Disclaimer: The Characters of Due South belong to Alliance Communications. No copyright infringement is intended.

I woke up this morning and this just popped into my head, so I decided to follow it where it led. The usual disclaimers apply. They aren't mine. I make no money from this. My only reimbursement is the emails people send me (hint, hint), which are greatly appreciated. I even answer most of them.

It's Not Easy, Being Ray


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He awoke before the alarm, as had become the norm for him. He thought about just lying there until the alarm went off in another half hour or so, then decided, Nah, the noise wasn't worth it. First thing on his agenda, as usual, was using the facilities, taking a shower, and shaving. Afterward, hair still wet, but no longer dripping, he dressed. Padding around the apartment in sock feet, he opened the door and picked up his morning paper. Returning to the kitchen, he opened the cupboard.

"Damn. I forgot to get coffee. Again." Muttering imprecations to himself, he searched the cupboard for the ancient jar of instant coffee he kept for these emergencies. It was hiding behind a box of cereal. He ran the kitchen tap until the water got as hot as it was going to get. He mixed the powder with the warm water. Going to the refrigerator, he realized he was out of milk, as well. Again. He sighed, reaching in the cupboard for the sugar. Out. He closed his eyes and shook his head wearily. Then, he remembered.


He sifted through the contents of the dry goods cupboard. Finally. One box left.

He spilled the hard candy covered morsels of chocolate into one palm. Closing his eyes, he did the calculations in his head, then counted out the correct number of candy pieces into the cup, thought about it and added a few more, popping the remainder in his mouth. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, he smashed at them to release the sugary chocolate flavor. When the candy had melted, he cautiously took a sip, grimacing at the taste. Hey, it was caffeine. At least enough to get him to work where he could drink brewed sludge until his kidneys floated away. It was too bad that the lieutenant hadn't let them keep the cappuccino machine. That had been a great idea Frannie had had. He reminded himself to tell her, some time.

Sitting down with his paper and substitute cup of coffee, he quickly read over the headlines. Followed with an in-depth study of the sports pages, and finishing with the obituaries. No one he knew was there this morning. He finished his coffee (if it could be called that), and went into his bedroom to put on his shoes. It was still early, he had plenty of time before he was due at work. He was still a little groggy from sleep, not really quite awake yet. When he was ready to go, he took his empty cup, reached in a finger and scooped up the leftover chocolate on the bottom, licking the sweetness from his finger as he went to the sink, where he washed the cup and put it in the drying rack. He checked on his pet turtle and added a little water to the bowl, then fed the reptile. One last glance around and he picked up his keys from the table and walked out the door, locking it behind him.

As he walked the block and a half to his car, he contemplated where to stop for breakfast, chiding himself yet again to remember to stop at the grocer's on his way home from work. A flash of something drew his attention to one of the shops across the street. He paused for a moment, trying to track what had drawn his attention. There it was again. Someone in the little convenience store.

Shit. He grabbed his cell phone, punching in 911."There's a robbery in progress at the convenience store on Jefferson, uh the street number is 10857. Oh, yeah. I'm Detective Vecchio of the twenty-seventh. I could really use some backup, here. I'm gonna go get closer." He left the line open as he crossed the street, looking for a police cruiser. He got to the building and cautiously tried to see inside. All he could see was the clerk, hands held over his head, an expression of terror on his face.

Still no sign of the uniforms. He had a bad feeling about this. He crept closer to the door. He ever so slowly pushed the door open, ducking down out of the line of sight of the people inside. He managed to get inside without alerting anyone. Now that he was inside, he could hear the robber's voice, even make out some of what he was saying.

"You're gonna give us five hundred bucks a week. One way or another. The choice is yours. I'm tired of you jerking me around. Today is just a little reminder of what the deal is around here."

"Please. I have a family, if you take that much, I won't be able to feed my children." The man's accent became stronger with the stress.

Ray snuck along the aisle, wondering where the hell his backup was. He lifted the still open cell phone to his ear, whispering, "Where are they?" The person on the other end informed him that the police were on their way, to just be patient. He swore under his breath and disconnected the call. He had only heard the voices of the proprietor and the one goon; taking a chance, he set himself, ready to spring around the corner, when he remembered the mirrors. He glanced up, he could just see one from his position. He nearly dropped his gun when he realized who was holding the man up. He'd run across this bum before. He checked, only the one. There should have been two of them. He began to perspire. Then he saw the movement in the mirror. The other one was there. He breathed a sigh of relief. Tensing, he closed his eyes and thought a quick prayer that he could pull this off without anybody getting hurt. He jumped around the corner, gun leveled.

"Can anyone join this party? Or is it private?" One of the men went for his gun. He shifted his aim, "Huh-uh. Don't even think it." He was really annoyed. "Real careful, now, take out your guns and lay them on the Counter. DO IT!" The men hesitated for a moment, looking at one another. Then, the one who hadn't been talking, sighed and carefully removed his gun and placed it on the counter, as instructed. The second man followed suit. Ray motioned them to step away from the counter.

"Clasp your hands together behind your heads, and don't move. You don't want me to get scared and accidentally shoot you in the knee, now, do you?" Neither man moved. "I thought not." He looked at the proprietor, a middle aged man originally from somewhere in the middle east. "Uh, you can put your hands down, now Mr. Hamid." The man did as instructed.

"You are, police?" Confused.

"Yeah. Detective Vecchio, Twenty-seventh District. I live just down the street. I was headin' for my car, when I saw I guess it was your hands goin' up." He again lifted his cell phone, opening it and pushing the speed dial for the station. Francesca answered.

"Hey, Frannie. It's Ray. I need to talk to the lieutenant. Thanks." He watched his two prisoners closely, still expecting them to try something. When the lieutenant came on the line, he was careful not to allow his concentration to waver.

"Lieutenant? Vecchio. I got a little problem here. No. I don't want uniforms. I need our guys. I'll explain when you get here. 10857 Jefferson. Thanks." He disconnected and placed the cell phone back in his jacket pocket.

It took nearly fifteen minutes for the Lieutenant to arrive. He brought along Huey and Dewey as backup. They walked straight in and froze when they saw the tableau at the counter. Ray was sitting on the counter, gently bouncing his heels against the front of it. Mr. Hamid was standing behind the counter, chatting amicably with the detective. The two men in handcuffs were the surprise.

"What's goin' on, Vecchio?" Lieutenant Welsh growled. Staring at the two prisoners, who were looking rather pasty. Huey and Dewey wisely refrained from saying anything until they got some more information.

"I was walkin' to my car and saw somethin' movin' over here. I came over to see, and saw Mr. Hamid, here," gesturing with his gun, "with his hands in the air. I called 911, but after ten minutes, decided to try to sneak in and see what was goin' on. I found these two," another gesture with the gun, "Shakin' Mr. Hamid down for protection money. They wanted five hundred bucks a week. Mr. Hamid was tryin' to explain that he couldn't feed his family if he had to give up five hundred a week. I snuck up and spotted these guys in the mirror. I jumped them, called you and here we are."

The lieutenant glared at the two shake-down artists. "I'll call IA." He glared at his detective, sitting there calmly kicking his heels. "You know you're gonna get a lot of flack over this." Not a question. Just a reminder.

Ray nodded. "Yeah. But this is my neighborhood. I don't take kindly to guys messin' up around here." He glared at the two men. "I know it's just Mr. Hamid's word and mine against them, but I bet if Mr. Hamid here and me-I-go around and ask the other shop keepers, we'll find lots more who've been shook down." His grin was feral as he smiled at his prisoners. "I can't think of a worse criminal than the ones who hide behind the badge and uniform." He looked at Mr. Hamid. "What say we go see if we can find anyone else these bozos have shook down?" Lightly jumping from the counter, he smiled at his superior, "Or, do you want me to hang around?" his smile fading.

"Yeah. Huey, you take Mr. Hamid here around and see if you can find anyone to corroborate. Be nice."

"Yes, sir." Huey smiled at the nervous shopkeeper. "It's OK. I work with Ray. We'll take care of everything." Continuously trying to reassure the man, who kept looking back at Ray for reassurance.

"You get into the damnedest things." Welsh growled at him, dialing the number for Internal Affairs. "I'd a thought you woulda had enough with IA to avoid this."

"Yeah, normally I'd say that you're right. But this is my 'hood' I'm not gonna let anybody shake down my neighbors. It just ain't gonna happen. Not here. Not now. Not with me livin' here." He continuously glared at the pair of uniformed officers.

By the time the IA guys arrived, Huey and Mr. Hamid had returned with half a dozen neighboring shop owners, all of whom had been paying 'protection' money to the two patrolmen. The other uniformed officers who had been called in to transport the pair were about evenly split on who they glared at.Half glaring at their two fellow patrolmen, the other half glaring at Ray for turning them in. Ray didn't really care. For every person who gave him an angry stare, he would meet their gaze, chin raised in challenge, occasionally making comments about dirty cops and how it was everyone's responsibility to help weed them out. Receiving nods of agreement from the half who glared at their soon to be former fellow officers.

The Headhunters arrived, immediately separating the victims from one another and from the cops. Taking statements and getting them to promise to come down and sign their declarations. Fortunately, the pair from IA were unknown to any of the officers there, giving them a modicum of cooperation.The female half of the team drew the job of questioning Ray.


"Vecchio. Raymond."

"Badge number?"

He recited it.

"Tell me what went down, please, detective?"

"Sure. I was walkin' to my car, it's parked at the end of the block. That's the closest spot I could get to my apartment last night; so I was just goin' along, minding my own business when."."

He was a little surprised when she managed to take notes as fast as he talked. Impressed, as well. She didn't have him repeat himself time after time, either. Very cool, professional. Like a lawyer.

"You goin' to school and studyin' law by any chance?" he asked during a lull in the questioning.

She smiled. "As a matter of fact, yes." She replied. "What made you ask that?"

"Oh, I don't know. You ask questions like a lawyer, only friendlier." He shrugged. "You need anything else? I'd kinda like to get to work some time today, if you know what I mean."

"What do you mean?" Noncommittal.

"There's a bunch of bad guys out there just waitin' for me to bust 'em."

"Are you on a quota system?" she asked, curious.

"Nope. I just like to get the bad guys and get them off the streets. Why?"

"Just curious. Even cops?"

He sensed, what? Animosity? No. Curiosity? Not really. What? What was she really**asking? He'd like to know, but doubted if she'd tell him.

"Not usually. I don't suppose I'd go looking for bad cops. But when one shits on my lawn, I'm not gonna just let it lie there."

She smiled. "You don't like IA." She stated it matter of factly. Without rancor.

He shook his head. "Not especially. But then, our district got jumped on by a couple of 'em a few months ago. They tried to railroad the entire district, just 'cause one of 'em had a grudge against the lieutenant. He was a jerk and a creep and a bad guy. Nobody needs anybody like that."

"I heard about that. He's been reassigned, pending retirement."

"Yeah. After all that, he still gets a pension. Figures."

"You could have just turned around and left this one, you know."

"No, I couldn't. I shop here. I'd be real upset if I found out that my neighbors were afraid of me 'cause I'm a cop. It's not right."

"No. It isn't. Thank you for your statement. I'll probably have to talk to you later." He turned to leave. "By the way, good job. Especially getting the other victims to come forward."

"That was Mr. Hamid and Detective Huey. Not me. But Thanks. I'll pass it on." He smiled and left for work.

He still hadn't had time to find anything to eat, but at least he was lucky enough to get the first cup from the new pot. He added his milk and sugar, closing his eyes as he took a sip, sighing as he leaned back against the counter. He hadn't been surprised at the glares and surreptitious glances from his fellow officers when he came in. It was to be expected. But wrong was wrong. And as far as he was concerned, nothing was worse than a dirty cop. There was no excuse for putting the hooks into innocent civilians. He looked up as the door to the break room opened; watching warily, the person who entered, relaxing when he recognized his sister.

"You OK, Ray?" she asked, concerned.

"Yeah. I'm fine." Taking another sip of coffee.

"I been listenin' to what everyone's saying. Seems IA's been working on this for months. Word is that there's been a ring of these guys working throughout the city for years. It must reach pretty far up, cause this is the first break they've ever had." She glanced behind her, then came all the way in and closed the door. "They say it goes clear up to the Commissioner's office."

"Great. Now I'm really going to be popular. Just what I needed on top of everything else, half the department out after my head." He sighed. "Maybe I can get a job in Canada." Serious.

"Hey, you can ask Fraser." She suggested. They looked at each other, smiled and said, in unison, "Nah."

Ray chuckled. "Yeah, well, I doubt if your brother will approve. I may have just permanently ruined his reputation."

"Don't worry about it. He'd'a probably done the same thing." She came close and gave him a friendly hug. "I'm proud of you. You coulda walked right on by and no one would ever have known. But you didn't." Letting go of him, she stepped back. "But you're right. It's gonna be tough. There are apparently a lot of folks gonna be pretty steamed about this." She rubbed his arm, before backing away from him. "You need anything, anything at all, you let us know. Capice?"

"Yeah, I understand. Thanks." He knew he was going to be in for a hard time over this. But he wasn't about to back down now. It was far too late for that.

Fortunately, Lieutenant Welsh stood behind his men. Even when it involved calling Internal Affairs in on a case. His actions spoke loudly to everyone of his pride in Ray's courage to do the right thing. And he made a point of pressing the matter and telling all and sundry what a good job Ray had done. He even got the rest of his detectives to stand with him in supporting Ray. It was comforting, the way his colleagues would smile at him, or give him a thumbs up, or an occasional 'good job.' It made him feel good.

The IA investigation uncovered some serious corruption that permeated not only the police department, but the fire department as well. With involvement going all the way up to the City Alders. Ray was grateful when the spotlight finally moved from him to the important things, like the bad guys. It took nearly a month before he stopped worrying about watching his back. The only person who seemed to be able to take it all in stride, was his friend, Fraser.

"But, I do**understand, Ray. I know exactly**what you're going through." The mountie told him one evening over dinner, in the midst of the turmoil. "At least your superiors are willing to back you up." He added, wistfully.

"That's right. That's why you're stuck here in Chicago, isn't it?" Ray asked, remembering what he had read about his friend before he'd even met him.

"You turned in one of your own, and they punished you for it. That wasn't right, Fraser. It wasn't right." But glad it had happened, otherwise, he would have never met the man, let alone become friends with him.

"Have you had any trouble with people recognizing you?" Fraser asked, worriedly.

"Nah. It's been cool. They kept my face outa the papers, just used the name. Vecchio's gonna have some hard times over this, maybe, when he gets back. Especially if any of the guys gettin' in trouble notice that I'm not really him."

"That could be dangerous, for both of you." Fraser agreed.

"Nah. Not if you're watchin' his back." Thinking of the time that would come when Ben would no longer have to pretend to be his friend, wishing that he really was.

"I'll be watching your back, as well, Ray." Brows furrowed in concern.

"Not when he gets back." There was sadness in Ray's voice. "You two will go back to the way you were, and I'll go back to the twenty-fourth. Maybe. Maybe I'll quit. I don't know."

"You most certainly will not**quit. I shan't allow it." Fraser declared. "You're too good an officer, too good a man, to quit. This is only a passing thing. You will get through this, and the city will be the better for it. You mustn't quit, Ray.It will send the message that doing the right thing is a bad thing, and it most certainly, is not." He was familiar with his friend's low self-esteem. He hated how it would show itself at the most inopportune times. But he liked the way it allowed him to comfort and bolster Ray's flagging ego. Reaffirming the slighter man's worth. He watched Ray struggling with his inner fears. He needed to find some way to take Ray's mind off of what was happening.

"Ray, What if we go to the ice rink after dinner? Get in some skating?

"Maybe find a pickup game?" Smiling at the way Ray's face lit up at the idea. Even in the midst of summer, as it currently was, there was the possibility of finding a hockey game to play.

"Hey, that's a great idea." Smiling for probably the first time in the nearly five weeks since he'd interrupted the shake-down.

"I am so**sorry, Detective. It was an accident." The younger man insisted, fussing over the injured Ray.

"Just get away from me, you...you menace." Ray growled. He still lay on the ice where he'd landed after an extremely unfortunate block that had resulted in what he was certain was a broken leg.

"I've called the paramedics, Ray." Fraser announced, crouching beside his friend. "May I take a look?" Watching his friend's eyes for permission.

Ray couldn't believe it. What was with these Canadians, anyway? No, that wasn't fair. Turnbull hadn't meant to hurt him. He sighed and opened his eyes to look up at the two Canadians. "Go ahead, Ben. Turnbull?"

"Yes, Detective?" Wringing his hands in consternation.

"I forgive you. I know you weren't really trying to kill me." Then let out a gasp as Ben's hands carefully felt his injured limb.

"I believe it is quite a clean break, Ray. It doesn't feel twisted or splintered. How's your ankle?"

"Can't feel it." Ray said through gritted teeth.

Fraser wondered what could have possessed them to invite Turnbull along with them. Other than the sad, wistful expression in the younger man's eyes. It had**been Ray's idea to include the younger man. Why, was anyone's guess. Ben had been quite embarrassed by Turnbull's constant prattle, his vociferous hero worship of both men. In fact, he had been surprised by Ray's patience with the other Canadian. It made him wonder what had gotten into his friend. He had thought that Ray disliked Turnbull.

He wondered why he had invited the crazy Canuck along. Must have been the sad, lonely, big-eyed mountie expression. He was amazed by these people, didn't they have any friends? Of course, he was a great one to talk. It had been a good game, they'd found several other's at the rink, trying to get a pickup game going. It had worked out well, with enough people to have some pretty good competition. They had even been able to split evenly along national lines, with four Canadians and four Americans. The score had been tied, and the competition was fierce. Ray had just made an excellent slap shot that had gotten past their goalie, when Turnbull, unable to stop himself in time, had plowed into him. He'd been down on one knee from making his shot, and had tripped the speeding constable. They'd landed in a heap, the sound of his leg breaking audible even over the sounds of them crashing to the ice.

Now, the game over, waiting for an ambulance, the rest of the players commiserating with him, he decided that it wasn't so bad, after all. Yeah, Turnbull was a real klutz, but besides that, he tried really, really hard. Ray decided to let him off the hook.

"It was an accident, Turnbull." He saw the misery in the younger man's eyes. "Do you even have a first name?" Suddenly realizing that he'd never heard him called anything but 'Turnbull' or 'Constable'.

"Yes, sir." Was the subdued reply. The rest of the group had moved off, now that the game was over, with a quick glance around to make sure, he whispered to the fallen American. "Renfield."

Ray stared. Then he stared at Fraser, who closed his eyes and nodded, a pained expression on his face. Great. He thought. His first name is worse than Ben's. "OK." Uncertain. "Would it be all right if I call you "Renny.?" He asked, uncertain of his reception.

Turnbull's expression was nearly orgasmic, causing his companions to glance worriedly at each other. "Oh, yes, Sir. That would be just fine." Thrilled at the camaraderie he felt at the request. His eyes worshipful as he gazed at the other two men.

Fraser shuddered slightly. Wondering if Ray had any idea of what he might be letting himself in for. Personally, he thought Turnbull a rather strange personality, easily seeing him as a crazed fan, stalking the object of his obsession.

Fraser had been correct in his diagnosis. It was a simple break of the tibia. His leg in a cast, he realized that he wouldn't be able to drive his classic GTO. He couldn't depress his clutch with his left leg in the cast.

Surprisingly, it was Turnbull who offered to go with him to drive his car home for him. Remembering Ben's lack of practice, he hesitantly agreed. They caught a cab from the hospital back to the skating rink.

Both men were impressed with Turnbull's excellent driving skills. He was cautious, but not timid. Once he got them to Ray's apartment, the two Canadian's insisted on assisting him up to his apartment. Ray was glad that the elevator was working, as both mounties were more than willing to carry him up the stairs, if need be.

Once inside, they got him comfortably ensconced on his sofa, his cast leg elevated. Ben fussed around in the kitchen, fixing coffee. Turnbull sat nervously in the armchair, furtively taking in what information he could glean from what he could see.

"You're a pretty good driver, Renny." Ray said, trying to put the fidgeting man at ease. He couldn't have picked a better thing to say. Turnbull's face lit up like a child's at Christmas. He wiggled like a puppy in his pleasure at the words.

"Why, thank you, Detective. That is most kind of you to say so. I do try to be a cautious driver. I must admit, that is quite a car you have, Sir. Quite a car. I imagine she can really go. Have you ever raced her?"

"Not officially. Couple of street drags when we first got her fixed up. Not anymore, though. I"D like to get her out on a track and see what she can do, some time. That'd be a real kick in the ass."

"Oh, yes, Sir. I can imagine." He paused for a moment, gathering his courage, "Do you suppose if that opportunity should ever arise, I might be permitted to watch?" Holding his breath, not daring to hope.

"Sure. Renny.Look, this 'sir' stuff is gettin' kinda old. My name is Ray." Turnbull's expression went incandescent. Christmas and**birthday rolled into one.

"Oh, thank you, S...Ray. That is most kind of you." He was suddenly very shy, not quite daring to meet his hero's eyes. He stared down at his clasped hands, dangling between his knees as he sat on the edge of his seat.

"Relax, Renny. I''m not gonna bite." Ray admonished the nervous younger man. "My dad's been talking about taking the Goat out to the drag strip next month, but I guess it's gonna have to be a little longer than that, until my leg heals, but you're more than welcome to come." Wondering why he was bothering with this kid. Realizing that it was probably due, somewhat, to the helplessness of the man. He was so much a fish out of water, it was unreal.

"That would be wonderful, S...Ray." Blushing shyly.

"Here's the coffee, gentlemen." Fraser announced, setting down a tray with all the things needed for their drinks. He'd been listening to the conversation and was amazed at Ray's kind acceptance of his fellow officer, particularly in the light of the younger man having been the cause of Ray's current injury.

Ray struggled to sit up, the local anesthetic was wearing off, and it was starting to throb. Turnbull jumped up to help him, surprisingly managing to not**knock over anything or bump into anyone. His grip was strong and sure, gently helping the injured Ray into a sitting position, carefully bolstering the injured leg with throw pillows. Ben served the coffee, being familiar with how each man preferred their brew. He perched on the ottoman, beside the chair that Turnbull was using. He watched Ray closely, waiting for the pain medication that had been prescribed to take effect. He planned on putting Ray to bed, and then camping out on his sofa, just in case he needed anything during the night.

They chatted briefly, but Ray was already starting to feel the effects of the pain medication he had taken. He was ready when Ray's hands went lax and his cup started to slip. He caught the nearly empty cup and handed it to Turnbull, who collected Ben's cup as well and, along with his own cup, carried them to the kitchen and quickly washed them and placed them in the drying rack. Returning to the living room, he asked,

"What shall we do, now, Sir?"

"Now, we get him to bed. Give me a hand." With help from the younger mountie, he managed to lift Ray, cradling him against his chest like a child. He was surprised by how little the man weighed. Deciding the American couldn't weigh any more than a hundred and fifty pounds. Apparently, he lied about his weight. Odd, that he would claim to be heavier than he actually was. With Turnbull getting the bedroom door for him and turning down the covers, he carried his friend into his bedroom and lay him on the bed, careful not to awaken him.

The doctors had slit his pants up in order to work on his leg. With Turnbull's help, they carefully undressed the sleeping man. Stripping him down to his shorts and tee-shirt. Then, they pulled the covers over him and tucked him in. Once they were sure he was comfortable, they quietly exited the bedroom, turning out the light and closing the door most of the way.

"I'm going to spend the night here, on the couch, Turnbull, in case he wakes up and needs anything. You may as well go home, now."

"Yes, Sir. If you're sure you don't need anything else?" Sounding hopeful.

"No. I'm certain. Thank you. Will you see to Diefenbaker for me, please? I'd bring him here, but he'd want to sleep with Ray, and might inadvertently hurt him. Oh, you might bring me a change of clothes tomorrow, if you'd be so kind," he added as an afterthought.

"Oh, certainly, Sir. I'd be happy to take care of your wolf. Since tomorrow is Saturday, which clothes would you prefer?"

"Just some jeans and a shirt, please. And, ah, underwear, of course."

"Oh, of course." Blushing. "If you need anything, you will**call me, won't you?"

"Yes." Ben replied, only to quiet the man and get him on his way. Gently pushing his colleague toward the door, "I'll see you in the morning. When you come, try to keep quiet, as he needs as much peace and quiet as he can get, after all, he is injured. In fact, don't come before nine o'clock, I'll keep quiet so he can rest."

"Very well, Sir. I shan't come before nine a.m. Will there be anything else?"

"No. I think that should do, oh, wait." Ben turned back to Ray's kitchen quickly checking the refrigerator and cupboards for supplies. "He's out of coffee and milk, and, could you pick up a dozen eggs, please?"

"Certainly, Sir. Coffee, milk, eggs. Anything else?"

"No, I don't think so. That should do. Oh, wait, bread. Um, sourdough, I think and he's out of sugar, as well. He uses it in his coffee. Yes. That should do."

"Very good, Sir. Coffee, milk, eggs, sugar, and sourdough bread."

"Yes. Do you need any money?"

"No, Sir. I've got it covered. Shall I call before I come?"

"No, that's all right. I'm sure to be awake when you get here. Thank you for all the trouble you're going through for this."

"Well, Sir, I do**feel rather responsible for his current predicament, Sir." Blushing in shame.

"It was**an accident, Turnbull. It's not as though you were actually trying to hurt him. It was just an accident." Get over it already.

"Yes, Sir. Well, if that's all, I guess I'll be going, now. Good night, Sir."

"Good night, Constable." Closing the door firmly behind the man he'd had to physically push out the door.

He wasn't sure how he'd ended up on the outside of the door, but he shrugged and turned towards the stairs, repeating the shopping list over and over so that he wouldn't forget it.

He slept deeply, but restlessly. His leg hurt. He almost woke up several times, but there was a soft, soothing voice that told him that everything was all right and that he should just rest and go back to sleep. The voice made him feel safe, so he followed the instructions and snuggled deeper beneath the covers.

He didn't sleep at all well. Ray's uncomfortable sleep kept waking him up. He'd go investigate, only to find his friend tangled in the covers, or having kicked them off. He would gently untangle the slender man and replace the pillow under his cast, speaking softly to soothe his troubled sleep. It seemed to work, as Ray would settle right down every time. Finally, about four a.m., Ray settled into a deep, quiet sleep, allowing Fraser the chance for a few peaceful hours of rest.

For one of the rare times in his life, Benton Fraser was still asleep at nine o'clock in the morning. The gentle knock at the door startled him awake, resulting in his falling off the couch and landing flat on his back. Shaking his head in self-annoyance, he stood quickly, brushing himself off, even though there was very little dust in the apartment. He swiftly made his way to the door, opening it to admit an annoyingly perky Turnbull.

"Good morning, Constable Fraser. I trust that everything went well last night?" Turnbull looked like he'd just stepped out of GQ, his clothes pressed, The grocery bag and a small suitcase held by his side.

"It was all right. Ray had a few rough moments, but he never actually woke up. I didn't really get to sleep until about four. Oh, come in." Suddenly realizing he was blocking the entrance. He took the grocery bag from his fellow mountie and led the way to the kitchen. He stared around for a moment, then grabbed the can opener from the tool jar on the counter. He pulled the can of coffee from the bag and opened it, following with the quiet domesticity of setting up the drip coffee maker to do its job.

"Thank you, Turnbull." Ben told the younger man.

"Oh, you're most welcome, Sir. No trouble at all." Smiling happily, taking pride at having to managed to complete his task without any errors.

"Sit down, Turnbull."

"Oh, yes. Of course. Thank you, Sir." Grabbing a kitchen chair and pulling it quietly out and sitting. Beaming at remembering to keep quiet.

Fraser just shook his head in amazement at his colleague's apparent denseness. He looked in the bag to remove the other items therein, putting them away. When the coffee was finished dripping, he pulled three cups from the cupboard and poured two of them full and handed one to Turnbull.

"Thank you, Sir." Taking the cup. Smiling when Fraser handed him the milk and sugar. He added both, and sat quietly stirring it.

'He even sits at attention.' Fraser thought to himself. 'Shoulders square, back like he's got a ramrod up it.Was I ever that young and insecure?' Realizing that, perhaps, he had been.

"How long have you been on the force, Renfield?" Using the man's first name, to take it out of the realm of inquisition.

"Almost five years, now, Sir." Was the response.

"Really? You're how old, now?"

"I'll be thirty on my next birthday, Sir. I got somewhat of a late start at the academy, as I decided to get my degree, first."

"You have a degree? In what?" startled.

"Criminology, Sir. I found the subject fascinating, when I was younger, and decided to study it. I only have a Bachelor's degree, but I decided that if I wanted a career in law enforcement, I had better get at it. Did you go to college, Sir?" Still not comfortable with calling the older man by anything but his title, or 'sir'"

"Yes. I have a Bachelor's degree in criminology as well. I'm surprised that they sent you here. This is rather a poor posting." Knowing that both he and Inspector Thatcher had been relegated here as a punishment detail.

"Oh, I know, Sir. But I'd read so much about both you and your father, that I requested it."

"How would you have heard about me?" Curious.

"Well, when I entered the Academy, your father was, naturally, a part of the curriculum. One of the instructors apparently knew you, as well, and included you in the discussions on technique and dedication. Saying that you had emulated your father and that such men could still exist in the modern RCMP. When I finished my first tour, after graduation, I requested to be posted with you. Unfortunately, that was after you had been sent here, so I haven't been able to see you in action, as it were, very much." He gave a sad little sigh and looked worshipfully at the older man.

What can you say to someone who idolizes you? "I had no idea." Then fell silent, not having any idea of what else he could possibly say.Embarrassed.

"That's perfectly all right, Sir. One can't always know everything. Or be where one wishes to be." Smiling up at his hero.

Ben was saved from trying to continue the conversation by the shuffle-thump of Ray hobbling out on his crutches.

"Ray!" Surprised that he hadn't heard the American wake up. "Here, let me help you." Moving to assist his friend, only to have Ray lift one hand from a crutch and wave him off.

"Nah. I'm fine. Gotta get used to these things, anyway." Hesitantly making his way to the table, where Turnbull had pulled out a chair for him and a second one to rest his cast leg on. "Thanks." Directing it at both men with a smile, as Fraser set a cup of coffee before him. "Oh, man." Reaching for the milk and sugar, quickly mixing the ingredients and taking a quick sip of the hot brew. "Just what I needed." Smiling again. "So, what's up?"

"Well, Ray," Turnbull smiled, if he'd been a dog, his tail would have been bruising his sides, "Obviously, we're all up." Belaboring the obvious.

"Uh huh." Ray answered. Grinning. He glanced up at Ben. "You OK, Ben? Did I keep you up last night?" Frowning in worry.

"Well, you got tangled in the covers a few times, but other than that, I was fine. What about you? Did you take your medication yet?"

"No." Pulling the pill bottle from the pocket of his robe. "It says to take it with food." Setting the bottle on the table.

"What would you like for breakfast, Ray?" Fraser asked. "I had Turnbull pick up some eggs, as I noticed you were out."

"Sure. Whatever. I can fix my own breakfast, you know. I'm not helpless."

"Of course you're not helpless." Fraser told him. "However, we're here, so you might as well not have to be up on that leg any more than you have to."

"Oh. OK."

By the end of the weekend, Ray was thoroughly looking forward to going back to work. The mounties were very nice, but their hovering was starting to drive him nuts. The only problem he could see with going to work, was driving to and from. He didn't want to use a taxi, but he didn't really trust himself to drive. He was surprised Monday morning when there was a knock at his door at about seven-thirty. He opened the door to see,

"Frannie? What are you doin' here?"

"Fraser called me last night. Said you would be needing a ride for a few weeks. So, here I am. What happened to your leg?"

"Uh, we were playing some hockey Friday night, and Turnbull tripped and fell on me." He turned from the door and checked his apartment, making sure everything was turned off. "Thanks for comin' by and gettin' me." He crutched his way through the door, turned and pulled the door closed, then locked the dead-bolt.

"Hey, no problem. It's kinda on the way, you know?" Leading the way to the elevator and pressing the button, then holding the door for him as he made his way in.

"Thanks." He mumbled as he entered the elevator. "So, how was your weekend?"

"Oh, boring. I just sat around reading a book, most of the time. How about you?"

"Oh, well, you'd have probably liked it. I had both Fraser and Turnbull here, did you know his first name's Renfield? What kinda person names their kid Renfield? Anyway, they spent most of both Saturday and Sunday here. We watched some baseball, played a little cards, Turnbull went out and brought back some movies. Good ones, even. If you ever have a choice? Don't let Fraser near the kitchen. He is not**much of a cook, although he can do a real mean omelet. Turnbull, on the other hand, can not only cook, he can drive."

"Wait a minute. You let Turnbull**drive your car? Oh, man. Ray barely let anybody even touch**his car. You let him drive it?" Staring at him in shock.

"Yeah. He's a good driver. Not timid, but real careful. I sure didn't want Fraser to drive."

Francesca laughed. "No. definitely not." Shaking her head in wonder.

When they got to the station, Ray headed straight for the lieutenant's office.

"What the hell happened to you?" Welsh bellowed.

"I had a little accident Friday. Broke my leg. No, it isn't work related." He sighed. "I guess I'll be doing everybody's paperwork for the next couple of months." Prepared to face the hassle of typing up everyone's reports. Hell, it might even help his typing speed and ability to work the computer.

"No. I got a better idea. You know how bad the files are backlogged? I want you to get all the outstanding files, only the complete ones, mind you, and get them put away. When you're done, I want the only files out on people's desks to be the current cases. Got that?"

"Yes, Sir." Surprised at how much easier the assignment was than he had expected. He turned toward the door.

"Oh, and Vecchio?"

He stopped, turning back, his hand on the doorknob. "Yes, Sir?"

"Check the files. If they're not complete, or unfinished, or stuff missing from them, give 'em back to whoever they belong to. I want only completed stuff in there. Just in case they ever audit us."

"Yes, Sir." Smiling, he sketched a salute and maneuvered his way through the door.

"Ray! Hey, Vecchio. Where's the Douglas file?"

"RAY! Where's the Chamber's files?"

"Hey, Vecchio, you got the Marshall file?"

"Douglas is filed under "D. for dummy, Dewey. Chamber's was put back on your desk, "Cause it wasn't complete, Rivers. And the Marshall file is down at the DA's office." He was sitting on a tall stool, his cast leg hooked on a rung, throbbing, but he was unwilling to stop to rest it. He'd been at the filing for almost a week, now, and didn't feel as though he was getting anywhere. When was the last time the files were put away, anyway? He wondered.

"Hey, Ray?" Frannie called. Stopping beside him and laying a hand on his knee. He looked at her, and she could see the pain in his eyes, although he was doing a pretty good job of hiding it.

"Yeah, Frannie?" Tiredly.

"Come on. It's almost one. You haven't taken a break all day, except to go to the bathroom. Let's go get some lunch, OK? My treat."

He stared. "Uh,. He looked around, no one was looking their way. "OK. Let me just go tell the Lieutenant."

"No. You just get down. Go to your desk and sit there, put your leg up. I'll bring it back to you. OK?"

"Uh, sure." Uncertain. He watched as his ersatz sister stalked over to the lieutenant's office, knocked once and walked in. She didn't even bother to close the door.

"Hey, Lieutenant. Ray's takin' a break, finally. His leg's really bothering him. He's been up working those files all day, and barely even took a bathroom break. I'm gonna go get him some lunch. I'm gonna make him take his pain medicine, and he may be a little groggy this afternoon, so cut him some slack, OK?"

"What do you mean he's only taken a bathroom break? What's he doin' out there, anyway?"

"The files. Like you told him. Hell. You can see the tops of about half the desks out there. Did you know that Peterson's desk had a glass top? The pictures under it have got to be fifteen years old. I mean, the guy has hair**in them."

Lieutenant Welsh stood up and looked out into the bullpen. He was surprised to see the difference. "You're right. He's workin' too hard. Tell him to go home. I'll see him Monday."

"Oh, no. He's decided he wants to do this right, so you'd better just let him do it. All he needs is a little break. He's been up on that rickety stool all day, with his leg hangin' down. He needs to put it up for a while. If I can, I'm gonna try and get him to just relax for about an hour, OK?"

"Sure, sure. Go ahead. If you can talk him into goin' home. Take him. In fact,. He looked at his watch. "He isn't due to get off until six, but he came in at what, eight?"

"Yeah. He likes to be early, have a cup of coffee before he starts. But with the light duty, he just takes his coffee with him and starts filing." Francesca agreed.

"Well, he's been doing that all week, take him home at two-thirty, three. If he gives you any lip, tell him to come see me." Smiling, almost.

"Sure, Sir. Thanks." She turned and exited, gently closing the office door behind her. She could see Ray at his desk, the pain no longer being schooled from his expression. He was leaning back, his eyes squeezed tightly shut, the sweat beading on his face. She suddenly realized why; he'd been sitting on that stupid stool for so long that he'd cut off the circulation to his injured leg. Now, he was suffering the consequences. She winced in commiseration. She quickly left the bullpen, headed for the local deli.

He hadn't cared if he didn't have any food to take with the pain pill. He swallowed it dry, too much in pain to try and even go for a glass of water or a soda. It took everything he had to keep from bursting into tears from the pain. His leg throbbed with every pulse of his heart. He couldn't even open his eyes, it hurt so bad. He hoped the pill would go to work soon. Meanwhile, he was careful not to move.

"Ray? You OK?" Huey asked, softly. Seeing the obvious pain Ray was in. "Is there anything I can do? Get you something, maybe?"

"Yeah. I'm fine. Just forgot to move. My leg went to sleep on that stool, and now it's lettin' me know that it wasn't too good an idea. Could you get me some ginger ale, please?" Digging in his pocket for change.

"Sure. Don't worry about the money. Hell. I can afford to spring for a soda. Be right back."

"What's with Vecchio?" His partner asked.

"Nothing. He's fine."

"Then why's his face all screwed up like that?"

"He's got a broken leg, man. He's been up all day, putting files away. Of course his leg is starting to hurt." Exasperated.


Jack Huey just shook his head, knowing that it had never occurred to his partner that a broken leg might hurt.

"But, he's got a cast on."

"So? Haven't you ever broken a bone, before?"

"Well, sure. My arm once. When I was a kid. But I don't remember it hurting all that much. Just itching."

"Well, trust me. If you had been using your arm, it would have hurt." Brushing past his partner to go for Ray's soda. Dewey thought to ask Ray about his leg, but changed his mind. Shrugging, he went back to his own desk, and started back to work on some of the paperwork he had stacked up.

He'd waited too long before taking the pill. It had been twenty minutes, but it didn't seem to be helping any. He really wanted nothing more than to go home and lie down, but he still had almost four hours left to his shift. Including his lunch hour. He glanced up when Frannie came back. Huey had brought him the ginger ale, and he'd been nursing it along. Not really thirsty, but wanting something in his stomach for the pill to worry instead of his stomach lining.

"Hey, Ray. Did you take your pills?"

"Yeah. Right after you left. They haven't kicked in, yet." He looked apathetically at the deli bag. "What you got?"

"Well, I got you a New York style Pastrami, and I got a roast beef. If you'd rather have the roast beef, I'll trade."

"Nah. Pastrami's fine." New York Pastrami was more than fine, actually. He let her pull the sandwiches out of the bag. Carefully unwrapping his sandwich and handing it to him.

"I got you potato salad, and ginger ale. Is that OK?"Not really certain. But having seen him drink ginger ale, she knew that the drink would be OK.

"Yeah. Fine. I like potato salad." He looked at his sandwich for a moment, then took a bite. He closed his eyes, chewing slowly. Savoring the taste of lots of pastrami, good strong mustard and Kosher dill pickles on a torpedo roll. "They do make a good sandwich there." He said, after swallowing.

"Yeah. I figured you'd like it."

"Hey, Vecchio! Have you seen the Davidson files?"

"Did you look on your desk?"

"Why would it be on my desk? I gave it to you to file."

"It hasn't been signed off. I'm only filing the stuff that's complete. You get all the signatures, and I'll file it."

"What? You too prissy to file my stuff? It's almost done, you should file it. Or get the signatures, yourself." Voice raising in anger.

"Thompson!" Lieutenant Welsh's voice boomed across the bullpen. Everyone who had been watching Thompson ream Vecchio a new one suddenly found something else to focus their attention on.

"Yeah, Lieutenant?" Still angry.

"You were asking about the Davidson file?"

"Yeah. I found something else that goes with it, and Vecchio won't tell me what he did with it." Whining.

"Now, I could have sworn that he just told you he put it back on your desk because it wasn't complete. You were still missing signatures?" the lieutenant asked. Thompson didn't even have the grace to blush. Welsh turned away from him. "OK. Listen up, people. Vecchio's got a broken leg. He's on light duty, so I assigned him the onerous task of catching up on the filing. HOWEVER. I also told him that he was not**to file anything that wasn't complete. He's doing that. If you give him incomplete files, he's putting them back on your desk. He needs to stay off his leg, in fact, I noticed he was on the tall stool all morning, filing you guy's backlog. He's doin' a great job. You, however, are not. If the file isn't complete, don't give it to him. He's got enough to do without having to return every third file because you guys are hoping that you can slip something past him and file the incompletes. Don't do it. Now. If anyone else has slipped an incomplete file into his pile, I suggest you come and dig it out, without**messing up the rest of the stack. He's gonna be at this for a while, so you have plenty of time to catch up on your paperwork before he's back to regular duty. The next guy who asks him where a file is, had better understand that they're gonna deal with me. Do I make myself clear?" He glared at all the detectives in the bullpen, making eye contact with each and every one. "Now, I suggest you come and get your incomplete files back, now, while Vecchio's still at lunch. I don't want to have to see him hobblin' around givin' you guys back stuff you shouldn't'a given him in the first place." He looked around, again. "Let's get to work, people." Smiling grimly at Ray as the rest of the detectives scurried to go through the piles of filing. All except Huey.

"Detective Huey? Didn't you hear what I said?"

"Yes, Sir. I did. I didn't give him any incomplete files. It's a lot less work to follow instructions to begin with." He smiled and winked at Ray, who wearily returned the grin.

He had noticed that all of Huey's files were complete, since he hadn't had to make any trips to his desk to return anything. They rest of them, though.... He'd been spending more than half the time hobbling between the crowded desks, returning files. Francesca had helped, several times, but she had her own work to do, as well. He'd given up on using his crutches to get around, since he couldn't carry the files and maneuver the crutches at the same time. That was part of the reason his leg was aching so abominably. Frannie and Huey sat with him while he ate his lunch. Talking and trying to lighten his spirits.

Ray was really too tired to care, but he was grateful for the company. It kept him from paying attention to the once huge stacks of files swiftly dwindling away to almost nothing. He could probably get what was left filed in just an hour or two. He glanced up when the lieutenant stopped by his desk.

"You doin' OK, Ray?" His voice rather soft, for a change.

"Yes, Sir. I'm fine. Amazing how small those stacks got, isn't it?"

"Yeah. A real surprise." He looked at the trio. "So, Huey, good job." Granting praise where it was due.

"I remember what it was like with a busted leg. Besides, what goes around comes around and I don't want anything bad happening to me." He smiled. "On top of which, anyone who turned in unfinished files got them back, and only know that they're somewhere on their desk. But where? They just made more work for themselves, as well as Ray. I'm not into making extra work for myself, or my partner, for that matter."

"Yeah. I noticed his reports were complete, too." Ray said, smiling wearily.

"Well, it wasn't that long ago that I broke my leg, so I remember what it was like." Welsh focused his attention on Ray. "So, from now on, you make sure you take regular breaks, keep that leg elevated, take your medicine when you're supposed to. Understood, Detective?"

"Yes, sir. I just lost track of time, I guess. There was so much and I wanted to get it done."

"You've got five to seven more weeks of this, Ray. Take your time. I know for a fact that there isn't enough filing to last you the whole time. Why don't you finish up your own back log of files, get them out of the way and then go back to the rest of them on Monday? Or... You could just go home now and start fresh Monday."

Ray stared at the Lieutenant. So did Huey. Surprise clearly etched on their features. Welsh met Huey's gaze. A silent message passed between them.

"Yeah, Ray. You've been working harder than anyone could expect this week. If anyone asks, I'll take care of it for you. What do you say?"

"Thanks, but no. I don't feel like takin' a cab home. I'd just as soon stay here and do some more work... Did I just say that?"

"You aren't lazy, Ray." Frannie insisted. "You'd just rather be out catchin' bad guys than sittin' around doin' paperwork. I don't blame ya for that."

"Francesca, get your brother out of here. He's done a months worth of filing in a week. And you've done a great job of helpin' him, on top of your regular duties." Welsh insisted.

"Hey, the filing is part of my job, but these guys keep forgettin' to finish the work. That's not my fault."

"I wasn't saying anything bad about the job you're doing Ms. Vecchio." Welsh's voice dropped dangerously. "I was merely pointing out what a good job you and Ray have been doing. Don't twist what I say."

"Sorry, Sir."

"That's OK. Anyway, you two go on and get out of here, now."

"Can't I finish what's left, first?" Ray asked. "It shouldn't take more than an hour."

Welsh stared at the obviously tired younger man. "You're nuts, you know that? I'm givin' you time off and you want to stay and work some more? Why?"

"'Cause, I'll feel better knowing that that stack is gone and not waiting for me on Monday morning. I know there will be more, but for now, I want to feel like I've finished, OK?" He looked anxiously up into the face of his superior.

Who woulda thought this guy was quite so conscientious? "Fine. But keep your leg up."

"Yes, Sir."

It took less than an hour to finish the filing. Frannie brought the much-diminished stack of folders to him at his desk, where he alphabetized them. Once they were in order, it took little time to put them away, and kept him from being up on his injured leg so long. When he was finished, Frannie checked in with the lieutenant and they left.

"You want to come up for a soda, or something?" Ray offered.

She looked closely at the man who was pretending to be her brother. She found herself liking him. As more than the guy who was helping keep her brother's cover intact. She was finding herself liking him as a person, as a friend.

"Sure. I could use a soda."

They talked. He asked about her dreams, what she wanted in life. She asked him the same question, his answer wasn't nearly as complete as hers. He was still tentative about what he wanted in life. She asked him why.

"Well, I always thought that Stella and me would be together forever...I'm still not sure what it was I did that made her hate me, well, not hate, maybe, but she doesn't love me any more. Sometimes...."

The sadness in his eyes brought her hand unconsciously to reach out to touch his in an offer of comfort. "I think I understand. You still love her, the same as you always did, but she's moved on past that point and left you behind. I'm sorry."

"It's nothin' for you to be sorry about. I was never in her class to begin with. I shouldn't be surprised that she finally noticed."

"Hold on, just a minute!" Frannie said, agitatedly, "You've got a lot to offer a woman. You're good lookin', funny, you dance like a dream, you care about people, you're sensitive and kind. So what if you don't come from money? That's no class distinction. Class comes from inside. And believe me, mister, you got class."

They stared at each other. Both of them shocked at her outburst. He glanced down at where she had hold of one of his hands. Looking back up at her, he gently reached out and stroked her cheek with the fingers of his free hand. His brows drawn down in concentration, he started to shift toward her, hesitated, looked deeply into her eyes, and finished the action, leaning forward to gently kiss her. She released his left hand, twisted toward him and slid both arms around his much too slender body. His right hand combed through her hair as his left slid around her and pulled her closer to him.

The kiss lasted forever, and ended in an instant. They slowly pulled apart a bit, panting and staring at each other in wonderment. Ray tilted his head and went in for another kiss; she met him half way. This one wasn't quite so mind-boggling. When they separated again, Ray smiled shyly at her. She blinked and smiled back.

"You're supposed to be my brother." She whispered, running her fingers through the short, soft spikes of his hair.

"I know." He whispered back, cupping her face and running his thumb up and down her cheek. "I don't feel very brotherly, right now."

"Yeah. I'm not feelin' too familial right now, either." Still whispering. She looked into his eyes. "What are we doing?" Uncertain.

"I'm not sure. This wasn't planned. Honest."

"Oh, I know that. But what are we going to do?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"Well, a lot depends on what you**want us to do? Where do you**want to go from here?"

"I...I don't know. This is kinda sudden, you know?"

"Uh huh." Pulling her close, pressing her head against his chest, allowing him to nuzzle against her hair. His arms encircling her, one hand gently stroking up and down her back, the other still cupping her, face with his thumb softly brushing up and down her cheek. "Is this OK? Just holding you like this?" Please say yes. Please....

She snuggled closer in his embrace, one arm encircling his thin body while the other gently ran up and down his chest. "Mmmmm-hmmmm." She murmured. "This is nice. I like this."

He relaxed, not having realized that he had been tense. He sighed and rested his cheek against the top of her head. "Me, too." Tightening his grip for a moment in a hug.

They remained like that, just holding one another and basking in the undemanding warmth and presence of another human being who cared for them. Falling asleep in each other's arms, they dozed away the afternoon and early evening.

He slowly returned to consciousness, his leg aching. He was surprised to find that he had fallen asleep sitting up, even more surprised to find the soft, warm woman snuggled against him. Smiling as he remembered the events leading up to this particular position. Unfortunately, he could see no recourse but to waken her, as his leg was letting him know that it needed to be elevated again.

"Frannie? Sweetheart?" He whispered, gently patting her cheek. "Francesca?"

"Hmmmm?" Wriggling against him. "Too skinny, Ray." She mumbled, still mostly asleep.

"Yeah, well, you would be, too, if you had to live on take out or my cooking." He replied.

She chuckled, waking up. She smiled at him. "That was a nice nap." She said. "Thank you."

"Thank you, too. It was nice. But now my leg is starting to hurt again, and I need to elevate it."

"Why don't I help you to your room and you can lie down on your bed? She suggested.

"I'm not sleepy, any more. I just need to get my leg elevated." Suddenly nervous.

"Do you have a TV in your bedroom?" She asked.

"Yeah, but."

"OK, then. Let's get you to bed." Then what she had just said registered and she blushed. "Oh. Sorry. I...." Suddenly embarrassed and nervous.

"I know you don't want to go to bed with me." Ray said gently. "Now, if I was Fraser, it'd be a different story." Smiling sadly.


He looked up into her eyes, "It's OK, Frannie. I understand."

"No. You don't. Yeah, I'm infatuated with Fraser. He's just so...so perfect. He's not really real, you know? I'm quite aware that I won't ever have a chance with him. But you, you and me, we can be friends, at least, can't we? I mean, you're a real person and so am I. Neither of us is perfect. And we've both been hurt. You're right. I don't want to have casual sex with you. I don't want casual sex with anyone, not even Fraser. I want to be loved, cherished, cared for and about. I think maybe you want those things, too. I'm not Stella. To me, a relationship takes two. That was why my marriage broke up. He was abusive, he hit me. When I finally had enough, I went back home. Ray yelled at me about what a loser my ex was, how he'd tried to warn me about him." She paused, remembering. "He was right. But he's my big brother, and we fight a lot. We love each other dearly, but he's still the biggest pain in the ass I've ever known. You, on the other hand, you'd never hit me. You're more likely to be hit, than to hit. I can tell. I-I like you. Right now, it's as a friend. But maybe, when Ray gets home, maybe you and me, maybe there could be something there? Between us?" She stopped, unaware that she was holding her breath pending his response.

He looked at her. She wasn't quite as tall as Stella, but she cared. He looked into her warm brown eyes, seeing uncertainty, a little fear (the fear of being hurt), even 'desire' For him. "Are you sure? I mean, me?"

"Ray, you're one of the nicest guys I know. To tell you the truth, I am**attracted to you. You've got a lot to offer." Seeing him about to interrupt her, she placed the fingers of one hand across his lips. "You do. You're a gentleman. A gentleman. Not just polite, cause we both know you're not all that polite, but you know how to treat people, other than perps, that is. You're kind. Nice. Yeah. You have a lot to offer and, yeah, I'm interested. Are you? Interested in me, I mean?" Wondering if she had just made a bigger fool of herself than she thought she had.

"Yeah. I am." A little surprised at the truth of his feelings. "So, what now?" Even more unsure than before.

"Now, we get you to bed, if that's OK? Your leg's got to be killing you by now."

"Well, yeah. It does hurt."

"OK, come on. Up an at "em." She reached down offering her help. He reached up and let her help pull him up and leaned on her, leaving his crutches behind. His bed was unmade, but at least the sheets had been changed recently. She helped him into bed, placing a pillow under his leg. When he was settled, she stood back, frowning.

"What's wrong?" Ray asked, concerned.

"Well, I just thought that you look pretty uncomfortable like that. Why don't you get undressed? If you need any help, let me know." She turned to leave the room. Pausing in the door, she turned back. "I'll fix dinner, if you want?"

He wondered where the caustic, snide woman whose brother he was pretending to be had gone. This lady was a far cry from the Francesca he'd come to know. "OK, sure. I can manage. Uh." He rooted around under the edge of the thrown back covers, finally finding his pajama bottoms. "I can manage, thanks. Dinner would be wonderful." They smiled shyly at each other, and turned away to heir separate tasks.

"This is great, Frannie. You're a terrific cook, you know?" Shoveling another forkful of rotelle with a delicate clam marinara sauce into his mouth. He closed his eyes in ecstasy. "Oh, man. I could die and go to heaven." Closing his eyes and savoring the wonderful smells, textures, and flavors. "You are one wonderful cook." Opening his eyes to see her beaming at him. "What? Something wrong?" Suddenly uncertain.

"You're the first person who's ever told me they like the way I cook. Ma always tells me to add something, or use something else, and Ray...That man knows how to hurt a girl. Thank you." The last barely audible from her sudden embarrassment.

"Well, thank you, too. It tastes great to me. You didn't have to go to all this trouble for me, you know."

"But I wanted to."

"I'm glad you did."

Smiling at each other, they finished their dinner. Then, Francesca did the dishes, after which she joined him in watching a little television. All very nice and domestic. Holding hands, occasionally touching each other, or kissing. No pressure, no stress.

When the news came on, Frannie suddenly realized how late it was getting. "I gotta get home. I'm sorry, Ray. I shouldn't have imposed on you like this."

"Hey I liked having you here." His eyes couldn't hide his desire to have her remain, but he knew better than that. "Maybe, when my leg is well, we can go out, dinner and dancing, maybe?" Hopeful.

Shyly, Frannie replied, "I'd like that." They smiled at each other. Ray insisted on at least escorting her to the door, where she turned back toward him. "Thanks for lettin' me stay so long. I-I liked it. It was nice."

"Yeah. It was. Thanks for everything." Shyly, uncertainly, he leaned toward her, she met him half-way, kissing, long, slow, tender. No hot passion, although they both felt it, keeping it warm and friendly, but not casual.

"I guess I'll see you Monday, then?" Ray asked.

"Yeah. I guess. What are you doing this weekend?"

"Probably going to stay in bed the whole time. It's too hard to get around, and I've been workin' the leg a lot this week. What about you?"

"Oh, I'll probably pick up a couple of books at the store and read all weekend." A little wistful.

"Well, you could always come here and keep me company." Seeing the surprise in her eyes. "I mean, if you got nothin' you'd rather do. If you want." Suddenly flustered.

"I...I might do that. If you're sure I won't be a bother?" Still unsure.

"No. No bother. Maybe we could, you know. Talk. Get to know each other better, not like I'm supposed to be your brother, but as us. Frannie Vecchio and Ray Kowalski?" Holding his breath; hoping.

"Sounds good. I'll call first, OK?"

"OK." He smiled, hopeful. "I'd like that." He hugged her one last time and let her go, surprised at how much he wanted her to stay and seeing the same feeling in her eyes. "Good night." He called softly as she entered the elevator.

"Good night, Ray." and the doors closed.

Her dreams, for once, did not focus on a perfect mountie. They focused on a soul-damaged, hurting friend, and all the possibilities for them as a couple.

He dreamed he was dancing, the woman warm and soft in his arms. Smiling down at her, meeting her dark eyes and elfin smile framed by dark hair. Felt the freedom of being with her, deciding in his dreams to take the chance and see where it might lead. Knowing he would have to take it slowly, but willing to make the effort. Wondering if they could make it work out.

It was difficult pretending to be someone you weren't. Harder still to take on the problems of another individual as your own. Not to mention his own problems that he'd begun with.It wasn't easy, but then, no one ever said it would be. But now, suddenly, the possible rewards made it all worth while.

The End

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