A day had passed since Ruby had been found. The whole community of Summer Bay was finally able to breath a sigh of relief and joy, as their lost daughter had been returned to them. Although she lay in a hospital bed in the ICU, Sid was confident that she would make a full recovery and would awaken from the coma in her own time. Charlie remained by her daughter's side thoughout the night, fighting sleep with all the willpower she could muster up. Unable to allow herself to close her eyes for fear that she would awaken to find it was all just a dream. Though she had little contact with the outside world, apart from visits from Irene and Leah, through their small conversations and the many gifts they had brought with them, she was well aware of the well wishes from friends, and it warmed her heart to think how much they cared for Ruby.

But there was one gift for Ruby that left Charlie feeling conflicted. At one point during the day, Charlie had been forced to leave her daughters bedside for a short time so she could talk with the officers who had been put in charge of the abduction case. When she returned to the ICU, she noticed that a watch had been strapped to the side rail of Ruby's bed. Heath had made a silent visit while Charlie was out and left behind a piece of him so Ruby would know that he had been there. He knew that she would recognise it by touch. Much like she had done during one of their self defence practice sessions. Heath had told Ruby to find something on him that was familiar, that she could associate with him and instantly recognise. The watch was what she chose.

Charlie had argued with herself over whether or not to remove the watch from the rail. She wasn't sure if she wanted Ruby to know Heath had been there. That he had helped to find her. Although he had gone above and beyond to track her down, Charlie was still reluctant to have him be a part of Ruby's life. Heath had proved that, like Brax, he did in fact have a good descent side to him. However there was still a concern over his hot headed nature. The middle Braxton was like a human hand grenade. There was no telling when he would go off on one and Charlie feared that side of him. But ultimately she came to the conclusion that it was Ruby's choice. She had tried to shield her daughter from heartache in the past and she had quickly learned that there is only so much a mother can do.

There comes a time when she must let her child face the heartaches and the tough decisions and learn to deal with them in their own way. If Charlie had her way, her heart would have her wrap Ruby in cotton wool for the rest of her life. But her head was telling her it was time to face the fact that Ruby was growing up, and that relationship heartaches came with the territory, as Charlie herself knew all too well. All she could do, was hope that Ruby made the right decisions, and knew that if she ever needed someone to talk to, Charlie was there for her. And so, the watch remained attached to the rail. Counting down the minuted until Ruby came round from the coma and faced the world again.

Laying in the chair across the room, Charlie had briefly closed her eyes to allow her energy levels to pick back up. However it wasn't a deep sleep, just a peaceful rest that kept her alert to the noised around her. In the moment, she heard the sound of a faint cough. Opening her eyes and adjusting them to the light that had been peering in throught the window, she gazed around until her eyes fell on her daughter. Hearing her cough again, Charlie suddenly became aware that Ruby was waking up and the tube that had been inserted in her throat was causing her discomfort. Practically jumping out of the chair, she dashed across to the bed and stood next to her daughter, placing one hand on Ruby's hair as she stroked it gently trying to calm her down and stop her coughing while her free hand pressed the button to call for a doctor.

"Rubes, Rubes, it's me Charlie. It's okay the tube is helping you breath. Just relax, the doctor will be here in a minute he's going to take it out", she said as she saw her daughter wince when she painfully tried to swallow. Only to find her throat restricted by the lack of room. Ruby tried to feel around for her mother's hand and noticing this, Charlie reached down and cupped it inside her own. Feeling it tremble with weakness and fear as her brain kicked in and she remembered that Ruby couldn't actually see what was going on around her. Leaning forward Charlie brought Ruby's hand up to the pendant around her neck so she could feel the braille on the back of it and know that she was safe. As if by magic, Ruby's trembling hand began to settle as she shifted it up towards Charlie's face and touched her tear stained cheek.

Sid came rushing through the door accompanied by two nurses having been alerted by the call button. Seeing Ruby was awake, Sid kindly asked Charlie to step aside while he worked. "Ruby, it's Sid. I want you to relax for me okay. I'm going to remove the tube for you alright", he said as he put on a pair of latex gloves. While he gently placed a hand around the breathing tube to stop it moving, one of the nurses removed the strap that was latched around Ruby's head and the tube to stop it moving. "Okay, now I'm goong to remove the tube Ruby and when I count to three, I want you to give me one big continuous cough okay. One, two, three", with the end of the count Ruby coughed until the tube was cleared from her airways.

Once Sid had completely removed it, she continued coughing as her throat adjusted. The second nurse walked over to Ruby and gave her and ice chip to suck on to ease the throbbing pain in her throat. Having checked Ruby's levels, Sid gave her an insulin injection and then left the room to allow Charlie so private time with her daughter. Walking back over to Ruby's bedside, she wiped away the tears of joy that had fallen and grabbed a hold of her daughters hand and placing gentle kissed on it before leaning over the bed and placing a long, lingering kiss on Ruby's forehead. The love for her daughter apparent in every gesture she made. "I'm so sorry Rubes. I thought I'd lost you forever", Charlie said as she broke down in tears. Silently cursing herself for wasting so much time believing her daughter to be dead.

As Charlie lowered head and sobbed her heart out, Ruby raised her hand and placed it on top of it. Softly stroking Charlie's hair to ease her pain. "Charlie, it's okay. I don't...cough...I don't blame you for what happened", she said as she tried to swallow but found it uncomfortable. Charlie looked up at her daughter and saw the sincerity in her eyes. Which just made her feel worse. After everything Charlie had put Ruby though, all the risk, the danger and everything else that went with her affair with Brax, still her daughter didn't blame her. And it made her realise how lucky she was to have a daughter like Ruby. If everyone else found out about her and Brax, regardless of whatever backlash that came with it, she knew that Ruby would always stand by her side and support her. Even if everyone else abandoned her.

"I love you so much", Charlie said as she stood up and leaned down, kissing Ruby's cheek and wrapping her arms around her. Holding her so tight she never wanted to let her go again. Eventually though, she released her from her grasp and sat down in the seat next to the bed and watched over her daughter, as she slowly faded off to sleep. As she slept peacefully, Charlie stroked her hand and realised she had broken the promise she had made to herself never to allow anything happen to Ruby again. And it caused an aching in her chest. One that could only be healed by the situation they were in being rectified once and for all. The problem was, how? And if it meant making difficult decisions, was Charlie strong enough to make them?

As Ruby remained in a deep slumber, Charlie raised herself from the chair and exited the room, heading down the corridor towards the coffee machine. Just as she was about to push the button, Irene pushed her way through the double doors carrying a small hamper in her arms. When she approached Charlie she smiled at her before pulling her close for a hug. "How ye doin' darl? Is Ruby alright?", Irene asked as they pulled apart. Nodding her head, Charlie slipped her thumbs into her jean pockets. "Yeah, she's fine. She came out of the coma about an hour ago and they've taken her off the ventilator, so it's looking good", she said. Irene breathed a sigh of relief at the news. Happy that the young girl she had grown so close to was alive and well and on the road to recovery.

"Love that is fantastic news", Irene said. Gazing down at the hamper she remember why she had gone to the hospital in the first place. "Look, I ah, brought you some food and coffee from the Diner. Leah packed some of your favourites and some of Ruby's as well. We thought you could use something to keep your strength up", she said as she handed the hamper over to Charlie. Taking a hold of the basket, she thanked the elder woman for her kindness. Turning towards the row of chairs next to the vending machine, they sat down, and Irene could tell that Charlie had a lot on her mind. But rather than push the matter and have her retreat inside herself, she decided to let Charlie be the one to bring it up. Luckily for Irene, Charlie was in a talkative mood.

"When did everything get so complicated?", she said as she stroked her forehead. Irene pursed her lips together wondering how to answer that question. A couple of things came to mind, but instead of laying dumb, she decided to be straight forward with Charlie. "Are you talkin' about you and Brax?", she asked. Charlie's eyes darted straight up from the ground to Irene and she could see it in the elder woman's eyes that she knew the truth and that there was no way she could keep lying. "How did you, how long have...", Irene cut her off. "How long have I known about you and Brax? A while. I came home from work one day and overheard your little chat with Bianca", she said as she looked at the expression on Charlies' face. She looked like a deer caught in headlights.

"How come you never said anything? It's not like I'm naive enough to believe that if this got out there wouldn't be any backlash. It's a small town", Charlie said as she fidgeted with her hands. "Your right it is a small town. And I'm not gonna lie to you darl', I can't say I'm over the moon about it. Especially after everything that's happened poor Ruby", she said and she watched as Charlie lowered her head in recognition of the fact that Irene had every right to be weary. "But I'm also not one for going around and spreading everyone's business all over town. What you and Brax do is your business and I thought it was best I respect that and just let this thing play out instead of causing a ruckus. The Riverboys cause enough trouble as it is", she said. Irene looked down at the ground thinking carefully about what she was about to say and making sure she phrased it as best she could.

"But Charlie, I'd be lying to you and myself if I said I wasn't concerned. This situation is very dangerous. You know if you were a single woman with no responsibilities then I could see why you would want to throw caution to the wind", she said and Charlie could see where this conversation was going. "But the fact is your a mum and that girl in there needs her mum in her life. I'm just afraid if you keep seein' Brax that you're putting your life in serious danger. And not just yours Ruby's too", Irene said as she placed a hand on top of Charlie's. "Love I would hate to see anything happen to either if you because of some brainless gang war. You've already lost Ruby once, do really want to go through that again?", she asked.

Digesting Irene's words, Charlie found herself again thinking about the future. It was something she found herself doing a lot lately. Because if she could picture the future and what she wanted, she could begin to figure out how to deal with the present. Although she would love Brax to be in it, she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling that, with the way things were going, it would be possible, or practical. Then she thought about her career and where she wanted it to go. She had been a cop since she left school. It was all she knew and it was something she was very passionate about. Of course she wanted to excel at it and rise through the ranks. But it all came down to one thought. Ruby,

"You know, when I first go together with Brax, my main worry or concern was what it would mean for Ruby. I was blind, somewhere in my mind I knew he was more trouble than he was letting on. But I chose to ignore it. And Ruby got hurt. Badly", she said as he placed a stray piece of hair behind her ear. Irene nodded at what Charlie was saying to indicate that she was listening. "The one person in this world who matters the most to me, and allow it to happen. So I pushed Brax away. The problem is, a cop gets involved with someone like Brax and nobody forgets it. Nobody. Even when we're not together I'm still worrying about what's going to happen next", she said as he wiped away a fallen tear. "I love him. I can't stop myself loving him. I don't know how to and I don't know if want to. But what I do know is, in all this craziness, is that I'm a mum. And I will do anything to keep Ruby safe", she said.

Irene placed her arm around Charlie's shoulders and smiled. "Well I think that's your answer then. You know darl', they teach you a lot of things when you become a parent. But they never teach you about the sacrafices you have to make. Being a parent is hard Charlie. Anyone will tell you that. But if we really want the best for our kids, then we have to prepared to make really tough decisions. We have to be willing to sacrafice things we love so that they know how much we love them", Irene said. Her perils of wisdom sinking into Charlie's already overloaded brain as she thought long and hard about what she had to do next.

A couple of hours had passed since Ruby had first fallen asleep and after awaking from her slumber she found herself deep in thought. While trying to pull herself up in the bed with the help of the side rails, her hand came across the watch Heath had left there. She recognised instantly by her touch and after removing it from the side bearing, she had spent the last half hour feeling it out and thinking long and hard about her love life and her feelings for Casey, Geoff and now Heath. It was a messy situation. One Ruby wasn't sure wanted to deal with right now. But she knew it wouldn't be long before she would be faced with their affections and she needed to igure out in her own heart and her own head what it was she truly wanted.

Ruby was swiftly removed from her thoughts by a knocking at the door and the sound of a handle turning. "Hey, Rubes. It's me Casey", he said as he walked into the room and sat down in the chair next to the bed."It's so good to see", he said with sincerity in warmth is his voice at being reunited with his girlfriend. "I'm, um, I'm glad you stopped by actually. We need to talk", she said a serious tone to her voice. Casey was expecting this. So he cut her off so he could get what he needed to say off his chest. "Rubes, I know I screwed up. Okay I know that. Things got tough and I ran away. And, I shouldn't have done that. I should have been here for you", he said as he held her hand in his. "I just, I got scared. This whole thing with the Riverboys it's getting really intense and I thought, I thought if I got away from here, away from you that you'd be better off without me", he said as he lowered his head.

"But I realise now that I was wrong. Because of all of this. It has nothing to do with us. It's about Brax and Charlie and no matter what we do, we're still going to be affected by it. And that's why I'm here. To tell you that I'm not going anywhere", he said, a small smile creeping across his face as he finished his little rant. Ruby sighed at what Casey had said. Feeling disappointed as she removed her hand from his grasp. "That's the thing Case. You ran off when I needed you, like really needed you. Everything things with your brothers gets out of hand you shut me out. And I don't know if I can take it anymore", she said as a tear rolled down her cheek. "Everytime things are going well you always bring it down to the Riverboys and being a Braxton. Well guess what Casey, I'm in this just as deep as you are", she shouted as gestured towards her eyes. "Or haven't you noticed".

Casey lowered his head realising that his heartfelt speech had proven inaffective. All the apologising in the world wasn't going to make Ruby forgive him for shutting her out yet again. His eyes began to well up with unshed tears. "I'm sorry Case, I can't do this anymore. It's over", Ruby said as her own tears began to fall. And that was it. Casey felt his heart break in two at being rejected by the girl who had been his first real love. But he also felt a shade of anger within himself at the thought of Ruby turning to Geoff. "Is this because of Geoff? Because you want to be with him?", he said as he raised his voice. "NO! It has nothing to do with Geoff. I don't want to be with him, I don't want to be with anyone. I just want to be on my own", Ruby shouted back, alerting the nurses to the growing hostility as they peered inside the room. Casey allowed a tear to fall as he realised it was in fact over. "Fine have it your way", he said in harsh tone as he walked out of the room and slammed the door shut.

Charlie saw Casey bolt out of the hospital as she made her way up the corridor. Sensing the anger he was feeling, she quickened her pace and made her way to Ruby's hospital room. "Rubes, what's wrong with Casey?", Charlie asked concerned at the young teens current mood, until she saw the tears streaming down her daughters face. "Hey, what's wrong?", she asked, worry laced though her words as she sat on the edge of the bed and took Ruby's hand in her own. "It's over. Casey and I, we're finished", Ruby managed as she burts into heart wrenching sobs. Charlie pulled her daughter into her arms and held her tight. Stroking her back as she waited patiently for Ruby's tears to stop.

That night, Charlie made her way to Angelo's. Having texted Brax to find out where he was, he had replied instantly letting her know that he and Heath were at the restaurant. Safe in the knowledge that Bianca and April were at the hospital with Ruby, she had finally left and was now pulling up outside the Surf Club. It was late, so the club was pretty much deserted. Making her way into the building and up the stairs, she entered Angelo's and found Brax and Heath sitting at the bar drinking a couple of glasses of bourbon. "G'day Buckton", Heath said. Although surprising both Brax and Charlie, he was sincere in his greeting. Rather than lacing it with his usual sarcasm. "I just thought I'd let you know that Ruby's come round from the coma", she said rubbing her hands against the front of her jeans.

Both Braxton brothers acknowledged the news with a simple nod. Quiet but affective. "That's ah, that's good to hear", Brax said knowing Charlie would prefer some sort of verbal response. Although he played it cool, as usual. Showing little emotion. Allowing the truth in his eyes to say more than his words ever good. "Yeah, that's great news", Heath responded as she shot a quick awkward smile at Charlie. She smiled back at him, knowing that the news meant more to him than he was letting on. Emphasised by the bare wrist Heath was flashing, where his watch used to take pride of place. "You eh, you want a drink?", Brax said as he gestured towards the bar. Charlie turned to him and shook her head, explaining that she wasn't hanging around. "No, I have to get back to Ruby. I just wanted to thank you. Both of you, for helping me take down Brodie. And find Ruby", she said.

Brax couldn't hide the fact that he was desperate to talk to Charlie. But with Heath there, he knew he couldnt say to her what it was he wanted to say. Charlie meanwhile, was also disappointed that she couldn't have one on one time with Brax to discuss what all this would mean for them and their chances of being together. Heath on the other hand walked around the counter and pulled out a bottle of champagne from the fridge and Brax and Charlie looked at him curiously. "What? Can't have a celebration without champers", he joked. Everyone well aware that Heath wasn't the type of classy guy who drank champagne on any occassion. "Come on. Brodes is gone. We got Ruby and the rest of the boys who had been helpin' him have up and left town", he said. Brax and Charlie both laughed and then gave in to Heaths idea.

Picking up three champagne glasses, he placed them on the counter and then popped the cork, before pouring the champagne into three glasses. Each of them picked up a glass and clinked them together. While Brax and Charlie took a sip from their glasses, Heath lowered his in one go. Shaking his head in disgust as he put the glass down. "Man this stuff sucks! If I have a fancy party we'll be celebratin' with bourbon", he said. Just as the three of them were warming up to each other's company, a noise downstairs alerted them to company. "Stay here", Brax said as he headed for the exit and down the stairs. As he reached the Surf Club, he noticed that the place was empty, except for a small brown package sitting on the pool table. Taking it into his hand, he went back upstairs.

"Who was it?", Heath asked as he and Charlie remained seated at the bar. Brax shook his head. "Dunno. But whoever it was left us a little pressie", he said as he raised the package so they would see it. "Well don't keep us waitin' come on man open it", Heath said as he took a swig of bourbon from his glass. Brax untied the string from around the package and the removed the wrapping. Opening the box, he was rendered motionless as he peered inside at the contents. His facial expression giving nothing away. "Brax, what is it?", Charlie asked, the fear very much present in her voice. Brax placed the box on the counter and Heath and Charlie reached inside and looked at their hands as they saw the photgraphs they were nw clutching.

"Oh my God!", Charlie said as she looked closely at them. They were photographs of Heath, Brax, Charlie, Casey and Ruby. They were taken from a distance while they went bout their day to day business. But what was most shocking was in every photo, their heads were drawn over with a red target mark. As Charlie and Heath finished flicking through them they looked at Brax who was holding a piece of paper and reading the contents of it very carefully. They noticed the look of frustration, worry and anger in his eyes. It was the same look he got when he realised that whatever trouble he thought he had taken care of, was still lurking about.

"All this time, we thought Brodie was pullin' the strings", he said as she lowered the note to his side and gazed up at the heavens. Heath looked at him. "What are ye talkin' about?", he asked as he saw Charlie's eyes welling up with tears. Already aware that Brax was about to deliver a crushing blow that had the potential to turn their worlds back on their head again. Lifting the note back up so he could read it out loud Brax skipped passed all the idle nonsense and went straight for the last line. "Always helps to have an ace in the hole. Your pal, Mick". With that Brax crumpled up the note and tossed it away. His temper rising. Charlie sat there stunned into silence. She should have known it was all too good to be true. Suddenly all her thoughts about the future began to fade and she knew she needed to change that. She had to do what was best for herself and for Ruby. But what?

Next Time:

*Charlie brings Ruby comes home from the hospital and after a serious heart to heart, they think about their options. But are they prepared to leave the Bay for their own safety?