Chapter 17: All's Well that Ends Well
Disclaimer: I do not own G.I Joe. Thanks to LittleLadyHawk for editing and to Robin, who suggested the nickname.
When Conrad walked back into the O'Hara house behind Shauna a mountain of food had miraculously appeared. The counters were as full as they had been at lunch, Irish music was playing on the living room stereo, and someone pressed a bottle of beer into his hand.
"Don't worry if you can't remember names. More people will probably show up."
"More?" Conrad asked incredulously as a stream of children, half of whom he didn't recognize from lunch or the baseball game, came running by, out the kitchen door. He could hear them race down the backyard stairs.
"Yes, more. Come on, we'll find Ash and Sean. They're probably with Ryan somewhere."
"The house isn't that large."
Shauna sent a bright smile over her shoulder, "Nope, so it doesn't take long to fill it up." His heart had turned over in his chest when she flashed her smile. He mentally kicked himself for not making a move on her earlier.
They were stopped by at least a dozen people between the kitchen and the living room. "Is there a keg somewhere that I don't know about? Where did all these people come from?"
Shauna chuckled, "Mostly from the neighborhood. Dad likes to entertain. He likes people around so occasionally if a baseball game gets rained out he and Mrs. Campbell will invite the neighbors over. Everyone who comes brings a little something they happen to have in the fridge and Mrs. Campbell and her daughters bring bakery leftover's."
"I didn't think people kept stuff like this in their fridges," he said as he picked up a fudge brownie from the table.
"Pickings are a bit better today than they usually are. Usually it's stuff like crackers or snack mix or something like that. Da probably organized this one ahead of time."
"Why? I would have thought he'd want you to himself for the rest of the day."
She laughed, "You're here. The more people who are here, the less time Frank and Brian have to interrogate us."
"So your dad is running interference."
"Looks like it."
"Do we really need it that badly?" He asked, keeping a firm grasp on her hand as she led him from one group to another, introducing him, using her legal skills to turn the conversation to safe ground before moving on to the next group. She'd stand on tip toes every few minutes trying to get a glance of Sean or Ashlynn through the still gathering crowd.
"I told you I was really close to my brothers, except Brian of course, he's an idiot."
Conrad chuckled at her matter-of-factness, "Yeah, so?"
"So I wasn't exactly thrilled when it came time to share them with girlfriends. I really wasn't happy when girlfriends, plural, became girlfriend, singular, became fiancé."
"I sense a story here."
"Let's just say the hazing new Joes go through is nothing like what I put my sisters-in-law through."
"I'm beginning to understand why your dad is a little worried."
"He's afraid my brothers will run you off."
He tugged her into the corner by the refrigerator and basement door, "I'm not running scared, Shauna."
She smiled up at him, "I know. I'm not worried."
Since nobody was in the kitchen at the moment he ducked his head towards hers and kissed her.
"Aw, man, you can't do that here! Some old biddy will tell mom and she'll freak out." Ryan Campbell said as he opened the basement door.
"Ryan, did I ever tell you your timing sucks?!"
He grinned and tugged Shauna's ponytail, "Nope. I guess there's a first time for everything. We've taken refuge downstairs."
They followed Ryan downstairs, past a group gathered around a football game playing on tv and into the practice room.
"Safe at last, pop a top and sit back my man, you are free of the firing squad."
"Damn, we forgot food and beer." Shauna exclaimed
"Here, finish mine, I'll go grab another."
"Are you sure you want to do that?"
"If I'm not back in ten minutes, send out a rescue team," because he could, he leaned in and kissed her well before slipping out the door.
"Aww…that's so sweet." Ash sighed and looked at Sean, "Why didn't you kiss me like that when you went after food?"
"I didn't kiss you like that?"
"No, you did not," Ash put her hands on her hips in mock temper.
"Well, I'll just have to do better this time." He pulled her close
"Okay, okay, enough already! My girls' not here and there is only so much of you kissing my sister I can stand!" Ryan put his hands around his throat and pretended to choke.
Conrad barely made it up the stairs and into the kitchen before he was waylaid by Caro. "Conrad, there you are, come and let me introduce you to Jamie's wife, Jenny Campbell."
"Hi, how are you?"
"Oh I'm fine, it's so nice to meet you! I've heard all about you from Jamie."
"Really?" Conrad was surprised
"Oh, he and Frank have been friends for so long they tell each other practically everything. They're almost as bad a couple of women. And of course Frank and Caro have mentioned you."
"Right. Shauna sent me up for food so if you'll excuse me, ladies."
Caro latched on to his arm with a smile, "Shauna was just telling us earlier how much she enjoyed the date you took her on."
"We wanted to make it special."
"It took ya'll awhile to get together didn't it?" Caro asked
"Yes. We wanted to make sure this was what we both wanted."
Caro smiled, "It's nice to find a man who'll take his time now a day. I'm happy for Shauna, for you both. I'm sorry if Melanie was a bit of pill during lunch, she's so much like Shauna sometimes I wonder if God made a mistake and didn't mean to send her to Shauna a few years down the road."
Conrad chuckled; he really wasn't sure what else to do, "Really? I know Shauna's very fond of her."
"Oh, yes. She's always asking when Shauna's going to leave the Army and come back home. You wouldn't have any idea when she plans to do that, do you?"
Wow, he really hadn't seen this one coming, "Um. I don't think she's planning on leaving the Army anytime soon."
"Oh, but what about when you get married?" Jenny asked innocently
Conrad glanced over his shoulder towards the food just to see one of Campbell sisters walk into the kitchen. 'Uh, oh'. His danger instincts were on full alert. "Um, Shauna and I just started dating."
"So? You've known each other a long time, haven't you?" Jenny asked, clearly not afraid to be blunt
"Oh, there you are Jenny, oh, hello Caro, Conrad. Are you enjoying yourself?"
Jenny accepted a cookie off Elise's plate, "Conrad was just telling us about what he and Shauna plan to do after they marry."
"Well, we haven't talked about marriage yet…"
"Well you'll get to that eventually." Elise said
"Where will you live? Your family doesn't live anywhere near Atlanta." Jenny made the last sound like an accusation
"No, my family doesn't live near Atlanta. Like I said, we really haven't talked about getting married yet…"
"Better to start thinking ahead. Didn't Shauna mention you were an officer? Isn't planning part of your job description?" Elise said
"I'm not an officer…"
Caro jumped in, "But you are in charge of your unit, right?"
The Joe command wasn't easy to understand for regular military personnel, he wasn't about to try explaining to it to civilians, "Well yes but…"
"What will you do when you get out of the army? You'll have to provide for your family somehow," Jenny accused again.
"Well if you and Shauna get married you'll have children, won't you?"
"Of course they will, Jenny, give the man a break," Caro jumped in.
Elise disagreed, "Caro, these questions need to be asked. How many children do you want, Conrad?"
"Um…I think I hear Shauna calling me…if you ladies will excuse me…?"
He practically ran back down the stairs, it didn't matter that he was returning empty handed, he was through running that gauntlet
"Hey, where's my food?" Shauna asked jokingly as Conrad walked back in empty handed
He shuddered, "Your dad was right."
"Right?" Sean asked confused
"About needing to run interference for us."
"Oh, yeah, she sure did a number on Caro and Michelle."
"And Elise, Meredith, Jamie, and Aidan," Ashlynn and Ryan added simultaneously
"So what goes around, comes around?"
Shauna shrugged her shoulders and looked towards the floor, "I guess I was a little hard on them."
A little while later the door was wrenched open and Melanie ran in, "There you are, we've been looking all over for you!" A gaggle of children pocked their heads in behind Melanie.
Cricket and another little girl about her age pushed through, "Aunt Shauna, Aunt Ashlynn…" they called together, "you promised to show us how to do the dance!"
Shauna and Ashlynn looked at each other, "Did we? Oh, we did, didn't we."
Melanie grabbed Shauna by the hand and tried to haul her up, "Come on, a bunch of people have left so there's room now!"
Cricket and her friend tugged on Ashlynn, "Come on, come on, show us!"
"Ash promised to show the girls a few steps they don't know yet and I got volunteered to help."
"Steps, you mean like an Irish jig?"
"Yep, just like."
True to their word, much of the crowd had disappeared when they stepped out of the practice room. Ryan muted the game and put in dancing music. Ashlynn and Shauna showed the girls the steps they wanted to learn and before long everyone was dancing. Melanie grabbed Conrad's hand, "I'll show you then you can dance with Aunt Shauna. Don't worry, it's really easy!"
Melanie danced with Conrad, showing him the different between a jig and a reel and then happily traded her Aunt for Ryan. They drew the rest of the neighbors and family down stairs and before long everyone was dancing.
When Frank cut in Conrad stepped to the side to stand with Caro. "He worries about her you know."
Conrad turned to Caro, "Frank?"
She nodded, "When they lost Maura…well, Patrick was beside himself for a while. Frank stepped in and took over the family until Patrick could get his feet back under him. He didn't just take care of the groceries or made sure the little ones got off to school okay, he was their father. He picked them up when they cried and held Shauna when she woke up crying during thunderstorms. She'd lost her mom; her father barely recognized her…she clung to Frank. It helped him to care for her and Sean. Taking care of them got him through the worst of it."
"And he never quite let go of that role?"
Caro smiled wistfully, "It's hard to let go of hero worship. And she did. She worshiped the ground he walked on. Having our own children helped Frank let go but still...he's her big brother and he worries. He knows she does more than fly planes and take meetings."
"So he's giving me a hard time not only because I'm dating his baby sister but because I'm responsible for putting her in danger."
She nodded, "That about sums it up."
"Shauna makes her own choices. If she thought an order I gave was bogus she'd call me on it, respectfully, but she'd call me on it."
"He knows she's not reckless and he knows she can take care of herself-he saw to that. But don't you worry about your little sister? Wouldn't you worry more if she was in the middle of war?"
"I get where he's coming from. I don't have to like it, but I get it."
"He's a good man, Conrad. I hope you won't hold this against him later. He'll get used to the idea of her settling down; I'll help him with that. He may never be your best friend but he'll at least learn to tolerate you."
"Damned by faint praise?"
Caro laughed, "No, not at all. I like you just fine and I'll be happy to welcome you to the family when the time comes."
While Caro was talking to Conrad, Shauna was trying to get Frank to understand what she saw in Conrad. "He's a good man, Frank. I wish you'd give him a chance."
"He's not good enough for you."
"He's not. He said it himself; all he does is take meetings and put together task forces…"
"Of which he's a part of a good deal of the time! He's a good man and an honorable soldier!"
"You should come back home and practice law, find yourself a nice lawyer to marry, you have that law degree and you've barely done anything with it."
"So, what, I'm wasting my time defending my country?" She stopped dancing
"Let somebody else do it, you've got that law degree you can put to use, or hec go into politics if you really want to make a difference."
She jerked away from him, upset, "How about a little support, huh? I helped you when you and Jamie were opening your business, I helped you out when Mel was born, is it so hard to ask for at least a little understanding?"
She jerked away and pushed her way through the crowd and jerked open the backyard door.
Frank followed with Conrad close on his heels, "What the hell did you say to her?"
"Nothing that's any of your business!"
"She is my business!" Conrad said through clenched teeth
"This is all your fault, if you hadn't have come we wouldn't have argued and she wouldn't be upset."
Conrad had had enough, he fisted Frank's shirt and pulled him close, "I figure I know exactly what you argued about! She loves you and all she wants is for you to say she's doing a good job with her life. And all you can do is criticize. She fell in love with the wrong man, she chose the wrong career, everything she's doing with her life should be admired and all you can do is tell her she's a screw-up!"
"I never said that! How dare you call my sister a screw up?! She's a hell of a lot smarter than you!"
"You're right, she is smarter than me, I'm okay with that. She's more than brains and good looks. She's a good and loyal friend and a damn fine solider. I'm proud to serve with her. She makes a difference every damn day. She helps keep this world safe for your kids so don't you dare tell her she's made the wrong choice with her life. You taught her how to take care of herself. She does a good job of it and helps keep her teammates safe. She's not reckless but she is brave and if I was in trouble there's not a solider I'd rather have come to my rescue than your sister. She gives her all every second of every damn day no matter how shitty life gets. So you need to get over yourself and apologize before her leave is up in the morning. The very last thing you want is for her to go away thinking you don't care enough to listen, that you'll never approve of her. Do that and it'll drive a rift between you two that you won't be able to fix." Conrad let go and started off after Shauna.
Half way down the hill Frank stopped him, "No. Let me talk to her." Frank paused, "I guess you're smarter than I gave you credit for."
Conrad took that as the closest he'd likely get to an apology. He let Frank go after her but stayed within ear shot, just in case.
"Hey," Frank said, reaching out a hand.
Shauna ignored it and turned away so he wouldn't see tears running down her face.
He did anyways, "Aw, hell, Shauna. I didn't mean to upset you."
"How the hell else did you think I was going to take your little pep talk? 'Get married, Shauna, find yourself a nice lawyer, leave the army, you'd be a better lawyer than solider."
"I didn't say that last part, damn it!"
She whirled around to face him, "You didn't have to! Do you have any idea how hard I've worked to get where I am in my career? Damn hard, harder than I worked to get through law school, harder than I've ever worked for anything in my whole life! Why? Because it's important to me. Because what I do is important. I make a difference, Frank, a big difference. Why can't you accept that and be happy for me?"
He sighed, "I'm sorry. You're right, Shauna. I've been a jerk because I wanted you here, safe."
"I'm not reckless, Frank. I do what I need to do and yeah, its dangerous sometimes but I'm strong and I'm smart and I can kick serious ass all by myself. You helped make me who I am. You're the one who taught me my first kick, you're the one who convinced dad I was ready to start seriously training."
"I am proud of you. I'm sorry I made you think otherwise. No, I'm not thrilled with your career choice. I wouldn't be thrilled if you'd decided to fly for Delta, join the police academy, or go fight fires. But I am proud of you because you're doing what you want with your life. You wouldn't let anyone tell you that you couldn't do something. I want my girls to grow up with that confidence, that spirit. And hell, if being an Army soldier is what you want to do, then fine. I'll support you. I won't' be happy about it but I'll do it. And don't you dare ever think I'm not proud of you!"
She laughed a little at that last demand, "That's all I really wanted Frank, for you to support me and to be proud of me."
"I do. I am." He waited a minute before adding, "Forgiven?"
"One last thing, go easy on Conrad. Being with him isn't going to make me stay or leave the Army. It's just going to make me happy."
He sighed, "I'll go easier but I won't throw rose petals at the guy's feet."
She laughed, easier this time, "Okay."
He pulled her into a hug, "I love you, Lilly."
She smiled at the use of his old nickname for her, "I love you too, Frank. Now, can we go back inside? It's starting to rain and I'm freezing!"
"Last one to the door has to fix hot chocolate?"
"You're on!" She took off towards the door and beat him by barely a second
Shauna smiled at Conrad when she came in so he'd know she was ok and then went in search of a blanket to wrap up in. Conrad looked like he was deep in conversation with Michelle who'd somehow convinced him to hold Brian Jr.
Conrad smiled back, happy to know she and Frank were okay once again. He turned his attention back to Michelle, "I think he's asleep."
Michelle peaked, "Thank goodness, I was afraid he'd never doze off! You don't mind walking him up to the baby room, do you? If you hand him back he might wake up and if he does he won't go back to sleep."
"No problem," he followed Michelle up the stairs and put the sleeping baby in the crib someone had set up.
Michelle smiled down at her little one and adjusted his blanket, "All the O'Hara's make beautiful children. Just don't get upset if all your kids come out with red hair."
Conrad's eyes popped wide in horror at the thought of babies. Michelle pushed him out the door and shut it softly behind them, "Just something to think about." She said as she walked off.
It was dark before everyone had said their last goodbye's for the night and headed out the door. Patrick sighed, the lad had done all right, he thought. He hadn't let Shauna's brothers push him around too much and he'd stood up for Shauna when it counted. Shauna and Frank were all right again, that was another good thing to add to the day's tally. He'd whispered Lilly to her just before he packed his family in his car and drove them home. Patrick smiled, remembering his daughter's obsession with Kung Fu star Lilly Li and Frank's decision to make it in to a nick name for her. If they were back to that, then they were once again friends. Now if only he could get Shauna to be friends with Brian he'd have really accomplished something. Ah, well, one thing at a time. He wandered into the living to check on Shauna and her lad, "I'm after fixing a pot of coffee…" he trailed off seeing the two of them snuggled close and fast asleep, their long legs propped up on the coffee table, his head resting against the back of the coach and her's resting on his shoulder. They made a nice pair. He raised his eyes to the ceiling, "We did good, Maura, we did good." He blew a kiss to his daughter and turned off all but one lamp before turning down the hall to find his own rest. "All's well that ends well and the day has ended quite well indeed." He said to himself quietly, "Quite well indeed."