Nobody had known what to do with him afterwards. Fraser hadn't, for that matter, known what to do with himself. He'd expected the trial to drag on for months, had never let himself consider what his life would be like once it was over.

The night Ray Vecchio faced him, apologetic and tentative, to tell him about the plea bargain, he'd been too shocked to feel anger. He had sat utterly still for over an hour, unable to react to Ray's growing look of worry or Diefenbaker's anxious whines. It was over, then, over before it had even begun, and the man who had taken Ray Kowalski's life at eleven-fifteen on a Tuesday morning would receive only the penalty for a lesser crime.

The closing door had roused him; he'd looked up to see Stella Vecchio hanging up her coat. She'd walked over to her husband, resting a hand on his shoulder, and Fraser had suddenly wanted to push it away. He was achingly, irrationally angry at her for having moved on, having replaced Ray Kowalski with a different model of Ray; unthinkable that she should have a warm, living Ray Vecchio to exchange significant glances with while Fraser was still trying to stop looking over his shoulder for a Ray who wasn't there. He rose; if he stayed in the same room with Stella, he would say something unforgivable. Ray, after all, had loved this woman for most of his life, and would have wanted her treated with kindness.

Ray caught hold of his arm. "Wait, Benny, where are you going?"

Fraser looked at him, standing there rumpled and anxious with Stella at his flank like a sleek blonde bodyguard, and bit back the angry words that were rising in his throat. "Home," he said, and pulled out of Ray's grasp, holding the door for Diefenbaker as they left.

The air was cold, the few visible stars looking distant and bright. The GTO gleamed in the light of a streetlamp. It was safer to park in well-lit areas.

Fraser had already opened the passenger side door before he remembered that he was driving. On the way home, Dief whined and licked his ear, and Fraser did not scold him.

A week passed. In the mornings, he went to the Consulate and worked his way with ruthless efficiency through a backlog of tasks that even Turnbull had been unwilling to tackle. In the afternoons, he went to the precinct and completed case reports, ignoring the concerned looks he was getting from... well, from nearly everyone. In the evenings, he went home, dumped the pot of cold coffee sitting on the coffee machine's warming plate, and refilled the machine so that it would have something to brew when the timer turned it on the next day. Nobody drank it now that Ray was gone.

He checked all the closets daily; the three in the apartment, the one in his office, the supply closet at the precinct. They never changed, and he told himself that he wasn't disappointed. It wasn't, after all, as though Ray had unfinished business.

On the following Monday morning, Inspector Phillips called him in for a meeting. Lieutenant Welsh was there; so was Ray Vecchio.

People are concerned, said the inspector.

Everyone knows how hard it is to lose a partner, said Lieutenant Welsh.

We're worried about you, Benny, said Ray.

Entitled to take leave, they said. Have time to grieve. Maybe you should go home for a while.

Fraser thought of a cluttered Chicago apartment and said that perhaps he could visit his sister in Inuvik. They all looked relieved.

He had Ray Vecchio drop him off at the airport. He didn't want to leave Ray's car in long-term parking; Ray would be-- would have been-- furious with him if anything happened to it there.

He told Maggie that he'd decided to delay his trip, and went to his father's cabin. The closets were empty there, too.

Fraser hadn't been to the cabin since the previous summer, when he and Ray had spent three weeks there. He had, of course, weatherproofed it properly before leaving, but there was still a good deal of maintenance work to be done. It kept him productively occupied while the light lasted, and tired him out enough that when night fell he was content to eat a bit of pemmican and fall into bed. If he was eager enough for sleep, his solitude did not haunt him.

In the middle of the afternoon on the third day, he ran out of things to do. He found himself sitting on the floor with his back to the woodstove, looking out the front window at the falling snow. He'd found, under the bed, a paperback novel that Ray had been reading the last time they'd been there. Ray had thought it lost on the plane, and had purchased a replacement as soon as they'd gotten home. He held the book now, running his hands over the pages without looking at them. He'd always scolded Ray for dog-earing his books; now, he was glad of the creases, marking as they did the places Ray had been.

"You're moping, son."

Fraser sighed, letting his forehead rest on his drawn-up knee. "It's called grief, Dad," he said, without turning. "And after the way you behaved when Mom died, I hardly think you have the right to question my coping mechanisms."

There was a pause, and then his father spoke again, his voice subdued. "No, you're right, of course. I'm… sorry, Benton. The Yank's a good man."

"Please, dad," Fraser said. He didn't think he could bear his father's lumbering attempts at sympathy. "I appreciate what you're trying to do. But just--please, leave me alone." He was distantly appalled to hear his voice crack.

"I can't do that, Benton," his father said. "I've done it too many times already." He sighed. "Just--stay there for a moment."

There was a welcome silence for perhaps thirty seconds, then Bob spoke again, in a gratingly hearty tone.

"All right, now," he said. "You're nearly there, just try a little harder. Put your back into it, son."

"For God's sake, Dad, can't you leave me in-" Fraser broke off, staring at the translucent image of Ray Kowalski that was flickering in and out of view like a television channel with poor reception, an expression of intense concentration on his face. Fraser's father stood beside him, watching the process with a smug and approving smile.

He wanted to cry out, he wanted to weep, he wanted to leap to his feet and make a spectacle of himself, but all he found himself capable of doing was sitting and watching as Ray, with a final flicker, made his body opaque.

"That is not as fucking easy as you made it sound!" Ray was gasping like he'd just carried a sofa up three flights of otherworldly stairs. "It's like working your way through taffy, plus--"

His father pointed. Ray turned and saw him, still crouched frozen by the stove. "Oh my God," Ray said. "You look like--" Ray broke off and turned angrily back to Bob. "You didn't tell him!"

"I wanted it to be a surprise!"

"Oh, what, the give him a heart attack kind of surprise? I bet his birthdays were a real occasion, there, what did you do, sneak up behind him and pop balloons?"

"He needed to concentrate on bringing your killers to justice-"

"Fuck justice," Ray hissed. "I do not give a flying shit about justice. I didn't work my ectoplasmic ass off so that Fraser could have a new way to introduce himself, I don't wanna be the 'partner' of 'the trail of the killers of my partner,' and I sure as hell did not spend all that time playing Patrick Swayze with you so that he could think I was off playing tiddleywinks in the afterlife--"

"Now, hold on, Yank," said Bob. "He's been doing fine. He's worked, he's been keeping busy-"

"Shut. Up." Ray said, and Fraser thought he could see sparks jumping from the spikes of his hair. "You. I don't wanna talk to you right now. You helped me out, so whatever, but right now you need to get the hell away from me."

Bob nodded, stiffly. "Well, then," he said. "If that's the way you feel." He looked at Fraser, and his stubborn expression softened a little. "Merry Christmas, son," he said, and disappeared.

Ray turned, and knelt in front of Fraser. "Hey," he said softly. "I'm sorry about that. I thought he told you I was coming-"

"Ray." One word was enough to stop Ray's babble; when had Ray ever stopped talking the first time Fraser said his name?

"Please," Fraser said. "Touch me."

"Ben, I can't," said Ray, and the edges of him flared a bit.

"Try," said Fraser, and sat until dawn watching Ray as his attempts at touch passed through his shivering skin.


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