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But Then You Came Around

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The sun's wrong in California. It's a cheerful sort of sunny, not the eye-searing, half-blinding glare that Ray's so used to. The moon's wrong too, not bright enough to light up the beach at night when Ray sits by the ocean and stares at the water and waits for it to soothe him into being back because yeah, he's on sand, but there's water right the fuck there, so he's not in the desert, and he's not waiting to die, and he's okay. He's okay.

He might be a little fucked up.

"When have you not been fucked up?" Brad asks when Ray calls and tells him. He calls in the early morning, right after his run, and it's calming to listen to Brad panting in rhythm with him as Ray gets his heart rate back under control.

"I mean fucked up," Ray says. "Like, brain scrambled."

"See above," Brad replies.

"You are such a fucking tool. Where is the support network of my sainted goddamn brethren, motherfucker?"

"Dude, stop watching JAG reruns and get your shit together." Brad heaves in a huge breath, and Ray suddenly realizes that while he has finished his run, Brad is still in the midst of his.

"Are you on a headset, you yuppie?"

"How else could I possibly listen to you screech your concern at me?"

"Oh, my god. I have to get off the phone before your yuppie-bitch rays zap me through the phone and make me want a Jaguar and a trophy wife."

"Go fuck yourself," Brad says.

"Back 'atcha, Bradley."

Ray will never actually admit he watches the JAG reruns, but they're on all the fucking time during the day, and his mom fucking loves the goddamn show, and it's comforting, in a way, to see the military all idealized and shit. And the lady Marine is a bigger badass than the Navy motherfucker, so it's got that right at least.

During hour three of a four-hour block, in which Harm and Mac have stopped a rogue submarine, tried a case in Australia, and traveled through Russia with the help of a goddamn gypsy convoy complete with old wooden wagons (and Ray's not PC for shit, but that one? Seems a bit much.), there's a knock on his apartment door.

He might be a little glad for the interruption. He definitely changes the channel and switches the tv off before he gets up to answer the door.

Walt's there. He's wearing cargo shorts and a gray t-shirt and flip flops. He grins at Ray and says, "Pizza?"

"What the shit, Hasser? You just drop in with no warning? Can't even call a motherfucker?"

Walt's been sparse since they got back, went to visit his mom in Virginia and do other shit Ray didn't get any details about even though he called and texted and sent a couple of e-mails. Not that Walt needs to give Ray an itemized itinerary or something, but Walt had gotten a little fucked up in Iraq, and Ray just wants to make sure he's all right, you know?

Sainted brethren and all that shit. Also, Ray might be a little in love.

"I was lucky I got to piss by myself," Walt says. "Are you really gonna bust my balls when I'm about to buy you dinner?"

"You better put out," Ray says as he grabs his keys and his wallet and his phone and leads Walt to his car. "And we're getting onions on the pizza."

"Everything in your head is wired fucking wrong," Walt says. "Onions on pizza."

Ray snorts a laugh and swallows back the urge to ask Walt if he means it. If he thinks maybe Ray's head really iswired wrong. It feels like it sometimes, when Ray wakes up in a cold sweat with his vision blurry and the phantom explosions from his dreams still echoing in his head.

Walt straight up refuses to pay for anything if Ray gets onions on the pizza, so Ray retaliates with extra cheese and demands pitchers of beer instead of bottles. Walt agrees with a grin, and they sit in a back booth and murder the whole fucking pie, signaling for a fresh pitcher by holding up the empty where the guy behind the counter can see it. Under the table, they keep knocking ankles and shins, and Ray tucks his foot around the back of Walt's foot and just leaves it there as the guy from the counter walks over the new pitcher.

"How are you?" Walt asks when they're halfway through the second pitcher. Ray's not drunk; he's barely tipsy, and he can tell Walt's the same. He wonders if they'll blame the beer if the conversation goes mushy or just admit, tomorrow morning, that they're way into each other.

"Bored," Ray says. "I fucking hate leave."

"You see your mom?"

"She flew out for a couple of days when I first got back. Rearranged all my fucking cabinets. How's yours?" Walt's mother, it is generally agreed upon amongst all the Marines who know of her, is the baddest-ass mother in the whole fucking platoon. Where some guys worry about their mothers and others (like Ray) love them but fear never finding their goddamn coffee again, Walt's mom is the closest thing there is to a living saint amongst First Recon.

"I've got ten jars of pickled beets at my place," Walt says. "And five jars of green beans, and four kinds of squash, and a bunch of different peppers in oil, and she's threatening to mail me an entire tomato plant so she doesn't have to pick them anymore, and she made me dress the deer she shot from the back porch the morning I flew in."

"She send you home with jerky?" Ray asks.

"A fuckton," Walt assures him, and Ray grins for what feels like the first time in weeks.

"Don't hold back, motherfucker. Where's my cut?"

Walt laughs. "You want the jerky, you gotta put out, bitch. I already bought you dinner."

"You want your dick sucked, you're gonna have to do better than fucking Pabst, asshole."

The way Walt's face changes--from amused to a brief flush of embarrassment--Ray knows they just got the lookfrom a nearby table. He turns to scope it out, and of course there's a fucking kid with his parents staring at them because they used the big kid words, and while Ray gives no fucks, he's pretty sure Walt is gonna drown himself in beer to deal with his shame.

When your momma teaches you how to slit open a deer's belly and remove its innards before cutting it up for dinner, you get really fucking sensitive about anyone's momma considering you a bad influence. Ray's mom would just smack him on the back of the head for the show and then laugh at their horrified faces once they were in the car. Ray learned from the best.

"C'mon," Ray says, standing and stretching and grinning when Walt shotguns the rest of his beer. "Let's get out of here before they find out we're actually American heroes and not just delinquent perverts out to destroy society."

They leave Ray's car at the pizza place and walk down the street instead, surrounded by restaurants and coffee shops and people out for a night on the town. They come to a corner, and Ray pauses without meaning to, considering the options for what's around it. He shakes out of it and realizes Walt's dropped back half a step, body half-turned so he can scope the other routes, ready to cover Ray's six if the teenage couple running across the street against the light decide to start shit.

"C'mon," Ray says, and he leads Walt to the left, straight towards the beach and the ocean. They scramble over the rocks that edge the street to get down to the sand, and they don't say anything as they walk as close to the water as they can without getting wet.

There's no one else on their stretch of beach, and they're far enough away from the road Ray knows they'll blend into the darkness. They stand side by side and stare at the ocean for a long time. They don't say anything. Ray clocks the time by watching the moon move, and he doesn't flinch when Walt reaches for his hand. He'd done it a few times in Iraq, the two of them sitting next to the victor, in the pitch black, Walt's hand gritty and greasy sliding against Ray's because Walt's way fucking braver than Ray's ever been and will admit, in silent ways, when he needs some comfort.

"You look like shit," Walt says, voice quiet.

"You too," Ray replies.

"I'm sorry I didn't call or text or anything."

Ray wants to brush it off, say it doesn't matter, accuse Walt of being a chick, but he can't. Because it did matter. It matters a lot. "You can't just drop off like that," he says.

"I know," Walt replies.

"No, motherfucker," Ray says, turning to face him, "I mean you can't just drop the fuck off like that, all right? You got your head all fucked when we were over there. You can't just stop talking to me when we're back because you don't wanna admit your head is still fucked."

"My mom asked a lot of questions," Walt says. "I was afraid if I said anything to you, it'd make me say shit to her, and I don't want her to know that shit."

Ray's mom doesn't ask questions. She tells him he looks good, tells him to get more sleep, rearranges his cupboards, and always leaves a note about how proud she is somewhere he'll find it after she leaves. "You can't just fall off the grid," he says. "I can't deal with that shit."

Walt turns to look at him, and they're nose-to-nose, toes touching as Walt shifts to get closer. He presses his face against Ray's shoulder, and all the tension goes out of his body when Ray wraps his free hand around Walt's neck and holds on. They haven't done this in a long time, all that time in the victor, all of two feet from each other, and they'd only been able to occasionally hold hands in the darkness or shove at one another or hump at one another, and goddamn, Ray has missed this, the holding part, the proof right under his hand that Walt is here and okay and came through the other side.

"You worry too much," Walt says.

"No, I don't," Ray replies, and he finally feels like maybe he's home when he feels Walt kiss his collarbone.