Zuko's goons were professionals. They roughed Fraser up, inflicting the maximum pain with the minimum actual damage. Their job was to weaken the Mountie so that Charlie could deliver the final, fatal message.  It had been more instinct than rational thought that had prompted Fraser to twist his own legs around Charlie's legs and trip him.


Dimly through the pain, Fraser was conscious of the fact that it was only a reprieve of a few moments. Charlie would get back to his feet and finish his task and there was no more strength in Fraser to resist. Then, oh most blessed sound, he heard Ray's voice calling from behind him and the sound of Ray's running footsteps. Ray was coming. All would be well with Ray there.


He felt his partner's presence, crouching beside him and Ray's hand lightly on his chest. "Benny, you okay?"


Dear Ray. So like him to say that. Fraser wanted to say 'No, Ray, I'm not okay. I'm on the ground writhing in pain.' He would be taken care of now.




Fraser got to the part in his father's journal where Bob Fraser philosophized about fear.  Fraser shrugged and humphed, considering his own situation. He feared now for Ray, not for himself, Ray was in danger from Zuko's retribution. Fraser hadn't wanted his friend to risk his own safety but he also knew Ray needed once and for all to defend somebody against Zuko. It wasn't for Joey, Fraser thought, it was for me. Because he cares about me.


In the back of Fraser's mind there sounded another word. Love. Because he loves me. Fraser sat up a little straighter against the bed and faced the word down. Love. He had suspected it for some time. The tenderness of his touch whenever Fraser was hurt, his annoyance when any woman approached him, even Francesca. No, especially Francesca.


To his own surprise, Fraser wasn’t disgusted. Only curious. He'd never considered loving another man. If ever he did, how could it be anyone else but Ray? Silly, he must just be in too much pain to think clearly. With another philosophical humph, he blew out his lamp and got himself somehow onto his bed. He forced his muscles down against the mattress, making an effort to relax.


Real sleep wasn't possible over the pain, but Fraser fell into a dull doze. Then through his closed eyes he sensed light coming in from the hallway. He cracked his eyes against the light to see a familiar figure standing in silhouette in the door. Of course. This was where Ray would have to be tonight. With his partner.


Ray came inside and closed the door behind him, then flicked the switch beside the door, lighting up the room. Fraser squinted. He prefered his lamp at night. It made him feel like he was back in his father's cabin.


"I'll put on the lamp, Ray. That's too bright." Fraser sat up, found his lamp and lit it. Ray's eyes glowed softly in the lamplight. "It's late, Ray. You should be home."


Ray sat down beside Fraser on the bed. "How could I stay home? With you hurt like this?" Very slowly Ray eased his friend back down onto the bed. Fraser lay on his back, watching Ray, wondering what was to come. "I'm fine, really," Fraser said, but they both knew it was only a token protest.


"No, Benny, you're not fine."


Ray ran his eyes over the Mountie's bare arms and shoulders, looking for an unbruised spot. He found one, just above Fraser's left elbow. Ray reached out a hand, tentative, trembling, and carressed the spot. "Does that hurt, Benny?"


"No," Fraser's word was more a groan of pleasure, "Noooo, it feels good. My back doesn't hurt either, Ray. Maybe you could help me . . . "


Ray took Fraser's shoulders and eased him over. He sat closer. He slipped his hands beneath Fraser's undershirt and ran them softly up and down Fraser's back. "That feel good?"


Fraser had no words now, only soft sighs and moans. Ray bent over his friend and kissed Fraser's shoulder. Only that, his shoulder. It was all that was needed.


"Benny, do you understand . . . ?"


Fraser lifted his head only enough to make his nod evident.


"But not now. Now you're hurt." Ray's voice broke over the simple words. "You're hurt, Benny and I can't stand it. I have to do something to make you feel better, man. What can I do to make you feel better?"


Fraser's eyes filled with tears now. "Just stay here. Don't leave me alone."


It was Ray's turn now to nod and to fight back tears. He stretched out on the narrow cot, squeezing close beside Fraser and wrapping a protective arm against the same shoulder he had kissed. Fraser sighed again, deep from within his throat, an involuntary animal noise. The relaxation he could not find before came now, under the safety of Ray's arm.

His pain receding, he drifted off into a sweet sleep.

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