# 9

"Bobby, c'mon..... It's okay. It's not like I minded...."

"I did! God.... I'm so sorry, babe. I was.... I don't know what I was...."

"Horny as a rhino and a unicorn dirty dancing?" Darien joked faintly, hoping to lighten the mood. Instead the raunchy comment only made his partner blush and shuffle further away.

"Cut it out! You were practically asleep! I didn't have the right to... to put my hands on you."

"Yes, you did, damn it! You're my husband. We didn't say never. We said when we're ready. If you're sayin' you are, that's okay. Come back to bed, please?"

"But... just 'cause I'm ready for.... it don't mean you are. I didn't even ask!"

"Is that what's got you freaked? It's not a big deal, Bobby."

"Not a... how can you act so calm?!"

"Calm? I'm not calm. I was before you started treatin' me like uncharted territory and runnin' for the hills. Now I'm a little ticked off."

"What? I don't understand."

"Obviously. So you didn't ask. So what? The bottom line is, if you had, I would have said yes. I was about to anyway when you bolted."

"What? You.... hold up. What?"

"Bert.... come back to bed and let's talk, okay?" Darien encouraged gently.

Gradually, Bobby moved back and perched on the extreme edge of the mattress, facing away from his husband. Darien threw back the covers to free himself and scooted into position beside Bobby. Slipping briefly into a fair imitation of a Georgia drawl, he made another attempt to lighten the other man's spirit. This time it worked, drawing a chuckle from Hobbes.

"What we have here.... is a failure to communicate."

"God.... yeah, I guess we do."

"Why didn't you talk to me before it got this bad? We both promised we'd speak up when we were ready to go to the next step."

"It ain't that easy. The.... the belief that anybody could want me that way..... Viv took that with her when she left. Tell the truth, she crushed it, threw it in my face an' laughed. I was young when she and I started... younger anyway. Suddenly she was gone... an' all I felt was angry an' hurt.... an' old."

"You think I felt any better after Liz? I idolized that bitch an' to her I was less than the rag you use to wipe the oil off your dipstick. I was a toy; pretty and shiny and interesting.... 'till it breaks or you find something prettier and shinier." Darien reminded him, slipping his arms around Bobby's waist and molding himself to the older man's side. "I want you... I need you so bad it hurts sometimes."

"Hmm. You never said that before. Guess the communications breakdown went both ways, huh?"

"Yeah."

"I... I'm ready to try this if you are. Just.... tell me one thing."

"What?"

"Tell me you're scared..."

"Hell, yes. I'm nervous about what I don't know.... anxious about what you'll think when you finally see my body. Mostly I'm terrified that my words and my touch won't be enough to show you what a strong, beautiful man you are."

"Hey, yeah. The body image thing. You can't be over that yet. It's too soon...."

"No, it's not. I know what I'm saying and I know who I'm with, Bert. She's not here. I won't let her be anymore."

"Ari...."

"Shhh. Like I said... it's okay. Lay back down. We'll just... let it happen." Darien told him, shifting backwards toward his side of the bed. "C'mon. No plan... no time pressure.... just you an' me, okay?"

Turning, Bobby searched Darien's eyes and found everything he needed. Fear did indeed hover at the edges, but much more clear were his love and an immense, deep, powerful desire. These last two drew Bobby in, giving him the courage to drop back onto his side, facing the man he loved more than life itself and ready for whatever might happen. Knowing he was truly loved, however, didn't increase his knowledge base when it came to the subject at hand.

{Hell, the only dumb question's the one you don't ask....}

"What am I supposed to... how do I..."

"I don't know. Whatever feels good when we're... flyin' solo, we try that on each other, maybe."

"Yeah.... that.... that'll work. We're gonna have to... we need to...."

"Strip? Not unless you're comfortable. We could just kinda.... slip our hands.... you know."

"We could. Thing is... I wanna.... I think it's time we.."

"Yeah. Me too. Okay... so.... boy, this is...."

"I know. I'm not countin' to three. I'd feel like an idiot. Let's just...."

"Right. Just...."

Eventually, after much hesitation and a few false alarms, both men's boxers rested in a pile at the end of the bed.

"Bert.... I never thought.... holy.... you're.... how did you ever...."

"Bein' bombed made you really, really relaxed?"

"Musta been...."

"You... I mean... you're beautiful. Perfect...."

Though the words trembled, Darien's heart heard the love and sincerity behind them and he responded with a blossoming smile. Slowly, the two moved closer to each other and began to kiss tenderly, allowing the moment to develop naturally as it always had from their kisses. Tongues slipped past actively engaged lips and hands drifted over shoulders, chests and faces. Passion and need sped up both hearts, making it even more intense when their bodies brushed against one another for the first time without the barrier of cloth to dull the sensation.

"Uhhhh!"

"Ber-Bert.... ah, crap.... Y-you haven't even...."

"I know...."

"Please.... I want....."

Bobby knew what his husband wanted. It was the same thing his own body was screaming for and, despite hands that shook as if he had acute palsy, he slid one between their bodies and sought to fulfill Darien's need. When the warm, trembling fingers wrapped around his hard flesh, Darien felt tears slide down his cheeks. After taking a moment to savor Bobby's touch and find some small measure of control over his emotions, he reached out and stroked the other man as well.

"Mmmm... Ari, it's so good.... oh.... oh God.... no.... it's been too long.... I can't stop it.... I'm sorry.... I just.... can't...."

"I-I know... it's alright.... I can't... hold on either.... let it go, babe.... I love you so much....."

"Love you.... Ari!"

Breathing as if hyperventilation were only moments away, the two men clung to each other in the minutes following their mutual orgasm. As their bodies relaxed and their desire cooled, they found themselves sliding back into another kiss. This time it was slow and sweet, an expression of gratitude and love. When they finally parted, both tried to avoid awkward silence by speaking at the same time and ended up laughing.

"You go."

"No, it's okay... you."

"I just.... God, I love you."

"Ditto. Times a million."

"We gonna sleep this way?"

"I really wouldn't mind sticking to you for the rest of the night, but I guess we should clean up."

"Shower?"

Darien shook his head.

"I'm beat. Washcloth sponge-bath."

"Ain't that a cartoon? The one Bobbi's so crazy for."

Darien laughed until he thought his ribs would crack, but he eventually regained control enough to correct his husband.

"You mean "Sp-SpongeBob SquarePants....."

"Yeah, yeah. So I don't pay attention to the title. You gonna come wash up or not?"

"Right behind you, Patrick...."