See my note at the end. Enjoy!!

"Fire and Ice"

Conclusion

Three Months Later

Waiting

"Ya nervous?"

Callie was snapped from her reverie as she heard Vanessa's voice. Vanessa, who had been quietly sitting with her in the limousine for the last few minutes while her other bridesmaids and her parents went inside to the waiting area at the front of the church, now reached over to her and took her hand. Callie gave it a quick squeeze back.

Smiling at her friend, Callie let out a deep breath before replying. "I can't believe I'm shaking already. So, yeah—I'd say I'm nervous."

"Don't worry," Vanessa relied seriously. "I'm sure if Frank tries to run Joe will tackle him for you. It might get a little messy, but Frank won't leave that church."

Despite herself, Callie laughed. Then her face turned more serious. "I just can't believe that it's here already," she managed, and blinked back tears. "Oh!" She reached for a tissue that Vanessa promptly handed to her and dabbed at her eyes. "I can't believe it. I didn't think I'd cry at all today."

Vanessa laughed. "You have all day to cry," she replied, and reached over and hugged Callie tightly. Blinking back her own tears, she tried to hold herself together for Callie. This was IT. After years together, a long engagement, and more drama than she could have ever thought possible, Frank and Callie were getting married today. Vanessa was overjoyed—for all of them.

"I guess it's now or never," Callie replied. It was all she could manage. She had told herself time and time again that she would—she could—hold it together on her wedding day. But so much had happened; her emotions were running rampant and she could barely control herself. Frank—HER Frank-- would be her husband today. After all they had been through, it seemed fitting that they had planned their wedding on New Year's Eve. It was going to be a new day, a new start, in every way possible.

"Cal?" Vanessa interjected.

"Yeah?" Callie whispered.

Vanessa reached over and again took Callie's hand. "I love you."

Callie smiled and didn't let go. "I love you, too. I'm glad that you'll be there with me at the altar," she replied, and started to get up.

"Well, I'd say you're just about ready to become Mrs. Frank Hardy, then," Vanessa answered, as Callie nodded and slowly made her way from the car.

Vanessa watched as Callie met her father on the church steps. He was absolutely beaming as he reached for her arm and spoke quietly to her.

Vanessa stopped just to take in the moment. They were all here; they were all okay. Callie looked absolutely stunning; in all her life, Vanessa didn't think she had seen a more beautiful bride. Smiling at the memory, Vanessa recalled how she had talked Callie into going into New York to pick out the perfect dress with all of her bridesmaids, friends from high school and college. They'd had a blast that weekend, taking in a Broadway play, going to a club, just being together. But Callie hadn't been able to find THE dress.

They had gone to various bridal stores, but Callie had been insistent that she wanted an understated, elegant gown with long sleeves for her winter wedding. While it would have been a very "Callie" thing to buy, Vanessa and the other bridesmaids had insisted on Callie trying every other style; mermaid dresses, form fitting ones, A-lines… the selection had been endless. And, while she had looked lovely in all of them, nothing had really stood out.

Then, Vanessa had seen it. It was the showcase gown by a top designer in the Kleinfeld's wedding store. Just passing the window, all the girls had stopped… well, all except for Callie.

"What?" Callie had asked. "Is everything okay?"

"You're trying this on," Vanessa and Liz Webling, a close friend, had exclaimed simultaneously.

"Trying what—" Callie began, and then had burst out laughing when she saw the dress. "Are you KIDDING me? Let's go."

"You're trying it on," Liz reiterated.

"Cal, it's PERFECT. It's gorgeous. It's amazing. It's--" began Callie's friend Donna, a sorority sister from college.

"It's HUMONGOUS!" Callie interjected. "Are you girls serious? I'd take up the whole church with that thing! It's the entire opposite dress of what I've been looking for. Plus…" she peered in the window. "Oh, yes. It's 22,500."

"Maybe they'd knock off the 500," Liz added with a wry smile.

"Come on!" Vanessa interjected. "Try it on. You know you can't afford it, but maybe that STYLE of dress would appeal to you."

As much as Callie had tried to resist, Vanessa and the others had dragged her into the store. Vanessa knew that the woman in charge of appointments probably shouldn't have let Callie try it on. The dress was the showcase piece. Maybe it was the fact that the store wasn't as busy as usual. Maybe it was the glance at Callie's flawless three- carat engagement ring. Vanessa didn't know what it was, but something about them must have seemed serious enough, must have implied that they had enough money, to try on the dress.

As soon as she emerged from the dressing room, it seemed like the store stood still. Other brides and passersby stopped to look, and Vanessa felt tears spring to her eyes. Callie looked incredible. The dress was big; very big, but it was breathtaking. The simple bodice showcased Callie's perfect figure, and the bottom exploded into layers and layers of satin fabric bunched together. The waist was accentuated with crystals that were found only again on the sweetheart neckline and the off the shoulder sleeves. Callie looked like the model bride that all little girls aspired to be. As grandiose as the dress was, it had an elegance about it that was unquestionable. Classic and unexpected. Just like Callie.

Even Callie, when she looked in the mirror, seemed surprised by the effect.

The only disappointment that day had been when Callie had taken off the dress, thanked the salesperson, and began to head out of the store. That was when the clerk told Callie that, after the designer showcase, that premier gown would be put up for a drawing for some lucky bride. Callie had just smiled, but Vanessa had, unbeknownst to her, stopped to enter Callie in the drawing.

Some months had passed, and Callie had tried on dozens of gowns but still hadn't purchased one. Nothing had compared to that day in New York. And then, in July, right before the nightmare case had begun, Callie had been given a phone call; she had won the drawing.

Fate had shined upon her. All they had had to do was to find the perfect veil, shoes, and accessories. To that end, Callie wore a delicate bracelet that Vanessa had given her the night before, at the rehearsal dinner, that said simply, "Sisters are forever."

Now, as Vanessa left the car and lined up to take her place among the bridesmaids to walk down the aisle, she couldn't help but to smile at the thought of what Frank was about to see………..

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooxxxxxxx

"There's still time to bail," Joe teased his brother as they stood together in the back room of the church. The ceremony was to begin in less than ten minutes and Frank's other ushers were busy escorting last minute guests into the now-packed church. The murmurs had begun that the bride was arriving, and everyone was getting ready in anticipation as cameras started emerging everywhere.

Frank smiled and raised an eyebrow. "Do all guys give that warning to each other before they get married?" he asked.

Joe laughed. "It's not a warning, Frank. Think of it more as a 'friendly reminder.' It's a guy's job to look out for his fellow man," he replied in answer.

"Wow. There are a lot of people out there." Frank glanced through the almost-closed door into the church.

"Well, you're having an awesome band, tons of food and an open bar on New Year's Eve, so hey—I'd come, too," Joe answered with a twinkle in his eye.

"Do you have the rings?" Frank asked, ignoring his brother.

"Oh crap!" Joe responded in fake horror. "I think I lost them somewhere between the fourteenth and fifteenth time you asked me that." Seeing Frank's nervousness, Joe's eyes softened. "Relax. Everything will be great; believe me." He patted Frank on the shoulder.

Frank turned to him and nodded. Then, slowly, a smile spread across his face and he reached over and squeezed Joe's shoulder. "I know it will. Thanks for being here with me."

"Well, of course. I'll get a first peek at Vanessa; I can't miss that!" he quipped. Then he added "I heard that Callie will look okay, too, in case you were worried."

Frank rolled his eyes and then turned his attention again to the inside of the church. He checked his watch again. Five minutes to go.

As Joe watched his brother nervously prepare to take his vows, he felt a lump form in his throat that he quickly tried to swallow. As much as he was teasing Frank, he knew that this moment was so important in all of their lives. Frank was getting married. It was so surreal. Looking at his brother all dressed up, he was flooded with a thousand memories.

Throughout their lives, they had grown up together and today was no exception. Joe thought of family vacations, playing ball in the backyard, dating, high school, college, hundreds of cases, hanging out, talking, joking around: and he realized that his whole life had, in a very real sense, been built around his brother.

Frank's admission that he would have killed Daley did nothing to diminish his importance in Joe's eyes. In fact, it had inadvertently opened a new door for both of them, and their relationship was stronger than ever. Frank's admission, along with the very real sense of incredible loss he had felt when he had thought that Callie had died, had, in fact, changed Frank, as Joe had feared it would. But, in his usual manner of always surprising him, Frank's change had turned out for the better.

Joe knew that both of them were now forever altered knowing what it would be like to lose someone so important in their lives. That bond was unbreakable, and Joe did see something in Frank's eyes that hadn't been there before; but it wasn't bitterness or revenge—it was knowledge and understanding. And why shouldn't it be? Frank was older when he thought he had lost Callie than Joe had been when he had lost Iola; Frank and Callie had had years together, whereas Joe and Iola had been given maybe one year. Yes, Frank was different now—but he was more open, more willing to share his emotions, and more willing to live his life understanding, REALLY understanding, that the most precious things could be taken from him at any moment.

For that reason, he had surprised Joe when he started talking a lot more about not only his life in general, but his emotions. When it finally dawned on Frank that Joe didn't think he was a bad brother for keeping to himself for fear he would be a poor role model, he REALLY started to share things—and Joe had been pretty impressed. They'd shared plenty of laughs trading tips on how they had gotten away with things over the years, and how Frank had managed to get away with far more than Joe could have ever imagined.

Those conversations had created another bond; a knowledge that Frank was really sharing himself fully with Joe and with others. Frank had introduced Joe to many of his college friends whom he hadn't known before, and they were exactly indicative of the kind of person who Frank was—eclectic and nice. Frank's genuine kindness and ability to be nice to everyone he met had afforded him the opportunity to have various kinds of friends. It was exactly why Frank had been friends, in high school, with everyone from the jocks, of which he was one, to the quiet kids to the smart ones. Everyone liked Frank Hardy, and Joe had always been proud of that. Even though he had been even the more popular of the two in school, he tended to hang around with the wilder kids and had a harder time keeping up his reputation for harmless mischief. Frank, never caring to impress one person or another, treated everyone the same. And THAT was why the church was packed tonight.

"Ready?" Joe found himself asking.

"I think so," Frank answered. He turned to his brother. "I couldn't do this without you here. Maybe I'll trade places with you one day, huh?"

Joe just smiled.

"I wanted to show you something before we go out there, though." Frank reached into his jacket pocket and took out a piece of paper.

"You decided to write your own vows?" Joe asked. He'd been surprised that Frank and Callie hadn't decided to do that. Frank, though, had said that there was something nice about tradition, something real about saying the words that millions of people had said before when they pledged their lives to each other. Besides, he'd added, Callie knows how I feel. And I don't feel like crying in front of 300 people.

Frank laughed before answering. "No," he began. "You can do that when it's your turn one day. But thanks for restoring my faith in you that you can continue to beat a dead horse over and over again."

"Whatever," Joe replied, shaking his head.

In the background, soft music from inside the church began to play.

"Callie gave me this poem last night. She said that she wanted to give me something to think about given everything we've been through together. I thought I would share it with you, since I think it applies to you and me, too."

Joe stared at Frank for a moment, touched that Frank was, once again, sharing something so personal to him.

"It's called 'Fire and Ice' and it's by Robert Frost. Don't worry—it's short." Frank gave a quick smile and opened the paper. "Some say the world will end in fire/ Some say in ice./ From what I've tasted of desire/ I hold with those who favor fire./But if it had to perish twice/

I think I know enough of hate/ To say that for destruction ice/ Is also great/And would suffice."

"Uh… okay," Joe stammered. "I was kind of expecting a love poem or something."

"It is," Frank answered. "But it's more than that. It kind of says that sometimes we take different paths in life. You know, some of us are like fire and some are like ice. But the end result is the same—if you love each other, it doesn't matter how different you are, because you'll always end up in the same place. Together." With a wink at his brother, Frank opened the church door and began to walk out.

Blinking back tears, Joe whispered "I love you, too," as he followed his brother to the altar.

Until Forever

The reception room was beautiful. Decorated in reds, whites, and blacks, it evoked a sense of timeless elegance. Nancy looked around and breathed in deeply. Ned smiled at her reassuringly and she felt better immediately. Although she still felt awkward about her presence at Frank and Callie's wedding, she was beginning to think that things would turn out okay after all.

Callie and Frank looked stunning together, a real life version of Barbie and Ken. The ceremony had been beautiful, with tears all around as people applauded the official union of two people who, she knew, were really, truly meant to be together.

She had watched keenly how Frank's eyes never left Callie, how the look on his face when he first saw Callie expressed more than what a million words could have. For the first time she had known him, she watched as Frank shed tears of joy as he dedicated his life to the woman he loved.

Now, as the reception was in full swing, she finally found her moment, saw an opening as Callie left the room alone for a moment, heading towards the restroom. Taking a deep breath, she followed her, finally getting her alone.

Callie turned as Nancy touched her arm, and Nancy was fully prepared for an icy reception. To her utter surprise, Callie greeted her warmly. "Hi, Nancy. I'm glad you and Ned could come," she said sincerely.

"You look beautiful," Nancy replied, feeling awkward, but knowing she had to talk to Callie, if only for a moment.

"Thanks," Callie answered, then gave a little laugh. "I'm a little worried about fitting in the bathroom stall with this thing, though." She pointed to the train of her dress. "Actually," she added, "I'm even more surprised that Frank could dance with me with this dress. I think I'll feel like I lost 30 pounds when I get changed!"

Nancy was stunned—Callie was joking with her. She really was a class act. Nancy felt a flush crawl to her cheeks. What could she say? It seemed wrong to, in any way, diminish Callie's happiness. Not knowing where to start, she told her that.

Callie looked puzzled. "Nancy, you couldn't make me less happy. I'm on top of the world tonight. Forever," she added with a smile. "What's wrong?"

"I just—I guess I wanted to thank you guys for allowing me to be here tonight. I didn't know if you'd want to invite me or not. I figured that you would tell Frank not to have me here, and I wouldn't blame you."

Callie's expression softened. "Nancy, thank you for the help on the case. I know all about it, and I think that you really were an invaluable part of the team. You probably were a major factor in making sure I was okay. I'd…" She paused for a moment, contemplative. "I'd rather not talk about it—not tonight—but I have no problem with you. You're Frank's friend; maybe one day, you'll be mine, too."

"Really?" Nancy whispered. Her natural voice left her as she listened to Callie's words.

"Really," Callie answered. "And for your information, I told Frank to make sure that you were invited. You know, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer," she added.

Seeing the look on Nancy's face, Callie laughed. "I'm kidding, Nancy." She reached out her arms. "Friends, okay? Hug on it?"

As Nancy embraced Callie, she felt a huge burden lifted from her shoulders. Frank and Callie were perfect together, as she and Ned were as well. It had taken a very stupid mistake to show her that.

"I'm only half kidding, though," Callie added with a wink. "Now I need to visit the ladies room before Frank thinks I ran away!"

Nancy looked after Callie with an awestruck smile.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooxxxxxxxxx

A half hour later, across the room, Joe stopped to take a drink, eyes never leaving Vanessa, who was now trying to show his father, in vain, how to do the Electric Slide. It would have been pretty comical, but he felt his heart beating wildly in his chest and found it difficult to concentrate on anything else. He had to talk to his brother.

That, it was turning out, was getting to be almost impossible. After pictures, there was a maelstrom of people dancing, laughing, and talking with Frank and Callie who, more than ever before, were joined at the hip. The wedding was a blast, but still classy and elegant. Everyone was having a wonderful time.

Joe checked his watch. It was 11:45. Only 15 minutes to go until the New Year. And only a little over an hour left for the reception.

He couldn't take it anymore. Working his way slowly across the crowded dance floor, he finally found his brother talking to the Shaws, arm firmly wrapped around Callie's waist. Well, what the hell? He might as well talk to Callie, too. It was a year of new beginnings.

"Sorry to interrupt," Joe apologized. "I was just wondering if I could talk to you guys?"

"Now?" Callie asked.

"It was a thought," Joe replied, trying to slow the beating of his heart. He watched as Frank and Callie exchanged a look, and then ushered him over to a quiet area outside the reception room.

When they finally arrived, Joe was surprised by how quiet it was. They stood next to a huge window, stars of fire, of ice, gleaming in the air.

"Would you like to talk to Frank alone?" Callie asked, still holding onto Frank's hand.

He almost said yes, but then he realized he didn't care. Callie was his sister now; it was appropriate that she should be there.

"No," Joe replied and gave Callie a small smile. "I just-- uh-- I--"

he stuttered, realizing how silly he must sound. Why couldn't he talk?

Callie and Frank said simultaneously "Go on," and then looked at each other and smiled.

Finally, he knew that the only way to say it was to just come out with it. "I, uh-- I know it's your wedding; your night. But I have a favor to ask you."

"Are you okay?" Frank asked.

"Let him finish," Callie replied gently. "Sure, Joe. What's up?"

Joe let out a breath he didn't realize he'd been holding before he began. He hid his shaking hands in his pocket. "There's no way to really say this other than to just say it, and I understand if you say no."

"Just say it, Joe," Frank encouraged.

"I know this is your wedding night, but I wanted to do something memorable… and I'd like to ask your permission to ask Vanessa to marry me tonight." He met their eyes.

Joe watched as Callie slowly covered her mouth with her hand and saw the tears spring to her eyes. Frank, whose mouth had fallen open, suddenly burst into a huge smile.

"Oh, Joe!" Callie managed at last. She stepped to him and hugged him tightly. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!! Oh my God! I would jump up and down with excitement. Well, If I could…." She pointed at her dress again.

Joe returned the hug and looked at his brother, who mouthed "yes" and gave him a small -thumbs up sign behind Callie.

"So what's the plan?" Callie asked, stepping back and meeting Joe's eyes.

With a conspiratorial smile of his own that he couldn't hide, he put an arm around Frank and Callie and led them back into the reception room.

Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

Happy New Year!!

All around him, people were hugging and kissing as they celebrated the ending of one year and the promise that the New Year ahead would hold. Joe pulled Vanessa close and kissed her deeply; there was always an opportunity for a little affection, no matter how serious the upcoming moments would be.

Frank and Callie had done a masterful job of shielding the crowd from getting too close to Joe and Vanessa. Joe saw Andrea, Vanessa's mom, across the room, and nodded. She smiled in anticipation.

All at once, the lights in the room went on and people got a bit quieter. Joe felt his brother slip the microphone into his hand. This was it.

Vanessa looked totally confused. It was perfect.

"Happy New Year everybody!" Joe said into the microphone, and was answered with the same in return. "I hope that this year brings everyone what they most want. I know we already did the toasts, but I'd like to wish Callie and Frank, again, a lifetime of happiness and to thank them for the wonderful time that we're all having tonight."

There was applause and several hoots all over.

"It's also a very special night for me. I now officially get to start harassing Cal and Frank about being an old married couple. Oh, that's right—they've been an old married couple since high school."

Everyone laughed as Callie and Frank blushed, but smiled.

"In all seriousness, this IS a special night for me, maybe the most important of my life." He took a deep breath and turned to Vanessa. "You see," he said into the microphone for all to hear, but speaking directly to her, "Frank and Callie actually gave me a very special gift tonight. They allowed me to take some time from their wedding, and allowed me to think about mine." He took Vanessa's hand. She stood, absolutely shocked.

"This night is all about love. We're here to celebrate Frank and Callie's love for each other, and the love we have for them. But I have to say-- publicly-- how much I love this woman here with me tonight, Ms. Vanessa Bender."

He didn't hear the applause or the cat -calls. All he heard was his own heartbeat as he looked into Vanessa's eyes, now bright with tears.

"I love you, Van," he said, simply. "And I'd like to take this opportunity to ask you publicly to change your name." He got down on one knee and took out a ring, slipping it onto Vanessa's finger. "Will you marry me?"

The room burst into excitement and applause as Vanessa, sobbing, threw herself into Joe's arms. Holding her close, he thanked God for this night… thanked Iola silently for her approval, which he knew he had.

"Uh, is that a yes?" He asked.

Vanessa pulled back from him, tears streaming down her face. "Yes—a million times" she whispered as people rushed to the couple to give their congratulations.

"Why did you pick tonight?" she asked.

"Because I'll never forget the date," he joked. Then he kissed her fingertips. "Happy New Year, baby."

An hour later, as the reception finally came to a close, and the last song began to play, Joe looked around the room, heart swelling in happiness. The icicle décor, the winter lights…. It was a gorgeous combination of ice and fire, fire and ice; how things were never how you really expected them to be.

He watched Frank and Callie dance, their lips only inches apart, as they whispered things to each other meant for only them to share. They both looked radiant, and Joe knew it was only beginning of a beautiful life for them.

He then turned to Vanessa, glowing in his own arms, and tilted her face to his…

Knowing there were angels in the room, giving their blessings from above.

The End.

Well, this was it! I hope that you have all enjoyed this story as much as I enjoyed writing it. I have to admit that, at times, lack of reviews or flames got me down. However, as the story progressed, I felt so supported.

To that end...

First, I MUST thank JD for being such a wonderful BETA throughout the whole writing process. You are the best! Second, this story would have been trashed a long time ago had it not been for my good friend RED whose enthusiasm, support, and detailed comments on each chapter kept me inspired. Thank you sooooooo much!! Your talents inspire me and you've always had my back!!

I also want to thank Phoenix for your reviews and also for your support when I was down. :) I cannot thank the people who commented on a really regular basis and whose feedback meant so much to me. If I write again, you all will be the major reason why. So-- a BIG THANK YOU to Helen, Alicia Lily, franknjoe, KimmyD, violetsunshine, dr drew, bookworm2009, angrypenguin, Dreams of Leilani, josie (at HDA) and Reney C.

Also, many of you stopped by to comment whenever you could, and I so appreciate your kindness. Thank you to the following people who did drop a few notes-- I read each with enthusiasm and many a smile! andy-c, amblewat, amethyst, auroradannon, bhar, BM originally, dares to dream, cjloverforever, elja, Fandemonium, jabh, Keri, Lazypanther, Lila, missfenway, missme113, missy, mvblgrl55, nancyfan, Polaris, Rini, Risha, Roswalyn, Sinful Ashe, Sara, Shani8, simply.Dior, sleuth girl, smabentley, sparks, and ukfanid. (I realize this is in alphabetical order-- That is the nerdy me!)

I'm not sure if I am in the creative mindset to write at the moment, but I do have several other stories already written. I cringe at some of the early chapters in the next story, (it was written about 6 years ago)-- and the story is very different from this one-- but if you can stick it out and bear with some of the earlier, less advanced writing, i hope you'll all enjoy the story behind "Make a Wish"-- which I'll post by the weekend

Thank you all so much!!