DISCLAIMER: (but I donít even know her! :) DUE SOUTH and its characters are the property of Alliance. I do not own the characters of Benton Fraser, Meg Thatcher, Diefenbaker, or Ray Vecchio (much as I may wish it otherwise), therefore I am not making a dime off this surge of creativity. Feel free to pass this around freely, but please keep my name and this disclaimer attached. Also, this work shall remain not-for-profit. Comments and criticism are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Many thanks to Jenny, a fellow Meg/Benny fanatic, who got me into DS during college (I miss those B5 marathons!) and Mom, who got me back into the Mountieís adventures! PS_Obviously, when I wrote this a few months back, I had yet to see the "Ladyshoes" episode. Apologies! Now, after all that longwindedness (is that a word?)...on with the story! Benton Fraser had tried to hide it, the frequent lapses in memory, the slurring of speech. He was a Mountie, by God! He always had to be in control. He could handle it! Hadnít he told Ray just as much? So why did he quake at having to live up to his "perfect" image? Why was it harder to wake up in the mornings? Why did his head feel like the inside of a cannon? Ray Vecchio pounded on the door. Now he was worried. Not like he hadnít been worried for the past few weeks. Benny had been acting weird; well, weirder than usual. The normally polite Mountie had been quiet and withdrawn even for him. He had even been snappish at Dief. If Ray didnít know better, heíd swear Victoria was back in town. /Nah! She knows half the Chicago P.D. would shoot her on sight if she even set foot in this town again./ Besides, it wasnít that type of standoffishness. Ray suddenly wondered if Benny was still dwelling on that kid. Ray Vecchio and Benton Fraser, the cop and the SuperMountie, couldnít work their miracles that time. The druggie had pulled a gun and the poor kid had run in front of him. Ray closed his eyes. /God, why a kid?/ If he woke up in a cold sweat at night, he could only imagine what the straight-arrow, innocent-as-a-lamb Mountie was going through. He banged on the door. "Yo, Benny! Up and at Ďem! The Dragon Ladyís gonna be on your ass like cheese on Maís lasagne if youíre late!" He pounded on the door again. The door opened slightly and Dief skulked out, his tail between his legs. "Dief! Yo! Dief!" The wolf rounded the corner. The spartan room was dark, although beams of sunlight were trying to break through the shades. He could see the outline of Bennyís form, face down on the cot. "Benny?" The Mountie didnít move. Ray was getting nervous. He ripped the cloth off the window, letting the sunlight stream in. His dark eyes took in the surrounding in surprise. Bennyís normally neat-as-a-pin room looked like a tornado had come through. His clothes were strewn all over the floor, kitchen cabinets were open, and the garbage can was spilled over. A groan came from the bed. Vecchio snapped out of his stupor. "Benny?" The Canadian groaned and managed to roll up to a sitting position. "Ray, please donít yell. My head is killing me. And please put the sheet back over the window." Ray probably would have obliged had he not been frozen to his spot. Fraser, the impecable, dry-cleaned, meticulous Fraser, looked like hell. His day-old stubble and tousled hair only added to his slovenly appearance. "Ray, put the damn cloth over the window!" That surprised the Italian detective into action. Mechanically, he retacked the material over the window. Fraser never swore, not even something as simple as "hell." His eyes readjusting to the darkness, Ray looked over at the Moutie. Something lying next to the cot caught his eye. Ray walked over and picked up an empty bottle. He frowned as he read the label. "What are you doing here Ray?" Benton Fraser let his aching head rest in his hands. "What the hell is this Benny?" Ray held up the empty bottle of Smirnoff. "Ray-" "Donít ĎRayí me Benny! What the hell is this?" Vecchioís voice rose with every syllable. Benton Fraser covered his ears to block the echo of Rayís shouting. "Quit yelling Ray! My head feels like itís going to explode!" If Ray hadnít been so furious himself, he might have been shocked at Bennyís anger. As it was, he was fuming. "Jesus, Benny! Youíre drunk! Youíre lit higher than a Christmas tree!" "I know Iím drunk! Iím damn filthy, stinking hung over and I wish I was still walking around in a drunken stupor! Itís the only way I can get that childís screams out of my head! Damn it all Ray, I couldnít save him!" The Mountieís voice cracked as he slumped to the floor, cradling his head from the pain and drowning his grief in alcohol induced tears. "Ray, I couldnít save him!" Vecchioís arms went around his best friend. Somewhere in this drunken mass, Benny was hurting; the idealistic, innocent Benny who had watched a child die because he wasnít the Superman everyone believed he was---maybe even Ray. The Superman had fallen to Earth faster than a speeding bullet and was just a man who tried to do the right thing in a wrong world. "Itís gonna be okay Benny." "I let him die!" "If you did, then I did. We didnít let him die. We just didnít get there in time. Itís horrible and I wish it wasnít so, but itís that scumbag junkieís fault, not ours." "He was a child Ray." "I know Benny, I know." The Italian detective rocked the Mountie like he would have rocked one of Mariaís kids; softly, carefully, protectively. Fraserís sobs quieted down after a few minutes. Out of the corner of his eye, Ray saw Diefenbaker pad back into the apartment. Ben pulled back, leaning against the cot. A white muzzle nudged at his hand. Ben scratched the wolf behind his ears, Diefís satisfied growls a soothing balm to his frazzled nerves. Ray once again held up the empty vodka bottle. "So you wanna tell me why, when you donít even have a beer when we go to a hockey game, you suddenly decided to get shit-faced drunk?" "I just wanted to forget." "What?" Running a hand through his dark hair, Benton tried to explain why he felt the need to lose himself in a haze of liquor. "I havenít been able to sleep since David Quinterez was killed. Every time I close my eyes, I hear that childís screams and my mind starts shouting Ďmaybe you should have done this,í Ďmaybe you should have been faster.í I just wanted one night to sleep Ray." "Benny, maybe you should talk to somebody. Iím not sure how you Mounties work up there in the Yukon Territories--" "Yukon or Northwest Territories Ray." "Whatever. The point is, this ainít you. And if the Dragon Lady gets wind of this, something tells me you ainít gonna be a Mountie for long. How long have you been drinking?" Ben shrugged. Shamefaced, he looked down. "A few nights. Sometimes one drink, sometimes-" he waved his hand around. "Sometimes a whole bottle?" Ray grinned. Laughing bitterly, Ben nodded. "Yeah. But just last night. I just couldnít stop seeing it last night." "Benny, I think you need to lay off the booze pronto. This ainít you. I also think you need to talk to somebody before this gets out of hand. Welshíll let you talk to one of our shrinks." "I will deal with it, but thank you kindly for the offer Ray. Iím sure the Consulate has people." "And no more booze?" "No more alcohol." "Good." Ray clapped his best friend on the back and helped him stand upright with a minimum of wobbling. " Now, are you going to work today or did I waste my time driving over here today?" Fraser laughed, wincing at the headache the noise gave him. "Ray, would you please be so kind as to tell Inspector Thatcher that I am ill and will not be in today?" Ray threw up his hands in mock disgust. "Sure! Why not? Itís not as if my morning hasnít started out bad enough! Why not top if off with The Dragon Lady?" "Ray." Ben frowned in disapproval. Laughing even harder, Ray held up his hand. "Okay, okay! The Inspector." Helping Fraser into bed, Ray ruffled Diefenbakerís soft white fur and led him out. "Iíll take Dief off your hands for today." Fraser was already snoring softly. Ray stared at the bottle in his hand. Benny would be okay; heíd see to it. All he needed was some time and to lay off the sauce. Fraser had promised to do so and Ray knew Benny never broke a promise. Opening the door, the detective gestured to the wolf attempting to climb into bed with Fraser. "No way Dief. Youíre coming with me and weíre going into The Dragon Ladyís lair to tell her royal pain-in-the-ass Benny isnít coming in. After that migraine, weíll get jelly doughnuts. Shall we?" Dief let out a bark and pratically strutted out of the room. Ray closed the door, leaving Benny in a blanket of darkness. He didnít see the Mountie frowning silently at his sleeping son. *** "Vecchio, what the hell are you doing here, where the hell is Fraser, and what the hell is that wolf doing here if he isnít?" Meg Thatcher was really living up to the name "Dragon Lady" this morning. She was actually a nice looking broad if you could ignore the fact that her dark eyes were shooting fire. Ray shuddered at the thought of being attracted to Thatcher. /What the hell does Benny see in her?/ "Maybe you didnít hear me Detective!" "Oh, quit breathing fire, Thatcher! I heard ya! Bennyís not feeling too hot and heís sick in bed. So Iím taking care of Dief and youíre going to have to put Turnbull on sentry duty instead. See ya!" Ray decided to hightail it out of there before Meg Thatcher decided to put both his and Fraserís heads on her wall. He ushered Dief out of the room and grinned as he heard Inspector Thatcher mutter a very nasty expletive. *** Things resumed a certain amount of normalcy (well, as normal as things could ever be around Fraser and Vecchio). Ben was, by turns, his usual Dudley Do-Right self or quiet and somber. Many times he asked to be let alone, begging Ray to let him be to deal with it. If Ray had one regret, it was the emptiness in Bennyís eyes. Those innocent blue eyes had a sadness to them, a wariness that had not been there before David Quinterezís death. Sometimes Benny came over for dinner and submitted to Maís comforting fussing and the general ruckus which was the hallmark of the Vecchio household. Other times he asked Ray to take care of Dief for the night so that he could be alone and bury himself in work. Tonight was one of those nights. *** Benton sat in his Consulate office, basking in the blessed secrecy and darkness where he could hide. Here he was alone. Turnbull, Ovitz, and Cooper had gone home, and the Inspector was at some function. Here he could drown in his guilt without Ray's inquiries and Diefenbakerís knowing gaze. He closed his eyes. He heard the childís screams, smelled young blood as he tried to stop the bleeding. David Quinterezís young eyes looked up at him in mute reproach as he struggled to breath. He opened his eyes with a start. His heart was racing and he could feel the sweat running down his forehead. He needed to forget. He needed to forget the screams, the blood, and David Quinterezís lost childhood. He needed--- "Son, this isnít the way." "Go away Dad." The amber liquid splashed forgetfulness in the tumbler. Robert Fraser stood next to his son. "No I wonít go away. Benton, I know Iím dead--" "Thatís right!" Fraser stared up at the apparition, guilt and pain burning in his eyes. "Youíre dead! Youíre dead and you shouldnít be here, so get the hell out of here!" He ran a hand through his hair. "Go away!" "Son--" "I said, go away you bastard!" The tumbler flew through Fraser Sr. and shattered against the oak door, the scotch running in small rivulets down the wood. "As you wish son." Benton bowed his head and cried. *** Meg yawned slightly as she unlocked the doors to the Consulate. /What a night!/ Ambassadors and diplomats could be insufferably annoying. However, last night had been rather fun. /Thatís odd./ Fraserís office door was ajar. While it was not unusual for Constable Fraser to be in early, there didnít seem to be any sign of activity in there, or in any other part of the Consulate for that matter. Something didnít feel right. Meg pulled her fatherís old hunting knife out of her purse. What if someone had broken into the Consulate? No, that wasnít right either, but something was definitely wrong. Her eyes widened as she spied the prone figure on the floor. She sheathed the knife and felt for a pulse. Sniffing the air, Meg filled her nose with the acrid smell of whiskey. Fraser lay face down on the floor, the empty bottle in his hand. Meg noticed for the first time the broken bits of glass by the door, the dried liquor stains on the fine wood paneling. She felt for Fraserís pulse. /Ben? A drinker?/ There was no way the upstanding Constable Fraser was a closet drinker, yet her eyes couldnít deny the evidence and Fraserís expulsions of breath were laced with scotch. Meg bowed her head. It would appear her perfect Constable was just a human being. Megís ebony eyes took in the dried tears on his face. Hesitantly, her fingers reached to trace the path of the dried rivers down those perfect cheekbones. What could cause Benton Fraser, the Mountie with the heart of gold, to drink himself into oblivion? And why had he thrown a glass against the wall? Obviously, he had a drinking problem. Meg was saddened by what she would have to do. Allowing herself one moment of weakness, she stroked Bentonís dark hair. /The perfect man has fallen from the sky. Damn us all for wishing he would be more human./ Another shattered illusion. She bit her lip. Not knowing what else to do, she dialed Ray Vecchioís cell phone. *** Ray pounded on Bennyís door. Now he was getting nervous, not to mention he was having an awful feeling of deja vu. Benny hadnít come to pick up Dief last night. The wolf whined, pawing at the closed door. He looked up at Ray plaintively. "Yeah, yeah. I know boy. Something ainít right." /Great! Now *Iím* talking to the wolf./ He started kicking the door. "Címon Benny! This isnít funny! Youíre scaring me. Open up!" /He wouldnít? He promised.../ His cell phone rang. *** Ray was angry---no, furious would have been a better word. How could Fraser have lied to him? And Thatcher found him? Thatcher of all people! Bennyís job was as good as shot to hell and Ray wasnít sure he could ever trust the Mountie again. First Victoria and now this! What the hell had gotten into Benny? Drinking? Passing out because you were too lit to stand up? Ray slammed the Riv into a handicapped parking space in front of the Consulate. "Címon!" He beckoned at Dief to get out of the Riv. The wolf jumped out with a whine and bolted into the Consulate. /Yeah, I know how you feel./ He took the Consulate steps two at a time. *** Inspector Thatcher was standing outside Fraserís office, her arms crossed and looking decidedly worried? She ran up to Ray. "What the hell is going on?" Ray held up a hand to forestall explanations. Racing into the office, he scowled as he turned to face her. "What? You left him lying on the floor?" Dief growled in agreement. Meg turned on him. "Yes Detective. I couldnít lift him by myself!" Ray held up his hand in acknowledgment. "Okay, okay! Youíre right! Címon, help me get him up!" They both lifted the unconscious Mountie onto his sofa. The Inspector leaned against the desk as she fixed Vecchio and Diefenbaker with a glare. "What is going on with Fraser? This isnít like him. He doesnít even drink!" If Ray didnít know better, heíd actually think she was concerned. He decided to take a chance. "You remember that incident about two months ago? That kid that was shot?" *** Ben felt knives of light piercing into his closed eyelids. His head sounded like a very bad opera. A gargle of voices mumbled in the background. He smiled bitterly. Maybe his father had decided to throw a very wild party for some other ghosts from his less-than-stellar past. Something sniffed, nuzzling his face. He managed to crack open one eye. Diefís amber eyes came into focus. /Dief is having a party with my father?/ The other two voices became recognizable. Ray? Marga--eh, Inspector? /Oh dear!/ He shot up off the couch, trying to stand at attention. /Please let them think I am sick, please let them not smell the alcohol!/ Two pairs of hands caught him as he started to fall into a spinning room. "Easy Benny.' "Hold still Fraser." Somehow, he found himself being pushed back down to the couch, a hand covering his eyes to make him close them and the floating room turning right side up. He forced his eyes once again to see the angry, hurt gazes of Inspector Margaret Thatcher and Detective Ray Vecchio. Especially Ray. The Italian detective was so angry with him. And Margaret; and David Quinterez. David, a child, a lost child. He felt tears rolling down his face. He cried, his already tattered emotions playing hell with his hang over. Ray was speechless. He had never seen the Mountie come close to crying, except for Victoria. Sympathy washed over his anger amd he moved to comfort the Mountie. Meg Thatcher stepped in front of him, her dark eyes stormy. "Get out. Now." "Excuse me?" He tried to take another step toward Fraser. Meg pushed him back. "I said get out, Detective. Heís my employee and I will handle it. Leave and take the wolf with you." She led him toward the door. "Fraserís not a child and he can take care of himself. Leave Ray." Pushing him and Diefenbaker out the door, she locked it behind her. *** Meg sat there and waited for Fraser to get his emotions under control. *** Ray sat in the Riv and let his anger simmer. Dief lay down in the back seat and didnít move. *** Bentonís sobs finally quieted. He looked up, expecting to see Ray. Instead, he found his slender, dark-haired superior staring down at him. "Fraser." "Sir?" His tongue felt like moss. "Youíre drunk." "No maíam. Hung over." She closed her eyes and counted to ten. Why did he have to be so damn literal? "To get a hang over Fraser, you have to get drunk. Either way, this is conduct is unbecoming of a Mountie." "Yes maíam." He bowed his head into his hands. He knew what was coming. Meg took a deep breath. /I can do this. I have to./ "Fraser, youíre on suspension indefinitely." She saw the surprise in his sapphire hours. "Sir?" Kneeling in front of him, Meg took his hands. Somewhere she heard the clickety-clack of a train rushing towards infinity. "Fraser, Ben," he looked up at the use of his Christian name, "you need help. You cannot do this and I donít want to fire you, despite what you may believe. Go to AA, go to rehab, I donít care, but get some help. No one needs to know anything other than youíve asked for time off to recover from David Quinterezís death." Fraser bowed his head over their clasped hands, as if in prayer. "Thank you. Ray-" "Is angry as hell at you right now. Soís Dief. So am I. You lied to them and to me. I donít want to know how long youíve been drinking like this. Go home and get help." Meg released their hands and stood up. She was no longer Meg, but Inspector Thatcher, concern hidden behind protocol. "Go home Fraser. When you can function without alcohol, your job is still here. Dismissed." Benton somehow managed to get to the door. "Ben." He turned around, his bleary eyes taking in too much light. "Inspector?" "Forgive yourself for being human. We all have to, eventually." *** The drive home in the Riv was one of the most horrifying experiences in Fraserís life. Ray stared at the road in stony silence. Dief pretended to sleep. "Iím sorry Ray." "Save it Fraser. You lied." "Ray-" "Benny, shut up while weíre still friends." "Understood." Ray pulled up on the curb in front of Fraserís apartment building. Ben got out; miraculously, Diefenbaker followed. "So, Thatcher take your job?" /Please talk to me Ray./ "No. She put me on indefinite suspension and said to check into AA or some other rehab." Vecchio was mildly surprised at that one. Thatcher left very little room for mistakes. Then again, maybe he shouldnít have been surprised. "Okay. I know thereís an AA meeting Friday night at Our Lady of Peace." "Really?" "Go to it Benny. Hell, Iíll even drive you since you donít have a car." "Iíd like that." "Right. Well, Iíd better get to work. Welsh is probably wondering if Iím even going to show up at all." "Iím sorry Ray." "Save it for when you actually mean it Benny." Ray pulled away without so much as a wave. *** Ben sat on his cot, letting the dimness of the room fuel his spirits. Dief stayed as far away from him as possible, not that Ben could really blame him. He didnít like himself very much right now. Neither did Ray. And Margaret. Ben thought about a train... and a kiss. She didnít tolerate mistakes. "Son?" "Go away Dad." "Not this time Benton." The older Mountie stood in front of him. "Youíve messed up bad this time, son. Now you have to face up to it. That Inspector of yours is right. You need help." Tormented blue eyes looked up at him. "Donít you think I know that? Donít you think Iíve figured that out? I just want to find a way to stop seeing David Quinterezís face and forget that he will never have a chance at life because I wasnít fast enough!" Dief saw the pain in Alphaís face. He rested his nose on Fraserís knee. For the second time that day, Ben was crying. "I just want the guilt to go away Dad. From Victoria, from David. I just canít handle the guilt anymore." His hand twisted in Diefenbakerís fur. Robert Fraser wanted to hold his son, but he couldnít help him; not this time. Benton had to do this on his own. He vanished without a word. Benton Fraser wrapped his arms around Dief and wept, his tongue aching for the alcohol and hating himself for wanting it. *** Ray dropped him off in front of Our Lady of Peaceís parish hall, promising to pick him up in two hours. Benís senses, heightened from lack of alcohol, picked up everything: the slightly woody smell of fireplaces, some passerbyís cheap perfume, and the odd spicy smell of incense, synonymous with Catholic churches, floated in the cold night air. People walked into the hall, laughing and greeting each other as if they were at a fair. His eyes took in the different people. Twentysomethings, senior citizens, upper class, lower class; he saw a girl in an Our Lady of Peace high uniform. She grinned at him and walked in. /I am a Mountie. I can do this./ Somehow, he made it through the doors. He hadnít known what to expect---dirty, unclean people shaking from alcohol withdrawal? People were sitting around. Some were talking quietly, a few were laughing, and some, like himself, were standing in the shadows trying not to be noticed. Dief sniffed the air, practically salivating at the snacks on the tables. "No. Later." Ben chastised the wolf. Someone was approaching him. He tried to shrink into the alcove, hoping she wouldnít see him. "You had to bring that wolf with you?" He started at the throaty, sarcastic voice. /Oh dear!/ "Sir?" He felt a hot blush creep up his cheeks. Meg Thatcher was standing there in jeans, sweatshirt, and ponytail, looking about as Un-Inspectorish as one could. She held up her hand. "Please Fraser. No ranks here. Just Meg and Ben tonight, okay?" "Yes Si-Meg." "And you? What, are you looking for handouts?" Meg rumpled Diefís ears. "Go bother Jamie and sheíll give you a doughnut." Dief yipped like a puppy and happily took off for the snack table. Smiling at him, Meg finally spoke. "I was wondering if Vecchio would be able to talk you into coming." Stricken eyes stared back at her. "Ray knew you would be here?" "Of course. Despite the fact that we both canít stand each other, he actually can be quite human. Just donít tell him I said that...wouldnít want to ruin our beautiful relationship." Ben blushed again. "Permission to be frank, Sir?" Laughing softly, Meg smiled. "I told you no rank *Ben.* Weíre not at the Consulate. Speak freely." Looking down shyly, Ben dug his toe into the floor. "Well, to be frank, if I had known you were volunteering for this group, I would not have shown up." Margaret Thatcher touched his arm, causing him to look up in surprise. "Ben, thereís nothing to be embarrassed about. Jamie over there is fifteen. Sheís been sober for about six months. Carl is seventy and heís been sober for about thirty years. He leads the meetings, not me." Ben finally looked up. "Why are you here---Margaret?" It felt glorious to use her first name. Meg smiled, taking his arm and leading him in. "The same reason you are. I have a drinking problem." He stared at her, doing a remarkable imitation of a codfish. Carl called the meeting to order. "Everybody sit down. We have a birthday to celebrate tonight." Light applause and a few cheers sprinkled the room. Meg pulled Ben into the seat next to her. Carl gestured to her. "Tonight is Megís birthday." Confused, Ben stared at her. Meg smiled and stood up before the group. "My name is Meg Thatcher and Iím an alcoholic. Today is my birthday because Iíve been sober for twelve years." Loud cheering echoed in the room. Jamie whooped and hollered and even Diefenbaker woofed in approval. *** Ben knocked on Inspector Thatcherís door. "Come in." Taking a deep breath, he walked in and closed the door, Diefenbaker padding behind him. Margaret Thatcher typed rapidly at her computer, her brow furrowed in concentration. Fraser cleared his throat. "Yes--oh. Constable. What can I do for you?' Meg took off her glasses and ran a hand through her dark hair. Ben looked straight ahead, unable to meet her gaze. "I-that is, Sir-" he took a deep breath. "For this conversation, may I call you Margaret?" Her sharp gaze softened. She led his to her couch. "Sure--Ben. Just like Friday night. No rank, just Meg and Ben." "Right." He felt his eyes burning with tears. "Margaret, I need help. I-since David Quinterez, since Victoria probably-" "Say it Ben." He was crying freely now. "Margaret, I-am an alcoholic." He looked at her helplessly. His stern by-the-book superior officer was nowhere to be found. The Meg from the train opened her arms and let him cry cradled in her embrace. "Happy birthday Ben. Youíve just celebrated your first minute of sobriety."