This story is a sequel to my previous story, Without My Hat, and is set just after Juliet is Bleeding, in season two. However, it definitely strays from the canon universe and down a different timeline. I made a lot of artistic decisions around this story based on the evident desire from my dear readers, who have always been very supportive, to read something a bit longer than my usual brisk eight chapters and an epilogue. I hope that the story will bring some pleasure and entertainment, at least in equal measure to the effort it's been for me to stretch my wings and produce something broader in scope. There are some chapters in the story that I would consider darker than my usual writing, but rest assured that as ever, I will restore all the key players to comfort by the time we come to the end of the road!

I owe positively profuse thanks to both Vic32 and Hanson's Angel for midwifing this story into existence. Without their support and critical reading, I would have stalled out around chapter 11, if not sooner. This story is for them. In a more general sense, as always, thank you to the readers and reviewers who have kept me encouraged and hopeful that what I'm writing brings some beauty to the world.


Ray Vecchio sat at his desk in the almost-dark bullpen scrubbing his eyes with the back of his hands. It was way past quitting time and there was no reason for him to be there, but there was really nowhere else to be, either. He didn't want to go home to the loud family who were not talking about Irene Zuko, loudly not talking about her. He couldn't go hang out with his unofficial partner because said unofficial partner had done the most astonishing thing and taken a powder right after the funeral. Left a message on his voicemail, something about a sick friend up in BF-NWT. 'Yeah, well, good riddance to him.' Ray thought, holding the hurt to his chest as the only damn thing he could afford to feel about that whole mess.

He nearly jumped when his phone rang.

"Yeah, this is Ray." It was nothing like the correct way to answer the department phones, but that really wasn't bothering Ray right now.


Oh. Benny.

"What's up, Benny?" Ray spoke coldly.

"I just - I didn't want to go off without speaking to you. I know that it's a bad time for me to leave, but there are some things that I am obligated to take care of."

"It's fine." Ray replied.

"I wanted you to understand that I wouldn't choose to leave at a time like this." Fraser said.

Ray sat up straighter. Oh, great... that didn't sound good at all.

"However, I have to make the best of a bad situation. I have to be here to help and I could use some rest and relaxation. There are some people here I haven't seen in a while."

The way Fraser said that had the "true but not true" that Ray was getting really good at distinguishing in Fraser's tones. Sure, Benny needed some R&R -but why did Ray think that wasn't really in the picture? And who was with him that he hadn't seen in a while?

"Sure, Benny. Take it easy up there. Got anything in mind?" Ray fished carefully. If Benny was trying to tell him something but was being overheard, he didn't want to make the situation worse.

"Ah, well. You remember Mark? I thought I'd get some skating in. We had so much fun playing hockey together that time. Perhaps I'll get my skates out tonight."

Ray heard truth and not truth again in that. So, Benny, want to meet up where we skated before? You're still in Chicago? Ray rubbed his forehead. Sounded a lot like trouble, and trouble that Fraser apparently wanted his help with.

"Yeah, you do that, sounds great." Ray said. "I remember." He didn't say 'I'll be there.' Never knew how much was being heard.

Ray heard a voice in the background and then Fraser spoke again.

"Well, I have to go now. I just wanted you to understand I wouldn't leave at a time like this if it wasn't necessary, all right, Ray?"

"I got it." Ray said. 'Hell, Benny, what are you mixed up in?' Ray thought futilely. The line went dead.

Stay tuned for chapter one, coming soon!