Author's website: http://www.e-fic.com/~grey/
Author's Notes: This novel was first published by AngelWings Press and can be ordered from LionHeart at http://lionheartdistribution.com/duesouth.htm
BYGONES Part One
Lt. Welsh rubbed his eyes and stared at the last stack of folders. Eleven o'clock at night after a long shift and he still sat at his desk doing paperwork. Oh, the joys of being a cop running a station.
Welsh's attention shifted as Ray Vecchio, aka Ray Kowalski, stormed into the bullpen, his face tight and pinched. Still wearing his black leather jacket, the young detective picked up the phone and started punching in numbers.
Frowning, the Lieutenant shook his head, dreading his next action. He pulled out two of the key folders and stood up. Then he opened his door and yelled across the nearly deserted space, "Vecchio. My office."
Ray held up a finger. "Just a minute, sir. I'm on hold."
"Get in here. Now." The commanding tone left no room for argument.
Reluctantly, Ray hung up, ran a restless hand through his blond spikes, and moved closer. He didn't step past the larger man as he crossed his arms and hunched his shoulders. "What's up, sir?"
"Good question, Detective. We need to talk." Welsh motioned for Ray to go inside. "After you."
Ray followed orders, but didn't sit down, his face guarded. Wary, his whole body tightened. "This about the coffee machine spraying Dewey, 'cause I was out of the building at the time of the incident. You got motive, but no opportunity. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed the show, but I swear I didn't do nothin' to cause it. Dewey's just paranoid, not a good thing for a cop to be, if you hear what I'm sayin' here, sir."
Welsh chuckled to himself, remembering the earlier high jinx of the day when Detective Dewey doused himself with an explosion of fresh coffee. Not hot enough to do any real damage, it did warrant a surprisingly effective scream and round of chortles that made him grin in spite of himself.
Glancing over at the anxious Kowalski, his mind settled back to the more serious business at hand. Welsh cleared his throat, uneasy, needing to tread carefully if he wanted this to end well. "No, this isn't about Dewey." He studied his detective and his concerned deepened. Always slim, Kowalski looked even thinner, more pale, his blue eyes sunken and bruised. He needed a comb through his wild hair and a shave was called for, but nothing new there. Still, the overall effect disturbed him, set Welsh's cop senses tingling. "You okay, Detective?"
"I'm fine, sir, fit to go. Thanks for askin'. That all?"
"No, that's not all. You got a watch?"
"What time is it?"
Surprised by the question, Ray looked over at the clock on the wall and then back at Welsh before checking his own watch. He cocked his head with suspicion. "Is this a trick question?"
"No, this is not a trick question."
"Okay, then. It's 11 P.M., give or take a few minutes."
"And your shift ended when?"
Understanding dawned. "Five o'clock, same as yours, sir."
"I'm here doing quarterly reports and digging out from under a ton of forms that are my life. What's your excuse?"
Ray avoided Welsh's stare. "Just following some last minute leads on the Wellman case."
"And what about last night and the night before?"
Welsh picked up a folder and opened it. "While the citizens of Chicago appreciate your dedication to duty, Detective, they can't afford it."
"I don't follow."
"You're maxed out on overtime and apparently you've now hit the record high on comp time as well. Personnel tells me you've got to take some days off or you're going to break the budget." Welsh's brow furrowed as he read the actual figures, wondering how the hell he'd missed that. "Says here you haven't taken a day off in over a month." He looked up at Ray. "What? You saving up for something special I should know about?"
"Just a rainy day, sir." Ray relaxed slightly. "Look, I'm just doing the job, Lieutenant. Lots of bad guys to catch, bad guys that are bigger and badder and don't like being caught. Takes more time than it used to. You know how it is. Pitter patter. Not enough hours in the day."
"You're not the only cop in the city of Chicago, Vecchio."
Ray flinched at the use of his undercover name, the name he didn't really own, a name that didn't fit into his head yet. "I know that. I'm not saying different. It's just that I've had a run of good luck and don't want to jinx it."
"Jinx it? Since when did you become superstitious?"
"I didn't. I'm not. It's just an expression. Don't go Canadian on me here, sir. I get enough of that from Fraser."
"Speaking of our liaison officer from the Great White North, where is Constable Fraser?"
"At the Consulate most likely. I'm not his keeper." The words came out more sharp than he intended.
"Does he know you've been pulling double shifts with no leave time?"
"What he doesn't know and all that. He has his own life. It's not like I need him around every minute of the day and night, not that he wouldn't do that if I asked. I'm just not asking. No need to."
Welsh rubbed his chin and shook his head, wishing like hell he'd picked up on all this sooner. "Look, Detective, you need to take a couple of days off, get rested."
"I'm in the middle of a case."
"And sadly the case will still be here when you get back, along with a myriad of others, I assure you." Welsh paused and raised a hand to stall the protest. "Which brings me to the other troublesome situation."
"What other situation?"
"Your appointment with Human Resources. You've missed the last two scheduled appointments. I got a rather colorful phone call from a Dr. Reese. Wants to know if you want to stay on the streets or be put on a desk until you take care of the mandated sessions. What should I tell him?"
Ray paced the room in frustration, the energy pouring off his body, his words fast and clipped. "IA cleared me in the shooting, sir. I don't see why I have to see some head jockey who doesn't know shit about what we deal with out there. I did what I had to. What's he going to do, tell me to cry and get it out of my system, not to feel guilty for shooting a kid with a loaded AK 47? I got nothin' to feel guilty about. It's a stupid rule."
Welsh kept his expression neutral, but noted Ray's shaking hands and the strained voice. "No reason for you to feel guilty, Vecchio, but it's a rule for a reason. You shot an armed suspect. Sure you were cleared, but taking a life for whatever reason, especially when it's a 14-year-old boy, tends to trouble those of us who've been conditioned to protect and serve the public. The docs are there to make sure you deal with it appropriately, like maybe not working yourself to death to compensate for the guilt you say you're not feeling."
"I'm not doing that. I'm not. This has nothing to do with shooting the kid. Trust me. I'm good about that. I've just got a lot of cases to clear, that's all."
"But you're not going to do that if you don't see the doctor, because you'll be chained to a desk indefinitely. Those are my orders. I don't make the rules. I just enforce them." Welsh handed him a pink slip. "You have an appointment at 9:30 tomorrow morning. I've promised the good doctor that you'll be there. I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't make me into a liar. Take Fraser if you want. Take the next two days off. I need you rested, not looking like you're an escapee from the morgue on a busy night."
Anger flushed his cheeks. "I clear more cases than anyone in the station."
"Yes, you do. You're a good cop even if you do manage to piss off more people than anyone I've ever met. Nobody's saying you're not a good cop, Vecchio, but what good is that if it's carved in a headstone?"
"You're exhausted and I'm tired of looking at your sorry mug day in and day out." Welsh's voice softened. "Look, Ray, you get tired, you make mistakes, do something stupid. Just go home and get some sleep, maybe go to a ballgame or work on that car you love so much. Find a pretty girl and have a good time. Do whatever it takes to forget about this place for a while. Believe me, the job will always be here."
Ray refused to meet his eyes. "You saying I have to take the time even when I don't want to?"
Welsh sighed in frustration. "That's what I'm saying, yeah."
Wadding the pink paper into a ball, Ray threw it in the trash. "I just want to work and everybody acts like I'm breaking their balls or something. I don't get that."
"See Reese in the morning. Come back in a couple of days. That's an order. I see your face around here before then, I'll put you on medical leave myself. I do not want to make this official unless you force me to. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir." The curt words stung the air as Ray headed out the door.
"And, Detective, leave your files here. No working until you're cleared."
Ray didn't turn around, but simply jerked his neck sideways, the cracking sounds of his adjusting spine defiant, the Kowalski version of, "Fuck you".
Fraser closed his journal, put down his pen, and sat back. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and then looked over at his sleepy companion. "I know. I'm worried about him as well."
The wolf yipped lightly.
"True, he does look a bit worn. Perhaps he's not sleeping."
"Oh, be serious. Using a doughnut as an incentive to confidence is not a very useful ploy against a well-trained police officer. Ray would no doubt see through the deception in short order."
A knock at the Consulate door interrupted Dief's disgruntled growl. Fraser stood up and walked to the front of the building to find Lt. Welsh waiting.
"Hope I didn't wake you, Constable."
"Not at all. It's nice to see you. Is something wrong?"
"That's what I need to ask you. May I come in?"
"Be my guest."
Welsh shook his head and stuffed his hands in his coat pockets as he walked down the hall to the cubbyhole that Fraser too frequently occupied. Once inside, he stood there until the Mountie joined him. "May I offer you some tea or coffee?"
"No, thanks. I'm here to talk about Kowalski."
Fraser stood very still, his throat suddenly dry. Welsh rarely referred to his partner by his real name. "Has something happened to Ray?"
"You tell me."
"I'm afraid I don't understand."
"Did you know he was working double shifts and not taking time off?"
"I was aware he was working more than usual. He assured me that it was common practice. He told me that he was simply doing extra paperwork to free up his day shifts for more active pursuits."
"And you bought that?"
Unsettled, Fraser rubbed his left eyebrow. "Are you saying that he lied to me?"
"That appears to be the case, yes."
"For what reason?"
"That's what I want to know." Welsh paused as he considered his words carefully. "At first I thought it might be connected with the shooting, but now I don't think so. It started two weeks before that. I didn't know about it until personnel sent me a notice. Sly son of a bitch worked around me, went out when I did and then doubled back. I also found out that he's done a lot of other work when he wasn't even signed in."
Fraser crossed his arms, the puzzle even more confusing. "Such deliberate deception seems out of character for Ray. For one thing, he's not a very good liar."
Welsh tilted his head and snorted. "Fraser, he's an undercover cop. He lies for a living. His life depends on fooling people."
The blatant truth of the statement stunned him. "You're quite right, sir. I never thought of it in that context."
"That's because he's good, about the best I've ever seen. You wouldn't know he wasn't Ray Vecchio if you hadn't known Vecchio before." Welsh sat on the edge of the desk, his face somber. "I dug out his file. I read it when he first showed up, but not as closely as I should've. I decided to read it again, this time more carefully and between the lines."
"You think that Ray's aberrant behavior might be linked to a previous assignment?"
"That's what I wanted to find out. Turns out he's been on six undercover assignments in the last eight years, four of those deep cover for extended periods. The last one put him in the hospital for over a week from a serious beating after his cover was blown. I don't know what the guys in charge were thinking. You don't send a man in deep so many times without expecting trouble. Most guys burn out after only a few jobs, especially if they get hurt because of some screw up. They end up with all kinds of problems, drinking, divorce, fighting. Seems to me someone wasn't paying attention when they offered Kowalski this assignment."
Alarmed by the news, Fraser tugged at his ear, not sure what to believe. "You think Ray's in trouble?"
"He has been showing signs of stress and fatigue lately, but I assumed that was because of the shooting. Despite my efforts, he refuses to talk about it."
"I was hoping he'd opened up to you."
Fraser closed his eyes briefly, flashes of Ray's troubled face in his mind. "I wish he had."
"Me, too, but since he hasn't, I've got a favor to ask."
"Kowalski has an appointment with a guy at Human Resources at 9:30 in the morning. I'd like you to make sure that he shows up on time."
"Is this the mandated psychological review?"
"Oh, dear. Ray's never been fond of doctors of any persuasion."
"It's standard procedure after a shooting. Fact is, he should've been in the guy's office within 24 hours of the actual event, but it's been two weeks. Dr. Reese is not a happy man. He's threatened to put Kowalski on indefinite leave if he doesn't show up. The only reason he hasn't done it so far is because of the undercover assignment. The higher ups, including the Feds, don't want to blow his cover and put Vecchio at risk."
"Then the authorities have made Dr. Reese fully aware of the situation? He knows that it's Ray Kowalski and not Ray Vecchio who has to be evaluated?"
"Warts and all, yes."
Welsh shook his head, the weariness dragging him down, his voice tight. "I talked to Reese this afternoon. He made it clear that he wasn't happy that Kowalski didn't show up for the sessions, but that he was even more concerned that he was put undercover in the first place. Said he had no business being on this kind of assignment again so soon after the last time. I have to agree that he's got a good point."
Fraser swallowed hard. "Ray never talks about his other assignments."
"Which is why he's supposed to go for periodic evaluations to make sure he's not going off the deep end."
"And you're saying he hasn't been doing that and no one's bothered to follow up on the procedure?"
"That's what I'm saying, yes. Reese is the first guy who's decided to enforce it and that's not sitting too well with your partner."
"So, I need you to make sure he gets there and doesn't do anything foolish like pretend he's untouchable and doesn't have to follow the rules. If I read this Reese guy right, he won't let the mission stop him if he decides Kowalski needs intervention."
"Are you saying Dr. Reese would take Ray off the assignment?"
"That's one possibility. Best case, he keeps Kowalski on the job and clears him for duty, no restrictions, but frankly, I don't see that happening. He might let him work and force him to attend sessions. That seems most likely."
"And worst case scenario?"
"Worst case, the doctor pulls him out and puts him on medical leave. We'd need a cover story for his absence, but it's been done before."
Fraser shook his head in disbelief. "I feel quite remiss. That is to say, I had no idea that the situation was that serious. Ray's been volatile and a bit gruff, but that's just Ray. Lately, he's been more withdrawn. I should've been more observant, more alert to the signs of emotional strain. I am his partner."
"And I'm his commanding officer. We both should've been more on top of things. If Kowalski needs help dealing with whatever's hounding him, then we've got to be there. We can't let this Dr. Reese think the answer's blowing his cover. I think we both know that would be a bad move all around. I'm not just saying he should stay under because he's the best cop I've got, or because it would put Vecchio at risk, which it would, but because it's what Kowalski needs. It's in his blood. Take it away from him and he'll fold. I'm not a shrink, but I know enough about cops to know that men like Ray Kowalski live and breathe this job."
"I agree, sir. As much as he complains about it, Ray loves being a police officer."
"I know." Welsh stood up, his face solemn. "It won't be easy. If he even gets a whiff that we're in cahoots to help him out, he'll buck like a wild mustang headed for the open range."
"He's got the next two days off. You think you can keep an eye on him without him getting too suspicious?"
"All Canadian law enforcement officers are trained in standard undercover procedures. Such a covert operation requires some serious consideration and planning, but I'm sure I can manage."
Welsh smiled as he headed out the door. "I'm sure you can, Constable."
Fraser waited until Welsh left and then glanced over at Diefenbaker who sat alert, watching him with an intensity that only a worried wolf could muster. "Yes, I know. We've got quite a challenging job on our hands."
Ray stood by the window looking out, his freshly cleaned weapon strapped under his arm, the smell of the gun oil a small comfort in the dark. Two hours of constant dancing took the edge off, but not enough. He rubbed his face with both hands and looked at his watch, almost 3 o'clock in the morning. His gut tightened at the thought of the impending ring, at what would happen when he picked up and heard that hateful voice at the other end of the line.
Closing his eyes, he blocked out the panic and concentrated on the conversation with Welsh. Maybe the lieutenant was right. Maybe he did need time off to get his act together. Ray shook his head and balked at the notion. No way did he need more time to waste thinking about things he couldn't control. He turned away from the faint light of the street lamps and paced behind the sofa, his arms tightly wrapped around his middle. His belly hurt. Again. Too much coffee, too much junk food, too much hiding from what he didn't want to think about.
In the deep quiet of the night, he still heard the traffic sounds and the faint ticking of the clock. He stopped moving and closed his eyes, waiting, a cold sweat glistening on his skin. Even prepared, he jerked back when the phone actually rang.
Ray let it ring three more times before he finally picked up. "Yeah."
"You ever get tired of this shit, Clooney?"
"Never get tired of thinking about your sweet ass, bitch. Got off on it just a few minutes ago. You should've been here. My dick's still hard."
Ray considered hanging up, but knew the phone would just ring again. "What do you want from me? I did my job. It's over."
"Over? Fuck over." Rage powered the words. "You lied to me the whole fucking time. Pretended to be my friend. Fucking pretended you were one of us. Fuck you, Kowalski. The Feds own my ass because of you. You owe me."
Ray's throat tightened around the words, his heart racing at the fragments of memory flashing in his head. "You should rot in prison, you son of a bitch. I should kick your fucking teeth in."
His voice husky, Clooney taunted, "But you didn't tell people the whole story, Ray. Why is that? Was it because you liked what I did? Did you like it, Ray? You want me to do it again?"
Ray didn't answer, couldn't form words. Instead, he slammed the phone down, fumbling with the cord as he yanked it from the wall. Suddenly, the air thinned as he dropped to his knees and puked all over the rug.
Tossing and turning before finally falling asleep, Ray lay tangled in the sheets, his legs trapped under the covers. He groaned into the pillow as the unwelcome knock on his door persisted. Lifting his head, he blinked several times and saw the bleary 8:15 on the clock. "Damn."
After several frustrating tries, he finally freed himself and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Still wearing his jeans and T-shirt from the night before, he reached over and grabbed his gun and holster. He strapped them on as he walked to the door and checked through the peephole. Reluctantly, he opened the door while he spoke. "What are you doing here, Fraser?"
"Good morning, Ray."
Ray rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving Fraser to close the door after Diefenbaker followed him inside. Ray filled a cup with lukewarm water and then poured in some instant coffee. He didn't even bother to stir in the chocolate candy. Lifting the drink to his lips, his stomach rebelled and he put the concoction down on the counter untouched. "Why are you here? Didn't Welsh tell you I had the day off?"
Fraser frowned as he sniffed the air. "Ray, have you been recently ill?"
Squeezing his eyes shut, Ray lied. "Bad pizza."
"I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you're feeling better."
"Perhaps I could be of assistance. I have a special Inuit mixture that could settle your stomach quite nicely."
"Thanks, but I swore off moss and lichen cocktails a while back. Don't worry. It's nothing serious."
Holding his hat in his hands, Fraser didn't respond with his usual defense of his native remedies. Instead, he stepped closer, his face almost grim. "But I do worry, Ray."
Ray didn't look up, couldn't meet his friend's eyes. "Look, I appreciate you and the wolf coming over, but I'll be fine, honest." He checked his watch and then wiped his face with both hands. "I'd ask you to stay, but I've got an appointment."
"I'll go with you."
"Thanks, but I'm good on my own here."
"I'd rather go with you, Ray."
The stubborn tone settled it. "Damn it. Welsh told you."
"I am your partner. I should have heard it from you."
"There's nothing to hear. It's one of those stupid rules to make us jump through hoops." Ray turned and dumped the coffee in the sink and then leaned forward, his head down. "I hate this."
"I know you do, Ray. That's why I think it might be easier if you at least had myself and Diefenbaker along for moral support."
"Moral support, huh?"
"Yes. I've found that having a friend around when required to do unpleasant tasks can make the job more bearable."
"I'm seeing a shrink, Fraser, not filling out paperwork." For the first time that morning, Ray smiled. He stood straighter, his body still achy and tired. "Besides, me showing up with a man in a bright red suit and a wolf might make him think I've really gone loony. He might think I've got a Santa complex or something."
"For that frame of reference to work, I'd need to don different apparel, Ray. The red uniform alone simply wouldn't be sufficient for that particular conclusion."
Ray snorted weakly in amusement and then shook his head. "I was kidding."
Meeting playful eyes, Ray grinned, relieved that Fraser still cared enough to mess with his head. "Thanks."
"For not treating me like I'm a basket case."
"Why would I do that?"
"Because that's what Welsh thinks. That's what this guy Reese is going to think."
Fraser stepped closer, his hand on Ray's shoulder, squeezing gently. "There's no reason to believe that. You've just been under an inordinate amount of stress lately."
Ray pulled away, his friend's touch too much, too close to what he really wanted, but couldn't afford. "I don't want to talk about it."
"May I ask why?"
Walking into the living area, Ray paced in front of the sofa. The words came out too fast and too sharp. "Because it's stupid. Talking doesn't change anything, doesn't turn back the clock so that an awful thing, a really awful thing, didn't really happen. It happened and words won't ever change that, no matter what you say, no matter what anybody else says. It just stays in your head, eating away at your brain. Talking only makes it worse, makes it harder to forget about."
"What awful thing are we not talking about, Ray?"
Ray refused to look up, couldn't meet his partner's troubled expression. "Not one awful thing, Fraser. Lots of awful things. Yakking to some shrink won't bring back Clay Biggs. The kid will still be dead, my finger on the trigger. His mom will still cry and wonder what the hell she did wrong. It won't give Beth Botrelle back the 8 years she wasted in prison because I messed up. Talking won't bring back Stella or make me stop being such a loser. Talking just makes it all worse, all too real. It's just stupid and I don't want to do stupid anymore."
Suddenly, Ray stopped talking. He stared at Fraser for a brief moment, and then turned away, sagging down on the sofa. He dropped his face to his hands and spoke quietly. "I'm just tired of everything, Frase, tired of pretending to be somebody I'm not, living somebody else's life. Thing is, I don't want my old life back, either. Guess, all in all, I'm just fucked up. Talking about it, well, it just hurts too much."
Fraser walked over and sat down beside him, his hand rubbing the back of his shoulders, the steady motion relaxing the bunched muscles just under the thin T-shirt ever so slowly. Ray remained quiet, drinking in the heated touch he craved. After a few moments, Fraser whispered, "I had no idea you felt this way, Ray. Let me help."
"There's nothing you can do."
"There most certainly is."
Fraser didn't remove his hand, just kept massaging his shoulder blades gently. "I'm your friend, someone you can trust, Ray. Always. Whatever you say to me stays between us."
Frowning, Ray turned his head and met serious blue eyes. "What are you saying, Fraser? You think I'm keeping secrets?"
"That's not what I meant."
"What did you mean?"
"I just meant that I'll listen to whatever you have to say and try to be objective. I hope that by this point, I've at least earned some measure of your trust."
Ray got up and stood with his back to the counter. He crossed his arms around his chest, his hands tucked under his armpits, his heart beating way too fast. "I do trust you about certain things. It's just that being undercover, you can't always say everything you feel or tell everything you know, even if sometimes you just want to scream it all out. People rely on me to stay quiet, Fraser. Telling some of the things I know could get a person hurt, maybe even dead."
"Then I can certainly see how talking, even to a professional, would feel threatening." Fraser paused and licked his lower lip, measuring his words carefully. "Ray, is there a particular secret that's troubling you?"
Ray tightened his grip around his middle, worked to keep his voice light. "You don't tell secrets, Fraser. That's the whole point. It's the stuff you cover up, the stuff you keep to yourself, all hush-hush like. That's pretty much the standard definition of a secret last I heard."
"Yes, it is, Ray. However, I've sometimes found that there are those occasional secrets that can be quite detrimental to the one who keeps them."
"That ain't the case here."
"You know you could tell me if you wanted." Dief sat up and woofed in agreement. "And Diefenbaker promises to keep your confidences as well."
"There's nothing to tell, Fraser, nada, zip, zero, zilch. Got it?"
"Got it." Fraser frowned as Diefenbaker yowled softly. "I'm sorry, Ray, but I'm afraid neither of us are convinced."
"Like I care what a wolf thinks."
"Diefenbaker is quite good at recognizing the truth. It has to do with the cadence and tenor of the voice."
"And you? You think I'm a liar, too?"
Fraser's eyes narrowed as he stood and stepped closer to Ray, his voice much softer. He didn't touch him this time, but never looked away. "I think there's something in particular you don't want to talk about, Ray. I don't know what that thing is, but yes, I think you're hiding something."
Ray swallowed hard, unable to maintain eye contact. "You're a pretty good cop, Fraser."
"Thank you kindly. I wish you could trust me enough to let me help you. Tell me what's wrong."
"I can't. It's personal."
"So I surmised. Is this something that happened recently?"
Ray shut his eyes and shook his head. "Please. Don't keep pushing. I can't talk about this, not to you."
"Can you talk to Dr. Reese about it?"
"Not in this lifetime."
"Ray, if you're not honest with your therapist, how can he possibly be very effective in his treatment? It's like a judge and jury deliberating a case without all the pertinent information. Most likely the suspect will escape justice. It's only fair that you give him all the facts so that he can help you through whatever this is."
"I don't need any help. I can deal with this on my own."
"You don't believe me?"
"No, Ray, I'm sorry. I don't."
Suddenly very tired, Ray rubbed his eyes. "I need to take a shower. I stink."
"Fine and then we will talk more on the way to see Dr. Reese."
Fraser ignored the sarcasm. "I'll wait here and then go with you to the meeting."
"You never give up."
Both comfort and dread swarmed over Ray as he left the room. He tried his best not to think about Reese and the part he needed to play to stay on the job, a job he so desperately needed to keep. No way could he let Clooney spoil all that. He worked too damn hard to find a life that worked. Even if that life wouldn't really belong to him forever, he'd take what he could get for as long as he could keep it. Nothing new there.
"The Yank's in real trouble, son."
"Dad?" Fraser turned and saw his father's ghost sitting at the kitchen table. "How long have you been here?"
"Long enough to know you've got a serious situation on your hands. He's a good man, but he's not telling you the whole story for a reason."
"What reason is that?"
"You don't want to know, Son."
He paled at his father's serious tone. "It's that bad?"
"Bad enough. Still, you can't change the past, Benton. No use dwelling on it. Just saps the spirit. When a tree falls, you take the timber and use it for good regardless of how it came to be felled. What the lad needs now is justice, knowing that the monster who hurt him won't be allowed to pervert the system like he has so far."
"I don't understand."
"Who are you talking to, Fraser? Dief's in here with me." Ray stood in the doorway, a towel wrapped around his waist, shaving cream on his face. His lips thinned into a small grin. "Maybe you should be the one seeing Reese instead of me."
"Perhaps." Fraser glanced over at the now empty table and then back at his partner. His frown deepened. "You've lost weight."
Ray patted his belly and rubbed his chest with a shrug. "Thanks. A few pounds, maybe."
"You don't need to lose weight, Ray. If anything, you're well below the standard weight requirement for your bone structure and height."
"I'm used to it. I can eat anything and still lose weight. Used to make Stella crazy. Fast metabolism or something like that."
"Let's have an early lunch after your session. I'll buy."
"With Canadian bills? The diner will love that."
"You pick the place, Ray. Your choice."
Ray tilted his head as he met Fraser's concerned gaze, his voice not quite steady. "Something tells me after I see this Reese guy, I might not have much of an appetite."
"You don't know that. There's no reason to believe the worst."
"No reason to believe the best, either."
"Regardless of the outcome, you need to eat."
Ray didn't answer, but turned and walked back into the bedroom, the wolf on his heels to keep a vigilant watch over his pack mate. Fraser rubbed his chin and considered his father's troubling words, wondering how he could best procure those secret undercover files on his partner without breaking any laws in the process.
"Would you consider yourself an obsessive man, Detective?"
After all the introductions and easing into the meeting, it wasn't the first question Ray expected. "You talked to Stella?"
"Yeah, she knows I know where the line is. I'm not some kind of twisted fuck who stalks his wife. I was just concerned about who she was dating, that's all. Turned out I had a right. The guy was a crook."
Reese shifted in his seat and frowned as he pushed his glasses a little higher up on his nose. "Actually, I was talking about being obsessive about your work."
"Oh. Sorry. Misunderstood the question."
"No need to be sorry. Perhaps we should talk about your relationship with your ex-wife at some later point."
"I'd rather not."
"Any reason you want to avoid the topic?"
"You got an ex?"
"I've never been married."
"Lucky you. It hurts like hell when it's over."
Reese nodded as he fisted his hands together in front of his face, his brown eyes watching Ray a little too closely for comfort. "Did your divorce have anything to do with your work?"
"Lots of people get divorced."
"I'm not asking about lots of people. I'm asking about you."
Ray shrugged. "We both worked a lot. I thought we were doing okay. She didn't. It happens."
Nodding, Reese made a quick notation on Ray's chart. "You like your job, Detective?"
"Sure. What's not to like?"
"That's a good question."
"It wasn't a question. I was being sarcastic."
"I recognize that, but I'd still like to know what you don't like about your work."
"You mean other than the fact that I work my ass off arresting scumbags and the lawyers make deals to get them off?"
"Do you feel like your efforts are wasted?"
"Sometimes." Ray stood up and paced the small office and then stood by the window. He watched an elderly woman in the parking lot drop her keys, pick them up, and then fumble with the lock. Perfect set up for a thief, maybe even a rapist. The lot needed more security. He should make a call.
"Do you have trouble focusing?"
"Not when I'm working. I didn't want to come here, but that's not a surprise. You probably get that a lot. It's nothing personal."
"Why do you suppose you resisted seeing me for so long?"
"Because you could cost me my job."
"On the contrary, the whole purpose of this meeting is to see what I can do to make your job and your life easier, more manageable."
"I manage fine." Ray stuffed his hands deep into his jeans pockets and leaned back against the wall. "You want to make my life easier, get off my back. Let me get back to work without the song and dance routine. I work undercover. I'm good at it. I don't get lost or forget who I am. I don't hate my parents. Sounds like we're done here."
Reese smiled and shook his head. "Nice try. May I call you Stanley?"
"Only if you want to get popped. I go by Ray."
"As in Ray Vecchio?"
"As in Ray Kowalski. Convenient, huh?"
"Could be. Could also be confusing."
"I told you, Doc. I know who I am. I've been at this game a long time. I know when to switch off and when to switch on. I've had a lot of practice."
Reese motioned at the file on his desk. "I know. I also know that you should never have been offered this assignment, not under the circumstances."
Ray turned back to the windows, his voice controlled, but his chest tight. "Captain Turner disagreed. He told me it was the best way to move on, to ditch the past and start over. You wreck a fast car, you get another one and keep driving. Otherwise you might lose your nerve and never drive again. And I need to drive. It's what I do best."
"But you were out of the hospital only two months before you came on board as Vecchio. You were still recovering from extensive injuries. This job is hard enough under normal circumstances. Undercover work is extra stressful. You should've been given more time. At the very least you should've had more intensive evaluation and debriefing."
"Damn budget cuts hit all the right places."
"That's an interesting perspective."
"Look, I can handle it. It's been almost a year now and I'm doing just fine."
"Really?" Reese flipped a page in the file. "According to this, during just the last month you seem to be working nonstop, spending all your time on the job. Despite the support services in place to deal with post-traumatic situations, you kept right on working after the shooting of a 14-year-old boy. The fact is, you refused to come in at all until I called your commanding officer and forced the issue." Reese took a deep breath and closed the file. "This brings me back to my original question, do you consider yourself an obsessive man?"
"I'm a good cop."
"You're more than a cop, Ray. What about your personal life? Now that you're divorced, have you developed any other relationships?"
"Relationships? You mean like relationships with women?"
Ray straightened and stared at the doctor, his face flushed. "What are you asking, exactly?"
"Sex is a natural thing, Ray. I'm not here to be judgmental."
"And I'm not here to talk about something that's none of your damn business."
"No need to get defensive."
"I think there is. I don't sleep around. It's just not what I'm about."
Reese's voice stayed steady and his eyes never left their focus on Ray. "Tell me about your relationship with your ex-wife then."
Ray closed his eyes, the words hard to say. "I met Stella when I was a kid. I never went with anyone else, not really, and then we got married. After the divorce, well, I just haven't been able to get with anyone else."
"You're saying your entire sexual history is with one woman?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
"When you say pretty much, what does that mean?"
"It means what it means. A few kisses, a few dates, no sleeping around."
"I see." Reese cleared his throat. "Hasn't there been anyone you've shown interest in at all?"
"I didn't say that. I just haven't been able to act on it. It wouldn't be fair to get involved with somebody when I'm not who I really am."
"I'm undercover, Doc. I'm pretending to be someone I'm not. When Vecchio gets back, I'll be Kowalski again until the next assignment comes along. Then I'm someone else for a while, good guy, bad guy, it doesn't matter. How can I ask someone else to deal with that? So I don't."
"It's okay. It's the job. It's what I know."
"And it doesn't bother you?"
"If it did, I'd quit. As it is, I'm here for the duration."
"What about friends?"
Ray stood suddenly straighter. "What about 'em?"
"Do you have any?"
"What kind of question is that? Of course, I have friends."
"Who are they? The people you work with?"
"Well, yeah. There's my partner and the guys at the station."
"No one outside of work then?"
"The pizza delivery guy and my snitches."
"You consider them your friends?"
Ray shrugged and sat down in the chair across from Reese. Fatigue weighed down his arms and legs all of a sudden. "Guess not."
"Who's your best friend?"
"Yeah, my partner, or at least he's Vecchio's partner, but he's mine for now. He's Canadian."
"Canadian? How can he be your partner?"
"It's a long story."
"I'd like to hear it."
Ray sat back and sighed in resignation. "He first came to Chicago on the trail of his father's killer. He's stayed for reasons that don't need exploring at this juncture and he's now the liaison officer at the Canadian Consulate and therefore my partner."
"That sounds rehearsed."
"This isn't the first time I've been asked the question."
"And you consider Fraser to be your best friend?"
"Tell me about him."
"Why?" Ray stood up and paced again, agitated. He didn't want to talk about Fraser or his life or their life together.
Reese studied him for several moments before he explained. "Getting to know a man's best friend often reveals a lot about that person. Do you trust your partner?"
"Of course. He's the most honest man I've ever met."
"Is that difficult?"
"Why should it be?"
"Well, you said yourself you're living a lie, pretending to be someone you're not. Does that make you uncomfortable being around someone you think is so honest?"
"No. I respect him for it."
"You say he's the most honest man you've ever met. I take it he knows that you're not really Ray Vecchio. So, if that's the case, and he's keeping your secret in order to maintain your cover, is he as honest as you think he is?"
Ray swallowed hard and looked out the window, but closed his eyes. "He lies to protect me, and I know that's not easy for him. It's not his nature to be dishonest."
"How does that make you feel?"
"I feel bad about that sometimes, about making him lie like that."
"And how do you feel about your life as it is now, being Ray Vecchio, taking his cases, his friends, his partner, giving him credit for your arrests and all the work that you do while using his identity?"
"Fine. I feel fine." Suddenly angry, Ray turned towards Reese. "What's the point of this conversation? What are you trying to get me to say here?"
"Will you be able to give up this life when Vecchio comes back?"
"Sure. No problem."
"You'd walk away from your best friend without any hesitation?"
"It wouldn't be the first time." He bit back the words about love and desire, about wanting to be with Fraser forever. Instead, he crossed his arms and stayed quiet until Reese asked him another question.
Instead of hammering on about Fraser, Reese sat back and switched gears. "I think we need to talk about your last assignment, Ray."
"I don't want to do that."
"I need to know that you're okay with the fact that Michael Clooney won't be serving time for murder and all the other charges even though you nearly died trying to bring him to trial."
Throat dry, Ray swallowed several times. "It wasn't my call. The Feds thought they could get more by going after a bigger fish."
"Then you're saying, as far as you're concerned, everything's fine. You've got no problem knowing a killer who nearly beat you to death is now being protected by the government so he can testify against someone else?"
"That's what I'm saying, yeah."
Reese sighed and tilted his head slightly, his face solemn as he played with the edge of the file. "Let me ask you a question, Ray. As a cop, do you ever know when a suspect's telling you the truth or when he's lying?"
Ray hesitated. "Sure."
"Did I mention that I used to be a cop?"
"No, you didn't mention that."
"Well, I was and you know what I'm feeling right now?"
"I'm not a psychic."
"No, and you're not telling the truth, either."
"I didn't think shrinks were supposed to call their patients liars. Isn't that against the shrink rule book or something?"
"It might be, but I've found that honesty works better. I need you to tell me the truth, Ray. How do you feel about Mike Clooney?"
"I hate his fucking guts."
"Well, that's honest."
"Son of a bitch should be in prison, not walking around free. But apparently it doesn't really matter what the fuck I think. The Feds want a bigger fish, so the scumbags like Clooney get thrown back into the pond with the rest of the garbage floating around. That's just the way it is. End of story."
Reese nodded and closed the file. "I think we need to talk about that tomorrow."
"I'd like to have daily sessions for the next week until I'm sure you're fit for active duty."
"Son of a bitch benched me."
"A son of a bitch is a son of a bitch, Fraser." Ray stormed down the sidewalk, his face flushed, his words all in a rush. "There's no other way to say it. He won't let me off a desk for at least a week and he gave me fucking homework. Homework, Fraser, like I'm a kid or something. Can you fucking believe this shit?"
Fraser took an extra beat to answer, his eyes never leaving the frantic figure of his partner. When he did speak, the words came out soft and calming as he matched his stride to the fast pace. "Ray, it's not totally unexpected."
"But I'm fine."
"I don't mean this as a criticism, but that's not entirely true."
Ray stopped suddenly and stared. "What are you saying here? You agree with Reese? You think I'm nuts, too?"
"I seriously doubt Dr. Reese feels you're unbalanced, Ray, or he would have taken your gun and relieved you of duty."
"You didn't answer me, Fraser. Do you think I'm nuts?"
"Of course not." Fraser stepped just a bit closer, his voice lower. "I do, however, think that the intensity of emotions you've displayed recently could be alleviated somewhat with a reliable plan for stress management."
"More so than usual, yes, which would indicate some unresolved issues."
"Issues? We've all got issues, Fraser. I won't even mention talking to the wolf in public, okay? Issues ain't the problem. My life was just fine until this Reese guy stuck his nose in. And why are you taking his side, anyway?"
"I wasn't aware there were sides."
"There are always sides, Fraser. My side, his side. You're my partner. You're supposed to be on my side, not his."
"Well, I am on your side, Ray."
"Doesn't sound like it."
"I didn't mean to make you think I was unsupportive of your position. I know you're upset."
"I can't believe you'd take his side."
"I did not take his side."
"After all we've been though."
"You should be."
"I guess it's okay then."
"Perhaps we should go eat now."
Ray shook his head and closed his eyes briefly. "Not hungry. I've got to go." He headed toward his car with Fraser right behind him.
"Can't say. You and Dief go grab a bite. I'll catch you later."
"I'd really feel more comfortable if you'd let me accompany you. I am your partner."
Turning, Ray lifted his hand in a stop motion. "Look, I need to be alone."
"Diefenbaker and I will be very quiet."
"Alone, Fraser, as in nobody with me, not you, not the wolf, nobody. I can't think with you two around." Ray crossed his arms and leaned back against the front of his car. "I'm all turned around here. I need to figure out what to do."
"I really want to help, Ray."
Ray swallowed hard at the complete truth of the words, the deep sincerity in the blue eyes. "You can't, Fraser, not with this." He paused and licked his lower lip, looking away from the intense stare. "There are things about me you don't know, things I can't talk about. I need some space, some distance to get my head straight. I can't do that with you around, because you won't always be there, not when Vecchio comes back. I need to do this on my own or I'll lose it. I don't want to do that. I don't want to end up losing it, Fraser. I don't want to be some burned out cop who couldn't handle it when things got tough. I just have to sort things out on my own, that's all."
Fraser's hand took his arm as he stepped closer, his body almost touching his, but not quite. "Do you really believe that when Ray comes back, you'll stop being my friend?"
Ray pushed Fraser away and walked to the driver's side of the car, his partner following right behind him. "That's just the way it is. I do the job and move on."
"And our friendship is just part of the job? You can't seriously believe that."
"You'll have Vecchio. You won't need me."
Ray unlocked the door and slammed it shut before Fraser could answer. He put the key in the ignition, wanting to ignore the knocking on his window. "I've got to go, Fraser."
"We've got to talk, Ray." The glass muffled the words, but the strained voice touched him.
"I'll call later." Ray started the engine as Fraser stepped away, the hurt expression counterpoint to the terrible ache in his own heart.
"Thanks for seeing me, Captain."
Captain Robert Turner motioned to a chair across from his desk. His dark brown eyes watched Ray carefully, taking in his appearance with a frown. "Ray, sit down. You look tired. Your message sounded urgent. What's going on?"
Ray took the seat, but nervous energy kept his left leg bouncy. "It's about this Reese guy. I need you to get him off my back."
"Ah, Dr. Reese. A very persistent man."
"If he's not careful, he's going to blow the whole Vecchio thing."
Turner stood and walked to the coffee machine and filled a cup as he spoke. "Want some?"
"No, thanks, sir."
"You know, I understand your concerns, Ray, I do." Turner took several sips of his coffee before he continued, his words careful. "However, I've already done pretty much all that I can do. He's damn insistent that we follow the psych review protocols for undercover officers."
"But why me and why now? It's been almost a year and I'm doing fine."
"Then there shouldn't be a problem. You do the sessions and get cleared."
"It's not that easy."
"Why not? Is there a problem that you haven't mentioned in your reports?"
"No, sir. It's just you know how these head guys are. They try to trip you up and make you say stuff, stuff that taken out of context just doesn't sound right."
"I hate my psych reviews, too, Kowalski, but it's procedure. Besides, like you said, you've been doing fine, better than we hoped for."
"Certainly. I was just talking to your Lieutenant. He seems quite pleased with your overall performance. He did show some concerns about you being maybe a little bit too dedicated, though."
"Working too much, being a little too focused on playing the part of the tough cop, pissing people off. Seems Vecchio's going to have to work a hell of a lot harder when he comes back to keep up."
"Any indicators on when that might be, sir?"
"None." Turner put his mug down and snorted. "Damn Feds. You know how they are. They keep us more in the dark than a citywide black out. Don't get me started on those assholes. I mean, just look at that whole Clooney mess."
Ray's breath hitched as Turner stalled. "Oh, shit, Ray. I'm sorry. You probably don't want to talk about that."
"No, sir, not really." Ray leaned forward, his elbows on the arms of the chair, his hands together. His head pounded at his temples, the air thin in his chest. "Which is why you need to get Reese off my ass. He's bound and determined that I've got to deal with it, like talking about all that shit will help."
"Well, he might have a point. If I were in your shoes, I'd be more than a little pissed. Talking to someone might make it easier."
"I am pissed, but that's not the point. It's over. The Feds want him to testify, so they let his ass off. Not much I can do about that. Talking about it is a waste of time, time I could be using doing my fucking job instead of crying on some asshole's shoulder."
Nodding, Turner's voice softened. "Look, Ray, I totally hear what you're saying. You're angry, but you're a good cop. You don't buy into all this psychobabble bullshit that says you have to talk every damn thing to death. Hell, that's why I put you on the Vecchio job in the first place. I figured it was the best place to prove you could still do what it takes to get the shit off the streets."
"So you'll call this guy off?"
"Afraid I can't do that. My hands are tied."
"Well, there is one consolation."
"From everything I've heard, Reese is one of the best at what he does, that is, if you believe any of those guys know what the hell they're doing."
Ray sat back, disgusted. "That's supposed to make me feel better?"
"Sorry, but that's how it is. Seems to me you've got two choices."
"You can play along with his whole talk about it and feel better bullshit, or you can do what you do best."
Ray took several deep breaths and then walked into the bar, a place from his past, a place packed full of loaded memories. The whiff of peanuts and booze made his head swim. As he sat down on the stool, the bartender walked up. "Hey, Ray. Long time, no see. You and the old lady ever patch things up?"
"Oh, jeez, Ray, I'm sorry, man. I didn't know. It's been a while."
"It's okay. Give me a scotch, straight up."
Eddie frowned and leaned in. "It's not even noon, Ray. You sure?"
"Did I ask for the time, Eddie?"
Standing back, both hands up in surrender, Eddie shrugged. "No problem. Scotch it is."
"Make it a double."
"Sure thing. Coming right up." Eddie poured the drink and then moved down the bar to another customer, leaving Ray alone with his own troubles.
Lifting the glass, Ray sniffed the booze and shuddered, his body remembering the promise of oblivion. He sipped the liquid heat slowly at first, but then gulped and finished it quickly. Closing his eyes, he relished the slow fire that warmed his belly. It'd been ages since his last good drunk.
Now that he had days off it didn't matter if he got wasted, got stoned out of his gourd. He wasn't even on call. So he didn't care. Nobody else cared. Why the fuck should he?
Ray banged the glass on the bar and reluctantly Eddie refilled it. After the fifth drink in too short a time, Eddie shook his head and put the bottle just out of reach. "Ray, you okay, man?"
"Leave the bottle and go away."
"Afraid I can't do that, my friend."
"I've got money."
"At least tell me you're not on duty."
"If they'd let me work, I wouldn't be drinking."
"They won't let you work?"
"I just want to do my job. What's the hell's wrong with that? Maybe wanting to get the scumbags off the street is a crazy idea. Wanting to kick their fucking teeth in makes me nuts. Stupid rules, stupid people. I hate this job. I should quit."
"Ray, why don't I call somebody and get you a ride home?"
Ray lifted his head and blinked several times. "I didn't mean that."
"Didn't mean what?"
"I love being a cop."
"Yeah, I figured. Look, you're a little fucked up right now, that's all. It happens. I read about that kid with the gun. Maybe you should just go home and sleep it off."
"You read about that?"
"Sure. It's a tough thing to kill a kid even when he's a stone cold thug. You did what you had to do. Stupid paper got your name wrong, too. Still, nobody blames you."
"You think I'm upset about the kid?"
"Sure, but that's not the only thing."
"Yeah? What else is there?"
Ray shook his head and reached for the bottle unsuccessfully. "It's a secret."
"A secret, huh? Cop secret or personal secret?"
Using his index finger, he shushed. "Can't tell." Ray rested his head on his folded arms, the world spinning just too damn fast all of a sudden. "I'm just going to rest for a minute."
"You sure there's not someone to call?"
Ray closed his eyes and pictured Fraser in his head, the man he wanted to want him more than anyone else. The words slurred. "I'm so fucked."
"Yeah, Ray, I can see that."
"You okay there, Constable? You look like someone just kicked your wolf back to Canada."
Fraser glanced up at Lt. Welsh, blinking several times to clear the mist from his eyes. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid I've committed a rather rash act."
"Rash act? Would that include breaking into my office and reading your partner's confidential files?"
"I'm afraid it would, sir. I'm terribly sorry, but I had to know."
Welsh nodded, but he didn't appear too upset. "Obviously, you can read between the lines as well as I can."
Fraser hesitated and stood up, his body still shaky. He stood by the window looking out at the bullpen, not seeing his colleagues, but instead wondering about evil. Swallowing several times, Fraser finally spoke, his voice choked. "I find that I'm rather conflicted."
"About the fact that I agree with Dr. Reese. Ray should never have been assigned this case. However, had he not taken Ray Vecchio's place, I'd have missed having him for a partner."
"So you feel conflicted because you like having Kowalski as a partner even though he probably shouldn't ever have been here in the first place, right?"
"Yes, sir." Fraser paused and then turned around, disturbing memories falling into place. "The first day we worked together, he stepped in front of a bullet to protect me."
"He was wearing a vest."
"He had no way of knowing the suspect would aim for his chest rather than his head. He could just as easily have been killed."
"Are you saying you think he had a death wish?"
"No, the vest would indicate otherwise, but I do think he wasn't thinking as clearly about his own safety as he should have been. Still, that was over a year ago and he has shown remarkable flexibility and ingenuity since then."
Welsh cleared his throat and sat on the edge of his desk. "So the question is, why is this whole manic cop thing kicking in now? It usually happens right before a guy burns out. Something must have triggered it. You read the file. What do you think?"
"Quite often there's a delayed response to severe trauma. The victim will deny the psychological effects for months or even years. Then, as you say, something often triggers it. Obviously, Ray's kept that event to himself. Or, he might not even realize that's what's happening."
"Regardless, we need to keep Kowalski on the job and to do that, we need to make sure he gets the treatment he needs whether he wants it or not. That's not going to be easy. He's already gone screaming to Turner."
"Captain Robert Turner. He runs all the undercover cases. He called to let me know that your partner's not happy with this whole Reese thing, like I'm blind and deaf and didn't already know that." Welsh stood up and moved to sit back behind his desk. "However, he did clue me in on something I didn't know, something significant to what we were saying about trigger events."
"Mike Clooney's been put in the witness protection program by the Feds. Seems he's going to testify against Sean O'Malley."
Fraser shook his head in disbelief. "Are you saying the man who killed an undercover police officer and who beat and tortured Ray isn't going to prison?"
"That's what I'm saying, yeah."
"Good God. That's immoral."
"That's putting it mildly."
"Ray must have found out."
"That would be my guess."
Fraser stepped closer to the desk, his brow furrowed. "Isn't the O'Malley trial scheduled to begin next week?"
"I think it is, yes."
"Then this Michael Clooney is going to be in town to testify. My Lord, no wonder Ray's been so frantic."
"It would explain his need to stay busy."
Before Fraser could respond, the phone rang. Welsh picked up. "Lt. Welsh." He frowned. "Yes, he's here." Handing the phone to Fraser, he shook his head. "It's Constable Turnbull. Says it's important."
Fraser listened briefly, paled, and hung up with a quick thank you. "I need to go, sir."
"Ray." Fraser kept the rest to himself.
Welsh held up a hand for permission. "Go."
Fraser didn't need to be told twice.
When he was a kid, only three or four, Ray used to hide under his father's workbench. He'd close his eyes and pretend no one could see him, and his dad, being his dad, played along. "Stanley? Stanley? Has anyone seen Stanley? Where the heck could that boy be?"
Ray remembered laughing to himself, wanting to call out, but covering his mouth with both hands to hold back the giggles, wanting to keep the game alive between him and his dad for as long as he could. He loved the quick thrill he got every time his father's voice got closer, but then drifted away again as his dad continued working on the engines. God, how he loved spending time with his dad, just the two of them, nobody to spoil it.
And, besides, no one could find him when he kept his eyes closed, no one, not bad men, not monsters. Yep, keeping his eyes shut kept him safe when he was a kid.
No such luck now that he'd grown up, though. Now closing his eyes only made it worse, made it play over in his head, made him feel the fists, forced him to remember the blows and the hate, and the awful thing he couldn't even think about remembering without gagging.
Ray jerked awake suddenly when the hand touched him. "Ray, Ray, Ray. It's okay. You're safe."
"Where the hell am I?"
Fraser kneeled beside the sofa and studied him with concern. "You're in the back of a place called Sal's. Eddie Braggs called the Consulate and Constable Turnbull called me. Seems Mr. Braggs was concerned about a customer named Ray Kowalski. He said you wanted information about immigrating to Canada."
"Can you sit up?"
Ray squeezed his eyes shut and wished Fraser wouldn't have to see him all fucked up. Unfortunately, that closing his eyes thing and being invisible didn't work anymore. Damn.
He rolled on his back and put his arm over his face. "Give me a minute. Let the room settle."
Fraser sighed and stood up. "You'd feel better if you would eat something, Ray."
"Don't even start with me, Fraser."
"I'm just concerned."
"I'm okay. I'm just having a bad day. Everybody has bad days. Bet even the Queen has a bad day sometimes."
"The Queen doesn't get inebriated in the middle of the day, Ray."
"How do you know? She might have a nip now and then. You don't know for a fact that she doesn't get soused. Besides, that's not the point anyway."
"What is the point?"
Ray took a deep breath. "The point is, I'm sorry."
"You've got no reason to apologize."
Opening only one eye, Ray stared at his partner in disbelief. "So you think it's perfectly okay to get plastered in the middle of the day and have to have your tee-totaling partner come pick your ass up? Sounds like sorry material in my book."
"I didn't say it was acceptable behavior, Ray. I must confess I don't like seeing you in this condition."
"I know. Stella didn't like it, either." Ray hated thinking of those drunken times when Stella found him heaving into the toilet or waking up after a really bad night. Nobody could make him feel quite as bad as Stella unless, of course, it was the pensive stare of his partner the Mountie. Fuck. Still, he deserved it, so he couldn't complain too much.
Ray reached out his arm. "Help me up." Fraser took his hand and tugged with a steady strength that got Ray to a sitting position in no time. He groaned and held his head. "God, I'm out of practice." Glancing around, he frowned. "Where's Dief?"
"He's at the Consulate. I wasn't sure about your condition."
"Impressionable wolf, huh?"
Instead of smiling, Fraser shook his head. "Actually, I feared his reaction. He has great affection for you, Ray. He might have found it too unsettling to see you unconscious."
"I wasn't unconscious. I was just sleeping it off."
"Okay, passed out."
"Down for the count."
"Okay, okay, you win, but I'm fine now."
"Hardly. I'll drive you home. You need to eat, drink plenty of liquids, and get some sleep. You'll feel better after you've rested. Then perhaps we need to talk."
Words of protest died on his lips. He didn't want to fight, not with Fraser. "Okay. Do me a favor, though."
"If I throw up in my car, just shoot me."
"You know I'm not licensed to carry firearms, Ray."
Fraser helped him to his feet and Ray surrendered with a groan, letting himself be guided to the car and then bossed around about using his seatbelt. "I'm not familiar with this part of town, Ray. You might have to give me directions on how to return to your apartment."
"No problem. Just take a right two streets down and keep going for a while."
"I take it you know this area well then?"
"I used to live around here. I know it looks run down now, but it used to be a pretty good place."
"Ah, thus the use of your real name when you went to the bar."
"Yeah, I know. I was stupid. I'm not supposed to have my own life while I'm undercover. I should've known better."
"I imagine you get homesick, too, Ray."
"Yeah, sometimes. Still, it doesn't excuse pulling a stunt like this." Ray leaned his head back. "Keep going for sixteen blocks. Then take a right."
"Are you feeling sick?"
"I'm tired, Fraser, but I'll be okay. I used to do this all the time. Been a while though."
"I knew a man once who had a problem with drinking. He lost himself."
"Yes. He said the alcohol made it easier to accept that he didn't know who he was anymore. I didn't know what to say to make it better."
"This guy a friend of yours?"
"Yes. I didn't understand why he'd feel lost. He always seemed so solid, so aware of what was important in life."
"He put up a good front."
Fraser glanced over, puzzled. "I don't understand."
"A front, a good show. He lied, Fraser. He made people think he had it all together, but inside he felt empty."
"But why would he do that?"
"He didn't want pity."
They drove quietly for a few more moments before Fraser spoke quietly. "Is that how you feel, Ray, lost and empty?"
"I don't know why. I just do. I have to admit the drinking doesn't help like it used to. I guess being sober for so long does that." Ray sighed and then frowned as he took in the buildings going by so slowly. "Are we even moving?"
"We're going the posted limit."
"We might as well be walking."
"Now you're exaggerating."
"And you're a lousy driver. Take another right at the next corner."
Fraser followed directions and then picked up speed, but only a few more miles an hour. "I recognize the streets now, Ray. We should be home in a few more minutes."
"Not at this rate."
"Perhaps we should stop at the diner and get something to eat first. The last time I checked, your food supplies were relatively meager."
"I told you before, I'm not hungry."
"When was the last time you ate?"
"Who knows? Who cares? It doesn't matter. If I ate now, I'd puke. Just take me home and then you and Dief can eat whatever you like."
Fraser's lips thinned, the way they did when he bit back what he really wanted to say. Ray ran his hand over his hair and kept his eyes trained to his side of the car. After a few minutes, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Fraser. I'm a little on edge."
"You've got good reason."
"Being forced to undergo a medical review can't be easy for you, not with your history."
"My history? What history?"
Fraser tightened his hands on the wheel and didn't meet Ray's suspicious gaze. "Being a specialist in undercover work carries certain psychological hazards, Ray. You've been wounded in the line of duty several times. Those instances occurred because a colleague blew your cover or betrayed your confidence. That always compounds and complicates the impact of the trauma."
Ray rubbed his mouth and then kept it covered for a few moments, turning his face back toward the window. "You read my file."
"I told you that before."
"I mean my confidential file. Otherwise, you wouldn't know about the betrayal of trust thing."
"Or the Michael Clooney case."
"Ray, it wasn't your fault."
"We're almost to your apartment."
"I said pull the fuck over."
Fraser found the nearest space and stopped the car at the curb. "Ray, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you."
"You had no right."
"I'm your partner."
"Not then, you weren't. If you had been, you'd be dead now."
"You're in no way responsible for your partner's death."
Ray didn't answer, his throat closed over the flood of curses, his mind dizzy with the rush of haunting images. As he got out of the car, Fraser moved to follow. "Don't. Leave me alone, Fraser. I can't deal with this right now."
Fraser stopped, but didn't get back in the car. "Where are you going?"
Ray studied the serious face, the grim lines he put there. "You think you know, but you don't."
"I don't understand."
"That's the point, Fraser. That's the fucking point. You don't understand and never will. Go away. I'm going to walk for a while."
As he turned away, Fraser called to his back. "I'll wait at your place."
"No. Go home."
"I mean it. I want to be alone."
But he didn't mean it, not really, and he knew it wouldn't last long enough to save either of them, not if Clooney had his way.
Ray slumped forward on the shredded couch cushion surveying the mess, his apartment ransacked, furniture overturned and ruined, cabinets emptied, glass everywhere. They'd even destroyed the tank for his pet turtle who now occupied the tub temporarily. Poor little guy was probably wondering what the hell happened. He knew the feeling.
He shook his head once again in disbelief and ran his fingers along the jagged edge of the shattered frame, the picture of him and Stella dancing, holding one another, happy before all the bitterness seeped in.
Swallowing hard, he took a deep breath, his hands shaky, his whole body tense as he remembered the word BITCH spray-painted in bright red on his bedroom wall.
Fucking Clooney. Son of a bitch couldn't leave him the fuck alone, just couldn't let go, couldn't just stay the fuck out of his life.
A sound at the door interrupted his anger. Alert, he reached for his gun, holding it up with both hands, ready. He stood to the side of the door and snapped, "Who is it?"
"It's me, Ray."
Relieved, Ray holstered his gun and opened the door slightly, blocking the view. Fraser studied him with concern. He held a pizza box while Dief waited impatiently to get inside. "Ray, did you know your lock is broken?"
"I've got eyes, Fraser. What are you doing here? I told you I wanted to be alone for a while."
"I was worried. Besides, I needed to return your car. On the way over, I decided to pick up a peace offering."
"A peace offering?"
"It's a Canadian custom. We didn't really part on the best of terms earlier. I feel the need to apologize for overstepping certain boundaries."
"You've got nothing to be sorry for. I should've told you before."
"Perhaps. Even so, I understand why you didn't." Fraser lifted the pizza box. "It's pineapple, your favorite. May I come in?"
Ray leaned his head against the doorjamb. He so didn't want to do this, not now, not with Fraser, but he couldn't see a way around it, not without more lies. Sighing, he reluctantly stepped aside. As soon as Fraser walked in, he stalled. "Oh, dear."
"I'd offer you a chair, but, as you can see, I'm in the middle of redecorating."
Worried, Fraser met his gaze, his blue eyes even more dark. "What happened here, Ray?"
"Some punks broke in and tore up the place. Didn't steal anything. Nothing to take. Hell, they probably did me a favor. I needed to clear out some of this shit a long time ago."
"You're saying vandals did all this?"
Moving across the room, Ray quickly pulled his bedroom door shut. No way did he want Fraser to see that mess. He crossed his arms and then leaned against the wall. "Yeah. It was like this when I got home. My landlady called the cops while I was out. It's no big deal. I've got somebody coming over to fix the lock."
"And you say nothing was stolen?"
"Nope, just trashed."
Fraser put the pizza on the table and took off his hat. He scanned the room, his eyes narrowed with keen observation. "I don't believe this was a random case of vandalism, Ray. This looks very personal. Did your landlady happen to see the perpetrators before she called the police?"
"She saw two thugs, one black, one white. No make and model on the car and no license plate. I wish she'd just left it alone."
"She did her civic duty by calling. Why should she leave it alone?"
Ray moved to the kitchen and got the broom. He began sweeping, keeping his head down. "Waste of time. The guys just broke in, got pissed there was nothing to steal, and took it out on my shit. There's nothing to do about it, Fraser. It happens all the time."
"You're a police officer, Ray. The level of destruction makes the likelihood that this is just a random break in very small. Have you called Lt. Welsh about this?"
"He doesn't need to know."
"What if the break in were aimed at Ray Vecchio and not you?"
Ray continued sweeping and shook his head. "See, that's why I didn't want to say anything, Fraser. You always do this, come up with all kinds of crazy ideas, ideas that don't have anything to do with what's real. You don't have to worry about your old pal Vecchio. This isn't about Vecchio. His cover's safe."
"How do you know that?"
"I just do."
Fraser paused, his voice softer. "What is it you're not telling me, Ray?"
"Ray, the only way you could know for sure that this isn't about Ray Vecchio is to know what it's really about, because you and I both know that this is not just a random break in."
Ray stopped sweeping, but didn't put down the broom. He stood stock still before he found the words. "I can't talk about it."
Fraser frowned and leaned down to pick up the bent wheel of Ray's broken bike. He put it on the table and stepped closer. "This is someone who knows where you live, Ray. This is someone who obviously means you great harm. As a police officer, you know you cannot let this go. Destruction of personal property is a crime, but had you been present, this might have very well escalated into an assault or possibly worse."
"I can take care of myself."
"Under normal circumstances I would agree. However, it's been my experience that when a situation is charged with extremely personal matters, one's judgment often becomes impaired."
"You calling me impaired?"
"If you think you can handle this situation alone, yes."
"I don't think so."
"Well, you wouldn't." Ray propped the broom in the corner and then motioned to a restless Dief to stay put. "There's glass all over, buddy. Don't move any closer."
Fraser shook his head as he talked to the wolf. "Yes, I know. I agree, but you know how stubborn he can be."
Dief woofed in protest. "Yes, I know. I'm doing my best." Fraser turned his attention back to his partner. "Ray, you really need to see reason here. We both feel that you need to tell us what's really going on."
Ray wiped his face in frustration and then sagged down on the damaged sofa, the stuffing sticking out in all directions. His head fell back, his eyes closed. "It's Clooney."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, I'm sure, but I can't prove it."
"What makes you so sure?"
Ray hesitated, the words stuck in his throat. He sat up and then leaned forward, his head down, his voice unsteady. "The whole time I was under, I hated that prick. You ever know someone who just made your skin crawl from the get go?"
"On occasion, yes."
"Well, Clooney was like that. He took to calling me bitch. I hated it, but I was supposed to play the part, so I went along with it."
Fraser's hand touched his shoulder, his fingers squeezing gently. "Went along with what, Ray?"
"You don't want to know, Fraser." Ray pulled away from the touch and stood up, pacing, the rage straining every muscle. "If you read the files, you know what he did. When he found out we were cops, he killed my partner and he nearly killed me. I figured he'd be in prison for life, but it just so happens he's got info the Feds want, so he cut a deal. He's in town to testify next week against his old partner O'Malley, but he's been calling here for the last month."
"Calling? You mean he's been harassing you?"
"Every night at the same time, three A.M."
"Ah. That would explain the phone being out of service."
"I'd had enough."
"Understood. And you think the break in is connected to the harassment?"
"Not much doubt, not when you see this." Ray opened the bedroom door as Fraser got up to look in. Fraser cleared his throat, his face flushed. "Clooney wrote this?"
"He sent his pet thugs to do it, but, yeah, that's Clooney. Typical head games stuff."
"Disturbingly obsessive." Fraser shook his head and then met Ray's reluctant gaze. "You have to report this to Lt. Welsh. This is serious, Ray. It's not something you should try to deal with on your own."
"But I can't prove it. Besides, he's in hiding with the Feds."
Fraser smiled, his confidence filling the room. "You're a detective, Ray, surrounded by other very competent detectives. We'll get the proof. He won't get away with this."
Ray knew he should say no, to tell his friend to forget it, to stay out of it and stay safe, but he couldn't. He swallowed his pride and nodded. "Okay, but you have to be careful. Clooney's crazy. It won't be easy to catch the son of a bitch. The Feds have him protected. I've tried everything I know and it's a no go."
Fraser slapped him on the shoulder, his eyes sparkling. "But you've been trying alone and now you have us."
The wolf barked and Ray could've sworn the damn animal smiled in agreement as he tried to nuzzle his crotch.
"Are you out of your mind?"
"I think the jury's still out on that, Lieutenant."
"Don't get smart with me, Kowalski, or I'll put your ass in a holding cell until you're too old to joke."
Ray crossed his arms and avoided Welsh's glare. "I'm sorry, sir."
"Lieutenant, faulty as his reasoning was, Ray explained his motives quite clearly. The potential for danger being what it is, I can understand his desire to handle this situation without involving others who might be harmed by this despicable criminal."
"Don't take up for him, Constable. He should know better. Clooney's already killed one cop and pretty much got a pass for it, thanks to the Federal dimwits in charge of the investigation. It's not a big step for him to go after Kowalski here. The guy thinks he's untouchable. That's a dangerous mindset for a thug like Clooney."
"I agree. We should contact the Federal officers in charge of Mr. Clooney's case and have them investigate his actions. We should also insist that they monitor him more closely so that the harassment and threats don't continue."
"I plan to do that, Constable, but first I'd like a word with my detective. Alone."
Uneasy, Ray shrugged and smiled weakly while Fraser reluctantly left Welsh's office. As soon as the door closed, he apologized again. "I said I was sorry, sir. You want to kick me in the head, I won't stop ya."
"Have you been drinking?"
Ray kept his head down, not looking up, not wanting to explain. "I'm off duty."
"You didn't answer my question."
"I know, sir. Respectfully, what I do on my own time is none of your business."
"It is when it affects your judgment and, in this case, your safety." Welsh shook his head, moving behind the desk to sit down. "My old man drank, still does."
"Sorry to hear that."
"I'm not telling you to gain sympathy. I'm telling you to warn you. I won't tolerate a drunk in my department. Is that going to be a problem?"
"Good. So is it out of your system?"
"Should be. It'd be a damn shame to feel this bad and not be sober."
"Good. Now, here's what I plan to do. I'm going to call Bob Turner and we're going to get the Feds in here. We'll figure this whole thing out. Meanwhile, I want you to bunk in with Fraser."
"Your place is a crime scene. I've got a team over there right now going over it with a fine tooth comb. I want as much evidence as I can to nail Clooney."
"It's a waste of time. His guys are professionals."
"Even so, we might get lucky. It's worth a shot."
Ray nodded, but stepped closer to the desk, his voice slightly more hushed. "I can't stay with Fraser."
"I know his place is small. I don't know how the guy stands it. Still, I don't want you on your own until we've got this Clooney clown on a leash that'll hold."
"You don't understand."
Ray turned and walked over to the window, his arms still crossed, his head pounding with the king of all hangovers. "He wants to talk."
"Yes, sir. Talk."
"Canadians." Like that explained everything.
"I know. Funny people."
"Still, you're not staying alone." Welsh paused and tilted his head, a small smile creeping to his lips. "You know you could go home with Francesca and spend the next few days with the Vecchios. I doubt if even Clooney could get through that mob. And I'm sure one of them would be more than happy to escort you to your daily sessions with Dr. Reese."
"I never knew you could be such a sadist, sir."
"I'm a cop. I do what works. So, Detective, what's it going to be?"
"Not if I can help it."
Ray returned to the desk, his voice with a more desperate edge. "Please, Lieutenant, I'm serious here. Just let me rent a room or something."
"He scares you that much, huh?"
Turning, Ray checked out his partner standing patiently in the next room, hat in hand, wolf at his feet. "You've got no idea."
"He looks so harmless."
"So does a baby tiger before it eats your face off. Look, I swear, I'll go straight to this safe place I know and stay there."
Welsh shook his head, the solemn expression filled with a compassion Ray rarely saw. "Bite the bullet, Kowalski. You'll be safer with Fraser. We both know he'd die to protect you."
"That's what I'm afraid of, sir. I don't want another man to die like that."
"Turn that around, Detective. How do you think he'd handle it if something happened to you, something he thought he could've prevented?"
Ray swallowed hard, knowing the answer, the pain of the truth stabbing at his chest. "Not good."
"Right. So maybe the two of you working together might keep both of you alive. How about we try that before we worry too much about losing another partner, okay?"
Reluctantly, Ray nodded. "Okay, sir. Thanks."
"Go get some sleep, Kowalski. You look like hell." Before he turned to leave, Welsh added, "And no more drinking, okay?"
"Glad to hear it." Hesitating, Welsh rubbed his jaw, his expression suddenly more grim. "I probably shouldn't say this, but I've got a bad feeling about all this. Be on your toes and watch your back. Better yet, be sure to let your partner watch your back and you watch his."
Ray didn't answer, just opened the door and walked out. He knew without a doubt that watching Fraser's backside wasn't the problem. Keeping them both safe, that was something else.
"You part Polish or what?"
"I'm pretty sure I'm not, Ray. Genealogy was one of my grandmother's interests along with her work in the library and doing fine scrimshaw and she never once mentioned it."
Ray leaned forward as he sat at the Consulate's kitchen table. "I just meant, you act like a Polish mom, always trying to feed me."
"Ah. Understood." Fraser stirred the vegetable soup and shrugged. "Still, you haven't eaten all day, Ray. You'll feel much better if you at least have one meal before retiring."
"You always like this?"
"You know, domestic."
"You consider cooking domestic?"
"And cleaning and taking care of everyone like a mother hen. You should've gotten married, Fraser, had kids. I'll bet you'd make a great dad." Fraser tensed and stayed quiet, his back to Ray. "Did I say something wrong?"
"Not at all."
Ray tapped the table with the spoon nervously. A silent Fraser just didn't seem right. "Hey, that smells good. What is it anyway, muskrat stew or something?"
"Nothing quite so exotic. It's a simple beef stock with a variety of vegetables and pasta that I hope you'll like."
"The beef part sounds good." Maybe he could slip Dief the veggies under the table. The wolf ate almost anything when he couldn't bum doughnuts or pizza.
Fraser served up two bowls of soup and then sat down at the end of the table next to Ray. Instead of eating, he spoke softly. "I thought about having children once."
"Yes, as I'm sure you did at one point in your marriage."
Ray shifted uneasily. "Well, you know, Stella, the career, it just didn't work out."
"You're still young enough to try again with someone else."
Ray didn't meet Fraser's eyes, just turned in his chair and looked back down the hallway. "I could sleep in the reception room. No need to crowd in. A couple of blankets and a pillow and I'm good to go."
"You're changing the subject."
"Worth a try."
"You'd be an excellent father."
"I don't see me being a dad, Fraser. It took me a while to accept that."
"Why do you feel the need to accept it?"
"I just do." Ray met Fraser's serious gaze. "What about you? You think about having kids with that Victoria person?"
Fraser smiled sadly. "At one time, yes, but I doubt Victoria ever had the same dreams of family and future bliss that I did."
"Then she was crazy."
"Or more realistic."
"Nothing wrong with having dreams, Fraser. Nothing wrong with wanting someone to love you, to make a life with you, to make that kind of commitment no matter what kind of baggage you're carrying. I think that's a good thing to dream about."
"You're quite the romantic, Ray."
Ray sat up straighter and snorted. "Divorce killed all that. I'm just saying that it's not such a bad thing to want more than what you've got when it comes to a relationship. You find the right woman, you take your shot."
"Finding the right person's not always so easy, Ray. Society sometimes restricts the selection of the person most suited for one's romantic desires."
The hair on the back of his neck prickled. "We talking about generalities here, Fraser, or is there someone in particular you think society would kick your ass about?"
"Both I should think."
Ray flushed and stood up, walking to the back door and staring out. He rattled and checked the lock as his gut clenched, his heartbeat more rapid. "Is it the Ice Queen? I know she's a little older than you and she's your boss, but it's not like you're a kid or anything."
Fraser shook his head. "Being obtuse doesn't suit you, Ray. You know what I'm saying, even if perhaps, I'm saying it poorly."
Busted, Ray sighed. "Okay then, who is he?"
Fraser didn't hesitate at all. "You."
Ray turned, the single word sucker punching his heart. "Me?"
"I apologize for the timing, Ray, but after what you said earlier today, I felt obligated to make my feelings more plain."
Sitting back down, Ray stayed at the other end of the table, working like hell to keep his head clear enough to keep up his end of the conversation. "I said a lot of things. Which thing are we talking about?"
"You said you didn't think that I'd still be your friend when Ray Vecchio returned. Not only do I want to continue to be your friend, but I hope to be much more."
Ray closed his eyes, the world so much wider and more wild than before. "God, Fraser, you sure pick your moments."
They both stayed quiet a few more seconds before Fraser stood up and came to sit next to his partner. "Ray, if this is too much for you, we don't have to discuss it. We don't ever have to bring up the subject again. I just couldn't let you think that the only reason I'm your friend is because of some undercover assignment. I love you. You're my partner and my best friend, someone with whom I want to spend my whole life regardless of the societal bias against such a union."
Ray lifted his head and met intense blue eyes he could drown in. "You know that the timing's all wrong for this, right?"
"And you know I've never been with anyone but Stella. I mean, I've been with other people, just not been with, been with, not like I was with her."
"I know. In fact, your devotion to her in spite of your divorce has been rather daunting."
"Daunted the hell out of me, too. I talk a good game, but I really don't have a lot of experience." He closed his eyes, not wanting to think of those other times, the times he had no choice, the times he never wanted to think about again.
"I know, Ray. That doesn't bother me."
Ray took Fraser's heavier hand and held it, his thumb rubbing the knuckles, his partner's grip just as strong as his own if not stronger. "You got any idea of how scary this is?"
"Not as scary as the idea of you believing I don't care about you, Ray."
Blinking away the sting of tears, Ray shook his head. "I can't do this now. I just can't."
As Fraser tried to pull away, Ray held his hand fast. "That doesn't mean I don't love you. I do."
"You love me?"
"Yeah. It sort of sneaked up on me, but, yeah, I do. I just can't do all the other stuff that goes with that right now."
"Are you talking about sex?"
Heat burned his face. "Might be."
"No need to worry about that. I'm very patient, Ray. I'll wait as long as you need me to wait before we pursue any physical relationship. However, I do like the idea that we might do that at some point in the future."
"You do, huh?"
"Very much so, yes."
Ray chuckled at the sudden huskiness of his partner's voice. "You thought about it a lot then?"
"More times than would be polite to mention." Fraser hooked the back of Ray's neck and drew him closer, his warm breath on Ray's cheek. "I love you, Ray. You had the right to know that. I was tired of keeping it a secret."
The word secret made Ray shudder. As he pulled back, he didn't miss the hurt in Fraser's eyes. "It's not you. I just can't do this right now. I can't. I'm sorry."
"It's okay, Ray. I understand. The idea of having a romantic relationship with your male partner must be very strange to you. I'd be surprised if you didn't have some reservations."
"You think I'm antsy about this because you're a guy?"
"Well, maybe, a little, but that's not the whole picture, not even close." Ray stood up and paced the room, his hand running through his hair over and over. "This whole Clooney mess has me all turned around. I'm not fit to be with anybody, least of all somebody like you."
"Don't take this the wrong way, Fraser, but you're smart and good looking, good looking as in an I can't believe a guy looks that good in real life kind of way. It's like Stella all over again, only wearing a uniform. Hooking up with me can only lead to getting hurt and I don't want that. I hate the idea of you getting hurt because of me."
"I'm not that good looking."
Ray smiled at his partner's protest. "You could be on the cover of all those romance novels Francesca reads, you know the ones that have the guy standing there looking all studly and ruggedly handsome. Yeah, Fraser, you're good looking and you know it. You just don't make a big deal about it, which is one of the things I like most about you. You don't give a shit about stuff like that."
"You're ruggedly handsome, too, Ray."
Ray ignored the comment, afraid to believe it, afraid to even think about how he might look to Fraser. "The point is, I don't want you to get hurt because you've lost your mind and decided to go native, trying out the local flavor here in Chicago."
Shaking his head, Fraser stood up and eased in closer, not touching and keeping his voice soft. "I appreciate your concern for my feelings, Ray, but it would hurt a lot more if I couldn't hook you."
"You mean hook up?"
"Right you are, hook up. Not hooking up would be far more difficult than anything I could imagine."
Against his better judgment, Ray cupped his face lightly, the stubble warm against his palm. "You got it bad, huh?"
"If you mean, I love you beyond reason, yes, Ray, I've got it very bad, the baddest."
Ray chuckled under his breath and leaned in, his lips brushing Fraser's. "Poor schmuck."
Fraser's tongue tip licked Ray's mouth before he kissed him, the touch electric and warm. Ray tingled all the way down to his toe tips as Fraser pulled back. "Lucky schmuck seems more fitting, Ray."
Ray laughed and hugged him, his face resting on his shoulder. Arms squeezed him tightly and he relaxed within the loving embrace. "Yeah, Fraser, that would be my new name, Lucky Schmuck Kowalski. At least it beats the hell out of Stanley."
Fraser petted back the soft blond hair from Ray's forehead, amazed at its silky texture, so different from what he'd expected. He loved touching it, loved touching Ray.
"You know, I used to watch your mother sleep in the very same fashion. Of course, in those days we had campfires instead of these infernal light bulbs, but all the same, it was a brilliant view." He paused and sighed lightly. "Seems like those quiet times are the ones I remember the most fondly."
Fraser didn't look up, but kept his voice low. "I'm worried about him, Dad."
"Doesn't take a Mountie to see that, Son."
"He's exhausted and his eating habits are atrocious."
"He is a bit scrawny. He's got a sound build though. Just needs some meat on his bones. Take him up North and feed him. Fatten him up or he'll never survive the winter."
"I don't think Ray has any intention of going to Canada even for me, and I won't leave him. I can't."
"This whole nasty business has been hard on him, Benton. You should take him to the cabin for a while. The fresh air and hard work will do you both a world of good."
Fraser turned and met his father's concerned gaze. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that the man who's intent on harming the Yank isn't going to give up easily and fighting that level of evil takes it out of a man. He's going to need a strong shoulder. The best part of a partnership is the support that each gives the other. Your mother and I understood that. She was a wonderful woman. Marrying her was the best thing I ever did, bar none."
Fraser smiled. "Is this your way of giving us your blessing?"
"Well, that goes without saying, Son, and I can't claim to be surprised. You've been mooning over the Yank ever since you first saw him."
"Mooning? I most certainly have not been mooning."
"You most certainly have. No point in denying it. It's been downright embarrassing how you make eyes at the man, but being dead, I can't really say much."
"No, you most assuredly cannot. However, I do appreciate that this can't be easy for you."
"Love is nothing new, Son. I'm just glad you finally came to your senses and stopped acting like some lovesick otter. No criticism intended, but your romantic choices in the past have, shall we say, been unfortunate."
"Thank you for that. Tact was never your strong suit."
"And following your heart has never been yours. Now, I'm not saying to make it a regular practice, Son. For a Mountie that could be a disastrous course. Lord knows the villains abound who can turn out the sob stories to persuade us toward more lenient results. Still, when one finds the right partner, you've just got to take a chance and hope the stew doesn't burn before you experience the true flavor."
Before Fraser could reply, Ray groaned in his sleep and rolled over on the narrow cot. His eyelids fluttered. "Who's that?"
Fraser frowned. "It's me, Ray."
"No, I mean the guy you were just talking to."
"You were dreaming."
Ray took a couple of deep breaths, his words still thick and sleepy. "Weird. Seemed real."
"Go back to sleep. Everything's fine."
Reaching out, Ray took Fraser's hand in his and squeezed it. He kept his eyes closed, trying to keep from fully waking up. "You need to get some sleep, too."
"I will. Dief will stand guard in just a little bit." With a reassuring kiss to his temple, Fraser whispered, "I love you, Ray. Rest easy."
Ray didn't answer, his breathing evening out, his hand relaxed. Fraser put it back under the cover and sat back, his mind pondering why Ray might be able to hear his father now when he never could before. The word family came to mind. He smiled at the comfort of that thought as he ruffled Diefenbaker's fur and sent him to the front door to stand watch for the rest of the night.
The persistent pounding at his temples woke him up slowly, the nausea not far behind. Ray groaned and turned over on the cot, pulling the covers closer to his neck before an eager, wet tongue licked his face.
"Jeez, Dief. Stop with the slobber, okay?"
The wolf barked and licked him one more time for good measure, but then sat there and stared in that annoying wolf way. Sighing, Ray opened his eyes wider and then quickly closed them again. "God, my head."
Dief nudged his shoulder and Ray surrendered. He sat up slowly and looked around. "Fraser?"
Alarmed at no immediate response, he reached for his jeans and stopped. "Fraser, where the hell are my clothes?"
The office door opened and Fraser stepped in. "Good morning, Ray."
"My clothes are gone."
"I took the liberty of washing and ironing your things, Ray. We didn't have the opportunity to get a fresh outfit from your apartment, so I thought it the best option."
"You washed and ironed my stuff, even my T-shirt?"
"Yes, I did."
"You don't iron T-shirts, Fraser?"
"You just don't." Ray ran a hand through his wild hair, his headache more intense than before.
"I don't see why such an important item of your attire should be excluded, but I'll certainly remember it for future reference. As for the rest of your things, I felt uncomfortable relieving you of your undergarments. I could wash those now or, I suppose, you could go guerilla."
"Guerilla? You mean commando?"
Ray laughed and then grabbed his head. "You're a freak."
"Understood. Would you like some willow bark tea with a bit of fennel? I've read that it's good for relieving the symptoms of overindulgence."
"I just want coffee and my clothes."
"I'm fixing breakfast."
"I don't want any breakfast. Just the coffee."
"Don't start. Just get me my clothes so we can go see Welsh." Fraser didn't respond, just stood quietly and stared. "What?"
"You were restless last night."
"What kind of dreams?"
"Well, there was this one where this old guy with a fur hat kept showing me all around Canada. Funny thing though, it wasn't really that cold walking in the snow up to my ass. The really strange part was he reminded me of you."
Fraser tensed. "How so?"
"Just the way he talked, all proper, with big words and telling stories about the caribou and catching scumbags. He just sounded like a Mountie, is all. Weird, huh?"
Fraser's expression softened, but he didn't answer the question. "I'll get your clothes, Ray."
As he turned to go, Ray added, "Fraser?"
"You ever think about going back?"
"So you miss it a lot, huh?"
Fraser sighed and didn't meet his eyes. "Ray, I...it's not something...I mean to say, it's hard to explain how I miss it."
"Why? You get homesick. I get that. I was thinking maybe when this whole deal with Clooney's over, we could go up and see your old man's cabin or something. In my dream it seemed kind of nice."
"You saw my father's cabin in your dreams?"
"Like I said, weird dreams."
"Apparently." Fraser's face and voice brightened, his blue eyes sparkling. "Still, I do have several weeks of leave time accumulated. If you're serious, I'm sure a visit could be arranged. It is rather a remote area though. Are you sure you'd want to go that far north?"
"If you're there, yeah, I'm sure."
Fraser smiled, his face more radiant than Ray could remember for a while. "Well, then, I'll most certainly look into it."
"You do that. Meanwhile, I need my clothes. Turnbull will be here in a minute and I don't want to give the guy too big a thrill."
Fraser chuckled as he headed off to the kitchen. "No, Ray, we certainly wouldn't want that."
Puzzled by the playful tone, Ray stood up and wrapped himself in the blanket as he followed behind Fraser. "Okay, what's that supposed to mean?"
"Don't make out you don't get what I'm asking. What's up with Turnbull?"
Fraser flushed and shook his head. "No, Ray, it would be unfair of me to say anything."
"About Turnbull's feelings toward you."
"Feelings? What kind of feelings?"
Fraser picked up the freshly pressed jeans from the ironing board and handed them to Ray. "I shouldn't."
"Shouldn't what? Come on, Fraser, that's not buddies. Spill."
"I suspect Turnbull is quite smitten with a certain Chicago detective who spends time here."
"Turnbull? Turnbull likes me?"
"I'm afraid so, Ray. One might say he's even besotted, though I find it difficult to find fault at such a condition."
Ray draped the blanket over the chair and pulled on his jeans, noting the slight flair of Fraser's nostrils as he dressed. He reached over for his T-shirt and shook his head as he teased. "God, you Canadians. Who knew you liked Yankees so much."
"And what about Yankees, Ray? Do you like Canadians?"
"You're a funny people, Fraser, but, yeah, I have to admit, I kind of like Canadians, well, except for the Ice Queen." Ray smoothed down his Bulls T-shirt and shrugged. "Hey, it doesn't look half bad ironed."
"I'm glad. Coffee, Ray?"
"Sure." As Ray sat down at the table, Fraser handed him a glass of water and two aspirin before pouring the coffee. "Thanks." He took the pills gratefully and then drank the water straight down. As he reached for the coffee, the phone rang.
Fraser answered in his formal tone. "Canadian Consulate. Constable Fraser here. How may I assist you?"
Ray held the cup between two hands as he noted his partner's sudden stiffness. He listened to the short, one-sided conversation and then waited in dread for Fraser to hang up and explain. "What's going on?"
Fraser frowned and licked his bottom lip. "I'm afraid it's bad news."
"I kind of got that. Was that Welsh?"
"Yes. It seems Michael Clooney is no longer in custody."
"Fuck." For once Fraser didn't call him on his language. "What the hell happened?"
"I'm afraid I don't have all the details. I do know that Lt. Welsh wants us in his office right away and that one of the Federal officers watching Clooney is dead and the other missing."
"Oh, God. Not again." Ray closed his eyes, the past rising up like a screeching shadow. He moved to the sink just fast enough to retch and then sink down, his arms clutching his upraised knees.
Fraser kneeled beside him, his hand on his back, his voice low. "It's okay, Ray. It's not you. You're safe."
Words choked. "You don't know what it's like knowing."
"Knowing what the fuck he's going to do."
Fraser paused and then squeezed his shoulder gently. "Do you know where he'll take the other agent?"
"I just know where he took me." He closed his eyes, unable to push away the wall of pain flooding over him. The memories poured in, the overwhelming fear, the knowledge that it could happen again.
"Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray."
The voice brought him back, just barely. "What?"
"Did he take you where the officers found you before?"
"No." Ray dropped his face to his hands, closing his eyes. "He's got this place out in the country. It's not where he stays, but it's where he goes when he's got some kind of special thing goin'."
"That wasn't in your notes."
"Ray, we need to tell Welsh and Turner where to go. We might be able to save this other man's life and recapture Clooney."
Ray shook his head. "It's probably too late, but Turner knows."
"Captain Turner is aware of the location?"
"Yeah." Air thinned and Ray leaned his head back, breathing faster, his lungs heavy and too tight. "God, I can't breathe."
A firm hand stroked his chest as another massaged the back of his neck. "Just relax, Ray. You're safe. I'm here."
Ray didn't bother with words, just kept gasping for air, praying that whoever found Clooney would just shoot the son of a bitch in the head. He didn't even have to be there, just shoot the bastard and let him fucking bleed into the earth, let his guts rot away and his brain splatter all over the damn planet.
And he still couldn't catch his breath.
"Better?" Ray took the water and nodded, his hands still shaky. "Ray, I called Lt. Welsh. He's sending a car."
"I can drive."
Fraser glanced away briefly, but then met his eyes. "That's the other thing."
"What other thing?"
"Your vehicle has been vandalized."
"He trashed my car? Shit."
"I'm sorry, Ray. I know how much your car means to you. I assure you, it's nothing permanent. A paint job and tires and it should look quite refurbished. Seems he wanted to send a message rather than actually destroy the engine or other vital systems."
"He knew where I was the whole time."
"Quite likely, yes."
"Son of a bitch."
"Ray, I know this isn't easy, and I don't mean to pry, but there seems to be quite a bit about this case that's not in the official file."
"I'm not talking about that."
"Don't keep saying that."
"And don't fucking be sorry. It's not your fault I can't talk about all this. It's not you, Fraser. It's me. I tried to explain last night, but no, you just wanted to act like I'm not fucked up, like I can just have a decent relationship like a normal person. I can't."
Fraser sat down in the chair beside him, his voice soft. "Normal isn't something I ever expected from you, Ray. Then again, as you're more than willing to point out, I'm not exactly normal, either."
"You're missing the point."
"I don't think so. I love you. That will never change."
"St. Fraser, Mountie of the hopeless causes."
"I'm not Catholic, Ray."
Ray groaned and dropped his head to the table, resting it on his folded arms. "I just want this shit to be over."
"I know that. I wish there were something more I could do to make it easier for you. I find myself at a loss to know what that is."
Ray's voice shook as he reached out and took Fraser's hand. "Just be here."
"Consider it done." Fraser squeezed his hand in return and then ruffled Ray's hair playfully. "Now, you should probably take care of some personal hygiene before we go to the station."
"You saying my breath stinks?"
"That, and your hair, well, it could use some attention as well. Flat doesn't suit you."
"You like me spiky, huh?"
Fraser flushed, his voice lowered to a whisper as he leaned in. "I'd like you bald, Ray, but, yes, I do like your hair when it's more, shall we say, aggressive. It matches your personality."
Ray wanted to kiss him, but sat up straight instead. "Got a spare toothbrush and some toothpaste?"
"Certainly. We have a guest package for our visitors."
"Guess I qualify."
Fraser got up and retrieved a small package of toiletries. "Here. Would you like some more aspirin?"
"I took some."
"But you didn't keep them down."
"True. Sure." Ray took the offered pills and downed them with some water. He handed the glass back to Fraser. "We got any more coffee?"
"Ray, you really should eat something."
Shaking his head, Ray took the package, and headed to the bathroom. "If the car shows up, tell'em I'll be out in a minute."
Clicking the door shut behind him, Ray leaned back against it and closed his eyes. God, how he hated Clooney, fucking hated how the man could still make him feel like shit after all this time. Swallowing hard, he set his jaw and turned toward the mirror, avoiding his reflection when he could. He rubbed his face, the stubble burning his hands, but he didn't take time to bother with shaving. Quickly, he wet his hair and ran his hand through it, making it stand up and pay attention. It should dry that way if he could keep from fiddling with it.
Brushing his teeth, Ray nearly gagged at the sudden flash of images, the intrusion of sensations that took over. Rough hands held him down, ropes wrapping his wrists and ankles. Oily sweat rubbed against his skin, burning, his body bruised and stretched to its limit.
He choked and sputtered, spitting out the paste. He rinsed his mouth and then washed his face and hands a lot more times than he needed. Didn't seem to matter how many times he used soap and water, the dirt never came off. The stink he carried for being a cop made his stomach turn. The old man knew the score. Cops dealt with shit on a daily basis and there was no way to get the stench off once a guy wallowed in it.
Extending his arms, he leaned against the sink and shut his eyes. "Get the fuck out of my head, asshole."
The knock at the door startled him. "Ray?"
"I'm fine. Just give me a minute."
"The car's here. I've got your jacket and weapons."
His guns. Oh, yeah, he needed his guns, especially if Clooney showed his ugly face anywhere close enough to aim a bullet through his thick skull.
"You look like shit, Kowalski."
"Thank you, Captain. Nice to see you again, too." Ray didn't smile, just kept his voice steady, grateful for years of practice on the tough streets of Chicago. "Where do we stand with Clooney?"
Turner frowned and took a deep breath. "The Feds are running around, ready to pop the guy if they catch him. Can't say I'd cry if that happened. The guy must be crazier than we thought."
"You think they might put his ass in prison now, sir?"
Welsh interrupted before Turner could bother to answer. "They found the other agent dead. We didn't get there in time to stop it." Welsh rubbed his mouth and paused, his voice choked with emotion. "Son of a bitch raped the poor guy and then shot him in the head."
Ray sank down on the couch, his face hot, his gut knotted. He fought down the urge to throw up again. He couldn't make himself speak, not without wanting to kick out the office windows first.
Fraser stepped closer, but didn't touch him, his voice unusually tight. "Do we have any idea about what Clooney might do next?"
Welsh looked over at Ray. "My guess is he's going to come after Kowalski here. The man doesn't seem to care that there's a nationwide manhunt going down."
"We've got both the Feds and the locals working on this around the clock, Ray." Turner fisted his hands, his jaw clenched. "But Welsh is right. I figure he's coming after you next. Got to. You're the one who got away last time. You're the one man he wants to suffer before he goes so far underground, we'll never find his sorry ass. In his head, you're the one who started this whole mess by living when you were supposed to be dead."
Ray lifted his head, meeting the dark eyes, the idea sparking between them at the same time. "You can use me as bait."
"Ray, no. That's far too dangerous."
Welsh supported that position. "The Constable is right. We'll get this guy, but there's no way I'm putting you at risk any more than we have to. You've been through enough with this scumbag. There's no way."
Turner shook his head, but kept his eyes trained on Ray. "No, Lieutenant. I think if Ray here thinks he can lure Clooney in, we should let him try."
"With all due respect, sir, that's not a good idea. For one thing, he's on restricted duty. For another, it's a shitty idea."
"I have to agree with Lt. Welsh. You of all people know what Detective Kowalski went through, being assaulted and losing his partner. You know what a profound effect that's had on his life. Surely, you can't ask him to put himself in that kind of danger again."
"He's not asking, Fraser. I'm offering. I want to get this asshole, get it over with. The best defense is a good offense. I can't just sit around and wait for him to come after me again. Don't ask me to do that. I've got to do something."
"You will do something, Ray. You'll let us keep you safe while a whole country full of police officers and federal agents hunt down this fugitive. You don't need to do this. You've got nothing to prove."
Before Ray could answer, Turner piped in. "I hate to say this, but they're right, Ray. I'm sorry. I know that's not what you want to hear, but it's the truth."
"You don't think I can handle him."
"That's not the issue. The thing is, I need you alive. When we catch this prick, the old charges will be added on. You'll need to testify. You can't do that if you're dead or too fucked up to handle what's going to come out."
The whole room stilled at the unspoken meaning behind the words.
Ray leaned forward, his trembling hands together, his head down. "He's killed three cops, Captain. He tired to kill me. The rest, well, the rest doesn't really matter much anymore."
"Yeah, Ray, you keep telling yourself that." Turner moved to Welsh's desk. "There's a safe house I can put him in. You want to handle the security or do you want me to do it?"
"I'll do it. I've got plenty of volunteers." Welsh motioned at Fraser. "And I've gotten permission from Constable Fraser's boss, Inspector Thatcher, to use all the Mountie power we need."
"That's good then. I'll go set it up and coordinate with the Feds. Shouldn't take more than a couple of hours."
"Fine. I'll watch over him until then."
Turner moved to the door and stopped. "We'll get this prick, Ray."
As soon as the captain left, Ray sat back, his arms crossed, holding his insides together. Welsh cleared his throat. "I hate to bring this up, but you've still got that thing with Dr. Reese. I called him and let him know what was going on, but he insisted that you keep the appointment."
"You're kidding. Come on, Lieutenant, please tell me you're kidding."
"Seems Dr. Reese has this theory about how when a detective is already suffering from stress, that a situation like this can only make it worse. He thought you might need to talk about it."
"I don't believe this. I mean, I really don't fucking believe this. Sir, please, I don't need to talk about any of this right now. I'm good, honest."
"Good? Seen a mirror recently, Detective?" Welsh nodded to Fraser. "Constable, may I assume you'll take charge here, make sure he goes where he's supposed to and doesn't pull any foolhardy shenanigans?"
"Absolutely, sir. You can rely on me."
"Now, Ray, the Lieutenant only has your best interests at heart."
"I'm talking about you, Fraser. You're taking sides again."
Fraser sat down on the couch beside him, his hand on his shoulder. "I'm on your side, Ray. I always will be."
Ray wanted to jerk away, but didn't. Fatigue made his head and tongue way too heavy. Instead, he just closed his eyes and waited to be jostled and led out to the car by the Mountie who kept loving him no matter what the fuck happened.
Ray stared at Reese who just smiled back with that more patient than God look that drove Ray really crazy. He got up and circled the office, his body tense, his words flying out. "I need to get out there, pound the pavement, find out what's what. Clooney's out there and I know I can find him. I mean, I know the guy, know his habits, where he hangs out. I could get this son of a bitch if people would just stop treating me like I'm some kind of whack job."
"Do you really think you've got a better chance of finding him than the FBI and the whole Chicago police force?"
"I know that sounds snooty, like I think I'm better than anybody else. That's not it, not it at all. It's just, I know how this guy thinks. Besides, he wants me dead. I think if I can lure him out, I can nail him."
"I take it the police have said no to that plan?"
"But I could do it. I know I could." Ray shook his head and then leaned back against the wall, his arms crossed. "But they won't even let me piss by myself. Might as well be in prison, trapped in a cage. Might as well chain me to the fucking wall here." He suddenly slammed his fist into the wall behind him and then closed his eyes, his mind swimming in the images of being powerless and gagging.
He stayed silent for several long moments before he finally answered. "What?"
"Tell me how you're feeling right now."
Ray laughed, first lightly and then a big belly laugh that just kept coming. He couldn't stop himself even as he slid down to the floor. What a stupid ass question, such a typical shrink question, a question he sure as shit didn't want to answer. It took forever to control himself, to make himself quit, to make the whole deal seem real again. He swallowed hard, his voice shaky. "How do you think I feel?" He ran his hand through his hair and rested his chin on his upraised knees. "I think I'm going crazy."
"I think you're just frustrated and angry, maybe a little scared."
"You don't think I'm crazy?"
"Do you feel crazy?"
"What does that mean to you, to feel crazy?"
Ray shrugged. "I don't know, weird, like I don't have any control over my life anymore, like people think I'm losing it, like when I freak at little things sometimes. Or people try to be nice and I get suspicious, like what do they fucking want, because everybody's got to want something, right? Can't just want to be nice, not to Ray Kowalski or Ray Vecchio, whatever. And I jump at little noises, have weird dreams, can't eat or sleep right half the time. I get so pissed off at stupid shit, stuff that doesn't even matter. Everything seems too closed in, too wide open, too everything. Like I'm crawling out of my skin, all jumpy, not able to settle down and just be peaceful like Fraser."
Ray paused, not sure if he could even say it out loud, say it and not be blasted by a bolt of lightning. "And I love the wrong people. I loved Stella, God, how I loved Stella, but she left me, left me like our life together didn't even matter. Said I was too needy, too clingy, not enough ambition. And now I think I love somebody else, somebody I shouldn't love because it'll be rough on both of us if I do, but I do, I really do love him." Ray lifted his head and met the brown eyes. "That doesn't sound crazy?"
"Confused, maybe, a little self-defeatist, but, no, not crazy."
"Confused? Yeah, that about covers it. I'm confused about a lot of shit."
"So maybe we should talk about that."
"I thought I just did."
"You listed a lot of feelings, Ray. I think we need to go through them one at a time."
"God. I don't think I can do that."
"I think you pretty much have to. Where would you like to start?"
"I don't know. I don't even want to fucking do this."
"Well, you could start by getting up and moving to the chair or you could stay on the floor, whatever's more comfortable."
"A bed of nails sounds about right."
"Then why don't we start with this person you say you've fallen in love with. You were married to a woman, but now you're attracted to a man. Tell me about that."
"No. Not going to happen. I just can't. Not yet."
"All right. Tell me about those 'little things' you mentioned that freak you out. Can you give me an example?"
"Nothing's stupid if it bothers you, Ray. You need to trust me."
Ray snorted and cracked his neck before he stood up and paced. "That's another thing. I don't trust easy. It's hard to say all this to a stranger."
"Everything you say here is confidential."
"Not really. You write a report and somebody else reads it. That's not private, not even close."
"I write a report of recommendations, not details. My notes and personal records are privileged and protected. No one has to know the specifics of what you tell me, just the general diagnosis and what I think is the best course of treatment, if any."
Ray settled in the chair, hunched over, his hands moving with his words. "This ain't brain surgery, Doc. It's all subjective. You hear me say stuff and then tell me I need therapy, counseling, or who the fuck knows. Someone else might think different. Bottom line, I have to trust my own instincts, go with my gut, and my gut says I don't want to waste time talking about all this shit. None of it matters. I just want to go out there and get rid of Clooney and get back to my job, do what I'm good at. That's the only thing that's going to make it all better, make me feel like I've got some kind of control again."
Reese sat forward and put his hands together on the desk. "Before you became a cop, what steps did you have to go through?"
"I had to go to the academy, learn the ropes, see how others did the job."
"And now you've been hurt on the job. Now you've got some other steps to go through if you want to keep working. I understand you don't want to talk about your problems. That's not uncommon. However, you can't ignore them, either."
"Only because you won't let me. I can do the job, better than just about anybody out there. I think I've proven that, got the medals, got the commendations. Wanna buy a T-shirt? I don't need all this talking about it bullshit. I just don't get why I have to be here."
"Ever heard of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?"
"Maybe." Ray shifted uneasily. "What's that got to do with me?"
"Do you have any idea what the symptoms are?"
"What difference does it make? It's got nothing to do with me."
"Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has everything to do with you, Detective. It explains a lot of your behavior."
Ray came out of the chair, shaking his head and protesting. "I thought you said I wasn't crazy."
"You're not. You might feel like it sometimes. PTSD is like that. The presentation isn't always the same, but you exhibit some classic symptoms. The irritability, anger, inability to sleep or eat, freaking out at little things, as you call it, feeling out of control, difficulty in relationships and with trust, sexual confusion."
"Wait a minute, hold up. I'm not sexually confused."
"You were married to a woman with whom you base your entire sexual history. Now you say you love a man. I'd call that sexual confusion. It doesn't mean the feelings you have for this person aren't real, but they might cause you to feel anxious and even more frustrated. That's especially true in the police world where gay relationships aren't easily accepted. What's important is that you learn to accept that part of your sexuality, if that's what you really want in a romantic relationship."
Ray stood very still and closed his eyes. He wiped his face with both hands before he found his voice again. "So you think that's what's causing me to act like I've been acting, like I'm slipping gears because of this postywhatever?"
"With your history, I'd say it's highly likely."
"What do we do about it?"
"Talk? Just talk?"
"Sometimes it helps to do behavior modification."
"Modification. It has to do with reinforcing the positive rather than the negative behaviors. It's like the homework I talked about, making goals and lists, trying to think about what you can do when you panic or feel overwhelmed by strong emotions."
"It can be."
"And this talking and behavior stuff works for other people?"
"In my experience working with cops, yes, it works more than it doesn't if the person really works at it."
"For how long?"
"As long as it takes."
Reese sat back, his face still calm, but more serious. "It's never the same for two people. I will tell you that sometimes the feelings the sessions stir up are very volatile."
"Volatile? Hell, if I got any more volatile, I'd fucking explode."
"That's why we need to talk, to avoid uncontrolled expression. I'd like to think that working with me will make your life better, more calm. It's not just about getting you back on the job. It's about making you feel better about yourself and your life as a whole."
Ray covered his mouth and then sagged back down in the chair. "But I need to work. If I do what you say, come here, do the goals and stuff, can I get back to the streets?"
Reese shrugged, noncommittal. "I can't promise, but if we do this and I think you're really trying, I don't see why not. You'll need to be committed to the process."
"Hell, that's better than being committed for real, right?"
"Plain talk here, Detective. You bullshit me, and I'll yank you off duty completely, no desk, no streets, just medical leave. Right now you're on a desk until my final evaluation. You might be off restrictions by next week if you're cooperative. No mind games, no lies, just working on getting better." Reese paused, his voice suddenly more forceful. "And it matters to me because I have to be convinced you're not going to walk into a bullet or blow somebody away because you've had a bad day."
Throat dry, Ray wished like hell he could just walk away, be a real cop again, a cop who didn't have to jump through so many fucking hoops. Resolved to finish faster, he nodded. "Listen, I'll do what I have to, but I can do plain talk, too. Hell, that's my lingo. I got some things that are off limits, things I won't talk about, things I'm not ready to talk about. I gotta know that it's okay to say no."
"That's fair. Up to a point."
"Why up to a point? Why can't I have some say in what we talk about?"
"You do have some say, Ray, but sometimes I'll need to push you when I think holding back keeps you from being able to move forward."
"So what you're saying is, I can say no, but you're going to keep pushing me anyway, pushing me until kicking you in the head feels better than keeping my badge."
"Let's hope it doesn't come to that. You're a tough guy, I can see that. I won't push harder than I think you can handle. But you need to know, Ray, that this is an ongoing process, not a few sessions, a pat on the back, and it's over. PTSD is a chronic condition."
"Makes me all twitchy to think about. Couldn't I just box a few rounds, get it out of my system?"
Reese shrugged and sat back, his face even more serious. "Box all you want, but you're going to talk, too. That's just the way it is. Can you handle that, Ray?"
"Guess I'll have to."
"Then we should probably start with Clooney. Tell me about what really happened the night he killed your partner."
The words slammed him back, blacked out cooperation faster than a one-two punch from a heavyweight champion. Swallowing hard, Ray shook his head. "When Clooney's busted or dead, yeah, but not yet."
"All right, but what about your partner? Can you just talk about him? What was he like?"
"Ricky? He was an asshole who got himself shot, a guy I trusted and who almost got me killed. That what you want to hear? That he wasn't the great guy everybody thinks he was? Is that good enough for you?"
"You sound angry."
"Yeah, pissed, but I'll live. Ricky's dead. End of story. Dot it, file it, put it in a box marked done. It's over. Nobody needs to know the details."
"What are the details?"
"Didn't I just say, nobody needs to know?" Ray stood up, his legs achy with the need to work out. He wobbled his head to loosen his neck muscles and threw a few punches at shadows. "Drop it, Doc. He blew our cover and he died because of it."
"You almost died, too, Ray."
"But I didn't. God, I need to go to the gym, get in a few rounds. I'm way too tight here." Ray threw some more jabs at the wall as he did some footwork.
"Ray, sit down and we'll close out for the day."
"You ever box?"
Ray stopped boxing and turned. "What?"
"On what? Talking about dead guys? I don't need that. Look, what do you want me to say, that I'm sorry he's dead, that I'm sorry he fucked up and almost got me killed, too? Then, okay, I'm sorry. Can I go now?"
"In a minute. Sit down first." Reluctantly, Ray sat down, his eyes refusing to meet Reese's. "There's nothing wrong with being angry. What I'd like you to do is figure out how to channel that anger into something more constructive. You want to box, then go box. Just make sure that you're doing most of the punching and not punishing yourself for the death of a man you cared about. Angry as you are, he was still your partner."
"I know that. I fucking know that. I also know that no matter what I do, he'll still be dead, fucking rotting in the ground for being stupid and greedy enough to trust a man like Clooney." Ray's voice cracked and he still didn't look up. "Sometimes I hate him, hate what he did. And sometimes I hate myself, too, because I should've seen it, seen the change. We were there to watch each other's back and we both fucked up."
"He betrayed you."
"But you feel guilty because you didn't see what was happening?"
"I'm a detective. I should've known he'd turned."
Reese's eyes narrowed. "Why do you think you and Rick Hanlon were chosen to go undercover in the first place?"
"I don't know. I guess because we were both good actors, good at blending in."
"And do you think Hanlon was as good an actor as you?"
"So if he fooled Clooney and everyone on the force, is it really surprising that he could lie well enough to fool you, too? I mean, you were probably the one person he most wanted to fool."
Sighing, Ray ran his right hand through his hair, the spikes flattening out. "I never really thought about it like that. I guess that's true. Son of a bitch went out of his way to make sure I wouldn't catch on." Ray leaned forward, his belly still jumpy. "I guess I just wish I'd seen it in time, that's all."
"You think his deception has anything to do with your trust issues now?"
Ray snorted, almost amused. "Shrink much, Doc? It's one of the reasons I didn't want another partner."
"But you've got one now."
"Fraser's different, not like Ricky or anyone else. Hell, if I can't trust Fraser, I might as well hang it up as a cop and race cars into a brick wall. It'd be safer."
"More safe than falling in love with your partner?"
Closing his eyes, Ray took a deep breath, not surprised Reese figured it out. "I didn't mean for it to happen. It sort of snuck up on me when I wasn't looking."
"And he feels the same way about you?"
"Says he does. Don't know why. He's usually got better sense, being Canadian and all. I think he's getting the cheap end of the bargain."
"Why do you say that?"
"I'm sitting in a shrink's office and you have to ask?"
"Speaking of which, I want to see you same time tomorrow. Meanwhile, I'd like you to do the homework you didn't do yesterday. I want you to make a list of all the good things in your life that don't involve police work."
Ray stood up and headed to the door, knowing that it would be a short list with Fraser's name in all capital letters.
At the safe house Ray paced, arms crossed, the tension making every muscle in his body complain in unison. Add to that, his head hurt, the kind of constant throbbing that stretched from the top of his skull down the back of his neck. He stopped long enough to rub his temples, the massage not helping ease the pain one little bit.
"Ray, you should sit down and try to relax."
"This is stupid. I should be out there doing something, not locked up here wasting time and taxpayers' money."
"You've done everything you can for the moment. You've given them all your files on Clooney and consulted with the leaders of the task force. Everything that can be done is being done by your government and the Chicago PD. I've been very impressed with the overall effort in joining both forces in a concerted effort to bring this man to justice."
Ray stepped to the back of the sofa, leaning in. "Then let's at least go to the gym. I need to work out, punch a bag, spar a little, do something."
"Ray, you know we can't do that."
Frustrated, Ray smacked the back of the sofa and then paced a few more times before slumping down in the chair opposite Fraser. "I'm no good at waiting."
"We've only been here a few hours."
"I'm really no good at waiting. Never have been. I have to stay here much longer and I'll go nuts."
"Perhaps a game of poker would distract you."
"Yes. One never knows when the skill will be useful in another investigation."
Ray pinched his nose and shook his head. "I'm all out of air, Fraser. Maybe later."
"I could make you some willow bark tea for your headache."
"What makes you think I've got a headache?"
"The way you keep wrinkling your forehead and rubbing your temples. You also hold yourself differently, more tightly."
"I just took some more aspirin, but they're not working."
Fraser got up and stood behind the chair, his hands settling on Ray's shoulders. Ray flinched at the gentle squeeze. "You're very tense."
"Yeah, well, being forced to be somewhere you don't want to be will do that." Strong hands massaged Ray's shoulders, the touch warm, rhythmic, almost too much. Sighing, Ray relaxed slightly. "That feels great."
"You've been unnaturally quiet since your meeting with Dr. Reese."
"You saying I usually jabber?"
"I'd never say that about your conversational style. When you talk, it always makes sense after a fashion. No, I meant, you've been rather reticent and I was wondering if there's anything you might want to discuss."
Ray pulled away, standing and walking into the kitchen. Fraser followed and stood in the doorway while Ray poured himself coffee. He settled at the table, both hands wrapped around the mug. "Reese is making me stick to the sessions for a while."
"Then he has reason to believe you would benefit from counseling."
"For now he's just evaluating, but I see that coming. That's not the point. The point is, that I'm feeling hemmed in. I'm stuck here, I'm stuck there, and Clooney's in my head and won't get the fuck out." Ray paused, his throat tight. "It took me a long time to get over what happened. I thought I had it licked. Then Clooney starts in with the phone calls and it's all back again, like before, but worse because I really thought it was over. I feel like I'm crawling out of my skin and everything just sort of flashes in my head, Ricky dying, the pain, the fear. I need to finish with this, but I don't seem to be able to, not as long as Clooney's out there running around free and I'm stuck here."
Fraser settled across from him at the narrow table. "I know how difficult it is for you to stay here when you'd rather take a more active role in Clooney's recapture. I'd feel the same way if someone had tried to keep me from finding my father's killers."
"I can't just sit here and do nothing."
"But you are doing something, Ray. Clooney knows you're alive and can testify against him. He's obsessed with you. That makes him vulnerable. Staying here at the safe house is the best way to assure that he'll eventually make a mistake and be brought to justice."
"It's not the same."
Ray pushed the coffee away and rested his head forward on his arms. His voice muffled, he talked quietly. "God, I don't want to have to testify."
"It'll be like living through it all over again."
"This man killed your partner and assaulted you, Ray. He deserves prison."
"He deserves worse. The problem is that if this thing goes to trial, I'll have to tell things about my partner only a few people know."
"You're talking about his betrayal."
"Yeah. His wife Linda and everyone else thinks he died a good cop. If I have to testify, she'll find out what really happened."
"What did really happen, Ray?"
Ray closed his eyes, taking several long breaths, his lungs tight. "You read the file."
"It said that your partner blew your cover because he was making a deal with Clooney, the intimation being that he took money to turn you in and act as a double agent on his return to the department."
"That about covers it."
"But Clooney killed him."
"Yeah. He said he could never trust a crooked cop. Had a thing for loyalty. Even said he admired me for it when he was beating me half to death."
"Don't start with the ahhing, Fraser."
"Sorry, Ray. It's just the criminal mentality is so intriguingly convoluted."
"If you mean he's a twisted fuck, then yeah, that works." Ray sat back up and drank some of his coffee. He made a face. "Man, this crap is so bad, it makes me yearn for the stuff at the station."
"It is a bit strong. I think it's been here a while. Perhaps a new pot with a different formulation would be in order."
"No, this is okay."
"Ray, I don't mean to belabor the point, but you still haven't eaten today. Perhaps you'd feel better after some proper nutrition."
"Okay, but I think I'll take a shower first. I didn't get one this morning and I reek."
"Is there any particular repast you'd enjoy?"
Fraser nodded as Ray walked out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into the bathroom. He closed the door and then dropped the lid of the toilet. Light-headed, Ray sagged down, closing his eyes and praying he didn't end up face down on the tiles. Fraser had enough to worry about.
After a few moments, he sat back up and cleared his throat. Looking around, he noted the window. On impulse, he tested it and cursed. Someone nailed the fucking thing shut.
Defeated and angry, Ray slammed out of the bathroom and back into the kitchen. "How could you not trust me like that?"
Fraser turned and met his gaze, puzzled. "I don't understand."
"The windows, Fraser. They're nailed shut. What if there's a fire? What if we have to get out in a hurry?"
"Actually, they're not nailed, Ray, but fastened with special locks and an alarm system. The glass is tempered and bulletproof. It's for your protection."
"And you have the keys?"
"A master key and yes, I do."
"And why don't I get a key?"
"I should think the answer to that is pretty obvious."
"You don't trust me."
Fraser's expression softened. "I trust you with my life, Ray."
"But not enough to give me the fucking key?"
Reaching into his pocket, Fraser pulled out his key ring and slipped one off. He held it out. "All I ask is that you give me your word you won't use it to go out on your own. If you leave, then I have to go with you."
Shaking his head, still pissed, Ray walked from the room, Fraser at his back. "That's not buddies, not even close."
"On the contrary, it's not buddies to think you can handle something of this magnitude on your own." Fraser stepped closer, his hand on Ray's arm. "I love you, Ray. I know it's terribly selfish on my part, but I want you alive and safe."
Ray turned and met the dark blue gaze. "You do, huh?"
"Never knew you to be selfish."
Fraser's voice choked. "But I am, very much so. I can't lose you, Ray."
Cupping his partner's cheek, Ray traced his jaw with his thumb. Ray wanted so much to kiss him as Fraser's breath warmed his skin. Instead, he released him and backed away, his hands shaking. "You won't."
"Then promise you won't try to leave without me."
Ray shrugged. "Sure. I promise."
Fraser studied him a few moments and then squeezed his forearm. "Go take your shower. I'll fix dinner."
"I'd like that."
Slipping the key into Ray's pocket, Fraser leaned in, brushing his lips against his partner's mouth briefly. "I'll be in the kitchen when you're ready."
Ray swallowed hard and wondered if he'd ever be ready for what they both wanted.
Fraser opened the cabinets and scanned the meager supplies, wondering how one made a sound meal out of toothpicks, straws, and something called dried onion soup mix. The monitor system beeped and he headed to the front door. The front camera showed Lt. Welsh holding two paper bags as he waited for admittance.
Fraser punched in the security codes and opened the door. "Good to see you, Lieutenant."
"Constable." Welsh entered and headed back to the kitchen, his face grim. He put the bags on the table, but didn't remove his coat. "Where's Kowalski?"
"Ray's taking a shower."
"How's he holding up?"
"You know Ray. He doesn't like being inactive."
"I don't envy you your job here. Keeping him calm can't be easy, not when he's cooped up like this."
"There's no place I'd rather be, Lieutenant."
"You Canadians, always up for the challenge."
"It's not a problem to support worthy people, sir. Ray's a good man, an exceptional police officer, and more importantly, he's my friend."
"I'm not arguing. You've got a fine partnership. I'm not saying I always understand how two people so different can get along so well, but it seems to work for you two."
"Yes, it does."
Welsh nodded and then indicated one of the paper bags. "I brought some clothes. There's not much left in his apartment. Most of the stuff was slashed or shredded. I did manage to find a couple pairs of jeans that were pretty much unscathed, but I stopped off at the store for some T-shirts. Nothing fancy, just plain white. I threw in a sweat suit, too, along with some socks and underwear. Those guys really did a number on his place."
"Thank you kindly, sir. I'm sure Ray will appreciate it. Did the forensics team find anything useful during their search?"
"Nothing we can use, no prints or fibers." Welsh smiled slightly. "One guy did want to know if he lived with a pack of wild dogs."
"Oh, dear." They were silent for a moment before Fraser asked, "Did you by any chance get an opportunity to check on Diefenbaker?"
"He's fine, though Francesca's campaign to make him the official station mascot seems a bit redundant."
"Diefenbaker is rather more fond of the 27th than the Consulate. Seems the propensity for people to feed him doughnuts has won over being chastised by Inspector Thatcher for his sometimes unfortunate tendency towards flatulence."
Welsh nodded with a smile, but then his face turned more serious as he gestured toward the other bag. "I also brought you some supplies. We've got no idea how long you're going to be here. I've got some fresh coffee, plus some of those chocolate candies the detective seems to be so fond of."
Fraser glanced through the bag pulling out the groceries, pleased at the wide variety of both meats and vegetables along with some tea and sodas. "This is all very thoughtful, sir. The coffee that was here is long past it's expiration date."
"You're all settled in then?"
"We seem to be, yes, sir. Any news on the investigation?"
Welsh shrugged, glancing out toward the bathroom where the shower still ran. He nervously wiped his face with one hand as he considered the words carefully. "We've warned his ex-wife. She's got around the clock protection, a personal bodyguard and extra security while she's in court. His parents are on a plane to Arizona to stay with friends until we give them the word it's safe to return. Plus, I've doubled the teams outside this place. Everything's on a need to know basis only from now on. I just hope it's enough. We've gotten word from three reliable street sources that there's a contract out on Kowalski, but it's not a standard hit. It's a quarter of a million to deliver him to Clooney alive."
Mouth dry, Fraser leaned back against the counter, his arms crossed. "That's a substantial sum of money. Is there any indication where someone is supposed to deliver Ray if he is captured?"
"Not yet. I've got my best people hitting every source we know to find out."
Fraser hesitated, his voice lower. "What about Ray Vecchio's mob cover? With all this going on using Ray's real name, is the original Ray Vecchio safe?"
"The agent in charge of that investigation has assured me that things are unchanged on that front. As far as we know, Clooney's made no connection. It doesn't seem to faze him that Kowalski's living under another name. I don't think he really cares about any of that. He just wants the kid. We have, however, made everyone aware of the need to be vigilant if the situation should suddenly change. Of course, if and when Clooney is taken into custody, decisions about what to do about Kowalski's real identity will have to be made. Right now he's still under as Vecchio. We just don't know if he'll be able to remain under. If he has to testify, we'll either have to find a replacement, pull Vecchio, or come up with some cover story for Vecchio's absence here at the station." Welsh rubbed the back of his head, his features tired and solemn. "Right now that's the least of my worries."
"Has there been any headway on finding Clooney?"
"Unfortunately, no. We're still working. We'll continue to work until we get this guy." Welsh cleared his throat. "Kowalski's a good detective. I don't want to lose him. I appreciate the risk you're taking to stay with him."
"Like I said before, sir, it's no hardship. Ray's my partner."
Nodding, Welsh headed back to the door, his voice a whisper. "Let's just try keeping this thing about the contract between us for now. No reason to give him more worries if we don't have to."
"Who brought all the goodies?"
Still damp from the shower, but wearing his old clothes, Ray sorted through the bag, bringing out new packages of underwear and socks. He laughed lightly. "Wonder how he knew I wore jockey briefs?"
"I assume he saw the slashed remains of the ones at your apartment."
Smile gone, Ray nodded soberly. "Yeah, I guess he did. So did he say if they found anything useful?"
"Nothing at this point, I'm afraid."
"And no news about Clooney?"
Fraser paused, the hesitation only a few seconds, but enough to spot. "He's still at large. Would you like some coffee? I just made a fresh pot and, thanks to the lieutenant, you have some chocolate candy to add to make that special flavor you enjoy so much."
"Sure. Sounds good." Ray frowned as he followed Fraser into the kitchen. He sat down, opened the bag of socks, and slipped on a pair. As soon as Fraser served his coffee and handed him the box of candy, Ray took a deep breath. "So what is it that you're trying not to tell me?"
Fraser shook his head, his lips curled into an almost proud smile. "You have uncanny skills of observation, Ray."
"Big surprise there, Fraser. I'm a detective. So what's the deal? They have a line on where Clooney's holding up yet?"
"No, nothing like that. Lt. Welsh didn't want you to know that Clooney has offered a substantial amount of money to have you delivered to him alive."
"Substantial? How substantial?"
"A quarter of a million US dollars."
The amount floored him, chilled him at knowing how that upped the danger considerably. "Wow. I know a lot of people who'd turn me in for a lot less."
"Which I assume is why the lieutenant has doubled the guards outside."
"God, this stinks."
"The situation." Ray counted out seven chocolate candies and dropped them into his drink. Stirring, his mind whirling with possibility, he shook his head. "They should wire me up and then have some prick turn me over. Then they could take his ass down and this whole thing would be done."
"Such an option still sounds far too dangerous."
"Okay, okay, I get that. I couldn't really get past any security with a wire anyway. Clooney's men are too good for that." Ray drank a few sips and then put his mug down, his eyes brighter. "But I know a guy who could make Clooney believe he's got me. Then we could find the delivery point. That's all we'd need. We could have teams sweep in and nail his ass. Bam, bam, it's done. Clooney's back in a cell where he belongs instead of on the loose making my life miserable."
Fraser remained silent as he leaned back against the counter. He fingered his right eyebrow, his face grim with concentration.
"Well what, Ray?"
"What do you think?"
"For Lt. Welsh and Captain Turner to entertain such a suggestion, they'd need a lot more detail, including the name of the person you would use to contact Clooney. However, I must confess that the plan has more merit than anything else I've heard."
"So you're saying you agree with me?"
"I believe that's what I just said."
Ray stood up, his body singing with newfound energy. He grabbed Fraser by both arms and squeezed, happy with the possibility of action. "Let's call Welsh and Turner, see if they can get the ball rolling."
"No, Ray. First we're going to eat and then go to bed. It's been a very long day. You can tell the Lieutenant your plan in the morning."
Backing away, a new frown on his face, Ray shook his head. "You're kidding, right? There's no way I'm going to sleep until this is set up."
"Then I suggest a compromise. We'll eat first. You can write out your idea in more detail. Then you can call both the Lieutenant and the Captain to see if they agree with your assessment of the situation."
Grudgingly, Ray agreed. "I guess you're right. I do need to make sure I've got it straight in my head so they can't shoot me down." Ray faced Fraser and shrugged. "Sorry. Didn't mean to get so wound up."
"Your passion is one of your most admirable traits."
Ray tilted his head and grinned. "Passion? You think me getting wired for a case is passion?"
Flushing slightly, Fraser glanced away. "Certainly."
Ray cupped Fraser's face and brought his head up, forcing him to meet his gaze. "Thank you."
"For reminding me there are other things to get worked up about. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to care about someone so much. Feels good."
Capturing Ray's hand, Fraser nodded. "I also find myself getting worked up."
"Really? About me?"
Fraser closed his eyes, sighing as he continued to hold Ray's hand to his face. "I find myself quite enamored with your energy. I love how strong you are."
"Strong? Me? Come on, Fraser, be serious."
As Ray tried to pull away, Fraser wrapped his arms around his waist and held him face to face. "I am serious. You're one of the strongest people I know."
"Ray, you don't see yourself, not the you I see."
"That's because I might need glasses, but I see what I am. I'm just a guy, a guy with a lot of problems. And you're the strong one, not me." Uneasy, Ray once again moved away only to have Fraser hold even tighter. "Fraser. Let me go. I need some space here."
Reluctantly, Fraser released him. "You're wrong, Ray. Your strength, your passion, your intelligence, well, quite frankly, you enthrall me."
"Captivate, mesmerize, beguile. I can't seem to get enough of you."
Ray's lips curled. "Enthrall, huh? I like that." He teased a finger down Fraser's jaw line. "You enthrall the hell out of me, too."
Moving in closer, Fraser's eyes darkened. "I love you, Ray."
"I know, Frase. Me, too."
Much to Ray's surprise, Fraser sighed and dropped his head to Ray's shoulder. Arms wrapped around Ray's middle as Fraser spoke softly. "This is so difficult."
Ray rubbed a hand up and down his partner's back, unsure of what to do with a depressed Fraser. "It'll be okay. We'll get this asshole and then I can get back to work. It'll be good again. I promise."
Without thinking, Ray lifted Fraser's face to his own and kissed him, the lips soft but with a rough edge of whiskers. His tongue tasted the herbal tea, the slight hint of milk as he explored for just a moment. His cock surged to attention, the quick electrical spark up his spine going wild. Fraser's low moan brought him back to his senses quickly. Throat closing, he pushed away and rushed out of the kitchen.
Fraser came into the room behind him, puzzled. "Ray?"
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have done that."
"Don't be sorry. I enjoyed it."
"I did, too, but that's not the point. We can't do that. Not yet. I'm not ready."
"I see." Hurt and disappointment laced the hushed words.
"No, you don't see, because I don't. Look, I just think we have to wait until this whole Clooney mess is sorted out. Then maybe we can figure out what this is all about."
"It's about love, Ray. When two people love one another, it's only natural to kiss and want physical affection."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, I get that. It's natural, but it ain't going to happen, not yet. I can't. I told you that."
Fraser hesitated, his protest simple. "You kissed me, Ray."
Frantic, Ray paced back and forth, his words speeding up. "I know that. I know that. I really do know that, Fraser. You don't have to tell me." He ran his hand through his hair as he looked all over the room, anywhere but at Fraser. "It's not your fault."
"It's not your fault that I can't help myself. I shouldn't have done that. I just really shouldn't have done that. It's not fair to you. Puts you in a really lousy position and I'm not a cocktease, Fraser. I hate people who do that. I wouldn't do that, not normally, but I'm not thinking straight. I'm so fucked."
"Calm down, Ray. It's not a problem."
"Not a problem? How can it not be a problem? It's a problem for me. I can't keep my hands off you and I know it's not right. I know it's not fair when all I want to do is take you to bed and kiss you and make you come until you scream my name over and over. But I can't. I just can't. And I can't explain why, either. Not yet. Don't ask me to."
"I won't ask for an explanation, and as I said before, I'm more than willing to wait until you're ready."
Still uneasy, Ray swallowed back his panic. "I'm so sorry, Fraser. You deserve better."
"Now you're just being silly."
The sudden change to Fraser's matter of fact tone caught him off guard. Ray laughed and then sagged down on the sofa, exhausted. "Yeah, well, I'll remind you of that later when I've made your life hell."
Fraser settled beside him, his voice husky and raw. "The only hell I can imagine, Ray, is a world without you in it."
"Assholes. Stubborn federal sons of bitches." Ray slammed his fist into the safe house wall, the plaster crumbling away and leaving a gaping hole. He held his scraped hand up to his mouth, kissing and licking away the pain, but relishing it, too. It focused his anger, made it easier not to put his head through the wall instead.
"Calm down, Ray."
"Don't fucking tell me to calm down, Fraser. Just don't."
"They didn't say they wouldn't try your plan later."
"Yeah, but only when they've tried everything else. And Turner, what the hell was he doing? He might as well stab me in the back. Two-faced bastard. Shit." He turned to hit the wall again only to have Fraser block his punch, capturing his fist with both hands. Ray growled in frustration. "Get out of the way."
"That's enough, Ray. Hurting yourself doesn't help."
Jerking away, Ray frantically paced the room, his head about to explode. "I can't fucking believe this. They won't even listen."
"They listened. They gave you legitimate reasons why they thought the plan unsound at this juncture."
Ray paused, suddenly suspicious. "You telling me you agree with those jerks?"
"I'm saying neither of us are completely unbiased in this situation. You want to trust this informant of yours, Gary "Sneaks" Baker, but as Captain Turner pointed out, this Baker fellow hasn't always been reliable in the past. To put your safety in his hands might, indeed, be far too perilous. Captain Turner said Baker can't be trusted when there's a quarter involved much less a quarter of million dollars. I'm afraid I have to agree with that assessment based on the information we have."
"Turner's a pussy, Fraser. Ever since Clooney killed Ricky, he's been walking on eggshells, thinking I'm going to fucking crack. He keeps this shit up and I just might. He thinks I don't know how bad Clooney can get, but he's wrong, dead wrong. I know better than anybody how psycho this guy is."
"That's all the more reason to make every move with even more caution."
Ray paid no attention, just kept pacing and talking, his words moving too fast. "But Clooney's not as smart as he thinks he is. He's got weak points, plenty of soft spots to go after. We need to make a play now. If we wait around, more people are going to die. I can feel it." Ray stopped moving, his voice cracking. "I don't want any more blood on my hands, Fraser."
"You're not responsible for Clooney's menace, Ray. Why would you think that?"
Ray swallowed hard, then slumped down on the sofa. "I could've killed him a couple of times while I was under and each time I didn't, I thought, stupid, stupid, stupid. Then when he found out who I was, it was too late. He shot Ricky and then beat the shit out of me. He had every intention of killing me, too, but he waited too long. The team showed up and got me out before he had a chance to finish it."
Ray closed his eyes, the strain of memory almost too much. "I've dreamed about killing him, Fraser, of killing him with my bare hands. Dreamed about it and it always felt so fucking good, too good. It scared me how good it felt."
Fraser settled on the sofa beside him, the cushion shifting under his weight. A soft touch to Ray's shoulder made him flinch. "He hurt you badly, Ray. It's only natural to be angry."
"You don't understand, Fraser. I've never hated anybody that much, not ever. It's eating me alive this hate, like it's alive and breathing, like it's curled up inside me, all cold and full of teeth." Eyes still squeezed shut, Ray leaned forward and rubbed his face, the tears streaming down. "He's in my head all the time and I feel so fucking dirty, unclean, like no matter how hard I scrub, it'll never come off."
"What won't come off, Ray?"
"Him. His fists, his stink. What he did." Suddenly gagging, Ray covered his mouth. He tried to get up and run to the bathroom, but only managed to drop to his knees. He retched over and over, his stomach straining as he gasped for air between spasms. Belly empty, he still dry heaved several times before he finally finished.
Fraser handed Ray a damp cloth, his back braced against the bottom of sofa, knees up. Light-headed, his throat aching, he wiped his mouth, grateful for the cold relief. Ray watched, limp and helpless, as Fraser cleaned up the mess. After a few moments, Fraser guided him off the floor to sit on the sofa and a fresh cloth replaced the old one. Fraser handed him a glass of ginger ale. "This might help."
Ray sipped slowly, the new taste overlaying the foulness of the vomit. He drank half before he stopped. "Thanks. Sorry. Must have been something I ate." The words sounded unconvincing even to himself.
Fraser didn't call him a liar, just took the glass out of his trembling hand and put it on the table. "You need to rest, Ray. You're exhausted."
Nodding, Ray didn't move. He stared bleakly down at his shoes, dizzy and defeated. "I know. It's just, well, sleeping ain't much better. At least when I'm awake, I know what's real."
"Perhaps I could tell you a story."
A reluctant smile tugged at Ray's lip. "Jeez, Fraser, you think I need a bedtime story?"
"Well, you could try counting caribou."
"There aren't many sheep in the Yukon, Ray."
Ray sighed and let Fraser pull him up from the sofa to lead him to the bedroom. Then he frowned in frustration. "What's a caribou look like exactly, Fraser?"
"Beautiful, Ray. They're on average..."
Ray didn't bother to listen to the details, but just swam in the comfort of the warm voice, the voice that made him feel halfway safe again.
"I never thought I'd be happy to go see a shrink, but if it gets me out of that box, hey, I'm there."
"Actually, we're here, Ray." Fraser motioned to the Human Resources building.
The driver pulled over and both Fraser and Ray got out at the front door along with their FBI escort, Agent Davis. Davis hustled them both into the building and then walked behind them without talking as they got into the empty elevator.
Ray kept his back to Davis and talked to Fraser, his voice tense. "I miss Dief."
"I'm sure he misses you, too, Ray. Francesca even mentioned how he keeps sitting at your desk looking rather forlorn."
"Clever wolf. Bet he gets more doughnuts than he can handle with that routine."
"Oh, I doubt it's a ruse. Dief might be rather devious, but he is genuinely fond of you, and while I tried to explain the impracticality of having a white wolf at a clandestine location in urban Chicago, he's still pouting about not being included in our seclusion."
"Yes, he is."
Reaching the third floor, Ray and Fraser waited while Davis got off first, called down an all clear on his headset, and then waved them to come out. Davis stationed himself at the outside door, and they went into Reese's waiting room. Ray glanced around at the empty chairs, seats that were normally filled. Something wasn't right. "What? There a holiday for nut jobs or something?"
The receptionist looked up. "Good morning, Detective Vecchio. The doctor said the FBI told him to cancel his other appointments this morning until after you'd left the building. Something about special security."
"Yes, sir. He said to go right in."
Frowning, not happy with the change of routine, Ray turned to Fraser. "Something's queer. Go out and check with Davis about this. Have him call that lead guy, Crenshaw, and see what's up."
"Certainly, Ray. I'll be right back."
As soon as he left, Ray turned and walked through to Reese's inner office. Reese looked up, his face pale, his troubled eyes focused on the wall behind him.
Before he could turn around, a gun leveled at the back of Ray's head, the muzzle cold and hard. A familiar voice hissed in his ear. "Try anything and the Mountie's the first to go."
Ray's heart skipped a beat, but his mind raced with possible means of escape. He couldn't think of a damn thing, so he tried stalling. "Fuck, Jenson, I thought Eddie Sweet shot you in the head last month."
"Shut the fuck up and put your hands behind your back."
Cold metal cuffs bit into his wrists and then a rough hand pushed him towards the exit door at the back of the office. Before he could say anything, he saw the gun go up and the kidnapper knock out Reese. As the doctor slumped sideways and fell out of the chair, Jenson snarled. "Let's go. Out and down the stairs. Hurry."
Jenson moved ahead of him and dragged him along. At the end of the first flight, another man came into view. Each man took an arm and led him down further. They stopped on a landing just long enough to jab a needle in his neck. "Shit, Jenson, that hurts. What the fuck is that?"
Frank and the stranger pushed him along again, his legs suddenly wobbly, his head spinning. As sight narrowed, he saw the gurney at the bottom of the steps and the men in white standing by to transport him to wherever Clooney was waiting to finish off what he'd started.
Ray didn't bother to cry out, just swam in the dark, his body numb, grateful that at least Fraser would live.
Someone grabbed Ray's hair, lifting his head from the concrete and slapping his face several times. Blood flooded his mouth, his teeth cutting his lips. He coughed and opened his eyes. "Asshole."
"Ah, the bitch is back." Vision blurry, Ray blinked several times to focus and wished he hadn't. Mike Clooney stared down into his face and grinned. "Miss me, Ray?"
Ice flooded his gut as he tried to sit up, but he found his arms and legs just didn't want to cooperate. His head floated away from his body, just light and airy. A foot landed on his chest and held the rest of him down. Ray ran a sluggish tongue along the inside of his swollen bottom lip, his throat dry and his mouth like cotton. Whatever they gave him lingered in his system. Even the rush of adrenaline flooding his veins couldn't get his brain to clear. Everything blurred in and out of focus as sounds wobbled and scratched in his ear. He tried his best not to throw up, not to give Clooney the satisfaction of seeing him lose it. Another slap got his attention and he spat out more blood. "Nothing changes with you, Clooney. Still a sweet guy 'til the end."
"Such a smart mouth you have, Detective."
The booted foot kicked him in the side and Ray rolled away, but not fast enough to avoid the second blow to his back. Clooney snatched him up roughly, lifting and then throwing him on a narrow bed in the corner. He lay there, winded, the pain not as bad as it probably should be. "What'd you give me?"
"You like it?"
"Well, I figure I'll hurt a lot worse when it wears off."
"If you're lucky, it won't ever wear off." Clooney stepped closer and rolled him on his back. "I've missed you, Ray, our little talks, face to face." He patted his bruised cheek. "You've lost weight. That Mountie friend of yours not feeding you right?"
Ray closed his eyes, willed himself not to rise to the bait. "What the fuck do you want, Clooney?"
"What I've always wanted, Ray. Payback."
"You've got the FBI and the whole Chicago police force looking for your ass and you take the time to pull this shit and waste all that money? You used to be so fucking smart. Now you're just pathetic."
The expected blow didn't come. Ray opened his eyes and focused as well as he could on the man standing next to the bed. Dark hair framed a square face. Broad shoulders, thick neck, and overdone muscles made him look more like a dimwitted dockworker than a desk-riding mobster. Brown eyes studied him and then without warning, Clooney grabbed his T-shirt and yanked him upright, posing him on the side of the bed. Then he backed away and sat in the chair only a few feet away. Ray's guns and his leather jacket rested on the table next to him. Clooney spoke, his voice strained as he picked up a knife. He ran his fingers along the sharp six-inch blade, his thumb teasing the tip. "Tell me about the Mountie."
Dizzy, Ray steadied himself. Clooney looked nuttier than usual, more stretched out, more like a big white bear on bad speed. For a moment, a flicker of the animal transposed itself over the man and Ray swallowed hard, trying his best to stay conscious. Whatever they gave him made him dopey, too dopey to think straight or even sit up for long. His fat tongue didn't want to work right. He struggled to make the words come out. "You should be trying to get away, you son of a bitch."
"The Mountie, what's his name, Fraser? Tell me what he is to you."
"He's my partner."
"Not like Ricky. He can be trusted."
"You used to trust Ricky."
"Until he sold his ass to you, yeah." Ray paused, took several breaths to ride out the dizziness. "Fraser's not like that."
"He sure is pretty like Ricky. Not my type, but a damn fine piece of ass. He any good in bed?"
Clooney chuckled as he leaned forward, the knife still in his right hand. "Always the lip with you, Ray. Always. I'll say one thing, you've got balls. And I should know."
"You don't know shit."
"I know you're wondering why I went to all the trouble to get your ass again. I know you're wondering whether I'm going to do you the way I did before or just fuck you and shoot you in the head like I did the poor FBI fuck."
"You're a mad dog, Clooney, a twisted fuck who needs a bullet to the head to put you out of your own damn misery."
Clooney's face paled and his voice grew even colder as he continued his story. "Billy, the FBI guy, he looked a lot like you. Did you know that? Did they tell you that?" He didn't wait for an answer, just kept talking and fingering the edge of the blade. "Blond, lean, with blue eyes to die for. Problem was, he wasn't you. Didn't have the guts you do."
Clooney paused and leaned forward, staring directly at Ray. "He begged me not to kill him. Offered to blow me, to let me fuck him. He didn't even fight it. He just spent the whole time bawling like a fucking baby. I shot him in the head to save him the embarrassment of living."
"That make you feel powerful, make you feel like a real man to humiliate him like that, you sick fuck?"
"Actually, it made me want you even more. Made me appreciate just how brave you are. You never once begged, never once gave in. Sure, I fucked you, but I never really had you, not where it counted."
"And you never fucking will."
Clooney stood up and stepped closer, his voice like sharp steel. He held the knife to Ray's throat. "That's where you're wrong, bitch. You think you're going to die today, but you're not, not yet."
Ray hissed as the knife bit into his skin, his world narrowing, the light almost grey. He tried to pull back, but a beefy hand yanked his hair, held him up and more steady. "Oh, I'm going to fuck you, Ray, but you won't die yet, not until I'm tired of your lip and your beautiful ass. And that could take a while. I've been looking forward to this for a long time."
Clooney dropped the knife to the side table and then released Ray's hair. He cupped his face with both hands, swooping in and licking the blood from Ray's lips. He slowly ran his tongue along his wounded neck, and then captured his mouth again. The violent kiss stole Ray's breath away, his body limp and useless, his mind drifting off into a cold, dark field of nothing.
The world shifted and swayed and then suddenly settled.
Snow crusted and crunched under his feet. Confused, Ray squinted at the white brilliance as he reached into the pocket of his leather jacket for his sunglasses. He slipped them on and then gazed at the wide open spaces in wonder. The distant tree line made him yearn to keep moving, to explore, to find that cabin again and maybe even see Fraser.
"You've got good taste for a Yank."
Ray turned and saw the old man, the one with the funny hat who reminded him of Fraser. "Where are we?"
"It's the Borderland. Benton was here once."
"Fraser was here?"
"Some time ago, yes. You called him back to your side." The old man motioned at the expanse in front of them, the mountains in the distance, the wilderness so close at hand. "What do you think?"
"It's beautiful. Canada like this?"
Ray stuffed his hands down in his pockets and relished how the sun warmed his cheek just after the icy wind kissed it. His body sang with energy, with a rush of goodness and spirit, of real life. Pain didn't touch him here. "I don't know how it could be better."
"Oh, believe me, Son, it most certainly is." The man turned and put his hand on Ray's shoulder. "But you have to decide to go back first to find out."
"You're at a crossroads, a difficult place to be for any man. Think carefully before you decide to leave Benton behind. He won't understand. The lad's lost so many important people in his life, one more might put him over the edge. Even a fine man like my son has limits."
"You've got a sound mind for a Yank. I assumed you'd figured that out by now."
"But you're dead."
The cold truth sank in. "So I'm dead, too?"
"Not yet. That's why we're in the Borderland. It gives the living a chance to know what they're in for, like coming attractions. What do you think?"
"I think I'm unhinged."
Fraser Senior's voice softened. "It's disorienting at first. None of us likes to think the rational world isn't what we thought it was. But there you are, ghosts and spirits, well, we're not just some fairytales by firelight. We exist. Nothing to do about it, but accept that sometimes we allow you to be privy to our secrets and our world, a world you'll be a part of if you don't choose to go back soon. You've been here almost too long already."
Ray slumped down on a nearby stump, a stump he could've sworn wasn't there before. "So you're saying dying's like going to Canada?"
"If you're lucky."
Ray smiled, thinking of how much Fraser would like that. Then he choked, the air suddenly thinner. "But it hurts to keep breathing."
"Yes, and you're in a bad way, there's no debating that. Lesser men have given up with a lot less reason than you have. And I won't lie, Son, if you go back, it won't be easy. Still, there's nothing for it if you want to share your life with Benton."
"But what if he can't find me?"
"Oh, did I forget to mention that? He's on his way now, just outside the door, in fact."
"Then why am I here?"
"Fuck Fraser." Another blow dropped Ray to his knees and he rolled to his side, curled up, the cushion of good feeling from the dream quickly drained away. Another cut from the knife sliced across his belly. "Did you fuck him? Did you let him fuck you?"
"Fuck you, scumbag."
Clooney seized his arm and jerked him up, twisting his left wrist behind his back. The snap of bone made him nauseous, the pain delayed, but not completely absent. The grip slipped, blood slicking Ray's skin. Clooney grabbed him even harder and shook. "Answer me, bitch."
Before he could say a thing, he heard shouting and the shattering of wood right before the call of the FBI. Clooney threw him down and desperately reached for the gun on the table. The spray of bullets cut him down, his body falling with a thump and one last curse.
Ray lay there, naked, not moving, not daring to hope.
Hands cupped his cheeks, Fraser's anxious face close to his. "Ray, Ray, Ray, Ray..."
Relief overwhelmed him, his tongue only able to manage the one word. "Fraser."
His world slanted suddenly sideways as someone pulled his partner away. Ray screamed as someone touched his injured left arm, air suddenly straining his lungs as pain returned full force all over his body. Icy cold, he shook uncontrollably as men examined him, wiping away the blood and starting an IV line in his right arm. One man braced his broken arm and the other took vitals. As they covered him with a blanket and strapped him down, Fraser's voice just touched the edge of his hearing. "Ray, you're going to be fine."
Closing his eyes, he drifted but didn't return to the Borderland. Instead, he rode out the pain, knew that at the end of that crushing wave, he'd have Fraser.
It hurt to talk, but he complained anyway. "Looks like I want to dance like an Egyptian or something. Why can't I just have a simple cast like everybody else? Why is that, Fraser? Why do I have to be the one who gets to looks like a freak?"
Fraser just smiled patiently and ran a slow hand along the Z-shaped cast suspended from the side of the hospital bed. "Your ulna and radius were fractured in three places, Ray. A smaller cast would have been inadequate to keep the bones immobile while they heal properly. It also helps assure the eventual full utility of your thumb once the cast is removed. Dr. Raines explained all that, but he also said that at the end of three weeks, you'd graduate to a smaller, more versatile plaster."
"Three weeks, Fraser. Three weeks I have to wear this thing. I can't even lift it."
Fraser didn't answer, just kept grinning and watching Ray.
"Stop what, Ray?"
"Looking at me like that."
"Like Dief looking at a bag of unguarded doughnuts."
Fraser smiled even bigger. "I'm just so glad you're doing so well." Fraser leaned against the rail of Ray's bed, his face suddenly much more serious. "When you were first taken, I didn't know quite what to do. Everything happened so fast." His voice choked. "I don't think I've ever been so frightened, Ray."
Ray wanted to take him in his arms, touch his face, but between the monster cast and the IVs, he didn't have a chance. "I was scared, too, Fraser."
"You haven't really talked about it."
Ray shook his head, his body tense at the memory. "Not now, okay?" He took a deep breath as he frowned. "I thought I heard Mum and Dad earlier."
Fraser stiffened. "Yes, you did."
"I'm afraid I might have overstepped some boundaries."
Ray shifted his head on his pillow to get a better view of Fraser. "Boundaries, you? I doubt that. What'd my dad do this time?"
"I know he's your father, Ray. I respect that, but that man, well, he said some things, some very unkind things. Under normal circumstances I'm able to deal with such derogatory comments, but I've been under a great deal of stress lately. That's no excuse, just an explanation."
"Jesus, Fraser. What the hell did he say?"
Walking to the other side of the bed, Fraser moved to Ray's good side and took his right hand, careful not to interfere with the IV site. He gave it a gentle squeeze while he talked softly. "You were sleeping and I was holding your hand. I must confess I was also petting your hair."
"Petting my hair?"
"Yes. I find it very soothing to pet your hair, Ray. I hope you don't mind."
"Don't mind, not a bit. You can even do it while I'm awake next time if you want."
"Why thank you kindly, Ray."
"No problem. So you were petting my hair and..."
"And your father and mother walked in unannounced."
"Oh, is correct. Your mother seems a very nice lady, by the way."
"Yeah, she is, but Dad, well, he can be an asshole. If he didn't talk to me for eight years because I became a cop, I didn't really expect him to like me being queer. I just didn't expect him to pick up on it so fast."
"He probably wouldn't have if I'd been more discreet."
"It's not like we were making out, Fraser. Besides, at this point, it's his problem." Ray sighed. "So Mum seemed okay with it?"
"She's just happy you're alive, Ray."
"Yeah, me, too."
Fraser stroked his arm, the touches warm and comforting. "You seem very relaxed, Ray."
"Pain meds. Good stuff, better than last time."
"Ah, the drugs. Still, you seem calmer than I would expect after such an ordeal."
"Like the head case I was before he snatched me?"
"I didn't mean that. I just meant that you seem rather more accepting of circumstance than you did."
"It helps that the motherfucker's dead and gone this time." Fraser didn't even bother to correct his language. "It also helps that I don't remember most of what happened."
"So you said."
"What? You don't believe me?"
"Oh, I believe you, Ray. Selective memory loss can often be induced by severe trauma or injury."
Ray ran his tongue along the inside stitches holding his bottom lip together, debating whether to talk about the Borderland and his time there. "It's more than that."
"Remember when you licked the toad and everybody thought you were dead?"
"Did you go to some place called the Borderland?"
Fraser stilled, his face suddenly pale. "Ray, are you saying you saw the Borderland?"
"I'm saying that dying wasn't anything like I thought it'd be, not nearly as scary. In fact, if it weren't for you, your dad and me might still be having a nice long chat. He's a funny guy, your old man. I like him. Wish he were still around. Bet he could tell a story or two, huh?"
"Seriously, Fraser. It wasn't that bad."
"Ray, it means you almost died."
"Well, you already knew that."
Fraser palmed Ray's forehead and closed his eyes. "I'm so sorry."
"For not being more alert. I should've stopped this. I should've seen the trap as soon as we walked into Dr. Reese's office."
Ray's voice toughened. "And if you had, you'd probably be dead, no return ticket. Jenson would've shot you in the head without thinking twice." Capturing Fraser's hand, Ray pulled his troubled partner closer. "Whatever Clooney did to me, it's over. It stops now. I don't want to talk about it or think about it. It's just done. I'm going to heal up for a few weeks and then we're taking some time off. We're going up to your neck of the woods. I want to see it for real, Fraser, not some dream, not some whatever it was fantasy thing, but for real. Can we just do that? Can you make sure that we can do that, just the two of us, alone, so we can work this thing out?"
"Yes, Ray, we can most definitely do that."
"Fraser, you need to go back to work. You're driving me crazy."
"I fail to see how my being attentive to your needs can be so stressful."
Ray shifted up in his bed a few inches, frustrated and achy. The stitches all itched and his head wouldn't stop throbbing even with the drugs they pumped into his system. "I'm not an invalid. I don't need tending every minute. Besides, there are nurses for that. You've got plans to make, things to do, all kinds of paperwork to clear up if we're going to head up North when I get out of here."
"Nurses have a lot of patients, Ray. I only have you."
"It's their job and yours is over at the Consulate being a Mountie. I'm better now, so you don't have to be here all the time."
Fraser's lips thinned. "I've seen the way you look at Nurse Raymer."
"That the blond with the great smile?"
"You know very well who she is, and I'm hard pressed to believe it's her smile you admire when you drool all over yourself every time she waltzes in here."
Ray tilted his head and cried ouch when he tried grinning. "Don't tell me you're jealous."
"I'm not jealous. I just find your behavior ludicrous."
"My behavior? What about yours? You won't even let me get up to go to the can by myself."
Fraser took a long calming breath. "Ray, you've been told repeatedly you cannot get up without assistance. I would think you'd prefer my aid to Nurse Raymer's, unless, of course, there's something else Ms. Raymer can offer that I can't. Her attributes are quite impressive."
"God, I don't believe this. You're really jealous of Raymer."
"She's a lovely young lady, Ray. It hasn't escaped my attention that she looks very much like a young Stella."
Ray stopped smiling. "Really?"
"Ray, you know she does."
Ray shook his head in surprise. "Why didn't I see that?"
"I think we were just discussing the fact that you did see that, Ray, several times a day."
"No, Fraser, I didn't, I really didn't. I didn't even make that connection. I must be losing it." Ray looked up and met Fraser's solemn gaze. "I was just kidding you about Raymer, honest. I've only got eyes for you, Frase. You've got to know that, right?"
"She is a beautiful woman. No one would blame you for finding her attractive."
"What'd I just say? It's you, Fraser, the one and only. Now get over here."
Fraser moved to the right side of the bed and Ray took his hand. "You don't need to be jealous, ever. I'm a faithful guy. Ask anybody. Ask Stella if you have to."
Shaking his head, Fraser lifted Ray's hand and kissed it. "I'm sorry. I was being irrational."
"Working at it, but not quite there. Maybe I was drooling a little, but it's really these stitches. They hurt like hell."
"Would you like some more analgesic gel or warm salt water to rinse your mouth?"
"Later." Ray sighed. "Look, what I was saying earlier, I meant it. It's not that I don't love you and love you being here, but it's still driving me nuts, you always being here."
"That makes no sense, Ray."
"I hate you seeing me like this, all banged up and looking like Frankenstein."
Fraser's expression softened as he squeezed Ray's hand. "You mean Frankenstein's monster. Frankenstein was the physician who..."
"Fraser, Fraser, hear what I'm saying. I feel like shit even with all the drugs they're pumping into me and I don't like having you wait on me hand and foot like I can't do anything for myself."
"Understood. Independence is something we all strive for, but, Ray, be reasonable. You've been seriously injured. There's nothing wrong with me helping during your convalescence until you're more able to be self-sufficient."
"I know that, I do. It still makes me uncomfortable. I want to do things on my own."
"And you will, when you're ready."
"And who says when I'm ready, you?"
"And the doctors."
"Like they know."
"Yes, Ray, they do. They go to school for many years to know just that." Fraser paused as he leaned against the railing, still holding Ray's hand. "Believe me, I understand your frustration. I can remember quite clearly how difficult it was to accept limitations after being shot."
"You mean when Vecchio shot you in the back that one time?"
"Yes. In addition, I have to admit feeling quite angry with Ray. It wasn't his fault, but somehow my emotions didn't listen to the rational mind about it. I resented not only being shot, but losing Victoria."
Ray swallowed hard, uncomfortable with knowing that Fraser still cared for a woman who'd hurt him so much. "You never talk about her."
"No. It's too painful."
"I get that, but you know that you can tell me if you ever feel up to it. I'm all ears if you need me."
"I feel the same way. If and when you ever want to talk about what happened to you, I'm full of ears, too."
"It's not the same. You loved Victoria. I sure as hell didn't love the guy who hurt me."
"But they both affected us deeply, Ray. We can't discount the emotional impact of how they treated us."
Ray pulled his hand away and shifted slightly to his side, turning his head away from Fraser. "I'm not saying that, I'm not. I know they both treated us like shit. That's not a newsflash. I'm just saying I don't need to talk about it anymore, to anyone, but if you do, I'd be good about it."
Fraser's hand massaged Ray's right shoulder, working the tight muscles, careful to avoid the bandaged gashes. "I appreciate that, Ray. I'll take it under consideration."
"Yeah, okay, and in the meantime, keep doing that. Feels good."
"As you wish."
After a few minutes, his body more relaxed, Ray found his voice again. "I'm sorry, Frase. I didn't mean to get all pissy."
"It's perfectly understandable."
"Maybe, but it's not right. Just `cause I feel like shit, that doesn't mean I have to take it out on you. That's why you should think about spending some time away. Not every minute. I still want you here, but I just need to know you're getting things together so we can get out of town as soon as they let me out of this joint."
"You mean in a few weeks after they release you."
"No, I mean as soon as they release me. I want to get packed and head North, pronto."
Fraser stilled and walked around to the other side of the bed, the side with the heavy, awkward cast that covered the arm up past the elbow. "Ray, we can't go right away. We need to wait at least until you get the smaller cast." He tapped the plaster. "I mean, just look at it. It looks like an albino pterodactyl for goodness sakes. I'm not even sure how you're going to manage around the apartment for the next few weeks."
"Yes, in a rather modern impressionistic way."
"So you're saying I'm stuck in Chicago until this thing comes off?"
"Yes, that's what I'm saying. After that, if there are no complications, then I see no reason why we can't head North, pronto."
"It's not pronto if we have to wait, Fraser."
"And it's not prudent if we leave sooner." Fraser leaned in closer and cupped Ray's face. "Be patient, Ray."
"I'm no good at waiting."
"This will be worth it."
Ray met his eyes, wishing like hell he could move without tearing out a dozen stitches. "Yeah?"
"Most definitely. Just the two of us. It'll be wonderful, Ray, well worth the waiting."
Ray didn't say anything, just closed his eyes and drifted with the warmth of Fraser's light touch to anchor him one more time while he dreamed of Canada and freedom.
Ray tossed the SPORTS ILLUSTRATED on the bed and banged his head back into the pillow in absolute frustration. "I'm bored out of my skull here."
Sitting at the chair by the window, Fraser turned, his face full of sympathy. "Perhaps a game of chess would help."
"Would you like me to turn on the TV and see if there are any sporting events of interest?"
"Can't wear my glasses and I can't see the thing without them. Can't focus anyway. These drugs make me all goofy."
"I could read to you."
Ray sighed and looked over at his partner. "I'm not a kid. I don't need someone reading me a story."
"It's not about being a child, Ray. I remember whenever I got sick, my grandmother would read me something quite informative or educational."
"When you were a kid, right?"
"Ah, I see your point. Still, it doesn't change the fact that it can be very relaxing."
"What I'd really like to do is see the reports on the case." Ray turned his head, meeting Fraser's worried gaze. "What?"
"The doctor said no working."
"It's not working to just read a file."
"I thought you said you didn't want to think about the case again."
"Changed my mind. I want to read the file."
"The file is off limits until you're released. Lt. Welsh agreed with me."
"You and Welsh got together behind my back?"
"We didn't do it behind your back, Ray. We talked about it and decided while you were sleeping."
"Behind my back."
"You were indisposed."
"Behind my back. Admit it."
Fraser stood up and walked to the bedside. "All right, but it wasn't to be conniving or otherwise deceptive. We just both feel you need to wait until you're stronger before you read all the details, especially since you yourself said you don't remember most of what happened before you were rescued."
Anger pushed the words. "You and Welsh think I can't handle it, is that it? You think I'm too much of a nutcase to deal with what happened?"
Fraser shook his head in denial. "Nothing like that. If you want the file, I'll get it for you. I just think you should be prepared before reading all the explicit details."
"I can look in the mirror and see all the explicit details. I can see the broken nose, the black eyes, the stitches. You think I don't see those? That's not even including all the rest of me that looks like someone's bad idea of a crazy quilt. I know what he did, Fraser. I just thought maybe seeing it in a police report might make it a little easier, might give it some, I don't know, obsomething or other."
"You mean give it some objectivity?"
"Yeah, that's it, objectwhatever."
"Understood. I'll talk to Welsh about getting it first thing tomorrow."
"No, Ray, not tonight."
"I'm still bored then." The words came out tired, but still petulant.
Fraser leaned in and hummed softly. Ray lifted his eyebrows and smiled. "Sounds pretty. What is that?"
"It's an Inuit love song."
"Yeah? A love song, huh?" Settling down under the blanket the best he could, Ray closed his eyes. "Keep going."
As his partner continued, Ray imagined gently holding Fraser in two good arms, completely healed and dancing together forever.
After inquiries about Ray's health from both Francesca and Dewey, Fraser made it to Lt. Welsh's office with Dief at his heels. Dr. Reese sat on the sofa reading through Ray's file, his face grim. He rubbed the bandage on his right temple as he looked up.
"Good morning, Lieutenant Welsh, Dr. Reese."
Dr. Reese answered first. "Good morning. How's your partner?"
"Ray seems to be improving. The doctors have agreed he might be able to go home tomorrow as long as he doesn't get a fever and he can tolerate the oral antibiotics and the pain medications. I plan to stay with him while he recuperates."
Lt. Welsh nodded. "Good to hear."
"And what about his mental state, Constable?"
Fraser hesitated, uneasy with the question. "I'm not an expert."
Dr. Reese pressed the issue. "You know the man better than anyone. I just want your opinion before I go see him."
Fraser frowned. "Please don't take this personally, Doctor, but Ray's not inclined to see you. He's refused any counseling, either from the hospital staff or you."
"He mentioned me, specifically?"
"I'm afraid he did, sir, yes."
Welsh sat back, not pleased. "He might not have a choice. There's no way the brass is going to let him return to duty without a full psych review, not after something as bad as this."
Fraser held his hat in his hands and fingered the brim nervously. "Perhaps this isn't the juncture to deal with that aspect of his recovery. After he's had time to heal physically and we return from Canada, he might be more open to the possibility that he needs not only evaluation, but counseling as well."
"Canada?" Welsh studied him a brief moment and then nodded with a small grin of approval. "Your idea or his?"
"His actually. I had to convince him to wait a few weeks until his stamina returns, but he really wants to get away from Chicago. I have to agree that a change of locale might very well help him get a better perspective on what's happened."
Welsh rubbed the back of his head in frustration. "Does he even remember what happened?"
"He says he remembers very little."
Reese nodded and stood up. "And that's what bothers me. He never dealt with the first assault, not entirely." Reese lifted the report in his hand. "And now this. Now he blocks out the sexual assault completely. That concerns me."
Fraser swallowed hard, not wanting to think of Ray's abuse at the hands of Clooney, but unable to ignore it. "I'm not a professional, but isn't it possible that he's forgetting about it until he's more able to handle such an extreme trauma?"
"That's exactly what he's doing."
"Then why force the issue?"
Reese met his eyes. "I'm not going to force anything, Constable. However, the longer it takes for him to remember and admit that it even happened, the longer it will take for him to recover."
"What if he never remembers? He was, after all, heavily drugged with narcotics at the time of the attack."
"I can't answer that. Every patient is different."
"Then perhaps it's best to let him deal with it in his own way and at his own pace."
Reese shrugged. "I won't argue, Constable. Dealing with trauma is a tricky business no matter how we play it. Maybe he would be better off if he never remembered. Then again, he might end up on self-destruct without a clue about why he's doing what he's doing. I've seen it work out both ways."
Uneasy, Fraser looked first at Welsh and then at Reese. "Ray's asked me to see the case file."
"I thought we agreed that we wouldn't let him see it until later."
"I know, sir. We did. It's just that he's become rather insistent. He says he wants to get some objectivity about what happened. He believes reading the file will help him do that."
"Might put him over the edge, too. What do you think, Dr. Reese? Should we let Kowalski see the file?"
"You say he asked for it?"
"Yes, sir, he did."
Reese pinched the bridge of his nose before he answered. "It's hard to say. It's a gamble either way."
Fraser's frown deepened. "Why is it a gamble?"
"He could react in several ways. He might remember, accept it, and move on. He might deny the whole thing and become angry, start acting out. Or he might become seriously depressed, internalizing the pain. That's by far the most dangerous reaction. There's no way to know." Reese paused. "Look, I've only met him twice and both times he worked really hard to keep me at a distance. He's a difficult man to read, a real challenge. That's a great trait for an undercover officer, but it's tough when it comes to dealing with him in therapy. I thought I was beginning to make headway, but then this happened."
Welsh shook his head. "I don't like showing him the file, not yet." He turned his gaze on Fraser. "What do you think? Do you think he's ready?"
Gut knotted, Fraser took a deep breath. "It's not important what I think. We have to trust Ray's judgment. More importantly, Ray needs to know we trust him. He cares a great deal about that."
Reluctantly, Welsh reached over and picked up the primary case file. "You think I should be the one who hands it over?"
Fraser took the file. "No, sir. I'll do it." He glanced over at Reese. "Do you want to see Ray before or after he sees the file?"
"I'll drive over and see him before. I'll hang around in case he needs to see me later."
Fraser nodded and headed out of the office. He stopped at Ray's desk and motioned for Dief to stay put. The wolf let out a single low bark in protest. "Yes, I know. I'll tell him you miss him, too."
Ray pushed the green Jello around in the bowl, his stomach queasy from the new medications. No way he'd keep this stuff down. It looked like the gunk Mort took out of corpses.
Startled, Ray looked up. "Mum?"
"Oh, Stanley." His mother came into the room, putting a chocolate cake on the bedside table next to some flowers from the Vecchio family. She leaned over quickly, tears in her eyes while she brushed back his hair and kissed him on the forehead. "How are you feeling?"
Warmed by his mother's fussy touches, Ray smiled bravely. "I'm fine, Mum. A lot better, thanks. Doc says I should go home tomorrow."
Barbara Kowalski stood back, eyeing him closely while she traced a finger over his battered cheek. "You look like you went fifteen rounds, dear. I'm so sorry I haven't been here."
"It's okay. I understand. You were out of town and then you were busy."
Her voice sharpened. "Now, just stop that right now, Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Stop making excuses. I wanted to be here. It's just with your father, well, it's been difficult."
Lump in his throat, Ray nodded. "Yeah, I figured. Fraser said he said some stuff, mean stuff."
"You know your father. He's set in his ways."
"He's an asshole, Mum. Excuse my language, but you know it's true. Everything's got to be his way, his way or the highway. Look what happened when I just wanted to be a cop. I'm a good cop and all he sees is that I didn't do what he wanted."
"I know, dear. I'm proud of you. I hope you know that."
"Yeah, but it's nice to hear."
"It's just strange to have to come see my son under some strange name, though. I mean, what is that, Italian?"
"Yeah. But it's important that I still maintain cover as Vecchio."
"It must be confusing. I mean, you don't even look Italian."
"I know, Mum, but it's an important assignment."
"I'm sure it is." She squeezed his hand with love and affection.
Ray paused, wishing he didn't have to ask, but figuring he needed to know. "So what did Pop say to Fraser, exactly?"
His mother avoided his eyes as she walked to the window, her arms crossed. "You heard the ugly words growing up, so I won't repeat them. Your father's old-fashioned. He just doesn't understand."
"I love Fraser, Mum."
Closing her eyes, she sighed and then nodded. "I know, dear, and he is very nice looking. And he says he loves you, too. I just wish I could get to know him better."
"You can. Fraser, he's a great guy, a really great guy, if you'd just give him a chance."
She shook her head. "It's not that I wouldn't like to, Stanley. It's your father. Lord knows why, but I do love him. I shouldn't have to choose between you two."
His heart sank at the words, accepting the reality of it. "I know. You're right. I'm a grown man. You live your life, I'll live mine. I just wish we didn't have to be separated because of some bigot."
"Don't go calling your father names, Stanley. You know he has his reasons."
"He's a bigot, Mum, a narrow-minded bigot who hates me because I love someone he doesn't approve of."
"He doesn't hate you. Besides, it's more than that and you know it. He's never really gotten over what happened with you and Stella. She's such a fine girl, so pretty and smart, so perfect for you. You two were such a wonderful couple."
"I know that, Mum, but she left me. I never left her."
"I know, but it isn't easy for him to understand how you could be so in love with Stella and then turn around and be with this man. To be honest, I'm a little confused, too. Is it something I did? Something that Stella did to make you turn into this?"
"It's nothing like that. Fraser's just it for me. I can't explain it."
"It's very confusing."
"Yeah, I know." Ray closed his eyes, tired and frustrated. "Look, if you want me to say I'm sorry for falling in love with him, I can't do that. But I am sorry it upsets you."
"And your father?"
Ray bit his tongue. "He'll do what he always does, pretend like he's got no son, just like he pretended he didn't have a brother. You guys going back to Arizona?"
"I don't know. We've talked about it. We came back here because I finally convinced him to make up. Now this. It's been very difficult." She moved back to the bedside, her voice softer. "No matter what happens, I want you to know I love you and that I'm very, very proud of you. I hope this Mr. Fraser makes you happy again."
Ray reached over and took his mother's hand and squeezed it. "Thanks, Mum. I love you, too."
She bit her lower lip. "There's something else I have to tell you."
"I'm afraid Stella knows about this."
His heart sank even further. "Dad called her?"
"He was so angry, so upset. He said some very harsh things. I just thought you should know in case she says anything."
"Did she say something to you about it?"
"Just a little when she called. She's worried that this is just a reaction to the divorce. She said the whole time you were together, there was no indication you had these tendencies. She thinks maybe you just need more time to come to your senses. She mentioned her cousin Saundra was coming into town later this month. Maybe you could see her, go out on a date. Maybe this thing with Mr. Fraser is just something you need to get out of your system."
Ray snorted, almost amused at his ex-wife's evaluation. "Mum, you know me. When I say I'm in love, I mean it. This ain't no phase, something to get out of my system. It's the real deal and it's got nothing to do with Stella or how you raised me. This man loves me like nobody's business. He doesn't care how messed up I am. None of that matters, not to Fraser. He doesn't make me feel like I need to change, like I'm not good enough because I'm a cop or because I'm not real educated or I don't have lots of money. He likes the real me and loves me in spite of it. That's the way love's supposed to be, at least the kind of love I need, the kind that makes me keep living. Just because we're both guys, that don't make it nasty or something bad."
"But you know what the church says. It's wrong. I've always been taught that and it's hard to believe that it's okay all of a sudden."
"How can love be wrong? Tell me that, how can it be wrong? I don't care what anybody says. I've seen enough hate to last me a lifetime. Love between two people, that's got to be good. If it ain't, then I just don't get that."
"Your father won't be able to get past it. Damien wants to leave town again. He's my husband."
Ray squeezed her hand again. "It's okay."
"We'll still talk. I can still call and send cards at Christmas and your birthday. I'll just have to be sure your father doesn't find out."
Blinking away tears, Ray nodded. "Sure, Mum, cards are good."
Ray dreamed of boxing, of throwing punches, landing each blow where he intended. Winded and sweaty, he took every jab, every hit, and leaned in even harder. In his mind, the guy was always bigger and faster, but it didn't matter. He won because in his head he knew he could outlast any guy who bothered to step in the ring. Stubborn and being able to take a solid crack to the jaw, that's what made Ray a good fighter. Whether it was in the gym or on the streets, it didn't matter.
Hearing Fraser's voice in the distance, he groaned and stepped over the ropes. As he opened the door to the weight room, he blinked and focused on his partner. "Fraser?"
"I didn't mean to wake you. You were sleeping so soundly."
"It's okay. I was finished."
"The round. I was boxing."
"Anyone I know?"
Ray paused and furrowed his brow. "I don't remember his face. He was big though, and I was whipping his ass. Felt good, too."
"See? What's to see?"
"Well, I assume that since you're incapacitated, dreaming provides an outlet for your frustration at not being able to work out on a regular schedule."
Ray pushed the button to raise the head of his bed a bit higher. He avoided Fraser's gaze, his tone tight and irritated. "Could be. Or it could be I just like to beat the shit out of people while I'm sleeping since I'm not so hot about doing that while I'm awake these days."
"Ray, did something happen while I was gone?"
"Happen? What could happen? I'm in a hospital bed dreaming my ass off."
"You seem upset."
Ray paled slightly, his voice more choked. "My mum came by to see me."
Ray lifted his cast slightly. "Don't ah me or I'll clobber you with this thing."
Fraser kept his voice calm and steady. "I assume the visit didn't go well."
"You assume correctly. My dad thinks I'm a piece of shit and while my mum says she still loves me, she loves my dad more." He paused and closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. "No, that's not fair. She's been with him since she was a kid. I can't expect her to leave him because he's an asshole after all this time. Hell, he's been an asshole off and on ever since I can remember."
"It must have been painful."
"Yeah, well, it's what I expected. I mean, I grew up hearing about faggots and queers and how they should all be shot so they could burn in hell. I don't know why I'd think me being his son would make any difference."
"I'm sorry, Ray." Fraser touched his shoulder in sympathy, but Ray didn't respond. After a few moments, Fraser prompted, "Is there anything I can do?"
Ray swallowed hard and sat up straighter. "Give me the file and take Mum's cake out to the nurses or something."
"Isn't chocolate your favorite?"
"I'm not in the mood, okay? Just get rid of it."
"Understood." Fraser handed him the file folder and went to the other side of the bed to pick up the cake. He hesitated. "Ray, I should tell you before you start that Dr. Reese is in the hall. He wanted to talk to you about the situation first. I told him I'd ask."
"And I told you I don't want to see him or any other quacks right now."
"Ray, that's hardly a fair assessment of the psychiatric profession in general or Dr. Reese in particular. He seems more than competent and he's very concerned about your welfare."
Angry, Ray snorted. "What? You want me to see this guy? You think I need to see this jerk?"
"I didn't say that. I just think that cutting off all possibility that you might need some support later on during recovery is a bit hasty."
"Hasty? Hasty? Well, here's hasty for you, Fraser, old buddy, old pal, just get the hell out. Take the fucking cake and Reese and just go."
Stunned by his partner's unexpected temper, Fraser stood stock still. "Ray, you don't have to see Reese, but I'm not leaving."
Ray's right hand trembled as he held the file in his lap. "I need you to go, Fraser. I didn't mean to yell. I'm sorry. I'm a jerk sometimes, I know that. I'm not mad at you, but I need to be alone when I read this."
"That's not a good idea, Ray."
"I can't read it if you're in here."
Fraser ran his thumb over his eyebrow and bit his lower lip. After a moment, he nodded. "On one condition."
"That you'll talk about it afterwards, tell me what you're thinking. I don't mean this as a criticism, Ray, but you do tend to push me away when you're upset about something. If we're to be together, I have to know that you trust me enough to be honest about what you're feeling."
"That's a hard one."
"I know that."
Ray cleared his throat. "I can't promise, I just can't. Don't ask me to do that. It's not you and it's not that I don't trust you. I do. It's me, I know it's me. I have a problem talking about stuff like this. It's not easy. All I can do is say I'll try."
Fraser touched his good shoulder and squeezed gently. "I'll be outside then."
Ray captured his wrist. "Tell Reese it wasn't his fault."
"What wasn't his fault?"
"Jenson being able to nab me like that in his office. He had a gun to his head. I get that. I don't want him to think that I blame him and that's why I won't see him."
"Maybe you should tell him yourself."
"Don't make this a federal case, Fraser. Just tell him."
Nodding, Fraser headed for the door and paused. "Call me when you're done."
As soon as Fraser left the room, Ray looked down at the file. He closed his eyes, willing himself to calm down, swearing to himself that no matter what he read, he'd be all right. Fraser knew what happened, so now it was his turn to face the music. He tugged on the overhead light chain to make it brighter and then opened the cover, letting his cop brain take over.
After an hour and no signal from Ray, a worried Fraser knocked lightly and then entered the room. Ray sat quietly, staring off into space, the file closed on his lap.
"Ray?" When his partner didn't answer right away, Fraser walked to his bedside and touched his chest. "Ray, are you okay?"
"Don't think so. I think I'm in trouble, big trouble, the kind of trouble you never think can happen. I thought I could handle this, but I can't."
"It's a lot to take in."
"That's just it. I can't."
"Can't take it in. Every time I try to read this thing, I can't. It's like it turns into another language or something." Ray wet his lips and took a few deep breaths. "At first I thought it was just my eyes, so I tested them out. I want to read about the Bulls, no problem. I go back to the file again, and bam, it turns into scribbles. It's like I got this mental block or something. I guess that means I'm crazier than I thought, a serious nut job."
"You're not unbalanced, Ray. You're just not ready to read it."
"But that's the thing, Fraser."
"I don't understand."
"I want to read it. I mean, I feel like I'm ready to read the damn thing and get it done with. I mean, I asked to read it. But I can't make it out no matter how hard I try. That's never happened before, never, no matter how bad things were." The words hurried along, the panic just beneath the surface. "I mean, how fucked up is that?"
"Ray, calm down. I'm sure the situation is temporary."
Turning to face Fraser, Ray shook his head. "You don't know that. No way you could know that. I could be seriously screwed in the head here. I'm a cop. I've got to be able to deal with stuff like this, no matter how bad it is."
"And you will, when you're ready."
Ray reached for Fraser's hand and held it to his chest as he closed his eyes. Shaky all over, he whispered, "Fraser, I'm scared."
"I know, Ray."
"I mean, when your brain's playing hide and seek with your life, it means you're pretty fucked up, right? Even I know that much, even I know you don't hide shit from yourself unless you're in a hell of a lot of trouble."
Fraser squeezed his hand and spoke calmly, his voice smooth and soothing. "Listen to me, Ray. You've suffered through a terrible situation, but you're going to recover at your own pace, both physically and emotionally. When you're stronger, when you've had time to heal, then you'll remember the details. Right now all that matters is that you're alive and getting better all the time." Fraser paused and then petted back Ray's hair. "I love you. You're going to go home and we'll be together."
Ray hated crying, hated it, wanted to smack himself around and say knock it off, you big baby. But none of that tough talk in his head helped, so he gave up. A tear slipped down the side of Ray's face and he nodded. He didn't speak right away, but he opened his eyes and met Fraser's stare. Clearing his throat, he found his voice. "I love you, too, but I'm just really messed up right now."
Fraser smiled as he cupped Ray's face. "But you're alive."
"Not too picky, huh?"
"On the contrary, I'm very discriminating." He leaned in and very carefully kissed him, just the slightest of teases on the damaged lips.
Ray hesitated, but then hooked the nape of Fraser's neck with his good hand to keep him from pulling away. He kissed him again harder, his tongue meeting Fraser's. When he finished, he grinned. "You taste like chocolate."
Flushing, Fraser ran a finger along Ray's chin. "The nurses wanted me to share in the bounty of your mother's cake."
"And you being a good little Mountie had to be polite."
"Of course, Ray." Fraser stood up straighter, his face serious again. "Nurse Buchman also asked me if I knew why you weren't eating. I must confess I was at a loss."
Pulling away, Ray's breath hitched as he repositioned himself on the bed, the oversized cast straining his patience. "Hospital food sucks, Fraser. You've seen it. Dief wouldn't even eat the stuff they bring in here. It's nasty. Speaking of Furface, how is the wolf?"
"He misses you, but otherwise he's fine. Now, don't change the subject. I realize hospital food isn't exactly Canadian cuisine, but to heal, your body needs plenty of protein and other essential nutrients to repair your bones and damaged tissues."
"You sound like the Discovery Channel."
"I'm serious, Ray. You need to eat more."
"I'm not hungry and even if I was starving, I'm not eating something that looks and smells like garbage."
Fraser opened his mouth to respond, but then closed it. He waited a few moments to calm himself before speaking more quietly. "I understand your reluctance. There must be a great deal of discomfort in addition to the food being unappetizing. As soon as you're released, I'll endeavor to make sure you have some food that you'll find more appealing. Until then, you need to try harder."
Frustrated, Ray adjusted the new sling that strained and rubbed at his neck. "Don't tell me what to do."
"I'm just suggesting that the doctor expects you to eat more. When you're home, it'll be easier to find something that's more pleasing."
"You're not my slave, Fraser. I'll just have something delivered."
"Ray, it's no problem."
"It's a problem for me. I don't want you fussing over me when I get home. I just want us to try and act normal. Is that too hard to do, to be normal?"
"I suppose it depends on your definition of normal."
Ray sighed heavily. "Look, Fraser, I know I'm being a real pain in the ass here, but I really need some space. I've got things to think about, things to work out."
"And I get in the way of that?"
The hurt tone jarred him. Ray turned and shook his head. "It's not you. No matter how bad I get, don't ever think it's you." Reaching over, Ray took Fraser's hand again. "If I get really bad, just kick me in the head and be done with it, okay?"
"I'd never kick you in the head, Ray."
"But you've got my permission if I get too out of line. Maybe a good kick in the head is what I need, you know like a jumpstart or something."
"I hardly think a kick in the head is listed under any approved medical procedures."
"Maybe not, but I know a few people I'd like to kick in the head and I'm pretty damn sure that it would make me feel a hell of a lot better."
"Who would that be?"
"My father for one."
Ray's tongue tripped. He wanted to say Clooney, but he couldn't say the name out loud, couldn't get near it. "Doesn't matter. He's dead now, so it's over."
"You're thinking about Michael Clooney."
"I don't want to, but yeah, he slips in."
Fraser nodded, his face grim. "I shouldn't say this."
"It goes against everything I've been trained to say and believe."
"I'm glad he's dead."
Ray squeezed Fraser's hand. "All that means is that you're human."
"More human than you know."
"I was there when they shot Clooney."
"I know. I remember that part."
Fraser's voice choked. "I thought he'd killed you."
A rush of love overwhelmed him. "But he didn't."
"I wanted to kill him myself."
"It's okay, Fraser. It's normal to want to protect somebody you love. I'd feel the same way if someone hurt you."
A tongue ran along Fraser's lower lip as he struggled with control. "You don't understand, Ray. Even when I was pursuing the men who killed my father, I never felt that kind of rage, that kind of hatred. I must admit that it frightened me to know that I have that wealth of negative emotion inside me."
"You're wrong. I know exactly what it's like to hate somebody that much. I tried explaining it before, but it must not have come out right. There's no reason to feel guilty about hating an evil son of a bitch like that."
"That's the odd thing, Ray. I don't feel guilty, not in the least. His death means that he'll never hurt you again and you won't have to testify."
"The bastard gave up his right to live when he killed Ricky and those other cops. And those weren't the only people he killed, either. There's no reason to feel guilty or feel guilty about not feeling guilty, you got that?"
"I think so."
"Good, because I don't want to talk about it anymore. It makes my head hurt, and my head has taken enough shots for one day."
Ray let go of Fraser's hand and lifted the file from his lap. "Here, take this thing back to Welsh. I'm sleepy. My head's killing me all of a sudden. Maybe I'll get some shut eye and when you get back, we'll talk about the trip."
Nodding, Fraser reluctantly took the file. "I don't like leaving you here alone."
"I'll be fine, Fraser, I'm good."
"Yeah. One thing though, you could stop by a store and get me something to wear home tomorrow since all my clothes are shot."
"For putting up with a mug like me."
Fraser leaned in and kissed him gently, his voice smooth like warm honey. "My pleasure."
The forest stretched out, one tree after the other, all bunched up, no paths or obvious trails. For hours Ray trekked through the snowy wilderness until the light began to fail. He didn't need Fraser to tell him he had to find shelter before dark or end up an icicle in the middle of nowhere. Up ahead, he suddenly saw a flickering campfire.
Moving quickly, he followed the line of sight until he finally emerged from the trees into a narrow clearing. Sitting down on a stump, he took off his gloves and then warmed his hands, blowing on them and then holding them together in front of the small fire. Ray sniffed the air and his stomach growled.
Bob Fraser stirred the pot and glanced over. "You need to eat, son. You can't make it out here looking like some half-starved wolf cub. One strong wind and you'd be done for."
"You sound like Fraser." Ray motioned towards the pot. "What's in there?"
"As real as one gets when you're dead."
"You're still dead, huh?"
"Seems to be a permanent condition. Not much one can do but make the best of it."
Nodding, Ray stuffed his gloves in his pocket. "So why am I here again?"
"That's hard to say." Fraser picked up a bowl and ladled out some stew. He handed it over to Ray along with a fork. "Every man chooses his own journey, his own path."
"And your path brings you to the woods every night?"
"Actually I've got a nice warm office in the Consulate. It's been rather pleasant talking to Benton on a regular basis. I must confess that I seem to be a better parent dead than I was alive. It's a shame to admit, but there you are. No use denying the truth any more than pretending it doesn't snow in Canada."
"Fraser sees you?"
"Benton sees me when he wants to. He's always been an obstinate child. Hasn't changed much over the years. Gets that from his mother."
"So you're saying he sees and talks to you just like I'm doing now?"
"Not exactly. To be frank, I'm not sure why you're able to see me. Death's not all it's cracked up to be. Contrary to popular belief, you don't have all the answers. You wander around and around, no map, no instructions. It needs some serious restructuring, but try telling that to the ones in charge and see how far it gets you. Not very far, I can tell you."
Ray stirred his stew, tasting a tiny bit and then nodding with approval, the flavor like chicken pot pie made with dark meat and without the crust. "Not bad."
"Eat up. There's plenty more."
Finishing his bowlful, he put it down and took the next offered cup. "What's this?"
"Bark tea. Drink it. You need it."
Ray didn't argue and drank, coughing a few times. It tasted like the pond water he'd swallowed when he'd jumped into his cousin's farm pond when he was only fourteen. He made a face. "How can Fraser drink this stuff? Tastes scummy."
Fraser's father didn't answer, just added another piece of wood to the fire, the sparks flying up as the light around them faded to pitch black. "You really shouldn't take it so personally, son."
"The medics. They mean well. Of course, half the time they don't know a hawk from a handsaw, but still, they're not malicious." Fraser Senior tapped his nose in a knowing gesture and smiled. "Just play along and you'll be shipshape and ready for action. That's the aim, son. To be back out there doing what you were made for, fighting for justice. And, after all, you have the edge now."
"My son for a partner."
Ray crossed his arms, suddenly colder, an unexpected chill wracking his body. He leaned in closer to the fire, but the heat didn't faze him. He touched his hand to his head, a throbbing pain in his left temple. Swallowing back nausea, he closed his eyes. "I don't feel so good."
Ignoring his complaint, Bob Fraser kept talking. "Did I ever tell you about the time Fraser was only two and he ran out into the snow naked looking for his pet bear cub?"
"Pet bear cub?"
"Not a real pet. He didn't know how vicious the creature's mother could be when she thought her offspring was in danger." Fraser Senior smiled with pride. "Benton was such a fearless boy even as a baby."
"And the naked part?"
The older man laughed. "He always hated wearing clothes. His mother used to chase him around trying to keep the child covered. Of course, a frostbite scare when he was five cured that inclination."
Ray closed his eyes, the world suddenly spinning. Swallowing down bile, he blinked several times, opening his eyes to the bright light of the overhead fixture. Fraser pulled the blanket up higher and cupped his face. "Ray?"
"Jesus, who let the truck in?"
"The one that hit me."
Fraser's face tightened, his lips thin with worry. "You're running a fever. The doctor put you back on IV antibiotics."
"You scared me."
Ray closed his eyes, trying to keep the dizziness down to a minimum. "Sorry. Didn't mean to."
"The doctor said this isn't unexpected considering the number of traumatic wounds inflicted."
"Son of a bitch could've mentioned it."
"He did. We were just hoping it wouldn't happen."
Ray peeked one eye at his partner. "We? When did he say that?"
"The first day you were admitted."
"Did he tell me?"
"I don't think so."
"You were unconscious at the time."
"Yeah, but then I woke up. Remember me, Fraser, me, the patient, the one who needs to know these little details?" His teeth chattered and he forgot the rest of what he wanted to fuss about. His overheated mind fuzzed out all his clear thinking or the clever use of his tongue.
"You're right. I should've made sure he told you. I suppose my only excuse is that I truly hoped it wouldn't happen."
Ray grabbed the rail of the bed and held on. "I'll forgive you if you'll make the room stop spinning and turn up the heat. Did they forget to pay the bill or something?"
"Your body's natural defenses are trying to bring your temperature down."
"By freezing my ass off?"
"Actually, your present temperature is several degrees above normal. You need to rest and let the antibiotics fight the infection."
"How long will that take?"
"A few more days."
"A few more days? But I'm going home tomorrow."
Fraser frowned. "What's the last thing you remember?"
"You mean other than having rabbit stew with your dad?"
"You were eating rabbit stew with my father?"
Sighing, Ray recalled the encounter. "Yeah, he's a good cook, too, considering he's a dead guy."
"Ray, you've been very ill. You've been in and out of consciousness since you spiked a fever last night. You were supposed to be released today, but that's been delayed."
"So I just dreamed up how you used to run around naked looking for pet bears and getting frostbite?"
"Dear God, will I never live that down?"
"At least he didn't drag out the naked baby pictures."
"The man seems to delight in finding the most outrageous ways to embarrass me."
Ray laughed and then groaned at the discomfort. "He loves you, Fraser. He's back from the grave to prove it for godsakes. Be grateful."
Angry lines smoothed and Fraser nodded. "You're right, Ray. I'm being foolish."
"That's okay. A dad can make a guy crazy sometimes, I know that. At least your dad seems to be okay with us being together." Ray coughed, holding his stomach and then clearing his throat. "It's just weird how he's always showing up when I'm sleeping lately. You think it's because I need a dad now or because he's really real? I mean, I know he's a dream, but he seems a lot more real than my own dad. You think that means something or am I just crazy?"
"You're not crazy, Ray. I see him, too. I must confess the first time he appeared, I thought I was losing my mind as well."
"Maybe we're both nuts."
"And maybe we have a special connection that lets us see beyond the normal limits of perception."
Ray shut his eyes and sighed. "Yeah, right. Like I said, Fraser, nuts, Looney tunes, cracked, unhinged, you pick one. All I know is, I'm talking to your dead father more than I'm talking to my own. I don't know what the hell it means, but it's not supposed to be happening. Maybe I need special drugs and a straight jacket. Maybe I just need to get well and get the hell out of Chicago before I really do go crazy."
"You're not crazy, Ray."
"Easy for you to say. You've been talking to the dead guy all along and didn't even tell me. I won't even mention the talking to the deaf wolf thing."
"I didn't mean to keep it from you."
Holding up a hand, Ray shook his head. "It's okay. I understand. You didn't want me to think you had a screw loose. I get that. I'd have done the same thing. God, my head's killing me. Why's my head hurt?"
"It's the infection."
"In my head?"
"You've got a systemic infection. Your white blood cell count is extremely high, Ray. That's what's causing the headaches, along with the fever, chills, and other rather unpleasant symptoms. That's why you're on the IVs again. The oral medications didn't adequately control the infection."
Ray looked disdainfully at the IV in his right hand and then closed his eyes. "I'm so sick of this, Fraser. I just want to go home."
"And you will. Just not today."
"It's been almost a week now."
Ray sighed in surrender, his head all mushy and his thoughts soft. "Fraser, tell me about what we're going to do when we get to your father's cabin. What's it going to be like, just the two of us?"
Fraser used a cool, damp cloth and wiped back blond hair as he talked about plans, about all the things that needed to be done, chopping the wood, fetching water, all kinds of sturdy, pioneer stuff. But Ray didn't listen to the details, just the tone of his partner's gentle voice, the words like music that played an intimate song that he wanted to hear forever.
Welsh walked down the corridor, tired and remembering how much he hated hospitals, the smells, the noise, all of it. Too many distraught families and too many officers down made visiting hours something he dreaded with a passion every time he had to show up. Still, duty was duty, so after Kowalski's unexpected and rather disjointed call, he needed to follow up.
Arms crossed, Fraser leaned against the wall outside Ray's room, obviously worn-out. Dressed in jeans and a white, wool sweater, he looked up and smiled. "Lieutenant Welsh, nice to see you."
"Nice to see you, too, Constable, though I've seen you looking better."
"Well, it's been a long night."
"How's he doing?"
"Improving. He's cranky again which is always a reliable sign with Ray that he's feeling better."
"And you're out here in the hallway because?"
"The doctor and nurse are removing some of his sutures and treating his wounds."
Welsh nodded and studied the young man again. He'd seen Fraser in many conditions, enthusiastic, thoughtful, concerned, even desperate about his partner's life, but never this exhausted. "You get any sleep at all over the last few days?"
"I managed a few hours here and there."
"Right. Well, since the doctors and nurses seem to have your partner in hand, why don't I take you down to the cafeteria they have here in this fine medical establishment and buy you a cup of coffee or tea if you prefer?"
"I don't know, sir. Ray might need me."
"I'm sure he will, but we have time between now and then." Welsh took his elbow and headed him towards the elevator and then released him. He pushed the down button and glanced sideways. "So the doctor give any more clues about when we can spring him?"
"Perhaps tomorrow. The doctor keeps hedging and won't give a definite answer."
"I'm sure that went over well."
Fraser didn't bother to respond, but grinned weakly as the elevator dinged. They got on, riding with the other passengers in silence. Then they got off and walked together to the double doors, Fraser suddenly stopping. "I really should be up there."
"Constable, he'll be fine. You'll go back in a minute."
"It's just, well, I must confess, I have a rather irrational urge to run up the stairs to stand guard. I can't seem to shake this overwhelming anxiety about his welfare."
Fraser's bloodshot eyes met Welsh's steady gaze. "Is it?"
"Everybody feels like that when a partner gets hurt."
Once again, Welsh landed a hand on Fraser's shoulder and nudged him forward. As they started through the line, Welsh asked, "You eat yet?"
"Yes, thank you. I'll just have tea."
Welsh picked up one tray, getting himself coffee and a Danish along with Fraser's tea. He paid and then led them to a table off to the side. Once seated, Welsh doctored his drink with cream and then watched as Frazer fiddled with his tea, not really drinking, glancing nervously at the door.
"You want to tell me how he's really doing or do we keep dancing?"
"Ah." Fraser didn't meet his eyes. "Like I said, he's shown remarkable improvement. The oral antibiotics seem to cause some nausea, but they are controlling the infection, so the fever is gone. However, he's still not eating well. The doctor is giving him supplements, which he detests."
"Some of his wounds are quite deep. The ones on his right shoulder and left thigh needed debridement."
"A procedure which removes the dead tissue. There quite likely will be deep scaring. The doctor suggested the possibility of seeing a plastic surgeon after they're fully healed for reconstruction."
Welsh swallowed hard, remembering the staggering number of cuts and gashes, the 232 sutures, the bruises, the blood. He met Fraser's knowing eyes, recognizing a similar pain, a similar guilt at not saving Ray from the whole thing. "And his mental state other than cranky?"
"It's difficult to say."
"Constable, I'm not here to hurt him."
"Understood." Fraser glanced away. "He still can't remember what happened and that scares him."
"I think it would scare anybody."
"Agreed. Still, he's frustrated and angry about not being able to control what's happening to him here. He doesn't like being restricted."
"You're telling me."
Fraser smiled and nodded. "Indeed, sir. The nurses consider him quite a challenge."
"I'll bet they do. And what about you? Is he challenging you?"
Puzzled, Fraser frowned. "In what way?"
"I mean, does he push you away, threaten to kick you in the head like he tends to do?"
"Ah, well, I know he doesn't mean it."
"Of course. My point is, how are you holding up dealing with him?"
"I'm doing fine, sir."
"You don't look fine, Constable. You look done in, ready to drop. You need to look out for yourself, too. You can't help him if you give out before you even get the man home."
"There's no need for concern, Lieutenant. I've gone for extended periods without rest before."
"Probably so, but I'll wager you've never had to take care of someone like your partner before. I've observed Ray Kowalski pretty extensively over the last year and he doesn't strike me as someone who's going to make it easy on either one of you once he's out of here."
"He'll make it harder on himself."
"No doubt. Still, you'll be better able to handle him if you're rested and in good shape yourself."
"I'll rest when he's home."
"I'd be surprised if that were true." Welsh held up a hand to halt Fraser's protest. "Listen to me, I want you to go home, get rested, and then come back tomorrow. Hopefully, you'll be able to take him home by then."
"I appreciate your concern, sir, but I really can't do that."
"Can't or won't?"
"A little of both, I'm afraid."
"What if I made it an order?"
"I hope you won't do that."
"Because you'd disobey?"
"I was afraid of that." Shrugging, Welsh finished off his Danish and coffee before wiping his mouth. "All right then, here's the drill. We go up, I see my detective for myself, and we'll get his vote about you taking the day off."
Startled, Fraser shook his head. "Ray doesn't get a vote in this."
Welsh smiled, his eyes sparkling. "We'll see about that."
Ray floated with the drugs, relishing the relief they gave, the overall dullness that kept him from crying out. His wounds itched all the time now, a good sign according to Doctor Love-To-Hurt-Your-Ass Barnes, who acted like it was no big deal to pull nasty shit out of cuts all over his body. Son of a bitch didn't even flinch when he jerked the thread out without warning or scrubbed away the crusty scabs clinging to the edges of Ray's damaged skin. Bastard enjoyed shoving a gloved hand up his ass without mercy, all clinical and cold like it was no big deal to do that, to fucking do that like it was nothing. God, how he fucking hated doctors.
Running a tongue along the inside of his healing lip, Ray closed his eyes and went with the drifting sensation. The bruised fingers of his left hand throbbed so he wiggled them a little just to change the rhythm of the pain. The broken wrist hurt bone deep and no matter what he did, that never really changed. But as long as he took the drugs, he just didn't give a shit. He could live with that. Might decide to live with it a long time if he had to. Stoned was good, stoned was greatness. He had connections. Sure beat the hell out of booze.
Ray peeked an eye open. "Hey, Fraser, Lieutenant. Where you guys been?" The words came out slurred, but he played them off. "Missed all the fun up here. A real barrel of monkeys."
Welsh frowned, but kept his voice neutral. "How are you feeling, Detective, as if I can't tell?"
"Fine, just fine. You?"
"I'm fine, too." Welsh motioned towards Fraser. "But the Constable here, he's not so fine. Seems he doesn't want to follow your suggestion of taking a break."
"Big surprise. Told you he's hard-headed. Stubborn as they come. Bet he's the most stubborn Mountie on the whole damn planet. Just my luck."
Startled, Fraser interrupted. "I don't understand, Ray. Did you call the lieutenant and tell him you wanted me to leave you alone for the night?"
"Told you myself and got squat for my efforts. Thought I'd bring in the big guns. Right, Lieutenant?"
"Well, it won't work."
"Fraser, give me a break here. I'm trying to be as dippy, diplo something or other, as I can be."
"You mean diplomatic?"
"Yeah, yeah, that's it." Ray nearly giggled, the dope making his head sing even if he was fussing with Fraser. "You're just wasted, way too tired for your own good, and it's all my fault. Makes me feel like shit seeing you too tried to see straight."
"Ray, it's not your fault that I'm tired."
"So you admit you're tired."
"Well, of course, I'm tired, Ray but I'm not too tired to be here. You need me."
"Yeah, yeah, I do, I need you to do me a favor. Go home and sack out. Then come back tomorrow and get my ass out of here whether the doctor okays it or not."
"Please, Fraser. Do this for me." Ray knew he didn't play fair, but he didn't care about that. He needed a break, a serious vacation from dealing with anyone, especially Fraser. "Please?"
Fraser ran his thumb over his eyebrow and then looked first at Welsh and then Ray. "I don't like it, but if you really want me to go temporarily, I will." Before Ray could smile at his victory, Fraser raised a finger and added, "On one condition."
"Jesus, Fraser, what is it with you? You've always got a condition."
"I want someone here with you."
"No? Ray, that's my condition."
"Take it or leave it? I don't think so. I don't need a babysitter. I can do for myself and anything I can't do, there's a nurse a buzzer away. So pack up your Stetson and hit the road with the lieutenant."
Welsh interrupted. "Look, Kowalski, I offered to help here, and I agree that the Constable needs rest."
"So what's the problem?"
"The problem is, I want to know what you've got up your sleeve."
"Ten pounds of plaster looks like."
"Don't get flip with me or you'll need another ten pounds. Spill or I'll be the one camping out on your doorstep until morning."
Fraser crossed his arms and nodded. "Yes, Ray. Spill."
Ray sighed and shook his head. "I can't believe you guys. No wonder you're cops. Suspicious fucks."
"Excuse me, Detective?"
"Oops. Sorry, sir. Didn't mean to say that out loud."
"You didn't answer the question, either."
"I swear I only wanted a little break, sir, maybe go for a little walk or something. I've been cooped up here for over a week now. I just wanted to get out, see a movie, go to a game. I'd have been back in a couple of hours."
"If you thought you could pull that off, then those drugs have done more than addle your tongue, Kowalski."
"Dear God, Ray, did you seriously believe you could sneak out without being noticed? This is a hospital. They would've notified us right away if you were missing."
"And then, Detective, we would track you down and drag your sorry ass back."
"Ray, please, tell me you weren't really thinking about doing something that could endanger your recovery like this."
Refusing to meet either man's eyes, Ray turned away and stared at the wall instead. "Okay, so it was a stupid plan. Being stupid comes easy. But you still need to rest. I'm still worried about you getting sick because of me."
Welsh shook his head in frustration. "Listen, Kowalski, I don't know where your mind is right now, but you pull a stunt like that and I'd be the one kicking someone in the head. You got that?"
"Good." Welsh turned to Fraser. "What would you like to do, Constable? I've got a nice pair of handcuffs if you're interested."
Fraser shook his head. "No, I'll be fine. If you want to visit, I'll wait outside, but I'm not leaving." He stepped closer to the bed, his voice softer, but still tough. "I'm not leaving, Ray. You want to sneak out on your own, you've got to get past me to do it."
Ray heard Fraser's hurt, felt it deep in his gut. Still turned away, he whispered, "I'm sorry, Fraser. I fucked up. I'm sorry."
Instead of answering, Fraser stepped to the door. "Thank you for coming by, Lieutenant." He walked out and the door clicked shut.
After a moment of silence, Ray rolled onto his back, his good arm up and over his face. "Fuck."
"That about covers it, Kowalski. What the hell were you thinking?"
"I wasn't, not really. I just wanted a break."
"A break from reality?"
"Reality is overrated, sir. Besides, it wasn't like I was going on the lam or anything. I just wanted to get some fresh air, just be free for a few hours, that's all."
"Don't lie to me and don't keep lying to yourself."
Surprised by the hard tone, Ray moved his arm and stared into the concerned eyes of his boss. "I'm not lying."
"You can barely make it to the can on your own. Where did you really expect to go in your condition? In front of the bus or on it?"
"You think I want to hurt myself?"
Welsh leaned against the rail, his voice softer. "Kowalski...Ray, I don't know what to think. Something tells me you don't know, either. What am I supposed to think, that you're going out of your way to get rid of your partner just so you can run around alone when you're drugged to the gills and not thinking straight? See a problem here?"
"I guess so."
"You guess so?"
Ray swallowed hard. "Yes, I see a problem, sir."
"And do you know what the problem is?"
"Well, you see, that's sort of the problem."
"I was afraid of that."
"Look, look, I know it was dumb, really stupid and I won't do it again. I just need you to explain it to Fraser."
"Explain what to Fraser?"
"Explain that I didn't mean to hurt him, or trick him, or do anything stupid like that."
Welsh stood up straighter and shook his head. "You can tell him yourself."
"But he's pissed."
"He should be."
Ray closed his eyes and fought down his scream. "You don't know what it's like."
"Having Fraser here all the time, looking at me, knowing he knows what happened and knowing that no matter how hard I try, I can't remember." Ray swallowed hard, the grief almost too much. "I catch him staring and he's so sad, I mean, deep, hardcore sad like he gets sometimes, and he's looking at me with that look and it hurts, hurts like nothing I've ever felt before."
"So you wanted him to go home to get a break from that?"
"So, were you really going to sneak out or did you just make that up to cover the real reason?"
"I don't know, Lieutenant. I don't know if it's a lie. I might've tried it or I might have just watched the game and sacked out. To be honest, I don't half know what I'm going to do anymore."
"Like you half knew before."
The sudden sarcasm took him off guard. Ray shrugged. "Yeah, well, you've got a point there." He paused as he gripped the blanket, suddenly nervous. "Look, don't tell Fraser what I said about him being sad about me and about it being too much sometimes."
"I won't, but I think you should. He needs to know what you're thinking."
"Why should he have an advantage I don't?"
Welsh sighed heavily. "Because he's your partner, Ray, and, if you ask me, he needs all the help he can get."
"You still mad?"
"I'm fine, Ray."
"I said I was fine."
"I can tell you're still mad. You get this pinched look around the face."
"Dear God, Ray, would you please stop?"
"I'm sorry, Fraser. I said I was sorry. What more can I do?"
Fraser dropped the unfinished crossword puzzle on the table and stood up. He walked to the bed and took a deep breath as he braced both arms on the raised rail. "Do you have any idea how much I love you?"
"A lot, I guess."
"Well, yeah, Fraser, I guess." Ray tested the waters and touched the top of Fraser's hand. When his partner didn't pull away, Ray swallowed hard. "I figure if you're half in love with me as I am with you, you're in a bad way."
"I don't consider being in love with you being in a bad way, Ray."
"Maybe you should. I'm not easy to be with even when I'm in good shape and I'm about as far from good here as I can get." He rubbed his thumb along the top of Fraser's hand as he talked quietly. "Stella used to complain about how hard it was to love me."
"Don't take this as a personal criticism, Ray, but your ex-wife was an emotionally abusive woman."
Shocked by the unexpectedly harsh words, Ray pulled away and met Fraser's steady gaze. "What?"
"She continually manipulated and used your love and affection as a tool to belittle and berate you. What concerns me is why you put up with it for as long as you did and then wanted to go back for more. You were, and still are to some degree, obsessed with the woman."
Suddenly angry, Ray snapped back, "And you weren't obsessed with that Victoria bitch?"
Fraser nodded, still calm. "You're right. I was. Perhaps that's why I can see clearly how being with someone can sometimes blind you to that person's machinations, blind you enough to cause problems."
"Blinded by love? You think being in love with me is a bad thing, that it's going to turn out a disaster for both of us like it did with Victoria and Stella? Is that what you're saying here, Fraser, because it sure sounds like that's what you're saying."
"No, Ray, that's not what I'm saying." Fraser leaned in against the side of the bed, his face stretched with fatigue and frustration. "I'm just saying that you can't gauge your behavior by what Stella used to say. You do that a lot, put yourself down based on her rather unfair and biased appraisals."
"Stella's a smart woman. I tend to fall for the smart ones."
"Ray, she's very intelligent. I won't debate that. She's the avatar through which you see yourself, but that's not a true representation of what and who you truly are."
"You take her unkind words and biased views to heart and you shouldn't."
"Why not? She loved me, Fraser. Sure, she fell out of love later on, but that was my fault, not hers."
"Why was it your fault, Ray? You were mere children when you met, under rather traumatic circumstances, I might add, which would explain your intense fixation on her from the start. Few of us are the same as children as we are as adults. It's only natural that you eventually developed different interests. However, instead of sharing and accepting those differences, Stella wanted you to be the one who always sacrificed, always gave in to her wishes. When you did, she saw you as weak. When you didn't, she complained that you were difficult and without ambition. I'm sorry, Ray, but that's not a good marriage. That's not how I want our life to be."
"Yes, I think so."
"Good, because you don't have a right to dissect my marriage. You weren't there. You only see the one side after the fact, and, let's face it, Fraser, you're on my side. So your view of Stella ain't exactly fair here."
"And her view of you isn't fair, either, Ray. You color your opinions of yourself based on her comments and rejection."
"That's my fault, not hers."
"You're doing it again, Ray."
"Excusing her and blaming yourself."
"So what if I am?" Ray shook his head and then raised a hand. "Don't answer that. Look, I don't want to talk about Stella anymore. I want to talk about us. I need to know I didn't fuck this up so much that you're having second thoughts about this whole thing."
"I'm not having second thoughts."
"Not even a little bit?"
"Not even a little bit. I love you, Ray, no matter how exasperating your behavior can be sometimes."
"Excruciatingly so on occasion. Still, it does seem to add a certain intensity to my life that I never had before."
Ray smiled. "Intensity's good."
"Yes, it is, Ray. Your passion makes the colors of the world more real, more alive, the music more uplifting, and my world more like Heaven as long as you're in it."
His chest tightened at the romantic words and at Fraser's kiss to his hand. Stella never liked the mushy stuff and now here was Fraser doing to him what he used to do to her. Weird world, but he liked it. "I love you, too, Fraser."
"I know, Ray."
"So we're still good?"
"To coin one of your favorite phrases, we're greatness."
God, he so didn't need Stella standing in the doorway looking so damn fine, not with Fraser giving her the closest thing he'd ever seen to a Canadian evil eye. "Hey, Stella."
She gave Fraser a hateful glare right back. "Ray, could I see you alone, please?"
If the tension got any thicker, he'd choke to death in no time. Jesus. "Hey, Fraser, would you get me some of that chocolate pudding from downstairs?"
"Certainly, Ray. I'll be right back. Good evening, Ms. Kowalski."
"Constable Fraser." The dismissive tone pissed him off but Fraser just accepted it with a nod, glanced knowingly in his direction, and left for downstairs.
Stella shut the door and stepped to the bedside. "You look like shit, Ray."
"Gee, thanks, Stell. Nice to see you, too."
Her face softened as she reached out and caressed his bruised cheek gently, lovingly. He didn't mind the touch, but he could do without all the fucking pity in her eyes. "I wanted to come sooner, but I wasn't sure if you'd want to see me."
"I always want to see you, Stella, you know that. And thanks for the flowers and balloons. You didn't have to." He motioned to the colorful arrangement on the window sill.
"I know I didn't have to." She pulled her hand away, her voice that dead serious tone she got when she wanted to boss him around some. Funny how he never really remembered it sounding like that before, but it sure as hell sounded pushy as hell now. "Ray, I talked to your mom and dad. Damien's very upset and so is Barbara. I couldn't believe what they told me."
"You mean about me and Fraser?"
"I told them they must be mistaken."
"They're not mistaken, Stella."
"But you're not gay, Ray. I mean, I would've known." She reached over the rail and took his hand, touching him and talking to him like she sometimes did when they were married, like he was still a kid who didn't know any better. "Listen, you've been through a lot and this Constable Fraser's been there through the worst of it. You're just confusing friendship with something else. Either that or he's taking advantage when you're not really emotionally fit to deal with it. It's not too late to stop this before it gets too serious."
"It's already too serious, Stella. I love him."
Her hand left his in a hurry, her lips tight. "Ray, you can't mean that."
Smiling, Ray studied the serious features of her face, such a familiar face, the one face of his dreams until Fraser. "You've known me forever, Stella. When did I ever say something like that and not mean it?"
He might as well have slapped her, the shock almost immediate. "You really do love this man, this Canadian?" She said Canadian like she meant something slimy and green with eight legs and a stinger.
"Yeah, Stell, I do."
"Jesus, Ray, I can't believe this. Was everything we had together a lie?"
Startled, he shook his head, more hurt than angry. "A lie? How can you fucking ask me that? Nobody could love you more than I did, more than I still do. You were my whole life, and I would've died for you, almost died when you left me. You know that, Stella. You know me. How can you stand there and fucking ask me if it was a lie? How could you do that?" He closed his eyes tightly, but it didn't stop the traitorous tear that ran down the side of his face. He wiped it away, hoping like hell she didn't see it, but knowing she probably did. Stella always caught him crying or pissing his pants. No wonder she left him, big baby.
"Ray, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I know you loved me."
He swallowed hard and then opened his eyes, seeing the confusion, wondering what he could possibly say to convince her about his feelings for Fraser. "Remember how you used to say that it sometimes hurt for me to need you so much?"
"Yes, I remember."
"Well, Fraser doesn't mind. He doesn't get scared off because I love him that much."
"He might say that now, but it gets old, Ray. I liked it when we were kids, but I couldn't live with it forever."
"Me and Fraser, we're not kids. We know what we want, what we need. This is the real thing for me. Just be happy for me, okay?"
"Don't ask me to do that, not when you're giving up your whole family to do it. Not to mention, have you thought about how this is going to affect your job? I mean, you and I both know that even though there's not supposed to be discrimination against gay cops, there is. You used to complain about it." She stalled and tilted her head as she studied him a moment. "I remember how angry you got about Jay Conover being harassed and how surprised I was at thinking of you as being so open-minded about something like that."
"Surprised I wasn't a bigot? Gee, thanks, Stella, that makes me feel so much better, like you really knew who I was back then."
"No, I mean it. You know your dad used to throw those rants about faggots when we first got together and you never said anything, never really argued, so I just assumed you felt the same way. Then when Conover got harassed, it just surprised me that you went out of your way to help IA catch the guys. I know how much you hate IA, or the rat squad as you call them. Now it all makes sense."
"I was just doing my job. It wasn't right what they were doing. It had nothing to do with me thinking I was gay, too, so just forget about it. Me and Fraser, this is all new stuff."
"It can't be new stuff, Ray. You're almost forty. Surely you thought about other men before this."
"I didn't even think about other women before this, Stella, not really. Don't you get that? For being such a smart lady, you really miss the important stuff sometimes, the stuff that matters about a person."
Stella didn't respond right away, just stepped to the window and crossed her arms. "So, have you two done anything yet?"
"Don't pretend you don't know what I'm asking about."
"That's none of your business."
"So, it's okay for you to follow me on dates, but I can't even ask about the man you say you love?"
"I'm not even going to argue about the whole dating thing, okay? I apologized for that. But about me and Fraser doing it, that's private."
Turning, she smiled. "You haven't. You haven't even gone to bed with this guy and you say you love him."
"We waited six years."
"We were kids and as you pointed out, you and this Fraser person aren't. What makes you think you can go through with it, especially after what you've been through." The words buzzed, her voice suddenly fuzzy and far away. "Ray?"
Stella stood by the bed, worried. He didn't remember her moving closer. Rubbing his temples, he blinked several times to clear his vision. "What?"
"What just happened?"
"I was listening."
"Listening? You weren't listening. You weren't even here."
"Be serious. I'm just tired and sometimes the drugs make it hard to pay attention. Anyway, I don't want to argue about me and Fraser anymore. Just be happy for me, Stella. Can't you just do that? I'd be happy for you if you found somebody who finally made you happy even if it was a cute babe."
Stella snorted and smacked him lightly on his good arm, but the smile never really got to her eyes. "Me with some cute babe is your fantasy, Ray, not mine." She sobered and took a deep breath. "I can't give you my blessing. It'd be a lie, but I do hope that it works out if that's what you really want."
"Thanks, Stella. It is."
"Listen, I didn't just come here to argue about ways you can mess up your life even more than it already is. I wanted to tell you that Jenson and the others involved in your abduction have all taken pleas on the kidnapping charges. With Clooney dead, that means you don't have to testify. As far as the state and the Federal government is concerned, this case is closed. You stay undercover as Vecchio and things go back to the way they were. The only bad part about all this is that the Feds lost their key witness against O'Malley, so the guy walks."
Ray shook his head, the small laugh almost painful. "The only bad part, Stell? Look at me with a straight face and say that."
"Jesus, Ray, I didn't mean it like that. I know it's been bad for you, too. I was just talking about it from the legal standpoints. I'm just glad you don't have to testify, glad you don't have to talk about everything that happened." She got that look again, that look full of pity that made him want to kick and scream and really knock some heads together.
His throat tightened. "I'm glad you stopped by, Stella, but I'm really tired. Fraser should be back any minute."
"You're asking me to leave?"
"Well, I could ask if you wanted to duke it out with Fraser, but I'm not in the mood for bloodshed."
"I still want us to be friends, Ray, no matter what happens."
"I want that, too."
"Okay, then, I'll go, but let me know if you need anything."
Ray nodded and reached out his right hand. They shook and then she leaned over and kissed his cheek just as Fraser came in the door. He stood stock still, the pudding cup in his hand, his face impassive.
Stella stood up straight and stepped over to stand in front of Fraser. "Hurt him, and your ass is mine, Constable. Understood?"
Grabbing the door, she waved good bye. "See you, Ray. Call me."
"Sure, Stell. Be good."
As soon as she left, Fraser moved to the bed and held out the pudding along with a plastic spoon. He didn't look happy. "I see the visit went well."
"I guess so." Ray took the cup and spoon, putting them on the table. "Thanks."
"You're not going to eat it?"
"I will later. Come here first." Ray extended his hand and waited while Fraser reached over and took it, holding it gently. He didn't meet Ray's gaze. "Fraser?"
"Look at me."
Reluctantly, Fraser glanced up, his expression still unsure. "Nothing happened here. Nothing ever will. Stella and me, well, we're finished. It's just you and me all the way. Got that?"
"I think so."
"Think so? I need you to know so, Fraser, really in your gut, deep down, know it for sure know so."
The smile brightened the whole room, Ray's whole world. "I know so."
"That's good then. Now kiss me."
Fraser only hesitated a moment and then kissed Ray's cheek, the same spot as Stella kissed earlier.
"What rotten aim you've got there." Ray shifted and found Fraser's lips, so soft and hungry. His tongue tip pushed in and he loved the taste, loved the heat and wetness. He sucked and pulled Fraser's tongue into his own mouth, his cock waking up for the first time in ages. He groaned in frustration when Fraser pulled away.
"Ray, we need to stop. You're still in the hospital."
"We're just kissing."
Fraser patted his cheek as he smiled. "Ray, kissing like that can only lead to one thing."
"Oh, yeah, definitely. I'm all over that."
"But not in the hospital."
"I do believe that would be Constable Fuddy Duddy to you, Ray." Fraser stopped smiling and then frowned. "Do these amorous intentions have anything to do with your visit with Stella?"
"You asking if I'm horny because I saw my ex-wife?"
"I wouldn't say it in exactly that way, but yes, I suppose I am."
"That's kind of insulting."
"I don't mean to be insulting. I'd just like to know."
"You would, huh? You think I'm all turned on because I fussed with Stella, is that what you think?"
Fraser shook his head, not looking at him again. "I don't know what to think, Ray. I must confess that I'm often befuddled when it comes to understanding the rather complex dynamic between the two of you."
"Yes, Ray, completely."
"Don't be. I'm not horny because of her. I'm turned on because I was thinking what a wild thing it's going to be when we finally do it."
"Yeah, Fraser, do it, and I hope you're not thinking I'm only talking about kissing."
Brow furrowed, Fraser studied him. "We need to talk more before we do anything, Ray."
"Yes. You and I need to talk before we decide to do more than just kiss. It's important that we both know exactly what we want from a physical relationship. And, frankly, at this point, I'm not sure if you're ready for that step."
"You're saying you'd rather talk than do it?"
"I didn't say that. I said we need to talk first. You're still not healed completely. I don't want to rush into that part of our relationship until I'm sure that you won't have serious difficulties."
"Why would I have difficulties, Fraser, unless you're turned off by some stitched up freak who looks like he lost the title fight to Ali in his prime?"
"You misunderstand. I'm not the least turned off by your appearance, now or ever. Quite the contrary. Regardless, I can't discount your recent experience. I just don't want to do anything that might hurt you, Ray."
"You won't. I trust you."
"And I trust you."
"Then what's the problem? I mean, I put the moves on first and you're the one who stepped on the brakes. Seems to me you're the one who's got difficulties with this."
"I assure you the idea of having physical relations with you is anything but difficult. I just don't want to jeopardize your recovery."
"Let me be the judge of that, okay? I'll let you know when I'm ready." Ray slammed his fist into the blanket, suddenly angry. "Jesus, Fraser, why do you always have to make everything so difficult, so damn complicated all the time? It's not like I'm asking you to fuck me right here. I just wanted to feel good, not talk it to death."
"I'm sorry, Ray. I don't mean to make it more difficult, but I simply wasn't prepared for your sudden shift in behavior."
As Fraser reached out to touch him, Ray flinched away. "Don't. I'm tired."
"Certainly. Why don't you sleep a little bit and I'll just finish up some paperwork."
"That stuff Turnbull dropped by?"
"Yes. The man is hopeless sometimes."
Feeling contentious for no good reason, Ray snipped. "Turnbull's okay."
"Yes, Ray, Turnbull's okay."
Ray paused and then swallowed his wounded pride. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to be such a head case. You're right. We need to wait."
"And talk, Ray."
"I guess this is probably when I should mention that I really hate talking about sex, Fraser. I mean, really and truly hate it. I'm not good at it. I mean, I'm good at sex, just not good at talking about it."
Fraser's face relaxed and he smiled. "It's okay, Ray. I've been told I'm good at talking."
Ray laughed and shook his head in surrender. "Knowing you, you'll probably talk me into coming."
"I can certainly give it my best effort, Ray."
"Oh, now that sounds like a challenge." Ray's head shifted on the pillow as he stared at Fraser, his belly tight and his cock still nagging. "But I'll bet you could use that tongue for more than just talking."
Fraser blushed to his ear tips. "Ray, please."
"Please settle down." He said the words, but his eyes told Ray he didn't mean it. "Now, you should probably rest. The doctor said he'd stop by right before dinner. He should be able to let us know if you're going home tomorrow."
"I'm going home whether he says so or not."
"Now, Ray, don't start. We've discussed this."
"I'm not starting. I'm just saying."
"Go to sleep. We'll talk later."
Closing his eyes, his cock still tingling, Ray dozed off thinking of all the ways Fraser could use that talented tongue all over his body.
Ray balanced the hard bend of his elbow on the arm of the chair. He tested the cast's weight and let it sway just a little from side to side, seeing how he could manage it with ease, handle it like it was an extension of himself. Funny how he got used it, learned to change its awkwardness to an advantage to keep his forearm elevated, his hand turned in toward himself. Weird how adaptation worked to make it easier to deal with almost any shitty thing over time.
"Ray, you're supposed to keep your arm in the sling."
"I'm just getting to know it."
"You know, that Z thing, become one with the cast, like it's part of me and I'm part of it?"
"You mean Zen?"
"Yeah, Zen. I figure if I've still got to wear this thing for another week or so, I might as well learn how to make it work for me. Still can't figure out why they made it so damn heavy. Last time I broke an arm they used this lightweight stuff, very high tech and cutting edge. This time they used half a city block of plaster. Wonder why."
Fraser sat on the edge of the window sill, watching his every move, his face way too serious even for Fraser. "Have you broken a lot of bones, Ray?"
"A few." Suddenly uneasy, Ray shifted in the chair, trying to steal comfort whenever he could. "Last time this guy had me, I broke my right ankle and wrist trying to get free." Ray blocked out the invading images, the bone-popping sounds going off in his head. "The arm cast wasn't anything like this one though, just one of those little stream-lined jobs you see people get."
Frowning, Fraser crossed his arms. "By this guy, you mean Clooney?"
Fraser hesitated a moment before he asked, "Ray, can you actually say the name Clooney?"
"No reason to. I mean, why should I say that prick's name?"
"Indulge me. Can you say the name?"
Ray closed his eyes. "I don't want to think about the bastard's name, Fraser, much less say it out loud. What's your point?"
"I'm sorry, Ray. I didn't mean to upset you. It's just that I've noticed you never say his name even when you're discussing what he did."
"And I'm not going to. It's not that I can't, I just won't."
"Are you sure?"
Keeping his eyes closed, Ray took a deep breath, his stomach clenched. "You saying I can't? You saying I'm sick in the head about it or something?"
"If you don't want to say the name, you don't have to. It was just an observation. You haven't actually said the name since the night of the attack."
"And I'm not going to."
"You don't have to."
"I know that, Fraser, so shut up."
It stayed quiet a few more moments before Ray finally confessed. "I can't."
"Can't say it."
"I know, Ray."
Ray lifted his head and opened his eyes. "What's that mean, Fraser? Is that another one of those mental block things, like not being able to read the file? Is that why I can't figure things out?"
Shrugging, Ray avoided Fraser's worried gaze. "Like the doctor talking about all those tests, the ones he said I was negative for."
"You mean the tests for sexually transmitted diseases?"
"Yeah, I mean, I figured I was hurt like that over a year ago. I'd know if I was infected by now, right? Why run all those tests again?"
"It's standard procedure, Ray."
Fraser's voice tightened. "Ray, you don't have to worry about being infected because Clooney was negative. The doctor did the tests because when you were admitted, he didn't know that. It's just a standard procedure when a patient is assaulted like you were."
"A year later?"
"No, Ray like you were this time."
Ray stared at him, the words not sinking in. Confused, he shook his head. "I don't get it."
"I know you don't. You're not ready to get it."
"Ready for what? Stop talking in riddles, Fraser. I hate when you do that, treat me like we don't talk the same language. None of this makes any sense anyway." Ray ignored Fraser's sad expression and just kept talking, letting the spill of words spread out like a safety net all around him. "Doctors just do stuff and don't tell a guy why. Maybe it's an insurance scam. As long as the bills get paid, what the fuck do I care? Not my business. I just want to get out of here. He said we could go home in the morning. Can't be too damn soon for me."
Fraser nodded, pleased at the turn in conversation. "Yes, and you'll be glad to know that your apartment has been cleaned and your food stocks replenished."
"When did you have time to do that?"
"I didn't. However, the Vecchio women are quite resourceful. Mrs. Vecchio even had your sofa reupholstered by Cousin Vinnie and it matches the previous fabric quite nicely. She also made sure that your walls were repainted."
"Ma Vecchio did all that?"
"Yes, and Francesca. They're both quite fond of you, Ray." Too choked up to say more, Ray nodded and let Fraser continue. "As for your clothes, we'll eventually need to go shopping to get you some more appropriate gear for when we go to Canada. In the meantime, the sweat suits will meet your needs quite nicely. They're not binding on your wounds. They'll also be less difficult to manage when you need to attend to bodily functions."
"You mean when I need to go to the can?"
"Yes. Dealing with buttons or a zipper with one hand can sometimes be a challenge."
"Right. Makes sense." Ray rubbed his forehead, the headache starting in again. "What about my guns?"
"Yeah, my guns. I was looking earlier and I found my badge, but not the guns and holsters. Did you secure them somewhere else or do the nurses have'em? I figure I should know where they went so I don't forget them tomorrow."
Fraser shook his head. "Ray, you're on medical leave. Lieutenant Welsh has both your weapons."
"My back up, too?"
"We thought it best at the time."
"But I'm on medical leave, not suspension. I need my guns back."
Fraser's voice softened, his face solemn. "You don't need your guns, Ray."
Suddenly it hit him like a hammer. Ray held up his good hand. "Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Are you saying that you and Welsh decided I didn't need my guns for a reason?"
"I'm saying you don't need your guns."
"Just like that, you decide, you and Welsh decide what the fuck I need?"
"Ray, calm down."
"I don't want to calm down. Don't tell me to fucking calm down. Just tell me you'll call Welsh and get my guns back. I know I can't have them here, but I want them at my apartment as soon as I get there. I feel naked without my guns, Fraser, you know that."
"Be reasonable, Ray. The lieutenant and I both feel that with the threat over, that you won't need to have your guns until you're ready to return to duty."
"That's not your decision to make. I'm not suspended, Fraser. I want my fucking guns back."
Fraser crossed his arms again, this time tighter, like bracing himself for what he needed to say. "I'm sorry, Ray."
Ray knew that stubborn Mountie look, usually took it in his stride, but this time it just pissed him off even more. "Sorry? Fuck sorry. You can't keep me from getting my guns. Besides, what is this? A conspiracy? You think I'm going to shoot somebody or something? The son of a bitch is dead. Who the fuck would I shoot?"
Fraser's eyes misted and then he blinked, fucking blinked. "Shit, Fraser. You and Welsh really think I'd do that, that I'd shoot myself in the head?"
"I must confess to being concerned, Ray."
"Yes, and then Dr. Reese suggested that we..."
"Stop right there, Fraser. Just hold your damn horses. You're saying, Reese told you guys to take away my guns? He told you I'm a jump off a cliff man, the kind of guy who walks in front of a bullet whether it's my gun or not? Is that what you're saying to me here?"
"Is it true?"
Ray met his partner's anxious eyes. "Is what true, Fraser? Is it true that I want to shoot myself, that I've ever wanted to do that?"
It took a second for his tongue to work right. "In the past, maybe. I can't say it's never occurred to me that I might be better off dead, but that's then, not now."
"What makes now different?"
"Yes, you, Fraser." Ray leaned forward, his gut knotted and his throat dry. "You really think I'd off myself knowing what it'd do to you, to us? I've got a shot at the best thing in my life and you think I'd throw that away? That's crazy. I might be damaged, but I'm not stupid. I'd never do that, not now."
Relieved, Fraser sighed and reached out, touching his knee and then squeezing gently. "Dear God, Ray, I'm so glad to hear that."
Ray patted his hand and then sat back, trying to see the Fraser point of view, but still too pissed to completely get it. "I can't believe you'd think I'd do that. I mean, sure, Welsh, he's a cynical bastard and Reese, well, fuck Reese. I won't even say what I think about that asshole, but you, Fraser. I thought you knew me better than that. I thought you knew how much I loved you. I could never do anything desperate like that knowing how much it would hurt you. Don't you get that by now?"
"I do, Ray, and I'm sorry for ever doubting you. It's just Dr. Reese, well, I must admit, he can be rather convincing."
"Yeah, I know." Fraser's hand still rested on his knee, so Ray grasped it and drew it closer. "But it's okay now. You can get my guns back with a clear conscious."
"You mean conscience?"
"Yeah, that, too."
"It's not my decision. You'll need to convince Lieutenant Welsh and Dr. Reese."
Still holding Fraser's hand like a hard-earned prize, Ray closed his eyes and rested his head back against the tall back of the chair. "Welsh is no problem. He'll believe me, but Reese won't. Son of a bitch. He'll want to do this whole what are you really feeling routine, this whole you need to talk about it until you want to puke deal. God, I hate shrinks. There ought to be a law against having to deal with those pricks."
"Ray, he's just trying to help. Granted, he might be wrong about the guns, but he genuinely is trying to facilitate your recovery."
Releasing Fraser's hand, Ray dropped his cast sideways and put it in the sling. "What is it with you? Why do you always take his side? That's not buddies, that's not even right."
"I'm not, Ray. I just think..."
"Just think I need to see a shrink?"
The hesitation answered his question and Ray bit back what he really wanted to say about loyalty and being true to friends. Instead, he stood up slowly to avoid the inevitable spin. He made it to the edge of the bed and allowed Fraser to help him back up into a comfortable position, his body still protesting any sudden movement.
"Would you like something to drink, Ray?"
"I want my guns."
Fraser rubbed a thumb over his right eyebrow and sighed in resignation. "I'll do what I can."
Ray nodded, not adding that if he didn't get his guns back, there were plenty of places in Chicago to order up a gun faster than a pineapple pizza.
Continued in Part Two
End BYGONES Part One by Grey: Grey853@aol.com
Author and story notes above.