My Friend and Brother.
by Mapu

Due south and all its characters belong to Alliance ... this fic is not for profit
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The darkness was the first thing to enter Benton's awareness... it stretched forever, seamless and desolate. Then the pain made itself known. It moved over his being like a wave, far off and distant at first then building rapidly until it crashed over him, choking and smothering him under its weight. Slowly, and with a massive effort of will, the pain receded leaving Benton numb.

Shadowy images began to move through the dark ... he remembered.

There had been a cry for help, a woman's panic-laced scream. He was running ... chasing someone. Leaping over rubbish as he ran down a dimly lit corridor between two buildings. The alley ended. His quarry stopped and spun to face him. Benton remembered seeing the gun in the man's hand and at the look of desperation and madness in the mugger's eyes Benton knew he had made a mistake. The man was trapped and Benton blocked the only escape. He'd watched in horror as the gun had lifted. He'd felt the shot before he had heard it ... he was certain of that.

Ray stopped his incessant pacing and stood by the bed. It had been hours and the man that lay before him had not moved. He looked down at the peaceful but pale face of his friend resting against the starkly white bedding. The guy was a freak! What the hell had he been thinking? Chasing that nutter down a blind alley like that! Ray had yelled at him to stop but Fraser never stopped ... ever.

Yeah, Benton Fraser was a definitely a freak but Ray happened to care a great deal about this particular freak. He hadn't been partnered with Fraser all that long, but he was already certain they were friends. It was easy to like a guy like Fraser. Ray had to admit he didn't have many friends; his life had not been the greatest. No one ever seemed able to look past his smart attitude and see what was beneath ... no one but the man on the bed before him. Ray gently reached out and took one of Fraser's chilled hands in his.

Warmth spread like fire through Benton's hand, banishing the cold numbness in its wake. He was aware of his body now and systematically began to catalogue the sensations. He was exhausted but the deep, raw ache in his right shoulder that sent radiations of discomfort through his entire chest kept him from succumbing to the lure of sleep. Benton realized he lay on his back with something soft beneath him ... a bed? Cool air wafted over him and he could feel a deep chill had settled over ever centimetre of his skin ... except his left hand. His palm felt warm and Benton knew someone held his hand.

The door to Fraser's room opened and an orderly came in. At first Ray didn't take any notice of the new arrival and didn't look up. Then he realised the man wasn't leaving. The other man had crossed the room to stand on the other side of the bed. Ray looked up at him, directly into his slate green eyes ... Vecchio! Ray Vecchio, the real one, stood on the other side of Fraser's bed. Vecchio stared at him, pain and anger waring for dominance in his eyes.

Vecchio looked down at the Mountie's unconscious form. "I told you to watch out for him ... to take care of him."

Ray looked down too, staring at the hand he held. "I'm sorry, Ray. I try but it isn't easy ... the guy is a freak, he never listens and he never stops ... I sometimes think he can't be human."

"No, you're wrong," came the quiet reply. "He is very much human."

"Yeah, ... I know," Ray said softly.

Benton had the company of sound in the gloom now ... voices close and quiet. He couldn't make out the words. He struggled, fighting to reach the voices. As he did he became aware of other sounds, and smells he could recognise. Suddenly Benton knew where he was. He had woken up in a hospital room enough times to recognise this as one. The gloom finally parted and light filled his world.

The body on the bed moved for the first time and groaned softly. Ray watched Vecchio take up Fraser's other hand and both men called to the Mountie, encouraging him to wake up. Slowly the pure blue eyes slitted open fractionally, and then opened wider. At first they stared up at nothing, then slowly the glazed look faded from Fraser's eyes and focused on Ray.

"Ray?" Fraser asked with a shaky voice. A faint smile crossed the lips.

After a moment the blue eyes left Ray's face, shifting over to lock onto Vecchio ...

"Ray!"

There was surprise and joy in the voice now. Ray felt a twinge of envy, which faded as he looked across the bed at Vecchio and down to the smiling Fraser. He knew the two men had been through a lot together, theirs was a friendship tempered by fires of love and loss. Unbreakable. It was because of the strength of this friendship that Ray had first met and then become friends with Fraser himself.

The fight to open his strangely leaden eyelids had drained the last reserves of Benton's strength, and he'd only managed the feat due to the intensity of his curiosity. He needed to know who was with him. Benton chose one of the indistinct shapes above him and concentrated on it, willing it to clear. The shape gradually coalesced into Ray.

He tried to smile and heard himself say Ray's name, his own voice sounded watery in his ears. He moved his eyes to see the other shape beside him. RAY! Benton looked into his friend's green eyes ... no, 'friend' wasn't right. Ray ... the new Ray, was his friend, but this man meant more to him than 'friend.' Much more. This man was his brother.

Sleep beckoned, offering Benton the promise of comfort and despite his desire to stay conscious he knew he couldn't hold it off much longer. He looked, a last time, at the two men standing over him. He had said, not so long ago, that 'people were not interchangeable like snowmobile parts' but it seemed to him on reflection that names were. 'Friend' was a name; 'brother' was a name. He'd once had a good friend who had grown to become his brother, and a new friend had come to replace the 'missing part' in his life. Now, he had both a friend and a brother ... named Ray.

Finita.