To NicolinaN and Bunnies-Made-Me-Do-It, this would be the throwing of the guantlet.

To all parties unaffected by the challenge and innocent bystanders in general, this is the product of an evil plot bunny, and my insistence to give Jackson a happy ending, however one may perceive that. Some find happiness in fulfillment of dreams, some find happiness in completion of tasks, some find happiness in a Twix candy bar. This is my idea of what makes Jackson happy. Rating for language.

My Happy Ending

Jackson grinned as he pulled his car quietly into the driveway.

He did it. He fuckin' did it!

The Keefe job two years ago had screwed his life up. Screwed it up bad. He had waited until Joe had pulled Lisa out of the entryway, away from the sight of his broken body laying on the floor, before gathering his last reserves of strength and sliding out of the house, limping across the street, and into the tan-colored Buick he had 'borrowed' at the airport. As the cop cars squealed around the corner when he slid out of his parking spot along the shaded street, he grinned, even being bold enough to move over at the last minute and put his emergency flashers on, like any good motorist would. Feeling especially proud of himself, he even hammed it up a bit by pretending to rubberneck for a few seconds before casually continuing down the street and leaving the subdivision. After that, though, things went downhill. His employers were none-too-pleased about his very obvious, very public fuck up, and had kept him alive only for the pleasure of seeing him in agony from his wounds before coming to a decision on what to do with their fallen angel. Not being one for patience, Jackson decided he didn't want to stick around to see how the story ended. He'd seen that movie before, and there was a line that contained swimmin' and fishes that pretty much summed it all up. Call him a sap, but he liked the stories with happy endings.

And oh, how sweet the ending was for him now. He closed his car door quietly, not wanting to wake up any slumbering residents, especially the two in the house he was getting ready to enter. A quick flick of his wrist, and the door unlocked as Jackson shoved the key back into his pocket and opened the front door. The scent was familiar. It smelled of Lisa, it smelled of a real life.

Lisa hadn't been hard to track down. What had been hard, was to track her down before his former employers got to her first. But Jackson was a master at stealth. Blending in and going undetected was a specialty of his, and he played the card at every opportunity. He spent weeks watching her, investigating her every habit, every acquaintance, and in the end, he had overlooked one simple detail that had dried the ink on his death warrant. He wouldn't make the same mistake twice.

So, this time, when he found her, he made sure she was alone. He made sure he had her absolute, undivided attention. He didn't scare her with half-empty threats against her family members, or co-workers, or friends. No, this time, Jackson laid out the truth about her situation. She was the one whose life was hanging on the line. Hers, and only hers. And if she didn't comply to a fuckin' T with everything he told her to do, she would end up very, very dead.

And it worked. It worked because they both nearly ended up with a smattering of bullets across their chests as some random gang drive-by squealed past their location, and the close call, combined with the realization that it could've very easily have been a trained sniper from his company, armed with a single shot, scared the hell out of her.

Jackson walked quietly through her living room now, being so bold as to slip his shoes off onto the plush carpet, pushing them up against the back of the couch. He didn't want to make a single sound as he headed down the hallway.

Lisa had changed from their close encounter when he had given her the ultimatum. Although she did everything he asked -- and for a few weeks, it worked -- it wasn't long before Jackson's disappearance became a hot topic at his previous place of employment. Instead of following his orders reluctantly, Lisa clung to him for guidance as the hit attempts began. An inconvenient car explosion at a gas station outside of Charleston turned into a near hit-and-run in New York. Then, it became a 'tractor-trailer spill' on I-74 that they had narrowly avoided. Then, it was a shot through a hotel room window that shattered his last nerve. It was no longer about his plans for what he was going to do to Lisa to make her pay. It became the need to save their lives, day in, and day out.

But, within the past year, a lot of things happened that neither of them had expected. A slip-up in his employer's database had lost all the tracking information on Jackson and Lisa. All of their license plates, social security numbers, credit card information, everything ... all gone in a fraction of a second. Along with 3,728 other clients' information. The scramble to get their affairs in order caused his employers to put the two of them on the back burner. Jackson finally was able to focus on what the hell to do with Lisa.

He crept down the hallway, looking through each of the doors that he passed, searching for any signs of occupants in the rooms. Finding none, he moved to the staircase, knowing the fulfillment of his plans lay upstairs.

Lisa had fought him for a while after the meltdown at his old job. Until Jackson reminded her that, because of his quick thinking, they were still alive. She had grumbled about it being his fault they were in trouble to begin with, which he stated was still under debate, but calmed down in a month. Still keeping themselves under the radar had caused fights between them, which were quickly mended. But high-stress situations opened up unusual opportunities for their occupants. They had seen a meteor shower out in a little town in Arizona. A trip past Graceland added a pair of rhinestone Elvis shades to Jackson's collection of sunglasses. A need to change their appearance turned Lisa into a blonde with a layered bob, which Jackson found sexy as hell. A night without electricity in a seaside hotel caused their lips to meet for the first time, although completely by accident. A quick hideout in a farmer's market in Oklahoma provided a chance for them to 'look like a couple' and hold hands while evading the police. A wrong turn led them down a dusty, unpaved road between wheat fields one golden, late afternoon in Kansas. Deeanna Carter's Strawberry Wine playing on the radio led Lisa to smile and begin crooning along. The vision of Lisa, with her feet propped on the dash, her arm hanging out the window, and the golden sunlight streaming through her newly-blonde, freshly-cut hair while she sang along caused Jackson to stop the car and ask for a dance. The dance led to another kiss. The kiss led to a heated make-out session. The make-out session led to the first time he had actually made love to a woman. It wasn't the hard, fast, wham-bam-thank-you-ma'am he had grown accustomed to from one-night stands in foreign cities across the world. It was him, and it was Lisa, in the backseat of a pick-up truck in rural Kansas, Strawberry Wine floating across the airwaves, dandelion tufts floating past the windows on the lazy afternoon breeze, and it was gentle, and it was sweet. It was theirs.

It was eleven months ago. Things had changed between the two of them since then. A lot. Changed so much, in fact, that it brought him here, to her house, in the middle of the night, to finish his plans. He reached the second floor landing, and strode purposefully down the hallway. He was silent, efficient in his gait. A glimpse into the guest bedroom came up empty. He looked into the next room, stopping when he saw the occupant. With a smirk, he entered, careful not to bump the door that he knew creaked. The room was a shade that could practically be considered off-white, though he wasn't quite sure if it was quite rosey enough to be light pink. Damn women and their effeminate colors. A soft sigh told him that his target had just begun to wake.

"Hey there, sweetie-girl," Jackson mumbled, gently lifting the tiny infant from her crib. She moaned softly, but her protests were short-lived. "You up in the middle of the night again, huh? Thought you had that 'sleeping through the night' thing down, pat?" She whimpered slightly, and Jackson, fearing an outburst, rubbed the back of her head gently, smoothing down the fine layer of dark hair that covered her head. "Shh, daddy's gotcha, it's okay," he crooned, kissing the top of her head as he slowly made his way back into the hallway, patting her back rhythmically as he made his way toward the bedroom.

Lisa was half-covered by the blankets, and Jackson could see, even in the dim light, that she still had her hand splayed protectively across her belly, despite having given birth to their daughter a month ago. Her slumber was that of a new mother's, light and easily-interrupted, and when Jackson entered the room with the baby in his arms, she opened her eyes and lifted her head.

"Hey," she mumbled groggily. "I take it the security firm position fell through?" she asked. When Jackson nodded and let a wide grin spread across his face, Lisa mimicked the expression. "Babe, I'm so proud of you! Congratulations!" she whispered excitedly.

Jackson smiled again. "Thanks, Leese," he whispered back. The little girl stirred in his arms again. "Here, hold Addie for a sec, while I get changed." He passed the half-asleep infant to Lisa, who sat up and gently accepted the tiny offering. Jackson quickly changed out of his suit and into a pair of boxers and a t-shirt.

"Was she crying?" Lisa asked, suddenly afraid that she hadn't heard her child's cries. Jackson shook his head as he slid into bed next to her.

"No, she just woke up when I walked by her room." He laid back and took the little girl from Lisa's arms, resting her against his chest. Lisa smiled at the sight of their almost-newborn daughter, laying on her stomach against Jackson's chest, with her head tucked neatly under his chin. "You and Addison both, I don't know how you two do it, but you're the only two people who can instantly wake up when I'm close by, even if I'm not making a sound. You'd think I was walking by with bells on or something."

Lisa laughed and turned to curl up against Jackson. His free arm wrapped around her shoulder, while his other hand rubbed up and down Addison's back in slow, smooth strokes. "Women's intuition, maybe," Lisa mused.

Jackson smiled. "She was just born a few weeks ago, Leese. Let her be my little girl for a little bit longer, before you go promoting her to full-fledged womanhood," he joked. Lisa smiled as Addie wrapped her tiny fingers around Lisa's pinky, clenching and unclenching her fist in her sleep.

"It doesn't matter how old she is, Jackson, she'll always be her daddy's little girl. Trust me, you married one." Jackson smiled and inhaled the milky, powdery scent of his daughter, commiting it to memory. He felt a tightening in his chest as he looked down at Lisa and Addison, both curled against him without a care in the world, other than that he keep holding them.

"I finally did it, Lisa," he whispered. Lisa hummed questioningly.

"Hm? Did what, Jackson?" she mumbled against his shirt. He gave her a light squeeze and kissed her forehead, and then kissed the top of Addison's head again.

"I made my own happy ending." Lisa had heard that familiar clenching in his voice only once before. Four weeks ago, when their daughter was born, and he saw her for the first time, after nine long months of waiting. The nurses had laid Addison on Lisa's chest after proclaiming the new arrival a girl. After a tense moment, a squealing cry erupted from the tiny, wrinkled form, and Jackson had let out a sigh of relief against Lisa's still-blonde locks. He looked down at the tiny writhing newborn in Lisa's arms, and father and daughter locked eyes form a brief second before the latter closed hers. But Jackson never averted his gaze. "She's absolutely beautiful, Lisa," he had managed to rasp out, before crying for the first time in his adult life. Looking up at Jackson now, she saw that his lower lip was trembling as he held the two new Rippners, one Rippner by marriage, one Rippner by birth. He had a family after nearly fifteen years of being alone.

"It's not an ending, Jackson. It's just a new chapter."