Okay so, you all know that there are only 9 chapters of this fic so far! There was some glitch with ch 9, so it's double posted as ch 10. Here's the actual chapter 10...the final chapter of this fic! Hope you've all enjoyed the ride! Thanks so much for reading and reviewing! This chapter is mostly uneventful, I think...but is a nice way to tie up loose ends, time frame for this is no more than a day after Steph gets him released.
"Hey," Stephanie greeted softly, her long arms sneaking over the back of the recliner to envelop her husband.
"Hiya," he returned, turning his head to kiss her on the cheek.
Stephanie released the embrace and chewed her lip, worriedly. "This is for you." She reached into her back pocket and produced a wad of her very own stationary. "It's a letter," she explained. "A long letter."
Hunter used the remote to mute the television. He stretched out his legs and stood up to take the small, bundled stack of paper from her. Curiously, he glanced at her. "Why a letter?"
She expelled a nervous breath and pushed her hair behind her ears. "Well, I wanted to respond to what you wrote. It seemed redundant to basically retell the story, from my perspective. But if I tried to tell you what I feel out loud, I'd probably miss some points."
The smallest of smiles touched his lips. "Okay, I'll read it right now."
When he began to unbundle the papers, she reached out and grabbed his hands, stilling the movement. "Wait until I'm out of sight," she stipulated.
He tilted his head and arched his eyebrow in question.
A low chuckle escaped her and she chewed her lip again. "I'm a little...nervous. About what you'll think," she admitted. "I don't want to know your reaction as you go along. I don't want to...discuss anything as you're reading it. I let my emotions get the better of me at certain parts. So just come to me upstairs when you're done."
She didn't give him a chance to agree or to protest. She simply pressed a kiss to his lips and turned around to dart up the stairs.
Hunter watched after her, thoroughly confused. He wasn't all that worried; she was staying in the house so it wasn't like she was leaving him high and dry. Whatever was in this letter, he was confident they would work it out somehow.
He took a swallow from his water bottle and settled back into the recliner, pulling apart the binding ribbon she had tied around her work.
First of all, I have to say that I'm really sorry for the pain you went through these last couple of days. If there was a way that I could have spared you of it, I would have. I know that it's nobody's fault that I had this abnormal pregnancy. But, I do feel somewhat responsible for what my mother tried to do to us. I should have expected some form of payback after I tried to run her and my Dad out of business. Still, I was very disappointed to learn that you would believe one of my conniving family members, over me.
I know that there have been times that I said or did something that might have made you doubt me. But, the one thing I've never done is lie to you. The fact that you could think I would choose to begin lying...about something so important and life-changing, really hurt me. In a way, it still does.
Just so you know, I'm not entirely sure that I'm wording this properly. I'm sure I'll jumble my thoughts and perhaps speak too bluntly. But, I don't want to hold anything back. So, here goes.
The main thing I got from what I read is that you seem to have a real problem with opening up to me. It's not that you inherently don't trust me – it's more like you underestimate me. You seem to think that your thoughts and feelings are beyond my comprehension and/or that I'm incapable of seeing past my own thoughts and feelings to deal with yours appropriately.
I had no idea that you were awake when my Dad said those horrible things at our hotel. I defended you and our relationship to him and all but told him to stay the hell away from us if he couldn't accept that I would never willingly leave your side. You were half right; some of the sadness that you saw in my eyes was because there was a gaping hole in my relationship with my father again. I felt stupid. It really seemed like he had come to support our marriage prior to your injury. I thought that he was showing up to encourage us in your recovery. But, I was so very wrong. You knew that I would be wrong, too. I could tell by the way our interactions went that day, that you knew his visit would end up horribly. I didn't bring the topic up at all, I completely ignored it and told myself you were just being a pessimist and were grumpy because you were in pain.
But, you were right. And I felt stupid for believing that my Dad cared about anything other than money. I realized that he had aligned himself with us because it was less costly than trying to fight with us. Together, we proved to be too much of a challenge, too much for him to handle. So, he played nice. And I misread the situation, thinking that he just really wanted to be my father again. His visit, effectively pulled the rug out from under me: he thought you would no longer make him money and that you were therefore useless. It just...hurt that he could think that way about someone I love so much. It hurt that he believed that I could ever think of you as disposable.
It was just a wake-up call for me. And I felt horrible that had you not fallen asleep after your pain medication, you would have been forced to endure his bullshit all because I was too naive to want to see the truth.
After reading your side of things, I am somewhat glad that you heard what I said when I kicked him out that day. But, it also saddens me that even after that, you still didn't really believe that I'd stick by you.
Despite the fact that I absolutely love you with all of my heart, it wasn't easy to be around you during your recovery. Especially not once you started being able to rely on the crutches less. I was supposed to be helping you out; you were only supposed to do the simple things to take care of yourself. But, you're so incredibly stubborn. Usually I love that about you. But, not when you're risking hurting yourself again. Did you ever stop to think about how I felt seeing you in pain? While you were risking further injury trying to make meals and whatnot, I'll bet it didn't cross your mind that I was terrified of that.
You felt like you were failing me as a husband because you couldn't do certain things. Well, I felt like a failure as a wife because I wasn't able to help you. I couldn't do a damn thing to help you – not physically or emotionally. You just wanted to shut down and be mad at the world until you were cleared to get off the crutches. I had no idea how to get through to you and to make matters worse, sometimes I didn't want to. There were times that I got so frustrated that I wanted to just sit on my ass and watch you fend for yourself. "It would serve him right," is what I would think to myself. Then, I felt horribly guilty for feeling that way and tried to just put myself in your shoes to calm my temper.
In hindsight, the ECW thing might not have been the best idea. I did have somewhat of an ulterior motive for being a part of the attempted takeover. I wanted to prove to my father that I was still a threat to his position of power, without you. I know, it sounds really stupid. But the way he treated me after your injury really pissed me off. He all but suggested that I leave you for someone uninjured so that I didn't waste my life. Do you see the implication there? He thinks that I'm incapable of surviving without a strong, healthy male at my side. I'm not saying that you aren't those things...but you heard what he said – he regarded you as essentially useless and was furious that I'd continue to be with you throughout your rehab.
Shane and I came very close to beating him, too. I don't regret the experience as a whole, but I do regret that I didn't break away from the implication that the only time I'm ever a success is when there's a guy around. In this case, that guy was my own brother. But, he was the one who initiated this whole thing, I just sort of came on board. So, I'm not going to dwell on it too much since it wasn't totally my idea.
The twinge of regret I feel is for the damage that it caused our relationship and our reputations. I had no idea that the rumors were so vicious. But, I'm happy that you know it's just a bunch of crap and that I didn't actually do any of those things. I'll readily admit that I was selfish and didn't stop to think about how my flirtation would affect you professionally. Personally, I knew that even though you were outwardly cool with it, you'd still be the slightest bit jealous. I liked that...if I'm going to be honest I kind of wanted it. I felt like our relationship was low on your priority list and that by maybe seeing that other men found me attractive and would do my bidding without hesitation, that maybe you'd try harder.
But you didn't. And it backfired horribly because of those whispers I didn't know about. You let your feelings about it fester and it just turned into this gigantic fight between us. The only good thing that came out of it was that you actually flew up to see me for a change. I know that I was pretty difficult at first...
I'd spent the previous evening and most of that morning being an emotional wreck. I wanted to forgive you, but my pride wouldn't let me. Not when you had been so cold...and sometimes cruel. I got angry when I opened the hotel room door and saw you standing there. I was angry that the only reason you'd made the effort was because I wouldn't take or return your calls the night before.
I knew that even though it was my birthday, you still wouldn't have made the effort to be with me, had that fight not happened. I kept telling myself that you didn't deserve my forgiveness so soon and that if I didn't make it hard on you, nothing would change.
I wanted to...more or less force you to be nicer. Consistently. Of course I completely and totally lost my determination as soon as you grabbed me. I forgave you instantly and I was a little pissed at myself for that after the novelty of the day wore off and you flew back to Birmingham.
So, the feelings I should have expressed to you then, came out when I told you about Kurt Angle wanting to defect. More so, what I'd needed to say came out when I had to persuade you to be okay with his defection. That was awful of me and horrible timing. I apologize for guilt-tripping you into that.
Truth be told, you really pissed me off when you mandated that Kurt not defect. Hell, you didn't care that Stone Cold Steve Austin – your former partner who trash talked you after your injury – defected. You only batted an eyelash because you were shocked. But, you recognized that he would be of great use to the Alliance. I called to update you all the time and for the most part all you did was agree with whatever I said. You didn't give one ounce of a damn about what Shane and I were up to until Kurt became involved.
It annoyed me that you suddenly wanted to assert your authority, just because you don't like the guy. I'm not saying you don't have a right not to like him, but still.
Let me stop there. This doesn't really matter, because he completely screwed the Alliance over anyway. So I'm not going to defend his "trustworthiness"...but it made me very upset that you were only looking at it from the personal perspective and not the business one.
I'm just going to run off a string of apologizes before I explain why I did these things in the first place.
I'm sorry for going out to the ring and taking credit for your success. I'm sorry I cost you that match against Booker T. I'm sorry I was so annoying around that time.
And I'm really, truly sorry that I said your career was successful because of me, right before I implied that my father was right for thinking you weren't good enough for me. First of all, I'm insanely pleased that you knew I didn't mean what I said – that I had only said it because you hurt my feelings and I wanted to hurt you back.
But, that's childish and I shouldn't have said it. It was hitting way below the belt.
We were having similar issues; we just didn't know it. You felt the need to prove to the world that you didn't need my help to be a success. And I was feeling insecure that the world spun that around and thought I was hanging on to you, just to stay in the business. I started to wonder if you felt that way, especially given how mean you had been to me lately.
Renewing our wedding vows wasn't a matter of proving to the world that you still loved me. It was more like my roundabout way of asking if you did. I didn't want to tell you about the baby before I knew that. I didn't want you to feel like I trapped you with a pregnancy, to save our failing marriage. I love you too much to do that. Intentionally, anyway.
When you declined the idea, I realized how stupid my presentation had been. I hadn't thought of any backup excuses for the ceremony, so I told the truth. I'm still not sure how I feel about that, honestly. Even though I was initially happy when you agreed to what I wanted, a part of me wondered why you had. Deep down I wondered if I'd simply persuaded you into the ceremony or if I'd persuaded you into an entire life with me that you didn't actually want.
My poker face served me well and hid my doubts and concerns. I put it aside and decided that I'd find out as our life together unfolded.
Then you gave me that new ring. It's beautiful; but that's not what had me bursting into tears that night. It was the gesture itself and what it symbolized. And that you said you'd been wanting to give me that for a long time. It kind of reassured me that you did really want me for me...and not just because you knocked me up and felt obligated.
Of course, you know that all went to hell during the actual ceremony. I won't dwell there too long, except to say that I was devastated and confused at the things you were saying and accusing me of.
And then I was scared out of my mind when I felt the pain. I won't say any more about that...you were there and I seriously don't want to relive it. The terror that I felt was unreal...it's still hard to wrap my head around the fact that I could have died that night and taken our child right along with me.
But, going backwards for a second, it's been really helpful for me to read your version of things. Even though the ending to our night was absolutely horrifying...I had to smile a little bit when I read that you'd planned to talk to me about the whole "fake pregnancy" thing in a few days. You have no idea how much that comforted me. That, even if I had done something that horrible, you love me enough to try to work things out.
I'm extremely sorry that my father had you arrested. His panic over me combined with the fact that you two basically hate each other drove him over the edge, I guess. I'm glad that Shane was there to be the voice of reason and to set my mother straight.
I can't imagine what it must have been like for you to think that you had...well, ended my life and the life of our baby. I read about your feelings, of course. But, I'm sure that only scratches the surface. Writing down what you're feeling is one thing...but you lived it.
And to make matters worse, those cops were horribly insensitive to our situation. You're very gracious by saying they were just doing their job...but anybody who saw what happened wouldn't dare to say that you had purposely tried to seriously hurt me. They pushed you too hard and said such awful things. They made you believe that you're some kind of wife-beater. And you're not. I hope you realize that and never let anyone convince you of any different.
A chill creeps down my spine at the fact that you were locked up with men who believed that lie. Men that wanted to pummel you. I just thank God that my doctor was able to have me on my feet so quickly. I don't want to even think about what could have happened to you if you'd been left in that place for another day.
Hunter, I really want to work this out. We know where we've gone wrong now, but that's not enough. We need to know why. I think the primary reason is that we clam up our true feelings way too often. That's the theme I keep seeing as I glance between your story and my letter; your memories and mine.
I may not always understand what you're going through or what you're thinking. But, you'll never know unless you try. And I can promise you that at the very least, I will try to understand. If you make that same promise to me, I think we'll be just fine.
Hunter folded the papers back into a neat bundle. The only problem with writing their feelings down was that they couldn't see each other's expressions. If Stephanie had tried to verbalize what she'd written, he had no doubt she would have turned into a weeping mess. So, in that way it was efficient for getting her thoughts out. But, he didn't like that at the time she surely needed some consoling, he had been downstairs flipping through their hundreds of channels, randomly.
He placed the bundle down on the coffee table before getting up and making his way upstairs. He pushed open the door to the bedroom and couldn't help but smile.
Stephanie was propped up against a couple of pillows on her side of the bed. A baby book lay open across her stomach, with her right hand resting on top of it. Her left hand was extended, almost as if she'd been reaching for him. He removed the book from its position, closing it and placing it on the nightstand next to her.
He leaned down and whispered, "Steph?"
She squeezed her eyes shut tighter before finally opening them to see her husband smiling down at her. How did she manage to fall asleep and how long had she been out? Clearly, long enough for him to finish reading what she had written him.
A loud yawn escaped her as she stretched her arms above her head. "Yeah?" She asked.
"I promise," was all he said before he pressed his lips against hers in a sweet, unhurried kiss.