I'd had the opening to this in my mind for ages and I had no idea where it was going to go...anyway, this is where it went! Huge thanks must go to Vic32 and Rubberducky100 for all of your encouragement again :) Please feel free to submit a review, thank you kindly!

FORGIVENESS

CHAPTER 1

"So Fraser," Ray Kowalski gripped the steering wheel of the GTO tightly as the tyres gripped the dusty road and they headed back towards Chicago, "that went kinda well, didn't it." Ray couldn't help a small smile as he cast his mind back over the events of the last two days. A kidnapping case had taken them out of the city, but now they were on their way home and Ray was looking forward to sleeping in his own bed.

"Indeed it did," agreed Constable Benton Fraser, looking over his shoulder at the sleeping form of his half-wolf Diefenbaker, curled up on the back seat, "the unfortunate victim has been returned safely to her family and the malfeasant is incarcerated. It went, as you say, well."

"And I kissed the girl!" added Ray, his grin broadening now. "That, er, that doesn't happen every day."

"More accurately, the girl kissed you," Fraser pointed out, raising his eyebrows as the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile, "she did appear rather taken with you."

"Oh yeah," agreed Ray, his eyes sparkling, "and I have her number." He patted his jacket pocket where he'd safely stowed the torn off corner of an envelope with the precious digits on.

Although their interactions with the kidnap victim's sister had been limited, Fraser had observed her to be a pleasant young woman. Perhaps she had simply been grateful to them for rescuing her sister, or perhaps she genuinely did have feelings for Ray? Fraser hoped the latter were true, Ray needed some good fortune in his love life, he realised. Fraser sighed, he could do with the same in his own too. He gave a tiny ironic laugh. His love life? It's not like he didn't have plenty of opportunities of course, but girls throwing themselves at him whilst on sentry duty didn't really play into his ideas of romance. "And are you intending to telephone her?" he asked his partner.

"Of course," replied Ray, still grinning, but then suddenly his face dropped, "well, maybe..." He sighed, what was he thinking? She couldn't have really been interested in him? Not a Chicago cop, she was a country girl, they had nothing in common really? He was quickly talking himself out of this now. "I mean, she was hot, but, er, I don't think she really had the hots for me did she?"

"I'm not really in a position to judge," replied Fraser, "although by virtue of the fact that she furnished you with her contact information, one would assume that she was, at that moment at least, hoping for further...um...contact?"

Ray laughed, how could his buddy make a prospective new romance sound so, well so unromantic? "OK then buddy," he said, his mood lighter now, "tell me about your ideal woman." He grinned and glanced across to the passenger seat, knowing that Fraser's face would be turning a lovely shade of crimson right about now.

"Um, my, um...I'm not sure that I..." Fraser fumbled for words, wondering where on earth this line of questioning had come from? They'd been talking about Ray and women, hadn't they?

"Y'know, like your fantasy woman," prompted Ray, "c'mon, ya must have an idea? It's not like ya don't look at girls Fraser? Don't try to deny it either, 'coz I've seen ya. All that Canadian politeness and, er, chivalry? I don't buy it buddy, you're a guy and guys have...well, I've seen ya lookin', that's all I'm sayin'. So, er, blonde or brunette?"

"Blonde," replied Fraser quickly, trying not to squirm with embarrassment. A few years ago he would never have been able to express a preference. In fact his abrupt announcement of 'blonde' was perhaps not entirely accurate. He thought of Victoria, her darks curls tumbling over her shoulders...her hair was beautiful, everything about her was beautiful, but he couldn't allow himself to think about her in that way anymore, it hurt too much, he couldn't allow himself to think about her at all. "Blonde," he repeated, more firmly this time.

"OK," grinned Ray, "I heard ya the first time. I like a brunette, long wavy hair, dark eyes, um, not too tall, skinny too I guess, coz, er, look at me Fraser...I'm not built to handle too much, right?" He laughed as the fleeting image of being seduced by a huge woman flashed into his head, his fingers sinking into her ample flesh as he pulled her closer...oh, OK, maybe he would try that one day after all...

"Right you are Ray," Fraser nodded and Ray cleared his mind of inappropriate thoughts. "Well, I'm glad we had that discussion." Fraser turned as Diefenbaker finally stirred from his slumber.

"Discussion?" Ray looked at his partner incredulously, "that wasn't a discussion?"

"I'm sorry Ray, but I find the subject matter rather, well, rather shallow I'm afraid," replied Fraser, slowing scratching at his left eyebrow with his fingertips.

Ray laughed. "Well I guess that's me!"

Fraser's brow furrowed. "No Ray, you misunderstand, I wasn't suggesting at all that you were..." but he didn't finish his sentence as a car raced past them, swerving onto their side of the road momentarily and leaving Ray no choice but to swerve himself to avoid it.

"Jeez!" yelled Ray, glancing back over his shoulder. "Moron!" he yelled.

"Aren't you going to pursue that vehicle?" Fraser asked, watching the car in the rear view mirror as it got further and further away.

"Fraser, we're not traffic cops," replied Ray, "and this baby's not up to a high speed chase on a road like this?" He patted the dashboard affectionately.

"But Ray..."

"But nothin' Fraser, I just wanna get home, OK? The local cops'll pick 'em up down the road," Ray had returned his attentions to the road ahead, but now Fraser was looking out of the back window. Suddenly he drew a sharp breath.

"Stop the car Ray," Fraser said urgently.

"I already told ya," sighed Ray, "leave it to the..."

"No Ray, you don't understand," Fraser turned back to look at his partner, his face grave, "you must turn around immediately, that automobile just skidded across the road and rolled down the embankment."

"Oh god no," said Ray as he carried out a perfect handbrake turn, sliding the GTO around and heading off in the direction they'd just come from. Fraser grabbed Ray's phone and called 911.

Ray skidded his car to a halt at the side of the road and leapt out. The other car was lying at a precarious angle, one wheel balanced on an uprooted tree. It was clear from the damage to the roof that it had rolled over at least once. It looks like a giant hand just crushed it like a toy, thought Ray as he raced down the embankment, almost stumbling over some dead vegetation in his hurry.

Fraser stopped to grab the first aid kit from the boot of the GTO and then headed after his partner. The vehicle had been travelling at some speed and Fraser knew there was a high probability that the driver would have sustained serious injuries. He was concerned to see Ray frozen to the spot by the side of the car, his hands on his hips. Oh dear, thought Fraser, bracing himself for an horrific scene. As he got closer to Ray, the blonde detective lifted his head to look at his partner. "Gone," he said.

Fraser sighed sadly. "The chances of survival in such a high speed accident are slim," he began, but Ray interrupted him.

"No buddy," Ray shook his head, "I mean gone, as in, er, there's no one in the car."

Fraser put the first aid kit on the ground and took a few steps so he was close enough to peer in through the smashed window of the driver's door. It wasn't that he didn't believe Ray of course, but it just seemed impossible. It had only been a matter of minutes since he'd observed the car spinning off the road. "Perhaps they were flung from the vehicle?" Fraser suggested, frowning as he looked around the area, but there was no sign of anyone among the smattering of arid bushes.

Ray pulled hard on the driver's door, but it was stuck fast, the buckled chassis of the car making it impossible to open. Then he ran round to the other side, looking for any clue as to what may have happened.

Fraser darted back a short distance towards the road, gaining some height as he started to climb the steep embankment. He looked down at Dief. "Can you pick up a trail?" he asked his wolf and Dief responded with a yap, bounding off to scratch about in the dry soil.

Fraser was about to call out to Ray, but instead he heard his partner's voice calling out to him. "Fraser quickly!" The Mountie headed back towards Ray. "There's a kid in the back!"

Fraser got to the car just as Ray had managed to get the back door open, using his foot for extra leverage. They saw a young boy, aged about eight or nine, his face covered in blood, strapped into the back seat with his head slumped against the pillar He was wearing a seatbelt, but his body was so small that it hadn't been able to fully restrain him as he was thrown around during the accident. Ray reached out a hand and placed two fingers on the boy's neck, hoping against all hope that he'd find a pulse. He really didn't want to deal with a dead child, it was a cop's worse nightmare and he could have prevented this, he thought to himself, if only he'd listened to Fraser. He gasped slightly and looked at his buddy with wide eyes. "He's alive Fraser!"

Ray moved out of the way to allow Fraser access. He began to carefully check the child's injuries and as he did so the boy stirred slightly, opened one eye and moaned. "It's alright," Fraser said in a low reassuring voice, "try to remain still, an ambulance is on it's way." Ray had already picked up the first aid kit and handed it to Fraser. "Ray," his buddy said, "please fetch a blanket."

"Sure," nodded Ray and ran to the GTO.

Fraser found a thick dressing in the first aid kit and pressed it firmly over the large gash on the child's forehead. The young boy moaned again and this time he opened both his eyes, although Fraser could tell he wasn't really focussing. "Sshhh," Fraser tried to soothe him. "Can you tell me your name?" he asked. He wasn't sure if the child would be able to answer.

"Mommy..." his voice was barely a whisper, but it brought a lump to Fraser's throat. The boy's mother was quite possibly the one driving the car, he thought, but how could he tell this young child, already frightened and in terrible pain, that she'd disappeared?

"Sshhh," said Fraser softly again as Ray returned with the blanket and carefully tucked it around the child. "What's your name son?" Fraser asked again, trying to keep the boy at least semi-conscious.

"Mmm..." the child tried to answer, "Mmm...Mikey," he finally managed to say.

"Alright Mikey," replied Fraser, smiling supportively, "my name's Constable..." he stopped, briefly glanced at Ray and instead he said, "my name's Ben."

Ray smiled, his buddy was finally learning how to talk to kids. It had taken a while.

"I need you to stay perfectly still," Fraser continued, "can you squeeze my hand?" He slipped his fingers into the boy's left hand and was relieved to feel a reasonable amount of pressure in response.

"The ambulance'll be here soon kid," said Ray, glancing back up to the road, hoping that it would be here sooner rather than later. He knew that Mikey was badly injured and he could see how concerned Fraser was.

"Mom..." Mikey was starting to become more distressed now.

"Hey Mikey," Ray leaned into the car and tried to help Fraser reassure him, "don't worry about your Mom OK?"

"Mikey," said Fraser gently, "I'm sorry, but I need you to keep as still as possible." Fraser carefully brought his other hand up and cradled Mikey's face, so now with his other hand still applying pressure to the head wound, he was able to hold the boys head in position.

"Can we get him outta there?" asked Ray, he really hated seeing him like this, "y"know, maybe make him more comfortable?"

Fraser turned his head away from Mikey and replied quietly. "I believe he may have suffered a spinal injury Ray, any attempt to move him at this juncture would be...inadvisable."

"Oh," replied Ray. He got it. Inadvisable, that meant bad...really bad, like fatal...or something worse. "I'll, er, go take a look around," he said, feeling that as Fraser seemed to be doing everything he could for the injured boy, the least he could do himself was try to find some trace of the kid's mother, or whoever it was who'd been driving the car and had now abandoned him to his fate. Fraser nodded in agreement, so Ray tried the front passenger door. With a bit of brute force it opened and Ray climbed inside, looking for anything that might be considered a clue. He was only assuming that it was the mother who'd been driving. They had no proof other than the agonised moaning of a severely injured little boy. Any kid in the same situation would cry out for his mother, Ray thought, it really meant nothing as far as any investigation was concerned.

Ray started to search the car, it was surprisingly clean, no signs of life at all. Rental car, Ray thought to himself. He pulled open the glove box and found nothing but a single folded piece of paper. He took it out carefully, holding just the top corner between his thumb and forefinger and shook it open. He'd been right. It was an invoice from a car hire place in central Chicago, not too far from the Two Seven, so at least we got an angle to get involved, he thought. Seeing poor young Mikey had made him promise to himself that he'd do whatever it took to bring whoever had done this to justice. Ray let a tiny laugh slip out at his last thought, he was starting to sound like Fraser. He refocused his attentions on the invoice. Paid in cash, he noted, probably fake details then. He sighed. Well maybe a fingerprint can be pulled from it, he thought as he slipped it into a plastic evidence bag.

He clambered across to the driver's seat, being careful not to touch the steering wheel. He could hear Fraser's voice talking softly to Mikey now, he was telling him a story. Ray smiled, poor kid survives a car crash only to be bored to death by an Inuit legend, he thought. Then his face fell, that wasn't even funny, Fraser was doing everything he could. Ray wouldn't have been nearly as calm in the same situation. He'd faced some pretty horrific things over the years and it never got any easier, but you found a way to deal with most things, you coped, you couldn't let everything get to you or you'd go crazy, but dead kids were...his thoughts trailed off and he shuddered. Mikey wasn't going to die, Ray had this feeling in his gut, he was a strong kid, he was going to be OK.

Ray stopped himself before he let his emotions take over again. He looked at the smashed glass of the door and spotted a small amount of blood on one of the jagged edges. More evidence, let forensics do their thing with that and hopefully they can match the DNA. What does the DNA of someone who leaves a child alone like this look like anyway? Ray had no idea what DNA even looked like, but this sicko has to have pretty screwed up DNA, he thought to himself. Mikey could have died and they'd just abandoned him, surely it wasn't his mother? Ray couldn't even begin to imagine what must have been going through her mind.

Ray's head snapped round at the sound of Fraser's voice, more urgent than his storytelling voice. "Ray, sirens," said Fraser, without taking his eyes off the injured boy.

Ray couldn't hear any sirens yet, but he replied with a quick, "OK," and ran up to the road to alert the approaching vehicles to their position.

xXx

"It took...what...twenty minutes for them to get him out," Ray was telling Francesca all about the events of that afternoon as they huddled over her computer with Fraser back at the station. "They, er, cut the roof off and took him out on one of those backboard things."

"He had to be stabilised first of course," Fraser explained "and because of the suspected spinal injury it was imperative that he was immobilised during the extraction."

Francesca tapped away at her keyboard and tried to imagine what she might have done if she'd been first on the scene of an accident like that. She hoped she would have been calm and practical and done all the right things, but in the back of her mind she had a feeling that she would have panicked.

"Yeah and that paramedic said something about a sub, er, sub, er, haema...wotsit, whatever that is," Ray could hear the words in his head, but he just couldn't get them out of his mouth. It got worse when he was agitated and right now he was anything but calm.

"Subdural haematoma," said Fraser, "I observed his symptoms worsening as we waited for help to arrive," Fraser stopped and closed his eyes briefly before continuing, "but he's in good hands now, they have some of the finest neurosurgeons..."

"Hey," Ray interrupted him, "c'mon, let's focus here. Let the, er, brain surgeons worry about the brain surgery. Hospital said they'd call if there was any news, so we gotta figure out who the kid is and who the hell ran off and left him in the back of a wrecked car. What've we got Frannie?"

"Sorry Ray," replied Francesca, "still nothing. His description's out there, but there's no match to any reports of missing boys. No reports of any other casualties showing up either."

"I figured they got cut pretty bad climbing outta that window in a hurry," said Ray, squinting at the screen as pages of missing children's details flashed up.

"Quite possibly," replied Fraser, "although Dief didn't find a trail of blood, suggesting that they were able to stem the flow quite quickly, so they most likely did not seek medical treatment."

The local Police had quickly arrived at the scene and Fraser and Ray had assisted with their preliminary investigation. Identifying Mikey and notifying his family of the child's condition was everyone's top priority. Obviously they also needed to trace the driver of the car and the car rental invoice that Ray had found at least gave them a lead to check out first thing in the morning. He wanted to get on this immediately, but they'd done all they could for now really. He couldn't shake the image of Mikey from his mind.

Ray sighed and Francesca spun her chair round, causing both Ray and Fraser to take a quick step backwards. "Why don't you guys go home," she smiled at them. "I'll keep on this for a couple more hours. Ma has her cousin Rosa helping her with the flowers for cousin Florentina's wedding at the weekend. Now, as much as I love flowers..." Francesca paused and pushed her hair behind her ear, smiling at Fraser, "especially when they're sent with love..."

Fraser cleared his throat and looked at the floor. Francesca had been desperately trying to engage him since they'd met, taking almost every opportunity to flirt outrageously with him. At one stage Fraser had seriously considered the prospect of pursuing a romance, but with hindsight he was glad they hadn't gone down that path. Especially now that the real Ray Vecchio was undercover on a long term assignment, Fraser's feelings towards his friend's sister had evolved into more like those of a sibling. Francesca's feelings, on the other hand, didn't appear to have changed at all.

"Can we, er, stay focussed here?" asked Ray, rolling his eyes.

Francesca finally broke her gaze from Fraser and looked at Ray. "I'm serious," she said, "go home, you guys look exhausted."

"Yeah," admitted Ray, "it's been a long day."

"Indeed," agreed Fraser.

Francesca hated to see them both so down like this. "Hey," she said, "y'know, if you wanna talk or anything? I mean, shall we go get a coffee or something?"

Fraser smiled. He appreciated the thought, but he really did want to go home and get some sleep. The brown uniform, while much less uncomfortable than the red serge, was still restrictive and as much as he was emphatically proud of his RCMP uniform and all it represented, it did feel good to take it off. "Thank you kindly Francesca, but perhaps another time."

"OK," said Francesca, "I'll call you if I hear anything from the hospital."

"Greatness," mumbled Ray, picking up his crumpled coat.

"You did good today," continued Francesca, "I guess it must have been pretty tough."

"It was not the most pleasant of experiences," agreed Fraser. He thought back to poor Mikey's cries of pain and took a deep breath.

"I, um, I don't think I can do it," said Francesca, sadly, "I don't know what I was thinking when I put my name down."

"Er, put your name down for what?" asked Ray with a frown.

"The Academy," replied Francesca. "I guess I thought it would be exciting, or something. Stupid really."

Fraser and Ray looked at each other. This was the first that either of them had heard about Francesca's ambition to be a Police officer. "Francesca," Fraser began, choosing his words carefully, "Police work can be...challenging, but also hugely rewarding." He wasn't sure if he should be encouraging her or not? He was fairly sure that Ray Vecchio would disapprove. He wasn't sure himself if he was entirely comfortable with the thought of Francesca making such a career choice.

"Yeah," agreed Ray, "that kid got out alive, thanks to Fraser here and now, y'know, now we go and bust whoever was drivin' that car and kick 'em in the head."

"You mean arrest them in order that they may face justice in accordance with the laws of your country," Fraser corrected him.

"Er, yeah," Ray smiled ruefully, "that. Whatever, it's gonna be sweet. I never knew ya wanted to be a cop Frannie?"

Francesca shrugged. "Neither did I," she laughed, "I guess not until I worked here, saw the things you did. Ray never really talked about it at home, I didn't really get it, why he became a cop I mean. I figured he only did it because he knew our Pa would hate it?"

"I believe his reasons ran far deeper than that," Fraser spoke with pride. Ray Vecchio was out there now, risking his life everyday working undercover in the heart of one of Chicago's most notorious organised crime families. He felt certain that his friend would not have taken that on simply to annoy his father.

"I guess ya should think it over or somethin'," Ray suggested to Francesca, "I mean, Police work is, er, ups and downs...right Fraser?"

"Indeed," agreed the Mountie, "there are huge rewards to be had."

Ray sniggered. "Er, yeah," he agreed, "but he's not talkin' about the paycheques Frannie!"