Jessica always seemed less and less inclined to leave after her weekend visits. I noticed this, as did Darren. One Saturday he asked her whether something was wrong, but Jessica refused to answer.

"Please tell me, sweetie." Darren touched his daughter's arm gently, and she pulled back in pain. "What's wrong? Is your arm hurt?" Jessica nodded, and lifted her sleeve. I winced at the bruise on her small arm.

"What happened, Jessie?" I wondered, and her eyes looked at me solemnly, as if determining whether it was wise to say anything or not.

"Mommy did it to me." She said simply.

"What do you mean mommy did it to you?" Darren insisted firmly. Jessica looked down. "Jessie, please. I can make her stop if you tell me."

"She drinks sometimes. Then she gets angry and sometimes she hits me." Jessie notified us. Darren pressed her for more information, and finally Jessie told us more. Lucy had begun drinking two months after the divorce, as far as we could tell. During that time, she had told Jessie that her father and I were bad people; if Jessie defended us, Lucy would attack her.

Finally, Darren reassured Jessica that neither he nor I were bad men, that her mother was the one who was bad. She curled up in his arms, and fell asleep.

"Lucy wouldn't really do such a thing, would she?" I murmured to Darren.

"She wouldn't have before, but I think she may have snapped." Darren replied. "I can't take the chance. I have to do something." I nodded in agreement.

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As the time for the trial drew ever nearer, Darren seemed reluctant that I should be in the courtroom.

"This is my battle, Jason-" He began, but I wouldn't hear it.

"It's my battle too. I want to help you however I can." I replied, gripping his shoulder. "Love doesn't leave during the hardships." Darren smiled softly and nodded.

"Thank you, Jason." He murmured. "It's good to know I have you by my side."

The experience of just sitting in the crowd was dizzying. I could hardly remember exactly what happened. Lucy was the first, as I recall, to be questioned. Her lawyer asked her questions that made it appear as though she were the victim. Of course Lucy had not intended to strike Jessica. And the comments that the child had made about her mother? Well, perhaps Jessica was too young to understand exactly what her mother had said, and misinterpreted the connotation.

Darren's lawyer was more objective. He asked whether or not she believed Darren deserved to see Jessica at all. Lucy hesitated momentarily, before answering with a confidant "No, I don't think he does."

"And why is that?" The lawyer wanted to know.

"Because...well, because he's gay, that's why!" Lucy's voice was filled with disgust, and she said this as though it ought to have been obvious.

"So just because he has a different sexual preference than what you consider 'normal', you find him unfit to be a father?" Lucy nodded, and answered this with a convinced yes as well. "Then if he were straight, would you feel comfortable sending Jessica to see her father?"

"Well, I suppose so..." Lucy conceded.

"Even if Darren were an alcoholic? Even if he beat little Jessica?" The lawyer pressed. Lucy looked appalled.

"Of course not!"

And so the questioning continued. Darren was called up, and try as hard as the other side tried, Lucy's lawyer could not make him appear to be a bad father. Darren's lawyer made it clear to the judge and the jury that this man was an affectionate, gentle father, regardless of what his sexual orientation may have been.

Then it was my turn to witness. I was asked a great many questions, half of which I forgot the instant I stepped out of the courtroom.

Did Darren appear to be a good father in the time that he spent with Jessica? Yes, he treated her well.

What did I mean by 'treated her well'? He read her stories, and even acted them out; he played games with her like chasing her around and tickling her when he caught her.

Had I ever seen him lay a harsh hand on her? No, I had not.

Not even when she was bad? No, Darren would explain to her what she did wrong, before sending her to time out. Even that seemed to break his heart.

When the questions finally stopped, and I was permitted to leave the bench, time seemed to start again. The trial seemed to move a great deal faster than it had ever moved before.



~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~

Days passed, and we waited to hear the jury's decision. When they filed into the courtroom, my heart nearly stopped. Darren looked back at me in solemn hopefulness, and I smiled encouragingly.

"We find the defendant guilty of all charges." I heard nothing else after that. We had won. Lucy was going to prison for child abuse, and full custody was given to Darren.

When court was dismissed, Darren knelt down and held his arms out to Jessie, who ran and leapt into his lap.

"My precious little angel," He murmured softly, "Everything's going to be okay now." I watched him from where I sat and smiled. What a wonderful father he made.

~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~~^*^~

We started life all over again. Jessie had her own room painted blue with silver clouds and stars on her ceiling. She had a toy box filled to the brim with stuffed animals and a bookshelf filled with her favorite books. Every night, Darren and I would come into her room and read to her.

One night, when Jessie had fallen asleep, I followed Darren back to our room as usual. At the door, he stopped and turned to me.

"Do you love me, Jason?" He asked thoughtfully.

"What kind of question is that?" I laughed, "Of course I love you!"

"I love you too..." Darren trailed off momentarily, as though he had something to say, and wasn't quite sure how to say it.

"Darren?" I prompted, and he looked at me with an embarrassed smile.

"I want you to be the first." He said finally.

"First?" I inquired, not getting what he meant.

"My first and only male lover." Darren clarified. My heart felt it would burst in that moment, and I smiled. Leaning down (Darren was an inch shorter than me, after all), I kissed him softly on the lips.

"I always knew I was saving myself for someone worthwhile." I murmured, pulling him towards me. Darren pulled away, and led me into our room.

All my years of torment were worth it in that night, when I finally became my best friend's lover.

~^*^~THE END~^*^~

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Yay, done! Yeah I know, kinda corny. Oh well, I enjoyed writing this story, and I hope you enjoyed reading it. Please review it! I'll hunt you down and hurt you if you don't.