“They're complicated people leading complicated lives
and he complicates their problems by telling complicated lies
He tells him he's sorry, he tells him it's over,
he tells him he's sorry, he says over and over
You've never really known that when the white flag is flown,
no one, no one, no one, has won the war.”
-The Flag, Barenaked Ladies
It’s early when the phone rings, but he hasn’t been sleeping. Lying there in the dark, eyes open and watching, not even trying, because he knows there’s no way. There is just no way. And it all hurts, everything hurts, and where is the good here? How is he supposed to find the good here, when anything he does, everything he does, hurts everyone? It’s not supposed to be like this. Was never supposed to be like this.
His voice is strong and sure as he answers the phone. Like he’d been expecting the call. Had he? Maybe. He doesn’t know anymore, but he knows he’s not surprised to hear Ray’s voice on the other end. Ray. Ray Vecchio. The real Ray Vecchio. His partner, but not really his partner, because he had left. Had left and had left someone else in his place. And now he was back, was there, right there, on the phone right now.
Ray’s voice is soft in his ear, the way people speak quietly in the early-morning hours, even when there’s no one there to hear. “Benny? Benny, I’m sorry it’s so early, but I just had to tell you...”
His voice trails off and Fraser just holds onto the phone like it’s a lifeline, like what Ray is going to tell him is going to show him the way to go from here. Like Ray will provide the answer for him, will show him the way. Like he won’t have to be the one to make the move, the decision that will hurt everyone. He clutches the phone and stares into the dark like before. He realizes that he hasn’t said anything, and can hear Ray breathing on the line. “Ray,” he says, then realizes he has nothing to follow that up with. He’s silent again. Waiting
“I’m sorry, Benny,” and Ray does sound sorry, sounds undone and tired and lost. Sounds like Fraser himself feels, and Fraser tries to steel his heart, tries not to slip back into that routine. It would be so very easy to slip, and so he must not. Must do what is right and not do what is easy.
Ray continues, still soft, “I didn’t mean to do that. Didn’t mean for it to happen. Just seemed so easy...”
It was easy, though. Not that many hours ago, it was easy. He was easy, Ray would have said. Both Rays would have said, joking, maybe. Two years gone, and Ray Vecchio comes back, and things are much more complicated that they ever were before, but he was easy, wasn’t he? Was that what Ray was expecting? (Which Ray? his conscience asks him). Easy in a good way or easy in a bad way?
Easy enough to go back to what had been. Easy enough, upon seeing that face, seeing that man, seeing who he had missed for so long that it became natural, that missing. Became a part of him he could almost get past, he guessed, sublimate it and...move on. Closet up that missing.
But he had found that somehow that cold, dark spot in his heart was...filled. He hadn’t wanted it to be. Hadn’t expected it to be. But there it was. Ray-but-not-Ray. Different face, different manner, different clothes. But still, there was something there. Something sharp and real, that drew him in. How could he not melt? How could he not get lost in Ray’s heat? (his Ray. Not the missing Ray. His Ray. The one who was here, the one who was always by his side, the one who burned brightly and pulled him into that flame.
Not a Ray who was lost, but his Ray, the one to get lost in. That Ray.)
But Ray Vecchio returned and Fraser fell hard, fell down from the salvation he had found, and got lost last night, lost in the way it used to be. He came back and it was easy, when they found a moment alone. Ray looked at him, and that smile was real, the way it used to be, and Ray stood so close, and then they were closer still, they were kissing, and it was like finding his way home.
Fraser’s hands had found their way naturally to Ray’s waist, and Ray had tugged at him, pulled him closer, and they fit together, they fit, just the way they used to, and it had felt good. He wished it hadn’t, but it had felt good, so good, and he let himself go, let himself get lost there, in the kiss, in the closeness, in that easiness of old love.
It was close. It was easy. But what was missing was that heat. The heat he had grown accustomed to, the heat he needed. His heart had been cold and aching, and there was that Ray who was so very unlike the other Ray. Started out as a replacement, but became much more. He’d come to stand too close, to stand in his space and share that heat (Cold out here. Heat me up. Truer words were never spoken) and gave himself to Fraser, allowed Fraser to take what was needed while he needed it. Gave him time to trust enough to give, as well, and that was good, that was his Ray now, that Ray, not this, and…
“Benny?” That voice in his ear, through the phone, breaking a little, like he already knows. Knows that it is done, over, gone, so far gone. That Fraser himself is so far gone.
And Fraser takes a breath, and speaks. “I’m sorry, too, Ray. I wish that...” He trails off, because again, there is not a way to put this into words.
But Ray laughs a little, a tired laugh. “Me, too, Benny.” He understands, the way he used to. Understands Fraser maybe better than Fraser understands himself. “I’m real sorry.” He’s quiet for a minute, then says, “Just don’t forget, okay, Benny? Don’t forget about…what we had. Okay? It was important.”
It was important. “I know, Ray.” It’s still dark here, but Fraser’s looking at something beyond it, his eyes all unseeing. “It was.”
“Yeah, Benny,” and even over the phone lines, Fraser can tell he’s smiling. Can see that smile in his mind’s eye. It’s gentle and it’s tired and Fraser wishes this could be different, that there was more of himself to give.
Ray's voice is still quiet. “Well. I’ll see you around, okay? You take care of yourself.” A pause. “And that partner of yours. Seems like he needs all the help he can get.”
“Understood, Ray.” Fraser listens to that breathing again. Wonders why something that is right and more than right has to hurt so much. He takes a breath himself, and it hurts, too. “Goodbye, Ray.”
“Bye, Benny.” Then a click, and then he is gone, and Fraser knows he’s not going to be seeing Ray Vecchio “around” anytime soon.
“Goodbye,” he says again, ridiculously, to the dial tone, then sets the receiver down gently, stands there looking at it for several moments. Takes a breath and straightens his back and looks around the dark consulate. Thinks about what just happened, thinks about tomorrow and the heat that awaits him, the fire that is Ray, his Ray. The Ray who is not leaving, who will never leave. Ray, who is so apprehensive and troubled by this, by the return of the man who had been Fraser’s Ray. Ray, who let Fraser work it through, work it out. Who trusted him and waited for him, and Fraser wonders if his Ray is experiencing the same sleeplessness that he himself is.
And thinks that perhaps the few hours left until morning is too long to wait, and that perhaps both Ray and himself will find sleep more forthcoming should they endeavor to find it together. Not so very far away, is Ray Kowalski, and Fraser thinks to himself that the night is cold and he needs very badly to warm himself in that heat.
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