The headache started as the airport security employee ran the scanner over him - a sharp, stabbing pain above Fraser's right eye as he watched Ray passively submitting to the careful examination of a gentleman whose badge said "W. Munroe." Ray should have at least been twitchy impatiently at this third round of scrutiny; under normal circumstances, in fact, there would be an excellent chance Ray would have, as Francesca Vecchio had once put it, blown his grommet.
The wand beeped, of course: once at Ray's waist, once near his wrist, and a veritable symphony of beeps for his torso. Fraser closed his eyes, noting that that didn't help the headache - not a migraine, then - and waited for the fireworks to start.
Hoping for them to start, if he was being honest with himself.
Nothing. When Fraser opened his eyes again, Ray was obediently removing his belt and all his jewelry. Or nearly all. "Sorry," he said to Mr. Munroe. "Can't take the nipple ring out too easy."
Mr. Munroe patted Ray's torso down and waved him through. Ray plodded toward the bag claim area with his head down, not catching Fraser's eye.
Ray submitted to the bag check just as quietly. He nodded slightly when the next security officer - a small, graceful man named X. Garcia - explained the procedure, and then just stared off into space as his bag was searched.
Eventually, Ray returned to where Fraser was standing; Fraser had already had ample time to replace his boots, and his bag had gone through unchecked. Normally, Ray would be fulminating about the injustice of that: "Why's it always got to be me, huh? Even airport security people think you're a saint, and they aren't even human."
But he wasn't saying anything like that now. Instead, he said, "Okay. Let's go. It's the Hilton, right?"
Fraser nodded and reached for Ray's bag, and Ray let him carry it.
The check in girl - woman, Fraser corrected himself; she was an adult with a job, even if she looked as though she could not possibly be 18 yet - noticed the bandages on Ray's hands right away. "Oh, wow," she said. "What did you do?"
Ray looked at his hands for a second, just a second, then shrugged and smiled a little at Jill H, as the woman's badge announced her. "Punched a wall. Couple of times."
Jill's professional smile didn't dim at all. "You must've been really mad," she said, in the same bouncy intonation that she'd used to welcome them to the hotel. Fraser wondered vaguely if she'd announce that the hotel was on fire with precisely that cheerful, peppy, rising tone.
"Yeah, I guess," Ray said. He sounded anything but mad.
"You don't look like the type," Jill said, and was she actually flirting with Ray? Fraser blinked, looked, looked again - she was leaning forward, big smile, resting her hand near Ray's on the counter top. But he just couldn't tell; he'd spent too long in the north, where he already knew everyone he encountered. Maybe he couldn't read the social cues of strangers anymore.
Ray just pulled his hand away. "Yeah, I guess I'm not," he said, and looked at Fraser.
Ray's cues Fraser knew very well indeed, so he stepped forward, smiled at Jill, and directed her attention toward him. They had their key card in short order - "Thank you kindly," Fraser said - and followed her directions to the elevator.
On the way up, he found himself staring at Ray's hands. Fraser hadn't been there when the call came. He'd been at the detachment house when Dief came to find him; Dief had been worried and distressed, and they went back to the house on the double. Dief had declined to go inside with Fraser, though, so he'd gone in alone to find Ray sitting in the dark at the kitchen table, blood dripping onto the floor from his knuckles.
Fraser had called Dr. Harrigan - it was a long trip for him, at night, in the cold, but Jim knew Ray and Fraser both very well; Fraser had rescued Jim's son two winters ago, and Ray had fixed Jim's car seven times, and so of course he said he was glad to come. And then Fraser had made Ray some tea, and helped him drink it, and Ray had said, "Vecchio called. Stella's dead. She was - she's dead."
Fraser wasn't sure, couldn't remember what he'd said; he just remembered pulling Ray to the couch, holding him. Ray hadn't cried, just rested limply against him, blood from his hands smearing Fraser's brown uniform jacket.
Ray had passively let Dr. Harrigan fix his hands. He'd been agreeable but distant as Fraser bought the tickets, packed for them, arranged for Don Healy to fly them to Yellowknife so they could get transportation south, arranged for Dief to stay with Mrs. Roman.
In the elevator, Fraser wished that Ray had lost his temper with the airport guards, or flirted back at Jill, or yelled at Fraser and blamed him for taking him so far from Stella. Anything. Anything would be better than this utterly atypical stillness.
In the hotel room, Ray stood and stared around, and Fraser fought the urge to do the same. It had been five years - nearly six - since they'd slept in any bedroom but their own, on a bed Ray and Fraser had made together, under handsewn quilts Constable Turnbull had sent them from Ontario. (The notes Turnbull enclosed always contained a great deal of exceedingly informative information about the pattern he'd chosen. Fraser knew a great deal about quilting these days.) The hotel seemed distant and impersonal and utterly foreign, a painful contrast to their home, and Fraser had a moment of shockingly intense memory, thinking of his first night in Chicago.
Ray finally walked to the bed and sat on it, hands resting gently on his thighs. "I should call Vecchio," he said. "Let him know we're coming." But he didn't make a move toward the phone.
"I'd be happy to do that, Ray, if you'd prefer."
A long, long pause, and then Ray sighed. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, I guess I would prefer."
Fraser noted the tariff rates on the card by the phone - shocking, frankly - and opted to use his cellular phone instead. As he dialed, his head throbbed - the travel, perhaps. The late hours.
"Hello?" The voice was harried but brisk.
Fraser blinked. "Francesca?"
"Fraser!" She sounded happy, just for a second. "Where are you guys?"
"In Chicago, at the hotel. We expect to be arriving at Miami International tomorrow at 4:45 pm. How - how is Ray?"
Francesca sighed heavily. "I don't know, Fraser. He's taking it pretty hard. Ma made me take his gun away, you know?" Fraser didn't know he made any sound, but he must have, because she continued hastily, "Not that we think he'd - you know, do anything to himself. Just, uh, he's pretty," and she paused, "weird."
That hadn't been the word Fraser had been expecting to hear. "Weird?"
"He's like a cat with hot fleas. You know."
Fraser didn't, not exactly. "He's tense, you mean?"
"Well, yeah." Francesca sounded vaguely dissatisfied with the word, though; perhaps she'd liked her own term better. It was rather evocative.
Fraser cleared his throat. "Is the alleged assailant out on bail?"
"He killed a judge, Fraser. Even he can't get out from that." She paused, and probably they were both thinking that there were other ways to kill someone with a gun. "But it's not like - not like Ray can't get to him, you know?
Fraser knew. "Please convey my sincerest condolences to Ray, Francesca, and tell him we will see him tomorrow."
"Yeah, I'll do that." She didn't sound thrilled, and Fraser knew Ray Vecchio well enough to know that staying with him right now would not be an easy task.
"Is there anything we can do? For you? For Ray?"
Francesca blew out her breath, hard. "Just get down here, okay? Get down here before I knock him in the head with his own damn gun."
Fraser nodded, although she couldn't see him. "Of course. Take care of yourself, Francesca, please, and - do the best you can with Ray."
"You take care of Kowalski, okay? He's got to be -" Behind her, there was a crashing sound, followed by high-pitched wails. "Oh, man, gotta go. Bye!"
Fraser hung up the phone and turned around to tell Ray - something, he wasn't sure what, but he closed his mouth when he saw Ray curled on his side on the hotel bedspread, sound asleep.
He hadn't slept since the call came, and Fraser didn't think anything could wake him now, but he moved through his evening routine quietly anyway: clothes neatly folded, tomorrow's clothes readied, teeth brushed, face and hands washed. After a moment's hesitation, he took an aspirin; his headache had, if anything, gotten even worse, and he'd prefer not to face another flight with that pounding pain. And then Fraser went to the bed, where he decided Ray's bandages could do for the night and gently maneuvered Ray under the covers.
In the middle of the night, Fraser startled awake, and for a moment he didn't know why. Then he heard Ray's gasping intake of breath and reached out for him, and that, apparently, was what it took for Ray to go from quiet crying to full, gasping sobs that shook his whole body.
Ray cried, helplessly and wholly, for approximately twenty minutes; Fraser, feeling a familiar sense of helplessness and an unfamiliar sense of gratitude, rubbed Ray's back and neck, held him together while he fell apart.
At the end, Ray took a long, wheezing breath, and rolled over on his back, quiet except for sniffles. Fraser turned on the bedside lamp - Ray dropped an arm over his eyes - and got tissues from the bathroom.
After Ray sat up, blew his nose, wiped his eyes, and took a deep breath, he said, his voice rough from crying, "Fuck, Fraser. I can't - I can't fucking believe it. She was - she - and I know it's bullshit, but I keep thinking, if I'd stayed with her, I could've kept her safe."
Fraser wasn't sure what to say, but he didn't have to do more than clear his throat; Ray was finally talking. "And, like I said, I know it's bullshit. Vecchio would have protected her if anyone could, and the thing about Stella - no one could save her from herself. I mean, she got this judgeship, she got assigned this case, she knew that fucker's family would be gunning for her, but no way was she going to back down, bow out, recuse herself. Because she doesn't -" Ray's voice broke, but he kept going. "She didn't." He paused. "And I wouldn't have wanted her to. But. Fuck. Fuck, I can't believe she's dead."
Fraser nodded. "She was very vital, Ray."
Ray barked out a laugh that was half a choke and wholly without humor. "Yeah. Yeah, she was." He paused. "So, Vecchio taking it bad?"
"Francesca said as much, yes. I didn't speak with him directly."
Ray turned to face Fraser for the first time, and Fraser was caught by his appearance - face flushed, eyes swollen and red, tears drying on his face where he'd missed wiping them away. And there were more lines on his face, too, ones that he hadn't had the last time he'd seen Chicago. But Ray was still - was still beautiful, even red-nosed and miserable, even in the unkind light of this anonymous hotel lamp.
Fraser had stared too long; one corner of Ray's mouth quirked up, just slightly. "Hey," he said. "You look beat."
"I've had -" Fraser glanced at the clock "- nearly three hours of sleep, Ray. I'm quite all right."
"Yeah, well, I'm beat. So what say we get some sleep? We'll need it. For tomorrow." He sighed. "Jesus, tomorrow."
"Yes," Fraser said, utterly in agreement: tomorrow would be hell. He turned out the light, and they settled together under the covers, bodies finding each other automatically, in a process that Fraser always thought was very much like magnetism. Ray fell asleep quickly and was soon snoring slightly because of his stuffy nose. Fraser laid there, hand over Ray's thumping heart, his rising and falling chest, and breathed in time with him.
His headache was gone.