The Storm and the Wake

She'd been watching him for weeks. It was a habit, a learned response to the sorts of things she'd lived through--things she'd thrived through, she liked to think. It was a habit and a defense, that was all. The fact that she needed to see him the way she needed to breathe was just a coincidence.

She didn't know what she'd expected. She'd thought he was dead—shot directly in the back, and that look he'd given her, how could he have pulled himself out of that? If she'd thought of it after, when she had furtively imagined that he'd lived, she'd wondered--with twin thrills of sorrow and satisfaction--if he'd be confined to a wheelchair, unable to return to the cold wild landscapes he loved. If he'd be offered a desk job as a consolation, or if he'd been fired, or if he'd been put in prison, rolling down those joyless corridors to a small cell where he would, by necessity, need the bottom bunk.

If, should she find him again, he would look at her with the same hopeful, apologetic eyes. If he would still feel drawn to her like a magnet to true north.

How could she have expected this: the way he ran and leaped, still as free in his body as he'd ever been. Part of her was glad. Part of her seethed, and likely always would; but grief dulled the edges of her hatred's teeth. She started remembering how good those few nights had felt, from both halves of her; how good it had felt to make things even, equal, in a way they had never been, and how good it had felt to take from him what he freely wanted to give. He was strong, and warm, and he had tilted his chin and yielded to her in a way that still made her hot and shaky.

Seeing him on the cover of magazines for stopping terrorists on a train--that had been a shock. Scarcely two years later he'd done it again, this time with a nuclear submarine. Outlandish and ridiculous by turns; it didn't surprise her. What did surprise her was the rage, the bone deep anger that she felt—as if his survival was, somehow, another betrayal. And then the rage cooled and cracked into relief, a queer-tasting kind of hope.

He looked good. Especially in the fall, with the weather getting colder and crisper, with snow threatening but not falling yet. She was rather surprised he was still in Chicago. He had color in his cheeks, and the wolf had recovered well—she hadn't been shooting to kill, after all. Not really. They both looked hale and hearty, vigorous…very alive. The wolf ran as though it had never been shot. Ben looked like something off a magazine, still, even with sweat stains under his arms and his face ruddy from exertion and cold.

She followed him to the Canadian Consulate, at a fair distance and downwind, and watched him slide inside early in the morning. She left the envelope with the train tickets and her note in the Consulate’s outdoor mailbox, and walked away into the brisk morning, already looking forward to lunch.


He showed up at the park at the right time, dressed in casual clothes, the wolf left behind. She felt hope well up; not for the first time, she let it fester. When he looked at her, she could see a shadow of that desire he’d had, those few nights in his dismal apartment.

“Let’s go to a diner,” he said, quietly, and for a moment—just a moment—she was afraid, because he was beautiful and alive and still a cop, beneath the sweater and plaid jacket. For a moment she hesitated.

“My choice,” she said, because she couldn’t, couldn’t trust that he wasn’t setting her up.

“All right,” he said, and tucked his hands into the pockets of his jacket. So she led him—she didn’t quite dare take his arm—to a local place, tiny, with only the deli staff and a pair of elderly women speaking together in Polish. No one followed them, on foot or in a car.

“I hope you’re not wearing a wire,” she said, and he stopped in the door, which he had opened for her.

“No,” he said. “I’m not wearing a wire.”

They both ordered black coffee and tucked themselves into a small corner booth, where she could keep her back to the wall.

“I’m not interested in framing you,” Victoria said. “I, uh.” She played with the handle of her coffee cup. “I think I’m over that.” It was one of the hardest things she had ever done, to tell the truth to him. Ben had always wrenched honesty from her, whatever else he left alone. What she wanted from him couldn’t be forced, and it had been a sour pill, but she’d finally begun to accept that.

Ben met her eyes, unsmiling, but he did not handcuff her, either. Progress.

“Thank you,” he said, politely, as though he was speaking to a stranger.

“I’ve missed you,” she said. “I thought…well, I thought you were dead.”

“Well,” he said, with a touch of sarcasm, “I can see why you would think that.”

She bit back the reaction she wanted to show—to snap at him, to snarl would you rather I be shot instead and it wasn’t my friend shooting the gun. But she didn’t; she was, in part of her heart, just happy to have him here across from her, breathing.

“How’ve you been?” she asked. She played a little with the packets of sugar and sweet-n-low. “Got a girlfriend?”

“No,” he said, after a long, fraught pause. “I’m—I’m sorry, but I don’t want to discuss my romantic relationships with you, Victoria.”

Her name was almost a whip, coming from him. She set the packets back into their little chipped ceramic container. “I don’t deserve to know about that part of your life, huh? Like I wasn’t there for a good chunk of it.”

He flinched this time, sitting back into the soft cushion of the booth seat. “There are a lot of things we don’t know about each other,” he said, quietly. He reached slowly into his jacket and pulled out the train tickets, laid them gently on the table. “And frankly, I’m afraid we’re past the point where we can just be honest with each other.” He looked at her squarely. “Betrayal makes chasms too deep to easily bridge. You taught me that.”

Her heart twisted. What had she expected? Had she expected him to just take her hand? Perhaps in the deep parts of her mind she had—he was always so solitary, and had always seemed so eager for her company. The only time she had ever seen him hesitate was the train station.

“So you’re going to arrest me? Again?”

“No,” he said, sharply—as sharply as he had ever spoken to her. “No, I’m not,” he said, glancing around and noticing that he’d drawn the attention of the other diners. His hands were curled, and he spread them open on the table. “It seems to me that, no matter what I choose when it comes to you, I make a mistake,” he said. “It took me a long time to realize how I’d hurt you when we first met. I tried to do the opposite the second time, and that—” he laughed weakly. “That was also a mistake.”

“You could come with me now,” she said, but he was already shaking his head.

“No,” he said, gently. He looked at her, and he looked as though he’d been cracked open. “Part of me will always love you, Victoria. But I’ve known what it’s like to love someone I thought I knew, and now I understand what it’s like to love someone I really know, down to his bones, and—I can’t go back to a romantic dream.”

Her breath caught in her throat, and it seemed he realized what he’d said. His face, already pale, lost its color. He matched the generic, grey diner plates. She took a sip of her coffee. “So no girlfriend,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d put you completely off women.”

He licked his lower lip. “You didn’t,” he said. “There was—were—other women that I, well.” He shrugged a little. “Those possibilities never went anywhere.”

“Instead you know a man down to his bones,” she said, her voice low. She felt disappointment and pain welling. It was bad enough to know he wasn’t coming with her—to know he was in love with someone else hurt. A man.

“I didn’t know you liked men,” she said. He smiled at her, a sad smile.

“We really don’t know each other,” he said, very gently. “That was always our problem, Victoria. I felt like I knew every important thing I could possibly need to know about you, after that snowstorm.” He pursed his lips. “I thought you knew every important thing about me. But you didn’t. And I didn’t know the important things about you.”

She raised her chin. “Such as?”

His eyes were so blue. “You need freedom,” he said, slowly. “I thought—I thought you were innocent, and the jury would have to see that, and at most you’d lose maybe a few months or a few years. I didn’t realize how much those ten years would hurt you.” He bit his lip and looked down at the train tickets, still sitting on the table. “I don’t agree with the choices you’ve made, Victoria. But if you’re to pay for them, I can’t be the one to make you.”

She laughed a little. That was so Ben; gentle and sanctimonious all in one. In a bizarre way she’d missed that pomposity. “Dump him,” she said, impulsively. “Whoever he is, he can’t—whatever you’ve got with him, do you really think he loves you like I do?”

He looked at her for what felt like a long time, and she couldn’t read much in his face. He was only silent long enough for a plate to travel from the kitchen counter to the table with the old Polish grannies. “No, I don’t believe he does,” Ben said. His voice was slow and thoughtful. He bit his lip, and shook his head. “But I’m not leaving him, Victoria.”

Tears were threatening. She didn’t think—she hadn’t thought, really, that he would come with her. But it was one thing to hold that as a distant possibility, and another to have the reality laid out on the table. “I miss you,” she said. “When I thought you’d died, I missed you so much.”

His hands were folded together, as if to keep him from reaching for her. She hated him for a brief, intense moment. He could just sit there, calm, as though his heart wasn’t breaking at all.

“Don’t you care,” she asked, hated herself for asking, “don’t you care that you’re walking away from me? Again?” She shook her head. “What could keep you tied to someone else, huh? After all the things we’ve been through? We belong together.”

Benton sat back, and she could see him thinking about this other person, this man she hadn't even realized she'd need to compete with.

"You need your freedom, Victoria." He looked at her, piercing. "You need it the way you need air. And he--doesn't. He wants to be caught. He wants to belong to someone. He wants someone to belong to him." He smiled sadly at her. "I wanted to belong to you. And I thought that you wanted to belong to me, too."

"I did," she said, because it was true, after a fashion. "I wouldn't be here if I didn't still feel that way, Ben."

He hated her saying his name, she could read that much in the flinch he suppressed, turned into a swiping gesture against his eyebrow. "And yet," he said, light, brittle, "and yet, when you had the opportunity to belong to me, you didn't want it.” He cupped his coffee in his hands and met her eyes. “Do you still hate me?”

It was her turn to flinch. She had only been able to obscure the truth with him. He dragged it out of her whether she willed it or not, and deep inside her she would always hate him for it. When she looked back at him—she had looked away for only a second, only a fraction of time—she saw that he knew it.

"I understand why, you know. I do. But I can't spend my life waiting for you to finish what you started." He swirled his coffee. He hadn’t touched it once since they’d sat down. “I want to be free enough to choose, too, you know. I’ve made my choice. I’d make it again, without hesitation.” His hands twitched, as if he wanted to reach for her and didn’t dare. Instead he laid his fingers on the train tickets and pushed them across the table.

“I’m happy with the choice I made,” he said. “Whatever choices you make are yours.”


He held the door for her, a gentleman even when he was being a bastard. She tucked her hands into her pockets, hunched her shoulders against the wind. For a long moment they stood there, in the weak midafternoon sun, two feet apart and a chasm at their feet. She gathered her courage—she’d always had more than him, really—and said, “I guess this is goodbye, then.”

He looked down, nodded. “Yes,” he said. She pulled herself together, tucked her coat more tightly about her chest, began to turn. “Victoria.”

She paused in her turn, poised, waiting. His eyes still held some of that love he felt for her, though his face was a stoic mask. “I just wanted to say good luck,” he said, softly. Then he looked harder at her, and for a moment she was afraid of him, the way she had when she thought he might have been bait for a trap. “I meant it when I said I can’t be the one to bring you in. But I don’t want you in Chicago. Leave. Don’t try to find out any more of my life.” He paused, and said lowly, “If I find that you’ve crossed his path, in the most mild way, I will hunt you down myself and break that promise.” He held her eyes, and she shivered. Behind them she saw iron bars.

“I don’t want to break my promise,” he said. “But if I think you’re trying to interact with him, in any way, I will.”

She swallowed. “You won’t see me again,” she said. He nodded, but neither his eyes nor his face softened as she stepped away, the chasm widening with each step. She felt it yawning, broadening, a distance she could lose herself in.


Ray settled down in Benton’s arms, his breathing evening out and sweat cooling on his skin. He was, as he had warned Benton months ago, a cuddler. “Stella couldn’t stand it,” he’d said. “It was too hot, too clingy.”

“I think I would like clingy,” was all Benton had said, and to his surprise, he’d been right. He pulled Ray close to him, nuzzled his damp hair, breathed him in. Ray snugged himself close and settled an arm over Benton’s ribs.

“So what brought that on, huh?” he asked, his voice already sliding towards sleep. “It ain’t everyday that you act like that.”

“Like what?” Benton asked. He was relaxed, and bittersweetly happy. He ran his hands through Ray’s hair, spiking it with his fingers.

“Like you got to screw me through the mattress right that second,” Ray said. “I ain’t complainin’. I’m just makin’ an observation.”

Benton settled his fingers over Ray’s scalp, traced the line of Ray’s bicep with his other hand. “I ran into Victoria Metcalf today,” he said. “She asked me to run away with her.”

Ray was too worn out to explode out of bed, but he did sit up sharply and pin Benton with a narrow look. “This better not have been a goodbye fuck,” he said. “What—when did you see her? Why didn’t you call me?” Benton smiled and tucked one stray sweat-slick lock off Ray’s forehead.

“Not a’tall,” he said. “I had to turn her down.” He ran his fingers over Ray’s arm, down to the looped beaded bracelet. He rubbed them back and forth over Ray’s wrist. “She and I had a coffee to catch up at lunch, and afterward I just wanted to come home and make love to you as soon as I could.”

“Good instincts,” Ray murmured, somewhat soothed. “Why didn’t you call me?”

Benton played with Ray’s bracelet, warm against their skin. “The last time I saw her,” he said, slowly, “she tried to implicate Ray Vecchio in a robbery and theft. Because he was my friend and my partner.” He studied Ray’s face, reached up to trace the shape of Ray’s jaw. “Do you really think I wanted her anywhere near you?”

“That ain’t partners,” Ray said. He rubbed his hand over Benton’s chest, over his heart. “She coulda shot you. Maybe she would have done anything to me, but that—” He pulled away a little, ignoring Benton’s noise of protest, to prop himself up on his elbow. “I love you too, you freak. But that wasn’t partners.”

Benton looked away from Ray’s eyes and stroked his arm again, as much to soothe Ray as to soothe himself. “It wasn’t,” he said. “I’m sorry, I should have called you.”

“Damn straight you should’ve,” Ray grumbled, flopping back down into bed and aggressively slinging his arm over Benton’s waist. “I could’ve arrested her for you.”

His breath left him for a moment, as though he’d been punched. He reached for Ray, breathing in the smell of his sweat and stale hair gel, kissed him as fully as he could manage. Ray made a pleased sound and kissed him back hard, for long moments that felt suspended, bright and sweet like spring sunlight over fresh snow. Ray pulled away what felt like ages later, and he was smiling.

“Seriously, though? You ran into Metcalf and shot her down?”

“Well, not literally,” Benton said. “But she asked, and I told her no.” He stroked Ray’s arm again. “I know you far better than I knew her,” he said. “And I’m not leaving you unless you tell me to leave.”

Ray stared at him for a long moment, and then a grin spread across his face. It was a tired smile, but warm and full and bright for all that. “Ain’t happening,” he said, and sank back into their hollow in the blankets. “I’m havin’ you for the next forty years, at least.”

Benton kneaded the soft skin at the base of Ray’s neck, and kissed his forehead again. “That sounds about right,” he said. He caught Ray’s fingers and pulled them to his mouth, pressed them against his lips to feel the wrinkled skin of his knuckles and the smoother skin of the backs. He didn’t need to take Ray’s fingers in his mouth to keep them warm, here. Here it was already warm, already safe, the biting bitter wind kept at bay by sturdy walls and the cocoon they had made together in the blankets of their bed.

Outside the window, the first spatters of rain began to fall.

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