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Fic: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Fandom: due South
Pairing: Fraser/Kowalski
Rating: R
Challenge: Written for the ds_harlequin prompt #17. "Private eye Ray Kowalski is attracted to Benton Fraser from the moment he sees him-- in the courtroom where Fraser is on trial for murder. Ray's convinced Fraser isn't the killer, but time is running out. Can he prove Fraser's innocence in time-- and prove to Fraser that he's in it for more than just the money and the headlines?"
Length: Complete in 3 chapters with 13,200 words
Warnings: AU, major character death (off-screen), violence, m/m sexuality
My betas: Apparently it takes a village to beta an AU. Thanks to raine_wynd for having the guts to tell me what was wrong with my first draft, aukestrel for her able leadership in the on-going comma wars, slidellra for talking me through my harlequin-noir crisis, and Steven for a final read-through.
Disclaimers: due South, Fraser and Ray Kowalski belong to Alliance. I'm just in it for the glory.
ETA: Cover created by the fabulous sandrainthesun.


Opening

Friday

Ray Kowalski was sweating through his best suit. Not only was the courtroom packed, but the jokers on both sides of him kept sticking their elbows into his space.

Ray didn't much like being in court. As a PI he got called to testify from time to time, but it was never fun. Plenty of judges and cops still remembered him from the bad old days. Putting up with their little digs without jumping Bogart on somebody took everything he had. Plus, every minute he was sitting here was another minute he wasn't getting paid.

Only Stella could have gotten him into court on a day he didn't have to be here. They'd been separated nearly two years now, but she was still his Stella. She wanted him in the audience for her big case, he was there. She'd pulled strings to get him in - he probably could have scalped the ticket if there was one. Courtside seats at a Bulls game were nothing compared to a seat at the trial of the infamous double-murderer and cop-killer, Ben Fraser.

There'd been a media frenzy over the Mountie who'd masterminded a bank heist, then gunned down his own partner when that partner, Detective Ray Vecchio, had figured out what he was up to. Every Tom, Dick and Harry in Chicago wanted to see the bastard face the music. The vic's family was seated right behind the prosecution, with Lieutenant Welsh and half of the 2-7.

Ray had followed the news over the past few months. One cop betraying another – that was a story he knew from the inside out. He'd seen Fraser's picture on TV, a stiff, good-looking guy in a red suit being led away in handcuffs. From what Stella'd said, it was a pretty open and shut case. Ray figured he'd show up for the opening day of the trial, throw Stella some moral support, glare at the bad guy, and then get back to work.

Ray felt a stir pass through the crowd as the defendant entered. All he could see at first was a dark-haired figure in a brown suit. One of the Vecchio women stood up and yelled in a tear-choked voice, "Fraser, you son of a bitch, how could you?"

Fraser turned his head abruptly and Ray saw blue eyes bright with pain. Ray felt his heart beat hard behind his ribs - once, twice. Then Fraser's pain was shuttered behind a face of stone.

The TV pictures didn't do him justice. Ben Fraser was the most beautiful man he'd ever seen. But he was beautiful like a statue, stern and distant. Guy looked more like the Archangel Michael come to smite the wicked than a criminal on trial for his life.

Fraser sat directly in front of Ray at the defendant's table. He stood for the judge, then sat down. His lawyer handed him a sketch pad. As Stella began her opening statement, Fraser pulled out a pencil. By "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury" he had Stella's stance down in a few strokes. "Cold-blooded murder of his partner" and Stella's hair spread across the sheet. Fraser started on her outfit as she told the jury about "Half a million dollars, some of which was found in this man's possession." "Betrayal of both public and personal trust" had him sketching her face. By "beyond a reasonable doubt" Stella was glaring, cold and hard, from the page.

Ray could have reached out and touched the bare back of Fraser's neck as he flipped to another page to capture his defense attorney's opening statement. Ray felt a growing certainty in his gut: Ben Fraser was not the bad guy of this story.

He'd gotten these kinds of feelings before, and they were never wrong. He just didn't like where they led him. Following his gut in the Beth Botrelle case got him kicked off the force. Poking his nose in when he got the feeling Stella was a little too understanding about the long nights he'd been pulling on cases got him an eyeful and a marriage on the rocks.

Getting involved here, just 'cause he was getting the crazy idea the cop-killer in Stella's career-making case was innocent, would be stupid. It wasn't his job to figure out if Ben Fraser was really the killer. Not anymore. He worked the cases that paid – insurance fraud, bail jumpers, ugly divorce cases. He'd stay out of this mess.

Ray managed to convince himself of that through the prosecution's first witness. Fraser finished a close-up of Inspector Thatcher's face by the time she'd testified about him skipping work the day before the shooting, and the ten grand from the robbery that the Mounties had found in his place up north. The cross-examination focused on Fraser's work record and commendations.

The judge called a recess until Monday morning. Fraser stood and turned. All it took was a second glimpse of that pale face and his quiet "Excuse me," to the deputy who 'accidentally' jostled him while escorting him out of the courtroom. Ray was attracted to the guy, sure, but there was more to it. If Ray's instincts were right, and Fraser was innocent, then some big fucking miscarriage of justice was going on here. And that was none of his business, but …

He had to find out the truth.

The crowd pushed out of the courtroom, talking about the case so far. Stella was clearly kicking ass. Ray gave her a thumbs-up. Some of the detectives from the 2-7 crowded around to congratulate her. But not Welsh. He just stayed sitting on the bench, staring off into space. Ray walked over.

"Hey, Welsh. You look like a man who could use a drink."

Welsh startled and looked up. "Hey, Kowalski. Yeah, that's the best idea I've heard in a while."

Ray suggested a place down near the docks. Not a cop bar. Not a yuppie bar. Just a quiet place he'd found after Stella kicked him out, where they respected a man's occasional need to drink himself into a stupor.

Ray had gone out for drinks with Welsh a few times before over the years. Welsh would usually have a few beers, and then call it a night. Tonight he called for Scotch, neat, soon as his ass hit the stool. As his friend, Ray was worried. But as a PI looking for the real story, it made things easier.

After the fourth shot Welsh started talking.

"Constable Benton Fraser." He pronounced it slow and careful, as if the name was a curse.

"He was one of yours, wasn't he, Welsh?"

Welsh shrugged, wound tight. "Thought he was. Fraser played me like a fiddle."

"He seemed like a good cop?" Ray asked, gesturing for the bartender to keep 'em coming.

"Yeah. But that's not all it was." Welsh straightened up, placing his hands in a wide circle around one of the empty shot glasses on the bar. "He was … wherever Red was standing, that was a place where Truth and Justice could prevail. You know? Gave us hope." Welsh flicked the shot glass off the bar. Ray flinched at the sound of breaking glass. "Fuck," the lieutenant swore under his breath.

Ray slid a fifth shot over to Welsh.

Welsh glared at him. "Fuck you too, Kowalski. You trying to get me drunk?"

Ray didn't bother denying it. "You know that old saying, 'Drunk guys tell the truth?' You seem like you need to be telling some truth to somebody right about now." He polished off a second shot of his own. "Why not me?"

Looking Ray in the eye, Welsh made his decision. He downed the shot and set the glass on the bar like a challenge.

Ray nodded. It was on. "So, what makes you think Fraser did it?"

"Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't heard him say it with my own ears."

Ray made an encouraging noise.

"We brought him in after the murder. At first he had this crazy story about the Metcalf woman from the original robbery, said she was framing him. Fraser was all hot for us to go after her before she got away. But one of my men was dead, and I was playing hardball. Laid it out for him, frame by frame."

Welsh had started out slow, but now he was building up a good head of steam. "No witness had ever seen her. There wasn't a single print in his apartment, even though he claimed she'd been staying there. Money from the robbery had turned up in his cabin, his neighborhood, and even in his wallet. We'd found the murder weapon at the zoo. I showed it to him, and he actually admitted it was his service revolver. Then I told him Victoria Metcalf had died in a car crash two months ago."

Welsh put both elbows on the bar and put his head in his hands. He muttered, "I laid out photos of Vecchio. Crime scene shots, morgue shots, all over the table. And Fraser looked, Christ, he looked worse than Vecchio did in those pictures. He moved all the photos into a stack and pushed it across the table to me. Then he said, 'You are quite correct, sir. I am the one responsible for Ray Vecchio's death.' He handed me his hat, and asked to see a lawyer. Wouldn't sign a confession, later, but I heard it."

Maybe it was because Ray was an outsider. Maybe it was because he knew Fraser was innocent. But Ray heard something different. "Ah, Lieutenant?" Welsh turned his head slowly and blinked, like he'd forgotten Ray was there. "I hate to break it to you, but that wasn't a confession. That's a cop who made it out alive when his partner didn't."

Welsh sat back on his bar stool so hard he almost fell off. Ray had to steady him with one hand. "Christ." He shook his head from side to side, like he was trying to clear it. "Jesus fucking wept! Yeah, that, that's the Constable Fraser I knew. And … and I threw him to the wolves."

Staggering to his feet, Welsh reached into his coat pocket for his keys. "I've got to, got to call somebody. Tell 'em Fraser didn't do it."

Ray hooked the keys out of Welsh's hand and threw an arm around him, to keep him from falling down. "Slow down there, Lieu. I'll get you home. And I'll call Fraser's lawyer first thing tomorrow, get in to see him. Maybe I can help prove he's innocent."

Welsh peered at Ray, drunk but fierce. "You'd do that?"

Ray nodded.

"You're a good man, Kowalski. You were a good cop, even fresh out of the Academy. They shouldn't have thrown you out. I tried to stand up for you. You know that, right?"

Ray walked him towards the door. "Yeah, I know, Lieu. I know." Welsh had been one of the few willing to take a rookie's word over Sam Franklin's.

Ray drove Welsh and his car home, and then called a cab to get back to the bar. He slid into the driver's seat of his car and turned on the radio, flipping through stations until he found something loud enough to drive to when he was a little tipsy and a lot tired.

Ray sat there with the engine running for a minute. He wasn't sure what he'd gotten himself into, aside from a shitload of non-billable hours. Still, it couldn't hurt to look into Fraser's case; he owed Welsh that much. Ray put the car into gear and headed south across the Loop to his apartment for a few hours of sleep.



Saturday

Fraser's lawyer, Jameson, was an eager beaver. Once he got over Ray calling him at home on a Saturday morning, he got right on the job, getting Ray on Fraser's approved visitor list in less than an hour.

That's how Ray ended up standing in a fluorescent-lit hallway at the Cook County Jail, waiting in line to be searched. The place smelled like a weird mix of rotten golabki and bleach. The two pregnant women in front of him were trading baby-care tips and horror stories about a chick who tried to get in to see her boyfriend wearing an underwire bra. The old lady in back of him kept cussing tiredly to herself in Spanish.

He found himself drifting. Imagining stuff. Welsh talked about Fraser like he was some kind of hero. But now Fraser was in trouble, and he was the one needing help. Ray could help. Ray could save him. He imagined Fraser looking up at him, eyes warm, lips curved into a grateful smile. He pictured Fraser licking the tip of his pencil and then looking down at his sketchpad. The Fraser in his head started drawing. Ray recognized the set of his own shoulders on the paper just as the sound of a squalling baby knocked him out of dreamland.

Fuck.

He had a pretty serious woody, and that was just embarrassing. The guy-on-guy stuff wasn't a problem. Ray's porn collection swung both ways, even though he hadn't brought himself to cross that line since he and Stella called it splitsky.

But the hero thing … Stella would laugh her ass off if she knew. He'd been full of that shit as a rookie. Franklin had knocked most of it out of him, getting him kicked off the force for trying to do the right thing. And he'd been burned enough times since then by a pretty face with a sob story. Christ, he should know better by now.

Ray almost turned around and left, but now he was at the front of the line. He handed over his piece, his cigarettes, and a comb they said could be used as a weapon. Maybe if he was a ninja or something. Then he was escorted to the no-contact visitation room.

"Fraser get many visitors?" he asked the bored PO.

"Nah. Just his lawyer. Oh, there was this one guy, tall, in a red uniform. Showed up once, cried a lot, never came back."

A quick background search that morning hadn't turned up any living relatives, and Fraser'd only been in the country about a year. Still, no visitors … that was rough.

Ray settled into a chair in front of the glass barrier, wishing he'd had time for a few more cups of coffee. Finally they led Fraser in. He didn't look anything like Ray's dream. Fraser's orange prison jumpsuit clashed with the institutional green walls. He looked caged. Of course, he was caged, all the guys in here were, but Fraser looked like he felt the bars with every breath.

Fraser sat down opposite Ray and picked up the phone. As their eyes met through the glass, Ray felt a jolt. There was a connection there. Something real. He wondered if Fraser felt it too. Ray put the phone to his ear.

"Mr. Kowalski," Fraser greeted him coolly. "My lawyer tells me that you are a private investigator, and need my assistance on a case?" It was a nice voice, smooth, a little higher than Ray'd expected.

"Yeah, that's right. Your case." Ray heard some of the eagerness he felt slip into his voice.

"Ah." Fraser glanced down, and then back up. "If you don't mind me asking, are you any relation to Assistant State's Attorney Stella Kowalski?"

Ray felt a crazy impulse to deny it. "She's my wife. We're separated." For almost two years now.

Fraser's forehead creased. "Even so, I foresee a certain conflict of interest in helping you."

"Look, Fraser," Ray put his hand out, already hating the glass between them, "I'm not here for Stella. I'm here for Lieutenant Welsh."

His eyes narrowing, Fraser asked, "Why would he ask you to speak to me?"

"Welsh thinks you're innocent, Fraser. He wants me to help you prove it."

Fraser's eyes closed. He took a breath, then let it out slowly. It was like watching ice start to melt. When his eyes opened, they were … alive.

"That's good to hear, Mr. Kowalski."

"Call me Ray."

Fraser stiffened slightly. Ray kicked himself, remembering that was the dead partner's name, too.

"Or just, uh, Kowalski, that's fine too." Ray's brain scampered to change the subject. "Hey, I saw you drawing yesterday in the courtroom. You're pretty good."

"Thank you … Kowalski. It's a talent that has often been useful in pursuit of …" Fraser trailed off. "I suppose, at this point, it's more of a hobby."

Fraser sat back in his seat and assessed Ray for a few seconds. "Why did you take the case, when Lieutenant Welsh asked you to?"

"I owe him one." In a burst of honesty, Ray added, "Besides, I think you're innocent too."

An odd almost-smile played over Fraser's lips. "You were in that courtroom yesterday. You must be aware of how strong the case is. Why would you possibly think that?"

Ray wondered how to explain it to Fraser when he didn't really understand it himself. "I guess … you just don't look like a killer."

Bam! Just like that, all of Fraser's walls were back in place. As he stood up to go, Fraser said into the phone, "In my experience, appearances are a very poor basis for such judgments."

Fraser hung up the phone and walked away.

What the fuck was that about? Ray smacked his hand against the glass, yelled, "Fraser!" And it was impossible, no one could hear anything through that soundproofing, but Fraser looked back. Ray said it fierce, with everything in him. "I know you're innocent." And then Fraser was gone.



Saturday afternoon

Ray broke six traffic laws making it to brunch with Stella on time. Saturday brunch was their thing. Just 'cause they were separated and barely talked anymore didn't change that.

The restaurant was a little glitzy for him, kinda low-end for Stel. She was wearing a new suit, brown and velvety. As he went through the motions of loading up his plate and telling her about his week, Ray felt the contrast between the spark he felt with Fraser and the nothing he had here. He and Stella could get out of here, head to her place and fuck. They'd done it before. And he still wouldn't feel half as connected to her as he did to Fraser across a bad phone line and a glass barrier.

They had that spark once. It used to be good, between him and Stella. But it hadn't been that way for a long time. Which, come to think of it, is what she said when she threw him out.

Ray interrupted Stella's story about the latest guy she was seeing. "What do you want from me, Stella?"

She looked up from her food, and Ray saw a glimpse of the Stella from Fraser's picture. "There's only one thing I really want from you, Ray. Sign the damn divorce papers."

Part of him tried to freak out. Sacred vows, 'til death do us part. This was The Stella, who he'd loved since disco was cool, who stuck by him when everything went to hell. The rest of Ray figured it was like a sacrifice move in chess. Lose the queen, get a better position for the knight.

"All right. I'll do it." Stella dropped her fork, like she never expected him to say yes. "But I want something in return. I want to see the Fraser case files."

Stella shook her head. "Why do you want to see those?"

Ray shrugged. "I'm curious." He started to rev up. "Come on, Stel. You know how the game's played here in Chicago. You gotta give a little to get a little." Ray stabbed two fingers at her. "Do you want those papers signed, or not?" He leaned across the table, daring her to take him up on it, not 100% sure that he wanted her to.

Stella was never one to turn down a dare. "Fine." She wiped her hands on her napkin and threw it on the table. "Fine. Let's go to the office right now and do it."

On the way out she left money to pay for the meal, like always.

For the first time, Ray actually let her.

At the office, she pulled the divorce papers out of a desk drawer, and he signed them. Then she dragged six filing boxes out of the closet and pointed to a chair. Ray sat down.

"These are the rules. These files do not leave my office. You do not photocopy them. You do not write on them. You want to take notes, here's a notebook." She threw a blue spiral-bound at Ray. He snagged it out of the air. "You put everything back exactly the way it is now. Don't even think about smoking in my office. I'm locking the door. Once you walk out, you're done." We're done, Ray heard.

"Stella," he said, as she headed for the door, "you gonna change your name?"

She spun to look at him. "No, I think the damage has already been done, Ray. I have positive name recognition now as Stella Kowalski. You want to change yours, go right ahead." And then she walked out the door.

Ray walked over to her desk and picked up the phone to call Welsh. "Hello? Kowalski here. … Yeah? Maybe a Bloody Mary would help? … Geez, sorry I said anything! … Look, remember how we talked about Fraser last night? I went to see him this morning. … Okay, but he seemed kind of suspicious. Maybe you could give him a call, let him know I'm working for you? … No, I'm not trying to hit you up for money, Welsh, I got it covered. … See you around."

Ray hung up the phone, shaking his head fondly. "Cheap bastard," he commented, reminding himself to finish off that last missing persons case he had on the books. That'd be enough to pay the bills for this month.

He sat down at the table and opened the first file box.

Fourteen hours later, Ray figured he knew almost as much about the case as Stella did. He had a notebook full of names, dates, contact info, and funny little diagrams. He also had a headache the size of Lake Michigan and a serious craving for a smoke. Victoria Metcalf definitely killed Ray Vecchio and her partner, Jolly. She'd also shot Fraser's pet wolf and gotten away with half a million dollars.

But proving it was gonna be a bitch.


Continue to the second chapter.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
dswdiane
Feb. 21st, 2007 03:30 pm (UTC)
No, no, no. Please tell me Diefenbaker isn't dead. Surely he recovered from being shot.

Oh, well, on to chapter 2. I guess I'll find out.
keerawa
Feb. 21st, 2007 06:08 pm (UTC)
You know, you are the second reader to be more distressed by the threat to Diefenbaker than Ray Vecchio's death.

Major character death warnings seem to be powerful tools for increasing the tension in a story.
mackiedockie
Feb. 22nd, 2007 06:07 am (UTC)
Nooooooo! Not Dief!!!!

Okay, I feel bad for Ray V, too.

But...Noooooo! Not Dief! *g*

Way to throw in a nice narrative hook at the end of the section.
Rotten golabki? No idea what that is. But it sounds awful.
Okay, hurrying on to next part, now...!
keerawa
Feb. 23rd, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC)
*laughs* OK, you are the 3rd reader to freak out about Diefenbaker here. I didn't even realize I was creating dramatic tension by bringing this up here.

Golabki is a Polish cabbage roll. I'm thinking Ray grew up with them.
akamine_chan
Dec. 5th, 2007 04:36 am (UTC)
Boy, you're not kidding. You can do anything you want, kill off Vecchio, cut off Fraser's leg, mangle Kowalski, but don't. Touch. Dief. It's really quite funny how protective this fandom is of that mangy half-wolf. *g*

This is great, keerawa. I love noir and this is such a lovely example of it. On to the next chapter!
keerawa
Dec. 5th, 2007 05:30 am (UTC)
The Dief is off-limits! Glad you're enjoying the noir, akamine_chan!
(Deleted comment)
keerawa
Apr. 1st, 2011 05:17 am (UTC)
*beams* Thanks for readng, preincessofg!
(Anonymous)
Aug. 23rd, 2011 09:04 pm (UTC)
I think it's pretty sad that more people are upset over Dief's death in this story than over Ray V's murder. It proves that Ray V isn't very well liked by most "Due South" fans, and that baffles me!

The F/K shippers have RUINED this fandom - because no one seems to care that Ray V was an absolutely dear, sweet friend to Fraser who loved him very much. At least Fraser seems to be grieving for him in this story - much more than the readers of this story! But I bet the story ends with Fraser never thinking about RayV ever again, because he gets together with RayK.
keerawa
Aug. 26th, 2011 07:32 pm (UTC)
I can see that you're upset about it, which makes me a little surprised that you'd read an F/K story when there are so many fabulous F/V, F/K/V, and gen ones out there!

IMHO, it's not possible to ruin fandom. There's always plenty to go around!
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )