Author: Tiina

Title: Thoughts After Ten

Rating: M

Spoilers: TBO

Disclaimer: These are not my characters, not making any money,etc.

Thoughts After Ten

Chapter 1

It was over. I surveyed the scene, noticing Sally talking to Robin Russell, hands waving in the air. Several ambulance crews were loading up the bodies of the dead and dying. That could have been me.... The euphoria was fading fast, and what was left in its place was kind of a numb exhaustion. I swayed a little on my feet, and Ranger and Morelli both reached out a hand to steady me.

"Babe, you should let the paramedics check you out." Ranger said quietly.

"He's right", stated Morelli, "your statement can wait until tomorrow."

I just nodded, too tired to speak, and headed toward one of the ambulances. The paramedics decided I needed X-rays to be sure nothing was broken, and planned to take me to St. Francis.

"I'll pick you up in the morning to come to the station and make your statement, Cupcake" said Morelli, "Where will I find you?"

"Mom and Dad's, I guess." I replied.

"I'll be tied up here for a while, I imagine, but please call me when you're done at the hospital. I'll call your parents and let them know you're okay and coming over as soon as you can." Morelli barely glanced at Ranger before asking him "You free to take her there?"

"I have a couple of calls to make, but I should be at the ER before you are finished." Ranger told me, not looking at Morelli at all. "If you need me sooner, call."

"Can you check on Sally?" I asked them both "Make sure he's okay with all this?"

"That's one of the calls." answered Ranger at the same time Joe said, "I'll look out for him."

I almost smiled, and said. "Thank you. Both of you."

With that, the ambulance crew closed the doors for yet another trip to the ER. I sighed, I was just way too familiar with that place. Hopefully I wouldn't be there long, as I really didn't think anything was broken, just badly bruised.

At the ER, the triage nurse greeted me by name. "Stephanie, I wondered when you were going to show up."

I remembered her face, but her name escaped me, so I glanced at her badge before I answered, "Hi Paula, do you think I'll have to wait long?"

"Well, we do seem to have a lot of gunshot and accident victims at the moment, so it could be a while." She continued, "We could cut down the wait a bit by cataloging your injuries and then sending you straight to X-ray, so everything would be ready for a doctor to review as soon as one is free. Let's start by getting your vital signs."

Two hours later I was still waiting to see a doctor. I heard a bit of a commotion out front at the reception desk, then Ranger and Tank walked into the room. "I had Tank drive the Buick to your parents, in case you needed it." Ranger said, "I thought we had some time with the ER being this busy tonight. Seen a doctor yet?"

I tried not to think about why the ER was so busy. I shivered and turned back to Ranger "Not yet, but I've already been X-rayed, so it shouldn't take long once they finally get to me."

"I'll see what I can do about getting you looked at and out the door." With that, Ranger looked at Tank, telling him "Take care of her." and left the room.

"Bombshell-" Tank started. I almost jumped, I was so startled. Tank was usually even more silent than Ranger, and he almost never initiated a conversation. "Listen, I'm sorry about tonight. I let you down, I let Ranger down. It won't happen again."

Okay, now I was really confused. My confusion must have shown on my face, because he continued to talk.

"I was the one that was supposed to be looking out for you at the VFW. I didn't realize you had been grabbed at first, and by the time I did, I couldn't find you. You could've.." he broke off, and turned away, staring off at nothing.

"Tank," I called to him. He turned to look at my face, wincing a little at my bruising. "It's not your fault." He started to answer, but I held up a hand to him and said "Let me finish. I could have asked you to go with me. I could have asked you to have someone move the Buick. I could have done a lot of things differently, but I didn't. This is my fault. Well, I think the Slayers should take most of the responsibility for the actual... event, but my getting grabbed by them was my own doing."

He shook his head and started again "I was supposed to prevent that from happening. If I had been just a little faster..."

I cut him off "Well, think of it this way. The last time you babysat me you got your leg broken. It's just my turn to be the injured party. Now we're even!"

This got a chuckle from him, and he answered "You're pretty terrific, you know that? Okay, we're even. And by the way, it's not babysitting."

I attempted to raise my eyebrow, but that just hurt my face, so I asked him, "What would you call it then?"

Tank looked surprised at the question. "Providing backup, of course, just like we do for each other."

Shit, emotional overload. Silent mountain apologizes, then treats me like an equal just when I'm feeling like the most incompetent bounty hunter that ever was. It was almost too much. I blinked back tears as I told him, "Thanks, Tank." I took a deep breath to get myself under control before I addressed the next topic. "You do owe me an explanation though-what is this 'Bombshell' business?"

Tank got really quiet for a minute before he answered "We don't mean any harm by it, it just seems to suit you."

"We?" My voice had gotten a little shrill.

At this point, Ranger returned with a doctor in tow. I gave Tank a look that said we weren't finished before turning my attention to the doctor.

"Babe, we'll wait for you in the lobby while the doctor examines you." murmured Ranger, brushing a quick kiss on my forehead.

The doctor didn't find anything worse than bruising, and advised me to take it easy for a few days before letting me go.

I joined Ranger in the lobby, "I've been released. Where's Tank?"

Ranger's lips held the promise of a smile as he answered, "Escaped back to the office. He just needed to see for himself that you were going to be okay."

We both got into his turbo, and headed out of the parking lot. "So, are you?" Ranger asked me quietly. I guess he realized my ESP wasn't working because he clarified, "Going to be okay."

I thought about it. I knew my injuries would heal. I wasn't sure how long it would take for the fear and the memory of it to fade.

Ranger must have sensed my reluctance to answer, but he let it go. "You don't have to stay at your parents, you know", he caught my eyes, "You could come back to the apartment, or use the one on the fourth floor."

"Thanks, but my parents are going to need to see I'm okay, too. Besides," I trailed off, a little embarassed to continue. Ranger just lifted an eyebrow at me while waiting for the rest. "Would you think less of me if I told you I wanted my Dad?"

He took my hand, and answered "Not at all. You've had a rough week."

After that, he settled into his zone. His hand holding mine was comforting, and I guess I slipped into a zone of my own because I didn't hear the ringing of my cell phone at first. I looked at the number, surprised to see the number labeled 'Tank'.

Tank's calling me? Okay then, "Hello?"

Tank started where we left off. "By 'we' I meant the entire Rangeman crew. If it offends you, I'll get them to stop."

I thought about it for a minute before telling him, "No, it's okay. I think I kind of like it."

Tank's low chuckle sounded in my ear, "In that case, Bombshell, I also hope you don't mind that I programmed Bobby, Lester, and my cell numbers into your phone. Call if you need backup." He disconnected. Don't any of these guys say goodbye?

Suddenly, I noticed we were idling in front of my parents house. Deep breath, I can do this.