Title: Ordinary Days
Rating: R (bad language, mention of sex and masturbation)
Summary: Post-CotW. Fraser hears voices, and Ray lives one ordinary day at a time.
Well I dream you constant stranger
With your best bloods and your anger
You say mother do you claim me
My beloved do you blame meWell the first two might release you
But the last one sings in me son
Three hits to the heart son
And it’s poetry in motion
Three hits to the heart son
And the last one sings in me
(Three Hits – The Indigo Girls)
Five o'clock: Ray hangs up the phone, bangs his files into order, and says his goodbyes. He doesn't even get looks any more, not the resentful kind or the pitying kind, not any kind. This is just his ordinary life, one day at a fucking time.
Going on six and he's got Fraser in the car, and man, that sheet music he picked up on East 57th? Totally worth missing lunch for, Fraser's face lights up like Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa rolled into one. Fraser's got the music in his lap and his hands are moving: sometimes he conducts but today his fingers are dancing over the invisible keyboard like butterflies or something. Ray can't hear the music, but man, those hands? Are amazing.
Someday he'll buy Fraser a piano. It's on the list with all the other dreams. He'd like to have a TV again, have cash for beer and smokes and candy. Even the nice overcoat in Goodwills yesterday, ten bucks, no fucking way will it still be there when red tags are half price. But he gets hand-me-downs from his brother, and – well, nothing Kowalski fits Fraser, winter's on them again and Fraser, fuck, Fraser needs everything. Ray likes it well enough when Fraser looks good, so spending the money on him is no hardship. None at all.
Home and up the stairs and Fraser's in the kitchen putting the soup on the stove. Ray takes a minute to throw water on his face. He can hear Fraser talking on the other side of the door. He almost lets himself believe that they have guests, that those extra place settings Fraser'll put out? Yeah, real people might sit there, eat the goddamned food, talk to him. It'd be nice to have someone to talk to, someone Ray can see, too.
But it's cool.
After four years, yeah, it's cool.
Ray scrubs at his face with the bathtowel Vecchio sent from Disneyworld-land-whatever, eyes himself in the mirror. No way is he stupid enough to practice smiling, but he looks good, he thinks. He feels old in his bones, but it doesn't show so bad. Yet.
In the kitchen, moving easily around Fraser, cutting the bread, whacking the ice out of the godawful metal tray, he's got a jazz rhythm thing going and it's a good feeling, like having a buzz on. Fraser picks up on it, he's Fraser-dancing and Ray's Ray-dancing around him like a stripper working her pole, and it's fucking funny. Ray pokes Fraser until he's laughing too, they both grin at each other like idiots, and then soup's boiling over, oops, ladle it out, sit down, and thank God that tonight's Fraser's turn to say grace. Some of the figments who drop in for dinner are such windbags that the food's gone cold before Fraser says amen and lets Ray eat.
When Ray was first realising just how badly Fraser's nut had cracked, Maggie had tried to reassure him that her dad was a gen-u-ine ghostly phenomenon. To give him the benefit of the doubt, Ray supposes that all the rest of Fraser's entourage might be spooks, sure, what the hell. He's man enough to tell his disbelief to go hang. But the fact is that Fraser spends most of his time in fascinating discussions with people who aren't there, not really. He touches things that aren't there. Without Ray around to get on his case, he might just go outside in invisible clothes (like the sweater that his grandmother knit him for his birthday, Fraser wears that damn thing all the time) or eat nothing but wonderful phantom home-cooked meals and starve himself to death.
Fraser chuckles, Ray smiles politely (he has to be polite, these are Canadian figments) and thinks, like a mantra, nothing bad's going to happen on my watch.
Of course, the whole thing happened when Ray was off his watch; when he was not even aware that what he should have been doing was watching out for Fraser. He'd been in Hartford, Connecticut for the goddamned Insurance Crimes Conference. Maybe someone'd tried to call him when the whole hostage thing had gone south, he didn't know, his cell phone had been back in the hotel room. By evening the bodycount had been high enough that it was all over the television that had been wheeled into the banquet hall, but Ray only knew that it was the 32nd's problem, nothing to do with him; at least until Welsh had him paged and told him to get his ass on the next flight home. The 32nd had needed a French translator, and the 27th had loaned out theirs. Nothing he could have done.
By the time Ray had been allowed to see Fraser, he'd already checked out of the sanity hotel, running away again except this time it looked like he'd finally succeeded in losing himself completely. Later on Ray heard the tapes (he didn't need to know French to hear the panic, fear, betrayal, and desperation in Fraser's voice) and read the transcripts. Broke his fucking heart.
Nothing he could have done. But by God he will do right by Fraser now.
He loves Fraser. He knows it won't ever be more than that pathetic plutonium-platinum-whatever kind of love. He hates it when people whisper that Fraser's childlike, that's not it at all. Fraser's not innocent, he never was, but he's trusting, he's one-hundred percent trusting and twice-that percent unable to protect himself. He's still bright as a dime, sharp-eyed, Boy Scout polite; he still has a wicked sly sense of humour and a pissy, prissy manner when Ray gets on his nerves. He's still beautifully, perfectly Fraser, and Ray would kill himself before he betrayed Fraser's trust. Fraser loves him back like a friend, like a brother, like a partner. That's good enough to be going on with.
Sex is one of the things that's got all twisted up inside Fraser's head. Other people's sex lives don't worry him. Fraser stays days at a retirement home run by Vecchio-connected nuns, and those old people are randy. Fraser tells Ray stories with the kind of marvelling respect used by the narrators of nature documentaries (a very unorthodox use of the physical therapy equipment, but quite. . . effacious). When Ray was in the hospital that time, the bad time, Fraser asked him point-blank if he was gay and held him while he cried out all his anger and pain. So Fraser understands sex happens for and to other people, knows the difference between the good kind of sex and the criminally wrong. But he can't handle having sexual thoughts himself, or sexual innuendo directed at him, or being touched in the wrong way, which is nearly every way. Ray doesn't even know if Fraser masturbates. He doesn't think so, and he's the one who buys the Kleenex.
It's only hard for Ray because they're always in each other's space. Like tonight: Ray's brushing his teeth and Fraser wanders in for a piss and a bath, and when Fraser's getting out of the tub, all wrinkly and smelling like Ivory soap and carrying on one third of a conversation on the migrations of arctic terns, that's when Ray's stripping for his shower. Ray's got water in his ears when Fraser sticks his head in and reminds him to floss. So they floss together, Fraser outside, Ray in the shower, because who needs to hear the lecture again about only flossing the teeth he wants to keep? Or – God forbid – have Fraser pass on some handy dental hygiene stories from beyond the grave: Buck Frobisher and the walrus-bone dentures! How Marvin 'Beaver' Jones cut down trees! How to stain your teeth black for fun and profit!
Ray's heard the stories enough that he could tell them in his sleep. The stories have been told so very often, in fact, that even Fraser's patience with them is wearing thin.
"Nana," Fraser says, crossing his arms and giving the toilet tank an evil look, "you've told Ray a hundred times about how Elroy Packard got sucked down with the bathwater and had to be rescued from the septic tank. The man's not emaciated, he's thin."
"Here in Chicago, we got these grate-things on top of our drains, anyway," Ray says, tightening the towel around his so-called hips. "Save my life daily." The woman may be family, but Caroline's mother? She's a meddling bitch and she hates his guts.
He goes and changes into his pyjamas – not real matching top and bottom things like Fraser's, just cut-off old track bottoms – and goes back to rescue Fraser from some kind of lecture, probably on rude Americans. Fraser's looking upset, and it's the kind of thing that makes Ray itchy. If, for the sake of argument, there really are ghosts, he should be defending Fraser from them. But if all the little voices telling Fraser what to do are only in his head, he should be defending Fraser from. . . what, exactly?
Ray's too dumb to deal with that, so he asks Fraser if he has a CD of the song on the sheet music. Turns out it's not a song but a concerto, and no, they don't have it, but the public library will. Excellence. Ray makes Fraser choose some other kind of music to set the mood for the evening and isn't really surprised that Fraser puts on Madonna. If Ray ever writes up his News of the Weird World life, he's going to make a big deal out of the fact that girl pop singers are better than fucking exorcism for getting a moment's peace and quiet from the undead. Relatively speaking.
Fraser relaxes and picks up his book, then looks at Ray guiltily.
"Lemme just grab my glasses – and budge over, you always hog the sofa, what's with that?" It guts Ray that when Fraser went off the drugs he stopped being able to read again. But if given the choice between the doped-up Fraser and the brilliant one with the weird voices? He'd take this one every time. He doesn't mind reading to Fraser. He wears his glasses all day anyway, now that he's working desk, and he learns all kinds of shit. Like now, Fraser's found this book about how the environment led to different kinds of civilisations and how racism's got no legs to stand on. Good stuff, stuff he can use at work, and his vocabulary's improving.
Still, ten pages are his limit. He's got Fraser leaning on his shoulder, looking at the maps and charts and pictures, which is Distraction A, and the Material Girl sucking away his attention span, Distraction B, and his head hurts, three strikes and game over. He throws down two generic Advil and turns the music up as he gets everything ready for tomorrow. His stuff packed, Fraser's stuff packed, two bag lunches in the fridge, timer set on the coffee maker, and The Ray Show's off the air for the day, thank you kindly for watching.
He tucks Fraser into bed with a hug and a kiss on the forehead, which isn't taking fucking liberties, it's affection. Fraser doesn't mind, anyway – Ray'd know if he did, he'd be picking his ass up off the floor because inappropriate touching's the only thing that makes Fraser violent. Some days Fraser even hugs back, which is mind-boggling in its goodness. Tonight he just smiles and closes his eyes. Ray puts the lamp on dim and shuts the door behind him.
Back before, Ray liked to unwind with a beer in front of the TV, feet up on the coffee table. Now he's got a new thing: he figures that's what happens when you let a shrink into your head. They made him go after that bad case – he needed it, he can admit now – and he makes Fraser go, too, which is how they got Fraser off the drugs, and also why there's no spare cash to buy a TV. But he's got his new thing, which the shrink has a fancy name for but he thinks of as meditation for the stupid.
He looks at the clock, takes a deep breath, and lets the feelings wash over him. Some days it's anger, sometimes sadness – grief, even. If things are good it can be lust, and he shuts himself in the bathroom with a magazine. Occasionally he cries, smothering the sounds with towels or cushions because it is hell if Fraser wakes up and comes out all sleep-blurred to offer comfort and warm milk. Pure. Fucking. Hell. So he keeps quiet and simply accepts whatever emotions come when he lets them.
Ten minutes is all he allows himself to wallow, and today that's good, he was thinking about his parents again. About how unfair it feels that Fraser's still got his whole family and all Ray has left is a brother who pities him but doesn't understand him at all. He'd even waited to be haunted – not, you know, consciously, but sort of anticipating. Fraser's parents came back to say goodbye, didn't they? He didn't tell his mom and dad he loved them when they left Chicago: it was all a blur of and get those tires checked and no, I'm not hungry and you got enough quarters?.
He didn't realise that he'd never see them again until nearly six months after the accident. He'd just dropped Fraser off and was walking out to the parking lot when his feet simply froze. When he came back to himself he was sitting in the office and Sr. Mildred was handing him a mug of very bad coffee and a tissue. He must have blathered everything at her – some kind of knee-jerk confession reflex – but his own words didn't stick in his head. Hers did.
"I wanted a miracle, too," she said, holding out a dish of sugarcubes with little food-colour flowers on the tops. He took two pansies, and sank them. "I wanted that one perfect moment of absolute surety in God. And God never gave that to me – in a city of millions, where Jesus appears on moldy Wonder bread every other week." She smiled at him, no-nonsense and certainly no pity. "Faith's foundation is not God proving himself to us, but us proving ourselves open to Him." She smiled and held his hand. "Give thanks, Mr Kowalski, for the blessings you receive in your everyday life."
So that's his next ten minutes, making himself remember the good stuff that happened today. There's always more than he thought, it's always a surprise, like getting presents when it's not Christmas. A long hard run through the park, Fraser singing as he shaved, some pretty yellow flowers in pots down the block, finding that sheet music and the way Fraser loved it, that was a high, the copier and the printer both working, dancing in the kitchen and laughing. Even that migration thing with the Arctic tern, what he heard was pretty interesting, he's sure as hell glad he's not an arctic tern.
Time up. He checks that the door is locked, looks in on Fraser as he sleeps, turns the light off, and stretches out on the sofa, pulling the afghan over his stomach.
He's been angry at God for most of his life. He'd thought being made dumb, poor, and queer was some divine joke that he was the punchline to. But now he realises that all those things, the dumb-poor-queer mix of him, they'd all led him to be the one here, tonight, with Benton Fraser. Take away any of that and he might be too smart to have hope, too used to luxury to make sacrifices, too scared to love Fraser the way he does. He's reached a kind of peace, and even though he refuses on principle to pray for anything, he figures he needs to do the Canadian thing by God, so when he closes his eyes it's with the thought, Thank you Lord, for these our ordinary days.
And then he sleeps.
Calvin: Know what I pray for?
Calvin: The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can't, and the incapacity to tell the difference.