So many people on the list seemed to be bothered by RayK, and his relationship with OFM. I started this after seeing Eclipse, and a lot of things came together after seeing Spy Vs. Spy; not one of my favorite eps, but it did answer some of my questions. I wondered at the lack of other Vecchios in this season, and the following addresses that, as well. Due to some not too explicit violence, I have to rate this one as an R. I don't get graphic, but, well, you'll see, if you decide to continue. The medical procedures I describe are totally fictitious. I made it all up to further the smarm. It was easier than doing the kind of investigation required to be accurate. If it offends you, hit the delete button. This is, after all, just for fun. Sort of. This is gen, I don't do slash. Lots and lots of hurt/comfort/angst, possibly off the scale for smarm. I was ambivalent about RayK at the beginning, but CKR has grown on me, and so has this character of his. This is sort of a sequel to "Reading Between the Lines", but each stands alone. I actually started this one first, then the muse bashed , and I had to follow where my fingers led me. I don't usually have any idea where I'm going when I start one of these. I usually start with a small situation and a conversation, and my fingers take over from there. I wish my brain would get more involved with the process, but that's how it goes. The teacher friend who is kind enough to proof them for me, told me to hurry up and finish this one, as she can't read my writing, even if I did use my favorite fountain pen (with anything else, even I can't read it). Enough rambling. Hope you enjoy it.

Oh, yeah. One other thing. I don't own them. I make no money from this. If you sue me, all you'll get is my decrepit old lurcher. She's fifteen, a cross between a Dingo and a Whippet. Had her three years before I found out she wasn't a dog. I love her anyway, so don't sue me, please. R.I. Eaton Well, since this was written, Raffles has died...I now have Sheffield, a three year old arctic wolf mix...if you sue me, he's what you'll get...warning, he eats fences...and trees...but not rare books or saddlery...

Raison D'Ętre


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"I'll see you Monday, Ray. Have a nice weekend." Fraser called out as he closed the car door.

"See ya, Fraser." Ray replied, politely waiting until the mountie entered the consulate before pulling out into traffic. Arriving at his apartment, Ray found a parking space practically in front of his door. Wearily, he climbed the stairs, idly wondering how to spend his weekend. Reaching his door, he pushed his key in the lock, twisted it, turned the knob, and walked in.

He never saw his assailant, only felt the blow to his head, then... darkness.

He regained consciousness slowly. His head ached. He opened his eyes, only to close them immediately. He tried to figure out what had happened, only remembering that he had last opened the door to his apartment, then... he opened his eyes again, cautiously. He found himself in a windowless room, one door, open light bulb hanging from the high ceiling, lying on a cot next to the wall. He carefully sat up, gingerly felt the huge lump on the back of his head at the base of his skull. He wished he had a glass of water, his mouth tasted like Fraser's wolf had slept in it. He glanced down, discovering that his watch was missing. O.K. He rubbed his face, looking up as the door opened. There was one smallish man in a fancy suit, closely followed by three large goon types. He looked at the new arrivals, curious, not yet coherent enough to be afraid.

"What's your name?" the snappy dresser asked "Ray Vecchio," he replied, uncertainty in his voice.

"What's your real name?" polite, but the goons were coming closer.

"I told you, Ray Vecchio Why?" The goons were menacingly near.

"No, no. Who are you, really?" Two of the goons were grabbing his arms, the third slipping on a set of brass knuckles.

Oh, no. "I told you, my name is Raymond Vecchio My ID is in my wallet..." The enhanced fist hit him low, just below the solar plexus. The air gasped from his lungs, leaving him trying to force his nearly paralyzed diaphragm to function pulling in more air. Shit. This was not good, not good at all. He had to admit, they were pros. He never lost consciousness. He wished he had. He didn't think anything was broken, just badly bruised. Finally, they threw him back on the cot. He really wished he had something to drink. Water, whisky... arsenic, cyanide, anything. He curled into a fetal position, arms wrapped around his aching, twitching abdomen. This was bad. He knew they hadn't liked his answers. How could he convince them? If he broke, both he and the real Ray Vecchio would die. If he didn't, well, he knew going in what his odds of survival were if they ever found out, or started asking questions. No great loss, really. Not if he could keep from telling. The pain and exhaustion caught up with him, and he dozed.

The bad guys started working in shifts, two teams of three. He'd get a short break (seemed each break was shorter than the last, but that was probably just his perceptions, as the pain increased to levels nearly beyond his ability to feel any more), Then the other group would start in. He refused to admit that he was anyone other than Ray Vecchio. The break ended. They came back with some kind of metal frame with them. He was too weak to struggle; really, he was just waiting for them to kill him. They grabbed him, pulled his shirt off, tearing it as they pulled it over his head, dragged him over to the metal frame and snapped his wrists into handcuffs, suspending him from the top bar of the metal frame. His feet did not reach the floor. The pulling on his already bruised muscles brought a new and terrifying vision of the pain to come. Oh, yeah. Let's use Ray as a punching bag. One guy holding him by his hips, while another one punched him. His entire chest and stomach were mottled red and purple from the successive beatings. He could barely open his eyes in his bruised and swollen face. The one holding him abruptly pulled down on his body, while the other one hit him with a two-handed blow; first one in the arm pit, on the muscle connecting arm to shoulder, then a second blow on the top of the shoulder, causing the joint to dislocate. Ray screamed until he was hoarse. They left him hanging while they took a break. When they returned, the sharp dresser was with them. The creep shook his head in mock sorrow.

"You ready to tell us your name yet?" Ray couldn't even lift his head to look at them.

"I been tellin' you!" he whispered, barely able to speak. He was so thirsty. "My name is Ray..." a blow to the kidney stopped him. The creep gritted his teeth in annoyance. He glanced at the goons and nodded. One of them left, returning in a very short time with a quirt, a short braided whip, with several lashes at the end. The creep in charge then left them to it. The first sting was mild, in comparison to his other hurts; but soon he felt as though his back was on fire. Then he felt the blood, from the intersection of welt upon welt, trickling down his back.

"Who are you?"

"Ray Vecchio."

More pain. They dislocated his other shoulder. He could no longer remember what it felt like to not feel pain. There was no telling how long the were at it. Days? Weeks? Forever? They always stopped before he lost consciousness. Never gave him the release of the darkness. He was so dehydrated that his tongue was swollen. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't croak out more than a couple of words. He'd laugh, if it didn't hurt so much. He couldn't tell them anything now if his life depended on it. That was funny, too.

They pulled his shoes and socks off, then the rest of his clothing, leaving him totally naked, hanging helpless, with his two dislocated shoulders, bruised and lacerated body and face. The well dressed creep came back.

"You ready to tell us who you are, yet?"

Ray managed to focus his pain-wracked eyes on the creep. He didn't even try to answer. Now it would end in welcome oblivion. There was nothing left. Creep nodded. The goons released his wrists from the handcuffs, allowing him to collapse to the floor in a heap, unable to make any of his muscles work properly. He realized, finally, that the only one who ever spoke was the creep. That info might have been interesting, if he wasn't about to die; if he cared any more.

"Do him." The creep said. The goons grabbed his arms and legs as the other three goons came in, too. 'Ooh, mass executioners,' he thought to himself. At last, an end to the pain. Then, instead of dragging his sorry carcass to the dump, they dropped him back on the cot. Four of the goons held him down. Puzzled, he tried to turn his head to see what was going on. If any of his muscles could have obeyed him, he would have struggled, or screamed. Maybe he could scream?...Yep. He'd been wrong; there was something left. Surprising how well his overused vocal cords could still work. They took turns, even the creep. All of them. One after another.

"Who are you?"

"R-R-R-Ray." He sobbed, stuttering, "M-m-m-my n-n-n-n-name i-is Ray..." It was all he could remember, after all that had been done to him, he was telling the truth, he just was unable to finish the sentence. They finally believed him. They dumped him on the floor and left him there. He cried himself to sleep, just waiting to die.


The lieutenant was pissed. "Where the hell's Vecchio?" he bellowed at the squad room in general, and at Francesca Vecchio specifically. "He shoulda been here at seven, and it's now..." he squinted at his watch "Ten-thirty." He glared at Frannie. She scowled back at him. "How would I know. I ain't seen him since Friday, either. Maybe he's with Fraser." "Call the consulate and ask" Welsh growled, storming back to his office.

"No, I'm sorry, Francesca, I haven't seen Ray since Friday." He was going through his mail as he spoke on the phone. There was an odd-looking envelope with his name on it. He slit it open. "Oh, dear. Francesca, let me speak to the lieutenant, please." He scanned the note, again, as he waited. "Lieutenant, I have a note here, that says that I can have my friend back, with an address... Yes, sir." He read off the address, it was only a few blocks from the consulate. "I'm on my way." He hung up the phone and exited at a run, Diefenbaker at his heels.

The doors were unlocked, no sound in the empty office building/warehouse. He motioned for Dief to check to the left as he quietly moved right. Suddenly, Dief woofed and charged down a hallway, tail waving. Fraser followed. The door was open, light spilling from the overhead bulb. He froze at the threshold at the sight that met him. Dief was whining as he sniffed around the prone, naked body of...

"Ray," Fraser whispered. Dief whimpered, looking at Fraser, then nuzzled the body, lying in the middle of the floor, who moaned weakly. "Ray!" Fraser pulled off his tunic as he rushed forward, covering the tortured body with the warm jacket. Cautious, careful of the man's more obvious injuries, he examined his erstwhile friend. "Please..." Ray croaked, shivering uncontrollably. Ben moved to the cot, gathering up the sheets, stained with blood and... other things. He took the cleaner top sheet, and gently covered the injured Ray, over the warmer tunic. He resisted the urge to just pick him up and carry him to the nearest hospital. He forced himself to just sit beside Ray, and wait. He noticed Ray's swollen tongue, arose and went in search of some water. He found a break area, which had some paper cups and a sink. Filling two of the cups, he carried them back to the injured man. "Ray? I have some water, but I'm going to have to move you to give it to you." Ray nodded, almost imperceptibly. As gently as he could, Fraser pulled Ray over onto his back, lifting him as much as he dared, into his lap to get as much of him off the floor as he could, and place him at an angle to be able to drink. He held a cup of water to Ray's lips. It took a moment for Ray's mouth to realize there was water in it. It felt... good. It didn't hurt. He swallowed. Ben poured a little more past his parched lips and swollen tongue. Over the next few minutes, he managed to get nearly the entire cup of water into Ray.

"I guess I finally found something I'm good for," Ray mumbled.

"Help is coming, Ray. It's going to be all right." Ben could hear sirens approaching in the distance. In spite of the pain, Ray sighed, content in the safety he felt with Fraser's nearness. When Welsh and the paramedics arrived, he had managed to tangle one hand in Fraser's shirt. He wouldn't let go.

"No. Please. Don't let them..." Ray sobbed, frightened.

"Ray. Ray, it's all right. They're here to help you. Take you to the hospital." Ray was trembling violently.

"No! Don't leave me. Please." Fraser looked helplessly to Welsh.

"Go with him to the hospital. I'll take care of things here"

Ben nodded, "Ray? Let go now, I'll stay with you until we get to the hospital." He managed to release Ray's hand from his shirt and held it between his own hands. "I'll be right here." Ray couldn't seem to tear his eyes from Ben's face. His teeth clenched as the paramedics worked on him. Tears silently running down his cheeks.

Welsh started inventorying the room. It didn't take a detective to figure out what had happened here. He glanced at Ray. 'Damn. This was more than they'd bargained for. This was too good a cop. I wonder if he broke and told them.' Seeing what Ray'd been through, he knew that he would have broken and told them anything they wanted to hear. The paramedics finished preparing Ray for transport. One of the paramedics looked at Welsh...

"Uh, officer?"

"Lieutenant Welsh."

"Yeah, Lieutenant. Um, we're going to need those condoms for the.. .uh... rape...?"

"Sure. Go ahead." The paramedic, hands still encased in gloves, gathered the used condoms, placing each in a separate evidence bag, tagged and marked under Welsh's practiced eye.

"We're going to transport him, now."

Welsh nodded. "I'll be down later, Ray, After..." What could he say to this man? Fraser nodded. "Understood." Ray's hand was still clasped his own as they carried him out to the ambulance.

Even in the emergency room, Ray refused to let go of Fraser's hand, and there was nothing the ER personnel could do about it. Fortunately, the doctor was an understanding woman, since every time any man came near, or could be heard, Ben wondered if Ray was going to crush his hand. The doctor... Jennifer Davis, her name tag announced, was gentle, with a soothing voice.

"Mr. Vecchio?" Ray met her eyes. "I'm going to start with putting your arms back in your shoulder sockets. It's going to hurt real bad for a while, but, then, by comparison to how you're probably feeling all over, it will just be another part of the general ache. OK?"

Fraser looked at her in shock, "Aren't you going to sedate him? Or give him something for the pain, first?" he whispered, in horror.

She looked at him, "In other circumstances, yes. But we don't know what all may have been put into him, the blood work even with a rush will take hours. By then, I can have him pretty much patched up, and ready for whatever comes next." She looked at the paramedic's report. "He may need surgery, depending upon internal injuries. His BP is good, which indicates no, or only minor internal damage." She looked back up at Ben. "Would you like to help?"

Ben looked down at Ray, who nodded, finally releasing Ben's hand. Dr. Davis showed Ben how to hold Ray, while she repositioned first one, then the other shoulder. Ray never made a sound. As soon as they were finished, he took as deep a breath as he was able; by comparison, he was already feeling much better. He sighed, almost content, but Ben began to move away. He cried out wordlessly, finding his arms weren't working yet.

The doctor took it all in, "Please...?"

"Constable Benton Fraser, Ma'am, Royal Canadian Mounted Police."

She smiled, "And you are here because?"

"Well, originally I came to Chicago on the trail of my father's killer, and due to circumstances that don't require exploring at this juncture, I have remained here as deputy liaison officer with the Canadian Consulate. I am also Detective Vecchio's friend."

She glanced down at the report. "You found him."

"Yes, ma'am."

She looked at Ray noting the pleading expression in his eyes. She drew her gaze back up to Ben. "He needs you, right now, to stay close, make him feel safe. At least for a while." Are you really his friend? This is something only a friend would do.

Ben locked eyes with Ray, then picked up the recently disengaged hand. "I'll stay."

He wished he hadn't. Standing by while the more mundane injuries were taken care of, the cuts cleaned, the more serious ones stitched, the precautionary antibiotic and tetanus injections, weren't too terrible; but when they started on the rape exam, he nearly lost it. He couldn't watch what they were doing. He kept his eyes focused on Ray's face, the lights, any place but on what the doctor and nurses were doing. Fortunately, after all he'd been through, Ray was nearly oblivious to what they were doing to him.

"There's some pretty extensive tearing," the doctor pointed out. "There are a few places we need to go in and stitch. Surprisingly, there isn't more damage." She looked at Ray. "This was the last thing they did to you, wasn't it?" she asked, gently.

Ray nodded, he opened his mouth to speak, swallowed hard and tried again; one of the nurses held a glass of water with a straw for him. He took a small drink, smiled slightly in thanks, and tried yet again. "I thought they were finally going to kill me." He croaked out. "Shows what I know about anything."

"Well, it saved you from more serious damage. I know it doesn't mean anything right now, but you're very lucky." She gently stroked his cheek on one of the few un-bruised portions of his entire body. Ray's eyes closed. Ben and the doctor's eyes met. She recognized the pain he was feeling for his friend, the horror at what had been done. "Physically, he'll recover in a few weeks" but mentally? Emotionally? Maybe. Maybe never. She took a deep breath, and continued, "He's going to need a lot of help to get through this. He's going to need all the help he can get, all the support available." Will you be there for him? or will you run from the idea of what happened to him? Are you really his friend, or just a casual acquaintance? Ben chewed the inside of one cheek, moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue. Looking closely at the, apparently, sleeping Ray, "I'm in for the long trip." He said meeting her eyes.

She looked confused, for a moment, then: "Oh. You mean the Long Haul."

His gaze flickered for a moment. "Ah, yes, the long haul. Yes, I'm in it for the long haul." He confirmed.

She smiled 'Good.' "Is there anyone else to contact, who'd be willing to help?"

Francesca? Probably. Mrs. Vecchio? Probably not, she may not be able to handle this. The lieutenant? Wish I could say for certain; Huey? Maybe. Dewey? No. The ex Mrs. Kowalski? Yet another maybe. Would the inspector...? "Constable?"

"Sir!?" he nearly snapped to attention, would have, but for Ray's hand, clasped in his own.

She glanced at the patient. The bruises, welts, and cuts covering most of his torso, caused her to flinch in sympathy. "I..." she stopped, looked back at Ben, "Take all the time you need. If you need anything, let me know." She nodded to the doctor in acknowledgment before turning and exiting the room.

The inspector? Yes, guardedly. He hadn't even gotten to thank her, he thought in surprise. Ben looked back at the doctor, "I don't know how many. There's me, for certain. Other than that, I can't be sure."

The doctor nodded, "It'll have to do, for a start. We'll just have to wait and see who else shows up. Let's get him prepped for surgery, people." She said to her nursing staff. All the samples had been taken, all wounds tended to but the interior ones.

Ben flinched, "Ah, he's asleep." He said, softly to the doctor.

She smiled at him, "I know. Will you be here for him when he wakes up?"


No hesitation, she thought. Good sign. Ben finally released Ray's hand as they moved him to surgery.

Welsh arrived in the waiting room while Ray was still in surgery. The other tests had shown both kidneys and spleen bruised (no surprise, there), but not (hopefully) permanently damaged. Having seen everything he had, Ben had a hard time accepting the idea that Ray was, in fact, very lucky.

"How's he doin'?" Welsh asked, dropping down in a chair.

"He's in surgery. They have some internal damage to repair. They said he was lucky." How can you call it lucky. He could have died. You saw what they did to him... he's alive. That's enough, for now, Ben thought, unable to verbalize.

"Do you think he cracked?" Welsh wondered.

Ben froze. 'That was what was behind this. Ray, the real Ray his Ray, had been suspected of being what he was, a plant, and this Ray, the new Ray, the false Ray, had been the whipping boy for it.

"I don't think so, lieutenant. If he had, they would most assuredly have killed him. We'll have to wait to ask him."

"Yeah, you're probably right. They'd a offed him for sure, and dropped Ray on our doorstep, too. Just in case, though, watch your back." Welsh replied. They awaited word, both men sunk in the morass of wondering who, how , why..., no, they knew why.

The interminable wait was, in reality, only about an hour. Ray was kept in recovery only briefly, his doctor wanting her patient to wake with Ben near by. Ray was given a room by himself, on the doctor's orders. They had placed him on his side, his back toward the wall, at the doctor's insistence, which consideration was not lost on Fraser and Welsh. It was another two hours before Ray finally regained consciousness. Due to the nature of his injuries, they hadn't put a hospital gown on him. There were several different bags feeding into his IV. There was a sudden catch in Ray's breathing as he awoke. His eyes flew open in fear.

"Ray, you're safe. You're in the hospital." Ben reminded him.

Ray knew that voice. He breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized Ben. "Fraser." He murmured, confused. "The last thing I remember, was in the ER? " worried face.

"You fell asleep, before they could prepare you for surgery. That was... three hours and forty-two minutes ago." Ben replied, glancing at his watch.

Ray nodded. Welsh moved into his field of view and Ray involuntarily cringed away, his breath catching in fear. Welsh froze. Ray forced himself to relax. "Sorry. I'm... I guess I'm still a little spooked." Spooked, yeah, sure. Try terrified. Close eyes, deep breath, exhale, open eyes. He's the boss. It's OK.

"Don't sweat it." Labored pause, "I gotta ask ya...."

Ray actually managed a grin. "I was so thirsty, and I hurt so bad, but when the asked me the last time? After...? I woulda told 'em anything they wanted to know. If I could." His eyes were down, fingers plucking idly at the covers. He looked up, directly into Welsh's eyes. "I tried. But all I could get out was 'I'm Ray'." He looked down again, "I could see it. He believed me. I'm glad I'm good for something." He shook his head in wonder. "If they'd only given me a glass of water..." his voice trailed off. The real Ray's cover was safe. The bad guys methods were sound. They just blew it on one little detail. A detail that could mean a world of difference in the coming case. Ray started trembling.

"Are you cold, Ray?" Fraser asked,

"It's reaction, shock. I'll get the doctor." Welsh retreated.

Ben pulled a chair close to Ray's side and picked up the hand not stuck full of IVs in both of his own. "Shh, You're safe. No one's going to hurt you any more. I'm here." He couldn't bring himself to say that it would be all right. It might not ever be all right, ever again. But he could protect this man. Be the friend he had been pretending to be for the cause, for the case, for his real best friend. This man was still so broken up from his divorce, that putting his life in danger had seemed like a good idea. He was aware of Ray's lack of self-esteem; his self-deprecating remarks, almost self-loathing; his 'if only I was: smarter, cuter, better, more', remarks; and now, this. Maybe he felt that this was all he deserved. "I'm here." He repeated, giving Ray's hand a comforting squeeze.

The doctor arrived. She took Ray's hand from Ben, with a pat on his shoulder. "Get me a couple of heavy blankets, and an extra pillow." She said to the orderly who had followed her in; he turned back immediately to get the requested items. She smoothed a hand across Ray's face, cupping his jaw. "Welcome back to the land of the living. Do you want something for the pain?"

Ray swallowed, hard. "N-no. I-I-I'm j-j-just k-kinda..." he was shivering, violently. The orderly returned.

"Thank you." She smiled at him, pleased. He'd brought heated blankets. Enlisting Ben's assistance, they spread the thick, warm blankets over the shivering Ray. As they tucked the warmth around Ray's trembling body, the shivering subsided. Dr. Davis then took the extra pillow and placed in front of Ray's body, beneath the covers. He wrapped his arms around it, almost an involuntary reaction, hugging the pillow to his body, curling himself around it. Ray nuzzled his face into the pillow and almost instantly fell asleep. Dr. Davis looked up at Ben, smiling, "Works every time."

"How is he?" came a soft voice from the door. Ben looked over, surprised.

"He's asleep, sir."

The doctor looked at him oddly; "Uh, were you hit on the head?" she asked, softly, "That's a woman."

"I am quite well aware of that fact, doctor. She happens to be my superior officer; therefore due the term 'sir' as a sign of respect."

The doctor shook her head in amusement. Addressing the newcomer, "I'm Jen Davis, Mr. Vecchio's doctor." She said, extending her hand.

"Inspector Thatcher, RCMP." Taking the proffered hand. Firm handshake, pleasing both participants.

"He's doing much better than I had expected. His injuries, while painful in the extreme, aren't really as severe as they appear. He should be able to go home in a week or so; providing the emotional support is in place."

"I don't understand?" the inspector replied.

"You are aware of what happened?" Thatcher nodded, Fraser listened intently. "The physical injuries are the least of our worries, now. As hard as it is for a woman to go through a rape, it's infinitely more difficult for a man. Men tend to feel that they should be immune to such assaults. The reality can be devastating." She stopped, gauging their reactions. Satisfied, she continued. "Often, unable to cope, unable to accept what has happened," she paused, "Well, a lot of them end in suicide." Noting their pending protests, "It's the reality. Ignoring it, or pretending that it will just go away, is the main reason they die. Without strong emotional support, the depression is deadly."

"What can we do to help?" Thatcher asked. Fraser's eyebrows went up in surprise, as he looked at his supervisor. His gaze returned to the doctor, expectantly.

"Just be there for him. While he's here, we'll figure out his signals, when he needs a hug, whether he needs to be held, or just touched. What to say, how to calm his panic attacks,"

Lt. Welsh had re-entered the room at the beginning of her speech. "It's gonna be pretty tough on him. Even worse than it's already been, isn't it?" he asked.

The doctor nodded. "Surviving the initial attack is really the least of our worries. The aftermath can be even more traumatic and devastating." She paused, "He doesn't seem to be showing the normal reactions. He seems to have skipped denial and anger and gone straight to depression. I understand that all this was done since Friday evening, and he was found this morning, Monday?"

"Late this Morning." Fraser concurred.

"Do you have an idea why he'd have skipped steps?"

Thatcher looked puzzled, Welsh looked down, Fraser looked thoughtful.

"Ah, I'm not certain, but he has made a number of, rather, well, self-deprecating comments. He made some remarks, something about..." he glanced at Welsh, who wouldn't meet his eyes. "it being all he was good for."

Welsh sighed, "Yeah, well." He thought a moment longer, "He came to us as a trade from vice. His divorce coincided with a really nasty kiddie-porn case, some kids were... Anyway, the combination really tore him up." That's why he agreed to this, his eyes said to Fraser, who nodded his understanding.

"Ouch." the doctor and inspector winced, together.

"That makes it worse. His self-worth was already low, so, this on top of it could push him over the edge." She looked at each of them, her eyes ending with Fraser, "It's going to be up to you to help him through this. If you're not up to it, tell me now."

The inspector was startled at her inclusion, then she looked at Fraser's patented 'big-eyed mountie' expression. Hope? Pleading? Hard to tell; but, under the circumstances... she sighed. "What can I do to help?" she couldn't believe those words just came out of her mouth; but the look of relief and gratitude on her subordinate's face made it worth it.

"Yeah. What do you need?" Welsh added. Fraser smiled, meeting the doctor's eyes.

"Good. Fraser, here, already volunteered. How about family?"

Welsh shifted nervously. "Well, he's kinda on the outs with his family, right now, except for maybe his sister. She's a civilian aide. I'll ask her."

The doctor nodded sadly. "You may be right. No support is better than any that is half- hearted, or duty-bound, grudgingly given." She paused. Yep. One half-hearted, one duty-bound, but one... her gaze again fell on Fraser... one whole-hearted. It could well be enough. It might have to be. "How about the ex-wife? Girlfriend?"

The two men shook their heads, "He's divorced, still carrying a pretty big torch, from what I've seen" Welsh informed her. "Fraser, here, is probably closer to him than anybody else." Shit! At least the real Ray had a loving mother and the rest of his crazy family to back him up, besides the mountie, but this Ray... he had nobody. Foisted off on him, the only person who had bothered to even try to get close was the mountie. What did that say for the rest of them? The mountie was carrying the deception better than the rest of them, combined. Remembering the little details, like birthdays. If this scheme did work, it would be as much the mountie's doing, as either Ray. Decision made, Welsh squared his shoulders and raised his head; He'd be damned if he was going to let the bastards win. Even if he had to hang on to him personally to keep him alive.

Jen noticed the change. Ah, guilt can be wonderful. He's been unfair, unkind, something, to her patient, now he owed him. Could work. The inspector... She could see genuine sorrow there, compassion for Ray's plight. Changing attitudes. Don't know why. Don't care. The patient was the important one.

"Fraser? Would you mind staying with Ray?"

Ben looked at the inspector, "It's all right. We can adjust your schedule however it becomes necessary."

"Thank you, sir." Then, to the doctor, "I can stay, although... Dief?" The wolf poked his head out from his hidey-hole under Ray's bed. "Would you care to go with the inspector? She's going back to the consulate..."

The animal growled, ending on a whine.

"You aren't even supposed to be here, there are rules..."


"That's all right," the doctor broke in, somewhat startled by his heretofore unsuspected presence, "I won't tell, if you don't. AND you keep his presence real quiet."

"Understood. Actually, Diefenbaker rather likes Ray." Said wolf again disappeared under the bed.

"You can sleep in the other bed, if you like. It's a lot more comfortable than the chairs." Jen offered.

"I'll bring you back some other clothes." Thatcher offered.

"Thank you, kindly, sir." They left, leaving Ben alone with his sleeping friend.

"Doctor," Thatcher began, as they walked down the hall. Jen smiled encouragingly. "What are his chances?"

"If he can get past the depression, if he feels cared for, worthwhile; the chances are always good. If not..." she shrugged. No time for sugar coating. Force reality on them.

"Why did you put a pillow under the covers?"

Jen smiled, she'd had such questions frequently. Her somewhat holistic approach to medicine had had a lot of nay-sayers, until they had proven to work; "One way to help severe trauma like this, is to give the patient something safe to cling to. Like a child and his security blanket, or favorite stuffed toy. Didn't you have a favorite toy or doll as a child? One you dragged around with you everywhere? You saw how quickly he relaxed and fell asleep? Without more drugs. Much healthier. Physically and mentally. It's something I picked up in pediatrics; it translates very well to these types of cases."

Welsh was obviously embarrassed, Thatcher looked thoughtful, nodding, finally. "Understood." Then with a mental shake, "Let me know what I can do to help. Call me any time." She handed the doctor her card, the one with both work and home telephone numbers on it.

"Yeah, me too" Welsh agreed, also handing over a card on which he had written his home number. "I'll check on his sister and let you know." He added, lamely.

The doctor nodded, smiling. "The more support, the better the outcome. Fraser and he must be very close." She hinted.

Welsh nodded, "Yeah, Vecchio's a good cop, but he's even better when the mountie tags along. Kinda weird, ya know? But it works. His arrest and conviction rates are way up. One of the highest in the whole department... but if you tell him I said that, I'll deny it!"

She shook her head, "No. That's for you to tell him. That's the kind of support and encouragement I've been talking about. If his co-workers visit him regularly; frequently; tell him he's missed, he's needed... that's what will help."

Welsh hung his head, sighed, nodded, "Yeah. I guess it would." wish I'd bothered with the guy before this. This sucks. Dead Donkeys. Big time. He sighed again, raising his head to meet her direct gaze. "I'll see what I can do. He is a good cop. A good man." One I forgot might be in danger. One I forgot to protect. Damn. This should have never happened. More determined than before, "I'll call here when I have anything. I'll also be back tomorrow."

Jen smiled, satisfied. She touched his arm, encouragingly. "Thank you. I'm looking forward to helping your man through this. Just remember, Attitude is Everything." She patted his arm as she turned back toward Ray's room.

Walking out of the hospital, Welsh started running scenarios on how to get his guys to help with this. The new guy, Dewey, the guy was dumber than dirt. Even worse than Louis had been. Huey, on the other hand, he was a smart guy...

The door opened softly, the doctor's head appearing in the opening, then slipping in quietly.

Fraser looked up. "He's still asleep."

She nodded and she pulled a chair up beside him as he reclined on the room's spare bed. "Did you understand all that?" she asked, referring to the earlier discussion.

"I think so," he replied hesitantly, "When he has a nightmare, I'm to wake him up and... hold him?" The uncertainty and discomfort was palpable.

Oh, boy, another one of these 'strong, silent, macho types'. She sighed. Why? Just once, a sensitive, caring man would be sooo nice. Oh, well. "Do you remember how, as a child, when you had a bad dream, your mother would pick you up and hold you? Or when you fell and scraped your knee, how she'd pick you up and hug you?"

He blushed, hanging his head, a lost, confused look on his face, "Um, ah, I'm afraid not. Not really. I don't really remember my mother very well. Ah, she died when I was six." he was embarrassed.

"So, you were raised by your father?"

"Ah, no, actually, uh, I was raised by my grandparents."

OK. Pulling teeth time. "OK, your grandmother, then."

He wouldn't meet her eyes. His answer, when it came, was so soft, that she had to strain to hear it. "No."

Shock. "What? Never?"

"Not that I can recall" Embarrassed. "She didn't believe in coddling. Said it made people weak."

Damn. Head down, blushing a furious shade of red in his discomfort. Not the macho man. Still a lost, small boy, who needed a hug, himself. She rose from her chair and slipped onto the bed beside him. facing him. She reached out and pulled him close in a warm embrace. He stiffened, resisting. She tightened her grip.

"It's OK. This is a hug." just a hug. A human touch. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to be afraid of. He relaxed just a bit, his arms tentatively returned the hug. "People don't break that easily," she whispered in his ear, "You can hug harder than that." He did. He buried his face in her shoulder, trembling. "Shh, it's OK. Haven't you ever been hugged by a friend before?"

"No." he whispered back, shivering at her touch. "When Ray has a nightmare, you wake him up, gently, reassure him that he is safe, that you won't let anyone hurt him, and you pick him up like this and hug him. Hold on to him until he calms down. He may cry. Hold him and keep talking to him. No matter how long it takes. One minute, or one hour. You hold on to him and you talk to him. You don't tell him to hush up. You don't tell him that everything is OK. You reassure him he's safe. You don't lie to him. That's it." she said, then released him. He let go, rather reluctantly, she thought. "OK?" she asked. Are you OK? Do you understand? Can you do this? He took a deep breath; met her eyes with a serious expression: "Yes." Simple. The hug had felt... wonderful. No expectations, no promises, no tension. Just a hug. Warm, comforting, human contact. "I can do this." Of course I can. I am a mountie. He wasn't totally convinced.

"You'll do fine. If he becomes hysterical and you can't bring him down, call the night nurse and she'll give him a sedative. I'd rather avoid any more medication than absolutely necessary, but it will be available if you need it." She patted his shoulder as she rose. "Anything really serious, and they'll call me. And I tend to stick around on these cases. If you need anything, let me know."

"Yes. Thank you."

She smiled as she left him to his vigil.

He settled back on the bed, hands laced over his stomach. Searching his memory, he could not recall any member of his family ever hugging him. Oh, yes, dim memories of his mother, but, his father? grandparents? Never...

"Strange goings on, son."

Ben looked up at his father's ghost, "Hello, Dad."

Bob Fraser looked at the sleeping Ray. "He's a good one. One to take the long trail with, son."

"Yes. He is. I just wish..."

"You can't change what's past, son."

"I know." Silence, each in their own deep thoughts. "Dad?"

"Yes, son?"

"Why didn't anyone ever hug me?" What was wrong with me? "We just weren't the hugging type, son."

"Oh." disappointed.

"Your grandmother was a stern woman. She was always going on about 'Be Strong'. 'None of that mush, it'll make you weak'." He paused, looking closely at his son, "Do you remember?"

"Yes." Ben sighed. "That may have been..." he stopped. He looked up at his father, "I think she was wrong. I don't feel strong, tough. I feel... lost. Alone. Afraid." his voice trailed off in a whisper.

"She had the right idea for her time and place, son. Or maybe it was right for her, and me, too, I suppose. I know it hurt your mother;" he paused, looking with concern at his son. "And you, as well, I suppose. I'm sorry. I never did learn to tell you how I felt."

Ben looked up into his father's eyes, tears glistening in his own. "I love you, Dad."

"I wish I could hug you now, son. I wish I had when I was alive. I'm sorry."

Ben nodded. "Me, too."

A soft moan interrupted them. Ben looked over at Ray, who had curled into a tight fetal ball. Another moan, followed by a whimper. Ben swung his legs off the bed and stood, moving toward the man in the other bed.

"Ray?" he touched Ray's shoulder.

Ray flinched away. "No! Please. No... Please..." the first word strong, fading into a whimper.

Ben followed the doctor's instructions. "Ray." he called, his grip on the shoulder tightening, "Ray, wake up? Ray?" he gently shook the shoulder, afraid he might hurt him, "Ray?"

Suddenly, Ray sat up with a gasp, he was taking a breath to scream, when he opened his eyes and recognized Fraser. He let go of the pillow he'd had clutched in his arms, and reached out to Ben, wrapping his arms, tightly around Ben's waist, burrowing his face against Ben's chest. Carefully, mindful of Ray's raw, injured back, Ben slid one arm behind Ray's neck, his hand carefully gripping the opposite upper arm, the other hand going to Ray's hip, he sat on the edge of the bed, and pulled the slighter man into his lap.

"It's OK, Ray. You're in the hospital. You're safe." he murmured, soothingly. Ray started to shiver. Ben reached for the blankets, pulling them up and around his friend, securing them around Ray's neck. "It's all right, now, Ray. Shh. I'm here. No one's going to hurt you. Shh. You're safe." he began to gently rock, cradling the frightened man; holding him close. The shivering subsided after a time.

"Sorry." Ray whispered when he could finally speak, trying to pull away.

Ben tightened his grip; "It's all right. That's why I'm here." He didn't add that the way Ray was clinging to him made him feel, well, needed, important, wanted. Ray relaxed into the embrace, eyes closing.

"You give pretty good cuddle, you know that, Fraser?" he murmured, snuggling closer.

"Cuddle?" confused..

"Mmmhmm." and Ray fell back asleep.

Ben held him, rocking back and forth for a while longer, making sure he would stay asleep, then eased him back down in the bed. Ray had relaxed and stretched out as he had been held. Ben replaced the pillow, wondering at it's purpose. Moving away, he settled himself back on the other bed. He leaned back, laced his fingers behind his head, and closed his eyes.

"That was well done, son." His father's ghost spoke.

Ben sighed, opening his eyes to see his father watching Ray sleep. "Thank you. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." He didn't dare admit to his father that he had liked it. That it made him feel better. That he was helping his friend, but at the same time, receiving something in exchange. His father seemed uncomfortable, "What is it, Dad?" His father met his son's questioning gaze.

"This isn't your responsibility, son. You don't have to do this."

"He's my friend, Dad. This is something friends do. You'd do it for Buck."

"Well, yes. Of course. If he wanted me to. Which he wouldn't, by the way." A moment to let that sink in, "But this man isn't even the fellow you're friends with."

"It's possible to have more than one friend, dad."

"Humph. One good friend is all a man needs, son." he insisted.

"Like you and Buck?"


"Wasn't Girard one of your friends?"

"Just what I was talking about. See what happened? He murdered me."

Ben shook his head, "I like having more than one friend, Dad. Besides, being friends with this Ray is being friends with the other Ray." He looked at the sleeper. "He's being the best friend of all. He's been tortured, and... worse, just to protect a fellow police officer he doesn't even know." He looked at his father, "This is the least I can do. For them. For both of my friends. True, I didn't choose this one, but my commitment to my friend required that I pretend that this man was my friend. And... the pretense has become reality. Now he is truly my friend." he looked at his father, solid, stern. 'Take it or leave it', his gaze and body language said.

Bob Fraser nodded. "Good. I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into."

Ben smiled, "Good night, Dad." Closing his eyes.

"Good night, son." his father replied, disappearing. At ease in his own mind, Benton Fraser fell asleep.

Surprisingly, both men slept through the rest of the night. The nursing staff, familiar with Dr. Davis' unusual, holistic approach to her patients (no one was willing to argue with her success), had kept their checks to a quiet minimum, not disturbing either sleeper.

It was barely six am, when Dr. Jen Davis quietly entered the room. She looked at Fraser, curious. Fully dressed, flat on his back, hands folded across his stomach, not a single wrinkle in the bedding, indicating he hadn't moved at all since lying down. Amazing. Ray lay tangled in his bedding, but his face was peaceful. Good. She moved between the sleepers. Ben opened his eyes at her approach; she smiled in greeting, "How was last night?" she whispered.

Ben sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He stretched, cat-like, arms overhead, back arching. Coming down, he returned her smile. "He only woke up once. It wasn't too bad."

She nodded, her smile widening. Good. He didn't seem too terrified. "Did he say anything?" curious about her patient's mental state.

Ben blushed, he did it so easily, she thought. "Ah, well," his confusion was apparent. "He said... I gave good cuddle?"

She stifled a laugh. She reached out to touch his arm. "That's terrific." she told him. At his lost expression, she added "A cuddle is..." Sheesh, how do you describe a cuddle? "Well, a cuddle is... a hug, which goes a little farther; a little more than a hug, more contact? or...?"

His expression cleared "Ah. The rocking?"

She smiled, relieved. "That could do it." She agreed. She turned toward her patient, who, in spite of their care to try to remain quiet, was showing signs of waking up. He shifted uncomfortably, and groaned, then opened his eyes, confused, fear starting; then he saw Fraser, and relaxed visibly. He drew a deep, cautious breath.

"OK. I remember." His arms tightened around his extra pillow.

Jen smiled encouragingly at him. "How are you feeling this morning?" She inquired.

He met her eyes. "Hurts."

He reminded her of a child. "Worse? Better? The same?"

He thought about it. "Better." he decided. "Definitely better." He drew another deep breath, wincing at the ache in his ribs. "So, what's the verdict?" he asked.

She smiled; yep. Just like a cop. Bottom line. "Good news? Nothing broken or permanently damaged. Both shoulders were dislocated,"

He grimaced. "That I definitely remember." he cracked.

She gave him a slight smile. "Both wrists sprained and abraded; elbows... pretty good. I lost count, but one of the nurses put the count at 137 stitches, in total, 29 of them internal." Both men flinched at that. She pushed on, "Bruised ribs, thorax, kidneys, and spleen. That's good news. We'll have to keep an eye on the kidneys, though, at least for a few days. And, last but by no means least, two wrenched knees, and bruises too numerous to list. The knees are going to keep you down for at least a week, maybe longer. I'm going to put soft casts on them sometime today. I just wanted you to be fully aware before we did it." She waited.

Ray's jaw clenched, "I don't even remember the knees." He chewed on his lower lip. Finally, meeting her eyes, "How soon on the blood tests?"

She realized she'd been holding her breath, waiting for this. She exhaled, softly. "More good news. They used condoms. There was no... foreign matter or residues left behind. We're still running tests. So far, no STDs. HIV will take a few more days to get back. Unfortunately, even if you check out clear, you'll still have to take another test every six months for the foreseeable future." He grimaced and gave an involuntary shiver. "Prognosis is excellent." He closed his eyes. Breathing deeply. She knew it was frightening.

"OK. So, now what do we do?" he asked, looking up.

She glanced at Fraser, he had a 'deer caught in the headlights' expression. "Well. We'll cast your knees. Is there anyone to help you if I were to release you?" already knowing the answer.


She nodded, good, he didn't lie. "Well, with your knees the way they are, I'm going to have to keep you here for at least a week." She looked down, then back up into Ray's eyes, "I'd like you to consider attending a therapy group I have at least once while you're here." He stiffened. "Not today, Not tomorrow. Just one. Sometime this week." Their eyes locked. Hers - adamant. His - hurt, fearful. "It won't be easy, I know. The other members of the group are women. A couple of them will be pretty nasty. But you all have the same... difficulties to work through.... It's important." You need this. Please, let me help you.

His gaze shifted to Fraser. No help there... just... concern... for him. He remembered the aftermath of his nightmare the night before. "OK. Maybe." He started trembling again. Jen Reached out to him, but he stiffened. She backed up with a look at Fraser. Ben nodded. He sat on the edge of Ray's bed, reaching out to touch his hand. Ray met his eyes and grabbed hold tightly, screwing his eyes closed. When he regained some control, he opened his eyes to two concerned faces.

"I'm OK" he whispered, having difficulty swallowing. They both nodded. Jen poured a glass of water and handed it to him with a straw bent down. He accepted and drank deeply.

"You're being fed intravenously, for now; for at least the next couple of days." There was no need to explain why. "But you can have all the water you can drink. There's a bed pan under the bed..."

There was a sudden whine from that location; Fraser looked chagrined.

"Sorry. I'd better take him out for a run." The wolf scooted out from under the bed, trotting anxiously toward the exit, mountie close behind. When they'd gone: "He's agreed to stay with you." Ray looked askance at her. "For the nightmares?"

He nodded, understanding. "Last night. He woke me up from one." He sighed. "He gives good cuddle."

She smiled gently, reaching out to stroke his cheek. "That's what he said you said. He didn't know what a cuddle is." Blank stare. "His family didn't believe n touching. Of any kind."

He shuddered in horror. "That's awful!"

She smiled. Maybe repair two damaged psyches. "If you let him help you, you will be helping him." she encouraged.

He hugged his pillow closer, nodding "Yeah. I guess so." Unsure, but willing; the cuddle had helped. The doctor reached over and patted his hand.

"I have to go check in,. I'll be back later, if you need anything, just ask." he nodded. She turned and left the room. Alone, he closed his eyes, trying to process everything, the fear was still foremost. Even so, he dropped back to sleep.

The door opened, silently. Inspector Thatcher noticed that Ray was alone. She entered, placing a small suitcase on the spare bed. She crossed quietly to Ray. From under her arm, she removed another bag, made of plastic. She carefully removed an item from the bag. Ever so carefully, gently, she removed his arms from the pillow and substituted the soft, plush bear she had brought him. The moment she replaced one of his hands on the bear, he stirred, moaning softly, hands stroking the toy, he hugged it tightly, mumbling something in his sleep, relaxing further into slumber. She smiled, an odd, sadly wistful smile, and turned to leave. The door opened as she reached it. Dief bounded in, barely glancing at her. His companion, right behind him.

"Oh. Sir. Good morning." He had hardly expected to see her this early, it was barely six- thirty.

"I brought you some things I thought you might need." She pointed to the suitcase on his bed.

"Thank you, sir." His eyes flickered past the suitcase, to Ray. His brow furrowed in confusion, "Ah, sir?"

She met his look, calmly. "Yes?"

"Ah, sir, did you? I mean, well..." he gestured helplessly toward Ray.

"You mean the teddy bear?"

He sighed, "Yes, sir?"

She echoed his sigh. "It was something the doctor said. I saw that later, and, well... it does have more personality than a pillow." Of course, she wasn't about to tell him that she had spent more than just a couple of hours testing and hugging bear after bear to find just the right one. His face still showed confusion. "Oh, for heaven's sake," she growled, exasperated. "Didn't you ever have a stuffed toy as a child?" he turned pale.

"Yes. A rabbit..."

"Well, didn't you drag it around everywhere with you?" He was trembling, barely perceptible, but trembling; her ire turned to concern, "Fraser?"

"Not..." he swallowed, "When I went to live with my grandparents, my grandmother took it. I never saw it again."

She stared, horrified, "That's inhuman." she whispered in reply. She saw him close down, the shutters closing, the walls rising up. He wouldn't (couldn't?) meet her eyes. Involuntarily, she reached out, grasping his arm. "It's like a child's security blanket. Dr. Davis mentioned it last night on the way out, when I asked about the pillow, I was just trying to help." Him. I was trying to help him. Not hurt you. I didn't know. I'm sorry. her eyes and touch were trying to tell him. When his damp eyes finally met hers, her heart nearly broke for the lost little boy he had been.

"That was a cruel and unnecessary thing they did, Fraser." It explained a lot.

He nodded; accepting her compassion, uncomprehendingly grateful to her. For caring for his friend, for him...? "I have to get back to work." she continued, releasing his arm as she turned away. "You're off today, and working the late shift tomorrow. Let me know if you need anything else," like a hug. She turned and left.

He sat down. "What is it, son?"

"Dad? Why?"

Robert Fraser sighed, "I'm sorry, son. We were wrong." he looked at his son. "I didn't know about Rabbit." he added, but his son wouldn't look at him. "I'm sorry, son." he said again, softly, and vanished.

Ben sighed, closed his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose with thumb and fingers of one hand. A movement from Ray brought his attention back to the here and now. He looked over at Ray. Ray's eyes opened drowsily, his hands fondling the teddy bear absently.

"Sorry, Fraser. Guess I fell back asleep." He noticed Ben's expression, "Hey. You OK?"

Ben straightened up. "I'm fine, Ray." Ray's expression was doubtful. He noticed the bear.

"Uh, where'd this come from?"

Fraser smiled. "You'd be surprised. I know I was." Ray threw him a puzzled glance and returned his attention to his examination of the bear.

"Who?" he finally asked, looking back up at Fraser as he hugged the bear to himself, absently.

"It was the Inspector." Blank stare.

"She doesn't even like me."

"Obviously, she doesn't dislike you. I admit I was surprised. She said that Dr. Davis had mentioned something about it when they left last evening, so when she saw this bear, she bought it for you." he shrugged.

Ray felt his eyes misting. "That was real nice of her."

Just then, the door opened, admitting Dr. Davis again. She saw the bear and smiled, broadly. "Ooh, who was listening? The inspector or the lieutenant?"

"The inspector" Fraser answered.

"Good. Now, if you'll excuse us, I need to check out my patient. " She looked at the rather bedraggled mountie.

"Why don't you go get cleaned up and changed?"

He nodded, picked up the suitcase and, after receiving directions to the Doctor's Lounge, left; Dief remained under Ray's bed. Dr. Davis was quick and impersonal in her examination. She had brought a pair of soft casts for his knees.

"I'm still amazed by how minimal the damage is" she mentioned as she applied the second knee brace.

"They were real pros. They knew how to make it hurt, and when to stop before I'd pass out." He shook his head. His voice caught, "I think I'd tell them anything they wanted to hear, to avoid going through anything like that again." She had no response to that.

He started thinking; "Then, again, I can't imagine anything worse than this, and knowing I made it through, maybe pain doesn't have the same meaning that it had before. Guess I'll have to wait and see."

There was something hopeful in his ruminations that unaccountably caused a warm feeling in his doctor's heart. Maybe it wasn't as bad as she had thought. No denial. No anger. Depression lightening (maybe). Certainly, acceptance. There was something he was finding worth while in what had happened. She had no explanations. Just have to wait and see. A nurse arrived to replace Ray's IV bags. After she'd gone: "Have you given any more thought to the therapy sessions?" she asked.

He sighed, trying to find a comfortable way to lie. She helped him back on his side and placed the extra pillow between his knees.

"That'll help" she informed him. "It'll be support so you won't be too uncomfortable on your side." knowing his back was far too tender to take any pressure. She carefully rearranged the sheet and blankets, so as to cover his injuries without irritation, "Normally, they'd bandage your back, but you'll heal faster if you have air circulation." She smiled at him. "Is there anything you need before I go?"

He thought, "Something to do?"

"Magazines? Books?"

He thought, "Uh, Ring World? or Sports Illustrated, maybe?"

"OK. I'll be back in a few minutes." After she'd gone, he hugged his bear close and snuggled beneath the covers.

When the door opened, he looked up, an expression of pleased surprise at his visitor. Any movement was unpleasant, so he didn't move. "Stella!"

She looked at him, her lips forming a moue of disapproval as she noticed the bear. "Don't you think you're a little old for dolls, Ray?"

His grip tightened on his bear. "I guess not. It was a present."

"Oh, Ray. Grow up."

His disappointment would have been obvious to anyone else. "Why'd you come, Stella?"

"I'm still listed as next of kin, Ray." he looked away.

"Oh. Sorry." She came closer.

"So, what happened? They said something about you getting beat up...?" she realized that her ex-husband hadn't moved. Didn't people in hospitals usually lie on their backs? He blushed. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

That bear was really annoying her. "Oh, for crying out loud, Ray, lose the toy."

He looked up at her. "I'll trade you for it." He offered, "For what?" suspicious.

"A cuddle."

She stared hard at him. "We're divorced, Ray."

"I didn't ask for sex, Stella. Just a cuddle." The plea in his eyes couldn't be missed (by anyone who cared to read it); She missed it. "Not on your life, Ray." She did recognize the look of hurt he was unable to prevent.

"I'll be fine, Stella. I'll have you removed as the point of contact. You don't have to come. I know you're busy."

She reached out and took the bear from his unresisting grasp, with a smug expression.

Startled, he lunged for it, moving forward, the covers slipping from his upper body, revealing his bruised chest and scarred back. She didn't notice, until his gasp of pain brought her eyes back to him. She stepped back in horror, her grip tightening on the forgotten toy.

"What the hell!"

She was beyond his reach, and the pain left him unable to move, gasping. "Please..." he moaned.

Suddenly, there was a white snarling beast between her and her injured ex-husband. Dief stalked her, his growl rumbling up from his hind toes. She cautiously backed toward the door, terrified. Eyes not leaving the angry wolf's.

When Fraser returned, freshly showered, shaved and dressed, to Ray's room, he was shocked at the sight that met his eyes. "DIEFENBAKER! NO!!" The wolf's gaze never flickered from his prey, only his growl got louder. Fraser, seeing Ray's bear in her hand, "That is not yours, Ms Kowalski."

Her hands lowered, as she risked a startled glance over her shoulder at him. "You've got to be kidding. Call off your beast."

Her hands lowered as she addressed the mountie; Dief, taking advantage, lunged, snatching the bear from her. She screamed. With a disdainful snort, Dief turned back toward Ray and, placing his front paws on the bed, handed him back his bear. Ray grabbed it and held it tightly to himself, eyes screwed closed. Ben was looking at Stella with disapproval, Dief was again glaring at her, and Ray was trying to curl up into a fetal position, clinging to his bear when Dr. Davis entered. Eyes narrowing, who's this? "What's going on here? What have you done to my patient?" Dief whined, and disappeared back under Ray's bed. The doctor crossed the room, tossing some magazines on the spare bed, and checked Ray for damages. Gently, touching his arm, she asked softly: "What happened?"

Ray shivered.

She turned back to the others, "Well?" irate.

Stella waved a hand, "I just told him he was too old for toys." She trailed off, as the doctor raised one eyebrow in disapproval.

"Says who? Who are you, and why are you tormenting my patient?" She advanced toward the other woman. "How dare you come in here and pester one of my patients? WHO ARE YOU?" The last wasn't especially loud, but very forceful, nevertheless.

"Ah, This is Ms Kowalski, From the State Attorney's office. She's Ray's ex-wife." Fraser explained.

Stella straightened up haughtily. "I simply took that stupid toy, when that vicious animal attacked me!"

Ben stiffened, "He did no such thing! He merely took the bear from you and returned it to Ray." he responded, indignantly.

Dr. Davis looked Stella over, "If he attacked you, why aren't you bleeding?" she asked, reasonably.

Stella had the good grace to blush. "All right, he took the damn bear. So what? What's so important about a stupid, childish toy?!" She blustered, finally realizing she'd done something wrong and was trying to shift the blame.

Jen Davis knew she was losing it. "Get out. Don't come back. If you need information on this patient, check at the nurse's station. Don't let me catch you anywhere near my patient again. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?" The last delivered in a soft and deadly tone.

Stella looked from the doctor to Ben, to Ray. No help anywhere. Ray was still shivering in a fetal curl. Suddenly, finally, concerned; in a very small voice, "What happened to him? They said he just got beat up?" This looked far more serious than a simple beating.

The doctor was unrelenting, "Get out. Now."

Fraser stepped forward, "Perhaps I can fill Ms Kowalski in?"

Jen shifted her glare from Stella for a moment, then turned to Ray. Very softly, "Is that what you want?" slight nod. "Everything?" hesitation. Weary nod. Jen clenched her teeth. She turned back to Fraser, glanced at Stella "Use your discretion." Ben met her eyes. Be careful. No more than she needs to know.

He nodded, "Understood." He turned and opened the door, holding it for her to precede him out. Even leaving out the information regarding the rape, Stella was horrified, and ashamed by her behavior. Normally, Ben was a considerate and caring person, but Stella had hurt Ray. For no other reason than her own overblown sense of correctness; and while Ben would have never thought of giving Ray the bear, he would certainly never dream of taking it away from him. Therefore, his manner toward Stella Kowalski was rather cold and distant. He left her in the visitor's lounge and returned to Ray and the doctor.

She couldn't get through to him. It was as if he'd gone back into his initial stage of shock. She gave Ben an exasperated look, as he returned. "You talk to him. He's closed down." He doesn't trust me, but I'll bet he trusts you.

Ben moved to the bed, "Ray?" Ben sat on the edge of the bed and touched his elbow, "Ray?" Ray wouldn't open his eyes or acknowledge his presence, but a tear appeared in the corner of one eye.

"I said I'd trade her the bear for a cuddle." He whispered.

Jen and Ben's eyes met. Ever so carefully, together, the shifted Ray into an almost sitting position... Jen slid onto the bed and she and Ben enfolded Ray in an embrace between them.

"Group hug." She murmured softly. Ben felt awkward but, following Jen's lead, he held on to Ray until he relaxed. After several minutes, Ray sighed and attempted to escape their embrace.

"I'm OK. Really." His hands held and stroked his bear. They gently settled him back into his most comfortable position on the bed. "I'm tired." He mumbled.

Jen looked at him, closely, "OK. Do you want to be alone?" he considered, "That's fine." Which she and Ben interpreted as 'not really'. Just then, the door opened and Francesca Vecchio entered.

"How's he doin?" she whispered.

"Ah, Francesca, this is Dr. Davis. Francesca is Ray's sister..."

"Welsh called me at home last night."

"What did Mrs. Vecchio have to say?"

She frowned, "I didn't tell her." She looked up at Fraser, "She said she didn't want to know." Sadly. Mrs. Vecchio hadn't wanted anything to do with the situation. The idea of her son going against The Mob had terrified her, but she wouldn't have anything to do with the man covering for her son. To all intents and purposes, she had disowned her son.

Jen, not aware of all the facts, "His own mother doesn't care? That's sick." She decided she was angrier with Ray's mother than his ex-wife. The woman didn't have the kindness of a snake, but at least she had come. Poor Ray. More pieces for her psychological puzzle.

Frannie stepped close to Ray and leaned down toward him, "How ya doin', bro?" she whispered. Ray looked up at her, sleepily.

"'m OK." He mumbled, his eyes drifting closed again as he hugged his bear tighter, easing down into sleep. She reached out and stroked his cheek.

"Nice bear." He smiled. She straightened up and turned to the doctor, for once with more important things on her mind than flirting with Fraser. "How can I help?"

Jen smiled brightly at her. "I want to set up a support network. I need someone to be with him twenty-four hours a day. People who can talk to him, hug him, comfort him, reassure him, listen to him. If he wants to talk, don't push it back. The more open we can make him, the better." She looked at Ben, "The ex is not welcome."

Ben nodded, "I think she regrets her earlier actions," he replied.

Francesca bristled, "What'd she do?" unaccountably feeling protective.

"She tried to take his bear." Ben replied. Dief poked his head out from under the bed and made an interrogative noise, "You did well, Dief. Thank you." Dief grinned and disappeared again.

Jen shook her head, amused. "He's quite remarkable, he's really protective of him."

"Wolves are very protective of those they consider belong to their pack."

Ben's eyes glazed over for a moment as the truth of his words sunk in. This Ray had been accepted into Dief's pack so easily. He'd been checked out and accepted. No whining, no recriminations, no suspicion. The first day they had met, Dief had pronounced him acceptable, and he'd been too preoccupied; angry, to be honest, to notice and take Dief's word on the worthiness of this new partner.

Frannie peered under the bed, where Dief lay stretched out flat on his side. He usually ignored her unless she had food. Jen watched them curious, but not going to pry.

"So, Francesca? Do you think you could spend a few hours with Ray every day?" She noticed Ben roll his eyes and shudder slightly. "Maybe in the early afternoons, late mornings?" she encouraged; Frannie considered, "Sure. If Welsh will let me."

The door opened. "If I let you what?"

They all turned to him. Dr. Davis checked on Ray. Sleeping. "Why don't we move this meeting to my office? Welsh glanced at the sleeping detective.

"Nice bear," Welsh murmured. Jen smiled, as did the mountie and Francesca.

"That's what I said," Frannie said. "By the way, where'd it come from?"

Ben, unsure of the inspector's wishes on the matter, "I went to take Dief for a walk, and when we returned, there it was." Absolute truth. The fact that the inspector was also here was immaterial.

Welsh thought a moment, brow furrowed, started to speak, then caught Fraser's eye and changed his mind. Still meeting Fraser's gaze, he shrugged slightly. Whatever. The group adjourned to the doctor's office.

They were a little crowded in the office, with the four of them in there. Fraser chose to stand in front of the door, allowing Welsh and Francesca the other chairs. Dr. Davis looked closely at each of them, weighing the possibilities.

"Here's what I need. I need people around him constantly; encouraging, supporting, entertaining, listening, to him. Get him to open up. Express what he's feeling, what he's thinking. Even though the physical injuries will heal within a few weeks, the emotional ones may take a lot longer. The better the support now, the faster he'll heal." She met each of their gazes in turn, Francesca, Welsh, Fraser; lingering on Fraser. "He may never return to normal; but it all depends on meeting his needs now." She looked at Welsh, "His ex-wife was just here. If I have to, I want a restraining order, keeping her away." Her jaw clenched and her eyes hardened. "She tried to take the bear. That sort of thing will not be tolerated. Right now, emotionally, he's a frightened, hurt, little boy, who needs nothing more than a lot of hugs, hold his hand, tell him he did good; Things like that."

Welsh looked uncomfortable; Frannie looked thoughtful; Fraser's expression was one of polite interest, but then, he'd already heard this. "If you want your detective back on the job; if you want your brother back to normal; you'll follow my instructions." She looked at Frannie, "If there's any way you can get your mother to come see him...?"

Frannie glanced at Welsh and sighed, "I don't think so. My ma's pretty tough, when she makes up her mind; and she's really mad at Ray."

"Too mad to forgive him, after what he's been through?" Frannie looked at Welsh, who pointedly ignored her, "I'm afraid so." She finally answered, sadly.

The doctor looked at the two men, neither would meet her gaze. There was something they weren't saying, but she also realized they weren't going to tell her what they were hiding. She turned to Welsh, "I was hoping Francesca could come in two to three hours a day and sit with him, say, nine am to noon?"

Welsh thought, "Sure. That would be OK. It's work related." He locked eyes with Francesca, "That OK with you?" she nodded. "I plan on coming by for a while, too; say, noon to two p.m.?" he looked at the doctor, who nodded, pleased.

"That would be fine. Now all I need is early morning, late afternoon, and early evening. I've got the nights covered." She smiled at Ben, who volunteered: "I have the late shift, tomorrow, and will be getting off at eight p.m.. I could take the morning and late evening shifts, if you like."

She frowned, didn't this guy have a life outside of work and this one friend? "That's too many hours, constable, you need some time for yourself."

Before Ben could answer, there was the sound of yelling and snarling coming from the direction of Ray's room. Fraser spun and had the door open and had started sprinting down the hall before any of the others even had a chance to stand up.

There was a crowd surrounding the door to Ray's room. "Excuse me." Fraser said, as he pushed through. Ray was awake, eyes open wide in fear, as he stared at the tableau on the floor. Fraser stood, shocked. Diefenbaker had a strange man, spread-eagle on the floor, right hand bleeding, gun on the floor nearby; Dief's jaws clamped on the man's throat, not strangling, not breaking the skin, just holding him. "Oh, Dear."

Diefenbaker sighed contentedly as he snuggled closer.

"Dief, you come any closer 'n you're gonna end up on the other side." Ray murmured sleepily, arm around the wolf.

Ben looked over from the other bed. "You shouldn't have let him up, Ray. You let a wolf save your life and they make you pay, and pay, and pay..."

Ray hugged Dief. "'S okay. I don't mind. It's not like I feed him junk, or anything."

Ben shook his head, smiling. He'd been in the same position a few times, himself.

"I still can't believe it. What do you suppose possessed him to come back after you, Ray?"

Ray stretched carefully and yawned, still careful of his injuries, and thought about the events of three days earlier.

"I don't know, Fraser. I think they expected me to die before you got there. The doctor said I was closer to dying from dehydration than the injuries." He nuzzled his face into Dief's ruff, then pulled back and blew across his ear. The ear twitched, making Ray smile. "Actually," Ray continued, carefully shifting over onto his back, "I don't care." He stretched again. His back was itching as it healed. "All I know is I'm feelin' pretty good right now." He really was. He hadn't had more than one nightmare a night since; he'd finally gotten to eat real, well, hospital, food that morning. Just soft junk, like oatmeal, but it was food. He was managing to get himself up and to the bathroom, for the most part. Although the knee braces made his balance iffy. He'd had lots of visitors. Huey and his idiot partner Dewey; the Lieutenant, Francesca, the inspector, Fraser, of course. He wished Stella had come back, but he knew he'd been pretty out of it the last time, and his kinda pretty doctor had been really pissed at her. He couldn't really remember why. Oh well. The people who had come had been really nice, although, he doubted the sincerity of Huey, and especially his partner Dewey. There was a gentle tap at the door. Ben and Ray exchanged looks.

"It's after visiting hours, Ray. Are you up to seeing anyone?"

Ray shrugged. "Sure. I'm not sleepy, anymore." He picked up the control and pushed the button to raise the head of his bed. Dief grumbled and jumped off. Ben got up and answered the door. He stood there in shock at the woman he saw standing there. She shifted nervously, "Did I come at a bad time?" she asked, unsure.

"No. Ray's awake." He opened the door wider, letting her in. Ray looked at the woman, curious. He'd never seen her before. He glanced at Ben, who seemed to know her.

She approached. She came to a stop beside his bed and looked at him, closely. Noticing his bruised face and chest, she reached out and gently stroked his cheek. He shivered, his eyes flickering back and forth between the woman and Fraser.

"What brings you here, Mrs. Vecchio?" Ben finally asked.

She turned her troubled gaze on Ben. "The lieutenant, Welsh?"

Ben and Ray both nodded, Ray thinking, 'So, this is Francesca's mom.' "He came to see me." Her eyes filled with tears, "He told me what happened. That I was being unfair. That you..." She could not continue, the tears falling. This man had gone through this for her son, and survived. "I'm sorry, Caro. Can you forgive me?"

Ray cast his confused gaze from Mrs. Vecchio to Fraser, and back. "Sure." No problem. Forgive you for what? His eyes asked Fraser.

Mrs. Vecchio reached out and gently gathered Ray to her. She was soft and warm. He relaxed into her embrace. He fleetingly wished Stella was as willing to hug him as everyone else was. Hell, Even Huey had held his hand and rubbed his shoulder.

"You come home with me, Caro. I'll take care of you."

Ray pulled away in surprise. "Huh?"

She looked worried, "You come home, Raimundo. Family takes care of family. Capisce?"

Ben smiled. "That makes sense, Ray. Dr. Davis did say that the only thing that would keep you here was a lack of someone at home to help you."

Mrs. Vecchio beamed. "Family." She confirmed.

An expression of abject terror crossed Ray's visage. "You mean your house. With Francesca, and , uh, Maria, and...uh...her husband and kids?" Horrified.

"Si. You need good food. Put some meat on your scrawny bones."

Ray perked up. Good food? Stuff that wasn't frozen, prepackaged, or canned? "Well, maybe. If the doctor says it's OK."

"Says OK to what?" She had an uncanny knack of showing up just as she was mentioned. She cast a critical gaze on the stranger.

"Dr. Davis," Fraser began, "Ray's mother was just suggesting he come home with her to finish his convalescence."

Jen smiled broadly. "Excellent. I can't think of anything I'd like better." She turned to Mrs. Vecchio, "I'm so glad you decided to put aside your differences."

Mrs. Vecchio blushed, "I was wrong."

Jen nodded. "I need to keep him just a few more days," She looked at her watch, "I'm sorry, but I need to do doctor stuff with my patient, so, if you'll excuse us?"

"Certainly." Ben replied, taking Mrs. Vecchio's arm and escorting her from the room.

Once outside, Mrs. Vecchio turned to Ben, "Benton, I am sorry. This happened because of my son, si?"

Ben sighed, nodding. "I'm afraid so. It's very kind of you to volunteer to take care of him, I know this is difficult for you."

She nodded, "It's my fault. I told Ray that if he did this thing, that he was dead to me. I was wrong, and this man has taken the punishment for it."

"He's done his job well. I just hope that everything else works out as well."

Mrs. Vecchio nodded. "You come for dinner, Benton, Caro. I've missed you. And Ray."

Ben smiled. "Thank you, Mrs. Vecchio. I'd like that." he thought a moment. "Poor Ray. I don't think he has any idea what he's in for."

Mrs. Vecchio looked shocked, then chuckled. "I'll try to make them behave." She reached up to pull Ben down for a hug. "Be well, Benton, Caro," and she kissed his cheek.

He returned the kiss. "You too, Mrs. Vecchio." He watched her as she left, a bemused expression on his face. He'd have to remember to tell Ray that the Vecchios only attacked the ones they love. He smiled, remembering all of his visits to the Vecchio household. He felt an uncommon flush of pleasure and anticipation toward introducing Ray to the entire Vecchio clan, followed by a stab of grief that the other Ray Vecchio would still be absent.

Ray was looking apprehensively at Dr. Davis. "What's wrong?"

She smiled, reassuringly. "More good news, actually. The rest of the tests came back. All negative."

Ray collapsed back against the pillows. He hadn't even been aware of how tense he had been. He closed his eyes, relieved. "Thank God." He began to tremble in reaction. She sat down beside him and pulled him up for a hug. He clung tightly, shaking uncontrollably. She realized that he was crying. She soothed him as she would a child. "That's OK. Go ahead." She comforted.

She began rocking him, stroking his hair. For all it looked so spiky, it was surprisingly soft. It wasn't long before he cried himself to sleep. As she gently lay him back down, he shifted to his side and mumbled "Stella." She paused. Ms. Kowalski had called several times, requesting permission to visit. She had turned down each request. However.... This wasn't the first time he'd called out her name. She wondered... She looked up when Ben peeked around the door. She motioned him in. She stood up and indicated a couple of visitor's chairs far enough away to not disturb Ray. When they were seated: "Tell me about Stella."

Ben pondered the request. "Shouldn't you ask Ray?"

She shook her head. "Say her name and he gets upset. Tell me what you know, please?" She paused, glancing at Ray. "I need more information before I'm going to let her back in here."

Ben nodded. "I don't know her very well. But, well... sometimes she seems to still care for him, other times she seems to dislike him strongly."

She nodded encouragingly. "They are divorced. That's normal. What about Ray?"

Ben blushed, he felt like he was passing secrets he shouldn't be. "I know he met her when he was twelve or thirteen, and has been in love with her ever since. I don't know how old they were when they got married, nor how long the marriage lasted. I suspect they married young, he became a policeman and supported her through her education as she became a lawyer. I know he wanted children, she wanted a career. They divorced."

She stared at him. Short, concise, informative. "And he worships the ground she walks on." She finished for him.

"I believe he also mentioned that she was from a, er, better class than he."

She ground her teeth, but then she looked over at the patient. "I'll bet he's never dated another woman in his life." She muttered.

Ben looked surprised. Recalling the first day he met Ray, how he chatted up every female in the station, trying to get a date, and how he hadn't seen him talk to another woman since, except on business. "I think you're right. He likes to dance."

The sudden non-sequitur fazed her. "What?"

"He likes to dance. Ballroom, formal. He's quite good, from what I've seen; he even has dance steps painted on his floor for practice." He paused, remembering when he met Stella, the way she and Ray had danced together. "When they danced, it was like..." his eyes clouded in memory, "Like a movie, Fred Astair: Like they were made to dance together." He opened his eyes, blushing again, embarrassed.

"You like them both, don't you?" she asked, touching his arm.

"I... well, actually, I hardly know her. However, I have seen the way he looks at her, it's only obvious how he feels about her."

"Okay. The next time she calls, I'll let her see him. But not alone!" she warned.


It was the next day, Saturday, when Stella called again. She didn't know why she kept putting herself through this. Ray was going to be fine. They were divorced. They didn't have a relationship. But. She sighed, but she still cared. So she made the call; and was startled when the doctor agreed to allow her to see Ray, but only with a chaperone. She agreed.

When Ray was informed that Stella would be coming in to see him, he was overjoyed. He fidgeted and worried, stressing over the fact that she was going to come, wondering when she would arrive.

It wasn't until Sunday afternoon that Stella made it in. Fraser sat in the corner farthest from them, giving them as much privacy as he could. She took a good long look at her ex-husband, realizing just how awful his injuries looked. She was almost shy.

"How're you feeling, Ray?" she sat primly on a chair beside his bed, not touching him, noticing he still kept the bear at hand, idly stroking and fondling it.

"I'm OK." He hated how he still got so tongue-tied around her. They'd been married, for crissakes. "How've you been?" so polite, so formal.

"Busy. I'm sorry, I..." she suddenly found herself unable to talk to him. She rose to leave.

"Stella!" he sat up, reaching for her, unmindful of the pain quick movement caused.

She stopped, not turning to look at him. Not moving.

"Please?" The plea whisper-soft. So full of emotion that it caused a tear to form in her own eye.

Her shoulders slumped. Slowly, she turned back, eyes searching his face. She couldn't believe that she hadn't seen the damage to his body before. The bruises were starting to fade; he was able to lie on his back without agony nor fear that he would tear out the stitches. He still had a great deal of pain, but seemed to be managing it. He was coherent, not as if he were on heavy doses of pain medication. The IVs had been removed. He was healing, physically. The doctor had read her the riot act before allowing her this far. She had to have a chaperone. That annoyed her, then she remembered her last visit. He had been hurting, in terrible physical pain. And she had added insult to injury by her previous actions. She couldn't fathom how he could possibly want any contact with her. Yet he did. Here she was. Now what was she going to do about it? Hesitantly, she approached again. "I'm sorry, Ray." Afraid to come too close.

His gaze was worshipful. He cautiously extended a hand to her. She gently accepted it. His grip tightened, and he gently tugged her closer, urging her to sit by him on the bed. Reluctantly, she complied. She was rewarded with his shy smile. "I'm glad you came." I miss you. I love you. I wish we could be together, again.

"I'm sorry. I really blew it when I was here before. I hope you can forgive me." I wish I didn't care for you so much. I wish we could have worked things out between us. I wish...

Ray held up the bear, offering it to her. "You can have this, if you want it." No offers to trade. No pleading. If it offended her so much, he was more than willing to give it up.

She covered her surprise. She took the proffered toy, gently examining it. It really was very soft and cuddly. She set it in her lap and gently stroked it with her free hand. It was soothing. Soft and warm. She brought it up to her face. It smelled of Ray, his warm cuddly smell. She realized that he was speaking to her. She opened her eyes to find his concerned gaze on her.

"Stella? Are you all right?" worried about her. Are you sorry you came? Do you hate me that much? Afraid for himself.

"Oh, Ray." She handed him back his bear. Then she disengaged their clasped hands. He knew better than to try to hold on to her. That was the surest way to drive her away. She sat and looked at him. Watched him struggle to not show how he was feeling. Realizing that all he really did want from her was a cuddle. At least for now. She reached for him. He met her half-way. The embrace was cautious, he was afraid of driving her away, she was afraid of hurting him.

He buried his face against her at the point where neck and shoulder meet. Inhaling her perfume, soaking up the warmth from her body, relaxing into her embrace. "I won't break." He whispered. Pleased when her grip on him tightened. Relishing every minute contact. His hands starting to stroke circles on her back. Rubbing her shoulder blades, feeling her cheek as she rested her face against the top of his head. Sighing in contentment. Grateful for her presence.

She hadn't realized just how much she missed this. He had always been a terrific cuddler, she recalled, resting her cheek on the top of his head. The feel of his hands on her back and shoulders causing her to relax into the embrace. Her own hands lightly stroking his back, forcing herself not to flinch when her fingers snagged on the stitches, soothingly soft on the welts and bruises.

Content to hold and be held, they remained in their embrace for nearly half an hour, not talking, just gently touching, nothing intimate. Finally, Ray raised his head, looking her in the eye, but not completely breaking the contact. Not wanting to break the mood. He lifted one hand and brought it to her face, pushing her hair back, stroking her cheek, letting his thumb drift across her lips. His eyes asking permission. The tip of her tongue slipped from between her lips and caressed the questioning digit. Moving his hand to cup her jaw, he moved closer and kissed her, a soft, gentle kiss. She disengaged their lips, moving for a better angle, she kissed him, a bit harder, still gentle, questing. She opened her lips and her tongue reached out to caress his lips. His mouth opened, his own tongue joining the play, keeping it gentle, soft. Minutes (hours?) later, they broke the kiss and embraced once more. Just holding each other.

Finally, Ray released her, sitting back against the raised head of the bed. Holding her hands in his. Eyes soft, contented.

"Thank you." He whispered, squeezing her hands.

She sat and looked at him. "You're welcome." She was trying to remember why they had broken apart. At times like this, she never wanted to be anywhere else but in his arms, at other times, she knew she could gladly kill him. Why couldn't it be more like this and less like the other? Ray picked up the teddy bear. "I told you that I'd trade you this for a cuddle. Here." He swallowed hard, startled by how difficult this was; by how much he had come to depend on the toy.

She reached out and stroked the bear. "No. You shouldn't need to buy a cuddle." She looked into his eyes, "No one should ever have to buy a hug." Hoping he understood the heartfelt apology she couldn't speak in words.

He smiled. "Thank you."

She rose, preparing to leave.

"Will you come back?" will you visit me again? Will you give me another cuddle? "Yes." She was curious, "How long are they going to be keeping you here?"

Ray sighed, "Couple more days. Sometimes I have trouble breathing, I get muscle cramps in my ribs, you know?" He couldn't go very far with his knees in splints, either. "And they want to see if they can take the stitches out of my back. They say I'm healing really fast, you know?" He was starting to ramble, so he shut up.

"I'll come back tomorrow, after court, OK?" He nodded. She bent down and gave him another kiss, "I'll see you then." He nodded, and she turned and left.

Ray closed his eyes and started to drift off to sleep. Then he remembered the 'chaperone'. He looked over at Fraser. "Sorry about that." No, he wasn't. Not about what happened. Just for having to have an audience.

"Not a problem, Ray" the mountie said, standing and moving over to the other bed. "I just got up and left, for a while." He smiled in embarrassment. "I'm afraid I make a terrible chaperone."

"No. Just a considerate one." Ray adjusted his bed so he could sleep. Ben left to take Diefenbaker for a final walk for the evening.

"I really don't want to do this." Ray was in a wheelchair, legs, for this trip, out of the splints. He was nervous, scared. He really did not want to go to this therapy session.

"I know. I understand. It's necessary." She pushed him down the hall and into the meeting room. The rest of the group was already there. Five women. All victims of rape. All working through the fear, the anger, and the despair. Jen was already doubting the wisdom of making Ray come to this. Since they had caught the men responsible, he had been almost cheerful, at times. Still...

"Good afternoon, ladies." She greeted when she had gotten Ray positioned in the circle of women. One rather large woman glared at Ray.

"What the F* is he doing here?" angry, bitter, antagonistic.

"The same thing you are, Chris." Jen answered patiently.

"Why?" Chris growled. "This is our group. What's a man doing here?" she made the word sound like a curse.

"Why are you here?" Jen asked.

"You know why. That SOB who raped me." Belligerent, challenging.

"So was Ray."

Chris didn't have an answer for that. The other women looked at Ray in surprise and commiseration.

"OK. Now, if that's settled?" Jen began, "Right. Who wants to start?"

A small, mousy woman raised her hand. "I guess I could go first, Doctor." She volunteered.

Jen smiled at her. "Thank you, Sally."

Sally told the story of her attack and rape at the hands of one of her co-workers. Hearing the tale, Ray became agitated.

"What is it, Ray?" Jen asked him, when Sally had finished her story.

"Didn't you call the cops?" incredulous.

"Yes. He's awaiting trial, now. I'm here to try to get up the courage to face him in court." She seemed to shrink into herself.

Jen watched him closely. Wondering what he would say. He met her eyes, his own haunted.

"If you don't testify, he'll probably walk. Then he'll be able to do it again. Only the next victim might not be as lucky as you were." Ray finally said.

Chris laughed. "Oh, yeah. That's a man talking for you. You don't know squat! They'll rake her over the coals until the jury is convinced that she asked for it."

Ray shook his head. "Who's prosecuting?" he asked Sally.

"Uh, Ms. Kowalski, from the State Attorney's office."

Ray grinned. "You met her yet?" she shook her head, no. "You'll like her. She's a real tough broad. One who won't take any guff from anyone."

"Oh, yeah? How do you know?" Chris challenged.

What was with this woman? "Couple months ago, she was dating that alderman, the one got busted for being crooked?" At their nods, he continued. "Well, at the same time, she was prosecuting this guy for beating up on his wife. He was stalking her. Tried a couple of times to blow her up with explosives? Didn't stop her." He didn't mention that she was his ex-wife, nor his involvement in the case. He looked at Sally, "She's real nice. She won't let anyone beat up on you, honest."

Sally smiled at him. "You sound like you know her pretty well."

He smiled, sadly. "I've known her since we were kids. She's the best."

"Come on, don't give me that crap. What's your story?"

"Chris, you know it's policy to let the newcomer go last. Why don't you go next, instead." This was definitely a bad idea. At least with Chris involved.

Chris told her story, how she'd been mugged, and then raped by a pair of teen-aged boys who had assaulted her on the El and forced her to go with them to an empty lot, where they had repeatedly raped her.

Ray looked at her. If he didn't know better, if she were a man, he would accuse her of bragging about it. He shook his head, nah, couldn't be. He asked "How many times?"

"Five, altogether. Guess I was just too much woman for the little punks." Top that you...

"They ever catch them?"

"Yeah. They're in juvee till they turn twenty-five. Hope they come out fags." Her glare said that she wished the same thing for him.

"Ray, I know it isn't your turn, yet, but would you be willing to tell what happened to you?" She'd forgotten how mean Chris could be, how she seemed almost proud of her ordeal. Ray met her gaze, his questioning. "All of it, if you're willing." Put Chris in her place, please. It would help the other mice in the group.

Ray shrugged. "I was on my way home......."

When he finished, the other members of the group remained silent. Ray was starting to feel a bit nervous. But, then Jen stood and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you, Ray. I know how hard that was for you." She looked at the women. Chris' jaw was clenched, anger? pain? "You see, you are not alone. Ray's assailants have already been picked up. When he goes home in a few days, he'll have a chance to relax and finish healing. " She turned to him. Her eyes glistening, "You have been very brave, Ray." I shouldn't have put you through this, her expression said. "Thank you for coming." The other members of the group, Chris being noticeably absent, stood and gathered around him, he started to feel a little closed in, when they engulfed him in a group hug. Ray returned it as best as he was able.

He whispered to Sally, "Stella's supposed to be stopping by this afternoon, I could introduce you to her, if you want." Sally nodded in agreement.

Jen was surprised that Ray hadn't had any problems with the group. Pleased, as well. Grateful that he had been able to solve the problem she'd been having with Sally. They had been working for nearly three months, trying to help her find the courage to face her attacker again. She decided to cut Chris form any future sessions, as she seemed to be more of a problem, than a help. She'd send her to another group she knew of, one which dealt with people stuck in anger.

After Ray and Stella's visit that afternoon, Ray told her about Sally and her fears. Stella was more than happy to talk to her, reassure her. When she left, Jen was surprised to see her smile and hear her laugh. She stopped Stella as she was leaving, having gone back to see Ray, again.

"What did you tell her? We've been working for months trying to get her through this."

Stella smiled, glad she was no longer on the doctor's 'list'. "I filled in the details that Ray left out about that case. He hadn't told them that he was my ex."

"Of course, not. It wasn't important to the situation."

Stella just smiled. "I told Ray that I won't be back for a couple of weeks, I have to go out of town on a case. I'll see him when I return." They parted amicably.

"Thank you, Ray. You were more help than I thought possible." Jen told him.

"Glad I could help."

She looked at his chart. "You can go home tomorrow."

Finally. released from the hospital. Going...home. Not his home. The Vecchio home. Fraser had warned him about the loud, rambunctious family. The thought terrified him. Almost as much as Mrs. Vecchio did; except, well, she made him feel so safe, and loved, and cared for.... The idea of being taken care of, in a nice safe environment made him feel able to face the future.

His cell phone rang. "Vecchio." It was the lieutenant. He wanted him down at the station to ID his attackers in a line-up. "Yeah, sure. I can stop by on my way home." He couldn't help a shiver as he thought of seeing the seven men again. He hugged his teddy bear tightly, unconsciously, as he disconnected from the call. He could do this. He had, needed to do this.

Hospital rules required him to be transported by wheel chair to the exit. Fraser, he expected. Mrs. Vecchio, he did not. She was almost smothering in her concern for him. It felt good. "I gotta stop by the station to ID those guys." He informed them, with only a faint tremor in his voice, as Fraser held the car door for him, Mrs. Vecchio was already in the back seat, with Dief.

"Not a problem, Ray." Fraser told him, as he closed the door.

"Why do you have to do this, Raimundo?" Mrs. Vecchio asked, unable to understand why, so soon after his injuries, he would be interested in seeing the men who had hurt him so badly, again.

"The sooner I ID 'em, the sooner they go to trial, Mrs. Vecchio." he explained.

"Ma. You are my son, remember. You always call me 'Ma'." she chastised, gently.

Ray was still very fragile. Her words brought tears to his eyes. "Yes, ma'am. I mean, Ma."

She leaned forward and patted his shoulder. "That's better, Caro."

Fraser slid behind the wheel, fastened his seat belt, checked to see that the others had theirs on, "Ready?" he asked. At their nods, he started the car, backed out of the parking space, shifted into drive, and piloted them to the police station.

Dr. Davis had warned them to stay close to Ray, to provide comfort and support. Also, and perhaps most important, to give him the feeling of safety. It still surprised Ray, however when both Fraser and...Ma, accompanied him to the two-way glass walled room from which he would pick his abusers from the line-ups. He knew the drill, there would be no more than two or three of his attackers in any one group.

Mrs. Vecchio found the station fascinating. She had greeted her daughter, Francesca, with a big hug when she saw her. In the viewing room, she looked about with great interest. Even though her son had been a policeman for many years, she had never been inside the station before. Lieutenant Welsh, Detective Huey, two people from the State's Attorney's office, and one defense lawyer, were there. Ray was surrounded by the people he knew, Fraser, then Ray, then the lieutenant, then Huey, then the three lawyers, and Mrs. Vecchio sat directly behind Ray. Her hands resting on his shoulders, providing comfort and support. He had reluctantly left the bear in the car. Diefenbaker sat on Ray's feet. Ray was grateful for everyone's presence.

The lieutenant was pleased. Ray was looking very calm, professional, cool, but he could feel the barely perceptible tremors, where their shoulders touched. He patted Ray's hand reassuringly, where it lay gripping the arm of his chair, knuckles white. He was rewarded with a faint smile and firm eye contact.

"If you don't mind, Lieutenant, could we get this show on the road?" Ray almost said 'Please.' He managed to stop himself in time. He didn't need to beg, here. Diefenbaker raised his head to Ray's knee. They made eye contact. Dief smiled, showing off his large, sharp teeth. Ray stroked the animal's head, scratching him just right, behind his ears. No. He was safe, here.

Welsh looked at the assembled group, leaned forward, picked up the phone handset, and spoke into it. "OK. Send in the first group."

Ray readily ID'd two of the goons from the line-up. The State's Attorneys were impressed. It was a good line-up. All eight men similar enough looking, to them, that Ray's quick ID surprised them. Ray couldn't understand why they seemed so surprised. "Look, I was beaten by them for more than two days. I'm gonna see them in my nightmares for the foreseeable future, you know?" He couldn't keep the bitterness out of his voice. Not fear. The goons couldn't touch him, here, now. The second group had three more of the goons in it. Again, Ray easily picked them out. The third and last group held one goon, and the snappy dresser. When Ray ID'd them, there was a startled gasp from the woman behind him, her hands digging painfully into his shoulders.

Ray squirmed from her grasp, turned and asked, "What's wrong, Ma?" That had hurt.

The look she gave him scared him, a little. There was horror, disbelief, and finally anger. "Angelo? Cousin Angelo did this to you?" She started to mutter in Italian, under her breath. "Can I talk to him?" she asked the lieutenant.

Why him? These Vecchio's were nothing but trouble. "You know Angelo Capelli, Mrs. Vecchio?"

All eyes were on her. She clenched her teeth. "He's my cousin. He moved to Las Vegas, thirty years ago, maybe more. He's never been back." She looked at Ray, "He's Uncle Gino's son." Everyone in the room was in shock. Finally, Fraser broke the silence, "Ah, doesn't your Uncle Gino, uh, live with you, Mrs. Vecchio?" He knew he'd met Uncle Gino at the Vecchio home, he was sure of it. Was it the same Uncle Gino? Her lips tightened in anger. "Si, he lives in Ray's house, just like the rest of the family. He's my mother's brother." She looked at the lieutenant and the lawyers, "Please, may I speak to him?"

Welsh looked at the lawyers. None of them objected. "Sure. Why not?"

The line-up finished, the same group moved to the interrogation room. The defense attorney insisted that anything Mrs. Vecchio said to her cousin could not be admitted into testimony. The State's attorneys started to argue.

Ray ended the argument, by agreeing with the defense lawyer, to everyone's surprise. "He's right. She wouldn't testify, anyway. What she's got to say to him is personal. I'm not sure anyone should listen in." They wrangled for a bit longer, being lawyers, and finally agreed that only the lieutenant, Ray, and Fraser would observe.

"And I'm not sure Ray should be here." Welsh murmured to Fraser, who smiled one of his more enigmatic smiles.

"I think what she's going to say to him may make a very big difference. Both to the case, and, more importantly, to Ray." He paused, "I've had the misfortune to hear a few of her tirades when Ray has displeased her. She's truly angry about this. I'm glad I'm not on the receiving end of her temper." He glanced at Ray, who sat, tense, afraid, with the wolf again sitting on his feet, head in his lap. "I think it will help Ray, too. It will prove that she's serious about what she told him before." his smile gentled, "I know what it was like when she decided to adopt me into her family. I was only Ray's friend. He's her son, and she's like a mother bear when it comes to her cubs. I almost feel sorry for Mr. Capelli. Almost." A strange, vindictive light sparkled in his eyes, "This should be most enlightening"

Welsh shivered at the intensity in Fraser's eyes. He was glad he wasn't the source of the mountie's rage.

That had been stupid, trying to go back to finish off the cop. He should have died before the mountie found him. He should have bled to death before he was found. He'd had five or six hours to do it in. But... he hadn't. Now they were all good and caught. It was doubtful their lawyers could get them out of this one. He wondered why he was in the interrogation room. His lawyer should be here with him. Where could he be. He was really starting to worry. Then the door opened. Instead of cops and lawyers, it was...

"Ramona?" his cousin? What was she doing here? He didn't notice the expression on her face.

She stood before him, the table between them. "You did these things to my son? You had him beaten? Whipped? Tortured? YOU VIOLATED MY SON? YOUR OWN COUSIN? WHAT WERE YOU THINKING? WHY? WHY? ANSWER ME. TELL ME YOUR LIES." She stopped, shaking with rage. She drew several deep breaths, struggling for control. When she had it, she continued, "Your father lives under our roof. My son provides for your father. You haven't been back for thirty years. No one was left to take care of Uncle Gino. We took care of him. Because he was family. And this is how you repay us? By doing this to your own blood?" She ran out of air. Still shaking with fury, she spit in the face of her cousin.

He sat in shock. She had married... the realization hit him. That was his cousin. His blood. His family. The horror of what he had done occurred to him. He had no excuse. No defense in the light of what he had done. He had violated his own family. There was nothing worse. His cousin spoke again.

"Uncle Gino has lived with us for eight years, now. You had him put in a home, with no family, no friends. After my husband died, Raimundo went and got him. He said that he was family, and deserved better. My son remembered his duty, his responsibilities to family. You have forgotten." she took a deep breath, and asked, calmly "Have you nothing to say?"

He couldn't meet her eyes. "I forgot you had married Vecchio. We were told that one of our people was a plant, and that the man calling himself Ray Vecchio was an impostor." He glanced at her, "I didn't know he was family."

Mrs. Vecchio started pacing, "You couldn't ask questions? You just go out and, and..." hands gesturing angrily, she couldn't finish "You forgot who I married? You forgot all the letters I wrote to you over the last eight years, telling you about your father? You forgot my name? You couldn't ask me about my son?"

With each word, it was like a sharp pin in his heart. In his business, family was everything, and he had broken faith with his family.

"You are dead to me."

The words shocked him further. More than anything else she had said. "What about Papa?"

"You should have thought about him a long time ago. I will explain everything to him. He will stay with us, where we will continue to care for him, as we always have. But you are dead. You will not be acknowledged, no one will contact you. You are dead." She again spit in his face, then turned and left the room.

Ray, Fraser, and Welsh had watched in awe. They had just watched a short, stout, middle-aged Italian mother, reduce a hardened, tough, high-up member of the Mob, to tears, disowned by his closest family. The family he had ignored for so many years. The family he had left behind to 'get ahead'. Now he was nothing. He was dead to them, the worst fate possible. He buried his head in his hands and sobbed.

Ray had been unable to watch without reacting. He had drawn his feet up into his chair, wrapped his arms around his knees, and started rocking himself. Fraser noticed, and sat beside him, drawing him into a hug.

"Shhh. It's all right Ray. That's classic 'Bear defending cub'. It's all right." Ray was trembling, Welsh moved over to Ray's other side, sat down, and gripped Ray's shoulder.

"I'd sure hate to have her mad at me." He was in awe. "You think you could maybe get her to hire on as an interrogator?"

Ray stopped rocking, looking at Welsh in surprise. The picture of Mrs. Vecchio in an interrogation room was ludicrous. Only... he'd just seen what she could do. He uncoiled, relaxing. "She scared the shit out of me." he admitted, then, a tentative smile spread across his face as the realization hit him, "She did that for me." Surprise, awe, tears silently running down his cheeks as she entered.

She saw her 'son', and rushed to him, gathering him into her warm, comforting embrace. "Caro, Caro, what's wrong? Are you all right?"

Ray started to giggle. Mrs. Vecchio pushed away from him, exchanged worried looks with the others. Ray looked up into her face, then looked at the still crying mobster on the other side of the glass, and laughed harder, hysterically, uncontrollably. Mrs. Vecchio looked worriedly at Welsh, then at Fraser, who sat there grinning.

"You don't understand. Lieutenant, did you by any chance videotape them?" Fraser asked, gesturing at the glass.

"Uh, yeah. Only, don't tell anyone. We weren't supposed to." he cautioned. Fraser chuckled. "You need to show Mrs. Vecchio the tape. Maybe then she'll see what's so funny." Ray was still out of control, and Fraser stood, pulled Ray to his feet, placed an arm about Ray's shoulders, and led the still laughing man from the room.

Ray was still laughing, out of control, when they reached the car. Mrs. Vecchio trailed along behind them, concerned, confused. Ray continued to laugh all the way to the Vecchio home. It took both Fraser and Mrs. Vecchio to get him out of the car and into the house. Fraser pulled Ray into the living room and forced him to sit on the couch beside him as Mrs. Vecchio watched, her brow furrowed with worry. The house was quiet, everyone, for once, out.

"Ray!" Fraser said sharply, giving him a shake. "Ray! Stop it!" Ray's laughter turned into sobs, and Fraser gathered the slighter man into his arms, cuddling him the way he had learned to comfort his friend in the hospital. "It's all right, Ray. You're safe. He can't hurt you any more."

Mrs. Vecchio sat on the other side of Ray, also wrapping her arms around him, holding him tightly. "Shh, Caro, it's gonna be all right, shh." She rubbed his back, as she would any of her injured children or grandchildren, solid, warm, comforting.

Ray gasped, forcing himself back together, "I can't believe I was so afraid of him. Just the thought of, of seeing him again left me shaking. An' then you go in there, and... and... and..." he started laughing again, choking on his laughter, tears streaming down his cheeks, "and you make him cry like a baby in less than ten minutes." He wiped his streaming eyes, hiccuping once, as he again sought control. "Ten minutes. It took them more than two days to break me. And you did it in... in..." he laughed, the hysteria easing, as the real humor of the situation reached his soul.

They continued to hold him, hugging, rubbing his back, as he healed. They say that laughter is the best medicine. In this instance, they were right. Ray finally stopped laughing. He was holding his bruised ribs, trying desperately to not cry from the pain he had caused himself. He looked at the two people holding him and smiled. It was as though the sun had suddenly shown down through a blizzard. He wiped his face with his hands, as his tears finally ceased. He was having a little trouble breathing, but he didn't care. He reached his arms around his companions, hugging them both.

"Thanks. I needed that. I... I can still see his face. An' I was afraid of him. Of them." He shook his head in wonder. "That was so... I dunno..." he shook his head, bemused.

"Cathartic, I believe is the word you are looking for." Fraser said, softly; arms still around his friend. "That means, the release of emotions, a sort of healing process." The others nodded, agreeing.

"Yeah. Cathartic. I'll have to remember that. " Ray went limp, emotionally and physically exhausted. He leaned back on the sofa, sighing. In just moments, he was sound asleep.

Mrs. Vecchio and Fraser gently pulled away from him, easing him down to stretch out on the sofa. Fraser placed a pillow under Ray's head, then moved to remove Ray's shoes. Mrs. Vecchio brought a thick woolen afghan, which she spread over the sleeping man. They watched Ray sleep for a while, the contented grin on his face reflected in the faces of the watchers.

Finally, Mrs. Vecchio gathered herself together. She gently touched Fraser's arm, "Come, Benton, Caro. Let's go into the kitchen, I'll make tea. And I need to start dinner, you can help." Ben nodded, and, with a final glance at the sleeping Ray, followed her to the kitchen.

In his dreams, Ray was again being held in that small room, being menaced by the six goons. He flinched in his fear, trying to curl into a fetal position to protect himself. The creep came in, started asking him who he was. He started to whimper. Suddenly, a short, slightly dumpy looking woman came into the room, waving her arms, screaming in Italian and spitting at the creep and his goons, who suddenly turned into little boys, cowering from the formidable SUPER MOM. When they had been routed, she turned to him, and...

"Ray? Are you all right?" She gently caressed his cheek, anxious. She had heard his whimpers in the kitchen and had rushed to comfort him, Fraser close behind.

He opened his eyes and saw her, he giggled. "I'm OK. I was having a dream." He smiled at the two concerned people in front of him. "Really. I'm fine."

"You didn't sound fine, Caro." Mrs. Vecchio chided, stroking his still bruised cheek.

"It started out like usual, " Ray explained, sitting up, disentangling himself from the afghan, he began to fold it and set it on the sofa beside him. "They were all there, and creep, I mean, uh, Angelo, had just started asking me who I was, and - and" he started giggling again, helplessly.

"Easy, Ray. You don't want to hurt your ribs any more." Fraser cautioned.

"I know. They hurt like hell. I can't help it, though. I'll bet you laugh too, when I can tell you how it turned out." He held his aching ribs, gasping for breath, tears of laughter and pain flowing down his cheeks. Mrs. Vecchio stood up and went into the kitchen to bring him back a glass of water. When he had managed to get his giggles under control, he drank the water, and continued: "Thanks. There I was, scared to death of those seven guys, and suddenly," he giggled again, pointing at Mrs. Vecchio, "You came through the door, dressed like" he was laughing again, "Like Superman!" he howled. " were cussing them out in Italian, a-a-an-and and you spit on them, and they all turned into scared little boys, cringing from you. Th-th-then y-y-you... then you chased them away... and-and-and y-you you woke me up." He howled with laughter.

Mrs. Vecchio and Fraser exchanged perplexed looks, then, Fraser could see it. His eyes started to sparkle with humor, his mouth formed a smile, then a grin, and soon he was sitting on the sofa beside Ray, howling with laughter, tears running down his face. Mrs. Vecchio still didn't get it.

"I don't understand? Ray, Benton, are you all right?" Each time either man looked at her, or each other, they only laughed harder. She shook her head. "I don't understand. When you can talk, come and explain it to me, Caros." She walked away, shaking her head in confusion.

"Sh-sh-she w-w-w-was d-dressed like... like Superman?" Fraser managed to gasp out through his laughter and tears. "I-I-in tights? W-with a-a-a-a cape?" The two men were leaning together, shoulder to shoulder for support, arms supporting aching ribs, laughter and tears mingling together.

"Yeah, wi-wi-with 'SUPERMOM" across her-her chest, in great-big letters." He was weakening, He leaned back tiredly. "I think my nightmares will never be the same, again."

"I don't think I will ever be able to look at Mrs. Vecchio again without picturing her... Oh, Dear." He collapsed back against the sofa, as well, still laughing helplessly. "My ribs ache. You must be in agony, Ray. Shall I get you your pain medication?" he asked, when he could breathe and talk normally.

Ray was still holding his ribs. They hadn't been wrapped, because of the stitches still in his back. He nodded. "Yeah. I think a pain pill right now might be a pretty good idea. Maybe it'll knock me out and get rid of the giggles." He was gasping, trying to breathe shallowly, but not doing very well at it. Fraser stood up, picked up Ray's discarded glass and went to the kitchen, to get the medication and another glass of water.

Mrs. Vecchio looked curiously at him, as he entered the kitchen. She had her sauce simmering on the stove, and delicious odors were beginning to waft through the room. Fraser sniffed, appreciatively.

"Mmmm. Smells good, Mrs. Vecchio. Ray needs his pain medication." He was surprised to discover that he could look Mrs. Vecchio in the eye and not break out in a fit of giggles. Of course, her worried expression might have helped with his control. "I suppose you need an explanation?" he offered.

"Please." She wiped her hands on her apron, and went to sort the correct medication for Ray. She glanced at the clock, and added his antibiotics as well. Fraser filled the glass with ice water from the refrigerator.

"Have you ever seen Superman?" he asked, as he closed the refrigerator door, turning to look at her.

"Of course. That nice young actor who was hurt falling from his horse, Yes?" She handed him the pills.

"Do you remember the Superman Costume?"

"Yes, blue tights, red cape?" tentatively.

"Ray saw you in his dream, dressed like Superman, with 'Supermom' written across your chest in big letters." He couldn't help it, he giggled. Struggling for control, "I'm afraid the picture was too much for us. I'm sorry, if it offends you..."

She had listened intently. Now she was picturing it. She looked down at her apron, her dress... she met Fraser's eyes. She smiled, grinned, and started laughing. Long and hard, tears running down her cheeks. "Oh. Oh! No wonder you couldn't stop laughing. Me?! In tights?!" Uncontrollable laughter.

"Are you all right, Mrs. Vecchio?" Fraser asked, concerned. She waved him off.

"Yes. Oh! Yes. I'll be just fine." She managed to bring her laughter under control "Oh, dear. He sees me as a super hero? Why do you suppose that is?" she wondered.

"When you confronted Mr. Capelli, you left him in tears. You never laid a finger on him. Just words. You didn't use any of the normal police tactics of intimidation. Just mama bear protecting her cub." She looked up at him, "Is that what you thought of me? An angry bear?" she didn't know whether to be angry or pleased.

"Oh, yes. I know of nothing more ferocious than a bear protecting her cubs. I have seen a black bear take on and drive off a grizzly that was three times her size, in defense of her young. I meant it as a compliment. I know I certainly wouldn't want you to be angry with me! And God help anyone who intentionally hurts any member of your family." There was almost something wistful in his voice, perhaps even, envious.

She noticed. She reached out to him and pulled him into her arms. "Oh, Caro. You are as much a part of my family as anyone." She hugged him, hard. He gently returned her embrace. There were tears in his eyes.

"Thank you. You have always made me feel welcome, here, Mrs. Vecchio..." she cut him off with a shake.

"You are Family Benton. You will call me Ma, like everyone else, capisce?" his smile was beautiful to behold. He hugged her, again.

"Yes, ma'am." She glared, "I mean, Ma." She hugged him once more, then released him with a gentle push.

"Go. Go. Ray needs his medicine." Fraser picked up the pills and glass of water he had set on the table, and took them back into the living room to Ray.

Ray was back to lying on the sofa, eyes closed, pain lines around his eyes and mouth.

"Ray? Here are your pills. It's also time for you to take your antibiotics." Ray opened his eyes, and groaned. "I don't think I can move. It didn't hurt this bad before." He struggled to sit up, grimacing in pain. Fraser set the glass on the end table, handed Ray the pills, and helped pull him back to a sitting position, so he could take them. "I think, perhaps, we should get you to bed, Ray. I'm sure you'll be more comfortable there." Ray nodded. Fraser left him sitting up, and went to check with... Ma, to see where to put him.

Though the fire had done minimal structural damage, the smoke and water had required them to replace most of the furnishings and personal objects in the house. Oddly enough, the one room not damaged, was Ray's. Ma insisted on Ray using Ray's room. "It only makes sense, Caro. Where else would he sleep?" her logic was irrefutable.

Fraser had to help Ray climb the stairs. Right hand gripping Ray's right upper arm; left arm around Ray's back, hand on Ray's hip, to support him. Ray was so tired, so weak, that he nearly had to be carried up the stairs.

"I'm sorry, Fraser." He muttered, exhausted. "I guess I just laughed too hard." He nearly stumbled as they reached the landing. By the time they reached the room, he could barely stand. Fraser held him upright with one hand, while he pulled back the bedclothes, then gave Ray a gentle push to make him sit on the side of the bed. Ray was barely conscious, the pain medication, on top of the emotional roller coaster the entire day had been, taking it's toll. Fraser carefully undressed Ray, unzipping and removing his sweat shirt, leaving him in his sweat pants, under shirt, and socks. Just in case he was cold-blooded. Although, to Fraser, the house was almost too warm. Fraser carefully arranged Ray in the bed, covered him with the sheet and blankets, then tucked him in, snugly, but not so tight that he would feel restrained.

He watched Ray sleep for a while, amazed by how relaxed he looked, like a child, sleeping safe and snug in his bed. He abruptly realized that this was the most peaceful he had seen Ray, ever. Of course, he'd never seen him asleep, prior to the abduction, but he was positively angelic, now, as he slept. He turned at the sound of Mrs. Vecchio entering the room behind him. She looked down at the sleeping Ray, and smiled.

"Like an angel." She whispered, reaching out to stroke his cheek, then she leaned over him as he slept, whispered something in Italian to him, and kissed his forehead. Ray shifted in his sleep, a soft smile on his lips, turning on his side, facing the room. She stroked his hair, fluffing it into its usual spiky appearance.

One of his neighbors was having a fight with her husband. They were so loud, that he thought they were right outside his bedroom door. He snuggled further under the covers, then realized that he wasn't in his bed. His eyes fluttered open, "Aaugggh!" he yelled, jumping back, then realized that it was only a child; and that the sudden movement had hurt. The child couldn't have been more than three or four, he figured. "Who are you?" he asked the child, perhaps a bit more sharply that he meant to.

The child stuck its fingers in its mouth. "Unca Ray?" the little treble voice asked, uncertain. This was uncle Ray's room, but this man didn't look like uncle Ray, did he? Ray shook his head, OK. This had to be one of the little Vecchios, no, Maria's kids. Maria and Tony. His sister's kids. "Uh, yeah. I'm uncle Ray. Which one are you?" he asked, much more gently.


OK, a girl. "Uh, would you mind? I'd like to get up now." The little girl nodded, turned and left the room. Ray was now coherent enough to look around his environment. The furnishings were pretty nice. Warm colors, family pictures on the walls, a book shelf with quite a few paperback books, a small stereo system, and a TV, with cable. He realized that this must be Ray's room. He climbed out of the almost too comfortable bed, curiosity, hunger, and the need for the bathroom urging him up. His shoes were downstairs, so he started for the door in his sock feet. He paused to look at the photographs on the wall. Most of them were of family. There were several of Fraser and a slender, balding man, this had to be the real Ray Vecchio. He examined the photos closely. He noted the happy smiles of the two friends, the apparently comfortable closeness, and felt a stab of envy. Then he remembered all the times he awoke in the hospital, being held, comforted, cuddled; and smiled. He wished he could meet this Ray. Fraser's best friend. He looked like a good guy, even if his taste in clothes was a bit much for him (who was he kidding? He had no taste). But he knew that was not true. He was just not into clothes. They were to keep you warm and decent, nothing more. There was a photo of Ray and the little girl, Theresa, he reminded himself. The love between them was apparent, even in the photo. It was obviously taken without the subject's knowledge. Theresa was standing before a crouching Ray, showing him something, he had just looked up, into her eyes, and the smile was... beyond his ability to describe. He learned more about the man he was impersonating by looking at him in the photos, than he had memorizing his files and cases. Those were just facts. This was the inside of the man. He looked like a good guy. Must be, with his mother. He noticed that there were no pictures of Vecchio's dad, anywhere. Pictures of when he was a kid, and his sisters, and, was that an older brother? Cousin? There was only one picture with him. One thing he noticed, was that in most of the photos of the child and teen-aged Ray, was the sadness, the defiance, the hurt in his eyes. No pictures of the dad. Bad father. He knew Ray's dad had been dead about... eight years. When he went to the rest-home and brought his great-uncle Gino home. For a man to whom family meant everything, no pictures of the dad.

His own parents had been loving, although he and his dad hadn't really gotten along all that well. Still, he knew they loved him. They had moved to Arizona when his dad retired, wanting to be out of the cold. He couldn't blame them. They had been older parents. He'd been a late surprise. But he always felt wanted, loved. At least by his parents. He just wasn't as able in school; he knew he was a disappointment to his parents where school was concerned. It had just been so hard. And the teachers just didn't care. But. But they loved him. Unreservedly. Unconditionally. The only people who didn't base their caring on his performance. Until now. Fraser liked him, just as he was. He'd more than amply demonstrated that by coming and finding him. And staying with him through this mess. And now there was Mrs.... Ma. It humbled him. When this started, she hadn't wanted anything to do with this deception. Now. Yeah, there was guilt on her part. If he hadn't been the decoy, if Ray hadn't agreed to go under cover, none of this would have happened. But he did. And it had. And she had adopted him as her stand-in son. He felt all warm and fuzzy inside. And if he didn't find a bathroom soon, he'd be warm, fuzzy, and wet outside, as well.

He stepped out of the door just as Francesca was walking by, still in her civilian aide uniform. "Hi, Ray," she sounded almost shy, "How are you feeling?" she was thinking of the times she had sat with him in the hospital, worrying about him. Holding his hand. Giving him a hug, when he needed one, or just because she wanted to. This was a very nice guy. One who would never hit a woman. He wasn't as cute as Fraser, but...

"Uh, Francesca? Where's the bathroom?" He looked uncomfortable, almost squirming like a kid. She smiled at him and pointed. "Thanks." He hurried to the indicated doorway and through it.

Francesca continued on down to her room, to change. Maybe? Why not. She decided to dress for dinner. Nothing too glamorous, just, subdued. Ray seemed to prefer that. Not that she was going to come on to him, or anything. Even if she wanted to she couldn't. Not until Ray got back, and this charade was over. She paused, as she sorted through her clothes, searching for just the right outfit. He had been like a hurt, frightened child in the hospital. She had cuddled him as she would her nieces and nephews. He had been so scared. Who wouldn't have been? She was scared just looking at the stitches on his back and the bruises on his chest and stomach. She shivered, just thinking about how bad he'd looked. Not that he looked much better, yet. His face wasn't swollen so much as before and the bruises were fading. She sighed as she pulled out her black sheath dress. No frills, no flounces, just straight, not even too tight or slit up the back or side. She didn't really like it, but Ray had bought it for her one birthday. Said it was classy, like her. She didn't try to stifle the tears. She missed her brother.

When he finished in the bathroom, Ray made his way down the stairs, firmly grasping the balustrade for balance. Even with the pain medication, he still hurt. The wonderful smells of Italian cooking drew him like a magnet toward the kitchen. There he found Fraser and M-ma, sitting at a table and talking as they sipped their tea. At his appearance, Ma stood up.

"Caro, come, sit, dinner will be ready in about an hour. Do you need something to tide you over? You slept so long, you missed lunch. You must be starving." She pushed him down in the chair she had vacated, and bustled around the kitchen, pouring him a cup of tea and setting a plate of biscotti before him. He picked up a slice of the crisp amaretto flavoured cookie, took a bite, and a sip of tea.

"Mmmm. This is terrific, ...Ma." He was getting used to calling her that. She beamed at him. He pushed the plate toward Fraser. "Man, you gotta try this. It's wonderful." Fraser took a piece, sniffed it, then tasted it. Dief moaned from under the table, begging for a bite. "Sorry, Dief. This is too good to share with you. Probably give you a stomach ache." Ray teased, then surreptitiously slipped a piece to the beast.

"Ra-ay, Fraser chastised, "He really doesn't need that. They are wonderful. Thank you Mrs....Ma." The two men exchanged shy, pleased grins. The man who barely remembered his mother, and the man who's mother had not kept in touch since they moved away, feeling that he was a grown man, and able to take care of himself, now. Ray ate a second piece of biscotti, taking the edge off his hunger, but leaving him still looking forward to the great smelling dinner that simmered away on the stove.

Fraser had warned him. He was sandwiched between Ma Vecchio and Fraser, with Francesca across from him, next to Tony, who was across from Maria, and Uncle Gino, who was next to Tony, with all the little family members at the other end. And... all... of... them... were... talking... and... shouting... at... the... same... time. He'd never seen anything like it. He lifted frightened eyes to Fraser, who leaned close.

"Don't worry. They only attack the ones they love." He said with a smile and a glint of mischief in his blue eyes. Then he noticed the perspiration and the trembling as the noise overwhelmed Ray. Ma noticed, as well.

"QUIET!" she shouted. The room immediately fell silent. All eyes on the matriarch. Ray gagged, put his hand over his mouth, and ran from the table.

"Excuse, me. I'll take care of him. Fraser rose and dashed after Ray.

Mrs. Vecchio glared around the table at her family. Her lips compressed in anger. Francesca, who had for once not been involved any of the noisy squabbles, joined her in glaring at the rest of her family. The formerly noisy members sat, sullenly glaring at each other. "Ray is not feeling well. He just got out of the hospital, today." The matriarch spoke, had Ben or Ray been there, they would have recognized the same tone of voice she had used on Angelo Capelli. Francesca had managed to get a look at the tape. She blushed and cringed. "Each of you will apologize to Ray. One at a time. Quietly." she glared at each in turn. None of them would meet her eyes, except Francesca, who placed her napkin on the table, and rose.

"I'll go see if they need help, Ma," she offered, softly. Her mother nodded, and she followed after Ben and Ray.

"Easy, Ray. Just take it easy." Fraser said in a low soothing tone, as he held his friend while he emptied the contents of his stomach. It didn't taste nearly as good coming back up, he had the presence of mind to think. His sore ribs and abdominal muscles were screaming at him. There hadn't really been very much in his stomach, to begin with, and he ended up with dry heaves. Ben looked up when Francesca came into the bathroom.

"How's he doin'?" Ben shook his head. She looked concerned. "Should I call the doctor?" she had one of Dr. Davis' cards.

Ben wrapped his arms around a now sobbing Ray; looked up at Francesca, met her eyes and nodded. Even though Ray had wanted out of the hospital, away from all the sounds, smells, and lousy food, the doctor had been doubtful whether Ray was ready to go home. He had promised that if there were any problems that he would call her, and she would come over to determine whether Ray would be able to stay home or would have to go back to the hospital. In Ben's opinion, they would be going back to the hospital and, because he had promised Ray that he would not leave him alone, he would again stay with him, as before.

While Francesca called the doctor, Ben cleaned Ray up, and helped him back upstairs, and into bed. Ray looked positively miserable. Ben tried to comfort him. "It's all right Ray. You just overdid your first day home." Ray turned toward the wall, not wanting to talk, but Ben wouldn't let it go. He sat beside Ray on the bed, and started to gently rub Ray's shoulder. "Don't worry. It will all sort itself out."

"I suck." Came Ray's barely audible whisper.

"No you don't, Ray. This was a rough day for all of us. You just got out of the hospital. You go to the station to ID your assailants. You come home to a strange place. You get adopted by a veritable mother-bear of a woman, who defends you and breaks the leader of the people who hurt you. You have a nightmare that ends with hysterical laughter, and then, to top it all off, you have your first experience of a normal Vecchio dinner." Ray rolled over and looked at Ben with horror.

"That was normal?" Ben nodded. "I'd hate to see them mad at each other." Ben smiled.

"I have observed that although they are loud, and sometimes angry, their anger passes quickly, and they never really mean any harm." He smiled, "That's just the way they are. I understand they are quite normal for an Italian family.

Ray thought about it. "No wonder he broke down over being declared dead to them. He's gonna be awful lonely." He whispered, and shivered. As Ray lay thinking, something occurred to him.



"They're gonna walk." Fraser, who had been sitting in a rocking chair, slumped on his tail bone, relaxed and nearly dozing, while they waited for the doctor, sat up abruptly.

"What makes you think that, Ray?" puzzled.

"I can't testify." Horrified.

"Why not, Ray? You are an excellent witness. They won't be able to touch you, Ray." He moved over to the bed, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"I can't be sworn in. They ask you to state your full and true name. I can't do that, Fraser. My true and full name is Stanley Raymond Kowalski." He started trembling. Fraser pulled him up into a hug, holding him tight against his chest.

"We'll think of something, Ray. Don't worry about that just now."

When Dr. Davis arrived, she found an exhausted Ray fitfully dozing, with Fraser in the rocking chair beside the bed.

"What happened?" she asked, softly.

Ben sighed. "I'm afraid we overdid it, today." He related the events to her. Finishing with Ray's dream of Supermom.

"I'm afraid we were both quite hysterical. You've seen Mrs. Vecchio, can you picture her in blue tights and red cape?" he chuckled again at the memory.

She joined him, laughing softly. "That's wonderful. I'm glad. It's a very promising dream. It shows that he's healing. Of course, the vision of her driving that monster to tears was probably the best thing that could have happened. It shows him that he is stronger than he thought. The fact that he realized that it took seven men two and a half days to break him, and his mother took ten minutes to break the leader of the gang that hurt him demonstrates to him that he is the strong one. The one in charge. That he can handle this, and come through it stronger, better." She was sitting on the edge of Ray's bed, making her examination as she spoke. Even in his sleep, he was excessively tender in the rib area, flinching at even her gentlest touch.

"I think we need to wrap these ribs, after all. If he's going to be laughing, support of those abused muscles is more important than his discomfort from the stitches in his back. I'll show you how to wrap him, and you'll need to check the stitches two or three times a day, just to make sure they stay clean. He can sleep without being wrapped, but shouldn't be moving around without them." She finished her exam, gently pulled Ray's shirt back down, and tucked the covers back around the still sleeping form, ending by stroking Ray's face and smoothing his hair back. "I hate to wake him up, but..." She made a decision. "Tell you what. I'll come by tomorrow morning on my way to work. That way, he can get a good night's sleep and we won't have to disturb him," she said, rising from the bed and moving toward the door.

Fraser nodded his agreement. "What time? If it's early, I can be up to let you in."

"I have late hours tomorrow, say eight-thirty?"

Fraser agreed and escorted her down the stairs. Mrs. Vecchio met them in the foyer.

"How is he, doctor?" She asked, worriedly. She was afraid the doctor would make them take Ray back to the hospital, where there was no one to care about him. She was surprising herself by how much she was starting to care for this man. He was different from her own son, but in many ways he was the same, too. The gentle, hurting, child locked behind the tough exterior. Her strong maternal instincts wanting to cushion him from the outside world's hurts.

"He's going to be just fine, Mrs. Vecchio. I'll be back in the morning to wrap his ribs." At her worried look, she continued, hurriedly, "It's just for support. The muscles are still so tender that any untoward movement causes him excessive pain. He'll be just fine in a week or two. Honest." She smiled and touched the older woman's arm, reassuringly. "Normally, my patients don't find too many things funny enough to laugh themselves into more pain. However, this has been an unusual case from the outset." She was thrilled at the support these people had been willing to give her patient. Even if the laughter was part hysteria, it was an excellent sign of emotional healing. For everyone involved. She made more reassurances, promising to show Mrs. Vecchio, as well, how to wrap Ray's ribs and care for his injuries, now that he was home.

With Ma on the warpath, the rest of the family remained subdued throughout the evening. Ben, Francesca, and Ma Vecchio spent their time in the kitchen, talking. Discussing Ray's newest problem of not being able to testify. The very thought that the men who had done this getting away with it had Ma in a fury.

"They must be punished." She declared, angrily. "The things they did....." she started ranting in Italian, hands gesticulating wildly.

The others waited out her tirade. Francesca shyly, for her, came up with a possible solution, "Ma?" her mother looked at her youngest child, still distraught.

"Si, cara?"

"What if you were to talk to Angelo and..."

"Do not say that name! He is dead to us!" her mother interrupted her, furious.

"Please, Ma. Let me finish. Please?" pleading.

"What is it Francesca?" Fraser asked gently.

"Well," looking to her mother for permission to continue. At her nod, Francesca continued. "What if Ma, here was to talk to Angelo again, and tell him he could, maybe, I don't know, maybe talk to his dad and explain what happened, to him, you know? Make him take all the responsibility? In exchange for him and his goons pleading guilty." She looked for reassurance from the others, then rushed on, "You know, let Uncle Gino decide whether or not to disown him for what he did. Give him back a little of the family, as long as they plead guilty to what they did to Ray. Then Ray wouldn't have to testify, and they'd be punished, and everything..." she trailed off, insecure of her reception. When she gained the courage to look at the others, she saw a calculating expression on her mother's face and a pleased smile on Fraser's.

"That might work." Fraser said. He looked at Ma. "The offer will have to come from you. I'm sure you could persuade him to take the deal. It wouldn't look good to the rest of the Mob to discover what he had done to his own cousin. I understand they take a dim view of such actions with close relatives." He knew he couldn't force it on her. She had to decide for herself whether or not to put Ray through any more anguish. His expectations were rewarded.

"Si. You are right. He has been through enough. I will do this." That settled matters as far as she was concerned. When she again spoke to the vile man, she would make him an offer he dare not refuse. If the men who had helped him torture Ray learned of the family connection between their boss and his victim, his life might be forfeit from his own people. Family abuse was frowned upon. Especially when unjustified.

Fraser went with Francesca when they approached the Lieutenant with the idea. He agreed and sent them on to the State's Attorneys, who also liked the idea. By the time the meeting had been set with the various parties, another week had passed. The meeting was rather anti-climatic. Angelo had jumped at the chance to try to make amends to his relatives. He and all of his goons agreed to plead guilty. Angelo's error reflected badly on them as well. The fact that Ray had survived made them all more than willing to cut a deal. They knew that seeing the photos of Ray's injuries coupled with his testimony would make an excellent case for the death penalty. They plea bargained the charges down to twenty-five years to life. With good behavior, they could be out in ten to fifteen years.

Ray's bruises had faded to near invisibility. His ribs were still strapped when he was up, but the stitches had been removed from his back. He was feeling almost healthy again. His nightmares had a tendency to end up with an hilarious parody of Mrs. Vecchio as Supermom to the rescue. He hadn't had a 'cuddle attack' in several days and was able to move around on his own, even to the point of driving himself to work.

His first day back. The squad room was its usual bustling self when he entered. Huey was the first to see him. He stopped interviewing his prisoner and stood, drawing the attention of his partner, Dewey, who followed the direction of his gaze and also stood. By the time Ray made it to his desk, the room was silent, all police officers standing. Lt. Welsh stood in the doorway of his office, for once not leaning on the jamb. Ray looked up, noticing the silence. He glanced, nervously, at his co-workers. The lieutenant started to clap. Huey joined immediately, then the others. Ray sat down to thunderous applause. It left him feeling at a total loss for words. His eyes misted from the emotions brought on by the welcome. He met the eyes of his brother cops, and smiled. It was good to be home.

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