Odd-Numbered Nights

Ray wakes up with his feet on the floor and the hair standing up on the back of his neck. Before he even realizes this much, he's already doing the calculations: how long to get the key in the lock of the bedside table, the magazine out of the drawer and into the gun; how long to turn in the bed and blow away whichever of his guys Zuko sent to do his wet work. Five seconds? Ten? Less than that; he's been rehearsing it in his head since he buttoned up his silk pajamas and laid down in the bed; he's been dreaming it in slow motion.

The clock on the beside table says 1:03.

A door closes across the landing. He pretends that it's this that woke him up and not the dream, the one where he's too slow.

Grinding his teeth, he clasps his hands behind his bowed head and breathes through his nose, out, in, out. Then he stands up with his back to the door and lets the ants seethe up and down his spine. He'll get used to it eventually. Instead of looking over his shoulder, he takes three deliberate steps to the window.

Before he recognizes the shape standing under the streetlamp on the far sidewalk, his body's already in self-preservation mode, and he's ducked out of sight beside the window. Eventually his muscles unlock enough to let in the thought that Frankie's guys don't wear Stetsons.

He closes his eyes and shakes his head, a gesture between fury and resigned disbelief that he's made so often lately that it's becoming some kind of signature move.

Fraser waits for him on the sidewalk like he's standing on the steps of the consulate, except his eyes move to follow Ray as he shuffles over from the house and paces back in forth in front of him, his arms wrapped around himself to keep his coat closed. Ray could button the coat but that's too much like giving in. He's left his slippers on, too, because he's not--not--really standing out in the street at one in the morning talking to a bashed-up Mountie who isn't smart enough to stay home and heal.

"So, Benny," Ray says finally, casually, like there's nothing weird about anything. "You wanna tell me what you're doing standing outside my house in the middle of the night?"

"I was in the neighbourhood."

Ray stops pacing and looks at Fraser's face. His expression is perfectly open and utterly closed. Ray tilts his head a little and leans closer like he can get in under the brim of the hat. Fraser's expression doesn't change. It's like looking through a clean, clear window into a dark room.

"Right. You were in the neighbourhood. And, I ask you, why were you in the neighbourhood?"

A brief angling of the head and a wince as Fraser's gaze darts away, off down the street, like he's stick-handling the conversation away from the net. When he meets Ray's eyes again, though, it's all Mountie decorum and finality. "I'd rather not say."

Ray nods slowly, lips pursed, and frowns down the street, too. "You know, Benny, Frankie's a young guy. He could live to be ninety. You gonna spend the next 55 years guarding my house?"

Fraser breaks the post-card-Mountie-on-guard-for-thee pose and tugs at his ear. A smile creases his cheek before he remembers the fat lip and smooths his expression out again, so that when he speaks the grim amusement is all in the voice. "Well, no, Ray. I thought that on odd-numbered nights you could stand outside my place."

Ray's laugh is silent but it hangs in the air as a cloud of breath between them. Even before it's dissipated, the rage is ready to boil out of his chest and up his throat. Frank fucking Zuko. He starts pacing again, faster, back and forth while Fraser's eyes follow him. Fucking Frank fucking Zuko.

Abruptly, Ray stops and turns to face Fraser. "Benny, go home."

"Ray--"

"Benny." Ray reaches out and puts a hand on Fraser's chest where his jacket hangs open. He slides the hand down until he sees Fraser's eyes narrow in anticipation of contact between Ray's fingers and the bruises. You're a mess, is what this is saying. Go the fuck home and lie down is what Ray means. And he wants to apply pressure enough to get Fraser's posture to break, capitulate to pain, but he can't keep the gentleness out of his hands, and he's already got them both there, inside Fraser's jacket, against Fraser's body, gentle, tentative, like he's asking for something, and that's not what he meant at all, but there they are, his hands, attached to his arms, so it must be him.

Fraser's mouth opens and his eyes meet Ray's steadily but a little wide with something Ray would call panic if he didn't think that was impossible, and for a second there Ray can see inside to an answer to whatever question Ray is asking. Maybe the answer is yes, except that Fraser's gaze flicks away again, up toward the house, and the light goes out inside that room so that Ray can't see inside no matter how hard he tries. He feels his fingers closing into fists wrapped in the soft, worn cloth of Fraser's jersey.

Although he swore he wouldn't ever look over his shoulder again, he does, following Fraser's gaze back and up to his window where Francesca's looking down at them, one hand pressed against the glass.

"I should go," Fraser says huskily. He has to unwind his shirt from one of Ray's hands, but by the time he moves on to the other, Ray's fingers loosen on their own and he lets go.

"Good idea," Ray agrees, still watching Frannie there in his window. When he looks away from the house, Fraser's turned the corner and is gone.

THE END


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