Pairing: Fraser/Bruce Spender, Fraser/Kowalski pre-slash
Notes: For moon_brain
Ray drove Dief and me to Cleveland to save us the difficulty of transporting Dief by plane. We didn't talk about anything much. I don't think Ray understood why I was willing to come all this way. It wasn't as though Bruce and I had visited since he'd moved here, months ago. But I didn't explain and Ray took my prompt response to the phone call in stride.
We arrived, cramped and dazed from the trip, two hours after sunset, and since that was well past official visiting hours, we took a room at a motel not far from the hospital.
"You want me to come with you tomorrow?" asked Ray over burgers at a nearby diner. He had to raise his voice to be heard above the chink of cutlery on china, the hissing of the deep fry and the rich, drawling vowels of an Elvis Presley song playing over the speakers.
I shook my head. It would be easier if he didn't.
He nodded, apparently unsurprised, and took a large bite of his burger. "I'll go check out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, then, while you do your thing," he said with his mouth full.
"That sounds like a fine idea." I offered him a smile. "Thanks, Ray."
He waved that aside. "Hey, what are partners for?" The song ended, and a new one, with a faster tempo started up. Ray paused in his chewing. "Used to dance to this," he said nostalgically. "You know, sometimes I wish Stell and me could get back together just for the fun times. Not even the— you know, sleeping together. But the dancing, the dinners out. We had some really great times."
"It's a shame not to have anyone to share those kinds of occasions with," I agreed. "The continuity of life is hard to maintain when you—"
"Eh." Ray shrugged, interrupting me easily. "I got you." He smiled at me, relaxed, as though our partnership somehow compensated for the loss of his marriage, and I reflected the grin.
He tapped his coffee cup against the metal container holding my milkshake. "To partners."
* * *
Upon arrival at the hospital, I referred to the crumpled phone message in Francesca's looped handwriting, and Dief and I used the posted floor plans to find our way to Bruce's ward. He was in a room with three other beds, one of them empty but clearly taken, one stripped to the mattress and showing no signs of an occupant. In the third lay an elderly man wearing headphones and humming an atonal rhythm.
Bruce himself was sitting up in the fourth bed, one of the ones by the window. His blankets were heaped around the plaster cast on his leg and he had a dressing on the side of his freshly shaved head, but the IV wasn't attached to the insert taped to the back of his hand, and his eyes, as alert as ever, brightened when he saw Dief.
"Constable Fraser," he greeted me. "You came, you came. I hoped you would. And Diefenbaker. Dief, Dief, you came." His fingers made busy folds in the starched sheet.
Dief jumped up on the bed, careful not to bump Bruce's broken leg, and nosed his hands, and Bruce let go the folds, the sheet concertinaing into a creased landscape, and buried his fingers in Dief's ruff.
"He's glad you're all right," I translated unnecessarily.
"He's a good boy. Good boy, good dog." Bruce made a fuss of him.
I resisted taking his hand or any other demonstrative greeting. I simply put my hat on the hospital cabinet beside his bed and pulled up a chair. "I've had amnesia myself, you know."
"Really?" Bruce smiled at me, his face cherubic. "You? You had a hole in your thoughts, a black gap, a gap and nothing to fill it with?"
I nodded and leaned forward. "Mine was more severe than yours. I didn't recognize anyone or anything. Faces, places, my past. I couldn't even remember who I was or what mattered to me. But a good friend of mine helped me to find myself again."
"You came back." Bruce nodded. "You looked into the abyss and you came back. You think I can do that?"
"I'm sure of it." I let myself reach for his hand, and he accepted the gesture unselfconsciously. I took that as a good sign. "What's the last thing you remember?"
He met my gaze, still smiling despite the lightning flash of pain in his eyes. "I killed him," he said. "I killed Kevin. I shot my brother."
"No." My horror tasted acrid and bitter, but I hid it as best I could and squeezed his hand. "No, you didn't. Kevin is alive; he's in jail. What do you remember?" I willed him to think clearly, past what he thought he knew. "What's the last thing you remember doing?"
"It was raining," he said, dreamily. "It was raining, and I had a gun. I was holding a gun, I was pointing it at Kevin. He had a gun, too. He was going to shoot you, but I wouldn't let him, I wouldn't let him shoot you, so I aimed the gun at him, and it was raining and I shot him."
I could recall the scene vividly, the road and the trees, the smell of rain and frightened men, the faint sourness of blowback from all the gunfire. I realized Bruce must be sedated. The message I'd received stated he was very upset, but now he seemed bizarrely calm. They must have given him something.
"You didn't shoot him," I said firmly. "He gave in and lowered his weapon, and Ray arrested him."
"He's not dead? He's not dead. Then why isn't he here? He'd come, he'd be here, if he was alive." Bruce started pleating the sheets again. Dief nosed his fingers until he stopped.
"He's in prison," I reminded Bruce, "serving a long jail sentence. You were at his trial."
"I was?" Bruce seemed struck by this. "I was there, of course I was." He cocked his head like a bird, and asked, "What was I wearing? What was I wearing in the courtroom, please?"
I thought back. "Brown corduroy pants and a white shirt, with an olive green tie," I told him. "And brown leather loafers with black socks, and a tan sports jacket with a button missing on one sleeve."
"A button missing." Bruce seemed pleased by this detail. "What happened? Did I have to speak? I couldn't testify against him, not against Kevin. He looks after me, he always has."
"You weren't required to testify," I tell him. "Shall I start at the beginning?"
"Yes, yes, please." He glanced at the glass of water on the cabinet, and I handed it to him. He took a sip through the straw and gave it back. "Tell me everything. I don't remember what's happened. Tell me."
"I haven't seen you in some months," I warn him, "but I'll tell you what I can."
* * *
Bruce only returned to Chicago twice after the showdown with his brother, Kevin. The first time was for Kevin's court case. Bruce stayed in a serviced apartment and attended the week-long hearing every day. As a witness, I was required to be there for the first two days, but I returned after I was released, to keep him company. He found the media attention stressful, and Dief's presence helped calm him.
And even then, despite the pressure, he was a different person from the man Ray and I had first apprehended for carrying a concealed gun. He seemed larger, more decisive, as though being faced with the challenge of fending for himself in a new city had forced him to overcome his natural reticence.
He sat in the front row of the public seats in the courtroom, across the aisle from Kevin's wife and two boys, all of whom were pale and angry. Kevin's wife and the oldest boy refused to acknowledge Bruce at all, but the younger son, Ethan, stared at him fiercely and hissed vindictive insults from time to time. Apparently they all blamed Bruce for his brother's transgressions.
On the last day of the trial, once the jury had retired, Bruce and I took Dief to Chinatown for dinner. Mr. Lee had long since turned a blind eye to Dief's presence in his restaurant, and he welcomed us all enthusiastically and served us many more dishes than we ordered.
Bruce talked about his new home in Peoria, and the kind elderly lady who'd rented him a room. He recounted the events of three job interviews in detail, none of which had led to work, but he seemed unfazed by this, willing to let events run their course.
And, of course, we talked about the trial, the jury's likely verdict and what sentence Kevin would serve, should he be found guilty as he most certainly would given the testimony of so many officers of the law.
Towards the end of the meal, Bruce looked at me across the stained placemats and empty bowls and said, simply, "I miss him, I miss Kevin."
"I know." I obeyed my instincts and put my hand over his, offering comfort. "He's still your brother, and he always will be, no matter what he does."
"He tried to have me killed," Bruce pointed out soberly, but he seemed distracted. He glanced at our hands, still joined on the table, and then looked at me curiously. "He was going to kill you."
I felt unexpectedly self-conscious and pulled away to adjust the collar of my uniform. "I suspect he only planned to use me as a hostage," I prevaricated. "After all, killing me would have gained him very little."
"But he wasn't thinking," countered Bruce. "He wasn't thinking, he was full of fear and he didn't know what to do. It's frightening, being cornered like that, not knowing what to do. And Kevin, he doesn't like it, he doesn't like it at all. He always has a plan, a contingency. He gets very angry when there's no time, nowhere to turn."
"Well, it's over now, no harm done," I said, stupidly, as though the loss of a brother were nothing, as though such visceral betrayal could be swept under the rug with a few platitudes.
"No harm done," echoed Bruce, his eyes clear and perceptive. "And I have a new friend."
I nodded, feeling my face heat. "Indeed you have."
But he'd already turned to Dief, lying replete beside our table. "A new friend, a good friend. Man's best friend." He patted Dief's head, and Dief grinned up at me, mocking.
I felt something had changed between Bruce and me, the connection we'd first made had both lightened and solidified with his newly enforced independence, but I've never been much good at the dance of attraction and, well, it was hardly the time or place. It would've been taking advantage of him, I told Dief as I let him into our apartment later than night.
Dief thought I was talking nonsense, of course.
The second time Bruce returned to Chicago, he surprised me. Nearly a month had passed, and I later learned he'd visited Kevin in jail in the morning, a meeting fraught with frustration and shame, and only the barest promise of future forgiveness.
In the afternoon he came to the Consulate looking for me and asked Dief and me to accompany him to the planetarium. I switched sentry duty shifts with Turnbull, and we left before Inspector Thatcher returned from a long lunch meeting with the Spanish Ambassador.
The planetarium was teeming with school parties, brightly dressed children of all ages running and whooping with very little regard for the exhibits. Dief regarded the whole enterprise with a jaundiced eye, complaining that we should improve our treatment of our own planet before we concerned ourselves with other worlds.
But Bruce and I delved into the various displays with enthusiasm, pointing out interesting facts and comparing notes on our own previous experiences with star spotting and other space phenomena. It turned out that Kevin had given Bruce a cheap telescope for his sixteenth birthday, and Bruce had spent many a night charting the skies since he had no access to a published map of the stars.
I, of course, had spent long winters learning to read the constellations, largely for practical navigation purposes but also for the comfort of losing myself in the greatness of creation. When faced with the majesties of the universe, it was hard to believe anything on a human scale mattered a great deal.
I talked a little of my childhood, of my grandparents and, as I recall, I told a particularly amusing anecdote about my grandfather's prize chickens. I also confided my part in the infamous affair of the boomerang and the goldmine, something I usually consider best forgotten.
It wasn't until we were looking at a holographic representation of the Horsehead Nebula, while a dozen third graders milled around our knees, that Bruce said, "I have a job, now. Yes, they've offered me a job. I start next week."
"That's wonderful news," I said, clapping him on the shoulder and letting my hand rest there companionably. "What's the position?"
"Security consultant," he said, glancing around for Dief. He always seemed to be tracking his position and Dief, for his part, rarely strayed far from Bruce. "I'll be working for a high level security advisor in Cleveland. They're giving me a car."
He seemed particularly pleased by this stroke of fortune, and I congratulated him warmly. "Let me buy you a drink to celebrate," I said, spying a sign that pointed to the planetarium's cafeteria.
The cafeteria staff refused Dief entry, as it happened, so instead we went to the park, buttoning our coats against the chill and walking side-by-side with our hands deep in our pockets while Dief trotted from tree to tree, unconcerned about the weather. I bought us takeout coffee from a street vendor and a hot-dog for Dief, and then it started to rain so we stood in the band rotunda to consume them while Bruce explained the mechanics of cloud formation. He was far more charming and comprehensible than the text I'd read on the subject as a young man, and when I told him that he grinned shyly and stepped towards me.
His hair was soft under my fingers. I'd been seeing him as someone who needed protection and support, someone trapped by his own limitations, but as his gaze sharpened and he leaned in to kiss me, I realized that it was I who was lacking. It was I who lived in his workplace, without even the privacy of a bedroom, I who was at the mercy of his institution's whims for placement. It was I who had fared disastrously at love, time and again. Who was even now nursing a persistent, hopeless infatuation for my new, clearly heterosexual partner.
I knew nothing of Bruce's romantic history, but it couldn't possibly be as blighted as my own. He pushed me against the back wall of the pagoda, raised his eyebrows at Dief as if asking permission — Diefenbaker all but shrugged and left us to it; he loped off towards the Ranier Street entrance, no doubt to pester Mr. Tucci, the pretzel man — and we kissed.
It was a good kiss, simple and honest, and uncomplicated by blame or regret or any of the many undercurrents I'd come to associate with desire over the years. It felt like a fresh start. I widened my stance unthinkingly and pulled him close, seeking pressure against my growing erection, and he smiled against my mouth and leaned harder into me, unashamed and unafraid.
The combination of innocence and sensuality was intoxicating. Keeping my mouth on his, I turned us so his back was against the wall, and ran my hands down his sides to his slim hips. He let me, welcomed me, and when I pulled away, my head reeling and slightly horrified at abandoning all sense of propriety in this public place, he took my hand and kissed my knuckles. "I'm staying near here," he said. "Just around the corner."
I went with him to his rooms.
* * *
It was never intended to be more than it was — we were both clear on that. "I'm starting a new life, a new life," said Bruce, as he lay next to me afterwards, the musky shimmer of fresh sweat on his beautiful pale skin. "A new city, a new life. And it's not that I'm scared, no, not scared. But, you know, everything will be new, and—" He flashed his rare smile. "And I'd rather have you as a friend, Benton Fraser."
"I understand. Good friendships are both rare and essential." I brushed my thumb across the nub of his hipbone and smiled back, suppressing a pang for friendships interrupted, and the thorny partnership currently dominating my days. I would never share this intimacy with Ray — and I was only just coming to accept that I had other options available to me, men such as Bruce with whom the conversation might be engaging and the sex friendly, a physical relief free of any long-term expectations.
It was good. It was enough.
"You last called me three months ago," I explained to Bruce, "perhaps two weeks after that last visit. You said the job was stimulating and you'd made friends with the woman in the pastry shop across the street from your apartment. Nola, I believe her name is."
He frowned at me from his hospital bed. "Nola, Nola. They found your phone number in my wallet." His face lit up, as if he'd had an epiphany. "That's why they called you. That's how you came here. Your phone number in my wallet, yes."
"Do you remember any of the things I've told you?" I'd been as frank about our encounters as I felt able. I hoped it was enough.
He touched his head and grimaced as if he had a headache. "I— I visited Kevin," he said in a small voice. "In jail, I went to jail and saw him there."
"I believe so." I didn't know enough about the visit to corroborate anything he might remember.
"I told him," said Bruce, his voice awful and quiet. "I told him the truth, and then he wouldn't look at me." His eyes are bright with pain. "He wouldn't speak to me. He told me to go."
I pulled my chair closer and put my hand on his wrist, wishing there was something I could say to comfort him. But all I could do was to provide a listening ear. "What did you say?"
Bruce looked at me. I could see his heart breaking, how much it hurt to remember. I ached for him. "I told him the truth," he said, "that I would have shot him. If he'd tried to hurt you, I would have—"
I lowered my eyes, ill-prepared for such a declaration, but Bruce surprised me once again.
"Not for you. I'm sorry, sorry, it wouldn't have been for you." He turned his hand over and loosely clasped my fingers. "It would have been for him, I couldn't let him make that mistake, couldn't let him. He looked after me, I had to look after him too."
"Kevin's lucky to have you," I said, sincerely. "And a guilty heart can make men say things they'll deeply regret. You should talk to him again."
Bruce scratched Dief behind the ear. "You're lucky, both of you. Lucky to have each other. I remember now. I remember." He looked suddenly older, his solitude a mantle that weighed on him. "Thank you."
In the end, there was still no complication, no lingering regret. I was glad, but it was a bittersweet relief. It would be nice, one day, to be wanted. "I'm glad to have been of help," I said sincerely and stood up, stretching out my legs. I'd been there for hours. "It's been good to see you, Bruce."
The occupant of the empty bed had long since returned, propelled in a wheelchair by a nurse in blue hospital scrubs and helped into his bed. He was reading a novel by Tom Clancy. And as I got to my feet, an orderly came by to deliver the evening meals and he informed me visiting hours ended over an hour ago and, besides, dogs were not permitted inside the hospital buildings.
"He's a wolf, actually," I said, and then hastily promised to remove him forthwith.
"Will you be here, are you staying? Will you be here tomorrow?" Bruce asked, as if he had no expectations either way.
I picked up my hat. "I'm afraid we have to return to Chicago." I motioned to Dief to get off the bed, and he complied with a grumble. "But you have my phone number. I hope you'll call me to tell me how you get on."
* * *
When I arrived back at the motel, Ray was already there, dozing on his bed. He sat up when I let myself into the room. His hair was endearingly flattened on one side.
"How'd it go?" he asked before I'd closed the door.
"Very well. I reminded him of the events of his visits to Chicago and Dief reacquainted himself with the taste of hospital dressings." There was so little I could tell Ray. "Bruce remembers. His memory came back. It was worth the trip."
Ray's eyes narrowed but he just nodded rapidly. "Good, good. Glad to hear it. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was pretty cool, too. You want to get something to eat?"
"Yeah." In truth, I wanted a shower and sleep, but the prospect of eating with Ray was too great a temptation. I wondered if I'd ever stop grasping for moments with him, ever stop wanting more.
"He's got a job here, huh? Bruce, I mean." Ray grabbed his jacket from the foot of his bed and dug his feet into his shoes.
"Yes, I get the impression he'll be settling here for some time." I couldn't resist the opportunity to make it plain — I was free, available, willing. As if Ray cared.
"Okay," said Ray. He slung his arm across my shoulder and drew me out into the brisk Cleveland evening. "You're okay."
His tone and the way his hand squeezed my shoulder gave me pause. For the first time, I wondered if Ray understood more about Bruce and me than he'd let on.
"What're you in the mood for? Chinese, Thai, Turkish." Ray let his hand fall away as we approached his car. "Polish, maybe?" He winked at me.
And for the first time, I wondered if Ray was really as heterosexual as I'd been led to believe.