The moments pass with startling clarity, each second measured and poured exactly, each newly occurring and identical to the last.
You hear about having your life pass before your eyes, and you assume there'll be some sort of time distortion – moments passing in an instant or at a slug's pace as you face your own mortality: urban legends, all of it. Or maybe just stupid assumptions inferred from movie tricks. Ray – that is, Stanley – was surprised to discover this. He sat behind the GTO's steering wheel and waited for gravity to set in, for his mortality to become apparent, for the moments to change. Instead, each new second found him as the previous had – staring at the corrugated steel wall across the street, fingers wrapped lightly around cold metal in his lap, and no accompanying thoughts.
He longed for a flash of inspiration or finality, but he was beginning to realize he would have to do without one. Lost was how he felt. Lost… without his partner. Maggie and the kids… He knew he loved them, but sitting here now all he felt was empty. Twenty years of partnership and now Fraser was gone.
Ray understood why, of course. Through all his time in Chicago, Fraser's heart had always belonged up north, in the Yukon. He'd stayed to work with Ray – either because it brought him his own satisfaction or because he'd felt a misguided need to protect Ray (they'd been down that road many times, and not one of those arguments had ended well), so when the department had stuck him behind a desk, Fraser hadn't had a reason to stick around anymore. He'd had to go home. Different worlds, and all that. Ray couldn't blame him… couldn't even feel angry at him. Ray just felt empty, like each of the moments passing one after the other.
Empty, but also sure of himself and of what had to be done.
The desk idea hadn't held. Not two months after he'd been relegated there, a case file had fallen across his desk he couldn't simply pass off to one of his junior officers. (Yes, Ray Kowalski now found himself an Inspector in the Chicago P.D., with subordinates of his own.) And the trail had led him here, to a building full of bad guys and a burned bridge of official assistance behind him – he'd let it get personal, like he always did, and Captain Huey had withdrawn all support and ordered him back to his desk.
But it was a matter of justice now. A matter of law, and as an officer of the law he had to see that law upheld. Fraser. Ray shook his head. Some of the Mountie's ethics had obviously worn off on him after so many years together.
And now, no more years. Ray grasped the gun in his hand and hung his badge around his neck. So – no final flash of wisdom, no life story on re-run. Screw it. He opened the door.
Before he'd met Fraser he would never have thought about going into a place like this without backup. Crazy Mountie. If only his sense of smell, or intuition, or encyclopedic knowledge of all-things-useful (and useless as well) had rubbed off on Ray over the years. Maybe then he would feel like he had a fighting chance in there. Fraser had always seemed to come through impossible odds unscathed. He had his fair share of scars, that was true, but somehow they had never tarnished his invulnerability. Ray, on the other hand…
Still, he jogged across the street to the building's rear entrance, a loading platform, the large rollaway hangar-style metal door stuck open just wide enough for a person to slip through. He stood with his back to the wall, gun held in unwavering hands close to the rim of his glasses. Ray Kowalski alone against the bad guys. That's just how it is, he thought. Not a bad way to go out. Sorry, Maggie.
He turned to make his final entrance. And felt a firm, familiar hand grip his shoulder and pull him back, to his extreme surprise.
Nose to nose once again with his partner, Ray stared at him with such flabbergasted shock that Fraser asked, "Are you all right, Ray?"
The eyes were the same, the chin, all the creases and grey hairs were in the right places. Just as old as Ray remembered him, and just as young. He was even wearing the same beat up old leather jacket that he'd had as long as Ray had known him. Ray's empty mind was just having a hard time wrapping itself around the idea that… He reached out and grasped Fraser's shoulder to be sure. "Uh—yeah. Yeah, I'm fine. Fraser? I thought – well I thought you went home, that you were home."
Fraser lowered his head and smiled to himself, then looked back up and began, "You know, Ray… When I was a boy, after my mother died… my father would be gone for months at a time, and during those months I would often stay with my grandparents. That first year, I was… homesick. I ran away from my grandparents' cottage and headed for our cabin. It was a two-week trip on foot – I was foolish to attempt it…. On the second night, I found myself at an Inuit village where some of my fathers' friends lived. One of the elders took me inside, sat me by the fire, fed me. He asked me where I was going, and why. I told him I missed the cabin I'd shared with my parents, missed my room, missed our town, and that I wanted to go home. He told me, 'Home isn't a place where you keep your things, or even a piece of land that you love and wish you could return to. Home is where the people you love are. You can go back to your cabin – I'll help you get there,' he said, '–but with your mother gone and your father away, it would just be an empty building, and the land would seem cold and lonely.'" Fraser paused. "I missed the Northwest Territory for so long, that I forgot it wasn't home anymore. I'm sorry, Ray."
He was still numb, but it was a different kind of numb. More like being frozen, but just on the surface – beneath, Ray felt an ocean of emotions surging through him, struggling against the ice for release. He just stared at Fraser, waiting for him to go on because Ray found he had lost the ability to form sentences.
"Captain Huey called my post in the Territory," Fraser explained, and turned, leading the dumbstruck yank away from the warehouse. "He thought I might want to know that you hadn't been at your desk for four days."
"…That so, huh?"
"Yes. I would have been here sooner, Ray, but it took some time for Captain Huey's message to reach me," Fraser explained, "as I was already in Chicago and my new, well, that is, my former post-commander had some difficulty re-routing the call."
He had to tightly control his breathing. "You were in Chicago?"
"Yes, I was," said Fraser with meaning. "I'm sorry I left, Ray."
"So, you're home then? Home then, for good? I mean – you're back in Chicago to stay."
Fraser put a hand on Ray's back and offered a slight smile. "Home for good, Ray."
Ray let loose a sudden, enormous hug on the Mountie, the kind a shy child unleashes on a stranger at his mother's behest. Fraser returned it with one arm, patting his back lightly. Ray was already blushing and pulling away, eyes to the ground, when Fraser placed an impromptu kiss atop his head. The Chicago cop cleared his throat and tried to man the moment up. "It's, uh, it's good to have you back, Fraser."
Ray's emptiness had disappeared, filled with all the familiar emotions, and some unfamiliar ones. He loved his wife Maggie, loved their kids, loved Fraser, was irritated at Huey, angry at the bad guys… frustration and elation and all the rest – the ice broke and it all came flooding back in, and Ray bounced on his heels, straining to maintain composure in front of his friend.
"Thank you, Ray. I'm glad to be back." They arrived at the car, and Fraser stopped to regard him. "Incidentally, Ray, I take it you were planning on going into that warehouse alone?"
"Yeah, yeah I was," Ray stammered. "Why? What about it? You think – you think I shouldn't have? I mean, the bad guys are in there, Fraser. They're the bad guys, we're the good guys. It's what we do, right?"
"Well, I would only suggest that from what little information I've gathered in my pursuit of you these past few days, you would likely be vastly outnumbered in both manpower and ammunition, and perhaps backup would be prudent."
"Yeah, well, I'm kinda on my own out here, Fraser, in case you hadn't noticed."
"I had. I took the liberty of speaking with Captain Huey on your behalf. He spoke to the D.A. and obtained a warrant," which Fraser then removed from the inside of his jacket, "and, happily, agreed to send along reinforcements."
On cue, three squad cars and two sedans carrying his subordinates swung around the corner behind them. The timing was too cosmically perfect, but Ray had given up questioning Mountie Magic long ago.
"Inuit story?" Ray inquired.
"In fact, yes. You know, I myself am often surprised how effective those stories can be, and how applicable so many people find them."
Ray laughed. "Not me. Not anymore. After this one I'm gonna pay closer attention when you're telling them."
Fraser raised his eyebrows, apparently missing Ray's meaning. "I'm sorry?"
"Nothing. Forget it," Ray grinned, and slapped Fraser's shoulder happily. "Come on, what do you say we get in there and kick some bad guys – just like old times?" Fraser reached out and grasped Ray's arm, smiling one of his rare, private smiles, then nodded and returned the friendly slap on the back. Like old times, Ray thought contentedly, and like a lot of times to come, too.