Ma'd always told him he'd know the difference when it happened.
Ray hadn't quite believed her. He'd had more than his fair share of brushes with death--most of them since he'd taken up with one Benton Fraser--and he'd been just as clueless every time whether this was it or not.
This was definitely it.
Maybe it was the way he could feel his heart slowing down even though it should be speeding up, as panicked as he was. Damn it, he wasn't ready for this. Maybe he'd pushed his luck successfully one too many times and somehow had convinced himself it was never gonna happen.
Ray's veins started to sing. Oh, this was definitely happening, all right.
Dimly he could hear Fraser shouting for an ambulance. He sounded terrified, frightened in a way that Fraser just didn't get. Crap. Benny. He hadn't warned Benny. Fumbling with a hand that was rapidly losing feeling, he nevertheless managed to get a grip on the sleeve of Fraser's uniform.
“Benny, no. No ambulance. Not this time." His voice sounded weirdly calm. Maybe to make up for how calm he really didn't feel.
Fraser's face swam into his view and the distress on it made him feel mildly ill. “Ray, you need to save your strength," he insisted urgently.
“No. No, listen to me, Benny..." Damn it. It was gonna happen before he got a chance to explain if Fraser kept interrupting. “This is important."
Fraser looked stricken, but nodded.
A little bit of the tension ebbed out of Ray's body. “My family...my family's not exactly from around here."
Fraser frowned, bewildered by the apparent non sequitir. “Yes, I'm aware your grandparents were immigrants from Italy..."
“Not Italy," Ray interrupted. Okay, so it was rude, but he could already feel an unfamiliar warmth starting to spread through him. He had to get this out first. “Little further away. Like a few billion miles further."
“I don't understand," Fraser said helplessly. With his free hand, he was still trying to staunch the bleeding.
“You know how I joke that you're from another planet?" He coughed, and tasted more than blood in his mouth. Shit, he was almost out of time. “Well, so am I."
“Ray, I hardly think this is the time or place for a joke. You may be dying."
He was definitely dying, but he didn't have time to explain why that wasn't a bad thing. Instead Ray just squeezed Fraser's hand hard. “It's okay, Benny. I'm gonna be okay. I'm just gonna be…different."
“What do you mean, diff--?"
Ray didn't get a chance to answer that. Suddenly every cell in his body was exploding and he was screaming. Jesus, that hurt. It hurt like a son of a bitch. Why hadn't Ma warned him about that part? About bones shrinking and skin tightening and his skull rearranging itself. And not just his skull, but his brain too. He felt like he was being taken apart and reassembled from the inside out. Probably because he was.
Then, suddenly it was over and Fraser was staring at him like he was a stranger.
Ray sat up, suddenly. His hand flew to the hole in his dress shirt and he stuck his finger through it, marveling at the feel of unmarked skin. “Sweet!" he exclaimed. Energy buzzed through him like electricity. Was this seriously what he'd been so freaked out about? Right, because not dying was such a downer. He started patting himself all over, a thrill going through him all over again when he reached his head. “Better nose, that's something." He kept going, and just about crowed when he touched his scalp.
“Hey, I've got hair!" Grinning, Ray pivoted his head to grin at Fraser. “What color is it? Tell me it's not brown again. Brown's boring. And if you're gonna shake things up, you gotta do it right, right?"
The look in Fraser's eyes was all it took to kill his good mood. Ray's stomach took a nose dive into his shoes. (And speaking of his shoes, what had he been thinking? What was he, some sort of style pig? The whole outfit was gonna have to go, and not just because of the bullet hole.)
“Who are you?" Fraser demanded in a voice that was at once confused, horrified, and worst of all, utterly lost.
Ray forced a smile onto his face. “What do you mean, who am I? I'm Ray. I told you things were gonna be a little different."
Fraser sounded like he was choking on something. “All I know is that a moment ago, I was speaking to Ray Vecchio--who was very near to death, I might add. And then there was this burst of golden light and you appeared."
Ray nodded. Fuck, he hadn't considered that. What if Fraser didn't like the new him? He didn't think he could handle that. “Right. That's what I meant by different. I regenerated. See, my folks were from this planet called Gallifrey, see? Only they did something, broke the law or something, and they got exiled here. To Earth."
“Whoever you are, you're not making any sense," Fraser answered reproachfully.
“Yeah, well, I learned from the best." Ray gave him a cheeky grin that was only a little bit fake. “Look, I'll prove it to you. Take me back to the house."
“I don't think that would be wise, under the circumstances..."
Geez, Fraser was really not getting this. “Look, I'm not gonna hurt anybody. They're my family." On an impulse, he pulled his gun out of its holster and offered it to Fraser. “Take that, if it makes you feel better. But I guarantee you, you take me back to the house and they'll tell you the same thing I'm telling you. That it's me."
Fraser still looked dubious, but nodded. He tucked Ray's gun into the empty browning holster at the waist of his uniform, then looked down and held out a hand. “In that case, I'll require Ray’s backup weapon as well."
Ray shrugged and bent down to empty his ankle holster. “Satisfied?" he asked once the gun was in Fraser's hands. He dug in his pocket for his keys and clambered to his feet, heading for the Riv. Funny how it didn't look quite as appealing as it had an hour ago. Huh. “You coming?" he hollered over his shoulder to Fraser.
The first thing Frannie did when she answered the door was frown at him. “Can I help you?" she asked. She moved instinctively to block the door, folding her arms and casting a suspicious glance in Fraser's direction.
Great, not her too. At least she'd be easier to convince. “C'mon, Frannie, it's me. Ray."
Her eyes widened. “Oh my God. You did it, didn't you?" She smacked him on the arm, and Ray was pleasantly surprised to discover he felt no compulsion to whine about it. “Jeez, Ray, did you not listen to a word Ma said about trying to stay in one piece for at least the first century?"
Ray snorted. “I'm a cop. It's a dangerous line of work. Especially with this guy around." He jerked a thumb in Fraser's direction.
“Excuse me, Francesca," Fraser interjected, stepping up to Ray's side. “Forgive me for interrupting, but are you saying that this man is, indeed, your brother, Ray Vecchio?"
Frannie shrugged. “Well, I suppose I could be wrong, but..." She gestured for Ray to come closer. He obeyed, and she laid her hand first on one side of his chest, then the other. “Yeah, it's him," she answered in a dry voice. “Unless there's some other Gallifreyan running around impersonating him for God only knows what reason. Ma always said the second heart shows up with the first regeneration."
Fraser made a startled movement with his head that was sort of the reverse of a pigeon: jerking it suddenly back instead of forward. “Second heart?" he echoed.
Frannie shoved Ray towards him. “Feel it for yourself."
Fraser did as directed, only not with his palm. Instead, he placed his ear against Ray's chest. When he straightened up, he didn't look any less confused. “Ray, you have two hearts."
Ray could feel his face light up like a Christmas tree. “Hey, you called me Ray!"
Fraser shook his head, still looking lost. “I don't understand," he confessed, and the strain in his voice showed just how much he meant that.
Frannie rolled her eyes. “What'd you do, just spring it on him?" She hit Ray again and he scowled back at her.
Frannie turned her attention fully back to Fraser. “Okay, so were you actually there for the change?"
“I...suppose I was," Fraser answered helplessly.
“Then there you go," she answered with satisfaction.
Ray groaned. “Frannie, somehow I don't think that's very helpful." He turned to Fraser. “Okay, look, here's the deal. Like I started to say before, Ma and Pop were from this planet called Gallifrey, which is like, a bunch of light years away. Now, Gallifrey's kind of super advanced, but they're also kinda super uptight, you get me?"
Fraser frowned. Okay, so maybe uptight might not've been the best choice of words. “Not entirely, but go on."
Ray grimaced. “Okay, so the folks in charge have a bunch of rules. And not like laws-rules, just rules for the heck of it. Ma and Pop broke a couple of those rules--" If Pop had been the ass on Gallifrey that he'd been on Earth, it was probably more than a couple. Thank God Pop had been on his last regeneration when he'd kicked it five years ago. “--so they got kicked out. And dumped here."
“This still doesn't explain how you...'regenerated,' as you described it," Fraser objected.
“Yeah, it does," Ray insisted. “Because it's this trick, y'see. Way back a bunch of centuries ago, a bunch of Gallifreyans--"
“Time Lords," Frannie corrected.
Ray glared at her. “Just 'cause they call themselves that, don't mean I gotta. Anyway, these guys decided that if they were ever gonna accomplish all the crazy stuff they wanted to do, they'd have to be immortal. Or damn near to it, anyway. So they genetically engineered this code or something and implanted it into their DNA. And what this code does, is every time a Gallifreyan gets real close to dying, it kinda, what's the word for it? Reboots the system."
Fraser looked pained. “Wouldn't it have been simpler to create some sort of healing mechanism, such as when a lizard loses its tail?"
Ray shrugged. “Yeah, well, apparently they aren't big on simple."
“All right, let me see if I begin to understand." The confusion was beginning to fade from Fraser's face, but not the disappointment. “Your parents are from another planet, and thus you have alien DNA. This alien DNA was at some point in its history programmed so that, in the event you come close to death, it restores you by essentially transforming you into a whole new person."
Ray nodded. “Basically, yeah. Only I got all the memories of the old me."
Fraser hesitated a moment before asking the next question. “And there is no way to reverse the process."
Ray flinched, stung. “No. You could kill me again, I guess, but it wouldn't bring the old me back. You'd just wind up with another new one."
Frannie sighed. “Y'know, it might be a little late to be thinking of this, but we probably shouldn't be having this conversation on the front stoop."
Ray flushed again and Fraser nodded, grimacing. “Yes, of course."
Frannie shepherded them both into the house and into the living room with thankfully minimal incident. The closest they came to trouble was when Maria walked by and raised an eyebrow. “Who's this?"
“Ray regenerated," Frannie answered, resigned.
Maria rolled her eyes. “Figures. Always knew he'd never make it to his hundredth birthday." Then, thankfully, she left them alone.
Pretty soon, Ray found himself perched on the edge of the sofa while Fraser stood awkwardly across from him, looking from him to Frannie as if hoping to wake up. It only took a few minutes before Ray couldn't take it. “Look, just say it, okay? You want the old me back."
“I didn't say that," Fraser disagreed with another grimace. “I simply...haven't had time to become accustomed to the new you."
Ray wondered if that sounded as fake to Fraser as it did to him.
Frannie threw her hands up. “Look, I'm gonna go tell Ma so she doesn't freak out when she comes down and finds a blond Polish guy in her living room. You two work out...whatever it is you have to work out."
“I look Polish?" Ray bounced up from his seat and almost ran to the mirror to stare at his new face for the first time. “Huh. Not bad. Kinda an improvement, if you ask me."
Fraser made a noise that almost certainly wasn't intentional.
Ray turned back to him. “Look, Frase, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I didn't die back there, and I'm really sorry I didn't tell you sooner what was gonna happen instead."
This time Fraser's voice was quietly horrified. “Please don't ever apologize for not dying, Ray. I'm sorry if anything I said led you to believe I would feel otherwise. It's merely...a lot to take in."
“Yeah, well you should try it from my end, sometime," he retorted. He was still mesmerized by the face in the mirror. Not just the face, either. He'd lost at least a couple of inches, based on where that face was hanging in the glass, and based on the way his pants were bunching up around his ankles. But he'd gained...bulk wasn't quite the right word. He was still skinny, but he was more wiry now.
Fraser raised both eyebrows. “Fair enough," he conceded. “What do you intend to do now?"
That finally dragged Ray's attention away from his new reflection. “How do you mean?"
“Well, it seems logical to assume you would not wish to entrust your secret to the entirety of the 27th Division," he pointed out. “I'm honored that you chose to trust me with it." He didn't point out that Ray hadn't exactly had a whole lot of choice at the time. But hey, at least it'd happened in front of Fraser and not the entire 2-7.
Ray winced again. Yeah, that was a pretty logical assumption. It was a good thing Fraser'd thought of it, because he hadn't. “Right."
“So, do you intend to apply for employment elsewhere? Perhaps even leave Chicago?" At least Fraser didn’t sound thrilled by either prospect; that was something.
“I, uh, hadn't really thought about it," Ray admitted. “Couldn't I just go back to work and pretend to be somebody else? I know a buncha guys who could work up a new ID for me."
Fraser nodded slowly. “Very well. Only how do you intend to explain Ray Vecchio's apparent absence?"
Ray shrugged. “We can, uh, I dunno, say I got reassigned to some hot shot undercover deal?"
Fraser pursed his lips and tapped them thoughtfully with one finger. “It just may work," he admitted. “You're confident in the ability of these 'guys' you know to create an impenetrable backstory for you?"
He nodded. “Yeah, these guys could make like I was the Queen of England and people would buy it. They're that good."
Fraser sighed and tugged at his ear. “Well. As much as I don't find the idea of you utilizing less than legal means to create a new identity particularly appealing, I suppose it is preferable to the alternative."
“You mean that?" Ray asked, trying not to sound too eager. “I mean…you wanna keep working with me?"
This time Fraser's smile, though weak, seemed a lot more genuine. “Well, as I said; it may take some getting used to. But it appears that you are, in fact, still my partner. And my best friend. I would be a poor friend indeed if I allowed the circumstances, however bizarre, to alter that."
Ray crossed the room to him in a few short steps, beaming. He pulled Fraser into a hug, then let go and slapped him on the back. “Great. So now we just gotta think of a new name for me. Frannie says I look Polish; know any Polish names?"
Fraser pursed his lips and clasped his hands behind his back. “Well, there is the rather infamous Stanley Kowalski, from the play, A Streetcar Named Desire..."
Ray grinned. “Awesome! I love Brando." It looked like everything was gonna be okay after all.