Disclaimer: I don't own anything.


Chapter 10

Step Ten: To have faith in new developments

Self-consciously, I tucked a strand of hair behind my ear and answered Ranger's grave stare with a slightly defiant one of my own. Standing on the beach, burning candles carefully placed in the shape of a big heart behind my back, the stars merrily illuminating the ocean, and Ranger of all people being there with me and declaring his want to fight for me – that surely had to be an otherworldly experience in my opinion. Not that I wasn't used to otherworldly experiences with Ranger, but those were mostly sexual and not emotional encounters.

"Still mad at me?" he curiously asked.

Scrunching up my nose, I nodded. "Yeah, I guess so."

Ranger didn't wait for me to say more on the subject.

"You left early today. You didn't give me time to rectify your stupid notions."

Bristling, with hands on hips, I felt the familiar feeling of frustration rise inside of me again at seeing that he still behaved like a jerk. What hat got into him recently anyway? Was his behaviour towards me a direct consequence of my sudden flight?

"First of all, you've had plenty of time to say whatever it is you have to say – because honestly you have yet to say something only remotely similar to an explanation of what your behaviour is all about. And my notions are nothing but logical considering your stupid way of never saying what you really want to say!"

Oh great, a destroyed romantic setting and five minutes with this man and I was upset again.

His eyes never left mine, as if calculating how best to react to my forceful outburst.

Well, it was about time that he took my words seriously.

"You know I'm not a man of words," he calmly pointed out and it felt distinctively like a concealed apology.

"Don't you dare turn this around on me," I threatened. "I'm not one of the Merry Men with ESP. I can't read your mind and heart as easily as you can read mine." I sighed and closed my eyes for a second. "Look, Ranger, if this is all so hard for you, maybe it's just not meant to be. Just… just go back to Trenton and carry on with being The Man of Mystery, and give me some alone time before coming back. Then you and I will continue working together as though nothing ever happened."

I held my breath and pressed my eyelids tightly together. I couldn't bear to see the relief on his face at my proposition.

"Continue as if nothing ever happened?" he repeated softly as if testing the words out loud and mulling them. "Impossible."

My eyes shot open instantly. "W-what?"

He took a confident step in my direction. "I didn't follow you here to make you feel less worthy. When you left me I was numb and I … You're right. I didn't handle this situation like I should have. At first I did as you wished and stayed away, but then as everything seemed to only worsen, I changed my mind." He stared intensely at me. "And you're wrong when you think that I could just forget everything after we've come this far."

I snorted derisively. "We didn't go anywhere. I finally came clean with my feelings for you while you are obviously unable to do so."

He actually began to pace. I blinked rapidly a few times, but he was still striding two steps to my left and two steps back.

Ranger seemed to be disgruntled. What a startling realisation.

"You were with Morelli. You weren't even sure who you really wanted. You had to choose first," he said.

I remained sceptical. "Before what?"

Ranger come to an abrupt halt. "You needed to be ready before I could make my move."

It hit me like lightening.

Ranger was afraid.

"I needed it to be your choice," he added.

He might be the Man of Mystery to me and everyone else, but he was only a man with feelings as well, even though he was apparently better at hiding them. And all these times, all those odd comments and elusive questions had been him subtly prodding me if I've come to a decision. He hadn't wanted to push me or influence me into deciding, and he definitely hadn't wanted to hurt me; he'd been afraid I'd still be uncertain.

It had to be my decision. In my own time.

All these times, had it really only been his twisted way of showing me he was interested?

Well, it would at least explain his reserve in this matter.

"But the two phone calls… You were rude, you hurt me. And today… You didn't even try to amend things. How am I then supposed to know that you're really into this, into us, if you can't even fight for me? Besides, you did say that your life doesn't allow you the privilege of having relationships at this point."

"I'm fighting for you now," he said, looking earnest. "And I'm sorry for some things I said. It's new for me too, Babe, opening up to another person like that."

I stomped my feet in anger. "You're sorry? That's all you have to say? Tell you what: That's not good enough. I've ended my relationship with Joe. I told you that I love you and that you're the love of my life and you-"

I was only mid-sentence when he grabbed me and crashed his lips onto mine. Utterly taken by surprise, I stared wide-eyed as he loosened his grip on me a tad bit.

"I thought Morelli was the man of your life?" he half-questioned, his voice raw with emotion.

"Who?" was the only thing I could come up with being in the dazed state of mind I was in. In my defence, it had been a while since I had been kissed like that and had stayed guilt-free. But now that I was sure of my own feelings, I had nothing else to worry about than how to get him to give me another one of those addicting kisses of his.

Ranger, unfortunately, didn't seem inclined to heed my inward wishes. Damn. Instead, he smiled and touched my jaw with his fingertips. "Just making sure that he won't overtake my role in our relationship." There was a fierce determination in his unusual tender gaze.

My mind slowly started working again. "Your role? Our relationship? What the hell are you talking about? There is no 'us'."

His arms shot forward and enveloped me in a tight hug.

"Yes, there's an us. And if I had it my way, there'd be soon a lawfully wedded us too."

I swear my heart stopped beating for a moment.

"Marriage?" I squeaked. "What about you can't afford a relationship, least of all the mother of commitment, a marriage?"

His visible happiness was almost contagious, but only almost since I was still cautious.

"I fell in love with you."

My hands shook as I powerlessly pushed against his chest.

"You can't just… say stuff like that…" I weakly accused.

"Why not?" he challenged, but gave in to my weak attempts and kept his distance.

I was totally overstrained with the sudden change in Ranger's character.

"Because I'm only entertainment for you, both sexually and socially… and once you have me, you'll push me away again…"

I rubbed my arms absentmindedly, as if instinctively trying to rub away the sudden numbness that came over me.

It was odd. Here I was, hearing the words I had waited for so long coming from the man I so deeply loved and now I couldn't bring myself to leave the past behind and believe him. I needed to know that I was safe with Ranger, that my heart and soul were safe with him.

Over the years most of the important men in my life had hurt me one way or another, and every time I had tended my wounds to go on with my life.

But Ranger was it for me – if he hurt me, there would be no standing up again and carrying on.

"I don't see you as entertainment," he all of a sudden proclaimed. "Neither socially nor sexually." His eyes glittered angrily. "Never ever think that again."

I shivered a little under his cold gaze.

"You ran away and I'm partly responsible for that. Obviously you think that you're not important to me." He frowned deeply. "That's not true. I like you for the courageous and stubborn woman that you are. You're exasperating, smart, self-independent, loyal and funny."

My jaw dropped in shock.

"You see more in me than only Batman and you want to know me. You're there for me whenever I need you."

I swallowed. Was that really Ranger? His eyes shone with sincerity and warmth and I felt dizzy with the amount of hope that was building up inside of me.

"You believed in my innocence in a case of murder even when all the facts spoke differently and you uphold our friendship although I was the reason for many break-ups with Morelli." I felt my hands begin to tremble. "That all are reasons why I love you."

I think my heart just skipped a beat.

"But you're more than that. You're the woman I want to spend my life with."

Ranger's soft gaze studied me for a silent moment before he took my hand into his and placed a sweet kiss in the palm of my hand with closed yes. Warmth spread throughout me as he opened them again with such a tender expression therein.

"It's a risk for me too, Babe. I'm willing to give you more than I've ever given another person before," he said and looked deep into my eyes. "You have to have faith in me. Where's the woman who was nakedly chained to her shower and trusted me to take care of her shortly after we met?"

I averted my eyes from him and took a long, trembling breath. "Faith isn't enough for me anymore. I had faith in Dickie and he cheated on me a day after our wedding." Ranger frowned. "I'm not comparing you to him, Ranger, I'm just wary… You and I, we don't even have a relationship yet and you're already talking about taking the next huge step. I'm still not convinced that your feelings for me are deep enough." I looked him meaningfully in the eyes. "I need to be sure too."

Ranger nodded and stroked my hair thoughtfully. It felt oddly nice to know that he seemed unable to stop touching me.

"I know, Babe. But you have to give me a chance to prove to you that I'm worth the risk. Give me this one chance, Stephanie."

Like my defences my strength weakened and I let myself fall forward into his strong arms.

"Okay," I said into the texture of his sweater, unwilling to fight him anymore. "Okay."

He pressed a kiss to the side of my head. "I'll make sure you won't regret it. Now that you're finally mine."

Awww, how sweet.

"And I meant what I said about marriage."

I barely suppressed another squeak.

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Later that night, it was past midnight at length's, as the word marriage was still haunting me, I made sure that Ranger was asleep next to me and tiptoed to the bathroom. Dialling a familiar number on my cell phone, I sat down on the edge of the bathtub.

"Hello?" answered a groggy voice after a couple of minutes.

"Mary Lou?" I whispered. "It's me, Stephanie."

"Steph?" she yawned. "Why are you calling at this late hour?"

"How did it go with Lenny?"

"Good, I suppose. We're going to try working out everything."

"Great! That's really great! I'm happy for you." I exhaled slowly. "So, what do you think of Russia?"

"Huh?"

I ran a hand through my hair. "Ranger wants to marry me. He didn't even ask, he just stated a fact or something and-"

Suddenly, the phone was yanked out of my hand and I was shocked to see Ranger standing in front of me.

"I'll take care of her," he said into the phone, his dark eyes fixed on me.

Ending the call, he hauled me to my feet and pressed me limp for limp to his glorious and most importantly naked body.

"From now on, any problems you may have you're going to discuss with me. I want you to stop running. Do you trust me?" he asked seriously.

"You know I do," I replied without hesitation.

"Then you should know that you can share anything with me. We're in a partnership, you can talk about everything with me." There was a pause before he continued. "Do you really not want to marry me?"

I sighed. "It has nothing to do with you, it's just… I'm kind of scared of getting married with anybody. At the moment it's still too early, too rushed… Give me time to think about it. In a few years maybe, when our relationship is still steady and I've learned everything there is to learn about you. I mean when I do marry you I want to marry Ricardo Carlos Manoso and not the mysterious Batman. I want to know exactly who the man is I'm going to marry."

Ranger kissed the bitter memories of my first marriage off of my mind.

"I'll tell you everything there is to tell about me," he vowed, his voice thick with emotion.

Picking me up bridal style without tearing his lips apart from my throat, he laid me down on the bed and happily proceeded to show me exactly how eager he was to make good on his promise of not only telling but also showing me everything about him.

Only one word: Otherworldly.

Yum.

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Flashback

He was sitting in his apartment on the seventh floor in the RangeMan building, a stack of piles in front of him, but his thoughts were on a particular employee only three floors below.

"Boss?" Lester tentatively inquired, well aware of Ranger's odd mood. "I really think you should read this. I found it in Stephanie's cubicle."

Ranger turned his head at the mentioning of her name and took the folded note from Lester's outstretched hand.

Lester anxiously waited for a reaction while he observed his boss and close friend read the few lines which spoke of Stephanie's sudden departure and her wish to be left alone wherever she was.

Ranger carefully placed the note on his desk, a blank expression on his face.

"Have you checked her apartment yet?"

Lester gave an affirmative answer. "She's really gone."

Ranger inhaled deeply and closed his eyes for a single long heartbeat. When he opened them again, he looked beaten, lost and lonely. Ranger's pain seemed tangible and Lester wondered with a shiver if anybody else had ever seen his dark eyes so full emotion as he was able to see now.

Ranger himself wasn't capable of forming many coherent thoughts. His Babe had left him – that was all that kept flashing through his mind. A wave of helplessness and powerlessness hit him unexpectedly.

Slowly rising from his seat, Ranger abruptly left his apartment.

Lester lingered for a bit, his heart heavy as he stared at the piece of paper on Ranger's desk without really seeing it. "Do you have any idea what you're doing to this man?"

End Flashback


That's the end of this story as well. Thanks to everybody who reviewed! That really kept me going. It was actually quite fun writing this story and I hope you like the last chapter of it.

Let me know what you think.

By the way, has anybody read "Lean Mean Thirteen"? I haven't since I haven't even bought the book yet. Is it any good?

Channah