Bobby smacked Darien on the arm. "Stop fidgeting, would ya?"
"No," Darien stated, earning a chuckle from Tom, who seemed to expect the reversion to a 10-year old from Darien. He was... nervous wasn't the right word, wasn't even close to describing how he was currently feeling. Oh, no, he felt like he used to right before a big heist. All that anticipatory excitement, the heart pounding just enough to heighten his senses, his mind working at triple speed as he became exceedingly aware of everything about him. And since he couldn't go anywhere right now he... fidgeted. Adjusted the jacket, tugged at his collar, scuffed his toes in the grass, impatient to get on with the main event.
"It shouldn't be much longer," Xavier said from where he stood as the Man of Honor. It had been the kids' idea and he seemed more than a touch uncomfortable with it as it was most certainly outside the normal realm of traditional.'
Those self-same kids had requested that telepathic contact not happen until after Michele had made her grand entrance, though, at this rate, is was going to be a sunset wedding instead of an early afternoon one. So Darien couldn't even check in with Chele to find out what the delay was.
He glanced over at Mr. Hamilton, who had the unlucky task of standing amongst the children and, once it was all over, witnessing the two of them sign the papers that would make this marriage legal, at least in the eyes of the government and the IRS. He wasn't stuck looking like an overdressed penguin at a garden party, though the suit was plainly expensive. Whatever he did beside the JoP gig must pay pretty damn well.
Just then Rose came running full tilt through the arbor, the dress she wore hiked up high enough to show her knees and the fact she was barefoot. "Sorry, guys, had to deal with a surprise phone call from the boss-lady. Everything is ready to roll now."
A rumble could be heard coming out of the speakers that had been hidden behind some of the decorations, which made him wonder if the stereo had decided to up and die at just the wrong moment. It certainly wasn't what he expected, which was the traditional Wedding March from Lohengrin, by Wagner. No, it sounded like 30 Harley's revving their motors.
Amanda made her way down the aisle in a far more stately manner than Rose had, followed by Chris who wore the tux and top hat as if he'd been born to them. Darien's own hat was still at the hotel and had never made it anywhere near his hair, although neither Bobby nor Tom had been very surprised at that.
Just as the piano began accompanying the rumble Dani appeared, but instead of passing through the archway, she froze, a deadly glare aimed at Rose. "I am so gonna kill you after this," she snarled.
Rose showed her absolute terror by flouncing her skirt and sticking out her tongue. "This song's more appropriate."
Peals of laughter, Chele's laughter, followed that pronouncement, and it was then that Darien recognized the song for himself. I Would do Anything for Love, by Meatloaf and Darien really couldn't argue with Rose's choice. It was, oddly enough, a fitting song for this event.
"Mother," Dani cried in exasperation, and then heaved a long-suffering sigh and strolled forward to take her place beside her siblings.
Darien was about to console the young woman when the last members of the processional appeared and he forgot how to breathe. Michele was a vision in white, her face and hair hidden by the veil, which he found irritating, as he wanted to be able to see her and the smile that was surely lighting up her eyes. Beside her was Michael, decked out in the full top hat and tails, complete with cane, who had the onerous task of giving the bride away. With their father dead and the older brothers still in the dark about the engagement, much less the actual wedding, it was the only choice that made sense.
Mike was sporting an ear to ear grin, which probably meant he and his twin were having a lively conversation, most likely on how to keep Dani from acting upon her threat once the ceremony was complete. Darien could only wonder what the next surprise was going to be. He watched them, approaching as if in slow motion, the lack of air making everything seem preternaturally surreal. He closed his eyes for what he thought was an instant, a mere reflexive blink and she was suddenly there by his side.
One of her hands shifted just enough to brush up against his and she went and broke the "no contact" rule. Hey, bub, how ya doing?
He snorted and earned a curious look from Father Tom. Much better now that you're here, he informed her.
"Shall we?" Tom asked, with humor tingeing his words.
"Sooner the better," Hobbes grumbled, "they might forget the rest a'us are here."
"They already have," Xavier argued and Darien couldn't find fault with the statement. The world could fall apart around them right now and he seriously doubted he'd notice... or care.
"Boys," Chele admonished. "Behave or no cake." That earned chuckles from everyone. She then turned to face the priest standing before them. "Father, if you would..."
Tom spread his hands wide. "Welcome everyone. We are here today to unite Michele and Darien in marriage. The union into which you are about to enter is the closest and tenderest into which human beings can come. It is a union founded upon mutual respect and affection. Your paths will be parallel, your responsibilities will increase, but your joy will be multiplied if you are sincere and earnest with one another.
"Darien, if it is your desire to become the husband of Michele, then repeat after me.
"I, Darien, take you, Michele, to be my husband. In this moment, I promise before these witnesses to love you and care for you all of our days. I accept you with your faults and your strengths, even as I offer myself with my faults and strengths. I promise to support you when you need support and to turn to you when I need support. I choose you as the one with whom I will spend my life."
Darien did so, the words coming out clear and confident and lacking any obvious hesitation or nervousness, but the entire time he wanted nothing more than to rip off the veil and look into her eyes so he could see her reaction. He could feel it, their fingers still lightly together, but it wasn't the same. As soon as he completed the words, Tom turned to Michele and Darien decided he didn't want to wait until the correct moment and tossed the veil up and out of the way, much to Dani's dismay as she began to grumble imprecations under her breath.
Chele simply raised her hand and rested the back of it against his cheek as she said her vows, without Tom first reciting them. A long silence followed as Darien and Michele's gazes remained locked, no words, no thoughts, just tightly reined in emotions flowing from her to him and practically overwhelming him with their intensity.
It was Bobby who broke the moment, and in a perfectly Hobbesian manner. "Jeeze, guys, you can get a room later."
Chele blushed and lowered her hand, which Darien captured and clasped tightly in his own, not wanting to lose contact with her ever again. "Better wear earplugs, Hobbesy," was Darien's quick comeback, which eased the lingering tension and allowed the ceremony to get back on track smoothly.
"Do you have the rings?" Tom asked formally.
From within the depths of Xavier's jacket a box appeared, which Tom took and opened. Darien and Chele each reached for the appropriate ring and examined them, as this was the first time either of them had seen the bands they'd be wearing.
"It's lovely," Chele said, smiling up at her partner.
Darien rotated his, noting the main image inscribed on the ring was a serpent of some sort. Never one to turn down a chance to quote he said, "Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"
The kids snickered, plainly recognizing the source, but either Xavier didn't or more likely simply wanted to explain the choice. "It's actually an avanyu. A feathered serpent that represents change. It's a traditional Navajo wedding symbol."
Michele rested a hand on his forearm. "It's perfect." Darien nodded in agreement. He would have make sure to personally thank the man later.
"I believe Xavier had something he wanted to read as well." Tom stepped aside and gave Xavier center stage for a moment. He actually looked nervous.
"This is another tradition of Navajo weddings." He cleared his throat and then began in a soft voice in pure Navajo, which Darien suspected Chele understood perfectly though he didn't. It did not prevent him from enjoying the musical-sounding language or the sincerity with which it was spoken. Xavier then repeated the words in English, "Now you have lit a fire, and that fire should not go out. The two of you now have a fire that represents love, understanding, and a philosophy of life. It will give you heat, food, warmth, and happiness. The new fire represents a new beginning - a new life and a new family. The fire should keep burning; you should stay together. You have lit the fire for life, until old age separates you."
You okay, D?" 'Chele asked, as Darien fully accepted the turn-around Graywolf had made in the last few weeks. To go from near deadly hate to full support of their getting married was almost beyond belief. Almost. Then again, if this was nothing more than some truly strange dream, he never wanted to wake up.
Tom was speaking again, "Darien, will you give your ring to Michele and repeat these words: I give you this ring as a reminder of the promises we exchanged today."
Darien slid the ring on her finger as he spoke, their eyes locked upon each other's, but it didn't matter, he didn't need to look to know where this bit of jewelry went.
Michele waited for Tom to do his part this time and slid the heavy ring upon Darien's finger with ease. He idly wondered who had discovered his ring size and then decided he didn't really care.
It was Tom who got the last word, "Darien and Michele you have exchanged your promises and given and received rings in my presence. By these acts, I pronounce you husband and wife." There was along pause and then Tom whispered, "You're supposed to kiss her now."
With a grin that was sure to split his face, Darien set his hands about her waist and lifted her up. She wrapped her arms about his neck and dove in for a most thorough kiss.
With whoops and cheers, hats and flowers flew into the air.
As if by unspoken agreement, they wandered down the one set of pathways that dead-ended at the quiet cliff side glade where the precariously strung hammock still hung between the two trees that leaned out over the Atlantic. This small corner of her property had seen some of the most significant and... painful scenes of their lives in the last year, and yet they still came back to it, finding an odd comfort in the sound of the waves pounding up against the granite rock that made up this small section of the tiny island bay.
Upon entering the clearing, she skipped away, her bare feet dancing on the pale green springtime grass and over to the cliff itself, where some previous owner of the land had carved a primitive set of steps in the rock. The sky was coloring swiftly towards indigo, the first stars already making their appointed appearance in the velvety darkness above. She was easily visible, the paleness of the flowing gown she wore a stark contrast to the deep violet background.
"Tide's up. Looks like we won't be walking along the beach tonight," she said lightly, teasingly.
"Ain't you done enough walking today?" he inquired, unable to hide a smile as he strode over to her, hands stuffed into pockets and parting the jacket to reveal the crisp white of the tuxedo shirt he still wore. The tie and he had long since parted company and the collar was unbuttoned far lower than would ever be considered proper, but that was comfortable for his disposition for remaining as unencumbered and unrestrained as possible in one lifetime. He snorted softly at himself. Remaining unencumbered was officially a lost cause considering the reason for him being stuffed into the monkey suit, but it was most certainly not something he'd take back or regret - ever. Although he would have to think of some way to get even with his partner, who had been in on the plot with the kids from the beginning.
She shook her head. "Walking down that aisle took - what? - 10 steps. Easiest thing I've done in my life." For all the facetiousness in her tone, he could see and feel the simple truth to her words. Knew that she'd felt the same lack of nervousness or possible second thoughts as he had. Knew that today had been little more than an affirmation of all that they had been through and meant to each other since their first meeting in that austere padded room in the basement of the Agency years before.
He stopped before her and gazed down into the bottomless silver pools that were her eyes and felt himself fall again, a momentary sense of vertigo causing him to freeze in place and a look that was far too serious for the situation to be displayed upon his features. He swallowed hard as he once again realized exactly how much he loved the woman before him.
Her smiled faded, a sudden worry creasing her brow and she reached up to set fingertips against his jaw. "What?"
"Nothing," he responded, his throat tight as he lightly took her hand into his own and kissed her fingertips, which caused her to close her eyes and sigh. "And... everything." Before she could react, he scooped her up into his arms, carried her over to the hammock, and lay her down in its curving embrace while she laughed in pure happiness at his antics.
He took only the time to shed the jacket before joining her, his movements setting their resting-place to swaying out over the dark blue water dozens of feet below them. After a few seconds of shifting, they settled into place with her head lying over his heart, his left hand running idly through the curls of her hair. Her hand was running up and down the centerline of the shirt he wore in a vain attempt to smooth the material, which had become rucked up out of the waistband of the pants due to his recent energetic movements. The soft click of metal to plastic button made her pause and lift her hand to examine the platinum and gold band that coiled about her finger in the swiftly fading light. He watched as she twirled the ring about with her thumb, the weight of it still too new to be completely comfortable - as he well knew. The solid band about his own finger would take some getting used to, but what it stood for, what it represented would be an adjustment that would take as much time as the inhalation of his next breath.
"Changed your mind?" he asked with an undertone of seriousness that was altogether uncommon for him.
"No," she stated in all earnestness, and rotated just enough that she could look him in the eyes. "Just wishing you didn't have to leave at the end of the week."
And there it was; the reality of their situation brought out in to the open to be examined and discussed under the cool light of the evening stars. "Me too, but with these nifty souvenirs I think the separations will go a bit easier." Graywolf had made matching silver chains part of his gift to them so that they could still wear the rings even when unable to be together, just another small way to hide their marriage in plain sight. It was a gesture that touched Darien to no end and proved just how far Xavier's perspective had changed in the last six weeks. "It won't be forever, sweets."
She sighed. "Monthly conjugal visits are not what I had in mind."
"Sex? Is that all you can think about?" He snickered, tipped his head to plant a firm kiss on her forehead and was rewarded with one of her brilliant smiles for his trouble.
"Well, it is our wedding night. We're supposed to making with the consummating y'know." She darted forward and gave him a quick kiss on the lips before laying her head back down.
He chuckled warmly, most definitely looking forward to pouncing on her later, but for now just being together was enough. Besides, part of the reason he'd suggested the wander away from the house was because he was certain she had something she wanted to discuss with him, something that had been on her mind the last time they had spoken on the phone and been side-tracked by the day's festivities. "What's on your mind?"
"Aside from you in a decided state of sweaty undress?" she suggested invitingly with a surprise wiggle that set the hammock into motion once again.
He growled deep in his chest, slid a hand down her bare back and around her side, his fingers tapping gently in fair warning of the torture that would follow if she didn't behave.
She snickered. "All right, I'll be good." She was silent for long minutes, as if gathering her thoughts, and he waited with as much patience as he could muster, noting absently that full darkness had fallen, surrounding them in a cocoon of sultry breezes and salty night air. "I was considering quitting. The CIA, that is. Going back to being just plain old Michele."
Darien was more than a little surprised by this revelation, but could fully understand it. She'd been under an enormous amount of pressure since returning to government work and, after spending a year being nothing more than a mother to her kids, had found adjustment back to super-spy difficult at best. "So go for it," he stated without a trace of selfishness, and only after the possibility of her and the kids moving to San Diego crossed his mind. It was swiftly followed by the realization that wasn't going to happen in this lifetime. The whole reason for the secrecy was to protect her and the kids from the many enemies he'd made over the years working at the Agency. "You never wanted to be part of this."
"But without this we would have never met," she pointed out astutely.
"Oof. You had to go and say that didn't ya?" But he was smiling as he spoke; relieved she was the one to make the observation and not him. "I'm kinda glad we met. I want you to know that."
"Yeah, well, most guys are happy when getting laid regular-like."
"Hey!" Darien groused, putting those fingers to work, making her burst into uncontrollable giggles and squirm in a useless attempt at escape. He stopped once she had begged for relief in an appropriately desperate manner. "Talk to me," he requested, as soon as she had caught her breath and wiped away the tears the laughter had inspired. "You still gonna quit the biz?"
She shook her head. "Not yet. This mess with Keller and... my mind showed me that I... that we, still need things that only working for the government can give us."
"Babe, you ain't broke; you could handle security for the kids privately..." He trailed off when he felt her stiffen in preparation for disagreement so he added, "You don't need to worry about me, a'ight?" He was hoping to reassure her that while things might not be perfect at the Agency, especially after the revelations of the last few weeks, that there was also nothing he couldn't handle. As far as the Official would know he and Alyx would still be doing nothing more than trying to juggle work and a very long distance relationship, though he did plan on letting Claire in on the secret in a couple of weeks.
"It's not that. It's... There's things I want - need - to do before I dare risk breaking away," she offered as an explanation. "Rose is only nine and right now I trust Charlie and Cavanaugh to make sure all the kids are left alone. Though I gotta admit that he has some serious shit to account for." She paused to take a couple breaths and not let the mention of the Official send her temper flaring. "The Keller thing opened a serious can of worms and no one is sure how deep it runs. I have to be there, have to see it through."
She sounded both discouraged and adamant, which didn't surprise him in the least. She was always one to back up her words with action no matter how much harder it made her life. "Will it make any difference? You being there?"
She sighed deeply. "Christ, I hope so."
Her back was now knotted with tension, so he put his hands to a far better use than tickling her and made a valiant attempt at convincing muscles to relax, for the obvious worry that radiated from her to drop away and allow her to continue the conversation with ease instead of discomfort. "'Chele, if you think this is the right thing to do then I'll back you, hell, I'll help you any way I can."
"Darien, you don't have to..."
"Yeah, I do. I don't bail on my partner," he asserted. "Bobby'd hurt me if I did." That seemed to do the trick and her taut body went boneless against his. "So, when do you think you'll be able to blow this pop stand?"
She seemed to mull his question as her hands began to move languorously about, one finding its way up to the top of his skull to flutter through the hair while the other toyed with the buttons of the dress shirt; undoing and redoing them almost compulsively. "Oh, two, three years, I think," she answered quietly. "It'll feel like an eternity..."
"It'll go by in the blink of an eye," he countered, knowing it was true enough. "We'll manage." He snickered. "Definitely won't have to worry about getting bored with each other," he observed, unable to keep the grin off his face.
"You," she grumbled. "It won't be easy. Between just simply missing each other and the withdrawal you suffer after we've been together, it can't be."
"Worth it," he assured her, doing his best to broadcast his feelings on the situation to her. "Worth anything." He was only mildly surprised when she didn't argue the point and instead levered herself up so that her face hovered above his, her eyes glowing with a silvery sheen in the faint light provided by the stars high above them.
"Conning me you is," she asserted, but lightheartedly.
"Every chance you'll let me, baby," he agreed, tipping his head just enough to rest his forehead against hers. "What'll you do after?"
"Actually, I was thinking you might like to join me." His sudden shocked stillness at her words obviously said far more than any verbal response could. "Dearheart, you can't want to work for the Official for the rest of your life - even if he thinks you should. He's sure to start up the QS-9000 program again, if he hasn't already, and two years is more than enough time to have worked out the kinks..."
"Michele, do you know something I don't?" he asked once he managed to find his voice and interrupt her frighteningly enlightening observations of what should have been obvious to even him.
"Know? Nope. But it's what I would do in his position. Well, evil, manipulative, underhanded me, anyway." She shifted so her head was being supported by her arm and gazed down at him with a serious expression upon her face. "Darien, given what you've told me about Arnaud, Chrysalis and the SWRB, Charlie would have little choice. You've proved to be his best weapon in the last three years; it makes sense to continue the project. Much like Kevin wanted."
"Oh, now that's not fair. Invoking the dead brother's grand plans should be against the rules." But he knew she was right, her grand pronouncement that he was needed notwithstanding. Even if he were to stay with the Agency for the next decade, there would still come a time when he'd have to retire... or be killed in the line of duty. Having a replacement, or several, waiting in the wings would be just like the fat man. "You're right, though, I don't want to be there for any longer than I have to be. But... but what about Bobby?"
"He's more than welcome to tag along. Claire too." She leaned down to nuzzle the side of his neck for a long, breathless moment. "Finally get that whole 'company pier' issue out of the way and let nature take its course."
"Ulterior motives. I like those." Darien knew Bobby well enough to be certain that, even with the poor example he and Alyx had set, Hobbes would never back down and act upon his feelings for the lovely and talented Claire. "But what would we do? I mean, yeah, a long vacation would be nice at first, but even Bobby'd get bored after a while."
"I thought we'd go into business for ourselves. Hire out to do what we do now, only worldwide. Maybe toss in a little security work, both physical and electronic." Her eyes sparkled with excitement, making it obvious she'd been thinking seriously about this for quite some time. "Train and hire our own people and fund research into a few things that I know Claire would be interested in. Stuff that'd be shared with the general public. Between aspects of the Quicksilver research and the QSX project theories..."
He set a hand on her lips, stopping the flow of words. "I get the picture," he told her with a laugh, "and I love the idea. We just need to keep our asses in one piece until then."
"You better. I have plans for that ass of yours." She swooped back in, captured his lips with hers, and did a fair job at making him forget his own name for the next several minutes.
"Two years?" he repeated when she lifted her head.
"Uh huh," she replied, with hope in her voice, in her mind and heart that he shared.
"I can't wait."
Robert Heinlein, in a book that had become a favorite of mine, wrote, "Although long life maybe a burden, mostly it is a blessing. It gives time enough to think, time enough to learn, time enough not to hurry, time enough for love."
Granted, my life would never match Woodrow Wilson Smith's for
length, but I was quite certain there would still be more than
enough time... for everything.