MIRACLES DO HAPPEN
Set after Call Of The Wild.
Ray gets a phone call on Christmas Eve from Kowalski. It sends him racing back to Chicago, and will change his life.
A first time story.
Written: October 2005. Word count: 2,411.
It was Christmas Eve when the phone call came. Ray Vecchio was changing in order to take charge of the evening's bowling.
"Yeah, speak to me. What is it?" There was a pause and the sound of a throat being cleared. Ray was irritated – which was nothing new these days. Stella had finally walked out after eighteen months of living a lie. Eighteen months of blazing arguments. Eighteen months of blaming one another. Eighteen months of pain.
Ray found, to his bitter regret, that he missed the arguments. At least shouting at, and being shouted at by, someone meant that you were alive; meant that someone cared enough to shout. In fact ironically, it was when the shouting stopped that Stella walked out; the final sign that she no longer cared. Ray wasn't entirely certain whether she ever had, at least not in the way she should have done.
"Come on, come on. Speak to me or hang up." Without giving the other person a chance to comply, Ray started to slam the phone down. A voice calling his name stopped him. "Kowalski, is that you?" It was just about the last person he wanted to speak to. "Stella's not here and I don't know when she'll be back." Something in his pride refused to tell the man that she wouldn't be back.
"It's not Stella I want to talk to. It's you."
Ray sat down with a start; surprise didn't begin to cover his reaction. "Me?" Surely he'd heard incorrectly.
"Yeah." Again Ray heard the sound of a throat being cleared.
He glanced at his watch; he only had ten minutes before he had to open up. "I don't wanna rush you, Kowalski, but I'm due to open up in ten."
Ray's vision blurred; his ears pounded; sweat broke out over his body. Suddenly a vision came and stood in front of him. A vision of red and black and the vision was speaking to him. ‘Thank you kindly, Ray.' Ray shook his head, forcing the vision to go away. No! He wouldn't think about Benny. He couldn't think about him, because thinking about him hurt too much.
"What about him?" He tried to make his voice as nonchalant as possible and cursed silently as his heart began to speed up. His damp palms caused him to nearly drop the phone; he didn't catch Kowalski's words. "Sorry, I didn't get that."
"I said, Fraser's dying. He's asking for you."
No. No. No. That couldn't be right. Ray must have heard incorrectly. It was a sick joke Kowalski was playing. He was trying to get his own back on Ray for him walking off with Kowalski's ex-wife – the ex-wife he was still in love with. But it was only pay back, after all Kowalski walked off with Benny. Again his name for his ex-partner crept into his thoughts. The name that only he used. The name he hadn't used for eighteen long, lonely months.
Ray swallowed hard and tried to lick his lips, but his tongue was too dry. "Dying?" The word came out as a croak and Ray was angry.
"Yeah. He's contracted some version of the damned SARS virus."
"How?" In spite of what Kowalski said about Fraser dying, Ray allowed himself to hope. After all, according to the news, so far only four percent of victims had died. Why should Benny be a statistic?
"Helping some woman who had come back from Tokyo – illegally. She was trying to escape her vicious husband who was some sort of high-ranking official in the city, and the cops wouldn't listen to her. Fraser helped her, and this was his reward."
Kowalski sounded suddenly old, and in spite of the antagonism that had never faded between the real Ray Vecchio and the fake Ray Vecchio, Ray felt a flash of sympathy. That was his Benny, always the savior. But he wasn't and never had been ‘his' Benny. And that was Ray's biggest regret, the cause of his biggest lie.
Kowalski was talking again. "I know what you're thinking: SARS isn't always fatal, right?" Ray made a noise of agreement. "Well it's mutated; don't ask me how, I ain't no doctor. All I know is that the doctors say there's no chance of him living. It's destroying him, Ray." For a second the usual cocky voice trembled, and then was firm again. "He's asking for you."
"Me?" Ray's voice was small, he couldn't think straight or clearly. He heard a banging in the distance and glanced at his watch. Shit, he was late. But it didn't matter. Nothing mattered anymore. He ignored the bangs and shouting, shut them out and concentrated on the voice in his ear.
"Yeah. He asked for ‘the real Ray Vecchio.'" Kowalski was trying, Ray could tell, to keep his voice even and flat. But again Ray read the pain and the hint of jealousy that Kowalski was trying to keep hidden. In spite of himself, hating himself in fact, Ray felt a flash of victory.
Ray bit his lip and thought frantically. How the hell did he get from Miami to Canada tonight? It was impossible all the airlines had been booked solidly for months. He wasn't even certain he'd be able to find someone with a private plane who'd be willing to make the trip. "What?" he said, suddenly aware that Kowalski had been speaking again.
"I said I've booked you on a flight to Chicago. It leaves in two hours."
"Chicago?" Ray's brain couldn't compute the rest of the words.
"Yeah. We came back here."
Kowalski sighed. "Look the whole Hand of Franklin thing was a big mistake, okay? Vecchio, I haven't got time to go through it all now. If you want to see Fraser alive, get on the blasted plane."
"How did you manage to get a flight?" Ray's brain finally clicked into gear.
"You don't want to know. I just did. Okay. Here are the details."
Ray grabbed the pencil he kept by the phone and scrawled them down. "Thanks, Kowalski. I owe you. I -"
"Whatever. Vecchio, tell Fraser . . . Tell him I said goodbye."
"But won't you be . . . ?" But Ray was talking to a dead phone.
Pausing long enough only to tell Johnnie Parker, his right-hand man, that the alley was now in his hands, Ray dashed out of the building and sped off into the night.
It was snowing when the plane touched down in Chicago. But Ray didn't feel the heavy flakes as they tumbled onto this shoulders and head, turning his ears to ice and his freezing his fingers. As he stared helplessly at the double-line of people waiting for cabs, someone touched his arm.
Ray turned, his hand automatically reaching under his coat for the gun he no longer carried. "What if I am?"
"I've got a cab waiting to take you to the hospital. D'yer wanna go or not? It's all the same to me. I've already been paid."
Ray blinked. "I'm Vecchio," was all he felt able to say.
"Oh, Benny," he whispered, as he lowered himself into the chair by the silent and still man's bed. "Oh, Benny." He felt tears begin to well up in his eyes, but he refused to let them fall. Instead, he picked up Benny's cold, pale hand and began to warm it between his own. His eyes swiveled to the various leads going into and out of his friend, and to the hospital equipment that bleeped and
twittered in the background. There was more stuff surrounding Benny than there had been when Ray had –
He pushed that thought away from his mind. Nothing could be gained from visiting the past, especially not that part of it. Instead he concentrated on the rise and fall of Benny's chest, counting the number of shallow breaths his friend was taking. The Mountie, because that is what he would always be to Ray, had fallen into a deep coma, an hour before Ray had arrived. A coma from which he was not expected to recover.
A faint whimpering sound caught Ray's attention and a blunt nose nudged his leg. "Dief?" he glanced down. The fur ball he'd never expected to see again, gazed up at him, the look so sorrowful that this time a single tear did escape from Ray's eye. The next second it was licked away by a rough tongue. "Awwe," he cried. "Get off, Dief." But his heart wasn't in it and Diefenbaker knew it. His head came to rest heavily on Ray's lap.
Gently, Ray put Benny's hand back down onto the bed, interlacing his fingers with the now slightly warmer ones instead. The other hand moved onto Dief's head and be began to stroke the rough fur. "It's all right, Dief," he murmured. "I'll look after you. You can come back to Miami and live with me. You'd like that, wouldn't you?"
"I have no doubt that he would, Ray. After all I believe that there would be an everlasting supply of pretzels, cheese, chips, and peanuts for him to eat."
"Nah, I wouldn't do that to him, Benny. I'd - Benny!" Ray exclaimed. "Benny? Benny?" he jumped to his feet, knocking Dief's head from his lap and stared down. "Benny?"
"Ray, do you think you could lower your voice a little, please? I find that my head is aching."
"You're . . . You're talking." Ray lowered his voice on the last word.
"Well, yes, Ray. I believe that is what happens when one opens one's mouth and uses one's vocal cords."
"But you can't be."
Benny frowned. "Why on earth not, Ray?"
"You're dying," Ray said, far more bluntly than he'd intended. Diefenbaker whined. "Sorry, boy," he said, distractedly patting the heavy head.
"You must be mistaken, Ray."
"No. I'm not, Benny. You are dying. The doctors said so. The nurses said so. Kowalski said so. Hell, they even asked me what your religion was, so that they could get a priest or whatever."
Benny frowned again. The little endearing crease that Ray had always found fascinating appeared between his eyebrows. "You have spoken with Stanley?"
"Who? Oh, Kowalski. Yeah. He called me. Told me that you were sick and . . ."
"Wanted to see the real Ray Vecchio," Benny finished, his voice low. "Oh dear. I remember now. Poor Stanley; that must have hurt him."
Ray didn't give a damn at that moment about Kowalski's finer feelings. "Benny," he said. "Why are you alive?" Suddenly a thought came over him, chilling him and making him shake. "You are alive, aren't you?" he whispered, glancing down and staring deeply into the ocean blue eyes.
"Ray?" Benny sounded almost amused.
"I mean you're not like Pop or your dad, are you?"
A soft smile touched Benny's lips and the hand Ray was still clutching tugged, pulling Ray nearer and nearer to the bed. Hypnotized now by the deep blue eyes, Ray allowed himself to be drawn down until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, leaning over Benny close enough to -
"Benny?" he breathed, moments later, as cool, firm lips were released from his own. Then he added, "Am I alive?"
Benny chuckled and his eyelashes fluttered on his pale cheeks. "Oh, yes, Ray, you are very much alive."
"What just happened?"
"I kissed you."
Oh, so that was what happened. Ray had thought so, but had to be sure. "Oh," he managed. Benny smiled up at him. "Er, why?"
"Why do you think?" Benny sounded calm, but then Benny always sounded calm.
"Er," Ray managed. "I dunno."
Benny looked away and tried to extract his hand from Ray's. "In that case, Ray. Please accept my heartfelt apologizes. I did not mean to take such liberties and presume. I have clearly made a terrible mistake. The fever -"
"You're not hot."
"Your pupils aren't dilated."
"The - Why, Ray, why did you do that?"
"For the same reason you kissed me. Or at least I hope that's so." Ray held his breath. Could it be that finally after year of lying, they were going to admit the truth?
"I love you, Ray," Benny said simply.
"I love you too, Benny," Ray replied, as easily as though he'd been saying the words from the day he'd met the Mountie. And suddenly he realized that he had. Every time he'd said ‘Benny' or mangled Fraser into Frasier, he'd been saying ‘I love you.' He bent forward to kiss Benny again, just as Dief began to bark. Two single, short barks, his version of a warning.
As the door opened and a nurse with a tinsel star pinned to her uniform popped her head round the door, Ray slid back to his seat. "Is everything all right, Mr. Vecchio?" she asked, in a hushed tone.
"Yes, thank you, nurse," Ray beamed at her. Her eyes widened, the surprise clear to see. Then as a soft cough came from the bed, she swiveled her eyes to her patient.
"Mr. Fraser!" she exclaimed, hurrying into the room and pausing by the bed, her fingers moved to Fraser's wrist, her eyes scanned the various machines. "You're alive!" She hit the call button over Benny's bed.
As the room filled with hospital personnel and Ray was ushered back into the corner, along with Dief, he smiled and remembered Father Docherty's words to him from many years ago, when the young Ray Vecchio still regularly attended Mass. ‘Miracles can happen, Raymond. Miracles can happen.'
Well they certainly could. And did.
For a moment Ray wasn't certain which was the most miraculous: Benny's recovery from apparent death, or the their love for one another. He decided on the former, after all, the love had always been there - this was just a new extension of it.
As he leaned against the wall and watched the nurses and doctors poke and prod Benny, Ray began to make plans for their future together. It didn't matter whether they went back to Miami - something Ray doubted - or to Benny's dad's cabin, or stayed in Chicago, or went somewhere totally different; the one thing of which Ray was certain, was that they would always be together.
"Yes," he murmured to himself, crouching down to pet Dief and bury his nose in the thick fur. "Miracles do happen."
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