Before ya'll read this, I want to take one more second to thank all of you wonderful people that have reviewed this story. It was a lot more popular than I ever thought it would be considering how depressing it is. It means a lot to me that so many people have enjoyed reading something I wrote.

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The Will to Live

Chapter Nine


The months following Darien's release from the hospital were awkward for the Shields family. Aside from still recovering from the tragic loss of Liam, they were desperately trying to adjust to their new way of life. Rini regularly woke half a dozen times during the night, much to the annoyance of her exhausted parents. It was in the middle of one of these nights that Darien lay awake in bed, staring at the ceiling and clinging to his restlessly slumbering wife.

He reached his free hand to his head and ran his pale fingers through the bristles of his re-growing hair. It was no longer the striking black color it had been for most of his life. As it grew, it had taken on a powdery grey color that seemed to cling to each of the normally black strands. The difference in color made him appear to be much older than his actual thirty-two years, but no more so than the wrinkles that had taken residence around his eyes and across his forehead. The stress of such a serious illness had left a permanent mark on the once devastatingly handsome man.

A quiet sob from the nearby nursery alerted Darien to the wakeful state of his infant daughter. He carefully slipped out of bed, hoping to secure a few more hours of rest for Serena. He quietly padded across the flush carpet of the hallway and entered Rini's room, scooping her from her crib and clutching her tightly to his chest. She instantly calmed as she settled closer to her father.

"Were you lonely?" Darien's whisper was almost deafening in the silent room. "I can tell you miss your brother sometimes."

Rini's dark eyes stared innocently up toward her father's face. Unable to understand the emotions behind the infants gaze, Darien continued speaking. He knew his words were mostly a comfort to himself. And he knew there was no plausible way such a young child could understand the sentiments pouring from his heart. But he knew that he needed to release his emotions.

"Someday, you'll understand that, although your heart will always ache for him, our family is built on trial and survival. The experiences we've gone through are what have made us as strong as we are. Somewhere, Liam and Tommy are waiting for us to come join them and be a whole family. And all of the other people we've lost along the way are with them, hoping we find them. Hoping we never forget them and never stop loving them… Someday you'll get to see your Grandma and Grandpa Shields… At the same time you get to see your brothers… And before any of us are ready… I'll be with them too. But I'll always save a place for you and your mom."

A choked sob from the doorway alerted Darien to Serena's presence. She crossed the room quickly and wrapped her arms around the two people she loved more than life itself. She took several moments to calm her breathing before looking up at the love of her existence, her eyes glistening with unshed tears.

"You're not allowed to leave me," she murmured in reply to the gentle words she had overheard. "You made a promise when we got married to stay with me until the end of time."

Darien chuckled, nestling his face into the golden strands of Serena's hair. "If ever there is a time when we're not together, time will have surely ended."

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Twenty-Five Years Later

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Darien settled his aching body onto the edge of his large bed and eased himself under the blankets. He knew it was still early in the afternoon, but an overwhelming exhaustion had overtaken him during his morning activities.

He had spent the entire morning at the park watching his grandchildren play. Rini had married at the age of twenty, and given birth to two healthy twins boys at the age of twenty-two. The now three-year-old children were an indescribable joy to their doting grandparents. Darien smirked. His relief that Rini had been so easy to raise was barely overshadowed by his amusement at how much trouble her two sons could get into so quickly. He had chased them about the playground before settling onto a bench to hold his loving wife as they watched the continued antics of the two hyperactive toddlers.

He could still hear the adoration in Serena's voice when she turned to him to speak. "Who could have ever known that we'd be so lucky? All of this joy… because we fell in love so long ago. And, amazingly enough, I love you more and more every day."

He had grinned at her and replied, "You're in love with an old man." She elbowed him in the ribs causing him to tighten his arms around her small frame, holding her immobile. "I'm so lucky to have the most beautiful woman in history to hold in my arms every day."

A soft smile had graced Serena's lips before she lifted her chin to kiss him lovingly. They knew no words could ever describe the depth of emotion they held for one another.

As the day had worn on to afternoon, Darien had decided to return to their small home before Serena accompanied Rini and the children for an early dinner. The illness he had survived so many years before had left him weak. He had been able to resume his medical practice, but had retired midway through his forties. His body and heart could no longer handle the stress of a normal life.

He rolled over on the soft bed, clutching Serena's pillow and inhaling her scent. Exhaustion and ache overwhelmed him, pulling him into a restful slumber.

He felt as if he was flying away, soaring over the world before landing on a cloud. His dream seemed so realistic as he glanced about and spotted a cluster of people waiting for him. Their smiles were so welcoming. He took a reluctant step forward, then rushed into the waiting arms of a woman he recognized as his own mother. It was a family reunion. He clutched at the man he recognized as his father, and then embraced the two boys he knew were his sons.

"We've been waiting for you," his mother stated knowingly.

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Serena returned home from dinner at dusk. She slipped quietly through the front door of her home, grabbing at light switches as she passed from room to room. She made her way to her bedroom, stopping to smile at the form of her husband on their bed. She noted the content smile across his lips. She crossed the carpet and settled onto the edge of the mattress, reaching her hand forward to brush his silky hair away from his forehead.

Serena pulled her hand away with a sharp gasp. His skin was cold as ice. In the moment it took her to grab for the phone on her bed stand, she noted to things. His heart had given out… and time had stopped forever.

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I feel like such a bad person for leaving it there… but that's the way I have always intended to write this. It seems… right. Don't think I'm heartless! I cried the whole time I wrote his death scene! I know I'm going to get tons of hate mail for this…

Please feel free to review, and my inbox is always open to e-mails from you wonderful people. I promise I'll reply to you if you have any questions. And of course, flames are welcome. I won't even ask you to throw some sweet little marshmallows in with the fire… I deserve it.

Thank you again to everybody who has taken the time to read this story. I feel very loved by all of you. Let me know if you want me to keep writing more stories for you… I don't think I can handle writing anything this heavy and dark again… I'm sorely tempted to write an overbearingly sweet fic just to balance this one out… Eek!

For now… I bid you all farewell. This is the end of the story.