Somehow you made me smile when I was sad // you took a chance on a bruised and beaten heart // I guess I should have been more like that.
It’s nine months after coming home from OIF that Ray opens the front door to his piece of shit rental house in Kansas City and finds Walt on his front porch, dressed in civvies and freshly showered, with his duffel over one shoulder like the world’s prettiest postcard for the Marine coming home to Mama.
"Hasser, you fuck," Ray greets.
"Hey, Ray," Walt says. He smiles, that half smile he always ducks to hide, and Ray gestures him in, takes his duffel and slings it towards the living room, claps Walt on the back and leads him into the kitchen.
"Beer?" Ray asks.
"Sure." Walt takes the beer when Ray hands it to him, twists it off without the bottle opener, and takes a long drink. He wipes his mouth on the back of his hand, gives Ray a once-over, and says, "You wanna fuck?"
That’s how it starts.
Seven months later, Ray’s in California in a different piece of shit house rental twelve blocks from campus. He’s got a bunch of housemates, two of them former Marines, one a pre-med who basically lives in her room, and one who always manages to say something particularly douchily liberal just as Ray and the two former Marines get to reminiscing.
"Don’t you find it odd that you so glorify an act of mass killing?" Douchey liberal asks.
"Don’t you find it odd you chose to live in this house knowing we’re motherfuckers?" Ray replies.
Walt visits when he’s in. He doesn’t stay over. If they want to spend a whole night together, Ray stays with him. Walt’s place is a crackerbox apartment that Ray will occasionally visit when Walt’s gone. He’ll sit on Walt’s couch and frown at the sad state of Walt’s fridge, and sometimes he’ll just lie on the bed, hands at his sides, and deeply consider the fact that he’s acting like a goddamn widow whose husband died at sea or some stupid shit.
Two days before Walt’s due back from a mission, Ray goes to his place, lets himself in, and settles at Walt’s shitty little kitchen table with all his books and his laptop. He’s got finals in a week and two papers to finish and his housemates are loud motherfuckers. He orders a pizza, and he’s making notes on the current draft of his history paper when there’s the sound of a key in the lock and suddenly Walt’s standing in the front door, staring at Ray at his kitchen table.
"Oh, hey," Ray says. "Thought you weren’t gonna be back for another couple of days."
"Me, neither," Walt replies. He closes the door behind him and looks at Ray for a few seconds. He jumps when there’s a knock on the door. "Expecting someone?"
"Pizza guy," Ray says. He jumps up and nudges Walt out of the way and pays the pizza guy. When he turns around, Walt grabs him and kisses him, hands cupping Ray’s face and fingers almost sticking in Ray’s ears.
"Stay here," Walt says, and there’s something dark and empty in his eyes. "Just. Stay."
Ray stays the night, and Walt wakes him up before the sun is up and tells him he’s in love with him.
That’s how it continues.
They get a two-bedroom apartment for appearance’s sake. Ray’s alone in it most of the time, Walt coming and going in increments measured in weeks. Two weeks between missions. Six weeks after deployment. Three weeks for a strained hip. When Walt’s gone, Ray finds himself having nightmares. He’s back in Iraq, back in the driver’s seat, Brad bitching at him with sand pouring out of his mouth. Walt suddenly slumping at the turret, legs lax. When he fully collapses, he has no eyes, just dark, empty circles.
Ray gets bitter when Walt gets home. Snapping and poking for a fight. The third time Walt’s home for more than a few days, he sighs, drops his head in his hands, and asks, "What the shit, Ray?"
"What?" Ray asks. "I’m just trying to have a fucking conversation."
"No, you’re picking a goddamn fight."
"Not my fault you’re not used to me anymore, whore eyes."
Walt lifts his head from his hands and stares at Ray. They’re halfway through dinner, Walt’s fork and knife resting on the edges of his plate like the well-mannered guy he is. "What?" he asks.
Ray shrugs and pushes at his green beans with his fork. "You’re not used to me. It happens, homes."
"It happens," Walt repeats. He shakes his head. "Are you fucking stoned, Ray?" Ray doesn’t answer. Walt smacks his hands on the table, not hard enough to be truly threatening, but hard enough that the sound reverberates and makes Ray’s head snap up. "What is it?" Walt asks.
"Nothing," Ray says. "Never mind."
Walt doesn't know how to respond. It’s not like Ray to simply let something go. He watches Ray eat a green bean, and he can’t think of anything to say.
Two days later, when Walt leaves again, Ray kisses him goodbye harder than he’s ever been kissed in his life. He gets indents on the inside of his bottom lip from his lip pressing against his teeth. He worries his teeth over the indents all the way to base.
"I’m fine," Ray says when Walt asks late at night months later when he’s home again.
"You’re not," Walt says. He reaches out and curls a hand over Ray’s bicep, and he sighs when Ray pulls away. "Ray," he says.
"Go the fuck to sleep, Hasser," Ray says, and his spine stands out against his skin as he curls into himself.
"You are not actually asking me for advice for your DADT-defying gay love story," Brad says one day over a lunch Walt is buying under the guise of celebrating Brad’s recent promotion.
"How’s the LT?" Walt asks.
"Fuck you," Brad says, but there’s a smile in his eyes.
"Later," Walt says, and Brad chuckles. "Seriously, anything. I keep trying to get that motherfucker to open up, and he just won’t. He keeps ignoring me or changing the subject."
"Jealousy?" Brad suggests. "Maybe he misses the Corps more than he thought he would."
"No. He’s way into what he’s studying, and he likes the job he’s at, crap as it is."
"I cannot tell you how it warms my cold, dead heart to imagine that fuck in customer service."
"He’s good at it," Walt says with a shrug, "against all instincts, he is."
"Adorable," Brad deadpans, and Walt rolls his eyes. "You sure you haven’t fucked up?" he asks. "Haven’t forgotten your anniversary or some girl shit like that?"
Walt will never, ever admit he has their anniversary programmed into his phone, and set to remind him via e-mail. Brad will murder him for crimes against masculinity with a smile on his face. "No."
Brad shrugs. "I’ve got nothing," he admits. "But then again, you’re asking me, Hasser. Think about your life. Think about your choices."
"I am," Walt says. "That’s the problem."
Walt gets injured. Nothing major, just burns on his arms and neck that are bad enough to require lots of clean gauze and a cream that smells like the ass of a koala bear.
"Sniff a lot of koala ass while you’re gone?" Ray asks when Walt makes the observation. He’s different than the last few times Walt’s been home. He’s quieter, seems more relaxed. He refuses to let Walt change his own dressings if he’s there to do it.
"Think about your ass while you’re gone," Walt replies, and Ray gives him a soft, warm smile that makes Walt’s stomach knot. He reaches for Ray when Ray pulls away, catches the tips of Ray’s fingers and holds onto them as tight as he can.
"You girl," Ray murmurs.
"Shut up," Walt says. He pulls Ray to him by the hand and kisses him on the cheek, then the neck, then his ear. "I miss you when I’m gone," he says.
Ray swallows, and there’s a sound in the back of his throat, something like a squeak. Walt pulls away and looks at him, and Ray looks like he might cry. "I..." Ray says.
"What is it?" Walt asks. "Why is it that I come home injured, and it’s the nicest you’ve been to me walking in the door for months?"
Ray shakes his head and pulls Walt closer, tucks his nose against Walt’s shoulder. "I am an emotionally stunted douche."
"I’ve always known that."
"And you...goddamnit, you were supposed to be an easy lay."
"I don’t know what to say to that."
"I’m in love with you," Ray says.
"I know that."
Ray doesn’t answer right away. Walt feels him breathe against his shoulder, and he closes his eyes to concentrate on it. "What are you thinking?" Walt asks.
"I’m glad you’re injured," Ray says. "And that is fucked up."
Walt laughs. "Yeah, a little."
"But..." Ray shakes his head against Walt’s shoulder and pulls away so they can see each other. "But now you’re injured and you’re here and you’re...you don’t need me out there. You can...you’ll make it home without me."
Walt’s heart clenches in his chest. "Jesus. Has this--is this why you’ve been getting mad at me?"
"I’ve been getting mad at you because I’m an emotionally stunted fuck."
"Do you miss being in?"
"No," Ray says without hesitation. "But I can’t...who the fuck is taking care of you out there?"
"You are," Walt says. "Every goddamn second, in my mind, you are."
"Girl," Ray scoffs, but it comes out wrong, more fond than mocking.
"Shut up," Walt says, thumping Ray on the arm with the side of his hand. "You ass."
"Your ass," Ray says. "If you’re not so fucked up from your pussy little birthday candle burns that you can handle my manliness."
"I got your manliness right here," Walt says, and he lets Ray push him prone on the couch and start making out with him.