Diefenbaker waited by Welsh's office.
"Very good," Fraser praised, both for the wolf's patience and for the time of day. It was late and between shifts. Elaine's computer was running, but the woman who sometimes used her desk at night wasn't in the building. Ray kept watch by the back door as Fraser nodded for Dief to come to the computer and settle himself in the chair.
It was slow going, and Dief's nose was sometimes inaccurate with the keys, but fortunately the system required little user input.
"Six days," he said at one point while Dief was struggling to reach the "R" key.
"We missed our funerals," Ray said, not sounding as though he minded. "I bet they were a real show."
Ray abandoned his post. It wouldn't matter if someone came in right this second anyway, and Fraser's eyes were bugging at the screen. A look over Benny's shoulder induced a long, slow whistle.
"That's over thirty possibles."
"The parameters we input were very broad, but there's a definite suggestion of a pattern here."
"I'll say." Ray pointed to the screen. "Have Dief check out this one first."
Fraser looked at the selection: Aaron Burham, investigating officer for a serial rapist, had been raped and murdered in his apartment. Dief struck a few keys, and they read together that the case was still open, but that Burham's murderer was suspected of being a copy-cat of the original perp: one David Rooks.
They read through several more, discounting over a dozen. In the end, there seemed a traceable connection between at least ten of the crimes.
"The trouble is that if these are professional hits, there'll be little in the way of physical evidence," Ray muttered, thinking aloud. "We'll have to concentrate on the guys that hired them. We need information about their correspondence, visitors all the stuff it will be pretty hard for us to find!"
"Being dead is quite an obstacle, Ray."
Vecchio smiled. "That's one way to put it, Benny."
Fraser's smile back was radiant.
"What?" Ray swayed back warily.
The pale face flushed slightly, and the blue eyes were hesitant. "I'm just so pleased you're not mad at me, Ray."
"Oh, let's not go there, Fraser. We're friends, right? And like you said, it's too late to worry about it all now anyway. Maybe it's kind of like you know, a blessing."
"A blessing, Ray?"
"Sure. Part of the good that comes with the bad. We're dead, but now the fact that you were in love with me doesn't matter."
Fraser frowned. "I'm still in love with you, Ray."
"Not really, not in a physical sense." Vecchio smiled. "I mean, think about it. You take out the physical part of being in love, and what have you got left? The sort of, uh, feelings that friends have for each other. I figure we're even again now."
Fraser did not ask "Even Steven?" but it was obvious he wanted to. Ray grinned. "So, how do we find out who our guys were talking to, Benny?"
"It's not that simple."
"I'll say. We don't have hands, and I don't think you can teach Dief to type that well."
"No." Fraser gave himself a shake. "I mean, yes, you're right about that, but you're wrong about the other."
Ray sighed, though he was less confused than he was pretending to be.
"Ray, just because my body doesn't function anymore, I haven't simply begun to feel nothing but friendship for you. I suppose my situation is comparable to someone who has become paralyzed. I assure you, the physical urges are still present."
"I really don't want to hear about your physical urges, Fraser!"
The blue eyes betrayed a world of hurt. Ray's head slumped down for another, full-body sigh.
"Benny, it's just not the right time. We've got work to do."
"Agreed, but I wonder just sort of work it is."
Vecchio straightened up. "Meaning?"
"Meaning that we seem to be between worlds, that we are being offered an opportunity to bring a crime to light, yes, but there is also the matter of preparing ourselves for what lies next."
Ray crossed his arms. "I already thought about saying goodbye to everyone, if that's what you mean."
Fraser nodded. "Agreed. I would like to say my farewells to several people. Our funerals would have been most distressing to witness, but they would have been convenient for such exchanges."
Ray's face sort of slid into a smile. "Yeah, I guess."
"But beyond this, Ray, I believe we should also make use of this time to settle things between us."
Vecchio's eyes went wide as his face paled. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Fraser rushed the words: "Only that since we seem to have the good fortune to be spending eternity together, Ray, I believe it's vital that we should have no misunderstandings at the outset."
Ray settled back into his stance. "Yeah, I guess I can see that." He sighed and rolled his head in a gesture that would have relieved his muscles, had he any muscles. "Okay, so you really think I mean, you really are in love with me, right?"
"Yes, Ray." So softly were the words spoken they were almost lost amongst the cold furniture of the station.
"But you don't have a body."
"Only a soul."
"So you you love me with your soul."
Ray shrugged. "And I love you with my soul too, you know. I don't really see how they're different. I mean, I've thought of you as family for since before Victoria, even."
"Did you ever once think of me sexually, Ray?"
Ray made a face.
"Not even of kissing me?"
"Your cheek, maybe, Italian-style."
Fraser nodded, looking miserable. "Not even embracing me?"
"A hug?" Ray smiled, his eyes shining guilt but sparkling suddenly. "Sure, yeah, a hug."
The Mountie regarded him solemnly. "How?"
Dief whined, and Fraser made a motion over his head as though he were petting it. The wolf sniffed in disdain and curled up on the floor. Ray watched quietly.
"How did you think about hugging me?" Fraser asked at last.
Green eyes rolled. "With my arms."
"Your body close to mine?"
"For a couple of seconds, yeah, I guess."
"Did you wonder what my chest would feel like?"
Fraser looked at him, obviously struggling, until his steady regard was a gaze, and an adoring one at that.
"I thought about what your chest would feel like, Ray."
Vecchio fidgeted. "Okay."
"What does that mean?"
"It means okay! It means I understand."
"I thought often of how you would taste."
Ray groaned. "Fraser!"
And Fraser stood, his face shuttered. "I thought so. You *don't* understand, Ray."
Dief hid a second before the door opened, and Jack Huey walked through, his suit looking about three days past its due date and his eyes looking about a hundred years old. Fraser watched, but Vecchio absolutely gawked as the detective walked into the room and ended up at Ray's desk. As the tall man stared blankly at the surface, Ray shook himself.
"Fraser, my desk."
"Yes, it is, Ray."
"Well, I've been dead six days. They should have cleared off my stuff. Someone else should be sitting there now."
"I doubt any transfers would have come in so soon. Perhaps they're waiting until then to clear your affects."
Ray frowned at him. "Why?"
Fraser shook his head slowly, his eyes soft. "Ray " He gestured towards Jack.
Huey was fingering the Statue of Liberty figure, then picked up Ray's small soccer ball and threw it into the plastic hoop.
"Do you think he knew, Benny?" Ray whispered.
"About how sorry you were over Louis? Yes, I think so, Ray, although you had nothing to be sorry for. In fact, Detective Gardino saved our lives with his."
"What, for about a year, huh?"
"He was a police officer, Ray. He --"
"Knew the risks! Right! I " Ray's rampage was cut off as Detective Huey walked from Ray's desk to his own. He powered up his computer and called up Word, then began to type.
*Detective Jonathan Huey, of the 27th Precinct, Chicago.
I hereby tender my resignation from the Chicago Police Department.*
He printed it off and signed it, then folded it into an envelope on which he wrote Lieutenant Welsh's name. Then he put it in his center drawer.
Ray let out a whoosh of relief.
"That's right, Jack. Sleep on it. You don't really want to quit."
Huey rose from his desk with a short nod, then walked to the door. Once there, however, he turned, grabbed the soccer ball from Ray's desk, and walked out.
"Hey!" Ray objected, then ducked his head. "Aw, you can keep it, Jack."
"Why don't you think he wants to quit?" Fraser asked, his eyes holding a curious expression that went beyond the question. "He's lost a partner and a good friend within a year. Perhaps he's feeling his mortality."
Ray's body seemed to push Fraser's words away, turning to look at the wolf as he emerged from under the desk. "Jack and I weren't -" He stopped himself, and Fraser shrugged.
"It would seem you were, Ray. In fact, I believe you're unprepared by how many people's lives are affected by the loss of you."
Ray snorted. "I know what I mean to people, Fraser."
Blue eyes glinted. "You had no idea I was in love with you."
Green eyes glinted right back. "And you had no idea I thought of you as " Ray tried to stop, but it was obviously too late. " as the guy who, you know, saved me."
"Saved you, Ray?"
"Yeah, Benny. So you were my savior, you know?"
"I don't know, Ray. You're the one who rescued me when I came to Chicago. I would never have lasted here without you."
"And I would have ended up under suspension from IA! And that would probably have done it for the Vecchio career." Ray looked after Huey. "Jack's a good cop." Ray laughed. "And before you came, I hated his guts. It was only after you came that me and him and Louie worked things out. You have no idea how I used to think about you, about what you meant to my life."
Ray turned now and looked at Fraser. "I used to pray to God, thanking Him for sending you my way." He rolled his eyes. "Not as many times as Frannie probably prayed to God about you, but I bet I was close."
Fraser looked away, looked back, his eyes the warm blue of the root of a flame. "Perhaps your prayers explain our current good fortune, Ray."
"What, being dead?"
Fraser smiled knowingly. "Being together, Ray."
"Yeah." Ray looked around. "This would pretty much suck if I was by myself. In fact, I guess I wouldn't mind at all if it wasn't for the people we're hurting."
"We didn't hurt them, Ray. The people we're going to bring to justice hurt them."
Ray ducked his head in agreement, rubbing his long, pale hands together before him, drawing Fraser's eyes just as that gesture always had.
"You have such elegant hands, Ray."
"Had, Fraser, and why are you talking like that?"
Fraser's face was both earnest and matter-of-fact, an expression, Ray realized, he had never seen on those features before.
"As you keep pointing out, Ray, we're dead. I've often wanted to compliment your body and couldn't. Now I can."
"What, you think it doesn't bother me just 'cause my hands are rotting in a coffin now?"
Fraser winced, but wouldn't be distracted. "I suppose it may bother you, the same way all compliments bother you. But I know now it won't drive you away." He sighed. "Ray, you have no idea how many times I've wanted to tell you of the softness of your eyes, the sensual curves of your body, the command of your body to mine."
"Fraser!" Ray's voice was sheer whine. "Stop it!"
The cupid's bow curled into a satisfied little smile. "You have eternity to get used to my adoration, Ray."
"Yeah? Well, I guess that's what it's going to take." Ray shook his head. "Fraser, we need to focus here. We need to be able to reach someone."
The Mountie thought for a moment, allowing his eyes to linger on the slope of Ray's nape, relaxing into a sort of warm comfort that almost made him feel alive, particularly since his friend bore it with nothing more than another roll of his lovely eyes.
"Perhaps we could find someone to help us, someone who's shown some ability in this area."
"No." Ray put up his hands. "Not another one of your crazy friends, Fraser."
"You seemed to put faith in Garret's abilities, Ray."
Ray blinked, and when they world folded in on itself, both men thought absently that they were starting to get used to it.
"When you're done with the dogs, the birds need water. And check 12. He's looking tired."
Sally Pertri smiled softly, having learned long ago that a wide grin made her third chin appear, and shifted herself to the back of the pet store. Garret watched her go with a shy smile of his own, then went back to cleaning out the dog cages. They were good dogs, some with pure pedigrees, some just friendly mutts, and the store did a nice business. Sally paid him a little over minimum wage, more than enough to keep up the rent of his apartment. He was saving, in fact, for a bed, his first real bed in a long, long time.
Garret stood, then bent over to pick up the full trash bag. The gold locket around his neck swung out and almost whacked him in the eye, and he laughed.
Then he stood once again, trash bag forgotten at his feet, as his dark, glassy eyes scanned the room. A moment passed, then another, and he almost relaxed. Then he startled back two feet from his place at the trash bag, his breathing wild, his eyes rolling.
Worn, leathery hands closed over his ears.
"No," he muttered. "No. No. No!"
The hands came down, then reached, picking up the trash bag. Trembling legs took the garbage outside.
Fraser started to follow.
"Leave him alone, Benny."
"But Ray, he needs to face his fears if --"
"I think he's facing all he can right now, Benny. Look at him: a job, and I'm betting a place to live. If he doesn't want to deal with seeing things other people can't for a while, then we should let him alone."
Fraser looked down at the Stetson he was turning his hands by the brim, 'round and 'round and 'round.
Ray watched the hat for a while.
The Mountie looked up.
"It's okay that he was scared of us. The shepherds freaked out with the angels, you know?"
Fraser smiled despite himself.
"Besides, I'm thinking that if he didn't want to see us, he's not the one we're supposed to be going to, anyway." Ray thought a moment, stroking his chin, and Fraser settled back against the wall of the pet shop, absently noting the happy puppy licking herself inside the cage to his right. "I think we should be looking for someone who'll take it in stride, you know? Might even think it was a gas." Ray shrugged. "I'd be willing to try Frannie, frankly, but we already know she didn't see us, and besides it'd be a lot for her to deal with, I think."
"True, Ray." Fraser thought a moment, and then thought harder, but the original thought wouldn't go away.
"What?" Vecchio asked.
Fraser pulled in his shoulders slightly. "Well, do you remember when we were on the Musical Ride train, Ray?"
"Not something I'm likely to forget even after death, Benny."
"My father was there, helping us."
Ray rolled his eyes. "Of course. Why wouldn't he be? I bet the angels dancing on pins stopped by for a laugh too."
"Buck Frobisher saw my father as well."
Ray looked at him. "The Mountie?" The distinctive nose wrinkled, but to Fraser's relief, Ray didn't mention Buck's other defining characteristic during that adventure.
"He was a very close friend of my father's." Fraser smiled suddenly. "Somewhat like you and me, I believe." Benny's thumb stroked his eyebrow. "I read once in my father's journals that "
The men stared at the journal in Fraser's hand.
"Man!" Ray hooted. "That is so *cool!*" He frowned in concentration and walked towards the large front window of the store. The birds near the front cage spooked slightly.
When Ray started laughing, Fraser smiled to himself and joined his friend. The Riv was parked outside, though even as they watched a boy zoomed directly through it on his skateboard.
"No respect for a classic," Ray sighed. They stood looking at the car for a moment, Fraser with his back straight and Vecchio with his eyes possession-soft.
"So what's in the journal, Benny?"
"'A friend is someone who won't stop until he finds you and brings you home.'"
Ray laughed. "I like that."
"My father wrote it about Buck, but when I read it the last time, just afterwards, you knocked on the door. It's things like that that helped me "
Ray's voice was kind. "Helped you fall in love with me?"
"So here I was the whole time, romancing you, and I didn't even notice." Vecchio seemed to find the thought genuinely amusing. Fraser thought about the sheer magnitude of effort Ray put into being a ladies' man, and wondered if perhaps the idea of courting someone - anyone - so effortlessly appealed to the man's well-developed sense of irony.
"If we'd only lived a little longer, I might have managed to get you on our honeymoon before you even knew you were out of Chicago," Fraser murmured.
Ray laughed. "Wow! You're getting the hang of jokes, even! The afterlife suits you, Benny."
But Ray grinned when the Mountie burst out laughing.
They ended up looking at the Riv for a while longer.
"Not much good for a ride up to Canada," Ray sighed finally.
"We won't be up there long."
"Will you want us to go up there, Benny? For good, when this is over, I mean?"
Fraser blinked rapidly. "I'd like to visit, certainly, Ray. If we can."
"I guess the cold and bugs wouldn't be so bad now."
"Yes, Benny? Go ahead and ask."
Fraser looked at him. "Ask what?"
The detective shrugged. "Whatever it is you're about to ask that you wouldn't have asked when we were alive but feel free to ask now that we're dead and I know how you feel about me and you know how I feel about you."
Fraser let a moment go by, evidently trying to decide whether he should be offended. In the end, his voice was neutral. "It was something I had wondered, actually. Just at some point I mean I would have gone back to Canada eventually, I suppose."
Ray frowned. "Of course! They couldn't hold a grudge against you forever."
"I should hope not, Ray."
"So what's the question?"
"There's absolutely no way you would have come with me, was there?"
Fraser waited in sorrow a very long time before he realized Ray wasn't answering.
"I tried not to think about when you would be gone back to Canada."
The Mountie went very, very still. For the first time, he realized he no longer needed to breathe, or to pretend to breathe -- until he wanted at last to speak again. A quick inhale for the soft question: "Does that mean you might have, Ray?"
Broad, thin shoulders shrugged the issue away. "How could I have gone up there, huh? It would have looked mighty strange, Fraser, me just taking off and moving up there. I really don't think my family would have gone for it. And what would I have done up there, anyway? They don't have many jobs in Ice Cube, Alberta for Chicago cops."
Fraser's voice was sheer wonder now. "You thought about it."
"Yeah, some. All right? But it was just nothing. You know, thoughts about nothing." Vecchio moved away from him, turning his back on the ghost-Riv shining clean outside. "It's just the best I ever got was with you, Benny. Giving that up was gonna suck, and I knew it."
"So if you'd had a job, do you think --"
"What difference does it make, Fraser? It wasn't gonna happen. No use making myself sick over it."
Fraser refused to budge. "But if it had been practical, Ray, even possible, would you have come with me?"
One last shrug, and a frown. "Yeah. Maybe."
Habitual stoicism exploded into a smile. "Ray!"
The frown deepened. "What?"
"You do love me!"
"I said I did, didn't I?"
Fraser's arms wrapped loosely around his red-clad body. "You and I, in the Yukon. You on special assignment. After a few weeks, being with me, loving me as a friend, a best friend, you might have allowed me to take care of certain needs. Or perhaps the rugged conditions would have made you more amenable to finding pleasure where you could. Or the days --"
"You been writing this stuff down, Fraser?"
"-- might have hung heavy on your hands, and you might have decided that experimenting would alleviate the boredom."
"There ain't enough boredom in the world, Fraser "
"Or perhaps one night," the Mountie's voice began to lower and gentle, "you'd get cold and drink too much of something you're not used to, and I'd be getting you in bed and suddenly something about me would appeal to you. Perhaps my eyes or my knees --"
"Your knees? I seen your knees, Fraser."
"-- and you would reach for me, for just the one part of me that appealed." Those blue eyes were gazing at him again, Ray noted with alarm. "And I would give you that part, and the rest of me as well."
"You been thinking about this way too much."
"The mind craves occupation during sentry duty, Ray."
"What? You been standing out there guarding Canadian concrete and thinking about *that?*"
Fraser's smile was content. "Yes, Ray."
"Well, that's disgusting. You should have had more respect for me as a friend."
Fraser raised an eyebrow. "You respect Ms. St-Laurent as a colleague, Ray, but I believe you've entertained more than one --"
"Yeah, yeah." Ray frowned at him again. "You gonna spend eternity talking about this stuff to me, Benny?"
"Perhaps. Who can say?"
It was understood in the question and the response that Fraser would never speak another word of it again if Ray asked, and that shared, silent understanding was more intimate, Fraser thought, than a kiss.
Ray scowled openly at Benny's new little smile, and finally harrumphed.
"Beats Inuit stories, I guess."
"If you say so, Ray."
"So, are we can you just tell me why, Benny?"
"Nothing. You ready to go to Frobisher now?"
"Why what, Ray?"
But Ray shook his head, meaning it, and in a moment they were standing inside an extremely clean men's room. Standing not far from them, his back thankfully to them, was Buck Frobisher.
Vecchio and Fraser exchanged a glance, then slid through the door, both shuddering at the sensation, however non-physical it might be, when the wood passed through their forms. The hallway showed clearly that they were in at RCMP headquarters.
"Whitehorse," Fraser pronounced, looking at the directory on the wall. "I didn't realize he was posted here now." He nodded at Ray in approval. "A very good posting for him."
"Mountie Heaven, huh?"
Fraser looked smug. "I believe I can say with some authority that it's not, Ray."
Ray ignored him. Frobisher burst from the restroom, pulled down the front of his blue Mountie uniform, and headed down the hall, paying no attention to the two apparitions walking at his sides.
Ray's attention was caught momentarily by a door. But it was just an ordinary exit door. He turned back and caught up, demanding, "So how do we get his attention?"
"I was hoping he would see us," Fraser confessed in disappointment. "Although, it is possible that he does see us, realizes we're ghosts, and doesn't want to appear to be talking to himself in public."
Ray looked around. "I don't see anyone else around here. He's working the late shift."
They all walked into an office holding several desks and three ranks of file cabinets. Frobisher's desk was littered with reports and dominated by a Dell PC. No one sat at the other desks, and they could see out the many blind-covered windows that it was night.
Fraser gave a worried frown. "Yes, I suppose he would have said or done something at this point to indicate his awareness of us."
"Fraser, we're not even giving him a case of the willies." Ray perched on the messy desk and peered into the computer monitor as Frobisher pushed reports around, looking for something and muttering to himself.
"Hey! He's already into the SCIC," Ray said, peering at the screen. "If we could just get him to enter the right search, he could see the pattern himself."
"Ray." The name was heavy with guilt. Ray's eyes snapped to his friend's solemn face. Fraser was reading the reports over Frobisher's shoulder.
"He's reading about criminal files where bombs were put into children's toys." Fraser gazed now into the face of his father's best friend. Though he was clean-shaven and well-pressed, Buck had never looked so old and tired, not even when Gieger was chasing him. His eyes had both weariness and fear as they scanned the close lines of photocopied text, and his hands shook, just slightly.
"Benny, there wasn't anything we could have done. You said so yourself."
"He feels he's let my father down, Ray."
The Italian sighed. "I know, Benny."
Frobisher looked up suddenly, staring at the space just to the left of Benny's shoulder.
"I was expecting you," Buck said quietly.
"Who's he talking to?" Ray demanded.
"I don't --" Fraser stopped, frowned, shook his head.
"Still nothing?" Buck asked that empty space. "Well, we should take that as a good sign, don't you think?"
Ray and Benny stared hard at the air, at each other, at Frobisher.
"I know," the man said next. "I've been looking over similar cases, but I'm not getting anywhere. Your son and his friend made more trouble over the past two years for more people..." He shook his head with exhaustion and pride.
Fraser gasped. Ray turned slightly pale on his friend's behalf.
"I know that!" Frobisher stood up, stretching his back. "You think it's easy, wondering who could be behind this while I'm stuck up here and can't do anything?"
"He's talking to my father, Ray."
"I know, Benny."
"Yes, I've been in contact with them, but they don't know anything. No one has a clue!" Frobisher frowned. "What?"
"How can he talk to him when I can't? How can he see him when I can't?"
"I don't know."
Frobisher snorted. "If there were a trail to follow I'd be on it! The whole thing is colder than a witch's bosom!" Frobisher shook his head, evidently listening again. "No! They weren't after anyone like that, and no one they put away used that kind of bomb or anything like that."
"Children's toys!" Ray shouted.
"He can't hear you, Ray," Fraser murmured, his eyes lost and his shoulders bowed under the weight of that loss.
"What?" Frobisher asked.
"Children's toys!" Ray howled.
"What do you mean you didn't say anything?" Buck demanded. "You said 'children's toys.'" The Mountie looked offended and stared at the air with his hands on his hips. "Don't go telling me I'm hearing things! You were the one who was always hearing things that weren't there! When I think about all the times you spooked my horse with -- What? I most certainly did not!"
Frobisher glared at the empty space for quite a few minutes, then threw up his hands.
"I'm not going to talk with you about that! That was all your fault! And if you hadn't told him he was under arrest until *after* we'd handcuffed him, none of it would have happened!" He sat at his desk with a grunt. "Now, what's so special about children's toys?" He tapped several keys on the computer, leading himself through the maze of the database quickly and efficiently.
"Hey, he's almost as good as Elaine!" Ray said happily, trying to smile some life back into Fraser's eyes.
"Quiet," Frobisher ordered the air. "Let me think my way through this." Several more pages were clicked through. "And don't sulk!"
"Benny," Vecchio said quietly, "I think I got it worked out."
Fraser turned from the empty air he was staring into so hard. "What, Ray?"
"You and me, we're not alive, and I don't think we're quite where we're supposed to end up when we're dead, right?"
"So it would seem, Ray, though we've seen no means of moving on from this manner of existence."
"And we probably won't until, you know, our job is done. So I'm thinking that your father can't reach us, not while we're like this. I think we have to finish this stuff, then we'll get to see your father, and who knows who else?"
Fraser looked unsatisfied.
"You could see him before, and he could see you," Ray urged. "And in Heaven you'll have to see him, right? So we must just sort of be blocked out here. You know, like a hometown game on TV."
Fraser nodded, then visibly forced the issue to the side. "I'm sure you're right, Ray."
"There!" Ray shouted, pointing at the screen where a scroll of his arrests involving homicide ran down the middle. "Carver! Click on CARVER!"
"Hmmm. Carver." Frobisher clicked. "Look at this. This man threatened Detective Vecchio's family and your son with children's toys." Several minutes passed in silence as Frobisher read through the case file. "Yes, I see he's still in prison, however, it is possible to contract someone's death from prison. People use phones and things like that now."
"Related cases!" Ray shouted.
"Yes, I do remember that you had a phone before I did, but that's only because Caroline insisted on it! I swear, without that woman you would have lived in a cave."
"And good thing she did, too! The only civilizing influence in your entire life, if you ask me! Now shut up while I look for other cases using children's toys."
"No! No! Other cases with prisoners getting revenge on the guys who arrested them!" Ray met Benny's eyes with discomfort. That was a long sentence to shout into a guy's unconscious or whatever it was Ray was achieving.
Frobisher closed his eyes with a sigh and rubbed them. After a moment, he looked up. "No, just I have a headache from staring at this thing." He punched in another search and nodded. "That will take a while to go through." He stood, and Ray and Benny stepped back. "I haven't eaten since last night." Frobisher took his hat and put it on his head. "Yeah, yeah, but this time don't eat my fries!"
Following the man automatically, Fraser fought off a forlorn expression. Ray tried to think up more to argue with, but his attention was again caught as they started down the hall.
It was just a door marked "Exit" in green, glowing letters, like a million other doors he'd seen. But it seemed warm somehow, brushing just a suggestion of heat at his skin as he passed.
And that was the thing, he realized, his steps slowing, then stopping until he stood before the door. It wasn't the door, it was the sensation in his own body: so pleasant, when for so long now, since his death, his body had felt nothing at all. In fact, now, as he stood there, and only now he began to feel as though he did indeed have a body, as though he were real, and not just some sort of "thing" that still thought it was Ray Vecchio.
The heat became more real as he stood there, the wonderful sort of heat you got from a fireplace or a warmed-up blanket, or even better, the sort of heat you found in a hug from your mother, all hot cocoa and loving arms.
And there was light too, he realized, coming no, just almost there around the cracks between the door and the frame. Nothing glowed, nothing intruded, but he was certain there was light on the other side, the way a door seemed when the sun was shining on it, even though the room inside was well-lit.
And then he forgot about the light and the warmth, because they were nothing compared to the aroma coming around that door. It was the smell of oh, what was that? Sunlight, and the best, most expensive clothing store he'd ever been in. Armani concentrate. And there was coffee in there and good food, incredible food. His mouth watered, and only then did he realize his mouth had been dry for days. He was shaking; it was almost painful how wonderful it was to come back to life like this.
But the smell was the best part, a whole world of smells, and as his hand rested against the wood of the door he could feel every ripple and ridge in the wood grain against his palm and each finger. Closing his eyes, he breathed in deeply and was filled with the essence of Paradise.
He smiled. "Yes, Benny. Come on, let's go."
"Go where? Outside?"
With difficulty, Vecchio turned from the door, his hand brushing the knob. "Don't you smell it, Benny?"
His friend seemed so pale and colorless, flat and almost cartoonish. Drawn, rather than sculpted. He also looked a little scared.
"Smell what, Ray?"
"There's nothing to be scared of, Benny. I can even feel it, how right it is to go through. We've earned it, Benny, but then " He let his eyes drift closed again, and even this sensation of knowing was different. He *knew* these things. It wasn't a question of proof or reason. " everyone deserves it. It's just that some people don't see it. It's there, but they don't look."
"Ray? What's happening?" Benny's voice was terrified. "Where are you going? What's happening to you?!"
Ray opened his eyes and instinctively reached out his hands. Benny caught them and pulled at him, but back that way everything was leached of color, flat, odorless. Why did Benny want to stay there?
"Benny, come on. You'll love it. You'll be so happy." Ray laughed. "I bet there'll be some way to just care about each other without weirdness, even. And I don't think there's guilt or pain --"
"Ray, no! Don't leave me!"
Ray let Benny pull him close, but it was slow. Everything was so slow all of the sudden, and his body longed to feel and be alive again. Benny was pulling him back into the cold and nothing place.
"I won't leave you, Benny," Ray muttered, almost annoyed at the suggestion. "But don't you want to can't you smell it, Benny? I bet it even smells like Canada."
"We can't leave until we finish the case, Ray. We have to see this through together."
And Ray let it go, for Benny's sake, and even though his body wasn't really there anymore it felt heavy and aching with the effort. He prayed silently for the strength, and then everything was flat and dull again, and Benny's arms were around him, holding him close to the apparition of his best friend's body that his own arms were around.
"Ray," Benny was whispering. "Ray." And Fraser drew in deep, shuddering breaths, sniffing slightly.
"Do you smell it, Benny? Do you?" Ray chuckled. "It's Heaven, Benny. Honest-to-goodness Heaven. That's what's waiting for us."
Benny's buried his face in Ray's neck and breathed in deeply, calming like a child spooked by a ghost story and now reassured there were no monsters under the bed. And then he laughed, weakly, and muttered into Ray's long, almost-warm neck:
"If you say so, Ray. But in all honesty, I've smelled Heaven on you a few times before."
If he could, Ray would have shivered at the blasphemy. He pulled back to look into his friend's eyes, which were closed in pain. Gently, he shook those strong shoulders. "No, Benny. This is *Heaven.* It's everything you could ever want, everything you didn't even know you wanted, and you'll know you'll be happy for the rest of eternity -- not happy in some mindless, stupid way, but happy because you're right, and it's right, and there's just nothing to be unhappy *about.*"
Fraser's eyes pressed open to dark slits. "Yes, Ray."
"Oh, Benny," Ray crooned sadly. "Benny, you can't imagine." He darted a look behind them. The door still shimmered. "I could show you."
"No!" Fraser grabbed him close again, pressing their foreheads together for the distant pressure of it, arms impervious, impenetrable. "Stay with me, please. Don't leave me. Let me be enough to keep you here."
"Aw, Benny," Ray murmured. "It's not like that at all. We don't have to be afraid of that ever again."
A minute or so passed, perhaps. "Afraid of what, Ray?"
"Afraid of not being together. We *are* together. The universe, God, Heaven it's all just understood. And besides, you shouldn't pretend that if I had to go through the door you wouldn't come too."
Fraser pulled his head back enough to stare at him, and Ray saw with a grin that even in the washed-out world Benny's eyes were still that knock-you-down blue.
"You know I would, Ray?"
The detective's smile was dazzling. "Of course, Benny. You're in love with me."
Fraser blinked, and felt he had missed something. For the first time, Ray mentioned his friend's unwanted love without a hint of distaste. What had Ray seen in that door? The power of it was still burning in those extraordinary eyes. It was like when Ray was hot on a case, or really angry, or allowing his compassion to show.
"And you don't mind anymore?" he asked finally.
Ray shook his head. "I never 'minded,' Fraser, not like that." He smiled dreamily now. "It's nice, actually."
Fraser's hands gripped Ray's shoulders hard. "What's happened, Ray? What's going on?"
Vecchio laughed, openly, with delight. "Benny, I just saw Heaven! Well, I smelled it, anyway. You should freak out if I *didn't* get all squirrelly for a while." He laughed again, as though his bones were noodles, then forced himself sober when Fraser's grip tightened.
"Benny it's like getting all the money in the world, sort of. I mean, think about it if you were going to get all the money in the world."
"Heaven is like money, Ray?" Fraser allowed his disbelief to show clearly. It was obvious Ray wasn't going to be taking offense at anything right now.
"No, of course not. This is like, you know, an analogy."
"All right, Ray."
The shorn, smooth head nodded sagely. "Now, imagine you're going to get all the money in the world. And you're thinking, 'Can I buy this? Is it okay for me to buy that?' And you see, you're not thinking right because you're going to have all the money in the world, all the money there *is.* So you can buy anything. But that's too big, so you keep worrying about the details. You know, like the specifics matter, but they don't."
"Because I have all the money in the world," Fraser repeated, unenlightened.
"Right. And that's what Heaven is like. Everything will be fine. The details don't matter, because you know the outcome. You and me, Benny. It's only going to be fine if we're together, so we will be. I don't know if that means we had to die together and now we gotta walk through the door together, or if maybe if we had died years apart we just would have both been together right after. So you shouldn't worry that I'm going to leave you. I can't leave you, and you can't leave me."
Fraser smiled at last. This, finally, he did understand.
"No, Ray. I could never leave you."
Ray looked just a little uncomfortable, and Fraser realized with guilt he felt relief. Ray without occasional discomfort wouldn't be Ray anymore.
"You shouldn't even worry about the sex part, Benny," Ray got out. "I mean, I don't know if people have sex in Heaven, or what, but whatever it is, whatever it is you uh want with me, something just as good's gonna be there for us, okay?"
Dead or not, Fraser felt stunned down to his absent bones.
"And you'll be amenable to that, Ray?"
Vecchio shrugged and looked mischievous and content. "Since it won't actually be sex, I'm sure I'll be okay with it. I mean, it'll be Heaven, right?" He laughed, and this time, tentatively, Benny joined in.
"Just trust me that it'll be great, Benny."
Fraser let him go, keeping close, however, in case Ray got to looking at that door again. "I trusted you since the moment you walked up to me at the Consulate and didn't hate me for being right about the agent from Internal Affairs, Ray. Since the moment you didn't even seem to realize some people might hate me for it." The Mountie nodded, and suddenly felt once again the weight of his hat on his head. "You've never let me down."
Ray frowned. "Except that one time, you said."
Fraser took a step back, away from the door, down the hall. "Well, there was that."
Ray followed him, hands coming up. "And now we're dead you gonna tell me about that one time, Fraser? 'Cause I'd really like to know what you think you were throwing up at me while we're almost drowning in that stupid vault."
Fraser only barely kept himself from dancing with delight.
"It was nothing, Ray. You really shouldn't think about it."
"Not think about it?! How'm I supposed to not think about it when you won't give?"
"Well, maybe in Heaven you'll just know, Ray."
"Benny!" Ray's cry was almost anguished, then he careened into his friend's back, losing the breath he didn't actually have, but still feeling winded. "Benny!"
The Mountie turned to him slowly, rapt with the possibility of insight.
"What?" Ray asked, edging back.
"Ray, what if that's what we're doing wrong?"
"You wanna try Heaven now after all?" Ray asked, stepping back again and smiling.
"No." Fraser shook his head impatiently. "I mean, what if we're just supposed to know?"
"Who they are." At Ray's look, he tried again: "Who the people are who are offering their professional assassination services to prisoners."
"How can we know that? We haven't even got a name " Ray stared at him. He looked around the hallway. It had become daytime. There were Mounties walking around them. Ray stepped out of some tall guy's way, scowled, and then watched the world around them fold in on itself.
Diefenbaker perked up.
"Why did you bring us here, Ray?"
The 27th Precinct bullpen was swarming with chaos and subdued at the same time. Some guy with dirty pants was claiming to be a businessman late for some super-important meeting. Three women in red dresses were claiming to anyone who would listen that they were a singing duo who just happened to have some handcuffs and anti-gag cream in their purses "for the act." A bike messenger was swearing out a complaint against someone who had smeared dog feces on his bike -- and had brought in the evidence to support his case.
And to the businessman, Jack Huey simply nodded. The red women got sympathetic murmurs. The bike messenger was given a cup of coffee and asked if he wanted a shower in the locker room.
"What the hell's going on?" Ray demanded, striding over to his desk. "It's like *Night of the Living Dead* in here." He glared at the clean surface. Someone must have cleared out his stuff at last. But there was his pencil holder, and there was his soccer ball.
"Ray," Benny called softly, and the detective turned to see his Statue of Liberty on Elaine's desk. Ray shook his head, then looked around. His snowglobe was on Huey's desk, and his Gumby was on Welsh's.
"What the hell is this?" Ray stomped around, and Diefenbaker followed him, his tail wagging.
"Elaine," Huey called. "What's with the wolf?"
Bresbiss shrugged, keying in a search on bike-smearers.
"They all have something from your desk," Fraser noted.
"That's sick!" Ray announced, though his eyes were wide with compassion and his heart's feelings so close to the surface that Benny wondered why his friend was bothering with the show. Habit, he supposed.
Ray looked at him, and dropped it.
"Seriously, Benny. They shouldn't be doing this. We've been dead " He looked at a report on Jack's desk. " eleven days now. They shouldn't be mourning either of us like this."
"Perhaps, Ray, but sometimes people don't do exactly what they're supposed to. Besides, it seems more an act of remembering you than of mourning you." Fraser turned from Elaine's desk and looked at his friend. Ray looked particularly handsome in that suit. He was glad it was Ray's favorite, though he supposed in time both of them would wear something different. He himself really didn't want to spend eternity in the dress reds.
Now having Ray take him *out* of his dress uniform, now there was something to spend eternity doing. Except that he'd lost his body, the body only Victoria had known with any true intimacy of body and soul. What a waste that had been.
Victoria. It was odd how death took the pain away from thoughts of her. He had hunted her, then loved her, then mourned her and felt guilty over her, then loved her again, then hated her, then loved her, then lost her pointless. Victoria was strong and beautiful, but the darkness in her wasn't some sort of illness. She *was* darkness, and her beauty was of the night, of the rapture of a man who laid down in the snow and surrendered to death.
Ray even in death he was life, and all the goodness that life could bring.
Would Heaven have some way for him to bury himself inside Ray and know the life of him the way he had wanted to know it for so long now? A way that wasn't sex? Could they just join or unite spiritually, or something? Could it possibly be as nice as a kiss?
"Well, they should be getting on with their lives, Benny," Ray was grousing now. "Do they think either of us would want them going around with long faces forever?"
"It's only been eleven days, Ray," Fraser soothed. "And besides, I think it's sweet."
Diefenbaker growled slightly and went to Fraser's feet. He stared up at the Mountie, then walked in a little circle, an indication that the ghost was to follow.
"What is it, Dief?"
The wolf bounded to the door, and Ray rolled his eyes.
"I think he needs to go out," Huey noted.
"Yeah," Elaine said around the pen between her teeth.
Jack looked at her, then sighed and stood up, grabbing a leash from on top of the file cabinet by Welsh's door. He hooked Dief up, then opened the door. Dief whined.
"You said you needed to go," Huey said impatiently. "Now *go.*"
Dief whined again, then went out. Huey followed.
"They should have sent him back home by now," Fraser noted, not quite a complaint, then turned to Ray. "You still haven't said what we're doing here."
"I think best here," Ray said, perching on his desk, throwing up the image of his soccer ball. "And that's what we've got to do, isn't it? Think." He looked at the ball in resignation. "Just think."
"Aw, it's all gone, isn't it, Fraser? The challenge of thinking things out, following clues, even shaking up a suspect. We don't gotta think about any of that stuff anymore; we just gotta think, 'Who's the bad guy?' and that's that."
"We don't know that, Ray."
"Yes, we do, Benny." And Vecchio held out his hand, beckoning his friend to the desk. Fraser walked carefully to him, then stood, staring into those green eyes still burning, still bright. He knew what Ray wanted, and thought with him of who it could be, who could make their life killing others for money, killing law enforcement officers who had done nothing more than their job because a prisoner somewhere was able to get enough money together to pay them for a bomb in a child's cassette recorder, or for a rape and murder, or a shot through the head by a gun registered to duck hunters, or some other awful, unspeakable crime.
"His foot was over the line."
"You're an asshole."
"Piss off, shithead."
A man and a woman in a tastefully decorated New York apartment sat watching Monday Night Football. The man wore a Harvard sweatshirt over jeans. The woman was in gray sweats. Two beers and a gilt box full of cocaine ornamented the low, mother-of-pearl-inlaid coffee table.
Ray walked up the brief stairs from the living room to the study. The view through the windows was proof the rent on this place was astronomical: sky-scrapers and the Hudson in evening light. Ray looked over the papers on the desk, then his eyes looked up to find Benny's, sharing bleakness.
"So," the Mountie asked. "It's them?"
"Yeah." Ray looked at the couple on the sofa in disgust. "They're planning the next one: some cop in Fargo next Thursday gets to watch his wife get shot in the head."
"We'll stop that." Fraser meant to be reassuring, but his voice was flat. He couldn't stop himself from the distraction. "I wonder what Dief wanted."
"To be let out."
The world folded again and they were back at the station. Elaine sat at her desk, keying in names, crossing them against other vandals. Mr. Bike Messenger wasn't in sight, but his bike was. Someone had thrown some plastic sheeting over it.
Ray walked over to Elaine's side. It was time to end this.
"Nathaniel Horgrove!" he shouted. "Nathaniel Horgrove and Carver!"
Huey came in, dragging Dief and cursing under his breath. When he slipped the leash, Diefenbaker "woofed" quietly, then bounded over to Fraser, his ears up.
"'I'm sure he wants something, Ray."
"What the heck is this?" Elaine muttered, then keyed in some information, her eyes going wide. A few minutes more, and she was finding out about Carver's last visitor in prison.
Ray walked to his friend's side, nodding to the wolf who panted at his feet.
"I think we've done enough now, Benny."
Fraser looked at him. "Can we see what Dief needs first, Ray?"
Vecchio smiled. "Sure, Benny. Whatever you and fuzzball want."
Fraser's eyes sparkled just a little in the washed-out world. "I might hold you to that, Ray."
The detective laughed, then looked down. "Don't worry, Dief. I'm sure they got donuts and Milk Duds in Heaven."
The wolf sniffed with quiet dignity, then slunk under the line of chairs suspects were often cuffed to, not without complaint.
"What'd I say?" Ray wanted to know, but even then Diefenbaker moved quietly towards the door, unseen. Ray met Benny's eyes, then followed, Fraser at his side. They waited until the Fed Ex guy came through, then went out with Dief, down the hall, out to the street, down to the bus stop.
Fraser watched Dief sit and wait for his illegal ride, wondering what had made his friend so serious and quiet. Could Dief be leading them to another door? Was this really Dief at all, or an angel to guide them?
He took Ray's hand. His human friend held on so tightly he could actually feel it.
"Don't worry, Benny. There's nothing to be afraid of."
Fraser closed his eyes, and there wasn't anything then for him but the feel of Ray's hand and the image of each letter of Ray's words. He had feared death for so long, instinctively, and the power of that fear had kept him alive, had made him fall in love with the woman who helped him stay alive, had shown him the way to survive over ice and through blizzard, in the streets and without a gun.
But Ray said there was nothing to fear, and there *had* been the smell of immortality among the ghost of Armani cologne and sweet-salt skin. And besides, he had trusted Ray with his soul for so long he did not know how to take it back.
"It's only fair, anyway," Fraser stated.
"What's that, Benny?"
"If you were willing to come with me to Canada, I suppose I shouldn't balk at going with you to Heaven."
Ray laughed. "Fewer bugs in Heaven, too."
"You don't feel that insects deserve immortality, Ray?"
"No, I do not."
The bus came up, and the driver opened the door to Diefenbaker with a nod. The wolf climbed up, followed by the ghosts of his pack, and they all took their stations behind the driver's seat.
"So, do I get to change my clothes in Heaven, Ray?"
Vecchio shrugged, looking with pity on the bus' passengers. "Sure, if you want, Benny. But why wait? We've done our duty, right?"
Fraser looked down at himself. "Yes, Ray."
"So if not the uniform, what? Jeans and a plaid shirt? Or maybe just the white Henley?"
The Mountie smiled, hearing that oh-so-slight change in tone, and in a minute he wasn't a Mountie anymore, just a man in his best jeans and the spotless Henley. His Stetson, of course, stayed, and Ray looked like he approved.
Diefenbaker stood up and went to the yellow line, and the bus driver pulled up at the next stop and opened the door. The pack went out, but Ray's questions died on his lips. It was obvious they were headed to the Cook County Hospital, and moreover Dief seemed quite hyper about it as they crossed the street, his tail up, his legs skimming the ground in a half-run.
"Oh, God," Ray breathed.
"You don't think...?"
Ray's eyes met his as they reached the sidewalk. "That someone else was hurt besides us?" He shook his head. "I should have thought of that."
The Mountie uniform almost shimmered back, but Ray put a hand on his friend's arm.
"I'm sure whatever help we can be, it's just as two dead guys, Benny, not as cops."
Fraser nodded. "I'm sure you're right." He frowned. "I suppose when dealing with eternity it's best not to rely on uniforms anyway."
Ray laughed, then shrugged, almost apologizing. "It's just weird how everything sounds so profound when you're talking about the afterlife." Ray voice dropped. "The afterlife will not be televised." Then he laughed again.
Fraser smiled, happy that his friend was happy, and walked through the lobby with a quietly slinking Diefenbaker. They paused, hid behind the gurney, then sprinted for the elevator. Dief scrabbled up the wall and pressed the button for the fifth floor with his nose, then hid behind the frame until the doors slid shut.
"You know, when Dief makes it to Heaven we're gonna have to have a talk," Ray muttered.
"And you know he's going to be in Heaven because it wouldn't be Heaven without him?" Fraser hazarded.
Ray beamed. "You're really getting the hang of it, Benny."
"Well, I agree that there must be room in Heaven for wolves, Ray."
"I don't think he's a wolf," Ray grumbled. "A little person in a fur suit, maybe."
"Now, Ray "
"I don't think he's deaf, either."
"Ray! I tended to his ears myself when they were bleeding from his burst drums."
"Burst eardrums heal, Benny. I think he's been having us on."
The doors opened and Dief padded silently into the hall.
"There's no reason to accuse Diefenbaker of deception just because he's compensated so well for his handicap, Ray."
Vecchio rolled his eyes. "Sure, Benny. Whatever you say."
The wolf darted behind the nurse's station, and a minute later two nurses emerged from behind a glass wall which slid shut silently behind them.
"You see, Ray?" Fraser said in triumph. "He didn't hear them coming. He felt the vibrations through the floor."
"Er, right." Ray rolled his eyes again.
"I know," one of the nurses said as they approached the station to make notes in their files, "but it's still a little creepy. I mean, I swear sometimes they're mumbling about the same thing."
"That's not so weird," the older nurse said, folding up the file and placing it in the rack. "I worked on an appendectomy where the guy started muttering stuff out of the newspaper under the gas. Surgeon almost wet himself."
"Ha! There's a sight." The younger nurse looked back towards the glassed-in room and then put her own file up as well. "It's almost been two weeks, though. If they're not going to improve, we need to free up the room."
The men watched the nurses walk away, then watched as Diefenbaker came out from behind the counter and walked to the glass door to sit staring in.
Ray and Benny followed and peered through the glass, seeing two figures on white beds laying flat and hooked up to monitors and IV drips. Their faces weren't visible from this angle, but from the face of the person on the right rose the visible tip of a nose.
And Ray walked through the glass without even thinking about it. He *knew* that nose.
But he turned almost instantly from his own thin, pale face to Benny's, stumbling slightly at hollow cheeks and bloodless skin.
"Ray?" Fraser stood by him in the white shirt he had donned for eternity. "We're alive."
"We're in comas, Benny. We're dying."
The body on the bed moved as a man might in his sleep. "Ray," the lips mumbled.
Vecchio stepped back until his body was up against his own bed. "No," whispered a voice from behind him.
"No," Ray moaned, echoing himself.
Fraser turned to him, blue eyes shining, mouth wide in a smile that sank Ray's heart. Then Fraser's spirit turned to its body and moved forward, preparing
"No!" Ray was across the room in a thought, pulling back at that those white, broad shoulders. "God, no, Benny, please!"
Fraser turned to him, clearly puzzled.
"But, Ray. We're alive. We just need to get back into our bodies and we can wake up."
"Wake up to what, Fraser? We've been in comas for two weeks, and God knows what's wrong with us besides that. We're mumbling in comas! We could be vegetables, unable to walk, or who knows what?" Ray pulled again, taking Benny's spirit into his own spirit's arms. "We can just go to Heaven now, Benny. You and me. We've earned it."
"And we'll earn it again, Ray, when it's our time."
"You just don't want to die!" Ray accused.
Benny leaned back, making eye contact. "Is that such a bad thing, Ray?"
Vecchio closed his eyes. "I don't want to go back to what I was, Benny. I've been handed this incredible gift. I'm not afraid anymore, I'm not worried anymore. I know things and I can't stand the idea of forgetting them."
"You believed in Heaven before, Ray."
Those green eyes opened now, dark with fear. "Yes, but I didn't *know* about it, didn't have the memory of that smell. And I didn't know people at the station actually gave a rat's ass about me, or that you love me."
Fraser's smile was painful. "You said you didn't want to know, Ray."
"But now I've gotten used to it." Ray's eyes, impossibly, were laughing at him. "Oh, Benny. So I have some problems with the sex thing, but I love you. Of *course* I want to know you love me back! And if we get into our bodies I'll lose everything I've gained."
"But Heaven will still be there, and I'll still be there."
"Will you?" Ray shook his head. "You're going to go back to wanting me and loving me and never telling me a single damn word about it. And one day you'll go back to Canada and I won't have the guts to follow you and I'll be alone and miserable for the rest of my lousy life. Who's to say I won't lose my way then? Maybe I'll end up going postal and losing my ticket to Heaven."
Benny gave him a knowing look. "Now you're being silly, Ray. Obviously if I get to Heaven you'll be there, and if you're not then I'll have to annoy the angels until they send me to wherever you end up."
But Ray was in no mood for teasing. "Obviously, we won't be together in Hell, Fraser!"
"Because then it wouldn't be Hell anymore!"
And Fraser sobered completely, staring into those terrified green eyes. The choice was easy, really.
"All right, Ray."
Vecchio frowned. "All right what?"
Fraser shrugged. "If you want to die, then we'll do it." He looked back through the glass door. Diefenbaker was watching them, his eyes pleading as though the man were holding out a thick steak with a donut on top. "Which door do we go through?"
"Do you mean it, Benny?"
Fraser looked down at himself on the bed. Ray was right. They were obviously very ill. But illness didn't frighten him, nor did death, now, he realized. All that scared him anymore was the thought of some day not being at Ray Vecchio's side.
And so he looked into his friend's true face and nodded, then slowly, savoring what might be his last chance, he leaned in and kissed the apparition of his friend's lips.
In terms of sensation, there was almost nothing: a faint pressure, a distant sweetness. But when Ray got over what seemed a small case of shock and kissed back, the warmth that bloomed in his mind was a cold fire, rose-red and sharp as life.
"I could never leave you, Ray," he murmured against Ray's mouth, and the man laughed.
"Tickles a little." Ray's face smiled at him, and then turned, searching for their door.
And then Ray was standing there, his face that curious vulnerable blank face Fraser had seen so often before.
Dief's pleading eyes were looking at Ray now. A paw came up to the glass.
Fraser tried so hard to suppress his smile that when his body on the bed giggled he felt betrayed by the entire universe. Bracing himself for Ray's wrath, he was undone when his friend simply looked at him in despair.
"You could explain to him that we'll meet up in Heaven," Fraser offered. "I'm sure he'll understand."
"And how about Ma?" Ray said, bowing to the inevitable with his usual alacrity. "And everyone at the station with my stuff on their desk? And how about Frobisher and your dad's ghost and the Dragon Lady and everyone in your building and Frannie and Maria and " Ray's smile surfaced, wickedly. " and seeing Frannie's face when she finally realizes just which Vecchio you're really after?"
"Now, Ray." The reprimand was without force.
But Ray had wound down, standing there not looking into Dief's eyes.
"Will you live with me, Ray?"
He shrugged. "Sure, if you'll move out of that flea-pit."
"No, I didn't mean oh." Benny stared at him. "I'm going to hold you to that, Ray, whether either of us remembers any of this or not."
"Oh, I'm going to remember," Ray vowed. "I'm going to remember all of it if God Himself comes up and asks for it back." He shook himself. "So, you ready, Benny?"
"As I'll ever be, Ray."
That made the detective smile, and slowly they broke from each other's embrace and backed towards their beds, looking only into the other's face. Finally, there was nothing left between them and their beds, and the bodies in them.
Ray took the lead, knowing Benny wouldn't push him, and began to lean back
Continue to Part III