This is not the sappy, romantic Valentine's Day story I was planning to write. Are lyric challenges ever what I plan, though? It's what the song dictated to me; it's beyond my control. Thanks to Jenny for the lyric.

Set at the conclusion of "Heaven and Earth," the episode that preceeded "Victoria's Secret."

Wrestling with Demons
by Laura Mason

I slide behind the wheel of the Riv, and just for a few seconds it happens. I'm not Ray Vecchio anymore. Not a cop; not a guy with a family and bills; not even someone's lover. Nope, I'm free -- no responsibilities. Just how I felt when I learned to ride my bike and could fly through the neighborhood with the wind in my face...

Benny opens the passenger door and Dief comes bounding in, jumps into the back seat. Benny pauses a moment longer before sitting next to me, no doubt still watching Garret walk away. When he finally does sit down and pull the door closed, Benny flashes me a smile. That wonderful, just-for-me smile of his. I know I've gained more than I've lost.

Don't get me wrong -- I love Benny, just like I love my family. I even like my job, though Benny gets a lot of the credit for that. For reminding me that being a cop isn't about power or guns, but about making a difference, helping people. Like we did tonight.

But you can love someone and still realize they're just one more person to worry about in your life, one -- oops, with Dief it's two -- more opinions to consider with every decision. And most days it doesn't bother me, truly it doesn't. I'm used to living in a crowd, thinking about other people. After all, I never wanted to be a jerk like my old man with his "look out for number one" attitude.

We pull away, and once we're far enough away from the lights and the squads, I reach over and hold his hand for the drive to his apartment. He deserves more, and I know he wants more. Benny wants flowers and chocolates, wants to hold hands in public, to kiss in front of my family. Hell, I suppose I want it, too. I do love the goofy Mountie, even if I've never said the words.

But I'm a guy and a cop and we live in Chicago, in the real world. Not in some fantasy land that's a combination of Jack London's Great White North and 1970's San Francisco. We can pretend when we're in his apartment, with the blinds down and only the wolf as witness when we hold hands over dinner. But I know Benny wants more, wants candlelight and soft music and lovemaking that ends with us holding each other all night long. Not hot, hasty sex that ends with me going home so Ma doesn't worry.

I park across the street from the dump Benny calls home and follow them up the stairs. Even as tired as we are, I notice that Benny has a really nice ass. A quick look around, and I reach up to pinch him. He jumps a little, flashing back a look that's half-flustered, half-lust. I smile up at him with a shrug, wishing I could just say the words.

He must know how I feel. Or there must be a way to show him, but I can't figure it out. I could send him anonymous flowers at his office. But there would be a record, somewhere, of my credit card being used to send a man roses. I'd need to pay cash, but then I'd be going in person, I'd be seen... It starts to get too complicated, too cloak-and-dagger. Not romantic at all, unless you're insane enough to believe sneaking around is exciting. I never cheated on Angie, mostly because I loved her, but also because I don't think adrenaline is exciting. Maybe it's the job -- being a cop, fear isn't such a rare occurrence. Well, at least I know that the illicit thrill of gay sex isn't why I'm with Benny, right?

We have tea and eat some cookies, too tired to make sandwiches or wait for a pizza. When I stand up, Benny looks at me, his face neutral but his eyes so sad. This is so stupid. We saved the girl, we saved Garret, he's a god-damned hero -- and he's sad because I'm about to leave him.

I pick up my coat and pull my phone out of the pocket. "Ma. Listen, I'm sorry to call so late, but I'm gonna stay at Fraser's tonight. The case we were working is over, but I'm beat. I'll see you tomorrow."

His face is transformed -- still exhausted, just like mine, but now radiant with happiness. I smile weakly back at him. "You don't mind, do you?"

"No, Ray. Never." And he is next to me, hugging me. I surprised him, I guess.

A few minutes later the apartment is shut up and we're in bed, too tired to do more than kiss and hold each other. Dief is snoring on the floor; Benny gets heavier in my arms until I realize he's asleep, too. And I'm tired, but my mind is buzzing. I close my eyes and just relax, listening to myself. I'm in the Riv for a moment, wind in my face, driving fast. Then I'm swooping and flying, totally free. Then I'm falling...

My body twitches hard enough to wake me, but Benny only mumbles and snuggles closer.

My subconscious seems to be trying to tell me something about freedom. It doesn't need to -- I know I'm lucky to have Benny in my life, taking care of me. To have a family that loves and protects me, too. To tell the truth, I'd feel guilty about my daydreams if Ma or Benny somehow knew or thought they were tying me down. It's just that people always dream about what they don't have -- right?

It's natural for Benny to want love, to want a family. He never had enough love in his life, no brothers or sisters, no mom and mostly no dad. So he reads those diaries and dreams about love, family love and romantic love, too. But I've been married, and since I was 21 I've always had people relying on me, depending on me, counting on me. So I dream of carefree times when I was younger, or imagine just taking off in the Riv and never looking back. The open road...

I'm falling asleep again, but I still know Benny's not like me. Mr. Duty-First Mountie would never even imagine himself abandoning his responsibilities. He's never wanted to run away from it all, to escape and be free. Not Benny...

The end

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Lyrics, courtesy of Jenny: I Want to be in Love by Melissa Etheridge

I have climbed the highest mountain
I have sailed across the sea
I have wrestled with my demons
And woke up with only me
I have been around the block
Three times maybe four
And I think I deserve just a little more
In front of total strangers won't you kiss me
Flowers for no reason but you miss me
Oh I want to be in love
You're standing on the doorstep in the rain
Cause you couldn't wait to see me once again
Oh I want to be in love
I have made some big mistakes
And I've paid a heavy price
I found a little peace between will and sacrifice
I have watched as all my dreams
Went walking out the door
And I think I deserve just a little more
I'm looking for a heart of gold
I'm looking for a hand to hold
A happy end
Strong and kind
Somewhere to rest my troubled mind
In front of total strangers won't you kiss me
Flowers for no reason but you miss me
Oh I want to be in love
On Tuesday light the candles bring me wine
Wednesday morning I won't get to work on time
Oh I want to be in love
Surprise me as I'm stepping off the plane
Take my hand as they play our song again
Oh I want to be in love