Note: Alliance owns them, but they're taking the extended tour through my version of Wonderland. This is inspired by Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time". Thanks and virtual Haagen-Daaz ice cream to Deb Hann, who literally beta read it as I wrote it in an IM session.
by Raine Wynd
Ray Vecchio stared at the suitcase on his bed, sighing deeply as he began packing for his new life. He'd only been home a few days, and here he was getting ready to leave again. His mother disapproved, he knew; but there was no stopping this. He couldn't take back the promises he'd made, the changes he'd set forth. His eyes caught sight of a photograph someone had snapped of him and Fraser years before, in what seemed another life. Maybe, Ray thought, it was better to think of it as another life. He wasn't the man he'd been back then, not entirely. How many times had they risked their lives for each other? Too many to count.
For a moment, he closed his eyes, remembering how things had once been. Before and after a Mountie had entered his life. He would never be the same for the experience, and yet... Ray knew he'd been scared of the feeling. Taking the undercover assignment had been a risk he would have loudly protested only a few years earlier. He chuckled, hearing the voice of his old self argue precisely why he would never go undercover to risk his ass for such a stereotypical FBI operation. Somehow, Fraser had made him remember why he'd become a cop in the first place. Even so, Ray knew he'd started to feel like half a cop without Fraser, as if he would never be a great cop without Fraser's help, sniffing everything, using that guile of innocence and politeness to charm everyone into confessing their sins. The assignment had been his shot at that nameless something big that he'd been chasing for years without much success, and now... All Ray could feel was hollow. He didn't come home the conquering hero like he'd imagined, didn't get a chance to receive his best friend's congratulations on a job well done like he'd pictured. Instead, he nearly got killed.
The kicker was that somehow, Ray knew that Fraser expected it of him, though Fraser would deny it if Ray asked, and somehow, Ray didn't mind. Even with the shock of having his undercover operation go to hell in a handbasket the way nearly everything did whenever Fraser was involved, Ray hadn't minded. He'd been so alone, so lost, and unable to trust anyone the way he trusted Fraser... it had been almost a relief to know that Fraser was still... well, Fraser. Ray took comfort in that even as he'd been angry at his friend for his actions.
The sound of sensible pumps on a hardwood floor announced the arrival of his fiancee, and he looked up from his packing to watch Stella enter the room. For a moment, Ray was taken back to when Angie had walked into his room for the first time after they'd been married, and he felt the old heartache rise to well in his throat. He swallowed, knowing that Stella wasn't Angie, and the reasons he was getting married had little to do with childhood sweethearts.
If Ray was brutally honest with himself, something he didn't do very often because it often led to life-altering repercussions, he knew he'd find that at least one of those reasons was selfish. Stan had Fraser, the best friend who was supposed to have always been there for Ray, no matter what. Some instinct told Ray that whenever Stan got back, Fraser wouldn't be returning with him, and Ray was jealous of the younger man. Jealous because whatever Stan shared with Fraser was yet another piece of Fraser that Ray didn't have, didn't get a chance to understand and dismiss as being too Canadian for words. Ray felt like he was falling behind in his friendship with Fraser, and it was only a matter of time before Fraser was completely out of his life.
Who would be his anchor then? Ray had come home to find that his family didn't need him the way they used to, back when he handled everything; his name and identity stolen (albeit with permission) by a man who didn't even look like him, much less act like him. All that Ray had left was someone else's identity... one that he was glad to be rid of, and yet....
Everyone looked at him with sadness, as if they knew that he wasn't anything without Fraser. As if they'd heard his self-depreciation and doubt and agreed with his assessment.
The pity and sympathy hurt. It was one thing for Ray to question his abilities; quite another for everyone he knew to do the same to him, and then offer their condolences. Ray was tired of seeing it, tired of hearing about how Stan and Fraser had wrapped up the case and finally solved the mystery of who'd killed Fraser's mother. He wanted to be somewhere warm, where the memories weren't cold echoes of what had been, of what would never be again. He felt Stella's arms encircle him, offering wordless comfort, and he sighed into the embrace.
"I'm sorry, Stella."
She smiled gently. "It's okay," she told him. "You've lived here a long time."
It was on the tip of Ray's tongue to correct her misunderstanding, but something held him back. Instead, he offered her a wan smile in return and kissed her lightly. "Yeah, that's probably it," he agreed and set the last of his clothes in the suitcase, zipping it shut. "You have everything in the truck?"
Stella nodded. "Just waiting on you."
"I'll be down in a minute." He kissed her again to seal his promise. "I won't be late."
"We have to get going soon, or else we won't make it to the hotel we reserved on time," she reminded him as she stepped out of the brief embrace and towards the hallway.
"I know. I just want to make sure I didn't forget anything," he assured her.
"Okay, but don't dawdle," Stella told him in parting.
Ray rolled his eyes, but made sure she didn't see it. He knew enough about her by now to know she wouldn't appreciate the gesture. Moving quickly, he picked up the picture and, unzipping the suitcase, packed it carefully in the midst of his clothes. Then he reached into the nightstand and withdrew a sticky note, a phone number scribbled hastily on its surface.
He might be moving away, but damned if he was going to lose a friendship he'd risked his life for. He picked up the phone and began dialing.
4.24.00 Feedback extremely welcome!