Janice created this picture and asked The Moo to create a story based on it.
This is NOT a deathfic.
"Fraszh, you have to settle this with her TODAY," Francesca said over breakfast one morning.
"She's right, Benito," said Ma Vecchio, as she slid a pancake onto Fraser's plate. "You can't put this off any longer."
"You listen to Ma, Benton," mumbled Tony from the corner of the kitchen where the over-sized coffee maker resided. "You can't go being afraid of women all the time," he added paradoxically.
"Aw, lay off him," Ray caught the tail end of the conversation as he came into the kitchen and dropped into the chair beside Fraser's. "This is about the Dragon Lady, right, Benny? Can I have eggs, Ma?"
"Please,” prompted Fraser.
"Please, what, caro?" Ma put in without turning around, "Do you need another pancake already?"
Being addressed by five different names in less than a minute was one of the smallest of the adjustments Fraser had made to life chez Vecchio. He made his response to his wife first, as he felt was the right thing to do.
"I'll talk to her today, Francesca. I promise."
Fraser tapped politely on the Inspector's door and waited for her call to enter. He pulled himself up to maximum polite straightness as he began "Sir, I'd like to speak to you on a personal . . . well not exactly personal as it has to do with scheduling . . . but the initial circumstances leading to . . . I mean, I know I'm entitled to a certain number of months . . . "
Thatcher looked up from her computer, amused at his discomfort. "Is this about your paternity leave, Fraser?"
After nearly a year she had made her peace with Fraser's marriage. The two Mounties' passion for each other couldn't over-ride the fact that Vecchio's sister was ready to settle down and be the old-fashioned, traditional wife and mother, while she herself would rather have died.
More than anything it seemed Fraser had been yearning for the family life he had missed as a child. Fate threw the Vecchio clan his way, providing brother, mother and even a bride of the appropriate age and biological clock setting. Fraser seemed happy in his new life so she made a conscious decision to be happy for him and move on emotionally, leaving him to be the one still ill at ease when family matters were discussed.
"Yes sir, I was thinking I ought to set the exact dates I would take off. "
"When's the due date?"
"March 14th, sir, but I’ll want to start a few weeks before."
"You'll be wanting the maximum allowed by regulation, I suppose."
Fraser cleared his throat and fingered his collar. "If quite convenient, sir."
She smiled mischievously "It's not convenient and it's not fair. A new baby is a poor excuse for leaving me without a deputy." She enjoyed his crestfallen look. He was so nervous he had completely missed the Dickensian nature of the exchange, so she decided to take pity on him.
"Just give me the dates you want off. And, Fraser . . . "
"I think you'll make a cracker-jack father."
Francesca quit her job three weeks before her due date and Fraser had arranged to begin his paternity leave a week after she stopped working. They figured this would be sufficient lead time, since first babies were traditionally tardy and nobody believed the baby would dare come before Francesca permitted it, anyway.
Her first Monday morning home Francesca arrived bright and chipper at the breakfast table at the same time as if she were going to work.
"You should rest, cara. Go back to bed, I'll make you something later."
"That's okay, Ma. I'm so full of energy I can't stay in bed. You know what, Ray," she turned her attention to her brother. "Why don't you invite Welsh over for dinner? I feel like having company."
Ma Vecchio sat down beside her youngest child and peered at her. "You feel full of energy?”
"Yeah. Crazy isn't it."
Fraser shifted uneasily where he sat. "A sudden outburst of energy like this late in a pregnancy usually means labour is imminent. Inviting guests today probably wouldn't be wise," he said carefully. "Francesca, I think you should make sure your hospital bag is packed. I suspect we'll be needing it before the day is out."
But Francesca had her way and Ray called home about 10:00 am to confirm that he would be bringing his boss home. Francesca spent the rest of the day in such a flurry of cooking that Ma gave up trying to distract her and packed her daughter's bag herself.
Mid-afternoon the Vecchio doorbell rang. Francesca opened it to a thin woman, about her own age, with long, scraggly black hair. Actually, the whole woman seemed scraggly, not just the hair. She was good-looking in a threatening kind of way.
"Can I help you?" Francesca asked politely.
"Ray Vecchio still live here?"
Francesca didn't like the demanding tone in this woman's voice. "Who wants to know?"
"Actually I'm looking for a friend of his, Benton Fraser. I went by where he used to live and he's not there. So I came by in case Ray knew where Ben lives now."
Francesca didn’t like any of this, least of all her single-syllable rendition of the names, implying familiarity. "I'm Mrs. Fraser," she announced, icily, "Anything I can do for you?"
The scraggly woman seemed taken aback by this announcement. "You're his wife?"
"If you mean Benton's wife, yes. What do you want with him?"
"Then that's his child?" The woman said, staring pointedly at Francesca's bulging abdomen.
Francesca had had enough. "Look, honey, my husband and my brother are both cops. You tell me what you’re doing here or I'll . . . "
"I know better than anyone that Ben's a cop, but he doesn't have jurisdiction in the States. Never mind."
Victoria turned and dashed off before Francesca could answer. Francesca had the feeling she should follow her, but she realised she wouldn't catch her, considering the woman's head start and her own temporary bulk. Instead she watched as long as she could. Once in road, Victoria ran along until the next side street then turned onto it and out of Francesca's view.
"Who was that?" her mother called from upstairs.
Francesca ignored her and telephoned the Consulate right away. Turnbull picked up the line and said Fraser was out escorting some diplomats around the city and was planning to go straight home afterwards. But if it was an emergency . . .
Francesca said it wasn't, hoping that was true, and then called Ray.
"Bro. Something weird just happened. I want to tell Fraszh but he isn't in the office."
Ray continued to find it amusing that his sister still used the old nickname for her husband even though, technically, she herself now qualified as a Fraszh.
"This strange woman came to the door looking for him."
Ray started to tremble. "What did she look like?”
"Really icky. Thin. Stringy black hair. Scary looking. She didn't say her name but it sounded like she knew Fraszh pretty well.
"Victoria Metcalfe," Ray breathed. Welsh, Guardino and Huey, all within earshot, turned at the name. Ray put his hand over the receiver and was barely able to stay calm as he said, "The bitch, she came to my house! She actually came to my house!"
Francesca told her brother all the details she could remember. Welsh ordered Ray to stay put, and sent a couple of uniforms after Victoria instead. Just a little past five, the uniforms returned having found neither pale hide nor scraggly hair of Victoria Metcalfe. Welsh decided against continuing the search.
"It'll be Fraser she's after, so there's a good chance she'll show up again. We can warn the constable when we get to your house."
But by 6:00 p.m. Fraser wasn’t home yet. Everyone else assured Francesca that he must just be delayed by the diplomats. No, of course he hasn't called. You know Benito, he's not used to having a phone. That Victoria coming today, that's just a co-incidence. He'll be home any minute now, you’ll see.
By 7:00 p.m. he wasn’t home yet and Ma Vecchio knew better than to suggest they start dinner without him. An official missing persons report was out of the question after so short a time, but maybe somebody should go looking? Let’s just wait a little longer. Give him another twenty minutes. Give him another ten minutes.
At 8:00 p.m. Ray announced that he was taking Diefenbaker and going out after the Mountie and Welsh announced he was also going along. Ray picked Fraser's jacket off the hook by the door and called Diefenbaker over. He held the jacket under the wolf's nose. "Take a good whiff, Dief, we're going after Benny."
The animal just growled low and shook his head.
"You've insulted him. He knows what Benito smells like." Ma Vecchio went to the wolf, crouched beside him and caressed his nose. "Raymondo's just worried. He wasn't thinking. I'm sure he didn't mean to insult you." Diefenbaker relaxed and nuzzled her hand.
"Now, you boys go find Benito and bring him home," Ma continued, "Raymondo, keep your telephone on. If he comes home, we'll call you." Ray looked hard at his mother, marvelling at her optimistic assumption that they would find Fraser in any condition to be brought home. He said a brief, silent prayer that she was right, then hugged and kissed his mother and sisters.
"If she's hurt him, I'll kill her," Ray said grimly as he slipped out, followed by Welsh and Diefenbaker.
Francesca's water broke while Ray was out.
Ma took charge. "Francesca, go take a shower and put on some clean clothes, then call the doctor. Tony, put her bag in the car, you're taking us to the hospital. Maria, you clean up the mess after we're gone."
"I can't leave now," Francesca wailed.
"You know you're supposed to go to the hospital if your water breaks. There's no big rush, but we don't have to waste time either."
"But Fraszh . . . "
". . . is not here." Ma finished for her, sternly. "I will go with you instead. I have not been to any classes but I think I know something about having a baby."
"But what if he's dead," Francesca repeated it over and over, more shrill and panicked each time, "What if he's dead! What if he's dead! What if he's dead!"
Ma Vecchio hauled off and slapped her hard across the face. Francesca shut up and stood staring appalled at her mother. Then, in a whisper she began again, "What if . . . "
"What if he is dead?" her mother repeated without mercy, "Then you will raise his child with a loving family to help you. Women have lived through worse."
Francesca only gaped at her.
"And you will thank the Blessed Mother for sending you a good man, even for so short a time. You have work ahead of you tonight. There is no time for panic."
Francesca stood staring a moment longer, then collapsed against her mother, letting fall the tears that she had held back until now.
Welsh protested that it was a long shot to try to track the Mountie on foot. Ray argued that Fraser preferred walking to any other mode of transit, so if he had been nabbed on his way home he probably would have been on foot at the time. Slowly the three searchers looked, listened and sniffed their way in increasing circles around the blocks surrounding the house. On the ninth painstaking circuit Diefenbaker let out a yelp and dashed down an alley.
They saw Fraser on the ground, unconscious, face upward. Ray raced to him and knelt beside his head. For the first minute the only part of Fraser that Ray could focus on was his neck – to see if there was a pulse. There was.
Seeing that Fraser was still alive, hearing Welsh's calm voice talking to 911, Ray forced himself to stay composed. Giving in to the fear and rage that were growing inside wouldn’t help Benny. He would best help his friend and brother by being a proper policeman. Examine the injuries; decide if first aid is needed; note the details for further investigation. You’re a cop, Vecchio. Act like one.
Fraser didn’t appear to be in immediate danger: his breathing and heartbeat were regular and strong, the bleeding horrible to see but not excessive. With that assurance, Ray’s own breathing came just a little easier and he focused on the details.
From the waist down Fraser was fully dressed – jodhpurs, suspenders still attached but hanging down, nothing torn, boots fully laced. There was no blood leaking through his clothes. He seemed totally unhurt from the waist down.
His upper body was bare. Ray noted the strange pattern and nature of the injuries. The fair skin of Fraser's face, neck and chest was untouched. A bump had risen and a small amount of blood was clotted on the top of his head. A blow from a blunt instrument to render him unconscious, Ray figured. But Fraser's shoulders, arms and even his hands were a swollen, bloody mess. Blood leaked out on the pavement from his wrists, and lower arms. Even his fingers and thumbs had been attacked. His arms lay at strange angles suggesting bones too shattered to hold their normal shape.
Welsh knelt beside Ray while they waited for the ambulance. "These injuries are consistent with a beating. Why the hell would anyone do this and not touch the rest of him?"
"It's not anybody, it's Victoria." Ray snarled.
"She had to have help. You need strength and skill to do this kind of damage." Welsh bent down over the Mountie's wrist. "Look at his watch."
Ray realised for the first time that Fraser still had his watch on. "She took off his belt and his tunic and his undershirt but she left his watch?"
"No, look closely."
Ray did that. He shuddered as he brought his face close to Fraser's wrist, and peered at the skin under the watchband. "He's all beat up UNDER the watch. What the hell? She took off his watch, had somebody bash him and then put the watch BACK ON?"
"That's what it looks like."
Ray only shook his head. Victoria was evil but back a year ago he hadn't seen any evidence that she was insane. Hitting Fraser on the head to knock him out, that made sense. Once he was helpless and at her mercy, why smash only his shoulders, arms and hands and then leave him for anybody to find?
A nurse came into the labour room and announced there was an urgent telephone call for Mrs. Fraser at the nursing station. Ma started to say "I'll go . . . " but Francesca, still in the early stages of labour and still able to move around, was off the bed and out the door before her mother had a chance to finish her offer.
Francesca grabbed the receiver from an orderly and said "Ray?"
"No it's me," came Maria's voice, "But Ray called. They found him and they've taken him to the hospital. Not the same hospital as you. Ray called from inside the ambulance. He just said to tell you he's alive and they're taking care of him, and he'll know more later. "
“Alive, he’s alive,” Francesca cried out more to herself than to her mother, who came up beside her to listen.
“But he said don't expect Benton to come to you. He's unconscious, but not in danger" Maria concluded.
Maria wasn't trying to hold back information. She was relaying as much as she herself knew. Ray had called home to hear that Francesca was in labour and decided this was all the detail anybody needed at this point. He would stay with Benny; Ma would take care of Frannie. Frannie didn't need to know the worst until after. In any case, the worst was less than they had feared. Fraser was battered and broken, but still alive and it was expected that by the time he woke up, he'd be a father.
Fraser came slowly to consciousness and tried to reach up to his face to rub the sand out of his eyes, only to find his arms and hands immobilised. His first thought was that he was being held prisoner. He opened his eyes only a crack, so as not to alert his captors that he was awake.
Then his senses of hearing and smell cut in. A hospital. But why was he bound? A straitjacket? Had he been committed to a psychiatric institution? He had no memory of that. The last thing he remembered was walking home, but he didn’t remember reaching home. Strange.
He focused a little more on the smells. They weren't those of a psychiatric hospital. So he wasn't in a straitjacket. Bandages, then?
He opened his eyes completely to see a gaggle of Vecchios all standing around. Ray bent low to him when he saw his eyes open.
"Benny? You awake?"
Fraser nodded, confused.
"You're in the hospital and you're all bandaged up. That's why you can't move your arms. Do you understand?"
Then he WAS injured. Had there been an accident? Had his wife been with him? "Francesca? Is she all right?" he whispered weakly.
"She's fine, Benny. Don't worry." Then Ray made him feel better, and at the same time confused him even more, by grinning broadly. Fraser expanded his awareness to see everyone standing around was also smiling.
"Caroline's fine too," Ray announced.
"Caroline?" At first it didn't register in Fraser's still-foggy brain.
"Caroline Fraser." Ray clarified.
"My mother's dead, Ray. What are you . . . " Then, it clicked. "A girl!" Fraser barely managed to say it. "And she's healthy? And Francesca is okay?"
"We're bringing them both home tomorrow." Ray assured him. "All the Frasers are just fine. Except for you, that is. You're a mess."
A thorough search of the area around yielded no sign of Fraser's missing clothing and no clue as to the identity of the attackers. No physical clue, that is, but nobody really doubted the identity of the person who must have orchestrated the whole thing.
"Why his arms?" was the question that circled about Vecchio/Fraser home and the 27th precinct. Welsh decided that in order to get a fresh perspective he would turn the investigation over to the one detective who hadn't been involved in the beginning of the Metcalfe case: a newly arrived female detective by name of Sager.
Detective Sager conducted her investigation with thoroughness and efficiency. Everybody marvelled at the depth of her research. But even that talented newcomer couldn't come up with an explanation of the strange pattern of injuries Victoria had inflicted on her ex-lover.
Detective Sager got to know the Frasers well after hours of interrogating the Mountie and his family and was invited over often.
In addition to the surface swelling and bleeding, every bone in Fraser’s arms was broken, some in more than one place. Both shoulders had been dislocated and cracked, and even some of the bones in his hand were shattered. He was released from the hospital with shoulders, arms and hands all a mass of casts, bandages and splints.
This left him unable to feed and dress himself nor attend to various other bodily needs without help, and fuelled good-natured ribbing, after the initial shock had worn off, that there were two babies to care for in the house. From time to time someone would remark it would be cute to see Fraser get fed the same way as Francesca fed the baby – meaning breastfeeding. No matter how often nor lamely the joke was told, Fraser always blushed and Francesca always cursed the joker.
There wasn't much Fraser could do around the house without the use of his arms and hands. He was generally uninterested in anything that was on television and could only read if someone else turned the pages of the book. Using his tongue damaged the book and using his toes seemed somehow disrespectful to the printed word. He found he could press the buttons on a keyboard with his nose, but this process was frustratingly slow.
Nevertheless, Fraser had a source of entertainment that never paled: watching his wife take care of their daughter. He sat and watched every feeding and stood over Francesca every time she bathed or diapered the child, noting every detail and suffering that he could not help. Francesca would hold Caroline close to his face so he could rub his cheek against his daughter, but that was a poor substitute for cradling the child in his arms.
One evening over coffee at the Vecchio/Fraser home Detective Sager floated an idea. "Mrs. Fraser, this is going to sound strange but are your husband's arms, um, how shall I put this, attractive?"
All the women, even Ma, whooped, and Fraser averted his eyes to the window.
"Honey, he had the most amazing arms in the world! You could die from such arms as he had!" Maria declared. At Fraser's gasp, she amended that to " . . . as he has."
"I wonder if that has something to do with the attack. Learning that Constable Fraser was married and about to become a father, this Victoria realised she couldn't have him for herself anymore. So she punished him by damaging parts of him that she found attractive but could no longer enjoy."
"Well, that's a theory," Ray allowed. "But if that's the case why didn't she bash up . . . "
Everyone in the room held their breath.
" . . . his face?"
Everyone in the room started breathing again.
There was no doubt in anyone's mind (but the modest Mountie's own, of course) that Fraser's handsome face should also have been the target if Victoria wanted to get revenge by making him unattractive. So that theory was shot.
And then, of course, there was the watch.
Fraser sat on the living-room couch watching Francesca and Caroline nurse opposite him a rocking chair. They were more beautiful than any Madonna and Child in any painting he had ever studied, but he couldn’t take pleasure in them today. He worked hard every day on burying his frustration and his anger, hoping not to upset his family, but every day he slid backward just a little. Today, every creak of the rocking chair increased his tension.
"I can't hold her! I want to hold my child! Damn it," Fraser finally burst out.
“Damn IT? IT? Like there’s this great big IT that just came out of the sky and broke your arms?”
“Damn her,” said Fraser, very quietly.
“It’s good to hear you say it. Now maybe you’ll love her a little less.”
Fraser’s anger gave way to shock.
“Come on, you think I don’t know? I always knew you still loved her. Maybe that’s wearing off a little now? Hm?”
Caroline was finished lunch so Francesca eased her off the breast and adjusted her own T-shirt.
“Come with me.”
Still holding Caroline, Francesca led Fraser upstairs to their bedroom. He was bare-chested; he went around the house like that most of the time, being too bulky on top for his clothes.
"Lie down on the bed, Fraszh."
Fraser complied, but warily, mistrustful of his wife's intentions. Francesca laid the child on his bare chest. "I should have thought of this a long time ago. Here, hold the baby."
Fraser thrilled to the tiny movements of the baby's arms and legs against his skin. Caroline stretched, coo-ed and drifted off to sleep on her perch, lulled by soft rise and fall of her father’s chest and the rhythm of his heartbeat. Francesca was about to switch off the lights and leave them alone together, but then she thought better of it. If Caroline rolled off she’d be safe on the bed, but Fraszh wouldn’t be able to pick her back up. So she snuggled in beside them, which made it all that much nicer.
“I don’t love her anymore, Francesca. I hate her.” Fraser whispered so as not to awaken the baby.
Some days later an envelope without a return address or stamp showed up in the mailbox. It was addressed only: Ben. Francesca held the envelope in her hand, but didn't open it. "This could be important. I'm going to call Ray and Detective Sager."
The two detectives arrived promptly. Fraser, Ray, Sager, Ma, Francesca with Caroline in her arms, and Maria all gathered in the living room to witness the event. (Tony was at work and the kids were at school.)
"Better let me open it," Ray insisted.
"No, he's my husband."
"And he's my brother."
"And my victim," Sager interjected. "Officially this is my case. Give me the letter please, Mrs. Fraser."
Francesca handed it over and Detective Sager carefully eased the glue of the envelope open and extracted a piece of loose-leaf. She read aloud:
I could just as easily have killed you, but I didn't. Remember that.
What's more, you told me once how much you love your father's old watch, so I took it off before my associates went to work, so it wouldn't be damaged. Then I put it back on you when they were through. Sorry if any bloodstains got on the leather, maybe your little wife knows how to remove them. Other than breeding stock, she doesn't look like she's good for much.
What I did do is make sure you don't get to hold that woman's child in your arms for a very, very long time.
I love you.
I hope someone else kills you soon and you burn in Hell.
"That's all there is. No signature." Detective Sager paused. "Just for the record, Constable, I have to ask you if you think you know who this could have come from."
Fraser played it deadpan. "From Victoria Metcalfe, I would imagine."
"I should keep this note for evidence. Is that all right?"
It was Francesca who answered, saying, "Sure, whatever."