Nikki Harrington


Set immediately after Heaven and Earth.

Ray Vecchio cannot sleep as he is too wound up over whether his sister and his best friend, with whom he is in love, had slept together. Determined to sort things out one way or another, he goes round to see Benny.

A first time story.

Written: September 2004. Word count: 8,495.


This story was originally published in Struck By Lightning published by Bast of Requiem Press.



Ray Vecchio glanced at the clock on his bedside table. It was 12:05 a.m.; exactly five minutes since he had last looked. He sighed and turned over onto his back. By rights, by any rights on heaven and earth he should be asleep by now; he should have been asleep the moment his head touched the pillow some three hours ago.


Spending seventy-two hours at his desk, then another twenty-four chasing around the city of Chicago with the Mountie saving yet another life, should have been enough to guarantee that anyone fell asleep immediately; but not Ray. Freshly shaved and showered, he was finally clean for the first time in days, another thing that should have helped him to sleep, but no.


Why? Because he was replaying that whole Fraser/Francesca debacle. Damn her and damn the Mountie. Damn him and his sense of honor and duty; the sense of honor and duty that made him tell Ray that his sister, Francesca, had visited her brother's closest friend in his apartment less than a week ago, barely clothed. That had been bad enough, but then the Canadian sense of principle had prevented the Mountie from telling Ray if he had actually slept with Frannie. And that was something else that Ray could not get out of his mind either.


He had tried threats, dragging Benny off to the closet - they really must stop meeting in places like that, Elaine always found them - but they had failed. So he tried the nice guy act.  ‘If anyone is gonna sleep with my sister, not that I'm encouraging it, but I'd want it to be you.' God, what had it cost him to say that? But that too had been unsuccessful. His next attempt was to be understanding. ‘So you're not gonna tell me? I'm gonna have to live with it.' That too had gotten him precisely nowhere. His final attempt had been to aim for a degree of disinterest; once again nothing had come of that tack. The stubborn Mountie would not tell him.


Under normal circumstances, somebody not telling him something, would have told him that his worse fears had come true: his best friend and his kid sister had slept together. However, ‘normal circumstances' and Benton Fraser were not things you tended to associate with one another. Ray recalled the time that Benny had run around the city – most of the time using Ray as a chauffeur – after a beautiful woman, or rather chasing an envelope that the beautiful woman happened to have. Somehow, and Ray still didn't quite know how, Benny and the beautiful woman had ended up in a honeymoon hotel room on a waterbed, where the said beautiful woman had thrown herself at Benny; yet nothing had happened. How come the Mountie was prepared to tell Ray about this lack of happening, and several others when he got into similar situations, and yet not about Francesca? Which again brought Ray back to the belief that it was because he and Frannie had done ‘it.' And yet if they had, would Benny have told Ray about Francesca's visit?


The whole thing was going round and round in Ray's head so much it was making him dizzy. Also going round and round in his head was his justification for asking all the questions; he also wondered why Benny had not asked him just why he was so insistent upon knowing. Yeah, so he'd kind of played the big Italian brother act, but this was the 1990s; Frannie may be his sister, he may care about her, and not want her to get hurt again, but she was no virgin. She hadn't even been a virgin on her wedding night, and her husband had not been the one to take that virginity. So Ray's overprotective act had been a bit false – and anyone other than the taking-things-at-face-value Mountie would have realized this. So why had Ray kept pushing and pushing? The answer to that question was something Ray was not certain he was quite prepared to admit.


He turned over again, shut his eyes, and tried to force himself to go to sleep; everything would look different in the morning. Also if he tried completely ignoring the whole thing, not mentioning it, alluding to it, or anything, then his friend would probably tell him. Benny wanted to tell him; Ray knew that. He hadn't known the Mountie for all these months without knowing when Benny wanted to tell him something; it was just that crazy chivalry that was stopping him. Yeah, ignore it and Benny would break. The only problem was, Ray didn't actually believe that.


Ray opened his eyes again. He'd got it! He would deliver an ultimatum; he would tell Benny that he would stop seeing him if the Mountie didn't tell him. Great. That would work. Satisfied he closed his eyes again. Two seconds later he opened them. Damn, he wasn't one hundred percent convinced that Benny would play the game. Ray just might lose a best friend and a partner, and in spite of the bitching he did over ruined clothes, having to play Mr. Good Guy, and all the odd things, often life threatening, that Benny got him into, not to mention what he made Ray do to the Riv – he couldn't give up the Mountie. No, blackmail was not the answer.


So what if Benny and Frannie had slept together? Would it be the end of the world? After all Benny was a nice guy, a good guy, a gentleman. Somehow Ray couldn't see him just sleeping with a woman and then dumping her, but on the other hand Frannie could be so persistent. So yes, it would be a disaster, but not for the reasons Frannie thought.


Finally, giving up the pretence of trying to sleep, Ray reached up and turned on his bedside light. Time to face the truth, Vecchio, he told himself. Time to be honest with yourself.


He turned his mind to the conversation he'd had with Frannie; her eyes had been shining, hair bouncing, and she'd had spring in her step as she'd asked him where the Mountie was. He had dragged her off to one of the interview rooms and had proceeded to warn her off Fraser. He'd told her that she was in too deep, that men like the Mountie did not marry girls like Frannie, except in fairy tales. Thinking back, he realized that that comment had been a bit cruel, but Ray had been an exhausted man, and had resorted to dirty fighting. He had told Frannie that men like Benton Fraser hurt people, without even being aware of it. And I know that for a fact, Ray told himself. He'd really played the big brother, but he wasn't totally sure he had fooled Frannie.


Then Frannie had turned on him. She was his baby sister, he loved her, but she also knew how to fight dirty. Francesca Vecchio was capable of being a real bitch when she put her mind to it – not the kind of thing a brother usually says about his sister. But it was true. Frannie had learned her skills the hard way, and Ray didn't really blame her for knowing and occasionally using these talents. She had been the victim of a husband who drank too much and thought that hitting women, namely his wife, was acceptable sporting stuff. She was the first of the Vecchios to get a divorce and it had very nearly split the Vecchio family. His mother was a staunch Catholic who had been born in Italy, and had come to Chicago with her husband. It was here that she had raised her family, but to her home was still Italy. She had never really moved into the latter part of the twentieth century and she followed the bible to the letter.


When Frannie had come to her mother in tears, sporting a black eye and a broken wrist, telling of what Georgio had done, her mother had dried her tears, hugged her, and then told her to get back home as a good wife should. Ray, who happened to arrive at the house just as Frannie was leaving, took a different view. The argument went on long into the night; an argument that was conducted in both Italian and English. Maria and Tony had arrived too, also Paul (Ray, Frannie and Maria's brother), and their father – drunk as usual - not to mention a couple of aunts who lived near by. Paul had taken his mother's side, as had Maria and one of the aunts. Tony had, surprisingly, sided with Ray and another aunt. Their father, well, Ray couldn't remember his father saying anything. The argument had gotten so loud that a cop car had turned up outside the house, having been called by the Vecchio's neighbors for a potential breach of the peace. It had taken all of Ray's charm and ability and fast-talking to turn that one around.


He had delivered an ultimatum then. Either his mother support Francesca, allow her to move back home and start divorce proceedings, or Ray would never set foot inside the Vecchio home again, and nor would any grandchildren he might produce. Ray was convinced to this day that it was the grandchildren threat that had done it. His mother had given in, peace was restored, and Frannie had returned home. Less than a year later, Ray had also divorced; he had not added to the grandchildren. His mother had not said a word – literally. She hadn't spoken to Ray for two whole weeks.


So yes, Ray loved Frannie, and had fought for her, and would do again. But it didn't make him blind to her faults. What she had said to Ray in the interrogation room had been said to hurt, to cut, to wound, and to injure deeply. She told him that he was afraid to dream, afraid to reach out and grab what he wanted. And that people like him grew old alone, and died. Ray couldn't answer; couldn't answer because every word she'd uttered was true. Instead he had told Frannie that he cared about her and had hugged her. She walked out then, and he had spent the next ten minutes doing what he hadn't done since the day he came home and found Angie in their bed with Sergio Cicco: he cried.


Frannie was correct; he was afraid to dream. He was afraid to reach out and grab what he wanted. The chances of him growing old and alone were very high, and getting higher. Angie had taken away his capacity to dream; yet he had taken culpability for the divorce. He had blamed it on the job, on his long hours, on him, and had let her walk away with her reputation intact. He knew that that had stunned her, beyond belief, beyond her capacity to think. It had cost him dearly, and even now he didn't know how to stop paying.


He wanted to be able to dream again; he wanted to reach out and grab what he wanted – but the cost was too high. The price for doing so would be the best friendship he had ever had in his life. The friendship that he would fight tooth and nail to maintain, the friendship that he believed and trusted in, in ways he had never believed or trusted before. The friendship he feared every day he would lose, because every day he was convinced that Canada would wake up and realize just what they had let slip through their hands. So far that day had not come, but Ray felt sure that it would do, and soon.


Maybe he should just allow himself half of what Francesca had said he was afraid of; maybe he should allow himself to dream. After all what harm could there be in dreaming? Only you sanity, Vecchio, he told himself, but then he wondered whether he had that anyway.


Finally he forced himself to admit and accept his real reason for needing to know whether Benny and Francesca had slept together. He needed to know because he was jealous. He shut his eyes, as he finally allowed the words to form in his brain, and the floodgates opened. He was in love with the Mountie. He wanted him, not just as a best friend and working partner, but also as a lover and lifelong partner. Occasionally in a mad moment, not a dream, just a mad moment, he imagined that Benny felt the same way. There was some evidence: the looks they exchanged, they held entire conversations with their eyes; also the touches, both of them were very tactile around one another. Ray had always been thus, Italians were, but Benny, Ray would have sworn, was not naturally a touchy-feely person, yet his hands wandered over Ray constantly. The odd touch on the arm, the leg, around the back, shoulder, side, chest, everywhere, it seemed that Benton Fraser enjoyed touching his partner. But only as a friend, Ray told himself. Only as a friend.


But what if it was something more? What if Benny was holding back too, not able to tell Ray that he… Ray pushed that thought away; now that was dreaming, and that was dangerous. Thinking like that would get Ray into trouble, because he already had enough difficulties in keeping his feelings for Benny to himself. If he once let himself believe that the Mountie felt the same way, then he would lower his guard and bang, it would all be over. No, Frannie was wrong; dreams were not good. Dreams were not safe.


And yet what if…? What if he let the one true love of his life slip away? Wouldn't he always regret that? He had talked to Benny about signs, and had let the Mountie think that he had fallen for a criminal who had turned out to be Special Agent Suzanne Chapin, but although he had enjoyed the dalliance, the kisses, he hadn't fallen in love with her. All the things he had said were really his way of saying how he felt about Benny.


What if he were to go over to Benny's place now? Walk in as Francesca had done, drop his coat, and confess all? What would Benny do? Walk to the Consulate for the rest of his time in Chicago? Move to another apartment and not tell Ray where he'd gone? Request a transfer back to Canada, even though he was a hated man? Set Dief on his partner – ex-partner? Hit Ray? Laugh at Ray? Say, ‘I understand, Ray,' and then ignore the situation and just go on behaving like he did with all the women who threw themselves at him? Say, ‘thank you kindly, Ray,' and then do any or all of the above? Say ‘I love you too, Ray'? Ray laughed aloud at that thought. That was way out in left field, totally and utterly out of the question.


No, the best Ray could hope for was the ‘I understand' or ‘thank you kindly' and then Benny just ignoring what Ray had told him, just as he ignored Elaine, Frannie (or had hitherto seemed to ignore Frannie) and all of the others. The worst? The worst was Benny going home to Canada. However, everything between ignoring and Canada, would inevitably end with the dissolution of the partnership and friendship. The odds were too long for Ray to risk simple humiliation. Ray suddenly realized that if he could guarantee that Benny would go for ignoring and not splitting up, even if punching got thrown in for good measure - not that he truly believed that Benny would ever hit him - then he would be prepared to risk telling Benny the truth. But as he couldn't guarantee this, he couldn't tell his friend. And yet… And yet…


Damn, Frannie and her words. The words that had opened up parts of Ray he wasn't certain he wanted to be opened up. The words that had made him for one brief moment see the world as his sister did. She had never ceased dreaming, never ceased reaching out. Okay, thus far it hadn't seemed to bring her what she wanted, and yet… And yet maybe she was happier than Ray was. Of course she didn't have the same kind of pressures in her job as Ray did, so… He pushed that aside and made himself stop making excuses. They weren't fair.


What if he just drove round to Benny's and begged him – on his knees if necessary - to tell him whether he and Frannie had slept together? But what good would that do? If, and it was a big if, Benny agreed to answer him, did Ray really want the answer? The odds were even, and those kind were not that good; Ray rarely took those sorts of odds. For all his pushing his partner for the answer, he did not truly want it - not unless it was a negative one. Ray didn't think he could stand knowing that his sister had slept with the man with whom he was in love, but Ray also wasn't sure if he could stand not knowing.



Thirty minutes later the Riv pulled up outside of Benny's apartment building; as he had expected the lights were all out. He sat in the car for another ten minutes before climbing out and slowly making his way up the stairs. He stopped a short distance from his friend's door, pausing around the corner, suddenly aware that Dief just might mistake him for someone else. Logically he knew this couldn't be true, Dief knew Ray's unique scent. Benny had taken great pains to introduce them properly; Ray still shuddered sometimes at just how intimate that had been. But Benny had said that it was essential if Ray and Diefenbaker were to work together, and if Dief was to regard Ray as part of his pack – and apparently it was important for wolves to feel part of a pack. So Ray had endured the experience and was glad that he had; he had seen the wolf's bared teeth on more than one occasion and he never wanted to see them aimed at him. It didn't comfort him that Diefenbaker was, strictly speaking, only a half-wolf, his other half was husky and those dogs weren't renowned for being petting dogs. No, he was safe from Dief. But then hadn't Frannie been taking a chance? Again he realized not really, because again Diefenbaker had been introduced, in a somewhat less personal way, to the entire Vecchio household.


Even so, turning up at gone 1:00 a.m. with a gun, Ray never left it at home and certainly not when he was planning on visiting this neighborhood, in the dark, quiet, and simply letting himself into Benny's apartment, was not necessarily a sensible thing to do. Ray turned towards the stairs.


"As you've come all this way, Ray, why don't you come in?" The quiet voice of Benton Fraser seemed to fill the hall.


Ray whirled. The Mountie and his wolf stood in the doorway to the apartment.


Ray stared wide-eyed.


"Diefenbaker heard your car," Benny said.


"But he's deaf," hissed Ray, glaring at the wolf as if it was all his fault. Dief whined. Benny shushed him with a gesture. He then glanced at Ray and shrugged.


"Maybe he sensed you then. I told you he is very pack orientated. Whatever it was, Ray, he knew that you were here before you came up the stairs. Now why don't you come in? We really don't want to wake up Mr. Mustafi and Mrs. Garcia. They think that you are noisy, er, that is exuberant enough at the best of times."


"Me nois -" Ray started to say, his voice rising. Benny's gesture, the same damned gesture he'd made to his damned wolf, stopped him. He made his way, with reluctance towards his friend's door. Now that he was actually here and face-to-face with the Mountie, he wasn't entirely certain of what to say.


He vaguely noted that tonight Benny had gone to bed in his shorts and a tee-shirt, rather than his long red underwear. Ray wasn't sure which he preferred. The white starkness of the underwear gave Benny that virginal look, the one that always honed to perfection Ray's protective instinct, whereas the red long johns, reminded Ray of the RCMP's dress uniform, and red certainly suited this particular Mountie. The white was easier to get out of; the red more…  Ray cut those thoughts off at once. Benny had spoken. But what had he said?


Ray had no choice but to raise his hands, and indicated that he hadn't heard. Benny looked almost amused. Oh  well, he's clearly used to the Vecchio household turning up at odd times of the night. Ray thought, no wonder he's amused. He wouldn't be if he knew what I had half a mind to tell him.


"Would you like a cup of coffee, Ray?" Benny's tone was patient and bemused, clearly telling Ray that this was at least the third time of asking.


"Er, no, thanks, Benny," Ray said. "I really should be going." He turned and made his way to the door that he had entered less than five minutes before.


"Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray." Benny softly calling his name, in the way he always did to get Ray's full attention, finally penetrated his tired brain.


Ray turned sharply, and found that was a mistake. Close on a hundred hours without sleep, not to mention the tension that had at last caught up with him, or maybe it was just that he finally felt safe, was too much for his abused body to take. He staggered and would have fallen, had it not been for two broad arms going around him.


The next thing Ray knew was that he was sitting on Benny's bed with his head between his knees, and Benny was crouching down in front of him, with one warm hand on his shoulder.


In spite of himself, Ray almost groaned. Benny's bed. Benny's bed. How many times had he longed to be here? It wasn't as if it was the first time he had sat on the narrow, hard bed, after all furniture was not exactly in overabundant supply in the spartan apartment. However, he had never sat here with Benny half naked, and his own defenses so lowered that anything could come out of his overactive mouth.


He had to go home.


He didn't want to go home.


He made a halfhearted attempt to stand up, and was not in the least surprised when he was prevented. "Fraser," he growled, drawing out the name even more than he usually did. "I've gotta go home."


But the dark head was shook, firmly. "No, Ray. I would be failing in my duties as a good citizen, a member of the police – even thought that isn't official in your city – and as a friend, if I let you drive home."


Ray blinked. He was touched. He would have been even more touched if the friend bit had come first, but hey, miracles don't often happen in the state of Illinois. "Oh," was all he said.


"Ray, you are nearly asleep on your feet. I do not like to think how you drove here. What was so important that it couldn't wait until morning?"


Now that was the $64,000 question, and not one Ray felt he could answer. Instead he prevaricated. "I couldn't sleep, Benny. Guess I was too hyped up. The adrenalin from the last few days hasn't gone. You know how it is. You keep going and keep going. You tell your body and mind that it's okay, that they aren't really tired, and I guess that it takes a bit of convincing for them to believe otherwise."


"I understand, Ray," Benny said. "However, you appear to be very tired now. If I am not much mistaken, I believe that you will now be able to sleep."


"Yeah, I probably will, Benny, so that's why I best be getting along home." Ray tried to make his voice as cheery as possible, but the Mountie was clearly not fooled.


"No, Ray," he said, his tone firm and decisive. Ray blinked. It was a tone that he rarely heard Benny use, and when he did, it was usually directed at Diefenbaker, who always obeyed it.


Ray found himself slumping again. He really was too tired to argue. All he could think about was firstly, how pleased he was that Benny had not pursued the question as to why he was there at the Racine apartment at 1:30 a.m. when he should be at home asleep. And secondly, whether he could get away with sleeping in his car, without some over-zealous cop picking him up.


He came out of his slight doze-come-reverie with a start, as he felt his jacket being removed.


"Benny!" he spluttered, as warm hands moved to tug his sweater out of his pants. "Wha'cher doing?"


"Undressing you, Ray," Benny replied in a calm, patient tone; he made it sound as though undressing his best friend was something he did on a regular basis.


Ray was so surprised that he found that the sweater was over his head before he had a chance to object. The competent hands moved to his belt. Ray slapped them away and hissed, "What for?"


However, Benny seemed unperturbed, and moved slightly. The next thing Ray felt was his shoes and socks being removed. "Fraser!" He raised his voice. Dief whined and sat up, ears alert. Ray subsided. Benny sat on his heels, calmly staring up at his partner.


"You are in no state to drive home, Ray. I could drive you home but that would mean that I would either have to walk back here or bring the Riv back, and I know how important your car is to you."


"Not so important that you wouldn't ask me to blow it up," Ray retorted. Then he added, "Twice!"


"Ah, but, Ray, you did only act upon my suggestion the first time." Benny's hands again moved to Ray's belt.


Still Ray held on. "And that makes it all right, does it?"


"Ray…" Benny's tone was calm; suddenly Ray felt as if he were behaving like a child.


"You can stay here and sleep in my bed." He paused and a hint of color touched the pale cheeks. When he spoke again, his gaze slid away from Ray's face. "I have, as a matter of fact, changed the sheets tonight. I shall sleep on the floor."


But Ray's mind had not taken in the last few words. He was simply working out the sheet thing. Benny was pretty fastidious and he never seemed to get rumpled, dirty, or unkempt; thus Ray was certain that if he had slept with Frannie, he would have changed the sheets immediately. As Ray did not believe that Benny was fussy enough to change the sheets twice in a few days – well, not unless he'd slept with Frannie again, last night, and that wasn't possible, because he'd been with Ray – then his sister and his best friend had not slept together. Suddenly Ray's heart jumped. Also he recalled, Benny did not have a washing machine, thus he would have to take his sheets to the laundry, and knowing Benny as Ray knew his partner and his dislike of personal possessions, Ray would lay bets that Benny did not have more than two pairs of sheets. Not even the ‘one in the wash, one on, and one in the drawer,' that used to amuse Ray. Actually, Ray recalled Benny might not have many sheets or possessions, but he did have a lot of underwear.


Ray knew this because of an occasion when he had been alone at the Canadian's apartment. For some reason or another, he had not been able to pick Benny up from the Consulate, but as seeing his friend after work each day was as natural to Ray as breathing, he had driven round to see Benny as soon as he was able to. His partner had not been there, he had been out walking Dief, but Ray had let himself in  - which wasn't a difficult thing to do. Ray had been in the midst of a streaming cold at the time, the kind whereby he got through a box of tissues and several handkerchiefs in a day. He had used the last of his tissues in the car, and his third soaking hanky was in his coat pocket. But his nose was still running, and he was sneezing again. Knowing that Benny wouldn't mind, he'd set off to look through the Mountie's drawers to try and find his supply of handkerchiefs. His search had come to a temporary halt when he turned up more underwear than Ray himself had. Okay, so it was all white, functional, ironed and starched, but Ray was quite surprised that there was so much of it; shorts and undershirts were in abundance. Ray had to stop his hunt, not because of the sound of wolf claws on the stairs, but because by then his nose was actually dripping. He had just buried it in some cool, fresh linen when Dief, with Benny on his heels, had arrived.


Suddenly cool air hit his thighs, as he realized that the ever determined Mountie had managed to get his belt, zipper and button undone, and was starting to ease his pants down his legs. Again he clutched them; again he hissed. "Benny!"


But the Mountie ignored him, and continued to strip Ray's pants off. In the end Ray gave in and simply concentrated on keeping his briefs. Surely the crazy Canadian wouldn't insist he took those off as well? "That's better," Benny said as he finally removed the pants. "You really wouldn't have been comfortable sleeping in those. And," he added with a faint smile, "they are after all your best suit pants."


As Benny stood up to move Ray's clothes to a chair, where he placed them very carefully, Ray glanced at the items he held. Damn it, but Benny was right. That showed the state of Ray's mind when he dressed. He'd grabbed his best suit pants – the one he had been wearing the day he first met Benny – and a totally different jacket. Very un-Ray like that was.


He sat on the edge of Benny's bed in just his undershirt and briefs, shivering slightly. Warm hands grasped his shoulders, and he felt himself eased into bed. He decided to stop fighting. If Benny wanted to put him to bed, then let him. So it wasn't exactly the bed-putting Ray would have liked, but beggars can't be choosers.


Suddenly Benny paused in his task of arranging the sheets and blankets around his partner. Even in the dim light, Ray thought he saw another faint blush touch the pale cheeks. "Er, do you need to…" Benny broke off and moved his hand towards the front door.


Ray blinked, and then realized what his friend meant. "No, Ma," he said, with a grin, "I went before I came out."


Benny smiled back, and Ray felt himself settled again. He closed his eyes; he really was utterly exhausted. The Mountie was correct; there was no way he could have driven home. As he felt the waves of sleep take him over, he was certain that he felt a warm, capable, comforting hand stroke over his forehead.


Less than an hour later, he awoke with a scream, calling Benny's name over and over again. Within seconds he felt a weight on the bed, and a wet nose and a furry head was pushed against him, Dief, he told himself. Then another weight arrived, and a broad arm was wrapped around his shoulder.


"Ray, Ray, Ray." He heard his name being called, but it seemed to be coming from a great distance.


He was hyperventilating; he knew it, but he didn't know how to stop it. He tried to calm his breathing, but he couldn't. He began to panic.


"Ray, Ray, Ray. Calm down. Breathe slowly, Ray. In and out, in and out. That's it, Ray. It's all right, Ray, I'm here. I won't leave you, Ray. I love you. Breathe for me, Ray. Breathe with me, Ray. That's it, like this, in and out, slowly. Good, Ray. Good, my love. That's better, that's better." Benny kept repeating his partner's name, maybe to try and grab the cop's attention, maybe for reassurance, Ray didn't know; he just knew how wonderful it sounded.


These words, or something like them were repeated continually, until finally Ray was aware that his breathing and Benny's were perfectly matched. He opened his eyes; he was shaking, sweating, but also icy cold. Instinctively he moved closer to Benny, and Dief followed, warming his back with that deceptively soft fur.


"Do you feel sick, Ray?" Benny's asked, his voice calm. Ray was aware that he was being held tightly, and that one hand was stroking his arm.


He nodded. Again he felt his head pushed slightly downwards, but other than that, Benny made no attempt to move. Oh, god, he was gonna throw up over his best friend. He tried to move; he was prevented.


"Do you think you are going to be sick, Ray?"


Not if I can help it. But then he realized that although he felt sick, it wasn't the kind of sickness he tended to feel prior to actually being sick; in many ways it was worse, because it tended to drag on a lot longer. As much as Ray hated to throw-up – who didn't? – he'd prefer that to the nauseous feeling. But then again, as Benny didn't have a bathroom in his apartment, and didn't seem intent on leaving Ray, the cop decided that not being sick was the lesser of two evils. As long as his body did co-operate. And all of a sudden, though, he wasn't convinced that the feeling was his sudden preferred kind of nausea.


Abruptly aware that he hadn't answered Benny's question, he shook his head slightly. "No," he managed. "I don't think so." Then as another wave of the violent nausea hit him, he groaned and said, "I almost wish I could be though."


"If you really believe that it would help you feel better, Ray, I could assist you."


So Benny knew how to make someone throw-up? Now why didn't that surprise him? "Er, no, thanks, Benny. I'll be okay in a minute." Ray hoped he sounded more convincing that he felt. He was aware that there was no way he could walk in any case; his legs were shaking so much. Damn, Benny, why doesn't he get an apartment with a bathroom! He swallowed hard again, and swayed. The secure grip held him even more tightly. There was no way he was getting out of those arms.


Suddenly Dief jumped down, leaving Ray feeling very cold, and he heard the tap, tap, tap of wolf claws on the uncarpeted floor. Seconds later the wolf was back.


"Thank you, Diefenbaker," Benny said, as the wolven hot water bottle jumped back on the bed and snuggled back against Ray. Ray opened an eye, and saw that Dief had brought a towel over to the bed. Benny carefully spread it out over their laps.


Oddly Ray felt marginally better. Okay, throwing up into a towel  wouldn't have been his first choice, but at least it was better than throwing up over his best friend. Suddenly Ray recalled a similar incident in his childhood, when his mother had taken the same action. He'd needed the towel then; he just hoped he didn't now.


He let his head rest on Benny's shoulder, and he was aware that his friend was still regulating his breathing to match Ray's. They sat there, Benny's arms around him, stroking him, Dief pressed against him, bonding with his pack members, Benny murmuring stuff that Ray could not hear, and Ray started to feel a little better. He was still shivering, but at least the throwing up urge was subsiding. Benny's voice sounded so comforting, so caring, and so real. He wished that he could hear the words, but…


Hear the words? Suddenly Ray reacted and he sat up straight, banging Benny's head as he did so. The nausea returned tenfold and Ray's hand went to his mouth. But even as he fought the waves that he were sure were going to result in him embarrassing the hell out of himself and Benny, he recalled what Benny had said. Correction, what he thought Benny had said. Had Benny said he loved him? Had he called him ‘my love?' No, Ray was imagining it. It was just that he wanted to hear it. Benny hadn't really said that, and even if he had, well, he'd meant it as a friend, or… Oh, fuck, he was gonna throw up.


A cool hand removed his own from over his mouth, another one went onto Ray's sweaty forehead, and he was adjusted and embraced more firmly. His stomach finally rebelled. Throughout it all he was held; held just as his mother had cuddled him as a child, but this was even more comforting and secure.


Finally he finished, and sagged back again against Benny's sturdy body. The sweet sickly smell seemed to fill the small apartment. Dief whined; Ray didn't blame him. He felt himself lowered back to once more lie down on the bed; Dief settled nearer, but those firm gentle hands left him. He didn't want them to go, he wanted to be held on to. God, Vecchio, stop behaving like a baby. You're thirty-five years old, for Christ's sake. But he couldn't help himself. He clung on to his lifeline. Calmly though, still murmuring words Ray could not hear, Benny extracted his hands, and moved to stand up, gathering the offensive towel up. Ray tried not to think about it.


"Diefenbaker, stay," was all the Mountie said as he left the apartment.


Oh, God, he's disgusted with me, Ray thought. In spite of sharing men's rooms with his friend, and more than once a not so proper place, bodily functions were somehow something that Ray didn't associate with Benny. Hot tears started to seep out from his eyes, and he moaned. Dief began to lick his bare shoulder; Ray, rather than stopping him, turned and buried his face in the soft, thick fur. It really is just like Benny's hair, he found himself thinking, recalling the time he'd called his best friend's head covering, a pelt. His mouth tasted terrible, and he was still shivering, in spite of the heat Dief generated, and he still was trying to compute what he thought Benny had said.


Minutes later his partner returned, juggling two bowls, and another towel. He set the larger of the two down on the floor, and then bent to help Ray sit up again. "Here," he said and handed Ray a toothbrush. Ray's felt his eyes fill with tears again. It was such a small gesture, but such a deep one. His hand was still shaking, so finally Benny helped him brush his teeth, and then held the bowl while Ray spat in it. Then he handed Ray a small bottle of mouthwash, which Ray used, gratefully.


Eventually Ray was lowered back down and before he knew what was happening, he felt a damp washcloth – it had to be a washcloth, Dief's tongue was not as harsh – move over his face and neck, then he was dried. Somehow Benny had taken all the embarrassment of what had just happened away. Ray suddenly felt cherished, in a way that he hadn't felt since his childhood. He'd make someone a wonderful husband and father, Ray contemplated, and then cursed himself for thinking it.


He felt the sheet being moved and became aware of Benny's hand on his arm. He froze, was Benny about to give him an entire sponge bath? Ray's heart rate picked up, he was torn between an overwhelming desire to hope that this is just what his friend would do, and the fear that if he did, then Ray's body, if not his words, would betray him.


"No, you are still too cold," Benny decided, as he replaced the washcloth in the bowl. Ray did not know whether to cheer or curse. "In fact," he went on, a look of concern on his face, "you are entirely too cold; your body temperature is dropping. Diefenbaker." Again the command, and Benny nodded towards where he had been sleeping. The wolf jumped off the bed and returned dragging the single blanket that the stoic Mountie had allowed himself, with him.


Benny wrapped the blanket around Ray, and once again Diefenbaker returned to his spot behind the cop. But Ray was still shivering. "Ray," Benny said.


"Yes, Benny?" Ray felt unwell. Not sick, not this time, but shaky, cold, distant.


"I think the best thing would be for me to get into bed with you and hold you. Sharing body heat is one of the most efficient ways of keeping warm."


"Learned that from the Inuits, did ya, Benny?" but Ray's heart wasn't in the teasing. Ray's heart was pounding at the thought of having Benny in bed with him. He wasn't entirely sure if he could cope, if he could handle it. But his partner had that determined Mountie look in his eye, the look that even Dief obeyed.


"Yes, Ray," Benny said calmly, and in the next instant, was in bed with Ray, pulling the Chicago cop into his arms.


Ray would have sworn that Benny's bed was barely big enough for one person, let alone two grown men and a wolf. Diefenbaker had not jumped down from the bed; he had simply shifted slightly to allow his master and Ray to occupy most of the space.


Ray decided that this might be the only opportunity to indulge his fantasies, and anyway, he was still feeling unwell enough not to be overly concerned that his body would give him away. So he let himself relax into Benny's arms. They were just how he had imagined they would be. Strong, warm, safe, secure, and loving; he let himself drift in the sensations. Suddenly, without conscious thought he allowed himself to dream. To dream that this was real, it wasn't happening just because of some Inuit thing to keep him warm, but because Benny wanted to hold him.


Half an hour later he had stopped shivering and had begun to warm up. He shifted slightly and met those slate blue eyes. "Hi," he said. It sounded foolish, but it would have to do.


"Hello, Ray," Benny said, a smile in his voice, that did not totally mask the concern Ray saw in the beautiful face. "Are you feeling better now?"


"Yes, thank you, Benny. Warmer certainly." Ray wondered if Benny would take that as an excuse to move.


Instead his friend simply commanded, "Diefenbaker, down." Dief gave a sort of snort, but nonetheless obeyed. The warm blanket that had lain for so long against Ray's back had suddenly gone. In spite of himself, Ray shivered. He was not unpleased to find himself gathered more closely to Benny.


"Ray." The calm voice finally broke the silence.


"Yes, Benny?" Ray's heart was starting to thump.


"What were you dreaming about when you woke up like you did?"


Dreaming about? Dreaming about? But he didn't dream. Oh, God, yes, that dream. Recalling it, made begin it, he began to shake again, he felt the sweat break out over his body and the nausea flood back.


"Ray, Ray, Ray." Benny's voice, rich with deep concern sounded loud in the apartment. Diefenbaker growled again, his anxiety was also evident. "Ray, what is it?"


Pulling himself together as much as he could and swallowing hard, he couldn't throw up again, there was nothing left to throw up anyway, Ray began to speak. "It was the car, Benny."


"The car, Ray?" His partner sounded puzzled.


"The car blowing up," God, even thinking about it made Ray shiver.


"The Riv?" Benny sounded really puzzled.


Good God, did Benny really think he was that devoted to a heap of metal that he'd have nightmares about it blowing up? Clearly, the answer was yes. "No, Benny. Not the Riv. The one this morning, yesterday morning," Ray amended.


Benny tilted his head slightly. Ray cursed him silently, begging him to understand so that Ray didn't have to say the words, didn't have to speak his nightmare. But for once silent communication seemed to fail them.


"The car that blew up when you were… when you were…" Ray swallowed hard, forcing back bile. "I dreamed," he forced himself to go on, "I dreamed that you were close, too close, and… and… and…" He felt the tears flood from his eyes, and he cursed. "Oh, God, Benny, you were too close. I couldn't save you. Benny, Benny, I couldn't save you." And Ray broken into sobs so loud that he felt sure Mr. Mustafi would come knocking on the door, demanding to know what was happening. Covers were pushed away and he felt a wet nose and tongue nuzzle at his back.


Benny's arms tightened around him. One hand again brushed over his forehead and hair, and soft words were being spoken. But Ray couldn't hear them, couldn't compute them, couldn't make them out.


He just sobbed and sobbed. The exhaustion of nearly one hundred hours without sleep, the tension of the case, and the worry over whether Benny and Frannie had shared the bed he now shared with his partner, Francesca's hurtful, all too true words, the nightmare, and being in the place he most wanted to be, but refused to let himself dream that he would ever be, all overtook him.


He did not know how long he went on crying, Benny holding him, soothing him, petting him, Dief nuzzling him; he just knew that it was a long, long time. Finally the sobs stopped and he felt Benny move slightly. He tried to grab him, not wanting him to move and then… And then… And then he felt as though his heart had stopped; that the world had frozen.


Benny kissed him.


Then Benny kissed him again.


Then Benny kissed him for a third time.


And it wasn't just the kisses of a best friend trying to calm and reassure and comfort. It was that, but it was so much more.


"Benny…" Ray tried to speak.


"Ssh, Ray, ssh, my love," and Benny kissed him yet again.



Over an hour later they lay naked together, entwined in each other's arms, kissing and petting languidly.


Finally Benny broke the silence. "Ray."


"Yes, Benny?" Ray didn't really want to talk, but if Benny wanted to, well, it was after all so hard for Ray to deny his friend anything.


"About Francesca."


Ray kissed him, hard. He didn't want to know. "It's okay, mio caro," he said, when he needed to come up for air. "As you said, courtesy, chivalry. It's okay, you don't have to tell me."


"I know that, Ray. But I believe that you should now know."


"No, Benny, no. Not for my sake. I don't want ya breaking all those nice Canadian good manners, just for me. I don't -" Ray was babbling, he knew that, but he couldn't stop. That is until Benny stopped him.


Again they came up for air. "Then," Benny said, his tone serious, "I believe that I should tell you because I wish to so do."


That was it; there no way back. Once Benny had really made his mind up, he never changed it – as Ray could all too easily attest to.


He sighed and braced himself. He was determined not to allow the jealousy he knew he would experience when Benny said that Francesca and he had slept together, as Ray was now sure that he would say.


"Okay, Benny," he said. "If you really want to tell me."


"No, Ray."


"But I thought you said -" Ray broke off. "I thought you said you wanted to tell me." He was confused.


"Yes, Ray," Benny said serenely.


"But… but… but… why did you say you didn't?" Ray hadn't felt so tongue-tied since the tenth grade when Sister Angelica had found a love poem he had written to Silvia Benson.


"I didn't, Ray."


"You did so. You said ‘no, Ray.'"


"Yes, Ray."


"Benny!" It was true; the Mountie really was the most annoying man in the world.


"Oh, I see, Ray," Benny said, comprehension suddenly clearly dawning.


It's a good job that it's dawned with one of us, thought Ray bitterly.


"The ‘no, Ray,' referred to the fact that I did not sleep with Francesca, not that I did not intend to tell you after all," Benny said, his voice still calm.


Ray blinked. He thought he'd followed it, but hell, this was Benton Fraser, one of the most confusing men – as well as the most annoying, and nicest – in the world. Ray was going to clarify it. "So you're trying to tell me that you didn't sleep with Frannie?"


"Yes, Ray."


Fuck, he was still no nearer. "Frasier," he growled, suddenly realizing that he sounded like Dief. The wolf growled back. Ray was not surprised, but he ignored it, relying on the fact that they were pack mates, and he wasn't making any threatening gestures towards Benny.


Something seemed to penetrate that precise, perfectly logical Canadian mind, because Benny spoke. He was quite calm, it was as if he had been asking directions to the library, not taking part in one of the most life-shattering concentrations Ray had ever had. "I did not sleep with your sister, Ray." Ray's mouth fell open. Benny went on. "I could not have done such a thing. It would not have been fair."


"Fair?" Ray's voice did not sound calm or relaxed; it had a high squeak to it.


"Yes. It would not have been fair or gentlemanly to sleep with the sister, when I was in love with the brother."


"In love?" Ray vaguely wondered where the mouse had come from; even Dief raised his head and his nose twitched as he glanced around the small apartment.


"Oh, yes, Ray; very, very, very much in love."


It was some hours later that Ray Vecchio awoke, wrapped in the most secure arms in the world. Francesca was wrong; he was no longer afraid to dream; no longer afraid to reach out and grab what he wanted. He would die, he would grow old, but he would no longer be alone.



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