Chicago is a little more than halfway between DC and the rez, and that’s how far Ray gets before he’s so exhausted he can’t see straight. The first hotel off the interstate is a Marriott, and they don’t allow pets, so Ray asks for a room in the back and sneaks Jimmy in through the service entrance. He’s too tired to find another hotel, for one thing, and for another, he doesn’t much give a shit about the rules just now.
It’s late, but Ray was so focused on driving that he didn’t stop to eat, and the hotel’s full-service, which means the kitchen’s open all night. Ray orders three dinners, one for Jimmy and two for himself, he’s that hungry. Jimmy is lolling on the bed when the waiter wheels the food in. The guy eyes Jimmy, but doesn’t comment, and Ray tips him a twenty in the hopes that he won’t say anything to the front desk.
Ray sets a tray on the floor for Jimmy, and then eats until his stomach aches. There’s his nighttime bathroom regimen to attend to, but he is bone tired, so Ray just toes off his shoes and crawls under the covers, fully dressed. He is aware of Jimmy stealing the remnants of his second dinner from the bedside table as he drifts off to sleep.
Ray dreams, what Crow Horse would call “fitful dreams.” He dreams in flashes—the unpitying desert sun moving across the sky, dragging shadows over the pale hills and canyons of the Badlands. Men streaking their face with war paint, palms dyed red. Maggie Eagle Bear kneeling at the Little Walking to collect water from the source, a shadow falling over her. The vial to send for testing falling into the river and drifting away.
Crow Horse’s hands on him, the night of the bonfire at Grampa’s. Walter’s competent, steady hands keeping him from reeling over the cliff, tethering him to the earth.
Ray wakes breathless, sweat sticking his clothes to him. Jimmy is curled up next to him, taking over half his pillow. Ray rubs at his eyes until the glowing neon numbers on the bedside alarm clock come into focus. It’s five-thirty, and for a moment Ray wonders if that’s AM or PM, and then he notices the room is still dark and the curtains are open, so it must be early morning, not early evening. He’s slept less than six hours, but he feels wide-awake.
Ray checks out, Jimmy’s toenails clicking on the tiled lobby floor. The man at the front desk scowls at him, but doesn’t punish him beyond affecting an icy tone when he thanks Ray for choosing the Marriott.
They are already on the highway when the sun comes up. They drive straight through, and it is about eight o’clock when Ray finally arrives home.
Crow Horse doesn’t look all that surprised to open his front door and find Ray standing there, and Ray doesn’t know whether to be grateful, or annoyed. Before Walter can say anything, Ray pushes himself past the threshold, pressing his mouth against Walter’s, pressing his body into Crow Horse’s waiting hands.
“Geez, Ray,” Crow Horse murmurs, shepherding Ray into the house and closing the door behind him. “You ain’t been gone long. You just circle the block a couple times?”
There’s so much Ray wants to say, his chest is bursting with it, but he can’t seem to get his mouth to do anything but kiss Walter. Walter doesn’t seem to mind, though; he’s leading them back into the bedroom, and he’s got those good hands on Ray, palms flat, like rubbing down a nervous horse.
Hours later, as Ray is settling down into the soft bed made with sheets that smell like Walter, his nose pressed into Walter’s pillow, those sensible hands are still on him. Walter lays beside him, watching him, his hands running idly over the line of Ray’s spine, up and down, up and down. The touch is meditative, comforting, and it lulls Ray to sleep.
He doesn’t dream, and he wakes in the morning with Walter’s palm still pressed to the small of his back. Ray smiles, and snuggles closer, and waits for Walter to wake up.