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Just As Sweet

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          "Ray, do you-"

          "Don't call me that." Seeing the look on Fraser's face, he instantly regretted being so sharp. "I mean…I'm sorry, I just…that name doesn't seem to fit right at the moment."

Fraser stopped what he had been doing and leant back on the desk, crossing his arms. Despite the body language, his tone was predictably unjudgmental.

          "Well, what would you like me to call you?"

          "Uh...I don't know, I don't-"

Abandoning his own task, the detective began to pace a three-step beat, hands gesturing nervously. He was suddenly very aware of his breathing, faster than usual, and that Fraser was just leaning against his desk, watching him with a gentle, steady gaze. He ran his hands through is hair, then turned abruptly and forced himself to be still.

          "Just, just listen, and don't interrupt." The Mountie adjusted himself slightly, settling in. "Ok, because I'm gonna talk but I don't really know what I'm gonna say, but I feel like this would be a good time for you to- well, there's no real good time for this but- ah, what the hell." He took a deep breath, steeling himself. "Stanley Raymond Kowalski. That's the name on the birth certificate. Stanley, that first part, that was me as a kid. That's the name my mom calls me, the name my dad spat at me when I dropped outta college for the Academy, the name that got punched in the face in high school. That name wore goofy glasses all the time, or not enough when he was trying to look cool, stuttered like hell, got his words mixed up and couldn’t talk straight." His hands were flapping again, but he couldn't be bothered to control them. "Raymond, that's my, uh, I think my dad gave me that name. Passed down or whatever. Not that he ever used it, or anything, nobody uses their middle name, but- well, when I got sick of being Stanley, wanted to be real cool not just no-glasses cool, I made something of it for myself. Me, I'd watched a lot of Steve McQueen, that guy was the cool I was going for. So Ray it was." He took another deep breath, and paced for a moment before halting again. "But now, what with this- this, uh, V- Vv- dammit, this other guy, the guy I filled in for, it's kinda…tainted, y'know? Like, not in a bad way, or…at least I don't think so…I don't hate the guy, don't get me wrong, it was just very sudden, coming in and...and going out. He said it all, he said 'It's like dying but you haven't finished all your stuff' or something. Well, yeah, but it's not like a pet that lived and died outside of you, it's like…the Ray thing was mine before this, as well, but now I can't really use it because it was- is- was?- a part of me that was part of him that was him, and it's still part of him, but it's a part of me, and-" He broke off when he realised that he was gabbling, and turned away to let out a sigh, steadying himself. "Kowalski, that's the last bit." He turned back to face Fraser again. "It is what it is, I guess. Used to remind me too much of Stella and all that, but that was a while ago now. Me, I never had much against it, but never had much use for it either. Especially not when paired with the first bit, and especially not lately." He somehow managed to look his friend dead in the eye. "Y'know, when I got offered that transfer, back before the boats thing...I almost took it, straight off the bat, right there in Welsh's office. There it was, in my hands- my own life back, my- m-my own name…but then there was you, and the job, and this other guy I was apparently protecting. But there also wasn't you, because I'd just popped you that day and you walked away all hurt looking and silent and I knew that I'd done that, not any name or anything, just me- but that's not what this is about." He chuckled slightly. "The point is- the, the point is…"

There was more there than a deep breath could quell. He knew what was coming, and screwing up his face and pressing it into his hands wouldn't stop it. Made a good armour, though. A good thing to hide behind.

          "The point is, I don't know who I am anymore." His voice was low and scratchy, and he was suddenly aware of the exact timbre of every tone. "I'm Ray, but I'm not Ray, but I am. I'm not Vecchio, anymore, if I ever was, but I'm not really Kowalski, and I'm not sure that I want to be. This whole half-undercover thing has been…well, it's messed with my mind from day one. Back then, I thought it was pretty good, leave my troubles behind, with Stella and stuff, not that that worked out pretty much at all. But now that it's all over, and with like no warning, I've got nowhere to turn back to, nowhere to stay. Nowhere to go."

He ran out of steam and the silence stretched into a minute, then two. When he finally left his hands and looked up, Fraser was still on the edge of the desk, unmoving, and it was clear that he would be like that for hours if necessary. But the silence was getting unnerving.

          "Ok, so…" He sniffed, tilting his chin. "...I spill my guts, waddaya have to say."

A further pause, as the Mountie gave him a long, measured look. "I say that…I'm glad you feel that you can talk to me. And I can understand that this must be unnerving. This is not the right time, but I have had somewhat similar issues with my name in the past. However, I-"

          "You mean there was someone else called 'Benton'?"

          "No, there was someone else called 'Fraser'. My father." The Mountie's gaze dropped momentarily, emotions flickering, but when he looked back up it was as though nothing had happened. "Living in a name, one given to you by another, is not always easy. It can be a source of pride, but also of pain, of happiness, but also of hatred. Those are normal, even commonplace feelings, but that doesn't make them any easier for an individual to bear." He rubbed his thumb across his eyebrow, wondering how to phrase his sentiment. "You are, in the end, exactly who you want to be. The sounds you answer to don't define you, don't have any real control over how you say, or act, or think…they can be a guide, a map, a sign, but they are not what you choose to make of them. What you do with your life isn't defined by your past, or your parents past, or your childhood. You can be Stanley, or Raymond, or Kowalski, or Ray, or even- anything, but it will not change who you are." He unfolded his arms, reached out a hand and tapped his friend's chest. "You are a good man. Someone who isn't afraid to stand up for things, to confront things which are wrong, to fight even when it's against someone who you trust, or who is a friend. Who isn't afraid to say yes, or to say no, or to admit that you're afraid. For a name? If I might quote, for a moment, 'A rose by any other'..." He stopped, realising that now was not the best time for Shakespeare. "In the end, it's your choice. Always has been, always will be."

The arms were folded again, and he looked down politely as silence descended once more. There was no movement, no more words, just the quiet of two minds racing. The detective was glad, thankful even, that this had finally been dragged into the open. All the aborted conversations, all the confused reactions, all his own feelings... everything was clearer now. And he knew, he had a feeling, of what should come next.

          "S-Stanley Kowalski." He took a deep breath, feeling much calmer. "I think I'm ready to start over again. It feels...well, it feels kinda odd, but it feels right." He met Fraser's understanding gaze with a steadied, lighter one of his own. "But, uh…you can call me Ray."

Fraser stood, a smile spreading across his face, and nodded. "Understood."