Set in Season 1, this is a g-rated preslash story I couldn't manage to finish in time for Halloween.

12 South Fulton
by Laura Mason

"Benton, you come sit here with me. Don't worry about my stupid brother." Francesca was flirting again, that seemed clear even to Fraser. He tried to pull himself together and answer her properly.

"I..." Diefenbaker barked once. "We should start walking home, I suppose." He looked around the room for his hat, then remembered he hadn't worn it. Not necessary, even on a cold evening, with Ray driving him.

How did his much-anticipated dinner with the Vecchios become such a horrible mistake?

Francesca pulled him down next to her on the wicker sofa that filled one side of the old-fashioned enclosed back porch. "So, tell me about your day."

"I..." This was ridiculous; certainly he could make polite small talk with his friend's sister. At least, he still hoped Ray was his friend, despite their disagreement. They'd argued before, surely over more serious matters? Ray was volatile, a passionate man. Fraser realized Francesca was speaking, telling him about her day selling -- makeup? 'Tangerine Dream' might be a lipstick color. He shook himself out of his reverie and replied to her.

"Our day was interesting, as you may have guessed, though not pleasant."

"Is Ray angry with you, Benton?" Maria, in the doorway, joined them with the remark, and Fraser found he was blushing under her concerned look. Like her mother, Maria was always mothering everyone she knew. "You've never been so quiet, not even your first time here. Are you all right?"

He nodded miserably. "We were sent to a construction site on Fulton Street to investigate an accident, possibly a murder. One of the workers fell from the tenth story of a building that's being renovated."

"I heard about that," Francesca added, giving sister a look designed to discourage her participation in the conversation.

"He'd been working alone up there, evidently putting in overtime on the unit that is going to be the penthouse," Fraser continued. "Ray thought perhaps he disturbed a vagrant who was living in the building. There were no definite signs of a struggle, but that's not unusual in such situations." Fraser paused. "Today I was at the scene of the investigation while Ray interviewed the foreman. One of the electricians pulled me to the side. He informed me that the building is haunted, and he blamed that for his coworker's fall."

Francesca laughed, but Maria didn't.

"Oh, that's rich. Of course Ray is angry. He can't arrest a ghost." But when Fraser didn't reply, she stopped laughing, looking surprised. "Do you believe what that man told you, Benton?" She shivered and started to move closer to him. Fraser picked up the cardigan sweater that had been left on the arm of the sofa, and offered it to Francesca while moving further away from her. She put it on with a sigh.

"Not precisely. However, I saw no harm in investigating the information. But Ray was unwilling to even discuss it. He told me to shut up." Fraser couldn't keep the pain out of his voice as he repeated Ray's short words. "I have lived among people who believe that spirits are present around us, everywhere. When Ray dropped me at the Consulate, I walked to the closest branch library and researched the history of that building.

"There was a murder in one of the apartments in 1872. The tenant was stabbed, and several of his neighbors were under investigation. When the police came to arrest one, a James Olcek, he threw himself out the window of his room. Mr. Olcek's room was on the tenth floor."

Francesca still looked skeptical, but Maria nodded. "You told this to Ray, before dinner?"

"Yes. I thought he should know what I'd learned. First he laughed, but when I continued the topic, Ray became angry. He called me -- well, Ray has always been rather free with his language, but I have never before believed that he meant any of the things he said."

But that wasn't really the problem, Fraser realized. Ray had seemed more frightened than angry, despite his denial of any belief in the supernatural. And his body language, his tone of voice -- all showed clearly that Ray had been striking out in a blind panic. It hurt Fraser to witness his distress.

Then, after everything he'd said to Fraser, Ray sat next to him in total silence for nearly two hours, while they both pretended to eat with the rest of the Vecchio family.

"He's an insensitive idiot, Benton. Ray's never had any imagination, and he doesn't understand that there can be more to life than just plodding around like he does." Francesca again moved closer to him, and Fraser once again carefully countered. "You're open to new experiences. I think that's wonderful. Ray doesn't know what he's talking about."

"Franny, you're the one who's shooting off her mouth."

"Oh, so if I don't have a man in my life I can't have an opinion? Ya know, Tony's not such a great catch, Maria--" Fraser had heard this argument too many times already, but Maria cut off his protest and Francesca's diatribe.

"It has nothing to do with you! You're just too young to remember what happened to Ray."

That silenced them both. Francesca looked confused, still wearing a pout.

Fraser asked, "What happened, Maria?"

She glanced around nervously, focusing on the steps down to the basement and the noisy family room, where the television was blaring and her children were loudly playing. "Let's go in the living room. I don't want the kids hearing any of this."

"But Ray could hear us," Francesca protested.

"Fine. The garage, then." She grabbed a jacket off a hook and led them outside, past Mrs. Vecchio's denuded vegetable garden and to a side door accessing the small building at the rear of their lot. All the Vecchio cars seemed to have permanent residence on the long driveway, making this garage more of a storage shed. It didn't even smell of motor oil, Fraser realized, helping Maria set up lawn chairs close together.

Maria seemed nervous, babbling as if either one of them knew what she was saying. "You were just a baby, Franny. Of course you don't remember how Pop hit him. He kept calling Ray a liar, and he wouldn't stop until Ray admitted he'd made it all up. But I never believed it was a lie..."

Fraser cleared his throat softly in the eerie silence left when Maria's words trailed off. "May I ask exactly what you remember, Maria? Can you begin with when this happened?"

"Sure. I... It started on my birthday. Maybe my tenth? Ray was seven or eight, I think. We were having a party at the house, and Ray came in the kitchen and told Ma Aunt Carmella was here. Ma was busy with putting out food, and she ignored him until he came back inside after we'd eaten. He told her again that Aunt Carmella was here for the party, but she wouldn't come in.

"Ma got real pale and she told Ray to go to his room. My friends were all pretty bored by then, so we followed him, and of course he didn't do as he was told. Ray went back outside, and stood under the tree talking to himself. When he came back toward the house, Andy called him stupid and Ray tried to push him away. Our cousin Katie fell and started crying, and Ma came out and found us all. Ray kept talking about Carmella, and pointing by the tree. Ma ... hollered at him."

There was a hushed awe in her tone which Fraser understood. Sophia Vecchio simply didn't yell at her children. She was naturally an exuberant person, but good natured no matter what chaos was happening in her home or her life. At such a young age, seeing her mother really angry would have made an indelible impression.

"I didn't understand any of it. But that night, I was sick and couldn't sleep. Too much chocolate cake, I guess. I've never liked chocolate since," she added, sounding surprised at making the connection. "I was sitting on the stairs, listening to Ma talk to Pop. She talked about Ray being different since he was born, the way he'd laugh and smile in his crib with no one around. How he never minded being left alone to amuse himself. Pop just laughed.

"But then she said something about Aunt Carmella, and I moved closer to listen. She said Carmella died when Ray was just a few months old, but then they were whispering and I couldn't hear them anymore. I fell asleep and probably would have forgotten all about it, but the next morning both of them were asking Ray a lot of questions at breakfast about the woman he saw."

"You're making this up!" Francesca accused. "Bringing us in here to tell ghost stories -- am I six again? Sheesh, Maria." She stood up as if she would leave, but she wasn't really angry. Not like Ray had been, full of fear and panic.

"I take it Ray described Aunt Carmella correctly?"

"Ma had a photo, one of those little black and white ones from somebody's wedding, with tinting. After Ray told them about her, Ma set it on the table in front of him. He just nodded and finished his cereal. But when he was gone, I asked who she was.

"Ma told me Carmella was her great-aunt. I said I didn't remember her, and she said that was because Carmella died the day Ray was christened. There was a big party at our house, with all the relatives, because Pop was so proud to have another boy. The house didn't hold everyone; there were tables in the back yard, and some cousins started playing records. Uncle Vito started dancing, and Carmella danced with him. Ma said they were so happy..."

"Carmella died in your back yard?" Fraser asked, and Francesca snorted.

"Sure, hundreds of people have died in this house," she said sarcastically, but Maria and Fraser didn't laugh.

"This is a very old home, Francesca. I'm sure more than one person has passed away here, over the years." Francesca looked appalled at the thought.

"Carmella had a heart attack that night. Ma didn't say she died here, but she wouldn't tell a little girl such a frightening thing, would she? She didn't want me afraid to sleep in our room at night."

Fraser watched the sisters stare at each other, his thoughts on Ray. Could his friend really be receptive to spiritual contact? It certainly sounded as if he had been, as a boy. And such contact continuing into adulthood might explain why Ray was always so loud and restless. Was Ray attempting to drown out things he didn't want to hear, and trying to escape what he didn't want to feel?

"Maria," he began, interrupting them quite rudely. Francesca looked startled, but Maria seemed to hear his unspoken question.

"I'm sorry, Benton. That's not the whole story, not yet. The worst came later.

"Ray was a little thing until he was 13 or so. That's when he became a butterball, but then he shot up and got taller than me, and the fat just faded away. This happened before then, but I don't remember exactly what year it was. You were maybe five or six, Franny," and Maria looked younger as she met her sister's eyes again. Francesca's forehead was crumpled with thought.

"I don't remember... Just that Pop hit Ray, all the time. Was it different then?"

"Yeah, it was. Ray and Eddie wanted to have a club, so they went looking for a place to meet. They wound up at the Freight Yard, where there were lots of abandoned buildings. Ray said you could leave your bike hidden in the Forest Preserve, and sneak in under the fence where the dirt was washed away."

Fraser tried to imagine it, from a child's point of view. Danger from the trains versus secrecy and freedom from parents, siblings, and bullies. The Freight Yard sounded perfect, to a twelve-year-old mind.

"They stayed away from the commuter tracks, and found an old shed near the woods, between the freight rails. They decided to fix it up, not anything you'd see from outside, but they took out old lawn chairs, and one of Pop's cigar boxes vanished along with a couple of cigars.

"Then one night Ray wasn't home in time for dinner. Ma was worried; she'd called Eddie's house but he'd been at the dentist that afternoon. No one knew where Ray was, and Ma even got Pop home from Flanagan's -- the bar -- before Ray turned up. He was crying, and his shirt was torn. There was blood on his clothes and hands. Ray told them a boy was hit by the train. He saw it happen."

"I don't believe this. Why haven't I ever heard this before?"

"Franny, you were just a little kid. No one would want to scare you. Besides, it goes on." Maria took a deep breath. "Ma called the police. Ray and Pop drove off with them, so Ray could show them where it happened.

"But when they came home later, Pop was furious. Ray couldn't find the boy -- the police had flashlights, and they got someone from the railroad out there, too. But there was no body. They kept asking Ray what happened, and finally the railroad man started laughing. He said Ray was repeating a story every kid in town knew, about a boy who got hit by the circus train back in the 20's."

"I've heard that story," Francesca whispered. "They tried to stop the train, but they killed him. A car fell over, and they say there are circus animals buried in the forest preserve, alongside the tracks."

"Yeah, that's the story. But Ray insisted he wasn't talking about that, it was a boy who got hit that day. But the way he described the kid, the place and the clothes, and how he tried to help him get his foot free -- it all matched the circus train story."

"I take it the police weren't happy about this," Fraser commented.

"Benton, Ray wanted to be a cop, even back then. He wouldn't have lied to the police."

"But they didn't know that."

"No, but Pop should have. The police tried to put a scare into Ray, telling him the next time he made a false report he'd go to jail. But there wasn't a next time. Pop made sure of that." Maria shivered at the memory, and Fraser felt he could hear Ray's voice, pleading and insisting that he wasn't lying, turning into shrieks as he was strapped.

"He couldn't sit for days. Pop made him go to school, but I don't know how he managed. Ray ate standing up that week."

Maria had begun to cry and Francesca joined her, looking very young. Fraser wondered if she'd pushed away most of her memories of childhood because of such incidents.

"Maria, you said there was blood on Ray -- how did they explain that?"

She looked surprised. "I don't think I ever heard anything. Ray wasn't hurt, he only had scratches on his arms..." Her voice trailed off. "What Pop did... Ray won't let anyone raise a hand to little Tony," Maria continued, her eyes far away. "Uncle Mario hit him, once. Ray threatened to throw him out of the house if he ever did it again."

"He told me that hitting a child doesn't teach them anything," Fraser began, but as he spoke the garage door was wrenched open, the hinges squeaking, and Francesca actually jumped in her chair with a tiny shriek.

Ray stepped inside and looked at the three of them, sitting in a circle like conspirators.

"Are you nuts? It's cold out here, dark, and you're sitting in the garage with no light, no heat -- what's the matter with you?"

"Ray, we're..." Maria began, but she looked into his face and trailed off without finishing. With a last look at Fraser, she stood and returned to the house, Francesca following her meekly.

"Benny, you ready to go home? I've got a very full wolf sleeping in the back of my car, waiting for you."

"Yes, Ray. I'm done here."

***

The Buick Riviera raced through the dark, light-streaked streets of Chicago, warmth coming from the heater that couldn't reach Fraser's heart.

"I don't suppose you wanna tell me what that was all about?"

"No, Ray, I don't believe I do."

A grunt was Ray's only response, and the silence resumed, broken only by Diefenbaker's grunts when Ray took a sharp turn. They pulled to a stop in front of Fraser's building at last. Ray looked tired, and as soon as Fraser thought it, Ray put both hands on the steering wheel, then rested his head on them, his face hidden by his arms.

"Would you like to come up for a cup of coffee, Ray?" Fraser cautiously asked.

Ray turned his head to the side, still resting on his gloved hands, and smiled at Fraser. A weight slid off him as he smiled back at his friend, reassured.

"Nah, no more java if I'm gonna sleep tonight. But thanks, Benny."

"You're very welcome, Ray. I'm ... sorry if I caused you any distress tonight."

"It wasn't your fault, Benny. I'm just overtired. Sorry. Welch's been on me about this case, and the 40 others on my desk. I was blowing off steam."

"Understood, Ray." They sat like that, the car humming, until Diefenbaker whined. Then Fraser exited the car with his wolf, and with a call of "goodnight" Ray drove away.

Fraser stood watching him leave until an impatient nose pushed at his hand.

"It's quite shameful for a wolf to want his bed so badly, you know." Fraser led the way inside and up the stairs.

***

When Ray picked up Fraser the next evening, he had a bag of sandwiches in the front seat.

"You got anyplace you gotta be tonight, Fraser?"

"No, Ray."

"I thought we'd head over to 12 South Fulton, spend some time there. Despite your boogey-man stories, I think there's someone living there." Ray pulled out into traffic and headed south on Michigan. "There's corned beef and turkey. Fur-face can have one, too." An appreciative whine from the back seat made Fraser smile into the bag as he examined the contents.

They parked a few blocks from the construction site, then walked over. Ray had a flashlight, the blanket from his trunk, and a thermos of coffee for the expedition, while Fraser carried the food. They padded up the stairwell to the tenth floor quietly. It was odd and pleasant to be quiet with Ray, to see him looking relaxed and sure of his purpose, intent on solving the mystery of this death.

The building was quite cold, there being no glass in the large window openings which had been cut into the south wall, evidently for a balcony and doors. But the cold didn't bother Fraser, who found it pleasant sitting with Ray on the blanket, eating and sharing the hot coffee, occasionally whispering a few words to each other. Fraser wondered at the affection he felt for Ray but couldn't express. Surely on a night like this, so comfortable and private, he should be able to find words to tell Ray what his friendship meant. But it remained unspoken as time passed and they both grew drowsy.

There was noise from the stairwell which snapped them both to attention, and Ray quickly shut off his flashlight. Steps approached, muffled voices and then two men joined them on the tenth floor, carrying lanterns. One, the taller, was wearing a tool belt and workman's clothing. The slighter man was more elegantly dressed.

"Harry must have hidden it in here." The bigger man sounded eager, anxious to please. "We just gotta open the service box." He jammed what appeared to be a heavy screwdriver into the lock as he spoke, and began applying pressure.

"If you hadn't pushed him before you had it, you fucking moron, we wouldn't still be searching every inch of this damn rathole." Despite his clothing, the voice was not cultured. He sounded uneducated and very angry. This was a dangerous man.

Fraser and Ray exchanged a look and began to move away from each other, getting in position to surround the men where they worked. Fraser knew Ray would want to observe what they were doing, then call for backup. Diefenbaker remained on the blanket, alert and silent.

Then Fraser's foot hit a loose board in the darkness. Both men immediately turned in his direction, and things happened very quickly. The smaller man's light revealed that he held a gun in his other hand. Fraser threw himself into a roll that took him behind a half-completed wall, not surprised to hear Ray struggling with the larger man as the first shot was fired. Then Diefenbaker was growling and the man with the gun was screaming, and Fraser launched himself into the struggle to finish securing the gunman. He'd just kicked the gun away from the man's bleeding arm when several things happened.

There was a cry from Ray; Diefenbaker howled and actually left the man he'd subdued, headed down the staircase at a run; and Ray's assailant screamed.

Fraser turned to see Ray's silhouette in one of the open windows, hunched over as if in pain. He quickly finished tying his assailant's hands with his lanyard, then ran to Ray.

Ray was staring out the window, at the street below. The streetlights showed a lump on the sidewalk, unmoving.

"Ray -- the man who was struggling with you fell?"

"Yeah. Benny, grab my cell phone and call this in, will ya?" With those words, Ray passed out in Fraser's arms.

***

By the time the ambulance arrived, the gunman's more serious injury received the most attention. Ray was sitting up on the blanket where Fraser had deposited him, still cradling his left arm, but able to answer questions from his fellow police.

Diefenbaker had not returned; the wolf was sitting outside the building waiting for them. The paramedic wanted to call Animal Control, but the officers from Ray's precinct dissuaded him.

It wasn't until they'd stopped the bleeding of the gunman's arm that one of the paramedics made it over to Ray.

"This is broken," he announced after a quick examination of Ray's arm. "How'd it happen?"

"I'm not sure. The guy turned and saw me coming at him. He ran right at me, pushing me into the wall. But there wasn't a wall; he was trying to push me out the window opening." Ray looked over at the window where the man had fallen. "I caught hold of the brick..." Fraser noted that Ray's left hand was bleeding, scraped by his desperate hold on the rough wall. "Then he hit my arm with something -- maybe the screwdriver he was using?"

"Nope, not that," Louis piped up cheerfully. "There was a hammer next to him on the sidewalk. That's probably what did it."

"Whatever," Ray answered crossly. "Hurt like a son of a bitch."

"Probably still does," the paramedic replied. "I'll give you an injection once we've tested you for a concussion, Detective." He continued fussing over Ray's hand and arm.

"Ray," Fraser began, stopping when those intense eyes flashed up at him. Fraser actually saw the frightened little boy in Ray, but he gathered the will to continue. "How did you avoid falling out the window, once he hit you and you lost your grip on the wall?"

"I don't know, Fraser. I guess I fell forward, and he just tripped over me." Ray's eyes were speaking far more eloquently, though Huey was writing down his official story. Fraser moved behind Ray as the paramedic radioed down for another stretcher and Huey asked a few more questions, still taking notes.

The hand prints on the shoulders of Ray's overcoat were smudged but still visible in the now brightly-lit room. Someone -- something, Fraser corrected himself -- had grabbed Ray and pulled him back into the room. Perhaps those same hands had pushed Ray's assailant out the window.

Fraser had no name for what it was that terrified Diefenbaker and was attuned to Ray. But it existed, and Fraser owed it a debt of gratitude for saving his best friend's life and giving him another chance. Ray was not only beloved to the spirits, and Fraser intended to make that clear to him.

Huey and Louis were laughing now, but Ray's eyes were still on Fraser. He nodded as his friend was settled on the stretcher, and Ray's grateful smile glowed in his heart. Then Ray looked at another part of the room, and Fraser knew he was thanking someone else now.

They might never again discuss this night, but Fraser hoped they would. He hoped to be there on the day that Ray found the courage to be still and silent, and welcome the spirits who loved him back into his life.

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