Hunter tried to ignore the ringing in his head as he made his way backstage. There was so much to think about, so much to feel. So much had transpired in the last hour. He and Stephanie's relationship went from absolute perfection, to total crap within that time frame.

The look of sheer devastation on her face when he told her their marriage was over, was one that he couldn't get out of his mind. By the time he had finished tearing up the wedding set and beating the holy hell out of her father, it had shifted. She was...outraged. Absolutely livid. She jumped into his face screaming "How could you do this?" while gesturing wildly to the destruction he had just caused.

Then something terrible happened: his rage reached a boiling point. He extended his arm, covering her face with his big hand. He squeezed his fingers tightly and pushed, as hard as he could. When her body collided with the ring, she looked up at him in shock and that devastated look came back as he slipped his wedding ring off of his finger and hurled it at her. Desperate for some alone-time, he stormed away from her.

I won't look at her, he had repeated to himself inwardly as he made his exit from the ring. But, he caught sight of her face on the Titantron. The look dominated his senses and he found himself turning around to meet her gaze. Her chest heaved and her body shook as she glared at him. He stared back at her blankly. He had never seen this look before. The obvious expression was pure fury, but he knew her well enough to detect the pain underneath. He blinked in shock as she screamed – really more like screeched – at him.

Finally, he reached his locker room. The walk had cooled the harsh edges of his temper. With the rage gone, he focused on the situation in its entirety. He had physically hurt the love of his life intentionally and ended their marriage, all in one night. Despite how upset he had been with her, putting his hands on her like that was inexcusable. It made him think back to his feud with Kurt Angle and how Stephanie kept getting caught in the middle of their brawls. She had been knocked around quite a bit, but it was always an accident on his part. Kurt, in his desperate attempts to ruin his marriage, had insisted to Stephanie and to the world, that he was intentionally causing his wife physical harm. He knew it was untrue, but had to wonder if the lies were causing Stephanie to doubt that the incidents were total accidents.

He felt that his suspicions were confirmed when the cops arrived to haul him in for questioning. The reason: a police report made that accused him of spousal abuse. As it turned out, Stephanie hadn't made the report; it was her ex-fiancée, Test. Stephanie stood by his side through the ordeal, insisting that her husband was innocent of these claims. She readily admitted that her husband had a nasty temper, especially where it concerned her. It didn't faze her that much when he lost his cool and ended up breaking things in the room. Nothing had ever come even close to hitting her – not him, nor the objects he threw around.

Test had admitted he made the report out of contempt for their relationship. Hunter kicked his ass and that was the end of that chapter. The whole thing actually ended up bringing he and his wife closer emotionally.

What was it all worth now, though? He had struck his wife purposely. He was now exactly the man people accused him of being. He couldn't erase that solitary thought from his mind.

Stephanie should be in the back, by now, he thought. Where would she be? Certainly, she wouldn't come back to their shared locker room after what just happened. He needed to apologize for hitting her. He would find her as soon as possible. He would try Vince's office first. As he made these easy decisions, he gathered his things from the room. If any of Stephanie's things were here, he would be a gentleman and give them to her, along with his apology. But, she had prepared for the renewal of their wedding vows elsewhere.

The next few minutes made him more nervous than he'd ever been with her. He hadn't felt this nervous since the time Stephanie had walked in on him showing Trish Stratus wrestling moves. It looked pretty bad. Stephanie cried and yelled while she threw a vase of flowers and a lamp at him. They spent the rest of the week as well as the weekend apart. She wouldn't pick up his calls or return even one of the dozen messages he'd left on her voicemail. His chest was in knots every moment he was without her, knowing that the more time that passed, the more she was slipping away from him. She forgave him after he gathered up everything that he had inside of him and begged for forgiveness on national television.

Up until she forgave him, he was so nervous he thought he would faint. Compared to what he currently felt, that was nothing. He would gladly go back in time to that very situation. Go back, deal with it and be glad. At least with that situation he had done nothing overtly wrong. It had just looked really, really bad. There was a plausible, rational explanation for what had occurred. It was a misunderstanding. He knew where to start – explain his actions, apologize and tell her how much he loved her.

But this? He had no idea where to start.

The door to Vince's office was open halfway. He didn't knock, he just walked in. What he saw before him, broke his heart into a million pieces. Stephanie sat on the couch, sobbing while she held an ice pack to her face.

Without thinking, he rushed over and crouched before her while repeating, "I'm sorry" firmly. Stephanie lowered the ice pack to stare at him in shock. He noticed the red finger-tip welts on her temples and forehead. Instinctively, he reached out to caress her cheek, but she jumped as if she'd been hit with a stun gun.

"Don't touch me," she whispered. "Just go away. Please," she pleaded, closing her eyes.

He ignored her request. "Stephanie, listen. I'm really sorry that I hit you. I just completely lost my temper. I was so upset with you and I wasn't thinking about what I was doing. I don't want to be that guy everyone has accused me of being. I promise it will never happen again."

Suddenly, her eyes snapped open and the sadness he'd seen in them before was replaced by venom. "I know it won't happen again, since you've decided it's better to walk away from our marriage than fix it."

"I don't think it's better. I just can't be with you if I can't trust you. You lied to me. After everything we've been through together, you lied to me about one of the most important things in the world."

"I didn't mean to. Not at first, anyway." She waited for his reply and got a questioning glance instead. "I took a pregnancy test a couple of weeks ago. It came back positive, so I made a doctor's appointment. They confirmed that I wasn't actually pregnant. And I felt devastated. Over the next few days I just couldn't stop thinking about how much I wanted to be a mother. And how much I wanted you to be the father of my children."

"You knew how much I wanted that, too. You knew it so well that you lied to me about it so that you'd get your spotlight from renewing our vows," he interrupted her, shaking his head at her audacity.

Deciding it was better to ignore him and finish her side of the story, she continued, "I wanted to talk to you about trying for a baby. But, our marriage was in such a bad place. It made no sense to discuss bringing a child into a three-ring circus. I thought that maybe if we renewed our wedding vows – reminded each other of how good things used to be, we'd get back on track." She smiled a little. It really had been a wonderful idea. The event should have been beautiful and heartwarming, but instead it turned into an absolute disaster, centered on the lie she hadn't meant to tell. But, once she had uttered the words that she was pregnant, she couldn't take them back. So, she put on this charade and desperately hoped that she'd get pregnant for real. And soon!

"Don't bullshit me! Your reasoning had to do with proving a point to the rest of the world. It wasn't about us at all."

Now, she got angry. "Yes it was! It's only ever been about us but you're too damn stupid and wrapped up in being the lone wolf, to see it!"

"I-uh- what the hell? What are you on about? You admitted to as much."

A resentful chuckle escaped her. "I did. Not because it was true, but because it was effective."

He nodded. "Why yes. It was very effective in pissing me off even more than I already was that night."

"You don't understand me when I'm emotional anymore, Hunter! When I try to talk to you about my feelings you just shut me out and shut down on me. I thought if I presented it in a different light you would come around. Kind of like how you used to get pissed off and beat up anybody who insulted me. I sort of thought that you would agree to renewing the vows if I made it about the insulting things people thought about me after your return. Clearly, I was mistaken. When that failed, I just thought about how we couldn't have our baby unless we fixed our relationship. Before I knew it, the lie was out of my mouth. I was shocked at what I said, but I couldn't take it back. So I rambled on, crying, because I couldn't believe what I had just done."

Hunter stared at her intently. "And at no point did it cross your mind that when there was no baby in 7 months, you'd be caught?"

Stephanie gave a wry smile. "Well, you were so over the moon and we had so much sex afterwards that I figured I'd get pregnant soon enough."

"And what would you have done? Try to pretend the baby was overdue?" He had to laugh a little. The thought of Stephanie holding a normal sized infant, while trying to convince him it was 2 months or more overdue, was hilarious. Didn't she realize she would've had to continue paying off doctors to lie about how far along she was? Fake pregnancy symptoms until she got pregnant for real? Come up with a damn good explanation for why labor wasn't being induced? There was no way she would've gotten away with this.

"Well...no. I'm not quite that stupid." Her eyes narrowed as she guessed what he had been thinking. "I figured that things would have been so great between us again, that you wouldn't care enough to leave me. I would have told you the truth right after finding out I was really pregnant."

"Steph...I wouldn't have left you if you'd just told me the truth yourself, instead of bringing in the fake doctor."

She shook her head sadly. "I didn't see that as an option. Ever since your injury, you seem ready to leave me at the slightest annoyance or problem. So while you were in that state, no, there was no way I would have told you. I had to get my old Hunter back first."

"I could never have left you."

"It sure as hell didn't appear that way to me."

"I was trying to make you leave me," he admitted.

Her blue eyes widened and she stared at him slack-jawed. "I-you-but-it-you" she sputtered incoherently.

He held up a hand to spare her from trying to compose a sentence. "We married each other for power. We're both masterminds, but my role was also the enforcer. The brawn. When I got injured, I lost all of that. You stayed by my side and supported me anyway. But then your father tried to convince you that I was replaceable and you should leave me. You didn't listen to him; you encouraged my recovery and were convinced I'd get back to being 100 percent."

"And what? My unrelenting support for you somehow gave you the idea I wanted out of our marriage? If I'd known that, I would have kept my distance," she bit out, sarcastically. He made absolutely no sense.

"No. I started questioning my ability to get better. A quad tear isn't the kind of injury people recover from and get back to life as it was. I worried that I wouldn't be able to wrestle again...and that if I did, I wouldn't be nearly as good. I wondered what my role as your husband would be if that happened. So I pushed you away. I didn't want to wait around and be caught off guard when you left me. I figured if I was enough of an asshole you'd say "to hell with him" and go. And it wouldn't be a surprise. It would hurt less because I caused it."

At his words, she softened. Hurt him? The only time he had ever made her aware that her leaving had the potential to hurt him was during the Trish Stratus fiasco. During the Kurt Angle situation, he was just angry. He never said anything to indicate he would be emotionally effected if she had chosen Kurt over him. In that situation she felt like his possession and not necessarily his wife. Which had been most of the reason she continued with her flirtation. She wanted to know that he truly still loved her and she wasn't just some damn shiny prize like his championship belt. Not only did she never get what she wanted, but her husband managed to get his ribs smashed in. Boy, did her conscience have a field day with her on that one.

"I really don't know what to say, Hunter. Except that I would never, ever leave you willingly. I would do anything to save our marriage and keep you around. Even when you're being a complete asshole. I know that what I did was very wrong. For that, I apologize. But, I can't apologize for doing what was in my power to keep us together. I mean I can apologize but I wouldn't really mean it. I knew that somewhere in there you still cared about me and if I could just find a way to bring it out of you, we'd be okay."

"You're wrong." He smirked as her face fell."I don't just care about you...I love you. So much that I thought it was impossible that you loved me the same way. So I just...don't express my feelings for you. I let that fear control me after my injury and I've been pushing you away ever since. I've hurt you so much over this last year, especially. And I'm sorry for it." He reached out to touch her cheek, and smiled when she didn't flinch but instead leaned into his embrace. The welts on her face also seemed to be less irritated, which pleased him.

Hunter slowly brought his face closer to hers. He looked deeply into her eyes and saw the love that resided there. God, I'm an idiot! But I'm going to change that. He pressed his lips to hers briefly, not wanting to scare her off. Stephanie shuddered a little bit, at the feel of his lips on hers. The tingles that his touch could cause to radiate throughout her body were nothing short of amazing. But, they had some things to work out still.

"What does this mean?" She asked him.

"That I love you more than anything and I'm going to make sure you always know it."

She smiled. "So we're getting back together?"

He pulled away and looked at her seriously. He reached up and tucked a stray strand of her hair behind her ear. "If you'll take me back, yes."

"I absolutely will. But, we need to promise each other something." At his nod, she continued, "I think we should be more open with each other. Let's not lie to or deceive each other anymore. And no hiding of our feelings either," she added while pointing her finger at him.

"Done," he told her simply.

The smile she answered him with was dazzling. Before he knew it, she had pressed her lips firmly against his. Her arms wrapped around his neck and he threaded one hand in her hair, letting the other hand roam her waist.

June 2003

Stephanie was awakened by soft wailing. She groaned and rolled over, fully expecting to see her husband lying next to her. His side of the bed was still warm so she assumed he hadn't been gone long. She pulled on a purple, silk robe and headed down the hall to her daughter's room.

No one had been more surprised than Stephanie herself, when she found out she was pregnant in March of last year. Apparently, she had been one week along when she and Hunter had attempted to renew their wedding vows. They had to laugh at the irony.

The parents-to-be decided that they wanted the sex of the baby to be a surprise. The pregnancy itself was mostly uneventful. Her morning sickness wasn't so bad and neither were the occasional kicks the child had given her abdomen. In November, she was overjoyed when the nurse placed a pink, arm-flailing bundle in her arms and congratulated her and her husband.

Hunter cried the first time he saw their daughter. That was a first. She had no idea what to do or say to comfort him. Sure, she'd seen him be emotional before, but this was so much more. At her concerned gaze, he explained that he couldn't help but think of how this moment might never have come to pass if they'd continued conducting their relationship so badly. She had to agree and soon became an emotional wreck, herself.

As she continued down the hall she heard Hunter's voice ask, "Where are you going, huh?" from the direction of her daughter's room. A few seconds later, she heard her child giggle, right as she crawled, with her one piece baby outfit halfway on, into the hallway.

7 month old Harmony Sophia Helmsley headed straight for her mother, who was smiling right at her. Her blue eyes brightened and her light brown curls bounced a little, as she sped up. When she reached Stephanie after a few seconds, she grabbed onto her leg, using it as leverage to stand upright. She reached up for her mother with one hand and hung onto her leg with the other. She grinned toothlessly and babbled when Stephanie reached down to pick her up.

"Hi baby. Are you giving your daddy a hard time?" Stephanie laughed when Harmony laughed and clapped excitedly. "I'll take that as a yes."

"I think maybe she wants to start her morning off by streaking around the house," Hunter told her with a chuckle as he stepped outside of their daughter's room.

"Maybe. She seemed very amused at running away from being fully clothed," she said before kissing Harmony's rosy cheek.

Hunter stared at her for a few seconds. Finally, she said, "Hi" with a shy smile.

"Hi. Do I get one of those, too?"

"Maybe. Have you been good today?"

"Absolutely...in fact, I was on a roll until Harm ran off. I was trying to get her fed and dressed without waking you."

"Awww," she gushed, leaning up to peck him on the lips.

"Why thank you," he told her before dipping his head to brush his lips lightly along the side of her neck. He failed to hide his snicker when she shivered and let out an almost inaudible moan at the contact and was rewarded with a smack to his bicep.

"Did you eat breakfast yet?" She asked him, pulling away from his roaming lips before he could do any more damage to her senses.

"Nope; I was waiting for you. How about you grab a shower and I'll take care of Harm and make us some food?"

A perfectly manicured brow lifted along with her smile. "Daddy's being awfully sweet today" she told Harmony, who was babbling quietly and patting Stephanie's cheek.

"I try," he told her, buffing his nails against his chest.

"Your efforts don't go unnoticed." She took a step toward him and ran a hand down his chest and abdomen, then around the waistband of his track pants.

He gulped and whined, "This is how you repay me? Try to get me all hot and bothered when we don't have an opportunity to finish?" He playfully shook his head and added sarcastically, "That's love, baby. That's love."

Hunter gave her a kiss on the cheek as she handed Harmony over to him. Harmony immediately started pulling at his hair, which was down and cascading around his shoulders. "Hopefully when her hair grows longer she'll play with it, instead of ours." He gave a laugh and turned towards the staircase so he could go downstairs and get started on breakfast.

"Wait," his wife called out to him, grabbing his free hand. "I hope you know I fully" she nipped at his earlobe "intend to continue this later."

Now it was his turn to shiver. Damn her, he thought. She knew what that did him.

"Until then I'll just enjoy teasing you," she quipped before smacking his ass and running back to their room.

"See? Do you see how mean she is to me," he asked the baby. Harmony just patted her father's face, seeming almost sympathetic.

Stephanie let out an audible sigh as she stepped into the shower, letting the streams of hot water soothe her. Life was great. Every day she got to wake up to her husband and daughter – the two most important people in her life. While the road to get here had no doubt been rocky, she couldn't really say that she would have changed anything. Had things not gone down the way that they did, she might not have ended up in this exact situation.

Maybe she and Hunter had to mess up their marriage a bit, to truly come to accept how much they loved each other. They had to lose one another to find out that it was unbearable. Each of them had to face their own insecurities and really just believe that the love they shared wouldn't allow them to ever hurt each other that way again.

While Hunter was certainly not abusive, he did absolutely lose his head with her that one time. In a strange way, she felt the need to be thankful for the incident. He had come to her father's office that night to apologize for it. If that hadn't happened, would they have ever talked things out? It took Hunter a few weeks to truly forgive himself for what had happened. But, since then he worked very hard to stay level-headed around her. He didn't even throw things around their locker room when he was upset anymore. His anger was strictly taken out on his opponents now. He didn't so much as raise his voice at her now.

So no, she wouldn't change a single that about the past. Not even that nasty temper.

~Fin