A sequel to: The Bounty Hunter
Due South: Alliance
To Protect and to Serve
The blue flu was over and no one was happier about it than Ray Kowalski aka. Detective Raymond Vecchio. But right now he was one tired trooper. He had spent half the night talking to his completely depressed partner. That bounty hunter broad had knocked the Mountie for a loop, and Ray very nearly hated her for it. Fraser could handle almost anything but his own emotions and that crazy woman had really stirred them up. It hadn't been easy, but Ray had finally been able to convince his friend that it wasn't so much the woman that he was missing as much as what that kind of woman represented for him.
She had reminded the Mountie of life back home, and the near impossibility of finding, here in Chicago, a woman who shared his interests and background. Ray was keenly aware that his friend often missed his home terribly and any reminder, although welcome at the time, often caused his partner to once again realize just what he was missing by being in the city. The thin blond had often made valiant efforts to help fill the gap, and although the Mountie understood what he was doing and was deeply appreciative of those efforts they usually fell sadly short.
It had taken nearly a gallon of tea and one pizza, which due to the Mountie's depressed mood Ray was forced to polish off nearly single-handed. But when he had finally driven his friend back to the Consulate the Mountie had actually been able to work up a genuine smile when he said goodnight.
Fortunately for Fraser he was scheduled for the afternoon shift and could sleep in, and even though to the Mountie sleeping in meant that he would be up no later than 6:30 it was more the idea of it. Ray had known that he would be coming in to a full plate of cases that should have been started days before. He wasn't disappointed. His morning had been more than hectic and had no indication that it would slow down anytime soon.
Ray was headed downstairs to see Mort. He had just gotten the word that Mort wanted to see him about that dead guy that had been found in the park. He was less than thrilled with the prospect of going down there alone. It was bad enough when Fraser was along, knowing that his crazy partner wasn't above licking something to gain a clue, but to go alone was somehow worse. Ray didn't even understand himself what bugged him so bad about the morgue. Handling dead bodies on the street was one thing, but once they were in that sterile, cold environment it was nearly more than he could stand. There had been more than once that he had almost lost his cookies because of the thought of these once living, breathing beings reduced to the impersonal status of just one more piece of evidence.
If the skinny blond wouldn't have been in a police station and didn't have his nose buried in a file he might have been more wary. He might have noticed the three burly uniformed officers who were shadowing him as he entered the deserted hall that led to the morgue.
Mort was really upset. He had enough to do without being sent on a wild goose chase. The caller had said that the squad leader for the uniformed division had needed him in his office ASAP. Once he had arrived at the man's office he had been informed that the guy had been on vacation for two days and wouldn't be back until Monday.
He was so involved in his own private dialogue of disgust with the situation that he was almost at his door before he noticed the scattered papers on the floor. He had just gotten them gathered up when he heard a strangled cry from inside the morgue and a dull meaty thud.
The scene that greeted the older man was one of total chaos. Ray Kowalski partially tangled in a blanket, setting on the floor his back pressed against the wall handcuffed to a corpse. The Detective's face was a mask of pain, confusion and abject horror. It was obvious that in his terror he had inadvertently pulled the corpse to the floor. As Mort approached, Ray was frantically digging in the pocket of his jeans with his free hand, his gaze riveted to the ashen body beside him.
"Get it off...get it off...get it off.." Although barely a whisper, the desperate mantra spoke volumes about the near hysteria of the speaker. Ray was totally oblivious to Mort's presence.
At the same time that Ray had finally dug his cuff key out of his jeans pocket he felt a calming hand placed on his shoulder. He jumped slightly and then looked up into the concerned face of the older man.
"Give me the key Ray." As Mort spoke he could see the confusion slowly turn to recognition and then embarrassment. He gave Ray's slim shoulder a reassuring squeeze as he took the key from the Detective's trembling hand and then turned his attention to the cuffs.
As soon as Mort had removed the cuff from the corpse, Ray stumbled to his feet and rushed out the door, the cuffs still swinging from his wrist. Mort made it to the hall just in time to see the door that led to the parking lot swing closed. It had been obvious from his movements that Ray was hurting from more than embarrassment. Mort wasted no time in following.
Mort found the struggling Detective at the top of the basement steps his head over a metal trash can. He carefully approached and gently laid a hand on Ray's arm and with the other began to lightly rub his back. He waited patiently as the younger man emptied the contents of his stomach and slowly began to regain some control.
Mort was painfully aware of Ray's reaction to the dead. At first it had caused a rather strained relationship between the two men. Ray had trouble with the idea of anyone who could enjoy the job that Mort performed, but time and understanding had eased the tension and created a growing friendship. Ray had finally come to understand that the older man's black humor was often aimed at easing the Detective's discomfort in the morgue. Mort for his part had grown to respect not only Ray's ability as a police officer, but also his ability to maintain his humanity in an often-inhuman job.
As Ray painfully straightened, Mort handed him a handkerchief from his hip pocket. The younger man's face was terribly pale and his breathing was ragged and strained. Mort noticed how he held his arm tightly to his side in an effort to support what the older man suspected was a set of sore ribs, and how he seemed to be trying to balance most of his weight on one leg.
Ray shot an embarrassed glance at his concerned friend and attempted a small smile, which twisted into a grimace as he tried to shift his position. "Sorry...I just....I.."
"Hush...It's alright Ray." Mort shifted the hold on Ray's arm to help support his weight. "It will be alright my boy just tell me what has happened here today?"
"Ya ever hear of a good ole blanket party?" Ray grimaced again as he tried to put some pressure on his right leg.
"Ah. Do you mean the practice in the ranks of the military to discipline their own?"
"Yup...Ya just missed one."
"Come we will go back to my office and call Lt. Welsh, and then..."
"No way. No how....not now, not ever." Ray weakly raised his hand to halt the older man's protest. "The biggest advantage of the blanket party is dat I ain't gotta clue who done it...And all it'll cause now is more trouble...especially for me."
Before the two men could continue the conversation Frannie came bouncing up the steps on her way out to lunch. Mort quickly gathered up the handcuff still dangling from Ray's wrist and hid it in his large weathered hand. Ray who still had a death grip on the trash barrel closed his eyes and groaned in despair.
"Hey....The cold meat party finally get to ya there Bro?" It wasn't until Frannie got a good look at Ray's pale shaky form that her tone began to change. "Geeze! Ray! Oh my Gosh are you alright?"
"Ya Frannie I'm okay...I just...."
"Francesca." Mort quickly interrupted. "Ray is going to be fine. I'm afraid that the blue flu is not the only flu going around right now. If you would be kind enough to explain things to Lt. Welsh I shall drive our young friend home."
"Gosh Mort...I thought it was just...well...You know that thing he's got about the morgue...I'm sorry Ray." Frannie gently took hold of Ray's trembling arm and then turned her attention back towards Mort. "I can drive him home Mort. I know how busy you are today, and I...."
"That is quite alright Francesca. I have to make a run to the Drugstore anyway so I will do the honors. Please just be sure and talk to the Lieutenant." At Frannie's hesitation Mort continued in his most serious tone. "Go...Go...I want to get this boy home sometime today."
"Ok...Ok...Geeze I'm goin'." She gave Ray's arm a quick squeeze as she turned back down the stairs to the station. "I'm sorry Ray...I'll call ya tonight...wanna make sure you're okay ya know?"
"Thanks Frannie." Ray tried to straighten his posture as much as possible without giving away the fact that it hurt like hell.
Mort had helped settle Ray into the passenger seat of his car, removed the set of handcuffs, and had pulled from the parking lot before they were able to resume their interrupted conversation.
"Has this affair anything to do with the labor unrest of the last few days?"
"Ya. I guess ya could say dat." Ray shot Mort a quick measuring glance. "I kinda broke ranks da udder day....But I was just tryin' ta help Fraser."
"There is nothing wrong with that Ray. Ben is your partner. I believe that as long as his conduct remains within the law, that there is where your loyalties should lie."
Ray studied the face of the man beside him for a moment, and then visibly relaxed. It seemed that Mort understood the dynamics of true partnership.
"Do you have any idea of who could be behind this 'blanket party'?" Although Mort kept his attention on the road he would occasionally glance in the direction of his companion.
"Na...Coulda been anyone. I got Frannie ta get me some info...and even sent a weapon down for finger prints. And then ta top it off, I called dispatch tryin' ta get us some back-up down at da track." Ray suddenly got very interested in the sleeve of his light jacket. "They was probably watchin' me anyway."
Mort was surprised not only by what Ray said, but also by the resigned tone that had entered his voice.
"What do you mean? Who was watching?" Mort couldn't hide the concern in his voice.
"Ah...Hell...I don't know....It's just...well this ain't the first time I done it." Mort couldn't understand the shame that the admission seemed to bring to the younger man. "The last time I didn't get no blanket party, but they kinda warned me that dat could be next...and I guess they meant it huh?"
"But you did it anyway?" Mort's respect for the skinny blond had just taken a monumental jump, but he somehow understood that right now it wasn't something that the blond would want to hear.
"Ya, but Fraser needed a hand and so...Just don't tell him. Okay?" Mort couldn't hide the warm smile that Ray's attempt to protect his friend brought to his face.
Ray gave Mort his most earnest gaze. "You know how he is....If he finds out about dis thing he's gonna go nuts. He'll either wanna try and hunt down who did it; which ain't gonna happen, or he's gonna get all guilty about it and make himself miserable and me too."
"If that is what you want, I will abide by your wishes." Mort gave Ray an appraising look before he continued. "With one condition."
"What's dat?" Mort chuckled at Ray's suddenly suspicious glance.
"Once I get you home you will allow me to check out your injuries." As Ray began to object, Mort raised his hand to stop his interruption. "Or I can call Constable Fraser and let him check you out."
Mort did make a quick stop at the Drugstore, but it wasn't long before he had the Detective safely home. Ray tried several different schemes to get out of letting Mort check him over, but the older man was wise to all of them. It wasn't until Mort made a move toward the phone asking for the number to the Canadian Consulate that Ray finally dropped his chin to his chest and admitted defeat. Mort couldn't contain the snorting laughter that the Detective's actions brought him. Ray Kowalski was indeed an interesting individual. His personality ran the full gamut from street smart, wise cracking, tough guy, to the now injured, pouting little boy, who needed either a good spanking or a reassuring hug.
Mort carefully helped Ray out of his jacket and shoulder holster and gently eased his sweatshirt and tee shirt up over his head. The older man tsked sadly as he sympathetically examined the mottled bruising that was scattered over Ray's ribcage. He slowly turned him to examine his back.
"Ah....If we could find the boot heel that corresponds with this pretty little bruise we could almost use it in court." Mort momentarily forgot the purpose of his examination. "Would you care to take a look Detective?"
"Sorry dare Mort...But I left my mirror in my udder coat." Ray turned stiffly and smiled at Mort's embarrassed smirk. "Could we get on wit dis before I catch a chill?...Ain't nuttin' but a few bruises."
"Ah.." As Mort spoke he placed one hand on Ray's chest just below his pectoral muscles and the other against his back and pressed firmly.
Ray graced him with his cockiest smile. "See."
It was then that Mort stepped to the Detective's front and shifting his hands to Ray's sides again pressed firmly. At Ray's sharp intake of breath Mort gently pulled the younger man's head down to rest against his shoulder and chuckled softly. "Ray my boy....You may think that they are bruised, but I think they are broken."
Mort eased Ray back against the counter and then still chuckling under his breath stepped over to remove a rib-belt from the bag that he had brought from the drugstore. "I did not spend all of those years on my education for nothing young man."
After he had Ray in the rib-belt he helped him gingerly slip back into his sweatshirt. "Now. Drop your pants."
Mort had to laugh again at the shocked look on the Detective's face. He would have to see if he could do this more often. Taking care of these 'tough' guys was really quite entertaining.
"It is obvious that you have received an injury to your leg, and you did agree, howbeit quite reluctantly,
to letting me evaluate your injuries...So, you see you will drop your pants or I will call Benton."
Ray smiled in resignation. "You're enjoyin' dis deal way to much."
"Ray my boy...I have raised four children...All of whom are now adults...And only today do I realize just how much I have missed out-smarting them." Mort laid his big hands on the blonde's thin shoulders and carefully gave him a small shake. "Dealing with one child is much like dealing with any other...Now.."
"I know...I know...Drop da pants."
It didn't take Mort long to reach a professional conclusion in regards to Ray's leg injury. "What we have here is a severe contusion of the semimembranosus, the semitendinosus, and the biceps femoris, at the crossing of the gluteus maximus. Quite a painful prognosis I'm afraid."
"Mort. English...if...you... please." As he spoke Ray made an attempt to twist himself around in a futile desire to see the back of his leg. "Geeze...You and dat Mountie."
"Ray my friend you have a deep bruise of the hamstring just below your butt cheek." As Mort finished his examination he gave Ray's butt a quick slap.
"Ya well...Dat and the hoof print on my back is what I get fer tryin' to cover my middle...which didn't work to well, I might add."
Mort studied the young Detective before him and couldn't hide his sadness. He knew what it was like to be punished when you had in reality done nothing wrong. And to know that Ray had chosen to do the right thing with full knowledge of the possible consequences made it even worse.
Mort soon had his patient set up on the couch with a cup of coffee the TV remote and an ice bag stuffed into the leg of his sweat pants. When he was satisfied that he had done as much as he could Mort settled his old bones on the coffee table and facing his friend suddenly turned quite serious.
"Listen to me Ray. I know that you want to protect Benton, but it is going to be very difficult to hide these injuries from him." Mort dropped his gaze to the floor in embarrassment before he continued. "Add that to the fact that I told Francesca that you had the flue which means that now the entire station knows...and well...The whole situation has become very complicated. How are you going to handle this?"
"Ah don't worry about it buddy. I'll think a somethin'." To be honest Ray hadn't the foggiest idea of how to handle it, but he felt that Mort had already done more than enough. "Ain't the first time I been hurt and nobody found out about it....I don't handle hospitals much better dan I do da morgues." Ray dropped his head in shame.
Mort felt bad for the young man. He had heard enough about some of the exploits in which the Mountie and the Detective had been engaged, that he knew courage was not something that was lacking in Ray, but a phobia such as his was something that often defied courage. He sorely wished that there were something more that he could do.
"Ray we all have difficult things in our lives with which we must deal." Mort gently laid his hand on Ray's arm as he continued. "In my own life...I am afraid of closed places; claustrophobia. It isn't real bad, but it is something I must deal with. I am more fortunate than you are though...I have only one frightening thing with which to deal...You however..." Mort stopped and gave Ray a sly wink.
"What?!!" Ray couldn't contain his answering smile.
"You my dear boy must also deal with Benton."
It had been four days since 'the blanket party' and Ray was running on empty. With Mort's help the Detective had come up with a story that everyone seemed to accept, but the energy he was burning to keep up the ruse was immense. And between overtime hours on the job and troubled sleep it was energy he couldn't spare.
Mort and Ray had convinced everyone that it wasn't the flu that had caused the Detective to throw his cookies that day, but the combination of a greasy hamburger for lunch and the trip to the morgue. As far as the limp and the sore ribs, they had concocted the story that Ray had pulled a hamstring running down the stairs of his apartment building and had broken his ribs in the fall.
Ray hated the need to lie to his partner, but he felt it was necessary to protect Fraser from the heavy guilt trip that the knowledge of how Ray was really injured, and why, would cause the Mountie. He knew his friend was still struggling with the confused feelings that had been caused by that damn bounty hunter, and figured his partner didn't need to be saddled with any more grief for awhile. Ray felt that now all he had to do was keep Fraser from seeing the bruises and he would be home free.
Mort had made a suggestion that the Detective pick up a pair of compression pants from the sporting goods store to help support his bruised hamstring. A hamstring injury was so difficult to wrap successfully without the use of adhesive tape, which could really be uncomfortable, and although the tight fitting pants could be aggravating they really did seem to help. As long as Ray could keep moving, his leg wasn't to bad to deal with, but anytime he sat for a while it pained him terribly. It was both his effort to hide his pain and the attempt to appear his normal energetic self that was wearing him down. There were many times in the day when his one desire was to find a nice quiet place to just curl up and cry.
Fraser had been busy enough at the Consulate that the partners had only seen each other twice in the four days. Ray had stayed home the first day, and Fraser in his concern had requested the day off as well, to insure his friend's well being. The Mountie had stopped by the station the next day for a quick check, but had been busy making up for his day off every since. Ray was glad for that luck, but knew full well that any flaw in his performance would get back to his friend in a hurry. Frannie was watching him like a hawk. He knew that she was just concerned, and feeling a little guilty over her actions that day, but she would bust her butt to run to the Mountie if she felt Ray was struggling.
Initially Mort had been more than glad to help his young friend, but by the fourth day he was beginning to doubt the wisdom of their plan. Ray looked terrible and not even his great performance could hide that. His face was drawn and haggard, and the tight lines that could be seen at the corners of his eyes and mouth spoke volumes about his efforts to hide his pain. His eyes were often bloodshot and it was obvious to the older man that Ray wasn't getting near enough sleep to allow his overtaxed body to regenerate.
That morning Mort had confronted Ray on the subject. The skinny blond had assured him that in just two days it would be his weekend off, and although Welsh had offered him the overtime, he was going to spend it at home in bed. It was that assurance and Kowalski's earnest pleas that had kept Mort from having a talk with Welsh, but the older man was adamant in his warnings to take it as easy as possible and get some sleep.
It had been two days since Fraser had found the opportunity to check in at the 27th. When he first entered
The squadroom Benton had noticed Ray setting at his desk, writing busily in a file. He had just finished a quick conversation with Huey and had headed toward his partner when Ray, his nose still buried in the file, struggled to his feet and turned for Welsh's office. Fraser was appalled. For the first few steps Ray could hardly walk at all. His hand was pressed securely against his ribs and his face was twisted into a pained grimace.
What really bothered the Mountie more than anything though was Ray's reaction when he glanced up and noticed his partner. He instantly dropped his hand, forced himself to mask the limp as much as he was able, and shot Fraser the biggest brightest smile that he had to offer. None of these heroics could hide the obvious. Ray was hurting and exhausted and he didn't want Fraser to know it.
"Fraser!...Buddy." Ray made his way to the Mountie's side and gave him a poke on the arm. "Ice Queen finally cut ya loose for a while?"
"Well Ray. I have caught up on my necessary reports and..... Yes she cut me loose." Fraser quickly ran his thumb along his brow and gave his partner a close inspection.
Ray was well aware that he had blown it. Fraser was no dummy, and it was clear to Ray that he was in for the fully concerned, upset Mountie routine.
"Listen Fraser!...Don't start alright...I'm fine." Ray slowly continued his journey to Welsh's office, the Mountie on his heels.
"Ray my friend. I don't want to have to start on you, but it is quite obvious to even the most dull that you are not by any stretch of the imagination fine." Fraser laid his hand solidly on his partner's shoulder and forced him to a halt. "Ray, look at me."
Ray dropped his head in defeat. He slowly turned to face his partner and waited for the inevitable.
Fraser put his hand under his friend's chin and raised it to force Ray to make eye contact. " Ray you are exhausted, and in pain. I think the Lieutenant would understand if you were to seek his permission to go home and get some rest." Benton tipped his head to the side and after studying his partner carefully for a moment continued. "Why are you doing this Ray?"
Ray instantly dropped his gaze to the floor. "I'm just doin' my job here Frase. Everything is way behind and..."
"I'm not talking about your job Ray." Fraser again laid his hand on the thin shoulder of his friend and coaxed him to make eye contact. "Why are you trying so hard to convince me that you aren't hurting?"
"Dis is why!...Dis...What you're doing right now....I got a job ta do here ya know...and I really ain't got da time or da energy ta do my job, and keep you happy too." Ray didn't want to get angry at his partner, he knew the Mountie was just worried about him, but he was tired and he was hurting, and it was taking everything he had just to stay on his feet at all.
It was just as Ray turned to enter Welsh's office that his burly boss came busting out the door his gaze turned over his shoulder concentrating on his conversation with of all people Mort. The result was inevitable. Welsh very nearly had the wind knocked out of him and Ray ended up on the floor.
Ten minutes later Ray was setting on the couch in the Lieutenant's office. Fraser and Mort actually had to carry their near unconscious friend into the room. Fraser now sat at his partner's side gently rubbing his back and quietly coaching him on regaining control of his ragged breathing. Mort and Welsh hovered near both appalled by the younger man's appearance. Ray's face lacked all color, and although he was giving it everything he had he couldn't control his trembling.
"I want you to go home Detective, and I don't want to see your skinny butt in here until Monday." Welsh wasn't just feeling guilty about nearly knocking his friend out. He was feeling totally ashamed that in the confusion of the last several days he hadn't even noticed what poor shape that friend was in.
For once in his life Ray didn't even have the ambition to argue. That in itself worried his friends as much as anything.
"The Lieutenant is right Ray." Mort was feeling equally ashamed for his part in this ill-conceived plan. "You have given it your best effort and I believe it is time to admit that you need to re-group. You may have lost a battle but you have not lost the war."
Ray shot a quick glance towards Fraser and then raised his gaze to Mort's concerned face. "Ya...okay....Ya got a point...I surrender." Fraser noticed the meaningful expressions that were exchanged between the two, and suddenly began to feel that there was more to what was being said then either he or Welsh were aware of.
Fraser's concern for his partner didn't ease when he got Ray back to his apartment. Although he had gotten his breathing under control his partner was still incredibly pale and had yet to get complete control of his trembling.
Ray had shrugged off Fraser's offer to help him get out of his street clothes and into a set of sweats, sending him to the kitchen instead to make them both some tea. The Mountie was near the point of checking on Ray's progress when his spiky haired friend slowly limped out of the bedroom and carefully settled himself at one end of the couch.
Fraser handed his partner a cup of tea and settled himself in the overstuffed chair. He studied his partner carefully. He still didn't look very good.
"I think it would be wise Ray, if you were to just go to bed; once you have finished your tea of course." Fraser had fixed Ray a cup of herbal tea, which should help him relax. "You look terrible."
"Thanks Frase...That's something I needed ta hear." Ray smiled weakly before he continued. "I didn't mean ta yell at ya Buddy...I just....well...I know ya were worried about me and... I shouldn't a got mad....Dat's all."
"That's quite alright Ray. You were obviously stressed." Fraser cracked his neck to the side. "May I ask you a question Ray."
"Ta be honest buddy...Can't we just leave it alone?" At Fraser's hurt expression Ray quickly raised his hand and sadly shook his head. "I mean just fer now...I ain't even thinkin' straight...and I really don't need anything else ta deal wit right now...sorry." The last was barely a whisper.
"Don't apologize Ray. I understand." Fraser sat up on the edge of the chair and carefully placed his teacup on the coffee table. "I guess I just want to understand why you felt you had to push yourself so hard to hide the fact that you were in such pain."
Ray looked at his friend and smiled wearily. "I know it sounds stupid, buddy...but I didn't want ya ta worry. I knew ya already had enough junk ta deal with. You didn't need ta be worryin' about me too."
Fraser looked at his friend a small-bemused smile curving his lips. "Didn't work to well did it?"
Ray smiled back shyly. "Did for a couple days anyway....Just bein' stupid again....huh?"
The smile instantly left the Mountie's face. "Don't do that Ray. You are not stupid. And what you did was not stupid. A bit misguided perhaps, but not stupid. You were being again what you have always been: my friend."
Ray studied his partner carefully. What he saw in the Mountie's blue eyes seemed to ease a tension he hadn't even been aware of.
"Thanks Frase." As Ray spoke he stiffly leaned up and set his cup on the table. He then gingerly stretched himself out on the couch and flipped on the TV. At Fraser's stern look Ray spoke again. "Chill Frase. It's still daylight out. I can't go ta sleep durin' the day unless I'm in front a the TV...It has ta be like an accident or somethin'...Ya know?"
Benton chuckled under his breath as he stepped into the bedroom to get his partner a blanket. Ray was asleep before he even got back.
Ray Kowalski hadn't moved in over two hours. For Fraser it was one more indication of just how exhausted his friend was. Ray was normally a very restless sleeper. His usual near constant motion while awake only slightly dampened by the need of sleep.
Although the Mountie had found a rather interesting documentary on TV he often caught himself just staring at his slumbering friend. Benton had never had many friends in his life, but Ray Kowalski had quickly become one of his best. Fraser still missed Ray Vecchio and thought of him often, but the bond that had formed between him and Kowalski was in many ways much stronger. Kowalski had made it his mission in life to get to know the real Benton Fraser and in the process had broken through some walls that the Mountie hadn't even realized were there. From the first day they met, his new partner had forced him to face and explore once uncharted depths of his own carefully guarded psyche. Through it all, the skinny blond willingly accepted everything he found. There was usually some good-natured ribbing to endure, but the simple acceptance that followed had slowly begun to allow Fraser to relax and enjoy his own uniqueness.
Right now Fraser was more than a little upset with Ray over this latest episode, but the reasoning behind his friend's actions meant more to him than he would ever be able to explain.
Benton still couldn't shake the feeling that there was more to Ray's story than he was telling, but the Mountie was willing to wait until his partner was feeling better to press the issue. Ray had always been much more open and easy with his feelings and yet Fraser sometimes thought that his friend was still one of the most complicated individuals that he had ever met. But he had learned some things along the way as well. One thing he had learned about his mercurial friend was that he couldn't hold things back for long. Fraser knew that all you had to do was push the right buttons, and he knew what buttons to push.
Perhaps it was the deep rhythmic breathing coming from the couch, but soon Fraser found himself struggling to keep his own eyes open. He had just allowed himself the luxury of laying his head back against the chair when a soft moan from his friend jerked him awake. Ray had begun to mumble in his sleep and he seemed to be struggling against some unseen enemy. Fraser watched in concern, not sure if he should try and wake his friend, or wait and see if he would calm down on his own.
Ray's left arm slid off the couch, his hand banging loudly against the coffee table. Fraser, his decision made, carefully stepped to his friend's side and gently grasped his dangling wrist.
The room seemed to explode.
As Ray cried out Mort's name he threw himself from the couch and tripping over the table landed in a heap in front of the TV.
After recovering from his initial shock Fraser rushed to his friend's side. Ray's eyes were open but it was obvious that he wasn't really awake. He lay on his side, his body curled in the fetal position. Though his arms were held tightly against his sides, he was frantically rubbing at his left wrist, mumbling something under his breath. Fraser knelt beside his friend and carefully lifted his upper body onto his lap. He leaned in and could finally understand what the blond was saying.
"Get it off...get it off...get it off."
Benton gently wrapped his arms around Ray's thin form and taking hold of both of his friend's wrists carefully pulled them snug against his chest. "I've got it Ray. It's okay now. It's off. You're all right now. It's off."
Fraser had no idea what he was talking about, but Ray instantly began to relax. The Mountie lowered his head and continued to murmur reassuring words in Ray's ear. Rocking his partner slowly as he spoke.
"Sorry...Sorry Frase....I'm sorry." Benton was sure that Ray was still not awake, but his friend's words nearly broke his heart.
"It's alright Ray....I'm right here....You have nothing to be sorry for."
Ray's mumbling finally stopped and Fraser could feel him relaxing even more into his arms. Soon the blond head lulled over against his neck and the deep rhythmic breathing of sleep returned.
The Mountie held the now still form tightly, still gently rocking him. "Oh Ray. What is going on with you?" Fraser had to clamp his eyes tightly shut against the sting of his tears. His partner was hurting in more ways than he could understand and it seemed so unfair. "It's going to be alright Ray...We'll figure this out...I swear to you we will."
Benton held on to his friend for several minutes before rousing him just enough to get him to his feet. Fraser then easily gathered him in his arms and carried him to the bedroom.
Fraser gently laid his partner on the bed. Ray's tee shirt had ridden half way up his back exposing the bruises that covered his torso. Benton spoke soothingly as he gently rolled Ray onto his side to pull his shirt back into place. It was then that he saw the bruise on his partner's back. Fraser was appalled. The bruise was in the perfect shape of a boot heel. It didn't take the Mountie long to quickly check out the other marks as well. He had expected the blond to be carrying some bruises, but these marks spoke more of the toe of a boot rather than a collision with a wall during a fall.
Ray was still more asleep than awake, and the Mountie suddenly needed to see the leg injury as well. He quietly reassured his partner that they just needed to get his sweat pants off so that he wouldn't get to hot under the covers. Ray mumbled something under his breath, but shifted his body to aid in the effort.
Fraser nearly groaned in defeat when he realized that although Ray had taken off the rib belt he still wore the tight compression pants. He knew that the effort it would take to get those off would wake his partner up completely and that would probably lead to a confrontation. Instead he again gently rolled Ray up on his side and took a careful look at the back of his leg. He knew that the injury had been to his hamstring and he could see that even with the compression pants there was considerable swelling in that area, but the telling factor, was again the bruising. Ray was black and blue clear down below his knee. There was no way that a pulled muscle would produce enough internal trauma to account for a bruise sufficient in size to have spread this far. Even figuring in the pull of gravity there would have to have been a large amount of fluid involved for it to have gone below his knee. Fraser gently pulled the compression pants away from the back of Ray's leg allowing him to see more of his friend's thigh. It was almost solid black.
Fraser fought to control his rage. Someone had done this to his partner. For some reason his partner felt he had to hide that fact. The Mountie knew instinctively that it was another attempt on his friend's part to in some way protect him. Ray was going to have a lot of explaining to do.
It was only an hour later that a small knock sounded on Ray's door. Francesca Vecchio stood waiting in the hall. She carried a large bag in her arms. Fraser took the bag from the petite woman and ushered her in.
"Hello Fraser." Ever the flirt Frannie batted her eyes at the blushing Mountie as she passed. "Ma wanted me to bring Ray some stew. She's always afraid that he doesn't eat right, and I told her he wasn't feelin' to good."
As she spoke she busily removed the crock-pot from the bag, put it on the counter, and plugged it in. "There. That should last him awhile. He loves Ma's stew. How is he anyway?"
"He's sleeping Francesca. I'm afraid he has pushed himself very near his limit." Fraser's initial embarrassment began to ease, as Frannie genuinely seemed more interested in Ray's well being than continuing the flirtation.
"Ya. Poor ole Bro's had a rough couple a days." Frannie made her way to the bedroom door and carefully peeked in. "One of these days he'll learn ta stay away from the morgue."
Fraser's interest was immediately aroused. "What do you mean Francesca? What does the morgue have to do with any of this?"
"Well geeze Frase...It doesn't really have anything to do with the klutz falling down the stairs....It's just that well...That day didn't get off to a great start for him...And then he tells everyone it's 'cause he ate a greasy hamburger...Ya right....Like nobody knows that he can't handle...."
"Francesca! Please." Frannie turned back to Fraser in surprise at the almost urgent tone of the Mountie's voice.
Fraser quickly ran his thumb along his brow and gave the dark eyed woman a reassuring smile. "Excuse me Francesca. I didn't mean to be abrupt, but could you please explain to me what you are talking about?"
Francesca Vecchio was no dummy. She knew her Mountie well enough to know that something wasn't right. She quickly walked over to his side and carefully studied those beautiful blue eyes.
"What's goin' on Benton?"
"I really don't know Francesca. I just know that Ray did not fall down any stairs that day." Fraser carefully took Frannie's arm and led her to the kitchen table where they sat down facing each other. "I must ask you to keep this between the two of us until I can find out what really took place. I also need you to tell me everything you know about what happened that day."
"Sure Frase." Frannie took a deep breath as she ran over in her mind what she knew. "The place was a mad house that morning. First full day back from that blue flu thing.. ya know...Anyway just before lunch I get this call from someone tellin' me that Mort needed ta see Ray about that body they found in the park...And..."
"Excuse me Francesca. It wasn't Mort who called?"
Frannie instantly stiffened. "No...Oh my gosh Frase...I don't know who it was...We were so busy and I never even gave it a thought, but it wasn't Mort....Oh geeze Frase do you think?...."
"I don't know Francesca." Fraser carefully laid his hand on Frannie's arm. "Please continue."
"Okay...alright...Anyway. I knew Ray hadn't eaten a greasy hamburger or anything else for that matter, so when I left for lunch I went out through the basement exit ta see if he wanted me ta get him anything."
Frannie was concentrating hard trying not to leave out even the smallest detail. "Mort musta had an
accident or somethin' cause when I stopped in there the only thing I say was this corpse...just layin'on the floor. Made me about half sick myself so when I got outside and saw Ray loosin his breakfast in a trash can I figured he mustta saw it too....But once I got a good look at him...I mean Geeze...He really looked terrible, so when Mort said he had the flu I believed him. But when he came back to work so soon tellin' everyone about that greasy sandwich...Which I know he didn't eat...I figured it was seein' that body and he was just to embarrassed to admit it."
Frannie dropped her gaze to the table. "You know I pick on him a lot Frase, but I didn't tell anyone. Ray can't help what the morgue does to him, and I didn't want the guy's ta give him a rough time about it...Ya know."
Fraser gave Frannie a small warm smile. "I'm sure Ray will appreciate that."
"Frase?" When Fraser looked into Frannie's dark eyes he could see her concern. "What do think happened?"
"At this point Francesca I really don't know what happened. Or where or how for that matter." Fraser slowly rose to his feet. "All I know for sure is that Ray did not get those injuries falling down a set of stairs, he was beaten. I also know that it seems to be very important to him that I don't find out what did happen. Ray would not lie to me unless he felt that he had no other option. I also know that I will get to the truth of this matter, and I think I know where to begin."
It was late, but Frannie, who had readily agreed to stay with Ray until his return, had assured the Mountie that Mort would still be at the station. As he neared the door to the morgue Fraser could hear the older man's voice as he butchered another classic. Mort looked up as Fraser entered. The two friends gave each other a knowing look. It was obvious that both of them were aware of the reason for the Mountie's visit.
"How is Ray?" Mort carefully laid aside his instruments and turned to gaze up into the solemn face of his friend.
"Ray is asleep right now. He is also exhausted and hurt, and I have come to find out what exactly happened." Fraser waited for a response; his face set in a mask of determination.
"I knew he would be unable to keep this from you my boy, but you must understand that Ray asked me not to tell." Mort rose to his full height and looked the Mountie straight in the eye. "If he had asked this of you; what would you do?"
Fraser dropped his gaze to the floor and rubbed his thumb along the ridge of his brow.
"I would try to honor his wishes." Fraser then raised his gaze to the older man's equally determined face.
"I will say only one thing to you Benton; Ray is only trying to protect your feelings. I know you are his friend, but I hope you appreciate what a friend he is in return. Your young partner is a very brave, unselfish man who is willing to put you and what is right before any concern for himself. I know that you are probably angry with some of the choices he has made, but he has done only what he knew to do."
Fraser had come here with one intention: to find the truth. He knew that from the lips of this old man he had done just that. All the bullheaded resolve with which he had entered the room suddenly drained away.
Benton looked into Mort's eyes and sighed deeply. "Someone tried to kick in the ribs of my best friend. Am I wrong for wanting to find out who, and why?"
"Ray's ribs will heal. He did not deserve what was done to him, but as badly as I would like to find the ones who did this cruel thing, we will never know." Mort at last broke eye contact as he continued. "As far as the why: that is for Ray to tell you."
Fraser stopped by the Consulate on his way back to Ray's apartment. He knew that the confrontation to come would be easier on his partner if Dief were there to lend moral support. The Mountie had to smile at the thought of how the Detective and the wolf always seemed to end up on the same side of any argument. Whether it was about junk food, or what time to start the day. Ray and Dief had come to terms the first day that they had met and the unusual bond that had developed seemed only to get stronger.
Benton drove slowly through the now quiet streets. The fact that he was driving Ray's beloved GTO was only part of the reason. Mort had been true to his word, and although he had agreed to stop by Ray's apartment in the morning, he had refused to say anything else about what he knew.
At first it had bothered the Mountie that Ray had gone to Mort and not to his partner, but upon reflection he realized that this was not the first time that his spiky haired friend had gone to Mort. When Kuzma had nearly bitten his ear off, Ray had gone to Mort to get it doctored, even after Welsh had ordered him to go to the hospital. There was also the fact that Mort had been the one to take Ray home after he had gotten sick in the morgue. It only made sense that between how Ray felt about hospitals, and the notion that he had to hide the nature of his injuries that he would go to Mort.
It was obvious to Fraser that Ray was trying to protect him, but from what? Fraser knew that if either he or Ray were in eminent danger, Ray would not be home in bed. His friend was a good cop, and would have put their safety first. Mort had said that Ray was trying to protect his feelings, but in what way? By lying? By hiding not only what had been done to him, but also who had done it, and why? Fraser was at a complete loss, but he trusted his partner. The Mountie had to agree with Mort on one thing: he was upset with Ray's choices, but he knew that Ray was doing the best he knew to do.
It had taken some coaxing and a promised explanation, but Frannie had finally gone home. Fraser couldn't help but smile at her hesitation to leave. The relationship between Ray Kowalski and his pretend sister was very much like any other brother-sister relationship. They often fought like cats and dogs between themselves, but let a third party come on the scene and try to cause trouble for one, and the hapless intruders had better be prepared to face them both.
Except for a short nap on the couch, Fraser had spent a long night, sipping tea and restlessly roaming his friend's apartment. He had understood that Ray needed sleep right now more than he did anything else. Morning would be soon enough to face that which must be faced. The Mountie was glad that Mort had agreed to join them. Benton felt that Ray would be more forthcoming if he realized that although Mort had kept his secret, the older man also felt it necessary for him to share the truth with his partner.
Mort had said that he would stop by at about 8am so Fraser had planned to wake Ray at seven to give him a chance to wake up and eat a good breakfast. It wasn't even six though when Fraser heard a strange noise coming from the bedroom. Initially the Mountie feared that his partner was again in the throes of another nightmare, but when he stepped into the bedroom what he saw brought an indulgent smile to his tired face. Dief and Ray were in the middle of a major wrestling match. At the moment it would seem that the wolf had the upper hand for Ray, besides being handicapped was hopelessly tangled in the bedding, trying valiantly to force Dief into submission.
"A disgrace to your breed."
By 7:30 Ray had taken a very long very hot shower, and the partners had shared a good breakfast. Part of Ray's had been shared with Dief, on the sly of course. The ever-alert Mountie wasn't fooled in the slightest, but he had to admit that they were getting better at it, and had the innocent-face routine down pat. Ray was on his third cup of coffee when Fraser began what he knew was going to be a painful process.
"Mort will be here around eight." Benton could sense his partner's immediate discomfort.
"Why?...I'm okay...I don't need...."
"It's not that Ray." Fraser could see the anger begin to rise in his partner. He had hoped to avoid that, but he also knew it was one of the skinny blonde's main defenses. "I saw the bruises. You did not fall down a flight of stairs."
Ray sat silently. He had dropped his attention to Dief and was nervously scratching the wolf's ear.
"I went to see Mort yesterday while you were asleep." Fraser quickly threw up his hand to halt Ray's planned interruption. "He didn't tell me what happened, but he wouldn't lie for you either."
Ray snagged his coffee cup and limped into the living room, with Dief close behind. Fraser sat quietly for a moment collecting his thoughts and then followed. Ray had settled at one end of the couch. The wolf had jumped up beside him and had his head resting in his lap.
Benton sat on the coffee table facing his two friends. "Listen to me Ray. I know that for some reason you feel that you have to protect me, but I want to know what happened."
"Why can't ya just leave it alone Fraser?" The pleading tone of his partner's voice almost made the Mountie falter.
"You are my partner Ray, and my friend." Fraser ran his thumb along his brow in his usual show of nervousness. "If this had happened to me wouldn't you feel that you had the right to know?"
"Ya sure, but if your partner and your friend asked ya ta leave it alone...and told ya that it was all over, and nothin' could be done about it...wouldn't ya trust him on that?" Fraser had to admit that Ray had a point, but it was time to start pushing buttons.
"Why should I believe him Ray?" Fraser hesitated to go on, but Ray's anger was the price to be paid for getting to the truth. "He had already lied to me once."
"I had ta lie to ya!..." Ray struggled to his feet and limped over to the turtle tank.
"How can any partnership continue Ray, if one partner must always wonder if the other is telling him the truth?" Ray finally turned to face his friend. The anguish that Fraser saw in those blue eyes was painful to see, but he pushed on. "A lie...no matter the motive behind it, is still a lie."
It was at that moment that a knock was heard at the door. Fraser gave an inward sigh of relief. Mort's timing was excellent. It was time to start defusing the bomb.
Ray moved stiffly to the door, angrily jerked it open, and then promptly turned and limped back to his former place on the couch.
Mort cheerfully strode down the short hall to join the two combatants in the living room.
"Ah...Good morning boys....I see you started without me." Fraser had to bite down a chuckle. He knew what Ray's reaction to that would be. "How are you feeling this morning Ray? Better I hope."
"Ya, Ya...I'm just fine....Least I was 'till nosey Parker there got started." Ray shot both of his friends an angry glance.
"Ray. I only want you to tell me the truth about what happened." Fraser motioned Mort toward the overstuffed chair at the end of the couch while he resumed his perch on the coffee table.
"It's like dat guy said in da movie Fraser. 'You can't handle the truth." Fraser couldn't hide the hurt that showed in his blue eyes. Ray quickly turned his gaze towards Mort. "Will ya jus tell him ta leave it alone!?"
"Boys, boys, boys....would you listen to yourselves?" Mort slipped his glasses off his nose and stuck them in his pocket. "You are partners, but right now you don't sound like it."
Mort gave each young man a stern look and then turned very serious.
"Benton. Ray is your friend, and I know that you are worried for him and you want to know what happened, but Ray has a point. You must decide if the truth is really what you want to hear?" Before Fraser could answer Mort held up his hand. "I know you well enough to know that in this case the truth will be painful for you. You must consider your answer carefully."
Fraser was taken aback. It suddenly came home to him that if Mort was so convinced of the painful nature of the truth it was something for which he must prepare himself. As he pondered that point Mort quickly turned his attention to Ray.
"Ray my boy. I know that your intentions were good, and if you could have pulled this off Benton would have never known that you had lied to him. But he knows. If Benton feels that he can handle the truth it will then become his responsibility to deal with it in the proper way. So...If he wants the truth, you must trust him to do that, and tell him." Mort turned his attention back to the Mountie. "It is important to clear the air...but Benton, the question comes back to you. Can you handle the truth?"
Fraser sat in silence for a very long time. It was a question that he hadn't expected. But Mort was right. Once he knew the truth he would be solely responsible for his reaction to it. The Mountie carefully considered his answer. Finally he turned his gaze to his friend. "Ray. I want to know what happened."
Ray's blue eyes snapped with anger. "Oh ya...You say dat now Fraser." If he could have done it without falling over he would have jumped up from the couch and started to pace, but right now the best he could do was stick his finger in his partner's face. "You look me in da eye!...You look me right here in da eye! And you tell me that no matter what...And I mean.. No.. Matter.. What... you will not get all wierded out over dis stupid thing. 'Cause so help me God if ya do I am gonna kick ya in da head. I will kick you in da head so fast dat ya ain't even gonna see it comin'." Ray placed a supporting hand against his protesting ribs and suddenly wished he had thought to put on that rib belt. "You promise me dat Fraser. You look me right in da eye and you promise me dat. Or you can get up and walk out dat door. Partnership over...period!"
Fraser carefully wiped a spot of his partner's spit off his cheek and evenly met Ray's angry gaze.
"Ray you have my word as a member of The Royal Canadian Mounted Police that I will not get 'weirded out'. I'm not saying that I won't react in some way, because I do care about you very much, but I will not, as you say, 'weird out'."
Fraser's admission of his feelings for him instantly shut down Ray's anger. He opened his mouth as if to speak, only to snap his mouth shut and sink back into the couch. He dropped his chin down onto his chest and sighed deeply. "Ya better be tellin' me da truth buddy."
"I don't lie Ray."
"I know...I know...Ya can leave all da lyin' ta me." Ray suddenly looked up into his partner's face. Fraser wasn't really surprised to see the beginning of tears in his friend's blue eyes. "I'm sorry I lied ta ya buddy...But I swear I didn't know what else ta do."
"I know that Ray." As Fraser spoke he gently laid his hand on Ray's knee. "I know that you would never lie to me unless you felt you had no other options. That's why it's so important for me to know what happened and how you were forced into this situation."
"Ah heck Frase...You know me...I just had my head up my butt...Not payin' attention and..."
"That is not true Ray!" Fraser and Kowalski were both slightly startled at Mort's words. They had become so focused on their conversation that they had almost forgotten that the older man was still there.
"You did nothing wrong. You did not deserve what happened to you, and you were quite expertly set up." At Fraser's puzzled glance Mort continued. "I was called away from the morgue on a wild goose chase. Ray received a call that I wanted to see him. It was then that he was jumped."
Benton's mouth dropped open. He hadn't expected this. "Are you saying that this happened in the police station?" Fraser turned his startled face towards his partner. "You were attacked and beaten inside your own station?" Fraser was fighting for control.
Ray sat silently his chin resting on his chest. At last he raised his eyes to meet that of his friend. "Please Fraser. Please don't get all bent outta shape...It's over...It's done... and I'm gonna be fine." Ray dropped his gaze back to his lap. "Now ya know why I had ta lie to ya...I knew you'd get all bent over dis."
It was the sad defeated tone in his partner's voice that helped bring the Mountie back from the edge of his rage. He had promised his friend that he wouldn't overreact, and he knew that in his own self-deprecating way his partner had found a way to somehow put the responsibility for this situation back on himself. The Mountie understood that if he allowed his reaction to cause a fracture in the partnership, Ray would blame himself for that as well. Fraser took a few deep-calming breaths and then gave Ray's knee a squeeze, asking through touch for his friend to again look him in the eye.
"I'm sorry Ray. I didn't mean to get 'bent', but I did warn you that I would probably react in some way." At Ray's small smile Fraser continued. "Please Ray...I know this isn't easy but please, just start from the beginning and tell me what happened."
Ray seemed to sink even further back into the couch, and shutting his eyes let out a long deep sigh. When he finally began his story his voice was very low, as if ashamed of the details. "I got dis call dat Mort wanted ta see me about that guy dey found in da park, so I grabs da file and head off dat way. Once I got down in da hall I...I mean I heard someone behind me, but I didn't think much about it and...Well anyway I just get ta the door a the morgue and da lights go out. They throw dis blanket over my head and some big guy pins my arms ta my sides and just picks me up offa da ground like I don't weigh nothin'. Somebody else grabs my legs and they just throw me through da door. Once I landed they just start kickin'. Somebody grabs my cuffs and I can feel 'em handcuff me ta...somethin'...so... like a dummy I figure...Alright ....Okay dis part is over...dare gonna quit...so I guess I kinda relaxed cause that last kick put my lights out." Ray finally looked up into the concerned eyes of his friend, an embarrassed smile on his face. "I only ever had one udder body shot knock me out and dat was in da ring...guy got me with an illegal punch after da bell and it was lights out Louise."
Fraser returned Ray's shy crooked smile with one he hoped would be reassuring. "Then what happened Ray?"
Fraser couldn't help but notice the quick meaningful glance that Ray shot towards Mort. "Dat's about it buddy. Next thing I know ole Mort here is turnin' me loose and da only thing I got on my mind is getting' da hell outta dare before I hurl all over his floor."
The fact that Ray had unconsciously began to rub at his left wrist as he spoke of the need to 'hurl' was not lost on the Mountie, but he carefully hid the fact that his own gut had started to twist into a tight knot.
"Who do you think did it Ray?" By now Fraser was pretty sure of what the answer was going to be, and if he were correct it would answer the question of why as well.
"Kinda obvious...ain't it?" Ray gave the Mountie another small smile. "I ain't got anyone on da outside mad enough ta risk comin' inta the station after me."
Fraser dropped his gaze to the hand that was still on his partner's knee. "So I am to assume it is because of your going against the job action that took place a few days ago?"
"Ya it is...But hey." As he spoke Ray laid his hand on top of the Mountie's and gave it a squeeze. "If I'd a been in the middle of a hot case, I'da done the same thing....You know how I am with authority type shit. I don't like anybody tellin' me I gotta go to my room if I don't wanna. And anyway I even made a few bucks...so no big deal. Right?"
"So what you are saying, if I may be so bold as to translate, is that it is no 'big deal' that because of what you did for me, you were attacked, and beaten unconscious?"
"Kicked." Ray shot the Mountie his cockiest smile.
"Ah. Excuse me. Kicked unconscious." Despite the churning in his stomach Fraser couldn't help but return the smile.
"What can I say. It was a first." Ray was trying desperately to keep the mood light. He knew that what had been revealed would hurt the Mountie terribly. That's why he could have bitten his tongue for what came out of his mouth next. "Ain't like I hadn't been warned."
Fraser stared at his partner in shock. "What!?"
Ray sank back against the couch and ran his hand through his hair. "Shit...I didn't mean ta...It's just...Shit!"
"Ray are you saying that you had been warned not to help me and yet you..."
"NO!...It ain't like dat!" Ray again straightened and put his hand over his partners. "It ain't because I helped you...Dis ain't the first time I went against their stupid blue flu thing, and the last time I did they warned me dat this whole blanket party thing could be next...But it wouldn't a made any difference what I was doin'...If I wanted ta do it, it would a been done, 'cause I ain't gonna let them or anyone else tell me when I can or can't do my job." As he finished Ray grimaced slightly and put his hand tight against his side to support his ribs.
Fraser sat silently as Ray fought to calm his breathing. It seemed to the Mountie that this nightmare was determined to keep getting worse, and worse.
"You tried to tell me Ray." As he spoke Fraser ducked his head in shame. "I should have listened. I'm sorry."
"Do not start that 'I'm sorry crap' Fraser. You got nottin' ta be sorry for." Ray's frustration was beginning to show. "You had nottin' ta do wit dis so just can it!"
"You don't understand Ray...I'm afraid that I was less than honest with you. If not with my words then with my actions." Fraser slowly rose to his feet, paced to the turtle tank and back again, once more setting down to face his friend. "There were several times during that period that you told me you could not 'break ranks' as you put it, and each time I told you that I knew it and that I understood....But to be honest Ray, and to my shame, at the same time that I was saying that, I intentionally used my inflection and body language in such a way as to try and shame you into being of assistance."
Benton was surprised to see a wicked little smile appear on his partner's face. "And do you really believe that I didn't know dat?....Geeze Fraser....I might a been born in da dark, but it wasn't last night." At Fraser's surprised expression Ray gave a snoring laugh. "I'm da one wit da instincts buddy and my instincts were all over dat. And like I said I made some money on da deal...so it all worked out...Right?"
Fraser studied his partner closely.
He shook his head as a rather sad bemused smile began to appear on his face. He looked sideways at Mort, who had set silently watching the exchange. Fraser wasn't surprised to see the older man holding his hand over his mouth to stifle the chuckle that bubbled up from his stout chest. Benton knew as surely as he was setting here that there were a few facts that Ray had left out, but he somehow felt that now was not the time to bring that up. He was going to have to pick the time and place very carefully. His partner had been hurt enough in the last few days, both physically and emotionally, and although the Mountie felt that it was something to be faced, now was not the time.
The next couple of days weren't easy for Benton Fraser. He had promised Ray that he wouldn't overreact to the knowledge of how his friend had been injured, but it hadn't been easy. The feelings of guilt were hard to hide, especially when he was with his partner. Fraser had stopped by Ray's apartment each day to check on his friend, and each painful movement or muffled grunt was like salt in an open wound. He knew that Ray, while in his presence, was trying very hard to mask the limp and make light of the stiffness that the damaged ribs were causing.
There were still issues that needed to be dealt with. It was obvious that Ray wasn't getting the sleep that he should and although he was looking better there was still more than a hint of the exhaustion that had helped to derail his plan to protect his partner. Fraser was sure he knew what the problem was, but he also knew that it wouldn't be anything that Ray would want to talk about. It wasn't just the embarrassment that prompted Ray's silence but once again his desire to protect his partner from the guilt that it would cause.
Benton was sure that if he could get Ray to talk about what had happened in the morgue it would help him get past the trauma that it had caused. Ray always seemed to find himself lacking, and although it wasn't something that Fraser understood, he knew that to Ray his inability to handle this would be just one more indication of what a 'screw-up' he was.
Because of these heavy thoughts sleep had not been coming easily for Fraser either. Often at night he would give up the struggle and take Dief for an extended morning walk. He had fallen into the habit of walking a route that took him by his partner's apartment. He would often just stand and watch Ray's window. It seemed to ease his guilt to know that Ray was safe and in his bed. It was no surprise to him then that at 4:00am Saturday morning he was once again nearing his friend's apartment.
Ray had asked Fraser to come over around 8:00 so that the pair could go out for breakfast, but that was still four hours away and Ray's light was on. Fraser instantly tensed. Concern for his partner spurred him on and he soon found himself at Ray's door.
The Mountie couldn't suppress a smile as he dug the key for Ray's apartment out of his jeans. Ray had given it to him right after the Marcus Ellery incident. Ray had told his partner that if he could sweet talk the landlady that easily he might as well just make it easier on everyone and give ole nosey Parker a key.
Fraser tapped lightly on his friend's door. The Mountie wasn't comfortable with just letting himself in, but if Ray happened to be asleep he didn't want to wake him. When one more round of light taps brought no response Benton quietly opened the door.
There was soft music coming from the stereo. Fraser had almost made his way to the bedroom when he noticed his partner at the kitchen table, sound asleep. Ray sat slumped in a kitchen chair his head laid on his crossed arms. Benton quickly signaled Dief to stay and cautiously approached his sleeping friend.
Benton carefully put his hand on Ray's bony shoulder and spoke his name quietly. He hoped to rouse Ray just enough to get him moved over to the couch where he hoped he would be able to get a few more hours of sleep.
Ray slowly raised his head and clumsily wiped at the drool on his cheek. He had obviously been asleep for awhile and the awkward position had caused his sore muscles to stiffen. When he tried to straighten he gave a small grunt and dropped his hand to support his side. All hope of getting him to the couch without totally waking him was lost when, with Fraser's help, he tried to get to his feet. The pain from his damaged hamstring brought him out of his sleep induced confusion.
"Whatcha doin' here...Did I over sleep?"
"No Ray. It's early. You should really go back to bed and get some rest."
"Na..I'ma...I'm good ta go...What time is it?"
"It's only 4 o'clock Ray. Why don't you just go on in and lay down for a while?" As he spoke Fraser tried to maneuver his partner toward the bedroom, but when Ray got within sight of the couch he stubbornly changed directions and gingerly settled at the far end.
Fraser smiled indulgently as Ray sleepily ran his hands through his hair, blinking his eyes like a baby owl. Dief had quickly joined his pack mate on the couch and Fraser had to chuckle when his two partners both let out loud yawns at the same time.
"You really should try to go back to sleep Ray."
Still trying to blink the sleep from his eyes Ray gave Fraser a smirky smile.
"Coffee...I need coffee...quick."
Fraser shook his head in mock disgust as he made his way to the kitchen. The situation seemed be right to bring up the one thing that still needed to be resolved. As always the Mountie understood that it wasn't going to be easy for Ray, but even given these circumstances his partner seemed to be in a pretty good mood. There was also the fact that they had the rest of the weekend before them to clear any of the flack that might develop.
After starting a pot of coffee Fraser returned to the living room to find his partner setting slack-jawed, staring at nothing. It was obvious that Ray was having trouble getting on track this morning.
"Catching flies Ray?"
"Huh?...Oh...Na just slippin' into a caffeine deficiency type stupor here." Ray smiled warmly at his friend and vigorously rubbed his face. "Now ya know why I drink da stuff."
"Ah. I see. I always thought it was because you never seem to get enough sleep."
"Well dat may be a factor too, but it's usually just that deficiency thingy."
"Why were you sleeping at the kitchen table Ray?" Fraser absently rubbed his thumb along his eyebrow. "Was it another bad dream?"
Ray instantly tensed. "I don't know what yer talkin' about."
"You had one the other day when I brought you home from the station." Ray had unconsciously begun to slowly rub at his left wrist. "You don't remember?"
Ray shyly raised his gaze to meet his friend's. "All I remember is you puttin' me ta bed."
"You had fallen asleep on the couch, by accident of course." Both men smiled at the remembered comment. "You were having a bad dream and when your arm slipped off the couch I reached over and took hold of 'that' wrist." As he spoke Fraser pointed to the wrist that Ray was still rubbing. "You came up off that couch like a missile."
Ray instantly released his wrist and gave his partner a pained glance.
"Do you want to talk about it Ray? It may help."
"Ain't nottin' ta talk about...It's just...Stupid." Ray directed his attention to rubbing Dief's ear.
"If it bothering you Ray it isn't stupid." Fraser carefully settled himself on the coffee table and laid a reassuring hand on his partner's knee. "You can trust me Ray. I have my share of bad dreams too. Why do you suppose I go walking a wolf at 4:00 am?"
Ray looked up at his friend with surprise. "You?"
"I'm human Ray." Fraser gave a quick smile as he continued. "Talk to me Ray."
"I can't buddy...It's just...Ya know...One a dem things."
Benton rocked back on his pockets placed his hands on his knees and gave his partner a long appraising stare.
"What?!" Ray never could handle that look.
"Ray, Ray, Ray. You're still doing it, aren't you?"
"What?!" Ray didn't know if he should be getting mad or tickled.
"You're still trying to protect me. That's it, isn't it?"
Ray sat silently still rubbing Dief's ear.
"I want you to listen to me Ray." Fraser again laid his hand on his partner's knee. "I am going to try and say this in a manner to which you can relate. I hate what happened, and I think that if I ever found out who had done this to you I would be very tempted to 'forget Mr. Polite Mountie and kick 'em in the head'. But you, my friend, asked me not to overreact, and I have done my best, but I do feel more than a little responsible for it, and I want to help. We can't let what happened get the best of us, and if we have to give each other a hand to get past it, well so be it. That's what partners do."
Ray sighed with frustration. "I know Frase...It's just..."
"I know what happened Ray." At Ray's startled glance Fraser started to explain. "Mr. Logic Ray. I had gathered enough facts about the incident, and then joined that with your reaction. I know that you were handcuffed to a corpse." Fraser felt the small shudder that ran through the thin frame of his friend.
Ray slowly leaned forward and rubbed the heels of his hands into his eyes. "Geeze...It was awful Frase. I mean...I kept tryin' to pull myself up by the handcuffs and it kept given...and I'm tryin' ta get the stupid blanket off my head...and tryin' to remember how ta breathe...and I'd pull and it'd give...and I would try again and it would give...and I finally get that damn blanket off and this guy is half off the table and lookin' me dead in da eye. Oh shit I didn't mean dat...But anyway...I look up and dis stiff is right dare...and I just freaked. I jerked back and slammed inta da wall so hard I see stars...and dis guy lands right beside me...It's just...I...well shit....I hate bein' that scared a somethin....I mean it's stupid ta get that scared over somethin'." Ray finally looked up at his friend. He had half expected to see some disgust, or condemnation reflected in the Mountie's face. All he saw was concern, and understanding. Ray was finally able to muster a small smile. "I wouldn't even let Mort give me my cuffs back. I told him ta throw 'em away, or give 'em ta someone. I got me another set...Ta hell with those."
Fraser returned the smile. "Understandable."
"One good thing came outta dis though." Fraser arched his brow as Ray continued. "I think I know what started it."
"You do?" Benton was interested to hear this.
"Ya. My Mum called da other day." Ray again leaned back against the couch. "Some one told Stella da whole deal. You know. Me getting' sick in the morgue, and den goin' home and fallin' down da stairs, so she calls my Mum. Naturally she gets all worried and gives me a call. She starts apologizin' and sayin' it's all her fault...and I'm like What are you talkin' about?...So she tells me dis story about when I was just a kid...I guess I was 4 or so...I don't even remember it, but anyway...My Grandfather died and my Grandma made me kiss him good-bye. Right dare in the casket, and well you know how some a dem old folks used ta do...weird stuff ya know, like proppin' up the dead and taking pictures of 'em...and ya know ya had ta kiss 'em good-bye and stuff. But anyway I guess I freaked out big time. Started screamin' and cryin' and dey still made me kiss him. My Mum said it was two days 'for I would even talk again. I just kept cryin,...wouldn't sleep. Guess I gave 'em a hell-of-a-time. Maybe I shouldn't say it, them bein' my folks and all, but with what I know now, dey had it comin'."
Fraser couldn't stop the small chuckle that escaped him. "I think I agree Ray."
"Still though it really butters my muffin dat I can't seem ta get past it." Ray rubbed his hands through his hair and gave his friend a questioning look. "I mean I'm a grown man, and I know about death and everything. We deal wit it all da time. I oughtta be able ta think my way through dis."
"Some of our deepest fears Ray seem to go beyond our ability to reason them out." Ray didn't fail to notice the wistful tone that had entered his partner's voice.
"Ya mean like dat fear ya got about endin' up alone." Fraser was stunned. "Ya know? You're scared a endin' up alone, and yet all ya gotta do is look around and dare's all these people around ya dat really care...and even love ya, but ya still can't get past da fear."
Fraser stared at his friend in shock. Even with the comfort level that he felt in this man's presence this was one thing that he had never had the courage to talk about. The skinny blond never ceased to amaze him. His instincts and intuitive powers were amazing; a fact of which Ray seemed to have no awareness of.
Ray couldn't hide the smile that Benton's reaction caused. For once it would appear that the Mountie was at a loss for words. It was indeed a rare occasion.
"Like I said my little Mountie friend. All ya gotta do is look around."
Fraser was still totally shell shocked, and in his desperation to try and save face and again regain control of the conversation, he said the first thing that came to his mind.
"Right....Uh...Right you are Ray...and you?...Well all you need to do is ...well...when you go to the morgue...you can...Uh...Just look around ...and uh... know that you don't have to kiss them."
Ray stared at his partner, his mouth wide open in surprise. He watched as Fraser's expression changed from confusion to total embarrassment.
"Geeze Fraser...I don't believe you said dat...dat's disgusting...dats...You are one sick puppy...?" Ray suddenly burst into uncontrolled laughter. "You got da world fooled dare buddy...Dey just don't know dat little sick puppy dat lives in dare." Ray continued to laugh. He pressed his hand tight against his protesting ribs. "Shit dat hurts...don't make me laugh Frase...It hurts."
At last Benton had to forget his embarrassment and join in the laughter. He felt totally blessed with the friendship of this man. Before long they both had tears streaming down their cheeks, and although Fraser knew that some of Ray's were from the pain from his broken ribs, it was a fact that didn't seem to cause him the same painful guilt that it would have just a few minutes before. They were 'both' going to get past this troubled time in their lives, for if laughter was the best medicine they were finally getting the prescription filled.
It had been three weeks since the blanket party. Ray's ribs only hurt him when he sneezed, and the limp only showed itself when he had spent to long setting still, so it didn't show much at all. Everything had fallen back into the same old routine. It was just another day at the 27th.
They had spent the last twenty minutes in the morgue with Mort going over what the older man had been able to learn from their latest body. Except for making a few faces and the need to turn his back a few times Ray had handled it very well. They had thanked Mort for his help and had turned for the door when the older man spoke.
"Boys?" The partners turned to face their friend. "I just wanted to let you know that I am very proud of you. Benton you were indeed able to handle the truth, and Ray my friend, after what you went through here you have conducted yourself very well today."
Ray dropped his head shyly. "Thanks...not just fer dat, but da help before too."
"Oh my pleasure my boy...My pleasure. I'm just glad that you were able to find a way to cope."
"Well it really is quite simple Mort. All Ray had to do was come to the realization that he is not required to kiss them." Fraser succeeded in hiding the smile that wanted to break out on his face.
"Do not do dat Fraser...Do not even do dat." Ray poked his friend on the arm, gave out a sharp barking laugh and grabbed his ribs. "It still hurts ta laugh, so do not even go dare."
As Fraser ushered his friend towards the door Mort could here him making loud kissing noises at the skinny blond.
Mort watched as the partners made their way out the door. He could hear their laughter even after the door had swung shut. He scratched his head in silent amusement.
"Good boys....Unstable maybe...but good boys." The old man then turned to his work and raised his voice in... song?