Ray stood back to back with Fraser, each with his gun held against their shoulders at exactly the same angle. They each glared straight ahead, looking stern and dangerous. Their clothing was almost identical. Each wore a tight black turtleneck and black "cords", but Ray had a silver crucifix around his neck while Fraser wore, and it seemed to make sense at the time, the lanyard that usually graced his red serge uniform.
Ray barked "Go!" and that single-syllable trigger, Fraser spun about so that he was facing in the same direction as Ray and the two of them ran together. Ray wasn't particularly aware of why they were running: were they chasing? being chased? He didn't know. He only knew he had to run and that Fraser had to run with him.
They ran and ran along streets that Ray couldn't place, but it didn't seem to matter. What mattered was to run and keep running. It went on for a long time but Ray couldn't sense how long.
As he ran, Ray became aware that he must be dreaming. It didn't make sense to run and run without knowing where he was or where he was headed. Other things didn't make sense. He ran and ran and never felt winded or tired. When they were standing together, before they started running, he could see Fraser - his stance, his expression - clearly even though the men were standing back to back and Ray was looking the other way. Now that he thought of it, he had seen himself, too. The two of them had been a glorious sight - as though in a promotional picture for a spy movie, in matching poses and matching outfits. They looked damned good standing each in profile. Now, how could he even see that if he were awake?
No question. This was a dream. Somehow that knowledge didn't diminish the pressing need to run.
Then, he was alone. Fraser's voice came to him from up ahead saying "Ray, stay with me!" Ray was falling behind and Fraser was running up ahead of him, now so far away as to be out of sight but not out of earshot. Another confirmation that he was dreaming.
And then Ray knew for sure I couldn't be conscious because he began to have that old dream sensation of being unable to run. It was a familiar feeling and many people he had talked to over the years had experienced it in dreams. He felt as though his legs were somehow in water or pushing against some unseen force. He couldn't make them move as he willed. Try as he might, his legs moved more and more slowly. Then they seemed to cross one over another and he tripped.
Ray put out his hands to break his fall but discovered to his horror that he couldn't move his arms either. Things were happening is slow motion - it took several seconds for him to hit the ground, slamming his chest against pavement, his arms flung out uselessly on each side of him.
"Ray, stay with me!" came Fraser's voice again.
Ray wanted to shout back "I'm trying," but he had no breath. The fall had knocked the wind out of him. He tried to shift his arms and legs to get up off the ground, but none of his limbs would obey his will.
Flat on the pavement, Ray then had a sensation that was almost comical. His scalp itched. The top of his head itched like crazy. What was that about? He couldn't move his arms or his legs and all he wanted to do was scratch the top of his head. The need grew, the itch intensifying. And it started to spread. His arms, his legs, it wasn't pain coming from his disobedient limbs but itching. It got worse and worse, he tried to reach out with one arm to scratch the other but couldn't move. Maddening. This itching was worse than pain. They could give you dope for pain, but he couldn't lose this itching. It had been going on for days and they kept telling him they couldn't do anything.
Wait a minute. Days?
How did he know they couldn't do anything about it? And while we're on the subject, who the hell are "they"?
Below the awareness of his situation had been the awareness that he was dreaming. Now, a third level of awareness opened up: he didn't like this dream and wanted out.
Wake up, he told himself. Wake up, you don't want to be here. He closed his eyes in the dream to block any distractions and tried to concentrate. It was an odd sensation - he couldn't describe it while awake - the effort to force oneself awake. He fought and fought with whatever part of his mind was operating, but couldn't escape the dream-place he was in. Panic set in. I don't want to be here! I want out! Why can't I get out!
Ray jerked. He was flat on the ground and then he was twitching all over for a second, then he was flat again. Somebody was messing with him.
Again the jerk. Not pain, just an uncontrolled leap of his torso a fraction off the ground, his arms and legs flopping along for the ride. Jesus! First they get me on the ground now their flipping me like a freaking pancake!
I definitely need to get out of this dream. He concentrated as hard as he could. Nothing was happening. There were no words in either language he knew - English or Italian - to describe this strange mental effort. He was straining to go from one state to another. Wasn't that silly to work so hard and not even have a word to describe what you're doing.
Suddenly, he was out.
He didn't open his eyes right away. The first thing to do was to let relief wash over him. He was out of the dream. He lay quietly, not bothering to move or speak. In a minute or two he intended stretch, turn over, luxuriate in being in a familiar reality where there were actual words for what you were doing and thinking. But it was nice to just lie quietly for a moment after the horrendous fight.
Then he felt the itch again.
What the hell!
That was in the dream. I'm out of the dream. This isn't right.
Ray opened his eyes. Fraser's face was in his face and he wasn't wearing the black outfit of the dream, he was in his lumberjack outfit, as Ray called it - jeans and plaid shirt.
"Itches," Ray managed to say. It was difficult to speak so he stopped after that word.
"You had us worried," Fraser said.
"Running," He was trying to convey to Fraser what the dreadful dream had been like.
"Yes, Ray. We were running. You were caught in the explosion."
"No, black sweater," Ray was still trying to convey the dream to Fraser but only odd words seemed to be able to get out, "Itches."
Fraser turned his head away and seemed to be talking to someone else. "Does he have a black sweater that itches him?"
Ma's voice answered. "I don't think so, Benito."
So, he must be in his house. But the bed didn't feel right. It wasn't his own bed. God knows his own bed didn't make him itch like this. All over his head, his legs, his arms.
Ray tried to shift his position. Maybe that would help. Oh God! I can't turn over! I can't move! I thought I was awake but no, this is still the nightmare. That happened sometimes, you think you are awake but you're not - you're still dreaming. Ray didn't want to have to go through that awful battle again - fighting to wake up.
"Wake up," he murmured, meaning that he wanted to wake up.
A voice he didn't know spoke next. "We can expect him to be disoriented for a little while. Be patient. Talk to him normally, but not too many people at once."
Fraser's voice came next. "I'll go and get you some coffee, Mrs. Vecchio. You stay here with Ray."
"No, Benito. Now that he's out of danger, I'm going to go sit down in the waiting room for a while and rest. Just come get me if there's any change."
"But . . ." Benny was protesting.
Ma's voice lowered, he could see her lips moving and needed that visual clue to be able to make out her next words. "He knows I love him, Benito. Stay and let him see you. Let him know also you love him and want him to come back to you."
"You know? How can you know? I haven't told anyone. Not even Ray. Especially not Ray."
"A mother notices things."
God! What a dream this was turning out to be. First he was with Fraser, in perfect synchronization. That was a dream expression, Ray decided of real life. He'd never dared tell Fraser that he loved him. Then, the helplessness and odd itching. Then his own mother saying to Benny that he should stay and show how much he loved Ray. Like a dream come true. Now things were really confused.
That was the last thing Ray thought, before falling asleep. This time, a real sleep that brought healing.
By the reckoning of the outside world, a day and a night passed. Ma Vecchio, Fraser, Francesca, Maria, all took turns sitting vigil with Ray while his condition stabilized.
The next time he opened his eyes, Ray didn't know exactly where he was until one of the nurses came in to check on him and he caught the name of the hospital on her name badge. Taking stock of his own situation - clearly, now that he was conscious - he saw he was all in white, not black. White plaster casts covered most of his body. His legs were in traction. He couldn't see his own head - ha ha, you had to be dreaming to see your own face without a mirror - but he could feel the constraining bandagees.
This was why he was itching. He was all covered in casts and bandages.
His awareness expanded to the people in the hospital room with him.
Ray spoke, and now he knew what he was saying. Still he kept it brief, his throat didn't feel quite right. Why should it, none of the rest of him felt right either. "What happened?"
Fraser answered. "You got caught in the explosion. I was ahead of you, just enough to be out of range. You're badly hurt, Ray."
With the bandages so tight around his head, it hurt a little to smile, but Ray managed it for a second. "Guessed," he said.
"I'm going to call your mother, Ray. I want to tell her you're conscious."
"You want to know what happened? Very well. Briefly: you were brought in with both arms and legs broken and internal injuries. They couldn't operate until you stabilized. You did seem to drift in and out of consciousness, we couldn't be sure how much you were aware of. After the surgery, while you were in recovery, your heart stopped."
"Yes, Ray. They used a defribulator on you to get your heart started. It was close. Did you actually feel it?"
"So, apparently you did feel it. That's interesting, Ray. The doctor was right, you did have an awareness of what was going on around you. I'll go get your mother now."
"No," Ray protested even though producing the words was an effort, "Aware."
"Aware," said Ray again.
"Do you want to tell me something you were aware of while you were semi-conscious? Is that it?"
Ray wanted to nod but his head was immobilized.
"Can't it wait? You really shouldn't over-exert yourself."
No, it couldn't wait. Ray had to know whether the conversation between his mother and Benny had really happened. But, how humiliating it would be if he asked Fraser and it turned out not true. What a hell of a question: So, Fraser, did you say you loved me or not?
No help for it. He had to know. "Love me."
Fraser's face went totally blank, as though any intelligent thoughts had suddenly evaporated leaving the Mountie with no conscious mind. Benny's turn to be unconscious. Funny.
Fraser mouth, which had been hanging open, moved slowly and had as much trouble forming words as Ray was having. "You heard that."
"Ma. Never wrong," Ray managed say.
Fraser stammered. "I didn't want you to find out, Ray. You're . . . I mean, you've been married . . . you're not . . . I just assumed . . . I mean, I knew you'll find it repugnant, but I can't help how I feel. You were never supposed to know."
So, it was true. And it wasn't a dream. Ray knew he was awake. Hell, the itching was as real as it could be. And he was actually hearing Benny speak these amazing words.
"Ray, I just hope you'll still be my best friend. I'll never impose myself upon you. Just . . . you can . . ." Fraser paused and his mouth formed that adorable little round shape that Fraser's face did when he was thinking what to say next. We'll never speak of it again. I never want you to be uncomfortable around me Ray. We'll pretend you never heard."
Ma came in behind Fraser as he was speaking. "Is he awake? I had a feeling he was waking up."
"Yes, Mrs. Vecchio."
"A mother knows." She came close to Ray's bed and raised her hand, looking for a part of her son that wasn't covered in bandages, so she could pet him. She settled for his cheek and lay her hand there. "Raymondo, you're going to be all right."
"I'll leave you two alone," Fraser said, turning to go.
"No," Ray said, although still not very loudly.
"He wants you to stay," Ma confirmed. "He loves you, too. A mother knows."