Can't believe this is the end, guys! Thanks for reading this and for the wonderful reviews. Seems like this story has been part of my life for so long and I'll be sad to say goodbye to it. Plenty more ideas up my sleeve, but I need reviews, lots of reviews to gain the mental strength to start another one...! ;o) Anyway .
5 Years later...
The sun reflected off Tank's bald head as he stood before a plain, pale gray marble headstone set in a calm, orderly plot towards the back of the cemetery.
Each year he came and sat and studied the gold letters that glinted in the soft sunlight before going over what had happened in the last twelve months.
Knowing that somewhere, somehow Lula would be listening.
This year was no different.
He'd explain that to her later, he thought.
"Hi sweetheart" he whispered as he knelt down and placed a single red rose on the small mound before him and traced the letters that made up Lula's name. A smile ghosted his lips just as a shadow of sadness flitted across his eyes. Each year got easier but still somewhere deep within him a last tiny bit of his heart still ached for what he could never have again.
Part of him had never quite recovered from his loss, yet these days his heart was full of love and happiness which sprang from a time when the mad black woman that now lay cold and still before him had torn down his barriers and taught him about love and how he was as entitled to feel its wonder as anyone else.
"Well Baby, another year has flown past again" he said wryly, shaking his head, a sparkle in his eye as his lips turned further upwards "where does it all go, hey? Bet you know better than I do" he chuckled and plucked a blade of grass which he popped into his mouth and rolled round like a toothpick as he looked up momentarily and saw a large fluffy cloud move into view. Perhaps she'd come to visit him dressed as a cloud, he thought with humour. The image tickled him and his gaze returned to the headstone in front of him. He shifted and sat down, crossing his legs but with his knees pointing upwards so that he could wrap his arms round them and clasp his hands in front of him as he made himself comfortable.
"Connie sends her love but as usual knows that this is our special time together, anyway, she's got her hands full with the twins but promises she'll pop by in the next week or so. I'm sure she'll give you the girly gossip!" he grinned as he imagined what Connie would tell Lula, perhaps they'd compare notes on his snoring or...he blushed, despite knowing that he was alone. Yep, that too he figured. His thoughts came back from the bedroom as he pulled the blade of grass from his mouth, flicking it to the ground like a cigarette end.
"Who'd have thought I'd be a father, eh? Last time I came here I'd only just gotten married and here I am a father to twins." His words were soft as if talking to himself, almost embarrassed by his good fortune even now. He stretched out like a cat and rolled onto his side, his elbow bent and his hand supporting his head.
He still felt guilty sometimes that he was having a good life. Without her...
He traced a pattern on the grass with his free hand and cleared his throat as he momentarily thought of how his life should have been. But what was done was done and with Connie's love and support he'd made a good life for himself. One that was so very different from what he'd anticipated five years and eight days ago.
"Even though the boys are only eleven weeks old they've already started to show their different characters. Mikey is a real scamp and smiles as he sprays you when you change his diaper and Cody is so serious and spends his time studying everyone, like he's assessing the situation – I've no idea where he gets it from, he's more like his Godfather, not that Ranger would agree. They're so beautiful with pale golden skin and great big eyes." He gushed out as any proud parent should "I'm so glad they're not girls – I'd be polishing my shotgun by now!" A smirk covered his face as he thought about Ranger who now had three beautiful women in his life.
"Talking of girls, Julie looks set to graduate top of her class and she's got her eye on Harvard." He said softly, his voice full of pride. "She's such a smart kid, turned into a real looker too and very much her father's daughter, not much gets past her!" He grinned as he recollected the dress she'd managed to persuade Steph to let her wear for their wedding at their beach house, it was a pale deep gold color and short, so very short. Ranger nearly popped an artery until he'd seen Steph and all thoughts about what Julie was not wearing were gone as he claimed his bride. It was much later when he finally collared his daughter and made her put some white pants on, making the dress look like a tunic. "It's been a battle of the wills ever since" he said out loud and laughed.
"I'm so glad they spend time together as a family now, you know Baby I... I think she's dating but she doesn't say too much – I guess Ranger would probably flip and have the poor boy frisked for latex every time he came within a mile of her! I know Steph reigns him in and reminds him not to go caveman again like he did when she first moved up here, but you know how protective parents should be of their young..." he thought back to the scant adjectives Lula had used to describe her family, most of them pretty colourful and all of them pejorative. "Anyway, let's just hope she sets a good example for Amy to follow. They really worship each other, you know. Despite the age gap. Oh, by the way, Steph's pregnant again but I haven't told you as Ranger doesn't know yet. Bomber's gonna tell him tomorrow, after the distraction she's doing tonight so he doesn't ruin their chances of catching the latest piece of scum by pulling the plug on the operation. So, if Ranger asks, don't tell him, please?" he laughed at his own joke "Maybe the guy will catch a break and have a son this time and Frank will stop leaning on him for a grandson. I'm not sure how he's gonna cope if he has a third girl!"
He chuckled as he thought about the loud and excitable family Ranger now basked in before his thoughts turned more sombre.
"I hope Lester isn't bugging you too much – I hope you bust a cap in his ass if he steps outta line. I still can't believe you got one of us up there with you already. It was not supposed to happen so quick especially now that we've all retired from active duty." Images of their retirement celebrations ran through his head, including him taping up his eyebrows, just in case the phantom shaver came back. He never did find out who dunnit but he wasn't gonna let the fucker have another go, nu uh, no way. "Bet you know who did it, huh, honey?" he grinned as he looked skyward "And if it was Santos, tell him I miss him but I will get him back." The cloud had changed slightly but still hung on its own in the sky, almost as if it was snuggling in and getting more comfortable.
"Angela feels lost without her partner in crime, but Connie, me and the boys, well let's just say we're doing our best to keep her sane. Seems like only yesterday they were paired up but they made a great team."
Bobby'd been concentrating on his course so it made perfect sense for Ranger to team Angela up with Les who'd just finished her sixth month Rangeman training course when Bobby's final exam took over his life completely.
"He's a fully qualified doctor now and with the expansion of Rangeman he seems to spend his life patching people up so it was the right decision at the time, though Angela was worried that her next partner would suffer the same fate as Les. I think Ranger set her straight on that one and I know if he didn't Steph would have done. I don't think you every met Ramero but they work really well together and he's helping her a lot." Tank explained as he rubbed his wrist, still slightly darkened by the wound that Bobby had repaired a few months previous. "Still can't believe he was involved in a fatal hit and run but you should have seen what Angela did to the perp before she sent the bastard down south to meet his maker."
"Staying with Angela, she's finally gotten together with Ram – made Ranger and Steph's relationship look like a rush job, talk about a long drawn out affair. Anyway, they had their first date last week and judging by the smug looks they've been wearing ever since, I'd say it went ok." He paused briefly before changing the topic to someone else.
"Vinnie finally took retirement last week. Seems like Harry needed him to work on his property deals – I don't want to know what they're cooking up, but I'm glad he's out of the picture. Anyway, Connie cleaned up the office and found loads of duck porn. I didn't even know you could get duck porn..." he shook his head, still thinking about the file Connie had brought home, giggling as she'd passed it to him. Admittedly the pictures were funny but still, a duck porn website?
"She's got a coupla bounty hunters lined up and a part time filer, which has pissed off Grandma Mazur. She thought Connie would be hiring her but Frank managed to confiscate all of her guns and leather clothing, plus Ellen threatened to take away her whiskey so she agreed to calm down. Apparently she was going to galvanise the girls from the Clip 'n' Curl into some sort of gray army and storm the Bonds Office. I wonder whether the guys at TPD had any bets running on that one..." thoughts of the broom cupboard at the cop shop being used as a betting shop where all bets were cooked up and proudly displayed for all to see slipped through his mind. That is, until Ranger and the Chief had discovered it. Apparently Ranger wasn't too happy about the bets on Steph, but the chief had been livid about the bets on his waistline...
Tank looked at his watch "Christ!" he muttered, softly, surprised at how quickly the last couple of hours had flown. "Honey, sorry, but I can't stay much longer, ceremony's at 4. Steph will be pissed if I don't get there to witness Josh's big day. I mean, who would have believed that she would be a major player in a Morelli Christening and for a second time too? Bella will be spinning in her grave. Nasty old hag – hope she's not giving Satan too much grief." A mental image of Bella giving the devil 'the eye' flitted across his mind and he chuckled softly before filling Lula in briefly on all the other things that had happened since their last update.
Tank caressed the marble then took a large breath in as he steeled himself up for what he was about to say "Sweetheart. I will be back next year, but just to say hello. You know how much you've meant to me but I need to move on completely. Connie and the twins are my life now. I hope you understand." A small tear welled up in his eyes and the last part of his once broken heart fell off and evaporated as he stood up and turned away, leaving him feeling lighter and more free than he'd felt in a very long time.
"I'll never forget you, I promise, but it's time to let you go, you know?" He added as he turned and walked away.
A small gust of wind whipped round his head and he was certain he heard the words "Yes it's time... Thank you and goodbye Tankie. " He nodded and walked back to his SUV as he thought about how his life had changed.
As he opened the car door he looked up to a cloudless sky.