Ray Vecchio loved Christmas. In fact, he would even venture to say he loved it more than most people, in spite of the fact that it usually meant seeing some relatives he could generally do without. He also felt he had a fairly keen grasp on the idea that Christmas was a bigger deal when there were kids in the house. He’d lived through enough nieces and nephews to know that. But that didn’t change the fact that, in his opinion, Stanley Raymond Kowalski had gone off the deep end this year.
Between the two of them, Ray could swear Fraser and Kowalski had hauled every bit of green within twenty miles into the cabin and draped it over everything. The tree alone was so big it had taken all three of them to even get it through the door, and it was covered from tip to toe in an eclectic collection of every single Christmas ornament the three of them owned. Which meant it was one third bizarre and hand-made (Fraser), one third at least somewhat classy (him), and one third kitschy Hallmark crap (Kowalski). Not to mention there was mistletoe hanging from all the doors—Kowalski’s idea, although Ray wasn’t exactly complaining about that—a pile of presents under the tree that would be as tall as the tree if they were all stacked on top of each other, and the stocking that Kowalski was trying to place so precisely had been hand-knit by a woman in the village with Caroline’s name running down the length of it. Ray’d seen so much red and green, it was a wonder his eyes weren’t bleeding, and this was from somebody who’d spent past Christmases with Ma, Frannie, and Maria in charge of the decorating.
Still, it wasn’t until Kowalski repositioned the little silver wolf stocking hook for the fourth time that Ray decided he’d officially lost his mind. Turning the cabin into some sort of indoor winter wonderland was one thing. But Fraser was the one he expected to pull out a measuring tape and try to measure the exact center point of the mantel.
“Will you give it a rest, already?” Ray snapped. “She’s a year old, it’s not like she’s going to remember whether or not her stocking was hung exactly in the middle of the fireplace.”
Kowalski glared at him and flipped him the bird with one hand. “Fuck you, Vecchio. This is my daughter’s first Christmas and it is going to be perfect if I say it is.”
Ray snorted. “You call it perfect, I call it an allergy waiting to happen.”
Fraser came in just then holding little Caroline in his arms. He frowned at Kowalski. “Ray, kindly please refrain from employing that sort of language in front of the baby.”
Fraser rolled his eyes expressively without twitching a muscle in the lower part of his face. “No, Ray. I was addressing Ray, not you.”
Kowalski smirked. “Yeah, well fuck you too, Fraser. In fact, fuck both of you.”
“Yeah, yeah, promises, promises,” Ray retorted, his grin turning into a leer as he leaned in to steal a kiss. Kowalski batted him away half-heartedly.
Fraser only frowned harder and cupped one hand over Caroline’s ears. Or tried to, anyway. “Ray!” he scolded, the name this time clearly directed at both of them.
Ray stopped even trying not to smile at this point. At least one of them was still acting like themselves. “Relax, Benny. As I was just pointing out to Mr.-Perfectionist-Out-of-Nowhere here, it’s not like she’s going to remember any of this.”
“That may be true, Ray. All the more reason to establish good habits before Caroline reaches a more impressionable age, don’t you think?”
Caroline let out an eager squeal, as if agreeing with him. Fraser shot them both a triumphant look. It was somewhat spoiled when she immediately tried to lunge out of his arms in the direction of the tree. Both Rays sprang towards Fraser to catch her if, by some miracle, she actually managed to escape his grip.
“Yeah, you like that, don’t you?” Kowalski cooed when he plucked her out of Fraser’s arms. He shot a look in Ray’s direction. “You wanna tell Babbo to stop ruining our Christmas?”
“Ruining your Christmas? Thanks a lot, Stanley. Just for that, you’re not getting any of Ma’s grispelle this year.” He leaned in to tickle Caroline’s chin. She giggled obligingly and leaned towards him. “What do you say, Cara Mia? You and me split Tata’s share?”
“Oh, see, now that’s just playing dirty. Fraser, help me out here,” Kowalski pleaded.
“Ray, Caroline has only begun to eat solid food,” Fraser scolded obligingly. “It hardly seems likely she could consume sufficient donuts, no matter the origin, to justify depriving anyone else.”
“Yeah, what he said.”
“That said,” Fraser continued. “It does seem a bit…excessive to spend so much time decorating the cabin when we are going to be departing in only a few days for Chicago to spend the holiday with your parents and Ray’s.” Of course, he promptly belied this by crossing to the mantelpiece and straightening the abandoned stocking hanger.
“Yeah, you’re a big help,” Ray groused, not quite managing to hide his smile. “My point is, a perfect Christmas isn’t about how much plant life you can haul indoors. A perfect Christmas is being surrounded by people that love you…” He gave Kowalski a pointed look when he added, “…even when you drive them crazy. And our Carolina’s gonna have that in spades, both here and in Chicago.”
Thank God for that. He hadn’t been sure, at first. Hell, it had taken him six months after they finally figured out this whole arrangement—never mind when it started—to even bring it up with Frannie, let alone Ma. He’d been terrified his family would never want to speak to him again. And yeah, okay, so there were a few aunts and uncles who had stopped coming to Christmas dinner when Ma refused to disinvite the three of them, but in Ray’s opinion it was no great loss. And Ma herself…it took her a little while to adjust to the idea, granted, but once she did, she started talking like God had given her two new sons to replace the one she lost, and everything was okay again.
Fraser smiled. Not his usual forced smile, but that spontaneous, gorgeous smile that still took Ray’s breath away, even after all these years. “He’s not wrong, Ray.”
Kowalski’s scowl faded into a wry smile of his own as he looked down at Caroline in his arms. She stared back up at him in owlish curiosity. “Yeah, I know.”
Jesus, just looking at the three of them made Ray’s heart hurt, in the best possible way. How the hell was this his life? It wasn’t that long ago he’d been on the outside looking in, fresh from Vegas and bitter as hell that he hadn’t realized the best thing in his life before he lost it. To have gotten Benny back, and with him what amounted to interest in the form of Kowalski and now Caroline? Five years ago, he wouldn’t have believed he could ever deserve that, let alone have it.
God, he was turning into a sap. But who could blame him?
Caroline yawned widely and dropped her head onto Kowalski’s shoulder, her eyes drifting towards closed, but still open just enough to return Ray’s scrutiny. Fraser smiled softly. “We should probably put her to bed. It’s getting late.”
“How can you tell?” Ray groused mildly. They hadn’t seen the sun in so long, he was beginning to think he forgot what it looked like. But that was okay too—he was getting used to the warm lamp-light that bathed the room and turned everything golden. Something else he never would’ve thought possible a few years ago.
“I got her,” Kowalski offered, jogging Caroline in his arms a little as he started to move towards the bedroom.
Ray watched them go for a moment before turning back to find Fraser studying him. “What?”
Fraser didn’t answer, just closed the distance between them and pulled him into a fervent but infinitely tender kiss. Whatever it was he hadn’t been able to say, his tongue communicated just as eloquently without words.
Kowalski poked his head out of the bedroom. “Hey, no fair starting without me!”
Ray laughed, his heart as light as the snowflakes almost certainly falling outside. “Who’s starting?” he shouted back, then winked at Fraser. “I’m just getting caught up.”
End note: I do not speak Italian or Polish, so sorry if “Babbo” and “Tata” are not the correct form of ‘father’ in this context. They seemed the most likely candidates from my research, but context is tricky. In my defense, I doubt Kowalski actually speaks enough Polish (if any) to know the right form either, and I think I have some wiggle room–language ability-wise–with Vecchio too.
Also, I apologize for the lack of Dief; I’m not entirely sure why he didn’t make an appearance. It’s possible his time has passed, or that he’s outside with the sled dogs, or just asleep by the fire. I like to think it’s one of the latter two.
Title is from the song “The Bells of Christmas” by Loreena McKennitt.