Ten-thirty p.m. on Valentine's Day. The day had been full of hearts and flowers. Cupids and chocolates. Sappy cards, sweet verses, protestations of everlasting adoration, some destined to survive the month, some doomed to the round bin recycler. But none for him.
He'd moved through the day with his usual quiet confidence, admired Francesca's roses and Turnbull's card. Ray Kowalski's desk barely supported a huge stuffed seal, a gift from his sweetie. Fraser questioned the propriety of Ray's reciprocal gift, but refrained from acting more brotherly than his grown half-sister would tolerate, should she hear of it. He'd complimented Lt. Welsh on his evening attire, and Stella on hers, as they left arm-in-arm for a night of dancing and hobnobbing. He'd refused Mort's macabre offer of anatomically correct chocolate hearts. Politely, of course. He observed with considerable surprise the plethora of cards, flowers, and gifts that spilled from Jack Huey's desk. Tom Dewey received a single potted African violet, from his mother, a sad little plant that would never see springtime warmth. A more robust vernal collection sat on Ray Vecchio's desk, healthy and vibrant.
Fraser returned to the Consulate in time to sign for a bundle of balloons, a gift to Constable Sargent from one of his many admirers. The reception desk was nearly as riotously Valentinian as Huey's workspace. Turnbull's desk held his precious card, a small bowl of chocolates Cadbury eggs, and a stuffed lamb. The Easter theme might have puzzled others, had they the time or inclination to ponder such, but Fraser had long ago accepted that Turnbull was his own natural law. That he'd found a mate that not only understood that but also answered to that same skewed reality offered hope to all the solitary men and women on this couple's day.
Checking his own office and desk, Fraser saw that nothing had changed. Or been added. Nothing foolish in pink, or red, or white. Nothing sweet. Nothing sentimental. No tangible souvenir of an invisible relationship. Not even the prospect of a quiet dinner at home. He knew it was ridiculous to be disappointed. The parameters of their relationship were clear, the limits non-negotiable. He told himself it didn't matter. Hearts and flowers weren't a viable option. He would endure. He was a Mountie, after all.
Which is why Sergeant Benton Fraser, RCMP, was asleep in bed alone at ten-thirty p.m. on Valentine's Day. A simple supper after work, personal paperwork, the nine o'clock news on WGN on the set Ray had insisted he purchase, he'd simply followed the routine established for ordinary days and turned in. Unlike his usual routine, a small noise woke him at ten-thirty-four.
"Geez, it's dark. You asleep?"
"I usually am by this time, Ray." Not that you'd know, his increasingly acrimonious inner voice snapped.
"Hey, I should have called. I didn't think." Ray stood in the doorway, a dark outline, smoke among shadows. Fraser quickly rolled out of bed and shrugged into the robe he kept at the foot of the bed.
"It's alright, Ray. You know you're always welcome." Fraser gently tugged Ray into an embrace, smoothing himself against the wool coat and its warm inhabitant. "Are you hungry? I wasn't expecting you tonight."
"No, I ate with the family. I just came by to thank you for the flowers. Ma really liked them."
"I'm glad. You didn't have to drive all this way, a phone call ..."
"I can't do this over the phone," Ray murmured, his hands settling around Benny's waist and his lips slowly nibbling their way from ear to chin. Fraser closed his eyes and permitted the act and its enjoyment. Remembered why he allowed himself to be a small, insignificant part of this beautiful man's life.
He opened his eyes, took Ray's hands in his own, and pulled his secret admirer toward the bed. Divesting Ray of his coat, he tried to keep the desperate longing from his voice. "Can you stay for awhile, or do you need to get home right away?"
Even in the dark, he could feel the smile in Ray's voice. "I can stay, Benny. Or I can go, and let you sleep."
"Stay." Their time was always restricted by Ray's other obligations. Fraser had found it expedient to remain in a state of permanent near-nudity, and to strip Ray as quickly as reasonably possible. He slipped out of the robe somewhere between Ray's buttons and his zipper. He left the discarded robe on the floor, but draped Ray's suit and shirt over a convenient chair. Ray would have to wear them again at least as long as it took to drive home.
Ray slid into bed, pulling the sheets firmly up to his shoulders before turning to Fraser and enveloping him with arms and cloth. Benny promptly latched on to a nipple and ran his hands lightly over every reachable part of his lover. "Benny, are you mad at me?"
Surprised, Fraser released Ray's chest with a wetly audible pop! and slithered up to look Ray in the eye. "No. Why would I be angry?"
"I gave your flowers to Ma."
"I know. I thought you might." Effortlessly, Fraser held Ray through his startled jump. "You've been very busy. I thought you might have let the holiday 'sneak up' on you. I wouldn't embarrass you by signing a card sent to the precinct, so I chose a gift that I knew you might be inclined to pass on to someone else. I'm very pleased that your mother liked my choice."
"You're a strange man, Benny."
"It's a convenient attribute on occasion, Ray."
"I liked the flowers, too, Benny. But it was like you said. By the time I had a chance to look for a gift, well, they were there on the desk and the card was blank and I didn't see anything as nice all day." Ray was eager to see things through Benny's forgiving eyes. Then his voice dropped to a shamed whisper. "I didn't get you anything."
The bitterness of Fraser's earlier inner voice was gone, replaced by sincere, unblemished gratitude. This was what he'd chosen, knowing how it would be. It was no small gift to appreciate even the barest gestures, the tiny, everyday, commonplace acts others take so much for granted. "You're here, Ray. That's more than I expected, more than I'd hoped. Thank you."
Fraser kissed Ray, trying to imprint the moment on all his senses, a memory to be called up on longer, lonelier nights. Thinking of that reminded him of something else. "I'll reset the alarm. When do you need to leave?"
Ray narrowed his eyes, looking more deeply contemplative than he ever did when he was truly engaged in rigorous thought. "Oh, whenever you get up is fine. Knowing you, I'll have plenty of time to get home and grab a change of clothes." Fraser stared, stunned mute. "What? You have a date or something?"
The gentle teasing brought Fraser around. He blinked several times and cricked his neck. "You want to stay the night? The whole night? Don't you have to get home?"
"I'm not Cinderella, Fraser. I don't turn into a pumpkin at midnight."
"Cinderella didn't turn into a pumpkin, Ray, that was her coach. You've never spent the night. Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. You don't snore, do you?"
"Of course not."
"Oh. Well, so did Diefenbaker and I managed to survive that." Fraser melted against Ray, tangling their legs together and wrapping the slighter man in a comprehensive embrace. Solemnly, he kissed Ray's smiling mouth, then whispered, "Thank you for the best Valentine ever, Ray."