G-rated pre-slash, though I don't currently have plans to do any more writing in this universe. Just an odd little AU that popped up and demanded to be written.

Family and Friends
by Laura Mason

April, 1977

"No!" Irene's shriek cut through the voices and the sound of fists on flesh. "Poppa, no, please -- you said you wanted to talk to him!"

Ray saw her throw herself on the floor in front of her father just as a boot connected with his nose. His eyes closed with the pain as Frankie laughed.

"Kick him again, Jimmy."

Ray heard his rib crack with the blow and spit up blood as he was hauled to his feet. He didn't know why he'd been brought here tonight, but he felt pretty sure he wasn't leaving alive. The rage in Vincent Zuko's eyes had told him that before the first punch was thrown.

"Poppa, please. Please stop." Irene was crying now, clinging to her father's knees. Had someone seen him climb into her window? But that hadn't happened for over a year now -- surely Zuko justice wouldn't have waited so long.

Zuko ordered his men to leave. When they released him Ray almost collapsed. He took a few deep breaths while the goons filed out, softly closing the door behind them, and Frankie settled in to the ornate, plush chair to the left of the desk. The amusement was gone from his face now, and Ray saw only hatred in those eyes. They'd been friends, once, but now Frankie wanted him dead.

"You've dishonored my daughter, melma.

Ray's pain helped him stay quiet, rather than immediately denying it. Zuko didn't want to hear what he had to say; Ray was smart enough to know that. He threw a confused glance at Irene and saw guilt in her beautiful eyes.

"Do you deny it? She's carrying your worthless spawn." Zuko reached down and pulled her to her feet, then roughly shoved her forward. Ray managed to catch her, though he wasn't terribly steady on his feet. She was crying again, blushing and holding her belly protectively.

Ray knew then that it was true -- she really was pregnant. He'd seen his mother and his sister Maria both hold themselves that way. And he knew Irene was directly responsible for the beating he'd just taken. She'd claimed Ray was the father to protect Joey, and that meant that no matter how much she protested now, she'd known all along that her father would kill whoever was responsible.

Ray had been in love with Irene but she was two years younger than him, only a freshman, and so they'd never done more than some heavy petting while necking. Ray still loved her, he supposed, though she'd dumped him over the summer and moved on to Joey Falone.

Joey was a wise-ass with a string of conquests who bragged openly about all the virgins he'd deflowered. Ray had tried to warn Irene about him, back when she first started hanging around with Joey. She'd ignored him, no doubt thinking Ray was jealous enough to lie.

Now, holding Irene as she sobbed and still facing her enraged father, Ray knew there was only one chance for him. Ray did exactly what he'd have done if the lie were truth. He tenderly kissed Irene's bowed head and then pulled back to reverently touch her belly with his fingertips.

"I love her, Don Zuko. There's no way I can un-do what has been done, but if you'll give us your consent, I'll marry Irene and give this child my name, poor as it is. I swear to you that I will work hard for the rest of my life to provide for them both, and protect them, too."

He heard Irene's shocked gasp and Frankie's cry of "No!" None of it mattered. Ray kept his eyes on Zuko's face, knowing his life hung in the balance.

October 1994

Fraser had been warned, but the man who breezed into his hospital room didn't fit his idea of an organized crime "family" enforcer. Oh, he was dressed in a fine, expensive suit. But his man didn't ooze menace. He came beside the bed and smiled.

"Hi. You must be the Mountie. Ray Vecchio." He stuck out his hand, but then took Fraser's carefully, gently squeezing rather than shaking it so that there was no pain. His face was angular and rather homely, but the wide smile seemed genuine. It faltered when Fraser didn't smile back, but Vecchio immediately recovered his poise, gently releasing Fraser's hand and moving one step back.

"I'm here about the fire at 12700 Franklin. My brother-in-law owns that building, and we want to make sure -- but hey, first tell me how are you doing? The doctors don't talk about your condition, ya know."

"I'm recovering as well as can be expected. With therapy, I should be able to walk again, through there is some permanent nerve damage to my legs."

"Jeeze, I'm sorry to hear that." Oddly enough, Fraser believed him. "Frankie's usually very careful about maintenance in his buildings. The police report said the explosion was from a gas leak, though."

"Mr. Vecchio. Your brother-in-law is Frank Zuko?" Vecchio nodded. "Then you don't need to pretend. I live in a neighborhood that is well aware of Mr. Zuko's extensive influence. I won't cause any trouble, knowing -- as I'm sure you do -- that there was no gas leak. Francis Drake set a trap in his apartment and I was foolish enough to walk right into it."

"Hey, don't blame yourself. We know what a piece of scum Drake is," Vecchio began.

"A convenient one, I'm sure, for your family's operations."

Vecchio ignored the insult, no doubt used to such slurs on his character. "I heard you were tracking him for weeks Why? He's low-level dirt. I can't believe he's done anything that would make Canada send you here to find him."

"Mr. Drake is involved in the death of another Mountie."

"Ah. You guys are like the cops here, then. You'll do whatever it takes to get a cop-killer?" Fraser looked away, unhappy, and much to his dismay Vecchio noticed. "It's not official business, is it? That's why you went in without backup, without any local cops."

Vecchio paced in the ugly hospital room for a moment, jingling his keys. Then he turned back to Fraser with an exultant look. "The dead Mountie was your partner, right?"

"The "dead Mountie" was my father," he said shortly. Vecchio's face immediately changed, becoming almost comically apologetic.

"Hey, I'm sorry. That's rough." An impatient hand was pushed through his thinning hair. "My old man wasn't much, but I'm still glad he died in his sleep, ya know?"

"I'm afraid I don't know, Mr. Vecchio," Fraser began.

Vecchio interrupted him. "Call me Ray."

"No. I am a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I don't pretend to be chummy with criminals, nor to understand how they perceive the world." Fraser was glad he'd said it, though he expected angering this mobster would only lead to more trouble.

"Ah, I get it." Vecchio nodded, his striking eyes expressing only sadness.

Fraser almost felt guilty, until he reminded himself this man was a criminal, some kind of enforcer -- albeit an odd one -- who no doubt broke legs and exploited the poor and troubled citizens of Chicago.

"I understand how you feel, Constable Fraser. Whatever I am now, I was brought up right. My pop was a drunk, but he was honest and worked hard all his life. And my Ma, she's a real classy lady. So classy she hasn't spoken to me in seventeen years. So I get it, okay?

"But I've got a job to do, and believe it or not I wasn't sent here to threaten you into keeping quiet. Frankie's got people who are real good at that. I'm not one of 'em."

Fraser didn't speak in response, just stared at the man beside his bed with his best disinterested look.

"Now the Fire Marshal's report really does list the explosion as coming from a gas leak. Why didn't you tell them what you told me?"

"I wasn't in any shape to answer questions until this week. No one has spoken to me about the incident. Except you."

"They must have talked to neighbors in the building. I suppose someone might have smelled gas that night." Vecchio was jotting notes in a tiny notebook now. "I know you won't believe me, but we didn't pay off the inspector. Frankie really wants to know who's responsible. And he really does care that his tenants are safe."

"And that his investments aren't blown up," Fraser drily added. "Putting it that way, I almost believe you." He hated how prissy he sounded, like his grandmother in what Dad always called 'Queen Lizzie' mode.

But Vecchio only smiled down at him, a warm smile that seemed full of affection. "Yeah. So Drake's the one... He hit... I'm sorry, I mean to say he's the one who murdered your father?"

"Based on the very scant information I have, I believe so. The explosion would seem to confirm it." Vecchio sat beside his bed and Fraser explained the whole case to him, just as he had tried to do with the Chicago policeman who had the file on his father's death. But unlike Detective Gardino, Vecchio listened carefully, asked intelligent questions, and wrote down detailed notes.

When Fraser finished, Vecchio looked pensive for a few moments, remaining still though his foot jiggled nervously. Then he moved, rising and stretching a moment before turning back to the bed.

"Thank you for your help, Constable. I'm sorry this happened to you." He seemed totally sincere. "If there's any way I can help you..." He cut himself off. "If you think of anything you need, I hope you'll give me a call." He pressed a card into Fraser's hand with a silly grin and turned to leave.

But before Fraser could relax or even finish crumpling the card in his hand, Vecchio stopped. In the doorway stood Constable Gerrard, and the two men were eyeing each other until Fraser coughed.

"Constable Gerrard, let me introduce you to Ray Vecchio. He was interviewing me for insurance purposes," Fraser lied, blushing in shame. But Gerrard didn't notice; he was still holding Vecchio's eyes. Neither man moved to shake hands.

"Constable," Vecchio said, and now Fraser saw menace in him rather than charm.

"Mr. Vecchio. You work in insurance?"

"My family has an interest in a lot of businesses in this city," Ray said, showing his teeth in the same way Diefenbaker would. "Just making sure there's no trouble here."

"My feelings exactly," Gerrard said, smoothly breaking away from the other man's glare and coming toward Fraser. "Ben, how are you? The reports from your doctors aren't encouraging, you know. I've come to see about taking you home for proper medical treatment."

Fraser gave his full attention to his superior and didn't see Vecchio leave.

***

Drake was too stupid to leave town; Ray had known he'd be back in his neighborhood bar, drinking and playing pool. Drake was even too stupid to run from Ray, though he knew who owned the apartment building he'd so casually damaged.

"Frankie Drake."

"Ray -- uh, Mr. Vecchio," Drake added, looking at the two goombahs moving into position on either side of him.

"Come outside and talk," Ray invited, and turned his back, knowing Drake had no choice. It didn't bother Ray any more, wielding the power of the Zuko family. At least, not with someone like Drake. But it used to bother him, even when dealing with scum. Irene had always mocked him for his soft heart. Actually, she'd called it his soft head.

Irene had really come to hate him, no matter how Ray tried to be her friend. He smiled, thinking about the Mountie again. His whole attitude had amused Ray, only because it reminded him so vividly of Irene's prim, pissed-off presence that he'd been missing for -- what, ten years now? It had to be that time had mellowed the memory of her anger, if he actually missed it now. At the time, it had been enough to make him wish her father had just killed him.

Irene didn't want to marry Ray. What she wanted was an abortion, because a baby interfered with her plans to study in Paris and get away from the restrictions of life with her family. Ray was the perfect scapegoat for all her resentment, conveniently right there to be punished -- unlike Joey or the clinic doctor who'd betrayed her to her father, knowing the devoutly Catholic boss wouldn't allow an abortion. Irene turned on Ray with all the fury of a spoiled little girl who'd always gotten her own way before, and she didn't care that Ray's mother disowned him or that his dreams were over, too.

After a few months he finally realized how alone he'd be in his marriage, and Ray despaired. But that was when Frankie had somehow changed. Once the wedding was over he'd stopped trying to make Ray's life miserable, and when Irene stopped speaking to Ray, Frankie seemed to take more of an interest in him, inviting Ray to watch sports with him, or to talk about his day at work over a drink in the billiard room. Their friendship had died five years before, but it was very easy to fall back into the old pattern of joking and sharing. And Frankie never invited Ray to play basketball.

Irene's son was born, named for her father and not Ray's, which would have been traditional. Ray hoped that they'd be allowed to get their own house, but Zuko refused. Then Ray asked his father-in-law if he could take some classes to get his high school diploma. There was no response until after little Vinnie's christening, when Frank spoke to his father, arguing that Ray should be sent to night school.

"Irene shouldn't be married to some ignorant bum, pop," Frankie argued. "Let Ray finish school, and if he wants, let him take some college classes, too. It might come in handy some day, having a smart guy in the family." Ray listened to them discuss his future, amazed, and more of his pain lessened.

Ray was even more surprised when Zuko never interfered with his course of study at the community college he attended for the next few years. He studied political science and pre-law, just a class or two at a time, while Irene's boy grew out of diapers, toddling his way into Ray's heart even though he looked more like Joey than Irene. Or maybe because of it.

Vinnie was a sunny boy, healthy and happy. So it shouldn't have surprised them on his sixth birthday, when Vincent Senior called Ray and Irene into the study.

"Little Vinnie needs a brother or sister. No boy should grow up alone in a good Catholic family. Tell me you're not using birth control, Irene."

"No, Poppa. Never." It was the truth. There was no need for birth control when you'd never consummated your marriage.

"Then see a doctor. I want more grandchildren. Poor Frankie, only a daughter Marie died to give him. Give his bambino some more cousins to love."

Zuko's word was law. Irene slept with Ray for two weeks, every night so joyless Ray was relieved when she stopped coming to his bed.

"Don Vecchio," Drake began.

"Don't call me that," Ray snapped. "You're in deep shit, Drake. You killed a cop, and attempted to kill another one."

"A cop? What--"

"A Canadian cop is still a cop, Frankie. Do you think Gerrard won't help them find you?"

"He can't--" Drake began, then stopped, confusion on his ugly face. "How did you know about Gerrard?"

"I know because I recognize killers. He's one, a damn good one, and he'll take you out next. If you had any brains you'd have known that. He didn't need you to kill that guy, he needs you to take the fall."

The dawning anger on Drake's face showed Ray's words had gotten through. "Then I'll kill him first."

"How? Do you think he's sitting around with his head up his ass like you? He's expecting that -- it'll give him the perfect reason to whack you and be a hero." Ray turned away as if disgusted He had to play this right. "You've only got one way out of this alive, Frankie."

"What?"

"Turn yourself in -- confess it all, and get the death penalty off the table by testifying to convict Gerrard."

"You're crazy!" Drake shouted, then blanched, realizing who he'd just mouthed off to. "No one even suspects me!"

"That Mountie you tried to kill doesn't suspect you, Frankie -- he knows you did it. He's smart enough to realize you were paid -- but he'll still be after you the rest of your life. The guy you shot was his father."

"Yeah, I know," Drake murmured. "I could just finish him."

"Guess again. There's a police guard, and he's getting shipped back to Canada tomorrow," Ray lied. "Your only hope is screwing Gerrard before he screws you." Ray let him stew a few minutes before offering, "I can get Larry Stoner to represent you."

Drake looked at him then. "Why? I blew up Zuko's building, but you'd help me?"

"I want Gerrard off our streets. I want Canadian cops back in the Arctic Circle where they belong. We got enough cops in Chicago without them, and ours are under control, if you know what I mean."

Drake's stupid smile showed he bought it.

Ray placed the call to Stoner and drove Drake to the Seventh Precinct himself, accompanying Drake and Stoner inside, and waiting to the side as they spoke to the sergeant on duty. When he heard Drake naming Gerrard, Ray smiled and left.

He'd heard the respect in Fraser's voice, misplaced respect for a superior officer he thought was his ally. Ray wondered if Gerrard was a contemporary of Fraser's father, and he really wanted to know the details of the case, too. But he would settle for seeing what the papers printed, since Frankie didn't really have cops in his pocket at the Seventh. They had a truce of sorts, a way to share the neighborhood -- not that Drake needed to know that fact. The more power people thought Zuko wielded, the more peaceful everything seemed to remain.

Ray could remember a time when he hated that, and spent the drive home tormenting himself, trying to think of what he should have done differently.

Irene was four months pregnant when her father's health began failing. It took a few weeks for the tests to confirm that he had liver cancer. Ray thought that was when she went looking for an abortion, when she knew her father wasn't going to be alive to make her remain in their marriage. Ray saw her appointment book, later, and the various clinic names and numbers.

But even with Vincent Zuko dying, no one would give Irene what she wanted. She was five months along, and legitimate doctors felt it wasn't safe to have an abortion at that stage. The underground ones didn't dare risk it, because Zuko's ill-will meant death.

The day her father went into a coma, Irene threw herself down the grand front staircase. Ray knew she'd done it deliberately, though everyone thought it was an accident caused by the shock of the news. But he saw her diary, the hate she felt for him and his child. Irene deliberately killed Ray's daughter. And herself, because the internal bleeding just wouldn't stop. She lingered for days, the family alternating visits between her room and her father's. They died a few hours apart, and the family held their funerals together, burying them at Queen of Heaven in their private masoleum side by side.

Ray buried his little girl separately, outside in the beauty she'd never had a chance to see.

Frankie took over the family business, and Ray began to burn Irene's papers and plan for a new life with little Vinnie, somewhere far away. He hadn't finished school, but he could find a good job somewhere.

But two nights after the funeral, Frankie called him downstairs to the study where he now ruled. Ray was expecting the invitation to stay in the house, working for the family. What he wasn't expecting was how difficult it became to say no when Frankie appealed to him as a brother, as the only man he could trust, and promised that Ray would never be asked to do anything that could send him away from his son.

***

Fraser, who expected Gerrard to arrive today to effect his transfer to the Toronto hospital, instead faced Detective Gardino and his partner, as well as an officer of the RCMP from the Chicago consulate. What they told him made no sense at first.

"Constable Gerrard?"

"I'm afraid he's the one who hired Francis Drake to murder your father, Constable Fraser. We found a record of money transfers to an account established in your father's name, but the fingerprints on the signature card are Gerrard's. And his own bank account appears clean, but we found large quantities of cash in a safe-deposit box."

"He was cooperating with the power company?"

"For a dam project that is flooding the wilderness. Your father must have heard about the trouble from the native tribes," the Mountie explained. "Gerrard may have been planning to frame him at first, or attempting to gain his cooperation. But when that failed, he found Drake and hoped that the trail would be confusing enough to protect him."

Fraser nodded, though the details were still sketchy. At some point in the future he'd have to go over the case file, and read everything. But right now the shock was enough. His father's murderer -- murderers -- were going to be punished.

Fraser thanked the officers and relaxed back against his pillows as they prepared to leave the room. Gathering his coat, the tall black man -- Detective Huey? -- looked at the notes he was carrying and shook his head.

"I still don't understand how a piece of scum like Drake gets Larry Stoner as his attorney," he muttered. "I wouldn't think Drake could afford to pay for Stoner's coffee."

Gardino laughed. "Zuko's paying for it. Andy told me Vecchio was there when they came in..."

Their voices trailed off down the hallway, leaving a very perturbed Fraser in his hospital bed.

Ray Vecchio had been involved in this? How on earth --

The next day, Fraser surprised his therapist with the intensity of his workout. He had a reason to be up and out of the hospital now, beyond going home to Canada.

***

Three weeks later Fraser walked -- well, limped -- out of the hospital. He was still on medical leave from his duties, and the RCMP had not yet informed him of his next assignment. His doctors had not cleared him for resuming a full range of activities, and his physical therapist had recommended that he be posted where he could receive regular treatment for at least the next six months. He was unable to argue with their assessment of his condition; while he was pleased to be leaving the hospital, he knew he was not at one hundred percent.

He hailed a cab and gave the driver the address on the crumpled, dirty card he still carried in his breast pocket. He was a little surprised to be taken to a residential neighborhood just north of the hospital, where the streets were lined with bungalows. But then they turned a corner, and he saw the large house that took up an entire block by itself. There was a boy playing handball against the garage door, and a familiar figure sitting on the concrete side porch steps watching.

He paid off the cabbie and headed toward Ray Vecchio, ignoring the thugs in suits standing by the door with their hands quite obviously resting on guns under their jackets.

Then Vecchio looked up, saw him, and again that goofy smile lit up his face. "Constable Fraser!" He stood and moved quickly to Fraser's side, extending a hand to him. Fraser took it and returned a smile.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Vecchio."

"Ah, I thought I told you to call me Ray. Hey, Vinnie, come over here a second. I'd like you to meet my son, Vincent Vecchio. Vinnie, this is Constable Fraser, the Mountie I told you about."

The boy shook hands politely. "Pleasure to meet you, sir. I hope you're recovering from your injury?" He was a good-looking boy, and it was quite apparent his father had raised him well.

"Thank you kindly, Vincent. I'm doing very well," Fraser replied.

"Glad to hear it. If you'll both excuse me?" And the boy -- young man, really -- headed back to his game.

"You have a fine son, Ray," Fraser said softly.

"Thank you. You know a father loves to hear that, Constable."

"Err. Perhaps I wasn't polite enough to say this at our last meeting, Ray, but I hope you'll call me Benton."

"Benton? Is that a Canadian name?" It was obvious the man was joking, so Fraser smiled without replying. "OK, you're in Chicago now, so we're gonna call you Benny here. So no one feels they have to beat you up for being so foreign, ya know?"

Before he knew quite how it had happened Fraser found himself in a cozy kitchen nook, drinking tea while Vecchio sipped coffee across the table from him. They talked for more than two hours, discussing everything from the death of Ray's wife to Fraser's experiences at the training academy. It was surprisingly easy to talk to Vecchio, and he was well-read and had a wicked sense of humor which he wielded rather gently.

But Fraser still hadn't asked the question that brought him here. He made an effort to get the conversation on track. "Ray, I ..."

"Okay, you came here for a reason, I know that. It's not like you want to be friends with Frank Zuko's brother-in-law."

"Yes. I mean, no. I mean, there is a reason. But ..."

"Aw, I'm sorry, Benny. I'm picking on you, and not giving you a chance. What's wrong? Do you need help with something?" And those eyes were so kind that Fraser didn't have to know the answers to his questions before making the plunge.

"I do want to be your friend, Ray, though I don't imagine I'll be in Chicago much longer. I'm just continuing therapy until the RCMP decides where I'll be posted."

"Ray. Who's this?" The cold voice from the doorway startled them both.

"Frankie." Vecchio stood up as a shorter man stepped into their nook. "Constable Fraser, this is my brother-in-law, Frank Zuko." Fraser rose and nodded to Zuko. "The Constable used to live at 12700 Franklin, in our building that had that gas leak. You remember."

Zuko didn't extend a hand, for which Fraser was very grateful. Here was a very different man, one who looked every inch the mobster-thug, and he had no desire to make any pretense of cordiality. Zuko's cold eyes were appraising, looking Fraser up and down, then dismissing him abruptly. "Ray, I'm gonna need to go over those financial reports with you tonight."

"No problem. Everything's ready. What time is good for you?"

"Half an hour? We can get started before dinner."

"Sure thing." Zuko left the room, and Fraser felt as if he could breathe again. Vecchio looked over at him with a sheepish smile. "Frankie isn't used to me having callers. Most people who come here go in the front door to see him."

"I can't imagine that's true. I'm certain you have many friends in this neighborhood, Ray."

"Ah, no, not really," Ray said, blushing charmingly. "Everybody's a little too polite to people who live in this house."

"Well, that's a shame. And it doesn't affect what I said, Ray. I see in you a man who would never take advantage of being in a position of power, over friends or strangers."

Vecchio seemed surprisingly uncomfortable at the compliment, but he smiled and Fraser smiled back, knowing he'd found a friend for life.

 

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