As it turns out, Ray's not as young as he used to be, and so while he was feeling great for a while, his back's started complaining by the time he and Sally step into her apartment an hour later. "Remind me," Ray grunts, leaning heavily on the doorknob, "to punch Vince in the face sometime when Welsh isn't looking."
"Okay," she says, looking painfully awkward, fingers digging into his bicep. "Is there anything -- should I -- "
"I'm fine," Ray tells her firmly, and tries to stand up straight, because Fraser could've done it. Bad, bad idea -- he has to flail for the couch arm just to keep from falling over, and when he looks up at Sally she isn't looking any less worried. "Cut that out," Ray mutters. "You'd think I was about to die or something."
"You're hurt," she says, twisting the little silver ring on her pinky. "I should've made you go to the hospital, at least."
"And if you had, I'd never have forgiven you," he counters, flashing her his best grin. "C'mon, take a chill pill, okay? You look like my mother when you frown like that."
She laughs, finally. "That's not good."
"No. No, that is not good." She doesn't move. He's got to give her something to do, probably, that'll help. When Fraser had gotten hurt, he'd always -- but this is not the time to think about Fraser. "Look, my shoulders're all locked up. Nothing serious, but I should probably loosen 'em up before getting to bed -- "
Works like a charm. "Oh, here, I'll -- " She takes two steps toward him, and then she's working her thumbs into his neck, somehow finding all of the little knots of tension and making them melt away.
Ray shuts his eyes, figuring that he could just sell his soul to her hands and that'd work out just great. "I can't believe it's done," he mutters, voice croaking a little in his throat. "It felt like it'd take forever."
"Mmhm." She slides her hands up his neck, into his hair, stroking his scalp. "I knew you'd do it, though." He smiles; it's nice to have somebody believe in him for a fucking change. Even if he doesn't think he can do something, Sally would, because -- well, she thinks he can do anything. She thinks he's a superhero.
'Course, sometimes he says he can't do something and he really can't do it. He still can't swim, not really. If he got stuck on a sinking pirate ship for some reason, he'd probably just drown. Since Fraser's not around, he probably doesn't need to worry about it, but still -- "Hey, what if I hadn't done it," he says, trying to make it sound like a sleep-stupid question. "What would you have done?"
Sally's hands go still for a second. "But you did do it. You solved it."
"Yeah, Sal, I kind of noticed that. But I mean, hyporetically -- " He's said that wrong, and he knows it, but he's tired and doesn't care enough to correct himself. Fraser would've corrected him, but Sally's just letting him talk. " -- what would you have done? Like, maybe they went off on the other side of the city. What then?"
"Ray, please, don't obsess. You did good, you were amazing." Funny, how she sounds like she means it, even though any idiot can get thrown out a window. "You can stop thinking about it, okay?"
"I'm not obsessing," he protests. "I just wanna know, that's all. Come on, I know you had a plan. It's okay, it's good -- "
"I didn't," she interrupts, voice rising, and suddenly her hands aren't in his hair anymore. "I didn't have a plan, okay? I figured that if I trusted you, everything'd work out." She pauses. "Which it did, so I don't know what you're complaining about."
He opens his eyes, blinking up at the ceiling. "Yeah. Right. But what if -- "
"What the hell do you mean, what if?" she demands, dropping onto the couch next to him. There's about a foot of space between them, and Ray's starting to think that maybe the evening isn't gonna go the way he'd planned. "Partners means trust, didn't you tell me that?"
"Yeah, but -- "
"So how the hell do you expect me to trust you if you keep saying things like -- things like 'what if' and 'if you hadn't done it', what am I supposed to say? Do you want me to say that I don't trust you, is that it?" She's starting to look a little frayed, but it's nothing compared to the panicky sinking feeling in Ray's gut.
He's doing this stuff, this stupid stuff that Fraser taught him not to be afraid of because they'd had each other, they'd had someone to catch them if they fucked up. Only this time, it looks like Sally's not even trying to catch him. "No, but -- it's supposed to be like teamwork, like a one-two punch, we're supposed to work together -- "
"We do work together," she protests, and he can't look too closely at her face because he's afraid he'll see her crying. "We do, didn't you hear Welsh today? Didn't you -- "
"Right, right, and you're great, but you gotta -- you know, you've always gotta wonder, what if this happens or that happens, what if I'm hurt or kidnapped or -- "
"Ray, please," she breaks in, clapping her hands over her ears. "Don't even say things like that. Nothing's going to happen to you. You survived pirate ships, remember?" She smiles at him shyly, and maybe it was funny a couple of hours ago but it's sure as hell not now.
"Yeah," he says slowly, "yeah, I did, and d'you know why? 'Cause I had a partner. I trusted him, and he trusted me, and we got out of there together, you understand me? Sure, we fought, but -- " His throat closes up on him. How the hell had he gotten from there to here?
Sally's shaking her head. "Ray, if you're talking about that Mountie -- "
"Yeah. Yeah, I am."
"Yeah, well, if you want me to be like him, you're out of luck. He was terrible to you, Ray, can't you see that?" She gives him a hard look, lips tight, and suddenly she's looking less like a kid and a lot more like Stella. Ray blinks hard, trying to force the thought away. "You're still in love with him, aren't you," she says flatly.
Shit. "I'm pissed as hell at him," Ray corrects her, dropping his face into his palms. "But he was a cop, okay? He had my back, and you -- "
"I've got your back. I can do anything you tell me to -- "
"What about the stuff I forget to tell you? What about the stuff I just don't think of because I'm a world-class loser? What about -- "
"Are you telling me," she starts, too calm to be reassuring, "that I'm a bad cop?"
Ray leans his elbows on his knees, pushing his hands back through his hair. "No, I just -- "
"You are, you're -- "
"What I'm saying is, we aren't partners," he says, not looking at her. "And I -- I don't know how to fix that." She doesn't say anything, but he feels like he has to ask, even if he already knows the answer. "Do you?"
She folds her arms, staring into a far corner of the room, and shakes her head. "No."
"Okay then." Ray rubs at his face. "Look, you're smart, I'm not saying -- you'll do good. You could be a good cop. Just, not with me."
"If you want to leave, just leave, Ray." You have to give the kid credit. Her voice barely shakes at all, which Ray's probably would if he were her.
She doesn't even look at him when he gets up and shuffles to the door. At least his back isn't hurting so bad, anymore, so he'll be able to make it home without her hand on his elbow. "If it makes you feel better," he says quietly, afraid to say the words, but knowing he owes her the truth, "you were right. I never stopped loving him."
She doesn't respond, but when Ray's halfway down the stairs, he thinks he hears something heavy crashing against the wall.
There is a photograph in the Chicago Tribune that has caught Fraser's attention. Very little of the newspaper's content has succeeded in doing so, lately, but in this case he'd had to make an exception.
It's not an especially good photograph, nor is it a particularly large one. It's not even placed prominently, nor is the article next to which it's placed unusually lengthy. It does, however, bear a most interesting caption: "Detectives Kowalski and Jefferson, 27th precinct."
Even more interesting is how Detective Kowalski is smiling, not at the camera, but at the oblivious Detective Jefferson.
"Oh," Mrs. Peterson says, shuffling by cheerfully and peering at the photo. "Now there's a nice boy."
"Ah. Indeed," Fraser replies absently, thumb brushing against his eyebrow. "And how is Jesus today?"
"Oh, he's all right, I suppose. As all right as one can be in a trash bin, anyway." She pats his shoulder. "I'll be sure to tell him you asked."
"That's very kind," Fraser says, and then she's gone and Fraser's alone with the photograph again. There's no mistaking Ray's expression, the half-veiled eyes, that particular slump of the shoulders. He's flirting, and Fraser can hardly imagine that his new partner might be able to resist him.
A lump of something hot rises into his throat, and he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to force it back. Detective Jefferson is making Ray happy. That's what matters, and Fraser has no right to envy her the opportunity. He'd had the opportunity, and he'd ruined it with his own selfish desires, never mind that he'd camoflaged them as favors for Ray. They were what they were, and he'd been foolish to think that Ray wouldn't have noticed. He'd gotten exactly what he deserved, no more and no less.
But he wants. Still that, and he's not sure if he'll ever be able to make himself stop.
Ray can't think about this, or he'll lose his nerve and it'll never get done -- so he's multitasking, because he's never really gotten the hang of it. He's juggling the phone, the yellow pages, and an empty envelope that he's maybe gonna write the Air Canada number on if he can get the yellow pages to give it to him. "Inuvik RCMP detachment, Head Communications Officer Janet Clearwater speaking. May I help you?" the phone asks him politely, and he wedges it between his shoulder and ear.
"Uh, yeah, I'm looking for Constable Benton Fraser?" he mumbles, flicking through the phone book with one hand. Air Canada, Air Canada, c'mon, it can't be a national secret or something.
"Ah, I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Fraser isn't available."
The phone book slides out of his hand and hits the floor with a bang. Shit. He should've thought of this. He probably deserves it -- you know, karma coming back to bite him in the ass. "Uh. Right, so can I leave a message? I used to partner with him, my name's -- "
"Sir, I think you've misunderstood me -- Benton Fraser has been relieved of duty."
Shit, shit shit. He'd had Fraser, he'd had him, and now he's got no clue how he's gonna find him again. Sure, Fraser's got a cabin somewhere up there, but since Ray'd never gotten that far, that's not gonna help. "Um," he starts, rubbing at his throbbing temples, "you probably don't know where he is, do you? I mean, he quits, he goes wherever, you got no clue -- "
"Ah, well, I neglected to mention that Mr. Fraser elected to leave his post for reasons concerning his mental health. I believe he's still in a mental asylum."
Ray blinks at the wall, trying to process the words. "A loony bin?" he yelps suddenly, leaping out of his chair. "You've got to be -- "
"I'm afraid not, sir. In fact, he was so disturbed that he said only one institution would do. It was in that city he was posted to some years ago, I don't recall exactly -- "
Ray sinks back into his chair -- this is too much, even for karma. "Illinois," he says dully. "Chicago."
"Yes, that was it. Chicago." Ray hears a keyboard clicking. "I think I can access the asylum's phone number -- I'm not sure that I'm supposed to, but if you're his partner, I don't see how it can hurt." She pauses. "Ah, sir?"
"Yeah?" Ray scrabbles for the envelope.
"If he's -- lucid, could you tell him that I said hello?"
Ray blinks. "Uh, yeah. Sure." Hey, it's not like he's got a better way of breaking the ice.
The visitor's room is disgusting; this coming from Ray, who probably has more mold in his fridge than that guy who invented penicillin had in his whole lab. Not that there's mold in here, but -- it's just kind of vaguely gross, like the cafeterias in grade schools. There's a bunch of white plastic chairs and tables, and the fluorescent lights make them look almost green. "He'll be with you in a minute," the orderly says, patting him on the shoulder reassuringly. "Please, make yourself comfortable."
"Uh, yeah. Thanks." Comfortable. That's funny. At least they'll be alone, though, in case things get ugly.
Ray's just slid into the corner seat when the door creaks open, and Fraser's standing in the doorway. For one crazy second, Ray's heart kicks into overdrive; he can't figure out what the hell he thought he was gonna say, and he's starting to feel like smashing himself through the little dingy window might be a better idea than trying to say anything at all. But he doesn't. "Uh, hey, Fraser." Fraser's eyes flick over to him, and Ray's breath locks in his lungs. He's got no clue what he's so fucking scared of, but that doesn't change the fact that he is. "Janet said to say hi." Great. Good. There's the icebreaker, and maybe it's not actually breaking any ice, but he's said it. Now Fraser's gotta say something. That's the way it goes, see, this little thing called conversation.
"I -- I see." Fraser opens his mouth, shuts it again. "Well, do send my regards." Suddenly, Ray notices that the orderly's standing in the doorway, watching them. When she sees Ray looking at her, though, she backs off, shutting the door behind her.
Fraser jerks around at the quiet click the door makes, like he's been locked in a cage with a raging bull moose or something. "C'mon, Frase," Ray says quietly, clenching his fists in his pockets, "come talk to me for a while."
Fraser comes -- not eagerly, or nothing, but he comes and sits down across from Ray. "I suppose she told you where to find me."
Careful, careful, so fucking careful. "Yeah. Yeah, she did. Sounds like they're all pretty worried about you up there."
"Yes." Fraser looks down at the table. "Yes, I suppose they must be."
Ray looks at him, just taking him in, just feeling what it's like to sit here with him again. It doesn't feel the same. The lights are making Fraser's face almost unrecognizable, bringing out all these tired lines that Ray's never really seen before, though they must've been there. You don't get twenty wrinkles in just two months. Aside from that, Fraser's not -- there. He's not making any of those stupid Mountie remarks that he makes, not even the kinds that mean he's really pissed off. He's just not even in the room. "Fraser," Ray says, locking his eyes onto Fraser's face, "tell me you're not crazy. Tell me I didn't..."
Fraser blinks once, but he doesn't ask Ray what he thinks he didn't do. It's stupid, but it's also totally obvious. "I'm not crazy," Fraser says, and it's like half the tension in the room's dissolved away. "No more than before, at least. I'm undercover."
"You're undercover as a nutcase?" Ray forces a grin. "Well, hey, you're doing great. I always thought you were unhinged."
"You aren't the first to have said so." Fraser quirks half a smile his way, and it feels a little better, almost normal. "And how have you been?"
"Uh, you know. Okay. Working. Welsh gave me my job back."
Fraser nods. "Yes. I saw that you solved a case, two days ago. You -- " He ducks his head, and even though the hat covers up most of his ears, Ray can tell that they're going red. "You must be very happy with Detective Jefferson."
Ray's eyes narrow. Okay, maybe he hasn't talked to Fraser in a couple of months, but Fraser's still Fraser, and there's no way that he's just talking about partners. He's talking about partners, and there's only one way he could've figured that out. "They had a picture?"
Fraser nods and -- Ray can't believe this -- reaches into his hat. "I took the liberty -- "
"You kept it in your hat?" Right. Fraser maybe didn't go nuts 'cause of Ray leaving, but he's definitely hurting. Even Ray, idiot that he is, can see that.
"Ah, well, it didn't seem like the sort of thing one would frame." He holds it out, and if Ray gets a little more skin contact than necessary while taking it -- well, it's not like anybody can sue him for it.
Christ, the picture's awful. Well, it's an okay picture, but Ray's basically eyefucking Sally on camera, which is definitely not cool. Luckily, she hadn't noticed, 'cause she's beaming at the camera with that crazy I'm-on-TV face -- but Fraser had. Fraser had noticed, because he's not blind. "I -- look, we need to talk."
"Ray, please." Fraser takes the clipping back, starts to tuck it back into his hat. "You don't need to humor me. You're happy; I understand. There's no need to apologize for that."
"Fraser, you're not listening to me. I'm not happy -- that's why I called the Mounties to find you, that's why I'm sitting here in a loony bin trying to talk to you!" Fraser's eyes come up, and maybe he's trying to hide it, but Ray can see the hope there. He hadn't really thought about it before, but he'd left Fraser, not the other way around. Maybe Ray's missed Fraser, but Fraser was the one who heard everything Ray said, and had to believe that was all there was to say. "Okay? You get it now?"
Oh, yeah, he gets it. It's not like Ray's gotta ask, really. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry you had to put yourself in here to amuse yourself."
"I'm -- "
"Yeah, I know, you're fine. I'm fine." Ray drops his hands onto the table, spreads them out. There's an angry red line across the back of his hand, from where a crease in his pocket was digging into his skin. "But if you tell me you're happy, you'd be lying to me, and you don't lie to me." Ray looks up. "Right?"
Fraser's thumb flicks up to his eyebrow, and the gesture is so familiar that it makes Ray's chest ache. "I try not to, yes."
"Okay, then. So what I'm trying to tell you is, we need to talk. You and me. Not here, someplace private."
Fraser licks his lip. C'mon, c'mon, pick a place already, there's only one place where we've got privacy anyway -- "Your apartment, I suppose, would be ideal."
"Right. When can you get out of here?"
Fraser hesitates. "Tonight," he says finally. "I think my work here is done."
Ray's apartment isn't much different than it was the last time Ben visited. The landlady sees him on the stairs, smiles a greeting, and tells him that Ray's feet have been busily puttering around upstairs for hours. "Probably that girl's coming over again -- have you met her? She's really very nice."
"No, I'm afraid I haven't. Good evening to you, ma'am." It's not encouraging, true, and after all the official work he's been doing for the last few hours, he's not sure he wants to hear what Ray has to say. He's simply not sure he'll have the strength for it.
But it's Ray. Ray had come to find him, and he'd done it because he thought finding Ben would make him happier. At the very least, Ben will have to correct him on that point.
Ben stops in front of Ray's door and takes a moment to orient himself, listening for the familiar sound of Ray's feet. Instead, he hears glass clinking and music playing, something unidentifiable with a strong Latin beat. Smiling, Ben shuts his eyes and listens, imagining Ray's hips swinging to that beat as he crosses the room. Ray hadn't been able to bring his music with him on the adventure, obviously, and Ben had missed it. Undoubtedly Ray had as well, though he'd never seen fit to mention it.
There's a soft click; when Ben opens his eyes the door is open, and Ray's standing there, smirking at him. There's a large black rubber band twisted around his fingers. "Thought I heard you come up," he says. "I got my ears tuned to the tundra, yeah?"
Ben clears his throat, flustered. "I was -- I was just -- "
"Yeah, okay, come on in," he says easily, as though neither of them had ever left this place. "Took you long enough. What happened?" He pivots on the ball of one bare foot and heads back into the kitchen. Ben tries not to watch him too closely -- they're friends now, nothing more. He hasn't the right.
"Well, I had to contact the RCMP," Ben starts, putting one foot into the room cautiously, "which the asylum was reluctant to let me do, as they believe my connection with the RCMP is pure delusion. Anyway, once I'd managed to telephone the Sergeant, I -- it's not important."
"Yeah, I just bet it isn't," Ray mutters, looking back at him over his shoulder. "I mean, seeing as you already busted that joint, trying to bust them again's probably not the most important work you could've been doing." He grins at Ben smugly, and Ben tries not to let his jaw drop.
"Clearly," he says, "you remember one or two of Ray Vecchio's more peculiar cases."
"Yeah. Well, the important bits, and then the rest of it I spent the afternoon reading up on." His shoulders roll into that self-conscious shrug Ben knows so well. "So, why'd you do it?"
Ben clears his throat. "Well, I thought -- " But Ray's smiling knowingly at him now, and Ben knows he won't be able to explain this away rationally. Not to Ray. Anyone else might be bulldozed, but Ray will just see past all of the meaningless words and call them what they are. "It was helpful, the last time I went, to converse with the patients. They have what you might call a -- a unique perspective of the world."
"Yeah?" Ray's eyes are fixed on him. His shirt, Ben notices abruptly, is one of the thick flannel ones he'd bought in Canada, just before their failed adventure. It's open at the neck, exposing a long triangle of bare skin; in this climate, Ben supposes, it's not necessary to button it up properly. "You do what you needed to do?"
"I'm -- not sure." Ben turns his hat in his hands, his eyes safely directed away from Ray's throat. "I learned a good deal, certainly. It would be foolish to resent how little that's helped me."
"Foolish, huh." Ray drops his head, looking down at the rubber band in his hands. "We do lots of foolish stuff, though, you and me."
His voice is soft and rough, and most certainly not flirtatious. It can't be, and if Ben thinks it is -- "I -- I'm sorry," Ben stutters, backing away, "I think I'd better be leaving. It was very kind of you to invite me, very generous, but I don't think -- "
"Hey, no, c'mon -- you just got here. Sit down for a minute, lemme talk to you for a while." Ray reaches into the fridge and pulls out two slender brown bottles. "Have a beer?"
"Ray, you know I don't drink."
Ray tilts his head, acknowledging the point. "Normally, no. I'm trying to tell you, as your buddy, that tonight's maybe a good time to give it a try. " He crosses the room, a bottle dangling from each hand, and holds one out. "You trust me?"
"Yes," Ben replies without thinking, and that seems to be the right answer, because he's rewarded with a wide smile.
"Okay then, you take this and hang onto it. That way you'll have it if you need it." Numbly, Ben closes his fingers around the bottle neck. "I'll get a bottle opener. You, on the couch."
As Ben sits down, he notices that the general clutter that had made Ray's apartment so, well, Ray's, has vanished. Undoubtedly, Detective Jefferson hadn't appreciated it for what it was. For that matter, neither had Ben, the last time he'd come here, but that's another matter entirely. "How is Detective Jefferson?" Ben forces himself to ask, and if he strangles on it, Ray doesn't pay that any mind.
"Hm? Oh, Sally." Ray's head pops back up from behind the breakfast bar. "She's okay, I guess. She's probably busy hating my guts right about now." He sidles over and doesn't so much sit down, as vault over the back of the couch. "You gonna open that now?" he asks, jabbing the bottle opener at Ben's bottle.
"Ah, no, thank you." Ray shrugs, and starts prizing at his own. "I'm sorry to hear that. She was very attractive, by your standards."
"Yeah, well, it wasn't working out, if you can believe that." Although his voice is light, Ray's face is shuttered. "That's, uh, one of the things I wanted to talk to you about."
"There are those who might suggest I'm a poor choice for comfort," Ben points out. "I might even be one of them."
Ray's lips twitch. "Yeah, well, you let me be the judge of that," he says, dropping the bottle opener on the coffee table and settling back. He takes a swig, then carefully props the bottle on his belly. He's looking far too small for his clothes, just now; Ben wants to gather him up into a bundle of long arms and legs, clutch him to his chest and never let go. "You know when I knew me and Sally were in trouble?"
"No, of course not."
"It was the night we cracked that case you saw in the paper. I got thrown out a window -- "
"Oh?" Ben straightens. "Were you -- that is, did you -- "
Ray waves a hand at him. "I was fine. Thing is, she was worried about me, so she says, come back to my apartment. Which I'm pretty happy to do, 'cause I figure I'm finally getting laid."
"Of course." Ben stares at the blank television screen. Its curved surface warps their reflections a little, and makes it look almost like Ray has burrowed into his side. He shuts his eyes briefly.
"Anyway, we get up there, and I'm kind of wired, so I start talking about the case. You know, usual stuff -- glad it's over, we did great, all that. And then I ask her, what if I hadn't cracked it?" Ray laughs softly, and Ben looks down at him to see his face. Ray's not even looking at him; he's intently watching something past the wall, and Ben finds himself watching Ray just as raptly. "Which was pretty much what screwed everything up, 'cause she hadn't even thought about it. She's just a rookie, you know? And I'm this big old grizzly guy -- "
"I think you mean grizzled."
"Whatever. Point is, she figured I was gonna take care of everything, no matter what, and that's a hell of a lot of pressure. I can't measure up to that, and she just -- she can't accept that." Suddenly Ray's eyes focus again -- they focus on Ben, and there's no time for Ben to wrench his eyes away. It's like being yanked into the air by the back of his collar. "You know what I told her?"
"I told her about the pirate ship. I told her that I got out of the pirate ship 'cause I had a partner to watch my back, and I told her that you got to watch your partner's back if you're gonna make it out of pirate ships alive." He grins, and puts a hand out to squeeze Ben's shoulder.
"And what did she say?"
"She figured I was talking about the Mountie, which I was. And then she figured I wanted her to be more like the Mountie, which I did, pretty much. And then she decided that I was still in love with the Mountie." Ray pauses, and his grip tightens. "Which I was. Which I am."
Ben forces himself to breathe, forces himself to tear his eyes from Ray's, forces himself to look at the floor. "No," he says desperately, "no, you aren't. You're just -- you're lonely, and aside from that, the incident aboard the Henry Allen was -- before." Before I ruined it. "We were partners then."
"Yeah. I know." Ray sits up, hand still on Ben's shoulder, light and warm. "I liked that, Fraser. I liked being your partner."
"And I, yours," Ben admits softly. "But -- "
"And I liked it when you did something nutty to save my life."
"As did I, but -- "
"And I liked it when you kissed me, and when you fucked me, and when you went nuts on me because I was being an ass and hitting on other people." Ray's voice is relentless, and Ben can't reply, because his throat has closed up completely. "What I don't get, is why you can't trust me."
"I do. I trust you with my life."
"Right, I know that." Ray's hand is on Ben's cheek, suddenly, steering Ben's eyes up to meet his. "But not in bed. Not with your body, not with your, uh, heart." He grimaces. "Look, I'm not good with words, you know that. Point is -- "
"I understand," Ben whispers. "And I'm sorry."
Ray's eyes crinkle. "Yeah, well, maybe that'd be enough if I wasn't still in love with you. I am, though, so -- " He dips his head, and a moment later Ben feels lips brushing against his own.
"No," he mumbles, trying vainly to pull away from Ray's mouth. "We shouldn't."
"Because -- it's too fast. You need time -- "
"I had time. Now I don't need time." He leans his forehead against Ben's, and Ben aches to taste him again, even just once. "Okay? Trust me."
The truth. He has to tell the truth, or at least something implying it. "I'd do anything to deserve this."
Ray's eyes close. "Anything?"
Ray nods, as though he's coming to a decision. "Then," he says quietly, "let me fuck you."
God. Ray can't think of these things logically; there's simply no logic in anything he proposes. "I don't -- I can't -- "
"I know. So was I." Ray presses his lips to Ben's hairline, his eyelids, his cheekbones, and finally returns to Ben's mouth. "But I've got you. Believe me, I've got you. It'll be amazing," he murmurs, and slides his tongue into Ben's mouth.
Ben squeezes his eyes shut, and does his best to oblige.
Ben feels a whimper escape his lips, and Ray freezes over him. "You okay?" he whispers. It's not a straightforward question; he feels like bolting, like locking himself away for a century, but he's not actually hurt. "Am I hurting you?"
"No," Ben breathes, looking up at Ray's sweat-glossed face. "Not -- not exactly. It's just -- "
"Hard. Yeah, I know." Ray stays still, but it doesn't help; Ben can still feel him, inside, too thick and far too close. "Don't think about it, just -- " Ray licks his throat -- "let me. Let me."
Ben shuts his eyes and twists his hands into the sheets. Ray makes it sound almost -- simple, and perhaps for him it was. But of course it wasn't, and of course this isn't. It shouldn't be, after all this time apart, after all that Ben's done to him. "Do it," he breathes.
Ray moves, and Ben grits his teeth against the sensations washing over him, breaching his mind and invading his thoughts -- "Hey," Ray says softly, his hands suddenly on Ben's face, "hey, don't -- " and then his tongue is driving into Ben's mouth, and Ben lets him do it, lets him bruise their lips and stroke their tongues together --
-- and something shifts.
"Ray," Ben gasps.
Ray lifts his head, slick lips curving into a strained smile. "Yeah," he says hoarsely, finding Ben's hand and squeezing it. "Fucking -- told you -- "
Ben would agree that yes, he had, but he can't. His breath is rasping in his ears, and his whole body seems to be clenching around that place inside him, where Ray is, where Ray is laying him to waste. "Ah -- "
Ray doesn't let him arch up, and Ben collapses back onto the bed, muscles limp and useless. "'Sokay. I got you."
Easy. So easy, just to puddle here into familiar sheets and smell this familiar room and let his familiar Ray do this to him. Ray, who knows him better than anyone, who knows just how to do this, who knows how to make Ben surrender even when he resists. Ray, his -- partner. "Never leave," Ben croaks, clutching at Ray's hand. "Never -- "
Ray groans, a deep resonant thing in their chests. "Wasn't planning on it."
Ray sits quietly on the fire escape outside his apartment with Dief stretched out by his feet, cigarette hanging from his fingers, taking a drag every couple minutes and trying to convince himself that he's not pissed.
The thing is, he really isn't. He's gone right up through pissed, come out the other end someplace else entirely. Someplace where he's almost calm, only he still feels like killing something, even though all the fighting's over and he's home; him, and Ben, and Dief. All home, safe and sound, so it's okay for him to just sit out here, chilling out. Just chilling the fuck out, for the first time since yesterday afternoon, when Sally had called his desk and said, "Ray, they've got your Mountie," instead of what he would've expected, which probably would've been easier to deal with: something about him being gay, threatening to out him, get him thrown off the force. Something fucking manageable.
But no, instead she had to explain that the people who had his Mountie were actually people who were trying to get back at him and her: Ray Kowalski and Sally Jefferson, who'd put away their ringleader and lost them hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the thing is, that had been a stupid case, a nothing case, but he should've known it'd come back to bite him in the ass.
But Sally did good this time around, maybe catching some of Ray's panic, maybe just learning fast. Sally got him Fraser's location, covered his back when he jimmied the lock on the warehouse and ran in like a crazy person. And maybe in some other universe Ray would've been proud, maybe Ray would've changed his mind about her -- but in this one, he didn't even notice. All he could see was Fraser tied to a chair, head hanging and face all lax and pale, like he was dead, only he wasn't. Just drugged, eyes blinking real slow, and Ray untied him and kissed his freezing, unresponsive mouth right there in front of Sally and the goons and everybody, his career and reputation be damned.
Later, in the hospital, when Fraser had finally started forming complete sentences again, Ray had had to stop himself from wringing the poor guy's neck and settle for shouting, "You idiot, why the fuck did you do that? They wanted me, they set the trap for me, and don't tell me you didn't know it was a trap, they might as well have stuck a big sign saying 'this is a trap exclamation point' -- "
"Well, of course I knew."
That had stopped Ray in his tracks, made him backtrack and start all over again. "Yeah, so, what the hell were you thinking? You maybe wait for me to come back from lunch before you run off, then we figure out something smart, where nobody's got to get tied up or pumped full of seda -- sedal -- sedatives, and -- "
"But I knew you'd come," Ben had said simply, and it shouldn't have hit Ray so hard, but it did.
He'd stood there for a moment, staring at Ben's tired face, feeling like he'd been hit over the head with a large rubber mallet. Then he'd muttered something about Ben being crazy, and fled from the room. A couple hours later, he still hadn't shaken the feeling, but people were telling him that Ben was fine and wanted to go home, so he got them both packed into the Goat and somehow got them home without starting a conversation.
Which brings them to here and now, with Ray sitting out on a fire escape with a cigarette he's not really smoking, still shit-scared and not sure what to think about anything. Not about Sally, or Ben, or his own fucking job. He goes over it again and again in his head -- finding out where Ben was, running into a warehouse crackling with gunshots with Sally at his elbow, clutching at Ben's cold waxy face, waiting and waiting in the ambulance and the waiting room and next to Ben's bed just for a chance to chew him out -- and every time, he ends up at the same place. That maybe he hates nights like this, but this is his job and he's good at it, dammit. Good enough that Ben ran into a trap because he was expecting Ray to come save him, instead of because he didn't trust Ray to handle it on his own. And he got Ben in the end, and that's all that matters.
Ray drops the cigarette, crushes it under his heel, and heads back inside.
Inside the bedroom, it's dark, and has that heavy feeling it has when there's somebody sleeping in it. Ben's a dark lump under the covers, and Ray lets himself drift towards Ben's side of the bed, kneeling on his thin carpet and pulling the covers away from his face.
Should probably let him sleep, Ray thinks, and watches Ben's lips move with each breath.
Ben's mouth is relaxed and still at first, and Ray can't help thinking about the warehouse, which sends a chill down his spine -- but then Ben's waking up, kissing him back, a little out of it but demanding like always. Ray slides his fingers into Ben's hair and pulls Ben in hard, and Ben gets the message, opening his mouth and just letting Ray lick into him.
When Ray finally pulls back, Ben's eyes are wide and worried. "I'm sorry," he says hoarsely. "I'm sorry, I should have thought -- "
"Shut up," Ray growls, and kisses him again to keep him quiet. When it feels like Ben's forgotten what he was trying to say, Ray pulls back again and smooths damp hair away from his forehead. "Just -- I love you, all right? So the next time I do something stupid for you, remember that before you kill me."
Ben's mouth quirks to the side, eyes still heavy-lidded. "I can't say I'll make any promises, but -- "
Ray sighs. "Oh, just go back to sleep already. Don't know why I bothered waking you up, anyway." Ben giggles softly, and Ray wanders off to brush his teeth, feeling vaguely irritated.
But when he climbs into bed, Ben rolls over and wraps Ray up in all of his limbs, and Ray doesn't even have nightmares about all the ways today could've gone wrong. Which is something, anyway, even if it's not exactly perfect.