Benton Fraser stirred as the soft cry of distress insinuated itself upon his consciousness. He turned in the bed, one hand automatically coming up to stroke down Ray's back, a soft word soothing the anguish he assumed was coming from his lover, a resurgence perhaps of the nightmares Ray had suffered after coming so close to drowning on the boat just a week before.
His movement stilled as the sound came again - but not from his partner. He could tell Ray was deeply asleep and not in throes of a bad dream. In fact, if he listened carefully, the sounds seemed to come, not from their apartment at all, but somewhere further along the corridor.
Fraser slipped quietly out of bed, attempting not to disturb Ray. They'd been on a stakeout for two nights in a row in the chill of one of the worst storms to grace Chicago and he knew Ray was exhausted. He didn't bother to try the bedside light. The power had been out when they first returned home and the cold air that wafted over his naked body indicated it hadn't yet been restored. He reached for his boxers and jeans, pulling them on swiftly as the cry he'd heard became a crescendo of wailing, and he recognized it now as that of a child. Ray stirred and turned to face him as Fraser grabbed his sweater.
"Frase? W'ass up?"
Fraser reached behind him with his free hand and patted Ray's cheek. "Probably nothing," he assured his partner. "There's a child crying. I thought I might see if I can offer some assistance. It's extremely cold. Perhaps they could use some more bedding."
Ray scrubbed a hand through his spiky hair. "I'll come with you," he offered, suiting actions to words as he rolled out of bed with a groan.
Fraser stopped him with a touch on his arm. "That won't be necessary, Ray. No use both of us getting cold. I'll only be a moment."
Ray smiled that slow, sexy smile that had Fraser's blood burning. "Warm you up when you get back?" he offered.
Fraser grinned back and leaned in for a kiss then reached down for the flashlight he'd left beside the bed. "That's the best offer I've had in some time." He stood, pulled his sweater over his head and touched his finger to his temple in a salute. "I'll be back in just a moment."
As he passed Diefenbaker, the wolf grumbled at his sleep being disturbed but stood obediently to follow Fraser. "Stay here with Ray," Fraser told him. "We don't want to startle the neighbors."
Diefenbaker gave a small yip of discontent but turned and padded over to the bed.
Making his way up the corridor, Fraser concentrated and followed the cries to three apartments along. Not hesitating, he tapped lightly on the front door. When there was no reply, save for the momentary cessation of crying, he tried again, then called out, "Constable Benton Fraser, RCMP. Can I be of assistance?"
The room beyond remained silent except for the renewed crying. Fraser reached out and tried the door, surprised when it opened inward. The apartment inside was in darkness and Fraser's natural instincts had him switching on the flashlight and moving carefully forward. He identified himself once more and when there was still no reply, he walked slowly in the direction of the crying.
In the back bedroom, the beam of his light caught a child, standing in an unmade crib. Dark curls surrounded a cherubic face that was scrunched up in misery, fat tears and mucus despoiling the reddened cheeks. The child looked to be about a year old. He or she - Fraser was unable to tell - was dressed in just a sleeping suit that was grubby, the bottom half drenched in urine.
"Well, then," Fraser said softly as he walked over to the bed. "This won't do. Where are your parents?"
The baby's mouth opened in a O of distress and a loud wail issued forth.
"Fraser." Ray's voice came from behind the Mountie and Fraser stopped, shining his flashlight behind him.
"It's a child, Ray," Fraser said. "In some distress, and apparently abandoned." Diefenbaker gave a mournful howl. "Yes," Fraser agreed. "Not good at all."
"Oh, geez." Ray brushed rapidly past him and in a moment, was at the cribside, scooping the crying baby into his arms. "Shh, now," he crooned, startling Fraser with the gentleness of his tone. "S'all right, I've got you." Ray cupped the curly head against his chest and rocked the child gently. "Where's your mum and dad then, huh?"
The baby gave a soft, mournful hiccupped sob and snuggled in closely to Ray, both chubby arms reaching up to encircle Ray's neck. Ray turned to Fraser and gave a shrug. "Poor kid's probably terrified. Who in their fucking right mind -"
Fraser tut-tutted chidingly, raising a finger to his lips. "Language, Ray."
"Yeah. Sorry, kid." Ray jiggled the wet bottom in his embrace. He looked slowly around the untidy room, littered with garbage and not a child's accouterment in sight, save for the crib and an empty baby's bottle on the mattress. "Who'd leave a kid like this? On his own, in the middle of a storm?"
"Perhaps there was an emergency," Fraser said.
Ray led the way out into the kitchen, which was equally as devastated as the rest of the apartment. He pulled open the refrigerator door, revealing no food or milk within. "And maybe not." He patted the baby's backside again and grimaced. "Needs a change. You see any diapers or clothes?"
Fraser shone his flashlight around the room then moved into the living room. "Ah," he said in some satisfaction when he spotted a pile of clothes on one of the ratty armchairs. He held them up. They were somewhat worn but appeared serviceable and dry. An opened packet of diapers lay on the floor beside the chair. Turning, he headed back into the kitchen and handed the items to Ray. "Perhaps I could go talk to the landlord while you change the child?"
Ray had shifted the baby onto his hip but the little one still clung to him tenaciously. "Okay, yeah. Better phone Social Services too. My cell phone's by the bed." He paused a moment, one hand absently stroking the baby's tousled curls and Fraser was again struck by the gentleness in the action, something he rarely saw from Ray, unless it was just the two of them alone. "Better yet," Ray suggested. "I'll come with you. I'm not gonna lay this kid down on anything in here and we've got some milk in the fridge."
Fraser led the way out and back to their apartment. "Do you know these people, Ray?"
Ray shrugged. "Moved in a couple weeks ago. Hardly saw them. First time I knew they had a kid."
"Hmm." Fraser opened the front door and lit the way to the bedroom with the flashlight. While Ray lay the baby on the bed and proceeded to strip him - and it was indeed a boy, though Fraser had no idea how Ray had known that - Fraser picked up Ray's cell phone and dialed Social Services and the local precinct. He relayed his information while keeping an eye on Ray. The child was still sobbing softly but seemed to have calmed somewhat. Ray awkwardly fastened the diaper then dressed the child in the dry clothes.
Hanging up the phone, Fraser sat on the side of the bed and reached out to stroke the baby's forehead. "I must confess to being quite surprised, Ray."
"Oh yeah, why's that?" Ray asked as he hefted the baby back into his arms, and began to rhythmically pat the little back.
"I had no idea you were so conversant with childcare."
Ray's brow furrowed. "Conversant? Like knowing what to do?"
Ray shrugged as he handed the flashlight to Fraser and then followed him into the kitchen. "We had kids where I grew up."
"I'm sure you did," Fraser acknowledged. "Still, this is a side of you I haven't seen before. You seem quite comfortable with him, and he's obviously taken a shine to you. Also I wonder how you knew the child was male."
Ray grabbed the milk from the refrigerator with one hand and set it on the counter. "He looks like a boy," he said as though that explained everything. At Fraser's continued scrutiny, he sighed. "I like kids. When Stella and I were together, we talked about having kids. I wanted a whole tribe of 'em but Stella was too wrapped up in her career. I had a buddy from my first posting after the Academy, had five kids. Five!" He shook his head. "I used to go round on the weekends. Hang out, take 'em to the park, do stuff, you know?"
Fraser nodded in understanding. "Well, the bad news is that Social Services is backed up and can't take the child until morning. They seem to think that as I'm a Mountie, it's safe to leave the child in our care."
Ray looked affronted at that. "'Cause you're a Mountie, huh? Not because I'm a cop?"
"She sounded rather frazzled, Ray. I'm sure she meant both of us," Fraser soothed. "What now?" he asked.
"Easy enough," Ray said nonchalantly. "You just keep shoveling stuff in one end and they keep piss - pouring it out the other."
Ray sighed. "Milk, Fraser. Don't they have babies in Canada?"
"Of course," Fraser replied as he unscrewed the top of the bottle. "I must admit though to keeping my distance from them. They tend to unnerve me, and I, them." Fraser rinsed out the baby bottle and poured fresh milk into it. The baby was almost asleep, drooping against Ray's chest, a thin line of drool decorating Ray's tee shirt, not that the detective seemed to mind.
"Problem," Ray said, seating himself on a kitchen chair. "How we gonna heat the milk?"
Fraser held up a triumphant finger then went out to the hall closet, returning a moment later with a small Coleman stove. "Be prepared, Ray, that's my motto."
"I thought that was the Boy Scouts."
Fraser shrugged and set about lighting the small burner. "Much of a muchness really." He pulled a saucepan from the cupboard and filled it with water before placing it over the burner and setting the bottle inside. Seating himself next to Ray, he idly stroked his partner's free hand while they waited for the milk to heat. "You never cease to amaze me, Ray," he said softly, leaning in to press a kiss to Ray's stubbled cheek. "What a wonder you are."
Ray grinned sheepishly. "Yeah?"
"Yes, indeed," Fraser assured him. "I'm a lucky man."
Once the milk was ready, tested carefully by Ray on the inside of his wrist, Fraser left him to settle the child while he tried to get some information from the landlord. Somewhat disheartened by what he discovered, he made his way slowly back up the stairs to their apartment.
The baby was warmly ensconced in their bed, fast asleep, the nipple of the now empty bottle still gripped firmly between his tiny teeth. Ray was seated in a chair by the bed, his gaze riveted on the sleeping child. Diefenbaker sat beside him, his equally transfixed stare fixed on the tiny intruder in Fraser and Ray's bed. Ray looked up when Fraser came in. "What did you find out?"
Fraser bent to kiss Ray's forehead, needing a reassurance of their love for one another after his discussion with the landlord. "The parents go out most nights and return early in the morning, somewhat inebriated."
Ray shook his head then leaned forward and tucked the covers more closely around the baby. "He knew and he didn't report it? He knows I'm a cop! Why the fu - Why didn't he say something?"
"Apparently they usually leave the child with Ms. Hawkins, the elderly woman on the floor below but she was taken to hospital yesterday and it seems they weren't going to have their evening spoiled."
"When I catch up with these bastards -"
Fraser placed a calming hand on Ray's shoulder. "Young ears, remember."
"Benny's asleep, Frase, he can't hear me."
Fraser raised an eyebrow. "Benny? You discovered his name?"
Ray shrugged and dropped his gaze to his lap. "Can't just call him kid all night. If I had a kid with you, that's what I'd call him."
"We're not biologically capable of parenthood -"
"I know that!" Ray glanced quickly at the baby who stirred slightly then settled again with a soft sigh. He lowered his voice. "I know that. I'm just saying, if we decided we wanted kids and we found one of them surrowhatsis mothers -"
"Surrogate," Fraser put in.
"Right. If we did and we had a kid - a boy, I'd call him Benny."
"I'm touched, Ray," Fraser said, bestowing another kiss on Ray's cheek. "Unfortunately, with our professions, having a child would probably not be the most sensible choice."
"Yeah, I know." Ray sounded a little defeated at that. The light beside the bed flickered and then came on, bathing the room in a soft glow and making the child in the bed look even more angelic. Ray stood and brushed a hand through his hair as he yawned. "I'm gonna make coffee. You want some?"
"Tea might be best," Fraser said, standing and wrapping an arm around Ray's shoulders.
"Won't be getting any sleep tonight, Fraser, Benny might wake up and not know where he is."
"You're right, of course, Ray," Fraser agreed as the two men headed into the kitchen arm in arm. "You are, after all, the child expert here."
The knock at the front door startled Ray from a deep, dreamless slumber. He opened gritty eyes and looked around slowly, his mind still muddled. He'd fallen asleep in the armchair he'd pulled in from the living room to place beside the bed, wanting to hear the baby in case he woke in the night and was upset at the strange surroundings.
Fraser lay on the bed, deeply asleep. Ray figured his partner must have been exhausted. He always figured Fraser slept with one eye and ear open. Benny lay wrapped in Fraser's arms, his wide, serious gaze fixed on Ray and Ray realized at some point in the night, he must have slept through the baby's awakening.
Ray leaned forward and chucked the child under the chin. "Hey there, little buddy. I think your ride might be here." Standing, he shuffled out of the room to the door, feeling an inexplicable sadness at having to let Benny go. Opening the door, he greeted the two uniformed officers and showed them into the apartment. "If you wait here, I'll go get the kid," he said. He and Fraser weren't out to anyone except their closest friends and he had no wish for anyone else to be wise to the true nature of their relationship.
Fraser woke as Ray lifted the baby from his arms. He blinked slowly then smiled. "I take it Social Services are here," he said quietly.
Ray nodded. "I'll see 'em out, okay?"
Fraser understood the unspoken request and nodded. "Goodbye, Benny," he said to the baby, reaching out to gently squeeze the baby's hand. "I do believe we were just beginning to get to know each other too."
Ray smiled and leaned down to give his lover a kiss. "You are such a softy, Frase."
"It's your influence, Ray."
"Don't let anyone at the precinct find out," Ray chided. "I've got a reputation as a bad ass to uphold."
Fraser pressed a finger to his lips. "Our secret, Ray." Diefenbaker stood with a small whine to follow Ray from the room. "Stay, Diefenbaker," Fraser ordered. The wolf turned and looked at him then with a definitely grumpy expression, did as he was asked.
"Here you go, Kelly." Ray handed the small bag of clothes and diapers they'd brought back from the other apartment to one of the uniformed cops. He felt strangely reluctant to hand over the baby but when Laura Barnett held out her arms, he pressed a quick kiss to the baby's cheek and surrendered his precious burden. "You be good now, Benny. Thing's are gonna be fine. The nice lady here will take care of you."
"Thanks, Detective Vecchio," the female officer said. "He'll be just fine." She smiled down at the baby. "Hey, there, Benny. Aren't you a cutie?"
"It's, ah, not his real name," Ray explained as he showed them to the door. "Just something I came up with. Figured I had to call him something."
"It suits him and I'm sure Constable Fraser would be very honored," she replied with a smile and a small wink.
Okay, Ray thought to himself. So maybe their secret wasn't as secret as they thought it was. "Is it okay if I call? Check up on the little guy?"
"Sure." She picked up the baby's hand and waved it at Ray. "Say goodbye, Benny."
The baby gave Ray a gummy smile and cuddled into his new protector.
"Friendly kid," Ray said with a grin.
Strong arms wrapped around him as he watched the elevator doors close, his small charge disappearing from sight. Ray sighed and leaned into the welcome support.
"Are you all right, Ray?" Fraser asked.
"Greatness, Fraser," Ray said, turning in the circle of Fraser's embrace and reaching up for a more passionate kiss now there were no little eyes watching. "Really great."