He ran. He didn't think at all, he just ran. Like his life depended on it. Which it did.
The forest seemed threatening, the trees looming over him, casting dark shadows. Ray could hear the blood rushing in his ears, he felt his heart pounding like a drum in his throat.
He didn't feel the cold or the rain anymore, he just concentrated on his own heartbeat. As long as he could feel it he was alive. As long as he could feel it there was a chance. As long as he could feel it he knew that he would find a way to get out of this mess. That he would find a way back to Fraser.
Ray looked over his shoulder, over and over again. He didn't know how long he'd been on the run, how long they'd been chasing him.
When he was reasonably sure that he had shaken them off his trail he slumped against a tree, trying to catch his breath, sliding to the ground with his back against the trunk.
He closed his eyes and tried to focus. There was pain but he couldn't quite pinpoint its source. Finally he wiped the rain out of his eyes and checked himself for injuries. His legs were okay, that much was sure. They had done him a great service over the past hours.
But there had to be something, he could smell the blood now and he could feel the dizziness that came with losing a lot of it. Carefully he pushed his jacket off his shoulders, as well as the holster. A sharp pain shot through the entire right side of his chest.
His eyes wandered to his discarded jacket and he saw the bloody tear in it, just across the shoulder. He swallowed hard. Blood and injuries weren't his strong suit, Fraser and Mort could attest to that.
Ray turned his head some more and took a look at the damage. His stomach heaved, nausea rolling through his gut, then he threw up, unable to stop himself. Closing his eyes and stealing himself, he gave it another shot. “Don't pass out, Ray, don't pass out,” he mumbled over and over again.
It was a surface wound that had ripped his shoulder wide open. There was nothing clean about it, hell no, it was a bloody mess. The bullet had a special twist to it, having burst into tiny little fragments as it impacted with his flesh.
He prodded the wound a bit and clenched his teeth at the pain. 'Think, Ray!' he mentally screamed at himself. 'What would Fraser do?'
The thought almost made him laugh. The Mountie would probably be able to produce a sterile bandage and some ointment from somewhere inside his uniform, even with the rain and everything.
But Ray also knew from experience that ointment and bandages wouldn't be enough.
Fraser pressed the tip of his tongue against the corner of his mouth and tasted blood. Slowly he opened his eyes, almost unable to see anything on his right-hand side because the eye was swollen shut.
He stared down the barrel of the gun that had shot Ray. He didn't know how much time had passed since then, he just knew that he had to be focused and rational.
The knot in his stomach wasn't caused by his own peril, it was caused by not knowing how bad his partner was hurt. No, he had to be honest. It was caused by the worry that the explosive projectile had done more than just hurt Ray, that it had...
The Mountie quickly closed his eyes again. He knew he couldn't think about it now, he had to keep his calm and try to analyze the situation.
Handcuffs linked him to a pipe running along the wall behind the wooden chair he was sitting on. Judging by the temperature of the metal he was fairly certain that it was a water pipe.
His feet were tied to the legs of the chair with duct tape and the perpetrators had been cautious enough to take off his boots before doing it.
They had stripped him of his lanyard, the cross strap, and his serge. He was left wearing his standard issue white RCMP shirt, suspenders, breeches. The Stetson had been carelessly tossed onto a nearby table. The Mountie somehow felt naked.
"Now let's just hope that partner of yours doesn't do anything foolish," the man holding the weapon said. He took a few steps closer to Fraser, waving the gun in his face. "On the other hand," he leaned down, a sadistic grin on his lips, "that blast looked pretty nasty." He chuckled. "He's probably lying somewhere..." he paused and lowered his voice, accentuating each of his following words very precisely, "...slowly bleeding to death."
A shiver ran down Fraser's spine and it felt as though his heart was held in the cold clutches of terror.
Ray startled awake when he heard someone approaching his little shelter inside a dead, hollow tree. The sudden movement sent another sharp pain through his right arm and he looked at the crude bandage he had fixed out of the lining of his jacket. It was saturated with wet, bright red blood. Obviously he hadn't been able to stop the bleeding.
His head shot around as he heard another sound, closer this time. He listened intently and his instincts told him that he was okay, that he wasn't in any imminent danger. Quite the contrary.
"Dief!" Ray whispered as he saw the white half-wolf, even though he knew Diefenbaker couldn't hear him. Never in his life had he been this happy to see Fraser's deaf companion.
The animal trotted up to him, nudged him with his wet muzzle and licked his face. Ray wrapped his uninjured arm around him and buried his nose against the furry neck, inhaling deeply.
Dief smelled familiar, reassuring, somehow a little bit like Fraser. Well, it was probably more likely Fraser who smelled of Dief but Ray really didn't care who smelled of whom, he was just glad that he wasn't alone anymore.
Branches were hitting his face, he knew he was bleeding from multiple little cuts on his cheeks but he just kept going, jumping over rotten logs and brushwood.
"RAY! RAY! RAY!" he kept yelling. Not in the loving, teasingly chiding way he normally used but in a frightened, panicked, desperate manner.
"Ray!" Fraser jolted awake to the sound of his own voice, his breathing ragged, coming in short gasps, his forehead bathed in sweat.
Carefully he rolled his head from one side to the other, trying to relax the cramped muscles, cracking the small joints of his neck and shoulders.
His breathing leveled out, his heartbeat slowed as he looked around. None of his captors were present, he was alone in the small room.
Fraser's feet were cold, the duct tape prohibiting regular blood circulation and his hands didn't feel much better.
Ray had been right, it had been foolish to pursue these men without waiting for back-up, especially on unfamiliar terrain. Now he was held captive and Ray ... Again he refused to think about it.
"Son, you look hideous!" Fraser's head snapped around as he heard his father's voice.
"Well, Dad, you may very well have noticed that my present situation doesn't allow a perfectly groomed exterior!"
Bob Fraser frowned and was about to reciprocate but his son cut him off. "Can you tell me if Ray is okay?"
"The Yank? How should I know, Benton?"
Fraser junior cocked his head to one side and glared at his father. "Dad! Can't you just..." He would have waved his hands into the older man's face but since he couldn't he just jutted his chin in the general direction of the door. "... go and see if he's alright?"
Bob Fraser walked up to the shelter the Yank was hiding in. The blond man had curled up next to Dief and his head was resting on the half-wolf's neck. He was either asleep or unconscious, the Mountie couldn't really tell.
His face was pale and his forehead was bathed in cold sweat. His eyes were lined by dark shadows and his lips had a bluish tinge to them. The Yank didn't look good at all.
Diefenbaker turned his head as he sensed the ghost approaching and Bob made some soothing noises, trying to keep the wolf from yelping or barking. But the Yank startled awake anyway.
"Fraser?" he said, looking around until his eyes came to rest on the place from where Bob Fraser was watching him. The ghost shuddered. It was almost as if the Yank could see him.
The blond man frowned. "Nah, you're not Fraser."
Bob raised his eyebrows. "I most certainly am!"
The Yank shook his head. "Uh uh. You may wear the same silly serge and those ridiculous pants but you're way older and not nearly as cute."
The ghost stared at him, only now realizing that the Yank really could see and hear him. "Are you insulting the uniform, young man?"
"Damn, you sure sound like Fraser," the Yank mumbled, trying to keep his eyes open. "I wish you were him, silly pants or not...," and with that he fell silent, asleep or unconscious again.
Bob looked at him for a few more moments, then shook his head and returned to his son.
Fraser's wrists were bleeding from the efforts to get rid of his restraints and the numbness in his feet had intensified. The men holding him captive still hadn't returned.
"Son, the Yank is impossible. He insulted the uniform!"
Benton hadn't realized how impatiently he had waited for his father to return. "Ray does that all the..." His face lit up. "He's alive?"
The ghost paced through the small room. "Barely. He looks worse than Buck Frobisher did when he stepped into that bear trap. You do remember how bad Buck looked, Benton, don't you? He lost..."
Fraser interrupted his musings. "Dad! Focus! What about Ray?"
"He's feverish, the cold and rain are getting to him and the wound needs to be treated. From what I could see he's lost a large amount of blood, his wound isn't neat and tidy. Dief is with him."
Benton exhaled loudly. At least Ray was not alone out there. Suddenly he frowned. "Dad, what did you mean when you said that he insulted the uniform?"
The look on his father's face was exasperated. "The Yank said I look silly!"
Fraser's eyes widened. "He could see you?"
The ghost nodded. "It was disturbing. And he could hear me and talk to me, too. But I guess he was only blithering. Apparently he thinks some people look cute in the uniform. Benton, nobody looks cute in the Queen's uniform."
Fraser blushed a little, not really sure why. But the words cute and uniform in the same sentence coming from Ray made him feel warm and happy.
He coughed, trying to clear his mind. Now was not the time to think about things like that.
"Is Ray in any condition to start a rescue attempt, Dad? Or at least to get back-up?"
Fraser senior made a face. "To be frank, I doubt it, Benton. He's hardly conscious. Diefenbaker keeps him warm and his spirit up but other than that..."
"You have to help him, Dad, you have to pull him out of it!"
"And how am I supposed to do that, son?"
For the first time since this incident had begun Fraser smiled. "Just be your usual self, Dad. You'll see, for Ray that will definitely do the trick."
Ray caught the falling rain with his tongue and in the palm of his left hand to quench his thirst.
His right arm was numb, immobile, unusable and he felt dizzy and giggly, like he was slowly going insane. He knew he had to get up and going. He had to find Fraser or at least someone who could find his partner for him.
But where should he go? How was he going to find a way back to civilization or at least to the next Mountie outpost? He needed help and he sure as hell wouldn't find any curled up in this damn tree.
"Dief, I need guidance. I guess you couldn't, like, you know, sniff your way..." Ray pursed his lips. "Nah, the rain probably washed away all the trails, right? And it's not like you know your way around here any better than I do."
The half-wolf cocked his head to one side and just looked at him and Ray cursed himself for not having paid more attention when Fraser talked to Dief in emergency situations.
Though he somehow doubted that knowing the Inuktutwhatchamaycallit words for 'fetch the knife from the hood of that car and apply it to the ties that bind us' would be of any real help right now.
Ray sighed. "It looks like I'm on my own."
A bright red something caught his eye. "On the other hand..."
Ray frowned as the something stepped closer and he recognized an old man in an RCMP uniform. "A Mountie! Dief, a Mountie! We're sa..."
He stopped in mid-sentence as the red-serged Mountie-something seemed to walk through a log lying in his path. Literally. Like he wasn't even there.
Ray whistled and ran a hand over his face. "The end must be near, Dief. I know Native Americans see Manitou when they are close to dying and I always figured I'd see, like, the pope or God or Steve McQueen. Who'd have thought that facing death in Canada means that you get visions of the Great Mountie In The Sky?!"
The old man raised his eyebrows in a very familiar manner and looked down at Ray. "My name is Robert Fraser and..."
"Diefenbaker! Fraser's dead dad is God!" Ray giggled, unable to stop. Damn, he hadn't known that hallucinating could be this much fun!
"Detective Kowalski!" Bob Fraser yelled and Ray went quiet from one moment to the next. If he could have he would have jumped up, snapped his heals together and saluted.
The ghost nodded at him. "That's better. Now that I have your undivided attention: Benton is held captive. It's your obligation to help him. The best..."
Ray was up on his feet in a second, swaying and steadying himself by leaning against the tree behind him. "I'm ready, Sir! I'll go and kick their sorry asses and I'll get him out of there!" He felt light-headed.
Bob Fraser stepped closer to him, looking into Ray's pale face. "Your intentions are admirable, Detective Kowalski, but you are in no condition to do this on your own. You need help. Professional help....You. Need. Mounties."
Fraser was still alone. He didn't know why they hadn't returned, why they had left him like this. They could have killed him with a single shot, clean and easy. Why take the risk that someone might come and rescue him.
He gnawed on his lip, knowing a rescue was not likely to happen, unless Ray were somehow able to find assistance.
If his inner clock still worked he had been tied up for more than two days now. His captors had only been with him on the first evening, he had not heard from them since. Which also meant no water or food.
He could still fall back on his inner reserves for provision but he had no idea how long he could keep going without water.
All his efforts of freeing himself of his bonds had been futile, his chafed wrists were hurting and his feet were so numb that he had trouble moving his toes.
Ray and his father were his only chance now.
"You can do it, Detective!" Bob yelled, pushing the Yank on, forcing him to take another step. And another. And another.
Ray wasn't complaining, he was gritting his teeth and tried to keep going and the ghost admired him for that. He knew that it took the Yank a great amount of willpower to stay on his feet.
"He can't keep up much longer, son. There's only so much I can do.
"Tell him..." Fraser took his time to inhale and exhale deeply. "Tell him I love him, Dad."
Bob's head snapped around. "Benton, I will not play your messager d'amour. It's..." A look into his son's eyes made him stop and the expression on his face softened. "You really do love him, don't you?"
Fraser nodded. "With all my heart, Dad."
"And you think it will make a difference?"
"I hope so. It's my only chance - in every way."
The Yank was breathing hard, his lips were trembling, he was crouching on the ground, cradling his injured arm against his chest. He didn't seem to hear.
"Ray," Bob tried again, more softly. "I spoke to Benton."
The younger man turned his head to look at the ghost, his eyes trying to focus on him.
"He needs you to do this for him." Bob hesitated for a moment. "He told me to tell you ..." He swallowed. "He loves you, Ray."
The Yank's eyes widened. "What?"
"Benton loves you."
Some color returned to Ray's face as he wiped his hand over his eyes and cracked his neck. Bob almost smiled. There was a lot of Benton in that little gesture.
"He told you that?" Ray asked, his voice barely audible.
Bob nodded. "He's not a man of many words..." Ray rolled his eyes and raised his eyebrows. Bob smiled. "Let me rephrase that. Benton is not comfortable with expressing his feelings, Detective. But believe me, when he says it he means it. With all his heart."
Ray was already on his feet, even before Bob had finished the sentence. "How much further?"
The Yank nodded. "I can do that. I can take ten miles. For him I can take a thousand." He fell silent and straightened up. "Go back to him and tell him... tell him I'll move heaven and hell to get him out of there. Tell him the next time I see him I will show him what he means to me." He blushed and cleared his throat. "This is a bit awkward, isn't it, Sir?"
"Detective, I'm a ghost. Don't talk to me about awkward situations." Bob nodded at the horizon. "Keep the peak of that mountain in sight at all times. You can't miss the outpost then. God speed, Ray."
Ray sat in his hospital bed and stared out of the window. The sun was shining brightly, almost as if to make the memories of the rain and the cold disappear.
The door opened and he slowly turned his head.
Fraser looked pale, his wrists were bandaged and he limped a little as he walked over to the chair next to Ray, a tentative smile on his lips. "Hey," he said, nothing more, nothing less.
"Hey," Ray replied, searching the Mountie's face for signs that everything that had happened, everything that Bob Fraser had told him was true.
"I'm glad they got you out of there, buddy," he said, his heart beating fast.
"You made it possible, Ray, and I want to thank you for that." Fraser smiled.
"Any words from the bad guys? Did they get 'em?" Ray inquired.
The Mountie shook his head "No. They never returned to the cabin. If you hadn't reached that outpost I doubt that anyone would have found me. My father..." Fraser stopped in mid-sentence.
Ray's eyes widened. "What?"
Benton sighed. "It's not important, Ray."
"You mentioned your father, Benton. Tell me what you wanted to say."
Fraser furrowed his brow, licked the corner of his mouth and tugged at his earlobe. Nobody called him Benton. Except for his father. And now Ray. Who had always called him by his last name and maybe a good-natured 'buddy'. Why should he start now? Unless he wanted to give him a sign. Maybe, just maybe, Ray remembered.
"Have I ever told you that I talk to my dead father?" Fraser said softly.
Ray punched a fist into the air and winced at the pain that shot through his right arm but he grinned broadly. "I knew it! I knew I didn't make it all up."
He fell silent, letting Fraser's words sink in.
If Bob was real, at least as real as a ghost could be... "What you told him to tell me, was that true?"
Fraser smiled. "Was what you told him to tell me in return true?"
They looked at each other for a long moment, their eyes taking in every reaction, every detail they had grown fond of over the years until Ray reached out with his left hand and Fraser took it and squeezed it gently.
"Is he here?" Ray asked.
Fraser looked around and shook his head. "No, I don’t think so."
Ray smiled and pulled the Mountie down to him.
Bob Fraser stood next to the bed, choosing not to let them notice him.
He saw Benton sit down next to the Yank, leaning in for a first kiss. He saw his son wince a little when the Yank's mouth touched his bruised lips. He saw the Yank clenching his teeth when Benton accidentally put his hand on his injured shoulder.
And he saw the light in their eyes, the love, the trust, the passion, the friendship, the devotion.
He stepped out of their realm, giving them the privacy they deserved.
Maybe the Yank wasn't what he had always imagined for Benton. But then he had always wanted his son to experience the kind of bond he had had with Caroline. And he knew Benton well enough to realize that what he felt for the Yank came very close to that.
"Well, it looks like he got his man after all," he said to no one in particular and walked away through the knee-high snow.