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There's Nothing like You and I, Baby

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”There’s nothing like you and I, baby
This is no ordinary love”

— No Ordinary Love by Sade

Thanks to the darling (and daring)estrella30 for the beta duties (back in 2005)

 

 

Thursday Night

 

The stakeout; the bane of an officer’s existence. If one were lucky, one might have the comfort of an apartment from which to establish a base of operation. More often than not, though, central command consisted of a car, cold coffee and greasy takeout. Or in the case of this hot and humid night, flat soft drinks and inedible Chinese food.

When you are partnered with Ray Kowalski, a stakeout also means conversation. Endless, sometimes maddening conversation. Ben enjoyed the spirited exchange of opinions as well as the next man, but where his partner was concerned, there was quite often no “exchange” involved.

Instead, Ray kept up an endless commentary on whatever his restless mind happened to light upon for more than three seconds. All he required was an audience; a response was optional. And presently, Ben’s patience with Ray’s chatter had ended about three topics ago. He was really in no mood for anything than other than getting his duties done so he could go back to the Consulate.

Back to his tiny, cramped room, where the air was imbued with the smell of ancient books and cast-off furniture and not the tropical sweetness of Ray’s hair gel.

Tonight, though, Ben realized that Ray seemed unusually hyper and restless. It was Ray’s way of dealing with tension, as much as not talking was Ben’s preferred method of dealing with it. All things considered, the two of them had no business being either partners or friends, but ninety-five percent of the time, it worked beautifully.

Tonight was that other five percent.

“…So anyway, Huey says, what’s that smell? And I say, you gotta be kidding me. Have you met your partner? And he says…”

“Ray, if you don’t mind, my head is pounding tonight…”

“You trying to tell me I talk too much, Fraser? Because if you’re gonna tell a guy something like that, just say it, straight out. You won’t hurt my feelings, believe me. Besides, you think that’s a newsflash? Every year that I was in elementary school, my teachers would write on my report card, ‘Ray has the potential to do well, but he talks too much and has trouble sitting still.’”

Ray kept talking but Ben couldn’t help but smile a little as his mind formed a mental picture of young Ray Kowalski, skinny and highly active, his big green-blue eyes full of mischief. Would they have been friends if they had met as children? he wondered. It was an intriguing thought and Ben had little doubt as to the answer. He knew he would have been drawn to Ray, even then…

“…detention for getting caught lighting up behind the gym and putting a stink bomb in the vice principal’s car. Me and this buddy of mine, Jimmy Doyle, set a school record for consecutive days in detention, a record, which I’m proud to say, still stands today…”

Ray’s words caused the pleasing vision in his head to vanish and in its wake was the same churning discontent he’d been struggling with for days, for weeks. As a result, he snapped at Ray. “An admirable accomplishment. I’m sure your parents were very proud.”

“Hey, what’s your problem tonight, Fraser?” Ray suddenly sounded as annoyed as Ben felt. “You’re as grumpy as hell. Conduct unbecoming to a Canadian, I might add.”

“I beg your pardon, Ray. I’ll make sure to put a letter of reprimand in my personnel file.”

“Ah, the heat’s getting to you,” Ray grumbled and shifted away from him and toward the driver’s side door. “Try to make small talk and what happens? Your partner refuses to cooperate,” he muttered softly.

Ben rubbed at the tense muscles in the back of his neck. At least, he was in street clothes tonight and not the uniform. Still, he felt just as smothered in his button down shirt and jeans. Ray was, at least, partially correct. He was not used to the kind of heat that had descended over the city for the past several days. If the daytime temperatures were unbearable, the nighttime temperatures weren’t much improved and the entire city seemed sluggish and ill-tempered.

The heat was a factor tonight but it was more than that, so much more. It had to do with the persistent, heavy ache in his groin. Not that he was inexperienced in dealing with such a predicament. When in the field, he had employed a combination of techniques, including meditation, self hypnosis and negative imaging to quell the needs of his body. And when all else failed, he resorted to the weakness of autoeroticism and that allowed his mind to clear for more important matters.

But lately, the urge, the need of his body for release had become relentless. He found himself thinking about sex at the most inopportune times and nothing he did managed to banish the wicked images from his head. Like never before, he longed to be touched, to be held, to feel the warm breath of another on his skin. The sharp craving obsessed him night and day. And on this hot night, his clothes sticking to him in a most uncomfortable way, Ben was starting to feel a little bit unhinged.

“Ray, would you kindly start the motor for a while, so that we can use the air conditioner?” His voice sounded thick to his own ears and Ray looked at him quickly, noticing that as well.

“Yeah, I can do that.” Ray started the car, and they put up the windows and a blessed cool blast hit Ben in the face. Ben closed his eyes and propped one arm on the dash, leaning in so that the air flowed over him more directly.

“You all right?”

How was he to answer that? What response would Ray not see right through? His partner knew more about him than anyone ever had, could read him better than anyone had but even Ray was unaware of the dilemma he was facing. Ray couldn’t know Ben was hopelessly and recklessly attracted to someone unattainable. Ray couldn’t know — Ray could never know that the touch that he longed for, the body that he ached for belonged to Ray himself.

Ben jumped a little when he felt Ray’s hand on his shoulder.“Come on, buddy, give it up. You think I don’t know when something’s bothering you?” Ray’s voice. Gentle. Sincere. Ray…

Ben swallowed hard. He couldn’t let this continue. It was wrong, so unfair. To make his best friend the object of his basest desires was not honorable. He sat back against the seat and looked at Ray, feeling as miserable and as lonely as he ever had in his life. And that was, indeed, saying a great deal.

“Fraser, you’re freaking me out. Are you okay? Are you sick?”

“Ray…” His throat closed up, his heart was pounding. He had to do this. “I have decided to request a transfer back to Canada. I didn’t know how to tell you.”

Ray’s hand slid off Ben’s shoulder and he felt the loss of that warm touch acutely. Ben watched the emotions play across Ray’s expressive face, lit by the glow from the street lights. Surprise. Disbelief.

“No.” Just the one word came out of Ray’s mouth.

“Yes.”

Ray turned toward him again, curving one arm on top of the steering wheel and rubbing his forehead with the fingertips of the other before he looked at him again, his eyes dark and betrayed. “I…I don’t understand. Why? Why now?”

“I’ve already been in Chicago much longer than I ever intended. You know that it’s always been my plan to return home one day.”
That part was not a lie. It was true he had always intended to return north. But to spring this on Ray as a fait accompli? It was a betrayal of their friendship. But even knowing this, there was no other option open to him.

Ben noticed Ray was breathing unevenly. “Yeah, yeah, I know that. One day, some day but now?” His tone turned sharper. “You could have taken that transfer months ago and you turned it down. What’s changed?”

Ben replied without answering the question directly. “You must have known this day would come.”

“I thought that…well, I don’t know what I thought.” Ray sounded so bewildered and hurt. Ben could hardly bear seeing the pain in Ray’s beautiful features but he didn’t look away. He, at least, owed his dear friend that much.

“Was it me?” Ray asked, his voice as tight and thin as a rubber band stretched to its limit. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Good God, no, Ray. You’ve been…you are a wonderful friend to me. And a stellar partner. I couldn’t have asked for more from either quarter.” He could have asked, but he would not. He would have never asked…

“Somebody else, then? Thatcher? Some scumbag we sent up threatening you? Just tell me, Fraser and I’ll take care of it.”

Ben straightened, insulted by the insinuation before he remembered the dishonor he was currently displaying. “I would never run —“ He chokes a little on the sheer hypocrisy of that sentence fragment. “I would never abandon my official duties out of fear.”

“But abandoning your partner?” Ray voiced in a dangerous soft voice. “That you don’t have a problem with."

Ben closed his eyes briefly against the agonizing pressure of his cowardice weighting down on him. “Please, Ray. You’re making this very difficult.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want to do that,” Ray said and the sarcasm in his words were painfully clear.

Ben could hear Ray breathing, hear the sounds of Chicago beyond the car windows. He could smell the worn leather of the GTO’s interior, Ray’s hair product. He soaked it all into his senses and memorized it, so when he was back home, alone in his cabin, when night dragged on he could remember everything — the unique timbre of Ray’s voice, the warm, protective presence of his body, his fighting spirit —

“Well. That, as they say, is that.”

Ben shook his head and looked blankly out the passenger side window without responding as Ray flipped open his phone and punched in a number.

“Dewey, it’s me. We’re done here. I’m taking Fraser home,” he said, putting a derisive emphasis on the last word. Ray closed the phone and threw it up on the dashboard and the car moved away from the curb.

The silence was as oppressive as the heat, made worse by the fact that Ray had turned off the radio and was driving the speed limit. Ben would have expected Ray to use reckless, vehicular speed to express his anger; that had usually been the case before.

But oddly, there was none of that. The ride was torturously long. Finally, they pulled up to the Consulate and Ray brought the car to a stop that was as smooth as silk.

Ray didn’t say anything and Ben didn’t make a move to get out of the car. He just wanted a little more time. Once he got out, he knew that their partnership would be good and broken, or at least, badly damaged.

“I’m sorry, Ray,” Ben said, hoping that Ray recognized the sincerity and the sorrow in his voice. “ I know I’ve disappointed you.”

At first, Ben thought Ray wasn’t going to answer him, that he was just waiting until Ben got out of the car. But then, Ray looked at him and there were deep lines in his forehead and around his eyes.

“Disappointed doesn’t cover it, Fraser.” Each word, velvet soft, was like a physical blow to Ben’s body. Another loss, another crack in his heart, another hole that was never going to be filled.

“So this is official? The paperwork’s filed and all of that?”

Ben rubbed at his eyebrow. “Not yet. Inspector Thatcher is away until Tuesday at a conference in Ottawa. When she comes back —“ Lies, lies, more lies.

“See, that’s what I don’t get,” Ray said, his voice nearing a volatile level. Of course, he would be suspicious. None of this would track for a detective of Ray’s caliber.

“It’s like you just made this decision tonight, like maybe six minutes ago. And I think you owe me, as your apparently soon-to-be former partner, a fucking explanation.”

Ben could see the sweat beading on Ray’s forehead and the sight tore at him painfully. As wrong as it was to let these feelings for Ray consume him, he was committing a greater sin by lying. To allow Ray to believe that he was leaving on some whim, without any warning…how could Ben betray their friendship in such a grievous manner?

But what else could he do? The only alternative was to confess all to his best friend. The betrayal stamped into Ray’s face was hard enough to confront but to risk out and out rejection? That Ben could not bear. It was a selfish decision: the entire debacle he had entangled himself in was a self-centered one but nonetheless, one he intended sticking with. He sat still and looked straight ahead. Ray would forgive him. Someday. He always did.

Ben knew that Ray did not bear any prejudice against gay individuals but neither had Ben detected signs that Ray was attracted to men. His long relationship with Stella still seemed to be the defining one in Ray’s life and despite claiming that he knew it was over, Ray always created an excuse to be at her side when she appeared at the precinct. And because of that, Ben would just as soon leave Chicago with a shaky friendship than to be without one at all.

Ben picked up his hat off the seat between them but somehow, he couldn’t move further. Ray moved then, turning back to the front. He tapped his thumbs impatiently against the steering wheel and didn’t look at him again.

He had to say something, however inadequate. “I’m sorry, Ray,” he said hoarsely. “I’m very truly sorry.”

“I noticed that you didn’t answer my question. But. Okay, Fraser. G’Night.”

There was little else he could do but open the car door and step out. Ben had barely moved out of the way before Ray was pealing away from the curb, rubber burning as the tires spun. He watched until the car careened around the corner and until the sound of the motor slipped under the cover of the other street noise. Then, Ben went inside. Alone. Again.

~*~*~*~*

Ben didn’t attempt to sleep. He knew that there was no use in that. Instead, after a cooling shower, he found the proper forms required for his transfer and took them to his desk to begin filling them out in triplicate. He did so in longhand, printing as neatly as he could with unsteady hands. An online form was available but sometimes, there were tasks that required a more intimate contribution. Leaving one’s life, one’s first true happiness behind for a frozen existence seemed one of those occasions.

As he moved pen across paper, Ben recalled his homesickness when he first came to Chicago, the deep melancholy that would descend on him during the summer heat and the winter slush. As fond as he was of the original Ray Vecchio, and he was very fond, had he been allowed to, Ben would have returned home at the first opportunity had it been given.

Then, he met Ray Kowalski. From the moment he had thrown his arms around Ben as the new Vecchio, there’d been a giant ripple on the surface of Ben’s life and from that point on, nothing was ever quite as smooth again. When that opportunity to leave had come, following their time on the Henry Allen, Ben had chosen to stay. With Ray. And he’d done so without reservation.

He’d found something in Chicago that he had never had in Canada. There, even among his fellow officers, he was an oddball, an object of speculation and occasionally, ridicule. But even when Ray called him a freak, it was with affection, an amusement they shared instead of a joke that was directed at him, because Ray saw himself as a freak as well.

Ray Vecchio was as dear to him as a brother. But Ray Kowalski was a kindred spirit in a way in which the first Ray could never be. To go back to the solitary existence that would be his in the north, after this, after knowing Ray, was madness.

He stacked the papers neatly in the center of his desk when he was finished. He’d present them to Inspector Thatcher when she returned in three days time. Ben clicked off his desk lamp and settled on his cot. Lying on his back, he grappled with the sorrow that threatened to drown him and the lust that threatened to scald him. He closed his eyes but all he saw was Ray’s handsome face, the hurt and the anger that Ben had put there.

~*~*~*~*

Friday

 

He’d had no plans to liase with the 2-7 the following day so he occupied himself with various duties about the consulate. But finding accommodations for a stranded couple, obtaining visas for some local college students and helping Turnbull with logistics for a planned conference with the Swedish consulate wasn’t enough to keep his mind completely occupied.

His mind returned to thoughts of Ray during every lull. Even when they did not liase, Ray would often call him for lunch but no call was forthcoming today. Another stakeout was planned for tonight and Ben was unsure how either of them would get through it. He could foresee the possibility that Ray would simply tell him his presence was no longer needed and he couldn’t even fault Ray for that decision.

He, Turnbull and Dief were taking advantage of a few quiet moments to have some tea and biscuits when the consulate phone rang.

“Keep your seat, Constable,” Ben told Turnbull. “I’ll get it.”

“Thank you, sir. I don’t mind admitting that I am parched this afternoon,” Turnbull said gratefully, pouring himself another cup.

Ben looked down at Dief. “Keep your seat as well. You’ve been begging for a break all day.” Dief woofed in protest. “Fine. Maybe beg is not entirely accurate.”

Ben picked up the wall extension. “Canadian Consulate, Constable Benton Fr —“

“Fraser, it’s me.”

A shock went through his body, a clashing mix of happiness and dread. “Hello, Ray.”

“I just wanted to let you know that the Duck Bros made the collar last night.”

“Ah.” So no stakeout tonight after all. That conveniently takes care of that.

“Yeah, not long after we left. We missed all the action.”

“There was no trouble, I hope.”

“No. I meant ‘action’, as in the case was successfully concluded. This part of it, anyway. Our guy walked out to get a pack of smokes, his contact pulled up along side him on the street and bang. Two bad guys nabbed by the good guys.”

With his back to Turnbull and Dief, Ben closed his eyes and absorbed the unique cadence of Ray’s voice. Once he was back home, there might be an occasional exchange of phone calls but this easy access to the essence of Ray would be severely limited and he could already feel the loss.

“That is indeed good news.”

“Anyway, our night is free again. So. Cubs play tonight. You in?”

Ben felt a rush of warm surprise at the invitation. The only scenario in his mind was that Ray would sulk and rage at his decision and that wasn’t happening at all. “That sounds fine, Ray.”

“Okay,” Ray answered with a little lilt in his voice, something like relief and something else. “Tell Dief the pizza is on me.”

He chuckled at that. “He’ll be delighted.”

“I’ll bet. See ya later.”

~*~*~*~*

Dief was, indeed, delighted and he greeted Ray enthusiastically when they arrived at the apartment, which was blissfully cool. Ray laughed and gave Dief’s fur several rough but loving strokes and Ben watched them together, sorrow and doubt pressing down on him. And oh yes, confusion.

Last night, he’d shocked Ray with his announcement. Possibly hurt him. But today, right now, it was as if it were any other night. He should be glad that Ray was not upset with him. He was glad. And yet —

“What’s with you, Fraser?”

Ben shook his head in an attempt to shake off his thoughts. “Excuse me?”

“You’re standing there like a statue and there’s hot pizza on the table. Come on.”

The pregame was the background noise as he and Ray sat down, as they had done so many times since the creation of their duet. As they ate, Ray told him some more about the previous night and Ben tried his best to pretend interest but Ray knew him too well. Ray could read him better than anyone could.

“Wow, you look like you’re somewhere else tonight, buddy. What gives?”

Ben wet his lips and bulled ahead. “Ray, would you like to talk about —“

Immediately, Ray put up his right hand. “Fraser. Stop.” His gaze was directed at a point beyond Ben’s shoulder and although he was smiling, it was clearly a smile framed in tension. “I would very much appreciate it if we would not talk about it. Okay? Can we do that?”

Ben nodded. “Of course. We can do that,” he said, flush with heat and embarrassment and a few other things he refused to assign a name to.

“I think we need beer,” Ray muttered as he rose from the table.

“Excellent idea,” Ben muttered back. Dief, munching happily on a sliver of pizza, kept his own counsel.

~*~*~*~*

They opened their second beer in front of the television. Ben took his boots off and he and Ray had their socked feet up on the coffee table while the Cubs went down by three in the third inning.

He may not have any idea what was happening with Ray to provoke this change in behavior but Ben made the decision to accept what was and enjoy it. He was sprawled on the sofa, half on his side holding his beer on his right hip, as the sound of Ray’s commentary drifted over him. And indeed, he had begun to relax quite thoroughly, his body growing heavy on the cushions.

Ben drew in a deep breath and released it slowly and his muscles loosened even more. He thought he could be forever content if he remained just like this. In Ray’s apartment, on Ray’s sofa, with Ray Kowalski within an arm’s reach of him.

Is this the torture I’m trying to avoid? Ben asked himself, shifting his gaze so that he could see Ray in profile. These evenings together were nearly perfect, just as they were. The contentment of this moment and all the other moments just like this one could conceivably carry him through for months, years. Would a solitary existence back home be such an improvement?

If Ray would just turn his head right now, Ben thought as he blinked slowly. He could pull Ray in by the front of his shirt. Just one kiss, just one touch of his mouth to Ray’s extraordinarily sexy lips, what could that hurt —

“Why do we do this to ourselves, Fraser?”

Ben jerked awake. “What did you say?” Was Ray clairvoyant now? Had he heard his thoughts?

But Ray looked aggravated, clearly not inquiring after the state of their partnership or Ben’s obsession with Ray’s mouth. He sat up and gestured sharply at the television. “Why do we follow this team? They suck. They’ve sucked for years and they’re gonna continue to suck.” He took a long pull off his beer and Ben watched Ray’s Adam’s apple move as he did so.

Ben smiled at him. For the moment, the tension that had tinged every interaction with Ray for months had been wiped away and was replaced with a soft, ambient heat. “We could switch over to the White Sox if it would help your blood pressure.”

Ray looked at him with outrage. “I’ll start pulling for the Yankees before that will happen. We’ve been over this. North Side forever, Fraser and don’t you ever forget it.”

“Right you are, Ray. North Side forever,” Ben said on a soft sigh, his gaze and his smile lazy.

Ray grinned, looking positively edible. “Are you drunk?”

Ben slowly moved his head in the negative against the cushion. “Of course not. I am merely unwinding at day’s end.”

“Uh huh. You are a lightweight, my friend,” Ray said, stretching out again, his head turned toward Ben now instead of the television.

His eyelids felt so heavy. Maybe he was drunk because he didn’t want to move. Maybe if he pretended to be more drunk Ray would make him stay the night. Maybe it wasn’t the beer. It was possible that he was just so damned happy he didn’t want to move. Maybe Ray Kowalski had the ability to make him drunk on lust and love alone —

“Hey, Frase?”

He forced his eyes open. “Hmm?”

“Could I — would it be okay if I call you Ben from now on?”

Ben gazed at Ray, his heart lifting with surprise and pleasure. “That’s my name. Of course, you may. But why the sudden change?”

Ray smiled at him, one of his sweet, unaffected smiles that never failed to make Ben’s heart beat faster, the one that showed a small dimple in Ray’s left cheek. “Well, I always figured I’d get around to it, you know? That eventually, I’d switch over from Fraser. But.” The smile faded and his blue-green eyes appeared more blue in the moving light from the television. “But I guess I don’t have the luxury of time anymore.”

Ben couldn’t hold Ray’s gaze any longer. He looked so beautiful in that moment but his words were like a well-aimed punch to the solar plexus. “Understood,” Ben said hoarsely, his throat congested with emotions he couldn’t express and words he couldn’t say.

Dief growled and barked spiritedly but before Ben could respond to his wolfish reprimands, Ray shook his head. “Not now, furface,” Ray said quietly. “Not now.” Dief settled down again but not without a meaningful stare in Ben’s direction.

~*~*~*~*

Time, and his awareness of it, became somewhat scattered after that. Ray turned his attention back to the game, as if the rather intense conversation about his name never happened. As if Ben weren’t sitting beside him in a sodden lump, searching desperately of way out of the mess he’d created.

When Ray got up again, Ben started to get up, thinking Ray would grab his keys and propose that it was time for the evening to end.

Instead, Ben heard the refrigerator open and close and when he looked up, Ray was holding another beer out to him. His head was still spinning from the other two beers he had consumed but Ben’s hand reached out of its own volition.

“Wait a minute.” Ray snatched the beer out of his reach at the last second, just long enough for the moisture on the bottle to cling to Ben’s fingertips. He’d squinted up at Ray and his soggy brain registered the dark suspicion in Ray’s expression.

“You’re about to take a third beer, when you never even want one?”

“So?” Ben blurted out, imagining that he sounded defiant but wondering if, in fact, he was slurring his words. “What of it?”

“Uh-uh, no, sir, you’re cut off.”

“Ray.” He laughingly made an attempt at grabbing the beer out of Ray’s hand but because of his delayed reaction time and lack of coordination, Ray easily raised the bottle out of his reach and walked away. “C’mon, Ray, Ray, Ray.” He just loved saying Ray’s name. It was a litany of love, only Ray would never know it, never hear it with its proper depth and meaning.

“Oh, jeez, what have I done?” Ray appeared again, this time, holding a glass of water. “Drink it down,” Ray ordered but to Ben’s bleary eyes, Ray was looking at him with an expression of fondness. “Then, I’ll get you another one. And then, I think it’s time for all good constables to be getting home.”

Ben accepted the glass but grabbed onto Ray’s hand with his free hand and the words fell from his lips without warning.“Ray, I hafta tell you something.”

Ray sat down on the coffee table and watched him closely. “Yeah, buddy. What is it?” Ray asked gently.

If ever there was a time to make a confession, this was it. He had Ray’s undivided attention. Ben was holding Ray’s hand, for God’s sake. He touched the corner of his mouth with his tongue and saw Ray’s gaze follow that motion and perhaps it was his beer google-eyes, but it appeared to Ben that Ray would be amenable to a kiss at that moment.

Instead, Ben let go of Ray’s hand and carefully put his feet back on the floor. “I think you are correct. I should get back to the Consulate.”

Ray nodded and it was only then that disappointment showed on his handsome face. “Yeah, sure thing. I’ll get my keys. You drink that water first.”

~*~*~*~*

Saturday

 

It was the second night in a row during which he got minimal rest but duty waits for no man’s REM sleep and he was up, as usual, at dawn.

“Are you feeling well, sir?” Turnbull inquired when he arrived at the Consulate and drew Ben’s attention from the 109B-1 form he was filling out at the front desk.

“Yes, Turnbull, perfectly well,” Ben replied automatically without looking up.

“I only ask because the dark circles under your eyes would usually indicate ill health or perhaps a lack of sleep.”

Ben ticked off the necessary boxes automatically and with motion approaching hostile intent. “I thank you for your concern but neither applies to me.”

“Have you by chance changed your pillow recently? Because I find that —“

Ben almost snapped the pen in half and looked up, meaning to lay into Turnbull for his persistence but the earnestness in his colleague’s expression made the words die on his tongue. “Turnbull, would you make sure that the waiting room has been vacuumed and dusted? I’m afraid I did not take care of that last night.”

Turnbull smiled brilliantly. “Right away, sir.”

Once the vacuum was going, Ben sat back in the desk chair, his misery escaping him in a deep sigh. Thank goodness there was only a half day’s duty today and that then, he would be free until Monday. Perhaps he would be able to gather about him enough peace to finally be able to sleep.

At present, though, he couldn’t stop thinking about the previous evening with Ray. He hadn’t been truly drunk since Depot and last night’s experience only served to emphasize the wisdom of his decision to not imbibe alcohol. He had allowed his emotions to get the better of him and loosened his tongue and nearly caused him to speak words to Ray that would only embarrass both of them.

Still, the realization that he wasn’t brave enough to tell Ray the truth left him defeated. He was unused to second guessing himself. Prior to this, Ben would have described himself as decisive. But on this subject, he was proving to be the opposite.

Thankfully, the abbreviated day’s duty passed quickly and uneventfully and he saw Turnbull off with a sigh of relief.

He locked the door behind him and looked around at the empty, quiet space. The building seemed to swallow him as he stood there while a gnawing despair worked at his insides.

He thought about changing out of his uniform and going for a walk but aimless wandering about Chicago could not cure what ailed him. His mistakes and regrets followed him with dogged determination and there was no escaping them. It was a lesson he had learned the hard way some years ago.

But Dief was in need of some outdoor time and Ben took him on a leisurely walk around the block. They were both panting after even that short a span in the daytime heat and once they were back inside, he left his companion in the kitchen with a fresh bowl of water and after a few minutes contemplation, he walked back to his father’s office.

Just as he had hoped, there was a crackling fire in the stove and the air was as cool as a Yukon spring. The heat of the Chicago summer didn’t touch this room and his father was seated behind his desk, watching him expectantly.

“Well, I hate to say it, son, but I think you’re mucking this thing up but good.”

Ben clenched his teeth. “Thank you kindly for the encouragement, Dad, but I’m really not in the mood right now.”

“For what other purpose did you walk in here, then? Now, let’s not misunderstand each other.” His dad noisily heaved himself out of the desk chair and came over to stand next to him. “You belong in the North. I’m not displeased at all about that decision. But the way you’re going about it — “ His father shook his head with disapproval.

Ben sat down in the rocking chair near the fire, resting his elbows on his thighs and clasping his hands. “I wish I was back home already,” he confessed quietly, his gaze fixed on the leaping flames, finding small comfort in the cool air and the soft howling of the wolves outside his dad’s office. “I wish I could just disappear and never have to see Chicago again.”

“That’s the coward’s way out, son and you’re no coward.”

“I am a liar, though,” Ben admitted unhappily. “I lied to Ray about asking for a transfer. And I lied by omission by not telling him the reason. By not telling him that I want —“

“I gave you my judgement of the Yank on that first day. I said that he’s a good man. And I still believe that. So I’m a little surprised that after more than a year, you still don’t trust him.”

He sat up straighter and bristled at his father’s words. “I do trust Ray. With everything I have.”

His dad tilted his head. “But not enough to tell him the truth.”

Ben let his gaze slide away again. “Ray is a good man. The best partner I’ve ever had or will have. But I’d rather content myself with memories than to risk losing his friendship altogether.”

“Lose his friendship? Did you not see the way that boy looked at you last night? He’s in love with you, son.”

“First of all, stop spying on my evenings with my friends. And second, dead you may be but you can’t possibly know such a thing. Don’t you think that I would be aware of when someone is in love with me?”

“No, not in the least. You’re clueless when it comes to matters of an intimate nature. Now, now, don’t get indignant — all the men in our family are. It’s genetic,” his dad stated emphatically.

Ben sat back deeper into the chair and rubbed at his eyes. “That’s ridiculous.”

“I almost lost your mother because I took so long to stake my claim. Your grandparents were ready to send her to Grande Prairie to marry some railroad man.”

Ben frowned and looked up. “I never knew that. What happened?”

“Well, that’s obvious, son. You’re sitting right here. The point I’m making is I hesitated because I didn’t have proper faith in myself or your mother. I couldn’t think of one reason why she would choose me over someone who would make her life easier, who could give her security and material comforts that I couldn’t.”

His dad crossed his arms over his chest, and looked thoughtfully into the fire and his voice lowered to a near whisper. “And there was no good reason, except for one — we loved each other. Granted, it’s not a perfect system but love overcomes a lot of obstacles. And the greatest of these, of course, is the lack of indoor plumbing.”

Ben impatiently waved his hand to clear the floor for a new subject. “For the sake of argument, let’s say that Ray feels as I do. Dad, this isn’t some far outpost in the Yukon. This is Chicago. Ray could face difficulties if he had a relationship with a man. He might even be unsafe as a police officer. I would never do anything to place Ray in danger, even if it means —“

“ — sacrificing yourself,” his father finished for him. “I admire you for that attitude, I hope you know. Your willingness to place the welfare of others above your own. That’s what makes you such a good officer of the law. But you’re deserving of happiness, too, Benton. And I’m not sure you know that.”

He looked at his father. “This doesn’t bother you? That I have feelings for a man?”

Bob Fraser shrugged. “It’s not unheard of. Besides, look what happened when you were in love with a woman. It nearly did you in.” His father’s expression looked strangely haunted. “The view from here, son — it stretches out farther than you can imagine. Some of the things I’ve seen I could have never conjured in my worst nightmares.”

His dad gave into a small smile. “So you ask if it bothers me that my son wants to spend his life with a good man. Who will look after him when he’s in danger or ill, who will share a meal with him when he comes home at the end of a long patrol. Who can make him laugh when he needs to. How could I object to that?”

Ben swallowed hard at the picture his father created and his eyes filled with tears. He knows that he’s far from perfect — he’s been called selfish, obsessive, stubborn. And there are many decisions in Ben’s past that he would like to change or have a chance to atone for.

But. If he could have this one thing, just this one, he’d never ask for anything else.

“Benton, life is difficult. Hard times will come, whether you’re alone or not. Yes, the Yank might face some opposition here and there. And you probably will, too, for that matter. But you’ll face it together. That eases the way, trust me on that.”

Ben swiped at his eyes and stood up. There was nothing more either of them could say. He had a choice to make. No one else could do it for him. And he’d have to face the consequences, whatever they may be.

He looked at his father and gave him a half smile. “Thank you, Dad. I think I know what I need to do.”

“You seldom do things for yourself. I think it’s about time you did. Before it’s too late.

“I think you may be right."

“After all, you’re no spring chicken anymore. Tempus fugit, my boy.”

”Thank you kindly, Dad.”

~*~*~*~*

A deafening noise split the night and Ben bolted up out of sleep, disoriented for a moment. Despite his troubled thoughts, he had managed a measure of slumber. But now, he came awake with a start, his heart in his throat.

Through the darkness, and from the light left on in the entryway, Ben saw that someone was in the room with him and had slammed the door to his office back against the wall. Before he could even think about a defensive posture, the intruder spoke.

“Get up, Fraser and start talking or I swear I’ll kick you right in the head.”

“Ray? What are you doing here? Did you break in again? Did we not talk about this?” Ben pulled down his undershirt and untwisted his boxers.

“Yeah, I broke in. Can’t Canada afford a better security system? And don’t change the fucking subject. Get your ass up and turn on the light. I want to see your face for this conversation because there’s a good chance it’s the last one we’ll ever have.”

His pulse still elevated, Ben pushed himself off the cot and maneuvered around Ray to click on the small light on his desk. Now, that he could see Ray more clearly, his heart rate tripped a beat or two. Ray’s general appearance was disheveled - his gray teeshirt was only half tucked in and his hair was in spiky disarray. And his expression was a blend of misery and fury, of the kind that only Ray Kowalski could accomplish.

Despite the fact that he’d spent most of the last nearly 48 hours — in truth, most of the last fifteen months and thirteen days — deep in the throes of heartsick turmoil over the man, Ben felt his own hackles start to rise. He glanced quickly at his watch. “Really, Ray? 2:42 am? Couldn’t this have waited until morning?”

Ray sneered at him, his lips curling up in a way that shouldn’t have been attractive but was. “I want to know about this transfer bullshit and I want to know now.”

“ Oh, so now you want to talk about it.” He couldn’t say why he was being argumentative except that this felt so normal where the last couple of days have been anything but, he grabbed at it with both hands. And in truth, Ben had always had a particular fondness for combative Ray.

“Look, Fraser, I tried. I tried to be a nice guy about this. I tried acceptance, I tried patience. I even tried getting you drunk and still, you’re giving me nothing.”

“Excuse me?” Ben put his hands on his hips. “You intentionally plied me with alcohol to —“

Yes. I was desperate and possibly a little unhinged. I just wanted you to talk to me and — “ Ray sat down heavily on a corner of his desk, his gaze bewildered and hurt. “Fraser, why won’t you talk to me?”

“I thought you were going to call me Ben,” he reminded Ray, his voice low and hoarse. “Or was that another manipulation tactic?”

Ray closed his eyes for a moment and Ben was mesmerized. Ray looked so beautiful. “We’ve got bigger problems afoot here. I have trusted you from day one, Fraser and I thought you felt the same. But if you don’t trust me, then not only do we not have a partnership, we don’t have a friendship, either. And if that’s the case, then my heart is going to break into a million pieces.”

Ben combed his eyebrow hard with his thumbnail. “Ray. Please sit down.”

“Yeah, I think I should,” Ray said in a thin voice, as if his airways were severely narrowed. “I’m feeling a little dizzy, at that.”

He did as Ben asked, moving around the corner of the desk to the desk chair and sitting down, his elbows on his thighs, his elegant hands hanging between his knees. He kept his eyes on the floor and Ben took the opportunity to openly gaze at Ray’s blond head, observing the strands of glinting dark gold in the incandescent light from the desk lamp.

“Ray, I owe you an apology. You are correct. I have been less than forthcoming with you.”

“No shit,” Ray muttered softly, almost too softly for Ben to hear.

“In fact, it’s worse than that.” Ben swallowed hard before continuing. “I’ve been lying to you, out and out lying. I have not been a good partner to you and you have my deepest, most sincere —“

Ray dropped his head into his hands, covering his face. “Fraser, I’m about to lose it. Just say what you have to so I can go get wasted.”

Ben gazed at Ray’s dear head and spoke from the heart. “I met someone, Ray. I can’t imagine the rest of my life without them in it.”

Ray reacted almost immediately. He nodded his head and put his hands down, but he didn’t look up. “I see,” he said, his voice sounding choked, his long fingers knotting themselves together. “So that’s why you’re going north.”

“I’m afraid it’s more complicated than that.”

Ray laughed a little. It was actually less a laugh than a catch in his voice. “Yeah, isn’t it always?”

“Yes. Well, you see, the person in question, the object of my affection, is unaware of the depth of my feelings.”

Ray nodded again but this time, the movement of his head became more and more pronounced until it looked as if Ray might hurt himself. He got up out of the chair and pointed an accusing finger at Ben, his eyes wet and furious.

“You know, that doesn’t surprise me, Fraser,” Ray snarled at him and Ben’s body went hot all over. “That you would pull something like that.”

“Something like that?”

His hand falls down to his side with a slap but the sneer doesn’t go away. “After turning down all of the city of Chicago and most of North America, you finally fall for somebody and you don’t bother to tell them. Let me guess — it has to do with the Queen and good manners, am I right?”

Ben combed over his eyebrow with his thumb as he considered the lustful thoughts and the consuming love he had been dealing with for months. “No, I wouldn’t say that.“

“Well, let’s see. You have to take a dogsled up to her cabin and formally ask her father for her hand in marriage? Or you need to work out how much pemmican to include in the dowry?”

“Well, Ray, now you’re just being silly.”

Ray bared his teeth at Ben and for a moment, he was certain Ray was going to take a swing at him. And then, in the next breath, it was as if all the strength and spirit went out of Ray. His shoulders slumped and his head lowered.

“This is going to take some getting used to. I don’t know why you couldn’t have just told me you’d fallen for somebody but whatever. It’s done.”

Ray ducked his head and Fraser couldn’t move for a long moment as he watched Ray wipe at his eyes with the back of his hands.

“Ray, I think you bring up an excellent point,” he admitted softly.

“Yeah, what’s that?” Ray said in a broken tone of voice, still not looking at him.

“What would you have said,” Fraser said, taking a step closer, which put him within touching distance. “What would you have said if, instead of telling you I was asking for a transfer, I said —“ Ben paused and gathered himself and reached down to take Ray’s hand in the firm grip of his own. “I said, Ray, my friend, I’ve fallen in love with you.”

Ray looked up at him then, his cheeks damp and his expression disbelieving. Then, two things happened at once. Ray’s long fingers tightened around his and the barest hint of a smile curved Ray’s mouth.

“I wouldn’t have said anything,” Ray whispered to him, “I would have kissed you.”

Ray’s voice broke on the last word and almost before the words could register in Ben ’s love-impaired brain, Ray’s mouth was on him, kissing him, an iron-like grip on Ben’s undershirt preventing either of them from moving away.

Ben was still but only for an instant. The desperate longing that had gnawed at him for so long bloomed and expanded and he pulled Ray hard against him and kissed him back. Ben put one hand into Ray’s blond hair, moving his lips against Ray’s, his eyes closed while the sweetest feeling he had ever known spread through his body.

Ben didn’t want to move, not now, not ever, not while Ray was at last so close, breathing into him, making sounds in his throat that Ben had believed that he would never be privileged to hear.

Ben kissed up the side of Ray’s neck as he did so, tasting him slowly, savoring every inch of him.

“You’re not going anywhere, you hear me, Ben ?” Ray demanded thickly, against Ben’s ear, against his cheek. “I swear, if you make the slightest move toward the border, if you even think about it…”

“No, Ray, I won’t. I’ll stay.” Ben groaned when he felt Ray’s hand slip past the waistband of his boxers and close around his erection, freeing it to the warm air. They looked at each other, with lust, with intent. Then, almost unexpectedly, Ray pulled Ben into his arms, holding him tight. Ben reciprocated, squeezing Ray as securely as he knew how.

“We’re gonna talk about this,” Ray said breathlessly. “About why you didn’t just fucking tell me.”’

“Yes,” Ben said, “yes, we will.”

Ray started to walk him backward toward his cot without letting him go, guiding him as if they were engaged in a lover’s dance.“God, if you only knew how hard it was to be good when you were drunk. I so wanted to take advantage of you,” Ray said as he licked and bit Ben’s neck.

“If you only knew how much I wanted you to kiss me. Please, kiss me now, Ray.” And he did, but only on the corner of his mouth and then on his chin.

“I hope you know what you’re getting into here,” Ray said, his hand tight around Ben’s dick, moving his long, callused fingers up and down the silky length with torturous slowness.

Ben couldn’t smile, could barely speak, could only push into the silky heat of Ray’s grip. “I hope you do,” Ben said with a groan. “I can be rather intense at times.”

“Sounds like we have a match.” Ray presses a searing kiss on Ben’s lips. “Now. Get on the cot,” Ray demanded gruffly and Ben, panting and dizzily aroused, obeyed at once. He had no chance to settle in comfortably when Ray leaned down, one bent knee on the cot, and took his member in his mouth.

Ben groaned out loud at the wet heat that engulfed his aching, tingling flesh, putting one hand on the back of Ray’s head, rubbing those silky spikes of hair while Ray sucked him and rubbed his tongue on the underside of his penis in a manner that made Ben certain that nothing could ever again feel so good and his most fervent wish was that it would last for hours. That he could last for hours.

But he had wanted Ray for so long that after a far too brief time, Ben arched up and helplessly ejaculated into Ray’s mouth, three, four, five times, and then lay flat, drunk with expended pleasure and happiness.

Ray stood up and looked down at him, his handsome face hard with lust. “Don’t move,” he said in a low voice that struggled through his uneven breathing, working on opening his own pants, his eyes never leaving Ben’s. “Don’t fucking move.”

Ben managed a slight smile. “I am not going anywhere,” he returned, his words slurred with satisfaction and saw Ray smile in return.

Ray’s erection was big and thick and as Ben watched Ray stroke it a couple of times, and felt his desire start to stir again. Ray stretched out on top of him, employing some caution as he did so because the instability of the small cot and Ben kissed him again, this time sure and confident, deep and hot. Ben felt the solid heat of Ray’s penis slide against his perspiration-slick skin on his own belly and he moved his legs apart so that Ray would have an easier, clearer path to continue to thrust.

“God, I couldn’t go another night without touching you,” Ray muttered softly, lowering his head to lick a hot path on the skin exposed by Ben’s open collar. “Didn’t you know how I feel, how I’ve always felt, how much I love you.”

“I’m sorry, Ray.” Ben looked into his eyes. “I didn’t know.” Ray moaned an obscenity and he shoved Ben’s shirt up to get to his skin, thumbing Ben’s nipple into hardness, his movements speeding up. Ray never looked away from him or closed his eyes until Ben felt the hot splatters of Ray’s come on his stomach.

~*~*~*~*

Ray collapsed on top of him, and Ben wrapped his arms around his wiry, muscular body, holding him tightly, securely, lovingly, with one leg curled around one of Ray’s. “Christ, Ben,” Ray whispered against Ben’s undershirt. “Damn, that was…wow.”

“Yes, it was.” Hearing Ray speak his name, with such passion, makes Ben immensely happy.

Ray lifted his head. “We almost blew it here. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I could ask you the same.”

Ray wet his red, swollen lips. “I wanted to. But I couldn’t risk losing you, Ben. That’s the one thing I couldn’t do.” Ben cupped Ray’s face in his hands and kissed him, again and again. He couldn’t seem to stop. Ray’s mouth on his, Ray wanting him. It was almost more than he could process.

After a time, Ray broke off the kiss and Ben’s heart thudded heavily at the smile Ray presented him with. Wicked, playful, determined all at once. “Hey, slow down. I want to get you naked next time.”

Ben lifted his head and gently brushed his lips across Ray’s forehead. “Whatever you say, Ray.”

“Oh, boy, I could get used to this.” Ray laughed out loud. “So, now you’re gonna listen to me. All I had to do was threaten to kick you in the head, huh?”

“That and the other thing you did.” Ben’s smile faded. “I almost lost you, Ray.”

“No way. I don’t give up so fast, Ben. Don’t you know that about me?” Ray declared with quiet ferocity. Ray kissed him hard and quick and then, he carefully untangled himself and got to his feet. “Now. As impressed as I am with the strength of Canadian cots, let’s go back to my apartment, where there’s a mattress and sheets and even a headboard.”

Ben lifted himself off the cot and went to his desk to grab a handkerchief from his desk drawer. Ben grinned at Ray, feeling downright giddy as he cleaned his stomach off and threw the handkerchief in the trash. “That’s an excellent idea. As long as you bring me back, well, at some point in the future. Time to be determined.”

Ray returned a smile that was so bright and wonderfully conspiratorial, Ben wanted to take a bite out of him, right then and there. “I can do that. And I’ll write you a note, just in case. ’Dear Madam Ice Queen, Please excuse Constable Fraser’s absence. He was busy getting very laid. Yours Truly, Ray Kowalski.’”

Ben chuckled softly. “Don’t you mean Ray Vecchio?”

All humor immediately faded from Ray’s expression. “No. I’m Ray Kowalski with you. Do you see that? Is that who you want?”

Ben realized what Ray was asking and went to him. He reached out with both hands, cupping the back of Ray’s head firmly, looking steadily into his worried blue-green eyes. “I know who you are, Ray. I recognized you from our first day.”

Ray kissed him again, tenderly, his lips so soft, his arms holding him tightly. It was all so blissful that Ben hesitated to say more, but he knew he must. He didn’t want there to be any misunderstanding, not now that they had laid themselves bare at last.

“Ray?” Ben said, while Ray nuzzled his neck and gave his ear lobe a little bite.

“Hmm?”

“I need you to understand.” Ray raised his head and looked at him with wariness. “There will likely come a time when I will want to return to the North. When I’ll hope to secure a permanent position there. Will you be amenable to that?”

Ray wet his lips and for a moment, Ben took that as a gesture of discomfort and he braced himself for Ray’s response. But Ray’s embrace tightened and his voice was quiet and steady, his gaze was honest and deeply blue in the golden lamplight. “I’m amenable to that. Will you be amenable to me going with you? Because I gotta tell you, buddy, I’m not ready to let you out of my sight for much more than twelve hours at a shot.”

His heart seized with tenderness and love for the man in his arms. “Well, Ray, in the North, I’m afraid that my duties would include patrols of the area that could last several days —“

“Uh, Ben, here’s an idea. Let’s go hash out our future in my bed. What do you say?”

Ben gave Ray long, loving kiss. “I say, keep talking, Ray. Just keep talking.”