The pair stumbled through the door of Dean's house late the next night. The flight home had been a disaster. First it had been delayed, then it had had to land because of weather which had cost them almost five hours. Fianlly, they made it safely back to Dallas, totally wiped.
Both Anthony and Carmen met them at the door, taking bags and coats, asking a few questions here and there. Eventually, the entire trip was related, including the visit by Admiral Rogers. There was a collective sigh of relief at the knowledge that they no longer had to worry about terrorists since the government was taking action.
Everyone made it to bed not long after, Dean and Ranelle snuggled together in the large kind sized bed.
Thankfully, the next morning was bright with not a cloud in sight. It should have raised everyone's spirits, but Ranelle noticed that Dean was very faraway. She finally cornered the officer in her bedroom around midmorning.
"What's wrong?" She asked quietly, sitting next to Dean on the bed.
"I... I need some time... apart... from you. To think."
Ranelle sat back and blinked a little hurt that Dean felt she needed to be alone to think. But she sucked it up and replied, "Yeah, sure. Of course. I'll just be on my way then."
But Dean heard the hurt in Ranelle's voice and stood as Ranelle was leaving. "Wait, Ranelle, you don't understand."
"Sure I do." And she kept on walking.
"Ranelle!" Dean walked forward, for a moment forgetting where she was and smacked right into the edge of the door frame. "Ow! Damnit!" The officer got around the stubborn obstacle and hurried after the woman who was on her way out the front door. She didn't get out without incident, though, walking into a table and the wall.
The blonde heard the officer stumbling about and swearing but she kept on walking.
"Ranelle!" Dean got out onto the deck and put her hands on the railing. "Wait! Please, just listen to me for a minute."
She stopped, turned, and Dean was relieved to see Ranelle's vague outline take a few steps toward the deck.
Dean came down off the deck and stood there, uncertain. "I didn't mean that to sound like I don't need you, I do. I love you, with all my heart. So much that the prospect of being without you even for today hurts." Dean rubbed her chest, over her heart to emphasize the point. "Please, don't doubt that I love you. Don't doubt that I very much want to spend the rest of my life with you. But lots has happened to the both of us in the last few weeks, and loving you, that alone terrifies me. This, living with someone, talking to them, and sharing everything with them, it's the most foreign concept to me. I never once dreamed that I'd fall in love and want to spend my life with that person. It wasn't something I ever saw myself as wanting or needing. But it's happened. And I need some time to gather myself together, and think about that, and as much as I'd like to do that with you, you can be a distraction."
Ranelle soaked that all up. It was probably one of the longest, sweetest little speeches she had ever heard come out of Dean's mouth. She took a few hesitant steps forward, not quite sure of what she had heard. If Dean had meant it, then it was admitting to a commitment she had never dreamed of giving thought to for a long time.
"Did you mean that?"
"About spending your life with me."
Dean blinked and moved a little closer to Ranelle's outline. It frustrated her that she was seeing better and better each day but still no details were coming through. "Yes. With everything that I am. I very much love you, Ranelle Maloch. And I don't know how it happened so fast, but you got into my heart and now I can't imagine what it would be like without you. So yes."
Ranelle grinned and walked up to the officer, wrapping her good arm around Dean and giving her a hug, just because she could. Then she looked up, "Good. Cause I feel like that too."
"Mm." Dean leaned down and made contact with those soft lips, spending several moments in leisurely exploration. They broke apart and Ranelle took a step back.
"I'll see you tomorrow, then?"
And the blonde turned and got into her car, only looking back once. Dean sighed and turned, making her way back into the house, carefully placing the table she had knocked out of the way back in place.
"Are you alright, Dean?" Carmen asked. "I heard you making such a racket, cursing up a storm. You didn't have a fight with Ranelle, did you?"
"I'm fine, Carmen. Thanks. And Ranelle and I are fine too." She walked off, making her way to her office. Dean sat pensively for a moment before picking up the phone and dialing a number from memory. That call only lasted a minute or two before she hung up and then dialed again.
"Hello?" A feminine voice answered.
"Hello, I'd like to make an appointment with Doctor Polstov."
"Can I get your name, please?"
A stocky man walked into the officer and stopped short as his secretary repeated the name. He walked over to her desk and held out his hand. She wordlessly handed him the phone. "Dean? That you?"
"Yes, hello Fredrik."
"Well I'll be. Never thought it'd be you making an appointment with me. Any time before now it was cause the Navy forced you to come."
"Yeah, well, things have changed."
"Must have, must have indeed."
Carmen paused her stirring motion and set down the wooden spoon. She was making one of her specialties, authentic Italian, hopefully to bring both Dean and her son out of the funk they seemed to be in. She stepped toward the door as another sound from the hallway drew her attention. She peeked out the swinging door to see Anthony sitting on the floor, back against the wall.
"Anthony? What's wrong, honey?" She walked out and slowly sat beside him. He had been acting a little strange, ever since all hell had broken loose. Nothing much, just a noticeable lack of energy and melancholy attitude.
"Now don't try that with me young man, I'm your mother. I know when something's wrong. Please honey, I'm worried about you."
"I.." he rubbed the floor, staring at it intently as if following the grains of the wood with his eyes, "I killed a man here."
"Oh, Tony." She raised his eyes up to meet hers and stared for a moment. "Is that what this is about?"
A silent nod.
Carmen turned and settled beside her son, prepared for a long talk. "You know, I'm not an expert at these things, but I think, no I know that if you hadn't done what you needed to do, we would be short three people in this world. Because that evil man would have killed you, if you had let him. Followed by Dean and Ranelle. Maybe me, too." She paused, gathering thoughts and emotions. "He was an evil man, Anthony. Had probably killed tons of people and would have killed more. But you stopped him, probably saving hundreds of lives." She turned her head to see if he was following. He was. "And to me, all that matters is that you and Dean and Ranelle are here and alive. If you had to kill a man to keep all those souls on this earth, well then I wont cry over it. And neither should you. Be secure in the knowledge that your actions saved your friends, Andthony. I don't think that man will be missed."
With that she stood and went back to making dinner, leaving behind a thoughtful young man who was carrying more than a lifetime of burdens, but maybe he had just been spared another.
Scott wiped down the counter that seemed to accumulate dirty hand prints like a dog getting fleas. It was close to closing and for that he was grateful. It had been a long day and he was more than prepared to go home and get it over with.
He was looking forward to Christmas, the last time Dean had actually been here for Christmas day was probably when they were teenagers. He was immeasurably happy to have one of his best buds home for the holidays.
The phone rang and he sighed as he answered it. "Ransom Securities, Scott speaking."
"Scott? This is Ranelle."
"Oh, hey! How you doing?"
"Pretty good. My arm doesn't hurt so that's a plus. I wanted to talk to you about my job. All that has sort of gotten lost in the chaos the last few days."
"You aren't reconsidering, are you?"
"Are you kidding? I'd have to be crazy to turn this down! No, I just wanted to try and iron out some details and whatnot."
"Yeah, sure. Listen, we're closing in about 10 minutes. Can we meet somewhere?"
"Sure. Do you know a diner named Hego's?"
"You bet, it's Dean's favorite place."
"Great, see you there in say, half an hour."
"Sure, bye Ranelle."
Ranelle hung up as she pulled into her apartment complex. She loved car phones. Half an hour gave her enough time to say hello to the sorely ignored Terkers, shower, and call her uncle. She had promised to phone him when she got back but had been far too tired yesterday.
The blonde pushed her door open, a little surprised to see Stacey's familiar head perched on the back of her couch. "Stace, what are you doing here?"
The reclining form got up and turned, throwing a beaming smile at the door. "Hey Ranelle. I didn't think you'd be home this early, or else I would have left."
"No, it's fine. You know you're welcome here anytime. That's why you have an extra key. I'm just surprised, happy but surprised."
"Mm... I decided to work less."
"Yeah. It's not like I need the money. So I figured I'd come see the fuzz ball. Besides, Amanda has some guy over at our place. Ugh." Stacey mock shuddered as she grabbed Ranelle's bag off her shoulder and out it down.
"I never thought I'd see the day that you, Stacey O'Malley would choose to work less. What brought this on?"
"Something Dean said, got me thinking."
"Really? What'd she say?"
"Just that I always seem to be working. She was right, of course. I just decided I don't want to be a workaholic like..."
Stacey pursed her lips and nodded. Ranelle knew to back off, the subject of father's had always, for as long as Ranelle had known her, been a touchy subject with Stacey. She wasn't totally sure why, only having tidbits of the story and content to let Stacey reveal the rest in her own time, if that ever happened at all. And that was fine by Ranelle. Everyone had their little secrets and past pains that they'd rather keep hidden in the dark, safe to not ever be used against them again.
"Terkers! Come 'ere you little runt!"
The black and white cat came bolting around the corner and slid on all four paws, trying to put on the breaks. She was somewhat successful and only hit Ranelle's legs with a tiny thump instead of a huge on.
Ranelle smiled indulgently down at the cat and picked her up, cradling her in one arm "Have you been good lately, Terks? Have you gotten into any mischief?"
"Oh, she's been great. Only decimated one roll of toilet paper."
"Wonderful!" The blonde plopped down onto the couch and spent a moment playing with the cat.
"So what are you up to?"
"I'm going to Hego's to meet Scott and talk about my new job with him."
"Whew!" Stacey mock wiped her brow. "For a minute there I thought you and Dean had become joined at the hip. Nice to see you can still function on your own."
"Yeah... I guess it's nice to maintain some independence. But I like doing stuff with Dean."
"Alright. I'm gonna go. You probably have stuff to do before leaving." Stacey stood and grabbed her jacket. "Talk to ya later, Ranelle!"
Her curly-haired friend left and Ranelle looked at the door for a minute before she stood and moved off to her bedroom.
"Dean, hi." Her big sister's voice was the last she had expected to hear on the other end of the phone. "What's up?"
"I've decided not to visit mom this year. You can tell her that since she feels she has to go through you."
Rachel sighed almost silently. Not visiting mom. No mention of dad at all. "Uh, yeah sure Dean. Can I ask why?"
"I just decided that I want to spend all the holidays with Ranelle and you and Scott since I'm going to be here."
"Okay Dean. That's fine, it's your choice. I'll pass it on."
"No problem, sis. Bye."
Dean hung up and sighed, all her phone calls complete. She was glad to have all that out of the way. Now she had all the holidays to focus on her and Ranelle, something that had been sorely missing lately.
The officer stood and made her way out of the room. She finally stopped when she came upon the person she was looking for. "Hey Anthony. Do me a favor?"
The quiet man looked up from his place on the floor and smiled. "Of course Dean. Anything." He stood and walked to his friend as she started talking.
"All right Ranelle. That about wraps it up. So you'll start at the beginning of the new year. I'm looking forward to working with you."
"Yeah, me too. I think I'm going to like this."
Scott grinned as he stood and pulled out some money. "Well, that's usually what people want. A job they love. So," he paused as he pulled on his coat, "I think I'll see you for the holidays."
"Indeed. I'm looking forward to that too." Ranelle stood and gave him a hug that he returned wholeheartedly. They parted and smiled at each other before Scott turned and left the diner.
Ranelle smiled happily, glad her life was starting to make sense once again. Now all she had to do was get the rest of the story from Dean, write up her article, and step into a new part of her life. And that part was looking pretty good from where she was standing.
"Why Ranelle, thinking of switching teams?"
The blonde whirled and smiled at Stacey who had just walked in the door. She pursed her lips at her friend and waited a beat before answering. "Stacey, you know very well who that was. Not only am I not thinking of 'switching teams', but if I did I wouldn't do it with Dean's best friend. Scott is not only a friend of both Dean and mines, but as of next year he will be my employer."
"Uh-huh." Stacey sat down at the table and propped her head up on her fist. "So, doesn't that mean Dean will also ultimately be your employer? I mean, she is the 'head' of the company?"
Ranelle nodded a little. "Well, I don't think it will be a problem." She sat back and studied her friend for a moment. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"I'm just here to eat, Ranelle. Not work. Figure I might enjoy the food after this long of serving it."
"Mmm." The blonde looked down at her watch and stood. "I have to go Stace. Enjoy your food."
"I will. Ta-ta." Stacey waggled her fingers and watched her best bud walk out the door.
Dean opened the door with a huge smile on her face. Ranelle looked up and was happily startled to be looking right into Dean's focused blue orbs. "You can see!"
The officer grinned, stepped forward and picked Ranelle up. They spun around for a moment before kissing. Ranelle pulled back and leaned her forehead on Dean's.
"Yeah, I can. Not totally, but almost."
"When did this happen?"
"I noticed it yesterday night. I had an appointment this morning with my doctor and he said it looked like whatever damage was there is healing very nicely."
The officer finally put Ranelle down and grabbed her hand, pulling the blonde further into the house. "Come on, I wanna show you something. Do you remember when I told you about a surprise?"
"Well here it is." Dean started leading them through the halls and gave a running commentary. "I remember seeing all the books in your place so I thought you'd like this." They stopped in front of two huge wooden doors that stretched way up above Dean's head. Ranelle reverently ran her hand along the surface of the wood which depicted scenes from mythology and history.
"This is amazing."
"Yeah, that's pretty cool. But the doors aren't the surprise." Dean shouldered them open and led Ranelle through to stop in the middle of the room.
The blonde looked around, stunned beyond belief. "I can't.... believe this."
The library was humongous, with books stacked high on shelves and scattered across tables. The room was well lit, a light layer of dust covered the further corners of the room but not the entire place. One well worn leather chair sat near the middle of the room, a table and lamp beside it.
Ranelle walked over and picked up the familiar wire-rimmed glasses on the table. She looked back at the officer who was watching her with a fond smile on her face. "This place reminds me of the library in the Disney Beauty and the Beast."
Dean smiled and walked around. "Yeah, I know. That's what I thought too."
The blonde looked back down at the glasses and lifted them slightly. "You spend a lot of time here?"
The dark head nodded, "I do." She paused and turned toward Ranelle. "Not recently though, cause I couldn't read. But normally, yeah."
Ranelle started wandering, looking at the spines and seeing all manners of books. "Is there any order to these?"
"Um... sorta. But the order I see is different than the one other people see. Feel free to wander, read anything you want. You like?"
The blonde stopped on her way up an ladder. She had a large grin on her face, wrinkling the skin around her eyes, "I like, very much." She continued climbing and pulled out a book. Dean smiled indulgently and sat in her chair, putting on her glasses and picking up a book.
Time passed in silent companionship, the only company besides each other that of dusty novels. The echo of the door bell brought the women out of their self-imposed solitude. Dean looked at the large wooden doors and sighed. "I should probably get that."
"Where are Carmen and Anthony?"
"Mh.." Dean sighed. "Around."
The officer stood, put down her book and moved out of the library with Ranelle trailing. She got to the door and opened it to see two vaguely familiar men standing there. Dean opened the door fully and raised an eyebrow. "Yes?"
One of the men pulled out a badge and flashed it. "You probably don't remember but I spoke to you after an intruder broke into your home and shot a friend of yours." At that moment Ranelle popped up under Dean's arm. The police officer looked at the blonde and smiled. "That friend." He tilted his head at Ranelle.
"Well," he shifted a little, "we have still been looking into a few things and something was uncovered that we thought you should be aware of. We located the intruders cell phone from his car that we tracked down and pulled the phone records."
"And one number was recurring a lot so we tracked that down. It belongs to one Jason Cooper."
Dean paled and leaned against the door jam. Ranelle wrapped her arm around her friend and held on tightly. "Dean? You alright?" She looked up worriedly, as Dean shook her head and straightened up a little.
"So have you.. um, tracked him down?"
"As far as we can tell Cooper left Dallas long ago. We know that the Navy is involved and are passing this onto them. But in case he turns up here, we thought you should know that it appears he's involved."
The dark head nodded as Dean stepped back slightly. "Well, thank-you, officers. I appreciate you taking the time to warn us. Goodbye."
The police officers nodded and turned, walking back to their car.
"Dean?" Ranelle looked up as her friend closed the door.
"Yeah, this sucks."
"Are you gonna be ok?"
"I think so." Dean nodded a little and looked at her watch. "You want some lunch?"
"Sure." They walked into the kitchen, Ranelle keeping slightly concerned eyes on her friend's back.
The day passed in lazy companionship, the reality of Cooper's betrayal falling into the background in deference to Dean and Ranelle's relationship. As the hours passed and evening slowly fell, the women migrated into the living room and onto the couch.
Moonlight glinted in through the large windows, lending a silver illumination to the two entwined figures on the couch. Moonlight glinted in through the large windows, lending a silver illumination to the two entwined figures on the couch.
Dean gently kissed her cheek. Ranelle felt her body lean into Dean, pressing molding as if they were bound together. Dean continued kissing her neck, coming slowly back to her lips. The kiss was met with equal tenderness. Slowly they could feel the passion coming alive in each other.
Ranelle moved her hand gently up Dean's shirt. As she began stroking the officer's side, Dean slowly started laying Ranelle down. The kissing was becoming more intense and their bodies closer. The dark head pulled up and Dean looked into Ranelle's darkened green eyes. "If we're going to continue this... bed."
The blonde took only a moment to think about it an nodded. Dean lifted herself off of Ranelle and took her hand as they headed into Dean's room. The large bed was a welcome sight instead of the cramped couch.
Ranelle pushed Dean to a sitting position on the bed so she could see the emotion on the officer's face. She leaned in and started a lengthy exploration of Dean's mouth while undoing the button's of her shirt. She pushed it off the broad shoulders, running her hands along Dean's arms in the process.
Dean's large hands were gently rubbing her back and lifted the blonde's shirt up and off, kissing the soft shoulders. Ranelle reached up and stroked the side of Dean's face, staring into blue orbs. The officer moved to Ranelle's waist, slipping her hands under the fabric of her pants to rest on her hips. As the pants dropped to the floor, Dean pulled Ranelle into a warm embrace. Dean's pants were added to the pile on the floor.
The blonde pushed Dean back onto the bed, leaning over the long body continuing her gentle exploration of this woman she loved. She felt her bra being unhooked and then Dean's hands caressing her back. Gently Dean rolled them over so she was on top. Ranelle raised herself up for a kiss. The closeness of their bodies was overwhelming.
Ranelle looked up at Dean who had her elbows braced on either side of the blonde's head. Dean smiled down at her. she had never known such love and desire as she did for Ranelle. Ranelle felt all the emotion she had for the officer come pouring out of her. She let that take control and guide her as she gently explored Dean's body.
She felt Dean return the touches, spending long moments just learning her body. As the officer moved and found the most sensitive areas, Ranelle felt the intensity of emotion building in her heart, so much she thought it would explode. And she knew this was going to be one of those forever things.
Ranelle ran her hands along the officer's sides and onto her back, spending long moments running her hands along the scars there and feeling Dean shiver in response. She knew they bothered the officer and wanted Dean to know they had no effect on her.
They rolled onto their sides, face to face and entwined along their entire lengths in a loving embrace. Hands always moving and eyes locked, communicating a depth of emotion beyond comprehension. The intensity built until it exploded into a glorious feeling of peaceful completeness.
Gentle 'I love you's' were breathed passed each other's ear's, sealing this bond of eternal love.
Sleepy green eyes blinked open and then squinted in confusion as they took in the tan, smooth skin in front of her eyes. Then her mind cleared and Ranelle realized that she had her head buried in Dean's neck. She sighed happily and snuggled closer, throwing her right arm over the strong body.
A deep chuckle rumbled through her pillow and Ranelle peaked up to be met with happy blue eyes. "What'cha laughing at?"
"You look so cute, getting all comfy."
"Mph." Ranelle made a point of burrowing deeper into the covers and gave Dean a nice solid squeeze. "Mornin'." A green eyeball rotated upward. "You're still in bed? So how early is it?"
Dean smiled and shifted, wrapping her arm around the blonde a little tighter. "It's 9 am."
"I see... and how long have you been awake?"
"Um... four hours?"
Ranelle groaned and rolled onto her back, "That's disgusting." She looked up, surprised that Dean had rolled with her and was now perched right above her.
"Nah... and I liked watching you sleep." Dean leaned down for a quiet kiss. "I love you."
"Mmm.." The blonde hummed with pleasure in the back of her throat. "Love you too, Navy Guy."
The officer flopped down next to Ranelle and sighed. "How's your arm?"
"Arm? Oh! It's fine." She looked over to see concerned blue eyes. "I promise Dean, it's fine." She snuggled back up to Dean's side and lifted her hand, gently rubbing her fingers across the long scar that ran along the officer's temple.
"So?" Ranelle repeated.
"How many days till Christmas?"
"Don't tell me you don't know!" The broad shoulders lifted into a little shrug. "Today is the 20th."
"What are you doing for the holidays?"
"Welll... I want to spend them with you."
Dean smiled. "Likewise."
"But my brother and sister are flying in on the 22nd. I dunno..."
"Just listen to me, 'kay? When I knew I was going to be here for Chrsitmas I invited Scott, Maria, Rachel and her husband and kids over here for Christmas eve. You are more than welcome, as is anyone you want to ask. Your brother and sister can even stay here if you want."
"Really, I thought Rachel asked you to go there."
Dean turned her head and looked down at Ranelle. "She did, but then I thought about it all, and asked her if she'd mind coming here. And do you think I'd ask you if I didn't mean it? I want you to consider this place yours, too."
An eyebrow was raised, asking what's keeping you from saying yes?
A large smile broke out across her face and she once again gave Dean a super big hug. The officer rolled them over and started a fierce tickle war that eventually progressed to kissing and another thorough exploration of each other.
Days full of easy relaxation and companionship followed, flying by swiftly. Soon Ranelle's siblings arrived, followed by the commencement of Christmas Eve day and night.
People gathered at Dean's large house, loaded down with gifts and holiday cheer. Ranelle took Dean's declaration of this being her place as well to heart and had extended the invitation to Stacey, Brock, Joanna, Amanda and her uncle Amark. They all accepted with enthusiasm and it was truly a full house.
Carmen had done the cooking, adding her own cultural flare to the traditional Christmas meal of turkey and all the trimmings. Ranelle had convinced a grumbling Dean to put up some kind of decorations, saying that if the officer didn't she'd appear to be a Scrooge. The officer had answered with a hearty 'BA-humbug', before caving in.
The previously clinical looking house was now gaily decorated in the spirit of the season and according to Ranelle's sister all that was missing was snow. They had all just sat down to eat in the dinning room when the phone rang. Dean groaned but stood, and answered the annoying thing. She couldn't imagine who was phoning her. All her friends were in her house.
She raised an eyebrow, wondering who from the Navy was calling her on Christmas Eve. "Speaking."
"This is Admiral Rogers and I'm sorry to disturb you, but I thought it was necessary. We apprehended Admiral Cooper today, so you don't have to worry about him."
Dean swallowed, still not liking that Cooper had betrayed not only her, but her entire team. "Thank-you Admrial, that's good to hear. He didn't mention why he was involved, did he?"
"No, I'm afraid he didn't. If you ever want to speak to him though, and ask that question, you'll be more than welcome."
"Yes, well, Merry Christmas, Admiral."
"You too, and I'm sorry about this."
"Yeah, well, things happen. Goodbye."
Dean hung up and spent a moment in speculative silence. Maybe, maybe one day when all this wasn't so raw she would go and ask him. Ask him why he thought it a good idea to get mixed up with those terrorists. Why the games? Pretending to be on their side, giving them information and the list of names? Why go through it all, expend all the effort just to turn around and stab both her and Anthony in the back?
The police confirmed, thorough phone records that Cooper had alerted the terrorist at the airport of his arrival. And that she would be there. It all made less and less sense the more she thought about it, so Dean resolved to push it away. Just forget about it and have a good time with her friends and family. And the woman she loved more than anything.
The officer turned to look at Ranelle who was currently laughing with her siblings. Blue eyes moved from person to person, taking in her sister who she had known all her life, and Scott a childhood friend. Then on to Anthony and Carmen, people met during her career, and finally onto Stacey, Brock, Joanna, Amanda, and Amark. All new friends, met through Ranelle.
What Ranelle meant to her, Dean shook her head and smiled, it was indescribable. And really, that's all she could say about that. She finally moved back to the table, shaking off questions about the phone call. It's not important.
And it wasn't.
In the face of all this love and friendship, anything and everything paled into a minor annoyance, if even that.
This life was finally a damn good thing to have.
The evening wound down, everyone bedding down in some room in Dean's large house. It had been decided that everyone would spend the night, since alcohol would be consumed. No one wanted to take a chance.
Both Dean and Ranelle had been pleasantly surprised to see how well all these people had meshed together. The officer found her time with Ranelle's siblings sorely lacking, though, and was glad that they were sticking around for a little longer.
Ranelle curled up next to Dean on the couch and sighed. "What a good day."
"Was that a good sound or a bad sound?"
She nodded, "Good, I'm glad you had as much fun as I did. What was with that phone call at supper?"
"Cooper was arrested today."
The blonde thought for a moment, then decided there really wasn't anything good to say. "Oh."
"I decided not to let him ruin my Christmas, this is the best one I've had in a long time."
The couple snuggled down on the couch and stared out of the large windows at the night sky. Ranelle sighed and then glanced up at Dean's strong profile. It was becoming very familiar to her, and she enjoyed tracing the planes with her eyes. Beautiful.
"I... don't mean to ruin your mood, but I'd kinda like..."
"To hear more?"
Ranelle blinked and bit her lip. How did Dean do that? She always knew when Ranelle was going to ask to hear about the Middle East. It was like she could read the blonde's mind. Weird. "Yeah."
The dark head nodded, "I figured you might. You need to write the story and wrap everything up at the magazine before you can start with Scott."
Dean took a deep breathe and began.
You run as fast as your injuries allow. It hurts, you can't believe how much it hurts. But the adrenaline starts to pump more and more, and you push the pain back further and further. Ignore it. You get to the building and listen for anything that might indicate a living person. You scan the interior and stop suddenly, a flash of color stands out.
You jog over and look down to see one of your men. You can't seem to recall his name, either. It looks like a bad head injury, but he'll live if you get him out. You bend and pick him up, throwing him over your shoulders and wincing at the pressure on your back.
As you turn you see a tech, sprawled out under some rock. You note the area and leave as quickly as possible. You can hear fighting still, and loud explosions. It worries you. A lot. You step outside, relieved beyond belief to see one of your men standing there with two techs, ready to relieve you of your burden.
You hand the man off and instruct the techs to wait for one of their own. You run back and extract the man as fast as you can. He looks to be in bad shape. You pick him up carefully, knowing time is of the essence. On your way out you see something, it's minute, out of the corner of your eye. So small you think you imagined it.
But you stop and turn, and see something that makes a smile cross your face, very briefly. Bronce. He is alive, and looks back at you. "Don't go anywhere, I'll be right back."
He smiles, ever so slightly. You turn and run. Your instincts are shouting with all their might. You know something bad is going to happen. You feel it deep in your guts. There isn't much time left. You hand off the injured man and tell the remaining man to stay back. Go to the evac point. He goes. Reluctantly
You turn and run full blast, back to Bronce, back into danger and death. Bronce is stuck, you work frantically to unstick him, aware of the increasing sounds of explosions. Aware of the warning bells in your head. Aware of the fiery pain that runs down all of your body.
You free him and pick him up. He winces. You turn and run again, everything in your body screaming bloody murder. Get out. NOW!! While you still can. You listen to it now, know it is right. That it might already be too late. You put your heart and soul into the trip out, going faster than humanly possible.
But it isn't enough. You take one step. Two. Three. You're outside, five feet from the building. Six. Seven. Eight feet.
You feel it and hear it, coming up from behind like Armageddon, perceived but unstoppable. The shock wave pushes against you and you feel yourself rise up into the air, Bronce still in your arms. Travelling, travelling faster and faster. The heat is akin to the fires of hell, and you hope that you die. Because after this, living probably won't be very attractive. Not at all.
Now you are falling, falling faster than you would like. You feel something impact your head, feel the sticky ooze that is blood. And you land, the last sensation you are conscious of experiencing is the bone-crunching impact with the ground.
You awake and the first sensation that registers in your mind is pain. You don't remember ever hurting this much before, and as the world starts to slowly fade away, you wonder how it's possible to be in this much pain and still be alive. You're stuck on the ground, vaguely aware of something being on top of you. You hope it isn't Bronce, but you can't be sure.
The battle is slowing now, and you idly wonder if there is anyone left. Anyone who may see you and decide to release you from this agony. The chances of one of your own still being alive are slim. So maybe one of the people who had attacked you in the first place. Perhaps they would start sifting through the garbage and decide to finish you off.
Not out of pity. No. You don't want their pity. Just relief from the nightmare that is your mind. You're stuck with it, and all its half-crazy musings. A captive audience. You just want it to stop.
Then, you turn your head slightly, picking up faint sounds on the edge of your hearing. You feel in your hand the outline of a gun, familiar and comforting. As the sound comes closer you listen harder and harder, pinpointing the source. And you imagine the scene in your mind's eye, placing the gun at an angle you hope won't shoot your own foot off. And you pull the trigger, hear the satisfying fall of a body.
You smile, ever so slightly, and relax your body, ready to depart this world. Your mind falls into darkness with a feeling of perpetual relief. Death, in all its morbid glory, is welcome to descend on you.
No one is left in a condition to hear the whirring blades of a helicopter. Surely, it was to have been their rescue.
Christmas day was, as Christmas days tend to be, happy and relaxed, full of family cheer and love. Everyone slept in, Ranelle was even surprised that Dean didn't stir until almost 10 am. It had been another emotional scene last night, with the officer reliving her worst nightmare.
Now Ranelle had all of the story, she knew what happened, knew why and a little bit of how. No one was really sure how, though. The terrorists had weapons that were new and untested in America and they had used them without a second thought. That was a scary thought, just like it was during the world wars. The Allies got wind of a new weapon but had said 'They wouldn't do that.' And then they did.
This was very similar to that, there were no more rules in war, no more standards for civility, no more limits to what you can and cannot do. The humans involved in war now could hardly be called that. They attacked with a heartless savagery, coming up with crueler and crueler weapons and the gall to use them.
Dean and her team were testament to that. These weapons would be used, given the opportunity. And tons of people would die.
So the story had ended with them going to bed and just holding one another, quietly through the night. Until Dean had fallen into a light sleep, but it had been nightmare free and for that Ranelle was glad.
Everyone had finally woken to the smell of French toast cooking in the kitchen. As all the guests of the house made their way there, they had been surprised not to see Carmen at the stove but Rachel's husband, Greg.
Greg had grinned, saying that Carmen deserved a break from providing all the culinary skills, and besides, his kids had been begging him. Apparantly, he made the best French toast. Everyone agreed.
After a nice breakfast, the two children had dragged all the adults into the living room where Dean had reluctantly set up some newly acquired decorations. The adults trailed and sat, watching as the children tore into their gifts.
"Ooo!!!" Ten year old Kris, Greg's son from his troubled teenage years, squealed in delight. The little boy ran over and threw himself into his Aunt Dean's arms. "Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you!!!" Kris yelled joyfully, as Dean smiled and wrapped him in a suffocating hug. He wriggled with delight, glad beyond measure that his favorite adult, besides his parents that is, was present for Christmas day.
Kris pulled back and looked up with vivid blue eyes. "You're the best, Dean!" Kris had a passion for all things wood, carving it, building with it and whatnot. So of course, the ever practical Dean had gotten him a nifty advanced woodcarvers book a long with some tools that he'd need. The kid was talented, anyone could see that.
"You're welcome, bud. Just be careful, you hear? Some of those tools can be dangerous so you listen to your dad when he tells you what not to do. And take care of them."
He smiled up and did a little happy dance in Dean's lap. "Of course!!" With that he bolted off Dean's lap and landed back in a pile of wrapping paper. Dean looked down as she felt a little tug on her boxers. She smiled as she reached down and swung little Sarah up into her arms.
"Hey, there, little one. Something I can do for you?" The officer whispered right in the little ear. Sarah giggled, liking Dean's deep, burring, accented voice. Dean sat the little two year old on her lap, seeing in the little face her sister reflected so clearly back.
Ranelle watched happily as Dean conversed with the little girl. The blonde waded through the maze of bodies and paper, arriving at Rachel and Greg's side. "You're children are beautiful."
They both looked up and smiled, answering with a simultaneous, "Thank-you."
Ranelle sat down next to Rachel and smiled up at her. "Sarah looks just like you. And Kris like his daddy."
The proud mother smiled happily and sighed, "Yeah, they are our pride and joy. Even though Kris isn't mine I love him just as much."
"How long have you two been married?"
"Coming up three years."
"That's it?" She looked up, surprised.
"Yeah, we met when we were living in Austin. Started dating. Then I joined the Navy and we kept in touch. Spent as much time together as we could. We married the last year I was in the Navy and had Sarah right after I left." Rachel turned and smiled at Greg who looked back with an immeasurable amount of love. Rachel turned back to the blonde woman, "It's been the best three years of my life so far."
"If you met in Austin why'd you move here?"
Rachel pursed her lips and raised her eyes to her sister, who was till deep in conversation with her daughter. "A couple reasons. We wanted to start our business and we both wanted to get away from our parents. So we moved here because this is where Dean is, but it's still close to our families."
"Mm." Ranelle nodded and made a tiny approving sound in the back of her throat. It was comforting to know that Dean was not totally estranged from her family. She looked around the room at all the people there, both her and Dean's friends. Besides, it looked as if Dean had a pretty big adopted family here.
She nodded her head. Yeah.
Sarah scrambled off Dean's lap, satisfied that her aunt was going to be around more often. Dean grinned after the little girl and then stood. She walked over to a small pile and plucked two small wrapped packages off the top.
Dean returned to her seat and looked over at Ranelle, throwing her head when the blonde looked up. Ranelle stood and walked over, plopping down beside Dean. The officer grinned and handed the smallest package over.
Ranelle took it and tentatively ripped the paper off. She was vaguely aware of having most of the attention focused on both her and Dean. Out of the package fell a small, white carved dolphin on a black cord. The blonde turned it over a few times, studying the craftsmanship. She raised green eyes up to meet blue and smiled.
"It's beautiful. Where did you get it?"
Dean shifted a little uncomfortably. "Anthony knows a guy who gets mother of pearl.. that's what this is made of. He got it for me and I, um.. carved it."
"Yeah.. it's something I picked up when I was really young, it just stuck with me. The dolphin supposedly represents good luck... I dunno if that's true."
"It's beautiful.. thank you."
Dean smiled. "You're welcome... I thought you'd like it. I remember seeing a lot of little dolphin trinkets in your apartment." The officer then handed over the other package, a longish thin rectangle.
Ranelle raised her eyebrow and took it, looking like she was trying to guess. "I have no idea." She shook her head and opened it carefully. She recognized the logo on the little envelope immediately and raised wondering eyes.
Dean pursed her lips, not quite sure if that stunned expression was good or bad. "Um.. you remember when you said you wanted to see Italy? Well, I figure it'd be a good time to get to know each other better. And I can show you my native land."
The blonde looked back down at the two plane tickets in her hand and then squealed in delight. She launched herself at the officer and wrapped her arms around Dean's neck. "Ohh... you're the best!! IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou!!!!" Dean chuckled as she hugged back, whispering into Ranelle's ear. "I love you too."
They spent a moment hugging and then parted, smiling at each other like there's no tomorrow. Anthony grinned, having known what Dean was getting Ranelle. It had been a quick trip on the day they had separated. Off to get the mother of pearl and then the travel agent's to confirm Dean's over-the-phone reservations. He knew it would go over well, and after everything that had happened they deserved a vacation. Together.
Stacey stood from her sprawled position on the floor and went over to the couple on the couch. She wrapped Ranelle in a big hug, "I'm happy for you." The she went over to Dean. "Hey big guy... I wish I had someone like you. I could use a vacation to Europe."
Dean smiled up at Stacey and stood, wrapping the woman in a hug and swinging her up off the floor. "Maybe you're trying too hard, Stace." The officer set her friend down as the curly-haired woman looked thoughtful.
"Maybe. When do you guys leave?"
Ranelle looked at the tickets and all the other information. "Um.. about a week." Then the blonde stood and went to the pile, picking her own packages off the top and returning to the love seat. She latched onto Dean's hand and tugged the taller woman down. "It's my turn, Navy Guy." She handed over a nice sized, heavy rectangle.
Dean took it and worked the paper off, snorting when she opened the box. "It really bothers you that much, huh?" Inside was an intercom system. They had had many a conversation about Dean's large house and what a pain it was to go hunting for anyone you needed to find.
"Yes! It's very annoying. Especially if I just get here and have no idea at all where you might be! I don't want to troop through this house that much."
The officer smiled, "Thank-you... if you had left it up to me it would have taken several months."
"I know, that's what Christmas is for." Ranelle stated cheerily as she handed over the second package.
Dean carefully eased the little box open and peered inside. "Well.. I'll be damned."
Ranelle edged closer and looked into the box as well. "I saw it on a table.. up in the tower. Looked like you were having a problem fixing it." She turned her head to see Dean nodding slightly. "Right.. so I have this friend who fixes watches and Anthony helped me smuggle it out of the house. And my friend fixed it. It looked like it was really important to you."
Dean nodded, taking in the golden colored watch nestled in the little box. "It is... David gave it to me. I was really mad when it broke. Been trying to fix it for a long time. Thank you so much, Ranelle."
The couple shared another long hug while everyone watched on while pretending not to. The rest of the Christmas holiday passed in wondrous peace and cheer. People started leaving around mid-afternoon, saying happy good-byes and see ya laters.
Eventually supper time came around and Dean's remaining guests all decided on a nice, simple feast. So they had a relaxed evening, chatting amiably about anything. Long into the night people started retiring to bed.
Ranelle gently took Dean's hand and led the officer down the hall. "Come on." She made some twists and turns, finally ending up at her destination.
"Ranelle? Why are we here?"
"Shh... I found this little place the first day I was here. And I decided I was going to show it to you." She gestured to the long window seat and Dean agreeably sat down. Ranelle climbed in on top of the officer as the long arms wrapped around her. "Now look."
So they did, and it was just as marvelously beautiful as Ranelle first imagine it would be. The night sky was clear and the stars were twinkling bright overhead. The trees did indeed reach way up into the sky, gently dancing with the light above. It was breathtaking.
"It's.... beautiful." Dean whispered gently in Ranelle's ear.
"Yes." Ranelle turned slightly and looked up into Dean's glinting blue eyes. "You know what I just realized?"
"We made it. Through everything and now here we are, together and in love."
Dean averted her eyes from the window and looked down at the woman in her arms. "Indeed, my love. We're together, and you know what I just decided?"
"That as long as I have you in my life," and here she smiled, a quiet knowing smile, "nothing else matters."
And they kissed, gently melding their souls together yet again in a promise of perpetual bliss.
Well, that's the end of that. I'm fairly certain that there are no pressing loose ends that were left hanging. If you think of one feel free to drop me a line. I had a lot of fun writing this and I hope you all had a great time reading it. Sequel? Oh, most probably, yes. But you tell me, do you want the further adventures of Dean and Ranelle?? firstname.lastname@example.org
I'd like to thank all the people who took the time to write me, your comments helped me to keep on writing. I'd also like to say a quick thanks to someone who has recently been a kinda, sorta, not official beta for me. You should know who you are! :) Your comments, questions, and suggestions have been appreciated more than you know and I am incredibly thankful to have you to talk to.