"Remind me again what the hell we're doing here, Fraser." Ray stopped walking momentarily, rolling to the balls of his feet so he could tug surreptitiously at the seat of his pants.
I glanced at him and then away. Looking at Ray was distracting right now. "You know what we're doing here," I murmured. "This is an undercover assignment. These...kind people are entertainers of a particularly leather-and-latex-associated bent. This lovely young woman is Mistress Asha--their employer. We are here because it would seem there have been several disappearances among the clients of this establishment in recent months, and our young friend here asked for the Department's help in finding the person responsible." I licked my lips, glancing sidelong at Ray again. "Is that a sufficient amount of exposition, do you think?"
He grimaced--but before he could answer, we were stopping again. We were in a large back room--clearly the employee lounge or resting area. The furniture was comfortable, leather-upholstered sofas and overstuffed chairs. There was a small table, a sink and a microwave. Our guide slid into a place in a corner of one sofa and indicated that we should take the other. She crossed her long legs and leaned back into the cushions, regarding us with dark-painted eyes. "Well," she said. "Here we are."
Ray gave her a sarcastic smile. "Here we are," he repeated, waving a hand. His latex pants were a tight fit--far more form-fitting than the jeans he usually chose to wear. The discomfort was making him irritable.
Without looking at him, I reached over to lay a warning hand on his knee. We were alone in the room with Mistress Asha, but I knew that several of her employees had followed us here, a respectful distance behind. They were gathered just outside the door even now, listening and curious.
"This would be the break room, then?" I said.
Mistress Asha smiled. "That's right. You can come here whenever you aren't busy with a guest. Eat, hang out, I don't care. The only thing you can't do is smoke--Pete the Punisher has chemical sensitivities."
I nodded. There was a pause. Something in Mistress Asha's face was setting me on edge--some hint of amusement or a challenge. She was our only inside contact, so we would have to rely on her for our cues. It was always a trust fall, working undercover like this. I only hoped that Mistress Asha would not choose to take advantage.
Ray shifted again beside me. He didn't look at me, but I knew he could sense the sudden change of atmosphere too. I moved a little closer to him, sat forward on the edge of the cushion, trying to ready myself in case we had to act.
Mistress Asha licked her lips. "Okay, well. Do you two have any more questions? No? Then I think I'll introduce you to the rest of my staff." She lifted her gaze to the doorway, gave the barest of nods. The room was suddenly crowded with curious performers of all varieties--tall men in leather hoods; women in lingerie, in cat suits and harnesses and a variety of uniforms; several people of indeterminate gender wearing nun's habits and priest's collars; cheerleaders, boy scouts, librarians and doctors. "Everyone," said Mistress Asha, "These are the new boys. Constable Mike, there, is our new Mountie." She waved a hand at me and I tipped my hat.
"And his friend Billy is going to take Rob's place as the human footstool." Ray scowled at the floor between his feet. I poked him.
Mistress Asha smiled at her staff. "You all be nice, now," she told them. "You remember what it was like to be new."
I half-stood, then, expecting the introductions to be over with, but everyone was still looking at us expectantly, and Mistress Asha hadn't moved. I sank back uncertainly.
"One last thing," Mistress Asha said, her eyes on Ray and I again. "A little ritual we have here at the Thorn. You can think of it as a rite of initiation, if you like, but it's also our own little way of being sure that you're...on the right side of the law, if you know what I mean." She smiled, lowering her eyelids a little. The gathered performers were utterly silent, all eyes trained on the two of us.
At my side, Ray had gone tense as a springboard, every muscle ready for a fight. "What kind of ritual?"
"Well," Mistress Asha said, "Nothing too complicated. You make out for a couple of minutes, and the rest of us get to watch." She smiled again, flirtation and challenge in the same half-lidded gaze. "We call it Two Minutes In Heaven, our own little version of the game--it's shorter because, you know. We're trying to make a living, here."
The rest of her staff laughed. Ray was glaring at Mistress Asha, his body stiff with anger. "That's twisted," he said finally.
Mistress Asha raised her eyebrows. "Careful, Billy. We're all queers here--you'll want to mind what you say."
Ray shook his head. "That ain't...that's not what I meant." He looked at the group of performers, but their gazes were flat, reflective. Waiting. He looked at me.
I licked my lips, feeling my cheeks flush painfully red. But I lifted my gaze to meet his. There was concern in his eyes, and a little fear, and a note of something else beneath that--a bright, querying spark of something I could not quite identify. I swallowed hard. Nodded.
Ray inhaled sharply, turning back to Mistress Asha. "Fine," he said, chin jutting. "We'll do it."
Mistress Asha smiled again. "Good," she said. "Who wants to time it?"
One of the priests stepped forward. She pushed back the sleeve of her black shirt and pressed a button on her wristwatch. "Okay," she said, to Mistress Asha. "Ready."
Mistress Asha looked at Ray. "Ready?" she said.
Ray exhaled, his head hanging. Then he straightened, shifted forward on the leather couch and laid a hand on my knee. His fingers were burning hot through the wool of my trousers. His lips looked wet and very red, and his cheeks were flushed too, and I could feel his breath on me. "Yeah," he said, and met my eyes. I smiled a little, trying to reassure, and he let out a breath of what might have been laughter, his fingers tightening on me.
Mistress Asha cleared her throat. "Okay," she said. "Go."
Ray's face was a blur with bright blue in the midst of it. His lips brushed mine, then brushed again. His fingers moved up and found my face, curving gently around my chin. I closed my eyes. His mouth settled against my mouth, his hand gently turning my head so our noses no longer met. I moved my lips. His lips were wet, and I could taste him there, that rich familiar scent suddenly made tangible, touchable, filling my senses. Overwhelming me. This was Ray with his mouth on my mouth, with his wiry body poised over mine, with his fingers so careful on my jaw. My hands, which had been flailing aimless at my sides, moved of their own accord and settled on his hips.
He huffed a breath against my lips, half into my mouth--surprise or laughter, I wasn't sure. I tightened my fingers. He lifted his other hand, tentative and uncertain, and pushed those fingers into my hair. "Are you okay?" he murmured against my ear. And suddenly I didn't care who was watching or why we were there. I forgot the time and the risk of this, forgot to care what was at stake. I moaned softly and pulled hard at Ray's hips, and he gasped against my skin and let himself collapse on me, and I lowered us both to the couch.
Distantly, I was aware of approving hoots and low whistles, of the laughter of our audience. But I didn't care. They didn't matter. What mattered was the smile Ray curved against my neck when he lowered his mouth to bite me there. What mattered was the weight of his body on mine, pressing me into the cushions beneath me, and the warmth of his hand beneath my unbuttoned tunic. What mattered was how I could feel his ribs through the ridiculous nylon shirt, could feel the shift and play of his lean muscle beneath my palms as I stroked my hands firmly up his sides and then the rough line of his stubbled jaw as I cupped his head.
I pulled him up so our faces were level again, and got to see a little of that smile for myself--the shy pride at the spectacle we were creating. The relief and the arousal and the warmth. I pulled him down and kissed him hard, moaning into the slide of our lips together, feeling his mouth open so I could lick my way inside. His hands were frantic on me now, roaming and stroking, a thumb on my nipple, over my undershirt, the fingers of his other hand tugging at my waist, untucking and slipping under, touching my heated skin.
"God," he said, lifting his head a little, "Jesus Christ."
I kissed him again, swallowing the last of his blasphemes, moving my hands back down his body, fingertips digging in, until I had a double handful of his behind. I pulled him closer there. Felt his erection nudge mine, felt us both groan at the contact, low and helpless, as our hips bucked and our breath turned ragged.
"A minute thirty," said someone, somewhere. Ray lifted his head and blinked at me, dazed. I surged up and caught his lower lip between my teeth, biting down, gently. He gasped, and laughed, and kissed me again, his hands in my hair, fingers memorising me, his tongue pushing into my mouth. I wrapped my arms around him and held him hard, brought up my leg to press my thigh against his hip. "Mmm," he moaned, and I put one hand under his shirt and felt the warm skin of his lower back, just above the waistband of his pants, and I knew I would starve to death now, if I couldn't finish this, if I couldn't get him alone in a quiet room and touch every inch of him, just like this.
"Time," said someone. "Holy fuck, you two. Time."
And then Ray went still on me, and raised his head and smiled at me, and the room came back, and the watchers in it, and suddenly I could hear the awed laughter again. I smiled too, though I knew I was blushing. Ray's smile grew. Unhurriedly, he lowered his head and kissed me a last time before he stood up and faced our audience. He rearranged his clothes, his posture all dignified defiance. The laughter slowly died away. "Nice," said Mistress Asha, respectful and amused at once. She shifted in her seat on the couch. "Very nice. I think you've put my mind at rest, gentlemen. You're going to fit right in."