Rating: PG Summary: Fraser has certain realizations during a near-death experience.
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I know with a certain measure of confidence that I am going to die. The fire is spreading quickly, I can already feel the effects of smoke inhalation. I´m disoriented, dizzy, my brain is sluggish.
The handcuffs bite into my wrists as I tug yet again at the heat register trying with all the strength left in me to pull it out of the wall in order to free myself. I am unsuccessful.
I drop back flat on the floor, breathing hard and merely delaying the inevitable. The air *is* fresher down here, but it´s only a matter of time.
Think! I admonish myself. Think of a way out and accomplish it. But all I can think of is the hapless fox or hare that will gnaw off its own limb to escape a snare. I look inside myself, but cannot seem to find the wherewithal necessary to accomplish such a feat. I settle for simply hoping I am rendered unconscious by the smoke before the fire comes to feast on my flesh.
I stretch out as comfortably as I can and close my eyes. A peculiar lassitude fills me and makes me long for sleep. "To sleep, perchance to dream..What dreams may come once this mortal coil we´ve shuffled off? " Something like that, anyway.
There´s something there...something I´ll regret....Ray. A picture of Ray swims up front and center in my mind, blond hair endearingly experimental, long, rangy, deceptively strong body, iron will hidden by a charming insecurity..Friend. Best friend. His arm across my back offering friendship, offering comfort, offering more? Not known, never know now.....
A sudden fierce longing pierces through my haze like lightning through a storm cloud. I want Ray. I want him to find me. I want him to save me. Ray, I think as hard as I can, help! I need help. I need....you.
First time I saw him...open arms, eyes lit up, a hug. His body against mine offering a welcome, as if to a friend. An act, I thought later. Later than that, perhaps when his eyes lit up again at my dinner invitation, I realized though the name was an act, everything else was real. Friends, buddies, partners. Partners means sharing. He shares with me. I cannot share with him. He trusts me. I cannot show him my trust in return. His arms are open. My arms are closed. I huddle over my heart, protecting it, protecting myself. That´s not buddies, Fraser.
One time. His distress, his pain, so raw, so open. He wept in my arms which I managed to open enough to hold him, to comfort. But I did not share. Did not share the guilt, the pain I had over Victoria, a commensurate pain. I held him, but my arms were still closed over my heart.
My befuddled mind cannot make sense of that. When offered openness, why don´t I respond with the same. The doors to my heart remain shut just like the lid of my coffin will be after I burn to death.
Cheery thought, I think and can not supress the insane urge to giggle. Giggles turn to chuckles which turn to out and out belly laughs. Then the laughter gives way to sobs. Ah, hysteria, I think with a floating sense of detachment, as if I´m observing myself from a distance now. Poor bastard, the end is close.
Floating...maybe after I die, I can stay with Ray as my father seems to have stayed with me. I could stay and offer unsolicited advice and tell irritating stories about my time as a Mountie. Perhaps, I could set up shop in one of his closets..Would I be more open then?
The very thought that I can lie here and view death as liberating in any way, makes me sob harder. What kind of life makes a man look for freedom in death? Why did, do I live this way? Why didn´t I open doors, windows, hell, why didn´t I blow the goddamned roof off the house of pain, sorrow and regret that I built around myself? Huddled up, closed off. And Ray was waiting in the yard for me to come and play.
Re-energized , I sit up and pull with my handcuffed wrists as hard as I can against the heat register. I can feel the metal, slick with blood, bite hard into my skin, but I relish the pain because it lets me know I´m still alive. Not dead, not yet. Still a chance.
I feel the strain in my shoulders, the pain in my wrists is almost blinding, *is* blinding, my vision is fading.
I don´t want to die. I grit my teeth and keep up the steady pressure, but I am not up to the task. My feet slip and, off balance, I fall into the very heating coils that bind me heavily enough to make my ears ring.
I collapse to the floor again. I can´t think. My head falls next to my still bound hands. My last clear thought is about a fox caught in a snare...
*************************************************** "Fraser! "
Dimly, I hear my name. I struggle to remain conscious, tasting blood in my mouth. "Benton, hold on son. He´s going to find you. "
I can only stare bemusedly at my father. Would his fate be mine? The possibility that he might continue with me as I would continue with Ray boggled my barely functioning mind. Did Ray have a closet with a closet? I close my eyes again.
My name seems louder now and I jerk my eyes open again.
"Help him out, Son. Give him a clue. You need him. Sooner rather than later, I expect. " Was that concern on my father´s face? How odd. Someone must be in trouble. "Benton! " Stern tone now, I note idly. One a Father might use. "Constable Fraser! " Reflexively, something in me snaps to attention. "Make some noise! That´s an order! "
Feebly, I kick at the damnable heater. A soft clang results. I kick harder. I kick again and again until I have no breath left due to the coughing.
Ray bursts through the door. He is wearing protective gear, but I know him immediately. I try to say his name, but I cannot.
He is at my side on the floor next to me on his knees in an instant. His eyes burn hotter than the flames in the room as he fumbles for his handcuff keys. I hear his indrawn gasp as he encounters my bloody wrists and see his hands shake as he unlocks the cuffs. He removes them carefully and throws them savagely across the room. Evidence, Ray, I protest inwardly, automatically, but I can´t form the words. He gets up and hefts me to my feet. I´m not much help. Once upright, I find I am unable to stay that way without his support.
He half carries me out to the hall where he pushes, pulls and tugs me out the window to the fire escape. The fresh air makes my head spin. He wraps my arm around his shoulders and puts both of his around my waist and we stumble and weave our way down the ladder-like steps. Somewhere near the bottom, I pass out.
Thankfully, I wake.
The smell of smoke heavy in the air is gone. Perhaps the absence of the smell woke me? I´m in a hospital which is recognizable long before I open my eyes, by its antiseptic smell, the beep and hum of the monitors around me, the feel of the stiff white sheets, the absolute annoyance and discomfort of the tube down my throat. I try to relax and concentrate on something else.
My right hand is asleep. I note the feeling automatically and attempt to wiggle my fingers but encounter resistance. I open my eyes to better ascertain the problem.
There is no problem. There is Ray. He is sitting in the chair next to the bed with his head pillowed on my hand, sound asleep. I can smell the faint but persistent odor of smoke clinging stubbornly to his hair, though the additional scents of shampoo and deodorant make it clear he has taken a shower since I last saw him.
I could blame my now watery eyes on that lingering odor of the firepit that almost claimed my life, but I do not. I am simply grateful to wake up in the world again: not dead, but fairly alive. I reach with my free hand to touch his hair.
Perhaps that small movement alerts him, because he wakes with a sudden start and sits up. He looks to me immediately. Upon seeing my open eyes, he smiles. And his worn, sleep-fogged, shadowed face complete with the imprint of my hand clearly outlined on his left cheek is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.
"Hey, Fraser, you´re awake. " His voice is soft and raspy from sleep and smoke. "I´ll call the doctor. " He leans over me to push a button on the bed´s armrest.
"May I help you? " a bored voice says over the speaker.
"Yeah, he´s awake, " Ray tells her.
"I´ll notify the doctor. "
I shift slightly and point at the tube.
"Shhhh... " Ray taps his fingers on my cheek in a soft caress, before quickly pulling back. "Yeah, you´re on the ventilator. Your lungs were pretty bad when we got you here last night. That had to put you on the vent to help you breathe for a while. Maybe, they´ll take you off now that you´re awake. " He pushes my hair back from my forehead, and then moves back again, nervously. He reminds me of a hummingbird, all energy. He starts to turn away, but I discover my right hand works just fine now and use it to grab his arm before he can leave me.
He turns back and with a worried glance at the monitor which shows my increasing heart rate, he hastens to reassure me. "Hey, hey. " Touch, I need touch, but I don´t know how to tell him. Somehow, he seems to understand--one hand is on my face, one rests on my shoulder. "They´ll get the vent out in a jiffy. "
I shake my head emphatically: no.
"No? Not what you´re worried about? "
I shake my head again.
"What´s up? Something hurt? You in pain? "
I am, but not the pain he means. My eyes tear up again.
"You are hurt, " his quicksilver eyes are anxious. "I´ll get the ... " and he´s turning away again. His hand leaves my face. I clutch at the one on my shoulder, holding him in place. "....doctor. Come on, Fraser. Leggo. " He turns back again. I shake my head again and don´t release my grip. Tears spill over, my defenses really are down. Good. Maybe that will make it easier.
"Okay, okay, settle down. Don´t cry, you´ll get all snotted up and that just won´t help matters any right now. " His left hand comes back to my face, his thumb rubs under one eye, then the other. I close my eyes at the tender gesture but the action only serves to release more moisture.
"Shhhhh... " he´s murmuring soothingly at me. "I´m not going anywhere. I´m right here. That what you want? "
I nod gratefully, worn out with the attempt to communicate my feelings. Don´t go. Stay with me. Hold my hand. Touch my face. He´s always touched me, but I´ve never been able to tell him how much I want, I crave, I need him to do so. Only Ray and Diefenbaker ever....
My eyes snap open. Dief. Where is he? When the malfeasants jumped me, I sent Dief for Ray.
Ray has stopped soothing me and seems to pick up on my alarm. I look on the one side of the bed and then the other and then back at Ray questioningly. He gets it.
"Dief? He´s fine. He managed to take down one of the bad guys and held him until we could catch up to ourselves. The hospital absolutely refused to allow him in here with you on the ventilator. He´s with Frannie now. Probably scarfing doughnuts, hero dog and all. "
I relax again and he stays with me, as close as possible even as the nurse checks me over. He is forced to back off a bit when the doctor comes but he does not leave the room for which I´m grateful.
The doctor decides the vent can come out. They elevate the bed so I can cough it out as per their directions. They leave me with a canula to supplement the oxygen I am now breathing on my own and firm instructions to rest and drink fluids. My throat is sore and the crushed ice the nurse provides is helpful.
Ray comes back to my beside as soon as the crowd clears. He does not hold my hand, but I find myself wishing he would.
"Better now? " he asks.
"Almost, " I croak and turn my hand over. He looks at my hand a minute, glances at my face, then puts his hand in mine. I clutch it hard.
"Better now? he asks again, meaningfully.
"Yes, " I rasp on a sigh feeling sleepy and safe.
"Me, too, " his voice is quiet and his body, for once, is completely still. I feel sleep overtaking me, but I don´t want to go under just yet. "How bad? " Two words and I´m coughing. He waits until I stop, gets me some more ice chips.
"Well, not great, obviously, " he says, transferring ice chips into my mouth one-handed. "Some lung damage from the smoke, they´re worried about scarring, that´s why the ventilator and, I guess, the coughing now. Your wrists are a mess, stitches in the left one. " He traces a finger lightly over the bandage on that hand.
Both wrists are wrapped, actually, a point I had not noticed previously. My thumb on my left one is wrapped, too. I hold it up inquiringly.
Ray´s eyes drop and his face reddens. "Yeah, well, some damage there. " He´s looking at our clasped hands. "Bites. Human bites. Yours, from the look of things. They´re worried about infection since the human mouth has more germs than the average toilet, evidently. "
"Ah. " Casting back, I get a faint remembrance of my reasoning at the time and blush.
"Did-didja bite your hand, Fraser? "
"Why-why´d you go and do that? " his eyes are anguished.
How can I tell him? Now that moment is upon me, my courage fails. The urge to just close my eyes and sleep, to hide behind an Inuit story, to wrap my arms back around myself is strong, instinctive, difficult to overcome. My eyes are closing, when he shifts nearer and strokes my face.
"Know you´re tired, Fraser, but could you tell me? I really want to know. " His whispery voice slides in-between my eyelids and lifts them up. I turn into his hand. His thumb moves under my eye then slides to, shockingly, trace my lips.
He´s leaning in, so close now, I could whisper my secrets and he´d surely hear.
"I was.. " I start. His eyes implore me to continue. I can´t do it. I close my eyes to protect myself, and I´m back in that burning room feeling the cuffs, the despair at dying alone and lonely, the shock of realizing I was actually comforted by the possibility of haunting Ray. As if some spectral, half-assed relationship with this man would ever be enough. How can I tell him? How can I *NOT* tell him? I open my eyes.
"I didn´t want to die. " Hardly a whisper but he hears me.
"It didn´t seem to bother you before, " he whispers back referring to, perhaps, the times I´ve endangered my life and his own for reasons that now seem trivial. His eyes reflect the pain I´ve caused him with my closed up ways.
"It bothers me now. " My voice catches on a sob. "Before, I wasn´t thinking with an open...heart. "
"How about thinking with an open mind? " He leans in closer.
"Yes, oh God, yes. " His mouth covers mine, he licks my lips, and I taste his tongue, his tears. Open mind, yes. Open heart, open soul, open arms at last. And something inside me opens it wings and takes flight.