YOU ARE THE ONE
Set during the first season.
The move from friendship to lovership is both so simple and yet so complex.
A first time story.
Written: February 2008. Word count: 7,457.
SET IMMEDIATELY AFTER 'PIZZAS AND PROMISES'
Ben turned over in his bed for the twentieth time in as many minutes. He had known going to bed would be a mistake, but Diefenbaker had not appreciated him pacing the floor. So he'd finally stripped down to his underwear and got under the covers, but he could not rest. Especially not now.
Despite his restlessness, he had fallen into a light sleep. He but wished that he hadn't. The nightmare that had brought him upright with a scream was so vivid.
He was replaying the scene over and over in his mind.
Only this time . . .
This time he did not get there in time.
This time he did not manage to hold his breath for long enough.
This time he did not open the trunk.
This time Ray had died.
Ben sat up and ran his hand through his hair; Dief whined. It was no good; he had to know if Ray was okay.
Yes, Ray had dropped him off after they had apprehended the car thieves. Yes they'd exchanged all their usual parting comments. But that had been three hours ago. It was now 3:00 a.m. and Ben was wide-awake. Wide awake and worrying. He had to see Ray. He had to hear his voice. He had to touch him. He had to know that he was alive, not dead as he was in Ben's nightmare both the sleeping and waking one.
Ben pushed himself to his feet and pulled on jeans and a shirt and moved towards the door. Dief whined, but followed him obligingly. Ben was grateful. He made his way out of the building and stood in the still-not-quiet street, trying to think. His mind reminded him that at 3:00 a.m. he could hardly go and knock on the Vecchio door. Whereas Ray might understand, might forgive him, the rest of the Vecchio household would not appreciate being woken up. Nonetheless he started to walk. He walked for about twenty minutes, not noticing in what direction he was going.
Suddenly he noticed he had passed a line of phone booths and paused. But no, that wasn't the answer either. Although Ray had an extension in his room, and would likely to awaken on the first ring or two, the chances that someone else would also waken were high. Ben remembered Ray telling him, on more than one occasion, how, no matter how quickly he grabbed the phone, his mother always woke up. As desperate as he was to speak to Ray, he did not want to wake Mrs. Vecchio it wasn't fair.
Maybe just being outside the Vecchio house would be enough. Ben started to walk again. Dief whined. Ben stopped; the wolf cocked his head on one side and barked once.
"Of course, Diefenbaker, how could I have forgotten?" Ben dug into his pocket and pulled out some change. He prayed what he had often heard Ray say to a young lady was true; Ray always claimed he had his cell phone with him day and night, twenty-four hours a day.
He put the money into the slot, dialed and waited.
An insistent ringing sound penetrated Ray's sleep. It was not a good sleep, not a restful sleep. Ever since he'd fallen asleep he'd dreamed. Dreamed of locked trunks, water and a Mountie who for once did not get his man. But then the dream had changed. The situations had reversed. It had been Benny locked in the trunk and he, Ray, trying to save him.
Ray had received as much training in underwater swimming as the next cop, knew that at a pinch he could hold his breath for maybe thirty seconds, but he was no Mountie. Nor did he have Benny's strength. In Ray's nightmare he made endless futile attempts to rescue Benny. Finally he had to stand by and watch the car being dragged out of the water, the lock broken, the trunk opened. Benny was dead.
"No!" Ray screamed, sitting bolt upright. He was breathing hard, and his eyes were wet with tears.
The ringing sound continued. Suddenly Ray realized it was his cell phone. Flicking on the bedside light, he reached onto the nightstand and picked it up.
"Vecchio," he barked, wondering as he did who on earth was calling him at 3:25 a.m.
Silence greeted him.
"Hello. Hello?" he repeated. "Who the hell is this?" He was getting angry now.
Still there was nothing. He was just about to cut the connection, when he heard a faint sound: an intake of breath? A gasp? A sob? And then he heard the sound of something, or someone, falling.
"Hello? Who is this?"
Still there was nothing.
And then he heard it: a woof.
"Benny?" he called, "Benny, is that you?"
Feeling like seven thousand fools, he called out, "Dief?"
A sharp woof answered him. So much for a deaf wolf.
What the hell was Benny doing calling him at this time of the morning and then not speaking to him? What did the most annoying man in the world want with him? All the time Ray was thinking, he was also dressing.
"Benny?" he called again. Still nothing. "Fuck!" he swore. "Okay, Benny, listen to me. Where are you? Benny, talk to me? Benny, say something. Please." Then a thought crossed his mind. Oh, God, no. "Benny, are you hurt? Benny, Benny?" He was now dressing even faster, without any care to what he was putting on. If anyone's hurt him, I'll kill them, he vowed.
Grabbing his gun, his badge and the keys to the Riv, he headed for his bedroom door, still talking constantly. What he was saying he didn't know, probably rubbish and nonsense. But he did know he kept repeating 'Benny' over and over again. Certain now that something had happened to his friend, Ray was prepared to move heaven and earth if necessary to find him. And if he was hurt . . .
He paused once more at the door to his room, as his cop's instincts suddenly cut in. What if? Well what if it wasn't Benny? He was certain that it was, but . . .
"Benny. Please, say something. Anything. Benny. Benny."
"Ray." The voice was weak, uncertain, but it was Benny's. It was all Ray needed. Five seconds later he was down the stairs and unlocking the front door.
"Ray?" Francesca's voice sounded in the background.
Damn. "Go back to bed, Frannie," Ray said softly.
But Francesca was down the stairs, and had her hand on Ray's arm.
"Are you all right, Ray? I thought I heard something. I . . . I . . . I couldn't sleep."
Torn between the man on the end of his phone and the tone of his sister's voice, Ray paused. He looked at Francesca and was surprised to see that her eyes were red rimmed and puffy.
"Frannie?" he asked, and touched her cheek. "Hey, what's this?" he said as his fingers came away wet.
"Oh, Ray, I'm sorry." Suddenly she was in his arms, her head on his shoulder and she was shaking.
He held her close to him, in the way he hadn't held her since he had found her crying after that no good bum of a husband of hers had left her lying on the sitting room floor with a black eye and a split lip.
"Why are you crying, Frannie?" he asked, stroking her hair, and keeping one eye on the phone. He could still hear harsh breathing at the other end, and the occasional wuffle.
"Tonight. Oh, Ray, what if . . . What if Fraser hadn't . . . Oh, Ray, I'm sorry. I was stupid, I . . ."
"Frannie, Frannie, Francesca." He hated to do this, but his sister was all right really, and Benny just might not be. "It's okay," he said, as she stopped her words. "I'm okay, Frannie. Benny was there. We're all okay. But I've got to go out. I've been called in. It's kind of urgent, Frannie." He started to release her.
"I didn't hear the phone," she said, pulling back and wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. Quickly he handed over his handkerchief.
"They rang me on my cell phone, Frannie. I have to go. Go on, back to bed like a good girl. I'm fine, Frannie, I promise." He kissed her forehead and went to the door.
"Ray." Her voice stopped him. He froze. "I do love you, Ray," she said, and hurried up the stairs.
"I know, Frannie. I love you too, I really do." Ray murmured, as he let himself out of his house. His sister forgotten, he turned his attention back to the phone. "Benny. You still with me?" The same silence, punctuated only by the breathing of a man in distress and the sounds of a wolf trying to comfort, greeted him.
"That's it, Dief," Ray said, as he ran for his car. "You keep Benny okay."
He gunned the car engine, completely forgetting how quiet his neighborhood was at that time in the morning, and headed for Benny's apartment. Although Benny didn't have a phone and Ray didn't believe he would have woken one of the neighbors up just to make a call at this time of night, it was the only place Ray could think of to begin his search.
Parking in his custom place, he entered the building and quickly checked Benny's apartment. Stupid, Vecchio. Stupid. But it had seemed like the best idea at the time. Logical.
"Okay, Benny, talk to me. Give me some help here," he said into the phone, as once again he was outside. "Give me a clue, Benny. Where are you?"
"Yeah, Benny, it's me. Where are you?"
Then, "I don't know, Ray."
Oh, great. "Benny, can you describe where you are?"
Silence. Then, "There are buildings, Ray."
Helpful, Benny, helpful. "Benny, tell me one thing, are you hurt?" Ray held his breath.
"So why did you call me?" Sheer desperation, the memory of his dream and the adrenalin rush that still hadn't subsided, made Ray's voice harsher than he'd intended. A sob greeted him, and the sound of the phone being dropped.
Fuck it! "Benny! Benny! Benny!" Nothing. Ray reached for his radio to call it in. Great idea, Vecchio. Get the whole of Chicago PD looking for a Mountie and his wolf, why don't you? That'll really go down well; especially as there's nothing wrong with . . .Wolf. "Dief. Dief. Diefenbaker. Come on, I know you're not really deaf."
Then there was a woof.
"Dief, come home. Come home, boy. Come to Ray. Come home. Dief, Dief, Diefenbaker! Come home!"
Now there was total silence. Ray could hear Benny's ragged breathing and sobs, but nothing else. No wolf barks. It was a long shot, but it was the only one Ray could think of. Calling Dief home, and then getting the wolf to lead him to Benny was his last hope. If Dief didn't come home, then Ray would get the whole of Chicago PD out looking for a Mountie without his wolf, and a wolf without his Mountie.
"Why is this my life?" he asked the world in general. And then returned to calling Benny's name every few seconds. But Benny did not answer.
Fifteen minutes later, just as Ray was about to reach for the radio to make the call that he knew would make him look completely stupid and humiliated, and maybe even cost him his badge, he was greeted by the most beautiful sight and sound that he could think of. A white ball of fur bonded up to him and woofed at him. Tongue hanging out and panting, Diefenbaker nonetheless greeted Ray with enthusiasm. Ray dropped to his knees, mindless to what might be on the sidewalk, and embraced the wolf.
Finally he pushed Dief away and spoke to him. "Okay, Dief, here's the deal. You take me back to Benny, and I'll buy you all the jelly donuts your little doggie," Dief growled, "wolfie," Ray amended quickly, "heart desires. And," he added extravagantly, "I'll never complain about your hairs over my clothes or upholstery again." Dief woofed. "Okay, okay, but the donuts, I swear," Ray said, wondering just when it was he had learned to speak wolf.
Diefenbaker woofed, and turned to go back the way he had come. Ray made as to follow him, but the wolf stopped and woofed again, in the direction of the Riv.
"You want me to follow you in the car?"
"Why don't you come with me?"
A disdainful woof.
"Yeah, okay, stupid question. You can't give me directions, right?"
With that final woof, Dief took off. Ray followed in the Riv.
Fifteen minutes later, Dief stopped and woofed determinedly. Ray got out of the car, and followed the wolf down an alleyway to a bank of phone booths. He pulled up as he saw a figure on the floor of the first one.
It was Benny just sitting on the ground, the phone dangling, his head bowed, shoulders shaking. Ray could hear the sobs in tandem now, both from his phone and from the man himself.
"Benny?" he approached his friend cautiously, not wanting to cause any undue shock. Dief had trotted to his master's side and was attempting to lick Benny's face.
Eventually the perpetual licking must have gotten through to Benny, because he raised his head, and Ray's heart nearly stopped. He looked so goddamned vulnerable, his eyes and nose were red, and running, his cheeks swollen and yet ashen, the tears poured down his cheeks, and his lips were red as though they'd been bitten and bitten.
"Oh, my God, Benny." Before he knew what he was doing, Ray was on his knees, by Benny's side and had pulled the trembling man into his arms.
"Ray," was the only word Benny said. Then he repeated it over and over again.
For ten minutes they sat there. Benny sobbing in Ray's arms, Dief stalking up and down in front of them. Ray could feel the wetness seeping through his jacket and his shirt and suddenly remembered he had given his hanky to Frannie.
A FEW MONTHS LATER SET IMMEDIATELY AFTER 'YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS'
After a while, Ray wasn't certain how long a while until he looked at his newly returned watch, walking around the streets of Chicago talking to Benny in his head was no longer enough. He needed to see and talk to Benny in person.
With his unerring sense of direction, the one that seemed to vanish whenever the Mountie was present, Ray made his way back to the hotel and the parked Riv. Already the memory of Special Agent Suzanne Chapin was fading. In spite of what he'd declared during the investigation, in spite of his recent conversation' with Benny, the memory was fading. Ray was no more in love with her than he . . . He cast about in his mind for a simile, but couldn't be bothered to find one.
As he climbed into the car he wondered if he had ever loved her, as he had said, or whether it had simply been because she had been unattainable?
The unattainable? Yeah, Ray was good at falling in love with that. As he started the engine, it suddenly occurred to him that he'd wanted her more and more, the more criminal she had seemed. God, what did that say about him? Or was is just that while she was a criminal, while they thought she was a criminal, Ray was safe to love her, because he knew it would never have been returned? But surely as a Federal Agent, Suzanne was still unattainable? Maybe not as unattainable as a criminal, but . . .
A cop and a Fed were not usual, or easy, but it was a hundred times easier than a cop and a criminal. No, in spite of going to the hotel, in spite of kissing Suzanne, passionately, in spite of telling her that the kiss meant something it had at least at the time. In spite of his entire conversation with Benny of his mind, Ray had known that it was over (not that it had ever begun, not really) when she'd announced who she really was. And that was before he knew she wasn't going to turn him in as a cop who was about to allow a criminal to go free!
His heart still hammered at the thought of what he'd done, what he'd so very nearly done. His stomach still churned at the thought of being made to hand in his shield, and he knew why; knew the shattering reason as to why it would hurt so much. It had less to do with pride, proving his father right, having to face his family, his friends, his coworkers, losing his home, his car, his self-esteem. No what really bothered him about the possibility of losing his shield, was that he would then never get to work with Benny again. And if he didn't work with Benny, would he see Benny? They were friends, best friends Benny had said so but would their friendship have survived? Would Benny have been able to forgive Ray for what he had done? Allowed a criminal to escape!
Ray realized now that all his talk, during the whole case, of love, of knowing when you've met the right person, of signs, the entire conversation with Benny in his head, had little if anything to do with the Federal Agent. It had all to do with Benny. Everything Ray had said, had been directed at his feelings for Benny. Not the woman.
He blinked, and suddenly realized he'd driven all the way to Racine on autopilot. He gave a faint shudder. Glancing up he saw there was only one faint light in Benny's apartment, but that didn't mean anything; Benny often sat in the near dark, something Ray was trying to break him of. Another look at his watch told him that it had gone 11:00 p.m., but Ray knew Benny wouldn't mind. Even if Benny was in bed, even if he was asleep, he wouldn't mind Ray visiting, and even if he did, well Ray's mind was beyond that thought. He had to see Benny.
He climbed out of his car and locked it. He still hated leaving it here, but he knew now that people knew that he was the Mountie's friend, even if he was a cop, an unofficial, unobtrusive watch was kept over the Riv. Damn it, it was now probably safer than outside his own home. Maybe even safer than outside the station.
He made his way past the quiet doors; it was as though the whole block had gone to bed, up the several flights of stairs, and paused outside Benny's door. He knocked gently, even though he knew Benny wouldn't have minded if he had just walked in. The evening was so quiet, he clearly heard the tap, tap, tap of wolf claws as Dief made his way towards the door to greet, or protect Benny from, the visitor. Ray also thought he heard a drawer opening and closing. Maybe Benny had been in bed and was grabbing something to put on?
As the door opened the sight of Benny still mostly dressed put paid to that thought. A genuine smile of pleasure lit up the sapphire blue eyes, and the full lips turned upwards. Dief nuzzled at him in a pleased way; he also seemed happy to see Ray.
"Hello, Ray," said Benny, finally breaking the silence. Ray was suddenly aware they'd simply been staring at one another.
"Hello, Benny. Hello, Dief," Ray said, giving into the wolf's ministrations and petting him.
"Would you like to come in?"
"Yes, please, Benny."
Benny moved aside and Ray entered the spartan apartment. He heard the door being carefully shut, and then felt his coat being taken from him. He allowed himself a brief second to rest back against the warm bulk of the man behind him. Then the warmth was gone and Ray felt bereft.
"I didn't expect to see you again tonight, Ray," Benny said, as he placed Ray's coat carefully over the back of a chair. "Did you not manage to see Ms. Chapin?"
Ray shrugged. "Yeah, Benny, I saw her," he said, turning to face his friend. "She was just about to get into a taxi."
"Oh," said Benny politely, clearly inviting more, should Ray wish to share more.
"Yeah. I kissed her and she drove off. End of story. End of another romance." Except it never was one.
Benny frowned. "She left immediately?"
"Yes, Benny. Guess I'd better brush up on my technique after all. Must be lack of practice." Damn, what was he saying? He was babbling and he knew it.
If Benny noticed, he didn't say anything. Probably too polite.
"I see." Benny's voice finally did break the almost strained silence. "What, if I may ask, have you been doing since then?"
"Walking around the streets, Benny, talking to you," Ray said, trying to keep his voice facetious.
"Talking to me?"
"Yeah, seems like you're always there, Benny, telling me what to do, offering advice. No matter what I do, you just won't seem to go away." Ray tried now for sarcasm, and knew he had failed, and failed miserably, when he saw the frown deepen on Benny's face. Shit. "Ah, Benny, I didn't mean it like that; I meant . . . " He was now right in front of Benny, and he reached out to touch.
"I understand, Ray." The words were Benny's usual ones. But this time Ray believed Benny did understand. And suddenly he hoped that he didn't well not entirely.
"Indeed," Benny was speaking again. "I too find myself thinking of what you would say or do in relation to any given situation."
Ray blinked, hard, "You do, Benny?" God, why wouldn't his heart stop racing? Surely Benny would hear it soon.
"Oh, yes, Ray. Quite often in fact." And solid fingers reached out and brushed over Ray's face. Or at least Ray thought they had. But when he looked, Benny's hand was simply on his shoulder.
Ray swallowed, hard. He should go. If he didn't he would be likely to fling himself into those broad, comforting arms and declare just what he felt for his Mountie. Benny's arms were comforting and safe; Ray knew that fact - both first and second hand.
Suddenly, only it isn't 'suddenly', is it Ray? Ray realized he was just like all the women who threw themselves at Benny. All of whom he ignored. No, that was cruel, Benny didn't' ignore them; he just didn't notice them. Maybe he wouldn't notice Ray.
He must go.
He opened his mouth to tell Benny that he'd pick him up in the morning and give him a lift to work. He closed it as words Benny had said came into his mind. 'And the Consulate is only seven blocks away; it will be an easy walk.' That's what Benny had said when he moved into the apartment.
So why was it that Ray had gotten into the habit of picking Benny up in the morning and driving him home in the evening? Why was it that sometimes Benny would walk the eight blocks in the other direction to the Precinct, if Ray had been held up, so that Ray could drive him the fifteen blocks back again? Ray blinked. Before now he hadn't thought about it; but it was true, it did happen.
He must go.
He opened his mouth again. Opened it to tell Benny he was going, and he'd see him in the morning.
He had to go.
He must go.
"Benny, can I stay the night?"
"Of course, Ray."
Was Ray imagining it, or did Benny's face light up at Ray's request? Did he suddenly look happy? No, of course not, it was all in his mind.
But the firm grasp on his wrist leading him to the bed, was not in his mind.
The tap, tap, tap of wolf claws behind him was not in his mind.
The soft order to Dief, the whine and the tap, tap, tap as the wolf made his way with clear reluctance to the corner was not in his mind.
The strong and yet gentle hands removing his jacket were not in his mind.
The warm fingers as they undid the knot of his tie were not in his mind.
And the sensation in his groin was most certainly not in his mind.
Dear, God, what was Benny doing? Did he have any idea what he was doing? Of course not, he was just taking care of Ray; in the way Ray had seen him take care of countless people. Benny believed that Ray was hurting, after all Ray had gone to town with his expressions of his love for the elusive woman. And when Ray hurt when anyone hurt the Mountie was there; strong, solid, reliable, caring, comforting, secure, trustworthy and reassuring.
No, Benny was just being his usual caring self; he meant nothing more by it than a desire, a want, maybe even a need to comfort his best friend. It meant nothing at all; anything else was just in Ray's over-active imagination.
Then warm, soft lips found his, and Ray certainly wasn't imagining that! For a moment Ray was too startled to kiss back. Suddenly Ray knew without a shadow of a doubt, that if he stayed, this would not end with a kiss. In spite of all the indications that he was about to get what he had dreamed about, wet dreams and all, for the past four months, Ray was uncertain.
Until that is Benny deepened the kiss; until he wrapped those comforting, secure arms around Ray and began to stroke Ray's back in the most sensual way Ray had ever experienced.
Ray moaned and returned the kiss and the embrace with interest. His mouth opened beneath Benny's onslaught and the tip of Benny's tongue slipped inside; the tongue that Ray had seen taste everything from mud to . . . But he didn't want to think about that.
What he wanted to think about was where it was now. But he realized that he didn't need to think, not in the way he often thought when he kissed a woman, because kissing Benny was like . . .
It was like nothing he had ever experienced before. Even with Angie, the kisses had not been so natural, so like coming home. With a start Ray realized this was just what being with Benny was like, what being in Benny's arms, being kissed by Benny's lips was like it was coming home. Home to a place Ray didn't even realize he'd been searching for. The kiss went on and on, until Ray was afraid he would black out through lack of air.
Finally, gasping he pulled back.
"I do not believe there is anything wrong with your technique, Ray," the soft voice said. Benny hardly seemed to have been affected, until that is Ray first looked into his eyes, and secondly his gaze travel down Benny's body. Ray gasped, firstly at the look in the eyes, and secondly at the impressive erection pressing against the front of Benny's trousers.
Ray had been aware on the periphery of his mind that although Benny was holding him, stroking him, he had moved his lower body away from Ray. Now Ray guessed why. Benny too was uncertain. Well Ray wasn't having that.
Suddenly all uncertainty fled from Ray as he reached out and pulled Benny back into his arms, ensuring that his groin pressed hard against Benny's. His lover's moan was reward enough. Ray smiled, and offered his mouth again. It was an offer that was instantly accepted.
Warm hands were still stroking Ray, but Ray wanted more, he wanted those hands on his skin. He pulled back again. Immediately Benny moved away and Ray saw the shutters start to come up in the blue eyes. Shit.
He reached out a long hand, "Benny," he murmured, in what he hoped was a reassuring tone.
"Ray. I . . . I . . . I . . . I didn't . . . " It shook Ray to hear the usually articulate Benton Fraser so lost.
He realized with a shattering clarity that even if he had decided that things had gone far enough, the look on Benny's face would have changed his mind. He closed the gap both the physical and the emotional one - and pulled Benny close.
There was a slight hesitation but then the firm arms enfolded him again. Damn, but it was good to be held by someone bigger and stronger than himself.
This time neither man initiated a kiss, they just held one another, offering and accepting security and warmth.
"It's okay, Benny," Ray murmured over and over again, turning his head finally to nuzzle at the skin beneath Benny's ear. "It's going to be okay." And it was, Ray knew that.
He felt the muscles relax under him, and then he felt himself being rocked back and forth, gently, lovingly, just as Ray himself had rocked his sisters, his nieces and nephews, or someone who was very cherished to him. But never before had anyone ever rocked him in this way; well not since he was a child in his mother's arms.
This time Benny pulled back, and one hand moved hesitantly to the front of Ray's shirt. Then blue eyes met Ray's own clearly asking permission. Ray granted it, and those sturdy fingers, which shook ever so slightly, began to undo the buttons on Ray's silk shirt. As the tip of one skimmed over one of Ray's nipples, Ray lost all conscious thought.
He wasn't exactly certain how much time had passed, but he suddenly found himself naked, completely naked, save for his watch and his cross and chain, on his back on Benny's bed. The owner of the said bed was kneeling by the floor gazing at Ray in what could only be described as sheer adoration.
Ray tried hard to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat, tried and failed. Benny's hand was caressing Ray's overheated skin, running gently over his arms, thighs, stomach, shoulders, chest, studiously ignoring Ray's throbbing erection.
Finally, Ray moved his own hand and entwined it in Benny's hair. That's not hair, that's a pelt, came unbidden to Ray's mind. And God it felt like it, luxurious, thick, unlike Ray's own, and so soft; softer than Dief's fur, yet in a way so like the wolf's.
Ray finally found his voice. "Hey, Benny," he said. Blue eyes, ablaze with so many emotions Ray had never dreamed of seeing in them, especially not directed at him, turned towards him. "Things seem a bit unfair here, uneven you know. Not partner like," he added, and smiled.
But Benny didn't seem to understand, because he frowned and his hand froze.
Ray shook his head and chuckled. He captured the frozen hand, and pulled it up to his mouth, where his kissed it thoroughly. Then he said, "That's not what I meant. It's just that I'm naked and ruffled," could you be ruffled when naked? But Ray wasn't about to think about that now. "And you're still clothed and Mountie neat. Capisce?"
Clearly Benny did 'capisce', because after a lingering look, a kiss and another caress he pushed himself to his feet and began to strip. Ray had never seen a more beautiful sight.
THE NEXT DAY
Morning dawned and Ray awoke first, the sight of Benny lying so still, so peaceful stirred something within Ray that he'd thought had gone forever. He gently kissed the pale face and was greeted by the sight of the most beautiful eyes in the face of the most annoying man in the world opened. For a long time they lay there gazing at one another, until Ray knew that they had to move. With reluctance he pointed Benny in the direction of the hallway and hence the bathroom.
As he sat in the empty apartment, empty apart from the wolf, who seemed still completely relaxed as he lay curled up in the corner, Ray wondered what Benny would say if he asked him to make this forever; asked him to commit just to Ray.
He was musing on that thought when suddenly he recalled the story Benny had told him while they were on stakeout, the story Benny had clearly thought Ray had slept through. But Ray hadn't; he recalled every word of it, and it still bothered him. Benny's voice as he'd been telling the story had been so wistful, so still full of love, that it hurt Ray to remember it.
Suddenly he wondered if Benny still had a picture of her; then remembered the sound of the drawer opening and closing before Benny had let him into the apartment the previous evening. Every detective instinct kicked in, and overrode the friend instinct that fought with it.
He glanced quickly around the apartment and his eyes settled on the night table. Crossing to it, he glanced back at Dief. The wolf had now sat up and was watching Ray, but was giving no indication that he would stop him. Still Ray moved his hand carefully, and as it touched the drawer, he again looked at Dief. Partly to his surprise, the wolf had once again settled down, his nose in his paws. Ray almost wished that Dief had tried to stop him, but in the end he pulled open the drawer; there on top was a black and white photograph. He lifted it out, glanced once again at Dief, but again there was nothing other than the wolf stare.
He looked at it. God, she was beautiful, really beautiful. He could see how Benny had fallen for her. And yet, there was something about her. Something . . . Suddenly Benny's words, 'She had a darkness inside', came back to Ray. As a good Catholic boy Ray knew all about darkness and light, good and evil, the Lord and the devil. He shuddered and dropped the photo back in the drawer. It was just in time as Benny reappeared, damp and clean.
Ray's mouth dried up. He wanted to say something, but he didn't know what to say. Instead he moved nearer to Benny and without speaking, tugged him into his arms and held him tightly.
Finally Ray pushed away and moved towards the door of the apartment, in preparation of his own ablutions.
When he returned, Benny was partly dressed and Ray moved to dress himself. He didn't particularly like putting back on the clothes he'd worn the night before, but he doubted if he could borrow any underwear from Benny, not because Benny would object, but because he was about twenty-five pounds heavier than Ray, more importantly he starched his shorts. Anyway, Ray had only changed into the clothes he'd been wearing the evening before, rather than the morning before, so at least they weren't that worn.
He started to knot his tie, and suddenly warm hands were there, doing it for him. It moved Ray in a way that nothing else ever had.
"Benny," he said, the reluctance in his tone clear.
"About last night . . ."
"Yes, Ray?" Benny's tone was careful, slightly distant; Ray did not want that.
He enfolded the larger body in his arms. "Benny, love," he said again, "Don't take this the wrong way. I loved what we did. It was the best ever. No, I mean that, Benny," he said, stopping Benny's clear objection. "It really was. It was . . . It was beyond description."
"Yes, Ray," Benny finally said.
"Benny," Ray said again, still holding his friend.
"I'm not sure if . . . That is . . ." He'd thought about this all the way through his bath, but still he couldn't find the words. Probably because you don't want to; you want it be 'forever' and 'just him and you'. He ignored the voice it was right; but this was what he had to do.
"It's all right, Ray, I understand."
"Do you, Benny? Do you really?"
"Yes, Ray. Ray, you're my best friend, my partner and I love you."
Love? When had love come into it?
Benny was speaking again. "Whatever you want is perfectly all right with me."
For a moment Ray was tempted to tell Benny exactly what it was he wanted. But then he remembered Benny's voice when he'd spoken about her; remembered the photograph, kept in a drawer by his bed.
"It's not just what I want, Benny. It's what you want too," Ray said, giving Benny the chance to say something.
"I want what ever you want, Ray." Benny's tone was firm.
Ray sighed softly.
"Ray, I will always be here for you. I will never let you down. Whenever you want me, I will be around." And he claimed Ray's mouth in a long lingering kiss.
Those words were to return to haunt Ray in a few months time.
SOME MONTHS LATER SET DURING AND AFTER 'VICTORIA'S SECRET'
"I'll never let you down." Ray slammed the door of the Riv, ignoring how loud it sounded in the suddenly overly quiet streets.
He tore up the stairs, suddenly scared for Fraser's safety. He could think of no other reason for Fraser letting him down, other than Fraser being ill or hurt. He arrived at the door of the apartment and knocked.
Suddenly Fraser appeared, he looked ruffled, Ray's heart sank; he recognized that look. He should do. He'd seen it enough over the last few months. Suddenly the fear fled, and the anger replaced it. What was worse still was when Fraser looked at him as though he was a stranger; as though he had no idea what he'd forgotten that night.
Ray's anger increased. He had felt humiliated that night; he'd felt that Welsh and the others had been laughing at him. Not just because he hadn't provided pizza and a platter, but also because Fraser hadn't been present. Fraser who was always present when Ray was, Fraser who had promised to be there.
He said the first thing that came into his head: he demanded the money Fraser owed him.
Suddenly the money was in his hand and Ray felt like a cheap whore. So Fraser really did not understand; he really thought it was simply over the money.
Disgusted, both with himself and Fraser, Ray turned on his heel and stamped away down the stairs. Out in the street he hurried to the car, climbed in and gunned the engine of the Riv, pulling away and racing off down the street.
Moments later he saw Fraser chasing after the car.
Against, his will he stopped and prepared to talk to Fraser.
They'd barely said a few words, when a shot rang out.
Arriving back at the now empty apartment they found Diefenbaker lying in a pool of blood on the floor.
With his cop instincts, Ray knew that the real nightmare had only just begun.
A FEW DAYS LATER
Ray sat by the side of the too still, too silent man. Benny looked vulnerable and far from at peace. Ray had been here at his side for over twenty-four hours, and still Benny had not opened his eyes. But still Ray would not leave. He would not could not leave until Benny opened his eyes and forgave Ray for shooting him.
Suddenly he started, standing in front of him in a red uniform was a man. Ray recognized him immediately as Robert Fraser. For a moment, Ray didn't know if he was asleep and dreaming, or awake and hallucinating. Benny had told Ray about his father's appearances, and Ray had seen his own father, much to his dismay, but he'd never seen Benny's father. Had never thought he would.
"Sergeant Fraser?" Ray asked politely, his inbuilt upbringing and culture kicking in.
"Don't let him down, son," the voice said. "He needs you. He may not realize it, but he does. Don't be another person who leaves him. Another person who lets him down."
As he heard the words, Ray realized this man had loved his son. Loved him very much, and Sergeant Fraser also realized that he had not been the ideal father. But what was the ideal father? Certainly not Ray's own. This man had hurt his son, but he had hurt himself too. Ray knew Benny in a way his father never would. Never could.
He knew then, that even if he had had any thought of leaving Benny, of letting him down, that the plea from Benny's father would have stopped him.
Then he knew it was not a case of Benny forgiving him, but more a case of him forgiving Benny. But Benny had long been forgiven. Ray had forgiven him the second his bullet had gone into Benny's back.
Actually, if Ray was honest, he had forgiven Benny before that. Forgiven him for being prepared to leave with that bitch. Forgiven him for nearly costing, possibly still costing, Ray his home, his car, maybe his job. Forgiven him for almost sending Ray to prison. Forgiven him for letting Ray down, for treating him like someone he occasionally worked with, like Gardino or Huey, not his best friend, partner and . . . But Ray refused to let that word form.
Darkness inside. Evil. Utter and total evil; that was Victoria Metcalfe. She had nearly destroyed Benny; Benny and Ray.
Ray had made a promise to her, 'hurt him and I'll kill you', and he had meant it, meant every word of it. And what was more he knew that she had known too; even worse he suspected she knew about him and Benny. Not that he was sure that there was a 'him and Benny' anymore, not even as a friend and partner.
He raised his head to assure Sergeant Fraser that he would not let Benny down, but the red uniform had gone, leaving Ray to wonder if it had ever been there before.
He brushed a hand over Benny's head, brushing back the dark hair. "Oh, Benny, love," he murmured. "What happened? What went wrong?"
Benny's behavior during this entire thing suddenly showed Ray that the man was human. Showed him it in a way Ray had not realized before. He recalled the time he had said to Buck Frobisher about not realizing Benny was vulnerable. Now he knew that Benny really was.
For a moment he recalled the temptation of Christ when confronted by the devil. Christ had avoided the temptation; Benny hadn't. But Christ was the Lord, the Son of God; Benny was only a man, a human man, a man who was not perfect.
Suddenly with a flash of blinding insight, Ray then knew something: the whole affair had made him love Benny more, not less.
This was it.
This was the one.
He was the one.
Benny. Benny. Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was the one.
Ray smiled at the thought.
Everything would be all right.
It had to be.
No matter how long it took.
No matter what they had to go through.
No matter what or who tried to come between them.
It would be all right.
Raymond Vecchio was sure of that.
Just as he was sure that Benny would wake up.
Would wake up and forgive him for shooting him.
"We'll be all right, Benny," he said. "We'll be all right." He was more certain of that than he'd ever been of anything in his entire life.
"Ray?" It was Benny's voice.
Ray looked down into the blue, fuzzy eyes that blinked up at him. "Benny," he whispered. "Oh, Benny, I'm "
But Benny shook his head, just a little. "I know," he murmured. "I love you, Ray," he said, and then sighed, as once again his eyes closed.
But this time Ray knew his lover had merely fallen asleep, not back into unconsciousness. "I love you too, Benny," he whispered, learning forward and brushing his lips over Benny's. "I love you too." And he sat back up, settled back in his chair and prepared to wake until Benny woke up again.
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