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The Switching Time of Night

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“Benton?”

Geoffrey Tennant sat bolt upright in his bed (well, couch), yanked off his sleeping hat and glared into the darkness of the storage room. He was going to kill Oliver. Never mind that he was already dead, he was going to kill him again for good measure. His own sanity was hanging by the thinnest of threads; if he couldn’t get at least a few hours of uninterrupted sleep—

“Great Scott, what have you done to your office, son?”

Wait. That was not Oliver’s voice. Then who the fuck was in the room with him? Gripped by a sudden surge of panic, Geoffrey clambered off of the couch and staggered blindly towards the wall, groping for the light switch in the dark. Once he finally managed to turn on the light, he whirled around, only to find a grey-haired stranger in Mountie uniform standing amid the boxes and props. 

“Who the fuck are you?” he demanded. “And what are you doing in my bedroom?”

The Mountie scrutinised his surroundings with a judgmental frown—the nerve of him! “You call this a bedroom?” he asked. “I can understand your choice to live in your office at the Consulate, son. Saving your country money is, after all, a patriotic gesture of sorts. But this …” He waved a hand at the various pieces of old sets that were cluttering up the theatre’s storage space. “This is ridiculous. How do you expect to perform your duties satisfactorily if you cannot recuperate your energy at night? This environment is hardly conducive to a good night’s sleep.

Geoffrey stared at the man, goggle-eyed. “What the fuck are you talking about? The only thing ‘not conducive to a good night’s sleep’ is YOU.” 

The Mountie shot him a stern, disapproving look. “Language, son. Your grandmother taught you better than that. It’s the Yank’s influence. I was afraid this would happen, sooner or later. And why are you wearing that ridiculous wig?”

In a flash, Geoffrey was up in the stranger’s face, pointing an accusing finger at his chest, but to his shock, his hand passed right through him. 

Oh great. Oh fucking great! A high-pitched giggle escaped his lips as he sank back down on the couch. Another ghost. Just what he fucking needed. 

“Benton!” the man scolded. “I do not know what has gotten into you, but you have got to stop this right now.”

Geoffrey ran his hands through his uncombed hair and tugged at it until the stinging sensation grounded him in reality. “I have no idea what you are talking about. This is not a wig, this is my hair. I do not know who this Benton character is, or what his deal is. But I can tell you this—if you do not leave this theater this instant, I will …” His words faltered as he unsuccessfully wracked his brain for a suitable threat. If he knew how to dispel a ghost, he would have done so weeks ago. (Or would he?)

It might have been a trick of the light, but Geoffrey thought he saw a hint of concern flit across the old man’s features. “Are you quite alright, son?” he asked, his voice suddenly gentle. “You really don't seem yourself. You haven’t been in another accident, have you? You really should stop hurling yourself onto moving vehicles.”

Geoffrey slapped his knees hard with the palms of both hands. “Look mister, I really, really don’t know what you’re talking about. I have not had an accident. My mind is sound, as much as can be expected anyway. Furthermore, I do NOT make it a habit to jump onto cars, moving or otherwise. Have you considered that maybe, just maybe, you have me confused with somebody else?”

With a sudden, wide-eyed look, the shoe seemed to drop, and the Mountie took a step back. “Good Lord. Is that even possible? You look just like him … well except for the hair, and the stubble, and, quite frankly, the appalling level of hygiene.”

Geoffrey groaned. “Don’t you start.”

The stranger ignored him and proceeded to scan their surroundings once more. “What is this place, anyway?”

Jesus. He was being punished. That had to be it. “This the Rose,” he began, his patience now hanging by a thread along with his sanity. “It is the main theatre at the New Burbage Festival. I'm Geoffrey Tennant, the festival’s artistic director and current resident of this storage room. I really have a LOT on my plate right now, so if you could kindly leave and go haunt someone else.” He made a shooing gesture with his hands. “I would like to get at least two more hours of sleep before the usual hell breaks loose.”

The old man chuckled. “In the doghouse, eh? I remember the times your mother and I … well, not YOUR mother, not if you aren’t …” He suddenly stopped and stared at Geoffrey. “Of course, that must be it. The play! Tell me, what’s the name of the play?”

“What do you mean, what play?”

“This play, the play you’re directing. Which one is it? Do try to keep up.”

Geoffrey snorted in exasperation. “Macbeth. Against all warnings and my better judgement, I am directing Macbeth. Why on Earth would that be relevant?”

“Of course.” The stranger rubbed his chin, his eyes wide and unfocused. “It opens the door to the other world.”

Geoffrey was truly at the end of his tether. “How many times, it is just a play. The only curse is that it is extremely difficult to stage effectively. Now please, PLEASE, just LEAVE ME ALONE! I can’t deal with this level of insanity before dawn, not anymore.”

The Mountie shot him a shrewd look. “I must be here in someone else’s place. Yes, I could see how it might happen, if the barriers between the worlds were down. But then tell me this … if I’m here with you, then who is talking to my son Benton?” The man eyed Geoffrey from head to toe with an undisguised smirk. “Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

“Oh for the love of GOD.” Geoffrey flopped over on the couch and buried his head in his pillow. The universe was having far too much fun at his expense. 

***

Meanwhile …

***

When Benton Fraser returned to his office after bidding good night to Ray, there was a stranger sitting at his desk. 

Fraser stopped in his tracks and stared. The man was dressed in a cream suit, light blue shirt and a bright, yellow tie with brown dots, and he sprawled in Fraser’s chair like he owned the place. 

Fraser rubbed his brow. It was almost 4 a.m.. A massive headache was starting to take residence in his skull, and the last thing he wanted to deal with after finally solving a particularly strenuous case in the dead of night was an unwelcome houseguest. “How did you get in here?” he demanded far more sharply than was his custom.

The intruder gestured towards the back of the room. “I came out of your closet. And yes, the irony is not lost on me.”

Fraser frowned. He was not in the mood for silly games. “Sir, you are trespassing on Canadian soil. If I could kindly ask you to return in the morning during office hours, we will be happy to address your concerns.”

Much to Fraser’s chagrin, the stranger tilted his head back and broke out laughing; a loud, guffawing laugh that didn’t subside until there were tears streaming down his face. 

“Please,” Fraser repeated, more forcefully this time. “I must ask you to leave.”

The man wiped his eyes and studied Fraser with a sharp, shrewd look that was out of sync with his joyous manner. “You really are just like Geoffrey—you know, if Geoffrey had a stick up his ass.”

Heat shot to Fraser’s face, and he stared at the intruder, mouth agape.

The man waved dismissively. “Oh, don’t be like that. You have to admit, it is quite funny. You’ve even got his pining down to a T.”

This had gone far enough. He took a step towards the man, his right hand raised in warning. “Sir, if you do not leave of your own accord, I will have to lay a hand on you.”

The threat, unfortunately, had no effect whatsoever. On the contrary, a wicked grin flashed across the stranger’s face. “I’d like to see you try.” And he winked. The scoundrel winked, and Fraser couldn’t suppress a sudden nervous cough.

But then the man sighed, and the smug look vanished, replaced by one of real sadness. It took Fraser aback, despite his embarrassment and annoyance.

“But, alas,” the stranger continued, "no one has been able to touch me in almost a year. I wish I’d at least had a good wank before I died. Things don’t work the same way in the afterlife, more’s the pity.”

Good Lord. Fraser stepped back as if stung and bumped against the office door. It could be. This man couldn’t be a ghost. His father was one thing, he was family, and Buck could see him as well. However, if Fraser was now being haunted by an entirely unfamiliar spirit, then he was in real trouble. 

“But you?” The man’s question drew Fraser out of his burgeoning panic. “What’s your excuse? I have no other choice. And Geoffrey, bless him, Geoffrey is hopelessly in love with Ellen and will be so until the end of days by all accounts. But you …” 

Their gazes connected, and Fraser was hit by a sudden sinking feeling that he knew exactly where this was headed. And no, he did not want to discuss this, not with a complete stranger, not with anybody. “What is your name?” he asked instead, desperate to steer the conversation in a different direction. 

“I’m Oliver. Oliver Welles, erstwhile artistic director of the New Burbage Theatre Festival. But do not change the subject, young man. I saw how the two of you were looking at each other. You’re worse than a pair of teenagers, seriously. He obviously wants you, and you want him, so what’s stopping you?”

Fraser’s cheeks had now surely flushed the color of his tunic. “I do not know what you are talking about.” The obvious lie was betrayed by the fact that his voice was suddenly an octave higher. “He doesn’t …” he tried again. This was pure torture. “I do not know this. That Ray … that he wants me.”

There, he had said it. He had spit it out, and the world hadn’t ended, at least not yet. The night was not over.

The man—Oliver—snorted. “And you call yourself a Mountie? It’s as clear as day. And I can’t say I blame him.” He wiggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Fraser ignored the gesture. He had not forgotten the sadness he had witnessed on the man’s face just a moment ago, and he was beginning to suspect that his bluster was just a front, a role he was playing to cover up his loneliness. It was not an altogether unfamiliar feeling. “How can you be certain of Ray’s desire?” he asked instead, and damn his foolish heart for daring to hope. When it came to his personal life, he should know better than to listen to the advice of ghosts. 

“Oh dear boy,” Oliver said with a sad smile. “I’ve been around performers my entire life. I know when someone is putting on an act. I was watching you both for almost an hour. That Ray friend of yours, he worships the ground you walk on. I could see it in his eyes. Believe me—I know what that’s like.”

And suddenly, in a flash of clarity, Fraser understood. He was not the only man in this room who yearned for the unattainable, for what he thought he could never have. “So you … back where you’re from … this man you mentioned …”

Oliver simply nodded. “Geoffrey. Yes.”

Fraser canted his head. “And there’s no hope you could—?”

“Don’t be silly!” Oliver interrupted. “Weren’t you paying attention? I’m dead. And anyway, his heart belongs to another. But all is not lost,” he added as an afterthought, and he shook himself. “I still have his friendship. And we work together, surprisingly well, I might add. We’re quite the creative team. But you …” He paused and studied Fraser once again. “You still have a chance. Don’t end up like me—old and miserable and alone, until it’s too late to do anything about it.”

Fraser swallowed hard. Despite everything, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for this man. What a different sight he was now from the colorful, cackling lunatic he had witnessed earlier. Now he seemed grey, shrunken somehow. He never could bear to see people in pain. If only there was something he could do to raise his spirits …

“Ok,” he said, throwing caution to the wind. “Ok. I’ll give it … us, Ray and me, I’ll give us a try. If you’re certain…”

“Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I know what I’m talking about when it comes to matters of the heart,” Oliver answered with a self-satisfied snicker. 

Fraser groaned. 4 a.m. was far too late (or far too early) to suffer through butchered Shakespeare. The headache was now close to unbearable, and he needed to catch at least a few hours of rest. (Though, truth be told, he doubted he would sleep a wink with the way his heart was racing. Wild, hopeful thoughts were already tumbling over each other in his mind.)

He cleared his throat. “I cannot, however, act at this moment in time, so if I could kindly ask you to leave? I really do need to rest.”

Oliver shot him another wink, but this time it was conspiratorial rather than suggestive. “Good luck with that. But don’t worry, the Witching Hour now draws to a close, and I will return to my world once more. All future haunting will be administered by your usual ghost, whoever that might be.”

Fraser couldn’t suppress the giggle that bubbled up in his chest. He really was over-tired and starting to feel quite loopy.

“Now rest, sweet prince,” Oliver whispered. The sad smile was back, but there was a new twinkle in his eyes. “And don’t forget what you promised. Godspeed.”

With that, the ghost of Oliver Welles was gone. 

***

“Geoffrey. Geoffrey. Wake up, darling, it’s time for breakfast. We need to talk about the dagger scene before the others arrive.”

Geoffrey grabbed his pillow, and without opening his eyes, he buried his head beneath it.

“Sleep no more! Macbeth does murder sleep,” Oliver chanted cheerfully.

“What’s gotten into you? Why are you so fucking chipper this morning?” Geoffrey grumbled, his voice muffled by the fabric. 

“Oh, I don’t know, it’s not every day you get to play Cupid.

Geoffrey pulled back the pillow and stared at Oliver with bleary eyes. “What are you blithering on about? The Dream isn’t even in the season.”

Oliver tsk-tsked him and placed a plate on the makeshift barrel-table. “Never you mind. I had simply forgotten what it feels like to do something selfless and good.”

“Who the hell are you, and what have you done to the real Oliver Welles? Speaking of which …” Fragments of memories, still shrouded in sleep, flashed through Geoffrey’s mind.

“What is it?” Oliver asked, setting down a glass of orange juice next to the plate. 

Geoffrey shook himself as he tried to grasp at the fleeting thoughts already receding into the depths of his mind. “I really had the most extraordinary dream,” he said.  

Oliver chuckled. “Did you indeed. Now eat up. It’s time for us to get to work.”