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 waited until Ray had left the building. He heard the bang of the locker room door and looked up to see his partner walking out the hallway toward the street. Ray did not look in his direction; the little bell on the front door closer put a period to the sound of his quick, steady stride.
The sound roused Fraser. He shuffled into the locker room and stood under the shower for a few minutes to get the worst of the stink off his skin. When he left, he glanced at the clock. It didn't take nearly as long to get changed when Ray wasn't there to talk to.
The bell on the door closer jingled behind him. A left turn would take him toward the Consulate and what passed for home, but the thought of his empty office was bleak. He turned right instead, which took him toward Ray's place. Fraser was not going to go to Ray's tonight. He was not ready to face either Ray's words or Ray's silence. At the corner, he turned right again and kept walking.
Really, it was all a misunderstanding. Ray's considerable abilities were not at all involved in Fraser's decision to improve his physical condition. Well, not directly involved, at any rate. Insofar as Fraser needed to be in the best of shape to carry his own weight so Ray would not have to take up his slack¬§there was the extent of Ray's involvement. If Fraser was unable to maintain his physical and mental readiness, he would become a liability, even a danger, to his partner.
His steps clicked and echoed between the rows of tall brownstones. Ray was a smart man, a brilliant man. Yet Ray said, "I don't even want to know what you think of me." How could he not know? He knew Fraser better than anyone else in Chicago, better than anyone anywhere. How could he not know what Fraser thought of him?
Fraser turned right at the next corner; he really did need to go home. A lone pedestrian walked in his direction. The strong, steady stride was familiar; the hunched, stiff posture was not. Twenty more paces brought them alongside one another, like sailing ships bristling with cannon.
They stood in silence for a few seconds. Ray began to fidget. Finally, Fraser could stand it no longer.
"It's not because of you."
"Oh, no, Fraser. I did not think it was. I thought it was all because of you. Super Mountie."
Fraser flinched a little at that. "No. You are deliberately misunderstanding. hI have never been Super Mountie, but I am getting further and further away from being much of a Mountie at all. My physical condition will no longer allow me to do my duty as I have been accustomed. Surely you understand that I must do what I can to keep up."
Ray was in his face then, toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye with him. "Fuck yes, I understand that. I understand that I sure as hell can't keep up." He pushed Fraser a little bit, backing him up toward the side of a tall stoop. "Me? I'm slower, less coordinated, legs hurt, eyes getting worse, back aches like a bitch mornings when it's cold and rainy. Meanwhile," and he gave Fraser another little shove, "you're jumping out of third story windows and leaping like a fucking gazette onto moving taxi cabs."
"Gazelle, Ray. And I missed. If you had not come through with the motorcycle stunt, which was foolish in the extreme, they would have escaped entirely."
The final push put Fraser's back against the brownstone wall of the stoop. "Say that again, Fraser."
"What you just said."
"I missed." Ray made keep-going motions with his hands, so Fraser kept going, watching Ray like a teleprompter. "And if you had not come through with the motorcycle stunt, which was..." Ray slashed his hand through the air, and Fraser stopped.
"Fraser, that's partners. You screwed up, I came through. But you really don't need me to do that any more. You can do it on your own."
"No I can't. Not without you. I don't want to. Do you?"
Ray took him by the lapels of his jacket, shoved him up against the cold stones, and kissed him hard, long and deep. The first shock of Ray's lips on his left Fraser open-mouthed, which suited Ray just fine. It was the wet, pointed tongue against his that made the Mountie respond, wrap his arms around Ray and haul him closer, suddenly off the deep end and into the water where Ray was swimming strongly. When they broke apart, breath steaming in the chill night air, Ray moved his hands to Fraser's face.
"No, Fraser, I don't want to do it without you."
Fraser showed Ray that he understood.