Okay, here it is, the standard disclaimer...The characters of Due
South belong to Alliance and are being used without permission. I promise
I'll put them back when I'm done (honest!
I would like to thank my beta readers - Amanda and Nikki
I would also like to thank all my AOL chat buddies - Nikki, June, Patti, Susan and Lyn. Thanks guys for making our chats such a memorable experience. A big TYK to Nikki for proofing this story at every step of the way, your comments helped so much! A *very* big TYK to Susan whose portrayal of Ray in our AOL round robin stories provided much inspiration and insight into his character.
Send all comments, flames, gorgeous Mounties and/or Chicago cops to Audrid@aol.com
The following story is
rated NC-17 for graphic scenes. If you'd like to read the story,
but don't want the graphic stuff, check out the PG version. It's the
same, word for word, except for a key scene that was changed to meet
the PG rating.
Get the Kleenex out before you go on. It's a ten hanky story!
"Just The Same" by Terri Clark. Used without
By: Melissa Roule
Ray Vecchio stared at the ceiling of his tiny bedroom. These past few nights it had been so hard to get to sleep. It seemed like forever would stretch out until he would finally fall asleep totally exhausted. As he looked forward to another sleepless night, Ray thought back to when he first came to the Mercutio household, and when he first met her...
Six months earlier...
The vast grounds of the home stretched out before him. Never in his life had Ray seen such a place. The green grass stretched out seemingly forever, bright in the June sun. Large, old oaks dotted the landscape stretching up towards the blue sky. Ray stepped out of the car he was in, a look of awe on his face.
His companion laughed. "It's beautiful, eh? I had the same reaction when I first came here."
Ray looked at the older man. Roger Shapiro was the right hand man of Thomas Mercutio. Shapiro was the type of man who took nothing from nobody. He was tough, but in the short time that they had known each other, Ray knew Shapiro had a soft spot underneath. That was a fact he would never let be known.
"Yes" Ray said, looking out at the landscape again. "It's very beautiful. I've never seen anything like it."
"If you think that's beautiful, wait till you see the house." Shapiro said.
Shapiro led Ray into the huge house. He was right, the house was much more spectacular than the land surrounding it. It was like something out of a book. High arching ceiling, long halls, marble floors. Someone had gone to great pains to make this house look the way it did. Looking at his reflection in the black marble on the floor, Ray knew this family had *a lot* of money.
"This way" Shapiro instructed Ray. "You'll want to meet Mr. Mercutio first. The tour will come later."
Ray followed the older man past a sweeping staircase and into a large study. Big bay windows looked out on the lawns, letting in vast amounts of sunlight. The suns beams swept over Persian rugs and shelf after shelf of leather bound books. A large desk stood in a corner of the room, behind it sat Mercutio, his well manicured hands templed under his chin.
"Come in" Mercutio practically boomed. "It's about time you got here Shapiro"
"I beg the Don's pardon" Shapiro said. "I was unaware the plane would be so late."
Mercutio sighed and sat back in his chair. He motioned for Shapiro and Ray to enter and take a seat. Both men did, taking the two leather chairs before the large desk. As they sat there, Ray could feel the Don sizing him up. His dark piercing eyes sweeping over Ray's suit, his face, his hands. After a moment he nodded.
"You know why you're here?" he asked.
"I know I was sent here with a job to do." Ray responded. "I do not question my orders."
Mercutio nodded, that was the answer he was looking for. A good soldier does not question orders. A good soldier takes orders, perhaps giving some to those under him, but never questioning. He stood, Shapiro and Ray stood with him. Mercutio extended a hand towards Ray.
"Welcome to the family, Mr. Marciano."
Not long after meeting Thomas Mercutio, Ray was given the grand tour of the house. Ray was suitably impressed, this house had everything. On the first floor was the extravagantly large front room, a tremendous library, a long dining hall, a gorgeous ballroom, and of course, the huge kitchens. A few small private rooms and offices interspersed the large rooms. As Shapiro led Ray up the grand staircase to the second floor, Ray looked out the large bay windows to the backyard. There he could see an olympic size indoor pool, the ceiling of the room made of glass, letting in the natural sunlight.
Up on the second floor were the bedrooms. There were four wings to the floor. The north wing belonged to Mercutio and his wife. The south, to Mercutio's six children and their families. The east and the west wing were for the men, who like Ray and Shapiro, worked for Mercutio.
Ray was shown his room in the east wing. It was a large suite, with a sitting room, a bedroom and adjoining bath. Ray looked around, this place was bigger than his place back home! He noticed that someone, probably a maid, had brought up his bags, taking care to hang his suits in the closet. A part of Ray was extremely glad that he had no personal objects in that suitcase. Anything that could give away his true identity could be extremely dangerous. Ray strolled around the huge suite as Shapiro went on about things like who built the house and such. Ray didn't really listen, he just nodded his head occassionally, giving the impression he was listening.
After a few minutes, Shapiro stopped his tirade on the house. He watched Ray staring out a window to the large grounds surrounding the house. The view really was quite spectacular, it was understandable if the younger man was captivated by such a thing. Shapiro allowed himself a small smile. He remembered when he was first brought here. He, like the young Ray, was totally enthralled by the house and grounds. Over time he had gotten over it, so Shapiro knew this man would too.
"Come Jason," Shapiro said, addressing Ray by his undercover name, "there is still some of the house left to see."
Ray followed Shapiro out of the suite and down the large hall. They walked in silence, the plush carpeting swallowing their footsteps. Ray looked at the ornate oak carvings on the walls as they walked by. Pictures of long dead relatives and rare works of art graced some of the empty spaces between doors. Ray softly whistled as they passed one such piece of work. It was a painting of water lillies, valued at over several million dollars. To be able to afford such a thing and hang it as another might hang a picture of their families, Ray knew the Mercutio family had *alot* of money.
As Shapiro and Ray headed down the grand staircase, a loud feminine voice startled them both.
"Outta the way! Comin' through!" the voice shouted.
Both men turned in enough time to see a young woman and a rather large dog come barrelling down the stairs towards them. The woman shouted her warning again, with just a hint of panic in her voice. Ray jumped out of the way just as she breezed past them down the stairs. Shapiro looked at her and shouted one word.
The young woman stopped dead in her tracks. She had reached the bottom of the stairs and now she turned staring at both men. A silent message seemed to relay between her and Shapiro, for without a word, she came trotting back up the stairs. Stopping a few feet away, she looked at Shapiro.
"Yes Roger?" There was pure curiosity in her now soft and gentle voice.
"Christine, I want you to meet someone." Shapiro motioned towards Ray. "This is Jason Marciano. He just arrived today from Chicago to work for your father."
Ray turned towards Christine.
"Nice to meet you." He offered his hand. Christine took it, shaking it
with a firm grip.
"Nice to meet you too." Her dark eyes swept over Ray in a brief glance then settled on his face. Her eyes shone with something akin to pain, but Ray couldn't be sure. All he knew was that this was a quite beautiful young woman. Her straight dark hair hung past her shoulders. Her eyes were just as dark, and held a keen intelligence. Ray liked her immediately. "Now if you'll excuse me, I was about to go for my run with my dog Meg. I'm sure I'll be seeing you later." With that, Christine turned and ran back down the stairs. She ran out the front door, and through the windows, Shapiro and Ray saw her run towards the back of the house.
Shapiro started down the stairs, shaking his head.
"What's wrong?" inquired Ray.
"Oh nothing." Shapiro answered. "I was just thinking about the future of poor Christine. It's quite a shame actually."
"A shame? Why? Is she sick?" Ray hoped he wasn't pushing too hard. Asking too many questions could get him in trouble. It's just he was a bit concerned about the young girl he had just met.
"Oh no, she's healthy as a horse. It's just that as the youngest of the six children, she stands to inherit little or nothing at all. In another year or so her father will probably marry her to the son of another boss to unite the families. Like so many before her, she'll be a pawn in the game called life." Shapiro shook his head sadly. "It will be quite a shame, seeing an intelligence like hers wasted."
Ray was appalled. How could a father do such a thing as marry off his youngest daughter just to unite two families? Just the thought horrified Ray. He watched in silence as Christine appeared around the back of the house, her dog Meg chasing her. A beauty like hers was rare, seeing it wasted in some marriage of power was horrendous.
Ray felt Shapiro watch Christine also. He turned towards the older man.
"Yes, it would be quite a shame. How old is she?" Ray asked.
"Chris just had her 24th birthday. She graduated from college last spring. Molecular biology, with honors even." Shapiro watched the young woman frolicking with her dog. "You should have heard the commotion she caused when she chose her major. Her father yelled at her for 2 hours straight. Said she was wasting his money and her time. She'd never use a degree like that. But it was what Christine wanted, so she got it in the end."
Ray put Christine on a higher pedestal. A Masters' degree in Molecular biology? With honors? She was more than intelligent, she was brilliant. And she didn't look a day over 18. Ray shook his head, he couldn't think of such things now! He had to integrate himself into this family, not think about the don's youngest daughter! He again turned to Shapiro.
"You were gonna show me the rest of the house?" Ray asked.
"Oh yes I was." Shapiro shook himself from his reverie. "This way." He led Ray down the stairs and towards the back of the house, leaving behind Christine.
After Shapiro showed Ray the rest of the house, he led the younger man back to his suite of rooms.
"Dinner in this house is at precisely 7 o'clock every night." Shapiro instructed. "You will see the rest of the family tonight. Don't be late, the Don does not appreciate it when those under him are late. Even for something like dinner." Shapiro left Ray then, shutting the door behind him.
After Shapiro had gone, Ray breathed a sigh of relief. He could finally relax and not feel so on edge. He still had to be extremely careful, but here in the privacy of his rooms, he could let his facade slip. Ray sprawled out in a large overstuffed chair in the front room of his suite. Like the rest of this room, the chair was done in a shade of blue. Ray ran his hands over the soft material, it's feeling comforted him.
A moment later, Ray closed his eyes. So much had happened in the past few days. He had left his home, his family, his life to go deep undercover with the mob. They changed his name, everything about him to keep his true identity a secret. Before he left, Ray knew that those higher up the ladder had gotten some other detective to take his place. The new guy would take over the role of Ray Vecchio, would drive his car, do his job, take his place in the family. A pang of loneliness hit Ray then. He missed his family and friends deeply. With a resigned sigh, Ray laid his head back against the chair. A lone tear slid down his cheek.
A few hours later, Ray showered, changed and made his way downstairs for the evening meal. He arrived several minutes early, the better to observe the Mercutio family as they entered the dining room. Shapiro was already there, along with Thomas Mercutio and his wife Elizabeth. Ray nodded to Shapiro and took a place in a corner to observe.
The first to enter was the eldest son David. Behind him was his wife Marie. David walked with a strong stride, his head held high. He as the oldest stood to inherit the greatest amount of his father's business. In time, he would become the new Don and head of the Mercutio household.
Next, came the second oldest Scott. He was a bachelor by choice, choosing instead to devote all his time to his father's work. Scott was a good son, a strong soldier in his father's army.
The third to enter was Mercutio's eldest daughter Sarah. She like David was wed. Her husband Donald was another soldier in her father's army. Her body was tense, as if at any moment she would be called to sacrifice herself for the good of the family. Sarah's eyes darted, never settling for long on anyone or anything.
After Sarah had entered, Nicholas, the fourth son entered with his wife Natalie in tow. Nicholas was the main bookkeeper for the family. He had studied accounting at the finest schools, learning all the loopholes in the system. His work had garnered the family more money in it's quest for power.
Mercutio's two youngest daughters, Victoria and Christine, were the last to enter. Victoria came in with her husband Robert, and Christine walked in alone. Christine flicked her gaze at Ray. For a split second their eyes met, then Christine broke the connection, looking away to place a kiss on her father's cheek.
All the children, in-laws and grandchildren took seats around the grand table. Thomas Mercutio sat at one end, his wife Elizabeth at the other. Shapiro sat at Mercutio's right, and Ray took a seat on Mercutio's left. Christine took a seat beside Ray, her eyes lowered to the table.
With a silent signal from Mercutio, the first course of the dinner was served. The delicious aroma of tomato soup reached Ray's nostrils, causing his mouth to water. The soup tasted so much better than it smelled. It slid down his throat, filling his empty stomach. As everyone ate, Ray noticed that several conversations were going on at once. Shapiro and Mercutio talked about some benign piece of business. Husbands talked to their wives and children. Brothers and sisters talked to each other. Mothers talked to their children. Everyone was talking to someone, except Christine. She just sat there, silently sipping her soup. Her eyes were unfocused, as if she was deep in thought.
As the second course of beef was served, Ray turned to Christine beside him.
"So Christine, Shapiro tells me you just graduated from college. Congratulations" he tried to smile. Perhaps she would talk to him.
Christine turned slightly. Her dark eyes focused on Ray's face. "Yes, I did. Did Roger also tell you about the commotion I caused when I chose my major?"
"He did." Ray nodded. He took a few bites of the food on his plate. The food here was delicious. Ray would have to be careful, one could get quite fat eating food like this.
"Yeah," Christine sighed looking at her plate. "Father said it was a waste of time. He said a wife doesn't need to know about molecular biology." She took a bite of vegetables, silent in thought once again.
Silence settled between them as the commotion around the table grew. All of a sudden, Ray wasn't hungry anymore. He nibbled on his main course, pushing the food around a bit to give the pretense that he had eaten something. Hearing the resignment in Christine's voice had put a lump of lead in his stomach. She had given up, knowing there was nothing she could do to change her fate.
The long silence stretched out until Christine finally spoke, her voice soft. "Tell me about yourself Jason. Why did you come here?" She lifted her dark eyes to meet Ray's.
"I was sent here by my
boss, Frankie Zuko." Ray answered. This part, at least wasn't a lie.
Ray had gone to Zuko, calling into play the favor owed between the two
men. The higher ups in the force set everything up with Zuko's help.
They supplied Ray with a new identity, everything, while Zuko supplied
the name of a crime family that Ray could infiltrate.
The last time Ray saw Zuko was a few nights before he left. Ray couldn't be sure, but he could have sworn that Frankie was actually sorry to see him go. Nah, Ray would later tell himself, it was just a trick of the light.
Ray saw the disappointment shine in Christine's eyes. "That's not the answer you wanted, was it?" He asked. When she looked away, he continued. "Actually, I'm from New Jersey." Ray slipped into the stream of lies that had become his life. He was from Jersey, born and spent the first 16 years of his life there. At 17, his family moved to Chicago. He met a young Frank Zuko in high school and joined forces with him. The rest as they say, was history.
As the lies flowed past his lips, Ray berated himself for every word. Christine was watching him with interest as he told his life story. *She doesn't deserve this* he thought, *She deserves the truth.* *But the truth will get you killed* another part of him thought back. Ray knew *that* was the ultimate truth, so he continued to spin his web of lies, all the while looking Christine dead in the eye.
Dessert was served, apple pie, Ray's favorite. As they ate the delicious dish, Ray and Christine continued to talk. Well, actually Ray continued to talk. Christine just listened, putting in a word or two here or there. Thomas Mercutio also listened, as did Shapiro. Both men already knew the background on Jason Marciano, having read it in a letter from Frank Zuko and from various police files. They knew of his dealings with crime, of his several arrests and no convictions due to lack of evidence. They knew of how he had already committed murder several times, thereby instilling himself in the higher ranks of the Chicago crime ring. Both Shapiro and Mercutio knew this man was a cold blooded killer, they wanted to see if Ray gave off any vibes that identified him as such. If he came off suave as the guy next door, then Shapiro and Mercutio would know they had a good man now in their ranks.
Ray did not disappoint them. He came across as one of those suave, tough as nails guys. The kind of guy who would shoot you dead if he was so inclined, yet could cradle a baby in his arms like it was his own. Mercutio and Shapiro nodded to each other. They would not regret adding this Jason Marciano to their army.
Over the next few weeks, Ray settled into the rhythm that was the
Mercutio household. There had been several hits on rival crime families,
and Ray took part in a few. At night he would sit in his room, thinking
about what he was doing. In a few days he would have to put in his first
report. He didn't look forward to it though. One slip up would cause
the whole operation to crumble and would probably get him killed.
Ray also saw a good bit of Christine during this time. He saw her at every meal, practically every day. She sat in her usual spot, to her father's left, and right next to Ray. At each meal, Ray would try to bring Christine out of her shell, even if just a little bit. Seeing her smile would make his entire day. He longed to tell her the truth, hearing her call him "Jason" didn't feel right. He wanted her to say his true name. When she would talk, Ray would sometimes focus on her lips, wondering what they would look like if she said his real name. He had a pretty good idea, the slight pucker as she pronounced the "R", the parting of the lips as she finished with the "ay" sound. Ray spent many a spare hour thinking about how, and if, he should break the truth to Christine.
As Shapiro instructed, Ray took careful notice of the intricate workings of the Mercutio family. He noticed the delicate balance between the six Mercutio siblings. David, the oldest, held the most power among them. He was practicing to take over from his father one day. The power descended down the ranks, with Christine holding the least. If someone wanted something from her, it was done. No questions. The older siblings smiled and laughed alot, often after sharing a joke of some sort. Ray noticed that Christine seldom smiled. The only time she laughed was when she was alone, thinking no one else was watching. She laughed when she played with her dog, Meg, but would stop if she saw someone was coming her way. Very seldom did anyone come to her to just talk. If anyone did go to her, it was because they needed something, had a question only she could answer. Christine would answer whatever that person wanted, often with great sadness in her voice. No one seemed to notice, but Ray did.
In a way, he
felt sorry for her. Being stuck at the bottom like that, had to be rough.
In his own family, every child held equal power. No one, not he, not
Frannie, not Maria or Tony had greater power over the others. His mother
made sure everyone was equal. A decision Ray thanked her for every day.
Summer ended, and fall began. The trees surrounding the vast Mercutio land turned glorious colors. The reds, golds, and browns were a sight to behold. The air turned colder and school began for the Mercutio grandchildren. Ray felt a little lonely, seeing the kids grumble about going to school reminded him that back home his nieces and nephews would be doing the same thing. Also, his birthday was approaching, but no one knew that. Jason Marciano and Ray Vecchio had *totally* different birthdays.
Ray tried not to let his melancholy show. He put on the same face he did every morning, and set out to do what was requested of him. He tried to put all his feelings on hold until this particular nasty mission was over. He was able to push away his emotions about Mercutio and his family, seeing them as the brutal killers he knew they were. But why then, he asked himself, was it so difficult to push away the growing feelings for Christine?
October came, and with it came Halloween. Ray learned the Mercutio family held a costume ball every year for those families who were aligned with them. He was told it was to be a grand affair, and that he *had* to attend. Ray didn't mind this, he liked Halloween. So, on his day off, he went costume hunting. At last, he found the perfect one. A Dracula costume, straight out of the classic movie with Bela Lugosi. The black tuxedo flattered Ray's long legs and narrow body. The jacket draped across his broad shoulders, complimented by the red and gold sash that ran from right shoulder to left hip. A black cape with red satin and a pair of fangs completed the look. Ray could hardly wait to try the costume out.
Halloween day, and the Mercutio household was a flurry of activity. Everything had to be perfect for the costume ball that night. The children were in school that day, so all the adults were running back and forth getting everything ready. Ray helped where he could, getting caught up in all the excitement. He noticed that even Christine helped out here and there. As he put up a few streamers in the main hall, he watched her as she arranged a small bouquet of flowers on a side table. He couldn't help but watch her slim hands move over the delicate stalks. Ray had to literally tear his eyes away and go back to work.
That night, after a decent shower to wash away the grime and sweat of the day, Ray descended the stairs in his Dracula costume. His tongue ran over the fang caps glued to his teeth. It was an odd sensation indeed. When he entered the ballroom, many of the guests had already arrived. The live band was playing some number that Ray didn't immediately recognize. The party was in full swing. Thomas Mercutio was there, as was his wife Elizabeth. Some of the older grandchildren were running around a bit, having just gotten back from trick-or-treating. Ray knew a sugar rush when he saw it.
Looking around, he saw Shapiro, and several members of the Mercutio family. He also saw several crime bosses wanted across the country. Ray knew them from pictures he had seen. Many of them were wanted for crimes ranging from extortion to murder. *The FBI could really clean up here* Ray thought to himself. Yet, try as he might, without looking obvious, Ray could *not* spot Christine.
As if the crowd could read Ray's mind, it parted for a brief second. There on the other side of the room sat Christine. She held one of her infant neices, bouncing the baby on her lap. Ray drew in a breath, she looked so beautiful. She was dressed as a gypsy with a white blouse, black vest and long full red skirt. Her dark hair fell free about her face and shoulders, framing it beautifully. Ray felt himself moving across the room towards her. He came to a stop barely three feet away and stood there.
"Hello Jason" Christine looked up at him, a slight smile on her lips. She bounced the baby on her lap again. "That's a very cool costume, Dracula right?"
"Yes, I am Dracula tonight" Ray smiled showing the fangs on his teeth.
When the baby on Christine's lap caught sight of Ray, it began to howl. Ray backed up from them both mumbling "I'm sorry". He didn't mean to cause a commotion, all he wanted was to say hello.
"Oh no, Jason wait please" Christine pleaded. She handed the baby to the woman next to her, who took the infant with no question. Christine got up from her seat and took Ray's arm. She led him away from the crying infant and towards the buffet table at the back of the room. Along the table were a variety of sweets, candy and cookies. Ray watched as Christine took a few pieces of candy from a big bowl.
"I'm sorry I took you away from your niece. You looked happy holding her." Ray began, trying to find a way to broach the bridge to Christine.
"Oh, it's all right." she replied munching on a caramel. "I was going to give her to her mother soon anyway. I needed the distraction, thanks"
Ray smiled. "No problem."
The brief flash of conversation died between them. Around the room music played, people talked and everyone had a grand time. To Christine, the music was loud, the costumes garish and the conversation one-dimensional. She wanted to leave, to go back up to her room, but she knew her father would be angry. She was the last single child in the family, a fact everyone knew. She was to remain at the party and perhaps snag a husband. There was one brief respite though. Big French doors led out to a large patio. The doors were open, letting in the cool October air.
"Will you excuse me please?" Christine said to Ray. "I need to step outside for a moment." She brushed past him and walked out the doors into the night.
Ray watched her go with a bit of longing. He didn't want to impose himself on her. He knew being to forceful would only drive her away. Instead, Ray drifted through the crowds always keeping an eye on the doors and on Christine. He watched as she stood outside and took a seat on a bench. The light of a full moon shone on her then, making her hair and skin glow. Ray groaned inwardly, oh how he wanted to go out there and take Christine in his arms. He wanted to stroke her hair, tell her all would be okay. But he kept it all inside, not letting anyone know how he felt.
When Christine sat there, a million thoughts rushed through her mind. Everyone of them revolved around Jason, the recent addition to her father's army. She thought of how he seemed different from the others. It was a sort of spark about him, he actually seemed to care about how others felt. Christine closed her eyes, reflecting on the shock and embarrassment that had shown on his face when he accidentally made little Kathy cry. Poor Jason, he looked so vulnerable then. The pain that showed in his brilliant green eyes. *Oh those eyes* she thought. She could look into them forever. But unfortunately, Jason was a soldier in her father's army. Christine could never harbor feelings for a man like that.
Out of the corner of his eye, Ray saw Christine slump her shoulders as if in defeat. It didn't matter now if he was imposing, Ray was going to go out there. With all the resolve he could muster, Ray stepped out the doors and onto the patio. Christine sat on a low bench, her back to him. Hoping he wouldn't scare her away, Ray strode over to the bench.
"Christine?" he stammered, "Are you all right?"
Christine looked up, a bit startled. Her eyes were red rimmed, as if she had been crying. "I'm fine." she sniffed. "Really I am." She tried to offer Ray a smile, but it was forced and didn't work.
"You're not fine." Ray said, sitting down beside her. "Here, take this" he offered her a white handkerchief from his pocket.
Christine took the handkerchief and wiped at her eyes. "Thank you" she sniffled again. She lowered her eyes from Ray's gaze, she couldn't bear to look at him.
Silence settled between the two yet again. Beyond them, the party was still in full swing. The music spilled out the doors and washed over them. The fast rock songs blurred into one another, but the tirade was soon broken with the slow beat of a romantic song.
Ray looked over at the young woman beside him. "Christine?"
"Yes?" she looked up at him. Her eyes were still a little red and puffy. The look of hope and pain in her eyes tore at Ray's heart.
"Would you like to dance?" He offered his hand, pulling her to a standing position.
"I'd love to" she smiled.
Ray pulled Christine towards him in a warm embrace. He held her gently, afraid she might break. But the way she pressed against him convinced him that she wouldn't break. Christine was a strong girl, and Ray held her tighter.
They swayed to the slow music together, holding tight to each other. Christine brushed her cheek against Ray's. She could feel the soft skin, could smell the faint scent of his aftershave. Ray mimicked the movement back. Christine's velvety skin sent his brain into a frenzy. The scent of her perfume nearly drove him mad. He wanted her, oh lord how he wanted her. Ray wanted to cover her body with kisses and drive all thoughts of sadness from her mind. But he knew, Christine would run if he moved too fast.
*Move too fast?* he chided himself. *Why
are you even thinking of her that way? You are working to put her father
in jail! If you let slip who you are, you'll be killed! To her you are
Jason Marciano, soldier and killer. She can never know the truth, and
she can never love you!*
Even though it tore his heart out, Ray knew it was the truth. He couldn't let Christine fall in love with him, not yet anyway. First, he would have to establish himself more firmly with her father. After that he could try to establish something with Christine.
When the song ended, Christine pulled away from Ray. "Thank you Jason" she smiled up at him. "I needed that." She gave him a brief hug and walked back into the ballroom.
Ray watched her disappear into the crowd. Right before he lost sight of her, he noticed that she walked a little straighter, held her head a little higher. With a twirl of the cape, Ray followed her and rejoined the festivities inside.
November came, and so did the snow. The white blanket covered everything it touched, transforming the landscape into a winter wonderland. One evening, Ray stood at his window, watching the newest light snow fall. The white flakes bounced and tumbled over one another in their rush to reach the ground. It was quite beautiful, the snow.
As Ray looked out, he caught a motion at the corner of his eye. He knew that the children had been playing outside all afternoon, but who could be out there now? He stared harder, trying to make out who was coming outside.
Christine ran outside, her dog Meg hot on her heels. The retriever barked at the young woman, frolicking in the snow. When Meg jumped, Christine caught her and both woman and dog fell back into the snow. They rolled over and over in the white powder, laughter and barking soaring into the air. It felt so good to roll in the snow. The cool feeling soothed the burning in Christine's mind. It took her thoughts away from the problems she had been pondering.
Ray watched from his window. A part of him wished he could be out there with Christine. They would have a snowball fight, and just when she least expected it, he would run and tackle her into the soft snow. He would lean in to her, kiss her softly, and then...
*Stop that!* his mind shouted. *Stop that right this minute! You can NOT think of her that way. She doesn't even know who you are!*
"She thinks she does." Ray said aloud to no one. He rested his head against the cool glass. His thoughts were in a tumble, he didn't know what to do anymore. He knew what to do about his mission, he would continue that. But he didn't know what to do about Christine.
Should he tell her the truth? Ray couldn't answer that, not anymore. At first, the answer would have been a definite "no". She was a part of the family he was trying to bring down. Then, in his mind, she was just as guilty as the rest of them. Now, it was different. Ray had gotten to know Christine. He came to know she was just a pawn. She wasn't at fault in any of it. She lived her life, day to day, the best way she could in this family.
Ray wondered if he told Christine the truth, what would she say? Would she tell her father? Would she keep his secret, going on as she did every day? Ray had been told to trust no one in this mission, yet when he first met Christine, he knew he could trust her. He didn't know how he knew, he just knew.
*Tomorrow* he thought, *I'll tell her tomorrow* Ray turned away from the glass, ignoring the part of his mind screaming that this was the biggest mistake of his life.
Christine looked up at the second story window. She had seen the silhouette in the window watching her. She knew who is was too, it was Jason. Christine had seen him watching her these past weeks. She was extremely flattered, yet a bit wary. Jason was handsome, that was true, but she knew he was dangerous. Christine had seen the glimmer in his eye when he had gone out on a hit. His eyes were hard, yet that night when they danced, his eyes had become soft. She lay back on the snow, feeling a few flakes slide down the collar of her jacket. Part of her knew that loving a man in her father's army could be dangerous. Her sister Sarah was wed to such a man. At any time he could be called out for a job and not come back. Christine didn't know if she could take that.
Instead, she looked up at the clear night sky. The stars twinkled like diamonds on black velvet. Christine began to count the stars and wondered what tomorrow would bring.
The next day did not go as planned. There had been a last minute hit
arranged and Ray was to go with them. He did, trying not to look reluctant.
Something told him that this hit would not go well and someone would
Ray was right, the hit didn't go well. Someone had tipped off the intended target. The target had been prepared for their coming, and many shots had been fired. One shot caught Ray in the right shoulder. He yelled in pain, grasping his shoulder.
"I've been hit!" he yelled.
"Back in the car!" Scott, the leader of this particular hit yelled to the others.
Everyone complied with Scott's shouted orders. They quickly ran for the cars, dodging bullets on the way. With everyone inside, the cars sped off, kicking up sprays of dirty snow in their wake.
As soon as the cars hit the house, Ray half-walked and was half-dragged into the house. Mercutio had come out of his office at the commotion and took one look at Ray. The blood from the wound had soaked half of his shirt. A ragged hole marred the material and the flesh underneath.
"Call the doctor!" Mercutio bellowed.
"He won't come" his wife Elizabeth answered him. "Even if we could reach him. The phone lines are down and the road to the city is blocked with snow."
Christine had come down the stairs at the noise and she heard her mother's declaration. No doctor. No help. This man would die if someone didn't take care of the bullet wound.
Without a second's hesitation, Christine spoke. "I can help him."
All eyes turned her way. Christine ignored the open stares and walked down to where Ray stood with the help of her brother Scott. Ray's face was pale, his eyes dark with shock and pain.
"Bring him to the kitchen Scott. I'll be preparing things in there." She turned and quickly walked back to the kitchen.
Scott looked up at his father, who in turn had watched his daughter actually order someone around. Mercutio turned and gave a slight nod to Scott. He was to follow his sister. Perhaps she could make well with her claim and help this man.
Scott helped Ray into the kitchen. By the time they got there, Christine
had already gotten some water boiling and had laid out several items
from a first aid kit. She moved with an efficient air, as if she knew
precisely what she was doing. As the boiling water sterilized thread
and needles, Christine helped Scott set Ray into a nearby chair.
"You may go now Scott." Christine said, turning her attention to Ray. "I can handle things from here."
Bristling slightly at the dismissal from his younger sister, Scott turned and left the kitchen. Christine barely noticed his leaving.
"You'll be fine now Jason" she smiled, removing his shirt with a pair of scissors. His jacket had already been removed, so she sliced through the dark blue shirt. Her scissors made quick work of the white undershirt also.
Ray groaned when Christine gently probed the bullet wound. He watched as she examined and cleaned the skin. Relief washed through him when she smiled.
"It went straight though. Didn't hit a thing. You're very lucky" her warm smile made a bit of the pain recede just enough so Ray could smile back. "All I've got to do is stitch you up."
Ray watched her. Stitch him up? Oh dear. His eyes followed her as she got needle and thread. Christine knelt beside him, her hand on his chest.
"Forgive me." she whispered
before plunging the needle into his skin.
Ray gritted his teeth, clenching his hands into fists. He could feel every prick of the needle as Christine stitched his wound closed. It seemed to stretch forever before she was finally finished. With a final washing of Ray's chest and arm, Christine placed clean bandages over the wounds.
"They should heal fine, with time." she told him as she helped him stand. "But now, you need rest. So back to bed with you."
Ray walk out the kitchens and back into the main hall. The whole family
greeted them as they walked out. Christine offered them all a small smile.
"The bullet went straight through. He'll be fine." She helped Ray begin to climb the stairs. "Right now, he needs a lot of rest."
"That's very good" Mercutio commended his daughter. "You'll have plenty of time to take care of him Christine. You as his doctor must see that he heals."
Christine didn't say anything, she just continued to help her patient up the stairs. Ray didn't say anything either, but he was sorta glad he had gotten shot. Now Christine would have to spend time with him. He could determine if she was truly trustworthy or not.
Over the next few days, Ray and Christine spent quite a lot of time together. Every morning, Christine would come in with breakfast. After he ate, she would check his bandages, changing them for clean ones. Her touch was incredibly soft, a fact Ray appreciated greatly.
"Your shoulder is healing wonderfully, Jason" she told him one morning. "Perhaps this evening, I'll take the stitches out."
Ray looked up into Christine's warm brown eyes. There was a bit of pride over a job well done and something more.... He couldn't quite put his finger on it. "That's great" he grinned. His smile was brave, more for his sake than for hers. His stomach turned at the thought of her pulling those bits of thread from his flesh.
Christine smiled back at Ray. She brushed a lock of Ray's hair off is forehead. "It won't hurt. I promise. You don't have to look, and you won't feel a thing."
Ray lay back on the pillows, suddenly feeling drained. "Okay. Later tonight, then."
Christine picked up the breakfast tray. "Sleep now, you're still weak." She turned to go, but before she exited she told him one more thing. "Sweet dreams, Jason"
Later that evening, Christine kept her word. She would be taking the
stitches out tonight. She entered the room carrying a bowl, clean gauze,
and several instruments. Ray watched her warily as she filled the bowl
with warm water from the tap and sat it down on the bedside table.
Christine sat on the side of the bed and reached out for Ray. "Can you sit up? If you can't I can move around to your other side."
"No, I can sit up" Ray pushed himself up off the pillows. His shoulder still hurt like hell, but at least it wasn't bleeding anymore. He grimaced, but managed to get into a sitting position.
"Let me help you" Christine said, wrapping her arms around Ray's chest. She pulled him towards her, helping him sit upright. When Ray was settled, Christine released him and began to peel the bandages off his skin. Her fingers ran over the scabs as she murmured about the wound looking real good. Ray tried not to look, but a morbid curiosity kept his eyes transfixed. He watched as she leaned in close, so close he swore he could feel her breath on his skin. With nary a whisper, she picked up the surgical scissors and began to delicately snip at the stitches. Ray braced himself for pain, but was surprised to find he didn't feel a thing. All he felt was the warm grip of Christine's fingers on his skin, and a slight pressure of where she snipped and pulled at the threads. Within minutes, she had removed the stitches from the front and moved to the back. Her hands moved surely over Ray's shoulder as she quickly removed the stitches there too.
When all remains of the stitches were gone, Christine took the bowl of warm water. With a towel, she cleaned the wounds and bandaged them again. After she finished, she looked up at Ray. "There you go. Another day or two and those can probably come off."
Ray smiled with relief. "Will I be able to leave my room?" he teased. He liked having Christine's constant attention, but being cooped up here was making him stir crazy. He wanted to get out, take a walk, clear his head.
Christine laughed. "Yes. Tomorrow, I'll help you and we can go downstairs for a bit. Maybe go outside." She emptied the bowl of water and gathered her few pieces of equipment.
"Really?" Ray was thrilled. He settled back into his bed when Christine pushed gently on his chest. She tucked the sheets up around him, chuckling softly at the look of excitement on Ray's face. "Yes, outside. Perhaps!" It was like talking to a small child on Christmas Eve. "Now go to sleep like a good boy" she smiled and stood to leave.
A frown crossed Ray's features. "What? No kiss goodnight? No song?" he teased her more. He had heard her sing to one of her many nephews to get him to go to sleep. Her lovely voice had haunted his dreams, now he wanted to hear it again.
Christine sat back down on the edge of a bed with a resigned sigh. "You heard me singing to Alex some nights ago" At Ray's nod, she smiled. "All right, I'll sing. But only if you promise you'll go to sleep!" She reached over and turned off the lamp at the bedside, casting the room into darkness. The only light came from the moon shining through the window. It hit Christine, making her glow like a goddess. Ray watched her as she closed her eyes and softly began to sing.
Her low voice filled the room with its sweet sound. She stuck to slow jazz songs, pouring all her emotions into the words. Ray closed his eyes and let the music wash over him. It was so beautiful the way she sang to him. He heard how her voice caught on one set of lyrics, ending in a soft sob. Ray opened his eyes, and saw that Christine was crying. The tears ran down her cheeks, sparkling in the pale moonlight. Ignoring his protesting muscles, Ray sat up and reached for Christine. She folded easily into his embrace, as if she had been waiting for it. Her head rested on his left shoulder, her arms carefully wrapping around his waist. Christine nuzzled against Ray's neck, her tears hot on his skin.
"Shhh...." he whispered, holding her close to him. Her sobs caught in her throat as she cried. "It's all right. Shhh....." he murmured over and over again as he stroked her hair. It was like touching pure silk, softer than he imagined.
Soon, Christine's sobs dwindled to nothing. She was so exhausted, physically and emotionally, that she fell immediately asleep. Ray continued to stroke her hair, the sound of her soft breathing lulling him to sleep.
The next morning dawned overcast and gray. Christine woke, feeling hot and feverish, and totally exhausted. Her body felt like lead, heavy, sluggish. She lifted her head from where it lay and realized she wasn't in her bed. Beside her, someone stirred. Christine looked down and saw that someone was Jason. He was fast asleep, his arms still around her as if protecting her. A slight smile crossed Christine's lips. Jason looked so innocent asleep like that. She could almost imagine he was an ordinary man, someone she could easily love. The only thing that marred the image was the large white bandage covering his shoulder.
Christine sighed and pulled away, careful not to wake the sleeping Jason. As she backed off from the bed, he rolled over in his sleep mumbling something about wolves, Mounties and Tsimshin. Christine was confused, what was a mobster from Chicago doing talking in his sleep about wolves and Mounties? She'd have to ask him when he awoke. As for now, she had more important things to attend to. Quietly, she slipped out of the suite of rooms and went back to her own quarters.
When Ray awoke a little while later, his first thought was to where Christine had gone. The warmth of her body beside his was gone, replaced by a great emptiness. Ray sat up, half expecting her to be in the bathroom, or perhaps in the sitting room. But, as he would soon see, she was not. *Where is she?* he thought. *Probably back at her room* he surmised. *But if she keeps to her schedule, she'll be walking in that door right about now*
"Good morning Jason" Christine's voice sounded through the large suite. She carried a tray with breakfast on it. Ray noticed that she had showered and changed her clothes. Her slightly damp hair hung around her face.
forward a bit on the bed. "Good morning yourself Christine" he smiled.
"Oh I slept fine thanks. And you? Did you sleep well?" she couldn't bring up the fact that they had slept the night away in each other's arms.
"Like a dream" Ray answered.
Christine's eyes shot up to meet Ray's. A smile touched his sparkling green eyes. A smile that Christine returned. "Um...here's breakfast. Eat up and after I check your shoulder we'll get you dressed. Okay?"
"All right" Ray agreed, starting in on the meal before him. He ate ravenously, he was so hungry. As he did, Christine went to the closet and chose some clothes for Ray. It was still very cold outside, so she chose a charcoal gray turtleneck sweater and a pair of denim jeans from a nearby drawer. Ray watched her as she set the clothes at the foot of the bed and took a seat in a nearby chair.
After Ray had finished
eating, Christine took the tray away and sat beside him. Her fingers
instantly sought out the edges of the tape holding the large white bandages
in place. Ray watched her as she peeled the tape back, revealing the
healing sore on his shoulder. The stitches were gone and the wound hadn't
re-opened in the night, a very good sign. Christine removed the bandages
so Ray could take his shower and wash the skin around the area.
"Do you need help in your shower?" she asked, not realizing the possible implications of her question. Right now, this man was a patient, nothing more than that.
"No - no. I'll be fine" Ray managed to stammer out. Truth be told, he *did* want Christine in that shower with him. The thought of her nude body, the water running down her skin, made Ray feel a little light-headed. He hid it though, and with Christine's help made it to the bathroom for his shower.
Once inside, Ray took a nice, long, hot shower. The hot water eased the sore muscles in his shoulders and back. He didn't realize he had been so tense until then. Being around Christine must have affected him that way. After the relaxing shower, Ray dried off and pulled on a clean pair of shorts and the blue jeans that had been set out for him. A glance in the mirror told him what he feared, he looked like hell. His face was pale and three days of stubble clung to his cheek. Ray sighed and began rummaging for his razor and shaving cream, but couldn't find them. He gave up and walked out the bathroom to where Christine was waiting for him.
Ray sat on the edge of the bed, the better for Christine to tend to his still sore shoulder. As her nimble fingers replaced the bandages, he looked up at her.
"Christine, have you seen my razor?" he asked. "I wanted to shave but couldn't find it."
"I think I might have, hang on a second" she said as she placed the last piece of tape into position. She walked into the bathroom and after a brief search, walked out holding a can of shaving cream and a razor. "This it?" she asked.
Ray's mouth hung agape. "How did you find it? I looked practically all over for it!"
Christine smiled, "Guess you didn't look in the right place." She held the razor out to him. "Here ya go. I'll get out of the way so you can shave."
Ray looked at her a bit sheepishly. "Would you help me? I don't wanna try shaving with my left hand. Eating is one thing, but shaving is another."
"All right" Christine agreed. "I'll help. Come on into the bathroom" She turned and walked back in and Ray followed. She hopped onto the sink counter, making herself practically eye to eye with him. As she applied the shaving cream to his course cheek, Christine began to hum softly to herself.
Ray gripped the edge of the counter, his hands on either side of Christine. Her legs brushed his ever so gently, a slight touch known to drive some insane. He noticed Christine's eyes were focused solely on the lower half of his face as she picked up the razor in her hand. A slight wave of fear crashed through him as the gleaming metal edge neared his throat. The fear abated as Christine drew the razor across Ray's cheek, slicing only through the shaving cream and not cutting the skin underneath. Each slice removed more beard stubble and reinforced Ray's feeling of trust in Christine. It also did the same for her. *Surely* she thought *if he didn't trust me, he wouldn't let me anywhere near him with a razor!* The same thought ran through Ray's mind. He did trust her, and to show it, he let her shave him. He could have done it himself, it wouldn't have been as close a shave and there would have been quite a few cuts, but it was possible.
When Christine finished, she wiped the last remaining traces of shaving cream away with a damp face cloth. "You look much better now Jason" she smiled, placing her hand on his shoulder for balance.
Before she could jump down, Ray took the hand that was on his shoulder and looped it around his neck. He moved in closer to Christine, his hands moving to her hips. "Thank you" he whispered, his lips brushing hers ever so slightly. When she didn't back away, Ray pressed forward gently, his lips catching hers in a soft kiss. He didn't push, knowing to do so would be a terrible setback, but instead moved forward slowly. He let Christine set the pace, moving only when she was comfortable.
Christine's thoughts were caught in a terrible whirlwind. The sheer emotion that came with kissing Jason sought to overwhelm her. His mouth was gentle on hers, not pushing like so many others did. Her lips parted beneath his gentle pressure. His tongue softly sought hers, teasing it to join him in the kiss. Christine responded, shyly at first, then with more fervor as she became accustomed to the feelings moving through her.
Ray released Christine's lips from the kiss. He moved his mouth across her cheek, stopping only to nibble on her earlobe. Christine gasped, her arms moved carefully across his back. She took care not to hit his shoulder, the pain could ruin the moment.
"Oh Jason" she whispered.
Her words were like a slap in the face to Ray. He backed away, releasing Christine from the embrace he had her in. She didn't want *him*, she wanted the image he had created. That was perhaps the part that hurt the worst.
"We can't do this" he said, looking away. Ray couldn't meet Christine's eyes. He knew he would see desire, confusion, and pain in their dark depths.
"Why not?" she whispered in response. She hopped down off the counter and moved to stand in front of Ray. "Tell me why we can't do this Jason"
*Because I'm not Jason* Ray thought.
*Because you don't love me and I could never hurt you like that* But
instead, he just lamely answered "Because we can't. Not like this." Christine
watched him as he strode past her and out the bathroom. He took a seat
on the edge of the bed and began struggling into the sweater that lay
on the bed.
Christine sat beside Ray on the edge of the bed. "Let me help you" she said, her hands moving to help pull the sweater over his head. With minimal pain and effort, the gray sweater settled itself over Ray's shoulders.
"Do you still want to go outside?" Christine asked. "I'd be more than happy to accompany you on a brief walk on the ground."
Ray looked out the window. Snow fell lightly, bouncing against the window panes and drifting to the ground. It would be rather nice to walk outside, even if for a little while. "Yes, I still do" he answered eventually.
"Good" Christine smiled. "I had hoped you would say so. It's such a beautiful day outside today." She grabbed Ray's boots from the bottom of his closet. "Put these on, I'll go get my coat. Be back in five." Her soft but stern instructions gave Ray no reason to not comply. As Christine trotted out the rooms to get her jacket, Ray leaned over and began lacing up his boots. His shoulder twinged slightly, but there was no real pain. By the time he stood up, Christine had returned, a black wool trench coat in her hands.
"Ready?" she asked. At Ray's nod, she smiled again and grabbed his coat from where it lay nearby. Ray pulled on the heavy jacket as Christine pulled on hers. Together, they walked out the suite, into the hall and down the stairs.
Christine was right, it really was a beautiful day. Heavy snow had fallen the night before, coating the landscape in pure uninterupted white. The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, peeping out every now and then to offer a bit of warmth. Ray and Christine walked side by side across the grounds surrounding the house. They came to a maze built completely with hedges, now covered in snow. Christine led Ray through the maze to the center where there was a pretty little fountain and a few benches.
They sat on one of the low stone benches in silence. Ray watched Christine as she looked down, eyes unfocused in thought. A few snowflakes fell, settling like diamonds in her hair and eyelashes. She didn't seem to notice, instead being content to rub her hands together for warmth.
*I wonder what she's thinking* Ray thought to himself. *Is she thinking of last night? Of the kiss this morning?* Ray didn't know, but he wanted to. He trusted Christine with everything in him, he only hoped she returned the trust.
Ray took Christine's hands in his. Her hands were like ice, even with the gloves on. When she looked up at him, it was with tears in her eyes. "Christine, what are you thinking?" he finally asked.
She gave a half shrug, "Nothing in particular" she answered. "Just thinking of...stuff" The words tasted bitter, even to her. It was such a blatant lie. She was thinking of something very particular. Her thoughts had been on the man beside her. How he had held her last night. How his lips felt when kissing her that morning. Christine lowered her eyes, feeling the hot blush rising on her cheeks.
*Liar* thought Ray with a small smile. If he was reading the signals correctly, she had been thinking of him. It was very flattering, and it confirmed Ray's feeling that Christine was harboring emotions for him. Now was the perfect time to tell her the truth. They were alone, sharing a private moment. Ray opened his mouth to speak.
"Christine, I have something very important to tell you" he began. Christine looked up, her eyes meeting his. Ray felt his throat tighten up, this wouldn't be easy. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder to see if they were truly alone, then proceeded. "It's about my past...I haven't been truthful to you" Ray took a deep breath, his eyes meeting Christine's. "My name isn't Jason Marciano, it's Ray Vecchio. I'm a detective, undercover with the Chicago police department" his voice caught in his throat then, "I'm working to stop your father of his illegal dealings. If my mission goes well, your father will end up in jail for a long time" Ray couldn't look at Christine when he uttered the last few sentences. He lowered his eyes, staring at her small hands, how his swallowed them.
Christine was silent, shocked. Ray? Vecchio? Detective? Her heart and mind screamed in agony and betrayal. She pulled her hands from his and got up from the small bench. "How could you?" she whispered. Before Ray could answer, Christine ran off through the maze, her sobs echoing in the still air.
Christine didn't get far. In fact, she barely made it around the first
corner of the maze before she collapsed in a sobbing heap in the snow.
She felt so betrayed. Here, this great man had come into her life and
in order to integrate himself into the family better, he had said and
done things to her that actually made it seem like he cared! Jason...no,
Ray, she corrected herself, didn't care. He was just some Chicago detective
doing his job. And if that meant breaking the heart of one of the boss'
daughters, then so be it.
As Christine lay sobbing in the snow, she felt a strong pair of arms wrap around her. The arms held her, the hands stroked her hair, a voice whispered "I'm sorry" over and over again. If she heard the words or the remorse, Christine didn't respond to them. Instead, she beat feebly on Ray's chest. Her words punctuated by sobs.
"How could you!" she sobbed. "I trusted you! I told my thoughts to you! And now you go and tell me you're a cop? That it's all a facade? You tell me that all of it is a lie?" Christine struggled to get out and get away from Ray, but he held tight to her despite the pain in his shoulder.
"No, not all of it is a lie," he tried to explain. "Christine, listen to me, please!" Ray held onto her, giving her shoulders a slight shake. "Yes, the bit about me being in the mob is a lie. But all those things I said, about you, those things were true! Somehow, in the time I've been here, I've fallen in love with you. I tried not to, but I couldn't help it. I love you Christine"
Christine stopped her struggling. She looked up at Ray, her eyes wide with shock and wonder. "You - you love me?" she finally managed to stammer out.
Ray nodded. "Yes, I do love you. And I trust you with all my heart. That's why I told you the truth. Do you think I would have if I didn't?"
"No, you wouldn't have," Christine managed to whisper. That much she did know about this man. She knew that he wouldn't divulge anything personal unless he trusted the other person. It had been hard enough to get him to talk about his family. *Ray must really trust me if he told me who he really was* she thought.
Christine threw her arms around Ray. She held him tight as fresh tears flowed down her cheeks. Her hands gripped the course wool of his coat as she cried.
"Hey, what's with the fresh tears?" Ray asked, trying to lift Christine's face so he could look into her eyes.
"Oh Ray," she choked, "They're not tears of sorrow, they're tears of joy. I love you too! I think I did from the first moment I laid eyes on you when I almost hit you running down the staircase." Her laughter was a contrast to the tears coursing down her cheeks. Ray found himself smiling back, his hands brushing the tears from Christine's cheeks. He leaned in and kissed her then, softly on the lips. Ray took Christine into his arms, holding her tight. As he held her, he rocked slightly back and forth. They had crossed one hurdle with little difficulty. The next step was a big one. Could they keep this secret from Christine's father? And if they could, what would happen when Ray had to leave? Ray knew there would be no easy answers from here on out, but with Christine by his side, he felt he could handle just about anything.
December came, cold and fast. It had been one month since Ray told Christine the truth about himself. So far, they had kept their little secret with no one being the wiser. Ray still played the part of Jason Marciano like he had always done, and Christine stayed her normal self. When they were in the presence of family, they were civil like before, nothing more. Yet when they were alone, they were more passionate, sharing private kisses or touches. Christine didn't want to go any further than that, and Ray respected her decision to do so.
When Christmas arrived, Ray learned that this too was a big holiday affair. A few days after Thanksgiving, a huge 20-ft. tree had been brought in and set up in the main hall. It was decorated with garlands of gold and red, white lights and what seemed like hundreds of tiny red and gold ornaments. Soon the entire house was filled with the scent of pine and everyone was in the Christmas spirit. The gaily wrapped gifts soon began piling up underneath the tree. Every morning, all the children would run down and count their presents, seeing if any magically appeared during the night. Ray didn't see any beneath the tree that bore his name. For some reason, this didn't really bother him. He had Christine, he had her love and returned it for every ounce she gave. That, to him, was present enough.
The evening of Christmas Eve was a grand affair. After a huge meal, all the members of the family retired to sit around the fireplace, listen to carols, and tell stories. Ray sat on one side of the room, across from Christine. He watched with love in his eyes as she held one of her nieces in her lap. From what he had seen, she was a truly caring individual. She would make a good mother one day.
At around 10 p.m., the children started growing sleepy, and a general announcement for bedtime was put out. Those who were still awake grumbled about waiting for Santa, but their protests were ignored. Practically every adult grabbed a sleepy child and carried them upstairs. Ray carried one such child and followed Christine as she carried the infant's sibling. After they had settled the children in their beds, Ray motioned to Christine to follow him.
"Christine" he whispered "can I speak to you for a moment? In private?"
"Sure" she whispered back. Christine finished tucking in her niece then led Ray out of the room and to her suite not far down the hall. As soon as she shut the door, she looked at him with questions in her eyes.
"You wanted to talk Ray?" she finally whispered moving to the warm embrace of his arms.
Ray put his arms around Christine, holding her close to him. It felt so good holding her like this, her head resting on his shoulder, her arms wrapped around his chest. He stroked her hair for a few moments before answering. "Yes, I wanted to give you your Christmas present early"
Christine backed away just enough
to look Ray in the eye. "Give me my present now?" she asked. "Guess I'll
have to give you mine now too" a smile crossed her lips. Christine pulled
away from Ray and crossed the room to her closet. As she pulled a small
blue box from her closet, Ray pulled a small black velvet box from his
"Merry Christmas" they said as one, handing the boxes to each other.
Ray opened the blue box Christine had handed him. Inside was a beautiful silver key chain in the shape of a Buick Riviera logo. Ray lifted it out, watching how the light caught the large scrolling "R" on it. On the back was an engraved message. It read -
To Ray -
Maybe one day I'll get to ride in your Riv...
All my love
Ray was awed and touched by the gift. He knew he and Christine had talked about cars during one of the long lulls while he was recuperating from his gunshot wound. That was before he had told her the truth about himself. Yet in their talk, he remembered that he had mentioned liking the Buick Riviera. But that was all, just a brief comment, yet Christine had remembered.
Christine watched Ray open his gift with a big grin. The way his eyes widened then softened as he read the message on the back. He smiled up at her and whispered "Thank you. So very much. Now, open yours" he grinned.
Christine did as Ray requested, opening the small black box. Inside was a gorgeous diamond necklace, with matching earrings and solitaire ring. The diamonds sparkled in the soft light of her room, casting a hundred rainbows around them. Christine watched as Ray took the ring from the box and knelt on one knee before her. He slipped the ring on her finger.
"When this is all over, I want us to be together" he whispered, his voice husky with emotion. "Say you'll marry me Christine"
"Of course I'll marry you Ray" she whispered back. Christine wanted to shout her answer, to let everyone know of her happiness. But she knew to shout was to give away the secret. She couldn't do that, knowing it would certainly get Ray killed. And possibly her too.
Ray stood and drew Christine to him in a warm embrace. Their lips met in a passionate kiss. Ray wound his hands through Christine's hair, feeling the silken locks beneath his fingers. He heard the sigh deep in her throat as his tongue pushed past her open lips. Christine ran her hands over Ray's shoulders and down his back. She could feel the toned muscles moving beneath the fabric as his arms moved over her. He was so strong, Christine didn't want to leave the safety of his arms.
After an indeterminable time sharing their passionate kiss, Ray and Christine parted. Ray placed a small chaste kiss on Christine's forehead before letting her go. With a smile filled with promise and love, he left her, going back to his own suite to sleep and to dream.
Christmas Day came and went. There was the usual exchanging of presents and the grand afternoon meal. Ray smiled, a bit sadly, as he watched the children of the house rip into their presents and squeal with delight over what they had gotten. He knew that his own nieces and nephews would be doing the same thing right about now. His mother, along with Frannie, Maria and Tony would join the festivities. Gathering around the tree and sharing the joy that was Christmas. No one, except Christine, noticed when Ray got a little misty eyed watching the children gather around the tremendous tree.
A few days later was New Years Eve. All the real energy of the house was being geared towards this night. Christine had told Ray that every year her father and a few of his associates held a party, each year trying to outdo the year before. This year, they had a live orchestra and a buffet that rivaled the meals of kings. Everyone was ready early, and most of the family, including Ray and Christine, had retired to rest in preparation for staying up all night.
Ray and Christine slept in each other's arms in her bedroom. Neither feared someone entering, for the door to the suite was locked with three different locks. They were both fully dressed, having only shed their shoes and jackets to get comfortable. One time during their nap, Ray woke up, and just lay there, watching Christine as she slept. Long dark lashes brushed against full cheeks, rosy with a slight flush to them. Her red lips were parted ever so slightly, a feature Ray found very beautiful, and very erotic. Before she could wake up, he brushed a lock of hair off her forehead then closed his eyes and fell back asleep.
Around 8 p.m., Christine's alarm went off. The party was scheduled to start at 10, but Ray wanted a bit of time to just lay there with Christine before he had to leave to go get ready. For the next half-hour, they lay there, talking softly. Christine idly traced her fingers over Ray's chest, playing with the Catholic medallions he wore around his neck. They talked of what would happen when Ray had to leave. Chances were good that his death would be faked so he could get away with no one looking for him. He had already reported to his superiors that he wanted Christine to come with him. When he left, she would leave too, either with him or shortly thereafter. Ray hadn't heard back from his superiors yet.
All too soon, Ray left from Christine's chambers. He slipped back into the professional persona of Jason Marciano easily before he walked out. He walked out the room heading for his rooms, not looking back.
The next time Ray went downstairs, it was for the New Years Eve ball.
He was dressed in a black Armani tux, looking very handsome, according
to Christine. As he walked down the grand staircase, he caught sight
of many of the members of the Mercutio family, finally he caught sight
of Christine. The sight of her took his breath away, she was gorgeous
standing there in a black velvet dress. The lines of the dress fit her
every curve, accentuating them, but still leaving much to the imagination.
As he drew closer, Ray noticed that she wore the diamond necklace and
earrings he had given her a few days before. They seemed to sparkle even
brighter on her skin than when they were in the case. She was beautiful
standing there, her dark gaze unfocused as she listened to some relative
natter on about some topic.
The orchestra had already begun playing, and was now playing a slow waltz. Ray decided to go and try to rescue Christine from the obviously dull conversation. He worked his way through the growing crowd and finally ended up by her side.
"Excuse me, Miss Mercutio?" he politely interrupted. "I was wondering if you'd like to share the next dance?"
Christine looked at Ray in surprise. "Why of course Mr. Marciano, I'd be delighted," she smiled politely to the young woman she was talking to then took Ray's hand and strolled to the dance floor. Once there, she slipped easily into his arms as they moved around the large floor.
"You look absolutely beautiful, Christine" Ray whispered to her as they danced.
"As do you Ray" she managed to whisper back without moving her lips. Ray had seen her do that trick a few times and had yet to figure out how she managed to pull it off. Somehow, as they danced, she managed to look bored and so totally in love at the same time. The boredom was for anyone who managed to be looking at her, the love in her eyes was for Ray alone. They waltzed around the room, neither wanting the song to end. When the song finally did, Christine pulled away from Ray a bit reluctantly. His hand lingered on her back for a second longer than was necessary, but no one around them noticed.
"I thank you for the dance Mr. Marciano," Christine smiled politely turning to Ray. "You are a very good dancer."
"As are you Miss Mercutio," Ray answered automatically. Neither said the words on their minds, doing so would get them in serious trouble.
Christine turned slowly and walked off the dance floor. She heard Ray following behind her then veering off to join another part of the crowd. With a determined look in her eye, Christine made a bee-line for the buffet table. She piled her plate with several different foods and took a seat at a nearby table. As she sat there, one of Christine's cousins came and sat beside her in a cloud of perfume. Christine nearly gagged but pasted a polite smile on her face.
"Hello Stephanie" Christine smiled.
"Hi Chris" Stephanie grinned, a cigarette dangling from between her fingers. The younger woman leaned in close to her cousin. "Tell me *who* was that handsome man you were just dancing with"
"Him?" Christine asked nonchalantly, "That was just Jason Marciano. He works for my father."
The tone in Christine's voice struck a chord in Stephanie. Something told her to back away from this Jason Marciano fellow. Added to that was the fact that Christine's eyes shone with fire as she directed the words to her cousin.
"Oh" Stephanie said, backing off a bit disappointed. "I see. Thanks Chris," she managed to get out before leaving the table and turning her attentions to another handsome man in the large crowd.
Christine hid the smile that threatened to split her face. It seemed her cousin was able to jump tracks at a moment's notice. Good thing she was able to divert the attention from Ray, he'd never survive in the hands of her cousin.
As the night wore on, Christine shared quite a few dances with Ray. She shared just as many with other young men there, young men whom her parents deemed suitable to marry, but she only smiled when she danced with Ray.
When the clock struck midnight, everyone shouted "Happy New Year!" Streamers and confetti were thrown, littering the air. The old tradition of kissing someone to insure luck in the New Year was also in practice. Ray made sure he was standing beside Christine so he could be the first and only to grab her and place a kiss on her lips. He swept her into a dramatic dip and kissed her full on the mouth. Christine was a bit surprised, but returned the kiss with equal fervor. When they both came up for air, it was to applause from the few around them who witnessed the kiss. Ray laughed, a huge grin on his face as Christine merely smiled, a scarlet blush climbing her cheeks.
party began to wind down soon after. The lights were dimmed and more
and more slow songs were played. Christine and Ray danced alot then,
holding each other close. Their eyes met and locked, dark brown meeting
gray-green. Ray could literally read the love and devotion in Christine's
eyes as they danced the night away.
Before the party ended, Thomas Mercutio took the stage. He tapped on the microphone, signaling for everyone's attention. "We would like to thank you for coming tonight" he began. "This has truly been a grand New Years Eve ball. Before I let you all go, I want to do one last song. Sung by my youngest daughter Christine"
Christine looked up at her father in shock. *He wants me to do what?* she thought, her eyes wide. Frantically her mind ran through all the songs she knew and could sing. Finally she picked one and walked up onto the stage. After a few words with the conductor and the few players that were required for the song, Christine took the microphone and adjusted it to her height. As the piano began, Christine began to sing:
"You could've walked
along a back road
Or on a lonely stretch of beach
You could have sat there on a park bench
A Sunday paper at your feet
If you'd been waiting for a taxi
Or at a bus stop in the rain
I would've found you, I would've found you
Just the same...
You know you could have been a gambler
Whose luck was running low
Or just another drifter
Without a single place to go
You could have been a broken dreamer
Without a penny to your name
I would've loved you, I would've loved you
Just the same...
No it really didn't matter
Who you'd been or what you'd done
Where we met or how when it happened
You'd still be the one...
There's no way to know the future
But one thing will never change
I'm gonna love you, I'm gonna love you
Just the same...
I'm gonna love you, I'm gonna love
Just the same..."
As sang the words, Christine closed her eyes envisioning Ray in her mind. If she had met his eyes, she was sure she wouldn't have been able to make it through the song. Christine poured all of her heart, all of her love into the words she sang. She was sure Ray picked up the meaning in the words, and when she looked across the room to meet his eyes, she was positive he understood.
Later, after all the guests had left, Ray and Christine disappeared upstairs for a private moment. Ray took Christine into his arms and placed a kiss on her lips.
"That was a very beautiful song you sang earlier," he smiled in the darkness.
"Well, thank you very much," she smiled back, nuzzling Ray's neck. She placed a few fleeting kisses along his jawbone.
Ray groaned softly as Christine's kisses moved along his jaw up to his ear. Her teeth nibbled on his earlobe, eliciting a louder groan from his lips.
"What are you doing?" he finally managed to get out. The searing passion he felt was making coherent thoughts difficult.
"Starting a new beginning" she whispered huskily in his ear. She pulled away from him, and taking his hand, led him beyond into her large bedroom. After they had both passed through the doors, Christine locked them behind her. "Now, we won't be bothered" she smiled as she walked towards Ray. Her slender hands slid beneath his jacket, pushing it off his shoulders and causing it to fall to the floor. Her smile widened as she grabbed one of his suspenders and snapped it lightly against his chest.
"Ow!" Ray said. It didn't really hurt, just sorta stunned him.
"Aw, poor baby" Christine purred. "Let me kiss and make it better" She moved closer to him, pushing the suspenders of his shoulders. Her mouth sought his for a kiss, at last claiming her prize. As their kiss intensified, Christine reached up and with a flick of the wrist, untied the bow tie around Ray's neck. The scrap of fabric fluttered to the floor, joining the jacket. Her fingers made quick work of the buttons of his shirt, pulling it from his slacks.
Ray groaned softly when Christine's eager fingers brushed the waistband of his slacks and lower. As her hands worked on him, he decided to put his to good work. He felt along the back of her dress, finally locating the zipper. He tugged, hearing the zipper move and feeling the fabric part. Ray slid his hands beneath the fabric, feeling the soft skin underneath.
Together they managed to remove the last bits of formal clothing. When Ray looked at Christine again, he didn't see the black lacy undergarments she wore. He only saw the woman he loved and wanted to make love to, her lips red from the pressure of his kisses, her chest heaving as she strove to catch her breath. In the pale light of the moon, Ray could see how Christine's eyes had turned almost black with passion. An inner fire raged beneath those dark eyes, a fire that burned for him.
Ray kissed Christine again. A long, soft kiss this time. As he did, he scooped her up into his arms, holding her close. He could feel her heartbeat racing in time with his as he carried her over to the queen sized bed. The mattress gave slightly as he set her down, cradling her lean body as Ray stretched out beside her. His kisses drew soft moans from Christine's lips as his hands moved to remove the last few scraps of cloth from her body. Ray struggled briefly with the clasp to her bra. Soft laughter drew his gaze to Christine's face. He watched as she moved his clumsy hands and deftly unfastened the clasp. The flimsy black material was pushed aside, revealing creamy white skin beneath. Christine gasped in surprise and pleasure as Ray's mouth placed long lingering kisses on the soft skin. His hands took over where his mouth left off, caressing her flesh, driving her to the brink of ecstasy.
Christine dug her fingers into the flesh of Ray's shoulders. Her fingers brushed lightly over the smooth scar on his shoulder, a reminder of an earlier time. His fingers left trails of smoke on her already burning skin. She wanted him, wanted him inside her. Christine whispered to Ray, told him her desire.
With whispered instructions, the last few garments were removed. Ray caressed Christine's inner thigh, his fingers briefly brushing against her hot core. A brief cry of passion was tore from her lips. Ray smiled to himself, she was soaking wet in her desire for him. This fact didn't help him, as he was already having a difficult time controlling his desires. It was all he could do to keep himself from ripping into her, pounding hard and fast in his rush to meet the ultimate climax. Instead, he was taking his time, going slow for her sake. Ray wanted this to be special for Christine. An experience she would never forget.
Slowly, Ray nudged Christine's legs apart. He wanted to take
this next part slow, afraid that if he went to fast, he could do more
damage than good. With a gentle push, Ray eased forward, burying himself
fully in Christine. The cry of pain she tried to utter was muffled when
he kissed her roughly. His mouth moved over hers, covering the cries
that threatened to escape. As he slowly began to move, Ray continued
to keep Christine's mouth covered with his own. It didn't take long before
she was returning his kisses and urging him to move harder and faster.
Ray complied, pushing Christine to the breaking point and beyond. She
bit her lip to keep from crying his name as her whole body trembled.
With a final thrust, Ray too reached the point of no return. His body
shuddered with release and he almost yelled Christine's name. He caught
himself in time, biting his tongue.
Ray collapsed against Christine, completely spent. He barely had enough energy to pull her body to him. With a sigh of contentment, Christine snuggled against Ray's chest. She pulled the warm sheets over their bodies. By the time she straightened the bedspread, Ray had already fallen asleep. Christine smiled as she moved in against him. His warm body combined with her own weariness made sleep come easy to her. Soon, they both slept peacefully, content in each other's arms.
Morning dawned too soon for Ray. The first rays of sunlight peeked through the drawn curtains pulling him from his dreams. With a barely suppressed groan, Ray slowly opened his eyes. The sight that greeted him was beautiful beyond his imagination. Beside him, Christine lay peacefully sleeping. The cream colored silk sheets molded against her young body, reminding Ray of just how gorgeous she was. He watched her as she slept for several minutes. Her dark lashes brushed rosy cheeks, her lips were slightly parted. Ray watched Christine's chest rise and fall in the slow rhythm of sleep. She was so beautiful lying there, Ray wouldn't have traded that vision for anything in the world.
Ray watched Christine for many long minutes. When she twitched in her sleep, he held his breath. He didn't want to wake her, and breathed a sigh of relief when she only sighed and continued to sleep peacefully. Ray lay back down beside her, feeling how Christine instinctively snuggled against his chest. Her soft breath on his skin lulled him to sleep.
When Ray next awoke, it was to the sound of a shower going. Christine no longer lay beside him, only a rumpled sheet gave any clue she was there. He listened as her voice rose above the noise of the shower, raised in song. For many minutes she sang, accompanied by the rush of water. When the water stopped, Ray quickly shut his eyes, feigning sleep. He heard the door open, and heard Christine exit, still humming. He felt the mattress shift slightly as she sat on the foot of the bed. Ray opened his eyes the barest crack, trying to catch a peek of the woman he loved. The vision of her was beautiful, even though she was wrapped in a white towel. He watched as she applied lotion to her long legs. The scent reached his nostrils, enticing him. Ray realized that the scent of the lotion was what he smelled on her that Halloween when they danced. The bigger shock was that the lotion wasn't some expensive scent, but was instead a ninety-nine cent bottle that could be picked up at any corner store! Yet, when Christine applied it to her skin, it smelled like the sweetest ambrosia.
The soft moan that Ray gave alerted Christine to him. She didn't turn, instead deciding to play. Humming softly, she lifted her legs onto the foot of the bed. She ran her fingers up and down the smooth skin, taunting Ray. She ignored the louder moan he gave and began running her hands over her arms and shoulders.
Ray shifted under the covers, what Christine was doing was pure torture. He wanted to grab her and ravage her body. He wanted a repeat of last night, the passion, everything. With a low groan, he opened his eyes.
"Good morning Ray" Christine smiled. "Sleep well?" She acted as if he had just woken up, instead of laying there awake and watching her.
Ray stretched and yawned. "Yes, I slept very well" He sat up in bed, facing her. "You?"
Christine moved over to him, kissing him softly. "Wonderfully. Last night was a dream" She kissed him harder, more passionately.
When she released him from the kiss, Ray smiled. "Well, we made last night a dream, how about we create a few day dreams?"
Christine agreed, wrapping her arms around Ray's neck. She laughed as he rolled her to her back. With one smooth motion, he pulled the white towel off her. Once again, their bodies met and meshed, moving as one towards the final climax.
Later that evening, Christine snuck out of her room and down the hall. She had left Ray sleeping in her bed. Smiling a private smile, she continued moving down the hall. She had really given him a thorough workout, now he slept in exhaustion. Before leaving him, Christine had watched him for a few minutes. Now the picture came to her mind. The picture of Ray laying there under the cool silk sheets. Christine had to steady herself against the wall for a minute, the thought was making her slightly light-headed.
When the wooziness passed, she continued down the hall and down the stairs. The house was kinda quiet at that time in the evening. It was understandable, everyone was recooperating from the big bash the night before. As Christine walked down the stairs, she found a few of her older neices and nephew lounging on the plush carpeting on the staircase. With a quick wave, she continued down.
Before she could make it to the kitchen for a snack, Christine was stopped by a call from her father. She peeked into the large study, a bit afraid of what her father might say. Had he found out? Christine was afraid he had, but tried not to show her fear.
"Yes father?" she inquired, moving towards his large oak desk.
"Christine," her father began, "I want to talk to you about Jason Marciano"
"What about him father?" Inside, Christine's heart began to beat faster. She tried to calm herself, tried not to let her feelings show.
"Has he been acting...odd towards you?" Mercutio asked. He believed in being blunt with his children. This was no exception, even though it might hurt his youngest.
"Odd?" she repeated, as if in thought. "No father, he hasn't. In fact, Mr. Marciano has been very courteous towards me. I wouldn't say his behaviour was odd, just nice." Christine smiled at her father, giving the truth behind her words.
Mercutio watched his youngest daughter for a moment. He looked at her dark eyes, so like his own. He had learned to read eyes like that, it was essential in his line of work. Now he read his daughter's eyes, read the expression on her face. There was a general nervousness about her, but other than that, her eyes spoke the truth. What she had said was what she believed.
With a wave of his hand, Mercutio dismissed his daughter. "You may go Christine," he said.
Christine quickly walked out of the room trying not to run. Right before she reached the door, her father's voice stopped her.
"Christine, you would tell me if any of my soldiers was acting funny, wouldn't you." It wasn't a question, it was a statement. A statement Christine was obliged to obey.
"Of course father," she instantly replied, before hurrying out the door. Christine hated lying to her father, but she couldn't tell him the truth about Ray. She loved Ray, was engaged to him, and most definitely didn't want to see him die.
By the time Christine exited her father's study, her appetite was gone. She still went into the kitchen, grabbing a few snacks and headed back upstairs. When Ray woke up, she'd give them to him, he'd probably be hungry. Right now, Christine wasn't hungry, right now she needed the comfort of the arms of the man she loved.
January and February passed quickly. Every day, Mercutio would ask Christine if any of his soldiers was acting odd. And every day, Christine would tell the truth, and say no they weren't. When her father asked about Jason Marciano though, then she would lie. She would say she saw nothing out of the ordinary about him. Christine lied to her father, and hated every moment of it.
It was a cold day in March when the message came down through the ranks to Ray. The attorneys had gathered enough information to put Thomas Mercutio in jail for a long time. Now, Ray wasn't needed anymore, they would bring him home.
Ray looked at the letter in his hands. It was on plain paper, untraceable, and simply stated the facts of about how he was to leave the Mercutio household. It was to be a car bomb, made to look like a hit from a rival family. There would be no evidence, and when it was over, there would be no Jason Marciano.
Turning the paper over, Ray looked up at Christine. She sat across from him in a large chair, tears in her eyes. For a long time she didn't say anything, and when she did, it was only two words.
Ray's eyes flicked back down to the sheet of paper. "Two days" he whispered. He had two days to get ready to go. Two days. Forty eight hours in which to say good-bye to the woman of his dreams, perhaps to never see her again. The letter he had received had made no mention of her. Two days didn't seem like enough time, hell, an eternity didn't seem like enough time to say good-bye.
The tears came unbidden to Christine's eyes, spilling down her cheeks. Two days wasn't long enough to say good-bye. There were so many things Christine wanted to say but hadn't. Now, in two days, Ray would be going and she didn't know when, or if, she would ever see him again.
Ray took the crying Christine into his arms. He held her, letting her tears mingle with his own. As he held her, he strove to memorize the feel of her in his arms, tried to memorize the sweet scent of her skin. He wanted to remember everything about her.
When the tears stopped, the kisses began. Ray covered Christine's face with soft kisses, using his lips to define and memorize the features of her face. Her gentle sighs egged him on until they were making slow passionate love, feeling the exquisite rush of emotions building then exploding in a flash of brilliant light.
The two days passed too quickly for Ray and Christine. They tried to go on as if nothing was happening, but stole private moments at every opportunity. Both knew the end was coming, and neither looked forward to it.
The day that Ray was to be "killed" was overcast and cloudy. *Somehow,* Ray thought *it's fitting weather* He cast a glance over his shoulder at the sleeping Christine. She looked so peaceful and innocent lying there. Leaving her would be one of the most difficult things he would have to do.
Quickly Ray dressed and left her sleeping. As he made his way down the stairs, he mentally reviewed the plan. He was to take one of the cars and drive into town. From there, he was to drive to a secluded spot where he would be met by some special agents. They were the ones who would blow up the car with some John Doe inside. Their job was to make it look like Ray had taken his day off for a drive into town, and when he drove to a secluded spot to think, the car exploded as soon as the engine was shut off. Ray had been told the plan was a solid one, guaranteed to work. When it was over, Ray could go back to his life, secure in knowing no one would be coming after him.
Ray took one of the smaller cars with no protest from Mercutio or Shapiro. On past days off, he had taken a car and driven into town. There was no reason for anyone to be suspicious about what he was doing. As Ray drove, he passed a little greasy dive, noting when a dark car pulled out from the lot and began following him. Ray made sure to drive down the main drag of the town, making sure he was seen by the townspeople. As he neared the city limits, he veered off the main road and drove down a back road. He reached a secluded spot, overlooking a vast landscape. The area was used by the local teenagers for parking, but at this time in the morning, no one was there.
Ray got out of the car and waited. He didn't have to wait long, because not five minutes had passed when a black Sedan pulled up alongside his car. Several men in dark suits and black glasses climbed out, one approached Ray.
"Detective Ray Vecchio?" dark glasses asked.
"Yeah" Ray answered, gruffly. There was no emotion in his voice, it hurt enough leaving Christine behind.
"This way Detective" dark glasses instructed. He led Ray to the Sedan, opening the back door. Ray climbed in, watching as the two other dark suited men pulled a black body bag from the trunk. He watched in morbid fascination as they set the body up in the seat of the car. The dead man was now Jason Marciano, a deterrant in case anything happened to survive the car bomb.
When the car had been set up, all three of the dark suited men got back into the car. As they drove away, Ray glanced back over his shoulder one last time. From the cliff, he could just make out the Mercutio home, and Christine.
When they were far enough away, a button was pressed. The resulting explosion made Ray jump. He watched as an orange fireball bloomed high into the gray sky. Ray watched the fireball and fire until his eyes hurt. The images were forever burned into his brain, a reminder of what was.
When news of the explosion and death of Jason Marciano reached the
Mercutio home, Christine was devastated. It meant that Ray was gone and
wasn't coming back. Everyone else was shocked, such a blatant hit was
almost unheard of! Now, hits were subtler, more cunning.
At the news, Thomas Mercutio bellowed his vows of revenge. He would find who did this and make them pay. No one killed a good soldier like Jason Marciano and got away with it. He would do everything in his power to make sure whoever had committed such a heinous act would not go unpunished. He lived up to his word too, for when the clues were pieced together and fingers were pointed, Mercutio made sure vengeance was served.
The funeral for Jason Marciano was a small and private one. A cold wind blew, casting a gray pallor over the mourners. Christine stood in the front, beside her family. She wore a long black skirt and silk blouse under her winter coat. Ray had once commented on the blouse, saying it suited her, it only seemed fitting that she wear it now. The tears poured down Christine's face as she mourned. Her family thought she was crying for the death of a friend. She was, but she was crying for so many more reasons. She was crying for the loss of her friend, crying for the fact that he was gone, and crying for the fact that she may never see him again.
The eulogy was short and sweet, the priest saying how Jason Marciano was a good man. A man who served his boss, going into battle never questioning his orders. This made Christine cry even harder. After Ray told her the truth about himself, how many nights had they spent together just talking about how rotten he felt doing this? She had lost count.
As the coffin was lowered into the ground, a part of Christine's mind screamed. They couldn't do this! Not like this, Jason deserved better! The more rational part calmly stated that Jason was dead and Ray was gone. The coffin was empty, she knew that.
At long last, the others mourners moved away leaving Christine standing alone. She looked down at the empty coffin in the ground. A few tears fell, spattering the dark wood. She cast a glance at the marble headstone. The name "Jason Marciano" had been carved in the dark marble in a gorgeous calligraphy along with birth and death dates. Christine knew the birth date was a fake one, but seeing it made it hurt all the same.
knew now that Ray was gone, their relationship was over too. She took
the tiny diamond ring off her finger, placing it on the edge of the headstone.
She would keep the necklace and earrings, but the ring had to go. It
only reminded her of something she couldn't have.
"Good-bye Ray" she whispered, dropping the rose she held onto the coffin. With a final sigh, she turned and walked away, steeling herself to face her life without him.
As the long line of black limos drove away, a figure stepped out from behind a nearby tree. The figure was dressed all in a black Armani suit, with a black wool coat over. It was Ray, having come back for one final glimpse of Christine. He had shaved his head, cutting off almost all his hair, leaving behind just the barest of fuzz. He hadn't changed much, just cut his hair, but now dark circles ringed under his green eyes. A result of sleepless nights and long hours filling out report after report about his time with the Mercutio family. He watched as Christine said a whispered good-bye and left. How he wanted to go to her, take her in his arms and ease the grief her knew was in her heart. Yet, Ray didn't. He stayed hidden as he watched her cry silent tears for him. When she left, only then did he emerge. He watched the cars drive away.
When the cars were gone, he walked over to the grave. Ray looked down into the hole in the ground and at the dark coffin splattered with a few tears. The glint of gold on dark marble caught his eye. He picked up the tiny diamond ring, turning it over in his fingers. It was so small compared to his large hands. Ray closed his hand over the metal band, feeling the diamond cut into his palm.
"Good-bye Christine" he whispered, feeling his own tears course down his cheeks.
THE END (for now...)
Okay guys, send those comments! Did you love it? Hate it? Do you want to see Ray and Christine end up together? Or remain forever apart? Your comments could dictate what happens in the next installment!
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