Waiting Forever

Benton knelt in the middle of the room, and reached underneath the small tree. There were three packages resting there on the torn sheet he used each year for a drop cloth; when the tree came down he'd put the sheet away, always intending to use it when it should become useful throughout the year and never quite managing it. When he'd removed it from the closet this time he'd shaken it free of needles leftover from last year.

Someday he'd toss it out and buy a real dropcloth. Maybe one designed specifically for the occasion, in reds and greens and golds. He'd grown fond of the bright colours of the holidays in the years he'd spent celebrating with the Vecchios. They always put everything into the Christmas observations, decorating the entire house and lighting every window with candles. Glancing up at the living room window, he considered putting one of his own up.

He shook his head. It didn't really matter, this house wouldn't be seeing much of the celebrations anyway. He hadn't even needed a tree, except somehow he had never been able to forego buying one. A small scotch pine for the tiny room, with red metal balls and gold garlands, and the few handmade ornaments which he still possessed. Most had returned to the Vecchio family collection.

Three presents. Three only, to honour the three people who mattered most. The kids might have been disappointed, losing a chance at one more gift, but they'd learned long ago what to expect. He suspected their parents of buying an extra present anyway, and marking the tag 'from Uncle Benny'. It wasn't that he thoguht they didn't deserve gifts, only that the process of finding, wrapping, and giving-- always the giving as giving meant going over to their house and walking inside, was so difficult he could only manage the three.

He pulled the presents out from the tree and checked the tags to see that they hadn't fallen off. Still there, still clearly marked. He brushed his finger over one, and found his eyes filling with water. Blinking quickly, he set the package down and held his hands to his face.

"Please, Ray, help me." The soft request was one not often uttered, but it was one always answered. Ray came in and sat down beside him.

"Benny.. it's ok. You're gonna be all right."

Fraser looked up at his husband. "Ray.. I don't know if I can."

Ray smiled, cheerful and confident as always. "Of course you can, Benny!" Then his smile faded and he leaned over, his face inches away from Fraser's. "I know how you feel, lover. But I'm gonna be goin' with you, right?" Benton nodded. "Then you'll be just fine. I promise. Go to dinner, do the present thing, sleep on the couch and come home tomorrow morning with a new haul of goodies. What could be better?"

Ray's grin was infectious, and Benton found himself starting to smile. Then he thought of what could be better. "I wish--"

"I know, Benny." Ray held his hand up to Benny's lips. "I know."

Neither of them spoke, sitting instead in silence, looking at each other with a comfort found over years. Fraser found himself thinking that it must be love, if this was all he needed to feel at peace again. He smiled, reflecting the image on his love's face. Relaxed now, he looked again at the packages in front of the tree.

"Are you sure--"

"She'll love it, Benny." It had been said many times before.

"Good. I.. I just want her to be happy."

Ray leaned over to place kiss on Fraser's cheek. "She doesn't need silver for that, Benny. Family is all she needs. A big family dinner once in a while, she'll be happy forever."

"I know." It was whispered.

Ray bit his lip and wished he could say more, but it had all been said a hundred times before. There was more silence, then, "Benny, is the tree leaning to the left?"

Fraser stood at the bottom of the steps, staring up at the house, feeling his heart freeze; this had never become easier. Each time he stood here staring up at the door, for all the times he'd climbed these steps and entered this home he had never found a way to make it easier. But he could no more stay away than Ray could, so he found ways to force himself up the stairs and to knock on the door. Right at this moment he felt all of his years, and wished once again he could turn and run, away to the nearly forgotten wilds of the north. Instead he swallowed, adjusted the presents he held, and looked one more time over his shoulder.

"Come on, Benny." Ray stood with his hands deep in his pockets, watching Fraser's fight. "We can't stay out here." He nodded towards the door. The smile was gone from his face, and Fraser wanted to throw the presents down and grab him, hold onto him and forget all about the people waiting for him inside. Ray didn't move, but Benny saw the tears form in his eyes. "I know, lover, I know. But you gotta go in. You can't not go in."

Benny cringed at his cowardice, hating that this simple thing could hurt so much that he'd rather avoid it at all costs. But going inside, being with them.. all it ever did was remind him. But Ray was right; he couldn't not go in. With a short nod, he took the first step. Halfway up he stopped, and turned around. He looked back at Ray. "I love you."

Ray grinned. "Yeah, I know. How could you not?"

With a small smile, Benny continued up and knocked.

"Benny! Come in, come in out of the snow!"

"Good evening, Fransesca. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, Benny." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and then turned her head to yell, "Maria! Benny's here!" He followed her into the house. It was warm inside, and he felt it seeping into his bones as he took off his coat. He glanced out as the door closed behind him; Ray was still standing there, watching.