What you Make of It by DessertFirst

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Title: What you Make of It
For: Omens
Pairing/Characters: Frannie/Fraser, Frannie/Kowalski, hints of Fraser/Kowalski
Warnings: None
Author's Notes: Happy holidays, Omens! Hope you enjoy. As always, thanks to my dear first readers Ifreet and Sister of Dream, who are love. 

There he goes again. Frannie props her chin in her hand, watching him. He's helping an old lady with her bags, honest to God helping a little old lady. His shiny black hair is perfectly combed, his movie-star face is kind and open, and his jeans and Henley are so crisp and neat, Frannie doesn't even care that they're boring. He's perfect. He's like a dream come true.

 

Or he would be if he knew she was alive.

 

Every day he comes in, looking beautiful and dashing, sometimes in jeans and plaid shirts, usually in a bright red uniform that makes him look like a shiny toy soldier. He often stops to help people--giving directions, carrying bags, escorting older people. It's not like it's his job or anything, it's just what he does. Then he buys a token, tips his hat if he's wearing it, and steps onto a train and back out of Frannie's life.

 

But it doesn't matter. He's her Prince Charming, and someday, she just knows that he will look up from his tokens, meet her eyes and fall deeply in love with her, and marry her and take her to Florence.

 

Doesn't look like that will be today, though. His smile is congenial but impersonal as he goes up to Frannie's booth and buys two tokens. Their hands don't touch as they exchange his money for her tokens, but Frannie likes to pretend they might have. Likes to pretend his good-natured smile is something special, just for her, not something he gives away thoughtlessly all day long to anyone he sees.

 

"Thank you kindly," he says, walking away with the tokens. He gives one to the little old lady, who beams up at him and pats his hand in gratitude.

 

"I love you," Frannie says softly, watching him.

 

The next person in line, an impatient executive type bedecked in suit, tie and overcoat, looks at her like she's nuts.

 

"Uh, I love... you... having exact change!" Frannie says, switching the man's bills for tokens as coolly and professionally as possible.

 

The man shakes his head as he leaves.

 

***

 

Frannie's Ma used to say, "You never know how life is going to turn out," and that was for sure. Frannie never would have pictured herself working at the train station on Christmas, the only one without a family to share the holiday with. It just ended up that way.

 

Then again, she never would have imagined her Prince Charming would show up on Christmas Day, give her that dazzling smile of his with the sweet little twisted tooth--the only crack in his otherwise complete perfection--and wish her a merry Christmas.

 

The station is practically empty--Frannie can pretend it's just the two of them and it's finally the right time for her to gather up her courage and tell him... tell him everything. Nice hat; Have a good trip; Oh, do you come here often?; You were really nice to that group of nuns and orphans; I love you; Will you marry me?

 

She's not sure yet which is the best way to go, but she's working on it.

 

But he just comes right up to her booth, trades his money for her tokens, wishes her a Merry Christmas and walks away before Frannie can pull herself together.

 

She's kicking herself and trying to calm down by picturing something soothing, like the color yellow, when she looks up and sees some punks hassling an old man over by the train tracks. Prince Charming steps in, but the punks just get more aggressive. One of them pushes him and he falls over the edge onto the tracks.

 

Frannie rushes out of her booth, passing the fleeing punks in her haste.

 

"Hey, Mister?" she yells, peering over onto the tracks. "Sir? Can you get up? Somebody help me!"

 

"I'll get some help!" the old man goes, but Frannie barely notices, because Prince Charming doesn't stir. He's just lying there, broken like a doll in the middle of the tracks. She panics.

 

"Hey Mister? Sir!! Sir, you have to get up now, please!" she calls.

 

He doesn't move, and she climbs down onto the track with him, trying to get him to wake up. She shakes him, pats his face--his skin is so soft!, calls to him, looks up and really panics--there's a train coming right at them.

 

"Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Sir, please, you have to wake up now! There's a train coming, and it's fast! It's an express, and--oh!!" Gritting her teeth, Frannie grabs onto his lapels and rolls with all her might. They tumble over and over, out of the way of the oncoming train, and they end up safely on the side of the tracks. Frannie tries to keep from hyperventilating--was that the bravest thing she's ever done, or the stupidest?

 

He stirs, opens his eyes--blue just like the princes in the storybooks--and looks up at her for an instant before he blacks out again.

 

Maybe it was the most romantic.

 

***

 

Frannie gets to the hospital as soon as she can, but he's already being taken to surgery and she doesn't know his name. The doctor insists it's family only, and Frannie looks through the glass doors as the terribly still form of her prince is wheeled away.

 

"I was going to marry him," she whispers.

 

A nurse finally lets her into his room after he's settled into the intensive care unit, hooked up to a frightening amount of tubes and machines. "Let him hear your voice," she says kindly, so Frannie talks.

 

"Hey," she says, sitting by his bed. "You're going to be fine, I just know it. And, uh, when you wake up, there's this little Italian place--um. This is probably the wrong time. I'll ask you later, okay?"

 

She's working through her pretty extensive repertoire of "everything is going to be okay" variations when a cop comes in.

 

"Excuse me, miss," he says. "I need to ask you a few questions, if that's all right."

 

"Oh, sure," she says, standing up.

 

She's just getting through her mostly useless description of the punks that knocked her prince over while the doctor bustles around with the machines, when there's a commotion outside the room, and a bunch of people come bursting in, followed by the nurse that first let Frannie in the room.

 

What happens next is hard to keep track of. There are cries of "Ben!" and "Take it easy, Dad," and "What happened?"

 

"Who are you people?" asks the doctor.

 

"This is my son!" says a gray-haired man in winter gear. "How is he?"

 

"He'll be all right, won't he?" asks a woman with a neat blond braid.

 

"He's in a coma," the doctor explains.

 

"A coma!" exclaims an older man with a heavy accent. "On Christmas Day!"

 

"His vital signs are strong, his brainwaves are good--I think he's going to get through this."

 

"He's so pale!" says a matronly-looking woman as she pets Prince Charming's hair. "Oh, Benton. Oh, my boy!"

 

"Ray is gonna flip out." A young blonde guy in a smart suit runs a hand through his hair, making it stand on end. "How did this happen?"

 

"Um, he was pushed from the platform at the train station," Frannie says.

 

Six pairs of eyes swing Frannie's way.

 

"Who's she?" the father asks.

 

"She's his fiancée," the nurse says, and Frannie's too stunned to say a word.

 

"His fiancée?"

 

"Ben's engaged?"

 

Frannie shakes her head frantically, but no one's even looking at her anymore.

 

"Maybe he was busy?"

 

"Too busy to tell his own family he's getting married?"

 

"Damien, don't yell at him!"

 

"I'm not yelling at him! If only Ray were here."

 

The older man sits heavily.

 

"Is he all right?" asks the doctor.

 

"It's his heart," says the young man in the suit. "Grandpa Mort's had three attacks already."

 

"They weren't attacks," Mort says airily. "They were episodes."

 

"Excuse me," the younger doctor who'd first kicked Frannie out comes in. "She's not supposed to be here!"

 

"Hey, buddy, she saved his life!" says the cop.

 

"Saved his life?" the mother looks up at Frannie with wide, tear-filled eyes.

 

"I thought he was pushed from a train platform?" says Damien.

 

"She jumped onto the tracks!"

 

"She jumped onto the tracks?"

 

Frannie nods sheepishly. Still not entirely decided where it falls on the brave/stupid/romantic spectrum, but hey, nobody got squashed so it all worked out okay, right?

 

"It's family only!" the young doctor insists.

 

Prince Charming's father straightens, pushing the doctor away. "She is family," he declares, and for one wild, crazy moment where the roomful of people is looking at her like she's somebody, Frannie almost feels like it could be true.

 

"Benton's so reserved about these things, so we didn't know," says the mother, walking up to Frannie. "But I always hoped he'd find a nice girl. I'm so glad he found you!" She hugs Frannie tearfully, and as Frannie feels two more people join in the hug her voice--and her good sense--desert her completely.

 

***

 

Frannie chases down the nurse afterwards. "Why did you tell them that?"

 

The nurse blinks. "Tell them what?"

 

"That I'm engaged! I've never even talked to that guy!"

 

"But you said you were going to marry him!"

 

"What, when they brought him in? Geez, I was worried, he looked pale; I was just talking to myself! Like, wishful thinking, that's all."

 

"Yeah, well next time you talk to yourself, just tell yourself you're single and end the conversation."

 

"But I--"

 

"Excuse me, nurse?" the young man in the suit comes by, hands in his pockets. "Is there a pharmacy in the hospital? My grandpa needs a refill on his heart medication."

 

"Of course! Just off the lobby," the nurse says.

 

"Thanks. Upsets like this are hell on his ticker. We were just sitting down around the tree when the hospital called about Ben and, well, Grandpa Mort's heart ain't what it used to be." He nods at Frannie. "Sorry, I don't think I introduced myself with all the fuss. I'm Brando Kowalski."

 

"Brandon?"

 

"Brando."

 

"Oh, that's... different."

 

"My many elementary school ass-kickings would agree with you. The whole thing is actually Marlon Brando Kowalski," he rolls his eyes. "My dad was a fan. But hey, it could be worse. My brother's name is Stanley Kowalski."

 

"I'm not sure that is worse," Frannie muses.

 

"Yeah, you might be right about that," Brando shrugs.

 

He heads off to the drugstore with a nod. Frannie turns back to the nurse, but she wisely slunk away before Frannie could finish with her. Nice.

 

***

 

She goes back to the hospital late that night. The family had wanted to know everything--how she and Benton met, if she'd stolen him from his former girlfriend (luckily, no one seemed to like that one), how Frannie had known he was the one--and somehow, the answers just seemed to roll out. Mort looked so sweet, and they all seemed so comforted to have her there, and when Bob took her aside and told her in his own kind of confusing way that she had saved them all just by being there for Benton and the rest of them... she couldn't tell them the truth. She couldn't.

 

And maybe, just maybe, some tiny part of her didn't want to.

 

But after everyone's gone home for the night she comes back in, sits by Benton's bed and apologizes.

 

"So, hi. We never really got formally introduced, what with all the falling and screaming and, you know, paramedics. I'm Frannie, Frannie Vecchio. I think you should know that your family thinks we're engaged. I'm really sorry," she tells his peaceful, sleeping face. "I didn't mean for any of this to happen. It's just, they were all--and then Mort's heart started acting up, and I--I couldn't. I just couldn't do it. Um, you look good! I mean, you always look good, but..." she leans closer, confidentially. "Do you believe in love at first sight? You probably think it's silly, huh? Well, pretend you do for a second. You don't even know what you mean to people, walking around, looking so perfect, helping anyone in need, tipping your hat and just--you don't even know. I didn't think men like you existed anymore, if they ever really did outside of storybooks and romance novels."

 

Benton is just lying there, pale and still, but Frannie feels heard in a way she hasn't in a long time.

 

"It's not like I don't get offers, you know? 'Cause believe me, I get plenty of offers. But not from anyone like you. And, okay, maybe not that many. But mostly, I just... I just want somebody to laugh with, you know? Somebody to love besides my cat. I want to... I wanna make somebody's day just by walking into the room."

 

Benton just keeps sleeping, lashes casting shadows over his cheeks, but Frannie sits there anyway, keeping him company. For an instant she thinks she hears a rustling sound outside the door, but no one's there.

 

***

 

Life goes on, sort of. The next day Frannie still has work and her apartment and her cat, but somehow it all just seems extra empty now that she's got Benton's family to compare it to.

 

She's staring at her frozen dinner--also known as Haagen Daz--cat hiding smugly under the couch, when she finally gives in.

 

Picking up a bottle of wine and some poinsettias, she goes to the post-Christmas Christmas celebration Benton's family had invited her to. Barbara welcomes her in with a warm hug, and Frannie closes her eyes and pretends it's her own Ma for a long, wonderful moment. Maggie takes her coat, Mort pats her hand, Damien claps her on the shoulder and calls her a good girl, Brando nods warmly and Bob--Bob just sort of smiles at her, a little sadly. There is a large, furry white dog in the living room who stares at her suspiciously.

 

"Dief's so upset about Ben," Maggie says, ruffling the dog's fur. "We can't even bring him to the hospital to see him because of their rules about dogs in the ICU."

 

Oh, he's Prince Charming's dog, Frannie realizes. She waits for the family to be distracted by the presents, sneaks a Santa cookie from a decorated platter and approaches the dog cautiously.

 

"Hey," she says quietly. "I kinda saved Benton's life, so, you know. We're on the same team. I'm just saying."

 

Dief looks at her sadly for a long moment, then takes the cookie she's offering. Frannie hopes that means it's a done deal and dares to scratch his ears. His fur is thick and soft.

 

"So we're friends now, right? There's more cookies where that came from."

 

Dief gives a quiet whuff and eats his cookie, and Frannie figures that will have to do. She sneaks him an extra cookie just in case.

 

"Do you have any family in the area, dear?" Barbara asks as Frannie's helping her in the kitchen.

 

"Not really," Frannie says. "My mom passed away last year. She'd been sick for a long time. My sister's brother got a job in California when I was just a kid, so I don't know them very well, and my brother has this undercover mission someplace they wouldn't even tell us about, so..." She shrugs. "I've got a cat."

 

"I'm so sorry, sweetheart," Barbara says, pulling her into another one of those hugs Frannie didn't even know she'd missed so much. "But you have us now."

 

She doesn't really, but Frannie feels lighter just hearing it.

 

***

 

Dinner is nonstop talking. They all take turns telling stories about Benton, how Barbara and his mother, Caroline, had been best friends as schoolgirls, how they'd kept in touch even when Barbara married Damien and moved to Chicago, how Bob had charmed Caroline into marrying him and moving to the Northwest Areas.

 

It all sounds like a fairy tale, until the part where Benton's mother died when he was six and he had to go live with his grandparents.

 

"Ben was thirteen when his grandfather got sick," Barbara says, serving Frannie more pierogi. "And that's when I was finally able to talk Bob here into letting Ben come live with us. It was the least I could do for Caroline, and Ben was such a sweet boy. He became a son to me and Damien both."

 

"Good influence on our little brats," Damien tops up his water glass.

 

"Hey!" Brando pats his tie, grinning. "Ray and I were perfect little angels, weren't we, Mum?"

 

"That's right, dear," Barbara smiles, patting his hand. "Deep, deep inside your hearts you were."

 

"On the outside you were a couple of little hellions," Damien jokes.

 

"Thank goodness our Maggie turned up here in Chicago a few years ago," Barbara smiles. "I always thought it would be nice to have another girl around the house."

 

"Take in one Fraser, you might as well adopt them all," Maggie agrees. "My own mother passed away a few years ago back home in Canada, and Barbara has been so kind. Dad and always I come visit Ben and the Kowalskis for the holidays."

 

Frannie smiles and nods and listens as the Frasers and Kowalskis bicker and tease and laugh, and she feels like she never wants to leave.

 

***

 

Frannie ends up spending the night on the couch, but she hears someone at the door in the wee hours.

 

"Ray!" Maggie calls out softly on her way back from the kitchen. "Did you solve the case?"

 

"Hey, Maggie," Ray hugs her. "Yeah, finally. Really coulda used Ben on that one, but we got the guy. Hey, who's that on the couch?"

 

"Oh, that's Frannie, Ben's fiancée. She's great."

 

"That's not Ben's fiancée," Ray says with certainty, and Frannie gets a sinking feeling.

 

"Sure she is. Wait 'till you meet her in the morning; you'll love her."

 

"Yeah," Ray says. "You know, I think I'm gonna spend the night."

 

"Yeah, well, I'm already in Brando's room, so you're bunking with Dad," Maggie says. "He snores."

 

"The snoring doesn't worry me, it's the caribou stories," Ray says as they walk up the stairs together. "Even in his sleep he tells 'em."

 

Maggie laughs.

 

Frannie waits until they're gone to open her eyes, but she totally, absolutely does not panic.

 

Much.

 

***

 

She's almost home free, sneaking out the door to wait for the cab she's called bright and early the next morning, when someone clears his throat behind her.

 

"Oh! You scared me," Frannie says. Her heart is going a mile a minute. "Good morning, Ray."

 

 "Morning," he says. He's sipping a cup of coffee on the landing of the stairs as he leafs through the newspaper. "Coffee?"

 

Frannie shakes her head. "Oh, thanks, but I should really get going. I mean, I have work and stuff, and--"

 

A horn honks outside, and Frannie tries not to let the relief show in her face. She was once told she has very good stage presence. Maybe it's paying off?

 

"Frannie?" Ray stands.

 

She whips around. "Look, I know this is all--"

 

"Welcome to the family." Ray is smiling a little bit, and the soft morning light brings out the gold in his hair.

 

"Oh," Frannie blinks. "Thank you."

 

She dashes out the door, sending up a little prayer of thanks. Maybe she got a Christmas reprieve.

 

***

 

The Kowalski-Fraser clan is just leaving the hospital that afternoon, cheered by the doctor's reports that Benton seems to be improving, when she stops by to give blood like the hospital staff had asked.

 

She promises to come over for some cider later on and is just about to go to Ben's room when she realizes someone's still there.

 

Ray is pacing, but he stops by Benton's bed, looking down at him for a long moment. "Hey, Benton-buddy. I, uh. I just, y'know, stopped by. To say hello. Dief's okay, I took him home to Mum." Ray scrubs his hands through his hair just like his brother Brando, leaving it even more on end that usual.  "I don't know what you're doing here. You're just--you make me so crazy sometimes, with the stunts you pull, and then you--well, you're gonna be okay. The doctors say you're gonna be fine, you're not--Anyway."

 

Ray sighs and drops into the chair beside Fraser's bed, then pops back up again to pace some more.

 

"So, uh, you're getting married, huh? You never told me that. You know you could have told me that, right? You could have told me. I always listen, don't I? Don't I always got your back?"

 

He stops at Fraser's side, adjusts his blanket, smoothes it over the still, quiet form.

 

"Known you my whole life, and sometimes it's like I don't know you at all. You're a mystery, Benton-buddy. A real, uh, enigma." He brushes his hand gently across Fraser's pale forehead, his temple and the dark curls of his hair.

 

Frannie shifts guiltily. She shouldn't be intruding like this. She's about to walk away when Ray turns, looking at her almost belligerently.

 

"What, a guy can't talk to a guy in a coma?"

 

"Oh! Well, sure. I mean, I've done it myself a lot lately, so..."

 

Ray sinks into the chair, deflated. "It's just so hard to see him like this. He's usually raring to go all the time, full of this crazy energy and good cheer."

 

"Yeah, he is," Frannie smiles. "And he keeps stopping to help and John, Dick and Harry who needs it."

 

"Even if they don't," Ray grins ruefully. "So what was it about him that caught your eye? Besides, you know, everything."

 

Frannie laughs. "Well, the everything is a lot. But I guess it was his smile."

 

"Yeah. That, uh, that's a good one."

 

"With the little--"

 

"Twisty tooth?" Ray grins. His own teeth are perfectly straight and even, Frannie notices. She looks back down at Benton.

 

"Yeah," she says. "I think it's kinda sweet."

 

"Yeah, well, don't ever tell him that, okay? Word to the wise." Ray frowns a little. "Don't know how you ever got him to go out with you in the first place, let alone propose. Ben's real shy around the ladies, usually, and, uh, you're not exactly his type."

 

Frannie draws herself up to her full, not-so-imposing height. "What's wrong with my type?"

 

"Nothing!" Ray says hastily. "Nothing, just... Ben usually goes for darker types."

 

"But I'm Italian!" Frannie tosses her, hello, dark hair.

 

"No--well, yeah, sure. But, you know. Dark. It's a thing." Ray shrugs. "Someday you'll tell me all about that, huh, buddy?"

 

Benton just lies there, silent. Frannie wonders if he can really hear them.

 

"I should probably go," she says. "I just stopped by to give blood, so. It was nice to see you, Ray."

 

"Likewise," Ray smiles a little, then nods and sits back down by Fraser. "Brought some cards, buddy," he says, pulling out a pack. "Thought maybe a poker rematch. I gotta say, I think your odds are low this time around."

 

***

 

"Ah, Francesca," Bob says as she's heading down the hall. He's wearing his usual heavy winter gear, complete with boots, parka and a fur hat. "I was hoping to have a word with you." He sets down a box full of mysterious objects and beckons her to sit by him in the waiting room.

 

"Oh, um. Okay." Frannie sits cautiously. "Brought some stuff?" she gestures at the box.

 

"Oh, yes," Bob says heartily. "The eagle feathers were the hardest part, of course, but luckily I always keep a sextant handy. Good whalebone is so difficult to find in Chicago, isn't it?"

 

"Tell me about it." She peeks in the box. "Nice rocks."

 

"River stones, actually, straight from the MacKenzie. I've got just about everything we need rounded up now, so, it's important to ask your intentions regarding my son."

 

Frannie blinks. "My intentions?"

 

"Yes, of course! I need to know if I should put in a good word for you." Bob leans closer. "Benton has been led astray in the past, in affairs of the heart. They're not really his strong suit, I'm afraid."

 

"Oh. Well, I..."

 

"Francesca," Bob puts a strong, work-worn hand on hers. "I should probably tell you I was here at the hospital that first night. I heard you talking to my son. I know you're not really engaged."

 

Frannie pales. "I'm so sorry! I'll tell everyone right away, it's just, Mort's heart, and Barbara kept crying, and--"

 

"Don't breathe a word of it," Bob says firmly. "You may well be the best thing that's ever happened to my son, even if he doesn't know it yet. After all, it's not just anyone who'll jump onto train tracks to save a man."

 

"Well, I couldn't just let him die!" Frannie exclaims. "Even if he wasn't perfect. I mean, that's like a civil duty."

 

Bob smiles, a little sadly. "I'm afraid I haven't been a very good father to either of my children," he confesses. "I didn't even know about Maggie until a few years ago, and when Benton's mother died, I just... passed him along like so much baggage. But I'm not going to let him down now. Do you think there might be any slightly more comfortable chairs in this place?"

 

***

 

"Hey," Ray says, awkwardly. "Good morning."

 

Frannie rubs her eyes, opening her door a little wider. "Timeizit?"

 

"Um, early. I have an engagement present from my folks for you and Ben, and I just wanted to drop it off. Sorry I woke you."

 

"Oh, I couldn't take anything!" She really couldn't.

 

"Sure you could," Ray says. "You don't even know what it is yet."

 

"Well, let's take it to Ben's place. I mean, anything would look better at Ben's place. I'm just gonna--" She jerks a thumb back towards her cluttered apartment. "I'll be right out."

 

Slamming the door in Ray's face, Frannie runs to her bedroom to throw on some clothes, washes her face, slaps on some makeup and turbos through her hair styling routine. She dashes out the door in record time.

 

Ray is outside, waiting by a U-Haul truck.

 

"Oh, wow! You got us a moving truck?"

 

"Yeah," Ray smirks. "Congratulations. Hop in, wise guy. You can see the goods at Ben's place."

 

Stifling a smile, Frannie climbs into the passenger seat.

 

***

 

Prince Charming's place isn't really the palace she'd imagined. It's a tiny apartment in a dodgy part of town, almost bare of furnishings but neat and tidy. Benton has a trunk, a plain kitchen table with one chair, and a twin sized bed. There's not much else. There are no plants, nothing living, no touch of personality anywhere.


It isn't the home of a prince; not even just the home of someone who doesn't think he is a prince. Part of her wonders if it's the home of someone who's punishing himself for something he thinks he did wrong.

 

Frannie stands in the doorway, wide-eyed.

 

Ray looks at her oddly. "You've been here before, right?"

 

"Oh, sure! Lots of times. It just... seems bigger with him in it, you know?"

 

He narrows his eyes.

 

"And, I mean, we usually hang out at my place," she adds. "It has... stuff in it."

 

Ray cracks a smile, and Frannie stifles a sigh of relief.

 

"Not really the kind of digs you bring the ladies to, I guess." Ray shoves his hand through his hair in that gesture he shares with his brother. "Fraser was never really one for having a lot of stuff, you know? And after his old place burned down in that fire, he went in for stuff even less. It was hard enough getting him to move into a new place at all. Took the whole family to force him to stop squatting in his office."

 

"So I guess he really does need a U-Haul worth of stuff?"

 

"Well, we all pitched in. Mum's been looking for an excuse to do this for years. Brando had to wrestle the credit card away from her at one point. It got ugly."

 

Frannie grins.

 

"Brando will help me bring in the new bed later," Ray says, gesturing at the forlorn, narrow little bed. "You can't tell me you and Ben ever spent the whole night on that thing."

 

"No," Frannie says truthfully. "No, we never have."

 

Together, they move the things into the little apartment, and suddenly it all begins to look more like a home. They argue over where to put every single piece, stub their toes on furniture, straighten each other's crooked paintings and laugh their guts out. By the time they're done, they're exhausted, sweaty and buzzed.

 

"Hey, you wanna grab something to eat?" Frannie asks. "I know a great Italian place."

 

"Sure," Ray looks surprised. "That sounds real good."

 

They end up talking till dawn, trading stories and laughing. Frannie hasn't laughed this much in a long time.

 

***

 

They end up getting together a few more times, after that. They run into each other in the hospital or at the Kowalski house and Frannie even helps Ray pick out a belated Christmas present for his ex-wife, who still comes over for Sunday dinner once a month--talk about a challenge.

 

Suddenly it's New Year's, and it seems a like a hell of a lot more than one week has gone by since Frannie temporarily lost her senses and did the bravest, stupidest, most romantic or possibly just best thing she's ever done in her life, jumping onto those train tracks to save the man of her dreams.

 

She rings in the new year with the Kowalski and Fraser clan, stuffed full of food and good will and Mort's killer hot toddies. Bob takes off shortly before midnight, muttering about the phases of the moon and the skins between worlds or something. Frannie wonders if he's just drunk, but the family assures him he talks that way sober, too.

 

Just before the countdown to midnight, she feels a sudden surge of elation, a subtle buzz of expectation that comes seemingly out of nowhere. She wonders if she should blame the hot toddies.

 

Frannie steps out onto the porch to get some air, hears the whole neighborhood begin to chant the last seconds of the old year. It was a kind of crappy year, she thinks. She's not sad to see it go. Things are looking up already, though, even if she feels a little like she's living on borrowed time, waiting for Benton to wake up and denounce her for the liar she's become, all because she can't seem to give up this family like any sane, normal person would have done long before.

 

But the new year--the new year is still fresh and untapped, just waiting for Frannie to make of it what she will. For the first time in a long time, she feels like she can.

 

Midnight, and the whole street explodes into whoops and cheers, the rattle of noisemakers, the toot of horns, the rapid pop of firecrackers and even the loud din of fireworks up above with their vivid explosions of sparks. When she turns around, the family has come out too. They are all laughing, hugging and kissing, and when Ray walks up to her, a question in his eyes she didn't even know she had the answer to, he gently sets his warm hands on her shoulders and kisses her.

 

It only lasts a second, but when they part Frannie feels flushed and short of breath and confused, and Ray's face reads exactly the same as hers has to.

 

The family swoops in then, and Frannie is kissed and hugged and patted on the back by Brando, Maggie, Barbara, Damien and Mort in quick succession while Dief dances around them, and she's a little dizzy and breathless but it's the best she's felt in years. 


***


The next morning everyone is slow to get out of bed. Frannie shuffles into the kitchen to see Ray sitting there, hunched over a mug of coffee at the long wooden table, Dief curled at his feet. When she comes in he looks up at her and his whole face lights up for a moment.


"Good morning," he says.


"Good morning Ray," Frannie answers, and the moment disappears like a puff of smoke as Maggie and Brando troop into the kitchen, closely followed by Mort.


"And now you will be welcomed to an old Kowalski tradition, my dear," Mort pats Frannie's shoulder, smiling in perfect good cheer. "On New Year's Day we have breakfast, and this breakfast we make entirely without the help of dear Barbara, who cooks so much for us all year. So," he claps his hands together. "To work!"


Dief goes to keep Barbara company in the living room, and the family falls into a smooth rhythm, everyone moving to apparently pre-assigned duties.


Frannie claims sole control of the coffe-making process. "Excuse me," she says, "Is anyone else here Italian? No? Then I should probably handle this myself, okay?"


Damien and Brando are soon manning the waffle iron like pros, Mort sets the table and cuts some gratefruit to broil with brown sugar on top, and Ray does something experimental involving fresh strawberries and maple syrup.


Maggie is thoughtfully composing a fruit salad while Ray has moved on to squeezing fresh orange juice when the phone rings. They let Barbara answer it as they all put the finishing touches on their respective tasks.


Suddenly a jubilant whoop comes from the living room.


"He's awake!" Barbara rushes into the kitchen, flushed with joy, Dief barking happily at her heels. "The hospital says Benton's awake!"


The kitchen erupts into happy chaos. Damien and Brando start turning off burners and covering food while everyone else rushes out to grab their coats. Frannie is helplessly swept up in the tide before she can think of a way to get out of it.


"I know, I know," Ray tells Dief, ruffling his fur. "But you already know you can't come to the hospital. I promise I'll bring him right back, okay?"


Dief whines piteously, but stays back.


The family all jam into Brando's SUV, with only Ray and Frannie unable to fit.


"I should probably just--"


"Don't be silly," Barbara says. "You go with Ray in the GTO. We'll meet you there. Go!"


Frannie goes, but she looks longingly out the window as they pass train stations, taxicabs--any potential means of escape. This is it. This is when her house of cards comes tumbling down, and there's nothing she can do to stop it.


She sneaks a sideways look at Ray, whose knuckles are white on the steering wheel. "Listen, Ray..."


Ray stills.


"After today, things are gonna be different, you know? With Ben being awake and everything."


"Yeah," he says softly. "I know."


"But whatever happens, I just want you to know--you've become a really good friend."


Ray smiles, but he still won't meet her eyes. "You, too," he says.


"You let me become a part of your family, and I haven't had that for a long time."


"Frannie, what are you doing?" Ray sounds tense.


"Nothing," Frannie says. "I just... wanted to say thanks."


"Yeah, well, it sounds more like goodbye."


"I don't want it to be," Frannie says, miserably, but they're already pulling up to the hospital, just behind Brando's car.


Everyone jumps out and Frannie is again swept up in the mad dash as they rush all the way to Benton's room.


He's sitting up in bed, eyes alert, hair neatly combed and healthy color in his cheeks. Beside him sits Bob, looking tired but triumphant.


"Benton!" Barbara rushes over to hug and kiss him. "My son. Oh, my little boy."


Ben's color deepens, and he smiles happily. Maggie is next, then Brando and Ray, until they've all piled on, Ben's still form barely visible under them all.


"It's good to see you, son," Damien says.


"Does an old man's heart good," says Mort. "The holidays have not been the same without you."


Frannie just stands there on the outskirts, longingly eyeing the exit sign, when the family finally pulls back a little and Ben looks at her. Those clear blue eyes are just as perfect as she remembers, and even in his flimsy hospital gown he looks dashing. Her prince.


"Frannie," he says, and Frannie's jaw drops open. "You're here."


Barbara smiles broadly and pats Ben's shoulder. "Of course she's here. Frannie's been a rock through all this. I don't think we could have made it without her there, giving us hope you'd come back."


"Yes," Ben says thoughtfully. "So I've heard."


Bob carefully looks away.


"So, about our engagement..." Ben says, and Frannie feels the pit of her stomach drop like a two-ton rock. "We should probably set a date, don't you think?"


"Great idea!" Damien says, and everyone starts chattering about churches and color schemes and catering, and Frannie feels like she has just stepped right into the Twilight Area or something.


"You... you want to set a date?" she asks, just to be sure. "To marry me? Me, Francesca Vecchio?"


Bob laughs. "Such a kidder, this girl!"


"Shouldn't I?" Benton asks.


Ray's face is pale, but the set of his mouth is determined. "No, you should," he says. "Frannie'd be good for you, Benton-buddy. You deserve the best."


"You'd make each other happy," Maggie says softly. "That's a gift too large to squander--mine slipped through my fingers."


"Yes, just so. It has been... brought to my attention," Benton says, "that I may have been avoiding certain aspects of my life. I've had a lot of time to think, lately."


"You were in a coma," Frannie says.


"As you say," Ben nods. "I don't remember all of it, of course, but lovely weather."


Bob nods. "Crisp, clean, solid snow. Could sled for miles on that, with a good team of dogs."


"What?" Frannie asks, dazed.


"Will you marry me, Francesca Vecchio?" Benton asks.


"Oh, my God."


***


The ceremony is set to be pretty simple; Ben isn't the kind to go in for a lot of fuss, and Frannie... well, she used to dream of a big church wedding when she was a little girl, but that was a long time ago.

 

Barbara gives Frannie her antique gold watch to wear, Maggie runs to the gift shop to buy her a new floral arrangement for her hair, Brando lends her a blue pocket square from his suit jacket and the nurse who first accidentally outed Frannie's imaginary engagement, after recovering from her shock, borrows a white dress that's close to Frannie's size from the head of cardiology, who always keeps spare dress clothes in her office in case of emergencies.


Frannie bets she never counted on a wedding emergency.


She paces nervously out in the hall for a few minutes before she squares her shoulders, takes a deep breath, and walks down the aisle of the little chapel. The family is there, waiting for her, and Frannie bites her lip as she passes them by.


Benton is there too, standing at the altar, still hooked up to an IV drip but with Brando's suit jacket draped over his broad shoulders. He looks unreal; magical. Perfect.


Frannie stops.


"Everyone, I--I object!" she cries.


They all look at her, startled.


"You object?" asks the chaplain.


"Yeah, I... listen," she says. "I'm not who you think I am. I mean, I am who you think I am, but I'm not what you think I am."


"What?" asks Mort, confused.


"Hey, Mort, did you take your heart medication today? How are you feeling? You feeling good?"


Mort nods, so Frannie takes a deep breath and carries on.


"I'm sorry, but I can't marry you," she tells Benton.


"Frannie!" Barbara gasps.


"I'm really sorry," Frannie tells her. "About you most of all, but I--I'm in love with your son."


"Well, good!" Barbara says. "So what are you waiting for?"


"Not that one!" Frannie points at her Prince Charming. "That one."

Ray's face lights up like it did when she walked into the room that morning, and Frannie feels an answering burst of love in her chest.


"And we..." she turns back to Benton, who is simply standing there, expressionless. "I really was in love with you. Maybe I still am. But you were a fairy tale. I made you up because it was safer to love you and never speak to you than to meet someone real and try to make it work and--and I'm so sorry."


She turns back to the family, sitting wide-eyed.


"I never meant to lie to you. There was just a mix-up in the hospital that first day, and I wasn't quick enough to set things straight, and then I fell in love with you. All of you. I went from being all alone to being a daughter again, and a sister, a granddaughter, a fiancée and a friend. And I just couldn't let that go. But it was all a lie, because I'm--I was never engaged to you, Benton. I've never even talked to you before today."


There is a long, shocked silence in the chapel.


"I know that, Frannie," Benton says simply. "It's all right."


"I knew that, too," Bob says. "That's no reason not to marry the boy!"


"Me, too," Maggie says.


"And me," adds Ray.


"What? Wait, you--you all knew?" Frannie says.


"We're all cops, Frannie," Maggie points out. "It's kind of our job. But we figured you would be happy this way. You'd both make each other happy, and my brother hasn't let himself have that for so long."


"This is the craziest wedding I have ever been to," says the chaplain. "And I used to work in Vegas!"


"I'm really sorry," Frannie says, backing away from the altar. "I'm just... so sorry."


She walks away, and the family bursts into agitated chatter behind her.


***


Frannie takes a few days off work; visits her mother's grave and tells her the whole crazy tale, calls her sister in California, talks to a travel agent, takes down the little Christmas tree in her apartment. The season's over now. She turns off her answering machine.


She's back at work the next Monday, trading money for tokens, and it seems like years have gone by but it was barely over a week in reality.


Someone taps on the window of her booth, and she looks up from her token-dazed contemplation of the trip she's finally going to take to Florence next month.


The Kowalskis and Frasers are there, smiling widely. Diefenbaker jumps up, paws on the narrow ledge, so he can look up into the booth with a doggy grin. 


Ray steps forward. "Hey," he says. "Would you maybe like to go out with us sometime? We could... see what happens."


Frannie gapes.


Ray smiles a little bit. "I used to believe in fairy tales, too," he says. He trades a smile with Benton and looks back at her. "So, what do you say?"


Ray, Benton, Barbara, Damien, Bob, Mort, Maggie, Brando and Dief are all looking at her expectantly, and Frannie can hardly speak through the knot in her throat.


"Yes," she says.

 

 

 

Author's Note: I adore "While You Were Sleeping," and this is my own little Due South spin on it. Hope you enjoyed! 

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4 Comments

This is hilarious and charming and adorable. Hee. What a romp.

omens Author Profile Page said:

I love While You Were Sleeping, too (and movie fusions in general!), and I am FULL OF GLEE and awed by your Frannie voice! Awed!!! It's perfect, I love it and I would not exchange it ever, thank you Seekrit Santa!!

His shiny black hair is perfectly combed, his movie-star face is kind and open, and his jeans and Henley are so crisp and neat, Frannie doesn't even care that they're boring.

He's perfect. He's like a dream come true.

ILU FRANNIE. Especially: "Uh, I love... you... having exact change!" OH, FRANNIE! There's something about her, I don't know, but I just love her to bits.

I loved the Fraser-Kowalskis, and their whole wacko crazy family

I love this whole bit: and when Ray walks up to her, a question in his eyes she didn't even know she had the answer to, he gently sets his warm hands on her shoulders and kisses her.

It only lasts a second, but when they part Frannie feels flushed and short of breath and confused, and Ray's face reads exactly the same as hers has to.

YESSSSS. I also like that Fraser and Ray are the siblings this time, instead of Frannie and Ray; it's kinda intersting. :)

You nailed the DS absurdity factor with:

"You were in a coma," Frannie says.

"As you say," Ben nods. "I don't remember all of it, of course, but lovely weather."

Bob nods. "Crisp, clean, solid snow. Could sled for miles on that, with a good team of dogs."

GLEE. And an instant wedding in the hospital chapel.. they are all crazy! And the perfect ending with the whole family and Dief poking his head in the window and hints of ot3ness.

I love this story, and I've been back to visit it at least four times today (had to wait to comment until I could wrestle the computer from my Mythbusters marathon-ing husband, because this would take too long to tap out on the phone) so I hope you haven't thought I didn't like it.. nothing could be further from the truth!

But just, yeah, PERFECT FRANNIE: "Hey, Mort, did you take your heart medication today? How are you feeling? You feeling good?" So much love. Thank you mystery Santa.

Hee. This was a lot of fun, Dess! Thanks.

Dessert First said:

Thanks so much, JS. I'm really happy that it was a fun read for you. I've always had a soft spot for this movie, and of course, for Frannie and the gang.

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