Ray was going to go insane, he just knew it. It had been 5 days and this was—argh—this was excruciating. Sitting at home doing nothing while everyone was handling him with kid gloves was beyond frustrating.
The meds were still making him nauseous and the wound had started to itch like a motherfucker a day ago. And if Fraser told him one more time – in that infuriating calm way – that the stitches would come out in two days he would throw something at that big Canadian head.
He took a deep breath and circled his living room again in a quick one-two step, throwing punches at the air; and one more round, a quick step around the couch table –bam- another punch aimed just to the left of the kitchen counter.
The music blared from the speakers and Ray continued shadow boxing, trying to get the angriness and the pent-up energy out of his system.
He wasn’t angry at Fraser, not really.
Just moody from sitting around, too much time spent doing nothing and the stupid walks around the neighborhood weren’t doing shit for him. Walking? What kind of exercise was that supposed to be? Old folks ‘walked’ when they felt like doing something; Ray went and kicked someone in the head.
“…Now, we’re gonna reach another whole new level, grabbin’ the light on the run from the devil (watch out)…”
The beat pumped through him and he shook his shoulders loose.
He’d just like to forget about the whole incident – get rid of the stitches, have the bruises on his face healed; the wound covered by hair again and be done with it. He was fine –dammit! Sure he wasn’t back to form yet but he was alright!
No reason for Fraser to be hovering at his back all the time as if he was expecting him to keel over any minute. Hell—even Stella had called and sounded close to tears all the way down in Florida!
“I’m the bomb and I’m ’bout to blow up…”
Ray grinned like a wolf and spun around again, feet flitting over the floor, his arms raised in a defensive pose. Christ! It wasn’t even more than a few songs and he was already sweaty. Wasn’t this supposed to get better?
“…I’m the bomb and I’m ’bout …to BLOW UP…”
Ray came to a standstill when the last bars of the song trailed off and pressed his hands against his thighs, panting. Fuck! But tired was better; better than this itching feeling that made his skin crawl. Exhaustion was his buddy.
Once the anger dissipated, guilt started to creep up on him. He shouldn’t have snapped at Fraser like that… Ray sighed and wiped a bead of sweat away from his brow.
He could still see Fraser’s tight-lipped expression before he had taken his hat and left the apartment with Diefenbaker.
Fuck! Ray kicked his all-together innocent couch in frustration.
If Fraser just didn’t try to be so damn helpful all the time. Ray wasn’t fragile and he had been whacked around before – he still had most of his brains.
He stripped off his sweat soaked shirt and traipsed to the bathroom for a much needed shower.
This was so stupid! It didn’t even have anything to do with the fucking head wound! He already hadn’t been able to remember what kind of laundry detergent he had stored in the cupboard before he got hit!
He usually just grabbed whatever was at hand at the supermarket when he remembered that he needed to buy some. Just like Fraser to keep track of his supplies. And had he asked Ray for the brand of his hair gel –hell, he could even have listed the ingredients of his favorite product. But no! Fraser had to ask after laundry! Laundry for fuck’s sake!
He turned on the water and adjusted the temperature to get a little more heat for his tense muscles.
And when Ray couldn’t remember – as if the fate of the world depended on Ray’s choice of washing supplies – Fraser paled and started off with this whole bunch of questions to check if Ray’s memory was shot to hell. “Can you remember what you had for dinner yesterday?” and “What about the telephone number of your parents?” or even “What grade did you have in math in 6th grade?” (and how anybody should be able to remember that was completely beyond Ray) and it all pointed toward a Fraser-style freak-out and Ray was sure that the Mountie was about 5 inches away from calling the hospital for a check up so he had turned toward his favorite defence mechanism: attack.
It all went downhill from there. He had tried to explain but Fraser never listened and then Ray accused him of blowing everything out of proportions which led to Fraser insisting that “Ray, really, this is hardly a joking matter—“ and then he had exploded that “of fucking course not!” because this was about his head and since when did Fraser know what was going on there anyway and then the Mountie had looked hurt and— Ray sighed and worked the shampoo into his hair. It had been a lost cause.
Jesus! You could think that Ray was permanently damaged or more dead than alive or something the way Fraser acted.
Yeah, yeah, and he himself didn’t make things any better at the moment either. He couldn’t help it, being scooped up made him mad. He wanted to get back to work and not feel tired all the time and his head was still hurting and—no, Ray probably wasn’t the easiest person to be around at the moment.
He could just do with a little bit less niggling and over protectiveness and – hell, if he was really honest, which he was mostly trying not to be because he usually found stuff out about himself that he never really wanted to know whenever he strayed into honest territory, he could use some comfort. A hug would be nice, there, he could admit it. Didn’t make him a wuss or any less of a man.
That everyone else was worried about him like crazy just made him feel worse…wait a minute. Come to think of it… when was the last time Fraser had even touched him? Or brushed against him on one of their walks?
Ray stood dumbfounded under the spray of the shower for a few seconds, his hands still soapy and frozen in his hair.
“Ahh! Shit!” He started to wipe frantically at his eyes when the shampoo started to run down and almost slipped.
See, everyone could just stop worrying about him getting whacked; it was just as likely that he got himself killed in the shower.
Ray turned the water off and grabbed a towel. When he stepped outside of the bathroom a few minutes later his eyes hit upon the small table next to the entrance door. He went over there and grabbed something blue from it. Ray smiled and carried it with him to the couch.
He turned it around in his hands.
It was a baseball cap from the Chicago Cubs. Fraser had given it to him the morning of his second day back at home.
Ray’s smile turned into a grin. Fraser had tried to tell him that it had simply caught his eye – more specifically, that Dief found it “particularly apt” – on one of their afternoon walks which is why he bought it for Ray.
But Ray knew him… it was because Ray had felt so damn self-conscious about the bald spot from his surgery. He wasn’t ashamed or anything but he didn’t want people to stare at the stitches all the time – at least strangers should treat him like same old Ray Kowalski instead of a china doll.
And he appreciated it that Fraser hadn’t called him on it when he gave him the cap.
His fingers traced the ‘C’ on the front of the cap. He really couldn’t remember the last time Fraser had touched him.
His eyebrows drew together and the crease between them deepened. Why the hell not?
They had always been touching constantly, or at least had been so close that they were almost touching all the time.
His head started to pound again and Ray took another painkiller with practiced ease – one could almost think he had been doing this for more than a few days.
He even remembered that Fraser was very careful not to touch him when they were sleeping in Ray’s bed at night. Just the first two nights Ray had been so tired that he hadn’t thought about it and then – right – he had squeezed Fraser’s hand yesterday night.
Because he had had that dream again the night before where he was stumbling around disoriented, trying to find something and time was running out but he was just getting more lost by the second and Fraser… Fraser felt safe like nobody’s business.
So he had closed his fingers around Fraser’s and… Fraser had jumped – there was really no better word for it – like electrocuted or desperately surprised or something equally freaky.
Ray turned the cap around in his hands again, swallowing the hurt. Why?
But he knew already that he wouldn’t ask Fraser. He was too afraid of the answer.
He got dressed and Fraser was still gone when sudden inspiration struck him. Perfect! He grabbed his keys, pulled the cap on and went out.
Ray was whistling when he let himself back into his flat a little while later. The moment he got the door open he saw that Fraser was already halfway up from the couch, a look of anxious anticipation on his face.
“Ray!” Fraser sounded relieved.
Ray was confused for a second. What? Did Fraser think he couldn’t even manage to get back home on his own?
But before he could say anything the expression was gone from Fraser’s face, replaced by a careful smile, leaving Ray wondering if he had even seen it.
“Uhm… hey, there.” Ray lifted his arm to show off what he bought. “I got us ice cream.”
Which was as much of an apology as he could muster. Fraser seemed to recognize the gesture for what it was. He smiled at him.
“That’s very thoughtful of you Ray. I visited the police department on my walk to keep the lieutenant and your colleagues updated on your progress. Everyone says ‘hello’ and that I should tell you to come by again on your next walk.”
Ray grinned. “Hey, I’ve been there—when? Two days ago? Hell, they won’t let me work but I should drop by in my free time? – Not a good deal.”
They sat at Ray’s table, each a bowl of ice cream in front of them and Fraser was looking again at Ray with this fond look in his eyes. It felt good, Ray thought. As if nothing could make Fraser as happy as just seeing Ray. Why then was he so distanced all the time?
He almost asked but… he liked Fraser looking at him like that. And maybe one fight was enough for one day? Yeah…maybe he was just a coward but he didn’t have it in him to fight.
But now that Ray had noticed how Fraser kept a definite distance between them he felt it in such an acute way that it was almost the only thing that occupied his mind – that and the fact that there just wasn’t much else than Fraser to distract himself.
Two days later the stitches came out and the doctor told him that he could lay off the anticonvulsants that made him feel woozy. Ray should have felt exuberant. He should have felt like a million bucks.
Somehow all he felt was tired. His bruises still weren’t completely healed – at least the purple one on his cheek stubbornly remained and the spot around his wound was still bald. The doctor was almost ecstatic about Ray’s condition which in turn seemed to relax Fraser a good deal – so much in fact that he stretched out one hand in Ray’s direction before he hesitated a second and Ray closed his eyes because –dammit, this hurt! But then – very softly and almost reverently, Fraser’s fingers closed over his shoulder to squeeze him once before he pulled his hand carefully away.
Ray soaked up the touch as if Fraser could make his hair grow back and his bruise vanish if he only touched him long enough. It felt good… not as defeated as he had before.
Fraser drove them back, sneaking glances at Ray in between. It was a curious feeling, almost as if Fraser couldn’t really believe that Ray was going to be fine. And that was a damn weird thought because there wasn’t much difference between his condition after the appointment at the hospital and before – except for the stitches, of course.
Ray made coffee for the two of them and puzzled some more about Fraser’s odd behavior. He felt the accusations on the tip of his tongue, felt himself bristle, felt his muscles beginning to clench. No way was he going to start another fight.
Ray always ended up angry when he didn’t understand something and Fraser was so damn good at not saying anything while he was talking a mile a minute that Ray always got frustrated and then started shouting and then Fraser was hurt and silent in the end.
Instead Ray flopped down on the couch and switched the TV on. Fraser settled in next to him and took a sip of his coffee.
Ray flicked through a few channels before he found something he could stand. He needn’t have bothered; he couldn’t concentrate on it anyway. His mind was still stuck on the Fraser angle and Ray had never been good at keeping still while he was thinking something through.
The movie played on the screen while Ray’s mind provided his own mental movie with all the scenes that had happened between them since the fatal night of the kiss – Jesus, what a load of stuff had happened since then! It was a little overwhelming. Still, things between Fraser and him had definitely looked better before the whole factory disaster.
Since then Fraser was almost afraid of touching him. Why? Why the fuck should he be afraid?
He took his mug and gulped down a mouthful of coffee to have at least something to hold in his hands. He felt like pacing but then Fraser would ask what was wrong and then they would be at the point where Ray hadn’t wanted to fight to begin with, so no, pacing was out.
He really wanted to let it rest. It was probably just his overactive imagination – he was real good at that. One hit to the head and the whole world was out to get him. Or it was because Fraser was mostly living at Ray’s place at the moment and maybe he was just afraid that something would happen when he came closer?
Ray crossed his ankles in order to keep still and tried to concentrate on the screen. Fraser reached out for his coffee and Ray got a memory flash of Fraser’s hesitation to touch him at the hospital. Something clicked.
It was almost nondescript. A mere phantom of a thought. Ray had a hunch. Taking into consideration the fact that Fraser did indeed have a thing for him, but was afraid of who-knows-what haunted Mounties instead of the usual relationship issues, and that Ray got hit and—
Ray was on a roll here.
He was unto something and he knew it. His toe started to tap out a nervous rhythm under the couch table.
Fraser noticed Ray’s tapping foot the same moment that Ray grabbed the remote to turn the TV off.
“Gimme your hands.” Ray said on a whim. His whole face alight with the possibility of testing his new theory
“I—excuse me?” Fraser asked with a frown.
“Come on,” Ray urged and held out his own hand in invitation. Still frowning Fraser slowly extended his hand.
When Fraser’s fingertips touched Ray’s palm a low smile spread over Ray’s face. He closed his hand over Fraser’s and reached out to take Fraser’s other hand, too.
“Now close your eyes,” Ray said softly and Fraser looked questioningly at their joined hands.
“Trust me on this, go on, close your eyes,” Ray repeated and Fraser, swallowing quietly, obeyed.
Ray’s heart was beating so rapidly as if it was trying to jump out of his chest. He wet his lips and pulled Fraser’s hands up to his face. He pressed the palms loosely against his face and heard Fraser gasp softly.
Ray felt the warm skin against his stubble, the beginning of a 5 o’ clock shadow and moved the fingers up, to follow the curve of his brows, down the bridge of his nose and moved Fraser’s thumbs softly over his lower lip.
Fraser’s fingers trembled ever so slightly. Ray covered Fraser’s hands with his own and held them in place, cradling his cheeks.
“Frase…” Ray whispered. “I’m still here.”
And Fraser’s face crunched up in pain. But his fingers stayed warm against Ray’s skin.
“I didn’t die, alright? I’m here, flesh and blood buddy.” As if to prove his point he pulled Fraser’s fingers along his throat until the strong, steady beating of his pulse vibrated under the fingertips. Fraser swallowed heavily.
“’m not going anywhere, you hear me?”
Jerkily, Fraser nodded. His brows drew together to form a sharp crease and he licked his lips.
And then, very careful, Fraser fingers stroked the skin of Ray’s throat, over the rhythmic beating of Ray’s heart.
Ray’s lips relaxed into a smile.
“Touch me,” he murmured, his voice a little rough.
The movement of Fraser’s fingers was a sudden onslaught. With barely concealed urgency his fingers flitted over Ray’s face; skimming over the now closed eyelids, the shape of his ears, back to the lips only to move upward again.
An aching tenderness in the touch that left Ray raw and exposed. He swallowed drily, whispering “it’s okay” again as if those words were an incantation.
Slowly, Fraser’s touch calmed down. It became less frantic, less filled with despair. With his eyes still closed, Fraser mapped out every detail of Ray’s features. The small scar near his chin where he had hit the stairs when he was six years old, the curve of his lips, the tender skin beneath his eyes.
Words spilled over Ray’s lips, called into being by Fraser’s gentle touch; giving Fraser something back, Ray’s very own inapt and clumsy way of trying to soothe. Even though words had never been his friends, even though he always said the wrong things at the wrong time, but because Fraser needed to hear them.
“They need a crowbar to pry me away, Frase” and then – a little more honest – “I don’t wanna die either, alright? I’m not about to kick the bucket any sooner than I have to” and Fraser’s hands began to roam, to expand their territory to make Ray completely their own.
Smoothing over his shoulders, down his arms and still Fraser kept his eyes closed – a childlike expression on his face, one of wonder and concentration.
And that Fraser wasn’t looking at him – was only looking with his hands – made the words come easier. Ray watched that now painfully young looking face and continued talking in quiet, rushed tones.
“But I have faults, okay? Just ask Stell,” and he couldn’t quite keep the bitter chuckle inside but Fraser’s agile fingers smoothed over the corners of his mouth, carrying the bitterness away and Ray took a quick, shallow breath before he continued. “And I’m a dumb bastard and I get mad and I jump Bogart all over you but I—“ I need you.
The fundamental truth of this realization came with such force that Ray wasn’t prepared for it. Jesus… when had this thing he had for Fraser become so intense?
All that came out was a choked off gurgle. Fraser’s eyes opened and for a second Ray really admired the fine tuned senses of the guy.
They looked at each other for an immeasurable second and finally, with Fraser’s fingers still stroking down his neck, staring into those eyes, Ray really understood something for the first time. Fraser might be driven by justice and all his high opinions and great expectations and all that, sure, but that was only half of the story.
There was an ocean of loss… and fear… and longing written in that face which was so used to being schooled into a professional mask that it explained a lot about Fraser’s own style of daredevilry. If emotions so strong were mixed up equally in a man’s heart that man was bound to do strange things.
Maybe it was all just a way of running away from one thing, like losing his parents so young, at the same time that he was running for all the right reasons, to fight for what he believed in, to save innocent lives… and maybe, in some moments, it really didn’t matter to him whether he lived or died in the process.
That thought caused a shiver to run down Ray’s spine. There was a point –and he always loved that about cracking a suspect— when you hit upon some hard and fast truth, so inherent that there were no two ways about it. And when that happened you just knew if the miserable, little jerk was lying or not because you had had a glimpse of the very core of their being.
It was funny in a tragic way that a man who acted like superman all the time, and who didn’t even need a cape for it, was actually just desperately looking for some sort of cape that might provide a shield between him and all the ugly things of the world. Hell, yeah, Ray knew all about looking for that one true thing.
And Fraser looked so horrible lost, sitting on the couch completely frozen in position – or maybe it was that fight or flight moment? – but his fingers were still warm against Ray’s skin and his eyes were still fixed on Ray’s as if he could read him like a book, just pick a page and jump from Ray’s most humiliating moments to his deepest desires or to his most childish ideas. Who knew? Maybe, right at this moment, Fraser could see all that, the way Ray felt exposed and opened up like an old wound that was almost healed before someone tore it open again.
Looking at those blue eyes, and the caution in them, Ray managed to get out the words he had been sure he would never, ever, be able to say to Fraser.
“Don’t go…” The words he had never wanted to say for fear of the answer, “…stay with me…” The question he had never posed for fear of asking too much, that asking Fraser to stay would mean condemning him to be unhappy.
But what was Fraser still doing here if not waiting for this question?
And for a moment Fraser looked so heartbroken that Ray wanted to take it all back, sure that Fraser couldn’t say yes. And he didn’t.
But before Ray could even utter a single word Fraser lips were pressed to his, hot and desperate, fingers pulling his face closer while those lips burned an imprint onto Ray’s.
Ray overcame his surprise and managed to get his own hands on some skin, stroking reassuringly along Fraser’s smooth cheeks until some of the desperation left Fraser’s kiss.
It turned gentle, soft lips moving indulgently against his own, a slow dance. The feel of slick tongues drew a small moan of Ray and without any conscious effort there suddenly wasn’t any room separating them anymore, there was no space left between them.
And still Ray was so hungry for Fraser’s touch, soaking up the warmth of Fraser’s body, drawing him closer and closer and the long, languid kisses surprised Ray. He hadn’t thought that either of them could be so careful about this, that Fraser could admit how important this was… or how scary. Or that Ray himself would ever be able to be so honest with himself.
But the achingly sweet kisses spoke volumes. Maybe it was enough that no words would be needed beyond it.
At least Fraser didn’t seem in any hurry to regain his speech, if his slightly shaking fingers in Ray’s hair and those wet lips pressing against Ray’s with utmost devotion were anything to go by – and body language was something Ray had always been particularly sensitive to.
Ray was all over that. Maybe lady karma was finally paying her dues after all of the cruel games she had played with Ray over the last few weeks.
On to Part 11: The Aftermath or Wrestling with Happiness Chicago-Style