Ray Vecchio wasn't first on anybody's list to head up the operation, but he was on everybody's list of possible candidates. The operation being to take down Frank Zuko once and for all, Ray Vecchio's name had to come up. The best reason to put Detective Vecchio in charge was also the best reason to keep him out of it - there was no way Vecchio could be objective. In the end, those who wanted Zuko put away more than they cared about protocol were the ones that won out.


For five weeks Ray co-ordinated, evaluated, scheduled, plotted, advised and directed.  He never saw Zuko face to face.  All he did was to direct the working teams and that was more than enough to occupy his whole mind. His body was only along for the ride. Nobody particularly noticed that he didn't sleep much - every few hours there was some detail of the operation to be dealt with. Anybody who would have been paying attention would have observed that he didn't eat much either .Mostly he forgot to eat and when he did remember,  he couldn't be bothered to take the time.


Everybody expected that with Vecchio in charge, the Mountie would also help out. Nobody thought he'd be allowed direct access to Zuko, but could have helped out with his remarkable intelligence. Nobody, least of all the Mountie himself, could have predicted that these would be the very weeks that Fraser had to report back to Ottawa for special security training.


When five weeks were over, Frank Zuko was behind bars and Ray Vecchio was exhausted. And nobody was particularly surprised at that.




Just before he left for Ottawa, Fraser received special instructions from Ma Vecchio. Nobody was allowed to ignore her commands, least of all the man whom she had adopted as her honourary son and upon whom she had bestowed the Italian name 'Benito' and whose wolf she was babysitting while he was away.


"The first thing you do when you come back to Chicago, Benito, is to come to this house," she directed.


"Of course, Mrs. Vecchio . . ."


"You call me 'Ma', Benito."


"Of course . . . Ma. I'll come get Diefenbaker right away."


Ma Vecchio muttered in Italian under her breath before resuming.


"You'll come here to be fed. I'll let you and the wolf go home when I'm satisfied you've made up for the way they'll be starving you up there."


Resistance was futile.




Fraser arrived back at the house on a Tuesday night.  Ray ordered the final arrest of Frank Zuko three hours later. Nobody thought Ray planned it that way, but everybody thought there must be some greater power that arranged the timing.


When Ray got home, he didn't actually come into the house right away. He turned the key in the front door with a smooth practiced motion - it was the same key in the same lock ever since he had been a child. After easing the door open, he advanced only until he was just inside the door frame and paused. Letting out a groan, he leaned heavily against the side of the doorframe, and just stood there. Sounds and smells from inside the house washed over him. He was home. He was tired - so tired that it was going to be an effort to force himself through the doorway and into the house. Through the fog of fatigue, concentrating on every slow step, he made his way up the stairs towards his bedroom. Yes, everybody was waiting for him to come into the kitchen. Hopefully, nobody would begrudge him a bit of quiet time alone.


Everybody in the kitchen heard the front door open and paused what he or she was doing to register that Ray had come home. It had to be Ray, everybody else who could be expected was already there: Ma, Francesca and Maria were cooking, Tony and
Fraser, sitting side by side at the kitchen table, were tasting their wares.  Tony and Maria's children were chasing each other around and table, ducking in and about the legs of the tables, chairs and their human occupants. Diefenbaker was sitting hopefully between Tony and Fraser to catch whatever anybody might let fall. For all that they were engrossed in their own doings, everybody was aware that Ray might arrive soon.


When they heard him come in, everybody thought Ray would come into the kitchen but when that didn't happen, Francesca was the first to get up and head out of the kitchen to go get him.


Ma called her back. "Let him alone, cara. He might just want to be alone."


Nobody dared contravene her dictate except, strangely, Fraser, who said. "Maybe you could make up a plate, Ma, and I'll just take it up to him."


"I guess you could leave it outside his door," said Maria, doubtfully. She was expecting her mother to tell scold Fraser, insisting that he leave Ray alone. Fearing that Fraser's feelings might be hurt, she thought she was offering a way that both Fraser and her mother could have their own way.


Everybody was surprised when Ma said, "Very well, Benito."


Without another word, she filled a dinner plate from a variety of pots on the stove and handed it to the Mountie. Fraser scooped up a fork, knife and napkin from the pile of items waiting on the kitchen table for conveyance to the dining room and headed out of the kitchen.


"I thought you said everybody should leave him alone," protested Tony.


"Not everybody," said Ma.




Fraser rapped on the closed door to Ray's bedroom. "It's me," he called.


From behind the door came a grunted response that had the cadence of "Come in".


"I can't. I don't have a free hand. I'm sorry, Ray, you'll have to open the door."


The man that opened the bedroom door was bleary-eyed and slumped. To Fraser he looked shrunken, as though the exertion of the past weeks had drained him of actual body mass as well as energy. Ray was already in pajamas and his bed was rumpled.


"Go back to bed, Ray. I'll just leave this here in case you want it later." Fraser set the plate and cutlery down on Ray's bedside table.


He turned to leave, but Ray said, "No, stay. I wouldn't mind some company, but the family would be too much to handle right now." The detective managed a weak smile as he slid back between the covers and pulled his blanket up to his chin.


Fraser sat down on the end of the bed, rather than on any of the chairs in the bedroom. Ray wrinkled his forehead in puzzlement at this but didn't say anything.


"Was it very hard on you?" Fraser asked.


Ray thought over the question before answering. "If you mean because of Irene, no. That part almost felt good - I was avenging her, you know. I think what was really tough was knowing that nobody really expected me to be able to pull this off."


"But you did pull it off. You should be very proud."


"I guess I am. Everybody's happy as clams. You ought to see them, Fraser."


"I mean you, Ray. Aren't you proud of yourself?"


Ray turned over on his side and pulled his blanket up higher, up to the level of his ear. "I don't know what I'm feeling. Except tired. I'm too tired to feel anything."


Fraser inched closer along the bed toward Ray's head. "When I was in the hospital, after you shot me, I didn't know what I was feeling. You were there for me, Ray. You told me that giving in to Victoria wasn't my fault. It could happen to anybody."


"Yeah, I did say that," Ray muffled into his pillow.


"I'm here to tell you the opposite, Ray. That operation couldn't have been successfully concluded by just anybody. It needed your knowledge of Zuko and your dedication. I think . . . I think . . .Irene can rest easier knowing you've brought Frank to justice."


Ray shifted and craned his neck towards his friend without actually turning over. "You really think that?"


"Yes, Ray. I do," the Mountie said, softly. "You did it all within the confines of the law. You could have had Zuko on murder charges right after the shooting, but you refrained. You waited. If you can't be proud of yourself, I can be proud of you enough for the both of us. You are . . ." Fraser paused.


"What am I, Benny?"


"A remarkable man. A good and thoughtful man," Fraser said, after a while.


Fraser was sitting close enough to touch Ray's head. He reached out his hand and stroked Ray's hair.  When Ray did not protest, the Mountie continued, running his fingertips around the one of Ray's ears that was facing upwards, the other ear being dug into his pillow.


Ray let out a little sigh and eased his eyes closed. "That feels nice," he said, simply, in a childlike voice.


Fraser continued patting him for a few more minutes, then lowered his face close to Ray's and kissed him gently on the cheek.


"Nice," Ray whispered, his eyes still closed.


"I've been worried about you, Ray. About how you would hold up."


"I'm just tired, Benny."


"Shall I go now, then, and let you sleep?"


Ray rolled over on his back and looked Fraser in the face. "Will you stay with me until I fall asleep?"


"No, Ray."


Ray was too tired to physically show the shock these words made him feel. He just opened his eyes wide and stared at the Mountie.


"I'll sit here while you fall asleep and stay while you're sleeping. I'm not leaving you, Ray."


"Then, kiss me again, Benny."


Fraser did, this time full on Ray's lips.


"That's nice," Ray said. "I'm so tired. I just want to sleep a little and when I wake up you'll still be here."


"I promise," vowed Fraser.


"And we'll do more about this. When I'm not so tired."


"When you're not so tired, Ray. I can wait."




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