On Gordon's wall, right above the bulky old television, were pictures of his son Joshua. The centerpiece being one of those monthly update murals with a newborn photo in the center and each month up to a year along the outside. Benry knew he'd been told how old Joshua was. Knew it was important to remember even. The kid was… at least a year according to these pictures. Could be two? Maybe? Two was old enough to walk right? Benry squinted at the pictures. Who thought babies were a good idea anyway?
The kid himself was sat an arm's length away, building towers of blocks only to knock them down with a little plastic horse while screaming something about cowboys. Despite Gordon's insistence that he was pretty good at talking for a… whatever year old, he was still almost entirely unintelligible to Benry. "Yeah, cowboys." They mumbled as Joshua poked them in the leg with the horse.
"Ben turn." Joshua insisted, poking him harder.
"He wants you to knock down his blocks." Gordon explained, "It's Benrey's turn."
Benry looked between the tiny human insistently jabbing him and the bigger, more annoying human draped across the couch like a cheap dime store romance novel protagonist. He folded in on himself and sat on the floor near Joshua's level. The toy horse was shoved into their hands and the block tower was reassembled. They went back and forth a few times, Joshua yelling out their scores (random numbers he knew) at the end of each turn.
Light flashed brightly from the window. A torrent of rain rattled the glass with sudden ferocity. The electricity flickered once, twice, then the house was covered in darkness.
"Daddy!" Joshua wailed.
Gordon was on them in an instant, scooping his son into his arms. "Hey it's ok buddy the power just went out."
"Wha- who turned out the lights?" Benry blinked into the darkness. He could see Gordon fumbling with his phone, it's back light the only source in the darkness. "Hah, still has a flip phone brooo."
"You- either help or shut up." Gordon tapped in a phone number, shushing Joshua as he kept screaming. "There's candles in the kitchen, drawer next to the fridge."
Candles? What'd they need candles for? They watched for a moment as Gordon continued to juggle Joshua and the phone. Could the kid be any louder? It was just a little rain, no reason to scream about it.
"Aaaaa~" he sang gently, small glowing blue orbs materializing before them. "Calm down."
"Did you just use the Sweet Voice on my kid?!" Gordon shouted.
To his credit, Joshua did stop screaming. "Yeah there's- he- he needed to calm down." He sang a few more spheres into existence.
Gordon was about to yell at him more when the phone call connected. Sounded like his ex wife. Benry found he didn't care enough to listen and continued to sing out sweet voice in cool, calming tones. The light they cast was dim and sent dozens of odd shadows across the walls.
"Oh hey, check it out." They pulled the orbs together, combining them into a single brighter light. Contorting his hands into a position humans definitely shouldn't be able to, Benry made a monstrous shadow puppet on the wall. "It's me!"
Joshua babbled something, something "Ben”, “Cat", something, pointing and laughing at the shadow.
"W-huh? A cat?" He scrunched his face in concentration. Bubby had a cat, a nasty hairless one that liked to bite them. What shape was it? He took a moment to picture it in his head, it shouldn’t be too hard. The shape his hands took was probably closer to a dog, not a nice dog like Sunkist but like the weird one he saw in the desert that one time, but it made Joshua clap so they'll call it good enough.
Gordon snapped his phone shut and shoved it in his pocket. "Mama's gonna be here in five minutes Joshie, do you want to make shadows til then?"
The doorbell bell rang as Benry's shadow monster devoured Gordon's shadow rabbit. "That'll be Mary."
"Benrey you gotta let go of my hand man."
"Bbbb." Benry grumbled, reluctantly letting go of Gordon. He'd never met either of Joshua's mothers, he hadn't really wanted to. There was no reason they would've wanted to meet him either, he reasoned, he and Gordon weren't even dating technically speaking. At least not officially. Not yet.
"Bbb!" Joshua said back.
"Having an argument?" Gordon's ex, Mary, stood in the doorway with a flashlight in hand. She was tall, a good half foot taller than Gordon, with long black hair that fell in ringlets around her face. Several words came to Benry all at once, beautiful, powerful, sturdy, cinnamon. He wasn't sure where the last one came from. She was soft and motherly and an amazon of a woman. They could see how Gordon had fallen for her.
"Mama!" Joshua squealed and launched himself across the room into her arms. With mother and child so close they could see that though Josh had gotten Gordon's square nose, he'd gotten everything else from her.
"So I'm guessing you're Benrey?" She smiled at them.
"Wha- Yea- No. I'm a kidnapper. I'm here for uh, to take Joshua." Nailed it. Perfect first impression. Great job idiot.
"Yeah that's him. Fountain of BS in the flesh." Gordon rolled his eyes. "Thanks for coming to get Josh on such short notice."
"Never a problem Gordon," she swayed back and forth, her skirt twisting around her ankles as she did, "Heather's getting the generator ready just in case the storm blows our way."
Benry pulled themself up, stretching to be just slightly taller than Mary. Tommy was the only one allowed to be taller than him. He mostly turned out Gordon and Mary's conversation and hovered around behind Gordon's shoulder making faces at Joshua and making him giggle. At some point they must have finished talking, because Joshua was thrust in his direction for a goodbye hug.
"Bye bye Ben!" He squeezed Benry's neck as tightly as his little kid arms could.
"Oh, yeah, see ya cowboy." They mumbled, "It was uh, nice to meet you." They added towards Mary.
"You as well Benrey. We should have coffee some time, the four of us. Heather would love to meet you."
"Ok, I'll uh, I'll look forward to it." He lied He didn't really want to meet Heather. Mary had gotten a weird enough impression on them as it was and if neither of them liked them. Well, he didn't want to think about his odds with Gordon if they didn't want him around Joshua.
He continued to hover over Gordon's shoulder as he walked them to the door, like an ominous blue shadow that had suddenly gained sentience. They watched until Mary rounded the corner of the stairs and slipped out of sight. Out here in the open hallway the sound of the deluge was nearly deafening. Lightning continued to flash followed by near instant thunder. Standing so close, Benry thought it was no wonder humans used to worship gods of the storm. At any moment the electric charge in the air could choose to obliterate them.
Benry was pulled, physically and figuratively, back by Gordon. "Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"Whu?" What had he been doing while lost in thought? He'd been behind Gordon, but now he was being pulled back into the apartment by his shirt. "I dunno."
"Come help me light some candles before it gets too dark to see."
"Yeah ok." They followed Gordon into the kitchen. The sweet voice lights had long since faded but the lingering smell of blue raspberry and burnt ozone hung in the air like an anchor. There were no storm gods. Mary probably didn't hate him enough to keep Joshua away from him. Yet, their mind whispered. Be quiet. Gordon liked them. Enough to hand him a small white candle to keep the dark away. Enough to let them into his home. Enough to give him five, six, countless chances to make things right.
"Want to order a pizza?" Gordon asked, phone already dialing.
"I want anchovy and olive." Enough to make Benry think love wasn't off the table yet.
"You're disgusting." he laughed, "No kisses for fish breath."
God, Benry hoped love wasn't off the table because he was hopelessly head over heels for this nerd. "Can we kiss if I get pepperoni?"
"Maybe." Gordon smacked him playfully on the shoulder, "Go back to being short already and I'll kiss you now."
They deflated to their normal size, just an inch shorter than Gordon. Perfect size for stealing a quick kiss on the cheek before he could change his mind about letting Benry kiss him. Perfect size to be swept up in Gordon's strong arms and kissed properly.