For once, things were quiet at the 27th Precinct. And Raymond Vecchio was determined to make the most of it. Of course, he could catch up on the paperwork which was in danger of overflowing from his work tray onto his desk. But, nah... he wondered lazily if he could persuade his lover to take the afternoon off. Probably not. Benny might have loosened up a little under his influence (and his family's), but not that much.
Maybe he could just leave a bit early and pick up Fraser from school, take him and his cousins to the park and play some ball...
The phone rang.
Ray eyed it suspiciously. It was probably a case. With his luck, it would be a particularly nasty one, or maybe just an incredibly annoying one. He let it ring three times, maybe it was only something minor and they'd call someone else. Huey maybe. Four times... he sighed and picked up.
"Vecchio. What is it?"
"Ray?" A woman, slight accent... vaguely familiar...
"Yeah? What d'ya want?"
The woman sounded exasperated. "Ray, it's Anita... Anita Cortez."
"Oh." Ray's heart plummeted, he swallowed hard.
"Is that all you can say?" She sounded amused now.
Ray gathered his scattered wits back together. "Well, I was surprised, that's all. Are you in Chicago?"
Phew... Ray released a breath he'd been holding in too long.
"...Ray, this is difficult... I'm pregnant."
"Well, that's great! Congratulations. Who's the lucky man?"
There was a long pause. Then, quietly... "You are, Ray."
Shock held him silent.
"Ray? Talk to me, Ray." Anita sounded worried.
"That's impossible. That was..." he paused, trying to think. How long ago had it been?
"Eight and a half months ago, Ray. And before you ask, it couldn't possibly be anyone else."
Oh, God. He felt a spurt of anger. "And you waited till now to tell me? Why are you telling me, Anita?"
"I'm sorry Ray..." She sounded near to tears. "I didn't want to make trouble for you and Ben. I was going to raise her myself. I didn't want to get you involved. But now..."
"That's what they say... Ray, I just can't do it. I thought I could. Maybe in America I could..."
Ray interrupted, his voice rough. "Hang on. What are you talking about Anita?"
She drew in a sobbing breath. "The baby. I can't keep her, Ray. Not if I want to keep my job..."
"Anita..." He could hear her crying now. "Anita, surely they can't do that. Not even in Mexico."
"Oh, not blatantly, no. But my boss will find some excuse. He's made sure I know that. He doesn't approve of single mothers... or working mothers."
Ray's heart was pounding. "So what do you want me to do?" He realised how harsh that sounded. "...sorry, Anita. This is one helluva shock."
There was the discreet sound of a nose being blown. "I know. I'm sorry, Ray. I never meant to do this to you, but I felt I had to let you know... to give you a chance... I'm going to give her up for adoption."
Ray's fingers tightened suddenly on the phone. "You can't do that Anita. Haven't you heard all those horror stories? You don't know who she might end up with."
"What else can I do? Unless you want to take her. That's why I called. I thought you should at least have that option." Anita's voice was under control again, and very determined. "I'm not trying to force you into anything, but you are her father. I felt you had the right to know about it."
"So after eight and a half months, I suddenly have the right to know?" His voice was bitter.
"I thought there was plenty of time. Now there's only two days."
"Two days! What do you mean?"
"The doctors aren't happy with my progress. They've decided to induce me on Wednesday. Ray, I don't want to see her. If I do, I don't think I could give her up..." She took in a deep breath. "So, if you want to take her, you'll have to be here on Wednesday."
"I don't know... Anita, I don't know how I'm gonna tell Benny about this." It made him feel sick just to think about it.
Pause. "It's OK, I understand. Goodbye Ray."
"No! Anita, wait! I just meant... I'll have to talk to him first. I can't make a decision without him..." His hand was shaking so badly, he could hardly keep his grip on the phone. "I've got your number... I'll call you later. OK?"
God, how could this have happened? How could he have gotten himself into this? One stupid, stupid decision all those months ago... he'd blocked it out of his mind ever since, and now it had come back to haunt him. It could ruin everything that mattered to him.
And in a tiny part of his dazed mind a voice was telling him he was going to be a father... a child of his own flesh and blood. A daughter. He'd shut the door on all those dreams nearly seven years ago when he'd thrown himself into this relationship with Benny. He'd told himself that it was enough to have Benny. And Fraser. And it was. Until now, when he knew that his own child might end up in the hands of strangers.
He wanted her. He wanted that unseen, unborn daughter of his with every fibre of his being... but did he want her enough to risk losing Benny? He knew what that felt like and he never wanted to feel like that again. Only two months ago he'd sworn that he'd never allow anything to separate them again. Now this happened...
"Are you OK, Vecchio?"
He lifted his head out of his hands, startled. Stared dumbly up at Lt Welsh.
"You look like shit, you'd better go home. God knows there's nothing to do here."
He nodded. "OK."
He felt wretched.
Ben was in his office, jacket off and shirtsleeves rolled up to his elbows when Ray burst in. He saw the shock in his lover's face and knew he must look as terrible as he felt. The surge of adrenaline that had brought him this far suddenly disappeared.
"Ray? ..what is it? Not Fraser?" Ben's voice sharpened with sudden fear.
He couldn't speak, but just barely managed to shake his head. Ben came over, took his arm and led him to a chair.
"Ray, what's wrong, are you ill? Is someone... ...not your mother?" Ben knelt in front of him, lifted a hand to stroke his cheek.
He looked into Ben's worried eyes and caught the hand that touched him. "Oh, Benny..." He clenched his eyes shut for a moment and took a deep breath. "There's something I have to tell you..."
"You can tell me anything, Ray. What is it?" Ben kissed the hand that held his.
Ray stared at him miserably. "You remember a few months back... Anita Cortez came up from Mexico for a conference..."
Ben nodded. "We had dinner with her."
"That's right." He'd almost forgotten that. He'd tried to forget everything to do with that visit. "But on the Friday night, you couldn't make it, remember?"
"Of course. I had to work late. Ray, what is this all about? That was eight months ago."
"I went out with her again. I told you that didn't I?"
"Yes. Ray..." Ben was getting impatient.
"After dinner, we went back to her hotel... Benny, we..." He choked up again.
Ben's face went suddenly still. He stood. Turned away.
Ray tried again. "We..."
"Don't! Don't say it, Ray."
There was a long silence. Ray stared at Ben's tense back, his heart pounding.
"Why are you telling me this, Ray? I presume there's a reason."
There was no easy way to do this. Committed now, Ray simply plunged ahead. "She's pregnant. The baby's mine. It's a girl, Benny..."
He probably didn't want to hear that... Ray shut his mouth abruptly. And watched in shock as Ben suddenly dragged the office door open and disappeared through it.
Ray was waiting for him when he came out of the men's toilet. He supposed he should have expected that. For a moment he thought he was going to be sick again, not even Victoria's betrayal had felt like this...
Ray's mouth opened to speak and he caught the other man's wiry arm in a tight grip and turned him around. "My office."
But, once back in the office, he couldn't find anything to say. Ray took a step towards him, his hands lifting.
"No." He backed away. "Just stay right there."
He seemed to have lost the ability to think. The words he finally spoke seemed to come out of nowhere. "How long have you known about this, Ray?"
Ray almost jumped out of his skin. "Only since she called me this afternoon. I swear, Benny. It's just as big a shock to me."
"Somehow I doubt that." Was that his own voice? So bitter... "Why have you told me? There is a reason, isn't there? Are you going to leave me for her?"
"No!" Ray's response was so immediate, he had no choice but to believe it was genuine. He almost wished it wasn't. "She called me because she can't keep the baby. If I don't take her, Anita will give her up for adoption."
It took a moment for the meaning to penetrate the fog surrounding his brain. Bile rose in his throat... He swallowed hard. "You mean, you expect me to... No. No!"
Ray scowled. "Dammit Benny, I've helped you raise your son! Yours and Victoria's. This is my daughter we're talking about. I don't want her going to strangers."
"Fraser is your son too. You adopted him, remember? Besides, what happened between me and Victoria was over long before we..."
"I know... I know, Benny..." Ray's voice softened. "But it's not her fault. She's not even born yet... Don't punish her for what I've done. Could you have let Fraser be adopted?"
He shook his head. He didn't want to admit it, but he knew Ray was right... He was going to be sick again, and this time he wasn't going to make it down the hallway. He dived for the trash can beside his desk.
It was late when he got home, after driving around in circles for hours. Dinner was well and truly over, the kids were all in bed and his family were sitting in front of the TV, except for Frannie, who was probably seeing to her new daughter. Siobhan. What a name for a Vecchio...
Ben was upstairs.
He was sitting in the armchair by the window, and turned his head as Ray went in. Ray hoped that was a good sign. He went over and hitched his butt onto the window sill. And waited.
"Aren't you going to say something? Tell me it won't happen again?" Ben's voice was bitter.
"No. Would you believe me if I did?"
"I wouldn't believe you if you told me your name was Ray Vecchio." Ben almost flung himself out of the armchair and began to pace. "How could you do it, Ray? How could you? Having unprotected sex with a woman you hardly know... you put us both at risk. I don't want Fraser growing up without parents. I don't want to die because..." He stumbled to a halt.
"Because I couldn't keep my dick in my pants?"
"Yes!" Ben glared at him.
"Come on, Benny... I have blood tests every three months, you know that. And they've all been negative."
"That's not the point!"
Ray shrugged, one-shouldered. "I know that. Want to get to the real issue?"
"You slept with her." Ben's voice was hard, accusing.
"No. I had sex with her. There's a difference."
A bitter laugh. "Not from where I'm standing. How many times?"
The question took him by surprise. "What?"
"You had sex with her. How many times?"
"Benny, you don't want..."
Ben took him by surprise, grabbing the front of his shirt and shoving him against the wall. "Don't tell me what I want! What I want... what I really want is for this never to have happened... just answer my question."
"Twice. That's all."
"It was enough, it seems."
"I guess so. You wanna hit me?"
They were so close that when Ben took in a deep breath their chests almost touched. Ben released his shirt front and turned away. He simply stood for a moment, his back to Ray, then went to sit in the armchair, moving as tiredly as an old man.
Ray leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. There was a long silence.
"You wanna talk now, Benny?"
Ben sighed. "Not really... I don't suppose we've got much choice, though."
"No, we haven't. I have to tell Anita by Wednesday. I have to be there by Wednesday..." It was all happening too fast. They both needed time to come to terms with this, but they weren't going to get it.
"Why, Ray? Why did you do it?"
There was so much pain in Ben's voice. It made him ache inside to think he'd caused that pain. "I don't know, Benny... I've tried to forget it ever happened. God, I'm sorry... I never meant for you to find out. I never wanted to hurt you."
"Is there... is there something... lacking in our relationship, Ray? Am I not able to give you what you need?" Ben met his eyes for the first time.
"No! ...Benny, you're all I've wanted. Ever since the first time we made love, you've given me everything I need and more. This is not your fault. I just don't know what made me do it."
"Tell me about it." It was an order.
"We had dinner. I had a few drinks, not much... I wasn't drunk. I don't know why I did it Benny. Afterwards I got out of there. I didn't see her again. I didn't think about it, if I could help it. It was stupid... the stupidest thing I've ever done."
He watched as a few tears slid down Ben's cheeks. Just a few, but they tore at his heart. That, and the knowledge that he could do nothing to ease his lover's pain. He took a deep breath. It was now or never, he wouldn't be able to bring himself to this point again. He had no idea what he'd do if Ben agreed to his offer... except to live with it somehow... if he could.
"Benny... I'll tell Anita I can't take the baby. We'll find a way to put this behind us."
Ben's head came up. He wiped the tears away with his fingers. "No. You were right. I can no more ask you to do that than I could have given up Fraser to make you happy. You have a responsibility to your daughter."
It wasn't quite the answer he'd been hoping for, but it could have been a lot worse. "Can you live with that, Benny? Can you live with her in the same house?"
"I don't have much choice, do I, Ray?"
He paused outside the lounge door. Memories of going into that room to tell his family that he and Benny were lovers came flooding back. This was going to be just as bad... he only hoped it wouldn't be worse.
"You don't have to do this, Benny."
Ben shrugged. "I thought we agreed. Your family will probably react better if I'm there to support you."
"Yeah, but that doesn't mean they're gonna react well. You don't have to go through this."
When Ben opened the door every head turned towards them. Well, hardly surprising, really... he'd sneaked a look in the mirror, and he already knew what Benny looked like. They'd have had to be blind not to notice. Ma motioned to Tony to turn off the TV and for once in his life he didn't argue.
"You have something to tell us?" Ma's voice was worried, she looked from him to Ben and back.
He sat on the arm of the couch nearest her chair. Ben sat beside him on the empty seat.
"Yeah... Ma, I had a call today from... a woman I know. She's pregnant. It's my baby..."
The slap made his ears ring for a moment. Then he heard shocked murmurs from his sisters. He touched his stinging cheek. His mother had never hit him in his life before.
"You complain about your father, Raimundo. He may not have been the best of fathers, but he was never unfaithful. Never."
That hurt more than the slap, far more. Beside him, Ben didn't move. His mother looked past him to his lover.
"Benton, caro, did you know about this?" Her voice was tender, compassionate.
Ben shrugged. "Ray didn't find out until today." He met her eyes briefly then stared down at his hands again, clasped between his knees. When no one else spoke he carried on. "We've discussed it. The mother can't keep the child. Ray is going to take it."
It. Not her. Ray closed his eyes briefly and prayed for strength.
"Ma, the baby's due to be born Wednesday. I've got to go get her... I'll try to get back early next week. It depends on how long the paperwork takes."
Ma stared at him coldly. "I did not ask you to speak."
"It's my house, Ma."
The silence was startling. It was a sign of how frazzled his temper was. If he was in his right mind he would never have said a thing like that, however true it was.
Ben put a hand on his arm. "Ray... Mrs Vecchio... it's been a ...difficult day. There's a lot to arrange. Perhaps we could discuss this at a later time."
There wasn't going to be time, at least not before he left. They both knew that. Maybe Benny was right though... better to let their tempers cool a bit. Besides, once she had a new granddaughter to hold, maybe Ma would be a bit more forgiving.
It was long past midnight, but he couldn't sleep. He lay as still as he could through Ray's tossing and turning. Finally a hand touched his shoulder.
"Don't, Ray." His voice sounded ragged to his own ears.
Ray sighed. "I just wanted to... I understand, Benny... if it was the other way round? I'd still be yelling. I'm sorry... that's all. I know it's not enough, but I am sorry."
"I know. But you're right. It's not enough."
Another sigh, lips brushed the nape of his neck. Then Ray turned over again.
Ray opened his eyes a fraction, squinting into the daylight. His head was pounding, his eyes hurt, he felt more tired than he had in a very long time... what had happened yesterday hadn't gone away like a bad dream in the night...
He rolled onto his back. Ben was lying on his side, facing away from him. They never slept like that... always, they slept in each other's arms, even after nearly seven years. He wondered if Ben had slept at all.
"Benny?" He whispered his lover's name, in case he was sleeping.
Ben moved, sitting up and swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, before turning to acknowledge him.
"You'd better get moving Ray. You'll have a lot to do today."
So. No talking, it looked like... Benny was right, though. Last night it had been too late to do anything... he'd have to call Anita, arrange for time off... book airline tickets. And baby clothes, all the paraphernalia they'd got rid of once Fraser didn't need it any more... Oh God, Fraser... how was he going to explain this to Fraser?
"Benny, about Fraser..."
Ben frowned. "I'll tell him. You won't have time."
"What are you going to say?" His voice was sharp with concern.
His lover smiled rather sourly. "Don't worry, I won't tell him what I think of all this. I'll tell him as little as possible. You can elaborate, if you want to, when you get back."
There was even less time than he'd hoped. Anita informed him she'd be induced the following morning, and he felt he ought to be there. The only flight he could book a ticket on left at 2pm. He called Ben at the Consulate.
"Anita said she knows someone who can help with the paperwork. It shouldn't take more than a coupla days... Benny... I'd ask Maria if she can get some baby stuff... but she's not talking to me. Neither is Ma. And Frannie's too busy with Siobhan right now..."
"Benny, I hate to ask you..."
A sharp sigh. "I'll do it..."
"Thanks, Benny... I'll call you, OK?"
Telling Fraser about this was going to be... difficult, to say the least. He owed it to Fraser not to let any of his bitterness show. The last year had been difficult enough for his son. He didn't intend to make it any worse by raising fears that he and Ray might separate again.
Ben thought about it all day, but still had no idea what he would say when he came home that evening. It didn't help that all the Vecchio women were treating him like some kind of martyr and the men were obviously uncomfortable in his presence. Fraser had already picked up that there was something wrong, added that to Ray's sudden disappearance, and was looking very worried.
He took Fraser upstairs to his room and sat him at his desk. Dief sat close by, watching them both anxiously.
"Son, I've got some news for you." He tried to smile. "It's good news..."
He waited for Fraser to ask, but his son merely stared at him unwaveringly.
"You're going to have a little..." the words stuck in his throat. He took a deep breath and forced them out. "...a little sister. Like Siobhan. A baby."
Dief whined sharply, but Fraser said nothing.
"Is that why Daddy's gone away?"
"Yes, he's gone to get her. He'll be back in a few days."
Fraser looked down at his feet, kicking them against the chair legs. Normally Ben would have told him to stop, this time he said nothing.
"Can we call Daddy and tell him not to bring her? I don't want a baby sister."
Ben sighed. This was going to be as difficult as he'd expected. "We can't do that, Fraser. If we don't look after her, she'll have to be adopted and Ray doesn't want to do that."
Fraser seized on his slip. "Do you?"
"No. No, I don't."
"But I don't like Siobhan... she's dumb..." There was more than a suspicion of a whine in Fraser's voice.
"She just a baby. Babies can't do much, at first. You were the same."
Fraser looked unconvinced.
He was starting to run out of patience. He didn't want to be discussing this at all. "Fraser, in a few months Siobhan will be a lot more fun for you to play with. And so will this new baby be."
"Is she really my sister?"
"Yes, she is."
"Are you her father, Dad?" Fraser had finally worked out that Ben, not Ray, was his 'real' father, though none of them, least of all Fraser, was really sure what the boy understood by that term.
"No. Ray is her father. But since Ray adopted you, that makes her your sister."
"Oh." Fraser looked thoughtful. No doubt there'd be other questions. Questions he didn't want to answer. Time to change the subject .
"On Saturday I'm going to buy some things for the baby... clothes and toys... do you want to come with me?"
Fraser shook his head, a scornful look on his face. And that was the end of it. For the moment, anyway.
The call he'd been dreading came late Wednesday afternoon.
"Benny?" Ray's voice, full of subdued excitement.
He mustered every ounce of self control he could manage. "Did everything go well, Ray?"
"It was great. Anita's fine, the baby's fine... I held her Benny..."
He squeezed his eyes shut. "That's great, Ray."
"Do you remember what it was like, the first time you held Fraser?..."
He'd never forget that... he couldn't speak.
"...It was like that Benny..." There was a pause, then Ray's voice came back, sober now. "I guess you don't want to hear this."
"Not really. I told Fraser."
"What did he say? Is he OK?" Ray sounded worried now.
He smiled slightly. "I think so. He's not very impressed though. He thinks babies are dumb."
Ray laughed. "At least that's a normal reaction. I'm sorry to drop all this on you, Benny. I'll talk to him too, when I get back."
"Do you know when that will be?"
"Not sure yet. Not as soon as I thought... the agency down here is being difficult. Monday, I hope. I'll let you know."
Monday. Ray. And the baby. Oh God.
As the cab slowed to a halt in front of his house, Ray braced himself for whatever might lie ahead. It was too early for Ben or Fraser to be home, much to his relief. Better to get the baby settled in first. A muffled sound drew his attention for a moment, but she was still sleeping. His daughter... he could still hardly believe it.
He lifted the carrier out of the cab, settled with the driver, and hefted the bag of necessities over his shoulder. He'd forgotten how much stuff babies needed. The house seemed quiet when he opened the door, but then he heard a clatter from the kitchen. It was bound to be Ma. The first hurdle. He knew he had a good chance of winning her over the moment he put a new grandchild in her arms. He took a deep breath and headed for the kitchen.
His mother looked at him coldly as he came through the door. He put the carrier on the table, with just a bit more of a thump than was strictly necessary. A squawk came from its depths. He lifted his protesting daughter out with deliberate awkwardness.
His mother came over, wiping her hands on a cloth. "Not like that Raimondo! Here, give her to me."
Half an hour later, with half a bottle of formula inside her, his daughter slept peacefully in her grandmother's arms. Obstacle number one overcome. The other one wasn't likely to be so easy.
Fraser, it turned out, was not very interested in his new sister. He inspected her politely, as she slept in the crib, then went outside to play with his cousins. Dief went with him, ignoring the crib altogether. Ray's sisters, like his mother, were completely won over the moment they laid eyes on her, but he'd expected that. That just left Ben.
Ben was late. Then he was very late. Ray picked up the phone half a dozen times and put it down again. He'd come home when he was ready.
When at last he did arrive home, Ben was tired and apologetic.
"I'm sorry, Ray. The Inspector had a last minute change of plans for the reception on Saturday. I didn't even get a chance to call you."
"That's OK, Benny. Don't worry about it. Have you eaten?" He went over and put his arms around Ben's broad shoulders in a quick, awkward hug. Kissed him... on the cheek, when Ben turned his head slightly at the last moment.
"I'm not hungry."
"You need to eat, Benny. Come on down to the kitchen. Or would you like me to bring something up here?"
Ben hesitated. "Up here, I think, Ray. If you don't mind."
"Nah, no trouble. Go sit down." He caught a glimpse of Ben as he went out the door, dropping exhaustedly into the armchair. It was right next to the crib.
He was sitting with his head tipped back, eyes closed when Ray came back with a steaming plateful of pasta. Ray waited till he'd had a few mouthfuls, but what came out wasn't what he'd intended to say.
"She's beautiful, isn't she?"
Ben looked startled, then wary. "I'm sorry, Ray... I didn't..."
He'd only had to turn his head to see her. Ray kept his temper with an effort. "Well, there's time for that later. You look exhausted."
Ben continued eating in a strained silence.
In the end Ray couldn't stand it any longer. "Thanks for getting all that stuff for me. It looks great. I think she likes that duck..."
Ben shrugged. "You're welcome..." then, obviously making an effort... "What's her name?"
"Oh. Well, Anita didn't want to name her... and I thought we should talk about it first, so..." He stopped at the sight of Ben's raised eyebrows. "Well, I had an idea, but I wanted to... I thought we could call her Caroline... after your mother..."
"Are you trying to make this worse than it already is? If you want me to leave just say so." Ben pushed himself out of the chair, tossing the empty plate to one side.
Ray intercepted him before he got to the door. "Benny. Benny! Dammit, I thought you'd like it. If you don't... well, I'm sorry... just forget about it."
"Don't try emotional blackmail with me, Ray. I don't appreciate it."
Ray's jaw dropped. "For God's sake, Benny! You don't have to over-react like this. I'm sorry if you're offended, but it was an honest mistake. Don't make it out to be more than it is!"
"I think you ought to look at your own motives, Ray. I'm going for a walk." The door closed behind him with a snap.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit!
He ought to get to bed early. Two am feeds really took it out of him, but he wouldn't be able to sleep until Benny came home anyway. Which he finally did. He seemed surprised to see Ray waiting up for him.
Ray came away from the crib, where he'd been watching his daughter sleep. "Benny, don't let's fight. Please? I'm sorry I offended you. I didn't mean to. I just want to get everything back to normal."
"Well... perhaps I did over-react. I'm sorry too, Ray."
He came a little closer and Ray took the opportunity to put his arms around his lover and draw him close.
"You look really tired. How about we sleep on it?"
Ben nodded silently and turned away to undress. Every movement seemed to take an effort. Ray felt another stab of guilt.
"Has it been really bad, Benny?"
A sigh. "Your mother and sisters are treating me as though I'm made of glass, your brothers-in-law are avoiding me... embarrassment, I think... or perhaps they're afraid I'm going to create some kind of a scene. You know how emotional we gay men are... And your friends at the Precinct have been calling me to let me know how shocked they all are at your behaviour. Some of the women have offered to... to comfort me."
"Oh God, Benny, I'm sorry. I'll call off Ma and the girls, they've halfway forgiven me now. And I'll... well, I'll think of something to shut up everyone at work. I can't do much about Tony and Duncan, though. You just have to give as good as you get, with them."
He went over and put his arms around Ben again, sliding his hands under the unbuttoned pyjama top.
"Come to bed, Benny." He managed to plant a kiss on Ben's lips, held it through Ben's sudden tension, until he was firmly pushed away.
"Stop it Ray. I'm really not in the mood for this." Ben turned away, buttoning his top.
It had been a long and nerve-wracking day for him too. His temper snapped. "What is this? Some kind of punishment? I've been a bad boy and now I gotta pay?"
Ben whirled around. "Punishment?" He laughed shortly. "No. If I was going to punish you, I can assure you it would be a lot more painful than this. Strange as it may seem, I simply don't want to... to have sex with you."
Ben went over to the bed and lay down on his side, facing away from Ray. After a moment Ray joined him, shedding his robe and sliding under the covers. He waited.
At last, a stifled sigh, a slight movement... "If you want to know the truth, Ray, I can't... can't... It's just... every time I think about you... about sex... I see you with her... and I can't..."
Sick at heart, Ray rolled over to face Ben's back and put a hand on his arm. "Don't Benny. It didn't mean anything to me, I swear it. You're the one I love. I wish it had never happened."
"It's too late for that, Ray. It has happened, and we're both going to have to learn to live with it."
"Then we'll learn. I'm not gonna lose you Benny."
It was lucky that Ray had arranged for a whole week off work when he went to pick up the baby. He still had one day free. It meant he could pick Fraser up from school and take him somewhere quiet where they could have that talk he'd promised Ben. Since Dief had made his opinion of what was happening perfectly clear to all of them, he took the precaution of leaving him at home.
Fraser didn't want to talk about the baby.
Ray sighed. First Benny, now this. He was short on sleep too, and tomorrow he'd be back at work and wouldn't have time. He decided to risk his mother's wrath and take Fraser to a Mc Donalds.
He sipped his coffee and watched Fraser munch happily on his fries and blow bubbles in his shake, both things that Ben would never have allowed. Eventually Fraser looked up at him.
"Is she really my sister?"
Ray knew Ben had already answered that question. By the tone of his voice, Fraser was hoping to get a different answer this time.
"Yes, she is."
"I don't like her." When Ray didn't respond, Fraser applied himself to blowing more bubbles in his shake. "Dad doesn't like her either." He glanced up to see what reaction that got.
Ray hastily wiped the frown off his face. "Did Benny say that?"
"No. I can tell." Fraser sounded proud of his perceptiveness.
"Well, maybe he's just annoyed with me."
Fraser considered this. "Maybe. Doesn't she have a mother? Can't she stay with her?"
"No she can't."
Fraser pouted. Just like Benny. "Did her mother have sex, Daddy?"
Ray choked on his coffee. This wasn't exactly the best place to have a conversation about sex with a six year-old. Fraser eyed him dubiously.
"Did she Daddy? Coz Ty's brother says..."
Damn Ty's brother! Couldn't that kid keep his mouth shut? "Never mind what Ty's brother says. He doesn't know half as much as he thinks he does. You finished yet?"
Fraser hadn't, but Ray hustled him outside anyway. If they were going to talk about this, they'd better go home.
When they got there, Dief had taken off mooching somewhere. At least that meant he didn't have to try to talk both of them around. Ray wondered just how far he ought to let this go. If he knew Fraser, his son wouldn't give up on this until he was satisfied with the answers he got. Oh, well...
"What do you want to know, Fraser? I'll tell you if I can."
"Well... why is she your baby and not Dad's? I belong to both of you don't I?"
He thought Fraser looked a bit anxious. "Of course you do honey. You know I adopted you. We told you that a long time ago."
"Is Dad going to adopt her?"
"I don't know. We have to talk about that. He might."
Fraser wrinkled his brow. It was obvious the idea didn't appeal to him.
"Why are you her father, Daddy? Is that why Dad's angry with you?"
Ray wondered if Fraser had worked that out or whether it was just a lucky guess. Not that it mattered now, once he'd got the idea in his head, he wouldn't forget it.
"Sort of. He's angry because I did something I shouldn't have done. And when he sees the baby, it reminds him that I did it. Like that time you broke the window and it didn't get fixed for three days... remember?" He thought he detected a touch of sympathy in Fraser's look. From one fellow sufferer to another.
"What did you do, Daddy?"
He'd known that would be the next question. There wasn't really any choice but to answer it honestly.
"Fraser, I'm not sure you'll understand any of this. You know where babies come from, don't you?"
Fraser nodded vigorously. "From inside their mother. Like Siobhan grew inside Aunt Frannie. And Ty's brother..."
"All right! Enough about Ty's brother, OK?"
Fraser subsided reluctantly.
"Well, OK, Ty's brother's right about one thing... to make a baby you need a mother and a father."
"And some sex?"
Ray looked into Fraser's big innocent eyes and smiled in spite of himself, reminded of how his father looked when he was hot on the trail of some new and interesting theory.
"Yeah. And some sex. And that's why Benny's mad at me."
Fraser stared at him in confusion.
Ray sighed. "Well, I said I might not be able to explain it to you. It's a grown up thing, all right?"
His son waited expectantly.
"Oh, for God's sake... It's like... well, like if your best friend went off and was best friends with someone else. Except that... well, I wasn't really best friends with her, because I really love Benny, right? Only it hurt him that I did that and that's why he's upset."
"He won't go away again, will he Daddy?" Fraser's eyes filled up with tears.
God, he hoped not. He summoned up a smile and a confident voice. "Well, if he does, we'll just have to get him back again, won't we? Only this time we won't use a truck, OK?"
Fraser sniffed. "OK."
He didn't sound very convinced.
It was early, even for him, and he hadn't been able to get to sleep until late last night, but Ben was wide awake. He rolled on to his back, cautiously stretching tense muscles, and looked at Ray. It was curiously painful to sleep so close to him without touching, as alone as he'd ever been in his life. He wasn't going to go back to sleep, and he couldn't just lie here. Not with Ray so close. Perhaps a walk.
Once out of the bed, he stretched again, trying to work out the aches. Even in sleep he couldn't relax, it seemed. From the crib came a few snuffling sounds. He ignored them. He went over to the drawers and pulled out clean underwear, a T-shirt. Taking off his pyjama top, he felt a twinge in his shoulder and paused to rub the place firmly. The snuffling sounds became more definite. It looked like the baby was waking.
Ben glanced over at Ray. He hadn't woken yet. He'd been run ragged all week and had got very little sympathy from his family. None at all from himself. Even asleep, Ray looked tired. And it was Saturday, Ray didn't have to go to work today. He went over to the crib and looked at Ray's daughter, really looked, for the first time.
She was tiny. Smaller than he remembered Fraser being, but then Fraser had been a month old the first time they'd met. So this was what he'd missed with his son... Her eyes were open, and seemed to be looking at him, though he knew she probably couldn't see him. Sure enough, after a moment her eyes slid away, unfocussed. She was a quiet baby. Not like Fraser, who had fussed over the least thing... but then, who knew how many hands Fraser had passed through, before Ray had found him and brought him to his father?
That reminder of how much he, and Fraser, owed Ray was enough to help him reach a decision. Ray needed to sleep. Before much longer, his daughter was going to be demanding a feed. Ben decided to allow Ray to sleep. As if sensing this, the baby opened pursed lips and emitted a faint wail. Ben picked her up.
He knew Ray had a bottle prepared in the thermos. He cradled the tiny thing easily in one arm and moved towards the table where her things were set up. Just as he was reaching for the thermos, he felt a determined movement against his bare chest. Then a mouth attached itself like a tiny limpet to his nipple and sucked greedily. He'd forgotten about that... It only lasted a moment, then he was looking down into a small face crumpling with disgust and frustration. It was the same look Fraser had given him when he'd made the same unhappy discovery. He made a face for her. Then before she could start to cry in earnest, he managed to pull the bottle free of the thermos and offer her the teat.
He backed himself up to the armchair and sat, watching her as he'd watched Fraser, more than six years ago now. He'd grown so fast. So would she... When she finished, he lifted her against his shoulder and rubbed her back until she let out a very unladylike-like belch. She'd need changing too, no doubt. He thought he'd hold her just a little longer. Babies liked to be held. He glanced across at the bed.
Ray's eyes were open, watching him. Ray, who'd woken early every morning to care for his child... who started awake at every tiny sound she made... He'd done this deliberately. It was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over him. Ben stood up and carried the baby over to the bed, pushing her into Ray's arms as he dragged himself upright.
"She needs changing."
Ray flinched at the harshness in his voice and said nothing as he dressed and left the room.
Ray was still shaking as he went down the stairs. Behind him in the bedroom his daughter was sleeping again. God only knew where Benny was. He knew exactly what Benny had been thinking and it wasn't so much that it was totally unfair... he'd only been awake a minute or two... it was the complete lack of trust that his lover now had in him. He supposed it was deserved, but it still hurt.
He'd intended to go to the kitchen to ask his mother if she knew where Ben might be, but when he got to the door, he could hear his lover's voice. The sadness in it made his heart ache.
"I feel like the ground's been cut out from under me... Ray's been the one person I thought I could always depend on. I've thought about what it would be like if he died, but I never thought I'd lose him like this."
Ray's hand clenched into a fist. He thought about going in, but hesitated. Things were bad enough as it was and Benny was sure to take it the wrong way. But he couldn't move away.
"Caro, what my Raimondo has done is wrong. I don't excuse it, but anyone can see how much he still loves you. You have not lost him."
Ray knew from his voice, that Ben was crying. He risked a quick peek through the door, just in time to see his mother walk over to his lover and take him in her arms. She held him, rocking him gently, as she'd done for all her children, when they'd been hurting.
"Shh, caro. You must learn to forgive him, just as you and Raimondo forgave me, when I hurt you both so much."
"I don't know if I can..." It was just a tearful whisper, but it filled Ray with dread.
His mother began stroking Ben's dark hair. "Of course you can, caro... when it doesn't hurt so much. It takes a little time, that's all."
He didn't want to hear Ben's reply. He fled back upstairs.
The morning seemed to pass almost without his noticing. For once he was hardly aware of his daughter as he saw to her needs. All he could think of was his lover, crying in his mother's arms. It came as a shock to realise that he was jealous.
They'd begun this relationship almost by accident. Neither of them could have foreseen how deep or strong it would become. For over six years now, he and Benny had been everything to each other. Benny, especially, had never looked outside their relationship for anything. Even after moving in here, he'd always been more of a polite house guest than a part of the family. Now he was seeking comfort from a woman he still called 'Mrs Vecchio'. Benny wasn't losing him, not by a long way, but it was beginning to look like he was losing Benny.
From the corner of the Consulate's large reception room, Ben watched the staff discreetly mixing among the guests. Mostly, he watched the Inspector... a man almost as ineffectual as Inspector Moffat, Meg Thatcher's predecessor, had been. The more he saw of the man, and remembered what Moffat had been like, the more he wondered what Meg Thatcher had done to be exiled here. She was a far more capable and dedicated officer than either of these men would ever be. He was glad for her, now, that she'd managed to get a posting back to Ottawa.
Inspector Wilson had cornered some guest, probably an influential diplomat, and was obviously telling her what he fondly, and mistakenly, believed to be a fascinating story about his exploits. Ben thought he really ought to go rescue the poor woman, in the interests of international relations. He was halfway across the room when she broke free and made her escape. He came to a halt, immediately forgetting the story he was mentally rehearsing, as she turned and came towards him.
She smiled. "Hello, Ben."
"Meg... I mean Inspector, this is..."
"Unexpected?" She slipped her arm through his and turned him toward the long windows.
He blushed. "A pleasure, actually."
Meg laughed. "If I hadn't just been talking to that moron, I'd be quite flattered. How are you, Ben?"
When he woke to give his daughter her 2 am feed, Ray saw that Ben hadn't come back from the reception yet. That surprised him, it should have been over hours ago. But maybe Ben had needed to stay later. He woke again at 3:30. Still no sign of him. Finally, just after 4 am, Ben came in to their room.
He thought about confronting Ben then, but caution got the better of him. If he wanted it to turn into another fight, that would be the right way to go about it. He lay still as Ben undressed and got into bed. But he didn't sleep well for the rest of the night.
In the morning, it seemed like Benny was a little more relaxed, even happier. That was good wasn't it? So why was his stomach churning? He arranged with Ma to look after the baby and talked Benny into taking Fraser and Dief to the park with them. It was a good way to get some time alone with his lover. Fraser and Dief could be counted on to take off on their own, which was fine by Ray. He made sure that they were well away from any roads. He couldn't stand a repeat of the accident that nearly cost both Ben's and Fraser's lives.
"So, how was the reception Benny? Something happen? You must have been helluva late getting home." He was trying to keep it casual.
It didn't work. Ben looked at him seriously. "Do you really expect me to believe you don't know exactly when I got home?"
"I s'pose not." Ray heaved a sigh. "I got a bit of a shock when the baby woke me and you weren't there. I woke up when you came in. What happened?"
"I got quite a surprise, Ray. Meg was there."
"Really? How's she doing?" That was a relief. And they both owed Meg a lot.
Ben hesitated. "She's got a new position. She's setting up a security task force, specifically to deal with the diplomatic corps in Ottawa."
Ray was shocked. "You mean they don't already have one?"
"Well, of course, Ray. But there's been some... well, some kind of scandal involving a large proportion of the current force. The Government has decided to start a new group, which will unobtrusively take over from the old one."
"Wow. And Meg's in charge of that? I'm impressed."
Ben looked pleased. "She's offered me a job."
Ray stopped dead in his tracks. "What?"
Ben looked at him, surprised. "I said..."
"I heard what you said Benny! You're not taking it?"
Ben raised his eyebrows. "Ray..."
"Benny, you can't be serious!" Ray took a deep breath, ready to continue.
"Why not, Ray? If you'll let me..."
"No! Benny..." he stopped, his worst nightmare suddenly come true.
Ben stared at him, his mouth tightening. "Why shouldn't I go, Ray? Why shouldn't I go home to my own country, which I haven't seen in over seven years? Which Fraser's never seen? My job here is a joke. I've only stayed because of you."
A horrible thought occurred to him. "Did you tell her about us?"
Ben looked away. "Yes, I did. Why shouldn't I? It's common knowledge, after all. She'd have found out soon enough. She's offered to help me find an apartment, and a school for Fraser. It'll be good for him, Ray."
"What else is she offering, Benny?"
"Why, nothing... what do you mean?" Ben flushed suddenly. "Oh, please! Don't judge me by your own standards, there's nothing like that between Meg and myself."
Ray caught at his arm, desperate now. "I thought you wanted to work through this, Benny. You said you did. For God's sake, you can't just take Fraser away from me like that."
"Ray, if you'd only listen... It's not a permanent position. It's for six months. I thought it might be a good idea. For both of us."
Relief flooded through him. "Six months?" He swallowed. "You're sure, Benny?"
"I haven't even decided yet, Ray. But it's an option. And Ottawa's not very far away."
Ray smiled shakily. "Yeah, I could come up for weekends, I guess."
"And I suppose I could find somewhere for you to sleep." Ben returned the smile.
"Yeah, I bet. On the couch?"
"Well, actually Ray, I was thinking of the floor..."
He laughed then, and hugged Ben, over-exuberant in his relief. "As long as you come back."
Later, when Ray had time to think about it, he was relieved he hadn't said anything more. He didn't like it, not at all, but he knew that there was no way he was going to talk Benny out of it. Not when they seemed to end up fighting almost every time they spoke. He'd have to go about this carefully. He had to make Benny want to stay, not try to talk him out of leaving. It wouldn't hurt to mention it to his mother either... she wouldn't be any happier about it than he was.
It had been a difficult weekend for Ben. Telling Meg what Ray had done had been one of the most humiliating experiences of his life. He knew he was being unreasonable, overreacting to Ray's attempts to appease him... instinctively putting the worst possible interpretation on anything Ray said or did. Quite simply, he found it a lot easier when he and Ray were apart.
He had to admit, though, that they'd made some advances. Ray was obviously making an effort to understand his point of view and was giving him all the space he could in such a crowded house. In return, he felt obliged to try to meet Ray half way, however difficult it was. He decided to try not to be so suspicious of Ray's motives in future.
His resolution didn't last much longer than two hours.
He was out in the yard with Dief watching the children play when Ray's mother appeared from the kitchen, a slice of cake in one hand and a cup of tea in the other. She offered them to him.
"Thank you kindly, Mrs Vecchio." He still felt awkward about breaking down in front of her this morning.
She smiled affectionately at him. "Caro, it's time you stopped calling me that. You should call me Silvia."
"Oh... I... well, thank you... Silvia..." This was even more embarrassing, but he didn't have the heart, or the courage, to refuse the honour.
Silvia patted his cheek. "My Raimondo says you are going to Ottawa for six months. It will be quiet here without Fraser..." She heaved a sigh.
Ben stared at the small riot that was developing in front of them and thought that quiet was the last word he would ever think of applying to this household.
"Fraser's never been to Canada. It's a wonderful opportunity for him. I'm hoping to take him to the Yukon for a visit."
He noticed that Dief was staring at him. He didn't look happy. Obviously, the wolf had been in Chicago far too long.
"Oh!" Mrs Vecchio... no, Silvia, sounded horrified. "Such a long way, caro... and it gets so cold up there."
He suppressed a smile. "Well, I was planning on going in the summer."
"But, do you think Fraser should be taken away from his school like that? And after such a difficult year... He will miss Raimondo terribly, the poor bambino loves his father so."
Any urge to smile had disappeared. "I'm sure Fraser will be fine. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to speak to Ray."
He found Ray in their room, feeding the baby. Ray looked up at him, a contented smile on his face. A smile which disappeared abruptly as he registered Ben's angry face.
"What's wrong, Benny?" He kept his voice low.
"You tell me you're not trying to manipulate me Ray. It would be a lot easier to believe you, if you didn't bring your mother into our affairs."
"Oh." Ray removed the bottle from his daughter's mouth. Ben could see she was almost asleep. "Do you mind if I settle her first?"
Ben responded with a sharp, angry nod and turned towards the windows while Ray burped her and then laid her in the crib. When he'd finished fussing over her, Ben turned back.
"How dare you use your mother to try to talk me out of going to Ottawa." He kept the words to an angry hiss so as not to wake the baby.
"Benny, I told her about it. That's all. Fraser is her grandson, she had a right to know." The words didn't quite ring true.
"Perhaps, but you must have known she'd do this. Even counted on it."
"Sure I did. Can you blame me? I don't want you to go. If you were in my shoes, wouldn't you do the same?"
"If I were in your shoes this situation would never have arisen!" He managed to stop before he said something completely unforgivable. They'd come so far, and he didn't want to make a backward step. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'm not doing this to punish or hurt you. Please try to understand how I feel."
There was a long pause, then Ray spoke quietly. "It might help if you told me, Benny. How do you feel?"
"I feel... hurt, Ray. Betrayed." Just naming the emotions seemed to strengthen them. His voice began to shake. "I don't understand how you could have done it. If you'd been in love with her..."
"Would that have made it easier, Benny?"
Ben smiled unhappily. "It might have made it more understandable. But not easier."
"Well, don't worry about understanding it, Benny. I don't understand either. The only thing I can think of is that it was just after Frannie told us she was pregnant."
"You think you wanted another child?" It didn't make much sense to him, but Ray shrugged slightly.
"Maybe. I don't know, Benny, but you gotta wonder about the timing. I always wanted a whole heap of kids. If I was gonna get any, it would have to be before Fraser got too much older."
Strangely, that bothered him more than the knowledge of Ray's unfaithfulness. "I can't give you those things, Ray. Is what we have enough for you?"
"Sure it is Benny. Without you, I'd never have had Fraser at all, and I wouldn't give him up for anything. Or you. The only thing I don't hate myself for, is having that beautiful baby girl over there."
Something inside him melted a little. "Don't hate yourself, Ray. I don't hate you. I never did, not for a moment."
Ray stared at him, his eyes brooding. "It was so stupid, Benny. To put everything we have at risk like that."
Ben didn't answer. There was no answer to that.
Ray was finally beginning to feel like they'd managed to break down some of the barriers standing between them. It helped to know that Benny wanted them to stay together as much as he did. Ray had been simply terrified of losing him again. Now he'd started helping Ray with the baby, and they fell into the same routines they'd had when Fraser had been a baby. It encouraged Ray enough that he decided to raise the issue of the baby's name again.
Ben just looked at him in silence.
"Benny, please. I want her to be our daughter, the same way Fraser's our son. And she's got to have a name. I want you to be a part of that."
"Do you want me to adopt her, Ray?"
Ray chose his words carefully. "Sure, when you're ready. You have to want it too. Maybe we could make a start by choosing a name together."
"I don't know, Ray." Ben looked down at his feet, frowning.
"Benny, do you resent her so much?"
"Oh, it's not that, Ray." Ben looked up quickly. "It's just... well I don't have any experience in choosing names. I didn't have to, with Fraser. I never had any pets, or toys, so the only creature I've ever given a name to was Dief."
Ray grinned. He could deal with this. "Well, as long as you don't try to name her after any dead Canadian Prime Ministers, we should be OK."
Ben smiled. "She may not think so when she's older."
"I have to get the birth certificate filled out soon, Benny. Think about it, will you?"
"I'll try, Ray."
Ben stood up and walked over to him and kissed him gently on the cheek. The first time he'd done that since all this had started. Encouraged, Ray turned his head slightly, and after a slight hesitation, Ben kissed him on the lips. They held it for a long, blissful moment. Then caution won out and Ray drew back a little.
"It's gonna be OK, Benny. We'll get through this, won't we?" He lifted his hand to touch Ben's cheek.
"Of course we will, Ray." Ben put his arms around Ray and they stood holding each other for a long time.
If the easing of the tension between them had made the daytime easier, the same could not be said about the nights they spent in the same bed, still not touching. It was getting more and more difficult for Ray to sleep. He ached, sometimes literally, just to touch Ben. Tonight, he simply couldn't sleep. Finally, he rolled onto his back and looked at Ben across the few inches that separated them. It might just as well be miles.
He suspected Ben was awake too. Throwing caution to the wind, he rolled again, and pressed against Ben's back, his arm sliding around Ben's waist.
"Don't Ray." Ben's voice was quiet... more sad than angry.
Ray nuzzled the back of his neck. "I just wanna hold you, Benny. That's OK, isn't it?"
A quiet sigh was his only answer. Ray decided to take that for agreement.
It was lovely to be held by Ray again. A part of him had been longing for this, another part had felt too hurt to want any contact at all. Little by little that part seemed to be fading away. Soon, he hoped, it would be gone altogether. Sometimes he felt that Ray didn't realise that he wasn't doing this deliberately, that he wanted just as desperately for them to live normally again.
It was hours later when he woke again, a familiar sensation pressing against his buttocks. Perhaps he should just wake Ray, if he wasn't already awake, and... but his mind refused to finish the thought. And if he couldn't think it, how could he actually go through with it?
He turned onto his back, gently pushing Ray away from his body.
"Ray?" He whispered his lover's name, in case he was still asleep, but wasn't surprised to see Ray's eyes were open.
"Benny, can't we..."
"No." Ben spoke more sharply than he intended and saw Ray flinch.
Ray clenched his eyes shut and swore under his breath. "Benny, I'm not made of steel. How long are you gonna keep this going?"
Anger flared. "Until I'm ready."
"Oh yeah? And what if I'm ready before you are? I'm not a monk, Benny."
Ben bit back an even sharper retort. He turned away, shaking suddenly.
"Benny? Benny, I'm sorry. I didn't mean..." Ray sounded miserable.
He stayed where he was, almost afraid to face Ray. "What did you mean?"
"I just... dammit Benny, I'm not like you. I can't go without sex forever. I'm trying to understand, but I need..."
"What? Loveless sex? Is that what you want?"
"No, dammit, I don't! But I'll settle for what I can get. And I ain't getting anything from you! I can't keep this up forever."
"Then you'd better find someone else, hadn't you, Ray?" The moment the words left his mouth, he regretted them, but it was too late.
He turned back to find Ray staring at him thoughtfully. "I swear, Benny, I'll only do that if I have to."
Shock held him silent as Ray went on. "I won't lie to you about this Benny. If I do go to someone else, I'll tell you first. Maybe we can find a way to do it that won't hurt you. If I can't make love to you, I don't care who I do it with. Man or woman... I'll pay for it, if that makes it easier."
He fought past the shock, trying to see the offer in the way that Ray meant it, though it was a totally foreign concept to him. "Ray..."
Ray smiled shakily. "Hell, Benny. If you decide the only person you can stand for me to have sex with is Huey, I'll just have to figure out a way to seduce him."
He couldn't help laughing. Ray and Jack Huey? "I'm sure that won't be necessary, Ray. I just need a little time."
He saw the change in Ray's face, and it moved him. He leaned over and kissed his cheek. When he drew back Ray was looking at him with an expression he couldn't decipher.
"So Huey's safe?" There was a faint tinge of disappointment in his voice.
Ben smiled. "Believe me, Ray."
Without any warning Ray reached out and pulled him into a close embrace. In spite of his words, Ben tensed immediately.
"Trust me, Benny?" Ray's voice, pleading.
He made himself relax and Ray sighed and kissed his hair lightly. "I really miss this, you know? Just holding you."
"Me too, Ray." He slid his arms around Ray's waist, suddenly exhausted, and surrendered to sleep.
Ray put his daughter back in the crib, fed and changed, and stood looking at her for a while. Behind him in the bed, his lover was sleeping. He turned and walked quietly towards the bed. When he slipped under the covers, Ben moved into his arms, still asleep though he was.
He was still there in the morning when they woke. By the smile on his face, Ray thought it would be soon, very soon...
It was strange... he'd had to get used to sleeping in Ray's arms again. Not that he minded the adjustment, even if it meant he hadn't slept very well the last two nights. He woke as Ray slipped out of the bed to check on his daughter. They still hadn't discussed her name again, but now he too was starting to feel uncomfortable about the delay. They'd have to decide on something... well they could talk it over on Saturday.
With a slight shock he realised it was well after two am and she hadn't woken. That was unlike her. When Ray screamed, he was out of the bed and over to the crib without pause to think.
Ray was holding her, and there was obviously something wrong. He reached for her and Ray surrendered her immediately. She wasn't breathing. He couldn't find a pulse either, but that could be... he didn't bother to think about it as his reactions took over. He laid her on the bed and began to breathe for her.
"Ohmigod, ohmigod... Benny!" Ray's voice was ragged with hysteria.
He paused in his ministrations. "Ray! Call an ambulance! Now!"
There was no time to say more. He bent over the tiny, still body again, closed his mouth over her mouth and nose, breathing gently into her lungs, while his fingers searched for a pulse and found nothing. He heard Ray leave the room, the door flung back against the wall, his footsteps running down the hallway. It didn't occur to him, either, that the cell phane was just beside the bed.
Still no pulse. Ben began to press on her chest. He'd never done CPR on such a young child... too much force and he could crush her chest, too little and it would be ineffective. Breathe for her again... It seemed an eternity before Ray was back. Others were gathering at the door, woken by the noise.
Push, pause, push... "Ray?" Breathe... once... twice..
"They'll be here in about ten minutes they said." Ray's voice was shaking, but he seemed in control.
He was checking for a pulse again, finding it at last, when he heard the siren in the distance. Under his hand, the baby wasn't moving except for the slight rise and fall of her chest. He met Ray's eyes, trying to hide the fear in his own.
"She's gonna be all right Benny."
He wanted to agree. "I hope so, Ray." He picked her up and held her out to Ray. "I'll get dressed. We'll have to go to the hospital."
Ben dressed while Ray held his daughter, and someone, Maria he thought, went down to let the paramedics into the house. By the time the paramedics had her ready to move, he'd managed to get Ray dressed as well.
The whole family was in the hallway, watching through the open door in silence. When he went over Fraser threw himself into his arms.
He held his son tightly and looked over his head to the others. "Well have to go to the hospital... Silvia..." Her name still felt strange on his tongue. "...can you look after Fraser for us?"
She was crying. "Of course, caro. Look after Ray... and the little one..."
He nodded, unable to speak, as the paramedics came past him, with Ray following close behind. Fraser went reluctantly to his grandmother. "We'll be back as soon as we can, Fraser."
He went after the little procession.
Ray didn't want to be separated from his daughter at the hospital. Ben caught his arms and held him. "Please, Ray. Let them do their job. You can't go in there."
He turned away reluctantly and Ben put his arm around him and led him to a bench. They waited. Ray watched the clock and paced restlessly.
"What's taking them so long, Benny? You got her breathing again. She's gonna be OK, right?"
He stood up and held his lover again. "They'll do whatever's necessary, Ray. She's in very good hands."
They were still standing there when an orderly came with the forms they'd need to fill out. At least it was a distraction. Ben got Ray settled on the bench again and gave him the pen. When the orderly returned Ray handed the clipboard over without looking.
"Ah... excuse me. You haven't filled in the name."
Ray just looked up at him blankly. The orderly shuffled uncomfortably and appealed silently to Ben.
"Ray?" And when Ray said nothing... "Her name is Caroline Cortez Vecchio."
The orderly scribbled the name on the form and left.
Ray was staring at him. "I'm sorry, Ray. Making all that fuss about it. I was wrong. It was kind of you to make the offer. You don't mind, do you?"
"No." It was a forlorn whisper, then Ray lapsed back into silence.
They'd been there nearly two hours before the doctor came out. One look at his face was all Ben needed.
"Which of you is the father?"
Ray stared at him speechlessly. Ben tightened his arm around him. "We both are. What happened?"
"We don't know yet. Your daughter is... she's still on life support, but I have to tell you that there's no brain activity.... I'm sorry."
He'd expected something like this, but it didn't make it any easier to hear. Beside him, Ray seemed not to react at all.
The doctor cleared his throat. "I'm afraid... we need your permission to turn off the life support. There's no hurry. When you feel ready..."
"Can we see her?" The cracked voice hardly seemed to belong to Ray.
"Of course. She's just through here."
They followed him through the hallway and into a small room. She was there, wearing nothing more than diapers, a tube taped in her mouth. The hum of the machinery sounded very loud. Ben reached over the side of the crib and stroked the back of one tiny hand, his other arm still around Ray.
Ben swallowed with an effort, trying to force some moisture into his parched throat. "What will happen? When it's turned off?"
"She'll continue to breathe for a while, perhaps fifteen to twenty minutes. That's all." The doctor hesitated. "We have a priest we could call, if you wish, Mr Vecchio."
Ray's behaviour was beginning to worry him. He watched as the words sank in and Ray tried to focus his thoughts. "Ma would like it, I guess."
"I'll arrange it." The doctor seemed relieved to get away.
It was more than a little bizarre to be holding a christening in these surroundings, though Ben supposed it must happen often enough. He tried not to think about Fraser's christening, after Ray had got out of the hospital and had been strong enough to stand for the time it would take. He held the card for Ray as they read out the responses. Then the priest started the Last Rites. He'd never heard them before, but Ray shuddered in his arms and then was still again.
Then they were alone with her again. She looked like she was sleeping, like she might wake at any moment. Ray was swaying against him, now. Ben guided him over to a chair and sat him down, pulling up another chair beside him.
A little while later a nurse came in. She went over to check on the crib, then turned to them.
Ben stood up. "Ray?"
Ray looked up at him for a long moment, then nodded.
It was an incredible effort to walk over to the crib, to look down on the baby who was never really his, but ought to have been. "Can we hold her?"
"Of course you can. I'll bring her to you."
The sympathy in her voice nearly broke his control, but he needed to be strong for Ray's sake. He went back to his chair and sat. The machine was suddenly silent, he watched as the nurse bent over the crib for a few moments then lifted a small blanket wrapped bundle and brought it to them.
There was almost no sign of what had happened, just a slight bruising on her cheek. There'd been bruises on her chest from the CPR, but they were covered now. He took her from the nurse when Ray made no move and waited until she'd left the room.
"Ray... look at her."
Ray stirred reluctantly and turned his head.
"Hold her, Ray." He held her out and finally Ray lifted his arms slightly to receive her. He slid his arm around Ray's shoulders and leaned against him looking over his shoulder at the small face.
It was almost six am when they came home, and everyone was up, most of them in the kitchen. Silence fell when he led Ray in. There was no need to tell them anything. Mrs Vecchio... Silvia... put her hand to her mouth as tears spilled down her cheeks and Frannie stared at them in shock, then tightened her arms around her own baby, only a month older than Caroline... They didn't even know her name yet.
Ray was still completely unresponsive. Ben took him upstairs, glad of an excuse to get away from the others, and settled him in the bed. When he'd finished he looked up to see Fraser standing in the doorway.
Fraser ran toward him and he caught his son up into his arms and carried him over to sit on his lap on the edge of the bed. Without realising it, his arms tightened until Fraser protested.
"I'm sorry, Fraser." He loosened his grip and brushed his son's hair back
Fraser stared up at him. "Is she dead, Dad?" His lips started to tremble.
"Yes, son, she is. Her name is Caroline." Somehow it seemed important to say that.
Fraser leaned his head against his father's chest in silence.
It seemed to Ben that the day was going to last forever. He was shocked, when he glanced at the clock, to see it was only just after nine thirty. He'd had to call the Consulate and the Precinct to let them know what had happened. And Anita. That had been the worst of all. He took another sip of coffee and looked across the top of the cup at Ray's mother.
Ray was upstairs in bed, sleeping now. He'd lain there for nearly two hours without moving or speaking, until Ben had called his doctor and he'd been given a sedative. Now there was nothing left to do. Most of the children had gone to school, except for Fraser, who was with Maria somewhere. He'd been frightened by Ray's behaviour and was far too upset to go to school.
He sighed. "There'll be an autopsy, to determine the cause of death. Hopefully we can have her back on Monday and then we can organise the funeral." He thought of something else. "We called a priest... he christened Caroline for us and gave her the Last Rites."
Silvia's filled up with tears again and she crossed herself, then reached over and patted his hand. "My Raimondo is very lucky to have you, caro."
Ben shrugged, there was nothing he could say in response to that.
"Why don't you rest for a while, Benton? You can't do anything more, and you look very tired."
"That's probably a good idea." He smiled at her wearily. Maybe it would help Ray if he was there, even though Ray was sleeping.
It was an effort just to stand, but he made himself walk around the table and kiss her on the cheek before he went upstairs. To his surprise, Dief was guarding the bedroom door. But then Dief had always had good instincts, and he liked Ray a lot.
Ray was lying exactly as he'd left him. He was too exhausted even to undress, he simply lay down on the bed beside him, wrapped his arms around him and slept.
A knock on the door woke him and Ben opened eyes gritty with not enough sleep. Silvia stood in the doorway looking worried. A glance at the clock told him it was barely a quarter after ten.
"There's some people downstairs. They want to see Raimondo. I told them he was sleeping, but they are insisting."
Ben sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. "I'll talk to them. Tell them I'll be down in a minute."
He pushed shaking fingers through his hair and went to the bathroom to splash cold water on his face and rinse the foul taste out of his mouth. Then he closed his eyes and leaned against the washbasin while he marshalled his scattered wits.
They were waiting for him in the kitchen, a woman and a man. They stood as he came in and held out their hands.
"Marsha Johnston, Child Protection Services. This is my colleague James O'Connor. May we extend our sympathies, Mr Vecchio."
He shook their hands in turn. "I'm Benton Fraser, Ray's partner. He's not able to see you now. What is this in connection with?"
Ms Johnston frowned. "We need to speak to Mr Raymond Vecchio."
"Ray's been sedated. He won't wake for hours, and in any case, I'm not sure if he'd be able to speak to you even then." He watched them exchange looks. "As I told you, I'm Ray's partner. Anything you want to know, I can tell you. I assume this is about Caroline's death."
"Yes, it is. I understand Mr Vecchio has another child. A boy?"
Ben hesitated. "Fraser. My son. Ray adopted him."
O'Connor took over. "Mr Fraser, I'm sure you can understand that the death of a child, in unusual circumstances always raises questions about the safety of other children in the family."
"Of course I do, but there are no unusual circumstances involved here. Caroline stopped breathing during the night." He watched the two of them exchange glances again.
"There was severe bruising on the baby's chest. Enough to require further investigation." It was the woman this time. A questioning technique he was all too familiar with.
"I administered CPR, that's why she was bruised. When Ray found her she wasn't breathing and there was no pulse. Surely you..." He stopped. Of course they suspected him. Or Ray. Protestations of innocence would get him nowhere.
"Yet she was breathing when the paramedics arrived." O'Connor didn't try to hide the scepticism in his voice.
He was exhausted. He raised his thumb to rub along his eyebrow, trying to think. "She began breathing on her own just before they arrived. What are you going to do?"
"We need to speak to Mr Vecchio."
"No!" The thought of what this would do to Ray terrified him. He realised that he'd made a misstep-step as the look of suspicion on their faces deepened. "Ray's in shock. He's in no state to face this sort of accusation."
Ms Johnston's voice hardened. "Nobody's accusing Mr Vecchio, or you, of anything. We are investigating the sudden death of an infant."
"I understand that. But you have to understand that I will not allow you to speak to Ray until his doctor feels he's ready to face your... investigation. Now unless you have any more questions for me, I suggest you leave."
Ben spent an anxious half hour on the phone to Lt Welsh, telling him about the visit, and requesting his help in speeding up the autopsy process. Through his friendship with Esther Pearson, as well as his police work, Welsh had some valuable contacts with the Coroner's office. He promised to pull every string he could to get the results through as quickly as possible.
Then he phoned Meg, back in Ottawa now, but still a more effective help than Wilson would ever be. As the son of a Canadian citizen, Fraser would be able to get protection from the Consulate. His next call was to the lawyer who'd helped them with Fraser's adoption and their wills. The lawyer promised to start work immediately on the case, ready to counter any move by Child Protection Services to take custody of his son.
At last, exhausted, he went back upstairs and tried to sleep. Ray would need him when he woke.
Ray finally woke mid evening and Ben was waiting there for him. Their eyes met for a moment before Ray looked away. He closed his eyes and swallowed but didn't speak.
"Ray... oh, love, I'm so sorry." Ben leaned down and put his arms around his lover and Ray accepted the embrace passively.
Ben lay down beside him and held him for a long time, but Ray didn't speak.
In the morning he wasn't much better. He got out of bed and showered and dressed, but didn't shave. Ben went downstairs with him to the kitchen for breakfast where his mother was cooking furiously. She laid a heaping plate in front of each of them, but Ray's usually large appetite was practically non-existent today. He picked at the food and ate almost nothing, but drank cup after cup of coffee. Ben stayed close and laid an arm around Ray's shoulders as he drank his tea.
"What are you cooking Silvia?" Ben wasn't particularly interested, but he needed to break the silence.
She smiled at him, sadly. "We will need lots of food for the visitors, caro. Maria will help too."
It took a moment for him to realise what she was referring to. It sank in when Ray stood up and walked out of the room. With an inarticulate apology, Ben plunged after him. He found Ray at the foot of the stairs.
"Please Ray, come and talk to me."
Ray stared at him blankly and Ben walked over to him, put his arms around him. "Don't shut me out, Ray, please."
With a faint shudder, Ray relaxed a little in his embrace, his arm sliding around Ben's waist. Ben stroked the soft peach fuzz hair and managed to press a gentle kiss against Ray's cheek. After a moment Ray moved away and started up the stairs. Wordlessly, Ben followed him.
Back in the bedroom, Ray went over to the armchair and sat. The crib still stood beside the chair, seeming suddenly to dominate the room. Although he hated the thought of it, Ben wondered if he should dismantle it and put it away. It was a painful reminder of what they'd lost, surely it would be better for Ray if it was removed.
"Ray?" Ben knelt in front of the chair. "Would you like me to put the crib away?"
There was no response from Ray and after a moment he sighed and got to his feet. But when he began to shift the crib Ray turned his head to watch.
"No! Benny, no... don't" The pain in Ray's voice almost broke his heart. In an instant he was back beside his lover, holding him.
"It's all right, Ray... it's all right. I won't do anything until you're ready."
Ray was shaking, his eyes tightly shut and his hands clenched into fists. Gradually he relaxed again and opened his eyes. Then he got up and went over to lie on the bed, curled on his side.
He stayed there for most of the day. Ben kept watch over him, feeling more helpless than he ever had in his life.
The visitors started arriving late that afternoon, by the next day there was a constant stream, many of them people Ben had never seen before. Ray simply stayed in their room, and Ben didn't even try to make him go downstairs. He doubted it would help Ray to be in the middle of all that noise and activity. Fraser came up after a while and took refuge with them too.
For most of the afternoon he played board and card games with his son, and read him stories, while Ray sat in the armchair. Whether Ray was even aware of them, Ben wasn't entirely sure. Fraser kept glancing over at his father uncertainly and finally got up and went over to him.
"Daddy, are you all right?" Fraser's voice was apprehensive.
It took a moment for Ray to respond, while Ben watched them both anxiously. Then Ray raised his eyes from his lap to look at his son and lifted his arms slightly. In a flash, Fraser was on his lap, being held tightly.
Caroline's body was returned to them on Tuesday morning, for one last night before the funeral the following day. Ray went downstairs to receive the tiny coffin, looking haggard and old. He'd hardly eaten and though he seemed to sleep a lot, it didn't appear to refresh him at all. Ben was becoming increasingly worried, even though Ray wasn't quite so withdrawn as he'd been at first.
Ben himself was almost sick with worry, not only about Ray, but about Fraser too. The people from Child Protection Services had returned the day before, demanding to speak with Ray. Since he'd been expecting this, he'd called in Ray's doctor, who was already well aware of the situation, to prevent them getting access to Ray and to tell them that Fraser had never had any suspicious injuries. Even then, Ben had thought they were going to try to take Fraser. But one look at the hostile crowd of visitors had made them change their minds. He'd called the lawyer immediately and stepped up the preparations to counter any further moves on their part.
The music was beautiful. It tore at Ben's heart, making his eyes fill with tears. He risked a glance at Ray, but he was standing silent and withdrawn, in a world of his own. He'd hoped the funeral service might somehow get through to him and release all the grief he was holding inside him, but it looked like that wasn't going to happen. The funeral service was nearly over. On his other side Fraser was pressed close against him, and he stroked the soft hair gently. Fraser looked up at him, his face pale, lips trembling.
The last hymn drew to an end and the undertaker's assistant lifted the tiny white coffin and carried it down the aisle of the church.
"Ray." Ben took Ray's arm and guided him out of the pew, and along the aisle behind the black frockcoated assistant. Fraser walked quietly beside him, clutching his hand tightly.
Outside they stood to one side while everyone else came out and stood around chatting. Very few of them came over, but that was just as well. There was something quite frightening about Ray's stillness. When the hearse left, Ben took Fraser and Ray over to the Riv and followed it to the cemetery.
Through the last ceremonies at the graveside Ben stood with his arm around Ray on one side, and Fraser on the other. The rest of the family was grouped closely around them, a kind of protective shield. All of them had expected that Ray would break down here, if not before. It didn't happen. He guided Ray forward and bent to lift a handful of soil to let it fall into the grave. Ray copied his actions mechanically. A little to Ben's surprise, so did Fraser.
As everyone started to leave, Ben remained with Ray, while Fraser went with his grandmother. It broke his heart to see Ray like this, but he searched in vain for any sign of emotion in his lover's face. In the end he simply held him close for a long time, then led him away from his daughter's grave.
They returned to a house filled with flowers and guests, all eating and drinking wine and talking loudly. Almost before they were in the door, the noise from the lounge hit them. Ray flinched and turned away towards the stairs. Ben had absorbed enough of the family's culture to know that Ray would be expected to at least make an appearance, but he said nothing. Instead, he braced himself and walked toward the lounge.
Silvia was there, enthroned in her armchair, being waited on by her daughters. She'd spent most of the last five days in the kitchen, working out her grief in cooking. Ben suddenly wished there'd been something for Ray to do, or even himself, but they'd been banned from the kitchen except for the occasional meal.
The wake lasted for several hours, though Ben slipped away upstairs long before that. Even up there, they could still hear the muffled sounds. Ray was in the armchair again, next to the crib, Dief lying at his feet. It was almost as if he was waiting for something. He still wouldn't allow Ben to put away the crib, or touch any of Caroline's toys, though he hadn't minded when Ben had packed up the toiletries and diapers and put them away. He still wasn't saying much, and he hadn't cried at all. Ben was beginning to be afraid of what would happen when he did finally break down.
It was difficult to sleep, when he was so worried about Ray, especially when Ray had got into the habit of getting out of bed in the night and standing by the crib. He woke alone in the bed and looked across to see his lover silhouetted against the street lights showing through the windows. It was getting cold at night now, and Ray was wearing only his thin pyjamas. He went over and put his arms around Ray and managed to bring him back to the bed.
Ray couldn't have been standing there very long, he was only slightly chilled, to Ben's relief. He put his hand to Ray's cheek and turned his head.
"Ray, don't shut me out... please. I need you. Fraser needs you."
He thought he saw some kind of response in Ray's face, though it was hard to tell in the dark. He moved closer and brushed his lips lightly against Ray's. There was the slightest flicker of response and he deepened the kiss. After a moment Ray's lips parted slightly and Ben carefully slid his tongue into the warmth of his lover's mouth. He wanted to press further, but caution prevailed, and a moment later he was glad of it when Ray pulled back.
Ray rolled away onto his side and wrapped his arms around himself, shivering. Ben stared at the back of his head in despair. He'd hoped the funeral would bring some kind of resolution to Ray's self imposed isolation, now he had no idea how long this was likely to go on for. He thought about letting Ray sleep there, on the edge of the bed, virtually alone, and then he moved, pulling Ray around into his arms and holding him there.
His body was far too thin, and his arms, still clutching himself tightly, seemed all angles. He'd lost a lot of weight in the last week, weight he couldn't afford to lose. It was like holding a bundle of sharp sticks. Slowly, Ben rubbed his back, feeling every vertebra clearly defined through cloth and skin. Ray's shivering increased until he was shaking uncontrollably and he moved his head until he could bury his face against Ben's neck. Even now, he made no sound at all, and eventually the shaking stopped and he relaxed into sleep.
Now that the house was free of visitors, Ben decided to encourage Ray to join his family again. As a first step, he took Ray downstairs to the kitchen for breakfast after the children had left for school. His mother was there, and Maria, and they greeted him without fuss and left him to Ben's care. It was a mixed success. Ray didn't eat much, but he responded when his mother asked if he wanted coffee and at least seemed aware of his surroundings.
Breakfast was nearly over when Frannie came in with Siobhan in her arms. At the sight of Ray she stopped in the middle of the doorway and threw a helpless glance in Ben's direction. He decided to play it cool.
"Good morning Francesca."
She smiled exaggeratedly. "Oh. Hello Benton. How are you this morning?"
Both of them avoided looking at Ray, who was staring down at the table, though Ben put his hand lightly over Ray's. It might have worked, but suddenly Siobhan, picking up the sudden tension in her mother, let out a plaintive wail. Ray shot to his feet and was out the door before Ben, or anyone else, had a chance to react. Abandoning his own half-eaten breakfast, Ben ran after him.
Friday morning... a week since Caroline had died, and finally Ben got the call from Lt Welsh he'd been both hoping for and dreading. The lieutenant had managed to get hold of a copy of the autopsy report. It wasn't something he wanted to hear about over the phone. He left Ray in bed, told Silvia where he was going, just in case, and took the Riv to the Precinct.
Walking through the Bullpen, Ben was greeted with unusual sobriety, and sympathetic looks. Huey came over and they spoke for a few minutes, but by the time he reached Lt Welsh's office, Ben had no idea what had been said. He took a deep breath and stuck his head round the open door.
"Ah. Come in Constable." Welsh looked up from his paperwork and regarded him solemnly over the top of his glasses. "And shut the door, will you?"
Ben complied, wondering why he was being so formal. He went over to stand in front of the desk.
Welsh cleared his throat. "I understand the Consulate has an interest in a certain autopsy report. Seems it may affect the well-being of the child of a Canadian citizen."
Enlightenment dawned. "Indeed, sir. So I believe."
"Yes, well. We've had a request from Ottawa that full co-operation be given in this matter."
"That's most kind, sir." Instinctively, Ben fell into a parade rest stance, even though he was only wearing jeans and a shirt.
Welsh held out the thin folder. "I hope it helps. How's Ray?"
"Not very well, I'm afraid." Ben couldn't bring himself to say more than that, but Welsh seemed to understand.
"Well, I have some business to attend to. I'll leave the report with you. I have been instructed that it's not to leave this office. So I'll expect to find it here when I get back. I'll probably be half an hour."
It wasn't until after the lieutenant had left that Ben realised what he'd meant. He had half an hour to photocopy the report if he wanted to. The photocopy room was just down the hall. Trying to still the shaking in his hands, he opened the folder and began to read.
It was mid afternoon before Ben arrived back home. He'd stopped at the library and done some research, then visited his doctor and asked a few questions. He only hoped that what he'd learned would help when he passed it on to Ray.
As he'd come to expect, Ray was lying on the bed. Not sleeping, just lying curled up on his side staring blankly at the window. Ben sat on the edge of the bed and watched his face for a while. Ray seemed not to notice him.
"Ray, I need to talk with you."
There was no response. He sighed and reached down to touch the still face and run his fingers over the soft bristly hair. He had no option but to talk and hope that Ray could hear him.
"Ray, Lt Welsh called this morning... he had a copy of the autopsy report." He paused, waiting for any kind of response. Still nothing. "Caroline had a heart defect, Ray. It would have been detected if she'd..." He decided not to pursue that thought. "That was a contributing factor, but the main cause of death was a blood clot. It cut off the oxygen supply to her brain. There wasn't anything anyone could have done... the doctors didn't even know about it until the autopsy was done. By the time you found her, it was already too late."
Under his hand there was not the slightest movement. He stayed where he was, stroking Ray's hair slowly. After a while, he stopped and simply held Ray's long fingers in his own.
It was late, and he was alone in the bed again. By the window, Ray was standing motionless, his hand resting on the edge of the crib. But when he tried to bring Ray back to the bed, he wouldn't budge. Ben could feel him shivering and his fingers were icy. He went back to the bed and pulled the blanket off, shrugging it around his shoulders. He put his arms around his lover, enveloping them both in the warmth of the blanket.
Ray stood unresisting in his arms for what seemed like hours. Then without any warning, he swayed and his knees buckled. Ben tightened his grip, pulling him closer for support as Ray began to shake again. Not with cold this time. Ben stumbled backwards, drawing Ray with him until he could drop into the armchair and pull Ray down onto his lap.
Ben readjusted the blanket around them and held Ray's head against his shoulder as the tremors intensified and Ray finally began to cry. At first it seemed like the sobs were being torn from his fragile body, but eventually they eased and then died away as Ray's exhaustion overcame him. When he thought Ray was sleeping, Ben simply lifted him in his arms and carried him back to the bed.
It was far too easy, it felt like Ray weighed nothing at all. Ben tucked the covers around his lover and sat on the edge of the bed. His pyjama top was clinging wetly to his chest and he quickly unbuttoned it and threw it in the laundry hamper. He was content simply to watch his lover sleep, but after a short while Ray eyes slowly opened. Ben leaned over and kissed him on the lips. When he drew back Ray's eyes followed him.
"Ray?" Hope flared and he tried to suppress it.
Ray managed a weak smile. The first since Caroline had died. Ben's eyes filled with tears and he had to wipe them away.
"Oh, Ray..." Ben dropped down beside him and wrapped his arms around him tightly. Ray shuffled over to make room and Ben slid into the bed beside him. For once he was completely at a loss for words, but Ray didn't seem to want to talk, so he held Ray close against him and listened to his breathing as it slowed into sleep again.
Ben slept very lightly, aware of every slight move that Ray made. So when Ray stirred in his arms, he woke immediately. It was not quite dawn, the sky outside their windows was just starting to lighten, and the birds were making their usual racket. He turned his head to check on Ray as Ray moved out of his embrace. They stared at each other in the half light.
Ray looked awful, his eyes swollen, with dark shadows under them, his face drawn and unshaven. Ben brushed a fingertip across his lips, generating a tiny, tired smile.
"I'm so glad to have you back, Ray... I need you so much." He whispered the words past a lump in his throat.
Ray leaned forward and kissed him briefly. "Benny, I'm sorry... I just couldn't... It was like... like, if I could hide long enough, it would all go away. Like a nightmare."
"Ray don't... you don't have anything to be sorry about. I was just so afraid that I'd lose you too."
"No. Benny, that'll never happen... I promise, it'll never happen." Ray smiled at him, but it was a heartbreaking effort, and Ben pulled him back into his arms.
When Ray's face turned up to his, Ben kissed him gently. It was probably inevitable, though, that what started as a gentle, comforting kiss should develop into something else. They'd both been hurt badly, both been afraid and in need of reassurance. But the hunger that raged through Ben shocked him in its intensity. He drew back, his heart pounding furiously, only to see the same desire and urgency on Ray's face.
He gave a little moan and closed his mouth over Ray's again. It was even more intense this time. All thought of caution fled as Ray leaned into him, erection pressing insistently against his belly. Ben shuddered and slid his hands over Ray's thin buttocks pulling him even closer.
For a while Ben was so overwhelmed by sensation, he simply acted instinctively. Both of them were fumbling with each other's bodies as clumsily as if they'd never done this before. Finally Ben drew back a little and tried to focus his dazed mind. He began to unbutton Ray's pyjama top, kissing the warm skin as his fingers uncovered it.
Ray moaned suddenly, his body arching off the bed. Instinctively Ben responded to his urgency, almost tearing off his lover's pyjamas and his own, and dragged Ray into his arms, grinding his erection into Ray's groin. They both cried out at the feel of it and Ben dropped his head on to Ray's chest and again struggled for control.
But it appeared as though control wasn't what Ray wanted. He began to thrust too, pushing up against Ben fiercely. His breathing was harsh and ragged, his eyes desperate. He tried to speak, failed, and took a deep gasping breath.
"Oh God, Benny... fuck me..." He choked the words out and fell silent again, his chest heaving with the effort of breathing.
Ray's words sent fire searing through him. He couldn't deny Ray what he so desperately needed, even though he was terribly afraid of hurting him. There was no time to think, no time even to reach for the lube in the beside drawer. Ray was already parting his legs, waiting for him. With as much care as he was capable of mustering, he pressed into his lover's body.
A long shuddering groan tore from his throat and he began to thrust urgently into Ray. He could feel the burning heat of Ray's erection thrusting against his belly. Then Ray's long fingers clutched him, demanding and painful. His body responded instinctively, plunging into the body below him with no thought for any damage he might do, driven only by the need to climax.
Almost immediately, Ray cried out, his body arching against Ben's, tense as a springboard. His cock spurted scalding liquid between their bodies and his muscles clenched tightly around Ben's cock. A moment later Ben heard himself echo the cry as he was gripped by a seemingly endless orgasm.
He could hear Ray sobbing. He wasn't sure if it was from emotion or exhaustion, but the sound was enough to bring him out of the stupor he'd fallen into. God, what if he'd hurt Ray? He'd never forgive himself if he had. But it looked like Ray wasn't hurt, just out of breath, and no wonder. His own heart was still racing and he was drenched with sweat.
What had just happened between them shocked him, now that he had a chance to think. They'd used each other's bodies with no thought or emotion. He badly needed to overlay that memory with tenderness. He carefully withdrew from Ray's body, sending a shiver through his lover, and rolled them both onto their sides. They were both still quite hard and he began to move slowly, caressing Ray's cock with his own. His hands moved gently over Ray's body.
Gradually the shaking eased and Ray lifted his head and sought a kiss from him. Then they lay, slowly recovering. When he thought Ray could speak again, Ben asked if he'd hurt him, and received a brief shake of the head in reply. He waited until he thought Ray was asleep and then slipped free of his arms and went to the bathroom.
He would have been quite happy, for once, to lie in that gloriously sticky, sweaty mess, his skin against Ray's, for what little remained of the night. But Fraser was certain to come in, as he had every morning, to check on Ray. He couldn't be allowed to find them like this. He cleaned himself up and then took the damp cloth back to Ray.
He was as careful as he could be, but when he glanced up at Ray's face, Ben saw that his lover was awake and watching him. He finished up, a little smile on his face, and then dropped a light kiss on the now flaccid cock.
"Do you want help with your pyjamas, Ray?"
Ray's smile warmed him. "I can manage. You want me to help you?"
He'd already replaced his own pyjamas with a fresh pair. He grinned foolishly. "The idea is to put them on, Ray."
"Oh. Well, maybe you'd better help then."
They were both a little breathless by the time they'd finished, but at least Ray was presentable again. Ben lay with Ray's head on his shoulder, and his long, clever fingers gently stroking his chest under the pyjama top. Soon the fingers stilled, but Ben had no desire to sleep now. He settled himself to watch over his lover.
Sure enough, an hour or so later, the bedroom door opened a fraction and a single blue eye appeared in the crack. Ben beckoned him in, and Fraser came over to the bed and climbed on to lie down beside him. He looked at Ray, still fast asleep, and then at his father. Ben put his free arm around his son and cuddled him close.
"Ray's feeling a lot better this morning, Fraser. I think he's going to be all right, now." He kept his voice low, but still felt Ray stirring against him.
Fraser's face broke into a huge smile. "Is he really, Dad? I don't like it when Daddy's sick."
"Yeah, he's really better." Ray's voice startled them both. He smiled at Fraser and reached for him.
Fraser flung himself across Ben's body and into Ray's embrace with a muffled shriek and Ben simply tightened his arms around both of them. Ray's voice drifted plaintively from the midst of the tangle.
"Hey, you don't have to strangle me..."
Fraser sat up, his hair wildly dishevelled. "Sorry, Daddy."
"That's OK, bambino. Just don't do it again, huh?" Ray stroked the boy's face and smoothed his hair. "I'm gonna be just fine now. You don't need to worry about me."
Fraser stared at him solemnly and suddenly a tear trickled down his cheek. "I'm sorry about Caroline, Daddy. I was mean to her, but I didn't want her to die."
Ben bit his lip to keep himself silent. He badly wanted to reassure his son, but Fraser obviously needed to hear this from Ray. Ray was very still beside him. Then he felt him sigh.
"I know you didn't honey. I was spending a lot of time with her, and you felt left out. I know you didn't want anything bad to happen to her."
"Granma says she's in heaven now and she can see us. Do you think she knows I didn't really mean it?"
"Sure she does."
Fraser looked at them both a little doubtfully. "Do you think if I gave her Bunny, she'd feel better?"
Ben caught Ray's bewildered look. "Some of the children's' graves had toys on them, Ray... Is that what you mean, Fraser? Do you want to leave Bunny on her grave?"
Ben was doubtful. Bunny had been Fraser's first toy, and even though it was threadbare now, he'd only recently stopped taking it to bed with him. "Are you sure Fraser? I know how much you love him."
Fraser's bottom lip trembled, but he nodded.
Ray reached out to touch his son's shoulder. "Well, you think about it. Maybe we can go visit Caroline tomorrow and if you still want to do it then, you can. But it's OK if you change your mind. You could give her another toy."
Fraser shrugged bravely. "He's a baby toy. I'm not a baby any more."
Ray grinned. "Does that mean you're too old to give your father a kiss?"
Fraser flung himself on Ray again and received a huge smacking kiss on his cheek. He returned it with gusto.
"Euwww a big wet one! Get him, Benny."
Fraser streaked for the bedroom door and ducked into the hall, then warily poked his head around the door frame. Ben felt Ray's fingers sneak under his pyjama top again.
"Why don't you go downstairs and have your breakfast Fraser? Tell Granma that Ray's feeling better and we'll come down later."
"Yeah, and Fraser? Close the door for us willya?"
The bedroom door clicked firmly into place and Ray turned his head to look at Ben.
"You wanna latch the door, Benny?"
Ben looked at him doubtfully. "I don't know, Ray. It's been a difficult week..."
"Ya mean ya don't think you're up to it?" Ray grinned teasingly.
"Now, Ray..." He stopped as a hand slipped inside his pyjama bottoms.
"Of course, if you're not interested..."
He slid hurriedly out of the bed and went to latch the door. When he turned back Ray was watching him speculatively. He dived into the bed and Ray caught him in a firm embrace, pulling the covers up over their heads.
It felt like they were completely cut off from the world. They were enclosed by the covers and Ray had put a hand over his mouth to silence his moans of pleasure. But there was definitely a better way to do that. Ben pulled Ray's hand away and kissed him deeply. That left both Ray's hands, and both of his too, free for other things.
Ray's hands snuck inside his pyjamas again, sliding over his chest, teasing his nipples, while his tongue probed the depths of Ray's mouth. He followed Ray's lead, trying to touch every last centimetre of Ray's silky skin. After a while he withdrew his hands and tried to unbutton the pyjama top.
Ray freed his mouth suddenly. "Uh uhn, Benny. Don't touch."
Ray just grinned at him and applied his mouth again. He freed one hand and slid it into Ben's pyjama bottom. Ohhh... yes... Ben decided to co-operate. Those long, clever fingers stroked him, teased him until he was almost senseless with pleasure. He was hardly aware when Ray unfastened the waistband and pushed the cloth aside just enough to expose his groin. Then Ray moved against him and he discovered that Ray, too, was in the same state.
It was really quite delightfully... furtive... to make love like this, their pyjamas just loosened enough so that their cocks could touch. For the rest, they moved their hands inside each other's clothing. It was quite incredibly arousing. Ray obviously felt so too. His body jerked suddenly and a hot spurt of semen splashed Ben's belly.
"Damn! I'm sorry Benny." Ray was panting slightly.
Ben took Ray's hands in his own and closed them tightly around his aching cock. He thrust rhythmically into them. "Don't be... this is... oh God... it's fantastic..."
In the dim light under the covers, Ben could see Ray's face, staring down between their bodies. He followed Ray's gaze, to where Ray's hands were holding him, and his own pale skin showed, undulating with the movement of his hips. At the peak of each thrust, his cockhead appeared from between Ray's hands, flushed and wet. Ray shifted his grip and began to carefully massage the swollen tip with his thumb, sending shudders through him.
"Ray!" It was a strangled whisper. His cock throbbed and then gushed fiercely.
It was late when they went downstairs for their first meal of the day. So late they could hardly call it breakfast. Ray insisted they wear their pyjamas, since he had every intention of going back to bed afterwards. They'd put on their robes, of course, but even so, he saw, with some delight, that Ben was blushing furiously when they went into the kitchen.
Benny needn't have worried, they could have walked in naked and still been welcomed with open arms. His mother bustled about and quickly provided them with heaping plates of food. They ploughed through the food with enthusiasm, though Ray felt just a bit uncomfortable, even with his mother. He guessed he just wasn't ready to talk much. As soon as they'd finished, Benny whisked him back upstairs, looking worried.
It was a wonderful feeling to lie in bed with Benny, holding him, and just talk quietly. To put aside all the pain and anger of the past few weeks and be the way they'd been before all this had started. And when words weren't enough, to lie wrapped in his lover's warmth.
Sunday had turned out to be fine, and there was no excuse he could think of to put this off. Ben wished he was sure Ray was ready for this. Ray parked the Riv in the cemetery car park and they all got out. Dief was with them this time, and Fraser, clutching his toy to his chest. Ben wondered whether he'd really be able to leave it behind when the time came.
They walked in silence to the grave site. It was still covered in flowers from the funeral, though most of them were badly wilted now. Ray simply stood, holding the flowers he'd brought, so Ben tidied away the worst of them and took them to a nearby bin. When he came back, Ray was still standing with his eyes closed, his face drawn. Fraser was beside him, holding his hand. Even Dief was looking anxious.
Ben put his arm around his lover's waist and waited. It seemed a long time before Ray moved. Then he bent down to lay the flowers on the small mound of earth. Fraser hesitated, then stepped forward and laid his toy next to them. He could see that Fraser was crying, so he crouched to bring himself down to his son's eye level.
"Are you sure, Fraser? You know you don't have to leave him."
Fraser nodded silently and Ben gathered him into his arms and lifted him up as he stood again. He saw that Ray was crying too. He wrapped his free arm around his lover so that Fraser was sandwiched between them and stroked the back of his neck lovingly.
When Fraser began to wriggle uncomfortably, they moved apart long enough to let him down. He went off with Dief, though not without a backward glance at the toy he'd brought for his sister. Ben hugged his lover again and kissed him and they stood for a while longer, until Ray moved away slightly.
Ray sighed. "Let's go, Benny."
"Are you sure?" Ben looked at him searchingly.
"Yeah... it's time to go."
Ben put his arm around Ray's waist again as they walked to the car. Ray looked sideways at him, smiling a little.
"I'm OK, Benny. Don't worry so much."
Ben smiled back at him. "I can't help it, Ray. You'll just have to bear with me..."
Ray stopped and kissed him again. "You know, Benny, I've been thinking about Ottawa..."
"Don't worry about that, love. I'll call Meg and tell her I can't take the job, she won't be surprised, after what's happened."
"No. Benny, I want you to take it." Ray grabbed him and kissed him again when he opened his mouth to object. "Listen, Benny. I've been thinking maybe it's a good idea... We've got some money saved, I could take some leave... come with you. I could spend more time with Fraser and we wouldn't have to worry about who'd look after him after school."
"Are you sure, Ray? I know you don't like Canada."
Ray gave him a long-suffering look. "No, Benny. What I don't like, is being in the middle of a big forest in Canada, with no food and some guy trying to kill us. Ottawa's a city. Even if it's full of Canadians, it can't be that bad..."
"If you're sure really want to..."
"I think it'll be good, Benny. It's kinda hard to watch Frannie and Siobhan, and I think it's hard for her too. You know, having me around. It'll be good to get away for a while."
Ben hesitated. "All right... as long as you tell Silvia."
Ray laughed and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him towards the Riv. "Benny, you are such a coward."
"Well, only where your mother's concerned, Ray." He thought that was entirely reasonable.
Ray looked sceptical. "Yeah, yeah... sure you are... OK, I'll tell her."
They were almost at the car now. Over by a stand of trees he could see Fraser and Dief, playing. Just as he was about to call out, the pair turned and came running towards them.