Home Again, Home Again

by Maxine Mayer 8/21/99

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My Ray stretches our trip out as long as he can, driving well under the speed limit our last two days on the road. Stretches it out to two nights more, rather than the one I'd begged him for.

But not even Ray can "disappear" Chicago entirely - though his capacity for creating miracles is a constant source of amazement to me.

Eventually, however, Chicago's skyline looms before us. Traffic thickens. More people than I remember fill the streets….

Home again, home again…. We're home.


Ray pulls up in front of the Consulate and I get out and take my bedroll and backpack from the trunk of his car. I go back around to the passenger side and open the door to say goodbye.

As I lean in to speak he turns and hunches his head so he can see me. Breaking the silence we've kept for the last hour, Ray asks, "We good for tomorrow mornin'? I'll pick ya up, okay?"

"Yes, Ray. And thank you -"

"Fer what, Red? The trip? Yer welcome. The - hijinks? Yer more 'en welcome. The kick in the head? Jury's still out on dat one, Fraser."

"Ray - I didn't mean to -"

"I know ya didn' - I know." His eyes drill a hole in my head. They're haunted with pain and sorrow and something akin to pity. And love. Always that.

"Please pick me up tomorrow, Ray."

"Usual time, Frase?"

"Yes, please. Thank you kindly."


I straighten up, close the car door firmly, check Diefenbaker's whereabouts, pick up my backpack and bedroll and resolutely make my way up the steps to the Consulate. Before I have a chance to knock, Turnbull opens the door - he must have been watching for Ray's car. I nod to him and walk directly to my office.

I hope he won't follow me to talk, ask questions about my trip, or otherwise revel in the joy of having me back home again. I know I won't manage to be civil to him, if he tries.


I drop my baggage, throw off my leather jacket, and sit down on the edge of my cot. It's late afternoon. When next I look up, the shadows of night surround me. I drop my head into my hands again.

I'm suffocating. I'm unable to swallow.

My pain is so great I have difficulty seeing and hearing. Breathing.

I lick my lips.

I lift my head from my hands and wipe my eyes.


It will be impossible.

I shake my head. Cover my mouth with my hand.

My God - it is impossible.


"What've you done, son?"

"Dad?" I perk up, some, my loneliness abating for a moment.

"You can't let it end this way, Ben," my father tells me. "The Yank deserves better than this. Heaven knows, you deserve better."

"You know about us, Dad?" I ask, incredulous. He hadn't joined us on our long trip. I'd wondered why. Upon a moment's reflection, however, I recognize the inevitability of his knowing about Ray and me - about - us.

"Known from the first moment I laid eyes on the lad. Perfect match for you. Anybody with eyes in his head could have seen that. Couldn't say anything, of course." He tosses his head in that way he has for indicating the obvious. "Not allowed. Had to let you figure things out for yourself. Rules are rules, son."

"You're not - angry?"

"Angry? Why would I be angry? I'm dead now, but once I was alive. Buck Frobisher and I -"

"Not you and Buck!"

" - between us, we've seen some things. Learned a thing or two." He pauses, glances at me, and I wait, anxious, for once, to hear what he thinks. "No, not Buck and me, but friends…. Men we knew. Good men…. We were startled, too, at first. And afraid. Didn't want our friends to get hurt, lose their careers."

"What did you do?"

"Whatever we could, to help. To keep their secret - and make no mistake, son, in those days, the secret remained just that or heads rolled." He pauses. "We protected them," he concludes simply.

"It's not that different now, Dad."

"Maybe not. No way to tell, unless you try."

"The risk's too great. I won't hurt him -"

"Courage means nothing, if there's no risk."

"Dad -"

"You gain nothing by giving in to your fears. You don't want me to be ashamed of you, do you, son?"

"I can't do this to Ray, Dad. It would be wrong -"

"He's not a boy, Ben. He's a man. Isn't it his decision to make, what risks he takes?"

"Not now - not in this case -"

"Then when, son? It's his life you're talking about. Give him a chance to choose."

"Not - this, Dad. Not now."

"Then when?" my father asks.

I look up, about to reply, and he's gone.


I wake from a disturbing dream and sit on the edge of my cot again, running my hands through my hair. Diefenbaker whines in his sleep, wakens, senses my angush, and comes to stand between my legs. I bury my hands in the fur of his flanks, lean my cheek on his head, let my tears flow….

Dief growls.

"I am not treating you like a pet," I tell him. "Simply as a friend whose presence comforts me. There's no need to take offense."

Dief woofs softly.

"I do respect you. I'm just - I don't know what to do. I cannot bear the pain."

Dief barks and nips my chin.

"No, it is not arrogance - taking the decision on myself. Didn't I agree to stay in Chicago, when Ray asked? I'd sooner be in - Philadelphia - than here, now."

Dief whines once more and I release him. He moves back to his place at the foot of my cot and sinks down to the floor again.

"I know you disagree. And I'm not going anywhere. I promised Ray I wouldn't leave."

Dief stares at me. Barks sharply.

"Yes, I will. If I go, I'll take you with me, you know that," I murmur, "but we both know it's not enough, don't we? Our friendship isn't enough."

Dief agrees.


I check my watch - it's 2 a.m. - and stand.

I turn on the desk lamp, take off my clothes, automatically changing into a different pair of jeans and a clean shirt, rather than my longjohns. I've given up all thought of sleep.

I consider unpacking my things, doing a wash, shaving. I ought to have showered….

But there's nothing there. Nothing inside to propel me to action.

Only a gaping hole where joy had been. Where despair and pain now are.

I resign myself to the truth.

I was right.

I won't be able to work.

I cry out in my heart, my Lord and my God - save me!

And I know I need a miracle to save me now.


"Constable Fraser."

It's Turnbull. What does he want? It's - 5 a.m.

"Yes, Turnbull, what is it?" I ask roughly through the door. I haven't slept a wink and my temper is frayed. I know it would not take much to make me lose it altogether.

"I saw your light on so I knew you were awake. There's a telephone call for you - Detective Vecchio -"

I'm out of my room and at the phone before Turnbull can finish speaking.

"What is it, Ray? Is anything wrong?"

"Like what? Ya mean, besides everythin'?" he asks and I expel a breath I didn't know I was holding.

"You're alright, then?" I ask, unable to stop myself.

"I'm good, Fraser - relax."

I can hear the smile in his voice, even over the telephone. I can see his smile in my mind's eye and love surges up in my heart again, pushing the pain away.

"Is there some - problem? If you can't pick me up this morning, I'll understand." I stop for a moment, then add, "I'm not sure I'm fit to - liaise - with the Chicago Police Department today, anyway. Or when I'll be fit again."

"You finkin' out on me, Fraser?" Ray asks bluntly, and I can imagine his squint.

"No. Nothing of the sort, Ray. I'm simply - very tired."

"Don' seem like our vacation did ya much good, huh?"

"I'll be alright, Ray. In time." I believe that's a lie, but I say it anyway.

He's silent for a moment, then says, "Reason why I called is, I can't sleep, so I thought maybe I could pick ya up earlier than usual. Maybe we can go for breakfas' someplace. Got usta that, while we was travelin', ya know."

"Yes, well, I'm 'usta' it, too, Ray," I admit with a smile.

"So - does zat mean I can come over and get ya now?"

"Very well. I'm - dressed." And I shake my head. Dressed. I'm dressed in civilian clothes. The moment Ray sets eyes on me, he'll know. Know that I'm lost….

I determine to dress for business-as-usual, in my serge.

One more secret. With all the others, what is one more secret? One more lie?

"So - I'll be there in a few, Frase," Ray tells me.

"I'll be waiting," I reply, and hang up the phone.


When I turn to go back to my room Turnbull is standing by the door - blocking the doorway - and I'm tempted to strike him.

I don't, of course. Instead, I ask impatiently, "What is it, Turnbull?"

"Are you alright, sir?"

"Certainly, Constable."

"You're not shaved. You're not properly garbed. Your eyes -"

"Turnbull, I'd thank you kindly if you would permit me to pass. If you do, I shall shave and dress for the day."

"Sir, is something wrong? Your voice - Did you and Detective Vecchio not have a good trip?"

I sigh and decide to tell him about my time away - whatever I can find to say that won't reveal the truth. If I don't, he'll continue to fret, question, worry over me, as he would over the Queen. That poor boy - my heart goes out to him.

"We had a lovely trip, Turnbull."

"Did you, sir?" he asks eagerly. "Did you see many landmarks? Did you have a chance to fish and hunt? And ride? Did you visit the Consulates in the cities you traveled through? You were gone so long - I was beginning to think you and Ray - you and Detective Vecchio - wouldn't return -"

"Constable, please! There was never any question of not returning. None whatsoever. We both needed a bit of time away from home, so we took it. And no, we didn't take the tourist route -"

"I see." Turnbull turns his head so his eyes face away from me. He moves aside so the doorway is free and stiffens into parade rest.

"And now we're back home, Turnbull," I conclude shakily, startled by his change of demeanor.

"I'm glad," he replies carefully. "The Consulate wasn't the same without you."

"Yes, well -"

"The Lieutenant - Lieutenant Welsh called several times to ask whether we'd heard from you. And Inspector Thatcher - I was hard put to keep her from phoning Ottawa and requesting that a Canada-wide - dragnet - be initiated to search for you."

"Turnbull!" I'm stunned.

"She missed you," he says simply. "We all missed you. It made Inspector Thatcher - frightened."

"How's that, Turnbull?"

"She speculated that you and Ray - you and Detective Vecchio wouldn't return."

"Constable -"

"I knew she was wrong - that they were both wrong. The lieutenant and her. I knew you'd return, no matter how tempted you were to stay."

"Well, it appears that you were right, Turnbull. Good call."

He looks at me, then. Something is in his eyes that I've never seen there before. He says, "A close call. But on balance - for someone who knows you - the only call, sir."

"Thank you, Turnbull. I appreciate your faith in me." I smile, my pain beating away inside my heart. I try to permit none of it to show on my face.

"Thank you, sir. I'm glad you're back."

I start to say that I'm glad to be back but I refrain. I nod to Turnbull and go past him to my room.

I might be forced by exigency to live a lie. But I will not be forced to speak one.


Ray is waiting in his car for me when I leave the Consulate. I let Dief into the back, take off my Stetson, then settle myself in the passenger seat. I glance at Ray, but he doesn't drag his eyes from the windshield to look at me.

When I say, "Good morning, Ray," he guns the motor and takes off, scarcely managing to avoid scraping the paint from the side of the car parked in front of his.

"What took ya so long, Frase?" he demands in a harsh tone.

"I was - talking with Constable Turnbull."

"Yeah - tellin' him all about our great trip, were ya, buddy?"

I can't understand the edge in Ray's voice, his sarcasm, but I reply innocently, as if I don't notice. "Yes, in a way. It appears that Inspector Thatcher and Lieutenant Welsh were about to organize a search for us, in Canada. We returned none too soon." I try to put humor into my voice but he's having none of it.

"They wouldn' 've found us - we used cash," he tells me darkly, and suddenly I wonder whether that had been Ray's intention all along - that we not be found, if we decided not to return.

"Why are you so angry, Ray?" I ask finally, unable any longer to pretend not to notice his mood.

He answers my question with his own. "Ya change yer mind, Fraser? Gonna 'come out' wid me?"

"No -"

"There's yer answer, then. In a nutshell, in short, in so many words, in those words, in -" He halts, slams the steering wheel with both his fists, over and over, muttering, "Shit. Shit shit shit!"

I'm alarmed. "Ray -"

"Don'tcha go Ray-in' me, Fraser! I didn't sleep a wink last night an' the way things are goin' it looks like I'm gonna be doin' the two-step all through the night all the way into the 21st century - so don't go Ray-in' me or I'll pop ya one!"

"I'm sorry, Ray -" I stop myself, expecting him to interrupt. When he doesn't, I go on. "If there were some other way. If we weren't who we are - I'd chance it. I wouldn't care - not for a moment - what people think of us. I love you, Ray. I - I just - I don't know what else to do." I choke up, hang my head, grip my Stetson tightly.

"Yer a coward, Fraser," he says, and I must agree.

"So I am. Right you are, Ray."

"An' ya don' love me, neither. So don' be tryin' to make like ya do," he adds with conviction.

I look up, into his eyes. "How can you say that? How can you think that? I do love you, Ray -"

"Bull-shit!" I'm taken aback by his vehemence. "Bullshit, Fraser! Ya woulda run off with that Victoria woman in a heartbeat! Ya didn' give a rat's ass about yer duty, with her, didja! You'da given up everything - the whole nine yards - the Mounties, yer friendship with Vecchio, Justice with a capital J - all of it, fer her! So don' go makin' like ya love me that way - it won' wash, Fraser!"

"But I do, Ray! I do! It's for you, that I'm doing this! To protect you! I couldn't bear to hurt you - to steal your life's work from you!"

"I ain't askin' for your protection, Fraser! I don' need it!"

"It's all I can give -"

"No, it ain't all ya can give! It's all yer willin' to give!" he spits back at me.

I take a deep breath, try to reduce the volume of our speech, the passion of our words. "What do you want, Ray?" I ask quietly.

"I want what I always wanted, Frase. You. I want you." He glances at me then pulls into the parking lot of a diner we've never visited together before. "I remember tellin' ya that, that first night," he adds, then turns off the motor, takes the key from the ignition, and gets out of the car. I open my door and stand, letting Dief out. I close the door.

Ray's looking at me across the top of the car. "I remember tellin' ya that - loud and clear. Ya remember that? Ya remember what ya said you'd do, if I tol' ya what I wanted?"

"I said I'd give it to you, Ray."

"Right. So - what happened to that, Fraser?"

He doesn't wait to hear my answer, which is good, because I'm unable to frame one.


Dief and I follow Ray into the diner, to the last booth at the back. I take off my hat and slide inside the booth on the side opposite Ray. Neither of us picks up a menu.

When the waitress comes over we order coffee and toast, although I know I won't be able to keep down a bite, and won't try. I dare not risk even a sip of the coffee with my stomach churning the way it is.

The only thing keeping me from collapsing is the fact that Ray is here with me. Looking at him is my only option, my sole desire - and all my strength….

I stare at him to my heart's content and discover that he looks poorly. I'm sure he told me the truth when he said he hadn't slept last night. It shows in the paleness of his skin, the shadows under his eyes, the creases on his forehead. In the uncomfortable way he sits, hunched over and fidgeting with his spoon.

I'm shocked and dismayed.

I've done this to him.

I, whose only need and hope and desire - once upon a time, not so long ago - was to bring Ray joy and the freedom to be himself, did this to him.

Despair and self-hatred bloom inside me like some dreadful red ink that spreads its darkness, seeping into every corner until it has stained and ruined everything.

I take a deep breath and expel it. How could I let it come to this? Why?


"Never woulda pegged you fer a coward, Fraser," Ray mutters softly, as if in answer to my unvoiced question. Says it mildly, affectionately, as if it couldn't be a bad thing if it's what I am. Says it a thousand times more gently than I'm saying it to myself.

"I'd hoped never to be one," I reply evenly. Suddenly I find myself smiling wryly, the blood red stain of dishonour washed away in a moment by his love and acceptance…. "Live and learn."

"Yeah, well - some things I didn' need to know."

"Right. Neither did I."

We're silent for a moment, looking at each other. Then we both chuckle.

"We're a pair, alright," Ray says, still smiling. "But a pair a what?"

"That appears to be the question, yes."

"I gotta tell ya, Fraser, I can't do this. I mean - when I asked ya to promise not to put in fer a transfer, I thought I could. I…I was willin' to try anythin' - just so's you wouldn' leave, ya know?"

"Yes, Ray, I know."

"Ya do?"

"Yes. I agreed for the same reason. Because I couldn't bear the thought of leaving you. Being apart from you."

"Yeah, well, now I see it was stupid. That you were right. This won't work - us pretendin' like we're strangers - I mean - like we're jus' friends, partners. It can't work."

"I know."

"So - whaddaya think we should do, Frase?" he asks, hopeful, as always, that I'll have an answer for him. I'm miserable because I must disappoint him. Again.

"I don't know, Ray. I don't know what to do. But please, please don't think it's because I don't love you - I can't bear for you to believe that. It's not true."

"Aw, Frase, I know that. You and - that Victoria woman - that was a whole differen' ballgame. I know that."

"Yes, it was, Ray," I reply seriously. "Victoria was - a criminal. Worse. I believe she was - Evil. And I…I was lost in a way I'd never been before. Hope never to be, again. What you described - those things you said I would have been willing to do, for Victoria - they were wrong, Ray. So wrong. I would have lost my soul, if I'd done them." I shake my head, shake away the memories. I nearly lost my soul, even though I hadn't done them….

Only Ray Vecchio's steady, uncomplicated friendship and devotion - and my work - permitted me to recover from my… from Victoria's brief sojourn in my life.

Insofar as I had recovered….

"Wouldn' want ya to go losin' yer soul, Fraser," Ray quips, his words returning me to the present.

"There's one other option open to us, Ray. We can keep things secret. Continue as we were while we traveled. But in secret. And hope that we aren't discovered. There is no other option."

"Sneak aroun', ya mean?" he asks.

"Yes," I reply curtly, somehow insulted by the term. Although it is perfectly correct. Ray has hit on the precise term for what I'm offering. I'm sickened by the realization.

"Ya ain' exactly famous for yer 'sneakin' around' skills, Benton-buddy," Ray replies, and I'm relieved to note that he doesn't appear to be put off or hurt by the concept - just uncertain whether I could "pull it off," so to speak.

"Sneaking around, hiding, lying, abstaining - I've been doing just those things virtually all my life, Ray, in this regard," I tell him, my voice cold, hard. "I'm quite proficient at it, I assure you. I'd hoped I'd be able to stop doing that, at some point. Possibly, when I grew too old and too tired to notice the… charms… of men or women. Or when I was old enough to retire. Whichever came first." He doesn't reply.

I look down at my hands. "Sometimes, when things became… more difficult than they usually are… I'd wish that someone's aim was better, that they might put me out of my misery."

I raise my head again and meet his eyes. I see comprehension dawn in them, and something else. I can't put a name to it.

But he doesn't speak so I hazard a guess. "More than you needed to know, isn't that, Ray? Your 'perfect' Mountie - contemplating death before dishonour? And not a 'good death,' either? Is that who you love, Ray? Is that who you're willing to risk - everything - for? A coward? A fraud?"

My lips are dry and my heart is beating frantically as I wait for Ray to answer. When he doesn't, another thought occurs to me and I continue to talk. I can't seem to stop.

"You know, Ray, what we'll have - whether we hide it or flaunt it - won't be romantic. It won't be pretty, or… romantic -"

He interrupts me. "Izzat what ya think I want - romance?"

I go on as if he hasn't spoken. "It'll be… ordinary after a time, Ray. Ordinary. We'll be just… an 'old married couple,' a couple of old 'queers'. Boring. Once the thrill is gone. Quite ordinary and boring."

He still doesn't speak, so I talk some more. "And - ugly. What we'll have. That will turn ugly, as well, if we're found out. We'll lose our jobs, our meaning, all hope of being of service to anyone, if we're found out -"

"Ugly?" Ray's eyes are huge. The word sounds ugly when he says it. "Shit."

He stands abruptly.

"Are we leaving now, Ray?" I ask, startled.

"Do whatever ya wanna do, Fraser. I'm leavin'."

"Ray -"

"I'm done talkin' - and I'm done listen' - I don' need to hear this shit."

I want to grab his arm, forcibly prevent him from leaving, but I don't dare touch him while he's in this mood. We'd probably come to blows.

Instead, I plead with him. "Ray, please, don't go. Let's finish this now. I don't think I can survive talking about it again."

He looks at me, takes a deep breath. He shakes his head.

"Ray, please."

He gives in, slips back into the booth. "Okay," he mutters. "Okay."


I know Ray's going to speak now, so I wait patiently for what he'll say. That he's disgusted with me is clear. But what portion of my words have so angered him that he wants simply to walk away from me - from us - I don't know.

Ray waves the waitress to our table and orders fresh coffee for both of us. I haven't touched my first cup, but I don't say anything.

Finally, when hot coffee arrives and he's added sugar to it and taken a sip, Ray speaks.

"Do ya even know what yer afraid of, Fraser?" he asks.

I shake my head "no" and wait for him to go on.

"Yer afraid of time."

I raise an eyebrow and wait for his explanation.

"Yer afraid of time, Fraser," he repeats. "Ya only ever had yer dreams. Yer whole life, just yer dreams. Once in a blue moon, a short 'real thing,' which always got screwed up, fucked up. With somebody who couldn't - or wouldn't - stick around. And that was good, too. Ya got hurt. But ya were never disappointed."

"I don't understand, Ray." Does he know how painful it is for me to hear him analyze my life as if I were a stranger, in terms I don't even grasp?

"Sure ya do, Fraser. Open up yer mind and look at yer life. Lightnin' bolts like Victoria - they hurt, yeah, they hurt like hell - but they don't disappoint ya. Yer dreams - maybe they don't come true - but they never disappoint ya. They're - out there - Fraser." He gestures widely. "Out there in never-happens land. They're just like you - perfect. Painful, sure. But - perfect. Only - you're not perfect. So - they're just like you. Unreal."

I'm shocked and angry. How dare Ray tell me who I am?

But something inside me wants to learn whatever truths Ray may have discovered about me. I've never trusted anyone to come this close… only him. He's the only one I haven't pushed away….

"Ray - what are you saying?"

"Ya ever had a long-term relationship, Frase? Ever been together with someone long enough for the shine to wear off?"

I reply honestly, "I don't know whether it qualifies, Ray, but my friendship and partnership with Ray Vecchio lasted two years -"

"It qualifies - even without the sex."


"He crapped out on ya, didn' he? Vecchio?"

"I don't think it was Ray's choice to leave," I reply earnestly.

"Sure it was, Fraser. And yer still reelin' from it."

"No -"

"Yes. Vecchio hurt ya bad, leavin' like that. I'd kill the bastard jus' for that, if I could get my hands on 'im."

"I admit I was surprised to find him gone, Ray, but you and I both know it wasn't his choice. He was the only person for that particular job. I don't know why you're so angry with him -"

"He hurt you, is why!"

"No. He didn't hurt me, Ray, not the way you mean. I missed him - still miss him - a great deal. But I wasn't in pain of the sort you describe. Nor am I now - about him."

"If I hadn't been there - been who I am - if we hadn't clicked like we did from Day One - wouldja have been in pain, Fraser?"

I don't reply. I can't deny what Ray's told me - because I know it's true. If not for Ray Kowalski, Ray Vecchio's departure would have destroyed me. It wouldn't have mattered whose fault it was, or whether it was anyone's fault at all.

After a minute, Ray mutters, "Where was I?"

Automatically, I tell him, "You were speaking about long-term relationships."

"Yeah, right." He runs his fingers through his hair. He squints at me, then fusses for a minute, adding more sugar to his fresh coffee, stirring it.

I grow impatient. I want to know everything he's thinking about me, about us. I need to know…. "Ray, you were saying?" I prompt.

"I was thinkin'." He's put down his coffee cup. He reaches across the table and puts his hand on mine, rubs his thumb across my knuckles, then removes his hand. He leaves it near mine, but not touching. "I been in a long-term relationship, Frase. With Stella. Well, of course, ya know that."

"Yes, Ray?"

"It's not romantic, after a bit. After ya get the girl, after ya been livin' together for a while. I ain't saying there's some time limit on how long the romance lasts - but it ain't forever. That much I know."

"You still wanted Stella, though, didn't you? Even when the romance… faded."

"Always, Fraser. Always. Not jus' in bed - there's that, too, but it flags a little. The ol' eye wanders sometimes…. Nothin' serious, but - it happens."

"I'm sure it does, Ray." I'd like to believe my eyes wouldn't wander, if I were fortunate enough to live with the person of my dreams, but I know better. I'm no more "perfect" than the next man….

"I still wanted *Stella,* Fraser. Who she was, what she was. The - I dunno - the bond. The - marriage. I wanted - us. Us."

"I don't follow -" But of course, I did. I just wanted to hear him say it.

"Stella and me, together - we were more than each of us was on our own. We were - stronger, Frase. We had history. We had memories. We had - little things we knew about each other. It was special. It was… so good. I couldn't understan' how she could jus' give that up. Throw it away. It was so much, such a gift."

"Are you saying that it's better than romance, Ray?" I ask.

"Don' get me wrong, Fraser. When the vibes are right, and the moon is bright, and the music's soft - nothin' can hold a candle ta romance."

"So, you're saying -?"

"I'm sayin' that romance ain' all there is, is all. There's the long-term thing, the time thing. And that's great, too. That's greatness, Fraser." He stops talking, looks out the window for a moment. Then he looks me in the eye. "I think we can have that, that time-thing, that long-term thing, Frase. That's all I'm sayin'."


He takes a deep breath. "Understood?"

"Yes, Ray."

"That's it? Izzat all ya got ta say? I could use a little feedback, here, Red."

I smile. I take his hand. I hold it for a while without speaking, simply to savor the feel of him, the possibility and permission to touch him. That's been my dream for so long.

Now, it's a dream fulfilled.

Ray Kowalski is, without question, the most beautiful person I've ever known. In every way. Good, warm, honest, intelligent, courageous and generous - inside. Lovely, tart, abrasive and sexy - outside. And I love him with my whole soul.

I'll never be able to convince him of that, never be able to express what I feel when he focuses his entire being on me. When I look at him. He'll never know how much I love him, what his love and acceptance mean to me, even were I to find the words with which to tell him.

So - I know that I must show him.

"Ray, I think you should call Lieutenant Welsh and tell him you won't be at work today."

He narrows his eyes. "An' I won't be at work today - why, Fraser?"

"Because we're going to look for an apartment, Ray, and that can take a great deal of time."

"An apartment?"

"Yes, Ray."

He grins. "Ya mean - together. Sharin', like?"

"Yes, Ray."

"And the other stuff - what people know, what they think of us -?"

"That's not our problem."

"Ya ain't plannin' on flauntin' things, are ya, Fraser? 'Cuz that wouldn' be smart."

"No. Not at all. But I'm not planning on hiding things, either."

"Yer not?"

"No, Ray, I'm not." I squeeze his hand more tightly, add my other hand, and he adds his. "I've nothing to offer you but myself, and… time. I can give you time, Ray, if you'll have me -"

"Well, the bloom ain' exactly off the romance, yet, Frase," he retorts with a grin that lights up his entire face. I cannot help but smile as well.

"When it is - if it ever is -" Our chuckles coincide. "If it ever is - I solemnly promise to give you - to give us - the other thing. Time."

"Torture. That could work."

"I am relentless, Ray. It will work."

I'm gratified to see his slow smile - my favorite - move from his mouth to his eyes. He's happy, at last, and so am I.

"So -" he says, releasing my hands and quickly moving out of the booth. He punches my shoulder lightly and graces me with a different smile - the devilish one. That's a favorite of mine, as well. "Ya know where we can buy a newspaper aroun' here, Red?"

"Actually, I do, Ray."

"Well, then - pitter patter - let's get at 'er…."

"At who, Ray?" I ask, repeating our words of so long ago, before we took our road trip, before we came home again….

"At our new landlady, whoever she may be, 'course, idiot," Ray replies.

I grab my Stetson and join him at the side of the booth.

"Dief, come," I say, and I notice that Dief is pleased as we head towards the cash register to pay our bill. I go back to our table to leave a tip. Then I simply stand there beside the booth.

"Have you forgotten something, son?"


"Looks as though things are better now."

"Yes, they are."

"Good. You always were a brave boy. I knew you'd figure it out eventually."

"Thanks to Ray."

"The Yank has good instincts."

"What have I forgotten, Dad? Why do I feel as though something is missing…? As though we've forgotten something, but I can't think what it might be…?"

"Don't know what it is. Maybe he knows."

I look around in time to see Ray coming back for me.

"What happened ta ya, Frase? Ya forget where ya are? Where we're goin'? Or is the bloom off the romance already?" he teases.

"I feel as though I've forgotten something, Ray, but I can't imagine what it might be, what's missing -"

"I know what it is," he replies and grabs me into a bear hug very reminiscent of the one he gave me when we first met, only tighter, and suddenly there's nothing missing in my life, nothing at all.

This time I return the hug.

Which is simply one more example of my Ray's ability to know just which miracles are required and how to make them happen.

"Not yet, Ray," I whisper in his ear. "The bloom's not quite off the romance yet."

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