Fraser woke up slowly; his head hurt and he didn’t feel all that well. When he opened his eyes he found Ray sitting in a chair next to the bed, leafing through Hammett’s book.

“Hey there,” Ray said quietly when he noticed Fraser stirring.

“Hello,” Fraser mumbled. He wanted to go back to sleep. Before he was even fully awake, his right leg started to tremble. Ray was out of his seat immediately and did his little trick again so that the tremor stopped almost as soon as it had begun.

Ray sighed with what sounded like annoyance and sat back down in his chair.

“Can you get dressed?” Ray asked softly.

Fraser frowned; he really didn’t want to get up.

“I want to talk to you and I don’t wanna take advantage for that, all right?” Ray elaborated. “So, you’re up to it?”

“Yes,” Fraser said. He wasn’t up for lengthy conversations, he thought irritably.

Ray was quiet while he let Fraser get dressed as much as he could by himself and then assisted with the rest.

Fraser moved the wheelchair outside the bedroom and into the living room and Ray grabbed one of the kitchen chairs and sat down heavily.

“I found these in your sweats,” Ray sighed and held up two small pills.

Surprise registered on Fraser face for a second before he could help it and Ray smiled savagely at him.

“How long have you been skipping them?” Ray asked nonchalantly.

Fraser bit his lip. Ray wouldn’t like the answer to this one. “This is the third day,” he admitted in a scratchy voice.

Ray looked up and seemed to count something in his head. Then he nodded.

“Fits the pattern. You’re going through withdrawal,” Ray explained. “The cranky attitude, the mood swings, the headaches—stop me when you’ve heard this before?” Ray said and there was an edge to his voice.

“Ray,” Fraser tried.

“No, Ben… no.” Ray looked years older. Fraser had never seen him this defeated.

“Do you know what?” Ray said in a thick voice. “I’ve thought it was me, okay? Your damn therapist as good as told me that it was all my doing that you were in such bad shape… what the hell, Frase?”

“Ray, I—I couldn’t stand how they made me feel—”

“And you couldn’t talk to me?—no, you know what? This isn’t going to work. You’re going to take your meds and we’re going to talk when they kick in.”

Fraser’s brows drew together.

Ray showed his teeth. “It’s either those pills or we’re going to the hospital and they’ll give you something you won’t be able to spit out.”

Fraser felt like snapping at Ray again that he didn’t have the slightest inkling of how this felt, but the world of sadness on Ray’s face stopped him before he could utter one syllable.

He held his hand out and Ray dropped the pills into it. Fraser threw them into his mouth and swallowed.

Very quietly, Ray said: “If you love me, if you have any feeling left for me, I’m begging you, really swallow them this time…” he was hoarse and Fraser couldn’t remember if Ray had ever in his life sounded so sad.

Fraser had already swallowed them, but he told him anyway.

“Thank you,” Ray murmured.

He stood up. “I’m going out for a while now… take care of yourself, please?”

Fraser nodded, wide-eyed.

The door clicked into the lock behind Ray.

Fraser knew the exact moment when the pills kicked in. He felt woozy at first, almost high, and bit by bit a feeling of calm settled over him. It was as if his head was clear for the first time in days.

Oh God. Ray.

The way he had snapped at Ray those last few days, Fraser was swept up by a wave of shame. It had been an experiment at Ray’s expense and it hadn’t even helped the way Fraser had thought it might.

He hadn’t felt depressed, but lashing out at Ray for everything he did wasn’t better. Rather the opposite.

Ray came back almost exactly an hour after he had left.

Fraser looked anxiously at the opening door. When Ray saw his face he smiled.

“Feeling better?” he asked as he toed off his boots and hung up his jacket.

“I’m so sorry, Ray,” Fraser whispered, ashamed.

Ray shrugged, heartbreakingly careless, and took his seat on the abandoned kitchen chair again.

He was quiet for a moment and Fraser didn’t know what else he could say. Keeping on saying he was sorry wouldn’t make one bit of difference.

“I can’t go through that again, Frase,” Ray explained quietly. He looked up at Fraser and there was so much pain on his face that Fraser winced.

“I—I really can’t. I thought… I thought I was the sole cause of it… and I know I’m not dealing so well with all of this, but… god, trust me I’m trying,” Ray wrung his hands helplessly.

“Ray, you’re much more than I could hope for—” Fraser said urgently.

Ray shook his head. “Please—please don’t try to make me feel better, ‘kay? I know you don’t…” Ray took a deep breath and focused on his feet. “I know you don’t wanna kiss me or touch me or anything and I…” Ray took another shuddering breath, “I can… I swear I can live with that, but I can’t deal…” Ray wiped hastily across his eyes. “I can’t deal with you ruining yourself on purpose, okay, I just can’t and I don’t know how to stop you and I—” Ray’s shoulders shook and didn’t stop.

“Ray…” Fraser whispered, shocked. How could Ray think that he didn’t want his touch?

“And I… god, Ben, I love you so damn much… and I just can’t get this right… it’s—it’s just like Spade says in the book you’re too damn stubborn to read ‘I’ll go ahead blindfolded if that’s necessary, but I can’t do it without you having my back’… shit,” Ray cursed, wiping furiously at his cheek.

It was only one push with his hands and then Fraser was right at Ray’s side. Sitting in the wheelchair had never been more frustrating than now when all he wanted to do was pull Ray close.

He took Ray’s hands in his own and raised them to his lips. He pressed feverish kisses to them, murmuring Ray’s name again and again.

Ray couldn’t seem to stop shaking. He drew another shaky breath, angrily wiping another tear track away. “I’ll stick with you… okay… even if… you know,” Ray gave him a brave smile, a fool’s smile, “even if your feelings have changed or something… I can’t… I can’t help it,” Ray smiled again and Fraser couldn’t take it anymore. He reached up, throwing his arms around Ray’s neck and he pulled, until he could kiss Ray and Ray’s arms came up to hold him, an iron grip that made it impossible for him to crash down.

Ray tasted of tears and sadness and Fraser didn’t stop kissing him until he couldn’t taste either anymore.

He wobbled on his legs and Ray stood up, helping him back into the wheelchair. But Fraser didn’t release his grip around his neck.

“I… I was afraid I had gotten your hopes up for nothing,” Fraser murmured and Ray shook his head, not understanding what Fraser meant.

“That time at the hospital… when you washed me…”

Ray pulled back a little to look at Fraser.

The urge to pull at his collar was overwhelming, but Fraser wasn’t willing to release Ray.

“It was a mere aberration, a fluke, a one-time occurrence… I—I tried,” a blush suffused his cheeks. “I tried to repeat it, but it didn’t work. I’m… I’m sorry, Ray.”

Ray was shaking his head in confusion.

“That’s why you wouldn’t let me touch you? You were afraid I’d find out and—what?” Ray frowned at him.

“I’m—” Fraser sighed unhappily. “I’m not the man to provide what you need,” Fraser said carefully.

“You are the most stubborn man,” Ray managed to get out in a hoarse whisper. “You’re more than man enough, trust me.”

That night, they went to bed at the same time. Ray helped Fraser out of the wheelchair and when he had settled down, Ray gathered his courage.

“Can I undress you?” he prepared himself for another rejection. He really vowed not to take it personally.

Fraser bit his lip and then he nodded.

Ray smiled at him and helped him to get out of his shirt and then out of his boxer shorts. Ray wasn’t wearing anything more than his boxer briefs, but he followed suit and slid into bed next to Fraser.

Ray noticed Fraser’s tense posture and squeezed his arm. “Relax,” he murmured and hit the light; learning to touch each other in the dark, just like the very first time when they were still looking for the hand of Franklin.

He found Ben’s lips in the dark and felt his warm body underneath his own.

It wasn’t long before other parts of Ray’s body wanted in on the action. He couldn’t help it he’d had a hard-on for Benton Fraser for longer than he could remember.

A shaking hand found its way between their bodies while they were kissing and Ray broke the kiss, gasping, “no, don’t, Ben.” Gently, Ray took his hand and raised it to his lips. “This isn’t about that.”

“But—” Fraser began and was interrupted by Ray’s lips

“Nuh-uh. You’re thinking too much.”

Ray smiled in the dark when he felt Ben’s hand settle on his neck instead.

The tightness around Ray’s eyes had receded a bit, Fraser noticed the next morning as he studied him. He’d been so busy thinking what his physical handicap meant for Ray he hadn’t even considered the emotional ramifications of what he might be putting him through.

Ray placed the pills and a glass of water in front of Fraser and gathered their plates up to carry them to the sink.

Fraser had the pills already halfway to his mouth when he realized that Ray wasn’t watching whether or not he took them. Frowning, Fraser took his hand down again. “Aren’t you going to make sure I take the meds?” he asked, surprised.

Ray stopped on his way to the sink and placed the plates on the kitchen counter. He turned back and crossed his arms. Slowly, Ray smiled and reached up to tap twice against his temple with two fingers. “Blindfolded, Frase, blindfolded.” He turned back to the plates and Fraser was left staring at him.

To be responsible for Ray’s trust like that… he had expected to have lost his trust, at least to have damaged it to a painful extent. And he would have understood; Ray had every right not to believe in him anymore.


Fraser stared down at his hand and placed the pills on his tongue. He took a sip of water and swallowed, feeling the capsules sliding down his throat. Of course he had Ray’s back, they were— Fraser almost stuttered over the word. Partners, they were partners. His head flew up again to burn a hole into the spot Ray had vacated a second ago.

Ray came back to the table— and he must’ve seen the look of wonder on Fraser’s face, or the gratitude, he couldn’t tell which would be the most prominent emotion written on his features, for Ray rubbed his neck in embarrassment with a vulnerable smile on his lips when he noticed Fraser’s expression.

He had to pull himself together—even if it was just to make this easier on Ray. He would never be able to repay him for what he had gone through on his behalf. There was so much kindness in Ray that people never knew about… if he could preserve one thing in this world it would be this. Ray was willing to sacrifice so much and he didn’t even think twice about it. A fool’s heart.

Fraser smiled. No one but a fool would put up with him, that much was certain.

Ray wasn’t looking forward to seeing Craig after their last encounter, but there wasn’t much he could do about it.

Craig greeted them and took one look at Ben, noticing his calm demeanor and the small smile, before he gave Ray a pointed look.

Ray bristled. As if any of that was due to Craig’s hobby-shrink advice.

Judging from the way Craig treated Fraser one could think it was his own damn achievement; stupid toothpaste smile and call-me-Clark-Kent glasses… like some damn throw-back from the 50s. Ray preferred the 90s, thank you very much.

“Ray?” Fraser asked with a frown, turning his head to look at him.

“Wh—oh, sure…” What was the question again? Ah, yeah, the time when he was supposed to pick up Ben.

Craig smiled at Ray and placed a hand on Fraser’s shoulder.

“Well, Benton, shall we get started?”

Ray waited until they were out of earshot before he mimicked Craig and his stupid “Well, Benton, shall we get started?”

He wondered what they talked about during their hour. Did Craig comment on Fraser’s nice thigh muscles or his strong arms or was he happy enough just running his hands all over Ben’s body?

Damn, Ray cursed himself. It just wasn’t fair that the guy got to touch Ben so casually all the time when every simple touch meant so much to Ray. And getting there had been such a hard battle… now they were behaving as if it were their first month together.

Ray frowned. No… come to think of it, they weren’t. Actually, they had been touching all over as soon as it had been clear that rejection wasn’t on the menu. He grinned. Thinking back it was almost hilarious how much time it had taken them to grasp that—personal space, what was that?

…well, Ray was beginning to find out. He sighed a little sadly. He sure had no idea if they could ever go back to that stage where touching each other was the most natural thing. It was okay; at least they were touching again. He wouldn’t give up on that for the world.

It was probably just embarrassment. Ray wasn’t really sure if his own arousal made Fraser uncomfortable but he would take a wild guess in any case and claim that Ben was embarrassed for not producing what he had termed ‘the desired result.’ Ray grinned fondly in his coffee.

Ben was such a dork sometimes. Freak, he thought affectionately.

Thoughtfully, Ray stared at the ceiling. He’d simply taken Fraser’s word for gospel when he told him that the wet dream at the hospital was some kind of freak accident. An aberration, he’d said. Ray tapped against his paper cup of coffee, lost in thought. How did he know?

Slowly, Ray stood and drained the rest of his coffee. Time to see a man about a horse… and he wasn’t going to find this particular horse in the rest room.

Ray was still five minutes early before Fraser’s session was supposed to be over. He wished he knew what they were talking about. He wouldn’t put it past Craig to make some reference to what he had understood as a failure on Ray’s part in his treatment of Fraser.

But Ben emerged from the room with the same tired expression he always did and he didn’t seem ticked off at Ray or worried or anything of the sort.

Ray was glad when they could leave Craig behind at the hospital. Ray navigated the streets with more patience than usual to spare Fraser’s nerves. Casually, Ray rubbed a hand over the stubble on his jaw.

“That Craig’s a pretty good-looking guy,” he said with a sidelong glance.

Fraser rubbed his eyebrow. “Ah, yes, I suppose so.”

“You two get along well?”

“As good as can be imagined I would say. I’m afraid he has to do most of the talking since the exercises don’t exactly leave me much breathing room for conversation. He’s very entertaining, though. I’m sure you would appreciate his humor.”

“Yeah, I bet…” Ray mumbled. “…so, what does he tell you to pass the time?” Ray appeared fascinated by the road ahead of him.

He heard the smile in Ben’s voice when he answered. “Ah, we share the same taste in literature for the most part. Craig has a very good memory and he knows quite a few passages from Don Quixote by heart. It’s very nice of him to be so invested in his therapy sessions.”

The road spelled gloom and doom, Ray could read it in the median already. His heart fluttered nervously in his chest. Just what Ray needed; Fraser’s therapist couldn’t just be a dumb athlete, no, he had to have a whole library stashed away in his brain on top of the Herculean body, too. Ray couldn’t compete with that…

Ben was probably glad to have these sessions; he was probably bored to death by now having no one but Ray for conversation for weeks on end. And they all knew that Ray wasn’t the guy who was friends with words.

Ray counted the road signs they passed. He didn’t manage to get further than 10 before the thought he had tried to keep out barged in anyway: Maybe he was just scared that Ben would be relieved by some company other than himself.

He gnawed on his thumb for a second. What did he want to do? Lock him away forever? Ray took a deep breath and smiled at Fraser.

“Hey, now that you can get dressed in proper clothes and you don’t fall asleep all the time anymore, maybe you want to, dunno, get some visitors? –Frannie has been asking for you all the time and I think—actually I think Turnbull made something for you, I would be careful with that, but, yeah, I think he’d like to come by as well… if you want that.”

Fraser was quiet for a heartbeat. “That’s a good idea.”

Ray’s heart quivered again. How could you feel relieved and afraid at the same time, Ray wondered? It was a weird feeling, but Ben wanting to have visitors had to be a good thing and Ray desperately wanted him to get better.

Fraser looked out of the window and sighed. Constable Turnbull and Francesca were due in the next half an hour and he still wasn’t sure if he was up to it.

He hadn’t wanted to hurt Ray’s feelings, but he had still so much to handle with the varying emotions his medication caused and even completing simple tasks, like assisting Ray with getting him dressed, drained him.

No, Ray was right. He couldn’t hide away forever and they had only just begun weaning him from some of the more aggressive medication and it would still be awhile before he would feel back to his usual self. If he still knew how that felt.

At least the depression was receding with the change of his pills so he wouldn’t shock any of his friends with his moody appearance.

Fraser smiled a little when Frannie and Turnbull arrived together. He really needn’t have worried; they were busier checking each other’s expressions and sneaking glances than counting the lines of worry on Fraser’s face.

It was clear that they cared very much about him and that they were relieved to finally see him with their own eyes, but it was obvious to Fraser that there were simply bigger emotions that took up most of their thought processes.

Ray was noticing it too, if his grin and his eye-rolling were any indicator. Then again Ray had tried to warn him that things had progressed romantically between those two.

Turnbull had indeed made him something. He unwrapped the package carefully. It felt like something solid, and oddly shaped—the scent of wood wafted up when he pulled the paper aside—of course, a wood carving.

Ray seemed to be ready to intervene should it be something alive or harmful. Fraser bit his lip not to smile at him.

Fraser stared at the carving in his hands completely at a loss . It looked… well… he turned it around in his hands. It looked like a hybrid between a seal and a—a polar bear, maybe. A polar bear with 8 legs.

“Ah, that’s very…” Fraser tried to come up with the right word and Ray’s incredulous look didn’t help matters, but Turnbull was blissfully unaware of their confusion and beamed at Fraser before he had finished searching for an appropriate adjective.

“It’s a tardigrade,” he gushed.

“Yes, of course.” Fraser smiled suddenly. The likeness was actually very astute. He just hadn’t expected the carving to be of a so much larger scale than what it depicted—it was usually the other way around. A tardigrade was only about big, but Turnbull was already right in the middle of explaining it.

“Tardigrades, also known as waterbears, are the most durable animals on the planet,” Turnbull explained excitedly to an apprehensive Ray.

“They are known to withstand extreme temperatures—some can survive temperatures close to absolute zero—that’s -459 °F! And they can get by without water for almost a decade—there have even been studies in which tardigrades were left in outer space and survived,” Turnbull went on with unbridled enthusiasm.

Ray was grinning from ear to ear by now, looking from the waterbear to Fraser and back again as if to say: aren’t they the spitting image of each other?

Frannie was full of talk about the life and chaos at the 2-7, complaining loudly about Welsh’s bad attitude. “Honestly, since you two left he’s been unbearable. Oh—he was in a really good mood for a bit,” she amended when she saw their twin expressions of disbelief. Well, Ray’s expression of disbelief. Fraser hoped that he was a little more circumspect.

“Seems now that he had adapted to the freak cases coming his way he’s now unsettled by the lack of them.” She shrugged. “I guess he’s going to be really glad when you come back to work. He’s probably dusting Ray’s chair off as we speak.”

Ray grinned and shook his head. Fraser watched him and hoped it didn’t show how much he feared that he would never get to join Ray again.

In about a week, Ray would have to go back to work. Of course he had to; Ray could hardly stay at home with him for months.

But… he had come to rely on Ray’s presence and when Ray went back to work then he would be alone with his thoughts and no one to ground him in reality. And there was also a nagging voice whispering that Ray going back to his normal life and job would make him take new measure of his situation… and that Fraser would be found wanting.

Ray had made it clear – more than clear even – that his heart hadn’t changed. Getting his old life back, though, would show him that there was more to life than taking care of Fraser and maybe Ray would finally see that he could always choose.

Francesca and Turnbull didn’t stay long. The first sign of tiredness on Fraser’s part – and he had been really trying not to let it show – was enough for Ray to shoo them out again.

Ray had been right though, Fraser thought when he turned the wood carving around in his hands again. It had been a good idea to see some other faces. It must’ve been very relaxing for Ray as well to be around other people… people he didn’t have to take care of.

Ray looked down at the wood carving in Fraser’s hands. “You know,” he said conversationally, “I had thought of some other endearment than ‘tardigrade’ when I get tired of ‘freak’.” His chuckle evolved into full blown laughter at Fraser’s incredulous expression.

“I’m sure you’re the best-looking tardigrade out there, if it’s any consolation,” Ray wheezed, wiping tears of laughter from the corner of his eyes.

Fraser’s eyes gentled as he watched with fond exasperation as Ray’s laughing fit shook his slender frame.

“You wanna lie down a little?” Ray asked once their visitors had left.

“I would prefer it,” Fraser admitted.

Ray grinned. He had hoped Fraser would say that.

He helped Fraser onto the couch and stretched Fraser’s legs out.

“What are you doing?” Fraser asked curiously.

“I’m stretching you out on the couch,” Ray explained with Fraser’s best ‘obviously’ voice.

Fraser smiled.

“I can feel that. I wanted to know why.”

Ray looked up at Fraser’s face and grinned. “So that I can lie next to you, of course.”

Gracefully, Ray climbed over him and settled half on top and half beside him. With a content sigh, Ray rested his head in the crook of Fraser’s shoulder.

“Aren’t you worried that you could get too heavy for me?” Fraser asked mildly.

Ray snorted. “As if—besides, if I really get too heavy, which I doubt is possible, you could try exercising those thigh muscles and push me off,” he grinned.

“Is that the goal?” Fraser asked with a small smile.

Ray snuggled further into Fraser’s body. “Nope. The goal is catching a nap. And I know from experience that a Mountie is the perfect place for that.”

“I see,” Fraser said, amused, bringing up his arms to hold Ray.

He must’ve dozed off for real because for a moment his only sensory information was of Ben’s hand, gently stroking over his back in a soothing motion, before the rest of his senses offered any input of their own.

He blinked awake and raised his head to look up at Ben. “Did you sleep?”

“A little,” Fraser confirmed with a smile.

“’s good,” Ray slurred.

They lay together quietly for a while longer. Ray’s fingers explored Ben’s upper body. He’d been gaining weight back, Ray thought with a victorious grin that he smothered in Fraser’s chest. He’d get his strength back before long; Ray was sure of it… which reminded him…

“I talked to your doctor, during your therapy session.”

Fraser stiffened underneath him.

“Remember that you said you couldn’t repeat your body’s sudden interest in sex?”

“Ray,” Fraser said warningly.

“I thought my dignity isn’t worth much anyway so I asked the doc about it,” Ray continued, unperturbed.

“Ray,” he repeated, sad and resigned.

“No, listen, he said if it happened once—”

“Ray,” Fraser’s voice held a clear note of annoyance now.

“There’s no reason that it won’t happen again sometime, okay?”

“But it isn’t happening again,” he snapped. “It isn’t and it might never and you really shouldn’t get your hopes up. I can’t and I’m sorry,” Fraser spat.

“Would you stop saying you’re sorry? It’s not your fault!” Ray glared, raising himself up.

“I can’t help it if you feel it’s something I should be able to do and I simply can’t. Believe me I want it more than you can imagine, but I can’t change it!” Fraser exclaimed angrily.

“Dammit! Would you stop thinking this is something I need you to do?”

“Well, it’s clearly quite frequently on your mind for I can’t remember bringing it up myself.”

Ray sat up and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. “I just wanted you to know that you don’t have to give up hope, all right?”

“Yes, because it’s so much better to put hopes into something that might never happen. For what? To constantly fail your expectations?”

“Would you shut the hell up? This isn’t about my expectations. I’m not expecting anything, okay? Arggh, god, you make me so mad sometimes,” Ray snarled.

“Good, at least we’re on the same page where that is concerned,” Fraser replied tightly.

“Yeah…” Ray muttered dejectedly, getting up from the couch.

Fraser pushed himself into a sitting position and sighed.

Fraser tried hard not to envy Ray when he went back to work. Ray didn’t seem to be very glad about it; a frown had become an almost permanent fixture on his face.

Fraser tried to assure him that there was no cause for worry.

The muscles in Fraser’s torso had adapted to the strain of maneuvering the wheelchair and his legs had gained at least a bit of muscle back. Not enough to carry him, but enough that getting in and out of the wheelchair wasn’t such an ordeal anymore.

Besides, as he repeatedly told Ray, Diefenbaker would stay with him.

His lupine companion wouldn’t let him come to any harm during Ray’s absence.

Ray wasn’t even gone for the whole day; he came back to the apartment for his lunch hour and if he wasn’t stuck behind the desk he came in for a short look whenever his case allowed him to. Fraser had to thank Lieutenant Welsh the next time he saw him for not putting Ray on any high priority cases.

He feared that Ray’s concentration wasn’t at its best during his time at the station and Fraser didn’t know how Ray would cope with an emotionally taxing situation, like a murder case, on top of dealing with Fraser’s condition.

Fraser watched the street below their apartment window and tried not to worry too much. He wasn’t worried that Ray would get hurt on the job while he wasn’t there. Ray could take care of himself and Ray had been doing this job for a long time with and without his help. Welsh wouldn’t let him run around half-cocked, he knew that.

No, he was more anxious that one day Ray would come home and find out that this wasn’t the life he had signed up for. Some day Ray might resent having to take care of him and Fraser was afraid that he would be able to see it on his face and know it was all over.

He looked down in his lap and shook his head at his own sentimentality. After Ray had left at the end of his lunch break Fraser had picked up the faded blanket that Ray had brought him in the hospital.

A grown man shouldn’t need a security blanket, he chided himself. The sense of calm and the bottled memories that washed over him when he handled it were too tempting to give up, though.

Fraser had started reading Ray’s book. In between he really had to shake his head and smile because he could picture quite clearly how Sam Spade had appealed to a younger Ray; tough, his own boss, a dare-devil with a sharp tongue and a mouth too big for his own good.

It was a certain sense of freedom, being able to be on his own again for a while. And yet he was already looking forward to the moment when Ray would come home again… even though he dreaded the moment the door would open almost as much.

Ray fell onto the couch with an exhausted groan. He had left Fraser for his therapy session with Craig and his attempts at literary seduction with growing wariness the more Fraser participated in his exercises.

Last time Ray had come to get him, Craig had his hands slung all over Fraser assisting him around a track with stairs. And when Fraser had stumbled, he had put a hand out to steady himself on Craig’s arm.

The way Craig praised Fraser’s progress whenever Ray was around… it always felt as if Craig was making sure that Ray knew it wasn’t his achievement that Fraser was improving.

He gritted his teeth.

Ben probably enjoyed the talk about books and the poetic recital Craig was apparently so good at. Well, tough luck, Ray didn’t know any poetry. And he was damned if he started memorizing poems now.

Maybe it was more important to Ben now… talking about stuff like that? Because he couldn’t do much in the way of physical activities and sex was out of the question… perhaps Fraser was really looking for someone with more ivory tower knowledge to entertain him…

Ray wasn’t good at that. He liked a good movie and it wasn’t as if he couldn’t read, but… a lot of books bored him and he got the characters mixed up and he didn’t believe in all that crap about reading between the lines. A good story was a good story—who cared what the author had intended to tell underneath it all?

His fingers closed tightly around the buttons he was still carrying around. Ben cared, apparently.

The telephone rang and Ray groaned. Whoever it was, he really didn’t wanna talk to them. He slouched to the kitchen counter anyway and picked up the phone with a resigned face as he saw an unknown number on the display.

“Yeah, Kowalski,” Ray announced to the caller.

“Gee, you ever think of saying ‘hello’ when someone’s calling you, Stanley?” Vecchio complained.

“Uh-oh,” Ray said before he could stop himself.

There was a pause the length of a heartbeat, then Vecchio blurted: “What do you mean ‘uh-oh’? What happened this time? Don’t tell me. I leave town for a few weeks and you two reduce the city of Chicago to dust?”

Ray rubbed his neck. Oh, this was so not going to be pretty.

“Nah, you know Chicago. The perps just keep popping back up like some damn jack-in-the-box. So, uh, how’s Florida?” No crime to change a subject, was it?

“Hey, you know Florida. Sun, sun, and what do you know? More sun. Listen, as much as I like chatting with you, can I speak to Benny?”

“Uh…” Ray made a face. Did it have to be him that told Vecchio?

“What do you mean ‘uh’? What’s going on over there?”

He had to tell him at some point. Over the phone was probably safer. It reduced the risk of bodily harm.

“He’s in the hospital.”

“HE’S WHAT—?” Vecchio shouted and Ray held the phone away from his ear with a wince.

“I swear to god, Stanley… you’re supposed to watch his back—”

“It’s not my fault,” Ray exclaimed angrily.

Vecchio sighed. “Yeah, yeah, it’s Benny, I know. He just can’t help it. Which leg is it this time?”

Ray held the phone a short distance away from his ear again. “Both,” he said and waited for the storm of expletives to rush over the line before he held the phone close again.

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, okay. It’s not his fault this time; you shot him.” Ray thought he probably shouldn’t have put it that way.

“He’s at the hospital because I shot him? Listen, Ray, in case you’ve forgotten I’m in Florida. I don’t know what they put in the coffee at the station nowadays, but—”

There was a female murmur in the background that Ray couldn’t make out.

“No, no, Stanley’s fine—as annoying as ever. It’s Benny,” Vecchio explained to who Ray guessed must’ve been Stella.

“Yes, I shot him and no, I didn’t intend to shoot him, I—”

“It’s from that time,” Ray interrupted. “When you shot him because of the Victoria disaster. The bullet shifted and they had to get it out.”

There was dead silence for a moment on the other side of the phone.

“Vecchio? You still there?” Ray asked with a frown.

“Yeah,” Vecchio croaked. “Shit… is he… I mean is he…”

Ray took pity on the man.

“He’s better. He’s getting physio at the moment, actually—”

“I should’ve been there, we should—I’ll be in Chicago as quick as I can, I—”

“Calm down!” Ray ordered. “Fraser didn’t want to worry you that’s why we didn’t tell you, okay? He came through it all right. Get your business in order, tie up your loose ends, and then you can come see him. He might even be out of the wheelchair by then. Don’t make him feel guilty for abandoning your trip to Florida, ‘kay?”

Vecchio took a few calming breaths. “Is he mad at me?”

“No,” Ray said with a sigh. Maybe Ben should be, though. Might’ve helped to be angry at someone else rather than himself. “He’s not blaming you.”

“Thank God,” Vecchio gasped, relieved. “Okay, listen, I need a few weeks to get things wrapped up here—you sure I shouldn’t get on the next plane?”

“It’s fine, Ray. I tell him and he’ll call you, okay? Not much any of us can do anyway,” Ray said patiently.

“Yeah, you do that. And Stanley?”

“What now?”

“Tell him I’m sorry.”

Ray smiled. “He knows that. I’ll tell him, don’t worry. Give my hello to the Missus,” Ray smirked.

“Bye, Stanley.”

Ray sighed with relief when Vecchio had hung up. At least this was one thing less to worry about now.

On to the next part