Requiescat IV: Greater Love Hath None
by Blue Champagne
Disclaimer: I own diddly squat. No money.
Author's Notes: Good Luck. I give up. Here's the story. Next one will be the last of the series.
Story Notes: Why did I decide to do this?
SequelTo: Requiescat III: And Peace Attend Thee
Requiescat IV: Greater Love Hath None
The chili chapatis were quite good; the inspector had, as promised, a choice of condiments on hand, including unspicy east Indian dips, lowfat sour cream, and yogurt, his personal favorites. She also wasn't lying when she said there was plenty because she cooked by the numbers and couldn't downsize recipes; he got up at one point to fetch another eight-ounce container of sour cream, and discovered her entire crisper drawer was full of disposable tupperware filled with chili.
As they ate, he realized he must, indeed, not be very well off, because he never would have thought he could even face the idea of eating a casual meal with the Inspector in her home, out of uniform, the Inspector in a bathrobe, neither of them speaking much, and not feel *anything* but more tired than he thought he'd ever been in his life. Tired enough not to care about how inappropriate it was to show up on your *commanding* *officer's* *doorstep*. Tired enough to die and not even realize it.
Just tired. Of everything.
He was amazed, however, how much better he felt--physically, and at least somewhat emotionally--with a stomach stuffed full of gastrointestinally gentle chili, and chapati bread, washed down with milk.
They finished the meal, and both of them sat, picking around at their plates and sipping their respective beverages; the inspector said "I'll clear up. Why don't you have a seat in the living room? There's a DVD in the machine that I like to play while I read in there; turn it on, if you'd be so kind." It wasn't a request, and he didn't protest with offers of help with the straightening. He simply did as she said.
The DVD was one of those landscape-overfly relaxation views, with sped-up shots of clouds flowing through natural corridors of temperature change in mountainous lands, through the valleys and around the peaks, near dawn, while the clouds still mostly hovered at ground level, the speed of playback increased enough so that one could follow the patterns of flowing mist as though it were water. Flocks of birds soared through sunset light now and then, Canada geese, snow geese. A closeup of a raven's eye, then its taking off into the air heralded the introduction of a desert sequence, the camera traveling low and fast over the complicated wind-patterns on the sand dunes under a deep pink dawn sky. He watched, and listened to the understated music; organic new-age, blended aboriginal instruments and rhythm patterns of kinds he was not really interested in recognizing and naming now. Pleasantly, it wasn't synthesized music, as near as he could tell.
She joined him in a few moments. He neither moved nor glanced away from the TV screen to acknowledge her as she situated herself on the other couch, which was pale cream-colored, with a soft, swirl-patterned nap, matching the shorter couch he was sitting on.
He didn't like the word "loveseat".
"Are you ready for some rest, Constable?" she asked quietly.
"Yes," he said, and pushed up a sleeve, then laid his arm on the broad, faux-marble endtable that formed the right-angle connection between the couch she sat on and the one he did.
She looked a brief moment, then moved to pull her glasses from her robe pocket and set them on her nose, holding them in place with one hand. He had forgotten that she wore glasses, probably because she'd switched to contacts at some point. She must not have them in right now.
"I see," she said, speculatively, after examining his arm under the direct light of the low-watt, soft-white incandescent bulb in the pastel-shaded lamp on the table. "Yes, I see." She sat back, removing the glasses again and putting them back in her pocket. "I imagine the inside is much worse."
"They don't know."
He nodded again.
"And, unfortunately, you can't continue on your course, now, without their finding out, one way or another."
He didn't bother to move or respond this time.
"How badly are you damaged emotionally, Constable?"
"Quite badly, sir. I would have to say the damage has intruded into the realm of 'mental'-- at least as that term is recognized by the laity rather than professionals--by now."
"Ah." She nodded, looking thoughtful. "But you constitute no danger to anyone around you." This was a statement, not a question.
He nodded. "Rather the opposite, sir."
"Yes, I thought as much. I take it a leave would make little difference in your predicament--long-term difference, that is."
"That's correct, sir. And I have...nowhere to go, in any case."
"You have family back home," she essayed.
"They don't like me, sir. They never have. And now..." he shrugged. "My sisters have been 'born again' and are more than simply uncomfortable with my being..."
"Bisexual, to my observations," she said.
"To save time, that word will do. Also, I am not a Christian; we were raised Methodist by parents who were, really, indifferent to religion; it was simply a socially expected activity."
"But they have become 'true believers'."
A smirk found its way onto his face. "One might say that. However, while they are married and faithful, I happen to know that at least two of them enjoy reading homosexual erotica. Though they have experimented with homosexual activity themselves in their younger years, and have admitted feelings of attraction towards other women, they condemn it publicly, and do not want me near their children unsupervised because I will not promise to lie to my nieces if asked any direct questions about my religion or whom I may or may not find attractive. My sisters would be scandalized if they knew I had told the truth, despite the fact that my nieces are all in their late teens by this time. And they do not accept my sexuality in *me*. Even if one has those feelings, even if one does not reject them in oneself--as they apparently do not--one must *pretend* to reject them in oneself. They are also bisexual, and since they're married, they can easily pass, and expect me to follow their example. Not doing so is just childish rebelliousness, in their opinion. Same-sex activity is fine to read for titillating entertainment provided no one but other aficionados know of it, of course. It's fine to accept it in oneself--though *not* in one's children---as long as one never speaks of it or acts on it, and continues to condemn it outwardly.
"They've also stated they are against the idea of legalized same-sex marriage--though generally speaking, they do not *say* much of anything about anything of any importance. They simply say and do whatever is most beneficial for them in any given situation, without regard to any previously stated beliefs, or avoiding doing anything they may have taken *me* to task for in the past; it's *always* different when *they* do it, whatever it is. They simply rationalize whatever is easiest and most convenient for them as being the 'right' thing to do. I could not make myself over into whatever they would rather have me be, even if I tried, because in order to cater to their constantly shifting needs, I would have to be both clairvoyant and telepathic, and possibly omniscient. You see, their 'born again' status makes them always, and inarguably, *right* about everything, no matter how objectively irrational."
"You consider this behavior to be hypocritical." Her eyebrows were raised, probably at the length and bitter tone of his speech, he figured, and he nearly laughed.
"I do," he said.
"And unless you cater to their...rather convoluted worldview, you are not welcome among them."
"Even if I *do* try to do so, I am not entirely welcome among them. This includes my father, by the way. I am, by this late date, irredeemable, you see, in their view. They would prefer that I simply kept my distance until and unless I 'learn how to behave', and even then kept my head down, accepting their constant judgement of me, and allow their accusing me of 'having a chip on my shoulder' or 'being childish' if I don't agree with and do everything they tell me to."
She coughed. He wasn't sure why; it sounded like perhaps a bit of chili spice had gone down wrong, but the chili hadn't been very hot. She cleared her throat and said "I would say, just as an aside, that it would be difficult to find anyone who better 'knew how to behave' than you do. So, then...your parents? You mentioned your father..."
"My mother is dead. A year ago. I had not seen her for years, but she was careful that no information should reach me about how serious her condition was lest I should pray for her or cast spells for her health. I finally received a call from one of my sisters telling me to 'get home *now*'; then a call about six hours later telling me not to rush." He shrugged. "I was on time for the funeral, in any case. She was also 'born again' and did not accept me as I was. She *was* the only member of my family who was always willing to listen to me; after all, I was her child. But there was a price to be paid for it." His mouth quirked, but he thought it best not to specify. "When I say she didn't accept me, I meant anything about me, that is; not just the fact that I am not a totally conventional, mainstream person in all respects. No, only my sisters are that specific in their resentment of me. My mother was more resentful because she thought I 'insisted' on taking after my father in certain ways, as if *that* would ever cross my mind."
"Your sisters. They've said as much as you just did, in terms of what they don't accept about you?" Her tone wasn't indicative of a "Come on, did they really *say* that?" attitude---it was simply a request as to whether this was a family-brouhaha level of unacceptance, or a nice-middle-class frozen sort.
He answered it as such. "*Saying* anything would be gauche. One simply pretends these things don't exist. In fact, that's their main quarrel. I will not accept that who they are, how they feel, what they think, and what they do may be discussed and otherwise treated openly, but absolutely *none* of those things may be treated openly where *I* am concerned. My insistence on speaking the truth about myself, even in a contained and polite fashion; on being who I am--even in the same fashion--all this is selfish and not to be tolerated. *I*--what I think, who I am, how I feel--*everything*--must be treated like a filthy secret. That is the *adult* way to behave."
"I see. And your father?"
"My father is not sane, by any reasonable terms. He has the temper and coping mechanisms of a six-year-old, and enjoys using the power he has over me to hurt me. In his opinion, there is nothing wrong with me that could not be fixed if I were simply hurt more. There is not enough hurt in the world for me to suffer, in his opinion. That has always been his opinion. Since I was born, as near as I can remember. And he has acted on that opinion, ever since that time, as well."
She drummed her fingers on the sofa arm. "You have my sympathy, Constable."
"Thank you, sir."
"And you have no one else; that was made clear by constable Fraser, and by your arrival here. Don't apologize; I would far rather have you here than believing you have absolutely nowhere to turn in difficulty as great as you obviously find yourself."
"I appreciate that, sir."
"The cutting scars. You have them elsewhere?"
"Not as many elsewhere, but over most of my skin surface, to some degree, yes, sir."
"Fraser and Ray haven't seen them?"
"I was under the impression..."
He finally glanced up at her. "They have had many opportunities to see my scars, sir, both internal and external. They've taken no note of the external ones. I believe they do suspect--believe in, to some degree--the internal ones, though they can't see them well enough to put solid names to. Between them, they do a fair job of understanding. In general, however, it is my experience that people see what they want to."
She nodded. "It's true I rarely see you out of uniform, but I will assume that what you mean is, you had to *show* me these scars before I could see them, and tell me the very specific things you've told me, which I will assume you have not told Fraser and Ray--before I could see *them*."
He looked away from her, and nodded. "To be fair, I do not encourage questions, because..."
"You feel the true answers would drive them away, but to lie to them would ruin your relationship with them."
"Yes." His head fell. "You're perhaps too good at this, sir."
"Then...they don't wish to know these things about you."
"I don't know about that, sir. I haven't given them the opportunity to find them out and cast me off. You see, my sense of self is reduced to something that could easily be washed away by even a minor rejection of who I actually am, by this point. If they decided that anyone as deformed and destroyed as I am were no one they wanted in their lives, it would more than finish that job."
She nodded. "So you must leave before they can do so...but doing that might very well accomplish the same end."
"You do love them, then. It's their love for you which is in question."
"I love, and have loved, many, many people in my life, starting with my family. I have been loved only once or twice, and wasted that love because I was so crippled that I couldn't respond properly to it. Their love for me...is not in question. It doesn't exist, because they don't know me, and if they did, they would realize that they have been laboring under a misapprehension for our entire association."
"They could not want you, if they knew you."
"You're sure of this?"
"They believe there is nothing about me that could be so bad that they would not be able to love me. They simply don't realize what an enormous amount of work it would be to deal with the real me, considering the destruction of my matrix of self when I was far too small to have any way to defend myself against it--and in any case, it is maximally effective, beyond the possibility of 'learning trust again', because it was perpetrated not only by everyone around me, but those I was supposed to be able to trust above all others--my parents and the rest of my family." He didn't say these words with a trace of self-pity. It was merely a dry recitation of facts.
"And you believe they would grow impatient with the constant weight of dealing with what you have been rendered."
"That is the case, sir."
"Hm." She considered briefly. "Have you told them this?"
"No. I'm afraid what's left of...of me would be..."
He appreciated her providing him with something to say other than "destroyed". All that practice in diplomacy was doing them both a world of good in this conversation. They could dish it and understand it, both.
"Yes, rendered nonfunctional by their knowing this about me. Even if they did know it, they might at first protest my error, then find, later, as it began to weigh on them, that I was right--and I am right."
She nodded. "I understand. And this relationship you have with them--it has become so crucial, as I believe we've established, that losing it by leaving them could bring about the same result as their leaving you, even if there were a slightly better chance of your survival if you were the one to end things."
"I see. Well, Constable, I believe it is time for you to sleep. I will ponder this matter, and perhaps we can come up with some solution that will not leave you with nothing but...Hobson's choice."
He blinked, glanced up, actually seeing her for the first time in a while. She would ponder the matter? "Sir?"
"Brush your teeth and such. I'll see about that sedative--and it is only a sedative, not a knockout pill; don't worry about that. But you need some genuine rest, and you won't get it tonight, not without something to make you too tired to lie there and...well, there's no need to go into that. Trust me and do as I say, Constable."
"Sir, if I may ask...your own family...did they--"
"My family are dead," she said shortly. "I'll meet you back out here to give you the sedative. You may have the hallway bathroom for your use; distribute your kit there as you like. I have a bathroom adjoining the master bedroom." She got up and went away, leaving the CD running.
"I wonder where he is..." Fraser barely whispered, staring down at the two sets of sandwich fixings on the cutting board under his hands. He stood there, holding the head of lettuce in both hands, then finally, decisively, set it down, turned back to the refrigerator and opened it, rummaging again for the ingredients he'd just put away.
"He's there without us, that's all I know. And your bi--"
"--your obnoxious pain of a boss wouldn't tell us--how'd you know what I was gonna say, anyway? Don't be jumping to conclusions--and I *know* she knows 'cause I know he at least *was* there." Ray sighed. "She was awfully damn cool for somebody who was really hidin' someone though. I...just couldn't tell for sure. And, and I just wonder why he could go to her...even for a little while, but..."
"I believe we discussed this. She cares. Just not *too* much, for what he needs right now."
"It's not supposed to work that way!" Ray snapped, smacking his hand palm-down on the countertop. "He can come to us with *anything*! Anything, that's the way this works! He could say 'Ray, I hate your hair that way, quit gelling it' and I'd at least *talk* about it, there's nothing he can't tell me! And definitely nothing he can't tell *you*, the most perceptive guy on the planet."
"I believe you've commented, at times, on just how oblivious I can be when it comes to other humans. And I think you've made the same sorts of comments about yourself." Fraser stood back up, tugged the dark blue sweatpants that were apparently all he wore into place again--they looked ironed and Ray didn't want to know, though he supposed he was going to be finding out soon anyway, what with the last of Fraser's stuff permanently installed over here--with his arms full of bread, cold cuts, and condiments, which he deposited back onto the counter with a defiant clunk and clatter, beginning to precisely set out the preliminaries for a third sandwich next to the two still unassembled on the cutting board. "Would you check the soup? It should be simmering--bubbles rising, but the surface shouldn't be undulating."
"I was just kickin' myself, when I said that, things like that. Or kicking you. People say shit like that when they fuck up. That doesn't apply to anything as important as this. I ask him if he wants to get a place together and he packs his admittedly scarce shit and *runs*? With no warning?"
"I believe he's given us plenty of warning, as I tried to tell you earlier."
"Then maybe you could have let me in a little on this, huh? Maybe you could have enlightened the poor idiot who doesn't understand the ways of you super-repressed Canadian mounties, huh?"
"You're right, Ray. I apologize."
Ray screeched to a halt; he thought he could smell burning rubber, a stinging haze floating in the apartment. His brain had tracks burned into it. He knew this because he could feel the goddamn things, and they hurt like a bitch. Enough to notice through the general miasm of hurting.
"As I said," Fraser said without turning around, evidently taking Ray's silence as encouragement to continue speaking, "I *was* aware that Turnbull was keeping things from us, just as you were; but I knew the problem was worse than you thought. I didn't tell you that. I didn't ask him about it, or ask you to ask him about it. I knew how...fragile the connection we had was, though at first glance it certainly didn't seem that way--he loves us so much..."
"...he loves us more than...fuck," Ray said, the word "life" hanging there, fat and morbid, dripping ichor, unspoken in the kitchen, as they both remembered their conversation of earlier, about how far Turnbull might be willing to go--for *their* sake, as well as his own.
"More than himself, by a very good margin," Fraser went on, shouldering his way around the fat drippy word to check the soup himself. It was starting to mutate. The word, that was. The soup, apparently, was fine, and Fraser put the lid back on it, tilted just slightly to let a little steam out, and returned to where he was quickly, deftly, defiantly making three Dagwoods, his superfast Fraser-fingerdness in full flower.
"What did we do?" Ray finally wondered faintly, and Fraser turned to see that all the fight had gone out of Ray's eyes suddenly, that the word was developing an ichor dribble in one of the spots it was changing shape, and that Dief had gotten up to get out from under it and sit with Ray by the counter, leaning against his leg. Ray's voice was rough but thin, low but imploring. "What did we *do* that he can't...trust us?" His eyes shimmered.
"We didn't do anything," Fraser said, going to Ray and taking his shoulders. "We didn't do anything. A lot of other people have done things to Turnbull that he never deserved, and it turned him into something he thinks is too hideous to live." There was a squelch from the word and Fraser's mouth quirked in annoyance, but he just went on "You may...feel him, sense feeling the way he does, feel the things he does, but you could have had no way of knowing. He hides things too well--he's had a *lifetime* of practice at lying and hiding--from the time he could first form cogent words he's had to modify them, change the truth, make sure who he was and what he showed was always all right, every breath he took, every word he said, every thought he expressed or question he asked had to *already* be perfectly acceptable. It was much, much worse in Turnbull's case, but *I* know that when I see it, too. I was able to get out of it to a degree--I'm able to--well, let's just say there are things I can do now that I couldn't have done ten or even five--some things, even one--year ago, and Turnbull is more than ten years younger than I am and starting with a far more gigantic handicap. I recognized it in him, finally--yes, it took time, I *do* rather define self-absorbed, just as he can, since we had to make certain we were, at all times, a dozen other people's different ideas of perfect; that will certainly put one's focus on oneself--and when I finally did so, I went from thinking him some kind of demented, fatuous, bizarre nelly that was transferred here to get him the hell out of Canada altogether, to seeing the man I could have been if things had been just a little worse for me. Just a little worse, Ray. If he weren't so strong..." He paused, sighing, releasing the wide-eyed Ray's shoulders. "Ray, we didn't do anything. You simply don't have the system of logic running in your head that Turnbull does, and that I did, and that we still operate under a version of, so there was no way you could predict what he'd do. You could feel his love, love so deep and powerful--so strong--"
"River deep, mountain high," Ray murmured, but he wasn't joking.
"Yes. You were so swamped in that there's no way you could have known he would react that way. That's why I exploded at you when you didn't...ask me first, before you asked *us*, if you follow. And yes, I know that makes no sense--the way I was behaving *didn't* make any sense. I knew I was keeping something from you that you might need to know because of my own fear, that Turnbull was keeping it from you because he didn't want to hurt you or lose you, and when disaster struck because I did what I did, I wanted to blame you, when it was my fault, not yours. Don't ask what we did, Ray, or at least not what you did. You didn't do anything. You're the only one involved who's wholly innocent of wrongdoing here."
"What you didn't tell me, or make him talk about--that he was hiding a load of shit like yours, but way big-ass worse than yours--it was because you'd have had to talk about your own load of shit in order to explain how you knew, and why you knew it could be a problem, isn't it."
"Well, yes, obviously. I was protecting my own insecurity instead of doing the right thing. I've apologized for that, but if you want me to do it again, I will, if it will help."
"Fraser, no, just getting it straight..." Ray folded him close, resting his close-shaven face on Fraser's bare shoulder. "I love you."
"I love you, too."
"You can stop beating yourself up, and I'll stop beating you up. I didn't realize how hard you were taking your part of it. I just saw you dragging me away from Thatcher's door, telling me to leave it alone...made me crazy, okay, it made me *nuts*--"
"Of course it did, and of course it would, I know that--"
"--and I stopped thinking and just blamed you, now that I had somebody to blame. So I'm no better than you. What did we do? You're right, we didn't do what made him do this. Other people did that. I just hate...that we're not the people who can make him okay enough to come back to us."
"Only he can do that now, Ray."
"Okay, psych 101 degree earned, fine, but we're not the people who can *help* him while he does it, either! Thatcher, fucking *Thatcher* is!" Ray kicked a lower cabinet door sharply with his heel.
"Ray. Would you be so angry about that if Meg were a sixty-eight year old woman who weighed two hundred pounds and had blue hair?"
There was silence from Fraser's shoulder for a moment.
"Okay. No," Ray sighed. "I'd still be upset. But maybe not as upset. Maybe not as upset if it weren't the only woman I've ever met who can crank my goodstuff engine, burn my muffins to a crisp and clean my clock with one hand."
"Are you jealous of her?"
There was a pause, then Ray lifted his head, looking honestly puzzled. "Of what? In particular, I mean."
"Sorry, I meant 'Do you think he might find her more attractive than he does us'?"
"Uh, Fraser, he loves *us*. We could look like roadkill and she could look like...her, and he wouldn't be *more* attracted to her. I just mean...well, *we're* the ones he loves. Why can't he come to us? Why does he have to go to the head Super Mountie of all *fucking* people? To his *boss*?"
"Ah--it's partly the fact that she's his work superior in both rank and posting position, and yet he went to her with an emotional problem *instead* of coming to us, that bothers you."
"If she were this cushy old-lady grandmothery type like you said, I could maybe get it. Maybe he needed to cry to his mother. Or somebody who could be a better mother to him than he got, or something. But Thatcher?! That's like taking your floundering business to a loan shark to get it out of the red."
"I think that may be where the confusion is--I don't think Turnbull is after cuddles and pats in order to deal with this. He *wants* cuddles and pats to help him deal with this, somewhere, deep down, where the very essence of his self lives; but at this point, he simply wouldn't know what to do with them. They wouldn't help his problem, because he's never had any. Until fairly late in his life to date, he's only ever been attacked when he showed emotional need. He wants someone to treat his problem like a *treatable problem*, like a puzzle or an exercise in a particular system of logic. Meg--"
"She's Meg now?"
"Right at the moment she is, to me. Meg cares about him, enough to go to considerable lengths, if she must, to help him. But she will not flood him with sympathy that he wouldn't understand or have any use for--the kind of comfort most people would be in search of would be wasted on him; he hasn't any of the proper human mechanisms left in place to accept it. His were all destroyed by being underused and undermined, every second of every day, until they were gone. He needs someone who can keep her cool, is intelligent, caring--about him, specifically--and insightful. You can't possibly doubt she has any of those qualities, except possibly the caring and insightfulness--"
"No. She threw me into the wall defending him. And she knew about the three of us, and I know he didn't just tell her. If she'd only just found out, her jaw would still have been on the floor when we got to her place. She figured it out a while back." He smiled a little, pink lips barely curving. "She's also weird, like you and Turnbull, which I like. I remember that comment about your tunics."
Fraser smiled. "Yes, so do I. I also remember you calling us all weird, but this is the first you've said you like it."
"She's got a good ass too, you ever notice?"
"I sometimes have a poker inappropriately placed somewhere roundabout my anatomy, Ray, but I'm not dead. She rides, as well, you know."
"So all the Mounties in Chicago really are Horsemen. Or whatever you'd call Meg. Uh, Thatcher. I'd probably better not call her Meg."
"The three of us usually aren't all the Mounties in Chicago; and that's probably a good idea, Ray." Fraser kissed him on the mouth, let him go, and returned to the sandwiches, ducking around the word again, which had almost completely finished mutating.
Ray looked at the bloated, disease-colored word, which had started out as "life" and now said "death", its own logical conclusion considering the sentence it had been cut out of (and why), in turgid, misshapen-looking letters. "Who do we call to get that removed?"
"I think you just have to wait until they fade. Try not to leave any more of them around, all right? No matter how bad a pun it is, or how mistakenly inappropriate a thing to say, if you start to say something like that before you realize it, just go ahead and say it. Or you do get that sort of thing." Fraser thrust a thumb over his shoulder, then finished the last sandwich, placing a thick, lowfat-herb-mayonnaised slice of whole-multi-grain bread fresh from the bakery downstairs on top. "Could you check the soup?"
The phone on the counter rang. Ray was much closer and didn't have to duck around the word, so he grabbed it easily ahead of Fraser. "Yeah! What! Uh, hello, Ray Vecchio--yeah. Yeah. Um...yeah. Okay. Okay. What?! All wee--no. No, no, no, I'm not saying that. And we won't. Yes. Yes. Well, you know Fraser does. Um...yeah. I do, too. No, I mean it. Even if I didn't, I've kinda got to, you know? Yeah...no, I will not do that. I swear on how much I love Turnbull that I will not do that, is that good enough for you? Well, thanks. Besides, you and Turnbull know you can trust Fraser, and if you really think I could successfully skip on Fraser and Dief, you're smoking crack...uh, yeah. We will. Yeah, or my cell'll always get me, I'll shower with it, I'll take a shit with it. Uh. Bring it with me, I mean. Yeah. Okay. We'll be waiting...um. Thank you. No, I mean it, I really, really do--thanks." Ray hung up, stood there quietly a second, then turned to Fraser. "I guess you caught that?"
"Most of it, I think." Fraser was stirring the soup, smiling a bit now, which told Ray he'd heard at least part of the end. "Especially the part where--despite her lack of enthusiasm about your descriptive imagery--she told you that he said to her that he loves us. As for the rest, Turnbull is currently safe and well in physically comfortable surroundings. He wishes us to know that for now, he has no immediate plans to leave those surroundings; in fact, we won't be seeing him at least until Monday. He still does not wish Meg to disclose his location, nor for us to attempt to find him ourselves--nor attempt even to verify guesses by shadowing Meg; in fact, we're to stay as far away from her and her movements as possible, including staying away from the Consulate and her apartment--except with respect to essential drop-offs and pickups at the consulate, of course--so that we can't observe her directions of travel, to or from, either place. We aren't to try to call her at any of her numbers unless its work-related, and we should use her cell in that case; she will call us at least every day, probably twice, and immediately if any abrupt changes occur in the situation in terms of his physical comfort and safety, so we are not to rip our hair out with worry. She will call here first to avoid tying up your cellphone, but if she gets your machine, rather than leave a message, she'll call your cell, so you need not remain glued to your kitchen counter. Did I miss anything?"
"Nope. You got it. Except her yucked-out tone of voice near the end."
"I don't think I can ever hope to imitate that. How hungry are you, Ray?"
Ray noticed there were three bowls sitting on plates on the kitchen table. Fraser was sawing one of the Dagwoods in half with the meat cleaver from the steak knife block.
"I don't think you can get hungry enough for it to make your ass grow two chairs wide, Frase; Dief is going to have to take that other bowl."
Dief stood up and barked his readiness to come to their aid in the matter.
Fraser sighed. "Thank you for giving him the idea, Ray."
"I think we should get him a high chair. Don't you think he should have a high chair at least? It'd keep him from slopping on the table and he could still sit with us."
Dief looked up at Ray and muttered something.
Ray, looking down at him, went on "Uh, though I think he doesn't think they make them that big. Or something. I get kind of an impression of a high chair with something white and grey and brown and fuzzy hanging out of it all over the place."
Fraser turned and gazed at him. "That's just what he said."
"You...got that impression, too?"
"No, no--he said 'Ray, I'd never fit in a high chair'. You must have seen his mental picture of trying, or something."
"Oh. Huh. Damn it." He'd walked facefirst into the word, which gooshed ichor onto the floor. He stepped backward hastily, wiping at his face with the back of one arm and hand. "Fraser! Can't you do something?"
"It's your word, Ray. *You* left it hanging."
"Well I don't *know* what to--you're the one with the Inuit stories and native lore and--wait a minute. That spell bag in the bedroom, didn't baby say it was for protection?"
Fraser frowned. "Ah...yes, but I believe specific to a purpose. I'm willing to say that wouldn't matter as far as the herbs simply contained in the bag, but his intention and other preparation when he made the bag--"
"We'll warm-start it. Reinitialize. Go get it?" Ray paper-toweled his face. "I got gook."
Fraser raised an eyebrow but turned and went, coming back in a moment with the bag, which he handed to Ray. "Here you are. Whatever you intend to do with it."
"Um." Ray turned and went to the altar in the corner, bent and picked up the lighter, and lit the candle. He took a deep breath and let it out. "Alakazam and mumbo-jumbo. Not to be an asswipe; I'm serious here. This is a bag of protective and cleansing type herbs, like." He held up the bag, over the altar, flat on his palm. "Fraser, get Semmy and come here? Dief, you too."
Everybody arrived in short order. "Have a sniff, Semmy." Semimodo, sitting on the altar, peering sleepily about, opened his little beaky mouth and sort of gummed the packet; finding it not food, he ceased gumming and began making his careful way about the things on the altar, which he sometimes bumped, but never knocked over.
"I kinda left a bad thought dangling in the kitchen," Ray said--
"--in the form of an unfinished sentence," Fraser added. "Since...it took us to an unhappy mental place."
Ray looked sideways at him and then continued "--and since Turnbull knows herbs for this and I don't, I'd like to use his herb bag to get rid of it--he wouldn't mind, I know him; he told me he made it in just a few minutes, and he can make another one. If it were near and dear, he'd have packed it with the other stuff he took to wherever he's hiding out. He also said I could use this." Ray picked up the dagger with the black spiral hilt that Turnbull had formerly used as a ritual knife, and now kept at Ray's for that purpose so there would be one there that felt comfortable about being there, with Ray's vibes, as Ray had put it. Ray put the packet in front of the statue that held the candle. "Holy whoever you are for the moment, please infuse the herbs in this bag with the power to give that stupid thought the boot." He took Fraser's hand; Fraser touched Dief's head, and Semmy had wandered over to the bag, leaving damp spots, resting on it as though it were a pillow. Ray touched the point of the dagger to the herb bag.
"We hereby declare this bag a bag of stupid-word-in-the-kitchen-removal herbs," Ray said. "Protect us from the dumb thing I nearly said. Shazam!"
"So mote it be!" said Fraser.
Ray let go of Fraser and put the dagger down. "Thanks. Nice talking to you," Ray said.
"Thank you kindly," Fraser added. "We appreciate your attention and help. We're quite novices at this, you see, though Ray appears to have some native ability, discovered during a case during which we met a Voudun priest--"
Fraser cleared his throat and shut up. Ray gave the dark, stark, candleholding statue a solemn nod and blew the candle out, then gently removed Semmy from the bag and picked it up. "Look after Semmy a minute, would you, Frase?"
"Certainly. He seems comfortable on the altar for the moment; I'll make sure he doesn't fall."
Ray--and Dief, who came along tail wagging, nearly hopping with interest--went back to the kitchen, where the word leered at Ray under the ceiling lamp.
"Hey. You. Stupid word. Stupid thought. Guess what. We don't like you. So FUCK OFF!" At the last two words, he ripped the thread closing the bag free and flung the leafy, twiggy, powdery contents at the word.
It made a squeal like a balloon with the air being slowly let out, then the spitting sound the balloon makes when you let go of it and it zips around the room farting until it lands empty in the corner, as the word rapidly shriveled to nothing, its icky ichor disappearing along with it.
"Now I just gotta sweep up the herb stuff," Ray said. "Couldn't he have left us some kind of instruction book?"
"You don't appear to need one," Fraser said, sounding amused, and Ray turned to see Fraser standing by the altar with his arms in kind of a choirboy pose, perfectly showing off those beautiful appendages, as well as his shoulders and chest (Fraser, he noticed again, was one of the few very masculine men around with truly, astonishingly pretty tits); Ray realized he was standing like that because he was holding Semmy gently in both broad hands.
"Neither do you," Ray said. "'So mote it be'? Baby teach you that?"
Fraser smiled. "He asked me what it meant, or at least the word 'mote' in that context. He'd read it all meant 'so must it be', but doubted that, and I told him I did, too. If mote *was* indeed an old English word that meant anything besides 'tiny fragment', it was most likely to be from the French 'mot' for 'word', as there were massive influxes of French speakers into England at certain key points in the evolution of the language; and there is a great deal of French at the basis of English as we speak it today. That would translate that phrase as something like either 'So it is spoken'--which is a lot like what 'amen' means, by the way; 'it has been spoken' in the sense of 'it is done being spoken'--"
"That's what 'amen' means? 'We're done' or 'That's it'?"
"At root, yes. Probably a more formal way of acknowledging that."
"Huh. So what else might the mote mean?"
"The phrase might easily be seen as meaning 'It shall be as it has been spoken', through 'So', as in 'this way'; 'mote' as in 'word'; 'it' as in the situation concerned; and 'be' as in manifesting the desired result in said situation. But 'mote' is unlikely to mean 'must', either way."
"Well, the second one sounds like what you'd want to mean at the end of something like that, anyway, so I guess it's cool."
"Did you get any of that herb powder on the sandwiches?" Fraser asked, moving to return Semmy to his tank. (Ray had worried that Semmy's relative quietude in the tank and mobility and general interest in the world out of it meant that he felt horribly trapped in there amongst his sunning rock and pond and toys and sand and plants and mud-making dirt--Ray was always buying different kinds of turtle treat and pond base sand and things to keep him entertained. He still did, but was comforted by the fact that Fraser said Dief was of the opinion that Ray needed to remember that turtles didn't think like humans and Semmy was trying to *find* his damn tank when he was removed from it. "Damn it, where's everything I could possibly need?!" Being a turtle, he wasn't either bright enough or sharp-eyed enough to have much luck looking, and so found other things to occupy his time 'til one of the Big Warm Soft Flying Riding Things came and took him home again. Fraser had found Dief's assumption of what a hand was like to Semmy to be amusing. Ray had snarled at him (Dief) not to be so condescending.)
Fraser finished "I don't recall what all the herbs were; I remember that none of them are poisonous, but I can't vouch for the taste. I believe the fumitory herb--what Turnbull called 'earth smoke'--was in small twig form, which I'm fairly sure you wouldn't care for. Plus they've been in that pouch a while; there may be mold spores and such to consider, not that that's much of a threat in our case."
"No, I kept it off the sandwiches. Good thing the word didn't squirt gunk on 'em, either. Fraser, could I get you to walk around without a shirt more often? I mean, I know you're not really accustomed to going half naked, it was chilly where you're from and your boss might've been working late in the place where you lived for a while, but God above, you are so fucking beautiful. I could cream my pants and die sometimes just lookin' at you."
He said these last words to Fraser's back; Fraser's head dropped for a moment, and Ray smiled, knowing the other man's face was pinking. He admired the play of muscle in the beautiful taper of Fraser's utterly--geez, this word came up a lot around Fraser, but it was *true*, damn it--perfect shoulders down to his hips, and let his gaze rest happily on the navy-clad ass while Fraser, rearranging Semmy and making sure his light and all were properly repositioned, replied "I think sometimes I could be convinced, if I can ask the same of you. Unless you're cold." He turned from the tank, now moving--to someone who knew him well enough to tell--with a little bit of self-consciousness. "As long as you're warm enough...? And maybe you could wear those black muscle shirts more often. I know, you were wearing one the night Turnbull...told us not to say we loved him, so maybe you'd rather not, I'd under--"
"The shirt didn't say it. If you like it, I don't mind. Especially if it'd help. Right, uh, now. I won't be looking at myself, anyway, if you're half naked. Come here and fuck me on the counter."
Already heading his way, Fraser stopped and burst out laughing, then managed "Can we eat first?"
Dief barked agreement.
"Yeah, we can eat first. You slaved over a hot cutting board. And a stove too, come to think of it. Is the soup done? I love you."
"The soup is done, and I love you too--" Fraser was close enough now that he just reached right out and pulled Ray in when Ray's face screwed up, and a whimper-growl-wail of worry and grief and frustration that would have been loud enough to rattle the windows was at least partly muffled in Fraser's neck. "Hang on, Ray, just hang on...it'll be fine...he'll come home...he loves us, he just needs some help from someone who has more perspective than we do, for a while...think of it as his seeing a psychologist, or going on a meditation retreat...I'm so sorry I frightened you with the things I said earlier, I shouldn't have--"
Ray sobbed louder, just for a moment, then quieted some; the realization that Fraser had once tried to kill himself, and that if it hadn't been for Diefenbaker...
"...but I'd gone too long without telling the truth, without saying everything I knew that might be of import. And that could have brought about--well, perhaps did help bring about--this...so I was afraid, and I said...maybe too much, for right now. Ray--remember all the times he *has* said he loves you, and the times he's smiled at you and been happy about it when you've said you love him. Remember *those* times, all right? Don't worry, right now, about what happened later, that's an anomaly, it'll be dealt with, it *is* being dealt with, it may take time--just remember, he's safe. And he loves us."
Ray made a loud, grieving, strangled noise, clutching at Fraser's shoulders with both hands.
"Bite," Fraser said, quietly, and Ray opened his mouth and bit, at Fraser's shoulder just under the collarbone, not really any harder than he might when they were having sex, but for a whole different reason, and the slight, sharp pain went to Fraser's heart, not another location in his body where it would have gone if Ray were biting in loving passion.
Finally Ray let loose the mouthful, and began to cry more softly, the worst of it broken--from a huge, crashing wave into a collection of smaller rocking ones, as Ray sobbed quietly, letting Fraser rock him with the waves.
"I want him back," he whimpered. "He'll come back? You think? I think. I think he'll come back..."
"He'll come back," Fraser said, and reached to wipe the tears trailing down his own cheeks. "I want him back too. I miss him, too. I miss him...he's hardly been gone a day, I see him all the time, but I *miss* him. It's ridiculous that I should..." He lowered his forehead to Ray's shoulder and sobbed almost silently, just breaths, dripping a bit, and finally sighing himself back under control. "I think--I think I've been missing him for months. Ever since..."
"The bad feet weekend. Yeah. Yeah," Ray said, and wiped at his face and Fraser's chest and got nowhere, and grabbed the paper towels and pulled off a couple of handfuls, one of which he handed to Fraser. "Ever since we realized just how much we wanted him...close. Here. I'm sorry."
"I told you to. I'd rather you bit me than yourself; you bite too hard when you bite the edge of your own hand."
"It works," Ray shrugged, uncaring.
"You should never draw blood with your teeth. It's dangerous. Human saliva has elements in it that can be poisonous if inserted directly into the bloodstream. You never bite me or Turnbull that hard. And all three things are better than hitting the walls. I don't want to have to take you to the emergency room for that again."
"If that was a warning, I heard you the first time."
The remains of the cloud of protective herbs floated about in the light, glittering. They breathed. They calmed.
On Fraser's shoulder there were only white indentations; the area might turn red for a while, but only because Fraser was so pale. It probably wouldn't bruise at all.
"I feel like I got PMS," Ray muttered, and Fraser, trying to blow his nose into a paper towel, made a weird honk, paused getting his control of his nasopharyngeal situation back, and blew again; while wiping, he said "I should probably scold you for saying that, but from the descriptions I've heard about it from female friends who do suffer from the emotional symptoms of it, I'll have to just say--yeah, I think I feel like that, too."
"Can we actually fuck later? I mean, are you up to it?"
"I could use the comfort as well, Ray."
"'Listen to the words of the Great Mother, Who of old was called Artemis, Astarte, Dione, Melusine, Aphrodite, Ceridwen, Diana, Arionrhod, Brigid, and by many other names...'"
"The woman knew some mythology. Go on."
"This is a more modern priestess's version, but mostly it's the same. 'Whenever you have need of anything, once in the month, and better it be when the moon is full, you shall assemble in some secret place and adore the spirit of Me Who is Queen of all the Wise."
Thatcher's brow furrowed a little. "It's that Charles Leland?"
Turnbull blinked. "Yes. Doreen took material from many sources, and added her own. She talks about the sources in her books. But ignore most of the history if you should read 'Witchcraft For Tomorrow'. It's a bit on the embarrassingly inaccurate side."
Thatcher nodded. "I shall, then. Please, continue."
"'You shall be free from slavery, and as a sign that you be truly free you shall be naked in your rites. Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth. My law is love is unto all beings. Mine is the secret that opens the door of youth, and Mine is the cup of wine of life that is the cauldron of Ceridwen, that is the holy grail of immortality."
"That sounds like Leland too."
"Some of it. The naked in the rites part, particularly. Though I tend to think that at the time she wrote or decided to keep that portion, Doreen was Gerald Gardner's High Priestess; and *he* was all for both nakedness and knives--which strikes me as a rather dangerous combination--before he became involved with the occult."
"You don't have many illusions about your religion, do you?"
He smiled. "We don't need any. The universe *is* a miracle. It's sacred, the way it is. We don't need to do anything but...be aware of our own selves, or even a little of the universe outside ourselves, to feel...awe. We feel that way, we can't *help* feeling that way--and that's what makes us witches, rather than the other way around. We don't need...we don't need to believe that the people who brought it out of seclusion and made it known and accessible were anything but humans who'd decided to do so, not that they were...inspired by God or anything. We don't need...showmanship, exaggeration. Though there is some of that in every religion, and you'll find it in ours, certainly. Mostly in our use of symbolism. Overexpansive liturgical displays. That kind of thing."
He went on. "'I give the knowledge of the spirit eternal, and beyond death I give peace and freedom and reunion with those that have gone before. Nor do I demand aught of sacrifice, for I am the Mother of all things, and My love is poured out upon the earth."
"Is the language to provide a particular mindset? The pseudo-archaic nature of it, I mean. Part of the 'symbolism'?"
"Yes, I think so. It was believed that we automatically enter a different and more reverent mindset when we heard and used language like that, since that was what we were used to in such situations; and it was thought the fact could be used to our advantage, to simplify things in terms of creating sacred space--rather, becoming aware of the sacredness of the space we're part of--and attaining certain mental states."
"Actually, that's a psychologically sound notion. Go on."
"The Star Goddess's part is next. 'Hear the words of the Star Goddess, whose body is the universe: I Who am the beauty of the green earth and the white moon among the stars, and the mysteries of the waters, I call upon your soul to arise and come to me; for I am the soul of nature that gives life to all the universe. From Me all things proceed, and unto Me they must return. Let My worship be in the heart that rejoices, for all acts of love and kind pleasure are My rituals. Let there be beauty and strength, power and compassion, honor and humility, mirth and reverence, within you. And you who seek to know Me, know that all your seeking and yearning will avail you naught, unless you know the Mystery: If that which you seek you find not within yourself, then you will never find it without--for understand this: I have been with you from the beginning, and I Am that which is attained at the end of desire.'"
Thatcher had sat on the bed quietly, not moving, while he spoke in his soft, pleasant voice; she looked away out the window when he was done, obviously in thought. Then she looked back at him and said "That's very beautiful. It reminds me of the Desiderata, in a way, as I just quoted to constable Fraser, as in its...its very accessibility and brevity, there is great profundity."
He smiled a little, and whispered "I always thought so. It's odd that you should mention the Desiderata..." he could feel tears welling up in his eyes, and turned his head away, but she only pointed firmly with her flannel-pajama-clad arm toward the box of tissues on the bedside table.
"Cry if you need to, Constable; we cry for good evolutionary reasons. Hysteria is one thing, but crying is a very poorly understood and useful method of *maintaining* one's equilibrium, one's ability to think and plan. *Unless* one suppresses it until an emotional storm bursts out, which may involve crying and may not. So cry when the impulse strikes. I will think no less of you. Now, you mentioned the Desiderata. Would you care to tell me about that?"
"There's...I assume you're familiar with it..."
"I don't have it memorized, but yes, I know it as someone who appreciates its wisdom."
"The line...'You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. You have a right to be here.'..." He sobbed, and hid his face in tissues for a bit, weeping quietly. She only waited, curled comfortably in her flannel pjs that were actually rather similar to the ones he had on--blue plaid of different kinds, with some green in hers, and no collar on his. Neither of them had footies. The thought made her smile, and she wiggled her toes a little under the afghan. They both had on thick socks.
They were waiting for Turnbull to feel like sleeping. She had decided, having given him his sleeping pill about fifteen minutes ago, that perhaps she should not simply lock him in the spare room and ignore him for the night; so she'd brought cocoa and the afghan and asked if he'd like to sit a bit while the medicine relaxed him. She didn't think too much about how close to dead already he looked, though feeding him had at least brought some color to him. Whatever had happened to him, it had happened suddenly and horribly, and the look in his eyes was genuinely concerning for anyone who knew him at all. That it was a look she'd never seen and would never have expected to see in him was bad enough, but looking like that and *not* fainting was what concerned her most. If he'd fainted, he'd likely simply have been overcome by something shocking, but not...killing, as this looked to be. She had honestly never seen him look so bad.
Then she wondered how honestly she had ever seen him. Turnbull didn't seem *not* to feel at home in this state of death-in-life. In fact, he seemed more relaxed now than she'd ever seen him, no matter how bad off he might be otherwise. He seemed in his element. Perhaps he was simply very good at hiding it.
Perhaps he'd always hid it.
As in...it was always there?
He was saying "I read the poem in high school, and...I think it saved my life. That line...the idea...that I had as much right to be here--just me, the way I was--as everything else that *is*, in the universe...the same as the trees, and the stars, *I* had a *right* to exist. It was the first time I had seen myself as having the right to exist."
"That's terrible. No, not that you came to that realization, but that you were raised by all the factors in your upbringing such that you had to *come* to it. However, I'm afraid I'm not surprised, after what you've told me and shown me. I'm very sorry."
She said it, and he nodded, and her sympathy was acknowledged; the end, for now, at least. No need for any great carryings-on about it every single time a new, nasty thing came to light. They understood. It sucked *bad*, death-is-your-friend bad; no need to make the point anew every time, not between them. She liked that with him. He had come to her because he had a severe personal problem, or problems--severe enough, she thought, after hearing what she had so far of his story and seeing his cutting scars, that he had some serious decision to make--possibly about whether to continue his life. But he didn't want to wallow. He didn't want to *be* "saved". *He* wanted to work on it. He wanted to take time out, as much as was necessary, and *deal*, and decide what to do, and he knew he was in no shape to do that effectively alone. He needed help. If he hadn't wanted to take responsibility for what he would do now, she would have been unable to help him; she could not accept his burden for him. But he didn't want to give it to her. He just wanted a little assistance with it while he worked it out...and maybe a place to stay where his broken-hearted lovers couldn't ruin it for all three of them with their fear and worry.
Explained in spades why he couldn't have simply been honest with Fraser and Ray. They would have had him wrapped in cotton batting before you could say "Don't leave me". Their love removed them from the realm of the personal-agendaless.
Ray especially, she knew, would have tried to make it "their problem", something they all had to work out with themselves, but Turnbull was human reject enough to know that when he had a problem, hey, buddy, it was his problem. It had been that way since he was born. Even his parents hadn't wanted anything to do with any problems he had, even as a small child. So, he knew it for *bad* reasons, for the *wrong* reasons; no argument. It was only that in this *particular* case, he happened to be right. It *was* something he must do alone, in terms of the rest of his..."marriage", she could reasonably call it, she supposed. His "family" might be even better. From what she could tell, Ray and Fraser were much more his family than any he'd had so far by birth--hell, even she was more decent family to him; perhaps an older cousin, or younger aunt. Aunt Inspector; she smiled a little, hiding it with a sip of cocoa. In any case, he was more than willing to deal with his own shit, thank you very much...
...with a little help, from someone he could trust not to try to help *too* much.
"This is good," he said, looking quietly into his mug.
"It's instant, I'm afraid, with a few additions and supplementations of my own."
"It's very nice." He had another long sip, closing his eyes against the heat.
"Does your religion have anything to say about suicide?"
"Well, the religion itself doesn't have a stand on it. There are too many traditions, really; one might say that "Christianity" has a stand on something, but it would have to be a very broad generalization."
"I see what you mean."
"On the other hand, I believe the usual stand of those who believe in reincarnation is that killing yourself is a bad idea, because you'll just have to do whatever it is you're escaping in another life anyway; but I think that's rather shortsighted. It could easily be that the purpose of it, in a given life, is to show you that there *are* worse things than simply dying, and that the most basic instinct we have, to remain alive as long as possible, is only that--an instinct. And that--while working with our instincts instead of fighting them is always the way to make progress, of course--one must remember what *is* instinct, programmed, and what is real, as in thought-out and decided. There are many reasons one might need to go through not only considering suicide, but the experience of carrying it out, as part of a learning experience, in the course of one's evolution." He sighed. "Of course, I don't believe in reincarnation. I don't believe in an afterlife at all."
She blinked. "You...are an ardent adherent of this religion, but don't believe in it on such an important point?"
"Reincarnation is a belief of nearly every religion when said religion is in its infancy--concepts like heaven and hell are usually purgatory-like places between lives, intended to reflect the way one has lived one's latest life, or provide perspective one will need in the next. That includes Christianity; it's not an unusual idea. I think it appeals to witches because of the idea of "fairness", and maybe of becoming....more than we are, some way. But we are what we are, and fairness is only an idea we've invented so we can get along with each other. The idea of reincarnation or of any afterlife also appeals because of the very same instinct I was talking about earlier, the one that overrides nearly everything--the fear of death. We are animals with a profound survival instinct, a dread terror of death that works well for keeping the species going. For our ancestors, the more one feared death, the more one was likely to do in order to avoid it and so remain around long enough to reproduce and raise one's offspring to viability. Evolution does not care about our comfort or happiness, not beyond its bearing on our survival rate as a group. So we are left with an unbelievably powerful fear of death, and, unlike most of the people on the planet, we are left also with the sure and certain knowledge that we *will* die, and that there is no avoiding it. An irreconcilable conundrum."
"I suppose I'd never looked at it that way," she murmured. "Taken on a species-wide scale, that would truly *be* a horrible conundrum if the species didn't..."
He made a kind of "no shit, you got it" face and finished for her "...if the species couldn't adapt to the development of sentience that brings with it knowledge of inevitable personal death. But...that same sentience gives us the capacity to rationalize to an amazing degree."
"That much I *had* noticed," she said, nodding sideways.
"I can imagine. So, as a species, we come up with religion, no matter where we are on the planet, how disconnected from each other--we all come up with *something*. The complexity of the religion evolves with the complexity of the culture. For we *must* invent the afterlife, in order to simply go on with life day to day. Face it, there's no *rational* reason to believe in such a thing. Just...none. But we must; otherwise the depression and anxiety would destroy us. We're all born under sentence of death; how would we be able to function with our thoughts always turned toward trying to escape the inescapable? And there's always the question of whether it matters--if we're going to die anyway, why should we bother living through years of horror of it before dying? Wouldn't it be more merciful just to die at once, since living will only be saturated with fear?"
"You're going Hamlet."
"Yes, I'm afraid so." He smirked at his cocoa. "That's why it's *only* utter and total hopelessness that can overcome that--aside from pain so extreme that we are willing to do anything to stop it, even die, because in pain that severe we can't truly be said to be *thinking* at all; we simply home in on whatever might stop it, obeying our instinct to avoid pain--to keep alive--in such a way that it actually kills us. But in usual circumstances...well, we do know we will die--but we have our various trumped-up mechanisms of dealing with that. So, it's only when we realize that there is *no hope at all* that we will ever escape whatever it is we cannot bear--when that becomes, in our deepest place of belief in the mind, a solid realization--*that* is the time we can overcome that survival instinct and kill ourselves."
"Yes, that's logical enough. I never have been fond of those who blame suicides. My feeling is always to wonder where the hell they were when that person was still alive and needed help so badly they could be driven to overcome the most powerful instinct human beings have."
He nodded, watching her appraisingly, then licked his lips and continued "If we were immortal, say, unless we were killed, there would *nearly* always be hope. Forever is long enough to bring about almost any change you need, and still leave you time to enjoy it. Since we are not...if we know that there will be, in our experience, *only*, first, utter, unrelieved, *misery*--with NO hope of *anything* else--and then death, why *not* just skip directly to death? And I agree with you about those who blame suicides, by the way. It isn't cowardice that causes people to kill themselves; a coward could never manage suicide. A coward could never use their sentience to overcome an instinct that powerful long enough to get the job done; the instinct, the fear, would always win out."
She sipped from her cup and nodded slowly. "I know a man who does hostage negotiation, and he was called one night to try to get a man with a gun taped to his hand to come down from the bridge where this man was sitting, intent on killing himself, only working up the nerve--and my friend said that he didn't know what to say or do, though he did the best he could, of course. As you know, when the gun is taped to the suicide's hand..."
"It generally means things," Turnbull said quietly, "yes."
"It did. This man was going to be in pain the rest of his life. He was never going to be able to *have* a life again, on account of this pain, everything had been taken from him because of it, his job, his hope for a pension, everyone had left him, ultimately, because of this disability--whether directly or indirectly, but still, because of it...and now there was only him and the pain, which would be with him for the rest of his life, with no decent relief--nor even decent care, as he, like most in this country, had no health insurance without his job. My friend honestly did not feel like he had any right to tell this man not to kill himself. He could say "I wish you wouldn't do it," but he couldn't say "it's not as bad as you think" or any such, because being in a place that bad was something he had no personal experience with, and he couldn't guarantee, himself, that he wouldn't take whatever sort of action seemed necessary, couldn't guarantee he'd never kill himself under the worst circumstances he could imagine, and unending pain and the loss of everything that ever mattered to you is very nearly as bad as it gets. And that question...it's the sort of circumstance in which you can't say for a fact what you'd do--*if* you're being honest with yourself--unless you actually find yourself in such a way. He didn't feel he had the right to judge."
"Did the man kill himself?"
Turnbull nodded. "Good. Oh, not that I don't think it wouldn't have been better if he could have found some reason to live, though, unlike what most people think, suicides generally *have* exhausted every single possibility before they get to that point. It isn't *ever* the *first* think anyone tries. But it sounds quite like this man would have, eventually, one way or another; and this way, at least he didn't have to do it alone, even if it was only police and hostage negotiators who were with him. He could at least fool himself, for a little while, even knowing that was what he was doing...that someone cared whether he lived or died. Even that's better than nothing."
"I...suppose I hadn't thought of that factor."
"It's definitely a factor. When loneliness is a large part of what one must escape--perhaps the only thing one must escape so badly that death is preferable to it, death is literally less frightening a prospect than living with such an abyss of loneliness without any scrap of hope that things might change--sometimes the only thing that keeps one from suicide is the loneliness inherent in dying alone. It's my opinion that many of the people who kill themselves--or try--in such a way that there are at least medical personnel around them in their final moments are not making a 'cry for help'. They're trying to die. They simply can't bear the thought of dying alone. It's too...too lonely to face."
"You may...you probably are right, Constable," she said, with a pensive look on her face. "Never having been to that point of despair, I hadn't considered it. I know now that you have been there; perhaps are close to it right now. Am I here *only* to keep you company should you decide that now is the time to end it? I don't ask because I intend to call the paramedics, no matter what answer you give me. I just want to know."
"You have the right to know. No, I'm here because you were the only alternative to dying as far as I could see. I'm here because...if I can, I want to live. This is the only way to find out, but don't think I don't appreciate it..."
"I want you to live as well, Turnbull." She set a hand on his arm, squeezing lightly. "And I'm glad I can help you to that end."
"I want to thank you for not insisting I check myself into a hospital."
"Under the circumstances...how shall I put this...I think that would simply prove to you that you had no choice but death; that you *were* truly alone; that it was true, and not a self-pitying illusion, that no one understood, *if* your last hope did something so self-serving as to avoid dealing with the problem herself in that fashion, or responded with such a knee-jerk reflex that it was obvious she did not care enough about you to see you or hear what you were saying. I think by letting you have your options and being willing not to judge you for them--or put another agenda--namely "stop a suicide at all costs", one that would ensure that I would be considered blameless, no matter what happened--as being higher than your own agenda, on the subject of your own life...in this way, I may...be able to give you the hope you were talking about. Hope that someone *is* willing to listen without prejudice. Enough that you'll keep suicide in the place where it is now--possible, but the last resort."
He looked up at her. "I'm afraid I'd forgotten you'd had considerable training in the area of hostage negotiation, too."
She smiled a little. "Psychology was one of my best subjects in school. Largely because I recognized myself as suffering from a number of the neuroses described in the texts."
He made a small noise into his cup that might have been a snort. "I recognized myself in those classes, too."
"Did it worry you?"
"Not unduly. After all, I had far larger problems. And the authors of the books were undoubtedly suffering from a number of those symptoms and ailments without even realizing it."
"I felt the same way about it, I think. Perhaps with more of a 'What can't be cured must be endured' emphasis. Or, frequently, I also felt the text, and the instructor, were sadly ignorant on the topics for lack of personal experience with them, and so didn't concern myself with what the book or the teacher had to say about it beyond passing the class."
He made a face. "Yes. Sadly ignorant on the topic, yet considered 'experts'. It's a morbid joke, isn't it."
"I might have to agree with you on that. How do you feel?"
"Relaxed. Suffering less from the effects of the fight-or-flight inundation of my system. Tired. The Klonopin is working."
"Would you like to lie down now?"
"I would. But...sir, do you have a queen-sized bed, and if I asked you if I could share it with you tonight, would you feel pressured to say yes? Because if you would feel pressured, I won't ask."
"I do have a queen-size. And I would not feel pressured. If I thought it was a bad idea or simply too intrusive, I would say no."
"Then I wonder if I might sleep with you this night, sir. Not all the nights of my stay, but...this one night."
"This one night, yes, you may. As for further nights, we'll see how it goes. You may need the immediate presence of another. It's very grounding, psychologically; it gives one's perspective an anchor. And after this conversation, my perspective may need one, too." She smirked at herself, looking away somewhere. "Which is my self-removed way of saying that I don't want to be alone right now, either, propriety be damned."
"It's very grounding in other ways, too. I thank you very...very much, sir." He was staring into his cup. "It's quite beyond the bonds of duty, or even what most people in our society would call friendship."
"Not to me. I know what you're asking me, and why; I don't expect either of us will have as much trouble sleeping if we're both there to help maintain the idea that *everything* can wait until after you've slept, and have a clearer brain to think with. You mustn't believe anything it tells you right now, you know. You're fatigued and in deep depression, caused by the sudden onslaught of an anxiety state that seems to have cracked some sort of barrier..."
"It did. It's called the wall of reality."
"Listen, Constable. Remember, when your brain starts saying things like that to you, things that keep you awake and miserable--that you can't trust your brain. It's lying to you right now. Wait to listen to it until it can be trusted again."
He looked up at her and smiled. "I do that frequently, sir. Do you?"
"Yes, though over...far more regular and smaller matters. I'm glad you're familiar with the technique. Bring what you'd like, then; Heathcliff, any of those spell sachets you mentioned, or your..." she gestured to the little bag that held his four primary tools, among a few other things. "Your religious things. They might be a comfort as well, despite the fact your religion is more a working metaphor for life, than an assurance of the nonexistence of death. You can leave everything else and you may just consider this your room, for the nonce, your place to withdraw if you need one. You can sleep here when you wish, or with me when you wish. I sleep heavily. You won't disturb me. And if I'm not sleeping heavily, it's probably for some reason that would cause me to welcome your presence."
"I think I'll be fine with you and Heathcliff, knowing my other things are right in here. Thank you again, sir."
"Here, I'll carry the quilt and the mugs; you can carry Heathcliff and your robe." He followed her--like a gosling, he thought--through the apartment, across the front room and toward her bedroom. She added "I do request that you use the hall bathroom, if you need to in the night. The toilet flushing in mine has always awakened me when I've had guests sleeping with me before."
"Oh, that's no problem at all, sir. I'll just...might we leave a lamp on in the front room?"
"I usually leave one on, and just shut my bedroom door against the light. It's handy to have a light already on in case of nighttime emergencies. Just leave that little one with the glass shade on."
He turned the switch of the littler lamp, a forty-watt bulb in a small, Tiffany-like lamp made of a silvery framework with multicolored glass to fill. "It's pretty," he noted simply, and turned the other lights off.
"Yes, I liked it. I saw it in a junk shop window."
"Really? I'd have thought..."
"Department stores--or, even more likely, specialty stores--only, for me? No, I do like to go junking. Or 'antiquing', as it's sometimes called. Call a spade a spade, though, I say, because there are too many times in life where that's impossible."
He smiled. She closed the door behind them and hung her robe on a hook on the door. "There's another hook here."
"Thank you." He hung his own robe there, and followed her to the bed, turning down the near side when she went around to the opposite. When they'd gotten under the covers in their flannel pj's, she handed him his mug again. They both finished their cocoa, almost in unison, set down their mugs, and she reached for the chain of the little bedside lamp on her side. "Goodnight, Constable. Wake me if you feel there's need."
"I thought you didn't..."
She rolled her eyes. "I don't want to be wakened if the *toilet* feels there's need; you're a different matter. And I don't want you to be stoic about it. If you need someone to touch...here, this might help..." she turned facing him so her left hand lay palm-up on the sheet, the arm stretched loosely before her, fingers curling a bit. "Here's a hand. If I move so that it's not available, just grab whatever you can find, or move closer to me so that you can sense my presence better, if you would find that soothing."
"I have to say this once, sir, and then I'll stop. You...I didn't expect...this. When you invited me in, I only wanted..."
"I remember what you said, Turnbull, there's no need to put yourself back in the headspace you were at when you first arrived here."
"Of course, sir. It's just that...you're being so very kind, most people wouldn't have been so kind--well, perhaps what I mean, specifically, is 'understanding'. Are you sure you've never..."
"I've...been in bad places, Constable. Emotionally speaking. I know what treatment--primarily involving respect for my ownership of my life, in all senses, and my right to make my own choices--that I would have wanted, then. I would not have wanted my last hope to spout platitudes at me. In short, I'm simply doing for you what I would want done for me."
He nodded and turned his light off, then lay down, rolled to his right side and let his left hand lie in hers, without squeezing; just resting it there, as their fingers curled around each other in the typical postural response.
"That's...nice," she said, sounding like it hadn't been the most natural thing for her to say, but sincere all the same. "Just so there's no misunderstanding, I'll tell you that while I'm concerned for you, I find I'm enjoying your presence here. Right here, I mean, in bed. You're...relaxing."
"Thank you for letting me know how you feel about it." He squeezed her hand a little, then relaxed his. "I...oh, dear..."
"It's all right, I know you appreciate--"
"I love you, sir." He sighed. "I'm sorry. That happens sometimes."
There was a pause, and her hand squeezed his, harder and longer than his squeeze had been. "I appreciate that sentiment, Turnbull. Just remember what I said about your brain."
"I *have* been fond of you for a very long time. It's not only my brain. You just don't feel the need for...much in the way of emotional demonstration; it doesn't mean you don't feel emotion. I...it's nice to have another friend. Even if we can only be friends when one or both of us are off duty. You're...the only friend quite like you that I have."
"I'm content in being your friend, Constable," she said gently. "I think we do pretty well as...well, a sort of friends, at least, even when we *are* both on duty, usually. And I love you, too, in the sense you mean. Whatever else may happen, whatever you decide, let nothing persuade you to forget that; do whatever you do in the knowledge that *nothing* you do could cost you my friendship. You can aggravate the hell out of me, but you can never lose my friendship. Rest now."
"Yes...rest..." he pulled Heathcliff close to his chest and was quiet. Heathcliff's glass eyes, unseen by either of the other two, were no longer quite so sad, and they had sparkles dancing in them.
"Did you only say that so that I would believe I don't have to die now?"
"No." She left it there. He would have to decide if he knew her well enough to believe that.
He let out a relieved breath, a soft whoosh of air. "I knew it."
"Yes. I don't want to die alone, as you may have gathered, and while I suspect you might have been up to the task of seeing me to the last, I wouldn't have put you through it. And there is no one else...I mean, I certainly couldn't do that to..."
"No, neither Fraser nor Ray would be likely to have been much help. They'd never have stopped trying to convince you not to, and I suspect you simply couldn't have made yourself do it with them in attendance, in any case. I suppose you would have used your gun?"
"Yes; while there are many methods I've pondered, it usually comes back to that. Back of the neck, between the appropriate vertebrae, execution-style. I'd leave no room for error."
"If I were going to take a step that drastic, I wouldn't do it halfway, either."
"Then--just out of curiosity--do you believe in assisted suicide, sir?"
She sighed then, and said "I'd have to take that on a case-by-case basis. I won't allow the 'mental competency' argument, because if that's allowed, those who oppose suicide absolutely because of their religious beliefs would always argue that a suicidal person was mentally incompetent to make such a choice by virtue of their being suicidal. A circular argument, but one which a conservative judge might just actually buy, at least in this country. Especially south of the...what do they call it...when they fought their civil war."
"The Mason-Dixon line?"
"Yes, that. I understand judges have an astonishing degree of latitude in such determinations down there. In any event, I suppose I do believe in it under some circumstances. In this case, all I can say is...is that I'm very glad you came here, Turnbull. I..." she made a soft noise, and he felt an odd sensation, and realized she'd shivered a couple of times. "...I would have missed you, if...anything had happened. Remember that, when I'm chastising you for one thing or another. I would have missed you."
He lifted up on his elbow, one hand still lying on hers. "Sir? Are you all right?"
"You can call me 'Meg', you know, while you're staying here--if you're comfortable with that, of course."
"You wouldn't take it as an insult if I continued..."
She made another odd noise, this one sounding almost like a giggle, but, well, somewhat mucous-laden. "...if you continued to call me 'sir'? No, I wouldn't take it as an insult. A reality check, perhaps, but not an insult."
"Reality check?" Now he was really getting puzzled.
"Never mind, Turnbull; it's quite all right. Just lie down and get some rest."
"Yes, sir." He fell back to his pillow. "Sleep well, sir."
"You too, Turnbull." He squeezed her hand just as she squeezed his, and they both held the squeeze a moment in startlement, and then Turnbull felt the bed shift, and then he was lying there, thinking how she'd leaned over and kissed his cheek and lain back down before he could let go, and he wasn't sure what to say.
What he finally heard himself saying was "Have I upset you, sir?" Noting the plaintive note in his own voice, he swore at himself internally. He should have known. She was strong, but she was human. This conversation had to have brought up some upsetting thoughts for her, or she never could have been so "understanding", as she had all but admitted a few moments ago. "Oh, dear, oh--oh sir, I'm very sor--"
"Shh." Startling the hell out of him, she kissed him again, on the temple. "I'm fine. And you will be, too. That's an order. On both counts."
"Yes, sir, Inspector sir." All felt right with the world--just for this little tiny island in the greater temporal stream. He knew she could feel him smiling, as she'd pressed her cheek briefly to his.
"Stand down and sleep, Constable."
"Yes sir. Oh, one more thing--we may be getting a...a visit here tomorrow from a...a go-between, if you will--"
She sighed. "The wolf?"
"If Fraser is involved, the wolf is probably a crucial element somewhere. He'll be welcomed with cold cuts if he's your guest, Turnbull."
"Oh, thank you, sir."
"Think nothing of it. The doormen know him; I'll call down in the morning with a message to have him admitted and escorted on the elevator if he should make an appearance. Now shut up and go to sleep already."
"Yessir," he murmured.
She made the mucousy cutoff-laugh-noise again, and then all was quiet.
'Where are you?' he thought at the surrounding darkness.
*here* *of course* *heathcliff*
'Is she all right? Have I upset her too much?'
*she is all right* *she wants to sleep* *you should too*
'Does...does she really love me? In the sense she meant, of course?'
*you know she does* *or you wouldn't be here* *you have sensed her love* *for a long time now* *it simply wasn't conscious before*
*there was no reason* *for it to be* *it had no focus* *to bring it into the light*
Which was true, he knew. He thanked Heathcliff; then he began to inhale and exhale in a certain controlled and, under the circumstances, silent fashion, and this exercise, along with the lassitude both his exhaustion and the pill had brought about--and the oddness of the whole situation--combined to make him drop off surprisingly quickly.
"I was...Ray, do we really have to talk about this?"
"Fraser. I find out you tried to kill yourself and you think I--I'm sorry. I know it can't be any fun to talk about it. But I can't love you and leave it. I can't feel like this about you and not know. I just can't. It doesn't work that way."
Fraser sighed. "You're quite right, of course." He reached up and began to pet Ray's bare chest slowly, an absent gesture, comforting himself and Ray both, as he thought. "I suppose...it was the same reason anyone does. It seems that there is no hope."
"What...made you feel that way? I mean, I know it must've been a combination of things, but what was the breaker? What...made you see it?"
"That's surprisingly...insightful, for someone who's never been in that position, Ray."
"Yeah, well. Stella..." Ray sighed heavily. "People...just don't ever know each other as well as they think they do, Frase. I know that, you know that. Some people don't know that, but we do."
"By which you mean to say that you have had some ghost, at least, of these feelings yourself."
"Yeah. A really stinking, fucking *drunk* ghost." He smiled in the faint moonlight from the window. "One of those recurrent ones. A real haunting."
"Nah. I'd never have. I've...I admit, I've gone as far as getting the gun out. I've been bad off. Cops go through shit...well, you know the kind of shit I mean, some jobs just let you know within a few years if the job is for you, or it isn't. Sometimes it only takes one thing. One instance, one situation. One case that has that one thing that you didn't know would cut your legs out from under you completely, but it does, and you realize you'd better be thinking community college or something, assuming you survive the realization. I've always made it over humps like that, and I knew, in the deep-down deep down, that I'd make it through Stella leaving. Thing was...I didn't *want* to make it through Stella leaving. I *wanted* it to break me, to keep me from having to feel at least some tiny part of it, if I could...could make it so *nothing* mattered, then that wouldn't matter, too. But I knew that for me, Stella leaving was not going to be it. I don't even know if I have an 'it'--some people don't, and some people do but never know what it is, and I guess that Spock was right--"
"Something he used to say to McCoy, or did at least once. 'A difference which *makes* no difference *is* no difference." And he's right. It doesn't matter if you have something that'll push you over whatever kind of edge and just never find out what it is, or don't have one at all."
"I suppose I hadn't thought of it like that. Anyway, you say you *have* experienced something to make you believe you could understand--at least part of it..."
"Yeah. Where you were, inside, when something did click for you, something did fall into place and finish the puzzle and *that* was the only answer--at least that moment, it was. That it's different every time, every situation, I...can get that, even though it's never completely happened for me. I get how it happens, because...I got that close. Not close enough for it to happen, but I could *see* it." He smiled. "Like, this ain't hell, but you can see it from here. Looking at it from more distance, far enough I...could still see the things around it, connected to it; so I still had choices, and chose to live with it, even though it'd mean more pain. Like I said, I actually wished I was either a lot less miserable, or just enough *more* miserable to save me from having to live with the misery for who knew how long. It was...a really shitty in-between place."
"Yes...I see what you mean."
"So if I sound like I have a clue, it's because I have one. Like I said, we don't ever know, as well as we think, even the people we know best, even the people we know well enough to love. Even..." he rubbed his face against Fraser's skin. "Even like us--even the ones we know well enough to know we can love them forever, because even as we change, we'll be able to...keep up with each other, stay around each other's places inside, since we both want to; and we're close enough to each other inside that the effort won't be more than the reward is worth--"
And he had to stop while Fraser kissed him, having rolled over and gotten an elbow on Ray's other side. He returned the kiss wholeheartedly, and when it got passionate, he wasn't surprised when it wasn't sex-passionate, but tender-passionate, friend-love passionate, which made him sigh and moan and clutch at Fraser, saying the things there weren't words for, and Fraser clutched back, cradling him, sighing into his mouth, pulling back a little, but never all the way, as they shared breath.
"I think I know how he feels sometimes," Fraser whispered, still feeling urgent, holding tight against Ray, and--even though he was hard--still not sex-urgent, but a kind of love-urgent, of *I understand you*, and *I am like you*; of the urgency of communicating those things. Ray gave it back to him, in his mouth, his hands, the movements of his body, the unafraid meeting of their eyes. The bad and the good, it seemed to say. Don't keep the bad from me. I won't call it weak. It isn't weak to feel it, express it, share it, don't hide it from me, don't hide from me...I love it too, as much as the rest...
"There's nothing closer than this," Ray murmured, partly wondering, partly amazed and grateful, partly saddened at the realization. He *wanted* closer. "Oh God. That's what it is. At least part of it. He wants closer than this. He *needs* closer than this. And he can't have it, and he knows it, because nobody can have it, it isn't there to have."
Fraser's eyes filled, suddenly and without any warning to him, either, judging by the shocked look he got on his face less about a millisecond after it happened, and a tear dropped right in Ray's own eye, making him blink rapidly, startled.
"I'm sorry." Fraser reached and came back with a tissue, but when he closed his eyes, the remaining tears in them ran and rained all over Ray's face. "Oh, hell--"
"No--" Ray stopped the hand Fraser was trying to use to blot Ray's face. "They'll dry. That felt...really wild." Suddenly he was biting his lip, and tears welled up in his own eyes. "Didn't know you could pass that along. Like yawns." He essayed a wan smile. "They're not bad, Fraser. They're not bad tears, not pain tears. Or not mostly. Your eyes are stormcloud blue." His smile broadened into a grin. "And they rained on me. It's cool. Better than real rain. Yours are warm. And a real raindrop in my eye would have hurt, but that didn't."
"You have the soul of a poet, Ray. Also, you're a freak."
Ray laughed, and then Fraser did too, and they lay there a moment, the tears getting smeared all over, little drops like drops of crystal that caught the low light, leaving quickly-vanishing trails of gleam on Ray's skin and a little on Fraser's, as they laughed in each other's arms.
"You're so beautiful," Fraser sighed, and began to kiss him again, softly, with nuzzles and nibbles. "Mmm..."
"So are you. Beautiful. Milk and honey..." he drew his finger lightly along the planes of the bones of Fraser's face as the turning and moving of his head brought them within Ray's reach. "I can say things to you and baby that I'd never even say in my own *head* without feeling like a smarmy dork of the first magnitude, and if that ain't love somebody better get out the Webster because I don't know what is."
"That's love, Ray. When you do things that would make you physically ill under any other circumstances." Fraser stopped nuzzling long enough to smile into Ray's eyes.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. Looking back, and all." He sighed. "Okay, you ready to tell me about it now?"
Fraser made a face, sort of a "fair caught" expression, nodding his head a little to the side. "I suppose. Some of it. I...don't think it would work if I tried to do it all in one sitting."
"That's okay. We got time."
"Yes. Now that we know...when I suddenly realized that we *didn't* have forever, that the things I was feeling...if they were going to come out, I was going to have to...open channels that are uncomfortable for men to open, to take risks..."
"The bad feet weekend."
"Yes. But now that we do know...even if we never get all of it out...perhaps that's what life's about, Ray, deciding what is most important, what truly has to be said, and it be certain that all parties know--and what can wait, because if anything happens, the most basic, relevant things have been made known...now that we know, it's...it's so much more all right."
"I love you. And you're right." He squeezed the big, rounded, beautiful shoulders he was holding. "That's the most important thing to make sure of, when it comes to knowing. But, back to Prince Rupert Sound...whatever you think you can handle right now."
"Was that some kind of dare?"
"Frase, I'll manipulate you without a fucking shred of shame, ordinarily, *if* I think I have a hope in hell of getting away with it, but not about this. It wasn't a dare. I mean it--however much you want to take at once. However you want to do it. I just can't know that you...you did try...that, and all that saved me from never meeting you and having you in my life was Dief--and not know more about it. That's just too important."
Fraser sighed, letting his head hang. "You're right, of course. Well...it's actually rather...anticlimactic. There wasn't any one horrible disaster, there wasn't..."
"I'm not expecting a middle-ages tragedy-type thing, Frase honey. It isn't always 'my woman she done lef' me an' ah is gon' jump into de ribba an' drown'. It's sometimes...a lot harder to see, a lot harder to have imagined, than that, because no one can be as aware of somebody else as they'd have to be to put the pieces together. I won't say 'That's a stupid thing to kill yourself over'. I won't do that. I promise, I won't. Especially not to you, *you* aren't the kind--you'd see it as...abandoning your post, failing in your duty. It'd take something pretty damn major to make you do that."
"It won't seem that way when I say it." Fraser was quiet a few moments, thinking. Then he moved, shifting off Ray, lying down to Ray's left; he pulled Ray up to face him, and they lay with Ray tucking one arm under the pillow beneath his head, the other hand stroking Fraser, squeezing his hand, running down his milky-smooth side, carding through the dense silk of his hair. He'd pause to rest the arm occasionally as Fraser talked, holding the other man's hand, then let it begin lightly love around on Fraser while Ray listened to his voice, and the things it said.
"I remember...that the posting the orders contained seemed, combined with a number of other things...an insult, a...deliberate way to inform me that I was considered a troublemaker, and was being disposed of, in a metaphorical oubliette. The worst was, I couldn't point to it and say so, because it was no secret I did prefer the northern postings, the wilderness areas. I was already in one, in fact; that was, in a manner of speaking, the point, but this one was over a thousand miles to the east. Their usual method of punishment assignments didn't work on me, so they had to come up with something truly...original."
"Wait--this was before your father, right?"
"Ray, there wouldn't have been such a major reaction against my turning in the men who'd killed my *own father*, no matter who they were, if there wasn't already some bad feeling happening. You see...I take my duty seriously...but there are always those who try to get by with the minimum standard that they can, and take it for given that if anything goes wrong, their title or position or relatives or friends or past service or other nepotistic factors will let them get away with it, and they also bank, career-wise, on *everyone* doing the same. If someone shows up to throw off the curve..."
"You were doing your job so well, in your other postings, that it was showing up the places where they hadn't been doing theirs, or the people now posted there hadn't been doing theirs, and they'd been getting away with it because their superiors didn't wanna fuck with it either and *they* could get away with it too...you were just makin' everybody look bad because how well you did do, showing what *could* be done, kept shining light in dirty corners where nobody wanted it shined--even though *you* didn't name names or anything, everybody knew who they were personally. And all it took was a look at who was assigned where, when, for more than just *they* to know who they were, if anybody just bothered to take a look and add up a few easy numbers."
"Yes, you've got it. Though it took a very long time for me to understand that there was simply no way for certain people to come out looking anything but bad for what I thought of, then, as my help and willingness to do the hard jobs, which I mistakenly thought would make me a...a useful commodity. I was told...just before I left home for the second time, at the end of Gerard's trial...that some had said that my father was the last of a breed, and that this was a mistaken assumption--that *I* was the last of that breed. I understood what that meant at once, because I had had that realization before. It was what had made me..."
"Made you suicide. Indirectly, I'm guessing, somehow or other."
"No, you're quite right. Something...happened..."
"Whenever's fine, for details." Ray cupped Fraser's jaw, stroking a thumb over his cheek. "Whenever, honey." He stroked Fraser's lips lightly with the tip of his finger and went back to the gentle, all-over petting.
"Well...I thought I was doing, in my work...what I was born to do--I *was* doing what I was born to do--but I believed in it--still believe in it--in a way that...that almost everyone else, save people like Turnbull, and--at times, when circumstances are truly crucial as she sees them--inspector Thatcher, and some others I could mention..." he sighed. "Most in the organization, these days, have a focus that has shifted with the times. The means have become the ends. Or perhaps I should say, the means have become more *important* than the ends. Now, intellectually, I'm aware that this happens in every organization that gets old enough and grows large enough. Why I thought the RCMP had to be different--simply had to be...I don't know, I have no excuse for such deliberate blindness. But now, the way one goes about doing a thing is more important than the thing. A thousand political factors must be taken into consideration for every decision made and every action taken. I...will never, ever be able to do that, but *that* ability is becoming more and more important in the RCMP, so important that the things that used to matter--the very purpose and motto, the meaning itself, of the organization--is merely a front now, a polite fiction. Everything that's truly important happens under the table, and nothing that happens above the table that's of any importance is done for the reasons that are put forth as such. It's true *everywhere*, Ray, and I never thought I could become so cynical, to see this, and believe it...my...my 'breed', people who saw things the way I did and did things for the reasons that I do them, such people used to be the backbone of the RCMP. Now...we're...the *kindest* word, Ray, is 'anachronisms', and most people in positions of power in the organization who don't have the natural creativity to see how we can be used to advantage, even in the new order of things, call us far worse than that."
"I'm glad you know that it ain't just the RCMP that that's happening in. That...that we all join up with stars in our eyes and they get burnt out before training's even finished, for some of us--and not too far into the rookie years for the rest of us, you know?"
"Yes; I am worldly enough to realize that, Ray."
"I know. I just wanted you to know..."
"That you understood. Yes." Frase sighed. "Well. To make a long story short...for the time being, at least...you see, it may be all over the world, and in all larger Western-world lawmaking, law-enforcing, and other such organizations that the ideals that used to be so important are disappearing in, but...somehow, on some level, I'd always managed to convince myself that the RCMP was different. To some degree it is, Ray--don't laugh; it's one of the differences between Canada and the States, I think, that such changes haven't progressed quite so far in my home."
"I'm not laughing. The almighty dollar--or whatever you've got--talks louder here than anywhere else in the world; capitalism isn't just practiced here, it's literally worshiped, and I'm not under any illusions about that. I'm also not making any comments on it. Go on."
"Deep down, I still had...I had illusions, Ray. About the RCMP, in that way. My father's murder may have finished the last of them off, but they were there, and strong--if you think I'm intolerably boy-scoutish now, you should have known me then, Ray. We never would have been friends."
"Then I'm glad I didn't know you then. I wouldn't have wanted to get impressions that might've kept us from being friends later, after we both grew a little more, to a place where we were close enough to connect. And you may think you're...fallen and dirty and corrupt and 'worldly'--God, what a word--from who you used to be, but you're *my* shining star, you're that to a lot of people, Frase." Ray didn't say it with a trace of irony, or even, apparently, any notice that it was a very gushy thing to say. He meant it, simply and plainly. "I want you to believe that. Just by being who you are. You don't have to live up to it, or feel pressured. You could never be anything but what you are. We all stumble. The important thing is you don't let a stumble define the rest of your life, define *you*. So. Go on--you still had illusions...but something happened? And those illusions..."
"They took the things I thought, at the time--and I may have been right--nothing has ever looked quite the same, since--and simply...ripped them apart, Ray, just ripped them..." he pressed his lips together, his eyes squinching shut.
Ray whispered "Ssh, take your time, honey," and Fraser took a few deep breaths, opened his eyes, and continued.
"As you know, I've had very few...practically no intimate relationships in my life, and the ones I've had have been disasters, mostly. Some ended on a gentle note, but those were usually with men, where friendship, and mutual relief of physical desire, were the main points. They were pleasant enough, and I even still exchange the occasional letter or phone call with some of them. Like Innusiq--such an old friend I can't imagine simply not *sleeping* with him any more to be a reason not to *care* about him any longer."
Ray nodded. "But nothing...no one really...deep, not like this, no one to..."
"No one who would have been willing to *be* my reason to live, to believe in the point of living, for even a while. I can understand no one wanting to be in a position like that permanently, and it *wouldn't* be right, permanently...but most people...don't understand that it can be a temporary thing, too, being someone's reason to live. Long enough for...for their *real* reasons, for their *self*, their sense of self, of being, to come back to them when it gets the rug yanked from under it, gets blown clear out of the water, out of the sky, just destroyed--especially if it's fragile to begin with, as mine was, then. As Turnbull's still is. But he's young, and his sense of self was never properly nurtured, never given what it needed to grow healthy. He has to do all that himself, now...but he has us."
"And the ice queen." Ray smiled a little.
"Yes, and her." Fraser smiled back, taking Ray's caressing hand a moment to squeeze and kiss it, as if to say "Good Ray", like a pat on the head, and Ray grinned.
Fraser released the hand and went on. "What happened, as I said somewhere back there, was that I received a transfer--I'll actually try to make it short now, I promise--and the reason for the transfer distilled with a horrible, hard clarity in my mind. I can still remember the feeling of...unreality that settled over me, of 'this can't happen, can't be happening, can't be real' such as even hearing the news of my father's death didn't do to me.
"I realized that their reasons were these: I couldn't be trusted *not* to do the right thing, in what was going to be happening there. There was going to be drilling, in a formerly pristine area, and there would doubtless be corners cut and regulations ignored or gotten around, and First Nation workers worked and paid illegally, and conservation and environmental regulations and statutes given only token notice and by-letter observation, totally ignoring spirit via convenient loopholes--or else just outright ignored--and they couldn't have someone of the "old breed" around when they came out and began all that, because a member of the "old breed" couldn't be bought off. My knowledge, skills, and specific knowledge of the area and the peoples and animal populations would have been truly invaluable to their operation if I'd been willing to use them for such, but I could not be trusted to 'play along', so even giving me a promotion straight to first stripe sergeant, or raises in pay, being put in the groups being considered for special training or special tracks, with special retirement benefits--they knew, up there in the echelons where the decisions for all the RCMP are made, that I could not be bought. And so I was to be transferred far enough away that I could make no conceivable trouble. And in the wording of the orders, it was made clear that if I so much as protested, there were several choices of types of discharge with airtight trails of apparently valid cause, thanks to my maverick style, backed up carefully with the help of expert evaluators, available for me. I would have the option of taking one which would leave me in good standing to find another career to my liking--outside any Crown law enforcement agencies--or I could have one forced upon me which might involve the equivalent of a court-martial. Or...I could simply accept the transfer.
"The worst thing about that part, Ray--the worst thing--was that I didn't have to have all that explained to me. I had become a part of the 'new breed' to the point that I could see all of that, read between the lines, as plain as day, as if it were written flat out on the orders in my hand. I *spoke the language*. And believe me, I knew what it said about me, that I understood. And even if I didn't, it was of no moment to them--I would have bucked the transfer and simply received one of the less palatable forms of discharge I mentioned. I think they were actually hoping for that. Considered it regrettable, perhaps, due to how useful they found me for certain types of job, but still the best thing for them and for the new order, in the long run."
He was quiet for so long after that, Ray hazarded a guess. "You couldn't decide where your duty was."
"I...yes. I couldn't see...what would uphold the standards I had dedicated my life to upholding. Doing as my superiors thought was best, being a good soldier? A good soldier doesn't think, Ray, nor worry about right or wrong. A good soldier is as mindless as a good dog--Diefenbaker being a definite exception--mindless, ever obedient, carrying out orders absolutely and literally. In the rank and file, where I am, that is the *definition* of a good soldier; creativity in interpretation or execution is actively discouraged at my level; and though we are not soldiers, but law enforcement officers, carrying out our duties amongst our own people, that principle is the same. It's the same even amidst organizations where the handling of guns, and various kinds of quasi-militaristic functions, are no part of the organization's purpose.
"I couldn't see any way to...carry out my assigned duty in this instance. I couldn't find any way to reconcile the things that would have to be reconciled before I could take *any* action. It wasn't only that I knew that the reason I was being removed from the scene of what would be the crime--and keep in mind, Ray, this was not anything unusual; it was just a drilling operation like hundreds in the north; and yet I was seen as being enough of a threat to the new RCMP way--the new way of the *world*--that I had to be taken out of the road before anything could begin. I suppose one could see it as a kind of flattery. They knew my capabilities. They knew I could have done a lot more than simply make a bit of trouble."
"They were right. Look at the way you took down that dam operation with no help but a hand from a friend who should've been in the hospital."
"And a hunter whose name I still don't know, but whom I...you could say I pray for, I suppose. Yes."
"I do, too. Whoever he was, he saved your life. But keep going. How'd you end up...you know."
"As I said, they knew what I could do. Some of the postings I'd had--I'd thought they were simply trying to get me out of the way, but they were tests. Someone had noticed me, and brought me to the notice of others. My father's son...in any case, I was now regarded as a threat. Not an asset, Ray. I wasn't a hero for managing the things that I'd done to that point. I was a *threat*. Not at the lower levels, no, which is another reason, I suspect, I'm still a constable. But there are people at the *highest* levels who know that I'm a threat to their standard operating procedures. To their status quo. And what makes me a threat is what might have made me a candidate for...for--"
"Chief Mountie Supreme, back in the day, back when your breed was *the* breed and your shit was *the* shit. But that time is done and gone, and it ain't coming back. I get you."
"And I didn't...if I couldn't...I...I don't drink much, Ray..."
"But you did," Ray said softly.
"Yes. I'm not used to it, to...the way it can...make things look."
"How it can blow things out of proportion over here and make something else over here look so small you can't even see it. Yeah. I've drunk plenty; I know it does that. Among other things. I drank it for the other things, though, like all of us do who drink it."
"Mm. But I didn't. I didn't understand that it could do those things, instead of simply numbing me, instead of simply...making it all go away for a while...that was what my acquaintances in my various postings and training stints had done, and closer friends--when they drank out of upset, it was to make it all go away for a while--at least, it seemed to be, and when I asked, once or twice, that was the essence of the answers I got. I didn't know...that to someone who wasn't used to it..."
Ray shook his head. "Don't feel bad, Frase, sometimes even those of us who are lucky, or unlucky, whichever you think, enough to be used to it can still get that shit sprung on them and end up in a sobbing, maudlin heap, or even really, really ready to do something truly stupid. Usually it's only being too bombed to move or talk that saves us, and if we manage to move or talk anyway and do something truly stupid, Christ, do we regret it. And unfortunately, you had something stupid right outside your door."
Fraser dropped his eyes, and nodded. "I don't know...I still don't know if I...the important thing is, I understand being in a position like Turnbull's. Where it seems...there are no answers, there is no way, every road is blocked and there is no way out, no reason for your existence, everything you've based your life on has crumbled to nothing and you don't have the faintest idea how to be or do anything else, and there's no need for you, all you know is of no use, and you haven't learned anything else, you know you *can't* learn anything else because of who you are, what you are, it isn't your choice, you'd change in a minute, if it were up to you...and so the only alternatives there are, are...unthinkable. Literally *unthinkable*, *past* unbearable."
"An' literally you feel like you need to be dead, before it gets worse."
"I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't had those four beers--"
"Four beers?!" Ray's eyes widened like pale blue marbles. "Only four beers?"
"Please remember that both my body and my mind were unused to the effects of alcohol, Ray--"
"Four beers--okay, even if they are Canadian beers, and probably somebody's homebrew, where you were--that'd get you good and drunk, yeah. But it would *not* be enough to tip you over the edge of suicide unless you were already so close you might have found the way there on your own." Ray suddenly sucked a breath. "Oh, man. I was all ready to blame the booze. But it wasn't. The booze didn't *help*, and maybe you wouldn't have tried *that night* without it, but you were bad off enough that *eventually*...shit. Oh, Frase." He pulled Fraser down to him, tight. "I *love* you."
"I hear you. I know." Fraser squeezed him tight.
"You're alive, you're here, you're alive, you're here...I'm okay...you're here..."
"I'm here," Fraser purred into his ear. "And I think I've explained all that needs it right now; you know what happened, and why, and that Dief pulled me out and back inside; I'd left the door open. He shut it. I was warm enough to keep breathing until I came around. So...can I demonstrate my truly, honestly being here in a more succinct fashion?" He slid down Ray's body and Ray nearly left the bed straight up as Fraser slurped Ray's entire soft cock into his mouth.
"Oh my God--" Somewhere in the back of his mind, Ray knew Fraser was doing this not just to help him deal with the horror of what Fraser had just told him, but partly as a distraction from worrying about Turnbull, and where he might be, and what might be going on with him; but if *Fraser* was worried that Turnbull was in danger, he wouldn't have been trying to distract Ray. He would have been finding Turnbull. Which meant that Fraser wasn't afraid for Turnbull's bodily integrity or any such thing right now; he knew the ice queen and he trusted her this much. Fraser, for all his problems with blind faith, still knew who to trust with what, how far, and partially it was because he was the kind of person whose faith made things happen.
Turnbull was okay for now.
And God, Ray needed this.
Fraser was here. He was alive. He was Ray's lover, his partner, his friend, he was here. He was his honey ice-cream sundae.
"Yeah," he whispered, as he felt himself growing huge fast in Fraser's mouth, felt Fraser's deep murmurs, low in the throat, of pleasure at the fact--though he did have to pull back twice--felt Fraser's hands all over him, stroking and petting, fingers slipping between his legs to roll his balls gently in their sac of flesh. Ray moved the leg opposite Fraser away from his body and bent the knee, letting him touch. "Yeah...yeah..." he begged softly, steadily, as Fraser reached down to firmly rub and stroke Ray's hole, not trying to penetrate, Ray needed a little bit of lube for that. Ray's hands roved in Fraser's hair and around his shoulders, his face, squeezing the hand Fraser gave him to hold. "Ohhh...fuck me...?"
"Mm-hmmmm," Fraser agreed--foregone conclusion, really, as much as Ray liked that particular activity and as badly as he needed both distraction and comfort; of course he'd want his personal favorite thing, and it wasn't as though it was exactly a chore for Fraser. Fraser was just letting him know he'd get there before it was too late, when he'd had a bit more of doing his own personal favorite thing.
Which wasn't what you could call a chore for Ray, either.
Fraser finally managed to kiss Ray's cock goodbye for the moment, though it obviously wasn't easy for him--he loved to suck Ray and Turnbull to orgasm more than anything else, and was making an enjoyable game of learning to come without touching himself since the first time had surprised him with the very possibility--and as he elbow-crawled to the bedtable to get a condom and the lube bottle, and see if there was a convenient towel or other usable cloth handy, he asked "How would you like it? On your belly?" Ray liked it any old way, but when he needed reassurance, he often liked it on his belly, for the hug factor.
"Mm...on my back. Pound me through the mattress. Nmmmg..." He wriggled, aroused by his own words. "Oh, fuck yeah, hurry..."
"I think I can do that for you," Fraser whispered to him, moving into place over him and slipping two fingers inside. "You feel ready?"
"Yeah, I cleaned up earlier. Though I didn't...I wasn't sure..."
"It's all right, Ray. Nothing wrong with proper preparation."
"Five P's...ohhhh..." Ray's eyes rolled back in his head and he moaned again as Fraser, having got the condom on and pushed in a little, paused, letting Ray relax and adjust, and helped get his legs situated in his preferred less strenuous spots.
"Go, more...yeah...mmf--okay, yeah...oh. Yeah. Right. There. Go. Now." Ray lifted both hands over his head and gripped the headboard. "Do it. Do it hard."
Fraser got his balance situated, and said "Just tell me," then proceeded to pull out and then shove back in with a lube-assisted slap heard 'round the world, or at least Ray thought it must've been. "God, *yeah*! *Do* it!"
Fraser did, he just cut right loose, and Ray lifted his legs and hooked his wrists over his own ankles, grabbing the headboard again, making it possible for Fraser to lie full-length along him, rubbing his cock and balls with each fast and furious stroke. Neither of them was worried about the possibility of Ray cramping badly because this was *not* going to take long.
And it didn't. Fraser did manage to lean down and get a couple of deep, wet, tonguey kisses, but Ray was bent double to the point that Fraser was on his elbows, and he knew that Ray had a tendency to get so caught up he didn't realize that even if he felt no strain and was otherwise better than fabulous just *now*, he was going to end up walking damn funny if he didn't unclench a little. So, even though Ray, if given his choice, would have made Fraser use that fantastic self-control that would have made him a prime candidate for training in tantric sex if he could have stood the instruction without literally dying of embarrassment until Ray was fucked out for the rest of the *year*, Fraser instead used his knowledge of Ray's specific internal anatomy to stroke the areas inside that would send him through the ceiling the fastest, and he sped up like a jackhammer until Ray was damn near actually screaming--more hoarse yelling, in time with his panting, a yell with each thrust--and then Fraser reached between them and took Ray's thick, rigid cock in his hand and squeezed and gave one pump, and that was it, Ray was coming; Fraser kept squeezing and pumping and Ray came his *head* off, squirting like jiz was going out of style and he had a major surplus to move, and Fraser didn't slow down, thrusting *or* pumping, until finally Ray actually had to ask him to let go of his cock now via flapping his hand in that area before grabbing the headboard again, and then Fraser let go of his dick and bore down and *pounded* and Ray found himself groaning with aftershocks of orgasm he didn't know he still had left in him, and Fraser was whimpering and moaning and *coming*, *God God God God, oh Ray oh God oh fuck*, and then he collapsed, panting hard and still whimpering faintly.
Ray carefully unfolded himself and got his legs down, first one, then the other, on either side of Fraser without the other man having to move; he wrapped Fraser in his arms and legs and held him tight, and Fraser groaned in response, clutching at careful palmfuls of Ray's chest and shoulders, until Ray said "Better do it," and Fraser made a sad, resigned mewl but reached between them, lifting his ass enough, and met Ray's eyes for the okay, and pulled carefully out.
He got rid of the condom in the lined trash can and came back with the cloth item he'd found, one of the towels that they'd both forgotten they now kept next to the lined trash can on a wicker bathroom-type towel stand. What the hell, it wasn't as though anybody came in here but the three of them. Fraser perfunctorily dried himself, then slipped the towel under Ray's ass and helped him sit--Ray said that for him, at least, cleanup halfway did itself that way. There was only lube to worry about when you used condoms, anyway, and Ray didn't need much. They only used as much as they usually did because Turnbull and Fraser refused to use less. Ray could see their point. Both mounties were pretty darn sizeable, though Ray wasn't exactly a slouch in that department, either.
They sat in the middle of a puddle of moonlight, holding each other and panting, until their heart rates had slowed toward normal. Then Ray lifted his head and gazed at the ceiling. "Frase. Think about baby with me."
"Um...all right. What shall I think?"
"Think about what we just did, and think about him."
"I...think I see what you're doing." Fraser smiled and closed his eyes. "All right."
"Turnbull? Wherever you are, we're here, and that one was for you, baby. That one's for you, 'cause we love you and we miss you and we want you to come home as soon as you can, okay? Feel it with us; I love you. *Love* you, baby."
"I love you, Turnbull," Fraser murmured, squeezing Ray close. "Come home, as soon as you feel you can. We'll wait for you. As long as we have to."
Startling them both, out in the hall, Dief gave a brief, faint sound like a quiet version of a howl.
"Mangey mutt," Ray mumbled.
"Now, Ray. He misses Turnbull too. He just wanted to add his message."
"Semmy's probably gumming that piece of rose quartz Turnbull put in his tank."
Fraser smiled. "He probably is."
Suddenly, Ray froze in Fraser's arms. "Did you see that?"
"See what?" Fraser immediately went to all-senses-alert mode.
"No, it's okay, come down off red alert. I just...thought I saw...sparkles. Little lights."
"Yeah. Little fairy lights?" Ray chuckled. "I think I'm getting too old to come that hard. It's starting to mess with my brain."
"Where were they?"
"Swirling around kinda, under the bed, and then under the door and gone."
"Unless one of Turnbull's incorporeal friends carried them, they weren't fairy lights, I don't think. I think they were...our message. To Turnbull." They were rocking back and forth now, holding each other, slowly, moving a little in the moonlight. "After all, you did a good job of getting rid of that word."
"We did. We all did."
"We did. But you hung it there in the first place. All of which reminds me, I think I'm going to have to introduce you to my father."
"Is *that* who you're talking to when you talk to yourself and it isn't Dief?"
Fraser paused. "Um...yes. Is it that obvious?"
"Pretty obvious. But I'm with you all the damn time. Turnbull probably knows about it. Hell, Turnbull probably knows who it *is*."
"Now that you mention it, he might. My father likes Turnbull, though I'm not clear on whether he--my father--knows that Turnbull is my lover. And would be my husband, if there were legally formalized family joinings of the kind the three of us have."
Ray was quiet a moment, then said in a very tiny voice "Me, too?"
"Oh, Ray, yes, you too, my--my love," Fraser whispered the last two words, head down, as though expecting some horrible reaction, from what quarter Ray couldn't imagine; then Fraser took a breath and lifted his head again. "I love you, Ray. You're my friend and my partner and my confidante. I work better with you, I feel better, I *am* better. You've made me happier than I can ever remember being, you and Turnbull. I mean...happy. I never expected to be happy, I didn't even know what happy was, I even thought of expecting happiness as...childish. But--" he let out a huge, pained sigh. "I think I see why such happiness is so rare. It's fraught with horrible, horrible dangers...people you love this way--this way that's so...different, I can't explain how, I'm very...very poor with such things--those people that make you so ecstatically happy can be...hurt, and sick...and then, what could ever compare, if you lost them? What could ever be reason to live, after that?"
"Yeah. Just like one of the people that even thinking about 'em sends you into total rapturous, uh, rapture, turning out to be so miserable you're worried he might not even live through it. Though I know better now. I don't think the ice queen will let anything happen to him."
"I know she won't, Ray. I think she really loves him, though more the way one might love a child than the way we love him--despite the fact she obviously appreciates his physical assets."
"Good syllable on the end there, Frase." Ray grinned.
Fraser smiled back, finishing "They...take care of each other, in a way."
"He takes care of her like secretaries do their bosses--the ones that have really good relationships, I mean--and she keeps all the bad stuff away from his door and out from under his bed."
Fraser chuckled. "That's disrespectful, Ray."
"Hm. *I* was just thinkin' it was sweet."
"You *were* very resentful of his taking his pain and need for assistance to her, rather than to us, only a short while ago."
"Well...it was kinda *about* us, and...I think I understand better now. I think getting laid by the most beautiful man in the world really helps my perspective. On everything."
Fraser chuckled again. "There have actually been studies done in such areas."
"And, usually, you were found to be right."
Ray eyed him, half-smiling. "You didn't even hear the part of that sentence where I said you were the most beautiful man in the world, did you?"
"What?" Fraser pulled up short, his eyes widening.
Ray shook his head slowly. "You didn't. I'd yank you for that, ordinarily, but right now I'm not feeling like it's so funny. I'm feeling like bashing some heads in for making you so unable to handle that stuff you just edited it right out."
"Ray...we're feeling better. And we just sent Turnbull an unmistakable message of love. Let's not mess it up thinking angry things--for a little while, all right?"
Ray looked down, then smiled and peeked back up, kind of playfully. "Okay. Wanna play 'pet to sleep'?"
"Oh, you'd win, I think."
"I never win. Your hands are magic." Ray picked up Fraser's hands and kissed one, then the other, his lips plump and moist and soft, on the delicate skin between Fraser's knuckles, what with all the kissing action Ray's mouth had just been seeing. "Incredible. Square as a box--bricklayer's hands, covered in angel skin, I love these things. Let's curl up and pet."
"That sounds lovely. But if at any time you feel like falling to sleep, feel free. I'll just soothe myself by petting you until I sleep, too."
The game they referred to had started with the fact that all three of them had the irresistible compulsion to run their hands gently and thoroughly all over as much of the other two as they could comfortably reach whenever they cuddled and relaxed. Sometimes two of them would concentrate their attentions on the one who seemed to be most tense and in need of the attention, and they'd simply, literally, stroke and caress that person to sleep. Sometimes they just did it randomly until they dropped off, one by one; sometimes they played it as a no-losers game, in which whoever managed to stay awake longest and be the last one petting won, but the other two could hardly be said to have lost anything worth talking about.
"Your skin," Ray sighed. "I'd let out my inner poet, but even he's stumped by your skin. I've never felt anything so beautiful. It feels like ice cream would feel if it were skin. And you taste...so good..."
"Feel free to indulge," Fraser invited, pulling Ray closer to him. "And think of Turnbull...maybe he'll be able to feel it, too. Do you call him 'baby' for any reason besides his age?"
"Um...no. I just...that's what I feel like calling him. I don't mean it condescending or anything. I just want to...protect him. Which I know is nuts way to be feeling about a guy as big and strong as he is, and skilled to boot. Have you seen him with a distance rifle?"
"I haven't seen him with one, but I know his scores. He's quite an accomplished marksman. The only reason, I believe, that he doesn't have the same patch on his sleeve that I do is that he has a bit of an anxiety problem with tests, if he knows they're for anything he considers important."
"Got the material backward and forward, then has a panic attack on test day and biffs the class?"
"Uh, something like that, if it means what it sounds like."
"God. Somebody has a hell of a lot to answer for where he's concerned."
"Yes. And I'd gladly hold the perpetrators while you beat them to death with the butt end of your gun, Ray, except that it would only break Turnbull's heart, and be no help to him now, in any case."
Ray was silent a moment, then muttered, sounding defeated "You're right. If there's any confronting that he thinks needs doing, he needs to do it. Though I'd be glad to stand behind him and glower to make sure he was allowed to get his say in."
"Yeah, we'd both be glad for that chance, I think."
"He's a big, beautiful, powerful, handsome guy. He's healthy, as far as anyone knows. He's intelligent. He as to be, to do what he does, to have gotten through the academy, the Depot. Besides, I know him and he's intelligent. He's so loving. He's so...sweet...and somebody took that and screwed with it and hurt it and fucked it up to the point he can't find his ass in a hall of mirrors at high noon some days, even though he still manages to get his job done. He'd be out on his ass otherwise. And he...he doesn't like himself to the point he can't stand hearing anyone tell him they love him. And to the point he thinks the world wouldn't miss him, would be better off without him, that he ought to *die*. It's so fucking wrong, Frase, it's so fucking, fucking wrong."
Fraser held him close. "It is. I agree. And I want vengeance, in my weaker moments, too. But everyone wants vengeance in their weaker moments. You've been ill-treated and hurt, and so have I. None of us like the parties responsible, for those who hurt us or hurt each other. That's why--one reason--we're here for each other now. To help each other understand that we were raised believing a lot of malicious nonsense that we have to learn to believe *was* nonsense, no matter what our gut feelings are trying to tell us. And it will take time, and work, and he's younger than we are, still young enough that it makes a difference."
"I wanna be here for him. But he goes away..."
"To someone who has what he needs for right now. We can't help him. We should love Meg for giving him what we can't, not be angry that she can help him. Do you think he loves you any less?"
"Then Meg's helping him is no different than my helping him, when it comes to his relationship with you. She is competent. Frighteningly so sometimes. She'll take care of him, and she won't let him lose perspective."
"I know. I know. I just miss him, that's all."
"Yes...as I said before, he's barely been gone, and I miss him. I love him too, Ray."
"I know, I know you do, I didn't mean..." he kissed Fraser, and they began to kiss, softly, then more deeply.
"We had one for Turnbull," Fraser said. "Shall we have one for us, now?"
"I still want it to send good vibes to him."
"So send them. I'll help. What would you like?"
"I had my favorite. Maybe...suck me? And see if, maybe, you can...you know. And if not, you can always fuck me again." Ray grinned.
"Ray, I know how much you like it, but you should be careful. There are repercussions that come with too-frequent receiving."
"What, like singing show tunes in the shower?" He warded off Fraser's mock glare, grinning, then said, more soberly, "I know all about it, Fraser. There are other ways for my prostate to get its kicks than via dicks. If there are any signs of anything, you'll be the first to know. After me, or Turnbull, if he happens to be around when I first notice. And every kiss and touch you give me, we'll hereby dedicate it to him. I know it's pretty stupid for grown men to be...well..."
"There's nothing stupid about love. Even if it makes you act silly. Love has a very, very long history of making people behave like that. You're not the first."
"Yeah, you're right. And here I'm supposed to be this great romantic. Anyway, the thing I said, I like to think of it that way. It makes him seem more here, kind of, in a little way. Just a little way, but still..."
"I know what you mean, and I'd love to. Get comfortable..." he slid down Ray's body, kissing and stroking, licking and nibbling, and Ray fell fluidly onto his back, wrapping his legs around Fraser and resting them easily over his back, giving him access to everything he wanted to touch.
"Mm..." Ray squirmed in the sheets. "You make me feel...hot...like *I* am, I mean, like I can tell how *you* think I am..."
"I do think you are--you are, so very...sexy..." he took Ray's half-hard cock in his mouth and further speech was dumped by the wayside. On Fraser's part, at least. Ray had a tendency to talkiness if his mouth wasn't occupied, or at least of noisiness, if he couldn't manage words.
Before long, Fraser was holding him, arms cradled around Ray's pelvis, making sounds he was probably totally unaware of as he devoured Ray, he'd come once, but so had Fraser. If Fraser was going to get what he was trying for--namely, coming just from the enormous satisfaction he got from orally stimulating him in whatever way(s), Ray had better try and get a little zen about this, while still providing sufficient cues to let Fraser know when he was doing the right things.
And he did try-- ("Oh, yeah, there--more, faster--kind of around...yeah, like that"). But finally he dissolved in babbles, about how he felt so loved and cherished and *wonderful*, about how he needed Fraser, loved him, needed this right now, needed it so bad, or he'd lose his mind, he just knew it, but Fraser was so good, so sweet, *ah ah ah* just like that, please, more, God, Fraser was so hot, he looked so hot like that, sucking Ray and loving it, loving the feel of Ray sliding in and out of his mouth, loving the taste like Ray knew he did, it was so fucking hot, Fraser was so beautiful that way, his lips shining around Ray's dick, moaning and grunting softly, low in his throat, and the vibrations, God, the *vibrations*, where had he learned, how did he know, he didn't even know, he just loved it that much, and that was the hottest fucking thing Ray had ever, ever, ever seen--touch him, use his hands, touch him anywhere, he loved it, loved this, wanted Fraser to love it, to want it as much as Ray did (yes, like that, touch him, touch his ass, sink his fingers in, just not the hot spot, don't, Ray didn't want to come yet), he wanted to see Fraser like this, wanted to see it, feel it, he loved it, he loved Fraser, he wanted to see Fraser come so bad, he loved to see Fraser like that, contorted, his face shining with sweat, his muscles trembling, body jerking, and the sounds he made, the sounds he made as he met Ray's eyes and knew that Ray was feeling it with him, that there was nothing in the world sexier or more beautiful than Fraser when Ray came with his dick wrapped in Fraser's mouth and Fraser loving it so much he just shot right--
Fraser pulled off with a groan and his face was buried in Ray's groin as he shuddered and shouted, short, sharp yells, muffled by Ray's pubes, Fraser's mouth pressed to his balls, into the join of thigh and body, as he curled in on himself, Ray somehow managing to quickly rewrap his legs to hold Fraser through it, give Fraser something to cling to, to come *against* even if his dick wasn't touching anything--and he kept on, and kept on, and suddenly his whole body bowed backward as he gave a strangled shout and Ray realized that Fraser was coming *again*, and he sat up like a shot and engulfed Fraser's soaking, sticky penis in his hand and Fraser practically screamed, coming again, and Ray was shouting too, his hand on his own cock, the rhythm he gave Fraser that of his own climax.
The next thing he could understand completely clearly was that Fraser was unconscious.
"Frase!" When Fraser's eyebrows fluttered and his head stirred, Ray moaned in relief and sank down with him, hell with the mess, and they were kissing, kissing completely. Ray wasn't sure what he meant by that, but he knew he hadn't understood complete kissing until right now.
"You're perfect," he told Fraser, and Fraser managed to smile at him, and put his face in Ray's neck, and whispered things about how perfect Ray was, and why.
And they both thought of Turnbull, and thought of sending everything they felt to him, too. There was nothing else in their minds. They were both clearly and completely focused. On each other, and on Turnbull, wherever he was, whatever he was doing, they were here; and always here for him.
Turnbull woke smiling, moaning, twisting a little.
'Where are you'
'Did they send me that'
*you know they did*
'I love them'
*Send them that*
And Turnbull closed his eyes again, sighing; and, grounding, centering, and focusing on his intent, he entered what he thought of as his inside-seeing mind and sent how much he loved them back along the channel they were providing to him. He knew they could feel him, too, just as they knew he could feel them.
'I wish they could know me and still love me like this'
*you won't know until you let them in if that's possible*
"I know," he hissed, and felt himself fall out of inside-seeing, and sighed.
"Mph?" The inspector was stirring to his right. His hand was still clasped in hers, and at some point, he had slid his other one under their clasp and was holding her hand in both of his large ones. She was smiling in her sleep, in the light from the windows. "Mmm..."
Good dream, sounded like. *Very* good, one of *those* dreams. He smirked...and realized that it was probably Ray and Fraser's morning sex, which they had decided to try and see if they could let him in on, passing through him, that was giving her the dream. It seemed rude to stop now, so he lay down and closed his eyes, still holding her hand.
She came in her sleep, and he could feel it, though there wasn't much to see from the outside, except her hips did move, a steady forth-and-back rocking for a while, straining for completion, that finally came, the lighter contractions of a woman's nocturnal orgasm waking her, making her murmur in confusion, not quite awake.
He almost closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep, but realized what she might end up thinking of herself if he did that--that she had been given an erotic dream that resulted in orgasm because of his presence alone, and it wasn't fair to let her think that; she probably wouldn't like herself much for it, considering the reason she had him in bed with her in the first place--to protect him from his own fears and miseries, his own resignation. Being a person of conscience, she was likely to think ill of herself for that, just as Turnbull probably would, whether it was "right" or not.
'Should I tell her'
*as much as you need to* *she'll tell you when to stop explaining*
As her eyes opened, he tightened his hands on the one of hers he held. "Good morning, sir."
"Uh...um..." she blinked, and he remembered she was a coffee drinker; perhaps not like Ray, but while she drank tea at work, she drank flavored coffees at home in the morning, particularly mochas.
"Shall I get you a mocha?" he volunteered, squeezing her hand.
"I'll do that, shall I?" he concluded, letting go of her hand with a gentle pat to the top, and slithering out of the bed. His pjs had probably hid the worst of the mess, but the smell would be impossible to hide completely from a nose as acute as hers; like most people, she was probably inured to her own smells, so his wouldn't be masked by what she'd just done--and which he could smell himself.
It smelled good. Rather like...fruit. None of the acridness associated with some people's...um...anyway.
Leaving Heathcliff on the pillow, he got his duffel from his room for clothes and shut the door behind him in the hall bathroom; he cleaned up perfunctorily, making sure to rinse everything--he just stuffed his pjs into the sink in their entirety to avoid playing up any particular locations that might need extra attention--and washed what needed it, then slipped on some sweatpants and a T-shirt and headed for the kitchen.
She hadn't emerged, but he could hear activity taking place in the master bathroom. She was probably doing exactly what he'd done. He wondered if she usually had nocturnal orgasms--a good number of women did--or if this was her first, in which case she was likely in something of a mental muddle at the moment. He'd just have to wait and see how she reacted when she emerged.
It wasn't difficult to locate all the equipment and ingredients necessary for a mocha cafe latte. He also discovered a can of chocolate Quick at the back of the beverage cupboard and suspected he knew what had happened when she arrived at the consulate slightly later than usual and strangely wild-eyed. He went about industriously preparing one and by the time she emerged, looking confused, fully dressed, from the bedroom, he was setting out plates and utensils for breakfast; he knew her preferred breakfast foods, of course, and how to make them--he'd often done so at the consulate when she'd been forced to come in early, and he couldn't have her skipping a proper breakfast. It affected the neurotransmitters, and she needed to be able to do her best work on many of those days. Today, though, something quick was called for. She would probably be wanting to leave as soon as possible.
She looked at the table, then looked up at him. "Ah...thank you, Turnbull, I appreciate your putting together something fast and nutritious." She couldn't keep her hand from the latte and actually picked it up, though he wasn't sure she was aware she had. "But I'm afraid...I, ah, I have something to confess...I wouldn't bother you with it, as I don't want to give you cause to..." she cleared her throat, one hand tapping the chair back in front of her, the other fiddling with the string of iron-grey hematite beads that ran beneath her shirt collar and down across her chest, fastened with a silver clasp; "...to worry that you have to...be on your guard, but it seems only fair, since you would be sleeping with me, possibly, while you're here, and you might want to have the information to consider, as it's of a rather--"
"I had a...well." He looked away, feeling himself turn red. "One of what you're talking about. I had one too."
He managed to look at her to see how she was taking the news, and was greeted with a dropjawed stare. "How'd you know what I was going to say?!" she demanded, not in anger, but confusion. It apparently never occurred to her to doubt him, or to prevaricate, in this instance, even for diplomatic reasons.
"That was...it was my...my Ray and Fraser. They...shared it with me. And...you were close by, and we had an emotional bond being strongly felt, and it...must have sort of...sloshed over. A bit. I'm terribly sorry, sir. I hope...I hope it won't make you think less of me. I...certainly wouldn't have...done anything that you...didn't...I just couldn't have."
"What? Good Lord, Turnbull, of course you wouldn't. That would be like mother Theresa snatching food away from a starving child. Don't be ridiculous." She sat down in her chair with a plunk. "You...they...were...and you could tell?"
"They wanted me to tell, sir. They...the, um, s-word is a very powerful thing to humans, which is why it figures so largely in some magical systems. Not all, of course, nor with all individuals by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a theme that shows up all over the globe. World. Um." He sat down too, picking up his spoon, and poured milk on his cereal. He pushed the milk at her and she took it automatically, pouring it over her own cereal and fruit, and suddenly sniffed and noticed the large mug sitting steaming with her fingers on the handle.
"Oh, thank you God. Or you, more--" she gulped, burned herself, took a slug of cereal mixture off her spoon, waited for the burn to go away, and continued, before sipping more carefully at the mug, "--more immediately, of course, for the latte. Oh, quite tasty. As always, Turnbull, thank you."
"No problem at all, sir. Anything else I can get you?"
"No, I was a slugabed this morning...um...for obvious reasons, I guess, who the hell am I kidding. So...your...family partners, they...sent you a...message of love, shall we say, and your experiencing of it was simply...picked up by my antennae, as it were."
"I believe it was something like that, sir. I hope it wasn't unpleasant for you. I would *never*--"
"Turnbull, I know you, I know you would never. That's not the point. The point is...uh...I don't know what the point is. Except perhaps that it...may be the oddest route to that sort of good time that I've ever experienced."
"Then it *was* good?" he asked anxiously, heard himself, and blushed even harder. "Oh, dear. I'm sorry. I certainly didn't mean to--"
"I'm not upset, not the way you mean, Turnbull, please calm down, for God's sake. I've had nocturnal orgasms before. They usually wake me up, so this is no different."
"Yes, me too," Turnbull said almost inaudibly, and scooped in some cereal mixture.
"I don't know too many other women who have them--let me rephrase; I don't know too many other women whom I would know such a thing about who have them. For all I know, every woman I've ever met has had them except the ones who've actually told me that they haven't. In any case, I do, and, um, the only really disturbing thing was, well..."
"I know what you mean. My pajamas are in the bathroom sink. I was embarrassed too, sir."
"And still are, judging by the color of your face. Well, I'm a bit...discomfited as well, but I'm sure we'll get over it." She smiled. "Rather a nice way to wake up, actually, all things considered."
"Yes," he smiled down at his cereal. "It was."
They ate concentratedly until their food was consumed and Thatcher was finishing her latte a careful sip at a time as Turnbull cleared and cleaned. "Turnbull, you aren't to consider yourself my maid while you're staying here. I'm having you here...as a friend, staying over for a bit. Not as a junior officer here to act as a domestic."
"I don't mind, sir."
"I know you don't. You'd pay people to *let* you clean their houses. I just needed to say it, so that it would be understood that any cleaning and cooking and such that you do while you're here, you're doing to make yourself happy and by your own will. I won't be asking for any, or expecting any as of right."
"So noted, sir."
"By the way, odd awakening aside, I slept very well last night." He voice softened. "You *are* a comforting presence. And I'm glad if I could do the same for you."
He paused in what he was doing, then quickly put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher and closed it, though he didn't turn it on--he could do that after she left--and washed his hands carefully before rolling his sleeves back down and going to where she was just standing up to bring her latte mug to the sink.
He very carefully and lightly put his arms around her, and said "Your presence was much more than comforting. It...it saved my life. I am honored you let me sleep in your personal sleeping space, sir. It means more to me than I know how to express." Which was probably obvious. Personal sleeping space?
She was still a moment, then responded by putting her arms around him and resting against him, carefully so that her work clothes, hair, and makeup wouldn't be mussed, but he understood that. "I think you just expressed it very well, Turnbull," she said gently. "And you're welcome to share it again tonight, or as many nights of your stay as you feel the need. I would kiss your cheek, but then I'd have to redo my face, so simply consider it done, if you would."
He smiled. "I do, sir. Thank you. I'd do the same, but will refrain for similar reasons."
"Understood. I'll be at the consulate all day today, except for a lunch meeting with the consuls of several of the other countries maintaining consulates and embassies in Chicago. I'll be back at the consulate by two, and home by six. Nothing of exceptional import is taking place today, to my knowledge. You can reach me any time--any time at all--by pager. You can especially reach me during the lunch meeting. If you were to feel the need for a sympathetic ear during the lunch meeting, you would definitely get one. And the gratitude of a fellow officer in need."
He grinned. "I'll keep in mind that the hours of eleven-thirty to one-thirty would be an especially good time to feel a dearth of friendly support."
"Excellent." She let go of him, taking a step back, and said "Also, if the therapeutic value is simply inarguable, you may clean whatever you think would provide you the greatest relief. But I hope the tile isn't grouted or some such when I get home."
"I'll try to exercise restraint, sir."
"Good. Until this evening, then. Thank you for breakfast. And...for the pleasant awakening." She gave him what he would have sworn was an impish smile before turning to head for the front door. Once there, she paused and turned. "Remember, Constable. Any time. You know my pager number."
"Yes sir, I do. I'll keep it in mind."
"Good. As I mentioned before, I have no particular respect for *overweening* stoicism." She nodded briskly to him and turned, the automatic lock clicking shut behind her.
"I love you," he said softly.
In the hallway, her footsteps stopped. He couldn't quite make out her mutter, but he knew from the cadence of the words what it had to be, and smiled a little, his eyes tearing up. Then the footsteps continued along the carpeted hall toward the elevator.
*She cares for you*
"I know. I'm--I'm so glad...glad I took the chance that she...that she might help...I honestly wasn't certain, she isn't very forthcoming, and she's so good at shields and walls and I really didn't know, but she..." he sobbed softly, then went into "his" room and sat down on the bed where Heathcliff was, and a box of tissues was next to the bed, and he cried for a little while, softly, not a cracking in the floodgates, but a quiet expression of relief.
"I really didn't want to have to die. But it looked like the only way..."
*most who kill themselves do not want to die* *simply to escape the unendurable* *and in too many cases* *that is the only way* *that is why you tried here*
"That, and the fact that I literally had nothing to lose by trying."
"I've never asked you this, but I think I'm going to now. Why won't you let me make you my reason for living? Why would it be better for me to die than to live only for you?"
*because it would not be enough* *you would find this out* *and then there might be no convincing you* *that there were other things that you could have* *that were worth living for*
"You *rejected* me that way...for *my* sake?" he said incredulously.
*yes* *I hated hurting you so* *I hate your pain* *your fear*
"That's why you'll never join with the popular chorus and reject the notion of suicide absolutely. You know..."
*how badly it would frighten you* *you could not feel safe even with me then* *because you would fear my taking it from you* *as she said* *putting my agenda* *ahead of yours* *even about something as personal* *as YOUR life* *selfish* *cruel* *uncaring* *"knee-jerk"* *I love you* *I would not force you to life* *just because it made ME feel better* *I could never give you cause* *to fear me*
"Will you tell me, now, if you're me? If I'm...really crazy? Talking to myself?"
*no* *I can't tell you that*
"Why NOT, mother preserve us?!"
*because I don't know*
"Do you have sentience? Can you think? Are you there?"
"Then, I'm a god?" he scoffed. "I can create life?"
Turnbull was silent, then, for a long time. Finally he got into his duffel and found a black candle, an incense stick, and his little chaplet. He'd made the chaplet himself from an old rosary, with a pair of needle-nose pliers. It was made of hematite for the main beads, distinctive in shape, and clear, faceted plastic beads of a rounder shape for markers, three sets of nine hematite beads and one marker bead for each, with some extra chain links to each side of them. Three times three, times three. Twenty-seven; with the marker beads, thirty in all. A small, light pentacle of silver dangled from one of the rings that held a marker bead.
"Arionrhod is lady of the silver wheel--the stars that circle," he murmured. "Her husband is Nwyvre, the space between them. Peace, non-action, is the space between one event and another. Perspective on an act is found between one act and another. Silence is between one word and another, to distinguish them. The hawk's flight is bright against an empty sky. The stillness between. Xeno postulated that it was infinite, because the distance between could always be halved, and then halved again, and then halved again, infinitely...the stillness, between." Having located what he wanted, he closed his eyes and began to chant, his large fingers moving delicately as a careful child's over the gleaming hematite beads. "The stillness between. The stillness between. The stillness between. The stillness between..."
He'd been napping when he heard her footsteps along the hallway, and he inhaled hugely, opened his eyes and sat up slowly. He wondered how she'd react to the way she found him. He got up, carefully, testing all his limbs, and made his way slowly, trepidatiously in more ways than one, out into the front room.
She had come in and was leaning, her back against the front door, with her briefcase held by the handle in the fingers of both hands. There was a sardonic half-smile on your face. "Couldn't you have had a crisis or something during the mee..." she straightened up from the door, and crossed the room quickly to him. "Sit down, here, quickly. What's the matter? How do you feel?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine, sir, really, I'm fine--"
"I'll get you some water--"
"Thank you." He could use some water. He also needed to pee bad, but he could hold out for just another minute or two.
She brought the water and he took a token sip--all he could make himself swallow until he peed--but it was enough to make it easier to talk.
"I trance journeyed," he explained as she sat down beside him, "and I need to urinate rather desperately. If I may...?"
"Uh? Oh, uh, certainly, yes, by all means," she said, standing again to let him pass and gesturing in the direction of the hall bathroom. He left the glass on a coaster on the coffee table and went
When he came back, feeling like a whole new, slightly smaller man, she was looking at him, head atilt. "You haven't showered. Did you go back to bed?"
"In a manner of speaking. As I said, I trance journeyed. I...apparently, I stayed with you. I hope you don't mind."
"I had a feeling...uh...what did you do, exactly?"
"Um..." he sat down on the long couch with her again. "*Exactly*, I can't tell you, because I don't know. But I didn't want to be without you all day, and..." that had come out sounding somewhat other than he'd intended. "I, I don't mean to say that I'll never--that I'll always--"
"Hush, Turnbull. You're here because you need a friend to help you right now. There's nothing wrong with that, as I believe we've established. But...were you...floating around next to me all day, or inside my head, or...what?"
"Oh, it's nothing like that, what I did, not so clear, not so precise."
"What I said was 'clear' and 'precise'?" she muttered, almost too softly to hear, so he just talked over it.
"But I was...aware of you. I did sleep, some. My focus changed to Fraser sometimes, and to Ray; and they seem to be all right, as well, though worried, and missing each other, and me...we're all still in the honeymoon phase, I suppose you could call it, and hate being separated for any significant length of time. We..." he felt his face reddening, and stopped.
"You seem to be very much in love, the three of you," she said for him, patting his knee. "It's hardly unusual that you dislike being separated. Even when it's voluntary, and honestly necessary, and you all accept that."
He gazed at her, still blinking dizzily, still out of it. "You're really quite a beautiful person. Beyond your face and your body being so lovely, I mean--" he cast those aside as though the words barely meant anything. "I wonder why more people don't see that."
"Ah. Uh. Yes. Well, ahm, thank you." She flustered about with her hands, checking an earring and fiddling with her watch, and he reached up and closed his own large, still blanket-warm hands over hers, pulling them gently up and kissing them in what was apparently meant as a soothing fashion, eyes closed, still sort of sleepy, so he didn't see her already large eyes widening to saucerlike proportions.
"You're...ah...still *there*, a bit, aren't you," she said, gazing at him, slightly wonderingly, slightly with curiosity, slightly with trepidation. "A sort of...shamanic perception."
"Mm, a bit," he said, smiling, and blinking. He hadn't let go of her hands, and brought them up to kiss again, and unfolded the left one and pressed his cheek into the palm, closing his eyes. "Mmmm...could you feel me? Is that how you knew so quickly that I'd been with you today?"
"I...could feel something, and though it's perfectly natural I'd be thinking of you today, I'd think of--something odd--I'd notice something I never would have noticed before, like how the shape of some branches in a grove of trees, seen at just the angle that the car stopped at, made...certain shapes. I recognized them as being...I thought they were something I used to know and had forgotten, or something..."
"I saw Ansuz," he said softly, distant as he pictured. "I saw moon horns, and the star of the muses, such a rare thing to catch sight of, pentagrams are much easier...yes, I remember."
They were quiet a moment, until she freed the hand he wasn't resting his slightly stubbled face in and stroked his hair with it. "You could have told me you were going to do that."
"I didn't know I was going to do it," he said softly, sounding embarrassed, and his eyes fell, and he turned his face a little more into her hand to hide them. "I would have said something, but I was only going to...to do a trance journey I'm familiar with, one that takes me to places that show me metaphors and symbols for things that are happening or that I want to know--or only think I want to know, in some cases. Then I write them down, the best I can remember, and look at them later, and see if anything makes more sense than when I'm still fuddled on waking. But I...somehow ended up, on and off, at least, spending the day with you, instead. I'm sorry, honestly. It was wrong of me. I would have stopped it if I'd...if I'd realized..."
"You weren't really aware of what was happening, were you," she said, shaking her head, with a quirk of her lips.
"I'm afraid not, sir. I'm sorry."
"You can stop saying that now, Constable, I understand that you're sorry. You should be. As it happens, I don't mind, but I might have been engaging in more private matters today; *far* more importantly, however, it sounds like it could have been dangerous for you, no more control than you seemed to be exercising."
"I'm ordinarily very *good* with these things," he said, "I didn't have any reason to think...but I'm still sorry. There were times...when it didn't seem quite right, and I could have come out at those times, but my curiosity..."
"All right, we'll call this one an accident, and forgiven, and leave it there as far as blame and what you should have done, as long as it's understood you'll be more careful in future, both for your own sake and the sake of the person you decide to follow the day of. I will admit..." she looked down. "I think I was aware of you, sometimes. And...it wasn't an unwelcome sensation. It was...familiar, reassuring, even--much like the awareness I have of you at work. When you're actually there, about the consulate somewhere, I mean. When I know you're going to come in, or that something has alarmed you and I'm going to have to go and calm you down. Just...that sort of thing. I never thought about it until now, that's all. I...kept looking around for you, before I realized what I was doing; but I assumed I was simply preoccupied with you because you're in a state of such need at the moment that you actually came to *me* to ask for help."
He opened his eyes--they'd been closed while he listened to her, and said, with a smile breaking slowly over his face, "You were flattered."
She began turning pink. "I'm not proud of that, Constable. Your pain was extreme. My thoughts should all have been for you, and believe me, almost all of them were. But...people don't...think of me that way. As a person to turn to in emotional need. And I...it was...all right, it was flattering. It's...not something I'm used to. No one...has ever really thought of me quite the way you do. As a...a friendly sort of figure. A...mothering sort of figure. I *knew* that I was simply the only one you had to turn to, I knew that if there'd been anyone else, you wouldn't have chosen me, but I suppose I still--"
She paused, gave her head a slight shake, and wondered "'No, sir'?"
"I would have come to you even...if there had been another...it's true, I have few...I don't really know what to say, sir. It's true that there weren't many choices. But I still feel it would have been you, terribly inappropriate an action as it was, professionally speaking. I...you know."
"You love me. Yes, you've said that. And I assumed that...it was our communal overwrought state that brought those words, and that feeling, out, made it seem real...until this morning, when you said it after I closed the door. You did intend for me to hear it, didn't you? You weren't just..."
"Yes, I intended for you to hear it. And I know you said you loved me too, though I couldn't hear it that clearly. You must have hunted from childhood. Your ears are very sharply trained."
"There are other ways to get sharply trained ears. Ah, Constable, I rather like touching you in this particular fashion, but I'll have to ask you to shave before I get beard burn on my palm."
"Oh--sir--I'm sorry, I didn't even notice I was--" he was hastily releasing her hand, then catching her wrist to examine it for signs of friction burns.
She laughed, shaking her head, an I-cannot-believe-this expression, and said "Go, go, go and shave, take a shower. I'll just get changed out of my work clothes and perhaps see if we can make something for supper besides chili."
"I quite liked the chapati foldups," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "They are good, but I don't want to be bloated for weeks and a public danger on elevators. Go, shoo, wash." She waved him off with on hand as she rose and all but ran into her bedroom. "I'll be bringing a couple of Tupperloads to work tomorrow to dispense around. It won't keep for as long as it would take one or two people to eat it."
Why he had come to her, he thought he knew, he thought it was obvious, he thought it was because she was the only person left in the world whom he could think of as remotely friendly or close enough to him to take a personal problem to, and that was true. He had gotten past the hideous self-disgust at his own utter aloneness a while back. His family would never stop being disgusted with him for it--they felt he should have friends to take his emotional troubles to; family was certainly not what that was for, and one never bothered a family member with an upset feeling even in the course of necessary communication. It just wasn't *done*. It was childish, contemptible.
But that was not what he was thinking about right now.
She was being so...well, all right, he admitted she hadn't done anything *too* terribly out of character, for her, knowing her character as well as he did, and knowing all the emotion and caring that lurked under her sometimes harshly brazen exterior. Until...well, letting him sleep with her, though he knew she looked at him in rather an asexual fashion, just as he did her, though each had certainly noticed the other's attractiveness in a purely hypothetical sense. If either--or both--of them were truly lusting after anyone, it was Fraser, in both their cases. But she definitely seemed to see Turnbull as an attractive man, and he could see the beauty in her; it was just that it didn't seem to matter much, with them; the rest of their relationship far eclipsed any vague, faint attraction they might have for each other. Where Fraser was enough to interfere with their ability to keep their brains out of their pants.
But now he knew he loved her.
Well--he supposed that also wasn't new for him, he reflected as he rinsed his hair under the spray. He had loved, as he'd thought about it recently, many, many people in his life. He didn't love all people, but he saw things in people that most never saw, and he loved some people, for some of those things. He never, ever expected his love to be reciprocated, and it never, ever was. Dalliances of a "romantic" nature weren't that uncommon in his past--okay, they weren't unheard of--but he'd known what they were, and that they'd be nothing more; knowing what more there could be, he could never have enslaved himself to such a soulless union as such things offered. No one had ever really loved him...
Until Fraser and Ray. And now her. The Inspector.
He needed to know, so...
He opened his mouth. He took a deep breath, and deliberately whispered "I *love* you, Meg," in the warm, cloudy dimness of the shower.
A wave of emotion crashed into him, almost sending him to his knees, almost making him need his knife *now*, making him need to lock himself away and love her, speak to her, tell her, everything, everything--
Gods, he loved her soul.
Oh, Gods, please, no. Not that. Not his Inspector. His own dear Inspector. Don't let him love her. Don't let him lose her, not now.
The sole exceptions to that pattern were those he'd never had, who'd never known he even liked them at all in *any* way--and, of course, Ray and Fraser, who must never know anything past a certain point, never get in past a certain point, never find out past a certain point.
His eyes filled with tears. Could he be her personal aide any more? Would he have to tell her that he had to transfer if it was at *all* possible because he loved her--well, no, sir, I'm not in love with you in the sexual sense, though I would dearly love to touch you, preferably not sexually, in any way that brought you pleasure, or at least didn't bother you...or, more likely, repulse you. Well, no, I'm not jealous of the men you go out with or--since we're speaking frankly--take home to bed, though I would like to be in your bed with you, and make love with you if it were what you really wanted, though I truly don't need that, don't especially want sex--I just want to be close.
To feel you. You're beautiful inside. Real inside. *Real*.
I'm not real. I want to touch someone real. I want to be you. I want to be someone real. Dissolve into you until the sick, useless me-thing is gone, only what's worth saving, only what's worth keeping around still exists, can exist as part of you...
God, he'd loved so many people. None of them ever loved him back, because that would be *wrong*. He didn't *want* them to love him back, because that would mean they weren't worth loving to begin with. Jut as he hadn't wanted Fraser and Ray to love him, and had hit upon a way--a way to be closer than he'd ever been able to be to people he loved, especially who loved each other, and left him falling in love with *their* love--just don't let them in. Not past a certain point.
People see what they expect.
People believe what they want to.
Just let them.
And it had worked.
It was like he could see through people, into their souls, and got insane over them--not the vernacular use of the term, acting wild and bizarre, but the real term. This was a quiet sort of insanity on the outside, one that didn't affect his intelligence or use of same, or his ability to be kind or generous, and he sank into that head--a process similar to a shamanistic reality, as Meg had so insightfully noted earlier. A process similar to going through the door and coming out at the center of the earth, on top of the mountain, where he could see *everything*. Right through it all and to the other side.
But this thing...it was only similar to that, not identical. It did give him the ability to see what others couldn't, but he was helpless in it, not in control in it, the way he was in the states he entered because he wanted to, as with Ray and Fraser--this was more like those states in which he *had* to enter because he had no choice but to do it, and relieve the pressure.
It was a catch-22. If he hadn't come to the inspector, he would be dead. Now that he had come to her, he had fully realized the love he'd managed to keep at bay and under a layer of denial. He'd known he was doing it. He did things like that all the time. It was called surviving.
Ray and Fraser didn't even know about this, that was the whole reason he was here, the whole point of it all, and now it had happened with her. She knew about the knife, for instance. They didn't know about the knife that he needed so badly to keep the anguish down to a bearable level. They'd never understand that the knife *helped*, relieved, was his soul friend, that it made the unbearable bearable. Oh, not his current ritual knife; as previously stated, those were difficult for use as anything other than one, killing weapons, or two, as tools--not weapons at all, but tools used to direct energy. He meant his real knife, a small one, a boot knife. An all-purpose tool that he used for everything, with a three-and-a-half inch blade, that anyone could own and even carry concealed without a permit. His had been his athame once, and as the blood it drew was not symbolic of death or torment but of life and relief from agony, he had never felt the using of it for that purpose disqualified it for use as an athame.
The knife knew him, and was still always kind to him, lending him its aura of protection, though he didn't cut himself any more. Its mere presence was helpful. *It* loved him. It was all right for it to love him, because it was wiser and kinder than humans, like nonhuman animals, plants, rocks. Their priorities were all totally different. Their worldviews were totally different. They could love him, and almost always did.
But humans...when he loved a particular human, a real one...
He could love unreal humans--like fictional characters, imaginary friends, pretend creatures like that--he could love them and never need to expunge the poison loving real people raised in him.
Poison...when he loved a real human--
--he got sick. Borderline insanity, is what humans would call it. Ray and Fraser wanted in. They didn't know what they'd find. They didn't realize what would happen. He couldn't cut off his relationship with them. He was too weak. He'd have to let them leave him. And he knew that that would kill him. He couldn't survive that again. Especially not *this*. The two people he'd fallen for harder than he ever had for anyone, and also for the love they had for each other, and they would get so close to him, be so close, let him touch, let him have so much, then decide they weren't good for him and leave him, and that would kill him.
The inspector knew about the scars. He would tell her the rest. He would explain, make her understand, that he was quite functional and a minor but useful asset to the RCMP. He had graduated very high in his class at Depot. He did well on all the standard maintenance courses and tests, as these were routine enough not to make him experience debilitating anxiety that wrecked his ability to take the tests. She could see that in all his scores. She had been in pain. She understood that. Fraser had been in the same kind of pain; Ray had been in different pain, but still, pain. Yet they would never be able to tolerate him if they knew.
But she might intervene. She might make Fraser, and Ray by extension, understand that they didn't want to be any closer, inside, to Turnbull than they already were, and that they could have a perfectly satisfactory relationship without ruining it by trying for more.
She knew about the scars. And she apparently knew that those who cut themselves were trying to live, not die, and that it was not as rare a phenomenon as most people thought. It worked, and it usually timed itself out. There was a period of time during which it worked, and then that time ended, or something intervened to keep the cutting from being possible, such as a different method, or methods, being found for accomplishing the same ends; she knew all this. He could explain the details of his own situation to her. She could help him get it across to his lovers.
But dear Gods, now that he had lost his hold on the shield that kept his love for *her* under control? Now that he wanted *her*? Not sexually, just...her?
To be close? To touch? Her? She had let him. She had slept with him, held his hand. What if she found out how he felt?
Would she help him? Or would she be too busy puking all over herself?
Because there was no way to tell her all the truth that must be told to get her help, *without* letting it out that he felt worship for her. He didn't love her as he did his lovers, that wasn't the point. The point was that he worshiped her, and people quite rightly were terrifically disgusted by that. Even when a beautiful, whole, real person worshiped a normal person, the person being worshiped was revolted. It wasn't romantic. It wasn't beautiful. The reality of it was disgusting, pure and simple. And when a sick, half-there thing like himself worshiped a real person...
She wouldn't turn him out. She'd never simply throw him out onto the street. But she might insist he go to the hospital. She might...
Simply put, he would lose her friendship. He didn't want to lose her friendship. He didn't want to lose her. Did he have to lose everybody? Couldn't he have even one human person?
*you won't lose her*
"You won't even let me love you! What do you care!"
*I do let you love me* *I want you to* *I just won't let you worship me* *or make me your reason to live* *it would be for always* *that wouldn't work for you*
"I'm not asking anything else of you. You don't have to do anything. But you reject it--you have the power to reject it like no living human person could, and you use it. Why do you even talk to me? Why should I even believe you?"
*because you want to believe me* *and you know that I love you*
"Which speaks quite poorly for you right there."
*Perhaps so* *but you must decide now* *before you turn off the water* *whether to tell her and accept what she can do for you* *I tell you* *you won't lose her*
"Uh...why before I turn off the water?"
*you shave with a straight razor*
"Oh. Yes, of course. My mistake."
He walked out of the bathroom in jeans and socks, holding a Henley in his hands as if he had forgotten what it was or what to do with it. Which, actually, for the moment, he had.
She was closing a datebook while simultaneously hanging up the phone; he had listened to her voice while he dried, using it to keep him grounded enough to get enough clothing on to appear decently in the front room, though he hoped it was the pants one was supposed to always remember and not the shirt. He wasn't sure right now.
She was wearing a loose deep-violet caftan sort of garment with a Celtic print motif; it reached her knees. It could have been worn in public as a casual style--if she'd been anyone else. The inspector would wear something like this only at home to relax. The color brought out the faint flecks of violet that she, like some few brown-eyed people had, in her eyes. It also made her hair glow a darker reddish chestnut than usual. He thought she was perfect. How nice, that such a perfect thing existed in the world. Not as impossibly lovely as the two people who wanted to find out all the worst things about him and then spurn him for them, but wondrous all the same.
"Sir," he said.
She gazed at him a moment, then surprised him by saying "I never appreciated just how attractive you really are, Turnbull. I knew you were, obviously, but I'd never seen you without a shirt. You're truly a gorgeous man."
His eyes swam tears. He wondered why. It was a nice thing to say, but it was only a compliment to his rigorous efforts in the gym. He wasn't like Fraser or Ray, someone who was beautiful just by being. "I'm glad you approve of my work on the gymnastics equipment, sir." He blinked; the tears spilled from the corner of his left eye and dripped from the cheekbone, but only glommed up the lashes of his right eye.
She stared at him. "Do you feel all right? Wait--let me rephrase. What do you feel like?"
"What do I feel like?" He thought. "Like...I'm slowly freezing through."
She nodded slowly. "What's happened to cause you to begin to freeze through?"
"I realized that I would worship you if you would let me, and that any help or intercession I could expect because of your understanding of my situation was lost because of that."
She was silent for a moment, motionless, looking at him. Then she said carefully "It isn't lost, Constable."
"I'm afraid it is."
"No. I'm in charge of that, of what I'm willing to do and not do, and I say it isn't."
"That's because you don't realize how I feel yet."
"You said you loved me. I understand now that you meant that. Is this something else? Some other feeling that you believe I will find so disturbing that I'll withdraw my understanding?"
It was such a relief to have someone to talk to about this who'd simply talk about it, rather than getting all emotional. "Yes. I worship you. You are a whole, real being, and I love you for it."
She blinked, her exterior not cracking. But he could see through her; he knew she was a mass of chaotic emotion on the inside. But her exterior remaining intact was quite enough for him; it wasn't her fault he could see the way he could. She said "Good."
He actually felt something. A disturbance. Something odd. He felt it. "Good?"
"It's not as though I want you to hate me, Constable. What do you mean by 'worship'?"
"The love one feels for what one perceives as a higher order of being. Not that I perceive you as a god. I don't. I perceive you as a real human, but you're a higher order of being than I am for that being so."
"Ah." She nodded. "And so are Fraser and Ray."
"Yes. But I've told you, you see. You know how I feel. They would be appalled at the knowledge."
"I see your dilemma. I haven't had much of a chance to ponder the problem...come with me." She held her hand out to him.
"With you?" He took a step forward.
"To the bedroom. I think we should be comfortable for this."
She smirked. "I think we've finally come to what it is I can actually do for you, Constable. To finding out what it is, I mean. There may be crying and other uncomfortable things happening, on either or both of our parts. It would pay to be comfortable already."
"If you think so." He came forward and took her hand, and she led him into her room.
Once inside, she turned to push the door to behind them. "We should probably have supper first..."
"If you're not hungry, I'm not especially, either. I don't think I could eat, actually."
"Then we're in good company." She pulled the covers down on the bed, and climbed in on the opposite side.
"I don't have any pajamas with me."
"It doesn't matter, Constable." She pulled off her pantyhose, then the caftan dress; naked, she took it to hang in the closet, then came back and got in the bed, scooting around to get comfortable. "Join me, if you would, Constable?"
"Are you..." something was not right. He was feeling things. Fear, confusion. "What are you--"
"No sex if you don't want any, Turnbull. Don't worry. Nothing at all that you don't want. But I...I have a feeling that something like this is what you *do* want. Sex or not."
She was right. Mechanically, he pulled off his jeans and boxers, and folded them carefully before setting them on the dresser. Then he turned back to the bed.
"You're so small," he said.
She smiled. "That's certainly not what *I* was thinking."
He smiled, then grinned, then broke up laughing, and made it to the bed before sitting down on the foot of it and falling over to laugh some more.
"Yes, I've been told it's...sizeable. And my own observations would seem to back that up."
"You've made a lot of observations, then? And I don't mean in locker rooms." She beckoned him up toward the pillows.
He crawled up, and was conscious of her eyes on him. He paused at the point of getting under the covers and said "You really think I'm attractive."
"Yes. You're a very beautiful young man. Large, without being at all awkward simply in the way you're put together. And you're beautiful. Not to belittle your chest and shoulders, which are far more than exceptional, but your legs are unqualifiedly superb."
"So we're here naked, at your instigation, and you've informed me you think I'm beautiful, and are appreciative of the fact that I'm well-endowed. But you don't necessarily want to have sex."
She raised an eyebrow. "Do you believe me? Now's the time to decide."
"Of course I believe you. You never lie about anything important. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't dreaming."
Her face softened. "You're not dreaming, Turnbull. Repeat to me what I said to you last night after I said that I was content in being your friend."
"You told me to let nothing persuade me to forget that no matter what I did, I could not lose your friendship, and that anything I did must be done with that in mind."
"Now remind yourself of what you just said about what conditions I will lie under."
"I said you never lie about anything important."
"So, with the stipulation that you are important, do you have anything to fear getting in bed with me?"
"You made the statement you made without full knowledge of the facts, Inspector."
"Inform me of the pertinent facts I may not have knowledge of."
"I qualify as insane."
"Ah. A minor quibble." She waved the concern away with a flip of her fingers, as though shooing away an imaginary bug. "By any reasonable standards, constable Fraser is not sane either. Nor, on a bad day, am I. And your other lover is *never* sane."
Turnbull paused, blinking. "I...wasn't being flip."
"I apologize, Turnbull; that was a poor way to handle that statement." She sighed. "Well. You've assured me you are not a danger to anyone around you. More the opposite, in fact, was what you said, as I recall. And I do recall."
"Yes, sir, quite well."
"So come on and get in already. I've never had to work so hard to make a man get in bed with me."
Turnbull snorted behind one hand, then lifted the covers and slid under them. "Can I ask about the nudity?"
"Remember those psychology classes we've both had?"
"One of the greatest points nudists make about their lifestyle is that it removes many of the social demarcations that differentiate us from one another, and puts us all on the same level--only our true selves, with no armor--no class distinction, position-in-the-social-milieu distinction, or even simply sartorial style to fall back on as an identity. A naked person is...psychologically defenseless except via their own selfhood, in our society. You and I don't have much in the way of sexual tension between us, if it could be said to exist at all. I thought perhaps...it would...help to put us on the same level, in your perceptions, in a way pajamas might not. Besides, it *is* the way I usually sleep. I'm not from the north, remember; and I get tangled in pajamas, though they're nothing next to the inconvenience of nightgowns. Nightgowns are very comfortable indeed--sometimes I wish they could be considered daywear--until one actually lies down to sleep, at which point they instantly enmesh one in a single Gordian knot."
She leaned over on her pillows--they had two each--with one elbow, resting her head on her palm, apparently no more concerned about her nudity than if she'd been in a steam bath or some other location where nudity was the usual mode of dress in company. Of course, for some people, bed qualified, but not usually where the occupants didn't have some kind of sexual relationship. "Turnbull..." she paused. "I know you need what we've been doing, the way we've been communicating, everything else, to keep what you're afraid of at a safe distance. But we have to speak of it eventually. And you have to understand something; I am *here*. If necessary, I can even physically control you. If you think otherwise, I'll tell you this much and no more--there are things about both me and my apartment that you are unaware of."
"Oh. Hidden weapons?"
"I'm not saying. Only that there's nothing you can do to harm me."
"I'm not worried about harming you, sir..." he pressed his lips together as tears welled again. "I'm worried about...losing your friendship."
"Because you aren't sane. Because you worship me."
The offhand way she said it hurt.
"Yes." He dropped to his pillows and curled up in a fetal position under the covers. Some part of him knew it had not really been offhand, that there could have been no way she could have said that without a great deal of care and not have had it hurt, but at the moment, it didn't matter. He'd had too much of that sort of hurt to be reasonable about it any more.
She gently slipped the edge of the sheet and comforter under his chin and tucked them there so he could breathe. "Turnbull...there was a time, before I knew you so well, when your fears would have had some basis in reality. But now...I love you too, and I'm not sure what you mean by worship, but the thing about the word that worries me most is that you worship me, you say, just for being human, which says quite terrible things about how you consider yourself. Turnbull..." she slid down on her pillows and scooted closer, so they were lying in a circle of curl-up under the covers. "Don't be afraid. Here." She reached over and patted the base of the lamp on her side until the light was as dim as it could get. Then she looked pensive a second, got up and went into the bathroom. Then she came out, patted his lamp down to dim too, and climbed back in bed with a small glass of water. "This is a half milligram of Klonopin. It won't put you to sleep, but it might make it easier for you to do this."
"You seem to rely rather heavily on benzodiazepines, sir..."
She shook her head. "If you were under a psychiatrist's care, Turnbull, you would be on about five times as much of this one class of drug as I'm giving you, and you'd be on others besides. I would be considered quite remiss in my duty as your commanding officer and your friend not to have already reported this and seen you were installed at some sort of facility, most likely a hospital, before you could be officially relieved of duty and sent home for evaluation. I'm hoping to avoid that."
"So am I, sir."
"You don't have to take the pill if you don't want it. But the dose is low. I take a higher dose for insomnia every night and you're much larger than I am. Judging by what we've seen so far, it won't hurt you--a bit of sleepiness is the worst you can expect, but I doubt there'll even be that--and it also acts as a muscle relaxant, which will make you a little bit more comfortable. You won't feel 'drugged'. Just not so frightened and tense. If it were enough to truly tranquilize you--like a professional would be giving you at this point--it's my opinion that it would be counterproductive. I think you're here because you want to deal, not be drugged into a stupor and have your emotions, your heart and soul, analyzed like a damn science project."
She had a point. Several, in fact. He took the pill. She took the water back and set it on her bedside table. "Tell me about...what it's like to want to worship someone," she murmured.
"It's terrible, and beautiful," he said, and was quiet a long time. Finally, he took another deep breath and said "I don't worship everyone, only those I see as whole, and real...that isn't all humans...anyway, those I see that way whom I also love. When I do it...I do it alone. But I just call it loving. It's what I got instead, you see. Other people--real people--they just...love. They feel it and they show it. With me, it's a good deal more complicated."
She was quiet a few moments. Her shoulders and pectoral muscles curved into her breast tissue with a style, especially with the nipple placement, that reminded him, in some way, of Fraser's, who had the prettiest breasts he'd ever seen on a man. They looked lovely on a woman, too, at least this one. She said "What else can you tell me?"
"I...I want to be with--and I only mean with, not with any...implied meanings to the word--the person, somehow, some way, that they can't be aware of me. With them...sleeping, for example."
"Just present with them, with them unaware of your presence--perhaps sleeping, so as to be unaware of you. That's related to your...conviction that you're ugly, malformed inside, less than human. You don't want them to...see you, be aware of you, though you want to be with them."
"Yes. But the malformations are on the inside and outside, I'm afraid. I can't...I can't bear to be seen by people I love. Can't bear for them to be aware of me."
She nodded. "Go on."
"I want to tell them...everything. Everything I'd say to them, if they could. About...what I think of them. About how I feel about them. What I'd do for them, if they'd like me to, which I know they wouldn't. I'd have to reassure them of that, that I know they wouldn't. Even if they couldn't hear me."
"And you do, when you are alone...loving them. You say those things."
"Yes. And I...cry. Carefully. Not enough to break the dam and...and let Gods know what happen. I don't even know...but I know it wouldn't be good. I..." his head dropped so that his face was hidden in the sheet. "I kiss them. Very gently. No...no tongue or anything. That would be...invasive. Not that being that close to them when they were sleeping or unaware of me wouldn't be invasive anyway, but there are things I can't even bring myself to imagine."
"I touch them. But nowhere...well. Nowhere...you know. Inappropriate. A stroking, petting kind of touch."
"Caressing. A gentle touch."
"Yes. Fraser..." he smiled a little. "I love to stroke Fraser's hair, because I know how it feels, now, and it feels as good as I thought it would."
She smiled a little. "And you do it when you love him at home, too. When you say the things to him you couldn't say, if he could hear."
"Yes." He nodded. This wasn't as hard as he'd been expecting. In fact, it was even beginning to sound rather innocent, compared to how terribly invasive and violating he'd been imagining it was.
"What else do you do?"
"I thank them. For...whatever I'm doing right then. For their letting me do it, even though they wouldn't have been letting me--they would have been unaware, unable to let me, but I'd thank them anyway. For being. Just for being. And for how kind they'd been to me, if they'd ever spoken to me." He sniffed softly.
"It hurts, doesn't it? Doing that, even though the things you've told me...don't sound so terrible. But it still hurts?"
"Yes. Horribly. But...but it's good, too, because it's...connection. It's...better than nothing, it's...what I got instead. Most people just get...love. I got mine with pain. I can't explain why. Perhaps that's the other reason I can't bear the thought of their being aware of me. Because they'd ask me what was wrong...and all I could say was that I loved them. Sometimes...I just love so *much*..." he curled in tighter on himself, with his arms crossed over his chest inside the wall of his tucked-up legs. "I want it...I can feel it, you see--it's in here, and I want it to come out--out of me, and into them, so they'd...know, directly, they'd..." his legs slid down a little, and his arms extended outward slightly. "...have my heart. Inside them. And this great hollow place, inside my chest...that I got instead of a heart...in a real person, it would be love. It would feel like love. And they could have it, and it would be something good in them, instead of what it is in me..." he trailed off for a moment, then continued "And...I...the good parts... could be part of them...all the dross gone and...washed away." A dead calm had settled over him. None of this was real. Nothing mattered now. There was no future or past.
"When you used to cut. Did you do it, sometimes, while you were loving the people you loved?"
"Yes. That...was when. Or...when I was lonely. So lonely, my insides were so hollow, and it hurt--it's a hard pain...a hard ache. Like an ache from a very bad bone bruise, right in the breastbone, a few days after, when it's just getting at its worst...and this pain spreads, down my arms, into my hands...and aches...it aches..."
Her hand fluttered up next to her face for a moment, but he hardly noticed.
"That's the physical part of the pain, anyway. It...releases that, to a degree, makes it go away, like the pain drains out with the blood. And then...I needed the blood, so I wouldn't be so alone. It kept me...kept me warm. It's friendly, you know, warm. *Alive*. It's so alive and warm...mine is, I mean. Nobody else's would be, that would be..." He shook his head. "It would be *theirs*, not mine. It wouldn't be *my* friend. It would be...alien.
"But otherwise...I made the cuts when I was loving someone. Or more than one someone. I've loved so many people. Really, honestly loved them. When no one ever loves you back, there's nothing to stop you from loving as many people as you feel love for, because you don't have to worry about time to love them all. You have plenty. If they never love you back, it's not an issue...I cut...I made the cuts then, usually."
"Because the blood was...warm? Friendly?" she whispered.
His head shook slowly. "No. Not then. I'm not sure why I did it, then...I would say, to the person I was loving, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry'--" he inhaled shakily, but his eyes felt dry, dried out. "--'I'm sorry'. Over, and over...apologizing for being, the same way I would *thank* *them* for being. Over and over...but for loving them, too, though."
"Why did you apologize to them for loving them? Because you felt it was invasive? What did you call it--violating?"
"Some for that. Yes, I think, some for...that...but mostly because my love is a burden. I have nothing to offer. It's a white elephant. A supposedly valuable gift, and it's insulting to turn it down--but no one wants it, no one can support it, it contributes nothing to its own upkeep, and...you know, maybe...the blood was a gift, to apologize for the first gift. Recompense. You know...blood is an...an archetypically good thing, a valuable thing, but an archetypal thing that's *here*, that you can hold in your hands. My blood carries my life, all my cells' food and oxygen, all the repair cells and substances that keep my body healthy, phagocytes and T-cells and all the other engines of removal and repair and things that neutralize and remove toxins and keep all my balances correct, and just *cares* for all of my body, in too many ways to count. They used to say 'The blood is the life'. It's true, in a way. The cutting wasn't ever punishment--except once--I mean, I hate pain as much as anybody else, there was nothing good about that part, I *hated* that part, it wasn't...as though I felt I deserved to be *injured*. If I felt I deserved that, I own a snowmobile and I already broke an arm on it once, one good wipe out...I have a gun. A bullet through the femur...if that was what I wanted, I could do it much better. But it wasn't about punishment. It was the *blood*, giving the blood...even though my *mind* knows--the usual part of it, that is--that the people I love can have no use for my blood--not that way, at least. It was as close as I could get...to giving them *myself*. I mean, the *good* parts of myself. Like I said, the useful parts. And then the rest could...just go away."
She was silent a long while, and his eyes closed. His breathing evened. He was suspended in a dim, warm place, where nothing had any connection with anything else. He was clean and comfortable, wrapped in warmth. The pain inside him was familiar, his anguish and longing a friend by now. It hurt no less, but he feared it much less, no matter how badly it hurt him.
Someone was there, someone strong and trustworthy. Someone who wouldn't push at him and try to make him be "right". Someone who didn't care enough to try to make him be "right", but cared enough to protect him from anything bad from outside happening to him. He heard her voice, presently; she said "*I* love you, Turnbull."
He blinked, and his eyes opened a bit; it was dim and quiet in the room; soft tonal music from the relaxation CD they'd forgotten to turn off in the living room filtered through the door.
"Do you love me?" She sounded a bit odd.
"Do you have a cold coming on, sir?" he asked.
"Call me Meg," she said, very gently.
"Oh," he said, and gasped, and what he'd been thinking in the shower hit him, and he listened to the things he'd been saying to her. "Oh no," he whispered.
She reached out toward him, and he flinched, and he saw her eyes fill.
"No--sir, you can't, you mustn't upset yourself, it's not right," he said.
"I'm not upsetting myself," she said quietly. "A couple of rotten shits who had a child and decided that since they didn't like the one they got, they had no obligation to back it like you back a kid, decently, are upsetting me. You and I have nothing to do with why I'm upset. Turnbull? Do you love me?"
"Sir," he whispered, drawing his arm back, "it doesn't matter. I've loved a great many people. It doesn't *matter*. Don't worry about it. I think...I think I should sleep...oh, dear." He'd forgotten he was naked. So was she. He'd been going to sleep in the guest room, because he felt a sudden, sharp, horrible need to love her, and he had to get away from her, get private, to do it. Why did he have to have that revelation in the shower? Why did all his revelations happen in showers? Why? Just *why*, damn it?
"I want you to sleep here," she said, "and I want...I want you to love me. You said you loved me. If you do, then I want you to. Just like you would...if I wasn't here."
He physically recoiled, almost falling off the bed.
"My God," she murmured, staring at him; he could only imagine the look on his face. "Turnbull, it can't be that bad."
He shook his head slowly. "It's *pathetic*, sir. My love is a very, very ugly thing. Why do you think I would go through such elaborate fantasies of being with someone I loved and not even having sex of the mildest kind with them, making them unaware even of my *presence*, even in a *fantasy* of it?"
"Because you have an overblown idea of your own repulsiveness."
"It isn't overblown. Everyone I've ever known since I was born--well, unless they were even more repulsive than I am or something--they can't *all* be wrong."
"No, but they could all be shits."
He stared. "Sir?"
"I'm going to lie quietly and you're going to do exactly what you do when you go to your own apartment to love your partners, except it'll be me, and I'll be here. Do what you want to do. Say what you want to say. Anything, everything. I will not be repelled, Turnbull. Do you understand? I will not let you down. Do you believe I could let you down?"
"I believe you would do whatever it took to make me believe you were perfectly all right with whatever I'd done, and then find some way to make sure I never, ever did it with Ray or Fraser because they would leave me so fast there'd be a sonic boom, and you would not want the responsibility for that. You would also find some way, come hell or high water, to get another clerical aide. I believe you care for me. I don't believe you love me."
"I...mean love in the context we've both been using. As people, as--"
She stared at him a moment; he shrugged. "I'm sorry. But I won't lie, and belief can't be forced. You know that."
"Is there any way I can prove it, or is it unprovable in your mind?"
"I think it's unprovable. After all, I ought to believe it. You've taken me in. You're taking care of me. You're in bed with me, naked, and not worried about it. Though I think that just reflects on your views of me as essentially asexual."
"I know you're bisexual, Turnbull. You have two lovers."
"But with you, I'm just...not. It's not there."
"Do you necessarily feel a sexual desire for everyone you love, and want to love...privately, as it were?"
"That's...hard to say. I suppose I don't, but I don't know if that's from turning away from the idea in horror, that I can't violate them even in my mind so badly, or that the idea isn't there to begin with. I can't tell, but I do know I don't ever want to...love anyone that it would be inappropriate to have those feelings for...children, or anything like that. That would seem to imply something, though I don't know what. I suppose...I don't...I *do* desire Ray and Fraser. Obviously. And I still..."
"Love them in private."
"Well...why don't we treat the question as immaterial. You never touch the people you're loving sexually, in these...waking dreams. Just do what you feel like doing, then. You don't have to do...everything you'd do, everything you dream of doing."
"Good. Sometimes it involves making deep cuts to let my blood pour out onto the person I'm loving."
"As a gift, you see, given in apology. As I said before. How did you imagine I did it? In a perfume decanter?" He retreated, shuffling backward in the covers, curling into a ball.
"Turnbull, wait--I understand now. Is there anything else that would frighten the person you were loving?"
He shrugged. "The things I say. No one wants to hear 'I love you' out of my mouth. And no one wants to hear someone like me go on at length about how wonderful they are, how whole..."
"Forget, for a moment, that it's you. Don't count the fact that it's you saying it, that it's your love being given, love nobody could want. Is there anything else that is *generally* frightening, like dripping the blood onto them?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I'm really not sure. Most people aren't comfortable with the level of *openness* I seem to be designed to need. I don't know. I do cry when I choose to let that out. Sometimes. Sometimes a lot. Hysterically, sometimes. Some people might be alarmed by that."
"Not that I can think of, with the stipulations you've placed."
"Then, with the exception of making any cuts in your skin deeper than light scratches, I still want you to. You never have done it, with anyone you've loved, correct?"
"No. Never. I...tried once. A little. It was...misinterpreted. As a sexual thing. He...was aroused by it. He didn't understand it. But with that particular person, I should have known far better."
She nodded, but her eyes were like steel, and he didn't like to think what she'd do to that individual if she ever found him within reach of her hands. "I see. All right, so, largely, no; the only attempt was partial and slight, and misunderstood. I want you to *do* it, to see what it's like for you. With the exception of the cutting."
"Of course, blood everywhere won't do," he muttered, shrugging. "But I'm afraid I...need to be in the mood. I need to want it, to feel a deep need, or...it just doesn't happen."
"Then, when you do feel such a need. Tell me."
"You're offering to be my guinea pig?"
"I'm offering to let you find out what it might really feel like, with someone who does understand. I know that properly I should be unaware, but I don't think we're going to be able to arrange that. I'll never regard you as...repulsive, Turnbull. I won't. I know you."
"There may be a great deal of crying. Violent, hysterical crying. Or there may not."
"If there is, I'll cope."
"I may say things about myself that you feel you have to object to."
"For the purpose of what we're trying to accomplish, I can control myself. Oh, Turnbull..." she sighed and shook her head. "I want to touch you. I want to say I love you. I want...a number of things."
"It's frustrating, isn't it?" he said, irony thick in his tone.
She was quiet a moment, then just said "Yes. You're right. It's quite frustrating. Horrible, in fact," she finished softly. There was a pause, and she went on "If we put on pajamas, would you let me hold you for a while?"
"Underwear would do."
She nodded. "Underwear it is, then."
They got up and located appropriate undergarments, then got back in bed; she held out her arms to him in the dimness left from the single lamp, at its lowest setting, after she touched her own all the way off. The faint, soft sounds of the soothing tonal piece still came through the door, but neither of them seemed to want to get up and go deal with it, so he supposed it would just be near-inaudible background noise unless it bothered one of them to the point of moving their ass in to do something about it.
He hesitantly reached out--she was so small, and he was so close to her at work every day, but she was never small there, she just wasn't small, it wasn't that she didn't seem small, she *wasn't* small--but now she was small, and she was in nothing but her undershorts. He slid a little closer, then put his arms around her carefully.
She slid hers around his waist and squeezed close. He responded by letting his own arms close to the point she'd pulled the two of them to. She lifted a hand and used it to stroke his shoulder.
"I love you," she said softly. "I think about you sometimes, especially if I've upbraided you for some infraction or other that day...I wonder if I could have been less harsh. I wonder what you enjoy doing. I like to hear about your weekends. I like it when you help me on with my coat, and such things. I think about the way people look at us when they see us walking together, and we're not in uniform; I realized a while ago it was a flattering thought, when people assumed you were with me as a friend, or more. You're young, and attractive, and it made me feel young, too."
"You are young, sir..." her skin was so soft. She was as soft as Fraser, and he didn't think anybody could be that soft. The side of her breast rested heavily against the inside of his wrist; she didn't seem to notice, or mind.
"I'm forty-one, Turnbull."
"I know, but...but you..."
"Don't worry about it. I know I don't look that old." She sighed. Her arm slid up to curve around his neck, turning her to press more firmly against him. Her shoulder and back muscles flexed in powerful, small bands of strength over her, under his hands and arms. Her ribcage lifted, and her breasts pressed more firmly against him. "I wonder how you can be so cheerful, all the time, even in...times when no one else...not even Fraser...and you certainly aren't stupid, it's not as though you're just too stupid to be upset when upsetting things happen..."
"I get upset."
"I know that now. But I meant at work; there, it's only with great provocation. But I suppose that's all a front, isn't it? Or not a front, but...the only side of you you'll let us see. The pain and need is always hidden...you were forced to hide it, weren't you?"
"Yes. Of course. That can't be hard to figure out."
"No, no...it isn't..." she rested her head on his shoulder. "Lie down with me."
There were a couple of moments of reshuffling, and he found himself being very careful. She wasn't fragile. But he wanted to hold her, protect her, like he did with his lovers, like he did with...the people he loved who never knew...
"You feel good. Honestly, very, very good..." he stroked one large hand down her, from her shoulder and collarbone, over one breast and that side of her ribs, down over her hip and the strip of cotton underwear to her thigh. "So soft. As soft as Fraser."
She smiled. "I'm flattered. His skin is the envy of every woman who sees it. Well, that and other things. Men, too, likely, but they have to pretend they don't care about the state of their skin so long as it's not diseased in any way." She touched his cheek. "Your skin is very smooth, too, Turnbull. I've always thought, when I touch them in passing, that your hands were very soft. Except for the calluses, of course." She let her hand run down his neck gently, to his chest, down to his waist, and over his boxers, to his thigh, where he'd touched her. "Incredibly trim, muscular, beautifully proportioned...you're a very beautiful young man, Turnbull. I've wanted to say that. Thank you for finally letting me."
"I *have* seen you in less than your dress reds, you know. You're beautiful. And your eyes..." her deep brown ones flicked up to meet his. He gazed back, half-puzzled, not knowing what to think. "Such sweetness, in your eyes...baby blue. So earnest." She laid a hand alongside his face. "You will have to get used to the fact that there are people who find you beautiful. You don't disbelieve your lovers, do you?"
"No, but...they love me. Or think they do."
"I love you. And I know what they don't."
"But..." he looked away.
"You see, it's not easy for *anyone* to be complimented to what they feel is excess. That's part of why the people you need to go home and be alone to love, including your lovers, can't handle what you want to give them. No one knows what to do with such effusive...effusiveness."
"Do you think I don't know that? Do you think I'm not aware that people are repelled by anyone...just...just slavering over them that way? Do you think I don't know it's disgusting and that I'm repugnant for needing it so badly?"
She covered his hand with her mouth. "*That* certainly backfired. I'm sorry, Turnbull. Perhaps I...should just stop talking. Perhaps that would...be for the best." She dropped her head to his shoulder, moving her hand away, and sighed.
Now she felt bad. "No, sir, I didn't...I don't mean...you were trying to help. I shouldn't have snapped at you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. You've been so kind, and I took your head off--"
"No. No beating yourself up. Just *no*." She stared up at him, unwavering.
He closed his mouth and nodded.
"No doing it quietly to yourself, either. Even where I can't hear it. Just don't."
"I'll try, sir, but...it's hard..."
"I know it must be. It's been trained into you from infancy. But...try. Look at us, here, Turnbull. Would I go this far for pity? For anyone at all? Me?"
He considered the question. "No. You wouldn't."
"Just try to remember that."
"All right, now, Constable," she whispered, as they came to a halt next to the bed, her in her robe and him in sweatpants and a T-shirt. "If this is going to be of any help, you need to...smile, cringe, cry, sob, laugh, wail, anything, everything, simply as it comes. Don't try to change anything, hide anything, or modify anything so that you think I, or anyone else, will like it better. That's what *they* insisted on, and your lovers are not your father, nor any other member of your family, nor anyone else of the world who rejected you, your being yourself, because reality didn't agree with their preferences. Show everything that wants to show itself. Also, just for now--remember who you're with--me. Not Ray, not Fraser, not anyone you have to worry you're destroying anything with by being yourself. You are free, safe. Understand that, and do as I say, all right? I won't let anything too bad happen, though some things may certainly be quite uncomfortable. I'll be with you through that, though, remember. You're not to imagine you're alone, not now."
"I'm dreaming," he said, and smiled. "Your nightgown is nice. Is it one you really own, or do I know that?"
"I own it. You've seen it while you were washing my things when I was sick."
"Ah, now I remember." He tried to keep his tone strong, but he couldn't; he tried not to think about what she'd just said and why they were there, but he couldn't; he tried not to think about the fact that one way or another, he was dreaming, not in normal consciousness; he could be asleep, or this could really be happening in some way, or he could be thrashing about the bed while she tried to wake him. If so, he should find out shortly.
He gazed at her, his breath coming more heavily, and tears broke from his eyes, trickling down his face; he ignored them, as he swallowed hard and said "Understood sir. May I say that I love you?"
"You may say anything at all. In fact, I demand that you say absolutely everything that comes to your mouth desiring to be said. You're to censor none of it. Say and do everything you wish. If you're thinking of someone, and you think I should know--so that I'll understand your situation better, I mean, not because you think I'll be upset by that; I certainly won't--you may tell me, but you do *not* need to if you don't *want* to. Remember, this is for *you*, to be able to do as you most honestly--as in honesty with yourself--wish. And I've chosen that it be that way, and I want it that way. There; now, no matter what you believe about whether I'll like you, or this experience, there is no way for there to be *blame* to you, of any sort, no matter what you do."
"Sir--" he had to break off and sob a few times, and put his hands to his face, wiping at it, doing his best to let the sobs out without letting them take over, because he didn't want them to right now. Perhaps another time. "Sir, I'm sorry--no, I mean...I feel--I'm---"
"You're shocked, Constable, that's all. You see...I'm sympathetic to your situation for personal reasons. I should probably keep reminding you of the fact that I love you, though not, of course, in the way you mean when you say you love Fraser or Ray. More as you love me, but...from the other end of things. Now then. Remember: I've taken it on myself to help you with this, and I don't do things halfway. I believe you need this; and that it will be much harder for you than for me. I want you to understand that it won't change my opinion of you as an officer, nor do I see any need for it to impact our working relationship. After all, this is not the sort of thing that ever comes up at work."
"That's an excellent point, sir."
"Also, you've already demonstrated yourself to be able to work efficiently without anything, even this sort of thing, that goes on off-duty, disrupting it. I have no doubts, when it comes to you, that I'll have no trouble separating our off-duty friendship from our on-duty work relationship." She took a brisk, clearing breath and finished "So, then. Do you feel more comfortable now with the idea of what we're doing here--this...trial run, as it were?"
"Yes, sir, thank you. You're probably Heathcliff, if you aren't me, and know everything necessary; so a dreaming trial run is probably a good idea. Thank you for going through my various worries and excuses. And since you've given me permission--I love you, very much. I have loved you--I don't know why--nearly from our first meeting. I'm told...sometimes I have a way of...perceiving things others don't. Sometimes...I've wanted to lock your office door and--and--"
"If it needs to be said, Constable, you're to say it, remember."
"I remember. And--take you in my arms and let you cry on me for as long as you need to--though I have no idea, when I have those feelings, why I do. You don't exhibit any outward signs of distress, or anything else that might make me think you'd...in any case, judging by past experience, I don't believe I'll have any trouble separating the two types of relationship, either. I find this frankness...very refreshing, by the way. I have had to spend so much energy, for so long, hiding...everything...less with Ray and Fraser, but still, even with them--if I don't want to...drive them away--"
"I believe our usual mannerisms together are the best mode of communication for this. It allows you to say precisely what needs to be said, and to see clearly, without spiraling emotions of whatever particular caliber distracting and confusing you; yet, you *are* still dealing with the emotions, in the only way that allows you to control them and not let them control *you*. You'll still be able to communicate, no matter how distraught you may become. It won't be quite so easy during the real attempt, of course. I *am* only human; I'll be emotionally affected more than I am now. Or you are now, however you wish to term it."
"You are insightful. And very beautiful inside, as well as out."
"I appreciate that, Constable." She nodded briefly.
His hands came up, stroked her face, held it gently, and he leaned forward and kissed her forehead, her cheekbones, and her mouth, all very softly. It might have seemed like a gentling gesture, or even a condescending one, but it wasn't; it was worshipful, entreating. "I honestly *am* having difficulty...believing my good fortune. Offers like this...don't come my way, really. Any more than people like Benton and Ray. Or you."
She smiled a little. "I assure you, when you wake, you'll find I've chosen to be here for you, and I don't regret the choice; I don't anticipate any need to regret it, either. That some other people might find what we're doing, and the way we're doing it, to be truly bizarre, is of no moment to me. I did not get where I am in the RCMP by worrying excessively about what other people thought. You see--when one is functioning under a handicap, as we both are, in our respective ways; and one does what's 'expected', one always finds that *someone* has done "the expected" ahead of one--and, more than likely, done it better than we could ever hope to, as *they* are not functioning under our handicaps. Those like us are more likely to succeed, and make a useful difference in the world, by doing the *un*expected--the unusual, namely what we would simply do naturally. The--for want of another word--'bizarre'. In short, if you're weird, seize upon it as a modus operendi. You won't be able to be 'normal' as well as 'normal' people, ever; but you are the only one who will be able to be 'weird' in your particular way. So, this manner of dealing is probably the right one for you. And me."
He looked like he was going to speak, then stopped, smiling a little. "I may repeat some things a great deal. Like the thing I was just about to. I hope you won't find it boring."
She shrugged. "Irrelevant. If repetition is part of what needs to happen, to you and for you, then it's part of why we're here."
"I love you." He kissed her mouth again. "I *love* you."
"I love you, too. And yes, I know I don't have to say that back to you every time you say it." She chuckled as he gave a watery smile. "Shall we lie down, Constable? Find a good spot and be comfortable, what do you think?"
"Yes, sir, I think...that would be an excellent idea."
They climbed onto the bed. "Come here a moment...there." He was lying half-on her, with his face buried in her neck. He slid his arms around her and tightened them. She was so small, yet he had no fear of hurting her. She was strong, so beautifully strong, stronger than he was. It was a dream, of course.
"Something I need to get you clear on *before* it comes about, Constable..."
He looked up at her expectantly, blinking away tears.
"When it happens, now or when you wake, parts of this are going to be...very uncomfortable for you, and I may cry or some such thing, in sympathy with you. Don't let that stop you from doing what needs to be done. Remember, I chose to be here, and I can tolerate whatever is required. But don't think I'm merely 'tolerating' *you*; I want to be here with you. You are not being condescended to in any fashion, nor will I put up with any hiding from what must be done on your part, so don't try using possible upset to me as an excuse to avoid anything. That's exactly what we're trying to stop. Understood?"
"Understood, sir." He rolled up a little closer, and she tightened her arms, patting his back, then letting it turn to a light, back-and-forth stroke, down and up his lower ribs.
He sighed. Then..."...oh," he murmured in a small, embarrassed voice. He'd found himself moving his hips against her, a firming erection growing between them, one thrust, then two, against her body. "I didn't anticipate this, sir, not...not at all." He was honestly puzzled, and was pretty sure it was evident in his voice.
"Hm. I didn't, either, but actually, it might be the best thing--we'll get the edge off your sexual urge right away, and then it won't be a further hindrance, or cloud the real issues that need expressing." She patted him and sat away, still loosely in his arms, though they rested around her waist, and began to pull her robe open; with a little hop she had it off. She was wearing a short spin slip and hipster nylon underwear, which she removed just as easily and matter-of-factly. Then she looked at him with an eyebrow raised, as if to say "Well?"
He cleared his throat, licked his lips nervously and pulled off his T-shirt; then, after a hesitant moment, his sweatpants and shorts together. Following her example, he folded everything neatly and laid it down at the bottom corner of the bed.
While they were busy trying not to be too obviously impressed by each other, he cleared his throat again and managed "Ahm...what...what would you like?"
"If you enjoy what you were doing, it's fine. You should do what you most want to; it's best to begin this as we mean to keep on."
"I'd like to, ahm, have...um,
"...intercourse?" She chuckled and kissed his temple. "That sounds very pleasant. Do you usually use condoms?"
"We always use them. Ray and Fraser, their work..."
"Ah. Of course. You can or not as you like, then, with me. I'm up to date on my tests--you should know, you schedule them for me--I haven't had any potential exposure within a time window that would require condom use on my account, and I am infertile. So, if you'd prefer--"
He lifted his head. "You're infertile, sir?" He knew he sounded distressed, and tried to backpedal. "Not that I--that I--"
"Stop it, Constable. You're already trying to edit the demonstration of your emotions, and I believe I said that isn't allowed, haven't I?" Her eyes were very bright.
"You want children, sir," he said, his own eyes full of sadness. He could feel it.
"Yes. I...attempted to adopt through official channels once already, but it--was deemed that now was not the best time to put me on the waiting list, due to my current living situation." She sighed. "I'm blessed with a youthful appearance, Constable, but I'm no longer young, and I won't, at my overall rate of advance in the RCMP, have the opportunity much longer to be considered for infant placement, considering that the higher one's rank, the less time one has for one's children. There are...too many 'average couples' also wanting children under two years, though the overall demand is for healthy white males, specifically."
"Where you are unconcerned about those things."
"Unconcerned, perhaps; but I would never be considered for a special needs child. A girl or a nonwhite child, perhaps. I am not married, nor with any current prospects in that direction, and special needs children are placed, usually--not always, but usually--with couples in which at least one partner has full time to devote to the child. I tell you this simply to get it out of the way, as I know you'll attempt to reassure me about future possibilities..." she smiled a little, looking into the distance. "Constable Fraser would have acted as a sperm donor for me--he knew of my desire for a child, but not that I'm incapable of conception--and he doesn't know that I know...he was offering to donate. I had asked for his help, but I thought, for some reason, that he'd been legally adopted by his grandparents--I suppose something must've got turned around in my head--and I wasn't...specific enough."
"I remember him mentioning that, that, ahm..."
"Yes. Sir, he still isn't aware of that. That you know what he was offering, or that...you can't..."
"You have my permission to tell him," she said offhandedly, "if the subject comes up while you're discussing this with him, if you like. He is one of few people whom I wouldn't mind having the knowledge. After all...he *was* good enough to offer something like that, when most men...would either be aware mostly of the possibility of...obligation, or, conversely, resent the lack of a legal claim to the child, and he could have had no idea which direction I would have gone with it. He was ready to do it for me as a friend, which cannot have been an easy decision." She smirked. "Especially the way he must've thought I was approaching it. He was assuming...no cups involved. Just...repeated attempts until..."
Turnbull managed a small smile too, but had to add, quietly, "I'm sorry, sir...so very sorry."
"I appreciate that, but it isn't me we're here to...conduct therapy, or a practice session, or whatever you'd call this, for. I thank you for your sympathy." She stroked his hair, and gently laid his head back down on her shoulder. "Your erection has softened."
"Yes. I'm upset for you."
"Would you rather not have intercourse?"
"I don't know. Now I feel like...comforting you. Not that sex isn't often quite comforting, it just doesn't really seem like what's called for, given the nature of the problem."
He could feel her mouth move in a quirk of irony. "I see your point. Then, how did you feel like comforting me?" she asked, very softly.
"By...since you don't want to cry, apparently...by touching."
"That sounds...lovely," she said gently, and he pulled her to him, rolling up onto his side, bringing her with him, resting her head on the broad pad of his muscled shoulder. He lowered his head to kiss her brow, stroking her slowly, all over within his reach--and on her, with his arm length, that was a lot of reach--and pulling her legs close with his to tangle them together loosely. Her legs felt very, very small and smooth, though not much smoother than Fraser.
"Does it feel good? I want to know," he whispered. "I want you to tell me, just as I'm to tell you, all right, sir?"
"Yes, I understand." She gave a shaky sigh. "It feels wonderful. As do you." She slid her hands up and around his body, stroking him in return, with the same gentle soothingness.
"I hadn't thought it possible," he said, after a while. "To...lie like this with someone like you, that I care so much for, who's so attractive, and find myself growing so sleepy as a result of...such touching with him, or her," he said.
She chuckled softly. "Then we're a pair. I find it that soothing, too. To me, you're...a vast, warm island of...softness, in a way, and safety. Right now, I mean."
"Kiss me, Constable?"
"Oh, with pleasure, sir," he said, just a little eagerly, and she tilted her head up, and they were kissing. They began to pull each other closer, and soon were moving together, and then she reached down and began to stroke his recurred erection in time with their motion.
"Mm--" he broke their current kiss, with a soft gasp. "*Oh*--"
"Turn over, Constable, let me see you." She raised up on an elbow and used her weight to get him to roll on his back, not stopping her hand's motion on his penis.
"Lie on me, move against me," he whispered, and she got half up on him, leaned down and kissed him again, let his mouth go and kissed him again, again, open-mouthed, without tongue, making him whimper softly with wanting it, wanting her deep in him. He reached up and captured her head with a hand, sliding his fingers into her hair, and pressed her mouth to his, searching for entrance with his tongue.
She granted it, and he moaned, working their mouths together hard, groaning and thrusting more eagerly, feeling her riding his hip, rubbing herself in time; they moved together and he reached down with his farther arm, seizing her buttock and pulling, squeezing, breaking the kisses to say "God, please--take me, fuck me, *please*---"
She made a low, moaning, growling sound and slid easily up to straddle him, took his erection in her hand, leaning over him; he groaned and reached up, taking her breasts in both hands, squeezing, and she groaned too as he began to stroke and squeeze gently, a firm, gripping massage. "Oh, God," he whispered, and she scrambled around with her knees, moved up, set his cock into the folds of her labia and pushed down, sinking easily; she was wet, aroused, wanting, too.
He cried out, as she suddenly sat back, up, and away, her knees sliding out to the sides, and she sank down, with a long groan, as his substantial cock pushed in and up, filling her vagina, coming to rest with the head buried between her cervix and the highest part of her vaginal wall. Her expression was transcendent, her eyes closed, head tilted back. She groaned, shuddering and breathy, long and deep, so low in her chest he could feel the vibration of it through his erection.
He answered the sound, his body contracting around the center they were joined at, clinging desperately at her thighs. "Oh GOD," he all but shouted, and his hips thrust up, carrying her weight easily.
It couldn't bury him any deeper, but it moved him inside her, and pressed and rubbed her clit against him, and her eyes opened wide and she gasped, clutching around, and he quickly took her hands, giving her something to balance with. Then she leaned forward, groaning as the change in position moved his body against her and inside her, and she let go of his hands to rest them on the bed to either side of him. She lifted up, then shoved back down hard.
A cry burst from him, and the next time she did it, he matched the movement, and then they were fucking, harder and faster and tooth-gritting and groaningly intense, so intense--
She took a deep breath and began to slow, and so he did too, blearily, and wondering what was going on, and looked at her face for a clue, and she said "Over, uh--I like it, like to get, on my back--I get more--I get more. Where I need it. You know."
Fortunately, sex-stupid often speaks the same language. "Yes, yes, sir, I--uh, is there room to just roll?"
"I think so--let me--" she locked her legs as well as she was able, and lowered herself against him, forcing him to let go of her breasts, which he'd grabbed again; he did it with reluctance and a sad look, which she noticed, and smiled at him. "They're not going anywhere."
"I'll miss them anyway."
"And they you, Constable, but they're right--" they smushed against his chest as she lowered herself and grabbed him, which was nice, "--*here*, anyway. Now, on three..."
They rolled, clinging hard, and though he tried to catch himself, she still got a little squashed when they came to a stop before he could get rearranged.
"Ohhh," she said, her eyes practically rolling back in her head, "don't be, it shoved you just right."
"Like this?" He shoved again, experimentally.
Her answering near-shout confirmed it, and he lowered himself over her, as she wrapped a leg around his back and an arm around his shoulder to help guide him. "Perfect," she gasped. "Just per--ah *God*--"
He thrust again, again, and she was meeting him, and he wanted to kiss her so terribly but he was too tall, so he just made sure not to suffocate her in his chest and fucked faster instead, and that met with her obvious, counter-fucking approval so wonderfully he supposed he could do without kissing until they were done with this part, oh Mother, oh Gods, so good, so "...good, so--am I--are you--"
"Yes!" she managed to work into one of her panting vocalizations, "Yes, perfect, right there, let me--lean--" she reached around her own back and propped her hand back there in her lower back somehow, changing the angle of her pelvis, and he could see how it would increase the stimulation to her clitoris in the part of his brain that could still think, but the part that was busy fucking only noticed how it made his cock bend a little on its rapid way in and out of her and how unbelievably *good* that felt, and he got onto his elbows and started bending his lower back farther with each thrust, to smack right flat into her, and her next cry was almost desperate and that *did* something to him and he was pumping without thought at *all* now, yes, yes, sweet good perfect *yes*--
"God," she was whimpering, "yes, good, perfect--" and he realized he must have been saying at least some of that out loud, but that was good, that was fine, he liked out loud, he liked this, in fact he thought he might do this for the rest of his life and oh, oh, oh God, she was--
"AAhhh--don' stop, don' stop, like that like that likethatlike*that* like--" and she was bending, bending *inside* her, part of her squishing and squeezing the head of his cock in an unbelievable way and the rest was fluttering in and out like a powerfully muscular butterfly in waves and ripples and--
"Oh," he groaned in despair, because it was going to be over because he was coming too, he was going to come, he could hear himself, making that noise, that noise he always made before he came--soft and high and keening and desperate, and she was murmuring something like yes God or Do it or something like that, and he was *pounding* all of a sudden, pounding like he was trying to break through a concrete wall and she had her elbows on the bed and she had some fucking *abdominal* strength, that was for sure, she was smacking back into him so hard his teeth got jolted together with each impact, bang bang bang, and that must be where that particular euphemism came from, he thought, before he couldn't think of anything at all except *yes*, one big long drawn-out affirmation of everything in the universe that he was aware of right now, which was mostly that he was coming so hard he would have expected, if he could have expected anything right now, to pass out.
She caught him, held him, as they both groaned and heaved with aftershocks, shoving rhythmically together in a gradually slowing tempo until finally they were still--mostly, at least--panting hard, and he said "Oh God I love you, sir," and squeezed her with both arms, and for once, for right now, he didn't have to pull out right away. How nice to stay with her like this, stay in the warmth, the warmth all around him.
He felt her smile. "Yes--I love you too, Turnbull." It felt like they'd just told each other they were bestest friends in the whole world, and he smiled.
He seemed to remember she was female, gender not being something he noticed much outside chivalric acts in terms of anything but direct need to know--his idea of such being, well, actual *relations*--and, alarmed, hastened to reassure her "Even when you're not fucking my brains out."
She'd been kissing his biceps and it turned into a loud snort, and she laughed again, letting her head fall back. "Yes, I understand that. Anyway, you see, what our mothers tell us is that if the man has *already* come, it's all right to believe that he loves you--and the rest of the Western World--at least for the moment."
Turnbull blushed. "Sorry. I just..."
"Never mind, Turnbull. You and I know what we mean."
"Did we land on your robe?"
"You know..." she felt around. "We did, we certainly did. A stroke of good fortune indeed. Terrycloth is terrycloth; a washing will put it right as rain, and it's far less trouble to wash than the bedding."
"We'll hope it's an omen."
After a breathing period, during which he softened and slipped out of her easily--different, again--
Something wrong, swimming through a haze of--
Moisture, wetness, breathing, moisture of breath--and of saliva--and sweat--
And an odd, tonal noise in the background--
"Oh my God," he breathed, and pulled away a little.
She let her arm slide off, and smiled at him. "Are you awake?"
"I wasn't supposed to--we weren't supposed to--oh, *no*--"
"I...took advantage of you, constable. You had fallen asleep, while I held you, and you became aroused in your sleep, as men often do--"
"Then you did me a favor. I feel wonderful."
"--and women too, sometimes, but in any case I really must apologize. I should have wakened you first, but you seemed so *aware*...and you called me by name, and said...said you loved me, which I knew, of course, but, well, anyway, it occurred to me that it might help, if we'd already done this, to make it easier to do...what we need to, to know if you can do, to understand what it would be like, if it really happened, and whether that might change its status as an ideal to you. Towel?"
He stared at it as she handed it to him. "We have a towel?"
"I...um. There's a bed storage box of them under the, um, here, by the nighttable. No smirking."
Well, a woman who had a semi-active sex life as well as the occasional nocturnal orgasm, and was as compulsive a planner and such as the Inspector was--it figured, he supposed. "I...dreamed I was dreaming we were...trying...um..." embarrassed, he cleaned up with the towel and discovered she was ready with another to place beneath them. "I--oh, *no*--sir, are you on some sort of birth control?"
"You could say that. I'm infertile."
He stared "That's just what you said--in the dream--we talked about--whether to use a condom--"
"You asked me if we should just a bit ago, too. I said that if you always did with Fraser and Ray, there was no need with me, currently. We talked about constable Fraser a bit."
"That's...that's just what you said."
"Then I would venture to say you dreamed something resembling what we actually did. Not exactly, I would imagine, I'm sure it went through some sort of consciousness filter, some kind of translation mechanism, since the various levels don't really speak the same language. Perhaps...you weren't actually dreaming. Perhaps it was some other...dissociated state."
"But I saw...you had a nightgown on, sir, and I had pajamas...the lamps were on, and the music...the music was gone..."
"I don't know, Turnbull. I know you've been fighting very powerful states of unusual consciousness of a kind you can't identify, and apparently, of more than one kind. It's possible you were asleep, but aware enough of your surroundings to incorporate them into your dream in some form. I did that as a child, though never as an adult."
"Yes, many of us have experience with...altered sleep states as...you're really infertile?"
"Turnbull, if I weren't, forty-one is a very dangerous age for a first child in any case. It's why I didn't bother bearing my own child via an anonymous donor, but asked constable Fraser's help when I thought he'd been adopted, in advising me, where he could. It's just as well. My desire for children is a selfish one anyway; I don't think I could bear to...pass on the parenting I was given, as most of us do, one way or another, whether it looks that way or not."
"The desire for children is human, sir. Many humans don't desire children, but even among those who don't, on sober thought, there is distress on learning one is or might be infertile; it's been studied. We feel instinctive distress at the thought of not being able to procreate or at least raise a child to adulthood--I imagine, during our evolution, the need for foster parents was great, so that even though we have a genetic need, as well, to bear our *own* children--"
"I'm sorry. I don't know what to do here, sir. I just had a wonderful sexual experience with you and I wasn't even technically awake. It's insulting."
She laughed. "It was wonderful?"
"Oh, Gods, sir, it was amazing."
"Then there's nothing to apologize for. I came harder than I have in a long time, too."
They curled up together on the towel. Oh, yes, no condom. One wanted a nice clean towel under one's ass for a while under those circumstances. "I feel more relaxed," she offered. "Well, than before I fell asleep."
"I don't know how I feel," he admitted forlornly, and held her close. "While I was asleep, I thought you might be Heath...a friend of mine. Sort of a...spirit friend. But it was you. You didn't say all those things, did you?"
"Uh...I didn't say anything except for the bit about the condoms and whether we needed them. I thought you...just wanted..." she smiled. "Your eyes were...were teary, you hung on to me so tightly..."
"I did want you. Very much. All that...must have been me...or my friend...except. I didn't know you were infertile...I'm so sorry...you'd make a good mother. You do know--" he paused.
"What it's like not to have a good mother, so you'd know what not to do. But you've certainly never said anything like that to me."
"It's true as far as it goes, Turnbull. You're a witch, perhaps you were able to discern some things through my astral self or whatever you people use." She mopped at a slight trickle with the towel.
He reflexively pulled her close, and sighed, getting comfortable to sleep.
"Are you that tired? Perhaps the sedative I gave you is still--"
"Oh, dear." He blinked, then deliberately lifted his head and pulled himself up against the headboard. "I'm dreadfully sorry, it's just that we always have...a little rest after."
"Oh, yes--you're men. Forgive me, I didn't think. Feel free to nap. I'll just..." she was pulled in again as he lay back down, wrapped up close in long arms and legs. "...stay right here," she muttered to herself in an oh-well tone, half-smiling. "You nap together, I take it."
"Mm-hm." He pressed his face into her neck. She felt so good, so soft and strong and good.
She knew the...thing. And she still let him...his Inspector. She would fix everything...he sank into a doze.
She then rested her face along the top of his head, noting how soft the fuzzy buzz was, and closed her eyes. Turnbull was a very nice place to relax, she thought, wriggling a little. He moved a bit to accommodate her, seemingly without waking up. Well, there *were* three of them; she supposed it would be a good habit to practice sleep-adjusting, since they were all pretty long. It probably reduced unintended encounters, by whoever wasn't in the middle, with the floor.
In about twenty minutes of a pleasant haze, she realized he was snuffling about on her, what he could reach, and that his movements were growing more agitated--not upset-seeming, more like he simply wasn't getting what he was reaching for. His sleeping mind was looking for two big men, and he was wrapped around one medium-sized woman. She thought he might appreciate being awakened under the circumstances; this wasn't at all like the sleepy way his hands and mouth had begun to roam gently over her skin, before. She had rolled over, met his open eyes, and seen such love and sheer *friendliness* there--or perhaps a better word was *trust*, yes--and hadn't hesitated a second to meet his next kiss. She didn't know what was inspiring him to this sudden forwardness where he'd just recently been physically shrinking from her--more than once--but what he wanted, he was going to get, especially since she wanted it, too, wanted to be there for him, to to whatever would help him find his way back to his lovers, his Ray and Fraser.
"Constable. Con--um, Turnbull. Turnbull? Wake up, Turnbull..." she spoke softly, grabbing his hands to hold them with one of hers and stroking his large person, calming his confused fumblings.
He began to blink. "Huh? Hm. Huhm--oh. Oh, yes--oh, sir, I'm--I'm sorry, I didn't--I didn't--" his hands began to move over her, evidently checking for injuries, and she shook her head, finding herself quashing a laugh. Smiling, okay; Turnbull had no problem with smiling; but God only knew what a laugh--except at a joke--at the wrong moment, in a situation like this, could do to somebody like Turnbull, as close to the surface as his very soul was right now.
"I'm just fine, Turnbull, but you were growing agitated--you seemed to expect to be encountering...large bodies as you moved, to be, ah, accounting for them, and when they weren't there to support you properly, you ended up in uncomfortable and unfamiliar positions, more than likely."
"Oh. Dear. Yes, sir, you're--" he turned his face away and covered his mouth politely, yawning. "Excuse me." He turned back to her. "You're likely right, sir."
When she moved to resettle herself, he moved to accommodate her, so she supposed cuddling in bed was something he was used to, whether sex was in the direct offing or not. She could easily get by without cuddling when necessary, but it seemed a pleasant thing to do, here and now.
"I hope you...enjoyed yourself. To your usual standard, I mean," he wondered quietly.
She nearly gave him an are-you-joking look, but controlled it and said only "Turnbull, it was great. Better than great. A little quick, okay, but not that quick, and still great. I could have prolonged it; I chose not to."
"Oh, yes. Women...like to take their time with these things."
"Most of us, yes."
"I...haven't much experience with women."
"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow. "Hm. You, ah, did marvelously. I wasn't your first woman, was I? You seemed fairly familiar with the different feels and such. And you're quite fond of..." she gestured with her head to where his hand was resting on her breast--not moving, just covering it warmly.
"Oh." He pulled the hand away. "I didn't notice, I'm sorry--"
"Put it back, Turnbull, it felt very nice." Tentatively, he did so. "It's just that you do seem to like breasts, and men don't have much in the way of them. Well, Fraser...um, men have them, but...they're at best sparsely endowed in that area."
"True, sir, and no, you're not my first woman, though there've only been three. Two were...girlfriends, lovers, I suppose. Most of my experience has been with men." He rested his head on her shoulder, with what didn't sound like a happy sigh.
"Was it...unsatisfactory in some way?"
"Oh, not with Ray and Fraser. Never with them. But...I...well. During...certain times in my life, certain schools away from home--no specifics here--certain...postings...well..."
"Just say it, Turnbull."
"There were times when it became known, among...fellow masculine-form aficionados, that I was one, myself; and I...became somewhat...popular."
She could imagine the size of the target that self-confident gay youths would paint on the hunk of man younger Turnbull must have been (judging by this one), once they found out he might be discreetly amenable to male advances. "You're beautiful," she told him. "Very much so." She sighed. "And very gentle. It's no wonder."
"I learned how to 'gently' say no, eventually," he said grimly, and she nodded. "It didn't take me long to figure out that the...encounters I was...I was going to say sharing, but I think I'll go with 'having'--the encounters I was *having* under such circumstances meant--very little, to the other young men involved; it was simply considered a lucky break that someone so..." he sighed. "Ignorant, and also physically desirable to their way of thinking, was...also to their way of thinking, available for their use. But I was never comfortable, I wondered why, and realized I'd...made some assumptions at first. When the assumptions were eventually thoroughly disabused, I realized that in *none* of the...individual's cases was it genuinely a...an expression of friendship, or caring; and I began to say no. Firmly. Occasionally more than firmly. I must say, a good number of them were very hard to deter. The accommodating type must have appealed to them."
The leanly muscular--hell, Herculean--body, and sweet, baby's eyes filled with faith and wonder for the world were what appealed to them, Thatcher altered his statement in her head, but she made no comment. Hell knew how he'd wound up with that worldview, raised the way he seemed to have been. People didn't carve on themselves because they were *allowed* to express, emotion, or to have actual emotional relationships, with the people who were supposed to be supporting them and caring for them when they were children. They did it to get the need for expression, for simply *being*, while in connection with others--something which they'd never been taught to do properly, or feel anything but an abysmal failure for having the the normal, human desire for. To get the pain someplace where it didn't hurt them so terribly badly, do them further damage *in*side. When Turnbull was with someone, as he had put it, "real", his perceived failing ballooned to monstrous proportions as everything he was ever told was bad and wrong about him--which was everything--became an issue. In relationships as close as he had with Ray and Fraser, you couldn't keep enough distance to prevent your true self from being relevant.
He was finishing his thought. "But at other times..." he shrugged. "The...mutual relief was a welcome diversion from the loneliness. Not lately, though, depending, of course, on how one defines that--well, let's say that in...recent years, I find it to be far too horribly lonely a thing in itself; and that...it intensifies my feelings of aloneness, rather than alleviating them. And that can...always has...caused problems. Such as I showed you under the lamp."
"What causes the 'problems'--you mean sex, without genuine emotion."
"Yes. But even if *I* care, or even if there is some degree of true respect and friendship, the...the problems..."
She nodded. "When you say 'problems', you don't only mean the marks, do you? You mean the feelings--the ones that, when they reach their crescendo, cause the breaking point...you hate yourself, and want to apologize, and give something back to the person you care for. And the hurt and scarring become visible, and at least a little bit *outside* of you, even if only for your own eyes."
"Yes," he said, very softly. "That's why it's important others not know. I have taken very deep cuts without any permanent damage, though it took weeks of careful tending of the wounds; and greater damage is prevented by their use. But no one would ever believe that. I'd simply be clapped in irons. Except you, my nonhuman friends, and...and my friends outside the physical world. Fraser and Ray..." He shrugged; they already both knew the problems, the reasons he was here, the reasons all of this was happening.
She nodded a little. "I've had similar experience as far as the initial 'mutual relief' of sex, and, later, the subsequent lack of its being any great help in staving off loneliness for any length of time...I am largely in the same position as yours, Constable. Though I must admit to the occasional...indiscretion." She smirked to herself. "Apparently my body simply decides it's had enough of my heart's complaints, and takes the opportunity to get what it wants, when it's presented with such. Wine's frequently involved. And before you say a word, you are not to consider yourself in that category. You are a friend." She picked up the hand that covered her breast, kissed it, and put it back. "And we've had no wine, anyway," she afterthoughted in a mutter.
"Thank you, sir." He smiled into her neck.
"Off duty, of course."
"Of course," he said, still smiling.
"Perhaps we should try to sleep a bit without having sex in the middle of it," she said gently, and he smiled.
"Anything to postpone the inevitable."
"Would it really be so bad? To love me? Like you want to?"
"Love you? No. Lose you?"
"You will not lose me."
"And you won't break your word. But you'll never be able to control the way you feel inside, and I will be able to discern that with ease."
"Just one thing, then. Just one thing...if you cry..."
He stiffened. "Yes?"
"Let me respond to you. Hold you and kiss you. I won't speak."
He shivered, and she could feel his throat clench. He nodded.
"I'll try not to interfere with your expressing what you need to."
She could hear him swallow. "Who knows. It might...be good. A good thing."
He seemed to be heading toward another emotional low, which would not be surprising, but if he could sleep instead...she petted him, holding his hand. "Let's rest some more. We can both probably use it."
He sniffed and nodded. His eyes, which she suddenly noticed were horribly bloodshot--or which had suddenly become horribly bloodshot--lifted to hers. "I love you, Meg. Help me get them back." His voice was faint, choked through a tightly controlled sob.
"I will," she whispered back. "I am. If it can be done, I can do it, Constable." She smiled a little. "Don't forget who you're dealing with, here."
He managed a small smile back and nodded, then lowered his head and pulled her close to him, tension all through his body. The soft music, repeating in the front room, seemed to help, as she stroked him with her free hand, her own eyes closed; finally they both slept again, without dreams.
End Requiescat IV: Greater Love Hath None by Blue Champagne
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