It’s Friday, nearly a week after Fraser’s…unsettling encounter with Grace in a parking lot. He’d been good, so good, for so many years at avoiding his own selfishness in keeping Ray in limbo. Knowing that Ray was out on dates, and that some of those dates were dates, sex included, without any, what would it be called? Repeat business?
Fraser didn’t resent Ray’s dates; they gave Ray that one thing which Fraser couldn’t. They were no threat. Grace’s words, kindly meant, he could tell, although her kindness was on Ray’s behalf, not his own, forced him to confront the dark part of himself, the part that was just waiting for Ray to get old enough that his body no longer cared about sex, or, if Fraser really wanted to wallow in disgraceful honesty, old enough that Ray’s body no longer attracted people who would slake Ray’s lust. Either way, Fraser would no longer have to feel guilty about not being everything Ray needed.
His conversation with Grace, unknown to Ray, forced Fraser into a contemplative mood. Contemplative bordering on combative. He had relied on the status quo for so long, and now, although nothing Ray was saying or doing indicated that anything had to change, Grace had destabilized Fraser’s whole situation, forcing him to think about his own selfishness.
Fraser honestly did not know what to do about any of this, spent four days thinking about what to do, and finally on Friday, left the consulate early so he could sit down at the dining table he and Ray shared.
With Ray’s bottle of Jack Daniels. And a shot glass. Pouring the one into the other, and then into himself, gave him destructive warmth, like the warmth of a mouth covering frostbitten hands, like candles in a cold Chicago apartment in winter, like the warmth of red lips and dark hair contrasted with pale skin and snow. The cold warmth of the perdition Fraser’s own nature had now condemned Ray to suffering alongside him.
Ray wasn’t terribly late coming home, so Fraser’s sobriety was not as compromised as he would have liked for this particular confrontation. Ray, just as Fraser had known he would, looked at Fraser with quizzical skepticism.
“That ain’t exactly your style, Benton Fraser, my friend,” Ray said, gesturing to the bottle, the shot glass and Fraser himself with what Fraser chose to interpret as mild interest untempered by rebuke.
"A lot of things aren’t my style,” Fraser bit out. “Drinking American whiskey, chasing women, kissing men….”
Ray held up his hands, demonstrating casual placation. “I know you don’t go for that stuff,” he said carefully. “And you don’t need to start now.”
“Don’t I?” Fraser hadn’t thought the liquor had already started to take effect, but he knew his tone was much harsher than he would normally let it be, and he knew that Ray could hear it as well.
“No,” Ray said calmly. “No, you do not.”
Ray’s voice wasn’t just bordering on tranquil, it was full of…acceptance. Fraser already knew how much Ray had sacrificed and continued to sacrifice to be with him, but Ray almost seemed to be saying that he accepted that.
At least that’s what the cold warmth of Tennessee’s finest told Fraser was happening in their conversation.
Ray sat down next to Fraser. Fraser pushed the bottle toward him; this, at least, was one vice he could offer his friend. Ray shook his head, nearly smiling, as if to suggest he was indulging Fraser’s vice. Fraser shrugged and poured himself another shot.
“I’ve had sex,” he told Ray with ludicrous bluntness, hoping the baldness of his statement would suggest he was a lot more intoxicated than he was. Ray inclined his head, and Fraser knew he was playing along with Fraser’s own ill-conceived perception of how this conversation should play out. Vague memories of films and plays, and a certain amount of personal experience in the hothouse bars of the cold far north, suggested that alcohol enabled one to achieve levels of belligerent conceit that rejected logic and empathy both.
“Yeah,” Ray said, almost indulgently, “but did you really want to?”
Ray’s response brought Fraser up short. Their lives together had hinged on a certain deliberate obtuseness, on both their parts. Fraser had never been truly sure how much Ray’s deliberate avoidance of even hinting at the merest idea that their relationship was anything other than strictly nonsexual was down to Ray pretending Fraser wasn’t sexually interested in men, or Ray’s realization that Fraser wasn’t sexually interested in anyone.
Fraser, trying to parse out his own thoughts, also wondered if, perhaps, the product manufactured by the fine men and women of the great state of Tennessee was hitting him a little harder than he’d realized.
“I figured that, at least once, you had to have…you know, really wanted to,” Ray said. “But then I realized: Victoria was more about…what’s that word? Not proximity, not convenience….”
“If that’s the one that means proximity plus convenience plus she was a manipulative bitch, then yeah, pron…proqui….That word you just said.”
Fraser sighed. “At the time, I would have said it much more…profound…than that. That it was love. I would have said that again, when she came to me here. In Chicago. She…stirred me in ways no one ever had before. Or,” and Fraser winced apologetically, “has again. But it was ultimately so bleak, so harsh, so destructive….”
Ray, blessedly, interrupted him before his litany could really gather momentum. “I get it. I very much get it. You hadn’t really had much in the way of, oh, romantic inclinations, and when you did it took this really dramatic event. Short lived dramatic event. During a time in your life when everyone was telling you were That Age.” Fraser could hear the capital letters. “I blame society,” Ray added with a ghost of his usual grin.
Fraser nodded, amazed and almost touched at Ray’s analysis. Ray had obviously given the subject a great deal of thought. “There was no danger I would have to form some kind of permanent attachment,” he agreed.
Ray winced. “Yeah, that would’ve really sucked for you, trying to live up to what a woman would want from a real relationship.”
Ray’s tone didn’t indicate harshness, but Fraser heard it nonetheless. Heard it in what Ray was saying, what he wasn’t saying, echoes of Grace telling him to choose between his own desperate desire to maintain platonic status quo and Ray’s need for physical connection. His own self-blame for being unable to bridge that gap, for simultaneously not wanting to reduce Ray’s needs to an inconvenience he would have to humor, and his own inability to see Ray’s needs as anything but an inconvenience he would have to humor.
“I was going to go away with her,” Fraser whispered his confession.
Ray snorted. “And what small part of your brain actually believed it would last? Be a long enough relationship that was normal enough that she wouldn’t….” Ray trails off.
“Notice my deficiencies in certain areas?” Fraser asked the largely rhetorical question, surprising himself that he sounded, even felt, more wry than bitter.
“I just don’t get it,” Ray said, shaking his head. “You see it as a deficiency. I’da thought you’d see at as a strength. Self-sufficiency.”
“Taken to a ridiculous extreme,” Fraser countered. “Taken so far that I can’t give the one person I love more than any other, more than I ever thought I could, the one thing he needs from me.”
Ray shook his head. “I’m not gonna pretend I don’t need that, and that I wouldn’t give everything I have and then some to have that with you. But it is not, and never would be, the one thing I need from you.”
Fraser tilted his head in silent inquiry.
“I don’t need any one thing from you,” Ray said, clearly struggling to articulate what Fraser knew were Ray’s deeply felt love and desires and needs. “Except…maybe for you to be here. In my life. Being you, as you are, not pretending to be someone, no, something you think I need.”
Fraser rocked back in his seat. He had tormented himself for so long over the things he didn’t think he could give Ray; tried so hard to persuade himself that he could, as the Adlerians would phrase it, persist in faking it till he was making it, without compromising himself, without being patronizing toward Ray’s desires, his sexuality.
He had never considered that Ray wanted him to be himself more than he wanted that kind of physical expression.
“You don’t want that from me?” Fraser couldn’t keep the hope out of his voice, and deliberately pushed the bottle and the shot glass away from himself.
Ray laughed again. “’Course I do. But I only want it if you want it. And you don’t want it. That ain’t who you are.” Ray looked at the bottle but didn’t reach for it. “Sometimes I think of you, what you would be like if you were like that, but I know that’s not you. If you were suddenly, ya know, like that….” Ray’s voice trailed off. Fraser wondered if either of them, if anyone, really had an adequate vocabulary for a love that rejected the physical.
“Sexual,” Fraser whispered. Despite going to meetings, despite reading about the growing asexuality movement, it still felt like a shameful word: to reduce people to being sexual or being asexual, as if people were as binary and base as computer languages.
“Yeah,” Ray said. “If you were like that, you wouldn’t be you anymore. And I’m not sure I’d even know who that guy was if I met him. If I’d even like him.”
Fraser was shocked yet again. It had never occurred to him that perhaps his lack of sexuality might be part of what Ray liked, even loved, about him. That, in Fraser, Ray’s most important needs were already being met. That Ray’s exuberant physicality, that his encounters with people like Grace, were not a substitute for sex with Fraser, but rather a pleasant addition to the close friendship, odd domesticity and emotional intimacy they already shared.
That Ray didn’t think of his life with Fraser as a burdensome compromise. Fraser allowed the hope that his speculations might be true to blossom. It was hope that made him bold, was the thing with feathers that dared him to fly.
“I sometimes have…urges,” he confessed. Ray’s eyes widened but he said nothing. “They aren’t…important. They aren’t…personal. But they do surface from time to time.”
Ray chuckled, his laugh surprisingly easy. “Mine surface all the goddamned time,” he said ruefully.
Ray regarded him carefully. Fraser could read so much in his expression: hope, wariness, fear.
“Obviously,” Fraser blustered, “your needs are your needs, and as long as it’s all on the level, you do whatever you want. You are an adult,” he added unnecessarily, while Ray looked at him indulgently.
Ray smiled faintly. “I like going out with people,” he said. “They’re interesting, and it’s fun, and sometimes it gets a little physical. But,” and suddenly Ray’s voice and expression were serious, “it’s, like the man said, only that and nothing more.”
“Which is something you want, you need, and I can’t really give you that,” Fraser agreed, knowing that alcohol was exaggerating the genuine sincerity he was using to emphasize his words. “But, and to me it’s not what it is to you, but I do have physical…urges from time to time and there’s a principle that economists call a double coincidence of wants and maybe sometime if I feel that way….” Fraser didn’t know how to proceed with that thought.
Ray looked taken aback. “Like, if one morning you wake up hard and you force yourself to think sexy thoughts and knock on the wall, I’ll come over and, what, service you while you think about nineteen species of lichen?”
Fraser hung his head. “Put like that, it is a shamefully patronizing attitude, isn’t it? I really wasn’t thinking it through,” he said apologetically.
“Hell yes,” Ray said, and Fraser knew he wasn’t talking about Fraser’s own self-condemnatory statement. “If you don’t mind me still being, um, out with people, and every once in a blue moon you get a physical urge, and you want to experiment with me, you just knock on that wall.”
Fraser’s head snapped up. Ray was smiling, not giving him a full-fledged grin, but also not giving him a pathetically grateful grimace or a Lord Bountiful crumb of indulgence either. Fraser wanted to clarify, to explicate, but Ray beat him to the punch.
“I know it won’t mean anything more to you than when I bring you tea after a day of dealing with those morons you’ve got over at the consulat du Canada sur le moment, but I like bringing you tea. The smile on your face puts me over the moon.
“So just go ahead and knock. Any time.”