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

I've been out of DS for a couple of years, now... but it's still one of my favorite shows, and I really do like the characters. Particularly RayK. This take place before CotW... but after Damien and Barbara Kowalski return to Chicago. I have to rate this at minimum, heavy PG-13, due to some not so graphic references and descriptions of child molestation. It seems that I actually enjoy torturing RayK, but that's not why...he's just so easy to write for.

Why Didn't You Believe Me?
Part Two


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It was nearly eight in the morning by the time they got back to Welsh's house. Diefenbaker was ecstatic to see them and as soon as he'd finished outside, he was back and crowding Ray, whining softly and nudging his head under Ray's hand.

Welsh watched in concern, Ray had been practically silent, speaking only when spoken to since they'd left the scene. His answers when asked questions had been monosyllabic at best, with most of the attempts to get him to talk being ignored. The only time he showed any spirit at all was when Fraser had sat down at Ray's computer and begun inputting Ray's report for him...

"Whattaya think you're doin' Fraser? I can do my own reports!" Ray had stood at the edge of his desk, right fist curled and held close to his body, left hand fingertips pressing hard against the edge of his cast.

"I know you can, Ray. I just thought I could expedite matters by inputting for you while you dictate. That way, we can be out of here sooner." Fraser's calm tone had the desired effect and Ray visibly relaxed, slumping back into his, what was unfortunately becoming normal for him, usual pose.

"Oh." He sighed and turned away, pulling up a chair and straddling it. "I thought maybe that you... never mind." He wouldn't look anywhere but at the floor.

"Ray, I can count on one hand the number of times I've input anything for you. And, you have never asked for my assistance in doing your reports. Why would you think I felt you needed assistance now?"

Ray wouldn't look at him, just rested his forehead on his hands on the back of the chair. "I thought you maybe figured out what a lousy screw-up I am and didn't want me screwing up the report."

Fraser flinched, "Ray, I have never thought you were a 'screw-up' as you call yourself. You're my friend, and my partner. We work well together, well, for the most part," He shook his head, "But that's not the point. You're a fine man and an excellent police officer. I'm proud to work with you, and beyond proud to be able to call you my friend." Ray's head lifted just enough for him to see Fraser. Encouraged, Fraser continued, "You've been through an horrendous time this past week. You've remembered things you'd prefer to have never recalled, but you've done your best with it. You've done the right thing and there are now five monsters off the street. We need only complete the reports and turn them over to the State's Attorney's Office. The lieutenant feels that it probably won't even go to trial, Ray. With the video evidence the CPS people gathered, they'd be foolish to do anything else."

Ray had sighed and nodded. "Okay, Mr. 'Flying Fingers'. Let's get this over with.

After that, the only things Ray had spoken had been to dictate his report. . .

Now, back at Welsh's house, no one had any idea what to say to each other. Ray looked exhausted and was again cradling his cast left wrist against his chest, supporting it with his right hand. Welsh wondered why he wasn't using his sling. "Anybody hungry?"

Ray's haunted eyes glanced across his and away. He shook his head, still not talking. Fraser shook his head as well. The entire previous day had gone on for too long and none of them were in the least interested in food.

Welsh nodded, understanding. He wasn't hungry, either. "In that case, I suggest showers and bed." He herded his companions up the stairs. "I've got some long distance calls to make, so you guys go ahead and hit the sack. If no one wakes up until Monday morning, that's fine." Ray and Fraser nodded and went to their rooms to gather their sleeping attire and then headed to the opposite ends of the upstairs hallway and the bathrooms.

Welsh went back down to the library and settled down at his desk to make his calls. He hoped that his attorney had been able to make the needed connections. He pulled out his rolodex and soon was dialing.

Two hours later, he was making his sixth call. He was more exhausted than ever, but he was getting a lot accomplished. This was the last one. He just hoped it was allowed to go through.

"Yes. This is Harding Welsh. I'd like to speak to Jefferson, please...yes, I'll hold." He leaned back in his chair. It took a few minutes, but then he could hear the phone at the other end being picked up.


"Jeff? It's your dad..."

"Dad?!? Oh, Dad. They wouldn't let me call you. They said..."

"I know what they told you, son. They were mistaken. I'll be there some time next week to bring you all home."

"All of us? Really?" There was hope and uncertainty in that voice.

"Yeah, son. They have no legal claim to you. I just told the lawyers that unless they never wanted to see any of you again, they'd better be prepared to give you up. That's all right, isn't it, Jeff? That is what all of you wanted, isn't it?" He was suddenly unsure. He loved his kids, but they were people too, with their own thoughts and desires. Sure, he wanted them with him, but if that wasn't what they wanted...

"Oh, man, dad. You know it. There was the sound of a hand coming up to cover the mouthpiece of the phone, and Harding could almost see his eldest son hunch over to whisper into the phone, "They make us wear suits and ties, and the girls have to wear dresses, even to play, and they make us 'dress' for dinner."

He couldn't help himself, he laughed. "Well, hopefully that's not the only reason you want to come live with me."

"No, sir. I remember. You were always the one to come up and tuck us in when you were home, and you always checked on us when you got home if it was late. And if any of us had a nightmare, you were always the one to come and hug us and make it all better." There was a pause and the sound of ragged breathing, possibly even tears, "I miss you, Daddy. I want to come home."

He had a hard time holding back his own tears. "I promise, I'll be there by next Saturday at the latest. I've got one big, hard case that just wrapped up last night. I need to be on it with the State's Attorney's Office, but then I should be able to take some time off to come and get you."

"I'll tell the others. Thanks, Dad."

"You're welcome, son. Tell everybody that I love them and I'll be there soon."

"Yes, sir."

He didn't know what else to say, "Let me talk to Mr. Reed, Jeff." He heard his eldest son speak to his step-grandfather and then the phone was taken and he heard the voice of his ex-wife's father-in-law.

"Yes, Mr. Welsh?" The voice was cool and almost emotionless.

"I've got a heavy case I'm dealing with here, but I'll let you know before I come to get the kids. All they'll need is their clothes and personal belongings. If there's anything of their mother's they want, I'd like them to have it, if that's all right with you. If you want them to have anything of your son's, that's okay, too."

There was a moment of surprised silence. "What about visitation?"

"Just give me a call in advance, at least, uh, say a week? That way, if there's anything planned previously, we can work it out. I don't want to take them away from you. I guess you probably love them, too. I just..." He had to stop and clear his suddenly dry and aching throat. "I just want them home, with me."

There was a somewhat longer silence. Then Mr. Reed's voice began again. "I was under the impression that you had wanted nothing to do with the children. You never sent them cards, or even child support." The words were accusatory, but the tone was confused.

"She wouldn't take anything from me for them. Not even birthday or Christmas cards. She sent them all back. I had to sneak around to even talk to Jeff. I've seen him twice in the past five years. There's a couple guys I know in New York who keep in touch with Jeff and run go-between for us. My kids know the truth. You just got to ask them."

There was another long silence, then Mr. Reed spoke again, more certain, now. "I will do that. If what you say is true, then I'm truly sorry for causing any problems."

"You didn't know."

"But perhaps I should have. My son was so happy when she and the children came to New York. But you were still married at that time, weren't you?"

"Yeah. I got home from work one day and they were gone. I was in Federal Court on the day of the first hearing, so I couldn't go. She got everything she asked for, which was nothin' from me, and sole custody of the kids. I wouldn't have had a chance even if I'd been able to go. I'm a cop, and in divorce cases, the non-cop almost always wins."

"Yes. I can see how that might happen. Obviously, I need to speak with the children. I'm afraid I've been sadly misinformed of a great many things. I'll make certain that they'll be ready whenever you come for them."

"Thank you, Mr. Reed."

"Thank you for not denying us contact."

"I couldn't do that, sir. Not after having been through the same thing."

"I understand. Do you wish to speak to Jefferson again?"

Welsh sighed. "I'd love to, but I've been up for...almost thirty hours, now and I'm wiped out. Tell him I'll be sure to call again. Probably tomorrow, unless I sleep around the clock. Uh, just tell him I'll call him a couple of times this week, in the evenings, okay?"

"I'll do that. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Mr. Reed."

He sat for a while, staring at the phone. Then, he shook his head and pried himself upright. He could barely manage the stairs and decided on just a quick shower and then bed. He couldn't help smiling, though. In another week or so, his kids would be filling the house with their presence, and he could hardly wait.

Fraser awoke, somewhat surprised. It was late afternoon, and from what he could hear, everyone was still asleep. He'd left his door open, fully expecting to be awakened by Ray's latest nightmare. Frowning, he got out of bed and realized that Diefenbaker was nowhere to be seen. He walked to the room next to his. There was Ray, curled on his side, Diefenbaker curled up beside him.

"Ray?" Fraser said softly.

"How'd you know I was awake?" Ray asked, turning onto his back.

"You sleep on your stomach, for the most part, also, you were lying on your left side, which is still somewhat sore. Simple extrapolation."


"Have you slept at all?" Fraser asked, worriedly.

"Not really." Ray wouldn't look at him.

"Nightmares?" Fraser softly asked. Ray nodded, plucking at the blanket. Fraser came in and sat on the edge of the bed. "I'm sorry. I wish there were something I could do to help." He leaned his elbows on his knees, rubbing his hands together and looking at them, instead of his friend.

"You have, Benton-buddy." When Fraser looked up at him in surprise, Ray tried to explain. "You've stayed with me. You and the lieutenant have taken care of me, made sure I eat, sleep, wake me up from the nightmares and tell me you won't let anyone hurt me again."

"The lieutenant, I'll agree has done all those things, but I feel rather useless, Ray."

"You're not. You were there to grab me when I got out of the car, you made sure I stayed warm and splinted my wrist, then you climbed down that cliff and got our stuff and that tent and sleeping bags. If it hadn't been for you, I might have gone down the ravine with the car, and both Welsh and me would have frozen that night." Ray had sat up and reached over to rest his good hand on Fraser's shoulder. Fraser turned to look at him, listening.

"And let's not forget last night. I needed a hug and there you were to give it to me." He squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Thanks. I know how freaked out you get with all that emotional crap, but right now, I'm kind of a basket case. I was layin' here trying to work through everything." He looked away again.

"And have you worked through it all?" Fraser asked, casting a concerned look at his friend.

"Yeah. I think so. It's gonna be hard, but I think I've got it figured out." He looked away, then released Fraser's shoulder and lay back down.

"What have you figured out?"

Ray looked away. "I figured that I've done what I needed to do. The rest, well, I never was what they wanted, so I guess it won't really matter."

"Your parents are fools, Ray, not to see what an excellent man you are."

They stared at each other for a moment, then Ray slowly smiled. "Thanks, Buddy."

"You're welcome, Ray."

They remained there for a few silent minutes, comfortable in one another's company. Finally, Ray yawned. Fraser smiled. "Would you like me to stay here while you sleep?"

Ray stared at him, then smiled a bit ruefully. "Yeah. I'd like that." He scooted over to the far side of the full-sized bed and took both pillows and placed them against the headboard. Fraser shifted around and settled beside his friend, who turned over onto his stomach and used his right arm for a pillow. He wiggled around a bit and finally settled, curled slightly towards Fraser, but still mostly on his stomach. Fraser reached over and lay his left hand on Ray's shoulder.

"G'night, Ben," Ray murmured as he quickly dozed off.

"Good night, Ray. Sleep well," Fraser replied, then closed his eyes, intending on doing some thinking of his own.

When Welsh awoke, he checked on Ray and smiled as he saw both men sound asleep, Fraser sitting up with his hand on Ray's shoulder, and Ray curled up close beside his friend. He slipped silently out of the room, pulling the door closed so that he wouldn't accidentally wake them.

He headed for the bathroom, then down the stairs. He wasn't particularly hungry, so just poured himself a glass of milk and decided that more sleep was called for. He returned upstairs, reopened the door to Ray's room and then went back to bed. The house was silent, and remained so until early Sunday morning.

Fraser woke, momentarily confused. Memory returned quickly and he looked down at the still sleeping Ray. Diefenbaker was snuggled behind Ray's knees. He cautiously lifted his hand from Ray's shoulder and eased from the bed without waking either sleeper. He slipped from the room. He glanced at his watch, surprised that it was almost six in the morning. They'd slept, well, he'd slept, most of the previous twenty-two hours. Ray, of course, had only slept about thirteen, so far. He wondered how long the lieutenant had slept. After a stop in one of the bathrooms, and back to his room to dress, he headed downstairs to make coffee for the others, and a pot of tea for himself.

He had just finished his first cup of tea when he looked up at the sound of toenails on the stairs. Diefenbaker trotted in and stared at him.

"I'm certain you are correct. Allow me to finish my tea and I'll go out with you." Diefenbaker sighed and sat, waiting. As Fraser rose to take Dief out, he heard the tread of someone coming down the stairs. He paused at the foot of the stairs and smiled as he spotted the lieutenant coming down.

"There's a fresh pot of coffee..., Harding."

Welsh smiled. "Thank you, Ben. How does waffles for breakfast sound?"

Fraser's face lit up. "With maple syrup?"

Welsh smiled. "Yeah, the real stuff, from Canada."

"Sounds wonderful. I'll be back in a bit."

"Take your time. Ray's still sound asleep. How was his night, anyway?"

"I awoke about four-thirty yesterday afternoon. He hadn't slept, yet. He was 'working through things'."

"And did he?"

Fraser frowned. "He thinks so. As usual, he blames himself for his 'failure' to meet his parents' expectations. I didn't try to convince him otherwise."

"Probably a good idea." Welsh looked away, "I'm gonna have to have him get some counseling. I'm going to have him get it on the outside, though. The department doesn't need to know about any of this."

"Thank you, sir. I'm sure he'll appreciate it."

Welsh poured himself a cup of coffee. "I just hope it helps him."

"As do I. What about the State's Attorney?"

"I'm asking for someone other than Stella. We'll have to wait and see, though. For today, food and relaxation."

"An excellent idea." Diefenbaker whined. "Ah, yes, of course. Excuse me, Diefenbaker needs...well, I'll be back in a while."

"Enjoy your walk, Ben. And you, Dief."

Ray woke up and stretched. He'd gotten comfortable, here. He wondered how long it would be before it fell apart. He'd begun to believe that everything in his life that he found good would either go away, or that people would figure out that he wasn't any good. He sighed and got up. He grabbed some clean clothes and headed for the shower. Even though he'd bathed before bed, he needed the refreshing spray to revive him and get him ready to face the day.

When he got downstairs, he found Welsh mixing up batter, and from the looks of things, waffles were on tap for breakfast. He looked at the kitchen clock and discovered it was only a bit after eight. He shuffled to the coffee maker and snagged a cup from one of the hooks under the cabinet. He was a bit surprised when Welsh handed him the milk and chocolate syrup, but returned the smile Welsh gave him. He poured chocolate and milk into his mug, stirred for a moment, then added the hot coffee, sighing in contentment as he inhaled the fragrance, then took his first sip.

"Sleep well, Ray?" Welsh asked.

"Yeah, thanks," Ray replied. He took another sip of his beverage and glanced worriedly at his boss. "Uh, what's on for today?"

Welsh heard the worry in Ray's voice and looked at him, smiling. "It's Sunday. It's a kick-back-and-relax kind of day. Was there something in particular you wanted to do?"

Ray shook his head. "Nothing but laundry."

"Washer and dryer are in the cellar. Help yourself."

Ray frowned, confused, but replied, "Thanks." He remained standing to finish his coffee, then went back upstairs to gather his dirty clothes from the previous week. He took them down to the cellar and, after sorting them, put in his first load. Returning upstairs, he was surprised when Welsh handed him a fresh cup of coffee, just the way he liked it, and directed him to sit down for breakfast.

"Uh, where's Fraser?"

'Out taking his wolf for a walk."


Welsh frowned. "What's wrong, Ray?"

Ray wouldn't look at him. "Nothing, I guess."

Welsh watched the younger man, a bit pensive. "I'm not your family, Ray. I'm not going to toss you aside." The way Ray reacted, he knew he'd gotten it right. "I know it's hard to believe, but I like and respect you. Not just for this," he waved a hand, meaning the current case, "But for everything. You're a good cop, and a good man. I'm proud to have you in my squad. And after Vecchio gets back, I hope you'll decide to stay."

Ray looked up, his jaw slack, "You mean that?"


"Was it hard to say?"

Welsh looked at his detective and recognized the kid's need for approval and understood that that was something he seldom got in his life. "Not at all. And you know I don't say things just to make people feel good, right?"

Ray smiled, a bit tentatively, but still, it was a smile. "Not from what I've observed, sir."

"Good. In that case, son, how many waffles do you think you can pack away in that skinny body of yours?"

"Uh, two, maybe three."

"That's a good start." Welsh placed three waffles on a plate and handed it to Ray, along with the butter dish and a bottle of warm maple syrup. Ray slathered the waffles with butter, then poured syrup on the top.

"Oh, man. These are good," Ray mumbled through his first bite, after which he was silent as he gorged himself, eventually managing to eat five waffles by the time Fraser came back. In total (Welsh kept count, just out of curiosity), Ray put away eight waffles by the time everyone was through.

They spent the day lazing around, watching sports and movies on television and doing laundry. Three men with dissimilar interests, but who could still relate to one another and be friends. Welsh was surprised at his feelings for his companions. He'd originally felt that Fraser was an interloper and of little use, but over time, he'd learned to accept the man. Ray, who could be terribly annoying, had a wicked sense of humor and such a gentle nature, that he found himself liking him, instead of wanting to shoot him.

Fraser was actually quite happy. His companions seemed to accept him for what he was, without any apparent problems with his idiosyncrasies. He found himself enjoying the company, particularly of Welsh, whom he'd always thought only barely tolerated him, before.

Ray was trying to understand how he'd managed to find two friends like these. He'd never been friends with a boss, before. Had always felt less than adequate, in fact. Yet, Welsh had flat out told him that he liked him, and respected him. It was a needed boost to his faltering self-image. With two people like Welsh and Fraser on his side, he felt that he could face anything, even his ex-wife, if need be. The knowledge provided a warm comfortable feeling deep inside and, despite the discomfort of his wrist and the entire situation, he was happy to be where he was cared for. For most of the day, he had a gentle, contented smile on his face, which prompted his companions to feel that he was going to make it.

Monday Afternoon.

Fraser had arrived at noon, after spending the morning at the consulate and explaining to his superior why he needed to be at the District House that afternoon. For once, Inspector Thatcher seemed to understand and had released him without complaint. He had stopped at the deli on the way and bought lunch for himself, Ray, Welsh and, of course, Diefenbaker.

Fraser was talking with Ray about his other cases when Ray's parents and State's Attorney Stella Kowalski came in. Ray saw them and paled. Fraser, turning, saw them and immediately turned back to his partner, his expression one of concern. Ray deliberately ignored them, burying his face in his reports.

Fraser watched as Stella seated the Kowalskis and headed for Welsh's office.

"Ah, Ms Kowalski. To what do I owe this visit?"

"Friday night, you staged a raid on a private residence. I want to speak to the person who provided the information that led to the warrant."

"I specifically asked for someone else from the State's Attorney's office. I'd prefer you not be involved."

"You don't have a choice, lieutenant. I need to talk to this so-called victim to determine if there was any valid basis for the warrant. If not, I'm going to cut them all loose."

"I got corroboration from a second early victim."

"Oh? Who?"

"William Thompson. He's currently in the county jail awaiting sentencing for armed robbery."

"Hardly good credentials, lieutenant. I want the primary witness."

"He won't testify."

"We'll see."

Welsh sighed. "All right. But if you cause any trouble, I'll be filing a report with your superiors."

"That's fine." She stood up, her mouth pressed into a narrow line of disapproval.

"You can wait in Interrogation two."


Stella paused to speak to the Kowalskis, who nodded and rose, going out of the bullpen. Stella escorted them, briefly, breaking off to enter the interrogation room.

"I'm sorry, Ray. Stella's got the case and is snarling." Welsh stood by Ray's desk.

"Yeah. I saw 'em." Ray stood up, pale, but determined. "I can handle it." He cocked his head to the side and looked up at Welsh, casting a quick glance at Fraser. "That is, if I got any backup?"

"I sent her to room two. Fraser and me will be in one, watching."

"Thanks, sir." Ray stood up and with a deep breath to give himself a bit of courage before facing his ex he headed across the bullpen and down towards the meeting which would determine a lot of things. He wanted to drag his feet, but shook himself, once. He glanced at the men walking on either side of him and found his courage bolstered. He wasn't feeling invincible, but with them backing him up, maybe he wouldn't embarrass himself or them. They were there. Fraser and Welsh went on and into interrogation room one. Welsh thumbed his nose it the ancient signal and Ray almost succeeded in smiling.

One final deep breath and Ray opened the door to interrogation two.

Stella looked up, surprised. "Ray? What do you want? I'm kind of busy, just now."

"You wanted to see me, Stella." He couldn't meet her eyes.

She shook her head, her mouth pursing into a disapproving moue. "Ray..."

Another deep breath. "When I was six, my folks decided they needed some time to themselves, so my uncle Adolph was asked to come and watch me." He looked up at her. She was frowning. "I tried to tell them, but you know how I am with words. It wasn't any better when I was six. I said he hurt me, he said he spanked me. They believed him." He looked at the mirrored window. "It went on for a couple of years, until Buska moved in with us."

"Ray, what took you so long to decide to report it?"

"The shrink said I repressed it."


The door opened and the Kowalskis entered. They ignored their son, both of them looking angry. Ray stiffened, wanting to run, but then Welsh and Fraser entered as well, and he relaxed, watching them, instead of his relatives. Fraser moved around the room to behind Ray, where there was a TV-VCR machine. He prepared to run a tape.

"Before you decide, counselor, I suggest you see this." Welsh closed the door and dimmed the lights. He nodded to Fraser, who pushed the play button. "I want the sound off after the first part, if you want to hear it, I'll have Fraser turn it up, but only after Ray leaves." He stood in front of the door, successfully barricading it with his body.

"Lieutenant," Stella began, but then Fraser turned up the volume and all eyes turned to the television screen.

Ray was sitting with his back to the television, staring at Welsh, who maintained eye contact with him, which kept Ray calm. Fraser stood behind him, guarding his back, and Ray relaxed, leaning back in his chair. He still didn't look at anyone but Welsh, but he was no longer tensed and ready to run, or hurl.

The tape began outside, with Welsh warning that he wanted this done by the numbers. After everyone made assenting sounds, he ordered Ray to take the door down. There was the sound of the splintering of the door off its hinges, followed by a gasp from Ray and the sound of retching, at which point Fraser turned the sound down. Stella and the Kowalskis watched in abject horror at the rest of the scenes on the video tape, nearly ten minutes worth. Barbara Kowalski's eyes were wide with shock, one fist in her mouth and biting on her fingers to keep from saying anything. Stella kept glancing at Ray, who sat calmly, looking at Welsh. She couldn't watch any more and closed her eyes, slumping in her seat.

At a nod from Welsh, Fraser turned the tape off. Stella reached across to try and take Ray's hand, "Ray, I'm sorry," she began.

"Me, too, Stell. You know, it's kinda funny." Ray looked her in the eyes, his own eyes blank. "When we divorced, I gave you everything you wanted." He glanced for a moment at his parents. "Funny thing, though, I thought I could at least keep my parents, but it looks like you got them, too." He stood up. "Sir? Do you need me here any more?"

"No, Ray." Welsh moved aside so Ray could exit, giving Fraser a signal to go with his partner and stay with him. Fraser nodded and without acknowledging anyone else, followed his partner out.

Once they were gone, Welsh again closed the door, standing in front of it. "That's not the worst of it." He leaned against the door, his arms folded across his chest. "The other tape is much more graphic, closeups on the perps. I told them to focus this camera on Ray, so we could prove he didn't do anything inappropriate. There were also three still cameras used. We got 'em dead to rights. My only question is how parents can ignore their six-year-old child's cries for help to the point of allowing him to be hurt like that for two years. Just because he's got a learning disorder, doesn't mean he didn't tell the truth. He just didn't have the verbal skills, but then, you should have known that. Even a six-year-old knows the difference between being spanked and being hurt."

He turned his attention to Stella. "He will not have to testify, will he, Ms Kowalski?"

"No. No, he won't." Stella stood. "Mom, Dad, I'm sorry, but..." then she realized what she had called them and turned pale, glancing up at the forbidding face of the lieutenant.

"Yeah, I can see he got that right, too." He moved away from the door, his arms coming down to his sides. "Mr. and Mrs. Kowalski, I, personally, think you're both a couple of idiots. Despite everything, you managed to raise a fine, decent man, but threw him away for that." He pointed to the television. "But that was your choice." He turned and left the room.

Fraser followed Ray to his desk, where Ray stood for a moment. His arms came up to wrap around his chest and he began to shiver. Francesca wasn't sure what was going on, but knew it wasn't good. She came over and, exchanging concerned looks with Fraser, went to her pseudo-brother and hugged him.

"Ray? You gonna be okay, Bro?"

"Yeah, Frannie. I'll be fine. Not today, though, okay?"

"Sure. Hey, you coming for dinner tonight? Ma's been askin' for you."

"I, uh, don't think so, Frannie. I, I'm, uh, I'm not very good company, just now, y'know?"

"All the more reason to come. Ma's makin' stuffed manicotti tonight, Ray."

Ray managed a weak smile. "Thanks, but no." He shook his head, not looking at her.

"Ray, how come you got that bruise on your cheek, and the split lip? The car wreck was over a week ago."

Ray pulled away, trying to cover the tears in his eyes. "Please, Frannie?" he whispered. "Please, don't ask. Not just now, please?"

She frowned, looking at Fraser who seemed to want to just reach out and hit someone. "Okay, Bro. Maybe later, okay?" Ray nodded and Francesca moved away, frowning. As she returned to her desk, she spotted the Kowalski's and Stella as they left the interrogation rooms. Her frown of concern became one of predatory anger. She stomped over to them.

"I don't know what you did to Ray, but I hope you're satisfied," she spit out, startling them. She shook her finger at them, mostly aiming her vitriol at Stella. "He loves you so much and all you can do is hurt him, and I've seen you. You do it on purpose." She sneered. "It make you feel powerful, huh? Hurtin' him make you feel important? Well, let me tell you, missy, you'll never be one quarter the human being he is. You're just some rich bitch who uses people to get where you want to go and then toss them away. But you can't ever be as good or as nice as Ray is on his worst day!" She was shaking with fury, and didn't notice how Ray's parents were reacting. Barbara was pale and nearly hyperventilating, and Damien was looking from his wife, to Stella, to the floor, thinking.

"Ms Vecchio," Stella began in a threatening tone of voice.

"That will be enough," Welsh was there, a hand on Francesca's shoulder. "Thank you, Ms Vecchio. Why don't you see if Ray could use anything, all right?" He patted her shoulder as she looked up at him. Seeing whatever it was she needed to in his face, she nodded and turned away.

Welsh watched the younger Vecchio. "Girl's got spunk, I'll give her that." He turned back, "You have nothing, except an excellent case. I suggest you go with that, Ms Kowalski." He totally ignored the elder Kowalskis. He turned and left them standing there.

Stella, blushing furiously when she realized that there were quite a few people standing around and staring at her, spoke softly to her companions and herded them out.

Once the enemy had retreated, Welsh turned and made his way to Ray's desk. His glare had kept anyone from asking anything untoward, and he was glad of it. Ray was sitting down, his nose buried in his files, Fraser sitting on the corner of the desk, talking. Welsh was surprised when Ray looked up at Fraser with a disbelieving look on his face.

"Fraser, you are definitely a freak," Ray couldn't help himself, he laughed. Perhaps not as great a laugh as he was capable of, but still, under the circumstances, quite an accomplishment.

Fraser smiled, pleased to have broken his friend's tension and distracted him from things, "Understood, Ray."

Welsh was pleased. It was looking very good for Ray's recovery. Now, if he could only get him to see a counselor... Then he remembered, Ray had said he'd talked to a shrink. "Ray?" Both men looked up at him.

"Yes, sir?" Ray replied, leaning back in his chair and putting his feet up on the desk. Fraser had to scramble to keep from getting kicked, and Ray just grinned mischievously at his friend.

"You said that you'd talked to a counselor. When was that?"

"This morning." Ray blushed. "I, uh, didn't tell him it was me. I asked about the guy who was good enough for us to get a warrant on. I asked how come it took him so long to do anything. She told me all about repression and a-avoid-avoidance. She may have figured it out, but I don't know for sure. She didn't write anything down, anyway."

"Did she help, Ray?" Fraser asked.

"Yeah. Said it's real normal for young victims to do that." He grinned up at his friends, "Guess that makes me 'normal', huh?"

"Well, I don't know that I'd exactly call you 'normal, Ray," Welsh said, teasingly, "But you're one hell of a cop," He saw Ray start to smile, "And one hell of a man." Ray's smile broadened in appreciation of the compliment.

"Thanks, sir." He looked down, "I think...I guess I need to talk to somebody about all this, but do I have to do it with the department shrink?"

Welsh let out his breath in a sigh of relief. "No. I think you should do it outside the department. I can ask Meredith to suggest someone. Hell, she's qualified. Maybe she would be willing to talk to you about it." He looked pensively at Ray.

Ray thought about it. He knew he needed to talk to someone, although he'd rather talk to a friend, still... "Okay. See if she'd be willing to talk to me, please?"

"You got it." Welsh agreed.

Meredith was more than willing to talk to Ray. Both of them felt that the sooner, the better. Fraser accompanied Ray on his trip down to CPS and waited patiently for him while Ray and Meredith talked. He spent his time people-watching the other people in the waiting room. They ran the gamut from all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Most had had children removed from their homes for one reason or another, a few were seeking help in dealing with out of control children. All were sad and Fraser was feeling rather depressed when Ray finally returned. They were both quiet as they returned to the station.

As Ray parked, he glanced at his partner. "She helped, you know."

Fraser looked at Ray. "I'm glad, Ray."

"Yeah, me, too." He leaned back in his seat, resting his head against the seat. "It really wasn't my fault."

"No, Ray. It wasn't."

"I was a victim."

"Yes, Ray, you were."

They were silent for several minutes. Fraser watched his friend, concerned.

Ray shook his head. "I still love 'em, you know?" There were no tears in his eyes, but they were in his voice.

Fraser reached a hand across to grasp Ray's shoulder. "I know."

Ray raised his cast hand across his body to gently rest on Ben's hand. Taking a deep, shuddering breath, he sat up, breaking the contact with his friend. "Okay, enough wallowing. Let's get back to work." He opened the door and got out. Fraser got out as well.

Their eyes met across the top of the police sedan. "Ben? Thanks. For everything." Ray was able to meet his eyes.

Ben smiled. "You're more than welcome, Ray."

Meredith had called Welsh to warn him that Ray was still very delicate. He'd agreed to meet with her several more times and had gotten off to a good start, but he still needed someone to watch out for him. He could fall into a deep depression at any time and for his safety, she didn't want him left alone any more than absolutely necessary. Welsh agreed and told her that for now, at least, Ray would be staying with him.

When Fraser and Ray got back, Ray seemed somewhat more relaxed, certainly less edgy than before, but Fraser was sticking to him like a good partner would under such circumstances.

As soon as Welsh saw them return, he decided that what Ray needed was some good, old-fashioned cop work to do. He called them in and gave them several cases to work. Ray seemed grateful for the cases. They were all straight-forward robberies and burglaries, with no children involved.

There was barely enough time to go over the files before the end of their shift, but Ray was diligently going through the initial reports when Welsh came by his desk.

"You ready to go?" Welsh asked, pulling his overcoat on.

Ray looked up in surprise. "Go?"

"Home, Ray. You ready to go home?"

Ray frowned in confusion. "But, the case is done with..." The sudden thought of going home to his lonely apartment sent a shiver through him.

"Yeah, but I thought maybe you'd stay out at my place for the rest of the week, anyway. Just in case, you know?"

Fraser was just as surprised as Ray was, but grateful. "Thank you, sir. That's most kind of you. Ray? Shall we?" Fraser stood up and reached for his peacoat. Ray, outnumbered and outmaneuvered, grinned and tossed the file he'd been perusing on his desk.

"Sure. Let's make like a sheepdog." He stood and reached for his coat that Fraser was holding out for him.

"Sheepdog, Ray?" Fraser asked in confusion.

"Yeah, make like a sheepdog and get the flock outta here." He grinned as his partner blushed.

"Ah. Oh!" Fraser looked shocked, while Welsh just chuckled.

"Come on, guys. I'm in the mood for some nice, thick steaks. Took 'em outta the freezer last night. Fire up the old broiler, bake some spuds..."

"Sounds great!" Ray exclaimed and headed for the door, "Pitter-patter, let's get at 'er."

Their evening was like most of their time spent together, with the exception that Ray seemed somewhat more jovial than he had been. Several times during the evening, Welsh and Fraser exchanged worried looks, both men waiting for Ray to collapse. Naturally, that didn't happen until after he'd gone to sleep, with the return of his nightmares.

"Easy, Ray. Shhhh. You're safe, son. No one's going to hurt you, shhhhhh."

"W-why c-c-can't they love me? What's so bad a-about me that they can't love me?" Ray sobbed into Welsh's shoulder.

"There's nothing wrong with you, Ray. They're the ones with the problem. You're a good kid, Ray. Don't ever let anyone tell you any different. You're a good cop, and a good man. I'm proud to have you on my squad. You hear me? I'm proud of you, son." Welsh cradled the distraught younger man against his chest. Fraser moved from his position in the bedroom doorway and sat beside them on the bed.

Reaching out one hand, Fraser rubbed Ray's shoulder, "I love you, Ray. Like the brother I never had, but always wanted," he said softly. Ray turned his tear-stained face to look at him.

"That hard to say?"

Fraser smiled and shook his head. "No, Ray. Not in the least. You're the closest I have to a family, Ray. You're my partner, my friend, my brother. I wouldn't trade you for anything."

"Not even the real Ray Vecchio?" Ray asked softly.

Fraser had to think a moment about that. "Ray Vecchio is my friend, but he was never family, Ray. You've become family."

"But his family all love you..."

Fraser smiled, "Ray, you've seen them. Can you imagine me ever being comfortable with them around all the time?"

"Well, not really, but still..."

"No buts, Ray. Although I am fond of the entire Vecchio family, they are not the people with whom I prefer to spend my time. You are the one with whom I prefer to spend my time." He gripped Ray's shoulder a bit harder and shook it gently.


"Yes, Ray."

"You mean that?"

"I'm not in the habit of lying, Ray."

Ray stared at his partner for a moment, then looked up into Welsh's face and saw the same expression as Fraser had.

"You're a good man, Ray, and...and I love you like my own son."

Ray blinked back tears, but these tears were different. He ducked his head and snuggled against Welsh, hugging him tightly, too overwhelmed to say anything. They stayed like that for a time, until Ray fell asleep. Welsh chuckled softly and settled Ray back into bed, tucking him snugly in.

"You're a good man, Ben," Welsh told Fraser, patting him on the back as they left Ray's room.

"As are you, Harding," Fraser agreed, as they headed back to their own beds and their interrupted sleep.

Tuesday - Mid-Morning

Francesca intercepted him before he could get to Ray. "Can I help you?" she asked coldly.

"I need to talk to Raymond." He tried to move around her.

"Sorry, he's busy right now. Can I take a message and have him call you?" She easily blocked his move. The man glared at her.

"He's my son. I have a right..."

She cut him off, shoving him in the chest and encroaching on his space, "You gave up that right, buster," she hissed. "He's got us to take care of him. He don't need you." Her glare was intimidating. She still wasn't entirely sure what all was going on, but knew that Ray's dad had something to do with it, otherwise, why was he there the day before with Stella? She'd also found out that both Ray and Fraser had been staying with the lieutenant since their accident. Whatever was going on had Ray in a state, and she'd somehow recognized something in his demeanor which, although she couldn't actually identify it, rang alarm bells and put her into protective mode for him.

"Please, I just need to talk to him for a few minutes."

"I'm afraid that Ray doesn't want to talk to you, Mr. Kowalski," Welsh said, coming up in time to hear the plea. "I believe he heard all he needed to on Friday afternoon."

Damien Kowalski had the grace to blush, his eyes dropping to the floor. "I didn't hit him."

"No, but you didn't say anything, either. I suggest you go home, Mr. Kowalski, before your presence becomes a problem." Welsh was giving the man his stoniest stare. Frannie was trying to figure it out, but wasn't having any luck.

"Please. I need to talk to him." Kowalski was just as stubborn as his son was. No doubt where that trait came from. Welsh wondered where Ray had picked up his gentleness from. Certainly not his mother, not with the shiner and the split lip she'd left him.

Welsh sighed. "I'll ask him. He don't want to talk, you leave. Understand?"

Kowalski nodded, still looking at the floor.

Ray was busy with some paperwork and didn't look up when Welsh stopped by his desk. "Ray? Your father is here and wants to talk to you. I told him it was up to you."

Ray froze. Very carefully, he put his pencil down and closed the file he'd been reading and making notes in. He glanced towards his father, who wasn't visible from his desk. He looked up, concerned. "What's he want?"

Welsh shrugged. "Just said he wants to talk to you."

Ray started to chew his lower lip, stopping immediately when it hurt. His tongue lightly ran along the scab and he started to shake his head. "I got nothin' to say to him. I did all my talking Friday."

Welsh nodded, sadly. He understood. "You might want to hear him out, though." He surprised himself when he said that. So was Ray.

"Do you think it will make any difference?" Ray's bitterness was obvious.

"I don't know. But I do think you should at least hear him out." He shrugged, "You never know. He might just have something you want or need to hear."

"I don't want to."

"I know."

"Go with me?"


"Please?" Ray whispered, lifting his pleading eyes to the man he had made his surrogate father.

Welsh sighed, giving in. "I can watch from the observation room."

Ray nodded, agreeing.

"Two minutes, then follow me."

"Yes, sir."

Ray took a deep, shaky breath, and reached for the doorknob. Frannie grinned at him and gave him a wink and a thumbs up. He managed to grin back at her; then, squaring his shoulders and wrapping attitude around him like a blanket, he tossed his head and went in.

"Yeah, you wanted to talk to me, so talk." He had pasted his best 'interrogation' face on and hoped he could carry it off. He slumped down in a chair across from his father.

Damien Kowalski looked at his son, really looked at him. Possibly for the first time since his son had grown up. He saw a man, not the geeky looking little boy he'd always seen before, but a man. A man who knew who and what he was, and who wasn't going to be cowed by his bullying him. Not now. Never again. He'd lost any hold he'd ever had over his son the previous Friday, when he'd called him a liar. He finally realized that his son never was a liar. Not about anything really important. And if he did lie, well, he'd taught him that the truth wouldn't be believed, so what did it matter?

"I'm sorry."

Ray gaped at his father. "You're sorry? For what? For not belivin' me? Or because I told the truth? You sorry 'cause you let me be hurt, or because I did my job and got that animal off the streets?" As he spoke, his voice rose, his body following. He began to pace the room. He turned on his father and slammed his fists into the table, wincing in pain as he did so. "I was six years old. I went to you, but you wouldn't believe me. In fact, you punished me for lyin'. You remember that? You gave me what you thought was another spanking, because I lied. Well, guess what? I DIDN'T LIE!" His shout ended on a sob.


"Don't. Just. Don't." Ray turned away, trying to force himself back under control. "Do you have any idea how that felt? That my parents didn't believe me? That-that they didn't care what was happening?" Ray shook his head, wrapping his arms around his torso. "You know, I always wondered why you hated me. Then I got old enough to help work on cars. I thought, maybe, maybe if I was good at that, you'd at least like me a little." He glanced over at his father, "I'd already given up on hopin' you'd ever love me." He shook his head. "Of course, I thought maybe mum loved me, but I guess I was just foolin' myself about that, too, huh?"

"Please, Raymond..."

"And Stella, oh, man. You guys thought I'd done real good with her, until we got divorced." He laughed bitterly, "Hell, after we split, she and mum stayed in touch, but you'd never talk to me, maybe a card at Christmas or my birthday. But you'd talk to Stella at least once a week. How screwed up is that?"

He turned to look at his father, still not seeing his distress. "All I ever wanted was for you to love me. I always wondered what was so bad about me that you couldn't. But you know what? There wasn't nothin' wrong with me." He shook his head again. "You not bein' able to love me, that wasn't my fault, that was yours. From my first day of school, from when they finally figured out I had a learning disorder, no matter how hard I tried, I could never be what you wanted. I was damaged, so I wasn't worth lovin'." There were tears streaming down his face, now, but he either wasn't aware, or ignored them.

"But you know what?" He straightened up, pride in his stance. "I found out that I am worth loving. I got friends who love me, not because of what I can do, or because I'm good with words, especially since I'm not, but who love me just because they think I'm worth it. I don't need you, any more." He turned away and had his hand on the door, ready to open it and leave, when his father's soft voice stopped him.

"But, I need you, son."

Ray froze, his hand on the doorknob, ready to bolt. His shoulders stiff with tension. He didn't speak, he probably wasn't able to find any words to speak.

"I-I never told you, but I don't read too good, either. That's why I always pushed you so hard, so you'd do better than your old man. You're so much like me, you know? Only when I was a kid, they didn't have a name for it. I was just stupid." Ray flinched at the words and his head dropped, his chin resting on his chest as he listened.

"I hated the packing plant. Hated the stink, hated killin' animals. Hated it. But I couldn't read good enough to get a better job. I didn't want you to be like me, having the stink of death on you. When you dropped out of college, I was pissed, son."

Ray turned to his father, his shoulders slumped. "I was lousy in school, dad. When they had me on the drugs, so I didn't disrupt the class? I was too doped up to be able to learn anything. I was a regular zombie. The only reason I can read at all is because I worked hard at it. None of my teachers cared. Not one of 'em. Ever. You weren't any help at home, either." He shook his head. "My first year in college, I took all remedial classes, I learned more that year than I did all the years before. They understood about my problems. But when I started takin' real classes my third semester, it all caught up with me and I got lost again. I didn't just quit, dad, I was failin'. So, I dropped out. You didn't know it, but I spent most of that last semester just fishin'."

Damien looked at his son in consternation, "But you became a cop..."

"Yeah. By the time I decided to do that, Stella and I were married and we needed a good income so she could finish college and go to law school. I figured that bein' a cop would do it." He laughed, bitterly, "You know, I never really wanted to be a cop? But the pay was good, the work steady, and it turns out I'm good at it. Not just okay, but good." Ray nodded, meeting his father's eyes. "I'm a good cop, dad. I'm good at what I do." He found he could look his father in the eyes and say that with pride.

"Yes, you are."

Ray froze, his eyes widening in surprise. He'd never thought to hear those words from his father, ever.

Damien stood and approached his son, reaching out tentatively to touch his shoulder. "You are a good cop. You're a good man. One who's brave enough to do what needed to be done despite how much it hurt. Not me or your mum, but you. It's been close to thirty years since it happened, and you're still suffering from it. And your mother and me, well, we haven't exactly been very good parents. Everyone says we should have known. And we should have. Your boss was right when he said that at six you knew the difference between being hurt and being spanked. We just didn't want to hear." Ray looked down and backed away from his father's touch. Damien swallowed hard and with a deep breath, followed him, again reaching out to lay his hand on his son's shoulder, squeezing at the tension in the muscles.

"Your mother and me, we screwed up a lot, when you were growing up. I-I didn't want to believe there was anything wrong with you, so I tried to pretend that you just weren't trying." Ray flinched at his words and he gripped harder with the hand on his son's shoulder, shaking him gently to get him to look at him.

"I was wrong. About an awful lot of things. Mostly because I didn't ever listen to you. And for that, and all the hurt I caused you, all the things I ever said and the things I should have said, but didn't; all the stupid stuff I did to you, for that, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, son." There were tears flowing freely down his own face, now, and he also didn't bother to wipe them away.

"I love you, son."

Ray nearly collapsed when he heard those longed for words. His tears sprang anew from his eyes and he looked at his father. It took him only a moment to respond. His arms reached out and he stepped into his father's embrace, laying his head on his father's shoulder and crying, freely and openly. His father embraced him, crying as well.

Welsh quietly left the observation room, wiping his own eyes and blowing his nose. He smiled at Francesca as he passed her. Seeing his face, she smiled back at him, understanding that Ray and his dad had managed to work out whatever had been wrong.

It was another half hour before Ray and his father exited the interrogation room. Ray had an arm around his father's shoulders, and his father had an arm around Ray's waist. Their heads were tilted together as they left the bullpen and headed down the stairs. Fraser saw them as he was coming up the stairs and smiled at his partner, who smiled and nodded as they passed. Fraser turned to watch them as they left the building, then turned back and continued up to the bullpen to wait for Ray at his desk.

"Ah, Constable. Are you here for the afternoon?" Welsh asked, seeing the Mountie enter.

"Yes, sir. I just passed Ray and his father on the stairs." He followed Welsh to his office.

"Yeah. They had a talk." Welsh closed the door behind them.

"Ah." Fraser cocked his head, waiting.

"Ray said some things." He looked at Fraser and then smiled a bit sadly. "Things he probably needed to say a long time ago. For probably the first time, though, his dad was listening."

"I take it that was a good thing?"

Welsh nodded. "Yeah. It was. Then his dad told him things I doubt Ray had any idea about. They listened to each other. It was a good thing."

"I'm glad." Fraser frowned, then asked, "What about his mother?"

"Now that I don't know. But he and his dad are talking, now. We'll have to wait and see. Also, it was pretty obvious that his talk with Meredith helped him. He was almost...articulate."

Fraser's eyebrows went up in surprise. "Really? Hmmm."

"What does that mean?"


"That 'hmmm' thing you do."

"Oh, nothing, really."

"Yeah. Sure."

Fraser smiled enigmatically and exited the office, going over to Ray's desk to await his return.

When Ray returned, he shyly returned Fraser's smile.

"Welsh told me."


"So,... how...?"

"We talked. We're good." Ray nodded. Sitting, he smiled. "We talked."

"And listened."

"Yeah. That, too."


"And. Well, he's gonna talk to mum. I'll just have to wait and see, I guess."

"But it looks promising?"

Ray's expression turned hopeful. "Yeah. It does." He nodded again, then straightened up. "So, you ready to work on one of these files here?"

"Yes, Ray. I was thinking about the burglaries you were assigned. I think," he pulled the folders from the pile on Ray's desk and leafed through them. "Yes, here it is. See?"

"Huh. Same guys?"

"I believe so, Ray."

Ray nodded. "Yeah. I think you're right."

Welsh watched from his office doorway. Things looked to be back to what passed for normal, or soon would be. Ray was acting pretty normal, but he'd keep his eye on him, just in case. There was still a lot of healing to do for his detective, but he'd gotten a good start, and he was satisfied. His phone rang, and he turned to answer it. It was his lawyer. He needed to go and sign some papers, then get things together to go to New York on Friday. He looked out into the bullpen and grinned. He had an idea.


Ray looked up from his discussion with Fraser on the burglaries. At the signal from Welsh, he rose and headed for the office.

"Yes, sir?"

"You got anything goin' on this weekend?"

"Uh, not to my knowledge, sir."

"Good. How would you like to take a little trip to New York with me?"

Ray looked surprised for a moment. "You mean to go get your kids?"

"Yeah. I could use the help. It's a long trip, and I gotta do it in three days."

Ray thought a moment. "Anything you need, you got."

"Thanks, Ray. I got some things to figure out, but we should be good to go after shift on Friday."

"You know, if Fraser went, we'd have three drivers, but that would require a pretty big vehicle."

"There's an old Travelall in the barn. I'll get it in the shop for a tune-up tomorrow. It's plenty big enough. It's not like the kids have any furniture that we'll be bringing back with us."

Ray nodded. A Travelall was a big vehicle. "You got a trailer to go behind it? Just in case they got a lot of stuff?"

"Good idea. I can get a U-Haul in New York if we need one."

"Okay. You want Fraser to come, too?"

"Yeah, ask him, would you?"

"Yes, sir."

Fraser was, quite naturally, more than willing to assist.

Wednesday Afternoon


He hadn't seen her approach. He stiffened and looked up at her, his expression, for once, showing nothing of his feelings.

"What do you want, Stella?"

Stella frowned. She'd never seen him so...stoic. "I was talking to mum last night, and...."

"So? What?"

"She wants to talk to you."

"She knows where to find me." He turned back to his report.

"Ray." She frowned at him in disapproval.

"What, you think I should apologize to her?" His voice didn't show his surprise.

"Well, that would be a start." Her expression was accusatory.

"What do I have to apologize for, Stella? For bein' a good cop and doin' my job? Or should I apologize for rememberin', which led to the investigation and the arrests? Or, maybe I should apologize for not being perfect, like you are? I know. I should apologize for ever being born!" His voice rose with every word until he was practically shouting. People were starting to look at them, and Stella was getting embarrassed.


"Maybe I should apologize for her hitting me? For callin' me a liar? For not belivin' me? I got nothin' to apologize for, Stella. Like I said, she knows where to find me." It took everything he had to turn away from her, to stand up, grab his cup and walk past her. Several people, most notably, Francesca, were giving him a thumbs up, silently praising him for standing up to Stella, for once.

Stella frowned. Ray wasn't acting right; but then his words sank in and she realized that he was right. He didn't have anything to apologize for. She was blushing as she left the bullpen, grateful that they'd never gotten loud enough for anyone to actually hear what was said.

Francesca waited until Stella had left, then grabbed her mug and followed Ray to the break room. She saw him over in the corner by the coffee pot. His back was to her and his arms were wrapped around his too-thin body and he was shaking. Silently setting her mug down on a table, she went to him and wrapped her arms around him, hugging him.

"You okay, Bro?" she asked, softly.

"I'm good."

"Yeah? Well, everyone thinks it was about time you told that b...her off."

Ray shivered and turned in her embrace. "Yeah?" there was a faint smile on his lips.

"Yeah. She's not a nice lady, Ray. She's mean to you just because she knows she can get away with it. Maybe now, she'll think twice before tryin' anything again."

His arms came around her and he returned the hug. "Thanks, Frannie," he whispered.

"You're welcome, Ray."

Ray kissed her.

"Ewwwww! Vecchio, that's sick! She's your sister!" Dewey cried from the doorway.

They broke the kiss and grinned at each other. Frannie turned to glare at Dewey. "Hey, we're Italian. We're a very physical and demonstrative people."

"Yeah, but you kissed him on the mouth."

"Dewey?" Ray said mildly, "Kiss my ass." He hugged Frannie again and whispered in her ear, "Thanks."

"Any time, Bro," Francesca replied, just as softly. Splitting, she went to retrieve her mug, which Ray politely filled for her, then his own, leaving the dregs of the pot for Dewey, plus the task of making the next pot.

Thursday Evening, Welsh's House.

"Thanks for helpin' me get ready, guys."

"You're quite welcome," Fraser replied.

"Yeah," Ray agreed, "It's the least I can do after.... Well, after everything."

"Hey, you don't owe me anythin', Ray. I'd have done the same for any of my men."

"Yeah?" Ray looked up, a mischievous glint in his eyes. "Even Dewey?"

Welsh froze for a moment as he thought. "Yeah, even Dewey." Then he shuddered. "Although, there are times I wonder about his intelligence...."

"Among other things," Fraser muttered, softly, eliciting a chuckle from his companions.

"Yeah," Ray agreed. He's even worse than Turnbull, I think."

"At least Turnbull can almost make sense when he talks. When he's not panicked, that is." Welsh agreed. Fraser smiled and Ray laughed.

They'd been 'spring cleaning'. The old farmhouse had six bedrooms upstairs, and one downstairs. The five extra bedrooms upstairs were all decorated in neutral shades. Welsh wanted his kids to decide how they wanted their rooms decorated. Compared to an apartment, the bedrooms were all quite large, but compared to the rest of the house, the bedrooms were cozy and fairly small.

"When I was a kid, there was a bedroom up here, and two big loft rooms. My granddad and me, we divided them up. My room was the original one, and we divided the rest into the bedrooms as they are now, we also added the second bathroom. Granddad always wanted this house filled with kids."

"Looks like his wish will finally come true," Ray said, nodding. "This is a great house for kids."

"Yeah. I know." There was a sadness in Welsh's voice that wasn't missed by his companions.

"Well, it's not how you planned or wanted it, but they're coming. They want to come, remember?" Ray said, insistently as he lay his good hand on Welsh's shoulder.

Welsh grinned. "Yeah. You're right." Fraser just stood and beamed at his friends.

"I'm certain that they will love being allowed to decorate their own rooms."

"Yeah, and I'll come and help you paint 'n stuff." Ray promised.

Fraser's eyebrows went up in surprise, then he thought for a moment and nodded. "As will I, if you wish."

"Thanks. That would be great." The phone rang, and Welsh went into the library to answer it.

"Ray. Phone."

Ray frowned, looking at Fraser. "Who would know to look for me, here?" he asked. Fraser shook his head and shrugged.

"I've no idea, Ray."

With a cavalier shrug of his own, Ray entered the library and took the phone Welsh held out to him.

"Yeah, Vecchio."


Ray's good mood evaporated in an instant. He hung his head and closed his eyes. He didn't really want to deal with her, but she was his mother. He glanced up at his friends and saw only support and concern on their faces. Taking a deep breath, he finally replied, very softly, "Yeah, mum?"

"I...I'm sorry I hit you and called you a liar, Stanley."

"Are you?" He'd held his ground with his father, and it had given him the courage to now hold it with his mother.

"Please, Stanley..."

"Mum, Stella stopped by my desk, when, yesterday? She thought I owed you an apology. I'm not sure if she told you what I said, but it still stands. What do you want from me? You want me to apologize for busting Uncle Adolph? Won't happen. You want me to apologize for not bein' ar-articulate enough to convince you when I was a kid?" He shook his head. "I got nothin' to apologize for, mum."

"But Stanley, I'm the one apologizing," his mother said very sadly.

"Just what are you apologizin' for, mum?"

"For everything, Stanley. For not listening to you when you were little, for not getting you the help you needed when you were in school. For everything."

Ray sighed. "Okay. Apology accepted. Was there anything else?" His voice hadn't warmed so much as a tenth of a degree.

"Can't you forgive me, Stanley?"

Ray slumped down onto a chair, leaned back, and closed his eyes, shaking his head. With a defeated sigh, he said, "Sure, mum. I forgive you."

"You don't sound like you mean it, Stanley."

He straightened up, "Funny, you can understand my tone of voice now, but you couldn't when I was a kid? That's rich, mum. Look. I'm kinda busy, here, and I really got some things to do, you know?"

"Please, Stanley," Finally, her voice broke and he could hear her crying. "I know I can't ever make it up to you, Stanley, but please, I'm your mother!"

Ray hung his head, not to cover the tears that flowed down his cheeks, but because he still loved his mother, no matter what. "I gotta ask you one question, mum."

There was a frightened silence on the other end of the line. "What is that, Stanley?"

Ray took a deep breath and asked the only question that mattered. "Do you love me?"

There was a long silence. He could picture her, the shock, the anger, the dismay. He was about to hang up when he heard her whispered response. "With all my heart, Stanley Raymond Kowalski."

The tears flowed more freely, now. She hadn't asked him how he could ask that question, although it had been what he expected from her. His whispering voice was broken with sobs when he replied, "That's all that I needed to know, mum."

"Oh, my poor baby. What have we done to you," his mother sobbed back. "Please, baby, come home?"

"I-I can't just now, mum. I got a promise to keep, first. I should be back late, Sunday. I'll come over after then, if that's okay?"

"Of course, darling. Any time. We'll talk. And this time, I promise, we'll listen, as well."

Ray smiled and wiped his eyes. A hand held some tissues out to him, and he took them and blew his nose. He smiled up at Welsh, who was smiling, too. So was Fraser, well, he looked satisfied, anyway.

There truly wasn't time for him to go and talk with his parents. Friday was a zoo at work, what with the media having finally caught a hold of the bust the previous week. The parents of one of the children had made a call to a friend, who just happened to be a reporter with a small local station. By the time they got to work Friday morning, there were crews from every network and television station in the country, it seemed. The one thing the media really wanted, the weren't going to get. They wanted to interview the initial victim who had come forward after so many years to finally get Adolph Kaminski off the streets. Fortunately, the people who knew the answer to that particular question didn't get asked. Also fortunate, was the fact that there was no trail back to Ray's parents, for which Ray was extremely grateful. Wisely, Adolph was not forthcoming with that information, either.

By noon on Friday, the furor hadn't abated, although, the mayor's office finally made a statement promising to protect the privacy of the original victim who had started the whole investigation. The media wasn't happy, but had to be satisfied with interviewing the families of the current crop of victims and tracking down former victims for their statements. The tenth time a reporter made it into the bullpen, Welsh had had enough. He told everyone that the next reporter who came in was going to be arrested for obstruction of justice, as his people couldn't do their jobs with the vultures flocking around. At one, the mayor called and gave him (and Ray, although he didn't know it) the rest of the day off.

By two, they were on their way to New York. Eight hundred miles, three drivers, two and a half days, thirteen hours driving time each way. It wouldn't leave them much time. Arrive, pack up the kids, turn around and head back. It was going to be rough.

They were lucky. The weather held and they had no delays. They figured to change drivers every two to three hours, or whenever they stopped for gas. Ray took the first 'shift'. The old Travelall was in perfect condition and had an enormous engine. Welsh tried to nap on a mattress they'd placed in the rear. The road noise and the softly playing radio lulled him to sleep. When he awoke, they had stopped for fueling. Looking at his watch, he frowned.

"What are you doing, Ray? Trying to break the land speed record?"

Ray looked up from the pump. "No. I was just going with traffic." His expression was one of innocence, but there was a glint in his eyes that told Welsh that Ray might have been pushing it, just a little.

"Uh huh. How far we come?"

"About three hundred and fifty miles," Ray said.

"How long you been driving?"

"Uh, four and a half hours?"

Welsh did the rough calculations in his head. He frowned. "You were going too fast. Close to eighty."

"We were going approximately seventy-eight miles per hour, but we were still being passed on a regular basis," Fraser said.

Welsh sighed. "Well, as long as we don't get any speeding tickets. I think it's my turn to drive, though." He frowned. "How come you didn't change drivers at two hundred?"

"I didn't think about it. When we got low on gas, that was when we stopped. How big's the tank on this thing, anyway?" Ray was watching the pump, wondering if it was ever going to be full.

"I got a twenty-six gallon tank on it, and it was full when we started. How low was it when we stopped?"

"Between a quarter and a half tank, by the gauge." The pump finally clicked off at 16.328 gallons. "We're getting' better 'n twenty miles per gallon."

"Yeah, for such a big vehicle, it gets pretty good gas mileage," Welsh said fondly, patting the old vehicle's hood.

"How old is the car?" Fraser asked.

"She's a 1958 International Travelall. The original SUV, I suppose. She's got close to three hundred thousand miles on her, but she's sure dependable. Gets about fifteen miles per gallon in town, but usually gets about twenty to twenty-five on the highway, depending on load and hills. She'll do better on the way back, with a load in her."

"She handles great, too." Ray was smiling. Although the vehicle wasn't a sports car, it was responsive and agile, particularly for such a large vehicle.

"Let me get the bill, make a pit stop, and then we can be on our way. Ben, why don't you try and get a little sleep, now?"

"All right." Fraser climbed in the rear and stretched out on the sleeping bag covered mattress. He was asleep before Welsh got back and into the driver's seat. Checking their map, Welsh pulled back onto the highway and headed East again.

They were quiet for a while, then Ray glanced at Welsh and asked. "Bet you're glad to be gettin' your kids back, huh?"

"Yeah. I've really missed them. Missed a lot, too. It's been five years. Abby was only three when they left. She probably doesn't even remember me at all."

Ray nodded. "You might be surprised, though. You seem like the kind of man who's really into bein' there for his kids. Tuckin' 'em in at night and reading them bedtime stories."

Welsh smiled. "Yeah. That was always my favorite part of the day, at least those times I was home before they went to bed, anyway. Tuckin' 'em in and kissing them good night. I really miss that." He frowned, suddenly puzzled. "Funny thing, that."

"What's that?"

"I missed my kids more than I ever did my wife. I mean, I loved her and all, at least, I used to, but her, I got over. I still haven't gotten over losin' the kids."

Ray nodded. "Now, you have a chance to sort of make it up to them."

"I just hope I can handle it."

"Hey, I'll bet you're a great father. If you treat your kids like you do the guys who work for you, you'll be fine."

Welsh frowned and cast a quick glance at Ray, "How do you figure?"

"Well, you're fair. What's the word Fraser uses?" He paused for several seconds, trying to remember the word. "Scrupulous. That was it. He said that you were 'scrupulously fair'."

"Fraser said that?"

"Yeah. It was after one of my fights, uh, disagreements, with Dewey. He said that you were 'scrupulously fair in that you listened to both sides, before deciding, based on what was the best for all involved.'"

"Really?" Welsh was surprised, and very pleased. He knew he tried to be fair to all the people who worked under him. It was nice to know that someone as honest as Fraser had noticed and commented on it. "That was nice of him."

"Hey, he's right. You are fair. And, you stand up for us. Makes everybody want to do their best, you know?"

Welsh's surprise increased. He'd said often enough that he stood behind his people, but to have them want to do their jobs better because of his attitude, that made him feel good. "Thanks, Ray."

Ray grinned. "You're welcome. You treat your kids like you do your detectives, and you'll do just fine."

Welsh sighed. "I sure hope so."

They fell silent again and spoke only sporadically as the miles ticked off. Ray finally began to yawn, as the hours went by, and at the next town, Welsh pulled off to refuel. The moment the engine downshifted, as they slowed to a stop, Fraser sat up and looked around.

"Your turn to drive, Ben," Welsh advised him.

"Yes, of course." Ben was a bit nervous, not having driven on a regular basis for several years. At least the vehicle was large. He felt much more at home in it than he did a regular car, even when he'd driven Ray's Riviera. It simply wasn't high enough off the ground for his comfort. Of course, having only driven his grandparent's, and now his, Jeep may have had something to do with that, as well. As Ray stretched out in the back, Fraser cautiously pulled out of the gas station and back onto the highway. Welsh had kept to their originally planned schedule of changing drivers every couple of hours, so they'd gone only another hundred and fifty miles since they last changed drivers.

"Relax, Ben," Welsh chided gently. "I'm not a nervous Nellie when it comes to sitting shotgun."

"Ah, well, you see..."

"I know. You don't drive much. It's okay. Just relax and take it as it comes."

"I'll try."

Welsh was quiet for quite a while, allowing Ben to acclimate to driving and handling the traffic. When he sensed that the younger man was beginning to relax, he spoke. "You're doin' fine, Ben, although, you might try goin' just a little faster."

Fraser accelerated a bit.

"The speed limit is seventy, Ben. Going forty-five will likely get us a ticket, and it will add several hours to our trip. So, please, go a bit faster?"

"Sorry." Fraser accelerated, his knuckles turning white on the steering wheel. Welsh didn't comment again about their speed. They were going sixty, that would suffice.

"Ray talked to his folks," Welsh said, trying to distract Fraser from the speed they were going.

"Yes. I'm glad. He needs them." Fraser thought of his own family and found himself envious of Ray, and even of Welsh. He had no one.

"Yeah. I don't think he's strong enough to go it alone. He's the kind of person who needs someone to approve of him." He looked over at Fraser, "He also needs someone he can trust to show his feelings to. Someone who won't smack him down for it."

Fraser nodded. "He does seem to need approval. Why is that, do you suppose?"

"He's got a learning disability. Has trouble with words. He can read, but his verbal skills aren't very good. I'm sure you've noticed. He gets tongue-tied and can't come up with the right word. He was on Ritilin as a kid for several years. Kept him under control in school, but left him unable to learn, too. He went off it when he reached high school, but by then he was so far behind, he could never catch up, no matter how hard he tried."

"Hyperactive?" Fraser wasn't really surprised. Ray was still very hyperactive. It did explain a great deal, however.

"Yeah. His first two semesters in college, he took remedial classes, just to catch up, but the stress of regular classes was too much for him, so he dropped out." He looked out into the darkness, "You're good for him. Well, most of the time. I think he's good for you, too. Helps keep the loneliness away."

Fraser was silent for a while as he absorbed the words. "Yes. He is. He does."

"People aren't meant to be alone, Ben. Hermits gotta be the saddest people on earth. Not the religious ones, 'cause they got their God with them, but solitary people. People who don't trust other people, people who don't have friends."

Ben understood what Welsh was trying to tell him, and he agreed. "Yes. You're right." He ventured the courage to glance at his companion and, meeting his eyes, smiled.

Good. The crazy Canuck understood. That was important. For Ben as well as Ray. He let the silence flow for a few minutes, then began a conversation on Hockey, which turned into a lively discussion that lasted until it was time for another stop.

"Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray." The sleeping man didn't even move. Welsh shook his head and simply reached out and grabbed Ray's shoulder, giving him a shake.

"Ray. Time to get up."


Welsh grinned, "I know you don't wana. But it's time to eat."


"Yeah, food. Come on, get your lazy butt up and out of there."


"Plenty of coffee. Come on, up and at 'em."

"'k." Ray poked his head out from under the top of the sleeping bag. His hair was partly squashed down, partly still standing, and he looked like a four-year-old. He had his cast wrist cradled to his chest, and Welsh frowned, remembering how he'd slammed his fists onto the table in the interrogation room the other day. He was going to have to get the kid back to the hospital to get that checked out.

Fraser reached out to help Ray disentangle himself from the sleeping bag. It wasn't even zipped, but Ray had still managed to get tangled in it. Welsh handed Ray his boots and as soon as he got them on, he stood up, swaying a bit.

"Obviously, we waited too long before feeding you, kid," Welsh murmured, as he gripped Ray's arm to help him get his land-legs back.

"'M okay. Just got up too fast."

"Low blood sugar will do that, Ray." Fraser admonished. "I'm afraid I must agree with Harding, we've been somewhat remiss. It's been nearly twelve hours since any of us has eaten."

"I'm fine. So, let's go eat." Ray straightened up and ran his fingers through his hair, standing it all back up. Welsh and Fraser shook their heads in amusement, exchanging grins, before turning towards the truck stop restaurant.

The restaurant was busy, even so late in the evening. All the other patrons were long-haul truckers, trying to get home for the weekend. There was only one waitress, who was somewhat harried, but still managing to smile and be pleasant. Welsh watched her, and figured she made double her salary with tips, she was so pleasant. As soon as they sat down, she was over with a fresh pot of coffee and menus.

"Hey, there, fellas. Coffee all around?" Welsh nodded, but Ray spoke up.

"Frase? Would you rather have tea?"

Ben smiled, that Ray would remember, or care. "Coffee is fine, Ray." He raised his eyes to the waitress, who was frowning in concern. "I do drink both, although, not together." That made the frazzled woman smile in return.

"Coffee it is, then," she grinned as she poured their mugs full. "Specials are the chicken fried steak dinner and the pot roast. Me, I'd go for the chicken fried steak."

The three men nodded and opened their menus. After the waitress had gone, Fraser leaned forward and softly asked, "What in the world is chicken fried steak?"

The two Americans looked at him in surprise, but Ray recovered first. "You take some round steak, pound it tender, cover it with a breaded coating, like for chicken, and fry it. It's usually served with mashed potatoes and cream gravy."

"Cream gravy?"

"The same kind that goes on biscuits and gravy, Frase," Ray explained.

"Ah." He looked at the menu and then murmured, "Actually, that sounds rather interesting."

"It's good," Welsh agreed, closing his menu. "Really sticks to your ribs. I think it sounds great, myself. I totally forgot about food, wanting to get out of town, like this."

"Yeah," Ray agreed. "Sounds good to me, too."

Seeing their menus close, the waitress was immediately back to take their order. "So, fellas, what'll it be?"

"Chicken fried steak, for me," Welsh announced, with quick assentions from the others. Welsh went for the vegetable of the day, while Ray and Fraser decided on salads, Ray going for bleu cheese dressing, and Ben for Italian.

The woman was back in just a couple of minutes with the salads, and they'd barely had time to start them when the rest of their dinners came. Welsh's vegetables were in a side bowl, and the plates were literally covered with the enormous pieces of chicken fried steak.

Each plate held a huge mound of mashed potatoes, covered in cream gravy, the steaks were balanced on top, with more cream gravy poured over them. The waitress had to be careful in handling them, to keep from spilling the gravy. Each steak consisted of two pieces of meat, easily four by eight inches in size, and half an inch thick.

Ray's eyes lit up. "I think I've died and gone to heaven," he murmured in awe.

"Holy cow," Welsh muttered, staring at his plate.

"Oh, dear," Fraser whispered, wishing suddenly that they'd brought Diefenbaker, whom, he was sure, would have echoed Ray's sentiment.

The waitress chuckled at their reactions. "LIke I said, it's today's special. Eat up and enjoy."

The three men, who had stopped because they were hungry, dug in. Welsh and Fraser watched in awe as, long after they'd given up, Ray continued to shovel food into his mouth. Both men, finding the meat to their liking, had finished most of their steaks, but had left most of the mashed potatoes behind. Ray, well, Ray was systematically working his way through it all. When he finally finished, he sat back and sighed, smiling contentedly.

"Man, that was good."

"Yes, it was," Fraser agreed, still in awe that anyone as thin as Ray could possibly eat so much. Welsh just smiled fondly at them both.

"Well, if you're awake, now, Ray. It's your turn to drive, again." Welsh reached for the check, surprised at the price. Sure, they'd gotten the special, but still... He left a five on the table for a tip and headed for the cash register. Ben and Ray both decided to make another pit stop before leaving.

When they got back to the car, Welsh looked at Fraser. Even though he'd already slept some, he realized that the stress from having to drive so fast had exhausted the Canadian. "Why don't you take a nap, Ben? That way, your next turn will still be relatively light traffic, and I'll be behind the wheel when we get to New York."

Ben smiled, grateful. "All right," he said and climbed into the rear of the vehicle, stretching out and letting the road noise lull him to sleep.

"He have a hard time with drivin'? Ray asked softly, once he felt that Ben was asleep.

"Yeah. Had to go too fast for him, but forth-five in a seventy zone is gonna get you a ticket a lot faster than doin' eighty or ninety."

"Oh, yeah. So, since it's nice and quiet, with no one on the highway, you want to make up a little time?" Ray grinned over at Welsh.

"Not too fast, Ray," Welsh cautioned. "Don't need a speeding or reckless ticket, either."

"Got it." Ray eased the accelerator down until the huge vehicle was cruising down the highway at a comfortable (for Ray, at least) seventy-five miles per hour.

As it turned out, Ray was still driving when they reached New York City. His natural hyperactivity meant he needed less sleep, or perhaps, just that he could go longer without it. Ben had awakened about an hour outside of their destination, when they stopped to refuel. Ray was still bouncing off the walls and Welsh was actually encouraging it by buying him a fifty-two ounce travel mug filled with chocolate flavored coffee. Ben shook his head and moved to the back seat, no longer tired.

It was three-thirty when they pulled into the driveway of the Reed's house. It was far too early to disturb them, so they parked in the driveway and settled down. Ray was convinced to take the sleeping bag and go to sleep. The minute he settled down, he was asleep. Fraser and Welsh grinned at each other and settled back in their seats and talked for a while. Finally, Welsh suggested that Ben stretch out on the rear bench seat, and he'd stretch across the front seat. He had extra blankets in the rear, so they would be warm enough. Ben agreed, and soon, they joined Ray in slumber.

The sound of someone tapping on his window startled Ben awake. It was daylight, but still early, no later than seven, he was sure, and a glance at his watch confirmed it. He reached across the back of the front seat and woke Welsh, who sat up, rubbing his face and looking around. Seeing the man outside the car, he opened the door and got out, gently closing it behind him, so as not to wake the still sleeping Ray.

"Mr. Reed?" he asked, "I'm Harding Welsh."

"I thought it had to be you. You should have knocked, we'd have been glad to let you sleep in the house." Mr. Reed sounded concerned, and looked in the Travelall, wondering at the two men there.

"We got in about three-thirty. That was no time of night to be waking up the house. We were fine." He didn't know what else to say, so he didn't say anything.

"Oh, yes, thank you. I suppose that is rather late." Mr. Reed hated this feeling of not being in control of a situation. He looked up at Harding and frowned. "You're younger than I expected."

Welsh wasn't awake enough to cover his surprise. "I'll be fifty-one this year," he admitted. "How old did you think I was?"

"Well, the way Stephanie spoke of you, she made you sound a great deal older than she. I suppose that fifteen years isn't that big a difference."

Welsh choked out a laugh. At Mr. Reed's expression, he shook his head and stifled his mirth. "Sorry. Stephanie was only five years younger than me."

Mr. Reed's expression turned to shock, then bitter amusement. He looked hard at Welsh, then nodded. "Which means that she was five years older than my son, who also thought she was younger." He shook his head. "Why do people bother to do that?"

"I don't know. I think, for the most part, it's a woman thing, although, I've known some women who were proud of their age, of course, most of them were pretty old."

Mr. Reed laughed, "Not my wife, I'm afraid." He gestured for him to follow, "Come on in. There's coffee and we'll be having breakfast, once the children are up." Mr. Reed turned towards the house.

"How are they doing?" Welsh motioned for Fraser to wake Ray and come with them. Fraser nodded and shook Ray awake. Ray sat up and looked around. Seeing Welsh outside, talking to a stranger, he shook himself to wake up and reached for his boots, while Fraser got out and came around to open the tailgate to let him out.

"The children are...well, they've been looking forward to your arrival." He stopped and turned on Harding, looking hard at him. "My wife, Charlotte, was very close to Stephanie. I'm afraid that she's taking it all very hard."

Welsh nodded, finding that he liked this man. He seemed honest, and caring about the kids. He understood what he didn't say, that the idea of fighting him for custody was Mrs. Reed's idea, not his. "Yeah, I can imagine. Look, I don't want to keep you from seeing the kids or having an affect on their lives. I just want to be their father again. When Steph left me, she planned it in such a way that she knew I wouldn't be able to fight for them." He sadly shook his head, "I've really missed them."

Mr. Reed looked at the younger man, he'd expected a man closer to his own age, but was pleased with Welsh's demeanor and the way he showed concern for the children. Despite what his daughter-in-law had said about her former husband, it was patently obvious that she hadn't told the truth. Harding Welsh was a concerned and caring father, who wanted his children because he loved them.

"Personally, I think I agree with you. My wife, however, is another matter altogether. Fortunately, our lawyers agreed with yours and, although she doesn't like it, she's resigned herself to the fact that the children should be with you, their father."

Fraser and Ray approached, diffidently standing back far enough to not appear to be trying to eavesdrop. Welsh turned to them. "Let me introduce you, this is Constable Fraser, he's kind of a liaison from the RCMP to the PD, and this is Ray, one of my detectives. Guys, this is Mr. Reed, he's the kid's grandfather."

Mr. Reed was pleasantly surprised to be referred to as the children's grandfather. He smiled, "Actually, it's doctor, but then, you had no way of knowing that. I'm an orthopedic surgeon" He smiled and offered his hand, Fraser smiled and shook it, then moved aside for Ray to also shake hands.

"Nice to meet you, sir." Ray mumbled.

"Come on, then, there's coffee ready and the children should soon be up. We weren't really expecting you for several more hours."

"Yeah, the media was having a circus and the Chief gave let us off early, so we wouldn't kill any reporters," Welsh said drily.

Dr. Reed looked shocked for a moment, then understanding. "You were involved in that child molestation case that hit the news last night? It's huge. I'm amazed that anyone ever caught them."

"Yeah, well, the first victim had something happen to him that brought back the memories from when he was a kid. He was willing to pursue it, and we got lucky enough to get CPS involved, did our legwork to make our case, got the warrant, and now we wait."

"Well, the media has made it into the story of the year, I'm afraid. But it's nice to know that a monster like that is finally going to get what's coming to him." Dr. Reed opened the front door of his house and ushered his guests inside. Fraser and Welsh, somewhat more accustomed to the trappings of wealth, appeared comfortable in the marble foyer. Ray, however, looked like he'd have rather stayed in the car.

"The dining room's through here." They followed their host through a formal dining room and then into a second, smaller 'breakfast' room. There was full sunlight coming through the windows, providing light and atmosphere. Dr. Reed told them to make themselves at home while he rang for coffee.

"Um, excuse me, Doctor Reed, but can I use your bathroom, please?" Ray asked, embarrassed.

"Oh, certainly, through that door, second door on your right."

"Thanks." Ray followed the directions and found himself in an ordinary bathroom. He breathed a sigh of relief. Even Stella's folks hadn't had anything this opulent, although that wasn't the word he would have used, or even thought of. He quickly relieved himself and washed his hands. Glancing at his reflection in the mirror, he decided to wash his face, as well, and then quickly ran his still-damp fingers through his hair, getting it to stand up somewhat neatly. Finally satisfied that he could do no more without a razor, a shower and some clean clothes, he headed back to join the others.

Welsh barely glanced at him when he returned, just long enough to catch Ray's eyes and flash him a smile of encouragement. Ray couldn't help but grin in return as he sat down. A cup of coffee was passed to him by the maid, and Ray smiled and thanked her, much to her surprise. She returned his smile, though, as she placed the coffee on the warming plate in the middle of the table.

A few minutes later, Mrs. Reed came in, looking at them disapprovingly. "You must be Welsh."

"Yes, ma'am." Welsh looked at her for a moment, then glanced away, dismissing her importance. "So, tell me, Doctor, how are the kids doing in school?"

"The children are doing exceptionally well in school I think it's criminal to take them away in the middle of the school year like this. They may never catch up." Mrs. Reed sniffed in disdain, totally ignoring the other two guests at her table.

"Charlotte," her husband said in a warning tone.

"Well, I'm entitled to my opinion, Carlton."

"Yes, you are. You are not, however, the one in charge, here. Lieutenant Welsh has every right to take his children home. Their mother is dead and, as the next nearest relative, he is more than within his rights to reclaim them." From the sound of his voice, this was already an old argument.


"No buts, Charlotte. Jeff indicated rather strongly that he preferred to go to live with their father, and the others rather quickly agreed with him. I'm not going to waste my time or money on fighting a losing battle for them. Besides, he's been more than accommodating and agreeable on letting us visit them or have them visit us."

Charlotte sniffed in annoyance and turned away, looking down her nose at their guests. When she finally deigned to look at Ray, she practically sneered. "What is this person?"

Welsh's eyes narrowed. As much as he'd liked the doctor, he definitely did not like his wife. "This is one of my detectives, Mrs. Reed. Ray? May I present Mrs. Reed, my ex's mother-in-law. Mrs. Reed, this is Ray Ve...."

"Kowalski. Ray Kowalski." He hid his embarrassment behind a sly smirk. He had seen Welsh's disapproval of the woman, so he risked it. "I'm a undercover specialist. Sneaking into gangs and stuff to get the goods on 'em, then rat them out and send 'em to jail." His smirk turned almost into a leer as he gave her an appraising look, "Have we met before?"

Dr. Reed nearly choked on his coffee. He'd never seen anyone able to take on his social-climbing wife and win, before. He decided he liked this cop with the spiked hair, unshaven face and attitude.

"'An this is my partner, Benton Fraser, Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We're the perfect tag team in interrogation, playing 'good cop, bad cop'."

Charlotte tried to recover by turning to Fraser and saying, "You must be the 'good' cop?"

"No, actually, I'm generally the bad cop, threatening to kick them in the head," he managed to pull it off with a perfect deadpan delivery. Mrs. Reed recoiled in horror, while Fraser smiled slightly and Ray grinned almost maniacally. Welsh pursed his lips to keep from laughing out loud and glanced at Dr. Reed, who was also trying to keep from laughing outright.

"Well!" Mrs. Reed rose, wrapping her tattered dignity around her like her peignoir and with a final sniff of disgust, turned to leave the room.

Ray gave a parting shot. "You know, if I was a suspicious cop, that snuffling you're doin' might make me wonder if you had some coke stashed somewheres." With a gasp of horror, Mrs. Reed hurried from the room.

Dr. Reed burst out laughing. "That was brilliant, detective. Absolutely brilliant. And you, constable, you should take your act on the road. 'How to put pompous society matrons in their place in under five minutes'. I've never been so entertained since we moved into this monstrosity of a house."

Welsh was chuckling, as well. "Good job, men. Remind me not to let you pull security detail at any functions with the wealthy and influential."

"Like that's a possibility?" Ray asked, a little smugly.

"Not while I'm in charge."

"You play the 'bad cop', Frase? You can't even say 'kick 'em in the head' right!" Ray playfully punched Fraser's shoulder, who chuckled.

"I couldn't leave you to her untender mercies, Ray. You are, after all, my partner."

"Yep. That I am, Benton-buddy."

"Your job must never be boring, lieutenant, not with these two around."

"Boring? No. They're never boring. Insane, occasionally. Troublemakers? Usually. But they're good cops, good men, and I'm proud to have them working for me, not to mention as my friends."

Both Ray and Fraser dropped their heads in embarrassment, blushing. Dr. Reed only smiled.

"Grandfather?" A small voice spoke from the doorway. Everyone turned to look at the newcomer. She was a small child, with mousy brown hair and big blue eyes. Behind her, like stair steps, stood the other three children. "Grandmater said that our," and here, her voice went up in an excellent mimicry of her grandmother "'bestial legal guardian has arrived'." She looked at the three strangers uncertainly, "Would she have been referring to our father?"

Ray winced at the child's far-too-grown-up manner of speaking. He glanced at Dr. Reed, who was also looking pained, then to Welsh, whose face had taken on a glow of joy.

"That would be me, Abby." He stood and came around the table, looking at all four of his children. "Jeff, Madison, , Adams. It's been a long time."

Jeff was the first to move. He pushed past his siblings and threw himself into his father's arms. "I've missed you, dad!"

"I've missed all of you, too, Jeff." He hugged his eldest child tightly, then looked past him to the others. "Maddie?" The girl smiled at the long-unused endearment and flung herself at them. Jeff managed to move away in time to avoid being crushed by his sister as she clung to her father."

"Oh, Daddy, you came, you came. Just like you promised!"

"I've never broken a promise yet, have I?" Welsh murmured, hugging the child tightly.

"It's been so long, I don't remember," Maddie said sadly. Welsh nodded and looked at his youngest two.

"You don't even remember me, do you?" He asked sadly. "You were both so young when your mom took you away."

Abby cocked her head at her father, frowning in concentration. Deciding, she spoke. "Tell me a story," she demanded. The other three children exchanged knowing looks. Test time.

"What story would you like to hear, Abby?" Welsh turned to go back to his seat at the table, only to realize that Ray had taken his chair, leaving him one closest to the children. He smiled his gratitude as he sat.

"My favorite one."

"Ohhh, your favorite story, huh? Well, let's see. That would be...." He closed his eyes, pretending to try and remember. "Goldilocks and the Three Bears."

There was that annoying sniff from the doorway, again. Charlotte Reed was standing behind the children, "Her favorite story is Little Red Riding Hood." Her expression was one of disgust.

Welsh looked at her in surprise. "No, that was Maddie's favorite. Jeff's was The Little Engine That Could, Maddie's was Little Red Riding Hood, Adams' was The Ugly Duckling, and Abby's was Goldilocks and the Three Bears," he insisted.

"Tell it to me." Abby climbed into her father's lap, watching his face, uncertainly.

"All right. Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She was a very pretty little girl, but undisciplined. Because she was so pretty on the outside, she had learned to get everyone to give in to her every demand. Her parents never spanked her or spoke to her when she was naughty, they just said that she was such a lovely child that she could do no wrong. Well, one day, she decided to do something she'd been told never to do. She decided to go into the woods, exploring. Now, there was a reason she wasn't supposed to go into the woods, because in the woods, there lived a family of bears. There was a big, ferocious, father bear," he said it with a growl, mimicking a bear. "There was a medium sized mama bear," he again growled, but softer, this time. "And there was a little, tiny, baby bear." He made a squeaky voice for the baby bear.

"Now, the mama bear had made oatmeal that morning for breakfast, but it was too hot to eat, so they decided to go for a little walk, while they waited for it to cool. While they were gone, Goldilocks, who had gotten quickly lost in the woods, came upon their house and broke a window to get in, as the door was locked. Once inside, she saw the table set with bowls of oatmeal, and decided that she was hungry. She climbed up into a big chair and tasted the oatmeal. It was too salty and much to hot for her, and she spit her mouthful back into the bowl."

At that description, Ray made a face and the other children grinned at him. He grinned back, and motioned them to sit down. As the chairs were all filled, since Charlotte had decided to sit down and listen too, they sat on the floor.

"So, Goldilocks climbed down from the big chair and went to the next bowl of oatmeal. She climbed into the chair and took a spoonful. She swallowed it, but made a face, kinda like the one Ray made a minute ago. The oatmeal was cold, and lumpy, and runny. She got down and went to the third bowl. She sat down and took a bite. It was perfect, with lots of honey and milk, but not too cold, nor too hot. She ate it all up, and even licked the bowl."

Everyone, even Charlotte, smiled at the verbal picture.

"Well, now that she was full, Goldilocks decided to explore the little house. In the parlor, she found three chairs. She climbed up into the biggest one, which was a leather recliner. She was too little to tilt it back, and the leather was cold and smooth and hard. Deciding she didn't like it, she got down and went to the next chair. It was a big, overstuffed swivel-rocker. Since her feet didn't reach the floor, she couldn't get it to work, although it was really soft, she decided she didn't like it, either, so she got down. She went to the third chair, which was just the right size for her. It was a little wooden rocking chair. She sat down and rocked for a while, then decided to have some fun and rocked really, really hard. She rocked it so hard, that she got it up on the tips of its rockers, and tipped it over! CRASH! She hit the floor, and jumped right up. She was so angry, that she stomped on the little rocker and broke it into splinters.

"Tired, now, she went up the stairs and found a bedroom. She went in, and climbed up on the big bed. It was a super-firm mattress, and she thought it was much too hard, but it was fun to jump on, so she did, leaving muddy footprints on the quilt. When she tired of that, she got down and wandered into another bedroom. She climbed up on the bed, but it was so soft, that it was like walking in deep mud, it wasn't very good for jumping on, either, so she got down and went into the third bedroom. There was a little, child-sized cot. She climbed up and lay down and, it was so comfortable, she fell fast asleep."

Everyone was smiling, now, with Charlotte as the noticeable exception.

"Well, the bears came home. They'd gone down by the river and Papa bear had noticed that the salmon were starting to run, so he wanted to get back and eat his breakfast so he could go fishing. As they came to the house, Mama bear exclaimed, 'oh, dear, look, the window is broken!' Papa bear growled in annoyance, wondering what had happened. Opening the door, they went inside. As they sat down to eat, papa bear noticed some spit in his bowl. 'Someone's been into my oatmeal,' he growled." Welsh made growling noises. "Mama bear saw the spoon in her bowl and exclaimed, 'Why, someone's been into my oatmeal, as well.'" Welsh made higher pitched growls. Then, in a squeaky voice, he said, "Then the little, baby bear looked at his bowl and cried, 'someone ate my oatmeal all gone!'"

Welsh needed something to drink, at that point. It had been five years since he'd last told this story. He glanced around, and Fraser handed him his mug of coffee. Smiling gratefully, he took several sips, then continued.

"They went into the next room, and papa bear looked at his recliner and growled, 'Someone's been sitting in my chair.' Mama bear looked at her swivel-rocker and said, 'Why, someone's been sitting in my chair, too.' The little baby bear started to cry," Welsh sounded just like a petulant child, "'S-someone sat in my chair and broke it all up!' The family headed up the stairs to see what else had been vandalized while they were gone. Looking into his bedroom, papa bear growled, 'Someone's been using my bed for a trampoline! Look at those muddy footprints on the quilt." The went into the next bedroom, and mama bear said, 'why, look at this, someone's pulled my bedspread off onto the floor.' They continued into baby bear's bedroom, where baby bear said, 'why, look, my bed's all messed up, in fact, there's someone sleeping in it! At that moment, Goldilocks woke up and screamed at the sight of the angry bear family. She was surrounded, though, and couldn't escape. While papa bear held her to keep her from escaping, mama bear went downstairs to call 911. When the police arrived, they arrested Goldilocks for burglary, vandalism, theft and malicious mischief."

Ray laughed in glee. Leave it to the lieutenant to put a cop spin on a fairy tale.

"Since Goldilocks was still a minor, she was sent to reform school and had to do two thousand hours of community service, things like cleaning the toilets at the park, and raking leaves in the forest, and planting trees and plants in the town, and even sweeping the street after the annual founder's day parade."

Abby was beaming up at her father. "What's the moral of the story?" she asked.

"There are two kinds of beauty, that which can be seen on the outside, and the better kind, that comes from within." Abby turned on his lap and threw her arms around his neck.

"Daddy! My daddy!"

Welsh was left speechless as the other three came and threw their arms around him. He looked around in confusion, not quite sure what had just happened.

"I believe you passed the test, Harding." Fraser's soft voice penetrated his befuddlement.

"Test? What test?"

Jefferson explained, casting a smug grin at his step-grandparents. "When mom brought us here, she introduce us to this stranger, and told us that he was our dad. It was pretty late, and Abby wanted a story. She asked for one, and he asked what story she wanted. She said she wanted her favorite one. And mom said to tell her Little Red Riding Hood. Mom didn't even know what stories we liked. We told Abby not to tell anyone what her favorite story was, that way, when our real dad came, we would be able to tell, because our real dad would know that Abby's favorite story was Goldilocks."

Dr. Reed laughed proudly. "Well done, kids. Brilliant ploy." He ignored his wife's annoyed expression. "I think that settles it. As soon as we have breakfast, I'll help you load up." He pressed a bell and the maid reappeared. "Lin, we're ready for breakfast, now. If you'd be so kind as to bring out the buffet?" Lin nodded and silently turned away, casting a quick smile at Ray, in the process.

Charlotte returned to her room with a 'sick headache', much to everyone's relief. Breakfast was, thankfully, a pleasant affair. The children felt free, once Charlotte was gone, to behave like children, instead of perfect little people. They quickly found a soul-mate in Ray, who not only encouraged them, but was instigating much of the verbal play. Dr. Reed was enchanted and pleased to see the children so quickly adapting to the less formal atmosphere with their father.

Welsh tried to maintain a decorous demeanor, but in light of his children going home with him, he couldn't . As soon as they finished eating, the children hurried up to their rooms to dress for the trip. They knew it was going to be a long one, and they wanted to get started.

Dr. Reed had his servants bring down the children's things. Looking at the pile, Welsh shook his head. "I think I need to go and rent a trailer. Otherwise, it's gonna be too crowded in the car." Fraser volunteered to go with him to assist, while Ray, totally enamored with the children, offered to stay with them. He was still cradling his broken wrist against his chest. Welsh frowned.

Taking Dr. Reed aside, he told him about Ray's wrist, how it was broken, and that it had been two weeks, and hs still acted like it really hurt him, but was too 'tough' to say anything. He also mentioned that Ray had slammed his fists onto the table in an interrogation room the preceding Tuesday. Dr. Reed agreed that a new X-ray at least was in order, and offered to take him down and see what he could do. Welsh thanked him and, with Fraser and Jefferson tagging along with him, left to rent a trailer.

"Detective?" Ray turned from where he was sitting on the stairs and talking with the three younger children. He stood up to reply.

"Yes, sir?"

"Interesting cast." the doctor finally realized what the cast wrappings were. Ray blushed.

"It was supposed to be a joke, but," he shrugged. "I guess it would have been different if I was the Canadian."

"Yes, for a Canadian, I suppose it would be quite patriotic. How did they manage the maple leaf?"

Ray grinned and showed him. The under wrap of the cast was red, and the white overlay was white. By carefully stretching and with some judicious use of scissors, the cast had been made to look like a Canadian flag.

"Ingenious." Dr. Reed said, smiling. He glanced down at the children. "I need to go in to the hospital for a bit, would anyone like to come?" The children immediately all jumped up, wanting to go with him. Ray frowned, until Abby insisted he come, too.

"Only if I'm not in the way?"

"Oh, you won't be in the way at all, detective."

"Ray. Call me Ray."

Dr. Reed smiled. "All right, but in that case, you must call me Carl.

The trip to the hospital was uneventful. Until Ray realized that they were going to re-x-ray his wrist. He tried to decline, but when he was told that Welsh had asked, he sighed and gave up, but promised dire consequences to his lieutenant when he next saw him.

It was a good thing that Ray had his wrist re-checked. Either he'd redamaged the break when he slammed his fists on the table the preceding Tuesday, or, and what Dr. Reed suspected, it had not been properly set to begin with. Fortunately, surgery was not called for, but removing and replacing the cast, was; along with resetting the broken bones. Using a local anesthetic, Dr. Reed re-set the broken bones, then, before casting, took another X-ray, which the first hospital hadn't done. When again confronted with a choice of cast colors, Ray debated. When Dr. Reed made a suggestion, he grinned and nodded.

By the time they got back to the house, the others were back, and the trailer was loaded and ready to go. Ray was told to be careful, no punching anyone or anything with his injured wrist for the next six to eight weeks, and to have it checked out if he was still in pain for more than a week. By noon, they were ready to go. The children tearfully said good-bye to their grandfather, who promised to come for a visit soon, but their grandmother was being petulant and refused to come and see them off. The children were disappointed, but not terribly hurt. Of course, the girls were less upset than the boys, because she'd have been very displeased with them, since their dad had suggested that they change from dresses to jeans for the trip. Since they'd been staying with them, their grandmother hadn't allowed them to wear anything but dresses and skirts. Luckily, she hadn't gotten around to throwing out any of their pants...yet.

"It was a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Reed," Welsh said as he shook the older man's hand.

"Yes, it was for me, as well. Take good care of them."

"I'll do my best, sir. Thank you for everything. Don't be a stranger."

"I should thank you. And your men. I haven't laughed so hard since I got married."

"At least you managed to stay together," Welsh reminded him.

"Oh, yes. She would never willingly give all this up," Dr. Reed confided. "Fortunately, my work keeps me busy and out from underfoot. Although, when I do decide to retire, I fear she'll be in for a rude awakening. I want to go camping. Maybe buy a motorhome and drive around to see the country. Her idea of roughing it is a three star hotel."

They all laughed at that, then got in the car and pulled out, the children all waving madly at their grandfather. As soon as they turned from sight, however, they all turned to look forward, to going home.

Ray, because his arm was still numb from the local, was instructed to go lie down in the back and catch some more sleep, after all, he'd done most of the driving on the way there. They'd made such good time, that they could afford to take their time going home. It wasn't too long, though, before all the children were asleep, as well.

Except for having to make more frequent stops, because of the children, and they were not at all concerned about saying something when they got hungry or needed to relieve themselves, they made good time back to Chicago. When it was Ray's turn to drive, Jeff was allowed to sit in the front seat, riding shotgun, while both Fraser and Welsh stretched out in the back for a nap.

By the time Ray stopped, they were almost three quarters of the way back to Chicago. When asked why he didn't stop earlier, he innocently replied that they hadn't needed gas, or pit stops, or to feed the kids, who were all smiling.

"How's the arm, Ray?"

"Aches," Ray replied honestly. "I haven't been usin' it, either."

"Good. How fast were you goin'?"

"Oh, seventy-five, eighty." Welsh just shook his head and went to pay for their gas and make a pit stop. Then, he stopped in the little mini-mart and bought snacks for everyone. When he got back, he sent Ray to refill his travel mug. Since it was only another four hours to home, there was no sense going back to sleep.

They got back on the highway, and kept an eye out for somewhere to sit down for a meal. The children were exceptionally well behaved, mostly because they were naturally well behaved. Even with the teasing and play Ray instigated at every opportunity, it never went too far. The children even got Fraser into the act, much to Welsh and Ray's amusement.

By the time they finally pulled into the driveway of Welsh's house, the children were sound asleep. Deciding that unloading could wait until daylight, or whenever they woke up, Welsh woke his eldest and picked up Madison. Fraser carried Adams, and Ray brought in eight-year-old Abigail. Placing each child in a different room, the exhausted men barely bothered to undress before falling into bed, themselves. Since the children each had their own room, Ben and Ray shared the sixth bedroom, which had two twin beds. No one awoke until the following afternoon.

Diefenbaker had finally had enough. He'd been left in the back yard for two days, and finally, they had let him in. He'd now been locked inside for a good ten hours, and he needed to go outside. Yes, he'd often been left longer without relief, but this was ridiculous. How many times had Fraser rousted him out of a nice, warm, bed, from a nice dream, to go for a walk when he didn't need to. Now, it was time for a bit of revenge.







"Diefenbaker, go away."


"Not now, Dief. I'm tired."


"Well, I'm sorry if you think I'm being unfair, now go away."

Dief put his paws on the bed and pawed at Fraser, whining constantly. When that didn't work, he barked, loudly.

"Fraser, do something with your wolf, would you?"

Grumbling, Fraser threw back the covers and staggered to his feet. Blinking in exhausted surprise, he realized that not only was it daylight, but it was mid-afternoon. Oh, dear. They still had the trailer to unload. Pulling on the same clothing he'd been wearing since Friday, he headed down to let Dief out, and to start a pot of coffee. Despite his preference for tea, he decided even he was going to need several cups of coffee to be able to function and get done what they still needed to do.

When Welsh came down half an hour later, he looked blearily up at him. "Remind me, next time, to decline the invitation to drive sixteen hundred miles in three days?"

Welsh chuckled, drily. "Hopefully, it won't happen again, Ben. Thanks for the coffee. Man, I'm so stiff and sore, and we still have to unload the kid's stuff." He shook his head. He was going to need a week off just to recuperate.

He had just started his second cup of coffee when Ray came bouncing down the stairs. He went to the back door and let Dief in, ruffling the animal's fur and chattering away at him. Bounding into the kitchen, he snagged a cup and poured it full of coffee...which he drank black, for a change.

"Man, I slept great. Ready to unload that trailer?" He turned to look at his friends and froze, frowning.

"Uh, what's wrong with you two? Didn't you sleep last night?"

"Slept fine, just need some more," Welsh muttered, glaring at a much too chipper Ray. "Don't you ever run down? You were the liveliest one when we got in, too. What kind of drugs did they put you on for your arm, anyway?"

"Not on anything. He held out his new cast, "It just doesn't hurt any more." Fraser looked at the new cast and snickered. Welsh looked at it and grinned.

"Political statement?"

"Nah, just bein' buddies, is all." He smiled admiringly down at his new cast, with both a Canadian and U.S. Flag depicted on it. His companions just shook their heads and finished their coffee.

"Well, daylight's burnin'," Welsh muttered, "And that trailer isn't gonna unload itself."

It only took them half an hour to unload the trailer, at least into the house. Welsh decided to put it all in the mudroom, which was quite large enough to hold it all. He'd have the kids do their own unpacking.

While Welsh fixed breakfast for them all, the children having awakened just in time to miss all the work, Ray called up the U-haul place and arranged to drop off the trailer. The children's clothes were taken upstairs, and they were told to choose which bedroom they wanted. Not surprisingly, they opted for the ones they'd slept in. When informed that they would be allowed to decorate their rooms in any manner, within reason, they became excited and started planning. The children unpacked their clothes and put them away, then, they went back downstairs to search through their things to find those items they couldn't live without, like favorite stuffed animals and dolls. When everyone was as settled as they could get, Ray and Fraser took their leave to return to their own residences.

"Thanks, men, for all the help."

"No problem, lieutenant. Any time. When they finally decide on colors, let me know and I'll come help you paint." Ray was grinning, looking forward to the task.

"And I," Fraser added.

"Well, I probably won't be in tomorrow. Don't let the place fall apart, all right?"

"Of course," Fraser replied, while Ray just grinned mischievously.

"Ray," Welsh growled, warningly.

"Don't worry, 'papa bear'. I'll be good." He laughed as he dodged the half-hearted swat Welsh aimed at his head.

"Smart ass. Drive carefully." He stopped himself before demanding they call him when they got home, so he knew they were safe. He was definitely back in 'father' mode. It felt good, and he smiled.

"Will do. C'mon, Frase. Home again, home again, jiggity-jig."

They were almost to the consulate, when Ray frowned and glanced over at his companion. "Uh, Frase?"

"Yes, Ray?" It had been a long weekend, and Fraser was tired.

"Uh, how's about you stay at my place tonight?" He managed nonchalant, but he wasn't sure if he was pulling it off.

Fraser frowned and glanced across to his friend. "If you like, Ray."

"Good. Greatness. Thanks." Ray turned to take them to his apartment. Fraser was still regarding him in concern as they parked and grabbed their gear and headed upstairs to Ray's apartment.

Ray pulled the coffee table away from the couch, and opened it up to the bed it contained. Fraser was a bit surprised, not having realized that the couch hid a bed. Ray brought out bedding for it, and helped make it up. He was nervous, but silent, and Ben simply waited for Ray to snap and tell him what was wrong.

"Why don't you go ahead and take a shower? I'll put on a pot of tea, okay?"

"Thank you, Ray." Fraser gathered his longjohns from his pack and headed for the bathroom. When he came out, he was a bit surprised to find that Ray had not only made tea, but was drinking some.

"Ray, is something bothering you?"

"No." Ray said, just a bit too quickly. Fraser raised an eyebrow and cocked his head in patent disbelief. "Yes. Well, maybe." Ray was fidgeting. He played with his cup for a bit, then glanced up to see Fraser patiently waiting for him to wind down. He sighed.

"I haven't been alone for more than five minutes since all this started, okay? I just...well, I didn't want to be alone. I've gotten used to having someone around, to wake me up if I have a nightmare, you know?"

Fraser understood, perfectly. He smiled. "Not a problem, Ray. I don't mind. I'm sure Dief doesn't mind, either." Ray heaved a sigh of relief and grinned.

"Thanks, buddy."

"You're quite welcome. Why don't you get your shower, now, and I'll call the lieutenant to let him know we got here safely."

Ray snickered. "Yeah, we better tell 'papa bear' that we're okay, so he doesn't worry." With a full laugh, he headed for the bathroom and his own shower.

On the one hand, he wished he'd never let them hear him tell the story of Goldilocks. As far as those two were concerned, he would forever be 'papa bear'. Then again, it was kind of nice. He was well aware that he felt rather paternal towards his detectives. As he tucked his children in for the first time in what he hoped would be many more years of that task; as he told each of them their favorite story; as he checked the house and locked up; as he prepared for bed and the hassles and tasks that the morning would bring, Harding Welsh was a happy man; a contented man. He just hoped that Ray's talk with his parents would lead to more healing for the crazy kid. No matter what, though, he would still stand behind him. Just as he always had.

The End

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