Ray was crying.
Ben looked away. He looked at his hands. He tried to ignore Ray. He thought that perhaps Ray would not want anyone to see him cry.
But he couldn't ignore Ray. Ray was his friend, and he was in pain. He couldn't just sit there and do nothing. But what could he do?
"Ray," he said softly. No response. "Ray?" The sobbing continued. Had it only been two days ago that he had stopped Ray from shooting a suspect who had stolen Ray's gun by simply saying "Look at me?"
Ben reached out and tentatively placed a hand on Ray's shoulder. He felt a marginal relaxation in response. He carefully put his arm all the way around his partner's shoulders. Ray leaned into him. Fraser put his other arm around his partner, always alert for any indication that his attention was not welcome. He gently drew Ray into his embrace, and Ray leaned his head on Fraser's shoulder.
Ray was not entirely sure what he was doing. All he had *meant* to do was take Beth Botrelle home. Then he had ended up touring the former crime scene with her. He had hoped that doing so would exorcise some of the demons that had plagued him since the night eight years ago when he had found Jake Botrelle dead. When Beth thanked him - thanked him! He had nearly gotten her killed, and she had thanked him! - he felt himself beginning to lose it. He managed to make it to his car, and of course Fraser was there, as he had been throughout the two days of madness leading to Beth's exoneration in the death of her husband. He thought to himself, It's all over now. I can take Fraser back to the consulate, and I can go home. But he didn't even start the car. He put his head down on the steering wheel and the dam broke. He couldn't stop crying.
Then he felt Fraser's hand on his shoulder. At first he didn't pay much attention to it. Then he felt Fraser's arms go around him. He leaned into his friend's embrace and rested his head on his shoulder. Somewhere in the back of his mind floated the thought, I am crying on Fraser's shoulder. He has his arms around me. Should this be happening? Should I be letting it happen? He ignored it. He was in too much pain to care, too much pain to think. All he wanted was to feel, and right now Fraser's arms around him felt good. He'd think about it later.
Fraser was holding Ray in his arms. He was uncertain how to proceed from here. He'd never held a man in his arms before, and very few women. He found himself awkwardly stroking Ray's hair. He smiled slightly. Ray's hair. Ray had once described it as "experimental" which was typical of Ray's habit of self- deprecation. He liked Ray's hair. He knew that the detective had tried in vain to control it and had finally given up in frustration. Ben thought it was attractive. *Whoops. Where did that thought come from? Ignore it, Benton, he told himself. Ray does not feel that way about you even if you feel that way about him.
Eventually, Ray's sobs quieted. He hiccuped a few times and took a few deep breaths. He didn't move out of Fraser's arms right away. He admitted to himself that he liked the way the Mountie's arms felt around him. He felt comfortable and safe. And, well, he felt something else, too. Uh-oh. He hadn't expected that. He carefully sat up, away from Fraser, and hoped his friend didn't see the bulge in his trousers. This is perfectly natural, he tried to convince himself. No one has touched me in a long time, and this is my body reacting. That's all.
And then he thought, Yeah, right. Admit it, Kowalski, you're attracted to the Mountie. Not that he would ever actually tell Fraser that. No way, no how, no sir. He'd jump off another ship first.
"Are you all right, Ray?" asked Fraser.
Ray rubbed his eyes. "Yeah. Thanks, Fraser."
He started the car, then turned back to Fraser. "Uh, Fraser? I don't.... I don't really want to be alone right now. Would you, uh, like to come over to my place for awhile?"
"I don't have any bark tea."
"And I'm still a slob."
"I didn't think that had changed in the last two days, Ray."
"Okay, so long as ya know what to expect."
Yes, Fraser knew what to expect. Or rather, what not to expect. He knew not to expect that Ray would want anything other than his company, someone to discuss the Botrelle case with. That was all.
Damn, what am I getting myself into? thought Ray. Why did I just ask Fraser to come home with me? I must be insane. But who else would he ask? Stella? Not likely. Fraser was his friend. Even if he wasn't likely to be anything more than a friend, Ray was grateful for his friendship. Of course, if Ray couldn't control his hormones, there was the possibility of losing Fraser's friendship. The mere thought immediately dampened Ray's ardour.
Once inside his apartment, Ray was unable to relax. He couldn't sit still. He paced restlessly. Fraser watched him. Just watching Ray could make a person tired.
"Ray, perhaps you would be more comfortable if you sat down," Fraser suggested.
Yeah, right, comfortable sitting next to Fraser? thought Ray. His body would give him away in a minute. Nope, can't sit anywhere near him. Most of the time he was able to control his feelings around the Mountie. But tonight was different. He had made himself vulnerable. He had allowed Fraser to get close. Few people were close to Ray Kowalski. Stella had been close once, but was no longer. Now, suddenly, Benton Fraser was here. So close. Ray could reach out and touch him if he wanted to. And he wanted to. But he wouldn't. He wouldn't risk losing Fraser.
His reverie was interrupted by Fraser's voice. "Ray, you do realize that you are pacing?" said the Mountie.
"Yeah, Fraser, I realize that I'm pacing. Why are you watchin' me, anyway?"
Fraser gulped. How was he supposed to answer that question? He was no good at lying. He covered for it by allowing people to assume that it was a Mountie thing, like Dudley Do-Right from that American cartoon. 'Mounties don't lie.' But Mounties were human beings like anyone else. Mounties lied. Benton Fraser didn't lie. He couldn't lie if he wanted to. Unfortunately, now he wanted to. He couldn't exactly say, Because I find you very attractive, Ray, now, could he? "I am simply concerned for your well-being, Ray." Please be satisfied with that.
"My well-being? You mean, ya wanna make sure I'm okay?" asked Ray, puzzled.
"Yes, Ray. You have had a very stressful few days. Have you even eaten anything today?" There, I've changed the subject, thought Fraser.
Ray laughed. "It's not like I've never gone without food before, Fraser. Ya don't need ta worry about me."
"Ray, going without food, and, from all indications, without sleep, as you have for the past several days, is not healthy."
"Dammit, Fraser, don't mother me! I'm fine, okay?" Ray shouted. Oh shit. Did I really just yell at Fraser? The look on Fraser's face said he had. Hurt and confusion were obvious. It wasn't like Fraser could hide his feelings. But if that was the case, then what, exactly, was Fraser feeling? Hurt, yes. That was to be expected, since his closest friend had just yelled at him for no reason. Confusion, ditto. But was there something else? No, there can't be. I'm imagining it. I haveta be. He can't feel about me the way I feel about him. Why would he?
"Ray." There was Fraser's voice again. "Ray? Ray?"
"Yeah, Frase? What is it?"
"I was just saying that perhaps it would be best if I left now, and allowed you to get some rest."
NO! He can't leave now. I don't want him to leave. Not like this. Not after I yelled at him and basically told him to go to hell. "Naw, Fraser, really, I'm okay. You don't haveta leave." He knelt in front of the couch, facing his partner. "I'm sorry I yelled at ya, Frase. I'm not used to other people caring how I feel. I don't even know why ya care so much."
Oh, dear. There was another unanswerable question. "Why do I care? I care because you are my friend, Ray." Why do I get the feeling he isn't going to be satisfied with that answer?
Ray put both his hands on Fraser's knees. "Am I just your friend, Fraser? Is that all I am to you?" he asked, unable to keep the plaintive note out of his voice. He realized that he was crying again.
Fraser reached out and wiped the tears from Ray's face. "No, Ray. You are more than just my friend. So much more."
"Wouldya mind if - if - I kissed ya?"
"I would mind if you did not kiss me, Ray."
And Fraser's arms were around him once more, and Fraser was holding him, and this time there was nothing tentative about it, as the strong arms held him tightly and their lips met for the first time.
"Frase?" said Ray when he came up for air.
"I think I love you."
Fraser smiled. "I think I love you, too, Ray."
"Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean.
Tears from the depth of some divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather in the eyes
In looking on the happy autumn fields
And thinking of the days that are no more."
--Lord Tennyson, "The Princess"
"Cry if you want to
I won't tell you not to
I won't try to cheer you up
I'll just be here if you want me to."
--- Holly Cole Trio, "Cry if You Want To",