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

I need to smack my musae. They keep bashing me without first finishing all the stuff I already have started. Sigh. I've been mulling this one over for about a week, now, and it just won't leave me alone. I guess I'm gonna have to get my own webpage. I think I write too much to make other people archive all this stuff. But, I suppose that there are advantages to being hyperactive.

As always, I don't own the characters, nor do I make any profit from their use. I'm ever so grateful to those brilliant minds who created them and the actors who brought them to life, particularly those who have been so very forbearing to not sue me for the unauthorized use of their intellectual property. I just wish that they'd authorize some books, or movies, or something...

I'm again being physically unkind to Ray Kowalski, but much more emotionally unkind to Ray Vecchio...after all, broken bones will mend, to one degree or another, but emotional scars never truly heal...



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"Hey, Vecchio, I gotta go meet a snitch, can you come along?"

Ray looked at the crazy Polak he was partnered with and scowled. "Not tonight, Stan-ly. I got stuff to do."

Kowalski looked disconcerted, then shook himself for a moment and grinned. "Okay. I can manage. Have a good one, then."

"Oh, yeah. I will." As soon as I get out of here and don't have to deal with your hyperactive ass.

"Hey, Frase. How goes it?"

"Quite well, Ray, yourself?"

"Pretty good. Hey, you busy tonight?"

"As a matter of fact, I am. Was there something you needed?"

"Nah, that's okay. Just askin'. I got it covered. I'll see you later, have a good one."

Kowalski headed out the door and didn't see Fraser and Vecchio laughing and joking as they headed out to go to dinner. He had a date with a snitch. He couldn't put it off, so, with his partner unavailable, he went alone, despite the lieutenant telling him earlier not to. He'd known Charlie for years and trusted him not to double-cross him.

Unfortunately, Charlie's trustworthiness didn't help when he was set up as well as Ray. The moment Ray saw the three men step out of the shadows, he grabbed his snitch and told him to run. Charlie didn't look back, but made like a rabbit and bolted. Unfortunately, he couldn't outrun a bullet in the back.

He held his own pretty good for about two minutes, but against three of them, well, they were all a lot bigger, and Kowalski's speed and agility wasn't enough against them. Two held him, while the third one pummeled him in the stomach. He couldn't double over, so he brought his knees up, then lashed out and caught the man in the crotch. He went down like a rock, but he heard a sound and turned his head. The other two goons still had a good hold on his arms, and the sight of the newcomer did nothing to reassure him. This one had a baseball bat...

"Hello, Stanley," the man said, with a vindictive smile.

He felt like they'd broken every bone in his body. He knew he had broken ribs, and the guy with the bat was still mad. Two more men joined them, and Ray could see them, enough to recognize them, but he had blood running in his eyes, so his vision was a bit blurry. The smaller one was frowning.

"That ain't Vecchio. What the hell you tryin' to pull here? He a cop? You're nuts. Both of you! I want nothin' to do with this. You get nothin' from me. Understand? Nothin'!" The well-dressed man turned on his heel and left.

"Where's Vecchio?" the third man asked.

"Didn't come. Lucky guy."

"Yeah. Lucky." The third man looked down at the sprawled form of Ray Kowalski. With a grin, he stepped forward and ground Ray's hand into the pavement. Ray could only groan with the added pain. Lifting his heel, the man duplicated his actions with Ray's other hand. Then, he took the bat from the first guy, and smiled as he swung, "Say good night, Gracie,"

He had no idea how long he'd lain there in the alley. When he regained consciousness, he wondered why he was still alive. He had a heck of a time getting to his feet. At least they hadn't knee-capped him. Small favor. It hurt like hell, but he finally managed it. He had to use the wall to stay up, though. He couldn't actually lift his feet, so he shuffled down the alley. He didn't even pause by Charlie's body, he needed help, and he needed it soon.

"Ray, isn't that Ray's car?" Fraser had spotted a black GTO parked ahead and frowned.

"Could be, why?"

"Stop, Ray."

"What for?"

Fraser frowned at his friend. They'd just finished dinner and Ray was taking him back to the consulate. "Ray, stop. He might need assistance."

"He's a big boy, Benny. Don't worry about it."

"Ray, I must insist you stop. NOW!" They'd passed an alley, and Fraser had seen something moving. Vecchio cursed and slammed on the brakes. Fraser was out and running back towards the alley before the car had completely stopped. Vecchio muttered invective in Italian as he parked and got out to follow.

Fraser stood in shocked disbelief. Ray Kowalski was shuffling towards him, his face bloody, his nose broken, his front teeth missing, his hands misshapen and bloody, and the way his legs moved...

"Oh, dear. Ray?" He moved to his friend's side and took him by the arm. Kowalski grunted and tried, weakly, to pull away.

Vecchio arrived, took one look and paled. Pulling his cell phone from his overcoat pocket, he hit the speed dial for dispatch and started talking. "Officer down, alley between DeSoto and Michigan, 5500 block. Ambulance needed ASAP." As he watched, Kowalski looked at him, a puzzled expression on his face.

"Tree guys, kiw Charie, ten tree moe, Brower. Brower haa 'e ba..." He tried to continue, but couldn't keep the encroaching oblivion at bay any longer. Fraser looked at Vecchio, his expression one of pain for his wounded friend and confusion at what he was trying to say.

Vecchio was upset. He'd blown his partner off and now said partner was badly injured and the Mountie was giving him a reproachful look. Crap.

Lieutenant Welsh was not happy. He'd actually managed to get out of the office before midnight, for once, only to get the call. He sat in the waiting room, watching Vecchio pace and mutter and Fraser lean against the wall, a pensive expression on his face.

"I gotta ask, Vecchio. Did you know he was goin' to meet a snitch?"

"Yeah. I knew."

"And, why didn't you go with him?"

Vecchio looked at the lieutenant, dismayed. "I, uh, told him I had somethin' to do."

"Something more important than providing backup for your partner?"

Vecchio flinched. "No. It's my fault. I blew him off." He sank down into a chair, his elbows on his knees, his head hanging down.

Fraser frowned, wondering why Ray hadn't said anything to him.

"And you, Constable. Were you aware that Kowalski was meeting a snitch?"

"No, sir. He merely asked if I were busy this evening. When I said that I was, I asked if there were something he needed. He replied that he 'had it covered'. He mentioned nothing about meeting a snitch."

"I see." Welsh frowned, regarding the two men. "This could be a problem, Vecchio. You do understand that, right?"

"Yes, sir," Ray whispered. He understood only too well.

"... He'll be in surgery for some time, I'm afraid. His left hip was broken, and we may have to do a joint replacement. He's sustained fractures to most of his ribs, but none of them dislocated to the point of needing surgery to repair. That's a bit of good news. Both hands are broken, but they managed to not break the fingers. We'll have to wait and see how that goes. Surprisingly, there was no internal organ damage. Usually, when we see a beating this severe, there is at the least a ruptured spleen, but he seems to have withstood the blows rather well. You mentioned that a baseball bat was used?"

"Yes, sir. We found it in the dumpster," Vecchio replied. All three of them were pale as the doctor went through the list of injuries. If it was hard for the doctors to believe that Kowalski was alive, it was even harder for his colleagues.

"Sir, what about his face and head?" Fraser was brave enough to ask.

"Well, his jaw is broken, he lost the four front teeth on the top, as I'm sure you noticed. His nose is broken, and he sustained a skull fracture above the right eye. I'm of the opinion that that was the final blow, it most certainly rendered him unconscious."

"Brain damage?" Welsh asked, wincing in anticipation.

"Too early to tell, although, with the injuries he's sustained, I would expect at least some. Memory loss is almost a certaintly. He probably won't ever remember what happened, tonight. You said he was conscious when you found him?"

"Yes. He was shuffling down the alley."

"Shuffling?" The doctor seemed surprised.

"Yeah, he couldn't seem to lift his feet," Vecchio concurred.


"Why is that, doc?" Welsh asked, frowning at Vecchio and Fraser.

"Well, both legs are broken, below the knee. As well as the hip fracture I mentioned. It's remarkable that he was able to stand, let alone walk, or, as you described, 'shuffle'.

"Ray can be quite...determined," Fraser murmured with something akin to admiration. The doctor nodded.

"Must have been. At any rate, he's going to be here for some time. The surgery should be another hour or so. We're working on his other injuries, like wiring his jaw shut, bringing in an oral surgeon to try and salvage what's left of his teeth, setting his nose, hands, arms and the right leg. The left will have to wait until after surgery, I'm afraid."

"Thank you, doctor," Welsh murmured. "What do you think, unofficially?"

"He was conscious, he was actually trying to walk. With a determination like that, and providing the skull fracture doesn't cause too much swelling in the brain, well, I would think he will probably recover up to ninety-five percent, with any luck at all."

"Will he remember everything?" Fraser asked.

"That I can't tell you. I would be surprised if he remembers the attack. The kind of beating he's had, I would be happy if he just loses a year or so of memories, to be frankly honest." There was a page and the doctor looked up, "That's me. I'll have someone let you know when he's in recovery, or whenever we learn more."

Vecchio felt he should have taken the opportunity for a medical retirement of his own when he had the chance. He'd nearly gotten his partner killed. It didn't matter that they didn't much like each other. That wasn't the point. His partner had asked for backup, and he hadn't given it to him. He was so screwed....

He could hear voices, but he couldn't understand quite what they were saying. He knew, somehow, that if he tried, he could...but that if he did, it was going to hurt...a lot. The voices sounded concerned and worried, but not afraid. That was good. Eventually, though, he knew he needed to open his eyes, so they would know he was okay. He waited until the voices stopped talking all the time and opened his eyes. It was dark, and he was alone. He'd been right; when he woke up, it hurt like hell. Even his hair hurt. He didn't know if he was restrained or just weak, but he couldn't move. Not anything. Although, when he tried real hard, he found he could move his head. Suddenly, he was afraid. What if it was a spinal cord injury? What if he could never walk again? He started breathing harder, only to find his ribs screaming in protest. Unfortunately, that set off the pain cycle. He hurt, so he was afraid, he was afraid, so his breathing increased as he tried to not hyperventilate, panting increased his pain, which increased his fear, which made him breath even harder, making him even more afraid...

"It's all right, Mr. Kowalski. You're in the hospital. A doctor will be here shortly." He didn't know the woman leaning over him, but between the white uniform and the nametag, he guessed, quite accurately, that she was a nurse. He tried to open his mouth to speak, and discovered that there were some teeth missing and wires on a bunch, keeping his mouth shut. Definitely not a good thing. His face felt swollen and his inability to move was not helping any.

He was not good at waiting. Not in the least. He wished someone would come and tell him what was going on with him. He could really use some reassurance about now.

When the doctor finally arrived, an eternity later, the entropy of his panic had left him drained and eased his pain. The doctor looked at the chart, shown a light in his eyes and smiled. The light had really hurt.

"How are you feeling, Mr. Kowalski?"

He couldn't open his mouth and his hands were tied, or something. How in the world was he supposed to answer?"

"Llllzzy." He managed, unable to even get his lips to move properly.

"I can imagine. Can you remember what happened?" He was pleased when Ray nodded, ever so slightly.

"Excellent. I suppose you want a rundown of your injuries?" Another nod. "All right, then. First of all, I must say that your prognosis is excellent. You have a number of broken bones, and eventually, they will cause you to slow down, but for now, they're healing..."

Ray wished he could have passed out after hearing the list of his injuries. No wonder he couldn't move. After all, he was weighted down with four casts, taped ribs, busted head. He wondered if he'd ever be all right again...and the natural depression set in. Particularly when he learned he'd been in a coma for over a week and there was no one with him when he awoke. That really sucked. Definitely gave him the impression that nobody gave a damn about Barbara Kowalski's younger son...not even Barbara Kowalski. Of course, his parents had been planning on going back to Arizona to visit his brother and his family, so he was, quite naturally, alone. He wasn't surprised that his partner wasn't around, but would have expected Fraser to at least come by. Maybe they'd kicked him out? Yeah. That was probably it. Eventually, he relaxed and fell back asleep, and missed his visitors.

When he next awoke, he was again confused, but eventually remembered that he was in the hospital, and why. Being unable to move, he was soon bored back to sleep. Of course, sleep was the best thing for his healing body. Unfortunately, he tended to be asleep every time someone came to see him. Even worse, the doctors and nurses told his visitors that there would likely be irreparable brain damage, and that the odds of his ever remembering the attack were infinitesimal.

A month. He'd been stuck here a month. His jaw was still wired, but he could manage a straw, providing someone held the glass for him. He was so tired of milkshakes and he really hated the strawberry ones. He was tired of lying around with nothing to do. His hands were still swollen and unusable. That worried him. He was fairly sure the rest of him was doing okay, just based on the itching under the casts. It was enough to drive him nuts, not that it was a very long trip at any time, but now... He was staring at the television. He'd had them set it permanently on ESPN, as it was the only thing worth watching, most of the time. The only part of him he could move was his head, and there just wasn't anything to look at. He just wished someone, anyone would come and visit him. Even Dewey with his lame jokes was better than this...emptiness. He'd tried talking to the nurses, tried to ask them why no one came to see him, but they just ignored him, or maybe he still couldn't coordinate his lips and tongue enough to make himself understood. He sighed.

His head turned to watch as the door opened, his expression hopeful, only to fall back to disappointment and depression. Another doctor type. A different one, but still a doctor. Not a friend. He found himself blinking back tears and looking away, trying to keep control. No sense letting them know how bad it was for him.

"Mr. Kowalski?" Ray turned to look at her. She had a nice voice, at least. He nodded, too tired to bother to try and talk. She smiled, not the bright, fake smile of most of them, but a genuine, friendly smile. He perked up, just a bit.

"I'm Doctor Kopacek. I'm going to be helping you through your therapy." He raised his eyebrows, his expression questioning. "You're going to find yourself pretty weak when the casts come off. Have you had any bed-sores?" She picked up his chart and began reading through it. She saw him shrug and she frowned. "Are you having trouble talking through the wires?"

He decided to try. He didn't expect to be understood, no one else had, "I guss," he tried to be as articulate as he could, but knew he failed rather miserably. She nodded her approval, however. "I'm sorry about the broken teeth. They won't be able to do the dental work until after the wires come off." He tried to smile at her, but it wasn't worth the effort.

She recognized the signs of severe depression in her patient. She was going to have a talk with some of her colleagues about trying to communicate with him. She wished she had more time to visit with him, well, perhaps she could. "Bet you're pretty sick of milk shakes, huh?"

He shuddered. "Wnt chocate," he mumbled, blushing. She looked up at him, surprised, then frowned and looked on his chart...vanilla...vanilla, strawberry, strawberry, vanilla, strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, strawberry, vanilla...more strawberry than vanilla, but not one, solitary, single chocolate.

"Did you try to tell them?"

"Wnt lisssn," came the response. He watched her expression change to more than simple annoyance. "Have you had any visitors, lately?" He didn't need to answer. She could tell by the way he looked away and looked so sad. She'd have to check on that, as well. She patted his thigh, above the leg cast. "We'll just have to take better care of you, won't we?" He frowned at her, uncertain.

"I'll be back in a few minutes, okay?" he shrugged and sort of half-nodded. Like he could do anything to prevent her from doing anything?

She smiled at him, before she left. As soon as she was out the door, however, her expression changed to one of anger. She headed for the nurse's station. They didn't see her coming, and so the entire day staff was there and caught hell from her. She asked about Kowalski's visitors, and learned that they generally came after hours, when he was asleep. She made sure the staff knew to ask any visitors to come when he was awake, as he could use the reassurance that he hadn't been forgotten. She also made sure that they knew to talk to him, and take the time to listen. They were surprised to learn that he hated strawberry milk shakes, and would much prefer chocolate. They didn't try and defend themselves, knowing it would be useless with her. Then she headed for the kitchen and explained what she wanted. Thirty minutes later, she had a thermal mug filled with something hot as she returned to her patient's room.

"Bet you thought I forgot about you, huh?" She smiled brightly. He looked surprised to see her, but pleased, as well. He hadn't had anyone actually talk to him in a month. She looked at him. "I need to examine you, if that's okay? Then, I have something here that I think you might like," at his curious look, she chuckled, "No, not chocolate, something else, something hot." She saw his interest and smiled. "Exam first, though, okay?" He nodded unhappily.

The cracked and broken ribs had been immobilized when he arrived, and had yet to be unstrapped. She lifted him into a sitting position, holding him until he got his balance. He was extremely weak, and the movement obviously caused him pain. She frowned and removed the rib belt. He gasped when the support was removed, but didn't fall back. She gently probed his ribs, nodding when he shifted a bit when it tickled. She also saw the beginnings of bedsores on his back and frowned.

"Have they shifted you onto your side at all?" He shook his head and looked surprised when she growled. "No wonder you have bed sores. How often are they bathing you?"

"e'ry cpla days," he replied. She nodded. "Well, we need to get you out of this bed, get your circulation going. Can you lift your arms over your head for me?"

He tried, he really did, but he'd lost so much strength by being flat on his back for over four weeks, that he could barely raise his arms at all. She helped him and was pleased with his range of motion. Once she got his arms above his head, he could keep them there, but he was sweating with the strain.

"Does that hurt your ribs?" He shrugged, another motion he hadn't been able to manage before, and his lips curled up in a sardonic grin. She ran her hands over his ribs again, and he wiggled, snickering at the tickling. She grinned at him. "No nerve damage there, that's for sure. Good. So, can you lower your arms without help?" He did so, trying to do it slowly. She smiled at him and he smiled back.

"Excellent. I want you to do that as much as you can, okay? It will help you regain your upper body strength more quickly." He nodded. "Now, for the rest of you." She pulled the sheet away. He'd had fairly well muscled legs, prior to his injury. He blushed crimson when she pulled the Johnny-coat aside to check the incision site from the hip surgery. "I understand that they didn't have to do a replacement, only a plate and some screws. You should be fine. The head of the femur wasn't damaged, just the seat." She lightly probed the healed incision, feeling the bones beneath, pleased with what she felt. She straightened up and covered him again. "Okay, see if you can swing your legs around for me?" He tried, but couldn't do it. His hands were still too sore and swollen to help him. She took him by the arms to balance him, and he managed to move his legs by himself. He gasped as his knees bent and the weight of the casts dropped his legs over the side of the bed.

"Sorry about that, " she murmured. She held him until she could tell he was steady, then she let go and bent down to examine his legs and the muscles of his thighs. "Can you straighten your legs out for me?" He did, but with a lot of trembling and sweat. Even after more than four weeks, there were signs of the bruises. It was fairly obvious that he'd narrowly missed being knee-capped. Lucky man. She nodded and straightened up. "Good, lower your legs as slowly as you're able." He did so, his entire body shaking with the strain. She smiled at him. "Very good." He gave her a shaky smile in return.

"How about we try getting you on your feet for a few minutes?" He frowned in worry, but nodded, trusting her. He slid forward, trusting her to catch and help him. He was quite wobbly on the casts, but he managed. She took the opportunity to examine his backside for bedsores. He was well on his way to developing them, and she wanted to treat them before they got any worse, particularly those on his shoulder blades and buttocks. She patted his butt as she straightened. He jumped and nearly fell, blushing furiously. She grinned at him.

"Sorry about that."

"No, y're not," he replied, still crimson.

"Well, you're right. I'm not sorry I smacked your butt, but I'm sorry I embarrassed you. But you're going to have to get used to it, at least until the casts come off and you can wear real clothes. Meanwhile, let's get you washed and those sores treated, okay?" She left him standing there and went into the bathroom to come back in a couple of minutes with a pan of warm water and a washcloth, along with some kind of medicated soap. He stood there, again blushing, as she bathed him. Everywhere there wasn't a cast. He had a hard time dealing with it. She wasn't pretty, exactly, but friendly and she talked to him, and even though he knew it was necessary, he missed the loss of dignity. She seemed to understand, though, because she was quick and efficient, and didn't smack his butt, this time.

"Let's get you back in bed. How do you prefer to sleep?"

"Stomach," he managed. The more practice he got, the more clearly he could speak. She nodded her understanding.

"Well, I'm not going to replace the rib belt, so if you can manage it, go for it." She helped him lift his legs back onto the bed. His entire body was trembling with exhaustion from just the few minutes he'd been up, but she could tell he was pleased to have been able to do that much.

"Now, for your treat." She picked up the thermal mug and pushed a straw into it. Ray couldn't smell what it was, even though his broken nose was fairly well healed. He cautiously took a sip. He held the viscous fluid in his mouth for a moment, savoring the flavor. His eyes grew wide and he swallowed, his lips pulling back in a delighted grin. "Ticken?" He asked.

"Yep. Chicken. It started out as fried chicken, boned, put into a blender with some chicken soup, and whirled around until it was all liquefied. It's hot, it's nourishing, and I hope it tastes pretty good?"

"Good," Ray agreed, eagerly sucking up the concoction. It was rather the texture of a nice, thick gravy, but the flavor...he sighed happily when he finished. It was the best 'food' he'd had since he got there. There was one slight advantage to his missing teeth, he could place the straw so he didn't have to try and strain the liquid through his molars. It was also the first hot nourishment he'd had, except for the occasional cup of too-salty bouillon. He sighed again, satisfied, and drifted off to sleep, much to Dr. Kopacek's amusement. She gently tucked him in, made some notes on his chart, and left him to his rest. She felt confident that he would soon be able to function fairly normally, although it would take quite a while to rebuild the atrophied muscles back up to their pre-injury state. Even so, it had been fairly obvious that he'd been well muscled before. Her goal would be to return him to as close as possible to that condition. He had obviously been depressed when she first came in, but he was like a puppy, you gave him some attention, and he perked right up. She'd try and contact someone for him. He needed more interaction with people, to keep his spirits up and encourage him.

She had learned early in her career that laughter played a big part in healing. Ray was determined to heal and go back to his life in as good condition as was physically possible. He still rarely had visitors, which depressed him, but passed it off as everyone being busy. Dr. Kopacek went out of her way to provide the human touch he needed. She would whip up weird concoctions for him to drink, most of which he liked, although, the apple-cinnamon one had been a bust, but it was still better than the vanilla milkshakes, and they'd stopped giving him strawberry.

The X-rays on his jaw were back, and they were sending him to an oral surgeon to have the wires removed and do the preliminary work on making him a bridge, or dental implants, or something. Fortunately, the facilities were within the hospital, so he didn't have to travel very far. He hated the drafty Johnny-coat, but still had nothing he could wear over his casts. Maybe if anyone had ever visited, he might have asked them to go to his apartment and bring him back some shorts, at least, but no one ever came, much to his bitter disappointment. He still wasn't aware that his visitors came at night, after he went to sleep, and the sedatives they gave him with his supper kept him from being aware of them.

Four hours. It took them four hours to unwire his jaw and take the measurements to replace his broken teeth. He didn't know whether to go for implants or a bridge, or for crowns on what was left of the broken teeth. While he decided, they would work on at least temporary crowns, so he would be able to eat better.

His face muscles were still strong, particularly after talking to Dr. Kopacek every day, but his jaw muscles ached, now that he could move them. He kept stretching them, opening his mouth as far as was comfortable, just getting used to being able to move again. For the first time in six weeks, he was given real food...oatmeal. Shuddering, he pushed it away; he wasn't that hungry. When she came for his therapy session, she took one look at his miserable expression and laughed.

"Fine," he grumbled, "Yuk it up. I'd rather have a strawberry milkshake," he muttered.

"Sorry, you just look so disappointed. What would you like? Remember, it has to be soft," she warned.

"Red jello," he replied, grinning.

"You need something more nourishing than that," she told him, laughing.

"Okay, chicken and spaetzle," he suggested, hopefully.

"Mmmmm. I haven't had that in ages. How about cabbage soup?"

"With lamb?" He grinned back at her.

"Stop. I haven't had any of that in years!" but she was laughing.

"My mother used to make it, sometimes." He suddenly looked sad and wondered if she even knew he'd been hurt, of if, as usual, they again preferred his 'perfect' brother. He tried to think of something else.

She saw his expression change, the sadness in his look, and tried to help him. "Well, maybe some chicken tetrazinni?"

He shuddered, "That the stuff they always serve at those fancy dinners? The fund-raisers?"

"That would be the stuff."

"I'll eat the oatmeal."

She looked at his resigned expression and reached out and hugged him. "Good man," she whispered in his ear. He turned his face to look at her, surprised. Licking his lower lip, he took a chance and leaned closer and lightly kissed her. She didn't pull back, nor did she try to deepen the kiss, much to his relief. He hated the feeling of broken teeth against his own tongue, and couldn't imagine how someone else would feel about it. He finally broke the kiss, leaving his forehead resting against hers. He was panting, but didn't understand why. Her own breath was rather short, as well.

He pulled away, and she let him. He looked at her, worriedly, knowing that he shouldn't have done it. They stared at each other in surprise, not only at what they'd done, but how they felt about it.

"You're just reacting to my taking care of you, that's all," she whispered, but neither of them believed it.

"I don't think so, but if you're not interested, that's okay." He looked away, trying to hide his hurt feelings.

She closed her eyes and dropped her head. He was such a sweet man...She found herself reaching out to hug him. She sighed. "Problem is, I am interested. I'm just not sure how ethical that is."

He pressed his cheek to hers, "I won't tell, if you won't," he whispered.

She felt a thrill run through her. "Promise?" she whispered back, then turned her face to his and kissed him again. This time, when they parted, they were both gasping for breath.

"You know," Ray panted, blushing a bit in embarrassment, "I don't even know your first name."

She jerked back, shocked. Then she saw the look on his face and started laughing. "Emily. I'm Emily."

He smiled, and her heart melted, "It's a real pleasure to meet you, Emily."

"Idiot," she teased, smiling. "Kiss me again?" She didn't have to ask twice.

Six weeks since it happened. He still hadn't had any visitors and it still bothered him, but Emily more than made up for it. Both coming from Polish families, they had a lot in common and could comfortably relate to each other. It was time for the casts to come off.

The first thing he noticed was how much lighter he felt. Next, he felt the almost uncontrollable need for a shower...a nice, long, hot shower. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to stand up long enough, the muscles weakened by his enforced inactivity needing more work before he'd even be able to walk more than a few feet. He'd been exercising as much as possible, but two weeks of exercise wasn't' enough to counteract the damage and four weeks of total inactivity. Still, even a bath was something to enjoy. And, he could wear clothes, again. Best of all, after his therapy sessions, he could sit in a Jacuzzi for as long as he wanted to. Unfortunately, his swimming skills were still too poor for him to use the pool, and he was still afraid, anyway.

He opted for implants. The nerves had been damaged, and the oral surgeon suggested that the implants would be best. They had to put him out to do it, but told him that it was best to do it while he was still on antibiotics and in the hospital, so, the day after the casts were removed, he had the implants done.

He didn't want to know how it was done, which was just as well. They made an incision along the top of his gums and removed the broken teeth, they then fitted his new 'teeth' to the bones beneath the old ones and fastened them permanently in place. When he awoke, his face was swollen even more than when they'd broken his jaw. For the next week, he was back on the liquid diet. At least Emily was there to hold his hand and give him a hug when he needed one. They found themselves getting even more involved. He still never saw a single visitor, but he tried to ignore that, and focused all his attention on Emily.

He was going home. Tomorrow. Nine weeks after it happened. He was still pretty unsteady on his feet, and he hated the walker they made him use, but his hands were working, although they tended to swell with overuse. But he was going home. Emily promised to take him there when her shift ended, and he was looking forward to it. He had a hard time sleeping that night.

Home. He was hardly able to remain still as she drove him home. He asked her to stop off at a grocery store, as he was sure that if there was anything in the fridge, it would need to be dumped. She laughed and pulled into the parking lot of one of the warehouse grocery stores. She made him use one of the little electric carts. At first, he was reluctant, until he figured out how much fun it was. He bought all the 'necessary' supplies, bread, milk, coffee, chocolate syrup, meat, vegetables, dish soap (since he couldn't remember what he had at home), soft drinks, rice and pasta, along with a fair amount of canned goods. It was a good thing that the elevator in his building worked, because by the time they got there, he was barely able to carry two bags, leaving the rest for Emily, who was a lot stronger than she looked. At his embarrassed expression, she grinned.

"Hey, I'm into physical therapy. I can pick up someone half again as heavy as you are, Ray."

He thought about it for a moment, looking shocked, then grinned. "Remind me not to piss you off, okay?" She laughed with him.

The apartment was a bit musty, but when he looked in the refrigerator, he was surprised to see someone had at least come by to clean it out. His turtle was fine, and had plenty of food, so someone had been coming in regularly. He worried about his dog, but decided that someone had taken her home with them. He'd have to make some calls, later.

Emily looked around, curious about him. He hadn't said a lot about himself, and she looked at his home to learn a bit more about him. She watched him go and open the living room window, first of all, letting in some fresh air. She set the groceries down on the kitchen counter and waited for him to come and show her where things went. The frozen foods, and the stuff that needed refrigeration, she started putting away. He was soon beside her, taking out canned goods and putting them away in the cupboards. He looked at the coffeepot and was surprised that someone had cleaned it; along with the dirty dishes he'd left the morning before he was hurt. He didn't worry about it, simply went ahead and made himself a pot of coffee.

"You're going to drink coffee this late?"

"Yeah. It calms me down. Always has," he explained, and she regarded him with a slight frown for just a moment, then smiled, understanding.

"Hyperactive, are you?"

He stopped and stared at her. "Uh, yeah. A little. How'd you know?"

She laughed. "The coffee. Hyperactives tend to be backwards on stimulants and depressants." She came close and leaned against his back, her arms wrapping around his chest as she rested her head between his shoulder blades. He leaned back against her to increase the pressure.

"You feel good," he murmured. "You know, I'm too tired to cook tonight. How about I order us in a pizza?"

"Extra pineapple for me, please." She hugged him tighter when he chuckled.

"I knew there was something I liked about you. I love pineapple on my pizza."

It was Friday, and she had the weekend off. When the exhaustion of a day that was too long and too busy caught up to him, she guided him to the bedroom to put him to bed.

"Don't go," he whined as she prepared to leave.

"What?" She was surprised. They didn't know each other nearly well enough for that.

"Please. Just stay with me? Not to do anything, just...to cuddle? Please?"

There was a lost child in the plea. She wondered if any of his so-called 'friends' had ever bothered to come when he was awake, or if the staff had ever told him that anyone had stopped by? No matter. She knew she was going to stay.

"All right," she said softly.

"There's sweats in the bottom middle drawer..." he murmured as he started dozing off. She found them and wasn't surprised that they fit her. He was much too thin, and she was just a bit overweight. She went through the apartment and turned off the lights and checked the door to be sure it was locked, then crawled into the bed beside him and cradled him against her, before falling asleep.

When he first became conscious, he thought of Stella, but the breast he was snuggled against was a bit larger, and the body was definitely better padded, and warmer. And, there were arms around him, holding him close. Definitely not The Stella, then. It took him only a moment to remember and he grinned. Emily. He shifted, bringing his arms up around her and hugging her back. He grinned as she stirred, the hand that had cradled his head to her gently massaging his scalp. He couldn't help the soft moan of pleasure it brought him. He felt her chuckle.

"You are such a hedonist, Ray Kowalski," she murmured.

"A what?" he asked, confused.

"Hedonist. A sensualist. Touchy-feely?"

"Oh. Yeah. I suppose. I like cuddles." He stretched until his head was even with hers on the pillow and lightly kissed her lips. "Good morning."

She smiled back at him and kissed him in return. "Good morning to you, as well."

His smile widened and he suddenly moved, pushing away from her and throwing back the covers, practically leaping from the bed. "How do pancakes for breakfast sound?"

She shook her head in amusement. "Sounds wonderful. Just don't try doing too much, yet. You're still healing, remember?"

"Yes, ma'am, Doctor Kopacek, ma'am." He almost dodged the pillow she threw at him, catching it, instead and tossing it back at her before dodging into the bathroom.

She couldn't keep the grin off her face. She was impressed with how lighthearted he was, and how he hadn't pressed her for more than just the 'cuddle' he'd asked for. Most impressed.

He talked her into spending the day with him, and then another night. She knew she should say no, but he looked so very hopeful, that she couldn't resist him. He again snuggled close to her, only to go to sleep. She fell asleep with a smile on her face, as well.

Sunday was a duplicate of Saturday, only they spent a great deal more time talking, and cuddling, and kissing. That night, she was the first one in bed.

They were sound asleep when the bedroom light came on. A man's voice suddenly awoke them.

"Oh, DEAR! I'm, I'm sorry, Ray, I had no idea...I'll just, I'm..." The owner of the voice retreated rapidly from the bedroom, practically before the occupants were awake enough to react.

"Fraser? Fraser! Do not leave. Come back here," Ray's voice became strident as he raised it to be heard over his friend's continued nervous apologies.

There were a few moments of tense silence, then, "Are you certain, Ray?"

"Yes, Frase, it's safe. We're decent. Just relax, okay?" Ray stretched, pulling reluctantly from Emily's embrace. A shadowed form cautiously peered around the open doorway, as though afraid that if he didn't make sure, something might reach out and grab him.

Ray sat up and looked at his friend. "What brings you by, Fraser?" He schooled his face into a stoic mask. Normally, he had no idea how well he succeeded, but Fraser seemed to take a great deal of interest in the carpet.

"I went by the hospital, they said you had been released." His eyes raised to meet Ray's, and Ray could see deep shadows and circles beneath Fraser's eyes.

"Yeah, uh, Friday. It's what, Monday morning, now?"

"Yes." Fraser was looking at him anxiously, as though a bit frightened.

"So, why are you here now?" Ray had to struggle to keep the hurt and anger from his voice.

"As I said, I went to visit you, but you were gone. I came by to check on you."

"Why now? I ain't seen you in over eight weeks, Fraser. Why the sudden interest in me?"

Fraser frowned, not understanding. "Ray, I've been coming to see you quite regularly, only every time I've gone, you were asleep."

Ray frowned and glanced at Emily in confusion. "You have?" He was asking her as much as Fraser.

She nodded. "You've had a number of visitors in the evenings. Didn't you know?"

"No." He looked at her, hurt.

She looked angry, then apologetic. "I'm sorry. I told them to ask your visitors to come earlier, so you could see them," she glanced at both men and shrugged. "Since I wasn't there, I didn't know that they weren't following instructions."

Ray nodded and looked shyly up at his friend, "So, what brought you by tonight?"

"I wished to make sure you were all right, Ray."

"I'm good, considering. Still workin' on regaining strength, but otherwise, I'm good. How's everyone else?" His eyes asked why no one came to talk to him and Fraser frowned.

"Ray Vecchio is slated to be sentenced tomorrow."

Ray frowned, "Huh? What'd he do?"

"He's been charged in your beating, Ray."

"Vecchio. My office." Welsh didn't sound at all happy, but then, Ray had been expecting this ever since the previous Friday, when Kowalski got beaten almost to death. He took a deep breath and rose to make his way across the bullpen. No one would look at him, they all turned away, even his own sister. They all blamed him, thought it was his fault. He entered the office and stood at attention.

"Yes, sir?"

Welsh glanced over at the IA rep and sighed in resignation. "I have to ask for your badge and weapon, detective. You're on suspension without pay until the investigation is complete."

"Understood, sir." Ray pulled his gun from its holster and lay it gently on the desk, then removed the wallet that held his badge and ID and lay it just as gently on the desk. "Will there be anything else, sir?"

"No. That's all, Vecchio. Oh, and Ray?" Welsh added as he turned to leave, he didn't look back, only paused, "Don't leave town."

"Understood, sir."

He didn't bother to call Benny. Benny was upset with him already, for knowing that Kowalski was going to meet a snitch and had asked him for backup, and he had refused. When he got home, his mother met him at the door, her face frowning at him. Frannie must have called her to tell her. Her disapproval was like having to walk through fire to get to his room. Once there, he took off his suit and fell into bed. Not that he expected to sleep. He hadn't been able to do that since it happened. He just lay there, staring at the ceiling.

For the next three days, he stayed in his room, making only late-night forays down to the kitchen for something to eat, not that anything stayed down, but at least he tried. He did remember to drink plenty of water, though. Enough to keep him alive, anyway.

When they came for him on the fourth day, he wasn't really surprised. He put up no fight, not even verbal, simply turned and held his hands out behind him for the cuffs. He flinched when they were ratcheted tightly around his wrists. They weren't excessive, but they weren't gentle, either. He'd already been tried and convicted by his peers. He was a bad cop, one who refused to back up his partner. Even if he wasn't dirty, he might as well have been.

Booking would have been a nightmare, had he been paying any attention. He simply walked through it like a zombie. His partner might die, and it was all his fault, so this was the least that should happen to him. He didn't even ask for a lawyer, or a jury trial, simply a judge. He'd convinced himself that he was guilty, so what else mattered? They assigned him a public defender anyway, not that the fresh-faced kid new from passing the bar exam could do him any good. He maintained his right to remain silent... to everyone. He wouldn't even talk to Fraser when he came to see him. And when his friend offered to post bail, he shook his head, no.

Because he had been a cop, and they didn't want it said that they didn't protect him, he was left alone in his cell. When they realized he wasn't eating, they brought in a shrink, and eventually told him to either eat, or they'd force-feed him. He listlessly ate a few bites, then shoved the food around on his plate, just enough to keep them off his back. He lost weight far too rapidly. When they finally took him to court, he looked even scrawnier than Kowalski ever did. His skin sagged, making him look much older than his forty-one years. He never said a word. Fraser testified on his behalf, but his testimony was discounted, as he was Vecchio's friend, and it was rumored that he might have been involved.

Where IA got their allegations from, Fraser couldn't fathom, nor could Welsh, the only other person who still believed Vecchio didn't set his partner up. The two of them tried everything they could think of. They questioned Ray's doctors, who insisted that the odds of Ray ever remembering the night, let alone the attack itself, was beyond astronomical, left them feeling depressed and helpless. And Vecchio still wouldn't say anything in his own defense, or even talk to his friend. His family refused to visit him, much to Fraser's dismay.

Both he and Welsh spent every hour they were allowed, with Vecchio, trying to convince him to speak up for himself, all to no avail. They frequently visited Ray Kowalski in the hospital late in the evening, but he was always sleeping. No one ever informed them that he had not suffered any brain damage. They continued under the initial ER physician's erroneous diagnosis. When Fraser had gone to see Ray that evening, after having spent the entire weekend trying to find someone, anyone, who could or, more importantly, would help Vecchio, he'd been shocked to discover that Kowalski had been released. He'd hurried over to the apartment to see for himself.

Ray's mouth dropped open in shock. "WHAT?!? Why? It wasn't his fault. I told you...didn't I? I thought I told you, that night it happened? Didn't I tell you?" He was agitated and Emily tried to restrain him and calm him down. He pulled away and threw back the covers. Fraser's eyes snapped closed, not wanting to see...

"Fraser, I told you, we're dressed," Ray growled. Fraser's eyes opened and he looked embarrassedly at them, relaxing marginally when he saw they were both fully clothed in sweatpants and t-shirts. "Now, tell me, did I or did I not, identify that rat-bastard with the bat?"

"Uh," Fraser frowned and rubbed his eyebrow, a look of consternation on his face, "Well, Ray, you were badly injured, and..."

"And you couldn't understand me through the busted teeth and jaw?" Ray was hurt.

Fraser hung his head, then lifted his head just enough for his eyes to meet Ray's, "Do you mean to tell me you remember that night?"

"Yeah. Every minute, well, except when I was unconscious. I don't remember how I got to my feet, for example, only that I had to, or I'd be as dead as Charlie. I couldn't pick my feet up, and my hands hurt so bad that I couldn't use 'em to help, much, so I was using my elbow to lean on the wall every couple of steps. I kinda shuffled towards the street at the end of the alley, then you and Vecchio were there. I know I told you who did it. Didn't I?"

"I think you tried, Ray. Who did it? Do you still remember?" There was desperation in Fraser's voice, and fear. Ray recoiled from the intensity.

"Yeah. I do. Why was Vecchio charged? Why is he goin' to jail?"

"IA insisted he set you up. There was only minimal circumstantial evidence, but enough. He didn't ask for a jury trial. He felt responsible, anyway. You asked him for backup, and he refused."

"Fraser? I gotta go see the lieutenant. This ain't right. It wasn't his fault." Ray was pacing. He moved over to his dresser and pulled out some clean clothes. He didn't even realize he had an audience as he stripped and then dressed in street clothes. Emily was concerned; he was going to exhaust himself. She didn't have anything to change into, so she simply got her walking shoes and snagged a pair of his socks and pulled them on. Fraser realized that they were both going and for the first time in weeks, he felt a glimmer of hope.

"I'll drive," Emily volunteered.

Even though it was well after midnight, Welsh was still at his desk. He'd called home and told his kids that he wouldn't be home until some time the next afternoon. They knew why, and didn't complain. Jefferson was old enough to take responsibility for the rest of them, and simply told him to be careful and that they would be praying for everything to turn out all right.

He had his elbows on the top of the desk, his fingers twisted in his graying hair, and he stared down at the IA report. He couldn't figure out how they could charge Vecchio. There was absolutely nothing concrete in the findings to connect Vecchio to the conspiracy theory they proposed. But tomorrow morning, Ray Vecchio was going to be found guilty and sentenced for the brutal assault, battery, mayhem, and attempted murder of his partner, Ray Kowalski. To quote his injured detective, "This sucks."

"This sucks," chorused with him. Welsh looked up in surprise, as the dog curled on his feet suddenly yelped and leaped up, knocking him back and almost over as she forced her way out and around the desk to the visitors. She leaped into her master's arms, only for the first time in her life, he wasn't strong enough to hold her. Had it not been for his companions catching him, and the dog, he'd have gone down.

"Maedel! Sweetheart, here you are. Oh, man, I've missed you." He hugged his dog and then frowned, taking a good look at her. The eighteen month old dog was making the oddest noises, almost like she was trying to speak. The most frequent noise sounded remarkably like 'Ray'. The man frowned at Welsh and noted, "How come she's so skinny?"

"Because, detective, she probably doesn't eat enough. I can get her to eat half a can a day, and that's about all. The rest of the time, she just lies around moping and wondering where you are." He stood and came around his desk, taking a good look at him. "You look like crap, Kowalski."

"Thank you very kindly, sir. I feel a little better than that. At least I can stand up and walk and talk, though." Ray grinned and Welsh grabbed him up in a careful hug, like he was afraid he might break. Ray chuckled and returned the hug, then pulled away. "Thanks, lieutenant, I needed that." With his dog still 'talking' to him, he made his way over to the sofa and sat down. Maedel was instantly in his lap, trying to practically crawl inside his skin with him.

"So, tell me what's goin' on?" Ray suddenly realized that Welsh didn't know the lady, and blushed. "Sorry, Doctor Emily Kopacek, this is my boss, Lieutenant Harding Welsh." They mumbled 'how do you do's' to each other and Emily sat beside Ray, while Fraser remained standing, a pleased smile on his lined and tired face.

Welsh had aged in the past two months as well, Ray noted. Having gotten everything out of Fraser on the way there, he just wanted the rest of the facts. Primarily, he was hopeful when he heard that Vecchio hadn't actually been convicted, yet. They had about six hours until court convened to get it straightened out. Ray started talking, almost as fast as he had before his injuries and, although no one noticed, far more articulately than before.

When Jack Huey came in at six, he was immediately brought up to speed, as much as possible. He was on his way half an hour later with his partner and enough information to make an arrest, even without a warrant, but they were only going to ask for 'interviews'.

At eight, two of the three men Ray had seen, the two he could identify by name, were in the interrogation rooms. They took on the smaller man, first. Fraser, Huey and Welsh confronted him.

"Mr. Zuko. I have a witness that places you at the scene of a murder and the beating of a police officer two months ago. Do you wish to make a statement?"

"Yeah, get me my lawyer." Frankie wasn't afraid. Until the door opened. The guy looked a lot better than the last time he saw him, but he was still moving kind of slow.

"I can place you there, you slimeball. Now, the thing is, how good is my memory? Do I remember that you were a part of it? Or, do I remember you sayin' you were bein' set up and and wanted nothin' to do with it? Huh? Which will it be, Mr. Zuko?"

Frankie Zuko looked at the guy. If you looked, you could tell the kind of damage he'd suffered, the faint vertical ridge above his right eye, the way his left eyelid drooped just a fraction. But the guy was all there, despite what he'd been through. "I heard you and Vecchio wasn't exactly buddies, pal."

Ray growled and leaned far into Zuko's space. "He's my partner, and somebody's tryin' to take him down. Now, I just got out of the hospital on Friday, so's the first I heard of it was this mornin'. You know who was behind it. I know one of the players, but not the other. All I want's a name."

"Or what?"

"Or I finger you as a part of it. One bad guy goes down, and one guy who should go down, walks free, and you go down for somethin' you didn't want to be involved with." Ray stepped back and raised his hands to shoulder height, palms up, "Up to you. What's it gonna be?"

Zuko frowned, looking only at Ray. After a few moments, he nodded. "Okay. I was there. They said that they had a present for me. Something to show me their loyalty. Something I was gonna like. I get there, and you're on your back in the alley. Your nose and teeth are smashed it, and I can tell you got lots of busted ribs, and at least one arm. I'm thinkin' they kneecapped you, but they didn't, I guess? Anyway, they said you were my present."

"Yeah," Ray replied, beginning to sweat as he remembered all too clearly. "That was Brandauer."

"Right. Used to be in the State's Attorney's Office. He says they're givin' me Vecchio, all smashed up. I take one look at you and say that ain't Vecchio. Then, I look at both of 'em, and decide it's time for me to get out of there. I'm thinkin' it's a setup, so I tell 'em that. Then, I tell 'em that I ain't doin' business with a couple of crazy loose cannons like them. I don't care how much stuff they can get me. Then I split."

"Who was the second man?" Welsh growled.

Zuko looked up. "Don't know his name. All I can say, is you better clean your own house, before you go trying to clean the streets."

Ray turned away, frowning. He couldn't quite get a handle on it. "He's in the building, here. I know I seen him, but you know how when you see someone out of...what's the word, context? How you don't know 'em? It's like that." He was pacing. Zuko watched him, fascinated, like a cobra watching a mongoose.

He stopped, closing his eyes tightly as he tried to place the third man. He started nodding, Zuko could see the guy walking through the district house, looking at everyone he normally saw during the day...placing them. Searching, only just using his memory, not his feet and eyes.

Ray's eyes snapped open. His right hand came up and he started shaking his index finger, he almost had it..."Brandauer called me Stanley...." He looked at Welsh.... "But when he was here, he thought I was Vecchio...so, he knew that I wasn't Vecchio in that alley. They wanted both of us. Brandauer wanted me, 'cause he lost his retirement, and the other guy wanted Vecchio for Frankie, here." Ray started pacing again, putting all the pieces together. "So, who would Brandauer know, who would have known Vecchio? And, who called IA, to begin with? Siracusa? Nah. That guy was a putz."

Zuko and the others watched him, fascinated. He almost had it...almost...almost! They all saw the light go on. He froze for a moment, frowning, his fingers gesturing, like he was putting puzzle pieces together in the air. Then he smiled.

"I got it." He turned to Zuko. "Thank you very kindly for your help, Mr. Zuko. Would you mind hanging around to make an official statement and sign it for us?"

"Uh, no, I guess not." This guy almost sounded like the Mountie.

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Zuko. You don't mind if we leave you alone in here, do you? Your next-door neighbor here might get a bit...uh, dangerous if he were to accidentally see you here."

"I'll be fine, right here. You can even lock me in, if you think it's necessary." Zuko wasn't stupid. He knew they must have Brandauer next-door.

"Thank you again. I'll get someone in right away, to take your statement." Ray led the way out, and Frankie relaxed back in his chair. Twice, now, he was going to miss going down because of an honest cop. It was almost enough to make him think about going legit...almost.

"Who is the other man, Ray?" Fraser asked as soon as they were outside the interrogation room.

"Think about it. The first time we saw Brandauer, he was tryin' to frame all of us to get at the lieutenant, right?" He received nods of assent. "Okay, so, besides Siracusa, who was nothin' but a stooge, who else would have had to be involved to even open an investigation? Besides IA, that is?"

"The evidence log," Welsh replied.

"Right. So, who works the evidence lockup?"

"Dixon," Welsh said thoughtfully.

"Is that his name? See? I can't exactly identify someone when I don't know their name. But I know what he looks like. I know how he talks. I guarantee I can pick him out of a lineup. And I know Brandauer." he grinned, looking remarkable like his dog when she felt threatened.

Emily shivered, watching him. She was glad he was on her side...or would be, until she told him he needed to take a nap, which should be very soon, before he exhausted himself. Somehow, though, she realized that this was much more important than him passing out from exhaustion. Understanding that, she determined to simply be on hand when it happened, to take care of him.

Welsh, Huey, and Fraser entered the interrogation room with Brandauer. He looked up at them and sneered. "What do you want?"

"The truth." Fraser looked sternly at the man.

Brandauer laughed. "About what?"


"Ray, who?"

"The one you beat with the baseball bat."

"I don't know what you're talkin' about, you loser." But they could all see him starting to sweat.

"We know about you and Dixon," Huey added, catching their suspect flinching at the name. "We can place you both at the scene of the crime. We can place the bat in your hands. We have you cold. Question is, do you want to go down alone? Or, so you want to take the rest of your cronies with you?"

"You got nothin'."

The door opened and Ray Kowalski came in, smiling. "Guess again. I remember it all. You called me 'Stanley'. How'd you know that? I go by Ray, always have." They watched as the blustering Brandauer deflated, turning pasty and bursting into a heavy sweat at the realization that he was a gonner. "I can place you and Dixon in the alley, sleazeball. I can put the bat in each of your hands. I don't need the goons you hired. I got you. I got you dead to rights. I remember it all...everything. How Dixon smashed my hands and busted my head. How you busted my ribs, arms, and legs. How your hired goons bruised me up and busted my nose. Oh, yeah, you were the one who knocked my teeth out and broke my jaw, although, maybe Dixon added to that, too, ya think?" He was prowling around, his movements smooth and loose. He didn't look like he'd gotten out of the hospital just three days earlier. He looked fit, and he looked ready to tear Brandauer's head off and hand it to him.

Ray placed one hand on Brandauer's shoulder, the other on the table. His hands were still somewhat swollen, but the fingers were straight and strong looking. Ray leaned hard, pressing down on the nerve over Brandauer's collarbone. "What I want from you, is the names of the guys in IA...Or, I'll call in the Feds to clean them up and out. Then, of course, you'll be nailed on Federal Charges, instead of just State...choice is yours."

Brandauer looked up and saw no hope in the eyes of any of the four men who stood there glaring at him. He hung his head and nodded.

Court was in session. Ray Vecchio was standing up, awaiting to hear the judge's verdict. It didn't matter what it was. He'd gotten his partner killed, or close enough that he might as well have. He'd seen the guy. No way he could come back from a beating like that. Fraser kept going to see the guy, but he was still out of it. He might never wake up. He took a deep breath and steeled himself to hear the Judge. There was a slight commotion behind him. He didn't even turn to see. Probably some reporters.

The judge looked annoyed. "What's the meaning of this intrusion?" she demanded.

"I'm sorry, your honor. I'm kind of here as a what do you call it? A friend of the court?"

Ray Vecchio ignored the voice. He was starting to hallucinate. Had to be it. Must be getting dizzy from not eating. He shook his head and nearly fell, he was so dizzy. His joke of a lawyer reached up to hold him in place. He smiled at the kid, thankful for his help.

"Who are you, and what have you to do with this case?"

"My name is Stanley Raymond Kowalski, and I'm the guy who got clobbered in the alley that night."

Everything slowed down. Vecchio slowly turned, first, just his head, his body following. His eyes saw Kowalski, looked pretty good for a vegetable, then Kowalski got a little fuzzy around the edges and tilted strangely, then the gray fog got too thick for him to see through, and he closed his eyes for a moment and shook his head to try and clear them. Next thing he knew, he was on the floor, looking up into the concerned face of his friend, Fraser.

The court was abuzz with questions and speculation. The judge motioned Kowalski to approach the bench. He did so. He'd been in court enough to know that last second saves were only to be found in the movies, but he couldn't come here until everything was in place. No need to let any of the bad guys get away.

She leaned across the bench and looked him over. He certainly didn't look like a man with severe brain damage. "Do you have any proof of your identity?" she asked. He pulled out his wallet and opened it, removing his driver's license. Then, he reached in another pocket and pulled out his badge and Police ID and handed them to her, as well.

"If you want, you can take my prints, just to be sure." He gave her a cocky grin, but she could see the strain this was causing, in his eyes, and the perspiration on his forehead. She simply nodded and leaned back.

She banged her gavel on the platen, and announced, "Court is recessed for fifteen minutes." She rose and motioned for Ray to follow her. He turned to throw a wink to his friends and then followed the judge to her chambers. He cast a concerned glance at Vecchio, sprawled on the floor, as they passed the bailiff. Ray hesitated, and the judge glared at him.

Ray stiffened up and lifted his chin, a bit belligerently. "Can you have somebody help him?" he asked, rather demandingly, the judge thought, but he was right. She glanced at the bailiff, and nodded. The bailiff turned and moved over to the fallen defendant to see what was needed.

"Please, sit down, Detective Kowalski." Ray grinned and sank into a comfortable chair in front of the judge's desk. "Now, I was given the impression that you had been seriously injured. You don't look that bad, to me."

"I don't know what happened. Big mix-up at the hospital, I guess. No one ever got told that the ER doc was wrong. He told everyone that I'd have severe brain damage, and that my prog-prognosis was dicey at best. He was wrong." Ray grinned his most charming smile.

"I see. Do you retain any memories of the night of your attack?"

"Oh, yeah. I remember..."

Forty-five minutes later, court had still not reconvened. Emily had gone down to the cafeteria and brought Ray back a glass of chocolate milk, and insisted he drink it. Ray was too confused to resist. Both Fraser and Welsh were with him, trying to explain, but it was all going over his head. He was sure that Kowalski had been a ghost, and that he had finally gone nuts. He didn't notice when Huey, Dewey, and half-a-dozen uniformed officers took up their positions in the back of the courtroom, obviously waiting for something. No one was allowed to leave, much to the consternation of a number of people.

"So, that's the whole thing. I know who was after me, I know why. I got them to talk, which is why we got here so late. It wasn't Vecchio's fault. If he'd gone with me that night, we'd both be dead." Ray sat back. He was dripping sweat, now. His legs ached, his back ached, and his head ached. Everything hurt, but he'd told it all.

"You're willing to stand up in front of the entire court and repeat your testimony?"

"In a heartbeat, your honor."

She could see how exhausted he was. "How long did you say you've been out of the hospital?"

"Friday evening. I just found out about Vecchio early this morning. We been goin' like crazy to get all our ducks in a row before we came in."

She regarded him, shaking her head. For a moment, she saw the fear flash through his eyes, and smiled. "I'm not dismissing your statement, Detective. I'm just amazed at the timing."

"Yeah, like one a' those Perry Mason movies, huh?"

"Something like that." She thought a few minutes more, then nodded. "Do you have the names of the officers who set you and Detective Vecchio up?"

"Yes, ma'am. Brandauer rolled over on 'em so fast, they'll go 'splat' when they hear."

"Very well, then. I'm going to accept your offer of 'Amicus Curai'. I want you to tell the entire court the same thing you just told me, leave nothing out."

"No, ma'am." Ray grinned. Just a little longer, and it would all be over. He could hold out long enough. He had to. His partner's life was at stake.

That was it. The courtroom was in an uproar, as the uniformed officers grabbed the dirty IA scum. There had been three of them, working with Dixon, stealing dope from the lockup and selling it back to the hoods. Frankie Zuko wasn't even mentioned, except in passing, as a mobster who had turned them down on their offer to buy back confiscated drugs. Unbeknownst to anyone present, there had been a Federal agent in the courtroom that day, and a report would be filed which would turn the entire Chicago PD upside down, looking for dirty cops. They started with the two-seven, and went on from there. They didn't find any corruption, to speak of, it appeared that they had done a pretty good job of cleaning their own house, particularly as none of the arrestees wanted to leave any of their cohorts around loose. In all, the three IA investigators, and six Secure Evidence Lockup officers were arrested, eventually to be convicted; first, on state charges, then on Federal charges. It was a good day to be an honest cop.

Vecchio was still a bit confused. Welsh took them all out for lunch, although, for most of them, it was still breakfast, since they hadn't eaten since the night before. He let Kowalski's doctor order for the partners, figuring she would know what Vecchio would be able to keep down, and she already knew how to take care of Kowalski. Fraser just sat quietly and beamed at everyone. Huey and Dewey recanted on all the nasty things they'd said about Vecchio, and Huey apologized for thinking the worst of him. Vecchio shook his head.

"No, Jack. You were right. I almost got my partner killed, because I wouldn't back him up. It don't matter that I was a target, too. I blew it. Besides, if I'd gone, then Fraser woulda been there, too and maybe none of this would have happened." He looked at Kowalski.

"I don't expect you to ever forgive me, but I am sorry." He couldn't meet the pale eyes that looked back at him, though.

"Hey, how many times have I blown you off? We just got lucky, Ray. This time, the luck wasn't as good. But we were in time, partner." Kowalski was about to fall asleep in his food, and he wasn't sure he was making any sense, but he knew he must have said something right when Vecchio finally met his eyes.

"Partners?" Vecchio asked, uncertain he'd heard right.

"Well, yeah. Look, Fraser likes both of us, right?"


"Okay. I gotta tell you, sometimes, when you guys go off and do stuff, I get jealous. But I figure you feel the same way when Frase and me go off and do stuff, am I right?"


"Okay, so, I cannot picture you sittin' with Fraser and Turnbull, watching a curling match, can you?"

"Hell, no!" Vecchio said emphatically.

"Right, can you see me all dressed up and goin' to the opera with Fraser?"

Vecchio laughed. "Absolutely not."

"Fine. So, what say, we find somethin' we all like to do and do it together. Like goin' to sporting events? B-ball, maybe? Or Baseball? Hey, how about Hockey? Do you skate?"

Vecchio looked horrified for a moment, as Fraser burst into hysterical laughter. He glared at his friend, then his lips quirked into a smile.

"Uh, that would be a no. I can't skate." Vecchio blushed, as Fraser laughed even harder and the rest of their companions looked at him like he'd suddenly lost his mind.

"I've the perfect idea, Ray, and Ray," Fraser said when he finally regained control. "Something I thoroughly enjoy and I doubt if either of you has ever done.

The two Rays looked at each other, both uncertain and skeptical. "Yeah? What?" Vecchio asked cautiously.

"Horseback riding. I could teach you both," he offered.

Both men paled, as each remembered his own run-in with horses in the line of duty with Fraser.

"Uh, no, thanks," both Rays spoke in chorus, much to everyone else's amusement. They looked around frantically for help, but saw only hilarity. Resigned, they looked at each other and realized that in this, at last, they had found common ground. Too bad it was too late to do anything about it. Both Rays shook their heads in dismay and then realized just how alike in this one thing they were, and smiled. Soon, they, too, were laughing.

Emily drove Ray Vecchio home. Fraser offered to stay with his friend, and this time, his offer was accepted. Kowalski understood. Vecchio might not have had the physical injuries to overcome, but he most certainly had a lot of emotional injuries that he was still working through. He determined to take it easy on his partner for a while. Both men would be on medical administrative leave for a while, although, Welsh had mentioned an idea that would bring him back a bit sooner, if he wanted. He'd wait and see what it was before deciding. He wouldn't be able to go back full time until he could pass both a physical and a psych evaluation. He was more than ready to take them on with the psych eval, but knew darned well that he still hadn't the strength to even begin to try for the physical. He sighed.

"What's wrong, Ray?" Emily asked, frowning at him in concern. He'd been up since two that morning, and hadn't stopped since, and now it was almost six in the evening. She knew he had to be wiped out. She was in better shape and she was wiped out.

"Just wonderin' how long it's gonna take to get back into shape to go back to work."

"Well, based on what I saw today? Four to six weeks."

He perked up, "Really?"

"Ummm-hmmmm. Providing you don't overdo it and re-injure yourself, that is."

"So, uh, you gonna help me with that? It's your specialty, right? Therapy?"

"Yes, as if you didn't know," she laughed.

"Uh, so, you wanna come stay at my place tonight?" There was an annoyed 'woof' from the back seat.

"I don't like to poach on another woman's territory."

"There's no other woman!" Ray insisted. There was a whine from the back seat.

"I think you need to talk to your 'significant other' before making claims like that, Ray. Besides, she hasn't had you alone yet, and she's been wondering if you had abandoned her for the past two months. You have some fence mending to do, Ray." There was a yip of agreement from the back seat, and a cold, wet nose rammed her ear, snorted once, then a long, pink tongue came out and swiped her cheek.

"Hey, see there? She likes you!" Ray insisted.

"I like her, too. But don't forget, I haven't had a shower today, and she can smell you on me, just as she can smell me on you. Now,do you want to push it? I don't. She's a lot tougher and meaner than I am."

Maedel sniffed at her hair some more, then started licking her ear, rather enthusiastically.

Ray watched, suddenly feeling jealous. "Hey, Maedel? What about me?" he complained. His dog turned her laughing face towards him and reached over to lick the end of his nose.

"Fine. I'm out-voted. But can I see you again?"

"That depends."


Emily frowned, considering how to put it. "What are you looking for, in a relationship with me, Ray? Is it just gratitude for my being your doctor? Or because I would talk to you and listen when it was hard to understand you because of your jaw being wired shut? Are you looking for sex? What do you want from me?"

Ray thought about it. "I don't know. Honestly? Right now, all I want is a cuddle. A hug. I'd love to wake up to someone beside me who is there because they want to be there, not because of sex, or money, or what I can give them. Don't get me wrong, sex is good, it's greatness, but it's not enough. Even when my marriage was fallin' apart, the sex was good. Hell, even after the divorce the sex was good. But that was all we had. I thought that as long as the sex was good, we were good, we'd have great sex, but then she'd turn away and not want to snuggle. I was dyin' of lonliness and my wife was sleepin' right next to me. I figured out I can live without sex, but I can't and don't want to live without cuddles. A hug is enough for me, I don't need much more than that, except maybe some communication, talkin' and stuff. Right now, I don't got much to give, beyond that." He didn't see her frown, "I guess, what I want more than anything, is a friend. The kind I can hug and will hug me back. Does that make sense?"

She smiled. "Yeah. I know what you mean about waking up alone, about being lonely. At least you have your dog. She's pretty special, you know."

"Yeah, Maedel's great, but she's not human. I wish she were. No, not really. I'd just like to find someone who could like me as much as she does. No strings, you know?"

Emily nodded. "I think I do." They pulled up in front of his apartment and she parked the car. He got wearily out of the car and let his dog out of the back seat. He was surprised when she followed him.

"I thought..."

"You're still my patient, and I want to make sure you take proper care of yourself. We haven't eaten since lunch, so I want you to eat something. I'll cook. Then, I want you to take a hot shower, or bath, if you don't think you can stand long enough, then straight to bed, do you understand?"

"Yes, ma'am," Ray said, smirking at her.

"And no funny stuff," she admonished. Maedel barked in seeming agreement with her.

Ray looked at his dog in surprise. "Maedel? You're supposed to be on my side."

Maedel whined, the sound remarkably reminiscent of his name, as she looked up sideways at him and grinned. Shaking his head, he led the way into the building. "I'm in trouble, now. The women in my life are ganging up on me." Emily laughed, and Maedel barked, as they followed him in.

The End

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