A Wedding Song 26/26 : Grow Old along With Me Part 2 - Story Conclusion

Neil Diamond, Bread(David Gates), Alison Krause, Faith Hill and someone else I'm not sure of at the moment own the songs, not me.

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LATE THE FOLLOWING AFTERNOON

"Bobby, please relax. Everything is fine. If you'll just get dressed...."

"I can't. I can't do this! The stupid tux don't fit right, my hands are shakin' so bad they're about to fall off... this is a disaster!"

"No, it isn't. A disaster would be you walking out to get married in your dressing gown. Your tuxedo fits perfectly. Now if we can just get you into it..."

"No! This is such a mistake.... it'll never work.... ah crap." Bobby moaned, finally halting his manic pacing to drop into a convenient chair, head in his trembling hands. Claire immediately swung over on her crutches to stand next to him, praying she could talk him down from the emotional ledge he seemed poised to hurl himself off of.

"Listen to me, Bobby. You're frightened and nervous. Those feelings are perfectly normal, but you can't let them overwhelm you. Remember the breathing I've been showing you in yoga the past week or two? Sip the air in through your nose a little at a time.... keep that up until your lungs just feel filled. Good, now release it through the mouth.... slowly.... one long, slow exhalation. Excellent. Do it again. Very good. How do you feel now?"

"Like an idiot. I've said some dumb things before, but that takes the cake, the frostin' an' the ice cream too."

"The cake is on the kitchen table and the ice cream is in the freezer. I checked when we arrived."

As Claire had intended, Bobby chuckled at the remark, visibly loosening up.

"Wherever this new comedy thing is comin' from, keep it up. I like it. This is really gonna happen.... I'm really gonna get married again. I said I never would.... that it wasn't worth the mess or the heartache...."

"Darien is worth it. He loves you so much, Bobby. This is just a ceremony.... an expression of that love. In the end, ceremonies mean very little. It's the reasons behind them that matter."

"I know. I gotta focus on him.... on how good we are together an' how right this is. It's gonna be perfect. Totally perfect."

"That's the attitude! Ready to get dressed, now are we?"

"Oh yeah! Lemme at that monkey suit!"

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"Darien, please calm down...."

"F-forget it, E-Eberts! Just g-go tell Claire an' B-Bobby it's off!"

"I will do no such thing! You will be alright, I promise you that."

"Alright?! Y-you call this alright? I c-can't make it stop... as h-hard as I try I can't m-make it s-stop! It's seventy-two d-degrees in here.... so why do my teeth k-keep chatterin'? I c-can't go out there sh-shakin' an' cryin an' trippin' over my t-tongue like this! What's B-Bobby gonna think?"

"Most likely, he'll be thinking 'Thank God it isn't only me. Darien's suffering through precisely the same fears I am'." Eberts consoled Darien as he turned the other man back to the mirror so he could finish securing his bow tie.

"Bobby Hobbes? The master of grace under pressure? Never." Darien responded quietly, his own extreme reactions settling down as he contemplated the daunting concept of what could make someone as cool and collected as Bobby nervous.

"Never say never. You were isolated here in the bedroom when he arrived this afternoon, remember? If he'd been shaking just a little bit harder," Eberts confessed as he gave the tie one last straightening tug "the upstairs tenant would have reported a small and very localized earthquake to state authorities."

"No way... not Bobby."

Eberts gripped Darien's shoulders and met his friend's eyes in the full- length mirror on the closet door.

"Robert is quite good at hiding his fragility and his tender heart behind a mask of strength and self-possession, but if anyone knows the man behind that veneer.... it's you. When he looks at you, anyone could see how he truly feels. You, Darien Fawkes, are all that man wants and needs.... and thought he'd never receive. If you were within minutes of being freely given your greatest wish, wouldn't it make you a bit apprehensive?"

"I am... an' it is. I guess it's okay. If he's half the train wreck I am, he'll never notice. At least now I can talk without stutterin'.... I still can't stop cryin', though.... damn."

"You're fine, Darien. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Just keep reminding yourself that love is the greatest gift anyone can give or be given. Robert has offered you not only his love, but the truth of who he is. If that isn't reason to shed a few tears, I'd like to know what is."

"He's given me so much of his strength, sometimes I forget I don't always have to be strong with him. I forget he knows my heart better than I do. Okay. I'm ready now. Let's do this."

"Yes. Let's."

"Oh, and Eberts? You know that just 'cause we're not doin' the best man thing.... it doesn't mean I don't know who it is. You're the best man I've ever known, second only to Bobby. I'll never forget what you've done for me... for all of us. You saved my baby girl then you saved her *and* her Godmother from Alex. Don't ever let anyone tell you you're not brave, okay? Claire an' I both know better an' we'll slap you silly for even thinkin' it."

"Clearly understood." Eberts confirmed, having to restrain his own tears now. "Shall we go get you married?"

"Are you kiddin'? I am *so* ready for this...."

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Claire and Bobby moved into the living room side by side, Claire hobbling along on her crutches, Bobby shuffling in a step at a time and praying his legs wouldn't buckle and drop him to the floor. Grimly, he focused on the woman beside him and making sure she was having no trouble getting across the uncarpeted floor, rather than on his own acute case of nerves.

Darien and Eberts appeared from the other side of the apartment at virtually the same moment. As Eberts had predicted, Bobby was immensely relieved to see his only love, the man he considered a tower of strength, clinging to his escort's arm as if that support were the only thing keeping him upright.

When the two pairs met in the center of the living room, Claire and Eberts peeled off and turned to take seats in the chairs that had been set up a few feet behind the ceremony area. Or they would have, if the soon-to-be- married couple hadn't stuck to them like glue.

"Don't you dare leave me up here alone, Eberts! My knees are jello! If you leave, I'm gonna end up on the floor lookin' like a fool!"

"Claire, don't go! You don't need to stand up the whole time.... I'll piggyback you if I have to, just don't go!"

"Bobby...."

"Darien...."

" " Look at him." "

Each man turned to the other and their daughter's Godparents were abruptly forgotten. Suddenly, Bobby's world shrank to the color of his love's eyes and the tears he found shimmering there. Slowly, he extended a trembling hand to touch Darien's cheek.

"You okay, baby?"

"Yeah. My eyes won't stop waterin', that's all. Must be an allergy I didn't know I had."

"Allergy... right. I got the same thing. Guess it's goin' around, huh?"

"Think it's the tuxes?"

Bobby laughed softly.

"Could be. Never know. I missed you so bad last night. I barely slept." He confessed, slipping his hands into Darien's now.

"I know. I managed maybe two hours. How could you let Claire talk you into that...."

"Forget it. It's done, we're together now. Let's get this over with so I can kiss you.... it's just too bad we don't dare show Claire an' Eberts how hot our lip locks can really get."

"You ain't seen nothin'. Just wait 'till they go home, buddy boy...."

"Is that a promise.... or a threat?"

"Both."

"Yippee-kai-ay...."

"Gentlemen." Betsy interrupted, laughing. "From the intensity of the looks you two are shooting each other I think you're anxious to get on with this. Shall we?"

"Oh. Sorry, Betsy. *Somebody* who shall remain nameless, but may not get any cake at the party, convinced us to stay in separate houses last night." Darien explained.

"Yeah. We missed each other. Can ya tell?"

"If you hadn't said anything I never would have known." she replied with gentle sarcasm and another chuckle. "You two have your vows ready?"

Both men pulled papers from their pockets. "Good. Bobby, you start."

Hobbes sucked in a deep breath, held it for several seconds then let it out slowly. When he looked down at his hands they hadn't stopped shaking entirely but the sheet he held was now at least fairly still and the words no longer seemed about to vibrate off the page.

"Just remember, I don't write the way I talk, so it's gonna sound a little weird, okay?"

"We all love you, Bobby." Claire intoned solemnly.

To show that he understood the friendly reminder, Bobby grinned at her, received a small smile in return and, after another deep breath, began his half of the vows.

"I will never again walk away from you and our daughter."

"Now you, Darien." Betsy instructed.

"I will always trust you to tell me how you're feeling, good or bad."

"I will never again put myself down in front of you, or allow others to do so."

"I will always remember to tell you how special and amazing you are and how much I need you."

"I will never allow my past wounds and disappointments to keep me from having faith and confidence in the love you give me right now."

"I will always look ahead to our future together as a family, not behind at my mistakes and bad choices."

"I will never forget how much pain, sacrifice and loss you've come through in your life. It stuns me that you're still here, with so much left to give to me. You were willing to endure something nobody ever has, just to give our little girl a chance at life. I know the questions must've been in the back of your mind through the whole pregnancy: Is this going to last or is it a house of cards we've been building? Is it real, or made of nothing but paper and air? Will both of us make it... or is this the day the house falls down and I lose everything we've fought so hard for? Thanks to you, we all made it through the birth. You are so determined and so strong.... and when you decide you love somebody, the intensity of that love could burn down half of California. I promise I will never take for granted that you chose to give that powerful, life-changing love to me and I will cherish it, and you and Bobbi, every day in every way."

Trying desperately to contain the hitching sobs that wanted to escape him, Darien reached out and pulled Bobby to him for a moment, kissing him briefly on the forehead and murmuring in his ear.

"You're not helping my allergy any, you know. I'll never be able to read mine now...."

"Yeah, you can, love. If you don't we'll never get to tonight.... when everybody leaves."

"Powerful incentive...."

Darien pulled back, cleared his throat, beamed a radiant smile at Bobby and began.

"I will always remember the night you opened up a chapter in your past to me that you'd never revealed to anyone else. When you asked me not to talk until you'd gotten the whole story out, I knew it had to be bad, but I couldn't know how bad. As we sat on the couch and you poured out your heart to me, mine broke for you. The fact that you could come through something so horrific and survive to be standing here with me today, whole and strong and still able to love.... that's a testament to your incredible strength. I know you only told me your secret because you trusted that it would stay between us and that trust was well placed. I will always treasure your trust, knowing it for the unique and precious gift it is; one very few have received."

When Betsy spoke up to complete the ceremony, her voice cracked and failed on the first word or two she tried and she had to start again.

"Sorry, everyone. I... I usually don't get choked up, but that.... that was really beautiful. You got me. Good job, gentlemen. Now the rings. Bobby? Would you like to go first again?"

"Sure." Hobbes replied quietly, slipping the ring box from his pocket.

"Repeat after me as you place the ring on Darien's hand. I give you this ring as a symbol of my commitment and my love...."

"I give you this ring as a symbol of my commitment and my love..."

"May our union be blessed by God and the friends that surround us here."

"May our union be blessed by God.... an' the friends that surround us here."

Darien shivered, much as he had the night he and Bobby had received their engagement rings. The sensation of something incomplete and damaged finally being made whole nearly overwhelmed him. It took Betsy calling his name to anchor him again.

"Darien?"

His expression one of a sleeper awakened from a deep, intense dream, Darien fumbled the small square from his pocket, almost dropping it in the process. Bobby's hand on his calmed his racing heart, enabling the younger man to open the box and extract the small circle of gold.

"I give you this ring as a symbol of my commitment and my love. May our union be blessed by God and the friends that surround us here."

"I now declare that the ceremony is completed. You are therefore wed; bonded in mutual passion, support and friendship. Honor the promises you made this day and always love. Go in the peace of God."

When Bobby and Darien simply stood and stared at each other, Betsy laughed and encouraged them. "Well? Kiss somebody, you goofballs! Each other, preferably, but I expect one too. It's in my contract."

Shaking off the shock, Bobby drew Darien into his arms and softly kissed him. Darien fell into it completely, only retreating when he realized Claire, Eberts and Betsy were all clearing their throats.

"Hey, she said we could kiss...."

"Yes, but she didn't say suffocate each other, did she?" Claire corrected.

"What I said about the comedy, Claire? I take it back." Bobby teased, smirking at her.

"Hobbes. We do have something else to do, remember?"

"Oh, yeah! The songs. C'mon. I can't wait for you to hear this. It's sappy, but it's so perfect for us." Bobby enthused, dragging his husband by the hand to where a small portable stereo sat on a card table.

"Songs?" Claire asked, sitting forward in her chair.

"It's somethin' we worked up. A while ago Darien was talkin' about really likin' the mix tapes I made him durin' the pregnancy. So he thought our first wedding present to each other should be a song we picked out; one that really said how we feel. We picked two each actually, but the other one.... it's supposed to be more personal so you guys don't get to hear it. We didn't say anything 'cause we weren't sure if we'd be able to find songs that we felt strong enough about, but when I heard this.... I knew it was right."

Grinning, Claire leaned in and whispered to Eberts.

"I wasn't aware Bobby Hobbes was capable of getting that excited over anything, never mind a piece of music."

"Nor I. This should be interesting."

Turning back to face Darien, Bobby gazed up into his eyes. His husband didn't have to try very hard to see the hope Hobbes was repressing, almost as if the idea of automatic rejection hadn't quite been purged from his mind and spirit yet.

"I know what you're gonna say when you hear this, Darien; 'First Country, now Easy Listening? Bobby Hobbes has finally lost whatever lousy taste in music he had to start with.' All I ask is that you listen. Listen to the words.... an' open up your mind a little, okay?"

"I can see how much this means to you. No teasing, no moaning, no rude noises I swear. Push the button."

Bobby quickly depressed the play button with one finger and tried to turn away, remembering the effect the song had on him the first time. Darien grasped his hand and urged him to keep eye contact. "Don't do that. Don't hide.... not from me. Please?"

As the lyrics to the song began to float through the group, Bobby reconnected with his new husband eye-to-eye and soul to soul. Caught up in the newlyweds intent, unwavering focus on each other, it took a moment before the song's lyrics began to register on Claire. When they finally did, myriad images from Bobby and Darien's relationship flooded her mind and she began to cry. At first she ducked her head, but when she thought to look, she realized that even stolid, steady Eberts had reached for his handkerchief and she tipped her chin back up.

###The story of my life is very plain to read.

It starts the day you came and ends the day you leave.

The story of my life begins and ends with you.

The names are still the same, the story's still the truth.

I was alone.

You found me waiting and made me your own.

I was afraid

That somehow I never could be the man that you wanted of me.

You're the story of my life and every word is true.

Each chapter sings your name, each page begins with you.

It's the story of our times and never letting go.

If I die today, I wanted you to know.

Stay with me here, share with me, care with me, stay and be near.

And when it began,

I'd lie awake every night just knowing somewhere deep inside

that our love affair just might write.....

The story of my life is very plain to read.

It starts the day you came and ends the day you leave.....###

By the time the last note faded out, every person in the room had succumbed to the emotional message of the song and the box of tissues was making the rounds for the third time. Darien, still tightly locked into Bobby's gaze, was trying to speak, to express his feelings about his husband's gift, but his throat was too tight to produce even a hint of sound. Stopping his cassette, Hobbes laid his index finger against Darien's lips, grasped his hand and moved it to the controls for the other side of the tape deck. Understanding the implication, Darien smiled, pushed play and allowed his gift to do the talking.

### If a picture paints a thousand words then why can't I paint you?

The words would never show the you I've come to know.

If a face can launch a thousand ships then where am I to go?

There's noone home but you. You're all that's left me to.

And when my love for life is running dry,

You come and pour yourself on me.

If a man could be two places at one time I'd be with you.

Tomorrow and today, beside you all the way.

If the world should stop revolving, spinning slowly down to die,

I'd spend the end with you and when the world was through

Then one by one the stars would all go out,

and you and I would simply fly away.###

As the song ended, Claire glanced at Bobby and realized he was utterly lost, as numb as Darien had been a few moments before and just as unable to find the words to speak what was in his heart. With Eberts' help she rose onto her good foot, positioned her crutches and moved to Bobby's side to hug him and give him something easier to talk about.

"This has been the most amazing day, Bobby. Thank you so much for letting me be here with you. This is something that will be with me forever..."

"Hey," Hobbes choked out finally, turning into the hug and wrapping his arms around her. "it wouldn't a'been the perfect day without you an' Eberts. What did I do to deserve this, huh? I've found the one person I'm supposed to love an' I've got friends willin' to put their lives on the line for me and each other. How could any guy ask for more than that?"

"You never had to ask, Bobby.... you never had to ask."

A few feet away, Darien stood with his arm draped over Eberts' shoulders.

"No way. I was a mess! I never would have made it through this without you."

"You would have been fine. All I did was provide a bit of encouragement and remind you of the reasons you were getting married. You did beautifully. The vows you and Robert wrote.... they were so emotional and powerful. I must admit I was quite affected. Now I believe it's time for a gift from Claire and I. Claire?"

"Right here. Is it time?"

"It certainly is."

Reaching into her pocket, Claire pulled out a CD case and handed it to Eberts, who moved to the stereo and popped the disc into the player at the top. "If you'll listen closely gentlemen, you'll see that you have judged Claire much too harshly for her actions last night. In short... let her eat cake." he said, pressing the play button.

### / He's.... in my head almost. There's this little niche inside me now.... this space that's all about Bobby. When he's not close to me, or at least somewhere around, that space turns into a hole. I never thought anything could hurt worse than my QS head-bangers, but.... that hole does./

// After all this time.... we have this sense about each other. I know when he's around, he knows when I'm around.... we both know when the other one ain't.//

/I just can't sleep if Bobby's not here/

//If he's not close to me, I don't sleep.//

{ What made you say yes? How do you know this is the right thing to do?}

//It's his eyes. Every dream I quit on or quit carin' about.... an' every single thing I ever *really* wanted but made myself shove in the flyin' oinkers file.... //

/It's the trust he has in me. That trust is a big part of the rest of what makes us so close.... closer than anything physical could ever do.... /

//I look in his eyes an' I can see he's holdin' all that stuff for me.... an' believin' in it for me.... an' I know he'll keep holdin' it an' believin' it 'till I'm strong enough to do the job myself.//

/I showed him I can forgive him an' keep lovin' him, even when he makes a mistake, an' now.... he trusts me. With his pain, his secrets..... an' most of all, with his heart. He's the key.... to my life, to everything. /

//An' see, I know it's good, what he's doin'.... but it makes me mad at the same time. I finally understand that what I always thought love was... it wasn't. Love don't always hurt... an' it ain't about givin' all the time, but never gettin' back what you need. I said yes 'cause I've spent too many years bein' wrong. What I see in Darien's eyes.. that, right there, is real love.//

/ You're damn right I love Bobby Hobbes. How could I not? The man handed me the password to his soul. No question, no hesitation, just.... ' Here. This is everything I am, everything that means anything to me. I trust you to take good care of it.' When he said he'd marry me, I swore to myself that I'd be worthy of him someday.... an' even if it kills me, I'm keepin' that promise./

"Eberts, you sneaky little... We weren't out of syrup this morning!" Darien accused, punching his friend in the shoulder.

"Actually you nearly were, but I also needed a legitimate sounding excuse to slip my tape to Claire so she could add it to the one she'd made and have time to compose the CD before driving Bobby back here for the ceremony."

"So pullin' us apart last night.... it was all for this?" Bobby asked Claire wonderingly.

"Albert and I talked and talked about presents but we couldn't come up with any ideas. You didn't need anything for the house or for Bobbi and everything else we thought up seemed trite and overdone. Finally he had this brainstorm. What better gift could we give you than something we'd made ourselves?"

If you'll notice...." Eberts commented as he extracted the disc. "Claire even created a custom label. She's titled it 'From the Heart'. Quite appropriate." He mused as he slipped the CD back into its case and handed it to Darien.

"Well. I think it's time to party, don't you?" Betsy suggested gleefully. "Somebody throw some upbeat music in that stereo! Not that the CD wasn't incredibly touching, but I can't eat and bawl my eyes out at the same time and right now I'm starved!"

"Point taken, Betsy. Okay everybody, into the kitchen. Dinner first. Anyone who touches the cake before we've all eaten" Darien ordered, looking pointedly at Bobby, "will be beaten to death with a celery stick off the veggie platter!"

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NINETY MINUTES LATER

"Darien, you put that cake down! This dress cost me a fortune. Don't you dare get near me with that..."

"So we love the CD. Doesn't mean you guys don't get punished for puttin' us through hell last night."

"Calm down, Robert. If you come any closer I won't be responsible...."

"Oh, yeah, Eberts? Responsible for what?" Bobby asked, gently bouncing his slice of wedding cake in one hand

"For the scream that decimates your eardrums. Back away slowly...."

"But it's chocolate cake, Claire. You like chocolate." Darien teased.

"On a plate with ice cream, yes, but not on my face or down my.... dress."

"Dress. Riiiiight." He taunted, laughing wickedly. "Live an' learn, Keepie. When we renew our vows in twenty-five years you'll know better than to wear something so low-cut."

"Open wide, my friend. Maybe I won't get any on that pretty silk tie...."

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TEN P.M.

"Please? C'mon Darien. I'm beggin' here an' you know I don't beg..."

"I will not do that in public! No way!"

"Ari, please...."

The pet name finally broke Darien's defenses down.

"Ah, crap... okay. So, I'll dance...."

Bobby led his husband by the hand out into the space that had been cleared of furniture for the ceremony.

### It's amazing how you can speak right to my heart.

Without sayin' a word you light up the dark.

Try as I may I could never explain

What I hear when you don't say a thing.

The smile on your face lets me know that you need me,

There's a truth in your eyes sayin' you'll never leave me.

The touch of your hand says you'll catch me whenever I fall.

You say it best when you say nothin' at all.....###

Gradually, as they moved together, Darien relaxed and their movements became more graceful and less awkward.

"I hate dancing. I've always been a rotten dancer." Darien whispered in Bobby's ear. "But with you.... suddenly it's not so bad."

"Good to know. Feel like a little Macarena?"

Darien kicked Bobby's shin lightly in response and laughed softly in his ear. "Oh. Guess The Electric Slide is out, then huh?"

"Bobby... shut up and go start this song again. It's almost over..."

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ELEVEN P.M.

"The fish knows about our deal with Danny, right Eberts?"

"He's been informed, yes."

"Sounds like he wasn't happy."

"Is he ever pleased about anything lately? Not that he doesn't have good reason to be depressed. Alex is locked in one of the padded rooms and may never see the outside world again. Stark still hasn't been caught. His job is more difficult now than it ever was."

"Do I hear sympathy for the devil? I hope not." Bobby intoned quietly, his voice almost a growl.

"No, Robert, what you hear is empathy for a man who was once my dearest friend before he became so misguided and... confused. Charles is a good man at heart, but he's also pragmatic. He'll do whatever he thinks is necessary in order to achieve the stated objective. He isn't evil."

"I'm sorry, Ebes. I forget how tight you two were. I know it can't be easy on you...."

"No. It's alright. I've.... come to terms with it. I have the two of you, Claire and the lovely Roberta in my life now. That's more than adequate compensation for the potential loss of Charles."

"Potential. I like that. Glad to see not everybody's given up on him." Darien commented.

"Not ever. I loathe the thought of surrendering any human to the darkness without at least making an effort to save them."

"Me too."

"I noticed. I saw that picture you taped onto the window of Alex's room."

"Yeah, well..."

"Picture? What picture?" Bobby asked, but Darien flushed and shunted his question aside.

"You want another cup of coffee, Ebes? There's plenty."

"No thank you. I really should be getting home. Thank you for the opportunity to share this extraordinary day with you both. I enjoyed it immensely."

"We're glad you could be here. Bobby was right, it wouldn't have meant half as much without you and Claire. Lemme grab my jacket an' I'll walk you out to your car."

Once Darien had seen their last guest to his vehicle, he strolled back into the living room and dropped tiredly to the sofa beside Bobby, contemplating the mess of torn gift-wrapping, plates, glasses and napkins. "I guess I better get started on this disaster or we'll never get to sleep...."

As he began to get back on his feet, Hobbes gripped his shoulder and pulled him back down, turning the other slightly toward him at the same time.

"Betsy's got the kid for twenty-four hours, you an' I've got all day tomorrow to clean up an' put this place in order. It can wait. You promised to show me somethin'. Or... was that a threat? I don't remember..." Bobby breathed, placing a soft, brief kiss on the sensitive spot just above the point of Darien's jaw.

"Yeah? My memory's kinda.... shot too. Remind me...."

"I said... too bad we couldn't show Claire an' Eberts how hot we kiss..... an' you said.... wait 'till they go home. I'm waitin' inviso- geek...." Bobby murmured gruffly, scattering fast pecks over every spot on his husband's face except his lips.

"Man.... you know damn well.... I hate that ni... nickname.... Hobbes.... you *really* don't wanna be doin' this to me here.... this is *the* couch, ya know?"

"I see your point. Don't much care.... but I see your point."

"Good... Long as we've g-got that.... straight.... damn, Hobbes that's my ear.... what the hell are you doin'...."

"Tryin' to get you to shut up... an' quit thinkin' for a while."

"Oh."

"That's it?" Bobby chuckled. "Just... oh?"

"Mmmm-hmmm.... shutting up, remember?"

"Good boy. Now you're gettin' it....."

"Am I ever.... Can I... get a little more.... maybe... please and thank you?"

"Manners are always a plus..... when you're askin' for somethin' you really want." Bobby teased, his hands tangled in Darien's thick hair. "Which would be... what.... by the way?" he asked, pulling back slightly to find and read his partner's eyes.

"Kiss me. Kiss me an' don't ever stop..... kiss me 'till my lips are too bruised to stand the pressure even one more second...."

"Darien Fawkes a romantic. Who woulda thunk it?"

"Hobbes... God, I know you can do somethin' with those lips besides talk. You're killin' me...."

"Not yet I'm not." Bobby assured him, sliding his hands around Darien's lower back. "Just do one thing for me? Try not to close your eyes. Everything you feel ends up there. Lemme see that.... okay?"

"I'll try.... I'll do anything you want, just get back over here..."

Finally Hobbes gave in to Darien's pleading and leaned in to put an end to the tempting, tantalizing preamble he'd been engaged in. As their lips touched at last, Darien moaned his approval into Bobby's scarcely open mouth and his husband echoed it. The soft monotone vibration buzzed back and forth between the pair for a minute or two, lasting only until Hobbes' boldness and curiosity got the better of him and he flicked the tip of his tongue out to trace Darien's bottom lip. A lightning strike of energy lanced through the younger man's body and he knew playtime was most definitely over.

When Hobbes sought out his partner's eyes, trying to gauge Darien's reaction to the unexpected move, he found the color deeper than usual, but no true panic existed within the dark orbs, only shock and intense excitement. Encouraged, Bobby tried again, measuring the entire perimeter of his husband's mouth this time. In response, Fawkes gave Bobby a surprise of his own.

Wrapping both hands around the back of Hobbes' head, Darien gently, cautiously pressed his tongue against Bobby's lips, seeking to open them further, asking permission to take the next step. Groaning, Bobby allowed, even welcomed, Darien's efforts, despite knowing that there was little more they could do without crossing a line both had agreed they were not prepared to.

As he slipped his tongue into the warm, wet darkness Bobby offered, Darien felt his control beginning to slip as well. As good intentions and agreed upon boundaries began to dissolve in the face of mounting desire and need, he found it harder and harder to remember why he was supposed to be backing away from something so beautiful, something he'd wanted for so long.

{God... how can this feel so good?! It never felt this way with anybody else..... Is it him? Is this the way it's supposed to be when you *really* love someone? Love..... I do love you, Bobby.... Yeah, but if that's the truth, I gotta get control before I let this go way too far....}

{So hot... perfect.... How come only he can do this to me? I never thought I was.... I've never wanted a guy like this.... Hell, I've never wanted anybody like this, guy, girl or whatever's in between! It's him. It's the only thing that makes sense.... God, I gotta get my head together somehow..... damn, I love you Darien.... We will finish this someday, I swear. I'm sorry it can't be now...}

Gradually, though it was the last thing on earth he wanted to do, Bobby began to disengage and disentangle himself from his husband. He had to speak several times before he was able to acquire enough of Darien's attention so that he did the same.

"Darien..... babe.... c'mon love..... I know.... I feel the same way... listen to me, okay? I wanna keep on too, but we can't...."

"Bobby.... Oh, hey... I'm sorry. I got a little lost I think."

"I know. It's okay. I didn't want it to end either, but.... it's a good time."

"Yeah. I guess you're right."

Suddenly, Darien laughed and quickly scrubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. "Holy.... I thought our first kiss was intense! When you licked my bottom lip... it felt like I stuck my finger in a light socket. It was.... like nothin' I ever felt before...."

"I was just testin' the waters, ya know, seein' if that was.... alright with you. I never woulda thought you'd call my bluff and we'd end up in a full-blown French kiss... which was incredible, if you wanna know."

"I always wanna know, Bobby. I wanna know everything an' I hope you'll tell me when you decide it's time. I.... need a shower." Darien stated matter-of-factly as he slowly stood up. This movement, however, brought something else to his attention. "Ahhhh.... make that a cold shower and a change of clothes." He mumbled ruefully, turning away from his partner's line of sight.

Fully back to himself at last, Bobby gazed down at his lap and finally noticed several small, damp, warm spots, now growing cold and uncomfortable against his skin. Their source was also more than evident and he swiftly retrieved a throw pillow and slammed it down over his thighs. Mortified, he immediately shifted his eyes up again.

"Ummm.... I got the same... problem. I'll take the bedroom."

"Sure you don't want the shower first?" Darien said over his shoulder.

"Nah. You take it. I can wait."

"With memories of the last hour runnin' around my head.... I could be awhile."

"It's okay. I got my own.... stuff to do. No beer amnesia tonight. Just.... leave me some cold water, huh?"

"Shouldn't be a problem. I'll always love you, baby."

"Every day, in every way, kid."

((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((

1:00 A.M.

"It's okay, Bobby. We can do our other songs now. I'm too wound up to sleep. Man... what a day."

"That's how I feel about the last few months. How'd we ever survive that little patch a'hell, anyway?"

"Each other. I know I wouldn't be here now if you hadn't kept draggin' my head back above the water line. You just wouldn't let me go."

"You're mixin' me up with the end of ' Titanic ', kid." Bobby chortled, brushing aside Darien's attempt at a loving confession.

"Quit it, Bobby. I'm tryin' to be serious. You know me. I've never had a lotta stability... never felt really secure anywhere. You do that for me. You help me sleep when I don't think I can... even though I'm so tired I can't stand up anymore. You give me somewhere to hide when the world is usin' my head for a soccer ball. You cool me off when I'm ready to go nuclear, you heat me up just by sayin' my name a certain way.... You're my safe place.... and I need to thank you for that."

"Damn, kid.... look, pass the portable stereo here, willya?" {Gotta distract myself... get control before I flood the whole damn house... I had to fall in love with the one person in the world who can make me cry practically on demand...}

Darien reached down beside the bed for the small music system they'd used for the wedding and passed it to Bobby, planting a brief kiss on his husband's nose.

"You're allergy's flaring up."

"Yeah. I know. Where's that... did I put it in the tape drawer?"

'I don't know.... maybe. It's the one labeled wedding song 2, right?" Darien asked, digging through what had officially become the music drawer of the nightstand.

"Yeah."

"Hmmm... nope. That's my favorite preggers mix tape.... here it is." He announced, tossing it to the other man and pulling out his own selection before shutting the drawer again. Bobby slid the tape out of its case, popped it in the player and pushed the start button, all without a word. He feared that if he tried to explain his choice or, indeed, say anything at all, he would be forced to flee in embarrassment. Instead, as he had done throughout the pregnancy and for the several months since, Hobbes allowed the music to speak for him. As soft, gentle guitar chords began to fill the room, Darien, who had been listening expectantly with his head lowered, abruptly looked up, studying Bobby carefully, then reached over and hit the pause button.

"You swear you didn't peek at what I picked?"

"I said I didn't a million times. Why?"

"What inscription did you pick for my ring?"

Bobby looked at his hands for a minute, then met Darien's gaze again

"The best is yet to be."

Darien stared at him, eyes wide.

"No way." he responded breathily. "Yours says grow old along with me.... the first letters anyhow. It was too long..."

"Okay. Wow. That's freaky, but I still don't get...."

"Forget it. You'll see in a minute." Darien replied cryptically, re- starting the tape.

### I can feel the magic floating in the air.

Being with you gets me that way.

Closer than I've ever felt before,

and you know, and I know

there's no need for words right now.

I can feel you breathe, washin' over me,

and suddenly I'm melting into you.

Nothin' left to prove, baby all we need is just to be...

The whole world just fades away, the only thing I hear

is the beating of your heart.... ###

By the time the song faded out, Bobby was studying his new husband just as intently as he was being observed. He couldn't come anywhere close to reading the look in Darien's eyes, and that worried him faintly. A moment later, the younger man opened his mouth to say something, but stayed silent, apparently deciding against speaking his mind. Instead, he turned the player toward him, ejected and returned Bobby's tape and slid his own into place.

### Maybe tonight,

we could close the door and lock ourselves inside.

Take time to feel.

I don't wanna miss the chance to be so real.

The days all fly away and I forget the truth.

Everything that matters, yes, is in this room,

When you lie next to me, breathing the air I breathe,

we don't have to speak, just be.

Love's a precious thing, don't wanna waste a day,

or one more minute without you in it.

Life is so sweet when you lie next to me....

Let the world around us just disappear... ###

"So?"

"So what?"

"So... the songs. How'd you know?"

"I didn't." Bobby protested. "I... I just picked one that said how I
feel. I know it don't happen all that often anymore, but sometimes...
I wake up before you do. I lay there... an' I watch you breathe. I
can't help it. It's like there's somethin'... scared, way deep inside
me. It says if I don't keep my eyes on that little... rise an' fall
thing your chest does.... if I don't stay on guard 'till you wake
up... you won't."

"I won't.... what?" Darien questioned muzzily, his fatigue making his
brain function slightly slower than normal.

"Wake up."

"God... Bobby..."

"I know. I warned you, kid. I said if you let me into your life....
I'd want all the way in an' I'd bring all my weirdness with me..."

"No, I didn't mean... it's okay. The stuff I said about makin' me feel
safe... that's all part of it. I need that. I need to know that, just
for once, somebody gives a damn about me. Watch me sleep, watch my
back.... it's all good."

"Yeah... well, it wasn't all about that. Part of it was thinkin' about
what it does to me when you talk in my ear. That ' washin' over me,
suddenly I'm meltin' into you' part...."

Darien placed the stereo back on the floor, leaned in and pressed his
lips to the point of Bobby's jaw. After a moment, he slid up a bit and
spoke barely loud enough to be heard, even that close.

"Like this?"

"Fawkes.... mmm.... an' I was just thinkin' about goin' to sleep..."

"And now?"

"I'm still thinkin'... it's just... the thought's losin' it's
appeal.... real fast...."

Grinning, Darien gradually backed off.

"You're right. We do need to get some serious rest. Big cleanup
tomorrow."

"Rest. Yeah, maybe..."

"You got another idea?"

"Truth or Dare."

"You wanna turn this into a slumber party?" Darien chuckled.

"I got a question I want answered an' I figured... why not make it
fun?"

"Okay. I'm in. Truth."

"What were you thinkin' just before I broke off the kiss tonight?"

"You mean it?"

"You can always take the dare if you're chicken."

"A dare from your twisted mind? Never. What was I thinking? That
you... are like nobody else I've ever known. I wondered if it felt so
good 'cause I'm in love for the first time. Really in love, I mean.
Then I thought, if I love you as much as I say I do, I needed to get
control before I didn't give a damn how far we said we'd go. Your
turn. Truth or Dare?"

"Truth. Always truth with you."

"Same question."

"Mostly... I was thinkin' hot... an' wow. Viv drifted into my head for
a second but I kicked her right back out. Compared to you she was like
kissin' a cement sidewalk in January. In the middle of an ice storm."

"Good. Definitely good. Anything else?"

"Pretty much the same. I loved you an' I had to pull myself together.
I made you a promise, too. I swore there'd come a day when we didn't
have to stop. When the time's right...."

"I know. Right, just not right now. I can wait, Bobby. One step at a
time. C'mon. Lay down. We really do have to sleep." Darien urged,
turning out the light.

Bobby yawned widely and gave in.

"Okay, okay. An' by the way... don't think I didn't notice what kinda
music your other song was, mister Darien ' I Hate Country ' Fawkes."

"Damn..." the younger man swore softly. "This doesn't mean you're
blackmailing me, Bobby Hobbes."

" 'Course it does."

"No... not that... show a little compassion..."

"Garth Brooks all day tomorrow."

"Anything but that...."

"Garth or Johnny Cash. Choose."

Several seconds of silence was followed by a moan and surrender.

"Garth Brooks."

"Thought so...."

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END

Even though I am planning a short set of chapters to tie up all the loose ends I've left hanging, I felt the need to toss out some colossal gratitude bouquets at this point.

Thank You:

To everyone who read and reviewed The Gift and this sequel on ff.net or on- list. To all the writers, whatever fandom, who inspire me daily. (Most especially SA, Scribe (both multi) and Ginger (tP), my fanfiction deities. If I ever grow up, I want to be just like them.) To everyone on my I-man fiction list; you make me laugh, make me think and make me want to be a better writer. I give y'all every bit of gratitude I can muster. Joyce, Sarah, Suzy, Karen, Dawn, Pip; you are my stalwart supporters and I will never be able to thank you enough for the continuous spiritual boosts you provide. This has been a true labor of love for me and knowing all of you loved it too made it that much easier.

BuffyAngel68