At first he thought maybe he was losing his mind. Woke up one day to find her staring at him, and he blinked hard, trying to clear his eyes. It could be his mind playing tricks, of course it could. That's what he kept telling himself all the way through what passed for breakfast, all the way down to the car, all the way to the station, as she kept staring, motionless and sad.
Her case file landed on his desk around noon. Fraser's eyes hardened, mouth setting in a thin line, and Diefenbaker lowered his head to rest on his front paws. Ray couldn't move at first. Couldn't take his eyes off the picture attached to the first sheet of paper in the folder. Mouth dry he finally managed to look up, but she was still there, unmoving and unblinking, although for a second he thought maybe he saw tears in her eyes. Fraser gently took the file from Ray and looked it over, before gathering up his hat and peacoat, and it took Diefenbaker nudging his leg with his snout before Ray's screaming mind snapped back into focus.
"Let's go," he said quietly, barely heard above the dim noises of the bullpen, officers and detectives and perps, daily business as usual, and nobody noticing her.
"Fraser?" he asked in the car, one eye on the road and one eye on the rearview mirror. She stared somberly back at him through her reflection, still not speaking a word. "Fraser, do you ever..."
He trailed off, not knowing how to finish his question. Maybe he really was losing his mind?
"Do I ever what?" Fraser asked quizzically from the passenger seat.
Ray considered for a second, before changing his question to, "Do you ever get sick of this job?"
Ray stole his eyes from the rearview mirror to risk a glance over at his partner. Fraser turned his head to look out the side window and sighed heavily, like he was trying to get rid of something heavy sitting on his chest.
"All the time, Ray," he replied, and it was possibly the most open Fraser had ever been.
In the backseat, Diefenbaker whined once.
He went over her room carefully, not wanting to miss a single detail. Ray gave a wry smile to himself as he realized Fraser was rubbing off on him, because he was not only searching for visible clues, but scents as well. Scents, and sounds, and anything that might be out of place or off, and this was a damn important case.
She stood in the middle of the room as he moved around, silent and somber, skin greying and hair flat, and Ray turned to her.
"Are you real?" he asked, and realized his voice was trembling a little.
She didn't answer him.
He looked back towards her bed, towards the white dresser sitting a feet away from it, and walked over, carefully studying each of the small porcelain figurines sitting on top of it. Sixteen in all, and he could guess she got one for each birthday. Maybe each Christmas. Something like that. Her parents would know, he could ask them. They were at the top of his list.
The bed had white and baby blue sheets. Probably too old for pink, or maybe she just never was the pink kind of girl? Ray didn't know. The walls were white, and the carpet was in subdued greens, matching the bed sheets. He refused to look too long at the bloodstain in the middle of the room, refused to acknowledge the drag marks leading to the door.
Over the dresser, a poster was tacked to the wall, some anonymous popstar Ray didn't know about, and didn't care about, and in the opposite corner of the room, a desk lined with books about fantasy, no doubt filled with tales of warriors in leather outfits and shiny swords. In the middle was a pad with scribblings on it, and an open book on top. He walked over to look. Chuckled a little in the back of his throat, and it hurt, like dry leaves being forced up from deep inside.
"Were you any good?" he asked her, not expecting a reply, and not getting one. He was getting used to this, and that was a damn scary thought.
"I was never any good," he said with a little shrug. "Straight Cs and Ds, all the way. Mostly Ds. My mom was always on about how she knew I could do better, but I think she just had one of those 'my kid's perfect' complexes, you know? Your mom anything like that?"
A lone tear rolled down her cheek, and he sighed deeply.
"We'll find you," he said quietly, not knowing why those words came forth, but unable to help himself all the same. "I got this partner, see, who's Canadian and he's really good at--"
He cut himself off.
Meaningless babble, all of it.
"He's good," he finally settled for, but he wasn't sure if it calmed her or not, because her sorrowful expression remained unchanged.
"Ray?" came Fraser's voice, a fraction of a second before Fraser himself appeared in the doorway. "Who are you talking to?"
"I--" he started, eyes darting in her direction once, before shaking his head. "Just muttering to myself, Frase. What have you got?"
Fraser's expression was grim, face uncharacteristically drawn, eyes haunted, and Ray wondered briefly when his friend has gotten so marked by this job. Wondered if Fraser had always looked this way, and he'd just not noticed before.
"Her parents are at the station."
She didn't react to the words, and Ray nodded. Looked around the room once more, gaze lingering briefly at the picture sitting on her nightstand in a red and white striped plastic frame. Happy couple.
Not to happy anymore.
"She was seeing someone," her father explained, eyes red-rimmed and downcast. "I don't know who he was. I only met him once. I didn't like him."
"Tom," her mother said from beside him, clutching Fraser's handkerchief like a lifeline. "Tom... something. That's all I know."
"Okay," Ray said, "okay." In his mind, he flashed back to the picture on the nightstand. Tall guy, taller than her, probably about Ray's own height. Dark hair with the beginnings of blonde roots, and a goatee. The one ear visible in the picture lined with piercings. Didn't know what color eyes, because he had sunglasses on. And next to him, her face. Smiling and warm and full of life.
Not so happy anymore.
Maybe not so happy to begin with.
The father sniffed once. "He was older. He had a--a motorcycle. One of those black ones, with long handlebars. A hog. Don't know what kind. I only saw it once, and I didn't like the thought of her riding around on it. I--"
He snapped his mouth shut and drew a shuddering breath through his nose. "We had a big fight about that, just a couple of weeks ago, and she..."
Quiet sobs overtook his body and she watched them silently from the far corner of the room, face not revealing a thing. No longer warm. Skin gone from healthy and full of life in Ray's mind, to dull and grey in the dim light of Welsh's office.
"Please find her," the father begged, and Ray's chest tightened. "Please bring her home to us. Please, we just want her back!"
Ray had no reply to that, knowing that they still believed she was alive somewhere out there, knowing that they still had hope. He didn't want to promise things he couldn't keep.
She took a step forward, reached out towards her father, but he was too far away.
It was hard sleeping when she was there. He could feel her eyes burning into his back if he tried to turn away, and he could feel her dead gaze on his face if he was facing her. It was unsettling--it freaked him out. When he eventually did sleep, his dreams were filled with nightmares--dead girls and rotting corpses, and Ray had never been good with gore.
He wondered if she slept. He didn't think so.
Fraser must have noticed the dark circles under his eyes, but he never said anything. Maybe because Fraser himself didn't look quite as polished as usual these days. Maybe because the case was affecting him, too, though Ray hoped not quite in the same ways as him.
He found himself wondering what would happen when the case was over. Would she leave, or would she stay? What if the case never ended? And then he shuddered silently, because that was a train of thought he couldn't afford to lose himself in. More than forty files sent down to the archives, to be shut away in a drawer somewhere and probably, most likely, never opened again, because something was missing. Tiny details that made it impossible, most of the time, and on a few occasions, big gaping holes of information and clues that was never found, and never would be, simply because they weren't there.
Ray didn't want her file to end up like that.
During the day, having her there didn't seem too bad. Didn't affect him in the same creepy way it did at night, anyway. She was a presence, never speaking, hardly ever moving, unless he was walking somewhere. Sometimes she'd follow him, walking a few feet behind him, and something she'd just stay behind. He never had to tell her where he was going. He never had to work it into a conversation, like, "Hey, Fraser, why don't you get Franscesca to type this out while I go get a coffee from the break room, down the hallway and second door on the right?"
She always seemed to know where he was going, or she found him anyway.
The water was cool on his face, and it was a momentary relief. Too many days, and a much too heavy case. She had a lot of people who cared about her, and Ray had to speak to every last of them. Watch as they cried and prayed and hoped, and he took a lot of notes. Sometimes he just scribbled gibberish on his pad, because if he didn't have anything else to focus on, he really would go crazy. If you don't find them after the first 24 hours...
Statistics and the feeling of desperately clinging to every last strand of hope, was already weighing down his mind, and he felt bile rise in his throat again.
When he straightened up from the sink, he could see her reflection in the mirror.
"What do you want from me?" he asked, on some level already knowing, but just wishing she would talk to him.
She just looked at him sadly.
The light of day was fading by the time the rain started to dribble down. It suited Ray fine. Less chance of being spotted, anyway, and he peered out the windshield at the building in front of them, watching as the droplets gathering on the window made the edges look blurry. Like the entire building was fading, he mused to himself. Like reality itself was fading.
Maybe it was.
She was still there, but she didn't look at him. She stood by his window, silently in the rain, letting it wet her clothes and hair, making them cling to her body. She looked cold.
Beside him, Fraser was silent, eyes slightly out of focus as he watched the building. Ray wondered what he was thinking about. Whether he was thinking about the case, going over details in that brain of his. Going over statements he'd heard and evidence he'd seen, or maybe thinking about something else entirely. Home, possibly--snowy planes and ice crevasses and caribou. Maybe he was thinking about her. Ray hoped someday he'd maybe understand more of how Fraser's mind worked. Maybe it'd help him figure out his own.
It's possible Fraser felt Ray's eyes on him. It's possible he would have spoken anyway. "You know, Ray," he said, taking a deep breath, "I do get sick of this job."
Ray blinked. Outside his window, she turned her head to look at them both, wet hair swaying gently around her face.
"I do get sick of this job," Fraser repeated, "and sometimes I think about going home just to--escape it all. Chicago is so--different from home."
Ray had to hold back a snort.
"I don't understand how you live this," Fraser continued. "Back home, we never had to deal with this. There was death, oh yes, as it is everywhere on this planet, I suspect. But it seems to me, the very cruelty of human beings, the--evil that men do, for lack of a better phrase..."
Fraser seemed lost for a second. "It just seems to much more here."
Then he shrugged a little and rubbed a hand over a tired face. "Then again, going home would solve nothing. If I don't help these people--who will?"
It was on the tip of Ray's tongue to say, I will, the police will, but he knew better. That wasn't what Fraser meant.
"Sometimes, though, Ray... Sometimes it feels like it's suffocating me. Like I'm slowly going insane."
Ray turned his head away from Fraser to meet lifeless eyes on the other side of his window, Fraser's words echoing his own feelings perfectly.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement, and he turned back in time to see the boyfriend walk up to his door and start unlocking it. Ray and Fraser moved out of the car at the same time, in perfect sync with each other, and she followed a few steps behind, her bare feet making no sound on the wet sidewalk.
A few people turned their heads when they led him through the station. Some of them knew what he was under suspicion for, and they seemed to have made up their mind about his involvement already. Ray tried not to look at them, tried not to look at the faces scowling in disgust, or the faces that were peering blankly at them, simply curious about the situation. Tried to focus on the job. Finding her.
She was trailing behind them, sad eyes going from Ray to the boyfriend and back again. Ray saw it every time he turned his head a little. If Fraser wondered why Ray kept glancing over his shoulder, he didn't say anything. It's possible Fraser simply didn't notice, though, because his eyes were firmly focused forward, one hand holding onto their prisoner's arm, and the other clutching his hat.
As they passed the hallway leading to the bullpen, Ray saw her parents out of the corner of his eye. When he turned her head, he saw her mother clutching both hands to her chest, and her father standing immobile at her side. Welsh had a hand on each of their shoulders and was talking quietly to them.
She never even glanced at her parents, and she didn't follow Ray and Fraser into the interrogation room.
Afterwards, he found her standing in the hallway. People were moving around her, but she only looked at Ray, eyes blank and tears running down her pale cheeks.
Ray looked sideways at her, drew a deep breath and nodded once, as something clawed its way up his throat and threatened to suffocate him. A weight off his shoulders and something cold and painful he hadn't even known was there, slowly letting go of his heart.
Behind him, Fraser exited the interrogation room as well, closing the door behind him with a quiet snick.
"We got him," Ray said quietly.
"We did," Fraser said with a nod, his own voice as void of joy as Ray's, only empty relief left.
Ray wasn't really talking to Fraser, but she was gone anyway.
Her body was exactly where the boyfriend had said it was. Ray watched silently as they pulled it from the ground, put it in a body bag and sent it away to the coroner's office. Silly, silly, he thought with an almost maniacal, little laugh in his head, to dig a body up just to put it back in the ground. Maybe at least this way, her family would get some closure. Maybe at least this way, they would know that their grief had a cause.
Fraser kept his distance, instead standing by Ray's car, leaning against the door. Diefenbaker sat at Ray's side, head held high and chest puffed out, as if he was watching over someone. Ray had no idea who, but he thought maybe it was her.
"Fraser?" Ray asked, his voice loud as it broke the silence of the car.
Ray swallowed once and blinked away tears, though he had no idea why he was crying. "Do you believe in ghosts, Fraser?"
Fraser looked at Ray oddly for a long moment, and Ray once again wished he knew how Fraser's mind worked. Wish he knew what his friend was thinking.
"Yes, Ray, I do," Fraser said calmly, and then nodded a little. "Let's go get something to eat," he said, offering a tentative smile that Ray couldn't help but match. First one they'd shared in weeks, maybe even months, it felt like.
"Okay," Ray said, and started the car feeling surprisingly hungry.