Geometry: Chapter 4, Ritchie's Dead
by Diefs Girl
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em, I just play with 'em and hand 'em back, none the worse for wear.
Story Notes: Highlander/due South crossover, with a cameo here and there from Hellboy.
Monday afternoon, Ray beat out a tune on the GTO's steering wheel and looked forward to the first bright spot of the day as they drove over to Sheridan's Wharf. He and Fraser got to take Dief and visit the wolf's girlfriend, with genuine case-related business, and Ray had high hopes of parlaying it into an invitation to spend the evening with the attractive and intriguing Doctor MacLeod.
He and Fraser had spent the weekend watching security tapes -endlessly- and come up with exactly nothing, but the security tapes ran on a two-week rotation, so they were barely halfway through the backlog.
The autopsy and toxicology reports had come with more nothing as far as leads went. The victim hadn't been smoking, drinking or on anything. Dental records were a loss with no head, and save for a practically indistinguishable wrist tattoo and a couple surgical scars, there were no marks on the body whatsoever except for the eighty-eight separate slashes slicing the victim's skin to bloody ribbons.
Interpol had nothing on a saber matching their description, but a couple of agents passed along contact numbers in case they turned up anything else. Likewise the Smithsonian, matched nothing they knew of but call us if you find anything else, any time day or night, thank you, detective...
That notion of Marina's about Lloyd of London's paid off, while the polite British representative had been very circumspect, he confirmed Lloyd's knew of three sabers owned by one museum and two private collectors that matched the description and picture Ray faxed over, and while he made it plain he would not release their private clients' names without a court order, the fellow offered to contact the two personally and make sure they were not victims of foul play. He assured Ray of full cooperation if it turned out one of their clients had been robbed, or worse yet, might be the unidentified body in the City's homicide morgue.
The first saber on Lloyd's list was a Crown Treasure of the British Empire and on permanent exhibition at the Tower Museum, confirmed intact by Museum staff half an hour after Fraser called the curator and explained the situation.
The second saber was accounted for when the first private collector, a Belgian Viscount, contacted Ray directly confirming his saber was safe and asking bluntly about the fate of the other saber if it was not claimed over the course of the investigation. Ray took down his name and personal number with a promise to call if the saber went up for police auction.
The third saber owner was unaccounted for, and it nagged at Ray like a toothache as he and Fraser banged their heads on what to do next and Dief suffered loudly from the oppressive heat. A visit with the Doc oughta improve everyone's disposition...
For her part, Marina was having so much fun she sang along with Meatloaf on the radio as she wired up the ceiling fan and light in the west bedroom. Renovating the next-door apartment for Dief, Ben and Ray had taken over her energy to such an extent -and turned out to be such a blast- she'd turned over her teaching classes at the University to her graduate assistant for the rest of the week, salving her conscience with the knowledge Janey had been pestering her for the practice for a month.
Friday morning was spent with her sketchpad and watercolor pencils in a delightful haze of creativity, planning out the features of the apartment, coming up with idea after fun idea.
Redesigning the bathrooms hadn't been much of a challenge- all she'd had to do was imagine what they must feel like some nights coming home from a stone cold bitch of a job, and extended length Jacuzzi tubs and separate shower stalls with pulse shower heads tumbled off her pencil tip. Heated towel racks and bathroom floors for Ray, and then for Ben so he wouldn't feel left out. In the great room, a whole wall of built-in bookcases because she had a feeling Ben would fill them with books, given the chance. For Ray, spaces for a TV, VCR, DVD player and stereo components in the middle of the bookcases with room for speakers in the corners.
She sketched out plans to tear out the gas log and open up the fireplace so Ben could have wood fires, as somehow she knew a gas fire would be a sad mockery to him. All the bedrooms needed was paint. The fun she had picking out colors for the rooms; cool slate blue for Ben's bedroom, warm honey tinted with ochre for Ray. Tile and fixtures for Ray's bathroom in light green and sand, the same for Ben in palest blue and gray.
She ordered a brand new black oven, stove, microwave, refrigerator and dishwasher, and on a whim went with red and green and a whimsical chili pepper motif in the kitchen, remembering a bright, cheery kitchen she and two male gay friends had done together in college. She blew their memory a kiss across time and pulled up a corner of the ratty old carpet to assure herself the wide hardwood floors in her apartment were replicated here and made plans to have them refinished. Redesigned the breakfast bar for three, with a wry shrug for silly hopes she might make a cozy third for brunch some sleepy Sunday morning.
Dragged Lotus up and explained what she wanted for the wall murals in the living room, firing the girl's mind with the vision and leaving her already sketching on the wall with some of Mina's borrowed watercolor pencils.
Researched Yukon and Northwest Territory indigenous plants and ordered a boatload of them for the outer deck, and when she couldn't find anyone who could repair the old fountain out there, decided to rip it out entirely and install a new one. Besides, she'd always hated those weird little cherubs peeing into a pool. They were just creepy.
Planned for security panels on the top and bottom doors of the back stairwell so Dief could let himself in and out of the postage-stamp sized back garden by bark-activated doors. And finally, a sneak-thru from their kitchen into hers, a swinging panel doggy-door hidden behind the water heaters in their tiny, mirror-image kitchen utility closets so Dief could slip into her apartment at night and sleep on her bed.
Friday afternoon was spent on the phone and the internet, often at the same time, ordering supplies in a flurry, coaxing half a dozen subcontractors to give her weekend service in exchange for double-time pay. Saturday was a hell of demolition, with three different contracting crews tearing out the old cabinets, tile, tubs, toilets and fixtures, ripping up the filthy carpet, and hauling load after load down the freight elevator into a steady stream of dump trucks.
She'd been such a whirl of energy the crews had been either charmed or unnerved by her, and the demo had been finished by Saturday evening. The framers worked through the night by floodlights and Sunday morning the plumbers and tile layers were busy in the bathrooms, as deliverymen hauled in new cabinets, new tubs and showers, sinks and toilets, all the new appliances and the custom bookcase modular pieces. Realizing curtains would be futile for men, she hurriedly ran down a window treatment specialist and got vertical blinds installed next-day by the simple expedient of bribing the estimator with White Sox tickets. They were in there now, and she had to stagger the painters so they weren't all in the same rooms at once.
The electrician was busy wiring up the security panels and his assistants were installing additional outlets in the bookcases, so she'd come in to put up the ceiling fans and light fixtures in the bedrooms personally. And that was where she was when Dief found her two hours later, leading Fraser and Ray unerringly through the clutter and dust of a construction site straight to her side.
Picking their way gingerly through the mess -despite the fact Ray had worked construction as a teenager and was aware this was an amazingly clean and well-organized work site- they found Marina six feet up a ladder. Wearing sneakers, another faded tank top, battered jeans and a worn toolbelt, she was belting out 'Paradise by the Dashboard Light' as she spun screws into place with a cordless power drill. Plaster dust coated the baseball cap her ponytail was laced through, and the lovely fluid curve of her back and arms as she worked over her head made Ray's mouth go dry.
Dief barked to get her attention, but when that made no impact he trotted over, plunked his front feet up on the ladder step and tugged her jeans leg with his teeth. The singing and the whine of the power drill stopped as she looked down and a happy smile broke over her face when she saw Dief.
"Hey, love. Did you come to see me?"
Dief barked and wagged his tail, a canine grin on his panting face.
"What a perfectly lovely surprise." When she caught sight of Ray and Fraser standing in the doorway she beamed in delight, turned around and sat down on the ladder's top step, holding her arms out to indicate the apartment. "Like it? The work's going really well this week."
Fraser was agog over the sheer size of the place, and before he thought he said regretfully, "We could never afford an apartment this large, Marina."
Marina rolled her eyes. "Ye gods, you really are Dudley Do-Right! The building's rent-controlled, Ben. Don't worry about the money; even on a pair of civil servants' salaries you can afford it. Besides, the owner likes the idea of having a couple of cops and a police wolf living here. The other tenants are mostly college kids, a few single mothers or elderly folks. You're both such overprotective do-gooders it's basically free live-in security."
Ray laughed. "Smart owner."
"Smart as they come," Marina agreed. "The place will be ready for you to move in the first of September. So to what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of your company?"
"Case work," Ray explained.
Her left eyebrow rose in a perfect Mr. Spock imitation that tickled Ray immensely. "And?"
"Forensics is done with the saber. As it's a priceless antique and we have no way to store it properly, the Department is placing it in the protective custody of an local expert for now."
"That's a good idea," Marina agreed.
"Glad you think so. So when can you come pick it up?"
"Who, me?" She looked startled.
"Sure, who else?"
"If you like," and she gave in with so little fuss Ray suspected she'd been hoping to get her hands on the saber a second time. "If that's the case, I should go now," she admitted. "That poor thing needs attention a.s.a.p."
"Greatness. We'll give you a ride to the station." Pleased surprise at the offer flashed over Marina's face and she was so damned cute up on that ladder Ray gave in to impulse. He strode over the sheet plastic covering the floor to the ladder, put his hands around her waist, lifted Marina off the ladder without effort and set her gently on her feet. "You need to get cleaned up or anything?"
"Yeah." Unsettled but pleased Ray lifted her down because damn, how she missed being touched, being held; Marina laid her fingers over his and gave them a very brief squeeze before stepping back. "Lemme go check with the foreman before I split." Without Ray's long stride she had to leap lightly over the piles of lumber and tile stacked around the room and Ray and Fraser watched her disappear down the hallway into the other bedroom.
"Toldja this was gonna work out, Frase." Ray thumped his partner casually on the shoulder. "We're gonna have ta have a house-warming party and invite the whole precinct. Huey and Dewey will be green when they see this place."
Ray was so gleeful at the thought of other detectives' discomfit Fraser had to smile.
"Jeez, Frase, did you smile? That's twice this week already. What's the occasion?"
Fraser regarded his partner levelly. "I was merely smiling at your enthusiasm, Ray."
"Yeah, right. Whatever."
Marina leaned back in the doorway. "Done. Wanna wait here or my place?"
"Lemme outta here," Ray said instantly. "All this construction's givin' me flashbacks to summers in high school. Next thing ya know Nicky Carletti's gonna pick a fight with me 'cause Stel won't go out with him."
Marina laughed. "Didja kick his ass?"
"Go Ray." And she punched him gently on the arm as they ambled out together.
They were so easy with each other already. Following a step behind with Diefenbaker, Fraser pondered that as they skirted piles of tile and followed Marina up the plastic draped hallway to her own apartment. Strangers in many ways, but so much common ground. It mystified him what that must be like, that casual friendliness that blithely assumed it would be returned; and because it was expected, it was. Instant camaraderie and friendship; broadcast on an unspoken wavelength that totally escaped him. Baffling.
And here was another example. Before they went inside, Marina took a minute to brush the majority of the plaster dust off her clothes onto the plastic tarps in the hallway, and when she missed her hat, ponytail and most of the plaster dust down her back, Ray caught her elbow before she could go in. As Marina waited, Ray dusted her off the rest of the way, hands moving casually over her cap, ponytail and down over her back to the lean curves of her... well, Ray was right, objectionable nomenclature aside, it was a very cute butt. It never would have occurred to Fraser to touch her like that. Casual. Friendly. Affectionate, even, without asking for anything more.
Sometimes Fraser envied his best friend with a depth that might have been ugly if he hadn't known Ray was completely unaware there was anything in his life worth envying, and would have denied it vehemently, even angrily, if Fraser brought it up. His partner so habitually underrated everything about himself, and was such a stubborn individualist; it was often hard to tell how much what other people thought about him affected Ray. And yet Fraser knew at times what other people thought mattered so much it ate at Ray like acid. He would run himself down in sarcastic fun, just so someone else couldn't do it first. Very much the way Marina did, now that he thought about it. That was an interesting correlation. Was that unspoken, shared wariness of others part of what made them understand each other so well already?
"Hey, Earth ta Fraser!" Ray was staring at him quizzically. "You comin' in or not?"
He stepped through the open door hastily. "Sorry, Ray. I was just thinking."
"Do it inside." Ray shut the door behind his friend. "Now go crawl all over her bookshelves while she's changing. I know you're dying to, I caught you eyeballing 'em the last time we were here."
Grateful for the excuse, Fraser forced himself to stroll over to the wall of bookshelves casually. "I did find Doctor MacLeod's literary collection worthy of closer examination," he said in that calm, considered tone he knew drove Ray nuts.
"It's not her literary collection you find worthy of closer examination, buddy," Ray muttered snidely. "I caught you checking out her butt in the hallway."
"Ray!" The appalled protest slipped out before Fraser could stop it and Ray grinned in triumph.
"Ha! Knew it! You were checking her out."
Blushing fiercely, Fraser turned and stared blindly at an exceptionally fine trilobite fossil until he could get his face under control.
Back in her bathroom, Marina left the pile of dusty clothes in a heap in the floor, ran a brush through her rumpled hair and twisted it up into a knot, skewering it with a pair of sixteenth-century lacquer and jade Japanese hair pins Duncan gave her. A few drops of essence of mint on a wet washcloth, run over her arms, shoulders, neck and face rendered her marginally presentable. Clothing proved a good bit more difficult, but fortunately the oppressive heat rendered anything more than jeans, sandals and a gray tank top superfluous.
Checking her reflection in the walk-in closet mirror and immediately being disgusted with her drab appearance, Marina dug through the back of her closet and pulled out a brightly beaded, crop denim jacket Ritchie had picked up for her at a Spanish street fair in Barcelona. A quick rummage through her jewelry box added a shark's tooth necklace from Australia and matching earrings. That was marginally better. Gods, she had to make some time to go shopping, much as she hated going without Duncan to pick things out for her. She shrugged the jacket on, grabbed her keys and wallet, stuffed them in the pockets and jogged back down the hallway.
In the living room, Ben was absorbed in a first edition Washington Irving while Ray was... Marina muffled a laugh. Ray was bored and juggling three of the carved jade eggs from the Maori basket on her coffee table. She wondered what he would do if she told him any one was worth more than he made in a year. Drop one, probably. Men were like that.
"Ready when you are."
Ray caught all three eggs neatly and set them back in the basket. "Cute jacket, Doc."
Marina's answering smile was tinged with sadness. "Thanks. It was a gift from a friend." Catching the familiar warning note of sorrow in her voice, Dief whined, heaved himself off the couch and padded over to her side, nudging her hand worriedly.
"It's all right, baby," Marina murmured, her fingers reaching automatically for the soft fur behind his ears. "I'm fine."
Dief yipped a negative and wrapping his jaws around her hand, tugged downward gently. Touched, Marina dropped to her knees beside the wolf and hugged him tight.
"I love you, Dief," she murmured into his soft fur as the wolf licked her cheek reassuringly. "I'm so glad you're my friend."
A little taken aback by Diefenbaker's reaction, Ray and Fraser exchanged puzzled glances.
"Something I said?" Ray asked hesitantly.
"Not your fault," Marina said easily, although Fraser noticed her hand stayed tangled in Dief's fur as she stood up. "The friend who gave me this died, and..." she shrugged. "Not much more to say than that, is there?"
Ray's answering smile was sad but understanding and Marina did not object when he walked over and put an arm around her shoulders comfortingly.
Marina laid her head against his shoulder and exhaled a weary sigh as they walked out of the apartment. "Sure as hell does."
"Pitter patter, let's get at 'er," Ray said kindly, letting his arm slip from her shoulder and taking her hand instead; and as Dief loped ahead down the hallway, to Fraser's surprise Marina reached out and twined her fingers through his as they waited for the elevator. It felt... surprisingly nice; to hold her hand and know the other was safe in Ray's.
"You don't mind, do you?"
Startled, Fraser glanced over at Marina and his fingers tightened on hers even before he answered. "No. I don't mind."
The station was a madhouse when they got there, and Ray was devoutly glad Welsh had pulled him off all his other cases or he'd never have gotten out of there again before sundown. As it was, Ray signed the saber out hastily, checked his voicemail for messages, and escaped with Fraser and Marina before anyone had really noticed they were there. Or so he thought.
Stuck in an interrogation room with three angry neighbors swearing vendettas at each other in high-decibel Italian, Frannie Vecchio's gaze narrowed as she watched Fraser wait patiently at Ray's desk, his hand twined through the lady Professor's as Dief panted at their feet. Detective Dewey already had the station grapevine buzzing about Diefenbaker's hot new brain-trust girlfriend, who looked like an elf extra from Lord of the Rings and swung a sword like Conan the Barbarian. It really ticked Frannie off to see this interloper had already gotten further with the Mountie than she had, after years of trying. Fraser holding hands? In public? And she was the wolf's girlfriend? What the hell was up with that?
But when Ray hustled them out, one arm familiarly about the strange woman's waist, an unpleasant smile curved over Frannie's full mouth. Well, well, well, Fraser and Ray interested in the same woman? The signals certainly pointed that way. Wasn't that something to think about? Her attention wrenched back to the present as the disagreement threatened to move from verbal to physical, Frannie decided to give Assistant District Attorney Kowalski a call later and see if she'd like to have lunch this week.
Marina's lab at the University was blissfully cool and quiet after the bedlam at the precinct. Dief flopped down on the cool floor in his usual spot under her desk with a relieved whuff. Fraser and Ray pulled up stools and sat down at the long slate lab counter, watching as Marina laid the sword out on a length of black velvet and lined up several small bottles beside it.
At Ray's request, the forensics crew had left the saber as untouched as possible; and Marina slipped on surgical gloves and a pair of copper wire-framed glasses that made her eyes resemble a cat's. Absurdly sexy. As she began to clean the dried blood from the blade both men were fascinated by the delicate care she handled the saber with.
"Is it really that fragile?" Ray asked, propping his elbows on the lab counter and watching in absorbed curiosity.
Marina smiled. "No, not really. But it is old, and sometimes weapons like this acquire microscopic stress fractures that widen over the centuries until one good knock in the right spot will shatter it." She noticed the bloodstained blue silk cords used to bind the hilt were gone, undoubtedly taken for closer examination.
Once the blood was gone, she poured a small amount of blue liquid on a cloth and slicked it over the blade, then popped it into a small X-ray machine at the other end of the lab. Twenty minutes later she pulled a slide from the developer tray and holding it up to the light scrutinized it carefully.
"This one doesn't, though. Damn, someone took good care of this. It's as good as the day it was made." And that was a problem, she carefully did not add.
The likelihood of this being an Immortal's sword was getting uncomfortably high. Old ones in particular tended to be attached to specific blades, and the Watchers kept files on things like that. She was going to have to break down and call Joe, and see if the saber matched any known Immortal's blade. An Old One from this time period could very well have fought in the Crusades, and would be a very tough customer. Time to up her daily sword practice, hardcore.
But she hadn't felt the presence of any other Immortal in Chicago, and Marina knew from Methos' ongoing research that she was probably the most sensitive Immortal currently alive on the planet. She could detect another Immortal's aura from a distance of almost half a mile, and normal range was a couple of hundred feet at best. In addition, her ability to identify individual auras was flat-out unheard of. She would know Duncan, Connor or Methos' auras instantly, although to the surprise of everyone, Marina most of all, the presence of two Immortals together confused the feeling enough she lost her ability to distinguish individuals. Her hands moved over the saber automatically, oiling the blade and cleaning the hilt, as she mulled over the implications.
Marina was beautiful when she worked like that, Ray reflected, her graceful, skilled hands moving on their own while her mind was obviously a thousand miles away. He was content to watch, and out of the corner of his eye could see Fraser was equally engrossed in the process. It was kinda weird, really, how fast he and Fraser were getting to be friends with her. Fraser was habitually so reserved, and Ray had practically cut himself off from humanity after the divorce from Stella, until Fraser started patiently dragging him back to the human race after they became friends. Still, Ray didn't have many close friends, and aside from himself and the real detective Vecchio; he knew damn good and well Fraser didn't have any. It was pretty obvious Marina was in the same fix, but why?
A knockout like Marina could crook a finger and have half the faculty panting at her doorstep and her pick of the student body too, if she weren't obviously too ethical to take advantage of her students. It wasn't like striking, brilliant blonds were a dime a dozen, after all. But for someone so together, Ray could tell she carried a raw, unhealed wound inside, one that went all the way down to the depths of her soul. She'd layered control and poise and calm and acres of kindness over it, trying to hide the pain; but Ray was an expert on hidden wounds of the heart and she wasn't fooling him for a second.
What could have hurt her so badly? A particularly painful breakup, or divorce? Ray certainly understood how easy it was to stop trusting the entire human race after being betrayed by the one you trusted most. But he didn't think so. There was no loss of trust there, but there was loss of something.
Death was the ultimate tragedy, had she lost a friend, or a lover? Family? More than one, maybe? Diefenbaker reacted instantly -protectively- when she'd mentioned losing the friend who gave her that pretty beaded jacket; and Ray got the funny feeling the wolf caught a danger signal that slipped right by him and Fraser.
And there was another anomaly, right there. Diefenbaker. Ray would have never believed anyone could speak to an animal until he met Fraser; and hell, sometimes he still didn't believe it, but here was Marina, obviously able to talk to the wolf the same way Frase did. Baffling. But it was plain as hell she adored the wolf, and Ray knew Dief well enough by now to know the wolf was utterly devoted to her. In fact, if it hadn't been for his previous attachment to Fraser, Ray would have bet the GTO that Diefenbaker would simply have walked into Marina's life and never left. She was so lovely on the outside, and so hurt on the inside. It was a combination that would kick any red-blooded male's protective instincts into maximum overdrive, human or wolf.
Was that what had attracted Diefenbaker to her? That core of sadness so similar to the one Fraser carried, hidden deep inside? For the bazillionth time, Ray wished he spoke wolf. He'd bet anything Dief knew what the hell was going on. Maybe Fraser could get it out of him. Ray snorted to himself. Christ, he was getting as weird as Fraser. He was about to ask for advice on a woman he might actually be interested in from a wolf. That pretty much topped out on the Twilight Zone scale. He just hoped Dief wasn't the jealous type. After all, the wolf saw her first. Fair was fair, screw that old adage about love and war.
Marina wiped the last of the excess preservative oil off the blade and gave it a final polishing swipe. "Done."
Both Ray and Fraser started, obviously both had been deep in thought.
"You didn't have to hang around while I worked, guys," she pointed out gently.
"Actually we did," Ray admitted. "We need to check out your security setup before we release the sword to your custody. Regs."
Marina nodded, understanding. "I wasn't going to keep it here at the University, actually. My security setup at home is a lot newer and quite a bit better." It ought to be, she thought privately, Methos designed it for her personally and he was the best hacker she knew. Very possibly the best there was, period. How many hackers predated the development of mathematics itself, after all?
"Awright, we'll give you a ride back to your place and check it out."
Marina simply nodded and wrapped the sword in the length of velvet. She tidied up what little mess she'd made in seconds and picking up the sword, gestured for the men to precede her out of the lab. Holding the sword in one hand, she shoved the door shut with a foot and dug out her key ring from her jacket pocket. When she did, something fluttered to the floor. Ray reached down and picked it up, turning the slip of stiffened paper over in his hand. It was one of those four-part snapshot strips from a photo booth, the kind you found in malls and amusement parks; that teens and star-struck lovers most often used. Marina was laughing and a young man in a motorcycle jacket with curly, sandy hair and a broadly engaging grin was hanging over her shoulder in every frame.
As Marina turned back from locking the door Ray held the strip out. "You dropped this." She looked puzzled and took it, and as her eyes fixed on the picture Ray saw her shatter into a thousand jagged pieces right where she stood.
"Ritchie," she whimpered pitifully, and as her knees gave way beneath her a brutal sob tore its way out of her throat. "Oh, no... not now..."
Dief was by her side in an instant, shouldering Ray out of the way with surprising strength. The wolf pressed tight against her, whining urgently, and Marina's arm went around his neck as she buried her face in his fur and cried helplessly, sobs shaking her.
Dief nuzzled her, licking her cheek, looked up at Fraser and rumbled an odd vocalization, part whine, partly growl.
"Very well, Diefenbaker," Fraser said quietly. "You know best. Would you get the sword, please, Ray?" He knelt down and picked Marina up, lifting her gently in his arms as he stood. Ray caught the saber and her keys as they slid from her limp grasp. The little picture was locked so tight in her other hand her fingers were white.
Marina buried her head in Fraser's shoulder and continued to cry; so lost in heartbroken grief Ray's heart ached to hear her. Ray was eternally grateful they didn't run into anyone on the way back to the car. The state Dief was in, the wolf would probably have torn someone's throat out if they came too close to Marina right now.
Fraser carried her out to the GTO and Ray got the door; and Fraser held Marina quietly in his lap as Dief refused the back seat and crammed himself into the foot well by Fraser's feet so he could sit with his head in her lap. Ray shut the passenger door carefully so not to catch his tail and put the saber on the backseat. Once in the driver's seat, he looked a question at Fraser.
"Would you please drive us back to Doctor MacLeod's apartment, Ray?" Fraser's arms cradled Marina gently, carefully, as if she might shatter if handled too roughly. Hell, Ray wasn't entirely sure she wouldn't.
"Sure thing, Frase," he said quietly, and reached over and squeezed her shoulder briefly in silent reassurance before starting the car. About halfway back Marina's tears finally stopped, more from sheer exhaustion, Ray thought, than anything else. Crying like that really took it out of you, Ray knew, he'd had a couple of hideously bad nights right after the divorce was final where he'd damn near come apart. At least he'd been locked in his apartment with no one to see his agony. Witnessing grief like this was almost indecent, and at the same time Ray knew he couldn't have left Marina alone no matter what. From the way Fraser was holding her, Ray would bet he felt the same. As for Diefenbaker, hell, the wolf looked like he'd crawl inside her skin if he could manage it.
When they parked in front of her building Marina stirred briefly, but to Ray's surprise Fraser's arms tightened around her and he murmured a soft negative into her hair. His partner carried Marina all the way back up to her apartment, and Ray fished out her keys and unlocked the door. Once inside, Fraser headed straight for her overstuffed gray couch and set her gently down on it, kneeling in front of her as Dief jumped up on the couch and crawled right into her lap.
Ray ducked into the small bathroom off her kitchen and grabbed the first clean hand towel he saw. Running some cold water over it, Ray wrung it out and carried it back to the living room. He sat down next to Marina and handed it over silently. She took it, but when her fingers trembled Ray tugged it from her unresisting hand and tipping her chin up, cleaned her face like she was a small child. Only when the last trace of her tears were gone, did he stop.
"Better?" he asked.
Marina nodded, but when she took a deep breath and opened her mouth Ray knew what was coming and put a finger on her upper lip to stop it. "Don't apologize," he admonished. "Not when you hurt so much already. It's... it's indecent."
She smiled half-heartedly, still shaken in the aftermath of the storm of grief.
Ray took the little strip of pictures from her hand and looked at them closely. A happy pair who obviously adored each other, but not lovers. He could tell. "Friend?"
Marina shook her head. "Closer. Brother. In everything but blood. Duncan took Ritchie in just like he took me in..."
Remembering the obscene horror of Ritchie's death, the terror of Duncan's Dark Quickening, the mad risks she and Methos had taken to save him, and the hideous aftermath of it all was too much and closed her throat with grief again. Even now Marina understood why it had taken Duncan an entire year of relentless mourning to even begin to get over Ritchie's death. The tsunami of grief threatened to drown her still, and there was no Duncan, Methos or Connor to soothe her boundless sorrow. She buried her face in Dief's fur and wept. She was so alone. No Ritchie for a brother, no Tessa for a sister, no Darius for a kind and loving teacher, no Fitzcairn for an indulgent uncle. All gone. There were only the four of them left now, and Duncan, Methos and Connor were all trapped in the same self-imposed lonely hell she was. There was only Dief now, who could only suffer in silence with her. So she thought, but for once she was wrong.
Ray jerked his head at Fraser to sit on Marina's other side. The Mountie's forehead wrinkled in puzzlement but he obeyed, and when Ray slid into the curve of his shoulder and tugged Marina gently up into his arms understanding flashed over his face. He pulled Ray into his embrace and they held Marina between them as she wept; the force of her despair easing as their warmth enveloped her. It was another twenty minutes before exhaustion silenced her tears a second time and Ray stroked her hair the whole time while Fraser did the same to her heaving shoulders. Dief remained cuddled in her lap, and the wolf's sad, patient attitude told Ray and Fraser he'd done this many, many times before. Ray hadn't known one soul could hold so much grief. There was an ocean of it inside her.
When her tears stopped, Marina was content to lie quietly in their arms. It was wrong of her to use Dief's friends this way, but she was too wrung out from grief to stop it. And it felt so good to be held again, just the way Duncan and Methos held her when the pain got too much and they would all cling together in Duncan's bed, where the darkness hid falling tears, whether they were hers, Duncan's or Methos', or all of them together.
After she'd been resting quietly for a little while, Ray noticed her grandfather clock showed it was nearly six.
"When was the last time you ate?"
Marina rubbed her forehead and tried to think. "When was I at your place? Since I quit cooking for Dief I don't eat." And shut her eyes, unable to believe she'd just admitted that. Hell, she really was a mess. "Much," she tacked on weakly. Ye gods, that wasn't too damn pathetic...
Fraser's expression was appalled as he met Ray's resigned gaze. This was certainly not what he'd had in mind when he asked Marina to stop feeding the wolf!
"Take care of her, Frase," Ray said, easing her into his partner's arms. "I'll be back in a few."
Fraser nodded, positively stricken with guilt. Marina wondered where Ray was going, but couldn't work up the energy to ask and shut her eyes again, resting against that broad chest, listening to that slow, powerful heartbeat.
Four days, Fraser thought, counting back. Four whole days. You knew she barely ate, he told himself grimly, furious at his thoughtlessness. You saw her fridge. You figured it out. You knew. Marina was far too kind and conscientious to fail to care for Dief properly, but he'd known she took no thought to herself. Lotus' grandmother told him to his face. Why hadn't he thought it through?
"Stop it, Ben."
Startled, he looked down at the blond head cradled against his chest.
"It's not your fault I'm a train wreck. Life kicked my ass, not you. I'll get over it. Eventually."
"How...?" What, was she reading his mind now?
Blue eyes peeked through that curtain of blond hair and Fraser was immeasurably relieved to see the wry glint of humor back.
"I've got my ear over your heart, Ben, and you're working yourself into a state. Cut it out. It's not your fault."
Deciding there wasn't really anything to say to that, Fraser tried another tack. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Marina shook her head. "I can't. Not yet." She took a slow, careful breath and Fraser realized in horror she was teetering on the brink of another crying jag. "It... hurts too much. If I... think about it, I start coming apart at the seams."
Fraser's grip tightened on her instinctively. He didn't think she looked strong enough to survive another fit like that without passing out. An ugly picture scrawled itself across his mind of Marina lying on this couch unconscious from grief with only Diefenbaker to stay with her, and he abruptly knew without asking the wolf had done so. More than once. Dear Lord, no wonder Dief was so protective. He was half-crazed with worry and he hadn't known Marina a week.
Dief muttered something and both Marina and Fraser had to laugh.
"Yeah, well, life's a lot nicer for your species, love," Marina said grumpily, but she took a deep breath and sat up.
Fraser let her. He didn't want to, but Marina was right, she needed to let it go for now. Whatever was locked inside her heart was all but incapacitating, it would have to come out a bit at a time or the crushing weight would break her. The fact it hadn't so far was a testament to how strong she was.
She met his eyes squarely. "Thanks for the shoulder to cry on, Ben."
He should be blushing. That was his standard reaction around women. So why did he want to kiss her instead? And what did one say to a comment like that? 'You're welcome' was pathetically inadequate, but then it struck Fraser he knew exactly the right thing to say.
She smiled wryly. "Careful. I might take you up on that."
That got a laugh. A small one, but Fraser would take what he could get and to his shocked but pleased surprise, Marina leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You're a good man, Benton Fraser. Anyone ever tell you that before?"
"Just Ray." It got out before he could stop it.
"Two good men. The feminists will never believe it."
That made him laugh out loud, and as Ray pushed the door open it eased his mind to hear Fraser chuckle. His partner wouldn't do that if things weren't at least remedially OK.
"Hey you three. Chow time."
Marina and Fraser turned around, and Dief's ears perked up as he nuzzled Marina's cheek and hopped down, trotted into the dining room and sat down in what was obviously his accustomed place, just to the left of the chair nearest the kitchen. That was the chair Marina used, Ray figured. He set a bag down on the dining room table and Fraser sniffed inquiringly, separating out the various scents. Garlic, sausage, cheese, tomato sauce, pasta...
Ray nodded. "I ducked over to Heather's and told them the Doc was under the weather and could I get some takeout for us. The chef dragged me back to the kitchen and loaded me up with tonight's special. Sausage and mushroom lasagna, Caesar salad and garlic bread. Yes, I remembered to tip the hostess." He fixed Marina with a stern stare. "And you, young lady, are going to eat if we have to force-feed you."
"Yes, mother." Marina said dryly. But her wry grin told Ray she was poking fun at herself than him. "Do I get dessert if I eat all my vegetables?"
"Dunno. Do I get ta be dessert?"
Ray's ribald quip made Marina laugh again and even Fraser snorted.
"Ain't like you could be dessert, Frase," Ray teased. "You're too sweet even for that."
Marina cocked an eyebrow at Fraser, assessing. "I could be persuaded to give him a test for edibility."
"You and ninety percent of the females on the planet," Ray mock-grumbled. "No wonder I can't get a date with him around all the time. I swear to God it's... whadda ya call it, Petrov... Pavlovian? Females just see him and start to drool."
Marina tried valiantly to smother her laughter as she took plates down from one of the kitchen cupboards.
"Go ahead," Fraser said, resigned to the inevitable. "Ray is unfortunately correct. It's quite distressing at times."
Ray rolled his eyes. "See what I mean? Only Frase would find a constant stream of women throwing themselves at his feet 'distressing'."
"If you ask me, it sounds more like they want to kick his feet out from under him and beat him to the floor."
Ray roared and Fraser reddened.
"Dead on!" Ray got out, choking back his laughter. "Jeez, you should see Frannie sometimes at the precinct. She looks like she's about to take a bite outta him. A big one."
Marina's brows knitted. "Frannie... dark hair, pouty mouth with atrocious taste in lipstick and clothes a half size too tight?"
"Yeah, that's her."
"I wondered why I was getting the die-bitch-die glare when we were at the precinct. She thinks I'm trespassing on her turf, ya know. With both of you."
"That's my sister you're talking about there, Doc," Ray grumbled, abruptly mindful he was Ray Vecchio, not Ray Kowalski. Fuck, there were times he hated this charade.
Marina's eyebrows arched skeptically. "There is no way you are any genetic relationship to that woman, Ray. Try again."
An awkward silence fell as both Fraser and Ray struggled for what to say.
"Whoa." Marina's gaze flipped from one to the other. "That's a sore spot. Sorry guys, I didn't know. I'll drop it."
"Thanks," Ray muttered awkwardly. Damn, she was sharp. It was like she noticed everything, even if she didn't mention it. Granted Fraser couldn't lie for shit, but he didn't have that problem. So why did the thought of lying to Marina make him feel like a complete heel? That answer wasn't hard. Inadvertently or not, he and Fraser had gotten a look into her soul. The deep, dark part every human kept hidden down inside; he and Frase had seen grief drag it up and expose it to view like her bloody entrails in snow. That depth of sorrow was deeply intimate, to have it exposed for virtual strangers to see was obscene; and to offer anything less than that level of honesty back was just plain wrong.
Sensing the tension level, Dief yipped pointedly and fixed his gaze on the foil lasagna pan Marina was peeling the lid off of. She looked down at the wolf and then bit her lip, shooting Fraser the same silently appealing look Diefenbaker was giving him.
Ray smothered a laugh. It was 'Please, sir, can I have some more?' in stereo. Fraser didn't stand a chance. He started counting in his head, and his partner caved in under seven seconds.
"All right, he can have a small helping of lasagna," Fraser said sternly. "And no garlic bread." They beamed like kids on Christmas morning, and for the first time Fraser wondered if Dief had been lonely before he took up with Marina. He hadn't seemed to be, but the wolf had definitely been a lot happier since he'd gotten himself a girlfriend. But that was normal for any male.
Ray plopped down in the chair beside Marina and sampled his lasagna. Delicious! He was going to have to be careful, or he'd end up eating every other meal at Heather's once they moved in. He shouldn't take advantage of Marina's generosity like that. How to get around it? And for cripes' sake, how to get her to eat? Then again, Marina seemed well aware of her problem, why not just ask?
"So anyway, how do we get you to eat without Frase freaking out about Dief getting fat?"
Fraser nearly choked on his dinner and shot his partner an appalled glare. Ray ignored it blithely.
Marina snickered. "Not much for small talk, are you, Ray?"
He grinned cockily. "Nope. It's one of my better qualities."
"I don't think Ben thinks so right now," she observed, nibbling on a slice of garlic bread.
"That's his problem. Don't dodge the question."
"You have no idea."
"I'm getting a fast lesson."
She laughed. "All right, I give. Beats the hell out of me, frankly. Eating alone still makes me sick. Cooking for Dief made it easier. It felt like I was doing something nice for someone, not just catering to my own selfish needs. It feels horrible cooking for one... it rubs my nose in everything I've lost. I'm used to a bargeful of hungry males who need to be fed at regular intervals or they get cranky." She looked genuinely surprised. "Wow, I got that out without freaking. Progress, at last... about bloody time."
"Greatness. Suppose you cook for us? We're three hungry males, and we'll be living right next door. Convenient."
"Ray!" It burst out of Fraser.
Ray shot him a glare telling his partner he was a dope. "Put a sock in it, Frase. I'm negotiating here."
"Oh, is this a negotiation? I thought it was an interrogation."
"For crying out loud. You just don't quit." Marina cocked her head and regarded Ray with her eyes dancing. "You did say I could feed you one meal a day, but what's in it for me?"
She bit her lip suddenly and looked away, and Ray pounced on it.
"Ha! There is somethin' you want! C'mon, spill it."
She shot him an oddly shy sideways glance, carefully not looking at Fraser. "All right, Ray, I'll make you a bargain. After you move in, I'll fix dinner for four -subject to nutritional approval by Ben- Monday through Thursday. In exchange, you pick up takeout for us on Fridays and Saturdays and make me brunch at your place on Sunday. Is it a deal?"
A chance to see her every day? What kind of an idiot would pass that up? Ray dropped his fork and held out a hand instantly. "Deal. Shake on it."
Marina took it. "Deal, then."
Ray gave Fraser -who still looked rebellious- another cocky look. "See partner? All taken care of. No fuss, no muss, and everybody gets what they want."
Fraser shot him an odd stare Ray simply could not read. "As you wish, Ray. You and Marina seem to have things well in hand."
"Naturally. Now eat your dinner."
End Geometry: Chapter 4, Ritchie's Dead by Diefs Girl
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