Her heart heavy, Steph slowly stepped up to the gravestone and then knelt down in front of it after a long moment. She had dreaded coming here, and yet, she just had to come, there simply hadn't been any choice for her.
"Hey," she finally said quietly and it didn't feel as stupid as she had thought it would. No… It actually felt kind of right.
Her eyes read the words on the gravestone, the same Pat had had the first time around when she had buried him the last time.
Patrick Brian McParrish
Loving husband and father
Taim i'ngra leat, mo ghràdhaich
At first she had wanted to change it and also have him buried in Trenton, but then she had decided against it in the end. It somehow had felt wrong. Their past and their life had been spent here in Boston and most importantly, their daughter was buried here. Pat would want to rest with her and Steph wanted them together as well.
She looked down at the peacefully sleeping baby in her arms and carefully held him out, staring back at the gravestone through suddenly wet eyes. "This here is your son, Pat," she said quietly, then made a face. "Yeah, you did it again. Leaving me behind, heartbroken and pregnant with your child. You sure are developing a pattern here." She bit her lips and stared off, before looking back down at her little boy. "Not that I actually mind it. I'm so thankful for you giving me this little man here… For a while he was the only think keeping me going." A soft smile played her lips and she softly stroked over the tiny head. "He was born seven days ago, everything going smoothly. Well, it had hurt like a bitch and you probably heard a mouthful of the curses I put on you even here in your grave but still, it was a normal and relatively short birth, as I'm being told." She faced the gravestone again. "I gave him the name Patrick, for the man that had fathered him and dying before even getting the chance to know about him being on the way." She took a deep breath. "And I've already named him Ricardo, after the man who will bring him up and be his father in every sense of the word but the blood. I'm calling him Ricky though, so both of his fathers get a part in it while he still has his own name."
She fell silent, waiting for a moment although she had no idea for what. When nothing happened, she started to speak again. "I know it's been soon, but Pat… Ric had been there for me through everything, the devastation and pain after losing you, finding out about being pregnant by you again and then giving me a safe and well paid job while I had to quit bounty hunting. And all the million other little things I had to go through in the last ten months." She shook her head. "I've already loved him before you came back into my life, Pat, I'll be honest with you. And him showing me just how much he loved me with everything he did for me and the baby… it was easy to remember that love and finally recognize his way to show me his love. Please don't think that he had put any pressure on me. It had been nothing like with Dickie and I actually had to make the first move and believe me, that hadn't been easy to dare while being six months pregnant with another man's child. Thankfully it had worked out and Ric then didn't lose anymore time. And after everything that had happened, I was right there with him on every step on the way. We were married within a month and the wedding had been big. It's still the talk of the Burg, even three months later," she remembered with a smile. "And Julie, Ric's daughter, she's wonderful and I tell you, she already loves little Ricky here to pieces. She'll be a great big sister for him."
Her smile died and she turned serious again. "I promise you, when Ricky's old enough we're going to tell him about you, his other father, and about Brianna, his big sister who never had been allowed to live. And we'll bring him here, so he can meet you and Brianna. I'm going to show him the pictures of us and much later, when he's grown up, we're going to tell him how you died, protecting me and him."
Once again she fell silent, for a long while this time, the wind playing with her hair and the only sound some birds chirping. It was peaceful and for the first time since Pat had died she actually felt – complete. She had needed to do this, say goodbye, introduce him to his son. She knew he didn't mind her finding happiness with Ric or would resent him for being able to be the father to Ricky he never had a chance to. Actually, as silly as it seemed, she almost felt like Pat actually was there, giving them his blessing.
"I know you will be with our daughter, looking after her like I'm looking for our son in this word," she finally said, softly. "I love you, I always will, Pat. Still… I need to say goodbye now, so I can fully embrace the future. But I know you understand. You always have." She swallowed, blinking back the tears. "And one day, I'm sure we'll meet again," she whispered and slowly got up, leaving the lily she had brought along on his gravestone, stroking over it. "Until then, goodbye, mo ghràdhaich, my love."
Kissing their son, she turned away with a last look back and walked towards her future.
Leaning against his BMW, Ranger watched his wife coming back to him. Honestly, he still had trouble to believe his incredible luck sometimes. After that horrible day he had been sure he had lost his Babe for sure and he had tried to just be her friend, not even bothering to keep his distance yet again. Finding out about the baby had been a shock at first, especially for Steph. But she had needed him then more than ever and he was more than glad to be able to help her. It hadn't taken long and he had fallen more in love with her than ever and the baby… It didn't matter that it was McParrish's and not his, it had been easy to fall in love with it as well and start thinking of it as his. He still had held himself back, not wanting to pressure his Babe in her grief, figuring out that he needed to give her a lot more time before he could dare to offer her a relationship, a real one this time around.
Finding her in his apartment, clad in nothing than a black negligee, her eyes so full of hope but so vulnerable at the same time, had been the surprise of his life and by far the best. Proposing and marrying her on the spot had felt like coming home, at last, and it was easy to say that the last three months had been the happiest of his life, especially now, with their baby finally born into this world, a healthy perfect little baby boy.
That she then had even named the baby after him as well… His heart kept missing a beat each time he heard her saying their son's name.
Speaking of… He took Ricky out of Steph's arms and turned around to carefully secure him in the baby seat. For a moment, his eyes lingered on him and still not getting tired of watching the little miracle boy, he gently stroked over his head before he finally kissed the sleeping angel and straightened up. Dios, he loved that little guy so much already. And by God, Ricky was his son, in every part but him actually coming from his own seed, but that hardly mattered. He was going to bring Ricky up, he was going to teach him everything he needed to know and he was the one who would take care of him and protect him for the rest of his life. It scared the shit out of him and it exhilarated him at the same time and he was loving every second of it.
Even the changing the diaper part, for sure not his favorite part of fatherhood. He had dodged that bullet the last time around with Julie though, him being far away in war most of the time during her toddler years and he so was not going to miss any second of it with Ricky, actually enjoying it. Even this disgusting part. It was unbelievable what this little guy could produce into his diaper. And he sure hoped he could convince his Babe to try it yet another time, this time having their baby.
He was wise enough to wait for that suggestion for a while though, until she forgot about what a pain the birth actually had been. Maybe a year or two. Perhaps better make it three years.
Turning back to face his Babe, he took a good look at his wife's face. "You okay?" he finally asked softly.
Leaning against him, she nodded against his chest. "Yeah."
Ranger waited, just holding her. He knew it hadn't been easy for her to come here today. Part of her had always clung to McParrish, even during the funeral. And why not? She had loved McParrish, there never had been a doubt about that. He had been her husband and the father of her two children. And pregnant with his child, feeling it grow and moving inside of her, hadn't been easy on her either, the baby being a constant reminder of finding McParrish again only to lose him shortly after for good, leaving her behind alone, broken and pregnant. Ranger understood that and knew that, even while she loved him and of course Ricky very much, the loss of McParrish still was raw and just hurt. With Ricky born now though he did hope that his Babe would be able to finally move on for good.
Not that he was in any hurry. She could take all the time she needed and Ranger would gladly give it to her. For her sake though he couldn't help but hope for her to be able to let go of McParrish soon.
Leaning back, she looked up at him. "Thank you for coming with me." She swallowed. "And thank you for staying back right now. I needed to do this alone."
He simply nodded, there was no need for further words between them.
"I said goodbye to him," she added, very quietly.
His heart stopping for a moment, only to start again with a rush, Ranger searched her eyes to then squeeze her hands tightly. "I'm sorry," he said, actually the first time he ever had said those words to her in regard of McParrish's death.
But his Babe just shrugged and smiled sadly. "For Rick and for us, it needed to be done. And at least this time, I actually had the chance to say goodbye." She squeezed his hands back, her eyes serious. "There is something I need you to know, Ric. I loved Pat. I always will. And if he hadn't died I honestly can't say how it would have turned out after all. With Ricky on the way it's very much possible that I'd have ended up with Pat after all. We will never know, I guess. But I love you as well and you should know that it hadn't been just for the past months but actually for quite a while now." She stepped closer and stood up on her tip toes to kiss him, her kiss full of love. "I just thought that you should know that you never had been out of the picture, always staying in the run, even after my night with Pat."
This was more than he had ever hoped for and his emotions taking the better of him, he swooped his Babe off her feet to tightly embrace her and returning her kiss, pouring everything into it. He never had been that good with words anyway.
Smiling brightly, Steph gazed up at him as he put her back onto her feet again. "Ready to start our future now?"
Ranger grinned back at her, his two million watt smile that would have the entire womanhood falling to their knees. "Always, Babe."
(Author's Note: I'm still alive! Stank you for that and all the kind reviews for the last chapter. Here now, like promised, the epilogue and therefore really last piece of this story. It's pretty kitschy, I know, but hey, at least in ff one deserves a fluffy Happy End! I hope you like it and would like to thank every last one of you, who read until here - and maybe even left a comment or two for me in the reviews. I sure live for them!)