Within Different Circumstances

The smell of the perfume-accelerant was still strong in Benton’s nose when he and Ray Vecchio arrived at the 2-7. They had, fortuitously, managed to stop the arson-fire at his apartment before much more than a wall had been singed and soot-stained, but it had still made both of them nervous.

“You and me just been putting too many bad guys away, Benny,” Ray said. “This is like that, what’s his face—the art nut.”

“Zoltan Motherwell,” Benton said, pausing in gifting Elaine a traditional Inuit head decoration. She had seemed bemused but pleased. “I thought Mr. Motherwell was still a guest of the local psychiatric hospital.”

“He better still be,” Ray said, “or I’m gonna find out why and it had better be something real good. There is no reason to let a maniac like that back out, none, and if I find out he’s slid out of custody because some judge is some kinda fan I’m gonna be livid, Benny, absolutely livid.”

Benton paused long enough to drop off Leftenant Welsh’s gift—a decorative scrimshaw made out of whale bone, as he knew the Leftenant was a man who appreciated beauty and who seemed to rarely find a way of indulging in it. “I can’t imagine anyone being enough of a fan to let a serial performance arsonist out of jail, Ray.”

Something weird is going on. I’m gonna call the bin,” Ray said, as Benton paused by Detective Huey’s desk to deliver a sextant, also made of whale bone, though far more practical than scrimshaw artwork. Jack had never struck him as an overly frivolous person. The elderly gentleman Jack was interviewing was observing on its very practicality when a man strolled up to Jack’s desk, and broke in with a quick and sharp “What’s with the spinal column?”

Benton fumbled. He had never seen this man at the 2-7. He knew that, because this man had a quicksilver loveliness that struck him dumb for a moment. “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve met.”

“Kowalski,” the man said. “Ray Kowalski, but just call me Kowalski. Vecchio was here first, you know, all that.” He looked Benton up and down. “You must be the Mountie everybody’s told me about.” He stuck out his hand, a trifle less hostile. His eyes were blue, and his hair was styled in a way that made him look young and boyish, though he smelled faintly of cigarettes and had a deep dimple on one side of his mouth. When Benton shook his hand, it was neither a limp, half-hearted shake, nor a pissing contest to see who could politely cause the other pain—just a quick, firm handshake. His father always said—among many other things—that a man could tell a lot about someone’s character by their handshake.

“You got the files I wanted, Ray?”

“Here you go, Jack,” Kowalski said, and handed them over. Benton felt the loss of that focus almost like a blow. He was wondering how to get it back without fumbling like an idiot when Ray—Ray Vecchio—solved that problem for him.


“I, uh,” Benton said, with a stupid gesture, and Kowalski gave him a slice of a sunny smile, and Benton had to turn away before he did something really adolescently disgraceful, like tripping over a mime Detective Brown was questioning or perhaps offering Kowalski the last bit of pemmican in his belt pouch. He had rarely ever felt this off-balance as an adult, dizzy and distracted.

But he could barely stop thinking about that sharp voice as it gentled into something almost friendly, the way Kowalski’s smile dimpled his cheeks and the way his grip was strong and firm, the way his shoulders balanced the stride of his hips and the way his eyes were so very blue.


He’d argued the pros and cons with himself and Diefenbaker, over the next few weeks. He liked and was very attracted to Ray Kowalski, but his only true joy in staying in Chicago was doing real police work with Ray Vecchio, and workplace romances were generally a bad idea. (To be perfectly pedantic, though, he was not actually employed at the same office, and therefore not subject to any regulations regarding fraternization.) He and Kowalski didn’t interact as much as Benton would like, but every time they saw each other he made a point of saying hello, and each time Kowalski’s surprised and pleased smile made him teeter between grinning foolishly and leaning forward to taste it.

The difference between love and infatuation can be a fine one. Benton knew that already; had had the differences blazoned across his insides and lodged into his body. He was fairly sure, though, over the following weeks and months, that his feelings were not the signs of an inner-ear imbalance, or the reactionary fear of wanting to no longer be alone. For one thing, as attractive as Ray Kowalski was, he was also…well, the fact was that the man was not without his faults. He could be childish and petty, jealous, and volatile. Belligerence seemed to be his default attitude unless he liked someone—and even then, Benton had found that Ray Kowalski was often more abrasive than not.

His abortive romance with Francesca was a good example. First there was Kowalski’s appreciative glances--which Benton endured, as he had little evidence that Kowalski was interested in anyone other than the opposite sex--and then there was the stumbling attempt to ask Francesca out, which had nearly resulted in a physical altercation. (Two, actually; first between Kowalski and Francesca, and then between Kowalski and Ray Vecchio. Francesca was reputed to have a mean right hook.) Nothing else had come of it, save a few sarcastic barbs from Francesca (not without justification) and sulking on Kowalski’s part (perhaps somewhat less justified).

But his smile was so sweet if he was caught off-guard and honest. He complained about Diefenbaker stealing his sandwiches, but Benton had seen Kowalski slipping half a roast-beef on white to said half-wolf on more than one occasion. And Benton had learned, eventually, that half the things Ray Kowalski said about himself were lies—which worked well for a police officer who often went undercover, but it left Benton in the position of parsing the truth from the lie, and that was stimulating. Sometimes it was utterly aggravating, if the lie turned out to be something Ray Kowalski himself believed, but it was never dull.

They danced this way for the better part of a year—chance meetings in the breakroom; cases that called for Ray Vecchio’s assistance and therefore, happily, Benton’s; a multitude of slow-building smiles and nasal laughter and five-minute conversations. Benton thrived on it, even when Kowalski needled him in a way that dug under his thick skin. It was like Ray Kowalski could see through the polite front, and the professional front, to the petty and flawed man underneath. It shook Benton to a standstill and thrilled him in the same breath.

At last, he decided that the half-smiles and chance breakroom lunches were simply not good enough; aside from Diefenbaker’s constant color commentary, there was the fact that a lot of the things Benton wanted to learn, and wanted to know, were the sorts of things that could not readily be learned in a police station, surrounded by miscreants, hardened detectives, and Francesca Vecchio. He dragged his courage to the sticking place and said, “A moment, please, Kowalski,” one day after a quick lunch provided via the sandwich vending machine.

“Sure,” Kowalski said, slinging himself against the breakroom counter. The room itself was empty except for the two of them; Benton would be hard-pressed to find a better chance. “What can I do for you, Fraser?”

Benton licked his lip. “I was wondering,” he said. “Ah. Would you…would you like to get something to eat with me? Sometime?” He thumbed his eyebrow and said, hurriedly, “Obviously you don’t—not lunch, we just had lunch, but I meant—perhaps dinner?”

Ray Kowalski blinked hard at him and cast a quick glance around the room. “What, like. Like a date?”

Benton nodded his head. “Yes,” he said. He wanted to say more—you’re not obligated and I understand if you’re not interested, but he forced himself to be silent, waiting for Ray’s response. It might be a fist to the face; he had witnessed Ray Kowalski’s aggression more than once, though never aimed at him.

A smile was stealing over Kowalski’s face—a shy, pleased, boyish smile that Benton was sure he’d never seen before. “Yeah,” Kowalski said, not quite meeting Benton’s eyes. “Yeah, I’d, uh. I’d like that.” He ducked his head. Benton wanted to eat him. He looked away and hoped his eyes had not given away how hungry he was.


Benton did not fuss over much about what to wear. He was not trying to charm a mysterious young lady; he was taking out a colleague, who favored thin t-shirts and blue jeans rather than fine suits and polished leather shoes. Ray Kowalski did not strike him as someone who would be comfortable in a fancy restaurant—but that was one of the things he wanted to know, considering Kowalski’s ex-wife. He ignored Diefenbaker’s comments regarding fancy restaurants, food quality, and the potential of private booths.

“I don’t know why you’re even offering advice,” he said, straightening his sweater one more time and slipping on his leather jacket. “It’s not like you know the finer points of dating.”

Diefenbaker sneezed eloquently.

“Yes, well, wolves and dogs do things a little differently. A gourmet meal for you is the back alley of a restaurant where someone managed to miss the dumpster with the leftovers,” Benton said. “Besides, this is meant to be low-pressure. Ray could change his mind, after all. Better it be somewhere casual and unassuming.”

Diefenbaker gave a short, mocking howl. Benton stopped reaching for the door long enough to glare at him.

“Now that’s just ridiculous,” he said. “And anyway, any fancy restaurant worth their name is going to check the secluded tables like that for that very reason, so your logic is still flawed.” He shut the door on Dief’s warbling grumble of disagreement.

The stairs down to the street gave him any excuse he needed regarding any unseemly flush on his face, and the brisk early spring night gave him further excuse, should he need it. He made good time; no sooner had he stopped to look down the street than Ray pulled up to him in a sleek black GTO, leaning down just far enough to look at Benton through the passenger window. He popped the lock and Benton climbed in.

“No wolf tonight, huh,” Ray said, and Benton smiled.

“No,” he said. “I thought it would be more prudent to leave him at home.”

Ray nodded, his face illuminated by the reflection of the streetlights and sharp, glaring headlights of oncoming traffic. “So, what you’re saying is…no chaperone.”

Benton stopped for what felt like a long moment, caught on the edge of Ray’s smirk. “I didn’t realize we’d need one,” he said, fastening his seatbelt. Ray grinned.

“I’m just teasin’,” he said, but he glanced at Benton, quick, before turning to the road and guiding the car into traffic.

Benton did not say anything about Diefenbaker’s propensity to be more of an enabler than a paragon of propriety, and instead asked about the car. Ray seized on the subject eagerly, and talking about the car carried them through the drive to their destination—a little diner that Benton had found his first year in Chicago, which sold solid and uncomplicated food. There were a dozen small places like it that he could have suggested, but he had mentioned the name and Ray had lit up with fond recognition, and they had settled on it easily.

“My best friend in elementary school used to come here all the time with his parents,” Ray said. “And on the weekends they’d sometimes take me, when we were hanging out. Man, they have a killer po’boy. Or at least they did the last time I was here.”

“When was that?” Benton asked, as they slid out of the car and walked towards the diner’s door.

“I think Cyndi Lauper was still in the Hot 100,” Ray admitted, a little sheepishly. Almost an accident, the way their shoulders brushed and bumped as they walked.

“They might have changed cooks,” Benton said. “But I’ve always liked everything I’ve tried here.”

They claimed a small corner table, which meant their feet were constantly tangling. It took Benton most of the meal before he realized the tangling was on purpose, and not just lack of space. Ray’s eyes were on him. Benton felt energized with it, because he was looking back just as much, just as often. He wanted to reach out and touch; he wanted the right to do such a thing.

“I hope you don’t mind my saying so,” he said, as their meal was winding down, “but I was surprised that you accepted my invitation. I was…well, I suppose I was hoping you would be interested, rather than knowing you would be.”

Ray blinked at him, uncomprehending. “You asked me out and you didn’t even know I go for guys?”

“Well,” Benton said, “I hadn’t ever seen you express interest in men. Women, yes, I think I could give you a list, but men—”

“Fraser,” Ray said, and his voice was full of sandpaper exasperation, “Fraser, I been looking at you since you showed up.”

Benton felt—well, rather as though someone had smacked him with a fish. “Really?”

“Yeah, really,” Ray said. He scrubbed his hands over a paper napkin, the material rasping in the near-quiet of the diner. “I got a ‘he’s not interested’ lecture from Jack, even.” Ray met his eyes again, challenging, aggressive. “But you kept lookin’ at me, so eventually I figured he didn’t know you as well as he thought.”

Benton licked his lip. “I didn’t realize I’d been so obvious,” he said.

“Nah,” Ray said, ducking his head, the challenge bleeding away. “Nah, just—maybe just to someone who was looking back, you know, on the QT.” He looked at Benton through his lashes, then scanned the diner, as if searching for eavesdroppers.

Benton didn’t particularly care if there were an entire audience of gossipmongers, busy-bodies, and nosey parkers. He was turning the phrase since you showed up over in his head. “Well,” he said. “That’s.” He hadn’t realized he was smiling until Ray glanced at him out of the corner of his eye and laughed.

“You always look that happy when divorced Chicago cops with experimental hair tell you they been checkin’ you out?”

“Yes,” Benton said. That seemed to be the magic word; Ray sprung up and snagged his jacket.

“We got the check? Good. Let’s pitter patter, okay, meal’s done.”

Benton followed, a little mystified, but confident that Ray had something in mind. They paid and left a tip and tripped out onto the street, illuminated by streetlights and storefronts, neon tubing and bright yellow liquor store signs. Ray bumped his shoulder on the way to the car, his smile a striking curve and his dimple showing. “Hey,” Ray said, as they slid into the car and put on their seatbelts, “you, uh, you want to come to my place for some coffee?”

“Yes,” Benton said. It seemed his answer to Ray Kowalski was always going to be yes. “I’d like that very much.”


Ray’s apartment was eclectic, individual, and deeply cluttered. It was almost a sensory onslaught—dust, the scent of a freshly-cleaned aquarium, the ghost of toasted bread, and old tobacco. Ray stepped past him to flick the lights on, and Benton added chili pepper lights, bland lamps, and fluorescent kitchen lights to the mix.

“Sorry it’s a mess,” Ray said, and he sounded sorry, a little—but also as though he hadn’t expected to be bringing someone home at all. Benton could hope that Ray would have attempted to clean if he’d been hopeful of such a thing, but he’d seen the reports Ray would type after a case, so he was not surprised to find the apartment in a state of mild chaos.

“It’s fine,” Benton said, and added politely, “I’m also a bachelor, after all.”

Ray laughed. “Don’t ever let the ex-Mrs. Kowalski hear that,” he said. “Half our fights were about me bein’ a slob and her not bein’ a live-in maid just ‘cause she said, ‘I do.’ You still want that coffee?” He leaned, with studied casualness, against the breakfast bar. “If you suddenly got to, uh, rush home and feed your wolf then, uh. I can run you home.”

Benton shed his jacket and hung it over a nearby chair. “Diefenbaker can take care of himself,” he said. “I’d like that coffee.”

The smile he got back was worth every bit of the complaining Dief would do once Benton got home, despite the abundance of dog food, water, and an open fire escape. Ray retreated to the kitchen, and Benton had a choice of leaning in the doorway to watch him, or politely taking a seat on either a couch or a somewhat disused armchair. He drifted towards the kitchen, lured by Ray’s mutterings. Ray’s kitchen was just as eclectic and strange as the rest of his apartment, and Benton would have appreciated all the quirks of decoration if he hadn’t been so focused on Ray himself, half swaying to a song only he could hear as he hastily cleaned the coffeemaker and measured out some grounds from a slightly dusty bag.

“I, uh, I don’t entertain much,” Ray said, and Benton could see the beginnings of a flush starting around his collar.

“I’m not really one for entertaining, either,” he said. It was perfectly true. He had noticed, after a while, that people were often unpleasantly surprised by his apartment. It seemed they were surprised by the lack of things, rather than an abundance of undesirable ones, but he didn’t dwell on it too much. He had what he needed. He was wondering if Ray understood what he needed, too, and how much of the surrounding clutter was an effort to fill an absence.

“How do you take your coffee, Fraser?”

“Black,” he said.

Ray made a face. “Brave man,” he said. “I got, uh. I dunno, I might have some instant hot chocolate if you wanna make it sweeter.” He dug out a pair of mugs and doctored one with a packet of powdered sugar, cocoa, and milk. “It’s good. Better than M&Ms. Trust me on that.”

Benton licked his lip again, a little entranced with the way Ray’s nape was arched. “I’m all right,” he said. Ray turned and caught his eye before he could look away, and then he didn’t want to look away.

“You, uh.” Ray set the packet down. “You’re looking kinda hungry.”

“I am,” Benton said, very softly.

Ray wavered, and looked like he was going to say something else—but what he said was “Fuck it,” took a quick step across the linoleum, and pressed himself up into Benton’s personal space. “You don’t want this, you gotta say something.”

Benton smiled. He didn’t say anything, and when Ray leaned in, Benton met him halfway, catching the lapel of Ray’s coat, finally tasting Ray’s lower lip, and sliding one hand up into the short hair at the nape of his neck. Ray was pushy, in the best way—he pushed his hands against Benton’s arms, his shoulders, tilted his head and slid his tongue against Benton’s like he was finally getting what he’d been wanting all night. He made a hungry noise.

A step back, a second, and Benton drew Ray out of the confined kitchen and into the living room. It took a lot of concentration, because he wanted to just sink into the feeling of Ray’s mouth, his clever tongue, the way he tasted faintly of iced tea and grilled mushrooms. He curled a hand in Ray’s spikey hair and held on, swaying away from the walls, depending on Ray to keep him from whirling off into the ether.

“Couch,” Ray said, his voice slurred and his eyes dark when he pulled back. “We can—the couch.”

“Good idea,” Benton said, and managed to maneuver them to the couch, around the corner of it and without knocking anything over, which may have been a minor miracle. Ray sank down first, but he was pulling Benton down with him. It felt like drowning; it felt far better than drowning.

They kissed there for what felt like a long time. Benton ducked his head to gently bite the tendons in Ray’s neck; let Ray push again; bit at Ray’s lips, breathed in Ray’s breath, felt the silence outside the two of them like a holy audience. Ray’s hands found their way under his sweater; Benton pushed Ray’s jacket off, slid a hand up under the thin t-shirt, shook. He pulled away reluctantly, because he could probably spend a lifetime learning Ray’s mouth, but he wanted. He tugged lightly at Ray’s belt.

“May I?” he asked. And then, as a cadre of public service announcements spun briefly in his memory, “I’m—ah, I’m clean. May I?”

“Me too, yeah,” Ray said, but he leaned in for another kiss and Benton thought it might have been more than a few minutes between being granted permission and Ray actually letting him slide to his knees. He tried to hurry things--he pressed his advantage, unthreaded Ray’s belt buckle, and began fiddling with the button on Ray’s jeans--but Ray was disinclined to help, instead trying to map Benton’s palate and upper lip.

“Ray,” he said, laughing. He was on his knees and Ray was still trying to kiss him. “Ray. Ray.”

What?” Ray pulled back at last, his eyes dark and heavy, his lips red, his hair even more outrageous than usual.

“I would like to fellate you,” Benton said, only a touch drily. He tugged sharply at Ray’s jeans and the buttons popped. Ray slid down the couch cushion a little, and Benton manhandled him until Ray was laid back, his jeans and underwear down past his knees, his cock free and his shirt rucked up. “There,” Benton said. “That’s more like it.”

“Bossy,” Ray breathed, but he settled back, watching, his eyes deep and dark.

Benton debated pulling Ray’s boots off, along with his jeans and everything else, but he couldn’t wait that long, and he didn’t think Ray wanted to, either. He got one hand under Ray’s thigh, gripped his skinny behind, and wrapped his other hand around the base of Ray’s cock.

He let his eyes close when he took Ray into his mouth. Ray made a choked sound and whined, high and strained. Benton noted it, but concentrated on the taste—nothing so easy as musk, nor esoteric—just human and male and thick in his mouth and against his tongue. He sucked, a steady rhythm, half-losing himself in the sensations and the sounds Ray was making. He felt flayed by the intimacy, by the sheer vulnerability of having this sensitive part of Ray so close to him, held away from his teeth by his own thin will and little else. He pried open his eyes and looked up.

Ray’s head was tilted back, his eyes squinched shut, and Benton paused long enough to pull back and breathe against the head of Ray’s cock. He could see the shudder travel all over Ray’s body, practically felt the little whimper caught tight in Ray’s throat. Benton seized the tender skin of Ray’s thigh in his incisors, just tight enough to feel.

“Ray,” he murmured. “Ray, look at me.”

“Can’t,” Ray said, and his voice sounded tight, threaded through a funnel. “Can’t. I’m gonna come if I look at you.”

Benton pressed his smile against Ray’s skin. “That’s rather the point,” he said. Another shudder wandered up and down Ray’s body, vibrations Benton could nearly see.

“No,” Ray whined. “Don’t wanna….”

Benton sucked a kiss against Ray’s cock. “We’ve got all night,” he said. He almost didn’t recognize his own voice, gone deep and slow. “I don’t work tomorrow. Neither do you.” Ray shuddered again, moaned a little. Benton bit his own lip, sharp, sharp, because he couldn’t bite Ray, not like this, not this soon. He stroked Ray’s hips, scratched at the slight swell of his ass, sighed against his thigh. “Ray.”

Ray whimpered again, louder than before. “Fraser,” he said, “Fraser I don’t—I can’t—”

“You can,” Benton said, “and you will. Look at me, Ray.”

Ray whined, but his eyes opened, just a little. Enough that Benton could see the blue of his irises behind his lashes. “That’s good,” Benton said. “That’s very good, Ray. Keep looking at me, please.”

He leaned in and took Ray’s cock into his mouth again, sucking slow and sweet. His own body thrummed with wanting, but seeing Ray spread out on his couch like this, his vulnerable throat and spread knees and soft exposed belly—Benton felt as though his own pleasure was an afterthought, when he had a feast like this laid before him. His own eyes narrowed, in concentration, but he kept them on Ray, held Ray’s gaze as relentlessly as he knew how. Ray shook and whined, his hands fisted in the fabric of the couch cushions, white knuckled and straining.

Benton wanted to tell him don’t fight it so hard, he wanted to say I want to make you feel good, but saying either of those things would mean stopping, and he couldn’t make himself do that again. He held Ray’s eyes and sucked him in, balanced remembering to keep his teeth to himself and stroking the underside of Ray’s cock with his thumb. He sucked and took Ray as deeply as he could, thinking about the intimacy of consumption, the way Ray was yielding to him, whining, and biting his own lips to muffle himself. Benton was greedy, he wanted all the noises Ray could possibly make in this position, in this situation.

He wasn’t sure what tipped Ray’s control, what stimulus proved to be too much to bear, but Ray’s eyes widened, and words tangled in his throat, and Benton pulled back quick enough to catch Ray’s release in his mouth, swallowing and stroking until Ray’s hand fumbled and seized his own.

“God,” Ray said, trying to catch his breath, and Benton kissed his knuckles. “Fuck, Fraser.” He tugged Benton’s hand and pulled until Benton was on the couch next to him. “Talk about a high bar.”

“It’s not a competition,” Benton said, feeling a tendril of trepidation. “I just…I’ve been thinking about this for a—a long time.”

Ray laughed. “Fuck, you must’ve,” he said. He lolled his head to face Benton, a smirk beginning on his face. “Come here. I’m kinda useless but I wanna touch you.”

Benton leaned in and kissed the smirk off Ray’s face. “You’re never useless,” he said, but Ray was saying “Yeah, sure,” in that dismissive way he had when speaking of himself, and already reaching for the tight fastenings of Benton’s jeans. The looseness felt like a shock; Benton had been focused so intently that he’d almost, almost forgotten how hard he was, how eager. Ray’s fingers were long and powerful, and Benton had to kiss him again. He was making small sounds—embarrassing noises, really, but he didn’t care, because Ray was in control now and Benton gave himself over to that control as completely as he could. A small stroke of Ray’s calloused thumb beneath the sensitive head of his cock and Benton fell.

He pressed his face into Ray’s neck, taking his own time to catch his breath and come down from the summit, and thought I want to take you north. He let the thought linger but didn’t voice it. Sex on the first date, after a year of attraction and friendship—that was a gift. Taking Ray north was—

Well, that would be a gift, too, if it ever happened. No need to rush.

Ray wriggled, pulling their clothes to rights, and settled back to run his fingers through Benton’s hair, from nape to crown and back again. “You okay?” he asked. His voice had gentled into that soft register Benton had rarely ever heard.

“Yes,” he said. “Thank you kindly.”

Ray laughed. “I, uh. I need to put fresh sheets on the bed, but, uh. If you wanna stay. You don’t gotta.”

Benton pulled back just enough to look Ray in the eye. “I would love to,” he said.

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