A.N. Thanks to everyone who stuck with and reviewed this story! It was fun to write it and I'm really glad I managed to post it before ep 18. (sigh of relief) I'm sure everything I've written will be destroyed by that episode. :-p
"You didn't get cherry?" Brad complained loudly as Lindsay brought out bowls.
"I didn't get anything," she reminded him testily. "Danny bought it."
"Did you get fudge brownie?" her brother asked, this time directing his question to Danny who'd been watching the two bicker all evening with a completely bland expression.
"Ungrateful little," was all Lindsay got out before her father slid his eyes in her direction and her mouth snapped shut.
"Thank you, Danny," Gordon said with a small smile.
"You're welcome, sir." He stood to take some of the containers out of Molly's hands.
Lindsay dropped back into her chair and placed the last bowl and spoon in front of Danny's place. She watched him as he began opening the ice cream cartons, his biceps flexing, his face a mask of concentration. That afternoon had marked the third time she'd been in those arms and they were really starting to become a distraction.
Dropping her eyes back to her bowl, she let the conversation flow around her as her mind drifted back to Mrs. Finch and her apology. Somehow it felt as if a giant tear in her heart had begun to mend. It still hurt a bit if she poked at it, but it didn't leave her feeling quiet as empty and broken.
She wondered if it would ever heal completely, but shrugged the thought aside as her brother handed her a carton.
"Here," he mumbled, busy with his own bowl.
Taking the strawberry ice cream from him, she smiled and glanced at Danny out of the corner of her eye. Apparently, he really liked this ice cream if the six cartons he'd bought were any indication.
"So," Molly said without preamble, studying Danny across the table. "You're leaving day after tomorrow."
Danny glanced up from the sweet cream carton. "Yes, ma'am."
"Has Lindsay taken you out riding yet?" Molly asked, spooning up some of the ice cream in her bowl. Her eyes locked with Gordon's and Lindsay saw her father shrug almost imperceptibly.
"Uh, no. No, she hasn't, but that's because I don't ride."
"Not all?" Molly's voice was even and unsurprised, though she smiled kindly. "It's really not that hard. The horse does most the work."
Danny shot her a grin and Lindsay watched in amazement as her mother blushed a little. "I'm not sure I'm the riding type."
"City boy," Brad muttered, but it wasn't malicious, so Lindsay refrained from kicking him under the table.
Danny pretended not to hear him. "I lean more toward Harleys than horses."
"You have a Harley?" Lindsay hid a smile at Brad's longing tone.
"Nah. Looked at a few when I was buying, but decided on a Ducati."
"What changed your mind?" Brad asked, leaning forward with interest. When Danny managed to answer that question, Brad shot him another one and another one. Even Lindsay's father joined the conversation as Lindsay and her mother silently listened.
"I hope you wear a helmet," Molly said mildly when they paused in their discussion.
"My mother just bought me a new one for Christmas," he assured her with a large smile.
It hadn't occurred to her at first, maybe because she wasn't looking for it, but now she watched her family with Danny and came to a sudden, sinking, realization. They'd claimed him. They now considered him part of the Monroe clan.
Her father wasn't exactly welcoming Danny with open arms like Brad and Molly, but Gordon wasn't exactly shutting him out either. Despite the fact that her father still wasn't speaking to her, he'd looked at her more since Danny arrived; had acknowledged her presence and listened when she spoke.
It did, at least, inspire hope.
But Lindsay wasn't sure how she felt about all of it. About her family adopting Danny as their own. It was worrisome to say the least, considering she'd never even been on a date with him and they seemed to be mentally planning a wedding.
In spite of her reservations, she had to admit it relaxed her a bit to know that Danny had won over her family. Obviously she wasn't the only one lacking immunity to the Messer charm.
When it was time for Danny to leave a few days later, she felt a lead weight settle at the bottom of her stomach. She drove him to the airport, knowing this was the last time she could talk to him and see his reactions, but unable to think of anything to say. By the time she parked the truck and Danny had lifted his duffle from the bed, a rather sizable piece of panic was lodged in her throat.
But Danny just smiled and began walking towards the glass doors of the terminal. She silently walked next to him, their shoulders brushing.
"Just a couple more weeks," he murmured, reaching over to take her hand.
He'd held it more times than she could count in the last eleven days, but it still made her heart jump. "Yeah."
"I wish I could stay, but Mac—"
She forced a smile. "I know. It's okay. I'll be okay." She wasn't entirely sure about that last part.
He squeezed her hand. "Yeah, you will."
They stepped into the terminal and paused, the automatic doors behind them trying vainly to shut as they stood there. Lindsay turned to Danny and gestured towards the desk. "You should check in."
He nodded, staring down at her. "You come home soon, okay?" he said with a worried note in his voice that made the lump in her throat a bit more desperate.
Unable to speak, she threw her arms around his neck and breathed in his scent. His duffle dropped to the ground beside them, and he wrapped his arms tightly around her. She wasn't sure how long they stood there, but slowly she became aware of the sounds of the airport moving around them and she took a deep breath.
Stepping back, she was surprised by Danny's hands smoothing the hair back from her face and holding it there as he stared down. She met his eyes and almost winced at the tenderness there.
Licking her lips, she gently set his hands away. "I'm still not ready, Danny."
She knew that her eyes would be begging him to understand, but she watched with resignation as his expression grew shuttered. She shook her head.
"I've spent the last ten years knowing he was out there somewhere. My entire life was based around that. It's even why I became a CSI. Now that part of my life is over, and I can start fresh," she told him, her eyes locked on his. "But I have no idea where to begin."
She sighed. "I have to figure out my own life before I can drag you into it." She gently set her finger on his lips when he started to argue. "I know you could handle it. You're probably the only man I know who could. But I can't," she whispered, lowering her hand.
He could feel himself softening at the heartbreak on her face. "Lindsay—"
"Please don't argue with me or even tell me it's okay. Anything you say is going to make this harder," she explained.
Her hand was resting on his chest and he reached up with his own to cover it. "One day, I'll be ready," she said, a hint of her usual determination rising in her voice. "But I'm not going to ask you to wait for me. That wouldn't be fair."
Smiiling tremulously, she quickly stood on her toes to kiss his cheek. "I'll see you in a few weeks."
She moved back, only to have him catch her hand.
"You might not ask me," he said without a trace of a smile. "But I'm gonna wait."
"Danny—" she started, biting her lip when he shook his head.
"One day you'll be ready." He stepped backwards towards the security gate. "And when you are, I'll be waiting for you."
"You might regret saying that later," she called as he backed further away.
He paused. "Montana, you got a city boy to fly across the United States to a veritable wheat field. I don't think I'll be changing my mind."
She laughed and waved, just catching his wink before he turned and walked through the security gate.
When Lindsay got back to the house, she sat out in the truck for awhile after turning off the engine. The sprawling ranch land spread out in front of her, but she couldn't see it really. She wondered if Danny had boarded the plane yet.
Her fingers itched to pick up her cell, but she laid her forehead against the steering wheel instead. She didn't feel like crying, exactly, just forgetting that the world existed for a minute or two.
A sharp rap on her window made her leap backwards, knocking her head against the seat. She turned to glare out at Brad, who was smirking a little. Opening the door, she stepped out and slammed it shut again.
"Hey. You all right there?" he asked, gesturing to his own head.
She sighed and stepped around him. "I'm fine."
Glancing over her shoulder, she slowed to a stop at the serious expression on his face. "What's up?" she asked nervously, her mind running through all the possible disasters that could have occurred in her absence.
He raised a finger to knock his hat back a little on his head. "Just wanted to let you know that I'll be coming with you tomorrow."
Lindsay's body froze. "But what about—"
"Connor said he could come out and help, Dad until it's all over."
"Brad, you don't have to do that," Lindsay told him, swallowing the lump in her throat.
"Of course I do, Mouse." And with that, he was gone, striding back towards the barn and calling orders to the men lounging around outside.
She watched him until he disappeared inside the barn, then shoved her hands in her pockets and headed for the kitchen. Molly was there and smiled when Lindsay walked in.
"You wanna help me roll out this dough?"
"Sure, let me wash my hands," Lindsay answered quietly, rolling up her sleeves.
Molly was silent until Lindsay stepped up next to her. "Danny get on the plane all right?"
"They don't let you past the security gates anymore. I had to drop him off out front."
Molly's hands never paused in their careful maneuvering of the rolling pin. "I always forget."
Lindsay turned her head to look at her mother. "You asked me a question a couple of weeks ago."
Molly looked at her in surprise. "What question was that?"
"About what happens after the trial."
Molly's eyes widened, and she hurriedly looked back at the nearly flat dough. Lindsay bit her lip, trying to find the right words.
"What happened…changed me. It made me who I am now. And, yes, it changed where I was going in my life and it's why I became a CSI. But having this chapter of my life close isn't going to change who I am. I can't go back to the person I was before…the shooting. And the parts of me that make me love my job are never going to change. I never saw any of my cases as…replacements for this one. There are still people out there who need help to find peace, and I can give them that."
Lindsay let some of the steel drain from her voice. "After the trial ends, I'm going to go back to New York and try to figure out how to live without a vendetta."
Nodding, Molly sniffled quietly. The women were silent for several minutes, the quiet noise of the rolling pin against the dough filling the kitchen.
"Did Brad tell you he's going with you tomorrow?" Molly asked finally.
"Yeah. When did that happen?" Lindsay murmured. Molly just smiled as wide as she could with her trembling lips and turned back to her pie.
A.N. Guys, stop throwing things at me! The reason I decided to stop the story here is because the Montana arc is over. The sequel, Two Steps Back, is appearing in the next couple of days and will continue almost immediately where this story cut off. So, could we all just put the tomatoes away? (looks hopeful)
messermonroe: I'm glad you liked the story. Yes, there will be a sequel. In fact, the first chapter should be posted either tomorrow or Thursday.
Quigon: Ah, Danny. So naïve in the ways of the country.
Miss Higher Power: Thanks so much! I'm so glad the story was believable and realistic given the characters. They're so complex, I was worried I wouldn't do them justice.
Marue61: I'm glad you liked the story. The sequel will be up in the next couple of days. I'm only about a quarter of the way done with it, but I like it so far.
CrazyGabs: Lindsay really is breaking my heart. She's so strong, but so…I don't know. Fragile, maybe? I think Danny is probably the only person who could balance her. He's caring, but not clingy, which is exactly what she needs. Anyway, thanks for reviewing! I hope you make a trip back for the sequel!
scoob2222: Thanks for reviewing! I'm glad you've enjoyed the story. I hope you try out the sequel!
nyakattia: Thanks for reviewing! You understand Gordon so well! I actually have a hard time dealing with him and his issues sometimes, so it's comforting to know that he's not coming across as evil, but relatable. Sometimes I'm shocked that Danny isn't a phantasm straight from my own imaginings of the (not so but almost) perfect guy. But, you're right, we're totally allowed to love him. :-p
qt4good: Home-made ice cream is so good. I'm from a small town originally, and there was this ice cream shop down the street from my house (so dangerous) where they made fresh cookies and cream every day. Memories. I feel for Mrs. Finch, and I'm so glad she set Lindsay free after all this time. It'll take Lindsay awhile to get completely better, but I think she's well on her way.
prplerayne: I love all of Lindsay's family (even Gordon), but I think I love Brad the most. :-p
chili-peppers: Thanks so much for reviewing! I do hope you come back for the sequel. It's kind of sad that I have to say goodbye to the characters I created for Montana; I got a bit attached. :-p
The Little Corinthian: With Danny gone, everything is going to be a bit harder for Lindsay. But I really want her character to be strong enough without him, otherwise, how can she be strong enough with him, you know? Thanks so much for recommending me to your friend! I'm so touched that you like the fic that much. : ) Wow, that's quite a threat. Danny's sexiness is pretty potent stuff. Careful how you wield that. Hehe.
catey123: I'm glad you liked the chapter and the story! I was pretty interested in how Danny and Brad interact, as well. I wanna explore that a bit more. Maybe in the sequel. :-p
RachelHeidi: Thanks so much for the message! I'm glad you enjoyed the story; I hope you come back for the sequel. I, too, wish Anna Belknap's baby had decided to come at a more convenient time for us shippers, but if the end of this season plays out well, I'll be as excited as if it had happened earlier. That's just how an obsessed person rolls, I guess. Anyway, I hope you liked this final chapter and that you try out the first chap of Two Steps Back!
A.N. So, Can't Go Home Again has officially come to its end. I just wanted to make another blanket thank you to everyone who has reviewed. Your encouragement was awesome and touching, really. Thank you!