The moon was just visible behind the branches of the old tree right next to the building opposite. The moon was almost full, maybe in a day it would be.

Fraser kept staring outside of his window. It was better than watching his legs not moving. Even when he stared at them intently and willed them to do what his brain ordered them to he didn’t get any reaction.

Of course not, he chided himself. It was as if he had lost the use of his legs all over again—which was actually exactly what had happened. He would have to learn it all over again… that was if he could…

All the windows opposite were dark. Small favors… he supposed he should be thankful.

For a moment, he thought he saw a woman with dark, curly hair move in one of the darkened rooms.

Fraser closed his eyes.

Ray stood in their kitchen with a puzzled frown on his face. He let one of the leaves glide softly through his fingers. Were those the right ones? They were green all right… Ray rubbed the back of his neck.

But these here were green as well. He sighed… god, this was frustrating. He’d thought this would be such a simple thing.

He let his fingers wander again over the assortment of plants in their little pots. Dammit! This was Fraser’s area—he was the one growing the infuriating stuff in the first place!

How was he supposed to differ?—different?—distinguish between herbs and tea leaves?

All he wanted was to bring Fraser a cup of his own, home-grown spearmint tea. Because Fraser had looked so morose yesterday when he stared into his tea cup from the cafeteria. So Ray thought he would be nice and bring him some from home… he’d had no idea that he would need a college diploma to do that.

He’d never been good at biology… well, not at the parts that had nothing to do with anatomy. That Ray had down pat. He allowed himself a dirty grin. Back to the task at hand.

He considered using a nursery rhyme to pick which of the leaves he should take, but then he found that he couldn’t remember any. Think, Kowalski, you don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to find peppermint. Smell. He could do that.

Didn’t keep him from feeling stupid, standing in the kitchen, sniffing at plants, but it was the best he could come up with. The first one smelled like pizza so that was probably some kind of herb and not something Fraser would enjoy drinking.

After the third try, Ray found something that smelled right. It even looked like what he thought he remembered spearmint was supposed to look like. How many of those leaves did you need?

Ray figured you couldn’t die of an overdose so he plucked a handful. He stopped to stare at the innocent leaves, lying scattered over the kitchen counter. Now what?

Ray looked at the travel mug and back to the leaves. Somehow he didn’t think that just adding water would do the trick. He couldn’t remember Fraser ever plucking leaves out of his tea when he drank some.

Right! Fraser had this—this thing—this egg… Ray looked around the kitchen. Fraser and his freakish organization. Fraser and his freakishly brilliant organization, Ray crowed as he hit upon the correct drawer on a hunch on the first try. Maybe Fraser had considered Ray’s hunches when he had straightened out the kitchen.

So, Ray supposed the leaves were meant to go in there. And now he could boil the water. The next question was again how long the stuff was supposed to stay in there. Ray went back to his poison-theory and concluded that too long probably wouldn’t kill anyone. Maybe a tea took as long as it took his coffee machine to produce a cup. That would make sense.

Ray looked at his handiwork with something akin to pride. He had made tea! From leaves, not the stuff you could by in a supermarket. And here Mrs. Carlisle, Stella’s mother, had always said that Ray would never manage to produce anything in the kitchen—anything non-lethal, that is. Ray eyed the mug warily. Fraser wouldn’t keep anything poisonous in the kitchen, right? Just in case Ray had gotten something mixed up.

Fraser appeared to be engrossed in Ray’s detective story when Ray came in.

“Hey there, Ben,” Ray said with a smile. It felt good to see him awake.

Ben looked tired, Ray realized with a sudden drop of his heart.

“Hello, Ray,” Fraser acknowledged, but he didn’t really meet Ray’s eyes.

“Is it good?” Ray asked and for a second, Fraser didn’t seem to get what Ray was talking about. Ray nodded at the book Fraser was holding.

“Oh,” Fraser was momentarily surprised. “Yes, very.”

Ray grinned. Hammett was one hell of a writer: if Fraser got bored by him then nothing would help.

“What’s your favorite part so far?” Ray asked, sitting down in his customary spot next to Fraser’s bed, the travel mug safely hidden underneath his jacket.

Fraser contemplated the book cover and finally rubbed his eyebrow. “The, ah, the Flitcraft episode,” Fraser concluded after a moment of thought.

Ray grinned. Figured he’d love this bit—even people who’d never read the story knew about that episode. Ray had always thought it didn’t really belong in a traditional gumshoe story. Why did Spade tell the story of the man, Flitcraft, who just had a close shave with death one day and then decided to start a new life, just like that. Be somebody else, leave behind his family, everything.

Of course, Fraser had to go for the only thing with depth in a detective story.

“Should’ve figured,” Ray grinned. “Hey, I, uh, brought you something.” Hesitantly, Ray got the mug out from under his jacket. He held it out with a shy smile.

Fraser looked at the mug and, finally, reached out to take it. He raised it to his nose and took a careful whiff of the contents. A small smile appeared on his face. “Mentha spicata,” Fraser said quietly.

He took a sip and coughed a little.

“Too strong?” Ray looked crestfallen.

“No—no, not at all,” Fraser assured him, but his eyes crinkled a little.

“I’ll get it right next time,” Ray assured him.

“It’s really fine, Ray,” Fraser said over the rim of the mug and Ray relaxed a little. This moment when all tension and… sadness… was it sadness? had drained from Fraser’s face, that had been worth going through all the trouble.

Just… these days the smile on Fraser’s face never seemed to last long… if it was there at all.

“Ben.” A voice so soft, so gentle. A voice to recite poetry. A voice like snow.

“Ben, wake up.”

Fraser’s eyes flew open. There she was, standing right next to his bed. Just as beautiful as the last time he had seen her.

“Victoria,” he wasn’t sure if he really said her name out loud or if he only thought he had.

She smiled and sat down in the seat Ray usually occupied. It all looked out of place.

“You should’ve come with me,” she said with a knowing look at his legs.

“I’ve often thought about it,” he answered truthfully.

Victoria looked around the room, maybe reading something in its walls. “You knew I had to do the things I did. I couldn’t give you a choice—and even then… even then,” she looked at him with so much hurt in her eyes.

Again, he felt like the one that had betrayed her.

“I left you no choice. I destroyed everything you had… why didn’t you choose me, Ben? Why?”

Fraser felt again the wind on that train platform. He saw her smile as she said ‘come with me.’

“I was going to.” His lips were dry.

“Too late,” she whirled around and her dark eyes gleamed.

“I know…” he would gladly give her anything she wanted from him.

“You won’t get so lucky this time, Ben,” she said softly. “But you know that, right?” She patted his leg with her cold hands. Her hands had always been cold. Fraser had held them between his own so often, trying to warm them up.

Fraser looked at his legs. He had feared he might not.

“Consider it a form of punishment,” she smiled gently. “None of this would’ve happened if you had come with me.”

Atonement… he hadn’t thought of it that way. Yes, maybe he deserved it. For the years he had taken from her.

“They removed the bullet,” he explained, unnecessarily perhaps.

“Does that mean you will forget me?” she asked. And her face was so beautiful. Looking at her now he’d swear he could never hurt her… but they both knew it wasn’t true.


“You won’t be able to,” her face changed. He remembered the last time she had looked at him like that. He was staring through a grimy glass window in a seedy strip club. And she was perched on a high stool right in the middle of the room. The look on her face had been so cold… so cold… “Because you will think of me, Ben. Every time you push that wheelchair. Every time you realize that you can’t walk anymore. Every time your boyfriend looks at you.” Her smile was vicious, dark, and hurtful, but it didn’t diminish her beauty.

“Victoria—” he had no idea what he was going to say, but she didn’t give him an opportunity to find the right words.

She pulled out a gun, small and sleek. “Maybe I’d better make sure—give you another bullet wound to remember me by.”

The gun zeroed in on his right kneecap. And then she fired.

Fraser woke up with a start. Sweat was beading on his forehead and his right leg was shaking spasmodically. He couldn’t stop it. He was gasping for breath, looking around wildly and disoriented. Fraser reached out with a trembling hand to stop his leg, but he couldn’t reach far enough.

He tried to calm his heart rate when warm fur brushed his arm.

“Dief,” he gasped with relief.

The half-wolf whined softly and moved up, placing his front paws on the side of Fraser’s bed to lick at his cheek.

A dream… it had been a dream… she hadn’t been here. Of course not, no one had ever seen her again since she had vanished on that train.

Absent-mindedly, Fraser rubbed two fingers over his lips. Victoria…

He hadn’t dreamed about her in a long time.

After he had calmed down again, he lay staring at the ceiling. What if she had been right? Maybe this was his punishment. Maybe he deserved it. Did it matter? He couldn’t use his legs, what difference did it make if it was just or not?

He didn’t have any strength left… he probably wouldn’t get better. Accepting it might be easier in the long run than fighting a losing battle. Ever since he had recovered from the kidney infection his legs had deteriorated to a point that closely resembled the days immediately after the surgery. It hadn’t gotten better… it never would…

Ray was just on his way to the hospital when he ran into the mailman. There usually wasn’t much mail for Ray and Fraser; Ray never wrote letters in the first place and Fraser didn’t have much family left with whom to exchange letters in Canada.

A letter came from Maggie now and again—even Buck Frobisher had written a letter when Fraser had gone into the hospital. This time, it was a postcard.

Ray looked at the picture. It showed a beach in… did it say Miami? Ray flipped the postcard around. It was addressed to ‘Benny’ and ‘Stanley can read if he wants.’ Ray snorted, why should Vecchio write a postcard from his honeymoon?

The message consisted of all of 5 lines, but it was enough for Ray to have a hysterical laughing fit. Wheezing, he leaned against the side of the GTO. Sure, Vecchio was going to move to Florida. With Stella. To open a bowling alley—Ray was pretty sure he had read that wrong. No way could it have said bowling alley. But try as he might Ray couldn’t come up with two other words that could go in that place.

It said that they were trying to get things straightened out and that they would come back once everything was settled. Ray tried to get his laughter to subside. Man, that wasn’t an easy thing to do. God… when was the last time he had laughed? Judging from the way his muscles hurt a long time ago.

He hoped Fraser would find it funny as well; he could really use some laughter.

That thought sobered him up quicker than he had thought possible. Fraser was really worrying him. For almost two days now, Fraser had hardly talked at all and what little he had said had sounded dead to the world.

A haunted look flitted over Ray’s face at the memory. And the circles under Fraser’s eyes were so dark by now that Ray couldn’t even remember how he normally looked. He was also losing weight… the tray with his food always looked empty enough, but at the rate he was going it wouldn’t be more than a few weeks before Fraser was a skinny guy like Ray.

Fraser had always filled out his clothes nicely. Not too much muscle, but not skinny either.

Part of it was the fault of the damn infection and of course Fraser had lost a lot of weight in the beginning, when he couldn’t keep the food down, but he seemed to be getting thinner by the day now.

Those dark eyes… when Fraser slept it looked like two dark holes in a starkly pale face. As if someone had punched him in the eye sockets.

Ray had tried everything he could think of. He had entertained Fraser with stories, he had tried to be witty—he had even asked for a Caribou anecdote—nothing. Just this politely interested look if at all.

Okay, maybe Ray wasn’t on top of his game either and maybe a bit of his worries could be attributed to lack of sleep or a short attention span or just normal paranoia. But this definitely wasn’t all in his head.

“Frase?” Ray asked when he entered Fraser’s room. Fraser looked up from his spot on the bed.  “I got some news, wait until you see this,” Ray forced as much cheerfulness in his voice as he could.

He handed Fraser the postcard. Watching like a hawk, Ray followed the expression on Fraser’s face. There wasn’t much to watch, however.

“That’s nice. I’m happy for them,” Fraser said and handed the postcard back to Ray.

Ray felt as if he had been kicked in the gut. If the idea of Stella working in a bowling alley didn’t crack Fraser up, Ray didn’t know what would.

Ray tried to cover up his own insecurities by filling Fraser in on the mundane, everyday details about Frannie and the rest. He spent an unhealthy amount of time describing what Turnbull probably considered dating and the way Frannie suddenly behaved like a blushing virgin—which according to Ray was quite the surprise after almost three years of her trying to get Fraser’s attention by wearing as little as could still be called clothing.

But even Ray with his mouth the size of a small state ran out of stories to tell sometime. Especially when the audience was less than impressed by what he had to tell.

“So…” Ray floundered. “What about you? Any news?”

Fraser’s mouth thinned to a tight line. “No, no news.”

Ray nodded along as if it was no big deal. “How did the tests go?”

“How do you think they went? I can’t walk, Ray. Could you please stop asking me that,” Fraser snapped; he sounded as tired as he looked.

“I—I wasn’t,” Ray stammered. “I know you can’t, I was just… was just…” He was surprised by Fraser’s vehemence and he was too tired himself to be prepared for battle. It hurt… he hadn’t meant to make Fraser feel bad about the lack of progress… he just…

Ray wrung his hands a little helplessly.

“I think I want to sleep now if you don’t mind. I’m tired,” Fraser said with a furrow between his eyebrows, the eyes fixed anywhere but on Ray.

“Sure, of course…” Ray mumbled, almost tripping over his feet when he tried to get out of the chair.

He shouldn’t… he shouldn’t take it personally… Ray reminded himself.

Withered leaves on the trees outside… steel-gray sky visible just over the roof of the other building… it was the same view over and over again.

He supposed it was calming… in a way… this was going to be his future, sitting in a wheelchair, staring out of the window…

Watching the seasons change… the leaves drop off the trees… the dead-looking branches heavy under the first fall of snow…

He didn’t mind… he didn’t have the energy to care… he just wished people would leave him be…

Stop asking questions. Ray should just give up… why couldn’t Ray accept that he wouldn’t recover? Surely Ray could stop putting on a brave front…

Bravery…. yes, the knight on his noble quest… so full of purpose and good intentions…

This time, however, it was a fool’s errand…

One of the nurses who knew Ray from his regular visits found him in the hallway looking a little shaken.“Are you all right?” She asked kindly.

Ray’s head flew up; he had been lost in thought. The nurse was rather young, a lot younger than Ray was at least. Her blond hair glowed like a halo around her head and for a moment Ray smiled at himself because once upon a time he would’ve fallen over his own feet trying to impress her.

Instead he just shrugged and tried to release the tension in his chest with a deep breath.

“Yeah, it’s just—it’s not easy… he’s…” Ray rummaged around his brain for the right word. He didn’t want to say that Fraser was difficult or that his cold attitude hurt or any of that stuff because that wouldn’t be fair to Fraser.

She smiled gently. “It happens to most people after such a traumatic experience. It always hits hardest with the strong ones, the fighters, because they aren’t used to needing help.”

Ray stared at her in surprise. How had she known—

Her smile turned into a little grin at Ray’s flummoxed expression. “I’m a nurse; as I said, the behavior of your friend is fairly normal under the circumstances. It’s always hard to deal with depression; I’m sure it must come as quite a shock to you to see him like that.”

She continued talking, but Ray’s brain was still stuck in the middle of her speech. That had always happened to him in school, too. The teacher would say something, he’d stop and think about it, and by the time he had figured it out for himself the teacher was already finished with the next topic and Ray didn’t have a single note for any of it.

Depression… Ben was depressed? Huh… it made so much sense Ray felt ten times of stupid for not thinking of it himself. He’d just… well, he’d thought depressed people would be crying a lot, mourning the starving children in Africa, or random homeless people, and that they were constantly sad, reciting even more depressing poetry or something.

“Sir? Do you need to sit down?” the nurse inquired with a worried frown.

Ray shook his head and tried to smile. “No, uh, sorry, I just… had to think about what you said. Thanks.”

She nodded understandingly and went on her way.

Ray debated what he should do now. Let Fraser sleep a little, maybe get some rest, and come back later? No. Ray shook his head. If what the nurse had said was true, and she got paid for knowing stuff like that, then Fraser’s mood wouldn’t improve by sleeping… maybe he wasn’t even sleepy, just tired.

Decisively, Ray turned around and walked back along the corridor until he found himself in front of Fraser’s door again.

Ray swallowed nervously and knocked twice on the door. When no reply came, Ray entered the room anyway.

Fraser was apparently sleeping again. Carefully, Ray sat down on the edge of the bed. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do now. Going on his gut, he reached out to take Ben’s hand in his own.

There was a twitch visible on Fraser’s face as Ray’s hand touched his and Ray suddenly got it.

“You’re not really sleeping, are you?” he said quietly.

Unwillingly, Fraser opened his eyes. “No…” he admitted, his gaze going out the window.

Ray wove their fingers together. “It’s okay,” Ray brushed a kiss to Ben’s temple.

“It’s not,” Fraser contradicted him. Ray was about to go back to his pep-talk speech, but closed his mouth again. He’d done nothing but encourage Fraser that it would be all right… thing was, if it hadn’t helped the last few days what good would it do now?

Maybe there wasn’t anything he could say?

He bent down and pulled Ben into a clumsy hug. It was difficult because Fraser was lying down and not sitting up and because he apparently didn’t know what to do with Ray’s sudden embrace.

But Ray simply tightened his grip and held on. It was almost like sliding into bed with Ben, the only things missing were his feet. He had no idea how long they lay together like that, but at some point Ben’s breathing evened out and his face relaxed into the soft features of sleep.

Ray kept holding Ben for a while longer. He was surprised to find out how much he needed this simple comfort himself. It had been such a long time since they had touched in any meaningful way… or at all… Ben still smelled like himself, beneath all the hospital it was still him.

Maybe Ray could close his eyes, too, just for a minute…

Sunday morning…

Surprise broke through Fraser’s stupor… it had to be Sunday morning because he could feel the sun on his face so it was already late in the morning… and Ray was snuggled close against his side… his hair tickling Fraser’s throat…

A smile was just beginning to spread over his lips when he opened his eyes. And froze. This wasn’t a Sunday morning after all. It was an afternoon at the hospital. Despair came crashing over him and robbed him of his breath for a moment.

He couldn’t walk. He would be stuck inside of here forever.

The impulse to flee was so strong—abruptly washed away by an urge to laugh because… how could you flee with no legs to carry you? How could you get away from a body that had let you down?

You couldn’t…

Stuck forever…

With nothing but his thoughts to keep him company…

Company… such a simple word…

… he remembered… it derived from the Latin expression to share your bread with someone… it first appeared in the French military…

… brothers in arms…

He looked at Ray. He was lying half on the bed, supported by his feet on the ground, with one arm wrapped tightly across Fraser’s chest. Fraser saw the glint of the metal bracelet as it caught the afternoon sun.

Gently, Fraser reached out to feel the slide of the metal beads underneath his fingertips.

The metal was warm. Not as warm as Ray’s skin underneath, though. He hooked his fingers around the string of beads, feeling the solid metal between his fingers.

… a feeling like calm…

How many nights had he gripped Ray’s wrist, crushing the metal between Ray’s skin and his own?

Images, long forgotten.


How many nights had he kissed the beads and the soft skin underneath until Ray had gasped his name?


He could never go back…

But he couldn’t let go of the bracelet… and he couldn’t stop watching Ray’s face…

Ray still had an hour before he had to start his shift. Welsh was getting worried, but Ray had blown him off. Welsh had probably seen too many cops whose work was the only thing that kept them going to really stop him, but Ray figured he’d better shape up.

He stood in front of his bathroom mirror about to finish his shave. He smoothed the skin of his cheek, stretching it so that he wouldn’t cut himself. His bracelet caught his eye in the mirror and he smiled.

When he had woken up Ben’s fingers had been entangled with the bracelet and Ray had felt something of their connection, the bond they shared, coming back to life.

He tried to relax his lips to complete the shave, but the smile popped up again before he could place the razor against his skin.

God… that time Ben had done it for him, shaved Ray—with that freaky knife of his? Who the hell shaved like that? Dangerous, was what it was. Ray had already seen himself d-e-d, dead, but Fraser had just smiled at him, eyes all crinkly and soft and Ray had given in. How was he supposed to say ‘no’?

Ray shivered at the memory and had to let his hand with the standard plastic razor drop again. Fraser shaving him with the edge of the blade against his skin had to be the most intense thing he had ever experienced.

Ben had looked so smooth, so self-assured, and Ray had had a hard-on in 10 seconds flat. But he hadn’t dared to move a muscle and—as if Fraser had known about the heat Ray was packing— he’d done that thing where he licks his lip, looking all concentrated, which was probably a good thing, and that had made it all just even harder to sit still. Harder, haha.

God, he had no idea if he had even managed to let Ben clean the foam off before he had mauled him, crushing their mouths together… phew, was it hot in here or was that just his own sweet fantasy?

Now Ray couldn’t even concentrate on the sink because… god, he really wasn’t fond of doing it in the bathroom, but that one time… he couldn’t have imagined anything hotter… walking had really been an issue for a day or two afterwards.

At some point, Ray managed to finish his shave and get dressed for work. He came out of the bedroom, looking around the apartment and figuring he really needed to clean some one of these days, when the blanket on the couch caught his eyes.

“Oh,” Ray actually said it out loud. In two quick strides he was next to the couch, touching the blanket almost reverently. Its blue was faded by now, but the material had only gotten softer with time. Ben had purchased it during their quest in one of the small towns— well, Fraser had called them ‘towns’, Ray didn’t have a word in his dictionary for 5 houses on frozen ground in the middle of nowhere— because Ray had forever complained about the cold.

Okay, the blanket itself didn’t change much about the fact that ‘god, it was frickin’ cold’ just because Supermountie didn’t know what cold was when it stretched as far as the eye could reach and beyond, but it made Ray feel better anyway.

They’d kept it and Ray always got it out as soon as the temperatures dropped. Because Chicago winters, boy, they had really taken their cue from the Canadian ice floes, thinking ‘guys, that’s how a winter is done, let’s give it all we’ve got.’

On a whim, Ray decided to take it to Fraser, who needn’t be kept warm—at least not physically— but who might get the same comfort out of it Ray had back in the day.

“Shit,” Ray cursed with a glance at the clock. Okay, first he had to get through work and then he could go bring Fraser the blanket. By the time his shift ended visitor hours would still be a long way away, but he might be able to persuade one of the nurses to let him sneak in—or he could at least drop it off with one of them to give it to Fraser if he couldn’t give it to him in person.

Without sleep the night stretched to all eternity… it was hard to imagine that it could ever be light again…

He’d tried sleeping… but every time he fell asleep others woke up…

… Victoria… in a parody of herself… constructed by Fraser’s mind of equal parts love and cruelty…

… and often he didn’t know which part he was meeting in his dreams… they seemed interchangeable… or maybe they were the same…

… Ray Vecchio… his appearance hurt almost more… the uncanny was the familiar in distorted form…

… sometimes Ray was aiming for him from the start… sometimes Ray was too late to stop him… sometimes Ray killed him… sometimes Ray’s shot missed…

Fraser could never distinguish which were the good solutions and which weren’t…

…they all felt like dying…

In some dreams it was Fraser holding the gun… in some he couldn’t tell love and hate apart… in some he fired the shot… saw Victoria fall… saw Ray drop…

Sleep wasn’t a safe haven… sleep offered no respite…

… to die… to sleep… perchance to dream… what dreams may come… must give us pause…

His eyes were so heavy…

His shoulders began to shake.

He couldn’t…

His gasping for breath shook his whole frame.

He couldn’t take it…

His sobs spilled over his lips like a prayer in reverse.

He couldn’t go on… not… not like this…

His leg started to spasm again, trembling uncontrollably.

He couldn’t even run away… not even crawl… he’d never get away from them…

His crying was shattered hope.

The door opened almost noiselessly and Ray breathed in relief. He really didn’t want to wake Fraser. It was somewhere around 4 o’ clock in the morning—or it had been by the time Ray arrived at the hospital.

He was just lucky that it was the elderly nurse on night duty again. She seemed to have a soft spot for Ray. She made him promise not to disturb Fraser and Ray was really trying not to.

A sound suddenly filled the quiet hallway and for a moment Ray thought he’d somehow caused it. Puzzled, he started at the slightly open door. Was that—was that crying?

He opened the door wider and squeezed into the room. His hand pushed the door closed automatically as his heart took a sudden dive into the floor. “Ben…” Ray gasped and rushed to the bed.

The light from the open window was hardly enough to illuminate anything, but it didn’t take more than the barest shadow of light to see that Ben was shaking if the sobs weren’t enough to tip you off.

He didn’t even notice that Ray had appeared in his room or that Dief seemed to try to provide comfort, standing on his other side.

“Hey… hey…” Ray murmured helplessly, dropping down on the bed beside him. Ben’s head flew up then, staring at him through his fingers with terror and such profound sadness that Ray felt his heart break.

Trying not to spook him, Ray reached out to pull Fraser’s hands away from his face.

They were shaking as Ray placed them gently in Fraser’s lap. “Shh…” Ray murmured again. His fingertips smoothed away the tear tracks on Fraser’s cheeks.

Fresh tears sprung up immediately and Ben’s breathing was still too fast, way out of control, sobbing and gasping and crying all at the same time.

Ray enveloped Ben in a hug, pressing his face close to Ben’s. His hands cradled Ben close, stroking soothingly down his back as he repeated the same nonsensical words again and again. “I’m here… shh… it’s all right… I’m here…”

At some point, Ray could make out words. Whispered, almost broken, but in between the sobs were fragments of whole sentences.

“I can’t… I can’t… it’s… too much… too…”

“Take a deep breath, Ben… don’t worry…” Ray repeated in a soft voice, pulling back a little to wipe the tears away again and to look Ben in the eye, to make Ben see him.

“I’m here with you, okay?”

He placed his hand on Fraser’s trembling leg. It didn’t stop the trembling, but it seemed to make Fraser feel better. His other hand went to Fraser’s neck, pulling their faces close together. “Breathe with me, okay?”

Slowly, Ray drew in a breath and held it for a moment. He released his breath again as slowly as he could. He heard Fraser mimic him even though his breathing shook and quavered.

After a few more, Fraser’s breathing calmed down.

The spasms in his leg subsided after another minute and Ray dared to remove his hand to embrace Fraser again.

“It will be fine… just give it time… I’m sorry I pushed you so much,” Ray continued talking since Fraser didn’t seem to be able to. “Relax…”

When Ben seemed a little more composed Ray pulled back again, still keeping his hands touching him. “I brought you something,” Ray motioned to a dark lump on the floor where he had dropped the blanket when he had seen the state Ben was in.

“I’ll get it—just—relax,” Ray admonished with a squeeze to Ben’s shoulder.

He got up, anxiously flicking glances at Ben. Ray flung the blanket wide and spread it over Fraser’s sheet. Incomprehension gave way to recognition as Ray looked at Ben.

“It’s the one you got me on the quest. Figured you might need some comfort, too, right?”

“…Ray…” Fraser’s voice broke.

Hurriedly, Ray sat down next to him again and took his hand again. “Shh… it’s no big deal, ‘kay? Just… maybe it helps you sleep?” He shrugged a little awkwardly.

“Thank you,” Fraser murmured almost inaudibly, staring at the faded blue of the blanket that looked more like dark gray in the dawning darkness of the room.

“Anytime,” Ray said with conviction and pressed a kiss into Ben’s palm.

They continued sitting together in the darkness for a long time. Dawn wasn’t far off now, but it was still too dark to find proof of it.

Ray just kept on holding Ben and Ben didn’t let go of his hand either. At some point they must’ve fallen asleep because Ray was woken up and shooed out by another nurse when it was already light out. He couldn’t help one last worried glance in Ben’s direction, but there was very little he could do now.

He’d come back later and hoped that Ben would feel better when he woke up.

On to the next part