Author's disclaimer: Sadly, they are not mine but they surely are fun to play with.
Author's notes: Comments are always welcome.
Comfort, on the Way
by: Jenny Hill
The undercover assignment began no differently than any other he had been on previously in his roll as a detective of the Chicago Police Department. It started with him learning all the background information needed to exist in his "new" identity without being found out he was not who he was claiming to be. The next step was to say goodbye to all he knew as his own life but that really wasn't going to be too hard. What his life had become pretty much sucked in his opinion and he wasn't going too far anyway; just around the corner and still working where he would run into his ex-wife on a regular basis. And then, "he" was "him."
But this wasn't just like all the other assignments he'd been on before because all those previous jobs didn't involve a certain Mountie. Plus, this assignment was different for an altogether different reason. Where before he was being used to bring down criminals, here, he was not only undercover but he was being used as an undercover-cover. When Stanley Raymond Kowalski became Raymond Vecchio, his life changed in ways he never knew possible. Do the job - end of story - was the motto the blonde detective lived by when assigned to these tricky missions but that motto didn't fit anymore. He couldn't complete his task at hand in that kind of detached manner. He had to be human and with being human he made friends.
Instead of making enemies with those he worked with, Stan made friends and one special friendship seemed to blossom out of the pain and heartache both men were enduring. It was the kind of friendship Stan never had before and now, knew he could never live without.
Fraser was the kind of person who helped people see themselves in ways they never thought possible. They were aspects the Mountie probably didn't even see in his own being but to think about himself was unheard of. Fraser had helped Stan gain the confidence he lost when his life fell apart and his wife walked out on him. And now, after a year and a half, Stan was a stronger man than he ever had been due to the support of his "unofficial" partner. It was a good thing too because that partner need him now - more than he ever needed anyone before in his life.
He was an intense looking man to begin with on a normal day: his eyes wild; hair mussed as if he had just crawled out of bed - when in reality it was a skilled masterpiece; always on the move. There was never a moment he wasn't saying, or doing something. Today though, today he found himself sitting in a hospital waiting room just as it had been every week for the past month or so. He wasn't sure how long it had been anymore. He'd begun to lose track of the time as the weeks passed.
This wasn't a common visit for the two of them. He couldn't remember a day where the hospital was a place they needed to be but all that changed little over a month ago. Now, they seemed to have become regular patrons of the sterile environment; so much so Stan usually joked they would be naming a wing after the Mountie when it was all said and done.
The initial change in their lives began more then five months ago with simple little warning signs. 1) While chasing after suspects, the Mountie was actually getting winded and on a few of those occasions, Stan had out run his partner. 2) The Mountie seemed to run on no food at all and when he did eat, it was barely half his normal food intake. 3) The most alarming of them all - Fraser was losing weight rapidly.
These signs didn't go unnoticed by his partner but whenever Stan brought up the subject, the topic was usually brushed off by an, "I'm fine Ray, there is nothing to concern yourself over." Fraser would then follow that comment with a change of subjects. When these changes became noticeable to Stan's own coworkers and his persona's family that was when he couldn't let Fraser ignore them any longer. With a call from Maggie MacKenzie - Fraser's half sister - and the pleading of the blond detective, Fraser broke down and made an appointment with Stan's own doctor but he did it mainly to prove them all wrong.
Stan and everyone else weren't wrong and of all the wrongs they could've been, this was the wrongest. After that first appointment, there was a wait and see period. Wait for the test results to come back and see, then, what was really troubling the Mountie. Stan had his suspicions as to Fraser's ailment. He'd seen the signs before in a family member but this was Fraser - Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police - almost equal to Superman in the eyes of his fellow detectives but Benton Fraser of the R.C.M.P. was also a man and a vulnerable man at that.
It was a form of Cancer - Leukemia - the exact kind Stan couldn't even remember after the doctor said it. It was definitely something the Mountie was not expecting and Stan found that strange. Of all the information stored in that man's head, the warning signs of Cancer weren't part of that useless knowledge. Stan had accompanied Fraser to the follow-up appointment where he was told of this news and Fraser didn't take it very well.
He didn't cry out, "Why me God, why me?" But his reaction did scream out just as loud. He became very quiet, only nodding his head as the doctor went over the test results and their meaning and when the discussion of treatment started, Stan could tell his friend and partner had totally shut down and was no longer listening. It was up to Stan at that point to listen to the doctor's words and make an appointment with the oncologist. It was Stan's turn to take care of his friend.
Stan stood up and walked across the waiting room to the huge window that overlooked the downtown area. He had lived in this city his whole life and it wasn't until these weekly visits, with looking out this window, that Stan realized how beautiful the city truly was. Even with the grime and the crime he dealt with daily, whenever he came here, after one look out the window, all that seemed to disappear.
The door to the waiting room opened and a petit brunette walked in, carrying two mugs of coffee. She walked up to Stan and silently handed him one of the mugs. He accepted it without a word, as he did every week. "How's he doing?" She asked as she took a sip from her own mug.
Stan shrugged his shoulders, bringing himself back to the present as he turned and sat back down in one of the seats by the window. "Ya know, some days are better than others. He seemed better these last couple days but after today's treatment he'll be down for two or three days recovering before he's feeling any better again."
Angie, the former Mrs. Raymond Vecchio, nodded her head. She had been visiting with Stan ever since she heard of the news about her ex-husband's partner's illness. After leaving the force and her divorce, she had taken a job in the hospital's bookkeeping department. She was actually the head supervisor and she loved her work. It was a much safer job to have when trying to raise a family.
"How are you doing?" She asked as she sat down next to Stan.
"I'm good . . . I'm not the one going through hell here. It's hard seeing him like this, ya know? I'm not use to him needing help . . . needing me. Usually it's the other way around." And this was the one aspect Stan was having a hard time getting passed. He had never been needed this way before. The last time he felt needed like this, or as close to this as possible, was when he was married to Stella and even then she really didn't need him.
Angie nodded her head. She knew what the Mountie was like. It seemed everyone in the city knew Fraser and had a story to tell that involved him and her ex-husband or his undercover-cover. Fraser was an amazing man who could bring out the best in anyone. "Does Ray know what's going on?"
Stan shook his head. "Fraser hasn't asked me to get in touch with him . . . doesn't want him to know. I think he doesn't want to be a burden on him or doesn't want to be the reason Ray gives up on the assignment." Stan ran his free hand over his face. "He can be so stubborn . . . I've tried to talk to him about it but he avoids the subject. No matter how much Fraser says he's okay, he's not. He needs Ray."
"I don't think Ray would be too pleased to know Fraser was going through this alone . . . Well not that he's alone, I mean he has you and the family but . . ." Angie knew Ray would want to be here to hold Fraser's hand, to cradle his head and to embrace his body when things got to be too much for his lover to handle on his own. The fact of the matter was that Ray loved Fraser and that was what one did for a lover.
"I know what you're saying and you're right," Stan agreed. He turned his head to look at the previous Mrs. Ray Vecchio. "Angie, I'm gonna do everything in my power to get him back here, no matter how much Fraser says he doesn't need him."
Angie nodded her head as she heard the door to the waiting room open and watched as Fraser walked in slowly. She could tell this treatment session had taken its toll on him. The over all change in this once strong, vigorous, unstoppable man was startling. In all, he looked as if he'd lost forty pounds, if not more. Thankfully he was at a stand sill which was a good thing because he couldn't afford to lose much more. His movements were slowed and the most noticeable change was his hair. The once full head of dark brown locks was now bald. He had just recently shaved his head and Angie - in an odd way - found this sight a little ironic. Never in her life did she expect her ex-husband to have more hair than the man standing in front of her.
Angie smiled at Fraser and he returned a frail one as she stood up to meet him halfway. "Hey Fraser," Angie said as he leaned down so she could kiss his cheek.
"Hello Angela, it is good to see you. Have you been keeping Ray company?" Fraser asked as he slowly walked to one of the empty chairs in the room to take a seat. The walk this far had tired him and he didn't have a clue on how he was going to get out of the hospital at this pace.
"As I do every week," Angie replied. "If I didn't, I think he would be climbing the walls." That comment received a small chuckle from Fraser and a knowing nod from Stan.
"Thank you Angela," Fraser said with a yawn.
The use of her given first name always caused a warmth in her heart, especially when it came from the Mountie. She had worried about his approach to her when Ray first told her of his relationship with Fraser. She thought the Mountie might resent her for their own previous marriage but that just wasn't the case. Fraser had shown her nothing but respect and he accepted the ties that still held Ray close to her own heart, even when they both had moved on to new relationships. "You don't have to thank me Fraser. I figure if Ray can't be here, I at least can." She placed a hand on his cheek. "Ray should be here, you know?" Angie was trying to help Stan in his efforts to get Fraser to come around but she should have known better.
Fraser shook his head. "No, Ray is needed elsewhere . . . where more important matters are at hand."
"And you're not important?" Angie chided.
"I am fine Angela, thank you for your concern. By the time Ray gets back here, I will be in perfect health and any worry he may have done knowing would have been for nothing." Fraser yawned again, unable to control his fatigue.
"Come on Frase, I think it's time I got ya home. Mrs. Vecchio will be wondering what's keeping us so long," Stan announced as he stood up and handed Angie his coffee mug. He was truly thankful for the visits she made and the coffee she provided.
"I am kind of tired, Ray," Fraser agreed. "It was good seeing you again Angela. Thank you for keeping Ray company."
"You know it is my pleasure," Angie said. "I'll see you two next week then?"
"Same Bat time, same Bat channel," Stan joked as he began helping Fraser out of his seat.
It was a ten minutes drive home and home for the Mountie now was the Vecchio household. When Fraser had first been diagnosed, Stan insisted that he move out of the Consulate and into his apartment so that he could take care of him or at least help him out as much as possible. When things got to the point where Stan couldn't handle taking care of Fraser on his own and work at the same time it was decided a house full of fretting Italian women would be the best remedy anyone could offer. The Vecchio home also became Stan's home away from home.
Those three fretting women met them at the door upon their arrival as they did every week along with a subdued wolf. Diefenbaker seemed to know something was not right with his Alpha pack mate and whenever he could, he stayed with the Mountie. Mrs. Vecchio and Maria ushered Fraser upstairs to Ray's room and Francesca took care of Stan. "How did everything go?" The youngest Vecchio sibling asked as they walked through the living room and into the kitchen.
Stan collapsed in one of the kitchen chairs and placed his head on his folded arms that were resting on the table. "As good as can be expected. He's really tired this time . . . more so than usual," Stan replied. He could hear Francesca remove a cup from the cupboard and then the sound of coffee being poured. The smell was heavenly as she sat the cup in front of him. He seemed to live on the stuff anymore.
This was the routine now: he took Fraser to his Chemotherapy treatments, brought him "home," the elder Vechcio women took over fussing about the sickly Mountie and the youngest Vecchio woman took care of him. It was their routine and it was comforting. These women were the one constant in their lives now.
"These treatments are taking their toll on him . . . it's kinda scary, ya know?" Stan said as he sat up straight to drink the offered coffee.
Francesca nodded her head. "I know what you mean. All these years he's been this big, strong, superhero - nothing ever harmed him but now . . . now this." Everyone was having a hard time coping with the changes taking place. No one ever expected the Mountie to get sick, let along battle for his life. "He'll be okay though . . . it's just gonna take some time, right?" Fracesca said, trying to convince Stan and herself.
Stan nodded his head in agreement. "Yeah . . . he'll be okay." But he also knew better or he at least knew not to bet the GTO on that.
Both Francesca and Stan could hear the conversation mumbling between Mrs. Vecchio and Maria as they descended the staircase from the second floor. When they entered the kitchen, Mrs. Vecchio expressed her concern over her newly adopted family member. "Stanley." She was the only person he allowed addressing him by that name - other than his own mother. "You look so tired. Why don't you go lye down for a few hours, hmmm?" She had placed a comforting, motherly hand on his cheek as she took in the sight of the exhausted blonde man.
"Nah, I'm good. I gotta go into the precinct anyway. There's something I need to take care of but I'll be back, okay?" Stan covered her hand reassuringly. "Thank you." He was truly grateful towards this woman who opened her heart and her home to him, her son's replacement.
"Stanley, there is no reason to thank me. You are family and mothering is what I do best with my family." She smiled and placed a kiss on Stan's forehead. "We should be thanking you for taking such good care of our Benton. You are such a good boy."
Stan started blushing a shade he didn't realize was possible on him. "Come on Ma, you're embarrassing him now. You better leave while you can cause it's only gonna get worse." Francesca said teasingly.
"Francesca!" Mrs. Vecchio playfully admonished her youngest child as she swatted at her arm. "Be nice to your mother."
Stan took his final sip of coffee and stood up. "I really ought to be going."
"You will be back today, yes?" Mrs. Vecchio questioned. She was truly concerned over this man who was protecting the identity of her son and trying to help save the life of the person her son loved.
Stan smiled. "Yes, I will be back before dinner Mrs. Vecchio. I wouldn't miss a meal of yours for the world."
Once he was at the precinct, everyone and their brother stopped him to ask about the Mountie. They were good friends like Jack Huey and Thomas Dewey down to people who probably didn't even know the Mountie's name. Stan stopped for each and every one of them to answer their questions because it was the polite thing to do. It was the Fraser thing to do.
"Vecchio!" Lt. Welsh called from his office. "If you please," he said as he gestured into this office.
Stan politely abandoned his conversation with the desk sergeant and headed towards his commanding officer's office.
"Close the door Detective," Lt. Welsh instructed as he took a seat behind his desk. "How's Fraser doing?"
Stan rubbed his eyes out of exhaustion and frustration of having to answer the same question he'd been asked all morning again. "He's doing."
Lt. Welsh nodded his head. "And you Detective?"
Stan gave his lieutenant a look that said, "don't even go there," but answered anyway. "I'm fine sir."
Lt. Welsh didn't believe that but accepted the answer. "Good, so why is it you wanted to see me this morning? I thought today was your day off?"
"It is sir but I was thinking . . . well that is I was wondering . . ."
"Just spit it out Detective," Lt. Welsh said cutting off Stan's stammering.
Stan took a deep breath and tried again. "Sir, is there any way of getting in touch with Vecchio?" Stan knew what the answer was going to be but he had to try.
Lt. Welsh dropped his head in a silent prayer before meeting the eyes of his detective. "Listen Ray, I'm gonna tell you the same thing I told Fraser when he asked me that very question. Even if his mother was on her deathbed and she was asking to see him . . . I would send you. Does that answer your question?"
"No sir . . . " This was the hardest thing he had ever attempted to do. Fraser was his partner and friend and he had trusted Stan with information about his life only Ray's family knew. No one at the precinct had been told of the relationship shared by their fellow detective and his unofficial partner because it was none of their business.
"Listen," Lt. Welsh began, "I'm sure Ray would want to be here for Fraser but it's just not possible. What makes the Constable any more important than the guy's own mother?"
"They're lovers sir," Stan blurted it out before he had a chance to think about his answer and he still couldn't believe the words he was saying. It wasn't he couldn't believe the two men were romantically involved but more he couldn't believe he was the one telling his supervisor that information. It was the only card he had to play.
The words spoken by his detective didn't shock him but he was surprised nonetheless. The admission did, however, explain a lot. It explained why Ray was reluctant to leave on the assignment at first and why he wouldn't go until he had a chance to speak to his partner - a partner who was as such on more than the work level.
Ray hadn't been able to reach Fraser until that last day - the day the Feds had actually scheduled his ship out date and thank God he did because Welsh was quite certain had Ray not gotten a hold a Fraser, he would have refused to leave. Even though the phone conversation didn't explain what the Mountie was returning to - at least Ray tried and he was trusting that his lieutenant would fill in the blanks. Lt. Welsh had failed his detective in that one request. He wouldn't fail him or the Mountie again.
"Lovers . . ." Lt. Welsh paused after repeating the word. "For how long?"
Stan shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not sure, maybe a few months before the assignment, I'm only guessing."
"Is Fraser asking to see him?"
Stan shook his head. "No sir . . . he doesn't even know I'm here. He doesn't want to be a bother but . . . he needs him sir. He's just too stubborn to ask."
Lt. Welsh understood stubbornness. He thought Ray Vecchio was the world's most stubborn man until he met Constable Benton Fraser. "Listen Ray, I'll make a few calls - explain the situation." Startled eyes met his at the words he spoke and he held up a hand to calm Stan. "I'll explain the situation as delicately as possible. There's no reason for the Feds to know any more than necessary." Stan relaxed. "But, understand this, if they say no, that's the end of it, capise?"
Stan nodded his head in confirmation. "That is all I ask sir."
"Okay, now get out of here and try and get some rest Detective. You look like hell."
Stan offered Lt. Welsh a wry smile in return for he felt as his lieutenant described. Leaving Welsh's office, Stan - not a religious man - sent a prayer to the heavens above in hopes that everything would work out.
He had been tired for months but there was no getting use to that kind of feeling. It had been nearly five hours since his last treatment and he had thrown up more than he had eaten the entire day. It was on these days he understood why he never felt guilty about not being sick a day in his life . . . except for that pink eye incident which really didn't count.
Fraser was just returning to Ray's bedroom after his most recent visit to the bathroom - to relieve himself this time - and he looked at the bed with resentment. It was where he spent a large majority of his time anymore - mostly on the day of his treatments and the three days that followed. Usually by the time he had recovered from a treatment and was feeling almost like his old self (or as close as he was going to get) he would be due for the next in a series that seemed endless. The only thing that kept him going now was the thought of his lover's return.
Funny thing is, it was Fraser who always worried about something happening to Ray while he was away undercover in Las Vegas. Never in a million years did he expect to be the one knocking on death's door. Fraser shook that thought from his head as he headed towards the closet. When he opened the door, there was one item in particular that caught his eye every time. Fraser reached out and stroked the wool of his Red Serge uniform and sighed deeply. It seemed like forever and a day since he last wore it and he missed it terribly.
Fraser lifted the hanger the uniform hung on and removed it from the closet, carrying it over to the bed. It was heavier than he remembered and he now couldn't understand how he ever stood sentry duty for hours at a time while wearing it. Fraser began unbuttoning the uniform's tunic and painstakingly started dressing in it. What usually had taken him under five minutes to do took ten and the boots alone took another ten minutes. It was the first time he had attempted to put his uniform on since his medical leave began. This simple act seemed so foreign to him now but the uniform made him smile.
Hat in hand, Fraser walked back to the closet to get a look at himself in its mirror and once he was standing at attention, his smile faded. Even he couldn't dismiss his current state. His once form fitting uniform now hung on him like one of his lover's finely tailored Armani suits. His hair or lack there of would probably draw a chuckle from his lover too. He had more than a bald spot to speak of - no longer a pelt.
Fraser ran his hand over his scalp and muttered, "Wouldn't you be a sight for Ray to see." To top the outfit off, Fraser placed his Stetson on his head, brushing his hand across its brim and tried his best to get his sentry duty face going but it was useless. A knock at the door pulled his attention away from the mirror.
Fraser dropped his head as he removed his hat. "Come in," Fraser said, granting his visitor entrance.
Stan opened the door slowly and entered the room. When he entered, he saw his friend walking away from the closet in full Mountie dress uniform, hat and boots included and he couldn't help but wonder what the Mountie was up to. "Fraser, buddy, what are you doing?"
"Nothing, Ray. Why do you ask?" Fraser responded as he crossed back to the bed, laying his Stetson down.
The door closed and Stan joined Fraser at the bedside. "Well, it's not every day I get to see a Mountie in his dress uniform for nothin'. What gives?" Stan questioned further.
Fraser sighed. "I missed it." He then began to unbuckle his Sam Browne belt.
"You missed the Serge?" Stan couldn't believe anyone would miss the walking sauna of a uniform but he learned a long time ago that Fraser was a freak but only in the sincerest of ways.
"Yes Ray, is that so hard to believe." Belt off, Fraser then moved to unbuttoning his tunic. "Wouldn't you miss your car if you couldn't drive it for a couple of weeks?"
Stan shrugged his shoulders as he responded. "Well sure but its a car . . . a GTO to be exact; a classic. You're talking about a uniform."
Fraser nodded his head understanding Stan's logic for it was Ray's own logic regarding cars but he needed to explain himself further. "It's more than just the uniform Ray . . . It's who I am, or at least who I was. No matter how dull or boring my life at the Consulate may have seemed to you, it was my life and I miss it."
Stan wanted to kick his own head for being so insensitive but he was quite certain his foot wouldn't reach that far. Maybe he could convince his friend to do him the favor but after looking at Fraser, who was getting tired from his efforts of divesting himself, that thought flew out of his head. "Hey Fraser, why don't you sit down and let me help you." Stan steered the Mountie to sit on the bed and began unlacing the boots.
"You don't have to do this Ray. I am perfectly capable . . ."
Stan stopped Fraser's words with his own. "I know you are Fraser but it's the least I can do. You've had a big day today and you need your rest. What would Ray say if he knew I let ya run yourself down?" Stan could see the corners of Fraser lips curl at the name of his lover. "Ya know Fraser, if Ray were . . ."
And this time it was Fraser who cut his friend off. "If Ray were here he would be wasting his time. I am fine Ray."
"But . . ."
"Ray, I am fine." Once the boots were off, Fraser stood up and pulled his braces down off his shoulders and began removing his jodhpurs. Stan in the meantime carried the boots back to the closet. "Why did you need to go into the precinct today, Ray? I thought today was your day off."
Fraser was a stubborn man and once again changing the subject. "I had some paperwork to catch up on, that's all Frase." It was easy for him to lie now because Fraser had no clue what cases he was actually working on. "Lt. Welsh was threatening me with desk duty for eternity."
Fraser nodded his understanding. Standing in his boxers and T-shirt, Ray could see a shiver start in his friend. If there was one thing the doctor warned him about it was to keep Fraser from getting sick. Yes he was ill now but any type of cold or virus could wreak havoc on the Mountie's weakened immune system. "Come on Frase, let's get ya under the covers."
Stan hung the Mountie's uniform up in the closet and once he was tucked in, Fraser smiled up at him and said, "Thank you Ray."
A week had passed before Stan and the Lieutenant heard back from the Feds. It had been a week with included another treatment. The Feds seemed to have their own sense of time and way of judging important matters and to them, the matter with Fraser was not important. Stan hadn't expected them to see it as such but he had hoped for someone to have a compassionate ear. He should have known better.
"Sit down Detective," Lt. Welsh said motioning to the chair in front of his desk.
"I take it you heard back for the Feds?" Lt. Welsh nodded his confirmation. "They're not gonna tell him, are they?"
Lt. Welsh shook his head. "No Detective, they said the assignment was more important. That they had way too much time and resources invested in it to just pull the plug like that. I'm sorry Ray."
Stan could read the disdain on his superior's face and knew he wasn't pleased with the Fed's decision either. "Damn them. They've had over a year of this guy's life . . . are they ever gonna let him go?"
"Ray, I understand your frustration but if you just look at things from their perspective, I believe you will understand where they are coming from." Lt. Welsh was trying to rationalize the situation for his detective and himself but what he was saying couldn't help.
Stan stood up and started pacing in front of Welsh's desk. "Sir, I've been Fraser's partner for a year and a half now and I'm pretty certain I know they guy well enough to know what he needs and . . . he needs him sir."
"I think you're right," Lt. Welsh agreed. "And I think you are in need of some time off Detective." Stan stopped his pacing now and was staring at his Lieutenat. Welsh continued, "And let's say should you happen to find yourself 'somewhere' and that 'somewhere' should happen to be Las Vegas and you should happen to run into 'yourself' . . . well, I think you can draw your own conclusions." Loopholes, they're a wonderful thing.
The light bulb popped on in Stan's head and his face brightened. "Sir, I need some time off," he stated with a smile.
"Good idea Detective, I was just thinking that myself."
Stan smiled even bigger and said, "Thank you sir." He turned to leave when Lt. Welsh halted his retreat. "Ray, you keep me posted and if you should run into any trouble, I want to know immediately, capise?"
Stan nodded and replied, "Yes sir."
"Good luck and be careful. I don't need both 'Ray Vecchios' missing in action."
Stan entered the Vecchio home using the key they had insisted on him having. He was 'Ray Vecchio' after all, just another member of the family but it was more than that. Mrs. Vecchio had extended the same hospitality to Stan that she had give to the Mountie and Stan cherished it. He felt a sense of belonging in this family that he missed in his own family's absence. His parents had returned to Arizona a few months back, where the weather suited them better.
Mrs. Vecchio accepted Stanley Raymond Kowalski as a child of her own because she had that much love to offer and more. And it wasn't just the Matriarch of the family who accepted him but her children as well. He finally had brothers and sisters who cared about him and he loved them all equally.
It was mid-afternoon and all was quiet in the house. The school aged Vecchio children were still at school and the ones remaining at home, under the watchful eye of their mother and grandmother were napping. Not only were the children napping but so was a certain Mountie.
"How long has he been sleeping?" Stan asked as he took the offered mug of coffee from Mrs. Vecchio.
"Since you brought him home, dear. He hasn't had a bout of nausea either which I think is good, yes?" Mrs. Vecchio hated seeing her adopted Canadian son in such pain and misery because she knew there was nothing she could do to relieve it. "I was just about to take him up some soup," Mrs. Vecchio said with a gesture towards the stove where a pot was simmering.
"Let me take it to him Mrs. Vecchio. I need to talk to him about something anyway," Ray offered, then drained his cup of coffee.
"Is everything alright, dear?" Mrs. Vecchio asked with concern.
Stan smiled as he replied, "Yes, everything is just fine." He wished he could tell her what he was about to embark on, that he was going to retrieve her son but the less people who knew about the details the better and that also included Fraser. "I just need to go out of town for a few days, that's all. I wanted to let him know that. It's nothing to worry yourself over Ma'am."
Mrs. Vecchio shook her head at the man she accepted as family. "I worry about all my children Stanley - no matter where they are or what they are up to. It's my job."
Stan nodded his head. "Thanks Mrs. Vecchio."
Once she had the breakfast tray set up, Stan took it and began heading up to Ray Vecchio's bedroom. He didn't know how well Fraser would take the news of his departure for a few days, especially when Stan couldn't go into great detail about his plans but he hoped Fraser would understand.
Stan gently rapped on the bedroom door to announce his presence and then opened it before he received any type of response. Fraser was still sleeping, or at least he looked to be sleeping. All the covers had been kicked off and he was lying on the bed dressed in a pair of Ray's pajama bottoms and a T-shirt.
Stan spotted Diefenbaker lounging under the bedroom window in the sun as he set the tray down on the dresser across the room then moved to the bed in order to cover Fraser up. He was started by the voice of his friend.
"Don't," Fraser said not moving a muscle but his lips.
"Frase . . . you don't want to catch a cold here . . ." Stan was cut off.
"I'm hot Ray . . . I'll cover up in a little while, after this passes but right now I'm burning up." Fraser still wasn't moving when he responded.
"I brought you some soup. It's Mrs. Vecchio's own special recipe," Stan said as he turned back to the dresser to retrieve the tray Mrs. Vecchio had prepared.
"I'm not hungry."
Moving back to the bed, Stan prepared to take charge. "Fraser . . . you haven't eaten all day . . ."
"Yes . . . and I haven't thrown up either. I'd like to keep it that way - if you don't mind." Fraser was being stubborn as of late but Stan accepted his "rudeness" as coming with the territory.
"Fraser, I know it's been rough these last couple weeks but you gotta eat."
"You can't know . . . how could you?" Fraser asked as he started moving for the first time since Stan entered the room. It was slow going but he eventually got himself to a seated position and when he met Stan's eyes, Fraser glared at his friend.
Stan offered Fraser a smile as he sat the tray over his lap. "No, I don't 'know' what you're going through but I know, ya know?"
Fraser looked away from his friend then turned back to make eye contact with Stan again. His eyes softened in an apologetic manner for his mood and before he could verbally voice his apology, Stan held up a hand and said, "Listen Fraser, it's okay . . . I kinda like this moody you anyway." Stan smiled at his friend again showing he was joking.
Fraser stifled a laugh and looked at the tray he could tell had been prepared with care. "I'm really not that hungry, Ray."
Stan picked the spoon up off the tray and handed it to Fraser. "I know but you gotta eat. If you don't, you know Mrs. Vecchio will be up here hand feeding you herself."
The threat, which really wasn't a threat but the truth, had Fraser taking the spoon from Stan and beginning an effort to eat.
Stan took a seat in the chair by the window watching his friend and partner. It was amazing the changes their friendship had gone through since they first met. A year ago it was Fraser who was taking care of Stan and offering the encouragement he needed and now it was Stan's turn to repay the favor. How he wished it was under different circumstances.
Once he was certain Fraser had eaten all he was going to eat, which was barely half of what Mrs. Vecchio prepared for him, Stan retrieved the tray, setting it on the dresser and returned to sit on the bed. "Thank you," Fraser said, thanking his lucky stars that he had a friend willing to kick him in the butt when he got cranky - which was really not his normal self at all but becoming a frequent occurrence.
Stan shrugged his shoulders. "No need to thank me Frase, you're my friend. I do this because I care about you."
"I still thank you Ray. I don't know what I would do without you," Fraser said, admitting for a change that he needed someone.
"Fraser . . . we have to talk." Fraser's innocent, all trusting eyes bore into him and he couldn't believe what he was about to say. "I have to go away for a couple days." He was abandoning him. Even though his trip was going to be three days at the most, it was still time away when his friend needed him most.
Fraser's face dropped. All he could think about was the last time he was told he was going to be on his own for a while. "Everything is alright, isn't it?"
"Yes, Fraser, everything is just fine. I have to go out of town for a few days on a case. I don't want to go but . . ."
Fraser straightened up and put on a brave face. "It's okay Ray, I understand. I'll be fine while you're gone. You shouldn't worry about me so."
"Are you sure?" Stan asked, dreading even leaving for a day.
Fraser smiled as he replied, "Yes Ray. I'm a grown man and a Mountie. I can take care of myself."
Stan nodded his head. "I already talked with Angie and if the assignment should take longer than planned, she's agreed to take you to your next treatment. Is that okay?"
Fraser nodded his head. "Thank you kindly Ray, for taking such good care of me."
Stan reached out and took hold of Fraser's hand. "Hey, that's what friends do and besides, if I didn't, I would never hear the end of it from Vecchio." That comment was rewarded with a long missed hearty chuckle from the Mountie.
There were lights flashing all around the room accentuating the excitement brimming from all the people who were too busy gambling to care about his presence or anything else for that matter. The fact that he was actually there was mind boggling. He had always wanted to vacation in Las Vegas but the necessity of this trip took away any fun from his visit.
Stan came directly from the airport upon his arrival in the city that never stopped for the dark of night. There was no need to waste any time on this trip. The sooner he found "him" the sooner Stan could return to Chicago. Plus, the longer he was away from home the more suspicious Fraser would become because the man may be sick but he wasn't stupid.
Panning the boisterous room, it didn't take long for Stan to find what looked like a security guard or at least a member of the casino's security service. This was his fourth stop and he was praying his final destination. "Excuse me," a very nervous Chicago detective questioned as he tapped the larger man on the shoulder. "I'm looking for Armondo Langostini."
The security guy's eyebrows lifted slightly at the name. No one ever asked to see the "boss." It was usually "he" who scoped out his meeting associates. "And you would be?" Asked the guard in a deep voice.
"A friend," was the only reply Stan offered; they were the only words he could get out as he swallowed the lump in his throat. To say he was nervous was an understatement and he prayed the burly guy couldn't see that.
The security guard snorted. "Wait here," he ordered as he turned to look for the head of the casino.
Stan stood stock still with his hands shoved in his pockets. He couldn't believe he was here and he couldn't believe what he was about to do. He was about to blow the biggest undercover operation the Feds had in the works. It was an assignment everyone had worked long and hard on that seemed to have no end in sight but the health of one man would change everyone's plans.
Stan kept his eyes on the man he had approached as he climbed stair after stair to the second floor of the casino and disappeared. "Nothing is gonna happen - everything is gonna be all right," Stan repeated to himself but he was still scared to death. Both their lives were at stake here if the wrong person overheard what he had to say.
"Boss?" The security guard said as he entered the back offices of the casino on the second floor. "There's a guy askin' for ya."
"Armondo Langostini" swiveled around in his chair, away from his view out of the huge picture window overlooking the city and asked, "Do you recognize him, Johnnie?"
Johnnie shook his head. "No, Boss, never seen him before. He's different than the usual crowd around here but he said he was a friend."
"A friend, huh? I don't have many of those . . ." Armondo stood up and walked around the desk. "Send him up Johnnie. This could be interesting."
Smiling broadly, Johnnie nodded his head in acceptance of his order. "Yes, Boss."
Stan followed the burly man up the stairs he had watched him disappear up previously. The idea of being lead away from the crowd of people had him on edge but he kept reminding himself, 'It's Ray Vecchio, not Armondo Langostini. There is a difference. He's Fraser's best friend - not the Bookman.'
When he was lead into what appeared to be the back offices of the casino, the burly guard announced their presence. "Boss . . ."
"Armondo Langostini" or at least the guy posing as the Bookman turned around from his view out the window to regard his visitors. He didn't look anything like Stan and that the blonde detective found humorous. He was tall, lanky, of Italian decent and balding. Did he mention the nose?
"So, you're a friend of mine?" Armondo questioned as he walked around to the front of his desk and leaned back against its edge, eyeing his visitor suspiciously.
Stan nodded his head in reply. He had gone over this conversation in his head a million times during the plane ride. What he would say. What the "real" Ray Vecchio would say. What his reaction would be. But nothing could prepare him for this, the face to face confrontation and the minute their eyes locked on one another all the words he had planned on saying flew out the window leaving him speechless.
"Do you talk much or does a cat got your tongue?" Ray assumed this stranger was feeling a bit nervous with one of his henchmen in the room so he motioned with his head for Johnnie to take his leave.
Stan nervously turned to watch Johnnie leave and when he turned back to the man posing as Armondo Langostini, he had walked over to the small bar to the left of the room. "You want something to drink Quiet Guy?"
Stan shook his head in response. He kept his eyes on the "real" Ray Vecchio, mesmerized. Instead of pouring himself and alcoholic drink, Ray opened a bottled of water and took a swig.
When he turned around, there was a serious look on his face. This person looked younger than himself but he could tell by his eyes he was the same age if not a year or two older. "Do you want to tell me who you are kid?"
Stan cleared his throat in an effort to speak. It was the hardest thing he ever had to do but he was determined to complete his task. "My name's Kowalski, Stanley Kowalski."
Ray nearly choked on his water and when he had his breath back he asked, "Stan Kowalski? Who in their right mind would name their kid that?" Shaking his head, Ray came to a stop in front of this person who called himself a friend but was really no more than a stranger.
"My dad was a huge Brando fan, I go by Ray - end of story." Stan could see Ray's eyes soften at the utterance of "his" name.
"You made a good choice kid. So, ya think we could get down to the reason you're lookin' for me?"
"As I said, I am a friend or at least we have a mutual friend in common . . ." Stan's stomach was churning and he could feel the tremors traveling the course of his body. He only hoped there weren't any outward signs of his nervousness.
"Listen Ray, I don't have that many friends; can't afford them . . . " Ray turned to walk back around his desk when the words Stan spoke next stopped him dead in his tracks.
"I'm here about the Mountie."
Ray dropped the bottle he was holding and he turned to look at this man who knew more than he was letting on. "What Mountie?"
Stan wouldn't say anymore until he knew for certain that they were safe. "Is it safe to talk here?"
Ray didn't answer right away. He walked back around his desk, grabbing a pen and jotted down some information for Stan. Walking back to the stranger, he handed the paper to him. "Meet me here in an hour. We can talk there." Stan nodded when Ray added, "And don't try anything funny 'cause I will do anything I have to, to protect him." The look in Ray's eyes told Stan he meant every word he said whether his actions would be legal or not.
He should've known the man would run for sanctuary in a Catholic Church. Ray was already waiting for him, kneeling in a pew. When Stan approached, Ray cocked his head to the side and said, "Not here - follow me."
Stan was led to a confessional. It was the oddest place to be conducting such a meeting and walking into the small booth gave Stan the creeps but he followed as instructed. Ray motioned for him to take a seat and he took a seat himself so that he and Stan were sitting face to face.
"What do you know about the Mountie?" Ray asked not beating around the bush.
"I'm a friend of Fraser's . . . my name . . ."
"Yeah, yeah, we already went over that. You're Stanley Kowalski," Ray said, interrupting.
"Yeah . . . but I'm also Ray Vecchio," Stan informed as he pulled out his identification slowly for Ray to see.
The police ID read, "Raymond Vecchio" with a picture of the blonde man. Ray was speechless until Stan uttered four words that were going to change both their lives dramatically. "Ray, Fraser needs you."
Ray handed Stan back his undercover identification and asked, "How do I know you're telling me the truth?"
And the truth of the matter was there was nothing he could say that would truly convince Ray of anything. All Stan and Ray could rely on was faith and hopefully that was strong enough. "Ray, Fraser is very sick . . ."
"See, that's where you made your mistake pal. Fraser doesn't get sick." Ray's stomach was in knots as each piece of the puzzle was being laid out.
Ray's evasiveness was causing Stan to become exasperated over their conversation's path. Nothing was being accomplished. "Okay, I don't know what kind of proof you want that this is legit. Whatever I say could have easily been researched."
"Try me," Ray coaxed.
Stan took a deep breath and tried as suggested. "Fraser and I totaled your car and it is sitting at the bottom of Lake Michigan."
Ray's face fell at the realization that this guy was telling the truth. "Fraser's sick? How sick?"
Stan breathed a sigh of relief that Ray finally believed him but then braced himself for the hard part. "Cancer." It was the only word he could say.
Ray's face changed quickly from the facade of Armondo Langostini to the face that Stan could only describe as being the face of Fraser's lover full of concern and fear of that one word. "How long?"
"It's been over two months since his diagnosis and he's been going through chemo for the last six weeks with many more treatments to go."
Ray repeated the time frame. "Two months."
"He doesn't know I'm here," Stan added.
Ray nodded his head. "Of course he doesn't. Why would he? Didn't want to bother me or worry me; pull me away from an 'important' case . . . Good old Benny." Ray reached into his pocket and pulled out a cell phone.
"What are you doing?" Stan asked.
Ray smiled as he responded, "I'm going home."
Stan received a rude awakening upon his return to the Windy City. He knew something was wrong the minute he closed the door to the Vecchio home and no one greeted him, not even the wolf. When he entered the kitchen and found the note, sloppily written in haste by Francesca, his stomach sank. Stan spun around before he had the last word of the note read and sprinted out of the house, barely remembering to lock the door behind him. He had been gone two days and it seemed all hell had broken lose in his absence.
Arriving at the hospital in more than a timely manner, in a manner the Mountie wouldn't have been very pleased with, it didn't take long for Stan to find his friend's room. When he entered the room, Fraser was sleeping with a worried looking Ma Vecchio sitting vigil next to his bed.
The sound of the door closing brought Mrs. Vecchio's attention away from her rosary beads and to the man standing just inside the doorway. "Stanley," Mrs. Vecchio said quietly as she got up to walk over to scared looking soul. The look on his face betrayed him. He wanted to be strong for this woman who gave her all to her family without a second thought but with barely being in town an hour and now this, every emotion was rising to the surface and he began shaking. "Oh, no Caro, it's okay," Mrs. Vecchio comforted as she embraced the trembling man.
Stan held on the woman he accepted as a mother until he had his emotions under control. When he pulled away, Stan apologized for his breakdown. "I'm sorry Mrs. Vecchio . . . it's just . . . "
Mrs. Vecchio placed a finger over his mouth to quiet him. "Stanley, it's alright. If you don't think that was our very reaction when he was admitted then you don't know our family very well but I do think you know better."
Stan nodded his head then asked, "What happened?"
Mrs. Vecchio turned to look at Fraser who was sleeping. "Dehydration . . . seems his doctors didn't realize he was having such violent nausea bouts. He wasn't telling them."
"I think he didn't want to be put on another prescription drug with everything else he's been going through but the doctors have set him straight now. They have him on some medicine that should curtail the nausea down to a minimum . . . hopefully."
"Stubborn Mountie . . . " Stan muttered as he watched the IV drip. "How long does he have to stay in here?"
Mrs. Vecchio returned her eyes to Stan and replied, "The doctors say he has to stay until he can keep a meal down so they can make sure the medication he is on is doing it's job. They know his game now and won't let him get away with it anymore." Stan smiled for the fist since he entered the hospital. "Come, Caro, take a seat. I will leave you alone with him for a while. I must call home and check on the family."
Mrs. Vecchio led Stan to the seat she had previously occupied. She leaned down and kissed Stan on the forehead. "He should be waking up soon." She then turned and placed a kiss on Fraser's cheek and left the room.
Being alone with his thoughts wasn't a good thing. It was decided between the two Rays that Ray Vecchio's return should be kept under wraps just incase he couldn't get out. Both Rays knew the Feds well enough to know, never, ever trust them. Stan prayed the Feds would allow Ray to leave in a timely manner and also prayed that Fraser would hold out until that day. He hoped he had done the right thing and had not stepped over the line but it really didn't matter at this point. Even though Fraser was a grown man, capable of make decisions and knowing what was best for himself, the man didn't really know how to be selfish and this was the time he should have been, so Stan acted selfishly for him.
"Ray?" A tired voice called his name from the bed.
Stan stood up and approached the bedside, stroking his thumb across Fraser forehead. "Hey . . ." and Stan continued the only way he knew how, and that was through a joke. "Ya know Frase, if you didn't want me to go, all ya had to do was say so. You didn't have to go to the extremes here."
Fraser took Stan seriously as always. "I'm sorry Ray . . . "
"Fraser, I'm kidding here, it's okay."
"Yeah, oh. How are you doing?" Stan asked as he pulled the chair closer so he could sit.
"Much better, thank you," Fraser replied.
"So, can ya tell me why you didn't tell the doctors about . . ."
Fraser cut Stan off, "Ray, I've already been reprimanded by the doctors, I don't need it hear it from you too."
"All I'm gonna say is you have to take care of yourself, okay? You letting yourself get worn down like this isn't going to help." Stan still felt he needed to express his feelings. "This may be hard for you to believe but there are a lot of people counting on you here."
"I know," Fraser muttered softly.
"There's Ray, Mrs. Vecchio, Frannie, Maria, Tony, the kids, Thatcher, Turnbull, All of Canada . . . "
"Ray," Fraser stopped him for the second time. "I see your point, thank you."
"Good, so long as we're both on the same page here."
"How was your trip Ray?" Fraser asked, changing the subject.
"It was a trip." Stan was being vague on purpose.
"Hmm? Hmm what? What does that mean, Hmm?"
"Nothing Ray," Fraser replied. He didn't know what Stan's trip was about but he thought a good round of the "Hmm's" would do his friend some good. "I'm going to go back to sleep, if you don't mind."
"You know Fraser, sometimes you can be so . . . "
"Vexatious?" Fraser commented, finishing Stan's statement.
"Annoying?" Fraser offered yet again.
"Yeah," Stan jumped at the word that fit how he felt at that moment, "annoying. You can be so annoying sometimes."
Fraser smiled when he nodded and commented, "so I've been told."
The hospital stay wasn't so bad, only one week and the doctors where pleased with their patient's progress. Fraser had even gained a few pounds while hospitalized. Stan was the only person who was allowed to be present for Fraser's discharge. The Mountie didn't want a big public scene over his own stupidity for being there in the first place but that wouldn't stop the family from celebrating his return once he was home.
When the GTO pulled up in front of the house, every Vecchio piled out
to greet their family. Hugs and kisses were doled out in abundance and
a happy wolf pranced around with his tail wagging frantically not know
what to do.
Fraser stooped down to greet his companion. "Thank you for missing me Dief. It's good to know you care." Diefenbaker sniffed over his pack mate and when he was sure he was okay, he licked his face.
"Come, Caro, let's get you inside," Mrs. Vecchio suggested as she took Fraser by the arm and led him into the house. Fraser let her have her way as he always did. Where some couldn't say "no" to Fraser, he couldn't say "no" to Mrs. Vecchio.
Stan watched as the family slowly piled back into the house, he and Diefenabker being the last left outside. "Half way there Dief . . . we're half way there."
"Talk to yourself much Kowalski?"
When Diefenbaker's tail went into overload wagging, Stan knew he wasn't hearing things. He turned to see who was approaching him from behind and a smile spread across his face. "Not normally, Vecchio but the Mountie has that affect on people."
A grin cracked Ray's face as he replied "Don't I know it." Ray bent down to greet the wolf properly. "Hey Dief, ya miss me?" Diefenbaker didn't know what to do first and when Ray produced a sweet treat for him, he licked Ray's cheek, grabbed the pastry and was out of sight before the Alpha could reprimand him for his weakness. Ray laughed at the cowering wolf but knew better of his reasoning.
"Did you see him?" Stan asked still smiling like there was no tomorrow.
"Yeah, he looks good, considering. Thanks for taking good care of him Stan," Ray said as he pulled his previous self into a brotherly embrace and getting a little choked up, he added, "Thanks for everything."
Stan patted Ray on the back. "It was nothing man. Come on, let's get inside. Everyone is gonna freak when they see you." Stan was still grinning and he was beginning to wonder if he would ever be able to stop.
Upon entering the house, nearly every jaw dropped open and the words that were flowing from every Vecchio mouth stopped in mid-sentence. No one said a word until their Matriarch did. "Caro!" And she approached her son, giving him the biggest hug he ever thought possible, threatening never to let him go.
"Hi Ma," Ray said returning the embrace and placing a kiss on her forehead.
The rest of the family attacked then with their greetings and hugs and kisses and punches in the arm for not warning them and question upon question about the last year and a half. Ray looked like he was drowning in a sea of Vecchios when he held up a hand and yelled, "Hey!" The room fell silent. It seemed everyone had forgotten about one thing or person as the case may be. "Where's Benny?"
The first thing he wanted to do when he entered the house was to take a bath. An odd reaction to some but the sponge baths offered at the hospital didn't really do the trick and Fraser was one of those people who believe in the old saying, "cleanliness is next to godliness." After the tub had been filled to his desired level, Fraser stripped down and climbed in. The water against his skinned seem to wash away the stress he had endured in the recent weeks and with a "hum," he relaxed against the tub's back and closed his eyes.
That was when the knock on the door came and every muscle stiffened at its sound. Ever since he moved into the house, he never really got a chance to be alone and whenever he took a bath, they seemed to think he needed even more help. He loved them all dearly but a guy needed some private time when bathing. "I'm fine," was Fraser's only response to the knock but it was persistent. "Yes?" The one worded question came out a bit more harshly than he had planned but Fraser didn't correct himself.
With his eyes still shut, he listened to the person open the bathroom door and close it behind them. There were only a few people allowed to see him naked: Stan, Tony, Mrs. Vecchio and his lover, Ray; Francesca and Maria respected his privacy so he didn't worry about who was in the room with him. Fraser remained still and tried to get himself back to the relaxed state he was bordering on, hoping the person would observe that he was fine and leave him alone.
The breathing of his visitor kept him from his meditations. It was times like these he wished his hearing wasn't as sharp as it was but the pattern of the breaths were becoming soothing and almost familiar. They at first captivated his attention but then they were lulling him into a deeper state. When he felt the slender fingers run over his scalp, Fraser nearly jumped out of the water.
Ray hadn't meant to startle his lover so. He kneeled next to the tub to get himself at eye level with Fraser and when Fraser's eyes met his, he smiled and said, "Hey Benny."
For the first time in his life, Fraser was speechless. His mouth opened and closed not once but twice and when no words would form, his lips snapped shut, turning into a frown that soon began to quiver. "Oh Benny," Ray said leaning up against the side of the tub and pulling his wet lover into his arms without a care about the designer clothes he wore. "Shhh, it's okay."
Ray began stroking Fraser's back with his hands in an effort to comfort him and that was when he realized how frail his lover had become. Every night since he left Chicago, when lying in bed by himself, Ray would remember how his lover felt in his arms and this wasn't what he had remembered. Fraser had always been a man with a picture perfect physique and now, Ray could just about count every rib and his vertebrae were more defined than was natural.
Once he had Fraser calmed, Ray pulled away to get a better look at his lover's face. His cheeks were sunken in, there were dark circles under his eyes showing his tiredness and the most startling of the changes was the missing beautiful brown pelt he relished running his fingers through. But even with all the changes, he was still the same old Benny. "God Benny, I've missed you."
Ray cupped Fraser's face in his hands, leaned forward and kissed him gently. That contact released every emotion they both had suppressed over the last year and a half causing their tears to mingle together as they slipped into the bath water.
Parting again, Ray wiped away the tears on Fraser's cheeks, not caring about the ones resting on his own and said, "Come on, let me help you finish here and then I can get you out of here, okay?" Fraser didn't speak but he didn't refuse the offered help. Once Ray had his lover all squeaking clean, he helped Fraser out of the tub and began the process of drying him off.
Even though Fraser was use to this kind offered help now, this act was totally new for Ray. For as long as he'd know Fraser, he had been a pretty self sufficient guy and even when they became lovers he never seemed "needy" but now he was and Ray could tell by his body language alone, Fraser hated this uncontrollable need. Fraser hated anything that was out of his own control.
Ray didn't like that his lover was being so quiet. "There ya go," Ray said, pulling the T-shirt down over his lover's torso. "You look good enough to eat." And the comment made the Mountie blush. Ray stood in front of Fraser just looking at him, waiting for a word, any word to come out of that beautiful mouth but Fraser remained silent. "Benny, you gonna say something here or am I gonna have to do the talking for both of us?"
The corner of his lips curled slightly but the frown remained. "I'm sorry Ray."
Shocked by his choice of words, Ray asked, "What are you sorry for Benny?"
Outstretching his arms, Fraser replied, "For this."
Ray shook his head. "Benny, there is nothing to feel sorry for. You had no control over this . . . it just happened."
"Is the assignment over?"
Ray wasn't expecting that one. " . . . Yes . . . " The hesitation gave away the truth.
"Ray . . . " Fraser used his scolding tone. It was the tone he used to keep Ray in his place.
"Okay, it wasn't over but it is now," Ray corrected his earlier statement. "But I was telling you the truth that it is over."
"But . . ."
Ray moved closer to Fraser wrapping one arm around him and placing his other hand over his moving mouth. "Benny, if you think I'd rather be or should still be out there your crazier than I thought." Ray's hand moved away from Fraser's mouth to caress his cheek. "I love you, and I belong here, with you. You need me."
And as much as Fraser hated to admit that last part, it was the truth. "How did you know?"
Ray smiled. "Let's just say you have a canary that has been a really good friend to you while I've been gone."
Fraser realized then he had been had by a one Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Now he knew what his trip a week ago had been for and why he kept quiet about the details revolving around it. "Ah."
Ray laughed at that missed innuendo from his lover. "Ah." Ray took hold of Fraser hand and began leading him out of the bathroom. "Come on, you need your rest." Fraser followed diligently praying this wasn't all a dream and that he wouldn't be rudely awakened to find himself alone for yet another day.
Stan sat waiting on the stairs for the couple to come out of the bathroom, just to make sure everything was alright and that he had made the right decision in retrieving Vecchio from Las Vegas. When he heard the bathroom door open and he watched Ray and Fraser walk from the bathroom to Ray's bedroom hand in hand, he received his confirmation. Ray let Fraser enter his bedroom first and before he walked in himself, Ray made eye contact with Stan, winked an eye and followed his lover in. Stan knew then that everything was going to be okay.