At thirty-five years of age, Benton Fraser won't remember the fall he had on an ice rink in 1967 at all.
In fact, even at the end of the very same year, he'd be hard pressed to remember it had taken place.
It had been a beautiful day, that day in 1967, with children and adults alike out on the ice, and Fraser had stopped for a moment on his way down to the frozen lake, gripping the laces to his skates and smiling down at the scene, before he continued picking his way through the unevenly trodden down snow.
He'd paused again at the end of the lake, sitting down on a bench to put his skates on. Once the laces had been properly tied, he'd watched the hockey game taking place with a speculative gaze. He'd been too young to join in, even though he was a better skater than most boys his age, and certainly some of the teenagers out on the ice.
He'd circled the clear area a few times, slowly, keeping an eye out to make sure he didn't accidentally get in anyone's way. On the third round, one of the younger kids lost her footing not too far away from where he was, and he hurried over to help the girl back onto her feet, silencing her tears just as her mother came over to check she was alright and thanked him for his help.
It was half an hour later when he'd seen Billy Johnson on his way out on the ice. Billy was a year older than Fraser and was only another winter away from being allowed into the big kids' hockey game, as he knew how to skate backwards, and Fraser had suddenly felt good, felt confident, and called out, "Hey Billy! Look!"
He'd started going backwards, expecting his feet to tangle together, but miraculously, they didn't. He'd stared down at his feet, amazed at the rhythm they seemed to so naturally settle into, and he was so amazed he hadn't heard when the adults shouted out in warning, or looked up in time to see the teenage boy so intent on the hockey puck that he in turn could not see the young boy in his way.
The teenager had crashed into six-year-old Benton Fraser at full speed with his full weight, sending the young boy flying through the air. His head connected with the ice and he had blacked out.
At least, that is what the adults had told him. Fraser only knew that when he'd opened his eyes again there had been people gathered around him. Frightened teenagers and worried parents, and Billy Johnson smirking in the background. The mother of the girl he'd helped was holding him securely in her lap.
"Tell him," a man had said, kneeling down in front of Fraser on the ice. "Tell my son he hasn't lost the card I gave him. It's his jacket, the inner pocket he never uses. Tell Grant he hasn't lost me."
"Grant," Fraser said, "Inner coat pocket. Grant. Inner coat pocket."
"What?" the teenager who'd crashed into him said, looking scared. "Why is he saying that?"
"Are you okay, Benton?" the mother asked, stroking through his hair. "You got one serious bump."
"Check...inner coat pocket."
"We should call the hospital. Somebody call the hospital!"
"Just give him a minute," another parent said. "A minute will help and it certainly won't harm."
It turns out to be the truth. Fraser's head cleared, like a fog in his mind had lifted, and he slowly sat upright. "I'm fine."
"Benton, you knocked your head pretty hard."
"I'm fine," he said. "I feel fine, thank you kindly."
"Still," the mother said, "Come on over and sit with us adults for a moment, won't you?"
He agreed, and the adults followed him back to where they had benches set up around a small fire. "You remember your name?"
"Your grandparents' names? The date? The day?"
He'd listed them all off dutifully, and the parents gradually relaxed, laughing amongst each other with relief. "An adult took that fall; they'd be dead," they said, "The miracle of kids."
He'd sat with them for ten minutes, before he had gone back out on the ice to skate. His head throbbed, a little, but it faded for every minute. He'd just been considering going home, to help his grandmother out with her housework, when Grant had skated up to him, one hand clutching a mint edition baseball card.
"How'd you know?" he asked, and Fraser had looked at him, confused.
"How did I know what?"
"Where it was," Grant had said, "My dad gave me this card the day he died. He'd just gotten back from the United States. How'd you know it was in my coat?"
"I'm sorry," Fraser had answered. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Grant had stared at him, eyes narrowed, before he nodded. "Sure," he'd said, "Thank you anyway, Fraser."
"You're welcome," Fraser had responded, though he had no idea what the older boy had been talking about. But he'd been raised to be polite, and a bump to the head was no reason to forget about good manners.
Mid-May, 1992, Benton Fraser was a Constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. 212 miles north west of White Horse in the Yukon Territory, he'd found himself on the bottom of a mine shaft that had been converted into a bear trap by the very big game poachers he'd been looking to arrest. He'd hit his head on the way down, and by the time he got out of the mine shaft, he'd hit it twice more.
His first thought had been to presume that he'd blacked out, as there'd been a period of blackness between his blinks that had lasted longer than normal, but it had been difficult to say for how long he'd been out. His second thought had been that there was an animal watching him, a small wolf, regarding him calmly. He hadn't felt threatened, as others in his position might have, and it had been while helping the wolf out of the mine shaft that he had hit his head for the second time and blacked out again.
The third time had happened as the wolf came back to try and repay the favor. The rescue had not only knocked Fraser unconscious for a third time, but also burst the wolf's eardrums and sealed their lives together, although Fraser had always been careful not to try and display his ownership over the wolf in any way. After a while, when the wolf had made it clear it had no intention of leaving his side, however, it had seemed only decent to name his companion.
The wolf had seemed to agree.
He had headaches after the fall occasionally, but nothing that seemed out of the ordinary, and eventually they faded.
At thirty five years of age, he'd give the falls he had taken that day as much thought as he did the one in 1967.
"Oh," Robert Fraser says in 1995, nearly two years after his murder. "This is not good."
"What?" Fraser asks. His head still feels a little muddled. He wonders where Ray is, a calm and slightly detached thought until he realizes the man who knocked him unconscious is very likely to be going after Ray next. He gets to his feet, picks up his hat and waits for a moment until the hallway stabilizes itself again before he sets off. "I'm afraid I can't talk right now, dad."
"This is not good!" Fraser Sr. shouts after him as he takes a left down the hall, chasing the faint sound of a gunshot. He has a feeling he'll find Ray with the gun and not the man they'd chased after, as his damage would surely be considerably worse than a bump on the head had his assailant been armed. "You mark my words, son, this is not good! We'll need to talk about this!"
"Benny, what happened?" Ray Vecchio asks, once Fraser enters the room. He's standing with his gun pointed at a man on the ground, his clothes a little rumpled but by all appearances unharmed. "The wolf and I were starting to get worried."
"I was momentarily incapacitated," Fraser answers, "It would appear that with this particular suspect my assistance was not required."
"This scumbag tried to nail me with a pipe," Ray said, gestures with one hand over to the corner where a piece of pipe is indeed lying. "Dief warned me before he could get real close though."
Dief barks an agreement from where he's keeping watch over their suspect, tail wagging. "The gunshot," Fraser clarifies, and Ray nods.
"Guy wouldn't put down the pipe," Ray says, "It was a warning shot, didn't even get close to him. But now that we're all safe and sound, how about we go to the station with this guy, then grab some lunch?"
"That sounds lovely," Fraser says. He follows Ray and their suspect out, Diefenbaker at his heel. The sunlight hits his eyes sharply, a stark contrast to the darkness of the abandoned building they're leaving, and a voice calls out, "Tell my mom it's not her fault, I was the one who insisted on driving home. Tell her I'm sorry."
Fraser tries to locate the voice, but the streets of Chicago are as busy as ever, and it's impossible to tell who is shouting.
"You coming, Benny?"
"Of course, Ray," Fraser says, putting the voice out of mind and getting in the car.
"Listen to me, son," Fraser Sr. says, for once waiting until they're alone before initiating conversation. Normally he's not so courteous. "Your newest bump on the head has opened up a whole new can of worms. We're in trouble now."
"I feel fine, dad," Fraser answers, frowning at his father. "The headache has all but completely disappeared by now."
"That's not the point," Fraser Sr. says, "The point is that every poor dead soul unable to find their peace is going to be knocking on your door any minute now. It's a miracle they've left you alone this long as the gossip is everywhere in limbo. They're not very patient, considering they're dead."
"Dad, you're making even less sense than usual." Fraser rubs at his temple, though the only pain there is the normal one caused by his father's more confusing visits. "Why would the...spirits of deceased individuals I do not know seek me out?"
Fraser Sr. looks as sad as Fraser has ever seen him as he answers, "You should have told someone of your fall on the ice. Certainly you should have gone to see a doctor after the mine shaft."
Dief whines and Fraser gives his father a reproachful look. "Dief doesn't like talking about that part of it."
"Fine," Fraser Sr. says, and visibly changes his tack. "It's not too late, son. You can still go talk to one of these Yank doctors, see what they can find, so long as you're careful not to put yourself in the loony bin."
"Dad," Fraser says tiredly. "Whatever it is you wish to speak to me about, please just say it outright."
Whatever reply his father will give to that is interrupted by a shout from the hallway. Dief starts whining in earnest and Fraser pulls the door open, half-expecting it to be Ray standing there with a new case.
"Oh dear," he says, taking in the hallway outside his apartment currently filled with people, shouting louder as soon as there's a crack in the door.
"-- find my son's teddy bear for him --"
"-- never told my wife how much --"
"-- the letter is under the rug, they never knew --"
"-- wasn't my mother's fault, I was the one --"
The sound of their voices is overwhelming and without conscious thought, Fraser finds himself having shut the door quite rudely in their face.
"They're ghosts, son," Fraser Sr. says, "A closed door is not going to stop them."
Fraser sends his father a look and opens his door again; their voices seem to have increased in volume. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you would be so kind as to quiet down," Fraser says, voice rising just enough to be heard over their questions. "There are other people in the building."
"Please, just find my son's teddy bear --"
"-- just want her to know how much --"
Dief starts barking.
"Please," Fraser tries again. "I will not be able to help unless you speak quietly and in turn."
They quiet down for a moment, until the entire crowd is jostled by people trying to push to the front. A woman at the very front starts shouting over the others as she fights to stay in her position in front of him, "My mother blames herself for my death. She thinks she should've insisted harder that I stay over, that if I hadn't driven home that night, I'd still be alive. I need you to let her know it wasn't her fault, I crashed because of my brakes, not because I fell asleep at the wheel!"
"Oh shut up, all of you!" Fraser Sr. says, "You should be ashamed of yourselves! Just because my son is too confused to put his foot down doesn't mean I am going to stand idly by while you all behave like children."
"Why should we listen to you?" One guy shouts, "You kept him to yourself for years!"
"He is my son!" Fraser Sr. shouts, "He is not a psychic or your personal conscience cleanser. If you Yanks had any respect or manners, you'd leave him be."
With that, Fraser Sr. slams the door shut. "Dad, they need help."
"They're dead," Fraser Sr. says, "They only want to use you."
"I think you should explain now, dad. What's going on?"
"You hit your head," a voice says from behind them, and Fraser whirls around to see a lady in a fashionable business woman's suit standing there. "Actually, from what I can understand, you've hit it a couple of times. There's a bruised area in your brain, most likely a silent area since you haven't experienced any other side effects, that's been getting steadily worse for every hit it took. Now Benton Fraser of the RCMP can see the dead. Some would consider it a gift."
"Others a curse." Fraser Sr. scowls.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage. Who are you?"
"Stella Kowalski," the woman says. "I'd shake your hand, but well -- I'm less than corporeal. It'd only make you sneeze."
"If it's -- if this damage has been getting worse all along," Fraser says slowly, "and I am not disqualifying the possibility that I haven't merely just lost the rest of the marbles in my possession, but if I were to believe that the repeated blows to my head has given me the -- the ability to see the discontented deceased, surely I should have seen ghosts before now?"
Stella's eyebrows are raised. "What do you call your dad?"
"Somewhat of a nuisance," Fraser says and Fraser Sr. harrumphs.
It makes Stella smile. "Even so," she says, "You've been able to see ghosts for a while is my guess. People who've asked for help, like maybe they wanted you to deliver a message or tell a loved one where an item is. You did it for them because you're Canadian and frightfully decent, and they moved on. They're happy in the afterlife. A hit might've turned it dormant for a while, but now -- now you can see all of us, and all the restless ghosts in Chicago know it. They're making their way here to ask for help."
"My guess you're here for the same reason," Fraser Sr. says, "Otherwise you wouldn't have waltzed in through the wall like this."
Stella shrugs, still smiling a little. "I won't lie, Fraser," she says, "I do need your help, but I realize shouting at you along with a quarter of the ghosts in the Chicago is not the way to go about it. I was hoping if I came in and calmly introduced myself, you'd help my husband out. Please, it's a matter of life and death."
Fraser's father is muttering about 'ghosts exploiting decent people' and 'smarmy lawyers and their words', but Fraser studies Stella Kowalski's calm features and sees the pain lurking in her eyes. "How can I help?"
They're sitting on a bench in front of an apartment building, looking up at the light in apartment number four, occasionally catching glimpses of the apartment's owner, one Stanley Raymond Kowalski.
"Ray is technically my ex-husband," Stella says quietly, an open and vulnerable look on her face. "We were in the process of getting a divorce, but it wasn't finalized when I -- left. He wanted kids and I didn't. I thought it would be selfish of me to keep him in that, in a relationship that couldn't give him what he wanted. It wasn't the only thing, of course, but it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.
"I know I should be happy that he moved on, that he found someone who wants a family as much as he does, but that would require him actually being happy himself. He's not happy. This woman is going to destroy him, Fraser, destroy him completely if he's not careful, and he's Ray. He's never careful, especially now that he thinks he has real proof that life is too short."
Fraser runs his thumb over his eyebrow, looking at the window Stella had pointed out to him. There is the flicker of lights against the wall, suggesting Ray -- that is, not Ray Vecchio but Stella's husband -- is watching television. "I'm afraid I am still at a loss for what exactly it is you wish me to do, Mrs. Kowalski."
"Save him," Stella says, "I want you to save him, Fraser, from that woman. Life might be too short, but there is no life so short it would make life with that woman okay. I want you to plant a seed of doubt in his mind, break them up."
"I'm terribly sorry," Fraser says, getting to his feet. "But there is no way I can, with a good conscience, do what you are asking me to do. Matters of the heart should be left to only those involved in it."
"I'm his dead wife!" Stella shouts, losing her composure for the first time in their, admittedly, brief acquaintance. "I'm more involved in it than anybody! I don't want to see him get hurt, and I can't move on until he's happy. She never remembers that he likes his morning coffee with M&Ms or that his stupid turtle is supposed to get a live fish every Friday or that calling him Stanley annoys him more than he lets on. She doesn't even dance! She will never make him happy."
"You can't know that," Fraser says gently. "I'm sorry, Stella, but I refuse to break up their relationship."
"You made the right call," Fraser Sr. says as they walk back towards Fraser's apartment. "Getting involved in the dealings of the afterlife is never a good idea. You help out one; you'll have to help them all. This way, they'll leave you alone eventually."
Fraser can no longer walk in Chicago without bumping into another dead soul in need, and while he does not mind helping them pass on by delivering a lost letter or misplaced item or message to their loved ones, he suspects Ray Vecchio is getting suspicious of his behavior; and the time spent helping the dead, he's afraid, has had a negative impact on his ability to focus, as he feels he should, on their cases.
A week in the Yukon Territory, however, seems to do the trick. Upon his and Dief's return to Chicago, they are not approached by anyone with a last request even though they walk from the train station home.
A lot is different upon their return. His apartment is burned down, Ray Vecchio has gone undercover in the mob and Fraser is faced with a new replacement partner, yet he is supposed to act as though nothing is different at all.
Fraser supposes the day would not have been truly complete without at least one apparition as he walks into his office at the Consulate to find Stella Kowalski behind his desk. "I heard you had a rough day," she says, "I'm sorry about your apartment."
"Hazards of the job," Fraser answers, "Can I help you, Mrs. Kowalski?"
"Stella, please," Stella says, "Like I said last time we talked, me and my husband were close to being divorced. I don't feel like I can lay claim to his name."
"Stella," Fraser nods. "How may I help you?"
"My request hasn't changed since the last time we talked." Stella says, "I was hoping your stance on it, however, had."
"The situation isn't the same as it was last time. You won't have to do all that much, they're fighting now. All you need to do is -- finalize it, so to speak. She's going to destroy him, Fraser. You have to help."
"I refuse to break up the relationship between two strangers on your say-so, Stella," Fraser says, "My morals won't change."
"They're not -- my husband is not a stranger," Stella says, "You're involved, Fraser."
"I said no, Mrs. Kowalski," Fraser says, "Without proof of this woman's apparent wickedness; there is no justice to be served, only one's own selfish interest. Now, if you'd be so kind as to vacate my rooms. It has been a long day and I would like some rest."
"You're helping every ghost in Chicago except me," Stella says, standing up. "How is that just?"
"Their requests are not of the same magnitude as yours," Fraser replies.
"I know that," Stella says, "But if you do this for me, if you help me, I'll make sure the others don't bother you again. You're going to wear yourself out if you keep helping every ghost in need that crosses your path, because sooner or later that kind of unusual brain activity is going to catch up with you."
"Please, Mrs. Kowalski," Fraser says, "I believe I can make my stance on this no clearer."
"Fine," Stella snaps, "I'll leave and let you deal with Chicago's entire population of ghosts yourself. You'll see I'm right about this soon enough."
"You're a little kooky, aren't you?" Ray says, though this is not Ray Vecchio, rather the man who replaced him. Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Stella's ex-husband.
"Not in a bad way or anything," Ray says quickly, "Well, not completely, anyway. I just meant -- you jump at shadows a lot. Kind of twitchy, plus I see you talking to yourself sometimes. I'm not so sure staying at the Consulate alone is the best for you, Fraser."
"I'm not alone," Fraser says, "There is Diefenbaker, and Turnbull is gracious enough to stay behind after work every once in a while to play cards."
"Yeah, my point has been made," Ray laughs. "No offense to your fellow countryman or whatever, but Turnbull is definitely kooky. You should come on over to my place one night, hang with the lady and me a little. You'll like her. She's a real do-gooder, like you, only not as weird."
"Say yes," Stella says, "Go to dinner with them. You'll see what I'm talking about."
"I'm afraid I'll have to decline, Ray," Fraser says carefully, which naturally means Ray's immediately frowning at him.
"Why? You've got no other plans." He says, "Is it something to do with me? Are you not feeling this partnership outside of work or something?"
"No, Ray, it's not that," Fraser says, draws his eyes away from where Stella's smiling smugly, like she knows as well as he does there is no polite way to untangle himself from this situation without lying.
"Then what, Fraser?" Ray asks, "'Cause we've been partners for months now, and if I don't bring you home one day soon I think Stacy's just going to assume I've made you up."
"As you say, Ray," he sighs. "It would be my pleasure to spend an evening with you and your fiancée."
"Greatness," Ray grins, twirling his pen around. "Seriously, if you don't like her, I'll eat my hat. Or rather your hat, 'cause I don't have one. You don't even have to worry about leaving Dief alone tonight either. You can just bring him with you; she's a real dog-person. Sometimes I even think she's more interested in what Dief's spent the day doing than what I did, you know?"
"I'm sorry to interrupt your little knitting circle here," Welsh says, coming up behind them, "But it just so happens that you're paid to work, not to chatter. Go interview your goddamn suspect and have the report at my desk by the end of the day."
"You'd think he'd never heard of making 'em sweat," Ray mutters, getting to his feet. "The guy robbed apartments badly in broad daylight. It's not exactly going to require our all to get him to confess where he stashed everything. Heck, the wolf could fucking do it."
Dief whines in reproach and Ray ruffles his fur in apology as he walks past.
"I am doing this as a favor to Ray, not for you," Fraser tells Stella, before he gets up and follows.
For once, she lets it be at that.
"Thank you kindly for a lovely dinner, Stacy," Fraser says, finishing the last bite of his glazed pork. Dief barks a small complaint at not being slipped one last piece. "If you don't mind me asking, where did you learn to cook?"
"Stop making her look good!" Stella says, frowning.
"Actually, it was my brother who taught me," Stacy says, "It was mostly just us as we were growing up, and he'd -- well, he'd learned from mom. He wanted to pass it on to me, give me...something from her. She passed away when I was just one, and my dad kind of...disappeared as well, so it really was just my brother and me."
"I'm sorry for your loss," Fraser says quietly, and Dief puts his head in Stacy's lap, low whine of comfort in the back of his throat.
"No, it's okay," Stacy says, smiling down at Dief. "It's just life, right? I know better than most how there's others out there who've got it worse than me. Did you know that in some countries, children as young as ten years have been recruited into a conflict? It's because small arms are more easily available, and it's easier for children to use them. There's an estimated 120 000 child soldiers in Africa."
"Stacy," Ray says, grinning at Fraser. "You're not at work anymore."
"Oh," Stacy says, "Sorry. I get kind of passionate about my work."
"I don't mind," Fraser says, "It sounds like a very interesting line of work."
"Stacy's a human rights attorney," Ray says, "She'll talk your whole head off if you give her the chance."
"It's a joke, Stace."
"It's not funny," Stacy says, but is interrupted by the sound of a phone ringing. "I'll go get it."
"Stacy seems like a lovely person," Fraser offers awkwardly after she's left.
"She's horrible," Stella mutters sullenly from where she's sitting on the couch. Dief barks at her.
Ray smiles a little. "Yeah, she is," he says, "I mean, don't get me wrong, we have our problems -- especially now with this assignment. We've had to postpone the wedding, you know? Can't risk it with my undercover work. I don't really mind that much, since I've been married before and between you and me, I'm not really in that much of a hurry to be again so soon -- but Stacy was really excited about it." He gestures to the carnations on the table that Stella had commented on with scorn earlier. "Already decorating. Carnations were Stella's --"
"-- least favorite flower," Fraser finishes with him.
Ray frowns at him. "Yeah," he says slowly, "How'd you know I'd say that?"
"Merely a guess," Fraser says, "Surely Stacy understands about your work?"
"Yeah," Ray says, still looking at Fraser weirdly for a moment before he shakes it off. "But she was excited, you know? She tried to have the wedding before I went undercover, but I didn't want to rush it like that."
"I bet she did," Stella says, "All the better to crush you sooner, Ray. You should still be single, not tied to -- to that!"
"Being single used to be considered a crime," Fraser tells her without thinking, and Ray blinks in confusion.
"Where did that come from?" He says, but before Fraser gets a chance to answer, follows it up with, "And why? What's wrong with being single?"
"Well, in ancient Rome, Augustus passed laws compelling people to marry and took measures to penalize those who remain single. In Athens, bachelors were excluded from certain public arenas." Fraser says, "In ancient Greece, Solon once contemplated making marriage compulsory. Of course, marriages then used to be not always a matter of love, merely a sort of contract to unite families."
Ray frowns at him. "They didn't think love had anything to do with a marriage?"
"Quite the opposite," Fraser says, "The Greeks used to consider, ah, heterosexual love, inside or outside marriage, as demeaning to men. It was much the same in all countries at the time. The idea of real love in marriage didn't really emerge until the 16th century."
"Huh, that's weird," Ray says, leaning back in his chair as Stacy comes back into the room. He laughs. "Hey, Stacy, did you know our marriage would make me less of a man in ancient Greece?"
Stacy stops and looks at him for a moment, before she says, "I don't have time right now, Ray. I need to go into the office. Fraser, it was nice to finally meet you. Hopefully we'll do this more often."
"The pleasure was mine," Fraser assures her, smiling.
"Oh, stop it," Stella says, "Can't you just be not a perfect gentleman for a minute?"
"Bye Ray," Stacy says, planting a kiss on Ray's cheek and then she's out the door.
"See! A kiss on the cheek! What kind of affection is that towards a man who's going to be her husband soon?"
"I'll get us something more to drink," Ray says, "You want anything else?"
"No, Ray, I'm fine," Fraser smiles, and waits until he's gone before he turns to Stella. "You're being very rude."
"Am I bothering you?" Stella asks innocently, "Because I'll stop if you'll just admit that they're completely wrong for each other."
"Please," Fraser says, "I'd quite like to enjoy a night out of the Consulate, and you are, to be frank, making it rather hard."
"Fine," Stella says, "I'm going, I'm going."
"Did you say something?" Ray asks, coming back into the room and walking right through Stella. He sneezes.
"I never get used to that," Stella says sadly, before she's gone.
"Bless you," Fraser says.
"Thanks." He holds out Fraser's glass. "Here you go. Some more milk for you and some more beer for me."
"Thank you kindly, Ray."
"Hey, what kind of crappy friend would I be if didn't even get you a glass of milk, huh?" Ray asks, although Fraser can only assume he doesn't expect an answer. "Do you mind if we watch some hockey? The Blackhawks are playing the Thrashers."
"Not at all, Ray." Fraser smiles.
Ray smiles back. "Greatness."
"How can you not see it?" Stella asks as he's walking back to the Consulate later. "That wasn't a happy relationship."
"I saw nothing but two very kind people who care a great deal about each other," Fraser tells her.
"Please," Stella scoffs.
"In all the instances you've insisted that they need to be broken up, you've failed to mention exactly what it is about Stacy that you have an issue with?"
"I told you!" Stella says, "She's going to destroy him, Fraser!"
"How could you know?"
"I saw things with my own two eyes," Stella insists. "She gave her number to some young protester kid about to be arrested!"
"Her number wouldn't happen to have been on her business card, would it?"
"That's not the point," Stella says. "She took his money! Made him write a check and just...took it."
"She's a human rights attorney," Fraser says, "Maybe she was fundraising."
Stella doesn't answer.
"She was," Fraser realizes, "He was giving her money for charity."
"She was feeling out how much she could take him for!" Stella says. "They have no real affection for each other. She kisses his cheek, doesn't have time for his jokes, doesn't like his music. You were with her for nearly two hours. She didn't laugh once. He'll never be happy with someone without a sense of humor, and she'll never let him just be himself. You need to stop it -- for Ray."
"Even if I had not already expressed my protests regarding morals," Fraser says, "Breaking up their relationship would serve only a selfish purpose and to hurt all involved. Mrs. Kowalski, I'd be grateful if you'd leave me alone."
"Oh," she says suddenly, "Oh, Fraser. You can't be serious."
Dief growls at her, ears flat and hackles raised. Stella thankfully disappears without another word.
"What's up with Ray?" Frannie asks, coming up beside Fraser. The ghost Fraser had been talking to disappears without another word. It's been two weeks since Fraser last saw Stella, but the other ghosts are still everywhere. His dad helped keep them at bay for a little while, but there is always the occasional ghost who slips by to ask for help. "He's being such a bear this morning. Didn't your warrant for that suspect's apartment come through?"
"Then shouldn't he be happy?" Frannie asks, "You're about to win your case."
"It's called closing the case," Ray snaps, retrieving a file from his desk and slamming the drawer shut. Fraser and Frannie both wince. "We're not lawyers. We're cops. We close cases, we never fucking win them."
Frannie looks to Fraser as if to say you see? you see what I mean?, but quickly turns back to Ray with a scowl. "Closing a case is good, isn't it?"
"Good things are usually considered winning," Frannie says, "So you win your cases too."
She walks away and Ray doesn't look at Fraser as he shrugs on his jacket. "C'mon, let's go arrest this scumbag."
"Francesca has a point," Fraser says while they're in the car. "You seem to be in a black mood. If there's anything to talk about, I'm here."
"What am I supposed to talk about?" Ray asks, "How I apparently leopardized a relationship for this job? How Stacy can't understand why it'd be risky to have my face -- supposedly Vecchio's face -- in the wedding section of newspapers as Kowalski? How she thinks my partner's a bit of loon and I think she's got problems with there being someone in the world nicer than she is with a sense of humor to boot? I mean it's skewed, but at least it's there."
"Jeopardized," Fraser says, slipping out before he can think of anything else to say.
"What the fuck did I say?"
"Fuck, man, same difference," Ray says, "I'm still a fucking criminal now in ancient Rome or whatever."
"Ray, I'm sorry about Stacy."
"Yeah, well," Ray shrugs. "Maybe it's for the best. I jumped into the whole relationship-thing after Stella. I was so sure I was ready to settle down, and so when I met Stacy and she admitted she did too, it was like -- bam! Why not? Why shouldn't we able to be happy together, y'know? Stupid."
"It wasn't stupid, Ray." Fraser says, "Relationships have been built on less and succeeded. They've been built on more and failed."
Ray slumps. He laughs hoarsely. "Strangely enough doesn't make me feel better, but thanks for trying, Fraser."
"Ray --" Fraser says, but Ray interrupts him, "Let's just -- let's just focus on arresting this guy, okay? I'll kick some shit out of this douche bag, we'll put him behind bars, I'll get drunk and you'll make sure I don't die of alcohol poisoning or something. We'll repeat the process for a couple of days and everything will be good. It'll be great."
"As you say, Ray," Fraser agrees, and they drive the rest of the way in silence.
"Here you go, Ray," Fraser says, holding out a cup.
"Fraser?" Ray mumbles, flails out one hand and nearly knocks over the cup. "What're you doing here?"
"I thought it best if I stayed the night," Fraser says, "Make sure you'd be alright. You did drink a lot last night, and I felt worried about your safety."
He doesn't say 'this is the worst you've been', but he thinks it.
"Oh," Ray groans. "So that's why I feel like shit."
"Here," Fraser says, holding out the cup again. "Coffee with ground seven M&Ms. I also took the liberty of giving your turtle the fish last night."
"Hey, how'd you know it was fish night?" Ray says, accepting the coffee gratefully.
"It...came up once," Fraser says, wonders if there's a way for Ray to know how close to a lie he is stepping.
"Huh," Ray says, "Weird. I mean, it's not like we're usually so desperate for a topic to talk about that I start going on about my turtle's feeding schedule or how I like my coffee, right?"
"Right," Fraser agrees.
"Then again," Ray continues, "You've been over here a lot lately, and you're super-Mountie, right, you've probably picked up on a couple of habits or something."
"Well, since you seem to be suffering no more than the normal side-effects from the amount of alcohol you consumed last night, I should get back to the Consulate. Dief will be impatient to be taken off Turnbull's hands by now."
"Nah," Ray says, "C'mon, Fraser, we've got the day off. Just, give me a moment and we'll take the Goat. We'll go to the park or something."
"That sounds lovely," Fraser says, though he's thinking of the stop he'd planned to take on the way to the Consulate, to tell Frank Lowell his girlfriend's letter is stuck under the new carpeting. "I'm sure Dief will be grateful for the offer."
"Yeah, yeah," Ray says and starts to get up. "It's hardly that big of a deal."
"I'll wait in the living room," Fraser says, and gets out of the room quick, only to stop dead in the hall as he takes in the form on the couch.
"Surprised?" Stella says, looking the same as she did two months ago. "I know I was."
"I was under the impression you'd move on once they broke up," Fraser says, "Not that I'm not...glad to see you."
"So did I, and yet, here I am," Stella says, "You can spare it, Mountie. You think I'm a bitch; you don't have to be so polite. Who am I gonna tell?"
"I'm sorry you haven't found your peace," Fraser says.
"Yeah, well, I was giving it some thought," Stella says, "I came to you first on the assumption that I would have to save Ray from a doomed relationship to move on, but what if all I need for him is to move on first?"
"It...would seem a reasonable assumption," Fraser agrees, "The ghosts I've helped all seemed tied in with their loved ones finally letting them go."
"Right," Stella agrees, "So how do we do this?"
"Fraser, you talking to yourself again?" Ray asks, coming out of the bathroom, looking awake and noticeably less hung-over.
"Merely your turtle, Ray."
"Either way it's not healthy for you, buddy, talking to something that can't answer."
"Just tell him," Stella says, "Tell him he needs to let me go."
"Maybe," Fraser says.
"Maybe? There's no maybe about it, Fraser," Ray says, "Crazy people talk to themselves or stuff that can't talk back. My turtle can't talk back, can it?"
"No, Ray," Fraser says, "Your turtle is indeed incapable of talking back."
"Right. Hey, you've had breakfast, yet?"
"I'd thought I'd eat on my way to the Consulate," Fraser says.
"Well, come on," Ray says, jingling his keys at him. "Now we can bring Dief too. Maybe just get it to go and eat in the park."
"He never took me on picnics in the park," Stella sighs dramatically. "The afterlife is so unfair."
"I should've done stuff like this with someone who isn't my Mountie partner," Ray says, leaning back on the park bench. "Hell, since I met you, I've been to this park more times than I had before in my entire life. I mean, this is the third time since Stacy. Why didn't I ever go when I was with her? I kept thinking of it, but it seemed stupid. I mean, the parks around here are not exactly the place to take anyone."
"I think they'd have appreciated the sentiment, Ray," Fraser says, "I know Stella would have."
"What do you mean you know Stella would have?"
"I misspoke," Fraser tries, but Ray's got his eyes narrowed.
"No no no, Fraser, c'mon, I know you by now," Ray says, "How would you know what Stella would and wouldn't like?"
"I wouldn't," Fraser agrees. "I spoke out of order. I apologize."
"No way, Fraser, I'm not letting you out of this like that," Ray says, "My gut has been telling me that you've been hiding something all along. You're always so twitchy and talking to nothing. Lately, you've been making some weird comments about stuff from my relationship with Stella, about me that only she'd know. Like how it would've been a shame for me to commit myself to someone who'd never agree to dance outside of social obligations, like Stacy was. I want to know what's going on."
"You should tell him," Stella says. "What have you got to lose? He already thinks you're a little crazy; he's broken up with Stacy. You don't even have to mention the part about how you've got a crush on him unless you feel like he's handling everything else really well. Not that he won't handle that well too, I think he'd actually be a little pleased -- Ray never was the straightest flying arrow in the quiver, and you're well -- you."
"Don't listen to her, son," Fraser Sr. says, "Don't tell the Yank anything except what he wants to hear. Tell him you used to know his wife or tell him he talks about her when he's been drinking. God knows he's being doing enough of that lately."
"Listen here, gramps," Stella says, "You might be happy just hanging around with your son in the afterlife, but I want to move on, okay, and I can't do that until my ex-husband moves on with his own life and lets me go. Your son is the only one who can help me do that, and I don't appreciate you trying to stop me from finding eternal peace or whatever there is on the other side."
"Ghosts have been finding peace long before my son was able to see them," Fraser Sr. answers, "Go back to where you came from, and leave my son alone. He's asked you enough times."
"Fraser," Ray says, "You're starting to look a little pale there, buddy. You okay? I mean, it's just a small question, how hard can it be to answer, right? How'd you know all this stuff about me, about Stella?"
"You know just as well how long it takes for ghosts in this city to move on without help," Stella says, "There are ghosts in this city who have to wait until their loved ones die before they can move on. Fraser is doing a good thing and in your eyes, I'm no better than every other American, because I want my share of it."
"You are harassing my son," Fraser Sr. says, and he says something else that Fraser can't hear as he stands up and takes a step away from the bench, away from all of them. They're all talking, his father and Stella and Ray, but Fraser can't hear anything but vague meaningless sounds. He looks down at Dief, wonders if this is what Dief hears or if he hears at all, and Dief's eyes staring back up at him with worry.
Ray reaches out, touches his arm, and Fraser's gaze moves to Ray's face. He looks worried and his mouth is moving, shaping his name now in between hey hey you okay?
"I'm fine," Fraser says, the words sounding strange as they leave his mouth, and he blacks out.
He's lying on the grass, is the first thought to strike him as he blinks back into consciousness. The second is that his lips feel lighter, almost as though they've been pressed down, and the reason why becomes apparent as he notices first Ray licking his lips and then the expression of worry on Ray's face.
"You gave me CPR?" He asks, before he can think over the words and replace them with something else.
Ray's expression turns into one of awkward discomfort. Dief is peering down at him as well, and as he tries to move, a dull throbbing makes it self known in his head. Dief whines. "Yeah, I did. I mean, you fainted right in front of me, of course I did. You okay, Fraser? You were out of a while there. I think maybe you hit your head on the way down, I'm scrawny, can't exactly take the entire deadweight of a Mountie. Do we need to go to the hospital or something?"
"I'm -- I'm fine, Ray," Fraser says, "I don't believe I am in need of medical assistance from a hospital."
"Okay," Ray says, leaning back a little. "Okay, I mean, I'm the last guy to lecture about hospitals, those places—"
"—creeps you out—"
"—creep me out and you know how you're feeling better than I do. You had me real worried there, Fraser. What the hell was that about, huh?"
"The blood must've merely rushed to my head," Fraser says, "I'm sure it's nothing, merely a combination of the sun and standing up too quickly."
"Okay," Ray says dubiously, "If you say so, Fraser. Let's just go back to my place, okay, we'll hang out with the air conditioning on and you can borrow a t-shirt like I offered earlier. Get you out of your Yukon Territory or whatever it's called clothes, right, which you probably shouldn't even be sitting in the sun with. You're supposed to be the smart guy, why didn't you think of the fact that you'd overheat?"
"An oversight on my part, you're perfectly right." Fraser says, "It won't happen again, Ray, and I apologize for giving you cause to worry."
"Yeah, well," Ray says awkwardly, offers his hand to help Fraser back up. "We're partners, Fraser. A duet. It doesn't work with just me. You need to be there too, okay, so don't make this — thing a habit."
"I won't, Ray." Fraser says quietly.
"Good," Ray says, grins a little at him in relief. "Greatness."
"Stella's moved on, son," Fraser Sr. says, and Fraser knocks over the soap as he jerks around to face his father.
"Sorry, son," Fraser Sr. says, "It had to be here or in front of the Yank. He doesn't look like he's about to let you out of sight for long."
"It's fine," Fraser says, turning to pick up the soap and place it back on the sink. He resumes the process of splashing some water in his face. "How?"
"How did she move on?" Fraser Sr. asks, "Why, the usual way, son. Her unfinished business became finished. The Yank got such a fright out of you fainting dead away and the wolf howling his damn head off, he did what she'd been waiting for. He let go and moved on, and so did she. Though not before she was able to apologize for her behavior and ask me to pass the sentiment along."
"I'm glad," Fraser says, looking in the mirror. "She deserved her peace."
Fraser Sr.'s reflection nods. "Of course, I'm just happy that new hit you took to your noggin' means you'll be okay from the rest of those greedy ghosts out there. You were overtaxing yourself, son. It's a dangerous business, communicating with more than one ghost every day."
"I'm your father," Fraser Sr. says, "No matter how hard you hit your head, son, I'll still be here."
"You never did talk like this while you were still alive," Fraser says, turning to dry his face and hands with the towel. When he's turned back, his father is gone. He smiles softly as he goes out to rejoin Ray and Diefenbaker on the couch.
"Hey," Ray says as he sits back down, "I'm sorry about shouting at you in the park. I probably just told you all that stuff while I was drinking and forgot about it, and you probably just didn't want to embarrass me or something, right? 'Cause you're Fraser, you're always looking out for me. I just -- Stacy and Stella were a lot alike, you know? You, on the other hand, are completely different. I was hung-over and paranoid, and it just freaked me out when the lines between all of you got a little blurred again."
"Don't, as you are fond of saying, worry about it, Ray. Your response should've been expected and I should have chosen my words more carefully." Fraser says, and he opens his mouth to tell Ray about the ghosts, about the falls, when Dief barks a stern no. Fraser's mouth clicks shut and Dief continues with his opinion, in tones less likely to get a complaint from Ray's neighbors.
"What's with Dief?" Ray asks, "He still freaked out about the park thing?"
"In a way," Fraser allows, as Dief's concern can be traced back to the park, but also further. The ghosts are another thing to hide from Ray, and Fraser doesn't like it, but his dad has been a secret this far. Telling Ray about all of it would no doubt cause concern and hassle where none is needed. Fraser's fine now. It's only his dad left. If the ghosts ever return, he decides, he'll tell Ray about it then. "His canine sensibilities are acting up."
Ray ruffles Dief's fur and says, "Guess I wasn't the only one who freaked out a little."
"Once again, Ray, I apologize for --"
"Don't mention it," Ray says, "In a way, it could be kind of a good thing, 'cause it got me thinking about something."
"An often dangerous pastime."
"Heh, very funny," Ray says, "But seriously, it got me thinking about my one-man pity party every weekend. I figure, I've had my last one. You don't have to carry me home drunk every Friday or whatever anymore, I'm done. Stacy's gone and it sucks to see her go, sure, but it's not as bad as Stella, and even that doesn't hurt as much as it used to."
"They say time heals all wounds," Fraser says, when it becomes apparent Ray is waiting for some sort of response.
"Or at least scabs them over," Ray agrees, "I mean, my life ain't so bad. I've got a job, I've got a life -- actually right now it's more like two, but you get the point -- and I've got you and Dief watching my back. The fuck do I have to feel self-pity in my life about, right?"
"Ray, you're allowed to feel --"
"Nah," Ray shakes his head, "I'm not. The truth is, when Stacy left, a part of me was glad, you know? Better now than later. It didn't hurt as bad as I let on, I was just freaking out 'cause she managed to get a hit in on a couple of buttons before she left. I'm over it, though, I'm good. I'm a new or at least updated version of Ray Kowalski, so I was thinking, now that case less Fridays are no longer Ray's Pity Party Days, we could just hang out. Watch some movies to educate you on American culture and whatnot, go do -- whatever it is you Canadians do in Chicago. That is, if you want to."
"I'd like that, Ray." Fraser says, smiling at him.
"Greatness," Ray says, "Because you've been in Chicago for a while, Fraser, there are some things that it's just a crime you don't know about still."
"I'll take your word for it, Ray."
"Yeah," Ray says, nodding. He's smiling at the television, although he's yet to turn it on. "You do that."
It is, perhaps not so surprisingly, on one of their Fridays that the other shoe drops. Fraser has to admit he has rather lost track of the movie they're watching as Ray, exhausted after a day chasing surprisingly athletic criminals through the streets of Chicago, fell asleep not long after it started, and eventually listed over to rest warm against Fraser's side.
Dief's eyes open periodically from where he's curled up on the canine bed Ray had bought, claiming they were over at his place often enough and he was sick of cleaning dog hair off everything; to laugh at Fraser's predicament.
"Perhaps we should go," he suggests to Diefenbaker, because there really is no sense in staying here if Ray is tired out from the day.
"You move and I'll shoot you," Ray mumbles, one hand moving up to grip at Fraser's arm, although after a moment, he sits up himself and blinks. "Shit, sorry about that. Didn't mean to fall asleep."
"It's quite alright, Ray," Fraser says, "It has been a tiring day, I understand."
"Nah," Ray says, "I just -- I had all these moves planned out and I fell asleep. That's embarrassing."
"Ray," Fraser says carefully, "I don't require moves."
"Yeah?" Ray asks, hand still on Fraser's arm but squeezing now as he grins. "If this is another one of your Canadian jokes, Fraser, I gotta warn you I'm probably going to punch."
"I'm serious, Ray," Fraser says, shifts his position on the couch a little and suddenly Ray is right there, hands framing Fraser's face and pressing their lips together, softly at first until Fraser responds and then the kiss is hard, needy, almost spiraling out of control.
Dief barks and the sound of his nails clicking over the floors as he makes himself scarce barely registers with either of them.
"Well," Fraser Sr. says, looking up as Dief finds him in the hallway closet, sitting by his fireplace as he reads. "Took them long enough. I've had this extension ready for over two weeks now."
Dief barks his agreement and curls up on the rug, safely assured that the one ghost capable to swoop in and ruin the moment is accounted for. The rest of Chicago's ghosts are thankfully no longer any of their concern.