So you think
You can hold the world up by a string
With all that you have
And I would hold every part of you if I could
And I'm on...
And I'm on again
With all that you have
And oh, I'm in love again
“If you don’t sit the fuck down and have a drink with me I’m gonna assume you don’t love me anymore and be all heartbroken and shit.”
Tim looked at the bottle of Chivas in Ray’s hands and shook his head.
“Fucknut, that is a twenty five year old bottle of whiskey. It’s fuckin’ older than you. You don’t just open it because there’s nothing on TV and you’re bored.”
Ray held up a finger. “Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, my friend, you think Ray-Ray doesn’t have a plan for this bitch? Tonight I’m educating my daughter in 80’s action movies. Semester one is Bruce Willis and I got all the Die Hard movies cued up and waiting.”
Tim grinned despite himself. “Seriously? She’s not even a month old, you’re going there already?”
“Fuck yeah, homes! Ellie Beth Person is gonna be raised by Marines, Gunny Wynn’s wife, you and fuckin’ John McClane. Now sit your bitchy Navy ass down and have a drink.”
Tim fought against that grin some more, warmed by the idea that Ray wanted him to help raise Ellie, and did as he was told, accepting the glass with good grace. Even served up in a chipped tumbler with SpongeBob SquarePants printed on the side (“What? It used to be a jam jar!”), it was delicious, smoky and smooth going down.
“Yippee ki yay, motherfucker,” Ray said cheesily, tapping their glasses. “Damn, homes, better than a fifth of Back Velvet.”
“You think?” Tim settled Ellie down on the couch between them, surrounding her with pillows and her devil dog so she wouldn’t roll off, and sat back to watch the movie, sipping away at his drink.
Three glasses in, he was starting to rethink the merits of getting drunk with a baby and Ray in a wifebeater to deal with – mostly the baby. He glanced sideways at Ray and realised that as excited as he’d been about his fancy-ass liquor, he was still nursing his second glad and spending about as much time watching Ellie wiggle her toes as watching McClane fuck shit up. Tim felt a rush of feeling, something fierce and almost angry in its intensity, something that felt a lot like love, something stupid and terrifying like that.
Actually, getting drunk sounded like a fantastic idea.
Alan Rickman had just said his ‘ho ho ho’ line (loudly echoed by both Tim and Ray, with even Ellie joining in with a sudden squeal –‘see, she’s learning!’), when Ray put his glass down on the table and turned to Tim.
“So why don’t you have a girlfriend?”
“You heard me. How come you don’t have some cute little sailor girl at home ready and willing to, you know, scrub your decks?”
Tim snorted and realised he was starting to blush like a twelve year old girl. Fucking whiskey. “What does that even mean?”
“Oh my god, you know what I mean. Stop ducking the question, Timothy.” Tim blinked. He thought that might have been the first time Ray had used his actual name. Stupidly, it was kind of sexy.
“I don’t know, I just don’t,” he muttered, his head swimming a little. He could feel the alcohol slipping through his bloodstream, smooth as silk, on a demolition mission to his brain.
“You just don’t,” Ray repeated mockingly. “Come on, you’re a sexy-ass military boy and you practically save puppies and kittens for a living as far as chicks are concerned. You should be swimming in pussy.”
“Well, doesn’t that sound fucking pleasant,” Tim said, then paused. “Ray, did you just call me sexy?”
Ray rolled his eyes. “Focus, sailor!”
Tim did, as much as he was able. It was Ray asking. Ray, who couldn’t cook, and who would live on cereal and pop tarts if Tim’d let him. Ray who Tim had caught singing the Marines’ Hymn to Ellie when he was trying to get her to sleep. Ray who let him hold his baby when Ray was too wiped out to even stand up straight, Ray who had called him first when he needed some help and was all alone.
Ray, who he probably loved. Ray…who he trusted.
“Don’t ask,” Tim said quietly, glaring at the coffee table. He could count the people in the military who knew he was gay on one hand. He’d never told a Marine. He’d never told someone he’d deployed with. But it was Ray.
“Doc, why’re you being such a-”
“Ray,” Tim interrupted, and looked him in the eye. “Don’t. Ask. Because I can’t tell you.”
Ray stared at him for a moment, then his mouth slowly dropped open as he snapped to the picture. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. Right.”
“Right,” Tim said tightly, and turned back to the TV. McClane was being a badass. Big surprise.
Ray was quiet for a minute, thinking things over. Tim felt like if he didn’t say something soon, the entire world was going to explode, but he kept his own mouth shut and waited. This was either going to blow up in his own face or not, he had to make his peace with that.
And then. “You know I don’t care.”
Tim just frowned.
“No, I mean it. It doesn’t make any difference to me. Or Ellie.”
“Oh, good,” Tim said dryly. “Does that mean we never have to talk about it ever again?”
“Hmm.” Ray drained his glass, set it back down, and pointed at the television screen. “Are you attracted to John McClane?”
“Am I what?”
“Timothy, are you fucking hard of hearing tonight or what? Do you think McClane’s hot?”
Tim was all at sea, but he looked at Bruce Willis appraisingly. “He’s uh. He’s a little balding.”
Ray’ eyes went wide. “But it’s John. McClane. Fuck, dude, he’s so hardcore I’d even fuck him!”
Tim picked up Ellie and cuddled her, trying to hide his disbelief that they were even having this conversation. “Ray, I think he’d be fucking you, to be perfectly honest with you here.”
And Ray just laughed, getting up to get out a bag of chips. “Whatever, Sailor Boy. Hey, do you think it’s too déclassé to eat Pringles with twenty five year old Chivas Regal?”
“Ray? We’re drinking Chivas Regal out of SpongeBob jam jars while watching Die Hard. I think the Pringles would only be a step up at this point.”
Ray tossed him the tube and bounced back onto the couch, grinning from ear to ear. “You fucking love it, homes. Now stop hogging all the baby.” He took Ellie back, kicked his feet up onto the table, and shoved about six Pringles in his mouth at once.
And just like that, it was fine.
And just like that, Tim knew he was right, knew it was love, and knew he was screwed.
It took a week.
A week in which they got even closer, Ray calling up Tim and complaining at him if he didn’t show, a week for Ray to prove to Tim that his feelings towards him hadn’t changed.
And then one minute to prove that actually, maybe they had.
Tim dropped in early one morning expecting to find Ray still in bed, letting himself in with his spare key. To his surprise, Ray was sitting up on the couch with Ellie cradled in his arms. He looked up at Tim, his eyes red and bruised looking.
“Hey,” Tim said softly, clicking the door gently shut behind him.
“Hey.” Ray’s voice was scratchy with exhaustion, and very quiet. “Ellie just fell asleep. She was up all night.”
“Damn.” Tim sank down next to Ray, knocking their shoulders together gently. “You being hard on your daddy, baby-girl?”
Ray sighed. “If you weren’t around, I don’t know if I coulda done this.”
Tim felt his heart clench. “Bullshit,” he whispered, almost angry. He’d never seen Ray look that defeated, that ready to give up. “You woulda sucked it up and made do. Don’t you fucking say that.”
Ray looked down at his baby, sound asleep and peaceful, snuggled into him like he was her entire world. His face softened, he looked helpless and young and full of love. “You’re right,” he said. “Shit, I’m just so – have you ever been so tired that you feel drunk?”
“You should go get some sleep. Get it while you can.”
“In a minute, I’m too tired to even move right now.” Ray closed his eyes and seemed to take a deep breath. The next words out of his mouth hit Tim squarely between the eyes. “So, you’re gay, huh.”
“I thought we’d been over this,” Tim said, wondering why the hell Ray had even brought it up. The past week had been fine, radio silence on the matter. “Don’t worry. It’s not catching.”
“Hah.” Ray dropped his head to the back of the couch. “Do you think I’m hot?”
Tim stared at him. “Why the fuck would you ask me that?”
Ray shrugged. “It’s a simple question, Timothy.”
“Fuck,” Tim announced. The answer – yes, yes, god, yes – was on the tip of his tongue. He couldn’t stop staring at Ray’s mouth, his lashes, at the bruised, delicate skin under his eyes. “Ray. Why?”
Ray finally opened his eyes. “Because I need to know whether or not you’re gonna pistol whip me if I kiss you right now.”
Tim’s heart beat double time while the rest of him froze, stunned. He could hardly breathe, felt like the pounding in his chest was enough to make him keel over.
“Why would you kiss me, Ray?”
“I don’t know,” Ray admitted. “I just know I really, really want to.”
Tim bit his lip, frowned at the air around him. He wanted – god, everything. But Ray was still looking very young, and very vulnerable. “Are you sure about that?” he asked, as gently as he could.
Ray nodded. “I’m so fuckin’ sure. I’ve been thinking about it for ages.” He met Tim’s eyes for an instant, flicked away. “Can’t stop thinking about it.”
“So that’s why you need to tell me if you think I’m hot,” Ray continued. “Because if I try to kiss you and it turns out you’ve got a thing for someone like Walt or whoever, I’m gonna look pretty fuckin’ stupid.”
Tim had to laugh. His heart was still beating out of his chest, but he could feel something else in there, something that almost made him dizzy. “I definitely don’t have a thing for Walt,” he promised. The corners of Ray’s mouth twitched.
“You sure? Because I hear Hasser’s a pretty sexy piece of ass.”
Tim swallowed, licked his lips. “I don’t like blonds.”
Ray held his graze this time, looked him right in the eye. “What do you like?”
It took an instant for Tim to decide, an instant to break every promise he’d ever made to himself, an instant to throw away his mask and just tell the truth.
“You wanna know what I like, Ray?” he asked softly, and twisted on the couch. Ray’s eyes were wide as he nodded, and Tim reached up a shaking hand and stroked a thumb over his cheek, tracing it down to his mouth before leaning in and finally, perfectly, replacing it with his own.
Jessie was silent on the phone for a moment. Ray paced his apartment, chewing his thumbnail, so tense he thought he might snap in half.
Finally, she sighed. “Ray, you’re being crazy. You need to think about this.”
“I’ve thought about it a lot,” he said. “I’ve thought about it as much as I need to. I wanna do it.”
He perched on the edge of the couch, started randomly picking things up and putting them down. His keys, his sunglasses. His hands were shaking.
“If you take the baby,” Jessie said slowly. “You’ll never see me again.”
Ray closed his eyes. “You were breaking up with me and moving to New York,” he said tightly. “I would have dealt with never seeing you again anyway.”
Her voice wavered as she replied. “But there could have been a chance…some day…”
No. He didn’t want to hear that.
“Jessie. I’m going to fight for my child. Get used to it.”
She sighed again, in frustration. “You’re being an idiot! Ray! You can hardly take care of yourself, you can’t raise a goddamned baby on your own!”
Ray picked up a photo frame, looked at the picture inside. Bravo Two in Iraq, dirty, smelly, hot and together. All of them together. He touched the faces, Brad, Walt, Gabe, Doc…
“I’m not on my own. I won’t be doing this alone.” I’m a Marine, he thought but didn’t say. She wouldn’t understand.
He put the picture down carefully, angled it just right. “I’m gonna raise my baby, Jessie.” He said it with finality. Sounded a lot stronger than he felt.
“Well I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.” She sounded bitter, betrayed. Hurt, maybe, that he was stepping up to something she’d wanted no part in.
He nodded, kept his eyes on the picture. “Don’t you worry about me,” he said. “I’m gonna be just fine.”
And for one second, he thought maybe – maybe – that was true.
It turned out that dating Ray was exhausting. Tim wondered if he could ever have expected it to be otherwise, but he hadn’t expected anything, hadn’t even really dared to think about it. He’d thought about touching, and kissing, and getting into that bed – fuck, he’d thought about that all the time – but dating? No. Not in his wildest dreams.
And Ray insisted on calling it dating, too, mostly just to be a pain in the ass. Not that they’d actually gone on anything that could possibly resemble a date, of course. They watched movies together and made out on the couch, yes. They went shopping together, yes. Tim had practically moved in, yes, but by no stretch of the imagination could he call what they were doing dating.
“Dating is seeing a movie and going for a walk along the pier,” Tim bitched as he carried Ellie around the local supermarket. “Dating is feeling you up at the corner table of a nice restaurant and hoping for a blowjob on the way home.”
“Well, none of that’s gonna happen,” Ray conceded, tossing three different types of cereal in the cart. “But to be perfectly honest here, I do expect some fucking flowers.”
“Dating,” Tim said with scorn, shaking his head at Ellie. “Baby, your daddy thinks I’m a high school girl.”
“Oh, sweet.” Ray grinned at him. “Does that mean you’ll get drunk on wine coolers and let me get to second base?”
“If I wasn’t holding the proof of it in my arms,” Tim said, trying to direct Ray to the vegetable aisle, “I would not believe that you ever had gotten to second base. But I guess miracles happen, huh?”
Ray kicked his ankle, gently. “Well I guess they do.”
Tim looked away, felt his face flush. He wasn’t used to this. Part of him was still screaming that it wasn’t right, that he needed to drop everything and run or it was all going to come crashing down around him. But the other part was so helplessly goddamn in love that he felt like the whole world could see the cloud of cartoon hearts he was trailing behind him. It was pathetic. It wasn’t him. But it was happening.
“You see, I don’t know what you expect me to do with all these fresh vegetables,” Ray said, looking around like he was lost. “If you don’t microwave it it’s pretty much out of my league, dude.”
“I’m not fucking someone with scurvy,” Tim muttered in his ear. “It is not number one on my list of things to do.”
Ray widened his eyes. “Not in front of the baby!” he stage-whispered, and held up an eggplant. “Now tell me what the fuck I do with this.”
Fucking Ray with scurvy might not have been on the agenda, but fucking him definitely was. If they could ever manage to get it together long enough to even make it that far.
Tim tried to tell himself that it wasn’t that Ray was – at least nominally – straight. It was that he had a newborn baby to take care of, and the both of them were so fucking tired that sex was the last thing on their minds. He took what he could, and was grateful for it, but still…sometimes…
They made out like teenagers. Maybe dating was the right word for it, because they could spend hours on the couch watching bad TV and lying in each other’s laps, trading soft kisses and touches. Tim was careful not to get too carried away, to take his cues from Ray, but Ray seemed like if he wasn’t so damned exhausted all the time he’d definitely be into going farther. As it was, though… Second base had been breached, third was still a fantasy.
And then there was the other thing.
“You know,” Ray muttered one night, resting his head on Tim’s shoulder. “I can’t wait until Brad gets back.”
Tim paused, went still. “Really.”
“Yeah. I mean, I want him to meet Ellie and all, and when he gets back I can finally have her christened and make my momma happy, but it’s mostly that I just feel better when he’s around.”
Tim made himself resume stroking Ray’s hair, tried to ignore the slight sting. He was not going to be a little bitch about this. Ray missed his best friend. It was understandable.
“Brad’s gonna be her Godfather? Isn’t he Jewish?”
Ray shrugged. “It’s just a formality. I’m not raising her religious, I wouldn’t do that to her, I just need to tick all the boxes and shit. Brad’s gonna be her other daddy anyway.” He grinned to himself, then looked up at Tim. “Her third daddy.”
Tim melted a little. “Ray…”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t go all weepy on me.” Ray tilted his head up and kissed Tim’s jaw. “Also, Brad can baby sit. Finally give us some time alone.”
Tim twisted to meet Ray’s lips, kissing him hard, pushing him back down onto the couch. “Thank fucking God for that,” he muttered into Ray’s mouth. “Time alone.”
“And sleep,” Ray added, settling his hands on Tim’s waist. “We can sleep for hours and hours and then wake up and have dirty sex while Brad takes care of the rugrat. Oh my god. Brad can change her diapers.”
Tim sat up a little, looked at Ray seriously. “Does he know about us?”
Ray shook his head. “Nah, dude, I wouldn’t tell him without clearing it with you. No one knows.” He paused, chewing his lips. “I’d like to tell him, though. There’s not much I keep from Brad."
Tim sat back up. “Yeah, I know.” He frowned. He’d known there’d be consequences to breaking his own rules, that’s why the rules were there in the first place. Marines gossiped. Marines were too close to each other for their own good, they couldn’t keep secrets, they were like little girls at slumber parties.
But Ray was…Ray. Tim mentally took him out of the Marines, made him just a man, someone he loved.
“You can tell him,” he said slowly. “It’s Brad. Brad’s not gonna spread it round.”
“Of course he’s not.” Ray pulled him back down, impatiently. “Come on, Timothy. Un-twist those panties. Your big gay secret’s safe with us.”
“Your big gay secret too,” Tim pointed out. “You do happen to be making out with a man right now. In case it escaped your notice.”
“Fucking whatever, dude. I’m out the Marines in a few months anyway, I don’t give a fuck. I only care on account of you.”
Tim looked at him. “Really? You’d let people know?”
“Well, yeah. I kinda like you a lot, you grumpy fucking asshole. I’m not really good at keeping shit like that on the down-low.”
Tim touched Ray’s face, his hair. “You dumb motherfucker,” he said gently. “What the fuck am I gonna do with you?”
Ray’s smile was kind of shy. “I don’t know, Timothy. The gay porn I downloaded the other night when you were at your folks gave me a few ideas, though.”
Tim closed his eyes. He was so hard he felt like he was going to burst, but he had to tread carefully, here. “You watched gay porn?”
“Uh huh. To be honest, I didn’t much care for it. None of those dudes looked like you.” Ray pushed his hips up to Tim’s, let Tim feel how much he was into it. “But I mean, it cleared a few things up.”
“Don’t get sex tips from gay porn,” Tim advised, kissing down Ray’s neck. “Gay porn is not made with sex-ed in mind.”
“Well, I guess that’s what you’re for, dude.” Ray hooked an ankle around Tim’s leg, grabbed his ass. “You can be the stern teacher and I’ll be the innocent student willing to do anything for an A+.”
“Aww, fuck, Ray.” Tim started laughing, burying his face in Ray’s collarbone. “You’re such a fucked up hick.”
“No, I know,” Ray smirked. “You can be the badass Navy Corpsman and I’ll be the hard-as-nails Recon Marine – oh, wait.”
“You really have been watching gay porn.” Tim pressed his hips down to meet Ray’s, let their cocks rub together through the layers of their jeans. It wasn’t enough, and it was still almost too much. His heart was beating faster, he could feel the flush coming to his cheeks, see it on Ray’s as well.
“We could make our own gay porn,” Ray suggested. He was rocking up rhythmically now, grinding himself against Tim. “We could make ourselves a million bucks.”
“Ray…” Tim kissed him dirty, open mouthed and wet and messy as their movements became more desperate, rutting against each other like –
They froze as Ellie’s cries rose up out of her bassinet in Ray’s room and slapped them in the face.
“When she starts getting interested in boys,” Ray said, panting, “There is going to be harsh retribution for all this cock-blocking.”
Tim chuckled ruefully and sat up. He’d been taught that blue-balls was a myth. He tried to hold onto that. “It’s your turn. I’m gonna have a shower.”
Ray looked betrayed. “Are you gonna knock one out in the shower while I’m changing my kid’s diaper? That is fucking cold.”
Tim kissed the top of his head. “Welcome to fatherhood.”
“Welcome to fuck you,” Ray shot back, and headed into the bedroom. “Ellie Beth Person, are you a puritan? Is that why you don’t want your daddy to get any? I’m shocked and bewildered by this turn of events.”
Tim stood up and stretched, watching Ray go. He could feel it again, that love so fierce it almost made him angry, almost made him want to stand in front of Ray and Ellie with a rifle drawn and his teeth bared, daring anyone to get too close. He knew he was gonna have to clamp a lid on that, hide it away, before Brad got back. Because they were Tim’s for now, but he was going to have to learn to share.
He was somehow really, really not looking forward to it.
“Brad, can you hear me?”
“Yeah, Ray, I got ya loud and clear. Got Ellie, too.”
Ray put Ellie down in her bassinet and went into the kitchen, away from the noise.
“Dude, I’m about to jump out my window. I am freaking out here.”
“Calm the fuck down.” Brad’s voice was slow, soothing. “Get your shit together, Ray.”
Ray took a deep breath. His whole body was shaking. Ellie had been crying non-stop for three hours, and he felt like every nerve in his body had been fried.
“I don’t know what to do.”
Brad was quiet for a minute. “You think you should take her to the doctor?”
Ray bit his lip. “Maybe. Probably. I don’t know.” He didn’t want to say it, but Brad knew. The doctor was expensive. Money wasn’t a problem, until it was, and Ray was doing it tight already. “Fuck, I guess I should.”
“Hang on,” Brad said. “Why don’t you call Doc Bryan?”
Ray frowned. “Yeah?”
“Can’t hurt. He’ll at least be able to tell you if there’s something wrong or if it’s just…gas or whatever babies get.”
Ray laughed a little. “Fuck, we’re both so clueless, man. How are we going to raise this kid?”
“Call Doc,” Brad repeated. “Get the motherfucker up out of bed and get him to come round. Have him poke at her and frown and let him call you a dumb piece of shit all he wants. Okay?”
“Yeah, okay.” Ray felt a twinge of hope. Doc would help him, it was what he did. “Thanks, dude.”
“I’ll be home soon,” Brad said. “Try not to fuck up too bad until then, alright?”
Ray smiled. “Aye aye, Staff Sergeant.”
He hung up and dug through his address book, looking for Doc’s number.
“Doc? It’s Ray Person.”