Hawkeye chuckled and explained. "When I first met my wife she was very much like your nicknames describe Constable Fraser's Inspector - cold and hard. She was a 'tough-as-nails' Army Major who could make some grown men quake in their combat boots."
"You?" Kowalski pressed curiously.
Hawkeye smiled with amusement. "She certainly tried, believe me she tried very hard, but I never let her get to me. In fact Trap and I made her life just as miserable as she tried to make ours. There was certainly no love lost between us."
"Who was higher in rank or were you the same?" Vecchio asked curiously.
"She was higher." Hawkeye replied. "She was a Major and we were just Captains."
"That being the case shouldn't you have accorded her the respect that her superior rank demanded?" Benton asked a trifle reproachfully.
The three men chuckled slightly at the mild reprimand. It certainly wasn't the first time they'd heard that logic. But they had a logic of their own to counteract. "Just because some officers had superior ranks didn't necessarily mean that they deserved anymore respect." BJ informed the Constable seriously.
"In fact very few 'superior officers' deserved any respect." Trapper added. "Especially certain doctors of the Major persuasion who had the IQ of a kidney stone and the personality of a cold fish."
"And the face of a ferret." Hawkeye chimed in.
"A ferret?" Kowalski repeated in surprise.
"Yeah, you know the type - no lips, beady eyes, big pores." Hawkeye smiled mischievously.
"He was one of our fellow surgeons, if you could call what he did surgery." BJ exchanged a sly look with his comrades.
"I take it you guys didn't care for him much." Ray Kowalski observed, noting the looks the three were exchanging.
"That's an understatement." Trapper laughed slightly. "He was a whiny, annoying man that was a lousy officer and an even lousier doctor."
"Hawkeye told me when I first arrived that he was sure Frank only became a doctor because he flunked out of embalming school." BJ added mischievously.
"The only thing we had in common was that we hated each other." Hawkeye told the younger trio. "He and Margaret on the other hand got along famously. At first anyway."
"So what happened?" Kowalski pressed curiously. "Things must have changed greatly if you went from hating each other to getting married."
"Oh, they did." Hawkeye nodded in confirmation. "It took a lot of time and a lot of growing and changing on both sides, but eventually the gap between us wasn't so great. We even found that we had a lot in common. More than we originally thought."
"Did you two get married while you were in Korea?" Ray Kowalski pressed curiously.
Hawkeye shook his head. "It was about a year after we came back. Forty-five years ago next spring."
"Forty-five years!" Ray repeated, his tone slightly wistful. He briefly wondered what his life would have been like if he and Stella had stayed together for forty-five years. Then just as quickly another face flashed into his mind and he found himself wondering what his life would be like if they were together for forty-five years. Before he realized what he was saying he'd turned to Fraser and said. "Hey Frase, maybe we can double date sometime. You know, you and the Ice Queen and me and Frannie."
Before Fraser could respond Vecchio exclaimed angrily. "Frannie? As in my Frannie?"
"She's not your Frannie!" Kowalski commented a little hotly. "She's not your girlfriend or your wife she's your sister."
Vecchio's eyes narrowed slightly as he accused. "And she was suppose to be your sister while you were pretending to be me. I swear, if you've done anything..."
"Take a chill pill Vecchio." The other man exclaimed putting up his hands to stop the other man's verbal assault. "I haven't done anything to Frannie. While I was pretending to be you I was nothing more than a brother to her. I fought with her and protected her just like she was my sister. But now that I don't have to pretend to be her brother any longer...well, who knows."
Vecchio regarded him for a moment before casually remarking. "Well, who knows maybe we can make it a triple date." When the other man raised his eyebrows questioningly he explained. "Benny and Inspector Thatcher; you and my sister; me and yours."
"My what?" Kowalski asked in a puzzled tone.
"Your sister." Vecchio replied seriously. When the puzzled look didn't leave the other man's face he clarified. "Assistant States Attorney Stella Kowalski. I met her today and let me tell you your sister is one beautiful woman and smart too."
Ray Kowalski's face turned a deep shade of red as he angrily hissed, pointing a finger at the other man. "You stay away from her!"
"Why should I?" Vecchio challenged. "If you can go out with my sister why can't I go out with yours? After all fair is fair."
Fraser's heart when out to his partner as he watched the blond man's fists clench tightly as he tried to control his rising temper. Finally with an angry grunt he pushed his chair back and marched towards the bar's restrooms.
"What?" Vecchio demanded innocently when Benton gave him a stern look of disapproval. "What did I do?"
Pushing his chair back Fraser remarked coolly. "Stella Kowalski is not Ray's sister, she's his ex-wife and someone he happens to still love very much."
As their three companions exchanged glances Vecchio gave Benton a properly chastised look. "I'm sorry, I didn't know." At his friend's unchanged expression he insisted. "Honestly, I didn't. I just met her quickly today. I recognized the last name but the only connection I thought of was sister...I didn't know he was divorced...I didn't!"
"I believe you Ray." Was his old partner's reply as he pushed his chair into the table. "But maybe if you took the time to get to know Ray instead of picking on him you'd see what a good man and police officer he is. He is a man worthy of your respect not your contempt." With a final look of disapproval the Mountie moved away from the table.
"Where are you going?" The Italian demanded angrily, desperately wanting to make amends with his friend and more than a little hurt that he was abandoning him.
"I'm going to check on Ray." The other man replied simply before turning and heading for the restrooms, leaving the other man sighing in frustration.
Benton found his partner leaning against the far wall of the room, his head propped against the arm that was supporting him. "Ray? Ray? Ray? Ray? Ray!" Fraser called, trying to get the other man's attention. When the blond finally grunted in reply he asked. "Are you alright?"
Ray sighed and slumped his shoulders a little more. "I don't think I can do this, Frase."
"I know it's rough, Ray." His friend commented sympathetically. "But it's time that you let her go. I know you still love her but..."
"No Fraser!" The other man exclaimed forcefully as he turned around to face his friend. "I don't mean about Stella and Vecchio. If Stella wants to go out with him that's her business. I don't care about that."
"Then what..." His partner gave him a puzzled look.
"I'm talking about me and Vecchio." The blond replied as he leaned heavily against the wall.
"I...I don't understand." Fraser stammered slightly, unconsciously rubbing his ear lob slightly as if hoping it'll help him to understand his friend's thoughts better.
"I don't think that I can be friends with Vecchio." Ray clarified, frustration evident in his tone.
"Well, Ray, there's no reason that you have to be friends with Ray Vecchio." Fraser assured him kindly. "No one is expecting it of you. It's something that's entirely up to you...and him too for that matter."
"Actually, Frase, there's a very good reason that I should be friends with him." He gave him friend a meaningful look.