With this Ring
20 minutes before the ceremony
Vanessa was radiant. Hair pulled back into a bundle of ringlets that just fell to kiss the nape of her neck with several smaller, "errant" strands left loose to float about and across her face. In a sleeveless dress whiter than a new-fallen snow and just as luminous, hugging her slim waist and stomach and flowing from her hips in a seamless fall of shimmering, whisper soft fabric, she was the picture of beauty. Tev's mother had certainly outdone herself with this dress.
Denis stood in the doorway of the tiny room Vanessa was using as a dressing room, watching as she went through some last minute primping. Brushing a stray tendril back, dusting a piece of lint from the shoulder, smoothing a crease in the bodice, shaking loose a stubborn wrinkle from the skirt, straightening the diamond and ruby pendant hanging from the silver chain around her throat, checking the backs of the diamonds studding her ears. Denis felt confident that he could say—without betraying any bias—that his sister was a picture-perfect bride.
"You look like one of your princesses brought to life."
Vanessa looked up, surprise giving way to a nervous smile when she saw who it was, "Denny." She straightened up, hands smoothing down the bodice again. "I feel like one. Though, I can honestly admit none of my costumes were ever this lavish. I owe Lacy." She cocked her head to one side, mischievous grin tugging at her cheeks, "Do you suppose my first born would do? It could be just like in Rapunzel."
"Except Tev's mom is anything but a witch."
"Yeah…" Vanessa began nibbling on her bottom lip, nerves showing again. "Is everything ok downstairs?"
"Everything's fine downstairs. Is everything ok up here?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. Denny, I'm so excited. But I'm so nervous." She bit into her bottom lip, "I think I might say the wrong thing. Or maybe I'll just do the wrong thing."
"Whatever you say will be perfect." Denis smiled fondly at Vanessa's anxious rambling and stepped into the room. "Stop biting your lip; you'll ruin your lipstick. And you're marrying my best enemy, so anything you do after this can't be nearly as wrong." He winked.
"Oh hush." She swatted his arm. "I know for a fact you two resolved your differences years ago." She grinned. "You're just jealous I got to him first."
"I'll have you know that I have it on good authority he's not even my type."
Vanessa laughed. "Sean's a very smart man."
"Yes he is, and I'm ever his faithful student."
"You mean devoted lapdog."
"I mean I'll go downstairs right now and tell Mason the wedding's off."
"Denis Campbell, you'll do no such thing." She grabbed his arm before he could turn away, reaching up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you, big brother. I feel much better now."
"Good," Denis smiled, noting that she did in fact look a lot more settled than she had minutes ago. "Because it's probably about time we headed downstairs," he took one of her hands and tucked it into his arm as he led her from the room and down the hall towards the stairs, "and I would hate for you to pass out once the ceremony got started."
"Liar. You'd be laughing the loudest."
"Well… yes. But I'd feel really bad afterwards." He winked at the look she sent him, which sent her into more peals of laughter.
She turned serious though, when they reached the stairs and started down. "Is Dad down there already?"
"Ready and waiting and pacing a hole through the carpet. He's been hovering in the foyer for almost an hour now." He patted Vanessa's hand in reassurance when she looked ready to start worrying again. "He was afraid he'd get too distracted over his own paternal woes and forget and be late. So he's angsting and waiting in the same place. It was Sean's idea."
"Is he ok?"
"Sean's in perfect health, thanks for asking."
"You know who I mean."
"Dad's fine." Denis shrugged. "It's just Dad stuff. He's got to do it just the same as I had to do my brother stuff. It's all part and parcel the wedding, Nessie."
"Oh Denny…" Vanessa halted them a few steps from the bottom and turned to pull Denis into a tight, fierce embrace. Her eyes were bright and watery when she pulled back, and Denis knew he was doing some furious blinking of his own. "Will you play a song at the reception, Denis? One last brother thing for me?"
"Anything for you, Princess." He grasped her elbow and walked them down the last few steps and into the foyer where Sean and their father were waiting. "Now come on, I'm sure Mason's anxious to get those shackles attached and move on."
"You're horrible." She tried to sound reprimanding, but her voice cracked and wobbled.
"Yes, but you're sort of laughing, so my job is complete." He gave her hand one last affectionate squeeze then handed her off to their father, who inquired in that gruff, surly manner that meant he was holding it all in, if they were done fooling around and ready to get on with it. "At your will, sir."
Their father gave Vanessa a quick once over, nodded, and they started forward through the doors. The music met them as they stepped inside and started down the aisle.
Denis stood back in the doorway, once again watching from afar as his little sister, his favorite princess, prepared to step into her new life. He felt Sean come up beside him, slipping and arm round his back and dropping his head onto Denis's shoulder. "She's beautiful," Sean whispered.
"She's a princess."
"You're going to miss her."
"Every damn day."
At the reception
The last notes of the song fell into the cool breeze as Denis drew the bow across the strings a final time. They lingered in the air for a few seconds before being carried away to be lost in the crowd. Denis stood up, rolling his shoulders and stretching some movement back into his arms. He gently laid the violin back into its case and locked it shut, handing it to one of the band members to put in the back for safe keeping until he was ready leave. He knew he could trust it to be there when he came back.
Vanessa was waiting for him at the end of the stage; Denis raised his brows, "Every time I see you, you're either walking away from or already well at a distance from your new husband." He tilted his head and winked at her. "If I didn't know any better, I would think you were doing your damnedest to avoid him."
She ignored him, hands on her hip and a chastising tilt to her brow, though the grin belied the image. "Your friends are trying to steal my show."
"Yeah, I should probably go make sure Tev is still breathing." Denis cast a glance to a table in the back corner where his friend was sprawled in a chair, looking as though the carpet had just been pulled out from under him. Which in a way, Denis supposed, it had been. "He looks a little faint."
"He's just in shock. Besides, Travis is with him." She grabbed his arm and pulled him down the stairs with her, leading him away from the stage.
"As I recall, it was Travis who caused him to stroke in the first place." Denis recognized the intent of someone on a mission. He had just enough time to locate Sean amongst the crowd and pass a silent message that he would likely be a minute. Sean nodded and tilted his head to an area on the right away from the stage and the larger groups of people, letting Denis know where he could be found.
"True, but now he's got it all under control." She looked away from the dazed couple in the corner, shaking her head with a relieved smile, "I'm certainly glad it went the way it did. I thought for sure we'd have a fight on our hands."
"Your worries were wasted. Teverence would never be so crass. Nor would Travis." Denis squeezed her hand as he walked with her around and away from the crush of guests. "We all have proper fear and respect for the Princess."
Vanessa grinned and lifted her nose high into the air. "As it should be," she sniffed haughtily.
"Does Mason know what he's gotten himself into? Maybe I should go warn him."
"No, you'll let him be. He needs to figure these things out on his own. Besides," She grabbed his arm and pulled him farther away from the crowd, "I need to talk to you."
"Oh yeah? What about?"
"I need a favor." She stopped then, turning to look at him, eyes serious and full of concern. "For Zachariah."
"This is to do with that pretty thing he brought with him, isn't it?"
Vanessa nodded, biting her bottom lip. "Aunt Merry's on the warpath about it, and it's upsetting him. Also… I've heard her suggest at least twice now that Zachariah won't be welcome home during his next break. I thought, maybe sometime in the next week—when all this is over—you could go talk her? I know how you had it out with her already, but if you got her to come around once…"
Denis smiled, understanding completely. "I'll get her to come around again, no worries. And if she won't," Denis shrugged, "I'll keep at her, and Zac can just stay with Sean and me in the interim."
"Thank you, Denny," she leaned up to kiss his cheek, squeezing the arm she was holding on to. "I know Zachariah will be grateful, too." She smiled mischievously, "Once he stops getting flustered."
"The bold, daring Zac Phaeton has been undone, has he?" Denis tiled his head in consideration. "Sounds vaguely familiar."
"Right down to the pretty face."
"Yes. And speaking of, I should go find him."
A look of understanding crossed Vanessa's face, and she nodded, reaching up to brush a stray hair back and kiss his cheek again. "I suppose you should. I'll see you later."
"Is that a request, Princess?"
Vanessa lifted her face into the air, attempting to look severe and failing in her laughter. "It is a decree." She winked and lifted her skirts, preparing to wonder off back towards the guests, "Good luck, Denny." And she was away, practically running, ringlets bobbing against the back of neck.
He watched her disappear into a circle of their aunts and cousins before he wandered away himself, back towards a canopy of trees just to the right of the stage. Sean was waiting for him there, leaning sedately against a tree, arms crossed as he observed the goings on of the reception. More likely, he was keeping a close eye on Tev. Lord knew, the man still looked ready to pass out at a moment's notice.
"Hey," Denis came up behind him, sliding his arms around Sean's waist and ducking his head to nuzzle his neck, kiss his cheek. "Sorry to keep you."
Sean leaned into him, hands coming to cover his. "No trouble. What did 'Nessa want?"
"How did you know she wanted anything?"
"She all but jumped out of Mason's arms when you were done playing." Sean tilted his face up to look at him. "I can recognize when someone wants to be there first."
"Because it's usually you, right?" Denis chuckled and dropped a lingering kiss on Sean's slightly parted lips.
"Exactly," Sean breathed on a smile of his own when they parted, leaning farther into Denis and squeezing the arms around his waist. "So… What did she want?"
"Stuff to do with Zac. He might be staying with us for a while." He had phrased it as statement, but his tone made it a request, seeking Sean's approval for the decision.
"You don't have to ask, Denis."
"But I will anyway."
"Yes. Yes, you will."
Denis smirked at the patient sigh. He ducked his head to give him another kiss, extricating one of his hands from Sean's hold to dig into one his pockets. "I want to show you something," he said when he pulled away, bringing his arm back around to reveal a jeweler's box. He loosed his other hand and gently opened it, revealing a gold band resting in a bed of black velvet.
Sean gasped, fingers tentatively reaching out to touch it. "This ring," Denis said, lifting it from the box and returning it to his pocket, "has been in my family—passed from father to son—for four generations." He placed the ring in Sean's hand. "I'll be the fifth." He gently grasped Sean's shoulders, turning him until they were standing face to face. Denis grabbed the hand holding the ringing, squeezing it gently. "I want you to wear it."
He watched Sean's eyes for several long seconds, losing himself all over again—as he always did—in obsidian eyes. It was the eyes that had first drawn him. So dark and black, with flecks of deepest violet if they caught the light at the right angle. They widened considerably. "What? But… you can't be serious." Sean's hand clenched tight in his. "What about—what about your ring?" He looked down at his right hand, at the silver band glinting softly in the muted lanterns of the courtyard. The ring Denis had given him almost five years ago now when they had first started dating.
Denis smiled, taking the gold ring from Sean. "I would never want you to lose it." He pressed a finger to Sean's lips when he appeared to be gearing up for an argument. "There's a stipulation to this ring. A certain requirement that must be met before the son can receive it."
He grasped Sean's left hand, running his thumb lightly over the knuckles, once again gazing directly into Sean's dark, dark eyes. He took a breath, licked his suddenly dry lips. "The son… has to be ready to settle down." Denis turned to stare down at their hands, coaxing Sean's left to uncurl and sliding the ring onto the appropriate finger. "He has to know who he's ready to settle down with."
"Denis…" Sean's breath was shaky, the disbelief tangible.
Denis looked up to meet his shocked, fearful, hopeful black eyes. "You're my only one, Sean Harrigan. There'll never be another." He pulled Sean close, holding him tight and kissing him deeply.
He knew that in time, they too would become like that gold band. Something that was forever. Something timeless. Something old.