Never Christmas

I wrote this for china_shop in the 2005 due South Seekrit Santa. The beta was by Tora Kowalski and Kit Garcia. I also need to thank Shadowkitty for dealing with angst and panic and Mirkwood13 for knowing Narnia better than I. Any other flaws are my own.

I'd like to revisit this reality someday.

This story is also available as a pdf: Never Christmas

And Kowalski is stomping into the bullpen, arms swinging with that frenetic energy, which instantly sets off my inner Kowalski-explosion alarm, which is why Iím slouching along a good couple of yards behind. Nothing to do with the fact Iím fucking soaked and my third pair of new shoes since he came back from the frozen north and got foisted on me (not what he wanted, not what I wanted, and I doubt even Welsh wants it now, except that two loose canons together is probably better than two loose cannons working independently, which is sure as Bennyís Canadian what he would say if I called him on it, which I donít because heís the Lieutenant here and Iím not fucking Kowalski) are total write offs, not even Little Tony can use them for dress up. It may be that clothing destroyed in the course of work is tax deductible, but the fucking paperwork does my head in as much as Kowalski does.

Thinking about it, maybe all that snow turned Kowalski Canadian. Iím sure as fuck the gay thing was always there, just kept below the surface because he put all that effort into building Stella a pedestal to fucking stand on so he never had the energy to move his neck from craning up at her like that, to actually look any other way, let alone get his cock sucked on the side. Youíll notice how I donít talk about me and Ange, or me and Stella, or me and Armando, (who suddenly went through a mid-life and started doing boys), and thatís nothing doing, because Iím not going to, ever.

And if the North bought out the Canadian in Kowalski, it was Benton Fraser who bought out the queer. Or maybe he did both, because as far as Kowalskiís concerned, Benny can do everything, anything, all at once. Except, clearly, give Kowalski what he wants, which is clearly hot Canadian dick up his ass. Like you can do that in a tent in the middle of the fucking arctic.

He just doesnít get that he is not Fraser and Fraser is not him.

Case in point, today. Kowalski tried to do a Fraser and swing off a gantry onto a fucking container and then leap six feet onto a ship on Lake fucking Michigan because he thought it was crewed by fucking pirates. He said he could see them and they were up to something heinous. Why hadnít I picked up on that? What would it have taken for me to catch the fucking clue-bus on that one? What more would it have taken? Kowalski to do the whole Lake-they-call-Michigan thing? Problem: one, he made the swing all right, but then he didnít make the jump, and the stupid fuck can barely swim, so that was me in the just-about-water too, and another suit wrote off, and then it turned out they werenít pirates at all. Murder mystery weekend with rich paunchy German guys.

So what have we learnt, kids? Kowalski ainít Fraser. But then it seems like Kowalski expected them to switch places and while he got to save small children and give candy back to babies (bad idea: rot their teeth), Benny gets to be fucking horny and jump him in a tent somewhere in the artic and fucking fuck him until he canít walk no more because his legs are fucking like this for the rest of his fucking life.

Why canít Kowalski get it into his thick spiked out caffeine-addled skull that it ainít happening? It so ainít fucking happening. And can he just stop fucking dancing around, making out that it was the greatest adventure ever, and he was James Dean crossed with Errol Flynn? Because if thereís anyone who likes swinging off things and is as gay as Kowalski, itís Flynn all over.

***

Vecchio bumped me up against the goat, his hands bunching up in my Willison Hawkeyes t-shirt, so clear that heíd have liked it more if he had lapels to grab as his hands scrabbled for a minute against my chest until he got a good hard grip, and he pulled in close, trapping me, ďForget it, Kowalski, just forget it. Bennyís so far in the closet that heís in fucking Narnia. No love, no sex, just dark women in sledges bearing Turkish Delight and endless adventures in the snowÖĒ

I swear, Vecchio donít know what heís doing to me. Or if he does, heís been learning the Oblivious routine off Ben, or maybe he didnít really go under with the Mob. No, dick, quit thinking about Vecchio going under like that, I wasnít thinking like that, uh-uh, and I really do not want to poke Vecchioís dick like that Ďcause, yeah, it would be fantastic for yeah, five minutes, and then heíd pop me one, and he wonít let me pop him one back ever, and when did I start talking to my dick like it was that fucking wolf? Yeah, think about fornicating half-wolfs for a minute, dick. But really, Vecchio ainít been under with the mob, heís been under with the Mounties, in Mountie-bootcamp learning how to be super-subtle bitchy and stay cool even when youíre tied up by a bunch of bozos who want to stick lampreys down your pants.

So yeah, I pull my head back. Like I used to do when I still smoked. Iím desperate to get some space between us, because otherwise things so will not be pretty, and Iíll have to tell the Lieu why we were fighting in the parking lot, and sure I might be a professional liar, but Welsh, he can see right through me every time. Itís like Iím naked in front of him. And if that isnít a dick wilting thought, I donít know what is. And now Iím back to my regular program, and I filter out the Vegas tough-guy thing Vecchio has going for him, and yeah, I get what heís saying, I get it so good.

So I add, quiet like, ďÖand itís never Christmas.Ē

And he looks at me like he thinks literary alumniÖ allusions are totally beyond me, which is bad, because now it means that there are two people who think that way, and while with Benton it was okay Ďcause he was practically born in a library igloo and thereís no way I can know or read as much as him, Vecchio? Fuck. Iím no moron, okay? Otherwise, how did I get a better solve rate as Vecchio than Vecchio ever did when he was still himself?

And thereís the rub. Is Vecchio still Vecchio? He sure as fuck doesnít quite match the files I had, and Frannieís fucking jumpy Ďround him, and Frannie thought Guy Rankin was nice, once upon a time. But then, Vecchio beat the shit out of Rankin, so maybe not that much has changed after all. But then, it has, Iím sure of it; these dayís heís all cool and suave and then, when nobodyís fucking looking, itís you, him a golf club and a real dark alley.

Iíll pass on the golf club and settle for the dark alley, myself.

But then, I wanted to settle for the tundra, for Ben, for fucking Narnia, and I donít care if Narniaís sexless or something, I donít care if itís all wholesome harmless fun and games in the snow. I donít want to be the kid chucked out for liking make-up (though I like make-up plenty, like a kid, though, playing dress up) or nothing. What everyone got wrong, Stella, my Parents, Welsh is that I never wanted to grow up at all. Nosiree.

Not work, and sleep and work; wash, rinse, repeat; for me. Adventures, and playing and days that never end. Sounds good, huh? And that is Bentonís world, and Vecchio thinks I donít know, but I do. Iím more than happy to be playing kidís games, comparing things, giggling if thatís where things takes us.

Only problem: I couldnít figure a way to make it stay.

What a screw up.

***

I get home real late, not even Maís staying up for me. So I donít have to make excuses, but then, itís real clear that sheís getting used to this, that Raimundo comes in late, with smoke on his shirt and mud on his shoes, and does his own fricking laundry in the morning, and sheís even stopped commenting about that, which meansÖ donít know what it means, I never try to second guess Ma, because sheís one heck of a woman and has known me since I was -9 months old, good enough.

And fucking Stanley, up against the car, just zoned out on me, as if he was in fucking Narnia, or maybe La-la-land. Hope the sceneryís nice there, Kowalski, really do. And maybe it will be good for you, so good, get your brain and dick away from Benny some, maybe bring you down to earth a bit. Anyhows, I fucking left him, still staring into space, against his ugly ass car, staring at me like I was a ghost or something.

I really hope Iím not the Ghost of Christmases yet to come or nothing, because he was one scary guy, except, yeah, he made old Ebenezer go all nice and cheerful. Maybe I woke him up to some things about the Mountie, yeah, and heíll start not looking at the space where Benny ought to be.

Yeah, the space, donít think that I donít think about it. The world seems empty without him. Really empty. I miss those crazy-ass cases now, the ones where it turned out that almost everyone was decent underneath and attack marmosets are fine and dandy, Ďcause now itís back to same-old-same-old, honest citizens trying to con other honest citizens, and murder them, and the missing kid cases that we seem to get stuck with lately, because somebody high-up thinks Kowalski has ďempathyĒ and is good at interviewing kids. Once we had days, which were brighter, fuller, better tasting, and now, theyíre like crazy paving, all grey and broken.

Except. Except, thatís how things really are, thatís how things always were, the only problem is the guy who escaped from Narnia by way of Never-Never-Land and made us think otherwise.

Made us believe we could fly.

And instead weíre plummeting to the ground, plummeting down towards that crazy paving, and Iím just waiting for the thump.

***

Fuck, I made like a statue with Vecchio, and not even one of those cool Iím-wearing-only-a-sheet-fuck-me-now statues that so liven up any art gallery. Just, wham, bam, freezerama.

Iíve found out some things today, and not just how Vecchio turns my crank, which I kinda knew already, and God alone knows what would have happened if the water had not been totally freezing what with him being all up-close and personal and looking like an Armani wet t-shirt contest, except more extreme, like a wet Armani suit contest and you have to be pretty good to show up under a ton of wool and silk like that. Cold water so should have stopped that, made his nuts run home for momma and all, but clearly it didnít stop me when my dick started going ďhello VecchioĒ and trying to greet that nice wet bulge of his.

Yeah, not just that.

They never changed the locks at the Consulate.

Which is why Iím in Fraserís office, no, Fraserís old office, which is now back to being a storage closet, full of boxes and wondering what the fuck can explain this, and when the Mounties find me here and send me off to prison in Mountie-land, how Iím going to explain this to Fraser in my little prison letter on little prison notepaper.

ďDear Ben Fraser, I messed up. I decided to break into the consulate, because I thought you might be in the closet. And did I ever tell you that I Did I ever tell you how really really sorry I am. Ray (the skinny Polish one)Ē

Sucks. It suckity suckity sucks. And thatís the thing, Iím not gonna leave, I donít think I can leave, and those darn Mounties are going to have to drag me out by my ankles, and I wonít even try and kick Ďem in the head.

And the worst bit is I donít even have the booze as an excuse. I am not as drunk as a skunk, or even as drunk as a wolf, or as drunk as a hoary marmot. No liquor has passed my lips, which might make Benton-buddy the poster boy of temperance happy, but then neither has anything else, like say, Benton-buddy, passed my lips. Iím so horny that Iíd settle for Vecchio, or some guy called Lou in the back of a bar just inside Boystown, just inside enough to get me sucked, but mean that I could still look all pearly white if the vice boys came in to get out the rain or somethiní. But I canít. Iím all fucked up inside, and I canít because Iím a fucking romantic.

Itís that or all the jack and vodka and other fun stuff I used to drink has now settled in my brain twenty-four seven, or maybe I took a bad hit in the ring, or maybe I got starved of oxygen when I almost fucking drowned. Or why donít we take it right back to the beginning, when I popped out the oven early and underdone. Yeah, Stanley Raymond Kowalski, this is your life, a whole load of dumb things done for dumb reasons.

Thereís gotta be some reason why Iím in Fraserís old office, sitting on a packing crate full of, God knows, pemmican permit paperwork, and Iím staring at that closet of his. The one he swore he used to hear banging noises from, which was probably Turnbull polishing the family silver away from Thatcher or something else Canadian normal.

And then I stand up like Iím on strings or something and pull open the door.

Nothing except what smells like a Fraser-flavour attempt at home-made moth repellent, because bug busters are so environmentally unfriendly. Okay, I also have a cousin in Arizona who blew up his house with the things, but then, there had to be a real dumb Pollack somewhere in the family tree, itís like Vecchioís genetic ability to mobster, or Fraserís instinct to lick stuff; but you get bugs, you get bug busters, not oil of bergamot mixed with cloves and granny pants lavender.

Nothing there.

Like, surprise much? So I spin round and look at the room again.

And then I feel a cold breeze run across my back.

***

I just canít fucking sleep. Maybe, I should just go downstairs and slob in front of the TV, I got over that movie where the bad things came out of the idiot box long ago, and they donít even shut down no more.

So I go down and fix myself some juice. Orange, chock full of sugar, and maybe Benny will come running down from Canada on a specially trained Caribou to save me from dental decay and cavities. But, heíll be followed by an assassination team sent (politely) by the Canadian Mob on behalf of the Baby Seal Splatting Association, and yeah, happy thoughts.

Once upon a time, I used to think that happy thoughts could make you fly. Now I know all the do is set you up for a fall.

Somehow, the only channel I can get is showing curling.

***

My backís all cold and the cold is drying out my t-shirt toot sweet and I turn round, and thereís just the closet. Well, Iím a detective, I like to figure stuff out, and it canít be coming from the windows because they have that film on them, you know the stuff you have if youíre poor, but not poor enough to not own a hairdryer. So yeah, itís the closet, and I just step into the closet, casual-like, like I hang in closets every day.

This is gonna look so fucking good when the early morning Mountie patrol find me. What are you doing, they say. Iím in the closet, I say. And sure, Iíve got my sweet ass out of prison, but theyíre gonna stick me in the nuthouse instead. And I have a nut allergy, honest. Itís why I only eat chocolate M and Ms in my coffee.

I step into the closet and I step out into the snow. Not good if youíre only wearing a t-shirt and even if I hadnít left the leather in the back of the Goat, itís seriously Canada here. And for some reason it ainít amusing me that much that since Fraser is in Canada, Vecchio was right, and he is in the freaking closet. And that reason has a lot to do with the fact that Iím stuck in some big ass pine forest and my way home ainít there. No closet. Some of those trees might grow up to be closets one day, but there ainít any here right now.

No coat, no closet, hello my-future-as-a-popsicle. Greatness. Oh, yeah, and then theyíll find me in couple oí hundred years and stick me in a museum like that guy in Switzerland. If you didnít know already, Discovery is my friend; it teaches me useful stuff like all about penguins which you donít get in the Artic, and frozen Swiss. What it donít teach me is how to make an instant coat out of a pine tree. Which is why I wish I had my other friend, Benton Fraser RCMP, here right now, because he would know, or heíd know a better way to warm me up. And I so am not a teenager, but what the fuck will stop my dick? The lake they call Michigan? Nuh-uh. Being about to be popped hard by my partner? You gotta be kidding me. The prospect of becoming human popsicle? Nope. Like Miss Macalister said, back when I was young and free and trying to do my homework so good that I could carry on kissing Stella behind the bleachers when we got to college, the answer is in the question. What the fuck will stop my dick? Fucking.

It would be so fucking simple if I wasnít freezing to death, and looking behind me, I realise my feet have made my one big decision here and decided that yeah, Iím gonna move about some rather than give up and have a snow bath and hope they have hot baths in heaven.

Footprints, footprints everywhere, and not a head to kick.

And then I see the light, which does not mean anything metaphysical or anything, like I give up the booze Iím not drinking and the gay Iím not having and shout Alleluia, but actual physical light. It is not exactly dark in this forest, the cover makes it a sort of perpetual twilight. Of course, I could be dreaming all this, since itís all stuff I know from knowing Ben, it could be that I fell asleep in Benís office and the early morning Mountie just hasnít woken me up because I look cute and/or sociopathic.

Anyway, I think I am here, and if Iím here, Iím dying on my feet, and they tell you that dying is like going towards a light, so I do.

***

I still canít fucking sleep. I hate Stanley, heís probably in his bed, dreaming of Mounties and caribou, where one of them get to suck him off, and on reflection, itís not going to be the caribou. This is a crying shame since Iím sure that caribou must have big teeth, because everything in Canada does, and it would be harder for Kowalski to be such a dick without one to call his own.

Itís the insomnia talking, not me, Iíd never wish for a partner of mine to be emasculated any more than Iíd wish him dead.

Except for those five seconds on a train station platform which are carved forever into my eyes. Into my eyelids, and when I close my eyes, thatís what I see, thatís what I hear, thatís what I feel my hand doing, rising up and taking aim, and Iím screaming no like a fool.

Like a fool, because I know itís real, it was the rest of those two years, which wasnít.

***

I walk towards the light, okay, not walk, more skid-shuffle. Snow and pine-needles do not a good pavement make.

Itís a fucking lamppost. It is Narnia.

Almost.

Narnia, thatís where you get fauns under lampposts that are there for no good reason, here you get guys in big ugly fur hats under lampposts. I donít know, maybe weíre in Russia, Ďcause thatís kinda like Canada like weird and cold and cold and weird and weirdly cold, just like Canada really; or maybe the guyís girlfriend went to Epcot and all he got was this horrible novelty hat. I can so get behind that.

My mom said that I never should go talk to strange men wearing horrible hats. Well, she didnít, but if she had seen this guy, she would have, or gone hide under the bed. One of the two.

Then I notice that heís holding out a coat, and that makes up my mind for me. Mothers might tell you not to talk to strange men, but they also tell you to wrap up warm. And if I donít wrap up warm, I wonít be able to talk to strange men, and anyway, I broke that rule the moment I met Ben, I mean you canít get a stranger man than that, can you? Now, if only heíd do things to me. I wouldnít tell mom or a teacher or something. Iím old enough to look after myself, Iím a big boy now.

And he has a coat.

And he has a coat and it looks like one of those funky Inuit parka-things.

And he has a coat and it looks like one of those funky Inuit parka-things and I really need a coat right now.

ďAh, son, I thought you might be in need of one of these,Ē says mysterious old-guy, and Iím so grateful that I pretend I donít hear him muttering, ďDamn Yanks, donít have a brain cell in their heads, never plan ahead either, now if I was going to walk through a closetÖĒ

ďThanks man,Ē I say, before I actually end up listening to any of this bull, because, like anyone actually plans on walking through a closet in an office and ending up in Narnia, and that weird voice in my head can shut up about ďwhat did you expect anyway?Ē because 1) I donít care and b) if I expected anything, it was a hot naked Mountie. ďYou know anywhere a cold American can stay round here? Or failing that, the location of Benton Fraser RCMP, because weíre buddies and if thereís anybody I want to see in the middle of a Canadian forest, itís him.Ē

ďYouíre not in Canada, son, not quite. I have a cabin over north of here.Ē

Cabin. Greatness. It might be another way of saying shack-with-no-water-running-or-otherwise, but I love it. Canada grows on you, and so does cabin-liviní, Ďcause cabins mean oatmeal and, if I promise to brush my teeth after, honey on top.

So I tromp off through the woods, I think I hear the guy shout something, but I head on, no time to gab right now, letís get me some cabin. Now, letís think, moss grows on the North side of trees, right? This path-finding lark is way easier than Fraser ever made out, Ďcause, look, Iíve found a path already, and itís a really good path.

Iím not usually this inane, Iím just worried something will freeze up if I stop.

***

You can say this for curling, itís almost hypnotic. Iím sure Stanley told me something about Benny and self-hypnosis. Maybe thatís how he does it, watches the Stanley Cup, which whatever Kowalski thinks, has gotta be the only Stanley Bennyís interested in, and puts himself in that happy happy place.

Actually, maybe itís why all Canadians are so damn polite, they watch curling and it teaches them to be slow and gentle with their fellow-man. Clearly, the dragon lady hates the stuff.

I wonder if it will put me to sleep if I watch long enough.

***

Either Iím in a damn big cabin, or I took a wrong turning. I donít care because this place is kind of nifty, plus, thereís more chance of me finding something to eat in the cupboards because more rooms equals more cupboards, particularly if a chickís involved. Doesnít stop the place looking spooky, but then thatís just gonna be the weather, trust me, the dark and the snow makes everything spooky, like Lou Skagnetti spooky. Not helped any by it needing a visit from an interior decorator, and really needing a visit from an exterior decorator. Wonder if Sven the smelly Swede has like a special rate for doing both, with a session with you, him and a riding crop thrown in for fun. Hey, Iím only halfway kidding, why else would the Ice Queen employ him? To look at colour swatches and arrange the furniture? Excuse me; sheís got Fraser and Turnbull for that. And Iíll bet my bottom dollar that Turnbull would love to pick out curtains. The only down point would be the fetching curling kettle print.

The Ice Queen would be so at home here, come to think of it, everythingís so tasteful muted, and grey. Or maybe Stella, even, throw in a few wine chenille throws over the furniture and one of those fruit bowls on a stand. I just donít particularly want to meet the lady of the manor, or the guy of the manor, it ainít a preference thing, I donít want to meet both of them equally; it just doesnít feel quite right me being here. Maybe Iím still spooked, though Iím warming through nicely away from all that snow, and Iíve found myself a nice big canoodle a braÖ candelabra which lights up good. Maybe it was the statues that werenít in the garden, only the plinths, but then, this place is in a bad way, and maybe the owner put them into hock to pay for repairs.

See, perfectly logical explanation, only problem, it comes from a guy who thought it would be a good idea to sneak into his best friendís ex-office and then walked through his closet into snow-land. Yeah, logical.

Still, itís warmer in here, and yeah, gonna look for a bedroom, Ďcause if these people think anything like Ben, bedís where youíre going to find the warm stuff, like blankets and that, and then once Iíve found a room I can camp out in, I can make a fire then. And you know what I was saying about this place and Stella, yeah? You can double underline it and stick Frannieís spangles on it. I mean, woah, big four poster bed just this side of princess, and one of those freestanding mirrors, and on the chest thereís silver platters with lids on. Trťs classy.

Hmm, being the investigative type that I am, and so not a nosey-parker, I lift up one of the lids by the rinky-dink little handle. Pemmican. Urgh. I am so not that hungry, or at least, Iím not so hungry that I wonít check the other dish-thing first. Okay, weird, itís kind of pink sugary stuff, and Ben always goes on about high energy requirements in freezerland, like when we were looking for the hand and ate butter Ďcause it was fat and fatís like calorie-a-rama, so sugar has to be pretty damn good. So I pick up one of the squares and pop it in my mouth, and Christ, itís like eating sugar mixed with your momís best bath salts.

Pemmican, here I come.

***

The curlingís over now and Iím just beginning to swim happily in the warmth of infomercials for pop psychology books guaranteed to make you a happier better zombie and I look at the clock over the dresser and fuck, itís like five am and itís all too clear that Raimundo isnít going to get any sleep tonight, since weíre officially in today territory now. At least I know why Canadians like curling so bad, itís long and takes away your pain for hours, great if youíre out there in the big whiteness with nothing to do except go play chicken with polar bears.

I think I ought to go grab the bathroom before any of Mariaís little bundles of adolescent joy hog it. Yeah, and shave and do my teeth and all that shit, because I might not care too much about Stanley, but I donít want ma worrying about me more than she is already, her baby boy shouldnít be going around getting in cop chases now he already get laid off the force once, and if I hear that again Iím going to do something really stupid and Benny-like and dangerous just so that I donít have to hear it again.

Yeah, go save myself from tooth decay because Benny ainít turned up to do it for me yet. Maybe the caribous are running slow or something. Or maybe heís met a Mountie girl andís making Mountie babies right now; the guy barely knows what a telephone is and his letter writing sucks, itís all ďDiefenbaker and I are well,Ē and then he does nothing but go on about what interesting thing happened three towns over in Gluggamoulson.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, open mouth and mirror. Simple. So why does it feel such hard work?

***

What was that stuff? I swear I will never diss pemmican again, ever, nosiree, pemmican pie for now and forever. Pemmican for breakfast, pemmican for lunch, pemmican for dinner, pemmican for brunch. And itís got to be good for me because Ben eats it. Or maybe not, since Ben eats dirt and poutine and birdís nest soup and baby seals, raw baby seals.

I mean, eww! But pemmican is nice, pemmican is my friend, and Ben is my friend and maybe I can lure him here with the pemmican and then he can help me, Ďcause otherwise Iím stuck, and pemmican is not going to start fires or build igloos or find me something other than pemmican to eat.

I think maybe I might have missed something else edible and I look around, and then I notice it, I can see Vecchio in the fucking mirror. Man, he looks like shit.

He doesnít half make funny faces when heís doing his teeth, looks like heís going to lose that brush up that big schnoz of his if heís not careful, and his eyes are shut, kind of like he was getting a vigorous backrub from somebody who canít quite get it right, but it feels so good.

I pull a face and canít see it, just him, and then I wonder if he can see me.

***

Fucking Kowalski, heís such a fuck up, and heís still happy about it, and heís better at being me than I ever was, always remembered flowers for maís birthday, always got a better solve rate, and when did Kowalski steal my life? ĎCause suddenly heís the tough guy whoís fun to be with, not me; not even Frannie wants to spend time with me, Iím just the scary muscle. And everyone talks to Kowalski, not me, everyone was sorry about his damn baseball shirt, but no-one said nothing about my suit. Iím disappearing arenít I? And one day, Iím going to look into the mirror and see nothing or Kowalski, and I donít know which scares me most.

I open my eyes. Kowalski. I close my eyes and open them again. Kowalski pulling faces like some kid in fourth grade. Thank you, God, now I know which one scares me most and itís this one.

And Kowalski keeps mouthing something at me through the glass.

I open the cabinet. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, weird female things Iím never asking about, mouthwash. No Stanley. Close the door, and in the glass, more Stanley; open it again, same old same old and no Stanley. Close it to and wave my hand behind the mirror and Stanley doesnít even flicker some.

And then it gets real weird, even weirder than Benny-weird, as his hand starts coming out of the mirror, like it belongs to the lady of the lake and sheís reaching for Excalibur, except it ainít hers and thereís no magic sword, just me. And then it grabs my shirt and pulls.

And Toto, I ainít in the bathroom no more.

***

I only reached out because Iím as curious as George or something; and then blammo, all fall down, because it takes a lot to pull a grown man, and one of the laws of emotion, huh, motion is that once you start something going, it keeps going until it hits something, if it has momentum.

Vecchioís big on momentum, which is why heís landing on top of me right now. And then heís up over me on his hands and knees and thatís good, because it gives my dick room to, oh fuck, dick, donít do that, please donít do that. Save that for when we get home again and I can think about Ben naked again, because you like naked Ben, donít you, but if you do that now, youíll be too tired, and I know you like Vecchio too. And this is too fucking disturbing, first I talk to my dick like itís a wolf, now Iím talking to it like a four year old, and that sucks, because it means Iím thinking about dicks, and Vecchio has a dick, and itís not very far away and I really donít want him to notice, andÖ

ďHey, little Stanleyís come to play, you like that Kowalski?Ē I was not expecting that, Vecchioes found out: 1, broken jaws: nil, ďYou like it when I get all close and tough on your ass, you like when I hold you against things, when I hold you downÖĒ

I am trying not to come here so bad, Ďcause that would suck, Ďcause it sounds like he wants to. But then, maybe he doesnít, maybe the only thing he wants to fuck with is my head, and not in the happy fun way either, in the Bookman way. In the ďIíve just found out that my partnerís queer and Iím gonna give him enough rope to hang himself like a little Christmas fairy on a treeĒ and thereís just a dark edge, a hint of menace, a hint of danger.

I like danger, I love danger, I love dangerous Canadians; but Vecchio, heís another type of dangerous now. No wonder Frannieís all jumpy round him. ĎCept I really doubt heíd play with Frannie like this, or at least I hope not, and I donít know is he playing-fun or playing like a cat with a mouse, like a horny cat with a nice-assed mouse.

And mirrors are meant to make you see things better, so why am I having such a tough time with this, I mean, Iím wearing my glasses, donít leave them off much no more, want to be ready to shoot, ready to fight crime, and yeah, Fraser likes it when I wear them, though for all I know it is just buddies, buddies like buddies to see where theyíre going. Plus, on the dog-sled-roadless-road-trip it meant that I could check out Fraserís ass from further away. Fraserís ass makes my dick jump up more.

Fuck. That was so not the idea. How do I know I havenít done a Star Trek or something and pulled through the freaky mirror-world Vecchio, you know, the one who is actually a criminal mastermind who likes say tying up cops and doing them up the ass with cucumbers? I donít know nothing.

And Iíve got Vecchio on top of me. This makes running away kind of difficult.

Thing is, I donít want to sound desperate or terrified or nothing, I need to play it cool, so I ask myself, What Would Steve McQueen Do?

***

ďI could say the same to you Vecchio.Ē Typical Kowalski, typical smart-ass, and such a nice ass it is too. Trying to look tough, but his lipís trembling and I canít tell if heís scared or freaked or horny as shit.

ďYeah,Ē I say, feeling a little bit Bookman and a hell of a lot more me than I have for a real long time, ďbut my name ainít Stanley.Ē

And the guy whose name is Stanley is trying to sink back into the floor and I realise that for a guy in his best Egyptian cotton pyjamas, (quit snickering there in the cheap seats, I have sensitive skin), freaked. Heís definitely freaked. I can hear a little Stanley voice going ďno, majorly freaked, freaked beyond freakageĒ and yeah, I need to do something about that.

So I lean my head down and kiss him, polite and nice like a good little Catholic schoolboy, who okay does guys but he does them like he does girls should he on occasion do them. I canít decide whether I sound more like Benny or the Lieutenant, but then it doesnít matter because Stanleyís mouth is opening like a sinful flower waiting for a bee to dive in, all the bee had to do is have the courtesy to sit there nice and wait.

My ass is still up in the air, which might make me look real dumb, but thereís nobody to see, here in Magic Mirror Land, and yeah, I need to go slow here, Stanleyís still shaking some, and his half open parkaís furís all wet like heís been tromping through the snow or something. I just poke the tip of my tongue between those lips and he sucks on it like heís a drowning man and fuck, what has he been eating?

Kowalskiís mouth tastes sickly sweet and sticky, and a bit like old meat left in the back of the refrigerator and then hauled out and stuck in a bachelorís one skillet special, but only after you chop the green bits off. Hey, I havenít always lived with my ma, you know, I have had to fend for myself out on the Great Plains or something. Kowalski tastes like that, as he sucks on my tongue so hard that my jaw begins to ache, and of gun oil andÖ Heck, he tastes of Kowalski, sugar coated bad meat flavour Kowalski, itís that or a vulture with a sweet tooth.

In the corner of my eye, I see the open silverware. Did his mom not tell him any decent fairy stories, then? Thereís one sort of person who lives in a castle with a magic mirror, and you donít want to eat anything she gives you, or leaves lying around for that matter. I like this spell, though.

The moment I come up for air; god, that manís got a mouth like a suction pump, I almost drown in it as he sucks me in as if heís drowning; two skinny hands grab my ass and pull down, hard. My knees protest. Bad enough that weíre in making out on the floor territory without them having to move without getting clued in on the program first.

Kowalskiís smart, I knew that when I saw his/my solve rate; but this is fucking genius. Heís hard and warm beneath me, the fur from his open parka tickles my wrists as I reach up to stroke his face.

***

I move my head to catch Vecchioís fingers in my mouth. He tastes better than candy, better than pemmican, and it gives me something hard to suck on, not quite a cock, but then, if I had his cock up here, it wouldnít be getting friendly much with mine down there. And yeah, heís proved his intentions are pure and everything, so yeah, he just needs to get on with it now, because the one thing my dick would like more than what itís got, is friction.

And maybe, if I suck Vecchioís brain out his fingers, then heíll get going some, and not care that I might be some skinny fragile little doll, which I never have been, or scared, which I was, but Iím not now. Iím not asking him to fuck me up the ass with a cucumber or anything, but thereís only so much cotton wool I can take, and if I wanted cotton wool, Iíd go and lie down in the big mountains of the stuff outside.

So, yeah, sucking. Itís a pavlova response thing, suck a guysí fingers and it goes straight to his dick, because dick thinks that some nice warm wet fingers are coming to play, and yeah, Vecchio-baby, thatís it.

And thatís it.

And thatís it.

And this is it.

And who let the damn snow in here, everything is white, no it melted away like fairy dust, and itís fairy dust that makes you feel like flying.

And then Vecchio gets up and sits down in front of me. What happened to basking? What happened to having a hot and horny human blanket? What happened to Elvis? What happened to baby Jane?

Vecchio should look real stupid, sitting there on his ass in his jammies; but he donít, he looks like sex on a stick, like candyfloss, except less sweet and more likely to appeal to the over twenty-ones. Very happy sex on a stick, and yeah, thereís come seeping through that white cotton. I may have fouled up my boxers, but everythingís tucked away nice, and hopefully weíll find a laundrette behind a tree or something before it dries hard; but Vecchio, itís all making shapes at his crotch and itís so very inviting.

So very inviting that I RSVP and roll over and get my head there and Iím laying on my belly while my tongue tastes there, and sniffs, and traces out his cock with a cocktail of come and spit, the electric taste of skin merged with the cool clear taste of whatever the fuck expensive stuff Vecchio gets his jammies made out of, might be linen, but how the fuck would I know? Bad boys donít wear linen. It creases too bad. Maybe Vecchio has a Fraser-level ironing habit. But no starch.

Too much thinking, not enough licking, not enough blowing Vecchioís mind, Ďcause sure he canít get it up again that fast, but thereís nothing wrong with putting him in Happy Land, is there? So I blow on the damp spots some and he squirms like a girl with worms down her neck, not that I ever stuck worms down girlsí necks. And I pick up some of the fabric between my teeth and move it around like a cat does her kittens, only without it sounding all Oedipal. And I keep doing it, and just when Vecchio gets used to it, I make like Iím doing it again, and get my mouth round his still soft cock and just hold it there for a bit, while Vecchio spaces out.

Then I suck a little and honestly, this is so much better than pemmican, and weíll leave the bath-salt gunk out of it for now. And yeah, he starts filling my mouth out a bit more, growing hard just Ďcause itís my mouth round his dick, getting everything warm and wet and comfortable.

And then Vecchio grabs my hair and pulls my head up. The rest of me follows because my body is rather attached to my head, and vice-versa, my head is nobody without my body pulling its weight, otherwise it would sit around all day and watch Discovery and pig out on nachos and pizza, my body give its va-va-voom, its get-up-and-go. Ouch. But itís good ouch, because now Iím not playing with cotton but his mouth and heís got his hands on the back of my neck and weíre kissing hard and fast and dirty. And so hard I think my teeth are going to fall out and my geek chic glasses are going to hit orbit and cause NASA problems for years.

Iíd object to him taking away my lovely toy, but I know it only means heís gonna have a better use for it later, and well, maybe I should help speed things along. Iím nothing but considerate. Iím going to let him play with my toys and everything.

***

Kowalskiís trying to undo the buttons on my pyjama shirt, his fingers all clumsy and lazy with sex, and they have a mind of their own and whenever he gets distracted for just a second they race off and try to get intimate with my nipples through the thin cotton.

Quick but lazy kisses that taste of cotton and me. And some of that syrupy stuff. They will probably taste of that syrupy stuff from now Ďtil the end of the world, but Kowalski can feel free to try and get rid of that taste anyway he wants.

He breaks away to better concentrate on the really difficult buttons, and I see something dark over his shoulder. And I feel something walking over my grave, which is weird, because I donít have one yet, ma keeps knocking me for my lack of forward planning there.

And the shadowís moving, itís coming closer and begins to resolve itself into a person. And right now, I wish it was the Wicked Witch Of The West or whoever owns this bijou vacation pad. Itís Benny, and heís dressed for work, not in those fancy-ate dress reds, but in the kit he actually works in up where it is cold and even the polar bears get frost bite, all sombre brown and skins, making him look like an old photograph come to life to haunt us.

And heís looking at me with those eyes that so haunt my dreams, the ones where I see only pain and betrayal as I pump bullet after bullet into his shattered back, laughing and revelling in vengeance. And the worst thing in that dream is the thing I see most in his eyes, as they grow dark and cloudy while I anoint my hands with his blood, still hearing the screams from those silent lips, is that he doesnít understand at all.

And then I look at the real Fraser, not the dream Fraser and I can still see it, that he doesnít understand, he knows thereís something of a betrayal, but he does not understand, he sees rejection and pain, and I know, in a moment, it will be as if it was never there at all.

I see dark eyes full of pain and betrayal and fractured innocence. I see the dark lady amongst the snow, her snow-white lily-white fingers tasting of Turkish delight and electricity, her every breath a lesson in seduction, her cold face betraying one incapable of love but forever craving it, stealing it wherever she can and craving most of all the simple love of somebody, whoís never really quite been tainted by the world, for whom the stains of the human condition have always washed out. And then she covers him in beetroot juice, or blood, or rage or fury and revels in the fact he doesnít quite understand, and that it is that, not her actions, that tear him apart slowly, more surely than the rack.

***

Vecchioís gone kind of wooden and stiff and not in a good way either. He keeps looking at something just behind my shoulder. I thought he just had a thing for my neck. In my dreams, Ben has a thing for my neck, and he licks it like a cat, not like a wolf, all tasting with that little bit of bite I need, and Iím arching up, arching up and almost coming just because he keeps licking at the pulse point, sometimes hard, sometimes soft, big long licks that almost reach my ear and make me think of Dief, and little jackhammer licks. And fuck, heís making me come with his tongue on my neck. Except it isnít his tongue. Itís my finger, wet with spit and a little pre-come, and my other hand is wrapped around my dick, unmoving, just there enough.

Who would have known that my neck was an erroneous zone? Stella sure didnít. Luanne sure didnít. None of the girls knew, and neither did the guys, but then itís hard to experiment when youíre in the disabled stall in the back of a bar and youíre more interested, youíre supposed to be more interested, in tongue on your dick. Hard and fast and impersonal, not loving and tasting and like nobody ever knew me before.

I really hope it ainít the lady of the manor, because Iím sporting a woody like Woody McWoody the Yukon wood mill owner, who through a tragic accident ended up with one made of carved pine polished with resin, the cause of his popularity with all the girls. And for a guy who isnít real, he sure had a big boner. Not that Iím in competition or nothing.

I canít keep myself in suspense forever, even if it might blow the happy-horny thing I have going and I turn my head, andÖ

Itís Ben.

Itís Ben and he looks like a kid, whoís just been told that there is no Santa Claus, there is no Christmas, no presents, no nothing, and itís like having a plaster ripped off and heís pushed hurt and unready into that cold world where the grown-ups live. And he has to work, not play, at being grown-up in this grown-up world, and be polite and clean and do his chores without complaining. But heís still a kid inside, hurt and alone.

Except, for Ben, it really never was Christmas at all.

***

Vecchio stands up and opens his arms to Fraser, while Iím still half way in hot and horny la-la-land and half way into metaphysical musing and pop-psychology, and is like, ďBenny, we love you, let us take the bad feelings away, the bad memories away, and replace them with something better. Benny, let us love you, fuck, we already do, we were just too afraid that you might bolt or somethiní and we didnít notice that weíd left the gate open and you didnít even need to bolt,Ē and Iím like woah, Vecchio has the hots for Ben, why did I not know this? It would have made undercover as him so much better, easier, under the covers with Mountie-mine.

And when Ben doesnít come over, doesnít move, he donít do anything Ďcept his best tree impersonation, all wooden and still, Vecchio just steps up and kisses him as if he was Prince Charming, pushing the life back into him, with a questing tongue and grasping, embracing, soothing arms. What was it with Prince Charming, didnít he like Cindersí home cooking, and decided to chop and change and rescue a new princess every day? I should feel put out, a minute ago he was kissing me, his nose and my glasses clashing like Titans, and his hot tongue battling my own. He wasnít kissing me like this, soft and gentle like a kiss-gourmet, like itís a sort of absolution.

A single tear like a spun glass tree decoration begins to roll down Fraserís cheek, catching slightly in the stubble, gilding with light his wind-chapped face. And Vecchio pulls back a moment, his lips wet and gleaming, and wipes it away with his hand. Perhaps, if he was wearing something other than his jammies, heíd have pulled out a handkerchief out the Armani, but he is Armani-less and he is beautiful. It is like heís left his Armani-shell behind, left the Bookman-shell behind, and heís like a turtle come out of his shell. But turtles die if they loose their shells, and you canít put them back, Johnny did that in sixth grade and got social on his ass for it. I donít want Vecchio to die, I donít want us to die, will we die if we stay here?

I try to think happier, like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis, beautiful and shining, at first floppy and dull but growing to hard brightness. But the butterfly is doomed, itís at the end of its cycle and all itís got to look forward to is sex and eggs and death. I think we can skip the eggs, unless some even weirder shit is going on.

I donít want to die; I want to be forever.

I want to be here forever, standing here, watching them, watching as Vecchio cradles Benís head in his hands again and dives in for another slightly hotter slightly dirtier kiss, his tongue flicking across Benís lips like a curling rock skimming across ice. I want to be here watching as Vecchio takes everything in little bitty steps and gives everything to Ben, teaches him what it feels like to be Christmas, to be loved and loved absolutely.

I close my eyes, I donít want to see this end. Because I never want this to end, ever.

I want to live in Never-Never Land, I want to never grow up, I want to live this endless now, I want never to have to step back into the cold world of grown-ups and work and the booze that makes only a pale mirror of this. I want everything to be like this.

The sounds have stopped, I wish I could close my ears and live an eternity of this in my head.

Thereís a hand touching me. I open my eyes. Itís Ben.

***

And we hold him in our arms until he stops shuddering, until he relaxes and melts like snow at the end of winter and the beginning of spring. And still we hold him, and with our touches let him know that it is alright to change, and we ourselves wonder what he might become, what we might become, and we donít worry, weíre just content to wait and see.

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