Thanks: I'm extremely grateful to my beta-reader, Miriam, for her insightful observations, brilliant suggestions, and general wonderfulness. Without her, this would have been very not good.
The elevator jerked to a halt on level thirty-two, and Mr and Mrs Cassenheim disembarked, edging around Diefenbaker as though he were a pinless grenade. Fraser tipped his hat courteously. "Have a nice day," he said as the doors slid shut. And then they were alone, Fraser standing at parade rest, and Ray a statue of his former self.
"She seemed very nice," said Fraser, thinking back to the interview, and trying not to notice Ray's new haircut, which was shorter and revealed the soft vulnerable skin behind his ears.
"What's that? Oh, Cynthia? Yeah, I guess." Ray was unnaturally subdued. "She don't know Simons, though." Simons was the suspect in a homicide investigation. His mugshot was stuffed roughly into Ray's jacket.
"True. We'll have to review the evidence."
Fraser watched Ray surreptitiously, concerned at how uncomfortable he looked with his fists thrust in his pockets, his arms and shoulders tense. Usually observing Ray was akin to opening the back of a wristwatch and witnessing all the tiny, continuously interacting components, but now he seem to have turned to stone.
Fraser opened his mouth to suggest Ray consider booking a massage appointment, and then closed it again. Ray would clearly benefit from some form of physical comfort, but Fraser couldn't imagine his friend relaxing under the hands of a stranger.
Fraser wondered whether perhaps he himself ought to offer Ray a shiatsu – he'd read several books on the subject and was proficient, at least in theory. However, the prospect of broaching the subject filled him with unexpected reticence.
"Hold the elevator!" called Ray.
Fraser stepped forward and intervened before the doors could shut. The five other passengers glared at him, but he pressed the 'Open Door' button regardless. Ray was talking to Stella, his arms waving in the air.
Fraser couldn't hear what they were saying.
After a minute and an impatient complaint from a businessman with a hefty leather briefcase, Fraser poked his head out the door. "Ray?"
Ray didn't even look. "Never mind," he called. "Go without me."
'Are you sure? I can wait." A wave of imminent mutiny swelled behind him.
Ray looked round now. "Nah, it's fine. I'll catch you up."
"All right then." Fraser let go of the button, watched the brushed steel doors converge, cutting off his view of his partner deep in conversation with the woman to whom he'd once sworn till death do us part.
It was a long ride to the ground floor.
Fraser dusted the last of the flour off his flannel shirt and wondered why criminals always had to make their escape via the kitchen. "And you were no help, either," he said reprovingly to Diefenbaker. "That wedding cake was intended for the guests."
Dief whined and licked frosting from his muzzle.
"It's hardly the wolf's fault, son," said a voice from behind him.
Fraser suppressed a sigh. "How so? Diefenbaker behaved shockingly. Please could you not encourage him."
Dief yawned and went to stand next to Fraser's father, leaning affectionately against the dead man's legs. Wonderful, thought Fraser bitterly. He wished Ray were here.
"He's simply following his natural inclinations," said Fraser Snr, who was dressed in heavy outdoor gear and had clumps of snow clinging to his boots. "After all, he's a wild animal. You can't expect him to have any manners."
Dief barked in protest.
"Precisely," said Fraser. "How are you, dad?"
"I'm keeping busy. Tracking down some of your grandfather's relatives as a matter of fact. Press thirteen, would you?"
Fraser pressed the button for level thirteen.
When the doors opened, an icy wind blew in that caused Fraser's jaw to tighten in protest. He squinted into the dazzling white light and saw open tundra reaching to the horizon. There was a dog team hitched to a sled, waiting. "I'll be off then," his father said, stamping his feet. "Give my regards to the Yank." He climbed into the sled and set off, without a backward glance.
The doors glided together leaving Fraser pink-cheeked from the unexpected cold.
There were two men and a woman already in the elevator when Ray and Fraser entered on the twenty-ninth floor. They all seemed to know each other and were debating the merits of a TV show from the night before.
Two more people got in on level twenty-four, and another on level twenty-three. It was becoming crowded. Ray shuffled towards Fraser in what appeared to be an unconscious move away from the others.
When the doors opened on the twelfth floor, six people were waiting outside and they all piled in, laughing at the cramped conditions.
In contrast to the exuberance of the other passengers, Ray leaned on the back wall of the elevator car, silent and motionless, pressed up against Fraser's side.
Fraser exhaled slowly through his nose, and remained outwardly passive even as he appreciated the bodily contact.
When they finally reached ground, all the others piled out, dispersing singly and in groups to their various lunch appointments. Ray stayed where he was for several seconds, and then gave Fraser a gentle prod with his elbow, sending him striding briskly into the foyer, where he turned left and halted, feeling foolish and disorientated.
"This way, Frase," said Ray from behind him.
Fraser spun on his heels and followed his partner.
The hum and tiny squeals of industrial gears reverberated through Fraser's sleep.
Ray stood stock still while Fraser thumbed through the brochure entitled Unlimited Profits Ltd: Invest Today for Your Dreams Tomorrow.
"I'm not entirely convinced this is above board," Fraser said, to break the silence. It was only now occurring to him that his own response to Ray's inevitable elevator freeze frame was to exhibit a corresponding rise in restlessness, an unfamiliar sensation that he could only describe as the jitters.
"No kidding," said Ray, but he sounded distracted. Perhaps something was wrong.
"Ray, is there anything the matter?"
"Nah. It's nothing." That meant there was something. See, and there: Ray didn't even shrug. He stood like an ice sculpture, waiting while the car descended floor by floor.
But Ray didn't want to talk about it, and he thawed as soon as the thick steel doors slid back to reveal the crowded lobby.
Ray and Fraser stood side by side in the foyer waiting for the elevator car to descend and carry them away.
Fraser held a plastic bag of takeaway containers, and his hands were damp with steam. He caught himself swinging the food, and stopped at once.
Once inside the elevator, Fraser twisted the handles of the plastic bag, and then switched the fragrant parcel of food to the other hand and absent-mindedly ran his thumb up and down his lanyard. One of the buttons on his cuff was smeared with dirt, and he huffed on it and polished it on the front of his tunic.
Dear God. He'd been trained from day one not to fidget with the uniform, and here he was squirming like a muskrat. "I don't know what's come over me," he blurted involuntarily.
Ray's head swivelled to stare at him. Ray opened his mouth. "Over you," he said. "You don't know what's come over you?"
"Yes. You see—" But Ray was staring at him, almost glaring at him. "What is it, Ray?"
Ping. The doors opened at Ray's floor.
"I can hear you breathing," said Ray, agonised. He stomped off to the door of his apartment.
Fraser took a moment to collect himself, and followed.
Rudolph Greensleeve fought all the way as Fraser, Ray and Diefenbaker herded him, his two female companions, and their huge clunky old-style radiator into the precinct's service elevator. Fraser, who had caught sight of Ray's murderous expression, leaned forward and quietly advised Mr Greensleeve to stop resisting arrest.
"We got freedom of speech!" Rudolph declared, and tried to punch Fraser in the face, but was unable to swing his arm far enough due to the shackles. "We got every right to protest!"
Ray shoved Fraser out of harm's way without ever actually making eye contact, and dragged the heavy cage door across. He scowled at Rudolph over his shoulder. "Yeah, you can chain yourself to whatever household appliance you want. No problem. Protest power outages, and the cost, and your stupid landlord? No problem. Hell, I don't care if you complain about fucking Edison." He whirled round and stuck his finger in Rudolph's face. "But you got no right to try and cut power to Northwestern Memorial. That's not freedom of speech, asshole. That's vandalism, trespass," Ray ticked them off on his fingers, shouting angrily in the chained man's face, "reckless endangerment, resisting arrest, and a bunch of other things. I don't have enough fingers for the trouble you got yourself in."
"Fuck you!" Rudolph shouted. He seemed wholly insensible to the harm he could have inflicted.
Fraser frowned and helped the dark-haired older woman to untangle her chains from the bottom of the radiator where they'd become tangled with those of her weeping younger sister. The process was complicated by the way the radiator jerked around whenever Rudolph tried to land a blow to either Ray or Fraser.
Ray couldn't handcuff the detainees until the chains had been removed—he'd phoned ahead for bolt cutters. In the meantime, Rudolph was demonstrating what Fraser considered an unhealthy lack of self-control.
"It's all right," Fraser said, patting the younger woman's shoulder, but he wasn't entirely certain whom he was addressing.
"I don't understand why you won't talk about it, Ray. I can hardly stop breathing."
"I don't want to talk about it, Fraser. Forget it."
To Fraser's frustration, the doors opened and three men in charcoal grey suits boarded, lugging between them the empty base of an ornate and apparently extremely heavy polished walnut coffin with brass detailing. A fourth man followed with the lid.
"Couldn't we—" Fraser said to Ray, but Ray pressed his lips together and moved away.
The coffin bearer furthest from Fraser stuck his head around the front of the casing and asked his friend, "Hey Vaughan, where'd you park, anyway?"
"Just a couple of blocks away. We gotta hurry though—there's only ten minutes on the meter," came the reply.
The elevator reached the lobby and the men, grunting with effort, carried their coffin away, but Ray and Fraser both stood their ground. "After you," said Fraser.
Ray didn't move.
The doors closed and Fraser looked at Ray across the enclosed space. Ray was serious and had a hint of panic around his eyes.
Fraser's heart began to pound until he wondered whether his pulse, as well as his breathing, would be audible and provoking. Perhaps—perhaps an understanding could be reached.
A discreet hum and increased pressure on he soles of his boots indicated the car was now in motion, and Fraser did something he'd never done before. He pressed the Stop button, causing the car to jolt to a standstill. No more interruptions.
In the silence that stretched out, Ray's body began to move, apparently no longer able to contain his nervous energy. "I can't—" He scrubbed his hands through his hair briefly, and then let them fall. "I can't say it, Fraser."
"You don't have to." Fraser took a step closer. In the mirrored wall behind Ray's head, he caught a glimpse of Ray's hair, the back of his ears. He struggled to keep his voice level. "Perhaps I could say it for you, and you could tell me if I'm hitting the mark."
Ray stared at him a moment, and then ducked his head. "Okay."
Fraser thought a moment. "I have the utmost respect for you," he said tentatively, feeling his way, alert to Ray's every reaction.
Ray nodded. Yes.
"I value you as a partner and a friend." Fraser swallowed.
Ray was still nodding, was staring at the striped teal carpet, his head tilted sideways, listening intently.
Fraser took another step forward, bringing them toe to toe.
"I don't know what I'd do without you." Fraser forgot that he was supposed to be speaking on Ray's behalf, forgot everything in the excitement of finally saying the words. "I—"
Before he could get the words out, Ray raised his head in a blur of dark blond spikes, and his mouth came up to meet Fraser's, seemingly to taste the declaration, to say all the things Ray couldn't put into words.
"Oh." Fraser was stunned. This was more, more than he'd expected, more than he'd hoped.
He was so surprised he forgot to kiss back. He simply blinked at Ray, overwhelmed and dumbstruck.
Ray pulled away slowly, flushed and embarrassed. He glanced at Fraser's face and winced, turning away. "I'm sorry," he said in a muffled voice. "I'm sorry, Fraser. I thought—"
The door pinged open—when had the elevator started moving again?—to reveal a crowd of people jostling to get inside. Ray murmured, "I'll see you later," avoiding Fraser's eye, and elbowed his way out through the mass of bodies.
"Ray!" called Fraser, reaching out to catch his arm.
"Later, Fraser," Ray said over his shoulder, as he vanished into the crowd.
Fraser was left alone and helpless, kicking himself for his own foolishness.
Ray was refusing to talk about it. Again. Ray had clammed himself up tight, and was being so immutably irrefutably professional that Fraser's chest hurt.
Fraser barely noticed them arriving on the thirty-sixth floor. "Ray," he said in an urgent undertone. "I was—" Slow? Stupid? What could he say that would penetrate Ray's briskness.
"Forget it. It was an accident, okay?" There. That was the closest Ray had come all morning to acknowledging that anything at all had happened.
"I can't forget it." The doors opened to reveal the reception area of MBT Brokerage.
Ray stiffened even more at that and moved away, out of the lift. Fraser stayed where he was.
"I want to go back. I want to get it right this time." Fraser kept his voice low, aware of the receptionist only a few metres away.
Ray turned, his eyes widening, and he leaned forward, saying harshly, "Fraser, you don't have to—"
The doors were closing between them.
"I want to." All his desperation and sincerity spilled into those three words.
They stared at each other, each rooted to their respective spots. Ray was searching Fraser's face, his doubt receding leaving an expression of raw hunger.
A second later, he disappeared. Fraser stabbed at the control panel, looking for the 'Open Door' button, but it was too late. The elevator was already descending.
Two floors, three. The descent quickened. Fraser tried the buttons for 32, 31, 30, 29 but they all stubbornly refused to light up. They must be key-coded. By the time he'd sped past twenty-four, he gave up, rested his head against the cool steel wall and waited helplessly.
On the twelfth floor, doors moved apart and together. People got in and got out again on level ten, in on nine, out on four, talking and silent, all of them slowing him down, preventing him from returning to level thirty-sixth where Ray was waiting.
The lobby was empty, at least. The last of the irritating passengers strode away, and Fraser hammered '36', trying to speed things along, longing to disappear back into the sky. He glanced towards the stairwell door, wishing it would burst open, that Ray would defy the laws of time and space and come rushing out towards him now, but it was thirty-five floors. Much too far for him to run. Fraser pressed the button again and finally the dim-witted elevator responded, steel coming together.
And then, when the gap was only five or six centimeters wide and closing rapidly, a hand thrust between the doors, forcing them open again. Ray's hand. Fraser recognised it instantly, and reached for the 'Open Doors' button, this time with success.
"Ray!" Gladness welled up inside Fraser, deep and exhilarating. "How did you—?"
"Express elevator," Ray replied, keeping his eyes fixed firmly on Fraser's face. And then he was inside, they were inside together, and the elevator was rising again, and Ray was close, was gazing at him, open and vulnerable. "What was that you were saying, Fraser?"
But this was too important, too momentous to be said with words. Fraser reached out and cupped the back of Ray's head. He ran his thumb over the softness behind Ray's ear until his partner's eyes fell shut. And then he stepped in close and kissed him, without hesitation, without reservation.
I love you, he said silently, as the earth rushed away from them.
"'Going down?" she asked, before she glanced at them and her eyebrows disappeared up under her wig.
Fraser pushed Ray away, just an inch or two, and threw the neighbour an apologetic glance. "Sorry. I—We—" There was no explanation, no excuse.
Mrs Smithson sniffed and pressed the button for the ground floor several times. Then she grasped her purse with both hands and steadfastly watched the floor numbers light up, one after the other.
"We like elevators," said Ray, grinning, and waving his hand in the air. "It's a thing." And Fraser found himself smiling too, a tiny current of shock threading through him that this was happening, that their hands really were entwined, their hips pressed together, as they waited for Mrs Smithson to vacate their elevator.
"Although, you know what?" added Ray to Fraser, ignoring the old lady, talking intimately as though she weren't even there. He slid his hand back up to Fraser's shoulder and gripped it possessively. Then he winked as he said, "We could take this somewhere more comfortable."