Any views expressed herein are purely my very own. Not everyone will agree with my dissection of the characters, and I do not mean to foist my opinion on anyone nor do I mean to offend. If there are any dissensions or flames, they should be addressed to email@example.com.
Disclaimer: All characters are property of Alliance and Paul Haggis.
No copyright infringement intended. All errors are my own, and are purely
Warning: m/m content but no sex (unless the word counts). Loads of angst and tension and depression.
by Hsu-Lyn Yap
He stared unseeingly out of the car window. People rushed by, and a meter maid looked long and hard at him, as if daring him to continue waiting in a metered space without paying the requisite fare. She meant business, cop or no cop. He gave in with a sigh and released the handbrake, easing the green Buick Riviera on its second trip round the block.
He drove slowly. *Wouldn't Benny love to see me listening to him, for once!* he thought cynically as he took a leisurely turn around the block. He was punctual today. Ok, so he was usually late. But he always had a legitimate explanation. It was not like he did it on purpose. God alone knew that he did not work the usual 9 to 5 day. If he wanted that, he'd be in one of those air-conditioned offices in the new shiny skyscrapers in the business district, wouldn't he? It was not like he didn't have the brains or the grades to make it as a business executive or even a lawyer. But he was a cop. A detective first grade. And proud of it too! It had taken him 15 years to get to where he was. So, he wasn't the best of them. It wasn't through lack of trying. He did his best. He always tried to do his best in everything he did. Even in his friendship with the Mountie.
The Mountie.... he sighed again, as the car slowed, prompting impatient drivers behind him to blast their car horns at him. That was something new. Usually, he was on their end. Instead of letting loose with a torrent of irate Italian as he was usually wont to do, he simply moved over to the side of the road, letting the other cars overtake him.
It *had* to be the Mountie behind this. When had it happened? He did not know. All he knew was that out of the cold North, this weird stranger had been foisted on him. There was that one case about his father's murder. Then, another, and another, and suddenly, he was part of his life, and he was stranger no longer.
The car turned round the corner and under the fluttering Canadian flag on the outside of the consulate, he saw the familiar sight of red serge, watching for the green Riv, knowing he was late........as usual. That thought furrowed his forehead with an irritated frown as he fought the urge to step hard on the accelerator and speed away from there. Taking a deep calming breath, *That's one thing, at least, that I learnt from him that comes in handy!* he swallowed his impatience and tried to look nonchalant.
"No, Ray. You are precisely 8 minutes late, however."
Ray gritted his teeth *hard* and took another deep calming breath before he pulled away from the kerb.
"I was detained by the Inspector for a few minutes, so, no, I did not wait very long."
"Glad to hear that. I would hate to inconvenience you!" Ray could hardly keep the sharp sarcasm from his tight voice.
"Oh, no, Ray. Based on your previous times, the probability was that you would arrive at any time after approximately 5:10 pm. You were, therefore, early today." The measured voice was devoid of emotion. Then again, it always was, wasn't it? He always maintained his calm, cool exterior. Like there was nothing in the world that could shake him. Nothing that could surprise him. Like he was perfect.
Ray hated that!
"I was here at 5 o'clock today, Fraser." He said quietly, coolly.
"But I did not see your car...."
"I have taken two turns round the block. I did not want to park the car, and the meter maid was giving me the evil eye. So, yes, by the time you deigned to come out of the consulate, I was late......as usual." Ray kept his voice level, belying the cold anger that was at the moment threatening to boil over.
"Well, you should have said something earlier, Ray. I can't read your mind, you know." Was it his imagination, or was there a significant coolness in the Mountie's words?
Ray bit down hard on his lip and refrained from comment. The last thing
they needed now was a fight. Another fight. There seemed to have been lots of those lately. Usually over the most trivial things. Things they had always tolerated before this. If Ray were to raise even the smallest complaint about anything, he was accused of whining and whinging. Similarly, he found himself telling Fraser to stop being so manipulative and always trying to get his own way. That, of course, led to Fraser denying it, and to Ray telling him exactly how he was being so, which led to him being told that he was dragging up past history, as he always did. It was a vicious cycle, and it left them both drained, emotionally and physically.
What had gone wrong?
Things had started out so perfect. They had been friends. Best friends. And then, they had been lovers. It had seemed the most natural thing in the world to be. The truth of their relationship had come out one day, and the support and reactions of family, friends and work colleagues had been gratifying. Suffice to say that the revelation had been a non-revelation. Not every one had been happy though. Frannie, Elaine and the Inspector had been noticeably cool and distant in their behaviour towards the two of them. Ray had been surprised at his mother's reaction most of all. Her consent to their unusual relationship had meant more to him that all the negative reactions they had received. However, time had healed all the broken hearts and the three women had come to terms with the truth of the matter. If they weren't exactly buddies, they were, at least, still friends.
And then things had started going horribly wrong.
Oh, the physical aspect of the relationship had never been a problem. The sex had always been great...and still was. It was just that the emotional aspect had seemed to have collapsed. Had it always been that fragile? They had been through so much together, it seemed unlikely.
But it had to be that. More that once, Ray found himself thinking of what they had been through, and more than once, he found himself asking himself what he was doing in a relationship where he seemed to be doing all the giving. He would never contemplate it with a woman. What made him think that being with a man, even if it *was* Benny... what made him think that being with a man made it all right?
How often had he put his job on the line for the Mountie and his unorthodox ways of solving crimes? Hell! They had to argue evidence technicalities for hours with the DA before most of the evidence could be admitted. Come to think of it, how often had he put his *life* on the line for him? Sometimes, Fraser just didn't think. He was so used to operating by himself that he did not think that his unofficial partner was not like him. He did not relish getting into trouble where there was no need to, and he did not relish putting his life on the line for some stupid cause. No one thanked you for it, and people forgot about it even before the earth had covered your coffin! Life was like that. People were such, even though Ray had found himself reversing that opinion more than once. But it was the principle of it. Let down your guard and you open the floodgates for people to take advantage of you. Ray had learned that the hard way. If that was how Fraser wanted to learn it, he was welcome to it.. Ray had tried his best to educate him.
"Dief would love to see you." Fraser did not look at him as he got out of the car.
Ray sighed and dropped his head onto the steering wheel. When had he ever let the huge, white wolf past his natural guard against all animals? It had started with the jelly donuts. Then, it had been their little secret when he smuggled the wolf's favourite treats to him, even when he knew that he was on a diet. Now, life without Diefenbaker was unthinkable. It had been that way with Fraser as well. Not the jelly donuts of course! But the principle of the matter was the same. The only difference was that after his fights with Fraser, Dief always made sure he came to Ray, to lick his hand, and lay his head on his lap, as if to say that everything would be all right. Ray loved the wolf almost as much as he loved its master.
"I'll come up and see him." He finally decided. He also had to have a talk with Fraser. But he would tell him soon enough.
"Hey, Dief!" he called, and laughed as the wolf jumped up at him, not even complaining when he planted slightly muddy paws on the front of his shirt and jacket. It was the first time in days that he had laughed as effortlessly as he just did. It did not go unnoticed.
"Missed me?" he leaned down to pat the huge furry head. Dief whined, partly with joy and partly with worry. Something was going to happen. He could sense it in the whole being of his second adopted master, and he did not like it. It was not a happy feeling.
"You should leave the mud to dry before cleaning it off your suit. I'm sorry about it." Fraser said, as he put his Stetson in it's customary
"I know. You tell me that all the time." Ray looked up from his position on the floor. His green eyes held a trace of resentment at being told what to do...again. But playing with Dief had evidently softened his mood, made him less cold, less prickly. More like the old Ray. Nothing escaped the the pair of deep blue eyes that observed him.
"I'd like to talk to you, Benny." Ray said quietly, a few minutes later. Fraser stiffened involuntarily. This was the first time in weeks that Ray had called him 'Benny'. It could only mean two things. And Fraser was not sure he wanted to hear the inevitable one, even though he knew it had been coming for a long while now.
"Give me a minute, Ray." He said, going into the bathroom. He needed the few minutes going to the bathroom entailed, to compose himself. To steel himself for the inevitable.
"Benny," Ray began uncertainly, when he had come out, and they had made the coffee......just like the old times.
"I...I don't know how to say this." He began, tracing circles on the bare table top with his coffee mug. "We seem to have been fighting a lot lately....almost everyday. We hardly see each other and hell! I don't even live here anymore. It's... it's hard for me to go on like this, Benny."
"I still love you, you know. I always will." Ray's quiet admission brought the tears involuntarily to the blue eyes watching him.
"I... I just don't want us to fight anymore. And I notice that we almost never do so when we aren't around each other for long periods of time." He paused uncertainly.
Fraser tried to take a deep breath and failed. The tears were welling up now. He could not cry. Must not. Would not. He agreed so far with everything Ray had said. He did not know when his usual understated criticism had spilled over into conscious nit-picking. Their fights were started by him, almost as often as it was started by Ray. He admitted that. And he hated it. In those times, it was almost as if they had never been friends. Never been through all that they had gone through since he came to Chicago. It was only thanks to Ray that he had not let the big city overwhelm him, as he had let Moose Jaw do. After Chicago, he knew he could survive *any* city at all......Thanks to Ray.
What was it Ray had said once? 'Alone we are incomplete, but together we are better than we are separately'. It rang so true. Only of late, they did not seem very much better together than they were separately. He did not know how Ray felt, but alone, he felt terrible. Crippled almost, like there was a part of him missing. But when they were together, all they ever did was fight. It was a lousy basis for a relationship.
"Do you have an Inuit story for the occasion?" Ray asked suddenly, flashing him a warm grin that was all too rare these days. Benny gave a shaky smile in return, and shook his head, not trusting himself to speak past the lump in his throat.
"Then, I guess I have to do the talking, huh?" Ray looked pained. It was just as hard for him to say this, as it was for Benny to hear him say it. Benny didn't say anything. Just blinked furiously, and tried to focus on him with those damnable blue eyes that had wrecked havoc on his feelings.......and still did.
Ray looked away. His grip tightened around the coffee mug. The hot mug burned his hands, and he allowed his mind to dwell on it. To focus on what he had to say, and not be distracted by the person sitting before him.
"I... I thought ..." his voice faltered when they came to the crunch. He fell silent again. Dief was now sitting by the two favourite people in his life, watching first one then the other. His amber eyes were sad. He felt the tension in the air as much as the two men did, and he was upset.
Ray took a deep breath and started again. "I thought it would be best if we... if we didn't......if we spent some time apart for now. See how things work out." He finished almost inaudibly.
Fraser, however, heard them as clearly as if they had been shouted in his ear. The words, when they finally came were more of a shock than he had expected them to be. He had been prepared to hear them now, for the past 2 weeks. But nothing had prepared him for the sadness which overwhelmed him, nor for the sadness with which they had been said. He had always thought they would be spoken in haste, in anger, in one of their heated arguments...arguments without substance. But now...
"I understand, Ray." He said finally, his voice hoarse. "I guess this was inevitable."
Ray looked at him, his green eyes filled with grief. But no tears. Benny felt a single tear roll down his cheek, and he quickly dashed it away. Damn it! He was always the one to cry. Ray never did. Was he more emotionless than he let on? Or was he simply not as upset as he made himself out to be? He had never cried. Not once in all the years that he had known him. He, on the other hand, was a veritable tap, compared to Ray! In his own way, Ray
hid his feelings under that brash manner of his, just as Benny hid his under that apparent naivet. He had seen through Ray, just as Ray had seen through him. It had been what had brought them together. Now, it was driving them apart.
"I... I guess I'd better go. Ma doesn't like it when I'm late for dinner." Ray stood up, setting down the mug of untouched coffee that was rapidly growing cold.
Benny did not seem to notice. There was no sign that he had heard him. Ray mentally berated himself. Had he been too harsh? He had tried to say it in as painless a way as he could. He had rehearsed the words all the way from the 27th Precinct to the Canadian Consulate, and to Benny's apartment. He had found no better way to say it, nor had he found it any easier to say the words that would hurt his best friend and lover, and himself.
"I'm sorry, Benny." His voice was no more than a whisper as he forced himself to ignore the tears slowly coursing down Benny's face, and headed towards the door.
Dief had been busy comforting Fraser and now bounded towards the door, to stand in Ray's path. He was *not* going to leave without saying goodbye! He did not even know if he was going to see him again.
"I'm sorry, Dief." Ray knelt down to give the wolf a hug, ignoring the fact that he was getting wolf hairs all over his suit. Dief whined miserably.
"Ray?" Fraser finally called to him. "I still love you, Ray." He managed to choke out over the obstructive lump in his throat.
"And I still love you too, Benny. I'm so sorry." There was a catch in Ray's voice. His head was turned towards Benny's for an instant, and Benny blinked. Was it his imagination or were there *tears* in those expressive green eyes? It was just an instant, and then it was over. Ray was gone.
Ray closed the door quietly, and leaned against the wall a moment, for support. Drawing a deep, shuddering breath, he began the long walk down to his car, his vision blurring, as the tears finally spilled over.
Fraser stepped out of the Canadian consulate building at exactly 5 pm. He paused, straightened his red serge tunic, and put his hat firmly on his head. Being a creature of habit, he found himself looking up the road for a reconditioned green 1971 Buick Riviera.
As it was every evening, he allowed himself a little frown. He was late again. Then, he caught himself short. No, he was not late. He was never coming. The green Riv had not been to the Consulate for 6 months now.
Fraser took a deep breath and turned to begin the walk back to his apartment. It was not a long walk. In fact, he had chosen the apartment for it's proximity to the Consulate. Why Ray had offered to drive to him to and from work everyday, he never knew. Well, he had known. But that was later. Much later. Today, he would take the long way back. It added...oh, all of 2 minutes to his usual 5. But if he really dragged his feet, he might stretch it out longer.
6 months......had it only been 6 months? It seemed like light years ago, the day Ray had told him that they would be better off apart. At that time, it had seemed the best course of action to take. It was probably not the wisest, but it was the best they could do. He remembered the feeling of desolation, of loneliness when Ray had left the apartment. Through his open window, he had heard the engine of the Riv rev up for the last time.
"Stop it! You are feeling sorry for yourself again!" he chided himself, as he did every day. It took him time to forget what had happened. Oh, everything came back every morning, when he expected Ray to burst in through the door, in a good mood or foul, and it was the same every evening as he left the Consulate. It was just the intervening hours in between, when he was swallowed up in his work, that he shelved the memories. Surprisingly, the Inspector had sensed that something was wrong, and had sent him back up to Ottawa for some meeting or another, always citing some lame reason for not going herself. She was not a bad woman, really. Just misunderstood.
He stopped at the traffic lights, pausing to help wheel a lady in a wheelchair across the road. Unbidden, Ray's voice resounded in his head.
"Why do you always have to do that, Fraser? I know you want to help. You always do. But sometimes, it's better to let people do things for themselves. It makes them feel better about themselves."
That was a good question, Ray. Why do I do what I do? Why do I always feel like I have to help? What is it in me that seeks approval from total strangers? I don't know, Ray. Maybe it's some perverted sense of accomplishment I feel when I help someone. Maybe I'm trying to prove something to myself. Maybe I'm trying to be someone greater than I really am. I don't know why I do the things I do, Ray! Only you know how selfish I really am. Maybe I do all that due to some misplaced sense of self-pride. I admit it. I'm selfish. I always think of
myself first. Oh, I know. It doesn't show. Of course it doesn't! I'm the Mountie, remember? I'm supposed to be inscrutable.
And yes, I am selfish. I expect people to live up to *my* ideals. I expect people to accept and believe in what *I* do. I expect that *I* am always right. Well, I am, most of the time. But that is besides the point. I drag you into situations you would never find yourself in, if not for me. And, yes, I have made you risk your job and even your life for me.
And you know what, Ray? You have always done it. Of course, you grumble, you complain, you whine and whinge, but you do it anyway. You have always lived up to my ideals. Right from the very first time, when you got hurt in the bomb in Chinatown. You saved me, and you got hurt. But the minute you got discharged, you came up North, to tell me that you had discovered who my father's killer was. That, Ray, was more than I had ever done for you. I told you I had already known. And had I bothered to let you know? Had I called or sent a postcard? I didn't. That's what I mean when I say I'm selfish. I never think of others, even though it seems like I always do.
Then, there is that Victoria incident. Again, I was being selfish. I knew you hated her, Ray. There isn't much that you can hide from me. But, you let her into your house, put your house up as collateral so she could stand bail.....you did not have to do it. But you did. And I was going to leave with her on that train. She's never been found since, Ray. What would you have done? You would have been framed, your house would have been repossessed, and your life would have been destroyed. All because of some infatuation I had. Shooting me was probably the best thing to do. I know it was unintentional, but *I* would have shot myself then!
You see, Ray? You have never let me down. I told you the truth in the bank vault. I know. You have never really forgiven me that incident, have you? I admit. It would have been a silly way to die.
Fraser frowned a little as he approached his apartment block, shaking himself out of his reverie. Did someone call him?
He started at the sound of his name. A familiar voice was calling to him, and he turned around slowly. A young woman dashed across the road, closely avoiding being run down by a car.
"Benny!" she gasped, out of breath.
"What happened to Frannie?" she demanded in the typical and familiar Vecchio bluntness.
"I'm sorry. Frannie."
"That's better." She smiled up at him. "It's been hell trying to get hold of you, you know. I tried the consulate, but they said you were in Ottawa the past few days."
"I was. There was a meeting I had to attend."
"And I tried Mr. Mustafi, but you were away, of course. When did you get back?"
"Two days ago."
"I've been trying to get hold of you the whole week!"
"I'm sorry. Was it important?"
"You're right, it's important! Ever thought of getting yourself a phone?"
"Well, I don't see the need for one."
"How about a cell phone then?"
"Well, I never....."
"Excuse me." She interrupted him as her phone began to ring. Flicking the case open, she, scanned the number on the LCD display and switched it off.
"Sorry. That was Ray."
"He hates it when you do that to him, you know." Benny could not restrain a small smile.
"I know." She grinned. "Why else do you think I do it? Now, where was I?"
"You've been trying to get hold of me the whole week."
"Oh, of course! As I was saying....you've lost weight, Benny." She was characteristically jumping from one topic to another again.
"I expect it's just the uniform."
"No, you have lost weight." She tipped her head to one side to look at him. "Not eating and sleeping well, huh?"
"Never mind. Now, where *was* I?"
"You've been trying to get hold of me the whole week." He prompted her again, with an amused smile.
"Oh yes! I'm having a party tonight. You have to come."
"But I don't...."
Francesca shook her head at him. There was a decided set to her mouth that he had seen more than once in Ray. It meant that she had made her mind up, and nothing he would say could change it.
"I'll pick you up tonight at 8pm. I know you'll be punctual, as usual. Oh, it's not formal, so ditch the uniform. Wear something comfy. Jeans, sweater... you know." She waved her hands vaguely. He nodded.
"Oh, I know! Wear that blue sweater. You know that one? It brings out the colour of your eyes. You should steer clear of red. It makes you look too pale. I know your uniform can't be helped, but it'd be nice if you wore your brown one more often. You look so much nicer........excuse me." She interrupted herself when the phone began ringing again.
"Yes, Ray. I'll be right there. Don't panic! My God, Ray! It's just a *car*!!" she rolled her eyes at Fraser, and once again, he was struck by the familiarity of the gesture. It appeared that the Vecchio clan shared
the same mannerisms, and exuberance.
"He's going crazy. I took his car to go shopping." She told him needlessly as she switched her phone off, cutting Ray off in mid-sentence. That was another thing Ray hated. Fraser had seen it from his end often enough, but never from hers. Another amused smile played at his lips.
"Ok. 8pm, tonight. See you then, Benny." She called, already half-way down the block.
"Bye, Frannie." He called, uselessly, for she had already turned the corner.
A party. God knows, he hated parties! Where was it going to be held? Who was going to be there? Damn! Maybe it was time he got himself a phone.
"Oh, people you know, Benny." Frannie said vaguely, that evening, when she appeared to pick him up.
"Does Ray know that you took his car?" he decided to change the subject. Evidently, Frannie was not about to tell him anything else.
Frannie shrugged. "He's at some gathering. He wouldn't know."
Dief gave a little whine from the back seat. It was part pleasure, part curiousity. They were back in the car he was familiar with, and there was Ray's slightly neurotic sister driving it. He knew how Ray felt about it. He would go ballistic!
"We are going to your house, Frannie." Benny said unnecessarily as she turned into the driveway.
"I know, Benny. I said I was having the party, remember?"
"Are you going to sit in there all night? Come on, Dief." She called, waiting for man and wolf to catch up with her.
Ray sat on the couch, watching the people eating, drinking, and generally, having a good time. There were friends, colleagues, even Lt. Welsh was there. And Inspector Thatcher! What on earth was Frannie thinking, inviting them to *his* birthday party?! Yes, he knew it was a few days early, but he did not want to create a fuss. After all, Frannie had been planning this for weeks now.
He had done the usual rounds, made the usual small talk, and was now bored. Tired, and bored. He gave an inaudible sigh, smiled reassuringly at his mother and picked up a piece of chicken. Frannie had out-done herself, as usual. Who was to know that his little sister would turn out to be such a brilliant caterer?
Oh! Maybe that was it! That was why all these people had been invited. The Lieutenant, the Inspector......was she looking for prospective clients? Why, the sneaky little........
He broke off his reverie, when something white and furry, with *sharp teeth* leapt up to sit next to him on the couch, and carefully, gently, take the piece of chicken from his hand.
"Dief! Stop that!" he yelled instinctively, before he could help himself. Then, he stared at the white wolf, who was now looking back at him with a lupine grin on his face. He gave a little whine and tucked his head under Ray's arm, asking to be patted.
"Oh, Dief!" Ray hugged him, with a huge grin, laughing when Dief turned to lick his face with his rough tongue.
A strange quiet had fallen over the crowd as all eyes turned first from Ray, then to the door. Ray looked up, and his grin melted away when his eyes met an all too familiar deep blue gaze.
Benny paused by the doorway, unable to go any further. Blue eyes met green ones, and in them, he read the surprise and shock that were mirrored in his own.
"Frannie, this is a damned mean trick to play!" Fraser muttered under his breath, even as Frannie tugged on his arm, dragging him reluctantly into the room. She was right. He did know most of the people there. People from the Precinct, some family, Turnbull and.... oh God! Inspector Thatcher!!
Frannie left his side, and crossed over to Ray, to plant a kiss on his cheek. "Surprise, Ray! Happy Birthday." Ray just stared. Then, he stood up, set his plate down on the table and left the room. The front door slammed in the distance, and in the quiet following his departure, they heard the car door slam...once.....twice.
"Where the hell are my keys, Frannie?!" Ray demanded, storming back into the house.
"They are safe, Ray."
"Where are they?!"
"No use asking, Ray. You're *not* going to get them!" and with that, she vanished into the kitchen.
Muttering dire oaths, Ray stormed out a second time.
"I'll go, Mrs. Vecchio." Benny stalled Ray's mother when she made to go after her son. "I think we need to talk."
"I thought your birthday was next week." Benny said, by way of opening, as he sat down next to Ray on the front steps.
"It is. Damn Frannie!" he growled, not looking at Benny.
"It was a mean trick to play, Ray. On us both. Though she did tell me the truth."
"What truth?" despite himself, Ray was intrigued.
"I asked her if you knew that she taken your car to pick me up. She said you were at a gathering, and wouldn't mind."
"She got that right. I didn't mind because I didn't know!"
A silence fell again.
Some of the old camaraderie came back as they grinned at each other. "You
"No, Ray, you first."
"Benny, I said, you go first." Ray said firmly. "Otherwise, we're going to take all night."
"Right, Ray." Benny looked first at Ray, and then, shifted his gaze to his hands. "What I wanted to say, Ray....I mean....what I was going to say... I miss you, Ray." "Oh God, Benny! I've missed you too! Makes me wish I'd never suggested breaking up in the first place. Geez! Now, I sound like some moony-eyed teenager. How embarrassing!" he muttered, and then grinned again. "But I have missed you these...what? 6 months?"
"6 months and 10 days to be exact. However, if you are counting today.... can you count today?"
Ray laughed. A comforting sound. " I don't believe this! I have even missed your crazy perfectionism!"
"What crazy perfectionism, Ray?" Benny asked, perfectly straight-faced.
Ray slid him an exasperated glance, but grinned. "Don't start that, Benny."
"Start what, Ray?" Benny looked perfectly innocent, but his eyes held subdued laughter.
"Sorry, Ray." Benny grinned. "Just a habit."
"You think it's going to be different this time round?" Ray asked, seriously.
"I've been doing a lot of thinking these 6 months, Ray. I guess there are things about ourselves we have to come to terms with before we can try to understand each other."
"That was what I was thinking as well. It's not going to be easy, Benny."
"I know, Ray. But as someone once told me, alone, we are incomplete. But together, we are better than we are separately."
"Good one, Benny. Inuit?"
"Then who said that?"
"Me?" Ray turned to stare at Benny in a familiar incredulous way, before he grinned. "Wow!"
"Well, I guess we'd better be going in, before they start wondering if we have killed each other out here." Ray stood up, and held out a hand to Benny. "So, you wanna strangle Frannie, or shall we just shoot her and dump her body in the nearest lake?"
"Neither, Ray. I think I'd like to give her a big hug!" Benny smiled, and matching words to deeds, proceeded to draw his best friend into a close embrace.
"I thought you loved me, Benny."
"I do, Ray."
"Then, why are you trying to strangle me?!" Ray grinned at the look on Benny's face, and winked. "Just kidding!"
Ray took the opportunity to interrupt him with a quick kiss before going up the steps to the front door.
He paused. "It's my birthday party today, Benny. You didn't bring me a present."
Benny gave a mischievous grin. "Oh dear! It's in my apartment, Ray."
"Right." Ray's answering smile was equally mischievous.
"Frannie!! Where are my car keys!!!"
THE END (and this IS the end!)