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
It's a Kind of Magic Part Two....
Finally he settled on one page and read it carefully. Fraser waited. He tried to decipher the text, but all he would work out were odd words. There were also a number of symbols interspersed among the text that Fraser wasn't sure as to the meaning of. Ray shifted the book so Fraser could see it.
“You see these symbols?” He pointed to a line of four symbols about midway down the first page.
Fraser nodded. “Yes, what do they mean?”
“That's the task,” Ray replied. “I have to figure out what these mean. That leads me to the next task.”
“It's some kind of code.” Fraser studied the symbols. They seemed familiar somehow. There had to be a logical connection, he reasoned.
“Yeah, but I don't know what it means,” Ray said, sadly.
“You've never seen symbols like these before?” Fraser asked.
“No, most of the other tasks were straightforward, you know, get a magic book, cast a spell, this is different,” Ray replied.
Fraser looked closely at the first symbol. It was a circle with spokes inside, like the spokes of a wheel. Or the points of a compass, he mused. One point in particular stuck out from the others, it was longer. If the symbol was a compass the longest spoke was the one for south.
“Ray, do you have a compass?” Fraser asked.
“Why would I need a compass? Every way you turn they point north.”
“How do you find your direction?” Fraser asked.
“Oh, I use this.” Ray took the flat disc-like object from his belt.
Fraser noticed there was a slight greenish glow to the object. Ray laid it flat on his palm and touched it with his other hand.
“Which way do you want to go?” Ray asked.
Fraser checked the symbol. “Well, according to the first symbol we need to go due south, Ray.”
Ray peered at the book. “That's what it means?”
Fraser nodded. “I think so, it reminds me of a compass,” Fraser explained.
“Okay.” Ray turned his attention back to the disc. “South,” he said loudly and clearly.
Immediately the disc began to glow brighter. Fraser was fascinated. He leaned closer to Ray to get a good look at what was going on. In the centre of the disc a glowing arrow had appeared, pointing the way. Fraser was amazed by how the whatever-it-was worked.
“It's a direction and place finder,” Ray told him. “You just tell it' where you want to go and it shows you.”
“It's very clever,” Fraser said. He shifted closer to Ray to get a better look and was suddenly aware of Ray's scent. He pulled back. He'd had a strong reaction to being in close proximity to Ray. He wasn't sure quite why, but he felt..the best word to describe it was desire. He wasn't entirely sure how to deal with the strong feelings he was developing for Ray, especially so quickly, so he pulled back.
“Yeah, it's a useful thing,” Ray replied, sounding a little odd as Fraser pulled back.
“Ah, well, maybe we should follow it,” Fraser said, suddenly feeling a little warmer.
“To where?” Ray asked. “We keep going south we'll end up, who knows where we'll end up.”
Ray had a point. “Perhaps if we look at the second symbol,” Fraser suggested, looking at the book again. He tried to keep a discreet distance from Ray, still disconcerted from his earlier reaction to him.
“It looks like a wall,” Ray said.
“Are there any walls south of here, Ray?”
Ray looked puzzled. “Walls? What, there's just one wall in the middle of a field south of here?”
“I don't know, Ray,” Fraser replied. “Perhaps it isn't a wall.” Fraser studied the symbol closely. It did look like a wall, it was a series of black boxes one on top of the other. “You know, Ray, this puts me in mind of an Inusuk.”
Ray looked puzzled. “What's an Inusuck?”
Fraser smiled at Ray's mispronunciation. “An Inusuk. It's a stack of stones used by the Inuit to mark the trail and show the way.”
“Like a signpost?”
Fraser nodded. “Yes, exactly like a signpost.”
Ray seemed happier as he closed the book. He took a look at the disc again, placed the book under his arm and began to walk off. “Come on, I know where we're going!”
Fraser quickly followed. “Diefenbaker,” he called, but the wolf was already keeping pace with Ray.
Ray was striding ahead, sure of where he was going. Fraser took a look around the world he had found himself in. It was different in a way Fraser couldn't pinpoint. There was grass and trees and obviously there would be structures but the whole place had a different quality to it. It wasn't in the colour, though the shades were vivid. It was as if there was something beyond that, something that Fraser wasn't seeing, but feeling.
“Where are we going, Ray?” Fraser asked.
“You said we were looking for a signpost, right?”
Fraser nodded. “That's what the symbols seemed to indicate.”
“So, that's where we going, there's a signpost about a mile south of here.”
“I see,” Fraser replied.
There was a moment of silence, with only the sound of their footwear on the ground to break it up. They could still hear the birds but that was distant, far away. Fraser wasn't sure what to make of the silence between himself and Ray. It was comfortable, as if they were getting to knew each through the silence. Fraser wasn't surprised, though, by Ray's attempts at conversation.
“So, where are you from?” Ray asked. “I mean, apart from the human world.”
Fraser smiled, it was so easy to smile at Ray. “The North West Territories, in Canada.”
“You're not from Chicago?”
Fraser shook his head. “No, I currently live there.”
“And run a book store?”
“Yes. My grandparents were librarians so it seemed a logical career choice after I left the RCMP.” The memory of that was painful but Fraser had no real regrets, at least, that was what he told himself.
“What's the RCMP?”
“Royal Canadian Mounted Police,” Fraser explained.
“So, that's like cops?”
Fraser smiled. “Yes, police officers.”
“Why did you leave?” Ray asked.
“My father was murdered,” Fraser explained. “And his killer was a friend of my father. I turned in one of my own. After that, things became...difficult.” Fraser had been transferred from post to post but wherever he'd gone he'd met with suspicion and eventually it had been easier to leave, his and his father's reputations in tatters.
“I'm sorry, Benny,” Ray said, quietly.
“Benny.” Fraser tested the word out. Ray had called him Benny. “Benny,” he repeated not as a question but Ray took it that way anyway.
“Just came out,” he said. “Might give you some protection.”
“Ah, because no-one else knows it's my name?” Fraser ventured, making a logical presumption.
“Yeah, something like that,” Ray admitted. Fraser didn't have time to probe further as Ray pushed the conversation back. “Why did you go to Chicago?”
“I don't really know why,” Fraser replied. “It seemed logical.”
Ray laughed. “That's it?”
“Should there be another reason?”
Ray sobered. “No. I'm glad you ended up in Chicago. It could have taken me years to figure out what those symbols meant.”
Fraser felt that Ray wasn't that confident in his own abilities, magic or otherwise. “I'm sure you would have worked it out sooner than that, Ray.”
Ray stopped walking and Fraser realised they must have come some way.
“We're here,” Ray said.
Sure enough, straight in front of them was a signpost. It was very odd as it seemed to have several different directions it was pointing at, but each point seemed to move. The whole movement was almost organic, as sign points seemed to retract, others seemed to grow; it was very disconcerting. Fraser was still staring at the signpost when he noticed Ray had opened the book. He was frowning.
“Okay, so we're at the signpost, now the next symbol looks like the first one.”
Fraser peered over Ray's shoulder, it was strange, the way he felt in close proximity to Ray. He tried not to focus on the line of Ray's neck but on the symbols instead. The next one in the sequence did match the first, except the direction was different. Fraser guessed it was south west.
“What's south west of here?” he asked Ray.
Ray pointed, as best he could, to a large wood. “That forest.”
The forest was huge and forbidding, exactly he kind that you would expect in a fairytale, Fraser thought. Who knew what was lurking in there. It was no good to just stumble into the forest with no sense of what to head for. Fraser looked at the next symbol. It appeared to be a plank of wood with a keyhole in it.
“We're looking for a specific tree, Ray,” Fraser announced. “One with something you fit a key in.”
“Does the plank represent the tree?” Ray guessed.
“So why would the key thingy be literal?”
That was a good point, Fraser thought. “Are there any special trees in the forest? Ones that are south west of here?”
Ray thought. “There's the staircase tree,” he said.
“It has a staircase in it?” Fraser asked. He tried to picture it.
“Yeah, sort of. It's the way into where the Leprechauns live,” Ray replied. “It has a staircase down to wherever it is the Leprechauns live. But it's not somewhere we can get to.”
Suddenly the key image made sense. “That's what the keyhole represents, Ray,” he said, becoming excited and almost hugging Ray. “It's a locked door to us.”
Ray seemed to smile. “Okay, so let's go.”
He moved forward, closing the book and Fraser found he missed the contact that had been between them. But it was great to see Ray enthusiastic. It must be a relief for Ray to be closer to his goal. Fraser was determined to help see him through it. He was getting fond of Ray, even in such a short time. Maybe that was magic too.
Ray was waiting for him, his compass disc in hand, the book tucked under the other arm. “Ready, Benny?”
Fraser walked over to Ray. “Yes, do you think we'll be able to get there before it gets dark?” He looked up at the sky, the sun didn't seem as bright as before.
“Yeah, you ever been in a forest before?”
“Yes, at home there were miles of forest.”
“Not magic forest though,” Ray said, half jokingly. “Stay close and if you hear anything, just ignore it and keep walking.”
Diefenbaker whined. He didn't seem at all sure about the forest. Fraser couldn't blame him, animals often seemed to have a sixth sense about strange paranormal activities.
Fraser was confident with Ray, though, Ray wouldn't let anything happen to them and he tried to communicate that to Diefenbaker as they set off together into the forest.
It was darker inside the forest than Fraser had anticipated. The light didn't penetrate as deeply as it could have done. It was almost as if the forest had a perpetual twilight all of its own. It smelled different to the forests Fraser had been familiar with from his youth. The atmosphere was one of a thousand eyes watching him and Ray. He was sure he could hear whispers but put it down to just the wind. Ray seemed focussed on finding the tree.
“Have you been here before?” Fraser asked.
Ray nodded. “I've done nine tasks in this forest,” he explained. “First time I came in here I was caught by pixies.”
“Pixies?” Fraser had heard of mischievous creatures but he associated them with village areas, places people lived, rather than forests.
“Yeah, tied me up and left me for four days. If I hadn't figured out a counter spell I'd still be there,” Ray said.
“You do figure things out then,” Fraser said, trying to sound encouraging.
“Four days, Benny,” Ray reminded him.
“Still, you won't be caught again.”
“Yeah, and I won't let you be caught either.”
Fraser was pleased by the thought. He knew it was the case.
They moved deeper into the forest and Diefenbaker stayed very close. Fraser had not seen him this nervous for some time. He gave he occasional encouraging pat. The forest seemed never-ending. Fraser could no longer make out the edge, it was as if they had been swallowed whole.
Finally, they came to a small clearing. The air felt lighter, less threatening. In the middle of the small clearing was a strange looking tree. It was twisted, like a spiral staircase. Branches twisted this way and that. It had few leaves but the few it did had a bright green hue to them, almost glowing.
“Well, we're here,” Ray said. “And that was the last symbol.”
Fraser looked around. “What happens now?”
Ray shrugged. “I don't know.”
A few minutes went by, at least Fraser thought it was that, time seemed to work strangely here, until the silence was broken.
“So you made it, Vecchio.”
Fraser and Ray turned to see a small man in green staring at them, casually leaning against a tree. Fraser concluded the man had to be a leprechaun. He also belatedly realised Vecchio must be the second part of Ray's name, his family name.
“Yeah, Gardino, I made it,” Ray replied, aggression in his voice.
“Did your human friend help you?” Gardino turned to look at Fraser.
“So, what if he did Louie?” Ray asked. “We got here, we did the task.”
“It's Louis, Vecchio, and I knew you couldn't do it on your own.”
Fraser spoke up, not willing to have Ray's reputation degraded. “He was perfectly capable of working things out,” Fraser said, careful not to use the other part of Ray's name. “My help was minimal.”
“Sure it was,” Gardino scoffed.
“Look, does it count or not?” Ray asked, agitated.
Gardino seemed reluctant to divulge the result. “Maybe.”
“Has he completed the task?” Fraser asked, still not using Ray's name.
“Yeah, working out the symbols and getting here covers two tasks. But you've still got two to go,” Gardino admitted. “You better get on with the next one. You've got to cross the Michigan Avenue bridge but to do that you've got to answer the three riddles the bridge keeper asks you. When you cross the bridge that's where your final task is.”
“And what's that?” Ray asked.
“I can't tell you. Go, Vecchio.”
There was a bright flash and Fraser found himself no longer in the forest. He quickly made sure Ray and Diefenbaker were with him. It was dark, wherever they were. There were no trees around, nothing for Fraser to use to get his bearings. Then again, he couldn't see very far at all. He could see Ray and he was grateful for that.
“Where are we?” he asked out loud.
“We're not far from the bridge. Gardino must have sent us here, probably on order of the council,” Ray replied.
There was a small flash from Ray's direction and Fraser noted Ray was holding a staff with a glowing light at the tip. It lit up the area. Fraser could make out vague shapes.
“It doesn't look like we can get there tonight,” he noted.
Ray shook his head. “No, we'll camp here,” he said.
Fraser watched, fascinated, as Ray took out a small roll of material and placed it on the ground. Ray pointed a small wand at it and uttered the words: “Espanda la tenda.”
Suddenly the material expanded and changed, growing into a large tent. Ray stepped inside. “Come on, Benny.”
Fraser approached the mouth of the tent and ducked his head. He found himself in a light, airy tent that was more like a hotel room than an actual tent. There was food and drink on a small table, there was a large and comfortable-looking bed and there was plenty of light. It was very inviting. Fraser had never seen anything like it.
“Is it okay?” Ray asked. “I know it's basic but you know, we're camping.”
Fraser wasn't sure what to say. “It's not basic,” he said.
Dief, who had followed him inside, barked.
“You hungry?” Ray asked as he seated himself at the table.
Fraser realised he was, very hungry. He hadn't eaten since...since before he had come to find Ray. It was as if he had survived on their adventure for sustenance. But Ray was wonderful sustenance. Fraser sat down opposite and was surprised that his favourite foods were on the table. Magic really was magic. He wasn't sure what to eat first. In the end he chose a small piece of meat.
As they ate, he and Ray talked again. Ray had a musical quality to his voice, even if he occasionally spoke with his mouth full. Fraser opened up, and ended up telling Ray about everything that had led him to Chicago, his life before that. Ray told Fraser what each of the preceding tasks had been like, how he had done it. Fraser was left in awe of what Ray had managed to accomplish. It made him feel all the more privileged to help Ray with the last two tasks.
When they had finished eating the plates simply vanished. Fraser was surprised that he wasn't surprised by this fact. Ray yawned.
“We should get to bed, Ray,” Fraser said.
Ray nodded. “You take the bed,” he said.
“We can share, Ray,” Fraser replied, surprising himself. He hadn't suggested Ray take the bed, he had immediately suggested they share the bed, why, he wasn't entirely sure.
Ray didn't seem to want to argue, perhaps he was too tired. “Okay, Benny.”
Fraser didn't undress, he did take off his shirt and his boots but he had no clothes to wear at night. Ray didn't seem to mind and, although he probably had some nightclothes, he didn't change either. Perhaps he didn't need to, Fraser didn't know what wizards did in bed. He blushed at the thought of seeing Ray naked in bed. It was a pleasant thought.
Ray did, however, remove the various trinkets from his belt, and took off his cloak, He placed them haphazardly into a box by the bed but when Fraser peered inside the items were neatly ordered. Ray was swilling his mouth out with a glass of blue liquid.
“It cleans your mouth,” he explained as he emptied the used liquid into a bowl. “Here try it.” Ray handed Fraser a glass.
Fraser sniffed the liquid. It smelt fresh and natural. He took a gulp and swilled it around his mouth as Ray had done. It was wonderful, as if a thousand brushes were all working together in his mouth. He spat it out into the bowl offered by Ray and ran his tongue around his mouth. It did feel remarkably fresh. He'd never had such a clean mouth.
Ray seemed to read his shock. “Humans don't use this?”
Fraser shook his head. “We have something similar but it doesn't work as well as that. What is it?”
“Liquido di pulizia per la bocca,” Ray said. “Mouth cleaning liquid,” he translated.
“It's very nice,” Fraser said, yawning.
“Come on, Benny,” Ray said, lying down in the bed. “You look tired.”
Fraser nodded and gingerly lay down next to Ray. “Good night, Ray,” he said.
“Good night, Benny.”
They both lay on the bed together, each on one side. It felt strange to be so close and yet it wasn't close enough for Fraser. He found himself snuggling next to Ray, getting closer and closer until Ray's arms suddenly came around him. The lights in the tent were dimmed low but not so low that Fraser couldn't see Ray's delicate features, his eyes, his lips.
Fraser wasn't sure why he did what he did, but he did. He kissed Ray. It was just a gentle kiss, pressing his lips against Ray's but it was perfect. Fraser's lips tingled as he pulled back, nervous at Ray's reaction. Ray said nothing but pulled Fraser closer. They slept together in each other's arms, neither articulating in words what was happening to them.
The next day Fraser awoke to find Ray had prepared breakfast, or breakfast had appeared. He smiled at Ray as he took his seat. Ray smiled back. They still didn't say anything but Ray's reaction allowed Fraser to relax as he tucked in. By his feet, Diefenbaker was also making the most of things by having a very big breakfast. Fraser didn't say anything, he was too content and happy to worry about Diefenbaker's calorific intake.
Once they'd finished, Ray spoke. Fraser realised he had been daydreaming and staring at Ray throughout their breakfast, and it had felt perfectly natural. Even though he was in a tent created by magic in a land of magic. Perhaps what he and Ray had was magic Fraser was aware his attention was wandering away from Ray's words.
Fraser smiled. “I'm sorry, Ray, you were saying we needed to go?” Fraser was guessing but it seemed a logical assumption.
“Yeah, if you want to go back...” Ray was tentative.
“No, Ray, I want to see this through,” Fraser replied. “With you,” he added.
Ray smiled, not a wide smile but one that seemed to be of relief.
“Okay, let's go,” he said, standing up and stretching.
“Don't we need to clean up?” Fraser asked, indicating the dirty breakfast plates.
Ray laughed. “Benny, this is how we clean up.”
Ray waved his hand and sure enough, just as had happened the previous night, the plates disappeared. Fraser had watched carefully to see of he could discern how it was done but he was at a loss.
“Magic,” Ray said. “You want to feel clean?”
Fraser nodded, his clothes did feel slept in. “Yes, but there isn't a bathroom, is there?”
Ray frowned. “You just need this,” he said, and handed Fraser a hoop.
Fraser took the hoop but was at a loss as to how to use it. “Erm, Ray?”
Ray took another one, where it had come from Fraser didn't know. “You do this.” Ray took hold of the hoop and held it over his head. He then brought it down slowly and as he did so his clothes and skin took on a clean appearance. When he was half way down he let go of the hoop and it floated to the ground.
Fraser gamely decided to try, he felt Ray watching him. He didn't manage to ease it over himself as carefully as Ray had but he managed. It felt as if there was some energy coming off it but there was no doubt when he was finished he felt as if he had had a shower. “Thank you, Ray.”
Fraser handed the hoop back, brushing Ray's fingers. Both of them stopped, as if they were frozen for a single moment in time. It passed though, as Diefenbaker barked and they returned to what they were doing.
“He's right, we should go,” Fraser said.
Ray nodded and was already putting his trinkets back onto his belt. “Yeah. I can't believe we're so close now,” he admitted. “Two more tasks, that's it. I couldn't have done it if you hadn't been here.”
Fraser was putting his boots on. “You would have succeeded without my help, Ray.”
“Yeah, it would have taken me another five years,” Ray replied. “Thank God I met you.”
“I'm glad I met you too, Ray,” Fraser said, sincerely. He didn't add anything else, there was no real need to do so.
Soon they stepped out of tent, Dief bounding ahead eagerly. Ray turned back and waved his wand about. “Crollo della tenda ora,” he said.
The tent now seemed to shrink and reduce until it was once again a small roll of material. Ray picked it up and secured it. “Ready, Benny?”
“Ready, Ray,” Fraser replied. “Which direction do we head in?”
Ray took out his directional finder. “ Michigan Avenue bridge,” he said, clearly. He waited a moment before turning slightly to one side. “This way,” he said.
The walk to the bridge passed quickly. Fraser tried to keep an eye on their surroundings, he was grateful to be out of the wood. Outside, the sun was shining and the landscape reminded him of the wide open spaces of his home in the summer. It was almost a romantic situation. In fact, Fraser imagined that it was.
It wasn't long before they sighted a large canyon ahead, across it was a wooden bridge. To Fraser's mind it looked rather unstable and that opinion didn't change as they got closer. It was an unassuming bridge, really. Old ropes and old wood, it was as if it was a natural part of the landscape, yet there was the hint that magic was natural in the landscape and the bridge reflected that.
They came to the beginning of the bridge and they stopped.
“Now we have to wait for the bridge keeper,” Ray explained.
“Does he know we're here?” Fraser asked, not sure how these things worked. There was no sign of any person near the bridge.
“Oh yeah,” Ray said, clearly nervous.
They waited a few minutes before Fraser felt a slight breeze on his face. Then a small swirling column of mist appeared at the entrance to the bridge. It sped up and seemed to solidify. The next moment a tall imposing man in a large black cloak appeared, his clothing moving in the breeze he seemed to have brought with him.
“I am Huey, the keeper of Michigan Avenue bridge,” the man spoke. “Who wishes to cross?”
Ray didn't seem as intimated as Fraser felt. “Ray Vecchio and Benton Fraser.”
Ray had spoken their full names. Fraser wondered if the bridge keeper would have accepted anything other than their full names. He suspected not.
“Ah, Ray Vecchio,” the man seemed to know Ray. “You're here to complete your penultimate task.”
“I am,” Ray replied, clutching the book that had brought them this far.
“And your friend?”
Fraser spoke up. “I'm here to support Ray in his final tasks,” Fraser said, hoping he wouldn't anger the keeper.
Huey nodded. “Okay.” He turned to Ray. “You must answer me three riddles,” he said. “Then you may cross the bridge where your final task awaits you. Are you ready?”
Ray nodded. “Yes.”
Now Ray seemed nervous. Fraser recalled that riddles were not something that Ray was very confident about.
“The first riddle is this,” Huey had an intimidating voice. “What gets wetter and wetter the more it dries?”
Ray looked confused. “It dries and gets wetter? That makes no sense.”
“Is that your answer?” Huey asked.
“No!” Ray replied.
Fraser was already thinking of the answer. He had some experience with strange puzzles. The riddle assumed it was the item that was drying, what if the item was getting wetter because it was drying? Fraser went through all the things that could be used to dry. He had the answer: a towel. But how was he going to tell Ray?
“Humans have them in their bathroom,” he said to Ray, speaking as low and quiet as possible.
Ray seemed to catch Fraser's meaning and was obviously trying to remember what humans had in bathrooms. Fraser was sure Ray had enough experience of the human world to answer the question.
“I need your answer,” Huey warned.
“A tow-el?” Ray ventured.
“A towel,” Ray repeated.
Huey was silent for a moment before his booming voice replied. “That is the correct answer. Your second riddle is this: I can run but not walk. Wherever I go, thought follows close behind. What am I?”
Ray was frowning.
Fraser once again turned his attention to the answer. The first part of the riddle seemed to be the key, the second was more abstract. Something that ran but didn't walk, there were only a few possibilities. One was a faucet but that had nothing to do with thought. Thought suggested a human quality and following...a facial feature. There was only facial feature that ran; a nose.
“You have a particularly nice looking specimen,” Fraser whispered.
“A nose?” Ray's face lit up. “Yeah, a nose.”
“Is that your answer?” Huey asked.
“Yeah,” Ray said, sounding confident.
“That is correct. Your third and final riddle: Mountains will crumble and temples will fall, and no man can survive its endless call. What is it?”
Ray seemed a bit more confident about this one. It was the most abstract of the three riddles but that probably played into Ray's strength. It took a few moments but he seemed to puzzle it out quickly Fraser already had an idea of the answer. Ray was checking with him.
“It works differently here, right, Benny?”
Fraser nodded. Ray had got it correct, there could be only one answer.
“It's time,” Ray said.
Huey seemed surprised that Ray had guessed it, and he had no hints from Fraser either.
“That is correct,” he said. “You may pass.”
He stepped back and allowed Ray and Fraser to cross. Diefenbaker wasn't so sure about crossing so Ray encouraged him to go first. “It's okay, Dief, it's safe.”
Dief whined and set off first. Ray moved to cross next. Fraser was startled when Huey spoke.
“Good luck, Vecchio.”
Ray nodded. “Thanks.”
He slowly began to cross the bridge, Fraser followed. The wood, considering how it looked, was surprisingly sturdy. There were odd gaps but Fraser felt that even if he walked near a gap he wouldn't fall through, as the gaps were solid too. He was slowly beginning to understand how things worked in Ray's world. Now they were heading to the final task Fraser wasn't sure how much longer he would be in Ray's world, or be with Ray. The latter thought hurt and Fraser relished every moment they still had left.
They crossed safely across the canyon. Fraser hadn't looked down, though he had calculated the drop was several hundred feet. Diefenbaker seemed highly relieved that they had crossed. Now, though, Ray was standing waiting, not sure what the final task was or when it would begin.
“I think we wait, Benny,” Ray replied.
They waited and waited for over two hours. Fraser and Ray had sat down on a log nearby; it was as if it had been placed there was a waiting point for them. Ray seemed to grow more agitated as time passed, he got up and began pacing.
“Are you all right, Ray?”
“No, I'm not all right. This is it, Fraser. After five years I'm about to do the final task. I don't even know what it is. It could be something like killing someone.”
“I doubt it will be, Ray. You've come this far, you can complete it.”
“Yeah.” Ray didn't sound convinced.
Fraser was hoping the final task would be made clear soon, and he was granted his wish.
There was a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning struck close to where they were. Dief whimpered. There was a cloud of dust and out of the dust stepped another, older man.
“Congratulations, Ray,” the man said in an authoritative voice. “You've made it this far. I see you had help.”
“Welsh, sir, I didn't mean to bring the human through, I...”
Welsh held up a hand. “It's all right, Ray, he can be used for the final task.”
Fraser felt apprehensive.
“Use Fraser?” Ray asked. “What is the final task?”
“Someone close to you must agree to lose all their senses.”
“All their senses?” Ray asked, fear in his voice.
“Sight, sound, taste, smell, touch. They will live but in a world where they can't recognise anything.”
Ray went white.
Fraser knew that such a thing would mean madness, it would mean a living death. He would never be bale able to see Ray, hear him, smell him. He wouldn't be able to work, he wouldn't be able to do anything. He would choose to end his life rather than suffer such eternal torment. Yet if he didn't agree to it then Ray would have failed. His family honour would never be restored. He would face years of torment of his own, feeling the loss of each thing.
There was no real choice.
“I accept,” Fraser said quietly.
“Benny, no!” Ray stood in front of Fraser, protecting him. “You can't do this.” He turned helplessly toward Welsh. “There has to be another way, another task.”
Welsh shook his head. “This is the task that was chosen for you, there's no other option, Ray.”
“Then that's it, I've failed,” Ray sounded totally defeated.
“No,” Fraser replied, stepping in. “This isn't about me, Ray, this is about you. You have family, you've gone through this for years. You deserve to succeed.”
“Not if it means you dying,” Ray replied.
“I wouldn't be dead.”
“You would! You'd go crazy. I can't let than happen to you.”
“It's not your choice, Ray, it's mine,” Fraser said, firmly.
It was almost ironic that the final task was not Ray's decision to make but it was Ray's work that allowed that decision to be made. Ray had earned Fraser's respect, his love, he had captured him from the moment he'd seen him reading the book. Form that moment Fraser had known, somewhere inside, his destiny lay with Ray. Now he knew that more than ever. He could do something again, help people again. He had to to do it.
“I accept the challenge,” Fraser said to Welsh.
“Are you sure? Once done, this cannot be undone,” Welsh replied.
“So be it.” Welsh raised his arms.
Fraser kept his eyes open, wanting his last view to be of Ray. Impulsively he rushed forward and kissed Ray. It was as long a kiss as Fraser could manage.He was cataloguing everything about it, each sensation imprinted on his memory to sustain him when he had nothing else.
Ray looked shocked and surprised as Fraser stepped back to take his punishment. There was a huge bang and then there was a cloud of dust surrounding him. It was hard to see and Fraser held his breath, knowing he wouldn't see ever again.
To his surprise the dust cleared and he could still see. He could see Ray, he could hear Diefenbaker's happy bark of joy. He touched himself, he could still feel. He was as he had been before. Nothing had happened. He looked at Welsh, confused.
“Congratulations, Ray,” Welsh said. “You've completed the tasks.”
Ray was open-mouthed. “But, Benny...”
“Is fine. Your final task has been going on for some time. It was to see if you could love and earn the love of another in return. Fraser's willingness to sacrifice himself meant you had. Your family honour is restored.”
Ray was clearly still shocked but walked up to Fraser and enveloped him in a hug. Fraser returned it and the two of them didn't let go for a long while, not wanting it to end. Ray's body was sagging with relief and Fraser held him firmly, supporting him as Ray kissed Fraser.
Welsh coughed. Fraser remembered they were being watched and became stiff. Ray, on the other hand, kept hold of him.
“Congratulations,” Welsh said awkwardly.
Ray blushed. “Thanks.”
"I'll leave you two alone,” Welsh replied.
There was none of the drama that there had been when Welsh had appeared as he simply seemed to vanish, no noise or lightning this time.
“Ray,” Fraser said, almost solemnly. “Thank you.”
"You're thanking me?” Ray asked, surprised. “I wasn't the one who offered to lose his senses just so my family could get its honour back.”
“It was a worthy cause, Ray. You...you've come to mean a lot to me.”
“You mean a lot to me too,” Ray said, holding Fraser tightly.
“I love you,” Fraser admitted in a low voice.
“I love you too,” Ray replied, giving Fraser a brief nuzzle. “I was thinking, your book store?”
“Yes, Ray?” Fraser hadn't thought of it in the past day, or however long it had actually been.
“Could you use some help running it?” Ray asked.
Fraser hoped Ray's question was leading where he thought it was leading. “Well, Ray, the book store side is relatively easy to run. However, I was wondering about expanding the business,” Fraser paused. “I thought perhaps magic might be a suitable addition.”
Ray gave Fraser a passionate kiss. “You want me to go back with you?”
“Yes, Ray. I'd be...honoured to have you at my side helping me run the book store and magic shop.”
Ray was smiling and it gave Fraser a warm feeling. “Great! We go and tell my family honour is restored, my mother feeds you within an inch of your life and then we go back and live in your Chicago.”
“I could live here with you,” Fraser offered.
“Well, we can come back here. I mean, I love my family. They're going to love you,” Ray said. “We're going to have to visit them.”
Fraser had a thought. “Do we have to do that now, Ray?”
“No,” Ray answered. “Why?”
“Well, you do have a tent, Ray, and although you said it was basic...I think it would perfect for the two of us to get to know each other better.”
Fraser gave Ray a kiss to make sure his intentions weren't in doubt.
“That's a good idea, Benny,” Ray replied.
They let go of each other and Ray once more magically out up the tent. Fraser took Ray's hand and they went inside together. The real world could wait, Fraser decided, the rest of the day and night would be given over to magic. The magic that Ray had brought into his life and the magic that they would create together. For the first time in a long time Fraser no longer cared if things were well ordered or logical. Time with Ray was a wonderful magical adventure and one Fraser would enjoy for the rest of his life. So it was that the magic began.