Searching For Truth
By Sel

Ben stared blankly into the heart of the campfire as he tried to assimilate the events of the past few days. Everything had happened so quickly that he was only just now realising that it was all over. His body was still primed for action, and his brain was working overtime trying to catch up, it seemed, to everyone around him. As he watched the faces of his friends and colleagues, Ben felt keenly alone. It wasn't the first time he'd had such a feeling, and he knew it probably wouldn't be the last. But it had never been quite this sharp before, the sense of separation.

Maybe I'm just overreacting, he thought. It had been an emotionally exhausting day, after all. He'd brought his mother's killer to justice, averted a crime of disastrous proportions, and set his father's ghost to rest, while dealing with the devastatingly abrupt return to the place he considered his home. That sort of upheaval would be enough to make any man feel a bit unhinged.

He knew that it was more than that, though. The shock of seeing his mother and losing both her and his father all over again in an instant had been hard, yes. The anger he felt towards Muldoon still burned deep and bright inside him. But strong as these emotions were, they were secondary to the overwhelming sense of peace he felt at being where he belonged and the fear that accompanied it, that he would be staying here alone.

That was the problem, he knew. That was what gave him this feeling, that he was somehow set apart from everyone else here. They were all looking forward to ending this, to returning together to the various areas they'd come from to going home. The thing that they didn't understand could probably never understand was that Fraser already was home. And the thought of leaving it again was enough to break what was left of his heart. The parts of it that still belonged to him, anyway. He was vaguely sure there must be something left inside him that hadn't been claimed by anyone.

This place this frozen, barren, unforgiving stretch of wasteland was where he felt completely comfortable. His parents were here. His grandparents, too. The fierce blood of his pioneering ancestors called to him, demanding he stay. Ben didn't know if he could ignore it any longer.

How to explain all of that to those he loved and respected most?

Inspector Thatcher and Constable Turnbull would never comprehend how he could prefer this wilderness to the streets of Chicago or Toronto, for that matter. Sergeant Frobisher would assume he was acting out of duty to his father's memory. Lieutenant Welsh, Ray Vecchio and everyone else would say he had gone insane.

And Ray Kowalski? a small voice prodded gleefully at him. What will he say when you tell him?

When. Not 'if'. When. Fraser closed his eyes as he accepted that the decision had already been made. He couldn't leave, not yet. Not while the wounds were still so fresh. He needed time and solitude and silence to recover, to become himself again. He would stay. Hopefully, Ray Kowalski would understand that much, at least that he needed to heal before he could go on to whatever it was that lay in his future.

Please let him understand. I don't want to lose him too.

The subject of Ben's prayers appeared at the edge of the campfire. "Mind if I join ya?" Ray asked casually, already sure of his welcome. Ben pulled his thoughts into order and smiled at his friend. Ray looked like a kid who'd been given his heart's desire. He was incredibly appealing.

"Hello, Ray." It was inadequate, but then he always felt inadequate around Ray.

"You look like yer doin' some pretty heavy thinking there, Frase," Ray commented, dropping down beside him on the ground sheet before the fire. His shoulder brushed lightly against Ben's, and his light blue eyes invited confidences. "Anythin' you wanna talk about? I know ya must have a lot goin' on in that brain o' yers, after what happened today."

For a moment Fraser thought he was talking about the events that had transpired in the mine shaft, and his eyes widened. Then he recalled the rest of it you idiot, how could you forget it? and relaxed again.

"Well. Yes, Ray. You're correct. I have been doing some thinking," he offered. "I've been trying to get my thoughts in order. It's been a busy few days."

"Busy." Ray snorted, but he was smiling. "We climb a mountain, fall down a crevasse, nearly get ourselves drowned to death on an ice-field, get shot at, hijack a submarine from desperate criminals and basically save half the planet from extinction not to mention catchin' yer mother's murderer and solvin' yer father's last case and you say it's been 'busy'." His laugh sounded clear and heartfelt, like everything else about him. "Yer one of a kind, Fraser, ya know that?"

Ben flushed in a mixture of embarrassment and pleasure. "Thank you, Ray." He ordered his emotions to stay calm. "So you can see that there's a lot to think about. Seeing as we've been so busy." He returned Ray's smile.

"See, that's what's so great about this partnership we got, Frase," Ray said comfortably. "I'm the one that goes off to do the grunt work, what with me bein' the half that has the gun and the jurisdiction and you're the one that gets to analyse it all afterwards." He shrugged. "I'm not that good in the thinkin' department. I leave that to you."

Fraser gazed at him. "I don't think that's true," he said quietly. "You go much deeper than you let people think, Ray. It was one of the first things I learned about you." He watched Ray's eyes fill with surprise, then pulled back a little. "But that's neither here nor there," he went on. "As it happens, there is something I want to talk to you about."

Ray looked at him for a long moment. Ben didn't question his friend's scrutiny, though he felt horribly exposed. He merely waited until Ray nodded for him to continue.

"I'm listenin'."

He hesitated. Now that he'd started, he couldn't find the right words. Not an unusual circumstance, but one that never failed to frustrate him. "Well, I've been thinking, and ... You see, the thing is I mean, I've told you how homesick I've been lately, and" He stopped, feeling foolish. Ray's face was unreadable in the flickering light of the fire. He doesn't understand. Ben's heart sank. He'd hoped...

"You wanna stay here." It wasn't a question. Ray nodded slowly, never looking away from him. "You don't wanna go back to Chicago. Not yet maybe not ever. Am I right?" He didn't wait for an answer. His eyes narrowed as he looked closely at Ben. "Frase did something else happen today that you wanna talk about? Apart from all of this?" He waved a hand at their surroundings.

Ben nearly fell over. " understand?" he blurted out. "You're not angry with me?"

"Angry?" Ray was clearly puzzled. "Why the hell would I be angry with you, Frase? I can see you're a little shook up by all this. Ya got a perfect right to be. A lot's happened to get us here." He smiled a little, the quirk of his lips that Ben loved to see. "And you've come home when ya least expected to. It's gotta be a bit of a shock." He put his hand on Ben's shoulder, squeezing lightly, an arm across his back. "I get it, Frase. They might not," he nodded to the rest of their party, "but I do. No problem."

He was sincere; none of the warmth was gone, none of the wonderful essence of Ray was dimmed. Ben hardly dared to believe what he was seeing.

"Th-thank you, Ray," he stammered. "For understanding. And for your friendship." He took a risk. "It means a great deal to me."

Ray's grin was shy. "Yeah, well, you're not so bad yerself, ya know?" he shot back, and Ben's heart warmed all over again. He might not have this man's love not the way he wanted it, anyway but at least he did have this; friendship, respect, and a deep warmth that could last a lifetime.

"I know," he replied softly. He put his hand over Ray's and squeezed it in return, then let go while he still could.

"So, when are ya gonna tell 'em?" Ray asked, meaning the others, he assumed. Ben shrugged.

"After we take Muldoon in," he answered. "I'll see him in prison, or at least safely locked away till his trial, and then I'll come back here." He looked around at the landscape, moonlit silver, and sighed deeply. Ray followed his gaze.

"Yer gonna be here for a while then, huh?" he said cautiously. Ben raised an eyebrow at the change in his tone.

"I'd say so, yes," he agreed. "A few months, maybe more. I'm thinking of taking a leave of absence, actually. Why do you ask?"

His partner picked up a stick from the fire and dragged it through the snow aimlessly. "I was just curious," he muttered. "I uh, I thought you'd be takin' Vecchio back as yer partner, is all. But if you're plannin' on bein' up here for a while, I guess that's not gonna work, is it?" He didn't look up, but sat very still, as if he were waiting for something.

Ben frowned. "Well, no," he said slowly. A thought occurred to him; was Ray asking if he wanted Vecchio back as his partner because he was feeling insecure? Or was he asking because he wanted to work with Vecchio? "Ray, I've made no plans with Ray Vecchio for work purposes or otherwise. I hadn't thought really about it at all." He tried to be casual. "If you're asking if I mind you and Ray working together in my absence"

"No!" Ray interrupted quickly. The stick snapped between his fingers. "No, that's that's not what I was askin'," he said hastily. Ben shot him a puzzled look.

"What is it that you're asking me then, Ray?"

He was completely unprepared for the answer he received. "I was kinda hopin' ... that maybe ya might I don't know, maybe you'd want some company up here or somethin'," Ray stuttered. Ben looked at him in total surprise; he must not have been able to conceal it, either, because Ray instantly turned defensive. "What?" he demanded. "I'm just tryin' to be a good friend, here, Frase tryin' to offer ya a shoulder to cry on, a helpin' hand, whatever ya need. I wanna help ya get through this." He glared, suddenly resentful. "Or is it just that ya don't want me around up here?"

He managed to unstick his tongue before Ray talked himself all the way back to Chicago. "No Ray, no," he assured him. "That's not it. Not at all." How do I explain this to him without giving myself away?

"What, then?" Ray was still on the attack. "Ya think I can't learn to handle myself up here? Think I'm too weak or somethin'?"

Ben smiled, holding that blue gaze, basking in the emotion that was radiating off the other man in waves. "No," he repeated firmly. "I'm not saying any of that, Ray. If you'd let me get a word in edgewise, I'll explain." Somehow.

"Oh. Okay." Just like that, he was calm, subsiding and relaxing where a moment ago he'd been tense and angry. Ben shook his head. Quicksilver, was Ray Kowalski.

"I'm not trying to to turn you away," he began. "I don't think you're incapable quite the opposite, in fact. You're a very quick learner, and you're stronger than you appear. I think you'd acclimate quite well." He shrugged. "I just I didn't think you'd want to stay here, that's all. This is my home, not yours. I didn't think you'd want to leave the city for this." He gazed around the surrounding area. "It can be a harsh environment, even if you've known it all your life. I didn't want you to take a risk like this, endanger your life, possibly, just to share my company."

Ray's smile was like the sun coming up, bright and golden. "Yer an idiot, ya know that, Frase?" he said, thumping ben lightly on the arm. "Ya shoulda just said that before." He stopped smiling, and his face grew serious. "If ya want me to stay up here with ya, I can do that. I like it here." He looked around again. "It's beautiful."

"You don't have to" Ben began, trying to explain the potential for danger, but Ray cut him off.

"I know. I know I don't have to, and I know it can be dangerous," he said, his gaze level and open. "But I want to, for you. 'Cause we're partners, and partners need to know where each other comes from. This is yer home, Frase, and that makes it a part of you. So I wanna learn all about it. And yer the perfect guy to teach me, right?" He grinned finally, nudging him. "We could have that adventure, find the Hand of Franklin. Whaddaya say?"

Ben stared at him, unable to believe what he was hearing. That he would do this for me, that he cares so much ...It was like a gift from God. He vowed to treasure it like gold; to him, it was worth far more, the regard of this man. He waited until he could be sure of his voice before he finally spoke. "I thank you, Ray," he managed huskily. "I never expected this." He rubbed a thumb over his eyebrow, fighting fear of exposure, but needing to say it. "You're more than just my partner. You're a good friend." His voice caught despite himself. "The best of friends."

Ray stiffened momentarily; in shock? "Yer yer not just sayin' that?" he said warily. "I mean, Vecchio"

"Ray Vecchio is like a brother to me," he said plainly. "I love him dearly. But Ray Vecchio would not have offered to stay here with me." It was true; Ray Vecchio was a man of cities, not this wilderness. He would never survive out here. Ray Kowalski, however, was himself a wild creature, Ben thought. He would do very well, once he learned the ropes. He might even grow to truly love it, as Ben himself did. That would be a miracle that he hardly dared hope for.

Ray's face was beautiful; full of pleasure at his words, and a hint of something else, something Ben couldn't quite define, but whatever it was made him catch his breath. It was gone quickly, but he knew he wouldn't forget that look. It was akin to relief. Relief that Fraser wanted him, perhaps, that he was needed somewhere? Was Ray, too, searching for a place to belong?

Perhaps we belong here together, he thought daringly, as Ray's arm once again rested lightly over his shoulders. He leaned infinitesimally into the touch, savouring it for the simple warmth and feeling it represented. He angled a glance at Ray and smiled slightly as hope grew inside him. "Are you sure about this, Ray?"

Ray's smile was beautiful, his face calm and certain. "Yeah, Frase, I'm sure," he replied steadily, holding Ben's gaze. "I can't think of anything else I'd rather do than stay here with you."

Dear Jesus. Ben had to physically restrain himself from leaning in, feeling Ray's breath on his face, covering that wonderful mouth with his own and letting himself go for the first time in his life. It was much too soon, and besides, he didn't even know if Ray would welcome his attentions, and this wasn't exactly the most suitable place for it ... but God, he wanted to. It seemed like he'd been holding back forever, and the pressure was building up so fast he didn't know if he could contain it for much longer. I love you, Ray Kowalski. "Thank you, Ray. I'd love to have you here with me." Forever.

Perhaps Ray heard his silent vow, because his smile changed, becoming softer. "You got me, Ben," he replied, never hesitating. "Wherever we go from here, you got me. And I got you." His head tilted to one side. "Don't I?"

Ben saw it then; saw what Ray was asking, what he was offering, and his heart threatened to jump out of his chest. It was too soon, yes, but he could wait. "Yes, Ray," he murmured, his eyes bright. "Yes, you do." He shifted closer, felt Ray move in as well, and couldn't hold back the smile inside him as his hopes and prayers were answered.

Time would ensure they were doing the right thing. They would have to take it slowly out here, but Ben could do that. He could do anything, with Ray beside him. And they had all the time in the world.


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