"Do you think that mphfng...." Ray's next words were muffled.
Ben stopped what he was doing. "Do I think what?"
Ray managed to lift his head away from the pillow. "Do you think that gay men are emasculated and effeminate?"
"Ray, have you suddenly gone crazy?" Ben's voice was incredulous.
Ray shifted uncomfortably. "It's just, I read this magazine... You know, when I went to the dentist that day? And it said that women who like to hang around gays do it because they like men who are emasculated and effeminate"
Ben sighed. "Is that what you've been brooding about for the last few days?"
"I don't think you should take the slightest bit of notice, Ray. It's obviously pop-psychology of the most irresponsible kind." Ben started up where he'd left off. "Really, Ray, does it feel to you like I'm emasculated right now?"
Ray sniggered slightly. "I can't say it does, Benny."
There was a brief silence. "Although..."
Ben stopped again. "What now, Ray?" He was starting to sound impatient.
"What about effeminate? You did look after that baby. And you're kind, gentle, caring..." Ray hesitated. He liked it that Benny was kind, gentle and caring.
"And only women are allowed to be those things, Ray? That's a very narrow definition of masculinity, don't you think?"
Ray sighed. "I guess."
"So, other than that, do you think I'm effeminate?" Ben was starting to sound curious.
Ray thought about the Mountie's propensity for dragging him into all kinds of dangerous situations, the way he looked when he rode a horse... Ray's mouth started to water slightly... still...
"Well, you did dress up as a woman."
Ben sighed sharply. "Ray, Ray, Ray... I did it to help you, remember. I assure you I got no sexual thrill out of it. Those pantyhose were terribly uncomfortable."
"Oh, all right! If you say so."
"So you don't think I'm effeminate?"
"All right. Now where were we?"
Ray didn't answer.
"Benny, do you think I'm..."
Ben groaned. "No, I don't!"
Another silence. "Are you sure?"
A hand slid over his body. Ray yelped slightly.
"I'm happy to announce that you appear to be a fully... in fact, wonderfully fully... functioning male."
"Yeah, but... what about effeminate?"
Ben choked. "You, Ray? No."
"Well, I live in a house full of women and kids... and Tony." Dammit, why couldn't he just leave this alone?
"You're the Man of the House, Ray." Ben's voice made the capitalisation clear.
Ray still wasn't satisfied. "Well... I did wear Ma's apron once, remember?"
"Ray..." Ben's impatience was obviously growing. "You were wearing your best Armani suit. You were simply protecting what must have been a considerable investment in clothing. What were you supposed to do? Refuse to help your mother wash the dishes in case somebody thought you were effeminate? That's just silly, Ray."
"I call you 'Benny'..."
A pair of hands grasped his shoulders firmly and turned him over. He looked up into a pair of highly annoyed blue eyes.
"Raymond Vecchio, if you stop calling me Benny because if that ridiculous magazine article, I'll never forgive you."
"Oh." Ray blinked, startled by the vehemence in Ben's voice. "OK, I won't."
There was a wary pause.
"Have you finished, Ray?" Ben cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Yes. Have you?"
Ben grinned. "No."
"Good." Ray grinned back. They rearranged themselves slightly.
Ben hesitated. "So can we get on with this, now?"
Ray stretched lazily. "Go right ahead, Benny."
"Thank you kindly, Ray."