Small Growing Things
by cmshaw
cmshaw@cmshaw.slashcity.net
15 September 2001

Disclaimer: The characters may belong to Alliance, but for once I don't think they'd mind that I've borrowed them.

Summary: Benton begins to make himself at home in Ray's home.

Warnings: None, other than sweetness and light. There aren't even any bad words.

Gratitude: To Kit, who suggested that creative work was a great way to calm onesself in the wake of tragedy, and Anne, who mentioned gardening. I planted some flowers for myself, then decided to share them.


There was something wonderfully soothing about having one's hands buried to the wrist in loose, warm-smelling dirt, Benton thought. Far too much of a Mountie's time was spent in an office these days, not like in his father's time when a man on patrol might not see the inside of a building for months on end. The city had its own excitements, but even in the heart of Chicago there were small growing things sending down their roots into every free corner.

Ray walked in the door, took one look, and burst out laughing. "Fraser!" he said. "You're making a mess!" He dropped his bags and his gun on the coffee table and walked over to where Benton sat cross-legged on the floor.

Benton grinned back at him. "That I am, Ray," he said, and indeed, there was dirt all over the newspapers which he had spread out and more dirt unfortunately spilling beyond those boundaries. "The floor can be cleaned."

Ray said with a chuckle, "And you should know, shouldn't you?"

"I do know," Benton said, raising his eyebrows, "although I'm not sure you did." Before he had moved in with Ray, he had cleaned their -- at that point, still Ray's -- apartment from floor to ceiling. It hadn't been filthy, precisely, but Ray had been living there for over a year and never spring cleaned. A thorough scrubbing, accompanied by Ray's good-natured outrage on behalf of his housekeeping skills, had worked wonders. There had been a particular satisfaction to finally setting his father's trunk at the foot of the bed, stepping back, and finding that everything was in its place and sparkling in the afternoon sun.

And now, of course, Ray had come home to find that Benton had dumped a good-sized pile of dirt in the middle of the living room. True to Benton's expectations, he looked utterly delighted.

"Are you planting things in the middle of the apartment?" Ray asked, leaning back against the wall to watch.

"Well, they won't stay here, Ray," Benton said. "These are window boxes; the kitchen and bedroom windows get excellent exposure. It's a pity," he added, "that the fire escape blocks the living room window."

"You could hang stuff on the steps out there," Ray suggested.

"That would be illegal," Benton said regretfully. Ray shrugged. "We are officers of the law," Benton said, and Ray grinned wryly.

"Did I say a word?" he asked. "No, I did not. Hey, won't Dief dig those up?"

"Certainly not," Benton said, glancing toward Diefenbaker, who was watching the proceedings from his favorite spot between the coffee table and the sofa. "For one thing, these boxes will hang outside the windows where he would not be able to reach them. For another, Diefenbaker is quite familiar with gardens and the rules thereof." Diefenbaker rubbed his chin on his paws and gave a long-suffering sigh.

"Didn't know you had such a green thumb," Ray said.

Benton decided to continue planting as he talked, and picked up the next marigold in its too-small plastic pot. "It's not a question of a green thumb per se," he said, holding the base of the plant in one hand as he tipped the pot over and tapped sharply at its base with the other. "In most places in the Northwest Territories one can supplement store-bought food supplies with small kitchen gardens in the summer. Fresh vegetables can be prohibitively expensive to transport, but the permafrost provides difficulties for large-scale agriculture, so it's largely a home industry." The marigold slid loose into his hand, and he cradled it gently as he worked the root ball open and shook out some of the old potting soil.

Ray shook his head. "You can grow vegetables on the windowsill?"

"It's certainly possible," Benton said, "but I'm afraid it's rather late in the year to begin now. No, these are simply ornamental annuals."

"Ornamental annuals?"

"Pretty flowers, Ray. They'll last until winter."

Ray leaned forward to watch as he dug his fingers into the premixed potting soil in the window box and made a space for the marigold in his hand. "What kind of flower is that? Is it Canadian? I've never seen it before."

Benton smiled as he patted the soil down lightly around the base of the plant. "It's a marigold, Tagetes patula. They're quite common across North America, actually, but you wouldn't have seen them at a florist's shop. As you can see," he pushed some of the leaves out of the way, and Ray knelt next to him to peer in, "the stems are quite short. They're cultivated by home gardeners because the smell repels many insects which damage vegetable crops."

"I think they smell nice," Ray said.

"You're not an insect," Benton said with a smile. "I'm very fond of them myself." He bent down and inhaled, savoring the sharp green smell. "My grandmother always had marigolds in her garden, with big orange blossoms. I like the yellow blossoms on these."

Ray said, "Reminds you of home, I guess."

Benton looked down at the rows of snapdragons and marigolds and johnny-jump-ups in his window boxes. "Yes," he said. "It does make this feel like home." He picked up the next pot. "Would you like to do one?" he asked.

"Um," Ray said. "Sure, okay. How do I do this?"

"Here," he said, "you hold the plant here," and he covered Ray's warm hand with his own, positioning it over the top of the pot.

"Your hands are dirty," Ray said.

"Well, this is dirt," Benton said, nodding toward the window boxes. "It makes things dirty rather by definition." Ray laughed. "Now turn it upside-down and tap -- yes, exactly -- careful there," he said, and held his hands below Ray's as Ray slid the plant free.

"What's all this white stuff?" Ray asked.

"Those are the plant's roots," Benton said. "Shake them loose so that they'll grow into the new soil." Ray waggled his hands slightly. "More aggressively. More. Yes," he said, "that's good."

"I just got dirt all over the floor," Ray said.

"And all over yourself," Benton pointed out.

Ray looked down at himself. "I've done one plant and I'm covered in dirt! How do you stay so clean, Fraser?"

Benton smiled enigmatically. "Now dig it a hole in the window box."

"Here?" Ray asked.

"Farther left; it doesn't need that much room." Benton pushed his hand into the dirt, and Ray's fingers wiggled against his, gritty with soil. He looked up, and Ray smiled at him, then squeezed his hand.

"This is fun, this playing in the dirt thing," he said.

"Yes," Benton said, realizing that he was probably beaming like a fool and not caring in the least. "Set the plant carefully in, that's good. Now tamp the soil down around the base -- lightly. Right. There you are."

Ray rested his hands on the edge of the window box. "That's another happygold, right?"

"Marigold," Benton said, although he rather liked Ray's misnomer. Marigold -- merry-gold, happy-gold, delighted-to-be-here-gold.

"Whatever," Ray said dismissively. He studied the plant intently; Benton left him to it, and set about repotting the next marigold. "It's bright and cheerful," Ray pronounced. "I like it." He nodded decisively, and picked up the last marigold, shaking it out of the pot deftly. Benton set the plant in his hands in place, and directed Ray to settle his at the end of the box, completing the row. Together, they cracked open the last pack of johnny-jump-ups and planted them behind the marigolds.

The whole room smelled like freshly turned dirt and greenery. Benton worked his fingers through the soil with pleasure, digging deep to set the roots of the boldly colored flowers solidly into their new containers. Ray's shoulder brushed his when they both leaned forward, and Benton hummed as he worked, brief snatches of melodies for which he had only vague recollection of the lyrics. When the last plants were patted into place, Benton leaned back and stretched his arms above his head, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck with relief.

"Now we set them in the windows?" Ray asked.

"That's right," Benton said. He took one end of the box he'd mentally marked for the kitchen and waited as Ray eased his hands under the corners of the other end, then they lifted together. Ray rolled to his feet with an ease that Benton could only envy as he lurched to his feet, stiff after hours spent bent over the plants. They walked the box into the kitchen and shuffled sideways toward the open window.

Ray leaned over the sill to look out. "Nice," he said, gesturing with his chin toward the braces that Benton had installed earlier in the morning.

"Thank you," Benton said. "On three?"

"One," Ray said.

"Two," Benton answered.

"Three," they said in unison, and swung the box up and onto the ledge.

"Got it?" Ray said.

"Yes, I've --"

"Careful!"

"I have it."

"Okay, okay, go."

"Just a little -- there," Benton said, snatching his fingers out of the way as the box fell heavily into the proper position.

"Whew," Ray said, shaking out his hands. "Okay, one more, right?"

"Right," Benton said, and together they manhandled the second window box out the bedroom window.

"There," Ray said with satisfaction. "Now we get the dirt off."

"Now we water them," Benton corrected, and found the watering can he'd left on the kitchen counter.

"Isn't that too much?" Ray asked, watching him empty it into the kitchen window's box.

"Actually, it's not quite enough, I think," Benton said, and refilled the can.

"They need that much water every day?" Ray asked.

"Oh, no," Benton said. "This soil is very dry right now. We'll want to keep it moist at all times, but most days a little bit will suffice."

"Okay," Ray said, following him into the bedroom to watch him repeat the process for the second window box. He leaned his chin on Benton's shoulder. "These are snapdragons," he said, brushing a fingertip over the pale yellow flowers on their tall stems, "but what're these? Mini pansies?" His hand hovered over the small yellow and purple petals of flowers they'd planted last.

"Viola cornuta have a variety of common names. My family calls them johnny-jump-ups; other people refer to them as horned violets, tufted pansies, or sometimes heartsease," Benton told him. "I'll need more water here too."

He turned a little too sharply; when he opened his eyes from the grimace of pain Ray was frowning. "How long were you sitting there working on this?" he asked.

Benton glanced at the clock. "Nearly two hours," he admitted.

Ray took the watering can from his hand. "Go wash up and lie down," he ordered. "I'll finish this and clean the living room."

"I'm fine, Ray," Benton protested weakly. "It was just a twinge."

Ray frowned. Benton caved.

"Thank you," Ray said. "You did all the work planting, let me do the cleaning."

When Benton came out of the bathroom after scrubbing the dirt from his hands and face, Ray was gathering up the newspapers he'd spread on the floor.

"Would you like some help with that?" Benton offered, knowing that Ray would refuse.

"I got it," Ray said. "I said lie down. I'm gonna rub your back when I've got this cleared out." He made shooing gestures until Benton retreated into the bedroom.

Benton could smell the marigolds through the open window. He peeled off his shirt and boots and stretched out across the bed on his stomach, wincing as his back protested again. He truly hadn't noticed it while he was repotting the plants; moving around was what had triggered the spasm, and he was absurdly grateful for Ray for the small kindness of letting him lie down now. That was Ray, though, Benton thought with a fond smile, kind through and through. Despite all of his aggressive posturing, he was generous from the spikes of his hair to the marrow of his bones.

The mattress dipped as Ray sat on the edge. "Where's it hurt?" he asked. "Here?" His fingers worked lightly over Benton's lower back, finding the worst of the knots.

"Yes," Benton gasped, and sighed as Ray's hands pushed firmly into his back. The hand lotion Ray used was unscented, with only a faint whiff of aloe to it, and Benton groaned shamelessly as Ray massaged it into his aching muscles.

"Right there?" Ray asked as he pressed the heel of his hand over another knot.

"Uuuuh," Benton confirmed, and Ray laughed as he leaned into his strokes.

"Did you have a garden up in Canada?" Ray asked as he gripped Benton's left shoulder with one hand and massaged under the shoulderblade with the other.

"Occasionally," Benton said into the pillow. "Oh -- when my posting included suitable housing. Left -- oh. Often junior officers are given government housing in the center of town."

"But your grandparents always had one," Ray said, repeating his actions on the other shoulder.

"Yes," Benton said. "Mmm. My grandmother taught me most of what I know about gardens. And food preparation," he added, "which included, one memorable fall when we'd moved south to Deline, the stewing and canning of more tomatoes than I would ever care to see again in my life."

Ray chuckled, and shifted on the bed until he was sitting over Benton's thighs. He worked his hands in slow circles up and down Benton's back. "Bumper crop?" he asked.

"Oh yes," Benton said, "entirely unexpected. That feels wonderful, Ray. We ran out of canning jars. My grandmother was accosting passersby in the streets and handing them bags of tomatoes. It was worse than zucchini."

"Worse than zucchini?" Ray said.

Benton laughed. "The neighbors started locking their doors so we couldn't sneak in and leave tomatoes in their kitchens."

"So what's with the zucchini? You have a lot of those too?"

Benton gave a bark of laughter and turned his head to look at Ray, who was giving him the familiar, affectionate you're-such-a-freak look. "City boy," Benton said with a grin.

"You know it," Ray said. "Chicago born and bred. I couldn't tell a zucchini from a rhubarb if my life depended on it."

"A zucchini is --" Benton began.

"Do not," Ray ordered, and Benton turned his face back into the pillow to hide his grin.

"As you wish," he said.

Ray dug his fingers into Benton's shoulders, making Benton groan in pleasure. "You're a lot more agreeable when there's a backrub in the offing," he observed.

"Mmm," Benton said noncommittally. "Up a bit. Mmm. Oh, that's lovely." He sighed as Ray rubbed the back of his neck and then slid fingers into Benton's hair and massaged his scalp. When Ray eventually brushed a kiss across his ear and sat back, Benton felt completely liquid.

"Back feel better?" Ray asked.

"Mmm-hmm," Benton said.

"Everything feel better?"

"Mmm-hmm."

"Can you move?"

"Not a muscle."

Ray chuckled. He fell sideways, bouncing onto the mattress beside Benton and rubbing his cheek onto Benton's shoulder. With a happy sigh, he wrapped one arm around Benton's waist and curled in against his body. "I'm real glad you moved in," he said softly.

Benton turned his head until he could see Ray's face. "I love you," he said.

Ray kissed his shoulder. "Love you too."

They drowsed for a while in the afternoon sunlight, Ray petting Benton's back as he shifted around. The breeze through the open window carried marigolds and snapdragons and johnny-jump-ups with the usual scents of smog and garbage. Benton drifted through a pleasant haze halfway between sleeping and waking.

After a period of time where Benton began contemplating the idea that he might be more comfortable if he got up and removed his jeans, Ray rolled onto his back. His stomach growled quite loudly.

"Sorry," Ray said.

"Are you hungry?" Benton asked without opening his eyes.

"Thinking of making some dinner," Ray answered.

Benton thought about offering to help, which would involve getting up.

"Mmph," Ray said decisively, and he slid to the edge of the bed and sat up. "Let me go see what we've got in the way of pasta." Ray tugged at the beltloop on the back of Benton's jeans. "You wanna nap before dinner? You ought to get undressed and into the bed."

"I will," he said. Life with Ray, it seemed, brought with it unprecedented opportunities for laziness.

"Okay," Ray said, and got up. Benton could hear him wandering toward the kitchen, pausing in the living room to snap the stereo on and greet Diefenbaker. He smiled. Ray would probably sing as he cooked dinner, his voice cheerfully meandering through the vicinity of the proper notes as he rocked on the balls of his feet to the music. He would probably chatter to Diefenbaker as he put down food for the wolf, too; despite his professed embarrassment over speaking to an animal in public, he was quite verbose in private. Apparently it was another of those details of American etiquette which Benton was still working to learn. If Benton got up and walked into the kitchen to put his arms around Ray from behind as he cooked, Ray would lean back against his chest and dance with him between the stove and the counter.

Smiling, Benton wrapped his arms around his pillow and fell asleep.



September 11, 2001 ~ The day the nation cried.

End.

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