Ray was feeling just a bit nervous... He had the feeling that Ben was up to something, certainly he felt like Ben had been watching him, though for what reason he had no idea. And Ben wasn't saying anything. He pulled over to the curb, deciding suddenly, that he'd just drop Ben off and go home. He didn't need any hassle today.
Ben, it seemed, had different ideas. "Aren't you coming in, Ray?"
"Nah, I promised Ma I'd get home early for a change." It was a weak excuse, and he saw Ben register that.
"Oh." Strange how Ben could pack so much meaning into a single syllable. He made no move to get out of the Riv.
"Well, it's just... No it doesn't matter... You go home, Ray. I understand."
Ray cursed under his breath. The Mountie was manipulating him again. Worse, he wasn't even trying to hide the fact. That didn't make it any easier to resist. "What is it, Benny?"
Ben looked at him, with that serious, big-eyed Mountie look. "There's something I want to show you."
He sighed. "OK. But I can't stay long, capisce?"
"Of course, Ray. You can leave whenever you like."
He followed his friend up the stairs and along the hallway to the apartment. Once inside, he turned, determined to get this over with. "Well? Where is it?"
Ben was already stripping off his red tunic. "Oh. Well, could you go over and look out the window please, Ray?"
"Why not?" He went over and had a look. He could see the Riv, a few trash cans, and two pedestrians. Nothing special. "I can't see anything. What is it?"
"It may take a few minutes, Ray. Just keep looking out the window." Ben sounded a little breathless, Ray could hear him moving around.
Ray complied, drumming his fingers restlessly on the sill. Still nothing. "What's going on, Benny?"
He turned, and stopped dead.
"Is something wrong, Ray?" His surprise hadn't quite had the effect he'd hoped for. Ray was staring at him with a horrified expression on his face.
"Yes, there's something wrong! You're naked!"
He felt himself start to blush. "I'm aware of that, Ray. But I had reason to believe that you'd like to see me naked."
"Oh, I do..." Ray started suddenly. "Whaddaya mean you had reason to believe? What are ya saying here? That I'm being obvious?"
"Only to me, Ray. I doubt anyone else would have noticed. And since you didn't say anything, I thought I'd... well, drop a hint..."
"You call this dropping a hint? Geez, Benny!"
Ray wasn't coming any closer and Ben was beginning to think he'd made a terrible mistake. "I'm sorry, Ray. I didn't mean to offend you. We can just forget about this, can't we?"
"Not in a million years, Benny." But Ray was smiling now, looking at him in a way that made him blush even more.
"I must admit, Ray, I rather hoped that you'd..."
"Oh!" Ray looked taken aback. "Well, I guess it's only fair."
He turned away slightly and began to take off his clothes, while Ben watched with interest. It didn't take him long, and Ben was rewarded with the sight of his slim olive-skinned body, lean muscled and elegant as he closed the small distance between them. So much more wonderful than he had ever dared to imagine. He could already feel the heat of his own arousal, and the weight of it swaying against his thigh. Ray stopped just short, looking at him again, his eyes wide.
"God, Benny, you're so beautiful."
"So are you, Ray."
He only needed to take one step and he was able to lean forward and capture that sensual mouth with his own. There was no more talking after that... Ray drew back a little, bringing his hand up to touch Ben's chest lightly, stroking against a nipple and drawing a moan from him. The light touches continued, teasing him, sending his arousal to fever pitch far too fast.
He caught Ray's hand and drew it down between their bodies, hesitating at the last moment and pressing it against his hip. But Ray was as eager as he. The long agile fingers stroked his aching cock, lightly, not to finish it too quickly, then slipped beneath its length to cup his balls, lifting them against his body. The relief of having their heaviness supported so gently nearly sent him over the edge again and he had to fight the instinct to press into Ray's body, to push himself that tiny step further. Both Ray's hands were on him now, one just holding his tender balls, the other slowly squeezing and stroking his cock from base to tip.
At the last moment Ray pulled back, releasing him. He shuddered at the sudden cessation of those sweet caresses staring, mutely helpless at his lover as Ray dropped to his knees in front of him.
Ray hadn't been able to believe his eyes when he'd seen Benny standing there, naked as the day he was born. Skin so pale it reminded him of the marble statues of Greek gods in the museum... the ones he and his friends had giggled over on a school trip one day. And Benny was more than a match for those statues. He was so incredibly beautiful, he looked like a god. It was almost sacrilege to touch him. Almost.
The feel of that smooth skin and hard muscle was intoxicating. The warm pliant mouth against his, the taste of his mouth, it was sheer heaven. And when Benny had taken his hand and held it there, so close to the taut arc of his cock, Ray had had difficulty restraining himself. He'd stroked the hard flesh until it quivered at his touch, ripe for completion, but he wanted to do more than just touch.
It felt right to fall to his knees in front of this glorious body, to kiss the damp skin, licking away droplets of sweat. He lifted one hand to support the weight of those pale globes again, recognising from Benny's reactions how very sensitised they were. Only a few inches away the long thick shaft strained upwards, brushing against his cheek. Benny and those statues had something else in common, he'd never seen a real live man with a foreskin.
It fascinated him. He turned his head and touched his tongue to the side of it, running lightly over its surface while Benny shuddered and moaned above him. Hands grasped his shoulders tightly as he continued, using just two fingers of one hand to draw back the foreskin. His tongue darted over the glans, teasing, probing, finally swirling languorously over the whole surface, tasting Benny's essence as his cock wept tears of arousal. Neither of them could last much longer. Even though he hadn't touched himself at all, his cock was one huge fiery ache.
He heard a shaken gasp from Ben, and allowed the cock to plunge deeply into his mouth, tightening his lips around it, sucking fiercely. It was all over in a moment. Ben groaned and swayed, only his grip on Ray's shoulders and Ray's hand on his hip were keeping him upright. Ray held the heavy, spent cock in his mouth a moment longer, then reluctantly let it slide free. He rested his head against Ben's thigh, all his consciousness centred in the hardness of his cock, throbbing in the warm air, then a hoarse cry escaped him as his body convulsed.
In the movies, they always lived happily ever after. At least in the movies that Ray liked to watch, when he wasn't watching Arnie or Sly flex his muscles. But even when things had been going wrong between him and Ange, it had rarely been this bad. He and Ben had been lovers for just over three weeks and already they'd had five fights, and today they were shaping up for number six. The one he'd already decided would be the last.
It had been building between them all day, and now it was ready to explode. Dief had sensed it too, he'd taken off when they got to the apartment and Ben had hardly even noticed him go.
It always seemed to start out of thin air, later neither of them could ever remember how the fight started and the love-making afterward was spectacular. But it just wasn't worth it, Ray had decided. It hurt too much and it was happening too often. He stopped in mid tirade. Ben, as usual, had retreated into an impenetrable silence, the more he yelled the less Ben responded and neither of them seemed to be able to help their reactions.
He stared at his friend, his lover, standing pressed back against the wall just inside the door to the hallway. Ben was white-faced and sweating in his red serge, his eyes blank. Nothing was worth this, they were each destroying everything that they cared about in the other.
"I can't do this anymore, Benny. It's over." He hardly recognised his own voice, hoarse from shouting, raw with pain. He turned to the door and had it half open before Ben spoke his name. He turned back to look one last time.
Ben's face was a still mask, only his eyes seemed alive, but Ray couldn't read whatever message they were trying to send. With an obvious effort, Ben managed to speak.
"You have no idea, no idea at all, what I'm feeling, Ray..."
"Damn right I don't! He almost hissed the words out. "Because you won't tell me! Goodbye, Benny." He walked out, slamming the door behind him, down the hallway, down the stairs, out onto the street.
He listened to the sound of Ray's retreating footsteps. When they stopped he caught his breath, waiting. Then there was only the sound of a building with too many people living behind too thin walls. A minute or so later he heard the throaty roar of the Riv's engine being started and then the sound of it disappearing down the street.
His knees buckled then and he slid down the wall, wrapping his arms around his chest and bending his head to rest against his raised knees. His chest hurt so badly he could hardly breathe and his eyes burned with tears he didn't dare let loose. If he did, he might never be able to stop crying.
The sound of his heart pounding in his ears was almost deafening, so he had no warning until the door slammed back against the wall as Ray burst through it.
There was no mask now on Ben's face, it was stripped bare with grief, unshed tears shining in his eyes as he lifted his head. Ray took the two steps needed to reach him and went down on his knees in front of the pathetic huddle on the floor.
"Oh God, Benny..." He reached for the scarlet shoulders, grabbed his lover and kissed him.
It was a fierce, desperate kiss, the kind that left bruises. He forced his tongue between reluctantly parted lips, devouring the mouth beneath his. The body pressed between him and the wall shuddered once and then the kiss was returned in full measure. It lasted longer that he would have believed possible, leaving them without the breath to speak, but speech wasn't on the agenda right now anyway.
His hands were tearing at the red uniform with no respect for the integrity of its buttons, and he was only dimly aware of other hands hastily unfastening the leather belts and lanyard. He got it open at last and pulled it wide, impatiently tugging up the undershirt, needing to touch the white-hot skin beneath. Silky smooth, it burned against his lips, the heart beneath pounding against their swollen sensitivity. He didn't care. He wrapped his tongue around one hard nipple sending tremors through Ben's body and let his hands fall to the sturdy waist, wrenching the jodhpurs open to the crotch, diving inside to grasp the full, hard cock.
Ben let out an incoherent cry as Ray grabbed him, the roughness of his touch a source of both pain and intense arousal. He wanted, with a desperation that shocked him, for Ray to possess him absolutely, mind and body and soul. He managed to free his suspenders from the jodhpurs and helped Ray to drag them down off his hips, his underwear tangled somewhere in their depths. Then, without thought, he was reaching for Ray's pants, pulling the zipper down, tugging the cloth down to his knees. His own clothes were still getting in the way and Ray, with a frustrated snarl, wrenched off his boots without unlacing them and threw them and his jodhpurs aside.
The relief he felt was short-lived. He spread his legs in mute invitation, and shifted his position against the bare boards. Ray was already tumbling towards him, his hands reaching once again between their bodies, this time to guide his own erect cock into the place where they both so desperately needed it to be. Their combined hunger was too great to be endured for long. Ben wrapped his legs around Ray's hips and tried to lift himself to meet Ray's driving rhythm. They were already on the verge, he clenched his muscles around the hard flesh that impaled him and let himself fall, dragging Ray with him.
The first thing Ray became aware of was his own harsh breathing in the heated space between his face and Ben's shoulder. He groaned, feeling every ache in his body at once.
"We can't keep doing this, Benny."
"I know." Ben sounded exhausted. "Perhaps you shouldn't have come back."
Ray's stomach clenched painfully and he lifted his head to stare. "Is that what you want?"
Ben's eyes met his for a brief, hurtful moment. "No."
"So what are we gonna do?"
There was no answer, but he hadn't expected one.
They'd made it to the bed and fallen on it, too depleted to care about anything, and had lain for a long time, not speaking or moving. They needed each other too much, Ben thought, and resented each other because of that need. It was terrifying to have your happiness, your reason for living, so tied up in one man.
He turned his head to look at that man. Ray was staring up at the ceiling, the expression on his face showed his thoughts were no less sombre than Ben's own.
"Why did you come back, Ray?"
Ray blinked a couple of times and turned towards him. "Because I can't live without you."
"You were only gone five minutes. Maybe less."
Ray smiled wanly.
"Oh, love..." He reached over and drew Ray into his arms, wanting just to hold him.
The light was fading when Ray woke, still hot and uncomfortable. Ben was beside him and he had the feeling that he'd been awake the whole time.
The only answer was a quiet sigh and warm gentle lips against his cheek. He lay docilely as Ben began to make love to him, his body responding to the light caresses, his heart aching at the sweetness of it. This was the best part, when everything else was stripped away and only the love was left. If only they could stay in this space forever...
Morning came far too soon. He'd begun to fear each new day, wondering if it would be the last they'd be together. He didn't know what he'd do when that day arrived. The last three weeks had taught him so many things, emotions he hadn't known he could feel so intensely... passion, love, fear, pain. He felt like he was being torn apart, his soul stripped bare and bleeding. God only knew what Ray was feeling, but he knew his lover was suffering every bit as much as he was.
He felt Ray stirring against him and tightened his arms slightly, feeling the tension return as Ray woke. Neither of them spoke for a long time, then Ray lifted his head.
Ben's mouth went dry at the look on Ray's face. Today was the day. "Don't leave me."
"What else can we do, Benny? It's just not gonna work and I can't stand to hurt you any more."
"Do you really think leaving is going to stop that? You know it won't, Ray."
"I don't know what else to do." Ray's voice was shaking. "Maybe we'll get over it."
"No." Suddenly he knew what to do. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed, and leaned over to open his father's trunk. He turned back, the service revolver in one hand, two bullets in the other.
"Benny, what the hell are you doing? Put that away."
He loaded the bullets into the gun then looked up at Ray. "It's the only answer. For me, anyway. You don't have to do this."
Ray was staring at him, horrified, fascinated, willing to be convinced, he thought. He held out one hand to him. "Join me, Ray."
Ray's eyes widened then dropped. "I can't..." he hesitated, took a deep breath... "I can't watch you die, Benny. Let me go first? Please?"
The thought of seeing Ray die was heartbreaking, but for that very reason he couldn't deny him. He held the gun out to his lover. Ray almost snatched it from him, his hands trembling. He stared down at the gun for a moment then opened the chamber and dumped the bullets out. Next moment the gun was flung out the window into the alley below.
Ben's wordless cry was still echoing in his ears, and he was sick to his stomach. Ray pulled himself together enough to see what Ben was doing. Nothing much. He'd thrown himself across the room as if he could catch the gun in its flight, and was still sprawled on the bare boards, unmoving now.
Ray couldn't bring himself to go near. For a few, terrifying moments he'd almost given way to Ben's self-destructive impulse. Now it would be all too easy to hate Ben for that. When, finally, Ben lifted his head to stare at him, blank faced, it took several tries before he could speak.
"Benny, promise me you'll never do that again."
Wary eyes, more grey than blue right now, regarded him without any expression. A slight nod was the only response.
"No. You gotta say it. Say you promise not to try to kill yourself."
"I promise." It was a sullen mutter, but he knew that it was a promise Ben would keep. He let out a shaken breath.
Ray badly needed to get out of there. He went in search of his clothes and was half dressed when he heard Benny stirring behind him. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Ben was starting to dress himself too. Still, he couldn't bear the thought of going near Ben, or of touching him.
"Benny? Look... I think we should take a break from this... not see each other for a few days, OK? We need to cool off a bit, get this in perspective."
"Whatever you want, Ray." Ben's voice was dull, as expressionless as his face.
He ought to stay, to give Ben the help and support that he so obviously needed, but he couldn't do it. With one last glance over his shoulder, he fled.
The few days had turned into a week, two weeks, a month. He hadn't seen Ray at all and didn't plan on making any attempt to see him. After what he'd done, he didn't deserve Ray's friendship, let alone anything more and he doubted that Ray would ever forgive him.
Nobody seemed to notice anything was wrong with him. He went to work at the Consulate as usual, volunteered to stand guard duty as often as possible so he didn't have to think, and when his shift was over, went home and stayed there, somehow enduring Dief's accusing stares.
Staying away from Ben had been one of the hardest things Ray had ever done, but he didn't want to go back to the way they'd been and he didn't know how to stop it happening. So he waited, for what he wasn't sure, just waited for something, anything, to happen that would end this nightmare. But when it came, it was from a direction he would never have expected.
Elaine grinned at him as she passed him in the hallway. "You've got a visitor, Ray."
His heart started pounding, there was only one visitor he wanted to see, and he had a feeling she knew it. He had to force himself to walk calmly into the Bullpen, but there was no red uniform sitting by his desk, or anywhere in the room. There was no-one at all. Until he got closer and sat the white shape sitting patiently on the floor by his desk.
"Dief? What are you doing here, boy?"
Dief whined anxiously and Ray was suddenly worried. "What is it, Dief? Is it Benny?"
With a sharp yap, Dief ran for the doors. Ray followed, cursing under his breath
Outside, Dief simply took off down the street and Ray, afraid of losing him, didn't bother with the Riv. Ten minutes later they arrived, Ray short of breath, at the Consulate. Catching his second wind, Ray raced up the stairs, past a startled and protesting Turnbull and into Ben's office, hard on Dief's heels.
Ben was in there all right, his jacket off, tie loosened, shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows. He looked up from his paperwork, obviously in no danger of any kind, with a mixture of surprise, pleasure and apprehension on his face.
"Ray! What are you doing here?"
He was badly winded, but he managed to gasp out one word. "Dief..."
Ben looked at Dief accusingly. "I thought I told you to stay out of it."
Dief stared back at him, unrepentant.
Ray was leaning against the desk still panting when a hand took hold of his arm and drew him over to a chair. Even that slight touch was electric. He saw the same response in Ben's face as he moved away.
"Can I get you a glass of water, Ray?"
He nodded. A moment later a cool glass was pressed into his hand and he downed half its contents in one long gulp. Ben was starting to move away. He caught hold of the bare forearm and let his hand slide down it to grasp Ben's.
"Don't go, Benny."
"I was only going back to my desk."
Ben hunkered down beside the chair, and Ray put the empty glass down on the floor and used his free hand to touch Ben's face lightly.
"Maybe we could try again, Benny. Take it slowly this time. We kinda jumped in the deep end last time..."
Ben looked worried. "I don't know, Ray. I don't know if I can go through all that again."
"If it starts to go bad, we can call it off. I just want to give it a chance to work. What do you think?" He scanned Ben's face, seeing the indecision, the longing. Then Ben nodded, once. "Great! How about we go out for dinner tonight. Just dinner, nothing else. OK?"
There was a faint smile on Ben's face. "It's a date, Ray."
Dinner went well. Ray took no chances and didn't go up to Ben's apartment afterwards, though he couldn't resist a goodnight kiss in the Riv. Not quite as brief a kiss as he'd intended, but still not pushing too far. He took off from the curb, and even the Riv seemed to share his satisfaction with its throaty purr.
They'd agreed to meet again later in the week to see a movie. Maybe they could see something romantic, sit in the back row and hold hands. He grinned at the thought.
Against all his expectations, their dating was going well. They were both nervous, of course, but they'd started talking even though it was still hard for him to open up. He could talk for hours about facts and figures, tell Inuit stories by the dozen, but to say something personal about himself was torture. Looking back, he could see it was that which had caused most of their fights. His inability to talk about his feelings. And that hadn't changed. He didn't think it ever would. Which meant that sooner or later, it would all come crashing down again...
There was a knock on his door. It was Mr Mustafi.
"Fraser. There's a phone call for you... your friend's been shot."
He was inside Mr Mustafi's apartment before he had time to take a second breath, but the call had been disconnected.
He knew which hospital it would be. He dived for the door.
When he got to the emergency room, there was no sign of the Vecchios or any police officers, nothing to show a cop had been shot. He wondered if he was too late, if Ray was already dead. Then Ray burst through the doorway, his shirt covered in blood, arguing furiously with a nurse.
"Ray!" He hadn't meant to shout, heads were turning. Ray veered towards him, still arguing.
"Ray, are you all right?" He was shaking with reaction.
"Sure. Why'd you come down here? I told Mustafi to tell you I'd be there soon." Ray was looking at him strangely.
"All he told me was that you'd been shot."
He saw Ray's face change, felt a hand on his shoulder. "Geez, Benny, I'm sorry. I thought he'd heard me right... are you OK?"
He nodded, still feeling shaky. Ray's hand tightened on his shoulder. "Let's get outa here, Benny." And to the nurse. "Look, it's fine. My friend here will drive. Now shut up."
It was the first time Ray had been back in the apartment, and he still wasn't sure it was a good idea, but he didn't want to go home and be fussed over, and he didn't have the energy to go looking for a motel. Besides, Ben was still looking pretty shocky, he could only imagine what had been going through his mind until he'd got to the hospital. Nothing good by the look of things. Not that he was saying anything about it. That hadn't changed at all, and normally he would have been fighting back his irritation. But today he was more concerned than irritated.
Together they stumbled across the room to the bed. In other circumstances, Ray would have been unsure about this, but sex was the last thing on his mind right now. He just wanted to lie down. He let Ben undress him and tuck him into the uncomfortable bed, then watched as he went to the closet and got out the bedroll.
"You don't have to do that, Benny. Come and sleep with me." And at Ben's nervous look. "Just sleep. That's all I'm offering." He chuckled slightly. "Hell, it's all I'm good for."
Ben was moving towards the bed, hands moving to unbutton his red shirt, so he rolled onto his good side and waited for Ben to slide in behind him. When it happened, the feel of him against his bare skin was so good he nearly changed his mind. But he really was too tired, and it was better this way. Safer.
When he woke again it was fully dark, and he was disoriented for a moment, but the ache in his side and the feel of Ben's warm body pressed up against his back reminded him of what had happened. He sighed, happy for the moment just to be held in those strong arms again, and as he stirred slightly, he felt a responsive movement against the cleft of his ass. Mmm, that felt even better... Ben's arms tightened a little, then relaxed, and his breathing changed just a little.
"It's all right, Ray. Just go back to sleep."
"In a minute." Ray turned in those arms so he could bestow a sleepy kiss on Ben's lips. When Ben responded, he deepened it a little. Ben moaned softly against his mouth and suddenly they were kissing in earnest now. Still gently, but it was starting to get serious. Ben's hand was stroking his cheek, his throat and he wanted more. He couldn't turn on his side towards Ben, so he pulled him over on top.
"Ray, I'll hurt you like this. I'm too heavy."
"Sh. It's fine."
But Ben was turning them both again, very mindful of his injured side, so that Ray was uppermost. He had to admit it felt better. He relaxed against Benny's chest and let his head rest against the broad shoulder, feeling Ben's lips brushing against his temple. He began to move his body slowly against Ben's, letting their cocks slide together while Ben gently stroked his back and buttocks. That was all he wanted and it seemed to satisfy Ben too. Soon he was lying limp and sated along that wonderful body, the evidence of their desire hot and wet and sticky against his skin.
He had a terrifying sense of it all starting over again. Making love with Ray, which had seemed so right, so necessary, while it was happening now seemed to him to be a monumental mistake. Ray had been right about one thing... they'd gone into this relationship with no thought for the consequences. But how could he have known that what had merely irritated Ray in a friend, would become unendurable in a lover? He knew, rationally, that they'd both failed each other, but it was so easy to tell himself that if he could be more open, none of the terrible fights would have happened. Besides, how could he expect Ray to change if he wasn't able to?
He nearly jumped out of his skin. The last thing he needed was for his father to appear while he was lying in bed with his lover, his male lover, in his arms. "What are you doing here, Dad?"
"I don't know, I'm only here because you called me."
"I did not." It was rather surreal to be arguing with his father's ghost under these circumstances. It didn't help when his father shrugged and then perched on the side of the bed. He could see but not feel him there.
"You've made a fine mess of things, haven't you son?"
Ben tightened his arms protectively around Ray. "I wouldn't expect you to approve of this. Just leave it, Dad."
"Well, I can't say I'm happy that you're involved with another man. But he's a good man, you could do worse, I suppose. You're certainly not much good with women, now, are you?"
Ben stared at him incredulously, he'd never expected his father to be so blas about his relationship with Ray. "Then what are you talking about?"
"This. All of it..." Fraser Snr waved his arms around. "You can't live with him... you can't live without him... He had to throw my revolver out the window to stop you shooting yourself! Thirty five years I had that gun. No-one ever had to throw it out the window before!"
"I got it back. It wasn't harmed, for God's sake."
"That's not the point and you know it. What's the problem, son?"
The sudden gentleness in his father's voice almost proved too much for him. "Everything I do seems to annoy him. Neither of us wants it that way, but we can't help it."
"Have you talked about it?"
"That only makes it worse... we've had some terrible fights. At least Ray has. And when he starts shouting I freeze up. It just makes him madder."
"You know, son, you can't have a good relationship without communication."
This was too much! "I can't believe I'm hearing this." He almost forgot to keep his voice low. "When were you ever around to communicate with Mum? I can hardly remember seeing you together in the same room."
"We communicated! I wrote her every day, besides, you were too young when she died. You wouldn't remember."
"I remember very well, thank you. I remember her death, and how you withdrew into yourself. You never talked to me about it, not once."
"And now you're doing the same thing with Ray."
It stopped him dead in his tracks. Because, infuriatingly, his father was right. "I don't know why it's so hard to talk to Ray. I know I'm... reserved. But I told Walter about what happened when Mum died. And I told a whole debating chamber full of strangers about never getting the toys I wanted when I was a child. I even told Gerard about how I felt, and I hated him for what he'd done. But I've never told Ray any of it... in fact the only time I've ever talked to Ray like that was when I knew he was asleep... And I don't know why..."
"Don't you, son?" Fraser Snr was watching him expectantly.
Vague memories were starting to surface. His grandparents reading him a history of the Chinese missionary societies as a bedtime story. The way they always seemed to move, just as he was starting to make friends at school. And something even earlier, when his mother was still alive...
"...I can remember seeing you in your uniform, the red one... it was so beautiful, I thought it was the most wonderful thing I'd ever seen... You were leaving and I didn't want you to go. I guess I was about four... I started to cry because you wouldn't stay... I begged you to stay, and Mum..." he faltered on the thought, then forced himself to go on. "...Mum picked me up and put her hand over my mouth... very gently... and told me not to cry, to be brave."
Searching through his memories, he couldn't remember ever crying again when his father left. Not even after his mother had died and he'd been sent to live with his grandparents. "We never talked about anything important, Dad. I never really got to know anything about you until after you died. And then it was all out of your journals. Why is that?"
There was no answer, and when he looked up his father was gone. He slowly became aware that a hand was lightly stroking his hip. "Ray?"
"Yeah, Benny?" Ray sounded sleepily content.
"How long have you been awake? How much of that did you hear?"
"Not much, your voice woke me..." Ray pushed himself up on one elbow to look at him and he met the grey-green eyes squarely. "Guess your family wasn't the talkative kind, huh Benny?"
"Not like yours..." He couldn't help smiling at the thought of his grandparents meeting the Vecchio family.
"So maybe it would be a good idea for me to give you some space? Loosen up a bit?" Ray sounded unusually subdued.
Ben reached up to touch his cheek. "I think that would help, Ray. And I could... communicate more, I suppose."
Ray sank down against his shoulder again, snuggling against him. "Next time I start acting like a jerk, you just tell me to shut up. How's that, Benny?"
"That would be rude, Ray." He was grinning like an idiot. It couldn't be this easy, could it? Deep down, he knew it wasn't, it would never be easy for him and Ray, they were just too different. But right now he didn't care as Ray chuckled sleepily against his shoulder and his hand slid down to twine his fingers with Ray's where they lay on his hip. It was only a small step, but he felt the first stirrings of hope he'd had in a long time.