Ray's eyes were burning, but he was scared to touch them. The last shotgun blast had taken out the dresser he'd been hunkering behind, and there was at least half a key of heroin coating his hair and clothing. He climbed to his feet and blinked fiercely to try to clear his eyes.
Fraser was standing over the tied-up perp. There was blood on one side of Fraser's face, and his eyes were wide and blue and stunned-looking.
"Help me, Frase. I gotta get this stuff off of me right now." Tears itched in Ray's eyes. Already there was a glow spreading from all the lamps in the room, around Fraser's red jacket, and around his head, lighting him from behind. It looked almost like Fraser had a halo.
Fraser jogged toward him. "Come with me into the bathroom."
Ray let himself be dragged along, and then Fraser lifted him into the tub and clean, cool water started running down Ray's face.
"Thanks. Jesus, thanks."
Ray felt Fraser's hands rubbing over his hair, over his face, washing away the horse. But he'd already breathed in too much of it, he knew—he felt like he was leaving his body. It sucked. He remembered this from his days in Vice, from the few times he hadn't been able to bluff his way through. He hated the out-of-control feeling, even if it took away the ever-present ache in his right leg and his traditional coffee headache.
"I've got you, Ray," he heard Fraser say, and Ray wondered what he meant. A second later he realized Fraser's arm was around his waist, holding him up.
Then the sound of the water blended with Fraser's murmured reassurances and the stomping of feet as their back up arrived, and Ray let go.
It was okay to let go.
Back when Ray was married with Stella, he kept dreaming about flying for some reason. The worse things got, the more he dreamed he could fly. He liked those dreams, in spite of the dip in his stomach when he sometimes started falling instead. He'd fall from high up and at the last moment he'd take a deep breath; so deep that he would start to rise again, floating up like a balloon...like he was floating right now.
Someone's hand was on his arm, holding him down. Still, it felt like he was moving, even though he could tell he was lying flat.
"Just a little longer, Ray. Please hold on." Fraser sounded so calm, but Ray could hear something underneath gaping open like a crack to the center of the world. Like a fault-line in the earth.
"What're those things called again, Fraser?" Ray heard himself mumbling, and tried to raise his voice over the beeping sound. Heart monitor, he thought. "Technotic? Earthquakes. From an earthquake."
"There's no earthquake, Ray." Fraser's voice was soft, trying to be soothing. "You're in an ambulance."
"No. No. I know." Ray tried to wave his hands but they felt too heavy, and he gave up. "I mean from the earthquakes, that thing you were telling me earlier, about the plates that go together."
"Tectonic plates, you mean?"
"Yeah. Tell me about them."
"Of course. Whatever you wish, Ray." Fraser cleared his throat. "Surface mass, or the lithosphere, exists as separate and distinct tectonic plates, which move about riding on a fluid-like layer below called the asthenosphere..."
Ray tried to listen, but the beeping was distracting him. Too slow—it was starting to sound ragged and crippled, like it was tripping over bumps in the road.
"Ray!" Fraser's voice was frantic all of a sudden. All that calm was completely gone.
Ray cracked open his eyes. There was still blood on Fraser's face, dried dark and flaking in places. His eyes looked wild, and he still had a glow, which seemed right somehow. Ray had always wondered about him. No one else like him. Fraser wasn't quite real.
"Crazy Mountie with a halo," Ray said. "Don't belong in this world, Fraser. What were they thinking, sending you down here into the muck?"
"Please, Ray. Please." Fraser's grip tightened on Ray's arm, like he was scared Ray was the one who would fly away.
"I can't fly, Fraser. Only in my dreams. But you—" A sudden pain hit Ray in the gut, and he gagged out a cough. "Shit. Shit."
On Ray's other side, the guy in white did something to Ray's arm, taking his blood pressure or something, because everything went tight over there. Then he said something to the driver, and the squeeze Fraser gave him was tighter than the pressure cuff.
"Please hold on, Ray. Please. Stay with me."
"Holding," Ray said. "Staying right here. Earth-bound, bound to earth, can't really fly at all. You know that, Frase." Ray's head swam and he started drifting.
Fraser shook his arm. "No flying, Ray."
"Nope. Not like you. You're always jumpin', flyin'...can't ever catch you."
It sounded like Fraser was warning him about something. But Ray couldn't figure what, because it was nothing but the truth, and anyway Fraser would be leaving soon. He'd only come back to settle some things, he'd said, couldn't leave the Consulate understaffed. Just a matter of time before Fraser would fly away back north. And Ray had tried but couldn't see a way clear to making Fraser take him with him.
The floaty feeling was getting worse, and it felt like an easy excuse, because he could always say later he was high as a kite. High, high up, from way up there, Ray said, "You ever feel like there's just one person who can see from the same place? Everything you've been through, you go through it together, and if that person isn't going to be around, it's like you'll lose everything you are? Because no one else could understand?"
Ray waited, his eyes closed and his stomach lurching. Then he heard Fraser say, "Yes. Yes, I do, Ray."
Taking a deep breath, Ray felt his heart jump and thump, rattling in his chest, the beeping going crazy in his ears. "But you're gonna fly, Fraser, and I can't fly with you. Always stuck on the ground."
Fraser let go of Ray's arm and squeezed his hand instead. "It's not true," he said. "You can fly. Just not right now, Ray. Please, right now, just stay with me—"
Ray had never heard Fraser sound like that. Not ever. His voice was like those plates shifting together, grinding the earth into dust.
"Maybe you can teach me later," Ray said as he felt the movement stop and everything suddenly went quiet. "Teach me to fly, Frase." Then the guy in white was leaning over him doing stuff, and Fraser had to let go as Ray went sliding into the light. But just before everything went away, he heard Fraser whisper—
"Yes, Ray. If you'll have me."
Ray had the world's worst hangover, which hardly seemed fair since he hadn't even been drinking.
He woke up to the sound of Fraser's low tones mixing in with Welsh's. Fraser sounded pissed off—Ray could tell because he raised his voice a little. Then the curtain got pushed aside and there was Welsh, looking like he'd been the one going on a bender.
"Detective. I see you've decided to rejoin the living."
"Yes, sir," Ray croaked.
"I'm pleased to hear it. Here—" Welsh leaned over the bed and handed Ray a white paper bag. "From Andronico's. Hot pastrami on rye."
"Let it not be said I do not take care of my detectives. Even the stupid ones who foolishly inhale the evidence."
"Aw, c'mon. It's not like I tried to—"
"Sir." That was Fraser, coming up behind, his face weirdly fierce.
Looking guilty, Welsh said, "We'll talk about it later, Kowalski." He rocked back on his heels and tucked his chin down to stare at Ray. "You look like crap."
"Thanks. That means a lot coming from you, sir."
Welsh's mouth twisted into something like a smile. "The good Constable has offered to babysit when they cut you loose."
"Okay by you?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"All right. You're on sick leave until they clear you for duty. See you back at the precinct."
Welsh bumped by Fraser, who hadn't moved out of the way in time. They did a little dance, turning in the doorway, and then Welsh was past and out, flicking a disgruntled look backward. Ray couldn't tell if it was for him or for Fraser, who was still looking a little dazed and crumpled.
At least he'd washed the blood off, or a nurse had, because there was a bandage taped over his eyebrow where they must've stitched him up. Fraser caught him looking and cleared his throat, then raised his hand to his brow, stopping just shy of the bandage. He looked surprised, like he'd forgotten it was there.
"You okay?" Ray asked.
"Yes, I'm fine, Ray. I should be asking you the same thing." Fraser pulled up a chair and sat down. "You...worried us all. Your heart..." Fraser looked down at Ray's chest as if he were checking Ray's ticker by sight. "It almost stopped."
"Naw. It just needed a little breather."
"A breather." Now Fraser looked up at him, polite disbelief on his face. "You...you—"
"Say it. C'mon, say it—I pissed you off almost dying on ya—"
"I was concerned."
"And angry, yes." Fraser took a deep breath. "You drew his fire, and that bureau was an extremely flimsy barricade. Indeed, it was blown to pieces, along with the evidence—"
"Which I inhaled like an idiot."
"Well, that is a little harsh."
Ray smiled at Fraser, who smiled back hesitantly. Then they were both grinning like idiots, and Ray was laughing when the doctor came in to sign him out.
He took his sandwich with him.
His apartment looked different, because there was still this glow, not very noticeable, but there, hanging around the red of Fraser's uniform and the white of Dief's fur. Dief was in a good mood, Fraser told him, because he'd been left behind at the scene with one of the beat cops, a pretty lady named Diane who always had treats in her pocket. Usually for her kids, but Fraser said Dief was as abominably fond of strawberry Twizzlers as any five year-old.
Ray still felt high, but not from the drugs, because physically he was crashing hard. He thought he could sleep for a week. So that didn't explain why he was in such a good mood. Maybe it was just getting out of the hospital with no serious damage. He couldn't remember much from after the shotgun blast, just that floaty feeling in the ambulance with Fraser holding onto his arm. And it was all over now, and he was home.
"You sure this is okay? I know you got things to do...back at the Consulate. Got to get all your ducks in a row if you're going to head up to the Areas soon."
Fraser gave him a strange look and shook his head. "I'm not going anywhere, Ray." He pushed Ray toward the sofa and then went to the kitchen with the bag of groceries he'd picked up. Probably lots of vegetables and milk and fresh stuff that Ray wouldn't know what to do with. Didn't matter, though, because Fraser wasn't going anywhere. He'd just said.
At least, he'd have to stay until Ray was better.
Maybe that was why Ray felt so good—nothing to do but laze around for a couple of days with Fraser to keep him company. Fraser was a good pal to have around when he was sick. He let Ray pick the channels and brought him stuff to drink—"Fluids, Ray. You must push fluids." Sometimes he wanted Ray to eat weird homemade medicine, but no matter how delirious Ray was he would threaten to kick Fraser in the head if he tried to stick any moose drops in his food.
Ray put on the Cubbies game and slid into his favorite position on the couch, one leg hanging over the arm and the other propped up on the coffee table. He was munching on his soggy pastrami sandwich when Fraser joined him. Fraser misjudged and sat down a little too close, crowding against Ray's thigh, but Ray didn't mind, really, so he didn't mention it.
Especially since Fraser was holding a big bowl of potato chips in his lap.
By the top of the fifth, the Cubbies were keeping a big lead for once, and Ray let himself relax a little. He leaned back and discovered Fraser had drifted over even further and was sound asleep with his chin against his chest. When Ray squeezed back against the sofa, Fraser made a soft sound and tilted over so his head rested against Ray's shoulder.
Poor guy was plain beat. Ray had to figure Fraser hadn't slept at all while Ray was still iffy on the survival thing, and their bust had been the morning before. So, Ray was careful not to move, even though he was getting a crick in his neck from keeping his shoulder lifted right.
After a while, though, it occurred to him he could just slouch down and wrap his arm around Fraser and—there, much better with Fraser's cheek resting on his chest. Okay, so it was a little weird, like snuggling, and partners didn't usually snuggle up on the couch while watching the ballgame. Not even after a six-pack.
But then, there was nothing usual about him and Fraser. Not anything at all. And that was when a little piece of his memory fell back into place—something about how Fraser was always making like the Amazing Flying Freak. And how he'd said he would teach Ray how to fly, too.
But that was stupid. Enough of the drugs must've been hanging around Ray's system, because even if it seemed possible, he knew it wasn't. Guys like him didn't fly.
No matter how much they'd always wanted to.
Ray woke up slowly feeling warm and loose. He tried to lift his arms to stretch and found one of them was still trapped under Fraser's shoulders.
Ray turned his head and found Fraser staring at him.
Still feeling foggy, Ray stared right back, for way too long, until it occurred to him that this fit under the same category of things partners don't do, not even after a case of beer. But still, he didn't move. He was conscious of the heat of Fraser's heavy body all along his side, and the way their legs had gotten tangled up on the couch, and how Fraser hardly seemed to blink very much.
Like a robot. Except Fraser was no robot—Ray knew that, had figured it out the time they were once doing a stake-out in a crypt, when Fraser had said something about love, and loss.
It was right around then Ray had realized his partner was an iceberg, only showing everybody the very tip of himself. Like he was afraid of anyone seeing what was underneath.
Ray had always been okay with that, because he was the same—a con man, a guy who lived his entire life undercover. But it wasn't because he didn't have a life of his own. He just didn't see the point in sharing it with anyone. Not after Stella didn't seem to want in.
But Fraser was staring at him like he could see all of it—all of Ray's secret dreams. Like maybe Fraser had a few dreams of his own he'd kept bottled up. Vacuum sealed and maybe buried under the permafrost.
Ray wanted to say something, but he was afraid it would break everything. He could feel his heart thumping hard. He took a deep breath, the kind that seemed to go on forever, and he saw Fraser's mouth open, and felt Fraser's ribcage expand under his arm, matching him.
Here we go, Ray thought, and he floated over, close, right up to Fraser's mouth.
And when their lips met, Ray could swear he was flying. At least, this was what he'd always thought it would be like. Better than heroin by a long shot—the taste of Fraser's mouth, and the sweetness of his lips and the soft scratch of their stubble and the way Fraser seemed to puddle against Ray so they were touching everywhere they could.
Then Fraser pulled back and stared at him some more, this time with a little crinkle around his eyes, and Ray knew just what that meant. Fraser only ever looked like that when Ray had done something that amazed him. Which must happen a lot, because it was a familiar expression. Ray didn't know when that had happened, that he'd gotten used to that look and had started doing things to get to see it more.
Only this time it was with a difference, because all Ray had done was kiss him. And that made it easy, because kissing Fraser was something he wanted to do anyway, unlike digging through dumpsters for evidence or loaning Frannie the Goat so she could take her driver's test.
"You asked me to teach you to fly," Fraser said softly. He brushed his thumb slowly over Ray's jaw.
"Yeah. Except somehow I think I've already got it down."
Fraser nodded solemnly, but his lips quirked up at the corners in a tiny smile.
Ray leaned in and tried to kiss it away. Turned out it wasn't so easy, because the more he kissed Fraser, the more they both ended up smiling.
That was okay, though.
Ray figured they had plenty of time.