Dancing Bear
by lamardeuse

Rated:  NC-17

Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski

Warnings (highlight to view):  explicit sex

due South Flashfiction challenge:  summer of '79 (over limit)

It had been his mother's idea.

First year of college finished, barely. Dad had frowned over the D's and C's, just shook his head and went back out to the garage, but Mom figured this was an occasion for one of those Heart to Heart Talks he got treated to every five years or so. This time, it was a Stanley, What Do You Want To Do With Your Life type talk, the one he'd been dreading, because he wasn't going to tell her he wanted to be a cop. After all, she and Dad occasionally engaged in conversation, so the topic might come up.

She was patient, and kind, and understanding, like always, only he didn't want to be understood, so he dodged and feinted like he was sparring with Monty down at the gym. Finally, with admittedly not much of anything to go on, she suggested he look for a summer job. Something that used his "talents", but that was completely different from any job he'd done before. He suspected she'd been reading one of those psychology magazines in her doctor's office, but the hell of it was, it wasn't a bad idea.

That's how he ended up in Banff, teaching rich, middle-aged married ladies to samba.

Well. Think about it: for starters, Chicago in July sucked. In fact, all the J months in Chicago pretty much sucked, including Jaugust, Jebruary and Jarch. He had exactly four "talents": dancing, boxing, fixing cars and loving Stella. Boxing for dough was often rigged, and could land him in the hospital besides. Fixing cars--fine, but most places were looking for at least a journeyman ticket, and he'd never taken any courses past ninth grade shop class.

And loving Stella? Sure. But one: there wasn't much money in it, and two: he wasn't so sure anymore that she loved him. She was having the time of her life doing pre-law at Northwestern, and he didn't know how to explain to her why he wasn't more like her. Driven. Ambitious. Whatever the fuck it was, it seemed like every time he saw her now, she looked at him like he was a motorcycle with a missing wheel.

So maybe a summer apart wasn't such a bad plan. At least he'd get to skip feeling like he was being kicked in the teeth every day.


It had been his father's idea.

Which should have made it clear that it was also an insane idea, but Benton was still uneasy with flagrant disobedience. Quiet, unobtrusive disobedience--well, that was another matter.

If he'd cared to admit it to himself--which he didn't--he'd have to say he was disappointed not to be spending the summer with Dad. He'd thought that after an exemplary year at Depot, winning every top award he could get his hands on, that his father would have offered to spend some of his accumulated vacation time imparting his expertise in the field of police work. It wasn't as though Benton could do any more to show him he was interested in his father's career.

But the last time they had talked, at the end of the school year when Benton had called to tell him his marks, the subject hadn't even come up. Instead, Dad had told him of a summer job opening in Banff, of all places. It seemed that one of the better hotels there was looking for young men who could speak Native languages and serve as nature guides. To the elder Fraser, it was the perfect opportunity for Benton to "avoid getting soft" while at the same time gain a little experience in dealing with the public.

"That's where your responsibility lies, son."

"Where's that, Dad?" he'd asked, trying not to sound put out.

"With the people, son. The people."

This coming from a man who preferred the trackless wilderness to the company of his own wife and son.

"Yes, Dad. Sounds like a wonderful idea."


Ray was tempted to bang his head against the wall. Over and over, until it bled. But that would only attract more attention than he was already doing.

"Stella, I am standing in the middle of a hallway here. Six people are pretending not to stare. They are politely waiting for me to get off the damn phone. I do not know if they will be polite much longer."

"Oh, and that's supposed to be my fault?" Stella shrilled on the other end. "You decide to take off to the ends of the earth--"

"You went skiing here with your mom and dad three years ago, remember? S'not that far from--"

"--and you expect me to wait around for you the whole summer, writing you letters like a war bride and pining away?"

"Jesus," muttered Ray. "I'm in Canada, not the army."

"Did it ever occur to you that I was looking forward to spending time with you this summer? That I was waiting all year to have a break from my classes so that we could be together?"

No, it hadn't. He'd pretty much figured that Stella's 'keep-off' routine was a permanent condition. The thought she might be able to shed it like a snakeskin didn't cross his mind. Aloud, he snapped, "Well, that's fine for you. You don't gotta work for a living. But I was gonna be working in ninety-plus degrees every damn day, spreading asphalt or sweating on a roof or under a car. How much time were we gonna have together anyway?"

The line hummed and crackled for a few seconds. Then Stella said, quietly, like she was broken, "More time than we have now."

Ray's heart stopped beating. "Stella--"

"No, Ray. You're right. Maybe it is better for us to have some time apart. 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder'. Isn't that what they say?"

"Yeah," Ray said, resting his forehead against the cool plaster of the wall. "That's what they say."


He heard the music and wondered if that boy was dancing again tonight.

Benton hoisted himself from the lake and shook like a husky, splattering water all over the rocks. He preferred this small, deserted cove to the staff docks, which were invariably littered with necking couples at this time of night. From here, he was far enough from the hotel to remain unseen by the guests, yet close enough to hear the dance band which played every evening after his shift ended.

One night last week, he'd gone to the kitchens to deliver a message and been stopped cold by the sight of a young blond man wolfing down a sandwich. Benton had never in his life considered that the eating of a ham-on-rye might be an interesting event, but the fellow ate with such gusto, with a passion that was more suited to a grizzled Robinson Crusoe than a blue-eyed youth in a tuxedo.

No, not blue-eyed. Green. Hazel, perhaps? No, definitely blue--

How could his powers of observation be failing him so completely?

"Take a picture, it'll last longer."

The blue-green-hazel eyes were now fixed on him. And they were flashing with anger.

"Oh," said Benton stupidly. "I'm terribly sorry. Please--"

"Yeah, apology accepted," the man muttered, getting to his feet and wiping his chin with a napkin. "You want the rest, it's yours."

Benton took an involuntary step forward. "Wait."

The young man spun on his heel effortlessly, as though he were not quite connected to earth. Benton stared. The other man jerked his hands impatiently.

"You--have mustard." He pointed to a spot on his own cheek. "Here."

A long, pink tongue darted out, and the mustard was gone. Benton drew a sharp breath.


"You're wel--"

But he was already gone. Helplessly, Benton turned to Daniel, one of the Native employees he'd met his first day. Daniel shrugged.

"He's American."

"Ah." Benton nodded, then found himself drawn to the swinging door through which the man had just disappeared. He peered through the window and saw the magnificent ballroom he'd only visited once, on his initial tour. It had been dark and desolate then, but it was now brimming with beautifully-dressed people, all laughing and talking, eating and--

--Dancing. He was dancing.

Benton watched, transfixed, as the blond man led a middle-aged redheaded woman across the floor in a graceful, sweeping waltz. The defensive snarl was gone, replaced by a look of such serenity and calm that Benton was actually moved by it. Yet at the same time, the passion was still lurking there, under the surface, reined in by powerful forces--

Oh, for Heaven's sake. He wasn't being the least bit logical. From the fellow's behaviour, American or no, he was probably some kind of sociopath. If Benton's instructors could see him now, they'd fail him.

Saying a brief 'good night' to Daniel, he'd headed out the back door of the kitchen and gone for a swim. But the waltz had played in his brain for hours, long after he'd given up on sleep.

And tonight, despite swimming ten extra lengths of the cove, he knew he'd be restless again.

Sighing, Benton reached for his towel and began drying himself.


Jesus Christ on a crutch. How fake could you get?

In Banff, there didn't seem to be any limit. Sure, the mountains were real, the lake was bee-yoo-tee-ful, okay, but the rest of it was pure Tourist Trap. From the kitschy ceramic bears you could buy on every corner to the obscene amount of smiling everyone did, it was all fake.

The worst, though, was the Indian stuff. Ray was hardly an expert on the customs--hell, his expertise didn't go much beyond John Wayne movies and Land O' Lakes commercials--but even he could tell it wasn't authentic. He'd looked at a fancy blanket once, thinking to send it to his mom for her birthday, and then saw that it'd been made in China.

Still, a couple of the better-looking girls from Housekeeping had managed to drag him to the "Real Indian Village" down by the water on his afternoon off. Might as well soak up all the goofiness while he was here, and besides, the brunette was a knockout. He stood at the edge of the crowd with his arms folded while the sun beat down on the top of his head. Crap, he'd forgotten his suntan lotion, he'd be a goddamned lobster by the time he had to go to work.

"I'll be right back," he whispered to the brunette--Alice.

Alice frowned. "But it's about to start!" she hissed. "You'll miss him!"


But then the drums started, and she shushed him and turned back around.

Ray fumed. This had better be--


It was him.

He was wearing some dumb-ass ponytail, and his skin seemed darker than it had that night, but it was definitely him.

Alice elbowed her friend. "Isn't he gorgeous?"

Ray was halfway to agreeing before he remembered nobody had asked him. He was barefoot, wearing these buckskin pants with some kinda fringe, and his bare chest and arms--well, he had Ray and about half the guys at Ray's gym beat to ratshit, that was for sure.

So okay, he was gorgeous, and he was wearing a lot less than he had been last week, but that still didn't explain why Ray was reacting to him like he was the last glass of water in the Sahara. The ocean-blue eyes were still the same, along with the little furrow that sprang up between them when Ray'd told him off. This time, though, it was an 'I'm-into-this' furrow, like he was giving the dance his full and undivided attention, like everybody else in the world had disappeared and it was only him and the drums.

And damned if it wasn't true. There were dozens of tourists standing around, about eight other guys dancing, but if they suddenly all turned on Ray with kitchen knives and big, hungry grins, he couldn't have cared less.

He didn't care if the dance wasn't a real Indian dance. Or if the guy wasn't a real Indian. Or if the whole fucking town folded up at night into a big vinyl suitcase.

Ray only knew he never wanted to stop looking at him.


Lord. Could this job get any more humiliating?

"Ma'am, the entertainment has ended for the day. There will be another show at three o'clock sharp tomorrow afternoon."

The redhead pouted elegantly, then trailed one finger down the middle of his chest. "I'll be here," she purred. Treating him to a last seductive glance, she walked off toward the hotel.

And I'll be at the bottom of Lake Louise, Benton added silently.

"You did good, Ben."

Benton turned and smiled at Roger Talking Bear. "Thank you, Roger. I couldn't have done it without your help." He shook his head. "But it was still wrong."

Roger only chuckled at that. "Hell, all of it's wrong," he said, sweeping an arm over the 'Real Indian Village'. "Me and Daniel been tellin' them that for years, but they only laugh and say the tourists don't know the difference. They got this stuff cheap from a movie company ten years back, what the fuck do they care if the tipis got the wrong shape, or you're talkin' Inuktitut instead of Stoney?"

Benton hung his head. "I should resign."

"Don't," the other man said sharply. Benton looked at him. "It's not your fault we're working as token Indians, or you're the token white guy. And anyway, it's not gonna be like this forever. We're makin' plans. There's talk of building a museum here, and there's lots of other stuff goin' on."

"But I feel responsible--"

"For what? For us?" Roger snorted. "Don't worry about us. We'll make our money dancin' for them today, and we'll dance for ourselves soon enough." He nodded in the direction of the staff cottages. "You comin'?"

"Later, perhaps," Benton said. "I need to--"

"--go for a swim?" Roger said, a smile in his voice. "I know. Never saw anybody for swimmin' like you. Sure you're not part beaver?"

Benton smiled. "Narwhal, actually. My grandmother was a sedna."

Roger left with a chuckle and a wave. Benton took one last glance around to be sure all the tourists had gone, then hastily removed the wig and threw it into the nearest tipi. Foolish fakery--

"She try to grope your ass, too?"

Benton nearly jumped out of his skin as the voice emerged from directly behind him. He spun to face--

"Oh. Hello."

The blond man nodded in response. "You gotta be careful around some of those married chicks. They get out of their husbands' sight, they're all over you like a bad hairdo."

Benton's jaw clenched. Did this, this American, did he imagine they were all hicks? Just because Benton was a hick, that was no excuse--"Thank you," he managed, a bit coldly.

Those indescribable eyes hardened slightly. Their owner shifted from foot to foot. "Yeah. Well--I just wanted to say, you dance good."

The ice that had been forming in his gut melted all at once. "Ah--thank you, that's very kind. I--you're an accomplished dancer yourself."

"Yeah, well I been doing it since I was a kid, you know--" He trailed off and he cocked his head. "Wait a minute. You seen me dance?"

Benton cleared his throat. The breeze from the lake was beginning to evaporate the sweat from his skin, leaving him chilled. "The night we met."

"The night I was an asshole, you mean," the young man chuckled. "Sorry about that. I'd just called Stel--I'd just got some bad news from back home."

"Oh," Benton said. "No one ill, I hope."

"Naw, nothing like that. Everybody's healthy as an ox."

Benton nodded. Perhaps the saying was different in the States.

The blond gestured feebly. "Well, I--"

"Where's home?" blurted Benton.

The other man's eyes widened for a moment. "Chicago," he replied. "You?"

"Tuktoyaktuk, currently," Ben said. "Though I've spent the last year at the RCMP training school in--"

"You gonna be a cop?" the fellow said, taking a step closer. The look in his eyes now was eager, almost--


"Yes," Benton said, when he could be sure of his voice.

The young man flashed him a smile full of perfect white American teeth, and Benton suppressed a gasp. "Great. Greatness," he said.

And quite suddenly, Benton decided he wanted to continue to do and say things which would make this man smile at him like that.


"Killineg diulissaa nerissane kinotaarotariname."

Ray laughed again. He hadn't laughed this much in--hell, in months, probably, but it felt like forever. "And what does that mean?"

"'Because he had no teeth, he could not eat.'"

Ray laughed even harder. "That's--that's fuckin' sick," he wheezed. "Where do you come up with this shit?"

"It is extempore from my mother wit."

"Huh. Yeah. You're witty, all right. I don't know about yo' mama."

A flicker of something crossed those perfect features, and Ray sobered.

Okay. Avoid talking about mamas.

Although that had to be just about the only subject that hadn't come up in the past few hours. They'd talked until the sun was hanging low in the sky; Ray now knew about Esk--uh, the Inuit, and Ben's wacky childhood, and the RCMP school, which sounded like heaven after a crap year of community college. And Ray'd told him lots of stuff too, about Chicago and his mom and dad and his crazy sister and the Goat and boxing at the gym.

He hadn't mentioned Stella once.

"I, ah, I think it's cool you can talk a whole different language. And you're learning Chinese?"

"Mandarin, yes. But you must know some other languages as well."

"Nah, just broken English."

Ben frowned. "What about Spanish?"

"Yeah, a little," Ray admitted, shrugging. "I dropped it as soon as I could. Never was much good at it. Didn't have any luck with Polish either, when I was a kid. Dad said--" He trailed off. He didn't want to tell Ben what Dad had said.

But Ben didn't press him, only said, quietly, "Would you say something for me in Polish?"

Ray looked over at him where he sat, cross-legged, back straight as a flagpole. God, it was like he was carved or something, sculpted by a pair of talented hands, not born like everybody else. Ray wanted to touch him, see if he was human, see if he could leave marks on that surface.

Great. Here I am, staring at the Eighth Wonder of the World, and all I can think to do is cover him up with graffiti.

He slid his eyes away and regarded the lake. "I only know the swear words."


It was what he imagined walking through a mine field would feel like.

Within a very short span of time, Benton realized that he and this brash, mercurial American had more in common than he would have ever guessed. They were both interested in police work, though there seemed to be many obstacles to Ray joining the force, while Benton's path was so clear it was worn right through the snow. They were both loath to discuss certain topics, particularly those pertaining to their fathers' expectations.

And they were both attracted to one another.

Benton may have been only nineteen, and woefully inexperienced, but after a year in close proximity with a hundred other young men and women, he was adept at recognizing the signs. Not being given to gropes behind the maintenance shed or in the men's toilets, he hadn't acted on any of the more obvious signs of interest. Like Benton, his fellow recruits were facing an uncertain future; long-term relationships were out of the question when one could end up posted at opposite ends of the country. And Benton was, at heart, a hopeless romantic, his tastes and preferences shaped by Shelley and Shakespeare and a host of others who believed in love beyond death. Romeo and Juliet did not engage in casual sex.

So why did he press forward, risking explosions, when the likelihood of escaping with his life seemed slim?

Perhaps he'd just answered his own question.

Underneath the flip exterior and confident, pugilistic attitude, there was a deeper layer to Ray, one which remained hidden until he betrayed it with a nervous flash of teeth or a downcast glance. But when Ray lost that self-consciousness, as he did when he laughed or danced, it was--it was beautiful.

Benton would walk into a minefield for that.

Ray had fallen silent again, and Benton cursed himself for asking him to speak in Polish. But he'd wanted to hear that, too. The guttural language in Ray's gravelly voice would have sent shivers down his spine.

Suddenly, Ray swore. "Christ, is it that late already? I gotta get to work in twenty minutes." He rose swiftly and ran a hand through his short blond hair.

Ignoring his protesting knees, Benton uncrossed his legs and bounded to his feet. "I, ah--do you get a night off soon?" Oh, that was pathetic.

Ray's eyebrows climbed. "Uh, yeah. Wednesday night."

Two days. "Do you--I don't suppose you'd--"

Ray's lean body swayed slightly, poised for fight or flight. Benton held his breath.

"Yeah," he said finally. "Where?"

Benton clenched his fists briefly to control the tremor. Then he gave him directions to the cove.


That night, he dreamed about Stella.

Well, first it was about Stella; they were in the back seat of the Goat, steaming up the windows. Only instead of being turned on, like he always was, he was kind of hot and sweaty, and his skin prickled. Then Stella elbowed him in the ribs, and suddenly he was on the dance floor at the hotel, with Mrs. Semple in his arms, and she was dancing too close again. This time, it was like she was trying to climb him, and he was holding her off. The next thing he knew, she dropped to her knees, and he thought, she's going to get her fucking expensive dress all dirty, and then she was unbuttoning his pants. He looked down, expecting to see the top of her red head, and--

--Ben was there, kneeling on the ground with Ray's cock buried deep in his mouth. His ocean-blue eyes rose to meet Ray's, and his cheeks were flushed, and Ray's hands cupped the back of his head and he was so warm and real and human that Ray threw back his head and howled at the starlit sky, thrust his hips forward and came--

--right in his shorts.

"Jesus, Ray," muttered Fred Sears sleepily from the top bunk. "I think you soaked my fuckin' mattress. My ass is wet."

"You wish," growled Ray, grabbing a couple of Kleenex and wiping at the mess.


Benton lay back in the grass and stared up at the sky as more and more stars appeared overhead.

They'd said nine o'clock, and it was past ten.

Perhaps he's been called in to work, thought Benton. I had to work on one of my days off last week.

But as soon as he thought it, he knew that it wasn't true. He knew Ray had decided not to come.

Well. He'd been foolish, believing there had been some sort of connection. He had no one to blame but himself.

Sighing, he sat up and began undressing. Might as well get a swim out of it, while the moon was still high.


Fucking woods. Fucking trees, and rocks, and--

"Ow! Fuck!"

How did Ben expect him to find this place in the dark? Okay, if he hadn't lain on his bunk for over an hour, it wouldn't have been completely dark when he started out. But that wasn't the point.

What was the point?

The letter was still burning a hole in his jeans pocket where he'd stuffed it earlier. Four pages of tears and apologies and frustration and explanations and oh-Ray-I-miss-you, written in perfect, neatly-spaced rows on that soft blue paper she used. He'd read it about a hundred times, then put it away, then taken it out and read it a hundred more.

He still couldn't figure it out. On the one hand, she seemed to be telling him she couldn't live without him, on the other hand, she seemed to be telling him to fuck off and die. Well, in an extremely nice way; Stella always had a way of making you feel wanted even when you weren't.

And not for the first time, Ray wondered if there might be a less complicated way to live.

He nearly tripped over a rotten log, swearing loudly as pain exploded in his ankle. And this place where he was headed was supposed to be less complicated? A date in the woods with a soon-to-be Canadian Mountie who looked like a Greek god and spoke at least three languages, and who by the way happened to be a guy? Not that Ray had anything against guys; he'd had some very satisfying grope sessions with Art Metcalf in tenth grade, when Stella wasn't sure he was The One and he'd spent weeks so hard he could cut diamonds.

No, he didn't have anything against Ben, except for the fact that Ben looked at him the other night like he was--man. Like Ray was something special, something valuable, and that scared him, because Stella hadn't looked at him like that in nearly a year, and he'd been craving it so bad, he was desperate for another fix.

Only he suspected that being with Ben wouldn't be anything like being with Art, just a fast, hard, wham-bam-thank-you-mister to take the edge off. He'd be risking pieces of himself that weren't found in his jeans.

Ignoring the pain in his ankle, he kept walking toward the lake.


At first, he thought a grizzly was headed straight for the cove.

He treaded water about a hundred feet out, ready to disappear beneath the surface. Roger had told him the bears weren't coming into town this year, since there was a bountiful crop of berries and fish in the wild, but it didn't hurt to be careful. Few grizzlies would swim out past their depth.

The crashing ceased, and a figure appeared at the edge of the woods. As it approached the edge of the lake, the moonlight struck its planes and angles, illuminating it with a silvery glow.


"Here," Benton called softly, waving an arm, then starting a slow crawl. He felt his arms lifting and plunging in, pulling him forward, felt the silken glide of the water over his skin, felt the muscles in his calves and thighs work as he kicked.

By the time he was close enough to touch bottom, he was fully aroused. He came to a stop, treading water.

Ray stood at the edge of the lake, watching him.

"I thought you were mistaya," Benton told him.

"Yeah? What's that?"

"A grizzly bear."

"Huh. That's not Inuktitut, is it? Sounds different."

Benton tried to hide his surprise. "You're right. I'm trying to learn a few words of Stoney. It's a fascinating language, belonging to the Siouan family. For example, the Stoney call themselves Na-ko-da, a word which bears a startling resemblance--"



"Are you, ah, coming out of the water anytime soon?"

Benton took a deep breath. "You could come in."

"I'm--not much for swimming," Ray said.

Ben placed his feet on the bottom of the lake and stood. The water lapped at his collarbone. "It's safe," he said softly.

"You think so, huh?" Ray said, wry amusement in his voice.

Benton could feel his heart pounding against his ribs.

Boom. Boom.

The minefield was inside him.

"No," Benton admitted. "I don't."

Ray looked at him for a long moment. "Okay," he said finally. "As long as we're agreed on that."

And slowly, he took the hem of his t-shirt in both hands and pulled it upward.


This was a bad idea. A bad, stupid idea.

Because Ben would get one look at his pale, skinny white ass, and he'd be across the lake faster than Mark Spitz.

But there was no turning back now. He was gonna follow through with this if it killed him. And it just might.

He peeled off his shorts--last clean pair, he'd have to do laundry tomorrow--and heard Ben suck in a breath. It was too dark for him to see where Ben was looking, but all the same, he felt his skin heat.

"There aren't any--weird animals or stuff in there, are there?" Ray blurted. He coudn't believe he was standing there with a hard-on, asking this question.

"I'm not sure what you'd consider--"

"Never mind, never mind," Ray said, forcing his feet to move. Shit, that water was cold. How was he supposed to keep it up? He waded out until the water was up to his thighs, then raised his eyes.

Ben was about twenty feet from him, and he was coming closer. The water was dripping from his perfectly shaped pecs, and soon Ray'd be able to see--

"No!" he yelled. "Look--just wait, okay?" Ben frowned, but obeyed.

Nothing ventured...Ray closed his eyes and fell back into the water.

And yelled. And came up, spluttering.

"Jesus! This sucks!"

"What's the matter, Ray?"

Damn, now he sounded worried. Way to kill the mood, Kowalski. "Nothing," he said, getting to his feet and closing the distance between them. "This is probably a hot springs where you come from, huh?"

"I don't get to swim very much in the Territories," Ben admitted. "The season is very short, as you can imagine. Although I have built up a layer of subcutaneous fat--"

"Oh yeah?" Ray said, grinning in spite of the cold. "Like blubber, huh? I sure as hell don't see any."

He was close enough to touch. Ray reached out a hand and connected with the smooth skin over his perfect pec.

Air hissed between Ben's teeth and his eyes shut tight, like he was in pain.

"I sure as hell don't feel any," Ray whispered, keeping his hand there, not moving, only pressing a little harder.

"Ray," Ben groaned. And suddenly, the cold water was no longer bothering Ray's dick in the slightest. Moving fast before he could change his mind, he wrapped his other hand around the back of Ben's head and reeled him in.


How had he lived so long without this?

Ray was a wildfire in his arms, one which could not be quenched by a lake or an ocean or every damned drop of water on the planet. Benton tried to hold him, but he was unconquerable, sliding and pressing and pushing against him in sensuous movements that felt like dancing, or fighting.

"Ray. Ray," he panted, his hands seeking purchase, finding none.

"Shut up, Ben." Ray nuzzled Benton's jaw and began licking his way down his neck. The rough friction of it on Benton's skin drew a delicious shudder out of him. Without his conscious consent, Benton's hands framed Ray's slim hips and tugged them toward his own. Their erections brushed against one another.

"Jesus!" Ray breathed against his collarbone. Instead of backing away, though, Ray thrust his lower body forward, and then--dear Lord--twisted.

Benton groaned and shuddered again. Ray's teeth nipped his earlobe.

"You like that, huh?" he growled. Another twist of the hips, and Benton's body jerked in Ray's arms. Ray's hands slid down his back, over his buttocks; his long fingers began a torturous massage that had Benton whimpering shamelessly in seconds.

Then one of his fingers delved between--

"Oh!" Benton squirmed, and Ray's fingers retreated.

"Hmm. No good?" He made small, soothing circles on the small of Benton's back. "S'okay. We got all night."

Then Ray bent his head and lapped at a nipple, and Benton's knees buckled.

"Man, you're so into it--it's like--" Ray looked up into his flushed face. "It's like nobody's ever touched you."

Benton struggled to regain his footing, but Ray held him fast.

"God," whispered Ray. "That's it, isn't it?"

Benton's jaw clenched. "What does it matter?"

"It matters," Ray insisted stubbornly. "Why now? Why--me?"

Benton reached down and wrapped one hand around Ray's length. The other man moaned against his neck, and Benton took his other hand and used it to force Ray's chin up for another hard, bruising kiss.

"Because I wanted to dance with you," Benton murmured, beginning a slow pumping stroke that forced an answering rhythm from Ray's hips.

"Then--dance with me," Ray panted. Benton felt his own erection encased in the warm sheath of Ray's fist, and they moved together in the most ancient dance of all.


It was another two weeks before Ray wrote back to Stella. He felt like a bastard the whole time he was writing it, because he was lying not only to her, but to Ben as well. For a while he'd been able to rationalize it by saying it couldn't go anywhere anyway, that they both knew it'd be over at the end of the summer, so who cared what all the reasons were?

But that night, with Ben spread out under him, making impossibly soft, sweet noises while Ray sucked him, the wrongness of it threatened to overwhelm him, and he knew he had to tell him.



Benton watched while Ray traced patterns in the sand with a stick. There was a stiff breeze coming off the lake, raising goosebumps on Ray's bare arms despite the strong sun.

"That's right!" Benton said encouragingly, smiling. "Do you remember ka?"

Ray hesitated, then drew another symbol.

"Wonderful! I've never seen anyone pick up the Inuit alphabet so quickly."

Ray frowned at the rows of lettering etched into the narrow beach. "So this is something some white guy made up? How come he didn't just use a-b-c?"

"I'm not sure," Benton admitted. "I think he intended it as a way of simplifying things, actually."

"Huh," Ray said. "Simplifying. Right. I get that."

Benton's stomach churned unexpectedly.

"Ben, listen, there's something I've been meaning to tell you."

Unable to trust his voice, Benton merely nodded.

"I, ah, I shoulda told you right away, I know that, but--well, okay, I was a coward."

Benton closed his eyes. Please, just say it, say it, say it--

"I got a girl back home. In Chicago."

Benton's eyes snapped open. Was that all?

"And it's complicated, see, because we've known each other forever, you know, or since we were twelve 'n thirteen, which I guess isn't forever, but--oh, hell. The thing is, it hasn't been so great lately, and I took this job--well, one of the reasons I took this job was to clear my head about it, see? But I didn't think I'd--that is, I wasn't looking for anything like--"

"Ray. Ray."

"--like this, only I saw you and I got greedy, I guess. And I don't want you to think this is just a fuck, that you're just--because you're not, okay, this is--this isn't--"

"Ray." The other man's eyes locked with his, and Benton was shocked by what he saw, what he thought he saw.

"Shit," Ray whispered. "I wasn't expecting you."

Slowly, as though he were approaching a wounded animal, Benton closed the distance between them. Mindful of the daylight, he cast a glance around them before leaning in to claim Ray's mouth.

"It's all right," he murmured when they parted. "I knew it wasn't going to last. Nothing good ever does."

"Don't say that," Ray growled, yanking him roughly into his arms. "It isn't true. It can't be."

Benton didn't try to answer, just let Ray pull him down to the sand. The symbols they'd drawn were erased as they clung and rolled together.


The night before he was due to leave, he paid Mac Rogers five bucks for two condoms from his bottomless stash. Later, Mac winked at him when Alice went walking by the guys' dorms on the way to the laundry room.

Lube was a tube of hand lotion he bought from the hotel gift shop. They only had the kind that old ladies used, the kind that smelled like roses, and the girl behind the counter looked at him funny when he bought it. Should've thought to pick up a couple of chocolate bars too.

He knew it was selfish to want to take something that perfect and mark it as his own. But he couldn't help it.


"Oh, oh Ray, please--"

A hot mouth trailed its way up his spine, a long-fingered hand gripped his shoulder, and then Ray plunged deep inside him, opening him, flaying him alive.

"Want you--to remember--" Ray panted against his neck.

Benton reached back, his hand closing over Ray's right hip, feeling the slow tango beat of his body, answering it with his own. Because now, in this moment, there was no past, no future. Only the dance.

"I will," he breathed, the corners of his eyes pricking. "I will."


Ray finally opened up his duffel bag when it started to smell so bad his mother threatened to set it on fire. Right on the top, he found a small, intricate stone carving of a grizzly bear. The bear was standing on one foot, and its other paws were raised at different angles, like it was in the middle of a dance. When Ray put it on top of his dresser, it stood on that one paw, perfectly balanced.

Mistaya, Ray thought.

Dad had been wrong. He wasn't so bad at learning new languages. Maybe in the fall, he'd take that Polish course they were offering at the college.

But first...

Walking over to his desk, Ray took out a piece of paper and a pen, and began writing down all the symbols he could remember.


June 2003

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