Ok. So I decided to challenge myself to actually try writing emotion. Warnings for this include potential spoilers through PL, and probably, if I did my job right, ANGST. Oh, and adult content, of course.
THANK YOU, Stayce, for all of the wonderful help and edits.
There is one more companion story, which I have yet to write. But since I wrote this one in a day, it's safe to say the next will be done within the week. Well...if you all think I should write it :)Missing Pieces
2 a.m. Feb 21. 2 days.
The sensation of the bed dipping under an unexpected weight startled me awake. My scream caught somewhere in my throat as I realized it was Ranger, sitting on the edge of the bed, unlacing his boots.
"Go back to sleep, Babe." He said softly, as he stood and peeled his shirt off.
"Just sleep, Steph." He repeated as he stripped down to his boxers. He peeled back the covers and I resisted the urge to run away. What did he want? What was he doing here? He glanced over at my bedside table, where the single, beautiful long stemmed rose he had sent me for Valentines Day sat, a couple of the petals wilting around the edges, but otherwise still strong and beautiful. It had been more than a week since I'd last seen him, in my apartment when he came to tell me he was going out of town and had to talk to me when he got back. I wondered if this was going to be the talk. What was going to be the talk??? I looked away from the rose, to look at Ranger as he stood, hands fisted at his sides, looking down at me. His face was blank.
"Ranger wha-" I was cut off by a single shake of Ranger's head. He sank down onto the bed, gathering me up against him and tucking me into the cradle created by his body, before pulling the blankets over both of us. His heat seeped in, enveloping me in warmth. He smelled wonderful, and felt like heaven. His one arm was underneath me, kind of, the crook of his elbow pillowing my head, his hand coming around to splay across my lower back. His other hand was tracing my ribs, one by one, painstakingly slow.
"Are you ok?" I finally asked. His fingers stilled, and he was silent for a minute. What if he was sick? Why did this feel like an ending? I glanced up at the rose.
"I just need to hold you." He said, at length. His fingers resumed their exploration, as if he was memorizing my body. I pulled back just slightly to study his face. His eyes were closed, his mouth tight. Tension lines marred his face, and he looked like he hadn't slept in a couple of days. Something was wrong. I knew it then to the depth of my being, and suddenly I felt his pain wash over me. And it became mine. I reached up and cupped his cheek with my hand.
"Ranger...Carlos." I whispered. I couldn't finish. I couldn't ask. Suddenly I didn't want to know. His eyes opened, and his gaze pierced mine. He sighed, and rolled onto his back, taking me with him and tucking my head underneath his chin so I couldn't see his face.
"Please, Stephanie. Babe. I just want to hold you." He repeated. "To take the feel of you with me. To remember." His voice was quiet, whisper soft with a hint of sadness and resignation. My heart starting beating so hard and fast that it physically hurt. Something was really, really wrong. Ranger didn't talk like that. Ranger didn't TALK. And now he was waxing eloquence and talking like a lover who was...OMIGOD.
"You're leaving, aren't you?" I said, struggled up and pushing myself up on his chest, to look into his face. It wasn't a question. His eyes were closed and his mouth twitched almost imperceptibly as he fought with himself.
"Yes." He finally said hoarsely. He didn't open his eyes, wouldn't look at me.
"For how long?"
He didn't answer. He just shifted me back down, wrapping me tightly in his arms and rubbing circles on my back. His body had tensed, and he took a ragged breath. And that's when I realized he wasn't coming back.
"Why?" I whispered, as I fought against the tears flooding my eyes. I didn't want them to fall. I didn't want to be so weak, not until he was gone. I didn't want him to know how badly he was going to hurt me.
He took another ragged, shuddering breath. "The government called me in." He whispered into my hair. "I'm out of the service, a free man. But they called me in anyway. I couldn't say no."
I stiffened, and tried to push myself back up on his chest to blast him for not just saying no. My dad taught me you always have a choice. ALWAYS. His arms tightened around me before I could move, and he anchored me down. "They threatened Rangeman." He finally said.
"And they're keeping you for the rest of your life?" I asked, choking on a sob, still trying to keep my emotions in check. I wish I had half of Ranger's ability to hide himself. I wish I knew how to not bare my soul.
"Just for this mission."
"Then why won't you be coming home?" I asked. I wiggled out of his grasp and propped myself up on his chest again. His face wasn't blank anymore, and when he opened his eyes, I saw the answer deep in the swirling black pools of emotion gazing back at me. "Oh no. They can't." They wouldn't. "They want you to- They can't. No." I shook my head hard, over and over again, out of control of my actions until his hand cupped my cheek and stopped it. A tear escaped despite my efforts to keep them in, and he brushed it away with his thumb, his owns eyes shining suspiciously. Not that he'd ever shed a tear. "They can't tell you that you have to kill yourself, for them!" I ground out, my voice shrill.
He shook his head. "It's not like that. But it's extremely unlikely the team will get out alive." It was a suicide mission. Plain and simple. Whether it was by his own hand or not. I couldn't control my breathing anymore, it was erratic and panicked. Ranger's hand was rubbing circles across my shoulder blades and I could barely feel it. My arms shook with the effort of holding myself up, and I watched as he closed his eyes again, shielding himself, anguish written across his expression. "Babe, please. I only have tonight left in Trenton."
I slowly collapsed back down on his chest. This was it. My last night with him, and then he would be lost to me, probably forever. There was no way I could shove him out of my bed, but I was a bit surprised that all he wanted to do was hold me. I needed to hold him, too, though, now. I didn't know how I'd manage without him. I loved him, even though I've never found a way to tell him. But I wanted him to have more than this to take with him. I wanted more than this to remember. I couldn't bear... I squirmed loose of his arms again and felt Ranger suppress a sigh.
"Babe." He whispered, trying to settle me back down. No way. I had to do this now, or I would lose my nerve, and then lose our last chance, forever. I wiggled until I was braced up on his chest and looked down at him again. His eyes were still closed, and didn't open as I cupped his cheek with my hand. He turned his head into my touch, just a bit. I took a steadying breath, leaned down, and touched my lips ever-so-softly to his. I kissed him once, twice, then moved to kiss his cheek, his eyes, his forehead.
"Stephanie." He exhaled. His hand came up to tangle in my hair, moving me back to his mouth. I kissed him again, and traced his lips with my tongue. He turned his head sideways, and opened one eye to gaze into mine. "Are you sure?" He asked.
I didn't trust my voice; I just turned his head back towards me and kissed him again. I trailed kisses down his face, his neck, his shoulders. I made my way down his body, creating my own memory of him. Eventually, he tugged gently on my hair, and I made my way back up to his mouth. This time, when our lips met, he kissed me back with more emotion than I'd ever felt in my life. He rolled us in one easy motion so that he was on top of me, his weight pressing me into the mattress, covering me completely. It felt so good, so right.
"Are you sure?" He asked again, breaking the kiss and staring intently into my eyes, his gaze searching.
"Y-ye-es." I said, my voice shaky as I fought my emotions. He seemed to sense that the hesitation wasn't in my decision, but my ability to speak, and acquiesced when I pulled his head down, and his lips met mine, kissing me with exquisite tenderness. It was his turn to travel my body, making love to every inch of me, removing our clothes as he went. When he finally slid inside of me, he stopped, gazing down at me for a long moment before he started to move with agonizing slowness, loving me tenderly and completely. And through it all, he never stopped kissing me.
I woke up early, the first rays of morning light filtering in through my window. They landed softly on Ranger's cheek, shining, accentuating his features as he slept. He was laying half on top of me, our bodies a tangle of arms and legs. He was still inside of me. His breathing changed, and his eyelids twitched as he woke. He started to harden and I automatically clenched around him. I tipped my head up, and my lips found his. He made a humming sound in the back of his throat as he came to full awareness and slipped his tongue into my mouth to dance with mine. We made love again, slowly and gently. Afterwards, he rolled onto his back and cradled me against him, whispering softly in Spanish. There was no afterglow, just sadness. His watch beeped, and he groaned.
"How much more time do you have?" I asked. Maybe he set his watch so he could go back to Rangeman and get ready. Maybe he could shower with me here. He thought for a minute, before answering.
"A little bit." He admitted. "I'm going to Newark to see my parents today." I tightened my arm, flung over his waist, trying to keep him with me. He hugged me closer and kissed my forehead. We held each other for a long while, savoring the feel. I tried to pretend this was forever, that he wasn't leaving. I didn't let myself think. It was easier. Denial kept me from falling apart.
Eventually he sighed, another very un-Ranger-like thing to do, and pulled away just a little bit. His lips touched my forehead, then he kissed me, long and lingering. "I love you." He whispered against my lips, before pulling away. He got up and walked over to my dresser, where his clothes sat, neatly folded. I watched as he reached for his shirt, and then caught sight of the framed picture just behind them. He picked it up, staring at it for a long minute. It was a picture of Ranger and me, standing by his Porsche outside the bonds office. It wasn't anything special, not really, just the two of us in partial-profile. But Lula had managed to take it at the perfect angle, and I must have been teasing him because I was looking up at him, and my eyes danced even in the photograph. And on Ranger's face, well, I'm pretty sure it was lust, but you never know for sure with Ranger. He put the picture down, braced his hands on the dresser and stood, head bowed.
I hadn't managed to rein in my emotion this time, and I got up, tears streaming down my face, and wrapped my arms around Ranger's waist, molding myself to his back. I rested my head against the back of his neck, and squeezed my arms.
"Can you get a copy of that made?" He asked, his voice hoarse, each word deliberate. "Leave it with Tank to bring when he drives me to the airport."
I took a shuddering breath and pulled my hand from around his waist to swipe the tears away. I sniffled, before wrapping my arm back around him. I splayed both hands across his stomach, memorizing the feel of him again. "When do you leave?" I finally asked, my voice barely a whisper. I moved my head over to his shoulder, leaning my head sideways against his neck.
He met my eyes in the mirror. "I'm flying to Miami tonight to see Julie and Rachel, and finalize some stuff with Rangeman. I become the government's early on the 22nd." He let go of my dresser, and covered my hands with his.
"Take me with you." I demanded. "Please."
"PLEASE. Let me be with you."
"It's only two nights."
"It's better than none." I argued.
"What about Joe?"
I opened my mouth, and closed it again. Ranger went to step out of my arms, but I tightened them convulsively with a smothered "No." He waited while I tried to get my thoughts together. Joe and I... we were something... I don't know what... as of about four days ago. Not completely off-again, but not on-again either. The switch was kind of stuck in the middle of on and off, and he was out of town again anyhow.
"He's out of town."
"I don't know." I finally admitted in a whisper. "I want to go with you." I needed as much time as I could have. I never wanted to be clingy, but I never thought our time would be so finite. It was worse than when Scrog shot him. Way worse. This... this was shattering.
Ranger nodded, and reached for his phone. "Get a second ticket to Miami. See if we can fly out tomorrow morning. Stephanie. No." He told whoever was on the other end, probably Tank. He hung up after the No, and turned to face me. "We'll go shower at the apartment. I need to pick my stuff up." And, I knew without him saying that he had a bigger shower and we'd both fit in it easier. I quickly packed a bag with enough clothes for four days, just in case. Ranger sifted through my closet and pulled out a sexy black dress, before eyeing my shoe collection. I stepped over and pulled a couple of pairs out, holding them up for his inspection. Silently, he took a pair from me and added everything to my pile.
On the way out, he grabbed Rex. "Are we taking him?"
"Tank can take care of him. Unless you want to drop him off with Mary Lou."
I thought about it for a minute. Mary Lou was my best friend, but I didn't think I could face her, or the Burg, or anyone else right now. I was too raw, and it would take away from what little time I had left with Ranger. I shook my head. "Tank is fine."
8 p.m. Feb 20 1.5 days
The dash of the Porsche was lit, casting an intimate glow around us. I loved this car at night, I thought, as Ranger drove out of town. We were heading away from Trenton; I had no idea where we were going, but I didn't feel right about asking. I didn't really care, as long as we were together. Ranger was silent, in his zone. It was much like every other time we'd traveled together, except for my hand. Shortly after pulling away from his parents' house, Ranger had reached over and taken my hand, twining our fingers together and placing them on his thigh. His thumb rubbed circles over my wrist as he drove.
It had been uncomfortable for me, meeting his family in such a situation. It was, however, worth it to be near Ranger. He hadn't been kidding when he had said that he came from a large family. His mother was on the phone within minutes of our arrival, and a couple of hours later his entire family had shown up. His sisters kept trying to get me alone and question me, especially Celia, but Ranger wouldn't let me out of his reach. He told Celia to have dinner with me sometime in the future if she wanted to grill me, and that was the end of discussion...well...after Celia smacked him across the head.
"I want you near." He had whispered to me after she walked off. His family proved to be wonderful and loving, albeit loud and raucous. He wasn't kidding, either, when he said that they hit each other on a regular basis. His mother had smacked him HARD upside the head when he told her he would be away on a mission of indeterminate length. She blasted him for leaving me behind, and not staying home and settling down. I opened my mouth to defend him when Ranger squeezed my hand and shook his head at me. He never did tell them he didn't think he'd make it home.
"I don't tell them much about work." Ranger said softly, as he read my mind. "They'll be happier not knowing." He paused, before squeezing my hand and continuing. "They liked you. You'll be hearing from Celia."
I wasn't sure how I felt about that. I liked Celia, and was looking forward to getting to know her better, in one way, but I also wasn't sure I was comfortable getting close to Ranger's family, when he'd never really... shared his life. And why wouldn't he tell them he didn't think he was coming back, when he had told me? Except, I remembered, he hadn't told me. I'd figured it out. Did that mean? My thoughts were interrupted as Ranger pulled up in front of a smallish A-frame house, and parked. We were in the middle of nowhere, I'd lost track of how long ago we'd left the city behind. He got out, and came around to open my door. Then he grabbed our bags, slipped my hand into his, and we walked together towards the house.
Ranger unlocked the door, and stepped back for me to go in first. I walked in and got out of the doorway so Ranger could follow. We slipped off our shoes and he nudged me further in, past a kitchen and into a living room. The flooring was all hardwood and the setting...comfortable.
"A safe house?" I asked him, but I had a funny feeling this was too...comfortable... to be a safe house. Cozy-comfortable, instead of just livable-comfortable. Ranger's apartment was livable-comfortable, it just wasn't cozy. This was cozy. It didn't feel like a safe house. I turned to look at Ranger and found him already watching me, something in his expression making me think he was waiting for me to figure out some big puzzle. I glanced around again and my eyes settled on a picture of Julie. I spun back to Ranger.
His eyes danced and he grinned at me.
"Isn't the batcave forever?" I asked, as he stepped towards me.
"Yes." He told me. I stared at him. If the batcave was forever, then does that mean he's offering me forever? But he's leaving in less than 2 days. How can we have forever when he's leaving? My face must have shown my feelings, again, because he cupped my cheek in his hand and kissed me softly. "Don't think about it." He said softly. "Tonight, it's just us."
Just us. No intrusions. No distractions. No real life. Pretend he's not leaving. I knew, looking into his eyes, that he would be doing the same thing. I don't know how I knew, but I did. Maybe I was starting to ESP him. I'm not sure. I don't think, maybe, that it matters. Ranger nudged me in the direction of the bedroom. I glanced around and took in the king size bed...and the picture of me on his bedside table. He put our bags down, then dug into mine, coming out with the dress and shoes he'd packed for me. He placed the dress on the bed and the shoes on the floor, kissed my cheek, and left the room.
I stripped quickly and shimmied into the dress. There wasn't much I could do with my hair, so I slipped on the shoes and walked to the doorway. I leaned on the doorframe and watched Ranger's backside as he selected a CD and popped it into the CD player. He turned around as strains of a song filled the room. I watched as his eyes traveled over my body, and darkened. He stretched a hand out towards me in invitation, and I moved to join him.
"Dance with me." He whispered, as the music began in earnest. I stepped into his arms as my mind registered that the song playing was an instrumental version of Always on my Mind. We didn't so much dance as sway, our bodies molded together, holding onto each other as if we were drowning. I breathed in Ranger's scent and ran a hand through his hair as he kissed my temple.
We didn't get through the first song before I kicked off my shoes, so that I could rest my head on his shoulder properly, burying my face in his neck. His arms tightened around me and he rested his head on top of mine as the songs changed, and another old song I recognized filled the room. Beautiful instrumental strains of The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face started, as we swayed along the living room in the dim lighting of one small lamp. As we danced, pressed tightly together, Ranger maneuvered us slowly towards the bedroom. We were near the doorway when the song was about at its halfway mark. Ranger pulled away slightly, moved one hand to tip my chin up, and claimed my lips in a kiss born of tender emotion. Still kissing me, he continued into the bedroom, never breaking the slow swaying movement of our dance. It was dark in the room, the only light available was filtered in from the living room. As he kissed me, Ranger's hands roamed over my back. He slid the zipper down and then massaged my shoulders as he pushed the straps away. The dress floated to the ground and pooled at my feet. I slid my hands under his sweater, feeling his muscles quiver under my touch. I lifted my hands, raising his sweater. He broke the kiss long enough to help me pull it over his head, and the sweater fell onto my dress as he claimed my lips again. We kissed and touched as the rest of our clothes melted away, and then he was lifting me, placing me on the bed as if I was fragile porcelain.
Instead of joining me, he stood for a long moment, looking down on me, a half-smile playing on his lips. "I've waited a long time to see you on my bed, like that." He said, his voice husky with desire. I reached out a hand and he took it, pressing my palm to his lips, then kissing the pad of each finger. He settled on the bed with me, and we made love long into the night.
I finally fell asleep with my head on his chest, his heartbeat steady against my cheek.
4 p.m. Feb 21, 14.5 hours
"Hey. Let's go there!" I tugged on Ranger's hand and pointed at a photo booth. It was one of those ones where you could get a strip of pictures of yourself. We'd been walking hand in hand down the Miami Beach, barefoot, our shoes in our free hands. Ranger looked down at me for a second, and then nodded.
A few minutes later, with Ranger's pocket change somewhat lighter, we ducked out of the booth, two strips of pictures in my hands. He caught me around the waist, and pulled me against him.
"Let's see." He requested. I separated the two strips and looked down, starting to giggle. They were great pictures, little black and whites ranging from a serious faced Ranger and a smiling me, to Ranger grinning lecherously down at me - he was teasing me when that picture was shot, to a few that were surprisingly seductive. I mentally started choosing the ones I wanted to keep, when I realized that that was being selfish. Ranger was the one heading off to some unknown location, facing his life. He needed the memories as much as I did, and it was selfish of me to not allow him first pick. Especially since I'd choose all of the most incredible ones.
"Which ones do you want?" I asked.
"Doesn't matter." Ranger answered from over my shoulder. His arm was still around my waist, his hand splayed across my stomach. "That one, for sure." He pointed to one, taken right after he had blindsided me with a kiss. The look in my eyes was probably sex personified, to Ranger. I started to rip it off, when his hand came up and stopped me. "Actually, I've a better idea." He said, and we continued down the beach.
Ranger found a store with a digital printer, and we got a second copy of the two strips printed, along with a copy of the picture I had of Ranger and I. As we continued down the beach, Ranger slipped his arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. I leaned my head on his shoulder as we walked. He had finished his business at Rangeman by noon, it had been easy given that he wasn't involved in the daily runnings of the Miami office anyhow. Then we spent the afternoon with Julie, after Ranger told Rachel he was leaving. She was a bright child, cheerful; with a forceful personality that was so much like Ranger it was scary. I could tell Ranger was still thinking of her now, even though we'd met Rachel and dropped her off more than a half hour ago.
"You're proud of her, I hope." I told him. I knew he'd know I was talking about Julie.
"Rachel's raised her well." Ranger responded. That wasn't what I meant, and he knew it. But I guess he isn't willing to talk about it. "Yeah." He finally said. "I'm proud of her."
We walked in silence, each to our own thoughts, eventually reaching the small beach house Ranger owned. I kept my thoughts mostly blank; I couldn't handle the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me every time my mind remembered why I was in Miami with Ranger. As we approached the door, Ranger stopped and turned to me.
"Do you want to eat in, or go out?" He asked.
"Eat in." I answered right away. I didn't want to share him.
"Only you, Babe." He said with a small shake of his head, before letting us into the beach house. I knew what he meant; most women would have jumped at being taken to a classy restaurant for supper. But with so little time left, all I wanted was him to myself. Ranger ordered a pizza, and we cuddled on the couch in silence while we waited for it to be delivered.
After we ate and cleaned up the kitchen, Ranger reached into his pockets and turned to me. "The batcave." He handed me a set of keys. "And this house." He handed me another. "The keys to the cars are in the 7th floor apartment. Anything you need, it's yours." He told me. "Tank is running Rangeman. If you need help or have a problem, go to him. And be careful. Try to stay safe." He finished. I nodded, and he reached, taking me into his arms and kissing me.
We didn't sleep that night. We fell into the bed before the sun set, and made love and held each other until dawn.
6:15 Feb 23rd. 15 minutes.
"Don't get up, Babe." He whispered, kissing me as he climbed out of bed. I watched as he dressed, his movements robotic. This was it. In a few short minutes he'd be walking out of this house, and out of my life. I had my return ticket to Trenton for this afternoon, and a Rangeman employee was going to drive me to the airport. Just me. Ranger wouldn't be with me. Probably, I would never see him again. I had to see him off. I lurched out of bed and into the bathroom, did my business quickly and pulled Ranger's robe on. I stepped out as he snapped his gunbelt on with a click that echoed painfully through the room.
My feet were frozen to the ground, and I couldn't go over to him, no matter how hard I willed myself to. He finished checking his gear, and I saw a glimpse of the photographs from yesterday as he flipped quicky through his wallet before tucking it into a pocket. Then he looked up at me, and our eyes locked. My heart was beating violently in my throat, and I couldn't swallow around it. I couldn't breathe. I tried to tell him I loved him, but I couldn't speak.
And then I heard it.
The vehicle pulling up to the curb.
In two strides, Ranger was in front of me, crushing me up against him, kissing me. The kiss was hard and desperate, and filled with his own agony. "I love you." He rasped, his voice harsh and blunt. Then he turned, walked out of the bedroom. I listened as his footsteps receded, and the door slammed shut. I still couldn't move. I turned my head, and watched out the window as he strode down the walkway, his steps evenly paced.
Finally, I found my feet, and before I knew it I was flying, out of the room, through the house, and out the door into the chilly morning. "R-Ranger!" I called, but my voice wouldn't come out any higher than a whisper. I couldn't get his attention, I couldn't call to him. I gasped out a sob. I needed to get his attention, I needed him to come back so I could tell him. How could I do that if I couldn't call out to him, if he couldn't hear me? Desperation pushed me to try again. "Ranger!" I pictured myself yelling, and it came out loud enough for him to hear me. His pace slowed, but he didn't turn around.
He just shook his head. "I can't, Babe. I have to go."
No. He had to stop, and wait, just for a minute. I had to tell him. I swiped angrily at the tears that I couldn't hold at bay anymore. "I love you." I called out, my voice breaking on a sob.
Ranger stopped. Turned. And then suddenly he was in front of me, pulling me tightly into his arms. "Say it again." He demanded, his voice a hoarse, ragged whisper.
"I love you." I mumbled into his neck. I breathed in his scent, as he shifted me slightly to look down into my eyes. "I love you." I said again. His eyes shone with tears he refused to let himself shed. He brushed my hair away from my face, and claimed my lips in one, last, searing kiss. My hand moved up to cup his cheek while we kissed. And then he was stepping back, turning his face into my hand, and kissing my palm.
"Stephanie. I love you, Babe." He whispered, hugging me tightly to him one last time.
"I...love you...too. Stay safe." I fought my own voice, as it threatened to fail me again.
Ranger took a deep breath, then stepped out of my arms and turned. He walked to the vehicle without a backwards glance, but I understood. He opened the door and looked back at me one last time, for the briefest moment, before stepping into the vehicle and closing the door behind himself.
Tears flowing freely down my face, I wrapped my arms around myself and watched as the vehicle drove away, receding in the distance. I knew, to the depths of my heart, that behind the tinted black windows, Ranger was staring back and watching me, too.
Finally, minutes after the vehicle had disappeared, minutes that felt like hours, I turned and walked back into the house. Back in the bedroom, I let Ranger's robe drop to the floor, and I slipped the t-shirt he wore the day before over my head. I crawled back into bed, burying my face in his pillow, breathing in the last traces of his scent that I would ever have. I didn't sleep. And I didn't know how to pick up the pieces left behind.