Painless

Bernice

This is an old story with no sex.  I wrote this in a café when Viscous Linda was two hours late for coffee. This was probably the second proper short story I ever wrote. I had a friend who wrote incredibly depressing stories, and I think we just egged each other on. Thanks to Gillian for cleaning this up for me.

Major Wallow Alert: The idea for this story came from a number of interviews with David Marciano, and was written without seeing the first series beyond The Wild Bunch.

 

 

"Wake up, Son." Benton Fraser slowly swam up through the layers of consciousness. As always he was surprised that he could actually feel his father’s hands on his shoulder, solid as if he were real, as if they were back in the years, to one of the few times when his father had rested his hands on him, telling him some piece of Inuit wisdom. Those talks had imparted the jewels of his father’s knowledge that Fraser would hug to himself when he could not touch his father for real.

"What is it, Dad?" he asked, still groggy.

"Something is going to happen which I think you should see. Come on, we don't have much time."

Fraser looked over at his travelling alarm, it was 2 am. What could his father want him to see so desperately at this time of the morning? Uncomplainingly he got up and got dressed. "Should I wear my uniform, Dad?"

"What on earth for? It’s 2 am and you’re still asleep and travelling with a ghost, who’s going to see you?"

Fraser turned and saw himself still asleep on the floor, Diefenbaker undisturbed in the bed. It was a strange experience, but not one that bothered him unduly. His life had been very strange lately, if he was to be flitting across the city of Chicago with the ghost of his father, then that was just another experience to add to the many. It never occurred to him that he might be dreaming.

The two Frasers went down outside into the street, and Fraser junior was surprised to see the sun up in the sky. By its position he judged it to be after 9.30 in the morning, but he didn’t question that either.

"Where are we going, Father?"

"That nice young partner of yours is in trouble ¾ we are going down to the precinct."

"Ray? What kind of trouble?" If his partner was in trouble, then surely his father should have woken him, let him help properly, not taken him for this Charles Dickens visit to mornings future.

It seemed that they were at the precinct within seconds. They both meandered through the desks, Fraser found the way they flowed through objects to be rather disconcerting, and flowing through Elaine to be extremely unpleasant. He stood by Ray’s desk, watching him open his mail, and tried to get his attention.

"It’s no use, son. Unless you are actually haunting someone, they cannot see you. You are just a visitor here. I want you to stay with him, make sure he doesn’t become a regular, do you understand?"

"No, Dad. I don’t."

Bob Fraser looked at his son, confused. He couldn’t have said that any more clearly. He sighed, "Sometimes, Son, you don't seem to pick up on things very quickly." With that, he shook his head and walked away.

Fraser made to follow his father for a few steps, then stopped, confused, and went back to Ray’s desk. He waved his hands in front of Ray’s face, and tried shouting, but Ray kept on going through his paperwork obliviously. Ray picked up a large flat envelope, slitting it open with his nails. He pulled out the contents an inch, then let what appeared to be a number of photographs fall back into the envelope without looking at them properly. Fraser was unable to see them before Ray put them back and pulled out a short note.

Fraser was struck by the way Ray’s usually so expressive face went totally blank as he read the note. He went to read over Ray’s shoulder, but Ray folded and replaced the note, re-sealed the envelope and pushed himself away from the desk. Ray dropped the envelope through the shredder, pulling out the shreddings and running them through again.

"Elaine, I’m going to be out of the office for the rest of the day. I’ll have my phone with me if anyone needs to contact me, okay?"

"What do I tell Captain Welsh?"

"Tell him I’m following up some leads, I’ll see you around, okay?"

Fraser followed on behind, puzzled by Ray’s closed-in body language. Ray was usually all colour and movement and sound. He seemed to have suddenly shrunken in upon himself, holding his hands close to his body, his voice flat and lacking inflection.

He followed Ray as the cop moved about town. Fraser felt unreal, separated from his surroundings. He couldn’t describe the sensation as floating on air, more like trying to shake off a general anaesthetic. Perhaps this is what insane people meant when they said they no longer felt they were real.

As far as he could see, Ray was not following leads. He spent some considerable time in his banks, paying off debts and cleaning out accounts. Fraser thought this particularly odd, Ray was usually so cautious with his money, making sure that he always had enough to keep his family comfortable, yet still have enough left over to keep himself in the expensive clothes he favoured, and his beloved car in top condition. It seemed to Fraser that Ray was being extravagant with the way he was conducting his financial accounts this morning.

Ray had been depressed lately, Fraser was aware of that, but he’d not pried into his friend’s business. If Ray wanted to talk about what had been upsetting him, Fraser was sure the cop would. He believed Ray was never one to internalise whatever was upsetting him. Fraser wondered if he’d made a mistake in not pushing for the reasons behind Ray’s unusual quietness.

He continued following Ray, trailing him back to the Vecchio home.

"Anyone home?" Ray called out. It was unusual for the household not to have someone there; Francesca resting from a shopping trip, Maria yelling at the children, or Mama Vecchio preparing her latest gourmet dish. But this time, Ray’s voice echoed back to him, and Ray smiled softly to himself, just on one side of his mouth. Head down, he started up the stairs, and kept going until he was on the flat roof on the back of the house. Fraser followed after him, still trying to work out what was wrong with his friend.

Fraser watched Ray standing on his roof, looking out over his city. Ray breathed deeply, inhaling the smog and pollution he had lived with every day of his life. The trains rumbled past and he visibly allowed their sound to rock him. The sun was barely visible in the sky today, it was so overcast with smoke and filth, but that was the way it was supposed to be. He sat down with his back to the wall, letting the warmth of the dirty sun warm his bones, and closed his eyes to feel its feeble shafts of light on his face.

Fraser watched in horror as Ray pulled his gun from his pocket, checked the cartridge was loaded, took the safety off, put the barrel in his mouth.

"NO!!" Fraser screamed, trying in vain to grab the gun away, his hands passing through uselessly, "NO, NO, NO, NO!"

The shot exploded out, and Fraser was sure he felt the blow as Ray’s head impacted with the wall behind him. He watched in silent horror as Ray slid slowly sideways, leaving a trail of blood that dripped down from where the back of his head was spread against the brickwork.

Fraser sank to his knees, choking as he tried to both scream or cry, but shocked disbelief stopped the sounds from coming out.

He tried to touch Ray’s body, his hand passing through the lifeless face. Blood poured sluggishly from Ray’s mouth and nose, his staring eyes also turning pink as the damage done by the semi-automatic became evident.

"Come on, Son. I think you’ve seen enough."

Fraser looked up at his father’s face. His father seemed older, smaller. Was it possible for ghosts to age?

His father took his arm, lifting him up and away from his friend’s corpse. "Perhaps I should have warned you first, but I thought it best that you should see for yourself."

"Why didn’t you wake me? I could have stopped it! I could have saved him!"

"Saved him from what, Son? It’s his choice. Now it’s time to go back."

"No, I want to know why. Why did he do it?" Fraser was getting more and more distressed, his voice rising as the reality of the suicide started to sink in.

"We have to go back now. If you remain here too long, you’ll be unable to return."

Fraser wanted to shout at his father, to rail at Ray. He wanted to strike out. He wanted to pick Ray up and cradle his body. But he felt himself being pulled away, after his father. It seemed like he was being drawn down a funnel. The world narrowed down around him, focussing in on his father’s back and he moved without walking back toward his apartment, the corpse bleeding on the rooftop behind him.

-oo0oo-

 Fraser sat up with a start, his gasping breath loud in the apartment. Diefenbaker also sat up abruptly, looking down at him from the camp bed, startled by his friend’s sudden movement.

"It was a dream." He told his wolf, "It was just a dream." He regulated his breathing and slowed his heart beat, wiping sweat off his brow.

"No, Son. It wasn’t a dream." Fraser senior’s voice startled Fraser. "It’s 10.00 am now. You don’t have much time. That’s my fault. I didn’t realise our little dream trek would take so long. I would suggest you make a decision regarding your friend’s actions as soon as possible."

"There is no decision to make. I’ve got to stop him." Fraser grabbed his clothes, pulling them on hurriedly, for once not bothering to make sure things were properly starched and in order.

"Are you sure, son?"

"What do you mean, am I sure? He’s my best friend, I’ve got to stop him."

"It was his decision, son. Or should I say, it will be his decision. Do you feel you have the right to interfere? We all have to live or die by our choices in life. If he has chosen to die, is it up to you to stop him?"

Fraser looked at his father disbelievingly. What his father had said was true. Fraser had always believed that people had to make their own decisions, decide what was right for them. But not this time. This time Ray was wrong! No matter what had happened to make Ray do that, it could be changed.

"Of course I have to stop him. He’s my friend, it’s my duty to find out why he would do such a thing, and to help him find another way."

Bob Fraser watched his boy run, and smiled softly to himself. "That’s my boy."

Fraser tore out of the his building, there was no time to organise himself enough to hail a taxi ¾ he ran the entire distance to Ray’s house. Even ultra-fit, he could feel his lungs burning with the exertion, his heart straining. The human body was not made to run at full speed for such a long time.

He slammed into the front door of the Vecchio household, his laboured breathing the only sound in the empty house. I’ve beaten him home, he thought, and paused to catch his breath for a moment. Then a sound from above caught his attention – the roof door swinging shut.

He threw himself up the stairs, taking each flight in two or three steps. This was no time to consider safety. He came to an abrupt halt outside the rooftop door. He didn’t want to startle Ray, make him pull the trigger prematurely. Fraser tried to run over in his head what he would say. What comfort could he offer? If he could speak rationally, reason with his friend, maybe he could talk him out of what he was doing.

Fraser opened the door carefully, he could see Ray sitting down, and any rational thought flew away.

Ray pulled his gun from his pocket, checked the cartridge was loaded, took the safety off, put the barrel in his mouth.

"NO!"

The blow when it came knocked the gun from Ray’s hand, it fired uselessly, the bullet embedding itself in the wall behind them. Ray slid down against the wall, trying to bring up his hands to ward off any follow up blows.

"Jesus, Benny. What do you think you’re doing? I was only foolin’ you know."

Fraser grabbed the front of Ray’s shirt, hauling him to his feet. Any thoughts Fraser had had of talking to Ray, finding out the problem and rationally working their way through it fled as he held Ray pinned against the wall.

"You son of a bitch." He pulled Ray forward then slammed him back again, Ray’s head cracked against the wall. The sound brought Fraser to a halt. He lowered his head, resting it against his fists where his fingers entwined in Ray’s shirt.

He felt Ray’s hands come up, patting his back, offering awkward comfort.

"Hey, Benny. It’s okay. It’s okay. Look, um, let’s go get some breakfast, okay?" Ray fumbled, going back to the usual light chatter, as if nothing had happened, as if Benton hadn’t seen his bleeding corpse. "Look, I’ll just go downstairs for a minute, I gotta use the bathroom, you gave me a bit of a shock, you know." He grinned, "Then we’ll go get something to eat. You can calm down."

Fraser looked up, "And then what, you’ll shoot yourself again as soon as you’re out of my sight?"

"Again? What do you mean again? I didn’t shoot myself, I was just fooling around, I told you that." Ray shut up as Fraser look at him with an anger bordering on hatred.

Fraser grabbed Ray’s arm and dragged him off the roof.

"Where are we going, Benny? Hey, watch it, this shirt is silk, ya know!"

"Silk?" Fraser rounded on Ray as they moved down the stairs, "Silk? You were going to shoot yourself, and you’re worried about my wrinkling your shirt? Did you think of what all your blood and brains were going to do to it?"

Fraser watched Ray’s lips thin out, and wondered if Ray was deciding to keep quiet in order to humour Fraser so Ray could make another attempt later.

Fraser dragged him over to Ray’s car. "Give me your keys, Ray."

"Now, look, Benny..."

"Give me your keys, now!"

Ray pulled the keys out of his pocket and handed them over, allowing Fraser to push him into the car. Fraser went round to the driver’s side, started the car and drove off without speaking.

"Where are we going, Benny?"

"Give me your phone, Ray."

"Why do you want my phone?"

Fraser pulled the car over, and started to try and get the phone out of Ray’s pocket. He was too angry to speak and Ray’s lack of co-operation was making him angrier. "Give me the phone!" he whispered icily, finally snatching if off Ray.

Fraser phoned the precinct, speaking to Elaine, "Elaine? It’s Fraser... yes, I’m fine thanks... yes, Elaine! Please. There’s been an accident. No, I’m fine. Ray’s been hurt. No, he’s all right, but he won’t be at work for a few days. I’ll take care of him, can you let Captain Welsh know? No... I don’t have all the details now... I’ll make a full report later. Good bye, Elaine."

Ray listened to the one sided conversation, "You’ve become quite an adept liar, haven't you, Benny? What are you going to tell them when I turn up just fine?"

Fraser ignored him, dialling again, "Willy? Yes, it’s Fraser. No, nothing is wrong. I’m going to be away for a few days, I wonder could you look after Diefenbaker for me? I’ll send you some extra money, make sure he gets walked twice a day and you already know how to make up his diet... yes, that’s right... the vitamins are in the fridge. Yes, thank you kindly, Willy."

"So," Ray tried again, "Do I get an explanation? Where are we going?"

"What do you care?"

Ray didn’t ask again. He turned to stare out of the window, not even protesting at Fraser driving his precious car.

For a long long time they were both just quiet, Ray dozing to the careful rhythm of Fraser’s driving. Not until the road signs registered did Ray make any comment.

"Hey, are we going to Canada? Is that where you are driving me? All the way to Canada? Jesus, Benny, what do you think you’re doing?"

Fraser was silent, his face grim.

"Well, at least let me call my family. They are going to wonder what’s happening. If they phone the precinct to see where I am and Elaine tells them I’ve been in an accident..."

"So, you do care what your family thinks then do you?" Fraser interrupted angrily. "Did you care about them when you pulled that trigger? Did you think of how they would have felt when they found you? Maybe they wouldn’t have found you for a while. You could have been missing for days, your whole family worried. I wouldn’t know what to tell them when they ask if I know where you are. No one at the station house knows where you are. Captain Welsh would worry about you, did you think of that? And maybe, after a few days, or a couple of weeks, your Mother notices a smell, and she tracks it down to the roof and she goes up there and she sees you... How do you think you’d look by then, Ray? How do you think your mother would feel?"

Ray turned away, face pressed against the cold glass of the car window, obviously trying to tune Fraser out, as the Mountie continued on, almost hissing the words.

"Did you think about me? Did you think about how I might have felt? How I would feel seeing you do that?"

Fraser’s voice broke and he stopped, trying to catch his breath. He didn’t want to say any more, not while he was so angry. He might say something he couldn’t take back.

Waiting until he felt he was under control again, Fraser did make a call to Ray’s family, reassuring Mrs Vecchio that her son was all right and absent-mindedly accepting another dinner invitation.

-oo0oo-

 Ray concentrated on the feeling of the cold glass pressed against his cheek. He didn’t want Fraser’s pain added on to his own. His face burned with shame. Fraser was right. He had not considered his family at all. What was worse, he’d attended enough suicide scenes to know better. Mama. In his mind’s eye he could see her reaction. The way he’d tried to kill himself had been cruel. Next time he’d be more careful.

"I’m sorry, Benny," he whispered softly. Fraser ignored the apology, but that was okay for Ray, because Ray was not apologising for what he’d tried to do, but for what he was going to try and do again.

They drove on in silence. Ray slept fitfully, losing track of time, waking occasionally to check their progress, or to check on Fraser, although he didn’t try to start a conversation.

Fraser kept his attention on the road, and handling the unfamiliar vehicle. He could feel the muscles in his jaw stiffening with the tension of maintaining his silence. He could go for weeks without saying a word at home, but right now, keeping his mouth shut was one of the hardest things he’d had to do.

It seemed to Ray they’d been driving for hours, "Are we going to make a stop soon?" Fraser didn’t reply.

"We’ve been travelling a long time, aren’t you hungry yet?" More silence.

"I mean, you stopped to let MacDonald eat, don’t I get a meal every six hours as well?"

"You don’t want to live, but you want to eat."

Ray shut up again, and tried to go back to sleep, until a more pressing need made itself known. "Benny, I don’t mean to interrupt your scintillating conversation, but I really have to go to the bathroom."

Fraser sighed, "I’m going to stop off at the next service centre. We’ll need to get some supplies any way. The cabin is empty. You can get something to eat and use the facilities then."

They found one, a place that still had service, and Fraser made Ray tip the surprised teenager for filling up the car. Fraser headed towards the store and Ray peeled off, only to pull up suddenly when he heard footsteps in the gravel behind him.

"Frasier, I can use the bathroom by myself," he gestured angrily. "Do you think I’m going to try and drown myself in the toilet bowl?"

Fraser just looked at him in silence.

Ray threw up his hands in exasperation, sometimes there was just no reasoning with this man.

As they ate in the restaurant attached to the service station, picked up supplies and Ray paid for it all, he tried several times to try and engage the man who shadowed his every move in conversation, but every attempt was met with a wall of silence until he gave up.

Fraser drove straight through the night – not trusting Ray behind the wheel not to turn around and head for home. By early next morning the adrenaline had well and truly worn off and he was starting to doze behind the wheel. He snapped at Ray when Ray offered to drive, not yet enough past his anger to trust Ray behind the wheel.

Fraser leaned over and started switching buttons on the radio. He settled on the Bee Gees and hummed along under his breath. Ray grimaced in disgust, "You’re not exactly doing much for my will to live, playing that!"

Fraser sighed, switched it off and pulled over. He really couldn’t go any further. He got out and went round to Ray’s side of the car, opening the door.

Ray watched in shocked disbelief as Fraser cuffed his right hand to the window frame of the Riv. "You son of a bitch!" Fraser ignored Ray’s insults and crawled into the back seat. He was asleep as soon as Ray’s bitching reached a steady enough level.

-oo0oo-

 It didn’t seem to matter what time of year it was, the cabin was always too cold for Ray. He stamped his feet and slapped his arms while waiting for Fraser to get the fire in the stove started.

As it flared, Ray moved forward to warm his hands, rubbing them briskly.

"It’s cold in the grave, Ray."

"Oh, will you stop with that, Frasier. It’s really wearing thin, you know," Ray snapped.

"No, Ray. I will not stop." Frasier jumped to his feet, furious again. "Why did you do it? What was in that envelope, Ray? That’s what started all of this, what were those photographs?"

"How did you find out about that?" Ray asked, taken aback.

"The same way I found out what you were doing. The same way I watched you put the gun in your mouth and blow the back of your head out. The same way I watched you twitch and bleed as you died. You didn’t die instantly, Ray. It was only a few seconds, but I wonder, did you regret it? In those last few seconds, did you regret pulling the trigger? Did you regret killing yourself after it was too late and your skull had been separated from your spine? Did you, Ray? Did you?"

Ray had never seen Fraser so angry. The Mountie was the most even-tempered person he’d ever met. Before Fraser, he would have not believed that another person could be as pleasant and always so nice as Fraser was. But right now, Ray almost thought he was looking into the eyes of madness.

"Did you regret it? Or were you pleased with what you’d done? Did you do that just to hurt us? Was that it? Was that why you did it at home? Did you want your family to find you like that? Is that what you were thinking while you jerked around on the roof spitting blood? Were you pleased that you’d been able to hurt us so much?"

One part of Fraser’s mind watched in analytical interest as what appeared to be a sheet of red cellophane came down over his eyes. Never in his whole life had he ever been so angry. Angry and frightened. He watched a stranger’s hand pull back and strike.

Ray staggered back, but made no move to defend himself. He accepted the open handed slap without any attempt at defence or retribution.

Ray looked at him with eyes infinitely sad, "Go ahead, Benny. I'm used to being a punching bag."

Fraser suddenly deflated. He couldn’t maintain the anger any longer, shame at striking his best, his only friend flooded through him. He felt hollow, old. Every limb was too heavy for him, dragging him down.

"I’m sorry, Ray." He turned away, and moved to put more wood into the stove. "Was it me, Ray? Was it something I did to drive you to it?"

"No, Benny. Don’t do this. It wasn’t your fault. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted my own pain to stop. I didn’t..." he bit his tongue. He’d almost said why. He’d sworn to himself this would go to the grave with him, but he couldn’t stand seeing Benny in pain.

More than his desire to end his own pain was a need to make sure Benny felt no guilt, to make sure Benny wouldn’t suffer. Fraser was so perfect, he would have no idea of what it was like to feel like you were nothing, day after day. Sometimes, being with Fraser was wonderful, he felt that between the two of them they could do anything, achieve anything. And just knowing that Fraser considered him worthy of friendship filled Ray with pleasure. Other times, Fraser just kept bringing home how useless Ray really felt. Fraser never meant to be cruel, he wouldn’t even understand the concept, but just by being himself, by being so crystalline perfect every day, he could drag Ray down into the depths again.

Right now it would be so easy to tell him everything. Maybe then Fraser would let him go, and could understand why he had to do it.

"I’m being blackmailed, Benny."

Fraser turned round sharply. He couldn't believe it. Ray was the most honest person he’d met since he’d moved to Chicago. What could Ray have possibly done that someone would try and blackmail him?

"That’s why I was sent photos. Someone wants information on a case. If I gave away the information it could cost officers their lives, and I’m not prepared to do that. But the photos are not something I want people to see. It’s not something that I want people to find out. I mean..." Ray groped for words. "I wasn’t doing anything illegal. I wouldn't do that. You know I wouldn’t. I may not be as good as you are, but I’d never do anything illegal deliberately. Well... you know what I mean. But if my family found out it would destroy them, and my family mean everything to me."

Fraser looked up from where he had squatted down upon the floor, his face a question.

Ray took a deep breath, he’d gone this far. If he was to die soon, Fraser’s condemnation would not hurt for long.

"I’m gay, Benny."

Fraser looked away then towards the fire.

"That’s what the photos were, Fraser." Ray had started his confession and Fraser’s silence wasn’t going to put him off now. He moved to sit on the bed, and his words started to tumble forth. Fraser wanted the truth, let him have it.

"I have a friend, he’s in a relationship already, but sometimes we meet up, when I can’t stand being alone any more. When the loneliness gets too much to bear any longer. Sometimes I just need to hold someone, to have someone hold me. With him, I can pretend that he cares, I can close my eyes and pretend someone loves me. He doesn't mind, he knows what I’m doing, how I’m using him, but he doesn't think I’m pathetic. Or if he does, he doesn’t tell me."

Fraser had his back to Ray, his profile, expressionless, turned towards the fire. Ray was disappointed, he wanted a reaction. He wanted Fraser to hate him, to justify Ray’s own self-loathing.

"The funny thing is, in those photos, we were not even doing anything that much. Just kissing, cuddling a little. But that would be enough, wouldn't it, enough to shame my family."

Fraser stood up again, "Shame your family, Ray? Your family would cope. They would learn to live with it. That’s not enough. I know your mother, she might be shocked, disappointed a little, but she’d still love you, Ray. You’d still be her son. You didn’t kill yourself because someone took your photograph while you kissed another man. People don’t kill themselves over something that petty. Why did you do it? I want to know what was really behind what you did. I want to know the truth," Fraser demanded.

"The truth," Ray smiled sadly, and looked away from Fraser’s earnest face towards the fire. "The truth is, you have no idea how much I really hate myself. I have thought about finishing it before, many times. The only reason I’m still alive is because of my family and, lately, because of you. Until Tony gets a secure job, and Francesca matures enough to not keep getting fired, I needed to be there to make sure that they had an income. Ma needs someone to look after her. She looks after every one else. But I’m sick of living for other people, that’s not enough any more."

"Then live for yourself, Ray. You could talk about this with your family..."

"Talk about what? I don’t mind looking after my family, I love my family. It’s just that trying to keep them all in pocket money is not enough to keep hanging around for any more. I’m just a total waste of space, Benny. I can’t keep a girlfriend. Yeah," he held up his hands, "I know I said I was gay, but I need someone, and there’s a better chance of making it work with a woman. Male or female, I don't want to be alone all my life. I’m gonna grow old and die alone because I'm a screw up. I’ve screwed up every relationship in my life, just like I’ve screwed up everything else. Goddamn worthless. My father was right, I’m no damned good. I’m no use to anyone, I never was. Never will be."

The depth of self-loathing shocked Fraser. He’d never suspected... He supposed Ray had dropped enough small hints over the few months they’d known each other. He’d called himself a screw up before, and often mentioned the difficulties he’d had growing up. But Ray had always seemed irrepressible to Fraser. So full of life and verve. To him Ray had always seemed to be trying to live life to the fullest. Fraser had never once suspected.

Ray’s eyes were closed, his head tilted back slightly. It seemed he was spitting forth his words to wound the both of them.

"I hate myself, Benny. I always have, why couldn’t you just let me die? Why couldn't you just let me die! It would have been over then, no one could have hurt me again. I couldn’t hurt anyone else, I couldn't hurt myself any more. I just wanted it to stop, just wanted it to end. Why couldn't you let me die?" Ray’s voice cracked, and he started to sob, although the tears stayed locked up inside.

Fraser moved over to sit beside him, tried to put his arms around his friend, but Ray pushed him away.

"Don't touch me. Leave me alone, Frasier."

Fraser ignored the protests and pulled him close, exerting all his strength to hold Ray’s head against his chest.

"Let me go," Ray’s voice had dropped down to a begging whisper.

"I can’t, Ray. I can’t let you go. I’m sorry. I’m just too selfish. I know that you said that you couldn't be responsible for anyone else, but I need you, Ray. There is a Chinese saying that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for ever after. How many times have you saved my life, Ray? I need you alive, and whole, and with me. I should find the words you need to hear to help you, but all I can think of is myself: how I need you, what it would be like if you were not here. I’m always able to help strangers, why can’t I help you? I don’t know what to do to help my best friend. How did we go on so long together and I didn’t even notice you were hurting so badly?"

He rocked the both of them gently, trying with his body to offer the comfort he couldn’t find with his words. He could feel Ray relaxing against him, but he didn’t know if that was because Ray trusted him, or because he had simply given up fighting. Ray’s arms were around his torso, although Fraser could feel his hands were clenched into fists.

"I’m sorry, Benny," Ray whispered, his dry, tearless sobs making speech difficult. "I never meant to hurt you."

"I know, Ray, I know. And if I have ever done anything to hurt you, I’m sorry. If there was something I should have done, and didn’t, I’m sorry."

-oo0oo-

 Ray shook his head, he wanted to tell Benny to save his guilt, but in a way Ray was revelling in it. At least Fraser cared enough to feel that way. He pushed away from Fraser, sitting upright on the bed. He ached down to his bones, but even though he was exhausted, telling Fraser what he had had been cathartic. He hadn’t said everything, but he had been able to purge a lot of the hurt. Even though he’d only barely touched the surface of the pain, the years of hopeless feelings, it did seem that he’d been able to lance the boil, and at least some of the poison was drawing away. The black edges of despair had been pushed down again, at least for a little while.

Looking at Fraser now, it seemed a problem shared had been a problem doubled. Fraser looked like he was carrying the weight of the world, and there were lines around his eyes that hadn’t been there before.

"I’m tired, Benny," he sighed. "I'm gonna lie down for a while, okay?" He lay down, turning his back on Fraser.

The bed dipped, and Ray wasn’t surprised to feel Fraser lay down as well, spooning behind him. Fraser draped an arm over Ray. If Fraser fell asleep, any move Ray made would wake him, so Fraser would be sure of preventing Ray from making any more attempts on his own life.

-oo0oo-

 Fraser listened to his friend’s broken breathing as it evened out and Ray drifted off to sleep. Too disturbed to rest fully, Fraser drifted in and out of consciousness, and jerked awake every time Ray moved.

It would be a while, he realised, until he could trust Ray again, that is if he could get Ray through this. A relationship that had been the mainstay of his life seemed to him to be now built on the most flimsy of foundations. On the other hand, if they could get through this, they could come through even stronger than ever. If not... He would not, could not concede that possibility.

He had to face his own fear of losing Ray. Someone had told him, many years ago, that he had problems with abandonment. The death of his mother, his father’s continuous absences. As a child he’d understood the necessity for his being alone all the time ¾ as an adult he feared he couldn’t face another such loss.

By the time Ray awoke, some hours later, Fraser was feeling more exhausted than before they had lain down, but even more determined that he would succeed. Ray had shared his pain, it was time for him to share his own secrets.

He got up and washed his face and hands. The icy water braced and invigorated him. He took a moment to formulate his plan, before taking something out of the pocket of his coat, turning the small book over and over in his hands as he spoke.

"Ray, I think you know we can find whoever was blackmailing you. Between the two of us we can find him, and put an end to his threats."

Ray nodded. That all seemed very unimportant now.

"I’m going out for a little while now, Ray. I’m going to do a little hunting. I’m going to trust you not to do anything while I’m gone." Fraser looked down at his boots, searching for the words he wanted to say. "While I’m out, I was wondering if you’d read this." He handed Ray the small, red leather book.

"What is it?" Ray asked, turning it over in his hands, curious.

"It’s my journal. I followed my father’s example, and keep records of cases I work on, as well as day-to-day activities."

"Why should you want me to read this?" Ray was puzzled, since he’d been with Fraser while he’d been on most of the latest cases, what use would there be in reading his journal?

"There are things in there. Things I wrote that were private, that I wouldn’t have wanted anyone to read. Personal thoughts and opinions. Maybe some things that I thought would have been better left unsaid, and some that I should have said, and didn’t, and have maybe left too late to say. Anyway, I think if I told you, you may not believe it. Not after what’s happened. If you read those things, and realised that they were true when I wrote them, that I’m not just saying them now, it might help you, or maybe there is nothing there you’ll find of interest Or maybe they’ll make you angrier, I don’t know right now. I’m not sure where I stand with you now, Ray." Fraser stopped when he realised he was rambling and making little sense.

Ray just looked at him, frowning in puzzlement.

Fraser met his eyes. "I would be honoured if you’d read it, and maybe, if you like, we can talk some more when I get back. If you want to ignore what you read, that’s fine too. Just be here, all right, Ray?"

Ray nodded. Fraser certainly was an expert at making him feel guilty.

Fraser left without another word, and Ray looked down at the book he held. Sure, he could read his sister’s diary without second thought, but that was different. He respected Fraser, what Fraser thought was important to Ray. He turned the book over a few times, feeling the soft, well worn grain of the cover. This was such an invasion of privacy, and Fraser had said that the words had been written in secrecy. Still, Fraser had asked him...

He flipped through and started reading random entries from the beginning. Fraser’s style was concise, but almost-story telling in style. He read back over some of the cases they had worked on together, smiling at Benny’s unique point of view on the people with which they interacted. There was no condemnation of the criminals they had caught, only the occasional note of sadness as he commented on the waste and what they could have been. The respect Fraser accorded most people was a prominent feature of nearly all entries and Fraser had recorded everything he had learned from the various people they had met. All of his lessons on life. Ray noted with some amusement that Fraser had meticulously recorded every piece of wisdom Ray had bestowed upon him, no matter how bizarre Fraser had apparently found it. Ray wondered if Fraser hoarded those bits and pieces the same way he had hoarded what his father had told him.

Ray was struck by the accuracy of the recordings, and wondered if Fraser had a eidetic memory to add to his list of skills and talents. Ray’s comments and many of their conversations had been recorded word for word. And the respect with which Fraser had written of people he admired was never more apparent than when he spoke of Ray. He seemed to find talents in Ray that Ray had to concede he probably did not have.

     "Ray had a hunch today which lead to a break through..."
     "Luckily for us, Ray..."
     "Thanks to Ray’s ability to..."

The comments went on in a similar vein. It appeared that many of the comments Ray had believed to have been said sarcastically by his friend had actually been heartfelt compliments, and Ray experienced a momentary pang of guilt for his often less than warm responses. It faded as Fraser obviously took no offence, or if he did, he didn’t write it down, and it did appear that Fraser wrote down nearly everything he thought or felt.

     "Today Ray mentioned again, briefly, how his father had treated him when he was a child. The sadness in his eyes when he says things like that breaks my heart. I wish I could hold him, take away that pain, but I know Ray would not allow it, he is a man after all, not a child, but I do wish I could help him in some way."

Ray started turning pages eagerly, looking for references to himself. They became more and more frequent the further he went in. The earlier entries were often tinged with a degree of bemusement, later entries with affection.

Fraser often mentioned his feelings of isolation. Being in Chicago and surrounded by people seemed to make him feel far more cut off from his fellow man than living in the empty spaces had ever done. Ray recognised the loneliness Fraser was expressing.

Ray wondered why Fraser hadn’t made more friends since he’d been in the city, but it seemed Fraser was unable to maintain relationships for any length of time. Fraser seemed to have as much trouble keeping a friend as Ray did, albeit for totally different reasons.

     Maybe that’s why we are so good together: a couple of emotional cripples, playing at being each other’s crutch.

It took quite a long time before Ray started to catch on to what Fraser had been worried about letting him read.

     "What sort of man am I? I have always had a clear idea of who I am. It has never occurred to me to question that self image, to believe I could be anything more, but my time with Ray is making me question that. I worry about what he would think of me if he realised what I felt. Although we have never discussed this kind of thing, I cannot help but believe he would not be comfortable with it. At best he would laugh, at worst... I don’t want to find out what he would do at worst. His friendship is one of the most important things in my life. I do not want to risk that through greed, I cannot wish for anything more."

Ray looked up, his face burning. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus his vision as he stared at the fire.

What had been there all along, what could have been his for the asking, and what he had nearly thrown away.

Although he knew that Fraser had meant for him to find new hope in reading the journal, Ray could feel the downward spiral into guilt and depression start again.

It became obvious as he read how much Fraser had depended on him since coming to Chicago, that Ray had even been one of the reasons he had accepted the decision to move permanently in the first place. Ray’s death would have left Fraser anchorless. No matter how capable and competent Fraser seemed, it was becoming clear to Ray that Fraser himself did not feel that way, that he relied on Ray for a lot more support than Ray had realised he had been giving.

"How little we know about each other, even after all this time," he whispered sadly to the journal. He closed the book and pressed his lips to it reverently, "You never thought I was a screw-up, did you, Benny."

Ray wasn’t sure that having another person who depended on him was enough of a reason to stay alive, but maybe, it was at least worth reconsidering, again.

If Fraser thought he was okay... Well, Fraser was always right. If he thought that Ray was worthy of respect, of affection, then maybe he was right about that, too. Just a little bit of the darkness lifted.

Maybe, for Benny, he could keep going for just a little longer. Perhaps with Benny’s help, he could work this through. He’d spent so many years finding excuses to keep going another day, and this was a pretty good one. If he could make some changes, put things back on track, perhaps even stick with the professional help this time, maybe they could make a little hope for the both of them.

A blast of cold air preceded Fraser’s return. Ray studiously avoided looking at the small fury thing Fraser was carrying. They had enough food in the house, whatever it was had died so that he could have time alone to read the words Fraser was too shy, or too scared to say to his face.

"Did you read it, Ray?"

Ray nodded.

Fraser wandered over to the table, and kept his hands busy skinning whatever it was he had killed. He had his back to Ray, not wanting to see his friend’s expression.

"I think it was important that you read that, Ray. If I had said any of it to you now, you would think that I was just saying it because of what you told me."

"I’m sorry, Fraser. I don’t understand."

Fraser tried again. "If I told you that I... respected you, you would think it was because I was trying to humour you. To stop you from trying to hurt yourself again. By reading it, by seeing what I felt when I wrote what I did, you know what I said was true."

"Yes."

"I need to be part of your life, Ray. I would like you to continue to be part of mine. You know how I feel about you now. You would have read that. I know that just because you said you were gay does not mean that you should automatically find me attractive," Fraser still would not turn and look at Ray, "and I am not asking you for anything more than you feel you could give, but if you ever need anything, anything I can give, I want you to know that I will always be here for you. If you want to talk, anything." Fraser stopped, that was as clear as he could make it. His natural reticence kept him from saying anything more, and he was surprised at his own audacity for even saying that.

Fraser washed the blood off his hands, then jumped slightly as he felt a warm hand upon his shoulder. Ray leaned forward and placed his chin on his hand where it rested.

Fraser could feel Ray’s breath, warm and alive, brush against his throat.

"Will you let me help you, Ray?" he could feel Ray nod.

"Yes, Benny."

Fraser turned and held Ray, holding him close, feeling Ray’s arms rise and encircle him in return, hands open and clasping, seeking and giving comfort.

-oo0oo-

Bob Fraser gingerly backed away from the window, careful to make no noise. He was yet to make up his mind as to whether he was just a figment of his son’s imagination or not, but he could still recognise the satisfaction of a job well done.

My son needs someone to keep him in line, and that Vecchio boy is such a nice young man. And a fine police officer, too. Bob Fraser smiled smugly to himself, and left his son in peace ¾ for a change.

 

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