Author's disclaimer: I don't own the characters and there has been some dialogue borrowed, that is all.
This is part one of the series Lovers in a Dangerous Time
I Forgot to Tell You I Love You
by: Jenny Hill
Things were changing, beyond either of their controls. Ray tried to suppress how he was feeling, but he was lousy at it. Fraser was the strong one, hiding his true feelings behind a wall that would take explosives to dissolve. Neither of them was expecting what was about to happen in their lives. Both were straightforward, had their head on their shoulders and thought they knew all there was to know about their lives. They didn't know when it all changed but it started back when they first met, the first time their lives were put in mortal danger. Every time after, with each close call, they became closer and closer before they realized what was happening. They were almost inseparable.
Near death experiences . . .
There was the apartment explosion that Ray saved Fraser from by pushing him out the window, unable to save himself. That was when they first met, the first case they worked on. Before that case was over, they traveled to Canada where they were nearly gunned down for the same reason Fraser's dad had been killed, the case they were working on.
There was a simple robbery at St. Michael's church. Should have been an open shut and case, no mortal danger involved . . . until Frank Zuko. Fraser was able to find the person who stole from the poor box but because he ended up on the wrong side of Frank Zuko, he was severely beaten and almost shot. Ray had never seen Fraser in such a state. It scared him, angered him and encouraged him. He took care of Zuko, with no thought of his own safety.
Victoria . . . she nearly killed Fraser, no weapon needed. The emotional toil she caused him could have killed his being, the person he was, even though it was Ray's gun that nearly took his life. That fact in itself nearly killed Ray, not just emotionally, but physically. While Fraser was recovering in the hospital after being shot by his partner, a doctor at the hospital, who was having an affair, ended up being blackmailed by her lover. When she found out, she tried to kill her lover but Fraser wouldn't allow it. Coming between the doctor and her lover, she was ready to pull the trigger when Ray jumped in front of Fraser as the gun went off, saving his friends life.
These incidences were all in the first year of their partnership and not the only occurrences. With each near death experience, a bond grew stronger and stronger between the two men. Strong enough that neither time nor distance could break it but they never realized the importance of that fact. They say people who are partners are like a married couple. Fighting, annoying, loving, caring, sharing and disagreeing come with the territory. The only difference is when they become sick of one another; a divorce isn't the answer.
It had been four hours since Ray originally laid down for sleep and he was still awake. He was tossing and turning and thinking. Thinking about things any normal Italian man shouldn't be thinking but he was thinking them . . . or at least contemplating them.
From the first moment they met, Ray thought Fraser was the most annoying man he had ever met. With his kooky crime solving ideas which involved tasting and smelling everything the normal human being shouldn't put near their mouth or nose and those damn Inuit stories, it was enough to drive a person crazy. For some reason though, Ray put up with it. Yes, Fraser was annoying at times but Ray enjoyed his company, their friendship and their partnership.
Maybe it was because Fraser wasn't like any other man he ever had the pleasure of knowing. Maybe it was because Ray didn't have that many male friends he felt such a closeness to. Yes, he had his poker buddies but they never really sat around the card table discussing life and their feelings to one another. With Fraser, he could talk about anything . . . well . . . just about anything.
As of late, Ray had been experiencing feelings . . . feelings he had never even thought about before. He couldn't even remember when they first started. It was like one day they weren't there and the next day, there they were, as if he felt that way his whole life . . . or at least as long as he'd known Fraser.
Fraser . . . at night, when Ray was having trouble sleeping (which was a common occurrence as of late) he would think of Fraser and what crazy thing he had gotten them into that day. Just thinking about him calmed Ray enough to get a few hours of sleep but then there were the nights that didn't even help. Those were the nights Ray would be reminded of the fact he had no one to talk to about these feelings. Fraser was the one he always spilled his guts to and he was certain he couldn't tell Fraser what his guts were thinking.
On the nights he couldn't sleep, like this very night, he would imagine what would happen if he told Fraser how he felt, two scenarios played in his head. The first, Fraser's eyes would widen in fear of the words Ray would have told him, right before he turned to run in terror with Diefenbaker in chase. The second scenario, Fraser would wrap his arms around Ray, holding him so close Ray never would want to part from his warmth, strength, gentleness and body.
Ray rolled over from his back to his side, curling up in the comforter lying on top of him. When did this all start . . . Ray couldn't remember the exact date, time or event that revealed his feelings towards the Mountie. All he could remember was the avalanche of emotions started after the Victoria incident. At least that was when he was certain of his feelings. He still felt guilty for how that all went down. The fact that he nearly killed the one he loved chilled him to the bone.
A shiver passed through Ray's body. Why was he thinking about that now? That was so long ago. Fraser and Ray's relationship healed with time. If anything, their struggle to survive (and catch a fleeing murderer) in the Canadian wilderness after their plane crashed brought them closer than they were before Victoria hit town. Maybe that's when it happened.
Fraser had this way of helping Ray learn things about himself, discover himself and boy had he discovered himself. Maybe it started when Zuko tried to have Fraser killed that late night at the bus terminal. Ray could feel the rage building inside him just thinking about Zuko and the attempt to end Fraser's life. The funny thing was that had the attempt been successful, Fraser's life wouldn't have been the only one ended. Ray's life would have stopped as well.
When he saw Fraser's lifeless body lying on the corridor floor, Ray's heart sunk lower than his stomach, only the worst thoughts could pass through his mind, 'Not Benny, not like this, not now.' Luckily, Fraser was a strong man and was able to kick the gun as one of Zuko's men aimed the deadly shot at him, thank God.
Ray tossed again to lay on his other side and breathed a heavy sigh when he saw what time it was, 3:15am. He began thinking about the one day his mother invited Fraser over for a typical Vecchio family dinner. Before dinner, Ray was horsing around with his sister's kids when he caught Fraser looking at him, smiling at him and what a smile that was. Ray became lost in those eyes. It made Ray happy to see Fraser in such an elated state. Ray closed his eyes finally and fell asleep.
This was not like Fraser, waking up in the middle of the night and not being able to return to his slumber. Straining in the darkness, he looked at his watch, 3:15am. Fraser sat up and looked towards where Diefenbaker was laying, sound asleep, dreaming. As he got out of bed, Fraser walked to the window overlooking West Racine. He breathed a heavy sigh that fogged up the window slightly. With a smirk on his face, he brought up his finger and drew a heart in the moisture. What that heart represented was his life line, his soul mate.
Fraser didn't have many people in Chicago that he could confide in. Actually there was only one person, Ray. Ray and Fraser became friends instantly the moment they met. Okay, so maybe Fraser got on his nerves a bit, what was it he said about him one day, "You're the most irritating man in the world", but Fraser believed they grew on each other like moss on a tree. Fraser could just envision the look on Ray's face at such a comment. The rolling of his eyes, with the phrase "Oh, brother," falling from his lips. Fraser laughed to himself.
Why did it have to change? He didn't even realize it had happened when it did. When did he first notice the change? It was one day when Mrs. Vecchio had invited him over for dinner. Ray was chasing one of his nieces or nephews around the living room when he was tackled by the whole troop of Maria's kids. Ray went down quickly without a fight. The sight of him falling was hilarious. Ray didn't hurt himself but he was acting like the kids were winning the war. The children giggled and laughed and that made him smile a very loving smile. Ray saw him smiling and before Fraser knew what hit him, the army of Vecchios (including Ray) was assaulting Fraser with tickling fingers.
Fraser tried to retain his composure but there was no use. Fraser fell out of the chair he was seated in and a laugh escaped him like no other laugh. Ray was holding Fraser down while the children continued their ticklish assault. It was getting to the point where Fraser was becoming breathless, gasping for air in-between giggles, when Ray called the troops off, having to remove some of them physically. Fraser lay on the living room floor for at least five minutes trying to catch his breath. Ray kneeled beside Fraser's mid chest and laughed at the sight of the beaten Mountie. It was a wonderful laugh and Fraser enjoyed hearing it. Whenever Ray laughed like that, he got a twinkle in his eyes that told Fraser he was truly happy.
Ray stopped laughing and was just staring into Fraser's eyes. Fraser started getting a lump in his throat that extended to a knot in his stomach. Ray smiled, "Here Benny, let me help you up." Ray extended his hand and Fraser took hold as he was pulled up off the floor.
Diefenbaker made a whimpering sound that caused Fraser to turn his attention away from the window. Diefenbaker was still sound asleep and Fraser resolved it was best to at least try to get some sleep before the morning hit. As he crawled back into bed the vision of Ray's smiling face passed through his mind and before he knew it, he was sound asleep.
Fraser was already standing outside his apartment building when the Riv came around the corner. Diefenbaker stood up at the sight of the familiar car. Fraser approached the curb as Ray brought his beloved vehicle to a stop. "Good morning Ray," Fraser said as he opened the passenger door. He pulled the passenger seat forward to let Diefenbaker in, released the seat to its upright position and then got into the car himself.
"Hey Benny." Ray didn't even look at his best friend. Diefenbaker grumbled from the back seat. "Good morning Dief." Ray said in a slightly condescending voice.
After Fraser was situated in the Riv, he turned to look at his friend. There was a look of exhaustion on Ray's face, dark circles under his eyes and he was yawning. Ray put his foot on the gas and the Riv took off down the street, heading towards the consulate.
"Ray, are you okay?" There was a look of concern of Fraser's face.
"Ya, Benny, why do you ask?"
"Well, you just look . . . tired."
Ray was tired. Not only was he tired from his lack of sleep but also he was tired from the stress of suppressing his feelings. It took all his strength to not tell his friend the thoughts in his head. It would be so natural just to tell Fraser, he would make sense out of it all for Ray and help him through it. Ray turned his head to look at his friend briefly. Those wonderful blue eyes made his heart melt. The caring in his friend's voice made his heart break. "It's nothing Benny."
"It doesn't look like nothing Ray. You look like something is really bothering you." Fraser was arguing.
"Don't worry Benny, I am fine." What a lie he had.
Fraser didn't believe his friend. He hated seeing Ray in such a state. His eyes were sad and his mouth was turned in a slight frown. He even noted Ray's unusually tight grip on the steering wheel. The last time he saw Ray looking like this was when Victoria hit town. "You know you can tell me anything."
The knife in Ray's heart was twisting. How he wished he could tell Fraser but he knew that had he, he would be ruining the best friendship he'd ever had with another human being. Their relationship was even better that what he had with his wife . . . ex-wife. Why did things have to be so difficult? Why did he have to fall in love with his best friend? Was he in love?
"Ya, Benny, I know. Trust me, I am fine. Just suffering from a little insomnia, that's all." Ray hated lying to Fraser but he knew it was for the best.
Ray had seen Fraser's reactions to the advances women made on him. Fraser either was totally oblivious to the advance or he would get the "deer caught in headlights" look. The latter look Ray adored seeing. It was also the look normally given to Francesca when she made an advance on him, which was daily. Ray could only imagine how Fraser would react if a man, let alone his best friend, made such an advance on him.
Ray brought the Riv to a stop in front of the consulate. Both men just sat there, not moving. Fraser was hoping Ray would confess what ever was bothering him, he wanted to help Ray. It was Fraser's nature to always help Ray but Ray just wanted Fraser out of his car before he said something they both would regret.
Fraser made the fist move to open the passenger door when Ray's right hand reached and grab hold of Fraser's left wrist. Fraser froze as he sucked in his breath and held it for a second. When he turned to look at his friend, Ray was just staring at him. "What is it Ray?" Concern filled Fraser's voice. Concern for his friend, concern for what was actually going on in his head and concern . . .. Concern that if he didn't let go of his wrist, there was no telling what Fraser was going to say or do.
"Thanks Benny," ray finally answered, a smile spread across his face.
That was what Fraser wanted to see his smile. "For what Ray?"
"For just being here for me even though I'm not being too social." Ray let go of Fraser's wrist and turned back to face forward, gripping the steering wheel even tighter than before. "I'll see you after work."
"Okay Ray, we'll see you then." Fraser got out of the car, pulled the seat forward to let Diefenbaker out and closed the door. Fraser was glad to be out of the close space of that car. "Diefenbaker, what am I going to do?" Diefenbaker just looked up at Fraser with no comment to give. "You're a lot of help." Fraser turned to enter the consulate with Diefenbaker following.
"You didn't have to buy these for me. I am perfectly capable of buying . . ." Fraser began before being cut off.
"Benny, I wanted to do this for you. Can't you just simply say 'Thank you kindly' and be appreciative?"
"I am very appreciative Ray, thank you kindly."
"You're welcome kindly."
"Ray, why are we doing this again?" Fraser asked as he was struggling to stay in a standing position.
"Benny, I told you, we are going to try something new and exciting . . . that shouldn't get us killed," Ray replied as he stood next to Fraser, checking to make sure all Fraser's pads were securely fastened. "Call it a pre-vacation adventure." It was the last weekend both men were going to be together before Fraser left on his two weeks vacation in Canada. Ray wanted to enjoy the remaining time he had with his friend. It would be the first time they were apart for an extended period of time.
"I don't know about this. If I were meant to roll around like a car . . . I would, well frankly, I would be a car." Fraser was very skeptical at Ray's decision of a "fun" afternoon activity but decided to go along with it to please him. Fraser was always dragging Ray off on bizarre cases; even Fraser didn't understand where they all came from. Fraser checked his helmet to make sure it was fastened properly then rechecked his elbow and kneepads himself.
"Come on Fraser, where's your sense of adventure? You do all sorts of crazy things..." Ray began.
"Well, I wouldn't call them crazy . . ."
"As I said, you do all sorts of crazy things. What's wrong with a little roller blading?" Ray was rolling his feet back and forth while saying that, teasing Fraser. "You know how to ice skate, what's the difference?"
"Well, in ice skating, when you fall, you're skidding across a piece of ice. In roller blading, when you fall, you're skidding across concrete." Fraser had tried many activities in life, but roller blading wasn't one of them. It never seemed important to learn or do. Why was he doing it again? Oh yes, to please Ray.
"Concrete, ice, what difference does it make?" Ray questioned as he was checking his own protective gear.
"The amount of blood drawn on impact." Fraser stated mater-of-factly.
Ray laughed at that comment which caused Fraser to laugh as well. "Are you ready?" Ray asked as he stood behind Fraser and placed his hands on Fraser's hips to steady him on his first time out. Fraser's whole body went rigid at Ray's touch. "Relax Benny, I won't let anything happen to you, I promise." Ray could feel Fraser's muscles tense when he touched him but shrugged it off as him being nervous about roller blading.
Fraser knew Ray would never let anything happen to him or harm him in any way. Well, at least not on purpose but he was feeling uncomfortable with Ray's hands being some place they normally aren't. He didn't trust himself. "OK, I'm ready," Fraser said.
The roller blading went better than expected that afternoon. Fraser got the hang of it pretty quick, like he did with everything else he learned. A few falls and a little laughter were experienced but no major injuries, until they hit the big hill. Ray was no longer holding onto his friend as both were making good progress on their own. It was a steep hill and Fraser hit it first. The decline was nothing to worry about at first. Fraser didn't notice anything until it was too late. He was picking up speed quicker than he could handle. "Ray!"
There was panic in the voice that called his name and when he looked, Fraser was ten feet away from him with the distance and speed growing. "Fraser!"
"I can't stop Ray!" Fraser was doing his best to stay calm, to not panic but it was too late. Arms flailing, he was starting to fumble as he was trying to brake but he didn't fall, yet. During most of the day's lessons, they stayed on the straightaway, no major declines so braking wasn't a really big issue to learn, hindsight is 20/20.
Ray started to gain on Fraser due to the decline in the hill and his own efforts. What did he get the Mountie into this time? It seemed to take forever to reach Fraser but once he was in reaching distance, Ray grabbed hold of Fraser's right arm and with all his strength flung him around in a clockwise swing towards the grass that lined the path they were on. Fraser and Ray hit the ground hard and Ray was the first to recover from the impact. As he was struggling to a kneeling position he heard Fraser groan and then cough. Reaching over, Ray turned Fraser over to his back and was shocked at the amount of blood that had already drained from his nose. "Oh, my God Benny, are you all right?"
Fraser could taste the blood on his lips and as Ray sat him up, it began dripping down on his shirt. The pain was excruciating and his nose was throbbing. He looked at Ray and there was a look of horror on his face. "I think I'm all right," Fraser said, it sounded like he had a cold as he said it.
"Here," Ray began as he shed his own T-shirt that he was wearing, "you can use this until we get back to the car, I have a towel in my bag and there is some water we can get you cleaned up with." Ray handed his shirt to Fraser and once again that awkward feeling set in on them both. Fraser was staring at Ray's chest for a good minute or two before he realized it, then quickly turned and applied pressure to his nose with Ray's T-shirt.
Ray moved to Fraser's feet and began unfastening the death contraptions commonly referred to as roller blades. Never again, Ray vowed. After he removed Fraser's skates, he grabbed hold of his toes and Fraser looked at Ray. There that look was Ray noted, the deer look. "Benny, I'm so sorry this happened. It's my fault, I should have stressed on how to use the brakes." Ray felt bad, he had promised to not let anything happen but he did.
"Ray, it's not your fault, it was just a freak accident, that's all," Fraser said as he was trying to stand up. Ray got up and stretched out his hand. Fraser took hold with his free hand and Ray pulled Fraser up from the ground.
"Let's go back to the car, you look terrible," Ray said as he picked up Fraser's roller blades.
"Thanks Ray," Fraser said slightly sarcastically as he and Ray began their trek back to the car. Fraser limped the entire way. "I did have fun today though." Fraser normally enjoyed anytime they spent together and today was no exception. "A little more bloody than I like but I enjoyed it."
Ray laughed at the last comment. "I enjoyed it too Benny."
The car was a sight for sore eyes as they approached it. Ray opened the passenger door first, reached into the back seat for his duffel bag and sat Fraser in the passenger seat facing out the side of the car. Ray began digging in the duffel bag for his towel and the water bottle he brought. Once in hand, he opened the bottle, poured the water on the towel to dampen it and moved closer to Fraser to start cleaning him up and once again, the deer look appeared as Ray began wiping Fraser's face with the wet towel.
Ray felt awful for how the day turned out, they had been having a lot of fun most of the afternoon. It was good to see Fraser let loose for a change. Ray was so busy worrying about Fraser; he didn't notice the look on his face until he looked into Fraser's eyes. Ray froze, he loved the look but he isn't the one Fraser should be giving the look to. "I think you can take it from here." Ray handed Fraser the towel so he could finish cleaning himself up.
When Fraser was finished cleaning the blood off his face, you wouldn't have known what happened if there wasn't blood on his shirt and his nose was slightly red from the impact. When he handed the towel and T-shirt back to Ray, all Fraser could think was 'I have ruined yet another article of Ray's clothing.' Ray had put another T-shirt on that was in the duffel bag and placed the soiled articles back in said bag. He didn't even make a comment about his ruined shirt, which struck Fraser as being odd.
"Come on Benny, I'll take you home" Ray said as he headed for the driver's door. "Maybe after you change we can go grab a bite to eat."
"That sounds like a good idea Ray."
"Hello, Ray?" Fraser said as he picked up the receiver at the top of the phone poll.
"Hey Benny, how's the vacation going?"
"It's everything a Mountie could ask for Ray, lots of fresh air, plenty of exercise. How are things in Chicago?" Fraser was surprised be hearing from his friend. Fraser was due back in Chicago the following day and he couldn't wait to see his friend.
"Ah, you know Benny, Chicago's Chicago. Listen, I'm just calling to let you know I may not be at the train to pick you up."
"That's no hardship Ray, I have legs. I can walk."
"I know you have legs Benny, that's not the point. I'm just calling to let you know that ... you may be on your own for a while." Fraser didn't like the tone in Ray's voice.
"Is something wrong?" Fraser asked with concern.
"No, why would anything be wrong. I'm just calling to let ya know that I'd like to be there to pick you up but if I can't be there, it's not because I didn't want to be it's because something came up." Ray was sounding annoyed. He wasn't annoyed with Fraser, more annoyed at the situation he found himself in and the fact he couldn't really tell Fraser what was going on.
"You sure everything's all right?"
"Look Benny, I don't know if they have a similar thing up there in Canada but down here in America, we have this thing called Friendship and this is something that a friend would do like, for example, if one friend calls another friend he's suppose to meet at a certain time and a certain place and he can't, he usually calls him to let him know."
"So, everything is all right?" Fraser didn't trust the tone Ray was using, he sensed there was something more but his friend wouldn't divulge any information.
"Yeah Benny, everything is all right."
"Well, that's good to hear Ray."
"It's good to hear your voice." Ray's heart was breaking at the thought that this would be the last time he would hear his best friend's voice and that he would never see him before he had to leave. "Listen, I want you to have a safe trip and I will be in touch."
"All right Ray."
"You understand that I will be in touch?" Fraser had no idea what Ray was trying to say nor what he was thinking or feeling at that very moment.
"As a friend?"
"Yeah Benny, as a friend."
After Ray hung up the phone, Fraser did the same. Fraser couldn't get the feeling out of his system that there was something Ray was keeping from him. It was the same feeling he had the last time he spoke to his father before his death. Fraser climbed down the phone poll.
"I'm sure it's nothing Dief." Fraser tried to convince himself. "My imagination is probably getting the best of me."
As Ray grabbed his duffel bag to leave the 27th Precinct for the last time for who knew how long, he waved at Lieutenant Welsh and never looked back. 'This is for the best,' he thought. Now he could suppress the feelings he was experiencing without being distracted by the object of his affection. He didn't want to leave. He would miss Fraser beyond belief, as well as his family and friends but he knew they would all understand, Fraser most of all. Hopefully, when it was time to return to his life, his emotions wouldn't be so raw. Tears started welling up in his eyes as he remembered what he had told Fraser once, 'Alone, we're incomplete but together, we're better than we are separately'. How true that was.
'Alone, we're incomplete but together, we're better than we are separately.' Those words replayed in Fraser's mind as he sat in his office, in the dark. Diefenbaker had already retired for the night and was snoring, quietly for a change.
It was Fraser's first day back from vacation and he was miserable. Upon arrival he was shocked to find his apartment burned down and to make matters worse, when he went to check in at the 27th Precinct, he found an impostor posing as his best friend. It took him all day to find out what was going on; nearly getting Ray's impostor and himself killed in the process. When he was finally clued into the situation of Ray Vecchio's undercover assignment, heartache, despair, anger and understanding were the key emotions he experienced.
Heartache, because Fraser had decided, while on vacation, to expose his feelings towards Ray, to Ray. Despair, because now he had to live with the decision he made but couldn't receive closure for. Anger, because Ray had left him. Understanding, because he understood Ray's logic maybe even better than Ray himself. This made him even angrier because he couldn't stay mad at Ray for choosing the assignment. Fraser knew he, himself would've done the same thing if he was in Ray's shoes but it didn't make it hurt any less.
Then Fraser remembered the telephone conversation they had the day before. Ray was saying goodbye and Fraser didn't even pick up on that. Fraser was so elated just to hear Ray's voice he didn't even pick up on the clues but he did know something was wrong, just too chicken to push the issue. He figured that when he returned to Chicago he would be able to help Ray with whatever was bothering him. Help Ray, that was all he wanted to do now, help Ray and there was nothing he could do. Fraser felt helpless at this point.
A heavy sigh escaped Fraser as he leaned back in his chair to rub his eyes. Things weren't going to be too bad though, he did have another partner to team up with at the precinct and after having dinner with him, Fraser deduced Stan was a good cop and they would make a good partnership, or duet as Stan called it, during his friend's absence. The only thing Fraser was worried about was the thought of Ray never returning. He quickly banished such a thought from his mind as he got up to change for bed. It was already after midnight - way beyond the Mountie's bedtime - and he was exhausted.
Once changed and laying on his bedroll on his office floor, he was having problems getting to sleep. How he wished he could be cradled in the arms of the one he loved and softly soothed into a deep sleep. The only thing he kept thinking about was the chorus to a song that a fellow (yet younger) Mountie had played for him while on vacation in Canada:
"I am barely breathing
I can't find the air
Don't know who I'm kidding
Imagining you care
I could stand here waiting
A fool for another day
I don't suppose it's worth the price
The price that I would pay
But I'm thinking it over anyway"
Those words reminded him of his love for Ray, the unrequited love for his best friend. After an hour of tossing and turning, Fraser finally fell asleep, to dream of what could have been and was not.
"It has been one week since my last confession." Each week he confessed the same things: lied, cursed, hadn't been attentive to his family and friends, missed church and the biggest of them all was his undying love towards his best friend. He thought that being away from Fraser would suffocate the feelings he was having but it only made them stronger. The priest never understood why he confessed the latter one but he always forgave him, no questions asked.
It was a chilly evening as Fraser and Stan sat near the campfire, well, park fire. They had finally figured out who had killed pretzel vendor Mr. Tucci and now, Fraser was enjoying his relaxing evening outdoors with a little company from his partner. Fraser had just finished his ghost story, one that he seemed to really get into and both men were quite. A howl was heard in the distance.
"Very funny Dief, hardy ha ha," Stan said as he rubbed his hands together holding them over the fire. "Hey Fraser, have you ever been in love?" He asked as he stared up at the stars above. It was an unusually clear night out and he started counting the stars. One, two, three . . .
Fraser had to ponder that question. Could he trust this man he considered his friend with the truth? Fraser didn't think Stan could handle such honesty. "In what sense Ray?"
"In the sense of have you ever been so in love with another person you couldn't eat, you couldn't sleep or you couldn't think straight. So in love that when you even just thought about the person you couldn't breath." Ten, eleven, twelve, Stan continued counting.
Fraser rarely showed any emotional attachment towards anyone and when there was a hint of anything, it was easily explained away by Fraser. "Well Ray," Fraser began as he stoked the fire, "Yes, I have been in love." Short and to the point Fraser was. He still had no idea how to begin this conversation or explanation.
Stan quickly straightened up getting in a position to give Fraser his full, undivided attention. Stan sensed a story coming and he was getting bored counting the stars. Rubbing his hands together he said, "Okay great wise one, spill your guts."
Fraser smiled at that comment. Stan was a silly man and Fraser liked that about him. "Well Ray, this story begins a long time ago, on a far off Mountain top where I fell in love for the first time or at least I thought it was love. She and two men robbed a bank in Alaska. One of them died, one of them fled south and she came across the border in a light airplane. It was forced down because of bad weather. The pilot abandoned her. I tracked her to a place called Fortitude Pass. A storm had been blowing for days and by the time I found her I'd lost everything - my pack, my supplies. She was huddled in a crag on the lee side of a mountain, almost frozen, very near death. So I staked a lean-to with my rifle and draped my coat around it and I held on to her whilst the storm closed in around us. I kept talking to her to keep her from slipping away from me. It snowed for a day and a night and a day and when I couldn't talk anymore I put her fingers in my mouth to keep them warm. I don't remember losing consciousness but I do remember being aware that I was dying. And then I heard her voice . . . She was reciting a poem over and over . . . I couldn't make out the words but I couldn't stop listening, she had the most beautiful voice . . . It was as though I had known her forever - across a thousand life times . . ." Fraser paused for a moment taking in the information he was relaying for the first time to Stan. It had been so long since he ever told another person this story yet he remembered every detail quite clearly. He could hardly believe the mistake that could've been made had he chose to be with Victoria ...
"So, what happened?" Stan was sitting on the edge of this seat, wide eyed staring at Fraser, waiting for the rest of the story.
"I thought I loved her Ray. In those few days, I believed I loved her," Fraser sighed. "The storm finally broke and we were alive. After a day we found my pack and we ate everything I had in one meal. And it took us four days to reach the nearest outpost. We camped just outside the town in sight of the church steeple. And I held her in my arms and she asked me to let her go. You see no one knew that I found her. The police didn't even know her name. I could just let her go and she could walk away that night." A frown spread on Fraser's face.
"What did you do?"
"I did my duty Ray. What else could I do? I arrested her and took her in to serve time for her part in the robbery."
"So is she the one I read about in Vecchio's Files?" Stan asked.
Fraser made eye contact with Stan. "Yes, she is the one. That was Victoria."
"Man, she really worked you over good . . . and got away with it." Stan couldn't believe how weak this man could be. He never saw that side of Fraser before. "So you said you 'thought' you loved her, you didn't?"
"Well, Ray, it wasn't until I was in Chicago that I realized I didn't love her really . . . I mean when she came back, I felt more of an obligation to help her . . . and I was just plain lonely. I thought she was my last chance at being happy . . . being loved. I was wrong. I think I was more scared of her than in love with her."
"So, have you actually loved someone then?" Stan was pushing for information now, he knew there was more to be divulged.
"As I said, yes. I do love someone . . . but it is something that will never be, I have come to accept that, as painful as it may be."
Stan saw the sadness on Fraser's face, how could anyone deny this man the love he deserved. Stan understood what Fraser was going through. Ever since his divorce from Stella, Stan had the feeling of abandonment left in his heart and after the fiasco with Mrs. Tucci's caretaker today, he was feeling he would never get over it. "Who is it? Is it the Ice Queen? I'll have to have a talk with . . ."
"No Ray, it is not Inspector Thatcher . . . although we did experience a slight flirtation but I do believe we were just . . . lonely." Fraser answered matter-of-factly.
Stan's eyes were bulging at the words spilling from Fraser's mouth. "What? You and the Ice Queen?" He couldn't believe his ears.
"Well, yes, but like I said, it was just wrong . . . she's my superior officer."
"Okay, so it's not Thatcher . . . It's not Francesca cause if it were, all you would need to do is give her a look and she'd be all over you, more than she normally is." Stan was at a loss. He had no clue who Fraser was referring to. "Who is it Fraser? I am running out of guesses here."
Fraser cracked his neck and cleared his throat. "Now remember Ray, you asked." Fraser was trying to prepare Stan for his secret.
"Ya, ya, I know and I am waiting for an answer." Stan was getting impatient as always.
"No, not Ray? I mean I love Ray, Ray Vecchio," Fraser clarified.
"What?" Stan asked with a confused sound in his voice and an even more confused look on his face.
"I love the real Ray Vecchio," Fraser repeated without making eye contact with Stan. "I'm not sure when my feelings towards him changed from being friends to being in love with him but I do believe it started from the first time we met."
"And he doesn't know?" Stan asked still slightly stunned by the revelation.
"No, I never told him. When I was on vacation last, I had decided upon my return to expose my feelings towards him but as you know, when I returned he was gone and you were in his place." Fraser finally looked at Stan and he was surprised that he didn't have a disgusted look on his face as he thought he would. Stan was being more inquisitive in a caring and friendly way. Fraser was grateful that Stan was being so understanding. Fraser was grateful to actually be able to tell someone else his secret; it had been eating a hole in his heart.
"How do you know he doesn't feel the same way?" Stan asked, trying in anyway to cheer his friend up.
"I just know. Ray would never . . ."Fraser began.
"How do you know? How do you know? He never had a chance to say 'Fraser, no, I don't love you.'"
"Ray, I think I know him well enough to say, I just know." Fraser was being stubborn on this fact. When he last talked on the phone with Ray before his return from vacation, when Ray said 'It's good to hear your voice,' Fraser heart leaped higher than he already was, standing at the top of a phone poll . . . that was when he decided to tell Ray his feelings. Why did he have to leave? "Ray, please don't tell anyone this information. I am trusting you with my life here." Fraser had always worried about telling anyone his true feelings towards his best friend and now that he had, he was worrying even more.
"Mums the word Fraser. Your secret is safe with me."
"Thank you Ray."
It was a beautiful day in Fraser's opinion. The air was crisp with the smell of winter and there was a fresh blanket of snow on the ground that crunched when walked upon. The sound of carolers drifted through the air and warmed his heart on his trek to the Vecchio household.
It was Christmas Eve and Mrs. Vecchio had invited Fraser over to spend the holiday eve and day with the family. He was reluctant to come at first but when she told him her promise to her son, to make sure Fraser didn't spend any holiday (especially Christmas) alone, Fraser couldn't refuse the offer. He could never deny Ray anything and this was what Ray wanted. Even though he was gone, Fraser still couldn't deny Ray's request.
Diefenbaker trotted ahead of Fraser fully aware of where they were headed. "You know, she spoils you too much." Fraser said to Diefenbaker in regards to Mrs. Vecchio. Diefenbaker ignored . . . or didn't hear the comment and continued walking. When they arrived at the Vecchio home, Fraser stood in front of the house looking at all the lights. They reminded him of the one year he helped Ray put them up . . . what a disaster that was . . .
"Hey Benny, glad you could make it." Ray said as he came around the house hauling a box brimming with every color and kind of Christmas light imaginable. Ray was bundled up as if it were below zero when it was really just around thirty degrees. He always was a cold person but only physically.
"Ray, I said I would be here," Fraser began, "although I personally have no experience what so ever with Christmas decorating, but If you need my help . . ." Fraser continued but was cut off.
"Yeah Benny, I need your help. First I need help untangling these blasted lights then you can make sure I don't fall off the roof by steadying the ladder. Do you have experience in that?" Ray handed the box of lights to Fraser.
"Yes Ray, I believe I do." Fraser carried the box to the porch of the Vecchio home and sat down to start the untangling process of last years clean up.
Ray headed back around the house to retrieve the ladder. He wasn't gone but five minutes when he came back around to the front of the house and found Fraser in the middle of the front lawn staring up at the house. Ray set the ladder down and walked over to Fraser's side. "What are we doing Benny?"
"I was just admiring your home's structure, very impressive," Fraser said matter-of-factly.
"Well, don't you think you should be working on the lights over there?" Ray asked with a slight irritation in his voice.
"Oh, I'm done with them," Fraser replied as he headed towards the porch to grab the neatly coiled lights, "see." Ray just stood there, blinking with his mouth hanging open. "Ray, close your mouth." Fraser reached towards Ray's jaw and placing his hand under Ray's chin, he closed his mouth.
"Fraser, how'd you do that? It normally takes me hours just to get the lights untangled let alone string them on the house."
Fraser shrugged his shoulders. "It was nothing Ray. Glad to be of service." Fraser handed the box to Ray and patted him on the shoulder.
Ray just stood there glaring at Fraser, anger rising. "You are the most irritating man in the world."
"Oh shut up." Ray carried the box of lights Fraser so neatly coiled and headed for the ladder. "Now, you stand here," Ray pointed to the space left of the ladder, "and hold her steady while I'm up there. Capise?"
"Yes Ray, Capise."
As Ray headed up the ladder, Fraser stood vigilant guard over it, keeping at least one hand on it at all times. Fraser would stand in one spot for ten to fifteen minutes before Ray would come back down, move the ladder a foot or so, and head back up. This repetition went on for a good two hours. During Ray's last and final trip up the ladder, while Fraser was standing guard, Fraser heard a noise that sounded as if it were moving in his direction. He turned to his left and saw Diefenbaker running towards him. The wolf wasn't just running towards Fraser, more like the Vecchio children were chasing him and Diefenbaker was running to Fraser for protection. Before Fraser had a chance to react, Diefenbaker jumped into the air. Seeing his wolf flying towards him, his immediate reaction was to yell, "Dief, No!" but it was a useless protest because Diefenbaker was already a hurtling projectile.
Just as Fraser yelled the protest, Diefenbaker hit Fraser fully on the chest causing him to lose his balance. Everything seemed to move in slow motion from that point on. After losing his balance, Fraser teetered backwards hitting against the ladder that Ray was standing on causing it to sway and begin to fall. All Fraser could hear was Ray yelling, "Fraser!" In his panicked yet irritated way.
Fraser heard the ladder hit the ground and was afraid to look but knew he had to check on his friend to make sure he was all right. As Fraser stood up to take in the damage done, Ray was nowhere to be found . . . on the ground. Instead, Fraser heard grunts coming from above and as he looked up, there was Ray dangling from the rooftop. "Oh dear." Fraser made eye contact with Diefenbaker "I will deal with you later," he said causing his wolf to run back around the house to hide from his master. Diefenbaker knew he was in trouble by the facial expressions displayed by Fraser and by the sight of Fraser's friend, hanging from the roof.
Fraser grabbed the ladder, leaned it back against the house, just inches away from Ray and started heading up the backside of the ladder. Once at the level where Ray was hanging, Fraser reached out his hand for Ray to grab a hold of. When Ray reached for Fraser's hand, there was fear in his eyes. Fraser had never seen such a look on Ray's face before. He felt extremely guilty for causing this kind of terror in a person he cared for very deeply.
Keeping a tight hold of Ray's hand, Fraser helped Ray inch his way back to the ladder until he could grab onto the ladder and climb on. Once on the ladder, Ray stood at the same level as Fraser. Both men were facing each other and breathing hard. Ray's eyes were shut; he couldn't believe what had just happened. Fraser reached around the ladder and put his right hand on Ray's left shoulder. "Are you all right Ray?"
Ray's breathing began to even out as he slowly opened his eyes, part of him didn't believe he was actually safe on the ladder. Fraser was expecting Ray to explode at him for causing the accident but he was surprised by Ray's answer. Ray looked into Fraser's eyes, and seeing how scared he was, Ray replied in a soft voice, "Yeah Benny, I'm all right." Ray smiled the gorgeous smile that made Fraser's heart soar. "Now let's get down from here."
"All right Ray."
Fraser breathed a heavy sigh remembering that memory of Ray's smile. How he missed that smile and those wonderful hazel-green eyes. Fraser could see Ray's soul through those eyes. Fraser shook his head, "Come on Dief, they are probably wondering were we are." Fraser began walking towards the Vecchio home, in his hands he carried bags with Christmas presents he made for the entire clan and on his back, his backpack with his bed roll and a change of clothes for the following day.
Fraser barely made it to the front door when it opened. "Hi Fraser," Francesca said as she stood in the doorway looking at Fraser in a slightly provocative way. She was the only draw back about staying the night but for Ray, he would do anything.
Clearing his throat, Fraser responded in a slightly cracking voice, "Hello Francesca, and Merry Christmas to you." How he wished Ray was here to fend off his sister's advances. Fraser never felt comfortable around Francesca, especially since the night she showed up at this apartment in a seductive manor. Each day that went by after that got worse.
"Frannie, leave the poor guy alone, he just got here," Stan Kowalski said as he grabbed Francesca's arm and pulled her out of the doorway. "Hey Fraser, what's shakin'?"
'I am,' Fraser thought. "Ray, I didn't expect you to be here. This is a nice surprise." It was a nice surprise in deed. Stan could see how uncomfortable Francesca made Fraser and he usually stepped in when she would cross the line with her flirtation, which was invariably. That was one thing Stan and Ray were equally good at and Fraser was grateful towards both men.
"Well, I am Ray Vecchio aren't I? Where else would I be on Christmas Eve?" Stan grabbed a bag from Fraser. "Come on in, it's cold out here."
Fraser followed Stan into the house. "Ray, if I knew you would be here, I would have waited in giving you your Christmas present." Fraser felt bad that he had a load of presents and not one for his friend.
"It's okay Fraser, it's not like you forgot ya know," Stan said. "Anyway, I'm like a kid at heart. I love opening presents early." Fraser smiled at that comment. Stan was like a kid at heart that was the perfect description of him. "Anyway, tomorrow I'll be heading home to my mom and dad's"
"I thought she was your mom?" Fraser said as he pointed towards Mrs. Vecchio.
"Fraser, you know very well she's . . . " Stan was getting irritated.
"Ray, I'm just joking. You really ought to lighted up a bit, it's Christmas you know." Stan just stared at Fraser with the "I'm gonna pop ya in the head" look and walked away. "What?" Fraser called after Stan.
"I'll be home for Christmas, you can count on me . . ." Christmas music played in the background.
"Yeah right," Ray said out loud to himself. "This sure isn't home." The sarcastic tone even disturbed Ray. He was standing at the window overlooking the city, which was lit up like a Christmas tree. He was alone in his . . . Armando's luxury apartment, as he always was each night but on this night, no one should have to be alone.
Ray began pacing and talking out loud. "Benny, is this what it was like when you first came to Chicago? I didn't even realize. How ignorant could I have been to not see the loneliness in your eyes . . . your eyes . . . those big, beautiful starry blue eyes. Just thinking about them gives me goose bumps. Why did I choose to leave? Oh yes, I remember, to get away from you. I had to leave due to my love for you. It is a love stronger than any I have ever felt before. I think I even love you more now than I loved Angie during our entire marriage. Is that possible? How can that be? Are you the one . . . the one true love of my life . . . that will never be? I know you too well to know that we will never be. I value our friendship and if that is as far was we go I can accept that. I would do anything for you Benny, anything, even if it means my unhappiness. As long as you're happy, I will survive."
Ray walked over to the stereo and turned off the music that was depressing him. He shoved in his favorite CD and walked over to the couch to plop down. Resting his head on the back of the couch with his eyes shut, he heard the song begin. "All the leaves are brown . . ." A smile spread across his face.
The evening was much enjoyed by Fraser. The entire Vecchio family, including those he'd never met before, made him feel welcome. Even Stan was welcomed into the fold like family. This was an extraordinary, loving and accepting group of people and Fraser was glad to have been able to spend the holiday with them. It was the closest he was going to get to Ray.
There was a tap on Fraser's shoulder. "Hey Fraser, I'm gonna split now," Stan said as Fraser turned his head to look at him.
"Oh, okay," Fraser stood up and walked around the couch to meet up with Stan. "I'm glad you could be here." Fraser placed a hand on his friend's shoulder as they walked to the door. "Merry Christmas Ray." Fraser pulled Ray towards him for a hug.
"Merry Christmas Fraser."
After Stan departed from the Vecchio party, Fraser grabbed his backpack and went in search of the elusive Mrs. Vecchio. There was only one place she could be and as Fraser walked through the kitchen door he saw her standing by the stove, cooking. She had been cooking all-day, evening and night. Fraser wondered if she would ever stop. Fraser made a noise to clear his throat and to get Mrs. Vecchio's attention.
"Yes, what is it Benton?" Mrs. Vecchio asked as she turned to look at him, wiping her hands on her apron.
"Ma'am, I was wondering, where would you like me to sleep tonight. I have had such a long day; I am truly looking forward to an early night. I have brought my bed roll so anyplace you point out will be good." Fraser pointed to his bedroll tucked at the top of his pack.
"Bed roll, is that like a sleeping bag?" She questioned with a little confusion on the words he used.
"Well, yes Ma'am, it is like a sleeping bag."
"Oh, no, no, no. You will not be sleeping on the floor in my house. We have placed you in Raymondo's room, since he won't be using it tonight." Mrs. Vecchio said, there was a little sadness in her eyes.
"Are you sure Ma'am, I wouldn't want to intrude." Fraser was elated at the idea of sleeping in Ray's bed but he also didn't want to overstep his bounds. Even though it had been over six months since Ray went undercover, it was still a touchy subject to discuss with Mrs. Vecchio.
"Benton, I am sure. This is what Raymondo wanted and stop calling me Ma'am. Please call me Ma," Mrs. Vecchio said as she came towards Fraser and took his arm to lead him up to Ray's bedroom.
"Yes Ma'a . . . Ma." Fraser felt a little uncomfortable with the term of endearment but if it made her happy . . .
Once they were up on the second floor, Mrs. Vecchio pointed out the highlights: all the bedrooms, Fraser made certain to note where Francesca's was so he could steer clear of it; the bathroom and Ray's room, where Fraser was going to stay the night. Upon entering the room, Fraser took a startling breath. "The room still smells like him, I know son," Mrs. Vecchio said. "I come in here whenever I am missing him." A tear streaked down her cheek and Fraser wiped it away. She smiled at him. She could tell and knew he was a good man. "Benton, I have a present for you," She announced as she walked through the room to the dresser.
"I have a present for you too but I thought we would exchange gifts tomorrow?" Fraser was confused.
"No, the gift isn't from me. It is from my son." She turned and she was holding a small gift with a tag that simply read "Benny" on it. Mrs. Vecchio handed the gift to Fraser and kissed him on the cheek. "Merry Christmas Benton. I will leave you alone now." With that said, Mrs. Vecchio walked around a stunned Fraser and left the room closing the door behind her.
Fraser stood staring at the gift for about five minutes before any conscious thought could pass through his brain. The smell of the room intoxicated him. It was almost too much for him to handle. Dropping his pack on the floor he walked over to the bed and sat down. It was the most comfortable bed he had ever felt but then again, Ray wouldn't sleep on anything less. Fraser snickered to himself when he started to unwrap his gift. What he found, confused him at first. It was a blank cassette tape in which a person could record information on. Written on the front, in Ray's handwriting, were the words "Play Me" and on the back "Merry Christmas Benny". Looking around the room, he found a walk man sitting on the bedside table. Fraser slipped the tape in, put the headphones on and listened . . . "All the leaves are brown . . ." Fraser fell back on the bed laughing uncontrollably. He laughed so hard, tears were streaming down his face.
From the other side of the door, Mrs. Vecchio heard the commotion and smiled as she turned to go back downstairs.
The door opened slowly to the luxury apartment as Ray cautiously passed through the threshold, gun drawn. It was pitch black inside and Ray was out of breath from running up all 23 flights of stairs. 'I don't know how Benny does it.' Ray thought to himself as he closed the door quietly, locking it quickly behind him. It took ten agonizing minutes to secure the apartment due to its vast size before Ray would put his gun away and relax.
Talking out loud to himself, Ray said, "They keep telling me my tour of duty is almost up but then they give me another assignment all the while enemies of Armondo Langostini are after me . . . trying to kill him and he's already dead. Yes, I know I have knocked on deaths door many times before, but Benny was usually at my side. Granted, Benny normally caused all those near death experiences but I always knew we would survive. Yes, I know I panicked every time but deep down in my heart, I knew I was safe . . . Benny would never let anything happen to me . . . I questioned that every now and again but I was pretty sure he wouldn't." Ray was pacing around the apartment, arms flailing.
"And now . . . now I have to track down some guy named Muldoon. When is this nightmare ever going to end." Ray was exhausted as he headed to the bedroom. He kicked off his shoes and climbed into bed. All he wanted to do was go home, to his real home, his real job, his real family, his real friends and his Benny. Ray laughed at that thought. "Like he's mine anyway. I at least would like to see him again before I die," Ray sighed as he closed his eyes and curled up in the excess covers on the bed. He fell asleep immediately upon being settled, all the while thinking of being held and protected by Benny.
The case started out like any other they had worked on . . . maybe a little more dangerous than normal, what with the poisonous gas and all but nothing they couldn't handle. When he saw those green eyes in a panic as the words slipped from his lips, Fraser knew he would have to leave Chicago soon. His joy in seeing his best friend, the love of his life, the only person he stayed in Chicago for, was too great. Fraser didn't know what he was saying until it was too late. Luckily for them all, Ray was thinking on his feet and covered up the error in Fraser's judgment.
Now, here Fraser was in the middle of the Northwest Territory with his good friend Stan Kowalski, running from the truth. Both men were running from the same thing, unrequited love. Go figure that the objects of their affections loved each other. Why would either man remain where they weren't wanted?
When he opened the door, never in his wildest dreams (and he'd had some wild ones at that) did he expect to see Fraser staring back at him with those big beautiful blue eyes and that quirky little smile, he just wanted to kiss those lips but they weren't alone. Good thing he was a quick thinker or all three of them would be dead now.
Instead, here he was, in Florida, with a pretty woman at his right and a frilly drink on the left. Although everyone - including Fraser and Stan - were under the assumption he retreated to Florida with the woman of his dreams, to marry and settle down, that wasn't the case. It was all a cover-up, on both present companies parts. Stella and Ray came to Florida as friends, end of story. Both needed a break from Chicago and the people contained there. Even though the people in question were traveling God knows where around the Arctic, there were still the memories that haunted each of them.
"Fraser, how long have we been out here, searching for that there hand thingie?" Stan asked cuddling in his sleeping bag near the fire. Stan loved the time they had spent trying to find that hand. The adventures they had, the things he'd learned, it renewed a spark in his soul that had been blown out when Stella left but he missed Chicago, he missed being the cop Fraser molded him into. Stan knew it was time.
"Six months Ray, why do you ask?" Fraser questioned. It had been a long six months and still nothing, but they had an adventure. Fraser instructed Stan on the finer points of Caribou tracking - amazingly, Stan was pretty good at it too. During one of their visits to a local village, due to his courageous efforts, Stan was named honorary tribal elder. Although he was enjoying being back home, there still was no place for him to lay his hat. It seemed the R.C.M.P.'s higher ups didn't forget things as quickly as the normal human being and Fraser was still an outcast. Fraser was now feeling a little homesick . . . homesick for Chicago, which is something he never thought would happen.
"Fraser, I think it's time to go home," Stan announced.
"I think you're right." There was no arguing on Fraser's part. Diefenbaker barked in agreement causing Stan and Fraser to laugh.
"Spend all your time waiting
For that second chance
For a break that would make it okay
There's always some reason
To feel not good enough
And it's hard at the end of the day . . ."
The music that was playing in the background was turned off. Ray opened one eye and saw his blonde friend standing over him. "Ray, why are you doing this to yourself?" Stella asked as she sat down next to him on his bed. "You're just making it worse."
"Nothing could be worse than how I'm feeling right now." Ray now had both eyes open and they were glassy looking, as if he had or was about to cry. "I thought if I went away undercover and then here in Florida, I could just simply forget about him but it made my feelings stronger. I never thought I could love someone this much. So much . . ." Ray trailed off.
"So much it hurts?" Stella finished.
"Yeah," Ray sighed as he pursed his lips into a pout.
"Ray, the only way you're gonna be able to get passed this is to confront him and your feelings, face to face. Leaving things unsaid as you have . . . everything is bottled up in you and festering." Stella got up off the bed. "Now get up and let's move it."
"What do you mean? Let's move where?" Ray was confused
"Your are going home Ray." Stella pulled his suitcase out from under his bed and opened it. "First you are going home and getting your job back. Then you are going to find Fraser and settle this matter once and for all."
"Stella, I am home, or have you been out in the sun too long that the rays have warped your thinking?" Ray sat up and was just staring at her, unwilling to move.
"Ray, this isn't a home, it's a hiding place." She began packing his suitcase. He couldn't believe she was doing it but there she was rummaging through his drawers packing his clothes.
Ray knew he was hiding. It was the only thing he could think to do when Fraser never returned from the North. Ray assumed Fraser would return after the case was closed and everything would go back to the way it was before he went undercover or at least as normal as things could be when you loved your best friend more than life itself. Then he never returned. How could he do it? Why did he do it? Ray figured he really couldn't complain because it was he who left Fraser high and dry first. Ray ran his hand over his scalp; how he wished it was Benny's touch he felt there. Ray got up and walked over to Stella, placed his hand around her wrist. "Stella . . . thanks."
"For kicking me in the butt." Ray was now helping her pack his own things. "You know, you could come with me . . . take a bit of your own advice."
"Ray," Stella stopped packing. "You know I can't do that." Stella began walking towards Ray's bedroom door to leave when he grabbed her arm.
"Aw, come on Stella, you know you're not happy here, the same as me. Florida's a nice place to visit but I wouldn't want to die here."
Stella smiled at Ray. "I don't know Ray. We parted on some really bad terms ya know." She did want to go home and reclaim her husband. Why she had given him such a hard time she wasn't sure. "I mean, when we left, we left under the cover of a lie."
Ray frowned at that statement, reality check as some would say. What would Fraser and Stan think when they found out the truth. They would both surely be angry but Ray didn't care. All he wanted was to see his Benny again, even if it was for the last time. Maybe Stella was right, he had to confront him face to face. Ray only hoped he had the strength to do so.
A month had passed since Stan and Fraser returned from the Great White North and everything was falling into place. Stan got a job at the 27th Precinct but under his own name. Fraser returned to the consulate to his old job. Seems Turnbull couldn't handle the pressure and he was relieved to see Fraser return to his post. All were happy, finally. Stan's unofficial partner was Fraser and it was as if they had never left.
Things were actually better this time around. Fraser had his own apartment. It wasn't a luxury apartment, pretty much resembled his old apartment (except he had his own bathroom) but it was his and he wouldn't trade it for the world.
Fraser was in his apartment digging through a closet looking for a box he hadn't seen since he and Stan left Chicago that fateful day. Fraser found the box and pulled it out. It was his only possession that survived the apartment fire due to the fact in was being stored at the Vecchio home at the time. Running his hand over it, Fraser remembered the day he received the gift from Ray. He wasn't expecting anything from Ray. It wasn't his birthday or any other special gift giving holiday, it was just Ray being Ray. He was always generous towards Fraser, which caused Fraser to feel guilty because he rarely gave Ray anything in return, but a headache.
Fraser smiled as he thought about his first time out on the roller blades. What a disaster that was. Just thinking about it made his nose hurt. Remembering when Ray was cleaning him up, a knot had formed in Fraser's stomach due to the intimacy of Ray's caring or maybe it was that he wasn't wearing a shirt at the time. There was a knock at the door. "Come in," Fraser called from the closet as he continued his search for the protective gear.
"Hey Fraser buddy, you ready to do a little roller blading?" Stan asked as he walked through the door of Fraser's apartment. Stan still couldn't believe Fraser lived in such a neighborhood and still left his door unlocked. "You know Fraser, you really should use the lock here, that's what it's there for, not purely decoration."
Fraser ignored that comment. "I just have to get my helmet and pads, then I will be ready." Fraser said as he continued to dig through his closet.
"I still can't believe you have roller blades . . . it's just not like you to be frivolous," Stan commented as he walked towards the window in the living room area.
"Well, they were a gift from Ray, so I wasn't being frivolous," Fraser corrected. "Ah-ha," and produced the items he was searching for.
"Ray gave them to you?" Stan questioned as he turned to look at Fraser. "Was it like your birthday or something?"
Fraser grabbed the boxes he found and set them on the bed. "No, he just bought them for me."
"So, you're telling me, he just decided to go out and buy you roller blades and accessories . . . just because." Stan couldn't believe how dense Fraser was being.
"Yes Ray, he's a very generous man. One time, when I was filibustering at a local city counsel meeting to save my apartment building, he handed out I don't know how much of the insurance money he collected for his second Riv . . . just to get people to come in, listen to me talk and pose as my fellow tenants. He's a really good friend to have." Fraser missed that friend very much.
"You know Fraser, sometimes I'm amazed at what you don't see." Stan shook his head in a scolding manner.
"What are you saying Ray?"
"I don't know Ray very well but I do know I've never bought such extravagant gifts for any of my friends . . . just because. I mean come on Fraser, put two and two together. I know you can add." Stan was getting that wild look in his eyes that normally came with a heated discussion with Fraser.
"Ray, if your implying . . . well you're just wrong . . . you have to be wrong . . ." Fraser trailed off as he sank onto his bed.
"Why, what's wrong if he has the same feelings you do?" Stan was now really confused. Couldn't Fraser make up his mind already?
"If Ray "had" the same feelings I did . . . he chose to leave me rather than . . . twice."
The light went on in Stan's head finally. He was not helping Fraser with this conversation. "I'm sorry Fraser . . . I guess I should think before I speak sometimes. Sometimes I just get a little too excited for my own good."
Fraser was grateful for Stan's friendship during these last couple months. Before Ray had returned from his undercover assignment, he lived each day believing when Ray did return, there would be a chance he and Ray could, would get together but when he heard of Ray's flirtations with Stella, all Fraser's hopes, dreams and beliefs were dashed away. When Fraser heard Ray was leaving for Florida with Stella, that fact made it easy for him and Stan to stay away from Chicago as long as they did.
"Ray, I truly appreciate all your efforts but I know when to draw the line and I have." Fraser got up off the bed and grabbed his coat. "Are you ready to go?" Fraser put his coat on and picked up the boxes containing his roller blades and protective gear.
"Ya, sure." Stan reluctantly followed Fraser to the door with Diefenbaker bringing up the rear. Fraser was so stubborn.
Upon Ray's return to Chicago, his first stop was home. His mother was extremely happy and excited to see her son. She was even more thrilled to hear he was home to stay. Next stop, the precinct . . . to grovel for his job back. Ray didn't have to grovel too much, as there was a staffing change and a job opening. Lt. Welsh was very pleased to see Ray return to his precinct. He was proud of Ray's accomplishments while undercover and when Ray had decided to "retire" he felt it was a huge loss for the community.
"So Detective, what made you decide to come back?" Lt. Welsh questioned, sitting behind his desk, eyeing Ray inquisitively.
"I don't know Lieu, a number of reasons. I missed my job. I missed my family. I missed my friends . . . Florida just wasn't for me for a long term period." He missed Fraser most of all but dared not voice that thought.
As Ray was talking with Lt. Welsh in his office, he saw out of the corner of his a familiar face walk into the squad room. He was a sight for sore eyes. What was he doing here . . . what were they doing here? "What's Fraser and Kowalski doing back? Aren't they suppose to be up in Tuktoyaktuk or Runamuckluk or someplace?" Ray asked Lt. Welsh, not taking his eyes off Fraser for a second in fear he would lose him again.
"They returned from their trip up North about a month ago. Kowalski is now working here and Fraser has been his partner of sorts . . . kind of like when you were here before. They make a good team too." Nothing like twisting the knife there Lieutenant.
"They're partners now?" Ray asked with a little disappointment in his voice, he still stared in Fraser's direction.
"Ray, do you ever get the feeling you're being watched?" Fraser asked Stan as he followed him to his desk.
"Yeah, all the time, but I'm a fascinating creature," Stan gave a kooky little grin at that, "Why?"
"I just feel . . . odd right now, like someone is wat . . . " Fraser cut himself short as he panned around the room, finally making eye contact with his observer. A flutter hit his stomach and he couldn't move, he couldn't think. He was stuck in his place, staring into those green eyes he had so missed.
Ray saw the look in his friend's eyes. It was the "deer caught in headlights" look he gave to every woman who ever hit on him. Ray then remembered the last time he saw that look. It was the day they went roller blading. Once again, Ray couldn't understand why he was giving him that look. Francesca maybe, but not his best friend?
Still staring at Ray, Fraser calmly said to Stan, "Ray, we need to go."
"Fraser, hold your horses. I just have to find that report for Welsh and we're out of here," Stan said as he was rummaging through his desk.
"Ray, I need to go. I will wait for you at the car." Fraser didn't even wait for a response when he turned to leave. "Come Dief." Diefenbaker wouldn't budge. He saw whom Fraser was staring at and didn't want to go yet. Diefenbaker whimpered. "Fine, but when Ray leaves, you must come with him," Fraser instructed as he pointed to Stan as to not confuse his furry companion by the presence of two Rays. Diefenbaker grumbled but agreed as Fraser turned and left, quickly. All Fraser really wanted to do was go and hug his friend and never let him go but he knew it wouldn't end at a hug if he did that. He couldn't confront Ray, at least not yet.
Stan just stood there not knowing why his friend was acting so strange. He didn't see the quick movements taking place in Welsh's office as Ray swung the door open and tried to catch Fraser before he left - unsuccessfully.
"Hey Kowalski, what's up with Fraser?" Ray asked walking up behind Stan. Diefenbaker nearly attacked Ray on his arrival. "Hey boy, it's been a long while. I've missed you too!"
Stan finally put two and two together and he wasn't coming up with a good answer. Turning to face Ray, his old persona, he couldn't believe that man was standing in front of him. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"Well, it's nice to see you too but I work here." Ray was stooping down, petting Diefenbaker and the wolf was enjoying every minute.
"You're working here?" This can not be good. Fraser was just coming to terms with what did or should he say did not go down between the two former partners. Ray couldn't have picked a worse time to come home.
"Yeah, let's just say me and Florida didn't agree," Ray said as he stood back up.
"What about your wife?" Stan asked trying to get any information he could about his own ex-wife.
"Well, for your information Mr. Nosey Parker, I am not married but Stella did return to Chicago with me. We decided we were rushing into things too quickly. We're just good friends." There was a twinkle in Stan's eyes as that last sentence dropped from Ray's mouth. "Where'd Benny go?"
"Ah, he musta left something in the car or something . . ." Stan was covering for Fraser's fleeing of the scene or at least trying to. He knew Fraser didn't want to face Ray yet but how long could he run and how far? Maybe he could help, "You could probably catch him, he's waiting for me at the car, black GTO."
"Hey, thanks man. Come on Dief, let's see what Fraser's up to." Ray left the squad room with Diefenbaker following obediently. As Ray walked through the corridor towards the exit, all he wanted was to take Fraser into his arms and give him a big bear hug and never let him go.
When Ray exited the precinct, he spotted the GTO, a very nice car he thought. As he approached it, Fraser was no where to be found. Diefenbaker trotted ahead of him and passed the GTO to the end of the parking area "Now where did he go?" Ray looked around and in the car. When he looked in the car, he saw the box containing the roller blades he gave Fraser so long ago even though it really wasn't all that long ago.
"Where's Fraser?" Stan asked as he approached Ray.
"I don't know, he wasn't here when I came out."
"Maybe he went for a walk or something, you know how Fraser can be." Stan was trying to rationalize what was going on in Fraser's head.
Ray did know how Fraser could be and this wasn't like him. Ray was beginning to worry. In the distance, both men heard Diefenbaker barking at the end of the parking area. As they looked up, Diefenbaker disappeared around the corner. Ran is an understatement as each man took off towards the direction they spotted Diefenbaker, Stan had his gun drawn on instinct as they reached the corner.
Slowly coming around, Ray saw Diefenbaker standing over an object that was too familiar to both Ray and Stan. Diefenbaker whined as he lay down next to Fraser's hat. A lump formed in Ray's throat as he walked over to Diefenbaker and picked up the hat. Turning it over, he noticed no money had been taken. "Oh dear," Ray said, not realizing the words he used.
"Hello Constable Fraser. It's a pleasure to see you again," A man said from a darkened corner across the room.
Fraser was lying on his side on a cement floor in the tiny room he was being held. The voice he heard was familiar to him but he was still reeling form the pain in his head due to the blow he received in the parking lot of the precinct. Fraser was having trouble keeping his eyes open and focused.
"I don't expect you to remember me but I think you will." The man's voice wasn't violent in sound rather very calm and calculating. "You and Vecchio."
Uncontrollably, Fraser's eyes shot open at the sound of his friend's name. Not so much from hearing the name, more from the way it was pronounced. Fraser knew that voice. "Carver?" He struggled at saying that one name.
"Bravo Constable. I always knew you were the one with the brains," Carver said as he finally walked into the light.
"How?" Fraser was struggling to sit up but due to the pain in his head and the fact that his wrists were taped together behind him, all he could do was just lay there.
"Let's just say this bulb hasn't burned out yet."
Within the first hour of Fraser's disappearance, they checked the consulate, the parks and the shelters he frequented. No evidence could be found detailing the Mountie's where abouts. "Do you think you could take me to his apartment?" Ray asked Stan as they were getting back into the GTO.
"Yeah, sure," Stan replied. Diefenbaker was sitting in the back seat not looking good at all. He knew something was wrong and was upset with himself because he didn't accompany his master when commanded. Diefenbaker thought it was his entire fault.
The ride to Fraser's apartment building was a quiet one. Ray and Stan barely knew each other but they had one common bond, Fraser and they both knew he needed their help. Stan pulled his GTO to a stop at the curb in front of Fraser's building and before he had the key out of the ignition, Ray had jumped out of the car and was heading to the entrance. Stan followed quickly in pursuit of his old persona. Diefenbaker jumped out the passenger window in chase after them both.
"Which apartment is his?" Ray asked as he headed for the stairwell.
"6C," Stan said as he finally caught up to Ray.
Both men bounded up the stairs two at a time and they were on the sixth floor in no time. Cautiously, they approached Fraser's door and Ray knocked lightly calling Fraser's nickname as Stan pulled out his gun. There was no answer. Turning the doorknob, Ray swung the door open and waited a few seconds before entering. There was no one in the apartment. Diefenbaker wiggled past the two Rays and trotted into the apartment hoping to see his friend.
Ray and Stan walked around the apartment searching for clues as to where Fraser could be. "Hey Vecchio," Stan called out, "there's an envelope here addressed to you." Ray approached Stan and picked the envelope up off the kitchen table. The handwriting wasn't Fraser's nor any other's he recognized. Ray opened the envelope, pulled out the note and started reading aloud:
a Mountie leaves Chicago traveling ten miles an hour on horse back and . . . Oh, I'm sorry, you're not very good at story problems are you? Please see the enclosed photo."
Ray was fuming as he fumbled with the envelope and pulled out the Polaroid enclosed. It was a picture or Fraser, which had been taken near where his hat had been found. He looked angelic with his eyes shut, almost as if he were sleeping. "Oh, my God." It finally dawned on Ray who he was dealing with . . . but how?
"It seems Carver escaped during a prison riot he initiated just a few days ago," Lt. Welsh explained as he hung up the phone.
"And no one called to warn us?" Ray questioned as he paced the Lieutenant's small office. "He has Fraser Lieu . . . what are we gonna do?" Ray was sounding slightly distraut. Even though it had been months since he had last spoke to Fraser, they had a connection that couldn't be broken.
"Well, we could start by trying to find him. We find Carver, we find Fraser and we can put Carver away again," Lt. Welsh said, hoping they wouldn't be too late. "And you two, unofficially you are partners now, until Ray is reinstated officially." Ray and Stan looked at each other as if they had been given a death sentence.
Fraser was sitting on a chair, head leaning forward and chin resting on his chest. His hands were still taped behind him but this time they were secured behind the back of the chair he was seated in. The door to the room he was being held in opened cascading a bright light on Fraser's limp body. As the door was slammed shut, Fraser startled awake with a moan.
"Constable Fraser, glad you're awake," Carver said while he and two other unidentifiable people walked towards Fraser.
Fraser stiffened in the chair as the men approached him. Why did he have to run when he saw Ray? He wouldn't be here had he stayed. He would be home, safe . . . "What do you want?"
"Well, it would be no fun to do the next step if you were asleep," Carver commented as he motioned towards the two other men.
The two men came closer to Fraser with their hands gripped in fists. Fraser, without thinking, automatically tried to pull away but it was a useless attempt. He closed his eyes and braced himself for what was next. All he could think of was Ray, and how sorry he was for letting this happen.
The GTO was parked in the shadows of an alley, waiting and watching. The figures inside the vehicle were wide eyed, ready for anything. Ray and Stan received an anonymous tip from a snitch about two shady characters who might be involved in the Mountie's disappearance. They had been waiting in the alley for three hours now, no one had shown and no one had said a word.
"So, Kowalski," Ray broke the silence, "is Benny okay?"
"What? You're asking me? You should have asked him that yourself months ago." Stan was fuming. The nerve of this guy popping back into town like nothing happened. If he only new.
"Geez man, I'm only saying that he acted really strange when I saw him at the precinct yesterday. I worry about him ya know?" Ray didn't know where Stan's attitude was coming from or why.
"Listen, as far as I know, he was fine but maybe, after we find him you should ask him how he's doing yourself. He is the only person who can really answer that question honestly," Stan stated as he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. "Company." Stan pointed in the direction of the two figures meandering through the end of the alley.
"Let's go," Ray said as he and Stan drew their guns upon leaving the vehicle.
"Chicago PD! Freeze!" Stan called out and the figures broke off in separate directions, running. "I'll go left."
"I'll go right," Ray shouted and he and Stan ran in opposite directions each after one of the suspects.
Stan was closing the distance on his suspect within minutes of beginning the chase. The suspect would look back occasionally to check on the gap between himself and the cop in pursuit of him. As they were reaching the end of the alley, the suspect was looking back at Stan, preparing to pull a gun on him when he ran out into the middle of the street and was hit by a passing car. Stan slowed his running as he saw the guy roll off the hood of the car to lay in the middle of the street.
Ray's suspect was a little harder to catch. He seemed to know his way around the alleys he was being chased through. He reached the other end of the alley, turned the corner and headed west. When Ray reached the corner, he saw a door to a building close. Entering the building, Ray was being very cautious. This was the first time he had been in pursuit of a criminal in more than a year and he didn't want to make any mistakes that would put Stan's, Fraser's or his own life at stake.
As he walked through the darken building, he heard a noise to his right. Turning, he saw nothing and continued forward. The next thing he knew, a huge weight tackled him and he was down on the ground, gun who knows where and struggling to get the upper hand of a guy who had thirty pounds on him. The assailant punched Ray in the stomach causing him to gasp for air. The only thing that was going through Ray's mind was Fraser; I have to save Fraser. That seemed to get the adrenaline pumping because then he served the suspect with a few of his own punches that caught the guy off guard. Once the suspect was off Ray, he gained his footing and reached for his backup gun. Pulling it out he yelled, "Chicago PD! You are under arrest." The suspect froze. "Put your hands on your head and get down on the ground, NOW!"
"Good work Detectives," Lt. Welsh praised as he walked by the interrogation room Ray and Stan were exiting.
"Thanks Lieu," Ray said slamming the door behind him.
"I want Huey and Dewey to question him okay?" Lt. Welsh asked rhetorically.
"Lieutenant, it was our arrest, why can't we finish the investigation?" Stan questioned as they headed towards the squad room.
"You two are too close to the situation. I don't know if I can trust two hot heads to interrogate a suspect possibly guilty of . . ." Lt. Welsh trailed off not wanting to say what could have happened to the Mountie. "I don't want to hear any complaints either."
"Yes sir," Both Ray and Stan said in unison.
"Huey, Dewey, interrogation room one, NOW!" Lt. Welsh yelled, heading towards his office.
Ray and Stan walked towards Stan's desk and sat down. Stan sat behind the desk and Ray sat in "Fraser's" designated seat. Elbow on his knees, Ray rested his head in his hands and sighed.
Stan felt sorry for the guy. How guilty he must feel for having left town so abruptly, twice, never really explaining himself and upon his return, sent his friend into the enemy's hands. "It'll be okay, we'll find him." Stan was trying to reassure Ray, even though he himself had doubts.
"Yeah, I know or at least I hope I know."
Fraser could see the bright flash through his swollen, closed eyes. They had left him in the chair for a full day after he received the beating of his life. It was hard for him to breath now and he was certain they had broken a rib or two.
Fraser knew what to expect. After being beaten senseless on two prior occasions in the line of duty - once at the hands of Zuko's men and another time at the hands of Warfield's goons - Fraser was certain he could handle anything Carver's men did to him. He was wrong.
Fraser felt two sets of arms lift him out of the chair and dragged him across the room. When they stopped, he was tossed to the cement floor. Fraser groaned when he hit the concrete and rocked with pain, praying it would go away. Fraser was then kicked over onto his back causing him to squeeze his already closed and sore eyelids shut tighter.
As he lay there, trying to regain some composure, it was even harder to breathe lying on his back. More flashes flickered above him. Fraser cleared his throat the best he could and whispered, "Why?" The only word he could get past his swollen lips.
"Why is a good question Constable Fraser, I have nothing against you." Carver was walking around Fraser's immobile body. "It's more of a personal vengeance between Vecchio and myself." Carver sounded pleased with himself. "Your friend is smarter than he looks. Seems he picked up two of my men this evening. He has to pay for what he has done to me and my life. If that means someone needs to be hurt in the process . . . so be it."
One final flash flickered from a distance. "Now, get some rest Constable, you're gonna need it." With that said, Carver turned and left the small room and it's inhabitant, locking the door behind him.
Tears started flowing down Fraser's face. Fraser made sure Carver had left the room before he lost control of his emotions. He was crying because of the predicament he was in. He was crying because of how guilty he would be making Ray. He was crying because he was in grave pain. He was crying because he didn't want to die.
"Hey Ray, this just arrived for you," Francesca, one of the 27th Precincts Civilian Aides and sister of Ray Vecchio, said as she carried the package to Stan's desk where Ray was standing talking with Stan.
"Thanks Frannie. Where did it come from?" Ray asked taking the package from his sister.
"I don't know, it was just sitting at the front desk when I came in this morning," Francesca said turning around and walking back to her desk.
Ray sat the box on Stan's desk and stared at it for the longest time, not wanting to open it. He feared what he might see. Ray hadn't slept for the past two nights; he didn't feel he had the right, not with Fraser still missing. With shaking hands, Ray began opening the package, slowly. Once the outer wrapping was off, he pulled the tape that was holding the box closed. Then he just stood there, looking at the opened package trying to draw the courage to look inside.
"Ray, you have to open it," Stan said finally, getting impatient.
"I know, I know. It's just . . ."
"Ray, I know." Stan stood up and put a hand on Ray's shoulder for support. "It'll be okay."
Ray opened the box. The only things in the box were a handful of Polaroid pictures. "Oh My God!" As he pulled the pictures out, Ray's stomach turned and his head became dizzy. Ray only got through the first three pictures before his knees became weak and he was sinking to the floor. Stan caught Ray and eased him to a sitting position on the floor. Ray was sobbing. "This shouldn't be happening to him, not Benny. It's me he wants."
The commotion called Lt. Welsh's attention and he was next to the detectives, "What's going on?" Stan handed the Polaroids to the Lieutenant and the sight of the photos even made the Lieutenant's stomach turn. "We're gonna nail this bastard if it's the last thing we do."
"Ray are you all right?" Stella Kowalski asked as she entered the squad room, there was a look of concern on her face when she saw the state Ray was in. The fact that Stan was trying to console him warmed her heart. Lt. Welsh filled her in on the events that had taken place the passed three days. She was horrified by the pictures shown to her and immediately took over consoling Ray. "Ray, it's gonna be okay. He's a strong man. I'm quite certain he's survived tougher situations than this." Stella embraced Ray while cupping the back of his neck with her left hand and rubbed his back to calm him with her right hand.
"It's all my fault Stella. If he hadn't known me, this never . . ." Ray was sobbing even harder now as he clung to his friend.
"Ray, if it wasn't him, it would have been one of your family members." She was trying to put things into perspective for him since he wasn't thinking clearly.
"I can't live without him," Ray whispered into her ear.
A tear rolled down Stella's cheek when she heard those words, she knew that was true. Ray seemed so hopeful upon their return to Chicago. Who would've known something like this was going to happen? Stan, who was still stooped next to Ray, heard what he whispered to Stella. He was surprised at how devoted Ray seemed to be towards his best friend, even with the extended time that had lapsed with them being apart. He didn't understand how each of them could misinterpret what the other was thinking or feeling. Stan reached over and wiped the stream of tears from Stella's cheeks and smiled at her. Stella was glad she came home.
"Okay people, break it up. Give the guy a little breathing room," Lt. Welsh commanded as he started pushing the other officers back to work. "You two," pointing to Stan and Stella, "take him home."
"No, I have to be here when you find him. I have to be there . . .." Ray was frantic. He wanted to be the first person Fraser saw upon rescue. He was also tired.
"Vecchio, we will call the moment we hear anything, I promise." Lt. Welsh put a reassuring hand on Ray's shoulder. "Now go home and get some sleep. You will be no good to Fraser if you're walking around like a zombie."
Stella and Stan helped Ray off the floor and led him out of the precinct. On the way out, they collected Francesca as well. Diefenbaker obediently followed the group.
"Things are going just as planned," She said to Carver as they looked in the room at the crumpled up body. Fraser had finally fallen asleep for a while or had passed out, neither of them was quite sure, either way he was resting now.
"Yes, things are moving smoothly. I will assume by tonight they should know where to find us," Carver ascertained as he grabbed the doorknob and closed the door.
"Good." Tossing her curly dark brown hair out of her face, she grinned at the thought of the events to come and then laughed.
Instead of taking Ray home, Stella and Stan dropped Francesca at the Vecchio home and brought Ray to Stan's apartment. "Thanks man, I never would have gotten any peace at my house. With all the nephews and nieces and then there's Ma . . . she would have worried too much." Ray collapsed on the couch. Diefenbaker took a vigil stance next to him on the floor and licked his face. That simple gesture brought tears to his eyes. "They'll find him boy, don't worry." He didn't even believe himself, how selfish could he be? Ray fell asleep for the first time in two days.
All Fraser wanted to do was wrap his arms around the distraut man and tell him everything was going to be all right. Standing there, he watched Ray fall to his knees sobbing. The last time he ever saw Ray fall apart like that was when Irene Zuko was killed. Killed, whom was he crying over? Not Stella, she was standing next to him.
Fraser moved closer to the crowd of people as they all began to depart, leaving Ray to stand alone next to the grave. Everyone he knew had been present: Ray, Stella, Stan, Lt. Welsh, Huey, Dewey, Inspector Thatcher, Turnbull, Buck Frobisher, old neighbors, the list went on. Ray was the last person to leave and he placed roses on the coffin: one white for innocence, one yellow for friendship and one red for love. Fraser was standing next to Ray now and heard him say, "I love you Benny and always will."
Fraser was taken aback by this free flowing comment and turned to look at his friend; there was pain on his face. He placed a hand on Ray's shoulder causing him to turn. They were staring, eye to eye or at least Fraser was staring into Ray's tired eyes. He noticed Ray was looking through him and when he turned towards the direction of Ray's gaze, he saw her. What was she doing here? Fraser turned back to look at his friend and caught a glimpse of the headstone "Benton Fraser, RCMP". He about fell over from shock until he heard Ray's voice, "What the hell are you doing here . . . Bitch!" Ray's eyes had turned from their normal vibrant hazel green to a dark, cold, steely look and there was so much hatred pouring out of them.
"When a person's lover dies, they normally come and pay their last respects." The words flowing from her mouth made Fraser regret ever meeting her and he could see these same words cause pain towards the one person he truly loved.
"You did this to him!" Ray shouted not believing the nerve she had to show up there. "You never deserved him."
"Ah, but Ray, I had him and that's one thing you'll never get." She was cruel indeed. "Anyway, I didn't mean to kill him Ray, I wanted to kill you." Before either man had a chance to react, a gun went off.
"Ray!" Fraser screamed as his eyes tried to adjust to the darkness. Slowly, he remembered where he was; the pain began to register in his head. "Ray?" It was a plea for help.
"Ray isn't here Ben," Victoria said as she stooped down near Fraser, "but he will be, in due time." She stroked her hand over his bruised face; he stiffened at her touch.
"Why are you doing this?"
"I have my reasons Ben. You will find out soon enough." Victoria got up and walked towards the door. "I'm not gonna kill you. Not you at least."
Oh God, why was this happening, why? Was the dream a premonition? He was breathing hard now with hatred towards the one woman he thought he had loved. A pain hit him in the chest and he coughed. He reminded himself to calm down. He had to think of a way to help Ray.
"Ah!" Ray screamed as he nearly fell off the couch. Diefenbaker was there to comfort him, licking his face.
"Ray, are you OK?" Stella asked sitting down next to Ray on the couch. Stan stood behind the couch listening, observing.
"Oh, I had a horrible dream . . . "she" was in it." Ray stated putting an emphasis on the pronoun. "I dreamt that Benny was dead, we were at the funeral . . . oh it was awful, then she was there . . . Victoria . . . and she tried to kill me. That's when I woke up." Ray was sweating and he had a sudden urgency to find Fraser now. He needed to tell him his feelings before it was too late. "We can't sit around here any longer. We've gotta get movin', now." Ray started getting up from the couch, catching himself on Stella's shoulder when he became lightheaded by his quick movement off the couch.
"Ray, are you sure?" Stella was worried. Not only had Ray gone two days without any sleep, he had only napped about two hours before the nightmare jarred him awake.
Ray cupped her cheek in his hand, "Don't worry Stella, we will be all right." Ray was referring to himself and Stan. Ray's cell phone rang. "Vecchio."
"Ray, this is Lt. Welsh. We have a location."
The warehouse was dark and eerie as the wind whipped around the officers. Each had a gun drawn, prepared for the worst. Unfortunately the SWAT team was in front of the Chicago PD backup and that had Ray a little on edge due to his past run ins with them. It was always shoot first ask questions later like in the old west with them.
"They're here," Carver announced has he walked towards Victoria, away from the window he was looking out.
"Good, my plan is working perfectly. Did you see Vecchio out there?" She asked with a slight smile on her face.
Carver returned to the window and pickup up a pair of binoculars that were sitting on the sill. He studied the crowd of cops that had gathered until he came across that oh so familiar Italian. "Ya, he's here." Carver was satisfied, revenge was so sweet.
"Good." Victoria pulled her gun out and aimed it at Carver as he turned to face her. "You really should never trust a stranger." Victoria pulled the trigger, shooting Carver in the chest. He fell limp to the floor as she smiled. Everything was falling into place.
"Fraser's eyes opened in horror when he heard the shot go off. It reminded him of his dream and all he could think about was Ray. Was he OK? Was he injured? Was he dead? Please, not Ray.
Fraser struggled to get to a sitting position, which wasn't hard this time due to the adrenaline pumping through his veins. Once sitting up, he took a deep breath as he pressed his back against the wall, which was very painful to do, and pushed himself to a standing position. He was a little dizzy yet and in a lot of pain but he pushed all that to the back of his mind to clear his head. He needed to think of a plan . . .
"Gun!" Stan yelled as the shot went off.
Ray's body went rigid as the thought of Fraser's lifeless body passed through his head. Ray shuttered at the thought of his dream and he began moving towards the building.
Lt. Welsh grabbed his arm to stop him. "Where do you think you're going?"
"Sir, I have to go in there." Ray looked helpless.
"Ray, you are in no position to decide that. You're not even an official officer yet." Lt. Welsh understood what Ray was feeling but also knew he could risk not only Fraser's life but his own as well in the process. "Trust me Ray, I'm sure he's okay. Once everything is under control, then and only then are you going to enter that building."
"But sir . . . he needs me," Ray pleaded.
"Ray, If you walk up to the building, who's to say you'll even make it in. He has a gun. Ray, you're not thinking clearly." Ray was defeated by logic once again and slouched back to his position behind Stan's car.
Finally, the SWAT team started to take action in communication with the person holding Fraser hostage. Over a bullhorn, they relayed a phone number for the person to call, then it was a wait and see period. About five minutes later, the phone rang.
"Hello?" A member of the SWAT team answered the phone.
"I want Detective Vecchio." Was all the woman said and hung up before he could protest. Turning to look at Lt. Welsh he motioned for the Lieutenant to come over.
All Ray could do was stand and wait, wait and watch, watch and worry. He saw Lt. Welsh turn and look at him then shake his head at the officer. What were they saying? Ray headed in their direction.
"Sir, what's going on?"
Lt. Welsh looked at Ray grimly. "She wants you."
"She who?" Ray was confused.
"She, who ever is in there." Lt. Welsh pointed towards the warehouse.
"She? I thought Carver was in there?"
"Well, so did we but now we are facing a woman it seems and she wants you, in there."
"I'm all for it Lieu, just say the word." Ray was raring and ready to go. All he wanted was to see Fraser to make sure he was all right. He needed to make sure he was alive.
"I don't know if that's a good idea . . ." Lt. Welsh was cut off.
"With all due respect sir, I am going in with your say so or not." Ray was stubborn and he knew it. "The only request I have is that Kowalski be my backup. I don't want no trigger happy SWAT nut behind me."
Lt. Welsh was not happy with the idea but he knew Ray far too well and he knew how stubborn he could be. "Okay, but under one condition . . . you will wear a bullet proof vest."
"No problem sir, I already have one on." Ray pulled open his shirt to show Lt. Welsh the vest.
"OK, you're going in, Kowalski!"
"Ben, what are you doing?" Victoria asked as she opened the door to his prison. He was standing opposite the door on the other side of the room. Fraser froze when he heard her voice and refused to answer her. "Ben, you're not escaping your fate today."
"What was that gun shot for?" Fraser asked, keeping eye contact with his captor.
"Oh that . . . that was Carver. He did his part of the deal and wasn't needed anymore." She sounded so cold.
"How did you get him to help you?" Fraser began breathing hard and it was a struggle to remain standing but he stood his ground as leaning heavily against the wall.
"Well, it's amazing what a person will agree to when you promise them revenge." She just smiled.
"You promised him revenge against Ray," Fraser concluded.
"Who else . . . too bad he didn't live long enough to see it." She walked over to Fraser, gun in hand. Fraser's hands were still bound behind him with electrical tape. "Now, come Ben, Ray shouldn't be kept waiting now should he?" With the gun jabbed in Fraser's side, Victoria led him out of the room.
Ray cautiously walked up to the darkened warehouse, gun drawn, ready for the unexpected. He was reciting a few Hail Mary's as he entered the building. It was pitch black and it took a few minutes for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. Stan took position outside the warehouse at a window next to the entranceway Ray took.
Looking back, he could see the figure of Stan positioned at the window by the door which caused Ray to relax a bit, knowing he wasn't alone. Before he had a chance to turn around, Ray bumped into something or someone lying on the ground. Kneeling next to the body, his stomach was in knots hoping and praying it wasn't Fraser. As he rolled the body over, a smile of relief and satisfaction spread across his face. It was Carver. Finally he would never have to worry about that man again.
"Yes Ray, I knew you'd like that . . . and I so hate pleasing you." That voice sent a cold chill down Ray's spine.
"Victoria." His eyes were now adjusted to the night and he watched as she moved towards him with Fraser at her side. He also noticed the gun in her hand held against Fraser's side. His gun was aimed at her.
"Ray, I strongly recommend you putting your gun down." Victoria said, coming to a stop five feet away from where Ray stood.
Ray didn't budge, his normally brilliant green eyes were filled with hate, more hate than any one person should feel towards another. He didn't dare look at Fraser for fear the hate would wash away to fear for his loved one's life.
"Ray, you're not listening now. If you don't put the gun down, I will have to shoot him." Now she jabbed Fraser hard in the side with her gun. The jab caught Fraser off guard and he winced as he took a breath in to ease the pain.
The words spoken by Victoria weren't what caused Ray to finally make eye contact with Fraser but it was Fraser's reaction to what she did. He was in pain and Ray could hear it in that little gesture. Fraser's eye's looked into Ray's, all they were saying was 'I'm sorry.' Once he was looking at Fraser, he couldn't believe what they had done to him. There wasn't a spot on him that didn't look bruised, scraped or injured in any way. Ray lowered his gun. "I'm sorry too Benny." Ray threw his gun away from him. "Now what?" He asked Victoria forcefully, anger returning.
"Now, we finish what we started years ago, but this time the ending will be a lot different, to my advantage if you didn't figure that out yet." She smirked seeming pleased with herself.
"You're never gonna get away with this. This place is surrounded by cops." Ray was trying to dissuade her from her plan. He knew it wouldn't work but he had to try something, anything, even just to buy some time.
"See, that is where Ben here comes in. He's my insurance policy out of here."
"Why come here and do all this just to flee yet again?" Ray was trying to figure out her game, unsuccessfully.
"That's not all I planned on doing . . . my plan was a perfect plan . . . still is. First I helped break Carver out of his hell . . . and it is hell being in prison you know . . . convinced him to help me in return. It wasn't hard to convince him, seems you have quite a few enemies Vecchio."
"Yeah well, I wouldn't want enemies like him . . . or you for that matter as friends."
"To make a long story short . . . I have come here to kill you Ray and to make Ben suffer. The suffering is going pretty good don't you think?" Victoria ran a hand down the side of Fraser's bruised face. Fraser twitched when she put pressure on one bruise that had swollen on his cheek.
"Why don't you leave the human punching bag alone. Don't' you think he's been through enough?" The rage was building in Ray.
"Enough! After the hell he caused me? Never is enough."
"Listen lady, here's a news flash, you created your own hell when you stepped over the line and chose a life of crime . . . not once but twice." Ray shouldn't be arguing with her but she was pushing his buttons and arguing was his best defense.
"Shut up! Everything will be rectified tonight. I will be free, my enemy will be dead and my ex-lover here will be mourning you knowing it was all his fault."
Fraser's eyes were sad now. He couldn't believe the mess he had gotten them into yet again. Ray should be furious with him but he seemed more worried than pissed off. The room started to spin a bit as his body started to sway.
"Whoa there Ben, not yet. We have to make it out of here first." Victoria anchored Fraser until he recovered from his dizzy spell.
"Hey Dief?" Stan called to the wolf from his observation spot. Diefenbaker sat down next to Stan and looked at him. "Dief, do you think you could distract her?" Diefenbaker made a quiet growl accepting the challenge. He was ready to get his master back. "Okay boy, go." Stan motioned to the door Ray had entered earlier. "I hope this works."
"Turn around!" Victoria yelled at Ray as she kept the gun steadily aimed at him.
"What, you're gonna shoot a defenseless man in the back?" Ray questioned.
"Why not? Isn't that what you did?" The words spilling from her mouth hit Ray deeper than he thought possible. Even though it had been years since the incident on the train platform and he knew Fraser had forgiven him, it still hurt to think of the pain that he had caused his best friend, the person whom he loved more than life itself. "Turn around . . . unless you want me to kill Ben here?"
Ray reluctantly gave into her demands. "No Ray . . ." With a raspy voice Fraser pleaded for him not to give up so quickly.
Ray looked into Fraser eyes. "It's okay Benny, everything's gonna be all right." Ray was trying to reassure Fraser that it wasn't over yet but he could see in Fraser's eyes that he wasn't thinking clearly. Fraser's head dropped, not wanting to see what was about to happen. Ray turned his back on Victoria and Ben, closing his eyes, praying the vest would save his life today.
Fraser's head was swimming. He was trying to compute all the information he was thinking at once. The fact Victoria was standing next to him and that she was holding a gun towards the man he loved, the only person he had ever truly loved and Victoria wanted that man dead. The years of denying his love for Ray and the fact he may never get a chance to tell him. Diefenbaker . . . Where did he come from?
Fraser's head popped back up as he took a painful deep breath. Diefenbaker was in the building; Fraser could smell that he was very near. Is that why Ray told him not to worry? 'Please Dief, you have to help us,' Fraser thought.
"I'm really going to enjoy this you know?" Victoria tightened her grip on the gun.
"Yeah, then why don't you get it over with already?" Ray was trying to egg her on.
Fraser started to squirm, trying to distract Victoria, buying Diefenbaker a little time he thought but she just tightened her hold on his hands that were still bound behind him and pushed up on them roughly causing him to groan in pain.
"Benny, don't fight it." Ray tried to put Fraser at ease but that was going to be nearly impossible since he couldn't explain the details of the plan. He couldn't ruin the plan or they would all be dead. "It will be okay once this is all over."
"How noble of you Vecchio . . . I never thought you had it in you . . . to sacrifice your life . . . it's almost sweet." Her words worried Fraser. Yes, he did run at the sight of Ray but he didn't want him or himself dead. He just needed some time to think things through, his feelings. It can't end like this.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Ray was now looking around in the dark, trying to see if he could locate Diefenbaker but he had no luck.
The only words Fraser could get to come out of his mouth were the four most important words he needed to say before either of them was killed. "Ray . . . I love you." There was a quiver in his voice as the words left his mouth. He knew Ray wouldn't understand the entire meaning of those four simple words but he needed to say them.
"Yeah Benny, I love you too." A tear streaked down Ray's cheek. How could each of them say these words yet not understand the full ramifications of their meaning?
"Oh please, say goodbye Detective."
Ray began praying at that point. Praying he wouldn't be killed. Praying that Fraser would be all right. Praying they both made it out of there. When the first shot rang out, Ray's body jerked. There was such a sting in his back; he was almost numb at the point of impact. Second shot hit near the where the first shot hit, Ray caught his breath stumbling but still remained standing. Third shot, Ray fell to his knees shaking and nearly ready to pass out. The Fourth and final shot left Ray sprawled face down, in the dark on the warehouse floor.
A smile spread across Victoria's face and she began to laugh an all-encompassing laugh that had her entire body shaking along with Fraser's. Fraser was numb now, staring at his friend's lifeless body. Tears began flowing from his eyes. He thought he was going to pass out. How could this be happening? "This is all my fault." Fraser sobbed out loud.
"Yes dear, all your fault. How does that make you feel?" Victoria asked.
Fraser just looked into her eyes and she could see the hatred in his, the hatred she caused and it felt good to see someone hate as much as she did. Fraser began to smile and she thought he had finally lost it and maybe he had. "You're not going to be able to get away with this."
"Who's gonna stop me? You're in no condition to." Before she knew what hit her, Victoria was on the ground, gun flying across the room and a very angry wolf was on her, growling. Upon impact with the wolf, Fraser was pushed to the floor hitting hard.
"Chicago PD! DO NOT MOVE or I will shoot!" Stan yelled as he ran into the building and over to where Victoria was laying on the ground.
"Shoot me! I am not going back there," Victoria begged. She didn't want to go back to prison. That wasn't part of the plan. She would rather die than go back.
"Oh no, that would be too easy of an out for you. Roll over and put your hands behind your head. NOW!" Victoria complied as Stan began reading her the Miranda Rights and placed his handcuffs on her immediately. Diefenbaker continued standing his vigilant guard over her.
Stan looked at Fraser and Fraser had a look of satisfaction on his face. He was glad she was finally caught after all these years of wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. Stan watched as Fraser turned his head to look at Ray who was still not moving. "Ray?" Fraser called. "Ray." Panic started to rush his face. "Ray!" The warehouse was too dark to see if he was bleeding or even breathing from where they were.
Stan hurried to Fraser's side and loosened the ties that bound his friend's hands. Once his hands were free, Fraser crawled over to Ray's side. He tried to roll Ray over but he was too weak and too hurt to tired and budge the dead weight.
Stan knelt down beside Ray and placed his hand on his back. Stan could feel where the bullets impacted against Ray's body but there was no blood that he could feel. Stan could also feel Ray breathing.
"Fraser, it's okay, he's not dead . . . he hasn't even been shot actually." Stan was trying to calm a very panicked, very scared Mountie. Reaching into his pocket, Stan pulled out a flashlight and showed Fraser the bullet holes, there was not blood to see. "See, he was wearing a bullet proof vest." At that, Stan started lifting up Ray's clothing to expose the vest.
"NO!" Victoria screamed at the realization that her plan was foiled. Stan and Fraser just ignored her.
Fraser reached out a hand to touch the vest and tears were flowing again. "Thank God."
Stan rolled Ray over to his side, facing him and Fraser. "He must have passed out from the shock of the impacts made by the bullets. It's really painful getting shot, even if you're wearing a vest." Stan flashed the light on Ray's face; he looked as if he was just sleeping. Fraser was grateful no serious harm had come to his friend. He never would have been able to live with himself if he had been . . . Fraser couldn't think of that now.
"Ray, I don't feel so good," Fraser said to Stan as he lay down on the ground. "Ray, I'm cold."
"Oh geez." Stan took off his coat and placed it over Fraser, grabbed his cell phone from the pocket of his coat and dialed the SWAT teams number to have a paramedic team sent in along with someone to gather the "trash".
"Oh my God, what happened?" Ray asked as he opened his eyes. The only light he saw was coming from the flashlight Stan was holding. "Why do I feel like I've been hit from behind by a bus?"
"Ray, she shot you four times in the back." Stan tried to fill in the details to a disoriented Ray.
"What about Benny?" Ray started to get up when Stan flashed the light on Fraser's still body.
"I think he is in shock now. He pretty much freaked when he thought she had killed you." Stan was beginning to think their plan wasn't such a good plan after all. "I've called for the paramedics."
Ray crawled painfully to Fraser. From the light of Stan's flashlight, Ray could see Fraser was just staring out into nothing, his breathing was shallow and he was shivering. Ray lifted Fraser's upper body up to hold against his own; to keep him warm until the paramedics arrived. He couldn't believe Victoria had broken the strongest man he knew.
"Ray?" Fraser's zoning was broken by Ray's touch.
"Ray, I've missed you."
Ray laughed at the comment Fraser made. He wasn't expecting it. "I know Benny, I've missed you too." Ray gently hugged the man he loved with all his heart and soul.
Fraser startled himself awake as if from a bad dream. He couldn't remember the dream or if he was dreaming but his heart was pounding a mile a minute. He looked around the unfamiliar room adjusting to the bright sunlight streaming in through the window. He was in the hospital. An IV was going in his right arm and a blood pressure cup was on his left. When he looked to his left, he noticed someone was with him in the room but this person was sleeping, head resting on the left side of the bed. Fraser lifted his left hand and gently placed it on Ray's head, feeling the stubble of hair and Fraser smiled. That is the one intimate gesture he had wanted to do ever since Ray started cutting his hair in the short cropped style. He didn't know why but it brought a smile to his face when he touched him.
Then Fraser remembered Stella. He quickly removed his hand. He was enjoying the contact with Ray too much. Ray began to stir. His eyes fluttered open as he focused on the blue eyes staring at him. It took all his strength to muster out a smile but Fraser could read his eyes. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing serious, it's just . . . I feel guilty for what happened to you," Ray said as he sat up. There was a slight pain in his back but he managed to keep that hidden from Fraser. "I mean your face . . . your whole body for that matter . . . you look awful."
"Thanks Ray." Both of Fraser's eyes were blood shot and the area around them were swollen and purple. He had bruises on each cheek. His bottom lip was split and protruding. All Ray could think was he looked worse now than when Zuko's men were done with him and that was bad enough.
"No, I didn't mean it that way . . . you just went through the ringer and all because two people wanted to get to me." Ray began to reach up to touch Fraser's face but recoiled and rested his forehead back down on the bed.
"It's not your fault Ray . . . if you're gonna blame anyone it should be me for getting you involved with Victoria in the first place." Fraser looked away from Ray.
Ray's head popped back up. "What? You're apologizing, taking the blame? You're the one in the hospital bed here and you're apologizing to me. Fraser sometimes . . ." Ray caught himself before he said something he would regret.
"Ray . . . Stella probably hates me because of this . . . risking your life . . ." Fraser still would not look at Ray.
"Stella? How does she have anything to do with this?" Ray forgot Fraser didn't know about what happened in Florida.
"She's your wife Ray." Fraser had an astonished sound in his voice as he turned to look at Ray. "You're being very dismissive about her feelings towards you." Fraser noticed the door to his room open with an accompanying knock.
"Hey Fraser, what's up?" Stan walked into the room with Stella on his arm.
"Hello Ray . . . Stella." Fraser was feeling a bit of jealousy coming over him, which he never felt, when Stella left Stan's side and walked over to Ray.
"How are you doing Ray?" Stella had a genuine look of concern on her face.
"I'm fine Stella, it's Fraser here who took the brunt of it all." Ray said as he pointed towards Fraser.
Stella looked at Fraser and smiled. "It's good to see you're okay Fraser. You had Ray here worried sick."
Fraser looked at Ray. "You were worried about me?" He was so unsure of himself.
"Yeah, why wouldn't I be. You are my best friend." Ray smiled at Fraser.
"But . . . we . . . haven't . . ."
"We haven't really seen each other in almost a year? Yeah, I know and it shouldn't have been that way, I'm sorry." Ray looked into Fraser's eyes and they were staring at each other not saying a word.
"Hey Stella, what do you say you and me go grab a bite to eat . . . leave these two alone for a while." Stan asked touching Stella on the shoulder.
"That's a good idea Ray." Stella and Stan left the room, closing the door behind them.
"Listen Benny, I have to tell you something." Ray stood up and walked to the window, staring out. Fraser just sat there giving his full attention to Ray. "When I left here for Florida . . . I lied about my intentions."
"What do you mean Ray?" Fraser was becoming confused.
"Would you let me finish?" Ray snapped not meaning to sound so harsh.
"No, I'm sorry . . . anyway . . . when you and Stan went up to Canada chasing after Muldoon . . . I was sure you wouldn't be returning, I could just feel it. I knew it and when you didn't, it was just natural that I leave too. The only problem was everyone here thought Stella and I hit it off . . . as a couple I mean . . . and we just never corrected them. We ran from a town with too many great but painful memories." Ray turned to look at Fraser and his friend was just sitting there, smiling. "What?"
"Ray, the only reason Stan and I stayed in Canada was because we were under the assumption you and Stella were an . . . item . . . I think that is the word I want to use. Stan was devastated and I . . . well I missed home and once I was there I didn't want to leave. I also thought you wouldn't need . . . want me around."
"Benny, I will always need and want you around." Ray walked over to the bed. "I guess it's true what that song says 'you don't know what ya got until it's gone'."
"I wouldn't know Ray . . . what song is that?"
"Ah, it doesn't matter. I'm glad I . . . we got you back in one piece . . . you're not looking all that great but you're alive . . ." Ray cut himself short. "Thanks for coming back Benny."
"Ray, you don't have to do this you know. I would be fine at my apartment . . ." Fraser was cut off.
"Nonsense Benny, I promised the doctor you wouldn't be alone so you have no choice. You're staying with my family and me . . . for a couple of days at least. Ma will love pampering her favorite Mountie. You wouldn't want to disappoint Ma now would ya?" What a guilt trip Ray was laying on.
"No, I wouldn't want to do that," Fraser agreed as he was being gently guided up the stairs to the Vecchio home. Fraser had finally been released after a two-night stay at the hospital and he was grateful for the quick release. Of course it was under the condition that he stay with someone for a couple of days until he was feeling up to par.
Once in the Vecchio home, he was beginning to think it was a good idea. The walk alone from the car made him tired. "Thank you Ray."
"For what?" Ray asked as he closed the front door behind them.
"For taking care of me when I need the help . . . even though I'm too stubborn to admit it." Fraser smiled at Ray, genuinely happy for the first time since he returned to Chicago.
"Ah, come on, let's get you up to bed." Ray led the way to the second floor, even though Fraser had been there before.
"Ray, I couldn't take your bed, it wouldn't be fair . . ." Ray cut Fraser off.
"Benny, you've been seriously injured, I don't know if you're aware of that fact but it's true. The guest room is mine and my bed is yours, end of story."
"Understood." Fraser continued to follow Ray to his bedroom, reluctantly but he had no choice.
Ray entered his bedroom first and by the time Fraser reached the doorway, Ray had already turned down the bed covers. "Hop in." Ray gestured to the bed.
Fraser couldn't say no, he was exhausted just from the trip home. Fraser sat on the edge of the bed as Ray untied his shoes for him. Once the shoes were off, Fraser maneuvered his way under the covers and Ray pulled the covers up over him. Fraser sighed.
"What?" Ray asked concerned.
"Do you realize the last time I was here, in your room, was the Christmas after you left for that assignment." Fraser smiled, remembering the day.
"Did you have a good Christmas Benny?" Ray asked as he sat on the edge of the bed.
"Mmmm hmmm." Fraser nodded and then yawned. "Your family was so welcoming, it was good not to feel so alone on that day." Fraser yawned again; his eyes were getting heavy.
"Benny, I never want you to feel alone again. When I left for that undercover assignment, I knew you would understand . . . but I also knew you'd feel abandoned. I'm sorry for that. That was the last thing I ever wanted to do to you but I had no choice. I don't think I really realized how much I cared about you until I left, ya know?" Ray paused for an answer but there was nothing. When he turned his head to look at Fraser, he was sound asleep. "Ah Benny." It was good to see him at such peace. Even though he was at his most vulnerable state when sleeping, Ray knew that this night he would be safe.
Ray gently got off the bed as not to disturb Fraser and stood there watching him sleep. He didn't know how long he stood there; he had lost all track of time when there was a gentle knock on his door. When Ray turned his head, his mother was peeking in. "Raymondo, please, come downstairs for a little while." Ray complied, leaving Fraser to sleep the afternoon and all his nightmares of the last couple days away.
"Raymondo, come sit by your mother. I want to have a little talk." Mrs. Vecchio said as Ray hit the last stair. Ray walked over to the couch in the living room and sat down next to his mother. "You care about Benton very much."
Ray was taken back by the statement, not sure where the conversation was leading. "Yeah ma, he's my best friend. I would do anything for him, whether he asked or not."
"That is what I thought," Mrs. Vecchio continued. "He's a good man Raymond. Any mother would be proud to have him as a son-in-law."
"Ma, I'm not fixin' Frannie up with him . . . have you ever seen how skittish he is when she's around? He avoids . . ." Ray's mother cut him off.
"Caro, that's not what I mean . . . this is very hard for me to say . . . I shouldn't even be consenting to it but . . ."
"Ma, what are you trying to say?" Ray was now sitting facing his mother.
She took a deep breath. "What I am trying to say is . . . if he makes you happy, then I am happy."
Ray sat there for the longest time just staring at his mother. What was she saying? How could she know? Ray thought it would be harder to tell her such information than this.
Ray blinked. "He makes me very happy Ma . . . I just don't think it's gonna work out like a fairy tale ending here."
Mrs. Vecchio frowned. "Caro, how do you know this? Did you ask him? Did he tell you this?"
"No Ma, it's just . . . I mean you've looked at him. I've known him for five years and have never seen him do anything that wasn't normal." Ray sighed.
"You mean falling in love is not normal?" Ray's mother was always so optimistic.
Ray smiled at his mother. "Ma, it's just not that simple. I'll be okay though. As long as I know he's safe, I'll be okay." Ray leaned over and kissed his mother on the cheek. "Thanks Ma."
"Ray!" The scream heard from upstairs jolted Ray off the couch.
"Ma, you just stay here. I'll check on him." Ray ran up the stairs to his bedroom and sprang into the room once the door was open. Fraser was still sleeping but it was a very restless sleep. Ray walked over to the bed and placed his hand on Fraser's chest; his heart was beating so fast, Ray thought it might burst.
Ray nudged him gently and began trying to wake him up. "Benny?" Fraser continued tossing and turning. "Benny, it's me Ray." He was still tossing and turning but now he was murmuring. "Benny, you're having a bad dream, it's time to wake up."
"No!" Fraser sat up and grabbed the arm of Ray's that was extended with his hand on Fraser's chest. Fraser was breathing hard and he had a panicked, disoriented look on his face.
"Benny, it's okay, you're at my house. You were just having a bad dream. Lay back down okay?" Ray eased Fraser back onto the bed. Fraser wouldn't release the grip he had on Ray's arm. "Benny? You okay?" Fraser looked at Ray and Ray could see him calm down almost immediately. Ray smiled at him.
"Ray, could you stay with me for a while?" Fraser never asked anything for himself so Ray was happy to oblige the request.
"Sure Benny, scoot over." Fraser moved over so Ray could sit more comfortably on the bed. Ray grabbed a pillow, placing it behind his back. Ray sat with is back against the headboard and his legs extended on the bed. "What was the dream about?"
Fraser scooted back towards Ray once he was comfortable, almost lying against him but not. They were just close enough that they were able to feel the others body heat. "It was about what happened in the warehouse. I've been having this dream every day since the incident. It's almost like it's real and you're getting shot all over again and there's nothing I can do to stop her." Fraser's voice was shaking.
"Benny, everything's gonna be all right. Nothing happened and we both made it out of there." Ray was trying to reassure Fraser but it wasn't going to help. The only thing that would help Fraser was time.
"I know Ray . . . but if anything would have happened to you . . . I would never had been able to forgive myself." Fraser sighed, thinking of a life without Ray. Yes, he had lived nearly two years without contact with Ray but he at least knew he was alive. The thought that he would be dead and worse yet, that Fraser would be the cause of his death sent a shiver down Fraser's spine.
"Benny, can I ask you something?"
Ray gave a little chuckle at how much Fraser's life was an open book on most things but on matters of the heart, there was a wall so high even he had problems penetrating it. "Why did you run when you saw me at the precinct?"
"I didn't think I ran Ray, more a brisk walk."
"Fraser, you know what I mean."
Fraser was lying on his side facing Ray; he didn't know what to say. "I think . . . I . . . I think I was scared."
"Scared of me?" Ray took offense.
"Not you, more the situation. I had only been back for a month then and it was a big decision for me to return. I always assumed when your undercover assignment was through, you would return and we would be partners again . . . like before. When I learned about you and Stella and then you moved to Florida . . . there was no reason for me to return to Chicago. Being back home was wonderful, I truly missed the Territories but I guess I had become so accustomed to city life that then, I missed that too." Fraser took a moments pause to reflect on what he said, then continued. "Ray, when I saw you I was ecstatic, happier than I had been in a long time but at the same time my mind kept telling me it was too good to be true. I wasn't ready to face you, to hear you were just visiting. I couldn't handle parting a third time."
Ray's heart sank. He never realized what his leaving, both times, had done to Fraser. Ray knew Fraser was a strong individual but he was still very fragile when it came to personal relationships. "I really hurt you didn't I?"
Fraser was very quiet for a few minutes before answering. He had to keep his emotions in check or he was going to tell Ray everything. "Ray . . . I was hurt, but it wasn't your fault. You had to do what you did and I understood. I would've done the same thing . . . going undercover that is." Fraser looked up at Ray, giving him a reassuring smile.
"You know I'm here to stay Benny, don't you?"
"Yes Ray, I know."
"I'm sorry Benny."
"Ray, there's nothing you need to be forgiven for . . . it's just life." Fraser placed his hand on Ray's arm. "You have to believe me Ray, I'm fine and I'm glad you're back."
Ray smiled. "Life can really suck sometimes, huh Benny?"
"Yes Ray, that I have to agree with." Fraser yawned.
"Benny, you need your sleep. I can go if you'd like." Ray didn't want to leave. He wanted to stay right there, in his room, in his bed, with Fraser, even if they were just friends.
"No Ray, please stay . . . at least until I fall asleep." Fraser rolled onto his back and rested his hands on his chest. It didn't take long for the exhausted Mountie to fall back asleep but even though he was sleeping, Ray never left the room. Actually, Ray decided to sleep there, just in case Fraser had another bad dream.
Ray opened his eyes as the sound of birds could be heard through his closed bedroom window. As he lay there, the presence of a body next to him began to register. Ray rolled over to behold a sleeping Mountie. Fraser must have been really tired, it was after 8:00am, three hours past the Mountie's normal wake up call. Ray just smiled and gingerly climbed out of bed trying not to wake Fraser which was hard since his back was killing him from the shots Victoria took at him. Standing at the closet, he took off the sweater and T-shirt he was wearing, throwing them on the floor and started rummaging for an outfit to wear.
The noise in the room slowly seeped into Fraser subconscious causing him to stir and eventually wake up. Fraser began searching the room with squinted eyes looking for the source of the noise when he found Ray, standing near the closet, his back to him and no shirt on. Fraser promptly widened his eyes. "My God Ray."
Ray wiped around startled then stiffened from the pain that quick movement caused. "What Benny, you okay?" Ray walked over to the bed.
Fraser noticed the look of pain in Ray's eyes, even though he had been trying to hide it from his friend. "Ray, I'm fine."
"Then what was that exclamation for?" Ray started to turn back around when he felt a warm gentle touch on his back. He closed his eyes now realizing what Fraser saw.
"Ray, your back . . ." Fraser looked astonished at the huge purple almost black bruise that spread across Ray's back. He could see four distinct separate bruises that merged into one. Seeing the bruises brought back to Fraser what really could have happened had Ray not been wearing the vest.
Ray couldn't stand there any longer with such contact on his bare skin. "Ah, it's nothing . . . doesn't even hurt." What a lie Ray thought as he walked back to the closet and pulled a pair of slacks and a sweater out. "I'm gonna go take a shower. When I'm done, you're next." Ray was gone.
Fraser frowned as Ray left the room, not understanding why he was acting so strange. From the hall Fraser could hear the patter of paws on the wooden surface. Diefenbaker entered the room and jumped on the bed. "Ah, Dief, what am I going to do?" Diefenbaker maneuvered his way up to Fraser's face and began licking. "Thanks Dief."
It was two weeks before Ray was convinced Fraser was well enough to return to his own place and even then he was a little reluctant in letting him leave. Okay, maybe he had an ulterior motive like being able to sleep with Fraser without anyone second-guessing him. Fraser was still having nightmares and to prevent him from waking the entire house, Ray deemed it necessary to sleep with him.
Fraser seemed not to mind Ray's decision either and the nightmares were beginning to happen less and less and when he did have them, they weren't as bad as when he started having them. Fraser was going to miss the close contact with Ray as well . . . not that there was any "contact" at all, just a few bumps in the night when one or the other would roll over. Fraser felt it necessary to leave because he was becoming too dependent on Ray and that was not good in his opinion. The more dependent he felt on Ray, the more he cared for him, as if he didn't care for him enough.
They were making good time across town, even though it wasn't the Riv transporting them from Ray's neighborhood to Fraser's. Both men were sitting comfortably in the front seat and Diefenbaker was lying in the back. "Benny, you sure you're ready to go home?" There wasn't a point to the question seeing they were but two blocks from Fraser's apartment but Ray was trying anything. "Cause Ma wouldn't mind ya staying ya know."
Fraser sighed, "Ray, I'm fine. It's been two weeks, I think it's safe to say I can manage on my own. I'll be going back to work on Monday too so I would get myself back into my routine over the weekend."
Now Ray sighed, 'Why can't I be part of your routine?' He asked himself. "Well, if you need anything and I mean anything, no matter what time it is, you know my cell phone number."
"Yes Ray, I do." Fraser turned to look at Ray.
"Use it," Ray said sternly.
Fraser smiled at that, Ray knew him all too well. "Understood."
The building was dark as he saw Ray standing in front of him. He couldn't see Ray's face as Ray had his back turned but he knew it was Ray. Fraser reached out to touch him but he was too far away. Out of his peripheral vision, Fraser saw someone standing next to him, arm raised, gun in hand. Fraser's first instinct was to disarm the person but he couldn't move. A lump formed in his throat as the person took aim at Ray. "No!" Fraser managed to yell but barely. Neither she nor Ray flinched at his exclamation. She pulled the trigger and he watched Ray's body jerk at the impact. "Ray?" The second shot caused Ray to stumble forward but he remained standing. "Ray." The third shot caused Ray to fall onto his knees and the fourth shot left him sprawled on the floor. "Ray!"
"You should've come with me Ben." Her voice caused him to shiver and he looked at her with hate. "You coming with me now? There's nothing here for you. That troll is dead. He was a waste of your time anyway."
"I will never go with you," Fraser said, his voice sounded so angry it was foreign to him.
"Very well." Victoria pointed the gun at Fraser and pulled the trigger.
"NO!" Fraser bolted out of bed, falling on the floor nearly squashing Diefenbaker in the process. Diefenbaker, who normally would have voiced his agitated opinion, sensed the panic in Fraser and lay down next to him, gently nudging him with his nose. Fraser was shaking. "This is ridiculous Dief. When will it end?" Diefenbaker looked at Fraser sadly then turned and looked at the phone. "Dief, it is 3:00am, I'm quite certain Ray would not be pleased to be woken up at such an hour." Diefenbaker whined, got up and walked over to the wall the phone hung on. "Dief, I can't." Diefenbaker barked and stared at Fraser. Fraser just stared back. Diefenbaker barked again. Fraser sighed. "Maybe a walk is in order . . . to clear the head.
Diefenbaker didn't like the idea but he followed his companion out the door. The last time he didn't go with Fraser, he was abducted. Diefenbaker was definitely not going to let that happen again, at least not without a fight. It didn't take very long for Diefenbaker to figure out where they were headed and soon he was leading the way with Fraser mindlessly following.
Before he knew it, they arrived at their destination. Fraser didn't know why he went there but it was the only place he felt safe. It was dark inside the Vecchio home, as it should be at 4:00am. "Come Dief." Fraser headed towards the house and up the porch stairs. "Be very quiet, we don't want to make a nuisance of ourselves." Fraser sat on the swing, then curled up on his side. The walk over from his apartment was very long, farther than he should have walked so soon after his recovery and he was exhausted. Fraser patted Diefenbaker on the head and sighed. "Get some sleep Dief." Diefenbaker lay down in front of the swing where Fraser dozed off into sleep.
His eyes flicked open with a startle and stared at the clock, 6:47am. Ray expected to have been awake earlier than that by a call from Fraser but that didn't happen. He yawned as he rolled out of bed and checked to make sure his cell phone was on, which it was. "I hope that's a good sign," Ray said out loud to himself as he stretched, trying to wake himself up. He grabbed his robe off the chair next to his bed and was putting on his slippers when he heard a knock on his door. "Yeah?"
The bedroom door opened. "Caro, we seem to have a visitor," Mrs. Vecchio said as she peeked in to see her son already out of bed.
"A visitor? It's not even seven." Ray proceeded to the door. "Who is it?"
"Come down and see for yourself." Mrs. Vecchio took hold of her son's arm and led him down to their living room's front window. She pulled back the curtain and there, on their front porch swing was a sleeping Mountie.
"What the?" Ray immediately went to the front door. Walking out onto the porch, it was a chilly morning but probably nothing Fraser wasn't already use to sleeping in. As Ray approached the swing, Diefenbaker raised his head with a happy look on this face. "Dief, what are you guys doing here?" Diefenbaker just started wagging his tail. "Go inside, I'm sure Ma will have something for you." Diefenbaker didn't need to hear that twice and in a flash he was through the front door.
Ray turned to look at his Mountie; at least that's what it seemed like. He seemed to be the one always taking care of him, running him around, risking his life for him. Why didn't he just call? Leaning over Fraser, Ray placed his hand on Fraser's cheek, he was slightly chilled but the heavy wool coat had kept him warm enough. "Benny?"
Fraser could feel someone touching his face and then he heard his name, well, his nickname. Opening his eyes, he saw Ray standing over him, his hand on his cheek and he began blushing out of embarrassment of being caught sleeping on Ray's porch.
"Benny, what are you doing on my porch?" Ray stood up and smiled at him knowing he probably hadn't planned on getting caught.
"Sleeping." Fraser started to sit up.
"Yes I can see that but why?"
"Well, I had a nightmare last night and . . ." Fraser began.
"Benny, didn't I tell you to call me if you needed anything?" Ray was a little agitated.
"Yes Ray but I . . ." Once again Fraser was cut off.
"No buts Fraser, what did I tell you?" Ray had his arms crossed over his chest.
"You told me if I need anything to call you." Fraser was looking down at his hands.
"No matter what time it was." 'I should have listened to Dief,' Fraser thought.
"Benny, how long have you been here?" Ray asked as he relaxed and sat down next to Fraser.
Fraser rubbed his eyes. "I think it was around four."
"Benny, what am I going to do with you?'' Ray placed his hand on Fraser's shoulder. "Come on, Ma will have breakfast ready shortly."
It was a beautiful day and nothing could spoil it. The church was decked out with all the flowers tangible in the greater Chicago area. Standing at the altar were three Mounties, two Kowalskis and three Vecchios. The bride was looking stunning as all brides do and the groom was grinning from ear to ear.
"I now pronounce you, man and wife. You may kiss the bride," the priest concluded. The bride and groomed leaned in to kiss for the first time as husband and wife. A large applause came from the congregation and the members of the wedding party.
Ray leaned close to Fraser and whispered in his ear. "I never thought I would see the day."
Fraser chuckled. "Me neither. I didn't even know they were dating until they announced their engagement."
"That's my sister for ya, always keeping ya guessing."
"May I now introduce to you, for the first time, Mr. & Mrs. Renfield Turnbull," The priest announced as Francesca and Turnbull turned to face the crowd. More applause was heard and Mrs. Vecchio was crying.
As the wedding party processed out Fraser, the best man, joined arms with Maria, Francesca's Matron of Honor; Ray, who served as presenter of the bride and grooms man, joined arms with Stella; and Stan joined arms with Meg.
The reception was just as extravagant as the wedding but a lot louder Fraser observed. All he could compare it to was a Christmas at the Vecchio home times 10 ...no make that 100. Fraser couldn't believe all the people in attendance for the celebration but he couldn't blame them. He was extremely happy for Francesca and glad she finally got her man. The only thing he didn't like was being on display at the wedding party table. Even though Francesca was no longer eligible and chasing him, there were many other members of the Vecchio clan eyeing him and that he didn't like. Every slow dance there was, he was dancing with another female member of the Vecchios, so many that even he couldn't keep track of their names. Finally he had to leave the hall to get a breath of fresh air and to just get away.
Fraser was pacing outside, enjoying the coolness of the night and the solitude when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Fraser stopped dead in his pacing; dreading whom could be bothering him. When he turned he smiled. "Hi Ray."
Stan Kowalski was standing there with a silly little smile on his face. "Your dance card's been quite full tonight."
Fraser rolled his eyes. "It seems that way yes."
"You okay? Is there anything I can do?" Stan was trying to be helpful but he knew all he could do was be a friend to Fraser.
"No Ray, I'll be fine. I just needed to get out of there. It was too . . . crowded for me." Fraser began pacing again. "You know, I've been told I could have any woman I want and tonight has pretty much proven that point to me. Why can't I have what I want?"
"Ray?" Stan asked already knowing that is what Fraser was referring to.
"Yes, Ray." Fraser stopped pacing and sat on a bench next to the building.
"Listen Fraser, I know I may not know what you are going through but in my life I have always been told you never know until you try. You haven't even tried." Stan sat down next to Fraser.
"I don't need to try. I just know it's never going to happen," Fraser sighed.
"Fraser that's what you told me before but I just don't get how you can know. No one knows what another person's thinking if you don't ask. Do you have ESP or something?" Stan was getting impatient with Fraser's stubbornness.
"Ray, I don't want to discuss it."
"Fine, but Fraser . . ." Stan began.
"Ray!" Fraser got up and walked away to head back into the reception hall, passing Stella on his way in. Stan was left shaking his head in disbelief.
"Ray, what's wrong?" Stella asked as she sat down and took hold of her ex-husband's and current fianc's hand.
"Nothin' Stella." Stan tried to muster up a convincing smile but it was no good.
"Ray, I know something is wrong, is it Fraser? Should Ray know?" Stella was still looking out for Ray.
"I don't know." Stan was getting sick of the secret he was keeping from Stella. "If I tell you something . . . something that I have been sworn never to speak of . . . you wouldn't say anything would ya?"
"Stan, I promise." Stella always kept her promises.
"Ok, it's about Fraser . . ." Stan didn't know if he could go through with telling her but since he started he knew there was no going back. "He likes someone."
"He likes someone? He likes many people." Stella was confused, Stan was still having some problems communicating but that was something they were still working on.
"No . . . I mean, yeah I know he likes many people but this person he really likes, like you and me like each other."
A light bulb went off in Stella's head and dread started creeping in. What would this do to Ray? "You mean he's in love with someone?"
"Yep." Stan looked at Stella; she was so beautiful in her bride's maid dress. He couldn't wait until their own second wedding.
"For how long?"
Stan started counting on his fingers and he looked as if he was really staining to figure out the time span. "Maybe three to five years or so."
"Oh my God, that long? Who . . ." She started immediately thinking. "It's not Francesca, that isn't what put him in this funk?"
"No, not Francesca . . . but you are pretty close." Stan didn't want to say it. He thought if she guess it, it wouldn't be like he actually broke his promise to Fraser which he hated to do.
"Stan, just tell me." Stella was getting impatient.
"It's Ray." Stan watched Stella fall back against the back of the bench with a stunned look on her face. "I know it's a shock but . . ."
"No Stan, you don't understand . . . Oh my God, I can't believe this . . . all this time wasted . . ." Stella wasn't making much sense to Stan now but he could see this news meant something to her.
"Stan, we have to tell Ray . . . this is very important . . ." Stella started to get up to hurry back into the reception hall when Stan grabbed her arm.
"Whoa there Stella, we are not going to tell Ray anything. Fraser will kill me if he knew I told anyone. I trusted you Stella."
"Stan, Ray feels the same way towards Fraser."
"Oh, okay . . . how bout we confront Fraser and try to get him to talk to Ray?" Stan suggested. "I mean, if I betray his trust, I would rather give him the information about Ray than Ray confronting him, ya know?"
"Ray would kill me, we can't do that either." Stella was at a loss now for what to do.
"Okay, how bout this, we just watch over them and make sure neither of them do anything stupid."
"I think that is the only thing we can do." Stella moved closer to Stan. "Ya know Ray, we are in such a pickle, don't you think?"
Stan wrapped his arms around Stella and kissed her. "Yeah, but I couldn't think of a better person to be in a pickle with than you." Stella just smiled.
Walking back into the hall, Fraser spotted Ray dancing with his sister. They were laughing and crying all at the same time. This would be the last time they would see each other for a while since Francesca was moving to Canada with Turnbull. Ray looked very handsome in his tuxedo but he always looked good in just about anything he wore, at least in Fraser's opinion.
Fraser was tired and become slightly depressed over the events of the day. He thought he could manage keeping his feelings bottled up, like he always did but for some reason it was different this time. Every time he saw Ray, he was spiraling deeper and deeper into his depression. As of late, he was suffering from insomnia and he couldn't take it any longer. Fraser knew what he had to do. Fraser approached the wedding party table and placed his boutonniere on the table in front of his seat and left.
"Good morning Kowalski." It was the Monday after his sister's wedding and there was still a smile on his face. Ray heard a whimper coming from under his desk, when he looked, Diefenbaker was there with a slight forlorn look on his face. "Hey Dief, where's that Mountie of yours?"
"Good morning Ray." Stan replied. "Have you talked to Fraser since Saturday?"
"No, I've been pretty busy ya know with my sister's wedding and all." Ray sat down at his desk and started sorting through the files lying there.
"Well, I was just curious, do you know when he left Saturday?" Stan got up and walked over to Ray's desk.
"No, the last time I remember seeing him was before the wishing well dance. Why?" Ray looked at Stan and noticed a little concern on his face. "Is there something I should know?"
"Well, no . . . maybe. I mean I saw him outside the reception hall around seven which was right before the wishing well dance and when I went back into the hall, he was gone." Stan sat down in the chair in front of Ray's desk, Fraser's chair. "I mean it's just not like him to leave like that. It's not . . ."
"Polite?" Ray finished Stan's statement.
"Yeah, ya know?"
"Yeah well, maybe he was just tired or something. You know he isn't a big crowd person and there were quite a few people there, the majority of them being Vecchios." Although Ray was making excuses for Fraser, he didn't like what he was hearing. "I'll check on him at lunch if that . . ." Ray trailed off his statement when he noticed an envelope sitting on his desk. It was addressed simply to "Ray". The handwriting was Fraser's.
"What is it?" Stan chirped up.
"This is from Fraser," Ray said as he opened it. The envelope contained a rather lengthy letter that read:
This is the hardest letter I have ever had to write in my entire life. Why is it so hard you ask? Well, I feel like such a coward for writing it instead of confronting you face to face, man to man, friend to friend.
Friend, you are my best friend, the only person I can say that about. I could have never survived my exile in Chicago if you hadn't been there to show me the ropes and steer me in the right direction. This is evident by the fact I survived on my own while you were away undercover. I even helped Stan out along the way - as you did for me.
When I returned from Holiday in Canada, I was looking forward to seeing you, I missed you. I know I hadn't been gone that long but I still missed you. I also could tell there was something wrong when we spoke on the phone last and I wanted to find out what was wrong. I wanted to help you but alas you were gone and I couldn't solve what was wrong. It felt like a part of me had been torn out when Lt. Welsh filled me in on the details of your assignment. I wanted to curl up in a corner and die but when Stan gave me the postcard that you sent, I knew then that I could go on. I could survive this city without you. You would return eventually, that is what I believed.
The truth is, this city is not my city. You were my connection to it and the only reason I have stayed as long as I have . . . did. I thought I could continue living here and be happy as long as you were in my life or at least I thought that was enough.
My life has taken many twists and turns. I can not even count them all on one hand but you were there through them all. The main digression I am referring to is Victoria. I know the mere mentioning of her name could send shivers down your spine but I feel I must clear the air one final time.
I never really loved her. I know that now. I think the night I found her near death in the snow up at Fortitude Pass . . . having her near me, hearing her voice - her beautiful voice - stirred emotions in me I thought were dead. Before that, I never saw myself falling in love or settling down due to my job, duties and responsibilities. After seeing how my mother's life was, I was determined never do that to the person I loved. After that night on the mountain, I realized I couldn't live without that kind of love. I wasn't in love with Victoria more the idea of being in love and being loved equally in return.
As you know, when she came to Chicago the first time, I wasn't thinking clearly. I was only thinking it was my last chance at happiness. My last chance to be loved. I was wrong Ray. I was so wrong. Thinking back now, I can't even believe all she got me to do and I can't understand why I let her manipulate me as she did. You could have lost everything: your job, your home, your family, your friends . . . your life; and still you stood by me in the end. Why Ray? All I can figure is that you truly cared about me. That was the first time I realized we were genuinely friends and not just partners. That was when I began letting you past the barriers I had built to protect myself from anymore heartache.
I know we never discussed what happened that night on the train platform but you knew I was going to leave with her, I admitted that in the hospital. I made a wrong decision, a horribly wrong decision, which could have destroyed everything I hold dear in my heart. I am sorry Ray. I know that can not even come close to covering the damage I caused but I am so sorry.
The second time we encountered Victoria, when I thought she had killed you, I wanted to die myself. I believe I would have let myself be taken over by the shock, until you were holding me. That is the only thing that kept me going, knowing you were alive.
You are now probably wondering where this is going but as you know, me being "the most irritating man in the world," I like to drag things out a bit, don't I?
Things have changed within me, my thoughts, feelings, beliefs . . . I feel I don't know who I am anymore. At least I don't think I am who I thought I was. What has caused this change? Let me start at the very beginning . . .
When I first came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer, you were the first person I met upon my arrival. I had no idea how important that was until later. As I said before, you helped me survive in this New World that was my exile. You cared and that was all I needed.
We risked our lives together, side by side, more times than I can remember (but I'm sure you will remind me). I think I forced you to do so more than you choosing but you know I would never let anything happen to you. I would lay my life down to keep you safe . . . to keep you alive. That is where things started becoming confusing. I would risk my own life to keep you safe and out of harms way . . . to keep you alive. I don't think I could live knowing you wouldn't be in my life in one way or another. Even that thought changed as time passed.
There have been nights, while you were away undercover, when all I thought about was you. Were you safe? Were you alive? Would you ever return? To be perfectly honest, it was even before you left that I thought about you, worried about you. If you haven't figured it out yet, all I can say is this, I love you Ray. I don't know when I started loving you but it was like I woke up one day and it all clicked. I could love no other person more than I love you Raymond Vecchio.
I'm not talking about loving you as a brother either; I truly love you with my heart, body and soul. You have been my waking thought and my nightly prayer. I don't expect you to understand, I don't even understand at times but all I know is I love you.
Things can never be as they were; I know that now and respect your decisions and your life. I understand what can and can't happen, I just needed to convey my feelings to you without receiving a knock in the jaw (which can hurt greatly when coming from a person you care for).
In closing, I want to say I have appreciated your friendship tremendously. You changed my life for the better and I will never forget that or you. I could never forget you. I will be leaving for home Monday. I have decided to go back there and try rebuilding Dad's cabin, again. I have to go because I can't control my feelings and I need some time to myself to sort them out. Thank you kindly Ray, for everything. I don't know when or if I am returning so please tell Stan that I will miss him too.
PS Could you please take care of Diefenbaker until I send you further instructions regarding his transportation? I don't want to send him through quarantine again until I am sure of my final destination.
Ray sat at his desk in awe of the letter he just read. How could he be so blind to Fraser's feelings? He had to fix this. He had to stop him. He had to go. Ray threw the letter on his desk and grabbed his coat.
"Where are you going? What's wrong?" Stan asked looking stunned at Ray.
"Fraser's leaving . . . I have to stop him . . ." Ray incoherently sputtered out as he put his coat on.
"Wait, why is he leaving?" Stan inquired.
"Because he loves me." Ray looked at Stan with a slight smile on his face. It finally dawned on him by saying the words out loud. Fraser loved him. Benny loved him.
"Ah," Stan said.
"Ah? Ah what? What does that mean? Did Fraser teach you that?" Ray grabbed his keys from his desk.
"He's leaving because he loves you and doesn't know you love him too?" Stan was smiling as he said that, divulging the fact he knew.
"You've been talkin' with Stella haven't you?"
"Benny you better be there cause I ain't traipsing across the 'Armpit of the Frozen North' to find ya," Ray said to himself as he sped across town, trying to make it to the airport in time.
Diefenbaker barked in the passenger seat. "Yeah, I know Dief . . . I would go traipsing across Canada to find him. Heck, I would go halfway across the world for him . . . he seems to have that effect on me. Ya know . . . getting me to do things I'd never do on my own normally and things I don't even want to do. Why is that?"
Diefenbaker grumbled and whined. "Unconditional love, that's why. I would do anything he asked. I love him with no strings attached. I've never asked anything in return and don't expect anything. As long as he's happy . . . Happy? He hasn't been happy lately and I didn't even notice. Why is that Dief?" Ray looked over at Diefenbaker and Dief cocked his head to one side and whimpered. "I know, Benny's not too good at expressing his feelings but . . ." Ray stopped himself. "It's not all Benny's fault. I am as much to blame as he is. Neither of us would say how we felt . . . how stupid am I?"
Diefenbaker moved closer to Ray and licked his face. "Thanks Dief . . . you know, you're really good to talk to . . ." Ray shook his head. "I think Benny's rubbing off on me too much. Here I am holding a deep meaningful conversation with a deaf wolf." Ray smiled and rubbed Diefenbaker's neck. "He better be there."
Fraser was sitting in the waiting area of the gate his plane was to take off from. He had been at the airport for an hour so far and there was still another two hours delay before his plane was to take off.
Fraser was exhausted. He was on day four with no sleep and his lack of sleep heightened his emotions. Fraser had been to the public restroom at least six times since his arrival trying to regain his composure . . . it was hard not to think of Ray, really hard.
Fraser sighed and decided to lie down on the section of chairs to try and get a little rest before he had to board the plane. Fraser had dozed for about ten minutes before he felt something wet touch his face. Fraser opened his eyes and immediately focused on Diefenbaker who was standing in front of him, nudging him with his nose. "Diefenbaker, I told you to stay at the precinct until Ray got there. Don't you ever listen to anything I tell you?" Fraser said as he began to sit up and stretch. Fraser leaned over and rubbed Diefenbaker's nose with his hands. "I know you're going to miss me, don't think I won't miss you but it's only for a little while." Fraser leaned closer to Diefenbaker and rested his head on Diefenbaker's head.
"You gonna miss me too?" Ray asked, startling Fraser. Ray had been sitting in a chair across from Fraser, observing his whole conversation with Diefenbaker. Ray sat with his legs crossed and hands resting on his knees. Fraser was so out of it, he hadn't even notice him.
"Hello Ray." Fraser sat up straight, looking at his friend.
"You didn't answer my question." Ray was being insistent.
"What was the question?" Fraser asked innocently trying to stall the inevitable.
"You know what the question was Fraser." Fraser sensed the irritation that time. Whenever Ray was getting annoyed, he normally called Fraser by his last name and not the nickname that only Ray used.
Fraser looked away from Ray and then looked back, staring directly into his eyes. "Yes Ray, I will miss you too."
Ray could see the exhaustion in Fraser's eyes and he hated the fact he was unable to help him until now. "Why Benny?"
"Why would I miss you?" Fraser asked, confused.
"No," Ray said sternly. "Why are you leaving?"
"Oh . . ." Fraser couldn't believe he was being asked to go over everything that he thought was already covered in the letter he left. The letter, why did he have to leave it like that, why couldn't he just talk to Ray? "You did read the letter I left . . . of course you did or you would not be here . . ."
"Fraser!" Ray calmed himself before continuing. "Yes, I read the letter."
"Then you know why I'm leaving. Please, I can not do this . . ." Fraser was cut off.
"Can't do what Benny?"
Fraser got up from his seat and was taking on Ray's normal ranting stance of pacing and arms flailing. "I can't go over this again. You know why I'm leaving. It seems you're here just to torture me a little before I go. I can't do this anymore . . . pretend . . . pretend like everything is as it was before. I can't do it. It hurts too much. I'm suffocating." Fraser stopped pacing at the observation window of the waiting area, facing out, hugging himself.
"Do you feel better now?" Ray had never seen Fraser vent as he just did, it was something he needed to do. It was relieving to see.
Fraser sighed. "Ray . . . I am so tired. I haven't slept in four days . . . I have to go." Before Fraser knew what was happening, he felt an embrace come around him from behind and he could feel Ray's entire body against his back. "Ray . . . please . . ."
"Please what?" Ray questioned as he held onto Fraser.
"Don't," Fraser whispered as he let his head drop and rested his chin on his chest. Ray felt a tear hit his hand.
"Benny?" Ray whispered. Fraser could feel Ray's breath against his neck and it sent shivers down his spine. "Benny, I want you to come sit down with me, okay?" Fraser nodded his head and was lead to the chairs behind them where they both sat down.
Fraser was looking down at his hands that were in his lap. He didn't want to look at Ray. He didn't want him to see the pain in his eyes. Ray took hold of Fraser's left hand. "Benny, I need you to look at me when I talk to you." Fraser didn't budge. With his free hand, Ray took hold of Fraser's chin and turned his head to look at him. There were tears in Fraser's eyes that would start flowing any minute. Ray smiled at Fraser. Another tear slid down Fraser's cheek and Ray wiped it away with his thumb.
"Benny, I need you to listen to me and let me finish before you say anything, understood?" Ray asked. Fraser nodded his head in agreement.
"Okay," Ray got up and was in his discussion stance of pacing, "First I want to say . . . no ask . . . Fraser please don't leave. I think it would be a huge mistake if you do. Benny, you can't run from life like that, it's not like you." Ray stopped pacing in front of Fraser and knelt down in front of him. "And second . . ." Ray brought his hands up to cup Fraser's face. Ray leaned in and kissed Fraser on the lips. When he pulled away to look at Fraser's reaction, Fraser was just staring back at him, blue eyes wide open. "The second reason is the main reason. I want you to stay." Ray smiled at Fraser. "You do understand, right?"
Fraser continued staring ahead, almost looking through Ray. Could this really be happening? After all this time, is he actually getting what he wants? Ray must be delusional or out of his mind. He doesn't understand what he's saying or doing. Fraser didn't seem to have all the answers for himself either.
"Benny, what I'm trying to tell you is I love you too. I think I always have."
A smile spread over those wonderful lips and Fraser was grinning. Fraser was actually working on autopilot now. He leaned forward and captured Ray's lips as he kissed him passionately and thoroughly nearly causing Ray to loose his balance. He surprised Ray with that gesture but Ray recovered quickly giving as much as he was receiving. They broke for air, both gasping due to lack of oxygen and from the excitement of what each of them had waited so long to do. They smiled at each other.
"Benny, we can't do this here . . . PDA . . . I totally frown upon Public Display of Affection." Ray said as he struggled to a standing position. Fraser understood. "Wanna go home Benny?" Fraser just nodded.
He never thought he would be entering his apartment so soon but he was glad to be staying. Fraser really never wanted to leave Chicago in the first place, he just thought it was his only option. After Ray entered the apartment, Fraser closed the door behind them and placed his bag on the floor.
Ray turned around to look at Fraser and Fraser was yawning. "Benny, I think those four days have finally caught up with ya. I think you need to get some sleep."
"I'm not ready . . ." Another yawn, " to. Ray, I want to be with you, talk with you, enjoy your company."
"Benny, you and me, we're gonna have a lifetime together but for now, you need some sleep." Ray grabbed Fraser's arm, gently dragged him over to the bed and sat him down. Ray knelt in front of him, began unfastening his shoes and removed them. "Give me your coat." Fraser took off his coat and handed it to Ray. "Now, lay down while I hang this up."
Fraser stretched out on the bed and relaxed. He hadn't felt this relaxed since . . . he couldn't remember how long. He felt safe, secure and loved. "Ray, will you stay with me?"
Ray walked over to the bed and sat down. "Benny, I wasn't planning on leaving." Ray reached over and stroked Fraser forehead.
"But would you . . ." Fraser was afraid to ask.
"Would I what?" Fraser mumbled his next statement to where even Ray, who was sitting right next to him couldn't understand what he said. "What?"
"Would you hold me?" Fraser blushed a little and was embarrassed for asking.
"Benny, I thought you'd never ask." Ray nudged Fraser to move over and he laid down next to him, drawing Fraser into a loving embrace. Fraser rested his head on Ray's shoulder, wrapped his own arms around him and fell asleep immediately.