Disclaimer: The Characters of Due South belong to Alliance Communications. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sigh. I tried this once, but it got much too long. ONLY 1000 words...I'm too verbose for that short a story...minimum of about 5000 words is much more like it. Sigh (again). OK, let's try this again. It's sometimes a good thing that I don't dream...wake up between 0230 and 0330 (a hour before the alarm, on those mornings I have to work) and plot/plan stories. OK, I think I've got it, this time. Hopefully, I'll be able to do it in that few words...sigh. Nope. This one didn't work, either. I did finally manage to do it, 900 words exactly, not counting notes and disclaimer, but this one went much longer. Again, like the first one I tried, I decided to go ahead and finish this. Now, if I can just get the other three I'm working on to finish. Sigh. Not only are my musae bashing me terribly, I've also got a character begging me for his story. Turnbull can be pretty insistant. He doesn't even go through channels (musae), but came to me direct. Very un-Mountie-like of him if you ask me. Still...
As always, the disclaimers are still in place. I do not own the characters from Due South, nor do I make any profit from writing, except, perhaps, an occasional LoC from some nice reader. I read them all, and answer them, although, one gentleman who's been sending me LoCs seems to have a block on his mail, as every time I attempt to reply to him, it bounces. (BW, is there a reason for this?). Again, I'm grateful for the creators of the characters of Due South for their brilliance in creating such wonderful characters, and to the actors who portrayed them and brought them to life. I'm particularly greatful for their forbearance in not suing me for playing with their intellectual property, especially since I'm not making any money at it.
Kicking At Shadows
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"Fraser, we got to talk."
Fraser looked up, his partner wasn't looking at him. He leaned out from his desk to see what Ray was looking at. His feet. Nothing unusual about them, he was wearing his usual black boots and they looked like they always did, dull, slightly scuffed, worn. He wondered if Ray even had any idea on how to polish a pair of boots? Probably not; even if he did, he wouldn't care.
"Certainly, Ray. What about?" They'd been working together for a while now, the newness had worn off and Fraser was feeling that they were working competently together. He still missed the real Ray Vecchio; this man was definitely nothing like his volatile Italian friend, although he was just as volatile, just in a different way. However, he was a competent officer and a good detective and he was proud to work with him to keep up the cover story that Ray was still in Chicago, when in reality, he was far away working undercover in The Mob.
"Yeah, well...." Ray's voice trailed off. He still wasn't looking at Fraser, which was annoying the Mountie.
"Ray, will you please look at me?" The annoyance came through, as well as what Ray perceived as disapproval. Ray glanced up for a moment, then shifted his gaze to some point beyond Fraser. Almost as bad as staring at his shoes.
"Ray? You wanted to talk?" So talk.
Ray cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah. Look," his eyes briefly glanced across Fraser's, then ended up back on the floor again. "Uh, well, I...." He paused again, seemed to shake himself and, taking a deep breath, hurried on, "I don't think I can be Vecchio any more." His eyes were again looking at some point beyond Fraser's ken, and he seemed to shrink in on himself.
Fraser was shocked. He thought they got on quite well, together. He frowned, trying to understand. "Why not, Ray?"
Ray's eyes again briefly met Fraser's, only to flash away again. "I-I know that I'm just a pale imitation of the real Vecchio, an' that you were kinda stuck with me and all. I-I just don't know if I can pull it off any more, you know?"
Fraser was stunned. "Pale imitation?" he repeated in confusion.
"Well, yeah. I'm always hearin' 'The real Ray Vecchio wouldn't do that/say that/do it like that'. I know that. But I can't be him. Not really." He shook his head. "I'm not even Italian. I spoke Polish at home, you know? The closest I get to Italian is pizza." The eyes again flashed momentarily into contact, only to again drop to somewhere below the floor.
"Of course you don't really act or sound anything like Ray Vecchio, Ray. But what do you mean by people comparing you to Ray? I don't understand." Fraser frowned. Ray looked about ready to bolt. "Would you like some coffee, Ray?" he offered, trying to put the man at ease.
"Thanks, but that's okay. You don't need to...."
"Ray, it's no problem. Inspector Thatcher drinks coffee, so we have a pot in the kitchen. Please?"
Ray slumped even more, "Sure."
They sat at the kitchen table, Fraser with a cup of tea, Ray with coffee. "Ray, please, what's wrong?"
Ray stared down into his cup, stirring at it absently with his spoon. He still wouldn't meet Fraser's eyes. Sighing, he glanced up again briefly, then refocused on the cup. "I know that you miss Vecchio, an' that you don't really care about...well, I know I'm not him."
Fraser was beginning to understand. "Ray, I'm well aware that you aren't really Ray Vecchio."
Ray seemed to shrink even further into himself, his head dropping even lower as his shoulders rounded. "I'm just...." He shook his head. "I suck."
Fraser straightened even further, if that was possible. Frowning, he reached across the table to lightly touch Ray's hand. "You most certainly do not 'suck', Ray." He didn't understand and couldn't figure out how to help his friend. At that moment, the realization came to him. This Ray was being compared to the other Ray, and for some reason finding himself lacking. His frown deepened, had he been making such comparisons? He didn't think so, but....
"Ray, have I ever intimated that you, well, that you aren't acting appropriately to your role?"
Ray frown deepened. "Not with words, no." His eyes came up to once again briefly cross Fraser's.
"Not with words?" Fraser thought for a moment, scowling. "In what manner have I intimated that your behavior was improper?"
Ray sighed. "When you look at me certain ways when I say somethin' or do somethin'. That 'disapproving' look you give me. Hell, the way you stand and your lips get all pinched together, like they are right now."
Ray hadn't even looked at him! Yet he was aware.... Oh, dear. "I must apologize, then. I was not aware that you perceived my actions as disapproval." That sounded so pompous even to his own ears that he blushed.
Ray shook his head. "That's okay. I mean, you didn't have any choice in this. I know I'm not your friend, you just got to work with me. I can handle that."
"Who is telling you that you're not... fulfilling your obligations?" He was becoming annoyed, now. Not at Ray, but for him.
"Just about everyone, 'cept maybe the lieutenant. He's pleased as anything with me."
That piqued Fraser's curiosity. "Why is he so pleased?"
Ray's eyes again met his momentarily, "Uh, it seems that I've managed to close a bunch of cases he'd just left sitting there. I think Welsh called it the 'I don't care' pile." Ray blushed, and looked again at his cup, still stirring absently.
"What have they been saying? And whom?" Fraser asked insistently.
Ray sighed. "Well, Elaine did, but she's gone, now. Huey does sometimes. Mostly, I guess, it's Frannie and her family."
Fraser's frown turned into a scowl. "The Vecchios? Why would they be saying such things?"
"Well, I been goin' over there on the weekends, fixin' the fire damage. The insurance money covered the contents and the structural stuff, but not the walls or the paint or anything; they had to decide between replacing the furniture and stuff, or fixing the walls and painting and replacing carpets. I been goin' and tryin' to clean it all up for 'em. Last night, I was replacing a light switch an' Frannie said that Ray wouldn't do that. And when I was painting the upstairs hall the other day, Maria said that Ray wouldn't do it that way. I just don't think I can take much more of it. I'm like a bookmark, trying to keep his place, but they don't like me, and... well, it's just wearin' on me."
Fraser stared. Ray was fixing up the Vecchio's house? "What does Mrs. Vecchio say?"
Ray's head dropped even further, almost down to his cup. He shrugged. "I wouldn't know. I've never met her. She doesn't want to meet me. Can't say as I blame her." The last was muttered.
"You have been doing the repairs on the Vecchio's house."
Ray looked up in surprise. "'Cause I figured that's what he would do."
Fraser smiled, finally understanding. He chuckled and shook his head. Ray looked up at him in consternation. "Ray.... Oh, dear. Ray, no wonder you're confused. I doubt that Ray Vecchio even knows how to hold a paint brush, let alone rewire a switch."
Ray's frown turned to puzzlement, "Huh?"
"Ray Vecchio is many things, Ray. He is, however, not, I repeat, not, handy about the house. The man can't even wield an axe with any accuracy." Fraser watched as understanding began to filter into Ray's expression.
"So... when Maria said that Ray wouldn't rewire the switch, she meant that he couldn't? Or when Frannie said he wouldn't paint the way I was, it was because he don't know how to paint a room?"
"Exactly." Fraser's smile broadened, pleased when Ray straightened up a bit.
"So, their comparin' me to him wasn't meant in a bad way?"
"I think not, Ray. Although, I must apologize for my behavior, if I've caused you any distress I am truly sorry. I did not mean to hurt you."
"So... you, uh, busy?" Ray finally stopped stirring his coffee and set the spoon down, drinking the entire cup with just a few swallows.
"As a matter of fact, I'm not. What did you have in mind?"
Ray was almost grinning, "Well, I was wonderin' if you'd like to head out to Thompson's Pond for a little hockey? There's usually a bunch of guys who meet there on Monday nights for a pick-up game. It's just pond hockey, nothing fancy." He stopped and frowned. "Uh, you do skate, don't you?"
Fraser couldn't keep the broad smile from his face, "Why, yes, Ray. As a matter of fact, I do skate. And play hockey. I used to be a pretty fair player, not league good, but, well, not too bad."
"Fraser, I read the files. You used to play hockey as a kid with Smithbauer."
"Well, yes. I suppose I did, at that." His right hand came up to rub his eyebrow. "And I do like to play, Ray. Are you sure?"
"It's up to you, Fraser. I just thought that, well, you being Canadian and all, you might like a friendly game. I used to go there all the time, when I worked at the two-four. I just figured, that maybe, well, you might like to go. I mean if...."
Fraser stood. "I'd be honored to join you, Ray. Perhaps we should invite Constable Turnbull?"
Ray stood as well, picking up his cup and spoon, then reaching for Fraser's. "You're kidding, right?"
Fraser thought about it, considering Turnbull's penchant for disaster... "Yes. Of course. Let me go change and I'll be right with you."
"I'll do the dishes."
"Thank you kindly, Ray."
"You're welcome, Benton."
Fraser looked in surprise at his partner. No, his friend. True, he wasn't Ray Vecchio. He was Ray Kowalski. His partner, his friend. It was good to have friends, especially when he was so far from home.
There had been enough people at Thompson's Pond to play full-teams. Ray and Fraser had been on the same team with three other 'older' players, competing with five young men in their late teens to early twenties. The team they had played for had won amidst loud complaints that the losers hadn't been aware that there were a couple of Canadians on the opposing team. Fraser corrected them, stating that as far as he knew, he was the only Canadian there, and that they had not been the ones to choose the teams. The younger men grumbled a bit, but weren't really all that upset.
As Ray drove Fraser back towards the consulate, he glanced over at him. Both men were pleasantly tired from their exercise.
"You want to stop somewhere for supper?" Ray asked.
Fraser, his head pressed against the headrest, twisted his neck so he could see. "How about we order in a pizza?" He was rewarded by Ray's shy smile and his right hand snaking down to pull his cell phone out.
"What do you want on it?" Ray hit a speed-dial and cradled the device to his ear with his shoulder, his hand returning to the steering wheel.
"Anything at all, Ray."
"Hey, Sandor, Ray. Yeah. Uh, large, everything. Nope, the consulate. Right. About fifteen minutes. Got it. And don't forget the pineapple!" Ray turned off his phone and slipped it back into his jacket pocket.
Fraser relaxed further into the seat. "You know, Ray, you are really a very good skater."
"Yeah?" Ray glanced over at his passenger.
"Oh, yes. Much better than Ray...of course, Ray couldn't skate his way out of a plastic bag."
"Yes, of course. He couldn't skate his way out of a paper bag." Fraser grinned, remembering.
"That bad? Really?" He glanced over again, once more unsure.
"Oh, yes. He could barely crawl when on the ice...rather amusing, actually."
"I skate better than Vecchio?"
"Ray can't skate, Ray."
Ray grinned, "So, it's okay that I'm not like him, huh?"
"Absolutely, my friend. I have no need of two identical friends." Fraser glanced over again to see Ray's shy smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "You may kick that shadow away, Ray. You can stand in the light on your own. You needn't stand in any man's shadow."
"Thanks, Frase. I like that, I just gotta let people that I don't gotta be that much like him. I guess I should be kickin' that shadow all over the ice, huh?"
"Just as long as you don't kick the maker of the shadow, Ray. He is still my friend, as well."
"As well? That mean you think of me as a friend?"
"Oh, yes, Ray. A good friend. A good partner. And, a friend who can really 'kick some ass' at pond hockey."
"Oh, yeah." Ray's smile spread across his face as he pulled to a stop in front of the consulate. "Yeah, I can kick ass...and shadows, too." The two men got out of the car and side by side, walked up the steps to the consulate, the light of the setting sun stretching their shadows ahead of them.
Stanley Raymond Kowalski, currently posing as Ray Vecchio, pulled up before the brick house on Octavia. He was humming to himself as he got out of his car. Opening the trunk, he pulled out a five gallon bucket, a toolbox, and a bag of painting supplies. Closing the trunk, he awkwardly gathered up his supplies and headed for the house. Climbing the steps, he paused, set down his burden and knocked. He looked up and squinted, frowning up at the smoke damage around the door. Pulling a small spiral bound notebook from his pocket, he pulled the pencil from the spiral and opened the little book, making some notes. He was just putting the pencil back in the spiral and slipping it all back in his pocket when the door opened to reveal a disheveled and obviously barely awake Francesca Vecchio. She looked at him in confusion.
"What are you doin' here?" she grumbled as she simultaneously attempted to somehow push her unruly curls into some semblance of control.
"It's Saturday, Frannie," Ray said as if that was all the explanation needed.
"So? What are you doin' here?"
A voice came from behind her. "Francesca, who is it?"
"It's Ray, ma." There was an uncertain silence as the older woman came to the door and looked him over.
"Why?" she asked with a frown. She didn't want to meet this man who was supposed to be pretending to be her son. He wasn't even Italian!
"Uh, I been comin' over on Saturdays, Mrs. Vecchio. I been workin' on fixin' up the stuff that got damaged. Didn't Tony tell you?" Ray shifted nervously from foot to foot, suddenly uncertain.
The two women frowned and looked at each other. Then, Francesca's eyebrow raised and a scowl formed on her face. "Tony said he'd been doin' the work." Her eyes met her mother's, whose face also drew down into a scowl.
"Why would he..." then she stopped abruptly. "Come in, then. I'll get Tony."
Ray shook his head. "That's okay, Mrs. Vecchio," he said nervously. "I got it covered. I was just gonna work on the upstairs, finish the cleanin' and then if it dries, I was gonna paint it. Uh, the hall and that one bedroom? I think it's Frannie's?"
Francesca stared at him. "What color did you think you were gonna paint my room?"
"Well, I got Navajo white for the basecoat, I was gonna paint it all that, first, then come back after you figure out what color you want the walls. This stuff's pretty good. It tends to pick up the other colors in the room and kinda reflect 'em. If you don't like it, I can get some other color...." His eyes went from the younger to the older woman, uncertain and suddenly shy.
Mrs. Vecchio frowned. "Did you fix the light switch on the stairs?"
"Yes, ma'am. Is there a problem with it?"
"No. No problem." Mrs. Vecchio smiled at him. "Please, come in. Would you like some coffee? I have a fresh pot made."
"Uh, thanks, yeah. That would be good." He stooped to pick up his supplies again and was surprised when Francesca bent down and picked up the shopping bag of supplies. "Thanks, Frannie," he murmured as he followed her in.
Mrs. Vecchio had gone to the kitchen and could be heard chastising someone in Italian. Francesca was grinning. Ray, knowing the way, headed for the stairs. Francesca paused in surprise, then followed.
"Ray? How long have you been doing this?"
Ray had stopped at the top of the stairs and set his burdens down. "I been comin' over most weekends, puttin' in a couple hours at a time, gettin' things cleaned up, fixin' what I can. Stuff like that." He took the bag from her, went into the bathroom and got a bucket from under the sink. He used the faucet from the tub to fill it with hot water, then carried it back out, where he took a box of TSP and added it to the water and then added some Spic-n-span from another box. Taking a pair of rubber gloves from the bag, he mixed the solution, then brought a scrubber sponge out and started on the walls. The previous week, he'd cleaned the ceiling and the walls down about two feet, now he had to go from the floor to where he'd left off.
Mrs. Vecchio arrived with a mug of coffee. "I made it sweet. I hope it's all right. Raimondo likes it sweet...." She trailed off, embarrassed.
Ray smiled shyly at her as he accepted the offered mug. "Thanks. Yeah. I like it sweet." He took a sip and closed his eyes and sighed. "Mmmm, you make great coffee, Mrs. Vecchio."
The older woman blushed and looked away in momentary embarrassment. "So, tell me. How long have you been coming over to work on the house?"
"About a month, now. I replaced the damaged plumbing, first...that busted pipe in the laundry room? Then the sheetrock, and last week, I fixed the busted switch on the stairs, the two burnt out plugs? One in the kitchen and the other in Frannie's room?"
The two women exchanged looks. "Those things ain't worked in years," Francesca muttered.
"Si. I thought..." Mrs. Vecchio shook her head, her lips pressed together in annoyance. "That man!" she exclaimed. "He made like he'd been doing these things. "
Ray grinned. "Well, I been trying to do 'em when you weren't home, you know?" He looked at Frannie and frowned. "You were here last Sunday when I fixed the switch. You said that the 'real' Ray wouldn't do that."
"Of course he wouldn't! He'd kill himself if he tried."
Ray grinned. "I finally figured that out." He blushed, "I thought you didn't like the way I was workin'; then I talked to Fraser, and he explained." Seeing their puzzlement, his smile widened. "I found out that he doesn't know how to do this stuff." He shrugged, "Like the wirin' an' the sheetrock. My dad made me work summers, so I learned some stuff, how to hang the sheetrock and fix an outlet or switch."
Mrs. Vecchio frowned. She hadn't wanted anything to do with this man who was posing as her son. Still... "Thank you. But why did you try and keep it a secret?"
Ray wouldn't look at her. "I knew you didn't want me around, so I tried to come when only Tony or Maria was here. And Frannie, last Sunday. I guess I got it wrong. Tony said you were all planning on going out today, so I figured I could at least finish scrubbin' the walls and maybe get some painting done."
"We were supposed to go the carnival at the church, today, but one of the children is sick, so we decided not to go," Frannie explained.
"And Tony forgot to call you."
"So, is it okay if I do this? I can come back another time, if I'm in the way, or somethin'." Ray offered.
"You are here, now. So you may as well stay. I will send Tony up to help you." Mrs. Vecchio turned to go back down the stairs.
"Uh, please don't?" When she looked at him in confusion. "He tried to help a couple of times. I can get it done a lot faster without him." Ray turned to redip the scrubber back in the hot solution and began to scrub the wall.
"I'll help him, Ma," Francesca offered. Her mother nodded her approval and headed back downstairs. Ray continued to work on the walls.
The work went quickly. Ray focused all his energy on the job at hand, and whenever anyone said anything about that not being how Ray would have done it, he would grin, do a little jig, kicking up his heels and go back to work. Frannie finally got tired of it, and called him on it.
"What's with the kickin' up your heels, Ray?"
"Just kickin' at shadows, Frannie. Just kickin' the shadows." He grinned at her confusion, chuckled, and continued his work.
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