Disclaimer: I tried to buy a Mountie and a pair of worldly Chicago cops, but in the end, they're still not mine.
Welsh and Frobisher were among the last patrons out of one of the town's two bars. As they staggered back toward the hotel, leaning vaguely on each other, they finished the refrain of the folk song that'd been playing in the bar.
"And it's no, nae, never. No nae never no more! I'll play the wild rover, no never, no more!"
Buck stopped to give them a dignified round of applause as they finished the song at more or less the same time.
"I always liked those songs from the old country." Welsh said, his voice not quite slurred from whiskey and beer.
Buck slapped him on the arm and giggled. Welsh tilted his head at the giggling Canadian. It was an odd sound coming from the man's considerable bulk.
"We had... we had a transfer... exchange fellow. Over from England." Frobisher said as they took up their staggering once more. "One night over beer, the lads asked him to sing a few of... a few of the songs he knew." He snorted laughter again.
"Things have changed over there since we picked up our pub tunes. The Brit seemed confused by the request, but he gave it his best go. Our junior Constable fell off the chair when the exchange fellow started in with 'You're going home in the back of an ambulance.'"
Welsh's face contorted into a sudden broad smirk as he caught the joke. He roared with laughter when Frobisher finished it.
"But you should have seen their faces when he sang, 'I've got a little song, it won't take long, all police are const .... ables!'"
Welsh patted Frobisher on the back enthusiastically when his fit of laughter subsided, and they did a little drunken waltz of trying to stay upright and not tangle over each other's feet. It was during this reorientation that Frobisher caught sight of his first ever drunken apparition.
The figure was clad in slim-line stirrup pants leading down to old-fashioned snow shoes that looked like giant tennis rackets, and a jaunty red button-down shirt under a finely knit black sweater with traditional diamonds and x's across the yoke that, even drunk, Buck's trained observational skills recognized as the official sweater of the 1956 Norwegian Olympic Ski team. Trained observational skills, and the fact that Bob Fraser had worn that blasted thing to death before he'd finally thrown it in the rag bag during their partnership, some time late in the 1980s. The sweater currently looked as crisp and new as when it came out of its cellophane wrapper when Bob first bought it.
The absurd fur-lined hat topping the whole outfit was pure Bob, too. Frobisher blinked and shook his head to clear it. Certainly. he might be three sheets to the wind, but he'd never seen things before. He was doing well at ignoring the badly dressed ghost when it spoke. Or, rather, hissed.
"Psst. Buck. Over here."
Stage whispered, really. Frobisher performed an exaggerated double take, then spun to see if Welsh saw what he saw. Welsh apparently only saw that they were back at the hotel.
"I, ah, I have to see a man about a horse." Frobisher said, wandering toward a park only large enough for one bench and one tree, across the street from the hotel.
Welsh nodded sagely, apparently finding it not at all odd that Buck Frobisher would answer the call of nature in nature's arms, rather than in the comfort of the hotel room.
Buck cleared his throat. The ghost of Robert Fraser cleared his throat.
"You look - I assume incorporeal." Frobisher finally said. "I haven't seen that sweater look so good since 1972."
"Yes, well." Bob shrugged. "As a stand-in for people's subconscious concerns, I don't get much say about the wardrobe. Caroline was always on at me to throw this one out."
There was a repeat of the mutual throat clearing, then:
Buck made a motion for his former partner to speak first.
"Saved the boy's life today. I'm thankful."
"Somebody has to look out for the young pup." Frobisher said, dismissing his partner's effusive (for him) gratitude with some embarrassment.
"You will, won't you?" Bob asked.
"Of course. As much as I can."
Buck Frobisher stared his late partner down. They'd had words, more than once, about young Ben's complete suppression of his memories of the circumstance of his mother's death. Buck had mourned doubly when Bob was shot down. Now young Benton Fraser would have no family to turn to, no-one to speak plainly to him about Caroline's murder, when the time came, as the time must, that the ice broke over his heavily repressed childhood traumas. Reports from the events of the last two days strongly suggested that the ice was getting thin.
But here was Bob Fraser in the spirit, if not the flesh, and Buck's inebriated gaze spoke plainly of who would haunt whom, dead or not, if Bob didn't get his act together and look after his own boy, the way he'd failed to in life.
Ray and Ray were making their own way back to the hotel from the other bar in town. Each of them took in the vision of Buck Frobisher glaring expressively at thin air in the park, turned to the other to comment, and shook their heads in disbelief. Must have been too much whiskey.
Welsh arranged for a flight back to Chicago first thing the next morning, hangover be damned. Thanks to Diefenbaker's presence, and a general feeling that the three men who had been undercover needed some time to decompress from their trying experience, Fraser, Kowalski, Vecchio and the wolf were to drive back rather than flying, after Fraser was released from the hospital later in the day. But Welsh couldn't wait that long; there was too much paper stacked up on his desk without taking into account the mountain this whole fiasco would generate.
Kowalski agreed to drive Welsh to the nearest airport, an hour away from the small town they'd landed up in overnight. Even though the rental that they would use to drive back to Chicago was no match for the sort of muscle car he'd always loved, Ray was looking forward to the peaceful drive back from delivering Welsh, a chance to be alone on the open road and get his thoughts together. Drinking with Ray Vecchio was a good way to blow off some steam, but nothing compared to the freedom of just driving.
Although Fraser would be released from the hospital in the early afternoon, and the trip back to Chicago would give them time together, Ray Vecchio still felt that he needed to visit his friend and partner while they had a chance to speak alone.
Fraser was sitting up in bed, looking composed, and with much better color in his face than he'd had for the last few, rough, days. He greeted Ray with a warm good morning.
"Hiya, Benny. You look a lot better than you did last night."
Vecchio stood at the end of Fraser's bed, leaning on the railing.
"I feel better. Last night was quite - unsettling." Fraser said. His face was the image of serenity. Only the quick brush of fingertip across eyebrow gave away any sign of how unsettling the events of the night before had been.
"Ray, will you sit down, please?" Fraser asked.
Ray moved almost reluctantly to sit in the chair beside Fraser's hospital bed. He wasn't ready to hear about how upset Fraser was by the death of the bitch. He was very surprised when the topic that Fraser broached had nothing to do with Xu. It was still not an easy topic for him to talk about.
"I just wanted to tell you, Ray." Fraser paused, and Ray noticed that, uncharacteristically, his partner was fidgeting with the thin blue blanket on the bed. "I had time to think last night, and I realized that I never really told you that I was sorry about Irene-"
Ray tried to interrupt, to stop Fraser from going on, but his partner held up his hand, an expression that almost amounted to pleading on his face.
Ray nodded, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.
"I never really made the time to tell you how sorry I was, about Irene, for her own sake. We- things were difficult, I take much of the blame, I know that. But she was a good woman, and she deserved to live a long life. I'm sorry that chance was taken from her."
Ray sighed, his head slipping forward into his hands for a moment. Then he ran his hands over the thinning hair, as if wiping something off. He sat up and leaned closer to the bed.
"That- thank you, Benny. That means a lot. Yeah. She was special. I guess we all lost sight of a lot in there."
Fraser nodded silently. They had all been tied up and tangled up in bonds of rivalry and right and wrong, and the one who held the least blame had suffered.
"She was - we were crazy about each other when we were younger, you know? I mean, Frankie and me, it was always trouble, but Irene, it wasn't just about putting Frankie's nose out of joint. She was this - this mob princess, but they don't - you know, they're old fashioned. They keep the women out of the business, and it never touched her. No one woulda told Irene what her old man did to pay for the dresses, the parties. I couldn't take her away without, without it being like I was the one who tarnished that."
Fraser made a sympathetic sound. He didn't want to interrupt Ray's flow of reminiscence.
"So we got together, we broke up, the whole old star-crossed lovers bit. Then I met someone else, I, uh, Benny, I got married, me."
Ray grinned ruefully at Fraser's surprised face.
"Angie was nothing like Irene. Nothing. She was one of us, law enforcement. One of the good guys, but you know. Tough. Knew the score. Irene was still - living in her little world. Even when she had to face what her family was. Pretending that moving out on her Dad's dime was enough to get the stink of his money off her hands. Angie and me didn't last, but it was good at the start, and I got over Irene. You know."
Fraser nodded, although he couldn't really imagine swapping one passion for another that way.
"I got - I figured - the way things went down with Angie, she - well, who's to say if I made it with Irene instead, we wouldn't have fizzled the same way? Who's to say she wouldn't have resented-? You know, cops and marriage."
Ray shrugged, his posture saying that the last sentence fragment contained all that was to be said on the matter. Fraser thought of all the time his father hadn't been at home. He shied away from thinking about his own loneliness. He could understand Ray's feeling that maybe it wouldn't have worked out with Irene. As eternally optimistic as he was about people, Benton still had no idea how some of them seemed to keep loving relationships functioning for decades.
Now that the painful subject of Irene was out of the way, there was another thing Fraser felt that he had to apologize to Ray for, to set things right.
"I also wanted to tell you. Well." he coughed, and cleared his throat. "I know you think that I was foolish to trust Xu. I can't tell you how sorry I am that you were involved." It was very hard for him to admit that his judgement, his need to trust the best in someone, had been completely wrong. If he didn't have his judgement, what did he have? But he owed it to Ray to set things straight, as difficult as it was.
"You were right. I was wrong." he more or less mumbled.
Ray gave his partner a long look. He was delighted that Fraser hadn't tried to defend Xu's actions. And he knew how much it cost the sometimes stiff-necked Mountie to outright admit that. They had longstanding arguments over much more trivial points. Like if elves made shoes.
Breaking the serious mood, Ray said, "Aww, Benny, you just need to take Dief's lead. Stick with the blondes."
Ray Kowalski took the first leg of driving from the small town back to the main highway that would take them through Michigan and Indiana, back to Illinois. When they hit the highway, he pulled over to a gas station and convenience store so that they could pick up sodas and snacks and stretch their legs. Vecchio picked out a soda quickly, and walked back to the car where Kowalski was topping up the gas tank. Together they watched Fraser through the window of the convenience store. Frobisher must have found a uniform for him somewhere, for he was back in the everyday brown tunic, with his hat clasped between his hands, as he appeared to expound earnestly on some topic with the clerk behind the counter.
"He seemed to have a lid on things pretty good today." Kowalski remarked to Vecchio. In fact, the Mountie seemed to be the one-hundred percent polished surface that he'd first presented at Marco Scardina's dinner table. Way too good to be true, and Ray Kowalski should know, he'd put on the same front more often than he liked to remember.
Vecchio shrugged, an elegant movement of his lean shoulders. "That's Benny. Not the kind to make a fuss over stuff, y'know."
Kowalski gaped, but hid his stunned expression, fidgeting with the cap of the car's gas tank.
"Huh." he said.
"Trust me, Benny's tougher than he looks. He'll be fine."
"Ah." Kowalski concluded. "I'm gonna go get a coke."
He strode away from Vecchio, his own body language giving away nothing.
Not that he'd been insecure, exactly, about how he was supposed to fit in this partnership closer than brothers that he'd heard all about from Vecchio the night before. Not totally insecure. Not, exactly, uncertain enough of his welcome that he was about to tell Welsh the whole thing was a bad idea. But.
Kowalski nodded in greeting at Fraser, who was still occupying the clerk with a precise recounting of the life cycle of, of all things, the common North American bull frog. He strode to the cooler at the back of the store and paused there, staring at the array of sugary drinks.
His place in all this. He could work with Vecchio. Sure, they'd end up slinging insults at each other at least some of the time, but maybe Vecchio needed someone to let off a little steam on like that. Because Vecchio seemed to have the Mountie on a pedestal, and that sure wasn't healthy. Nor was the total con job the Mountie was pulling on Vecchio, and who knows, probably on Welsh. No one walked out of the kind of week Fraser had and didn't need some serious help putting himself back together.
Kowalski nodded decisively, opened the fridge door and grabbed a cold coke. Between him and the wolf, they'd sort things out. It felt damn good to have a job to do.
Author's Note: That's that! Thanks for reading and thank you to everyone who encouraged and cajoled me to get the monstrous thing written! It's been a pleasure writing for such a responsive audience. I'm a little sad it's over, but mostly ready to move on to other projects!