torch, 1996
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

Disclaimer: not my guys. Not even my usual guys, actually. Romantic fluff, Fraser/Vecchio, written because JoAnne Soper-Cook told me to and because I have a thing for repressed characters. Do not archive this story without permission.

The vault

"...and you have to ruin it by being honest!"

There would have been a silence, if it hadn't been for the loud sound of water rushing to fill up the last inches of the vault.

"Normally I would not consider honesty a quality that ruins a conversation, Ray. However, there may be situations where perfect frankness would indeed cause a degree of embarrassment that would—"

"That's right, talk up the last of the oxygen, why don't you? I'm sure you can get out some three-syllable last words before the water starts pouring into your mouth."

"I believe it is a nervous reaction. I am trying to work my way around to making an important statement, and—"

"Well, you've got about ten seconds, Fraser, so make it snappy 'cause pretty soon you won't be in a state to talk and I won't be in a state to listen."

"You're right. I apologize for taking up the time with irrelevancies. Ray, I have never mentioned before that my feelings for you go beyond ordinary friendship. But they do."

"What?"

"I said, I have never mentioned that—"

"I heard what you said, Benny, but what the hell did you mean?"

"I think that's quite obvious—"

And then the door yielded to the explosives and the water carried them away.

* * *

He kept looking nervously at his friend as the would-be bank robbers were taken care of, as the water was mopped up, as Francesca made her opinion known to everyone within a two-kilometer radius. But there was nothing there, no reaction. As they walked out of the bank in light-hearted conversation Fraser was prepared to believe that he had hallucinated the entire scene inside the vault. He'd been running short of oxygen, after all. Perhaps he'd only imagined himself saying those words to Ray.

No. He knew very well that he did not imagine things like that. He had said it, and despite Ray's incredulous reaction, he felt certain that his friend had had no problem in figuring out exactly what he had meant. Apparently Ray was just choosing to ignore it.

Well, if that was the way Ray chose to have it, then that was the way it would have to be. They would merely go on as they always had, no need to ever think of this again. It could be ignored, this sudden confession of his, this uprushing of feelings, could be buried and suppressed again as it would no doubt have remained if he hadn't mistaken the rushing of water in his ears for the beating of angels' wings.

He could pretend that it had never happened.

Easily.

Standing in Welsh's office, watching Ray as he explained why they were both still remarkably damp, Benton Fraser thought he could probably forget it, but forgetting would kill him.

When he thought back on the time he had spent working with Ray, arguing with Ray, trusting Ray, being made fun of by Ray, falling in love with Ray, he found it amazing that the truth hadn't reached him earlier. It was as though a glass wall inside had shattered and he could suddenly taste the heart's blood of his own secret longings; everything was so extraordinarily vivid, the whole world was coming to life around him.

It was absolutely terrifying.

They walked outside again and Ray headed for his desk. Fraser followed him, it was automatic, he didn't even think about it. Ray drew him along, it had always been so, he couldn't stay away.

"Look, Fraser, I have work to do, files to mess up."

"Perhaps I could be of assistance," he suggested.

"You know no one can find anything around here after you've been through the files. Just let me handle this, okay?"

"Yes, but Ray—"

A swift, exasperated, distancing look. "I'm serious, Fraser."

He dropped his voice. It had to be said, no matter how strange it made him feel. He'd already opened himself up and now he could only go in one direction, the truth of his feeling tugging him along, wearing a path in him like water smoothing stone. "We have to talk, Ray."

"Damn right," the other man agreed immediately, to Fraser's surprise. "Only not right here and now because believe me, the things I have to say to you, you don't want the whole precinct to hear."

He took an involuntary step backwards. In the newfound brightness of emotions it seemed he had forgotten, absurdly, how much feeling could hurt. But now the look in his friend's eyes brought it back to him. "Very well. I'll just—"

"Go home," Ray filled in for him, sitting down behind the desk and making it a barrier between them. "I'll see you later."

* * *

"It was a stupid thing to do," he told Dief, who just looked at him and then lay down, tongue lolling out. Fraser went to stand by the open window and look out. A bunch of pigeons were holding a party on the fire escape and gave him bright beady glances. He leaned against the window frame and sighed. "Remarkably stupid."

"You're right there, son. Remarkably."

Fraser closed his eyes. "Go away."

"I've got a few things to say to you."

"I'm not listening."

"I'm not saying Ray Vecchio isn't a good man," his father went on unheedingly, "but that's the problem. He's a good man."

"Dad—"

"I never would have thought it of you. Seemed to me you were getting fond of that Dragon Lady of yours."

"I have only the highest respect for her—"

"See, that's the problem. Beautiful woman like that, you should feel more than just respect. Did I make a mistake somewhere, raising you?"

"Dad!" He spun around to face his father. "Stop this. Just stop it. I love Ray and I'll always love him and it doesn't matter what you think because you're dead!"

"Dead or not, I'm still your father." Then the ghost slowly smiled. "So you're serious. Good."

"Of course I'm serious! I — did you say, 'good'?"

"Yes, I did," his father said serenely. "I just wanted to make sure, son. Now all you have to do is convince him."

Fraser walked away from the window and sat down heavily on his bed. "I think he's understood already."

"He's not stupid. I meant, convince him that he loves you." Fraser groaned. "Don't be so down-hearted. I'm on your side. Just tell him how he really feels. How hard can it be?"

"You have no idea, Dad."

* * *

The brisk knock on the door took him by surprise even though he'd done nothing for hours but wait for it. A quick glance at his watch showed him that it was nine thirty. He hadn't taken any notice of how the evening had slipped away, he'd been too deep inside his own mind, wrestling with his problems, and his father's well-meaning but hopelessly inadequate piece of advice.

What surprised him even more was to see Ray Vecchio walk into his apartment without even waiting for an answer, carrying a chocolate cake in one hand and a bottle of wine in the other. For a moment his heart jumped, as he wondered if this was truly the romantic gesture it seemed to be, but the illusion was dispelled as Ray thrust the cake at him, saying, "It's from one of your neighbors. Little old lady, three doors down the hall? What did you do, untangle her knitting for her?"

"Ray, I—"

"Never mind. You have a corkscrew anywhere here?"

"Did you get the bottle from Mrs—"

"No, Benny, I did not. The wine is mine." Ray disappeared into the kitchen and Benton Fraser was left staring at a large plate of chocolate mousse cake. He had barely collected himself enough to put it down on the table when Ray returned with the opened bottle and two glasses.

"It's very kind of you to bring wine, Ray."

"No, it isn't," Ray contradicted him. "It's sheer necessity, I need it if we're going to have this conversation."

Fraser waited silently as Ray poured the wine and handed him a glass. He sipped, swallowed, did not taste anything. Watched his friend drink, too. "You said you had things to say to me," he said finally. "I can only assume that you mean in reference to what I told you earlier."

"Yeah." Ray had downed half a glass now; he started to walk around the room slowly. There was a lot of empty space to walk in. "What exactly was it you told me, Benny?"

"Well, I was unfortunately interrupted by the effect of the explosives on the door, or perhaps not so unfortunately, as it undoubtedly saved our lives, but what I was trying to say was that—" He lost his breath and had to stop. It suddenly seemed so much harder now, in this place, when they were both safe. But the feeling burned in him, brighter by the hour.

"You're going to have to do better than that, son," his father commented, standing by the table and looking down at the chocolate cake. "This looks delicious, mind if I have a piece?"

"You're not being any help," Fraser muttered.

"What am I supposed to do, say it for you?" Ray asked. "Fraser, I am asking you—"

"I was going to tell you that I love you, all right?!"

"That's what I thought," Ray said and put his wine glass down. "Now tell me something. Would you ever, and I mean ever, have told me that if you hadn't believed we were going to die?"

He paused; it wasn't a question he had expected, and he was surprised that Ray had asked it. But the answer was painfully clear. He looked down as he said, "No, Ray, I don't believe that I would have done that."

This was getting horrible. It was getting worse and worse. He had forgotten, no, he hadn't wanted to remember, how much love could hurt. Did hurt.

"So that's what it takes for you to be honest?" There was more of an edge to Ray's voice now. "You'll only tell the truth when you're sure it won't matter any longer?"

"Ray, I don't lie to you—"

"How the hell do I know that? I mean, you didn't tell me this and I can't think of anything that would have been more important to know!"

"I didn't think you'd want to hear it," he said quietly.

Ray walked up to him. There was a strange look in Ray's eyes, something that was part anger, part something else that he couldn't define but that made something inside him jump. "Well, maybe it wasn't important, Benny. Not if you only love me when we're going to die."

Fraser was bewildered. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, you only told me this in a situation where you thought we'd both be gone a minute later, right? Now here we are, alive and well, in case you hadn't noticed, with lives to lead. The same lives as before, which was when you wouldn't tell me. So what are you going to do now? Tell me to forget it?"

"Ray, I—"

"Tell me to pretend it never happened? Tell me we should just be friends? Damn it, Benny, you just turned my whole life upside down!" Ray was striding up and down the room now, one hand gesturing eloquently. "And I kept wondering in that vault why I couldn't take my eyes off you in that wet shirt. Why all of a sudden I thought you looked just — just wonderful."

"Thank you kindly, Ray."

"Shut up!" Ray said furiously. "This isn't a joke!"

"No, it isn't." Fraser, utterly bewildered, felt desperate enough to cast a beseeching look at his father, who just gestured encouragingly. "Ray, you're making this too complicated. I... I just love you, that's all."

"This is the part where you kiss him." Fraser glared at his father and mouthed the words, 'go away.'

"You sure of that, Benny?" Ray came back to him again and looked him in the eye. "You really sure?"

"Of course I am!" Frustration was making him short-tempered. "What do you want, Ray, a signed statement?"

"What do I want?" The anger vanished suddenly from Ray's face, and in its place came a small, rueful smile, one Fraser had never seen before, one he instantly loved. "I want you, Benny. But there's a whole big world out there that's going to have a lot of things to say if you and I suddenly start walking around hand in hand. I just don't want either of us suddenly deciding he's made a mistake."

There was a short silence.

"Can you say that again, please, Ray?"

"I said, I don't want either of us to—"

"No, not that part. The bit before it."

A deep breath, and then fingertips against his cheek, a light, almost shy touch. "I want you. I — I love you, Benny. I'm just sorry it took this to make me figure it out."

"Does it matter now?" He ran his hands along Ray's arms, up to his shoulders, down the back to cup his shoulder blades. Pulling him closer, no resistance, just this dreamlike slowness, Ray tilting his head up slightly and then they were kissing and it was like nothing he'd ever imagined, the strangeness and the rightness of it overpowering him. "Your lips taste like wine."

"I knew you could do it, son." The sound of ghostly laughter. "I'll be going now. Don't want to embarrass you."

"You already have."

"I already have, what?"

"A lot of things," Fraser said, smiling at Ray. "But most of all, you have my heart."

* * *

"Touch me again, please, like that."

"Beautiful, you're beautiful."

...

"I like the way you taste."

"I'll have to remember to say thank you for the chocolate cake."

...

"Oh."

"Yes. Yes, now—"

"Oh!"

...

"I love you, oh God, I love you, love you..."

* * *

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