The smell in here was fatalism.
Fraser stepped over the threshold into Ray Kowalski's apartment, kicking aside fast-food wrappers and laundry. The detritus of the insular.
No answer. Had he thought there would be? He kicked the door closed behind him and heard it bang shut hollowly. The sound traveled down the hallway in minor echoes, like the beating of a failing heart.
Near-silence. Near, because of the TV. Fraser paid it a glance. Lethal Weapon. Piled next to the TV in a haphazard tower: 48 Hours, Hollywood Homicide, Rush Hour, Bad Boys. Buddy movies. Buddy-cop movies.
Beer cans and bottles lay strewn around the couch like land mines. Books, too, more than Fraser might have guessed. A stack off Hermann Hesse here. A pile of Descartes there. Fraser picked up Le Discours de la Methode and flipped to a page. A passage had been highlighted by a shaky hand:
The greatest minds are capable of the greatest vices as well as of the greatest virtues.
Fraser flipped a few pages and found another:
The first precept was never to accept a thing as true until I knew it as such without a single doubt.
"Ray." Still staring down at the page, as if all the answers lay within. "Ray."
Then: a noise, issuing from behind Ray's bedroom door. Fraser put the book down and stepped toward the door, his feet heavy and his heart leaden. All this, Fraser thought, almost desperately. Why all this?
For a moment, he contemplated knocking on the door, then simply opened it. The room was pitch-dark, a miner's hell. In the fading half-light coming in through the open door, Fraser saw him, saw his friend. Ray was curled, naked, on the bed. Fetal. Shaking in the cold.
You can stay here, Fraser thought fleetingly. You can stay here and face this thing for him. With him. Or you can run, Fraser. You can run up to your cabin and shut out the lights and tell yourself that there was no such person as Ray Kowalski. Or at least you can tell yourself you couldn't have helped him. A lie, maybe, but an easy one. What are you waiting for? You don't need this.
Fraser hesitated, then approached the bed.
Movement now, a violent stirring that was almost epileptic in its fury. And some muttering, mumbling sound that Fraser had to lean in closer to hear.
"I'm hearing him now," those were the words. "Oh, Jesus Christ, I'm hearing him now."
Fraser came closer, his heart now jackhammering against his ribs. "It's me, Ray. I'm here."
Ray seized again, this time turning over. The light hit his eyes and Ray yelped, throwing an arm up and shielding his eyes. Fraser said his name again.
"Fraser?" he asked. "Fraser?"
"It's me, Ray. I … you haven't answered my calls. People have been worried about you. I've been worried about you."
"No," Ray said, scuttling away and clambering out of bed. Half of him was in shadow. He fished around in the dark and found underpants.
"Time to get dressed," he said, giggling without humor.
"Ray, what the hell is going on?"
Ray stopped in the motion of putting his underwear on and stared out of the dark. His face half-shrouded in darkness. Oh, thought Fraser, oh Ray. Do I even know who you are?
"What's going on is that I'm giving up, Fraser," he said. "That's what's going on."
"Give up on what?" Fraser asked, feeling as if he'd been sucker-punched. "On your life? Look at yourself, Ray."
"Oh, I've looked at myself," Ray said. "I've looked long and hard. You know what I found there? An abyss. Look long enough into it and it starts looking into you. Nietzsche. You fold in on yourself, Fraser. The darkness becomes you and you become the darkness. It hurts too much. It's easier to stop."
"Ray, I don't understand," Fraser said. It felt as if any tentative hold he might have had on the situation, any rational response he might have conjured coming over here, was slipping, slipping out of his grasp.
"Of course you don't," Ray said, but it didn't sound hard. "You don't know darkness, Fraser. Maybe you almost did. Your father. Victoria. Maybe you almost did. But not totally, and not for long. You had people to hate, people to blame. It's only true darkness if you're your own enemy."
"After Victoria," Fraser said, "I spent a long time hating myself. Lying in that bed. Wishing I had done something, anything, differently. Long hours in that bed, long hours of being alone."
"But you weren't alone. You had Ray. The first one."
"And then he went away," Fraser said, and oh, how it still hurt to say that.
"And now you're alone again. Isn't that right?"
"Ray, would you please tell me what…"
"I slept with a man last night," Ray said, and now that sucker-punch was back. Ray stepped into the light and now Fraser could see how haggard his face was. "Not for the first time. Late at night I go to gay bars and look for men to bring home with me. I sleep with them and then they leave. No one ever stays. But that doesn't matter, and you know why?"
Fraser couldn't answer. Couldn't speak.
"'Love is like an eternal flame, once it is lit, it will continue to burn for all time.' That's Kamila. I beg them to come home with me and then I pray for them to leave. Whatever comfort I find there, Fraser. Whatever comfort turns into pain. Every time."
"Who do you love, Ray?" Fraser's mind grew frantic, pulsing with the beat of his heart. His voice came out in a husky hush. "Who, Ray?"
"I watch sparrows outside my window," Ray said, staring ahead, at Fraser, through Fraser. "Flying free, all day. One day I saw a kid with a slingshot take one down, and I watched it fall to the ground. The kid ran away screaming."
"I wanted to find meaning in that, you know? Something that meant something. Did that sparrow find love in death? Find peace? Or just pain, and darkness?"
"There's nothing divine in the fall of the sparrow," Ray said. "I think I heard that once."
"Who do you love, Ray?"
"I fell, Fraser. I fell. I fell for you. None of those men I wake up next to are you. None of those movies I watch guarantee a path to a happy ending. So this is my darkness. No blame. No fault. I love you, Benton Fraser. And this is my abyss."
Fraser moved around the bed, slowly, stepping over shoals of foul-smelling laundry and discarded beer cans. Without a word, he moved toward Ray and enveloped him in a hug. The stench of alcohol was thick and fervent. Ray shook against him like a tree in a gale.
"Oh, Ray," he said. What is truth? Was it a wish? Was it a hope for light in all this darkness? Could truth be the matter inside the moment, inside the one moment you have to mean it? If yes, then please, God, please let this be the truth. "Oh, Ray, how do you not know I love you, too?"