So you feel
Anything and everything could be
All that you wanted
Stay with me
I’m in no condition to be
And I’m on, and I’m on again
With all that you have
And oh, I’m in love again
Brace yourself now
-Howie Day, Brace Yourself
“Doc? It’s Ray Person.”
Tim sat up in bed and rubbed his eyes, glaring at his clock. It was nine in the morning on his first day of leave, he’d been planning on sleeping in until midday and eating left over pizza in his boxer shorts in front of the TV. Instead, he apparently had Ray fucking Person on the phone. How exciting for him.
“Ray,” he said, dropping back against his pillows. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
Ray was silent for a second, which should have been Tim’s first clue that something was wrong – that and the fact that he hadn’t heard from Ray in months, not since the last Bravo reunion. Now that Tim had some time off in Cali he’d been planning on catching up with everyone, but it wasn’t like he and Ray were best buddies or anything. So yeah. He should have known.
“I need some help,” Ray finally said, his voice subdued. “I’m sorry to call out of the blue, dude, but…”
“What’s the problem?” Tim interrupted. He’d been told a few times to work on his bedside manner. It had never stuck.
Ray sighed. Tim heard a noise in the background, a baby crying.
“Well,” Ray started, and the crying got louder, a steady wailing right into the phone. “Well, I’ve got this kid.”
Ray’s girlfriend found out she was pregnant the day before she’d been planning on breaking up with him.
She told him this without malice, sitting on the side of his bed with the pregnancy test clasped loosely in her hands. She’d been going to break up with him, she’d said, “not because you’re not amazing, but because I need my space, I need to be alone.”
“Ok,” Ray had replied, staring at her hands, at her red nails tapping away at the test. “Ok.”
“So this doesn’t change anything,” she’d continued, and only then Ray realised that she was on the verge of tears. He wanted to comfort her, but wasn’t sure if that was allowed anymore.
She nodded, and impatiently wiped her eyes. “I don’t want this baby.” She said it so definitely, so confidently, that Ray knew she’d never change her mind. She didn’t want this baby, Ray’s baby. She might, hypothetically, want some future baby, but this particular one? No.
“Ok,” Ray said, for the fourth time in a row, then shook his head. “No, right, we can – we can take care of…it.” He didn’t want to say the word ‘abortion,’ it sounded ugly and wrong in his head. But he had no doubt that that was where they were heading.
He watched a couple of tears slide down her cheeks. An hour ago if he’d seen her crying he would have taken her in his arms, kissed her and told her stupid jokes to make her laugh and punch him. But that already seemed distant, her words had put an ocean between them, a galaxy, and she was suddenly alien to him.
“I’m not getting an abortion,” she said, reading his meaning, and his eyes slipped down to the little silver cross she wore around her neck. She didn’t go to church, not even for Christmas or Easter, but he guessed she was just Catholic enough.
“What’ll we do?” he asked, although if she didn’t want it and she didn’t want to abort it, there was only one real option. Ray knew enough not to assume anything, though. The kid was growing in her stomach, not his. It was her choice.
Although he still felt like he was about to throw up.
“Someone will want it,” she said, and again there was that certainty, the assurance in her voice that told him she’d made this decision and that was it. He guessed she’d made a few life choices over the last little while – painting her nails red, eating a salad for lunch, leaving her boyfriend, having her baby adopted.
Ray suddenly needed her to go away, needed her to leave his apartment and let him be alone. He wanted to call Brad or Walt or his mom. He wanted to talk about it with somebody who didn’t have that steely certainty in their voice.
He knew he wasn’t being fair. He knew that this was peripheral to him. The impact on her – what this was going to do to her body, her life, was massive. He didn’t have any rights. All he could do was be supportive, try to ignore the fact that she didn’t love him, didn’t want his child.
“Honey,” he started, then stopped himself, blinking. That wasn’t right. “Jessie, whatever you want, whatever you need me to do – I guess we’re not together anymore, but this is my problem too, right?”
She looked at him blankly for a second, then gave him a tiny, bitter smile.
Tim looked at the baby in Ray’s arms, its angry red face, and its little hands flailing around in outrage. It was about a week old, too young to tell its gender, but Ray had put it in a little pink onesie so Tim took a guess.
“What’s her name?”
“Eloise Beth,” Ray said, then seeing the look on Tim’s face went on defensively, “After my grandma. I know its kind of old fashioned, but.” He shrugged. “I’ve kind of been calling her Ellie for short.”
“Ellie,” Tim said, and touched her little face, placed his palm over her tiny head. “Ellie, huh? It’s not a bad name.”
The smile Ray gave him proved more than anything that this was real, that he was in this. He looked like any father proud to be showing off his daughter. Tim shook his head.
“Jesus, Ray. How did this happen?”
“The usual way,” Ray said dryly, rolling his eyes. “Look, Doc, I’ll give you my life story if you want it, I swear, I just – she won’t stop crying. Can you please take a look at her?”
“Alright, alright,” Tim said gently, “Hand her over.” He made himself click on his doctor face, sinking into the role like it was a costume. He was going to get the whole fucking story out of Ray before the day was through, but for the moment he had a patient to look at, and as always, that took precedence over anything else.
Ray passed her over, and Ray took her warm, squirming body over to the couch, laying her on her back. “Is she sleeping?”
“Occasionally,” Ray said, kneeling next to Tim and waving his hands in front of the couch like he thought Tim was gonna let her roll straight off. Tim noticed the dark circles under his eyes, then, the slightly stare-y look all new parents got. He looked like he was doing it tough.
“Uh huh. Eating? Shitting?”
Ray made a face. “Homes, the stuff that comes out of this child is like a classified fucking substance. It is green. I coulda sold that mess to fucking Saddam.” Tim raised an eyebrow, and Ray hastened to add. “I feed her formula. I offer it to her whenever she cries, she seems to like it just fine. What comes out the other end is kinda disproportionate, to be honest.”
“That’s normal,” Tim assured him, and started poking at Ellie, pressing careful fingers into her belly.
“Is she ok?” Ray asked anxiously, and Tim made himself smile, felt it turn read when he saw the look of relief on Ray’s face.
“You know what colic is?”
Ray bit his lip. “Is it something that makes babies cry for eight hours straight and give their daddy a nervous breakdown?”
“Yeah, pretty much.” Tim pressed his palm to her forehead, checking for fever, but she was fine. “Look, she’s got a sore tummy That’s it. She’s pretty pissed off about it, but she’s not dying.”
The look Ray gave him was both hopeful and dubious. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, seriously. There’s no cure, sorry to say, but there are a few things you can try. You realise I’m not a paediatrician, though-”
“What things?” Ray interrupted, sounding a little desperate. “I’ll try fuckin’ anything, homes.”
Tim picked Ellie back up and held her close to his chest, rubbing his hand soothingly over her back. “I’m not promising anything. Some colicky babies just cry no matter what. They grow out of it, but it can be pretty tough to deal with.” He paused, he had to ask. “Ray, where’s her mom?”
It was like Ray shut down, his face going completely blank. “She doesn’t have one,” he said shortly. “Just me. She’s mine.”
Tim looked down at her face, her nose and mouth, the half-formed line of her eyebrows. “Yeah, she looks like she’s yours,” he said, and saw Ray come back to life, his mouth twitching like he was trying to hold back a smile. “Poor baby,” Tim added. “Oh, shh, you’re ok. Even with Person for a daddy, you’ll do fine, sweetheart.” He glanced back up at Ray. “If I help you out, you’re spilling your guts, ok?”
“That sounds like blackmail,” Ray said sourly. “What happened to your oath?”
“Fuck my oath.” Tim frowned. "I wanna know everything.”
Jessie hadn’t even wanted to hold her baby after it was born. She’d turned her wet face into the pillow, and the nurses had taken Ellie away without Jessie looking at her, taken the little girl off to be bathed and measured without ever meeting her mother. Ray’s heart had broken when he heard that, when the nurse told him, but by then he was holding Ellie close in his trembling hands and he didn’t have room for anything other than the warmth of her.
“She’s so small,” he’d whispered in awe, and the nurse smiled at him sympathetically, led him to a chair.
“Sweetheart, are you going to be alright?” she asked him, touching his shoulder gently. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
He’d looked up at her, at her well meaning face, and nodded. “Ma’am, as long as I got my little girl I’m gonna be fine,” he said, and realised he meant it with all his heart. He smiled, feeling like his whole world was being turned upside down and twisted around the anchor of the tiny weight in his arms.
He was terrified. But happier than he’d ever been in his life.
Tim told Ray everything he remembered about colicky babies, about putting them on the dryer and tilting them around in weird angles until they magically stopped crying, but the only thing that stuck was the one about skin on skin contact, laying there with the baby pressed close to your chest, recreating the sense of being safe in the womb.
Ray was stripping off his tee-shirt in a second, undressing Ellie and lying down on the couch, holding her to his chest. “This had better work,” he said, “Now I know why everyone in Hitman two-one was always so fucking pissed off when I wouldn’t shut up.”
“You’re only just now figuring this out?” Tim asked, but it lacked heat on account of the fact that Ray Person was lying in front of him without his shirt on, and there was apparently a lot more to Ray Person than Tim had realised. Like a smear of dark tattoos and a set of rock hard abs. Good to know.
He coughed and settled down in an armchair. “So start talking, Person. How in the name of fuck did you end up with a week old baby?”
Ray kissed Ellie on the top of her head, avoiding Tim’s gaze. “Well,” he started. “I had this girlfriend.”
By the time Ray finished talking, Ellie had calmed down, her sleeping face pressed against the tattoos on Ray’s chest. Ray had asked Tim to get her bottle ready, terrified that as soon as he moved she’d start up all over again. Tim was only too happy to oblige, relieved at the chance to get up and move away from Ray, just getting his thoughts in order. It was obvious Ray was in trouble, even more obvious that he was too stubborn to really ask for help. Typical fucking Marine. Tim was already looking at his plans for the next few weeks, figuring out the spaces where he could fit Ray in.
He came back with the bottle and saw Ellie had woken up, just looking around with her bleary grey eyes. Ray took it from him and looked at him anxiously. “She not gonna turn out retarded because she’s not being breastfed, is she?” he asked. “I’ve heard all kinds of crazy shit about that.”
“No, of course not.” Tim rolled his eyes. “Tonnes of kids aren’t breastfed, they all turn out fine.” He looked around the apartment. It wasn’t a pigsty, he’d never met a Marine who hadn’t had a certain paranoid orderliness drilled into him, but it was clear that Ray had had other things on his mind than picking up after himself. And in a tiny apartment like that, a little mess went a long way. Tim sighed and started cleaning up the dishes in the sink, waving off Ray’s protests.
“Ray, do you have anyone that can help out? Family?”
“Nah, homes, it’s just me and my mom since grandma died. We ain’t real close. And she’s a receptionist at a free clinic in Cape Giraudoux. She can’t afford to take time off and get a ticket to come out. I wanted to pay her way, but...” He shrugged awkwardly. “I don’t exactly have a lot in my savings account and all of it’s going to Ellie.” Tim nodded, wiping down the benches. Ray went on. “I’ve had a few people come round, though. Walt and his girl brought that,” he gestured to a giant teddy bear sitting in the corner in a USMC tee-shirt. “They know even less about raising a kid than I do, but it was good to see ‘em. I woulda called Poke, but he’s back in Iraq. I don’t know his wife well enough to call out the blue.” Ellie started wiggling and Ray set the bottle on the table before holding her up, kissing her on the cheek before transferring her to his shoulder. Tim couldn’t help but notice the unconscious affection in Ray’s every gesture, every look, the way he couldn’t hold his baby without showing how much he loved her with every fibre of his body. He’d always been expressive, almost cartoonishly so. It made everything so much more obvious.
“Uh, what else?” Ray was saying, “Oh, Nate Fick dropped in yesterday. Fuck, that boy has the Golden Touch; I didn’t want to let him leave. As soon as he picked her up she stopped crying, he spent the entire visit talking about what a good baby she is. Then she started up again as soon as he was out the door. I almost ran after him.” He grinned, shaking his head. “And Mike Wynn and his wife came by with a bunch of diapers and old baby clothes. Cathy fussed at me a lot, but it was all good.”
Tim finished tidying up the sink and started tying up the trash. “You ever think about moving back to Missouri? Being with your mom?”
Ray nodded. “Yeah, I thought about it, but I got my job here, and another one lined up when my enlistment runs out in a bit. Besides, Brad will be back soon.”
Ray gave him a ‘who else?’ look. “Yeah, and we got this shit perfectly timed. Check it. I’m on leave, then I’ve got my two whole weeks paternity that the Marine Corps so generously gave me.” He made a face. “By the time that runs out Brad’ll be back from England, at which point he’s taking long service leave. I’ll have three months left of my enlistment, Brad’ll take care of her for most of that. When he goes back to work he’ll have a cushy detail training baby Marines at Pendleton, then I’ll have her for a bit before I have to start my new job. It’s gonna be tight as shit, but between us we should be able to mostly keep her out of day-care for a while. After that...” he ticked Ellie, smiling at the way her fists waved through the air. “I guess well see what happens, huh, baby?”
Tim was surprised. “I didn’t realise you and Brad were so close,” he said, feeling kind of stupid. Ray didn’t pay him any mind.
“He’s my best friend,” he said simply. “He’s the one who convinced me to take Ellie in the first place. Everyone else thought I was being a fucking moron.”
“Brad’s adopted, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, it’s not even that though, it’s...” Ray trailed off, gazing down at his baby’s face. “If I didn’t have her here with me, I’d spend all my time wondering where she was, whether she was ok. Jessie fuckin’ disassociated herself, convinced herself she wasn’t the kid’s mother. I’m not sure if she even knows her name.” He glanced up. “Brad knows me, though, he knew there was no way in hell I could let go like that. So when I said I wanted to fight for her, he promised he’d have my back.” He shrugged. “I just need to get through the next few weeks.”
Tim didn’t know what to say, didn’t have any frame of reference for this. But Ray was his Marine, one of the men he’d sworn to protect. Just because they were out of the AO, didn’t mean that promise was any less real.
“Well, I’ve got your back too,” he finally said. “If you need me.”
The smile Ray gave him lit up the entire room.
“Homes, I need all the help I can get.”
Being gay in the military had never really been a problem for Tim. He didn’t fuck Marines, which helped, and when he absolutely had to look, when Colbert went around without his shirt on, for instance, he’d gotten so good at hiding, keeping on his angry-doctor face, that it was never an issue. But most of the time there wasn’t even that. Being at war did make him angry, being exposed to the rank stupidity of everyone from the highest officers to the lowest dumbfuck grunts made him angry, and he didn’t have any energy left to bother checking out the men he was deployed with. No matter how good looking they were - and he wasn’t blind, he noticed guys like Nate and Walt and Jason - he was more likely to want to hit them upside the head than actually...hit them.
He couldn’t even really remember noticing Ray at all. He’s been on pretty tight lockdown during OIF, though maybe if he’d been letting himself look... But Ray didn’t have the Calvin Klein model face of some of the other fuckers, and he was loud and obnoxious and it seemed like he probably hid as much as Tim did. Tim had seen him as Brad’s RTO, as the clown of the unit, as another mouthy grunt. But he hadn’t really seen him.
He saw him now, though, away from theatre, away from all the things that he’d used to camouflage himself - no Ripped Fuel, not MOPP suit, no Avril, no Colbert. He started to realise that there was a lot to Ray that was worth noticing.
And those fucking abs were only the start.
They were on full display when Tim showed up the next day with two bags of groceries. Ray opened the door in nothing but a pair of old jeans and a surprised expression, and Tim had to push past him gruffly to stop his eyes from lingering. Out in the AO it was easy, sure, stateside on the other hand was another fucking story.
“How’s Ellie?” Tim asked, noting the absence of hysterical wailing in the apartment.
“Asleep,” said Ray. “Hi, Doc, how are you, good to see you, how’s your day-”
“Yeah yeah.” Tim waved his hand impatiently. “You get any sleep last night Ray?” Ray shrugged and rubbed the back of his head. Tim couldn’t stop his eyes from tracing down the line of his body, from his bicep to the hard cut of muscle that disappeared into his jeans. He swallowed and looked away, busying himself with unpacking the groceries.
“Couple of hours,” Ray said, yawning. “Hey, you don’t have to - you didn’t need to get this stuff.”
“I know,” Tim said shortly. “Go to bed. You’re no good to anyone if you fall down from fatigue, and you’re not downing Ripped Fuel anymore. Get some sleep, I’ve got Ellie’s six if she wakes up.”
Ray stared at him. “Doc, thanks. Thank you.”
Tim hated being thanked. He was just doing his job, doing what was in his DNA, but the expression on Ray’s face was kind of hard to resist. “Don’t worry about it,” he sighed. “Go on and put your head down.”
“Hang on.” Ray went into his room and came back with a big old fashioned wicker bassinet, which he set on the coffee table. “Cathy gave me this,” he explained, “It’s good, I can cart her around in it without waking her up.”
Tim gazed inside, Ellie was sleeping on her back with a stuffed dog by her head to keep her company. It had horns.
“Ray, is that a devil dog?”
Ray grinned proudly. “Yup. Brad sent it. It’s her favourite.”
Ellie was too young to have a favourite anything, but Tim just rolled his eyes and shoved Ray towards the bedroom.
“Alright, I got this. Formula in the fridge?”
Ray nodded through another yawn. “Fuck. Thanks again, I’m almost out.” He shut the bedroom door behind him, and Tim stared at it for a second, letting himself indulge in a moment of appreciation for Ray’s body, his tattoos painted liberally over his lean muscles.
“Damn,” he sighed, and turned towards the kitchen. “Who the hell knew, Ellie?” he whispered. “Your daddy’s a fucking hottie.”
He had a chicken casserole on the stove and simmering before Ellie woke up and started whimpering. He picked her up, winced, and put her straight back down - she needed her diaper changed. “Hey, baby, where does daddy keep your diapers?” he asked, looking around the apartment. They were nowhere to be seen and he sighed, cracking open the bedroom door. “Ray?”
Ray was sound asleep on top of his covers. He’d kicked off his jeans and was lying there in just his boxers, one arm thrown over his eyes. Tim very deliberately looked away, went straight to the changing table and gathered up what he needed, didn’t let himself look back before he left the room.
He was attracted to Ray. That was pretty fucking obvious. But he wasn’t going to be an idiot about it. He was attracted to a lot of guys, most of them straight, he was used to not acting on it, used to looking and not touching. This was no different. He could deal with it just fine.
He spread a towel out on the floor and changed Ellie, then heated up a bottle and settled on the couch with her cradled in his arm. Ray had been asleep for two hours, he hoped he could give him another couple before Ellie started fussing for her daddy. He flicked the TV on with the volume down, and prepared to get heavily invested in some daytime soaps, Ellie a soft, warm weight in his arms.
He woke up with Ellie’s fingers up his nose and Ray standing in front of the couch with two bottles of beer.
“Shit,” Tim yawned, sitting up and putting Ellie in her basket. “Sorry.”
Ray handed him a beer. “You come into my house, you make me dinner, you take care of my kid. Honestly, homes, you can tell me - are you my fairy godmother? Can I keep you?”
Tim shook his head. “I’m visiting with my folks for two days up in San Francisco. I’ll check up on you when I get back, though.”
“Why?” Ray sat down next to him and tapped their bottles together. “Not that I don’t appreciate the shit out f this, but you know you don’t have to.”
“Yeah, I know,” Tim said, and took a long swallow of his beer. “Last year a Marine I was in Afghanistan with got back stateside and broke his leg. I lived with him for two weeks until his girlfriend finished her semester at UCLA and took over.” He shrugged. “It’s my job to take care of you stupid fucking jarheads as much as I can. I take it seriously.”
Ray snorted. “Shit, Doc, is that you being nice? It’s never happened before, so excuse me for being a little confused.”
“Fuck you,” Tim said comfortably. Ray laughed.
“Seriously, though, when we were at war together? If I’d gotten shot I’d have expected you to fuckin’ kill yourself making me better. Outta the AO... I was hoping you’d tell me Ellie wasn’t dying, that’s as far as it went.”
“Yeah, well, if you think I’m gonna leave an innocent baby with nothing but a dumb devil dog to look after her, you obviously don’t know me very well.”
“Yeah, I guess I don’t.” Ray reached into the basket and picked up Ellie, started tickling the soles of her feet to make her kick her legs in the air. “So who am I taking you away from? You got an angry girlfriend at home that’s getting all pissy without you there to play doctors and nurses with?”
Tim smiled quietly. “No, no girlfriend.”
Ray squeezed Ellie’s toes. “You hear that, darlin’? Doc’s a free man. You’re gonna have two grown men running around attending to your every whim, three when Uncle Brad gets home.”
“Get used to it,” Tim added. “She’s gonna have you wrapped around her finger for the rest of your life, you know that?”
Ray looked as if the thought delighted him. “Looking forward to it, Doc,” he said, rolling his eyes at himself a little. “I’m just glad to have her at all.”
It didn’t take Tim long to realise that whenever he wasn’t around Ray, he was thinking about him.
He dropped in every other day or so, would have made it daily if he thought he could get away with it without looking like a freak. On the days he skipped, he saw his friends, sat around watching TV, did his groceries, and wished he was with Ray.
Tim was too smart to fall in love with a straight guy. He told himself that a lot. He was a smart, mostly emotionally stable guy, he wasn’t in the market for love and even if he was, he certainly wasn’t going to go recruiting in the Marine Corps. When he was ready for something more than one night stands he’d go looking, but for now? Falling in love with Ray Person and his baby girl was not on his agenda.
So he kept telling himself.
And sometimes he believed it.
When Ray took Ellie home the first time, he put her in her cot, sat on the couch, and cried for an hour straight. He probably would have kept on longer, but Ellie had woken up and joined in, desperate shrieks that freaked him out and made him forget anything he had to be miserable for. He’d jumped up, holding onto her and pacing around his apartment, holding her awkwardly and patting her like a puppy. “Shh, baby,” he kept saying, desperately, “Shh, now, shh, baby, it’s OK, we’re gonna be OK.” She’d looked up at him accusingly, blaming him for the whole world, blaming him for the fact that she wasn’t all snug and safe in the womb anymore, but stuck out here in this shitty apartment with nothing but a deadbeat Marine for a daddy. He’d looked at her face, studying it intently, committing every millimetre of it to memory, and promised her that he was gonna make it right, that he was gonna be the best father in the world, that he’d be there for her for the rest of their lives, that they were gonna get through it all together.
His tears dried on his face, and he fed his little girl in their apartment for the first time with a look of wonder, curled up on the couch with her fiercely sucking at her bottle. He loved her more than he’d ever thought possible, he hadn’t even known that kind of feeling existed in the world.
“Eloise,” he’d whispered. “Eloise Beth Person. Ellie Beth.” She looked at him sleepily, pulling away from the bottle and yawning at him, and he smiled, delighted. “You bored with me already Ellie Beth? We got a long way to go, yet.” She ignored him, turning her face into his chest and going to sleep, and he just sat there, frozen, gazing down at her, until the phone rang with Brad on the other end.
“You got her home alright?”
“Yeah, dude,” Ray said. “Yeah, she’s home.”
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.”