(This Must Be) The Place
With many thanks to Brooklinegirl for fixing my porn (it was broken for a few weeks there) and egging me on to actually finish this. Couldn't have done it without her.
"Absence is to love what wind is to fire; it extinguishes the small, it enkindles the great."
- Comte Debussy-Rabutin
Two high-pitched voices simultaneously assaulted his ears, and Ray sighed and rubbed his eyes.
“It’s eight o’clock, your usual bedtime, what is the problem?”
Twin cries of despair, one slightly higher in pitch than the other, and Ray searched for the will to stay strong. “I know, I know. Ben’s getting back tonight, but he’ll still be here when you wake up – he won’t disappear.”
Alex’s face began to crumple at the injustice, but Ray had used his “and that’s final” voice. He’d never known how effective it could be when dealing with kids. It used to be his “quit your whining and get in your cell” voice, up until he ditched the perps and found himself in an altogether different position of power.
He raised a finger in warning as Alex’s lip trembled. Alex knew better than to start crying, didn’t he? Apparently, he did. Stoically, he pulled his face together and sniffed.
“Will Daddy bring presents?”
Ray cut Annie’s snigger off with a look, and gathered Alex up in his arms. He was getting heavier with each day.
“Probably, kiddo. And they will be waiting for you when you wake up, too.”
Reassured, Alex relaxed and laid his head on Ray’s shoulder. It wasn’t that often that they picked him up these days, trying to get him used to his own two feet, but sometimes, Ray just couldn’t help himself. He had heard his mom complain in moments of nostalgia that she always missed having him and his brother to pick up and to hold, so he savored these moments, like he was hoarding gold, tucking them away for memories.
Alex smelled like milk and oatmeal and his skin. Despite his earlier protestations, he was almost asleep by the time they entered the bathroom. Annie, acting like a shadow, got his toothbrush ready and pulled up Alex’s stool to the sink.
“Hey,” Ray nudged Alex awake and lowered him to stand on it. “Brush your teeth now, all right?”
Yawning, Alex ran the bristles lightly over his teeth, not even looking in the mirror and trying to catch Ray’s eye like he usually did. The brush kept nearly slipping out of his grasp.
“Man, you’re beat, aren’t you?” Ray asked him as he watched the sad display. “Done?”
“Good boy. All right –” Ray gave the toothbrush to Annie to put away and picked Alex back up.
The walk to the kids’ room was short – the house was still just a slightly-remodeled cabin – but Ray prolonged it, dawdled here and there, letting his arms tighten around Alex.
He loved nights when Ben was due back. It felt like the walls themselves stopped creaking from the wind. Every beat of his heart drummed a steady beat of anticipation. The clock on the kitchen wall with the dumb-looking birds on it sounded better to his ears. He could always feel the kids’ impatience, even Dief’s, and even that seemed to calm him.
So he stopped by the cupboard to check that they had enough dog chow, closed the creaking closet door with his shoulder, hefting Alex’s form in his arms, and finally made it into the kids’ bedroom. Behind him, he heard Annie instructing Dief to be quiet. A second later, he heard soft chewing – Dief getting a treat for doing what he always did, anyway, these days.
“All right, buddy,” Ray whispered as he lay Alex down on Annie’s bed. The kid was fast asleep.
“Dad.” Annie had caught up with him, and tapped him on the arm.
“Shh, I know, I know – I just need to change him. Hand me his pajamas, will you?”
Annie sighed but reached into Alex’s crib and handed Ray the pajamas. Undressing Alex while he was asleep was tricky business, and it rarely happened nowadays, but between the two of them, they managed to do it without waking him. Diaper on, legs through the pants, sleeves over the arms and head – Ray finished pulling the shirt down and almost not feeling like an overprotective parent, left a kiss on the smooth forehead.
“The bed’s all yours,” he whispered to Annie. Once in his crib, Alex rolled over onto his stomach, spread out his arms and pulled his legs up underneath himself. Chuckling, Ray waved Annie over.
“He’s doing it again, look.”
Annie peered in between the crib bars and snickered. “I tried sleeping with my butt in the air,” she added after a while. “But it’s just not comfortable.”
“Well, your legs are longer. His will be soon, too.” Ray turned away from Alex and stroked Annie’s shoulder. “All right, now you.”
She stuck out her chin. “I can brush my teeth without help!” She trounced off to the bathroom. Ray muttered a “thank God” under his breath and went over to her bed to turn the sheets down. Which she also could do without help, but he couldn’t help himself. With Ben away, he had nothing better to do with his nights, anyway.
Once Annie was back and tucked into bed, Ray kissed her cheek and left, pretending like she wasn’t going to turn on her small bedside lamp and read before going to sleep, and like he didn’t know it was going to happen. They really had to start working on the extension this summer, or things would start going quickly south. The kid would be nine in four months. Ray could already feel her readying to fight the same bedtime as her baby brother. In a year’s time, it would become unavoidable. At least, that’s what all those books he and Ben had stocked up on had said.
He went back to the kitchen, popped open a beer. Between sips, he put away the clean dishes, rinsed the ones in the sink, and lay them out to dry. Made sure the table lacked crumbs. Had he put away the bread? Yeah, okay.
Dief’s water bowl. As soon as he filled it, Dief trotted up to him, brushed against his leg and sat down next to bowl, lapping at the water. Ray scratched behind his ears, and left him to it.
Living room tidy? Yeah, it’d do.
He sat down on the couch, beer in hand, and flicked the TV on.
News. Music. Friends. More news. Naked People. New- naked people. Ray settled on naked people.
Actually, they weren’t all that naked.
Huh. He cocked his head. Some of them didn’t even appear to be people.
Sighing, he turned the TV off at the Discovery Channel.
It was getting near nine. He knew, realistically, that Ben wasn’t due back till around midnight, but there’d been times when Ray hadn’t even gotten the kids to bed yet when Ben showed up, grinning like the RCMP Santa.
Nine eighteen. The clock on the wall ticked, shallow sounds, rhythmic.
This was ridiculous. Ray turned the TV back on and switched to Friends. At least he could enjoy Jennifer Aniston’s ass while he was waiting like a lump on a log.
Chandler had just been about to lay another witty one-liner on the audience when the door made a hollow noise, letting a gust of wind whirl inside as Ben stepped in. Ray jumped off the couch before he could stop himself and met him just as he was closing the door.
On instinct, Ray checked Ben’s face out for any signs of trouble – no black eye, no scratches, nose – all intact? And when his scan reached Ben’s eyes, he allowed himself to relax and not worry about whether or not they had enough antiseptic in the med kit.
“Ray,” Ben smiled and met him halfway, his cold lips snapping Ray out of the monotonous stupor of the past half hour.
“Everything all right?” Ray asked once they broke apart.
“Everything is just fine,” Ben answered as Ray began helping him strip off his heavy parka. Ray stepped back when Dief made his enthusiastic way over to greet Ben.
The cold damp parka infused the room a familiar smell. It was the smell of someone coming home, the smell of dog sleds, and fresh snow, and locking the door for the night. It smelled like a memory of Ray’s, when he and Alex had come home from shopping in town, and, trying to unlace his boots before Ray had a chance to help him, Alex had fallen over. He wasn’t totally steady on his feet yet, and the multi-tasking had confused him. Ray had heard the thud, turned around, and seen Alex looking up at him, mouth working silently against the tears. Ray had frozen in place, unsure as to how to react. Before he got the chance, Alex took a deep breath and, as Ray mentally prepared himself for the wail of tears, blinked and uttered a distressed “Dada!” His arms sought Ray even as Ray rushed forward to pick Alex up. And it was only once Alex was safe in his arms, that it finally hit Ray what had actually happened. Another memory to hoard and put away for the years when Alex calling him “Dada” would no longer feel like a novelty nor a gift.
Ray shook his head clear, and hung the parka up on its hook. His outer clothes off and put away, Ben scratched Dief behind the ears, chuckled at the appreciative pant Dief let out, and moved toward the couch.
“Everything all right?” Ben’s turn to ask.
“Oh yeah, golden. Alex wanted presents.”
“Ah. Good thing I brought some, then.”
Ben’s presents were never something Ray would have drooled over as a kid – mostly, it was stuff like fossilized lichen or bird poop – but for a two-and-a-half year old, apparently, the stuff was better than gold. Annie collected rocks, which weren’t so easy to come by during winter time, so whenever Ben did find a cool enough stone, Annie squealed like a five-year-old. Her bedside table was decked out with about ten different species of rocks, half of them gathered by Ben, month by month.
Even as Ray thought it, Ben produced two lumps from his pockets – a shimmery kind of stone, and a pitch-black…something. Ray furrowed his brow.
“What the hell is that?”
“Well, it used to be the fecal matter of a –”
“Got it.” Ray held up his hands to shut Ben up. “Say no more. He’ll love it.”
Ben grinned in response and nodded his head in the direction of the kids’ room. Ray could tell Ben was barely holding it in. He grinned back, and together, they made their way down the narrow hallway.
Annie’s light was already off. Ray was too late in suggesting they wait until they could be sure that both she and Alex were asleep – Ben had already pushed open the door. Twin sounds of breathing – both steady. Ray relaxed. Now he could watch the display with the same amount of smug pride as always.
And, as always, Ben made his way over to Annie first, carefully setting the stone the same distance from the last one as every other rock on her display. It was a game the two of them played, and Ray knew how much she loved waking up to another rock just sitting there, shiny and new and already belonging. Her delight is what usually woke them up, in fact, unless, that is –
Yep, there went the “fecal matter”, right into Alex’s crib, near his feet. Ray always worried that one of these days, Alex would accidentally choke on something like it in his sleep, but this time, the lump was big, and tucked safely between an extra blanket that Alex never needed and his feet. Should be fine. At least Alex had stopped demanding buttons and toothpicks to play with in bed. This way, Ray and Ben would sleep knowing that the only sound to wake them will most likely be a competition of “who got the best present in the whole world.”
Ray hung back as Ben stood still, watching Alex sleep. With his legs still drawn up, and his hands tucked under his chin, he looked a lot more peaceful than when he was awake. His light hair barely even stirred, when all during the day, it jumped about his head like it wanted to fly him away. Now it lay flat against his head, and Ben’s hand lingered on it, lightly, and Ray watched, and waited.
When Ben had finally looked his fill, made his way over to Annie’s bed, and kissed her on the temple, Ray pushed off the wall. Together they left the room silently, and Ben only seemed to exhale after he’d shut the door and the catch clicked into place.
“See? Still alive and healthy,” Ray teased him after a moment. They lowered their voices and moved away from the door.
“Yes, well, I don’t know. They could be mute, Ray.” Ben looked at him in that dead serious way he had, the kind that freaked the hell out of Alex, and made Annie giggle into her cereal. Ray just rolled with it.
“That is true, my friend. I’m the bad fairy – I took away their voices so they could grow legs and meet Prince Charming.”
“Tsk-tsk-tsk. Bad Ursula.” Ben’s face broke into a grin, and Ray sidled closer to him.
“I know. Bad Ursula deserves some kind of punishment for that.” Ray stopped and thought. “Jesus Christ, Ben, we’re flirting through Disney movies.”
“The curse of the modern parent, Ray. I’m afraid I have no cure for that.” Ben’s hands hovered over Ray’s waist and settled there. Ray decided he could live with not being cured.
“All right, then, I’ll take my punishment now.” He leaned in and found Ben’s lips, lingering. The hallway was muted, dark, and while he couldn’t see Ben’s face all that well, he could smell him, and feel his heat.
Sure, nowadays, missing Ben was different from before. Before Annie and Alex, Ray had himself for company, himself and four ticking walls. He’d grow restless, and spend less time at home at night, staying out in bars or the family restaurant on the corner of Main and Potter, drinking their brew and chowing down their pie. With the kids, he didn’t so much crave any human contact as he merely craved Ben’s. After living together for six years, the time apart was getting harder and harder to stand. It was never long, and Ben wasn’t the only one who would go away for work. But leaving was never the same as being left behind. And returning was so different from welcoming back.
“You hungry?” he finally asked after forcing himself away from Ben’s lips. Ben shook his head “no” and tugged on Ray’s hands.
“I’d like to lie down, however. The way back was more tiring than I’d anticipated.”
Ray squeezed Ben’s hand and they shuffled toward their own bedroom, turning off the final living room light. Ray heard Dief whine low, scratch his nails on the couch and settle in for the night. The clock sounded louder now, steadier.
Ray turned his bedside lamp on to its lowest setting and went about his routine like it was any other night. It wasn’t, but he didn’t want to push Ben, if he really was that exhausted. He could wait, sure. He’d waited six days, what was another night? So, he took off his shirt, shucked his shoes, unzipped his jeans. Watched as Ben shook out a fresh towel and headed off to the bathroom. He pulled on his sweats and t-shirt, and climbed into bed. The clock on Ben’s side of the bed read nine forty six. He wasn’t all that sleepy, even if hanging out with the kids all day long on his day off. He’d have to read, or maybe – maybe watch the TV real low, see what ER was up to these days, or something.
Ben walked back in smelling of mint, an odd mixture of their toothpaste and snow that always clung to him in the winter. His hair was still damp at the roots, where he’d splashed his face. He looked…younger, somehow, to Ray, with his cheeks still lightly flushed from the cold, his eyes crinkled only a little in the corners as he smiled. In the darkened room, he filled all the spaces that had felt like cracks and splinters during the day.
He wore only his boxers, which was weird, because he usually liked to sleep in his longjohns, but even as Ray watched, Ben slipped his fingers into the waistband and slid the boxers off, stepping out of them, and never once breaking eye contact with Ray. Ray shivered and grew hard under the covers. His mouth actually watered, and he swallowed, feeling like a horny teenager all over again. Ben crossed the short distance between the door and their bed and by the time his weight sunk the mattress, Ray was sliding off his t-shirt and meeting him in the middle.
This time when they kissed, none of the cold lingered on Ben’s lips or his tongue. He was hot against Ray, hot all over. His shoulders under Ray’s hands, his mouth over Ray’s lips, his moan, traveling down Ray’s throat. Ray moaned, too, couldn’t hold it back, and pressed Ben closer, rolled them over so Ben was on top of him, thrust against his naked hips.
Ben broke the kiss and panted in Ray’s ear.
“Hi back.” Ray nipped his jaw, licked the neck.
Ben pawed at Ray’s sweats, and his fingers fumbled with them, clumsy, like he’d forgotten what to do. Ray slid the sweats off, kicked at the covers, and pulled Ben in for another kiss. Ben bore down on him, pressed Ray into the mattress, and kissed him, open-mouthed, heavy, demanding. If he was tired, he showed no sign of it at all – and Ray took all that he could get.
Six days seemed even longer now that he remembered what he’d been missing. And it wasn’t as if they fucked each and every single night. It was the fact that no matter how cold the bed would get at two in the morning, there was no one to warm up to; no matter how easy the kids were, there was no one to pick up after a mess but himself; no matter how slow the time went, there was no one there to make the wait seem shorter. But six days now melted into five, and when Ben tunneled his fingers through Ray’s hair and tugged at it, five turned to four, and when Ben’s other hand slid down and clutched at Ray’s hips, lifted his leg, wrapped it around Ben’s hip, four burnt out, three blew away, and, then –
“God, Ray, I want to fuck you.” Ben licked Ray’s ear, mumbled syllables. “I missed you. Let me –”
- no time at all had passed since the last time they were like this, wrapped around each other, pushing against one another in rhythm.
After Ray’s stuttered reply, Ben retrieved the lube in record time, thumbing the tube open without once leaving the space between Ray’s legs. Ray was all right with that, he was a-okay with that, because between his legs is exactly where he wanted Ben. And after Ben’s slick cock pushed into Ray – only a moment’s pain, like a rush in his ears, fell and slid away – Ray thought, finally, Jesus Christ, finally, and Ben bent down, trapped Ray between his arms, and began fucking him, hard, fast, and –
“Fuck, shit, stop, shhhh, shhh!” Ray grabbed Ben’s hips and forced him to stop while he got his breath back. Way too loud. Ben caught on quick and stuttered off, groaning and panting, open-mouthed, his breath ghosting over Ray’s shoulder. Ray squeezed his eyes shut, then opened them, and watched the ceiling for answers. “Could go to the floor,” he whispered, and turned to face Ben’s neck. It was radiating heat. “Ben?”
“No,” Ben finally whispered back, hoarse. “It’s entirely too cold on the floor, and- well, I wouldn’t want either of us getting a stiff back. We’re not, um --”
“Nineteen anymore, yeah, okay.” Ray sighed. He squirmed. He needed Ben to move, needed him to do something, anything– he really needed to get fucked, and soon. His hips strained forward despite himself. “What, then?”
Ben lifted his head and looked at Ray, his eyes glazed over, licking his lip. “I think I have an idea.”
Ray liked Ben’s ideas. They mostly resulted in good things. He watched Ben with expectation, and only managed not to make any noise through sheer force of will as Ben moved his hips once, hard, and almost sent Ray over the edge. He dug his hands into Ben’s sides. “That’s your idea?”
Ben licked his lip again. “Did you hear the bed hit the wall?”
Ray thought back, shook his head.
Barely a whisper now. “Good.”
Ray gasped as Ben did it again – pulled back, almost all the way out, then one slow, hard thrust inside him. Ray’s mouth went dry; it felt like a sex hangover. He bit his lip and this time, when Ben slowly slid out and thrust back in, he was ready for it. He arched his back, went with it. The bed barely moved, and didn’t even thump against the wall as Ben thrust, slow, hard, then pulled out and stopped. Again – one long, desperate pause, a slow, hard thrust, and a lingering moment of Ben pulling back. The motion nearly undid Ray. He waited for it to come again, felt the slow slide of sweat down his neck, soaking into the sheet underneath him. Watched Ben’s face, his lower lip caught between his teeth, cheeks flushed, nostrils flaring with barely controlled breath. When Ben thrust again, Ray threw back his head and made a noise like a dark gasp. He tried to get enough breath into his lungs. His fingers prickled.
Ben pulled back, again, and Ray felt every single second, and when Ben thrust in, deliberate and hard, Ray felt each second given back.
Again. And again.
Ray thought he would lose his mind. He was dizzy, unable to look away from Ben, break his gaze, unable to make any noise, not even if he could be as loud as he wanted. All he could do was meet Ben’s slow thrusts, anticipate the next one, melt into him. Ben never looked away from Ray’s face, his eyes nearly black in the shadows. His shoulders visibly shook, but he held himself above Ray, and his lips curved into a smile as slow as his sex. Their movement turned fluid, like a slow dance, and Ray could do a slow dance, he’d been slow-dancing for years.
Like a waltz, or maybe even the tango. Pause – slide – thrust. Pause – slide – thrust.
Ray felt suspended in air, Ben holding him there and not wavering. He didn’t know if it’d been half an hour, half a minute, or half a year. He found he didn’t really give a damn.
Pause – slide – thrust.
It was getting harder the closer he got to the edge. He could tell Ben was losing control. His hips barely obeyed the rhythm anymore. Ray felt Ben shaking all down his body, felt his damp skin breaking out in goose bumps. He slipped one hand between them, grabbed his own cock.
“Ray –” Ben’s voice was strained, nearly broken.
“Can’t, Ben, gotta- can’t –” Ray couldn’t even recognize his own.
He shut his eyes and jerked himself off, trying to go slow, but failing, because now Ben’s hips slammed against him, hard and fast, and then Ben was panting in his ear, and fucking him so hard, Ray thought he would break in two. The bed made a continuous rattle against the wall, but Ray couldn’t bring himself to care anymore.
“Fuck, fuck –”
“Ray, I –”
Ray bit Ben’s collarbone and shut himself up just in time. He couldn’t seem to stop coming, like a spiral unraveling, and Ben thrust harder, once, and came, too, whispering into Ray’s shoulder, the only time he’d ever swear.
Afterwards, Ray listened at the kids’ door, but all seemed quiet. He shut his eyes and thought that he was a shit, and no kid should ever have to hear their parents fucking. Hopefully, they’d both been dead asleep the entire time. Maybe he and Ben should think about some kind of insulation in their bedroom. Just soundproof the whole thing, he thought, walking back.
Ben shot the idea down as they were falling asleep, citing all the possible emergencies that could end in disaster, “all in the name of sex, Ray. I’m afraid that is simply out of the question.”
“All right, okay, it was just an idea,” Ray mumbled, nearly asleep.
“A fine one, too.” Ben slipped an arm around Ray’s middle. “But I’m afraid we’ll just have to be as vigilant as we have been -”
“Before tonight, indeed,” Ben sighed.
“Hey, Ben?” Ray burrowed deeper under the covers. "You actually calculated the right angle so the bed wouldn't hit the wall, didn't you?" He looked up to see Ben raise both eyebrows.
“Well, of course, Ray, one must always be resourceful under –”
“Freak." Ray smiled despite himself, buried his nose under Ben’s shoulder, and barely heard the answering “Right you are,” before falling asleep.
The door creaked open and Annie’s head peeked in. “Dad? Is --”
“Daddy!” Alex pushed the door open till it swung on its hinges and ran until he was sprawled over Ben, clinging to his neck.
Ray rubbed his eyes and fell back on the pillow. “Yeah, kiddo, come in.” He yawned as Alex giggled in Ben’s arms, squirming away from the “tickle monster” and squealing so loud, Ray seriously began to doubt they could miss any sort of emergency with that kind of frequency. He saw that Annie was holding the rock that Ben’d brought her. Once Ben quit tickling Alex and allowed him to settle in between them, Annie climbed up on the covers, too. The more the merrier.
“So, have you looked it up yet?” Ben asked her, nodding at the rock.
Annie shook her head, curls jumping. “Nope. After breakfast.”
Ben reached for her and gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. “Have you been awake long?”
Ray moved so they could fit Annie better on the bed, put his arm around her shoulders. She was looking kind of scrawny these days. He’d feed her extra bacon for breakfast.
“Alex woke me up. I tried telling him that you needed to sleep, but he saw your present, and I took him out of his crib. Sorry.”
Ray eyed the alarm clock. It was five thirty.
“No problemo,” he lied. “Ray’s Special Breakfast this morning. Need the extra time.”
Ben looked at him askance. “How special?”
“You’ll be covered in lard,” Ray promised and reached over to ruffle his hair. “You’ll love it.”
Ben shook off his hand and his lips thinned, like they always did when he was trying hard not to smile. “In that case, it’s Ben’s Special for lunch. You’ll be covered in spinach. You’ll love it.”