...and this is what it's for...
A while back, I wrote a kid!fic drabble for Katrin. I then got stuck on this little world, sat down and wrote more. With endless thanks to Brooklinegirl for her wonderfully encouraging beta.
Fraser surveys the scene in front of him. Familiar enough to be comforting, new enough to send an odd shiver down his spine, filling him with worries that always end up simmering in the back of his mind, at the end of each day.
Annie's tucked under her blue and green quilt, hair tumbling over the pillow and some on her face, like she barely stopped to lie still before falling asleep. Her bed is directly under the window, and the stripe of the moonlight between the curtains falls across her arm, cutting a path to the floor, curving on the angles of the bed. She sniffles in her sleep, and sometimes scratches her face.
Across from her, in his crib, Alex sleeps like the dead. Always the extremist, Fraser thinks, nothing he ever does is half-way. He eats with gusto, runs `like Dief hyped up on sugar', as Ray likes to say, and sleeps with his whole being. Lying spread-eagled on his stomach, a frown of concentration creases his face. His hands are made into loose fists. His blanket has been tossed aside, his pillow now residing under his middle. He's the king of this particular castle. Even the stuffed dog and bear sitting in the corner of the crib appear to be dutiful servants, awaiting their master's call.
Pretty soon he and Ray are going to have to carve out enough space for a separate bedroom for Annie, but for now, at least until the winter passes, things will continue in this vain, the separation of day from night, the contrast of the darkened room in the back, and the dimmed yellow light of the kitchen, where Ray, even now, sits at a table with his work and a beer, and where Fraser will join him, just like every other night, with a book and a mug of tea.
He picks up a stray toy, unnecessarily tucks Annie's curls behind her ear, and the door creaks only a little on his way out. He runs a hand through his hair, closes the closet door that opens again as soon as his back is turned, and walks toward the light. Ray's brow is creased, and his hand is stilled on the bottle, holding it loosely by the neck. It seems to Fraser that he's been sitting like this a while, the only movement in his foot, tapping out a silent rhythm against the chair leg. He doesn't look up when Fraser walks by him to the counter, and puts the kettle back on, even though he knows it had just boiled. In the time that it takes Fraser to get his mug, pour some leaves into the strainer, and add half a spoon of sugar, the water is ready once more, puffing white clouds into the air. He makes his tea, and picks his book up from where it always sits on the shelf with all the spices. Ray has convinced him, once and for all, that the only chance he will ever get to read is between the kids' bedtime and their own, and that time they usually spend in the kitchen. It seemed only natural, then, to leave whatever book he was reading at the time, right where he could always get it.
It's Henry James this time, and he savors the moment of sipping his darkly sweet tea and sliding into the beautiful prose, fitting so sensuously into his evening.
It is only now that his heartbeat turns regular, and his anxiety abates. This is all so new to them both, so strange, yet the pattern has been set, and what life was like before they found Annie and Alex, he can barely remember. What did they fill their time with, what was their purpose? These are questions that he sometimes ponders, and never fully answers. They had been years that he knows had been good. More than good, even. But he can barely remember enjoying their utter stillness, their solitude. He knows that parents always miss the quiet, and the solitude, their time alone, their time together. And, sometimes, he does, as well. But he would never want to have them back. It is only now that he can appreciate each minute spent in solitude with Ray to its full extent. It is only now that he understands what stillness is for, why it exists in the first place.
It's for moments like this, when your bundles of nerves and worries go away for a precious hour, while their sources sleep quietly in their beds, warm and protected. When Diefenbaker doses on the living room couch, and Ray lifts his head while turning a page and nods towards Fraser's book, "Any good?" and Fraser smiles back and answers, "Nobody's been murdered yet." Stillness is for the time when the short hand lazily rolls over the number ten on the wall clock, and Fraser has sipped the last of his tea, and Ray has finished the last of his beer. Quiet is for Ray putting away his work, and Fraser placing his book back next to the rosemary tin. The lights are extinguished, Dief scratches at the couch before jumping off and padding to the armchair on the other side of the room, and Ray and Fraser make their unhurried way to the farthest room in the back, a glorified closet they managed to make into a livable bedroom.
Ray scratches his neck, yawns, and takes off his shirt, as always without unbuttoning it - one swift motion over the head, causing his hair to stand on end even in the back. Fraser unbuttons his own flannel, hangs it on the back of his chair. In the dim light, Ray is all angles, slight curves, shadows. Idly, Fraser looks him over, watches for any changes. He's never been sure what it is he looks for at these times, and it's never really anything specific. Perhaps their winter diet is not conducive to Ray gaining the weight he needs to stay warm, and Fraser finds himself thinking that Ray might need a new coat, maybe, or just a different sweater, warmer, made from tougher wool. These thoughts scatter soon enough, and are forgotten by morning, replaced by such worries as Annie's nearly debilitated favorite boots, or Alex's now too-small overalls. Ray is only a slight concern, at night, after he undresses and before Fraser sees his face and realizes that things are just as they should be.
Ray has always been thin, and he has held up to this day up here. Fraser has always had that extra layer of fat, and it has served him well, indeed. They've changed in these past five years, yet it feels like things have always been this way.
Ray has always used up his energy during the day, collapsing in on himself at night, relaxing after a single beer and mellowing out after sex. Fraser has always upheld in the face of the day's trials and let it all soak in at night, going over details in his head, idly flipping through the triumphs and failures of the day, sometimes considering what could have gone differently, sometimes letting the day stay in the past as was.
They don't always undress and leave the pajamas off. Sometimes, both are too exhausted to do anything but sleep, and these are the times when Ray's newly-found natural alarm clock wakes him half an hour before seven, and he, in turn, wakes Fraser. Even then, sometimes, they just talk, mulling over what has to be done, which bills need to be paid the earliest, who needs new socks or why Dief shouldn't be made into a coat, after all, if all else fails.
But tonight, Fraser leaves the pajamas off, and brushes his teeth while Ray sets the alarm and slides into bed naked. They have their time now, and he revels in it, knowing that stillness and solitude are also for this: for Ray's hoarse voice whispering to him, and for Ray's hands, moving over Fraser's body, moving closer and touching him in familiar ways that still send shivers down his spine. In the quiet, he can hear Ray's breathing, uneven, a pleasure-made staccato that fills his ears. In the stillness, Fraser can feel him moving under him, sliding around him, holding him down.
Afterwards, they slowly drift into sleep, loosely tangled, puzzle-like pieces thrown together into a fitted shape. Tomorrow morning, Fraser will have to shovel the garage entrance while Ray gets Annie ready for school and Alex for his babysitter. The water will have to be pumped again, and they're almost out of Dief's food. But for now, there's Ray, slowly twisting in his sleep, dragging Fraser with him, letting the quilts fall all around them; and there's the quiet breathing he imagines he can hear from the other room, two separate rhythms going back and forth, lulling him into a rhythm of his own, until he hears nothing at all.