This is set post-Flashback in the continuing Season In My Mind. Of course I think it's Fraser/Vecchio slash (I think the aired eps are F/V slash), but it's all unrequited G-rated stuff here. Thanks to Jenny for the beautiful lyrics, which follow the story.

The Way Home
by Laura Mason

No, 'serendipity' wouldn't do. Was there a single word to express an unfortunate coincidence? Fraser thought there was, but he was too tired to remember it now. But he had to keep moving while there was still light, so he forced his eyes to keep sweeping the road, searching for any trace of Ray.

They'd just spent three days and two night in Springfield, Illinois, where Ray represented the 27th at a conference on the latest electronic surveillance equipment and the legally acceptable procedures for using them. Fraser came along to visit the Lincoln sites when Ray offered to share his "free" room with the Mountie.

"This Hilton has cable and a pool and room service -- a real hotel, Fraser, not a fleabag. I'll get a room with two double beds, we can share. You can do the history thing while I'm at the conference. And we can get together for meals."

So they'd gone downstate, Diefenbaker left at the Vecchio home where he was no doubt enjoying overeating and being petted and spoiled by Ray's nephew and nieces. Now, of course, Fraser wished they'd brought Diefenbaker, despite the long hours he'd have been cooped up. The wolf might have done a better job of protecting Ray. But no, Diefenbaker might have been seriously injured himself, further distracting Fraser when he needed to act quickly.

Fraser was rambling, his thoughts circling back in time. But he needed to stay focused; Ray needed him. Perhaps as much as Fraser needed Ray.

They'd been well off the main highway this morning, driving through Shirley, Illinois in search of the Funk's Grove maple syrup shop. Ray's mother had requested the detour before they ever left Chicago, and Fraser had to admit a longing for some maple candy in his own heart as well. It was a rare treat, one of those things Grandmother thought should be avoided, though she allowed maple sugar to be more wholesome than chocolate. Perhaps Fraser could also purchase a small bottle of syrup for his breakfasts -- well, dinners, since he often settled for griddlecakes when he couldn't get to the grocery store.

It should have been an innocent side trip, barely lengthening their trip back to Chicago. Not a disaster. Fraser peered at the roadside. Was that an exit ahead? Centralia. A large town for this area; it would be easy to blend in there for a night. Acting strictly on a hunch, Fraser turned the bike to the exit ramp and slowed his speed appropriately. After all, it was only instinct that had sent him off the Interstate highway and onto the less-traveled Highway 51 hours earlier. Instinct, or a belief that he could find Ray through some sixth sense, no matter where Ray was taken.

When he and Ray stopped for a late breakfast at the Dixie truck stop in MacLean they'd first heard the news. A Department of Corrections van transporting prisoners between the Sheridan and Logan correctional facilities had collided with a truck on the highway. State police secured two of the prisoners while assisting the injured Correctional Officers. But a third prisoner was at large.

They'd heard the news but not given it much thought. At least, Fraser hadn't given it much thought. They were many miles from the crash site and had more pleasant things to think about. Going home, for one. That phrase popping into Fraser's head meant he spent the next hour on the road pondering when he'd gone from being a lonely stranger to having Chicago be "home" in his mind.

They exited the highway at Shirley and followed a winding narrow road between the trees that until they reached Funk's Grove. Fraser opened his window as they slowly followed the maple-lined driveway, smelling the air and enjoying the brisk March breeze. Ray didn't even complain, though it was cold. They finally pulled up at the tiny shop built in a garage. There were other cars parked there, and as they exited the Riviera Fraser saw the larger house further ahead where the owners lived.

The tiny shop was full of customers. Two men examining Route 66 memorabilia were speaking German. A young woman was buying a microwave-safe warming pitcher and a large bottle of syrup while her children tried to wheedle her into including candy in the purchase. Ray joined the line awaiting the lone saleswoman's attention while Fraser browsed the cookbooks and maps.

"Benny? You want some of this maple candy?" It never ceased to amaze him how Ray could read his mind. He seemed to know what Fraser wanted and needed. Maybe that explained why he'd been brought along on this trip, and why Ray was always there at his side every day. Fraser always needed Ray.

"Thank you, Ray. That would be lovely." Ray had multiple bags in his arms when they left, holding two gallon jugs of syrup, one of the warming pitchers, boxes of the maple candies for the children, and an Old Route 66 magnet for Tony's collection. Fraser carried a quart bottle of syrup for himself, and a small bag of candy. They stowed their purchases in the trunk, careful to wrap the bottles so they wouldn't hit each other and bracing them with luggage so they wouldn't roll or break.

Fraser slowed the motorcycle for a stoplight, eyes sweeping the landscape to familiarize himself with the landmarks. He needed a clue, an idea. But all he could see was that moment in Funk's Grove.

Ray's elegant hands took Fraser's purchase, then removed the scarf from Ray's own neck to wrap the bottle. Ray's breath was showing in the cool March air as he closed the trunk and smiled at Fraser.

"Let's stop back in Shirley and get some coffee." He'd agree to anything Ray suggested with that carefree smile.

"Fine, Ray."

Should he have known, somehow, to say no? To insist that they get back on the interstate headed north instead? But he hadn't known they were headed for trouble.

The diner in Shirley was quaint, a delight compared to the strip-mall-sameness of so much of Illinois. Fraser didn't drink coffee, as Ray well knew, so as Ray ordered a carry-out coffee for himself, the Mountie studied the menu and ordered a bottle of brown creme soda to go. While they stood waiting, the radio behind the counter reported again on the escaped prisoner, suspected to be armed with the guards' tazers. They were halfway out the door when the announcer said the prisoner's name -- Charles Carver.

Ray's immediate distress was mitigated by two quick calls on the pay phone at the door of the diner. The 27th had already been notified and assured him that a squad car was already at his house. A call to the family calmed him even more; everyone was home and accounted for. With assurances that he'd be home in a few hours, Ray hung up.

"I'm glad you're with me, Benny. I'd be going crazy trying to make sure you were okay. I wish you'd get a phone."

"I know, Ray. I have considered it more in the last year. Perhaps a cellular phone would be a good investment." It was the truth, he had been pricing the phones for some time now. But they seemed expensive when Fraser was usually with Ray, who carried a phone that was always at his disposal.

"You're finally joining the 20th century, and you only waited until it's almost over to start," Ray replied with a smile, leading the way back to the Riviera. That distinctive, damningly obvious car. Of course Carver had seen it, and of course he would stop to investigate.

Fraser was now aimlessly sweeping the streets of Centralia, hoping for inspiration or divine guidance. The State Police were concentrating to the north, he knew, believing that Carver would continue toward Chicago. It was easy to hide in a big city. But Fraser felt in his bones that Carver had only been headed north for one purpose: to get revenge. Now that he'd chanced upon Ray Vecchio, Carver wouldn't be going to Chicago.

As they exited the diner there was a motorcycle parked right next to the Riviera, even though Ray, as usual, had parked well away from other cars. It was illogical and endearing that Ray was willing to risk his car in all kinds of police situations, even using it to block gunshots, but he wouldn't park the Riviera next to other cars. But even though they both saw the motorcycle, neither of them stopped talking and laughing. Neither of them saw Carver approaching.

Carver hit Fraser first, knocking him to his knees, stunned and disoriented for the moment. He didn't even cry out. He wasn't unconscious, though; he vividly remembered Carver attacking Ray, Ray's body spasming, his cry as he fell. By the time Fraser stumbled back to his feet, Carver had dropped the guard's tazer and instead had a gun at Ray's head -- the detective's own back-up gun from the ankle holster he always wore.

"Stay back, Constable. Don't do anything foolish." He could still see Carver's satisfied smile and the rage in Ray's face, anger at Carver and at himself for being caught unawares. "This must be my lucky day." Fraser noted the details of Carver's clothing -- prison jumper covered by jeans and a leather jacket, the helmet on his head. The shackles still on, but the chains neatly cut off. The accident hadn't been an accident at all, as they should have known since hearing Carver was involved. It had been carefully planned and he'd had accomplices.

Carver's free hand was touching Ray's body, roaming, and Fraser felt a growl forming in the back of his throat. Then Carver found what he'd been seeking, the car keys, and he stopped pawing at the detective. Instead Carver forced Ray into the rear seat of the Riviera, on the driver's side, the gun still too close for Fraser to risk making any move. Once Ray was seated Carver immediately struck him on the left temple with the gun butt. Fraser was moving even as Ray slumped over, but he was too late. Carver's shot was wild but effective, making him dive and roll, and by the time Fraser was back on his feet, the Riviera was already pulling away.

Carver's motorcycle was still there and Fraser quickly stripped the starter wires to get it running. Five minutes at the most. But five minutes is a long time to make up. He'd seen their direction as they left the diner's parking lot. He followed, but had to stop to call the State Police and fill the cycle's almost empty fuel tank. If Carver hadn't been low on fuel, if they hadn't stopped for coffee. If, if...

Fraser turned down Bodie Road in Centralia, headed toward a small, cheap motel sign a block ahead. It was too dark to continue; he needed a place to stay. Fortunately he had some U.S. greenbacks in his hat, since Ray had bought their meal today and even paid for his syrup purchase. Fraser was cold and exhausted, and perhaps he should be checked for a concussion. He must have hit his head when Carver attacked them. Surely his muddled thinking wasn't normal, not even under stress. After all, he'd been trained to handle stress as a Mounted Policeman.

But with Ray in danger, he couldn't seem to concentrate. To lose Ray forever would kill him. Which was why he'd been frantic when he saw Ray in the ditch just as he was re-entering the Interstate. He pulled the motorcycle over, but it wasn't Ray's body lying there, just his discarded overcoat. Carver had evidently stopped, no doubt to restrain Ray. Perhaps Ray had been regaining consciousness already? That would be a good sign, but Fraser couldn't be sure of such a hopeful scenario.

Ray's wallet was in the coat pocket -- his friend had no identification, no money. If he somehow managed to escape, he would have nothing. And he'd be cold in that old car with its old heater without a coat. Ray hated the cold. Somehow Fraser was angrier at Carver for making Ray be cold than anything else... He'd carefully stowed Ray's coat on the motorcycle with him, so his friend could be warm again soon.

Now Fraser pulled into the motel and arranged for a room. He used the pay phone in the lobby to call the State Police, then to call the 27th collect and see if they had any news. He couldn't face calling the Vecchio home. He'd failed to protect Ray yet again. How many times would Ray's family have to forgive him for endangering their son, for dragging him on dangerous adventures, for not being fast enough or careful enough to prevent this kidnaping?

They always did forgive him, though, just as Ray always forgave him. Ray might not forget -- he kept a count of how many times their lives had been at risk, for heaven's sake. But Ray's continued friendship was proof that he forgave Fraser all his failures.

He was so tired, but Fraser couldn't go to his room -- if he got near a bed he'd collapse without bothering to eat. He needed food to function efficiently. So Fraser forced himself to return to the clerk's desk and ask for directions to the nearest restaurant once he finished his calls. The clerk sent him across the street and down the block, and the walk felt good after so many hours on the motorcycle, cramped and cold.

One hour later he paid for his soup and sandwich and headed back to the motel. Room 63. The rooms on the front of the building were numbered 1-40, so he headed to the rear. And there it was, big and green and in his face -- Ray's Riviera.

Carver was here, resting, just as Fraser had planned to do. Ready to steal a different car in the morning and leave Ray's car here, out of sight from the main road, where it might not have been found for days. Fraser stood for half a minute, thoughts rushing through his head. Then he walked calmly back to the manager's office, ignoring his inclination to do something himself, right now. Instead he called the Illinois State Police yet again, giving them the information and his location. Then, disobeying their instructions to him, he walked back to Ray's car.

Fraser stopped when he reached the Riviera, then carefully placed his hands on the car, took a deep breath and peered inside the rear window. Ray wasn't there, which seemed wrong. He'd somehow been convinced Ray would be right there, waiting for him to catch up to them. Waiting for rescue. Though usually Ray was the one rescuing him.

Fraser's mind flashed images of Ray's cold, still body lying in the woods somewhere along the highway. He breathed deeply again and pushed them aside. Carver wouldn't simply kill Ray outright. That was no revenge, not when he'd enjoyed tormenting Ray so much. Carver would have a plan.

Fraser turned from the Riviera and walked back to the motorcycle, where he gathered Ray's coat. He folded it neatly over his arm and kept it with him as he walked back to the motel office.

He was waiting there minutes later when the State Police arrived in full force, and he introduced himself to the senior officer as he watched their squads swarm the parking lot quickly and quietly. They had Carver's photo, which the desk clerk recognized, and quickly had his room number and a second key for that room. Then they spent a few minutes more examining the layout of the rooms, even visiting an unoccupied room to see the typical furnishings.

Fraser bit his tongue and tried to keep out of the way, to let the officers do their jobs properly. He didn't want it rushed or bungled; Ray's life was at stake. But every minute hurt him. He stroked the fabric of Ray's coat and waited.

Half an hour later their plan was ready. They had reports from the roof and from an officer with night vision binoculars in a house across from the motel, and they had officers in the rooms on either side of Carver. The men in the room east of him turned the room television on full blast. Five minutes later, at a signal from the commander, the men on the west pounded the wall to Carver's room. One minute later, they had the desk clerk call Carver.

When Carver picked up the phone, the team moved. The window smashed, the door swung open, both filled with well protected officers carrying guns. Guns that were all trained directly on Carver where he stood. They had him restrained in under a minute, and the commander and Fraser were on their way to the room.

The commander's radio crackled. "Lieutenant, there's no one here."

"Repeat, please."

"We have the suspect in custody, but there's no one else in here, sir." They ran the rest of the way to the room, where it was quite obvious the officers were correct. There was no place to hide a man; Ray was not there.

"Carver, where is the detective?" the commander asked, but Carver ignored him.

"Constable Fraser. I should have known. Will this endless persecution never stop? What am I accused of now, except being innocent and believing that Fate intervened to free me from unjust imprisonment?"

Fraser blocked out his words as the monolog continued, knowing Carver would tell them nothing. Where could Ray be? Suddenly Fraser understood he'd been right all along. "Did you search him? Where are the car keys?" He rudely grabbed Ray's keys out of the officer's hand without a word of thanks and rushed out to the Riviera. His hand was shaking as he put the key in the trunk.

Ray was there, in the trunk, unconscious, his hands and legs tied together. Fraser reached for him and immediately there were other hands there, assisting him as he tried to pull his friend out. Paramedics and evidence techs jockeyed for position, as the ambulance they'd had waiting pulled up beside the car. All Fraser really noticed was that Ray was alive, his skin clammy and cold to the touch.

When they moved Ray to a gurney and loaded him into the ambulance, Fraser stood there in a daze, his relief and exhaustion combining so that he had to lock his knees to stay upright. One of the paramedics noticed his trembling and took pity on him, and Fraser wound up loaded in the ambulance alongside Ray, being driven to the hospital.

Fraser was examined but not admitted. The hospital staff made a fuss over him, the heroic Mountie who'd chased down the escaped convict and rescued his partner. Fraser shamelessly played it up, so that when Ray was put in a private room there was a recliner next to the bed, and an extra blanket and pillow. The nurse smiled at Fraser as she showed him in.

"We'll just need to keep him overnight. He has a concussion but he regained consciousness while we were treating him." She adjusted the blankets on Ray as she went on. "Visiting hours are over, but we know you don't want to stay at the motel. Make yourself comfortable here. We'll be waking him every few hours."

Fraser nodded gratefully and settled himself close to Ray. There was a drip and a heart monitor, but other than the green and purple bruising on the side of his face, Ray looked normal. Not that Fraser had seen him asleep often; he tended to think of Ray in action, messing with the toys on his desk, jingling his keys, moving with that jittery grace that was uniquely his. Even so, he'd seen Ray in hospital beds before.

Fraser sank into the chair, covered himself with the blanket, and tried to relax. But he couldn't fall asleep until he sat forward, his head leaning on Ray's bed, his hand covering Ray's.

He woke up to daylight in his eyes and the sensation of a hand stroking his head gently. A well-known, much-loved voice muttered softly. "This pelt doesn't a substitute for a helmet, Fraser."

"Ray!" He lifted his head, overjoyed, almost hitting Ray in the nose with the sudden movement.

"You have lines on your face, Fraser." Ray was sitting up, alert, looking like himself again. He had a glass of water in his free hand, and Ray took a sip before continuing. "The nurse told me you found me, saved my life. And that Carver is back in jail."

"I had a hunch, Ray. I was lucky."

"No, Benny, it sounds like I was lucky. Go back to sleep, everything will be all right now." Ray's hand was on his shoulder; Ray always seemed able to touch him without embarrassment. Fraser loved that.

"It's good to be home, Ray." Fraser loved Ray, period. He leaned forward again and closed his eyes, which somehow helped keep the words inside his mouth.

"Benny, I think you're really overtired. I'm the one who was dragged off and kidnaped, not you. And I hate to tell you this, but we're still about 500 miles from Chicago. And God only knows how far from Tutoyutuk."

"Yes, Ray." But Fraser had meant exactly what he said -- Ray was his home, and it was wonderful to be home at last.

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You're My Home - Billy Joel

When you look into my eyes
And you see the crazy gypsy in my soul
It always comes as a surprise
When I feel my withered roots begin to grow
Well I never had a place that I could call my very own
That's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home
When you touch my weary head
And you tell me everything will be all right
You say, "Use my body for your bed
And my love will keep you warm throughout the night"
Well I'll never be a stranger and I'll never be alone
Whenever we're together, that's my home
Home can be the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Indiana's early morning dew
High up in the hills of California
Home is just another word for you
Well I never had a place that I could call my very own
That's all right, my love, 'cause you're my home
If I travel all my life
And I never get to stop and settle down
Long as I have you by my side
There's a roof above and good walls all around
You're my castle, you're my cabin and my instant pleasure dome
I need you in my house 'cause you're my home.
You're my home.