Rating: PG for one or two 'bad' words and the suggestion of m/m (in this case, Fraser/Kowalski) romance.
Archived at: due Slash, soon. Personal site. Everywhere else, please ask first.
Disclaimers: I don't claim ownership on neither the characters in due South nor the show itself, nor is any money made in this endeavor. However, as I have said before, the muses are mine. Or am I theirs? I don't know most days, but they do choose to stay with me and tell me stories, even if it is, like in story, indirectly.
Requests and Dedications: Where to begin? Anne, AuK, Pam and Star did damn fine beta and stuck with me through various incarnations of this story, through my blithers and my indecisions. Thanks to Anne for the hours of hashing out what was it...two paragraphs? And at three in the morning no less. Thanks to my two partners in crime, for more than I can tell you. And to those in my 'test audience' thank you for your read throughs, suggestions and support.
Notes: One-fourth of this story had been waiting on my computer in the incomplete/random story ideas folder for nearly a year when I was struck by another seemingly random snippet, which also spent some time in the incomplete folder. Then it occurred to me that the pieces could be, or already were, related. I've always been interested in looking at how a person or relationship is seen through the eyes of another, and thus Arbitrae was born. The word 'arbitrae', in Latin, translates to female witnesses.
Copyright: May, 2002.
'Just one look, that's all it took'
Isn't that how that infuriating song goes?
It was just one look that made everything so clear, and I wonder how it was that I didn't see it before. Benton Fraser, my second in command -- a man, I must admit, I have felt an attraction to since I first arrived at the Consulate three years ago -- was in love with that hyperactive, loud and utterly annoying man, Ray Vecchio, whom I suppose I should, for clarity's sake, call Ray Kowalski. And the man whose hairstyle was the sort you would see on people who generally kissed electrical outlets was, understandably, in love with the tall, dark and practically perfect Benton Fraser.
Standing there at the encampment, the night before whatever it was Muldoon had planned, with Ms. Vecchio's words still ringing in my ears, I looked, perhaps for the first time, at Benton Fraser.
Everything and nothing swirled around in my mind. He was home. And as I told him our eyes met and the unspoken -- that this might prove to be our last opportunity to act -- waited in the space between our bodies. Bodies that were drawing closer. Memories of a train-top kiss thundering back into the present, towards...what? Another kiss? Could this alter his decision about the transfer? About accompanying me to Toronto?
Then - something, a twig snapped, I don't know - his attention shifted to the blond detective a few meters away, watching us. It was a brief glance, but it was enough. Then that flatulent Sergeant Frobisher began to howl at the moon, leading the dogs in a tedious chorus of bays.
But the mood had already been broken by that look.
Para-Mounties, Russian nuclear subs, and one constable down a mineshaft. Why would I expect anything resembling "normal" when Benton Fraser is involved? I have no real answer for that. All I wanted was for this whole Muldoon fiasco to be over, so that we could take the criminals into custody, and I could return to the semblance of normalcy and the sweet civilization that Toronto promised.
After retrieving a babbling, semi-conscious Holloway Muldoon and a clearly shaken Constable Fraser from the mine, I looked at the assembled group. Two Mounties had taken Muldoon into custody and disappeared on a snowmobile, leaving Sergeant Frobisher, Constables Fraser and Turnbull, myself, and, of course, Detective Kowalski.
"You okay there, Fraser?" The detective asked, the "th" slaughtered into a "d" sound by his Chicago accent. "Hey buddy, what's goin' on in that Mountie mind of yours?"
"You, Ray," I heard Benton whisper, sounding, inexplicably, as if he was suppressing tears. "You will always be my partner."
In that moment, we -- Sergeant Frobisher, Turnbull and myself -- did not exist. We were bystanders, an audience, forgotten by Constable Fraser and Detective Kowalski.
Just one look.
If I ever subscribed to the starry-eyed belief in romance of the proportions promised in Francesca Vecchio's Harlequin novels, I would say they promised one another the world in that one look.
'Love was right before my eyes...'
Isn't that how it is? One day, it's just there right in front of your face...
How is it that one day I'm sitting at my desk, arguing with Harding Welsh about why the precinct needs an upgraded espresso-maker and dreaming about becoming Mrs. Benton Fraser, and, almost the very next day, my brother is back from undercover and in the hospital with a bullet in him? And I'm standing outside the hospital room door, staring at the man I spent almost four years falling over, and I'm realizing he's not mine, he's never going to be mine - not my husband, not my lover. He "likes" me, which in Fraser-to-English is "I love you. As a friend. As a sister."
And you know what? It's okay.
I could see in his face that he needed me to know, and I did. I realized chasing a dream I knew I wasn't going to get had been a hell of a lot easier than trying for the poor shmoes that I didn't really want. But he liked me. He told me -- well, okay, Ray said the words -- and I was finally able to let go, not be the air-head Frannie, but "Francesca", as he always called me.
So that's why I'm standing here at the crack of dawn at Midway Airport to pick him up, to make sure I thank him. When I see them walking out of the terminal, I hold myself back, proud that I don't run up and plaster myself to Fraser's front. I don't need to do that any more, and besides, he looks like a stiff breeze could topple him, him and Ray both.
Their faces are red from the cold and windburn and it looks like they ran that Iditarod thing themselves. But the weight that was weighing them down, the shadows that were on their faces last time I saw them, it's all gone.
We head straight out - they didn't exactly plan or pack for their jaunt to Canada - and grab a cab. I crunch in the back with them, next to Fraser, who smells damn good, and who's providing a shoulder for Ray's lolling head to rest on. They're both too tired to argue when the cab pulls up in front of my house, and I scoot them out of the car and into the house, pointing to the couch.
Ma and the rest of the brood are up at the church, lighting candles and thanking the saints that my brother's home safe. After that, I think Mr. "You have a generous heart" and Stella Kowalski are taking the clan out to dinner. Something serious is going on with those two, I just know it.
I snag a cup of coffee for Ray and a cup of tea for Fraser, and by the time I'm back out in the living room, I think they're asleep they're so quiet. But they're not, I realize. Their voices are low, intimate, and when they notice me there, Fraser rubs his eyebrow.
"Thanks, Frannie," Ray says, standing up and taking the two cups, speaking for both him and Fraser.
That's the moment I realize something else, realize why my love was unrequited, the reason Fraser can never be my lover, my husband. That hospital conversation plays back in my head -- "He likes you, Frannie," Ray had said to me, seeing what was in Fraser's heart, telling me what Fraser was trying to say. But what he didn't see then, what he didn't know, was where he fit in Fraser's heart.
Funny how you can't see what's in front of your face, what you're too afraid won't be there. I wanted Fraser to love me, I even saw that he did sometimes in his looks or what he said. And Ray, he wanted the same thing, but he was so damn afraid, especially sitting there in the hallway of Rush-St. Luke's, that if he really looked at Fraser's heart, he'd find he was only a temporary friend. Even I could have told him that wasn't the case, never could have been the case, not with Fraser.
But whatever they didn't know, whatever they hadn't said back then, they have now.
Fraser's heart, now, is an open book, and while he likes me - would fight for and defend me - he loves Ray, would risk his life, live and die for him. I see his heart's been spoken for - by my 'fake' brother, no less. I saw that every single day at the precinct, but I didn't recognize, really, what was going on. How they were already completing one another.
How could anyone think they belonged with anyone else? And shouldn't I be upset to realize this?
"Are you...?" I start to ask, when I realize I've been staring too long. So I look just at Fraser, sitting on the couch, tugging at his collar.
"Francesca...I..." Fraser starts to say while Ray sits back down on the couch and starts to talk over him, saying - "Frannie, we..."
"Love each other," I finish for them, watching their eyes bug and jaws drop a bit.
Fraser, actually, is the first to smile, looking like someone just promised him...I guess someone did promise him the world, so he is a guy who, now, has his heart's desire.
"Yes," he answers, quietly, one hand on Ray's back, his other hand extended to me. "We do."
"Yeah," Ray adds, looking like a kid, shy smile and all, as he grabs my other hand.
"I'm glad." I squeeze their hands. "I'm glad."
And I am.
'You'll find a better love, strong as it ever was...'
Or even stronger, better and longer. I've made a career out of reading people...how'd I miss this?
Golden bullets, glasses of scotch, and promises of bowling alleys in the sunny regions of Florida -- why wouldn't one describe my romance with Ray Vecchio as a fairy tale?
We sat there, waiting for news about his ex-partner and my ex-husband and when we found out they were alive, were in fact, heroes, we toasted them...and I knew I was in love.
Three days later, we waited at the station, with the whole of the 2-7, for Ray, Fraser, Constable Turnbull and Inspector Thatcher to arrive. Ray, Ray Vecchio, that is, had woken me up with a kiss and breakfast in bed. Room service, complete with champagne, from the Drake Hotel. And now he stood in a professionally tailored charcoal gray suit, still sore from the bullet and nervous about telling Fraser and Ray the news. Nervous that Fraser would feel abandoned again, and Ray - Ray Kowalski - would be angry with him for taking me away. We'd talked a lot that night. His uncle owned a bowling alley, his time in Vegas made him realize how much he enjoyed warm weather, and Chicago didn't hold much for me any more. The opportunity to start over, soak up some sun, start afresh in Palm Beach, sounded pretty damn good.
Thatcher and Turnbull arrived first. She was practically radiating glory and his face was in serious competition with his uniform for pure redness. As they started through the gauntlet, accepting words of congratulations and warm handshakes, Ray and Fraser walked in, shoulders nearly touching, to the sound of applause and slaps on the back. I realized later that despite hugs and handshakes, congratulations and well wishes, they were never far from each other. When they at last stood in front of us, Ray Vecchio opened his arms to Fraser with a warm-sounding "Benny" as Ray Kowalski kissed my cheek.
"Off saving the world, eh, Benny?" Ray stepped back, wrapping an arm around my waist.
"All in a day's work, Ray," Fraser responded, his eyes darting to Ray's hand at my waist, to how we were standing.
"That's great. Uh, listen, while you were off making the world safe for moose and caribou, a lot of things changed."
"Indeed they have, Ray."
The news is taken well although, granted we're in a public space and their shock is necessarily muted. But they exchange smiles and embraces with us and even murmur wishes of good luck. I'll be the first to admit, it's not the reaction I expected from Ray. Punches, yelling, split lips and bruised knuckles - that would have been more his style. I wonder how much has really sunk in - they both seem pretty out of it - but the worst is over, the news is broken.
The party goes on, becoming as much our semi-going away party as a 'hail the returning heroes' party. Ray's hand never leaves my waist, except for a minute when I excuse myself to walk back to where my ex-husband and Fraser are talking, Ray sitting on the edge of his desk, Fraser standing in front of him.
"I could do Canada, or I can do Chicago," Ray says, and I see him look up into Fraser's face. "Why are you smiling like that, you break your face or something?"
Fraser shakes his head, and I think I hear him say, "I'm home", before he leans forward.
I stop in my tracks, look around. No one else saw. I feel like a Peeping Tom for a moment, a bystander, an accidental audience.
Ray isn't in shock, he's in love. My ex-husband is in love, and his response to my news was happiness because he knows that I am happy. And he knows because he is happy himself.
The last time I checked, I had moved on. He hadn't. And now he has.
Looking from Ray to Fraser and back again there's this dull ache, as any once-idolized creature would feel when they've fallen, when their place in the heavens is exchanged for simple ground.
In that moment, I envy Benton Fraser. That's not to say that Fraser took my place, because I know that's not the case. We're not the same, not at all.
I was like the sky to Ray -- mysterious, magical, divine, and no matter how high you flew you could never quite touch it. I know that now, and I think I knew it then. But what is a sky without the ground to stand on?
Benton Fraser is both the earth beneath Ray's feet -- the thing that keeps him standing, keeps him safe and that is his home -- and the sky that surrounds him -- infinite, forever, everything.
I feel something coil in my stomach. Not that I'm jealous, not really. I have my Ray, and to him I am the sun, moon and stars. But I don't know that Ray Vecchio and I will ever look at one another like Ray Kowalski and Benton Fraser do - that a smile, or touch on the arm would ever carry as much meaning, that a kiss, stolen in the middle of a crowded room, would ever be as special.
'Above all else, I'm waiting for the man I love...'
When I was a young woman, my husband and I would dance to Billie Holliday singing on an old phonograph. I would dream about the life we would have, Robert Fraser and myself, the long life together he promised, a story that would outlive time.
I waited thirty years for Robert, to have him by my side again. I have watched Benton grow up, have watched him become a man, on his own.
I wish he knew how many nights I stood at his bedside, unseen and unheard, my earthly concerns no less vital because I was no longer alive. Or how often I wished I could hold him as I'd done when he was a boy, when I still could hold him.
He's become such a beautiful man, no longer the lost soul behind the facade, but a man who lives and breaths and can argue like there's no tomorrow and who loves with every inch of his being.
I've watched my son hide his heart for most of his life. The boy who followed in the footsteps of his father, his idol, both men clinging to logic as a means of self-preservation, lest their hearts break again. Benton Fraser, the man, fading away while Benton Fraser, the Mountie, grew clearer. He became a man who lived for his duty because it was, he thought, a lifeline. A lifeline that was nearly severed when Robert died and Benton was sent into exile.
While Robert was tied to the world, unable to move on, I waited, and wondered if we would watch our son fade away, break apart and disappear. A living ghost.
But he didn't. Those who loved him didn't let him. Love made him alive, made us all alive, together again that moment in the mineshaft. Love allowed me to finally touch Benton's face again, allowed my Robert to finally take my hand.
Love opened Benton's heart.
Now I watch them - Ray and Benton - move across the floor to the sound of Etta James singing on an old record. And it is, for a moment, as if time does not exist, that dreams do become a reality.
"I love you, Ben," Ray says, drawing my son closer to him. Holding him.
"I love you, Ray." Benton buries his face in Ray's neck.
They tilt their heads in a kiss, and I know it is time for me to take my leave -- my own lover is waiting.
I have waited thirty years to know the end of my story. For my son, it is only the beginning.
Notes on lyrics used:
Some of the songs related to the story, for others it was merely the lyric. Listed are the versions of the songs I listened to.
• Just One Look written by D. Payne and G. Carroll, performed by Doris Troy, 1963
• The Search is Over written by Peterik and Sullivan, performed by Survivor, 1984
• Please Remember Me written by Rodney Crowell and Will Jennings, performed by Tim McGraw, 1999
• The Man I Love written by George Gershwin, performed by Billie Holliday, 1941
• At Last written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, performed by Etta James, 1961