I have to say, I am going to miss this story. Here is the final installment – the epilogue.
As always, I own nadda. But I want ranger. Still working on that bat-napping technique.
Epilogue – End of January
It was lose-the-cast day as I had come to term it. I flounced into the control room and sashayed in front of Ranger. He shook his head at me and continued to talk with Tank for a minute, before stepped beside me.
"Ready to go, babe?"
"Oh yeah." I told him. He had decided to come with me to the hospital - he wanted to check on Hal, who had gotten shot on a stakeout the night before. We headed down to parking in silence, and Ranger held out his hands for my keys. I raised an eyebrow at him. He wanted to take my car?
"I like seeing you in it." He told me. On December 30th, Ranger had taken me car shopping. Another Christmas gift, he claimed. I, of course, looked at the cheapest cars on the lots. Ranger looked at the most expensive. He hauled me to a Porsche dealer. I loved his Turbo, and the carrera, AND the boxster he had once given me, but refused to so much as get out of the car at that place. I was pretty sure I amused him, but really, the last thing he needed to do was spend that kind of money on something I was just going to destroy!
Finally, he half-picked for me. We were at a Ford dealer and when I thought he wasn't paying attention, I let my eyes linger very briefly on a bright red Mustang convertible. Apparently Batman has eyes on the back of his head, though, because the next morning that very car was sitting in the parking garage at Rangeman. It was definitely my kind of car. And it wasn't black! Ranger's reasoning behind that concession had been that the red suited me. Hm..Bet that was the only non-black vehicle he ever bought.
And now, if I was with him, he liked to drive it. I couldn't wait for summer so I could put the top down and stick a pair of sunglasses on and feel the wind in my hair while I drove down hamilton. Of course, that is, if I still had the car. With my luck...well...I really tried not to think about that.
We climbed into the car and Ranger turned the engine over. It purred like Sin when she was on Ranger's chest. Cat and Man had forged quite a relationship, with Ranger trying NOT to like Sin, and Sin adoring him. She even slept in the bed with us, and she was slowly getting better about curling up and SLEEPING, instead of playing.
I glanced at Ranger as he drove, silent and in his zone. He looked good in my car too. He was looking better overall, lately. It had been over a month, and he was still recovering, slowly but surely. We spent three days after Christmas largely in bed - he seemed to sleep better if I was there. Not that he ever said anything, but I noticed a difference in how rested he was. Ella brought food, and we ate and slept and...well...no matter how exhausted he was, he still seemed to find the energy to kick Sin out and love me thoroughly. And then we'd sleep some more. On the 29th of december he started working half-days again, and then full days a week later, although he was definitely still not up to full form.
I startled out of my thoughts as Ranger slipped his hand in mine and brought my fingers to his lips. "We're here, babe."
"I need to be more aware of my surroundings, I know." I sighed. He squeezed my fingers before letting go. We headed into the hospital in comfortable silence. Ranger headed off to go see about Hal, and I went to check in for cast removal. Thank God. I couldn't wait to be rid of the thing.
I could hardly contain myself as the doctor cut through the cast. He cracked it off and checked my wrist over. He handed me the cast. I looked at Lula's artwork, turning it over in my hands. The testicles really didn't look like testicles, without my thumb to embellish them. Thank god for that. Ranger, whose awareness was a bit relaxed when he first got home, had finally noticed them a couple of days after Christmas, when he started to really wonder why I insisted on keeping it hidden from the rest of the world all the time. All he said was "Babe."
I sat in the little room, continuing to check out the cast, all the way up the arm, at all angles. A piece of writing I hadn't noticed before caught my eye.
At the top of the cast, in an area that would have been impossible for me to see while I was wearing it, Lula had written Stephanie Manoso in big, fancy letters. My mind flashed back to Christmas eve, when I was lying in bed and Ranger was inspecting my cast for the first time.
"Has a nice ring to it." He had said. My mind flashed again to the first time he had walked into the Bonds office after returning. He had raised one eyebrow at Lula, and she had stammered an excuse and beat a hasty retreat. In fact, every time he came around, Lula disappeared as fast as her FMP's could carry her. No wonder. And..Omigod. Ranger thought it had a nice ring to it. What did that mean? He didn't want to give me a ring, surely. I didn't think I wanted a ring! Not yet! We weren't even...anything. Our relationship didn't have a name! It might not even be a relationship! I dropped the cast onto the bed beside me, and burried my head in my hands, elbows on my knees. Ranger had SEEN that. Omigod. He must... Ranger thinks...Ranger must have thought...There was no way I would be able to face him now! How was I supposed to -
"Babe. That upset about losing the piece of plaster?" Ranger's voice asked, amusement filling his tone.
I couldn't bring myself to look at him. Without raising my head, I shook it. "No." I mumbled. I felt him as he stepped next to me, his hand brushing my thigh as he picked up the cast. The bed felt empty where the cast had been lying, but then Ranger sat down beside me, hip against hip, and slung an arm over my shoulders.
"What's wrong?" He asked. I didn't answer. After a minute he removed his arm and grasped my wrists, pulling my hands away from my face. He felt along the arm I broke, gently probing and exploring, before taking my two hands in both of his, so I couldn't put them back. I still couldn't look at him though. I tilted my head to the side and looked at the floor. "Babe?" he finally questioned, his voice soft.
I wasn't getting out of here until I answered him, I knew it. I took a breath. "Lula wrote..." I couldn't bring myself to say it. "You said it had a nice ring to it. You meant...That. Didn't you?"
"What's "that", babe?" he asked. I opened my mouth, and closed it again. "Steph?" he squeezed my hands.
"Yeah. Steph. Anie. With your. Last. Name." I stammered. Ranger chuckled beside me. "It's not FUNNY." I grumbled, wishing I had had a free hand to hit him with.
"It does have a nice ring to it. And maybe someday..." he said, and then started to shake with silent laughter. "It bother you that much, babe?" Someday? Someday what? Someday I'd be Stephanie Manoso? What was I in the meantime? Did i want to be Stephanie Manoso? Did he want me to be? What was he saying. Of course it bothered me! And he thought this was funny???? My heart was starting to race.
"Babe." He said again, and let go of one of my hands to frame my chin, tipping my head so that he could look at me. I tried to avert my eyes but he wouldn't let me. He looked into my eyes, his own revealing amusement and tenderness. It was rare to see him so unguarded, at least, since he had gotten over the worst of the exhaustion. "I like how it sounds. It's not a big deal. Don't over-think it." He kissed me gently, making my mind blank out completely, then tugged me to my feet. "Come on. The paperwork is done. We need to get back."
"Important meeting?" I asked, as he slung an arm over my shoulder and walked me out of the exam room and down the hall.
"Meeting for 2 at the apartment. Your presence is required." He told me.
"Does this have to do with the pom pom again?" I asked, narrowing my eyes. He had gotten very creative with that one.
"No...I think I've exhausted the possibilities." He told me on a chuckle. Whew.
"Gee, on a downhill slide, aren't we." I scoffed at him. I had intended it to be an insult, to get him back for thinking my reaction to those..words..on the cast..was funny. Unfortunately, by the way he ran a hand over my ass, I'm pretty sure he took it as a challenge.