The thing is, I got used to it. It's like, when me and Stella were married, she always did the laundry and I always did the grocery shopping. Sunday afternoon, that was the routine. So, when we got divorced, I never did my laundry until I got up in the morning and couldn't find any clean underwear, and sometimes not then. It wasn't like I didn't know how to do laundry, I mean, it's not rocket science or nothing. I just never thought of doing it, because I was used to that being someone else's job. I still can't get in the habit—and now that my parents are back in town, my mom's taken over doing my laundry, which is a pretty pathetic statement about my life, guy almost forty and his mom does his laundry. But the point is, I got used to Stella doing it, and then she wasn't there, and it was like I just didn't know how to deal with the idea that the laundry wasn't going to get done unless I got off my butt and did it myself.
It was like that with Fraser. He was always the one who made the first move, in our—friendship, partnership, whatever name you want to give to this duet we got going.
Well, okay, I touched him first. But that don't really count, because he was looking for Ray Vecchio at the time, and I did it partly to clue him in that I was willing to do whatever it took to make the cover story look good, but mostly to get his attention focused on me. I talked first, too—about personal stuff, I mean. Again, the very first time don't count because it turns out he couldn't actually hear a word I was saying. But that day in the crypt, when he came looking for me—I don't know, maybe I was looking for someone to help straighten out my head, maybe it was that way he has of listening like there's nothing more interesting than you and your problems. That way he looks at you like you're not crazy and it's all going to be okay. Whatever, I'd known the guy a week and there I was, telling him my life story, all my doubts about myself, the whole enchilada. Maybe you’d call that some kind of invitation, or offer, I don’t know.
But Fraser’s the one who said how it was going to be, between us. Fraser said "my partner and my friend," and there it was. I’d said “partners” first, but it wasn’t true until Fraser said it. Fraser’s the one who said “If you’ll have me,” too—and okay, I asked him that time, ‘cause I thought he wanted to end our partnership and just wasn’t friggin’ saying so. And as it turned out, he didn’t end it, and then he invited me on an adventure in the Frozen North instead of sending my sorry ass back to Chicago without him. Which was great by me, but see, the point I’m making is, Fraser's the one who calls the shots.
I talk a lot, yeah. Since day one, I was always yelling at him about trust and respect and what it means to be partners. Even told him I loved him a couple of times, when I thought I had, what do you call it, plausible deniability. But the thing is, what I say don't count. Anything Fraser don't want to hear just slides right off the guy.
Besides, when it comes to the really important stuff, the big emotional guns. . .I'm just as chickenshit as the next guy, if not more so. I don't say nothing, even when it feels like my heart's going to crack. Especially then.
He had to have known, though. Fraser ain’t dumb, and I might’ve been scared but no one's ever accused me of being subtle. I’m an open book when it comes to liking someone, always have been. I told him every day, every minute, just with dumb little things like touching and smiling and horsing around, not to mention all the stupid stunts I pulled to save his ass when his life was in danger. No way he didn’t know I was crazy about him.
I guess I always assumed that if Fraser wanted to kick our. . .relationship. . .to the next level, he'd tell me so. Like he always does. And looking at it the other way, since he wasn't saying so, obviously he didn't want to.
Even when it was just the two of us roughing it up in the Yukon, he didn’t say anything that you could take as an invitation. A romantic one, I mean. You could say the whole thing was one big invitation, in a way. He wanted to show me this place he loved. He wanted me to love it, too. Which. . .well, the Yukon I can take or leave, but Jesus God, did I love how that place just lit Fraser up with how much he loved it.
I didn't clue in until I saw Fraser actually buying his plane ticket that I hadn't expected him to come back to Chicago. Seeing him in his native habitat, so to speak, I got to understand just how much Fraser didn't belong in Chicago. How much armor he had to wrap around himself every day just to survive there.
But he got on that plane like it'd never crossed his mind to do anything else, and a week later there he was, sitting at my desk at the 27th, typing away at my computer, with me sitting on the desk trying to read the screen sideways and Dief breathing on my shins, just like always. And it suddenly hit me, like one of those anvils that drops out of the sky onto someone's head in Bugs Bunny: Fraser’s here for a reason, and the only damn reason I can come up with is that he came back so he could stay with me.
Now, I can be slow to catch on, but when I get something, I get it good. And okay, not all of my hunches pan out, but that’s never stopped me from riding one as far as it’ll take me. Besides, I really, really wanted this one to be true.
So, I gave him a ride back to the Consulate after work that evening, like usual, and when we were a couple of traffic lights away, I looked over at him and said, “So, Fraser, when do you want to move in?”
He blinked a couple of times without changing his expression, and then I had to put my eyes back on the road because the light had changed, but his voice sounded mild when he said, “Excuse me?”
“When do you want to move in? With me. That’s the plan, right?”
“Right you are,” he said, quietly. I could hear him smiling. Bingo.
“So name the day,” I said. “I mean, it’s not like you’ve got to wait ‘till the lease is up on your office or nothing, right?”
“Indeed not,” he said. “I can do it on any timetable that’s convenient for you.”
I pulled up out front of the Consulate. “Well, I got no plans for tonight, and I bet you don’t own more stuff than we can haul in one car-load. How ‘bout right now?”
“No time like the present,” he said cheerfully, and stepped out of the car.
It didn’t take long to get all his stuff thrown into a few boxes and loaded into the GTO, and like I predicted, it was no trouble getting it all in there. The biggest thing Fraser owned was his cot, which was awkward to fit in, even folded up.
Which gave me an excuse to go double or nothing.
“Hey, do you have a sentimental attachment to this thing or something?” I asked, resting one end of it on the ground after failing to cram it in the back window. “I mean, I’ve got a perfectly good bed.”
That made him twitch; his eyes flickered wide for a second. He looked at me over the roof of the car, for long enough for me to start panicking, thinking this was going to turn out to be one of those horrible conversations where you think you’re talking about marriage and it turns out the other person was talking about football and you end up looking like a jackass and wanting to die.
Then Fraser said, “Well, I was thinking that it might be useful in an emergency, but I suppose we might just as well donate it to the Consulate.” And he held out his hands and I passed the folded-up cot over the car to him and Fraser took it back into the Consulate and came out and got into the car.
Two for two.
You’d think at this point I’d have been feeling pretty damn good—Fraser’s moving in with me! Fraser wants to sleep in my bed! Halleluiah! And I was, but the more I thought about the whole ridiculous thing, the more pissed off I got. So by the time I parked at my place, I didn’t know whether to jump his bones or kick him in the head or what.
So I didn’t open the car door right away. Fraser didn’t open his, either. He just sat there patiently, waiting to see which way I was going to twitch, I guess.
“When were you planning on telling me the plan?” I asked.
“Yeah, you know, you move back to Chicago, we, what, shack up together and live happily ever after. That plan.”
“You make it sound like I’m forcing you into something. I thought you approved of this course of action. Was I mistaken?” If he was at all anxious, I couldn’t hear it in his voice. He kept looking steadily at me.
“No, no, I approve, all right, but—Jeez, I mean, why didn’t you just, like, say something?”
“I didn’t wish to start an argument,” he said. “Not about something like this.”
“An argument?” I’ve been nervous about all kinds of stuff when I’m thinking about propositioning someone, but that was a new one on me.
“I’ve learned that you dislike it—justifiably—when I make unilateral decisions. And this one seemed a particularly inappropriate one to make without reference to your wishes.”
“But—but you did make it. And you sure didn’t ask me what I thought first.”
“Well, yes, that’s technically true,” he replied, in that oh-so-reasonable tone of voice that drives me bugnuts. “But you’ll note that I didn’t, in fact, attempt to force anything on you. I waited for you to arrive at your own decision and make your wishes known. As you have.”
I just sat there making inarticulate noises at him for a while.
“Fraser, you’re making my head hurt,” I finally managed to say. “What if I hadn’t called you on it? What were you going to do, just not say anything forever?”
That idea actually freaked me out a little, because it was basically an accident that it occurred to me he might be interested in any of this (whatever this was, not like we were having it yet).
But Fraser didn’t bat an eye. “That seemed a highly unlikely outcome,” he said. “You’re not, in general, overly shy about expressing your feelings. Not in the long run, at any rate.”
I frowned. Sometimes it ain't obvious whether Fraser’s compliments are secretly insults.
“Besides,” he added, “You’ve always been the one to set the pace when it comes to increasing the, ah, intimacy between us.”
“You’re very forthright about emotional overtures, Ray. I’ve always appreciated that about you.”
“Like, what overtures?” I demanded.
“Well, for instance, you indicted very early on that you found it acceptable—even desirable—for us to touch each other. You invited me to admit my physical attraction to you. The Quest was your idea. And whenever our partnership has been strained, or threatened, you have been the first to offer reassurance that you still valued and desired the connection.”
“Me? Wait, you think I—what the—how do you—? ”
Fraser watched me splutter incoherently for a couple of seconds, then he put his hand on my shoulder and leaned over the gearshift, bringing his face close to mine.
“Far be it from me to upset a dynamic that’s served us so well in the past,” he murmured, his breath warm on my cheek. “On the other hand, I suppose it doesn’t do to get too complacent about the roles we play. So, since you seem to feel I haven’t been taking enough initiative. . .”
His other hand slid around the back of my head and pulled me into a long, deep kiss that left me panting when we finally separated. But that was okay—that was more than okay—because Fraser wasn’t breathing steady, either, and we were parked right under a streetlight, so I could see this pretty pink flush spread itself all across his nose and cheeks.
Which meant it was time to scramble out of the car, get our asses inside, and start putting some of our plans into action.
That's the part we've always been good at.