The day had come at last. In some ways it felt like a life time ago that they proposed, and in others it was as if hardly any time had passed at all. Now their wedding had arrived.

Alma had been sitting in her old room enjoying a moment of peace until the time came. Then Cabanela whirled in, beamed at her dress, frowned at her hair and promptly shooed her back to the mirror. What exactly it was that bothered him, she couldn't say, but she'd always been better with the clothing side of things. And, as the past several weeks taught her, it was better to just let him get on with things.

She tried not to fidget as Cabanela's fingers worked skillfully through her hair, tucking a tendril here, making small adjustments there. Honestly, she thought, he was fussier than any bridesmaid, stylist or possibly in this case even, though she would spare him that, her grandmother.

"Doesn't Jowd need your help?" Alma asked.

"Not aaanymore unless his tie got the better of him again. He's either impossible or easy. Not much to do either way."

They caught each other's eye in the mirror and his sparkled with amusement.


"I'll pop by again and see!" Cabanela said cheerily.

Alma smiled and returned her attention to keeping her hands still and not wrinkling her dress. Cabanela backed up and with one last critical look, tossed himself onto the corner of the bed where he settled, crossing one leg over the other.

"What's eatin' you, baby?"

Ah. She should have known all her efforts would be in vain.

"Not really any one thing in particular." She laughed. "I guess it just finally hit that this is happening now."

After all the flurry of activity to think it was all down to this day and then it would be over. While she often felt she had little to do but agree or disagree with decisions, so many decisions, so many propositions, it was dizzying all the same. And, of course, keeping Cabanela and her grandmother from biting each other's heads off was an exhausting task in itself.

And what of their other private plan?

"All of this and now it feels like it's almost over before it's begun. And I'm… I guess I am more nervous than I expected."

"Only natural so I've been told," Cabanela replied.

"Yes… And I am excited! Your work wasn't in vain, but I'm looking forward to after as well." She smiled fondly. "When we can move forward."

"The looovely first step to a new life, nothing like it, baby!"

Did his gaze flicker away there? The briefest of falters in that smile? Or was she only letting worry colour her imagination? Perhaps they'd missed a clear fault in their plan.

One fluid motion carried Cabanela to his feet and now he stood over her. He took her hand in both of his and held her gaze.

"And I can't imagine a more beautiful match."

Almost, she thought to herself, but before she could say anything Cabanela released her.

"Best go make sure the groom isn't in trouble!" he said and spun on his heel to leave the room.

Alma watched him saunter out. Astonishing – so candid in some ways, outrageously so, and yet so reserved in others.

Jowd stared out the living room window, the fancy clock above the mantle ticking uncomfortably loud in his ears. It would be time to go soon and an unusual tide of nerves quietly swelled below the surface. Nerves yes, however it would also be a relief to go (if his best man ever came back down from helping Alma). The odd combination of stiffness and fervent activity that occupied this room and the whole house only grew more difficult to deal with each passing day since they'd arrived three days prior.

It had been easier to stay with Alma's family and they were far closer to both the park for the ceremony and hall for the party. He greatly looked forward to returning home. To get away from the last minute chaos of planning. It would be a great relief to bring Alma home, to sink back into their routine.

He smiled. A new routine just for them.

Naturally he was happy for this day. And, he appreciated Cabanela's tireless efforts and keeping to their wishes for something smaller than grandiose with a skill well outside of Jowd's understanding.

'Are you sure being a cop is your calling?'

'Detective, excuse youuu.'

'My apologies, future detective.'

How he'd managed to pull it all off while also fending off certain relative's demands on top of his duties was beyond him. And the thought of the immense sulk that would result from not going through with it was as unbearable as the preparations leading up to this day. But it truly was afterward he was looking forward to, building a life together, just being together.

"Yoo hooo. Oh Jooowd, wedding bells are callin', baby!"

Speaking of their planner, Jowd pulled himself away from the window and found himself under the steady scrutiny of Cabanela.

"Well?" Jowd prompted when Cabanela's gaze seemed to last a little too long. "Do I pass muster?"

"Loook at that," Cabanela said, voice softer than Jowd expected. "Still in one piece."

He twirled around to join Jowd at his side and slung an arm around his shoulder.

"Bein' a rock does have its uses!" he said brightly. "I should tell Alma the good news. One dreeeary mess traded for something presentable!"

Jowd eyed the man beside him, tall, elegant in a long black tail coat adorned with silver buttons. Ever the proud peacock that one.

"Standing next to your sparkling self who would notice a crooked tie?"

Cabanela cocked his head, mock suspicion clear on his face. "That almost sounds like flattery. What's the price?"

"I have to do something to make up for my absence. Maybe you'll go easy on me!"

"Don't wooorry, baby. I'll catch a crook for you, hand out some parking tickets. Got you covered!"

Jowd chuckled and let Cabanela guide him out of the room.

Their arrival at the park showed them tidy rows of seats on the grass, a simple, elegant arch and it seemed to Jowd a few more flowers around than initial plans dictated.

The weather was holding out, warm and breezy without being too hot and they were further shaded under a large oak tree. As he adjusted his collar, while avoiding the looks of the guests, he prayed it would stay that way. He had been fine on their way over. Now he was here, with nothing to do but wait – there had been a great deal of waiting – he felt rather like an overdressed chicken on display.

At least, he thought, he had company, and with that thought he looked back at Cabanela. In body anyway. The man's look was a million miles away and if it was one of plotting, it wasn't any look Jowd had seen before.

"Hey," he said in a low voice. Cabanela seemed to snap back into himself. Odd.


"How long?"

Cabanela smiled, looking more himself. "Couple minutes, baby."

Jowd nodded and passed a last searching look over him. He was at ease once more as if nothing had happened and there were no answers to be found there.

Cabanela noted the searching look and waited until Jowd turned away before letting loose a small frown. He had more than enough time and practice pushing unwanted thoughts to the farthest corner of his mind where they wouldn't be a bother to anyone, including himself. This was the last day for such thoughts. Not the time, never the time.

He couldn't be happier for them. There was no arguing that point. It was only… it was just… he would be relieved when the wedding kicked off proper and he could slide back into his role. A good role. An easy role, over here in support for his best of friends.

Only a couple minutes more.

He flexed his fingers and carefully unleashed his tension one muscle at a time. Relax.

Something it appeared Jowd was now failing at, judging by the rigid back. He'd been doing so well too.

Cabanela leaned over to whisper in his ear. "Looosen up baby. You look ready to keel over. I don't belieeeve Alma signed up to marry a stiff."

Jowd shifted and dropped his shoulders. "She knows what she signed up for," he murmured back.

Cabanela cast his gaze to the heavens. A victory was a victory no matter how small in a losing battle. A nervous rock was marginally better than a stunned rooster.

The music started and Cabanela and Jowd turned as one to see Alma at the opposite end of the aisle formed by the rows of seats.

Alma took a deep breath and proceeded to start her walk. She had to suppress a chuckle at the sight ahead of her: Jowd, his eyes fixed on her, but his nerves standing out clearly in his stiff posture, in perfect contrast to Cabanela's beaming pride.

Her procession ended faster than she anticipated and she found herself standing opposite Jowd.

"Relax honey," she whispered. "I don't recall anything about a stiff on the papers."

She blinked at Cabanela's rather smug smirk and Jowd snorted into his beard, earning all three of them a raised eyebrow and a pointedly polite clearing of the throat from the officiant.

"We are gathered here…"

Alma let the officiant's words wash over her as she found her attention drifting away to focus on her husband-to-be. Friend, husband, partner. It hadn't always been easy getting to this point, but the result was more than worth every step of the journey.

It hit her at times how easy it would have been to miss this, how easy it would have been for this day to never happen. A chance meeting, the right timing, and somehow things seemed to flow from there. And before she knew it she had not just one wonderful friend, but two. Before she knew it life swept them up and friendship turned into so much more.

She couldn't be happier.

"Now bring forth the rings," the officiant announced, pulling Alma from her thoughts and reminiscence.

Cabanela stepped forward, both rings laid out on the palm of his hand. Alma took hers first and Jowd noticed how her fingers lingered over his and how his seemed to tighten before she pulled away.

Once Alma stepped back Jowd reached for his, watching Cabanela's expression. His joy was clear in those glittering eyes and the curve of his lips, but there was something else there, something he couldn't get a fix on. He thought he'd learned to read Cabanela's moods, but this one was a firmly closed book.

As he took the ring he felt a muscle twitch in Cabanela's hand, but his expression remained unchanged. Perhaps more than one relief would come after the end.

Cabanela stepped aside with a nod and a wink. This particular message was clear: Your turn.

Jowd nodded back. Message received. Unneeded, but read loud and clear.

He turned to face Alma, his breath catching. This was real. He took her hand, other thoughts sliding away as he drank in the sight of her. An exchange of rings and vows, the words falling out easily:

"I give you this ring, as a reminder, that I will love, honour, and cherish you. In all times, in all places. And in all ways, forever. For you, my beloved."

"You may kiss the bride," the officiant announced.

Jowd swooped Alma into his arms. Their surroundings faded as Alma filled Jowd's world. He held her gently and poured every thought and care he could never put words to into that kiss and hoped she understood. When they parted, slightly breathless, after what felt like an eternity in the span of seconds, he saw in her shining eyes he had succeeded.

The guests' clapping rang distant in Cabanela's ears as he watched the loving couple break apart, fingers still entwined. A warmth filled him, drowning the thoughts trying to seep out from their corner. His Jowd and Alma, a pair, a precious unit. Gods, they were beautiful.

Alma met his gaze and Jowd followed suit. His breath caught in his throat. They wore a similar expression of warmth and care and… something he didn't dare attempt to fathom. The moment passed quickly, leaving him stunned, while arms interlocked, the pair made their way back down the aisle to lead the party to the reception hall.

Cabanela lingered, overseeing the guests' departure, until the last were gone, then followed after with every intention of slipping into the reception hall to take his place. Instead he found Alma and Jowd waiting outside the doors.

Alma caught his arm and pulled him to her.

"Thank you for everything," she said before embracing him.

Cabanela returned the hug, possibly a little tighter than he intended, yet expecting to break if off at any moment. Instead Jowd wrapped his large arms around them both.

It was a perfect moment, a perfect fit, and one that ended much too soon even as his thoughts erupted into a whirlwind of rapidly denied hopes and possible meanings he couldn't bring himself to entertain. They pulled away, hands lingering over one another.

"Weeell," Cabanela announced brightly, covering his disappointment. Back to the corner, thoughts, back. He made a broad gesture at the door. "Shall I announce the entrance of our looovely bride and groom?"

Horror flashed across Jowd's face and Alma laughed.

"I'd like a moment alone with Jowd," she said. "Go on without us."

"I can give you lovebirds some alone time, but don't take too long or you'll owe me for facin' your grandmother's wrath," Cabanela said and he grinned at the wince from Jowd.

Alma watched Cabanela swing into the hall with a frown, and waited until the doors closed.

"I'm worried we've made a mistake," she said softly. "I don't think our brilliant detective gets it yet. I suppose after how busy everything has been I can't blame him. I only thought he would have figured it out… even guessed at our plans by now."

"He must know," Jowd replied, but an edge of uncertainty hovered in his voice.

"Knowing and accepting aren't always the same." She folded her arms and looked worriedly at the door. "He's always so… so present and certain, it never occurred to me that he would think he has any need for fear."

"It'll be over tonight," Jowd said.

"I just… I want him to be happy today. He did so much for us."

"He is," Jowd said firmly. "I may not always know what's going through that head of his, but I know when he's being genuine."

"Right…" Alma looked at the doors. "And I suppose we'd better get in there before he genuinely follows through on his threat."

Jowd eyed the doors as well with a grimace and Alma laughed.

"Ready to go in, my brave husband?" her tease faded as she savoured the word.

"I suppose we'd better before your grandmother flays us all alive."

Jowd offered Alma his arm and they entered together. Cabanela stood by their seats, leaning down a bit to chat amiably with Alma's mother. Jowd found himself suddenly both starving and greatly looking forward to the more peaceful moment food and the guests' occupation with it and each other would bring.

Of course dinner was a noisy affair and the hall filled with a cheerful hum. Sitting with Alma on one side and Cabanela on the other, Jowd realized he was perfectly content with it all.

He reached for his glass, his arm brushing against Cabanela. He felt more than saw Cabanela stiffen before he reached for his own glass with an overly casual air. Not fooling anyone here, partner.

Jowd frowned. Maybe Alma was right to worry. The number of off moments was growing through the day and he wondered how many slipped by in the previous chaos as well.

"Something wrooong with the chicken?" Cabanela drawled.

"Could use ketchup," Jowd replied.

Alma wrinkled her nose and Cabanela leaned forward to look around at her with a jab of his fork at Jowd's plate.

"You suuure this is what you wanna marry into, baby?"

"A burden I'll just have to bear," Alma said lightly with a mock sigh.

Jowd laughed and let their jests cover his concerns. Their conversation remained merry amidst the buzz of chatter and clinking of silverware until the meal was over and it was time for the speech and toast.

"It's not too late to stop him," Jowd said to Alma and chuckled at Cabanela's show of haughtiness.

"Not too late for some last minute revisions either baby," Cabanela replied as he rose from his seat and called for attention.

He knew his speech well and it tumbled out effortlessly: nods and smiles from the guests, growing confusion at comments meant only for Jowd and Alma, Alma snorting into her drink, Jowd's beard quivering with a laugh, and an exchange of smiles until he brought it back around to its end.

"And I am proud and honoured to call Jowd and Alma my dear," he hesitated and the pause seemed to stretch before him infinitely. Not a problem. Juggle the words, a dramatic pause in a deliberate grand gesture, "…and most valuable," he placed a hand on each of their shoulders, "friends."

He stepped back and retrieved his glass in a broad sweep. "And so, a toast to our beauuutiful bride and groom! Love," he raised his glass, caught Jowd's eye and finished in a softer tone, "nothing like it."

When he returned to his seat, he spotted the exchanged knowing look between Alma and Jowd and he couldn't help the feeling that while he may have fooled the guests there was one pair here who saw right through him. Alas, they'd always been best at it.

The sudden desire to fade and slip away seized him. See them off to the dance floor, see his part complete and make a retreat. He was done. They didn't need him here. Returning to the solitude of home seemed, if not exactly appealing, a safer route.

It would be simple. He could make the quick jaunt to Alma's family home, leave a message, and call a cab. It would be expensive at this distance, but it seemed of little relevance. It would be a relief, wouldn't it? The crowded room suddenly felt too stifling. So easy to end, yet he was caught between choices, caught in a web of his own making and how long had he let this happen?


Jowd's voice. He looked up to find himself now pinned to his chair under the couple's warm gazes.

He couldn't leave them. How could he? On this night of nights? This final night before everything changed.

He was ready for that change. He was, he was.

No, there was nothing more to do now but continue the quick one-two step to cover his tracks.

"Are you all right?" Alma asked. Worry coloured her tone and expression.

No, no, that wouldn't do at all. He was better than this and he would only give them the best. He leaned forward resting his chin on one hand and grinned at Jowd.

"Only eyein' the time. Ready for that daaance?"

It was about time, thank the gods for that. If his speech stumble told him anything it was that the jubilant atmosphere, the combined scents of perfumes, flowers and champagne, and the luminous presence of his – the bride and groom – had become too heady even for him. Yes, only that. Convenient and logical. Best to lose it all to the simple rhythms of the dance floor.

Jowd shook his head. "I was until reminded."

"Be kind," Alma said. "My toes came away unscathed last time."

Cabanela's hand hesitated over his champagne before he quickly switched to his water. Any more alcohol held far too much risk now.

"And a miracle it was!" he chirped, raising his glass to Jowd. "Nooothing like a magical night to repeat it. And I do beliiieve…" He peered across the hall and spotted the signal that the band was prepared. "They are ready."

He hopped up. This was the way. This was a dance he could dance without any effort at all.

"Laaadies and gentlemen! If you'll kindly lend your attention to the dance floor, it's time for our happy couple's first dance!"

Jowd and Alma rose to their feet. Cabanela bowed low with a wide sweep of his arm as a guide to the dance floor. He peeked up at Jowd's face where one message was written plain as day: Help me.

You're fiiine.

The music began as Alma took Jowd's arm and they moved out to the floor. Jowd let Alma take the lead and even he had to admit they were off to a smooth start. However, it wasn't long before Jowd found himself casting his eyes in Cabanela's direction for reassurance. He knew this; they'd practiced and yet it seemed the floor had drained all past knowledge and turned his feet to lead.

Cabanela only nodded in Alma's direction. Follow her lead.

I'm doomed.

He only got clear amusement and a shake of his head in return. Very helpful.

He spun Alma and caught her, flowing into the next step of their dance.

"You're doing well," she murmured.

So he was until he realized she was going in a direction he wasn't expecting. What was supposed to come next?

A slight head tilt from Cabanela. To the left. A raised eyebrow. Don't make me come over there.

Please do.

Only a barely concealed laugh in reply. Thankfully other couples soon joined them and he relaxed a bit.

"There," Alma said, her eyes sparkling, "not so bad was it?"

"I believe that depends on your definition of bad."

Alma grinned. "In relative terms?"


Alma kept Jowd for the second dance, which went better, and the third, and if it wasn't for taking pity on him and the need to still give another her attention, she would have been most happy to keep him all night.

She let Jowd retreat back to the tables and glided after him to stop by Cabanela, who to her surprise still lingered there. Here she thought she'd have to steal him away from any number of other dance partners.

"I still owe you a dance." She held out a hand. "May I?"

Cabanela took her hand with a bow and beamed at her. "It would be my pleasure."

They moved as one across the dance floor, whirling in a heady embrace. He dipped her and she thought to herself that it was rather a good thing he held her so securely or she might melt to the floor in utter contentment.

Their eyes met. His mouth thinned, but before she could react she was upright once more, he was all smiles and their dance continued as if nothing happened. She tried to search his face for any clues toward his thoughts and found nothing.

The song faded. Before she let him depart she reached up to cup his cheek and kissed the other. The gesture wasn't as much as she wanted. She hoped it would do for now. Cabanela blinked, but any further expression was covered by an elaborate bow before they parted to whisk away other partners.

Suspicions confirmed.

Oh sweetie, I've never known you to be so blind.

Jowd was perfectly content to sit back and watch as Alma and Cabanela danced across the floor. He noted the kiss and smiled into his drink. She always had been the more forward one. Something, Cabanela once pointed out, was a very good thing or they might never have gotten anywhere.

Even apart, it seemed to him, they still moved in sync. Though, he noted with a quiet laugh, Cabanela maintained his distance from Alma's grandmother. No surprise there. She had arrived, a disapproving organizational force to be reckoned with, and then met Cabanela: a clear case of an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object. As to who was what was not a debate he was willing to engage in.

Thanks for taking the heat off my back. He knew she still didn't approve of his marriage with her granddaughter (he privately wondered if there was anything the woman approved of), however Cabanela proved a difficult distraction to ignore.

He had thrown himself completely into the wedding planning right up to the last minute details of today. Jowd hadn't given it much thought. When they settled on a date Cabanela offered his assistance and 'no' hadn't been an option. He wasn't one to do things in small measures – never had been, Jowd mused. A carefree demeanour wrapped around a fierce intensity from the day he met him.

He passed his drink an amused smile. It hadn't been the most favourable of first impressions. The man whirled into the lecture hall, loudly greeted anyone who would listen and tossed himself into a seat with such force Jowd had been surprised it didn't tip over. He found himself surprised the man didn't put his feet up on the desk right then and there and he very quickly found himself irritated with his airy conversations rapidly flitting from person to person around him. Uncharitable he knew, but he wrote him off as someone unlikely to last, all flash and little substance.

Only to be proven wrong with a quick wit and knowledgeable answers as fast as the crack of a whip.

He was a force of nature around campus, getting into everything and seeming to know everyone. Yet for all his good cheer and friendliness he was like a whirlwind, sweeping people briefly into his wake without ever getting close to anyone. He found it… odd. Even stranger was how he got caught in that whirlwind and was never released.

He had no idea how it happened, from distaste, to the occasional conversation, from not seeing him much outside of class for days until he was suddenly at his side chatting amiably about some new restaurant he found and why not grab dinner? Until the time spent together grew more and more regular and he found himself in a close friendship he could never have imagined.

Then he met Alma and two quickly became three. Before he knew it, he and Alma were dating, egged on by Cabanela himself, Cabanela who had become and remained a fixture in their lives.

Now they were here.

No small measures. After today and Alma's comments, he started to wonder if there was more to it. Between the organization and heading off the unwanted demands of certain members of the family combined with their regular police work, Cabanela kept himself extraordinarily busy. It was only in the quiet moments signs of any cracks showed. Those were kept few and far between until today. Jowd got the impression he was bracing himself for something and his own words echoed back to him: he must know. Didn't he?

Whatever the case a conclusion would be reached tonight and Jowd greatly looked forward to getting their quiet lives back, for a certain measure of quiet where work and Cabanela were concerned.

Alma parted from the swirling dance and sunk into the seat beside Jowd. She leaned her head on his shoulder.

"Are you going to hide over here all night?" she teased.

He looked down at her affectionately and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "Doesn't seem like a bad idea."

"You can get away with it for now I suppose," she replied as she settled against him.

Together they watched the dance floor and shared a laugh as Cabanela continued to pirouette across it, leaving a trail of winded dancers in his wake.

Then he too broke away and waltzed over to the pair.

"We're missin' the staaars of the show!"

Alma still leaned on Jowd, eyes closed. She peeked an eye open with a half glance at Jowd. "What do you say? Can you manage a last dance?"

"I suppose if I must," he replied, his feeble protest lost in a smile.

Alma and Jowd stood. Cabanela appeared ready to toss himself into a seat, but Alma gripped his arm.

"You're coming too. You can't leave me with Mr. Two Left Feet again."

"Ah, no rest for the wicked. Still need a guiiide?"

Alma inwardly sighed. "With us," she said firmly.

She took both their arms and dragged them to the floor.

Jowd and Alma started, mirrored by Cabanela. They went through a few steps before Jowd spun Alma away and Cabanela caught her with a twirl. She let him lead for a measure before she stepped around him and nudged him playfully toward Jowd. Without missing a beat Cabanela caught hold of Jowd and they flowed into the next steps.

Alma stepped back to watch them with a wide smile. She couldn't help but notice Cabanela drawing closer to Jowd at their next step. Their hands rested easily at each other's backs and his stare fixed on Jowd's face. She could back right off, she thought. Let them have this. Would they even notice? Unfortunately, before she could decide, Cabanela pulled back, extended an arm and, still holding Jowd's hand, pulled her back in to rejoin them.

Some of the other dancers started watching, unnoticed by the trio. They were immersed in their own bubble of joy, spinning here and there, linking hands, passing each other off to one another before coming back together in a circle.

Then the song faded, the last of the evening and the party wound down at last. Jowd and Alma saw to thanking and seeing their guests off. And before they all knew it, they stood outside Jowd's car in the cool night air and it was over.

The car felt strangely quiet after the boisterous night. Alma had slid into the back with a vague mumble about space for her dress and after a brief pause Cabanela opted for the front where eyes would be focused on the road.

Streetlamps flashed by in the dark, a steady monotony and Cabanela let his thoughts wander. A beautiful day and he would hold onto those smiles for a long time to come. Now it was time to go home. He'd make a cup of tea, get some sleep, and take care of neglected errands tomorrow. Prepare for work. Business as usual.

Cabanela frowned at the familiar streets they passed through and shot a look at Jowd.

"Must be gettin' tired. You missed the turn."

"Going home first," Jowd said.

Jowd's eyes were fixed on the road and it was too dark to make out much in the way of an expression anyway. Cabanela felt some of the tension he thought he left on the dance floor sink in. This wasn't the plan.

They were supposed to drop him off and he would see them off into the sunset… or moonlight as it were – the point still stood. He craved the privacy of his home where he could bask in the afterglow of a job well done and pull himself back together, reorganize without interference.

But they were planning something and he'd been willfully ignoring it all day, as if he'd ever had any reason to doubt himself or his instincts before.

Was it possible to play one's roles too well?

They pulled up to the house. Jowd exited and circled around to help Alma out. Before Cabanela could question him, he marched off toward the house without a word leaving him with Alma.

"You're runnin' out of your speeecial night," Cabanela commented. So what exactly was he doing here?

Alma hushed him, looped her arm around his and herded him through their front door and to the sofa, all while wearing a smile Cabanela couldn't find meaning in.

He wouldn't say no to those welcoming cushions. Cabanela folded into the sofa and the simple act of doing so and being here drained away some of his tension. However, it wasn't long before a different sort of tension replaced it. What were they up to?

"Haaappy to help with the wedding," he said, "but playin' chaperone is goin' a bit faaar, isn't it?"

Alma only shook her head, still wearing that mysterious smile.

They were playing some sort of game. He may not know these particular rules yet, but he could play the waiting game. He leaned back into the couch cushions and silently tapped out a rhythm against his thigh. Alma remained standing near and silent.

It didn't take long before Jowd re-entered, holding a small and elegant white box. He would appear most solemn if Cabanela didn't recognise the spark in his eyes or the twitch of his beard. A private joke.

Alma and Jowd exchanged a nod – a private joke between them – before Jowd knelt in front of Cabanela, Alma at Jowd's side with a hand on his shoulder.

A joke, or something so much more. This wasn't… they weren't…

"We talked about a ring," Jowd said.

Cabanela froze.

"But we both thought it wasn't really your style and I caught you eyeing this."

Jowd held out the box and he and Alma spoke together. "For you, our beloved."

The familiar line carried away the rest of his scattering thoughts with it. He reached out automatically to take the box. All else was forgotten (including his ability to breathe it seemed) as he lifted the lid revealing a silver locket. It had caught his eye, though he never expected Jowd to notice – he'd have to keep a closer eye on him.

He ran a finger across the disk, not trusting his voice.

"Open it," Alma prompted.

He searched for the groove, hard to see, but there, while admiring the item's craft as a whole. It opened easily and he wondered if he would ever be able to speak again for the rest of this strange night when he saw the picture within. The three of them, on a day out they'd taken, a wonderful, joyous day.

He closed it with a questioning look at the pair who nodded, and he lifted it out of its box completely, letting the lamp light glint off the silver disk. A pretty thing and if he could remember how to attach meaning to words, so much more.

He settled for simple, light words that would serve as an easy cover for encroaching deeper concerns.

"A looovely thing. Not quite sure it goes with this suit," he said. Or this day, their day or…

"Oh I don't know," Alma said as she perched daintily on the arm of the sofa. She surveyed him, her eyes suddenly professional as if he was a client. "With the right adjustments I think we can make it work."

She leaned over and ran a hand down his suit jacket before unbuttoning it and nudging it open. With far less professional, and far more tantalizing fingers, she slowly undid the top buttons of his shirt.

Jowd circled around the back and lifted the necklace from his fingers. His hands were warm in contrast to the cool metal as he fastened the chain around his neck. He remained, his thumb rubbing against tense muscles.

Alma exchanged a glance with Jowd before she passed a thoughtful look over Cabanela and nodded with satisfaction.


He couldn't easily look back at Jowd as was and wasn't about to shake off that touch just yet, but Alma was still in his sights.

"I wouldn't want to…" Gods how had it become so difficult to finish a sentence?

Alma shook her head with a gentle smile and spoke in a soft voice. "You're not. You belong with us, if you'll have us."

His fingers brushed over the locket – the source of this sudden upheaval, yet strangely grounding for it.

"Sure knooow how to make a surprise," he managed.

Alma's smile widened and she leaned closer, her face now close to his. The question in her eyes was clear and before he could think twice he nodded.

Her lips closed over his, gentle and more welcoming than any kiss he'd known. Let it never be said he couldn't put up a good showing and he tried his best through his still whirling thoughts (this was happening, this was actually happening) to reciprocate, even while he was still acutely aware of Jowd's hand at his back.

They parted and Alma returned to her previous position, settling more securely on the couch arm while Jowd leaned over.

"Is that a yes?" he asked.

Cabanela's mouth curved, no longer able to hold back the spreading smile. He tugged at Jowd's tie bringing him within reach where he could get a kiss to those pair of lips as well. His beard tickled in sharp contrast to Alma's softness, glorious and no less welcome. The last of his concerns melted away leaving only a vague thought to add kissing to the list of unexpected things Jowd was good at.

They broke apart when the need for air won out and Cabanela looked between the couple, his couple.

"I'd saaay so, baby."

First step to a new life indeed.