Ray tucked the tiny hand under the fold in the pale yellow blanket dotted with baby giraffes and waddling ducklings. The baby opened her mouth in a quiet yawn and Ray brushed a thumb pad tenderly down her small face. He had the most precious thing in the world cuddled securely in a warm embrace. She was so small, having arrived eight weeks early, and came into the world weighing just over four pounds. A tiny tube ran into the petite infant’s nose, providing necessary nutrients enabling her survival. Her small head was covered with a creamy yellow and pastel pink hand... knitted stocking cap, hiding the few wisps of sandy colored hair covering her head. Ray’s conflicting emotions played on his face as his smile was replaced with a frown only to be tugged into a smile again as the baby yawned and squirmed.
Ray tried not to look at the other occupant of the room. He wanted to, but the terrible stillness, the corpse... like pallor… Ray blinked, and focused on the child.
“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he whispered and tucked her hand back under the blanket. A tear slipped down his cheek as the baby wrapped her tiny fingers around his pinky. She held on tight, so tight…God, she was fierce. ‘A daughter. My daughter. Jesus.’ Ray shifted in the wooden rocking chair, careful of the many tubes and monitors connected to the infant he held so carefully in his arms. He settled back in the chair and began rocking back and forth, soothing not only the baby, but trying to settle his own frazzled nerves. A tiny squeak interrupted his thoughts before they could linger too far. He soothed the baby, running a fingertip gently over her brow.
There was a soft rap on the hospital door. Ray glared across the room, furious. He had asked the nurses… no, pleaded… for no visitors till he was ready. What were they doing here already? Yeah, he knew it was almost time for the nurses to take the baby back to the NICU but he wasn’t ready to let her go, even knowing it’s what she needed in order to survive.
When he saw the ghost standing in the doorway, he went cold with fear.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he hissed.
Bob smiled, wanly, and tapped the door with a look of concentration. “See? I’ve been practicing.”
“Practicing what?” Ray ground out.
“Knocking. I came to see my family.”
“You’re not getting them.” Ray swallowed, his mouth dry with fright, and glanced at the occupant of the bed, then back to his daughter. “I know you don’t mean any harm,” he said, his voice tight, almost pleading, “but go away.”
The old man remained in the doorway, fiddling with his Stetson and looking dejected. Ray bit his lower lip. Despite his anger, despite his fear, his heart ached for the man who would never get to hold his granddaughter.
“May I see her?” Bob’s request was so quiet that Ray had to strain to make out the words. The ghost edged into the room, as if unsure what to expect from the blond rocking slowly in the chair.
“You can’t take her.”
“I just want to see her.”
Ray shuddered, it’s not like he could stop him if he wanted to. “Alright.” It wasn’t Bob’s fault he was dead, after all. And it wasn’t Bob’s fault that Ray was scared of ghosts. ‘He’s her Grandfather. Of course he can see her.’ Ray tried to give him a warm smile, but it froze on his face. He peeled back the yellow flannel blanket with the giraffes and ducklings to reveal his daughter’s tiny face. Her forehead was wrinkled, eyes closed tightly against the intruding light. She let out a small squeak in protest. Both Ray and Bob smiled.
Bob knelt down beside the wooden rocker to get a closer view of the baby in Ray’s arms. “Is she…” Bob seemed afraid to finish his sentence. He hesitated and continued, “Will she be okay?” His voice was full of emotion as he choked on the escaping words.
Ray tucked the blanket back under his daughter’s chin and rubbed her cheek with his thumb. “She’s perfect. Absolutely perfect. Just needs a little extra help right now because she’s so tiny.”
Bob nodded wordlessly, relief momentarily washing over his features. He inhaled sharply and glanced at the occupied bed in the room. “And Benton?”
Benton. ‘God. Ben.’ Ray looked at him, and felt a surge of fear well up in him again. Despite the regularity of the machineries’ noises, the hiss and blip and drip, Ben seemed… well… dead. Even deader than the ghost in the room, if he told the truth.
Jesus. If he’d only move, Ray wouldn’t feel so sick with fear. He felt like he was sitting in the morgue.
“He’s struggling,” Ray forced the words past the lump in his throat. “The doctors can’t…” He stumbled over his words, and scrubbed a hand down his tired face. His voice cracked as he continued. “They can’t get his pain under control.” Or his blood pressure. Or his breathing. He glanced at his daughter cradled securely in his arms. “The uh… the surgery was hard on him. They thought they were going to lose him." He blinked hard and whispered, "they still might." Ray scratched his stubbled jaw and sobbed out a small laugh. “But you know Ben… so stubborn.”
“Benton’s strong. And yes, quite stubborn.” Bob ghosted a finger down the baby’s tiny cheek. “Has he held her yet?”
Had he held her? God, Ben hadn't even seen her yet. Ray closed his eyes tightly against the memories of the last thirty hours. “He uh…” Ray stopped to compose himself. “No,” was his quiet reply. “It’s really selfish of me, but I don’t want anyone else to hold her before Ben can.” Ray shrugged and pulled the baby closer to his chest. “Sure the nurses have all held her, but I won’t let anyone else. My mom’s gonna be flying in from Arizona and she keeps telling me, ‘I can’t wait to scoop up that bundle of joy’ and I know it’s going to break her heart but… I.” Ray fought back the emotions. “Not until Ben holds her, and I…I don’t know when that’s going to be.”
“She’s a mother, she will understand.” Bob stood up and gave Ray a warm smile. “I need to go let Caroline know about our granddaughter. Look after them both for me, won’t you? I just needed to make sure they both made it back.”
“I’m sorry I… you know… reacted like I did when you got here.” He looked down, abashed. “I thought you had come to, you know… help them… uh… ” Ray didn’t want to say it. “Pass on to the other side.
“No. Quite the contrary.”
Ray nodded, slightly confused. “You’ll be back, right? She’s gonna want to get to know her grandpa.”
Bob smiled proudly. “You can count on it.”
Ray leaned his head against the cushioned back of the rocking chair and closed his eyes wearily. The baby squirmed in his arms and he pulled her closer to his chest.
“Mister Kowalski,” the young night nurse touched his shoulder lightly, so not to startle the new father. “I need take your baby girl back to the NICU nursery for a short time. You are welcome to sit with her if you like.”
“It’s okay. I think I will stay here with Ben, just in case he wakes up. I don’t want him to be alone. But, you will get me right away if she needs me?”
“Absolutely, in a heartbeat,” she assured him before she held her hands out for the baby. “Do we have a name yet?”
Ray carefully handed his daughter over to the young nurse and helped arrange the monitors for transporting before answering. “Chloe. Ben wanted to name her Chloe.”
“Well, I will bring Miss Chloe back to you in about an hour.” She gave Ray’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “I’m sure it will be no time at all before we can move her in here with the two of you. But until we get Mister Fraser out of the woods and more stable, we need to keep his room open and clear in case of an emergency.” Ray nodded in understanding. “Ben’s nurse will be stopping by in a few minutes to check him over.” She looked Ray over quickly. “Can I get you anything? Some food, coffee?”
“No. I’m okay, but thank you.” Ray moved to the side of Ben’s bed and turned quickly towards the nurse. “Actually, I would like some coffee. And is there a vending machine where I can get some M&M’s?”
“How about I get little Chloe here settled and I will bring you both myself.”
Relieved he didn’t have to leave Ben’s side, Ray thanked the young nurse.
True to her word, the nurse returned shortly with a large steaming cup of the best coffee Ray had smelled in a long time and he was eternally grateful for her kindness. He pulled the rocking chair close to Ben’s bed and sank into its soft cushions. The constant blips on the heart monitor and the drips from the multiple IV bags of antibiotics, pain medications and fluids, lulled Ray into a restless sleep. His dreams took him back to that fateful day when Ben broke the news to him and then threatened to kill him with his bare hands.
Fraser sat on the edge of the exam table feeling exposed in the paper hospital gown. As if recent events hadn’t been humiliating enough, Fraser was never sick, and yet, he had been feeling run down and under the weather for the better part of three weeks. Uncharacteristically, Fraser had fallen asleep on the couch four nights in a row. On the last occasion, Ray raised his eyebrows and shrugged. “What’s going on with you, Ben?” he asked, tucking a sheet around his shoulders.
“Nothing,” Fraser muttered, stifling a yawn, before falling back asleep.
Ray had finally convinced him after he threw up yet another meal that seeing a doctor wasn’t such a bad idea. Fraser tried to tell him that it was just a bug, that he would be fine. And then the simple task of brushing his teeth that evening had him bent over the toilet, gripping the seat so tight he thought he might crack his knuckles.
Ray entered the bathroom and leaned against the sink as he handed his partner a wash cloth and a cup of water. “I told you that sushi roll was a bad idea,” he joked. His tone was light... hearted, but his eyes betrayed his concern. “Look, Ben,” Ray rubbed his partner’s shoulders and neck. “You never get sick. Go get checked out tomorrow, maybe it is just a bug. But whatever it is, something isn’t right.”
So here Fraser was, on a Wednesday afternoon, waiting for the doctor to return. He felt like he had been poked and prodded like a voodoo doll. The last time he had this many blood tests was after the whole Victoria debacle… maybe that was why he was feeling so vulnerable.
He was staring vacantly at a spot on the floor when the door swung open. “Benton,” Doctor Logan burst in looking excited, or maybe alarmed. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting so long. Your results have left me, intrigued.” Fraser blinked at him, surprised. ‘What does ‘intrigued’ mean?’ he wondered. Logan smiled at him, then coughed, smoothing his beard, pulling Fraser’s medical file out from under his arm. He flipped it open, stared, half smiled, then frowned, then shut it again.
“Is it serious?” Fraser questioned, suddenly concerned.
“Well,” Logan paused. “It is quite unique.” The doctor opened Fraser’s file again and read to himself, as though to reassure himself of the contents, before addressing the nervous man on the exam table. “I believe I will need to call in an expert that specializes in your condition.”
“What is it?” Fraser questioned again. “What condition?” Creases appeared on his forehead as he became increasingly alarmed. “Should I call Ray?”
The doctor closed his file and frowned. “Perhaps not yet. We should... well. Wait and see exactly what the long term prognosis is.” Fraser stared at the man, completely bewildered.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m sorry, I’m not being very clear. Of course, you can tell him if you choose to when you get home.”
“What?” Fraser felt like shouting. “What can I tell him?”
Logan grimaced, and cleared his throat. “Okay,” he started cautiously, “just so you know. I went over your results several times, went down to the lab and ran the tests again myself just to be sure. I’ve never seen it before, heard about a few cases but have never come across one myself. Truly amazing, really.”
“Doctor Logan, if you would please,” Fraser bit back the rest of the sentence. If Ray was here he would have shouted at Logan to ‘just spit it out already,’ and if the older man didn’t hurry up and explain himself, Fraser might say just that. That would never do. ‘Breathe,’he told himself. ‘Relax.’ “Just tell me what we are dealing with here.” Despite his efforts to be calm though, Fraser rubbed his ankles together and fidgeted with his hands while he awaited an answer.
Looking up from his notes, the doctor smiled. “You, my friend, are pregnant.”
For a long moment the whole world went quiet. Then Fraser heard himself laughing. ‘Oh dear,’ he thought feeling giddy.Either he had gone insane, or Doctor Logan had.
By the time he had stopped laughing, he was feeling sick… again. Doctor Logan had put a reassuring hand on his elbow. Fraser caught his breath, then shook his head. Pregnant? Did the man say ‘pregnant’? Before he could break into hysterical laughter again he blurted out, “Excuse me?”
“Pregnant,” the doctor repeated, looking at him with some concern.
“No,” Fraser declared, bluntly. He didn’t care how rude he sounded. “You obviously have my results mixed with those of another patient, a female patient if I might add. I realize, of course, that I don’t have the advantage of a medical degree, however,” he glared at the doctor witheringly. “As I am sure they will have covered at some point during your studies, men can’t get pregnant. It’s impossible.”
Doctor Logan looked at him sympathetically, despite Fraser’s snippy attitude. “I realize this is a shock, Benton. Normally, of course, I would agree with you, but according to my test results,” he gestured at the folder, “you are in fact pregnant.” Fraser opened his mouth to object, but the doctor affected a brisk and cheerful attitude, interrupting his protests. “So. I would like to do a physical exam and an ultrasound to see exactly what we are dealing with and see how far along you are.” The doctor closed his file again and pulled a pair of latex gloves out of a box on the wall, slipping them onto his hands one at a time. Fraser just stared at him.
“You’re kidding me, right? This is a joke.” Fraser let out a shaky breath. “There’s no need for a physical exam, I’m not pregnant.” He scooted back on the table as the doctor stepped to the end of the exam table, pulling an ultrasound monitor away from the wall and turning it on. “You can’t be serious?”
Logan lifted his hands in a non-threatening gesture at Fraser and took two steps back. “I know it is a shock,” he reiterated, in gentle tones. “Please. I would like to at least do an ultrasound to see how far along you are. I have an expert in male pregnancies on his way to my office to meet with you. Would you feel more comfortable waiting until he arrives?”
‘Expert in male pregnancies? There are experts?’ Fraser’s mouth hung open for a moment while he tried to gather his thoughts.
"Ray put you up to this, didn't he?" The shock hit him again and he giggled breathlessly. "Well, yes, of course he did. Because it’s impossible.” He felt ridiculous, sitting here stating the absolutely obvious. “I don't have the necessary organs or parts.” He glared at the doctor again. Really, the man should be ashamed to be party to such a mean trick. “I'm a man for crying out loud. There’s no way I could possibly carry a... a... it to term, let alone deliver it.” He swallowed a bubble of nausea and concluded fiercely. “Because in case you haven't noticed... I am a man, not a woman."
"Well, in fact, you would be classified biologically as intersex… "
Logan shook his head, backing off. "Of course you're a man. And there have been cases where men with your… kind of condition, have delivered healthy babies. Not many, it's very rare, but it happens."
“Seriously?” Fraser was alarmed at how his voice squeaked.
Fraser shook his head, dazed. For a layman he was extremely well educated on medical matters. He would have thought he’d have at least heard rumors if men were walking around pregnant.
Logan was still talking. “You have apparently been blessed… or cursed however you choose to look at the situation… with a female set of internal organs."
"You're saying I could deliver a healthy baby?" Fraser was confused as he looked down at his body. Everything looked the same. "I don't have an... well there's no..." Fraser paused. "How the hell could this even happen?"
"How about you lay back and let me do a quick exam and maybe by the time we are done, our expert will be here and he can explain the physics of it." The doctor placed a gentle hand on Fraser’s shoulder encouraging him to lie back. “Your symptoms all make sense if you think about it.”
“If I think about it, I would like to think you would have told me I have the flu or food poisoning, not that I’m…” Fraser couldn’t get the words to come out past his lips. How the hell was the thing going to get out of him? And... “Oh my God, how am I going to tell Ray?”
“Ben,” the doctor spoke softly as he readied the machine. “How long have we known each other? You’re not in this alone. Ray is a very understanding person and I can guarantee that he and I will be with you through this whole journey.” He squeezed Fraser’s shoulder again before applying to jelly to his abdomen. Fraser gasped in shock at the intrusive cold. “Sorry, I should have warned you. Next time, I will warm it up.”
“Yes, your next visit.” Logan frowned. “Normally, we would do an exam every month, but your case is obviously uniquely challenging, so we will want to keep a closer eye on it. Your blood pressure is a little low, and you are hypoglycemic… not unusual at this stage of a pregnancy. I think I would suggest coming in once a week for at least the next month, just to make sure everything is progressing nicely.”
“Every... week? Progressing... what?” Fraser’s voice was faint. Logan frowned again.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’ve been making assumptions. Haven’t you and Ray been talking about adoption for a couple of years? You do want this, right?”
“What I wanted was for you to tell me I had food poisoning.” Fraser stared at the poster on the ceiling above the exam table as the doctor rolled the probe across his abdomen.
“Well, if you decide to tell Ray, I think you need to do it soon because according to the measurements here, I’d say you are about ten weeks.” The doctor fiddled with a few buttons on the machine and a whooshing noise filled Fraser’s ears. “Too early to tell sex yet, but it sure has a strong heartbeat.”
Fraser fought hard not to turn his head and look at the screen, but the whooshing noise was constant and so loud it seemed to echo off the walls. There on the black and white screen was a tiny life growing inside of him. He abruptly pushed the doctor’s hand off his abdomen and the whooshing subsided as the baby disappeared from the screen. Fraser sat up sharply. His head spun. “I need…” he gasped for air. “I need to talk to Ray, before anything else.”
“Very well,” the doctor placed a photo in his hand of the life growing inside of him. “Go home, talk this through with your partner and call me as soon as you can.”
Fraser sat on the bed and bounced his feet nervously on the floor. He heard Ray’s key in the lock but was glued to his spot. What would Ray think? What would Ray want to do? And how the hell would he even tell him? All these questions and about a thousand more raced through Fraser’s head the second he stepped out of the doctor’s office and started walking home.
Ray raced into the bedroom and slid to a stop in front of his dresser, opening a drawer and pulling out a fresh pair of jeans and a clean shirt. “I swear I will only be a few minutes,” he called over his shoulder as he bolted for the bathroom to brush his teeth, throw some gel in his hair and take a quick piss. “Stupid Duck Boys thought they would be funny and saran wrapped the Goat. I told them we had plans to catch an early movie. Dumb asses.” The toilet flushed and then the sink turned on and off. Ray hopped back into the bedroom with one leg in his jeans and the other trying to find the opposite leg hole. He stopped and pulled his t... shirt over his head. “Hey come on, we’re going to be late.” Ray turned to the dresser and pulled out a pair of socks. “Oh, what did the doctor say? You went to your appointment this afternoon, right?”
Fraser nodded as his feet bounced on the floor. He found himself twiddling his fingers and avoiding eye contact with Ray. The ultrasound photo was burning a hole in his pocket. His face flushed and he felt the nausea rise up his throat.
“So,” Ray encouraged as he tried to slip his foot into his sock standing up. “How’d it go? They run any tests or anything?” Ray was met with silence. “Ben? Is everything okay?”
Fraser stood up from the bed, slid past Ray bouncing on one foot, still struggling with his socks and went to the refrigerator and retrieved two beer bottles. He pulled the magnetic bottle opener off the freezer door and popped the two tops. He turned to head back towards the bedroom and almost ran into a perplexed Ray, splashing beer over the rim of the bottle onto his hand.
“What’s going on?” Ray questioned, motioning to the two bottles.
“You might need these,” Fraser handed Ray the two bottles and then reached into his flannel shirt pocket, pulling out the ultrasound photo his doctor had taken just a little over two hours ago. He breathed in deeply, brushed his thumb over the photo, exhaled and handed the photo to Ray with nervous fingers.
Ray set the beer bottles on the counter and took the photo. He brought it closer to his face. His head snapped up, eyes dark and angry. “What the fuck? You knocked someone up?”
“What?” Fraser shook his head profusely. “No, Ray… this is…” Fraser shook his head again. “How could you think that?”
“Well… whose ultra-scanny thingy is this then… huh?” Ray waved the photo in front of Fraser’s face.
Fraser grabbed Ray’s hand gently as he took a tentative step forward. “Would you believe… mine?”
“No… no, I would not.” Ray stepped backward, picking up a beer bottle and bringing it to his lips, tipping it up quickly.
“Ray, I know this makes absolutely no sense and I don’t even know how to go about explaining it...” Ben ran a knuckle over his eyebrow and took another step towards his partner. “Actually, we need to make a decision.”
“This is all a joke, right? The Duck Boys put the doctor up to it? I told them you were going to see him today.” Ray ran his hands down his face thoughtfully. “Yeah, maybe the Duck Boys are pranking you… they’ve been doing a lot of that lately. Probably a payback for me filling their car with water balloons last week.”
“I don’t think so. I heard it.” Fraser settled his tired body onto a bar stool. “Besides… no doctor would be party to such a prank. It would be contrary to the Hippocratic oath, ‘First do no harm’.”
Ray shook his head and rolled his eyes. “What do hippos have to do with it? I still don’t get it.”
Fraser let out a small laugh. “Oh, believe me, that makes two of us.” Fraser reached for Ray’s hand again, taking the empty beer bottle from him. “But apparently, you had something to do with it.”
“You can’t be serious. But how?” Ray looked Fraser’s body up and down. A crooked grin appeared on his face. “I always knew…” Fraser cut him off with a stern look.
“You say the word freak anywhere in that sentence and I promise I will break my oath as a Mountie and kill you with my bare hands,” Fraser warned.
Fraser’s words echoed in Ray’s ears. His eyes flashed open as his head snapped up. Darkness surrounded him and someone had covered him with a blanket. He glanced around the dim room and realized he was in a hospital room. Ben’s room. Apparently, he had fallen asleep in the rocking chair next to Ben’s bed. The heart rate monitor and the IV drips all kept time with one another. Ray pushed the blanket down to his waist and sat forward, taking Ben’s frail hand into his own. It was chilly. Careful of the IV lines, Ray tried to rub some warmth into it. He glanced at his watch for the time, realizing he had been asleep for a few hours.
Ben moaned softly in his sleep and Ray quietly begged him to wake up. Fraser hadn’t moved at all since they brought him back from emergency surgery. Ray wondered how long it would be before he saw the blue eyes that he loved so much. He hung his head and sighed, settling back into his chair. He pulled the blanket up around his neck and breathed deeply, trying to control his emotions. Closing his eyes, he was back in the kitchen with Fraser, two empty beer bottles and an ultrasound photo of… their baby.
“Wait a second, what do you mean you heard it? Heard what?” he asked Fraser, not sure he wanted or was ready to hear the answer.
“I heard the heartbeat,” Ben replied calmer than he was feeling inside.
“So, this isn’t a lame attempt to get out of going to the movies? This is real? You’re serious?”
“I would never pull a prank like this on anyone, Ray, especially you. As crazy and irrational as it sounds, I’m pregnant, and we are apparently going to have a baby, if…” Fraser’s face went pinched and pale. “If… that’s what we want.”
“If... what?” Ray didn’t know if he felt angry or confused. In less than a minute Fraser had sprung a pregnancy on him, and now he was hinting at… what? Abortion? He shook his head. “You’re not yanking my chain or pulling my leg or…? This is real… like hormones and cravings real.”
“It would appear so, yes.” Fraser confirmed with a nod.
“And you’re okay with it? You’re not freaked out? Because I gotta be honest, I’m heading in that direction real quick.”
“I did my freaking out at the doctor’s office and on the way home.”
“But how?” Ray asked confused. “We’re both guys.”
“I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t stick around long enough for the expert to arrive and explain it to me.” Ben blushed slightly. “I told Doctor Logan I needed to talk with you first and then I’m… we’re… supposed to call him in a few days and tell him what we have decided.”
Ray stared at his partner, still clearly confused by Fraser’s condition. “So, he said you could actually have a baby and it would be healthy?”
“Yes.” Fraser blew out a deep breath, and nodded, a little too enthusiastically. “I’m sure, just like with women, there are risks involved and I wouldn’t be able to deliver it like a regular birth, but he seemed confident that we could have a healthy baby.” He coughed and cleared his throat. “We’ve talked about a child of our own for two years, Ray. Now, we have the most bizarre opportunity of that idea becoming a reality for us.”
“How hard is it going to be on you, physically?” Ray fidgeted, peeling the label off his empty beer bottle. “I don’t want to risk your life, just so we can have a baby that I’m going to end up raising myself if something happens to you.” Ray flinched. “God, I can’t believe I just said that. I mean... how dangerous is this? What kind of symptoms are you going to have?”
“Well, I think we already know about the nausea and being overly tired.” Fraser frowned at Ray. “How are we going to tell people?”
Ray held up both hands. “I am not telling Vecchio.”
“You tell your people and I’ll tell mine.” Fraser smiled wide. He sat back against the counter, resting his elbows on the solid surface.
Ray rolled his eyes. “Ben, apart from Vecchio, all your people are dead. Well, except for Maggie, but she doesn’t seem too interested in keeping in touch since she found out about us.”
“Can’t say that I blame her really.” Fraser looked suddenly sad. “She really liked you and then well, we know how that turned out. I think she is a little bitter you chose me over her.” He sighed. “Maybe I’d have been the same if it had been the other way round.”
“I can’t imagine it the other way round.”
“Thank God for that,” Fraser replied, and kissed him. “But hey, you know what this means?”
“With the exception of Maggie, my job’s done,” Fraser stated triumphantly. Ray couldn’t help it. He cracked up.
“Okay,” he managed, when he had stopped choking on his beer. “All joking aside,” Ray grew serious as he placed his empty bottle on the counter beside Fraser’s elbow. “A baby changes everything, Ben.”
“I do, in fact, know that, Ray,” Ben snapped. Relenting a little, he took Ray’s hand in his own and squeezed it tightly. “With the exception of me actually having the baby, this isn’t any different than us wanting to adopt a child of our own. We’ve talked about that a lot and all the changes that would bring.”
“But this is different.” Ray sighed, squeezing Fraser’s hand in return. “Not everybody’s going to be understanding and supportive. What about your job?”
Fraser’s brows drew together, confused. “What about my job?”
“Think about it for a minute, would ya? You work with me probably eighty percent of your time.”
“Not quite eighty, but a lot, yes.” Fraser smiled warmly at his partner.
“So, things are gonna have to change.” Ray let go Ben’s hand. He went around the counter and started a pot of coffee. Ben swiveled on the chair, his eyes following him into the kitchen. “I’m serious about this too. You gotta stop taking all these crazy risks of yours.”
“Such as?” Fraser raised an eyebrow.
“You’re kidding, right? Scaling ladders to roof tops, jumping onto speeding cars, running after a suspect who is shooting at you. Any of that sound the least bit dangerous?” Ray prepped his coffee cup with chocolates as he ran down his list. “It’s gotta stop.”
“I will make sure I keep my actions in check," Fraser said dryly. Ray tilted his head and narrowed his eyes. He knew that tone of voice... Fraser was pissed.
"What?" he asked, suspiciously.
"What 'what’?'" Fraser replied, confusingly.
"What do you mean you will 'keep your actions in check’?”
“I mean...” Fraser gave a nervous smile. “I will be more cautious with my actions regarding my personal well-being. I will wait for back... up and follow your lead. So, that means… this is all a go?”
Ray looked up from his coffee cup, returning the smile. “Yeah, it’s all a go.” He stepped up to the breakfast bar and leaned across. Fraser met him halfway for a kiss. Their lips met and Ray snuck his tongue into Ben’s mouth, finding that crooked tooth. He broke the kiss, pulling his head back a few inches. “I’m still not telling Vecchio.”
Shaking his head back and forth, Fraser relented. “I will tell him. But I want to wait until after we see this other doctor before we tell anyone.” Fraser settled himself back on the bar stool.
“When is that again?” Ray stirred his coffee with a spoon before taking a long sip. “You want a cup?”
“Yes, that would be nice.” Fraser took the offered cup. After taking a swallow of his coffee, he rolled his shoulders to loosen the built up tension. “We are supposed to call Doctor Logan and he will set up an appointment.”
Ray glanced at his watch and then Fraser. “Looks like we’re gonna miss that movie after all.”
Fraser suddenly looked stricken.
“Hey, Ben,” Ray teased. “I don’t mind all that much about missing the movie.”
“No… it’s not that.”
“What is it?”
Ray looked puzzled for a moment, then smiled. “Hey, don’t worry. One cup of coffee ain’t gonna hurt anybody.”
“I’ll make you some of that moose... gut tea you like so much instead.”
Fraser’s shoulders slumped, and he sighed with relief. “Thank you.”
Ray made the tea, then took the opportunity to kiss Ben on his way past the counter. Looked like Fraser needed all the reassurance in the world.
Picking up his cup of tea, Fraser motioned for Ray to follow. “I am sorry about the movie though.” He looked embarrassed. “To be honest, I think I would have fallen asleep anyway. I’m a little tired. Come sit with me on the couch. I will tell you the rest of what I know.”
“Yeah,” Ray said gently. “Let’s just sit together.”
Fraser sank onto the couch. With a weary sigh, he removed his shoes and placed them under the coffee table. Ray sat next to him, propping his sock clad feet up on the end table. Fraser took his hand and laced their fingers together, dropping his head against Ray’s shoulder. Ray took one leg and draped it across Fraser’s knee. Fraser sighed at the touch.
Ray motioned to Fraser’s abdomen. “Can I feel it?”
Ben gave a pinched smile. “There’s nothing to feel yet. It’s still much too small.” He looked down at his stomach. His face was tight and unreadable. “Doctor Logan says I’m about ten weeks along.”
“And how many weeks is a normal pregnancy?” Tentatively, Ray settled his hand on Ben’s stomach. Ben was right, it felt no different than the last time he had placed his hands on Ben’s stomach.
“I believe it is 40 weeks.” Fraser rested his hand on top of Ray’s. “We have a ways to go yet. He set my due date for right before the new year.”
A small huff left Ray’s mouth. Fraser lifted his head and stared at his lover. “What’s wrong?”
Ray pursed his lips. “I’m no good at waiting… you know that. New year’s is a long way away.”
“I imagine that with all that we will have to prepare, the weeks will go by rather quickly.” ‘Too quickly,’ Fraser thought, and panic fluttered in his chest. This thing still didn’t feel real. Trying to anchor himself to reality, he scanned the small living room of the apartment. “We will have to turn the office into a bedroom.” If he could stay practical, perhaps the ever present fear would recede a little…
Ray kissed the top of Fraser’s head. “What if…” he hesitated, then smiled shyly. “What if we started to look for a house?” Fraser sat up and looked at his lover. “I mean,” Ray continued, “the apartment is fine for now, but it would be nice to be settled into a house of our own before…” he stuttered, “before it gets here. That way…”
Fraser didn’t give Ray time to finish his sentence before his lips were planted firmly atop Ray’s. He pushed his tongue into Ray’s warm mouth; it tasted of chocolates and coffee. Ray laced his hands around the back of Fraser’s neck, pulling him closer. He turned on the couch and straddled Fraser’s thighs. Fraser blinked, his eyes bright with unshed tears.
“This okay?” Ray asked between kisses.
Fraser closed his eyes, breathing heavily as he pushed his hips into Ray’s growing erection. “God, yes…” Words failed him. This was more than okay… this was amazing. Despite his… condition… Ray desired him. Ray loved him…
Ray stood abruptly and Fraser read his mind, stretching out down the length of the couch. He parted his legs slightly and Ray settled himself between his partner’s legs. Fraser wrapped his feet over the backs of Ray’s ankles, as though he could anchor him there forever, while his hands worked the t... shirt up and over Ray’s head. Fraser ran his strong hands up and down the length of Ray’s back, massaging muscles and occasionally groping his ass. Slender fingers worked their way up Fraser’s torso, tweaking hardened nipples and caressing Ben’s chest. Ray’s eyes were half closed, his lips parted. Ben’s heart clenched with longing. ‘God, he’s beautiful…’
Ray latched onto the side of his neck and began sucking and kissing. Heat, passion. The brief sting of teeth and suction, lapped by a soothing tongue… Ben gasped. “Ray…” Desperately he groped, and found the zipper to Ray’s jeans. Yes! He took a steadying breath. ‘Don’t rush this. Make it good for him.’ “Ray,” he moaned again. He focused on working the zipper down, teasingly slow. He felt a smile break on his face as Ray’s lips assaulted his neck. Within his hand, Ray was hard, and warm, and slick.
“God, Ben…” Ray grunted against Ben’s throat, then carried on greedily suckling, moaning hot against Ben’s skin. Ben closed his eyes, feeling the sound trembling through his body. He clutched Ray’s cock hard – almost too hard, he thought, but couldn’t stop himself. Ray’s hips were moving urgently, and Ben thrust back against him, his own cock growing more heated with each push. He was dizzy with lust, his fear and confusion forgotten as he ground himself against his lover’s body.
“Slow down,” Ray gasped, pulling his mouth away from Ben’s neck.
“Don’t stop,” Ben pleaded, his body and soul wanting more of Ray’s touch. “Please, don’t stop…”
“Not stopping, Benton... buddy.” Ray flashed a wicked smile, then slid down Ben’s body. “Want it to last. You’re not even out of your pants.”
“Oh.” Unexpectedly Ben laughed, for the first time in weeks. Ray tugged his jeans, and Ben lifted his hips. Ray’s head moved between Ben’s legs, then he was mouthing him through the fabric of his boxers. Ben’s whole body flinched, jerking out of control. He was helpless against it. “Don’t stop, don’t stop…” ‘Don’t ever stop…’ He reached out blindly, trying to reach Ray’s hard... on, but it was too far away.
“Don’t worry, Ben,” Ray said, voice muffled. Ben managed to open his eyes, he couldn’t remember closing them, and saw Ray working his own cock with one hand, as he pulled down the boxers with the other. Again, his eyes fell shut. His whole body writhed as Ray’s mouth descended on him. Ray hummed against his cock... head, then grasped the root. Ben was totally engulfed in a hard hand, a soft pliant mouth – he pushed and moaned, his head tossing from side to side – he wanted to come, but Ray was squeezing hard, low down, just there, at the base of his shaft. Ben heard himself whimpering pitifully, felt his balls harden and rise, his cock engorge, harder and hotter – but he still couldn’t come. He was burning. Ray kept control, sweeping his tongue across the slit of Ben’s cock, then swooped round and round the head. Ben was so hard he hurt.
“Please, please, please…”
Ray shuddered suddenly – ‘coming, Ray’s coming, let me come with you’ – and his rhythm stuttered. Ben flung his arm across his face, and bit down hard. Ray started working him again, harder and faster. His hand moved, releasing Ben’s cock; he sucked Ben deeper into his mouth.
“Oh god, godgodgod…”
On the cusp of orgasm, Ben felt a long finger tracing circles around the sensitive skin of his anus. Wet. A wet fingertip pushed its way inside. Ben grasped Ray’s hair, and tugged, forgetting courtesy, and fucked his mouth as hard and fast as he could. Ray’s finger moved to the same swift rhythm – then curled, touching his sweet spot.
Ben cried out, and came, and came, and came.
“Happy?” Ray murmured, as they both came down from it.
“Happy,” Ben replied, drifting in Ray’s secure embrace.
And for a while, in the warm aftermath of love, he forgot to be afraid.
Fraser wandered into the kitchen and slipped his arms around Ray’s shoulders as he sat on a kitchen barstool eating a bowl of cereal and nursing a cup of coffee. Ray leaned into his embrace and ran a hand behind Fraser’s neck pulling him closer for a kiss.
“Morning, Ben.” Ray spooned more cereal into his mouth and began talking with his mouth half full. “You sleep well?”
Fraser straightened and walked around the breakfast bar towards the cupboard to retrieve a glass. “I slept quite well, thank you.” He made his way to the refrigerator to get some orange juice and stopped, briefly returning his attention to Ray. “I had the strangest dream though.”
“Oh yeah?” Ray questioned between bites. “Hey, when should we call the doctor?”
Fraser paused at the door of the fridge, turning quickly to Ray, concern filling his voice. “Are you ill?”
Ray looked up from his bowl of cereal, shaking his head. “No, for you.”
“Me?” Fraser turned back towards the fridge to retrieve the orange juice. “I’m fine,” he began. “Why would I need to contact a doctor?” Fraser hesitated when he closed the door and his eyes fell on the ultrasound photo of their baby Ray had secured to the freezer with a magnet the night before.
He went white.
“Sorry, what was your dream about? I'm always cutting you off.” Ray scolded himself as he spooned more cereal into his mouth. “Gotta stop doing that.”
“Whose photo is this on our freezer?” Deep inside his soul, Fraser knew the answer.
Ray paused, spoon hovering in mid-air between bowl and mouth. “You’re kidding right?” Ray asked in disbelief.
“It wasn’t a dream… was it? This…” Fraser touched the photograph with tentative fingers, “… is ours?” Fraser set the orange juice onto the counter and twisted abruptly towards Ray.
Ray’s confirming nod started the kitchen spinning. Fraser squeezed his eyes shut and leaned heavily against the counter, holding tightly to the edge. He reached to his left, his fingers searching for the glass he retrieved only moments ago. He was nauseous and parched at the same time. He brought the glass to his lips and his eyes flashed open when Ray cleared his throat.
“Uh, Ben, you never poured any juice. You’re drinking an empty glass.”
Fraser lowered the empty glass and stared through it. He reached with blind fingers, stopping when Ray’s hand settled over his own trembling one as it gripped the handle of the juice container.
“Hey,” Ray whispered softly into his ear before planting a reassuring kiss to the back of Fraser’s neck. “It’s okay.”
Fraser stepped away abruptly, putting some distance between himself and his partner. His voice quivered when he spoke. “How do you know? How many men have you known who have had a baby? This…” Fraser motioned towards his abdomen. “This isn’t… normal.” He sucked in a ragged breath. “Oh God, I’m a frea…”
“Whoa…” Ray took two long strides and was in front of his apprehensive partner, placing a single finger over Fraser’s parted lips, silencing the offensive word about to be spoken. He took hold of Fraser’s forearms and pulled him close. “Slow down and take a breath already. You’re not a freak, Ben.”
“Then what the hell would you call it?” Fraser lashed out, trying to step out of Ray’s tight embrace.
“I don’t know what the doctor mumbo jumbo words are for it, but I think it’s freaking awesome.” Ray pulled his reluctant partner closer and lowered his voice. “You’re going to have our baby. How unbelievably freaking cool is that?”
“Could you please refrain from using the word ‘freaking’? You’re not helping any.”
“Ben, you were so calm about all of this yesterday, what’s changed today?”
“I don’t know.” Fraser shook his head, as though to clear it. Ray patted his shoulder, soothingly. “I had this dream...” Fraser swallowed, looking over Ray’s shoulder uneasily at the photo on the freezer door. “I mean, I thought this was a dream,” he repeated, ghosting his hand over his abdomen, “and it had me out of sorts when I woke up, and then...” he bit his lip, “and then I saw the picture.” His voice took on a slightly hysterical tone. “And it hit me. It really hit me that this isn’t going away.” He let out a bitter laugh. “I suppose after hearing the news and sleeping on it, I’m not as okay with all of this as I initially thought.”
“Shh... you are okay,” Ray murmured, feeling helpless as he tried to comfort Fraser.
“Am I? Are you fucking kidding me?" Ray flinched, shocked by the profanity coming out of Fraser's mouth. Fraser went pale, and covered his mouth, clearly as shocked as Ray. He must be really freaking out about now.
"Ben, I'm sorry. I don't know what to say. How can I help you?"
"I don't know," Fraser whispered. "This is real, Ray. I'm going to be changing and I’m going to be…” Fraser’s words fell silent as the reality of his situation settled in around him. “People aren’t going to be understanding. Your parents… your father just started to accept me as your partner. I don’t want this to ruin my relationship with him. Or, even worse, your relationship with him.” Fraser took a shaky breath. “And what about you? This changes everything for you as well. What about my job working as a liaison officer? And then there’s insurance and maternity, no it would be paternity leave. What do we put on the birth certificate? ‘Benton Fraser, mother’?” Fraser’s voice was returning to hysterical. “We aren’t a normal married couple. And I don’t know anything about babies. Ray, I don’t think I can handle the changes I’m… we’re going to be facing.”
“Ben,” Ray replied calmly. “You’re freaking out. What do you mean you don’t know anything about babies? You know everything about everything. And if you don’t know it, you have an Inuit story.”
“Ray, you don’t understand…”
“No. I don’t. I’m not the pregnant guy. But, I tell you what I do know.” Ray fixed all his attention upon Ben. “If anyone can do this, you can do this. You know about babies. Hell, I read the case notes for when Vecchio and you saved that baby... how did you track him? You recognized the curds from goat’s milk and baby puke?” Ray shook his head. “You can do that, and you think you don’t know babies? Seriously?”
“I know about babies,” Ben admitted. “I know how to deliver them, feed them, how to change their diapers and check for bugs…”
“Bugs?” Ray’s eyebrows flew up.
“That’s not important right now,” Ben flustered. Of course, they wouldn’t be making diapers out of moss. What was he thinking? That simply proved how inept he was. “Just because I have book knowledge, that doesn’t mean that I know how to be a...” his voice trailed off. What word could he possibly use? “Parent. I don’t know how to be a parent. My own father never did.”
“You’ll be a great father.”
“You sure you don’t mean ‘mother’?”
Ray stalled for a moment. He couldn’t quite wrap his head around that. “Calm down,” he said, “You need to stop freaking out or that vein popping out on your forehead is going to burst.” Ray had meant it as a gag to try and ease his partner’s growing apprehension, but Fraser didn’t take it that way.
“Well, I think one of us needs to be freaking out. It seems only logical in a situation such as this,” Fraser snapped.
“We will take the changes as they come and deal with them one at a time. I love you, nothing about this situation changes that.” Ray placed reassuring hands on Fraser’s shoulders and squeezed tightly.
Fraser closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, Ray’s eyes were locked onto his. “I’m scared, Ray,” he admitted. “It’s all uncharted territory for us.”
“Me too, but you and me… we’re a pretty strong duet and we’ll face all of these fears and all of the unknowns we’ll be experiencing… together.”
"Together? Really, Ray? I don't see you having morning sickness. You aren't the one going to have a C... section. I rather think you're a supportive spectator than a participant." Fraser grew quiet and blew out a long breath. “I’m sorry,” he apologized. “It’s not your fault. Well, part of it is.” He shrugged his shoulders when Ray grinned. “Well, it is.”
Ray squeezed Fraser’s shoulders again bringing a small smile to his partner’s face. “Look, I was gonna go into work today and catch up on some paperwork, but I can always do that first of the week.”
Fraser took another deep breath and exhaled slowly. “No, you go.”
Ray looked at him unconvinced. “You sure? Because I can stay here.”
“I’m sure. I’ll try and call Doctor Logan and set up an appointment for the first part of the week.”
“Okay that sounds like a plan. And when I get home, we’ll write up a list of questions and any concerns we have about all of this.” Ray stepped back and studied his partner’s features. “You’re looking a little pale, are you feeling okay?”
“Just a little nauseas, not unlike any other day the last few weeks.”
“That…” Ray jabbed a finger into Fraser’s chest. “Is the first thing on our list. You throwing up every day can’t be good. Maybe there’s something he can give you to make it stop.”
“Let’s hope,” Fraser released a tension filled sigh. “Vomiting is something I’m not accustomed to and would like very much to put an end to it.”
Ray kissed an almost calm again Fraser good-bye and drove towards the police station. It had been a stressful morning and he really needed a second cup of coffee before tackling his mountain of paperwork. For the past few weeks, Fraser had been busy at the Consulate with the arrival of Inspector Thatcher’s replacement and Ray had found himself slacking on his own paperwork duties. His partner was generally willing to fill out the forms, if anything to speed up the process of going home and Ray wasn’t going to argue with Fraser’s need for efficiency. Everyone knew Fraser’s penmanship was much more legible than his own chicken scratch.
He made a turn into the break room and poured himself a steaming cup of coffee. After Fraser’s mini meltdown about caffeine earlier, he had felt guilty drinking coffee in front of him. ‘Please,’ he thought, ‘Ben, I love you but don’t make me give up my caffeine. You wouldn’t like me when I don’t get my coffee fix.’ His lips turned upwards into a full blown smile. Frannie’s newest selection of coffee had hit the spot. He would have to remember to thank her for insisting on ordering a higher quality of coffee for Chicago’s finest. Swallowing another mouthful, he sighed with content. He began to feel the caffeine enter his blood stream and rejuvenate his tired body. A mountain of paperwork was no match for a caffeinated Ray Kowalski. Refilling his mug, he dropped in a few M&M’s, gave it a quick swirl and headed down the hall and into the bullpen.
Ray hadn’t taken more than two steps through the swinging doors when Francesca called from across the room. She had been pacing back and forth in front of his desk, wearing a bigger hole into the already worn linoleum. Ray’s desk phone was pressed tightly between her ear and shoulder and she was busy jotting something onto a legal pad tucked into the crook of her arm. When she spotted Ray, she dropped the receiver from her ear and slammed it hard into the handset.
“Where the hell have you been?” she screeched. Only Francesca Vecchio could sound like an owl on the prowl for food with her shrill voice. “My brother is about to blow a gasket.”
“What are you talking about? I just came in to finish some paperwork. Just pretend you don’t see me and be on your merry way.” Ray gestured for Frannie to move aside as he made his way around his desk and the pile of paperwork awaiting him. “Besides, if it was that damn important, why didn’t you call me?”
“I’ve been trying to call you… all morning.” Frannie hissed impatiently. “Don’t you know how to hang up a phone?” She rolled her eyes. “Never mind, I’m talking to a Neanderthal.”
“Hey! Who's a Neanderthal?” Ray made a face in retaliation, and Frannie punched Ray in the shoulder. “Listen, that drug head you and Fraser busted earlier this week… he wants to cut a deal.”
“Yeah?” Ray rubbed his shoulder ruefully. Frannie packed quite a wallop. “What kind of deal? We already got the two dealers we were after.”
“It doesn’t have anything to do with drugs, at least not directly.”
“He says he has information on that little girl that is missing and he’s willing to give us details in exchange for a deal with the state.”
"Frannie!" Ray stared at her incredulous. "Fraser and I have been working that case for a month. Why the hell didn't you call my cell?"
Francesca held up Ray’s cell phone between her delicate fingers. “You mean this ol’ thing? You left it on your desk, dummy. Listen, I don’t know why, but Ray says that this guy will only talk to you and Fraser.” Frannie realized for the first time that Ray was alone. “Where is Fraser?”
Ray scrubbed a hand over his stubbled chin. “He’s at home. Caught a stomach bug or somethin’.”
“He’s been looking run down lately.” Frannie’s hazel eyes clouded with concern. “Has he been to a doctor? Don’t tell him I know, but Renfield told me he’s heard him throwing up in the mornings.”
Ray's heart dropped. He had thought Ben was only throwing up at home in the evenings. “What are you talking about?” he protested weakly. “He’s gotten sick a few times at home, that’s it.” He never said he was throwing up at work. He'd have said something, wouldn't he?
Frannie lowered her voice. “He says he’s heard him several times but Fraser always tells him he’s fine. If you ask me, I think it looks like he needs to gain a few pounds.” Frannie leaned forward across the desk and whispered low. “You think he has some sort of eating disorder? I know someone if he needs… you know… a neutral person to talk to.”
‘Oh shit, just what we need,’ Ray thought. ‘Frannie playing detective.’ Great. His ex... sister was too observant. She had just drawn the wrong conclusion. “It’s just a stomach bug, Frannie.” Francesca didn’t appear to be convinced. “I promise, he’s just under the weather.”
“Kowalski…” Ray Vecchio shouted from his office door. “My office, now!”
“Good luck,” Francesca mouthed silently before walking briskly back to her own desk.
Ray entered Vecchio’s office and jumped when Vecchio slammed the door behind him.
“Were you or were you not, issued a cell phone by this department?” Vecchio questioned his detective as he made his way around the back of his desk. He remained standing and Ray took that as a sign that this wasn’t going to be the greatest part of his day.
“I was… yes. But, I forgot it on my desk last night when I left. You see, I was running late and I was in a hurry to meet Ben at home and the Duck Boys pulled a prank on me…”
“I don’t care what they did. We have a prisoner that was willing to cut a deal and because you can’t hang a phone up properly or remember to take your issued cell phone home, he may not talk anymore and we may never find that missing girl.” Vecchio looked past Kowalski through his office windows into the bullpen and scanned what he could see of the room. “Where’s Benny?”
“He’s at home.” Ray shuffled for a moment, prevaricating. It wasn’t his place to tell Vecchio, and besides, he didn’t think the man would believe it. He barely believed it himself. “I, uh… I think he picked up a stomach bug. Told him it was that sushi roll he had a few nights ago.”
“That’s just great. My day just keeps falling apart at the seams.” Vecchio ran a hand over his balding head, trying to keep his rising anger in check. “Welsh said there would be days like this,” he muttered to himself.
“Look, I can talk to the guy without Fraser. I know how to get people to talk,” Ray tried to convince his new Lieutenant.
“Do not screw this up, Kowalski. There is a little girl’s life on the line here. If she isn’t already dead.”
“I won’t screw it up. I do know how to do my job without Fraser in my back pocket.” Ray replied, annoyed. ‘Holy crap, give some guy a promotion, they suddenly think they’re God or something.’
Seemed like Vecchio guessed what he was thinking though. He backed down a little.
"Yeah," he rubbed his face, "You're right. Sorry, Kowalski." He grinned, a little reluctantly. "I'm glad Welsh hung onto you. You're one of the best." He grunted, clearly embarrassed, and continued. “Okay, listen. Stella has a file made up of what the state is willing to offer in exchange for his information depending on the results that we get. We’ll put him in interrogation three, let him sit and sweat for a few and then you get in there and work your magic.”
Ray pulled the Goat into the parking space at his apartment building and killed the engine. A faint glow illuminated his bedroom window. ‘I wonder if Ben's still awake,’he thought. ‘God, I hope so.’ The day had taken a drastic turn for the worse when he walked into the bullpen earlier that morning. Ray had only meant to spend a few hours finishing paper work. He'd been so looking forward to an early night, spending some time with Ben before the pregnancy hormones caused him to collapse, exhausted yet again. Yeah, he'd been really looking forward to some quality time together, so he and Fraser could finally catch a movie. Sure didn't look like that was on the cards tonight.
Fuck. Ben was gonna be flat out on the couch when he got in. And probably pissed as hell with him, in that snippy 'don't worry, everything's fine' way that he had. Ray thought about how physically drained his partner had been over the course of the last three weeks. No wonder the poor guy was pissed. Fraser's symptoms were all starting to make sense to him now. Although there was still the 'what the fuck?' factor… the 'how the hell could this happen' which was still freaking him out. God knew what it was doing to Ben.
Ray glanced at his watch and cringed. Crap, it was worse than he thought. It was almost midnight already, and he had been gone all day. Chad DeVault, the drug dealer who supposedly had information on the missing girl, thought he could get a deal by lying to the state. ‘Dumbass,’ Ray thought wearily to himself. After interrogating the guy by playing both sides of the fence with his ‘good cop… bad cop’ solo routine, the detective knew he was lying when the idiot mentioned the young girl’s chocolate colored hair. Ray was just about to pull his own hair out and bring Fraser in on the action, when the numbskull told him that the girl with the long brown hair and bouncing curls had the cutest freckled cheeks. In that one sentence, Ray knew Chad DeVault didn’t know anything about the missing child and was just buying time out of his cell. They were no closer to finding the little blonde with the shoulder length bob than they were a month ago when she went missing.
Ray leaned his head against the headrest and let his eyelids fall shut. He’d have to get up sooner or later, but he was pretty exhausted himself. His emotions were taking him on a rollercoaster ride today. There was what was going on with Ben at home, and then at work this whole situation with the missing girl. First the hope that he would find her… followed by despair as the lead turned out to be a mirage. His heart had skipped a beat with the thought of finally locating the young girl and hopefully reuniting her with her extended family. There was evidence at the grisly scene that her parents and older brother had been murdered: too much blood had been shed for anyone to have survived. The whole damn place was splattered with red. Wall to wall gore. But strangely, only three DNA types had been found… father, mother, son. None of the blood had been the little girl’s, not a drop, leading Fraser to believe she was still alive. “It’s too much of a coincidence, Ray. It’s obvious from the scene that the other victims were ... well ... brutally slain. It makes no sense for the killer or killers to develop a different M.O for the girl. Something else happened here. She’s still alive.”
Yeah, well… Ray believed him. Ben was making good sense. But the other detectives were skeptical. Ray didn't know if it was because they didn't trust Ben's gut instinct… some folks had been off with them both since they came out together… but whatever the reason the majority opinion seemed to be that the killer simply ran out of bullets, and killed her later when he disposed of the corpses.
Corpses. Damn. Ray shuddered. The bodies had yet to be found. Ray held out hope that Ben was right, and the kid had managed to escape somehow. She was barely past her seventh birthday, small for her age. Ray prayed she was a fighter.
Ah shit. He was falling asleep where he sat. He squinted at his watch in the dark of the car once again and worked up the energy to open the car door and get out. Fraser had managed to get a call into him late in the afternoon, telling Ray he would help him with his paperwork, but Ray had told him he had it under control and to stay home and catch up on some much needed rest. For once, Fraser listened to him. Ray spent the rest of the afternoon filing away his paperwork and rereading the file on the missing girl, hoping he would see something they had missed initially. There had to be a clue they were overlooking, there always was. He had been so engrossed in the files, he had lost track of time.
When he stepped into the apartment, the kitchen light was off and all was silent. It was quiet evenings like this that Ray missed the click of Dief’s nails on the hardwood flooring as he trotted across the room to greet him. It had only been four weeks since he had passed on from an injury saving Ray from a malicious thug trying to choke the life out of him. The hurt was still as raw as if it happened yesterday.
A red glow from the chili pepper lights illuminated the top of the breakfast bar and Ray tossed his keys into the maple leaf wooden bowl resting on the corner of the counter. A green bunch of bananas and purple plums filled the matching bowl on the opposite side of the counter. ‘Fraser must have been to the store,’ Ray thought as he snatched a plum and wiped it clean on his t-shirt. He took a juicy bite, relishing the sweet flavor of the flesh as it took the edge off his hunger pains. It felt like a lifetime ago that Frannie had offered him a chicken salad sandwich and vending size bag of potato chips. He finished off the purple fruit and snagged another, swiveling it around a clean spot on his t-shirt before taking a hungry bite. His ravenous stomach was no longer trying to eat itself.
Scanning the open room, he wasn’t surprised to not find Fraser. Taking a quick peek over the back of the couch to make sure he didn’t miss him asleep, Ray turned towards their bedroom. It was quiet as well with only a soft hum coming from the overhead fan and a faint glimmer from the lamp on the nightstand casting shadows on the walls. Ray leaned against the door jam, an affectionate smile tugging at his lips. Ben was sound asleep. His charcoal framed reading glasses were resting crooked on his nose and the slate blue fleece blanket and matching sheet pooled loosely around his waist. Ben’s right hand was invisible between the pages of his current book. There was a small note pad, tucked just under the corner of Fraser’s book with Ben’s perfect penmanship covering three quarters of the page. Ray couldn’t read it from where he was, let alone upside down. Full of curiosity, he carefully pulled the notebook out from under Ben’s book trying not to disturb his sleeping partner. His breath caught as he read the first line. Fraser had started the list of things to ask his doctor and the first thing on that list was ‘How to stop the vomiting?’
With careful fingers, Ray opened the book and pulled it out from under Fraser’s limp hand. He marked the page with his index finger and closed the cover to see what his partner had been reading. The very pregnant brunette on the cover of ‘Your Pregnancy: Week by Week’ stared back at him with a wide smile plastered across her pretty face. Ray chuckled thinking it looked like she had a watermelon stuffed under that tight shirt with the spaghetti thin straps. He removed Fraser’s reading glasses and clicked off the bedside lamp. Closing the door softly behind him, he made his way down the short hallway to the couch. One thing Ben really needed was a good night’s sleep. Even though it was late, Ray was too wound up from the stressful day to sit still. He’d give Ben a bit of space, and do some reading. That usually put him right out. Opening the book as he walked through the entrance into the living room, he realized Ben had fallen asleep around week twelve of a pregnancy.
Even so, sleep was the last thing on Ray’s mind as he settled onto the couch with a cup of coffee, Ben’s notebook and the pregnancy book. Scanning the list again, he quickly scribbled ‘activities to avoid?’ followed immediately by ‘effects on Ben’s health’. Ray didn’t want to give up having Fraser as a work partner but he didn’t want to risk the health of their baby either by Ben taking his usual daily risks. Putting aside all the weirdness and chaos they were going to be facing, Ray was becoming more excited about Ben being pregnant. He had always wanted a child of his own and to be able to share in the creating of a new life with the person you loved most in the world, no feeling could top that. He would be damned if he was going to let other people’s misunderstandings ruin this experience for them.
Ray kicked off his shoes and propped his feet up on the coffee table. He opened the book at the beginning and commenced reading. The book was intended for women, but Ray assumed what a woman experienced, men would as well. Why should the person’s sex matter? It only made logical sense to him. He was overly anxious to find out how all this could happen in the first place, but he was pretty certain male pregnancies were not covered in this particular book. That discussion would have to wait for the doctor.
Ray was well into week nine when he heard movement from the doorway of their bedroom. He stole a quick glance at his watch and realized it was past 2 am and he was still engrossed in the book. ‘Oh great. First book to hold my attention longer than ten minutes and it turns out to be a pregnancy book. Go figure.’ Fraser let out a stifled yawn as he made his way down the hallway and paused before tentatively entering the living room.
“You’re home.” Weirdly, Ben sounded surprised. To Ray’s ears, it sounded more like a question than a simple observation.
“Yeah,” Ray said, somewhere between apologetic and exasperated. “’Course I’m home. Where else would I be?”
“I uh… I tried calling the station again when you didn’t answer your cell and the Desk Sergeant told me you didn’t want to be bothered. When you didn’t come home…” Fraser’s voice trailed off. ‘Shit’, Ray thought, shocked. ‘He thought I was avoiding him.’ For a moment Ray thought he caught a glimpse of a fresh tear pooling in the corner of his lover’s blue eyes. ‘Oh my god, the book’s not kidding. His moods are all over the place.’ Fraser sniffed and worked up the courage to continue. “I was worried that you had changed your mind. I’m sorry, Ray. I had no idea that I was capable of… we should have been more…”
“Hey,” Ray said in a soothing voice as he hopped over the back of the couch and met Ben at the end of the hallway. “I was just finishing up paperwork, that’s all. My cell was dead and there’s a new guy on the desk job who doesn’t know that I always take your calls.” Ray placed a reassuring kiss to Fraser’s quivering lips in an attempt to calm him. “You and me, we’re gonna have a baby.” Ray bent down and placed a kiss to Fraser’s abdomen through his faded t... shirt. He stood and gave his partner a sheepish smile. “I’ve been reading your book.” He held up the book so Ben could see as he motioned towards the couch. “All of your symptoms make so much sense now. The exhaustion, the morning sickness. See, I didn’t know that it doesn’t have anything to do with the time of day it strikes.”
Fraser sat down wearily on the couch and nestled himself into Ray’s side, resting his head on Ray’s solid shoulder. “I started a list of questions to ask Doctor Logan.”
Ray grinned and retrieved the list from the coffee table. “I’ve been adding to it. We need to ask about you flying. You’ve got that conference scheduled in a few months. If you are at ten weeks now, then that would put you at approximately…” Ray did the math on his fingers. “Eighteen weeks.”
Fraser had taken Ray’s hand and laced their fingers together, placing them over his abdomen. “You think I will look like that lady on the cover of the book?” He gave a shaky smile, but Ray sensed his insecurity.
“No, I think you will look better.” Ray placed a quick kiss to Fraser’s lips before deciding that quick wasn’t going to cut it. He let his lips linger longer on his partner’s, twisting a hand into the back of Fraser’s hair and pulling him closer.
“It’s late Ray, we should go to bed.”
“Or you could just lay down with me here.” He kissed Fraser deeper, sneaking his tongue inside the inviting mouth. “Hey, you think we should ask them if sex is okay?”
“Ray,” Fraser pulled away and slapped Ray in the back of the head. “We can’t ask them that.”
“Why not? It would be a good idea to know if it’s safe later on.”
“I don’t want them knowing about our sex life.”
“Well, it’s obvious we have one. Most couples in an established relationship do, it’s bound to come up at some point.”
“Oh God,” Fraser groaned dreading that conversation.
“Just shut up and kiss me.” Ray pressed his lips to Fraser’s and forced his tongue into Fraser’s mouth before he could complain anymore.
“Mmm… you taste like plums.” Fraser licked his lips and pulled Ray’s lips back to his own. “I’m kinda hungry.”
“Oh yeah, for what?” Ray asked mischievously. “Oh, before I forget, I gotta warn ya,” he grew serious. “Frannie thinks you’re some kind of bulimic or something.”
“What?” Fraser exclaimed, sitting up quickly, almost knocking Ray off the couch.
Ray shook his head. “She got this crazy idea forming in that little head of hers just because you’re throwing up, you have weight issues now.”
“Why would you tell her I’ve been vomiting, Ray? That’s a personal matter.” Fraser sounded affronted.
“Wasn’t me… Turnbull.”
“Oh Lord.” Fraser groaned and rubbed his temples. “I should have known he wouldn’t let it go without saying something.”
“I just thought you should have a heads up that she thinks you need some kind of help. She’s worried about you. And you know Vecchio, he’ll not let it rest either. They’re quite observant you know.” Ray sighed. “You realize, we are going to have to eventually tell her… and everyone else.”
“Do we have to?” Fraser looked pitiful. “Couldn’t we just pretend we adopted, or hired a surrogate, or we found it on the side of the road?”
“Found it on the side of the road?” Ray asked exasperated. “Fraser, this isn’t a stray dog. What, you think you could lie about it?”
“Why not? Women have been forced to lie about pregnancies forever. I know several people who only found out in adulthood that their mother was actually their grandmother, and their big sister was their biological mother.”
“What? Seriously? Wow. Ben, that’s fucked up.”
“Well, it is.”
Fraser sighed. “You’re right, Ray. It is. And, I’ve never been a convincing liar. Besides. I couldn’t lie to Ray and the other Vecchios about it.” He smiled. “How can I ask him to be the godfather if I don’t tell him who the mother is?”
“Ben...” Ray grinned. Despite his reservations, Ben was already imagining celebrating the birth of their baby. That was… well, that was greatness. “You know Vecchio will understand. Well, maybe not understand… he’ll freak out and threaten to cut my balls off. But once that’s out of the way, he’ll be great.”
“I know… and I will tell him. Just not yet. I need more time for the idea of it all to sink in first. Doctor Logan has me scheduled for Monday morning at nine. I’ve already cleared my schedule at the Consulate for the day.” Fraser leaned back against the couch and took Ray’s hand again. “Your parents need to know before anyone else.”
“When the time is right, we will tell them.” Ray stood up and went to the counter retrieving two plums from the maple leaf bowl. He cleaned one and handed it to Ben before reclaiming his seat and draping his legs over the arm of the couch and resting his head in his partner’s lap. Ben took the offered fruit and just stared at the purple object in his hand.
“What’s the matter? I miss a spot?” Ray asked as he took a bite out of his own plum.
“No,” Fraser admitted quietly. “This is how big our baby is right now.” He shrugged his shoulders when Ray drew his eyebrows together, confused. “You’re a visual person. I thought it would help to give you an idea of the size of the baby rather than telling you it weighs so many ounces. I read it was the size of a plum at ten weeks.”
Ray stopped chewing. ‘Eww. Gross.’ Ben just had to say that while he was eating. ‘I’m never eating plums again.’ He examined the remainder of the uneaten fruit dripping between his fingers. “Oh my God, Ben… we’re gonna be parents.”
Ben ran his fingers through the blond spikes of Ray’s hair. “Yeah…”
Monday morning found Fraser and Ray waiting impatiently in the last examination room of Doctor Logan’s office. They had finished the baby book together, then spent the rest of the weekend frantically reading their way through everything that the Chicago public library system had to offer on the subject. Each evening was spent compiling a list of questions and concerns about the journey they had unknowingly set out on over ten weeks ago.
Not surprisingly, given how anxious they were to get this over with, they turned up to the appointment thirty minutes early. Ray was irritated by the wait, tapping his foot and glaring at the clock. Doctor Logan wasn't there, but the nurse was ready for them, taking Fraser's vitals, and making notations on his chart, all the while smiling, and trying to set them both at ease. "Don't worry," she said. "I'll let the doctors know you're here. They shouldn't keep you waiting too long."
"Yeah, right," Ray muttered after an eternity had passed. He flicked at his watch face with an irritated finger. "She said that forty... five minutes ago."
"I'm sure it's not been forty... five minutes," Fraser tried to sound reassuring, even though he personally felt like he would turn to stone at this rate.
"Yeah, well, I'm sure hell just froze over." Ray scowled, clearly getting ready to kick someone in the head. Privately, Fraser sympathized. He put a hand on Ray's, and squeezed.
“This is weird.”
‘Weird? Oh, well, thank you, Ray. That’s just charming.’ Fraser removed his hand, and glared. Ray looked stricken, and quickly corrected himself. “No, it’s a good weird. I’ve never been to the doctor when I haven’t been sick. So, it’s you know… weird.” The glare didn’t leave Fraser’s face. “Different…”
‘Humph. ‘Weird. Different.’ Ray is really going all out to win ‘Mr. Sensitive Father of the Year’ here.’
“Come on, Ben. Whatcha thinkin’? You got that face on.”
“That, ‘my feelings have been smashed to dust but I’m not gonna say anything, ’cause I’m so noble and Canadian, so I’m gonna sit and brood till Ray caves in and gives me a blowjob’ face.”
Despite himself, Fraser chuckled. “An examination room might not be the best place for such an act of reconciliation.”
“Act of reccy what?” Ray’s puzzled face cleared as he got it. “Oh. Reconciliation.” He smirked. “You sure about that?”
Fraser sighed, regretfully. “Sadly, yes.”
Ray gave a little grin, then looked down shyly, fidgeting with the utensils on the counter like a small child looking for something to consume their energy.
“Ray,” Fraser scolded. “Put that down.”
“Sorry.” He placed the container of tongue depressors back onto the counter before he resumed pacing in front of the examination table that Fraser was sitting on. “I’m just nervous, you know.”
“Would you please stand still or sit down. You’re making me nauseous.” Fraser mumbled through clenched teeth.
“You gonna puke?” Ray scanned the room quickly for a trash can in case Ben lost his breakfast.
“No,” Fraser grabbed Ray’s wrist, stopping his frantic search.
“Sorry, I’m a just a little edgy not knowing anything and I hate waiting.”
Very carefully, very precisely, Fraser bit the tip of his tongue. Ray was feeling edgy? That was… well… that was rich. “Just sit down, please.” He struggled to keep his voice calm and polite. “I’m nervous enough for the both of us.”
A knock at the door caused both men to jump.
“Hi, Benton? Ray?”
“Doctor Logan,” Fraser folded his arms across his lap, and squeezed his fingers tightly into a double fist. He glanced furtively at the other doctor… the ‘specialist.’ For some reason his mouth went dry. The man was elderly, grey, and decidedly portly. He was also grinning like a cat in a cage full of canaries, and practically rubbing his hands together with glee.
Doctor Logan cast a slightly disapproving look at his colleague. “This is Doctor Allison. He’s an expert in the field of… ”
“Yeah,” interrupted Ray. “In the field of men with a bun in the oven. Nice to meet you, Doc.” He shoved a hand out at the new doctor. “So, you gonna help Ben?”
“Oh, certainly,” the other man said, enthusiastically shaking Ray’s hand. “You must be the father, I assume?”
“Yeah. I must. So. What’s going on with Ben? How the hell did I get him up the duff?”
Doctor Allison grinned amiably. “Well, I assume the traditional way. You are in a sexual relationship with Ben, aren’t you?”
Ray blushed, and glared at the old man, then looked at Fraser, who was likewise blushing fiercely. He felt exposed and ridiculous in the paper gown. “You know Ben’s sitting right there?” Ray objected. “You can talk to him you know.”
Doctor Allison nodded vigorously. “Of course,” he said, and turned his attention back to Ben. His grin became even broader, and somewhat proprietorial. “So,” he asked. “How are we feeling today?”
Fraser opened his mouth, and completely froze. He had absolutely no idea how he was feeling. And why was the man using the plural, why ‘we?’ Did he expect Fraser to have some kind of psychic bond with the baby?
Doctor Logan looked at him with some concern. “Benton,” he asked. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Fraser squeaked, and clammed up again. He looked desperately at Ray. ‘Please,’he thought, ‘I can’t do this. You do it for me.’
Ray seemed to catch the desperation in his expression, because he nodded, and moved to his side, dropped his hand on Fraser’s shoulder, and squeezed. Doctor Allison opened Fraser’s chart, and began swiftly scanning the contents, nodding and humming enthusiastically as he did so.
“Aha, aha, I see...” he mused. “So,” he repeated, “how are we feeling?”
“Confused,” Ray blurted. Fraser whacked him softly in the arm, feeling a little better to hear his partner’s admission. It wasn’t just him then. Ray grinned at him, then continued. “Good… we’re both doing good.”
“I’m sure you’re wondering how you could be pregnant, Mr. Fraser.”
Fraser had to clear his throat twice before he could speak. “The thought has crossed my mind a few times.”
Doctor Allison nodded vigorously. “Well, you have a very unique body. One that is hardly ever seen in any doctor’s career, though, you know,” he flapped his hand in a self... congratulatory manner. “I’ve been lucky… I’ve seen another two of you in my career.”
“Two of me?” Fraser blinked, confused. For a moment he imagined a room full of Fraser clones. He felt like the subject of a medical plot anyway... it could be no more nonsensical than the situation he was already in.
“Two people like you, that is.” The specialist glanced at Doctor Logan for confirmation. The man looked less than pleased with the way the conversation was going, but the specialist continued, seemingly oblivious to his colleague's disapproval. “You, Mr. Fraser,” he declared happily, “are that rarest of things… what the medical world would call a true hermaphrodite. You have a fully functional set of both male and female organs. Your female organs released an egg that was fertilized by Ray’s sperm.”
“But…” Ray began but obviously wasn’t sure how to continue his thought. The doctor took pity on him and finished it.
“I know what you’re thinking, Ray. You and Ben obviously can’t have vaginal sex, so how can your sperm make its way to meet up with his eggs?” Ray shook his head, looking as helpless as Fraser felt. Doctor Allison continued, relentlessly cheerful and reassuring. “From what Doctor Logan has told me, Ben has a small opening… tiny really… where a woman would have a normal vaginal opening. It would be practically invisible to the layman, but is just large enough that the smallest amount of semen made its way inside and well, the rest is history.”
“You’re saying I have an… ” Fraser croaked. “An... opening?”
“It’s analogous to the much more common micro... penis,” Doctor Allison stated with far too much enthusiasm. “In fact, I’m really looking forward to examining it. I haven’t seen one since nineteen seventy four… ”
“Hey!” Ray’s voice cracked in protest. “Stop that. Ben’s a person, not part of some experiment.”
For the first time the expert looked flustered. “I didn’t mean to suggest that he… ”
Doctor Logan broke in, raising a conciliatory hand. “Quite right, Ray,” he declared. “And I’m sure that my colleague’s professional excitement will not impede his treatment of Ben. “Benton,” he addressed Fraser carefully. “How are you feeling?”
“A little… overwhelmed.” A sudden thought slammed into him.‘Oh no, please not that… ’“So, if I have an... opening. Am I...” he stuttered, “Am I going to… give birth?” The thought made him feel sick with fear. He’d delivered babies. The thought of doing it himself was… appalling. “Naturally I mean?”
Logan shook his head, sympathetically. “There is no way that opening will ever be large enough for you to have a vaginal delivery, Ben. It will have to be a scheduled cesarean.”
“Oh, thank God for that.” Fraser closed his eyes, in gratitude. Then another thought hit him. “Wait…” he stared at his trusted doctor, and his heart dropped. “You knew? Why haven’t you ever told me? Did you know I was… that I had…”
Logan scratched his ear and looked guilty. “I discovered your condition when you were shot and had surgery. I told you shortly afterwards.” He gave Ben a puzzled look. “We talked about this. I’m surprised you don’t remember.”
“Doctor Logan, I don’t remember anything from those first few weeks,” Fraser explained.
“No,” Logan winced and shook his head. “It was poor timing on my part I suppose, mentioning it then. You did seem compos mentis, but I never… well, I should have scheduled some follow up therapy.” He coughed. “But nonetheless… here we are.”
“Here we are,” Fraser repeated dully.
Logan’s colleague was suddenly looking concerned. “I’m assuming we are moving forward with the pregnancy?” Doctor Allison interjected.
“Moving forward?” Ray’s voice broke in on Fraser’s thoughts, high pitched and panicked. Fraser looked at him, then looked away. They had never really talked about termination, after that one hinted suggestion. Obviously Ray opposed the idea... as did Fraser, when his heart wasn’t trying to hammer its way out of his chest. “Yes, we’re moving forward.”
“So,” Doctor Allison was grinning again, exhaustingly cheerful. “How about we do a quick exam, let you two listen to your baby’s heartbeat, and we will set up a schedule of appointments for check-ups?”
Fraser nodded mutely, and didn’t look at anyone. He shut his eyes, lay down, and let the other voices in the room wash over him as the doctors conducted their… ‘examination.’ Oh Lord. He folded an arm over his face to hide, as the doctors positioned his legs in the stirrups. It was beyond awkward to be poked and prodded in this way… and he knew he shouldn’t be embarrassed or… a better word for it… mortified, but the feeling overwhelmed him as the doctors gathered between his legs, and Logan pointed out the minute vaginal opening to Ray and the specialist.
‘I think I want to die,’ Fraser thought as he felt the contact of a latex finger to his sensitive skin. ‘Please God, let the floor open and swallow me whole.’ Somewhere in the distance, Fraser could hear the doctors talking to Ray.
“...see here where...”
“Damn, I never noticed that. I mean, I noticed, but I didn’t know what it was. Thought it was a dimple or something. It’s tiny. Ben, you okay?”
“Fine,” he muttered. A freak, but fine.
This time when the jelly went on his abdomen it was warm. Doctor Logan had remembered his promise.
“... ultrasound...” the specialist was saying, over the thrum of the infant’s heartbeat.
“God,” Ray’s voice, excited. “What is that? I can see something… ”
“That’s the heart, and if you look over here… ”
“...uterus on the small side...”
Then a phrase caught Fraser’s attention:
“...bullet in the back.”
Fraser opened his eyes.
“What?” he interrupted. “What about the bullet in my back?”
Logan put out a hand, and helped him sit up, releasing his ankles from the stirrups. Fraser crossed his legs and tugged the gown down past his knees.
“Yeah,” Ray said, in a dangerous tone of voice. “What about that damn bullet?”
Logan scratched his chin, making a scraping noise against his beard.
“To be honest, I do have a major concern about that bullet.” He looked Fraser straight in the eyes. “This baby is going to be putting a lot of strain and stress on your back muscles and spine. Backache is nearly universal in pregnancy… it wouldn’t surprise me if we run into some complications down the road as the fetus grows and starts to take up some space in there.”
“What kind of complications?” Ray asked. His voice was grim.
Logan gave them both a look of sympathy. “Could be as simple as tingling in the extremities, fingers and toes or it could shift the bullet into a nerve and cause paralysis.”
Ray’s face… changed. One moment, his mouth and eyes were mobile, his face animated... excited. The next, everything froze. He looked like Fraser felt… frightened.
And Ray didn’t even know that Fraser had been feeling some tingling in his extremities.‘I mustn’t tell him that. Then he’ll really panic.’ Fraser reached out to squeeze Ray’s hand. ‘It’s only pins and needles after all.’
The doctor seemed to notice the shift in expressions on the men’s faces. “Listen, your baby is roughly the size of a lime right now, so there is no immediate concern. Let’s not concentrate on that issue unless it arises and if we have to, we will deal with it then.”
Doctor Allison chimed in. “This is a happy moment for the two of you. Ben, how about you lie back down and we will finish off the exam then you two can fire off any questions you have.”
‘I have to lie back down again?’He sighed, and did so, this time concentrating on the poster plastered to the ceiling above the exam table. The tiger striped cat dangling from a tree limb gazed down at him with apparent sympathy. A caption beside the cat’s head read “You think you’re having a rough day?” Ben muffled a laugh. ‘Yes, I certainly am.’ He fixated on the picture as he heard Ray running through their list of questions. ‘Life has definitely taken a sharp turn,’ he thought wearily to himself. He couldn’t get his mind to focus on anything other than the cat dangling precariously from that limb.
“What do we do about him throwing up every day?” Ray asked the doctor while he took Fraser’s blood pressure. “It can’t be good for him or the baby, can it?”
“No, it’s not good, but it’s a very common occurrence in pregnancies.” Logan frowned, a crinkle of concern between his bushy eyebrows as he checked the reading. “Your blood pressure is on the low side, even for you, Benton. We’ll keep an eye on it.”
“Should we worry about it?” Ray was gnawing his thumbnail, flickering anxious glances between Fraser and the doctors.
“No, but Benton might be prone to dizzy spells.” Logan clucked his tongue. “I also noticed you have lost three pounds since you were here last Friday. You’ve been vomiting every day? For how long?”
“At least a couple times a day for the past week. Before that it was about every other day.” Ray supplied before Fraser could make a sound.
‘Perhaps I should tell them how often I’ve been sick today,’ he thought. Then he counted back in his head. ‘Perhaps not.’
“Eat a few saltines before you get out of bed in the morning. Wait about ten minutes, and then sit on the edge of the bed for a few seconds before you stand up. This will help you by putting something mild in your system and helping raise your blood sugar levels. Throughout the day, you can try sucking on a piece of hard candy. If you feel the churning in your stomach beginning, sucking on a piece of hard candy may give you enough of a sweet taste and raise your blood sugar level enough to help alleviate that sick feeling.”
“Saltines and candy. Got it.” Ray jotted the information onto his notepad.
‘Dammit,’ Fraser thought. ‘That won’t do.’
“I’m really not convinced that will help,” he said aloud. “I have tried numerous alternative remedies for nausea over the last few weeks, and none of them have been successful.”
“What have you tried?” Doctor Allison said brightly. Fraser sighed, and started ticking remedies off on his fingers. The specialist looked intrigued, and took notes. “Uh huh? Uh huh... and where did you get the recipe for the bark soup?”
“An Inuit… ”
“Look, can we just cut to the chase? Can you stop Fraser from puking all the time or not?”
“We can certainly try,” Logan reassured Ray. He turned to Fraser, and continued. “You are at roughly eleven weeks, so the morning sickness should subside shortly. It generally doesn’t last too long into the second trimester. Unfortunately, unless it’s severe and you are losing substantial amounts of weight or become severely dehydrated, there isn’t a whole lot to do but let nature take its course.”
“I was sure that I read about anti... emetics that… ”
“Yes,” Doctor Allison interrupted. “But we wouldn’t prescribe anything at this stage. If it persists obviously we’ll reassess our options.” He turned to Doctor Logan. “If you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like to run another ultrasound to check the placement of the placenta.”
Resigned, Fraser lay back down. At least this time he didn’t have to put his feet in stirrups.
“You’re doing fine, Ben,” Ray murmured.
Fraser nodded his head in gratitude and felt a reassuring squeeze to his shoulder. When Ray had moved to the head of the exam table he wasn’t sure, but he was thankful now for his partner’s support. The sound of their baby’s heartbeat filled the exam room as he got lost in a world of unknowns.
Ray tossed his keys into the bowl on the counter and snapped a banana off the bunch from the fruit bowl. He offered one to Ben who shook his head ‘no’. “Ben, you gotta eat something. That piece of toast from this morning can’t possibly keep you going.”
“I will. I just…” Fraser’s words trailed off as he sat on the back of the couch with the stack of pamphlets clutched tightly between his fingers. “There’s a lot of stuff that could go horribly wrong for both me and the baby, Ray. Doesn’t that concern you?”
Ray stopped peeling his banana and stared at his partner. “Of course it does, but the doctors said those are all unknowns, they could or they couldn’t happen.” Ray put his banana on the counter and gave his partner his full attention. A feeling of dread was coiling in his stomach. “You aren’t considering terminating it… are you?”
“Ray,” Fraser ran his fingers through his hair, uncharacteristically scruffing it up. Ray itched to smooth it back down, but for once kept his hands to himself. “I don’t want to end up with a premature baby that is going to die, or become paralyzed myself and never be able to care for it.”
“Ben, that’s not going to happen.”
“How do you know? How can you possibly know?” Fraser glared at him, and Ray looked away from the ferocity in his eyes. Fraser continued, quiet and implacable. “You saw the doctors. They are more interested in gathering data on my ‘uniqueness’ and getting their findings published in science journals than in giving me sound medical advice.”
“Hey, that’s not fair,” Ray protested. “The other guy maybe, but Logan’s okay.”
“Perhaps.” Fraser conceded. “But even so, Doctor Logan said that the… my uterus was on the small side which means the baby can’t possibly go to term.”
“Yeah, and they also said that most premature babies survive these days. You’ll be having the baby in a hospital, not an igloo. It’s not like they’re gonna cut you open with a rusty knife and throw the baby out into the snow.” Fraser winced, and Ray felt bad, but dammit, he was getting angry here. He didn’t know where he was with Fraser these days. He was all over the place.
Fraser sat heavily on the arm of the couch, and covered his face. His voice was muffled as he spoke through his hands. “And what happens when word gets out to the press that there is a pregnant man living in this building?”
“Why the hell would the press find out? Who’s gonna tell them? You?”
“Ray, don’t be naive. With the best will in the world, someone could leak this, and then the press will be parked on our doorstep indefinitely. Is that what you want?”
A feeling of pure, blind panic rose in Ray’s chest. ‘It’s happening again,’ he thought… and then tried not to think. The pain was over a decade deep, safely buried… and he had never blamed Stella. Not really. He’d just never quite forgiven her. Or himself.
“Sounds like it doesn’t matter what I want,” he choked out. “You’re just looking for problems.” Ray snatched his keys out of the maple leaf bowl and picked up his banana. He spun on his heel, and pointed the banana at Ben, jabbing it for emphasis. “I never took you for one to take the easy road, Ben.”
“Ray…” Fraser sounded defeated, almost miserable. “I’m sorry. The conversation wasn’t meant to go this way.” He shook his head, and stared at his feet. “I should have kept my mouth shut,” he added bitterly.
“Well, I suppose I should at least be grateful you told me anything.” Ray blinked. Dammit, his eyes were stinging. Stella hadn’t said anything till it was too late.
He was not thinking about that.
“Looks like you’ve got a decision to make,” he bit out. “I’m going to work.” Ray turned on his heels and didn’t bother catching the door before it slammed shut behind him.
“He seems quite agitated with you today.”
Bob’s voice broke into the sudden silence. Numbly, Fraser turned to stare at the ghost of his father. He had never expected to see him again, yet here he was. For a moment, Fraser could barely speak. When he did his voice grated, sounding strange to his ear. “Stating the obvious again, Dad?”
Oblivious to Fraser’s tone, Bob continued. “I imagine he’s just worried about the two of you… you and my grandbaby, that is.”
“Dad,” Fraser began but his words drifted off as he dropped his gaze back to the pamphlets still in his hands. When his voice returned, it was barely audible. “What do I do? Ray isn’t taking these risks seriously. The baby could die before it even has a chance to live. I could end up permanently disabled.”
“Benton, if your doctors believed there was a serious risk to your life, they would have recommended ending this pregnancy with no negotiation on your part. But they are the experts and they believe that you can carry this miracle inside of you for as long as it takes for it to be delivered healthy. You have to trust their judgment.”
“Aren’t you even shocked about my condition?” Fraser asked.
“Did I never tell you about your uncle Tiberius?” Bob asked unfazed. “On your mother’s side.”
“You told me he went crazy and was found wrapped in cabbage leaves. What does my condition have to do with him?” Fraser was confused as to why his father was bringing up his crazy uncle who killed himself.
“You are lucky that you have a supportive partner like Ray. Tiberius wasn’t so lucky.”
Fraser narrowed his lips, bitterly, remembering the ‘family secret.’ “You never told me he was gay.” Of course, he’d known.
“You never asked.” Bob ignored the eye roll from his son. “He came to me one day and asked me what he should do. I was confused and didn’t understand his questioning. I had known that he was seeing a man from a nearby town but they weren’t a good fit for one another. Nothing like you and the Yank.”
“Dad…” Fraser warned.
“Sorry, Ray… it’s so hard to break an old habit.” Bob quickly apologized. “Tiberius swore me to secrecy that he believed he was pregnant. He complained about having all the symptoms of a pregnant woman… the vomiting, the exhaustion, the little pouch in the front that resembled too many cans of beer down the throat.”
“Dad!” Fraser stared down at his belly defensively, and covered it with a hand.
Bob carried on, oblivious. “Of course I didn’t want to believe him. Who would? And besides, even if it was true, what would people think of him? He was too ashamed to go to a doctor, and we thought it was all in his head until ... well ...” Bob sighed. “It was too late then, of course. I’ve regretted it ever since. I believe he drove himself crazy with the thought that he could actually be pregnant. When we found him, an autopsy was performed and right as rain, he was with child.” Bob sighed. “A little boy. The coroner never reported it, took me to the side and told me it was our secret. It had been months since I had brushed off his concerns. Had I encouraged him to seek medical advice, had he had the support of his partner, the outcome may have been a lot different. His life and that of his child’s may have been saved.”
“I never knew any of that.”
“It wasn’t something to talk about. Like you said, people aren’t very understanding. But, when have you ever cared what other people thought of you? Ray loves you and unlike Tiberius’ partner, has shown no signs of panicking or running away. He is a very supportive partner, Benton. I think you need to put more of your faith in him. He was listening intently to those doctors today, he understands the risks. He is choosing not to dwell on them. Do you think he would want you to sacrifice your life, just to have a baby welcomed into his?”
“No, Benton… no ‘buts’,” Bob spoke firmly. “The people in your life that matter and love you, will not be affected by this new knowledge that you can have a child. And the people who don’t matter, don’t give them an opportunity to take away your and Ray’s happiness.”
“He’s talking about looking for a house.”
“Good. Give my grandbaby lots of room to run around. This apartment is not ideal for raising a child. A child needs open spaces to roam and explore. Does that sound like someone that is running away scared or unconcerned about your health?”
“No, it doesn’t.”
“Go back to your doctor, Ben. Go over any concerns you have that you feel weren’t addressed. You were staring pretty intently at that poster on the ceiling. I’m certain you missed a lot of what was discussed.”
“Thank you, Dad.” Fraser tugged at his left ear. “You’re finally getting the grandchild you’ve wanted for so long.”
“I wish I were able to hug you, son.”
“Was I of any help?”
“May I make a suggestion for a house?” Bob asked with a glint in his eye.
“You’re not getting your own room…”
“Look for one with a workshop.” Bob winked as he faded into the mid-morning sunshine. “It will make sense when the time is right. Oh and Benton, eat a banana before you leave.”
Ray punched each key with increased anger as he searched his computer for a missing file. Fraser would have found it within a few seconds and maybe if Ray wasn’t so pissed off at him, he would be able to find it as well. ‘How could he not want our baby?’ Ray thought angrily as the computer flashed an error message across the screen in bold green lettering.
“Dammit…” Ray cursed as he punched another key only to receive the same message in bigger print. He shoved his chair back and decided he needed a strong cup of Frannie’s coffee. He entered the break room and poured himself a mug and leaned heavily against the counter. He was thinking he really should head home and talk with Ben, but he was still too angry with him. And if there was one thing he’d learned from years of marriage… never talk about the important stuff when you’re angry. Because that’s when he’d say something really, unforgivably stupid. And right now, he was really, really angry.
Oh. Great. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fraser pass the break room. ‘I’m not done being mad yet.’Ray shrank back against the counter, lifting his coffee up as a shield.Ben was no doubt searching for him. ‘Just what I need.’ Ray hunched up his shoulders, and decided he wasn’t going to make it easy on the Mountie. ‘Stay put, Kowalski,’ he told himself. ‘He’ll find me soon enough.’
Fraser entered the bullpen and scanned the room searching for his partner. Ray Vecchio emerged from his office when he spotted Fraser.
“Hey Benny, it’s good to see you. How are you feeling? Kowalski said you were under the weather with a stomach bug.” Vecchio clapped Fraser on the shoulder and guided him towards his office. “Something about a bad sushi roll.”
“I’m fine, or will be. Have you seen Ray?” Fraser questioned his friend as he scanned the bullpen again. “He said he was coming into work and I needed to speak with him.”
“I think he got mad at his computer so he took off for the break room. Did you find out what was wrong with you?”
Fraser tugged at his left ear. “It’s a bit of a personal matter for the time being, but yes. My doctor assures me in a few months’ time, I will be good as new.” Fraser let out a small chuckle. “It’s really Ray’s fault… he’s the one who infected me.”
“Wow, that long huh?” Vecchio narrowed his eyes, and peered intently at Fraser. “Nothing serious, I hope.”
“No, my doctor believes he has everything under control.”
“Jeez, Benny.” Vecchio gave a sideways smile, trying to make a joke of it. “If you’ve seen your doctor you’re probably dying.”
“No, no. I’m fine. It’s just... temporary,” Fraser hastened to reassure his friend.
“Huh.” Vecchio seemed less than convinced. “Well, if Kowalski infected you, keep him away from me.”
Fraser blushed. “I’m sure it’s not contagious.”
“Good, when you get your appetite back, you need to eat something, Benny. You’re about to give Kowalski a run for the ‘skinniest ass’ award. You should come around for dinner this week. Both of you. Ma will be in heaven.”
Fraser’s mouth suddenly watered at the thought of Mrs. Vecchio’s lasagna.
“I’ll see when Ray’s available, and let you know.”
“Good. Put some meat back on your bones.” Vecchio ushered Fraser towards the door and pointed him in the direction of the break room. “I believe he went that way.”
Fraser took a deep breath and pushed through the door to the break room. It was empty except for Ray leaning against the counter nursing his cup of coffee. Unsure where to start, he began with a simple apology.
“I’m sorry, Ray. Back at the apartment, I handled all of that wrong. Can we go somewhere a bit more discreet and talk?”
“Get the computer to play nice and print off a file for me and then I’m all yours.”
Fraser pushed the appropriate keys on the keyboard and the printer faithfully spit out the files Kowalski had been seeking for hours. Ray put the contents into a file folder and motioned towards the door.
“Kowalski…” Vecchio called from his office door. “I have some mail for you to look through for that family that was murdered. Maybe there is a clue in it somewhere as to why somebody decided to off them.”
Ray stretched his arms out, allowing Vecchio to drop the stack of mail on top of the file folder. “I’m leaving for the day, Lieu. See you bright and early.”
Vecchio tipped his imaginary hat to both his friends before reentering his office. “Have a good night fellas.”
“Can I get you anything to drink?” Ray was expecting to be hit with a ‘no’ and was surprised when Fraser responded with a request for juice.
“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking today. Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of things today.” Fraser accepted the glass of juice and took a seat on a bar stool as Ray started a pot of water on the stove for pasta for dinner.
“Pasta going to sit okay?” Ray asked as he dumped the stiff noodles into the boiling pan of water.
“Yes, it should be ok.” Fraser ran a thumb pad over his brow nervously. “I went back to see Doctor Logan after you left.”
Ray froze with fearful anticipation. He couldn’t bring himself to turn around and face his partner. Was this it? Was this where Ben told him he terminated their pregnancy? Ray’s fierce grip on the remaining pasta in his hand broke the thin noodles into dozens of bite size pieces scattering them over the countertop.
“I realized that I zoned out while at the appointment this morning and got so caught up in my own fear and anxieties about this pregnancy that I didn’t hear anything that Doctor Logan and the specialist discussed with us.”
Ray concentrated on brushing the broken noodles into a small pile on the counter and felt the weight of his partner settle in behind him. He wasn’t sure he could handle what Ben was about to tell him, but Fraser had him trapped. Ben’s hand settled over his and the broken noodles, stopping the nervous cleaning gesture. He felt warm breath against his neck as Fraser placed a gentle kiss behind his right ear.
“We’re going to have a baby, Ray Kowalski,” Fraser whispered gently. “And I’m scared to death... but I’ve got the strongest person in the world right by my side.”
Ray turned to face his partner, a fresh tear slipping out of the corner of his eye. “You didn’t…”
“No…” Ray breathed an outward sigh of relief. “I’m still very much pregnant.” Fraser gave up a warm smile. “Doctor Logan assured me that if he felt it was unsafe for either me or the baby, he would have recommended terminating it right away. But he feels, even if it arrives early that it will only be by a few weeks and therefore won’t suffer any premature risks.” Fraser kissed Ray gently on the lips and wiped away the few tears that trickled down his cheek. “I contacted a realtor today and I did a little shopping.”
“You have been busy.”
“Yes, I asked the realtor to look for a three bedroom house, with a nice yard. She has already called back and has three for us to look at later in the week. And…” Fraser left the kitchen and retrieved a small bag off the couch. “I bought the baby a gift.” Fraser blushed. “I realize it’s extremely early to be buying it anything, but I thought if I ground myself in the fact that this is really happening, it will be easier to move forward.” Fraser pulled a pale yellow onesie with a baby giraffe and a tiny duckling on the front of it. “I found myself lost in the baby aisles of that department store a few blocks from the Consulate.” He pulled out a matching flannel blanket.
Ray gave the pasta a quick stir. “It’s so tiny… are you sure you got the right size?” Surely newborn babies weren’t that small.
Fraser checked the tag and shrugged. “It says newborn.” He folded the blanket and onesie carefully, placing it on the countertop. “I thought yellow would be a good neutral color for a boy or a girl.”
Ray opened a jar of pasta sauce and poured it into a pan on the stove next to the boiling noodles. “You realize how much stuff we are going to need?”
“I had no idea until I wandered into the baby aisles,” Fraser admitted.
“You think women automatically know what to buy?” Ray asked as he stirred the sauce. “Hey you want some garlic bread? I can throw some in the oven.”
"Well," Fraser beamed. "I've gone all day without losing the contents of my stomach, and for the last few hours I've been craving Italian food, so… yes. I would love some garlic bread."
"Really?" Ray grinned. "You're getting your appetite back. Greatness."
"What files did you bring home?" Fraser asked. Ray relaxed, grateful that they had moved away from more dangerous topics of conversation.
Ben’s question registered. ‘Damn,’ Ray thought, that’s not an easier subject at all. Reluctantly he answered.
“The one on that murdered family from a month ago.”
“Ah.” Ben went still, then stepped up behind him, leaning his chin on his shoulder as he gave him a hug. “I see.”
Of course he saw. Ben was just as obsessed about this case as he was.
“There has to be something we are overlooking. Vecchio gave me a pile of mail to look through hoping it gives us some sort of lead.” Ray twisted out a spaghetti noodle, and took a careful bite. “Not done yet. Another few minutes.”
Fraser nodded against his shoulder, then stepped back, motioning to the far end of the counter.
“I take it these are the documents you are referring to?”
“Yeah. Go ahead and open the mail and see if anything jumps out.” Ray smiled at Ben. “Gives me a chance to finish up dinner.”
Fraser nodded, already looking focused on the case, a distant expression on his face. ‘Oh yeah. He’s obsessed too.’ Ray watched as he retrieved the letter opener from the desk and returned to the counter, carefully slitting open each piece of mail. “Have there been any new leads?” Fraser questioned as he opened what appeared to be a piece of junk mail. He divided it into a separate pile from the utility bills.
“We thought we had one with that drug dealer we arrested last week.” Ray stirred the sauce again before draining the noodles into a colander. “He said he knew where the missing girl was.”
Fraser’s hands froze on the electric bill he was holding. Of everyone involved in the case, he was the one who had held out the most hope that she was still alive. “Why did nobody tell me that?”
“I’m sorry, Ben. You weren’t well, and then… well, turned out he didn’t know anything, just buying time out of his cell. He thought he could lie and get a deal with the state. Dumbass, doesn’t realize it doesn’t work that way.” Ray turned the stove off and served up two dishes. “That’s where I was the other night when I came home so late. I was going back over the file, trying to find a missing link somewhere.”
“You should have told me,” Fraser said, sitting stiffly at the breakfast counter.
“Yeah,” Ray sighed. “I’m sorry, Ben. Guess I’m a dumbass too.”
Fraser gave a tiny smile. “Understood.”
“You forgive me?”
“Of course.” Fraser’s smile grew warmer, then his face went solemn again. “And the bodies are still missing?” he questioned, moving the mail to the side and making room for Ray to sit beside him.
“Yeah, the crime lab guys think that they had to have been wrapped in something or there would be a blood trail leading out of the house.” Ray swiveled his fork in his pasta. “The shower curtain and one of the bedspreads are missing. Still no trace of the little girl’s blood either.”
“Can we go back out to the house?” Fraser asked hopefully. “Perhaps looking at the scene from a fresh perspective will help.”
“I’ll clear it with Vecchio in the morning.” Ray swallowed a mouth full of pasta. “It’s rained a lot in the last month, so any evidence outside the house will have been washed away.”
Fraser conceded the point with a nod, but his face took on a steely glint.
“There’s always a clue, Ray.”
Fraser and Ray stepped carefully around the pools of dried blood from the three victims as they worked their way through the house looking for anything that would solve this case. Fraser stopped at each appliance he found within the home and studied it carefully, his face contorting into a puzzled frown each time he stepped away.
“What’s wrong?” Ray called after watching Fraser examine the stove and walking away seemingly disappointed.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he replied from behind the kitchen island.
“What doesn’t?” Ray asked, studying his partner closely.
“Their electric bill. It was in with the mail that Ray had given you. They have been deceased for a month, so why is their bill so high?”
Ray thought about it and frowned. “No, that doesn’t make sense. You think an appliance got left on or is malfunctioning in some way, drawing more electricity?”
“Perhaps, but…” Fraser frowned again. “Is there another building on the property?”
“No, according to records, it’s just the house with the attached garage. There’s a small garden shed out back but there’s no electric run to it.” Ray paused and thought about the time he had forgotten to pay his electric bill when he and Stella had first been married. “Hey, shouldn’t their electric have been shut off if they didn’t pay their bill? I mean, the guy’s dead, it’s not like he can drop a check in the mail.”
The uniformed officer that was guarding the property from trespassers appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. “Sorry, don’t mean to disturb you. Just came in to step out of the sun for a moment. It’s unusually warm for May already.”
Ray raised a startled glance at the middle aged officer. "Whoa, didn't see you come in," he joked, as he stepped over a broken dish on the floor. "Yeah," he agreed. "Weather's weird this year." Ray noticed the bandaged hand of the officer. “What’d you do man?” Ray swatted at a fly buzzing around his forehead. “Suspect try getting the better of you?” He gave a small chuckle despite the glare coming from Fraser. It was no secret that Officer MacDaniel had a temper and had to be reminded on numerous occasions to keep it in check by his superiors. ‘No wonder he’s been assigned to protect a month old crime scene. Nobody here but raccoons and squirrels.’
“Funny, Kowalski. I hooked it fishing a few days ago.”
Ray made a face. “Yeah, that would hurt.” He swatted another fly away from his face. "Damn bugs. God with this weird weather we've been having, the bugs are terrible."
While Ray made small talk with the officer, Fraser stole a quick glance at his watch. Where had the morning gone? They had an appointment to view a house in just over an hour. Fraser was torn, he wanted to continue looking through the house, but he didn’t want to have to cancel on the realtor either. “Ray, we should probably get going. We have that appointment with the realtor in an hour.” He was disappointed. When they arrived at the house earlier in the morning, he held out hope that they would have discovered something that would break this case wide open.
“You know, Vecchio’s not going to continue letting us come out here if we don’t come up with something soon.”
“I know. Do you want to call the realtor and reschedule?” He really didn’t want to cancel their appointment. The first two houses they had looked at didn’t appeal to either of them. Then they both got caught up in their respective jobs and had to cancel the viewing of what the realtor assured them was their dream house. Fraser stepped from around the island and was hit with a dizzy spell. He shut his eyes and gripped the edge of the counter tightly, knuckles going white.
“Whoa…” Ray was immediately at his side. “What’s going on? You okay?”
Fraser drew in a ragged breath, praying for the room to stop spinning out of control. “I think…” he swallowed the rising bile. “I think I just need to eat something.”
“Yeah, we’re done for today.” Ray fished a piece of candy out of his pocket and unwrapped it with trembling fingers. “Here… suck on this until we get to the car. I brought an apple.”
“Do I need to call someone for you?” the officer asked, concerned.
“No,” Ray replied as he checked Fraser’s pulse. “He’ll be okay.” The doctor had already warned them of the low blood sugar and dizzy spells and Ray was mostly prepared.
Ray guided his partner out of the house and down the steps of the large front porch. Fraser paused on the last step and breathed deeply.
“You okay?” Ray asked concerned.
“Yes, I just…” Fraser sniffed again turning to face the house, “I thought I smelled something.
Ray sniffed the air. "I don't smell anything,” he turned his attention to the trash can and a half eaten pizza from Sandors'. “Well, nothing except maybe the trash.”
“Do you hear that? I thought I heard a…” Fraser paused listening intently. “It sounded like a dog barking.”
“I don’t hear anything Frase.” Ray took hold of Fraser’s elbow when he felt him lean to the side. "Come on, let's get you home."
The petite, dark haired realtor greeted Ray and Fraser at the door to the home she was about to show them. “I know this isn't exactly what you asked me to look for, but I thought if you saw it, you may change your mind. It has a minimal front yard but not too terribly close to the road," she pointed out before walking them around the front of the house to the expansive backyard.
"Wow," Ray whistled in appreciation of the large yard. "This is really great." Ray glanced at his partner who had returned to a much better color after getting some solid food in his system. "Dief would have loved it here." Fraser nodded quietly, missing his four legged friend. Ray made his way to an old tire swing hanging from a tree that he was certain was over a hundred years old.
“Go ahead,” the realtor encouraged.
Ray slipped a leg through the tire and let go, pumping his legs until he was swinging wildly. He let out a childish laugh as he sliced through the air. The backyard was dotted with various colored perennial flowers in the beginning stages of blooming. Ray felt at home, picturing a hammock tied between two of the trees and Fraser and their baby being rocked fast asleep by a gentle breeze. He hoped the inside of the house held as much charm as the backyard.
"Let me show you the inside." The realtor looked as though she was suppressing a grin as she opened the sliding door. Ray dislodged himself from the swing, falling into step beside Fraser. Leading into the family room from the back porch, the late afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees against the back of the property casting shadows against the empty walls.
‘Lots of evening shade,’ Ray thought, thinking how it would keep the room cooler in the warm summer months.
“There is a rather large kitchen which opens up into a nice sized dining room, big enough for family gatherings.” The petite realtor smiled when the men exchanged a glance. “Do either of you come from a large family?”
“No,” Ray supplied as he gave Fraser a wink, “but we have extended family in the area and believe me… they’ll be around.”
“That’s great, this home provides plenty of room for entertaining guests.” She walked them through the dining room into a spacious living room, into a small bedroom, then the laundry room, which led straight back into the kitchen. “The one thing I adore about this home is the open design, high ceilings and the fact that you can start in the kitchen and end up back in the kitchen without ever retracing your steps. Kids love it.”
Fraser envisioned Ray and their child running laps through the house on early Sunday mornings as he was forced to sidestep their adventures while trying to cook them all breakfast. Ray stepped up beside him as the realtor was explaining the full basement. He snuck his arm around Ray’s waist and pulled him close. He liked what he had seen so far and enjoyed the forming visions dancing in his head. The house was perfect and he had only seen half of it.
“Can you tell us about the previous owner?” he questioned as he ran his hand over the smooth countertop. He supposed it didn’t really matter who had lived there before, but he wanted a feel for the history of the home. From what he had seen without closer inspection, it had been well cared for.
“An elderly gentleman lived here. This was his home for the past forty... seven years. His wife died several years ago. They had one son who now lives in California. The gentleman passed on a few months ago and left the home to his son. He didn’t want to uproot his own family so he has decided to sell it. You are actually my first clients to take a look at it.”
Fraser and Ray exchanged a glance. They both loved what the saw but were worried it was well out of their reach. After all, the realtor had already told them it wasn’t quite what they were looking for.
“I already know what you are thinking. It’s not in the price range we discussed.” The two exchanged another glance and Ray nodded. “It’s less than what you are thinking and actually falls on the lower end of your price range.”
“How can that be?” Ray didn’t want to argue about the price but felt compelled to say something. “What the hell’s wrong with it?”
“Oh, absolutely nothing,” she reassured them. “Like I said, the son lives on the west coast and doesn’t want to uproot his own family. Against advice, he has set the price low so it will sell quickly. He doesn’t want to be burdened with any financial upkeep himself. Would you like to see the upstairs?”
“Of course,” Fraser said, slanting a sideways glance at Ray. Ray smiled back, and reached out, squeezed his hand.
“There is a full bath here on the main level along with a bedroom that could be used as a guest bedroom or an office. Upstairs, there is an additional bedroom along with the master bedroom which has a full bath.” She led the way into the master bedroom. “And take a look at this view.” She pushed open a double set of patio doors that led out to a small balcony. “Your entire backyard for your viewing pleasure.” She stepped to the side making room for the men to look out over the bannister into the expansive yard.
“Can you imagine the sunsets from up here, Ben?”
Fraser stared out over the horizon of the backyard, at the dappled shade of the garden. Yes," he said. "I can."
The realtor shifted in behind them. “I can have the papers ready in a few days and we can close within the week. Oh... I almost forgot to tell you, the man who lived here left a workshop full of tools.”
‘Tools?’ Ray thought of the Goat and the tinkering he could do with his father. “What kind of tools?” he asked voice full of excitement.
“He built furniture. Has a workshop full of woodworking tools.”
"We'll take it," Fraser said abruptly.
Ray stared at him, a smile spreading on his face. “You sure? Ben?"
Upon hearing the word ‘workshop,’ Ben immediately thought of what his father had said and saw the tools as affirmation. “Yes, I’m sure.”
“Great, give me a couple of days to get the paperwork around.” She opened her folder and scanned through her upcoming schedule. “We can meet the end of next week if that works for the two of you to sign papers.”
“Greatness!” Ray beamed, pulling Fraser close. They shared a kiss before looking out over the yard dotted with emerging summer colors and an old tire swing that would soon be brought back to life.
Ray juggled the cardboard boxes under his arm and a batch of muffins in the same hand as he tried to work his key into the lock of the apartment door. Frustrated, he kicked it once, secretly hoping Ben was home to open it for him. ‘Frannie and her damn secret mission to fatten Fraser up,’ Ray cursed as the muffins began to slip out of his grasp.
The door opened and Fraser quickly rescued the muffins before they hit the floor.
“Thanks,” Ray managed as he struggled with the flattened oversized boxes. He dropped them just inside the door and planted a quick kiss to Fraser’s lips.
Fraser held up the blueberry lemon muffins in a silent question, his eyebrows raised slightly in confusion. Ray wasn’t fond of muffins so Fraser knew they weren’t his idea.
“Frannie,” Ray replied with annoyance. “You know, she could bake something I like for a change if she’s going to keep sending stuff home with me.”
“Ahh, well, it’s the thought that counts, right?”
“Whatever… I’m about ready to tell her.”
Fraser paled and Ray was sure he was about to have a panic attack. “Seriously, Ben. Pecan pie, banana bread, carrot cake, now muffins. That’s just this week.” Ray relented. “I’m not really going to tell her, but her ‘fatten Fraser up’ crusade has got to stop.”
“What would you like me to do about it?” Fraser set the muffins on the counter and pulled one to his mouth taking a bite. “These are actually quite good.”
Ray gave a resigned sigh. “I suppose nothing.” He scanned the apartment and saw that Fraser had a productive day of packing boxes. “You’ve been busy. I would have helped you know, if you would have just waited for me.”
“I know,” Fraser admitted sheepishly. He had an inkling of an idea how Ray would pack and he wanted to get as many of their belongings into organized boxes before Ray just started throwing stuff in boxes randomly. He had a majority of the kitchen packed up before he ran out of boxes and had to stop.
“Hey, how did the doctor visit go today?”
Fraser wrinkled his brow. He snagged the packing tape off the window sill in the living room and concentrated on assembling a box. “It’s mortifying lying there with my legs up in the air while I’m being examined.” He tossed the box to the side and began on another one, trying to take his mind off the uncomfortable office visit. How many times did his doctor really need to check out his ‘opening’?
Ray’s hand settled on Fraser’s knee. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there. Vecchio needed me on a new case.” Ray frowned, “Weren’t you supposed to go back to the Consulate after your appointment?”
“Inspector Geyer told me to go home.” Fraser avoided eye contact with Ray, focusing on another box. “I imagine losing my breakfast the moment I shut my office door wasn’t convincing him that I was okay.” Fraser shrugged his shoulders and reached for another box. “It’s fine, I managed to get a lot of packing done today.”
“So, what did the docs have to say?”
Fraser fiddled with the packing tape. “Doctor Logan said that my blood pressure was still registering on the low side. And…” Fraser didn’t want to report his current weight loss but knew Ray would ask eventually. He seemed to be keeping a running tally in his head. “And I’ve lost another three pounds.” Fraser grinned against the news. “I did find some comfort in the fact that it was just Doctor Logan today.”
“Yeah? Where was Doctor ‘Benton Fraser’s going to make me a rich man’ Allison?” Ray asked dryly.
“Ray…” Fraser scolded. Ray was right though, the specialist seemed more interested in making a case study out of him than guiding him through a pregnancy. “He was in his own office this week. Doctor Logan said he was working on an article about male pregnancies for a medical journal. I told him I want nothing to do with any such article and that he had better adhere to doctor patient privacy. I don’t need my name smeared all over the news. Logan assured me that Doctor Allison would do no such thing without our written consent. He’s probably itching to write a damn book.”
“We’ll just see about that, not without our say anyway. Okay, so what did Logan have to say about the weight loss? God, another three pounds?” Ray gathered a pile of CD’s from the shelf beside the stereo and dumped them in an assembled box next to Fraser.
Fraser straightened up the CD’s in the box as Ray collected another pile. “He’s going to keep a close eye on it, discuss it with Doctor Allison and possibly prescribe something at my next visit if it drops any lower. From his measurements, it…” Fraser paused and thought. His baby wasn’t an ‘it’. “Our baby is roughly the size of a small lemon this week.”
“Oh…” Ray sounded surprised. “Even with all the puking, it’s still growing?”
“Yes, apparently, a baby receives the nutrients required to help it grow before my body gets the benefit of anything I eat.”
Ray dropped another stack of CD’s into the box and reached for the granite coasters on the coffee table, dropping them on top of his music collection.
"Ray.” Irritated, Fraser removed the coasters and placed them back on the table. “You need a system.”
“Shut up, Ben, I've got a system.” He tossed a baseball trophy in the box from a nearby shelf. “It's throw everything in a heap and hope it doesn't break. What kind of system do you have that works better than mine? Mine is quick and efficient.”
“My system has the virtue of simplicity, and actually working.” Fraser wiggled his fingers as he worked the tape through the dispenser, closing another box of his books. “If we use your system, our child will be a toddler by the time we get unpacked and have everything put away. Trust me, you will thank me later.”
“I highly doubt it...” Ray growled back playfully as he dropped a hand full of folded socks into the box of CD’s. He turned his back and Fraser removed the socks and dropped them into a nearby laundry basket. He added another stack of CDs and a pile of DVDs before sealing the box tightly. On the front of the brown box in bold black marker he wrote, ‘Ray’s stuff’ and smiled affectionately at his partner. “See, Frase, you get my system after all.”
“I spoke with the realtor and we won’t be able to sign the papers for the house until next Friday.” Fraser caught Ray’s expression. “There was a clerical error on the documents she had prepared and then there was a delay on the son’s end with signing his necessary forms.”
“Well, that will give us time to get the rest of this place packed up. I talked with Vecchio today and asked if he would help us move.” Ray shrugged when Fraser threw a glance in his direction. “I don’t think you should be lifting anything too heavy and besides if we have extra hands, it will go a lot faster.”
“What did he say about the house?”
“He was a little confused about the suddenness of it, but I just told him we had been talking about it for a while and the perfect one practically fell in our laps. So, we jumped on it.”
Fraser shook out his hand again. “I had an idea I wanted to pass by you.” He looked into the empty cardboard box before him on the floor, gathering his thoughts. “I was thinking about what the realtor said about the workshop full of tools and if this gentleman’s workshop is as well cared for as his home, I would be able to use it right away.” Fraser blushed and lowered his voice. “I’d like to build your parents rocking chairs for their new home.”
Ray took the opportunity to sit across from Fraser on the floor. His parents had moved back to Chicago four months ago from Arizona and Ray found himself rebuilding a broken relationship with his father. “Hey that’s a great idea. You know, that’s one way we can break the news to them. You know how many times I’ve overheard my mom wishing she had a grandbaby she could rock to sleep and love on.”
“I’d have to have some wood delivered when we get the house, but I thought it would prove to be a distraction for me as well. You know, give me something else to concentrate on.”
Ray moved to his knees and pulled Fraser in for a kiss. “God, I love you.”
The remainder of the evening was spent going through the hall closet, discarding, sorting and packing their belongings into various boxes. After the first three boxes which Fraser had to repack, they came up with a system. Ray sorted. Ben packed and sealed.
They fell onto the couch exhausted after the last available box was filled and taped shut. Ray draped a leg over Fraser’s knee and lowered his head onto Ben’s shoulder. Taking his left hand, he snuck it under the hem of Fraser’s t... shirt. The smooth skin was warm and damp from hours of exertion. “When do you think we’ll be able to feel the baby?”
Fraser covered Ray’s hand with his own. “I don’t know. In the book it mentions that the fluttering feelings begin about sixteen weeks, but to actually see the bump. I’m not sure.” He removed his hand form Ray’s and slid it under his partners and pressed his palm into his own abdomen. “It doesn’t feel any different to me, yet.”
“I guess women don’t show at twelve weeks either.” Ray frowned into Fraser’s shoulder. “Damn… I wanted to be able to feel it already.” He returned his head to Fraser’s shoulder. “So, what’s on your agenda for tomorrow? Consulate or the 2... 7?” Ray laced their fingers together and turned into Fraser’s embrace, letting his eyes fall shut to the beating of his partner’s heartbeat.
“My presence is required at the Consulate until about two in the afternoon and then I am all yours at the station. I’d like to go through the evidence on the Well’s family once more.”
“Mmm hmm,” Ray answered through a yawn. “I’ll have it ready when you get there.”
Fraser dislodged Ray’s leg from his own and stood ignoring the protest coming from his sleepy partner.
“Come on, let’s go to bed.” Fraser pulled Ray to his feet and kissed him. “We both could use a good night’s rest.”
Doctor Logan studied the notations the nurse had made in Fraser’s chart, clearly not pleased. Doctor Allison was readying the ultrasound machine and Fraser felt a soft squeeze to his knee.
“He eats all the time,” Ray broke the silence in the room. “Healthy stuff, like peas and asparagus and whatever size fruit the baby is this week. Why is he still puking?”
“Each individual is different Mr. Kowalski,” Doctor Allison stated. “Are you taking the vitamins we prescribed?”
“Yes, not that they always stay down that long after he swallows them,” Ray replied dryly.
“How about you lie back and we will see how your baby is doing this week.” Doctor Allison rubbed his hands together and Fraser cringed inwardly at his gleeful nature.
Logan had warmed the jelly once again and placed a soothing hand on Fraser’s shoulder as Allison ran the probe over his belly trying to locate the fetus. “How are you feeling aside from the nausea, Benton?”
Fraser’s head was swirling. ‘How am I feeling?’ He wanted to shout to the heavens that he was stressed to the max with the combination of packing, obsessing over the murdered family’s missing child, the changes at the Consulate with the new inspector, the purchase of a new home, and a pregnancy he was not prepared for. He was sure he had thrown up more in just the last week than he had his entire life. It didn’t register right away that the doctor was taking his pulse while his thoughts spun out of control. The doctor reached for the blood pressure cuff and adjusted it around his arm.
Ray noticed the change in expression on Logan’s face as he read the results. “Benton… are you okay?”
Fraser dropped an arm over his face, creating a shield against the onslaught of emotions that were suddenly overwhelming him. He heard the older Allison exclaim excitedly as he studied the ultrasound monitor, “Ahh, there you are, little one. Trying to hide today are we?”
Doctor Logan turned off the ultrasound machine and wiped the jelly off of Fraser’s abdomen, pulling the paper gown past his waist. Doctor Allison, stood there stunned at his colleague's intrusive behavior. “Let’s give these two a few minutes.”
“I have a busy schedule to keep,” Allison stated as Doctor Logan opened the door and ushered him through it.
“Then you may continue your day and I will conclude the appointment with my patient.” Logan folded his arms against his chest. “He needs a moment to compose himself in private with his partner.” The door swung shut, blocking out Allison's outraged face, and Logan's solid bulk. Fraser heaved a sigh of relief. Finally, they were alone.
“Ben,” Ray asked, placing a reassuring hand on Fraser’s forearm. “What’s going on?”
Fraser snuffled and scrubbed his arm across his face. “I’m sorry,” came the muffled reply.
“Hey, shhh,” Ray soothed a hand through Fraser’s hair. “It’ll be okay, whatever it is.”
“I’m just… overwhelmed with everything that is changing in our lives right now.” Fraser snuffled again and Ray fished a tissue out of the box on the counter.
“Here,” he offered, helping Ben into a sitting position. “Your blood pressure and pulse went through the roof.”
“I’m sorry,” he apologized again. “It’s been a stressful week and it all just hit me at once.” Fraser scrubbed his hands down his face. “Inspector Geyer has plans to add a few positions at the Consulate. Being his senior officer, the hiring process has fallen to me. He would like to encourage Constable Turnbull to become more actively involved with the more important operations at the Consulate…”
“Meaning Turnbull is going to be in your back pocket all the time,” Ray groaned. “Why didn’t you say something?”
“So far, it hasn’t been an issue and Constable Turnbull has proved to be a stellar protégé. Inspector Thatcher never gave him much room for advancement.”
“Yeah, well. He is kind of a clutz.”
“To be fair, Inspector Thatcher did not bring out the best in me, either. She was rather a… formidable presence.”
“Yeah, okay. She’d have scared the shit out of me too if I’d been working for her. No wonder Turnbull looked like a space cadet.” Ray frowned. “Hey, he’s not going to be working with us is he? Don’t get me wrong. I like the guy, but...”
“I know, Ray. And no, not immediately, but eventually that is the plan. The conference I am to attend, Constable Turnbull is to accompany me. Inspector Geyer has been quite impressed with the relationship the Canadian Consulate has built with the Chicago PD over the past several years and would like to increase our involvement.”
“Hell, that would stress me out too.”
“The packing, the house, the changes at work, the missing girl, this pregnancy… it’s starting to take its toll.”
Ray patted Fraser’s shoulder, feeling somewhat helpless. “We’ll be in our house by the end of the week. That’s one less thing to stress over.”
“Ray, I’m going to have to tell my employers soon.”
"Hold on, Ben, you don't gotta tell them nothing."
"I know legally that is the case, but morally..."
"Morally? Fraser," Ray let out a frustrated sigh. “Fraser, you're a freak. And I love you."
Fraser squeezed his eyes shut, and smiled.
"And I you, Ray," he said, his voice gruff. He paused. "I can’t continue with the charade that I have the stomach flu.” Fraser fidgeted with the tissue in his hands.
“Okay, how about we get moved and settled this next week, tell my parents, and then Vecchio, and then you can tell Geyer.” Fraser nodded. “It’s gonna be okay. Hell, if I can handle the news, the rest of them should be a piece of cake.” Ray squeezed Fraser’s knee and planted a kiss on his dry lips. “You okay to continue or you want to reschedule?”
“No, I think I’m okay.”
Ray opened the door and peered out in the hall, snagging a nurse as she walked by. “Excuse me, do you mind letting Doctor Logan know we are good to go in here?”
Doctor Logan and Doctor Allison both returned within a few minutes. Fraser felt himself tense up when Allison pulled the ultrasound machine away from the wall. He lay back and tried to relax and let the doctors do what they needed. Ray squeezed his shoulder as Allison rubbed the ultrasound probe across his stomach and their baby materialized on the screen again.
“There are a few tests that at this stage in a pregnancy we normally run to rule out certain birth defects,” Allison said.
“And if one is detected? Then what?” Ray asked.
Logan placed Fraser’s medical chart on the countertop and pulled the swivel chair out from under the counter and sat down. He laced his fingers together and gave the couple a serious look. “Depending on the severity of the defect, that is entirely up to the parents.”
“What kind of...” Fraser’s voice trailed off, then he found courage to continue. “What kind of defects might there be?”
Allison rubbed his hands. “Well, there is an interesting possibility that your child will share some of your chromosomal abnormalities, and be intersex itself. We could be looking at the next stage of evolution here ...”
“Frank.” Doctor Logan interrupted him with a glare. “Don’t get too carried away.”
“My baby might be... intersex?”
Doctor Allison toned down his enthusiasm, but his eyes were still gleaming. “Drawing conclusions from other individuals born to parents with chromosomal abnormalities, like Down’s Syndrome for example, I would posit a fifty fifty chance that your child will be third gender, yes.”
“Oh God.” Fraser covered his face.
“We don’t know that,” Ray’s voice cut through the panic in Fraser’s head. “And, I mean, you’re interthingy, Ben, and you’re fine. It doesn’t bother me.”
‘Interthingy.’ Of course it bothered Ray. He couldn’t even bring himself to say it. “Intersex,” Fraser said in muffled tones. “That’s the word… you can’t say.”
“Ben, look at me?” Ben looked. Ray was smiling. “I love you, just the way you are. And we’re gonna love our baby, no matter what.”
Fraser nodded. He could see the truth of that in his partner’s eyes.
“So, what’s the point in these tests?” Ray wanted to know. “I mean if the results don’t matter to us? We aren’t going to terminate it just because it has a defect, regardless of what it is.”
Logan smiled reassuringly. Allison nodded, and smacked his palms together, all but clapping. Fraser sighed.
“No tests,” he agreed with Ray. “We’ll just deal with one problem at a time.”
“You sure?” Allison sounded hopeful. “We could just run a Nuchal Translucency Screening, and check the sex at the same time as finding out if the baby is Down’s....”
“The patient said ‘no tests’,” Logan pointed out. “Don’t worry, Ben, Ray.” He nodded in their direction. “Everything is progressing normally, the heartbeat is strong... I’m sure it’s going to be fine.”
“There is one other thing I would like to suggest, if I may.” Allison stepped to the end of the table and encouraged Fraser to place his feet in the stirrups. “I think with some daily exercises for a few minutes at a time, we may be successful in manipulating the vaginal opening enough for you to deliver naturally.”
Logan looked confused and then cross. This was something Allison had not discussed with him and he wasn’t entirely certain it was worth the risk. Both Ray and Fraser held the same bewildered expression.
Allison slipped on a pair of latex gloves and retrieved several probes in numerous sizes from the cabinets above the sink. “We will start with the smallest probe, place plenty of lube on the lower inch, insert slowly and then rotate, stretching outwards. This should stretch the vaginal opening enough for you to deliver naturally. Benton, you can do this yourself or have Ray help you.”
“Are you sure about this?” Logan asked concerned. Fraser was white knuckling the side of the exam table as Allison inserted the smallest probe and began to rotate the minute instrument.
Fraser gasped at the uncomfortable intrusion and clenched his eyes shut. Ray pressed a reassuring kiss to his forehead, whispering comforting words.
“Of course it will be uncomfortable at first going, but as the opening enlarges it won’t seem as painful. Doing okay, are we?”
“Not really,” Ben gritted out. “Why exactly is it necessary?”
“Just to make sure all your options are open. If, for example, you end up having to give birth somewhere other than hospital.”
“That’s not happening,” Ray stated, categorically, staring at the older man.
‘Oh dear...’ “Ray, maybe we should ...”
“What if we don’t do this?” Ray interrupted him.
“Let’s just give it a few weeks and see what kind of progress we can make.” Allison removed the probe and tossed it in the trash. “Just a few minutes a day is all it should take.”
“Benton,” Logan began as he released Fraser’s feet from the stirrups. “Are you okay? The choice is yours whether or not to do this. There is no shame in scheduling a cesarean when the time gets closer for delivery.”
Fraser took a deep breath. “I suppose it is worth trying.” He certainly hoped so.
Allison gave Ray a sealed package of probes and explained how to use them again. “Remember, every day for a few minutes.” He patted him on the shoulder and grinned widely. “We’ll see you at your next appointment.”
Both doctors left and Ray turned to Ben and held up the probes. “What the fuck? I’m not doing this to you.”
Fraser reached for his clothing and shook his head. “Ray, please… we should at least exhaust all of our options.”
“Fine, but I’m not gonna lie… I don’t like the idea of hurting you.”
Fraser nodded wordlessly as he slipped his shirt over his head. He didn’t much like the idea either.
Ray leaned against the wall at the almost empty apartment. He drummed his fingers against the wall and listened as the noise echoed around the empty space. After signing the papers to their new home, they ordered an extra-large pizza and Ray Vecchio helped them load their boxes into the U... Haul so they could have a head start on their move the following morning.
Fraser entered the apartment after depositing the last piece of luggage in the U... Haul. He settled against the wall behind Ray and dangled a set of keys in front of him.
“We own a home, Ray.” Fraser kissed the side of Ray’s neck tasting the salty residue of hard work.
Ray took the keys from his hand and turned in his embrace. “We do, don’t we?”
Fraser stared over Ray’s shoulder towards the red glow coming from the red chili pepper lights still hanging above the breakfast bar. “You forgot to pack the lights.”
“No, I didn’t,” Ray whispered. “I thought they would set the mood for one last night in our first place together.” Ray dropped a kiss to Fraser’s open lips. “You can remind me to grab them in the morning.” Ray stole another kiss and pulled Fraser towards the red glow. “I also forgot to pack my favorite CD and this little CD player.”
“Ah, I quite like the sound of that,” Fraser nuzzled Ray’s ear. “Is that why you refused to pack the bed?”
Ray chuckled, “Something like that, I figured we were too old to keep having sex on the hard floor.”
“Who are you calling old?” Fraser asked as he pressed play on Ray's CD player. He raised his eyebrows slightly when the soft jazz music of Kenny G filled the empty apartment.
"What?" Ray asked with a crooked grin "You got something against the sax?"
"Hardly..." Fraser pressed in close, imprinting his body upon Ray's. Ray dropped his head back, exposing his neck. Fraser latched on to a pulse point and sucked hard. He released Ray's skin and licked a trail down to his covered collarbone. "I think..." Ben breathed lightly against Ray's damp skin. "I think this shirt is in the way."
Ray raised his arms without question so Fraser could easily remove his shirt. Ben stepped back and took the waistband of Ray's jeans in his hands and popped the button and teasingly slow, lowered the zipper.
"As are these," Ben added, the timbre in his voice dropping to a husky whisper. He slid his hands around Ray’s waist into the back of his jeans and cupped his ass, pulling him close.
“God, Ben.” Ray’s laugh was breathless in his throat as Fraser pushed him against the wall. “What’s got into you?”
“I don’t know,” Fraser replied, his hand zeroing in on Ray’s cock. He wasn’t normally so forthright… but Ray seemed ready and willing in his grasp. Normally, Fraser would engage in more foreplay… today though...
Today he wanted to know that he was a man. That he was desired as a man. He started to rock his own hard... on up against Ray’s thigh, pushing down the thought that soon he wouldn’t be able to. Not only would his body change visibly, but the estrogen might interfere with his ability to…
No. He was not thinking about that. He was thinking about…
“Ray,” he growled. “Get naked.”
Wide- eyed, Ray shuffled off the rest of his clothes.
“Bed,” Fraser commanded, pushing Ray towards their bedroom. “Now… or...” He smiled, and licked his lip. “Do you want me to take you on the floor?”
They didn’t make it as far as the bedroom.
Fraser turned the U-Haul into the short driveway, following the black GTO to the garage. Ray Vecchio bounced in the passenger seat as the oversized truck left the road and hit the stone driveway.
“Wow, Benny,” he whistled in appreciation at the sight of the home before him. “This is your house?”
Fraser smiled from the driver’s seat. “Yes, we were given a tremendous deal.” Fraser backed the truck up to the front porch and killed the engine. “Thank you for helping us, Ray.”
“Hey, no problem, that’s what friends are for. You feeling any better?” Ray asked scanning Fraser up and down. Over the course of the last several weeks he could tell his friend had lost some weight, even though he had been to the doctor and assured Ray he was fine.
“I am, yes.” Fraser assured him with a warm smile that reached his eyes.
The two men exited the truck and met Ray and his parents at the front porch. “Frannie called,” Ray said stepping forward to meet Fraser as he climbed the steps to the porch. “She’s on her way and guess what she’s bringing, Ben?” Fraser shrugged his shoulders and fished the house key out of his front pocket. “Your favorite... blueberry lemon muffins. I told her I don’t like those things.”
Fraser’s mouth watered, even as he suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. To his side, Ray Vecchio chuckled. “Frannie still on a mission to fatten you up? Don’t tell her I said this, but the older she gets, the more she reminds me of Ma.” He clapped Fraser on the shoulder. “If Ma was a complete ditz, which she ain’t, so don’t tell either of them I said that.”
“I assure you, Ray, I have no intention of ...”
Fraser was interrupted by a wave of matriarchal concern as Barbara Kowalski swept up and embraced him. “Oh, Benton! Ray said you had been feeling unwell, but you’ve lost so much weight!” She stepped back, holding him at arms’ length and assessing him. Then she turned an accusatory glance on her son. “Ray. What have you been doing to this poor boy? Don’t you feed him?”
“Nothing, Mom, he’s just ...”
Damien broke into the conversation. “Barbara, leave the boy alone. We’re here to help them get moved. Pitter patter.” The elder Kowalski stepped off the porch, moving towards the truck to start unloading boxes. Ray gave him a grateful look. “Hey Dad, you want a quick tour before we fill this place up with boxes?”
“Oh, that’s a lovely idea, Raymond. Damien… put that box down, it will be there waiting for you in ten minutes.” Barbara slid an arm around her son’s waist and Ray pulled her close. “Show us your home, honey.”
Fraser unlocked the front door and opened it wide for his family and friends. He and Ray gave a quick tour pointing out the highlights of their new home and explaining a bit of the history along the way. The view from the master bedroom created jealous vibes bouncing around the room. Francesca arrived as everyone was exiting the house.
“Hey, guys, I’ve got muffins and coffee.” She removed her sunglasses and pushed them into her hair like a headband. “Oh my God, this place is amazing,” she chirped. “I love the color. It matches your eyes, Frase.” She pushed the muffins and carafe of coffee into her brother’s hands as she gave both Ray and Fraser a tight hug. “Frase, I brought the muffins you liked so well from last week. Fresh batch. Ma made them this morning.”
“That’s very kind, Francesca…” Fraser began with a smile.
“Move it along, Frannie,” Vecchio shooed her toward the house. “Take your muffins and gourmet coffee into the kitchen and let us men unload the truck.”
"Ray," Ben protested, giving his friend a disappointed look. "That's a terribly sexist comment ...”
"Yeah, yeah Benny. All women are our sisters, I heard that spiel before. But this woman is my sister, and she's driving me nuts."
Francesca stuck her tongue out at her brother. "You see? Benton understands. Don't you, Benton?"
"Well," Fraser felt flustered. Francesca was no longer interested in him, but she still went into default flirt mode at times ... primarily to annoy her brother. Who was obviously annoyed. Ray looked from Vecchio, to Frannie, to Fraser, then had to duck behind Fraser to hide his growing laughter.
“Come along Francesca, let them do the heavy work,” Barbara beamed, putting an arm through Francesca’s. “Us girls will hang out in the kitchen and swap stories until they bring us some boxes to unpack.”
Fraser's jaw dropped, and Ray cracked up completely. 'Good old Mom,' he thought. 'Nobody gave her the PC memo.' Of course, maybe she was teasing Fraser in her own way. You could never tell with Barbara Kowalski.
Before long, the four men were busy unloading the U-Haul and filling the home with boxes and furniture Ray had made a conscience effort to keep Fraser away from the heavy boxes. He would scan the contents of a box and then place a lighter box in Fraser’s hands turning him back around towards the house, leaving the heavier boxes for himself and Vecchio.
“Hey,” Vecchio hollered at Kowalski when Fraser was safely inside the door and out of earshot. “What gives?”
Ray stopped struggling with his end of the bed frame and looked up to meet Vecchio’s intense stare. “What?” He adjusted his grip and made a face. “You gonna pick your end up or what?”
“What’s with Benny?” Vecchio questioned refusing to lift his end until Kowalski answered him.
“What are you talking about?” Ray played dumb, diverting his eyes to his grip on the solid piece of wood instead of the intense green eyes of his friend. Not dumb enough for Lieutenant Vecchio.
“Don’t give me that bullshit, Kowalski. Why are you treating Benny like he’s a fragile piece of glass?”
“Language, son,” Damien warned as he stepped up into the back of the U-Haul, placing a hand on Vecchio’s shoulder. “I have to agree with your Lieutenant, Ray. Surely, Benton can carry something heavier than a throw pillow.”
“Hey, come on. He’s been sick and just starting to feeling better. I don’t want him overdoing it. What’s wrong with that?” Ray replied defensively. “Now, pick up that end of the bed before I kick you in the head, Vecchio.”
Vecchio bent to pick up the frame when his phone rang from within his pocket. He held up a finger as he took the call. Damien stepped in and helped Ray into the house with the bed frame. They struggled up the stairs and into the master bedroom, dropping it to the floor beside the rest of the frame.
“You want me to get my tools out of the car and start assembling this for you?” Damien asked as he studied the layout of the room. “You know where you are putting it yet?”
“No, dad, it’s okay. Ben and I can get it later.” Ray wiped the sweat from his brow. “How about we take a break and see if mom has anything cold to drink.”
“You sure Benton’s okay, Raymond?” Damien asked in a low voice as they left the bedroom. “There isn’t something you’re not telling us... is there? If he’s sick, you can tell us. Your mother and I care about him too, you know.”
Ray placed a reassuring hand on his father’s shoulder as he guided him towards the stairs. “He will be fine, Dad. I promise, he’s not sick.”
“Here you two,” Barbara poured two plastic cups of iced tea for her son and husband. “Take a break. Francesca and I have been busy unpacking the kitchen contents.”
“He went out to bring in more boxes. I can’t find your pots and pans.” Barbara motioned to the boxes on the floor she and Frannie had already unpacked. “I thought I would wash them all before we found a spot to put them away.”
“Mom, they were clean when they went into the box. How the hell would they get dirty?” Ray called over his shoulder as he dashed out of the kitchen in search of Fraser.
“Hey, put that down.” Ray hopped into the back of the U-Haul as Fraser lifted the box marked ‘Ray’s Stuff’.
Fraser spun the box in his hands so Ray could read the contents.
“Oh, okay. Sorry.” Fraser accepted a kiss in the form of an apology and hopped out of the moving truck.
“Kowalski,” Vecchio called from outside the truck.
“I really hate to do this to you, but I need you to give Huey and Dewey a hand on a double murder. I just got the call.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me. Ray scowled. Vecchio had other cops on the payroll. What? Was he trying to get Ray out of the way so he could snoop about Ben's health or something? "We are in the middle of moving here."
Vecchio held his hands up. "I'm sorry," he said, and it sounded like he really meant it. "Listen, you don't have to stay on the case. Just meet them at the dam, help them interview the witnesses so they can work the case and then you are free to come back.”
Kowalski stepped into Vecchio’s personal space and jabbed him in the chest. “Fine, I’ll go. But you promise me, Ben doesn’t lift anything heavy. If you and my dad can’t get it, save it until I get back. Deal?”
Vecchio narrowed his eyes. “What’s really wrong with him?”
“Nothing. Just promise me.”
“Deal…” Vecchio agreed. “Now get going.”
Ray broke the news to Fraser that he was needed on a case and had to leave for a few hours. Reluctantly, Fraser remained in the house with the two women as they unpacked boxes. He would occasionally direct Ray and Damien as to what rooms the boxes were to be placed in. Fraser spun a box on the kitchen counter that read ‘Ben’s books’. He remembered Ray tossing the pregnancy book in just before he was about to seal it closed and decided now was not a good time for Ray’s mother or Francesca to open this box. He slid the box into his arms and picked it up, adjusting the bulk of the weight against his chest. There was a built in bookcase in their bedroom that he wanted to put his books on so he could read on the balcony outside their bedroom in the evenings as the sun was setting over the wooded landscape.
Fraser was halfway up the stairs when Vecchio entered the house carrying the last of the boxes.
“Hey, where’s Benny?” He glanced at the counter where he had put his previous box. “Where’d that box go? I was going to put it by the bookshelf in the living room.”
“Oh, Fraser took that one upstairs. Hey, Ray called and said he was on his way back and was bringing pizza. What toppings you want?” Francesca asked as Ray walked quickly to the staircase.
“I don’t care, whatever,” he called over his shoulder. “Hey Benny,” he called, taking the stairs two at a time. He rounded the landing and his eyes fell on Fraser’s back. Fraser took two steps towards his bedroom when his left leg buckled under him, sending both him and the box of books crashing to the floor with a resounding thud. Time froze for Vecchio as he was transported back in time to a train station platform with a smoking gun in his hand. Fraser toppled helplessly from the moving train with Ray’s bullet lodged forever in his back.
‘Fuck,’ Vecchio thought as he raced to Fraser’s side to help him. ‘It’s my damn bullet... that’s wrong with him. No wonder they won’t tell me. It’s bringing him down again.’ “Benny!” Vecchio shouted from the end of the hallway.
Fraser pulled himself to a sitting position, rubbing the ache out of his knee and side. “I’m okay,” he replied, embarrassed over his mishap. “Almost thirty seven years old and my feet forget how they are supposed to work.”
“Here,” Vecchio offered him a hand, helping him to his feet. Fraser wiggled his fingers and rubbed a hand down his left side again.
“Thank you,” Fraser said, embarrassed.
“You okay?” Vecchio’s heart was in his throat, threatening to choke him.
“Yes, I uh… I must have lost my footing.”
“Lost your footing, huh? That’s all it was?” Ray was unconvinced. “God, you scared the shit out of me.” He bent over and retrieved the box from the floor. “Kowalski’s on his way back with pizza.”
Fraser perked up at the mention of food. He realized he was actually craving food for the first time in weeks. Vecchio rolled his eyes at his friend. “Where’s this box go?”
Ray opened the door to his home found it empty. “Ben? Mom?” He placed the pizzas on the kitchen counter and followed the voices to the back porch. Fraser, Vecchio and his father were gathered around a gas grill. “Hey, what’s this?” he asked as he stepped out into the cool air.
“It’s from all of us,” Barbara stepped forward and gave her son a kiss on the cheek.
“Yeah,” Frannie chimed in. “We wanted to get you two a housewarming gift and Ray and I got together with your parents and we agreed on a grill.”
“I was going to make it a charcoal grill, Benny, but I know how impatient Kowalski is when it comes to anything.”
“Well, in this instance I am glad you went against your first instinct. Charcoal burners can be quite carcinogenic, and that wouldn't be good for the…” Fraser’s voice was lost in the blowing wind.
‘Fuck,’ Kowalski panicked. His head snapped up from the stainless steel spatula in his hand. ‘Fraser’s gonna spill the beans.’
“The what, Benny?”
“I'm sorry. I lost my train of thought. Thank you, Ray, everyone. It's a lovely gift.”
“Make my Raymond cook for you, dear. Put some of that weight back on.” Barbara kissed Fraser on the cheek. “We need to get going. You give us a holler if you need anything else.”
“Will do, Mrs. Kowalski. Thank you for all your help today.” Fraser shook Damien’s hand as he stepped up beside his wife. “Sir, thank you. We both appreciate your help.”
“When are you going to quit calling me ‘Sir’ and start calling me ‘Dad’?”
Fraser was speechless as Damien gave him a shy smile. “Barbara’s right, make Ray cook for you.” Damien patted Fraser on the shoulder as he and his wife said their goodbyes to their son and the Vecchio’s.
“Alright you two.” Vecchio spoke up with a tired voice. “Frannie and I are going to eat your pizza and then leave.”
“We are?” Francesca asked. “I thought I would help unpack a few more boxes.” Ray pulled his sister to her feet ignoring her protests. “Unless you need help with something else. All the furniture and boxes are out of the U... Haul.”
“Hey, just take one with you if you want.” Ray offered as he shook Vecchio’s hand and returned Frannie’s hug.
“I think we will do that and leave you two to enjoy your first night in peace.”
Fraser walked his friends to the front of the house and thanked them again for their help. Vecchio was returning the U... Haul to the dealer in the morning for them, which Fraser was grateful for. He snatched two pieces of pizza for himself and Ray on his way back through the kitchen. He opened the door to the back porch and found Ray sitting on the steps looking out over the yard. He offered his partner a piece of the pizza and settled in beside him on the top step. He was beyond exhausted and cursed inwardly when he realized they still had to put their bed together unless they wanted to sleep on the floor.
“Hey,” Ray said with childlike excitement as he stood suddenly, dropping his pizza to the porch. “Push me.” Before Fraser could protest, Ray had one leg through the old tire swing. “This is the best thing out of this deal,” he laughed freely as he cut through the air.
“The tire swing, Ray?”
“Hell ya, the tire swing,” Ray hooped and hollered as he sailed higher.
Fraser stood back smiling fondly at his partner. The next time Ray sailed past him, he stepped in behind him and gave him a solid push, sending Ray higher into the air.
“You want to get on with me?” Ray dragged his foot against the earth, breaking the ground open for the first time in years. “We could you know…” he raised his eyes suggestively. “You think we’re too old for sex on a swing?”
“If you think we are too old for sex on the floor,” Ben spun Ray on the swing to face him, planting a long kiss to his lips. “I guarantee we are too old for sex on a swing.” He twirled the black tire and gave it a swift push.
“Really, Frase? That sounds like a challenge to me.” Ray pumped his feet and rode the tire higher into the air.
Fraser hooked one of Ray’s legs as he passed pulling him to an abrupt stop. He stepped in between the lanky legs and leaned over the top of the tire, kissing Ray deeply.
“Thank God we don’t have any neighbors,” Ray blushed.
“There are still public indecency laws…”
“You planning on getting indecent?”
“Ray…” Ben blushed.
“You do remember that we’re the cops? So, if someone’s gonna arrest us for indecency, it’s gonna be us, right?”
“Well, that would be illogical, Ray.”
“Don’t make me handcuff you to this swing, Ben.”
Ben removed his wallet from his back pocket and opened it. When he and Ray finished packing the contents of the refrigerator the day before, he had taken their baby’s ultrasound photo and tucked it securely in his wallet for safe keeping. Pulling out the black and white photo he secured it to the freezer door with a small magnet. “Welcome home, little one,” he said to the photo, rubbing a thumb pad gently over the smooth finish.
Early morning sunshine greeted Fraser as he closed the patio door quietly behind him. Ray was still sound asleep. He grinned into his cup of tea at the memory of Ray chasing him up the stairs into their bedroom. When Damien and Ray Vecchio had assembled their bed for them, he wasn’t sure, but he was grateful after the exhausting day. Ray stood on the far side of the bed and cursed, earning a disapproving glance from his partner.
“Shit, where’s the sheets?” Ray wrinkled his face and flopped on the bed.
Ben made his way to the far wall in the room and opened a box that was labeled ‘bedding’. He tossed the sheet covering Ray’s still body on the bed. “I told you you’d thank me later.” He replied with a sly grin.
“Gloating doesn’t become a Mountie,” Ray replied from under the thin sheet, exhaustion winning over his energetic body. Ray freed his hand and pulled the fabric away from his face. “I know I got you all worked up and whatnot out there on that swing, but can we just maybe make the bed and I’ll put an arm around you and you can put an arm around me and we can just drift off to la-la land?”
“God, I thought you’d never ask,” Fraser laughed. “I’m beyond exhausted.”
Fraser took a bite out of one of Frannie’s muffins as he stepped off the porch, making his way to the woodshop to inspect it for the first time. There were storm clouds building in the distance and he was thankful they got all of their moving accomplished the day before. He reached the workshop located at the back of their property line and unlocked the door. It creaked on rusty hinges as he pushed it open, breaking the seal from months of disuse. The scent of sawdust was thick in the oversized room. Fraser breathed it in happily. His assumptions were correct. The gentleman that owned the house had also taken care of his home away from home.
There were boxes full of sawdust, tucked neatly underneath wooden benches, but none was found on the floor or countertops. Fraser appreciated the man’s dedication to his craft by keeping a tidy workshop. He scanned the room, examining the tools and numerous saws left behind. Each appeared to be in working order and clean. He felt slightly guilty having the tools practically given to him. Mentally, he created a checklist of materials he would need to purchase in order to craft the Kowalski’s rocking chairs. Fraser felt fluttering in his stomach and briefly thought he might be sick at the thought of telling Ray’s parents about the baby.
“Looks like there is plenty of fine wood here to get a solid start on a rocking chair for me as well, Son.”
Fraser jumped at the sound of his father’s voice, dropping his muffin and spilling the tea onto the floor. “Jesus, dad… do you have to do that?” Fraser retrieved a shop towel from a nearby bench and soaked up the tea. “Can’t you knock like a normal person or shuffle your feet?” He dropped to his knees and searched for the muffin, pushing boxes of sawdust to the side.
“Look to your left. No... your other left,” Bob directed his son in the search for the missing pastry.
“What are you doing here anyway?” Fraser muttered as he blindly reached behind a box. His fingers fell on the ruined muffin. “You couldn’t be bothered to be an active part of my life, why would you bother trying to be a part of your grandchild’s?”
Bob ignored his son’s statement and carried on about the chair. “I’d like one with a tall back, not too much of a curve. I prefer you use maple.” Bob thought for a moment, “And make it wide, Son. The afterlife does something funny to your hips.”
“Need I remind you, you’re dead?” Fraser retrieved the muffin as his hand scraped across what felt like a rope on the floor. He peered under the workbench for a better view, pushing the heavy box to the side. He wrinkled his brow confused.
“Well it seems only fair that you build one for your own father if you’re going to build the Yank’s parents each one.”
“Dad,” Fraser responded annoyed. He stood up from his crouched position and was hit with a dizzy spell. He gripped the edge of the workbench tightly until the room came back into focus.
“You need to eat something, son.”
Fraser glared at his father, holding up the dusty muffin. “I was trying to eat something.” He turned and pushed his weight into the bench, moving it back several feet. There was a small loop of rope secured to the floor. He pulled on it and the floor creaked in protest. Giving it a solid tug, he dislodged it from the flooring. Fraser scanned the room for a flashlight. He found one, flicked it on and shone the beam into the newly discovered hole. “You’ve got to be kidding me. You’ve built yourself an office already? Dad, we haven’t even been here a full day.”
Bob peered into the open hole. “This one’s not mine, Son. I wouldn’t be caught dead using a metal desk.”
Fraser looked back into the hole, noticing a ladder secured to the side wall of the hole. He put a leg into the hole and grabbed the flashlight, tucking it under his left arm.
“You aren’t considering going down there are you?”
“I just want to see what it is, Dad.”
“Well, you think you are in any condition to be climbing ladders? You practically passed out standing up from the floor.”
“Ben? Who you talking to?” Ray called as he entered the open door to the workshop. “And, I can’t find where Frannie put the cereal bowls. You were so worried about organization and then you let Frannie unpack boxes. Stupid move, Benton... Buddy.”
Fraser and Bob both froze. “You think he heard me?” Bob asked as Fraser dislodged himself from the opening in the floor.
“I was looking for you and I heard voices coming from in here.” Ray’s hair was disheveled and Fraser smiled warmly at the sight of his partner fresh out of bed in just jeans, shirtless and barefoot.
“I found something.” Fraser motioned towards the hole in the floor. “I was about to go down and check it out. There was a panel hidden under these boxes full of sawdust.”
“Wow, you think it’s some kind of bunker like a uh, dammit... whaddya call it…” Ray twirled his hand in the air looking for the appropriate phrase.
“Bomb shelter…” Bob supplied impatiently.
Ray snapped his fingers. “Exactly… bomb shelter.”
Fraser rolled his eyes and shook his head at his father’s interference.
“Whoa… who said that?” Ray spun a full circle seeking the source of the voice.
“You think it’s time to tell him, Son?” Bob leaned in towards Fraser.
Ray’s head whipped around, eyes landing on the ghost. “Oh. My. God.”
“‘Oh my God’... there is a bomb shelter in our workshop?” Fraser tried to divert the hysterics he knew were about to be released from his partner.
“I think he means, ‘Oh my God, I see a ghost’, Benton. Can’t you keep up with these things in your current state?”
“Whoa… you’re dead.” Ray pointed a trembling finger at Bob. “You’re not supposed to be here.” Ray patted his hands down his own chest, then quickly took his pulse. “Am I dead?” His frightened eyes darted to Fraser. “Did we die last night?” Ray stumbled backwards towards the open door. “Fuck, Fraser…” Ray tripped over his own feet and fell to the floor in his hasty retreat. “Can you… is he…shit!”
“Ray,” Fraser’s voice remained calm and controlled. He stepped forward, placing the flashlight onto the workbench. “This may be a little ill... timed.” Fraser paused, returning his attention to the bunker.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Ray screamed, scooting against the wall, fingers firmly planted on his pulse point in his neck. He held a hand up against the advancement of Fraser and his father. “No no no no… stay the hell away from me.” Ray’s eyes pleaded with Fraser to make some quick sense. His mouth however didn’t give Ben a chance to speak. “Okay, so maybe I believe the bizarre scenario that my male partner is pregnant. I accept that he is a Mountie freak and doesn’t always follow the rules, which secretly irritates the hell out of me. But I do not, I repeat… do not... accept the fact that his dead father is standing in my newly purchased workshop.”
“Ray, you’re freaking out.”
Ray’s blue eyes grew wide in disbelief. “Yeah? Well, fucking join me, won’t you?”
“He’s dead, Frase…”
“And he’s standing... beside you...” Ray’s voice quivered as he spoke.
“Ray, please listen to me.” Fraser dropped to his knees in front of his hysterical partner, placing his hands on both Ray’s knees in a comforting gesture.
“I finally cracked up didn’t I?” Ray whimpered. “I’ve finally seen too much and I’ve… I’ve gone and cracked up.”
“No,” Fraser sat on the floor and put his legs on either side of Ray. “You haven’t cracked up. My father is indeed very much dead.”
Ray stared over Fraser’s shoulder pointing a trembling finger at the ghost. “But he’s…right there.”
“Yes, he has a terrible habit of dropping in at the most inopportune moments.” Fraser rolled his shoulders and let out a steady breath. “I find it quite annoying on most occasions.”
Strong fingers touched Ray’s jawline and ghosted over his cheekbones. Ray stilled under Fraser’s soothing touch.
“It’s okay. He can’t hurt you or me. He can’t even touch us.” Fraser soothed quietly.
“It’s true, Son.” Bob’s voice broke through the quiet.
“Dad’s stuck in what he calls the Borderlands.” Fraser explained as he rubbed his thumbs across Ray’s cheeks.
“What’s he doing here?” Ray hissed out through a whisper.
“He wants his own rocking chair.”
“His own what?” Ray shouted in disbelief.
Fraser stood slowly, pulling Ray with him to his feet. “He overheard me telling you I wanted to build your parents rocking chairs and he thinks he needs one as well.” Fraser leaned in close and whispered in Ray’s ear. “Did I ever tell you my family’s a little crazy?”
“Can we get back to the bunker gentleman?” Bob tapped his watch. “There’s a clue here.”
Fraser turned to face his father and walked back to the hole in the floor.
“What’s he talking about?” Ray asked, glued to Fraser’s side and keeping a safe distance from Bob.
“Can we go back to the house?” Fraser asked. Ray could only imagine how finding a hidden bunker in the floor could start the wheels turning in his partner’s head. He on the hand couldn’t think past the ghost standing five feet from him.
Ray pointed a shaky finger at Bob. “He’s not coming… is he?”
Fraser glared at his father. “No, he’s not coming.”
"Oh, well. That's very hospitable." Bob huffed and threw his hands together stiffly behind his back.
"You're scaring him!"
"I am not! Oh. Maybe I am at that."
"Look, okay,” Ray held up both hands to silence the arguing. “Whatever, just leave me the fuck alone,” Ray started backing his way out of the workshop, not wanting to turn his back on the ghost. “I’m gonna just grab my shoes and a shirt.”
“I’ll be right in.” Fraser promised as Ray took off running across the yard. He spun to face his father. “Did you have to do that?”
“What?” Bob questioned with a smirk.
“You had to choose that moment to make yourself known. Couldn’t you give me some kind of warning first so I could have eased him into it?”
“Oh, come on Benton. The two of you are going to be having a child together soon. Don’t you think it’s time he met his father in-law?”
“Dad, you’re dead.”Fraser shook his head and turned towards the door. “Never mind. No building an office either while we’re gone.”
Ray eased the Goat off the main road onto the dirt road that cut through the dense trees, leading to the Wells’ home. The sunny sky had turned cloudy over the course of the morning and Ray feared the dark clouds would open up soon with the forecasted torrential rainfall. A crack of thunder startled both occupants of the car. Ray maneuvered the GTO to the side of the road to allow an approaching car to pass.
“God this road’s skinny.” Ray flipped on the windshield wipers as large drops of water obscured his line of sight. He threw a quick glance into the rearview mirror. “Hey, wasn’t that Officer MacDaniel?”
“It certainly looked like him. Why would he be here on a Sunday?” Fraser turned in his seat and stared out the back window until his view was diminished by the rain.
Ray reached the house and killed the engine. A light rain had begun to fall steadily and he really didn’t want to be looking for clues in the rain. They opened their doors and stepped out into the rain. Ray thought back to passing Officer MacDaniel on the dirt road. ‘Weird,’ he thought. ‘They had been here a few times, and it was always the same guy on duty.’ He nudged Fraser in the side. “Hey, Ben, don’t you think it’s kinda funny that…”
“Yes,” Fraser was in step with him as usual. “I just noticed that myself. Always the same Officer.”
They reached the porch and opened the door, stepping under the crime scene tape into the family’s home. “You know,” Ray began as he stepped over a dried pool of blood in the foyer. “Something’s off.” Fraser paused in the doorway of the kitchen to listen to his partner. “This crime scene is over a month old. Why would Vecchio keep sending an officer out here to guard against trespassers?” He followed Fraser into the kitchen. “So what are we looking for?”
“When I found that bunker in the workshop, I was thinking that maybe this house had something similar and perhaps that is where the killer hid the bodies.”
“It would have to be someone that was familiar with the home then, someone close to the family.” Ray followed Fraser’s eyes in scanning the floor of the kitchen. “But wouldn’t it smell?” Ray wrinkled his nose. “I mean, there’s no masking the scent of a decomposing body, let alone three.”
“Think about it, even if they were put in a storage trunk or something, it would have to be very large and airtight in order not to leak out stench.” Ray looked at Fraser who seemed a world away. “What are you thinking?”
“I keep going back to their electric bill and how high it is...” Fraser’s thoughts seemed to trail off as his eyes scanned the room. “And as you pointed out the last time we were here, they’re dead. Why hasn’t their electricity been shut off?” Fraser flipped the kitchen light on to prove his point. “They still have power.”
“I’m gonna call Vecchio and see if he won’t look through the evidence for us, I have a hunch.”
“Ray, it’s Sunday.” Fraser glanced at his watch for the time. “He’s probably in church with his family.”
“Fine, then I’ll go and you keep looking.” Ray scrubbed a hand down his face, torn. He didn’t want to leave Fraser here by himself but he really wanted to have another look at the evidence back at the station. “Okay, here’s the deal. You stay here and have another look around, see if you can’t find something and I will run to the station and have a look through the evidence again.” Ray tossed Fraser his cell phone. I should be at the station and back at my desk in thirty minutes, you call me if you find anything.”
“Will do.” Fraser smiled. “You worry too much,” he said, as though reading Ray’s mind.
Ray snorted. There was no such thing as too much worry where Benton Fraser was concerned. “You think they were killed because of drugs or something?” he asked, as he lingered at the kitchen door.
“I’m not sure. According to the file, neither the wife nor the husband had any drug related record. Just a few traffic violations in the last few months. Their electric bill leads me to believe that something illegal is going on somewhere on this property. We just have to figure out where.”
“Okay, I’ll call you if I come up with anything.” Ray turned to leave and passed the small bathroom off the kitchen. He spun and caught Fraser on his hands and knees in the kitchen looking around the pantry doors. “Hey, you feeling okay? I don’t want you to get sick or anything while I’m gone.”
Fraser shook his head. He wished he had grabbed another muffin on his way out the door. “I’ll be fine, Ray.”
“Okay, keep the cell on.” Fraser nodded and slid it into the pocket of his jeans. He resumed searching the kitchen for any hidden doors. Opening the pantry door, he searched around the floor and under the low shelving for any hidden passages. Finding none, he stepped out of the pantry and closed the door in frustration. He did a quick search of the remainder of the ground floor of the house and came up empty. 'Damn, I don't think I'm going to find any new clues here.' Fraser sighed. Dief would have made easy work of the search. He was absolutely convinced that his old friend would have solved this over a month ago. Fraser squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden resurgence of pain. God, he missed Dief.
Stop lollygagging, he chided himself. If he was going to find something the crime scene investigators had overlooked, he just had to try harder. There had to be something. They had spent countless hours in and around the house. He glanced at the window. The rain beat against the glass so hard that he couldn't see the yard. Oh dear. Ray would probably have gotten soaked on the way from the precinct parking lot to the bullpen. Fraser shook himself, and got back to the task in hand.
He passed the main bathroom and noticed the quantity of toilet paper remaining on the roll was significantly lower than the last time they were at the house. He pulled Ray’s phone out of his pocket and dialed his desk phone. It went straight to Ray’s voice mail. “Ray, call me as soon as you get this. I may have found a clue.” He made his way back to the basement door. It wouldn't hurt to give the downstairs one more run through.
“Fan... fucking... tastic,' Ray thought, as he squelched to the evidence lockers. You wouldn't have thought you could get that wet in the short walk from the parking lot to the bullpen, but you'd have thunk wrong. Ray was soaked to the skin. 'Bet my hair's a mess too,' he thought, sniffing the slight chemical tang of his hair gel. Self-consciously, he put his hand to his hair. Yup. That didn't feel spikey. 'Greatness. Just… fucking…. greatness. I might as well have swam to work.'
Reigning in his bad temper as best he could, he squelched up to the duty officer's desk. "Yo. Deborah." He gave her the best smile he could manage ... he quite liked Deborah. "I know you're sick of me, but..."
She sighed. "You want another look at the evidence from the missing girl case, don't you?"
"Yeah, you got it."
She shook her head, sympathetically. "You know, Kowalski," she said. "I've been a cop for a long time. Don't go killing yourself over this one."
Ray felt his mouth twist. "I'll do my best."
She patted a soggy shoulder, then got him the box. "Good luck, kid," she said.
He pulled the top off the box and pulled out the duplicate file to read through. He spread the photos of the layout of the house and the pools of blood out over the metal table and stepped back. Picking up the phone in the room, he dialed Vecchio’s number by heart. He didn’t care if the man was in church or not, they had a case to solve. He was relieved when Vecchio answered on the second ring.
“Hey, sorry to bother you on Sunday, but Fraser and I have a hunch.” Well, Fraser never really told him what his hunch was but Ray knew that look on his partner’s face. “And I’m really curious about something.”
“Yeah, what’s that?” Vecchio questioned.
“Officer MacDaniel...” Ray heard the snort and grumble through the phone.
“Between you and me, not one of my favorite officers,” Vecchio said. “I’ll be glad when he’s out of here at the end of the week.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He put in his notice last week. Said the police force wasn’t working out for him. Good riddance too, we don’t need someone with his bad attitude on the force. We have enough knuckle heads to deal with on a daily basis...” Vecchio paused, then teased. "No offense."
Ray raised his eyes to heaven. ‘Everyone's a fucking comedian.’ "None taken," he replied, dryly.
"So," Vecchio's voice was serious now. "What's your question?"
“I was wondering why you keep assigning him to guard the Well’s house after all this time.”
It was Vecchio’s turn to be confused. “What are you talking about?” Ray hung his suit coat on the back of his office chair and powered on his computer. “I’ve only assigned him to watch the house once the week of the murder and then once the following week.”
Kowalski scratched the top of his head, dislodging water and reviving a few flattened spikes. “Well, that doesn’t make sense.”
“Oh yeah? You questioning my administerial choices, Stanley?”
‘Admini... what?’ Ray thought. Vecchio’s position had certainly gone to the man’s head. ‘Now he’s using big words like Fraser.’ “Nah, it’s not that. It’s just, every time Ben and I are on the scene, the guy’s hanging around like a fly on...” Huh. Maybe don’t say that to your Lieu. “Well, you know.” He drummed his fingers thoughtfully on the table before him. “You give him clearance to go out there on his own time?”
Vecchio laughed into the phone. "On his own time? Sounds like you're talking about Benny and not MacDaniel." On the other side of the phone, Ray could hear tip tapping, like Vecchio was punching keys on the keyboard. There was a pause, and Vecchio's voice came back, sounding slightly concerned. "Where the hell are you?"
Kowalski laced his fingers and cracked his knuckles. Vecchio wasn’t going to like that he was at the station on a Sunday. “In the evidence locker at the station.” He cringed waiting for the backlash from his superior.
Vecchio surprised him. “Give me five minutes to get some coffee and I will join you. I’m in my office. I’ve been doing some digging of my own.”
Ray had all the photos of the crime scene spread out over the table when Vecchio joined him. “God this is so frustrating. An entire family is brutally murdered and we have nothing. Not a single fucking clue.”
Vecchio plonked a coffee down in front of Ray, then parked himself on the corner of Ray’s desk. “Where’s Benny?” he asked, raising his eyebrows at the absence of the Mountie.
“He’s at the crime scene looking for hidden rooms.” Vecchio raised his eyes suspiciously.
“Hidden rooms? Come on man, seriously? What are you guys up to?”
“It’s an old house,” Ray protested. “He figured since he found a bomb shelter in our workshop this morning, maybe there’s a hidden room at the house the killer stashed the bodies in.”
Vecchio opened his mouth to speak and Ray held up his hand to stop him. “I know… that would mean the killer would have to have known the family in order to know about any hidden rooms. It’s a stretch.” Ray opened the wife’s purse and pulled out her check book. “Ben thinks there’s some kind of drug lab or something with the unusually high electric bill.”
“Huh.” Vecchio, rubbed his face, and pondered. “That would actually make sense,” he admitted. “At least we’d have a motive. But we didn’t find anything in the house to suggest there were any drugs anywhere.” Vecchio motioned to the checkbook. “What you got there?”
“Well, I thought it was her checkbook, but there aren’t any checks in it. Just a ledger with a bunch of debits and credits.” Ray thumbed through several pages. “Hey, can you get their last years’ worth of electric bills?”
“On a Sunday?”
“Can’t you call in some favors?”
“Tell me what you’re thinking first so I don’t end up looking like an ass if this idea falls through.”
“Okay, so the wife has written in the debit columns four amounts in the last year, all averaging around six thousand dollars. That could be their utility bill payment. Fraser and I have been wondering why their electric hasn’t been shut off after six weeks. Maybe it’s because she pays it in large chunks for several months at a time.”
“Okay, I think I’m following you. So if we can match up their electric bill with these debits, then what?”
“Well, maybe Fraser is right. How the hell would you have an electric bill over two thousand a month unless you were doing something illegal?”
“So, maybe the credits are payments for drugs?” Vecchio suggested.
“There’s no check numbers written down anywhere in this entire thing.” Kowalski shook the checkbook in the air.
“Maybe it was a drug deal gone bad,” Vecchio ran a hand over his balding head.
“I still don’t understand why MacDaniel has been there every time Fraser and I have gone to the house.”
“Every time?” Vecchio looked like he’d eaten something sour.
“Yeah.” Ray tilted his head in concern. The other guy looked twisted up by something. “Last time was weird too because Ben and I were in the kitchen and all of a sudden there he was. I didn’t remember seeing him when we first got there. Then we passed him as he was leaving the house today. Do you think he knew the family?” Ray scanned the photos before him. Something was off but he couldn’t place his finger on it.
“Let me see the wife’s driver’s license.” Ray handed the wallet to Vecchio. “I’ll be right back.”
When Vecchio returned he was pale and flustered. “You know, when I first saw pictures of the wife, I couldn’t figure out why she looked familiar. I thought I had seen her somewhere, I just couldn’t figure out where. It’s an older picture, but it sure as hell looks like her and our good friend Officer MacDaniel.”
“What do you mean?”
“You ever wonder why MacDaniel’s still pulling shitty shifts at his age?” Vecchio’s voice sounded brittle. “There was never any proof… not enough for IA to bust him… but there was a hell of a lot of suspicion.”
“Suspicion of what?” Ray heard his tone go sharp, and lowered his voice, glancing around the bullpen. Nobody had noticed.
“Suspicion of pretty much everything,” Vecchio said, dryly. “Bullying witnesses, intimidation… but when IA got involved, it was to do with a blackmailing racket. And drugs.”
“And this,” Vecchio flung a fresh photograph on the table. “This is him and his girlfriend from back in the day.”
“Oh, fuck...” Ray felt his skin go clammy. MacDaniel and the female victim, sitting at a table together, hands linked over the checkered cloth... some restaurant. A candid shot. Surveillance, probably. “That’s her. That’s...”
“The victim. Yeah.” Vecchio squeezed his eyes shut, and shook his head violently. “Only she was Miss Higson back then. And it was years ago, and I didn’t put it together. Shit.”
“Yeah,” Ray whispered. ‘Pull yourself together, Kowalski.’ “They’re having an affair?”
“I dunno.” Vecchio looked grim. “I’m gonna have to do some more digging on the wife.”
And MacDaniel too, Ray realized. God, this case got worse and worse. A dirty cop. Just what they didn’t need...
“You don’t think MacDaniel did this... do you?” Ray asked his Lieutenant.
“I don’t know, but it’s looking bad or him. Where was he when you arrived at the house today?”
“He was just leaving. We passed him on the road.”
“Let me go make some calls and check a few things. Where are you going to be?”
“Right here. I’m not leaving my desk in case Ben calls.”
“Okay, don’t leave without telling me.”
“Gotcha.” Ray blew out a breath. God, he was glad Vecchio was on board with this. “I won’t.”
Fraser shooed a buzzing fly away from his face. The thunderstorm outside had done little to reduce the humidity. The early summer heat pressed around him. Fraser was finding it hard to breath in the sealed off house. Another fly landed on his hand as he opened the basement door. ‘Damn bugs,’ Fraser thought as he wiggled his fingers and shooed another one away from his face. Probably feasting on his salt.
He opened the door and breathed in the musty scent typical of an unused and damp basement. He descended the steps slowly and was surprised to find the basement finished and used as an entertainment room. It was an odd shape for a basement. To the right of the stairs, the far wall was covered in dozens of mirrors. Fraser noticed a treadmill and weight bench reflecting in the glass. The home gym equipment was tucked into the little nook that made up the ‘L’ shape of the odd room. Situated in the center of the room facing the left was a dark brown leather couch and matching recliner with a wooden coffee table placed directly in front of it. Along the wall to the left of the stairs was an entertainment center housing a large screened television. Books and movies covered the shelves on one side and baseball trophies collected dust on the other.
‘Ray would be impressed with the stereo sound system,’ he thought as he made his way towards the solid shelving unit. His curiosity was piqued at the family’s taste in music as he glanced through the wide variety of compact disks stacked alphabetically on a shelf above the stereo. Bach, The Beatles, Bon Jovi, Elton John and Elvis to name a few. Ray would be impressed with the music... the organization, not so much.
Having grown up in a library, Fraser's fingers itched to rescue the books from the damp. In the last six weeks, since the air conditioning had been switched off, the books had started to smell faintly of neglect.
Hmm... Fraser frowned to himself. The electricity was still running. Now that he thought of it, who had turned off the air conditioning? Obviously not the family, they were dead. Nobody since then would have had authority to do so. He recalled the first day that he and Ray arrived at the house, the temperature in the home had registered on the chilly side, even for him. It had been an early spring with unusually warm temperatures and everyone had their air conditioning running. So, why was it off?
Abruptly he realized… somebody had been to this house, who knew it's workings. Somebody with an interest in whether the air conditioning was on...
Fraser turned his head, and looked to the shelf opposite the books and videos. Trophies… baseball. The murdered boy had been quite the athlete. With a sigh Fraser stepped forward, and lifted a photo from a shelf. Little League. A boy and his teammates, grinning at the camera.
What a waste. A life barely lived. Fraser stepped back and stared at a professional portrait of the family. Two young children, one dead, one missing. There was something about the young girl smiling back at him from the photo that caused Fraser to tear up. ‘If this were my child, I’d move heaven and earth until I found her.’ “We’re not giving up, Chloe,” he spoke to the quiet room.
A fly buzzed around the television screen before landing on the black plastic corner, rubbing its back legs together. It blended in so well, Fraser almost lost sight of it until he stepped forward and it and ten other flies flew off together. He shooed them from around his face, stirring the air around him. Inhaling sharply, Fraser’s stomach churned. The rotten stench of something long dead filled his sinuses. He fought hard to keep down the little bit of muffin he had managed to eat earlier that morning. ‘That’s more than a dead mouse,’ he coughed into his shoulder. The faint smell was becoming stronger the closer he got to the wall. He coughed again, placing a hand over his mouth and nose as he stepped forward closer to the edge of the solid wood entertainment center. Flies buzzed up to a small crack between the wall and the wood edge. They would scamper along the crack before disappearing into the dark abyss.
Fraser pressed his fingertips into the cracks and was about to tug when a small piece of fabric in a splintered piece of wood caught his attention. He squatted down low, getting a better view. The fabric color and pattern matched the sheets found on the parent’s bed. ‘Oh God,’ Fraser thought as he glanced up at the ceiling, noticing the large amounts of flies buzzing about in the room, mostly around the entertainment center. He stood up and found the crack again, working his fingertips in and tugging with all his might. The solid frame didn’t budge.
“Dammit,” Fraser wiped his sweaty brow. He stepped back and took a deep breath. ‘Okay, think, Ben.’ Something was dead behind that massive obstruction, he just couldn’t figure out how to move the damn thing. ‘Dammit, I wish Ray was here to help me.’ Fraser knew he should probably wait for assistance. Ray would freak out if he knew he was trying to move anything this heavy. But there wasn’t time. Taking a deep breath, he shoved his fingertips back into the small crack. He put a foot against the wall for leverage and pulled again. The unit finally broke free, budging a few inches. Fraser fell to the floor, becoming unbalanced by the sudden movement. He'd probably hurt himself, but right now the adrenaline was pumping through him, and he couldn't feel anything. Dizzy, he stood up, got a sturdy grip on the edging and pulled again. This time he managed to pull it further from the wall. The unit appeared to be on a set of rusty hinges and once he got it unstuck, it moved freely, revealing a hidden room for the electrical cords that powered the electronics on the other side of the shelf.
Sealed behind the solid entertainment center wrapped in the missing shower curtain and bedspread were the bodies of the murdered family. Fraser was met with a flurry of insect activity and the overpowering aroma of decomposition. Overwhelmed by the stench, he turned and threw up on the carpeted corner of the basement. He gagged on the horrid smell again and started dry... heaving. If he didn’t want to pass out, he needed to get some fresh air and quick.
Taking the steps two at a time, he made it to the top and pushed through the door leading to the outside porch. The oppressive air greeted him and his head spun. Fraser felt his stomach churn. He barely made it off the porch and into the yard and the pouring rain before he threw up again. The cool rain felt good against his clammy skin. His heart was beating wildly in his chest. ‘Breathe,’ he told himself. ‘Breathe and call Ray.’
With trembling fingers, Fraser dialed Ray’s desk phone. “Come on... pick up,” he begged impatiently after the first ring registered in his ear. When his partner answered, Fraser felt tears building in his eyes and he found it difficult to form words past the lump in his throat. There was no way to know if the little girl was amongst the bodies hidden in the small cubby hole.
“Frase?” Ray’s worried voice did little to anchor his growing anxiety.
“I found them, Ray.” Fraser coughed again, fighting back the rising nausea. He wiped his mouth on his shirt sleeve and gagged on the bile flooding his mouth.
“Oh God…” Silence. “Where at, Ben?”
“Basement,” Fraser’s voice quivered as he spoke. “Hidden in a built in cubby hole behind the entertainment center.”
“You okay?” Ray asked when he heard Fraser coughing. His voice wasn’t any more solid than his partner’s.
“No.” Fraser took a deep breath, in an attempt to calm himself. “I couldn’t look to see if…” His voice trailed off and he fought back the urge to vomit again. “Even if I could have, I don’t want to tamper with any evidence.”
“Hey, you did good, okay? Vecchio and I have a few leads, I was about to call you. I just got your message. You said you might have a clue who did it?”
Fraser shook his head trying to think. “No. Not really. More of a hunch. The toilet paper. Someone’s been in the house using the restroom. Are there photos of the main floor bathroom?” Ben heard the shuffling of papers on the other end of the line. He head was pounding and he was certain he was going to be sick again.
“Bathroom, bathroom… main bath, got it, Ben. What am I looking for?” Ray questioned as he stared at the photo.
The porch was spinning and Fraser had to sit on the railing before he fell over. He squeezed his eyes shut and breathed deeply. “Look… look at the roll of toilet paper. What do you see?” he forced out through clenched teeth.
“Toilet paper?” Ray scanned the photo. “I see blood spatter, mostly full roll.”
“Ray, someone’s been using the restroom. The roll is almost gone.” Fraser wiped a hand down his face and blew out the breath he had been holding. “I think Chloe is here, Ray. Somewhere.”
“I’m grabbing Vecchio and we are on our way. Stay put, Ben.”
“I have to keep looking, Ray. She has to be scared to death.”
“Ben, listen to me. You just said you don’t even know if she’s alive.”
“No,” Fraser said firmly. “You listen to me. What if that were our little girl, Ray? Would you stop looking?”
“Of course not.” Ray’s voice cracked. “Just please...” he sucked in a deep breath and scanned the bullpen. It was empty, thank God. He lowered his tone. “Be careful. I don't want to lose our child because you can't let go of this one.”
"I won't lose our child..."
"I don't want to lose you either, Ben. Do you hear me? Be careful."
Fraser paused. He understood Ray's concern, he really did, but...
“I’m going back in.”
"God, Ben, you are so fucking stubborn!" Ray’s voice echoed in the empty bullpen.
Fraser ground his teeth. Ray's over- protectiveness, while understandable, was wearing thin.
"Would you do any less?"
There was a tight moment of silence on the phone. Ray broke it.
"No." he conceded, sounding a little bitter. "No. I wouldn't. Just... look. I'm on my way.”
‘I’m going back in.’ Jesus, what the hell was that about? Fraser had a death wish or something. If Ray wasn’t worried sick about him, he’d probably kill him. Ray slammed the phone down ending the call. The detective rushed into Vecchio’s office, not bothering to knock. “Fraser found the bodies,” he blurted out. “Somewhere in the basement.”
“Oh fuck… and the girl?” Vecchio asked, grabbing his coat off the chair.
“He couldn’t tell, but he’s under the impression she’s still alive. He said someone’s been using the bathroom. Something about the toilet paper’s almost gone.” Ray shrugged his shoulders. “Also said he’s going back into the house to keep looking.”
Vecchio pushed through the bull pen doors with Kowalski hot on his heels. “You drive and I‘ll tell you what I found out. Let this be a quick lesson, it pays to have people owe you favors on occasion.”
Kowalski threw the Goat in reverse and peeled out of his parking space. “Whaddya got?”
“Besides whiplash?” Vecchio cracked his neck. “Jeez. You know it's torrential out there, don't you? You keep going at this speed, we're gonna lose traction, spin out and splatter across the windshield. We're no use to Benny or the girl then.”
“I know what I'm doing, Lieu,” Ray imbued the word with as much scorn as he could muster. Vecchio glared.
“Get us there in one piece, Stanley.”
“Whatever... spill, what did you find out?” Kowalski blew a stop sign, forcing Vecchio to grab for his seatbelt.
“God! And Benny thought I was a horrible driver.” Ray glared at Vecchio.
Vecchio ignored the insolent tone, and continued.
“I talked to my friend at the post office and postal records show that MacDaniel lived in that house for almost three years. He’d definitely know if there were any hidden rooms. Where did you say Benny found the bodies?”
“Behind an entertainment center in the basement. Something about a cubbyhole built in for all the wiring. He couldn’t tell the number of bodies because they were still wrapped up, but he believes the girl is still hidden somewhere in the house.”
Vecchio cringed. “Jeez. Poor Benny.”
“Yeah.” ‘And you don’t know the half of it.’
“I hate this job sometimes,” Vecchio said, staring out the side window. “I’ve seen enough decomps to last me a lifetime.”
“Yeah. Me too.” Ray swallowed. He knew how the guy felt.
“I’m calling the coroner,” Vecchio said, abruptly. “Shoulda done it before we left. I’m getting stupid.”
No. Just shocked. Ray kept his eyes on the road, while Vecchio made the call.
The sooner they could get the bodies out of the house, the better. Ray glanced to the side. Vecchio had finished on the phone, and was still staring morosely out the window. Wasn’t like he could see anything, through all the rain.
“Do you reckon MacDaniel would be into blackmail?” Kowalski asked as he pressed his foot further into the accelerator.
“Well,” Vecchio seemed to rouse himself from his funk. “It would fit some of the ugly rumors that were floating around when IA were investigating.”
“You reckon he mighta been blackmailing the wife?”
“Yeah, Kowalski. It sure as hell fits.”
“Okay,” Ray drummed his thumbs against the top of the steering wheel. “Say he did kill them, we don’t know why, yet. But now that we have the bodies, there may be some evidence on them.” Huh. Ray puzzled it out. “You remember the pizza box in the trash at the crime?” Vecchio shook his head. “The one from Sandors’, half eaten pizza in it. Pull out the photos of the outside of the house.” Vecchio did as he was told, searching for the correct one with the trash can pictured.
“There’s no pizza box in the trash.”
“What? I saw it with my own eyes. Blue and green print with Sandor in bold red lettering. Give me your cell.”
“I’m gonna call Sandor. Give it.” Ray held out his hand impatiently. The car skidded through a puddle, sending an arc of grey water six foot high.
“You focus on not getting us killed. I’ll call.” Vecchio phoned Sandor and asked about any deliveries to the murdered families address. Ray described MacDaniel.
“Yeah, that could be him.” Ray could just about hear Sandor on the other side of the line. “I been delivering there about a month now. Guy's parked up in his car. Seems a bit weird to me.”
“A month, you sure about that?” Vecchio questioned.
“Of course, started right after we changed the logo on the box. Twice a week. Super supreme on one side, cheese and black olives on the other. A two liter of coke and a two liter of grape soda.”
“Thanks Sandor, you’ve been a big help.” Vecchio clicked his phone shut.
Ray’s stomach twisted.
“Benny may be right about the girl still being alive. Sandor changed the logo on his box a month ago and has been delivering to the house twice a week. One pizza with half and half toppings and two different kinds of soda.”
“So, how does a dead family order pizza and pop twice a week?”
“They don’t, but their killer does. That pizza box you saw in the trash confirms it. The logo was changed after they died.”
Fraser took a deep breath and stood. His legs felt as if they were made of rubber and every step closer to the front door he felt them wobble even more. ‘Pull yourself together,’ he scolded himself. He took a calming breath and threw an arm over his nose and mouth, trying to block out the horrendous smell now spilling from the home. It took all of his focused energy not to heave again once entering the basement. He did have excess lung capacity, now was the perfect time to use it. Fraser knew himself well enough to know that he couldn’t go near the bodies again without losing the lining of his stomach. He focused rather on the other end of the finished basement.
There were fingerprints on the mirrored wall and given the dust on the trophies, Fraser didn’t find it out of the ordinary. Not every home was dust free and spit shined. The smell was overwhelming and he removed a handkerchief from his pocket and placed it over his nose and mouth in an attempt to block the offensive odor. If anything it just masked it. Fraser placed his hand over a smeared palm print on the mirror. It was small enough to belong to one of the children. Ben turned and leaned against the mirrored wall. With his stomach churning again, he knew he wouldn’t be able to stay down in the basement much longer. The lack of food and the discovery of the bodies, he feared his own body was going to be shutting down on him. There it was again, the faint bark coming from a dog...
Fraser felt the mirrored wall dip behind his weight and a click echoed in the quiet room. ‘What the hell was that?’ he wondered as he turned around to examine why the wall gave way. The outline of a door protruded from the mirrored wall. Fraser pulled the door open slowly and stepped into the illuminated room. There before him was the single largest marijuana crop he had ever seen in his life, ready for harvest. Rows upon rows of mature plants filled the extensive room.
The high electric bill made sense to him now.
It was faint and Fraser had to strain to hear it. There it was again… the unmistakable whimper of a small child.
“Chloe!” Fraser called as he searched frantically under the numerous tables. The whimpering quickly gave way to sobbing as he neared the end of the first row. Fraser followed the frantic wails. He spun a circle until his eyes fell on the missing child.
There, tied to a steel pole, was Chloe Wells.
She was filthy and shivering, dressed only in a thin nightgown. What looked like a man’s sock was tied around her mouth silencing any spoken words. Fraser ran to the young girl, searching his pocket for his knife to cut her free. Her cries turned into hysterics the closer Fraser got and it dawned on him that she was terrified he may hurt her.
“Shhh, it’s okay, Chloe.” Her blue eyes went wide as saucers on her pale face. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he assured her with a soothing voice. “I’m here to help you.” Fresh tears spilled down her tear stained cheeks as she scooted backwards on the cold cement flooring. The rope binding her to the pole dug into the fair skin on her thin wrists and ankles. Fraser got down on his knees and laid the knife on the floor beside him. Chloe’s frightened eyes followed his slow movements as he held his hands up for her to see he meant her no harm. "I'm going to use the knife to cut the ropes, and get you free. Then I'm going to get you out of here. You understand, Chloe? I'm here to rescue you."
Chloe shook her head slowly and squeezed her eyes shut. Fraser carefully undid the knot to the gag, untangling the sock from her blond hair. “Thank you,” she whispered. Fraser gave her a warm smile. “My name’s Ben,” Fraser distracted her from his task at hand, “and we’ve been looking for you.” He slowly picked up the knife and carefully slit the rope, freeing her small hands. She began to whimper again as Fraser cut the ropes tethering her ankles.
“Shh, you’re doing fine. I’m almost done.” When he had her free, she wrapped her arms around his strong neck, burying her nose into his shoulder and began sobbing. “Shh, I’ve got you.” Fraser ran a comforting hand down her back. He wished he had a blanket to wrap around her frail body. Instead he removed his flannel shirt and draped it over her petite frame. Chloe hugged it to her like a security blanket. It hung on her, but kept her warm.
“I tried to be brave and run away,” she spoke through broken sobs. “He let me out to go to the bathroom and I ran and ran, but I tripped and he caught me.”
“You were brave, very brave,” Fraser said, softly. He bit his lip. “Did he hurt you, honey?”
“He hit me in the face, but I bit him in the hand. Hard.” Chloe showed Fraser her front teeth. “Do you think the tooth fairy will be able to find me if I don’t have my tooth?”
Chloe’s random question puzzled Fraser. “What happened to your tooth, sweetheart?”
“It fell out when I bit him.” She buried her head into his neck again. “That’s when he started tying me to the pole.”
The little girl was a fighter, Fraser had no doubts about her strong will to live. He scooped her up into his arms and held her close. Chloe’s grip tightened around his neck as her feet left the floor.
"Oh, how disgustingly sweet." Fraser felt the girl flinch in the cradle of his arms at the harsh voice. He looked over his shoulder. There, in the doorway, stood Officer MacDaniel. “Couldn’t let it go for one more day could you, Mountie?” Ben caught the flash of white bandage on the officer’s hand as he moved for his gun.
"Officer MacDaniel," Fraser said, cooly, putting Chloe to the floor and stepping protectively in front of her. "Of course. It all fits."
"Yeah? What fits?"
Fraser gestured at his hand. "I assume when forensics checks the wound on your hand it will match Chloe's teeth. You told Ray you hooked it fishing. Wouldn’t surprise me if a fragment of her tooth isn’t embedded in the infected tissue.”
"Forensics isn’t going to check anything.” MacDaniel sneered. "And your boyfriend's never going to find you."
With a lightning swift reflex Fraser heaved a ceramic pot at him, striking him in the shoulder. A stray shot ricocheted against the cement wall behind Chloe as dirt peppered the air around MacDaniel’s face, causing him to lose the solid grip on his firearm. Chloe screamed and ducked under the nearest workbench. The gun skittered across the floor, disappearing under the tables. The officer cursed trying to clear his vision and lunged blindly at Fraser.
As Fraser turned to search for Chloe, the weight of the officer slammed into him, knocking him off his feet and hard into the concrete wall. MacDaniel jumped to his feet and delivered a swift kick to Fraser’s abdomen. Fraser grunted in pain, sucking in a ragged breath. He threw an arm over his stomach, protecting his unborn child. He kicked out with a foot and caught MacDaniel in the kneecap, dropping the man to his knees.
Fraser pulled himself up to his feet, leaning with a heavy hand against the wall. He had only taken two steps, when he was hit in the temple with a blunt object. He fell against the cold wall, disoriented. Blood flowed from the deep gash, seeping into the dip of his eyelid and obscuring his vision before trailing down the side of his cheek. Fraser pressed a hand painfully into his forehead to staunch the bleeding.
“You’re not getting out of here that easy, Constable,” MacDaniel sneered as he stepped towards Fraser’s still body. He narrowed his eyes to slits and glanced around the room, in search of Chloe. “Little missy and I have somewhere to be and you,” he delivered a fierce kick to Fraser’s ribs dropping the injured man further to the floor, “are getting in my fucking way.”
Fraser gasped for air, rolling into a fetal position to protect his baby. His eyes rolled and he groaned when a solid boot connected with his head. Fraser’s body went limp. The bloody hand pressed tightly against his forehead fell motionless to the floor. It bounced once before falling idle next to his head. Fraser was out cold.
Dark and angry eyes scanned the room. MacDaniel stepped over Fraser’s motionless body, walking deeper into the corner of the room in search of the little girl. Chloe shrieked when the officer grabbed her arm and yanked her out from under the farthest table. She kicked him in the side of the knee, taking his feet out from under him. MacDaniel went down but held on tightly to Chloe’s arm. She grabbed a handful of dirt from the plants growing on the table and threw it in the officer’s eyes. She twisted out of the flannel shirt and he lost his grip on her. His hands flew to his face to clear his vision, rubbing blindly to clear the dirt away in a moment of panic. Ducking under the benches, Chloe ran back to Fraser’s side.
“Ben,” she cried as she pulled on his limp hand. “Get up. Come on…” Chloe turned to see MacDaniel feeling around blindly as he tried to find his way back to the pair around the maze of benches. “He’s coming,” she shrieked as she pulled on Fraser’s arm with all her might. He moaned and opened his eyes. The room was blurry and spinning. He saw a dark object approaching slowly from a distance. Blonde hair suddenly filled his field of vision. Chloe’s quiet voice filled his ears. “I’m gonna throw stuff at him, please get up.” He was right, Chloe Wells was a fighter.
Sounds of ceramic shattering echoed off the basement walls as Chloe flung empty pots in the officer’s direction. It gave Fraser enough time to get to his knees and gather his bearings. He fell back against the wall and prayed for the room to stop spinning. The wound on his head was still bleeding heavily, running into his left eye. MacDaniel hadn’t been able to navigate his way around the last workbench, giving Fraser and Chloe a chance to make a break for freedom. He pushed off the wall, taking wobbly steps towards the doorway.
“Run, Chloe,” Fraser demanded through clenched teeth. The room was still spinning. She took hold of his hand and pulled him towards the door. They were halfway up the steps when Fraser faltered, losing his balance. He tugged the cell phone out of his pocket and hit the speed dial for Vecchio’s cell number. Before he could speak, MacDaniel had a hold of his ankle, trying to pull him back down the stairs. Fraser pressed the phone into Chloe’s hands. “Run, Chloe… I’ve called for help.” MacDaniel slipped a bulky arm around Fraser’s throat. “His name’s Ray… run!”
The muscular arm pressed deeper into his throat cutting off Fraser’s air supply. He pressed MacDaniel’s backwards until the man’s back hit the mirrored wall. Fraser summoned all his strength and slammed his body into MacDaniel’s in a desperate attempt to dislodge the arm suffocating him. Fraser heard glass breaking and felt a moment of relief when the arm loosened the grip on his throat. He greedily sucked in air before it was cut off again. He spun MacDaniel around and forced him backwards towards the couch. The two men hit the edge of the couch and Fraser gave a final push, sending them sprawling over the top. The arm was gone and Fraser was gasping for air. Frantic footsteps up the stairs froze Fraser with fear. He was too weak to move. Chloe was in trouble and he couldn’t gather the strength to help her. The smell of decomp filled his nose and Fraser gagged again. He had to get out of the basement. Lifting his head off the floor and rolling to his stomach, he was overcome with a wave of pain in his side. The room spun out of control and faded to black.
Vecchio was startled when his cell phone rang abruptly from inside his jacket. He glanced at the display. Ray Kowalski. He flipped the phone open quickly. “Benny…”
“Help us,” Chloe screamed into the phone. “He’s hurting him.” She ran from the house into the pouring rain. Her thin nightgown becoming drenched in a matter of seconds.
Kowalski tore down the drive leading to the Wells house. He slammed on the brakes when he saw Chloe running down the drive. Vecchio flung his door open and ran towards the terrified girl. She screamed and bolted in the opposite direction. “Chloe, I’m a police officer,” he yelled after her. “I’m here to help you.” She stopped running and turned back around towards Ray. “You have to help him,” she cried as she ran into his outstretched arms. Ray took off his jacket and hung it around the shivering child. He picked her up and put her in the back seat of the GTO turning on the heat and radioing for an ambulance.
Kowalski was to the porch when MacDaniel came tearing out looking for Chloe. He came face to face with an angry Ray Kowalski instead.
“You’re too late…” MacDaniel began. Ray didn’t give him time to finish before he punched him, leveling the man with a solid blow to the head. He snapped a pair of cuffs on his wrists and bolted into the house. Whatever it was the man had to say could wait. He needed to find Ben and fast.
Ray took the stairs two at a time descending into the basement. The smell was overpowering and he threw an arm over his face to block the rotten aroma. To the left the door stood open, revealing fragments of shattered mirror speckling the floor. Ray approached slowly and pulled his gun. He knew MacDaniel was in custody outside, but he didn’t know if the man was working alone or if he had help in this whole mess. He stepped into the room cautiously and was transfixed by the open area before him. Ray scanned the room for Fraser, heart beating like a drum. He couldn't see him anywhere.
“Ben?” he called frantically. “Ben, can you hear me?”
No answer. He took another step deeper into the room searching until he came to the back wall. Ray stopped and turned and slipped.
Oh, God. No. That was...
Blood. The floor was covered with blood, smeared and streaked in a pattern that Ray knew all too well. Somebody had been struggling with an assailant… and there, to the side, was the assault weapon. A flat piece of slate rock about an inch thick, painted crimson. Ray had seen Chloe as she was running towards them and Officer MacDaniel as he came out of the house. Neither one was covered in blood. That meant… ‘Oh God, please let him be okay,’ Ray begged the heavens above. “Fraser,” Ray called frantically. “Where are you? Answer me dammit. Ben…”
Ray heard the coughs and the gagging noises. He spun on his heels and ran out of the room. The coughing grew louder as the intensity of the smell threatened to subdue him. Ray rounded the couch and tripped over Fraser’s foot.
“Oh my God, Ben…” Ray pushed the coffee table away to make more room as he checked Fraser’s vitals. He patted Fraser’s cheek lightly and took his hand, squeezing it urgently. “Ben, come on, you gotta wake up so I can get you outta here.” Fraser moaned and his unfocused eyes stared back at Ray. “That’s it… come on buddy, it smells really bad down here.” Ray helped Fraser into a sitting position. Oh shit. Ben's breathing wasn't right. It was increasingly swift and ragged. Ray tried to keep calm. "Let's get out of her before we both puke, okay? I gotcha.”
When the two men made it out onto the porch, Vecchio had the scene secured and under control. MacDaniel was scowling in a police car awaiting transport to be booked for murder. An ambulance had arrived, its blues flashing, and the EMT’s were busy assessing Chloe’s condition.
Vecchio was hunched under an umbrella talking on his phone.
"Holy shit," he said, as soon as he saw them emerging from the porch, and flipped the phone shut, dropped it in his pocket. The umbrella forgotten, he strode across the driveway, splashing through puddles, regardless of his suit. For a second Ray had the crazy thought the guy was going to hit him. He looked angry enough. But once he got to them, the anger was gone. He reached out, and grabbed Ben's free arm, helped support him.
"What the hell happened?"
“Hey,” Ray called from the porch. “We need to get him to the hospital.” Fraser’s grip tightened on his partner’s arm. “What’s wrong?”
"Call Logan," Ben pressed out through pursed lips.
"Ben's doctor," Ray snapped. "Ben, what happened?"
"He kicked me..." he hissed in pain and clutched his side. “In the stomach." He turned his face, and leaned against Ray's side, dropping his voice to a whisper. "The baby, Ray. I don't know... it was hard."
Oh God. Ray held on to him tight, and looked across at Vecchio.
"What's going on Kowalski? I can't hear what he's saying? What did that bastard do to him?"
"I told you," Ray choked. "We gotta get him to the hospital."
"Okay. Jesus." Vecchio waved over an EMT, who scuttled through the rain. "He can ride with the little girl." He stepped back to let the man take over. The EMT pressed a compress into Fraser’s head wound and guided him to the waiting ambulance.
“I’ll meet you there, Ben.”
Ray paced nervously in the waiting room, waiting for Doctor Logan to finish Fraser’s exam.
“Mr. Kowalski,” the doctor approached with a reassuring smile. “The orderlies are getting Benton settled in a room. It shouldn’t be too much longer and a nurse can take you to him. He’s going to be okay. He has a few stitches to the forehead and will most likely have a lingering headache for several days, but other than a few bumps and bruises, he’s going to be just fine.”
“What about the baby?” Ray asked keeping his voice low. Ever since Ben had told him MacDaniel had kicked him, Ray couldn’t get the fear to subside that something had happened to their baby. “Ben said he was kicked in the stomach. Is our baby okay?”
“I did an ultrasound to be sure. Your little one looks fine. The fetus is well protected in the abdominal cavity. There was a lot of fetal movement. So much, I had trouble tracking it.”
“So why are you putting him in a room? Why can’t I just take him home?”
“Benton is severely dehydrated and has a serious concussion." Logan shook his head, looking irritated. "And his blood pressure is registering too low for my liking. To be honest, it has been for weeks. I should have paid more attention to this."
"What are you saying?" Ray's throat was tight with panic.
Logan grimaced. "He's fine, he's fine. It's just that he has gotten quite rundown. I think it's best to keep him overnight for observation.” Logan placed a reassuring hand on Ray’s shoulder. “He’s going to be fine. You stay with him until the nursing staff kicks you out. Go home and get some sleep yourself.” Logan patted Ray on the shoulder. “If I like what I see in the morning, I will send him home with a follow up visit to my office in a week. If everything is progressing nicely, we will make it longer between visits.” Logan smoothed his hand over his beard. Don’t be alarmed, but I had to give Benton a mild sedative to help him relax so he can get some rest.”
“What do you mean, 'don't be alarmed'?” Ray couldn't help it. He was alarmed. “He's pregnant, you can't give him sedatives. What kind of doctor are you?”
“He really is fine, Ray. And it won't harm your baby. It doesn't cross the placental barrier. But it will help Ben relax and get some sleep. And he really does need to relax. He's quite concerned about the young girl that was brought in with him.”
“How is she?” Ray asked, urgently. "I can't seem to get anyone to give me an update since I ain't family." He dragged a hand through his hair and took a ragged breath. "So what that I'm the cop working her case. Hospital politics don't seem to care." God, now he needed to calm down, before Logan decided to sedate him too. He took a deep breath and started again. "I'm sorry, I'm just stressed. Her family was murdered and she’s been missing for six weeks. Ben found her before he was attacked.” Ray rubbed a weary hand through his hair and let out a long sigh. “We just want to make sure she’s okay.” His voice cracked. "That she's... you know. That she's okay. That the bastard didn't.... That he didn’t hurt her.” His voice cracked, and he fell silent.
After a moment, Logan gave a nod. "I'll see if I can do anything." He obviously knew what Ray was afraid of. "You understand that I can't just give you the information. I have to go through official channels. But even though I can't give you specific medical details, I should be able to make a general statement about her condition."
Ray shook the older man’s hand. “Thank you. I appreciate that.”
“Here comes Linda. She will take you to Ben’s room.”
Ray stepped into the cool room and shivered. His clothes were still damp from time spent in the rain. He wished they would have given him a set of scrubs to change into. He rolled the paper coffee cup between the palms of his hands, stealing the warmth. The room smelled of strong disinfectants and Ray wanted to gag. From one extreme to the next, one smell was just about as bad as the other.
Fraser was resting with one arm draped across his eyes, blocking the glaring lights from the ceiling. His right leg was bent creating a tent with the thin hospital blanket that covered his body. Ray found the light switch on the wall and flicked it off. The room dimmed considerably with the brightest light coming from the flashes of lightning outside. From the steady rise and fall of his chest, he assumed Ben was asleep.
“Thanks,” came a muffled voice from the bed. Fraser sounded so exhausted, too tired to even say a full ‘thank you’.
Ray edged his way to the bed. He grimaced when Fraser dropped his arm and he got a good look at his face after all the blood had been cleaned off. He had a hell of a shiner forming. “I talked to Doctor Logan, he says you can go home in the morning.” Ray placed his coffee on the bedside table and took a seat on the edge of Fraser’s bed. Fraser’s swollen eyes followed the cup. “You thirsty? You need something to drink?”
Fraser shook his head with minimal movement and held up his right hand revealing an intravenous line. “No, I believe I’m all hooked up.” He rubbed his left hand nervously across his abdomen and Ray stilled it, settling his own on top. Ben sounded a little loopy and Ray wondered what else the doctor had running in that IV line.
“Logan says the baby is fine, Ben.” A tear escaped from the corner of Fraser's eye, and tracked its way down the side of his cheek. He tried stifling a sob, but failed. Ray gently squeezed Fraser’s hand. “Hey, it’s okay.” He placed his other hand on Ben’s abdomen and froze. Oh my God. “Is that it?” A wide grin spread across his face. "Ben? I can feel a bump. Is that our baby?"
Fraser nodded. The corners of his lips tugged upwards in an apprehensive smile. “Doctor Logan pointed it out to me when he completed the examination after the nurses had left the room.” He rubbed the barely visible bump again with his other hand, uncertain. “I’ve never been so scared and excited at the same time.”
“Can you feel it moving?” Ray questioned as he pressed again. Fraser winced and Ray immediately removed his hand. “God, I’m sorry.”
“It’s just tender from where he kicked me.” Fraser shifted onto his side into a more comfortable position. “No, I can’t feel it moving yet. Logan thinks in a few weeks I will be able to start feeling flutterings.” Ben went silent. “I’m sorry, Ray…” He took Ray’s hand and gave it a squeeze, not meeting his partner’s worried eyes. “I had to find her.” He blinked heavily, looking both dazed and loopy. His eyes watered and his nose ran against his will.
“Shh, don’t do this to yourself. You did good.”
“I just kept thinking, what if that were our little girl?” Ben fell silent. “I couldn’t bear it if someone gave up hope looking for our child.”
Fraser’s voice drifted and his eyes fluttered. ‘The sedative,’ Ray thought to himself. ‘It’s kicking in.’ “Chloe’s safe now because of you, Ben,” he whispered quietly. He leaned forward and kissed Fraser’s bruised temple. “Get some sleep, love. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Ray closed the door behind him and sagged against it heavily. ‘What a day,’ he thought wearily as he pressed a foot into the door, propelling himself into the kitchen. He was hungry and the first thing his eyes fell on were Frannie’s muffins. ‘Yuck,’ he thought as he made a mock gagging noise. He really didn’t like them, regardless of the praise Fraser and Vecchio bestowed upon them. But… they were quick and easy. He just hoped he didn’t choke on one of the damn things. Wrinkling his nose more with each bite, he nibbled away.
"How's my boy?"
"Shit!" Ray dropped the muffin. There at the kitchen table stood Bob Fraser, deceased.
"Don't you even start.” Ray picked up the muffin while pointing a finger at Bob. “You're not even supposed to be here.”
"I just want to know how Benton is."
"He's fine. Sleeping. Doc thought it would be a good idea to keep him overnight." Ray took a deep breath. His heart was only just beginning to slow down. "You realize you're gonna kill me, popping up like that?" Bob shrugged. “Yeah dead… and then I’ll be stuck in your Borderlands with you or whatever the hell it is that you call it. You want that? Huh? You want me walking around with you all day? Oh wait… maybe we can sneak up on Ben together, won’t that be fun?”
“You’re a bit wound up, Son.”
“Well, you’re supposed to be dead… so I guess that makes us just about even.”
Just what he needed. A dead guy in his kitchen with an attitude.
Ray let his shoulders sag as the urge to antagonize the ghost any further drained from his body. He watched the worry lines return around Bob’s eyes, as his lips pressed firmly together to keep from saying anything more. “I’m sorry.” The concern pouring out of Bob’s eyes was overwhelming. Ray waved his hand back and forth between the two of them. “This whole thing with you being here still kinda freaks me out.” He gave the ghost a tentative smile. “Ben’s gonna be fine. Just needs some fluids and the docs wanted to keep an eye on that hard head of his.”
“Thank you.” Bob placed his Stetson on his head and gave Ray quick nod. “Get some sleep, Son. You’ve had a long day.” Ray nodded his head in agreement. He turned around when he heard a knock at the door and Bob vanished into the night.
With a quick glance to his watch, he rolled his eyes. By the time the nurses kicked him out of Ben’s room, it was after nine. Who would be coming over at this hour? Besides Fraser’s dead dad. He peered through the peephole and grumbled under his breath. First Fraser’s very much alive dead dad, now Vecchio. Couldn’t the man wait until tomorrow to get his statement? Opening the door for his boss, he leaned heavily against the wall. “It’s late, man. Can’t I just give you my statement tomorrow?” He waved a hand into his home and Vecchio followed him into the kitchen. Ray opened the fridge and pulled out two beers. Real food they had none of, unless you count the muffins, which he did not...but he was stocked up on beer. Go figure. He offered one to his friend.
“I’m not here for a statement. I came to check on Benny.” Vecchio snuck a glance into the open living room. “He in bed already? Looked like he took a nasty hit to the head.” Vecchio raised his eyebrows. “You’ll be happy to know that you broke MacDaniel’s jaw.”
“Good. Bastard deserved it.” Ray raised his bottle and took a long swig.
Vecchio gave Ray the best glare he could muster that late in the evening. He shook his head and rolled his eyes. “As your boss, I suppose I should be upset that one of my officers can’t refrain from violence. But as Benny’s friend, I’m secretly doing a happy dance inside. I’ll just accidently lose your reprimand in my ever growing stack of papers.”
“I’d do it again, too. Fucker murdered three people, kidnapped a little girl and beat the hell out of Ben. Damn straight I’d break his jaw again.”
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that.” Ray shrugged as if he didn’t care. “Social services got ahold of Chloe’s aunt and uncle out in Wyoming, her dad’s brother and wife. They are going to fly out first thing in the morning to be with her until she can go home with them. Doctor’s haven’t given us the okay to talk with her yet, but they tell me that physically she’s going to be fine. There were concerns that maybe MacDaniel had molested her. Thank God the bastard never crossed that line.”
Ray closed his eyes and sent a silent prayer of ‘thanks’ to the heavens above.
“So, Benny’s asleep already? How is he? He end up needing stitches?”
“Yeah, he got seven.” Ray huffed out a bitter laugh. “Chloe was seven. He’ll never forget where that scar came from.” Ray cringed at the thought. He’d had stitches to the forehead in the past and knew how bad it hurt. “His doctor admitted him. Wanted to keep him overnight for observation.” He just knew how Vecchio was going to react to that.
And there it was… Vecchio’s face went hard and he glared at him. “A concussion and bruised ribs do not require an overnight stay in the hospital. We both know that. What the hell is wrong with him?”
“So they pump him full of fluids and send him on his way. And how the hell did he get that dehydrated anyway? What’s going on Kowalski?”
“What is this? ‘Twenty Questions’?” Ray tried to remain calm. He did not want to tell Vecchio about the baby, not tonight. Besides, that was supposed to be Fraser’s job.
“What the fuck did you do to him, Stanley?” Vecchio slammed the beer bottle onto the countertop, splashing the contents over the rim. “He’s sick, isn’t he? Oh God, he told me you infected him.” Vecchio rounded the counter in an attempt to corner Kowalski. “You give him some kind of disease or something? I oughta kill you for hurting him.”
“Whoa, what the fuck are you talking about? He doesn’t have any diseases. I didn’t infect him with anything.” Ray moved quickly to the other side of the island and prayed Vecchio wasn’t limber enough to jump the damn thing and start pummeling him. “You wouldn’t believe me, even if I did tell you.”
“I’m thinking you better tell me before I decide to shoot you.” Vecchio paled. “Oh fuck…” He scrubbed a palm over his face and Ray wondered if the man was going to throw up on his counter top. “It’s the bullet isn’t it? It’s gotta be. He was carrying a box yesterday and fell.”
Fell? “What do you mean he fell?” Kowalski narrowed his eyes. “Why didn’t you tell me? I asked you to keep an eye on him.”
“He told me he was fine. What doesn’t make sense though is if it’s the damn bullet, what’s up with the weight loss?”
Ray sighed heavily. He was going to have to tell him. Vecchio was like a pit-bull and wasn’t backing down.
“Fuck, he has cancer doesn’t he? Bone cancer, that explains the fall, why you won’t let him lift anything heavy, the weight loss, the fucking puking in the john.”
“Cancer… would you listen to yourself, Ray?” Kowalski relented and returned to the refrigerator. Carefully, he removed the ultrasound photo from behind the magnet. “Just don’t freak out on me okay? I’ve had a rather shitty day and I’m not equipped to deal with a major episode from you as well.”
“What the hell does it look like? It’s an ultrascanny thing of a baby…” Ray let it sink in for a split second. “Our baby.”
Vecchio’s green eyes snapped up pinning Ray to the fridge. “Oh. My. God. You knocked him up, Stanley?”
Ray opened his mouth to speak and stopped. He was confused at Vecchio’s reaction. Did he just say he knew about Ben's condition? Vecchio knew? How?
“Don’t the two of you know anything about birth control?” Vecchio barked across the island.
“Well, it’s not like that was the first thing that crossed our minds when we got together.” Ray shot back.
Vecchio looked like someone had cracked him upside the head with two by four. “You little piece of shit… I can’t believe you got him…”
“Hey,” Kowalski cut him off. “That’s not fair. How the hell were we supposed to know he could get pregnant?”
Vecchio stopped, then thumped one fist into the palm of his hand. “How could you?” Vecchio squeezed his eyes shut, painfully. "I should shoot you dead, Kowalski.”
“That’s a little harsh, don’t you think? It does take two people for someone to get pregnant.” Ray held up two hands stopping Vecchio’s advancement. “Whoa… back off man.”
“He's pregnant! Holy shit, Kowalski... ” Vecchio raised a fist, then dropped it helplessly. “That can go wrong in so many ways if you're a woman, let alone a man.”
“Well, thank you…” Kowalski replied sarcastically, planting his feet firmly in the floor in irritation. He crossed his arms across his chest and glared at his friend. “I wasn't aware of that. Why do you think we've been to the doctor every week for him to be poked and prodded?”
Vecchio took a few more steps towards Ray.
"You need to calm down before that vein in your forehead pops…”
"You need to shut the fuck up before I accidently kill you on purpose." Vecchio knuckled his temples, then breathed a sigh of frustration. "You realize if you knocked up my sister, I'd have fucking killed you by now?"
"Ben's not your sister."
"No, smartass, he’s not. But I think of him as family."
“Wait a minute…” Kowalski narrowed his eyes. “You knew? About his condition?”
“Of course I knew. I mean… I’d forgotten, but I knew. I was sitting right there beside him when his doctor told him. Can’t believe he never told you.”
“He didn’t know. Apparently it never sank in when he was all doped up on painkillers.” Ray gave a wry grin imagining Fraser’s face at the news his trusted doctor had just laid out before him. “If I were him, and I was hopped up on painkillers, and my doctor told me that... I would probably think I was one sandwich short of a picnic. No wonder Ben doesn't remember. Why didn’t you ever say anything to him about it?”
“What was there to say? It didn’t change who he was to me.”
“Yeah… fuck. You’re gonna be a dad.” Vecchio shrugged, then smiled at his friend. “Congratulations.” He held his hand out to his friend and Ray shook it. Vecchio picked up his forgotten bottle of beer and took a greedy swallow. He really needed something stronger after that whole conversation. “So, who else knows?”
Ray picked at the label on his bottle nervously. “Nobody.” He rolled his shoulders and cracked his neck relieving the built up tension. “Not exactly the easiest news for two guys to spring on people.”
Vecchio let out a heartfelt laugh. “Yeah… I can imagine.” The color drained from his face as the realization of Fraser’s hospital stay sunk in. “Ray, they kept Benny overnight because of the baby, didn’t they? Is he having complications?”
“No,” Ray could see the relief in Vecchio’s green eyes. “The baby is fine. He’s just really dehydrated from all the puking. I don’t think he ate anything before we left for the crime scene this morning so that didn’t help with his blood sugar and blood pressure and then that bastard MacDaniel cracked him in the head with that piece of slate.” He pulled out a kitchen chair and dropped his tired body onto the solid wood. “I think Doctor Logan knew the nursing staff would be better equipped with waking him up every few hours than I would be after the long day.” Ray caught Vecchio’s expression out of the corner of his eye. “Not that I wouldn’t have done it, mind you.”
“You okay?” Vecchio asked. “With the exception of MacDaniel’s broken jaw, I’d say you’re holding yourself together pretty good for Benny right now. How far along is he?”
Ray mentally ticked off the weeks. “Just starting week fourteen.” He held up a closed fist. “This is how big the baby is, at least according to the baby book.”
“Huh, I’m surprised he isn’t showing yet.”
“He’s lost so much weight that it’s not noticeable. But I felt the bump tonight.” Ray’s eyes brightened with excitement. “I had my hand on his stomach and it just felt different than I was used to and it hit me like ‘Oh my God’, that’s my baby in there.”
“You will make great parents, both of you.”
"Thanks man." Ray scrubbed the back of his neck and grinned. "I'm nervous though," he admitted.
"Well, of course you are. Nothing wrong with being nervous, just means you're taking it seriously."
"No, I don't just mean I'm nervous about being a Dad. I'm nervous about... Ah, hell. I know you don't want to hear this stuff."
Vecchio leaned forward, and looked at him intently. "Look, you can tell me anything. It goes no further. Ben's my brother and you're my friend. So just say what you gotta say."
"Okay." Hell, he was gonna have to talk to someone. "There's this specialist his regular doctor called in to consult with, and the guy's trying to convince Ben to have the baby naturally."
Vecchio gave a puzzled frown. "How's that work? No! Don't tell me. I get the picture."
"Yeah. Remember I was there when the doctor told Benny the first time. So... ugh. Naturally? Won't that hurt like hell?"
"Yeah." Ray closed his eyes. Thank God Vecchio already understood enough. "He's got him doing these exercises, which really hurt, and I keep telling him he doesn't have to do it, he can have a caesarian, but..."
"Well, you know Fraser. Proper preparation and all that. He's scared about the 'what ifs'.
“Have you talked to Benny about your concerns? They seem quite valid.”
“He’s so fucking stubborn.”
“You’ve got a point. Listen, it’s late. You going to be okay?”
“Yeah, I’m gonna go to bed and then go pick him up tomorrow morning. I’ll try and make it in by early afternoon. Give me a chance to get him home and settled?”
“Sure, no problem. Take your time. MacDaniel isn’t going anywhere.” Vecchio swigged the last of his beer and tossed the bottle in the trash.
“Hey, Ray,” Kowalski called as his friend made his way towards the door. “You’ll keep this between us for now? You won’t say anything to anyone. Not even Frannie or Stella?”
Vecchio held up a hand. “Scout’s honor. Will it be okay to come over tomorrow evening? Just me?”
“Yeah, that’s fine. You want me to give Ben a heads up that you know?”
Vecchio laughed. “God… Benny pregnant. Yeah, go ahead and tell him. I don’t need him having a coronary on me if I just spring it on him that I know.”
“See you tomorrow.”
Ray dug through the contents of a third cardboard box and finally found Fraser’s teapot. ‘So much for Fraser’s organization,’ he grumbled to himself. He pushed the box back against the wall with the others and caught the list of contents on the side in Fraser’s neat handwriting. Okay, Mountie... one, Chicago flatfoot... zero. At least Ben would have tea for when Ray got him home. He had managed a quick trip to a grocery store to stock the refrigerator before he ventured to the hospital to bring Ben home. Logan had given Ray a list of symptoms to keep an eye on and activities for Fraser to avoid. No heavy lifting, well duh. Logan also warned Ray that Ben would probably spend the first day sleeping. The nursing staff woke him up every two hours because of the concussion and Fraser was understandably exhausted.
“I’m not an invalid, Ray.” Fraser grouched as Ray helped him to the couch. His protesting ribs said otherwise, but he hated feeling helpless. His whole body was sore and he had a killer headache.
“Just settle back, lay your head on that throw pillow and close your eyes.” Ray flipped the switch, turning on the ceiling fan above the couch. Cool air was dispersed throughout the room and Fraser settled into the couch as the gentle breeze began lulling him to sleep.
“Where are you going?” Fraser asked when he heard the jingle of Ray’s keys. He lifted his head from the pillow and cracked his eyes open just enough to catch his partner scurrying around the kitchen.
“I’ve got some fresh fruit in the bowl on the counter if you’re hungry, a sandwich made up in the fridge in case I’m not back and you get really hungry. There’s water in the teapot on the stove ready to be heated if you want tea.”
Fraser sat up on the couch and followed Ray around the kitchen with his eyes and asked again. “Where are you going?”
Ray froze at the stove. “I’m going into the station to talk to Vecchio and help with MacDaniel’s interrogation.”
Fraser swung his legs over the edge of the couch, his feet landing on the floor with a heavy thud. “I’m coming with you.” He swayed and caught himself on the arm of the couch. Too late for Ray not to notice.
“No, you’re staying here and sleeping.” Ray said firmly. “You won’t do Chloe any justice by passing out on your feet in an interrogation room.” He softened his voice considerably. “Besides, my mom is coming over and if you’re here, she won’t unpack all of our boxes and put stuff where we don’t know where it is.” Ray dropped his keys to the counter and rounded the island. “Ben, it’s not that I don’t want you there. But you just spent the night in the hospital, you have a nasty concussion and can barely stand up without falling over. Stay here and rest, please.” A glance to his watch and Ray snatched his keys again. “I’ll leave the door unlocked for mom so you don’t have to get up. I told her you’d probably be asleep so hopefully she won’t scare the hell out of you.” He jabbed Fraser playfully in the chest. “Unlike your dad who thinks he can pop in whenever he wants to.”
“He didn’t…” Fraser scrunched his face and sank back onto the couch.
“Oh… he very much did.” Ray shrugged and laughed. “I told him if he doesn’t stop, I’m going to join him in his Borderlands and hang out with him every day.” That earned Ray a heartfelt laugh. “Yeah, that pretty much shut him up.” He leaned forward and kissed Fraser’s dry lips. “I’ll grab you some juice and a blanket.”
Fraser kissed him back and breathed in Ray’s scent... fresh soap, honeysuckle shampoo and hair gel with a hint of toasted coconut. “God, I could smell you all day.” Sweetened coffee lingered on his lips and he licked the flavor away, enjoying the brief sensual moment between them.
Pink filled Ray’s cheeks. “Save that thought for later.” He winked at Ben pulling him in for another kiss. “I’ll be home as soon as I can. Vecchio is going to get an update on Chloe for us.”
“Good.” Fraser relaxed into the couch and swatted playfully at Ray’s thigh. “Get going so you can get back. What time should I expect your mother?”
A knock at the door broke the moment of silence. “How about right now?”
“You asked her to come babysit me didn’t you?”
“Yes you did.”
“Why are we arguing about this?”
“I’m not arguing. I’m stating a fact.”
“Fine,” Ray relented. “I asked her to come sit with you so you wouldn’t overdo it today. I knew that you would try unpacking some boxes or wander out to the workshop and start building their chairs when you should be resting. Besides, she thinks that she needs to throw some meals together for us like we can’t cook for ourselves because of our busy jobs. Just let her do her mom thing and be done with it.”
“Fine,” Fraser set his jaw feeling like a stubborn five year old. He didn’t know what had come over him but was suddenly feeling argumentative. Ray had never treated him like he couldn’t take care of himself. He rubbed a hand across his abdomen. ‘It’s not just me he’s concerned about,’ he reminded himself, dropping his head back onto the throw pillow. “I’m sorry, Ray. Your mother will make for delightful company while you are gone.”
“No need to be sarcastic, Frase,” Ray snapped at he shoved his keys in his pocket.
Ben got up from the couch and wrestled his arms around Ray’s waist stilling his partner. “I’m being quite serious,” he whispered into his ear. “I’ll take it easy and rest. No unpacking boxes, no building rocking chairs… baby and I will relax today.”
Ray turned in Ben’s arms, letting his lips be tugged into a smile. “Yeah, you and baby take it easy.” He bent down and placed a gentle kiss to Fraser’s stomach.
“Get the door before your mother thinks we aren’t behaving ourselves.”
Barbara Kowalski was a bundle of energy in the kitchen as she stirred numerous pots and thumbed through her trusted family recipes. Ray no doubt got his liveliness from his mother. Fraser watched in awe as the woman synchronized the timing of a variety of dishes so no two finished at the same time.
“Won’t you let me help you with something?” Fraser offered while sipping on a cup of fresh spearmint tea.
“No, dear.” Barbara bustled at the counter. “You sit right there. Raymond told me about your ordeal yesterday. You just sit and rest.”
“At least let me peel an egg for the potato salad. I’m not accustomed to letting someone else do all the work.” Fraser gave her a lopsided smile. “I promise not to tell Ray.” He winked when she reluctantly handed over the bowl of hard boiled eggs that she had been letting cool. “Thank... you.”
Barbara returned to the stove to fluff the rice she had boiled for a casserole. “Are you feeling any better, Benton? Ray’s told us how run down you’ve been these past few weeks. It worries me with your jobs that you boys aren’t taking good enough care of yourselves.” She turned around and gave him a concerned glance. “That’s why I’m whipping up some meals for you so when you get home after a long day, all you have to do is throw a casserole in the oven and you’ve got an instant dinner.”
“That’s very kind of you and I appreciate your efforts at keeping us well fed, but I assure you my job isn’t why I was feeling unwell.”
She turned back to the rice and Fraser busied himself with picking at the stubborn shell of a boiled egg. “If you were a woman...” she trailed off, then gave a light laugh, as she lifted the lid on the crockpot to check her chicken. “Well, never mind.” She bent over the food, and sniffed. “Hmm.” She looked critical of her efforts.
“That smells delicious.” Fraser praised her when the scent of roasted chicken filled his senses.
“Thank you dear.” She put the lid back on and smiled at him. “I’ll make sure I leave all the recipes.” She busied herself with peeling potatoes over the sink. “As I was saying, if you were a woman, I would think you were pregnant.”
Fraser drew in a sharp breath. Had she guessed, had she figured out his secret? A boiled egg slipped from his fingers and splattered all over the floor.
Barbara turned towards him, his face was flushed. “Don’t worry about one egg,” she reassured him, mistaking the cause of his expression. “They can be slippery little suckers.” Quickly she had the mess cleaned up and was back to peeling the potatoes before Fraser could even swivel on his chair. “You’re not a woman though.” She sounded a little wistful. “What I wouldn’t give to hear the pitter patter of little feet running around.” Ben said nothing. Barbara blushed. “I’m sorry, I’m being nostalgic. Has your doctor given you any idea what he thinks may be wrong?”
Silence filled the kitchen as Fraser stared wide eyed at his mother-in-law.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to pry.” She reached across the island counter top and patted his shell covered hand. “Raymond is always telling me I worry too much. I’m a mother, it comes with the territory.” She smiled again and turned to the refrigerator to retrieve the Miracle Whip to assemble the potato salad.
Just as her eyes fell on the grainy black and white photo of a baby, Ben blurted out, “Can you keep a secret?” ‘Oh dear...’ Fraser corrected himself nervously. “I don’t mean to imply that you can’t, but rather, will you? At least for the time being?”
Barbara carefully pulled on the small magnet securing the photo to the door. Her normally cheerful face creased in a frown. “Benton… are you telling me that…”
“Yes, Ray and I are going to have a baby. That’s what’s wrong with me.”
“How?” She looked every bit as perplexed as Ray did when he broke the news to him. Like mother like son.
“It’s rather complicated,” he began and stopped and shook his head. “No, I suppose it’s not really. It’s really more embarrassing and mortifying than anything…”
“You’re rambling, dear…”
“I have an intact set of female organs that make it possible for me to get pregnant,” he blurted out quickly.
Barbara stared at Fraser shocked. “Well,” she said slowly, “I suppose that explains why you’ve been so ill.”
“I didn’t know, or Ray and I would have been more careful, we would have used…”
“You don’t need to apologize, Benton. It’s wonderful news.”
“Of course!” she exclaimed. “You think this is the strangest news I have heard in the course of my lifetime?” She thought about that statement for a moment. “Okay, so it may be the strangest thing I’ve ever heard, but certainly one of the best.” She rounded the island and pulled his face to hers, kissing him lightly on the cheek. “I’m going to be a grandma. Oh, Damien will be delighted.”
“I don’t know what to say. It’s not exactly the easiest news to digest and you’ve taken it remarkably well.” Fraser pushed the eggs to the side, all but forgotten. “Ray downed two beers within a matter of minutes. He thought I was pulling a prank on him.”
“Oh I’m sure Damien will be the same way. He may need two of those beers when we tell him.” Barbara cleaned her hands on her apron and pulled a barstool close to Ben’s. “Have you tried avocado, for the nausea? Morning sickness was always a constant for me when I was carrying Stanley. I was run down, losing weight and my doctor suggested avocados. They’re bland so they don’t upset the stomach but they are quite nutritious.” She patted his arm and grinned from ear to ear. “How far along are you? When can we expect this little one to arrive?” Fraser didn’t answer right away, and her face fell, as though she feared she had overstepped her enthusiasm. “I’m sorry, if you don’t want to discuss it.” She spun on her barstool and stood.
“No, Barbara, please… it’s not that. I just…” Fraser paused and had to compose himself. “I just wish that my own parents were alive to share in this with us is all. Besides, Ray, you’re the first one I’ve confided in.”
“Anything you two need, you just let us know. Have you even shopped for anything yet?”
“I bought a blanket and a onesie when we had our first doctor visit. Mostly to ground myself in the fact that this was real and I wasn’t dreaming.” He smiled. Barbara Kowalski was somehow so comforting, and he was so relieved to have someone else to talk to about this. Someone who had been through this before. “I would like to build you and Damien both a rocking chair for your home,” he offered tentatively. “I remember as a toddler when my mother was still alive, my grandmother would rock me to sleep sometimes in a rocking chair my father had built her. It always felt like the safest place, rocking in that chair.” Fraser looked down at his hands thoughtfully and picked at the stray pieces of white shell. “I want our child to be able to share that same feeling with its grandparents.”
“That is a lovely gesture. Damien and I would both love to have a rocking chair from you.” Barbara beamed, then looked concerned. “You’ve been so ill, how is the baby doing? You’re how far along?”
“We’re just starting week fourteen.”
Barbara whistled. “A long way to go yet.”
“Yes, a long way to go. If it continues at this pace I’m not sure I’m going to make it. We found out three weeks ago and we were just waiting for the news to really sink in ourselves before we told anyone else. I’m not looking forward to the conversation with Ray Vecchio or my superiors.”
“Well,” Barbara said briskly, “my opinion is that those people who love and care about you will accept the news and share in your excitement and those who don’t, shouldn’t matter.”
Fraser smiled fondly at the almost mirror image advice his father had given him. “Thank you, that means a lot.” He tried to hide a yawn behind his hand.
Barbara patted Fraser’s arm and took the bowl of eggs from him that he had resumed peeling. “You go lie down. You’ve got to be exhausted.”
“In all fairness, I didn’t get much sleep at the hospital last night.”
“Go take a nap, dear.”
While Fraser rested, Barbara busied herself in the kitchen finishing off a weeks’ worth of meals, packaging and then freezing them for later use. She was humming lullabies when she decided to unpack a few more of the boxes. ‘Raymond won’t mind,’ she thought cheerfully to herself.
Ray met Vecchio outside of Chloe Wells’ hospital room. Her aunt and uncle had arrived and the trio were discussing her condition, the case and how soon Chloe could fly back home with them.
“I’m sure that we can get her statement on video so she won’t have to appear at the trial or we can set up a live feed from your home in Wyoming. We can make the arrangements so Chloe won’t have to come back.” Vecchio acknowledged Ray and introduced him to the extended family.
“Ray’s partner, Constable Benton Fraser is the one who found Chloe. He would like to see her before she leaves if that is okay with the two of you.”
“Of course, without him, Chloe would still be missing. Is he here? We would like to express how grateful we are for finding Chloe.” Mrs. Wells said quietly.
Ray spoke up. “No, he’s home resting. There was an altercation with the suspect and he was injured.”
“We would like to talk to Chloe this afternoon if she is up to it and see if she can’t tell us what happened to her family. Our suspect isn’t doing a lot of talking at the moment.”
“I don’t know that she is ready for that yet. She was still quite scared when we arrived a few hours ago.”
“What if she talked to Ben?” Ray offered to Vecchio. “He found her, maybe she will talk to him.”
“Can’t she just tell us and we tell you?” Tom Wells, Chloe’s uncle suggested.
“Unfortunately, Chloe has to tell an official police source.” Vecchio pursed his lips and thought briefly. “Can we visit with her and see if she is willing to talk to us and if not, ask her if she will talk to Constable Fraser?”
The aunt and uncle exchanged a glance and agreed. “That would be fine, but we want to be in there with her.”
“Absolutely. We wouldn’t talk to her without you there anyway. Just remember that what she tells us will most likely be very difficult information to digest. This man murdered your brother and his wife along with your nephew. We don’t know why he didn’t kill Chloe as well. We were hoping that by talking with her we can fill in some empty holes in this case.”
“Do either of you know Officer Troy MacDaniel?” Kowalski asked.
“No, the name doesn’t ring any bells. My brother had mentioned many years ago that he thought his wife was having an affair, but he never said who he suspected or even how he knew and then he never mentioned it again.”
“May we go in and speak with Chloe?”
“Sure. I’d like to know what happened as well.”
“She may be too scared to may tell us anything,” Kowalski warned.
The aunt and uncle ushered Kowalski and Vecchio into their niece’s room. Chloe was busy coloring in a sketchpad. Ray glanced over the edge of the bed as she filled in the eyes of a dog a blue that he was certain matched Fraser’s eyes.
“That’s a nice picture, Chloe. You’re doing a good job.” Ray spoke softly as to not scare the young girl.
Chloe didn’t look up or acknowledge the additional men in the room but continued coloring. She put down the blue and selected a grey crayon and began filling in the outline of the large dog. Once the dog’s body was filled in, she selected a rosey pink for the dog’s tongue. The tape holding down her IV scraped against the edge of the paper and Chloe dropped the pink crayon and began picking at the adhesive. Her bright blue eyes snapped up and settled on Ray. Her blond hair had been washed and combed since he saw her last, the sides pulled back into a simple ponytail secured with a pink ribbon dotted with dainty butterflies.
“Chloe,” he said, keeping his voice gentle. “Do you remember me?” A small nod was her only reply. “Do you remember Lieutenant Vecchio? His name is Ray, just like mine.” Ray threw a thumb over his shoulder in Vecchio’s direction. Again, Chloe gave a minimal nod. “My friend and I were wondering if you could answer a few questions for us, about what happened to your family.”
“Where’s Ben?” she asked surprising the occupants in the room. “Did he hurt him too?” Her small voice was barely audible, but it was firm.
Ray locked eyes with Vecchio unsure that he should tell her anything about Fraser’s condition.
“I’m not a baby,” she stated, her voice stronger with each word. “Stop treating me like one.” Chloe continued picking at the tape on her wrist. “He’s dead, isn’t he? Just like my family. That bad man killed him too.”
“No, Chloe…” Ray tried to correct her.
“I tried to be brave, I tried to help him but he told me to run and I was scared.” Tears spilled down her pale cheeks and the aunt was immediately at her side offering comfort.
“Chloe,” Ray settled himself at the edge of her bed. “Ben is okay. The bad man didn’t hurt him.”
“You’re lying. I told you I’m not a baby. I saw the blood on him. I asked what happened to him and nobody would tell me after they put him in a different room. They wouldn’t tell me if he was okay or not.”
“Chloe,” Ray took her trembling hand. “I’m Ben’s friend and I took him home this morning. He has seven stitches to his forehead, seven so he could always remember you.”
“He’s okay?” she asked through a whimper.
“Yes, sweetie. I bet I can ask him to come visit you too, if you would like.”
Chloe nodded and swiped at the tears running down her cheeks.
“But first, Ben needs to rest today. He has a pretty bad headache from where that man hit him. So while he rests, do you think you can answer a few questions my other friend Ray and I might have for you?”
Chloe shook her head and resumed coloring. “Can you give him this picture for me?” Her blue eyes sparkled when Ray agreed. “It’s a guard dog, to protect him, just like the one who protected me.”
Ray stole a glance at the picture on the white page. Was that, Diefenbaker?
“He doesn’t listen very well, though,” she admitted with a roll of her blue eyes. Ray couldn’t help but chuckle.
“It’s not that he wasn't listening, honey, he's just deaf.”
Chloe’s laughter lit up the room. “I wish I had a dog like him, I wouldn’t care if he listened or not.” Suddenly her eyes darkened and she grew quiet. “I wish he would have been there to protect my family.”
Ray’s heart felt like it had been ripped in two. Six weeks ago when Chloe’s family was being murdered, Diefenbaker lost his life saving Ray’s. Ray choked up and a tear fell freely from his hazel eye. “I’m sorry Chloe,” he wiped the fresh tear away and tried to give her a reassuring smile. “Ben will love the picture.”
“Chloe,” Ray began quietly, “can you tell us what happened that night?”
“We went camping with daddy.”
“Do you know why your mom didn’t go?” Vecchio asked.
“She never went camping with us.” She picked at the frayed edge of the blue blanket covering her thin legs. “It started to rain and daddy decided to go home.” Chloe grew quiet.
“Go on, sweetie, you can tell us what happened. He can’t hurt anybody anymore.”
“Mommy was fighting with the man in the house. He wanted all of her funny plants from the basement.” Chloe leaned forward and whispered to Ray. “They were supposed to be our secret. I helped her water them every day when daddy was at work. He didn’t know about her special room. Mommy told the man she wouldn’t give the plants to him, they were hers.”
“And your dad heard them arguing?”
“We came in the house and mommy and that man were in her secret room. Daddy was surprised, he didn’t know it was there. They were yelling at each other and mommy ran upstairs. She didn’t know we had come home from our camping.” Chloe began to tremble as she told her story. Ray placed a comforting hand on her arm while her aunt wrapped an arm around her small frame and encouraged her to continue. “The bad man... he had a gun and he shot mommy when he came into the kitchen. We must have surprised him. Daddy told Derek and I to run and hide that he would find us when it was safe. The bad man shot daddy in the kitchen too, by the island. Derek had hurt his leg in baseball practice and he couldn’t run very fast. I heard a gunshot as I was running to hide and Derek fell by the bathroom. I hid in my room, under my bed, but he still found me. He pointed the gun at me and pulled the trigger but it didn’t shoot.”
Chloe’s aunt gasped and threw her hand over her mouth. “Sweet Jesus.”
“The man said a bunch of bad words. Derek got soap in his mouth all the time for saying bad words.” Chloe leaned forward again and whispered low so only Ray could hear her. “I never say bad words anymore. Soap tastes yucky.” She sat back and leaned into her pillow. “Then he pulled on my arm hard and took me to mommy’s secret room and told me he had a better idea for me. He locked me in the room and told me that if I water the plants every day and he would bring me pizza and pop. I never saw my family again.”
“I think that’s enough for today,” the aunt proclaimed as she pulled Chloe to her side. “You two may come back after Chloe gets some rest.
“No, Aunt Jill, I want to tell them what happened.”
“Sweetie, you don’t have to do it all at once.”
“Actually,” Vecchio interjected. “It’s really best if she tells us while it is fresh in her head. If she wants to continue, it would be good to let her.”
“Go on, Chloe,” Ray encouraged the young girl, “What happened next?”
“I wanted to be brave and tried to run away so when he took me to the bathroom, I bit his hand and kicked him. But I tripped and fell and he caught me. He slapped me hard and started tying me to the pole so I couldn’t run away. That’s when the greyish colored dog showed up. I don’t know how he got in every night, but he curled up next to me and let me put my head on him and he kept me warm at night. Whenever the bad man would come close to me, the dog would growl and show his teeth. It scared me a little, but it scared the man too. He tried lifting up my nightgown to look at my skinny legs and the dog would growl and the man would stop. He tried to shoot it, but he always seemed to miss and he used those bad words again. He never growled when it was time to let me go potty, but he followed me and the man.”
Ray wiped a stray tear from his eye. Diefenbaker was protecting Chloe from the other side. Wait until he told Fraser.
“Are you okay?” Chloe asked Ray while patting his hand.
“Yeah.” He swiped another tear from his eye before it could fall too far. “Sounds like a really special dog.” Ray held Chloe’s colored picture tightly between his fingers.
“I think we have enough for now, Chloe. Thank you for helping us.” Vecchio motioned towards the door and Ray nodded in agreement.
“You won’t forget to give my picture to Ben will you?”
“No, sweetie. I will do it right away. After you both have rested and it’s okay with your aunt, I will bring Ben back to visit you.”
“Thank you,” Chloe yawned and Ray chuckled. “Yeah, I’m tired too. Get some sleep sweetheart.”
Vecchio and Kowalski gathered again outside Chloe’s room with her uncle.
Ray blew out a long breath. “That’s the bravest kid I’ve ever seen.”
“What’s with the dog?” her uncle questioned. “My brother didn’t have a dog.”
Vecchio shot a knowing glance in Kowalski’s direction. No way was he going to try and explain a ghost dog to a grieving man. “Maybe she was so scared she imagined him.” Vecchio shrugged, “I’m no psychologist but maybe it’s a coping mechanism.”
“I can’t believe Laura was involved in growing and selling marijuana. Thank God Constable Fraser found Chloe when he did, it sounds like this man was going to sell her.”
“Sick world we live in, man.” Ray squeezed the man’s shoulder lightly before addressing his Lieutenant. “You mind if I head home or you want me to go to the station again with you to question MacDaniel again?”
“Nah, go ahead. Tell Benny I’ll be over later. I’ll present our new evidence to MacDaniel and see if I can’t get him to talk.”
When Ray entered his home, the aroma coming from crock... pot in the kitchen made his stomach grumble. He didn’t even know they owned a crock... pot. Whatever his mother had cooking smelled delicious. Ma Vecchio may be the queen of Italian dishes, but his own mother served up the best home-style cooked meals this side of the Chicago skyline. Ray noticed the boxes that were lining the wall in the kitchen were gone. He dropped his keys to the counter and went in search of his mother and Ben. “Mom,” he called, “I thought I told you not to let Ben unpack anything.” He should have known Fraser wouldn’t take it easy if he weren’t there. What did he have to do, sit on the guy to get him to listen? Ray caught a glance of his mother outside picking flowers.
“Mom,” he called as he opened the door and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. “Why did you let Ben unpack boxes?”
Barbara glanced up from the yellow daisy she had just picked. “He didn’t unpack them, I did. He just told me where to put things.”
“Oh.” At least one of them would know where their belongings were. Ray slipped a leg through the tire swing and pushed off with his grounded foot. “Where’s Ben?”
“Oh, he’s sleeping dear. He was getting a headache so he went to rest.” Barbara pulled her swinging son to a stop and pulled his face to hers, kissing him lightly on the cheek.
“What was that for?” Ray asked, fighting the childish urge to wipe off his mother’s kiss. His mother was grinning widely, her eyes bright and teary.
“Benton told me your news.”
Ray froze. “What… news?”
“About the baby.” Barbara pushed her son on the swing. “Strangest situation I’ve ever heard of, but we take what we are given and deal with it.”
Ray dug his boot clad foot into the earth, slowing the swing. “What do you think? About being a grandma?”
“I think it’s wonderful. I’m concerned about Benton’s health though. I was sick when I was pregnant with you, but I don’t remember losing that much weight. Hopefully it doesn’t linger too much longer. He needs to be careful with his job. Your line of work is dangerous, it’s no place for a pregnant person. Chasing criminals down the street, look what happened to him this time looking for that little girl.”
“We know, mom.” At least he knew. “He’s on medical leave this week and then I’m pretty sure he will stick to the Consulate. He has some new recruits to hire so he won’t be spending a whole lot of time at the station with me anyway. Which is good, because it will keep him out of the line of fire, so to speak, but it also sucks. I’m going to miss working with him every day. We’re a pretty good team.”
“Just keep my grandbaby safe. Looks like I’m going to need to get busy on some blankets, and you boys need to get busy getting ready. You do realize your baby is going to need a lot of stuff, none of which you have.”
“Hey, Ben bought it an outfit and a blanket the other day.”
“Raymond, do you know how many times a day an infant will need a change of clothing? Between spitting up formula and drooling I would say at least four or five and that doesn’t include the exploding diapers.”
“Exploding diapers? Mom, seriously…”
“I’m being serious.” She let out a good natured laugh. “Oh Raymond, I’m so happy for you. You’ve wanted a child for so long.”
“Sorry we didn’t tell you sooner, but Ben and I had to wrap our heads around the idea first.”
“You know, it took me two weeks to tell your father that I was pregnant with you.”
“How do you think dad will react?”
“Don’t you worry about your father. He may be upset at the idea at first, but he will come around.”
“Have you and Ben discussed names?”
“Names? No, not yet. What do you think mom, boy or girl?”
“A little girl would be wonderful. There are too many boys in this family already. I’m feeling out numbered. What about you dear?”
“I guess I don’t really care. I’m just hoping it’s healthy and the delivery isn’t too hard on Ben.”
“What delivery?” Fraser called from the porch. His hair was slightly mussed up and Ray grinned wide. “I’m not allowed to lift anything heavy, remember. You won’t let me.”
“We’re talking about the baby. Mom told me you told her the good news.” Ray dug his feet into the earth to stop the swing. “We’re gonna need a lot of clothes for this kid Ben. We should go shopping before you go back to work.”
“In due time Ray, we don’t need them right away. We still have a long way to go.”
“What about all your proper preparation mumbo jumbo you’re always throwing at me?”
Fraser sighed and gave Ray a push on the swing. “How about Friday afternoon?”
“I’m going to head home and tell your father the news. There is a chicken casserole in the crock... pot that should be ready in about an hour.”
“Thank you Barbara, you made for very nice company today. Dinner smells delicious.”
“Yeah mom, thanks for babysitting Ben.” Ray swung high in the air to avoid the playful swat from his partner.
“You two have a nice evening, keep me updated.”
“Thanks, mom,” Ray called as his mother left the yard.
Fraser pulled the swing to a halt in front of him. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to his partners. Ray opened his mouth and allowed Ben access. “Mmm, maybe we should take this upstairs.” Ben whispered into the side of Ray’s neck as he pressed a kiss to the sensitive skin just above the collarbone.
“How about you two wait until I leave?” Vecchio called from the porch.
Fraser and Ray both jumped at the voice. Fraser was the first to recover his wits. “Ray, we weren’t expecting you, what a nice surprise.”
Vecchio glared at Kowalski still in the tire swing. “Somebody didn’t tell you I was coming?”
Fraser looked from his lover to his friend. “No, Ray didn’t mention you were coming, but in all fairness, I just woke up.”
Kowalski tugged on the hem of Fraser’s shirt and dropped his voice to a boyish whisper. “Hey, Ben, Vecchio’s coming over…”
Fraser rolled his eyes. “Would you like some tea, Ray?”
“I’d love some,” Kowalski answered with a smirk.
“I don’t think he was asking you, Stanley. That would be great, Benny.”
“I suppose that means you didn’t discuss anything with him then did you?”
Vecchio paled and Ray stopped swinging. “Oh shit… no, I haven’t gotten that far either. Want me to tell him now?”
“Kinda pointless, don’t you think?” Vecchio turned towards the house. “You stay out here and swing little boy.”
“Hardy ha ha,” Ray kicked his legs and swung higher. “Hey, I thought you were going to the station.”
“I decided to let MacDaniel sweat for the night. I had a doctor visit him and check out his hand. Guess what they found?”
“Part of Chloe’s tooth? Ben was right.”
“Yep, Benny was right. Forensics found the rest of it when they searched the room where the pot was growing.” Vecchio motioned towards the house. “I’m going to go have that talk with Fraser that you were supposed to warn him about.”
“Sorry, man. I really did forget. I’ll give you two some space and recapture my lost childhood on this swing.”
Vecchio chuckled at the grown man swinging on a tire from a hundred year old tree. “Anyone ever tell you you’re a goof ball Kowalski?”
Vecchio pulled the door closed behind him and settled himself at the island in the kitchen while Fraser poured some iced tea. “Thanks, Benny. How are you feeling? No offense but you look like shit.”
“None, taken. I haven’t looked but I’m quite certain I’m sporting a very colorful shiner.”
“You feeling okay? Besides being clocked upside the head?”
“A little tired and a lingering headache, but yes, I’m feeling better. At least the room is no longer spinning like it was yesterday evening. I don’t believe Ray was very appreciative when I nearly threw up on his shoes at the hospital.”
Vecchio fidgeted with his glass, erasing the condensation with his thumb as it emerged on his glass. “So, I was talking to Ray last night and uh we got to talking about you and how you’ve been run down and losing weight. I jumped to a few too many conclusions, thought you had cancer or something.”
Fraser went quiet and stared at his friend. “Did he tell you?”
“You could have told me, you know.”
“Ray, it’s not that I didn’t want to tell you. We haven’t told anyone yet. I just needed it to sink in myself first.”
“You know when your doctor mentioned it when he was talking to you after the whole Victoria thing, I was in shock. I didn’t know what to think. I mean, you weren’t any different to me because of what was inside of you…”
“Wait… you knew? About my condition? How did you know? I didn’t even know.”
“Benny, I was sitting right next to you when your doctor discussed it with you. You had me listed as your next of kin and you were pretty doped up on pain meds so your doctor called me and told me he had something to discuss with you and you might need someone there.”
“I don’t remember any of that. Why didn’t you ever say anything?”
“Why would I? Like I told Ray, it didn’t change who you were to me.”
“Ray and I have been talking about adopting a child for a couple of years, why didn’t you ever mention this possibility to me? Why wouldn’t you ask why we wouldn’t try?”
“Would you believe I forgot?” Vecchio shrugged. “You never once brought it up so I thought, hey, he doesn’t want to discuss this uniqueness of his and then I went undercover and I honestly forgot about it. I came back and you and Kowalski were tight and then you got tighter and I had my own shit to deal with. It’s the craziest thing to wrap your head around, but I’m happy for you two.”
“Thank you, that means a lot.”
“You do realize though that we are going to have to work out something different at the station. I can’t have you running all over Chicago in and out of danger. Kowalski would never forgive me if something happened to you.”
“There are changes at the Consulate that I have to manage for the next few months anyway so my presence at the 27 would be limited.”
“What kind of changes? Everything okay over in Canada?”
“Yes, my superiors have been impressed with the work the Consulate has done with the Chicago Police Department and have wanted to increase our participation in the program they have set up. Inspector Geyer has me looking through possible applicants and the hiring process has been assigned to me.”
“Oh, I got some kind of memo about that a while back.” Ray took a drink of his tea. “You need any help, you let me know.”
“Thank you. I would like to have the program established before I have to take leave for the baby.”
“You won’t be training them will you?”
“No, the applicants have already been Mounties for several years. Constable Turnbull and I have a conference in Toronto in about a month that will give us the specifics on this new program they want to initiate.”
“It’s okay for you to fly? I mean with you being…”
“Pregnant?” It really was a hard word for a man to say about another man, Fraser admitted to himself. “Yes, as long as my doctor is happy with my next checkup, I am cleared to go. After all, he said huffily, “women do it all the time.” Fraser fiddled with his own glass. “I still need to tell Inspector Geyer.”
“How do you think that’s going to go down?”
“You know… how do you think he will take the news? Seriously Benny, you’ve been here a long time now, and you still haven’t picked up on our lingo?”
Fraser laughed. “Ray keeps trying to beat it into me every day. When he can figure out it’s the Northwest Territories and not the Northwest Areas, I will concentrate on learning your lingo.”
“All joking aside, how are you going to tell Geyer? Thank God the Dragon Lady is gone. She would have flipped her lid, blown a gasket and probably killed Kowalski. Or ripped off his balls.”
Fraser made a face. “Yes, I believe Inspector Geyer will be more open to my circumstances than Inspector Thatcher.”
Ray drained his glass and slid it across the smooth countertop. “I’m going to head out. I’m still working on charming the lovely Stella Kowalski. Slow and steady wins the race." Ray pulled a bag from the floor. “Before I forget, I bought you and the baby a gift.” Ray started laughing. “Kowalski is going to kill me. I had this made at the mall.”
Fraser opened the bag cautiously and pulled out a tiny greyish blue shirt. He held it up and squinted at the minute lettering. Vecchio was laughing hysterically by now.
“You don’t have to really let the kid wear it… oops.” Fraser and Vecchio glanced to the door as it swung shut. Kowalski was coming back in from his fun on the tire swing. With a glance of mischief, Fraser turned the shirt so that Kowalski could read it as he entered the kitchen.
“Ray got the baby a gift,” he said in his most innocent voice. “What do you think?”
“My bald uncle is cooler than my spiky haired dad...” Kowalski wrinkled his face and glared at Vecchio. “You do realize that paybacks are a bitch, right?”
“You two have a good night. I’m going to head home.” Vecchio walked around the island and pulled Fraser into a hug. “Congratulations, Benny.”
Fraser closed the door behind his friend and smiled at his lover. “Are you hungry Ray?” Fraser asked as he lifted the lid to the crock... pot. “Your mother’s meal smells delicious.”
Ray inhaled the aroma filling the kitchen. “Mom’s famous crock... pot casserole, of course I’m hungry.” He joined Ben on the other side of the island, settling himself behind Fraser and slipping his arms around his waist. Ben leaned back into the comfortable embrace and sighed. Ray’s arms tightened and strong hands disappeared under the hem of Ben’s cotton shirt.
“Mmm…” Fraser murmured, locating Ray’s hidden hands with his own. He laced their fingers together and squeezed. “You keep this up and I won’t want to eat.”
The hands disappeared and Fraser longed for their sensual touch again. He felt a light squeeze to his hips as Ray’s hands left his body.
“Sorry, can’t have you skipping meals.” Ray planted a quick apologetic kiss to Fraser’s lips when he turned in his embrace. “Vecchio has already given you the skinniest ass award. Which is all kinds of wrong, cause as the world knows, your ass is a fine and mighty thing. We need to get some meat back on your bones.”
Fraser gave Ray a small pout. “I see, but after dinner,”
“After dinner, I’m all yours. If you’re up to it.”
“Oh, I’m up to it,” Fraser flashed Ray a wicked grin.
“Hey, before I forget,” Ray playfully slapped Fraser’s backside as he moved from behind him. “When Ray and I were at the hospital talking to Chloe, she gave me a picture she colored for you.”
“How is she?” Fraser asked concerned as he dished up two plates of Barbara Kowalski’s casserole.
“Just like you, dehydrated and skinny.” Ray grinned wide when Fraser shot him a look of annoyance. “She’s doing well for a kid that watched her family being murdered. From what she told us, sounds like MacDaniel was planning on possibly selling her. She said something about he was going to take her to her new mom and dad. She’s a courageous kid.” Ray retrieved the colored picture and handed it to Ben, watching his face carefully. “Feisty too. She bit MacDaniel so hard she lost part of a tooth in his hand. Vecchio said forensics found the rest of it at the scene.”
“Yes, she asked me how the tooth fairy was going to find her if she didn’t have her tooth.”
“Poor kid, loses her whole family.”
Fraser nodded quietly. “This is it?” Fraser questioned as he turned the paper over in his hands.
Ray rolled his eyes “No, dummy, it’s our light bill. Of course it’s the picture.”
Fraser shot his partner a disapproving glare before looking at the colored piece of paper. His breath caught in his throat. “Is that…”
“Diefenbaker? Yeah, I think so. Ben, she said there was this dog that was protecting her from MacDaniel. Your wolf is a ghost wolf.”
“You know,” Fraser mused, rubbing his knuckles on his forehead, “I thought I heard a dog barking that day we were there and then again when I was in the basement, but I never saw one.”
“Get this,” Ray grinned a little. “Chloe said the dog didn’t listen very well either.”
Fraser snickered. “Yes, that would be Diefenbaker.” Fraser scrubbed his eyes. “God I miss him.”
“Yeah, me too, buddy. Me too. Hasn’t been the same without the fur-face begging for doughnuts every day.”
“Or stealing your sandwich when you aren’t looking.”
“Yeah I never did forgive him for that one. Hey, you think he’s hanging out in the Borderlands with your dad?”
Fraser looked surprised. “You know, I never thought to ask.”
“Chloe said Dief would curl up next to her at night and kept her warm. I imagine it got pretty damp in that basement with all that weed growing. Looked like half of it was already harvested. MacDaniel is in some serious trouble if he took it and sold it. Not that murdering three people isn’t serious.”
Ray came around the island and put his head on Fraser’s shoulder and wrapped his long arms around his chest. “She’ll be going back to Wyoming with her aunt and uncle at the end of the week. Doctor’s are going to keep her a few more days. Vecchio’s gonna get a videotape statement from her so she doesn’t have to come back.” He nuzzled the side of Fraser’s neck. “She’d like you to visit, if you’re up to it before she leaves.”
“I’d like that.” Fraser fingered the drawing carefully. “I know it’s not from our child, but do you care if I put this on our fridge?”
“Nah, I don’t mind. Chloe’s a special kid. I doubt we’ll ever forget her.” Ray ghosted his thumb over the angry purple bruise around Fraser’s right temple. “Let’s eat and go snuggle on the couch. I’ll put in a movie. Besides, Logan insisted you relax.”
“What about…” Fraser questioned.
“Sex?” Ray chuckled and squeezed Fraser’s butt. “We’ve got the rest of our lives for that. Besides, your eyes are going a little goofy and I‘m more than a little concerned you’ll fall asleep before I even get you halfway naked.”
“How about we skip the movie and just go do our snuggling in bed.”
“You know, we still need to do those exercises yet tonight.”
Fraser groaned and wrinkled his face but nodded in agreement. With the exception of the overnight stay in the hospital, they had faithfully done Doctor Allison’s recommended exercises every night since their appointment with him. Fraser sighed and followed Ray slowly up the stairs. The idea of sex after thinking of the exercises no longer seemed appealing. He secretly hated them and knew that Ray did as well, but even in the remote chance that they would be helpful, he had to give it a shot.
Ray had already retrieved the supplies and was sitting on the edge of the bed when Ben entered the bedroom and slowly began to undress. He slid onto the bed and settled his head into his pillow and bent his knees, planting his feet into the bedding. He slung an arm across his eyes as Ray applied lube to the tapered end of the probe and Ben’s opening. Even though Ray had warmed it, Ben gasped and clenched his muscles. Ray placed a reassuring hand on his knee, encouraging him to relax.
Ray slid in between Ben’s bent legs and let Ben push a knee into his back. “Just tell me when you’re ready, okay? I’ll go slow.”
Ben nodded, taking a shaky breath. He had to continually remind himself of the benefits. What if he went into labor out in the middle of nowhere… he needed to be prepared for all possibilities. He blew out a ragged breath and tried to relax his muscles. “I’m ready.” When Ray inserted the small probe he felt himself flinch and then Ray’s hand soothing his leg from his ankle to his thigh, encouraging him to relax. There was no way he could do this himself and was grateful Ray was willing to go along with the exercises.
“Ben, you don’t have to do this you know. It hurts you, don’t pretend it doesn’t. If this tiny thing hurts going in, how the hell do you think a baby the size of a watermelon is going to feel coming out?”
Ben was trying not to get upset. “I’m trying to be prepared for all eventualities. What if I go into labor and there isn’t a convenient obstetric surgeon in the vicinity?”
Ray huffed. “Ben, you are with me. You are in Chicago. You won’t be doing this alone. Where do you think you are going to be? Out on an ice field when you are nine months along? I hardly think so. Besides, think about it… what do you think enduring long hours of intense labor is going to do to that bullet in your back? Huh? You haven’t had any trouble with it yet, let’s not take any chances that we don’t have to.”
“Ray,” Ben raised his head from his pillow and glared at him. “It’s not like I am planning to go into labor. In fact, there is nothing that I would hate more. I am just saying that if worst comes to worst…”
“If worst comes to worst, you’re gonna be in a nice comfortable hospital bed, with a bunch of know it all doctors and a whole lotta painkillers.”
Ben sighed and leaned back into the pillow as Ray continued inserting the probe. “That is certainly my preferred scenario.”
“And don’t be stupid and refuse the pain meds.”
“Ray, believe me, I’ve seen women giving birth. I’ve delivered babies. There is no way that I am refusing the pain medication.”
“Good, ‘cause I was thinking you were gonna try and be some kind of rebel. Don’t need you breaking my hand when it comes time to get this baby out.”
When Ray had the probe inserted and began rotating it, Ben curled his toes into the blankets on the bed and sucked in a ragged breath. He threw an arm back over his eyes and bit his lower lip. And then suddenly, the pain subsided and the intrusion was gone.
“That’s it… I’m not doing this to you.”
Fraser whimpered, never removing his arm from his face, and nodded wordlessly. Ray was right, it was too painful to continue on and they were making no progress. They still hadn’t moved on to the next size probe. Ben knew deep down no matter how dedicated they were in the attempts, the process simply was not going to work.
Ray grabbed a blanket from the end of the bed and draped it over Ben’s legs. He flipped off the overhead light and laid down next to Ben, snuggling in close. “I’m sorry,” he whispered into Ben’s neck. “I’ll make sure you are in a hospital when the time comes to have the baby.” He draped an arm over Fraser’s shoulder and pulled him close. “I promise, Ben.”
Fraser nodded in the darkened room without replying and nuzzled Ray’s neck. He knew Ray would take care of him when the time came.
Ray pulled him closer and drew the blanket up over their bodies. No way was he going to let Fraser leave Chicago.
“Now those are the kinds of readings I’m used to seeing.” Doctor Logan removed the blood pressure cuff and smiled cheerfully at his patient, finally satisfied with the results he had obtained. Fraser rubbed at his arm where the cuff was located to get the blood flow moving again. “It looks like a week of relaxation has done you some good. Your color is much better, blood pressure has returned to your normal range and your blood sugar is back in the acceptable range as well.” Logan returned the cuff to its proper location on the wall and pulled the ultrasound machine over to the examination table. “Apart from the lingering headache, how has the nausea been? You haven’t lost any more weight since your last visit, but you haven’t gained any either.”
“I’m not throwing up as often,” Fraser offered, thankful to finally hear some good news regarding his health. “Probably every few days and almost always mid-morning.”
“Hmmm,” Logan thought as he scratched at his beard. “Perhaps it’s time to prescribe something to take as needed. You are almost at fifteen weeks, it should have subsided by now. Although some of the nausea could be lingering results from the concussion. None the less, I will write you up a prescription and you can have it filled in the pharmacy before you leave.”
“Thank you,” both Fraser and Ray said at the same time.
“Benton, can I have you lie back now? We’d like to do another ultrasound to make sure everything looks good with the baby. Make sure there aren’t any new issues from when you were kicked last week.” Doctor Allison readied the machine while Logan put the warmed jelly on Fraser’s abdomen. “Have you been continuing the exercises?” Allison asked turning towards the monitor to locate the baby on the screen. He punched a few buttons on a keyboard and the baby came into focus.
“No,” Fraser admitted, still unsure about stopping the exercises all together. While Ray was concerned about his comfort and hurting him, he was worried about going into labor early with no access to hospitals or doctors.
Allison gave him a stern glance and Fraser could feel Ray getting ready for a fight beside him.
“No, we aren’t continuing them.” Ray replied, earning himself his own scowl from the specialist. “It hurts him and we aren’t making any progress. We did it for three weeks every day, just like you suggested and the hole isn’t getting any larger.”
“It’s not going to happen overnight Mr. Kowalski. Would you like me to show you a better technique? Perhaps it will be more effective.”
Fraser instinctively crossed his legs.
“We said ‘No’... what part of that don’t you get? Mark it down in his chart that we want to plan the c... section like Doctor Logan mentioned. There’s not going to be any attempt at a natural birth, so you can forget trying to show us new techniques.”
“I just thought it would be worth trying.”
“Gentleman, please,” Logan tried to diffuse the building tension in the room. If Benton is uncomfortable with continuing and it is causing him unnecessary pain, there is no shame is scheduling a cesarean.” He gestured for Fraser to lie back again so he and Allison could continue with the exam. Allison rolled the probe over the tiny baby bump and the baby materialized once again on the screen. “We’ll take some quick measurements, make sure we are on track. How has your diet been? Any strange cravings?” Logan let a chuckle. “My wife wanted green beans and peanut butter all the time.”
“That actually sounds good,” Ray replied. He liked both of them. What was so weird about green beans and peanut butter unless… “Eww.”
“Yes, my thought exactly. She ate them together.”
Ray tried not to throw up in his mouth.
“The only thing out of the ordinary for me is chocolate milk.”
“That’s not too bad, just make sure there’s more milk than chocolate.”
“Well, so far everything looks good. Heart beat is strong, ultrasound shows that it’s growing. Still too early to tell sex yet. But I think that we can let you go for a few weeks before coming back for another visit.”
“I have a conference in Toronto in a few weeks, is it safe to fly?”
“I don’t see any problem with that. Do you Doctor Allison?”
“No, there should be no risk to you or the baby. Let’s just schedule a follow up visit for when you return home, say within a few days. You can make the appointment with the receptionist if you know when you will be returning.”
“Everything looks good Benton.” Ray helped Ben into a sitting position and shook each doctor’s hand. “You are cleared to return to work, but only desk duty.” Logan pressed lightly around the edges of the bruise on Fraser’s temple causing him to wince. “I don’t want anymore phone calls like the last one I received. You and your baby were lucky. No unnecessary risks. Stop by the reception and make that next appointment before you leave.”
“Thank you,” Fraser shook the doctor’s hands before they left the room leaving Ray and Ben alone.
“Ok, let’s get you dressed and we can go see Chloe. Vecchio says she is leaving later today.”
Fraser knocked gently on the door, hoping not to startle the young girl. Her aunt ushered them in and Ray made the introductions.
“I’m so glad you could make it before we had to leave. Chloe talks about you every day. How you saved her and were brave enough to fight that man.”
“She’s one courageous kid,” Ray replied for his suddenly silent partner.
“Chloe,” the aunt addressed her niece who was busy coloring from the bed. “Look who’s come to visit you.”
The young blonde drew her eyes away from her drawing for a brief moment. When her blue eyes fell on Ben she smiled wide, showing off her toothless gap. Fraser walked to the side of her bed and she immediately threw back the covers and jumped to her knees on the bed. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and gave him the strongest hug her small body could muster. Her blue hospital gown had been replaced with princess pajamas, her fingernails painted hot pink and three beaded necklaces hung from her neck. “You are okay. I was so scared that that bad man hurt you.”
Tears threatened to fall from Fraser’s blue eyes as he fought back the emotions of seeing Chloe alive and well and safe with her extended family.
“Did you like your picture?” she asked enthusiastically. “I made you another one to go with it.” Chloe dug through her small pile of drawings beside her on the bed until she found the right one. Her eyes twinkled when he took it from her hands. “It’s a picture of me and the two people that saved me, you and the doggy.”
“It’s beautiful Chloe,” Fraser choked back a sob. “I’m so glad I was able to find you. You get to go live with your aunt and uncle now and you won’t ever have to worry about that man hurting you again.”
“What about you? Will he be able to hurt you again?” Chloe touched Fraser’s temple softly. The angry purples had faded into an array of yellows.
“No, sweetie, he won’t be able to hurt me anymore either.”
“Good,” Chloe settled back against her pillow and Fraser covered her with the blankets. Six weeks and one measly piece of pizza a day had left her quite frail.
“I brought you something,” Fraser lifted a pastel pink gift bag decorated with colorful butterflies. “I know how worried you were about the tooth fairy not finding you since you lost your tooth.” Chloe nodded and stuck her tongue through the gap in her smile. Fraser laughed lightly at her playfulness. “So, I made a deal with him that I would bring you a special gift when I saw you and he wouldn’t have to worry about getting your tooth.”
“What is it?” she asked with excitement. She pushed her crayons and the paper to the side and sat forward.
Fraser handed her the bag. “Go ahead and open it.”
She untied the ribbon holding the sides of the bag together and pulled at the yellow tissue paper. Chloe’s head disappeared into the top of the bag and Ray and her aunt laughed aloud at her curiosity.
“What do you think?” Fraser asked as her head popped out of the bag. She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tight. Chloe released his neck and dropped an arm deep into the bag, removing a stuffed plush dog.
“It’s just like the doggy that protected me. Does he have a name?”
“He does not have a name. Why don’t you name him?” Fraser suggested.
Chloe held the stuffed dog close to her. “Did you ever have any pets?”
“Pets? No, but I had a dog that was more of a companion than a pet.”
“Did you love him?” Chloe asked with questioning eyes.
Fraser had never really thought of Diefenbaker as anything more than a companion. He was free to come and go as he pleased, although he chose to stay more often than he chose to go. But love him? Yes, he realized for the first time that he really loved Diefenbaker.
“Yes, Chloe, I loved him very much. He was very special to me. In fact, he had saved both my life and Ray’s.”
“What was his name?”
“Diefenbaker… and he loved doughnuts and pizza.”
“Would it be okay if I named this dog Diefenbaker since he saved me?”
“I think that is an excellent idea.”
“Do you have kids, Ben?”
“No, not yet.” He brushed a thumb down her cheek as she nuzzled the stuffed animal. “But if I ever have a girl, I hope she’s just like you.” Fraser pulled Chloe into a hug. “You take good care of Diefenbaker.”
Damien Kowalski was not a happy man. He raised his knuckles and rapped a few times on the front door to his son’s home. Barbara’s news was only now beginning to sink in. Any minute now, he was going to have to talk to his son, and he had no idea what to say.
Barbara didn’t seem to think it weird at all. She had spent a majority of the afternoon in the kitchen preparing another round of meals for Ray and Ben, trying to get Damien involved. Damien just shut down more and more. Finally, she had asked him to deliver the meals when Ray got home from work. She seemed determined to make him accept this... this mess as he deemed it. ‘The boys can cook for themselves,’ he reminded her numerous times.
She ignored his mood and slapped at his arm playfully. ‘They have a lot going on right now, what’s the harm? Now get going.’ She had plans with Ben to visit her seamstress friend to teach Ben how to alter his pants so he wouldn’t have to buy new ones until towards the end of his pregnancy.
His pregnancy. What was the world coming too?
Damien grumbled under his breath, impatiently waiting for the door to be opened. The more he thought about Ray and Ben having a baby together, the more disgusted he was becoming with the whole situation. Nobody wanted to think of their kids having sex, let alone ending up with an unplanned pregnancy. Even if they were adults, they should have known better. Didn’t they teach sex education in school? Damien startled when the door was finally pulled open, revealing his son juggling a pile of envelopes.
“Sorry, dad. I just got in and was trying to sort through the mail.” Ray tucked the envelopes under his arm. “Here let me take one of those.” Damien gladly handed off the cumbersome crock... pot.
“Careful, it’s still hot,” Damien warned as Ray began to settle it into the crook of his arm in order to close the door. The air inside was a welcome relief from the sweltering temperatures they had been experiencing already since the onset of summer.
“Sorry if it’s a little chilly in here. Ben gets hot easily.”
“It’s going to drive your utility bill up. You should install some ceiling fans to move the air around.” Damien suggested as he followed Ray into the kitchen. “Unless you two are made of money, then never mind.”
Ray laughed, “No, we’re not made of money. It sounds like a good idea. Ben actually suggested it a few days ago. With the house being so open, it would only take a few.” Ray placed the crock... pot on the kitchen counter and took the food carry... on from his father. “Does mom think we can’t cook for ourselves?” He lifted the glass lid to reveal chicken and dumplings.
“I keep asking her the same thing. You’re both adults for God’s sake.” Damien shoved his hands in his pockets and fingered the spare change, making it jingle. “Just make sure you call and thank her.”
Ray nodded, his heart sinking. His Mom had called earlier, telling him that she'd broken the news to Dad, and he was coming around. Maybe Dad hadn't taken the news as well as he'd hoped. Maybe this was where his father's aggressive attitude was stemming from. “It is nice though, especially after a long day at work. Ben comes home exhausted every day.” Ray paused and bit the bullet. Time to say the ‘P’ word. “This pregnancy thing is really taking its toll on him. I can’t imagine how tired he will be at the end.” He opened the refrigerator and pulled out a beer, offering one to his father who declined immediately. “Somehow though, he musters up the energy to go out and work in the woodshop each night. I actually think it helps him relax.” The clink of a bottle top against the counter was the only sound in the kitchen. ‘Please, Dad,’ he thought. ‘Please don’t be mad.’ “You should see what he’s building for you and mom. You know, you used to like wood... working. You’re more than welcome to tinker around in there. Ben would love it. You remember those ducks you and grandpa used to make when I was a kid that everyone in the neighborhood had to have so everyone bought one? Our street was lined with ducks with spinning wings.”
Damien chuckled and Ray started to relax. “You convinced grandpa to paint yours blue. Your mother ended up putting it in the front yard.” The older Kowalski shook his head against the memories of time. “I don’t know. It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything like that.”
“Yeah, you haven’t made anything since I was a kid.” Ray took a swallow of his beer. “Hey, we’ve missed you the last few times mom’s been over.”
“I’ve been busy.” Damien replied bluntly.
“Too busy to have dinner with your family?”
“Raymond…” Kowalski senior’s tone held a warning Ray hadn’t heard in a long time. His stomach churned as he remembered when that last time was... when he decided to enroll in the academy after dropping out of college.
“Sorry. It just feels like you’ve been avoiding us is all.” Ray picked at the label on his bottle. A nervous habit he couldn’t kick. “Hey,” he smiled suddenly. “I felt the baby move for the first time. Ben’s been feeling it for weeks, but every time I touch his stomach, it stops moving.” Damien’s eyes snapped up from the countertop. “I had my arm over his stomach and I felt this tiny thump against my wrist.” Ray’s grin grew wider. “Strangest thing ever…”
Damien huffed and shook his head, anger rising to the surface. That was his memory, dammit. Him and Barbara, on the old orange couch with oversized flowers, and Ray kicking so hard Damian's hand bounced off her belly. How could Ray be comparing his ... situation ... with his boyfriend to that beautiful memory?
“I’ll tell you what’s strange… you having a baby with your boyfriend. Now that’s strange. I liked the boy, Raymond, don’t get me wrong, but this… this whole scenario…”
“Liked? What? You don’t like him anymore because he’s pregnant? Because he’s a little different?” Ray asked, venom filling his words.
“A little different? Are you listening to yourself? He’s carrying a child for God’s sake. I’d say that’s a helluva lot different.” Damien glared at his son. “What am I supposed to tell my friends down at the lodge when they ask where my grandbaby came from? What am I supposed to call Ben anyway? Him? Her? The last thing a parent wants to do is think of their child having sex.” Now Damien was wondering what kind of freak his son had been having sex with.
“How about you just call him Ben, Dad, just like you always have. You think he asked to be like that? You think people should treat you differently because you’re missing a toe on your right foot?”
“A missing toe and a whole other set of sex organs are two entirely different things. And there you go again… How can you can you even call him a he? He’s going to be a mother, unless this is some kinda sick joke to make your old man look foolish. ‘Let’s make Damien look stupid.’
“Why can’t you just be happy for me? For us? For once in my life…”
“If he’s some kind of multi... sex he... she… how do you even know it’s your kid?”
“Ben would never cheat on me.”
“I don’t mean that. What if he got himself pregnant? You ever think of that, Son? Not only would you be sleeping with a freak, you’d be raising the freak’s bastard and it wouldn’t even be your child.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Ray lashed out. “It is my kid! Whether you want to accept it or not.”
“I never wanted my son to shack up with a freak,” Damien snapped.
“Yeah? Well, he’s my freak…” Ray shot back.
“Is that how you see me?” The icy voice sliced through the tension in the room, chilling Ray to the bone.
‘Shit,’ Ray cursed inwardly ‘Ben has the worst timing.’ He turned to find Ben standing in the entrance to the kitchen. The cold stare he received could easily freeze hell.
“Ben…” Ray replied as calmly as he could. He knew this wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation.
“Is that what I am? Just your freak?” Fraser’s voice quivered as he spoke.
“Ben…” Ray took a step away from the island.
“No, don’t! Do not come near me.” Ben turned and hastily opened the patio door leading to the backyard. Ray flinched when it slammed shut.
“Are you happy now?” Ray snapped, turning towards his father in one angry motion.
“I’m just concerned about the situation you’re getting yourself into, getting involved with a man that can have babies. I just want what’s best for you.”
“Really?” Ray asked incredulously. “Because the best thing that’s ever happened to me… just walked out that door.”
Ray spun on his heels and hollered over his shoulder. “Get out!” Opening the patio door, he took off in a full run towards the woodshop. When he approached the door, he heard wood being splintered and smashed apart. Ray cautiously opened the door to find Fraser destroying the rocking chair he had spent every night of the past week assembling with precision and care. Each blow of the mallet tore at his heart a little more. He’d never seen Ben so destructive.
Bob Fraser stood helplessly in the corner of the large room. Flinching as each strike of the mallet hit its target, he wept, desperate to pull his son into the safety of his arms and offer him comfort from the hurts of the world.
There was a wild beat that overtook the silence of the parking lot when Damien pulled on the solid wood door to the nearest pub he could find. He side... stepped a young couple with their arms wound around each other’s waists and muttered under his breath about fools in love. He stepped into the dimly lit and let his eyes adjust to the change in lighting. The pub was half full of drunk college kids and what looked like office managers one step past tipsy. Damien eyed an empty seat at the far end of the bar and wove his way around the dancing bodies that sporadically jumped into his path. He signaled the bartender, a young guy, probably Ray’s age, he assumed and ordered a Miller Light on draft.
Time passed, and after a few beers he moved onto liquor. He didn’t even like the stuff, but it seemed the right thing to do, after the row he’d just had with Ray. Maybe he’d finally ruined it this time. Maybe they would never get past this rift. Hard telling how long he sat there pondering the decade old feud with his son that he thought was long behind them. Damien signaled the bartender for another round. The chair scraped on the other side of him as someone pulled up a barstool. Damien wanted to keep himself to himself, but whoever it was plopped his hat down on the bar... huh, Stetson, figured... and leaned forward, cleared his throat. Wants to talk, does he? Damien looked up, reluctantly. Beside him, sat a scruffy old guy, in heavy winter clothing… way too much for the weather really. Maybe homeless or crazy. Whoever he was, he was a bit beat up by life, like Damien.
“You look like you’re carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders, my friend.”
“No, my son’s just in love with a freak.” Damien let the alcohol do the talking.
The man held up his glass and with a wide grin replied, “Mine too! Cheers!” He clinked his glass to the gentleman’s and took a long swallow. “Good kid though, even if he is a Yank.”
"Don't get me wrong. I mean, it's not that they're queer. A couple of the guys laughed when they found out, but they can go… well, you know what. It's not that the freak's gay, or even," he scowled at the Canuck, "Canadian. It's just that..."
“I liked my kid’s ‘friend’ until I found out what he was…” Damien replied with disgust.
“What is he? Murderer? Rapist?”
“No,” Damien shook his head profusely. “Nothing like that. He’s… well,” Damien lowered his voice as he surveyed the room to make sure no one was listening in on his private conversation with a complete stranger. “You see, he’s got… woman organs inside of him.”
The man whistled and Damien shook his head in agreement. “Oh yes, that is different. Look on the bright side, at least he’s not a serial killer. Then I’d worry about your son’s sanity.”
“That’s not all,” Damien dropped his voice to a whisper. “He’s also pregnant. Men aren’t supposed to get pregnant. It’s not normal and it’s not natural.”
“Hmmm,” The stranger rubbed at his chin thoughtfully. “What do you think this lad’s father thinks of him?”
"How would I know?"
"Well haven’t you ever asked him? Just think about it."
"Why? Anyway, the man’s dead."
“Oh, what a shame. So, you’re the closest thing he has to a father then?”
Damien stared at the bottles of hard liquor lining the shelves behind the wood bar. "I know,” he said, his voice tight. “I asked him just a few weeks ago to call me ‘Dad’, before I found out … what he was.”
“What if it were your son? Would you still treat him like a freak?”
“It’s not my son!” Damien shouted and slammed his drink to the bar top. Alcohol spilled over the rim onto the crisp cocktail napkin. “My son is normal…”
The old guy looked decidedly offended. "I really don't want to like you," he said in carefully managed tones, "and if I was a fighting man, I'd probably hit you. But deep down, I’m sure somewhere a good man is hiding.”
Damien swallowed the last of his drink and ordered another. His drinking companion seemed to be taking this very seriously.
“Perhaps it’s a much more common phenomenon than we think. Who knows? You could even have an extra set of organs inside of you. You’ll never know of course because you aren’t in that kind of relationship as your son and what man is really going to go to their doctor and have their insides looked at for extra parts?”
Damien gave the stranger a doubtful glance as he tipped up his drink.
“Let’s hope your hurtful words haven’t driven this Ben to any hasty decisions with either his life or that of your grandchild’s.”
“Ben’s not that kind of person. He wouldn’t be so foolish.” Damien replied trying to recall when he had told the stranger Ben’s name.
“I thought the same of my brother in law. I was wrong.”
Damien whipped his head to the side and stared at the stranger.
“Looks like you have some fences to mend. Before it’s too late.”
Ray took a deep breath and opened the door to the woodshop slowly. After watching Ben destroy the rocking chair he had spent so much time building, he knew he needed to give him some breathing room. Both were too angry at that time to have a constructive conversation. The splintered wood had been cleaned up and stacked in a pile on nearby workbench. Ben sat directly in front of it on one of the swivel stools staring blankly off into space, while tapping out a nervous rhythm with a broken piece of wood. He glanced towards the door when he heard it creak open but remained silent.
Ray knew he had a lot of apologizing to do and hoped that Ben would hear him out. “I’m sorry, you had to hear that,” he began. His voice held a nervous tremor as he continued. “What I said… I was angry at dad and frustrated at what he was thinking and saying and when he said the word freak… I don’t know, I snapped.”
“Is that what you think? I’m some sort of freak who’s trying to ruin your life?”
“No… God no.” Ray advanced further into the room. “Shit…” Ray ran his fingers through his hair and pulled on the spikes in frustration. “Okay, fine, you are a freak.” Ray stuffed his over active hands in his pockets to calm himself. “You’re a freak because you chase after criminals without backup, you jump onto moving cars, you scale fire escapes to catch bad guys. You’re a freak because nobody else does that stuff... only you. This pregnancy thing does not make you a freak Ben, it’s just extremely rare and there’s people out there who can’t see past what they deem normal. And when you’re having a heated argument with someone like my dad and you’re like me and can’t think quick like you, you end up using all the wrong words.
“Your father hates me, Ray.”
“He doesn’t hate you.” Ray stepped closer and hopped up on the table beside Ben. “He needs educated. A lot of people do. What he thinks doesn’t matter.” Ray took Ben’s hands into his own and squeezed them reassuringly. “I love you. I love the person you are inside and out. Just because you are different on the inside than other men, doesn’t make me love you any less. It makes me what to have lots more babies with you.”
“Let’s get through this one first.” Ben looked to the floor.
“There is one thing that he said that confused me.”
“What’s that?” Ben asked.
“He said maybe the baby wasn’t mine…”
“Ray, how could you think that I would cheat on you?”
“No… not cheat, Ben. He suggested that… well, that it’s your own.”
“That’s absurd. Doctor Allison explained to me that when an egg is released then the sperm count drops and vice versa. There is no way to impregnate myself.” Fraser huffed and then shook his head. “Good Lord, that would make me a freak.”
“So uh…” Ray picked up a piece of the broken chair. “You put a lot of work into this just to destroy it.”
Ben took the splintered wood and fingered it thoughtfully. “I was angry. Don’t worry. I’m going to rebuild it. At least he can’t tell me that I didn’t try to involve him in our child’s life.” Fraser motioned to the far wall. “Your mother’s is already done. I was going to have them delivered next week.”
“Deliver mom’s. She will want to break it in before the baby gets here.” Ray hopped off the table. “Come on.” Ray pulled Fraser to his feet and gave him a gentle kiss on the lips. “Mom sent chicken and dumplings and I have every intention of making sure you eat some.”
“Your mother and Francesca are trying to put some weight back on me.”
“Hey, at least Frannie is baking things I like now.”
The two walked back to the house hand in hand. Fraser silently vowed to rebuild Damien’s chair and hopefully one day, rebuild their fractured relationship.
“Well, that was a fun filled trip,” Fraser said sarcastically as he dropped his Stetson and duffle bag on the bed and began to unbutton his serge.
“Hey, you’re home!” Ray called excitedly from the shower when he heard Fraser enter the bedroom. “I wasn’t expecting you for another day.”
“Well, after learning of my condition, Constable Turnbull felt it necessary that I come home early and rest. Despite my best efforts, there was no assuring him that I was perfectly fine and could continue one more day.” Fraser grumbled as he hung his serge in the closet.
“What’s the matter with Turnbull, he becoming over... protective or somethin’?” Ray called from inside the shower. He was busy cleaning off the results of his own fun filled day spent dumpster diving with the Duck Boys looking for the stolen jewelry from a heist earlier in the day. “Hey,” Ray called again, spitting the water out of his mouth from the shower head, “come join me, we can talk in here.”
Fraser placed his Stetson on the dresser before stripping down and joining Ray in the bathroom. He was still self-conscious about the growing bump, but Ray craved moments like this to get his hands on his stomach to hopefully finally feel the baby move. Fraser pulled the curtain back and Ray turned from the spray to offer his partner a lingering kiss. Ben picked a piece of carrot out of his hair and tossed it towards the trash.
“Looks like your time at home was far more adventurous than mine. By a long shot.”
“Well, the Duck Boys suck. Dewey broke his hand and Huey broke his glasses so yours truly was selected to hop into the mobile trash cans.” Ray grinned as he leaned over and pressed a kiss to the bump of Fraser’s belly. “Hi baby, daddy take care of you while he was gone?”
“No running, no jumping, no scaling buildings, no sentry duty. I sat behind a desk and read applications for four hours a day and then I was in meetings the other five.” Fraser accepted the bar of soap from Ray and lathered up a washcloth. “I spoke with Inspector Geyer this morning before we left Toronto.”
“Oh yeah?” Ray poured some shampoo in his hand and worked it into his hair creating a rich lather. “How’d that go?”
“He doesn’t have a problem with me being pregnant, he finds it rather fascinating.”
“You’re being sarcastic.”
“Oh no, he did say he found it rather fascinating.”
“But…” Ray encouraged as he switched places with Fraser in the shower and worked some shampoo into Fraser dark locks.
“But, he’s encouraging me to take as many of my accumulated sick days as I feel necessary. I think he’s afraid I will tarnish the image of the Canadian Consulate if there is a pregnant man helping run the place.” Fraser shrugged and stuck his head under the hot spray to rinse. “Just as well, maybe I will take some of those days. Work out in the woodshop. I’d like to make us a lounge chair for the balcony.”
“Really? That’d be great. Relax in the evenings before heading into bed.” Ray scrubbed the back of his neck and worked the wash cloth down the length of his arms. “Oh hey, mom asked me if you would be interested in making a few of her friends rocking chairs. They saw hers and wanted to know where she got.”
Fraser looked up surprised. “Really?”
“Yeah, really. They were really impressed with it.” He never actually thought of people wanting to buy any of Fraser’s creations. Not that he didn’t think he was good, the man was a perfectionist when it came to carpentry. “Hey, you could have a little side business going.”
Fraser swiped the water and soap suds from his face. “You really think so?”
“Why not? You have a knack for it. Took me two weeks in shop class back in high school to sand down a wooden car I cut out of a hunk of wood.” Ray gave his partner a sloppy wet kiss. “You’re a natural, Ben.” He shrugged as he stepped around Fraser and back under the hot spray. “Just a thought.”
“But what about my job?”
“What about it? You’re the king of multitasking.” Ray rinsed the bubbles from his arms and neck. “You do your thing at the Consulate during the day, come home, play with me and baby and then you go relax for a little while out in the woodshop. It’s like you’re in your own element in there, almost like you’re back home in the Northwest Areas.” For once, it didn’t bother Fraser to hear Ray call his homeland by the wrong name.
“Oh and hey, guess what? We got an invite in the mail while you were gone. Elaine is getting married, sometime in September.”
“That’s wonderful,” Fraser replied but seemed distracted by something. “Just think about it, it doesn’t have to be today or tomorrow that you decide. I can have mom get in touch with her friends and if you want to, they can come meet with you and tell you what they are wanting and you can decide if you want to do it or not.”
“You wouldn’t care? If I spent some time out there?”
Ray turned and pinned Fraser to the shower wall with his body. He placed his slender arms on either side and leaned forward, pressing his wet chest against Ben’s. “Maybe you can teach me how to sand properly and efficiently.”
“It’s a fairly simple technique.”
“I may need lots of practice with a very… patient… instructor.” Ray planted wet kisses across Ben’s collarbone before heading lower and capturing a nipple between his teeth. ”
Ben gasped, his breath catching in his throat.
Ray released the nipple and directed his attention to Fraser’s earlobe. “I missed you, Ben,” he whispered against the delicate skin.
Fraser stepped forward and flipped their positions, pinning Ray against the ceramic wall with his sturdy body. “And I you, Ray.” Fraser pressed himself closer and then with a slippery hand grabbed the length of Ray’s hardening cock, squeezing slowly from the base to the tip, finding the perfect rhythm to set Ray over the edge.
“I want to fuck you, Ben. I need to… God I need to be inside you.” Fraser gave another long squeeze down the length of Ray’s cock before releasing him. He firmly planted a kiss to his lips and snuck his tongue in between parted lips, exploring the crevices and smooth surfaces of Ray’s sensuous mouth. “Turn around,” Ray almost begged when Fraser released his lips.
Ben turned obediently and felt Ray’s wet body and hard cock press up against his back. He braced himself against the wall, and dropped his head backwards as Ray began assaulting his neck with kisses. Strong arms circled his chest. Fraser let the sensations wash over him as the spray of the water cascaded over their bodies. It had been too long since they had felt each other’s touch. One arm followed the length of his own, until it found his hand pressed against the tiled wall. Ray locked their fingers together tightly. Ray’s other arm slid down his wet chest until he had his own hand wrapped firmly around Fraser’s engorged cock.
“Ben…” he murmured as his fingers abandoned Fraser’s cock and settled on his hip. Strong fingers dug in, turning the skin red as Ray pressed closer. Ray reached blindly for the lube he kept in the corner of the shower caddy. He flipped the cap open, squeezing a generous amount over his hardened cock. He dropped the tube to the shower floor, grinning when he felt Fraser relax in front of him. He slicked up his own dick and slid a finger slowly between Fraser’s cheeks.
Ben inhaled sharply and dropped his head forward against the wall. He widened his stance, allowing Ray better access. After the second finger, he couldn’t wait and begged Ray to get on with it.
Ray removed his finger and pushed his throbbing cock in slowly. Fraser had been gone a little over two weeks and neither lasted long once Ray laced their fingers together and pushed deeper into Fraser, pressing him into the wall while setting a quick and desperate rhythm.
Ray held onto Fraser tightly as they came together.
When their breathing returned to normal and their legs regained mobility, Ray turned off the spray of the shower and stepped out, offering Fraser a towel.
“Welcome home,” he grinned wickedly as he wiped a towel down his chest. “Tell me about your trip.” Ray ran the towel through his sandy hair making it stand on end.
Fraser sighed and his shoulders sagged as he leaned against the sink.
“Wow, must have been some trip.” Ray took Fraser’s towel from him and began drying him off.
“There are going to be a lot of changes at the Consulate, all of which are permanent.”
“What kind of changes? You already told me about new recruits coming to work in the various stations.”
Fraser left the bathroom in search of clean clothes. “That is part of the program Inspector Geyer has begun to put into place.” Ray followed, opening his own dresser and pulling out a pair of jeans and boxers.
“Well, what’s the other part?”
Fraser sank to the bed, feeling defeated. He twisted his tee shirt between his fingers unknowingly until Ray came over to the bed and stilled his hands.
“What’s going on?”
“Inspector Geyer is initiating a rotating schedule for the Mounties that serve here in Chicago.”
“Rotating? That doesn’t sound too bad. So you get some days, some nights. Nothing we aren’t already used to.” Ray scrubbed at his chin. “Will be a little hectic when the baby gets here, but we’ll manage.”
“No, Ray… rotating as in returning to Canada for six weeks at a time.”
“What the hell kind of program is that?”
“He doesn’t want us to forget who we work for. We still work for the Canadian government and he wants us to dedicate six weeks to actually working in Canada.”
“Well, okay, six weeks sucks, but I guess we can deal with that. Figure something out.”
“Ray,” Fraser began as he pulled his pacing partner to a halt in front of him. “It’s every other six weeks.”
“What the fuck? How can he do that? What are we gonna do? We’re going to have a baby, Ben.”
“I know that Ray. And I expressed my concerns to Inspector Geyer, but as long as I work in Chicago, I will be a part of the rotating schedule.”
“When does all this start? Before or after the baby gets here?”
“He would like to start it as soon as possible, with the first group of new hires within the next month. Inspector Geyer has assured me that I can stay here until after the baby arrives, but then I will be put into the schedule as soon as my leave is up.”
“Are there any other options?”
“No.” Fraser pulled Ray down onto his lap and ran his thumbs over his lips. “It does however come with a pay increase…”
“Fuck the money, Ben.”
Fraser pressed a finger to Ray’s lips to silence him. “Which I told Inspector Geyer I would decline if it meant my position didn’t change.”
“He’s gonna think about it?” Ray asked hopefully.
“He said he would consider my request.” Fraser leaned forward and gave Ray a reassuring kiss.
“Let’s hope he has some sense in his head.”
“Ray,” Fraser’s expression changed quickly into a wide grin. “I felt it.”
“The baby! I felt the baby move for this first time while I was gone.”
“Seriously?” Ray put his hand on Fraser’s stomach hoping to feel movement. “Can you feel it now?”
“No, I haven’t felt it since yesterday afternoon. It was just faint, a slight fluttering. It’s the strangest sensation.”
“Wow. I can’t wait to feel it.” Ray leaned forward and kissed his partner. “I love you, Ben.”
“Come on, I’m starving.” Fraser stood, dropping Ray’s feet to the floor.
“You… starving? Now, that’s progress.” Ray swatted Fraser’s backside before rushing out of the bedroom. “I’ve got one of mom’s casseroles in the oven.”
That evening, Ray settled in behind Fraser in bed, molding himself to his sleeping partner’s form. He nestled his head into his pillow and slid an arm around Fraser’s waist, resting his hand on the baby bump. His eyelids fluttered shut as sleep came easily. Fraser was already sound asleep, breathing steadily. Ray let his partner’s even breaths lull him to sleep.
“Hey stop that,” he mumbled still half asleep. There is it was again. “Quit, Ben.”
Fraser turned over and sat up, shaking his partner awake. “Ray, what are you talking about? I’m not doing anything.”
“You were hitting my wrist.”
Fraser grinned and took Ray’s hand, placing it on his stomach. “Ray, that’s the baby.”
“It is?” Ray sat up when he felt the tiny thump against his palm. “That’s our baby?”
Ray pulled Fraser’s face to his and kissed him deeply. “That’s the most amazing thing I have ever felt.”
“Me too,” Fraser replied, returning the kiss. He settled back into his pillow and Ray laid his head on Fraser’s stomach, resting his hand on the bump. Ray fell asleep with the baby lightly fluttering against his hand throughout the night.
“Yo, Vecchio, what are you talking to my ex about?” Kowalski asked as he strode into the bullpen alongside Vecchio.
“I'm telling her how you knocked up my best friend,” Vecchio said casually as he made his way towards his office.
“Shit, man,” Ray slapped him in the arm almost causing Vecchio to drop the phone. “You can’t just spring that on her like that.”
“Who would have thought? I get promoted to Lieutenant and not admitted to the crazy farm, Dief dies protecting your sorry ass and you knock up my best friend… Yeah, Stell, I’m still here. Just talking to Stanley.” Vecchio put his hand over the mouthpiece and whispered to Ray. “Don't worry, she thinks I've been smoking MacDaniel’s marijuana supply.” He began to hand the phone to Ray. “Here. You talk to her, she doesn’t believe me.”
“You think I have some sort of death wish?” Kowalski held up both hands and backed away to his desk.
Vecchio shrugged, phone tucked securely under his chin. “Dunno. You hang around with the Mountie. Kinda goes with the territory.”
“Hey, tell her Ben wants to have you two over for a cookout this weekend.”
“Sure… you hear that Stell? Stanley and Benny want to have us over for a cookout.”
“And quit calling me Stanley!” Ray yelled at his Lieutenant’s retreating form.
Vecchio turned before closing his office door and winked at Kowalski. “We’ll be there at six on Saturday.”
Ray gave the pan of potatoes on the grill one last stir before closing the lid and turning the temperature down. It was a cool evening for a cookout. Fraser was in the woodshop with Vecchio showing off his newest woodwork creations and Stella was in the kitchen preparing a salad to pair with the steaks and grilled potatoes. Ray entered the kitchen and shivered. “It’s getting cool out there tonight. The temps this summer are all out of whack.”
“It is chilly, but I brought a jacket.” She handed Ray the assembled salad. “We eating in or out?”
Ray shrugged. “Up to you guys. I’m fine with eating in.” Ray pointed upstairs. “I’m gonna go grab long sleeves. Be right back.”
Ray was pulling the t... shirt over his head when he heard Stella clear her throat. “Ray, can I uh, talk to you for a minute.”
Ray pulled the shirt down and shook it into place. “Sure.”
“I wanted to talk to you without Ray or Ben around. It’s kind of personal, you know, between us.”
Ray pulled out a barstool at the counter and sat down, giving Stella his undivided attention.
“Okay.” Stella took a deep breath, the huffed it out, looking unusually nervous. “Back when you and I were first married, your grandmother came to visit me one day when you were at work. Your grandfather had built us a bassinet, for when we ever had a baby.”
Ray looked down, and scratched his chin. “I didn’t know that.”
“Yes.” Stella smiled, a little sadly. “It was beautiful. I think your grandma said he made it out of maple.”
“How come I never saw it? Why didn’t you ever tell me?”
Stella shifted on her chair, and started picking her thumbnail. It was a very Stella gesture, not Assistant State’s Attorney at all. There weren’t many people she would allow to see her so vulnerable. Him. Vecchio, he guessed. “It was supposed to be a surprise for you, from them when I told you I was pregnant.” She sighed. “But I was afraid if I told you, you would talk me into trying for a baby when I knew I wasn’t ready. I asked my mom to keep it in her attic until we were ready for it.”
“Stella…” Ray felt a world of regret crowding around him. He knew he had been too keen, put pressure on her. Too late now...
“But then,” she glanced at him, then away again. “Well, you know this anyway, but a few months later, I found out that I was pregnant and I...”
“Stell, it’s okay. You don’t have to go over this again.”
“Yes,” she said sharply. “I do. Let me say what I’m going to say.”
Ray nodded, and let her speak.
“So. You know I made the decision on my own to... to end it.” She paused and bit her lip. “I didn’t take your feelings into consideration and I’ve lived with that guilt ever since.”
“I didn’t mean to...” ‘make you feel guilty,’ he meant to say, but he knew in his heart that wasn’t true. At the time he had been so angry he had nearly hated her. “I just mean...”
She held her hand up like a stop sign, and Ray fell silent. Grim faced she continued. “I saw how much it tore you apart, how it tore you away from me and it was my own fault. I decided that I was going to give you the baby you wanted, so I went to my doctor about a year later asking why I wasn’t getting pregnant. He ran tests and examined me and discovered that the abortion had ruined my chances of ever carrying a child.”
“God, Stella, I’m sorry…”
“You didn’t do anything Ray, it’s just something that happened.” Stella’s face was as collected as it ever was in court, but she wiped a tear away. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize how hard this would be to tell you.” She hugged herself tightly. “So, when Ray told me about Ben, I laughed at the insanity of it. I mean that is by far the strangest thing I have ever heard, and I’m a prosecutor, I’ve heard it all.” She was smiling now. “But then, I realized that I had something that belonged to you and it wasn’t right for me to keep it any longer. I brought you the bassinet, Ray.” Her voice gentled, and she touched his hand. “It belongs in your family. Your grandfather intended for you to use it for your baby one day. I loved your grandparents, Ray and I want to honor their wishes. It’s sad they are gone. They would have loved to have seen your baby even under these strange circumstances. Your granny was great, she would have loved Ben.”
“It’s out in the car, we can put it in the baby’s room if you’d like.” Stella paused. “Oh, God,” she threw her hands over her mouth. “I should have asked if you even wanted it, after what I did. I shouldn’t have just sprung this on you. You probably still hate me.”
“No, Stella, I would love to have it. And I could never hate you. Look where we are now, we’re friends again. It was so hard for me to grasp why you ended the pregnancy without ever discussing it with me and even more difficult to accept it and forgive you when I found out, but I did… and I don’t hate you.”
“Have you ever told anyone? Does Ben know?”
“No, Ben doesn’t know. Some things are too private to share. It will stay between you and me.”
“Your grandfather would be so pleased for you, confused as hell about the circumstances, but pleased.”
Stella placed a gentle kiss to Ray’s cheek. “I’m confused as hell,” she laughed, “but I’m happy for you. Come on, let’s go get it and put it in the baby’s room.”
Ray followed Stella outside to the Riv. “Can’t you talk Vecchio into getting a cooler car?”
Stella laughed and slapped at his arm. “I had Ray strap down the trunk lid.” She unhooked the bungee cord and the lid popped open. There was a baby blanket covering the bassinet. Stella blushed. “I didn’t want it to rub against the trunk lid and damage it.”
Ray lifted the bassinet out of the trunk and set it down on the ground, removing the blanket to get a better look. It was beautiful. Made out of maple with not a single hard edge to it. Every corner was rounded and smooth, every spindle perfectly round. His grandfather had dedicated a lot of time making the perfect bassinet for his child. Stella stood back and smiled.
“Don’t be mad,” she pleaded when Ray stood up shocked. “Ray told Frannie after he told me and after we finally got her calmed down and coherent again, the two of us went shopping.”
“You got all this stuff for... us?” Ray asked in disbelief. Inside the bassinet were baby diapers, flannel blankets, rattles, teething rings, wipes, onesies and sleepers in pale yellows and greens with little baby animals dotting their surfaces. The bassinet was full of baby items.
“Yes,” she replied. “We didn’t know what Ben was having yet, boy or girl, so we went for neutral colors.”
Ray pulled Stella into a tight embrace. “You don’t know what this means to me.”
Stella shrugged and just smiled. “I’ve heard some of the guys at the station snickering behind your backs. Some of the snide comments directed towards Ben. He doesn’t deserve it and neither do you. I figured you could use as much moral support as you could get.”
“Thanks, Stell. You know how hard it is for me to not kick those guys in the head?”
Stella shook her head and picked up one corner of the bassinet, encouraging Ray to do the same. “Just proves how ignorant they are. Come on,” she gestured towards the house, “let’s go show Ben.”
“He’s gonna love it.”
“How is he doing anyway? For being what did you say… twenty one weeks, he isn’t showing that much. Just looks like he has a bit of a beer belly.”
“God, don’t let him hear you say that. He’d lost so much weight in the beginning that his clothes were fitting looser so it’s really hid the baby bump. But he’s starting to show, it’s barely visible, but it’s there. He’s been good at hiding it so far. I think he finds the physical changes the hardest to deal with.”
“Well, I think he’s taking it all rather well, all the change. I’m sure he’s heard some of the things people at the station have been saying.”
“Yeah, that’s been frustrating. But he’s handled it much better than I would have. I might have accidently punched someone the other day, but the asshole deserved it.”
“Ray didn’t say anything about that.”
“Ray doesn’t know… and I made it pretty clear to that guy that if he ever ran his mouth again without knowing what he was talking about, he’d be eating through a straw for months.”
“Ray,” Stella warned, “you can’t just go beating people up whenever they have something negative to say.” When Ray just shrugged his shoulders, Stella pulled him to a stop. “I’m serious, you could lose your job.”
“Guy had it coming, okay? He’d been running his mouth about Ben for weeks and I’d warned him and warned him and the last time I was done warning.”
“What did he say?” Stella asked.
“Doesn’t matter, he won’t say it again.”
“Does Ben know?”
“You think I’m stupid enough to tell him? He’s got enough to worry about besides what people are thinking of him.” Ray plastered a smile on his face. “Enough of that, okay?”
“Fine,” Stella reluctantly agreed. “Just keep it in check.”
“Will do. You know, he keeps buying fruit that shows how big the baby is that week. This week it’s the size of a banana. He was telling me last night that every time he eats something, the baby gets a taste of it too because of something to do with the amniotic fluid it swallows. And every day the tastes are different depending on what he eats.”
“That’s really amazing. Doubtful the baby will ever get an addiction to pizza and doughnuts with the foods Ben eats. Now you on the other hand...”
“Oh, don’t let the Mountie fool you. He eats his fair share of pizza and scones.” Ray stopped to open the door. “Just lately he usually throws it up right away.” Ray set his end of the bassinet down. “So, tell me about you and Vecchio. You two seem to be getting pretty close.”
“Is that weird for you? I know he and Ben are good friends…”
Ray slung an arm around Stella’s shoulders as he led her out into the backyard. “Ben’s going to have a baby, nothing is weirder than that. If you like Vecchio and he likes you. Hey, I’m happy for you.”
“Thanks, Ray,” Stella pulled his head down and kissed him gently on the cheek.
Pregnancy was turning out to be the weirdest thing that had ever happened to Ray, and he wasn't even the one who was pregnant. Time seemed to have slowed down and sped up at the same time. One moment it felt as though the baby was never going to come… the next, everything was too much, too soon. There was an ever growing pile of baby items in the baby’s room that seemed to expand every time Ray came home from the station with another gift from Francesca. Fraser was already looking into schooling and chatting to the Vecchios about little league games. What the fuck? How the hell were they going to do this? With Fraser’s new schedule looming over them like a dark cloud the moment he returned to active duty, how were they going to manage the baby while he was gone? ‘What if I turn out to be an awful Dad?’ Ray pushed the thought down, but it bounced right back up again. Fraser would be a good dad, no doubt about that, but some days Ray really worried about himself. What if the kid doesn't like baseball?
Ray’s laughter filled the kitchen when he came home and discovered a papaya sitting on the kitchen counter with a ‘23’ written on it in Fraser’s perfect penmanship. He pulled out his phone and dialed the Consulate. Turnbull answered on the first ring and handed off the phone to Fraser. “You realize I’m going to stop eating fruit all together if you don’t stop with your weekly visual comparisons?” Ray was met with silence. “Ben?”
“I think Constable Fraser needs a doctor,” Turnbull’s usually giddy voice broke the silence.
‘Oh, Jesus Christ.’For a moment the world spun, as Ray’s hand clenched on the receiver.
“I’m on my way,” he shouted into the phone as he grabbed his car keys and ran out the door.
By the time Doctor Logan put Fraser on complete bed rest, Ray was exhausted and physically sick. He didn't know how much more he or Fraser could stand. Twenty three weeks. 'How the hell are we going to get through this?'
The combined stress of the pregnancy and the on... going changes at the Consulate had triggered early contractions. He sat in the hard plastic chair next to Ben’s bed in the emergency room for seven hours, holding Ben’s hand and pleading with God not to take their baby. Heart rate monitors for both Ben and the baby beeped in succession with one another, filling the otherwise silent room with noise. An IV line containing a drug Ray would forever remember the name of, Magnesium Sulfate, to help prevent some problems that affect the baby’s brain, dripped steadily into Ben’s vein in an attempt to slow the contractions. Ray had phoned his mom and worded his responses to her questions so she wouldn’t come tearing down to the hospital. Ben didn’t need someone else hovering over him.
Doctor Allison was in and out of the tiny room taking measurements, making notations in his charts and looking very much like he was about to lose out on a championship prize if Fraser lost the baby. Ray wanted to scream at him to never come back, but he knew with the man’s experience, Fraser needed him.
And then, almost as suddenly as it started, the crisis was over. Fraser was home ... still on bed rest, but at least not hooked up to heart monitors, and drips, and God knows what.
“I’ll be fine,” Fraser’s solid voice from the bedroom snapped Ray back to the present. Ben had just finished propping himself against a pile of pillows on the king sized bed and slipped a pillow under his knees to alleviate the strain on his lower back. Ray was glued to the bathroom mirror trying to get his tie to cooperate. Fraser took a sip from his cup of tea before placing it on the nightstand.
“Okay,” Ray called from the bathroom. “You got a book?”
“Check,” Fraser responded holding the book high in the air.
“Somethin’ to drink? Eat?” Ray called again.
“Double check,” Ben replied. “And I’ve got the phone and everyone from you to Doctor Allison on speed dial should an emergency arise, which it won’t. I wish I could go with you, but Doctor Logan would not approve my request. And Doctor Allison about had a heart attack when I mentioned it at my last visit.”
“Yeah, I can imagine his reaction.” Ray stepped out of the bathroom and adjusted his tie.
“Ray,” Fraser’s breath caught. “You look quite fetching.”
“Fetching?” Ray pulled the knot out of his tie and turned towards the closet. “That’s it, I’m changing.”
“No,” Fraser called as he swung his legs off the bed and stood as quickly as he could, making his way to Ray. “Please don’t.”
“You just insulted me Frase,” Ray unintentionally snapped.
“No, it’s a compliment. I merely meant to imply that you look quite handsome.”
“So, good in fact that if you didn’t have to leave in the next ten minutes, I would figure out how to have my way with you.”
Ray seemed to weigh his options. “You think Elaine would ever forgive us if neither one of us showed up?”
“No, I suppose not. Go on,” Fraser worked the fabric of Ray’s tie into a tidy knot and tugged it into place. “There will be time for shenanigans later.”
Ray boggled, then cracked up laughing. "Shenanigans? What kind of a word is that?"
"A perfectly fine word," Ben replied, pretending to be hurt.
Ray relented. “Please promise me you’ll stay in bed and you’ll call me if you need anything.”
“Ray, I’ll be fine.”
“Promise or I’m not leaving.” Ray set his jaw stubbornly.
“I promise. You worry too much.”
“Yeah, well, you’re on bed rest for a reason, Ben,”
Fraser shook his head. “I know, and once you’re out the door, back I go. Although Doctor Logan was considering lifting the complete bed rest and just making sure I take it easy.” Fraser leaned forward and kissed Ray. “Give Elaine my best.”
“Well, that’s great but until he does... back to bed.”
"Normally, when you say that Ray, it's a lot more fun."
"Don't worry, Ben. We'll have fun in bed later."
Fraser spent the evening dozing and reading, waiting for Ray to return from the wedding. After spending a few hours trying to find a comfortable position, he got out of bed and made his way down the hallway into the baby’s room. He leaned against the wall and slid down until he was resting on the floor, just beside the bassinet. His back ached. He wondered did pregnant women go through this as well, to this extent, or was it the bullet. He sighed, then pulled a few of the receiving blankets out of the bassinet and placed them under his knees.
Leaning his head against the wall he scanned the room slowly. This was going to be his life soon. He would be spending a lot of time in this very room rocking, playing with and most likely consoling their child.
He let his mind wander to his own childhood. Chloe had asked him if he had ever had a pet and aside from Diefenbaker’s companionship, he could safely say no. 'I never did have a normal childhood.' He felt a pang of sorrow envelope him at the thought. With the early death of his mother, his father always gone on patrol and being raised in part by his grandparents, he didn’t even know what a normal childhood was.
When Ray entered the house several hours later, all was quiet. He assumed Ben would be sound asleep. He flipped on the stairway light and quietly made his way upstairs. He entered his bedroom silently so he wouldn’t startle Fraser awake and realized he wasn’t in bed. The covers were flipped back and the bed was empty. Ray switched on the bedroom light, puzzled. “Ben,” he called nervously. “Where are you?”
“Ray, I’m in the baby’s room,” came a tired response.
Ray toed the door open and found Fraser sitting on the floor, a pile of baby blankets propping up his knees. He leaned against the wall and slid down beside his partner. “Hey, what are you doing in here? You should be in bed.”
“I was getting restless and I couldn’t sleep.” Fraser leaned over and kissed Ray. “How was the wedding?”
“Fantastic. Elaine was beautiful. I kinda lost track of time, sorry it took me so long to get back.”
“It’s okay. I‘ve been doing some thinking while you were gone.”
“Oh yeah, about what?”
“Life, choices, the future. Did you know, I’ve never had a pet? Sure we had numerous sled dogs while I was growing up, but I never had a pet. And Diefenbaker… well, he wasn't really a pet."
“No," Ray chuckled. "He was a crazy dude in a dog suit."
"Wolf suit." Ben smiled. “I’d like to get a dog for our daughter to grow up with.”
“Daughter?” Ray asked, his heart picking up speed. “We’re having a girl?”
“Yes. I found out at my last appointment. I’m sorry, Ray. You told me you didn’t want to know until it arrived, but I needed to ask you something.”
“A girl,” Ray let the idea sink in. “That’s… that’s greatness, Ben.”
Ben cleared his throat and scratched his eyebrow. Two nervous tics. Whatever he was about to say must be important.
“After everything that we’ve endured throughout this ordeal, this crazy pregnancy, I’d like to name her Chloe.”
“I think that’s perfect, Ben.”
Ben was silent for several moments. He took Ray’s hand in his own and wove their fingers together. “I’m going to retire, Ray.”
“Greatness, I’m exhausted. Let’s go to bed.” Ray moved to stand up but stopped when Ben pulled on his arm, bringing him back down to the floor beside him.
“No, Ray... retire as in the Mounties.”
“What?” Ray asked concerned. “What brought this up?”
“Do you know why I became a Mountie?” Ben asked.
“You wanted to follow in your father’s footsteps.”
“No, that’s not the real reason. I was hoping by joining the RCMP, that it would bring my father and I closer.” He shuffled a little, and tugged on his ear. “You know, we would be working together, I thought, how could it not bring us closer?” Fraser sighed, and gave a tiny shake of his head. “But it actually drove us further apart and ... I’m not even sure why. I wanted so much for him to be a part of my life. Sometimes I wonder ...”
“What, Ben?” Fraser dipped his head and looked to the floor. Sometimes I wonder if I didn’t just drive him further away by wanting to work with him. I don’t want that for our daughter. I don’t want to be a part of her life every other six weeks. It will just be like my father and myself all over again.”
“Ben, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying I want a normal life. I want a dog and I want to have you come home every day and know that I’m going to be there for you. I don’t want to be gone out of your life for weeks at a time.” Fraser let out a small chuckle. “Don’t worry, Ray, I have a plan. You think I’ve just been sitting here doing absolutely nothing for the past few weeks?”
“I didn’t say that. You’ve been reading and moping because you can’t do anything.”
Fraser raised an eyebrow, politely. "You realize, Ray, that would be a very sexist comment if I was in fact a woman."
"I didn't mean ...”
“I'm sure you don't mean to keep me barefoot and pregnant for the rest of my days."
"Ben! Stop it."
"I'm only teasing." Fraser relented, and smiled, a little sadly. “You got me thinking when I came home from Toronto about building furniture and building a career out of that. Francesca of all people helped me set up a website, offering handcrafted chairs and such.”
“Really? Frannie has those kinds of skills? Who knew...?”
Fraser ignored the playful jab at their friend. “I was shocked at the responses and requests I have received already.”
“But you can’t do anything right now.”
“Oh, I know that. It wouldn’t be until after the baby anyway.” Ben tugged his ear, nervously. “I just wanted to see how the idea would take off, before I approached you with it. It’s a big decision.”
“Yeah,” Ray said, slowly. ‘Wow, a huge decision. Changing his whole career...’ Ben was watching him, looking like he needed reassurance. “But it’s your decision to make,” Ray pointed out, gently. “I’ll support whatever you decide.”
“Thank you,” Ben still looked nervous. “It’s ... it’s a hard decision to make. Apart from odd jobs as a teen, I’ve never done anything else.”
“Seriously? Aww, Ben. You know you can do anything you set your mind to.”
“Thank you,” Ben smiled. “You’ve always thought more highly of me than I deserve.”
Ray rolled his eyes. “And you always think too little of yourself. Together we even out.”
“Perhaps.” There was that ear tug again. “But regardless of whether I decide to be a carpenter or do something else, I am going to be at home for you and the baby.” Ben looked almost defiant, as though he expected Ray to argue. “I’m not leaving you for weeks on end,” he persisted. “That’s what my father did to my mother and I... I never got over that feeling of abandonment.” Ray scooted across the floor as close to Ben as he could get, and put an arm around him for comfort. “I resented him for that for a very long time,” Ben admitted. “Even after his death...” his voice dropped, and he looked at his hands, ashamed. “Even then, I don’t believe I ever forgave him for it.”
“We could move to Canada and you wouldn’t have to quit.” Ben rested his head on Ray’s shoulder, and closed his eyes.
“Ray,” he said wearily, “that makes no sense at all. What about you? Your family is here, your job is here that you love, our friends are here. This is our home.”
“Ben,” Ray took a deep breath. “There is something that we never discussed.”
Ray slid around on the floor until he was facing Ben. When Ben pulled his knees towards his chest, Ray scooted closer and pinned Ben’s knees between his own. “You are aware that if you have this baby here in the states, legally, she becomes an American.”
Ben looked genuinely puzzled. “Ray, it doesn’t matter either way if she is American or Canadian, she’s ours. The best of both sides.”
Ray leaned forward, cupped Ben’s face, and stroked his chin with his thumb. “Are you sure about this?” he said, making sure to keep eye contact. Ben gazed back at him seriously.
“Yes, I’m sure.” He really looked it. “I will discuss my intentions with Inspector Geyer after my next doctor’s visit. We can make a stop at the Consulate.” Fraser tried to hide a yawn and failed. “Your mother came over for a visit while you were gone.”
Ray didn’t have to ask if she was alone, he already knew the answer.
“I’m very sorry about your father Ray. I was hoping he would have come around by now.”
“Well, you know, it’s his loss, not mine.” Ray’s voice was pinched. “I’ve tried reaching out to him, wasn’t able to make things better between us. I can’t do it all. If he doesn’t like our situation and the result of it, then he can just stay away.” He folded his arms across his chest, and jutted his chin aggressively. Despite his body language his face was miserable. “He doesn’t deserve to get to know his granddaughter.”
Ben smiled a little wistfully, thinking of his own father. “Perhaps he will one day.”
“Don’t hold your breath, Frase.” Ray shrugged. “Even with your excess lung capacity, you’ll run out of air eventually.” He stood and offered a hand to Ben, changing the subject. “Come on, let’s go to bed. You need help up?”
“Yes please,” Fraser laughed lightly. “My foot fell asleep about an hour ago.” Ray helped Ben to his feet and caught him when his leg buckled.
“You alright?” Ray frowned with concern.
Ben sighed. “Ray, I’m at twenty six weeks, I don’t know....”
“Don’t know what, Ben?”
“I don’t know how much more of this bed rest I’m going to be able to handle.” Ben rubbed his face, looking ashamed. “It’s driving me up the wall,” he admitted. “I’ve not been this immobile since… well, since Ray shot me.”
Ray moved closer to Ben, and hooked an arm round Ben’s waist. “How about I rub your legs for you, work out the tingles?”
“I’d appreciate that very much.” Ben closed his eyes, gratefully, and dropped his head on Ray’s shoulder. Ray squeezed him in a hug and guided him to their bedroom.
“We’d better sit down before we fall down,” Ray patted the bedspread for Fraser to sit on. “Actually, you should probably lie down, so I can look after that leg of yours. Let me go change out of my suit, then I’ll join you.”
Ben lay back, and pulled the sheets over him, taking his clothes off under cover. He glanced over at Ray, casually divesting himself of his dark blue suit. First the jacket, then the tie, then the paler blue shirt. Ray hung his clothes with care in the closet, unaware of the arousing effect it was having on his partner. Ben felt his breath catch in his throat as Ray toed his way out of his shoes and socks, then carelessly unbuckled his belt and dropped his pants. He was wearing charcoal grey boxer shorts. Ben’s mouth watered at the thought of what they concealed.
Automatically, his hand drifted down towards his groin ... then stopped abruptly. Ben felt his incipient erection wilting as his arm jolted up against his protruding abdomen.
‘When the hell did that happen?’ Ben thought, shocked. One moment he almost felt normal again, turned on watching Ray undress. The next, it was as if he inhabited another body. His stomach no longer flat, no longer muscled but ... deformed.
‘No, it’s not,’ he told himself firmly. ‘It’s perfectly natural for ... ’
There was nothing natural about this. Why was he trying to deceive himself? He was, as Ray had so often said, ‘a freak.’
Even as Ben thought the word, Ray turned around, nearly naked, and yawned. ‘Oh God.’ Ben’s heart fell. Ray was so beautiful, the stretch and flex of his wiry muscles, his golden hair. And Ben felt so...
Inadequate. It wasn’t that he was a vain man, but he had always been aware of the fact that people found him attractive. Yet recently, he had heard people commenting on his appearance, and it wasn’t complimentary at all. The women at his doctors’ visits were constantly whispering to each other about him, unaware that he had keen hearing and could actually make out what they were saying. His coworkers gossiping behind his back, Ray’s colleagues at the Precinct ... everyone had an opinion. It wasn’t surprising, really. Even the uniform couldn’t hide his growing belly forever. At one and the same time, he was both too skinny and too fat.
‘How could a man like Ray, so virile, so desirable, possibly want me?’
“Ben?” Ray’s voice cut through the cloud of negative thoughts. “Ben, are you okay?”
“Yes,” Ben lied, sitting up, and lifting his knees, pulling the sheets up to conceal himself. “Yes, I’m fine.”
“How’s your leg?”
Ben rubbed it, and winced. “Still tingly.” Ben slid the affected leg out from under the blankets, exposing it to Ray.
“What? Suddenly shy?” Ray teased. “What if I want to rub both your legs?”
Fraser stiffened when Ray climbed onto the end of the bed between his legs, feeling suddenly vulnerable and exposed. “Ray…”
“What?” Ray’s voice was tender. “Let me rub your legs.” Beside him he could feel Ben’s exposed knee shaking.
“It’s just I don’t feel like myself anymore,” Ben admitted, as he tugged the blankets to his chin.
Ray stilled the trembling knee with a simple touch, caressing, squeezing, carefully moving down the tense muscles to Ben’s ankle and back up again, just listening to Ben’s voice. Ben seemed to calm under his touch.
“I couldn’t have made it through this without you, Ray,” Ben’s timbre dropped and Ray couldn’t help but smile.
“Ben,” he confessed, “I couldn’t make a day without you.” Ben flushed, and looked away. Ray bent down, and kissed Ben’s knee. It was still trembling. “Why are you shaking?” he asked. “What you got to be nervous about? It’s me here, remember… I’m no stranger.”
“You don’t understand…” Ben started to explain. “I’m not the same as I was a month ago or even last week. How can you…?”
“Shh,” Ray leaned forward and put a finger to Ben’s lips, silencing him. “Doesn’t matter what you look like. Nothing’s changed about the way I feel about you or the way you make me feel.” As if to prove his point, he slid his hand up to Ben’s groin. “Hello.” He smiled, and licked his lip. Ben closed his eyes, embarrassed. He was only half hard.
“Ray,” he said, “I’ve been reading about the effects of estrogen on men. I might not be able to...”
“To what...?” Ray asked as he sat back on his feet and attempted to pull the blankets from Ben’s grasp.
“Satisfy you.” Ben’s voice was a miserable whisper. Relenting, he finally released his grip.
Ray shook his head, still smiling, his eyes shining with affection. “You always satisfy me.” His head dipped down, vanishing from Ben’s sight.
“I can’t see you,” Ben pushed himself to his elbows. “This is weird…”
Ray’s head snapped up, not amused. “Different…” Ben corrected himself. He locked eyes with Ray and gave him a shy smile. “I can usually see you.” He cleared his throat. “I mean... when you are down there.”
“What,” Ray said playfully, “you like looking at me when I do this?” Ben gasped as Ray put his mouth around his cock.
“Yes,” he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut, and trying to imagine what Ray’s face looked like right now. “Yes, I like to look at you.”
Ray released Ben’s cock and leaned forward, placing a reassuring kiss to Ben’s lips. “Let me take care of you. I’ve got all night.” He pressed his lips to Ben’s again and pushed him into the pillow. “Just lay back and close your eyes, Ben.”
Ray disappeared from his line of sight as Ben let his eyelids drift shut. He expected to feel Ray’s warm breath on his groin again, but was pleasantly surprised when Ray’s hands started massaging the knots out of his leg muscles. Long strokes of Ray’s thumb up and down the back of his calf muscles eased some of his apprehension and he relaxed under the familiar touch.
The massage to the calf muscle gave way to the ankle and foot of his tingling leg. Ben had not once complained to Ray about his feet hurting, even though they frequently did. But with Ray’s skillful fingers digging in, releasing pockets of tension, Ben suddenly wished he had asked Ray to rub his feet sooner. He sighed with content. This felt good, this felt like… this felt like the world had fallen away and it was just him and Ray. Alone in their bed…
Warm hands settled on his thighs and Ben could feel Ray’s tantalizing breath on his thigh. And... oh. Ben smiled. Maybe he hadn’t seen… himself in a week or so, but he could feel… it. Ray ghosted his lips over Ben’s inner thigh dropping butterfly kisses along the chiseled edge of muscle.
Finally ... Ben was starting to get hard.
“Thank you,” he murmured, and touched Ray’s hair. He meant ‘thank you’ for not just the massage, but... more. He couldn’t explain it. ‘Thank you for making me feel desired. Thank you for making me feel like a man again...’
Ray’s breath was almost like a touch against the length of him.
“Ben,” he said, his voice roughened and deep. “Can I...?” Ben felt a brush of heat as Ray’s tongue flicked against his cockhead.
“Yes,” Ben whispered, “yes, Ray, you can.”
Although he couldn’t see Ray’s face, he could hear the smile. “I like to taste you, Ben. I like all of you.”
“Even though ... even if ... if I can’t ...”
“Ben.” Ray kissed Ben’s penis, and Ben flinched. Oh, that was strange and.... nice. “Ben,” Ray repeated. “You remember when I was sick, and the doctor had me on those damn antibiotics, and I couldn’t get it up for a couple of weeks?”
Ray hummed against Ben’s half-mast penis, then dropped it from his mouth, slick with spit, and blew. Ben shivered.
And then... then he was swallowed by slick heat, and suction, and...
To his astonishment, Ben spasmed, suddenly rock hard, his whole body arching to Ray’s mouth. He cried out ... an inarticulate warning ... and came. Ray grasped his thigh, and swallowed every drop.
“You okay there?” Ray murmured against his thigh. Ben’s hand was resting lightly on his hair, fingers teasing the tips back into wayward spikes.
“Yes,” Ben managed, when he could speak again. Ray smiled. Ben could feel the curve of his cheek pressing up against his thigh. “Come up here,” he said, his voice rough. “Your turn.”
Ray sniggered, and wriggled up the bed, face flushed and hair tousled. “I was kinda hoping you’d say that. He bent his head down, and kissed Ben, slipping his tongue between his lips. Ben sucked his tongue, savoring the sharp tang of semen that lingered. ‘Me,’ he thought. ‘Ray tastes of me.’ He rolled onto his side, and lifted himself up on one elbow, the other hand travelling down Ray’s belly. He looked, watching his fingers as they edged further down.
“Breathing a little heavy there,” he teased. Ray groaned and rolled to his back, snaking a leg between Ben’s.
“You know I’m not good at waiting... Oh!”
Ben grinned as his hands closed around the solid warmth of Ray’s cock. “Don’t worry.” His hand started to move up and down. “I won’t keep you waiting...” He let go for a moment. “Long.”
Ray groaned again and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. “You - you - prick tease.”
Ben kissed him, and smiled. “I won’t tease you,” he promised. “Just... tell me what you want.”
“Think you can kiss me till I come?” Ray dared as he shifted his hips and slid under Ben.
“Oh…” Ben tilted his head and gave Ray a wicked grin, ghosting his tongue across his crooked tooth. “I can certainly try.”
Ray’s eyes fluttered shut. ‘Trust Ben to accept the challenge.’ “I bet you can’t,” he groaned, though already he thought he was going to lose this bet.
Ben laughed, and kissed him again, stroking Ray gently as he did so. “We’ll just see about that,” he said. Ray moaned into Ben’s mouth. His hands smoothed down the plane of Ben’s back, dancing over the ridges of his spine. ‘God,’ he closed his eyes as Ben squeezed. ‘That feels good.’ Of course it did - it always did. Ben knew just the right way to jack him, just the right side of rough. He was doing it now, flicking his thumb over the cockhead, slicking him with his own pre-come. Then...
“Hey, what are you doing?” Ray asked, plaintively as Ben’s hand left his cock.
“Kissing you,” Ben said. “I bet you air I won’t even need to touch you - down there.”
Ray shivered in anticipation as Ben settled his weight over him and latched onto a pulse point on his neck. He could feel his heart rate accelerating, wondered for a second what he tasted like to Ben. Salt, sweat... God. Whatever, Ben seemed to like it. He hummed happily against Ray’s skin. “You like that,” Ben whispered. It wasn’t a question.
“Good.” Ben settled between Ray’s legs. Ray bent his knee and planted a foot on the back of Ben’s calf. One hand was tangled in his hair, the other playing with the tips of his ears, stroking the tender whorls and hollows. That was amazing. Ray felt himself getting harder, as the tingle ran from his ears straight down to his cock. ‘God, Ben should play with my ears more often,’ he thought, as Ben took the delicate lobe between his lips and began sucking. He bit his lip and bucked up into Ben’s groin. Between the sucking and the trail Ben was painting with his tongue up and down his ear, Ray was being driven closer to the edge. It felt impossible, but… yeah. Ben had found a new sweet spot. Ray’s breath was short and sharp.
Ben released the lobe from his lips and Ray moaned in protest until he felt the sweet suction of lips connect just below his ear on his jawline. Ben sucked and kissed and Ray wove his hands through Ben’s hair, pulling him closer. Ray closed his eyes and breathed in Ben’s scent. Wet lips abandoned his jaw and Ray shivered when he felt the tender lobe of his ear being taken between Ben’s skillful tongue and crooked tooth.
Ben pressed his tongue into the underside of Ray’s earlobe and dragged it slowly between his teeth. Without releasing it completely, he sucked it deeper into his mouth, swirling his tongue around the soft tissue. He released it and gave it a quick flick with his tongue. Ben nipped the wet lobe tenderly with his teeth.
“Fuck,” Ray ground out unexpectedly, his hips arching into Ben’s, his cock spilling semen between them.
Ben was giving a wicked grin when Ray finally came down from his orgasm and opened his eyes.
“I’ll take that air now.”
“Jesus… that should be against the law,” Ray gazed up at Ben, astounded.
“Well, you would have to arrest me then,” Ben replied with a sly smile as he wiped up the come between them.
“But you'll do it anyway, right...?” Ray teased, tangling a leg around Ben’s as he pulled the cover’s up over them.
“Certainly,” Ben yawned and snuggled closer.
Ray smiled and wrapped his arms around him, drifting into sleep.
Fraser turned the rocking chair in front of him and swiped the stray dust off the arm where he had just sanded. Doctor Logan had finally agreed that he was no longer in need of complete bed rest. The doctor still wouldn’t allow him to return to work at the Consulate, deeming it too stressful of an environment with all the continuing changes. And if Fraser was honest with himself, he was fine with staying home. Turnbull running around explaining to every guest that walked in the door about his condition had worn on his very last nerve. He didn’t need the whole city of Chicago and all of its guests to know that he was going to have a baby. His doctor did tell him he was free to work in the workshop, but was restricted in what weight he was allowed to lift or pull. Ray was more than happy to do the heavy lifting for Fraser as he assembled numerous rocking chairs for his mother’s friends. If anything, crafting furniture seemed to be the biggest stress reliever for Fraser.
Ben had found a pattern for a double lounge chair that would fit comfortably in the corner of their balcony. Within three days, he and Ray were able to spend the evening relaxing on it and watching the sunset over the backyard of their home.
A knock at the door startled Fraser. Ray had gone to work hours ago and he wasn’t expecting any visitors. He dusted his hands on his jeans and turned on his stool to find Damien Kowalski standing nervously in the doorway. His stomach fluttered at the sight of the man. It had been nearly two months since he had last seen Ray’s father, since he last heard what the man had to say about him. He felt nausea and anger rising to the surface. Ben wasn’t sure what to expect from the unexpected visitor.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. When no one answered the door, I figured you would be out here. Benton, I’m an ignorant old man.” Damien remained frozen to his spot just inside the doorway, his hands twisted the brim of his ball cap nervously. “I came to apologize.”
“I’d rather you apologized to Ray, Sir. He’s your family, not me.” Fraser’s tone was flat and void of emotion. What was there to say to the man who considered you a freak?
“Family… yeah that’s true, he is my family. But he’s also your family.” Damien took a tentative step forward into the workshop. “You two really do put each other first, don’t you?”
“I care about Ray very much, Sir, and his needs and well-being are very important to me.”
“I see that now. Truth is, I went to talk to Ray. Tried to take him out to lunch today, get him away from work for a little while. I wanted to apologize for the things I said about you and the way I’ve treated both of you these past few months.” Damien looked to the floor humiliated. “My own boy wouldn’t even look at me. Waved me off with a flash of his hand and said ‘Not a word to me until you apologize to Ben.’ He’s my son. I figured I should start with him first. But, I’m not going to get anywhere if one of you don’t let me speak.”
Fraser remained silent. Until he saw his father off in the corner fiddling with his own Stetson.
“It takes a courageous man to do what he is doing, Benton. Give him a chance.”
Damien turned to leave. “I’m sorry, maybe I shouldn’t have come.”
“No, wait… please don’t go.”
Damien turned. “You don’t have to accept my apology. Just please know that it’s sincere. It took a friend losing her husband and son to finally make me see things clearly. Barbara and I have a friend from Arizona who has… had a son about Ray’s age. Good kid, a little mouthy, but I think he got that from his old man. He was an only child, just like Ray. Name was Brian.” Damien rubbed at his eyes. “Anyway, Barbara got a call couple of days ago that he and his father had been killed in a car accident. Terri was devastated. Barbara flew out yesterday morning to stay with her for a few weeks to help her make arrangements.”
“Ray mentioned something about that last night. I’m sorry for your loss, Sir, that’s a horrible phone call to receive.”
“Yes, it is, to find out your whole life has been taken from you in an instant. I knew I had to make things right with you and Ray. I wasn’t going to lose my family too over my own bull... headedness.” Damien worked his way slowly towards Fraser. “I said some very hurtful things out of frustration and ignorance.”
“I wouldn’t give up what I have right now, just to assure that you liked me. I didn’t even know about my condition until I went to the doctor. My best friend knew about it and never told me because it didn’t change who I was to him.”
“I know that. I did some research to learn about what it means to be… well to be an intersex individual. It’s quite rare. I’m amazed you actually found a specialist.”
Fraser huffed and toyed with the sandpaper in his hands. “Apparently my doctor knew about my condition and had one on speed dial. He says he told me years ago but the timing was all wrong and I don’t remember the conversation.”
“Can’t imagine forgetting that conversation.”
“I had just been shot in the back and was on some very powerful medications. Believe me, I don’t remember much of anything.”
“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to make heads or tails of all of this.” Damien apologized.
“As are we. There’s not a lot of literature to be found for men with my condition. My doctor would like to remedy that by using me as a case study for some medical journals, but Ray and I have declined his offer.”
“Even if it would help out other people like you that are just as lost?”
“It’s a very private matter and I don’t feel like making my life an open book.”
“I met a man in a pub the night that we had our falling out and he said his brother in law was the same as you. That got me to thinking that I was an ignorant old fool and I needed to be more open minded. What this man said really hit home. It just took two months for it to finally sink in. He told me that the man he knew had killed himself. I wasn’t in the right mindset to come talk to you yet. I don’t know, I think I needed more information to fully understand what you were dealing with. Barbara, bless her heart and her amazing capacity for dealing with this fool of a man, has kept me informed of your progress and restrictions.”
“I won’t be allowed to return to work until after the baby arrives, but at least I’m no longer on complete bed rest.”
“Ben, I’d like to be a part of this baby’s life, if you and Raymond will still allow me.”
“Ray and I would like that very much.”
“When Ray was much younger, my father had a workshop similar to this and we used to tinker around in there building things. Just small do... dads like animal cut... outs for yard decorations. Ray was always in there helping out with little tasks like sanding down the rough edges and sweeping up piles of dust. But if you will let me and maybe help guide me, I’d like to build the baby a crib.”
Fraser smiled at the humble man before him. “I’d like that very much.”
“That’s a beautiful rocking chair you have there. May I help you finish sanding it?” Damien asked as he ran his hand over the back of the chair.
“It’s actually for you.” Fraser chuckled lightly and rubbed at his brow. “I uh… had one built already but it had an accident. So, I needed to start over. I think you will find this one much more fitting.”
“Barbara’s friends have been admiring your handiwork.”
“Yes, I’ve actually built several rocking chairs for her friends. Ray thinks I should begin a side business.”
“I could help with that. That’s what my father and I did. We never made enough money to get rich, but it was enough to take some family vacations. But then again, we never built furniture either.” Damien ran his hands along the edge of the chair again. “Do you think that you can forgive me, Benton?” Damien searched Fraser’s face, then looked away, ashamed.
Fraser was silent for several moments before he spoke softly.
“Do you think I could still call you Dad?” Damien blinked back tears.
"Yes," he managed. "Yes... I would like that very much." He stepped forward, and pulled Fraser into a tight embrace. Suddenly he was weeping. "I miss..." he broke down, "I miss the days when Ray was so little and all I had to do to make him happy was to pick him up.”
“He still loves you…” Fraser nodded towards the open door. Damien turned when he heard his son’s voice.
“He’s right, Dad… I do.”
Shrieking and a long string of expletives forced Fraser’s head to snap up from his book. Concern for his partner quickly replaced his confusion as he tossed his book onto the bed and struggled to stand up. At thirty weeks, he already felt like he was going to pop. It felt like he had a soccer ball stuffed inside his shirt. Easy mobility was becoming a thing of the past as he walked as quickly as he could to the source of the yelling.
“Ray,” he called with conviction. No answer. ‘Great. What the hell is going on?’ Fraser cursed inwardly as he made his way down the stairs. “Ray,” he called louder, seeking an answer from his partner as he made his way through the lower level of their home. He stepped through the doorway leading towards the downstairs bathroom and ran into a very angry Ray, backing his way out of the bathroom with a towel wrapped loosely around his waist. Fraser stumbled as Ray backed into him and caught himself on the wall.
“Fraser,” Ray spun so he was facing his startled partner. He jabbed Fraser in the chest with an index finger. “So help me, God, if your dad doesn’t knock it off, I’m going to… to… I don’t know what,” Ray threw his hands up in the air in frustration. “But so help me, I’m gonna do it!” He bent over and quickly picked up the towel that dropped from his waist.
Fraser scanned the hallway and cocked his head, slightly amused at his flustered partner. “Ray, I don’t see him anywhere around…”
“That’s right, you can’t see him,” Ray jabbed him again and stood nose to nose Ben. Fraser clutched at his chest mocking an injury. “‘Cause he just pops in and out on his own free will. Poof!” Ray’s hands flew up in the air and the towel fell to the floor again. “God, he’s annoying as fuck.”
Ben bent over and retrieved the forgotten towel. “That’s not annoying. If memory serves me correctly, that’s quite pleasurable.”
“Shut up… just shut up. You know what I mean.” Ray snatched the towel from Ben and wrapped it around his waist tightly.
“I do and I’m sorry. My father’s presence can come at the most inopportune times.”
Ray shook his fist in the air and drove it hard into his opposite palm. “He needs ground rules, Ben. This is when he can visit, this is how long he can stay. And he needs to give us some kind of warning.” Ray turned on his heels and called over his shoulder as he made his way into the kitchen. Fraser followed at a much slower pace. “No more popping up while I’m in the shower or while we are in the middle of sex.”
“That was merely a miscalculation on my part. Believe me, I won’t make that mistake again.” Bob Fraser’s ghost stood beside his son as Fraser buried his head in his hands. “You have no idea how tricky the timing is in the afterlife.”
“Could you at least knock?” Ray asked annoyed.
“Well, I tried that once but my hand went right through the wood.” Bob moved to the patio door and demonstrated. Ray clenched his own fists together. “Besides, it’s much more fun this way, don’t you think?”
“No. No... I don’t think this way is more fun. What is wrong with you?” Ray shot back.
Fraser couldn’t help but snicker at the argument his partner was having with his ghost of a father. Ray shot him a warning glance. "Although, if it was me in the shower, I'd probably be upset too."
“You know,” Bob continued, “Benton asks me that all the time. I believe he thinks I’m unhinged.”
“You are unhinged, Old Man.”
“Dad, what are you doing here?” Fraser asked trying to deflect the growing animosity Ray had towards his father.
“I came to check on the status of my rocking chair. I want to make sure it’s wide enough. I told you about my hips, didn’t I? It needs to be comfortable.”
“Oh because the bottom of a coffin really isn’t all that comfy, right?”
“Ray,” Fraser tried really hard to hold back his laughter. “You do realize you’re arguing with a ghost, right?” It seemed so much funnier to hear someone other than himself getting riled by his father.
“Your Yank is a little grouchy this morning, Benton.”
“Again, his name is Ray, you’re not getting a chair because you’re dead and it really is quite rude to pop in on someone first thing in the morning before they’ve had their coffee. Ray’s right, Dad. We need some ground rules if you are going to continue with your visits and the first one is wait until morning coffee has been consumed and all showers are complete.”
“Thank you, Ben,” Ray pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I’m just gonna go get dressed now.” Ray stopped as he passed the island and picked up the head of cabbage that was placed in the center of the island. “Seriously, Ben. Cabbage? I'm Polish, and you're trying to put me off cabbage? Try again, buddy.”
“You said you were getting tired of the fruit comparisons. The baby is the size of a small head of cabbage this week. Well,” Fraser rubbed his abdomen as the baby turned a somersault. “I'm not sure cabbage is the best comparison. I'm fairly certain it's closer to the size of a soccer ball.”
“Uh, Son,” Bob called as Ray made his way up the stairs. “You might want to consider a bigger towel.”
The late summer heat had finally given way to cooler fall temperatures and Fraser was eternally grateful. Surviving the heat of a Chicago summer was one thing, doing it pregnant was an entirely different matter. If he and Ray ever considered another child further down the road, and that was a big ‘if’ at this juncture, there would be some considerations to be made that included the best time of the year to actually be pregnant. Fraser was sure it wasn’t in the heart of the summer. Although Ray had pointed out the icy conditions of the sidewalks in winter that could be a hazard as well. ‘Was there ever a good time to be pregnant?’ he thought.
“You got the buns out?” Ray asked as he pulled the fresh pressed hamburgers from the refrigerator.
“Yes, I put them with the condiments out on the porch.”
“Ben…” Ray flustered. “Why are there condoms on the porch?”
“What?” Ben was confused and then understood what Ray was asking. “No condiments, Ray, like mustard, ketchup, relish, pickles.”
Ray blushed and blew out a breath. “For a minute there I thought you were trying to give Stella and Vecchio a little warning about what could happen when you… you know, aren’t prepared.” Ray added the slices of cheddar cheese to his tray with the napkins and forks. “Can you believe Vecchio finally proposed to her? I didn’t think he was ever going to get up the nerve.”
“I think it’s wonderful.” Fraser stated as he picked up the tray only to have Ray snatch it away from him.
“I do too, they’re great together. Took him long enough though. What?” Ray asked his frowning partner.
“You have to let me do something, Ray.”
“I did. You took the condommints out to the table.” Ray snickered at his own joke. Ben was not amused.
“You won’t let me do anything,” he griped. “I start to pour a glass of tea… you take the pitcher from me, I start a load of laundry… you shoo me away, I try to wash the dishes… you tell me to go sit down. It’s driving me batty. I have to do something besides remain idle for the next eight weeks.”
“What’s the harm in letting me do that stuff for you?”
“I’m not wired that way. I’m used to doing things for myself.” The ringing of the doorbell interrupted his rant.
“Fine,” Ray grinned before planting a kiss Ben’s lips. “You can get the door. It’s probably my dad.”
“No, your father’s been here for hours. He’s out in the shop working on the crib.” Fraser walked to the door and opened it for their friends.
Ray Vecchio and his soon to be bride, Stella were holding several containers of food and a coconut? “Ma sent her pasta salads with me, you want them in the kitchen?”
“Yes, that would be fine.”
“Ray told me about the fruit and veggie comparisons so I looked it up and I found out that this week the baby is the size of a large coconut.” Stella handed the object to Fraser who accepted it with a crooked smile.
“I’ll put it next to mine,” he said with a smirk and a wink. “Scare him into thinking we’re having twins.”
“Oh, Benny,” Vecchio laughed as he entered the home. “I didn’t think you had it in you to pull a prank on someone.”
Fraser cocked his head to the side and rubbed at his brow. “Living with Ray, I’ve learned a few things.” He ushered them into the kitchen and helped lay the food out onto the island countertop. At least his friends weren’t treating him like he was about to break. He rubbed at his abdomen when the baby somersaulted into a new position under his ribs, making breathing slightly more difficult. Fraser let out a slow shaky breath when the baby moved again.
“You okay, Benny?” Vecchio asked concerned when he fell silent. “You’ve got quite a grip on the countertop there.”
“Yeah… I’m fine,” he let out another long breath. “She’s very active today. She’s either playing around in there or she’s like Ray and just can’t settle into a comfortable position.”
“My money’s on she’s like Kowalski. Speaking of, where is he?” Vecchio asked as he scanned the living room.
“He took some things out back for the picnic.” Fraser motioned to the back yard with one hand while holding his stomach with the other. He wasn’t sure what was up with the baby but he hoped she found a comfortable position soon. He rubbed his stomach in an attempt to sooth her.
“I’m going to go see if he needs help. Frannie should be on her way with Ma. She wanted to drive separate in case Ma got tired and wanted to head home. Has anyone else arrived?”
“No, not yet. Well, Ray’s father is here. He’s out in the shop. Ray didn’t want it to be too overwhelming so he only invited a handful of people from the station. He just wanted to have a small party to celebrate your engagement.”
“You okay?” Stella asked. “You lost a little bit of color there.”
Fraser winced when the baby kicked out. “Phew, she’s a little wound up today. She’s usually not this active.” The doorbell rang again and Fraser moved to answer it but Stella stopped him. “You go outside and sit down and rest. I’ll get the door.”
Fraser reluctantly obeyed.
Over the course of the afternoon, their friends ate and laughed and celebrated the engagement of Stella and Ray Vecchio. Ray had been keeping a close eye on Ben who seemed to be getting increasingly more uncomfortable as the afternoon worn on. He stood behind Ben and wrapped his arms around his waist, lacing his fingers over the squirming baby in his belly. No wonder Ben was uncomfortable, she was like a gymnast tumbling all over her confined space.
“How about you go in and lay down for a bit?” Ray nestled his head on Fraser’s shoulder.
“Ray,” Fraser protested, “We have guests…”
“Who won’t even realize you’re gone. Just for an hour. The baby’s going crazy and you’re looking a little frazzled.” Ray rubbed Fraser’s belly and felt the baby kicking. He massaged in soothing circles trying to get her to calm down and settle for Fraser. “Wow, what is up with her today?”
Fraser took long deep breaths, breathing out slowly. At least all the baby’s activities weren’t painful, just extremely uncomfortable. He wished she would just settle. When she rolled again, he bit his lower lip. “Okay, I’m going to go lay down. Maybe that will help.”
“You can use that body pillow I bought you.” Ray gave him a quick kiss and helped him to his feet. He caught a concerned glance from Vecchio from across the yard and motioned for him to stay put. Ben didn’t need an audience. “Come on, I’ll help you upstairs.”
“No, you go mingle. I can manage.”
While Fraser made his way indoors to lie down, Ray found Vecchio with an arm wrapped around Stella by the old tire swing.
“Is Benny okay?” Vecchio asked concerned.
“Yeah, the baby’s just moving around a lot today and it’s getting to where Ben’s uncomfortable.” He motioned towards the house with his thumb over his shoulder. “He’s just going to go lie down for a little bit and hopefully the baby will relax.”
The few remaining guests made their way to Vecchio and Stella and wished them well and then thanked Ray for the party before departing.
“Well, Kowalski, looks like it’s just us. I know it was our party, but let us help you clean up.”
Ray scanned the large yard. “Hey, have you seen my dad lately?”
“Oh, I think he went back into Ben’s woodshop.” Stella offered. “He said he was almost finished with the crib and he wanted to get it done tonight.”
“Did he show it to you yet?” Ray asked. “Ben helped get him started, but he’s done almost all the work himself. It’s really going to be beautiful.”
“Can we see it?” Stella asked. “How great to have the bassinet from your grandfather and now a crib from your father.”
“My dad’s come a long way these past few months,” Ray admitted. “This whole thing has been difficult for him to accept. But, we’ve worked past all that.” Ray led the way into the workshop so Damien could show off the crib. “What do you think?”
“Damien this is gorgeous!” Stella beamed as she ran her hands carefully over the railing. “Wow, I’m impressed.”
“What, you think this old man forgot how to use a saw?” Damien jabbed at her playfully. “It has been a while, but Ben was a huge help showing me how to get started.” He turned to his son. “Where is he anyway? I’m all finished. It just needs to be stained. I wanted Ben to pick the color.”
“The baby was doing some serious somersaults, so he went to lay down for a bit. Hey, can you match it to Grandpa’s bassinet that he made?”
“Greatness! Thanks, Dad. It really is beautiful.” Ray pulled his father into a hug. “You do good work.”
“Okay, Damien, how about you go in and get freshened up while Stella and I help Ray clean up the backyard and then we can all sit and relax for the evening. Maybe Benny will be awake by then and will be up to joining us.”
“It is a gorgeous evening. The fall colors are spectacular this year and especially in your back yard with the sun setting through the trees. You have a beautiful home.”
“Thank you. I put in a bonfire pit if you want to stick around for a fire.”
Vecchio laughed and ran his hands over his balding head.
“What’s so funny?” Ray asked confused.
“Nothing. Just the last time I was around a fire, Benny had a serious concussion and we were lost in the woods.”
“Oh yeah, that whole plane going down thing. He told me about that. You had to carry him around because he lost the feeling in his legs.”
Vecchio looked rueful, and rubbed his shoulder. “Still get backache sometimes, thinking about it. Benny’s no lightweight.”
“Well, he’s lost some.”
“That’s true. We’ll have to fatten him up a bit. He nodded his head at the door. “Whaddaya say we take all the food in and start this fire up. I’ve got some Benny stories for you.”
Ray had a fire roaring in the open pit just off the porch, when Fraser cracked open the patio door and poked his head out.
“Hey, you’re awake.” Ray stood up quickly in case Ben needed help. “Dad, Ray and Stella stuck around for a fire. We’ve been swapping stories about you.” Ray held his hands up in a scout’s honor pose. “All good, I promise.”
Fraser apologized to his friends for sleeping so long but knew that both he and the baby needed the rest. She was much calmer and he could sit comfortably and breathe better now that she was settled.
Stella was wandering the yard admiring the late blooming perennial flowers. “Ray, do you mind if I pick a few?” She motioned towards the white daisies that had re... bloomed along with the purple cone... flowers.
“Nah, go ahead. I know they’re your favorite.” Ray sat back down and slid over on his double Adirondack chair, making room for Ben. “You want a start for Vecchio’s house, you’re more than welcome to dig some up in the spring.” Ray turned his attention to Ben. He had his legs bent with his knees in the air, allowing for some relief on his lower back. “How are you feeling? Baby calm herself down?”
“Yes, she has apparently worn herself out.”
Damien disappeared quietly into the house. He returned a few moments later with a throw pillow from the couch and offered it to Ben. “Here, Son, this will help.”
Ray smiled at his father’s gesture. “Thanks, Dad.”
Damien reclaimed his seat beside his son. “Too bad your mother isn’t here. It sure turned out to be a nice evening.”
“When she coming home?” Ray asked as he massaged Fraser’s belly. Ben was right, the baby wasn’t as active as she was just a couple of hours ago. Good.
“I’m to pick her up tomorrow afternoon.”
“Have you told her about the crib?” Ray asked. He grinned wide when the baby kicked him in the wrist.
“No, I wanted it to be a surprise. I was hoping to have it in the baby’s room before she got back, but I need to stain it and let it air out so the fumes aren’t too toxic for Ben.” Damien rolled his shoulders and then leaned back in his chair admiring the emerging stars. “Plenty of time . You’ve got what, eight weeks or so to go yet according to your coconut on the countertop. She’s anxious to get home to you boys. For some reason, she thinks that she’s missed something.”
That drew a chuckle out of a rather silent Fraser.
“I don’t get it,” Vecchio admitted. “Stella comes home from the store with a damn coconut and she says it’s for Benny. What the hell does a coconut have to do with a baby?”
Ray rolled his eyes and Ben happily ignored him. “In my pregnancy book, it gives a week by week comparison of a real life object to the size of the growing fetus. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew what a visual person Ray was and I read that at ten weeks, the baby was the size of a plum. So I bought a bunch of plums…”
“Which I will no longer eat, thank you kindly…”
“And every week, I present the new comparison. It’s turned into more of a running joke now.”
“Ah, I get it now.”
“Ray, you got any coffee?” Stella asked shivering a bit in crisp night air. Vecchio wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close.
“I’ll make a pot of coffee and bring you a blanket,” Fraser offered as he swung his legs off to the side of the chair. “I need to stretch my legs and baby is starting up her acrobats again. Remind me when she is old enough to enroll her in tumbling lessons.
Fraser closed the lid to the coffee canister after pouring the desired amount of grounds into the filter. He took a deep breath and held it before releasing it slowly. The baby was moving erratically again. He massaged his stomach and debated going back and lying down again. He switched the coffee pot to brew and went to retrieve an afghan for Stella. How could she be cold? To him, the temperature outside was perfect, but then again, he was like a human furnace at the moment at seven months pregnant. Seven months… where the hell did the time go?
Ben bent over to take a blanket out of the basket beside the couch when he felt the familiar taste of bile building in his mouth. It had been weeks since he had thrown up. He dropped the blanket and spun towards the bathroom, barely reaching the toilet before he lost the contents of his stomach. He coughed then retched again. The bathroom started to spin and Ben closed his eyes and rested his head on his forearm on the toilet seat. This was not very hygienic but he was too weak to stand. ‘Where was this coming from?’ he thought to himself. Perhaps he was coming down with the flu. He pressed a hand to his forehead. It was on fire. He managed to get to his feet and cooled a washcloth under running water in an attempt to cool himself down. It seemed to have the desired effect. The bathroom ceased spinning and Ben rinsed his mouth and slashed some more cool water on his face. He didn’t recognize the reflection in the mirror. He was as pale as a ghost.
Ben pressed a palm into his side when he felt some cramping. The baby was trying to tell him it was time to go lie down. “Yes, little one. I’m listening. Let me just take the coffee outside to daddy, grandpa and Uncle Ray and a blanket to Aunt Stella and then we will go lie back down.”
Consecutive beeps from the kitchen signaled the end of the brewing cycle. Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He seemed to be doing a lot of that today. He returned to the living room and picked up the discarded blanket, draping it over his forearm as he entered the kitchen. Another sharp pain in his side stopped him and he grabbed the edge of the counter in a tight grip. His heart was racing and his breaths were short and shallow. As quick as it came, the pain was gone. Ben breathed in deeply in an attempt to calm himself. He kept telling himself he just needed to go lie down and everything would be okay.
Vecchio stole a glance at his watch. “I’m going to go see what’s keeping Benny,” he offered. “Surely it doesn’t take your coffee pot more than twenty minutes to brew and if it does, then you need one like Stella gave me. Oh and remind me when I get back to tell you about a dream I had about Fraser and my Riv and how he ruined it again.”
Vecchio had just stepped through the patio doors into the living room when he heard a loud crash come from the kitchen. It sounded like something had shattered.
“Benny…” he called frantically. He ran to the kitchen and found the coffee pot and its contents splattered all over the kitchen flooring. Fraser’s feet were covered in hot coffee and the afghan had been dropped and was soaking up the coffee from the surrounding area. Fraser was doubled over, clutching his stomach with one hand and had a death grip on the countertop with the other.
“Oh my God… Benny, what’s wrong?” Vecchio was instantly at his side, guiding him over the discarded blanket and broken glass.
“It hurts,” Fraser forced out through clenched teeth. “The baby… get Ray, something’s… wrong.” He gritted his teeth together and screwed his eyes shut against the onslaught of pain.
“Ray!” Vecchio screamed, not wanting to leave Ben’s side. “Ray…” he hollered louder as he steered Fraser towards the couch. “Can you sit down?” Fraser pressed his lips together and sat gingerly on the arm of the couch. Vecchio held him steady with a solid hand on his shoulder as he called once again.
Kowalski met Vecchio at the patio door. The confusion in his eyes was quickly replaced with fear when he saw Fraser clutching his stomach on the arm of the couch. Ray was immediately at Fraser’s side holding his arm and rubbing his back.
“Benny needs a doctor or a hospital. Something’s wrong with the baby. You want me to call an ambulance?” he asked as he pulled out his cell phone.
“No, we can get there quicker. Grab my cell, will ya? I’ll call his doctor.”
Damien and Stella had wondered what all the commotion was and had left the bon fire to see what was going on. They entered the living room to find both Ray’s hovering over Fraser on the end of the couch.
“What’s going on? Oh my God!” Stella exclaimed, “Do you think he’s in labor?”
“I don’t know, grab my cell.”
“I’ll get it, Ray, where is it?” Stella offered.
“On the counter, by the toaster. Grab my wallet too, would ya?” Ray focused on Ben. “Do you think you’re having contractions? Does the pain come and go?”
“No,” Fraser grimaced in pain as he blew out a long breath. “No, it’s constant. Jesus, Ray… it hurts.” Fraser squeezed Ray’s hand hard.
Ray winced. “Ow… fuck, Ben, you’re gonna break my hand. Deep breaths, alright? We’re gonna get you to the hospital.”
Vecchio took the cell and wallet from Stella and gave her a quick kiss. “I’ll call as soon as I know something.” He handed Kowalski the items. “I’ll drive, you call the doctor.”
Damien tossed his keys to Vecchio. “Take my car, it will be easier for him to get in and out.”
“Stella and I will lock up. You take care of Ben.”
Of all the times for Doctor Logan to be on vacation, it had to be now. Ray cursed when he got the man’s receptionist. She said she would pass on the message but not to expect the doctor to cancel his plans. At least Doctor Allison was available and assured Ray his team would meet them in the emergency room and take them directly to the maternity floor.
“You need me to call anyone?” Vecchio asked as the nurses wheeled Fraser into an examination room.
A young nurse stopped Ray at the door and gave him a pile of papers to fill out on Ben’s behalf. “No, just…” Ray thought as he ran his free hand through his hair. “Jesus, what’s happening?”
“Hey, it’s gonna be okay. Benny’s strong. I’m going to go call Stella let her know we are here.”
By the time Ray got all of the admission paperwork complete, the nurses had Ben in a hospital gown and hooked up to a heart rate monitor for both him and the baby.
“This monitor,” she explained as she slid it under his back and pulled it across his stomach, “will tell me if you are having any contractions and how far apart they are occurring, which in turn will tell me if you are in active labor or if something else is going on.” She scanned Fraser’s medical chart. “Says here you are at approximately thirty two weeks. And looks like at twenty three weeks you were in for contractions which we were able to stop with the Magnesium Sulfate.”
All Ray heard was active labor. Labor? Panic set in as he frantically searched his brain for the information from the pregnancy book. What did it say about early labor? Weren’t there key organs still forming like the lungs? What are the odds of survival if baby arrives at thirty two weeks?
“No,” Ray broke the silence in the room. “No, it’s too early. You have to stop it. Give him that drug again, Magnesium Sulfate. That worked last time.”
“We need to see if he is having contractions first, Mister Kowalski. If that is the case, then we will certainly try and stop the labor.”
Fraser’s breathing was erratic and his heart rate was all over the charts. He had a death grip on the bed railing, twisting the immobile bars between his clenched fists. Ray decided it was better the bar than his own hand that was taking the punishment.
The nurse studied the monitor and made a face. “Can I get you to roll over to your back so I can exam you?”
“I can’t… hurts too much,” he ground out, his eyes still screwed shut tightly.
“Ben,” Ray spoke softly, “Come on, I’ll help you.” Fraser released the railing with one hand and Ray helped him roll to his back.
“God it hurts,” he exclaimed as he pressed a hand into his stomach.
“Labor usually does,” the nurse chimed in.
‘No shit, lady,’ Ray thought as he held onto Ben’s hand.
“On a scale of one to ten, where is your pain?”
Fraser pushed his foot into the bed and curled his toes when she inserted a lubed pinky finger into his minute opening to check for dilation.
“Oh God…” He gasped, breathing in and out quickly, on the brink of hyperventilating. “It feels like you lit a railroad tie on fire… Jesus… ” He tried to take a calming breath but the pain was too intense. “Feels like you nailed it into my stomach,” Ben clenched his teeth together and squeezed Ray’s hand. “God… about a ninety five on your scale.” He took another deep breath when she removed her finger and patted his leg, telling him he could put them down. He immediately rolled back to his side to lessen the onslaught of the next contraction.
“What were you checking for?” Ray asked. And then… like a two ton brick... it hit him. Allison was trying to get Ben to deliver naturally.
“I was checking to see how dilated he is… but I’m a little concerned that his contractions are far too close together and he’s not dilating quickly enough. His opening is much different than what I’ve encountered before.”
“No, no no no no… He’s supposed to have a c... section. It’s not possible for him to have the baby naturally. He doesn’t have a normal opening like women do.”
“What?” The nurse was now fumbling through the notations in Fraser’s chart, suddenly concerned. “That’s not what his chart says. It says he is to labor until all efforts have been exhausted… but this makes no sense...”
Ray was going to kill Allison with his bare hands.
“Ray,” Ben groaned. “What’s happening?”
“Shh, Ben, it’ll be alright.”
Ben squeezed his eyes shut. He was having trouble remembering what he was doing in the hospital. He couldn’t remember how to breathe. Between one contraction and the next, there was nothing but a world of pain.
He tried to focus on the world outside. There was Ray, his blond, disheveled head bending over him. His voice was anxious as he spoke.
“Deep breaths, Ben... deep breaths.” Ray turned to the nurse, “He’s in a lot of pain, isn’t there something you can give him?”
The nurses seemed to be ignoring him.
“Where is Doctor Allison?” The woman who had just checked Ben asked her colleague. “Someone page him.”
“No need, I’m right here. How are we doing?” Allison was suddenly there, appearing in the room as if by magic. He tucked Fraser’s chart underneath his arm and slipped on a pair of latex gloves.
Ben groaned, just at the sight of him. He wished it had been Logan.
“Shh, Ben.” Ray’s voice was calm, though Ben knew better from the tightness of his face. “It’s going to be fine.”
Ben squeezed his hands around Ray’s, and Ray squeezed back.
“What’s this the nurse said,” Ray spoke up. “She says Ben’s got to try for a natural delivery till he’s exhausted or something.”
“Exhausted all other options,” the doctor said, blithely.
“Exhausted all...” Ray’s voice was getting higher pitched as his anger rose. “I thought he had a choice? He said no, he said he wanted a caesarian. What the fuck are you trying to prove?” he squeezed Ben’s hand harder. “We told you we stopped doing those exercises. Why is he in a delivery room?”
Doctor Allison gave as dismissive a look as he had ever managed, and moved down to the bottom of the bed, between Ben’s legs. “Because,” he said, dryly, “Ben is having a baby.”
“I know that,” Ray yelled. “And he is supposed to be having a Caesarean.”
“Let’s just take a look.” Allison sounded far too calm. Ben’s whole body was seizing up, clenching down toward the moment of another contraction, and Allison, damn him, damn him, damn him, was inserting a gloved finger into Ben’s.... opening.
“Oh, God, stop him, Ray.” Ben heard himself moaning, and would have been humiliated, but everything hurt so damn much. The exercises had been bad enough, but now, with his whole body bearing down against his will, it felt like the man’s latex clad index finger was a red hot poker stabbing right inside of him. Ben didn’t even feel the tears on his face, even as Ray wiped them away. “Stop it, please, make him stop.”
For a blissful moment, the contraction eased, and the intrusion in his body passed. Doctor Allison had removed his finger. Ben didn’t question why, he simply closed his eyes and thanked God, or whoever was listening.
Then, as the room came back to him, he heard scuffling. He turned his head on the pillow. From the corner of his eye, he could see Allison being shoved, bodily, toward the door. He could see Ray’s back, one shoulder raised, an elbow drawn back, a clenched fist. He could hear raised voices... Ray, Allison, other voices in the hallway. Someone must be calling for security guards. He heard and saw all that, and then...
It was snowing in the delivery suite. His body was still pushing, still trying to deliver itself of its burden, but even the pain was far away. The cold was so calm, so soothing...
Ben stepped into the snow.
One minute Ray was fighting ... pushing Allison out of the delivery suite, one fist raised to fly…
And then the bottom fell out. Fraser’s blood pressure dropped right along with his heart rate. Alarms were ringing in Ray’s ears. For a moment he thought he was hallucinating ... bells, and whistles, and fucking angels applauding his very reasonable decision to beat Allison’s face into a bloody pulp ... then he realized that the machines in the room behind him were all crashing and clanging, and saying something was very, very wrong.
He stepped back from Allison and released him ... he had just been holding him by the throat.
“What the hell is going on?” he asked. Allison went pale.
“Oh my God,” he said, and pushed past him, straight into the room.
And that was it. Door slammed in his face, security guard pressing him up against the wall, and all he could do was ... wait outside.
“Sit down,” the guy said, when it was obvious that Ray had stopped yelling, wasn’t foaming at the mouth, and didn’t need to be arrested or sedated. “Let them do what they’re doing.”
“What are they doing?” Ray could barely hear himself over the thunder in his ears.
“They’re trying to save your boyfriend,” the guy said. “And I guess your baby. Though I don’t know how that works.”
The man had a slightly dismissive tone to his voice, and normally Ray would have bridled at it… but for now, he simply sagged against the wall defeated, and watched through the window, as Allison worked. After about ten minutes, one of the nurses turned, and drew the curtains. They were beige.
Of course they were. The whole damn world was beige.
There were voices in the snow.
“I caught this morning morning’s minion...”
Ben ignored it, and waded on through the hip... deep white.
“Dapple dawn... drawn Falcon in his riding.”
Nothing. The words meant nothing to him at all anymore. He was looking for someone else.
He didn’t know who.
A lupine shadow bounded around the roots of the tallest pines at the edge of the forest. It dashed through the mounds of unending snow across the flat terrain before coming to a full stop at the base of the hill Ben was descending. It yipped once, turned a full circle and yipped again.
“Diefenbaker,” Ben called, quickening his pace down the hill. Ben struggled in the deep snow, but trudged ahead to greet his fallen companion, his lost friend. Dief managed the snow as if he had never left the Great White North. He bounded forward with great speed, tongue hanging out to the side. Ben tripped and stumbled. Diefenbaker was there in an instant, catching his fallen friend. They rolled in the snow, tears freezing in the bitter cold and laughter breaking the vast silence. Diefenbaker pinned Ben to the ground and licked playfully at his face and for once, Ben let him. He wrapped his heavy arms around the wolf’s thick neck and buried his face in the Dief’s scruff.
“I’ve missed you, Diefenbaker,” Ben whispered into the blowing wind. Dief yipped and understood. Ben smiled as he pulled himself to his feet. From Dief’s response, it was obvious that he could hear again. Dief nudged him in the knee and Ben gave the lupine another rub behind the ears. He still had someone to find. “You coming?” he asked his companion. Diefenbaker fell into step beside him, just like old times. Only difference this time… Ben had his hand twisted in the thick fur of his lupine friend, offering the occasional rub behind the ear.
There. He turned. “Dad?”
In the midst of the storm, he saw a silhouette. A man bundled up in layers of bulky woolens and furs. The figure was hunched protectively around whatever it was in its arms.
“Dad, is that you?”
“Benton.” His father’s voice, clear despite the storm. “I have someone I want you to meet.”
Ben dipped his head and looked.
“She can’t live without you Ben. Not this little. Don’t do what I did. Don’t leave her alone.”
“Mister Kowalski?” The nurse’s voice cut through his daze, and he lurched upright… somehow he had slid down the wall, and had been sitting on the floor. “Mister Kowalski, I’m sorry. It’s… it’s not good news. But… but you can go in now.”
“What do you mean it’s not good news?” Ray’s voice was hoarse, as though he’d been screaming or crying, possibly both.
“I mean… well, your partner is in surgery. But… your little girl is on life support. You can go and see her now.”
And that is how Ray first saw Chloe. The first time, and, for all he knew the last time. Lying in a glass box, with tubes sticking out of everything.
“Oh, God.” He reached through the hole in the box and tentatively touched her hand with one finger, and she clenched her fist around it. He choked back a sob and then let the tears flow. “Oh, God.”
The nurse cleared her throat, and spoke sympathetically. “All her organs are intact, she seems developmentally normal. Just, she’s very little.”
“Can I… can I hold her?”
Behind him a man’s voice spoke up, gruff and tired.
“Let him hold her,” Allison said. “Skin to skin contact. It can only do her good.”
Oh. Skin to skin… yes. Ray had read about this. Numbly, his fingers fumbled with his buttons, then the nurse was passing him little Chloe, and then...
Then she was up against his chest, and she snuffled, and...
Oh sweet Jesus.
She opened her eyes.
Blue as Ben’s, blue as the start of a new morning. Just... perfect.
Ray felt something tugging at his heart. A love that he’d never known he’d had in him, different from anything he had ever felt before.
He dipped his head, and kissed the fluff of her hair.
Oh God. I’m a Dad.
If only Ben was with him, this moment would be perfect.
But Ben was not with him.
Ben didn’t know how long the dream went on. He did know that it was cold, but that finally faded to warmth. His father was holding him, as he had wanted him to, all those long lonely years of childhood, that Dief was pressed up warm against his leg, panting and wagging his tail. And that, cradled in his arms, was the child he had never known he needed but now could not live without.
“You go back now,” Bob said. “Share her with Ray. You’ll be good parents. Better than I ever was.”
“No, Dad,” Ben’s voice cracked. “You were the best father a man could have. I love you.”
“I know, Son.” Bob’s voice was fading. “And I you.”
When Ben opened his eyes, the snow had all melted away. He was in a room with one bright window, a pot of flowers on the sill and... Ray.
Ray, sitting in a shabby hospital rocking chair, staring down at a bundle in his arms.
A little pink hand flailed up from the bundle, and Ben’s heart caught in his throat.
“Ray,” he whispered. “Chloe.”
Ray lifted his head, his eyes bright with exhaustion, vivid against his pale face. “Ben,” he replied. “Oh, God, Ben. You’re awake. I thought you were gone.”
Ben reached out, and grasped Ray’s free hand, drawing him close. “I would never leave you,” he managed to say. Ray stood from the chair and moved closer so Ben could get a closer look at their daughter. With fumbling fingers, Ben caressed Chloe’s face, tracing, as lightly as he could, the delicate curves of her cheek. “I would never leave either of you. I’m here to stay.”
Ray pressed his face against him, and kissed.
“Thank God,” he said.
Ben tried to lift his arms, to hug his family, but his hands dropped heavily to his sides.
“No, you stay put,” Ray whispered. “Don’t try and move just yet. We’ll come to you.”
And then, somehow they were together, Ray perched on the edge of Ben’s bed. Ray leaned forward and carefully laid their daughter on Ben’s chest, her tiny head resting under his chin. Ben raised his hand and held her in place over his beating heart. Chloe did what babies do… snuffling and squeaking and snuggling under his hand, barely opening her eyes.
But when Ben looked at her, then looked across at Ray, he realized something. Something so important he couldn’t find the words.
For the first time in his life, he was happy. Deeply, profoundly happy.
And for the first time he was home.
Ray kissed his daughter’s head lightly as he placed another thin blanket over her tiny body. Chloe fussed and squirmed until Ben placed his hand protectively over her back, holding her tightly against his chest. She snuggled under her father’s familiar touch and fell silent as he rubbed his hand soothingly up and down her back. She had her knees pulled up and tucked tightly underneath herself as she drifted off to sleep.
“Thank you,” Ben whispered as Ray dropped a kiss to his head. “I couldn’t reach a blanket and she was getting chilly.” Ray slid the ottoman towards Fraser and helped him lift his feet onto it to relieve the strain on his abdomen. Fraser grimaced and made a face against the pain.
“You okay?” Ray asked concerned as he rubbed Ben’s legs.
“Yeah,” he shifted gingerly in the rocking chair, careful not to disturb Chloe or put too much pressure on his stomach. “It’s just everything still hurts, a lot more than I thought it would after two weeks.”
“That’s why Doctor Allison told you… you can’t do anything yet. All you are allowed to do is sit and love on Chloe. You had major surgery, Ben, it’s not going to heal overnight.”
“I can’t believe she’s finally home with us.”
Ray smiled in return. He couldn’t believe it either. Doctor Allison had discharged Ben after four days with orders to lift nothing and get plenty of rest. He was to stay off his feet at all times. He reminded Ben on more than one occasion that inactivity was his best healing medicine at the moment. Ray had taken Ben to the hospital every day, where they were allowed to sit in the nursery and bond with Chloe until it was safe for her to go home as well. Developmentally she was doing well, but her tiny stature left the doctor wanting her to gain some weight before leaving the safety net of the hospital.
Ben went to sleep every night with the cordless phone next to his pillow. He felt like his world had been shattered when he had to leave the hospital and leave her behind. Then finally after two agonizing weeks, Doctor Logan announced that Chloe could go home.
Ray Vecchio and Francesca had planned a get together for the homecoming, but Ben had asked his Ray if they could wait a few days to adjust to being home with Chloe. It didn’t stop them from visiting, but at least it wasn’t a house full of people all at one time.
“What time is everyone coming over?” Ben asked feeling apprehensive and suddenly exhausted. He still had trouble maneuvering without experiencing any pain.
“I think in about an hour. You want to go lay down for a bit? I can take Chloe and then wake you when they get here,” Ray offered as he gathered a stack of folded baby clothes in his arms to put away.
“No, I was just wondering how long before I have to share her. She’s so little, Ray…”
Ray smiled following Ben’s train of thought. “She’s not going to break, Ben.”
“I know that… I just don’t want… I’m not ready to share her.” Ben scooted Chloe further up his chest and placed butterfly kisses atop her head. She squeaked in response and opened her mouth in a silent yawn. “She’ll be ready to eat soon.”
“You mind if I do that?” Ben and Ray both startled as Ray Vecchio appeared in the entrance to the living room. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you,” he apologized quickly. “I uh… knocked but no one answered and I knew you would be expecting us soon. Didn’t want to ring the bell in case Chloe was sleeping.”
“That’s okay, Ray.” Fraser smiled, and glanced at his Ray for agreement. “If anyone was going to turn up early, I’d sooner it was you.”
Vecchio stepped into the living room and made his way over to Ben in the rocking chair. “She’s beautiful, Benny.”
“Thank you,” Ben whispered as he pressed a light kiss into Chloe’s sandy wisps of hair.
“I’m going to run these clothes up to her room and put them away,” Ray picked up the stack of clothing he had dropped when Vecchio arrived. ‘Give Ben some privacy with his best friend.’ Fraser nodded and shifted in the chair. After fussing in Chloe's room for as long as he could stand to be away from her, Ray started back down the stairs.
“Stella didn’t come with you?” Fraser asked while rubbing a hand down Chloe’s back. She was beginning to fuss and root around his neck. “Shh,” he whispered trying to sooth her as her squeaks turned into more vocal whimperings.
“I’ll make a bottle,” Ray called as he came down the stairs.
Vecchio took a seat on the couch across from Ben. “No she’s coming with Frannie. Something about a surprise.” Ben raised his eyebrows and Vecchio held up his hands. “Don’t ask me, all I know is they went shopping today.”
Ray returned to the living room with a bottle for Chloe and was about to hand it to Ben when Vecchio spoke up.
“Can I feed her?” He blushed and folded his arms across his chest nervously. It had been a while since he had held a baby and never one so tiny. “You know, when the girls get here they’re going to want to hold her because all women want to love on the babies and I won’t…”
“Get a chance?”
“Yeah.” Vecchio smiled. “And I am her handsome uncle after all.”
Ray rolled his eyes. “Fishing for compliments? You are insecure.”
Vecchio quirked a grin, but didn’t say anything, as he scooped her up in his arms. Fraser bit back the urge to tell his friend to remember to support her neck. Of course, Vecchio knew what he was doing. He was an Italian family man after all.
“She’s gonna have to grow into that t-shirt I got her.” Vecchio gave Kowalski a teasing smile as he settled onto the couch and began to feed his newest niece. “We got a letter from Chloe Wells’ aunt and uncle. Stella has it with her to give to you. She wanted to let us know that Chloe is adjusting and doing well.”
Ray rubbed Ben’s shoulder. “Good, we were wondering how she was doing.”
Vecchio grew silent and just smiled down at the infant cuddled in his arms. “Benny,”
“Are you really going to retire?” Vecchio’s green eyes watered as he looked from the baby to his friend.
Fraser stared over his friend’s shoulder at the ghost standing by himself in the corning of his living room. Bob Fraser smiled at his son and shook his head approvingly.
“Yes,” Ben said quietly as he squeezed Ray’s hand. “I think it’s time to move on.”
“We’ll always hold a spot for you, if you’re ever ready to come back,” Vecchio promised.
The house was filling up with Vecchios, and Kowalskis, and noise. For a moment, Fraser was overwhelmed by it all… then he smiled, and gazed down at the child in his arms.
He would never have imagined this could be his life ... never have imagined this bustle, and vividness. It was so different from the wild emptiness of his childhood. So different from anything he had ever planned.
It’s been said that life would be easier if it followed a script.
Ben thanked God it didn’t.