After Gaynor is cuffed and tucked safely in the back of a black-and-white, Fraser leads the way to Ray's car. He stands there in the quiet street, in the shade from one of the neighborhood's big old oak trees, and he cleans the blood off his face and hands with his handkerchief and some water from his canteen, which was in Ray's trunk. Ray braces his hands on the roof of his car and watches him do it, watches him screw the top back on the canteen and toss the bloody handkerchief in the trash.
"You finished?" he says.
Fraser looks at him. There's this moment in which Ray is sure he's going to open his stupid mouth and say something he shouldn't and Ray clenches his hands into fists on top the roof of the car and narrows his eyes.
Fraser exhales. "Yes," he says, and Ray nods and slides in behind the wheel, leans across the front seat to open the passenger door.
Fraser lets Dief into the back, folds himself in after and arranges his hat on his knees. Ray pulls the shades down over his glasses and squeezes his eyes shut behind them. Then he opens them again and puts the car into gear. He makes sure to lay a little rubber as he pulls out of the lot.
They'd gotten the call that morning, some guy with an anonymous tip: Rich Gaynor, embezzler, extortionist and bail-skipper extraordinaire, was hiding out in a hotel room on the wrong end of Pernell. "Corporate crime is much more harmful, statistically speaking, than better publicized types of criminal activity," Fraser had said. "Apart from inflicting financial hardship on those most directly victimized by the crime in question, it also creates an environment of consumer suspicion and mistrust, which can discourage investment and thereby weaken the entire economy. Truly, Ray—I believe this will be time well spent."
"Fraser," Ray had said. "Are we or are we not right now, this moment, headed out the door?"
Fraser cleared his throat. "Well...yes, Ray."
Ray waved a hand. "Okay then."
But as it happened, Gaynor seemed pretty determined to fit the bill for violent crime, too. He'd somehow gotten warning that he'd been finked on and instead of running like a smart guy, he'd holed up in his hotel room with a rifle and a hostage—a person of the prostitute persuasion, who Fraser kept referring to as a young lady even though Ray was pretty sure that there were no actual lady parts involved. Not that it mattered—a hostage was a hostage, and obviously Ray wanted the kid out of harm's way a.s.a.p. But he was not willing to let anybody walk into the line of fire unarmed in order to make that happen.
"Because that would be stupid," he explained, going for reasonable. "If you get blown away, and I get blown away, then who's going to rescue the hostage? Negotiation, buddy. From someplace out of harm's way. That's the first thing you should do. And while you're working on him, me and Dief can head around the back, come up the fire escape. If he won't listen, we'll come in strong, try to get him down before he pulls the trigger. Worst comes to worse, I'll take him out."
Fraser licked his lip, his eyes on the wall over Ray's left shoulder.
"Fraser," Ray said, trying to get across that he was serious here, he was meaning business. "I mean it. You gotta let me try first, okay? I can handle it." And he waited there, one hand on Fraser's arm, until Fraser met his eyes and nodded. "All right," Ray said, relieved. He slid his glasses on and jerked his head at Dief, who was up and on his heels before he even had to say anything at all.
Climbing up the fire escape without making noise was tough, considering it was iron and he was wearing hard-soled boots. But they made it, and Gaynor's window was not all the way closed, and through it Ray could see the asshole himself, crouched on the floor close to the door, cradling a .22 like it was a baby. He was crying, all red-nosed and wet; the hostage was sitting cross-legged on the floor next to him, looking somewhat disgusted but not especially freaked. She was making a tiny braid in her platinum wig, right next to one ear.
Ray figured Fraser must be negotiating already, on account of Gaynor kept yelling responses through the closed hotel room door. It was hard to make out what he was saying through those sobs, but Ray thought there was something about a helicopter, five million dollars, an offshore account. Shyeah. Ray slid a little closer, his gun in one hand, and that small movement must have caught the hostage's eye, because she dropped her braid and looked up, her gaze sharp and wary behind crooked fake eyelashes. Ray made sure she could see his shield, jerked his head to beckon her toward the window, his eyebrows raised in a question. She glanced at Gaynor, then back at Ray, shrugged: yeah, probably. Gaynor did look pretty distracted, over there—his shoulders were heaving now, the rifle hanging forgotten in one hand, fingers nowhere near the trigger. Ray gave the kid a nod.
She was on Ray's side of the bed before Gaynor noticed she'd moved. He gave a startled shout, but Ray had the window smashed out and the hostage safely on the other side of it before Gaynor even managed to get the rifle lifted. "Go," Ray told the kid, unnecessarily; she was already clattering down the fire escape. He turned back to the window, his gun steady in his hand, just in time to see Gaynor pull the trigger, that long barrel aimed squarely at the doorway, where Fraser was for no reason Ray could fathom, standing.
Everything slowed down, which is one of those clichés that is actually true; there was plenty of time to see that Gaynor's shot was a good one, that it was going to hit Fraser smack in the middle of his forehead and that Fraser would not have time to get out of the way. Fraser saw it too—Ray saw his eyes widen. He heard himself yell something—probably "No!"—and that seemed to make time move at normal speed again, which meant that he couldn't actually see all the stuff that happened next, on account of it was a blur.
Somehow he was inside the hotel room. There was something squishy and sobbing under his right knee and that was Gaynor, on his stomach, rifle clutched uselessly in his right hand, which was trapped between his fat belly and the floor. Ray yanked it away without looking; his eyes were on the doorway, on the heap of red crumpled there. He couldn't see, he couldn't fucking see, and there was still something under his right knee, and oh yeah—Gaynor. He hadn't let him up because he had to put some cuffs on the guy first, only he didn't think he could because his hands were shaking pretty bad over here, so instead he just lifted the butt of his gun and used it to hit Gaynor really hard in the back of his pudgy bald head.
Dief barked. Ray got off the unconscious Gaynor and crawled for Fraser, and somebody was making this annoying noise, like no, no, no, oh no, and fuck, there was blood on Fraser's...on his forehead, on his face, and it was a lot of fucking blood, so much blood that Ray's eyes went weird for a second and everything turned grey like one of those old-fashioned TVs when you turn it off, darkening down to a pinpoint. Dief barked again, sharply, telling Ray off, and then Ray saw Fraser move.
It was just a foot at first, just a twitch in one of those big shiny boots, then in the knee above it. But then Fraser groaned and got an elbow under himself, levered himself upright. And there was no way, no way a guy with a bullet in his frontal lobe could just sit up like that. Which meant that the blur of white Ray'd seen had probably been Dief, knocking Fraser out of harm's way, and he must have done it on time.
"Jesus," Ray said. He finished crawling over to Fraser, grabbed Fraser's chin. Fraser went very still, his eyes on Ray, all uncertain and worried and Ray thought you better be worried, you stupid fuck, but he didn't say it, he didn't say anything; just used the sleeve of his sweatshirt to mop away some of the blood on Fraser's face until he could see that the wound was a minor one, probably made by one of the pieces of doorway Gaynor's bullet had sent flying. He exhaled and Fraser's eyes met his again, waiting and still, and it was too much, it was way too goddamn much, and Ray dropped his hands. Fraser dropped his gaze. There was a moment when neither of them spoke.
"You call for backup?" Ray said finally.
Fraser nodded, his eyes still on the floor. "Yeah."
Ray nodded, too. "Good. That is. Good. Here." He tossed Fraser his cuffs and then headed to the window, which he puked out of.
"Dude," said the ex-hostage from the ground far below, backing away from the splatter. The wig was off, hanging from one hand, and he was looking a lot less like a she.
Ray grimaced and spat. "Sorry," he said. "Just. Don't go away. We'll be right down."
And they were, and the ex-hostage didn't, even though the backup was there in spades by that time, eyeing the kid's half-girl state with suspicion. Ray thanked the kid, made the necessary explanations to the uniforms. To Fraser, he didn't say anything at all.
On the drive home, it still isn't safe to talk to Fraser. So he has this conversation in his head:
"Fraser, you are a freak."
"You are a freak, and you have shitty judgment, and so from now on, you are going to do whatever I say."
"Well, Ray. I have to admit that seems sensible."
"Good. I am glad we have managed to figure this out in a mature and responsible fashion."
Yeah, right. At the corner of Washington and Morel, Ray looks over at Fraser when they're stopped at a red light. Fraser's mouth tightens but he does not look back. The cut on his head is still bleeding, kind of. He looks pissed. Ray's hands tighten on the wheel. When the turn off for the Consulate comes up, he doesn't take it. Instead, he just drives the rest of the way to his own building, pulls into his spot.
Fraser looks a question at him.
Ray pulls the keys from the ignition. "I need a beer," he says. "And I need to talk to you. So." He sits there, waiting, the keys in his hand. In the corner of his eye, he sees Fraser thumb his eyebrow—the one on the uninjured side—and then hears him exhale.
"Fine," he says, and Ray nods.
They go upstairs in silence, except for the click-clicking of Dief's nails on the tile, the jangling of the tags on his collar. Ray heads straight into the kitchen to get himself that beer, stands right there in the pool of light from the open fridge and takes a few long sips. He can hear Fraser taking off his boots in the other room, hears him padding in his stocking feet to the bathroom. Dief follows him over there, then comes back into the kitchen to stick his nose into Ray's free hand, the one that's not holding the beer.
Ray sighs. He closes the fridge, scratches Dief behind one ear. The lights are off everywhere except the bathroom, but the sun is still setting outside; there's enough light to see by. Ray stops in the living room to kick off his own boots, then he follows Fraser to the bathroom, stands in the doorway with his arms crossed over his chest, the beer dangling from the fingers of one hand.
"I don't see why you're so angry," Fraser says, wincing as he swipes the cut on his forehead with some kind of strange-smelling ointment. And yeah, okay: it turns out Ray can speak after all.
"Huh," he says. "Huh. Why would I be angry. Jeeze, wow, I don't know, Fraser—what do you think?"
Fraser glances at him, then turns back to the bathroom cabinet, in which he's rummaging around, trying to find stuff to bandage his head with, probably. "Well, I don't know, Ray," he says patiently. "That's why I was asking." He pulls a band-aid from a box and squints at it.
Ray nods. "Okay," he says, and he makes himself unclench the fist his free hand made itself into without his permission because sweet as it would be to punch Fraser in his big stupid arrogant jaw right now, he already knows how not sweet it would be a few seconds after that. "The thing is, Fraser, I thought we had an agreement. Remember? I thought we were supposed to be trying to trust each other, out there. I thought you gave me your word."
Fraser narrows his eyes. "I do trust you," he says.
Ray shakes his head. "No, Fraser, you don't. Unh uh, I do not want to hear it. If you trusted me, you would have just done what we planned on doing and that would have been the end of it. Nobody would have had to go around getting killed, and we would've still gotten the bad guy and everything would have been just fine."
Fraser clears his throat. "Ray, I feel compelled to point out that, in fact, nobody did get killed." He is leaning over the sink now, trying to stick that band-aid over the cut on his forehead. The funny thing is, he's gotten himself kind of messed up because of the mirror—his hands keep wanting to put it in the wrong spot. Except it's not really funny because the right spot is a fraction of an inch from his temple and if that chunk of plaster really had hit him in the temple he'd be a fucking dead guy right now, instead of a fucking stupid guy, and Ray would be in the morgue with Mort, trying to decide between putting his fist through the wall and throwing up.
"Gimme that," he says. "No. Shut up. Sit down on the toilet—" he smacks the seat cover down and makes room for Fraser "—and give me that."
Fraser's lips tighten, but he doesn't say anything. Just huffs a pissy little breath out his nose and then does what Ray said.
Ray puts his beer down on the edge of the sink and takes the band-aid out of Fraser's hand. It's all stuck together on one side, though, and it wasn't ever big enough in the first place, so he throws it in the trash, squeezes past Fraser's knees so he can get to the cabinet. "The thing is, Fraser, in your head, you are the only guy who really knows anything. When it comes right down to it, you don't think you can ever just take somebody else's word for it. You gotta, uh, figure it all out for yourself." There they are—the stretchy band-aids Ray keeps for stuff just like this. He gets one of them out and turns around. "But in a partnership, it has got to go both ways. Sometimes you have to be willing to, uh, to just believe me. You know? Because I am not an idiot, Fraser. If I tell you I got a plan, I got a plan. Put your head back."
Fraser narrows his eyes. Ray scowls at him. Fraser puts his head back.
"And my plans hardly ever involve running into the line of fire, or, uh, driving your car into the lake. Stuff like that." He smoothes the band aid into place on Fraser's forehead, trying not to get any of those dark hairs stuck in the glue. Fraser's got his eyes rolled up as far as they'll go so he can watch what Ray's doing. Ray sighs, takes his hand away from the top of Fraser's head, where it was resting for no good reason at all, and Fraser sits up straight, lifts one hand to touch the band aid on his forehead, fingers tracing the edges of it like he wants to make sure it's in the right place.
"That's ridiculous, Ray," he says. "I value your input, and I most certainly do trust you." He stands up, fingers still touching the band-aid on his forehead, and heads straight for the mirror so he can inspect Ray's work for himself.
There's a moment of silence. Fraser blinks, his eyes shifting from his own reflection in the mirror to Ray's.
Ray smirks and lifts an eyebrow.
Fraser lowers his gaze, takes a breath. The back of his neck gets kind of flushed. "Well," he says finally, and his fingers tighten briefly on the edges of the sink before they let it go. He straightens, still not looking at Ray. "I think perhaps it's time for Dief and I to take our leave. I...thank you for the bandage, Ray. My forehead feels much better than it did." He edges past Ray then, out of the bathroom.
Ray sighs. "Fraser, don't do that."
Fraser doesn't say anything. Ray can hear him rummaging around in the living room, looking for his hat, tying up his boots. He looks up at his own reflection in the mirror, winces at the way his eyes look, shoves a hand through the half-flat mess of his hair. "Fraser," he says.
Fraser stops moving out there, just for a moment, like he's waiting, like he's giving Ray a chance to speak. Only, the thing is, Ray is out of things he wants to say.
"Dief," Fraser says sharply, when the moment has passed. Dief whines a protest, but he gets up obediently enough—Ray can hear his nails on the hardwood, the jangle of the tags on his collar. The door opens. Ray closes his eyes again, but that doesn't stop him from hearing the finality in the snick of his deadbolt sliding home.
Ray goes into work late the next day, fucks up three drafts of the paperwork for the Gaynor bust before he gets it right, then spends fifteen minutes playing the What The Hell Is That Smell game before he finds the half-full carton of petrified Singapore Noodles in the bottom drawer of the desk and tosses it in the trash. Then he throws a bunch of other stuff in the trash, too, because those noodles were a disgusting display the likes of which he never wants to see again: three sandwich wrappers from the burger place down the street, a styrofoam box that used to be full of curly fries (which they got from the Arby's on I-59 on their way back from that park where Dief had the incident with the ducks). A ziplock baggie with some kind of paste inside it. A stray set of plastic cutlery. About eighty-five paper coffee cups.
"You feeling okay, Ray?" asks Huey, when Ray's on his third trip to the trash can.
Ray glares at him. "Guy can't just want a clean spot to sit, around here? I mean, Jesus—look at this place. We're going to drown in our own filth or something." He bangs his wastepaper basket a little harder than he needs to on the edge of the trash can in the corner of the room. Huey just lifts his hands.
When the desk seems empty of trash, Ray stacks all the different piles of paper into one massive master pile of paper, which he squashes carefully down as much as it will go and then shoves into the stinky drawer where those noodles used to be. And that's that. The desk is clean. But Fraser hasn't called.
"I gotta, uh." Ray pauses, his hand on the back of his head, fingers scratching aimless at his hair. He has no idea who he's talking to, here. "I gotta go check on some leads," he finishes anyway. Then he grabs his hoodie and pulls it on as he makes his way to the door.
Fraser doesn't call that night. There's no message on Ray's machine. He checks out his windowsills, and also his mailbox, because Fraser is a freak, and maybe he sent the message via carrier pigeon or through the old fashioned mail, but there's nothing.
It's cool; Ray appreciates the break. He gets falling-down drunk on some vodka he's been hanging onto in case of emergencies and falls asleep on the couch.
The next day, Ray gets calls from:
- his mom
- a contact he uses sometimes, with a bunch of info Ray already knows
- eight people with complaints they believe should be CPD business, one of whom might even be right
- a guy who wants to sell him a subscription to the Chicago SunTimes
- a guy who wants to sell him printer ink
- his mom again
- and Welsh, from his own office, to ask him what the hell he thinks he's doing hanging around the office when there are crimes happening right outside those double-doors, and does he really want to be the guy responsible for letting that kind of thing go on?
Ray's cell phone doesn't ring at all.
On the third day, Ray calls the Consulate. Fraser answers: "Canadian Consulate; Consulate du Canada. How may I be of assistance?"
Ray swallows, and it's pretty loud, and that is not cool, because it makes him sound nervous, which he's not nervous, being as he is not the guy with anything to be sorry about here, and plus, also, not a freaking girl.
Fraser takes a breath. "Ray," he says finally, softly. "I—" But then he stops, and breathes out, and doesn't say anything else.
The line hums in Ray's ear, and maybe Ray's crazy, but that hum right there feels like a pissy hum, a Hum of Stubbornness and Pig-Headedness. It is a hum that says, plain as day, I'm not going to be the guy that caves first.
Ray closes his eyes for a second, then he slides his thumb down over the button on the receiver and hangs up.
He can't stay at work. It's the middle of the afternoon on a busy Friday. There are people everywhere and Ray feels like he's sitting there at his desk with his skin on inside out or something; feels like everybody can see everything, right now. He can't go home, either, though, on account of he's twitchy and pissed and sad as hell, and there's nothing at home except his unnamed turtle and a lot of bad TV. So what he ends up doing is going to the gym.
But that's okay, it turns out, because the gym is exactly where he needs to be. It smells like old sweat and dust and leather, like the grease they use to oil the machines, and there is nobody talking in here, not anywhere, except to say things like "Spot me?" and "Watch out on your left!" Ray gets into his sweats and runs laps around the track upstairs, not thinking, his feet smacking hard against the wooden floor. He runs until his lungs feel like they're on fire, until he gets a stitch in his side and an ache in his bad knee, and then he comes down to the ground floor again and spends some quality time with the heavy bag and the bench press, pushing himself, letting the prickle of endorphins wash over him in waves.
He can hardly move by the time he gets out of the shower, but his
head feels clear for the first time in days, no longer full of that
endless rehearsal for the conversation he never did get to finish with
Fraser—the one they started in his bathroom after the Gaynor
bust, the one Fraser walked out on. The one which, Ray has finally
figured out, is always going to end up the same: he tells Fraser be somebody different and Fraser says I can't.
What to do about that is a whole other thing which he is not going to figure out tonight. He gets dressed slow, heads out to his car through the gathering dusk, slings his gym bag into the passenger seat and slides in behind the wheel. His breath puffs out in little clouds in the dark, but the engine starts right up.
So these are the plans Ray makes as he drives home from the gym:
- clean sweatpants
- the rest of the leftover chinese in his fridge
That's it, that's all. Simplicity. He feels like crap, and he's shaky from working out harder than he should have, and he doesn't think he can deal with anything more complicated. But see, plans like that are pretty much asking for trouble, like that thing, the whatsit, with the gods and fates and the greek guy with the stories, and anyway, that, Ray figures, is why Fraser is standing on the stoop of his apartment building when he pulls into his spot.
For a couple of seconds, Ray just sits there in his car and stares out at Fraser, and Fraser stands there on the stoop staring back. He still looks like a doorman somehow, even though he's wearing a pair of faded blue jeans and his leather jacket in place of his uniform, the brim of his Stetson in his hands.
Eventually, Fraser shifts, uncomfortably, tilts his head. Ray lets his own head drop, then he grabs the gym bag and pulls it with him onto the sidewalk, slings it over his shoulder and heads for the door.
"Hey," he says, when he's close enough.
Fraser coughs. "I, ah. I'm sorry to have come over uninvited. I tried to call you but you weren't answering your phone."
Ray nods, reaches past Fraser to unlock the door and pull it open, then waits for Fraser to go through it. "Yeah, uh. I was at the gym," he says. Wiggles his hand near his head. "No reception." He stops in the lobby to check his mail, which is also a convenient excuse to stand still for a few seconds, get a few deep breaths. Fraser stands uncertainly behind him, hanging onto his hat with one hand. Ray sighs. "It's okay. It's cool. Come on up."
Ray's place is kind of a disaster, but what else is new? He throws his jacket over the back of the couch, heads into the kitchen while Fraser gets his boots off. "You thirsty?" he calls. "I got, uh. Beer, or milk—" He pulls the milk out of the fridge and sniffs it, cautiously. "—or okay, not milk. Or...water."
"I'm fine," Fraser says, from the kitchen doorway. "Thank you kindly."
Ray glances over his shoulder, then turns back to the fridge. He has no idea, no freaking idea. Eventually, he forces himself to shake it off, pull a beer from the fridge and close the door, then turn back to Fraser.
Fraser looks miserable. His hands are behind his back, like he isn't sure where else to put them. His face is taut and flushed. "I'm not," he says, and stops, winces. "I'm not very good at this, but I couldn't allow this to rest where we left it. You were right the other day, Ray, and I was dishonest. I doubted you, and I'm sorry for it."
Ray nods. He can't keep looking at Fraser, but he nods, and he swallows. "It's—yeah, Frase. I know. It's okay."
"No," Fraser says. He shifts uncomfortably. "It really isn't. But I want you to know that I, uh. That I trust you more than I trust anyone else."
Ray does look at him then, because it strikes him that this is probably true, and Jesus—what the hell is he supposed to do with that?
The silence stretches out and maybe Fraser gets a little of what's going on in Ray's head from the look on his face because he takes a breath, lets it out, then crosses the kitchen floor. Ray has his head down now, so all he can see are Fraser's socks, damp around the edges, like he's been walking someplace wet, and the muddy cuffs of his jeans. But he feels it just fine when Fraser's hands close on his shoulders, propping him up, those long thumbs warm on his collarbone, even through the cotton of his t-shirt. Feels the heat coming off Fraser's body, too, because Fraser's standing so close, really close, close enough Ray can also feel Fraser's breath stir his hair when he finally, finally talks.
"I'm sorry," he says again.
Ray swallows. He is trying to hang onto that distance he won himself, running those laps at the gym, because it makes sense to keep some distance between them; this thing they got, the way Fraser lives his life—it just isn't safe. And the more Fraser holds him there, the more things build up in Ray's chest and so even though Fraser's hands feel really good, Ray has to try to, to pull away; has to get his hands in Fraser's sweater and shove the guy, hard, so the two of them can get a little space. But it doesn't work like that. Fraser's solid, he hardly even moves when Ray shoves him, and he doesn't, he fucking won't let go.
"Let go," Ray says.
Fraser's lips brush the hair over Ray's ear. He says, "no," softly, his voice all deep and close and kind of rough. Those hands pull Ray in and he has to go, and then they slide around and flatten on his back, and somehow he's got his face buried in Fraser's neck and oh Jesus, oh Jesus, he is so fucked.
"It's all right," Fraser says, pushing a hand up Ray's back, and Ray laughs and tightens his fist in Fraser's sweater and he doesn't even bother calling Fraser a liar. Fraser swallows and kisses Ray's temple again, and this time Ray doesn't pretend he didn't feel it; he lifts his head from Fraser's neck and looks Fraser in the eye. Fraser blushes, but he holds Ray's gaze, and the two of them, they have this moment.
"It ain't all right," Ray says finally.
"No," Fraser agrees, and he hardly has any voice left at all, and Ray closes his eyes and presses his mouth to Fraser's, slides a hand up Fraser's neck to cup the back of Fraser's head and hold him close.