All I Can Say

He sat at his desk and read over the letter. Barely counted as a letter. More of a telegram, pay for each word so you had to chose only the most important, only those absolutely necessary.

Because someone had paid for this letter. He had, if anything. Paid for each word in so much pain and tears and sleepless nights. Ray looked at the letter again, and this time he read it, telling himself the words were true.

The first time he'd had to read it knowing it was wrong; otherwise he could not have gotten past the first sentence. Barely a sentence, just a few words. Hardly a complete phrase. Complaining about the grammar made it easier to think about what it said.

Official notice. Regret to inform.

Ray put the letter down. He looked around his office feeling suddenly very tired. Very alone. The noise from outside his door raged and he let it. There might be something that needed his attention, maybe even something he could distract himself with. But he didn't want to stand. Instead, his head fell onto his desk and he wept.

When someone finally got the courage to knock on his door -- nearly forty five minutes later -- he'd progressed to merely staring at the wall. He didn't know for how long he'd stared at the wall, only knew that something about the flat green paint was keeping his thoughts at bay. Maybe it was the absence of anything to look at.

"Sir?" Carlson's voice interrupted his non-thoughts.

"Yeah?" He didn't really care what she wanted. But if he didn't answer she might just get persistent.

"Are you.. is there anything you need?"

He shook his head. "No, thank you. That will be all." "Yes, sir." She shut the door carefully and left him alone. This time he couldn't shut his thoughts off. The interruption had started a train of those words he'd read and hadn't believed. He knew they were true but he couldn't... All these years and the only bearable thing about them was that *he* was still out there, safe and alive if not well. Happy or not -- Ray had no way of knowing. But out there.

Somewhere.

And now he wasn't any more.

The room tilted and Ray found himself blinking, breathing hard and gripping the arms of his chair. He had to hold it together or they'd...

"Sir?" Another voice. Dugas, this time. Ray looked up and found concern in the other man's eyes. Ray nearly broke.

He couldn't deal with concern. Concern meant it *was* real. He had to hold off for just a few more hours and he could believe it wasn't... for as long as he had to. Dugas was holding out an envelope. It was yellow, dirty. Ray stared at it and saw that it was yellowed with age. "This was meant to be delivered with that one, sir."

"What is it?" he didn't try to take it.

"I.. I don't know, sir. But it has your name on it."

"Oh."

He sat, and watched as Dugas shrugged and finally just set the envelope on Ray's desk.

"Is there anything I can do for you, sir?"

Ray shook his head. "No, Dugas. Thanks." The words felt hollow. His *head* felt hollow.

The young man left, casting a worried glance back over his shoulder then as he left, exchanged with Carlson and the other detectives. but no one said anything where Ray could hear and no one attempted to come in again.

He looked at the envelope. It did, in fact, have his name on it. He could read it clearly; Dugas had set it down facing him. As if that would be of help. He made no move to reach for it. It didn't really matter what was in it, or whom it was from....

Ray sat forward very suddenly. He knew that handwriting.

"Oh god."

His voice as shaking, his hands were shaking, his entire body was shaking. He reached for the letter.

It was from him.

"Oh my god, oh my god," he whispered again as he pulled the envelope with one finger across the desktop. He didn't dare open it. He didn't dare not. He split the envelope with a single tear and pulled the folded page free. He stared at *it* for several long moments trying to... he wasn't sure.

He *had* to read this. He had to know... but his hands were shaking and he felt nauseated. He took a breath and told himself he could do this, and unfolded the paper.

"Dear Ray,"

He stopped and set the paper down. His closed his eyes and turned his face upwards, beseeching someone, anyone, to get him through this. He lowered his gaze and read the letter.

"Dear Ray,

I am not certain if you will be willing to accept this letter after what I have done. But I had to tell you how sorry I am. In my fear and uncertainty I allowed myself to hurt the person dearest to me. That is unforgivable. It ought to be unforgivable, yet I am asking... I am writing this to ask for your forgiveness.

I can only hope that you are willing to do so. Even if you cannot bring yourself to allow me into your life again I had to ask -- I will even beg if you wish.

Ray, all I can say is I am sorry. If you want explanations, or promises, or anything at all it is yours for the asking. Just let me know. Let me know anything. Tell me what I can do to make this right again.

If nothing... then all I can say is I'm sorry. - Love, Ben"

Ray blinked.

He didn't re-read the letter, there was no need. Unlike that awful memo on his desk, this letter... this letter... Ray frowned. What *was* this letter? It made no sense. It didn't *fit*.

He looked at the memo. Still there. Still the same, horrible, unexpected news. He looked at the letter again. The date showed it had been written five months after he'd walked away from Benny. Walked out of his best friend's life and come back into a world much colder and greyer than he'd ever seen.

Well, that explained it then, he thought calmly. He wrote it and it got lost and is just now showing up. Perfectly understandable. Happens all the time.

The world titled again and this time it didn't right itself until a hand slipped under his arm. He looked up and found a sad, regretful face looking down at him.

"I'm so sorry, Ray."

"You should be," he said. His voice held no force. He wasn't really angry, just very, very numb.

There was no answer. He was helped to his feet, and sat back in his chair. He glanced at the wall, the door, the window. Anything except the desk with the two letters sitting side by side. He touched one. Didn't pick it up.

"Let me take you home."

"I don't..." he began, and stopped. He looked up, looked Ben squarely in the face. "Go away," he said.

"Ray," he protested.

Ray shook his head and repeated firmly, "Go away."

Ben looked at him sadly for a moment, then asked, "Can I come back--"

"No. You can't."

Ray turned, then, and didn't watch Ben leave. He picked up the two letters, held them in his hands for a moment, then tore them both in half. He dropped them in the trash and walked out.


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