Author's Note: As always, special thanks to my beta reader, Tullulah Lulah, who is always so prompt with her corrections. Seriously, you are the best. And all you readers and reviewers, you all make my day with your kind comments and support. This story is slowly coming to a close, but I'm working to leave you all with a satisfying ending. This chapter is decidedly more "M" rated than the rest of the story. Please review!


The horn blows, signaling an end to the second round of the finals. Jon "Bones" Jones has the technical advantage over Tommy. He is harder to get a hold of than an eel, twisting and turning with ease, using his 6'4'' form to his advantage. His style is unorthodox, a mixture of spinning kicks and elbows that I believe Tommy is only avoiding because he studied them so thoroughly. Tommy has danced around the ring for ten minutes now, looking for an opening to take Jones down. He has not found it, but blessedly, Jones is struggling in the same category. The first ten minutes of the fight have been like sitting on pins and needles for me. The two men have traded blows, some that looked to be fight ending, but miraculously, both are still on their feet. Their experience in wrestling means that they both execute well on the mat. Tommy and Jones have been grappling with each other nonstop, but like octopi, both managed to wriggle out of the other's grasp. Now, Brendan tells Tommy something in their corner, but Tommy's eyes are fixed firmly on his opponent. They are gray as stones, following Jones like a lion watches his prey.

It is now or never, and he knows it.

Jones' trainers circle him, wiping blood from his eyes and squirting water in his mouth. If he is worried at all about the outcome of ht next round, he is not showing it. He looks as calm as if her were sitting watching someone else spar in training. He spits his water out and jumps up, dancing back and forth like a tiger in a cage. The crowd is holding its collective breath, waiting for what is going to happen next. The referee walks almost tentatively to the center of the ring, like a man trying to break up a dogfight. He raises his hand high in the air, waiting for the signal. The horn blows and his arm arcs down.

Tommy explodes out of the corner the moment round three begins, arms swinging. Jones attempts an elbow to the back of Tommy's neck, but Tommy blocks it. Jones backs up and resets, diving in, grabbing Tommy around the waist and taking out his legs. I give a startled cry, dread seizing me. Tommy goes down hard, the smack of his skin on the mat resounding even over the din of the crowd. I leap to my feet, cursing, half wishing I could run into the ring and pull Jones off my man. Jones tries the move that Tommy is famous for: the ground and pound. But Tommy has no intention of going out like that. He swings up his legs, tipping Jones up over his head. The move takes Jones by surprise, allowing Tommy the opportunity to leap away. He does not try to pin Jones, or lock him into any kind of hold. I am startled by this, wondering what his strategy could possibly be, especially when he permits Jones to struggle back to his feet. The second he regains his balance Tommy strikes out with a punishing blow straight to his face. The crack resounds through the arena and Jones is thrown back. Before he straightens out Tommy fires a quick jab and a right hook, knocking his opponent sideways. Jones sways and Tommy hits again, this time behind the ear. As Jones falls forward, Tommy pulls up a knee, smashing it into his chest.

There is a moment where time seems to be suspended. Very clearly I am able to take in all of the details: the crowd leaping to their feet in waves, like the ocean in the midst of a storm, the referee lurching forward, Brendan leaping in delight just outside of the ring, Paddy wearing an expression of anxiety and, most importantly, the look of surprise and disappointment on Jones's face as he realizes it is all over.

He goes down, slumping to the floor like a toppled deck of cards with 45 seconds left to go in the round. The referee calls it, but it does not matter; the crowd knows who has won. Cameras are jockeying for position, trying to get in the cage. I see Brendan take a flying leap and start climbing faster than I ever thought humanly possible. He does not wait for Tommy to meet him, but rather flips himself over the metal barrier in an impromptu display that is so impressive I wish I had a camera to capture the moment. He drops down straight into his little brother's arms. Tommy claps him around the shoulders, pulling him into him hard, seemingly too overwhelmed for words. They smile at each other, grinning broader than the public has ever seen them grin. All at once, Brendan grabs his brother's hand and swings it up, holding it above them.

Tommy looks off at something just behind him, gesturing with his free hand. His movements become more authoritative and I realize he is calling someone. I push forward, Tess right behind me, trying to get ringside. We get just close enough to see Paddy's head begin to emerge. He walks in slow steps, betraying his age. He is almost tentative, as though he cannot believe what is happening. Tommy is having none of it. Together, he and Brendan bend down, pulling their dad up to them. Tommy clasps his father's arm, gives him a crooked smile and then drags his hand up. All three men stand there in some moment all of their own, isolated in a crowd of strangers by some private bonding. Paddy is clearing crying; the salty tears flow silently down his cheeks as he watches Tommy shake Jones' hand and receive his belt. Tommy swings the heavy metal up onto his shoulder, positioning it between himself and Brendan. It is a far different scene than last year, when Brendan all but carried his little brother down the stairs and into the locker room, pushing the cameras away. Now all three men stand together, looking so much like a happy family that it is difficult to comprehend the emotional state they were all in last year.

I glance to my right and see that Tess is crying as freely as she did when Brendan won, her lips pulled back in a wide smile. I chance a glance at them too, feeling the emotion weighing heavily behind my own eyes. Tommy looks down at me, grinning that crooked grin of his. I blow him a kiss, wanting desperately to run t him. I am keenly aware that I could damage his street credibility, so I allow him his manly moment, content to stand on the outskirts. He will be mine in a few short minutes. He begins his descent out of the cage, slowly making his way down the tunnel. Through the throng he reaches for me, yanking me to his side. His skin is sweat-slicked but I do not care. I grasp his hand, walking with the Conlon family down the tunnel to the locker rooms; I am a part of Tommy's inner circle now, not an outsider or a reporter. I have been accepted into the fold.

The next few hours are a raucous blend of interviews. I am on the other end of the camera this time, sitting side by side with Tommy. A few reporters attempt to pull Tommy out of our little group but he stubbornly refuses to move, leaving them scrambling to find a shot that doesn't include all of us. Brendan and Paddy are asked their fair share of questions. The media is having a field day with the double threat that is the Conlon brothers. Two wins in a row like this have never happened before. My facial muscles grow tired from the incessant smiling, but I cannot seem to relax them. Tommy's hand stays wrapped around mine as he speaks in clipped phrases to the reporters.

When they finally clear off Tommy takes a moment to shower and pull himself together. He is expected to go out, to make an appearance and rub shoulders with his fans. I know this is not his forte, but he goes willingly, even pulling on an outfit made exclusively from Hanes cotton. It is an outfit I packed for him, a nice button down black shirt and jeans that have not been completely faded by use. He leaves the top buttons of his shirt undone, exposing his undershirt, and pushes the sleeves up to the elbow. I stop him, rolling the material back down and smoothing it out, folding it up so that it is more presentable.

"You have to look good, baby," I half-tease, straightening his collar.

"Figured you were doing that," he takes in my bronze cocktail dress with a smirk.

"Well," I brace my hands on his shoulders, "you need to keep up." I kiss him lightly on the lips. I turn around and he gives me a playful smack on the bottom. We walk outside, poking and play shoving each other like children. Tommy swings me up, holding my feet just off of the ground until I agree to stop tickling him. I would venture to say that he is bordering on giddiness. He is certainly boyishly happy.

Tess, Brendan and Paddy meet us, all similarly dressed up. Paddy has put on a button down that looks like it has seen better days, but it is strangely endearing. He has left his newsboy cap in the hotel room and keeps running his hand through his gray hair nervously. Tommy punches him lightly in the shoulder. For whatever reason, it relaxes him. He leads the way into the restaurant, loudly announcing to the hostess that we are there to celebrate. We eat dinner, just the five of us. Plates and plates of food roll out, appetizers varying from sticky mozzarella sticks to calamari, salads that go largely untouched, and dishes loaded with steak, potatoes, vegetable, chicken and pasta roll though on an endless carousel of waiters. The food is all on the house, even the bottles of expensive champagne. Paddy toasts with apple cider, leading our group in recounting the fight. We laugh about moments that terrified us while they were happening. We hear the story of the finals from everyone's perspective, but it never feels repetitive. Tommy's is of course the most fascinating point of view, though he is the least loquacious in his telling of it. People surround our table and stare, but it does not bother us. This moment, no matter how many people witnessed it, is for the Conlon family.

We end up stuffed to bursting and standing outside on the boardwalk, breathing in the cool evening air. The evening is filled with promises, but no one can seem to come to a decision about what to do. Paddy retires when night falls, claiming he is too old to hang with us all. I know that he is taking himself out of temptation's way. His boys smile and tell him good night before we all head out to the block party on the boardwalk. The music is loud, the liquor is free and spirits are high. Tommy gets dragged up onto a stage where he rallies the crowd into a frenzy with a few grunted words. He gamely signs autographs, leaning over a hastily constructed barrier, marker in hand. He gestures for Brendan to join him, but his brother shakes his head, trying to allow Tommy his moment. Tommy will not be persuaded. He jerks his brother to him, hands him another marker and drags him along. I believe he draws some comfort from Brendan's presence. Brendan enjoys it as well. They are the most alive and carefree when they are together. They laugh, taking pictures, joking with fans. Finally, Tommy decides enough is enough and they excuse themselves, returning to Tess and I.

I feel energy burning in the pit of my stomach, mixing in with my pride for Tommy. Every second I spend watching him, no matter what he is doing, the fire grows. My blood is running hot now. Tommy detects this in my eyes.

"What's wrong?" his arm feels impossibly heavy on my waist. I want to tell him to wrap me to him tightly, to kiss me like he means it. Instead, I ask him to dance. He raises an eyebrow, but I am in no mood for him to refuse me. I see him cast his brother a look that is somewhere between amusement and nervousness, but I drag him somewhere the cameras aren't pointed. The music bumps a heavy bass beat and I begin to sway, my hands locked on his around my waist. I am pleasantly surprised when he pulls me into him, rocking just the slightest to the beat. There is nothing overly sensual about our movement and I long to take it to the next level but there are too many eyes watching. Just the sight of Tommy Conlon dancing causes a flurry of movement as fans rush towards us. Before the DJ can even mix in the next song we are surrounded by increasingly drunken couples. I hear Tommy's laughter over the music as he catches sight of Brendan and Tess dancing a few feet over. The boardwalk becomes a club in a matter of minutes. Tommy pulls me closer to him and I glance at his face. He looks completely happy. He is even smiling.

As the light of the day fades and we get more lost in the crowd, I become bolder with my movements. I rock backwards into him, throwing a swivel to my hips. I am fully aware that I am playing a dangerous game, that anyone might see us. But people are so wrapped up in their own debauchery that they pay us no serious attention. Tommy's grip on my waist tightens until it is almost painful. I desperately want to kiss him. Throwing caution to the wind, I spin around to face him. He meets me halfway. The passion of it is so intense that it robs me of breath. I lean up on my tip-toes, trying to get closer to him. When someone wolf-whistles loudly at us, I am successfully returned to the here and now. I pull back with a gasp. Tommy leans into me, his lips right at my ear. "Let's go," he tells me. I have no mind to argue. We wave goodbye to Tess and Brendan who are wrapped around each other, enjoying some beers.

The walk back to the hotel is longer than it has any right to be. There are people every few feet clamoring for Tommy's attention. He makes attempts to be polite to them all, but after a half hour, his patience has worn thin.

"This way," he tells me, pulling me down a side street. We zigzag around through back streets, sticking to shadowed areas I would never dare walk alone. But with Tommy holding my hand, I am confident that nothing will happen to us. He convinces hotel security to usher us in the back way. We take the service elevator and practically sprint down the hall into our room. He enters first, flipping on the light, pulling me in after him. The urgency in his actions reminds me of our first time together. He kisses me again, gently this time, steering me over to the bed.

"One second," he says. He disappears into the bathroom.

I wait for him. His Sparta belt sits on our hotel room bed, gleaming against the puce colored sheets. I trace the cool metal with my fingers and run my hands over the supple leather of his belt. I sit cross legged on the bed, eagerly awaiting his return. Watching him fight, knowing that it is all over, that we can start talking about future plans that do not involve Sparta, has me all riled up.

"You like it?" he asks, emerging from the bathroom in only his boxers briefs. The sight of him, muscled like an Adonis, sets my blood pressure up a few notches.

"It's beautiful," I say. I forgot that we are talking about the belt.

"Want to wear it?" he asks, walking towards me. I unfold my legs and lean back on my arms.

"It might clash with my dress," I tell him teasingly.

"So take your dress off," he says. It could be a lighthearted comment, but something in the deep timbre of his voice makes me sure he is not joking. His pupils dilate, the grey blue irises shrinking into a thin line. My breath catches in my throat and my hands begin to shake as I reach behind me to lower the zipper. Tommy becomes inpatient and his calloused palms circle me, grasping the small metal piece and yanking it down. He makes short work of my outfit, disregarding the sanctity of the fabric as he tosses it into an unsightly pile on the floor.

"I'd rather see you in the belt," I tell him against his lips.

"I wore it already," he tells me, increasing the pressure of his mouth against mine.

"But you earned it," I say. He kisses me on my collarbone, his damp hair brushing against the bottom of my chin. "You were amazing," I continue, my breath coming in gasps as his attentions wander lower, "Tommy, I am so proud of you."

His head whips up, his lips claiming mine in a bruising kiss. His fingers press into the skin of my abdomen and I reach down, twisting my slender fingers around his. He pulls me into his cloth-covered lap. He presses me down hard against his thighs. I pull back, breaking our kiss. He watches me through hooded eyes as I reach for his championship belt and stand up. It is far too large to sit on my waist, but I swing it around anyway, pulling it closed and holding it there with my hands. "What do you think?" I ask him playfully.

He smiles. "Come here," he stands up, dropping his last scrap of clothing to the floor. I feel my eyes drop unconsciously to his naked body and my heated skin flares into an inferno. Tommy reaches for me, jerking my hips into his. Skin meets skin in a feverish dance. He lifts me into his arms, removing the thin lace of my bra and panties that is the only barrier between us. I expect him to carry me to bed, but instead he turns us against the nearest wall. One arm is under my legs, the other is pressed palm down against the wallpaper. Coherent thought flees my mind as he slams home in one hard movement, nearly causing my eyes to cross. His name is ripped from my lips and I lean backwards, helpless against him. Not that I am complaining.

Tommy is thrusting like a man possessed. My hands come to the back of his neck and I jerk his head towards mine, plundering his mouth while he pumps against me. My legs feel weak, my muscles shaking, and a coil tightens in the pit of my stomach, begging to be released.

My name falls from his mouth with so much reverence that it could be a prayer. I feel myself fall apart against him. My body goes limp in his arms. He pulls back slightly, lifting me away from the wall and walking us backwards. The back of his legs hit the mattress and we topple downward, my hair arching over us. I fall forward against his chest, my head landing in the crook of his shoulder. My breathing is labored, but I have gained my second wind. On and on we go, like a marathon, until I feel ready to pass out. Hard and fast, slow and gentle, we continue making love until Tommy is finally spent. I lay beside him, our legs twisted together, one of his hands in my hair, his other sandwiched between our bodies, tangled with mine. I listen to the slow rhythm of his breathing.

"I've got money now," he says, sounding like he cannot quite believe it.

"You do," I agree. "You worked your ass off for it."

"I can buy a place in Bristol," he continues. A small smile tugs the corner of his mouth.

"You could buy a whole block," I laugh.

"What kind of house do you like?" he asks quietly, unable to quite meet my eyes.

"I get input?" I ask.

"Well, you're going to live there," he says as though this is obvious.

"Are you going to be there too?" I tease.

He moves his hand from my hair, trailing it down my stomach. "I better be. I don't wanna be your sugar daddy."

The absurdity of that phrase coming from his mouth makes me laugh. "Are you saying you're not sweet?"

"I can be plenty sweet," he smirks. His hand dips between my legs, causing me to gasp.

"In that case," I roll my body upwards, arching my back, "I want an old-fashioned looking house. A Colonial with a porch."

"Anything else?" he asks against my skin.

"And big windows." I reach out, pressing my palm against his abs. "And a yard."

"How big?"

"Huge," I sigh as he moves against me.

"Need kids for a big house," he observes.

"Then we will need to have some. Two girls and two boys," I say.

Tommy grasps me tighter. "Sounds like a plan."

The implications of what he is saying begin to sink in. "Kids are a lifetime commitment," I say.

He braces his hands on both sides of my face, bringing my eyes to meet his. His lips brush over mine in a languorous wet kiss. "Sounds good to me." As if to drive his pronouncement home, he shifts his hips, entering me.

I desperately hope that Brendan, Tess, and Paddy are out as I scream.

We fall into a lazy sort of pattern of dozing off only to be woken up again by the other's desire. Eventually, even Tommy is worn out. I close my eyes, drifting into a deep sleep in Tommy's protective arms. My dreams are wonderful, pictures of a life together, of what we could be now. I vaguely feel Tommy absentmindedly playing with my fingers, a habit he has developed when he sleeps. The motion is so comforting to me now that I find it difficult to sleep without it. His rough fingers trace a path up to the tips of the fingers on my left hand. Suddenly I feel a different texture than the familiar pattern of his skin. I open my eyes, blinking blearily.

A platinum band is sitting on my left ring finger, with a sparkling diamond in a round brilliant cut gleaming from the center. Now that I have realized it is here, the weight of it feels immense. I feel my breath catch as I stare at it, unbelieving. I go so far as to pinch myself, surprised at the sting it causes on my forearm.

"Tommy," I roll over to look at him. "Tommy what is this?"

He is looking at me, his azure eyes faintly lit in the darkness. "What's it look like sweetheart?" he asks. His voice is quiet, but not heavy with sleep. It is obvious that though I have been dozing off, he has not.

"You tell me," I say. My heart feels like it will pound out of my chest.

"You know what it is," he reaches for my hand, spinning the ring around my finger with a broad thumb.

"No I don't," I say, truthfully. "Not until you ask the question."

We stare at each other, the novel weight of the ring on my finger hanging between us.

"I had a whole speech," he swallows thickly, "Practiced it with Brendan and everything."

"So tell me," I suggest gently.

"It was something about me loving you and being really happy when I'm with you…" he trails off, sitting up and throwing back the covers. "And wanting to be with you forever." His voice gets a little bit stronger.

"I was going to get down on one knee," he says, kneeling. "I was planning on wearing clothes when I did it," he admits. We are both nude as our birth day. I lean over to the bedside table and flip on the lamp. Since he is kneeling naked on the hotel floor, literally baring himself to me, I let the sheet around me fall and place my feet firmly on the floor.

"I like you better without clothes," I tell him. My joke visibly relaxes him. He exhales deeply and then straightens his shoulders.

"I don't think I was ever really happy until I met you," he says. "And now, I'm only really happy when you're around. And I like it," he runs his hands through his hair, visibly nervous. "I know I'm a pain in the ass sometimes, and I know I'm grumpy and can be a jerk, but for some reason you've hung in there with me for a year now. And I was hoping you might hang in there with me for the rest of our lives."

He licks his lips, staring up at me, his expression nervous and expectant all at once.

"Nicole," he slips the ring off of my finger and holds it up, "Will you marry me?"