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for your never new year

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Ray took the plates to the kitchen, and Ray sprawled to take up all the available space and then some. Ben shifted so his arm lay around Ray's shoulders rather than pinned between them. He flicked him a smile, then gestured with his chin towards the coffee table. "What's that?"

Not the table then, but the book. Ben leaned forward to pick it up, Ray shifting with him. "The Township of Sandwich (Past and Present): an Interesting History of the Canadian Frontier Along the Detroit River," he replied, shortening the title somewhat. He'd started it ages ago and ought to have finished it by now, but he hadn't had the energy or attention even to read when he returned home in the evenings for some weeks now.

Ray fixed him with a long look, then shrugged and settled more firmly against his side. "Great. Read to me," he commanded. Ben obediently turned to the front of the book, only to be nudged rather insistently by Ray's elbow. "No, don't start over, just go from where you were."

"But --"

"You wouldn't get through the whole thing while I'm here anyway."

After a moment's pause, Ben conceded the point. "Alright." He found his place and began. "From 1815 to 1837 a strong bond of friendship prevailed amongst the peaceable inhabitants generally, engendered and fostered, no doubt, by the difficulties, hardships and privations- surrounding them in the new country. Those were the days when every man's word was as good as his bond and crimes were seldom heard of.

"There were those, however, who, rightly or wrongly, kept up a constant agitation against the administration of the "Family Compact"..."

Ray set the last dish in the drying rack and rejoined them on the sofa, shoving at Ray's leg to make room. Ray grunted irritably but shifted. Ray settled himself, then tugged at the same leg he'd pushed out of the way until Ray turned sideways, his feet in Ray's lap and his back pressed against Ben's side. Ray dug thumbs into the arch of one foot, and Ray grunted again, a nearly identical sound conveying a surely opposite meaning.

Afternoon sunlight slowly shifted across the floorboards, and Dief sprawled sleepily behind, as the sentences spilled one after another. Ray's warm weight settled more firmly against his side, and his breaths slowed and deepened until he'd clearly drifted off to sleep. Ben continued on, partly caught up in the history again, but mostly concerned that a sudden cessation of sound might disturb Ray and break this moment of contentment. Ben's voice eventually grew scratchy; Ray slipped out from under Ray's feet to bring him a glass of water and briefly card fingers through his hair. He nodded his thanks and sipped, before reading on.

Ray disappeared into the back room for awhile. Ben could hear him shifting boxes and the quiet click of the closet door, making himself a space. He smiled to himself. Sometimes, the fact that the closet door always and only opened upon a closet weighed on him, but he thought perhaps seeing Ray's things beside his own would ease that particular ache.

As the day edged towards evening, Ray returned to the main room and started dinner.

Ray stirred and, still seeming more than half-asleep, querulously demanded, "What'd I miss?"

"Brigands, boring stories about the construction of a town, and way too many sudden deaths."

"Ray."

"Tell me I'm wrong."

"They were hardly boring."

Beside him, Ray snorted and stretched. "Whose turn for dinner?"

"Already on it, Kowalski."

"Greatness." He flopped backwards across Ben's lap, who barely got the book out of the way in time. "Hi," he said softly, stretching up a hand and tugging Ben down into a kiss, and that felt better than contentment.

***

Ben would have thought it would be easier, knowing one of them would be staying. It wasn't, appreciably. Regardless of the number leaving, the clock in the back of his mind continued its unrelenting countdown: three days, two days, one...

Diefenbaker spent the last evening leaning against Ray's leg, muzzle laid over his knee and eyes turned mournfully upward. Admittedly, Ben was little better, wanting nothing more than to curl against Ray himself and pin him in place, though he tried to keep the mournful looks to a minimum. They couldn't, after all, change anything.

Ray scratched at Dief's ruff and essayed a crooked smile. "Guess he's figured out one of us is leaving."

"Lip reading," Ray replied, affecting a teasing tone that rang slightly false.

Ben didn't join in the attempts at levity; he simply pulled them to bed with a desperation that after years of too-brief visits was no longer truly surprising.