Summary: Larry discovers supporting Cal-Sci's latest student fundraiser doesn't have to be a chore, and it certainly won't be boring...
Disclaimer: I don't own them (oh, if I did... baby, baby, baby!) and am making no fundage off this story.
"C'mon... you promised. You can't back out on me now, Lar." Charlie cajoled, tugging his lover forward by one hand.
"Charles, you know I'm slightly claustrophobic."
"Not when you're with me. You had no problem on any of the dark rides when we went to Disney a few months ago."
"But... I'm sure Amita would be glad to do this with you... the added bonus being that she doesn't tend to panic, hyperventilate and faint dead away in situations like this..."
Charlie stopped dead and stared earnestly into Larry's eyes.
"It's called 'The Lover's Walk' for a reason."
"Are you really ready for the whole campus to know about us?"
"I think most of it already does and nobody's said a negative word to me."
"No. Please... it'll be so much fun to go back over the road we took to get where we are. The memories have been so good, Larry..."
"Yes, they certainly have. Alright. I'll go."
"Great! You'll be fine, I know it..." Charlie reassured as the pair strolled toward the entrance to the enormous wooden maze that the drama and engineering departments had collaborated to create on the lawn. Grinning in the fading evening light, Charlie gazed up, wide-eyed, at the strings of tiny white bulbs dangling from the top edges of the panels as he paid for both of them and led the way inside. Larger lights hung at regular intervals along their path led them twenty feet or so farther and allowed them to easily read the sign on the curtain that represented their first obstacle.
STATION ONE: HOW WE MET
A lovely young woman with a Polaroid camera stepped out to greet them with a sweet smile and a brief poem that drew blushes and quiet chuckles from both men.
"Speak, oh lovers, if this point you would pass, about what caught your eye,
the first time ever you saw the face of your perfect girl or guy.
Be it eyes or hair, lips or cheeks, speak now, and I beg, speak true.
Then take the hand of the one you adore, and I'll gladly let you through."
To Charlie's shock, before he could get a word out Larry cleared his throat and took the initiative.
"Seeing you for the first time is one of the clearest memories I possess... and the one I know I'll never lose, no matter how old I get. You were sitting in the third row, right in the middle of, oh... it must have been at least twenty other students, when I walked in to ask something of your professor before he started the class. I looked around while he found whatever it was I needed... and when I saw you I was stunned. The eagerness, the clear intelligence in your face, the scowl of frustration that came from holding back all the questions and ideas that were overflowing your mind... you were so young, but I just knew you were something special, Charles... special in a way very few human beings are. I went and sat in the back row and listened... and when the class was over I realized I had to talk to you... I was dying to hear all your questions and see how many of them I could answer. Two hours and six cups of coffee later..."
"... we were best friends." Charlie finished, reaching out and entwining his hand with Larry's. With a bright laugh and a flash from the camera, the young lady moved aside and gestured to the curtain.
"Your passport, gentlemen, for indeed you spoke true." She announced, holding out the photograph. "On you go to station two."
Larry ducked his head a little to hide his smile, accepted the small square and trailed behind Charlie through the fabric barrier, still gripping his lover's hand tightly. As they traveled through a turn or two, he examined the slowly developing image.
"I don't know about this... I look like..."
"... a big pile of sentimental mush? They captured the real you, then."
"Very funny, Charles... ah. We've arrived."
"We have? Sorry... I can't see anything but you." Charlie teased mildly. Larry used his free hand to smack the other man in the shoulder and mock frowned at him, even as he was laughing.
"Stop it, will you please? Just read the sign..."
STATION TWO: THE FIRST KISS
Once again, a student slid through the curtain, smiling as the previous gatekeeper had, but holding out his hand this time. Larry surrendered the photo and, after a moment of examination, it was returned and another poem offered.
"Your passport is accepted, and your next task doth await.
I beg a boon, ye lovers sweet; a tale about your mate.
A brush of lips, a touch of breath, the softest word is spoken,
Oh, tell me, do, of the moment you were granted love's first token."
This time Charlie took the lead.
"We were just sitting around in my office, talking about... classes, obscure theories in my area or yours... something like that. I was writing down a really insightful comment you'd just made and when I looked up, I caught you with this expression on your face... like you hadn't eaten a thing in six months. You laughed and covered... but I'd never seen anybody look like that and I kept up until you explained what you were thinking. You said... you said you didn't wanna pressure me... but that you were dying for just one kiss. I shivered. I was so scared that I wouldn't be good enough... that everything would go wrong, but I wanted it as much as you seemed to, so I got up, walked around the desk... I was focused on your eyes every second... when we got close, it... it was like we were magnets. We just crashed together. I'm so glad I didn't have time to really think about it..."
"... over-think, you mean." Larry injected with a mischievous half smile.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm trying to say that I'm glad it just happened... I don't think it would've been as perfect if we'd been trying to make it work. All I really remember thinking... is that I could taste traces of the cherry cola you had with lunch that day... then that faded and all of a sudden it was just... you. After that, my brain pretty much went off-line until we both came up for air."
Slowly, gently, Charlie leaned in, hands on either side of Larry's face, and kissed him. Larry pressed both of his hands against his lover's chest, not in an attempt to push away or escape the sweet torture he was experiencing, but with fingers curling in slightly, as if he were fighting the desperate urge to pull Charlie closer and deeper. This time the flash was barely acknowledged. Only the student's highly amused voice pulled the other two apart.
"Your desire and passion was lovely to see.
The way is now open to station three!" He told them, handing the picture to Charlie.
"So that's why you won't drink regular cola anymore? Why didn't you ever tell me?" Larry questioned as they moved off. The younger man's response was muffled as the curtain fell shut behind them. Smirking wickedly, the freshman they'd just left behind retrieved a small walkie-talkie and radioed ahead to the female friend who was manning the exit.
"Hey, Deana? You've got live ones coming through and I just won our bet..."
Two-dozen yards and a few lefts and rights deeper into the maze, Larry and Charlie approached the third and final station.
STATION THREE: IT HAD TO BE YOU
One last time, a figure pushed through the cloth, smiled impishly and silently asked for the proof that they'd been properly sent on by the previous guardian. Once they had been approved, their third poem was recited.
"Your love is a flame for all to see, full bright as moon and sun.
Who'd dare deny you truly think you've found your only one?
But if your quest you would complete, then from you both I'll hear The most important reason why you hold each other dear."
Larry swallowed hard, unsure if he could or should respond truthfully in such a public setting, but in the end he decided Charlie deserved to hear it, no matter who else might be listening.
"He understands me... he accepts me for who and what I am and he's never once judged me. I know how I'm thought of around campus... eccentric is probably the nicest term that's been used. The problem is that whispers aren't always as quiet as everyone thinks and holding up your hand doesn't really cover a laugh. Charles... I've never seen a trace of that from him. Not since the day we met. That's what made me choose him for a friend... and that's what made me fall in love with him."
"He, uh... Larry never treated me like a child, even though from the outside... that's all anyone else could see. He knew my body just hadn't caught up with my brain and eventually everything would balance out. While I fought and struggled through that, he never abandoned me. He defended me when I needed it, let me stand up for myself when I didn't and treated me as if, most of the time... I was just normal." Charlie admitted, reaching out to stroke Larry's brow and run slow, easy fingers through his hair. "I needed that more than anything back then... and it's always bugged me that I never found a way to tell him how much his support meant. Now he knows me backwards, forwards and inside out. I barely have to tell him anything I'm thinking or feeling. Larry's my refuge, my safe place... somewhere I can go and talk about how hot-dogs are made and why God put so much salt in the ocean... when the rest of the world only wants to hear about math. Even if that was all he had to give me, and believe me it isn't... I'd always love him for giving me the freedom to put away Professor Eppes... and just be Charlie."
Out of the corner of one tear-filled eye, Charlie saw the student moving and expected a camera flash, but none appeared. Instead, the young woman had simply stepped aside to let them walk past and out of the maze.
"The tasks are finished, love is proved.
All who heard you speak were moved.
Beyond lies open air, escape.
All that remains, the final drape."
Laughing and swiping at their faces, Charlie and Larry walked through the dark cloth, but only managed a step or two on the grass before they were forced to stop in their tracks by a small group of students who were fervently applauding.
"What... I don't understand..." Larry murmured, gazing around in confusion. The young woman from the first station approached with two small boxes in her hands.
"You two were the last ones through the maze. It figures that we'd have to wait all day to give these out." She replied with a rueful smile, opening the boxes one at a time to reveal silver chains with tiny heart-shaped pendants. "When we planned the Lover's Walk, we agreed that if one couple's story touched all of us, and we were unanimous about how deeply we felt, that there should be a prize for that couple. Sorry they're not more expensive, but the budget for extras was kind of low. We are trying to raise money, after all..."
"Of course... really, these are beautiful. Thank you..."
"Yeah..." Charlie finally managed past the softball-sized lump in his throat. "... they're amazing... thanks, you guys..."
"By the way, you cost me twenty bucks, Professor Eppes. I bet Brian that there was no way we'd get any couple through here today that we all agreed was really, truly in love and likely to stay that way. I don't mind so much, though. Seeing proof that long-term love is still possible is worth a lot more than I lost, believe me."
After another brief round of clapping and cheers, the group started to drift off, anxious to start the clean up. They left behind the two stunned professors, staring at each other and their gifts in wonder. Finally, Charlie spoke up again.
"You know you always ask me if we have a big family secret?"
"I just realized we sort of do. Our secret... is that the Eppes men have a knack for finding their soul-mates." He said quietly, dropping a lingering kiss on the smaller man's jaw. When Larry seemed unable to form a verbal response to the revelation, Charlie chuckled, took his hand again and began dragging him toward the parking lot.