Ray Kowalski started from his sleep and sat bolt upright in his bed raising trembling hands to his face as he tried to scrub the dream from his memory. Unable to shake the terror that had woken him he turned to look at his alarm clock. 4.30 am. Wonderful!
Sighing, Ray disentangled himself from his sheets and made his way to the bathroom to splash some cold water on his face. He raised his eyes and looked in the mirror and winced; he looked like shit. Come on, Ray. Pull yourself together. They're just dreams, they're not real.
Resigned to the inevitable fact that he wasn't going to get any more sleep, Ray decided to get some breakfast; there was an all-night diner a couple of blocks away. If he killed enough time, he could report to the precinct at a believable hour and not raise too many suspicions that there was anything wrong.
At precisely 7.59 am, Lieutenant Harding Welsh made his way through the squad room on his way to the office. Out of the corner of his eye he saw something that almost made him pause in his stride - almost. Kow-- Vecchio was here before him. Again. The crazy blond looked like a bad imitation of an extra in a horror movie; there were corpses down in the basement that looked healthier!
Silently concerned, Welsh made his way into his office and sat at his desk, thinking. That's five times in the past two weeks that he's been here hours early for his shift. Catching up on backlogged paper work is not going to cut it as an excuse any more. You're slipping anyway, you idiot! Since when does he do that much paperwork without the Mountie's help?
Lieutenant Welsh reached out his hand and picked up his phone. He should have done this a week ago.
"Constable Turnbull, Constable Turnbull! It's Lieutenant Welsh, you don't need to tell me about the facilities that the Consulate offers, you told me the last time I called. I need to talk to Constable Fraser."
Eventually, Constable Fraser got on the line.
"Ah, Lieutenant, do please excuse Turnbull. I'm afraid he's a bit 'off' this morning. He's been taking the wrong vitamins again..."
Lieutenant Welsh fought a grin as he listened to the resigned tone being used by Fraser. The Mountie had the patience of a saint - considering the people he worked with, it was just as well too.
"Fraser, I'm calling about Ray."
A worried tone in his voice, Benton Fraser said, "Sir. Has something happened?"
Hastening to reassure the Mountie, Welsh said, "No, Fraser. It's nothing like that. Have you noticed anything wrong? Is there anything worrying him? Something that he can't bring to my attention?"
On the other end of the line, Fraser frowned. "No, Lieutenant. Not to my knowledge. He has been rather subdued over the last couple of weeks but when I asked him if he was all right he mumbled something about a bug going round the precinct.
"As you know, sir, I've had very little free time recently to spend with Ray. The delegation from France leaves today so I've finally got the time to come to the precinct."
Welsh sighed. "There's no bug going round the precinct, Fraser. Ray, however, looks like something the cat dragged in. He's been too quiet - and that's something I never thought I'd here myself say. Not only that, he's been hours early for his shifts five times in the last fortnight. That isn't natural. The topper - the thing that convinces me that something is off - he's been doing his paperwork as though his life depended on it."
Fraser said simply, "I'll talk to him, sir."
"Good. I want my oddball detective back, Constable. I don't care for the wraith that's taken his place."
It had taken some doing, but Fraser had convinced Ray to accompany him to a curling tournament later that day. Fraser hid a smile as they pulled up at Ray's apartment building so that he could change clothes. His irascible partner had turned to him, astonishment in his eyes, saying, "There are actually people in the greater Chicago area that play that stupid sport? This I gotta see!"
Inside the apartment, Fraser made for the kitchen. Ray had started keeping a small amount of bark tea in the apartment. He'd grinned shyly the first time he'd mentioned it to Fraser. He had stopped Fraser's pleased comments by the simple expedient of raising a hand, saying, "You spend enough of your time here that it seemed like the sensible thing to do. Don't go getting Canadian on me."
Fraser was busily pouring himself tea and Ray coffee when he heard the quiet footfall of the detective returning from his room. Ray now sported a pair of rumpled blue jeans, a black T-shirt and a pair of haunted eyes. Fraser eyed him in concern.
Moving from behind the counter, he made his way to the couch and sat down beside his partner. Patiently, he held out the mug of coffee to his friend; Ray lost in thought, remained totally oblivious.
"Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray. Ray! Coffee."
Ray took the mug proffered to him and sipped at the coffee. When his hands began to tremble, he quickly placed it onto the table in front of them. Quietly, he murmured, "Shit. Sorry, Fraser. Do you mind if we skip tonight?"
"Of course not, Ray. Ray, what's wrong? Is there anything I can do to help?"
Startled, Ray looked up and locked eyes with the Mountie. Fraser shrugged and said, "The Lieutenant called me. He was worried about you, apparently rightly so. I apologise that I have been unable to spend time with you lately. I'm here now. I would like to help. Will you tell me what's wrong?"
Ray lowered his gaze to the mug in front of him. It was safer than looking into the concerned eyes of his partner. He was fighting to control his emotions as it was. Scrubbing his hand through his hair - unknowingly tousling it, making him look years younger - Ray sighed quietly and said, "It's nothing, Fraser. It's stupid. Bad dreams, they'll go away eventually."
"Dreams that have upset you this much are obviously not stupid, Ray. Do you want to tell me what they're about? Maybe I could help."
Ray shook his head violently. "No! Fraser, I'll be all right. They'll go away. Really."
Fraser eyed him doubtfully but Ray pinned a resolute expression on his face and, finally, the Mountie relented. Finishing his tea, Fraser noticed Ray yawning and quietly said that he was going to leave and head back to the Consulate.
Half asleep, Ray nodded. Fraser let himself out and Ray keeled over on the couch; one arm raised over his eyes, blocking out everything. He only intended to remain there for a couple of minutes, but the past few days of interrupted sleep finally caught up with him and he nodded off.
Twenty minutes later, Fraser - who had remained in the corridor outside Ray's door because he had a feeling that this might happen - finally gave into the concern that he was feeling and re-entered the apartment using the key Ray had given him months previously.
Standing just inside the door, he watched - a silent witness - to the torment being suffered by his sleeping partner. Ray tossed and turned, mumbling, restless. Fraser started when Ray suddenly sat up and cried, "No! He can't be--" The last word cut off as Ray opened his eyes.
Quietly, Fraser said Ray's name. The other man turned to look at him, unsurprised. "Couldn't stay away, could you?"
Fraser crossed the room and sat on the arm of the couch facing his partner. "I was worried. Please, Ray. Tell me what's going on."
Giving in to the inevitable, Ray sighed and said, "I didn't want to say anything because I feel so stupid about this. It wasn't this hard at the time. In fact, other than the fact that the place weirded me out it was actually quite funny; especially when everybody fainted when you came to..."
Ray's voice trailed off but he had said enough for Fraser to begin to put things together. "The dream is something to do with the funeral home where I went in undercover so that we could bring down Van Zandt?"
Ray nodded but didn't speak.
Misconstruing what was upsetting his partner, Fraser said, "It's all right, Ray. We both know that you dislike being around dead bodies. I'm sure that being in the funeral home just 'pushed the wrong button' as Francesca might say."
Ray gave Fraser his patented 'Are you as dense as a brick?' look. For an extremely intelligent person, Fraser could sometimes be totally oblivious. Well, he had come this far.
"Fraser, the dream is not about the funeral home. It's about you. Every time I close my eyes I see you lying in a coffin - dead. It's really freakin' me out."
For once, at a loss for words, Fraser could only say, "Oh!"
Kowalski almost smiled. It wasn't often he rendered the Mountie speechless.
"I know it's silly... I know you weren't really dead. The image just won't get outta my head." With over-bright eyes, Ray looked at Fraser and said softly, "Don't you ever die on me. Do you hear me?! I'm not ever going to be ready for it, I can't handle it. Don't do it."
Fraser, unaccustomed as he was to the idea of doing so, knew there was only one thing that he could think of to do to reassure Ray. Tentatively, he put his arms around Ray's shoulders and held him close. Ray leaned into the embrace and sighed. Fraser spoke and Ray heard the words vibrate through his partner's body as he rested his head against the Mountie's shoulder.
"I am so sorry, Ray. In all the haste of the operation with us trying to locate the body before the trial concluded and Mr Van Zandt got off; I don't think anybody stopped to think of the repercussions on you. It cannot have been easy for you to see me like that, and I assure you, had our situations been reversed, I would now be feeling the same emotions as you are experiencing.
"I cannot say that I will never die, Ray. Everybody does. We both know that. What I will say is that I will endeavour to do my best never to leave you. I would never willingly leave you alone, you do know that. Don't you?"
Ray nodded against Fraser's shoulder and mumbled, "Sometimes, I just need to be reminded, that's all."
Fraser smiled. "I will make sure to remind you more often then. Ray. One more thing. Don't you leave me either. Is that clear, my friend?"
"As crystal, Fraser."
That night, Ray slept undisturbed by dreams. Fraser too slept easy - on the couch - close by in case his friend, his partner, needed him.
The next morning, Ray reported to work refreshed and happy. The Constable put in an appearance in the early afternoon. Lieutenant Welsh, standing in the doorway of his office, nodded a greeting to the Mountie, his eyes expressing his relief at the change in Kowalski. Fraser returned the nod, smiling gently.
A voice called out across the room. "Hey, Fraser. 'Bout time you got here. We gotta go. There's been another incident at the jewellery store on Walnut Street..."