Prompt: 32. Benton Fraser thought his life was simple, well ordered and logical until a chance encounter in the night with one Ray Vecchio throws his world into chaos and he finds things not even logic can explain.
Notes: Split into two parts due to LJ's posting limits. Huge thanks to leda_speaks for beta and support. And to nakeisha for support and the wonderful gift of the plot bunny that lived.
Word count: 11490 (both parts)
Summary: Fraser had a well ordered routine running his bookshop in Chicago, until one night he had an encounter with a strange and enigmatic man and found himself in another world.
It's a Kind of Magic Part One
Benton Fraser sighed as he added up the day's takings. He'd made a few good sales but the store was still not doing as well as he had hoped. It was supposed to have been a fresh start for him but, although he was breaking even, profits seemed just out of his reach. He was at least enjoying buying and selling books, although the latter was not always easy when he came across a particularly interesting volume.
He carefully counted the number of each type of coin and noted it down in his ledger. He liked ordered, well maintained and thorough records. He had a precise system working his way from the large to small coinage. He did it the same way each night. His method was as ordered as the carefully arranged books on the shelves.
He finished placing the money into bags, noted down the last detail and put down his pen to begin his locking up procedure. He was relatively certain there was no one left in the shop, but he could never be sure. His was the only book store open until midnight a few days a week. It tended to attract people looking for a warm place, not necessarily customers, but he welcomed them all the same. Sometimes a few of the homeless folk would lurk in the back. If that occurred he would always find them shelter for the night.
“Diefenbaker,” Fraser called to the wolf fast asleep under the counter.
Said wolf yawned and slowly got to his feet. Fraser preferred to do the rounds with Dief accompanying him. If he ran into trouble it was safer that way and several times Dief had sniffed out patrons Fraser hadn't seen. Although, from the look Diefenbaker gave him, it was clear the wolf wasn't happy about it. Nevertheless, apparently grumbling subtly under his breath, Dief came.
Fraser began at the front and worked his way back. It was a logical route as it meant anyone coming from the back wouldn't be missed by him. Diefenbaker walked in front of him. The shop was an old one and it had many different passages, the shelves arranged haphazardly. It was wall to wall with shelves, with plenty of nooks and crannies. Fraser liked the style of it, it reminded him of his grandparents library when he was a child.
Fraser left Dief to investigate the far end near the store room whilst he slipped into a small alcove off toward the back. It was a small area where he kept the oldest books. It was also the darkest part of the store. Fortunately, Fraser's eyes were used to the gloom. It was then that Fraser noticed a man in the corner of the small section. He was sitting on the floor, a large tome spread out across his knees. Fraser couldn't remember the man coming into the shop and he made a point of noticing every customer who came in. And the man really was striking.
He was thin...elegant, would be the word Fraser would use. Elegant in the way he sat, the way he had the book poised. He had an air of the exotic about him. His hair was thinning but it nicely accentuated the line of his skull. He had a larger than average nose but it gave an air of masculinity to his face. He had delicate eyes and a full mouth. Fraser had to admit, he was very attractive.
The gentleman seemed engrossed in the book and Fraser was engrossed in watching him. He was trying not to breathe. He didn't want to disturb the man, or his view. He shifted slightly as he felt a tiredness in his legs from standing at the counter and shelving books. As he moved the floorboard creaked under him.
The man's head shot up. He stared at Fraser for a few seconds but before Fraser could say anything the man quickly stood up. The book fell to the floor with a a loud thud. Fraser saw a swirl of a cape as the man seemed to run past him. Fraser felt a strong breeze as he did so. Then it was very silent, he was gone.
Fraser called to see if the man was there but there was no reply. Diefenbaker trotted over and Fraser turned his attention to where the man had been. He walked over to the book and picked it up. It was a large volume, very old. It had a musty, storied smell to it. The cover appeared to be some kind of leather, it was well worn too. It had no words, though it did have some strange embossed symbols.
Fraser didn't recognise it. He had carefully catalogued all the books in the store, he had books full of lists of books. He knew every book in the store, but he didn't know the one he currently held in his hands. He opened it. The pages were of some sort of thick, vellum-like material. The pages were full of a large, bold, black text. The language appeared to be Latin but it wasn't the Latin Fraser was familiar with.
He closed the book and placed it gently back on the floor. Dief was sniffing some small pieces of paper the man seemed to have left. Perhaps they had fallen out of his pocket. Fraser bent down and picked them up. He then picked up the book and headed out with Diefenbaker to the counter, where there was more light, to examine them.
Fraser placed the book down on the counter. He then methodically laid out the pieces of paper under the glare of the lamp. They all appeared to be receipts of one sort or another. The first was from a local coffee store. Fraser recognised the logo on it, he'd visited there many times himself. The order had been a coffee and some doughnuts. That told Fraser little about the man who had purchased them, apart from the fact he appeared to need a caffeine and sugar boost in the morning.
Fraser moved onto the next one. It was a receipt for a shirt. Why the man needed a shirt Fraser didn't know, although he could formulate several theories varying from an accident in a restaurant to helping a woman change a tyre. It still didn't help.
The final receipt appeared to be from a motel. Fraser was unfamiliar with it, he surmised it was situated in a less than desirable part of the city, he would pay a visit there with the book the next day. He did wonder if it might be worth calling at the coffee shop first thing in the morning to see what else he could learn about the mysterious man who had been in his store.
For now, he had to finish locking up. He put the money in the safe and allowed Diefenbaker to check the rest of the store make sure it was clear. He locked up with his usual methodical precision but he couldn't stop wondering about who the man was, what the book was about, and how both had ended up in a quiet corner of his store without him noticing.
These thoughts preoccupied Fraser as he went up to the small apartment above the shop. They occupied him as he went about his bed routine and they preoccupied him as he set his alarm clock. He decided to set it a little earlier than usual to make the most of the day . His store wasn't due to open until ten so he would have time to do some investigating. He fell asleep, the image of the strange man in a cloak and the gorgeous eyes playing in his head.
When the alarm went off early, Fraser rose, not feeling too drained from the lack of sleep. Diefenbaker, on the other hand, seemed compelled to sleep in until he smelt breakfast cooking. He wasn't pleased when Fraser presented him with his bowl of kibble. Still, it was good for him, Fraser reasoned.
Fraser, meanwhile, didn't eat very much. He was busy sketching the man he'd seen the previous night. He went over every detail in his mind, picturing the face of the man and running over every detail, as if he was able to touch him. His pencil flew across the pad turning those features into grey lines, something tangible.
When he'd finished he sat back and looked at his book. He didn't think he'd captured the true essence of the man. There was nothing behind the eyes, no spirit. But it was close enough, Fraser reasoned. He took a sip of cold tea before grabbing his coat, which still had the receipts inside it. He remembered the book. He took it with him in case he found the man.
“Come on, Dief,” he cajoled.
The wolf gave a whine but followed Fraser all the same as they headed out of the apartment and then out of the shop. It wasn't quite nine AM, there was plenty of time for him to check out both coffee shop and the motel. Fraser decided the coffee shop would be the first place for them to look. Diefenbaker seemed fixated on the smell of doughnuts wafting their way.
It was warm in the coffee shop, and already full of people grabbing a quick cup before they headed to to work. Fraser stood politely in line, trying to ignore Dief's pleading face.
“You shouldn't even be in here,” Fraser pointed out.
But Dief was not going to move. Fraser sighed and hoped no-one would point his canine companions presence out.
They shuffled to the front of the line and were greeted by a young lady. Fraser read her name badge; Lauren.
“Hi, what'll it be?”
“Ah, hello, Lauren. I was wondering if you could help me.” Fraser brought up the sketchpad.
“Sure, what do you want?”
Fraser held out the picture of the mysterious man. “Do you recognise this man?”
“We get a lot of guys in here,” Lauren said, apologetically.
“He would have come in here yesterday morning,” Fraser explained. “He ordered a latte and some doughnuts.”
Lauren shook her head. “I'm sorry.”
Fraser put the sketch away. “Well, if you do see him, could you ask me to give me a call?” Fraser asked, handing over one of the few business cards he kept on his person.
Lauren took the card and studied it. “Sure. Hey, you run the book store across the road.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you have any Jane Austen? It's just we're doing her in English lit and I've had trouble finding a decent copy, you know, one with editors notes about the text?”
Fraser knew the sort of books she meant. “I'm sure I can find something that would help you,” he replied. “We should be open later on. Our late night openings are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.”
Lauren gave him a smile. “That'd be great, thanks.”
Fraser took his leave. “You're welcome.”
“If I see this guy I'll give you a call. Or I'll leave you a note at your store.”
“Thank you kindly,” Fraser said, smiling back. “I appreciate it.” He turned to Diefenbaker who was now at a nearby table begging doughnuts. “Diefenbaker, come,” Fraser said.
He gave Lauren a last look as he moved out of line, she was already preoccupied with the next customer. He and Diefenbaker left the shop, the latter with sugar around his mouth. Fraser decided talking to Dief at home about his eating habits would be a good idea. They were no longer in the Yukon and American cities had more tempting foodstuffs for a wolf than Fraser had anticipated.
The next stop was the motel. Fraser had looked up the address and knew where it was. He'd consulted the bus schedules and he'd worked out which bus to get. With luck, he would arrive at his destination at 9.15AM. This would give him enough time to make a few enquiries before he needed to get the return bus at 9.36AM which gave him just enough time to get back to his store. It had all been carefully planned.
As it was, the best laid of plans of Canadian book store owners didn't always come to fruition as the bus was three point four minutes late. Nevertheless, Fraser calculated how quickly he needed to walk to make up the lost time. Diefenbaker, on the other hand, was singularly unimpressed with the thought of walking any faster.
They reached the motel having made up one point nine minutes. Fraser was pleased with this. It was a motel rather than a hotel, although the different American idioms still confused him. He checked the name against the receipt and was opening the door when he saw him.
The man Fraser sought was crossing the street not far away, a mere twenty three metres. Obviously he had just left on his day's business. Fraser let go of the door and went in the man's direction.
“That's him, Dief,” Fraser said. He didn't even need to double check his sketch. He'd memorised every inch of the man's features.
He wondered if he should call out. The street was quiet but Fraser didn't want to frighten the man. He didn't even know his name. It wouldn't be very polite to shout out something ambiguous. Fraser decided to catch up with the man. He didn't want to run but he maintained a brisk pace. Diefenbaker kept up but grumbled too.
Fraser forgot the time as he continued following the man. They were in an unfamiliar part of Chicago now and Fraser wouldn't know what buses came that way. His mission was clear though, he had to talk to the man. He told himself it was simply a feeling of duty to return the book but it was more than that, even if he wouldn't admit it.
He followed the man and saw him go into an old, seemingly abandoned, building. Fraser was intrigued as to what lay inside and why the man he was pursuing was going into a building that seemed to have no purpose. He upped his pace and soon reached the door. He paused with his hand on an old rusty handle.
“We've come this far, Dief,” Fraser said, an excuse that only served to incriminate him.
Carefully, he pushed open the door. It gave way with a creak. Fraser estimated the hinges hadn't been oiled in at least seven years. The building appeared to be dim. There were thin cracks of light making it through the boarded up windows, illuminating the floorboards in narrow strips. Other than that, it was dark but Fraser could see light emanating from a room.
“Come on,” he said to Dief.
Cautiously, he stepped forward. He doubted there were any booby traps, but he wanted to be sure. Diefenbaker wasn't as as cautious and padded ahead. Fraser meekly followed him, surmising that if there really was any danger the wolf would know. At least, that was what he assumed. He listened out for any untoward noises but all he heard was the creak of the floorboards, Dief's claws on the wooden surface and his breath, louder than he thought it was.
They got closer to the door of the room where Fraser assumed the man would be. He pondered whether he should open it with caution. Perhaps he should knock first, he thought. Or maybe he should just clear his throat, or make a loud noise, or perhaps a combination. He was saved from this difficult dilemma by Diefenbaker pushing the door with his nose and opening it wide.
Sure enough, the man stood there. He appeared to be bent over a table with a book on it. He seemed to be muttering something, words Fraser couldn't quite make out. The man was clearly concentrating and Fraser wasn't sure if he should interrupt him. Still, he might not get another chance, he was already behind schedule.
“Excuse me,” Fraser said. His voice was louder than anticipated and it seemed to echo in the small room.
The man whirled around. “Who are you? And what are you doing here?”
Fraser could tell the man was annoyed. “I came to return this book.” Fraser showed the volume to the man.
“Look, you don't just bust in on some guy doing magic,” the man replied. “I mean, I'm glad you brought the book, I don't even know why I left it.”
“You seemed to be in a hurry,” Fraser replied. He'd picked up in the word magic and was confused as to what was going on. He had taken in only a vague view of the room, his attention was focussed on the man in front of him. He was even more attractive than Fraser had remembered.
“Look, the rift is going to open up any second and...”
There was a bright flash of light, Fraser wasn't sure where it had come from. He closed his eyes against the bright onslaught.
“It's too late, the rift's here,” the man cried out, agitated. “Just give me the book.”
Fraser couldn't see the man through the blinding light. He held out the book and stumbled forward. He heard Diefenbaker bark out loud. He felt the man taking hold of one end of the book before he heard him cry out. Then he felt a strange tingling sensation across his skin. The bright light seemed to take over and everything went dark.
Fraser felt strangely disconnected from everything, he could hear things but it was as if he was standing in a different room, the sounds were muffled. He felt like he was spinning around, although he wasn't moving. It was as if everything was moving, shifting, around him. Then he felt hard ground under his body and he couldn't hold on to another coherent thought.
Next thing he knew he was lying on the ground with his head cradled in the stranger's lap. The man seemed to be muttering something and Fraser soon began to feel better. He didn't move, he just looked up at the man who he'd tracked across Chicago. He didn't look away but he could smell leaves, trees, the outdoors. He heard birdsong and saw the sky. He didn't know where he was but he lay still until the man had done whatever it was that seemed so important.
He looked down at Fraser. “Are you okay?” he asked.
Fraser sensed the man's concern. “I'm feeling much better, thank you.”
The man took off his cloak and placed it as a pillow under Fraser's head. “Stay where you are,” he said.
Fraser nodded and watched as the man looked around.
“Good, I don't think anyone saw us. I didn't even know humans could get through the rift, it must have been because you were holding the book.”
Fraser stayed still but he spoke up. “Excuse me, but where are we?”
“Chicago,” the man replied. “Inner Chicago.”
Fraser tried to work out what that meant. “Inner Chicago?”
“Yeah, it's like your Chicago. It exists in the same place but its hidden. Humans don't come here, or they didn't until you.”
Diefenbaker barked. Fraser was relieved that he was alive and well. Even though they seemed to have passed to another world.
“And dogs don't come here either.”
Dief seemed annoyed by this and growled.
“Hey!” the man was nervous.
“He's just upset you called him a dog,” Fraser explained. He still wasn't moving but he couldn't resist following the man's pacing.
“Okay, well, wolves aren't supposed to travel here either. I'm in enough trouble without this.”
Fraser could see the man was very agitated and upset. He wanted to get up, to try and talk to the man, comfort him in some way but he'd told Fraser to stay still so that was what Fraser was doing.
“I'm Benton Fraser,” he said, to try and break into some conversation.
“That's your name?” the man stopped pacing.
“Yes. I know it's unusual...”
The man knelt down by Fraser. “You just told me your name?”
“Yes.” Fraser wasn't sure what he'd done. Surely telling the man his name wasn't some sort of cultural taboo?
Apparently it was. “Do you have any idea what people do to people who just give their names? There's magic in names, you just can't tell the first person you meet your name.”
Fraser was feeling much better and he was tempted to sit up and rectify his mistake but he wasn't sure if that would make it worse. “I'm sorry.”
The man's face took on a softer tone. “Nah, you're human, you have no idea about any of this stuff.”
This puzzled Fraser. The man looked...human. He was certainly very attractive and there was a mysterious air that Fraser was very drawn to. What was it about him? “You're not human.” Fraser stated it as a fact. He was confident in his assumption. Whether the man was human or not, Fraser was still drawn to him.
“I'm a wizard,” the man paused. “My name's...Ray. I can't tell you my full name. I mean, as a human you wouldn't do anything with it but if you told anyone...”
Fraser smiled. “I understand. Ray,” Fraser tested the name out. Ray. It was a simple name, and yet, despite Ray's obvious complexity, it suited him. Ray. Fraser repeated the name in his head associating it with the image in his mind. Ray. He felt a funny feeling inside, perhaps there was indeed magic in names.
“Do you think you can sit up?” Ray asked.
“I think I can stand up,” Fraser replied.
Ray offered a hand to Fraser who took it gratefully. Ray's hand was warm and Fraser took the opportunity to admire the man's elegant fingers. Once he was standing up he had the opportunity to more closely examine Ray. He was wearing some very nicely tailored black pants. He had a black belt which seemed to have several accoutrements attached to it. There was a stick thing which Fraser presumed was a wand, but there was also a strange circular object, like a disc, a knife and a small spherical object. Ray wore a white shirt, with a pale beige tie, although his top button was undone. On top he wore a thin grey jacket and on top of all of that he would have worn the cloak he now moved to pick up off the ground.
“Are you sure you're okay?” Ray asked, brushing down his cloak.
Fraser realised his silence must have give the wrong impression. “Oh, no, I'm fine.”
Ray seemed sceptical. “Okay.” Fraser watched as Ray put his cloak back on. “We'll wait here a few minutes and then I'll send you back.”
“But I just got here,” Fraser pointed out.
“And you shouldn't be here at all,” Ray replied. “I'm already in enough trouble without having to explain to the council why I brought a human and a wolf through the rift.”
“It was an accident,” Fraser said. He had only intended to return the book, hadn't he? He might not have let go straight away but he'd never had any intention of travelling to an inner, magical world.
“Yeah, well, I know that and you know that and he knows that,” Ray pointed to Diefenbaker. “But the council don't know that.”
“You could tell them it was accident. I'd vouch for you.”
“A human vouching for me? They'd think I forced you to. It's not like I've got a great reputation here.”
Ray's pain was evident in his voice and Fraser picked up on it. “You don't seem to be the sort of man who'd lie, Ray. I know I barely know you, and perhaps I'm making assumptions, but you seem honest.”
Ray snorted. “Tell that to the council. Bunch of big shots sitting around pretending they can solve all our problems.”
“You don't like the council?”
Ray was pacing again. “They don't like me. Nobody likes me. I don't...I don't fit in.”
Ray's voice was quiet. So quiet Fraser wasn't sure that with a slight wind he would even have heard the words. “I'm sorry.”
Ray threw his hands up. “Why am I even telling you this? A human who I just met after accidentally bringing him through the rift.”
“Maybe we came through with you for a reason?” Fraser suggested. Maybe there had been some strange reason why he hadn't let go of the book. Maybe he was meant to help Ray, he clearly needed some help.
“What kind of reason?” Ray asked.
“Well, we could help you.”
Dief barked in the affirmative.
Ray sat down on the ground and sighed. “You wouldn't want to help me.”
Fraser felt for Ray, he looked...defeated. He sat down on next to him. The ground wasn't hard, it was quite comfortable. But Fraser's attention wasn't on the sensations caused by sitting on the ground but on Ray. “Why not?”
Ray put his head in his hands. “Because I'm a screw up.”
Fraser waited for the rest of it. He decided he would let Ray talk and hoped he would be able to help.
Ray picked the book up. “I need this book to help get back my family's honour. That sounds crazy doesn't it?” Ray sighed. “Look, my family used to be respected. I mean, we're not the greatest wizards in the world, but we're not bad, and we were your average law abiding magical family. My father used to work at the archives and he used to to be sent to your Chicago. He started doing things that weren't good.”
Fraser spoke up. “And your family's reputation?”
Ray nodded. “He's been dead for five years. All he left me was a house and a lot of questions from the council.”
Fraser shifted closer, he wasn't sure why. “So you've spent the last five years trying to regain your family honour?”
Ray nodded. He ran a finger over the cover of the book. “Yeah, they give me these tasks.”
Fraser felt sure he could help Ray, after-all, it had been his job at one point, to help people. “What sort of tasks?” he enquired.
“Well, getting this book was one,” Ray said. “You weren't supposed to be there.”
It took a moment for Fraser to realised what Ray meant. “You mean at the book store?”
Ray nodded. “You weren't even supposed to see me.”
“We close late some night,” Fraser explained.
“What sore of book store stays open that late? Does anyone actually buy any books after midnight?”
Fraser warmed to Ray. He had a gruff manner but Fraser could see that it was caused by the stress of the tasks that apparently he'd been given, having the responsibility of your family's honour on your shoulders would be difficult for anyone. Fraser decided to ask some more questions, but first he had to answer Ray's.
“People don't seem to buy books after nine,” he admitted. “But I'm sure that's only because they don't know we're open so late.”
“Well, that girl at the coffee shop didn't.”
Fraser remembered her. “Ah, Lauren.”
“You know her name?” Ray asked, surprised.
“It was on her name tag,” Fraser explained. He felt the sun on his nose and estimated it was now well after ten. “Oh dear, I was supposed to open up the store an hour ago.”
“Time works differently here,” Ray explained casually. He stood up. “But look, I can send you back if you want.”
Fraser stood up. “I'm more interested in helping you, Ray,” Fraser replied, deliberately using Ray's name.
“You really are, aren't you?” Ray sounded very surprised.
“Yes.” Fraser said. “What are your tasks?”
Ray shrugged. “I had forty one. I've got five left, well, four because I've got the book.”
No wonder it had taken Ray so long, Fraser thought. “Forty one? Is that number significant?”
“I don't know,” Ray admitted. “I think they make it up.”
“Ah.” Fraser stayed quiet. He enjoyed listening to the sound of Ray's voice. It had more of a nasal quality then he was used to but it suited Ray. Everything Ray did and said suited him.
“So these tasks are all different,” Ray explained. “Sometimes I have to find something, sometimes I have to work out a puzzle, those are the worst.”
Fraser enjoyed puzzles. They reminded him of his old life, back in Canada before the unpleasantness that had seen him invalided out of the force he loved and pressured into moving to Chicago. “You don't like puzzles?” Fraser asked.
Ray didn't look confident. “I'm no good at it, Fraser, you know, logic problems.”
“Doesn't magic involve logic?” Fraser had no idea what magic actually entailed. The only thing he could remember about wizards was the legends of Merlin and his ilk.
Ray shook his head. “No. I mean, yeah, it does, but this isn't magic logic. This is like those logic problems you do in school; if a wizard is travelling from Dayton on a carpet and a witch is travelling on a broom from Acrin where will they meet on the astral plane? The only answer I had was 'I don't care'. I mean, why should I care if a magic carpet can outrun a broom?”
“Can a magic carpet outrun a broom?” Fraser asked, intrigued by the concept.
Ray threw his hands up. “ I don't know! It's not like I ever put them in a race together.”
Fraser could tell Ray was stressed; why else would he have snapped at Fraser like that?
“I'm sorry. It's just...I have my whole family depending on me to do this and I'm not sure I can.” Ray dropped his head in resignation.
“You can do it, Ray,” Fraser tried to put as much faith as he could into those words. He barely knew Ray but he felt somehow connected to him and he knew together they could do it.
“Thanks,” Ray mumbled.
“What's your next task?” Fraser asked to give Ray a distraction.
Dief barked. It seemed the wolf was eager to offer his help too.
Ray sat back down and picked up the book. He carefully opened it, as if it was a fragile object. It was old but it also seemed very robust from Fraser's experience. It had made it through the rift intact, after-all. Fraser sat down next to Ray and watched as he flicked through the thick pages.
It's a Kind of Magic Part Two