Author's Note: Written for the DS_Flashfiction "No Power" challenge. Betaed by the splendiferous Terri!
Thirty-five years on the force and I only know two things for sure: never let your guard down, and no good deed goes unpunished. It had been an otherwise perfect bust: fourteen weeks of planning had given us twelve of Chicago's worst gang-bangers spread-eagled against a chain link fence on the south side, their fingers angrily curled around the mesh. For once, we had enough officers on the scene. For once, everybody was armed properly. Even the goddamned communications system was up and running, and I could see the strut in Kowalski's step as he came over to where I was standing. He'd been point man on this, so I guessed he deserved a little credit. Me, I'd come out there to take credit for him.
"No media," Kowalski said before turning and spitting into the street. "Guess they only come out to watch us fuck up."
"Well, tell 'em to wait five minutes," I muttered, and Kowalski grinned at me.
Now I wonder if I maybe cursed the bust, if I brought what happened down upon our heads.
At the moment, though, all I saw was an orderly arrest, each suspect neatly handcuffed and mirandized before being escorted into the prisoner van. Beyond the circle of black and whites, a crowd had gathered— neighborhood women, it looked like—and Fraser had gone over to talk to them. He was better than any departmental rep we had, and he often made us sound so good that we didn't recognize us, which sometimes made us act better than we might have otherwise. More than that, no CPD rep ever bothered explaining things to the women; they just said the usual: "Please, go back to your homes," or "Contact the 27th precinct for more information," but that was about it. Fraser's riffs were a lot more informative: "Ma'am, your husband has been arrested on suspicion of possessing controlled substances with intention to distribute," or "He's on his way to Central Booking, but I'm sure he would appreciate a change of clothes and a sandwich in a couple of hours." "Miss," I'd heard Fraser say once, "your gentleman friend has been arrested on suspicion of breaking and entering," and the look on the lady's face— gentleman friend?!—had to be seen to be believed. She had walked away like they all did: confused, bemused, but very grateful, since Fraser'd told her how to contact a lawyer or raise bail money or, hell, exactly where Central Booking was.
"Everything's ready-freddie on the other end, too," Kowalski said; he had also turned to watch the gang-bangers get processed. Behind them, the crowd that Fraser'd been addressing suddenly dispersed. "Judge Roberts is expecting us later this afternoon, and we've got a dozen legal aid lawyers on standby." Fraser was walking away from the now-vanished crowd, and if Kowalski's step had been jaunty, Fraser's was leaden; for Fraser, all crime was an occasion for social mourning. "Nobody's gonna be able to say this wasn't one hundred percent by the book," Kowalski added, frowning as Fraser suddenly waved at him, gestured toward Front Street, and then began slowly loping off in that direction. "What the hell is he—anyway, you're gonna be able to teach classes, write textbooks—" Kowalski stopped and watched Fraser walk away, a bright spot of color against the gray city streets.
"Where's the good Constable going?" I asked.
"Like I know. You ask me like I know that. Anyway, I—Fraser and me—we got every warrant signed, dotted, and—" Kowalski stopped again, and this time I could see his mind working. He looked from the site of Fraser's pow-wow with the drug widows to the place where Fraser had only just turned the corner onto Front Street. Kowalski said, slowly, "Hang on. I'll be right back," and then added, quickly, "Stay near your radio," and then he was running, past the crime van and the uniformed officers, away from the crime scene, hightailing it after Fraser.
Half a minute later, the radio crackled and Kowalski said, "Lieu, bring the car around, now, now," and I knew Kowalski well enough to know that was his "situation fucked up beyond all recognition" voice, and that meant no asking stupid questions. I turned and commandeered the car nearest to me—a black department-issue Chevy that had been driven to the scene by some guy I barely recognized from the S.A.'s office. He cried out, "Hey! Wait! That's my car," but the thing about working a situation that was totally fubar was that time was of the goddamned essence, so I ignored him, started the engine, and floored it.
I took the Front Street corner on two wheels and spotted Kowalski instantly, halfway down the block and kneeling on the concrete sidewalk over—god—Benton Fraser. I pulled up beside them with a screech of tires, but before I could even find the unfamiliar door handle, Kowalski had flung open the back door and had physically hauled Fraser onto the seat. I turned to look over the bench seat and saw that Fraser was white.
"Drive," Kowalski said, half-crawling on top of Fraser and slamming the door shut. "Cook County Hospital," and I didn't need to be told twice; I shoved the car into drive and put the pedal to the metal.
"Fraser," Kowalski said in a low, urgent voice, "you stupid bastard—"
"It—isn't anything." Fraser was trying to sound normal, but it was taking obvious effort.
I grabbed the radio off the dashboard and steered the Chevy with my other hand. "What is it?" I called over my shoulder.
"Knife wound," Kowalski said shortly. "Lower left side, just below the ribcage."
I was relaying this to Cook County's emergency room and giving them our actual ETA, but I heard Fraser say, "Hardly a knife, Ray. It was tiny, barely more than a toy—"
"Why the hell are you protecting her?" Kowalski demanded, and suddenly I was right there with him: of course, one of the drug widows hadn't liked the news, so she'd stabbed the messenger. Fraser must have been protecting her out of some strange sense of chivalry. "I swear to God, Fraser: give her up or I will go back there and take the whole goddamned lot of them into custody. I will drag them from their homes and kids, Fraser, and cram them all into a tiny cell with a broken toilet, and lose all the paperwork, and then take an emergency 72 hour leave, which is my right by God as a dues-paying member of the CPDU. I will be every kind of cop you hate, Fraser," and God, I had chills, Kowalski was that good, and I could see why he got the results he got during interrogations.
But Fraser stopped him with a word: a single, endlessly tired sigh. "Ray..."
And then Kowalski was muttering low, obscene sounds. "Don't you pass out on me. Don't you fucking dare," and I took a hard right turn into the driveway of the CCH emergency room, and even before I'd brought the car fully to a stop, the back doors were being flung open.
There were green-suited orderlies everywhere, and I heard a woman say, "Sir, it's all right, we'll take care of him," and Kowalski said, "Yeah," and the woman said, "Let us take him. You'll have to let go of him," and Kowalski said, "Yeah," and I turned and saw his face and it was strangely blank, like he was trying to remember how to use the muscles in his arms. Fraser, unconscious, was sprawled half-in and half-out of the car, and the orderlies were trying to move him out, onto a gurney, except Kowalski was kind of clutching him, and he didn't seem to remember how to let go. "Yeah," Kowalski said again, jerking a little before actually managing to relax his grip. "Okay," and a moment later, Fraser landed on the gurney with a thump. The last glimpse I had as they wheeled the gurney away was of a single, dark brown boot.
Kowalski was standing on the driveway, body turned toward the hospital entrance: I couldn't see his face from the driver's seat. I didn't want to leave him, but the car was blocking the emergency room doors, so I put on my most authoritative voice and called out, "Kowalski! Get in the car!"
I expected an argument, or to have to ask more than once, but Kowalski obediently got in the back seat and pulled the door shut. He was listening, but he wasn't quite there. Good enough, though, and I flicked the car's locks again, not that Kowalski noticed: he was somewhere very far away.
I parked the car, then turned to Kowalski and said, quietly, "You want me to put out an APB?" For a moment, I thought he didn't hear, but then he shook his head slowly and said, "No. We don't even have a description. I was just playing a hunch, is all." He frowned thoughtfully and slowly rubbed a thumb over his lip. "Something doesn't fit, though. Fraser's all with the courtesy, but even he's not..." He trailed off, mind obviously working the problem, apparently completely unaware of being in the back seat of a car.
"Come on," I said, and opened my own door. "Let's go find out what's happening," and after a moment, he got out and followed me back to the hospital.
They were prepping Fraser for surgery, and while they had guessed from the funny uniform that he was somebody, I threw my weight around and made sure that they knew he was law-enforcement, a cop, one of us. Kowalski had drifted to the far side of the waiting room, and just stood there, facing the wall. It was like getting Fraser here had taken everything he had, and now he was weirdly spent, an empty gun. That surprised me, because in my head Kowalski was a live wire, endlessly energetic, hissing and spitting with juice—but suddenly, I looked at his thin, still frame and thought of ASA Kowalski in her power suits and Constable Fraser in his fire-engine reds, and saw Ray Kowalski differently: as an engine needing a power source, now unplugged.
Right then, I didn't know who I was more worried about: Benton Fraser bleeding out somewhere, or Ray Kowalski losing his juice. I sat down slowly in one of the waiting room's molded white chairs, and a minute or so later, Kowalski sat down a few chairs away. I never thought I'd see him so still.
I didn't know if I should keep him talking or let him conserve whatever energy he had left. I had just about decided to send up a test balloon when a black man in green scrubs pushed through the swinging doors to the waiting room, saw us, and said, "Either of you guys Ray?"
In an instant, Kowalski was on his feet. A vein was throbbing tensely in his forehead. "Yeah. Me."
"Guy inside on his way into surgery, asked me to pass you a message," the man said, handing Ray a folded piece of paper before vanishing back into the bowels of the hospital.
Kowalski stared down at the paper for a long second, then unfolded it, read it, and crumpled it in his hand before sinking back into his chair. I waited to see if he'd volunteer anything, but he'd cut out again and was just sitting there, ball of paper clutched in his long fingers.
Finally, I had to ask. "What did he say?"
Kowalski looked at me blankly for a moment, and then his eyes grew hard. "Guess," he said. "A test. You've known Fraser longer than I have; you tell me." He raised the fist holding the crumpled ball to his forehead and held it there, looking a little like Carson doing Carnac the Magnificent. "What would he say?"
I stared at him, mentally testing the possibilities. Had he relented and given Ray a description of whoever stabbed him? Fraser was a cop through and through, and I believed that when push came to shove, Fraser valued law and order above everything else. The only thing more thoroughly ingrained in him was—
"Oh God," I groaned, suddenly understanding Kowalski's irritation. "He apologized, didn't he?"
"You bet." Kowalski threw the wad of paper. It bounced off against the wall and rolled under a chair. "Because God forbid he should bleed to death without being right with the world. I swear to God, Lieu: Fraser survives this, I'm going to kill him."
We waited, and somehow everyone who came by for news or to show support took one look at Kowalski and knew to leave him alone. He just sat there, bent forward, hands dangling between his knees, looking blank and passive and scarily, eerily patient. After a while, we were alone again, and I went down to the cafeteria and bought him a sandwich he didn't eat and a cup of coffee he just held until it got cold.
He surprised me later that evening by sitting up suddenly and saying softly, "Oh. Oh. Fuck—" and suddenly there was life in his expression again.
"What?" I asked, and Kowalski looked startled, like he'd forgotten I was there.
"There was something niggling at me, something Fraser said, and—" He stopped, his pale eyes wide as he appeared to think through it again, and then he blinked and said, "Yeah, something Fraser said, and now I see that it—explains everything." I sighed and just waited for him to start making sense. "'Not a knife,' Fraser said. 'Barely more than a toy,'—and that's it, that's—" Kowalski turned to me, face tense with the significance of his discovery. "I was wrong, it wasn't one of the women. Fraser respects women, he'd have arrested her lickety-split. It was a kid ," and I felt my own eyes widening, because of course it was: one of the kids, playing tough guy, imitating a father or a brother who was sitting in a cell at Central Booking. Suddenly, I could see exactly how it had gone down, and I knew that Kowalski saw it, too: the mother's horrified eyes, her despair at being unable to undo what her child had done, and Fraser instantly stepping into the role of co-conspirator: "Hurry, take him away from here—"
Kowalski's own face suddenly contorted, and he lifted his hand to his eyes while he let out one, two gasping, braying sobs, and then it was over, so fast it was like it had never happened. When Kowalski dropped his hand he was dry-eyed and terrifyingly calm-looking.
He's melting down, I thought, and then, stranger still: he won't make it if he loses Fraser. Not after Stella. He won't survive having his batteries drained twice. I leaned forward impulsively and put a hand on his arm. "When Fraser's on the other side of this," when, always when, when you were talking about partners, "you ought to let him show you a thing or two," and Kowalski snorted and said, "Show me what? Fraser's never been to a rock concert, a car show, or a Technicolor movie—"
"No," I said levelly, "but we both know that's not the whole world." I had known Fraser longer than Kowalski had, and I'd heard plenty of stories of towering mountains and soaring glaciers and endless fields of stars twinkling in the dark. Enough to give even an old guy like me a touch of wanderlust, and I was about a thousand times more settled than Kowalski, who was still desperately looking for a place to plug in. "You should let him show you a herd of musk ox, feed you beaver stew, take you sledding across the arctic circle," and Kowalski forced a nervous laugh. "Thing is," I said quietly. "It would make him so goddamned happy. I think he talks about it so much because he's trying to make himself believe it still exists," and I was saved from having to say anything more by the appearance of a different, scrub-clad orderly.
"Either of you guys Ray?" he asked.
Kowalski got to his feet again. "Yeah. Me."
The orderly looked really tired. "He's gonna be okay. He's out of surgery and still pretty much delirious, but he keeps calling for you—" and Kowalski didn't even stick around to hear the end of the sentence before jerking to life and shoving his way through the swing doors, and that was fine by me; entirely fine.