Okay, this one came out of the blue. I mean, I'm definitely a Claire/Hobbes shipper, and I don't read romance, let alone write it! When I started this improv, I had something else entirely in mind, involving among other things a request for birthday spankings. But sometimes, the characters have minds of their own. And hearts of their own, too.

Happy birthday, LoneGirl! Thanks for the inspiration, however indirect!

Improv: Cupcake
by CritterKeeper

Darien paused inside the door to the Keep. The lights were all out, except for a small fluorescent over the snake's tank.

"Keep?" he called out hesitantly.

"Over here," he heard her voice call from across the room.

Half-hidden by a cabinet, he found her standing by a lab bench. "What's up, Keep?"

She turned, grinning, holding a Hostess cupcake with a single candle sticking out of the top, singing. "Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you!"

The little candle's glow made her cheeks shine and her eyes sparkle. A slight breeze from the basement's ventilation system made the candle dance, her hair fluttering in and out of the shifting light. Darien's breath caught for a moment.

::What am I thinking? The Keeper? She'd never -- I can't let her know what I was just thinking!:: Darien broke into a casual grin. "Geez, Keep, you shouldn't have!"

"Oh, come on. It's not like the Offical is going to spring for an office party! Someone's got to mark the occasion for you!" She lifted the little cupcake towards him, the candle halfway burned down and starting to drip wax onto the frosting. "Now eat up, Darien, before the candle sets all those preservatives on fire."

Darien couldn't help but smile at that one. Claire tried so hard to be funny, sometimes, and failed so miserably, that it was nice to be able to laugh honestly at one of her efforts. Darien wished, sometimes, that he could figure out how to give her just a little of his old class clown talent. The surprised delight showed a little in his smile as he took the cupcake and blew out the candle.

A little curl of smoke drifted upwards from the stub. He pulled it from the cupcake and offered it to the Keeper.

"Why, thank you," she smiled back, taking it and licking off a glob of frosting.

Darien watched her tongue dart out of her mouth and run slowly up the length of the candle. He fought hard to get his mind out of the gutter. When she stuck the blunt end in her mouth and started sucking off the crumbs, he had to find an excuse to turn away, fast!

He looked down at the cupcake, missing the flush that came to Claire's cheeks as she realized what she was doing. Her heart beat a little bit faster at the thought that she didn't quite dare think. She pursed her lips around the candle and slowly drew it out, enjoying one last moment of not-quite-thought-of fantasy before setting the bare wax stub onto the edge of the counter behind her.

She realized with a start that Darien's cheeks were red. He was blushing!

Oh, great, now she'd embarassed him. Not at all what she wanted to do. He'd disappear back into that protective shell of his, hiding behind a smart mouth and a casual pose. She knew, probably better than he did himself, that he used them to keep people from getting too close, to keep things from getting too serious. They were a way to be accepted and liked without having to open himself up, leave himself vulnerable.

She wanted to see him vulnerable. She wanted to touch that part of him that he kept shut away from the world, the part that had been hurt too many times and wouldn't take the chances any more. She wanted to be the doctor that healed those hurts. To climb inside that fragile shell with him, so that if he did close up again, she'd be in there with him.

Her mind on her own thoughts, Claire was surprised to see Darien looking back up at her, smiling that boyish smile of his, almost shyly. He'd broken the cupcake in half and was offering her a piece. "Birthday cake's no fun unless you share."

Half of a cupcake was very small. It was inevitable that their fingers should touch, as he passed it to her. At least, that's what he told himself. It didn't stop him from enjoying that brief, almost illicit touch of skin on skin.

They each lingered a little, not realizing, or perhaps not daring to believe, that the other was doing the same.

Claire felt her cheeks grow warm again.

Darien felt a little threatening trickle of cold. He clamped down on it, for once wishing that he didn't have to control his reactions so carefully.

Claire grew nervous as he pulled his hand away a little more suddenly than was natural. Had he realized what she was doing? Had he taken offense?

She casually turned the cupcake around in her hand, going for the cream filling first, like she had since she was a girl. It gave her an excuse to look away for a moment. She realized Darien's hands had done the same thing.

Darien realized that he'd stuck his thumb right into the cream filling. ::Oh, real smooth, Dare.:: He didn't want to wipe it off on his clothing or the seat. He snuck his hand up to his mouth to lick away the white goo. He remembered Claire's lips around the birthday candle, his own mouth unconsciously immitating her movements. His eyes closed for just a moment as he savored the sweetness, and when he opened them again, Claire was looking right at him, her tongue tracing across her lips in an unconscious hungry gesture.

She looked away quickly, trying to make it appear casual. She didn't want him to know she'd been staring at him. Watching him. Lifting her own cupcake half to her mouth, she leaned casually back against the workbench behind her to increase the distance between them a little, give herself room to catch her breath.

She misjudged the distance. The bench was further back than she'd realized, and she stumbled trying to catch herself. She managed to bop herself in the nose with her own cupcake. As she caught herself, she looked up at Darien, hoping he hadn't seen her misstep.

He was laughing at her! She wanted to curl up and turn invisible herself. She was such a klutz, at just the wrong moment. But how could he find it so funny, she wondered indignantly. Then she caught the little blob of white in her peripheral vision. She focussed on it, realizing only when Darien laughed out loud this time that she was crossing her eyes horribly trying to focus on the glob of cream filling clinging to the end of her nose.

Her face hot, starting to resent his reaction a little bit, she reached up a hand to rub the offending sugary mess away. His hand caught her wrist before she could reach it.

"Here, let me," he said softly, his voice husky.

His hand reached up, not to her nose, but to the side of her face. He leaned forward, his hand tilting her head towards him.

:: He can't really be doing this! :: she thought.

:: I can't believe I'm doing this! :: he thought.

He leaned closer, his soft lips closing around the tip of her nose. His tongue flicked against her skin, catching up the bit of sugar. His lips clung to her as his mouth pulled oh-so-slowly away.

Their faces hovered a foot apart, searching each other's eyes, fearing rejection, each finding only a mirror of their own fascination.

She leaned forward and brought her lips to meet his. They tasted of chocolate and sugar.