Disclaimer: none of the real ones is ours, just the made up characters.
Rating: NC 17
The guest-list was hardly glittering: just the bride and groom's families, a handful of friends, and a few people from the small and scenic town of Weatherford, Oklahoma. And Lij's fellowship mates, of course, but that was very like family. Summer dresses, white roses, and champagne-bubbly laughter made the little pond-side scene almost magical.
Billy watched Nina adjust her sleek black-satin formal for the seventh time. He was counting. He personally thought she looked incredible, but he could see why she'd feel a little out-of-place among the largely pastel gathering. She seemed to feel a little better when the people she knew, namely Billy, Nick, and Ian, were nearby. Nick had stepped away to see about refreshments, and now Billy spotted him returning to their little group.
"Lemonade?" asked Nick, impressively balancing four plastic cups.
"God I hope it's spiked," murmured Ian, taking two cups and passing one to Nina. Nina sipped cautiously and made a face.
Billy chuckled."Well, is it?"
"Unfortunately no, but it is sweeter than your average cheesecake," she said, sticking her tongue out discreetly. Billy resisted the overwhelming urge to kiss her. Which would be a bad move just now; the fellowship was already pelting him with questions about his unexpected and mysterious (and lovely) escort. Instead, Billy forced himself to look away from Nina.
Unfortunately for him, the first glance he caught was that of the woman Hope had introduced vaguely as Aunt Hazel. Aunt Hazel was probably a dear soul, but she was fast becoming nightmare material for Billy. She didn't look at day over ninety, and she'd declared upon meeting Billy that she was "a sucker for Scotsmen."
Billy tried to pretend he hadn't seen her come-hither flutter of mascara from the other side of the garden. But he was too slow. Aunt Hazel was on the move, waddling as fast as her floor-length violet gown would let her.
Billy clenched his cup of lemonade desperately.
"Hey, has anyone seen the groom yet?" Nick mused, breaking the companionable lull in their conversation.
Billy latched onto the excuse for all he was worth. Declaring that he would just go make sure Lij hadn't fallen into the pond, Billy fairly ran to the tree line, hoping that Aunt Hazel either was too polite to follow him or couldn't see well enough in the gathering dusk.
He'd just ducked behind a tree when he nearly ran smack into Lij. The groom was sneaking a last-minute fag and looked up guiltily at being caught.
Billy took a breath and walked up to Elijah. "Are ye okay, mate? Nervous? Need a runaway driver?"
Elijah looked up at Billy and tried to smile. "I'm fine Billy, just a bit umm... yeah... nervous. No, I have no desire to run, just maybe, fast-forward a bit."
"Lij, I was wondering ... ye decided really quickly about marrying, and she is an outstanding woman, but.... well, how did ye know she is the one?" asked Billy. After seeing Lij and Hope together he was reassured that those two were meant for each other, two halves being reunited by fate. But how did one make a decision for life out of the blue?
Lij chuckled at him. The normally cool, calm, balanced martial artist was at that very moment shuffling from one foot to another, with one hand fidgeting in his pocket, the other running compulsively through his hair. Lij couldn't help but empathize. "That's the one thing I am sure of, Billy. I have no doubt that I want to marry her, or that I love her. I think the only thing I doubt is myself. I wonder if I will treat her right, if I will love her the way she deserves, if I will be everything that she deserves, if I will turn out like my dad and alienate my kids when we have a family. The second I looked in her eyes, I knew her. I saw her in that moment, and I saw myself, as I could be, and wanted to be, in her eyes. She made me feel like I was naked, and I was unable to hide from myself when she was near, it was like... she saw me as the man I wanted to be already, and so I suddenly saw all the things I needed to do to become that man."
Billy felt warmth spread all over his body. The fuzzy feeling he got whenever he thought of Nina. Not only when they made love or spent as much time together as possible, but whenever he looked at her. Was this what Lij felt for Hope?
Elijah chuckled again as he saw Billy flush with color and look to the ground shyly. 'Another one bites the dust.'
"I am very happy for ye, Lij. Ye deserve her and much more ... and I know ye will meet all expectations and do wonderfully mate, don'a worry," he said and put an arm over Lij's shoulder. "It's time to Rock and Roll."
Lij stopped him and looked into his eyes. "Billy mate, I see the same thing when I see the two of you together that you see when you see us together. From what I've seen over the past few days, Nina is an amazing woman."
"She is, isn't she? I'll do me best to keep her around!" said Billy and laughed, while both walked back to where the ceremony was going to be held. It was time.
It all led to this: softly spoken words, candles lit by unsteady fingers, rings exchanged with some self-conscious giggles, and finally a touching duet from the bride and groom. Then the snappily dressed cleric pronounced them husband and wife, there was a quick but passionate smooch, and it was done. In all, the sunset ceremony was rather storybook perfect, from a certain point of view.
Ian had long since gotten over the envy of knowing that these things - white weddings, children, and words like "husband" and "wife" - were untouchable for a gay man. But he'd sneaked a glance or two at Nick during the ceremony. So young, still with stars in his eyes and no sense whatsoever of impossibility. Ian's hand stole to the object in his pocket, and his fingers curled around it. If he'd been unsure before, he was certain now.
Lij and his pretty bride trotted down the makeshift flower-strewn aisle amid quiet applause and some discreet snuffles. Instead of staying for the usual photo session, the newlyweds made a beeline for Hope's home for the reception. Other guests followed; everyone was eager to discard the sense of formality and begin the party in earnest.
Nick stood, as if he too would leave. Ian touched his arm lightly.
"What is it?" Nick asked, tilting his head a little to the side.
"Nice evening, isn't it? Take a stroll with me?" Ian asked.
All sense of urgency left Nick, and he fell into step beside Ian, shoving his hands deep into his tuxedo pockets. Perhaps sensing Ian's peculiar mood, Nick didn't speak for a while. It was a quiet evening, and the voices of the other guests faded into the trees. At the pond's edge, Ian stopped.
The sky was bleeding warm reds and gaudy purples. Nick's etched profile was silhouetted against that colorful palate. A warm evening breeze ruffled his hair.
"Something wrong?" Nick asked finally.
"I got a call from Sean at the airport," Ian began, turning to the pond and watching the evening canvas reflected on the surface of the water. "I'm out of the show. Apparently, they need someone who can dedicate more time to it." He was careful to keep his voice even, but in his periphery he saw Nick's startled response.
"No!" Nick breathed. "How can they do that? Isn't there a contract or something? They can't just…" and then, as if a truth had dawned on him, "Ian, is this because of me? Is it because I made you spend time with me?" The horror in his voice was real and very, very dear.
Ian reached out and squeezed Nick's hand reassuringly. "Partly," Ian confessed. He felt Nick's expected tension, but these things needed to be said. He'd agonized over the exact words on the long flight from London. "But mostly, it's because of me. I've spent my life building this career, always sacrificing for the art. So much that the art has in some sense become who I am. Nicholas, that is not the man I want to be."
"I don't understand," Nick said, but some of the tension had left his voice. He was calmer.
Stepping closer, Ian reached into his pocket and withdrew his gift: a simple pendant on a narrow chain. He pressed it into Nick's hand, chiding himself for holding his breath.
Nick looked down at the gift, turning it over in his hands several times. His thumb rubbed the inscription, then he held it up, catching the last fingers of daylight and reading, "Ever to be kept hereafter." He looked up, quizzically.
"It's a quote from King James I of England," Ian explained carefully. "I used to recite his letter onstage all the time, never realizing that it would some day mirror my heart. The full letter of James to his lover, George Villiers, is this, 'My only sweet and dear child -- I cannot content myself without sending you this present, praying God that I may have a joyful and comfortable meeting with you and that we may make at this Christmas a new marriage, ever to be kept hereafter. For, God so love me, I desire only to live in this world for your sake, and I had as rather live banished in any part of the earth with you, than live a sorrowful widow's life without you.'"
"So will you, Nicholas my love. Make this a marriage ever to be kept hereafter?"
Ian delivered this speech with none of his famed and vaunted stage presence. Indeed, by the time it was done, he was close to tears. Nick was closer, though.
"Ian…" Nick managed to whisper, but obviously had no more words. Ian closed his eyes and felt Nick's long fingers in his hair, and his joyful kiss, tasting only slightly of salt tears. In that kiss were sandy beaches, watercolor sunsets, warm nights spent gloriously un-alone. And all stretching into a comfortable eternity that Ian had never before allowed himself to glimpse.
Breaking the kiss, Nick traced Ian's face gently, and Ian finally opened his eyes, now certain that the time for tears was quite past.
"Yes, I will," said Nick, laughing and wiping at his eyes with the back of one hand. Ian breathed deeply and fastened the pendant around Nick's neck. Perhaps this wasn't a moment from a typical storybook. But it was perfect, just the same.
Billy had managed to run away from Aunt Hazel again, and was now standing by Nina, his hand set possessively on her back. She had looked at him and barely whispered, "I hope that isn't any macho property statement, William." He had just grinned back at her and whispered in her ear, "Just a promise for tonight, Ginny-love."
They were standing by Sean and Christine, quietly discussing the lovely ceremony, the beautiful setting, and the joyful glowing newlyweds.
Nina stepped closer to Billy and asked softly, "Have you seen Ian and Nick?"
Billy denied it and just whispered back, "Nay, I haven't. But I hope they are having a good time. I am sure they are not missing us."
"You are naughty, kilt boy," she replied. "Aye, I am. But ye still like me like that, don't ye, Giannina?" he said, kissing her ear quickly, before anybody noticed their innuendo. She gasped and blushed furiously. It was answer enough.
When it was time for the bride to toss the bouquet for the single women, Nina overheard the calling. She was not into the traditions (running from them like crazy having grown up in a traditional Italian-American family) and tried to blend into the crowd of the guests, when a long arm sneaked out and gripped her wrist. Nina turned around to find herself looking into the eyes of the wedding's Maid of Honor.
"Going somewhere Nina? You are needed among the single guests."
"Err... can't I go to the bathroom, please?" Nina managed to say, feeling terribly childish at it.
"No way, dear. Now be good and join the fun."
Billy was sipping at his drink, as he observed Nina being dragged into the group of single females waiting for the bouquet. Nina stood out from the group and he saw her walking slowly backwards from the shrieking young women, trying to escape unnoticed.
He would tease her about that; that would be lots of fun. While Nina was still walking backwards, Hope swung out and threw the bouquet. It landed squarely on Nina's chest and she reflexively caught it. It took her a whole minute to register what had happened and she let the bouquet fall.
When she saw that everybody was staring at her, she picked it up again.
Billy choked on his drink. There she stood, holding the bride's flowers and looking lost. This was the woman he wanted to have around as long as he could.
Billy smiled to himself. He would have to do something about that. Maybe not right away, but soon. He could not ignore fate.