Discliamer: See First Chapter
Author's Note: Hi! I'm sorry I haven't posted in so long, but I've been distracted. This is just a Ranger/Steph moment. Normally I wouldn't even use it as a chapter, but I hate to make you all wait so long. I don't want anyone to think I've forgotten or anything... just don't have enough hours in the day.
THANK YOU FOR ALL THE REIVEWS!
"How are you feeling?" Lane asked me a few hours later. We were all sitting in the living room, warm and pleasantly stuffed. Everyone was doing their own thing; playing checkers, watching animated characters move across the TV screen, playing the animated characters on the TV screen, dealing cards, coordinating strategic infiltration plans… just your regular evening at home. There was this quiet veil of togetherness that draped us all, though.
And that togetherness was producing a squishy feeling in my stomach. What that means is that I'm an idiot, because before I was getting the squishy feeling because I felt left out, and now it's there because of the togetherness…
The left-out feeling made me want to go home, the togetherness feeling makes me want to throw-up… okay, not literally… but it was still terrifying. Terrifying because ever since I'd come inside from the balcony and helped make dinner – yes I helped, I chopped things and stirred stuff – ever since then I kept hearing the words, "You can never go back" ringing in my head.
I mean, I don't know what Mama-Bat intended to do by saying that to me, but the truth is she's done a real number on my head. I keep thinking of myself as a part of all this… when the truth is: I'm not.
And even scarier is the thought that maybe… I think I might want to be a part of it… and Ranger he's making me feel like maybe he wants me to be a part of all this…
"Stephanie?" Lane said her voice, worried suddenly, "Are you alright?" She made a clucking sound with her tongue as I blinked away the remnants of my thoughts and focused on her.
"I knew I shouldn't have let you exert yourself so much…" Lane was saying and suddenly her hands were at the back of my head, probing a very tender spot.
I winced, "Hey!" I cried, "That hurts…"
"Sorry…" she said absentmindedly, as she continued to feel around, then leaned in closer and made a motion to grab my face.
"I'm fine! I'm fine! I was just… lost in thought… but I'm fine…" I cried before she could pry my eyes wide open to check for traces of concussion.
She paused, her eyes narrowed, "Scale of 1 to 5: how's your pain?"
"Uhhhhh, right now?"
"Yes." She didn't even smirk. Obviously she was in doctor mode.
"Maybe a two… it didn't hurt before, just now a little… after dinner… and it's not a lot and maybe it's cause you pushed on my bump like that, that hurt. Are you supposed to do things like that? I mean that really hurt-"
"Lower you head, have you felt dizzy today?" She asked, still in doctor mode.
"No dizziness." I said, lowering my head.
"Are you lying?"
I paused, "Okay minimal dizziness, nothing like yesterday; nothing like the day before… almost none at all."
Lane made a growl like noise, "Okay, you can sit up," she said and released a frustrated sigh, "Why is that you people can't take a little doctoring?" She asked but didn't wait for an answer, "None of you, it's like I'm the only one in this family who understands the importance of reporting your symptoms so they don't get out of control and kill you. Suzie understands too, but that's it. Even Mom has difficulty understanding. I want you to listen to me very carefully Stephanie, I am going to give you some medication and you are going to consume it. When it starts to make you sleepy, you are not going to drink coffee or soda to make the sleepiness go away, you are going to say good-night and go to bed, okay. Do you understand or would you like me to go over it again?"
I stared at her – okay that was doctor mode mixed in with pissed off… sister mode? Was she in sister mode… with me?
"Yeah, okay, I understand." I said quickly before she started over again.
"Good, here." She handed me three small pills and a bottle of water she seemed to have pulled out of thin air.
I obediently drank them as she requested. She nodded once when I returned the bottle and then stood and went to across the room to where Marcus was engrossed in his James-Bond stuff.
I returned my attention to the animated characters; I was engrossed in the colors when I felt someone sit down next to me. I didn't really have to look to know who it was. I've developed this form of radar that seems to come alive whenever he's in the room.
"Hey," he said, settling himself next to me, the sofa sank a little and I slid a little closer to him.
I looked up, his hair was still wet from his recent shower and his dark eyes were sparkling with something that looked like mischief… but I'm not sure.
"I saw Lane shove pills down your throat; you hurting?"
"Not a lot, but she insisted."
"She turned off the doctor today, and now it's on overdrive." He said smiling.
I couldn't help the smile that touched my face; it was such a perfect description, "She said she shouldn't have let me exert myself… as if I would…"
He laughed, "Well, I'm not complaining I want you perfectly healed for our drive tomorrow."
"Where are we going?" I asked softly.
"I want to show you something beautiful." He whispered back.
Okay I'm sure now: the dark eyes are sparkling with mischief. Should I be nervous about that?
I was still lost in his eyes when suddenly Lane was there and she was pulling off his shirt without so much as by-your-leave.
"What the fu-!" Ranger hissed, but cut himself off, before asking, "You ever heard of privacy?" his voice dripped with irritation and his eyes flashed as she proceeded to check his wound.
"You ever heard of not getting shot?" she hissed back. "You got this wet." She said disapprovingly, as she examined him.
"Wet happens when you're taking a shower," he answered, shooting me a grin.
"You're lucky these things are still in here after the way you swung the boys around…" She said softly, dabbing at the wound with a cotton swab.
"Saw that huh?"
She remained silent, dabbing and wiping and checking; a few minutes later she backed away and threw his shirt back at him.
"Listen to me very carefully Rick," she said in the same tone she'd used on me. "If you tear those stitches or get that wound infected doing one you're idiot stunts I'm going to reveal every non-macho thing you've ever done to Stephanie and have her tell every person you work with, understood?"
I watched him glare at her and couldn't help the chuckle that escaped me; both pairs of dark eyes were drawn to me immediately.
I shrugged, "Just imagining what Lula would say if she could see Batman now…"
"With my shirt off?" Ranger asked, arching an eyebrow as he paused in his movement to put it back on.
"Being bossed around by his tiny sister…" I said gloating a little, than just for good measure I added, "I know what she'd say if she saw you with your shirt off…"
He scowled, slipping the shirt on. "I'd rather not hear about it."
"Then you'd better do what Lane says or I'll tell her you want to know what she thinks of you with your shirt off."
The scowl intensified, "If you don't do what Lane says I'll tell your mother you lied about the button factory application."
I met his glare with one of my own.
Lane looked between a few times and then said wryly, "This is perfect. You two can take care of each other."
With that pronouncement she turned and walked away.
I stared after her a moment, adding that comment to the pile of ones I wasn't going to think about, before looking back to Ranger.
"Ranger?" I said softly, a few minutes of staring at each other later.
"If I ask you something, you promise to answer and not get mad?"
The pleasant, la-di-da expression that had been on his face disappeared; the shutter that he wore outside this house didn't fall over his features completely, but it was just about to -- and with them waiting in the wings, so to speak, he suddenly resembled Batman again.
"That doesn't sound good, Babe."
"Do you?" I insisted.
He met my gaze a moment before saying, "Yea."
"Why wasn't Veronica playing with us today?" I asked immediately, before I lost my nerve.
It had been a niggling question at the back of my mind all day. I kept expecting to look up and find her somewhere, doing something, anything with her family. But nope, the girl had been absent all day and it made me sad to think that while we were having all that fun, she was all alone.
Ranger tensed a bit more and I knew it was a question he didn't want to answer; maybe because the answer was something he didn't want to deal with, but he'd promised – so he would.
"I told you before that she's having trouble with all this. You saw it yourself, she doesn't like us very much right now."
"But how is she going to like you if you don't try."
"Have you tried," I interrupted, "Did you ask her if she wanted to play today. I mean you asked me; and you wouldn't take no for answer. Why didn't you do the same with her?"
He visibly balked at the question and the shutters fell completely over his face. I was now facing Batman, and amazingly enough – he's not as appealing as I remembered him.
"Because it's not the same," he said impassively.
I pushed a little harder, "Why not?"
He was silent, than said, "I know where I stand with you… sort of anyway… when it comes to her… I… I have no idea." There was a vulnerability in the words that made my heart ache for him. He sounded so… stoically lost.
I suddenly didn't know how wise it was for me to be talking about this; suddenly I wondered if I had any right to give advice on something that was so… personal to him… something he held so dear.
But I wanted to help… so softly I offered one last thing, "You should try to find out, Ranger, I think she needs you to try."
He didn't respond to that, and I decided it was time to let it go; yes me – let something go… I don't normally do things like that, but this time… taking into account that my heart was still aching from his expression I was willing to let it go.
So I did. And he must have noticed, because the shutters went up and suddenly it was Bruce Wayne again.
He shifted a little so that the sofa sank more and I slid even closer to him; without a word he slipped his arms around me and snuggled me close to his chest.
As a distractionary technique it was exceptionally effective.
I should be outraged or something, that he thinks he could manipulate me like that. Little did he know though, that it was his I-have-no-idea-what-to-do expression that had gotten him off the hook, not his delicious shower gel.
I didn't want to tell him though; men can be weird about that kind of stuff.
We sat there on the sofa, not saying anything. His arms were wrapped around me and I could feel his chin resting on my head. I did my best to keep my attention on the animated character on the screen, but when I felt his lips at my temple everything else ceased to exist.
I turned a little towards him, and he began trailing soft kisses down the side of my face. I tilted my face upwards and felt the same soft kiss on my lips, I smiled against his lips, "Mmmmmm," I murmured, I couldn't help.
It felt so heavenly to lie there in his arms, feeling all safe and protected and loved.
The thought caused a bubble of disturbance on my consciousness, but it's extremely easy to blow bubbles away when you're having a heavenly feeling.
My eye lids were heavy and I suddenly felt as if I were floating; I dimly remembered Lane saying something about sleep and pills, but I pushed that bubble away too.
The only bubble I accepted was the floating-away-in-the-safety-of-Bruce-Wayne's-arms bubble.
I sighed sleepily, and let myself float away…