Stowe could see that he was close to tears. "But I'm not. I'm not. It's a mistake, is all."

Stowe pushed out of his chair and came around the desk, set his hand on Benton's shoulder. "Shh, son, I know," he said. "And, whatever is going on here, you're not unhinged in the least. There are plenty of other young men like you." Benton looked shocked at that. "Not many, no," Stowe granted, "And none around here. But you are not the only person who feels this way."

He told Benton what he knew about normal sexual differentiation and was unsurprised to learn that Benton knew most of it already. Stowe concluded by saying, "Of the young people like you, who feel their intended gender is different from their physical sex, some will feel that way for their entire life. Others will grow up and begin to identify with their birth sex. It's very hard to tell what will happen."

Benton pressed his lips together in a frown. "I know what will happen," he said. "I'm going to be a Mountie when I grow up. Like my father."

Dr. Stowe could not entirely suppress a wince, knowing, as he did, the techniques the RCMP had historically used to purge its ranks of sexual deviants. Benton had chosen a hard road for himself. Conscious of Benton's penetrating stare, he forced out a chuckle. "In that case," he said, "You need to stop stealing cars."

Benton did not steal again -- and Benton did not menstruate again. Extrapolating from what Stowe had told him, and what he could learn himself from his grandparent's library, he undertook a rigorous program of aerobic exercise and weight training. Over the course of the next several months, his muscle mass increased above that of most boys his age; his physical endurance was equally impressive. Once at school, he joined the track and field team, followed by the hockey team. The aggressive training required for sports neatly ensured both his acceptance by his male peers, and his freedom from the problematic aspects of female adolescence.

His grandparents were proud of his strength, and didn't guess at any secondary motives. Dr. Stowe was cannier. "It's not safe, Benton," he said. "Suppressing estrogen levels this way has other effects, too-- it weakens bone, stunts growth, and delays the progress of adolescence. I'm worried you'll do yourself harm."

"Is there something else I can do?" Benton asked.

Stowe hesitated, frowned and, finally shook his head. "For now, at least, you need to learn to live with your body as it is."

"I am," Benton said, crossing his arms stubbornly over his chest. The added muscle definition made his shoulders look broader, drew the eyes away from his chest and hips. "This is my body, as it is. And this is how I will live in it."

Stowe sighed. "Then there are things we need to do, to protect you," he said, and prescribed some vitamin supplements.

Dr. Stowe followed Benton closely over the years, even after his grandparents moved the family away from downtown Inuvik again. Benton remained steadfast in his insistence about continuing his training, even when he lost his peer group and was unable to continue participating in organized sports. And perhaps that was why, the next time they were visiting Inuvik, Dr. Stowe called George and Martha Fraser back to his office.

"There are. . . treatments, hormones, even surgeries we can use for young men like Benton," he told them. "That could help him to be more masculine."

"He's only a child!" Martha protested, looking horrified.

But Dr. Stowe nodded soberly, in complete agreement. "That's exactly right, Mrs. Fraser. And the standard of care is not to begin these treatments until the individual is legally adult-- 18 years old. But we can start earlier, if the parents agree."

George frowned. "Why would we want to? What would that mean for Benton?"

"Well, sooner begun is sooner done." Stowe paused, seeming to collect his thoughts before continuing. "I'm talking to you about this because, from what you've told me, and from what I've seen, Benton has been completely unwavering in his identification as a boy, since he was very young. I have no doubt whatsoever that he will continue to think of himself as male, and live as male, for the rest of his life. He's already doing everything he can to make this a biological reality-- at great risk to his health, I might add. I have no doubt that, the second he finds out that there are other treatments, he'll be on my doorstep asking for them. On his 18th birthday, if he can. And I'll have no hesitation about treating him. I think hormone therapy is his best chance of leading a happy, healthy and productive life. And sooner begun is sooner done.

"So I'd return the question to you: why wouldn't we want to start this now? What would it mean to wait?"

And so, when Benton was a little older than 16, Dr. Stowe brought him in to the office and told him about the possibilities for treatment. Benton, with the soberness of character that had become his hallmark, did express a strong desire to begin hormone therapy. And, with the permission of his grandparents, he began receiving testosterone injections shortly thereafter.

By the time he joined the RCMP at the age of twenty, his transition was essentially complete. He had changed his name legally before enrolling at Depot and so, while the RCMP leadership had to be aware of his unusual circumstances, they never chose to challenge him. He had perfected his persona in Inuvik, learned to move, speak, urinate standing up-- all the normal habits of manhood. At Depot he perfected his subterfuge, living for years in close proximity with other young men without ever being caught out. He was generally thought to be odd, but no one ever guessed the extent or nature of his oddity.

By the time Benton had come to Chicago on the trail of his father's killers, he hardly thought about it anymore. The daily necessities of his life had become routine. The bindings, the packings, the devices, the scrupulous avoidance of being undressed in public, were second nature. And, if that was one secret that set him apart from the people around him, it was only one of many.

Ray Vecchio never guessed, even after Benton had played the woman for him during that ill-advised undercover operation. Benton found it strangely gratifying to know that he didn't make a convincing woman, even when he was trying. He was both frustrated and smug that, while he was generally considered a very attractive man -- so much so that he found it more than a little aggravating-- he was a strikingly ugly woman. What irony, that his attempt to return to his birth sex should only reinforce his transgender identity.

If Victoria had known, she never said. He never told her, but he was never fully nude in her company, which she did not question-- and perhaps that told him all he needed to know. But he had never said, and she had never said, and now he would never know.

He remembered lying between her legs, surrounded and overcome by her, overwhelmed by the need to be inside her. He had pressed his fingers into her, rubbing himself against the back of his own hand, until she had shuddered and convulsed against him, and he had felt her orgasm like a bolt of pleasure shooting straight through him, triggering his own climax.

Lying in her arms afterwards, still in shorts and t-shirt, he had idly wondered how she could possibly have missed noticing his true nature. But, if there was ever a moment for her to confront him with the truth, this was it, and it passed without incident.

So it had hardly mattered. When Ray Vecchio teased him about his lack of a romantic life, he didn't flinch. When Francesca pressed up against him, he didn't react. And when Victoria curled sleepy and satisfied in his arms and said, "Ben, you're like no other man I've ever known," he only smiled.

It wasn't until he met Ray Kowalski that he began to feel the desire to tell someone, and the urge arose very early in his acquaintance with the new Ray. He was pulling Ray up from the ground, the dented Kevlar vest emerging from the open V of his shirt, and he was struck by an overwhelming need to blurt out the truth. He was puzzled. He had only just met this man, didn't even know his real name. Why was he feeling this urge to reveal his most intimate secret?

The moment passed, but it recurred. The next day, when he was sitting in the Canadian consulate, a copy of Stanley Raymond Kowalski's police record open on his desk. Then again, a week later, standing alone in Ray's apartment. Later that same day, when Ray asked him, "Do you find me attractive?" he found himself almost on the verge of speaking. But the words. . . wouldn't come. He didn't even know how to say what needed to be said.

But the desire to speak would not leave him. Every day, it grew stronger, until it was a constant hum in the back of his mind, a constant weight on his shoulders. Benton wore it like his uniform, every moment in he was in Ray's presence. Yet he was silent. And with each opportunity he let pass, the barriers to speaking grew stronger. Because, if he hadn't spoken already, why would he speak now? How could he possibly justify the betrayal, not having spoken earlier?

And then, sitting beside Ray at their little arctic campfire, as Ray said, "How about, after this is all over, we go look for the hand of Franklin?"

Benton had grown so used to wanting to speak and not speaking, that he felt only a twinge of anxiety when Ray suggested the adventure. It seemed almost reasonable to him, the idea of spending every moment, waking and sleeping, in the company of this man for whom he cared so deeply, who so clearly returned his feelings in kind. This man who knew nothing about his true nature.

He realized his mistake as soon as they were on the tundra. Changing in the tent that first night, feeling Ray's hot eyes watching him avidly, a small voice, in the back of his mind, quickly repressed, whispered that it was only a matter of time before he was exposed.

In a way, it was almost a relief.

* * * * * *

The wind howled for a day and a night and a day and, all the while, Ray slept on. Fraser slept for a while, too, but fitfully, too afraid of Ray's awakening to relax for long. But it wasn't until after the storm had passed, well into the next night with the flickering light of the Aurora shining through the thin walls of the tent, that Ray finally opened his eyes.

"Benton ," he said muzzily, eyelids flickering and voice thick. "I dreamed. . . " He shifted in Fraser's arms, hands glancing over skin, and his eyes shot open. He pulled back, glanced down between the layers of flannel and quilting and said, "Fraser, what--"

Fraser's tension broke and the words spilled out of him in a rush. "I'm sorry, Ray, I'm sorry-- I meant to tell you. . . I wanted to tell you I just didn't know how, I mean, I meant--"

"Fraser. Fraser, Fraser, Fraser! Benton! Ben!" Ray finally set his fingers against Fraser's lips to silence him. Long fingers, shockingly cool. "Shut up, OK?" Ray said, his voice hoarse. "I know. I know."

Fraser shook his head, almost unable to process what Ray had said. His mind was frozen in shock, then a thousand questions spurred him once more into motion. The first was: "How?"

Ray smiled and it took Benton's breath away. "I'm a detective. I detected."

So the next question had to be, "When?"

Ray shrugged, smile fading a little. "I started to wonder around the time of the Henry Allen thing. I mean, there was this thing between us, yeah?" He shot a look at Fraser, as if daring him to deny it. Fraser , of course, could not. "But it was kinda queer. I mean, yeah, queer, but queer, queer, y'know? So I wondered. And I started to pay attention, and once I was paying attention, it's like it was everywhere.

"It was nothing you did," Ray said quickly, seeing Fraser's distress and rushing to reassure him. "More what you didn't do. You never changed clothes with the other guys-- did you think we wouldn't notice? As many times as you and me got all messy together? As many conferences as we had in the station bathroom, you never used it while I was in there. You didn't date and, as far as I could tell you didn't want to. You called women 'sisters'."

Ray just sighed. "At first, I just figured it was because you were gay, 'cause I guessed that practically from the beginning." And, oh, the irony, that Ray had guessed what hadn't even been true, until he made it so. "But it was more than that," He continued. "It's like, you were one part macho daredevil and one part sensitive feminist. I dunno.

"Then, one day, around the time of the Botrelle case, I finally thought, 'what if he's a woman?' I mean, 'what if he's trans?' And it sort of clicked." He fell silent, looking somewhat abashed.

Fraser had been growing more and more alarmed as Ray was speaking. Since the Henry Allen. Since Beth Botrelle. Even when he had imagined Ray's rejection in the wake of the discovery, it had not felt as terrible as this, this awful misapprehension. He cleared his throat. "So is that why you wanted to come on this adventure, then?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice even. "Because I'm a woman? That would explain. . . so much."

Ray's reaction was instant and dramatic. "What? No! Fuck no!" He took Fraser by the shoulders and pushed him back so he couldn't help but look Ray in the eye again. "I did this because I wanted to be with you. With you, as in you you, as you are. I mean, I don't know anything about how this works. Not really. But I know you're not a woman. Not in any of the ways that count."

Fraser was not at all convinced. "Hmmm."

Ray, still holding him by his shoulders, gave him a little shake. "Dammit, Fraser. Benton . Benton . I was more than half in love with you before I even thought about any of this. Why'd you think I watched you so much? Thought about you so much. Thought about what it would be like to be with you. I couldn't stop thinking about it. And now we're here. Now I am. With you."

His hands had gone soft on Fraser's shoulders, kneading. His fingers were warmer now, entirely recovered from his earlier brush with hypothermia. His breath was warm on Fraser's face. Fraser's mouth was dry when he finally spoke. "Disappointed?" he asked.

Ray smiled. "With you? Never." And then Ray kissed him.

Warm, dry, undemanding. Fraser could still count, on his fingers and toes, the number of times he'd been kissed, and have several digits left over. Pitiful, really, for a man who was nearly forty. And he had never been kissed by a man before which, he discovered quickly, was completely different. Breathlessly different-- Ray's hard lips and thrusting tongue stole his breath away. He clutched Ray against him, desperate for contact, and felt the ridge of Ray's cock, half hard and rising fast.

Long minutes spent grappling together, pushing against one another at mouth, groin, chest, thigh. Then Ray pulled back far enough to gasp: "God, I want you so much." The rub of his erection up against Fraser's aching sex ripped a groan from them both. "Can I?" And Ray ran the tips of his fingers up and down Fraser's flanks, lower and closer every time, completing the question.

Fraser disengaged and pushed Ray gently onto his back."Just let me. . . please let me," And he stroked a hand slowly down Ray's chest, across his belly to the thick line of golden curls leading south. Ray's breath caught in his throat as Fraser's hand closed around his cock.

God. Fraser had never dared think about this, before, never dared imagine what it would be like to have another man's cock in his hand. He had dreamed, of course, dreamed of his own. Of being able to feel, really feel, when he touched it, and not just rock his hips up into the press of a silicone simulacrum. But he'd never dared. . .

He'd never dared think about men before Ray. It was one step too far, one step too queer. Hard enough being transgendered-- but this. This challenged all the acceptance he'd had to fight so hard for. It challenged everything he had fought so hard to accept in himself.

But he'd known enough women in his life to know that he didn't want Ray like a woman wanted a man. He wanted to match Ray strength for strength, to lie beside him as a brother-in-arms, without any walls of gender or culture between them. He wanted to feel Ray's beautiful hands on him, wanted to take Ray's mouth, wanted to push himself into Ray's body and find satisfaction deep, deep inside him. And the fact that those things were, more or less, physically impossible didn't make him want them any less.

The fact that the things he wanted were impossible didn't make Ray's cock in his hand any less wondrous, the pleasure any less exquisite. Didn't stop him from feeling himself swell, his breath grow short, his strange, incongruous body ache for touch.

"Touch you, Ben, lemme touch you," Ray begged raggedly, grasping at Fraser's hip with long, trembling fingers.

Fraser shook his head, moved until he was out of Ray's reach behind his back, still stroking, stroking at Ray's cock. It was fully erect in his hand now, twitching with a life of its own as he gripped it, fine soft skin moving under his hand, the head going moist and hot where Ray was leaking. One of Ray's hands reached up and behind to stroke Fraser's face, his hair, and the other clutched at Fraser's moving hand.

Ray was rocking up into Fraser's touch now, thrusting his hips, trying to force Benton to increase his speed, his pressure. Fraser raised one knee and pressed his groin forward against Ray's buttocks, feeling them flex and rub against him. Fraser was dizzy with lust, hot and swollen, leaving wet tracks of his own against Ray's skin. Then Ray's hand was clutching at the back of his head, trying to pull him forward, and rubbing back against him. "Ah, Christ Benton , I'm gonna. . . "

And then Ray went very still and shuddered in his arms. Fraser kept stroking the heavy cock in his hand and felt it swell, then pulse, then spurt thick, hot fluid all over his hands. Ray arched back against him, crying out, again and again, and Fraser sucked the loose skin of Ray's neck into his mouth, bit sharply, felt the tremor's of Ray's orgasm echoing through his own body. So powerful and fierce, yet so incredibly sweet. Fraser gave himself up to it.

After, they lay tangled in the now-overheated sleeping bag. Diefenbaker was still pointedly ignoring them, pretending to be asleep on the other side of the tent.

"Ray, I. I wanted to tell you," Fraser whispered into the sex-drenched darkness. "I just didn't know how. I didn't know how. . ."

Ray's hand was hard on his face, Ray's lips were soft on his lips. "Then tell me now."

fin.