OK. Here's the sequel to 'Extradition'. It is also a sequel to the pure DS story 'Raison D'etre', with a couple of references to 'Reading Between the Lines'. It's still stewing, as I begin it. I hope it flows along rapidly, as I hate getting stuck. But then, don't we all? By the way, I have to give out Thatcher warnings. She's in it, but I don't know where it's going to go yet. :) Major spoilers for Burning Down the House. Due once again to a few words of extreme violence, I think I will have to give this an 'R' rating. I need to speak to sweetness and light to bring me nicer bashes. :) R.I.Eaton The usual disclaimers apply. I don't own them. I get no money for this. All I get out of this is the warm fuzzies from people emailing me when they like my stories (shameless hint). If you don't like it, let me know why, but be specific. If it's because it's got RayK in it, Sorry. I already did the prequel with RayV. In fact, that's what makes this one work. Jim and Blair have already met Ray Vecchio. It is going to take them a little while to get used to Ray Kowalski-Vecchio.



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"As I'm sure you are aware" The monotone voice droned on, and on, and on, and on. "The perpetrators of such crimes are generally sociopathic in nature."

"Duh." Blair Sandburg whispered to his nearly comatose friend and partner, Jim Ellison. "Where do they get these guys? This one's a sure cure for insomnia, man."

"Uh huh." Jim agreed, then yawned. "I'm going to start snoring, soon, if this guy doesn't shut up or say something useful." He was trying manfully to stay awake, but this guy, this guy was even putting Blair to sleep.

"Oh, yeah, man. This guy's the worst. What makes him think he can teach?" The young academic asked. He taught several classes every semester, and he knew that professors who spoke in a monotone, who just stood and talked, who didn't show any excitement for their subject, either had so much tenure that their courses were mandatory, or they had very small classes. There were always waiting lists for any of the classes Blair taught.

They were in Chicago for this week long police seminar. The list of subjects had sounded good, even the prospectus on this one had sounded interesting. Most of the speakers were from the FBI. This guy was a university professor who was sharing the results of some student's master's thesis. Blair glanced around. Most of the audience looked to be asleep. He wondered how to get out of this particular lecture. Even if only for a few minutes. Knowing that anything he came up with would have to include his partner.

Finally, the speaker ran out of adjectives, and stopped talking. The applause was sporadic, Primarily because those clapping were cheering the end of their torture for the afternoon. Blair was up and out quickly. Glad that they had been sitting at the back of the room. Jim loafed along behind his hyperactive young friend. Once outside, surprised to find the sun still shining, the two men inhaled the smog filled air, and wrinkled their noses at the smell.

"Gross, man." Blair muttered.

"You should try it from where I'm standing, Darwin." Jim retorted. "Between the noise and the smells, I've got to keep all the dials turned down.

"Oh, yeah. Sorry, man. Maybe we shouldn't have volunteered for this one, huh?"

Jim looked at him, puzzled. "Who volunteered?" As Blair paled with the realization, Jim's eyes took on that cold, steely expression that Blair hated to have turned on him.

"Oops. Sorry man. Simon suggested we come, I said 'cool'. I guess we both forgot to... OW!" The slap to the back of his head had been far from gentle.

"Don't forget. Ever again. I hate seminars. For every class that is actually worth it, there are a hundred that are less than useless."

"He had good information. We just needed someone with better delivery. Man, what a stiff." Blair nudged his friend's arm. "So. What are we going to do for the rest of the afternoon?" Bouncing excitedly. There were libraries, museums, all kinds of interesting places to go.

"I thought I'd look up a couple of guys I know." Hiding a smile.

"Oh." Crestfallen. Oh, well. He could go to the library and museums by himself.

"Yeah. Seems I remember this guy being a Sentinel...." Laughing as the sudden realization hit Blair.

"Oh! Wow! Yeah. That's right! Those guys that came for that extradition last year. The ones who..." He looked up at his partner. "You want to see them again?" Unsure. Knowing that his friend's injuries had left mental, as well as physical, scars. Placing a hand on his Sentinel's arm.

"Yeah. I'm sure. I looked at a map earlier. The Canadian Consulate is only a few blocks from here. Care to join me?" Strolling off in the direction he knew the consulate to be.

"You better believe it. Maybe I can get you guys to go through a few tests?" Catching up to the taller man, bouncing like a terrier out for a walk with its master.

"No tests." Jim scowled.

"Aw, c'mon, man. Just a few?" Pleading, wheedling.

"We'll see."

"That will be all, Constable." Meg Thatcher was annoyed, again, as usual. It seemed that lately, no matter what he did, it was the wrong thing. He fully expected to be back on guard duty soon, the way things were going. Perhaps he could get Ray to bring lunch for the consulate? There was something that had happened then, that had brought them all closer, somehow. He wished he knew what it was that was wrong. Whether the inspector was angry with him for something he had done that he shouldn't have or hadn't done that he should have. Or perhaps she was angry about something totally unrelated to him, and was just using him as her whipping boy. He just wished he knew. Then, at least, his mind could stop worrying about it.

He returned to his office, starting on the top document in his 'in' basket. Processing it quickly and efficiently, as always. He'd been working for several hours, steadily, when there was an unexpected knock at his door.

"Come." Looking up as the door opened and Constable Turnbull's face appeared around the door.

"Oh, excuse me, sir. I...well, that is, you, have some visitors. Americans, I believe. Although, I am not certain. I suppose they could be Canadian, but they didn't say where they were from. Only that they were friends of yours. What would you like me to tell them?"

Fraser could swear that Turnbull only stopped talking because he had run out of air. He was about to answer, when Diefenbaker suddenly lurched to his feet, barking excitedly and pushed past Constable Turnbull standing in the doorway, nearly knocking him down.

"Diefenbaker!" Then, thinking better of it. "What's the use? He's deaf." He pushed past the still unmoving Turnbull, chasing after his wolf.

He saw one person on the floor, flat on his back, Diefenbaker on top, licking the man's face excitedly, making odd whining/growling noises.

"I am terribly sorry..." He stopped abruptly, nearly falling when Constable Turnbull plowed into him from behind. The second visitor started laughing.

"I thought you were Mounties, not Keystone Kops." Jim laughed.

Fraser's answering smile was broad and pleased, at least until...

"What is the meaning of this?!" The inspector's stentorian tones interrupted them.

Jim looked over and observed a beautiful woman, short, dark hair. Snapping brown eyes. Trying to look stern, and hide her own merriment at the sight in the foyer.

"My apologies, Sir." Fraser quickly said, "I'm afraid that Diefenbaker was just excited upon seeing some friends..."

The inspector quirked up an eyebrow, silencing the flustered Mountie. Her gaze caught on the very tall, well-built man who stood there grinning at the scene on the floor. He was...very tall, and extremely well-built. A friend of Diefenbaker's, or Fraser's? The tall man reached down and disengaged his much smaller friend from Fraser's wolf's ministrations. "You OK, there, Chief?" He asked the now well rumpled young man.

"Oh, yeah. I'm just fine. Hiya Dief. How's it goin', Ben?" trying to brush the animal hair from his jeans and flannel shirt.

Jim looked at the inspector. "I'm sorry, ma'am. We were here for a seminar and it let out early, today, so we decided to try and track down Constable Fraser and renew acquaintance." He hoped that was formal enough. Far more formal than he would ever be with any American cop. Even the Chief of Police.

She was impressed. Good looking, and good manners. They were friends of Fraser's, obviously. Americans? Rather too polite for Americans, but it was possible. "A seminar?" Getting back on track.

"Yes, Ma'am." Blair replied. She was certainly beautiful, but seemed rather cold. "There's a police seminar..."

"You're police officers?" Surprised.

"Well, I'm really just an observer, but..."

Fraser was unable to repress a chuckle. The inspector glared at him. He stifled the sound, but was still grinning like a fool. "My apologies, sir. May I present Detective James Ellison of the Major Crimes Division, Cascade, Washington, and his partner, Blair Sandburg. Gentlemen, allow me to present my superior, Inspector Thatcher." He stepped back. His perfect introduction marred by a yelp from Turnbull, who had remained standing too closely behind Fraser.

"Gentlemen." She raised her head; rather imperiously, Blair thought. Jim just wondered why she was so cold? He was getting frostbite from clear over across the room.

"Inspector." Jim and Blair chorused.

She realized that she didn't need to be there. Although the pair looked extremely interesting, she decided to forgo any closer scrutiny of them. They were probably just there for the day, anyway. "If you'll excuse me?" She asked, as she turned away to go back into her own office, closing the door behind her.

"Brrrrr". Jim muttered. Knowing that Fraser would hear, even if the others didn't. He saw the sad expression in his fellow Sentinel's eyes. Realized that the man had a personal interest in his superior, and no idea how to bridge the gap between them.

"So, Ben. What are your plans for the evening?" Blair asked.

"Actually, I had plans to play some hockey with Ray." He saw the disappointment on the younger man's face. "I can probably call and cancel." He offered.

Jim and Blair looked at one another. "How about we take you both out for dinner, and then go watch you play?" Jim suggested. Fraser smiled.

"Let me make a call." He motioned them to follow him back to his office.

It was terribly cramped with the three men and one wolf in the tiny space. Blair looked around and realized that it appeared as though the Canadian was living in his office. He nudged Jim, his eyes asking the question. Jim just shrugged in response.

"Ray. Yes. There has been a small change in plans, if you don't mind." He listened. 
Jim was polite enough to not eavesdrop. "No. Not a problem. No. Two friends are 
visiting from Washington.....No. The state, not the District. ....Ah, yes. When 
we went to Washington last summer to pick up Wilson for extradition. No. I'll 
explain. No. I'm sure. You're sure it won't be....Yes. Very well, we'll see you 
then." He hung up the phone. Then turned his eyes on his visitors.

"I need to explain something to you................"

"OK. Let me get this straight. The guy we know as Ray Vecchio is currently undercover with The Mob, working some kind of sting operation, right?" Blair was trying to be absolutely certain of the facts.


"And this guy, Ray, is pretending to be Ray Vecchio, right?"


"Does he look anything like the Ray we met?"

"No. He's perhaps an inch shorter, thinner, with a full head of blond hair."

"And they expect him to pass for Italian?"

Ben hung his head. "He already has." He looked up at his fellow Sentinel and his guide. "They were tipped off that the Chicago version of Ray Vecchio, was an impostor. They tortured him. He survived. He's a much stronger man, because of it." The sadness in his eyes belied his words. "He's been back to work for a couple of months, now."

"How long has he been doing this?" Jim asked, curious.

"Just over six months." He looked up at his friends, "I still miss Ray, but this Ray is now my friend, as well. He's earned four citations for bravery, although one of them is under Ray Vecchio's name. He's a fine officer, a good detective. Will you go along with the ruse?"

"Of course." Jim and Blair chorused, together.

Ray picked them up in his department issued sedan. Jim and Blair sat in the rear. Diefenbaker had sulked when he wasn't invited along. Fraser performed the introductions.

"Ray, you remember Detective Ellison, and his partner, Blair Sandburg, don't you?"

"Uh, yeah. Sure. Uh." Racking his memory for the proper information. "Yeah. Yeah. You were the guys we met when we went after Wilson, to bring him back on an extradition from Washington, uh, Cascade, Washington, right?" He caught their gazes in the rear view mirror. A little desperation in his eyes. "You, " he looked at Jim, "You were kidnapped by Wilson's gang, you managed to escape. Blair, uh, broke down on the highway, we," he cast an almost panic stricken glance at Fraser and then back to his passengers, "Fraser, made us stop and help. We found him near where they buried one of their guys, that Jim had managed to...." He looked with sudden awe at the larger man in the back seat. "You killed him..." deciding not to go into the details, even though he remembered them, giving his head a shake to dislodge the imagery. "They thought you were dead, too. While they were digging the hole, you escaped. Fraser and Dief found you. We kept you warm overnight, and your guys came and got us all in the morning." His eyes darkened, "One of your uniform guys was working for Wilson, passing info to his gang. Me and Fraser, here..."

"Fraser and I." Fraser corrected.

Ray bobbed his head in acknowledgment. "Fraser and I, went with your guys to take down the gang. Your....captain, got shot, and Fraser, here, shot the bad guy. The rest of the gang died in the fire fight. We brought Wilson back for trial. He's sitting in prison for the rest of his life. Right?"

Jim and Blair nodded. "You have a good memory." Jim congratulated. Ray gave back a shy smile.

"Sometimes." He admitted. "So, what brings you to Chicago?"

"That police seminar." Jim growled, with a glare at his partner.

Ray winced. "Ouch. Couple of our guys got tagged to go to that. When they got back today, they could barely stay awake, they was so bored."

"We know the feeling." Blair admitted.

"That last speaker was a sure cure for insomnia. He'd put a healthy man in a coma." Jim commented.

"Yeah. Huey and Dewey had to go, today. The lieutenant and...I" quick glance at Fraser, coupled with a grin, "are supposed to go tomorrow. I'm glad we missed Deadly Derek Dickerson."

"Was that the professor?" Blair asked.

"Yeah. He teaches at the local college. I took one of his classes, once. Criminal Law. Man, there were times I thought I was gonna die from boredom. The worst thing about it? He had real good information. Just...man, he just can't talk."

"How did you do in his class, Ray?" Fraser asked.

"I did OK. I made sure I sat up front, stared at him, ya know? Made him talk to me. Made it easier to get through the class." He smiled.

Blair laughed. "Oh, man. I use to do that a lot. I bet with your Professor Dickerson, though, you nearly drove him to distraction with it." At the puzzled expressions from Ben and Jim, "When you stare at a teacher, some of them react by talking directly to you, ignoring everyone else. Others react by getting flustered, the ones who are used to being ignored, or that put their classes to sleep seem especially prone to it. I almost wish he was going to give another talk, so we could do it to him. It would make an interesting paper."

Jim shook his head. "Only you would want to listen to someone like that for research, Darwin." He pulled his seminar schedule out of his pocket, looked at it and groaned. "Looks like you get your wish. He's the closing speaker tomorrow, too."

"Really?!" Blair grabbed the schedule from his partner. "Oh, cool. Hey, Ray, care to join us in a little experiment?" Bouncing slightly in his seat.

Ray cast a startled glance back at them. "Uh, yeah, sure. I guess. I got the lieutenant, too, though."

"Cool. He can help. See what happens when four front row students stare at him. Should be interesting." Blair chuckled. He loved jerking the chains of old guard professors. Particularly when there was no chance of repercussions.

They went to dinner at a small, intimate Italian restaurant Ray knew. The food was wonderful. Ray was rather reticent when it came to conversation, feeling like a tag-along. These guys didn't know him from Adam, but they were trying to act like they were all old friends. He just didn't feel right about it. The lying was getting to him. He was trying, he really was, but he hadn't had enough experience to be able to act naturally with total strangers. They seemed like good guys. The kid was really funny. There were several times he smiled and almost laughed at his tales.

Blair felt sorry for Ray. He was trying so hard to fit in, but he knew that he didn't. He was almost painfully shy. When Ray focused on someone entering the restaurant, Blair followed the man's gaze to a striking blond woman, just entering on the arm of a man who appeared to be, to Blair at least, a lawyer. He saw the pain lance through Ray's eyes, how he quickly looked away from the couple, then glanced back. Obviously wanting to stare, but having the good manners not to. Jim and Ben were discussing some hunting technique, so he leaned over and asked softly, "Who is that, Ray?" indicating the woman Ray kept looking at.

"That's Stella. My ex-wife." The sorrow and sadness obvious.

"Oh. I'm sorry." What else do you say to a guy who so obviously was still in love with an ex-spouse? " S OK." He smiled, sadly. "I keep hoping we can get back together. Doesn't look like that's gonna happen." He sighed, turning back to his dinner, which he'd suddenly lost interest in. He pushed his plate away. Closing his eyes and concentrating on his breathing. Faint tremors, vibrating through his body.

Ben knew instantly something was wrong. He abruptly turned from what he had been saying to Jim, extending a hand to Ray's shoulder, "Are you all right, Ray?" Concern evident in his expression and manner.

Ray drew a deep, shaky breath, held it a moment, then let it out, slowly. Opening his eyes to the concerned gaze of his friend, "I'm OK. Stella's here. It'll be OK." He reached up to cover Ben's hand with his own, patting it reassuringly. Ben nodded his understanding, squeezed Ray's shoulder, then let go. Turning back to Jim.

Blair was amazed. This was not the same Ben Fraser they had met nearly a year ago. That man had been such an emotional stiff that any physical contact resulted in a dramatic flinch. This Ben Fraser had learned to pick up distress signals from his friend and respond to them. Reaching out and using touch to comfort. Blair thought on what Ben had said about what had happened to Ray when The Mob had thought to torture the truth about his identity out of him. How it hadn't worked. Not because they didn't hurt him enough, but because they failed to give him a glass of water so he could speak. There were no visible scars, unless you looked closely at his wrists, where faint marks were still visible. He could only imagine the emotional and psychological scars. He looked at his Sentinel. Another man who had gone through hell. Not just once, but several times. He compared the two men. Jim was obviously strong and in control, almost a control freak, to tell the truth. Ray? Ray was a shy, introspective man with what appeared to be a pretty low self-esteem. He wondered what kind of cop he was? Jim was surprised. He remembered that night the preceding August when Ben and Ray had rescued him, how distant and aloof the two friends had been. This Ray's ordeal had apparently elicited some changes in his fellow Sentinel. He knew how much it meant to him when he was hurt, to have Blair around, talking (always talking), touching his arm, holding his hand. The warmth and comfort of a human touch. How he felt when performing the same service for an injured Blair. There was obviously a good rapport between the pair. He was glad to see it. The Fraser of last year had been well on his way to where one Jim Ellison had been, before his long-haired, peripatetic, young partner had found him and reshaped him into the, admittedly much better, man he was now. He met his Guide's eyes and returned the smile he received.

They finished their dinner. Ray asked for a doggie bag. Handing it to Fraser on their way out, saying that he was the only one who had a doggie to give it to. Smiling at his friend in reassurance. They were just a little subdued, in deference to Ray's feelings, on the way to the indoor skating rink. There were half a dozen men already on the ice, practicing.

Ray had skates and sticks in the trunk. He pulled them out, handing one gear bag to Fraser, while he took the second. He looked at Jim and Blair speculatively. "You guys skate?" He asked innocently.

"Not in years." Jim replied. "I played a little when I was a kid. Haven't even been near the ice since."

"I can skate a little." Blair admitted. "But not very well."

Ray nodded. Looking at Ben with a question in his eyes. Ben smiled his agreement.

"Would you care to join us on the ice? They rent skates." Ben asked his friends.

"Yeah. This is a friendly group. No NHL types here. It's more important to play than to win. If you played, we could have two full teams, maybe." Ray added, encouraging the visitors.

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. Jim shrugged. "I have no problem. Provided I can practice on the ice a little before we start to play, Chief?"

Blair noticed the hopeful expressions on the others faces. Sighing, "Sure. Why not? I have to warn you, though, that I am a lousy skater."

Ben laughed, leaning close "You can't possibly be any worse than Ray." His eyes telling them he was referring to the other Ray, the one the three of them knew. "He could barely stay upright, let alone skate." He added conspiratorially. The three men laughed. As they moved back, Ben patted this Ray on the shoulder, bringing him in on the joke. He smiled his gratitude.

Having rented skates, Jim and Blair were soon joining Ben and Ray on the ice. They had to help Blair find his balance. He was extremely wobbly until he learned to keep his knees flexed. Both Jim and Blair had to have the local rules for hockey explained to them. This was strictly a friendly game. Anyone fighting was permanently ejected. It kept the injuries down to a minimum.

Ben, Ray, Jim and Blair were joined by an old man for their team. The other team consisted of primarily teenagers. Admittedly, Blair spent more time on his butt than on his skates, but they all had a good time. The old man turned out to be a fantastic player, out-skating everyone except Ben and Ray. The teens were hard pressed to keep up with their speed, let alone score. Blair had started out as goalie, but he was so bad at it, that Jim insisted on taking over that chore. He was big enough to block the goal with his body, even without the padding. He was also fast enough to block the teenagers' best shots.

By the end of the game, some two hours later, Blair was sporting a bruised jaw to match all the bruises he'd gotten from falling down. He didn't care. He had had a lot of fun. Of course, the fact that they had won didn't hurt his feelings any, either.

"Oh, man. I am going to be so sore tomorrow." He moaned as they changed back into their shoes. "I may have to skip the seminar." Waiting for the reaction.

Jim froze. He slowly straightened up and looked at the smaller man. "You miss tomorrow's lectures," He growled, "and I'll make sure you're more than sore, Sandburg. You're the one who got me into this, and if you think that for one moment I am going to let you stick me in there by myself..." He half-playfully reached over to strangle the laughing grad student.

"Just kidding, man. I'm looking forward to 'Deadly Derek' tomorrow. This promises to be a lot of fun." Bending back down to tie his shoe laces.

Jim looked at a relaxed looking Ray. "We're staying at the hotel where the seminar is being held. Why don't you and your lieutenant join us for breakfast in the morning? That way, Blair can fill us in on what we need to do for his little test." He smiled fondly at his friend.

Ray thought about it. He was supposed to meet Welsh at the station at 7:30 in the morning. He knew the seminar didn't start until 9:00 and was scheduled to run until 5:30. "What time?"

"8:00. That will give us enough time to eat and still find the front row. Not that that should be a problem. As I recall, the front two rows were open all day, yesterday." Blair enthused.

Ray shook his head. "I'll see what I can do. I don't know how the lieutenant will be with this. He's not real big on jokes, you know?" He was considerably more relaxed with them, now. The interaction of the game had brought them closer, serving as an excellent means of getting to know each other. Discovering that they could interact quite well together without the discomfort of trying to pretend they were old friends.

He dropped them off at their hotel, then drove Fraser back to the consulate. "They seem like a couple of stand up guys, Fraz. They're OK." Smiling at his friend.

"They're an excellent team, Ray. They work very well together. Prolific in their case solving abilities."

"You don't have to defend them, Fraser." His voice gentle. "I can see that for myself." His smile soft. "Don't forget Dief's leftovers, Fraz." He called out, holding out the styrofoam container.

"He really doesn't need this, Ray." Worried that his friend hadn't eaten.

"It's OK. Honest." At the mountie's dubious expression. "Besides, you go out and don't bring him back something? What's he gonna think?" Smiling, now, at the picture of his partner trying to explain why he didn't bring the wolf back any goodies. "Look, I'll call you tomorrow, OK? Let you know how this seminar thing went. I just hope that Welsh can understand what Blair wants. I'm still not sure I do." Grinning now. Knowing perfectly well what Blair had in mind.

"Ray, that is so....juvenile." Smothering a smile of his own.

"Yeah? So?"

"I'll see you tomorrow, Ray. Perhaps I can join you for lunch?"

"Sure. I'll give you a call, let you know what time. G'night, Ben."

"Good night, Ray."

Up in their hotel room, Blair headed straight for the shower, intending to wash his bruises away. Jim stopped him.

"Huh-uh, Chief. Cold for bruises and muscle strains for the first twenty-four to forty-eight hours." Grinning. Knowing how much Blair hated cold.

"Oh, no, man. A hot shower, with the massage turned on full blast? I'll be just fine." Stiffly removing his shirt.

Jim winced when he saw Blair's back. It was nearly one single massive bruise. "Ouch, Blair. That looks like you need a doctor..."

"No. I am not going to see a doctor for a few bruises, man."

"Chief, you should have said something. You're probably not even going to be able to sit down tomorrow, let alone torment some poor old boring academic who couldn't understand police work if it were being demonstrated right in front of him."

"That's a great idea, Jim!" Blair turned to his friend, the excitement causing him to forget his aches and pains.

"What is?"

"Do real police work in front of him. Stare at him. We need....." His voice trailed off as he grabbed up his ever-present notebook and began scribbling in it. Chuckling as he wrote. "I wonder if there are any other cops we can recruit?"

It had been easier than he thought it would be, getting the lieutenant to go along with Blair's idea. Of course, mentioning breakfast hadn't hurt, either. Arriving at the hotel dining room, Ray immediately spotted the pair. He led the way over to the table.

"Hi, guys. Lieutenant Welsh, this is Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. Those guys from Cascade Washington, from last summer?"

"A pleasure, gentlemen." Pulling out a chair to sit. The waitress immediately came over and poured coffee for the newcomers, topping up Jim and Blair's cups while she was at it. She then set menus in front of all four men, who mumbled their thanks.

"So, Ray here tells me you have an idea for staying awake through Deadly Derek this afternoon." Welsh wasted no time with chit-chat.

"Uh, yes, sir. I've been working on a couple of ideas. I was hoping that there might be a few others we might be able to recruit, but I haven't seen anyone from yesterday, yet." Blair was practically bouncing in his seat in his excitement.

Jim stifled a grin. He was looking forward to hearing Blair's ideas, himself. Especially since his note taking had gone on into the wee hours of the morning, preventing either of them from getting much sleep. He'd finally put his foot down at 1:30, telling Blair that if he didn't stop, he was going to hand cuff him to his bed. It had worked.

"So, let's hear 'em." Welsh growled.

"OK. Ray, how's your smirk?" Blair asked with a wide grin.

"Smirk?" Confused.

"Yeah. I want you to look straight in Deadly Derek's eyes and smirk. No matter what he says, no matter what he does. You smirk at him."

Ray thought about it, "What's everyone else gonna do?"

Blair chuckled. "Jim's gonna give him his patented Ellison glare." Jim demonstrated it on Blair. "Yeah, like that." Bouncing and grinning. "I'm going to do just what I'm doing right now." Bounce, bounce, grinning like a fool.

Ray got it. He smirked.

"That's it!" Blair exclaimed, encouraging him.

Lieutenant Welsh looked at the three of them and started to chuckle. "So, what do you want me to do?"

"How well do you know the professor?"

"Not well. I've heard him speak. Everyone on the force has. They always hire him for lectures. I guess because he's a professor, and cheap." He shrugged.

"Good. I want you to go to sleep. Right there in the front row. Snore, if you can." Trying to smother his giggles.

"Oh, man. You are evil." Ray laughed. "What else?"

"Well...if I can find a few more volunteers, I was thinking of having them writing notes, or working over a file folder, like they're discussing a case? Just anything to distract him. See how he reacts."

"We could alternate." Jim suggested. "The lieutenant and I could do the case discussion for a while. Then, I could start glaring at Deadly Derek, like he was interrupting us, while you go to sleep." Smiling at the older man conspiratorially.

Welsh smiled back. "Works for me. What about the rest of the lectures?"

"Business as usual. Try to stay awake, take notes if it's important. Stuff like that." Their waitress returned to take their orders. When she had gone, "I'm really only interested in experimenting with Deadly Derek. Of course, if anyone else is as bad as he is....." Grinning.

Fortunately, most of the lectures had at least been interesting. Blair had Jim running his lie detector skills on the speakers. Other than a couple of severe cases of nerves, all the speakers were normal.

During the morning break, Ray telephoned Fraser at the consulate, informing him of when their lunch break was scheduled.

Fraser was waiting for them when they came out of the lecture hall. They decided to go out for lunch to a nearby restaurant. Welsh and Jim ordered burgers, Blair ordered a chef's salad, teasing his partner about cholesterol, Ben ordered a steak sandwich, and Ray ordered chicken. While they waited to be served, Fraser asked: "How were the lectures, this morning?"

"Good." Welsh said, nodding; a little surprised. "They had some real good stuff, for a change."

Jim agreed. "Yeah. They even had some stuff we might actually be able to use."

Ray nodded. "And these guys sounded like they knew what they were talking about."

They shared some of the more useful bits of information with the Canadian. When their food was served, they, with one accord, changed the subject to how the visitors were liking Chicago.

"It's a big city. A lot bigger than Cascade." Blair noted.

"Yeah. And your smog is really terrible. It's wreaking havoc with my sinuses." Jim added. He met Ben's sharp glance and grinned at him, conspiratorially. Ben nodded his understanding.

After lunch they were walking back to the hotel for the rest of the lectures for the day. Ben suddenly stopped, looking off into the distance, Jim mirroring his pose. Rather like a pair of hunting dogs catching the scent of their prey. Blair, who had been talking, as usual, noticed their absence and turned around. Ray stopped as well. He had been listening to the younger man, awed at Blair's ability to speak (long) on so many subjects. Welsh turned back as well, curious.

"What is it? What do you hear?" Blair asked softly, touching each Sentinel's arm. Abruptly both men started running down the street towards an alley. The others took off in pursuit. Welsh yelling the question of what was wrong.

Upon reaching the alley, Jim motioned Ben to take one side while he took the other, pulling his gun. Then he realized that Ben was unarmed, just as Ray arrived, having easily outdistanced the other two. He read Jim's hand signals and nodded. He ducked down the alley, checking Jim's side. Jim covering Ray's side. They worked their way down the alley, Ray still not sure what they were looking for.

Blair arrived next. He stood panting a bit, next to Fraser. "What is it? What did you guys hear?" Speaking softly.

"A woman screaming for help." Ben replied, just as Welsh arrived, gasping for breath.

"What's wrong? Why did you guys take off for here?" Pulling his gun from its holster.

Just then, the reason for Jim and Ben's odd actions became audible to all of them. A woman, screaming, from down the alley.

"You two stay here." Welsh ordered, following the other two armed officers.

Naturally, Ben and Blair did not obey. Blair noticed a fire escape ladder just a few feet in from the street. It went up to a ledge that looked wide enough to walk on. He tugged on Ben's arm and pointed. Ben nodded. When they made their way to below the fire escape, Ben gave Blair a boost up to the bottom rung of the ladder. Hanging on, Blair pulled the extension ladder down, allowing Ben access as well. They made their way up to the ledge and along it, soon overtaking the three men below. Ben grabbed Blair's arm, pointing. Blair looked down....and froze, abruptly realizing that he was up...high...it...was...a...long...way...down. Oops. He started shaking. Ben held on to him.

"It's all right. Blair. You won't have to jump, or anything. It's all right." Trying to ease the younger man from his incipient panic attack. "It's only fifteen feet, Blair."

Blair swallowed, hard, and nodded. Spotting what Ben had been pointing toward. There, below them and across the alley in a cul-de-sac, was a man beating up a woman. Blair started talking softly, knowing that Jim would hear him.

"Jim. Your side of the alley. About twenty-five, thirty feet ahead. There's a cul-de-sac. Guy beating up a woman. She looks to be unconscious. He's trying to drag her further back. It's pretty dark in there, compared to where you are."

He saw Jim nod his acknowledgment, then motion to Ray and Welsh. When he came to the cul-de-sac, he dashed across the opening to the other side; taking up his position. Welsh took up the matching position on the opposite side of the opening. Ray looked at both men, steadied himself, then dashed down the middle of the alley toward their quarry, using the piles of garbage for cover. When Ray got into position, he signaled the others, who made their way up. Once all three were in position, Lieutenant Welsh called out to the couple at the end of the cul-de-sac.


The man spun, letting the woman fall to the ground, shock on his face. He saw the three men with guns, all pointing directly at him, and looked frantically around for an escape route. There was none. The three police officers were advancing on him, he backed up, searching for a way out. When he backed into the wall, he slowly raised his hands, giving up.

Ray was the first one to reach their suspect. Careful to keep as much out of the line of fire from the other two men as he could, he grabbed the man's right arm with his left hand, spinning him around to face the wall. Maintaining contact with his suspect, he holstered his gun as the other two made their way to him. Ray frisked the man while Welsh kept him covered and Jim checked out the woman.

"She's alive, but unconscious." He announced. Ray handcuffed his suspect, and turned him back around to face them.

"OK. You have the right to maintain silent," Then over his shoulder he asked, "How bad is she?" Turning back to the suspect, "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law."

"She's been beaten. Broken wrist..." Jim called out to them. Welsh pulled out his cell phone to call for a unit and an ambulance.

"You have the right to an attorney and to have an attorney present during any and all questioning. If you cannot afford...uh"

"Some broken ribs...."

"Alley behind Jefferson. Yeah."

"an attorney, one will be appointed to you free of charge."

"Broken jaw."

"Do you understand these rights?" He shook his prisoner, roughly. "Do you want an attorney? Do you want to give up your right to maintain silent?" Shaking the man more violently, resisting the urge to pound the creep's head against the wall.....barely.

The man was shaking from fear. A noise from behind them caused Ray and Welsh to spin about to discover what it was. It was only Ben and Blair.

"Do you understand these rights? Do you want to give up your right to remain silent?" Ray asked again.

His prisoner finally spoke. "I didn't do nothin. I...I found her, I was tryin' to help her!" Plaintive, whining.

Blair spoke up. "Man, you are such a liar. I saw you hitting her."

"You couldn't 'a seen nothin." Sullen.

"Actually, I also observed you beating the woman." Ben confirmed.

The man whined, "I want a lawyer." and refused to say another word.

Ben cocked his head to one side. "Ambulance and patrol car, about...three blocks away." He announced. Welsh looked curiously at the Mountie.

"He's got ears like a bat." Ray explained. "You remember, the Alderman?" Pushing his prisoner over to the others. Welsh nodded. He'd heard about the Mountie's super-hearing, but this was his first experience of it first hand.

"That explains Big Red, but, " He turned to look curiously at Jim, "It doesn't explain you?"

Jim and Blair exchanged startled expressions. Ray watched them, curious. Ben looked at his friends, realizing that they had erred.

"Oh, dear." Fraser murmured.

"I'm Bionic" Jim responded. "I had an implant to increase my hearing." He managed to say it with a straight face. Ben and Blair both turned away to hide their grins. Blair started coughing to cover his laughter, as well. Ray looked at the three of them, not buying it for a minute. Looking and seeing that Welsh wasn't satisfied, but not going to press the issue. The important thing was that they caught the bad guy.

The patrol car beat the ambulance by a few seconds. The patrolmen readily took charge of the prisoner, Listening to the Lieutenant's explanation of what had happened. Jim directed the paramedics to the injured woman, giving them his diagnosis with the explanation that he had been a medic in the Army at one time. Ray got one of the patrolmen to switch the cuffs on the prisoner, getting his set back.

Jim looked at his watch as the ambulance and patrol car pulled away. "We're going to be late, guys."

Ray looked around, "We're only a couple blocks from the hotel. We can hoof it and be there in less that five minutes, no problem." He turned to lead the way, calling to Ben as he did so, "Fraz, I'll call you later, OK?"

"Certainly, Ray. I'll be interested in hearing about your experiment."

Imagine their surprise when the seminar took a late break and they found, upon their return, both Fraser and Inspector Thatcher at the podium. They were the replacement speakers for some findings in forensic research that the Canadians had developed. There was a great deal of technical information, which was offered in hard copy for anyone interested. Fraser handled the question and answer period and took the requests for copies of the material. When he was finished, another break was called. Ben and the inspector joined the group in the front row. Blair was giving them their last minute instructions.

"OK. He's scheduled to speak for an hour and a half. With any luck, we'll be out of here in less than an hour." He was already bouncing with excitement. At the approach of the two Mounties, Blair looked up with a big welcoming smile.. "Hi, Inspector, Ben. Why didn't you tell us you were speaking today?"

Thatcher was a bit nonplused by the friendly welcome. "It was a last minute substitution. The woman who was scheduled to speak didn't show up this morning. We had all the documentation and a copy of her speech, so we came to deliver it in her place."

"You did a great job. I'm sure our new head of forensics would love a copy." Blair told them.

Jim rolled his eyes. "Cassie? If she doesn't come up with it herself, she thinks it's worthless, Chief." He admonished his friend.

"Only when it comes from you, man." Blair smirked. Jim glared, in response.

"That's because I'm right, and Nancy Drew can't stand it." Adding a smirk of his own.

Thatcher watched the two men bantering. They obviously had an excellent rapport. Warm and caring for one another, almost like family. She couldn't help wondering how two such dramatically different personalities could possibly have become so close. Then, Blair turned his best baby-blue puppy-dog expression on her, and she was struck by his charisma.

"Are you staying for Deadly Derek?" She looked totally at a loss.

"He's the last speaker. Really dull." Ray explained.

Jim added "He could put a healthy person in a coma, just by lecturing." Smiling wickedly at her, his brilliant blue eyes sparking with mischief.

Even the lieutenant was grinning. "We're helping the prof, here with a little experiment."

Cautiously, "What kind of experiment?"

Blair quickly explained their plans to disrupt the speaker. Nothing untoward, just a little psychological experiment. He planned to write a paper on it, even. She looked closely at the four men, picturing their plans in action. She couldn't help herself, she started to giggle.

"That's perfect!" Blair exclaimed. Could you giggle at everything he says? Not loud, we don't want to actually disturb anyone else." A pleading expression in those oh, so expressive blue eyes. She couldn't resist.

"All right." She looked at Fraser and a wicked gleam came to her eye. "Fraser?"

"Sir?" Surprised that she would go along with this, rather juvenile, experiment.

"Sit at attention, as though you were on guard duty." Smothering her laughter.

The others all looked at her in surprise. Then Ray started to smile, a slow, sly grin. "Yeah. That'd be perfect. The human statue." He looked up at Thatcher. "Staring like on guard duty? Or staring at Deadly Derek?" The requisite smirk firmly in place.

"Guard duty." Thatcher decided. Looking at Fraser, "Constable?"

Ben sat beside Ray, at attention, staring into the distance, his hat balanced precisely on his knees.

Blair nearly howled. "Oh, man! That is just so perfect. He jumped up and placed them where he felt they would be the most distracting. They were in the centre of the front row. Ben placed in the centre of the group, Ray smirking on Ben's right, Welsh on Ben's left. Dividing up the natural teams. Jim sat beside Ray, and Thatcher beside Jim. Blair sat beside Welsh. That way, when Jim and Welsh discussed their 'case', they would have to talk across Ben and Ray. From left to right (As Deadly Derek would see them) Thatcher, giggling; Jim, discussing a case with Welsh, three seats away, and glaring with clenched jaw; next was Ray, smirking; then Ben, at attention, no movement, staring into space; next came Welsh, discussing the 'case' with Jim and sleeping; ending with Blair, bouncing excitedly, with an enormous grin on his face. He had his ever-present notebook at the ready, pen poised to take notes.

Deadly Derek never had a chance. He covered his surprise at finding the front row occupied. But he could not avoid their distractions. Within the first fifteen minutes, while Jim and Welsh discussed their 'case', the poor man lost his place an average of once every minute and a half. After that, when Jim started his glare routine, the professor kept glancing nervously at this intimidating person who looked like he would very willingly pull his gun and shoot him. The others in the front row were just as distracting. The large man, who was sleeping, didn't phase him a bit, he was used to that, but when the glaring man and the sleeping man had been carrying on a conversation across the human statue and that smirking idiot, that had annoyed him. How dare they talk across his lecture? The smirking man caused him, more than once, to check his fly, wondering at the man's expression, the way he kept making eye contact, even winking at him after he'd checked his fly for the third time. But the two on the ends were the worst. The woman, he had noticed, was the previous speaker, the human statue had been with her. Now she was looking at him and giggling. The other young man was the worst of all. He bounced in his seat like a three-year-old. Smiling that brilliant, excited smile. He couldn't seem to get past their odd behavior. He was incapable of looking anywhere else, not even at his notes. For the first time in uncountable years, his audience was paying attention to him. Most of them had been there the day before, suffering through Deadly Derek's lecture. For some reason, today he couldn't seem to string two sentences together.

Less than thirty minutes into the lecture, Deadly Derek snapped. "Young man. If you need to make use of the facilities, please do so and stop behaving like a child about to soil himself!"

The group in the front row didn't react. They continued their antics, Ray's smirk growing into a grin, forcing himself to not laugh. Ben remained a statue, the others stifled their smiles and laughter with great difficulty.

The audience was not so well contained. First, someone snickered, then someone giggled. Then someone else snorted and the entire crowd fell apart with shrieks of laughter. Deadly Derek, flustered beyond control, stormed off the stage.

They waited another half an hour but he didn't come back. They exited the lecture hall together, listening to the other attendees laughing and joking. Blair was scribbling furiously in his notebook.

"Oh, man. This is so cool. I've never seen anything like it. He is so weird, man. He's not that old, I wonder how he got such an old attitude?"

"Don't know, Chief. Don't care." Jim replied.

Once down in the lobby, they paused to discuss what to do next.

"If you'll excuse me for a few minutes?" The inspector asked, then proceeded toward the lady's room.

The men stood, still chuckling over the rousting of Deadly Derek. A uniformed officer approached the group.

"Excuse me. Lieutenant Welsh?"

"Yeah?" Turning to look at the patrolman.

"Sorry to interrupt, sir, but we got a call on a dead body. I called the station, they said you were here and would probably want to see the crime scene?"

"You sure it is a crime scene?"

"Yes, sir. The coroner's man is there, now. Doing the preliminary."


"On it, sir." The others tagged along, just on GPs, leaving Fraser to wait for the inspector.

Jim put his hand on Blair's chest, stopping his progress before they got to the doorway. "I don't think you want to see this, Chief." He warned, softly. Blair backed up to lean against the corridor wall.

"OK. I'll, um, stay right here. Out of the way. If you need me..."

"I'll know where to find you." Patting his friend's shoulder, then turning to follow the others into the room.

The woman had definitely been murdered. She was tied to the bed, eviscerated. Ray was leaning against the wall, forcing himself to not throw up. Eyes clamped shut, gasping for breath, swallowing bile. Jim immediately went to him, gently grasping his shoulder.

"Ray? You OK?" The guy was acting like a rookie at his first homicide.

"Oh, yeah. It's the blood. I think. Maybe it's the guts." Hard swallow, again. "I don't like stiffs. I'll be OK. Don't worry about it." Taking a few more deep breaths to get himself under control. Jim smiled ruefully. He almost envied Ray his lack of control. Reminded him of Blair.

With one final swallow, Ray opened his eyes and turned to the crime scene. He looked at the dead woman. He noticed the bruises on her thighs and realized that she had probably been raped. He closed his eyes at the horrible thought. He forced himself back to doing his job. He looked over the rest of the crime scene. Looking from the body on the bed, to the rest of the room, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Somethin's queer." He muttered.

"Whaddaya mean?" The lieutenant asked, obviously not seeing what Ray was.

Jim also looked around. He noticed the smells, cataloguing and sorting them. He looked at Ray, wondering what the other man had seen.

"Look at the bed."

"There's a dead body on it." The lieutenant was being patient.

"Yeah. She's been raped, right?" Asking the guy from the coroner's office, who nodded.

"OK. She's tied to the bed, naked. The guy rapes her,"

"And sodomized." The coroner's man added.

"OK." Shivering at the thought. "Why is the bed so neat? Did he rape her someplace else and then put her there to kill her? Or did he do it here and make the bed after killing her?"

The others looked in surprise at the bed. The bedding didn't have a single wrinkle in it. They exchanged puzzled looks. Jim shook his head. He probably would never have noticed it. Jim started scanning the room for any information that might be useful. Ray continued to stare at the bed; something nagging at the recesses of his memory.



"Uh, could you check with the twenty-fourth district for me?"

"What are you lookin' for?"

Ray was trying to remember. "Uh, Jacobs. Ask for Detective Jacobs. He had a case, couple years ago." Closing his eyes in concentration, tapping his temple with his fist. "Some creep was murdering co-eds over to the university." He looked at the Lieutenant. "They never caught the guy." He looked at Jim, "I think, maybe, he's back." Looking sadly at the dead woman.

Jim turned to go tell Blair what was going on. A tiny reflection of light caught his attention. Frowning, he moved over to the corner of the bed, bending to pick up the object from the floor.

Ray came over to see what he'd found. "What's that?"

"Some kind of pin." Holding it out to show it to the Chicago detective. Ray looked closely at the pin, scowling in concentration.

"Oh, hell." He whispered.

"What?" Welsh asked, coming over to see.

"What is it?" Jim asked, sensing Ray's agitation.

"I recognize this. It was some kind of award." He looked up at the other two policemen. "It's Professor Dickerson's."

Fraser was wondering what could possibly be taking the inspector so long. He had been waiting for nearly twenty minutes when he spotted Ray, Welsh, Jim and Blair hurrying toward him from the elevators.

"Where's the inspector?" Ray asked anxiously.

"She hasn't come back yet." Ben replied, picking up on their concern.

Welsh motioned one of the uniformed officers over. "I want the hotel sealed off. We're looking for Professor Dickerson and Inspector Thatcher...." giving the man a full explanation and descriptions while the others discussed their search plans. Following through with a cell phone call to get some more backup and start the coordination with the twenty-fourth district to see if the crimes might be related.

"Look," Blair said, holding on to Jim and Ben's sleeves. "Ben, you know the inspector better than anyone else. I need you to focus. See if you can pick out her voice anywhere."

"I don't think I can do that; I wouldn't know where to begin." was Ben's anxious reply. A worried frown on his face.

"Jim?" The fringes of panic setting in. It didn't take long to kill someone.

"Keep me from zoning, Chief." He stepped up against a wall to be less noticeable. He closed his eyes to concentrate on his hearing. Filtering out all the voices in the lobby, searching farther, the first floor, the second, extending his hearing. Stretching his hearing to its limits, searching frantically for a voice he knew only slightly.

Blair kept his hand on Jim's arm, murmuring softly, preventing a zone out. Ben and Ray watched; Ray watching curiously, eyes darting around, searching on his own for his quarry. Wracking his brain for a solution. He spun toward Fraser, grabbing his arm: "The green room." Frantic. "He'd take her to the, not the green room, what do they call it here? Where the speakers wait to go on?"

"I believe it is still called a green room, Ray. Why?" Puzzled at the seeming non-sequiter.

"That's where he'll take her. He was the last speaker. We ticked him off with our little antics. He saw her come out of the ladies, grabbed her." He dropped his head, "No, he probably just asked her something, conned her into going with him." He looked anxiously up at his partner. "He killed that woman upstairs. She was probably the one who was supposed to do your lecture." He shook Fraser's arm, trying to force him to understand. "He'll kill her. We got to stop him."

"Ray, you can't possibly know that. This is no time for one of your hunches" Ben discounted, watching Jim and Blair anxiously.

"Look, I'm tellin' you. We got to get to the green room. I'm sure that's where he's taken her." Ray snarled, getting up into Ben's face. "I know this guy. I've seen what he can do. I'm goin' to the green room."

Ben recognized Ray's near panic. "You go ahead. I'll wait for Jim and Blair. Go on. Go!" Pushing Ray toward the elevators.

He ran for the elevator. So scared and angry that he was trembling. He didn't have the time, nor the vocabulary to explain himself to the others. Ben stared after his partner. He turned back to the others.

"I can't hear anything, Chief. I'm sorry." Jim came out of his near trance. Shrugging helplessly Blair patted his shoulder. "That's OK. We need a place to start." Turning back to the others, he was surprised to see only Ben. "Where's Ray?"

"He was ranting something about the green room being where he would take her. I told him that I would wait for you and join him."

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. "Good a place as any to start." Blair said. Welsh continued directing the efforts of the arriving backup.

Ray moved cautiously, as quietly as he was able. He was unfamiliar with the layout of the hotel. He listened, wishing that Fraser had come along with his super-hearing. Turned out he didn't need it. The inspector's scream gave him their location. He ran, still as quietly as possible. There might be very little time.

He stood by the door to the green room, having followed the sound of the scream. Nearly hyperventilating in his fear. He drew his gun, checked that it was cocked and the safety off. Carefully, he opened the door, peering through the slight opening. Realizing what was about to happen, he moved.

It had been so easy. Getting the woman to come with him. He had accosted her outside the ladies room, laughing at her 'little joke'. He asked her to come look at something he thought her partner might have left in the green room. She followed him like a lemming to the sea.

Once inside, She asked him what Fraser had left behind. She wasn't expecting his abrupt, backhanded blow to her face. She fell, stunned, to the floor. He kicked her in the side when she struggled to stand. Falling on her, holding her down with his greater size and strength. He slapped her face several times, hard. While she lay, dazed and unresisting, he ripped her pantyhose and underwear from her body. Realizing what he planned, she screamed. He hit her again, hard. She struggled weakly, trying so hard to stop him. Knowing she didn't really have a chance against him. He unzipped his trousers, dropping them and his briefs down to his knees, he prepared to rape his newest victim. He forced her legs apart, poised, ready to complete his atrocity.

There was no time. He ran. As fast as he was able. Coming up behind the pair on the floor. Setting himself, bringing his right foot back, then forward. Catching Deadly Derek precisely where he aimed, as hard as he could. Feeling at least one of the SOB's testicles rupture. Hearing him scream as the force of Ray's kick lifted him from the helpless woman beneath him. Ray's follow-through spun him three hundred sixty degrees, bending down to grab his quarry. Jerking him away from the victim. Using his momentum to lift the heavier man and throw him across the room to crash head first into a sofa. Still grasping his gun, he kept his murder suspect covered, crouching beside the inspector, gently pulling her skirt down to cover her.

"Inspector?" Softly. "Can you talk to me? Let me know if you're gonna be OK here for a minute while I cuff this bastard?" Touching her arm.

She struggled to sit up, the pain in her side causing her to gasp. "I think he broke some ribs. I'll be OK. Go ahead, detective. I'll be all right." She didn't move, just closed her eyes in relief.

Ray checked Dickerson. He had hit his head when he'd landed against the sofa, knocking him unconscious. Ray wasn't gentle when he cuffed him. It looked as though the man would be out for a few minutes. The adrenaline rush over, Ray felt like crashing. Breathing shakily, he went back to the inspector, kneeling beside her.

"Come on. Let's get you up, OK? Reaching out to help her. He got her into a sitting position. Gathering her into his arms, sliding down to sit with her, his back to the wall. Suddenly exhausted. Trembling with the shock.

She could feel his trembling. But he was warm and safe. He had come at precisely the right instant to save her. When he gently urged her into his lap, she readily complied, snuggling close, pressing her face against his shoulder, his arms tight about her, rubbing her back. His cheek pressed against the top of her head. Both shivering from reaction. They remained in that position even when the others burst into the room.

Jim check out the prisoner, first, while the others went to Ray and the inspector. Blair knelt down beside the pair.

"Ray? Inspector?" speaking softly, reaching out to lightly grasp each by a shoulder. Rubbing gently to attract their attention. Ray opened his eyes, pupils distended from reaction.

"'S OK." He slurred. Tightening his grip on the inspector. "Got here in time." Closing his eyes again. Shivering. Blair took off his jacket and draped it over the pair. Looking up at Ben, he asked: "Can you go tell the lieutenant that we found them? Send for an ambulance, like that?"

Ben looked down on the scene in consternation. He nodded in response to Blair's request, then turned and left the room.

Jim came over to check out the couple on the floor. "They're in shock." He decided. Removing his jacket and draping it over them as well. "Dickerson's out cold. Probably a pretty good concussion. He'll probably be all right." Almost disappointed that the man wasn't in worse shape.

Jim and Blair sat on either side of the couple. Adding their gentle touches to their shoulders, speaking softly and soothingly. Slowly bringing them back from their shock. By the time the paramedics arrived, they had them up on the couch talking about what had happened. The inspector was amazed by Ray's perceptiveness. He was embarrassed by everyone's praise. He felt that he had only been doing his job.

Professor Dickerson had to be sent to the hospital, due to the injuries sustained in his capture. Welsh decided to take the statements personally, to avoid any conflict. With any luck at all, the guy would plead guilty and prevent a long and expensive trial. Of course, the fact that he was literally caught in the act would be very helpful. Most importantly, he was off the street and would no longer be able to continue his attacks.

The inspector tried to refuse to go to the hospital, but Ray reminded her that she might have broken ribs from where she had been kicked. Grimacing, she finally acquiesced, with ill-concealed displeasure.

"Look," Blair said, "We'll come and pick you up in a few hours. They shouldn't keep you or anything. Trust me." He smiled reassuringly.

She scowled back at him. "Trust you? Why should I do that? You're not a doctor."

"No. I've just had ribs broken a few times. They generally hold you for a few hours after they tape you up, just to make sure you're functioning OK, then they send you home with all these instructions on how to do stuff, like not bathing unless you have someone who can unwrap and rewrap your ribs. No big deal."

She stared at the energetic young man. "How many times have you broken ribs?" Curious.

"Uh, more than a couple of times." He blushed, "Let's just say that I'm kind of accident prone, sometimes." He shyly smiled at her.

She shook her head. "All right. I'll accept your kind offer." Not having any other way home, as they had walked to the hotel from the consulate. Blair patted her hand as the paramedics strapped her to the gurney for transport.

"We'll be by in a few hours, OK?" She nodded.

Ben was standing out of the way, watching. After making his verbal report, Ray made his way over to stand with Ben.

"I'm sorry." Ben started. Ray gave him a puzzled expression.


"For not going with you. You were right." Shaking his head in consternation.

"'S OK. You couldn't know." He was terribly curious about something, fidgeting a little. "Can I ask you somethin'?"


"How far away can you guys hear stuff? I mean I know you can hear conversations far enough away that I can't even hear voices, but you guys could hear that lady scream almost a block away around corners and both of you were trying to listen through walls to find the Ice Queen. What gives?"

Jim, standing across the room, flinched. They really needed to work on their secrecy. He motioned to Blair, who immediately came over.

"What's wrong?" Seeing Jim's expression.

"Ray is asking questions. He knew about Ben's enhanced hearing. He's asking about us." Looking askance at his Guide.

"Oh, man. This is so not good. I knew they didn't buy the bionic hearing. What do you want to do?" Worried.

"I think we need to talk to Ben. Ask him. Find out if we can trust Ray, or not. Last night at dinner, I thought they were pretty close. Now, they seem like strangers to one another." Shaking his head in confusion. "I just don't know."

Ben didn't know how to answer Ray's question. He cast a glance across at Jim and Blair, noticing that they were talking and glancing in their direction. There were too many voices in the room for him to filter out the extraneous sounds to focus on the pair, but he assumed that they were discussing Ray and himself.

"I'm sorry, Ray. I am not at liberty to reveal that information." Wincing at the coldness of his words. Afraid of alienating his friend further.

Ray sighed. "I figured. Just thought I'd ask." Turning away, careful to not show his disappointment. Feeling rejected. They no sooner got their act together, than something came up to send them back. It was wearing thin, very thin. Maybe he should just put in for that transfer. Get out before he got hurt. Again. Wondering, what was so untrustworthy about him? Hadn't he kept up his cover? What did it take to convince these guys that he was one of the good guys? Who was he trying to kid? What did it take to convince Fraser that he was one of the good guys? Ben professed friendship, but then would turn around and do something hurtful, like discounting his hunches. He couldn't figure out what was wrong.

Ben had learned to read the subtle physical signs his friend sent out when he was hurting. He had also learned to react to them. He reached out and stopped Ray's exit. Turning him back toward him. Feeling the tension in Ray's shoulder, indicating emotional hurt.

"Ray. I am sorry. I'm truly not at liberty to explain. Perhaps you should ask Jim and Blair. It needs to be their choice to explain, not mine." Hoping that Ray would accept his words.

"Fine. But what about you?" Chin coming up in a slightly belligerent pose.

"I'm afraid..."

"Let's go somewhere private, shall we?" Jim asked, placing a firm hand on each man's shoulder, steering them toward the door. "We're pretty much through here. They know where to find us, if they need us." The four men left the hotel. They took Ray's car. Driving to the lake. Parking in a deserted lot, they got out of the car and started walking along the pavement bordering the water. They walked in the same silence with which they had left the hotel. After a short time, they all settled on an out-of-the-way picnic bench in a secluded area with a perfect view in all directions. Satisfied, Jim started: "I need to know if you trust Ray, Ben." Right to the point, pulling no punches. Ray was examining the top of the table, not looking at anyone.

"I trust him with my life." Ben responded promptly. Looking at Ray, willing him to look up, without success.

"But do you trust him with your soul?" Blair asked softly. "Do you trust him enough to tell him your feelings? Your needs? Your fears?......Your secrets?" Their eyes meeting and carrying on the conversation at a deeper level.

Ben closed his eyes and thought. After a few moments, he sighed. "I..." He stopped and took a deep breath.. "As much as I trust anyone." He finally replied. Knowing that that might not be enough for these two.

Jim had been watching Ray, Felt the minute flinch when Ben admitted that he didn't trust Ray completely. Reaching out his senses, reading him. Feeling the warmth from his blush, the tightness of his muscles, even across the table. The heartbeat, even, steady. No smell of fear. The expression one of resignation. Of not measuring up...Again. Recognizing the emotions the slighter man was trying so hard to hide. Understanding him. He was a lot like Blair in that respect. So used to rejection that he automatically expected it. His own gaze softening because of that realization.

"Tell me something, Ray. Why should we trust you?" Careful to omit any emotion or accusation from his tone of voice.

Ray looked up in surprise. "No reason at all." Was the prompt reply. "You don't know me. Why should you trust me?" Surprised that they would ask.

Jim smiled. Then he looked at Blair for his opinion. Blair had been thinking of all the things Ben had told them about Ray. From what he'd seen, he liked the man. He was very different from the Ray they had met the previous Summer. Quieter, softer, in a way. Certainly less confident. Blair could understand that. It had taken Jim a long time to gain his trust. Longer than it had taken for him to gain Jim's trust. He could understand Ray's feelings of not being as good as others. He had those feelings himself, sometimes. He met Jim's questioning gaze, their eyes communicating their feelings. Blair shrugged, nodding slightly.

Jim nodded, deciding. "Both Ben and I have enhances senses. We can see and hear farther than normal." He didn't mention the other senses.

Ray nodded. "I figured that out. Fraser, here can hear a conversation twenty feet away and repeat it to you. You can hear through walls?" He had noticed.

"We've been working with Jim's senses." Blair explained. "Honing them, helping him focus them. Ben's never had any training. It makes a difference." Looking at Ben, his eyes telling him that he needed a human guide. Ben looked away in avoidance.

"How do you do that? Train, I mean. It's not like you can take lessons or anything, is it?" Trying to understand. Not expressing any shock or disbelief at their revelations.

"Practice. Lots of practice." Blair said with a grimace. "Unfortunately, Jim hates tests of his abilities. It's like pulling teeth sometimes." Ducking the hand that swept out to swat him on the head. He grinned. "It's like muscles, you need to exercise them in order to make them stronger."

Ray nodded his understanding. Looking at Ben, he asked, "So, why don't you practice?"

Jim and Blair stifled their laughter. Ben merely looked surprised.

"It takes a second person to assist with the practice. That's what I do." Blair explained.

"Oh." He looked away, head dropping. "I'm not..." He didn't finish the statement. That he wasn't the correct Ray for the job. Shrinking in from the pain and rejection.

His training came back to the fore. Without even thinking about it, Ben reached out to touch him. "No. I've never practiced. Not since I was a child."

Ray looked up, trying to read him. Not understanding. "Why not? Man, think of what you could do if you practiced, why, you could..." he trailed off as he thought of something. "The tasting and smelling of stuff. That's part of it, too, isn't it?" He looked at Jim. "You too? Yeah. Of course you do." Then, looking at Blair, he asked, "So. What do you do to help? These exercises and stuff. How do you do them?" Thinking to himself that perhaps if he could help Fraser, he might not mind having to hang out with him.

Fraser opened his mouth to dissuade Ray, but shut it abruptly at a kick under the table from Jim. He looked up into Jim's piercing glare and changed his mind.

"It would be easier to show you with a demonstration. Jim?" Blair was quivering in anticipation. Jim sighed.

"The couple leaning on the railing down there." Gesturing toward the man and woman a good forty feet away.

Blair lay his hand on Jim's shoulder to prevent zoning. "OK. First, in general, what do you hear?"

Jim took a deep breath, held it a moment and then let it out, as he had been taught. "Birds, they're seagulls. The wind, Your heartbeats and breathing. The couple by the water. They're discussing...Shit!" His eyes snapping open. "It's a drug deal. They're setting up a buy."

"OK. OK." Ray said, excitement in his tone. "Concentrate, where and when is it goin' down?" Unconsciously mimicking Blair's tone of voice.

Jim immediately went back into listening mode. "Wednesday night. They're laughing about a burned out building on Racine... Something about a goodie-two-shoes. The meet is at two a.m. They're talking about some new designer drug... " Despite Blair's contact, Jim zoned.

"Jim. C'mon, man. Come back Jim. Follow my voice. Jim? Jim?" Finally, Jim started breathing again. In the meantime, the couple making the drug deal had parted and gone their separate ways.

"Sorry, Chief. Their designer drug sounds suspiciously like Golden. They were describing the effects. Very similar, only not nearly as powerful. Thank God." He shook his head. "Sorry about that. When they started describing what it did...I ..." He looked at the suddenly pale Blair. "Yeah. Me too." Reaching out a hand and gripping his partner's shoulder. "You OK, Chief?"

"Oh. Yeah. Sure." Turning frightened eyes on the others. "Make sure you know where your pizza came from." Was his cryptic comment, followed by an involuntary shudder.

Ben and Ray exchanged puzzled glances. Ray asked the question.

"Uh, you want to explain that? What you just said?"

Jim shook his head. "Sure. We had this new designer drug, called Golden, it caused some pretty amazing hallucinations. Killed several users. We were tracking it down, and the dealers decided to try something cute. They sent a bunch of pizzas to the station. Fortunately for the rest of us, unfortunately for Blair, he ate a piece. He nearly died from the overdose. Grabbed my revolver from my desk drawer and went out into the garage and started shooting at the golden fire people." As he spoke, he reached out to draw the object of his recitation into a comforting hug. "I managed to talk him down, but he was in the hospital several days. He very nearly died." Hugging tight before releasing his friend.

"Jim got some in his eyes. He was pretty much blind for several days, until it finally wore off. It was pretty bad." Blair added. "It is not something to play with. If they're diluting it and it's here..." an expression of horror on his face. "We've got to stop them."

Ray pulled out his cell phone, punching in a number. "Lieutenant Welsh, please." He looked up at Ben, "Sounded like they're gonna do the deed at your old place." Then refocusing on the phone, "Yeah. Lieutenant. I just got some info on a big designer drug deal goin' down Wednesday. Somethin' new...Yeah, the guys from Washington recognized it, it's similar to somethin' they had out there. ... Yes, sir. It's goin' down Wednesday night, damn. Hold on a second." Covering the mouthpiece, he asked Jim: "Is that two a.m. Wednesday morning, or two a.m. Thursday morning?"

Jim paused, thinking back on the overheard conversation. "They said, Wednesday night. That would be Thursday morning, I should think."

Ray went back to the phone, "Should be Thursday morning. We can stake it out both nights, just to be sure. ... Uh huh. ... Yes, sir. ... Fraser's old place on Racine. ... Yes, sir. ... Yes, sir. ... No, sir. ... I'll go check it out now. ... Yes, sir. ... OK. ... Yeah, I will. ... OK. I'll get back to you." He disconnected. Turning to the others. "OK. I gotta get goin', I'll drop you guys off first, of course." He stood, turned and headed back to the car.

"Jim?" Blair asked, "Are we going to just let him do this by himself?" Worry in his voice. Having been through this before, he wasn't looking forward to another round, but he also knew that it wasn't fair for Ray to have to work alone.

Jim smiled reassuringly at his Guide. "You up to tagging along? It means no sleep. Today is Tuesday and this is going down either tonight or tomorrow night. Plus, we have the seminar tomorrow."

Blair grinned. "We can always sleep during the lectures." He teased. They stood and followed Ray to the car, where he was waiting impatiently. Ben was noticeably silent as he followed them.

"OK. I'll drop you off..." Ray began.

"That won't be necessary, Ray." Fraser interrupted. "We've all decided to go with you." Casting a quick glance at the others, who smiled at him.

"Yeah." Blair agreed, "Jim and I have dealt with this kind of stuff before. We can help you with this."

"And I am familiar with the neighbourhood. I would be more than happy to assist."

Ray thought about it. "OK. But if it gets too hairy, I want the two of you," Indicating Ben and Blair, "To stay under cover. I don't need either of you to get hurt." Not to mention not wanting such a thing to happen.

He drove over to Fraser's old neighbourhood. They checked out the area where the burned out building stood, the rubble still extant. Blair saw the look of pain in Ben's eyes.

"What's wrong, Ben?" He asked, touching Ben's arm.

Ben smiled sadly. "This was where I lived. I returned from my holiday and everything was gone." He sighed. Everything. His past, his friend, his few material possessions. Everything. There was nothing left but ashes.

"Oh, man. That sucks." Blair commiserated. "I'm sorry. That must have been tough. When did it happen?"

"I had gone home for a holiday. I was only gone for a week. On my last day, I received a call from Ray. He said he wouldn't be able to pick me up. I told him it wasn't a problem. Dief and I walked home from the station. When we arrived, there were fire trucks, and the building was gone." Blair reacted to the bleakness in Ben's eyes, stepping up close to the man and placing a hand on his shoulder.

Ben continued. "I went down to the station to talk to Ray." His expression was bleak. "He'd gone." Whispered, eyes closed against the pain. Blair reached out and hugged him.

"I'm sorry. That was tough. You lost everything at once. Your home, your possessions, your best friend." He held the taller man, tightly. Ben accepted the touch, leaning into the embrace, taking the offered comfort.

Ray noticed them and came over. "Fraser? You OK?" Adding his own hand to the Canadian's shoulder, squeezing gently. "Can I help?" Concern for his friend obvious on his face. Ben just shook his head. Ray looked around at the rubble, realizing that his friend was just now starting to deal with his losses. He moved closer, adding his own hug to Blair's. "I'm sorry." Holding the larger man for a moment, then letting go and stepping back. "Are you going to be OK here? Do you want I should take you back to the consulate? Or, maybe the hospital to wait for the inspector?"

Ben pulled away from them, Blair stepped back, giving him some space, still close enough to comfort. "I'll be all right. It's just, ... I haven't even found out what happened to my neighbours, it ... I think I need to do that. Make sure they're all right. That would help." He looked at Ray. "Would you be so kind as to...?"

"Sure." He struggled to remember, "Uh, Mr. Mustafi, right?" Ben nodded, "Mrs. Gamez, uh, ... can you give me a list? I can get Frannie to track them down for you, OK?" At Ben's smile, he clapped him on the back and turned to go back to his perusal of the scene, trying to decide how to set up the stakeout.

Jim, who had been looking through the remains from the fire, came over. "If I were going to set this up, I think I'd want to meet in the middle, over there." Pointing to the area he meant. "It's central, no cover for a double cross. Hard to stake out, as well."

Ray nodded in agreement. "Got any suggestions?" He had a few ideas, but wouldn't mind help from the more experienced man.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact. I'd probably bug this place, stick microphones around in protected spots in the rubble. They'd be hard to find. That way, you wouldn't have to be in here where you might get caught." He looked up and around, the walls were still pretty much in evidence. Still standing, but fragile. It wouldn't take too much to make them fall. "I'd probably try to get some cameras in here as well, maybe up at the old ceiling height, inconspicuous places, like that corner up there where there's a joist sticking out." Pointing to the spot.

Ray nodded. "Good ideas. Thanks. I'll make the call. Get it put in motion. Hope no one's watching this place." He added.

Jim focused his senses outward, closing his eyes in concentration. Ray noticed what he was doing and reached out to touch the older man's back in unconscious mimicry of Blair.

Across the rubble, Blair noticed them. He smiled. Ray was showing quite an aptitude as a guide. He nudged Ben, who looked as indicated.

"I think we have a natural there. What do you think?" Aiming a warm smile at the taller man.

"I...don't know." Wondering, suddenly, how long it would be before he lost these friends, as well. He started trembling, ever so slightly and struggled to control it. Blair noticed anyway. He reached out and took Ben by the arm.

"Come on. Let's get out of here." He glanced anxiously toward his partner, who was still concentrating, Ray speaking softly to him, keeping him grounded. Blair waved, attracting Ray's attention, then motioning that he was taking Ben outside. Ray took one look at the bleak expression on Ben's face and nodded his agreement. Blair guided their distressed friend outside, back to the car.

"Do you want to talk about it?" Blair asked quietly.

Ben took a deep breath, "It's just that..." He really didn't know how to explain it.

"It's just that everyone you ever cared about went away." Or died. He understood perfectly well. It was how his entire life had been, up until he had met one strung-out, panic-stricken, anal-retentive, control at all costs, cop by the name of James Ellison. Before Jim, everyone he ever cared about left him, or he left them. Same thing, really. He had learned to not get too close, so that when the inevitable parting came, he could appear to just slough it off, no matter how he really felt. He recognized the same things in Ben.

"Look. I know it hurts. I've been there. But there's a difference, this time. Ray plans on coming back. He's doing an important, dangerous job. One he was uniquely qualified for. When it's over, he has every intention of coming back. He's still your friend. His taking this temporary assignment has nothing to do with your friendship. It has everything to do with his dedication. If it had been you, wouldn't you have jumped at a chance to make a difference?"

Ben thought about it. Seriously took into consideration Blair's words. Finally realizing that he, indeed, would have done the same thing in Ray's place. The assignment had come up so quickly, however, that they had never had the opportunity to discuss it. Therein lay his problem. He felt Ray had deserted him. He straightened up as he began to come to terms with what he had perceived as Ray's desertion of their friendship. Finally realizing and accepting that, due to circumstances beyond their control, Ray had been forced to leave before he could explain things to him; helped bring him to acceptance. Coupled with his return to the loss of all his worldly possessions, it was no wonder he had been having so much trouble dealing with everything.

"You're right. Thank you for helping me see that." He smiled, drawing in a deep, cleansing breath. "I would have done the same thing in his place." Believing it as he said it. He looked over at his former home. His sadness tinged with hope. "He will be coming back." He turned to Blair. "Thank you."

Blair returned the smile. "You're welcome." He looked across the street, where Jim and Ray were returning. He gestured toward them, "He shows a lot of promise as a guide. He fell into doing exactly the right thing with Jim twice now. You might think about training him to train you. I can give you both some lessons to practice. From there, you can develop your own abilities." He looked up into the thoughtful expression on Ben's face. "He seems to be trying really hard. You might try giving him a chance."

"You're quite right. I do, on occasion, act rather badly toward him." He looked ruefully at Blair. "It's no wonder that we've gotten on one another's nerves on occasion.

Jim and Ray arrived. Ray unlocked the car and they waited until they were on their way before speaking. Jim began: "They're sending in a crew to bug the building and put in some cameras. That way, they can monitor the place and still keep a low profile. Much safer that way."

"Yeah. Thanks for the ideas." Ray replied. "We'll be able to keep track of everyone without anybody having to get too close. You want I should drop you at the hotel?" He asked.

"We need to go to the hospital." Blair replied. "I promised the inspector that we'd pick her up and take her home."

Ray looked at them, considering. Glancing at Ben, he replied, "We can do that. If you don't mind another person back there. There is room, isn't there?" Jim and Blair exchanged looks.

"Tell you what." Jim began, but was interrupted by Ben.

"You can drop me off at the consulate, Ray." Carefully masking his feelings.

Jim could read the hurt Ben was trying to hide. "I have a better idea. We have a mini-van. Why don't we go back to the hotel and get it? It will hold all of us, with room to spare." It would also allow him to drive. Something he liked having control over. Blair grinned, knowing perfectly well why Jim was volunteering.

"Yeah. That works for me." Ray replied. He glanced at Ben. "You want to stick around, too?" Almost hopeful. He had noticed how Ben seemed to feel about the Ice Queen. He just wished he knew some way to help him.

"Yes, thank you." Ben answered. "Could we stop by the consulate, please? I need to let Dief out."

"Sure. Not a problem." Ray agreed.

Diefenbaker was nearly uncontrollable when they let him out. He ran from person to person, jumping on them excitedly, wanting to play, rather than taking care of business. Ben tried to reason with him, to no avail. Finally, he gave up and ordered him back inside. Turnbull chose that moment to come out to speak to Ben. Dief took advantage and took off running around the fenced in area once again.

"Sir? The Inspector just called. She said that they weren't planning on releasing her until later this evening. May I ask what happened?" Curious about what had happened, but not sure it was any of his concern.

"Thank you, Turnbull. Yes. The Inspector was attacked by a murderer this afternoon." At Turnbull's worried expression, he quickly added, "She sustained some broken ribs. She'll be fine in a few weeks." The two mounties exchanged grimaces. Both were well aware of how short-tempered their supervisor could be when she wasn't feeling well.

"Oh, dear. Perhaps I'll just nip out and lay in a supply of headache cures, sir?" Already beginning to fidget at the prospect of six to eight weeks of cranky superior. His eyes showing the squirrel caught in the headlights expression at the horrific idea.

"That might be a good idea." Fraser agreed. Turnbull turned around and re-entered the building to prepare a list of various analgesics to purchase. He poked his head back out and addressed Ray, "I don't suppose that you would care to come for lunch for the next few weeks, would you Detective?" Rather wistfully. Then, before Ray could even begin to formulate an answer, "No, of course not. Forgive me, please." And turned back inside.

"Uh," Blair began, "Did that make any sense to you?" Looking at Ben and Ray.

Ray smiled. "Yeah, it did. I got hurt a while back, Couldn't be left alone, 'cause of a concussion, you know? I got Fraser here to stay with me, but I had to come in with him when he went to work. I took Dief out for a walk and brought back lunch. We got in the habit of having lunch together, while I was stuck off work. It was kinda fun, actually." He smiled shyly at Fraser.

"Yes, it was." He mused. "I must admit that I miss those days." He gave Ray an appraising look. "Perhaps we might try that again? Your schedule permitting, of course." Just a little hopeful. Ray had shown an uncanny knack for bringing the inspector down into the realm of normal people. When they had those luncheons, they had all been quite congenial, Ray asking questions and being interested in the answers. During that time, the Ice Queen had thawed considerably. Ben had learned a great deal about his superior from those luncheon discussions. His feelings for his superior growing. Unfortunately, when Ray had returned to duty, the shared luncheons stopped. He missed them.

Ray looked at him in surprise. "Yeah. Sure. I can do that. Probably not every day, but...Sure." Remembering the lunches they had shared, how open and friendly everyone had become. He guessed (correctly) that they had gone back to the cold silent meals they were used to. He had enjoyed those days as well. He felt welcome, almost like he belonged.

Dief finally finished his romping and settled down while Ben and Ray spoke. He then stood obediently at the door, waiting to be put back inside. He caught Blair's gaze, and winked at him. Blair smiled, sometimes, a solid spirit guide could be such a help.

Jim caught the exchange, and smiled as well, also catching Dief's attention. The Wolf/dog smiled at him and winked again. His expression nearly laughing at the antics of the silly humans.

Inspector Thatcher wasn't scheduled to be released until nine p.m., so the four men opted to go out for dinner. The meal was uneventful and Ray managed to finish his, this time. They spoke of inconsequential things, relating cases that had the others laughing at the insanity of criminals and the occasional foolishness of cops. When they were through, they decided to go to the hospital, even though it was still very early. Ray, however, decided to call in, first, to check on the setting up of the stakeout.

"OK. You sure I don't need to be there tonight?" His uncertainty clear in his voice. "Sure. OK. ... I'll see you then." He disconnected his phone. Turning back to the others, he explained, "They're all set. They're just gonna have two cars and the truck there tonight, they figure it won't go down until tomorrow night."

"I tend to agree with them." Jim answered. "The pair I overheard didn't sound like they were talking about tonight, they would have been more excited."

"So, that means that we sleep tonight, stay up all day and night tomorrow, and then stay up all day Thursday at the seminar, right?" Blair iterated their itinerary. He started bouncing in excitement. "Sounds like finals week." With an enormous grin.

The three older men all groaned in unison. Then broke into laughter at their synchronicity.

Jim followed Ray's directions, arriving at the hospital still more than an hour before the inspector was due to be released. They opted to go in and check on her, perhaps they could convince them to let her go home early.

They stood at the nurse's station, waiting patiently to get directions to the inspector's room, when a lovely doctor came up behind them.

"I suppose you're looking for your inspector?" She asked, reaching around Ben and Ray and giving them both a hug. Both men turned, startled. Ray recovered first.

"Hi, Jen. Yeah. Were you the one who took care of her?" Returning the hug, holding on perhaps a second longer than was absolutely necessary.

She smiled, then gave a playful push to Ben. "Where is my hug, Ben?" He blushed and bent down the required distance to hug her.

"Sorry, you startled me." He wouldn't meet her eyes. She flashed a concerned look at Ray, who shrugged in confusion. She stepped back and, placing hands on hips, glared at them both.

"What's wrong? Why are you acting like feuding siblings? You guys didn't have a fight, did you? I thought you were both getting used to talking to each other. C'mon. Give." Then she folded her arms across her chest, obviously annoyed. Like a mother with two feuding toddlers.

"We just kinda, got out of practice." Ray explained. "It's not a, uh..." He shot a helpless glance at Ben. "Things have been a little, uh, strained, lately." He finally explained.

She sighed, exasperated. "Not an excuse." Looking at both men, they started squirming under her glare. She sighed, knowing that they would have to work out their problems themselves. "To answer your question, yes. I took care of your inspector." She looked at Ray. "She said that you rescued her? Just in the nick of time, I believe her exact words were."

Ray blushed, almost as brightly as Ben was prone to do. "Uh, yeah. I guess I did."

"You did a good job. I also worked on her assailant." She smiled.

"You did?" Ray asked, surprised.

"UmmmHmmm." Her smile rather grim. "You really did a number on him. Were you trying to hurt him?"

"Uh, no. I was just trying to stop him. He was just about to...well, uh, anyway, I figured I couldn't knock him down, but I sure could try to stop him. So I did." Nervously.

She chuckled. "I had to turn him over to a specialist. You ruptured one of his testicles. He nearly bled to death." She noticed how all four men paled at the thought. "I can't say I'm really very sorry, because I'm not. I've heard about his victims. There were, how many? Eight?"

"Nine. There were nine. We found one just before he grabbed the inspector." His eyes showed his pain. Her face softened, "I understand. You did great work, Ray. Don't you dare feel bad for what you did. If you hadn't, someone else would have died, and perhaps many more." She reached out to give him another hug.

When she released him, he smiled shyly at her. She patted his face and turned to the others. "Gentlemen?" Finally acknowledging the strangers.

"Uh, this is Detective Jim Ellison and his partner Blair Sandburg, from Cascade Washington. We met them about a year ago. They're here in town for a seminar. Uh, they helped track down Deadly...Oh, man." Paling at the realization that the nickname brought.

"Ouch." Blair agreed. "Lousy pun, man." Looking around at the others. "Can you imagine when the papers hear about it? They're gonna have a field day with it."

The others agreed. "At least he's caught. That's the important thing." Jim stated. "All that's left is the trial. Between the inspector's and Ray's testimony...What's wrong, Ray?" Concerned at how pale Ray became.

He looked around, glancing uncertainly at the Doctor, deciding to take the chance. "I, uh, I can't testify." His eyes trying to explain.

"Why not, Ray?" The doctor asked, confused.

"Uh, I'm not at liberty to explain. It's just..." He looked helplessly at the others.

"That should be OK, Ray. I seriously doubt if he's going to want the world to hear how he was stopped. He might find it a bit, well, embarrassing." Jim suggested in support. "He might even get a deal to plead guilty. Get life instead of the death penalty."

Ben agreed. "That would be a logical conclusion. He's sure to have a good attorney. Between the inspector and you, there is no question as to his guilt on the assault. I'm certain that the investigation into the murders will also be very carefully performed by the detectives assigned, providing enough evidence to convict him of those crimes as well. Don't worry about things that may not happen." Touching Ray's arm, reassuringly.

Ray nodded. Changing the subject, he asked, "How's the inspector doing?"

"Three broken ribs, no displacement or splintering, fortunately, but she's going to be quite uncomfortable for the next five or six weeks." Smiling at her former patient and his friends, "I hope she doesn't take it out on you guys, but if she does," She paused, a wicked gleam in her eyes, "Just give her a hug and tell her it's going to be all right." It worked, both Ben and Ray burst into laughter.

They had stifled their merriment by the time they reached the inspector's room, noting upon entering how pale and weary she looked. She looked up at their entrance. Smiling in pleasure at their arrival, quickly repressed. Jim and Blair exchanged knowing glances. The doctor approached, checking her chart.

"I know I said you couldn't go home until nine, but you're stable and there isn't a lot we can do for you here. If you'd like, I can release you now, seeing how your ride is here." She turned to the four men. "Who's staying with her for the next few days?" She noted the surprise on all four men's faces. Uh huh. The inspector had expected to get away without following instructions. She caught the eye of her patient, who had the control not to blush. "I see. In that case, I'll be keeping you here for the next week." At the panic stricken look the inspector flashed from her to Fraser and then the others, she hid her smile. She turned away from her patient, catching Blair's eye and giving him a wink.

"You tried to put somethin' over on Dr. Jen?" Ray couldn't help laughing. "You, of all people, should know better than that." He cast a calculating, sidelong glance at Fraser, then caught Jim and Blair's eyes, and smirked. "Why don't you have Ben stay at your place? He knows how to tape ribs, pretty good, and he can drive you to and from work, save you both the hassle." Innocence dripping from his tone. Like he didn't know the interest the two had in each other.

"Oh, no, I couldn't impose..." The inspector started. Ben blushed, his head dropping in consternation.

"That would be perfect." Dr. Davis interrupted. He's strong enough to lift you if you need assistance, and I recall how conscientious he is when it comes to assisting convalescents." She gave a knowing smile to Ray, "If he's willing, I see no reason why you can't go home right now."

Ben had a deer caught in the headlights expression. He glanced around at the others, seeking help and finding none. He finally let his gaze rest on his superior, not recognizing the speculative expression on her face. Sighing in capitulation, "If that is what you want, sir?" The terror barely held at bay, the desire firmly repressed.

"If it wouldn't inconvenience you, Constable, I would appreciate it."

"OK. That's settled. Here are the prescriptions, you need to pick them up at the pharmacy on your way out. I took the liberty of writing down all the instructions for you. If you have any questions, just call. I'll send an orderly in with a wheel chair to take you down; if there are no other questions?" She rushed through her spiel to avoid giving them any time to think up an excuse to not do this. "OK. You know how to get in touch with me if you have any problems. It's been great seeing you both again, guys, and nice to meet you two, as well." She scooted out before anyone had a chance to respond.

Jim and Blair exchanged speculative glances coupled with matching smirks. Seemed to be some unplanned matchmaking going on around here, aimed at Fraser and his superior.

When they arrived at the inspector's apartment, Ray, Jim and Blair all insisted on escorting them up. They had stopped by the consulate on their way so Ben could pack what he needed for his stay at his superior's. He'd been wracking his brain trying to find an excuse to back out of this, to no avail. On the one hand, he was flustered over the idea of taping ribs for a woman, not just any woman, but his superior. On the other hand, the man couldn't help wondering what she looked like, felt like. He was having a hard time reconciling the two, man and mountie and was nearly incoherent from the stress. Fortunately, Jim and Blair took over getting her put to bed, having had far more experience, albeit with one another, than the others. When she was comfortably ensconced in her bed with enough pillows for comfort and a soothing cup of chamomile tea, they rejoined the others in the living room, where Ray had been talking to Ben.

"Look. I know you have feelings for her. Just take it slow and easy, and you'll do just fine." Ray was trying to convince his friend.

"I can't, Ray. She is my superior. Fraternization is heavily frowned upon. Sexual harassment, I, I can't." Unable to repress a hint of the desire he felt toward her.

"You can't sexually harass your superior. You don't have the power. As for the rest, if you work at it, you can deal with it. It's happened before and will happen again. I've seen you both. You're both so up-tight that neither of you will probably do anything about how you feel about each other. Every time feelings come up, you both turn red and start to stutter. It's obvious to everyone that you're attracted to each other, man. Here's your chance to do something about it. It may be the best chance you ever have. You're forced to be in each other's company and get kinda intimate...No! Not like that. I mean you're going to have to see her to be able to untape and retape her ribs. I'm just saying, you can do this, Fraz, just take it easy. At least talk to her about how you feel. Not tonight, of course. She's gonna be out soon from the medication." He thought hard for a moment. Reaching out and holding his friend's arm to try to physically communicate as well, "Tell you what, I'll come with lunch tomorrow, get everyone talkin' again, like before? Then, tomorrow afternoon, evening, you can maybe talk to her a little. Just enough to get started. It's not a race, you have time. Just try, OK?" Wanting to push his friend into the discussion, knowing that pushing wouldn't work.

At Jim and Blair's return, Ray changed the subject. "You gonna join us tomorrow night? You don't have to, you know." Hoping they would. Wanting to learn more about the Sentinel stuff, how he could help Fraser. What to watch for, how to help and encourage his friend. Knowing perfectly that it was in his own best interests as well.

"We'll be there." Jim stated.

"Wouldn't miss it." Blair added, with a smile.

They said their good-byes and left Ben to his vigil. Ben wandered around, taking in the inspector's decor, finally settling on the couch, stretching out to rest, and falling almost immediately asleep.

Jim drove back to their hotel, where Ray headed to his car with the reminder that he would be by the following afternoon to pick them up for the stakeout.

Ben awoke with a start. He listened closely, trying to identify the sound that had awakened him, not being able to remember what it was. Then he heard it again, a soft whimper, coming from...Oh. He was on Inspector Thatcher's couch. Oh, dear. He realized she was having a nightmare. He lay quietly, listening.

"Please. No." She cried out softly in her sleep. Ben couldn't just let her continue in her nightmare. He rose and made his way to her bedroom.

She lay quietly, head rolling back and forth, whimpering. Her hands making small, futile gestures. He approached her, cautiously. Calling out softly to waken her.

"Inspector? Inspector?" No response. He moved closer. "Meg? Meg, It's me, Fraser, Ben. Meg? Wake up, Meg. You're having a nightmare. Meg?"

She heard a voice, warm, comforting. Not the monster who was going to... She started awake. Sitting up abruptly. Gasping at the sudden agony of the movement. Recognizing Fraser's shadowy figure.

He reached for her, his arms going around her, supporting her trembling body. "You were having a nightmare. Are you all right?" Easing down beside her, pulling her close, the way Dr. Davis had taught him. Feeling her relax, leaning against him, resting her head on his shoulder. Forcing herself to breathe shallowly, trying to ease the pain.

"I...I'm all right. I'll be fine. Thank you for waking me." She didn't want to talk about the nightmare. She did want to continue being held, it made her feel safe. She snuggled a bit, getting closer. Reaching her arms around his strong, warm, comforting presence. "Don't go." She murmured, falling immediately back to sleep.

He was terribly uncomfortable. He carefully shifted her over a bit, just enough to allow him to bring his legs up on the bed, easing down along side her, holding her. Cradling her body against his own. Listening to her breathing, her heartbeat. The rhythmic sounds lulling him to sleep.

All anyone was talking about at the seminar on Wednesday was the murderer that had been lecturing in their midst. There was a lot of speculation, but few facts in the gossip. Jim and Blair couldn't help grinning at some of the tales they heard. Not bothering to correct any of the wild ideas being put forth. The lectures took second place to the conversations about the events of the previous day. Everyone seemed to have a theory, none of them even approaching the facts.

"And they say women gossip." Blair whispered to Jim at lunch. They had opted to stay at the hotel, having great fun listening to all the wild stories floating about.

"Yeah. It is amazing how far off the mark all the guesses are. I'm sure glad none of these people are working with us on a case. They jump to conclusions like a newscaster. Their assumptions are way off base." He chuckled. "Think we should start circulating the truth, see how many buy into it?" Jim teased.

"Oh, man. Don't tempt me. Think we should? It wouldn't hurt their case, would it?"

"Nah. Why don't you just write down all the different theories, give them to Ray for a good laugh. He'd probably like that."

Blair pulled out his ever present notebook, scribbling notes on all the versions of their adventures from the day before. He looked at Jim with a thoughtful expression, "What do you think of Ray?"

Jim thought about the question. "He seems like a good guy. A little insecure, maybe, but not bad. I get the feeling he's real conscientious about his work. He plays his part to the hilt." He smiled at his friend. "I don't mind working with him. He's honest. Good at his job. Serious. Cares. A lot more than some I've seen." He shrugged. "How about you?"

Blair considered. "I like him. I agree. He cares. He's got a tough job. I don't think I could do it." He looked up at his Blessed Protector. "I think he has the makings of a Guide. He did everything just right with you yesterday. Without being told how to do it." Jim nodded his agreement as he remembered.

"You goin' to try to train him? I know Ben needs help. He may have control, but he's not very confident and he doesn't know how to extend his range or filter out the extraneous information. I hadn't realized just how much better I've gotten at using these senses until yesterday, when Ben couldn't find the inspector. Kind of scary, to think about it." He gently lay a hand on his partner's shoulder. "I think Ray as a guide would be good for both of them." He gently pushed Blair toward the lecture hall. "C'mon, Chief. Time to go back to school."

Ray had spent the entire morning going over the reports from the previous night's stakeout. There had been some pretty interesting passers by, considering the building had been destroyed. He took his findings to the lieutenant's office.

"Whaddaya have, Vecchio?" Welsh asked.

"Some good pictures of some bad guys, sir. I recognize some of them." Handing the photos to his superior.

Welsh looked through them, recognizing a number of the people in the photos. "Good work, Vecchio. You ready for tonight?"

"Yessir. Uh, I hope you don't mind, but the guys from Cascade, I, uh, I sorta invited them along on this. Is that OK?" Looking up at his boss.

Welsh thought about it. "The big one, Jim? He's got ears like Fraser, right?"

"Uh, yeah." Where was Welsh going with this? There was no way he could explain what was going on.

"You know more than you're tellin'. I can tell. You gonna explain?" Not really expecting him to.

"Uh, No, sir. I don't think I can. Jim was an Army Ranger, did a lot of covert ops, I guess. He's a good cop, though." He looked up at Welsh, wanting to explain without giving anything away. "I trust him, sir."

Welsh nodded. "Yeah. So does Big Red. I'll take both your words for it." Until proven otherwise. "You say Jim's the one who overheard the plot?"

"Uh, yeah. I figure we can report it as a snitch, that way we don't have to say anything about, uh, super-hearing, OK?" Will you help cover on this? Can they trust you? Looking up at the older man, chin at an unconsciously belligerent angle. Welsh almost smiled at the attitude.

"Works for me. I sure wouldn't want some defense lawyer askin' me questions I can't answer, know what I mean?" At Ray's nod of agreement, he gestured toward the door. "Don't you have some plans to set up for tonight?"

"Yeah." Taking the hint. "You gonna be there?"

"Wouldn't miss it." Just to see those guys in action again. "Is the Mountie coming?"

"Uh, no. He's takin' care of the inspector." At Welsh's nod, he added, "I'm goin' out for lunch about one. Be gone about an hour. I'll see that everythin's set up before I go, and go over it again with everyone when we meet here before goin' to the stakeout tonight."

"Sounds good. Get goin'." Watching as Ray gathered the men who would be working the stakeout, pleased with the heretofore unknown leadership ability of this man. The new confidence he was showing.

Ray called the consulate shortly after noon. He took the deli orders for the three mounties, writing them down and letting Turnbull know he'd be there about one for lunch. Then he asked, "How's the inspector doin' this morning?"

"She seems to be in some discomfort, sir. She's had Constable Fraser in her office most of the morning." There was a note of worry in the strange young mountie's voice.

"Yeah, I would think that 'discomfort' was a mild word. I've had broken ribs before. Hurts like hell. Just consider yourself lucky that you don't have to baby sit her." Smirking at how they had set Fraser up to spend time alone with Thatcher. "I gotta go. I'll be by soon."

"Thank you kindly, sir."

Francesca stopped by his desk as he hung up the phone. "Ray?"

"Yeah?" Looking up at his 'sister'. Noting her concerned expression. "What's wrong?"

She looked around, "I don't know. I was just wondering if everything was OK with you, ya know? After yesterday? I heard how you saved Inspector Thatcher from that creep. I just wanted to check. Make sure you're OK. OK?"

He smiled, standing. He reached out and gave her a gentle hug. "I'm fine. We caught the bastard. I wish we coulda caught him sooner, but at least he's stopped now. Honest. I'm OK." He looked into her concerned eyes, knowing he needed to tell her about Fraser and the Ice Queen, sighing, taking a tighter grip on her, "Fraser's stayin' with Thatcher while she's hurt. They like each other, you know?" He felt Francesca stiffen, just a little. "They're a lot alike, you know? Both Mounties, Canadian, repressed, shy, have a hard time showing emotion, you know? They've been interested in each other a long time, I think. This may be the chance they've needed." Francesca leaned her face into his chest, he tightened his hold even more. "I know you like Fraser, Frannie. I also know you scare the shit out of him. You should see the look on his face every time he thinks you can't see him. Sometimes, he looks like he's gonna run. That's not any way to have a relationship. Ya know? You need someone who's as strong as you are. Someone who can appreciate you for who and what you are. He's out there, somewhere, Frannie." She hugged him tightly, then pulled away, looking up into his face, the sadness etched on her face. He gently stroked the path of the tears from her face. "I know. I know how you feel."

Frannie looked up at her pretend brother. Recognizing his own sadness at not having been able to hold onto his own beloved wife. Realizing that he did, indeed, understand how she felt. She smiled up at him, then stood on tiptoe to kiss him. It surprised them both, the gentleness, and the surprising passion that the simple kiss invoked in them both. They pulled away from each other, looking at one another in surprise. Francesca backed further away, shocked at the feelings. She turned and ran. Ray just stared after her in shock.

Ray had gotten everyone's favourite sandwiches from the delicatessen they all favoured. With bags of food, he was met by Turnbull at the door of the consulate.

"Hey, Turnbull. How's it goin'?" As he entered.

"Quite well, sir. We're having lunch in the conference room, as usual, sir. Can I be of any assistance in carrying anything, sir?"

"Yeah. Grab the bag of sodas, will ya?" Shifting his load to allow the younger man to take the bag in question. He wasn't surprised to discover the nearly formal lunch setting in the conference room, simply setting out everyone's lunch in the places they had sat on previous occasions. He had even remembered to bring something for Diefenbaker. While Ray set up lunch, Turnbull had gone to fetch the others.

Ray watched for any signs from Ben and the Ice Queen. Ben was extremely solicitous of his superior's injuries and strove to make her comfort paramount, bringing pillows to help support her in her chair. Ray hid his grin. He glanced at Turnbull, who seemed oblivious, no surprise there, really. They all sat down to eat. Dief looking at Ray with an imploring look in his eyes.

"Yours is in your dish in the corner, Dief." Ray informed the animal with a grin. "You didn't think I'd forget about you did you?" Dief woofed his thanks and scrambled over to the corner to check out his goodies.

"Ray, that was hardly necessary. He really doesn't need all that." Ben admonished.

Ray waited until Diefenbaker's nose was buried in his food before replying. "I got him low-fat. Figured it'd be healthier, he gets the taste without all the bad stuff." He smiled at Ben's rueful grin. "Besides, he deserves goodies just as much as we do."

The four humans dug into their meals, eating silently for a few minutes. Ray had guessed right. They had forgotten how to communicate over lunch in the months since he had last had lunch with them.

"Oh, c'mon, you guys. This isn't a monastery, is it? I mean, nobody's taken a vow of silence have they?" The other three blushed in embarrassment. "So, what's been happening?"

"Much the usual, sir." Turnbull began, then launched into a description of the current taskings they had had, ending up with the others joining in the discussion. Ray smiled to himself, pleased. He couldn't think of a bigger bunch of stiffs he'd ever met. What was wrong with them? Why couldn't they just talk together like normal people? He shook his head, amused.

He watched Fraser and Thatcher. Noticing little things, the glances at one another that lasted more than just a moment, the touches that showed concern and, maybe, something more. Suspecting that the Ice Queen had begun to thaw. Fairly certain she had had at least one nightmare last night, knowing that he had. Dreams of being too late. Grateful to waken to memories of success.

Unwittingly falling into what Jim and Blair would have recognized as 'guide mode'. Sensing the stress and emotions of Fraser, tuning in to the man's feelings, not even aware of it. His own contributions to the luncheon conversation unconsciously pushing the pair closer to one another, at least figuratively.

They had nearly finished their meal, when Fraser finally turned the conversation around to Ray. "How is your drug operation shaping up, Ray?" Both Thatcher and Turnbull looked interestedly at him.

"It's on for tonight. Jim and Blair are comin' along. I just hope it works out OK. If it goes down right, we're gonna get a lot of really nasty drugs off the street before they have a chance to kill anybody."

"What sort of drugs are they, Detective?" Turnbull asked.

"Some designer drug, similar to one they had back in Cascade. At least the effects are real similar. If we can stop it at the start, so much the better."

"Good luck, sir. Will Constable Fraser be accompanying you?"

"Uh, no. Not this time." He looked at the two senior Mounties. Smiling, "I got plenty of backup." He caught Fraser's eye. "I should be just fine. I'll let you know tomorrow how it goes." He glanced at his watch. "I gotta go. Gonna take a nap before tonight. I'll see you guys later, OK?" All three stood to escort him to the door. He waved them down. "Nah. I know the way out. Don't worry. You guys just take care of yourselves." He looked pointedly at the inspector and Fraser. "Try to remember how to talk to each other. Sheesh. You guys can be such stiffs." Shaking his head, but smiling to take the sting out of his words, he waved as he left, quickly exiting the building. He was chuckling to himself as he got in his car and drove home.

Jim and Blair had headed straight to their room to get some rest before Ray picked them up to go on the stakeout. They had no trouble stretching out and dozing off, only to be awakened a few hours later by Ray's knock at their door. Jim opened the door, still a little groggy from sleep.

"You guys ready? We got time to get some dinner, then get into position with plenty of time to spare." Jim nodded, stretching mightily, joints popping audibly, causing Ray to flinch at the sound.

"Yeah. Let me wake up sleeping beauty, here." Indicating Sandburg, who was snuggled deep beneath the covers, still sound asleep. He stood by his roommate's bed, reaching down and gently shook his shoulder. "Chief? Come on. It's time to get going. Blair?" Shaking a little harder. "Chief, you don't want me to dump the bed. Come on. Wake up."

Ray was laughing. There was no sign of consciousness from the lump under the covers.

"Let me try." He stepped over to the bed, looking down at the lump, figuring out where the feet were. He reached down and found a foot, lifted it up a bit and scraped down the sole, through the covers. Blair leaped up with a yell.

"What?! Who?! Huh?" Glaring sleepily up at the two grinning men. Jim turned to Ray, "You have got to show me what you just did. That's the best working alarm I've ever seen." Blair was muttering darkly under his breath. "Come on, Chief. Time to go. We're going for dinner first, so get up."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm up. Give me a couple of minutes." He grabbed his clothes and made for the bathroom to dress. "Can't even let a guy sleep. Sheesh." Mumbling that last.

"I heard that." Jim called out. "If you want, we can leave you here." Winking at the grinning Ray.

"No way, man. You are not going out anywhere dangerous with an untrained guide. You know better than that. He may show promise, but he doesn't know how to bring you out of a zone, and I don't have time to teach him, right this minute." Coming back from the bathroom dressed. "OK. Just let me get my shoes on. You might want to try that, too, Jim. Unless white socks is the footwear du jour?" Smirking at his friend.

Jim laughed in reply, reaching down for his shoes. "Not a problem, Sandburg."

Dinner was a little strained, each of them reacting to the excitement of the coming stakeout.

The stakeout itself ran like a well oiled machine. Everyone in place well in advance of the time scheduled for the deal. Jim and Blair sat in the car with Ray. Jim was using his senses to monitor the site, just as the electronic devices were. Blair was trying to explain the duties of a Guide to Ray.

"Ben doesn't seem to have the problem of zoning, concentrating so hard on one sense that he loses track of what's going on around him. His biggest problem is trying to filter out the extraneous data."

Ray stopped him. "Extraneous? What's that?" He hated the feeling he got when people used words he didn't know and how they treated him when they thought he was stupid.

"OK. Example. Yesterday at the lake? Jim had to filter out the normal sounds, the breeze, the birds, insects, all the stuff that isn't important. A lot of times, it's focusing on, identifying and discarding what you don't need."

Jim joined in. "When I'm at a crime scene, a lot of times, I have to filter through all the different smells to locate a particular scent. It may be something the criminal wore, or had eaten, or used, that doesn't belong. Like the smell of a flower on the shoe of a murder victim, which leads to the actual location of the murder, which didn't match where the body was found. Stuff like that."

Ray thought about it. "OK. You're in a big room, full of people. You can find one person without having to physically search for them?"

Blair laughed. "Yeah. We've done that one several times. Jim can find me in a crowded room in less than a minute by finding my heartbeat."

There was a startled silence. Then Ray responded.

"You can pick out a single heartbeat in a room full of people?" Awed.

Both Jim and Blair winced. "That's why Ben needs help. He needs to stretch his abilities, exercise and refine them. Being able to hear a conversation twenty feet away is remarkable for most people, but for a Sentinel, that's a small thing. Ben should have been able to find the inspector's heartbeat in that building yesterday. Jim had to look for her voice because he doesn't know her very well. I mean, he doesn't go around memorizing people he meets heartbeats, if you know what I mean. He's familiar with mine because I'm his Guide."

"That and the fact we live together." He cast a fond glance at his friend, then confided in Ray, "When things get tough, when I have trouble sleeping?" Ray nodded his understanding, "I focus on Blair's heartbeat." He shrugged. "It's reassuring, comforting." He admitted. Blair smiled and patted his shoulder.

"All part of the service, man." He smiled. "That doesn't mean you and Ben need to live together, it just means you really have to trust each other. Talk, listen. You know, communicate. Ben has a lot of advantages. Since he grew up with his abilities, he doesn't have the zone out factor. He does have a problem focusing and filtering out. That's what he needs a guide for." He paused to allow Ray time to assimilate the information.

Suddenly, Jim stiffened. "Company." His eyes following what his ears had told him. Blair and Ray followed his gaze to see a group of men working their way cautiously down the street. "They're talking about the buy. Getting here early to wait for the delivery." They didn't have long to wait. Even though the meet had been scheduled for two a.m., both groups were assembled shortly after midnight.

Fraser drove the inspector home after work. He was more comfortable in her presence, now. Remembered awakening to her alarm clock that morning. She had been unsurprised to find him on her bed, holding her as she slept. She had thanked him for staying with her and keeping the nightmares at bay. He had been decidedly uncomfortable with untaping her ribs so she could shower. Knew she was in a great deal of pain, which fact she was trying to hide. Blushing furiously when he had to re-tape her ribs. Wanting to gaze on her, touch her warm, velvety skin, horribly embarrassed by his desires. Forcing himself to repress his feelings, to not look at her.

She, on the other hand, after the initial embarrassment of needing his help, had to repress her own desire, wishing he would be bolder and actually touch her. Closing her eyes to focus on something other than the feel of his hands on her. Wishing...

The doctor had been right, Ben was an excellent nursemaid. He prepared them breakfast and made sure she ate it, made sure she took her medication. His large, warm, gentle hands removing and reapplying the support for her ribs. Driving her to work and making certain that she didn't overdo anything. Gentle, solicitous, diligent. Reminding her to take a break and rest. Almost, but not quite hovering. She couldn't help herself. She wallowed in the attention. When the pain became too great, instead of snapping at her subordinates, she would simply close her eyes and allow Fraser to take care of her. It was wonderful. She wished they could remain like this. She sighed, discipline. Who was she trying to fool, anyway? Fraser was the most disciplined man she had ever met. Maybe, after this was all over, if she worked it right, they could continue with this friendlier atmosphere. If she could control her temper, her need to prove mastery over her underlings...Oh. The realization struck her. She was so domineering in order to convince herself that she was in charge. She looked at the two constables. Nearly laughing at herself for overlooking their always proper behavior toward her. Sighing at their lack of communication. Realizing just how useful Ray had been at breaking down the barriers. She had noticed that Fraser and Turnbull seemed to be getting along better, but that she had gotten caught out of the loop. Primarily by her own doing. She'd have to do something about that. This friendly atmosphere was too pleasant to do away with.

The trip home after work was uneventful, she insisted they stop for dinner and that she pay. He accepted gracefully. Their dinner conversation was quiet, mostly consisting of his asking how she was feeling. Once home, Fraser immediately insisted she lie down and rest, as she had been up all day. Rather than argue, she did as she was bidden. He served her chamomile tea with her medication. Helping her off with her shoes, massaging her feet and legs, much to her enjoyment. She had fallen asleep by the time he had finished. He gently settled her in her bed and slipped out, half closing her door behind him. He sat down in her living room after removing his tunic and boots. He might as well be comfortable.

She awoke abruptly. Fear making her start up, only to gasp at the sudden pain. Immediately, Fraser was at her side, soothing, comforting.

"Another nightmare?" He asked, softly.

She shook her head. "No. I don't think so. I just...woke up. Afraid. Then I moved too fast and it hurt." Her hands gripping his arm as he held her. "I need to change."

"Oh. Of course. I'll..." He waved vaguely in the direction of the living room, "If you need me, sir."

That word suddenly rankled. They were off duty, for goodness sakes. Unless, of course, he considered this an assignment? Oh, dear. He probably did. She didn't want to be an assignment. She wanted to be a ... What did she want to be? She looked at his departing back, recalled the clear blue-grey eyes that turned the most incredible shade of blue when he wore that colour, realizing that she wanted to be more that the Dragon Lady, or the Ice Queen. Understanding the two Ray's nicknaming of her. Knowing that she envied the Americans their relationship with him. Deciding that no matter what else, she wanted Fraser as a friend. If anything else happened, she wasn't about to deny the physical attraction, they would deal with it. She knew he wasn't about to make any move at changing their relationship, since she was his superior, so it would be up to her to initiate anything. That decided, she stood, carefully. It hurt every time she moved. She managed to get out of her dress and hose, slipping on a robe and slippers, she left her bedroom and went into the bathroom, deciding that a bubble-bath would be just what she needed. Except.


"Yes, sir?"

She sighed. "I need you to remove the wraps. I want a bath."

"Oh. Of course." He nervously followed her into the bathroom, trying very hard not to look at her nearly naked body when she removed her robe for him to take off the tape.

"Would you un-hook my bra, please?" Enjoying the touch of his hands, but also needing the assistance.

"Oh, uh. Of course, sir." He became fumble-fingered trying to fulfill her request. Finally, he succeeded. As quickly as he was able, he made his escape, closing the door tightly behind him.

She looked at the closed door, a speculative expression on her face, then turned and prepared her bubble-bath. Luxuriating in the warm, soapy water. Relaxing, nearly dozing in the pleasant indulgence.

The water had cooled to barely tepid by the time she decided she was through. Unfortunately, she was unable to stand up. The pain in her ribs just too great to manage. She slumped down in the rapidly cooling water, wondering what to do? It hurt enough that she had tears running down her cheeks. As much as she hated doing it, she called for help.

"Fraser? I'm sorry to bother you, but I need some help, here." She watched as the door opened part-way. "I'm sorry. I can't get up without your help." The door opened the rest of the way to reveal Fraser, flushed with embarrassment.

"Oh. Of course, sir." He came in, looked for and grabbed a large fluffy bath towel; then he came over, grateful that the bubbles still covered her, for the most part. He cautiously reached in and pulled the plug. Careful to not stare as the water level went down. When the tub had drained, he artistically draped the towel around her and gently lifted her from the tub, without ever actually seeing anything, or touching her, except through the towel. He kept his eyes closed, just to be sure, as he set her on her feet, maintaining contact until he was sure she was steady on her feet. Then he turned and had bolted through the door before she could thank him.

He sat in the living room, trembling. He didn't know what to do. Of course he was attracted to her. He always had been. She was a beautiful, intelligent, witty, woman. She was also his superior. He didn't know how to reconcile the two. He didn't know what to do.

She came out dressed in flannel pajamas. "I realize how difficult this must be for you. I'm sorry. If you don't want to stay, I'll understand." She offered him an escape. "If you do decide to stay, we need to come to some agreement about this." Her face and voice were serious.

"I'm sorry, sir. I just..." His eyes pleading for understanding. She remembered his file. He really had very little experience with women. She tried to put him at his ease.

"I do understand, Fraser...Ben. I." She took a deep breath and plunged ahead. "I find myself attracted to you. I think you may be attracted to me. The problem is, I was sexually harassed by my male superior. I will not do the same thing to anyone under my command. On the other hand, I don't know how to handle this apparent mutual attraction. I just don't know." His eyes finally drew up to meet her own. "What should we do about this?"

She called him Ben. Not Constable. Not Fraser. Not angry or annoyed. Nice. She called him Ben. She...She felt it, too. The attraction. He shivered at the prospect, the uncertainty. He searched her face, wondering.

"I." He had to stop to swallow, hard. "I don't know, either." His voice a harsh whisper.

"How about we just try being friends. Nothing more. Just friends. See what happens?" That way, even if nothing else ever came of their relationship, they would be able to do away with their, so far, adversarial relationship.

"I. Yes. I'd like that. ... Meg." He looked up at her, his shy, boyish smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

"Me, too. How about you re-wrapping my ribs, now? Ben?"

"Oh. Yes. Of course." He scrambled to obey.

"You're early." The middle-aged businessman growled at the leader of the group.

"So're you." Responded the buyer. "So we're both early. You got the stuff?"

"You got the money?"

"Yeah. Let's see the merchandise."

Jim repeated the conversation to his companions. The alert went out that the deal was going down early. On Ray's command, the police moved in.

It was a remarkably simple bust. The two groups of criminals had thought they had planned the buy perfectly. Ray was kind enough not to inform them that a simple overheard conversation had alerted them in time to make the arrest. They seized more than twenty kilos of the designer drug, subsequent warrants provided them with the drug lab, another dozen criminals and enough drugs to keep the entire city of Chicago high for a month. The list of ingredients left them in shock. Cocaine, Heroin, Methamphetamines, Hallucinogens, a veritable cornucopia of illegal drugs. Welsh was thrilled with the final take, nearly a hundred kilos of various drugs.

"Good work, Vecchio." Welsh told the weary detective. It was almost eight a.m., and they had been up all night running down the drug lab and cleaning up. The actual investigation would continue on throughout the day and probably for the next several, as well, but the drugs were all accounted for and locked safely away. "No happy faces this time. You hear me?"

Ray grinned. "You got it sir. I'll make sure I got lots of witnesses to the count and make them all sign off on it." He yawned, then glanced over at the pair from out West. "Thanks, guys. You were a big help. Especially with finding those guys hidin' in the lab. And finding their stockpile of drugs. And..." He just smiled. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Jim replied. "Let us know what the analysis is on that designer drug, will you? Just fax it to us in Cascade. I'm curious how close it really is to Golden." Handing Ray a card.

"Sure. No problem." He looked up at the two equally weary men. "How about I take you out for breakfast and then drop you back at the hotel?" He offered.

"Works for us." Jim agreed. Blair just nodded. He was a little overwhelmed at the magnitude of the drug bust. Amazed at the sheer volume of contraband.

Breakfast was quiet. Jim and Blair trying to perk up enough for the upcoming series of lectures, Ray winding down from the adrenaline rush. After eating, Ray dropped the pair at their hotel and continued home for a shower and some much needed rest.

Jim and Blair barely made it through the series of lectures, with Jim nearly zoning out on some of the monotone voices. Only kept on track by Blair's concerted efforts. Instead of eating lunch, they simply slid down in their chairs in the lecture hall and dozed through lunch, the noise of the returning attendees sufficient to wake them. The afternoon went much better for their brief nap.

After a mere three hours of sleep, Ray dragged his weary body from his nice, comfortable bed and headed back down to the station. He was hailed as the conquering hero by nearly everyone he saw.

After checking the reports on the previous night's activities, he (for a change) worked on the paperwork that went with it. He was industriously, if inaccurately, typing up his report, when Francesca approached him.

"How's it goin', bro?" She asked softly, sitting on the corner of his desk. He leaned back tiredly and smiled up at her.

"It was a good bust." Satisfaction in his voice. Stretching. Looking up at her with just a glint of speculation. Taking the chance, "What are you doin' Saturday night?"

She flashed him a curious glance, then looked down, swinging one leg, "Nothin', why?"

"I thought maybe, you and me...I, could maybe go out for dinner or somethin'." Careful to not look at her, trusting her to answer.

She was surprised. "Sure. I could do that. What did you have in mind?" He'd been playing her brother for six months. She couldn't help wondering why he suddenly wanted to spend time with her when he didn't have to. She looked up at him, surprisingly shy, all of a sudden.

"Oh, I dunno. I thought, maybe, if you wanted to, that is, we could maybe go to diCicco's for dinner, maybe dancing?"

"You mean....like a...date?" Surprised, but secretly pleased.

"Well,... sorta,...not really, ...kinda..." Looking helplessly at her.

She let him off the hook. "Sure. But we better not make it diCicco's. Everybody knows the whole family there. We don't need to screw up now, ya know?"

He smiled, relieved. "OK. How about the Crystal Ballroom?"

She was surprised. It took weeks to get a reservation there. Only the fanciest couples went there. "Oh, you don't have to do that. It's awful fancy and expensive..."

"It's OK. I can get reservations. I got friends there. Don't worry about it, OK? OK?" Reaching out and taking her hand in his. Lifting his clear blue eyes to her warm brown ones. She gave him a surprisingly shy smile.

"I'd like that. OK." Exchanging shy smiles of discovery.

When the lectures finally ended for the day, Jim decided to call Ray, to see how he was doing.

"Vecchio." To Jim's practiced ear, he could trace the weariness in the voice.

"I take it that you didn't get much sleep yet, either.

"Nah. I got a couple hours. How's your day been?"

"Good lectures. Just real tired. Blair's bouncing off the walls, as usual. God, I wish I knew how he did it." Chuckling.

"Maybe he's related to the Energizer Bunny?" Ray suggested. They both laughed.

"Maybe. It would explain a lot. We're going to make an early night of it, anyway. Even if I have to handcuff him to the bed and duct tape his mouth to do it."

"I heard that." Blair called out, audible even to Ray on the other end of the phone, who laughed.

"Sounds like a plan. Give me a call tomorrow. I'm gonna need your signatures on the reports, if you don't mind?"

"No problem. We're leaving Saturday. I have to say it's been interesting, but I'm really looking forward to getting home."

"I can handle that. I'll see you tomorrow, then."

"How's Fraser been?"

"I haven't seen him since yesterday. I'll have to give him a call. Has Blair got those exercises written down for me yet?"

"I have no idea. I don't think he's had the time, to tell you the truth. Hold on while I ask." He covered the mouthpiece of the phone as he asked. "Ray wants to know if you've got the exercises written down yet?"

"Not yet. I'll work on them this evening. Tell him I'll have them for him tomorrow after the lectures."

"Got it." Speaking into the phone again, "He says he'll have them ready tomorrow afternoon."

"Cool. Tell him,...Never mind, I'll tell him myself tomorrow. See you then."

"Catch you later."

Ray called the consulate, unsurprised when Fraser answered the phone. "How are things going with the Ice Queen?"

"Quite well, actually." He paused, uncertain. "We, uh, we talked, last night."

"Oh? Is that good, or bad?" Curious.

"Good, I think. We've decided to be friends."

"That's a real good start."

"Yes. Yes, it is. ... Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"How was your drug bust?" Delicately changing the subject.

"Oh, man. It was great. Twenty kilos of the designer drug, almost a hundred Keys of a bunch of other drugs. We got the lab, couple dozen people. The whole lot. It was great."

"I'm glad, Ray. Were Jim and Blair any help?"

Ray glanced around, checking to see if anyone was watching him. "Oh, yeah. The deal went down early. Seems Jim was the only one who had his ears on at the time. The guys in the listening post almost missed it. Lucky we had the microphones on voice activated record. They were a big help at the lab, too. Found hiding bad guys, lots of drugs. Oh, yeah. They were great." He paused, then spoke softly. "Blair's workin' up a set of instructions for us. You know, exercises? It's amazing what they can do, man. You gotta try it."

Ben was unsure. "Well, we'll see." Uncertain about the idea.

"I'm takin' the guys out for dinner tomorrow night. Kinda a celebration, you know? You and the Ice, inspector, want to come along? Thought I'd take them for Chinese."

"Why, thank you, Ray. I'll check with the inspector and let you know."

"OK, then. Give me a call tomorrow. I'm headin' home, now. Can't wait to intimately examine the inside of my eyelids." He yawned to punctuate his exhaustion.

"Drive carefully on the way home, Ray."

"Thanks. See ya later."

Their last, full day in Chicago. Jim suddenly realized that neither he nor Blair had ended up as a patient in a hospital. Yet. There was still this final day to get through. He opted to not mention it.

Blair was finally winding down. It had been a good week. He was glad that Jim had enjoyed most of the lectures. If he had been running this thing, he would have saved the best for last. He wasn't disappointed. The final day included a game of detective. They were to pair off and pick up sets of clues, follow the clues and try to track down the prize. It was a light hearted kind of romp, using many of the things discussed in the preceding lectures. There were a lot of groans at that. Blair started bouncing, digging out his notebook. He had kept meticulous notes on all the lectures. When he and Jim picked up their packet of clues, he immediately pulled Jim aside to have him run a test on the packet, itself.

"OK, man. Use your sense of smell. Where's it been?"

"Smells like coffee, Chief, and copier toner. Sorry. The paper is typical copier paper, twenty pound bond, no. Make that eighteen pound. No indentations in the paper. Sorry. Nothing." Handing it back with a shrug.

"OK. I didn't really expect anything much. Let's get to the clues."

Fortunately, Blair was used to cryptic remarks from Jim, so the cryptic clues on the lectures were easy for him to decipher. He quickly matched the clues to the lectures, then followed Jim from place to place as the clues indicated, ending up in the hotel restaurant. There they discovered their prize. As the first, (and eventually only) team to correctly deduce the clues, their entire stay was reimbursed by the company that put on the seminar. The only additional requirement was that they fill out a questionnaire on the lectures with suggestions for improvement. Jim left that task to his academic partner.

Ray arrived at six p.m. to take them to dinner. He informed them that Ben and the inspector had begged off. He smiled as he said it.

"You're playing matchmaker for them?" Blair asked with a grin.

"Nah. Well not really. Kinda. They both like each other, it's only obvious. But they're both so...so, well you've met them."

Jim laughed. "Yeah. How are they doing?"

"Making progress. They've decided to be friends. The Ice Queen seems to have thawed some. They're working on it. Kinda have to, if you think about it. If she wants a shower, Ben has to untape her ribs, then retape them when she's done. Hard to tape ribs with clothes on, ya know?" Grinning.

Blair chuckled. "Man, you are so devious and sneaky."

"Not me. It was all the doctor's idea. I think she had it planned since I was in the hospital."

He took them to his favourite Chinese restaurant. The atmosphere was subtle: warm colours; adequate, albeit indirect, lighting; plush carpeting; comfortable chairs; employees interested in making their customers happy.

The food was authentic, Ray informed them that the cooking staff didn't speak any English. Jim inhaled the delicious odors permeating the room. "Dim Sum, right?" A big smile on his face.

Ray shook his head. "I forgot. OK. What else do you smell?" Curious, not realizing he was posing a test for Blair's Sentinel.

Jim closed his eyes, concentrating on his sense of smell, speaking to keep from zoning out. "There's soy sauce, chicken, pork, ginger, garlic, black bean sauce, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, sesame oil,..."

"OK. OK. I believe you. You can smell all that?"

"Sometimes I can taste something and give you the proportions of the ingredients for it. Of course I have to recognize the taste of the ingredients, how heat may change them, stuff like that; but, yeah. I can smell all that and a lot more. You wear Old Spice, very light, you use a..." He closed his eyes to sniff, "a jojoba shampoo and conditioner, you spilled coffee on yourself earlier..."

"Whoa. Now wait a minute. You can tell all that, in here, without losing any of it? All I can smell is the general 'Chinese food' smell. I can't tell one smell from another. You can separate them all?"

"Sure." Blair explained, leaning closer to avoid eavesdroppers. "It's all a matter of practice. You start your Sentinel with a mixture of smells, like food in a restaurant. You practice with having him tell you what the ingredients are, just by the smell. Then you add to it by using taste. It's a game. A test. You get him to practice, start with something simple, then more and more complicated, more complex. Then you move on to another sense. Practice visual acuity with counting how many birds in a flock. Describe a license plate from different distances. Just practice. Go out in the park, sit on a bench, have him categorize an area, how many bugs does he hear, what kind, how many different smells can he identify. The more you can get him to practice, the better he'll be. Go to a sporting event, how many people are there? Who is angry who is afraid. Just practice. Every chance you get. You'll be amazed by what you both learn."

Their food arrived. Jim sniffed appreciatively, "Mmmmm. Let's see. Black bean sauce. Char sieu sauce. Forget it, it smells great and I'm starved." Jim grinned at his companions and dug in. Blair and Ray laughed.

"Oh, yeah. Never try to run a scent or taste test by a hungry Sentinel."

The men from Cascade had to admit that it was some of the finest Chinese food they had ever eaten. Later, stuffed, they continued their earlier conversation.

"Here's a list of tests and how to run them. Don't try to do them all at once. You'll only scare him off. Just one or two at a time. If you can make a game of it, make it fun, he's more likely to cooperate." Blair smiled at Jim, "If he gets cranky, give up for a while. You don't have to do them all the time. Maybe at first one or two a day, then, as he gets better, once or twice a week. Any time you think about it, try one. Hey, you may get lucky and find out Ben likes the tests, practicing to get better. You won't know until you try."

Ray read through some of Blair's notes and suggestions. He smiled up at them. "Thanks. I hope this helps. He's pretty remarkable, even without training."

Blair returned the smile. "Yeah, he is. But, you can help him get better at it."

Jim agreed. "Blair has helped me hone the skills, but more important, to me at least, he's always there when I need him. There's a lot more to being a Guide than running tests. Blair is my anchor. He keeps me on track, protects my back. Without him, I'd be dead or locked up somewhere in a padded cell. He's done more for me than you can imagine. So don't sell your duties as a Guide short. Once the two of you connect as Sentinel and Guide, you'll find out just how much more you both can do because of the connection."

"It's a big responsibility, isn't it." Ray asked softly.

"Yeah, it is." Blair answered. "But it's worth it. I wouldn't trade the past two and a half years we've been together for anything. I've learned a lot, ... about a lot of things. The most important one being commitment. It's a commitment. One that could well last a lifetime." He smiled at the burgeoning guide. Hoping his work with his Sentinel was as rewarding as his own had been.

Ray nodded. "I can only try. I'll keep you posted, OK?"

"I wouldn't have it any other way." Blair replied.

Their trip home was peaceful. They loaded their gear in Jim's truck and headed home. Tired, but pleased with the trip. As they gathered their luggage and headed upstairs to the loft, Jim finally commented: "You know, Chief, this is the first trip of this kind I can recall that one of us didn't get hurt and end up in the hospital." Blair turned to reply, only to lose his balance and fall, knocking Jim back; both of them tumbling down the flight of steps.

Regaining consciousness, Jim groaned, realizing his knee hurt, a lot. He opened his eyes to a forlorn looking Blair. Sitting beside him clutching his obviously broken arm.

"You spoke too soon, man. You spoke too soon."

The End

I learned long ago to sit in the front row of a class (when there was an option). Making eye contact does make the instructor talk directly to you and he will gauge his effectiveness with the entire class by you. The real stiffs? They get flustered, they stammer, they hem, they haw VBEG, and If you're persistent? They have been known to freak out. If you smirk or give them an enigmatic smile? heeheeheeheehee Try it. If you're a teacher? Sorry to give away any secrets. (NOT!)

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