The dreams weren't getting any better. During the day he could pretend that he was okay, dismiss Fraser's concerned glances, act as if nothing had changed. As if everything was the same as it had been before that ill-fated trip to Toronto.
But here in the dark, surrounded by fears and shadows, Ray Vecchio knew that he couldn't hide behind a pretence of normality anymore. Not if he wanted to remain at least halfway sane.
Benton Fraser awoke at Dief's whine. Someone was outside. He waited for a moment, then got up and opened the door.
Ray was standing outside, hands in his pockets, his whole body a picture of misery.
"Ah, Ray. Do come in."
The other man walked past him in silence. Fraser closed the door and examined his friend. Ray looked dreadful. Worse than he had looked earlier today. Since returning from Toronto Ray had changed. Fraser had given up any hope that time would heal the damage that Detective Nick Knight had inflicted upon his friend. Something would have to be done.
Unfortunately, Fraser could think of nothing he could do that would not irrevocably change his relationship with Ray.
"May I get you some tea, Ray?" he asked, merely to provoke a reaction.
"Na, thanks anyway, Benny. That stuff smells like one of Dief's cousins paid it a visit, ya know? God knows what it actually tastes like." It was a parody of Ray's usual jocular style.
He began to move nervously around the room, picking things up and putting them down randomly.
"It's 3 a.m."
"Oh, sorry. I'm sorry, I'll go."
"Ray, why are you here?"
"I...I...couldn't sleep. I keep feeling him there. It's as if he's always with me, ya know? No, how could you know? I don't even know myself what I'm thinking about half the time these days. It's as if I going mad. Oh, Christ, Benny, what am I gonna do?"
Fraser moved swiftly as his friend sank to the floor.
He stopped, mere inches from Ray's suddenly shaking body. All he wanted to do was gather this man up in his arms, hold him, love him. Tell him that everything was going to be all right because he, Fraser, would keep away the darkness, soothe away the pain. Slowly, he let his hands fall to his sides.
It was the most difficult thing Benton Fraser had ever done in his life.
He watched as Ray picked himself off the floor and slumped on the edge of his bed, ruthlessly smothering the visions that accompanied the sight of Ray Vecchio on his bed.
"Fraser, am I going mad?"
Fraser moved to crouch down by Ray, careful not to let himself touch the man sitting in front of him.
"No, Ray, you're not going mad," he assured.
"But you don't know what I keep on... I'm having these dreams. First, it was just...him...ya know? But then... Oh, hell, Benny! You don't want to hear this. I can't do this. I don't even know why I'm here! I better go."
Fraser closed his eyes. He suddenly knew that this was it. This was the moment he where he either acted now or pretended forever that Ray was simply his friend.
He captured Ray's nervously moving hands with his own.
"Ray, talk to me. We need to discuss what happened in Toronto."
The other man tried to pull his hands out of Fraser's grasp.
"Nothing 'happened', Fraser, I told ya. I drank a little too much an' Nick was helping me. I must have fallen over, an' he helped me. That's all! Nothing else happened!"
"Ray, I know what I saw. And I spoke to Detective Knight afterwards. I know what went on that night." (better than you do, my friend.)
"Aw, shit, Benny." Fraser watched as Ray seemed to shrink in front of him,
"I swear, I never done anythin' like that before. Jesus Christ, in a fuckin' cheap hotel room with somebody I hardly knew..."
Eyes full of misery and shame met his for a moment, the fell again.
"Tell me about your dreams, Ray," he instructed, gently.
"Tell me. I won't be shocked, or offended, I assure you. You can't keep this bottled up. You're not eating or sleeping properly. Soon it will affect your work. So tell me. I'll never reveal anything you tell me in confidence, you know that. And nothing you could tell me can possibly alter the way I feel towards you."
"Okay, okay you asked for it. I'll tell you. But I think you might change your mind about that 'nothing', Fraser, when you hear what I have to say."
"Look, go sit over there, will ya? Good, that's better. Now, where do I begin?"
"At the beginning, Ray."
"Yeah, right. The beginning. Ya know, it was if I knew Nick. I swear I'd never met the guy before in my life but it was like I sorta had this connection to him. As if I wasn't me, but somebody else, an' that somebody else belonged to him. I can't explain it any better. I only know that while I was with him I'd have done anything he wanted, anything at all."
"And when he wasn't there?"
"I thought I was goin' crazy. Maybe I am goin' crazy."
"Tell me about your dreams, Ray."
"I don't think you want to hear this, Fraser."
"Yes I do."
"Suit yourself. Don't say I didn't warn you. All the dreams start in the same way. I'm in an alleyway."
"Yeah, kinda like the place where my Uncle had a bakery. Anyway, Nick's there an' he's covered in blood. Then weird things happen. I ain't gonna go into it, they were just weird things, okay? Then, I'm suddenly in Toronto, in that crappy hotel room. An' Nick's holdin' me an' kissin' me. Only this time the door doesn't burst open an' you don't rush in, 'cos... I can't say this, Benny!"
"Yes you can."
"You don't rush in 'cos you're already there. In my dream it's suddenly you not Nick on that bed with me. An' it's you, not Nick, who's..."
"...making love to you?"
"Yeah. Sick, huh?"
"What do you feel like when you realise it's me there not Detective Knight?"
"I feel...like somethin' wrong's just turned right. Like in your arms is the safest place I've ever been. Like it's the only place I ever wanted to be."
He felt like he wanted to laugh, cry, kiss Ray senseless. But he still had to be careful here. Maybe all Ray was really saying was that he felt safe with Fraser?
Well, Fraze, told ya, you wouldn't want to hear it."
"Why wouldn't I have wanted to hear it, Ray?"
"You kiddin? I just told ya that I...that I want..." he trailed off.
"That you want what?"
"That I want you." the voice was so quiet that he had to strain to here it.
"And why wouldn't I want to hear that?"
"Is it so awful, then, wanting me, wanting another man? Does it make you feel so bad?"
"No! Of course not! I accepted that I swung both ways years ago."
"So why have you been so upset? In Toronto you tried to pretend that nothing happened between you and Detective Knight. I thought it was because you couldn't accept having feelings for another man."
Ray's hand pulled out of his grasp and stroked his hair briefly. Then the hand quickly moved away.
"Listen, Benny, it was never the guy thing that bugged me, ya know? It was the fact that I didn't seem to be able to stop whatever it was that was happening to me. I mean, Nick seemed okay, but he was a stranger. I didn't know why I was feeling that way about him. It wasn't love, it was just...need! An' anyway, it was just all so sordid. A cheap hotel room, fer Chrissake! An' you an' the lady coroner chargin' in like that. I hated the way you looked at me afterwards."
Fraser frowned. Every time he thought he'd got Ray Vecchio sorted out in his head, the man said or did something to make him revise his opinion.
"How did I look at you, Ray?" he asked, after it became clear that his friend had lapsed once more into silence.
Ray's shoulders slumped even further.
"Like you could see right through me. Like I wasn't even there."
Fraser remembered controlling himself not to grab hold of Ray that night. He had wanted to cover his friend with kisses, hold him tight, never let him go. The pain in Ray's eyes had almost broken him. He'd had to leave the room before he disgraced himself in front of Dr. Lambert. He pulled himself out of his musings. Ray was still speaking.
"And I thought that if I pretended that I couldn't remember, then everything would go back to the way it was."
"But it didn't?"
"I can't pretend any more, Benny. I can't sleep, I can't eat. I tried to convince myself that we could go back the way we were. But I can't do that. I took the dreams to make me realise how I really feel about you."
Fraser took a deep breath, then let it out slowly.
"How do you feel about me, Ray?"
"You know how I feel, dammit!"
"Do I? Do you love me?"
"Yeah, I love you, Benny."
"Are you in love with me?"
"Yes! No! I don't know!"
"So why don't we find out?"
Fraser found that his lips were curving into a smile.
"Why don't we find out? We'll take it slowly, of course. We'll go out for meals together, spend time with each other, just the two of us, with Dief as a chaperone. Maybe we'll go to watch a movie."
Ray looked at him properly for the first time that night. There was a slightly mocking, affectionate look on his face.
"I hate to break it to ya, Fraser, but we do all that already."
Fraser felt his smile grow broader.
"Yes, that's true. But now we can consider that we're...dating."
"Ya mean this?"
"Yes, Ray. I mean it."
"Ya not just...?"
There was a silence.
"So, we're gonna take it slow, huh?"
"I think that's best."
"But we can, say, kiss? That wouldn't be taking things too fast?"
Would you like me to kiss you, Ray?" Was that really his voice, sounding so breathless?
There was an even longer silence, punctuated by a moan.
"You're very good at that, Ray."
"Well, I think I'd better get some sleep. Think I can bunk down here, Benny? I don't think I'm up to driving back."
"Of course, Ray."
Fraser got up.
"Where ya goin', Benny?"
"I thought I'd try to get some rest in this chair. It's really quite comfortable when you get used to it."
"Yeah, right. So, what's wrong with the bed?"
"Ray, you're my guest. You get to sleep on the bed."
Ray gave a sleepy smile.
"So? I know it's small, but we can share, can't we? You don't mind sharing, do you?"
"No, I don't mind."
Fraser helped Ray take off his shoes, pants and jacket, hands only trembling slightly. Then he got on the bed beside Ray and pulled the blanket over the two of them.
"This is nice."
"About this takin' it slow thing?" The sleepy voice was teasing.
"Tomorrow, when I'm more awake, I think I'll show ya that I can do things beside kissing."
"Oh?" Fraser gulped.
"Yeah. But don't worry, I'll take things slow. Yeah, reeeeal slow. 'Night, Benny. Turn out the light, will ya."
In the darkness, Benton Fraser didn't even try to sleep. There was no way he was going to sleep now. Not with all the pictures that Ray's words had conjured in his head. He was aware that he was grinning like an idiot.
Maybe some dreams did come true, after all.
Many miles away, LaCroix programmed the machine in front of him to play twenty minutes of uninterrupted music. Then he leant back in his chair, feeling every one of his many, many years. He started slightly as his new cell phone buzzed. He frowned. As far as he was aware, nobody had this number.
"Lucien, how's it going?"
"Ah, I was wondering if you would get back to me, Ancient One."
"Please, I wish you wouldn't. You make me sound as if I'm about to crumble into dust. That information I gave you, was it useful?"
LaCroix closed his eyes, briefly.
"Partly. You were right, it was a blood-bond."
"And has everything been sorted out?"
LaCroix damned the man silently for his eternally irritating curiosity.
"Not completely to my satisfaction, I admit. But one must be prepared to...compromise on occasion."
"You, Lucien?" The voice was incredulous. "Compromise? I didn't think the word existed in your vocabulary."
"As I grow older I think I'm beginning to realise that our existence on this world is all about compromise. Don't you agree?"
"Well now, I suppose I must."
"And I suppose that I am in your debt once again for the information that you gave me?"
"I'll add it to the list."
"I am intrigued to know just how you recognised the symptoms I described."
"Let's just say that in 5,000 years there isn't much I haven't tried at least once."
"Ah, I see. I wouldn't have thought that you would have been willing to give up that much control to someone else. You have always seemed too fond of your own skin, shall we say, to let anything like a blood-bond take control of your life."
"Spare me the amateur psychology, Lucien. You think you know me? You don't know me at all."
"Look, I just phoned to see if you were okay."
"Your concern is touching. Anyone would think we were friends."
"Less of the sarcasm. I taught you it, remember? I just... I do consider you my friend, Lucien. Of course, I wouldn't turn my back on you, but then that's not unusual for my friends. Not that I have many of them left any more, and they're getting fewer every day. You know, sometimes it's just comforting to talk to someone who remembers the same things I do. Someone who remembers how it used to be."
"And you miss the 'good old days', is that it?"
"What? The lack of plumbing? The rotten food? The lice?"
"Maybe. I don't remember being all that much more 'free'."
"Whatever. Look, I need to go. I'm meeting someone and I don't want to be late."
"Is she attractive?"
"He. And yes he is, very. Gotta go. Bye"
LaCroix looked up. Nicholas was standing in the doorway.
"I didn't know you had a cell phone."
"I am keeping up with the times, Nicholas, that's all."
"Who were you talking to?"
"An old friend?"
"Oh, yes, a very old friend. Now, what brings you here, my Nicholas?"
He watched as the younger vampire seemed to hesitate for a moment. Then:
"When you've finished here would you like to watch a couple of movies with me? The video shop has a special offer on Bela Lugosi."
LaCroix stared. Whatever else he might have expected, this was a surprise. It almost sounded as if his Nicholas was asking him for a...date? He suppressed an urge to laugh hysterically. Nicholas would not understand, would be offended.
He looked into the other's eyes, and any urge to laugh died at the uncertainty and loneliness he found in their depths.
"I would be delighted," he found himself saying.
And he meant it.