The Woodjin: The Proposal by Lbilover

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The defeat of the proposed same-sex marriage bill in the waning hours of the outgoing Legislature's session was a devastating blow to Sean. He'd poured his heart and soul into campaigning for it, and he'd been in the Statehouse Annex to watch the voting on closed-circuit television. He'd cried in Elijah's arms that night from frustration, anger and disappointment.


"I want to stand in front of a judge and marry you, Elijah," he said. "I want us to have the same legal rights as any heterosexual couple in New Jersey."


In the following days, Elijah worried deeply about him. Sean had been so certain that when the time came the state's representatives would step up and do the right thing. In fact, he'd talked of them getting married that coming June, in the sandy clearing where they first met, as a virtual certainty. As a consequence, he took the loss hard, and though he vowed to continue the fight, he was clearly disheartened, even depressed - nothing like his normally optimistic and upbeat self.


Elijah took the loss hard, too, but though gay equality mattered fiercely to him, it was less for himself than for others. Pineys were used to living on the fringes of society, after all, and forming their own unions and leading their own lives without regard for the trappings that outsiders valued so highly. It was different for Sean, though, a Piney by adoption not birth, and a man who had rarely encountered defeat in the public arena.


Their anniversary came, and on a clear but bitter-cold January night they made the pilgrimage to the spot deep in the pines where fate, in the form of the Jersey Devil, had first brought them together.


There was no thought of Elijah transforming for a wild ride through the starlit woods as before; their mood was much too somber, tempered by might-have-beens.


Elijah wasted no time in taking Sean into his arms and holding him as tightly as he could.


“I can picture us here so clearly, Elijah, with our families and friends, and Maggie, Rocky and Fred,” Sean said in muted voice.


“Which of them will be the ring bearer?” Elijah gently teased, although his heart was breaking for Sean's grief. “Will Fred carry our rings on a little velvet pillow on his back, or will Rocky have them stored in his cheek pouches? Maggie, of course, will be far too busy keeping everyone in line.”

But Sean's huff of laughter held more bitterness than amusement. "Or maybe Maggie will be the one marrying us, since it doesn't look like any minister or judge will ever be able to."


"We can still have a civil union," Elijah softly reminded him. "I know it's not the same, but it's

something."


"I don't think I can settle for a civil union, Elijah, at least not just yet. It's too much like an ad-

mission of defeat, as if we're saying, 'This is the best we can ever hope for'. I refuse to accept that." He held Elijah's face between his mittened hands and looked deeply into his eyes. "I want to marry you."


"Then we'll get married." Elijah hadn't known he was going to speak the words. But suddenly, as if a bright shaft of sunlight illuminated the clearing, he saw a golden path open before him. And more, he saw positioned along that path the ghostly presences of his ancestors in their white stag forms, from Jordan Wood, the first Woodjin, to his father, the last before him. Each stood with antlered head held high, watchful and waiting, and he

understood. Of course.


"What do you mean?" Sean's brow knit with puzzlement.


For answer, Elijah sank slowly to one knee in the sand. Obeying the instinct that was thrumming through him with the same imperative as when he was called, he tugged off
his gloves and stuffed them in his pockets. He drew from the third finger of his right hand the silver ring that he had never once removed since the day his dying father placed it there. Then, taking Sean's left hand, unresisting, he removed the mitten and held his mate's strong warm fingers in a firm clasp.


"Sean, we don't need a judge or a minister to be married," Elijah said, staring up into that beloved face. "I'm the Woodjin, this is my land, and what they do in the outside world can't touch us. We make our own laws here. If someday it becomes legal out there," he jerked his head, "for us to be married, well, then we can do it. But we don't have to wait. I don't want us to wait." He held up his ring. "If not now, when. That's what is engraved on this ring, and it's as true for us as it was for Jordan Wood when he made it to help him protect the land and the people he loved."


Sean was looking down at him with dawning wonder in his eyes.


Elijah cleared his throat. "Sean," he said steadily, though the ring shook slightly in his fingers, "will you marry me? In June, like we planned, with our families and our friends and Maggie, Rocky and Fred, exactly the way you imagined it?"


Tears glimmered, silver in the starlight, as they ran down Sean's cheeks. "Yes, I'll marry you, Woodjin," he replied with equal steadiness. "Yes, I'll marry you, Elijah."


"Then wear this ring for tonight," Elijah said, sliding it onto Sean's left pinky finger, the only one it would fit. "As a symbol of my love, my faith and my commitment to you."


Somehow he knew he was following a ritual that other Woodjins had used, though he'd never been taught it by his father. Even as Sean curled his fingers around his hand and drew him to his feet and into his arms, Elijah sensed a great outpouring of love and joy from the watchers along the sunlit path that he and Sean would soon travel with their blessing.


And as a choked 'I love you' came from both of them, and Elijah's lips, salt now with tears, blindly found those of his mate, soon to be his husband, the watchers faded away, unnoticed, and the golden path vanished - for a little while.


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