This was a back-up fic for the Angst v Romance contest at ds_flashfiction
a wee bit back. I hope it entertains :)Title
: And All Through the HouseAuthor
: Team RomancePrompt
: multiple (back-up): Not a plan, exactly – more like a strategy; Like toothpaste and orange juice – two great tastes that don’t go together at all; That’s because you’re not pushing hard enough; I should be so lucky.Pairing(s)
: General spoilers through to S2; AU after Flashback
; kid!fic! Possible OOC moments, but in my head, where the extended story lives, the boys all make perfect sense. Have insulin on hand for fluff overload.Summary
: It’s Christmas Eve. Can Ben and Ray get any happier?Author’s Notes
: Huge thanks to brynnmck
for the stellar Beta work and slidellra
for her enthusiastic support. Any mistakes left within the text are my own.
“HURRY UP DADDY! It’s ON!”
Ava snuggled closer into Ray’s side, pulling her pink crocheted comforter practically up to her nose, wriggling with glee as Cindy Lou Who appeared on the TV screen. From the kitchen, in the back of the house, a muffled ‘Coming!’ came from Ben, followed almost immediately by the sound of spoons being dropped into mugs.
Ray tucked the soft wool blanket under his little girl’s legs, his attention wandering from the warm bundle of toddler under his arm, the muted rustle of Ben’s puttering in the pantry and the cartoon he’d watched a million times before, in Christmases long past.
But this Christmas was nothing like the ones of his childhood, or those he’d shared with Angie or his nieces and nephews. For the first time in six years, since the night some annoying Mountie from icy ruins of Canada had strolled into a holding cell and blew hot-as-hell Detective Armani’s cover, he felt, down in his soul, he was home.
Six Christmases. Some shared with Fraser, his friend; blessedly more shared with Benny, his lover, his heart. This, their second Christmas as a family, and their first in a new home, a house almost as large as Vecchio central, and a back yard worthy of screaming kids and overfed, citified arctic wolves.
Ava floundered out from her blanket and up on her knees, craning to see over the back of the sofa, to the doorway that led to the kitchen. Dark wavy hair glimmered in the light of the TV. She sighed, her green eyes - more serious than any four year old’s should ever be - barely blinking as she stared at the threshold. “He’s missing it, Papa. We need to watch it together
!” Ray looked with her, towards the kitchen, about to shout out his own ‘Get in here, already!’ to Fraser when he finally appeared.
“I’m here,” he said breathlessly, navigating around Diefenbaker, who was passed out and in wolf heaven in front of the fireplace. Orange-yellow flame cast warm fingers of light through the wrought iron grating and onto the polished hardwood floor. Candles, smelling of cinnamon and ginger, glowed from the mantle and from the hurricane lamps nestled on corner tables and the hall butler in the entryway, adding to the ambient glow. Easing down next to Ava, he carefully set a serving tray down on the coffee table. Three hot chocolate-filled mugs shared saucer space with almond cookies and shortbreads, which were generously drizzled with vanilla glaze. Fresh whipped cream crested high over the rims of the cups, the fluffy waves dressed with sprinkles of cinnamon sugar and freshly grated chocolate. With a grin, Ben passed one of the mugs to her. “Two hands, love,” he advised. “And be careful; it’s quite warm.”
“Thank you Daddy,” Ava replied, the words barely making it through her wide smile. Ben kissed the top of her head before handing a mug to Ray. “Sorry for the delay. I had no idea it would take that long to melt the chocolate. A drop in atmospheric pressure can affect the melting and boiling points of many substances, and I do recall hearing a weather report that stated flurries could be expected tonight...”
“Benny, enough.” Ray reached an arm over their daughter’s head and slid a hand over Fraser’s shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Enjoy the show. You’re missing the world’s most ambitious B&E artist in action.”
So they sat and watched as the Grinch pilfered presents, absconded with coloured lights and tree ornaments and wreaths – stealing from all the Whos in Whoville, even after toddling sweet Cindy Lou back to bed with her water – and making poor Max haul the laden sleigh back to his lair. Ava nearly spilled her hot chocolate, diving under her blanket to hide when the Grinch pulled out the whip and snapped it at Max. Ray managed to grab the cup before it hit the floor. With Ben’s help, he talked her out just in time to see the Grinch’s heart grow by three and Max get his slice of roast beast.
As the credits began to scroll across the screen, Ava hopped down from the sofa, blanket in tow, and hunkered down in front of the fire with Dief. The wolf stirred, placing a lazy lick across her nose. “Papa, can we hang our stockings now?”
we hang our stockings now,” Ben gently corrected. He piled the empty mugs and saucers back onto the tray and headed back towards the kitchen. “I believe I put them in the trunk, by the stairs, Ray.”
Ray nodded. “We sure can
, little one.” He smiled, hearing Ben call out ‘May
!’ in mock irritation. With grand seriousness, he checked his watch. “We better hurry. By my calculations, Santa is over Michigan, which means he’ll be here in a couple of hours.”
Ava squealed in delight. Dief joined in with a yowl of his own, the two of them close on Ray’s heels as he went to retrieve the stockings.
They were, of course, exactly where Ben said they would be, still wrapped in tissue paper from the embroiderer’s shop. Ray handed the bundle to Ava, who tsked
Dief for sticking his nose between the crinkly vellum sheets. Ben was waiting for them by the fireplace, a small cardboard box at his feet. “Go ahead, honey. Pick the one you like.” Inside was a pile of shining, carved wood. Ava frowned, carefully sticking her hand into the box. Gingerly, she pulled one gleaming form from the rest, her eyes lighting up with glee. A wooden snowman, complete with jaunty top hat and black painted coal eyes sat mounted on a sturdy platform of lacquered maple. A brass hook curved down from one side. “Pretty!” she enthused, holding it up for Ray to see. “What’s it for?” Ben lifted it from her hands and set the base down onto the mantle. “It holds your stocking on the fireplace. Go get your stocking.” With Ray’s help, she found her sock among the pile of crimson velvet in his lap. White wool trimmed the tops of the socks, their names stitched in crimson thread on the field of white. Ben lifted her into his arms so that she could slide her stocking over the brass hook. It hung there, perfectly, in the middle of the mantle.
“What do you say to dad?” Ray prompted. Ava threw her arms around Ben’s neck and gave him a huge hug, kissing him on the cheek. “Thank you daddy!” Ben squeezed her back. “You’re welcome, love.” His eyes glimmered in the firelight and Ray felt his heart swell at the sight of tears welling in his big strong Mountie’s eyes. He didn’t think he could love Benny more than at this very moment. He had his own family now, lived in his own house - not his father’s, which, though he’d technically owned it, was one last legacy of his old man’s that he felt he needed to be free from.
Free. That’s how he felt. He had a child, a mortgage, and a wolf that sometimes snored at night, but he couldn’t remember having felt this free and content.Jesus, I’m becoming such a wuss.
Before he started making tears himself, Ava disengaged her stranglehold on Ben and wriggled to the floor. “Yours now! I pick the hangers!”
In short measure, all the stockings were in place. “I can’t believe you had time to carve all these,” Ray said, sliding his arm around Ben’s waist, smiling when Ben encircled his. “They’re amazing.”
“Thank you. They didn’t really take all that long. I did them in turn with –“
Ray quieted him with a soft press of his lips on Ben’s mouth. “SH! There are spies present.”
Ben grinned. “Understood.”
Ava looked at the mantle, then back at the box. “Daddy, there’s one left.”
Ava pulled another hanger out of the box. It was a small angel, her wings folded, her head bent in prayer. Tissue paper crackled as Dief nosed out another stocking. No name was stitched in the wool.
“Yeah.” Ray followed the tip of her tiny finger as she called the roll from the mantle. “Daddy, with the penguin holder, Papa, with sleigh horse, me, Diefenbaker with the reindeer, and Harry, with the tree.”
As if on cue, a large, black cat padded silently into the room. He flicked his tail in Dief’s direction and headed straight for the pile of discarded tissue paper, kneading it with his paws until it was soft enough to sleep on. Ray knew that Benny rarely did anything without some kind of reason and the care that went into carving the angel...
With a clap of his hands, Ben broke Ray’s train of thought. “Now that the task is complete, I think we should set out some milk and cookies for Santa, because it is way past someone’s bedtime and she still needs to take a bath...”
With more cooperation than Ray thought a four-year old hyped on sugar and Santa could muster, Ava collected a clean plate and cup for Santa’s cookies and milk, even adding a dish of carrots to the offering for Rudolph and his friends. Gathering her pink blanket, she scurried up the stairs to her bedroom to prepare for her bath. “Benny,” Ray whispered while they followed in the wake of their daughter. “Any idea how we calm her down enough to fall asleep?” He checked his watch. It was after nine. “We still go the you-know-what to bring up from the basement, the stockings to stuff and some prep for dinner tomorrow. Plus, Ma wants to be there early for midnight mass, but I don’t want to leave if Ava’s still awake.”
Ben nodded. “I have a few things in mind, Ray. It’s under control.”
A slipper sailed across the hallway towards the bathroom, almost making it to the tile by the pedestal sink. Ray looked at his lover, dubious. “You have a plan for this?” A second slipper followed the trajectory of the first. Ben plucked it neatly out of the air.
“Not a plan, exactly – more like a strategy.”+
As non-plans went, his Benny was a genius.
Ava was thrilled to learn that, because it was Christmas Eve, she could have bubble bath added to the tub. Ray drew the bath while Ava and Ben poured sweet-smelling bubble soap under the streaming faucet. The fragrance of jasmine and chamomile filled the air in the steamy room. Ava made soap bubble snowmen while Ben shampooed her hair, giggling hysterically when her Papa nearly soaked Daddy with the hand shower, trying to rinse the suds from her thick, dark hair.
Once dressed in her pyjamas (pink long johns, of course), she knelt with Ray by the side of her bed and said her prayers. The soothing, sleepy herbs from the bath were starting to have an effect. Crawling under the covers, she yawned as Ben started to read her bedtime story. Ray listened to the soft, strong voiced he loved beyond the telling start reciting...
“T’was the night before Christmas, and all through the house...”
By the time Ben got to the part with the prancing and pawing of little hooves on the roof, Ava’s eyes had grown heavy and were starting to close, and at the ‘Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!’, she’d fallen into a deep, peaceful sleep.
After making sure the covers were tucked snugly under her chin, they carefully tip-toed out of her room. Harry passed them on his way in, weaving a path through their legs on his way to the foot of Ava’s bed. The only sounds in the dimly lit room were the soft susurrations of the little girl’s breathing and the rusty rumble of the big cat’s purr.
“Benny, that was unbelievable. I thought for sure the sugar’d keep her up all night. We need to have you start recording bedtime stories on tape. With that voice of yours, we’d make a fortune...”
“Ray, please,” Ben chided, trying for modesty. The pink flush that crept over his cheeks betrayed his happiness at Ray’s praise. “The aromatherapy with the bath was the key. Chamomile flowers and jasmine oil are known to have a very soothing, calming effect on the nerves. Both can be found in many formulations of aptly named ‘Bed Time’ teas...”
“Would you stop?” They’d made it back to the living room. Ray pulled Benny down next to him on the sofa. He cupped his lover’s cheek in his hand, his thumb stroking the soft fullness of Ben’s lower lip. “Just accept the fact you’re a great dad. That little girl loves you, you know.”
“Loves us both,” Ben corrected, leaning in to Ray’s caress. “She adores you. I adore you...”
“Now that’s what I’ve been waiting all night to hear.”
Their kiss was slow, gentle. Ben’s lips pressed warmly onto Ray’s, their mouths fitting perfectly together. Liquid heat pooled in his belly, urging him closer to Ben, needing to hold him, to feel him against his chest, his skin, just... needing him
Ben’s hands slid over his arms to his shoulders, where they worried the wrinkled cotton of his dress shirt. Butter-soft flannel rose and fell under Ray’s palms as he braced himself against Ben’s chest, his fingers fumbling with the buttons, parting the plaid until he reached the Henley beneath the warm fabric.
“Ray,” Ben murmured, moaning as his lover took the opportunity to slide the tip of his tongue into his mouth. “No, hold... Ray...”
.” Ray moved to nuzzle Fraser’s neck, planting a row of kisses from the curve of his ear to the collar of the Henley. “I’ve only been fantasizing about this all day...”
“Ray, it’s almost ten o’clock.”
Ray whipped his head up. The small grandfather clock in the hallway started chiming. “Damn, I’m late!”
Scrabbling to his feet, he started pacing around the living room. “There’s so much left to do! I told Ma I’d be there by eleven, and we still have to bring the you-know-what up from the basement –“
Ben levered off the sofa and attempted to intercept the pacing Italian. “She’s asleep, Ray. You can say it out loud now.”
Ray flashed him an irritated look. “The doll cabin
,” he supplied. He rubbed his hands over his head. “We still have some presents to wrap, I need to clean up and change, and we’re in charge of bringing all the antipasto for supper tomorrow and you know that Ma likes to start eating right at two –“
“- And I don’t care what you say, pouring maple syrup over salmon does not
sound delicious – “
“- No matter how long you say you bake it for –“
“- I mean, salmon: yes. Maple syrup: yes. But together? That’s like… Like toothpaste and orange juice — two great tastes that don't go together at all, and God knows how Ma will react…”
“Ray, stop. Take a breath.”
Ray stopped. He breathed. It helped.
“Now,” Ben started, taking steadying hold on Ray’s hands. “First, we go to the basement and get the you-know-what –“
“Yes. Doll cabin. We bring the doll cabin upstairs and start assembling it under the tree...”
The tree in question was a very large northern pine, almost nine feet tall, and much shorter than the vaulted ceilings of the main floor. It was placed, kitty corner, between the front picture window and some built-in bookshelves. Hundreds of tiny, multicoloured lights twinkled among the branches, casting small rainbows of light on the window.
“Once that’s underway, you go upstairs, get cleaned up and change your clothes. When you get back from mass, I will have the wrapping paper and ribbons out for the last few presents that need to be done. Now, take another breath...”
Ray did as he was told.
“And kiss me.”
Ray blinked. Then did as he was told. Again.
An irritated growl came from the general vicinity of the fireplace. Diefenbaker slunk out of the room in quiet protest of their very overt display of affection.
“He’s such a prude,” Ray quipped.
“You okay now?”
Ray smiled. “Yeah. Thanks. Reason three million and twelve why I love you. You know how to calm my ass down.”
Still holding Ray’s hands, Ben pulled him towards the kitchen, steering him to the basement door. In short measure, they had both halves of the doll cabin up and under the tree, along with two boxes of hand-carved furniture and other accessories.
Ray whistled in awe. “This is incredible, Benny. I know you’re handy with a Skil Saw and carving knife, but this blows my mind. A nine-room log cabin with a formal dining room, and...” He peered closely at the chambers on the upper level. “And an indoor bathroom
!” He clapped quietly with glee. “We need to add one to the cabin up north before we bring the princess up there. You know that, right?” Ben grinned, nodding. “Until then, Ray, help me fit these pieces together.” Four sets of milled joints glided easily together, and with a little manipulation, they managed to line the dowel channels up perfectly. “Now,” Ben directed, “Take that long, round piece of pine and slide it down through the holes in the joints.”
Ray slid the dowel down past the first set of joints, the waxed wood going in without difficulty. By the second set, it became more difficult, stopping altogether halfway through the third pair. “It won’t go any further Benny. I think the pole thingy is too big around.”
Ben looked over from where he was sorting the furniture. “Keep trying, Ray. I know it will fit. I tried it before working the joints into the body of the cabin.”
Ray worked the joints a bit, managing to get the dowel almost three-quarters of the way home. “I can’t do it, Benny. It’s stuck.”
“It’s waxed. It shouldn’t stick.”
Ray huffed. “Well, it’s doing something in the sticking family. It won’t budge.”
Ben slid over, watching Ray struggle with the dowel. “See Benny? Stuck.”
“That’s because you’re not pushing it hard enough.” From behind him, Ben produced a rubber mallet. “Give it a tap with this.”
Not wanting to break it, Ray gave it a half-hearted hit. Rolling his eyes, Ben wrapped his hand over Ray’s, holding the mallet with him. One hefty swing later, the dowel slid into place. “Now,” he said, relieving Ray of the mallet, “You have eighteen minutes to wash and change your clothes. Thirty-two minutes to drive to your mother’s and ten to get everyone loaded into the car and to the church, giving your mother thirty minutes before the start of services.”
“Got it.” Ray hauled himself to his feet and, being careful not to step on any of the toys, dashed to the stairwell, where he took the steps two at a time on his way to get dressed.+
With Ray upstairs, Ben tidied up the tools before fitting the assembled doll cabin under the tree. He finished sorting the furniture, by room, into separate cardboard boxes, setting them aside for him and Ray to wrap later that night. Walking back to the hearth, he prodded the dying embers with a kindling stick, and considered banking a second fire while he waited for Ray to get home. On the coffee table sat the spare stocking and angel stocking holder. Gathering them up, he secreted them back in the trunk. It had been careless of him, forgetting to separate the unembroidered sock from the rest and the spare holder from the collection. He pulled open one of the drawers on the credenza behind him, taking an envelope from inside the holster of his Sam Browne. It had arrived for him at the Consulate a week ago, with a postmark from the Northwest Territories. The sender’s seal was imprinted on the upper left hand corner of the envelope, plain bold type spelling out ‘Children and Family Services’. He’d read the letter a hundred times (well, 42, to be exact), and he knew, in his heart, Ray would also be excited at the chance...
“Hey Benny,” Ray called as he came down the stairs. Stuffing the envelope into the back pocket of his jeans, Ben looked up, his heart flipping in his chest. Ray looked beautiful. He wore a charcoal suit and a black cashmere turtleneck, his gold crucifix glinting by his throat. “That cabin is amazing. Ava’s going to love it. Even when she’s older, she’ll treasure it.” Ben met him at the foot of the staircase, leaning in as Ray reached out to stroke his cheek. “Something like that is what makes family memories. Family legacies. Traditions. I... I can’t tell you how much that means.”
Ben smiled. “Reason three million and thirteen why you love me?”
Ray laughed, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the noise, so as not to wake Ava. “Yeah. In an infinite list.”
Ben shifted from foot to foot, watching Ray put on his coat and hunt for his car keys. “Well, Ray,” he started, clearing his throat, “Perhaps Ava will not be the only one to use the cabin. One day she might have someone to share it with...”
“Benny.” Ray turned on his heel, planting a firm kiss on Ben’s lips. “If there is one thing that my life – and a Catholic upbringing – has taught me, it’s to be happy with what you have. I have you. We’ve survived every stupid plan you’ve put us through, not to mention plane crashes, meat lockers, and a rather unpleasant dip in Lake Michigan that one day I hope I will forget. We have this home, and by some miracle, we found Ava and we are allowed to have her, to raise her.”
“Ray, none of that came our way without taking chances, without reaching for what we wanted; there was no one out there, waiting to hand us everything we dreamt about.”
“I know, Benny. I know.” Ray rested his forehead on Ben’s, and held him close. “But sometimes, I think I’ve wrung every drop of good fortune I’m due out of my life, and I... I’m too scared to want more. To even think there could be more... I should be so lucky.”
Ben swallowed down the lump that had suddenly raised in his throat. “I know that feeling well.”
Ray kissed him again, reluctantly pulling away. “I gotta hit the road. Wait up for me?”
Ben smiled. “I will.”
“I love you.”
“Love you too. Drive carefully, ok? Those flurries are going to come.”
With a nod, Ray left. Ben waited until he heard the Riviera pull out of the driveway, the sound of the engine fading as Ray drove into the night, before taking the envelope out of his pocket. Inside was a single sheet of paper, and a Polaroid photo. Ben pulled the photo out, staring at it. It was the picture of a child, around 14 months old. Unfolding the letter, he read,Dear Constable Fraser:
Thank you for completing the forms required for child placement.
His eyes skipped over the lines, leaping from sentence to sentence. He knew every word by heart; anticipation – and a little fear – made that heart skitter as he read.Your references…
... more than adequate…
…letter from your social worker, Elizabeth Stone…
…one of the most positive endorsements…
Please find enclosed a picture of Lily…
…your position as Deputy Liaison Officer of the Canadian Consulate in Chicago, USA and the retention of your Canadian citizenship should mitigate any difficulties.
We look forward to hearing from you in the New Year. A copy of this letter has been sent to Elizabeth Stone in Iqualuit.
Returning the letter and photo to the envelope, he wrapped it carefully in some colourful tissue paper, placing a bow in the middle. He slipped it into Ray’s stocking before laying out the makings for another fire.
“Sometimes, Ray,” he whispered, striking a match against the granite of the hearth, “you have to believe that good things will still come your way, no matter what.”