*disclaimer* i didn't create them. they aren't mine. i'll put them back when i'm done. i'd like to warn everyone about angst and Benny with someone else. (don't worry, fans... ray gets him back... eventually)
comments are appreciated and welcome. thanks to Jen and Raa and Shu, the last two who (i don't think) have ever seen the end of this story. another tyk to Raa, for suggesting i write a sequel in the first place. enjoy!
"I'm not sure what to do here." Ben said awkwardly. "Do you want me looking at you or somewhere else?"
Sean looked at him sideways. "Look over my shoulder, out the window. Pretend you're... in the wilderness, you're all alone. Just look distant."
Ben raised an eyebrow at this, and Sean caught it on film. He smiled. Sean snapped the shutter. This was easier than he thought.
"Here, could you take your sweater off?" Sean asked. "Just your t-shirt, please?"
Ben did, forgetting the events of the past weeks, and was surprised when Sean gave a little gasp and came over to him.
"What did you do?" Sean was looking at the scars on Ben's wrists. Ben bit his lip. "You did that on purpose, didn't you?" Sean asked softly. Ben nodded, ashamed. The tears he had not cried in the past weeks now threatened to spill down his cheeks. Sean brushed the first one away.
"I tried to kill myself." Ben said bluntly. "Because I loved someone and they didn't love me."
"You didn't do that for *love*." Sean said, shaking his head. "That's not love, it's hate. Hate for yourself. You didn't love yourself."
Ben felt his fears rise up again. He pulled the sweater back on, pulling the sleeves well down over his forearms. What could he say?
"I wanted to die. I wanted to escape the pain that was following me. I wanted to run away and never face the world again. I meant to-" His voice broke. "I meant to lock the door."
Sean took Ben's hand, and looked into his eyes. Ben was drawn into the younger man's embrace. He felt his grip on emotion slip and he began to cry. Sean held him, not sure what else he could do for him.
"I had a friend once-" Sean began. "-he wanted so badly to love someone. All he wanted was someone who would love him the way he loved them. And stupidly, the person he loved didn't see it. Didn't see what he needed. Didn't see his true self. And finally, when he got up the courage to tell his friend-" Sean gulped. "Stupidly I told him never to speak to me again. Stupidly I let him walk out of here wounded inside. And he killed himself. He loved me, Ben, and I hurt him. And I could never let myself forget that it was me who caused his death." He stopped talking. Ben drew a shuddering breath, and looked at him with teary eyes. Sean smiled weakly. "And I will never let someone else make the same mistake my friend did."
"I don't want to run away any longer." Ben said, looking down at the floor. He broke the embrace, now uncomfortable. Sean watched him pull up his sleeves, and offer his wrists toward the camera. "I don't want anyone else to make this mistake either."
Sean raised the camera. "Are you sure?"
Ben wiped the tears from his face with the back of his hand. "Yes." He said finally.
Sean framed the scarred forearms in his viewfinder. He blinked back tears as he photographed Ben's arms. He knew all too well how close Ben had come to death.
When Ben arrived that afternoon, Sean was already looking through the prints of their last shoot. He was looking at the raised scars on Ben's wrists when Ben walked through the door. He put them down as Ben hung up his coat.
"Tea?" Sean asked.
"Yes, please." Ben replied. He was uneasy. The last session had reopened the nearly-healed wound of his affection for Ray. He sat on Sean's couch as the blonde man put the kettle on.
"Today I want to explore your body."
Ben blushed. Sean was always so open about things.
"I'm sorry." Sean said, laughing. "I mean I'd like to take pictures of your body. I hope it's not too forward."
Ben smiled nervously, but nodded his head in agreement. Sean unrolled the seamless white backdrop they'd used last time, and loaded his camera.
"You wouldn't mind taking off your shirt, would you?" He asked. Ben folded his sweater and placed it beside him, then stood up to pull off his t-shirt. Sean was fiddling with one of the reflectors, and when he turned back, Ben was standing in front of him in sock feet, wearing his blue jeans. That was all he was wearing.
Sean bit back an appreciative comment, concentrating on the task at hand. He started to coax Ben to relax under the lens, to relax as he photographed the delicate hollow above his left collarbone. He photographed the tender skin behind Ben's ear, and stepped back to frame all of the beautiful man in his lens. Ben was blushing, unused to the sudden scrutiny his body was under. Sean snapped a picture of Ben's shoulder.
"What's this?" He asked, touching Ben's back with one hand. Ben quivered at his touch.
"That scar?" He asked nervously. "I was shot."
"It looks nasty." Sean focused in on it. It wasn't smooth or beautiful like the rest of Ben. It was sad, an angry, ugly scar that made his stomach twist in sympathy. "It must have hurt."
Ben looked at the floor. Sean snapped a picture of his back. "To tell you the truth, I don't remember the pain." He said. "It hurt, but not physically."
Sean laid a hand over the scar. Ben's back was warm and smooth, and he could feel him breathing. Suddenly, he felt himself close to tears. Someone had hurt this perfect, perfect body, and hurt Ben's perfect, perfect soul, and it was so sad that he could do nothing but cry.
Ben heard the sharp intake of breath behind him, and turned to see Sean taking a step away, his hand withdrawing from Ben's back. Sean was crying.
"Sean--" he said helplessly. Sean backed away from him.
"It's not fair." Sean gulped out. "How could--how could someone do that to you?"
"It was an accident." Ben said, moving toward Sean. "It was a friend, it was an accident."
"That's even worse!" Sean exclaimed, but by that time, Ben had already drawn him closer. Sean felt himself enveloped by his strong arms, drawn against Ben's warm chest, and all he could do was close his eyes against the flood of hot tears.
Ben held him close, comforting him. The reaction had not been what he had anticipated, and it was all he could do to help the younger man. He felt the hot tears on his chest, and was not embarrassed or ashamed for once in his life to wipe them off Sean's cheek with a gentle hand. Sean curved an arm around Ben's waist, returning the embrace. He moved his head from Ben's shoulder, towards the tender skin at his collarbone. Sean heard a small sigh escape Ben's lips when he kissed him there. He kissed him again.
And then, almost accidentally, their lips met, softly at first, then harder and more passionate. Sean could feel Ben's arousal against his leg as they locked hips, swaying under the caresses of each other. Sean kissed Ben's lips, his jaw, his neck, while Ben breathed with eyes closed, his hands caressing Sean's thighs and buttocks. When Sean reached a hand between them to touch Ben, the Mountie broke away, a look of panic in his eyes.
He backed away, flushed and aroused, but terrified. As he pulled his t-shirt over his head, he stammered "I should go."
"You should stay!" Sean pleaded, but Ben pulled on his shoes and sweater and left the apartment in a hurry.
Outside, in the hallway, Ben cursed himself for losing control. It hadn't been him, it was Sean, he didn't know what he was doing. When he hit the street, he just kept on walking.
By the time dusk fell, Ben had walked much further than he had intended, and into a neighbourhood he had not intended on visiting. He realized with a shock that he was only a few doors away from Ray's house! He considered turning back, but something inside him made him press on. He could see the Riv parked in the driveway, and could hear the voices of the Vecchios ringing in the clear dusk air. He listened, stopping on the sidewalk, and heard Ray's voice.
"No, Ma, I will not go with her! Why? I don't like her, alright? I don't care if she's your best friend's married daughter's friend, I'm not gonna go out with her!" There was a scattering of Italian, and then Ray's voice again. "No! Don't you get it? No!" Then the front door slammed. Ray looked across the lawn at Ben, who stood transfixed. He had that 'deer caught in the headlights' look again. Ray thought he should say something.
"Heh. Family trouble." He said sardonically.
"I could tell." Ben said.
"Yeah, well I was gonna go for a drive anyway. Can I drop you somewhere?" Ray walked to his car, and looked back. Ben was still standing on the sidewalk. "Come on."
Ben looked at Ray. "Would you mind taking me home?"
"Nah, I don't mind. Hop in."
They drove in silence for a few minutes, then Ray spoke.
"Can you believe this? My mother is setting me up with someone I've never even met! The nerve of that woman!" He banged the steering wheel with one hand. "Can't I even choose who I wanna go out with any more? She says 'Raymondo, you have to settle down, marry a nice Italian girl, have plenty of kids', but I don't want to. I don't want to do what she says."
"You have that choice, Ray." Ben said. Ray glared at him.
"I don't want to get married. I'm not about to settle down and let my house get even more overrun than it is already. No way!" He pouted. Ben repressed a smile. "What!" Ray asked.
"Nothing." Ben said, shaking his head.
"Oh, no, the last time you said that, our plane crashed in the middle of nowhere. You're not pulling that one again. What is it?"
"Your protests would indicate that, however much you seem disinclined towards becoming dependant on another person, you actually wish to comply. But you don't want to follow your mother's advice."
"My mother is not a dating service." Ray grumbled. "And you are not my shrink. But--" he paused.
"But?" Ben asked.
"--but you're right of course." He mumbled. "I don't want my mother to boss me around."
Ben sat back, pleased he'd read the situation correctly. Ray continued to complain.
"She tried to set me up with a friend of her friend's daughter. I mean, come on, sure we're a tight-knit family, but we don't all need to be related. It's just getting pathetic now."
"Maybe you do need to settle down." Ben suggested.
"With me running around risking my life every day? What kind of a life is that for anyone? I could be killed accidentally at any time. It's not fair to whoever's left at home." Ray grumbled. "Or whoever's left holding my hand when I die."
"It's alright, Ray." Ben said.
"Do you want to settle down, Benny?" Ray asked. "Do you want to find that perfect someone and spend the rest of your life tied down?"
"Well, not tied down, Ray, there is a certain amount of freedom in any relationship. It all depends on how the relationship is defined between the people involved." Ben cleared his throat. "In fact, marriage is not dissimilar to many relationships in the workplace. Some police officers often speak of being married to their job--"
"--and I have found on several occasions that my job--"
Ray pulled up to the curb in front of Ben's apartment building. Ben opened the door, and got out.
"Thank you, Ray." Ben said, smiling. Ray waved him away.
"Go on." He said. "I gotta go."
Ben watched the Riv roar off down the street, then turned and went inside. He climbed the stairs to his apartment, thinking about what he had said. When Ray asked him if he ever wanted to settle down, he had been surprised. He had never thought of that option, and avoided the issue by arguing an irrelevant technicality. Now he thought about it. Would he ever settle down? He couldn't see himself settling anywhere permanently, even his apartment was testament to that. Even Sean's apartment, newly inhabited though it was, seemed much more of a home than his own home did. It seemed unlikely that he'd stay here forever, but it also seemed unlikely that he would move away. Ben sighed, pulling off his boots and placing them by the door. He didn't like this new relationship with Sean. To him, it felt like he was cheating. He couldn't do it.
He lay down on his bed, and stared at the ceiling. He knew he had to make a decision soon, and he knew that someone would get hurt. And he knew that he didn't want it to be Ray or Sean.
"I was wondering if you wanted to go to the opening of my new show this Friday." Sean said. They were relaxing after the first half of the shoot. "It'll be a great chance to meet people."
"I'd like to very much." Ben nodded. He was still feeling uneasy about being in Sean's apartment, but he was beginning to enjoy the attention. "What do I wear?"
"Oh, Ben." Sean laughed. "You can make anything look like a million bucks."
"I mean, I don't even own a suit." Ben said tentatively.
"A friend of mine owns a clothing store. I can get a discount. After this shoot is over, we'll drop by and pick something out." Sean grinned, and raised the camera. "Ready?" Ben nodded. "Then let's get going."
The shoot passed without incidence, and soon the two of them were heading over to the clothing store.
"You're gonna love this place, Ben." Sean smiled. "You will, I just know it."
"What exactly did you have in mind?" He asked. Sean shrugged.
"I was thinking maybe a suit. Possibly something with a bit of colour. You might surprise yourself."
The walked into the store, and were greeted by a woman wearing vinyl pants with a shock of bright pink hair.
"Hey, Sean." She greeted the two of them. "Who's your friend?"
"Benton Fraser." Ben shook her hand. "Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
"Cute." She said, raising an eyebrow. "I'm Iris. What can I do for you?"
"I need to purchase a suit." Ben offered.
"He's coming to the opening of my show." Sean smiled. "Maybe you can recommend something."
Iris stepped back, and looked Ben up and down, biting her lip. She pulled out a measuring tape, and measured Ben's sleeve length and shoulders. She nodded, satisfied.
"I have the most beautiful blue two-piece suit. It'll match your eyes." She led Ben to a rack of suits, and pulled one off for him. "The changing rooms are at the back. Come out when you're finished."
Ben nodded, and took the suit back with him. Iris was right, he thought, as he tried it on. It did match his eyes. He'd have to wear his collarless shirt with it, though, not the t-shirt he was wearing now. He came out of the changing room. Sean and Iris were talking, but at his appearance, they both turned, and Sean gave a low whistle of appreciation.
"Stunning." Iris said. "What do you think, Sean?"
"Perfect." Sean smiled. "Do you like it, Ben?"
"Yes." Ben blushed a little at the attention. "It's very comfortable."
"Where did you catch him, Sean?" Iris smirked. "Did he just show up on your doorstep?"
Sean laughed. "It was a mutual thing."
"Actually--" Ben cleared his throat. "I find Sean's company relaxing." He was trying hard to hint that nothing was going on, as Iris obviously thought there was. "And apart from that--"
"--my apartment has furniture." Sean grinned. "The suit looks good, Ben. I think you should get it."
"For you, my friend, a discount." Iris tapped the cash register. "A hefty discount. As long as I get to come to the show with you guys."
"Oh, definitely." Sean nodded.
Ben went back into the cubicle and changed back into his jeans. He felt more on display in the blue suit than he ever had in his red serge. The attention from both Iris and Sean had been very direct. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror. He didn't understand why so many people found him attractive. He'd always had nice eyes, but that could hardly be the basis for the attraction. Sighing, he braced himself, and returned to the front of the store with the suit over one arm.
Iris folded the suit into a box and bagged it. As he and Sean were leaving the store, she slipped Ben a business card with a number scrawled on the back. 'Call me' she mouthed. He reddened slightly, and followed Sean out onto the street.
"She likes you." Sean said as they crossed the street. Ben looked at him. This seemed a good a time as any to bring up the subject.
"Why?" He asked.
"Why?" Sean repeated. "Why does she like you? Why does she like anybody?"
"That's not what I meant." Ben cleared his throat. "To put it more specifically--why do you like me?"
"Ben, what kind of a question is that, anyway? You don't ask people that out of the blue!"
"Well I have been pondering the question for some time now." He said. "I have found that despite my actions, the general populace--women in particular--seem to be quite forward with me." He watched warily as a passing woman looked him over with perhaps too much curiosity. "And, frankly, I don't understand why."
"Don't you get it?" Sean stopped walking, and turned Ben to face a mirrored glass window at street level. "Look at yourself. Look!"
Ben looked, shaking his head. He was about to speak when Sean cut him off.
"Okay." Sean said. "Face, eyes, hair. Perfect. Always perfect. Physique leaves nothing to be desired. Turn around. Perfect posture. Perfect legs, perfect ass. On top of that, you're smart. On top of that, you blush easily and become tongue-tied at the sight of the female sex. So you tell me. Why do people like you?"
"I see what you mean."
"You'd better." Sean grinned as they resumed walking. "Or one of us is going blind."
Sean was deep in his darkroom when the phone rang. Ben, who was flipping through a magazine on the couch, answered it.
"Sean Elliot's apartment."
"Benny?" It was Ray. "I figured you'd be there." He was trying to sound nonchalant, but Ben could hear apprehension and relief in his voice.
"Yes, I am."
"Yeah, well I've been trying to find you. We haven't been seeing much of each other lately." Ray was trying to shield something from his voice, Ben realized, and it wasn't quite working. "So I was gonna try and make it up to you."
"What did you have in mind, Ray?" He asked carefully.
"Well there was this thing I wanted to go and see on Friday night, and I thought maybe you could come along."
"Ray." Ben's heart sank. "I'm afraid I already have plans for Friday night. Sean and I are--"
"--That's fine, Benny." He sounded hurt. "Tell ya what. You just let me know when it's convenient for you to talk to me, or even see me for that matter, and I'll let you take it up with my secretary for social events."
"You haven't got a secretary, Ray."
"Yeah well I haven't got any social events either." Ray snapped. "See ya." There was a click and the line went dead.
Ben hung up the phone, feeling very badly about the whole thing. Ray hadn't given him the chance to explain his predicament. Sean came out of the darkroom, several eight-by-ten glossy prints in his hands. He spread them out on the coffee table.
"What do you think?" He asked. Ben looked at him, a pained expression on his face. Sean frowned. "Why so sad?"
"A friend of mine called." Ben said. "He wasn't too pleased about me seeing you like this."
Sean look puzzled a moment, but regained his composure.
"A particular friend?" He asked. Ben shrugged.
"I don't really want to talk about it." He said, settling on the couch with a sigh. "It's rather painful personally and I'd rather not bare my soul just now." He could feel the stinging in his eyes that preceded tears. He passed a hand over his face.
"This was the person you tried to kill yourself over." Sean said quietly. Ben bit his lip, but the tears spilled anyway, trickling down his cheeks to his jaw. Sean sat down next to him. Ben bowed his head, looking at the floor. He could feel Sean's body heat beside him. He wiped a teardrop from his cheek with the back of one hand. Sean touched his shoulder. "It's alright."
Ben felt Sean's arms go around him. He wanted to say that it wasn't alright, that thinking of Ray brought him to tears most of the time. That now he was on a different track than Ray. That maybe they had parted ways. He said nothing, but let Sean hold him. He could pretend that the slim figure holding him was someone else.
The opening night crowds were all of the artistic dramatic type, all artists, dancers, reviewers, writers and reporters. Sean, with Ben beside him, made the rounds with tall glasses of champagne and bright smiles. Sean was pleasant, enjoying his moment of glory as the buyers and critics dissected his work within earshot. He loved the glossy prints of Ben. He loved the tenderness with which he had photographed him, the poetic grace the lines of his body had on film. He loved the sad way people looked at the scar photographs, the wrists and back scars, and wondered aloud who the model had been.
Ben himself was feeling uneasy with the crowds, and stood to one side, accompanied by Iris. Her hair, still a violent pink, was gelled into waves and spikes, and adorned with highlights of silver glitter. Standing beside Ben in her black vinyl dress, she exuded an air of calm confidence that Ben found reassuring. He, of course, was stunning in his slate blue suit and white shirt, and though he wore no tie, the set of his shoulders made him appear more dressed-up than he actually was.
From beside Ben, Iris could see the comings and goings of the guests, and she could monitor the door. It was when Ben went to speak with Sean and a couple of friends that she noticed a tall thin man in Armani enter, with a woman in a black velvet dress in tow. She watched in curiosity as the man began to look at the photographs, his lips moving as if he were talking to himself.
Ray had finally persuaded Franchesca to accompany him in case a cute single guy could be found. She was not very interested in photography, particularly black and white photography, but she came with him after Ray explained his Fraser-less situation. Then Ray saw the photographs.
"These look very familiar." He mused to himself, reading the labels. The model was not listed. He moved to the next one, a curving collarbone. Now he defnitely thought something was up. Ray moved through a knot of people toward another group of photographs. When he looked up, he stopped dead in his tracks.
He was looking at faded scars on muscular wrists. He was looking at the smooth plane of someone's back, marred only by a twisted scar near the spine. His heart sank. He knew who it was.
"Ray?" He felt a polite hand on his shoulder. It was Ben. He turned around. "What are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here?" Ray snapped. "And what the hell are are you doing posing naked for this guy? He's just a kid!"
"Sean invited me." He offered.
"Look, you know what? I don't even want to know." Ray stepped back from Ben. "You can do whatever your twisted little heart desires, including posing naked for some kid who insists it's art. But I don't care. I don't. Now leave me alone." He stormed off, leaving the gallery immediately.
"Oh dear." Ben said to himself. Then Franchesca caught sight of him.
"Why Benton!" She exclaimed. "What are you doing here?"
"I was invited." Ben said. She moved closer.
"You like photography?" She asked. He nodded.
"Well I love it. I had to talk my brother into coming with me." She was lying of course. Things only got interesting after she caught sight of Ben. "He didn't want to come, but I persuaded him. I told him it would cheer him up." She looked around. "Where is he, anyway?"
"The last I saw him he was leaving through there." Ben motioned to the entranceway. "He had his car keys in his hand. I think he was intending on driving away."
"He's my ride!" Franchesca pouted. "What a lout. Now I gotta take a cab. Hey, are you sticking around long?"
"I'm here for the night." Ben shrugged.
"Well, so am I." Franchesca smiled. "Better make the most of it."
Ray slammed his car door and revved the engine. He pulled away from the gallery with a squeal of tires, and swung around the corner. So this was Ben's previous engagement, coming as a photographer's prize to a gallery opening. It didn't matter that the two of them hadn't seen each other in over a week, Ray was not going to stay around in an exhibition where his best friend was on display.
Maybe it had been the photographs of Ben's scars, he thought. He hadn't realized how real they were before then. Ray thought about when he had shot Ben in the back and winced. It must have hurt a lot. And he felt so bad about it. He felt terrible about causing his friend so much pain.
The scars on Ben's wrists had been another sort of pain. When he had seen the photographs, it was like a fist had grabbed his insides and given them a good hard twist. He wanted to look away, but had been drawn to follow the lines of the scars and the raised veins on Ben's wrists. Ray remembered how ashamed he had been to look at Ben's bandaged wrists in the hospital, and realized he felt embarassed for his friend that his frailties were on public display. He felt that feelings were sacred. Even if he didn't agree with Ben's reasons for attempting to kill himself, his own feelings toward Ben outweighed them.
And yes, he was jealous. He felt betrayed by Ben, angry that the mountie should bare his scars and his feelings to someone he'd met while out drinking. They hadn't talked, they hadn't even seen each other in weeks. And now suddenly Ben had a new life.
Ray banged his hand angrily against the steering wheel, biting his lip to distract himself from what he was trying not to think about. Ben didn't need him anymore. Ben didn't want him any more.
Ben dragged himself into Sean's apartment and collapsed on the couch. He tossed his hat onto the coffee table and sank back into the cushions.
"Hard day at work?" Sean poked his head out of the bedroom. Ben nodded wearily. "Want some tea?"
Ben nodded again, too tired and depressed to speak. The past week since the opening of Sean's show had been hell. First, he'd been assigned sentry duty every morning at 6:30, and that afternoon several dress uniforms had been sent to the dry cleaner's. He'd been on his feet all day, and with boots originally designed for riding, his feet ached. On top of that, he'd walked from the consulate to Sean's house. And he'd have to walk home again later in the evening. And Ray was nowhere to be seen.
Sean put the kettle on the stove, and came and sat next to Ben on the couch.
"Relax." He said, rubbing Ben's knotted shoulders. "Put your feet up."
"I'm afraid I'd mark the coffee table." Ben offered.
"That's what I got it for."
Ben groaned as he raised his feet. Sean massaged the kinks in his neck with supple hands. Ben felt relaxed, but still dissatisfied.
"Sean." He started. "We need to talk."
"About?" Sean continued his massage.
"You and me."
"Us?" Sean laughed. "What about us?"
"Sean." Ben said hesitantly. "There can never be an 'us'."
"Oh, I know." Sean said swiftly, moving down towards Ben.
"What I mean is, and I don't mean this to be an insult, is that you're a very nice person, and I don't doubt that other people may find you attractive, but--"
"My point. Yes. My point is that I am not attracted to you." Ben looked worried. "Frankly, I don't mind the photographs you have taken of me. I have no qualms of posing for a few more. But nothing happened between us." He looked into Sean's eyes. "Ever. And nothing can."
Sean withdrew his hands sharply.
"What do you mean?" He asked quietly. Ben bit his lip.
"I mean, Sean, we're friends. Good friends--"
"--but we can never be lovers." Sean finished. Ben nodded. Sean shrugged.
"Fine." He said simply.
"What?" Ben was astonished. "You're not upset?"
"Of course I'm upset." Sean said stonily. "But I should have known what I could expect. This I could have forseen. Now the photographs, that I did not."
"You make me feel at ease, Sean."
"Oh so I'm just a catalyst for you?" Sean stood up, and started to pace. "You decide when it's time to leave, and just move on?"
"I'm not moving on." Ben said slowly. "I just don't want to lose a good friend. I don't want to lose either good friend."
Sean watched him with cold eyes. Ben couldn't see what Sean was thinking. Uncomfortably, Ben took his hat from the coffee table, and picked his boots up to leave. Before he got to the door, Sean stopped him.
"Ben." He said. Ben turned. "I understand."
"Are you just saying that?"
"No." Sean nodded sadly. "I am not just saying it. I mean it. I know how important he is to you, and I would never dream of coming between that friendship."
"Now I have to tell him that." Ben said softly.
Ray sat at his desk, staring off into space. He was waiting for a check to come back through forensics, and he'd been waiting forever, it seemed. Elaine tapped on the corner of his desk, bringing him back to reality.
"Am I disturbing you?" She asked. Ray shook his head, motioning around his desk.
"I don't see anyone else craving my attention." Elaine looked down at him.
"You seen Fraser lately?" She asked him. Ray shook his head. "You not talking to him?"
"We just haven't seen each other in a while." Ray shrugged, grabbing the small basketball from the edge of his desk. He tossed it towards the basket. It missed. "We're both kinda busy."
"So you're not talking to him." She said. Ray looked at her.
"No, we're not." He said seriously. "But that's none of your business."
"Why aren't you talking to him?"
"We had a small disagreement." Ray muttered, retrieving the basketball from the floor. "We worked it out." He sat down again. "It's better this way. Happy?"
"No." Elaine said.
"You miss him?" Ray smirked. Elaine looked at him suspiciously.
"You're not upset about this?" She asked.
"Go away, Elaine." Ray snapped.
"--but nothing. Good bye." Ray grabbed his coat, and walked away from his desk. Elaine called him, but he didn't turn, and then he left the building.
Ray stormed to his car, and pulled away from the curb. Suddenly, someone stepped out from the curb into the street. He jammed on the brakes, pounding the horn with one hand. The figure looked up. It was Ben. He smiled tightly, and came around to Ray's window.
"Hello, Ray." He said after Ray rolled down the window. Ray picked lint from his lapel.
"Hi, Benny." He pouted.
"Ray, can we talk?"
The sounds of horns honking blared behind them, as traffic began to back up.
"We can't talk here." Ben pointed out.
"Get in." Ray sighed. Ben went around the car and got in. Ray pulled away again, not even glancing at his passenger.
They drove in silence until Ben cleared his throat.
"Don't say anything, Benny." Ray snapped. "Just don't talk, okay? Just keep quiet until we get out."
"Where are we going?" Ben asked quietly.
"Don't worry about it."
Ray pulled the Riv up to the curb in front of a small coffeeshop. The two of them got out, and Ray pulled Ben inside. They bought coffee and tea, and sat down in a booth.
"If there's anything I've done that's upset you, Ray, I'm sorry." Ben started.
"Benny, what's up?" Ray asked. "What have you been doing with yourself?" He sounded a little worried, a little sharp. Ben looked at him.
"I've been working." He said carefully.
"I--oh, never mind. Let me talk."
"By all means."
"Okay." Ray sighed, and ran a hand over his face. "I'm gonna talk about the photographs. I don't want you to say anything until I'm done." He composed himself. "Okay. You. You tell me--well, you tell me what you told me. You've been my friend for how long now? I'm dealing with what you tell me, and you go off with someone else. You go off and take off all your clothes with someone else! I just wanna know why."
"Ray, you haven't been all that accepting, you know." Ben said quietly. "And I don't see why this matters to you so much. It's my life."
"It's pornography!" Ray snapped. "And it's embarassing!"
"To you." Ben said pointedly. "If you find that sort of thing embarassing."
"I found that coming out to you was far more embarassing." Ben said lowly. "Considering the response I got."
"Look, just because I made a bad decision doesn't mean I'm not your friend any more."
"Friendship is based on trust." Ben said. "I trusted you enough to tell you my feelings. You didn't just hurt me physically, Ray. I'm not sure if I trust you any more."
"Benny--" Ray could feel a lump coming to his throat. He swallowed. "I didn't mean to. I'm sorry. I want you to trust me." He looked over at Ben, searching for some response. Ben just looked at him, his expression unreadable.
"I've found someone I trust." Ben said calmly.
"And you trust him enough to take off all your clothes?" Ray couldn't believe his ears.
"That has nothing to do with it."
"Yes, it does!" Ray said. "That's what I'm so angry about!"
"Ray, you're my friend. Don't worry about Sean and I. What I do with him is my business."
"Ray, you're not gay, are you?"
Ray was startled. "No." He snapped automatically.
"Hm." Ben said.
"Nothing." Ben shook his head. He turned his attention back to his tea.
"Anyone listening would think you were a jealous lover." He took a sip of his tea.
"Well--" Ray looked uncomfortable. "I don't want you to make a mistake you'll regret. And those photographs, no matter how artistically done, could still compromise your career."
"As socializing with homosexuals could compromise yours?" Ben said.
"No." Ray said. "Listen to me. I don't hate you. I'm just--"
"Yes." Ray finally admitted.
They sat in silence for a while, Ben sipping his tea, and Ray stirring his coffee, too worked up to drink it.
"I thought you were." Ben said.
"I am." Ray said sheepishly. "I don't get to see you any more, and I'm getting kinda lonely. Know what I mean?"
"Yes." Ben smiled. "Like before I came out to you."
"You were lonely?" Ray asked. Ben nodded. "Well all you had to do was make up some excuse to come over. Or go out--"
"That would be too forced." Ben looked down, embarassed. "Besides, you might have gotten angry."
"Hey, I said I was sorry." Ray reached across the table instinctively, putting a hand on Ben's shoulder. "Don't hold it against me forever."
"I'm not." Ben smiled a half-smile, and Ray felt himself smiling back. "I forgive you."
"So what are you doing this weekend?" Ray asked hopefully.
"No, Sean is moving to New York. He's decided to go into the fashion business with a friend of his." Ben smiled. "I'm free this weekend."
"You wanna take in a movie?" Ray asked.
"That would be nice."