CATEGORY: Angst, drama
SUMMARY: Sometimes things go wrong and you try to pick up the pieces. You think you've got them all until you walk barefooted and in your own thoughts and something cuts you deeply. You may think the pain was gone, but it's not.
After a case has gone wrong, Ray's trying to make a new life on his own. Without Fraser.
NOTES I: Don't ask me where the story came from. I don't know, and I don't want to either *g* -- This is, for the DS part, Post-CotW and for SG it's an AU.
NOTES II Supportive cast -- This is not your ordinary Jack and Daniel (Stargate), but an AU version that I created more than two years ago. I was torn between using original characters or these two, but the muses are pushy and move in a mysterious ways *g* -- do you have to read the AU? No. That's not necessary. If you want to, it's called Protected
Unlike this story, there's more sex in Protected than you can shake a stick at ^_~
THANKS TO: Thanks to the Heartsisters, to Nicci and Brynn for the beta and encouragement. Especially for Nicci for dragging me up when Ray got me too depressed. -- And of course I adore her for her manips *g*
The heady experience of being pinned down, possessed, nearly drove him out of his mind. The growl in his ear and the thrusts into his body, pushed him to the edge and the complete white-out of his climax painted the world colorless.
Ray woke up with a gasp. Blinking myopically at the bedside clock, he sighed and fell back on the bed. 6AM... Rubbing his eyes, he decided it was way to fucking early to get out of bed.
Job interview. The thought hit him. Oh, how he'd prefer to simply stay where he was with the blankets pulled over his head. Unfortunately he couldn't. He owed Welsh to give this a go.
'You're ripe for the nut house,' Ray told himself. 'You should see this as a chance to make a fresh start.' He needed it, needed the leg up from the downward spiral he'd gotten himself caught in. To think he'd had it all. Friends, a fabulous partner... a job he could finally admit to enjoy. Then, through one stupid case, it had all gone to hell.
"I can't even hate you," Ray said to the ghosts of memories in the room. The loss hit him again and Ray knew he might as well get up and go the gym. If he stayed in his bed, he'd just be trapped by his depressing thoughts.
"I've got this friend..." Welsh said, giving Ray a speculative look.
"Yeah?" Ray said, trying not to sound as dead on his feet as he was.
"Yeah, old friend of the family. He's looking for a good, hardworking guy with his head on right."
"Oh? Lieu... I don't..." Ray shook his head. He didn't want anyone trying to steer him right. It wasn't worth it.
"Hey, talk to the man. He's got a company specializing in security. He's a good guy."
As he showered after three hours in the gym, Ray went over what he'd need to remember for the interview. Stick to the truth, don't oversell yourself and don't do the opposite either. Welsh had said that the guy was ex-military and sharp.
'Get a grip, Kowalski.' He needed this, needed something apart from his fucked up life to concentrate on. Well, what was left of it anyway. No partner, no job to speak of, and the return of his ex-wife and her new husband... no, coupled with his parents returning to Arizona, Ray really didn't like the air in Chicago too much at the moment. Anything would be better than sitting around feeling sorry for himself.
Ray looked up to find a tall man staring intently at him. The guy was at least six feet tall and fairly well-built under those casual threads. Dark-grey slacks, a white t-shirt and a dark-grey suit jacket. Not a bad look for him. The graying hair said something about his age, but the shine to the brown eyes and the quirky smile to the thin lips did a lot to counter those years.
"Yeah?" Ray stood up from the chair he'd been sitting on for the past ten minutes, waiting for his interview.
"O'Neill," the guy said, holding out a hand for a quick handshake. Firm handshake -- perfectly balanced between 'I'm an alpha' and 'I'm not a threat to you'. "You have lunch yet?"
Ray blinked a couple of times, but his stomach was faster than he was, growling at the idea of food. He hadn't been feeling like eating earlier, so the only thing he'd downed, was a couple of cups of coffee.
O'Neill laughed warmly. "I guess that says it all. There's a little diner around the corner. You game?"
Ray rubbed a hand over his hair, trying to catch up. "I, eh... sure."
"Great, I just got here from the airport and haven't eaten since this morning." O'Neill gestured toward the door out. "Daniel would kill me if he found out," O'Neill muttered as he herded Ray out the door.
Ray frowned but figured he might as well go with the flow.
Before he knew it, he was seated across the table from the man who might, or might not, be his future employer. Ray wasn't sure what to think, but he kind of liked the guy's straight-forward attitude.
"So, Welsh tell you what I'm looking for?" O'Neill asked after he'd ordered steak and baked potatoes.
Ray had ordered a sandwich. He was way too wired to eat a full meal. Shaking his head, he sat back on the chair. "Nope, the Lieutenant just said you had a security company."
O'Neill nodded. "Yeah, I originally ran it from the office we just left, but a couple of years ago I ended up with an SO, so now I live in New York and run a second office from there. We mostly do security work, body guards, security consulting for both companies and private clients."
"I'm still not sure I know what you want with me," Ray admitted.
O'Neill grinned and waved his hand back and forth. "I mostly hire people with either law-enforcement backgrounds, or military. I've rarely hired anyone without either knowing them or knowing someone who did. I hear you're a good cop, good intuition, if a little on the wild side." The last was added with an amused lift of a scarred eyebrow.
Ray shrugged. "That's a nice way of putting it," he muttered.
"You're not suicidal, are you?" O'Neill asked frankly.
Ray pursed his lips. "No." 'Not yet,' he added in thought.
"You know your way around a gun, you know how to work a case. I need that. We've been having the occasional request for finding 'lost' people, more detective work than actual security. I don't want to say no to clients with problems. But most of my employees are ex-soldiers of some kind, and although they're all intelligent people, we need something extra."
Ray nodded slowly. "Welsh tell you I'm a basket case?" he asked, a little shocked that it had slipped out.
Smiling, O'Neill cocked his head to the side. "He said a great many things about you, Kowalski."
"He tell you I went North, came home, screwed up my life and that he's had to drag me out of a few stupid situations since then?" Ray wondered why the fuck he felt like being this honest at the moment.
O'Neill eyed him silently for a long time, didn't even break eye contact when the waitress put their plates in front of them. The silence felt oppressive to Ray, who tried not to fidget.
"You're blunt," O'Neill finally said, his expression unreadable. "Welsh said you had a case blow up in your face, you had a 'difference of opinion' with your partner and from there, he's been worried about you."
"Like I said," Ray snorted, eyeing his sandwich with doubt. Suddenly he wasn't all that hungry. "I'm a basket case."
"Well, I must admit I've already got someone in mind for the job here in Chicago," O'Neill admitted softly.
Ray nodded. Wasn't as if he'd stood any kind of chance the moment his sudden burst of honesty had run him over.
"How does New York sound to you, Kowalski?"
Ray blinked rapidly, finally looking up at the man again, wondering what the hell he was talking about.
"You got a problem breaking camp and moving to the Big Apple?" O'Neill's smile was back, at least in his eyes.
Swallowing hard, Ray shrugged. "I haven't got anything left to keep me in Chicago," he admitted.
"Need a nice, clean start?"
"Why are you doing this?" Ray finally asked.
"Because if you're as good as Welsh says ye are, I think I'm willing to take a little risk." O'Neill said. "I need someone like you who can communicate with the local law, so that we won't step on some precinct's toes. I get the feeling you'd rather not do that here in Chicago...?"
Ray shrugged. "Most don't know me anyway, to the rest..."
"You've got a reputation," O'Neill said with a soft smile. "Besides, I hear you're good with a gun."
Ray snorted. "Only when I'm wearing my glasses," he admitted.
"You're gonna have to wear 'em full time," O'Neill warned. "Or get contacts. I want my people tip-top."
"Can't wear contacts," Ray said, wondering what kind of surreal talk this was. It was a damned roller-coaster ride.
O'Neill merely nodded. "Get a new prescription to be on the safe side, when we get to New York."
Ray held up his hands, trying to stop the steam-roller across the table. "Whoa... Are you hiring me?"
"Yeah. Isn't that obvious?" O'Neill's grin turned downright teasing then sobered a little. "That is, if you think you're up to it?"
"I...," Ray cleared his throat. "I don't know what to say," he admitted sheepishly. Nothing he'd thought about before the interview seemed relevant. Leave Chicago? No problem, though... "Well, there is the fact that I'll have to find somewhere to live in New York," he admitted.
"Finish up whatever you need to here. The building we use for offices has quite a few apartments that are leased mainly to employees," O'Neill told him.
"Is this for real?" Ray asked, shaking his head. This was unbelievable. He kept expecting for the other shoe to drop.
"Well, there is one last thing," O'Neill said, finishing off his steak. "How do you feel about gays?"
"Wha'?" What the hell was he supposed to say to that? 'No problem, sir. I'd be a bigot to condemn gays, considering...'
"Just tell me the first thought that comes to mind," O'Neill said intently.
"I don't have any problems with homosexuals," Ray said, keeping his voice steady. Keeping the memories locked down, the flashes of memories at least. A jumble of tattered images, sounds, tastes...
"Mind if I ask why you would ask me such a question?"
O'Neill grinned widely. "Because your future boss is one and you being from a society that isn't exactly known for embracing this 'different lifestyle', I had to ask."
Ray shook his head, feeling a little confused. Well, it explained the comment about the SO and probably the one about 'Daniel' as well. "No... no problem," he said softly.
O'Neill eyed him speculatively, then nodded. "Good, now eat your sandwich -- you can't function on coffee alone."
Ray smiled softly. "I know... you're not the first one to point that out."
"Eat up, kid," O'Neill said as he pushed his plate aside. "I've got some errands to do while I'm in Chicago. I want you to think about my offer, then call me." A business card was pushed across the table. "I meant what I said, I could use a man like you in the fold."
Ray nodded, although, deep down, he already knew his answer.
O'Neill nodded and stood, for a moment resting a warm hand on Ray's shoulder. A light squeeze and he let go, pulling out some bills from his pocket, laying them down on the table.
Ray sat back, alone, in the diner, staring at his sandwich. He'd just been offered a job, a ticket out of Chicago, away from faces and places that did nothing but remind him of how royally he'd screwed up.
Either this was a miracle, or eventually something else would happen to blow down his house of cards, because someone up there had a horrible sense of humor.
A way out... Ray looked at the sandwich again, feeling his stomach finally settle enough for him to eat. He'd take it, he had a feeling... a hunch... that this was exactly what he needed.
Ray sat down on his bed, looking around the room. He'd brought very little with him from his old haunt. A few knick-knacks, a desk. The chili-string light. Ray ran a hand over the quilt covering his bed... his new bed. Maybe this would keep away the dreams. Too many memories were attached to the old one. His hand brushed against the string and feather next to him. Yeah, maybe a new bed could do what the dream catcher hadn't been capable of. Maybe he had worn it out, because for a long time it hadn't caught any of his bad dreams.
Since Fraser had gone back North, really.
Picking up the dream catcher, Ray stood and went to the dresser. Pulling out the bottom drawer, he dropped the thing inside, next to the journals from their quest and the small box of photos. Ray shook his head and closed the drawer again.
Time to concentrate on the present instead of the past. Tomorrow would be his first day in his new job. O'Neill had given him four days from his arrival to get settled. The apartment wasn't bad. Living room, bedroom, roomy bathroom, office/guestroom and a small kitchen. More than he'd had before.
Ray had wondered if he could afford it until he'd seen the contract. Christ. His new salary was a lot better than it'd been as a cop. Not that it mattered all that much. To Ray it was a chance to start over with people who didn't know him, who had no expectations of him beyond him doing his job.
For the first time he had a new life without having to go undercover to get it. It was exhilarating... but it scared him shitless.
Ray looked up after signing the form O'Neill had handed him before leaving Ray on his own in the office. O'Neill was leaning casually against the doorjamb.
"Sir?" Ray put the pen down and concentrated on the man.
O'Neill snorted. "It's Jack, O'Neill or 'Boss' as some of the people around here say. I put 'sir' behind me when I left the Air Force."
Ray rubbed the back of his head and smiled tentatively at O'Neill. It was a bit unsettling how the man got around Ray's reserve without even trying. "Sure thing... Boss."
"I've got someone I'd like you to meet. I don't want to send you out on any assignment half-assed. I want you to pair up with one of the guys for a few cases, then we'll see. The work we do is either team-based or loner stuff. You got a problem with one or the other?"
Ray shook his head. "I wouldn't have been a cop for all those years if I'd pulled the Dirty Harry routine too often."
O'Neill grinned and turned a little in the doorway, gesturing at someone behind him. Another man came in, fairly muscular build, though a little shorter than O'Neill. The crew cut was military, but the guy smiled openly at him and put out a hand for Ray to shake.
"Ferretti," he introduced himself. "Lou among friends."
Ray shook the proffered hand. "Ray Kowalski." Ray frowned. "Have we met before?"
Ferretti raised an eyebrow. "Not that I know of. Unless you've been in the AF as well."
Ray shook his head. "Nah, just a slip of memory, I guess. Unless you've ever been on a ghost ship."
Ferretti snorted but shook his head. "Can't say I have." He turned to their boss. "Well, Jack. You got anything for Ray and me to dig into?"
"Oh, do I ever," Jack said with a smirk. "First, you, Ferretti, are going to find Janine, then go up to the archive upstairs and get the necessary papers for the shooting range, and then you're taking our new man downstairs for some shooting practice. I want statistics, gentlemen."
"Will do, sir," Ferretti said with a grin and a half salute. "See ya in a moment, kid." With that he was out the door again.
O'Neill shook his head and went to the table by the window, pouring water and beans into the coffee machine. "I swear to God, that man will drive me crazy some day."
Ray grinned. "Isn't that what friends are for?"
O'Neill turned and gave him a strange look. "I think you're right," he laughed. "Coffee's gonna be ready in a moment, I'm gonna go for a bit. Help yourself to a cup. If I know Lou, he'll be a while before he returns with the forms. He's got an eye on our lovely secretary," O'Neill said, with a roll of the eyes and a fond smile.
"Yeah?" Stopping at the door, O'Neill turned around.
Ray cleared his throat. "Mind if I ask you something?"
"Sure, go ahead."
"The tone around here seems very..." Ray searched for the right word.
O'Neill grinned as if he knew exactly what Ray was hinting at. And he probably did. "Loose? Nearly insubordinate?"
Ray nodded. He liked it, but he wasn't sure how to act himself. These people seemed to know each other and he didn't want to risk being too familiar this early on.
"You'll find that if you click with people here, you'll be part of a big family. We're a bit dysfunctional at times, but we take care of each other and our own," O'Neill explained with a soft smile. "I hope you'll like it here."
Ray felt his own smile widening. "I think I will, Boss. Thanks. For all of it."
O'Neill smiled and gave him a quick salute before leaving the room.
Ray went over to the window, watching the streets a few floors below. Outside, New York didn't look too different from Chicago. Big city, lots of people... Ray shook himself out of his reverie and went to the coffeemaker, taking one of the mugs next to it, filling it and taking a sip of the dark liquid. Too bad there were no M&Ms. Then again, this was damned good coffee. Ray sighed as the taste hit him. Oh yeah, great coffee.
There was a noise by the door and Ray turned, expecting either Ferretti or O'Neill to have returned. Instead he found a tall good-looking guy in a dark blue suit, who was rubbing his eyes tiredly, obviously steering toward the coffee.
"Oh... I didn't think anyone was in here," the man said, blue eyes focusing on Ray. "I'm Daniel," he continued, shaking Ray's hand with one of his, while reaching for one of the mugs by the coffeemaker.
"Um... pleased to meet you," Ray said, wondering if this was another of his colleagues. "I'm Ray... Kowalski." Even if he hadn't felt the pull toward other men since Fraser's departure, he wasn't dead. This guy was damned fine looking.
Oh wait. Daniel...
"You're Jack's newest addition, right?" Daniel asked, sipping his coffee with a look of pure bliss on his face.
Ray nodded. "You're... eh..."
Daniel grinned at him and shook his head. "I'm not an employee, just a friend of the management."
Ray couldn't help the snort from escaping. "Sorry." Probably didn't help if he insulted the boss's boyfriend.
A chuckle escaped Daniel. "Ah, I see Jack mentioned me. Come on, you can tell me what he's told you. I swear, his tall tales get wilder every time."
"Nah, he just muttered your name at one point and since I know he's in a relationship, I figured you were it."
Daniel smiled softly. "Yeah. I occasionally swing by to say 'hi', especially if I've been in court. I seem to need a boost after some of the cases I'm called in as a consultant for." A shadow passed over the handsome face and the blue eyes lost a little of their sparkling light.
"Bad?" Ray asked as they sat down on the chairs by the window. He wondered exactly what Daniel did for a living. Lawyer?
"I'm occasionally called in as a specialist," Daniel said, as if answering the unspoken question. "I have a PhD in psychology, I normally work with kids and teens, especially concerning sexuality, but the state draws on me for a variety of case types."
"Lots of bad shit," Ray said softly, remembering some of the stuff he'd seen during his cop-years.
Daniel sighed. "Yeah. You sound like you know it?"
Ray nodded. "Yeah. Used to be a cop... in Chicago."
"I don't have to tell you how horrible people can be, then," Daniel said, sitting back in the chair, nursing his coffee.
"No... I've seen some of the bad stuff as well," Ray admitted.
"And bad stuff sometimes happens to good people," Daniel replied. They sat in silence for a moment and Ray wondered if there might be something in the air of the Big Apple. He couldn't believe how much he felt at ease around these people. He wasn't used to letting down his guard this fast.
The door to the office opened again and O'Neill stepped back in. The smile on his face widened when he saw the newcomer and made his way over to the chairs. "Daniel..."
"Hey," Daniel said with a soft smile, accepting the quick kiss O'Neill gave him.
"I see you've met," O'Neill said, squeezing Daniel's shoulder, turning to Ray. "Do I have to make formal introductions?" he asked with a grin.
"Nah," Daniel answered, gesturing to Ray. "We were just making small talk. I came looking for you and found someone who doesn't mind having a heart to heart."
"Are you calling me repressed?" O'Neill asked with mock-horror. Ray hid a smile behind his coffee cup. If he hadn't know they were together, he'd know it now. They seemed to almost... spark in each other's company.
"If the shoe fits..." Daniel replied with a teasing grin.
"See?" O'Neill asked as he gave Ray a helpless look. "I get no respect."
"And you love it," Daniel said with a snort. With a soft sigh Daniel leaned sideways against his lover who'd sat down on the armrest of the chair. "This is exactly what I needed," he admitted.
O'Neill frowned. "Bad day in court?"
Daniel nodded. "I'm gonna tell you tonight. I just needed a breather and to drop off the files you lent me."
O'Neill nodded and stood. "You in a hurry?" he asked.
"I've got time," Daniel said with a small smile.
Ray got the feeling now would be a good time to leave. Thankfully there was a knock at the door, and Ferretti entered the room. "Hey, Doc," he greeted Daniel with a wide grin.
Daniel smiled back and nodded. "Lou."
"Come on, Kowalski. Let's see if you're as good as your file says," Ferretti challenged Ray good-naturedly.
Ray grinned. "You sure you can handle that?" he asked as he stood and nodded his goodbye to O'Neill and Daniel.
"Oooh, cocky," Ferretti said with a smirk. "I think I'm gonna like ya." With that he gestured for Ray to follow him.
Feeling a little like Alice down the rabbit hole, Ray smiled and followed. He'd be sorely disappointed if this job didn't work out. The people he'd met so far were open and friendly and Ray got the feeling that was exactly what he needed. Pulling his new glasses from his inner pocket, Ray grinned and let Ferretti lead him to the elevator.
It was surprisingly easy to get into a new routine. It was even easier to make friends with the people he was working with... and for. In the beginning Ray often sat down at night, wondering when the floor would tilt and his new life shatter.
It just didn't happen. Most of his assignments he took care of on his own, though occasionally he enjoyed being teamed up with various co-workers. A few of them he didn't click with, but most he got along with really well.
Even O'Neill ended up being more and more 'Jack' than 'Boss' and Ray figured he was probably the easiest boss he'd ever had. Not that Welsh was bad, but there were things you didn't say to or discuss with your Lieutenant. Not that Ray often needed anything like that, but he got the easy vibes from Jack.
The only thing that unsettled him was basically Daniel. Well, the guy was great, they were friends, hung out together sometimes, had lunch when Jack was elsewhere busy and Daniel wanted company.
No, the thing that was unsettling was the fact that Daniel was a shrink. Ray couldn't actually forget it. The thought continuously lurked below the surface and Ray found himself guarding words more than he should.
However, Ray's uneasiness around the man was a little too obvious at times. It meant that Daniel made an *effort* to drag him out of his shell. Slowly Ray realized that might not be a terrible thing after all. It sure beat being alone with his thoughts.
"Jack, we're going out for lunch," Daniel said as he leaned against the open door to Jack's office, Ray waiting behind him.
Jack, who was expecting a new recruit for an interview leaned back in his chair and eyed the two of them. Ray figured if he'd been in Jack's place, he might not have let an employee take his boyfriend out to eat.
"Should I be jealous?" Jack asked, trying to look serious.
Daniel seemed to give that some thought for a moment, then shrugged. "Nah, you don't like Indian anyway."
Jack snorted and waved them out. "Go on, get out of here, kids. Have fun. Kowalski, I want him back in an hour."
Ray grinned and mock-saluted the man. "Of course, Boss. Anything you say, Boss."
"Don't overdo it," Daniel whispered more than loud enough for everyone to hear. "It'll go to his head."
Ray raised an eyebrow, not even going to turn it into a dirty joke. The twinkle in Daniel's eyes told him he didn't have to.
They didn't have to go far to get to the small Indian restaurant Daniel had his heart set on. The place was nice and not too over-decorated, and the smells made Ray's stomach gurgle in anticipation.
Daniel slipped down by a table and opened the menu and Ray took the seat across from him. "What's good?" Ray asked. He wasn't normally adventurous enough to go to a place like this, but he figured if Daniel said it was good, it *was* good.
"Most of it, but I think you'd enjoy the korma," Daniel said. They placed their orders and Daniel leaned back in his seat, watching Ray with an amused smile on his face.
"What?" Ray asked, feeling the uneasiness intruding again.
"You're a hard man to get to know," Daniel said, taking a drink of his water. "Whenever I think I've got you pegged, you pull back."
Ray rubbed the back of his neck, staring down into his own glass. "I... I'm sorry. It's just..."
"What is it that you find so unsettling?" Daniel asked.
"You..." Ray admitted. "Or rather, that you're a shrink."
"Ah, of course," Daniel said with a nod. Ray figured it wasn't the first time he'd run into that problem. "Is there anything I can say that'll make you feel more at ease?"
"Probably not," Ray admitted with a small grin. "It's just... if I'm honest with myself, I could probably benefit from talking to a shrink, but I've had to do that before through the police work."
"And you didn't like it," Daniel finished for him.
Ray shook his head. "No, it was never a pleasant thing to go through. For the longest time, and this might sound weird, I felt normal just from being around my ...partner. I mean, he was so weird that everything else, including my pathetic life, seemed sane."
Daniel nodded. "Sounds logical... in a roundabout way."
Ray grinned. "Yeah, that's about it."
"You still talk to him?" Daniel asked, turning his head briefly to thank their waiter for the food he was bringing.
Ray sighed. "No... he's back in Canada."
Daniel eyed him thoughtfully. "You do know, that if you need it, you can come talk to me, right?"
"Because it's your job," Ray snorted, pushing his food around on the plate, letting the rice soak the sweet-smelling sauce.
"No, you moron, because I'm your friend."
Ray felt heat color his cheeks. "I know... I'm sorry," he said, finally looking Daniel in the eyes. What he did find was a friend who seemed a little worried about him. He hadn't really experienced that in a long time.
"I don't know if I can talk about it. I mean... we both screwed up and it ended... badly. I think it's too late to salvage the bridges. They're long gone, burned down." Ray took a bite of the food, all of the sudden not feeling terribly hungry.
"Have you tried?"
"I tried, back when it happened. I'm afraid he wasn't ...receptive."
Daniel winced. "So you never got it off your chest."
Ray shrugged. "No, not really."
"You know, Ray. You don't have to tell me, but if you want the name of a good therapist, let me know. Until then... try writing it down. All the things you'd say to him if you met him again. Don't hold back. It might help you to at least start working through your problem." Daniel took a bit of his own food, humming happily.
"You really think that could work?" Ray asked hesitantly.
"I'm not saying it'll be easy for you, but if you need it, you can talk to me."
"And you're sure it's not because you're a shrink or feeling sorry for me?" Ray asked, seriously considering what Daniel was suggesting. Absolution of some kind.
"Ray, if that was the case, you'd be paying my price with the company discount that's in your contract. And yes, before you ask, that deduction is because I get to fuck Jack on a regular basis." The twinkle in Daniel's blue eyes was downright evil.
Ray nearly choked on the sip of water he'd just taken. He wasn't sure if he should be scandalized or hoot with laughter.
Daniel turned serious again. "Ray... You're a friend. Friends care. If it makes you feel better, then there's probably something you can do for me in return."
"Like what? Only thing I'm good at is shooting and dancing," Ray said with a snort.
Daniel grinned. "So, teach me how to dance."
Ray shook his head. "Are you insane?"
Daniel smirked, "I don't think so, though Jack has on occasion asked me the same."
"And what do you think Jack would say if I started teaching you to ballroom dancing?" Ray asked with a grin. Disarming. These people were downright disarming.
"Um... let me think... 'Thank you?' Jack claims I have two left feet," Daniel admitted with a wink.
This time Ray laughed. "That's a deal, Doc. I'll think about the therapy thing and until then, you can draw on me for tutoring your ballroom dancing." At Daniel's wide grin, Ray chuckled and took a good bite of the food on his plate, his hunger returning as the weight on his shoulders lightened a little.
For a while all was good for Ray, his job keeping him busy, too busy to dwell on things that could have been different. Then he got a letter from Frannie, of all people, just a short notice, but it pretty much kicked the bottom out of his world.
The 27th had been notified that Fraser had been injured in the line of duty. Severely. Frannie had figured he wanted to know, and had gotten his address from Welsh.
Ray sat, one night, in front of the TV, eyes unseeing. He'd made a few inquiries with the RCMP, who hadn't been too forthcoming. Considering that Ray didn't want anyone to know he was looking in on Fraser, least of all Fraser himself, it wasn't too surprising. Still, through contacts he'd finally found out that Fraser was stable.
He was alive. But it had been a close call. That was all Ray had been able to find out. It was enough. Ray's stomach was in knots, had been ever since he'd heard about Fraser's injury.
He'd thought he was over it. That he had left the regret behind him. That obviously wasn't the case.
Ray stared at the notebook in front of him on the coffee table. The pen next to it reflected the shifting light from the muted TV. 'Write it down. All the things you'd say to him if he was here now.'
Daniel's suggestion echoed through his thoughts and Ray nodded, slowly dragging the notebook closer, uncapping the pen and opening the book. Putting the tip of the pen on the paper, he began writing.
Dear B. Fraser
Where the fuck did you go? Why the fuck did you go? You up and left me with the whole mess. I paid for your outburst, I had to pick up the pieces when you
ran left for the icy North. Guess it fits with your fucking personality. If Thatcher was the Ice Queen, she's nothing compared to you.
I'm worried out of my mind. Don't get me wrong, I'm still angry and hurt, but it's also made me realize that I need to get this off my chest and a friend suggested writing it down the way I'd say it to you. So here goes:
You hurt me! Not physically, oh no. See I wasn't traumatized by what we did. I'm not sure I got as high a dosage of whatever shit they pumped us full of, because I remember a lot from that night... or at least, a lot of it came back later.
No, you had to accuse me of taking advantage of you, but I've got one thing to say to that: You weren't the one having trouble sitting down the next day!
Nor were you the one having to deal with the fallout after your little outburst at the PD.
Ray sat back on the couch and wiped a hand over his eyes. He was definitely on a roll, but it hurt to drag it all back out again. Even if Fraser would never see this, Ray didn't want to write down what had happened at the precinct. After Fraser had said, loud enough for most to hear, that he wasn't wired that way and that he believed Ray had taken advantage of him, sexually... The shit had definitely hit the fan.
Crossing his arms over the notebook, Ray rested his forehead against them. It was as if his dam was bursting now, all the bad shit, all the heavy memories breaking out. The memories of the whispered conversations that ceased when he walked into the room, only increasing his paranoia.
Then Vecchio had returned from Florida, looking for Fraser and it hadn't taken long before the guy had dug out the rumors and had confronted Ray with it. Well, he'd blown up, yelling at Ray right in the middle of the precinct. He didn't want to remember the things that Vecchio had said to him... had called him. That had pretty much been the reason why Welsh had pulled him aside and told him to take a few days leave. The leave had turned to more leave... and eventually ended with the job offer.
Sometimes good things did come from bad shit.
Ray sniffled a little, wiped his nose on his sleeve and sat back with the notebook resting on his thigh.
You are so fucking stubborn, hard headed... You never gave us a chance. You were a coward, a hypocrite. It was always your MO to talk your way out of trouble, but the moment it was personal, you turned tail and ran.
I don't regret the sex, Fraser... I regret what it did to us, how you reacted. I had a crush on you, but never intended for you to know. But for one night, I had what I'd only fantasized about. Although I'd have preferred to be sober, clean, whatever. Why did I never tell you? Because what happened was what I wanted to avoid. If I couldn't have the whole enchilada, at least I could have our friendship... and I could love you in my own way... as a friend. I'd wish you'd stayed so we could have hashed it out, cleared the air.
I never asked to have those feelings for you. And for some stupid reason, I can't even go out with other people. Every time someone asks, I find a reason to say 'no'. Not because I'm not lonely, God knows I could use the company... But there's always something... wrong. Men, women, it doesn't matter... they aren't...
They aren't ...you.
Ray squeezed his eyes shut, wiping infectively at the wet stains in the notebook. Fucking head-case that was what he was. Ray slammed the notebook shut and took it to his bedroom, burying it in the bottom drawer with all the other memories.
Daniel was surprisingly understanding when Ray called him at 11PM.
There was very little light when Ray woke up. He blinked, disoriented, wondering where his glasses were. He'd gotten so used to wearing them that his distorted eyesight was annoying these days. Ah, on the coffee table in front of him. Only, it wasn't his coffee table, wasn't his couch he was laying on either. Putting the glasses on he tried to focus on the low murmur of voices.
Upstairs. He was upstairs in Jack's apartment. Ray sighed as he remembered calling Daniel, asking to talk. Thankfully Daniel had been in the apartment he and Jack sometimes used, a few floors further up. Jack hadn't been home, so they'd talked until the early hours of the morning.
Judging from the little light outside the windows, he hadn't slept all that long. The voices were coming from the kitchen, where Ray could make out the two men. Daniel was sitting at the table and Jack leaned down to share a kiss with him. Ray felt his cheeks flush as he watched Jack draw Daniel closer to deepen the kiss, long and slow.
After his heart to heart with Daniel earlier, he felt raw. All those damned memories and emotions were so close to the surface now. Ray closed his eyes, and sleep came quickly. He was so tired, so drained that keeping his eyes open would have been beyond impossible.
Next time he opened his eyes, his glasses were back on the coffee table and Jack was sitting in a chair next to the couch. He looked completely at ease, as if it was an everyday occurrence to have an employee sacked out on his couch. Slim glasses perched on his nose as he read a book, bare feet pulled up under him. Wearing a pair of well-washed sweat pants and a 'Chicago Bulls' t-shirt he looked even more approachable than normally.
"Sorry, Boss," Ray tried to say, his voice breaking a little, still rough with sleep and from talking most of the night.
"Hey, no problem. I figured it was bad when I came home to find you an my couch and a worried Daniel next to you," Jack said lightly, brown eyes soft with concern.
"Just me fucking up my life again," Ray admitted. "Did Daniel tell you anything?"
"He's a shrink, he won't break your confidence," Jack said with a shrug. "So if you want me to know, you'll have to tell me."
Ray closed his eyes for a moment, then nodded and sat up. Taking a deep breath, he opened his eyes again. "Long story short, the last case I had with my partner, the Mountie, was completely screwed up."
It wasn't any easier to recount now, but Ray figured he owed Jack at least a little explanation. "We ended up being pumped full of some drug, truth serum, that completely screwed up our inhibitions. We were dumped by the bad guys, somehow we got home to my place and ...we ended up in bed together."
Jack nodded and made a 'go-on' noise.
"No inhibitions, Boss. None whatsoever," Ray whispered tiredly. "We had sex and when the drug wore off, Fraser blamed me for taking advantage of him. He ended up returning to Canada shortly after pretty much outing me at the PD. Not on purpose of course, but the tempers were running high. For a long time I thought I was over it, or at least that I'd put it behind me."
"You haven't," Jack finished for him with a wince.
Ray shook his head. "No... last night I was trying to work through my hurt, and it got too much -- I'm one fucked up puppy," Ray said with a sigh.
"So your partner turned out to be a homophobe?" Jack asked, putting the book aside. "Keep talking, Kowalski, I'm gonna make us some coffee."
Ray smiled gratefully. "No... I don't think he was. I've seen him handle cases... we had a case a couple of years back, gay bashing. Frase was anything but phobic. He even told me about something that happened at Depot."
At Jack's questioning glance, Ray followed him into the kitchen. "It's sorta the RCMP equivalent of our Academy. There was a group who got drunk and a couple of the boys ended up having sex. Scandal material and all, but the RCMP put a lid on it -- Still rumors and bad blood..."
Jack nodded as he started the coffeemaker. "Yeah, thank you. I was in the Air Force. Rumors aren't easy to kill."
Ray leaned back against the door. "I know Fraser hated the way it was handled. It's why I figured he'd have tried to clear out what happened between us. I swear to God, Jack. Fraser is one of the most tolerant people I've ever met."
"Are you coming to terms with it?" Jack asked, blunt as always.
Ray shrugged uneasily. "I... I'll get there."
"Look, take my advice here. Let Daniel in. It'll be good for you." Jack pulled to mugs down from the cupboard.
"Yeah, I figured as much. It's been more than six months since it happened and I've never talked to anyone about it. It blew up in my face last night," Ray admitted sheepishly.
"Hey, shit happens, kid," Jack said tiredly as he poured coffee into their mugs and handed one off to Ray, who wished he could get some chocolate or at least sugar. Still, it was good coffee, just what he needed.
"No kidding," Ray whispered. "Sorry I'm such a basket case."
"Hey, I never said I wanted sane employees," Jack scolded good naturedly. "You're a good guy, you're an effective employee and a good friend."
Ray coughed, feeling his face heat.
"Don't let it get to your head," Jack warned with a quirky grin.
"Thanks, Jack," he said softly. "I seem to be saying that a lot to you."
"You're an asset to the company, Kowalski. A pain in the ass at times, but a real asset."
Ray laughed and for the first time in a long time he figured things were heading in the right direction.
Life was good, work was hard, but Ray wasn't complaining. Most of the time Jack dumped the missing persons cases on him, joking that he was going to add P.I. to Ray's name soon. The caseload slowly grew and Ray figured it was due to their good rep both with clients and the local PD.
Ray wasn't the only one noticing that things ran smoothly with the PD, when Christmas came, Ray found a little extra present from Santa.
"Jack... I can't accept this." 'This' was the check Ray was waving under his boss' nose.
Jack grinned and leaned back in his chair. "Sure ye can, Kowalski. You earned it. We've never had this good a relationship with the PD and don't tell me it's not your fault mainly. I'm just glad it panned out hiring one of theirs."
Ray shook his head in exasperation. He had about as much chance of returning that check as a snowball surviving in hell. "Jack..."
"Raaay," Jack mock-whined. "Take the damned check and see it as an inadequate way for me to thank you for furthering the company's goodwill."
"You been reading Daniel's dictionaries again?" Ray asked dryly, covering the warm feeling in his chest with his usual attitude.
Jack glared at him, but the brown eyes were twinkling with mirth. Lifting a hand, he silently pointed at the door.
"Yes, sir! Right away, sir!" Ray hurried out the door, trying not to laugh too hard.
The Christmas holidays were... grey and bleak. It wasn't that Ray didn't have any invitations to join others. No, his parents had called from Arizona, where they were now living again, asking him to join them and his brother's family for Christmas.
Ray had said no, a little white lie about having to work, had slipped past his lips, but he couldn't really bring himself to feel bad about it. Even if his mother had sounded terribly disappointed. Ray just didn't feel like being dragged into the family feast knowing they all looked a little odd at him because he was still single and family-less.
Things were... okay. Not fabulous, but okay. It had been nearly ten months since he'd broken down and accepted the help of his friends. He still wasn't dating, but his life was more or less in balance. Maybe once, when he felt completely at ease with himself again, he would go out and start seeing people outside work.
Until then, he kept to himself, apart from the times where he was dragged out kicking and screaming. It wasn't too bad, actually. He occasionally spent time with Jack or Daniel or both, and about once a month, Ferretti made sure he couldn't say no to a round of poker.
Actually, Ray hadn't completely lied about having to work. Although it wasn't during the Christmas days, but more New Year's Eve he had a job for. One of those he wasn't too fond off, but Jack had asked him to take it and Ray couldn't say no to the man.
As Ray tied his tie and slung the suit jacket over his shoulder, he gave himself a stern look in the mirror. He hated acting as a bodyguard, which was kind of funny, seeing as it was most of what the company did. Ray had simply taken over the part of the company dealing with the more investigative cases. Still, occasionally, he'd say yes when Jack asked him to take one.
A senator. Senator Williams. Ray scrunched up his face, then sighed. The guy was okay, more than okay actually. Ray had spent about an hour talking security measure with the man a few days earlier. There'd been threats made both by phone and mail and the police were still trying to find whomever was behind it.
The Senator had argued that he did not want to let whomever was doing this, force him to constantly fear for his own life. He had an invitation for the New Year's ball at the British Consulate in New York, and he intended to attend.
"Showtime," Ray whispered, before he turned around, grabbed his keys and left the apartment.
Ray tilted his head toward Senator Williams. "Sir?"
"Lighten up, young man. You look like one of the Men in Black." Williams shot him a short grin.
Ray swallowed a grin. He could have been less fortunate with a client. Williams wasn't too bad. "Well, I am wearing black, sir."
Williams grinned and patted his shoulder. "That you are, that you are."
Ray scanned the room, taking in the lavish, old-fashioned wall panels of the place. Huge paintings, heavy curtains covering the windows. Not that there was much to look at outside. New York had had no white Christmas this year, just freakishly cold weather with a heavy grey sky.
Ray could have sworn he'd smelled snow this morning, but it might just be a faded memory from the quest. Christ, Fraser had always been capable of smelling oncoming snow, sometimes even eerily being capable of predicting how much they'd get and for how long it would last.
Pushing down on his memories, Ray forced himself to concentrate on what was going on around him. Most of the guests were already there, the caterers slipping unobtrusively from table to guest to table, filling glasses and offering little sandwich thingies. Ray had already eaten. He wasn't a guest, wasn't eating at the table. He had an assignment that he would take care of, keeping all of his concentration on anyone suspicious.
Ray adjusted his glasses and rolled his shoulders. It wasn't that he felt above this kind of job, it was just... it often reminded him too much of a stakeout. He preferred moving, never had felt at ease just standing or sitting around.
His attentions swung to the entrance again. More guests were arriving and there was a brief flash of red that had Ray shaking his head. Nah. Just his eyes playing tricks on him. Probably just someone's fancy evening gown or something.
The next happened so fast that Ray reacted on pure instinct. One of the caterers pulled a gun, aiming it at Senator Williams. Ray grabbed the nearest serving tray from a passing caterer and slammed it into the gun, causing the guy to drop it, sending it flying across the floor.
Ray's eyes met the attacker's and the chase was on. A quick check to his left and Ray was assured that Williams was taken care of by the resident head of security, an older man who nodded at Ray, gesturing toward the retreating back of the attacker.
With a rumbled curse, Ray twisted between the guests, running as fast as he could while still keeping his sights set on the caterer's white jacket. Outside the room, in the well-lit hallway, the guy turned left, heading for the deeper parts of the house.
Ray could hear running behind him, knowing that some of the security was following him. Still, they were too far behind for Ray to slack it so he pushed himself harder.
The guy seemed at loss for a moment, then turned right at the next hallway, passing the doors to the bathrooms. His mistake. Something red flashed out of one of the doors and the caterer was tackled, thrown to the floor.
Ray was entirely focused on the attacker, and when the man scrambled to get up, Ray was on him, forcing him back down, holding him until security caught up with him.
"Take care of him," Ray warned. "And did someone call the NYPD?"
"The call is being made as we speak," a young blonde security guard assured him.
"Good, keep an eye on him until they get here, I'm gonna check up on Senator Williams." With that, Ray turned to regard the man who'd helped him and his breath stuck in his throat and Ray could have sworn his heart skipped several beats.
"Frase..." It slipped from his lips in a mere whisper. Then Ray cleared his throat bringing himself back in line. "Corporal." Ray caught himself almost saying constable, but... he remembered Fraser had been promoted shortly after their stint with Muldoon.
Sitting on the floor, blue eyes wide with wonder, Fraser was looking up at him. "I... it's... Sergeant now."
"Congratulations," Ray said automatically. Fraser looked good, if a little tired. Considering that it had been ten or so months since he'd been hurt badly, Ray was surprised that he looked as okay as he did. "Better get up, won't do the RCMP rep any good to have its members crawling around on the floor." Ray was surprised at how steady his voice was.
"I, eh..." Fraser shifted a little, indicating a cane that had skittered across the floor during the fight. The piercing eyes took Ray's breath away.
Ray picked up the cane, and forced himself to deal with the moment. Reaching down, he gave Fraser a hand up. The touch burned his palm and Ray had to fight the urge to let go and wipe his hand in his trouser leg to get rid of the strange tingling feeling that lingered.
Fraser released his hand and accepted the cane Ray offered him. For a moment they watched each other in silence. Ray took a deep breath, but no words were forthcoming. He'd gladly claim that it was because he had resolved his emotional state, but that would just be kidding himself.
In his gut, in his chest, the anger burned surprisingly low, but his hurt was still bright and blinding and as he watched Fraser there, right in front of him, in the flesh, decked out in the red Mountie uniform... he couldn't think of one thing to say that didn't in some way sound like 'why did you leave me? Why are you here? Can't you just let me live my life?'.
"I..." Ray shook his head to clear it. "I better get back to the Senator." Ray turned, willingly ignoring the tentative hand reaching for him. 'Run' his heart told him. 'Run-run-run-fast' said the thu-thud of his heart, the beat of the blood in his veins.
'No way in fucking hell,' Ray thought to himself. He wasn't the one running, he wasn't the one who had run. He had a job to do, Fraser being there was just a coincidence, didn't mean anything unless he let it.
Steeling himself, Ray returned to the ballroom and found Williams. "It's taken care of, sir," Ray assured him. "And I've been told that the police has been notified as well."
A short nod from the head of security confirmed it. "Would you prefer to stay or return to your hotel?" Ray asked, hoping for the latter. He wanted to get out, wanted to put as much distance between Fraser and himself as possible.
Ray's hopes fell when Williams shook his head. "No, Mr. Kowalski, I am here and with the attacker well in hand, I don't see why I should let his interference keep me from enjoying this New Year's Eve."
Ah. Ray nodded his assent. "Very well, sir, but I'll continue to keep an eye out for trouble."
"You do that and may I say, I am pleased that the referrals I got to seek the help of O'Neill's company were not wrong. You have done a most splendid work, Mr. Kowalski."
Ray bowed his head a little. "I had a little help from Corp... Sergeant Fraser, sir." Credit given where credit was due.
Of course Williams absolutely loved Fraser when said Sergeant turned up, limping quite a bit, leaning heavily on his cane. Ray pulled up every defense he could think of, every wall he felt was sufficiently strong to get him through the night.
Someone up there hated him. Ray was sure of that.
"Nice work, Ray."
Ray grinned at Jack who was holding the elevator open for him. "Thanks, Boss," he replied with a grin.
"Oh, and Janine, our lovely secretary, tells me that you have three messages from the Canadian Consulate..." Jack leaned back against the wall, watching Ray carefully.
Ray sighed. "I know."
"You sure this is the right way of doing it?" Jack paused as the doors opened on the 1st floor.
"I doubt it," Ray admitted as he followed Jack toward the main entrance. "But I need time... I'm not sure how I might handle this..."
"Well, until then, I can tell you I just got a call from Senator Williams, who is very appreciative of your work. He wants you to show up tonight at this restaurant." Jack handed him a piece of paper with an address on. Wow, upscale place.
Ray sighed again. "Ah well, he's the guy paying the bill."
Jack laughed out loud as he put on his coat. "He's a good man, Ray. And you deserve it. You did a damned fine job."
"Well, I had... help."
"So you say," Jack said lightly, but Ray wasn't fooled for a moment.
"For someone who claims he doesn't want to pry, you're worse with gossip than my old granny," Ray said sourly, hiding his own smile.
"Hey, I'm getting old. I have to take my entertainment where I can get it."
Ray laughed out loud. "Don't let Daniel hear your talk about being old. He'll do what he can to prove you wrong."
"I'm counting on it," Jack said with a wink before he opened the front door, threw Ray a half-salute and disappeared down the street. Ray stayed where he was, looking outside. New York was still just cold and bare with winter. No snow, not even slush.
Finally he shook himself out of his reverie. He had cases to tend to, and he had to pick up his suit at the drycleaner's before dinner.
Ray managed to lose himself in his case and he barely made it to the drycleaner's before they closed. A quick run home for a shower and he was on his way to the restaurant. Hell, if Williams wanted to thank him with a good meal, Ray wasn't complaining.
Figured, of course, that he should have expected Fraser to be there as well. 'Civil,' Ray told himself. 'Act civilized for fuck's sake.'
Amazingly, they made it through dinner without any mishaps, mostly because Ray didn't seek eye contact with Fraser and the other way around. Williams talked about this and that, of course interested in hearing about the RCMP and what Fraser was doing in New York. Ray paid attention. He'd like to know that as well.
"My injuries were quite severe and after several months of physical therapy, anyone could see that I would have no future as an active member of the force," Fraser explained stoically, but something in Ray burned at that. It wasn't the same angry fire as before. That was still there, but somewhere in there, there was a part of him that felt sorry for Fraser. He was an active man, and Ray had seen just how fond he was of the hardship the Territories challenged him with.
"The RCMP was unsure what to do with me. So they promoted me and started looking for a posting..."
Ray's heart contracted. A desk job. It was like the death sentence to a man like Fraser.
"Was New York your own choice, Sergeant?" Williams asked, genuinely interested.
"I had... a few options. New York, Chicago..."
Ray got that and for the first time that night, he met and held Fraser's gaze. Too many memories in Chicago. Far too many. The rest of the dinner passed with small talk, Fraser's tales of the vast open lands of the Northwest Territories. Ray kept himself quiet most of the time, feeling a little guilty as he enjoyed letting the cadence of Fraser's voice wash over him again.
It had been far too long. At that moment Ray knew what he'd have to do to get it all out of his system. He had no idea what he hoped might come of it, but the only way he could get it all out was letting Fraser know what it had been like since they'd... parted ways.
"Ray..." The softness of Fraser's voice made Ray turn as he was heading down the street toward the underground parking-lot where he had parked his car.
"Fraser?" 'Play it cool, Kowalski. Don't do anything stupid.'
"I... I've tried calling you a few times..." Fraser looked distinctly flushed as he walked as fast as he could, catching up to Ray. Ray stopped and looked at his ex-partner.
"I know," Ray admitted softly.
"Oh... I was hoping we could find time to ...talk." Fraser didn't look as if he was putting too much faith in that.
Ray nodded. "Give me a little time, Fraser, okay? I didn't expect running into you." 'Ever again,' Ray finished it unsaid, but there was no missing it.
"I know I handled things badly," Fraser admitted, looking down at his feet.
Ray didn't snort. He wasn't feeling like being sarcastic. Quite frankly, he felt like crying or throwing up. Not exactly prime urges for a man his age.
"If... if you change your mind about speaking with me," Fraser said, words coming slowly. "You can reach me at the Canadian Consulate." He hesitated for a moment. "Diefenbaker is there as well."
Ray nodded. "I... I might," he said in a low voice.
"Good, that's... good." Fraser sounded as if he was caught somewhere between relief and complete and utter fear. Ray didn't blame him. Actually he knew exactly what that felt like.
"Good night, then..." Ray took a deep breath and turned around, catching Fraser's soft reply, wishing him a pleasant night as well. He didn't dare look back as he walked away. His pain felt far fresher than it should, and Ray wasn't sure what exactly to do about it.
Coming home, Ray caught himself staring at the phone. He didn't want to call Daniel, didn't want to run to him every time he felt uneasy. Daniel had said he could, but Ray wanted to handle it, wanted to get a grip on his emotional state.
"Focus," he told himself as he sat down on the couch. What he wanted... needed, was to let Fraser know what had happened. Unfortunately he wasn't sure he could just tell the man everything... not face to face. He really needed to think about it.
A quick cup of coffee and a trip to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and Ray slipped under the cool sheets. He wasn't going to solve it that easily. He had to find a way to make the things that had happened have the right impact. Not because he wanted Fraser to hurt like he had, but because he knew if he held back, he'd never get the Mountie to understand.
Nearly asleep, it hit him. Ray was up and out of bed a few seconds later, rummaging through the bottom drawer. He pulled the notebook out from under the dream catcher. Entering the living room, Ray found a pen and tore out a blank page.
I know this might be the coward's way out, but I have something I need you to read, something that I don't think I can explain to you face to face. I can tell you it won't be easy to read, and it's entirely your choice if you read it or not.
If there's any part of you that wants to salvage something from our former friendship, read it, carefully. I didn't write it to hurt you, but merely as a form of therapy. It helped me to understand that I was nowhere near as resolved as I thought I was. But I think we both need to get it out of our systems. I know I don't want to regret never resolving this when I'm old and grey.
Ray dug into a drawer in the kitchen and found an envelope. He tore the old 'letter' out of the notebook, folded it and wrote across the back: Read the other one first. Both letters went into the envelope and as Ray went back to bed, he felt both better and worse. He was going to swing by the Consulate tomorrow and hand it over. One way or another, it was necessary to go either forward or back, because this in-between sucked.
A white something nearly caused Ray to sit on his ass in the middle of the reception area of the Consulate, but he couldn't help grinning.
"Dief!" Ray dug his fingers into the heavy coat of fur and shook the wolf. Dief was dancing around him, wining, half-barking, trying to lick Ray's face.
"Diefenbaker." Fraser tried to keep his voice and tone stern, but even he seemed to have trouble doing so. A soft smile lit his face as he stopped in front of Ray.
Ray grinned. "I'm just here to give you this," he said, handing over the envelope to Fraser before he could change his mind.
Fraser's smile faltered a little.
"Read it, Fraser. Then we'll talk," Ray promised.
Fraser nodded "I was about to take Dief for a walk, would you care to join us?"
Ray was about to decline, then looked down at Dief who was staring adoringly up at him. Or maybe the wolf was just hungry. For a moment he stared at it then shook his head and sighed. He rubbed Dief's ears. "Read the letter, Fraser. Take the time to think about it. I promise you it will explain a few things. At least I hope it will."
"Then we talk?" Fraser asked softly, his expression sad underneath the stoic mask he was unsuccessfully trying to don.
"Then we talk," Ray agreed. 'If you'll even speak to me after reading it.'
Ray turned and walked away. The burning anger in his chest was nothing but a dull ache by now. It wasn't gone, not by a long stretch, but although Ray had gone over scenarios in his mind since the screw-up in Chicago, he'd either imagined himself behaving as if he'd put it behind him, or socking Fraser. He wasn't entirely sure how to handle what he was feeling.
The next few days were torture to Ray. There were no calls from Fraser, no messages at all. Still, his worry was mixed with a certain calm. He knew that he'd poured a lot of his problems into that letter when he'd written it and that the mere thought of Fraser now knowing... Well, it did as much for him as any therapy session.
Then, when Friday came around and Ray was getting ready to put work behind him and embrace the weekend, it finally happened.
Ray leaned against the front desk, waiting for Janine to find some phone numbers for him. Jack came up next to him, coat hanging over his arm.
"Daniel wants to know if you're up for dinner and poker Sunday night," Jack said lightly.
"Oy," Ray sighed. "Doesn't he make enough money with his job? He's so lucky it's surreal."
Jack laughed out loud, then turned toward the entrance. Ferretti was leaving, shouting his goodbye and something white slipped past him.
"Whoa, what are you doing here, boy?" Jack reached down to let the wolf take a sniff at his hands.
Dief looked up at Ray, whining inquiringly. Ray couldn't help but smile. "Yeah, Dief. This is Jack, he's my boss -- Jack, meet Diefenbaker, Dief for short."
"Hey, Dief," Jack said, rubbing the wolf's ears.
Ray grinned at Dief, then took a deep breath as he watched the front glass doors, revealing Fraser on the other side. "I think that's my cue," Ray said softly.
Jack looked up and frowned. "Ray... is that...?"
"And you're sure you know what you're doing?"
Ray took the notes from Janine and wished her a good weekend, then turned to Jack. "No, I don't. I hope it'll work out, but I need to do this, Jack. I need to see it through."
Jack nodded. "I can see that."
"I'll be okay," Ray promised with a slightly cockier smile.
"Just be careful," Jack warned.
Ray threw him a quick salute. "Always, Boss, always." With that, he made for the door, Dief hot on his heels.
Opening the door, he found a nervous looking Fraser in civvies. "Hey," Ray greeted softly.
"Hello, Ray," Fraser said back, not raising his voice any more than Ray had.
"Are we civil enough to go grab something to eat in public?" Ray asked, figuring that Fraser showing up like this was a good sign. It had to be.
Fraser cleared his throat and ran a thumb over his eyebrow. "I should like to think so."
"Good," Ray agreed. "I know this little place around the corner where we can talk fairly privately. They might even let Dief in if I ask nicely."
Of course they let Ray bring in Dief. The owner was a friend of Jack's and Ray was a regular there. They were shown a booth in the corner by the windows, where they could see people rushing by to get out of the cold.
Ray ordered his usual sandwich and a cup of coffee. Fraser asked for the same, though chose tea instead of coffee. Even that was something Ray had missed. Their meals together, sharing coffee and tea either in his home or in some diner or café. Shaking his head he looked at Fraser across the table as he nudged Dief with the tip of his shoe under the table.
"I take it you read the letter," Ray said in a low voice.
Fraser nodded. "I did... It was... quite a revelation."
Ray shrugged. "Yeah... when I wrote it, it was a revelation to me as well," he admitted.
"I... I am sorry to have caused you so much pain," Fraser said softly, barely audible. The blue eyes that Ray had seen shine with happiness during their quest were somehow muted...
"I guess I could have followed you to Canada and made you listen... and talk," Ray admitted.
Fraser chuckled mirthlessly. "There is no excuse for me leaving like I did. There is no excuse for me not reacting logically, taking into account all the things that happened. Even if I did not remember at first."
"So you remember?" Ray asked, feeling heat fill his cheeks.
"I... started remembering... or rather, having flashbacks, some time ago." Fraser took a deep breath. "The first did not really come to me until I was injured, while I was heavily sedated at the hospital... I wasn't sure what was real and what was... imagination. I... I'm not as brave as you seem to think. I was afraid... and the more I realized what I had done... I felt so guilty."
"You read the letter I gave you, right? You're no more guilty about what happened that night than I am," Ray assured him. And it was true. The only thing Ray blamed Fraser for was running away. The actual act... no. Neither had been in a state where they could have stopped it.
"I still feel guilty..."
"You don't get it, do you? Fraser, I never blamed you for what happened. I had the crush on you from day one. I wanted it. Well, I'd have preferred us both being sober, but you know what really hurt? You didn't trust me, didn't allow me to try and fix it. You just assumed that I'd fucked you..." Ray drew a ragged breath.
"Ray... I never explained to you why I don't drink or why I strive to always be in control of myself. I did tell you about the ...situation at Depot where there had been drinking and where one cadet took advantage of another..." Fraser trailed off.
Ray nodded. "Yeah... I know you hated how it was handled."
Fraser shrugged, looking torn. "There's more to it, Ray. What I did to you was no better than what they did to..."
Ray stared at him, and it was as if someone had turned on the lights. "Shit... Fraser, the cadet who was raped..."
Fraser looked down into his tea, seemingly searching for words. "It was the shame afterwards... and... I made it far worse by behaving like my superiors did... toward you of all people. My friend."
Ray ran a hand through his hair. Christ, that sure explained a lot
"I feel I'm no better than they were. I know you didn't take advantage of me -- that was fear and the lack of memory speaking. But I feel so very guilty for leaving you behind. That was, as you would say, 'not buddies.'"
Ray swallowed hard. Fraser looked like he was about to crumble and Ray wanted nothing more than to hug the man. His own anger was slowly crumbling as his heart ached for his old friend. "Fraser... I didn't know..."
"I do not make a habit of sharing such things, Ray," Fraser admitted.
"I get that," Ray said. "I understand that."
Fraser opened his mouth as if to say something, then closed it again.
"Okay, out with it," Ray said before taking a sip of his coffee.
"Where does this leave us...?"
'Oh, Frase. Ask the hard ones first, huh?' "I don't know... I mean, I want to salvage our friendship..." as he said it, Ray realized just how much he meant it. "Are you staying in New York?"
For a moment something like hope flashed across Fraser's face. "I've been promoted, as you know. They offered me a few choice postings." Fraser halted for a moment, then continued. "I'm only fit for a desk job now. I was in the hospital for a long time and to make matters worse, the bullet in my back shifted so it had to be taken out lest it make more damage."
"Oh..." Ray took a deep breath.
"I also have to admit that I knew you were somewhere in New York." Fraser shot him a guilty look. "After my near brush with death, it made me realize that I could die tomorrow and we'd never have cleared the air between us."
Ray blinked hard. So they wanted the same thing in the end. Clean air between them. "Unresolved business... I get that. I need to think this through... I'm not saying I don't want to salvage our friendship, because I do. I just need to..."
"I know -- you need time. I understand. As do I... I need to think more about your letter. Need to truly understand it."
Ray nodded. Finally it seemed they were getting somewhere.
"I have more pieces now," Fraser said. "I have to get it all to fit."
"Too much to contemplate that I hav... had the hots for you?" Ray asked with a grin, trying to cover his slip.
Fraser looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, that as well."
"Fraser... did you ever talk to anyone about what happened at depot?"
"Only my superiors and you know how that turned out," Fraser said, bitterness coating his words.
"Did you ever think about talking to a pro?" Ray asked tentatively. It had helped him get on with his life. He ached for Fraser at the moment and as much as he had been angry with the man, they needed to mend on their own before they could mend their friendship fully.
"I'm not..." Fraser began.
"I know how you feel about shrinks, but maybe you need it. I even know someone you might talk to."
Fraser leaned back in his seat. "Oh?"
"Yeah, I got a friend named Daniel. If you want, I'll ask him. He mostly works with kids and teens, but just talking to him helped me a great deal."
"Daniel?" Another emotion flashed across Fraser's face, but Ray didn't know what it was.
"Doc Jackson. Look, you don't have to but..."
"I... I shall think about it."
"Good... that's... good," Ray said, finally concentrating on his sandwich. They ate in companionable silence and Ray even managed to slip a bite down to Dief without Fraser commenting. It was so much like old times that it made Ray's chest ache.
When they parted outside the diner, Ray stood still for a while, watching his ...friend limp along the street, wolf at his side. Dief turned to look at Ray, but Ray shook his head. If he was lucky, he'd see them both again soon. As he lost sight of them, something fluttered past his eyes. Ray looked up and another cold and wet snowflake fluttered down to land on his nose.
Ray scrunched up his nose and grinned. Snow. Pure, white snow, at least as long as it lasted. It would soon be slushy and brownish grey. But right now? Right now it was pure, white and cold. His grin widened as he turned to make his way back to his apartment.
"Don't you look nice," Daniel grinned as he turned to give Ray an appraising look. Daniel was by the front entrance, waiting for Jack and Ray joined him as he waited for Fraser.
He'd finally heard from Fraser and they had another dinner date. Well, date and date. Ray didn't want to call it a date. It made it sound so... intimate. Yet the way Ray was feeling in his chest and stomach, it might just as well be one.
"Yeah, can't go out to dinner looking all scruffy and used," Ray said with a grin.
"Absolutely not," Daniel answered smoothly. He wasn't looking too bad himself in dark grey chinos and a black sweater.
Ray rolled his eyes and went to the door as he caught sight of Fraser outside. Dief-less. Oh well, hopefully he'd see the fur-face again soon. Making up with Dief wasn't the problem. It was setting things right with Fraser.
"Hey, Fraser," Ray greeted with a soft smile, trying to gauge Fraser's mood.
"Hello, Ray," Fraser greeted as he went through the door as Ray held it open. They were officially closed, but seeing that he, Jack and Daniel were going out, they would set the alarm on their way out. There was another entrance for when he got back, one that would take him to the elevator going up to the apartments above.
"Fraser, this is Doctor Jackson," Ray said, gesturing toward Daniel.
Fraser gave Daniel a strange look, then politely shook his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Doctor Jackson."
"Please, it's Daniel," Daniel said with a shrug. "I'm more than the sum of my education."
"I should hope so," Ray snorted.
"Hey, no dissing me because of my chosen profession," Daniel warned him with a playful smile.
Ray laughed out loud. "Not dissing you, Doc. You're one of the few shrinks I trust."
"Why thank you, Mr. Kowalski," Daniel said with an air of fake importance. Clearing his throat, he shook his head. "Sorry about that Sergeant," Daniel said, putting on a far more serious face. "Ray said you wanted to speak with me?"
Fraser looked like what he wanted most of all was turn tail and run. As far as humanly possible. "I... I am still considering it."
Daniel dug into his wallet and pulled out a business card which he handed over to Fraser. "Just call if you decide you need to talk."
Fraser hesitantly took the card, then put it in his coat pocket. "I shall."
"Daniel! Ah, there you are," Jack hurried around the corner. "Sorry I'm late, Love, the phone rang before I left the office."
"Christ on a crutch, Jack -- sometimes I think you're married to your job," Daniel said with a grin.
"Well, that's just because I can't legally marry you," Jack said with a wink. Stopping next to them, he held out his hand and shook Fraser's. "Sergeant Fraser, I take it?"
"Ah... yes, Mr. ..." Fraser looked a little overwhelmed and Ray couldn't blame him.
"O'Neill, I'm Ray's employer," Jack said, tugging at Daniel's sleeve. "We better get going or we'll be late."
"I was ready ten minutes ago," Daniel grumbled good-naturedly. Jack steered a laughing Daniel out the door with a wave to Ray and Fraser. Ray grinned and set the alarm, tugging a rather quiet Fraser along.
Dinner wasn't... at all what Ray had hoped for. Not that he'd expected everything to magically return to normal, but Fraser was even more buttoned up than normally.
Even though Ray had been hungry earlier, he pushed his food around on the plate. Something was definitely bugging Fraser, and Ray wished, not for the first time, that the man would just get to the point, let it out.
"Okay, I'll bite," Ray finally said. "What's eating ya now?"
Fraser shot him a surprised look, which turned into a frown. "I am loathe to put my nose where it does not belong..."
Ray snorted. "No, you put your tongue and nose in a lot of places and it doesn't normally bother you."
Fraser didn't laugh, just watched Ray for a moment. "Is there something between you and Dr. Jackson?" he asked.
Ray wasn't sure what surprised him more. The boldness and ridiculousness of the question or the fact that Fraser hadn't evaded, hadn't tried to tell him an Inuit story. "I... of course not. Why do you ask?"
"You seemed so very much at ease with him and you were... flirting." Fraser looked a little embarrassed.
"And that bothers you why? Because he's a man? Because he flirts with me while being in a relationship with another man himself?"
Fraser shook his head. "Please forget I asked."
"No, no, no." Ray shook his head. "Why did you ask?"
Fraser concentrated on his food.
"Fraser..." Ray deliberately put as much warning into his voice as possible.
"I..." Fraser hesitated. "I fear it made me feel jealous." With that admission he looked up, eyes wide with fear.
"Look, Frase. I don't want a repeat... I can't..." Ray shook his head. "Fraser, this is moving into territory which neither of us are comfortable with."
"I'm sorry, Ray. This is not your problem, it is mine." Fraser tiredly ran a hand through his hair. "Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I should talk to Dr. Jackson. My conflicting emotions are not only causing me problems, but they are hurting you as well."
Ray took a deep breath. He could do this. "Look, Fraser... we just need to take things slow."
"Perhaps it would be wiser for me to return to Canada..." Fraser muttered to himself, as if he wasn't hearing Ray.
Ray reached across the table and grabbed Fraser's hand, holding on when Fraser tried to pull it away. "Don't do this," he warned. "Fraser, for fuck's sake, if you run away again, I'll... I'll... kick you in the head!"
Fraser finally looked up at him, shock written clearly on his face.
"Yeah, I want you around," Ray said. "Is that so hard to accept?" Okay, time to piss or get off the pot. Take the bull by the horns... "There's something I need to tell you," Ray said softly. He hadn't consciously been considering this road, but as he searched for the right words, he realized that it felt right. It felt right for the first time since he'd lost Fraser.
Ray held up a hand. "Fraser, I haven't dated since that... happened." Ray caught the change in Fraser's expression, the 'I am so guilty' one. "No, no, no! Don't you dare blame yourself for that! Look... when... when I fall, I fall hard I'm... like a fucking dog, loyal and needy... I cling. You know that, Fraser. I think after Stella... I only fell once after her... and I can't do it again. -- I fell for you, you idiot, that's why I haven't dated. Well, I've had dates with my right hand more often than not." Ray took a deep breath and grinned at Fraser's blush. "Look, maybe you should talk to Daniel, then we will talk about this..."
They sat in silence for a while, and Ray realized he was still holding on to Fraser's hand. Fraser, who wasn't trying to get away anymore.
"You believe we have a chance?" Fraser finally asked when Ray lifted his hand and tried to concentrate on his food.
"I don't know, Frase... But I'm willing to give it a try." Ray sat back, stopped pretending that he was hungry. "You?"
Fraser drew a shaky breath in. "I... I'm more than willing to try," he said, voice far more steady than it had been all evening.
"Good," Ray said quietly.
They skipped desert and although they hadn't enjoyed the food all that much, Ray figured the night had been good. They stood on the sidewalk outside the restaurant and Ray smiled softly at Fraser, who seemed to have lost some of the tired look to his face.
"It has been a... lovely evening," Fraser said softly.
"That's one way of putting it," Ray said with a grin.
Fraser ducked his head, but Ray caught the smile.
"There's your cab," Ray said, nodding toward the cab pulling up to the curb.
"I..." Fraser sighed deeply.
"We'll take the time it takes," Ray assured him. "Get home safe. Sweet dreams." With that he leaned in and touched his lips to Fraser's cheek.
The look Fraser gave him nearly undid Ray. So lonely, and so very familiar. "Missed ya," Ray admitted.
"And I you," Fraser whispered back. "Good night, Ray."
"Night, Frase," Ray said as he backed away, letting Fraser get into the cab. With a small wave he watched the cab pull out into traffic. With a much lighter heart, Ray turned and decided he could walk home. Wasn't that far, and although it had started snowing again, it wasn't too bad.
Ray sat back on the couch with a yawn. Damn, it'd been one long day. As he tried to decide if getting up to get a beer was worth it, his cell rang.
"Hi, it's Daniel."
Ray smiled and swung his legs up on the couch. "Hey, what's up?"
"That question has a multitude of answers, my friend," Daniel chuckled at the other end. "But seriously, I talked to Fraser today..."
Ray took a deep breath, then smiled a little. "He tell you any Inuit stories?"
"It's nothing out of the ordinary there, Daniel. He's always done that... especially when there's something he'd like to talk about, but doesn't really want to bring up." Ray hesitated for a moment. "He's a very stubborn man, Daniel."
"So I've noticed," Daniel replied with a snort.
"He was always the oddball, but a great man. A wonderful friend. He strives to appear perfect, correct... but he's not. He's weird even by RCMP standards."
"You still love him very much, don't you?" Daniel asked softly.
"More than anything, but once burned twice shy, right?" Ray closed his eyes and sighed.
"Don't worry, Ray. If he's as stubborn as I think he is, he'll get through it."
"I know, Daniel... I know."
"Kowalski, I need someone to lock up tonight."
Ray looked up from the paperwork he was sifting through. "You got it, Boss. Daniel taking you out?" he asked, as he eyed the suit Jack was wearing.
Jack mock-growled. "Yeah, some fancy reception at the University. Lord knows I'll hate it."
"Look at it this way, Jack, you get to flaunt your gorgeous boyfriend." Ray leaned back and eyed his boss with a grin.
Jack laughed. "Speaking of gorgeous boyfriends..." he hinted.
"He's not.. we're not... um..." Ray felt his cheeks flush.
Jack didn't answer, just raised an eyebrow.
Ray couldn't help but laugh. "Thanks Jack," he said softly.
"Whatever for?" Jack asked, leaning on his desk.
"The whole thing. Giving me a chance back then, making me feel welcome, helping me fit in... trusting me."
"Aw, Kowalski, don't give me this mushy stuff..." Jack looked a little embarrassed, but the smile he gave Ray was one of pride. "I'm glad we pulled you aboard."
"So am I, so am I. I'll lock up, Jack. Go on, get out of here and have a good time." Ray waved him off.
Jack sauntered out with a distinctly pleased look on his face. Ray shook his head. Finishing up his paperwork, Ray got up to check the place and lock up. Janine had left about half an hour earlier, so he just checked the other offices. Nope, everyone had gone home for the weekend.
As he made his rounds, there was sound at the front door. Returning there, he found Fraser and Dief on the other side. With a soft smile, Ray let them in, getting slobbered in the face by Dief. He exchanged a shy smile with Fraser.
"I hope we're not disturbing you," Fraser said, looking as polite as always.
"Not at all, I was just closing up. Wanna go up to my place, eat a bit?" Ray asked, feeling a little awkward. He didn't want to do anything that might jeopardize their newly rediscovered friendship.
"I would like that..." Fraser looked down as Dief yipped. "I do stand corrected. We would both like that."
Ray grinned and pointed toward the elevator. "Take it up to the 8th floor, wait for me there. I gotta set the alarm before I join you."
Fraser nodded and gestured for Dief to follow. The wolf gave Ray's hand a last lick before following Fraser into the elevator.
A last quick check and Ray turned off the lights and set the alarm. On his way up in the elevator, he wondered again how wise it would be to spend the evening with Fraser in the privacy of his own home. So far they'd eaten out every time they'd met up.
As he exited the elevator, he found them waiting for him. "This way, guys," Ray said, leading the way down the hallway.
"This is... a very nice place, Ray," Fraser said when they entered the apartment.
"Thanks. Jack owns the place, but the employees who want to, lease apartments." It was... home. "And I can sleep in, in the mornings," Rays said with a wink.
Fraser's smile lit up. He obviously remembered Ray's inability to get out of bed early.
"May I borrow your bathroom?" Fraser asked, still looking around Ray's living room as he took his coat off and put it over the back of a chair.
"Sure, second door on the left," Ray said as he went into the kitchen to find something for Dief to drink from. The wolf taken care of, Ray went back into the living room.
Music. He needed something to calm himself down with. A quick trip to the CD player and the room filled with soft music. Ah, much better. Ray took off his glasses and put them on top of the stereo. He closed his eyes and swayed to the music.
When he opened his eyes again and turned, he found Fraser right behind him. The impulse to just reach for him was too damned strong. Before he could stop himself, Ray slid his hands along Fraser's lower arms, drawing him closer.
"I have... missed seeing you like this," Fraser told him. The blue eyes were so familiar, and Ray realized that the constant low burn of anger, he had lived with for so long, had faded into nothingness.
Ray sighed softly, then took Fraser's cane and put it next to the stereo. "Don't argue with me, Mountie," Ray warned, maneuvering Fraser into position, as close as he dared. They shuffled to the music for a few minutes, then, as the track changed, Ray gave into the urge and put his arms a little tighter around Fraser.
For just a moment, Fraser's stiff posture remained just that; stiff. Then a shiver went through the compact body and Ray was tentatively pulled closer. Fraser rested his head on Ray's shoulder and Ray could feel the light puff of Fraser's breath against his neck.
"Are we ever going to be ...okay again?" Fraser asked softly.
"I... I hope so," Ray whispered back. "This is... this is good," he admitted.
"I... yes... yes it is." Fraser's arms tightened around him. "This is very good."
Ray nuzzled Fraser's neck, breathing in the familiar scent. "Ben..."
Fraser turned his head a little, and for a moment they were sharing air. It reminded Ray of the Henry Allen. Pushing that memory back for a while, he tentatively pressed his lips to Fraser's.
A soft sigh gusted against his mouth before firm lips returned the kiss. Nothing extreme, just a quiet 'hello', reconnecting. "We have to be okay," Fraser whispered. "I'm not sure I would want to go on the way things have been."
Ray shook his head, closing his eyes. "Me neither, buddy. Me neither."
"Ray... can we take things slowly?"
"That's the only way to do it, Fr... Ben..." Ray buried his face where Fraser's shoulder and neck met. "That's the only way."