Disclaimer: due South does not belong to me, I only borrowed Fraser and Ray K for a bit, I will return them, eventually.
Thanks to my dearest Annika for your help and gentle push
I saw Ray on my first day back from vacation and I hesitated as I stepped closer to what was supposed to be Ray Vecchio's desk, trying to figure out why this man, so full of enery and quick smiles was pretending to be my partner, my friend. That first day was a whirlwind of activity. Arriving back in Chicago, after a brief trip home for a vacation, as Ray Vecchio called it, I found my apartment building burned to the ground. Standing in the ruins of that building, I felt loss once again. Making it to the 2-7 precinct, duffle bag in tow and Dief on my heels, I set out searching for my partner. Who I found in his place claiming to be Ray Vecchio, was a slender blond man with experimental hair and enough enegry to power all of Chicago.
As the day progressed, I struggled to get to four as I attempted to put two and two together. Nothing was making any sense to me at this particular juncture. Ray seemed to know everything about me, yet I was baffled as to his true identity. He didn't hesitate to offer a quick smile and a spontaneous hug at our initial meeting, even though he claimed we had known each other for several years. "Who are you?" I asked him at one point.
"Ray Vecchio" was his quick reply, of course, he was.
He never hesitated when he stepped in front of me to take Greta Garbo's bullet meant for me. Whoever this man was, he had just saved my life. That evening, back at the precinct after conveying my concerns to Lieutenant Welsh and finally learning the truth about my mysterious partner, I was unsure how to proceed and pretend that everything was normal. How do I carry on as if nothing had changed, when my world had been suddenly turned upside down? I had no home, my friend was now gone and in his place a man I was supposed to place all of my trust , as if I had known him for years.I asked Ray if he wanted to have dinner with me and he hesitantly said yes.
That was the moment Ray Kowalski and I became a duet.
Ray and I became fast friends, always at each others side and sharing each others company. I would often accompany him to his apartment, where we would share a pizza and watch whatever sporting event happened to be on the television. We were partners after all. But that partnership wasn't always easy on either of us. The events leading up to the two of us stowing away on the Henry Allen will forever remain with me. Standing on that lakeshore arguing with Ray over what appeared to me to be trivial problems, when as promised, he punched me. Shocked and hurt, I looked at my partner,my friend and with a quick nod, I turned around and walked away. Away from a partnership that Ray and I knew deep down, we both needed like one needs water. We were incomplete without one another. Facing impending transfers, we agreed one last case. Then we could put an end to all our misunderstandings and walk away from one another, not nessecarily with our heads held high.
I still struggle with the emotions I feel rise to the surface when I remember finding Ray handcuffed, with his own cuffs no less, to that pipe, with the water rising quickly around him. We were going to have another talk about his lack of organization if we made it out of this I thought to myself...if we made it out. Finally freed from the pipe, we made our way to what I prayed was the surface of the ship. I told Ray deep breaths. His hesitation was written all over his face...but we commenced swimming underwater along the long corridor that would seal our fate, put the iron lock on our duet. I sensed Ray struggling behind me and when I turned in the cold water and saw him no longer following, I did the only thing I knew, buddy breathing...standard procedure for saving one's life. Little did I know at that moment of trying to save my friend's life, did my standard procedure buddy breathing turn into something more. I tried to assure Ray later that nothing had changed between us, but in the deepest part of my heart I knew that I loved this man. But love was not a good place for me based on past experience and for both our own good, I had to let Ray believe it was nothing.
Once on board a safe vessel, heading home, yes, home…back to Chicago, we agreed that we really needed each other as partners, someone had to keep us alive...it might as well be each other. I accompanied Ray back to his apartment after we made it back to Chicago from our venture on the Henry Allen and we recounted all the tense moments aboard that ship.
Accepting a hot cup of tea from Ray, I started in "You know Ray, you really should organize your keys a bit...I mean do you really need the key to your old apartment?"
"Why do you always have to do that? You just can't let things be. You have to always have things where it makes sense to you. So what if I have my old apartment key?" Ray was getting agitated at me and we had only just returned.
"I'm sorry. I was merely trying to suggest that if you didn't have so many keys that weren't necessary, it would have been much quicker to find your handcuff keys. I wasn't trying to pick a fight with you."
Sighing, Ray slumped back into the couch. "It's the key to the apartment Stella and I had when we were married."
"Ah...so you hold onto it for sentimental reasons."
"Stupid I know, because the locks are changed and she doesn't even live there anymore."
"I'm sorry, Ray, I didn't mean to pry."
"No… It's okay. I mean we've been done for a long time now. I should throw it away. I suppose it has just always been a reminder of when things were good in my life. When things made sense and I had a reason for making sure I made it home every night. "
"You still love her…" It wasn't a question but more a need for some clarification.
"Yes… no, of course I will always love Stella, she was my first love. But I'm not in love with her anymore. No, that part of our relationship has sailed off into the distance."
"I see." I needed to change the subject quickly. " I should probably head back to the consulate. Diefenbaker will no doubt be worried and I should relieve Constable Turnbull of his duties." I get up from my place on the couch and feel Ray's eyes follow me towards the door.
"Hey, you want me to give you a lift?" He calls from behind me. "It's been a long couple of days. I'm sure you're tired and you don't really want to walk back there alone without the fur face do you?"
"I assure you, Ray, I will be fine. A walk will do me good." I turn to offer Ray a reassuring smile and find him already standing behind me. "Will you be okay? You have no doubt had a trying few days as well."
"Me… yeah I'm fine. I, uh… I just wanted to say thanks for, for… you know, that whole buddy breathing thing. You were really great out there, Fraser."
"We were great, Ray. Partners, remember? I will see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah, tomorrow. Good night, Fraser. I will pick you up in the morning."
"Thank you, Ray, I would appreciate a ride."
I could sense that Ray wanted to say more or perhaps he needed me to say more, but I wasn't prepared to let him have hold of my heart just yet. So, I excused myself and headed out the door of Ray's apartment, back to my lonely office I now called home. Home, did I even know where home was anymore?
Over the course of the next few weeks, Ray's and my partnership could not have been stronger. We were in sync, reading each other's minds and relying on body language only we knew how to interpret to keep each other safe. After another successful arrest, all paper work filed and suspects booked into custody. Ray and I once again headed to his place for a bite to eat. Adrenalin was running rampant in Ray's body and could be seen in his body language.
"Hey, Fraser, let's stop and get the fixin's for our own pizza. Shake it up a bit so to speak… don't want this partnership to get stale again, now do we?" he cocked his head and winked at me, winked like on that first day we met.
"That sounds like a wonderful idea, Ray."
"Yeah, we could do half whale blubber or whatever the hell it is that you like and the other half pineapple. Making it ourselves has to be, what's that word you like so well…. healthy?"
"Of course Ray, it is much healthier to prepare one's own food at home with fresh ingredients. I believe there is a store a few blocks from your apartment."
"All right, Benton- buddy, pitter patter, let's get at 'er."
We found all the ingredients required for our homemade pizza and Ray even insisted on making our own pizza crust. Once back to his apartment, we made our way upstairs, Dief hot on our heels in anticipation of some good food coming his way. I watched as Ray unlocked the door to his apartment and was shocked to see his key ring had contained significantly fewer keys than the last time I had seen them up close.
"Ray, what did you do with all your extra keys?" I asked cautiously, unsure of his reaction to my observation and unwilling to start down the road of the niggling as Ray called it.
"I… uh, I got rid of some of them last week. I was thinking about what you said about not being able to find what you needed when you needed it and after almost drowning because of it…well, it took a while, but I see your point. Besides, why do I seriously need an old key to my gym locker at a gym that doesn't exist anymore?"
"Yes, there would be no logical reason for keeping such a key."
Ray worked the key into the lock and turned the handle nudging the door open with his knee. Diefenbaker beat us both into the apartment and he headed straight for the couch.
"And the key to your old apartment?" I studied Ray's face, waiting for the answer my heart was ready to hear, but scared that it wouldn't.
Ray held my gaze and replied calmly. "I took it off as well. But I didn't throw that one away."
My heart sank in an instant until I heard the remainder of his reply. "I… uh- I, uh mailed it to Stella." My confusion must have been easily read on my features because Ray continued without missing a beat. "Yeah, I told her thanks for the lifetime of good memories, but the door to that part of my life is now closed and locked and I'm moving on."
"I'm impressed Ray, that must have been difficult."
"It was, but if I keep holding on to her, how will I ever be able to let someone else in?" Ray once again held my gaze and as we slowly made our way into his apartment, his slender fingers brushed along my arm and sent shivers to all of my extremities. When did being so close to him have such an effect on me?
"Ok, Fraser, where do we start?"
"The dough would be our starting point Ray. Then, we can prepare the remainder of the ingredients." We worked in a comforting silence as we prepared our dinner. Ray really surprised me with the ease with which he moved around a kitchen. "Have you cooked much on your own, Ray?"
"What? Um… yeah I used to do all the cooking when Stella and I were married. She was always working late at the office, so I decided if I didn't want to starve, I would have to learn a few basic recipes. I'm no expert though."
"You certainly know your way around a kitchen, Ray."
While we were enjoying our pizza and a game of hockey on the television, I caught Ray attempting to sneak Diefenbaker some of his pizza. "Ray, must you really feed him your pizza?"
"What? You said it was healthier for me so why wouldn't it be healthier for the wolf as well?"
Dief looked up at me as if to say "Ha, he pulled one over on you!" I relented and allowed Ray to feed Dief this one time. He did have a point after all.
As we were sitting on the couch, Ray in his usual slouch, beer bottle in hand, I noticed he wasn't really paying too much attention to the game but had his gaze fixed upon me. "Fraser…Ben, can I ask you a question?"
The use of my first name took me by surprise. "Of, course, Ray, you can ask me anything." He had my undivided attention, hockey game all but forgotten.
"On the boat… ship, the Henry whatever…if you couldn't have gotten the cuffs off, if I didn't have my boot gun on me…"
I never gave Ray a chance to finish his thought. "I would have stayed there with you, Ray." Once again, he held my gaze with those blue eyes of his.
"And the standard procedure buddy breathing, if that didn't work…"
"I would have kept trying until I ran out of air myself."
"That's what I hoped you would say."
"Ray, are you all right?" There was a strange shift of energy in the room and I wasn't entirely sure where Ray was heading with his sudden questions.
"Yeah, I'm fine" He let out a small chuckle and the most sincere expression now graced his face. "No one has ever put themselves out there for me like that before. Not any old partners, friends, not even Stella. But you… you would have made the ultimate sacrifice for me. Why?"
Oh dear… is this where I come clean to Ray. I wasn't even entirely sure myself what all this meant. This line of questioning was suddenly making me feel claustrophobic. I stood up from the couch and raked my knuckle across my brow, a habit Ray has quickly learned and knows I am suddenly uncomfortable.
"I'm sorry, Ben, I have to know." He stood up and moved closer to me and wrapped his long, slender fingers around my forearms and gave them a gentle squeeze.
My breathing had suddenly become accelerated and Ray could sense my hesitation.
"Maybe I should be asking if you're ok there Benton- buddy."
This gave me a chance to catch my breath and I stared into Ray's blue eyes that have suddenly turned a darker shade of blue- green.
"Ray, you are my partner…"
I suddenly couldn't find the words I wanted, the words I needed to tell Ray, so I let my actions speak for me, when my words were failing miserably. I quickly closed the foot and a half space between us and snaked my hand around the back of Ray's all too warm neck and pulled his face to mine. Our mouths and lips and tongues all met in the middle, there was no hesitation in any of our movements and we quickly fought each other for dominance and control. I relinquished control all too quickly and melted into Ray's warm embrace. Breaking apart for short gasps of air, I finally found my words.
"I wasn't going to let you die alone Ray, if that's what it would have come down to. I wouldn't be able to go on without you by my side. I finally realize that you complete me."
Ray started walking me backwards towards his bedroom, never releasing my lips from his greedy kisses. His hands were dancing all over my upper body and mine were just as busy quickly learning his features. Somewhere between the couch and his bedroom door, Ray's slender fingers found their way inside my button down flannel and my own hands had expelled him of his faded t- shirt. My elbow bumped into the door frame and I abruptly stopped and paused my hands' exploration of Ray's lean body.
"No… no talking, Ben."
"No, listen to me…"
Ray stopped and looked into my eyes, "Please, tell me we're not stopping."
"Ray… we cross this line and there's no going back to just buddies."
"I'm done being just buddies with you, Fraser." That was all I needed to hear from Ray. He backed me into his bedroom and with a swift kick, shut the door.
No… this was the moment Ray Kowalski and I became a duet.
A/N: Please read and review, more to come… thank you kindly!