Charting the Decline: Part Two
But Ray cut him off. "I'm going to shower, Fraser," Ray said, and turned toward the gym's musty locker room, and somehow Fraser could only sit there in mute horror as the future fell out of his world.
He could hear Ray call a subdued greeting to two or three of the regulars, the bang of locker doors. He sat there, unmoving, as one after another of the gym's other patrons entered and left the locker room, and once, through the swinging doors, he could see Ray sitting in front of his locker, also not moving, staring down at his hands. Ray looked up, almost as though he could feel Fraser's eyes on him, and looked right at him, his face still set in that calm, quiet mask. Fraser opened his mouth—but what could he say, and from here, halfway across the gym?—and Ray looked away again. Stood, and shucked off sweats and jockey strap in clean motion, and headed toward the shower, towel tossed over his shoulder.
And something in Fraser gave, something snapped, some vital connection broke with a sharp, searing pain, and he was on his feet, pushing through the doors to the deserted locker room, rounding the tile wall to the shower. Ray was there, standing under a showerhead, hot water cascading over the back of his neck and his shoulders, his arms braced on the wall, and Fraser stood there and looked. Really looked, for the first time, looked at Ray, all of Ray, and saw for the first time the imperfections, the flesh that wasn't as toned, the muscles that, despite Ray's regular and strenuous exercise, would never be as strong again. The scars—bullet wound and knife wound, and the sharp ridges on his knuckles from the boxing, the lines around his closed eyes, the slight thickening around his waist, and Fraser was drawn forward again, until he stood right behind Ray and put his own scarred and shaking hands on Ray's slumped shoulders.
Ray jumped a little, tensed and turned his head sharply, then whispered, "Fraser?" as Fraser slid his hands down Ray's shoulders, biceps, over his forearms, and Fraser felt his t-shirt fill with water as he pressed up against Ray's naked back, slid his fingers down over Ray's hands, and when Fraser closed his hands, held on, he could feel Ray's fingers tighten around his.
Fraser buried his face in the side of Ray's neck, tasting water and Ray's skin under his tongue. Ray shivered, and whispered "Fraser" again, and Fraser slid his mouth up to Ray's ear, closing his eyes against the water running down both of them.
"I think," he began, and it was hard, even though he knew this was it, even though he knew it was say this or let go of Ray forever. He cleared his throat and started again. "I think...that you are strong, and courageous, and good."
Ray's shivering increased and Fraser could feel him holding his breath.
"I think that you are intelligent, quick-witted, and resourceful."
"I think that you are a generous man, compassionate and caring. I think that you have a kind heart and a resilient nature. I think that any man is lucky who calls you friend." The tremors were contagious. He drew a deep breath, pulled Ray's hands from the wall and wrapped both of their arms across Ray's slick chest. Ray was looking over his shoulder at him again, eyes penetrating, thick lashes wet. "I have always been proud to call you partner," he said shakily, breathing it into Ray's mouth before he kissed him, holding him tight and close. And thank god, Ray kissed him back, Ray crushed his fingers between his, holding on tight and opening his mouth to Fraser's tongue, moaning and breathing hard against Fraser's cheek.
"I think you're wonderful, Ray." Words coming easier now, between kisses, between running his tongue up and down Ray's neck and biting softly at his shoulder. Ray's chest was heaving as if he'd just run a marathon. "I think you are wonderful and beautiful and...just brilliant, Ray. I think you're brilliant."
"Ah, Fraser..." and Ray was struggling now, trying to get loose, and no, Fraser couldn't allow that, couldn't let Ray go, except—all right, it was all right, Ray was just trying to turn them around and now Fraser's back was up against the shower wall and Ray's hand was scrabbling at the wall, finally finding the knob to cut off the water, which was starting to turn cold. And Ray was holding his head with both hands and Ray's tongue was in his mouth and perhaps Ray was going to forgive him, perhaps Ray was going to let him make it up, perhaps Ray was going to allow him a "do-over," because Ray understood making mistakes, Ray understood imperfection, Ray understood him. And Fraser sagged beneath the weight of it all, the weight of the knowledge and of his love and of the acceptance of his own imperfections, and when Ray wrapped strong arms around him, Fraser let Ray hold him up.