“My last name or your last name?” Tony said, filling out the paperwork for their marriage. The moment they’d gotten the okay from Eva about the baby, Tony had started planning the wedding. For some reason, he felt it was important to get this part of their lives settled before they continued with everything else. It was the last thing that needed to be done before they could start their lives.
In four months, he and Riley would be welcoming home their new babies. They’d gotten lucky. Out of six of Eva’s eggs, two were successfully fertilized and implanted. Maybelle, Riley’s sister-in-law had agreed to carry the babies to term. Aside from the obvious joy of being a dad, Tony was also happy for Riley. This experience had opened up a door for Riley and his family. Although Layla still had not reached out to them, she was actively involved in Belle’s pregnancy. And Joshua, Belle’s husband and Riley’s older brother, was a huge part of their overall support system.
Now all they had to do was get married.
“Yours.” Riley sat, watching a soccer game.
“Are you sure? We could use both or hyphenate.”
Turning around to look at him, Riley shook his head. “I want your last name. No hyphens, no using both, just London.”
Tony nodded and did as he was told, typing Anthony Jacob London and Riley Mitchell London in the proper boxes. “There, done.”
Riley stood and walked over to look at the document that would legally bind the two of them together. “Mitchell?”
Tony grinned. “What? I like it, don’t you like it?”
Riley snorted. “That’s not my middle name.”
“What is your middle name?”
“It’s not Mitchell.”
Tony rolled his eyes and went back to filling out the rest of the questionnaire. “Well, it is now.”
He’d known Riley for over ten years and not once had he ever learned the man’s middle name. He hadn’t even known Riley had one until a couple of months ago when he happened to glance down at a file during a doctor’s visit. Since then, he’d tried to find out what it was but Riley wouldn’t tell him. Well, now it wouldn’t matter. He was filling out a name change form for their wedding and he could put whatever he wanted down and it would be legal – well, as long as Riley signed it.
Tony was just about to ask him one more time when he heard a groan. He was up and at Riley’s side before he even realized it. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know. I just feel weird.”
Putting his hand on Riley’s forehead, Tony’s brows drew down. He was a little warm. “I think you have a fever.”
“Not possible.” Riley pushed away Tony’s hands but sat down. “It’s probably something I ate.”
“Riley, you don’t look well at all.”
“I’m fine. I’m feeling better already.”
It was a lie. He was getting good at knowing when someone was lying to him and Riley rarely did, so something must be wrong. “Riley.”
“I’m fine, Tony, promise.”
“You’re lying. Come on, lie down and I’ll get some ibuprofen.” He tried to push Riley down on the couch but met with resistance.
Riley shook his head. “You know I can’t take any drugs, Tony. The tests…”
“Lie down.” Tony’s tone was sharp and Riley flattened himself on the couch with no more protest. Tony didn’t mean to be abrupt but they couldn’t afford for either of them to get sick. They were so close to their goal. He wouldn’t allow it.
While he fussed, Riley lowered his eyelids and watched him. Tony slowed his movements, brushed his hand softly across Riley’s lips and grinned. “What?”
Smiling softly, Riley said, “Nothing. It’s just nice to be fussed over. You’re going to make a great dad.”
“I don’t fuss,” Tony said, while he bent over the couch to look for a blanket he could cover Riley up in. He was secretly pleased though. He would make a great dad. They both would. “Shoot, where’d the throw go?”
Laughing, Riley put a hand on Tony’s arm and stopped him. “Tony, I’m fine. I’m feeling better, I swear. Just come here and lie down next to me.”
Tony hesitated for a moment but Riley did look better. Feeling his forehead one more time, Tony finally relaxed and leaned down to give Riley a kiss. With everything that was going on, they didn’t have much down time anymore. He needed to remember that every moment mattered for the two of them and to help create good memories for Riley to hold on to after he was gone. Something he’d realized after speaking to Dre for a little while the previous week.
Dre was having a hard time and was still mourning Maya over a year later. She really had been the love of Dre’s life. Just like Riley was for him.
“Are you thinking morbid thoughts again babe?” Riley squeezed his neck and rubbed some of the tension out.
“I can’t help it. Sometimes I get so sad. If there is another life state after death, I’ll miss you very much.” Tony smiled, trying to put on a brave face. “I’ll have to watch while you mourn. That’s going to be so depressing.”
Riley laughed again and snaked a leg around one of Tony’s. “Mourn? I’m going to throw a party and go looking for my next husband. I’m going to be a wealthy widower and men will be knocking down my door, trying to get at me. I won’t have time to mourn.”
Poking him in the chest, Tony said, “You jerk. I’m going to remember that.”
It was a game they played, pretending that his death wasn’t a big deal. It helped them talk about it and plan for the future without becoming too sickened by the thought. He hugged Riley for a second and then shifted so they were spooning. “I’m very comfortable right now.”
Riley kissed the top of his head and wrapped an arm around him. “Yeah? You want to take a nap with me?”
Tony nodded and closed his eyes. It was another thing they were getting good at – speaking in code. He knew that Riley would understand. He was exhausted. The adrenaline that had coursed through his body at the thought of Riley being sick was now gone and in its place was a heavy-limb feeling. He was getting worse. They didn’t even bother going into work anymore. Tony just hoped he made it long enough to get married and see his children’s births.
“I love you Anthony.”
“I love you too, Mitchell.” Tony responded.
Riley’s chest rose and fell as he laughed. “It’s Mackenzie. My middle name is Mackenzie, after my paternal grandmother.”
Tony yawned. “Oh, that’s nice too, I guess.”
“I don’t know where this sense of humor is coming from, but I disapprove,” he said while pulling Tony closer.
Tony smiled and felt himself drifting off. When you were as happy as he was, it was easy to be funny.
“What do you mean you don’t know if you’ll make it? I’m only ever going to get married once!” Tony was practically yelling into the phone.
“Tony, calm down.” Andrei sighed on the other end of the line. “Never mind, I’ll be there.”
“I promise, Anthony.”
Nodding, Tony said, “Good.”
“I’m hanging up now. Say goodbye.”
A smiled formed on Tony’s lips. “Goodbye Andrei.”
“Goodbye Tony.” Dre hung up the phone.
Riley looked at him and asked, “So Dre is coming after all?”
“Yes.” Tony stared down at his list and crossed his brother’s name from it. They were doing their follow-up calls today and it was proving more stressful than he thought it would be.
He glanced over at Riley’s list and sighed. Riley had five names on his piece of paper, all of them crossed off, while Tony had thirty-five. He had a very large family after all.
“Would you like to split your list with me?”
“Yes but I can’t. You don’t know any of these people; it’s not fair to introduce you to them like this.”
“I don’t mind. I don’t want you to get too stressed out about this.” He held out his hand, waiting.
Tony handed him a sheet with a sigh. “Thank you.”
“I love you Tony.”
Tony sighed again and smiled. “I love you more.”
“Tony, your phone is ringing!”
Tony’s head snapped up and he was confused for a second. Looking around the living room where he’d fallen asleep, the sound of his phone finally penetrated through his grogginess.
“Hello?” He picked up and looked at the clock on the wall. 7:30 in the evening. Good, he hadn’t been asleep for that long.
“Is this Anthony London?” He didn’t recognize the voice on the other end.
“Yes, this is he.” Tony sat up and scrubbed his face. He was so tired.
“Hello Mr. London, I’m calling from Geneva Medical Center, Mrs. Sawyer asked me to get in contact with you. She went into labor early this morning.”
Tony sat stunned and listened. Belle was in labor! Wait, no. He sat and listened as the voice on the other end of the line gave him more details. He was sitting there, phone on the floor after falling from his numb fingers, when Riley walked in.
“Who was on the phone, babe?” Riley asked but then got a good look at Tony’s face. “What’s wrong?”
Tony looked up at him. “Nothing. Absolutely nothing. You’re a dad.”
Riley frowned and opened his mouth to say something but shut it. He tried a couple more times before sitting down hard next to Tony.
“That’s what I said.” Tony smiled. “We need to head over to Geneva.”
“But it’s so soon.” Riley looked at Tony, worry etched on his face.
“Yes, but still within healthy range. The nurse said everyone was doing fine.”
“I’m a dad,” Riley said softly.
“Yes, you are.” Tony squeezed Riley’s hand and gently tugged him up off the couch. “We need to go.”
Tony and Riley brought home their son, Grant Mackenzie London, the following month. Riley looked down at the infant he was carrying and smiled. The baby had his family’s blue eyes but everything else about him was Tony. Which made sense, the London genes were twice as strong considering Eva also contributed to the precious life he was holding. Riley didn’t think he could love another human being as much as he loved this tiny person. His and Tony’s tiny perfect person.
Tony came in holding the baby bag and Emma Paige, Grant’s fraternal twin. He looked over Riley’s shoulder at the baby. “He’s beautiful, just like his daddy.” Riley smiled and leaned over to give Tony a kiss.
Putting Grant down in the baby swing, he took Emma and the diaper bag from Tony. He could tell that it was getting close to nap time. He saw the grateful smile and his heart broke a little. Tony spent more time asleep than awake now. It wouldn’t be long before…
Riley stopped his train of thought. Today was a good day and he would not ruin in by thinking depressing thoughts. They would be married soon and they had their children home. What more could he possibly ask for?
“My dark prince, I have loved you for what feels like forever. I cannot change the bad things that have happened in the past, but I can promise to try to fill our future with only the good. With love and laughter. Equal partners in all things Tony, for the rest of our lives.” Riley pushed the ring onto Tony’s finger.
They were getting married. It was finally happening.
“Riley, even before I knew I needed it, you were my light in the darkness. I was lost but you found me. I was broken but you fixed me, and you continue to pick up the pieces. I promise to always look to you for comfort, to do the things that will make us happy and our children happy, say the things that clear a path to understanding and to always wear my Goth makeup.”
“Don’t forget the lip ring!” Riley interrupted, laughing.
“And my lip ring,” Tony promised, grinning. “Equal partners in all things Riley, for the rest of our lives.” Tony pushed the ring onto Riley’s finger.
“I now pronounce you married,” the Officiant said.
Tony and Riley looked at each other, unable to believe that they were actually married.
“Kiss already, Jesus!” Dre joked and laughing, Tony leaned forward and kissed his husband.
Dropping into a chair, Tony sat and watched everyone mingling and having a good time. He was happy. Happier than he ever remembered being in his entire life. He was married to the one person on the planet he loved more than life itself and he had two wonderful babies waiting for him back home.
“You look happy.”
Speak of the devil. Tony turned to see Riley pull up a chair beside him and sit down. “I am.”
Riley’s smile grew larger and he reached over to trace the ring on Tony’s finger. “Good.”
“Yes, baby?” Riley took Tony’s hand and held it, all the while continuing to stroke the wedding band. It felt warm, solid, and comforting on Tony’s finger.
“I know you don’t think you deserve to hear this but, I want you to know that along with the vows I made in front of everyone, I have some private ones that I want to say. ‘I accept you as you are. In all your forms, man or beast.’” After the ceremony, he’d pulled his uncle aside and had asked for the words of the mating ritual. He wanted to belong to Riley in every way possible. “’I accept you as my mate, as my other half. I accept you as you have accepted me.’”
Tony waited, hoping he’d done that right. It had been a spur of the moment decision and he hadn’t considered what would happen if Riley rejected him. Riley opened his mouth to say something but frowned and Tony’s heart sank. He knew Riley didn’t think they could, but Caleb had assured Tony that there was no reason why they couldn’t. Except Riley might not think he was good enough. Which to Tony was a stupid reason. Of course he was good enough. They were married for goodness sakes!
Letting go of Tony’s hand, Riley stood and took a few steps around the table. Tony started to say something but then Riley collapsed.
Tony stood up and started to rush towards him but stopped midway. Everything seemed to slow down and he heard a sound like crashing waves. As his knees gave out, he realized it was the sound of his heart. The moment he made that realization the sound stopped.
He never made it to Riley’s side.