Due South: Alliance
Things were winding down at the 27th. It had been a busy day for a Saturday. The Mountie and the Cop had successfully wrapped up another case. All that was left now was the paperwork. Although not one of Ray's more favorite things he had assured Fraser that he would do the report before morning. Ray had just returned to his desk after a mini meeting with Welsh when his phone rang.
"Detective Vecchio, this is Inspector Thatcher." Ray always looked forward to talking to Meg Thatcher.
"May I speak to Constable Fraser, as he doesn't seem to be here at the Consulate."
The sarcasm fairly dripped from the icy voice.
"Why certainly Inspector." A wicked little twinkle gleamed in the Detective's eyes as he not too carefully covered the phone mouthpiece. "FRASER? ICE QUEEN...PHONE....."
Kowalski had to stifle a chuckle as he quickly surveyed the room for his partner. He loved to do that.
"Uh ya Inspector? I don't see him handy...Can I take a message?" Ray was proud of himself. He had somehow managed to sound almost professional.
"Well ...Yes Detective." There was something about the way that she said the word Detective that let Ray know that she had heard him yell. That and the definite drop in temperature of her already icy voice.
"If you would instruct Constable Fraser to please pick up my...ah...a package for me at the corner of Hoover and Racine, and return it to the Consulate before 6:00pm."
Ray Kowalski was loving every minute of this. "So let me get this straight Inspector. You want me to tell Fraser, who I know for a fact just happens to be 'off' duty to stop and pick up 'your' dry cleaning and have it at the Consulate when 'you' get off work?"
"Yes Detective that is exactly what I am asking you to do." Kowalski could almost feel the phone heating up in his hand. He really had the Ice Queen hot this time. For Fraser's sake he had better back it off a bit. It was time to turn on the Kowalski charm.
"Oh well then...I'd be very, very happy to do that for you Inspector." Kowalski jerked the phone away from his ear as Inspector Thatcher slammed down the receiver.
It really irked Ray the way that Thatcher used his partner, but he had better warn Fraser about that little conversation. Could it be he was feeling a little remorse for his actions with the Ice Queen?....Na!
Kowalski had barely hung up the phone when Frannie tapped him on the shoulder and informed him that Fraser had left while he was in the office with Welsh. Fraser had asked Frannie to tell his partner that he would see him tomorrow at the Vecchio's. Sunday was Mother's Day, and although her 'boys' had offered to take Ma out for a fancy dinner she had insisted that for her to have a good Mother's Day it would involve her feeding her family a big home cooked meal.
Suddenly Kowalski was in a jam. He had already pissed off the Ice Queen and now Fraser would be walking into the Consulate without her dry cleaning. Visions of shredded red serge danced before his eyes as he quickly turned back to his phone. It was almost 5 o'clock now, he hoped his quickly hatched plan would work.
Ray hit his speed dial for the Consulate and crossed his fingers.
"Canadian Consulate. Constable Turnbull speaking. May I be of assistance?"
"Hey Turnbull. It's me Ray. We got us a problem!"
Kowalski quickly explained the situation and sheepishly asked Turnbull if he could run down to the dry cleaners and retrieve Thatcher's things before she left for the day. With only a slight hesitation the young Constable agreed. He knew how Ray Vecchio's replacement could set off his boss and he didn't want to see Fraser on the receiving end of one of her explosions.
Stanley Raymond Kowalski was a happy man. It was just past 6 o'clock, his reports were all caught up, and he would get to spend tomorrow at the Vecchio house. Sunday at the Vecchio home meant good food, good company, and baseball. In the absence of the real Ray Vecchio, Ray Kowalski had done his best to make himself available to fill the void that the absence of her son had caused Mrs. Vecchio. Ma Vecchio on her part had opened her home and heart to both Ray and Fraser. For now it was the only 'home' that either of them had, so all in all it was a pretty sweet deal for the blond headed Detective and the straight laced Mountie
Ray reached for his phone and again hit the speed dial for the Consulate. His biggest mistake was miss- reading his watch. It wasn't just past six it was just before six. He nearly swallowed his tongue when Inspector Thatcher picked up the phone.
"Canadian Consulate. Inspector Thatcher speaking." Ray knew he was in trouble. The Ice Queen sounded mad already and she didn't even know yet who was on the other end of the line.
"Ya. Inspector, Ray Vecchio." Ray tried very hard to sound nonchalant. He was after all very good at 'cool'.
"Could I speak with Fraser please."
"I am sorry Detective but Constable Fraser isn't here yet." Meg Thatcher was no fool. Two could play at this 'cool' game. "May I take a message?"
Not to be out done Ray assumed his most pleasant, professional tone. "If you would Inspector, would you tell Fraser to meet me tonight at the jewelry store at the corner of Clark St. and Coldwater Dr. It is very important. And if you would, tell him to be there before 8 o'clock."
"Why certainly...." As she spoke the front door of the Consulate opened to reveal an empty handed Fraser. "I will be glad to relay your message...just as you did mine. Thank-you very much. Good-bye."
"Ah, Inspector. Good evening." The totally innocent expression on her subordinate's face confirmed the obvious. Vecchio hadn't given Fraser the message. Well, two could definitely play these little games.
"Constable Fraser." Thatcher stepped closer to her second in command and smiled almost too warmly.
"You wouldn't by chance know where Constable Turnbull is, would you?"
"Why, No Sir. But if I could be of assistance, I would be more than happy to man the desk until he returns." Fraser moved towards the reception desk. "I hope that call wasn't an inconvenience for you Sir."
"Oh that. No. Believe me Fraser that was 'no' one." Fraser was a little surprised at the iciness of her tone, but just marked it down to her disappointment with Turnbull.
"Well Constable if you have everything under control I believe that I will be on my way." As she spoke Thatcher gathered her purse and keys from the desk and turned for the door. "I have to make an unplanned for stop on my way home tonight."
"Very well Sir." Fraser smiled as warmly as protocol would allow. "I will see you Monday morning then Sir."
"Oh yes Constable. That you will."
Fraser's face reflected his puzzlement at the Inspector's tone of voice. It almost sounded as if she had a secret that she wasn't willing to share. The woman was a total mystery to him. There was a mutual attraction there, and they both knew it, but nothing ever seemed to be clear and up-front in their dealings with it.
As Meg Thatcher made her way to her car she couldn't help but smile wickedly at her own little secret. She would teach that insufferable, skinny, wild haired so and so that he couldn't hope to win these little pissing contests with her. Revenge could be so sweet.
Just as she prepared to open her car door she heard the sound of hurried footsteps, and the near breathless voice of her missing Constable.
"Inspector Thatcher, Sir. Please wait."
As she turned Thatcher was surprised and just a little disappointed to see Turnbull with her dry cleaning hooked over his shoulder. It was obvious what had happened, but she stood quietly as the young Constable explained the mix up. Turnbull even went out of his way to explain how nice it was of the Detective to be so considerate. Thatcher was more convinced that it was just the Detective's attempt to cover both his butt and that of Constable Fraser.
Thatcher carefully hung her clothes in the backseat and dismissed her subordinate. She really should return to the Consulate and give Fraser the Detective's message....But that skinny shit had not only called her Ice Queen, but had made sure that she had heard it. Maybe she would just let it slip her mind until sometime after 8:00 and then call Fraser. She would act totally embarrassed and contrite. She again smiled wickedly to herself as she thought of the Detective waiting in vain for Fraser to make his appearance. That would teach the little scumbag not to mess with her. What could it hurt?
Detective Ray Vecchio, a.k.a. Stanley Raymond Kowalski was not a patient man and it was beginning to show. It was almost 8 o'clock. The jewelry store would soon be closing. Where the heck was Fraser? As he looked at his watch for at least the tenth time in two minutes he couldn't help but wonder if Thatcher had even given the Mountie his message. He had tried to call the Consulate a few times but hadn't received an answer. Either Fraser was on his way and was going to be late, or he was out walking the wolf or something. Either way Ray was running out of time.
He had been pretty rough on the Ice Queen today. Maybe he was just getting what he deserved...but hey it was worth it...Oh well this was something he could handle by himself...He just wished Fraser was here to help.
It was just after 9 o'clock when Lt. Harding Welsh got the call.
There had been a shooting. One of his Detectives had interrupted an attempted robbery of the jewelry store at the corner of Clark St. and Coldwater Dr. The Detective had called it into dispatch and while waiting for back-up had been surprised by an unseen lookout man. Backup had arrived in time to catch the robbers, but not before his Detective had been blown through a plate glass window by a shotgun blast.
When Welsh finally got the identity of the officer involved his heart jumped into his throat. Why Kowalski? He knew he shouldn't have favorites among his men, but he was only human. He really liked the kid. He wouldn't wish this on any of the other fellas, but why Kowalski. Welsh had been responsible for bringing Kowalski in to cover for Vecchio and now he was layin' down in Cook County Hospital in who knew what kind of shape. All the officer on the other end of the line knew for sure was that the Detective had been wearing a vest, he had lost a lot of blood, and that he was still alive and in surgery.
Welsh grabbed his cell phone and his coat and ran for his car.
Constable Benton Fraser settled himself down on the couch in the conference room. After a brisk walk with Diefenbaker and a hot shower he was ready for a good book and a hot cup of bark tea. Tomorrow promised to be a good day. Sunday at the Vecchio home was always a pleasure. It always amazed him that in this entire charade of Ray Kowalski covering for Ray Vecchio, it seemed to be one of the few places where Kowalski could really relax and be himself. Fraser's only theory on the matter was that at the Vecchio's, Ray knew that there was no way that he could truly measure up too the real thing, so the pressure was off. It was enough for the blond Detective to have a place to call 'home' and a 'Ma' who went out of her way to make him welcome.
In the time that Vecchio had been gone 'Ma' had pretty much adopted Kowalski into the family as she had Fraser long ago. It had become a comfortable place for both of them. On such days it was no longer a surprise to find Ray stretched out in front of the TV with Vecchio's nieces and nephews beside him. Sometimes he would curl up in the front porch swing and listen to Ma talk about her family only to wake up sometime later covered with an afghan, and Ma still talking as if he hadn't fallen asleep at all.
Fraser knew the place that the Vecchio family had provided for him when he first came to Chicago. He was just glad that Ray Kowalski had found that place as well.
It was then that Welsh called.
An anxious Mountie was waiting by the curb in front of the Consulate when Welsh pulled up. Fraser could see the concern etched on the face of the big man. When he had phoned to tell the Mountie that he would be picking him up Welsh had filled Fraser in on the scant facts that he had learned from the officer who had called from the scene.
"We're going to take a quick spin past the jewelry store, Constable." Welsh quickly threw up his hand at Fraser's questioning glance. "I know. I know. We ain't gonna stay long. I just want to get a better idea of what went down. And I want ta be damn sure that everything's been covered so the scumbags that hurt Ray don't get off on some dumb technicality."
"Understood." Fraser did understand, but right now it was hard for him to think of anything but his friend.
The scene of the robbery told a pretty horrific story. Ray's GTO was parked half way down the block on the opposite side of the street. Police barricades were strategically placed to keep all the press and sight seers at a safe distance. Welsh flashed his shield and asked for the officer in charge.
Welsh was directed toward a ruddy faced patrol Sergeant who was standing just outside of the entrance to the jewelry store. As he saw Welsh's approach the man straightened his shoulders and stuck out his hand.
"Harding. Sorry about your man...any word yet?"
"Na Mike. Nothin' yet. Me and the Constable are on our way to the Hospital now." Welsh shook the big man's hand and after introducing him to the Mountie continued. "Got any idea of what went down here Mike?"
"It's kind of shetchy right now. The Detectives are inside with the night manager, but I can give ya my best guess." The uniformed Sergeant carefully rubbed a big hand across his tired face. "As near as we can tell, your guy saw the three perps. enter the store. He moved up over in front of the Hardware store next door there and after making sure of what was going down used his cell phone to call it into dispatch." As he spoke the Sergeant slowly moved the few short yards to the Hardware storefront. "We figure the look-out was probably in that alley over there across the street. He saw what your man was up to and approached while his back was turned. When your man turned around the guy let him have it."
Welsh 's attention was suddenly pulled from the uniformed officer's report by a sharp intake of breath from the Mountie. When he turned he followed Fraser's stunned gaze to the shattered window of the Hardware store.
Shards of glass still hung from the top of the window, and a few remained sticking up from the bottom sill, but the rest of the window was scattered across the floor of the store, along with assorted retail items. Ray's cell phone lay among the debris. But the over-riding image for the two concerned observers was blood. There was scattered blood everywhere, but just inside of the window was a pool of blood large enough to send shivers through even the most seasoned officer. To realize that this was the blood of a friend made the scene almost overpowering.
"Holy Shit." Welsh was the first to find his voice. "You said he had his vest on?"
"Ya Harding." The Sergeant awkwardly laid his hand on the Lt.'s shoulder. "Good thing. He must have known somethin' was goin' down 'cause that vest saved his life. Do you think your guy was operating on a tip?"
"Ray always wears his vest." It was the first words that Fraser had spoken and his voice was hoarse with barely contained emotions.
"But the blood Mike....there's so much blood." Welsh seemed mesmerized by the scene before him.
"When he got knocked through the window he cut the back of his leg, right behind the knee. I think it clipped an artery or somethin'....Kid was bleedin' like a stuck hog." Mike carefully stepped through the window and bending, picked up Ray's cell phone. "One of the first officers here was a big rookie named Marion Morrison...We call him Duke... hell of a big guy...He checked your boy over and got a death grip on the bleeder. Between your guy's skinny legs and Morrison's big hands he got it slowed down enough that when the emergency guys got here they just told him ta hang on and they bundled them both off inta the ambulance. The E.M.T.s figured he was doin' as good a job as they could have, and your man wouldn't lose more blood because of them tryin' to trade off."
Mike returned to the two stunned friends and handed Ray's phone to Welsh. "I know it may not look like it Harding, but your guy is one lucky son-of-a-bitch. If Morrison woulda got here just a few minutes later I don't think they coulda got your Detective to the hospital fast enough ta save him...skinny shit was really bleedin'."
"Ya. You're right Mike...lucky and paranoid...Thank God for vests." Welsh finally seemed to gather his composure and turning towards Fraser continued. "Come on Constable. We're goin' ta the hospital."
As the Cop and the Mountie turned to leave Mike cleared his throat to regain Harding's attention.
"Hey Harding." The big man dropped his gaze to the sidewalk as if embarrassed by what he was about to say. "Ya know that big rookie...Morrison?...I told him to stay at the hospital with your man until ya got there .... and I was just hopin'...Ya know....The kid did a hell-of-a-job tonight....I'd appreciate it if ya would let him know it." The Sergeant couldn't help but chuckle as he continued. "He was hangin' on ta your guy's leg and tryin' ta talk all soothin' to him one minute and gaggin' like crazy the next....I think it was his first real taste...We both know what that's like....I think he's probably a little shook up"
Welsh smiled for the first time in hours and shook Mike's hand. "Thanks Mike...I'll talk ta the kid. That Detective's a friend a mine.....I owe the kid more than I can say... I'll talk ta him"
Welsh and Fraser entered the waiting area for the Cook County Emergency Surgery Unit. The scene before them froze both men in their tracks. A large young African American cop was standing head bowed, tears streaming down his smooth handsome face. A doctor in surgical scrubs stood talking quietly to the younger man, his hand placed reassuringly on the cop's shoulder.
The young cop was obviously Duke Morrison. His uniform slacks were covered from knee to cuff with drying blood from having knelt at the side of the Detective who's bleeding he had tried to stop. The front of his shirt had several patches of blood as well. The outsides of his thighs were smeared with bloody handprints, his attempts to clean the blood from his hands.
Welsh and Fraser exchanged a quick glance. The concern and near panic reflected in their eyes was obvious and mutual.
It wasn't until the young man turned in response to their arrival that the unrealized tension began to drain from the two friends. Regardless of the tears, the big cop's face was lit with a relieved, slightly embarrassed smile. The kid looked incredibly happy.
Welsh quickly introduced himself as the Commanding Officer of Detective Vecchio.
The doctor instantly extended his hand to Welsh and smiled warmly.
"Glad ta meet ya Lt. My name is Dr. Ross. I'll be the one handling your mans treatment." The doctor gave a quick glance to the big rookie as he continued. "I was just tellin' Officer Morrison here that your Detective is going to be just fine."
The relief that surged through both Welsh and Fraser was easily read.
"We're going ta have ta keep an eye on him for a few days, and he's going to be one sore son-of-a-gun for awhile, but he should be just fine." The doctor rubbed a surprisingly delicate hand over tired eyes as he continued. "Except for a few stray pellets he took the shot gun's pattern square in the chest. It fractured his sternum and broke two ribs. His heart and one lung are bruised up some, but we put a chest drain in to take care of any fluid build up. If everything progresses as it should that will probably come out in a couple days. He has a mild concussion...nothin' to worry about....and he lost a lot of blood, but thanks to Officer Morrison here, it wasn't enough to cause any organ damage."
As Dr. Ross continued his monologue Welsh awkwardly laid his arm across the big rookie's shoulders and gave him a strong fatherly squeeze. The young cop dropped his embarrassed gaze to the floor but grinned broadly in response to the offered attention.
"As far as the leg injury, if we can keep him off it, it should heal nicely. The biggest cut was behind the knee. It partially severed a tendon, and nicked the artery, but it was a good clean slice and things went back together nicely. Once he does gets back on his feet he will have to wear a soft cast for awhile to help support the injury, but as sore as he's going to be, I think keeping him off the leg won't be much of a problem." The doctor didn't miss the knowing look that passed between his patient's friends. It was obvious that they doubted anyone's ability to keep the Detective off his feet.
"Listen guys. It's real important that we don't let him do too much for awhile." Dr. Ross looked sternly at the officers as he continued. "A bruised heart ain't nothin' to mess around with, and if he over does that leg it could mess it up for good."
Fraser understood the doctor's concern.
"We understand Sir and I'm sure you are right. I am afraid though that my partner has a small problem with being still." Fraser absently rubbed his thumb across the line of his brow as he searched for the right words to explain his mercurial friend.
"What the Constable is trying to say Doc is that Ray...Detective Vecchio...is kind of a handful...Ya know?....The only time he's really still is when he's asleep...and that ain't nearly as often as it should be...and it's usually the result of just flat runnin' outa gas." Welsh couldn't help but smile. "The guy is just fully wired and about half nuts...but he's a hell of a cop and a good guy."
The doctor couldn't help but chuckle at the openly affectionate description of his latest ward.
"Well gentlemen, that is what they make sedatives for, and if that's what it takes for awhile...That's what it takes. We'll give him enough to help keep him quiet, but not enough to keep him knocked out." The doctor was suddenly interested in getting to know this rather odd sounding individual. "They were in the process of moving him to his room a while ago, so I'm sure by now they have him settled in. He will probably still be out for awhile, but I would guess he'd be comin' around within the hour. I'll be checking in on him once he wakes up and I'll be sure to pass on the little pearl of wisdom you guys gave to the head nurse so she can be aware of her new patient's proclivities."
Less than an hour later Welsh and Fraser sat quietly at the bedside of their still unconscious friend. It had taken some coaxing but they had finally convinced the young rookie to go home and get cleaned up and catch a few hours sleep before his next shift. Welsh had made a point to complement the young man on not just a job well done but the saving of the life of a friend.
It was only after they had assured him that Ray would be glad for him to come back tomorrow that the big man made his way out. His face still held the same happy smile on his departure that had been there when Welsh and Fraser had arrived.
The two friends spent their vigil in quiet speculations on what had brought Ray to this point. Was he at the jewelry store because of a tip of a possible robbery or had he just stumbled across a robbery in progress? Welsh had to fight down his anger at the idea that Ray would be foolish enough to try to respond to a tip without backup. Fraser assured the big man that if that were the case Ray would have at least notified his partner about the possibility of a confrontation. But even with saying it Fraser wasn't sure. Ray could be pretty impulsive at times, and Fraser had spent part of the evening walking Diefenbaker. The feeling of guilt at not being there for his friend began to grow somewhere in the pit of the Mountie's stomach.
At last a slight movement from the prone figure before them brought all speculation to a halt. The two men quickly took up positions on opposite sides of the bed. Ray slowly rolled his head from one side to the other, a small, hoarse moan slipping from his dry throat.
Fraser carefully took Ray's hand in his own and gently stroked his pale forehead. "Ray. It's me, Fraser."
As Ray's eyelids slowly began to flutter Fraser and Welsh exchanged quick relieved smiles.
"Its okay Detective." Welsh carefully squeezed the younger man's shoulder as he continued. "You're in the hospital Ray. You're going to be fine. Ya just need to wake up now...everything is going to be fine."
Ray's blue eyes opened. As he carefully studied the faces before him a small tired smile slowly formed on his pale face.
"Hey....what are you guys doin' here...?" As Ray slowly took in his surroundings his smile quickly gave way to a look of concerned confusion. "What happened...Where the hell....My car!...Oh shit don't tell me I wrecked my baby..."
"Take it easy Detective. Your car's fine." Welsh couldn't contain the chuckle that bubbled up from his big chest.
Ray made a gallant effort to set up. The fire that shot through his battered chest brought a sharp gasp. A pained grimace settled on his drawn features as he screwed his eyes shut and pressed his head back into the pillow.
"Ah shit...shit...that hurts..." Ray slowly raised his hand up and placed it against his bandaged chest. "What the hell happened?...Ah shit ....Hurts."
"We were hoping 'you' could tell 'us' Detective." Welsh's concern was obvious.
Welsh patiently waited for the skinny blond to regain some composure. Ray struggled to steady his breathing and slowly opened his tear filled eyes. He looked into the face of his boss, his blue eyes reflecting his pain and confusion before he once again clamped them shut.
Fraser gently squeezed Ray's hand and absently brushed a wild strand of hair off his partner's forehead.
"Just take it easy Ray. Just try and relax. You took a shot gun blast in the chest Ray, but you had your vest on and although you did get blown through a window, and you did cut your leg rather badly, I can assure you that you are going to be fine. The mild concussion and blood loss are really nothing to worry about now, and although the cracked sternum and ribs will probably be incredibly sore for a while your heart and lung were only bruised."
Ray opened one eye and looked at his friend.
"That's a little more than I needed ta know...ya know?"
"But Ray. You did ask."
Welsh's concern was beginning to turn to impatience. "Look at me Ray." Welsh gently laid his hand on Ray's arm. "Can ya tell us what happened? Just what went down at that jewelry store?"
Ray shifted his gaze from Welsh back to Fraser, the confusion still evident.
"I wasn't with you Ray." The Mountie feelings of guilt rose a notch, but he never broke eye contact with his struggling friend. "What's the last thing you 'do' remember Ray?"
Ray shifted his gaze to the ceiling his face a picture of pain and concentration.
"Geeze I....I don't know...I." Suddenly Ray shifted his eyes back to Fraser and a wry embarrassed smile flashed quickly across his drawn face.
"What is it Detective?" Welsh shot a quick look at the puzzled Mountie.
"I was...Na...No way...she wouldn't shoot me."
"WHO WOULDN'T SHOOT YOU!?" Fraser and Welsh both spoke and with such force that Ray cringed back against his pillow.
"Geeze...You asked me what the last thing was I remembered...and that's the last thing I remember....but I know that she didn't have anything to do with this cause...I mean she can get really mad at me sometimes...and I guess I deserve it... sometimes....but....Ah shit this really hurts....I know she wouldn't shoot me.....Would she Fraser?" Ray fought to regain his breath as his tear filled eyes focused on the Mountie.
"Ray, Ray!" Fraser was suddenly concerned with the rising agitation of his injured friend. "You need to relax, Ray. Slow down and tell us what you're talking about. What is the last thing that you can remember?"
Ray clamped his eyes shut and tried to take as deep a breath as the pain in his chest would allow.
"The last thing I can really remember is talking to the Ice....Thatcher. I think I pissed her off....ya know....just a little... maybe...but that was...earlier...I think..." The confusion was beginning to mount. "I don't remember what ...how I got shot...I just ..."
Ray made another aborted attempt to raise himself up in the bed. The pain and agitation reflected in the attempt was beginning to concern both of his friends.
Welsh quickly but gently forced the younger man back on the bed and reached for the button that would summon the nurse.
"Whoa there Detective. You just take it easy. There's no need in you getting' all stirred up right now." Welsh carefully laid his hand on Ray's now sweat covered forehead, and continued to talk in his most soothing tone. "We don't have to figure all this out right now. Give yourself some time. You've been through a lot today and you just need to relax and take it easy. I'm sure that if you give it a little time you'll remember."
"But I...shit it hurts...I gotta..." Ray looked pleadingly into his boss's concerned face.
"Ya gotta nothin' right now Detective." As Welsh spoke a nurse hurried into the room and after a quick survey of the situation administered both a painkiller and a mild sedative to her still struggling patient.
Ray weakly protested the interruption. "Wait...don't let her...I gotta"
Fraser gently took Ray's jaw in his hand and turned his friend's gaze to meet his. "Ray. The Lt. is right it will all come back to you in time. Your system has been through quite a shock. You need to relax and rest."
At Ray's continued objections the Mountie gently shook his partner's head and leaned closer.
"Ray. Listen to me. Everything is going to be fine. Trust me Ray."
Instantly Ray stopped his protesting and began to relax. The Lt. was once again amazed at the ability of the Mountie to get through to his often bull headed Detective.
"The medication is going to kick in now Ray. I want you to just relax and let it work."
"You didn't answer my question there, big Red..." As the wry little smile again worked it's way across the younger man's face his two friends could tell that the medication had indeed begun to work. "Da ya think the Ice Queen shot me or not?"
Fraser smiled warmly and began to relax for the first time in what seemed like days. "I doubt it very much Ray, although there have been times when I am sure the thought did cross her mind."
Welsh chuckled openly and as Ray's heavy lidded eyes turned his way added. "Hell Detective there have been times when I would have given her the gun."
It was almost 11:00 p.m. when Margaret Thatcher awoke.
She had fallen asleep on the couch sometime before eight. Her first thoughts were how disgusting it was for a single woman her age to have nothing better to do on a Saturday evening than to fall asleep in front of the TV. Her second thought was that she hadn't called Fraser to relay Vecchio's message. There was no surprise in the fact that the little oversight didn't bother her at all. Of course it was kind of sad for her to realize that her only entertainment was a crazy pissing contest with a wild haired Chicago Detective, but in a pinch it would do
Meg made her way slowly to her kitchen. She had just resettled on the couch with a cup of tea when a Special News Report began. The story very nearly caused her heart to stop.
>>>IT HAS BEEN REPORTED TO W.G.N. CHANNEL 9 NEWS THAT AT APPROXIMATELY 8 O'CLOCK THIS EVENING THERE WAS AN 'OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTING' AT TERNELLY'S JEWELRY STORE AT THE CORNER OF CLARK STREET. AND COLDWATER DRIVE.
A DETECTIVE FROM THE 27th DISTRICT OF THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT WAS RUSHED TO COOK COUNTY HOSPITAL AFTER APPARENTLY TRYING TO BREAK UP A ROBBERY ATTEMPT AT THE JEWELRY STORE.
THE PERPATRATORS WERE CAPTURED AT THE SCENE.
AT THIS TIME THE OFFICER'S CONDITION HAS BEEN LISTED AS GUARDED.
THE NAME OF THE DOWNED OFFICER IS BEING WITHHELD UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE BY REQUEST OF THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT.
CHANNEL 9 NEWS WILL BE FOLLOWING THIS STORY AND WILL BRING YOU UP TO DATE FACTS AND INFORMATION.
WE WILL BE INCLUDING LIVE ON THE SCENE COVERAGE AT MID-NIGHT ON W.G.N.CHANNEL 9 MID-NIGHT NEWS.<<<
Meg Thatcher sat in stunned silence. Oh my God. The facts played quickly through her whirling brain.
>Officer involved shooting....Detective...27th District ....jewelry store....Clark ST. and Coldwater....8 o'clock....Vecchio....Ray Vecchio....Cook County Hospital.....The incredibly irritating ...spiky haired...Guarded condition.< Oh God...What had she done?
Meg stumbled to the phone and hit the speed dial for the Consulate. There was no answer. What did she expect? Benton Fraser was the Detective's best friend. He would have been one of the first ones that Welsh would call.
Meg Thatcher was fully aware that this Ray Vecchio was not the real Ray Vecchio, but it seemed that the friendship was just as strong. It was a friendship that caused her no small amount of aggravation and right now that knowledge was burning a hole in the pit of her stomach. It was true that this Vecchio had an uncanny ability to get under her skin quicker than did anyone she had ever met in her life, but surely she wouldn't allow her personal feelings to put him in any danger. Would she?
Fraser was always trying to smooth the way between them. He constantly stood up for his partner. Often reminding Meg that although Ray could sometimes be hard to deal with he was a very good cop, and under the scratchy exterior a very caring person. It was a side of the skinny Detective that Meg had yet to see, but Fraser didn't lie. Was she just unable to see that?
As a matter of fact there was very little that Meg did know about the man. She knew that he was considered a very good undercover cop, which meant that he had probably been at it awhile. She understood the difficulties and loneliness associated with such a life. Except for Fraser he was pretty much on his own. Did she have the right to deny his need for the friendship of her subordinate?
And what was Fraser going to think? Would he ever be able to understand, or forgive her for what had happened? Judging from the sketchy information from the news report Vecchio was not badly injured, but what if it had been worse? What if he had been killed, or crippled...Oh God what if he 'were' crippled...Could Fraser ever forgive her? Why did that crazy Detective have to try and handle that alone...If Fraser wasn't there he should have backed off...He shouldn't have gone into that alone!...
And there it was.
He hadn't planned on being alone he had expected Fraser, his partner, to be there to back him up. Meg threw herself down on the couch and buried her head in her hands. She shouldn't try and shift the blame to the over impulsive Detective. It was her fault that he was there alone and it was now up to her to face her own responsibility for the outcome, no matter what that outcome was to be.
It was almost 12:30 before Meg Thatcher was directed into the waiting area of the unit of Cook County Hospital that housed a certain injured Chicago Detective. Lt. Welsh sat slumped half asleep in one of the famously uncomfortable chairs, a half cup of cold coffee held loosely in one of his big hands. As she entered the lounge she straightened her shoulders and took a big calming breath. This was not going to be easy. Not only was Welsh Vecchio's Commanding Officer he was his friend as well. Another aspect of the skinny blond that she couldn't understand was his ability to solicit such loyalty from otherwise sane people.
As Thatcher approached the near dozing man she cleared her throat loud enough to telegraph her arrival. Welsh instantly straightened in his chair and slowly got to his feet.
"Ah, Inspector." Welsh rubbed his tough hand over his tired eyes. "I appreciate your comin' down."
"Don't mention it Lt. I'm sure if it were Fraser you would do the same. How is he?"
"Ah, He's going to be fine. He's still a little mixed up and between the dope he's on and just plain bein' tired he keeps driftin' in and out. He really can't remember what happened yet, but the doctors have said that it'll all come back to him in time. He'll be as good as new in a few weeks." Meg couldn't help but notice the obvious affection in the older man's voice. "I just been hangin' around hopin' he'd be able to help us figure out what the hell he was doing there."
Meg understood that that wasn't the only reason for Welsh's continued presence at this late hour, and it was that understanding that made her task even harder.
Meg straightened her stance and again took a rather big breath. "I must tell you honestly Lt. that concern is not my only motivation for being here. I have some information that I believe may be pertinent to this investigation." At Welsh's puzzled expression Meg quickly dropped her gaze to the floor.
"I'm afraid that in a way I may be partially responsible for the outcome of this situation." Meg returned her eyes to that of her counterpart and continued quickly. "Detective Vecchio left a message for me to relay to Fraser and I must regrettably admit that I neglected to do so."
Welsh bit down his rising anger. He couldn't help but remember Ray's admission at getting her angry, but surely she had just forgotten. "I wouldn't worry about that Inspector. We all have lapses from time to time. What was the message?"
"Detective Vecchio called the Consulate just before six. Fraser wasn't there yet and I was just getting ready to leave. He asked me to have Fraser meet him at the jewelry store before 8 o'clock. He said that it was important, but didn't say why." The flush in her face as she spoke reflected her obvious discomfort at the admission. "Constable Turnbull was gone from the desk and I had been in my office. I'm afraid that between Turnbull's unexplained absence, and my rush to leave ...Well...that's not exactly what...but when Constable Fraser did arrive I..I just."
"Don't worry about it Inspector. I have days like that all the time." Thatcher knew that she hadn't been allowed to make herself clear and she really should explain fully, but it was such a terrible burden that she was finding it so difficult.
"You don't understand Lt....I...I didn't just for..."
Before Meg could continue with her explanation Welsh turned with concern as a pair of nurses rushed passed the lounge towards Ray's room. After a moments hesitation to ascertain their destination Welsh quickly followed. Meg hung her head. It would be so easy to leave her explanation where it was. But could she do it? She slowly raised her head and followed Welsh.
Meg Thatcher stepped quietly into Ray's hospital room and nervously backed against the wall by the door. The scene before her did nothing to ease her conscience. Welsh stood at the foot of the bed one big hand resting on Ray's trembling leg. The nurses who had hurried into the room were positioned on opposite sides of the bed carefully checking over their obviously distressed patient. Fraser was stationed at the head of the bed. He had Ray's hand firmly in his grasp. His other hand was across his partner's pale forehead. It was clear that Ray was having difficulty breathing.
Meg stood in silence as she watched the interplay between the partners. Fraser spoke quietly but firmly to the younger man and although Ray's pain filled eyes clearly reflected his fear, they never left the face of his friend. Meg couldn't hear what Fraser was saying but occasionally Ray would tightly nod his head in determined agreement. It was obvious that Ray had total trust in his partner. At last one of the nurses turned quickly and left the room. The remaining nurse calmly readjusted Ray's oxygen tube. She tenderly laid her hand against Ray's face and spoke reassuringly to the two friends.
"Everything is going to be fine Detective Vecchio. We are going to have to reposition your chest drain." As she spoke Ray turned his head slightly and smiled weakly towards the nurse before quickly returning his focus to Fraser. "It isn't draining properly and you have a little fluid build up. That's the pressure you're feeling. The doctor will be here in just a moment. He should be able to fix it right here. I assure you, everything will be just fine. I'm going to give you a little extra painkiller now. I know it isn't easy but just try and relax."
When the doctor finally entered the room Fraser swung his gaze around to welcome him. It was only then that he noticed his superior standing by the door. He smiled warmly at her and was rather surprised when she dropped her eyes to the floor in embarrassment and quickly left the room.
It was almost a half an hour later when Welsh returned to the lounge to find Inspector Thatcher setting with her head in her hands. He was surprised when Meg raised her head to reveal her tearstained face. She had always come across as such a tough, almost callous woman. Welsh was aware that the Inspector had strong feelings when it came to Ray Kowalski, but he had never expected this.
"Uh...Inspector?....Ray's gonna be fine. They just had to fix that drain tube thing. I watched as much of that as I could handle...I had ta get out."" The big man's embarrassment was almost comical. "They said that they were gonna go ahead and dope him up pretty good so I'm goin' on home...Are you okay?"
Meg's silence was starting to worry the big man. He was very near asking her again when she finally shook her head sadly and began to speak.
"You really are quite fond of him, aren't you Lt.?" The question was a surprise.
"Yes...Yes I am Inspector." Welsh carefully studied the woman before him as he continued. "He's a damn good cop Inspector, and once ya get though the barbwire he has thrown up, he's a good man as well. It's just that he's real careful about who he lets through the wire."
"Why do you suppose that is Lt.?" The sadness in Meg's voice was evident.
"History...I guess...He's kinda like the rest of us ...been hurt...We all handle it in our own way." Welsh slowly rubbed his hand across his tired eyes. "Some people go through it and can still open themselves up for more...some can't. Ray?....He's just real careful."
"Lt. Welsh, earlier when we spoke....You didn't let me completely explain the situation." Welsh was again surprised to see the tears spring into his counterparts eyes. "We need to talk....and..."
"Listen Inspector...You look like you could use some time, and if I'm gonna make it home awake, I'm gonna need some coffee." Welsh rose as he spoke. "Why don't you go wash your face, and catch your breath, and I'll meet ya down in the coffee shop."
Meg straightened herself in her chair and smiled sadly up at Welsh. "That sounds like a good idea. I'll meet you there in just a few minutes. I'm afraid this isn't going to be easy."
Harding Welsh and Inspector Thatcher soon sat facing each other across a small table in the hospital cafeteria. Welsh had another cup of strong coffee cradled in his hands. Meg nervously fingered her cup of tea. Welsh had a pretty good idea of what was going to be said, and it was only the pathetic appearance of the woman across from him that allowed him to patiently wait for her to begin. He silently prayed that if he were correct in his theory of the situation he would be able to control his anger and disappointment.
Welsh watched as the Inspector steeled herself for what she was about to say.
"Lt. Welsh. I'm afraid that earlier I didn't make myself totally clear on what happened tonight." Meg took a calming breath and meeting Welsh's gaze head on quickly continued. "I didn't 'forget' to relay Detective Vecchio's' message. I chose not to relay the message. It's something that I am not proud of. My childishness could have cost a life tonight, and that is something that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. I was angry, and I acted in a manner totally unbecoming of a person in my position. The only thing that I can say in my defense is that I would have never knowingly done anything to endanger Detective Vecchio's life. I'm ashamed to say that I meant it as a prank to satisfy my own need to appease my anger." Meg dropped her gaze to her cup of tea and waited.
Welsh sat stiffly in his chair. He admired the courage displayed, but right at the moment all he could think about was the life and health of his friend. He wanted to reach across the table and shake the brains out of this woman. He had been forced to leave Ray's room because he couldn't stand to see the pain that his friend was in as the Doctor repositioned that tube. No one knew better than Welsh did, just how aggravating the moody Detective could be, but Ray, even at his most ornery, didn't deserve that.
Welsh sat in silence. He knew that if he spoke before he had his anger under control he was liable to say some things that could never be taken back. Over the years he had come to respect Meg's abilities, and they had formed a good if yet slightly uncomfortable working relationship. Even in his anger he knew that she was telling the truth. She would have never knowingly done anything to endanger Ray's life, but that is exactly what had happened.
"Well Inspector, I really don't know what to say." Welsh placed his elbows on the table and leaned towards his counterpart. "All I know for sure right now is that I have a Detective layin' in there who could just as easily be layin' down in the morgue."
Welsh had to force himself to count to ten before he continued.
"Just what the hell is it that Ray did ta get you so angry?"
Thatcher straightened herself slightly and steadily met the big man's eyes.
"What Detective Vecchio did is not what is important here. What is important, is that I allowed my anger to affect my actions. I'm sure you are aware that this isn't the first time I have allowed Ray Vecchio to get to me....He just seems to have the ability to push all my wrong buttons." Meg slowly lowered her gaze to the table and continued, her voice again beginning to show the strain of her admission. "He had me angry...I asked him to give Fraser a message...When Fraser got to the Consulate it was obvious that he had never received the message...and that was when he.....Detective Vecchio... called. When he asked me to give Fraser his message...well I thought...and I know how childish this sounds but.....Turnabout is fair play. I chose not to relay the message. It wasn't until I had left the Consulate that I found out that the reason Vecchio had not given Fraser the message was because Fraser had already left the station when I called. Once Vecchio knew that, he called the Consulate and spoke to Constable Turnbull. That's why Turnbull had left his desk...He took care of the matter in Fraser's place."
Meg took a deep breath and though hardly moving at all seemed to deflate into her chair.
Welsh fingered his coffee cup and silently considered the situation that had been laid out before him. He understood how easy it was to let Ray Vecchio get under your skin...and he even liked the guy. But even in the face of their disagreement Ray had done what he had been asked to do. That was pretty much the way Ray operated. He could get mad, he could say things that would really piss you off, but in the end he always tried to do the right thing. It had taken a lot of courage on the Inspector's part to bring all these things out into the open, and as hard as she tried to hide it she was, after all, only human.
"Well Inspector I appreciate you being up front with this deal...and I know that you sure didn't expect this to happen....but I gotta tell ya...I'm more than just a little pissed off right now and...."
"I understand completely Lt." Meg interrupted, "And I will comply with any action that you deem necessary. My behavior has been totally inexcusable, and I place myself at your discretion."
Meg's voice conveyed her misery.
"Well let's not get in a rush here Inspector." Welsh slowly sat back in his chair and studied the woman before him. "Ray 'is' gonna be fine...Thank God for paranoid Detectives and bullet proof vests...And we really don't know why he wanted Fraser to meet him, or why he was at the jewelry store in the first place. Hell he might have wanted to meet there ta go get a pizza or somethin'...We just don't know. We all make mistakes Inspector. I just hope that we all learn somethin' from this one."
Meg's first thought was of Fraser. What will he have learned about her from what she had done? Her petty anger had almost cost him the life of his friend.
Welsh and Inspector Thatcher slowly made their way back to Ray's room. Meg was dreading what would come next. She would have to explain this to Fraser. Right now she couldn't think of anything else she had ever done that would be any more difficult than that explanation.
They found the Detective resting comfortably in a drug-induced sleep. Welsh couldn't resist the urge to step up and once again remove that wild strand of hair from Ray's forehead. Meg seemed to sense his need to in someway connect with his injured friend, and it only added to her guilt. She couldn't help but shudder at the stillness of the pale thin form. This man almost died because of her. How could she live with that?....How could Fraser ever forgive her?
It was then Meg realized that Fraser was gone.
Fraser had anxiously stood by as the doctor and nurses had repositioned Ray's chest drain. Although the drugs had helped to take the edge off, it was still a pretty rough procedure for his partner. Fraser still gripped Ray's pale hand. The Mountie was surprised that his friend still had such strength. He knew though that it was just one indication of how truly painful it was.
After the doctors and nurses had completed their work and seen to the comfort of their patient, the two friends were at last alone. Ray's eyes were clamped firmly shut. It wasn't until Fraser watched the door shut behind them that he allowed himself a long shuddering sigh.
"Are you alright, Ray?"
Ray slowly opened his heavy lidded eyes and rolled them in the general direction of his partner.
Fraser blushed at his own silly question.
"Ah...Relatively speaking that is."
"Ya Frase...I'm good." Ray's voice was barely a whisper, but the corners of his mouth turned up into a small smile. "You better get outta here and get some sleep....That snooze juice they gave me is...ah... really startin' to..ah... kick in...an..."
Fraser gently smoothed the sheets that covered his quickly fading partner and then rested his hand on Ray's arm. "I'll stay until you go to sleep Ray....then I'll rest."
Ray blinked his eyes slowly and simply nodded his head in response. Within seconds he was asleep.
Welsh had told the Mountie about Thatcher's admission about not relaying Ray's message. Welsh had seemed to believe that it was just an oversight caused by the confusion at the Consulate at the end of the day. But as Fraser sat at his friend's side and carefully reviewed the day's events, something kept niggling at the back of his mind. He was starting to think he might just know what it was, and the implications of that, if true, were pretty repulsive.
Fraser had every intention of returning to the Consulate and getting some rest. He wanted to be back at the hospital early, but the thoughts that were running through his troubled mind were not conducive to a good nights sleep. So after a quick stop by the Consulate to pick up Dief, the Mountie and the wolf headed for the lakefront to do some thinking. It proved to be a painful process.
After delivering Thatcher's dry cleaning to her in the parking lot Turnbull had returned to the Consulate and filled Fraser in on the message mix-up. At the time he hadn't thought too much about it, but now it seemed to help connect a lot of fragments of a very confused day.
Ray had called the Consulate. He had wanted his partner to meet him at the jewelry store at 8:00 o'clock. Inspector Thatcher had told Welsh that she had neglected to relay that message because of the confusion at the Consulate at the end of the day. Fraser carefully replayed the scene at the Consulate over and over in his head. He couldn't help but remember the Inspector's odd behavior, but most damning was the phone call. It must have been Ray, but what had she said, "Believe me Fraser that was 'no' one". The Mountie could still hear the iciness in Meg's voice. It was all too clear to Benton that Meg had not forgotten. She had refused to relay the message out of spite.
Fraser was sadly aware of Inspector Thatcher's opinion of his partner, but he couldn't believe that she would allow those feelings to endanger his life. Benton Fraser was totally confused by the woman who was his superior. They had a good working relationship, and in that area Fraser had great respect for her. But on a personal level, it was just too confusing. They were attracted to each other, and had been for a very long time, but the ability to express that attraction had eluded them both. It had caused the Mountie many awkward and baffling moments, but he cared for her deeply. He knew instinctively that Meg had meant no harm to come to Ray. He believed that with every part of his being. The fact remained however that Ray was in the hospital. His partner could have died tonight. And although his presence may not have made a difference, a message had gone undelivered.
As disturbing as that line of thinking was to the Mountie there was another aspect of the situation that he found just as disquieting. Fraser could understand Meg making a bad decision in the heated emotions of her anger, but what about later. Inspector Thatcher had come to the hospital and had spoken to Welsh. The Lt. had said that she had forgotten. That was a lie. Not only had her actions been far from professional, but she had also chosen to hide that error from Welsh with a lie. In the light of the high moral code of their positions the one offence was just as grievous as was the other.
Fraser was a little more than just surprised when he finally noticed the warmth on his back from the rising sun. It would soon be time to return to the hospital and check on Ray. First he would have to speak to Inspector Thatcher. Meg had some explaining to do.
Meg Thatcher slumped down on the front steps of the Consulate. She was as bone weary, as she had ever been in her life. She had spent the entire night trying to find Benton Fraser. She was desperate to explain herself. Meg was painfully aware of the fact that not only did Fraser know that she had not relayed Ray's message, he also believed that she had lied about the reason. Meg knew instinctively that Fraser would have pieced together all the facts of yesterday's events. She was sure that he knew that she had withheld the message out of spite. She also knew that the excuse he had been given by Welsh about the confusion at the Consulate wasn't going to fly with the straight arrow morals of the Mountie. She didn't blame him. As inexcusable as her actions had been towards Ray her inability to face up to them would mean just as much to Fraser. She needed so badly to explain.
Meg slowly pulled herself to her feet and turned to enter the Consulate. Sooner or later Fraser would have to come back here. Meg would be waiting.
Fraser quietly closed the Consulate door behind him. He had noticed Meg's presence as soon as he had entered the foyer. She sat at the reception desk her head resting on her crossed arms, sound asleep. Her being here at this hour on a Sunday morning instantly began to release the tension that had been building inside the Mountie all night. Benton had wrestled with the anger and disappointment that the events of the previous evening had caused. As difficult as the next few moments would be Fraser had learned from experience that true resolution could only come from facing up to the problems at hand. Meg's presence here now gave every indication that his superior felt the same way.
Fraser gently laid his hand on Meg's shoulder and softly spoke her name. Despite his caution the sleeping figure jerked suddenly, a small cry escaping from her lips.
"Inspector Thatcher." Fraser gave Meg's shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "Excuse me Sir. I didn't mean to startle you."
Meg regained her composure and quickly blinked the sleep from her eyes.
"Constable Fraser. I have been waiting for you." Meg suddenly dropped her gaze to the floor. Her initial relief at Fraser's arrival was quickly replaced by the discomfort of the task that she knew lay ahead.
"We need to talk Fraser...I need to explain what happened last night...I"
"If I may interrupt Sir." Fraser was painfully aware of the difficulties that lay before them. "I agree that there is a lot that has to be dealt with concerning this situation, but if I may suggest Sir; if I get us some tea prepared it will allow you some time to wake up and compose yourself. I know that I startled you."
Meg looked up with surprise.
"No Constable." How could this man be so considerate with her?
"Your partner is at this moment lying in a hospital bed, and it just might be possible that I am to blame."
Meg dropped her gaze to the floor in shame. At this moment his anger would be easier to deal with than this obvious concern for her. His anger was what she deserved.
"I will make no excuses for my irresponsible actions Fraser. I wish only to explain exactly what happened, and deal with the consequences of those actions."
Fraser straightened noticeably. It was obvious to him that the Inspector was not going to except any of the sympathy that he felt she deserved for having placed herself in this difficult situation.
Meg watched as Fraser removed all expression from his handsome face. She was both relieved and saddened by his now familiar 'Mountie Mask'. Meg had such confused emotions when it came to the man before her. She had always hoped that somehow...someday...maybe...but now after what had happened she was sure that she had allowed all hope of ever finding a way into this man's heart gone.
Fraser stood stoically as Meg began her story. It took her less than fifteen minutes to explain the events of the previous evening, but the heavy silence that followed felt like a lifetime. Fraser's expression betrayed nothing of what he was feeling.
Meg could stand the silence no longer.
"I know that I have no right to ask Constable, and I know that my conduct has been beyond despicable, but can you ever forgive me?" As Meg spoke she bravely met Benton's steady but unreadable gaze. "Your feelings on this are terribly important to me Constable."
Fraser met Meg's questioning eyes for what seemed to her like an eternity, before he dropped his gaze to the floor before him. With measured words he began to speak.
"Of course you have my forgiveness Inspector, and I am incredibly relieved to know that you meant no deception with Lt. Welsh, but I must confess that at this moment I'm not really sure how I feel." Fraser returned his gaze to the Inspector as he continued. "I know that Ray can be a very difficult person to deal with on occasion, but he is a good man, a good police officer, and a very good friend. I also know that you are an honorable person, a credit to the RCMP....and also, I believe, a friend."
Fraser carefully studied the face of his superior. It wasn't in the Mountie's nature to address her in such a fashion, but the events that precipitated this encounter were exceptional to say the least. As if coming to some important decision Fraser took a deep careful breath and continued.
"You would probably be surprised to hear this Inspector, but Ray Vecchio shares my opinion of your value as an Inspector in the RCMP. As irritated as he may become with you as an individual, he has never voiced anything but respect for your ability to fulfill your obligations to your position; a professional consideration that I don't believe you has ever allowed him in return. You do possess however the one thing that Ray finds very hard to accept from someone of your authority, and that is arrogance."
At the pained look on Meg's face Fraser softened his tone, but continued on. "I have often heard the tone of voice that you use when talking to and about Detective Vecchio and I want you to understand that although I do not in any way condone Ray's reaction to that tone, I do understand it."
Meg couldn't help but drop her tear-dimmed gaze to the floor. As painful as Fraser's words were to hear, it was impossible to deny the truth in them. Thatcher had spent most of the last evening reviewing the events that had led to her childish decision and the near tragic results. Meg could hear in her head the icy tone she had used on her subordinate's partner when she had first called the station. She realized that part of it was her understanding of how Ray would react to her once again sending Fraser on one of her personal errands, but wasn't it just possible that if she had affected a more personable tone, Ray's reaction would have been more personable as well?
"I understand Constable, and as uncomfortable as it is for me to admit it, I believe that you are right. I really do not understand my inability to conduct myself in a civil manner when I am dealing with Detective Vecchio. But you must believe me when I say that I would have never intended him any harm, and I do hope that someday he will be able to forgive me as you have." Meg slowly turned back towards her office and carefully straightened her attire.
Fraser boldly stepped forward and gently laid his hand on Meg's shoulder.
Meg slowly turned and raised her tear-brightened eyes to meet Fraser's kind gaze.
"I know you well enough Inspector that your intent was never an issue, and I know my partner well enough to know that he will forgive you as well. It will be far easier for Ray to accept his share of the blame for this entire affair than you may be able to understand ....He does tends to do that quicker than most people."
Fraser smiled sadly at Meg's puzzled expression. "You should really try to get to know him better Sir. He is a lot like you. The person he shows to the world isn't always a true reflection of who he really is."
"Well it may be a moot point Constable." Meg smiled sadly in return. "After the events of last night I really don't see how I can continue here in Chicago with any effectiveness. I have destroyed my credibility with the Chicago Police Department, and I may have irreparably damaged the confidence of my subordinates. This isn't going to be an easy decision, but a transfer may be my most prudent option."
Fraser couldn't hide the momentary flash of shock that the Inspector's announcement caused. He had hoped that his reassurance of both he and Ray's forgiveness would have eased the situation for her. He could understand her reaction, but suddenly he was faced with the possibility of losing her.
Before he was even aware of it Fraser had stepped even closer carefully grasping Meg by the arms and turning her to fully face him.
"I don't think that now is the time to make such an important decision Inspector. The events of last night were quite trying for everyone and we are both in need of some rest...and time."
Meg looked up at her subordinate with a tired resigned smile. The strain of the last twenty-four hours etched plainly on her face.
"It was especially trying for Ray...wouldn't you say Constable?"
Fraser could only watch in despair as Meg gently turned from his grasp and slowly left the Consulate.
Ray Kowalski spent Sunday, and Monday nestled in a very fuzzy, strangely comfortable, fog. At different times familiar faces would float above him and somehow he knew that he had remembered to smile. There was Fraser, and Frannie, and Fraser, and Welsh, and Fraser, and Huey, and even Ma Vecchio, and of course Fraser. He knew he was glad to see all of them, but all oddly in a rather disjointed way. He remembered several times when the fog was the thinnest that there was something that he needed to be doing and it would make him angry. But about the time that his inability to remember what it was had him to the point of total frustration some pretty, but unfamiliar face would appear and with just a few soothing words the fog would start rolling back in and everything else just lost importance.
It wasn't too surprising to Ray that when the fog finally began to clear in earnest that it was Fraser who was there helping to blow the last remaining clouds away. It was early afternoon on Tuesday. As things came slowly back into focus Ray had the overwhelming impression that he had come in somewhere about the middle of one of his partner's long winded stories. Fraser sat in a chair that he had pulled up beside Ray's bed. He had a firm hold of Ray's hand and was watching his partner closely, a look of happy bemusement on his handsome features.
It wasn't until Fraser had repeated, for the third time, the part about the chest tube being removed a few hours ago, and that he wanted him to relax and take it easy that Ray realized what the Mountie was trying to do.
"Why what Ray?" Fraser's smile grew even wider. He could actually watch the lights come back on for his friend.
"Why should I relax and take it easy Fraser?" A hint of the Kowalski impatience had already begun to surface.
"Well Ray my friend it 'would' be a nice change....You haven't been the best of patients I'm afraid." Fraser absently ran his thumb along his brow and tried to stifle the chuckle that was very near escape. "The chest tube 'has' been removed. And although they really don't want to give you another sedative, I have been warned that if I can't make you understand, that chest tube or not, you can't be ripping the room apart they will send you back to; as you would say; 'la la land."
"Maybe I like 'la la land' Fraser. Ever think of that?"
"Well Ray I must admit that the thought has crossed my mind...You are quite a different character while in 'la la land'." Fraser was glad that instead of what before would have been angry confusion Ray now reacted with a rather devilish grin.
"And just what do you mean by that 'partner'?"
"Well Ray my friend while in the mystical land of 'la la' you smile a lot, are abnormally cooperative, and unusually quiet...a striking difference if I must say so myself. And although it was nice for a change I am very glad that you have decided to return to Chicago...You have been missed."
"Thank you Fraser...I think."
Except for a brief interruption from the doctor who was interested in giving his now coherent patient a quick check-up Fraser spent nearly a solid hour trying to help Ray piece together the happenings of Saturday night. Any time that Ray's frustration level threatened to get out of control Fraser would gently remind him of his possible return ticket to 'la la land' and would quickly deflect the conversation to another line of discussion. It was during one of these deflections that the topic came up of Inspector Thatcher and the undelivered message.
"You mean the Ice Queen is blamin' herself for this....that's craziness Fraser." Ray's expression of disbelief slowly began to shift to one of pure ornery pleasure. "Oh man partner this could be good....ooooh....this could be soooo good."
Ray chuckled at the look of puzzlement that appeared on the Mountie's face as Fraser cocked his head and eyed him with suspicion.
"Don't ya get it Frase?...Just think about it. You want a few extra days off...bam! Ya got it...or ...or....hey we could throw us some big loud party at the Consulate.....I've always loved that big ole mausoleum...we could bring in a DJ, kick back the rugs and..."
"She's leaving Ray."
Fraser spoke so softly that Ray almost missed it.
Fraser watched as what little color was there drained from Ray's face. He instantly regretted bringing it up. Although they hadn't ever really talked seriously about the relationship that existed between himself and the Inspector. The Mountie was well aware that his partner understood his feelings for her. Ray was a very intuitive person and Fraser sometimes felt that Ray knew him better than did anyone else he had ever known. Benton Fraser was a very private man and personal information in other's hands wasn't a comfortable situation for him, but Ray was his partner and his friend and the trust that had been formed between them was strong enough to ease Fraser's mind of any worry. And although Fraser longed to share his concern over Meg's possible transfer with someone he could trust, now was probably not the best time. Ray was hurt, and tired and still slightly confused. When this was added to his propensity to over emphasize his own culpability in any and all situations, it could be a bad mix.
"Whoa...Whoa right there Fraser...Ya gotta talk to her...Ya gotta...I mean I don't even know for sure what happened yet..." As he spoke Ray attempted to twist over onto his side so he could face his partner. "I probably did somethin' stupid or ...or...whatever....it couldn't have been her fault "
Fraser quickly stepped up to the bed and gently pushed Ray over onto his back.
"Ray...Ray...Ray!" By now a sheen of perspiration had appeared on the Detective's forehead and he had brought his free hand up to support his battered chest. "Ray you have to take it easy."
Fraser reached for the call button to summons a nurse. He silently berated himself for upsetting his now struggling partner. He had worked so hard to keep Ray calm through their discussion about the shooting and then had blown the whole deal because of his selfish need to share his concern over Meg's possible transfer.
Ray pressed his head back into the pillows and tried to steady his painful breathing. He snagged Fraser's wrist before he could press the button. "Don't Fraser...Please...I just moved to fast ...dat's all...I'm okay....Really."
Fraser quickly reevaluated his partner's condition. Ray was obviously in some pain and his breathing was a little ragged, but he did seem to be trying to calm himself down. The friends silently locked eyes for what seemed like a small lifetime, before Fraser dropped the call button and carefully gathered Ray's trembling hand in his.
"I shouldn't have said anything about this Ray. I'm sorry...I didn't mean to upset you." Fraser nervously rubbed his thumb along the ridge of his brow and dropped his guilt filled eyes to the floor. This wasn't the only thing he was feeling guilty about. "I should have been there with you Ray. I might have been able..."
"Don't Fraser. Do not do dat." Ray gently squeezed the Mounties hand as he continued. "What happened to me, happened. If you woulda been there ya might have been hurt too...or even killed. Na buddy...It ain't your fault, and it sure ain't no fault of da Ice Queen either....We'll make her understand dat Frase...I'll talk ta her..it'll be alright buddy I promise."
Fraser couldn't stop the small sad smile that formed on his worried face. Friendship was a precious thing. Friendship with Ray Kowalski was a treasure. Getting through the walls that Ray had built up over the years had not been easy. He was a complex, aggravating, but amazingly sensitive puzzle, but all the effort had proven worth it. The man lay before him in obvious pain and yet his main concern was for him, Benton Fraser. The Mountie sometimes felt unworthy of such loyalty, but his importance in Ray's life was one of the things that his now struggling friend had always made a point of emphasizing. In this too he trusted his partner.
"It may be to late Ray." Fraser slowly settled himself back into his chair. "Inspector Thatcher has spent the last two days evaluating her options, and acquiring information on other possible postings. Before I left the Consulate this morning she said that she was going to take tomorrow off, spend the day reviewing all the information and announce her decision on Thursday."
"Have you tried ta talk to her buddy?...I mean I know how tongue tied you two can get, but this is really important...an...shit....This whole deal really sucks." As he spoke Ray once again pressed his head back into the pillow and bit hard on his bottom lip as he tried to ride out a sudden wave of pain as unobtrusively as possible.
"I've tried Ray." Fraser rose from his chair, carefully leaned over Ray's bed and pushed the button connected to his I.V. that gave out a measured dose of painkiller. He casually assured that Ray was watching how and what he was doing and then settled himself back in the chair. "The Inspector feels that she has irreparably damaged her credibility with not only the Chicago Police Department but her subordinates as well, and although I assured her that was not the case, I'm afraid that she is adamant in her beliefs."
"Geesh..Fraser! I don't mean that." Ray rolled his eyes at his friend as he continued. "You guys got more dan just a boss, suborg....suborig..shit!...worker thing goin'. Ya just neither one a ya got the nerve ta say it. I'm blind as a bat without my glasses and even I can see dat."
Ray couldn't contain the small smile at the blush that quickly rose up his friend's face.
"I don't think I have the right to try and influence any decision that has to do with the Inspector's career Ray." Fraser quickly ran his thumb across his brow.
"Even if it's the wrong decision Frase?...One that's wrong for the both a ya?" Ray was sure that trying to reason with the Mountie on matters of the heart was not going to be the way to solve this dilemma but he felt that he had to try.
"The bottom line, Ray my friend, is that it is 'her' decision." Fraser couldn't keep the slight slump from his shoulders at the reality of his own statement.
Ray closed his eyes in quiet frustration. He had always had trouble with putting the right words together. He knew in his head what he wanted to say, but the words never seemed to come out of his mouth right. With Fraser it usually wasn't much of a problem, the Mountie always seemed able to read his thoughts before he even had them all lined out in his own head. Today though Fraser's mind was elsewhere.
"I'm sorry Ray. You must be tired." Fraser stiffly got up from his chair and gently laid his hand on his partner's arm. "I should go and let you rest."
Ray's eyes flew open in surprise. He was a little tired but that wasn't why he had shut his eyes. Before he could explain himself though an idea popped into his head. If he couldn't get through to the Mountie he would have a go at the Ice Queen. He needed to talk to her anyway and it would be easier without Fraser around.
"Ya Frase." Ray slowly rubbed his hand across his eyes and put on his best sleepy face. "Must be the painkiller...I am gettin' kinda goofy here." To add to the ruse he faked a big yawn and blinked his eyes up at his friend. "You better get back ta the Consulate and try and talk some sense into dat woman."
Fraser gave his partner a rather sad lopsided smile. "I'll try Ray, but the Inspector can be rather bull-headed."
As Fraser turned to leave the room he gave Ray's foot a quick squeeze. "I'll be back tonight Ray. Rest well."
"Ya sure buddy. I will." Ray faked another yawn and watched as his friend slowly walked out the door.
After a short pause to be sure the Mountie had really gone Ray carefully leaned over and got the phone, mumbling to himself as he did. "Ya I will.. like hell Fraser....If you think she's bull-headed ya oughtta look in the damn mirror."
Ray quickly began to dial the number for the Consulate. "I'll teach the both a ya just what bull-headed is!"
Meg Thatcher sat behind her desk at the Consulate. A number of reports were spread out before her but she sat staring into space. The events of Saturday night and the decision that lay before her weighed heavily on her mind. She was going to miss Chicago, and Fraser, but she saw no other option than to leave.
She was shaken from her reverie by the sharp ringing of her phone. She was surprised by the identity of the caller.
"Ah...Ya...Inspector? It's Ray..Ray Vecchio."
Meg instantly straightened. She unconsciously ran her hand over her hair and had to force herself to breathe.
"Detective Vecchio. I was going to give you a call this afternoon. Constable Fraser told me that they were going to take you off the sedatives today." She steeled herself and continued. " What I did was unforgivable Detective, and I'm afraid that all I have to offer you is my most sincere apology."
"Ya...Ok...forgiven. Now what is this crap about ya leavin'?" Meg turned the phone in her hand and stared at it in shock.
"I don't understand Detective...I"
"What's ta understand? What happened ta me wasn't your fault... So the only thing I've got ta forgive then is dat you didn't give Frase my message. I can do dat...no problem. So now there ain't no reason for ya ta leave....Right?" Even with the events of the last few days Meg could feel her hackles begin to rise. Even flat on his back in a hospital bed there was something about the cocky voice on the other end of the line that was beginning to heat her up.
"Have you forgotten Detective, that you very nearly got killed because I allowed my anger towards you to cloud my judgement?" Meg was unable to keep her rising anger out of her voice.
"You didn't shoot me!" Ray's voice was beginning to rise as well. Even Meg's apology had a certain arrogance that just seemed to set him on edge.
"But because of me Detective you were there alone...Fraser should have been with you...things would have been different." Although her voice was spiked with anger at that admission Meg could feel herself begin to deflate. Why did it seem they couldn't speak two words without it turning into a fight?
"Ya sure. Like he couldda got shot too or somethin'...I'm a cop..I'm gonna get shot at. I know you think I'm a total screw-up lady...But I can get shot at all by myself. You think the bad guys ain't even gonna bother wit 'me' if I ain't got a partner along who wears a big red coat that just yells 'here I am shoot me first'?" Ray was almost shaking now and he knew that this wasn't going at all like he had hoped. Fraser was going to kill him if he didn't get this straightened out.
"Listen Inspector...I...that ain't..."
"It's alright Detective Vecchio." Ray could hear the defeated tone in Meg's voice as she interrupted his attempt at righting the situation. "I know that you are upset...and you have every right to be. I hope you are out of the hospital soon. Good-bye." With a soft click the conversation was over.
Ray slumped back into his pillows and held the phone against his bandaged chest. He had blown it big-time. He carefully replaced the phone.
He lay quietly for just a second and then smacked himself on the forehead hard enough to bring tears to his eyes.
"I really, really suck!"
Ray had every intention of trying to get the Ice Queen back on the phone and straighten this mess out, but circumstances and his own sorry physical condition seemed to be working against him. He had forgotten about his concussion and the sharp smack that he administered to his own forehead had given him a monster headache. He had intended to just shut his eyes for a few moments and ended up sleeping for over an hour. It was the feel of a warm hand against his cheek, and the soft voice of Mrs. Vecchio that brought him out of his unintended slumber.
"Raymond. Caro. It's time for your supper." As Ray's sleepy eyes came into focus he was pleased to find not just Ma Vecchio, but Frannie and a still warm covered dish of homemade lasagna.
The visit lasted nearly two hours and included some heavy-duty mothering and a healthy dose of good-natured ribbing. When Frannie made a crack about his missing dinner on Mother's Day a quiet little bell started to go off somewhere in the back of his mind, but every time he tried to figure it out it only seemed to slip further away.
When Fraser arrived just a few hours later he found his exhausted partner sound asleep. The Mountie settled himself in the nearest chair and dove into any reading material available. When visiting hours were over and it appeared that his friend was going to be down for the count, Fraser gently straightened Ray's blanket and quietly made his way out.
The next morning Ray awoke with a start. It seemed as if his whole night had been spent caught up in a maze of crazy confused dreams. There had been Ma Vecchio and Fraser, glass falling out of the sky like rain, a bright fiery flash of light, and the feeling of flying. But out of all the fragments and seemingly unrelated little video clips came one clear memory. He suddenly had the events of Saturday night back in spades. He remembered with to much clarity the flash of the shotgun, the falling glass and the pain. But right now the most painful memory was why he had been there and why he had wanted Fraser's help. Oh man! He really needed to talk to the Ice Queen.
He was just reaching for the phone when the first of many obstacles began to emerge.
By 10 o'clock they had drawn what seemed like a gallon of blood for tests. They had removed his IV, fit him for a knee brace, and had him up and in a chair. Then it was out of the chair and down the hall and then back in the chair with the doctor poking on him like he was a beanbag. Then it was back down the hall, back in the chair, and finally back in the bed.
Ray hadn't thought it possible but he had pain that was in pain...how could that be?
Although he tried hard not to show how miserable he was it must have been pretty obvious. A sweet little nurse came in and gave him two tiny little pills and the next thing he knew it was 12 noon and someone was waking him up so he could eat his lunch.
He really needed to talk to the Ice Queen.
It was nearly 4 o'clock in the afternoon before Fraser made it to the hospital. He was feeling rather guilty about it. He had tried to call Ray once before noon but had been informed by one of the staff that at that moment his partner was out in the hall wrestling with a walker. He had intended to call back, but because of Thatcher's absence he had been swamped with other affairs and had not gotten it done.
As he approached the 4th floor nurse's station he noticed Ray's doctor leaning against the counter. One of the nurses was speaking to him in an agitated manner, pointing angrily down the hall towards Ray's room. As the Mountie neared, Dr. Ross turned to face him. The man was making his best effort to maintain a serious expression but Fraser could easily read the amusement that he was fighting to hide.
"Ah. Constable Fraser." As he spoke Dr. Ross laid his arm across the Mountie's shoulders and turning away from the still sputtering nurse navigated him towards Ray's room. "I was just getting ready to call you. It would appear that your now notorious partner has taken a powder."
At Fraser's puzzled expression the Dr. began to openly chuckle.
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Sir. Detective Vecchio is not a thief and I..."
"No...no Constable...He decided to blow this pop stand....He's gotten out of Dodge....He's hit the bricks..." At Fraser's still apparent confusion he turned the Mountie to face him and continued. "As they used to say about Elvis...'Ray has left the building'."
The two men quickly entered Ray's room. Fraser made a rapid inventory. The sheets of the bed were thrown back and Ray's discarded hospital gown had been tossed into the chair. The Mountie's attention was drawn to a pizza delivery box that sat opened on the bedside table; it's contents half eaten. Fraser quickly stepped forward and flipped the lid shut. ' Tony's Pizza Palace...We Deliver!'
Fraser turned to face the still chuckling Dr. Ross. "We are also missing one wheelchair."
Meg Thatcher had spent most of the morning reviewing all of her options for a possible transfer. It was early afternoon when she had decided that a good run in the park would help clear her head before she made her final decision.
She had just entered her building's entrance when she was approached by the security guard and informed that there were three 'gentlemen' waiting in the lobby to talk to her. Meg really didn't think much about that until the guard offered to accompany her.
Meg turned to the guard in surprise. "Do you believe that these 'gentlemen' as you call them are a threat?"
"Well, I can't be sure Inspector." The guard scratched his head in confusion as he continued. "It's just that...Well its just that they're kind of an odd lookin' crew an...I mean... hell...The little one even said he was a cop, but if he's a cop this town could be in a lot of trouble!"
Inspector Thatcher straightened her shoulders and smiled tightly. "I'm sure that I will be alright....but you will be available I assume?"
Without giving the guard the opportunity to respond Meg turned on her heels and headed for the lobby.
The man hadn't been kidding. It was an odd looking crew waiting for her. Meg made a quick survey of the trio as two of them stood to greet her. There was a very large but nicely dressed black man, a rather scruffy looking white man who was only slightly shorter and wore the jacket of a local pizza parlor, and a much small man who remained seated. It wasn't until she was almost upon them that she realized that the one who hadn't risen was in a wheelchair and that it was Detective Ray Vecchio.
Meg steeled herself for the inevitable. She had known that the possibility of her getting out of Chicago without having to face the man for whose injuries she felt responsible was small. She found it a struggle to mask the shock that his appearance caused. He did not look good.
Ray's hair lay flat to his head. It wasn't the first time that Meg had seen it this way, but she felt that it had always made him appear younger, and oddly vulnerable; not the cocky rebellious man that seemed so easily to ignite her anger. That added to his pale drawn features and the tightness of his jaw muscles as he sat slightly slumped to the side in an attempt to ease his obvious pain, made her feel even worse.
"Uhm...Inspector...don't mean ta bother ya, but we really need ta talk." Ray only met her gaze briefly as he self-consciously fiddled with the sleeve of his oversized sweatshirt. "I been tryin' ta call ya all day, but couldn't get an answer." The skinny blond finally made steady eye contact as he continued. "It's real important."
Meg was shocked. As with Fraser, this man's anger would be much easier to deal with than this almost meek, obviously embarrassed contriteness.
"Certainly Detective. If you gentlemen would like to come upstairs we would all be more comfortable."
"Na that's okay..." Ray turned his attention to his two companions. "You guys can wait here for awhile...can't ya? ...Or go grab yourselves a coffee or somethin'...ain't gonna take long...but I really need ta talk ta the Inspector privately...Ya know?"
The big young black man looked quickly from Ray to Sandore. "Ya Sure Ray...But ya want me to help you get upstairs. You know how trying to run that chairs pulls on your chest."
At Ray's embarrassed glance Meg spoke up. "I can push the Detective....If that's alright with you Detective Vecchio?"
"Ya..That would be fine Inspector...as long as we don't get around no stairs." Ray smiled at Meg's reaction to the idea that she would be tempted to give him a one way ride down a set of stairs. "'scuse my humor Inspector..I was just kiddin'...and 'scuse my bad manners too. This big guy is Duke Morrison....he's the one kinda like saved my life ya know, and this big goofy guy here is my ole friend Sandore. They been a big help today....Fraser don't know I'm here." Ray again dropped his eyes to his lap and once more began to mess with the sleeve of his sweatshirt.
Meg stepped closer to Ray's companions. She could feel the sting of tears as she reached for Duke's now outstretched hand. "I want to thank you for what you did Officer Morrison. Ray Vecchio has often been a thorn in my side, but...well...just thank you very much for being there."
Duke dropped his head and smiled sheepishly. Meg quickly shook Sandore's hand as well before stepping behind Ray's chair and starting towards the bank of elevators.
The elevator whispered closed behind them before any more was said.
"I'm rather surprised that you are out of the hospital so soon detective." Meg could sense the nervousness present in the confined space, and hoped that some conversation would help alleviate it before they got down to the serious stuff.
"Ya well...They said I could get out if I had somewhere ta go...so I'll be goin' ta the Vecchio's for awhile." That wasn't a lie. The doctor had agreed to release him, but not until Friday at the earliest, and that just wasn't going to be soon enough to try and change this woman's mind about leaving. "I just figured it would be easier ta get here before Ma Vecchio gets ahold a me...Ya know how it is....she'd get all worried an stuff."
"Well to be honest Detective you don't look to be in any shape for running around town...and...."
"Ray....Call me Ray." Meg was glad that the blond couldn't see the surprised expression his request brought to her face.
"As you wish...Ray. At least you seem to have a worthy escort."
Meg was relieved at the small chuckle that came from the detective. "Ya well Duke showed up just as me and Sandore were makin' our esca...ah....exit, and he drives this really cool minivan with a side door and everything...which was a hell-of-a lot-better than tryin' to fold myself up in Sandore's little pizza car."
"I figured Constable Fraser would want to be there when you were discharged." Meg had caught Ray's little slip, but surely he wouldn't be foolish enough to risk his health just to come here and talk to her.
"He doesn't know yet." That too was not a lie, and Ray hoped he could get back to the hospital before his partner found out, because there would be hell to pay when he did. "You know how he is Inspector...If he were ta find out that you and I were actually going to be in the same room...alone... tryin' ta talk this thing out he'd be a basket case...a regular nervous melt-down...Ya know?"
The elevator door opened as Meg chuckled in response. It seemed that some of the tension had eased.
Constable Benton Fraser R.C.M.P. was on an emotional roller coaster. One moment he would be as angry with his partner as he had ever been and in the next moment he would be near panic with worry over his well being. Dr. Ross had tried to reassure him that if Ray were careful he should be fine. The doctor reminded Fraser that it was to Ray's credit that he had not tried to leave on his own and he had the sense to take the leg brace and 'borrow' a wheelchair. He did stress however, that once found, Ray should be returned to the hospital. It was still possible to aggravate the bruising in his chest enough to cause more fluid to build up.
Fraser had found Sandore's car in the hospital parking lot so the two idiots must have caught a cab. Fraser had put a quick call into the station and had Frannie checking the cab companies to see if their destination could be determined, but so far, nothing. The Mountie had already been to Ray's apartment, and had put a call into Mrs. Vecchio, and even Stella.
Fraser left Ray's apartment and headed for the Consulate. Ray had hidden out there once before, maybe he would go there again. Benton was running out of ideas. If and when he found his partner he wasn't sure if he would kiss him or kill him...but right now he was kind of leaning toward the killing part.
Meg had maneuvered Ray's wheelchair into the kitchen and was in the process of making a pot of coffee. As she turned she noticed the Detective gingerly trying to shift his position in the chair. He valiantly tried to hide the fact that it wasn't easy and basically hurt like hell.
"Are you sure you are alright Detec.....Ray"
Ray smiled crookedly not only at Meg's effort to use his first name, but also at her evident concern.
"Oh ya. I'm good ta go...just alittle sore." Ray began to dig in the pocket of his jacket, which he had wedged into the chair beside him. "I got a pain pill here somewhere...could I bother ya for a glass a water. These stupid little things are really bitter if ya ain't got somethin' ta wash 'em down with."
Meg quickly turned to the refrigerator and got a small bottle of water. She couldn't help but notice the slight trembling of the slim pale hand that gratefully took it from her. While Ray was taking the pill Meg had the opportunity to get a good look at him. While his right leg wasn't held out straight the chair was positioned so that it was only slightly bent. Meg noticed the extra thickness at the knee, which would indicate a brace. His thin unshaven face seemed to have lost even more color, and the lines around his mouth and eyes were a clear indication of the strain of managing his pain.
"To be honest...Ray...I can't believe they would let you out of the hospital yet. It's pretty obvious that you are in no shape to be here." Meg noticed that again Ray dropped his eyes to his lap and pulled absently at the sleeve of his sweatshirt. Meg's eyebrows shot up in puzzlement. There seemed to be a pattern forming here. A pattern that she was now determined to be more aware of.
"Ya well...Inspector...This ain't gonna take long and then it's home ta Ma's and bed...I promise."
Meg smiled slightly at his affectionate reference to the real Ray Vecchio's mother. It was apparent that the woman had accepted this skinny replacement for that obnoxious Italian as readily as had her subordinate.
"Fraser told me about ya thinkin' ya have ta leave...and well...this morning I remembered why I wanted Fraser ta meet me at the jewelry store." Ray ran his hand through his hair and looked at Meg with a slight embarrassed smile.
Meg couldn't help but drop her gaze to the floor her face a mask of guilt.
"Hey now Inspector don't be doin'dat." Ray once again wished that he had a better verbal command of the English language. "I just wanted Frase there ta help me pick out a broach for Ma...It was for Mother's Day....We were goin' over there for dinner on Sunday and I wanted ta get her somethin' nice ya know...but I ain't very good at stuff like dat... I wanted Frase there ta help me pick out somthin' ...dat's all dare was to it....It wasn't police work or nothin' dangerous."
Meg slowly raised her eyes to meet Ray's concerned gaze.
"You really don't understand do you? Ray you could have been killed...you very nearly were. How can you forgive me for that?"
Ray's jaw dropped in disbelief. "You had nothin' ta do with me getting' shot...That just happened. I saw a robbery in progress and I let myself get caught by the lookout man. It was illegal on their part and stupid on mine, but you had nothin' in it. The only thing 'you' did was not give Frase that stupid message and I can forgive ya for dat." Ray was trying to keep the anger and frustration out of his voice and failing miserably.
Meg's eyes flared with emotion. "I let my pettiness interfere with my good judgement Detective. That action could have cost a man his life, a man who is a member of the Chicago Police Department, and the best friend of Constable Fraser." The anger she had vowed to keep under control was once again making itself evident "You may very well be the most aggravating man I have ever met in my life, but even you didn't deserve that."
Meg was instantly ashamed of herself. Why did it seem that she was unable to carry on a normal conversation with this man? He had come here with no other reason than to try and straighten things out between them and she was yelling at him...again.
She slowly raised her gaze to the drawn face before her and was surprised to find laughing blue eyes shining back at her. This man was a total puzzle to her.
"Just what is it that you find so funny about this situation Detective?" Even now she could not keep the anger out of her voice.
"How many times I gotta tell ya lady...The name is Ray." The thin blond slowly ran his hand through his short hair and smiled impishly at his confused companion. "You know Inspector I think I finally got us figured out. You wanna know what our problem is? Why we can't say three words ta each other without it turnin' inta World War III?"
"If you think you are smart enough to figure that out Detec....damn it...RAY!!....I would be more than glad to hear what you have to say on the subject, because to be honest with you I am completely at a loss." Meg couldn't hide the small smile that had begun to form on her lips. The situation 'was' getting kind of ridiculous and though this man was impossible, his smile was infectious.
"It just hit me...This whole thing...the whole deal is because of Fraser....He's our problem..."
"There is no way that this can be the fault of Constable Fraser. Are you unhinged?" Meg's voice was full of disbelief, but her smile got even bigger as she heard the small chuckle work up out of the slim form before her. "How can you blame Fraser for this? He's your friend for God sakes."
Ray quickly raised one hand towards Meg and moved the other one to support his sore ribs.
"Hold on there. I never said it was Fraser's fault...I just said that he was our problem." Ray winced slightly as he tried to ease his position in the chair, but the smile never left his face. "We're like a couple a pups fightin' over a stick...and poor ole Frase is the stick."
Meg straightened in her seat and turned suddenly serious. The conversation had just taken a turn that she wasn't sure she wanted to pursue. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
Ray sighed heavily and looked into Meg's eyes.
"Think about it. I get mad as hell 'cause a the way you treat him, and you get jealous because I'm his friend." Ray quickly raised his hand to cut off the Inspector's response. "Give me a minute here...I ain't the best at getting' the words right, but give me a chance ta try and explain this. The way I got it figured is...well...no matter what your title is, you're still just a cop at heart. But all you ever get ta do is set and watch while I grab Fraser out from under your nose and we go out an get the bad guys. Then there's the fact that no matter how it all started Fraser and I are friends...best friends...and we get ta spend time together and just be us, while mosta the time that you're with him it's gotta be official like. I mean if the tables were turned that would be rough for me ta handle too. So ya see you're jealous...but dat's okay...it just means Fraser is someone important to ya."
Meg sat and stared at the man before her in amazement. After a quick review of what he had just said it was obvious to her that he had pretty much hit the nail on the head.
"I think you may have a very good point Ray. I think there are times that I am very jealous of the friendship you share with Fraser." Meg smiled sadly as she continued. "Can you forgive me for that?"
"Ya sure no problem." Ray smiled warmly in return.
Meg's face suddenly reflected her confusion. "There is a part that you didn't explain Detective. I believe it has to do with the way I treat Fraser."
Ray looked down for a moment and then once again raised his eyes to meet Meg's.
"Ya well...ya see it's like this. I may not be the brightest star in the sky, but even I can see that you and the big guy got feelin's for each other...Even if you're both to stiff to admit it...And yet you order him around on those personal errands and stuff and it just pisses me off. I mean the guy really thinks the world of you Inspector and if you were to ask him ta do that stuff just as a friend that would be one thing, but ta order him to do it...well it's like a double slap in the face. Duty is like a sacred thing for the guy and yet you are makin' it his 'duty' ta pick up your laundry...that's kinda low, especially when he would jump at the chance ta just do it for ya as a friend." Ray rubbed his hand across his pale face. "I know I ain't very good with words Inspector, but I hope ya get what I'm tryin' ta say"
Meg looked up in surprise. "I think you did a very good job Ray. To be honest I'm more than a little surprised that you were able to have figured this whole thing out. Believe me, I have been trying to make some sense out of our reaction to each other for quite some time...and I believe you have nailed it down very nicely. Now I have to ask you just what brought this into focus for you? It might help me come to terms with your revelation."
Ray studied the woman before him carefully. He wasn't totally sure that she wasn't trying to make fun of him, but the sincere look on her face set him at ease.
"Ah heck that was easy. I was just settin' here alittle while ago listenin' ta the two of us fightin' and it just.. you know...kinda fell inta place." Ray had to smile as Meg leaned toward him to hear his explanation.
"Think about it....You were all torn up because of what Fraser would think about you, because of what had happened with me. And me? The biggest reason I came here is....well... if you leave because of that stupid fight we had, Fraser would never forgive me. Face it Inspector neither one of us wanna lose him...so ya see? You can't let this thing drive ya off. It would be wrong for all of us. What happened ta me was no picnic, but if it helps us get this shit straightened out, it could be a good thing. Right?"
Meg stared at the smiling man before her in utter disbelief. Why hadn't she been able to see it? Ray was right...again. The man was a paradox...but a very intuitive...maybe even wise paradox...Oh my but that was almost frightening.
"Well Inspector? What da ya think? Do ya think ya could...you know rethink this thing and stay?" The hopeful look on Ray's face was almost comical. "I ain't sayin' I ain't ever gonna get mad anymore, or make you mad at me, but you'll never know if ya leave. Right? So.. Anyway...I think there's a part of you that would miss it...and I ain't just talkin' about Fraser and Chicago either...I think in a weird little way ya'd miss me, and the arguin'...you're awful good at it ya know."
Meg couldn't help the warm smile that brightened her features. "Detective Ray Vecchio, you are impossible. But you are also, in this case at least, right. I think to leave Chicago because of this misfortune would be wrong. I believe that it is only fair that I remain, if only to see what you will do to make me mad next."
Ray sighed in relief and stuck his hand towards Meg to put a seal on her decision. As Meg reached to shake the offered hand she couldn't help but notice that the motion caused Ray's sweatshirt sleeve to pull back revealing the hospital I.D. bracelet still attached to his slim wrist.
Meg's jaw dropped open in angry surprise as Ray quickly withdrew the hand and carefully pulled the sleeve back in place.
Before either one could say anything there was a solid, almost angry knock on the door.
Fraser was at his wit's end. He had covered every angle that he could think of, twice. There was only one possibility left. It was a possibility that brought a shudder to his normally ramrod straight Mountie spine.
The thought was frightening. The Mountie was aware of Ray's desire to smooth things over with his superior, but the idea of his mercurial, often volatile partner in a confined area with the strong willed Meg Thatcher, trying to discuss the happenings of Saturday night was ...there was no word for it.
As Fraser's taxi neared Thatcher's building he could only hope that regardless of his desire to return his wayward partner to the hospital he wouldn't find him here. All hope was lost, when as he exited the taxi, he saw two familiar figures also making their way towards the buildings entrance.
Both Sandore and Morrison froze in their tracks when they saw the Mountie. They looked like two very large little boys who had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
"Gentleman. Would you be so kind as to tell me where I could find my partner, Detective Raymond Vecchio?" As he spoke Fraser crossed his arms across his chest and put on his most stern Mountie mask.
Sandore and Morrison quickly shot each other a guilty glance before they both, in unison, pointed their fingers up towards Meg's 6th floor window.
Within minutes he was solidly rapping on the Inspector's door.
After Fraser had identified himself he heard the locks slide back. The door flew open before him and as he entered he saw Meg quickly returning to her kitchen. The woman was already in full voice.
"Detective Vecchio. You lied to me...I can't believe that you have the nerve to set here in my kitchen..."
As Fraser neared the kitchen area he could hear a familiar voice responding to Meg's verbal assault.
"Listen lady...I did not lie....And the name is Ray!"
That was it. It was the end of the Mountie's patience. He had spent the last several days in absolute turmoil. Concern for the life and health of his best friend, and the possibility of losing a woman for whom he cared very much had taken its toll on the normally in control Constable.
When he reached the kitchen he saw the two combatants nose to nose and going at it with true gusto.
Meg and Ray both jumped in response. The movement put Meg slightly behind Ray's wheelchair and put Ray's hand up to support his ribcage.
Fraser's face was flushed as he stared angrily at his two friends. "I have had enough of you two trying to tear each other's head off."
Meg was the first to respond. "Constable Fraser you don't understand the situation. Detective Vecchio and I have..."
"Detective Vecchio and you have pushed me to my limit Sir." The normal submissive Mountie was nowhere to be found. "Do the two of you have any idea of what this week has been like for me? I have had to face the possibility of losing the two most important people in my life. It has been a nightmare. And why you may ask? ...Why?...Because two grown people who in most circumstances can at least feign some semblance of sanity, cannot when in the presence of each other come up with so much as a modicum of rational restraint."
Ray, a small smile playing on his lips, turned to the slack-jawed woman at his side. "Huh?"
Meg's expression of amazement slowly gave way to a conspiratorial little smile. She carefully placed her hand on Ray's arm and leaning down to put her even with his now smiling face offered her explanation. "Detective Vecchio, I believe what Constable Fraser is trying to say, in his own subtle way is that he isn't very happy with the two of us."
As Fraser's anger melted into total bewilderment the two conspirators first looked at each other and then back at the befuddled Mountie.
Fraser ran the full gambit of nervous Mountie motion. He straightened his shoulders, tugged at the bottom of his tunic, cracked his neck to the side and ran his thumb along the ridge of his brow.
"Excuse me Sir, but if you would be so kind as to explain just what it is that I am missing here I would be most grateful."
"One thing that I have discovered today Fraser is, that in his own way, Detective Vecchio is very good with words. I will let him be the one to enlighten you."
Ray shot a quick look towards the Inspector. "Enlighten?...Anodder one a dem Canadian words?"
Meg took Ray's pale chin in her hands and turned his face back towards Fraser. "If you would Detective?"
Ray couldn't help but smile at the bewildered expression on this friend's face. "Oooh...Kay...Well Fraser my friend the thing a the deal is this. We talked, it's cool, and she's stayin'...So. You have now been enlightened."
Fraser was still totally confused, but he couldn't hide the small smile that turned up the corners of his mouth.
Meg stepped toward Fraser and gently placing her hand on his arm continued the explanation. "Ray and I had a very good talk, Ben...and....well we have come to an agreement...of sorts."
Meg's informality and sweetness pleasantly surprised Fraser. "And that would be, Inspector"
"Detective Vecchio and I have agreed that we will...well...basically...that we will disagree. Isn't that about it Detective Vecchio?"
"Pretty much sums it up Inspector...We disagree, and we like it. So Fraser, my little Mountie friend, you
can relax." Ray smiled warmly at his still confused partner.
"Oh, I see." Fraser again ran his thumb along his brow. "So what you are both saying, if I may be so bold as to attempt to try and understand your reasoning, is that what I heard when I first arrived will be the norm?"
"Oh not at all Constable." Meg shook her head and smiled shyly. "The only reason we were arguing when you arrived was becau...." The smile vanished from her face as she suddenly remembered the reason for that particular discussion. Meg whirled to face the pale thin form slumped in the wheelchair. "Because that wild haired little so-an-so lied to me."
"Hey lady I told you once, I did not lie." Ray straightened himself as much as his painful chest would allow.
"I will remind you Detective Vecchio that you told me that you had been released from the hospital."
"I never said dat, lady. What I said was dat they would release me if I had somewhere ta go, and I do. I just never said when they were going ta let me go dare!....And the name is Ray!"
Fraser closed his eyes and sighed, listening to the angry voices of his friends.
Visiting hours would soon be over. Fraser sat quietly at the bedside of his slumbering partner. Even in sleep the exhaustion was clearly evident on Ray's thin features.
Fraser smiled as he remembered the trip back to the hospital.
Ray had successfully put on a tough front until they had said good-bye to Duke Morrison and Sandore at the hospital entrance. He had then propped his elbow on the arm of the wheelchair and laying his head over into his hand released a long shuddering sigh.
"Are you alright Ray"
"Ya buddy...just a little tired."
"Understood." Fraser couldn't help but chuckle at the obvious understatement.
Once they reached Ray's room his exhausted partner hadn't even mounted a protest when Fraser had easily lifted him out of the chair and settled him carefully on his bed. He had fallen asleep almost instantly.
Fraser turned as the door to Ray's room slowly opened. The Mountie stood in surprise as Meg quietly entered the room.
"Is he alright Constable?" Meg slowly made her way to the side of Ray's bed.
"Yes sir. Just very tired...and sore." Fraser joined her in studying the sleeping form before them.
"You know Fraser, when you first suggested that I get to know him better I couldn't think of anything I would want to do less. He is however a very unique individual, and I think today I got a glimpse of just what it is that you see in him." Meg looked at Fraser and smiled as she continued. "But that doesn't change the fact that he is still the most aggravating man I have ever met in my life."
Meg turned to carefully study the Mountie's features.
"Benton Fraser would you be interested in going with me to get something to eat." Meg shyly looked at the floor, almost afraid of the answer.
"Meg Thatcher it would be an honor." Fraser stepped to the door and held it open for the Inspector. He was surprised when he turned to see her still at his partner's bedside. He watched in wonder as she carefully straightened Ray's blanket and laid a gentle kiss on his cheek.
As she turned and strode passed her surprised subordinate Meg shot him a stern warning glance.
"Constable Fraser, if you breathe a word of that to anyone you will be standing guard duty for an eternity."