Notes/Disclaimer: Copyright to Alliance. **Cheryl, Shannon and all lovers of sap, this is for you!** "Calvin and Hobbes" are the exclusive copyright of cartoonist and creator extraordinaire Bill Waterson (I *love* you guys!) May young boys and tigers always be free to explore, argue and stay best friends forever!
Ben watched from the hallway way while Ray puttered about the kitchen, making a salad. Fraser found himself smiling at how the detective instructed his mother to go have a seat and stop obsessing over the food. It was Sunday, the usual time for the Vecchio household to gather for church and an elaborate dinner. Fraser was glad his presence was insisted upon on in these weekly events, although he wasn't Catholic. He was Ray's unofficial partner in law enforcement, but seemed to inherit the entire Vecchio clan in the deal. He still had to avoid Frannie in her constant pursuit of him, but the rest of the family's affection warmed him inside.
Today had been extra special. It was Reggie's birthday. He was the third and the oldest of Marie's children. He was remarkably bright, an extremely perceptive child. The Canadian remembered how adorable Reg looked in his paper party hat, his smile glowing enough to light up the city. Many children from the neighborhood attended, wreaking playful havoc while the cake and presents were presented. Dief even joined in the fun, rolling around and chasing the pint-sized party lovers.
Now, the Mountie was simply observing the man he called his best friend tossing lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes together in a huge plastic bowl. There was a word for this feeling he was experiencing, although he wasn't sure what it was. Something from when he was a child, maybe? He wasn't sure. It was familiar, but vague. Suddenly, Reggie ran into the kitchen.
"Uncle Ray! Uncle Ray! Look what I have!"
"What have you got there, kiddo?!" Ray excitedly asked while kneeling.
"It's a new book!" He proudly held it up for Ray's observation. "It's 'Calvin and Hobbes'. They used to be in the paper every day."
"Really? A comic strip! That's neat! What's it about?"
For some reason, the first ridiculous pairing that popped into Ben's head was the founder of Calvinism, a sixteenth-century theologian, a believer of predestination. Hobbes, he thought, was the seventeenth-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature. He sighed. Yes, maybe Ray was right when he suggested Fraser should "just lighten up". They were, after all, talking about a comic strip. The boy began an eager explanation at Ray's request.
"It's about a kid and his tiger friend. They do all kinds of stuff together! They play in the forest and places around where they live."
By now, Ray was flipping the pages while listening to Reggie.
"Oh, this looks really cool! Wait, here it looks like the tiger is just a doll."
Reg pushed at Ray's shoulder in disagreement.
"Of course he's real!" he exclaimed. "He's Calvin's best friend. But his mom and dad don't think he's real. He gets Calvin into trouble sometimes."
Ray smiled while speaking and looking at the book.
"I have a feeling Calvin can get himself into trouble just fine by himself."
Reggie rolled his eyes innocently.
"Well, *sometimes* he does, but Hobbes is just trying to make sure he's not lonely. Calvin doesn't have any brothers or sisters. He'd be alone if it wasn't for Hobbes."
Ray's smile dropped so badly, it made a chill creep up Ben's spine.
"What's wrong, uncle Ray?"
Ray swallowed, trying his best to return his face to neutral.
"Nothing, Reg. I just know of a little boy who grew up like Calvin."
Alarm bells sounded in Ben's mind, but he was able to contain his surprise. The child's response was prefaced by that gorgeous smile he'd worn while opening his presents.
"Maybe he had a best friend who loved him like Hobbes so he wasn't by himself!" Reg ventured.
Ray smiled just as brilliantly and said, "He does now."
He was unsure of just how much time past before he collected his scattered thoughts. He thanked the Gods he was out of Ray's direct line of sight. The next sound he registered was Maria coming into the kitchen.
"Hey, Reggie-bear! Want to help mom in the other room?"
"YES!" the youngster replied and ran out.
Ray smiled and said, "Just wait until he knows cleaning up is *not* some honor!"
"I have at least a few years until then, Ray. And I don't want you spoiling that for me unless you want to take his place!"
The Italian stood. "No, my dear sister, I leave that to you."
"Oh! And how would Benton put it?" 'Thank you kindly?' she sarcastically said. "That's right, isn't it, Benton?" she asked, looking in his direction.
Fraser paled. It took a second for him to find his voice. He deliberately did not look at Ray as he came in the room from the shadows.
"Yes, Maria, that is correct."
He faked his best smile, aware he was blushing a wonderful baby pink.
"Are you okay? You look a little flushed." Maria inquired.
"I'm fine." He quickly said, nearly cutting her off.
"Okay, I just wanted to make sure. And as for you, Ray, I don't need *you* negatively influencing my son, okay?" she said jokingly.
Ray raised his hands in mock surrender.
"Fine, fine, whatever!"
Maria exited the room smiling. Fraser felt his entire body sweating at the idea of having to face Ray after what he'd overheard.
"Benton! I've found you!
At that point, Francesca practically leaped on her Mountie prey and, as usual, overwhelmed him with her attentions. She began escorting him out of the room, talking the entire time. In an odd way, Ben was slightly relieved to find a reason to put some distance between him and the Detective for the time being. Still, all he could remember was that while he wouldn't meet Ray's eyes, that hazel gaze would not back down from staring a hole in *him*.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The book Reggie had at his party intrigued Fraser a great deal. He made a mental appointment to visit the bookstore tomorrow morning. He wound up spending most of the next few nights laughing his head off in his apartment alone, loving every single episode he could get his hands on of the comic strip he had come to know and love. The adventures and possibilities were endless. He found himself falling for the heartwarming, unbelievably inventive and most imaginative strip he'd ever seen.
He put the book down and squeezed his eyes shut. He hadn't seen Ray in three days, although it wasn't intentional and the Italian knew that. He avoided thinking of the one subject he could not let go of. Ray told Reggie he loved that young boy who grew up alone. He loved him. He loved him *now*.
Fraser snorted, opening up the book once again.
"Ridiculous." He murmured.
Such ludicrous thoughts assailed him, things he refused to acknowledge. He heard a distinct whine.
"No, Dief. I didn't mean you."
Another whine, followed by a woof. Ben stared in amazement at his furry partner.
"*What?!* I hardly think reading this book, Diefenbaker, constitutes a betrayal to you on my part."
Dief put his head on his paws in a definite pout. The Canadian sat on the edge of his bed to continue his defense.
"Yes, one of the two main characters is a cat, of sorts, but I do not think you should feel threatened."
The sulk increased severely when the wolf got up and walked from the room.
"Look, it's just a fictional character! Just because I find their antics to be most comical..." His voice trailed off, strained with suppressed laughter at the memory of those wonderful escapades.
He flipped open the book and began smiling in amusement at the two characters bickering over some trivial event. He came across a strip where they were thanking one another for the gifts they exchanged at Christmas. Calvin admitted to forgetting to get Hobbes a gift, but Hobbes saved the day by giving him a hug.
An intense void clouded the Canadian's train of thought. He raised his head and looked around. He took in his threadbare apartment and his meager belongings.
This was all he was.
A simple man living by even simpler means. He owned little and had a job that was really much of nothing. The only time he felt as if he were truly making a difference was when he was helping Ray. His frugal lifestyle was all he had. It was nothing special and neither was he. How on Earth could someone as magnificent as Ray *love* him? He was wrong, of course. Ray didn't love him in that manner.
How could such a vivacious, wonderful person care for him like that? He'd seen what he thought was love with Victoria and it nearly cost the most important person in his life everything. Yet, the Italian was there, right beside, every step of the way.
A surge of emotion hit the Mountie, overwhelming him. He closed his tearful eyes, the most bizarre, outrageous image creeping into his mind. It was one of Ray *helping* him on the train, aiding him to reach Victoria. It was not something he'd put past the detective to do for him. Ray would do whatever it took to make him happy. The anxiety increased and he gripped the book tightly in his hands.
Ray *did* love him!
He wasn't revolted by the idea of being with his partner, but it seemed all so very impossible at the same time. It wasn't Ray he was worried about. He just knew he could never make Ray happy. He didn't want to even *try* to love Ray. It would mean trying to please him with a lifetime of ruined suits, Inuit stories and being "the most annoying man in the world." He refused to even give himself the chance of destroying Ray's life as he had with Victoria or disappointing him like others he thought he loved in the past. He'd have to tell the Detective that. It was for his own good.
He decided to wait until the next afternoon, after work, to tell Ray how he felt. Surprisingly, he was a lot calmer than he believed he would be. He called the precinct and requested a ride back to his apartment. Right on time, the green car showed up and he faced his friend he had not seen in several days. Since he learned Ray loved him.
"Hey, ya, Benny."
They drove in silence for a few minutes before Fraser finally spoke. Fraser watched him closely out of the corner of his eye, checking for any kind of reaction.
"How have you been, Ray?"
"How do you think?"
"Ah. Well, yes. I guess it is rather obvious."
Ray smiled and ruefully shook his head.
"Eavesdropping. I didn't think you'd do something like that, Benny."
"I wasn't eavesdropping, Ray. I had no idea you were going to say that to your nephew."
Ray lowered his voice to almost a whisper.
"Hm. Me either. It just kinda' slipped out."
The Mountie waited exactly two minutes before responding.
"So. Now what?"
"*Now* what?! Nothing, Fraser! Absolutely nothing! You just pretend you didn't hear anything like that and it all goes back to being normal, got it?"
"Well Ray, I never really thought of us as normal per se-"
"That's beside the point, Benny! I'm not gonna' have you go through some sappy speech of how it wouldn't work and blah, blah, blah! Just save it, all right? I know *I'll* never mention it again."
The Canadian observed his tightly clasped hands in his lap, the white knuckles showing. He thought of trying to be just Ray's friend after this. How would that work? He came to the conclusion it would be safer than letting Ray down, learning the truth like every other lover had.
"Actually, Ray, that's not what I was going to say."
There was a soft, deep, lyrical quality to Ray's voice when he spoke.
The Mountie closed his eyes. Only the Italian knew how to pack such emotion and depth into one single word.
"No, it's not. I was going to tell you that when I say I'm in love, I believe it...no matter how wrong I am."
He let the statement hang there, the unspoken name clear as a siren.
"I have had other relationships, but only for a short duration. When the excitement of exploring something new and undiscovered had worn off, they were left with only one thing."
"And what was that, Benny?"
He had to force the word out. "Me."
He fidgeted in his seat when Ray said nothing.
"You see, whenever someone says they love me, or thinks they do, it's really just the idea of being in love that's so powerful, not me personally."
"Now, how do you figure that, Benny? You tellin' me there's a woman out there who got bored with you? Ha! I doubt it!"
"That's exactly what's happened, Ray. Over and over and over again."
Fraser's voice was so grim Ray couldn't retaliate with a sarcastic comment. The Mountie continued.
"Once the initial fascination with me waned...especially the carnal aspect of it...they lost interest and left. Or I would end it, seeing no reason to continue." He let his voice drop as if revealing a terrible secret. "My appearance and the uniform is highly misleading for a potential suitor, Ray. They believe they love me because of what they see."
He couldn't exactly remember when they'd reached his apartment building, but he couldn't stop talking now. He had to finish this.
"I'm not the most interesting person in the world, Ray. I come home to a simple apartment with my father's journals and a wolf. That's it. That is all I am. I couldn't take...I couldn't stand seeing the light you have for me die when you find that out."
He was nearly on the verge of tears and terrified Ray would snap something about not being so mushy, but he had to continue.
"You once said if you wanted anyone to sleep with Francesca, it would be me."
*That* got Ray's attention. He raised his head in the Mountie's direction, but only a little.
"Why do you think she hasn't come back to my apartment?"
Once again, he let the statement hang. By now, he was partially talking to himself as it was, releasing long suppressed frustration.
"It's because she's seen that part of me and I hold little mystery for her now. That is not to say she hasn't convinced herself everything could be different, believing she can change me, improve me to fit her expectations, so she *will* continue to pursue me! I...I don't want to be improved, Ray! Can't they see that?!"
The reality of lost loves over the years assaulted him. He nearly let out a small sob, but caught himself. Ray still hadn't said anything. It took exactly thirty-two seconds for the Canadian to become calm again. He was somewhat embarrassed by his outburst, but believed his partner understood why being with him wasn't possible.
"I'm sorry about that, Ray. However, I hope I made my case clear enough."
"Yeah, Benny, you did."
"Well, I'm glad."
"Yup. You are one screwed up Canuk."
Fraser whipped his head up so fast he nearly gave his neck a cramp.
"*What*?! This isn't some kind of joke, Ray!"
"I know that, Benny! Do you think I want to *change* you, turn you into someone else?! Why would I do that?!"
Fraser stared at him, mouth agape.
"Ray! How can you say that? I ruin your suits, I nearly get you killed on a weekly basis, and I make you take care of my wolf, for the Queen's sake! You even called me the most annoying man in the world! How can you possibly...Ray, why are you laughing at me?"
Tears from giggling formed in the Italian's eyes and he couldn't catch his breath.
"My God, Benny! You don't *make* me do any of that stuff! I do it because I want to! I know you find it shocking, but I like being around you, Fraser. I love the way you get annoyed at my driving, the way you scold me over spoiling Dief, how you help little old ladies across the street while they flirt mercilessly with you and you still have the manners and humility to blush! It's a beautiful thing, Benny. Do ya' hear, me? It's a *beautiful thing* to witness. I swear I could never, in my life, get enough of you."
The Mountie just sat there, dumbfounded, stunned beyond words. He slowly began shaking his head.
"That's what they all said." He gravely responded.
"But did any of them put up with you like do?"
The realization hit Fraser like a ton of bricks. No! The answer was no! Before it was always them expecting too much and him allowing that to happen. He was just as much at fault for getting or staying in relationships built on the *idea* of love, instead of something more tangible and substantial. Ray didn't have to loan him money or aid in solving some crazy case. And he did it all knowing exactly who Benton Fraser was. There was no pressure to keep Ray happy because he already was happy. Happy with him. Confusion, however, soon mingled with the shock.
"Why?" he managed to ask.
"What do you mean?"
"Why do you love me? How can you?"
"Hell, Benny, if I knew the answer to that, I'd put divorce lawyers out of business. Do ya' think I chose this? That I just woke up one day and decided I'd fall for you? Of course not. That's kinda' like askin' why do some like vanilla over chocolate ice cream? Who knows and who cares? It just *is*."
As superficial as the analogy sounded, it made perfect sense. It was pointless debating the origin of such things. He needed to stop finding ways that preventing him from being happy and start learning to live - with someone who loved him for who he was. For the first time, he looked straight in Ray's eyes. They were waiting, waiting for an answer. Fraser gave a last try at discouraging the man who knew him better than anyone.
"I can't promise you anything."
"I didn't ask for that."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
It was Sunday again. Fraser watched from the back door as the Vecchio children ran around while playing in the yard. The smells from the kitchen were of pot roast and freshly made bread. The house was in its usual hectic state, but Fraser didn't really notice. He couldn't have been more pleased to simply be here. A warm arm draped over his shoulder.
"You all right?" the Italian asked.
Smiling, the Canadian turned to his partner, his partner in every respect. He was somewhat apprehensive about how long this perfect state of their relationship would last, but he quickly resolved he wouldn't harp on it. He decided instead to think about how they would soon go back to his apartment and make love.
That vague but familiar feeling he'd had just a short time ago, the one he couldn't give a name to, was filling him up completely. This time, however, the reality of what it was made him blissful.
"I'm more than fine, Ray. I'm *home*."
P.S. 'Arnold' Rules! (by Kevin McCormick)