P.S. I Love You
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters, unfortunately. More clever people than me came up with them, and the story.
Author's Notes: I have to thank many people for this. First and for all all people over at ficfinishing, and primeroseburrow & akamine_chan for their beta-work.
Story Notes: Written for ds_harlequin, based on the book/movie "P.S. I Love You"
P.S. I Love You
When Ray Kowalski opened up the envelope - which had mysteriously showed up between the pages of his newspaper - and read Stella's message, a grin spread across his face.
Go on, Ray, face your fear of speaking in public. Visit Huey & Dewey's `One Liner', take the stage and tell a joke. For me.
P.S. I love you...
It only took a moment to bring back the memory of that night, and when it did Ray's eyes got a bit teary. His lovely wife standing upon the stage at `The One-Liner', a comedy club, telling the most ridiculous joke ever. But it wasn't the joke that made people laugh, it was the attitude with which she told it. His Stella had had the confidence and good humor to make everybody laugh with her. Ray hadn't had that confidence, which had been put to the test when Stella asked him to join her on stage. Of course everybody had thought that Ray, as the husband of such an entertaining wife, would be equally funny. He was not. Ray had stood upon that stage, the faces of his friends slowly turning blurry until he could only run off the stage, laughter ringing in his ears.
They had a big fight that night; Stella had known about Ray's fear of talking in front of a huge crowd, and still she had called him on stage. Ray had been furious, humiliated. Their fight seemed so meaningless now, a waste of their precious time together.
While Ray was still regretting his harsh words that night, his phone started ringing. With the memory of his wife so clear in his mind it took him some time to identity the location of the noise.
"Hello? Ray?" Francesca Turnbull, his best friend's wife, was on the other end of the line, her voice getting louder with each second Ray did not respond.
"A joke," he managed so say. "She wants me to tell a joke."
"What? Who? Ray, have you been drink--..."
"Stella," Ray interrupted harshly before Frannie could finish her sentence. Yes, he had been drinking a lot since he had lost his wife. He was grieving, for God's sake. Why didn't people understand that the booze helped numb the pain in the weeks after Stella's death?
Everybody seemed to have a different opinion of how he should deal with his loss. Some people told him to move on. But how could he? He had lost his reason for living. Ray's parents hadn't been any help either, with his Mum constantly bursting into tears and his father's obvious embarrassment over his son's grief. His only support had been Frannie and her husband Renfield, his friends since kindergarten.
"Stella? What are you talking about?" Frannie was asking, calling out for her husband. "Ren? Get the car, we have to..."
"Fran!" Ray said, looking at the paper in his hand. "Stell wrote me a letter," he explained. "She wants me to tell a joke at Huey and Dewey's."
There was silence for a second on the other end of the line before Ray heard Fran's unmistakable giggle. Of course she would remember.
"Oh, Ray," she laughed with her husband's worried voice in the background asking what was going on. To Ren, she said, "Stella wants Ray to tell a joke at the club. Ray could practically see the grin of Ren's face. "Are you going to do it?" she asked, and there really was only one answer to the question. Ray had never been able to deny Stella anything.
"Yeah." He nods his head, one hand scratching the back of his neck. "Yeah, I'm gonna do it."
"We'll be there with you, Ray." Frannie said immediately, and as embarrassing as this was going to be, he was glad that he wouldn't have to go through it alone.
"You let me know when you're ready," she said. "Take care."
Ray put down the receiver and stared at his wedding picture on the dresser.
"This is so not funny, Stell," he said, smiling.
- Oh, it is, Ray. It is. -
Ray picked up the picture then and walked over to the couch - the couch on which they had spend endless hours of watching TV, or just being close to each other.
"I miss you."
- I'm here. -
It almost felt like Stella was in his arms when he sunk down onto the couch and closed his eyes.
Ray woke up in the middle of the night, their wedding picture still in his hand. He felt lost; he had actually forgotten how to feel anything else. His life stopped making sense the day Stella closed her eyes forever.
It has been one of her better days and Ray isn't ready to lose her - not ever and certainly not on that day. The sun is shining through the window, giving Stella's face an illusion of brightness, of health. She is smiling at him, her eyes free of pain and full of love. They have been in bed just talking, laughing, when suddenly Stella's eyes had clouded and she reaches for Ray's hand, holding onto him while she gasps in pain, and then she closes her beautiful blue eyes. Gone.
Ray holds her hand for a long time, hot burning tears streaming down his face, wetting his pillow. He doesn't care at all. Their life together is over, much too soon, and Ray has no clue on how to carry on without her.
Ray slowly rose from the couch and walked into the bedroom, stubbing his toe on something on the floor. The apartment was a mess. Dirty clothes and God knows what else everywhere; empty or half-empty pizza boxes on the table and the kitchen counter. The smell of rotten food hung in the air. He just couldn't bring himself to care.
He swore under his breath, stumbling on one foot to bed, reaching for the pillow that once had belonged to Stella.
Her scent was fading.
Ray curled around the pillow and squeezed his eyes shut, willing himself to fall asleep again. It didn't work. Images of his lost life were running through his head like an old movie. His heart went heavy and he again began sobbing silently.
- Ray -
"I can't," he cried, his face turned into the pillow, his nose instantly searching for her fading scent.
- Yes, Ray, you can. You must. -
He felt her arms reaching around him, holding him, her warm body soothing him to sleep again.
The next day started like so many others before: Ray woke up still wearing yesterday's clothes, maybe even the ones from the day before. He had lost track. He slowly dragged himself out of bed and stumbled into the kitchen, rinsing a mug in the sink and filling it with hot water from the tap for instant coffee. Ray hastily slurped down the lukewarm coffee while he was still looking for his M&M's to add. Futile. Stella had been the one who bought his sweets. Like everything else.
Ray knew damn well that he could not continue like this, that he had to find a way to get back to his life.
He reached for the letter on the table and read it again, and again, wondering when Stella could have written it without him noticing. Maybe this was his ticket back to life, back to some kind of normality. Ray picked up the phone dialed.
"Hey, Jack!" Ray greeted him, and immediately felt the other man hesitate before he spoke his next words.
"Hey, Ray, how are you doing?"
Ray had stopped answering honestly awhile ago. Nobody really seemed to care anymore.
"M'fine." He started pacing up and down the living room, wondering what the hell he was doing.
"That's good to hear ..."
"Yeah, listen," he stopped pacing, interrupting Jack before he could say anything further, "you still have that stand-up thing going on?"
"We do, yes. It's actually tomorrow night at ten."
"Tomorrow?" Ray didn't figure that he would have to face this challenge quite so soon; his heart started beating faster.
"Sign me up," he said before he could change his mind.
There was a moment of silence on the other end.
"All right." Jack hesitantly agreed. "I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Thanks, Jack." Ray hung up, glad that the other man hasn't asked more questions. Jack Huey was a friend, a former co-worker at the Chicago Police Department. Jack, like Ray, had quit his job and had gone on to other things. He had opened up a comedy club - `The One-Liner' - with his partner Thomas Dewey. Ray and Jack went back a long way; they weren't actually close, but they were friends, which couldn't be said of Jack's partner, Dewey. Dewey was an insensitive jerk, but Ray knew how to deal with him. He hadn't been a cop for nothing. He might have lost his wife but not his bad-ass attitude.
He tipped back on his heels and dialed again.
"Tomorrow at ten," he said as soon as somebody picked up the phone.
"Ray?" It was Renfield.
"I'll buy you a beer before the show starts," Ren said, and Ray imagined the smile on his friend's face. "Maybe something stronger afterward."
"Thanks, buddy, you're a real friend." Ray grinned, and hung up the phone.
He and Ren had known each other since kindergarten, when Ren's family had moved from Canada to Chicago. Ray had been Ren's best man and Ren had been his. Ray didn't know how he would have made it through the first few weeks without Stella if it weren't for Ren and Frannie. One or both of them would show up on his doorstep, either with food or just to drag him outside. For some reason people thought fresh air was a cure for everything. It was not, but Ray was grateful for them sticking around. Not his drunk self nor his harsh words had kept them away.
A smile crossed his face when he thought about Renfield excitingly telling him that he had finally found the courage to ask Frannie to marry him after two long years. Ray had already been married to Stella by then. Of course, if it had been up to Ray it might have taken him even longer to pop the question. But Stella had proposed to him as soon as they made it out of college. Stella had always known what she wanted, in life and in her profession. Assistant State's Attorney.
Ray sighed deeply; he just couldn't stop thinking about his loss, his beautiful wife.
He took her letter off the table and read it again. Seemed like Ray had to find his sense of humor by tomorrow, not to mention a joke to tell.
The following night was mostly spent doubting himself, but Ray couldn't back out. Stella wanted him to do this, to try, and he was going to, no matter what.
The next day flew by with Ray nervously pacing back and forth. His hair was in even more disarray than usual because he couldn't stop running his hands through it. He kept looking at their wedding picture, drawing confidence from Stella's smile, and when it was finally time to get ready for the night Ray grabbed his most comfortable clean clothes and headed into the bathroom. His I-don't-care-look might work for his apartment but he was pretty sure that neither his friends nor any other guest at the club would appreciate his bad smell.
The hot water felt good, though. It didn't just clean his body but cleared his mind, and after Ray had shaved and styled his hair in front of the bathroom mirror he looked - good. He'd never been what people called eye candy but he was a good-looking guy. Tall and lean, his jeans sitting too low on his narrow hips - he had lost weight over the last couple of weeks. He had muscular arms, and a prominent tattoo decorated his right upper arm. Blue eyes and spiked dirty blond hair completed Ray's appearance.
Ray didn't notice any of it when he pulled his shirt over his head and stared at his reflection in the mirror. Stella had loved his Bulls T-shirt as much as he did. They had often fought about who was going to wear it and more often than not Stella had won their little wrestling matches for the shirt. Ray had never minded - he had loved that shirt on her.
He slowly stroked a hand over the blue material, picturing Stella in the faded jeans she wore on her days off. The doorbell stopped Ray's train of thought and he wiped the wetness off his face before he opened the door.
"Ray!" Frannie exclaimed enthusiastically and hugged him tight. "You look good," she said when she finally let go of him, gently stroking his arms.
"Our cab's waiting," Ren said, still standing in the doorway. The silence was heavy around them.
"Yeah, pitter patter." Ray shrugged his shoulders like he was trying to get rid of something and went out the door with Frannie and Ren in tow.
During the ride Frannie was happily chatting away between the two men, not really noticing how quiet Ray was. Renfield smiled at Ray apologetically over his wife's head. Frannie was just being Frannie, and Ray actually loved her for the way she was. Enthusiastic. Lively. It wasn't her fault that Ray would rather be at home now.
The club was packed with people - obviously Frannie and Renfield had done a good job of spreading the word that Ray was still up and running. His parents were there. His mom, Barbara, hugged him tight before she turned to hide sudden tears. Ray's Dad and even his brother, with whom he hadn't talked in awhile, had showed up.
"Kowalski." Harding Welsh patted his shoulder gently. "Good to see you."
Harding Welsh had been Ray's Lieutenant at the 27th Police Department in what seemed another lifetime. Ray had left his job on disability, Welsh had pushed through policy bureaucracy faster than anyone thought possible, without second thought as soon as Stella got sick and needed his help 24/7. Welsh had understood, though. He had even offered to let Ray work the desk, but Ray had never been keen on paperwork in the first place; he had been a street-cop, a detective to the core. And Stella had needed all his attention. Nothing could compare with that.
"Lieutenant," Ray replied and moved on to Ray Vecchio, Frannie's brother and also a detective at the 27th, and Elaine Besbriss, the Civilian Aide for the district. A few of Stella's co-workers were there, along with some people Ray barely recognized, among them a guy in a uniform the colour of a fire hydrant. Ray really hadn't expected to draw such a crowd.
"Thanks, Ren," he whispered sarcastically when finally everybody was seated again.
"My pleasure, my friend." Ren grinned at Ray before turning his attention back to his wife.
The club was in semi-darkness. Just the stage was lit - it was the hot spot in the room and Ray's stomach lurched. He was feeling sick, nauseous. He felt like he was going down to visit Mort at the morgue - he hated the morgue!
Just a second before he was about to stand up and run, he felt Frannie's hand touching his gently. When he looked up at her, she smiled encouragingly and squeezed his hand once before letting go again.
All right, he could do it, Ray thought, taking a deep breath. Piece of cake. What was the worst that could happen anyway? Laughter? This was a comedy club after all.
"Our next guest on stage is Chicago's very own Raaaaay Kowalski! This is his first time here, so please give him a warm welcome, folks.
The announcer's voice resounded through the club and Ray's heart skipped a beat, sweat pouring from every pore in his body.
Ray's friends and family started cheering.
He couldn't move.
The spotlight searched the room, settled on him, and Ray felt like a deer in the headlights.
I can't, he thought, his breathing coming in fits and starts. Everything around him became blurry, and he could hardly see at all.
"Ray?" The announcer's voice got curious, the spotlight still focused on Ray. The cheering died down. Everybody was looking at him, and Ray could feel it.
Oh God! He tried to get oxygen into his lungs before he passed out and landed on the floor.
- Ray. -
Suddenly Ray was able to focus again, his gaze fixed on Stella standing on the stage, reaching out for him.
- C'mon, Ray. I know you can do it. -
Ray nodded and stood up. He slowly walked toward the stage, not daring to look anywhere else than at his wife waiting for him. In the back of his mind he registered his friends' cheering, their encouraging words. But Ray didn't need any of it, his reason for doing this was smiling at him.
Ray had been blinded by the light when he walked onstage and by the time he could see again, Stella was gone. He was standing all by himself, looking down at an ocean of faces. His head started swimming again.
"C'mon, man!" People started to get impatient and Ray's mouth ran dry. His head was empty and ...
Catcalls reached Ray's ears and he started fidgeting, desperately looking for some inspiration before he died of humiliation.
"Ray!" Frannie's voice cut through the noise of the crowd. He fixed his gaze on her and spotted Stella, sitting right beside her best friend, smiling encouragingly. She believed in him and - Ray started talking. He didn't even know himself what he was saying, he just blurted out what sprung to his mind. And it worked, apparently. People started laughing, and not the mean kind of laughing; just people enjoyed themselves, having a good time. He was hilarious and Stella's eyes were shining with pride.
"Thank you, Ray." A clap on his shoulder brought Ray back; he had been looking only at Stella, not noticing anything else. And now she was gone again; the chair beside Frannie empty.
Ray only nodded his head in acknowledgment and started his way back to his table, his knees weak like he had run a marathon.
There was some more cheering when he reached his table. Frannie hugged him again and Ren grinned at him proudly.
"Good job," he said. "Have a beer."
The cold beverage felt good - Ray felt good. He had done it and done it well. A proud grin lit up his face and for the first time since Stella's death he felt like he could make it after all. The feeling didn't last long.
When Ray reached his apartment again, everything started crashing down on him - the silence, the emptiness. He had successfully escaped his grief for a few precious hours but the fact still stood: he was alone.
Ray hid the next few days inside.
He was wandering around with their wedding picture in his hand; he smelled Stella's clothes, touching her jewels, remembering when he had bought them for her. He felt like he was turning into one of those old ladies who talked to themselves, muttering under their breath.
Ray ignored phone calls and got awfully rude when he did answer. People who had seen him at the club must be thinking that he was done grieving. He was not.
The second letter from Stella turned up in his mailbox and Ray swore under his breath, not knowing how long it had been in there already. He only picked up his mail sporadically. It was mostly bills anyway. But today, wearing only his old, worn bathrobe to cover his boxers, Ray held another letter from Stella in his hand.
Ray flew up the stairs to open the message in the silence of his apartment.
His hands were shaking slightly as he opened the letter careful not to destroy any of Stella's delicate handwriting.
"Not going to happen!" He said as soon as he was done reading, looking frantically through the apartment. "No way!"
- Way, Ray! -
Stella was standing near their closet, her face serious and relentless.
"Stell," he pleaded, the letter in his hand shaking.
You do not have to sleep with one of my shirts wrapped around your pillow.
Give my blue blouse that we bought in Mexico to Frannie - she always wanted it - and donate everything else. You do not need my clothes as a reminder that we shared a home.
P.S. I Love You...
Ray opened their closet, Stella standing behind him. He sighed deeply, his hand reaching for her clothing, stroking over the material.
"I can't give it away just like that," he argued feeling Stella's warm presence along his back.
- I don't need it anymore. -
No way was Ray gonna start crying again.
No, she wouldn't need any of this anymore. He had buried her in her favorite dress and that was - all. No need for another shirt or a pair of socks. She'd be wearing that dress for eternity.
- You have to make room for new things, Ray. I won't vanish just because I don't have clean clothes here anymore. -
"All right," he said. "But not the shirt." He pointed at the pillow on their bed covered by one of Stella's old shirts.
- Ray! -
"Take it or leave it." He looked at her stubbornly until she smiled indulgently and vanished.
Ray took a deep breath and reached for the phone. No way was he going through this alone.
"Hey, Ren. Got any time tonight?"
Renfield stopped by around seven o'clock, a six-pack of beer under one arm and a car outside filled with cardboard boxes.
At first they worked in silence. Ren saw how hard this was for Ray but he knew it was necessary so that Ray could move on.
Ray's hands were shaking with each piece of clothing he took from the closet and put into a box. Suddenly there was so much space - how was he supposed to fill it again? As he continued working, memories ran through his mind, making him giddy.
Where did Stella buy this ridiculous straw hat?
He put it on and turned his head toward Ren, who was sitting beside him on the floor. Ren started laughing immediately, pointing helplessly at the hat.
"Fran has exactly the same hat," he giggled. "They bought it when they were on one of their women-only trips."
Ray grinned, reaching for a baseball cap. "Our first Cubs game," he said, seeing all four of them in the stadium again, eating hot-dogs and having fun.
"It was a disaster," Ren shook his head. The Cubs had been butchered that night.
Each and every piece of Stella's clothing held a bittersweet memory. The beige suit she wore for her first appearance in court, her old jeans with the paint stains still on it from when they had first painted their apartment.
At last Ray took the blouse Stella mentioned in her letter off the hanger and handed it over to Renfield, who took it silently, nodding his head in understanding.
"Lets have another beer and clean up this mess." Ray said lightly, pointing at the kitchen and living room, deciding that if he had to let go of Stella's things he should turn this whole thing into some kind of spring-cleaning.
It was already dark when Ren left, and Ray barely recognized his own apartment. It looked clean, and it also looked like somebody was leaving--or left--, but... He sighed and sat down on the sofa, the last bottle of beer in his hand.
- Well done! -
"Doesn't mean anything," Ray said, feeling Stella's hand on his shoulder.
But it did, Ray had to admit when he climbed into bed that night. His apartment looked like a human being was actually living here, and the boxes seemed like something final. At least he still had the one shirt, Ray thought, snuggling into it and falling asleep immediately.
Ren picked him up the next day and helped him to drop off the boxes at the Salvation Army.
Ray felt amazingly good afterward and he asked Ren to drop him off at 27th. Maybe it was time to get back to work, to earn some money to pay the bills that kept coming and eating his savings.
He walked through the bullpen taking in the hustle and bustle of a police station, and Ray had to admit that he missed it. The ringing phones, the sound of the keyboards, the swearing, the laughter, even the smell, as disgusting as it might sometimes be, of it all.
Ray wanted to be back.
He needed to be back.
"Stanley!" Detective Ray Vecchio finished a phone call, put the receiver down, and grinned at Ray. Ray's eyes narrowed; he hated that name and Vecchio knew it.
Ray had been partnered with Vecchio, but despite their solve rate they had nothing in common, and they disliked each other. He didn't even know why exactly. Just something about the man rubbed him the wrong way.
"Just one more time, Vecchio," Ray snarled, pointing two fingers at his former partner in a warning gesture.
Vecchio grinned, obviously about to continue their argument when something bright red entered Ray's line of vision.
"We weren't properly introduced last night," the man said, offering his hand. "My name is Constable Benton Fraser of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and..."
"Give it a rest, Benny!" Vecchio interrupted, rolling his eye as if had heard the story a million times.
"You coming back?" Vecchio asked. Ray was still taking in the picture of a Mountie in Chicago.
"Yeah," Ray took the still offered hand rather shyly, his shoulder turned inward. "I'm Ray Kowalski." He said to Fraser
"It's a pleasure to meet you, Detective Kowalski."
"Ray." Fraser repeated.
"This is going to work just great," Vecchio mumbled sarcastically, picking up his ringing phone.
"I gather you and Ray - Ray Vecchio, that is, were partners before the events of..." Fraser was obviously lost for words. He blushed.
"My wife's death, you mean?" Ray asked rather harshly, his body turned toward Fraser in a challenging manner.
"I'm truly sorry about your loss, Ray."
And the funny thing was that Fraser sounded sincere, like he really did care.
"Sorry for snapping at you," he said, stepping back.
"I understand." Fraser smiled shyly but before he could add anything, Ray Vecchio was calling his name.
"Hey, Benny, we have to hurry. Gary's about to spill the beans."
"Understood." Fraser answered and reached for his hat on Ray Vecchio's desk, putting it on his head. "Have a nice day," he said to Ray, and hurried after Vecchio.
Ray blinked and looked after the retreating flash of red who was followed by a flash of white that looked like--a wolf?
"Weird," he mumbled, and turned toward Welsh's office.
"Come in," Welsh grunted when Ray knocked on his door.
The lieutenant was sitting behind his desk; his glasses perched rather low on his nose. He didn't look up when Ray entered, obviously lost in a case file on his desk.
"Lieutenant." Ray greeted, still standing in the doorway.
"Detective." Welsh looked up, a rather satisfied smile on his lips. "What do I owe the pleasure of your appearance?"
"I wanna come back." Ray lifted his chin, putting more confidence on than he really felt.
Welsh looked him up and down, apparently making sure that Ray was certain and wouldn't eat his gun first chance he got.
"All right, Kowalski," he said, obviously satisfied with what he saw and opened a drawer, putting Ray's badge and gun on his desk. "You're partnering up with Vecchio and the Mountie..."
"About that ..."
"Eight sharp Monday morning, Detective," Welsh interrupted. "Dismissed."
Ray nodded his head, took his badge and gun, and taking a deep breath, left Welsh's office. He was about to take control over his life again.
He felt better after he left Welsh's office. He felt good. The air around him smelled like spring, clean and exhilarated. On a whim he decided to visit his parents.
Damian Kowalski opened the door after the first ring. He looked Ray up and down like he had to decide whether to let his son in or not. Ray felt judged, like he always did by his dad. He had never been able to satisfy his father. It had gone as far as them not speaking for years after Ray decided to join the Academy rather than becoming a meat-packer like his dad.
"Son," Damien said, stepping aside to let him in, and closed the door behind him.
"Dad." Ray greeted and walked into the living room, suddenly glad to spot his mother in the kitchen.
"Stanley," she said, emerging from the kitchen to pull him close. She looked up and down her son's slim form. "You look good - better."
"I am." Ray shrugged his shoulders. "I just went by the station," he said. "I got my job back."
"Oh, Stanley." Barbara reached for him again, hugging him tight while his father took his usual spot in font of the television set.
Damian Kowalski didn't move when his wife served coffee nor did he talk with his son and Ray decided to take his leave as soon as he finished his cup of coffee. He felt too good to let his day be ruined by his father.
"You should eat more, Stanley," Ray's mother said at the door, and Ray had to suppress a smile. She always tried to feed him even though it never stuck.
It was Friday night, Ray was home, and he had a job to return to on Monday. How was he going to spend his weekend without falling back into old pattern of soul-wrenching grief and wishing all to hell? That wasn't the kind of attitude he needed to be a cop again. An attitude like that could get him killed easily... which might not be such a bad idea, Ray thought.
- RAY! -
"Easy, Stell." Ray said, a sad chuckle escaping his throat.
If he had really wished to die he would have killed himself a long time ago. Maybe he was too much a coward to take his own life, and besides, Stella would be mad as hell... He loved her too much to upset her, even in death.
- You scared me. -
"Stell, I would never--" Ray began. A knock at the door interrupted him.
"Good evening, Ray," Fraser greeted him when Ray hesitantly opened the door. "I'm aware that I very well might --
"Fraser?" Ray looked at Fraser rather dumbfounded. The Mountie was the last person he expected to find at his doorsteps.
"What are you doing here?"
"Lieutenant Welsh mentioned that..."
Ray impatiently rolled his eyes. "In short?"
"I was thinking along the lines of dinner, Ray."
"Dinner?" Ray was still not sure what was going on.
"Yes, Ray." And when Ray still didn't seem to get the notion Fraser added. "Would you like to have something to eat with me?"
Oh, finally it dawned on Ray even if he still hadn't figured what to make of it.
"Yeah. All right." He shrugged his shoulders before his right hand nervously run through his hair. "Just let me grab a jacket."
Ray rushed back inside, looking desperately around.
His jacket lay in a heap on the ground near the kitchen counter, which was right where it landed after it missed the chair he'd been aiming for. Ray picked it up and put it on while walking back to his front door where Fraser was still standing.
"Done." Ray declared, pushing the door close behind him.
"Perhaps you could suggest an establishment, Ray. I'm rather unfamiliar with this area." Fraser said, rubbing his right eyebrow in embarrassment.
"Chinese okay with you?"
"Yes," Fraser replied and asked after a moment's hesitation: "I hope they permit animals, Ray. Diefenbaker was kind of persistent in asking to join us tonight."
"Diefenbaker," Fraser repeated, his head pointing toward a white animal impatiently waiting on the steps.
"He your dog?" Ray asked rather stupidly, offering his hand, palm down, to Diefenbaker for a sniff.
"Half-wolf actually," Fraser said, adding: "He's very friendly," when Ray pulled his hand back. "And he's not mine, no. Diefenbaker decided to partner with me, indicating that I'm too clumsy to be without guidance."
"Very much so, yes," Fraser sighed, and both men quietly fell into step, their shoulders brushing while they walked down the street. An odd picture, Ray figured. Not only hadn't he been out with friends, or anybody, since his wife's death but he felt--comfortable in Fraser's company, a guy he didn't even know.
"Any special reason you're taking me for dinner?" Ray asked.
Fraser blushed and rubbed his eyebrow rather intently.
"Lieutenant Welsh mentioned this afternoon that you were going to be partnered with Detective Vecchio and I merely thought to build a rapport before we start working together."
"What does that mean?"
"To form a bond, Ray." Fraser explained, looking rather uncomfortable in his red uniform.
"A bond?" Ray asked.
As it turned out, the restaurant didn't permit dogs. Fraser and Dief looked hurt when the server told them that the dog had to wait outside. After a moment she relented and pointed out that Dief was a service dog, right?
Ray and Fraser studied the menu in comfortable silence; Ray's eyes almost popped out of their sockets when Fraser ordered his food in Chinese.
"Where did you pick that up?"
"At a library actually," Fraser said, tugging at his collar. "My grandparents were travel Liberians and ... that really is not important right now."
"What is then?" Ray asked curiously, head cocked.
"I beg your pardon?"
"Important," Ray clarified. "What brought you to the Windy City anyway?"
Ray cocked his head in question; Fraser cleared his throat before he started talking again.
"I'm afraid I offended..." he paused, rubbing his eyebrow again, "...certain authorities within the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by bringing my father's murderers to justice. They couldn't find a suitable post for me within Canada." Fraser stopped speaking, digging into his food. Ray waited, and waited. Certainly there had to be more. But Fraser just ate and didn't say anything further.
Diefenbaker nudged Ray's knee, whining softly.
"Are you going to tell me or do I have to kick you in the head?"
"I'm not entirely sure what you're referring."
"Your father's murder?"
"Ah, yes. It appears that my father was betrayed by one of his oldest friends within the ranks of the RCMP, and when I refused to close the case and brought my father's murderers to justice I became somewhat of a - ah, persona non-grata."
"They kicked you out of Canada?"
"Apparently so, yes." Fraser avoided Ray's eyes, looking straight over Ray's shoulder like his homeland was right there, behind Ray.
"I discovered that life rarely threats one fairly."
Ray got that all right; hearing Fraser say it it made him feel like someone had kicked him in the stomach. Life hadn't been fair to him either, or Stella. She died at thirty-two, barely an age you expect someone to die. Which was totally irrelevant, people die all the time no matter what age they were.
Ray suddenly stood and went to the restroom.
Breathe, Ray told his image in the restroom mirror. No point in breaking down in front of his soon-to-be cop partner which he actually just did. Not good. Not good at all.
Shit, he cursed under his breath. Get a grip, he told himself, which apparently was easier said then done.
After a few deep breaths Ray straightened his shoulders and looked himself up and down in the bathroom mirror. No, he didn't look like a guy that was just about to bawl. Good.
He went back to their table, Fraser sitting there looking lost like Ray's reaction has taken him by surprise - welcome to Ray's world, buddy, he thought.
"Ray, I ..."
"'M good," Ray interrupted immediately, seeing in Fraser's face that he was about to apologize again.
Silence fell around their table, only interrupted the sound of cutlery touching the plates. Actually just Ray's cutlery, because Fraser was eating with chopsticks.
It felt like forever until Fraser cleared his throat: "I'm aware that we just met and if you think I'm prying, please tell me so, Ray, but...perhaps you would like to talk about...her?"
Nobody these days asked Ray to talk about Stella anymore; they were probably sick of it or didn't care because Stella was dead and Ray should get on with his own life. But Fraser sounded sincere. Like he wanted to know and did care.
"You are in for a long tale here, Benton-buddy," Ray warned, and when Fraser didn't so much as blink he started, and realized as soon as he started that he couldn't stop. Words stumbled out of his mouth without conscious thought. He bared his whole life and it felt great because Fraser listened. He didn't start rolling his eyes, he didn't get a distant look on his face, he was just there, and listened.
Ray felt exhausted when he was finally done talking, exhausted but relieved.
"I wish I had met her, Ray," Fraser said, looking into Ray's eyes. "You were very blessed to have her."
"Thanks." Ray closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his thoughts. Yes, he had been blessed but now, now his life seemed meaningless. He shook his head, feeling the heaviness of her loss closing in on him again. "What about you? You ever been in love like that?"
Fraser suddenly blushed and avoided Ray's eyes.
"I thought I was in love once," he said, his hands reaching for Dief under the table like he needed some physical contact to tell his story. "And then later I thought maybe it was just an inner ear imbalance..."
Unintentionally Ray started chuckling. Contained at first but steadily increasing until his eyes were wet and he could barely breathe.
"I'm glad my misfortune with this topic amuses you, Ray."
"I'm sorry," Ray tried to get in control but failed; one second he was laughing and the next he was quietly sobbing. God, it hurt. So much.
Ray felt Fraser's warm hand closing around his, comforting him while he cried and his words were barely audible. "In the end I realized that it's easier to think you're in love than it is to accept that you are alone and...that I should have my ears checked more regularly," which made Ray start laughing again.
"You're a freak, Fraser."
Sleep came easy that night and Ray felt refreshed when he woke the next morning. Maybe there really was something about the whole talking thing, he mused while he filled his mug with coffee. Fraser had done him a lot of good last night and maybe, maybe, things would get better like people said they would.
People, Ray sneered. He didn't care much about people, at least not those who were full of meaningless words.
Fraser had listened, really listened, and Ray wouldn't forget that, ever. So had Frannie and Renfield and it was about time that Ray acknowledged that. He went over to the phone, pressing #2 on speed-dial. Number 1 was Sandor's, their favorite pizza delivery. Their. Damn.
"Hello?" Frannie's voice came over the phone while Ray was still mourning the fact that he would never order a pizza with anchovies ever again. "Hello?"
"It's me," Ray finally answered pacing his living room.
"Ray? Is everything all right?"
"Yeah, I just wanted... Do you guys have some time later?"
"Yeah, of course," Frannie said hesitantly like she wasn't quite sure what to make of Ray's call.
"I could bring the GTO and Ren and I could do some work on it?"
"Around 3 then?"
"See you then, Ray." Frannie said and paused. "You really are all right?"
"I am," Ray assured, and he hung up, shaking his head. Frannie really did worry too much. He better get a grip before his friends decided that he needed a caretaker.
Shortly after 2 o'clock Ray left his apartment and went around the corner toward his garage, and there it was: his 1967 GTO. Six layers of black paint, a beauty of a car.
Ray had worked with his dad on that car when he still had been a teenager, before Ray had joined the police academy and had fallen from grace in his father's eyes. He opened the car door and took a seat, loving the feel of his car. The GTO held not only memories of better days with his dad but with Stella as well. Of course, as much as Stella was part of his life, so was the car.
Ray closed his eyes.
He could hear Stella laugh
She was sitting beside him on one of those weekend trips they had loved so much. The windows were rolled down, and the blowing wind made any words that might have been spoken unrecognizable. All Ray could hear was her happy laughter.
- We had fun in this car, didn't we? -
"Yes," Ray sighed and started the engine. Better if he didn't dwell on those memories too much, otherwise he would never leave.
Ray picked up some flowers from a near-by shop; Frannie loved sunflowers. She was quite like a sunflower herself, Ray figured, all sunny and bright.
Flowers in hand, Ray reached his friends' door and entered without second thought. It would never have crossed his mind to ring the bell or knock. This, here, was his second home. A safe place.
"Ray!" Frannie cheered when he entered the kitchen. "Who...?" Her eyes went big and turned a bit watery when she spotted the flowers in his hand. "Who told you?" She finished her sentence and then glared at her emerging husband. "I thought we weren't going to tell him, yet." She said reproachfully.
"Tell me what?" Ray asked puzzled.
"I didn't say anything." Renfield said, shaking his head.
"Tell me what?" Ray asked again looking between his friends, and getting a bit nervous here. "C'mon, what?"
Renfield went over to his wife and took her hand. Together, standing as close as possible, they looked at Ray and it dawned on him. Ren must have read it on Ray's face and started grinning like a fool.
"You're kidding me." Ray smiled happily, holding his arms open for Fran.
"No." Ren shook his head.
"We're having a baby!" Fran burst out and hugged Ray tight. "We didn't want to tell you," she whispered. "We knew how much you wanted kids and ..." she quietly sobbed into Ray's shoulder and Ray tightened his hold on her.
"Oh, Fran," he said. "I'm happy for you. I really am." He looked over to Ren, holding his gaze before he turned his attention back to the crying woman in his arms. "Stell would be, too."
"Yeah," Fran freed herself from Ray's embrace. "We didn't know how you would take the news."
"I'm all right," Ray interrupted, and it was amazingly true. Yes, he felt a knot deep down in his stomach, that he and Stella would never have a kid of their own now but still.
"Sorry that you felt the need to keep that from me. I really must be in a bad shape."
Fran hugged him again: "He or she will be your godchild so you'd better get your shit together," she whispered in her best Stella voice.
A shock ran through Ray before he suddenly burst out laughing, quickly joined by Fran and Renfield. They laughed so hard that they ended up on the floor holding their bellies.
Ray sucked at formal thank-yous, so instead he helped Ren in the soon-to-be nursery while Fran busied herself in the kitchen preparing dinner for her boys.
Ray sat on his bed, head in his hands.
- Life goes on, Ray. -
Ray just lay down on his side and slipped under the blanket. He didn't feel like talking; he knew life went on. He knew...
- Ray! -
He didn't answer; he just lay in the dark, arms wrapped around his body, and breathed. In and out, in and out.
After a while Ray fell asleep feeling his wife watching him with worry.
Monday morning rolled around faster than Ray thought possible, and he felt excited.
He had always loved being a cop: shake bad guys, shake; he chuckled inwardly, entering the 27th precinct.
Phones were ringing. People were running around, yelling. A bad smell was hanging in the air - he was back!
"Stanley," Ray Vecchio said, and yes, he was back and it seemed nothing much had changed. He had his old desk with the file folders about to slip off of it. Crime never stopped and criminals never slept
He sighed and sat down without acknowledging Vecchio, only to jump halfway out of his chair when something wet touched his elbow.
"I'm truly sorry, Ray." Fraser appeared out of nowhere.
"Hey, Dief." Ray petted Diefenbaker's head. "Morning, Fraser."
"It's a good morning indeed," Fraser replied, looking rather uncertainly between Ray's desk and Vecchio's. "Oh dear," he muttered almost inaudibly. "Perhaps we should use an interrogation room to discuss our case," Fraser suggested, turning without waiting for an answer from either of them.
Vecchio rolled his eyes, stood and grabbed the file case. "You heard the Mountie," he grinned at Ray, and both men followed, shaking their heads.
"He always like that?" Ray asked.
"Double murder." Ray Vecchio laid out the case in front of Ray and Fraser. "Kind of weird, that one. Victims were husband and wife, killed with the same weapon." Vecchio pointed at a picture showing the husband sitting in a chair, a rifle two feet away from him. "That's the murder weapon. Partial print on it forensic can't make head nor tails of."
Fraser reached for the picture, studying it carefully.
"No forced entry," Vecchio continued. "No sign of a fight. Looks like the wife was killed in her sleep while the husband was watching TV or something."
"He was just sitting there while his wife was murdered?" Ray started pacing up and down the interrogation room. "I mean, whoever was killed first, the other one must have heard it, right?"
"I agree," Fraser said still looking at the picture in his hand.
"Maybe they were drugged," Vecchio suggested.
"Blood screens are clear," Ray pointed at the forensic report. "Did somebody check the neighborhood? Maybe somebody else has a key."
"Murder-suicide," Fraser suddenly said, and both Rays gawked at him.
"What?" Ray asked.
"How do you commit suicide with a rifle, Benny?"
"It's not unheard of," Fraser argued. "Where I come from people rarely have small weapons, they have hunting rifles, and with winters being as long and dark as they are in the far North people get depressed and often commit suicide."
"With a rifle?" Vecchio asked.
"You seen something like this before?" Ray looked at Fraser closely but Fraser's face had become a mask.
"Indeed I have." Fraser avoided Ray's eyes. "If you look at the print that was found..."
"The print doesn't belong to either of the victims." Vecchio said, becoming frustrated, but something dawned on Ray, like a light was switched on in his head.
"It's a toe print," he blurted out. "That's what you're saying, isn't it? He pulled the trigger with his toe."
"Very likely, yes, Ray."
"You want me to go to Welsh and tell him that the guy killed himself with his toe?" Vecchio asked disbelieving, and shook his head.
"It's fairly easy to prove,Ray," Fraser said addressing Vecchio. "We merely have to go down to the Morgue and..."
"No way!" both Rays exclaimed in horror.
"I'm not touching a dead guy," Ray clarified. Vecchio chipped in, "And I'm not watching you lick his toe."
"Lick?" Ray looked between Vecchio and Fraser; he must have heard that wrong.
"That's just silly, Ray," Fraser said. "Licking somebody's toe in this case wouldn't prove..." he stopped, cocking his head. "Although if he really pulled the trigger with his toe there certainly has to be gunpowder evident."
"No, Benny, no." Vecchio shook his head vehemently. "You should see him," he turned toward Ray. "He's like a kid with a lollipop." And with that he gathered the papers and left the interrogation room, leaving a rather embarrassed Fraser behind.
"You really would lick a dead guy's toe to prove he's the murderer?"
Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. "You see, Ray, in the far North one rarely has the opportunity of forensic facilities and often becomes..."
Ray lifted his hands. "I get it," he said. "Don't do it in front of me."
This first case with Vecchio and Fraser was only an example for what Ray's life became during the next weeks. He had always known what people are capable of doing to each other; he came to the point of accepting the fact a long time ago. But working cases with Fraser opened up a whole new world of weirdness.
Ray had the feeling, just two weeks into the gig, that he knew every single dumpster in Chicago personally. He got shot at on a regular basis. He ended up dirty or wet and dirty three days out of five with Vecchio endlessly cursing over yet another designer shirt lost forever. But they did the job; they solved cases. Weird cases, mind you, but they solved them.
Ray was so busy he fell asleep at night as soon as his head hit the pillow. No dreams, no nothing. He basically had no time to think about anything else than surviving and keeping Fraser out of trouble. He had never known that one man could attract as much trouble as one Mountie from Canada. But working with Fraser also changed Ray; his attitude toward his job and the people in his city. Although Ray remembered that he once did this job thinking that he made a difference, that he's changing something. He had lost that notion a long time ago. But Fraser did still think like that and he'd been in this job as long as Ray, and Ray was pretty sure that even up north bad things happened that made you tired and unconcerned.
"How come I stink of fish to high heaven while you, Fraser, look like somebody just polished you?" Ray asked.
He was hopping around his apartment on one foot trying to take off his shoe without bending down, because bending down hurt like a sonofabitch.Ray was wearing a pair of his tighter jeans and, yeah, bending was not an option as wet as he was right now.
"I have no explanation, Ray." Fraser answered and Ray knew him well enough by now to recognize that voice; Fraser was trying hard not to laugh.
"No explanation, huh?" Ray finally got his shoe off, and almost fell on his ass.
"Perhaps your accident could have been prevented if..."
"Accident?" Ray asked, pulling his shirt over his head. "You pushed me into that fish tank, Fraser." He half-jokingly accused his friend while he tried to get out of his jeans.
"I merely tried to..." Fraser stopped in mid-sentence and turned his back on Ray.
"You're funny, you know that?" Ray laughed. "I better hit the shower."
"Yes." Fraser agreed without facing him.
Ray chuckled and went into his bathroom, and turned on the water to heat it up. It was kind of fun to make Fraser sweat; nothing much affected Fraser and if a bit skin did the trick Ray was willing to do it.
Ray was still chipper while he showered and washed his hair; he almost didn't recognize his own face in the mirror when finally the fog cleared off of it.
He had his hair gel in hand and was just staring at his face - he looked ... good. Too good, maybe?
Ray shrugged his shoulders to get rid of the tension that was suddenly building up. He hadn't thought about Stella all that much lately, which definitely didn't mean that he had forgotten about her or was over his loss. He just hadn't had the time, is all.
Ray was still lost in thought when the doorbell rang.
"Ray?" Fraser was calling from the living room.
Ray kept on staring into the mirror.
"Just send whoever it is away," Ray called, suddenly angry. He washed the gel down the drain; he didn't need it. Who cared if his hair was down instead of up? He certainly didn't.
"Is something amiss, Ray?" Fraser asked when Ray emerged from the bathroom.
"Amiss? What could be amiss, Fraser?" Ray answered sarcastically, becoming more irritable by the minute, "I just lost my wife but everything else is just dandy."
"Perhaps I shall leave, then."
"Yeah, perhaps you shall."
"All right then," Fraser turned, tugging his collar, and Ray watched him leave, putting something on the dresser by the door on his way out.
"Greatness," Ray whispers under his breath when the door closed behind Fraser. "Well done, Kowalski." He slumped down on his couch, sighing deeply. He closed his eyes for a moment and just sat there.
What had gotten into him?
Fraser was his friend; he didn't deserve to be treated like that. He better run after him and at least give him a lift back to the Consulate. If Fraser would let him.
On his way out Ray's eye caught what Fraser had put on the dresser. A letter. A letter from Stella.
Ray stopped in his tracks, letter in hand, and for a second, just one second, he considered going after Fraser instead of opening the letter right here and now.
Get your boxing gloves and go to the gym. You haven't worked out for a long time. Have a beer afterward.
P.S. I Love You...
Oh, Stella, Ray slid down the wall and sat on the floor.
- You could ask him to come. -
"Frase and boxing?" Ray chuckled; just imagining Fraser in a boxing ring stuck him as hilarious. "He's too polite to hit anybody."
- Oh, I'm sure under the right circumstances...
"I hurt him." Ray said, fiddling with the letter in his hand.
- Apologize, then.
"Yeah," Ray got up and reached for his car keys. "I better go."
All the way to the Consulate Ray thought that it might have been better to call. Everything was probably better than facing Fraser right now. But Ray was no coward. Never had been, and never would be.
"Hello, Ray." Fraser greeted him like nothing had happened when he opened the Consulate door and Ray was standing in the doorway, stalling for time.
Their silence stretched and Ray started rolling on the back of his heels.
"Perhaps you would rather..." Fraser indicated for Ray to step inside.
"I get letters from my dead wife," Ray suddenly blurted out, and that was really not what he wanted to say at all.
"Understood," Fraser replied and Ray had no idea what to make of it.
"What do you understand, Fraser?" Ray asked, finally stepping inside, and seeing from the corner of his eye how Fraser rubbed his eyebrow in discomfort.
"I was merely..."
"Because you do not understand, Fraser." Ray interrupted. "You don't."
"My father left me his journals, so in a way he's writing to me from beyond his grave."
"Is he telling you to do stuff?"
"Oh, all the time, Ray. All the time. You should read his advice." Fraser shook his head in amusement. "Unhinged."
Ray had no clue what to say. Fraser apparently understood very well; he had lost somebody close as well and coped. Maybe he could, too.
"I miss her," Ray whispered, and he felt tears in his eyes. "It hurts." Confessing that started him crying, for real this time.
Ray didn't want to cry; he really didn't but...he did it anyway, standing in the Canadian Consulate hallway and crying his heart out.
He didn't know for how long he was standing there when he felt a warm, comforting hand on the back of his neck, pulling him closer, and suddenly, instead of standing alone and crying, he was weeping into Fraser's shoulder. Ray held onto Fraser like a drowning man until he had no more tears
Maybe he should have felt embarrassed, but he didn't, which was mainly because Fraser didn't make a big deal out of it. He just placed a cup of coffee in front of Ray in the kitchen and kept quiet, preparing some sort of tea for himself.
"You really are a freak," Ray smiled into his coffee cup.
"I have come to realize that," Fraser answered and took a seat opposite from Ray. "Would you like to read one of my father's journals?"
"Yeah," Ray nodded, reaching for Stella's last letter in his jacket pocket and holding it out to Fraser to read.
"I had no idea you boxed, Ray." Fraser said, handing back the letter.
"Seems like a long time ago. What about you?"
"I did," Fraser coughed lightly behind his hand, "some sparring with Ray. Ray Vecchio, that is."
"You knocked him out, didn't you?"
"I'm afraid so, yes."
"You wanna go with me?"
"I would be delighted, Ray."
"Oh, Ray, I don't know," Frannie was placing a hand over her growing belly. "Boxing?"
"Fraser and I, we've been working really hard with Levon and I'm pretty sure he has a chance," Ray argued. "C'mon, Frannie."
"And Fraser would be there?" she asked, and Ray could see her opinion change; Frannie had a soft spot for Fraser ever since her brother introduced them.
"Yeah, he will," Ray grinned. "Promise to behave yourself," he teased, already picturing Fraser stuttering and blushing with Frannie's attention directed at him. For a guy who looked like Fraser it was pretty funny to see him sweat; people were throwing themselves at Fraser on a regular basis and one would figure that he would be used to it by now. But he wasn't. At all.
"Ray!" Frannie pretended to be scandalized. "I'm a married woman."
"A good reason but not a handicap."
Both started laughing, even more so when Ren emerged from the kitchen with their coffee.
"What did I miss?" he asked.
"Nothing, really," Ray said, which had them laughing all over again.
"All right, then, keep your little secret," Ren said good-naturedly, and sat beside his wife, taking her hand in his. "I gather we going to see that champ of yours?"
"Is Ray going to be there?" Frannie asked.
"He doesn't know yet," Ray answered. "I think he's still a little peeved that Fraser knocked him out cold the last time they were in a boxing ring."
"Oh, he's such a baby," Frannie laughed.
"A hungry wolf's waiting," Ray said and stood up. "There's a hockey game on tonight, and Fraser is coming over."
"How come I'm not invited?" Ren asked lightly.
"Aw, you would lose your pizza over the pictures we're going through during intermission," Ray grinned, gathering his belongings. "See you tomorrow." He bent down and kissed Frannie's cheek. "Take care," he whispered.
"The Leafs suck..." Ray exclaimed, getting up from his couch to fetch another beer from the fridge in the kitchen.
"...and the Hawks rule," Fraser finished Ray's sentence, shaking his head, smiling.
"You got that right, Benton-buddy," Ray pointed two fingers at Fraser. "You want more water?"
"Yes, please," Fraser said, handing over his empty glass. "Really, Ray, one should not talk down opposing teams. That's hardly sportsmanlike."
"Who talks sportsmanlike here? We're talking hockey, Frase. Hockey," he said and sat down again; Dief whined at him. "He agrees."
"Diefenbaker is merely begging for your last slice of pizza."
Ray looked down at the wolf. "Are you?" he asked.
Dief turned his head, ignoring him.
"Indeed," Fraser shook his head. "I'm afraid Diefenbaker became rather spoiled over the last few months in Chicago. I think a hunting trip is in order to remind him of his ancestors."
"In Chicago?" Ray laughed. "What is he going to hunt? Donuts?"
"That is not even funny," Fraser scowled lightly. "We're going back to the Territories in a few weeks and there will be ample opportunities to remind him of his roots."
Suddenly, it wasn't important anymore if the Leafs sucked and the Hawks ruled. Fraser was leaving. A heaviness Ray hadn't felt in quite some time closed in on him.
"Leaving is too strong a word, Ray. It's merely a ten-day sabbatical, if you will."
"Ten days," Ray whispered into his beer bottle. What was he going to do without Fraser? And how odd was that question? A few weeks ago he hadn't even known the guy and now he couldn't do without him?
"Are you all right, Ray?" Fraser asked.
"Yeah," Ray stood. "'M good," which he really wasn't. "I just have to..." he pointed toward his bathroom.
Ray closed the door behind him and hit his head a few times against the door. What was happening here? How had he become so attached, so dependent?
- Ray! -
"I'm a puppet with a Mountie safety blanket," Ray laughed sarcastically.
- Ray! -
"No, really, Stell. What's all this?"
- You like him. -
"Sure I do," Ray nodded. That was really not the point. "Which doesn't mean we have to live in each others pockets." He started pacing up and down the small bathroom floor.
- There is nothing wrong with missing a friend, Ray. -
"I dunno." Ray yanked the door open and stormed out. Talking with his dead wife about something he didn't even understand himself was pointless.
"Ray?" Fraser asked from the couch, looking at him with worry in his eyes.
"We shall leave then," Fraser stated. "Diefenbaker!" He called and turned toward the door.
"I..." Ray had no idea what he was about to say. What could he say, really?
"Tired," Ray repeated and rubbed his eyes to emphasize his statement.
"Good night, Ray."
"'Night, Frase" Ray answered to the closed door and sighed deeply.
What the hell was going on with him?
Ray's dreams were filled with vivid memories of his wife. He hadn't had dreams like that for quite some time now, which made it even worse. He woke with a pounding headache and a general feeling of heaviness.
"You look like somebody dragged you out of a dumpster," Vecchio commented when Ray came to the station. "Hanging out with Fraser again?"
Ray just went by without bothering to answer. This was just their usual banter and not worth the trouble this morning. He went straight to the staff room, getting a cup of coffee, and started chuckling sadly when he pulled out a box of Smarties out of his desk drawer.
"What's up, Kowalski?" Ray Vecchio asked, looking alarmed.
"These are Canadian," Ray answered and pointed to his Smarties.
"Never mind." Ray counted off seven and put them in his coffee, still chuckling. Fraser had bought him sweets. For his coffee. Nobody but Stella had ever done such a thing. That thought stayed with Ray all day long. Through their good cop, bad cop interrogation of a murder suspect and the paperwork when the perp finally confessed, through their lunch break to Ray's arrival at the gym.
Fraser had bought him sweets. For his coffee.
Frannie was frantically waving when Ray entered the gym. She and Ren had saved them seats further up. Fraser was also there, right next to Frannie, who seemed to have a death grip on his arm.
"Ray!" Frannie yelled to be heard over all the noise.
The arena was filled, probably sold out. Boxing was a popular sport. Half the station was there; Ray could see lieutenant Welsh and Barnie Mitchell from car pool, even Mike the night janitor.
When Ray made eye contact with Fraser, Fraser stood, ready to come down but Ray only shook his head, and Fraser sat down again, looking curious. During their training sessions with Levon, Fraser had been the one suggesting the strategy but Ray didn't want Fraser near him right now. Not until he had figured out what was going on between them. He turned and joined Levon, who was more hyper than Ray on five cups of coffee, in his dressing room.
Levon was jumping up and down, rolling his shoulders.
"I'm gonna do it, Ray. I'm gonna win this." Levon was saying, then suddenly he stopped and looked at the door. "Where's Fraser?"
"We can do without him."
"He's the strategy-man, Ray," Levon complained, looking worried and not all that confident anymore.
"You're going to knock him out; that's our strategy," Ray said doing some punching moves which made Levon smile.
"That's right, man," and he mimicked Ray, punching the air.
Apparently it wasn't all that easy; Levon's footwork sucked big time and he ran into a punch more than Ray cared to count.
"C'mon, Levon," Ray yelled, jumping up and down on the sideline. "Move!"
Another punch and Levon hit the floor.
Ray momentarily closed his eyes before he shrugged off any thoughts of defeat; he was not having any of it. Levon was on his feet again, a bit dazed looking, though.
"C'mon, Levon," Ray moved along the sideline, punching the air.
"He seems a bit unfocused, Ray." Fraser was suddenly standing beside Ray, looking worriedly at their protg.
"Yeah," Ray agreed, still too jumpy to stand still. "And it's your fault."
The call sign saved Ray from explaining; he hadn't even meant to say it. Fraser looked shocked as Ray could see out of the corner of his eye but Levon was approaching, expecting advice, encouragement and something to drink, and Fraser seemed to let it go. For now.
"Your feet, Levon," Ray was saying. "Move them. That guy may be bigger than you but he's slower."
"Your opponent is neglecting his defense after each attack; his fists are lowered," Fraser said, holding a cup of water for Levon. "Wait for his attack and then you follow; he's wide open."
Ray hadn't noticed any of it; that had been Fraser's job. Fraser, their strategy man.
"All right," Levon nodded, breathing hard.
"Go get him." Ray cheered when Levon stood and moved to the middle of the ring.
"Have I ever told you that you have good eyes?" Ray asked, not looking at Fraser.
"You may have mentioned that I posses keen observation skills, yes."
"Keen observation skills, right." Ray muttered under his breath. As if he would ever use words like that.
The volume of the crowed increased then, making any conversation impossible. Levon took Fraser's advice to heart and hit his opponent more than he got hit himself - the fight was shifting.
"Yes!" Ray yelled, lifting his arm into the air. "That's it, Levon. Keep on going!"
The crowd cheered with each punch Levon landed; the noises in the arena seemed to be incredibly loud but for Ray everything turned into slow motion. He could see every single drop of sweat that hit the floor at the fighters' feet; he noticed Frannie's voice in the crowd, and he turned his head to look at Fraser who was standing right next to him, looking right back at him.
Fraser's eyes seemed impossible dark, bottom-less and Ray couldn't look away.
Ray didn't notice anything around him - he didn't hear the crowd going wild when Levon send his opponent to the floor; he didn't hear the bell ringing to signal the end of the fight - none of it. He just felt incredible hot; Fraser's eyes and -- suddenly somebody touched his shoulder and all the noises came flooding back, overpowering him.
Ray was lifted up into the air; he lost eye contact with Fraser when he was pulled into the ring, the center of the celebration. Hands were holding him, patting his shoulder but through all of it Ray tried to find Fraser again. But, for once, Fraser wasn't wearing his uniform and therefore wasn't easily spotted in the growing crowd around Ray. It wasn't until he got to the nearby bar for the post-fight party that he was able to lay eyes on Fraser again. He was standing next to Frannie, blushing fiercely about something Frannie was saying.
"I told you to behave, Fran," Ray said, smiling, stepping closer and Fraser blushed even more if that was possible.
"Hey," Frannie said putting one hand over her heart, "I was just saying what a good friend Fraser is to you."
Fraser started rubbing his eyebrow now, his blush not fading at all, and Ray was at a loss for words. Not that Frannie was wrong or anything. Ray agreed with her, totally, but... Fraser had turned his life into slow motion once today already and Ray hasn't quite figured out what to make of it. Figuring things out wasn't his strong suit anyway; he was a guy who went with his guts, and, yes, Fraser was a good friend. A very good friend. Maybe as good a friend as Stella had been before... Ray swallowed hard. Was Fraser becoming what Stella had been for him?
"Guys," Frannie rolled her eyes and turned her back on them, looking for her husband in the crowd.
Silence kept on stretching between Ray and Fraser, and Ray started to roll on the back of his heels, desperately trying to come up with...something.
"I better take my leave," Fraser suddenly said. "Diefenbaker needs his evening walk; he becomes rather..."
Fraser was babbling, Ray noticed, and Fraser never ever babbled. Except when women were throwing themselves at him, and Fraser was blithering now, which meant...Ray was still busy to decipher his thoughts that he almost missed Fraser's leave.
"Frase?" He called out and Fraser turned toward him.
"She's right, you know. Frannie, I mean, she's right. You are a good friend to me."
"And you to me, Ray," Fraser said and for just a second Ray was sure that Fraser was about to say something more but apparently thought better of it and left, leaving Ray by himself. With each step Fraser took Ray felt more and more alone in a room full of people.
Hell! Ray thought and buried his face in his hands. He wasn't falling for Fraser, wasn't he?
Ray tried to keep it cool during the next few days. He had decided to go with the flow; to go with his gut like he always did. He did not analyze why he was always standing so damn close to Fraser, why he was touching him all the time.
Ray had always been a touching kind of guy.
That was just him being him.
What did make him wonder was Fraser. Because he didn't seem to mind, and Fraser usually was very protective of his personal space. He never touched anybody. Except to push you out of harm's way.
It seemed like Fraser was searching for closeness as much as Ray did, which made Ray's head spin. So not a good thing with crimes to fight and puzzled to solve. Like the case they were currently working on.
Confessions were thrown at them left and right and Ray had absolutely no idea of what was going on. Neither did Vecchio which made it bit better, somehow. But they both had been witnesses with Fraser running off to catch a purse snatcher. And now, here they were with stories of what had gone down that couldn't be more different.
All they had to go by was the victim, killed by a knife, and, clearly only one of their suspects could have done it. But which one?
"You know, there is a technique that's often very effective in situations similar to this, were precise recall is required." Fraser was saying, looking between Ray and Vecchio.
"Which is?" Vecchio asked like such a technique suggested by Fraser could only mean licking the crime scene.
"Hypnosis," Fraser added.
"You have to be kidding," Vecchio put his head on his desk in defeat.
"Hypnosis?" Ray asked. Wasn't that where you confess everything? Maybe not such a good idea with his mind such a mess, Ray figured.
"It's a very effective technique," Fraser assured. "As a matter of fact, I've hypnotized myself on a number of occasions to aid in the recovery of information. He rubbed his eyebrow. "Of course, one doesn't always remember what one told oneself in the hypnotic state, so a tape recorder is almost always necessary."
Ray laughed at that and touched Fraser's shoulder: "You, my friend, are a freak. Do me," he almost choked on his own words.
"Very funny, Kowalski," Vecchio rolled his eyes but agreed to the procedure.
When the day was done they had caught the murderer which had been none of their suspects, go figure. But Ray felt good, great actually. His head was less reeling and...
"I love you, Fraser," slipped off his tongue without second thoughts.
"And I you, Ray."
Ray kept his arm around Fraser's shoulder as they marched out of the station, his head suddenly spinning again. Where had that come from?
"Ray?" He ignored Fraser, determined to pretend that nothing had happened.
"Ray!" He unlocked the passenger door, still refusing to look at Fraser.
"The consulate," Ray opened the door for Fraser, almost pushing him and Diefenbaker in.
"On our way, Fraser. On our way." Ray didn't dare to even look at Fraser in the passenger seat, for once he concentrated on the road.
"Are you all right, Ray?" Fraser asked concerned. "You seemed a tad..."
"Tired," Ray interrupted. "I'm tired, that's all. Busy day and all that."
Ray felt Fraser's eyes on him, almost sensing Fraser's impulse to check his forehead for a sudden fever.
"I'm fine," Ray assured, trying to relax; he was about to freak Fraser out. Which he so didn't want right now. He just...
"Ray!" Fraser said gently, his hand suddenly covering Ray's which really didn't help at all; Ray's heart staring beating one-hundred miles a minute. "Please, slow down."
"'M good. I am," Ray repeated like a mantra.
"We've arrived," Fraser pointed out and Ray parked the car, keeping the engine running. He didn't dare to speak; he was just looking straight ahead, panic-stricken.
"All right, then," Fraser stated after a few more minutes of silence. He held up the seat for Diefenbaker to emerge.
"See you tomorrow," Ray waved, still not looking at Fraser.
"Ray..." Fraser shook his head, furrowing his brow. "We're leaving for Tuk tomorrow, remember? You were going to give us a lift to the airport."
"Oh," now Ray did look and...Fraser was leaving tomorrow.
Time to breathe. Time to...
"Tomorrow?" Ray asked dumbfounded. He'd totally forgotten about Fraser's trip.
"My flight leaves at 8:45am, Ray," Fraser was still leaning into the car which must be bad for his back, Ray thought absently.
""kay," Ray nodded. "So I'm picking you up when?"
"Only if you ..."
"At 6:00am, Ray. Thank you kindly."
"See you then."
"Have good night, Ray." Fraser said and closed the door softly.
"Night," Ray whispered and put his head on his arms on the steering wheel. He had said the L word. To Fraser. Not that Ray was afraid of the L word or anything but...It was too soon. Way too soon. Stella had only been gone for...almost a year, Ray realized with shock. A whole year had gone by.
Ray drove home in absent-mindedly.
Stella had been dead a year and here Ray was, falling in love again.
Airports were always a place for tears.
Tears of joy, and tears of sadness.
People coming and going.
Ray felt misplaced and even Fraser seemed kind of down; he had been ever since Ray had picked him up in front of the Consulate. They had hardly spoken on their way and even now - nothing.
"So, you're going on that hunting trip with Dief?" Ray asked only to break the silence.
"We might, yes."
"You know, I always wanted to go on an adventure." Ray continued and sudden sadness took hold of him. He had wanted to go on a dog sledding trip with Stella all those years ago but, somehow, they had never went. A real adventure. Stella and Ray against the world. It had been a nice dream.
"There are ample opportunities in Canada's North, Ray."
"I guess so." Ray said gloomily.
"I better go," Fraser grabbed his duffel bag and moved toward his gate.
"Don't get eaten by a bear or anything," Ray said lamely.
Ray watched Fraser go and it felt like something essential was pulled out of him. A world that had become colourful over the last few months turned suddenly gray again, and, no, none of it had to do with winter time in Chicago. It was all about Fraser.
Ray missed Fraser like crazy.
He dreaded work; their solve rate without Fraser's input went down the drain faster than you could say Canada, and Vecchio was even more annoying than usual. They probably got along because of Fraser, for Fraser, but now that Fraser wasn't here...Something was off with Vecchio but Ray had too much on his plate to let it bother him. Much.
"God, Kowalski," Vecchio scowled at Ray, "are you even here?"
Ray's angry reply was cut by Welsh's appearance.
"Kowalski," he bellowed, "in my office, please."
Ray stood and put on his attitude; if nothing else he could rely on that. He stepped into Welsh's office, who indicated with a wave of his hand to close the door behind him.
"I gather I didn't interrupt any vital detective work, Detective," Welsh said sarcastically, looking in Vecchio's direction through the blinds.
"We were about to..."
"I see," Welsh interrupted and took a envelope out of his desk drawer, and holding it out to Ray. "Your wife went through a lot of trouble to get this for you," he suddenly said a lot softer and Ray swallowed, carefully taking the envelope. "You are on leave starting tomorrow," Welsh added and turned toward some papers on his desk.
Ray didn't move; he couldn't even if his life depended on it.
Ray slowly turned and left Welsh office, pausing in the middle of the bullpen just staring at the envelope in his hand.
"Cat got your tongue, Stanley?" Vecchio asked, but Ray was too deep in his thoughts to react.
"It's a letter. From Stella."
Vecchio kept quiet then and Ray sat down at his desk, placing the letter in front of him. He had almost thought that she's really gone. No more letters but...
Carefully Ray opened the envelope; it was thicker than usual and Ray discovered plane tickets and a colourful brochure, and Stella's note:
An Adventure, Ray!
P.S. I Love You
Ray leafed through the papers; he couldn't believe it. This was what they had always dreamed about. This was...
"How far do you think it is from Whitehorse to Tukto-whatever?" Ray suddenly asked, his heart beating faster. Stella was sending him to Canada. To Fraser.
"Do I look like an expert in Canadian geography?" Vecchio answered, annoyed.
"Right." Ray nodded absently; he was going to find out. He was going...
"I might not be here when you guys come back." Vecchio suddenly said and Ray lifted his head and looked at Vecchio, really looked at him. He looked tired, deep circles under his eyes like he hasn't slept in awhile and his desk, Vecchio's desk looked kind of clean. Like empty. Why hasn't he noticed any of it before? Some detective he was.
"Just tell Benny that I'll be in touch," Vecchio said, slowly standing like he hurt and walking toward the entrance.
"Vecchio!" Ray called but didn't get a response. "Ray!"
But Vecchio just left; the doors closed behind him.
It seemed that everyone was leaving. Ray learned Ray Vecchio had been pulled into an undercover mission and wasn't likely to be back anytime soon. Fraser was off in the Great White North doing whatever a Mountie on vacation was doing and Ray, Ray was on his way to his own adventure.
He hold onto the plane ticket in his hand.
Sounded cool; sounded cold.
His journey was anything but cool. One plane after another and Ray really didn't like flying all that much. The planes were too small; he had no space to move and he got restless if he couldn't move.
Ray started to get a cramp in his leg when they finally descended into Whitehorse.
From his seat window Ray was greeted by snow. Snow everywhere he looked.
"What the hell am I doing," Ray whispered under his breath, but he had wanted an adventure and now he got one.
The airport was the smallest thing Ray had ever seen. Getting lost here had to be impossible, he thought. Anyway, he easily spotted his pick-up, a young guy with a funny hat and a sign saying "Muktuk Kennels".
"You must be Ray," the guy said as he shook Ray's hand. "I'm Dave and I'm taking you to Frank's."
Ray followed Dave, cold wind blowing in his face when they left the terminal.
"What's the temperature?" Ray wanted to know, even if he really didn't.
"It's minus 23, Ray."
"That in real temperature?"
"What do you mean?"
"Nothing. Forget it."
Their trip took about forty minutes, most of which Ray spend looking out the window. There wasn't much to see, really. Except for snow. Ray was sure he had never seen that much snow in his life. He was in Fraser-land he suddenly realized. This was what Fraser craved. This wide-open space, this white-ness.
"Are you going on the trip with me?" Ray asked Dave.
"Oh, no," Dave laughed. "I would get us both killed." He said it good-naturedly and Ray chuckled, charmed. "A well-trained, experienced guide will be with you, Ray. No worries."
"I'm not worried."
Ray could hear dog barking from the intersection of the Alaska Highway; there must hundreds of them.
"They are excited," Dave explained, as they approached the kennels. "We currently have 125 sled dogs who actually run races like the Yukon Quest. On top of that we have like fifty retired dogs; some are up for adoption."
Ray was greeted by ear-deafening barking when he got out of the car; this place felt so alive with the excited dogs and the blue sky above. He looked around, took it all in. This was amazing. Ray breathed in the crisp cold air, filled his lungs with it.
"Anybody ever got lost?" Ray asked, following Dave who showed him his cabin.
"I would be lying if I said no," Dave said. "This can be..."
"...a dangerous place, Ray," Ray added and chuckled. "I have a friend who lives here," he explained when Dave looked questioningly. "Not here here, further north even."
"Why isn't he taking you then?"
"Nice place," Ray changed the subject immediately. Fraser was not here so there was no point in dwelling. This was his adventure, his and Stella's.
"You better get a good night's rest," Dave said and left him alone. Ray took in his surroundings, wondering if this was like how Fraser lived. A cabin, a wood stove and that was it.
No TV, or phone. Also Ray figured that you could have all that if you wanted to.
Ray took off his hat and sat on the bed, bouncing up and down; this was nice. Really nice. What more did one need, really?
Before Ray went to bed he looked suspiciously at the wood stove and decided to put some more wood in. It was warm right now but that was going to change when the fired had burned down. Afterward, Ray slipped under his blankets, pulled them as close around him as possible.
"'night, Ray," he whispered into the darkness and fell asleep almost immediately.
Ray's dreams were filled with images of Stella. And Fraser. Both talking to him but no sounds reached Ray's ear. He tried even harder, but heard nothing. Then Stella took his hand, smiling at him lovingly, and guided him toward Fraser, who was holding out his hand.
They were standing the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow, and Ray was blinded. He couldn't see anything, and Stella let go of his hand and...Where was Fraser?
Ray stumbled around unseeing, sinking in the snow.
He waved his arms helplessly until a hand grabbed a hold of his, pulling him to safer ground.
"Ray," Fraser said and Ray awakened, sitting up straight and breathing hard.
The cabin was still dark and Ray fumbled with the light switch. When the light finally came on the cabin looked different, more homelike. The fire was for some mysterious reason still burning and there was a cup on the table, smelling of fresh coffee.
Ray didn't even think about how it might have gotten there he just reached for it greedily, blowing onto it before he took his first sip. Ray paused and put the cup back down slowly.
Something hinky was going on.
The coffee tasted exactly like he liked it, with precisely the right amount of candy.
Ray got up and opened the door jerkily; his watch told Ray is was morning already but there was no indication of a rising sun. Winter nights were long as Fraser had told him many times. Ray's eyes caught a note pinned to the door frame.
Let go, Ray!
P.S. I'm with you forever...
Ray sat down on the porch heavily, the note in his shaking hands. If this was some sort of joke...
"What is this?" Ray asked angrily. "Are you leaving me?"
- No, Ray! I'll always be with you, but you have to go on. You...
"Don't tell me what I have to do!" Ray stood. "I love you," he added, calmer.
- I know, Ray! But I'm not the only one anymore.
- Go, Ray! Go!
He lost sight of Stella then, and Ray felt like crying. He didn't feel the cold wind on his face and it took him forever to notice the voice calling out to him.
Dave was standing on the porch of the main building, waving him over.
Ray stood slowly and walked towards Dave; his steps getting lighter with every step he took. No, he wasn't going to loose Stella; she was a part of him. That would never change.
"'Morning, Ray," Dave greeted cheerfully and held open the door for him; Ray stepped in and stopped dead in his tracks.
Fraser was standing right there.
"Hello, Ray!' Fraser said cautiously like he wasn't sure how Ray might react to his presence.
Last nights dream came back to Ray. The coffee. Stella.
All of it suddenly made perfect sense and Ray stepped closer and hugged the life out of Fraser.
"Good to see you, buddy."
"Yes," Fraser said and hugged Ray right back. "Very good indeed."
For a moment Ray got lost in Fraser's smell, his strong arms holding him close. He hold on even tighter before he let go.
"Don't get me wrong but what are you doing here?" Ray asked and a blush crept up Fraser's face, his hand involuntary reaching for his eyebrow.
"Frank is an old friend of my father's and when he was in need of guide I ..."
"Unfortunately your guide, Ray, fell ill and to uphold your reservation I took the liberty of offering my service."
"We're going on an adventure?" Ray couldn't believe it. Not only was Fraser here, he was going on this trip with him.
"If you will have me."
"I do," Ray said wholeheartedly. "I do."
Two hours later Ray and Fraser took off into the blinding snow and into their new life.
End P.S. I Love You by sam80853
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