The order was for H/C for B and Ray V. Moo's choice of who is H and who is C. Don't let the early appearance of Ray K fool you.
Ray and Francesca entered the hospital lobby and went up the elevator together. The smells from what each had brought for Fraser clashed in the enclosed space. Francesca had a dish of her mother's lasagna, Ray carried a bag of maple fudge.
As they rode up, Ray said "That smells good. Maybe he'll eat today."
But Francesca didn't sound very hopeful. She'd be satisfied if they just found him sitting up, maybe reading one of the books Ray had brought or watching the TV they had ordered him. She hoped they wouldn't find him the way that they had been finding him every night that week when they came over together after work – lying on his back staring at the ceiling. Fraszh was moody, that much she always knew, and he did tend to mope around when upset. But this . . . this was more like a real depression. It frightened her.
Ray was becoming frightened, too. He knew of two occasions before when Fraser had had the crap beaten out of him. Once outside Warfield's when Ray himself had brought him back to the station, and once he had read about in the briefing file when he had studied how to become Vecchio. From what Ray saw and what he read, Fraser had quickly bounced back to his usual outwardly stoic self.
This time had been different from the other two times. No friend brought him back to the station, no adoring female patched him up there. This time they'd found him unconscious in an alley out behind the courthouse, a place especially chosen to make it clear what happened to those who chose to testify against the Donnellys in open court. Fraser had been just a little too public in his quest for justice. To add literal insult to literal injury, the Donnellys walked. Only Fraser had been surprised by that.
It made news all over the country: heroic Mountie stands against gangland family and is found with smashed ribs and severe internal injuries. The next day there was a dramatic follow-up story about how he survived the emergency surgery. There were pictures of the handsome Mountie before and the beaten mess of flesh after. After a couple more days, the media lost interest.
Francesca's fear was well founded. Fraser was in exactly the same position as when they had left him when visiting hours were over last evening – she could easily believe he hadn't moved since then. She and Ray exchanged a look that seemed to say "What do we do now?"
They put the food on Fraser's bedside table. Francesca rummaged around the rest of the things on the table and found a fork, which she lay down beside the dish. Then she squeezed Fraser's arm gently to get his attention; he hadn't looked at her or Ray since they had come in. She didn't squeeze too hard, though. He seemed to be thinner and weaker than a man could get after only ten days in the hospital.
He turned his head to look towards her. The only actual movement was the swiveling of his head on his neck. The blank look in his eyes didn't change.
Ray looked around for something about which to start a conversation. His eye fell on a large arrangement of red and white carnations that vaguely suggested a Canadian flag. It hadn't been there the day before. He went over and picked the card out.
"Best Wishes for a Speedy Recovery. I.A.B.B.A. Hey, Fraser, who's I.A.B.B.A?"
A barely perceptible lift of the Mountie's shoulders signaled that he didn't know and the failure to at all change the look on his face showed he didn't care. Ray dropped the line of conversation and dropped his own spindly frame into a chair by the bed. Jollying other people wasn't his forte. He looked to Francesca to take up the ball from here.
Francesca was quite good at cheering people up but she was out of her depth. She sat down on the other visitor's chair in the room. All her best efforts to get Fraser to show any life had failed so far and she had a feeling tonight wasn't going to be any different.
A half hour passed with odd comments every now and then from either Francesca or Ray. When pressed, Fraser would grunt acknowledgement that they had said anything.
Ray eyed the dish of lasagna. "I'm hungry. If he's not going to eat it . . . " They were already getting used to talking about Fraser as if he were not there since, in essence, he was not there.
"Touch that and you die," Francesca warned, "That's for Fraszh and you know it."
"Fine, I'll go get a sandwich from the cafeteria." Ray's tone suggested this was some heroic feat he was about to embark upon, and he went out.
A few more minutes passed in that hospital room in silence, and then Francesca and Fraser heard a loud, brash voice from the corridor.
"Is there somebody called 'Fray-sher' around here?"
Francesca's eyes and mouth all flew open at the sound of the voice. A moment later Ray Vecchio peeked his head into the room. "Are you Mister Fray-sher?"
For the first time in many days, something flickered in the Mountie's grey eyes. He looked towards Francesca and raised an index finger to his lips – the largest movement he had made so far that evening. Clearly he was telling her to be silent. Then he pointed to his own chest, to suggest that she should let him do the talking. But he did not sit up. Francesca nodded to him, a very small careful nod, and fixed her gaze on her brother.
"I'm Constable Fraser." said the one who was entitled to say it.
"Ah, good, good," Ray declared grandly and came in. "I'm Armando Langostini, from the Italian-American Businessmen's Benevolent Association, South-West Branch." He reached into a side pocket of the trench coat he was wearing and took out a business card. He handed it to Fraser, who handed it to Francesa who put it on the bedside table. Neither of them even glanced at it.
"I.A.B.B.A.," Fraser repeated, realizing.
"So, did our flowers come?"
Fraser pointed to the red and white arrangement.
Ray took a couple of steps to the windowsill where the flowers were and examined them. Fransesca just watched her brother's every move in silence. "I told the florist to make sure it was something Canadian. Is this Canadian?"
"It's our flag."
"Good, good," Ray repeated. "You see, every month my Association likes to honour an outstanding citizen. You, you're Canadian, not exactly a citizen, but everybody on the committee felt you should be our choice. You're a real defender of justice, Mr. Fraser. It's an honour to shake your hand."
At these words, Ray extended a hand to Fraser, and waited. Fraser just looked at it. Without a word, Ray's expression changed from one of mindless good humour to one of genuine worry. He stood there with his hand hanging in the air. Francesca nudged Fraser and inclined her head towards her brother. Fraser finally reached out his hand, but tentatively as though not sure what to do with his own hand when it arrived at its destination. As soon as the hand was reasonably close enough, Ray grasped it, squeezed it and looked for something in his friend's eyes. He didn't find what he was looking for. He went back to his Langostini routine.
"When I have time I like to visit each recipient personally. I had some business on the east coast so I thought I'd stop over on the way and pay my respects. There's a monetary prize, not much. Symbolic. My people will be in touch."
A moment of silence hung in the air as Fraser and Francesca digested all this.
Fraser, still lying flat on his back, shifted only slightly before speaking. "How did you know about me?"
Ray grinned. "The whole country knows about you. Didn't you know?"
Francesca spoke up. "We haven't let him see . . . he hasn't read any . . ." Ray gave her a sharp look and she subsided.
"So, a modest hero. Just what I expected. And, would this charming lady be Mrs. Fraser?"
Francesca smiled. Ray shot her a warning look.
It took a little while for Fraser to pick up his cue. Ray's eyes narrowed at just how long it was taking. Finally, Fraser spoke. "Mr. Langostini, this is Miss Vecchio. She's been of enormous help to me during this difficult time. She comes and stays with me whenever she's not busy with her new job with the police. She’s a civilian aide at the 27th precinct.”
It was Ray's turn to look surprised, now.
"In fact, her whole family has been very supportive. Her mother cooks something for me every day." Fraser indicated the dish beside him on the table. "Mrs. Vecchio is remarkably active. . . " he paused significantly, " . . . and healthy for a woman her age."
Ray nodded and his eyes began to water, although his expression didn’t change as he commented mildly, "That's always nice to hear."
Then Ray, in his turn, placed a finger to his lips and then opened his arms wide. Francesca rushed towards him and fell against his chest, careful not to make any noise as she cried into his lapel. Ray squeezed her and stroked her hair. After a while he held her off just a little and pointed first to her and then jerked his thumb towards the door, to suggest 'you, out'.
Francesca gave him a final hug and went out of the corridor as casually as she could manage.
Once she was safely gone, Ray sat down on the bed beside his friend. Again he opened his arms. Fraser didn't move. A look of grave concern crossed Ray's face. Arms still out, Ray craned his head forward with a questioning look as if to say 'well, where's my hug?' The Mountie only looked at him blankly. Ray reached down, took hold of Fraser's shoulders, lifted him up to a sitting position and into an embrace.
Fraser dropped against him. There was no volition, only dead weight. Ray brought his face close to Fraser's face and barely breathed the word, "Benny". Still there was no reaction.
Ray rocked his friend a little, back and forth, as a father would comfort a hurt child. "I'm so sorry I'm not here for you," he said very, very softly right into the Mountie's ear.
Fraser took a breath, a sharp gasp of inhaled air. Then he let out a groan and wrapped his own arms around Ray. His voiceless tears joined Francesca's on Ray's coat.
It was many minutes before either spoke again. It was Fraser who whispered, "You shouldn't be here. It's too dangerous."
Ray ignored that. "I'm just glad you're alive."
Fraser broke away and sniffed. Then he lay back against his pillow. Ray bent low over him, close enough for Fraser to hear his tiny whisper. "You're not glad, Benny? To be alive, I mean?"
Fraser just shook his head.
"You can't think like that, man. Listen to me. I need you to be here for me when I get home."
There was no answer of any kind from the injured man – not by voice, expression or movement. Ray pressed his own lips together, thinking hard. He couldn't stay too much longer. Benny had to be saved. There was no time for anything but the blunt truth.
"I can't stay long. Benny, you have to promise me you'll take care of yourself."
Fraser turned his head away. Ray took hold of the sides of his friend's head and twisted his head to face forward. "Promise me."
Fraser nodded very slowly.
"Good." Ray now turned towards the dish of lasagna and inhaled deeply. Very slowly and deliberately, as if having to concentrate hard on the action, Fraser lifted the fork that lay beside the dish and offered it to his friend. Ray dug into his own mother's cooking. When nothing was left but bits of sauce clinging to the sides of the dish, Ray leaned forward again and whispered into Fraser's ear. "That Mrs. Vecchio sure can cook."
The corners of Fraser's mouth turned up very slightly, for the first time in ten days.
"I have to go. Remember, you promised to be here for me when I come home." Ray gave his friend a last pat on the shoulder and headed out. He waited until he was safely out of the room, where the Mountie couldn't see him, before reaching into his pocket, taking out a handkerchief and burying his face into it.
Ray grabbed a couple of pre-wrapped ham and cheese sandwiches in the cafeteria. They were the fastest thing available and he could eat them on the way back to Fraser's room. Even after he had ripped the cellophane off, they seemed no less plasticized. He was still chewing the last of the second one when he got off the elevator and saw Francesca sitting alone in the visitor's lounge on Fraser's floor. He was about to rebuke her for leaving Fraser by himself, when his attention was distracted by a man standing crying in the middle of the corridor outside Fraser's room. Ray watched as the man snuffled himself into composure, put the handkerchief back into his pocket and came towards them.
"Miss, uh, Vecchio is it?" His eyes were red, but his mouth broke into a wide grin. He darted a look at Ray, but in the quick glance Ray felt this guy was taking in a lot.
As for Francesca, her own sniff and smile were her answer to this dude in the expensive trench coat.
"Would you care to walk with me down to my car?" the unknown man said, "I hate to go anywhere without a beautiful woman on my arm."
The trench-coat guy offered his arm to Francesca. She took it without hesitation, as though she knew him, and he pressed the elevator button. Ray just watched as the stranger and Francesca got into the elevator and the doors closed on them. He shrugged and headed back to Fraser's room. Just before he entered the door to the room he remembered the pictures of Vecchio he had been shown and realized whom he had seen.
Inside the room he saw Fraser sitting up, the bag of fudge in his lap and a blissful expression on his face. His cheeks were bulging, presumably from candy, although the lasagna dish, Ray noticed, was empty.
Son of gun, he thought. Ray had an inkling of what he had missed and was sorry he missed it.
Fraser extended the candy bag and said, around a mouthful of fudge, "This is really good, Ray. Want some?"
Ray took a piece and settled into the chair beside him. He had a brief flicker of jealousy and then decided against keeping that flicker going. Whatever was done, he hadn't been able to do it, Frannie hadn't been able to do it, so it was good that it was done by somebody.