Ray sat with Diefenbaker on his lap, his hands clenching on and then smoothing the thick fur. Otherwise, he was motionless beyond the rise and fall of his slightly labored breathing. His half- closed eyes stared down at his hands. At least he'd taken his gloves off when we'd reached his apartment, though he still wore his battered, black leather jacket, whether from cold or indifference I couldn't say. Sitting almost still, the hectic flush of weeping slowly fading from his pale face, he could have been taken for calm, the tempest over, by someone who didn't know him.
I knew him, and I knew better. Ray's very stillness provided an indication that something was very wrong. His quicksilver mind-- which operated around corners and in ways and at speeds I still couldn't quite comprehend--would be churning. No doubt with guilt, self-recrimination, regrets, might-have-beens, and should- have-beens.
I understood, because I had my own, especially now. So much to atone for...
When I'd found about Sam Franklin's role in the cover-up, I had been appalled at such behavior in a law officer and horrified that Ray was in those deceitful hands at that very moment. But some dark part of me couldn't help its glee in the thought that the man was a malfeasant. The man who had been so familiar with my Ray.
"My" Ray, as if one person could own another. As if I had any right to even try to claim possession when I'd never so much as told him how I felt about him.
I remembered seeing the two of them together at the station, the way the sight of Franklin had brought a tiny spark to Ray's eyes, which had been dead for most of the day. Ray's smile, through weak and small, still lit the precinct. I couldn't convince even myself that I'd followed them--at a discreet distance, of course--out of the room just to make sure Ray would be fine. The way they stood so close, every casual touch, all the warm words had felt like a knife being pushed further into my chest. When Franklin had told Ray to come over and talk anytime he needed to, then followed it with that caress to Ray's cheek... and Ray had leaned into that touch like a plant into the sunshine it needed to live...
I still couldn't untangle the rush of thoughts and emotions the scene had provoked, though jealousy and the knowledge that those two had history together had risen above the deluge.
I knew I had to be wary of the feeling that what I'd found out about Franklin justified my urge to kill the miscreant. The... bastard had been willing to let an innocent woman go to prison and die to cover his tracks, had made Ray an unknowing party to it, and then had threatened Ray's life to try to save himself. The sight of that gun aimed at Ray's head, the knowledge that Franklin would pull the trigger if he felt he had to, and the look on Ray's face had made the confrontation a nightmare.
Then Franklin had caressed Ray's cheek again after he gave up his gun to the authorities--as Ray might sneer, No hard feelings that I threatened to kill you, right?--and I flashed so hard on Victoria I lost track of where I was for a moment. I wasn't sure why. Maybe it was the gesture of affection cheapened by what had come before.
I could only hope that Sam Franklin couldn't hurt Ray any more now. Any more than he already had.
In hindsight, you could say that Ray should have unfolded the paper and read it after he had found Beth Botrelle in the shower, but it was understandable how he had overlooked it. In his inexperience, he hadn't recognized it as a suicide note, and he had been completely distracted. If Franklin had behaved as an officer of the law instead of a conspirator, the note wouldn't have been "forgotten" and replaced. Ray had trusted Franklin, someone he should have been able to trust, and how could that have been wrong?
Ray wouldn't be able to see it that way. He would see his stupidity hurting others in Beth Botrelle's eight years lost in prison and four last-second stays of execution. He would see his own poor judgment in believing in Franklin. And he would see all this as part of a pattern of incompetence. In the end, he would conclude that he was too trusting, too gullible, too stupid and in every way not good enough.
I couldn't let that happen. Not again.
When, greatly daring, I pulled Ray in closer, he just fell against me, leaning into my shoulder. I remembered being in the car with him tonight as he broke down and sobbed like a child in front of me, and I didn't know if that had expressed the depth of his trust in me or just the depth of his pain. Now, as then, I had to wonder at his reasons, this time for letting me take such liberties as he allowed me to move him about like a ragdoll.
He still petted Diefenbaker, and I started to stroke his spiky hair in time. He unconsciously pushed into my hand a little. That and the warmth of him brought up feelings I refused to entertain. In recent days I had felt too many inappropriate things involving Ray. Even now.
He still wore all black as he had for days, and I knew he subconsciously meant it as mourning or an obvious sign that he was a "bad guy." Yet I couldn't help thinking how fetching he looked that way. I could barely curb my jealousy as I watched a world respond to Ray in his pain by trying to stroke him and finish his sentences for him. If I hadn't been so focused on trying to ease Ray's hurt, I might have snarled at the bartender who'd practically hung on him. Only I was supposed to touch him; only I was supposed to comfort him; only I was supposed to complete him... Shallowness, selfishness, possessiveness.
"She forgave me, Fraser. Had me take her through that night in the house, then forgave me. How could she forgive me?"
I thought of how much it must have hurt him to walk through that house, that memory, again and held him a little closer. "You made amends for your mistake, at personal cost. You saved her life and set her free."
His laugh sounded bitter and lacked all humor. "Personal cost? My cost is nothin' compared to hers." Once started, the words gushed out. "What if she hadn't gotten those stays of execution the other three times too? She'd be dead, and it would be my fault. What does that say about my judgment, huh? What does trusting Sam say about my judgment? Just prop up my ego a bit, and I'll be yers fer life. God, I went to see him last night and told him everythin' about our investigation. He and I... We almost--" Ray shook his head and stared intently down into Diefenbaker's fur.
Dismay and relief hit me so close to one another that I didn't know how I felt. They hadn't-- At least not this time. My utterly prurient interest--I couldn't deceive myself with the thought that I just wanted to make sure Ray was well--demanded more detail, but I realized that Ray didn't know how I felt about men loving men. He would never talk to me about this if he thought he would lose me to a homophobic reaction.
"Caring is caring, Ray. It doesn't matter to me what physical package it comes in." Men with men I had no problem with at all, obviously. You with Sam Franklin was something else entirely, but I had to know.
He breathed a little easier, and it didn't seem to surprise him that I had known exactly what words he had swallowed back. "Okay. Okay. Yeah, it wouldn't to you. 'Cause yer you." He shook his head. "At least Sam and I didn't... ya know." His voice thickened and sounded painful. "That would have made today so much worse."
"Tell me about it. Let me help." My conscience said, in a voice that sounded remarkably like Ray's, //Oh suuuure, "help." That's what you're intending.//
Ray looked torn. "I..."
"It will never go any further than this room. Mountie's honor."
"Yeah. I... I trust ya on that. And I never did get to talk to nobody about me and Sam, and I've wanted to..."
What if they had been involved once? Did I really want to know?
Yes. I was burning to know.
"Please do, Ray."
He took a deep breath and didn't look at me. Maybe he couldn't tell me this if he looked at me. "Guess I better start at the beginnin'. When we met, I was havin' a bad time of it. I was a rookie and felt like I couldn't do nothin' right on the job. Turns out that was right.... I was married to Stella, but I barely got to see her since my hours were strange, and I knew her friends were askin' her why she was slummin' with me. Not like I had the looks or the brains or the future." His voice stayed low and flat, dead. Ray could have been reciting a laundry list if not for the way the words tumbled out at such high speed. "So I was low all the way around.
"Sam took an interest in me, fer some reason. Said I was a good cop and could get even better. I should've known he was blowin' smoke up my ass. But I respected him, even idolized him a bit, so who was I to say he was wrong?
"I thought he was a good cop, one of the best. Was it ever true, or just a good impression? I dunno anymore.
"Anyway, we hung out, talked shop, went out drinkin'. He made me feel like maybe I wasn't such a screw-up. He was a good friend, but I started to think that maybe he wanted a bit more, ya know? Heated looks. He touched me more than he had to. Hand on the shoulder. Palm on the side of my face.
"I knew I was into guys too because Stella had made sure we both went out and sowed our oats a bit before we settled down. True love at 12 was more than good enough fer me, but she wanted to be sure. She even checked in on me to make sher I was dating other people. So I knew it when I felt somethin' fer him, but I was married and still loved Stella. Faithful 'til death did we part was what I signed up for. But even if I wouldn't do nothin' with it, for him, it felt good knowin' someone wanted me.
"Sam was good about it, and he even stopped me from pouncing on him a few times when I was too drunk to have any sense left.
"But then the Botrelle case came up, and we both got promoted. Ain't that a show of the unfairness of life. I screwed up, he covered up, and we both got promoted for it. Didn't see much of him afterward.
"But seeing him in the precinct like that... It was like time hadn't passed at all." Ray almost smiled.
I felt something twist in my chest. "You loved him," I said. It sounded flat when it came out, not at all what I'd been trying for.
Too lost in whatever mental landscape he wandered, Ray didn't notice. "I dunno. Hero worship or love, they felt about the same to me." Ray curled himself into a tighter ball, making himself smaller and smaller. Dief whined. "And he put a gun to my head today and had me find out that he would let an innocent woman be executed for my mistake. That he'd used my incompetence to save his crooked ass. That made me an accessory, part of her--"
Ray stood suddenly and started to pace in tight circles. As still as he'd been earlier, he more than made up for it now. This was more the Ray I knew, but it scared me. I couldn't help feeling that, like a guitar string, he'd vibrate if I tapped him.
Maybe he'd even snap.
"How fucking stupid can I be?" Ray asked. "How fucking stupid do I have to be before I give up my badge and gun to protect people from my mistakes?"
I could never see an act of violence in progress and not try to stop it. That this was self-violence and completely psychological didn't make it any less wrong or harmful. I had to intervene, as a human being, as Ray's friend, as...
...as someone who cared very deeply for him.
"You should have been able to trust Franklin to be a true friend and do his job. You shouldn't have to suspect that a man you respected had thrown aside conscience and the law to benefit himself."
"Yeah, I should've been able to trust Sam, but shoulda woulda coulda doesn't get Beth Botrelle her life back. As a cop, I got the power of life and death over people, and I don't deserve it!"
"No one but God deserves it, Ray, and sometimes I wonder about that as well. But I trust you, and I would place my life in your hands without hesitation, without doubt."
Ray shook his head almost violently. "I can't believe ya."
His refusal to trust my words hurt so badly that I couldn't even feel it at first. It hit like the numbness of shock. "Why-- Ray..."
"It's 'cause yer so *nice*. You'd never tell me if ya thought I was a waste of space. It's not polite or somethin'. But I know what ya must really be thinkin'."
I saw traces of red at the edges of my vision. "Do you?"
"Yeah! I would think the same thing in yer place!"
On some level I understood what was going on here. Ray was lashing out at himself, so lost in his own pain and horror that he didn't see how hurtful his words could be to me. I could almost smell his torment on his skin earlier just as I felt his self-hatred pouring from him in waves of force now as he paced and gesticulated. My usual logical self understood all of that, but that self drowned in dark, red waters. Tonight, my other side answered, and it didn't care about understanding. It said, Enough. He doesn't believe me? I'll make him believe.
I didn't remember standing up or stalking over to Ray, but I must have, because I suddenly had him in my grip, hands tightening on his arms. "Is this 'nice'?" I asked in a near growl. I gave him only a second to stare at me, wide-eyed, before my mouth collided with his own, shutting him up for certain. He couldn't even wiggle, though he fought as best he could for a minute before he let himself melt against me.
It was so wrong, so good, and I had the urge to devour him alive. I told myself that this wasn't how I wanted it to be. My self said, Don't bother us now, as I coasted on a dizzy rush of power and lust. I had Ray, fever-warm and trembling, in my hands, his sweet, silky mouth pressed and moving against mine. What else could I want?
Only the knowledge that he responded of his free will, not because he needed comforting and would accept it from anyone or because I had him pinned.
I was ashamed then.
When I let him go, I almost smiled when he swayed toward me, following. That urge died as he opened his eyes and stepped back, confusion and shock jangling in his stare and every move.
Our eyes linked as if hooked together until Ray broke it by looking down and away. His voice shook. "Ya got some way of shuttin' a guy up there." He made light of it, trying to give me a way to gloss over the two irrevocable things I'd done.
I couldn't, not the kiss and not the violence. I could still feel the heat of his lips lingering on my own and knew that his arms would show the imprint of my hands. Glossing over would stop the first from ever happening again, while making the second more likely to recur. Unacceptable.
Ray stared at me as he just stood there and breathed. The look in his eyes suggested that my actions had proven yet again that his judgment of people couldn't be trusted. I'd reinforced the very thoughts I'd tried to cure him of, and I couldn't let that stand.
I brought my hand up to his face. I watched him decide not to flinch from the motion; he did trust me, even if I didn't deserve it. I gently touched his cheek and traced it, as Franklin had done, trying to erase the man's taint from Ray's skin. Ray looked utterly confused.
Could I botch this any further? I pulled my hand away--slowly, because it seemed to have a mind of its own and was unwilling to leave. Ray stared at me and tried to hug himself in his I'm-cold gesture that sometimes truly meant "I'm cold" but could also mean "I hurt." He winced slightly as his hands touched his arms, then put them down at his sides.
I had hurt him repeatedly in the last few minutes, and I had to try to make amends. "I'm sorry, Ray, so sorry. I shouldn't have done that." My voice sounded thick.
"Done what? Grabbed me? Kissed me? Stroked me? All of it? What, Frase?" he asked, his voice equal parts heartbreak and anger.
I felt like I was skinning myself with a dull knife, and I wasn't even helping him. It hurt to try to say this, but if my pain could lessen Ray's hurt... I choked out, "No, I should have kissed you, touched you, long ago. Just... not like this. Not with force." I swallowed. I had to show him I had honorable intentions, but the words kept sticking in my throat. "I'm-- I mean I--"
Calmer, looking a little less hurt, Ray moved closer with something that could have been sympathy lighting his face. "You can tell me, Fraser. Yer the one who has all the words."
"Not here. It's hard for me to..." Oh, just get it out. "I... I love you, Ray."
Ray cocked his head in a manner so reminiscent of Diefenbaker that I almost laughed even through my misery. "You love me." But he seemed to straighten, uncoil, a little. "Fer how long?"
I thoroughly deserved this. "That first day... I was so confused by your presence, by your outlandish claim that you were Ray Vecchio, that I didn't know how I felt about you. When we were in the crypt, I started to understand."
"That long, and ya didn't say nothin'." His mouth twitched. "So why now? You didn't say nothin' till I started to talk about..." He closed his eyes. "Me and Sam. You thought of us together... and ya felt jealous."
"Jealous." Ray seemed to savor the word as he slowly rolled it off his tongue, lengthening the syllables. It sounded beautiful from his mouth.
"Jealous," I said. He seemed to have a destination in mind. Then again, maybe he was just torturing me.
"See, it's a good thing I know how ya feel, 'cause I've been in love with you since the first day we met too. I just didn't think I had a chance in hell at ya."
I stared at him in shock. He couldn't mean... after what I'd done... "You--"
Ray smiled. He still looked worn and wrung out--too pale, eyes still bloodshot from tears--but that smile made him seem like sunlight parting the storm clouds. "You wanna try that kiss thing again?"
Oh, it hurt, but it was such a good pain, like circulation returning to a limb. "Yes. Very much so."
Ray started out kissing me, but we were soon kissing one another. This time I could taste the salt of misery on his lips and licked it away. I had the sudden insane thought that I could kiss him clean of it all, devour his pain the way he currently devoured my mouth. His hands roamed under my sweater in a possessive way that thrilled me. Ray was the aggressive one now, backing me into the couch until I fell onto it. Diefenbaker let out an aggrieved bark before vacating for a safer place. Ray knelt on the floor between my spread legs.
No, not like this. "Ray." No response. "Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray!" With the last recitation of his name I set my hand under his chin and lifted it up a bit so we were looking at one another.
He looked dazed. "Yeah?"
"Floor and couch is good. I like 'em."
I had a horrible suspicion. "Ray, are you-- Do you--"
He smiled. "Fraser, I would love to read yer mind right now, but it ain't happening."
"You seemed to be happy that I flew into a jealous rage and manhandled you. Now you're--"
"Hold up. No, I'm not into pain. I try to avoid it as much as possible, thank you very much, which ain't always easy, being yer partner. It's just... now I *know* you care. I mean, you showed me. I can't doubt it. Which doesn't mean ya have to knock me around now, got it? I'm good now."
"So you know I care about you, and I know you care about me. That we love one another."
His crooked grin warmed me, and he looked almost shy. "Right."
"I don't need you to prove anything to me, Ray."
He put his head on my knee and laughed. I watched in fascination as his spiky blond hair quivered. "Not the right time, huh? Ya feel that I've had a string of bad days and a big shock, I'm wrung out, I'm just looking fer comfort sex..."
"Not at all," I said. Ray looked at me in that way that undid me and all my shields completely. "Well."
Ray tried to hide his disappointment and self-doubt. Tired as he was, it didn't work at all. "So I go to bed, and you go home."
"If you like, I could go to bed with you. To sleep." I felt terrified and exhilarated at once. I didn't know what I would do if he said no.
Ray grinned at me. "Sounds like a good deal."
And I could breathe again. "Then it's off to bed with you."
The grin became a smirk. "Sure thing... Daddy." He rubbed his cheek against my knee.
"If ya don't tuck me in and read me a story, I'll be real disappointed."
"If ya don't tuck yerself in with me, I'll just haveta hunt ya down and kill ya."
It was good to see him being so silly. "I'm seeing your father in a whole new light, Ray." He just laughed.
I finally got him out of his coat when we reached the bedroom. We both took off our boots next, then slipped under the covers. Everything here smelled of Ray's hair, Ray's skin... I was wrapped in his scent, even as I put my arms around him and settled him, "spooned," against me. At which point I would just hold him for the rest of the night. I'd accused Ray of being a masochist, but that seemed to be a matter of pot calling kettle.
I was hard as a rock, and surrendering to the urge to nuzzle his hair and burrow us deeper into his mattress wasn't helping.
"What do ya do when yer getting' blue-- uh, when yer sexually frustrated, Fraser?"
At first I wanted to dance around the issue since it was none of his business, then I realized that it *was* his business, and I wanted it that way. "I... take care of myself when I can. When that's not possible, I think my way out of the feeling. Mind over matter."
"No, not really, Ray. And if you wiggle, I'll have to kill you."
He laughed. It amazed me how quickly and easily he'd relaxed in my arms. Ray felt so utterly alive against me, all thrumming, barely dormant energy. His warmth soaked into my body like sunlight, and I felt as if being under the thick blankets together really could shield us from all the bad things in the world. When his hand settled over mine on his stomach, I let go of a tension I hadn't even realized I felt.
I heard Diefenbaker pad into the room and settle with a happy sigh at the foot of the bed. He was the last ingredient I needed to feel like I'd come home. I smiled as I started to think of cabins, fireplaces, and the Territories. And Ray, lying on the rug in front of a roaring fire with me. Every cabin needed a Ray. The cliched domesticity of the scene I was imagining would no doubt make him laugh. I'd have to share it with him later.
Ray managed to relax even further somehow. "It's been forever since someone..." He didn't complete the sentence.
He didn't have to. I'd have to get him used to being held.
I cleared my throat, taking advantage of the opportunity to blow in his ear, and started, "Once upon a time there was an Inuit boy named Muklukchukbuk--"
Ray instantly reacted to the ludicrous name I'd invented. "There was not!" Ray actually started to giggle. "I was joking about getting a bedtime story, Fraser. Y'know, joking, ha ha, I'm not serious?"
"You asked for it, Ray."
"You gonna give me everythin' I ask for?"
"I can try."
I could feel Ray smile. "Okay."
"--and he was considered to be the greatest hunter in the land. One day he and his best friend--"
"Who I'm sher also had a ridiculous name."
"He didn't think it was ridiculous."
"He didn't know any better."
"Granted." And so it went. With Ray involved, a story I might have finished in ten minutes took about half an hour. By the time we ended it, we were both breathless with laughter. I felt him start to drift off at last.
"I love you." It was easier for me this time. If I said it often enough, maybe it wouldn't scare me anymore at all. I could try.
Ray showed no hesitation. "I love you too, Frase."
"Good night, Ray."
Ray snuggled in closer. "Good night, John Boy."
I would protect him from anything that ever threatened him. Anything. Even me, when necessary.
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