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“Is this the last of us?” Sidney Parker asked, subdued and melancholy. James, Lord Babington, rose on one elbow to look at him.

“Perhaps the last as we have been, carefree bachelors, but it needn’t be the very last, Sidney. We will have wives, and eventually children, because it’s expected of us and we must. We will have busy, different lives. But we will still be the friends we have always been, and there are shooting parties, country weekends with our wives remaining in town due to being with child, business, and other possibilities for us to meet and have time alone together. You know that Crowe would-“

“Yes, I know. But I would never trust him not to reveal it when in his cups, so I would not accept the offer.”

“You’re right of course,” Babington sighed. “But there will be times and places if we want it badly enough,” he insisted. “If we both desire it.”

“I cannot imagine not desiring you,” Sidney growled, rolling over onto Babington and kissing him with more than a measure of desperation. The kiss was returned in full, and a wrestling match that was half-play, half loving tenderness ensued for several minutes.

“Who will bring a smile to my face, if not you?” Sidney asked softly against Babington’s chest, his usual moody affect threatening to return.

“Well, not Eliza Campion apparently, after all this time? Perhaps the untamed Miss Heywood,” Babington suggested.

“You know I have no choice there, Jamie. And my life will not be my own, nor happy. A youthful misjudge, indeed. But Eliza is what I must do, like it or not. Your prospect in Miss Denham, some would say, is hardly more congenial,” Sidney ventured. Babington laughed.

“Ah, no, you’re wrong there, Sidney. She is adventure, and all that is wit and intelligence. As long as I don’t try to make her into a proper wife - which is not what I ever wanted in any case, nor does she I think. As long as a wife is happy, and one is kind and affectionate with them, they should be content and not too curious, I think.”

It was Sidney’s turn to laugh.

“Miss Heywood is the personification of curiosity.”

“But if they are happy, and have children, comfort and our affection, our love even, will they seek out evidence that the love and affection is shared with another? Would they turn against someone who loves their husband as much as they do or more, and who could not threaten them?” Babington both wondered and hoped.

“Eliza would not care whether I had a lover of either sex,” Sidney muttered, “but my life will be a living hell.”

“Sidney - if you didn’t have to marry Eliza - if you were able to marry Miss Heywood - “

“There is no if,” Sidney groaned.

“If I were to loan you a certain amount of capital and Lady Susan were to invest as well, it could at least relieve you of your obligation to your family, and your servitude to Mrs Campion. It is something I would be willing to undertake - for you, and for us, if it was important to you as well. We’ll never know unless we try,” Babington urged.

Sidney’s breath caught in his throat. Twice, Jamie had used the word love while hypothetically talking about their feelings for each other. It would not be a gift of money, but of Jamie’s heart.

“What you are trusting me with - my God,” he hissed. He thought of the peace and happiness Jamie Babington had brought into his life since they’d met, both emotional and physical. He mused that a short while ago it was he who was sadly lamenting their possible end as lovers if not as friends, and the dark unhappiness that would bring him.

He was naturally less open, less giving than Jamie. Life had done that to him. But it had also taught him that life could be unexpectedly short, and that all love was a gift. Did he have Jamie’s courage?

“I would try anything,” he smiled, “to keep you in my life as we have been. Just as we have been,” he purred, reaching between them to take Jamie in hand. Babington moaned and brought his lips to Sidney’s.

“I do love you, Jamie, no matter who else I might love.”

“And I you, no matter who else I love.”

They had, Sidney knew, just made vows to one another as surely as they would make other vows one day a church. No matter how difficult, he intended to keep his.