“That’s kind of a personal question...” Tim shifts in the leather seat. The room feels small, enclosing, it smells like antibacterial gel and instant coffee, like a hospital. Rain’s pounding at the windows, the murky dusk a stark contrast to the fluorescent light and watery green inside.
“This is therapy, Tim. It’s supposed to be personal.”
“Hey, my sex life might be of interest to you, old man. I’m just here for the measly ass coffee.”
“So, you’re not going to tell me about it then?”
“I don’t know. I mean… it’s fine, I guess.”
Dr. Weiss nods a little, twines the left side of his mustache like he does when he’s pretending not to have an angle. Tim thinks someone who treats people with stress disorders for a living shouldn’t have nails that bitten down. He listens to the rain to avoid the silence. It’s supposed to corner him into confessing something, he knows. It means the doctor thinks there’s something to confess.
“It’s not that I don’t like it… ‘cause I do. I just… I haven’t bothered for a while. To go out or hook up or whatever.”
“But you used to?”
“Yeah, I used to. Back before I decided to get my life together, before Glynco. It was easy... back then, it was easy to just… “
“And it isn’t anymore?”
“Nah… it probably could be. I don’t know. I work a lot now, I don’t really have time to go out trying to get laid and I prefer to drink alone anyway.”
It’s a diversion and a lie, but it’s an easy one to live with. Truth is he just really doesn’t wanna examine the truth. Dr. Weiss is asking about his drinking habits now and it’s familiar territory, he’s already got all the answers. He glances at his wristwatch and swigs down the rest of the terrible coffee - time’s almost up.
It’s another misty grey, late winter afternoon. Tim’s struggling not to fall asleep in the car ‘cause someone has to keep watch on the house they’re supposed to be watching and Raylan’s pulled his hat down over his eyes and is on the verge of snoring. He wouldn’t catch their fugitive if she came knocking on the windshield. Virginia Ward - a local, church choir housewife who’d murdered four people and hidden them behind the plaster walls in her basement – has somehow managed to slip past them for weeks now. It’s starting to become embarrassing. He glances over at his seemingly sleeping partner, thinks it ain’t fair some people can just nap whenever the hell they please, so he switches the radio on. A high pitched preacher yelling ‘bout the end times has Raylan flinching awake, diving for the off button before he raises an annoyed eyebrow at Tim who’s trying not to laugh, covering it up with a shrug, says “I bet your favorite movie character is Dirty Harry.”
“I bet yours is that wonky pilot from The A-Team.”
“His name’s Murdock.”
“Maybe Ward’s already left the country and we’re just sittin’ here starin’ at the dead end street for nothing.”
“Actually, my favorite character is Meg Ryan in When Harry met Sally.”
“See, that right there, I can’t tell whether or not you’re bein’ serious…”
“Shit, is that her?”
She’s got huge sunglasses and a hat covering her face, but there’s no mistaking it. She freezes mid step when she sees them approaching, eerily still, as if she’s about to leap over the rosebushes, out into the suburban gardens and bolt like a gazelle. Raylan takes the lead, Tim covers him from a safer angle - assault team and defense team - like clockwork. She’s got a coat and a purse, plenty of places to hide a gun, so he keeps his finger on the trigger.
They take her down so easy it’s almost disappointing. She doesn’t say anything. There’s no drama, no violence, not one trace of emotion on her face, no anger or fear or regret. Tim can’t tell if its pride or callousness that makes her that way. It bothers him more than he wants it to, sends chills creeping up his spine.
They celebrate their success by getting drinks at Raylan’s bar. A couple of their fellow Marshals join them for a few, but leave early on account of it being a Tuesday n’ all. Tim and Raylan are coming down from a long and frustrating chase; they feel justified in gettin’ absolutely shitfaced. When they decide to call it quits it’s way past midnight and Tim is in no condition to drive home, so they stumble upstairs. Tim’s not stumbled upstairs with anybody for a long time so when Raylan crowds him up against the inside of the door and kisses him, slippery and drunk, he’s kinda caught off guard. Raylan’s a freakin’ nuisance and he’s a guy, which isn’t what Tim usually goes for, but it’s not like he’s gonna be picky about it when he’s gettin’ down on his knees, fumbling his belt open and then sliding a bourbon sticky, wet mouth down on his cock. He’s clumsy at it; probably don’t get to do it this way a whole lot. Tim’s lookin’ at him, at his own hand curled around the back of his head, and it doesn’t look real. He strokes some hair from Raylan’s face, traces a finger down his stubbly cheek and is overrun with a sudden, gut wrenching avalanche of affection. It’s devastating. He still comes so hard he blacks out for a few seconds, knees buckling, then he’s pushing Raylan through the narrow hallway and onto the bed, pulls his pants down to his boots and returns the favor. He passes out on the floor afterwards, wakes up at six a clock sharp like a goddamn curse, feeling like his skull’s splitting in half. He’s got a pillow and a blanket that he can’t remember getting, and an unsettling view of Raylan’s feet hanging off the bed.
They don’t talk about it because it’s not really a thing, and they manage to do a pretty good job of not making it awkward either. It’s Gatorade and Aspirin and back to business as usual.
They go to Cincinnati to see Ward testify. Tim is apprehensive about it – he’s not sure why - but Raylan has mean skills in persuasion and manages to sway his doubt with some elusive word play and that crooked smile that always puts Tim on edge. He also swears by his hat that he’ll pay for lunch and decent coffee.
“She kinda freaked me out a little.” He says once they’re on the interstate going north. “Lookin’ like one of them wax dolls they make like film stars, you know?”
She looks different in prison orange. Tim recognizes her husband and her nine year old daughter, some of her acquaintances and neighbors, most of them undoubtedly here to see the spectacle. Virginia’s face is statuesque as she describes the details of the murders, but when she’s asked if she did it to cover up her addiction to prescription pills, the façade starts to collapse, piece by piece, until her insides are all out on display in front of the hungry audience. She breaks, hides behind her shaking hands, sobbing, I just didn’t want them to know I wasn’t good enough.
Tim doesn’t want to watch anymore. He sneaks out into the foyer to wait, tries to decide how he feels about pitying her.
“You think she’s really upset ‘bout it all?” Raylan’s studying him from behind his coffee. It’s a busy lunch hour at Starbucks, he’s sprawled across an armchair like he owns the place. Tim’s distracted by the crowd and the noise.
It keeps raining, everyone’s miserable about it and then Nelson botches a prison transport, sending the entire Lexington office out on a manhunt from Friday night to Saturday afternoon, when Rachel finds the guy having ice cream with a hooker at McDonald’s. They toast to the end of a wearisome couple of days, putting a considerable dent in Art’s stash, gettin’ a bit giddy both from exhaustion and alcohol and it’s nice. Tim and Raylan share a cab and end up at a crappy bar close to Tim’s house, then roaming the streets for a bit after closing time and before they know it they’re at his front porch. The pale sun’s coming up, they’re damp from the weather and Raylan’s lookin’ at him like they could, like it’d be easy to just… and God, Tim wants it and he’s too tired and too drunk to remember the reasons why he shouldn’t.
They don’t make it past the hallway before they’re tearing at buttons, getting their hands up underneath each other’s clothes. Tim smoothes a hand over the faded whip marks on Raylan’s back, remnants of Arlo’s belt, then down into the back of his pants, makin’ him grind their hips together and slam his head against the wall. Tim’s breathing hard against his skin, licking sweat and rain from the hollow of his throat. He tastes like the air smells.
“Jesus, fuck… Tim….”
“Goddamnit, Gutterson… bedroom, c’mon…”
Tim grunts, moving seems like too much trouble ‘cause he reckons the trick to screwin’ your cowboy coworker might be to not think about it too much. A bed would be nice though, so he pushes off and stalks into the dark house, pulling his shirt off as he goes. Raylan follows like he’s on a leash.
They give up the pretense of it not being a thing after that, it’s simple enough anyway. It’s fast and dirty, it’s no strings, blowing off steam, getting off.
Then, weeks later, they’re at Raylan’s place, not as drunk as they normally are but they’re sprawled across the creaky bed all loose limbed and sated, legs tangled and it hits him… that they know each other. Raylan knows how Tim likes his coffee, what he’s got in his bathroom cabinet and kitchen cupboards, what kind of books he reads. He knows where Tim grew up, why he despised his dad and how he ended up spending most of his youth in war zones. Worse than that, they rely on each other, for work, for support, for backup… so when Raylan runs a hand up over his belly, settling on the tattoo on his chest and kisses him over the scar on his right bicep, all soft like he cares, Tim freaks out. He grunts something barely coherent, rolls out of bed and that’s fine ‘cause they fuck but they never actually sleep together. He doesn’t bother with a shower, pulls his clothes on and doesn’t look back as he leaves, thinks they can never do this again. He sits in his car in the parking lot for over an hour, trying to get his breathing under control. He feels skinless, raw, feels like he’s bleeding.
He sneaks into the office Monday morning thinking everyone’s gonna look at him different. It takes a while to settle back into a regular rhythm, but then the days start passing like they always do. Raylan’s being a reckless asshole as per usual, disregarding the rules, getting into trouble. He shows up at work littered with barfight bruises, he gets yelled at in Art’s office, looks bored at important meetings. He gets Tim idiotically flavored coffee on Wednesdays ‘cause he knows it’ll piss him off, steals pens and paperclips off his desk, demands too much attention by doing nothing except sauntering into a room with that overconfident hitch in his step, and Tim’s so screwed ‘cause he can’t stop looking, can’t stop thinking ‘bout what he feels like and tastes like, the warm flush on his skin when he’s all fucked over and pliant, how his eyes change when he’s smilin’ like he means it…
It’s not falling in love as much as spinning out of control, headfirst down a bottomless pit and he’s scared shitless. This isn’t the kind of fear that gets your adrenaline flowing before something violent - that fear he knows - thrives on even. It’s not at all like the shit he’s been muddling through in endless hours of therapy - seething anger and raging guilt - ‘cause these things he can live with now. Love though, love could really fuck him up.
He ditches his appointment with Dr. Weiss for the month. The thought of going makes his guts twist up and he doesn’t want to think about why.
When Art sends him to Los Angeles on an assignment, he’s relieved, hoping it’ll put his mind back where it should be. It’s a high risk case; the fugitive is a sniper from the Columbian army who got caught in some political scheme and ended up working for a cartel across the US border. Poking around a drug cartel means bold, unapologetic backlashes and a hailstorm of bullets. They raid two houses on the first day, a DEA agent gets shot in the back on the second. The pace is maddening in a way that Tim’s not used to anymore. It’s still familiar though, the rhythm of it, the timing. There’s no time to think, no time to feel.
He dreams about faceless targets, neatly caught in his crosshairs, splitting apart in cascades of sunlit blood and brain matter. He’s walking through sandstorms, the ground strangely wet beneath his feet, searching for his kill but he finds Raylan where the nameless, cardboard cutout corpse should be. Dead eyes staring right into him, accusing and hateful. He reaches for him but he’s sinking, dissolving into the ground and he starts to dig but it’s all mud now, cold and heavy and he forgets what he’s doing and why he’s doing it he’s just so fucking sorry and please, please don’t go. He wakes up in blind panic, clawing at his throat to breathe.
A week in, Art calls him and says Virginia Ward got sentenced to life without parole and then hung herself in the prison showers. Tim wonders how he should feel about that.
“So, how’s California this time of the year? Overflowing with sunshine and bikini models?”
“The hotel room has fish patterned wall paper and some kind of plastic spearfish mounted above the bed… but we’re closin’ in on the fugitive, shouldn’t be long now.”
“Tim, son, are you doin’ okay over there?”
He goes home with two more kills on his list, reset in a way that feels wrong, too far back. There’s something pressing at the base of his skull, something dark and slithering, shockingly cold. He thinks about Ward before she cracked and broke, a wax statue, untouchable and unreal. He thinks maybe that’s what made her dangerous, because she felt safe that way.
It’s raining in Kentucky, like it was when he left, like it never stopped. Raylan shows up at his door in the middle of a thunderstorm, past sunset with a bottle of cheap whiskey and that self assured smile like this is a sure thing. Tim wants to make him go away, but more than that he just wants - to let go - to let himself… and it shouldn’t be with Raylan but he’s here, and Tim needs this to be simple again.
He’s such an idiot.
They’re still sober, Raylan’s touchin’ him like it means something, like it means a lot, kissing him all languid, heavy with emotion. Tim can’t hear anything except the roar of his own blood, he feels the thunder as it rolls over them. They’re in the bedroom, on the bed, an alarming sense of urgency starting to build. He shoves a hand down the front of Raylan’s jeans and strokes him, he’s already hard, already leaking and slick.
“Wanna fuck you.”
Raylan stares down at him with sparkling, dark eyes, shakes his head.
“No, not this time…”
“Fine, fuck me then.”
Raylan chuckles, a flash of lightning making his teeth glint. He tugs the rest of his clothes off, but grabs Tim’s arm to keep him from rolling over on his belly, gets in between his legs instead, keeping him pinned on his back, spits in his hand and presses two fingers inside, smooth and slow, licking into his mouth as he does it and it’s hot and deep and messy and it’s so good, Tim closes his eyes, thinks no… he can’t do this, he can’t. Not this way. It’s too much, it’ll wreck him.
Raylan’s already slotting their hips together though, sliding into him and settling there like he belongs, touchin’ him all sweet and loving and Tim is aching with it. He chokes down a sob, eyes stinging real bad so he turns his head away. They’re too close, too real, split wide open and exposed and he needs to make it different - he needs another way to hurt.
He grabs at Raylan’s shoulders, digs his nails in and demands it harder, hot against his neck. His hands are slipping through the sweat of his back but he pushes up into it, rhythm of his hammering pulse, and Raylan’s holding back but there’s an edge in the way he’s moving now, jagged, rough, spider web cracks slinking along the walls to the well of anger he keeps locked so tight. He’s beautiful like this; Tim’s heart is breaking for him.
“C’mon, c’mon… harder, Raylan, wanna feel it, come on…”
Raylan grunts, complies, he grabs the headboard for leverage and it’s on the verge of painful, the way he wants it to be, but it’s not enough. It’s not enough and he panics, back arching, straining, and he’s fighting now, all claws and teeth, grabbing on to Raylan’s arms, then his neck and his hair. Raylan makes a choked sound, something between a moan and a snarl - muscles coiling under his skin as they tense up - a bow string being stretched, snapping back as he wrenches free and bites into Tim’s wrist, razor sharp and completely fucking ruthless. The pain is instant gratification, a flood released in his brain and he’s surrendering to it, so easy, following it down to where there’s nothing but emotionless void. Raylan is pushing away from him, scrambling off the bed, hands covering his mouth, eyes wild and Tim can see it, but it’s too far away to reach. Like the room is detached from him. Impressions start to seep in gradually, shifting his senses back, sound, smell, sight…
Raylan’s standing by the window, fists clenched, back rigid. Tim can’t see his face. He stands up, moving through molasses, legs shaking. Such a goddamn fucking idiot screwin’ everything up shit shit shit.
He sounds hoarse, like he’s been screaming, maybe he has been. He glances down on his arm, bleeding sluggishly from the bite, it’s throbbing, hot like a burn, a brand mark. Raylan’s breathing unsteadily, crying, maybe. Or he’s just really pissed. Tim’s not sure yet.
“Raylan… hey, I’m sorry, okay? Shit… I didn’t mean to… I don’t know. Be like that, I guess…”
He doesn’t even blink, just keeps staring into the storm. The trickling rain on the window glass is reflecting on his skin, blue from the streetlights, it makes him look shapeless. There are streaks of blood on his lips. Tim reaches out carefully, gentle, and wipes it off with a sweep of his thumb. Raylan speaks through his teeth, “I hurt you.” It’s an accusation, not a question.
“I wanted you to… it’s okay. I’m okay.” Tim takes a cautious step closer, close enough to feel the heat from him, whispers this time “I’m okay…”
He can see it building – betrayal, fear, regret – then the levee breaks. Raylan turns and pushes him in the chest, hard enough to send him reeling into the wall, stalks up real close.
“Like hell you are! What the fuck was that, huh? You want me to hurt you? ‘Cause I’ll goddamn fight you but not like this. Shit… not like that, Tim. Not ever. “
Tim stares at his feet, feels every bit as naked as he is. Raylan’s imposing, anger boiling hot and swallowing the room around them whole, it’s livid and then, as if a lid falls down on it, it isn’t. His face goes tight and closed off. He presses a knuckle into his left eye. “You’re bleeding….”
He grabs Tim’s arm, smoothing a hand over the teeth marks and crusted blood, leaning their foreheads together.
“M’sorry, Raylan. I’m so fucking sorry…”
He shakes his head, rubs at his eye again. Tim can’t think of anything else to say, he kisses the corner of his mouth, a stupid apology, before letting go and stepping away, cold with so much space between them, says “You should head out. Let’s not make it weird at work, alright?”
“I ain’t goin’ anywhere. Are you kiddin’ me?”
“I am not leaving you like this, what do you think I am, huh? An asshole?”
“No, shut up. I ain’t leavin’.”
He forces his jaw shut and scrubs at his face and hair to have something to do with his hands. Raylan walks off and disappears from the room, Tim hurries to pull some sweatpants and a hoodie on before he comes back with cotton swabs and disinfectant. He makes Tim sit on the edge of the bed while he fusses over the broken skin and then hides it behind gauze and tape, stays kneeling on the floor after he’s done, like penance. He’s still naked, there are goose bumps on his neck and arms. Tim kinda wants to touch him but he doesn’t know how to do that without starting a ripple effect he’s not ready to handle. The thunder carries on outside, Raylan sighs, finds his jeans and one of Tim’s t-shirts, grabs a pillow and a sheet from the bed. “I’ll sleep on the couch.”
He stops in the doorway though, dramatically backlit by the lightning, but there’s a fond glow in his eyes, the start of a tired half-smile. “Come watch a movie with me…”
“It’s the middle of the night, Raylan.”
“I… yeah, alright.”
Raylan rummages through his DVDs for about a minute, goes for something old, black and white. Something safe, Tim thinks, he’s trying to make it safe. It works for a while, he relaxes into the couch and curls in on himself. He can almost feel his defenses rebuilding, pieces of a broken puzzle fitting back into place. He tries to imagine what kind of image his puzzle would turn into. Then Raylan crowds up next to him, managing to be all encompassing by doing absolutely nothing except just sittin’ there.
“Tim… hey, look at me…”
He doesn’t want to, he can’t. He’s not put together enough yet, too many pieces are missing, he needs more time. Raylan seems to get it, he still moves in closer. “Okay. C’mere for a bit?”
“Just… let me?”
Tim could fight it, maybe he should, but there’s no strength left to fight with so he gives in. Raylan slides a warm hand up under his shirt, another one curling around his neck, kissing him carefully, softly. He tangles them up together, huffing and prodding before settling down. His stubble tickles Tim’s chin when he talks…
“You alright like this?”
“I don’t know…”
He’s silent for a long time, forehead wrinkled up in careful consideration. Tim’s starting to fade, drifting off, he’s so tired and probably still a bit doused from the pain.
“You’ll let me bruise up you and leave you bleedin’… but you don’t want me caring ‘bout you?”
“Hurts more like this, sometimes.”
Raylan doesn’t say anything else, he presses his lips to Tim’s cheekbone before he untangles and moves away. His eyes slide shut a couple of minutes later. Tim watches him sleep for a while, runs a cautious finger down his face and gets a flash of their drunken, half assed first time at the bar. He digs a couple of blankets out from the hallway closet before he goes back to bed, tucks them around his sleeping companion, real careful to not wake him up. It gets chilly out here at night.
He dreams about falling, the icy mountainside raging uncontrollably past him but there’s no ground below. Then he’s running. Then Raylan is there and they’re holding each other, covered in mud, looking out across a blood red sunrise.
“Do you love him?”
Dr. Weiss puts his notepad down on his desk and leans back in his chair, like this isn’t another therapy session anymore, like they’re just two people having a talk. Tim thinks it’s a deceitful kind of a technique.
The rain’s stopped. It’s still grey and cold but he can hear birds through the window and the air smells different. More like springtime. The doctor looks suspiciously content, gazing out across the parking lot, patting his belly.
“Ah, well. Too bad though, I’m a sucker for a good love story, you know.”
“Even the hopeless, destructive kind?”
“Hmm… ‘cause the opposite of destruction could be healing, right? And since opposing concepts define each other, they can’t really exist on their own. Potentially making it a peaceful and decidedly equal codependence.”
He looks very pleased with himself. Tim tries not to chuckle but he fails and lets it turn into a full on laugh. “Derrida?”
“Derrida-ish. And you never cease to surprise me.”
“I aim to entertain, doc.”
“Do you love him?”
Tim stands up and grabs his jacket. Their time’s been up for a while now. He smiles, hoping it’ll come off as devious.
He’s already halfway out the door. Weiss sniffs at his cup of tea with a displeased tilt to his mouth, mutters “If hopeless is a reality, my job really stinks.”