Hello again, how was everyone's weekend? Mine was okay... busy so I couldn't update sorry. So i couldnt resist adding one more hurdle. Enjoy and dont forget to review
The situation with the Manoso family had not changed at all over the passing weeks. Diego and Maria went together to dinner at Rangeman once a week, and Diego still came to the weekly sports nights with the guys. The rest of the family had been pushed under the carpet for now. Stephanie was not sure whether or not Ranger's and Lester's siblings knew there was a problem between them and one of their parents. She hoped they didn't know what had caused it.
Stephanie had noticed Lester's sadness over the last few days so she and Ranger confronted him. He told them how he felt: if it wasn't for him they would be happily married and Ranger's parents would have accepted her. Stephanie slapped him, blaming it on a fit of hormones. She told him how it had taken her ages to learn one very important thing: that you can't take the blame for everything that happens. And she would not have had things work out any other way: now she had a beautiful baby boy on the way as well as the perfect husband. Ranger assured Lester as well that he was not solely to blame, and that things had worked out well. Ranger told Lester that he was happier than he had ever been in his life: he had a wife who he was truly open with and would soon have a son.
Everything had settled down at Rangeman. Bobby was warming up to Ranger, the men had all moved on and everyone was getting excited for the baby to arrive. The eighth month was a week away and emergency meetings were being held to establish hospital routes and procedures for events such as what to do if they were with her when her water broke or contractions started.
Tank had redone his office for her; it included a baby corner with toys and was painted in a baby blue. Stephanie had become quite proficient at the office paperwork and had even saved the company money by negotiating bulk sales and such.
The upstairs nursery had been completed. It was painted in a light blue and dark blue camo print. The furniture was black and had taken Lester and Tank almost three hours to put together. Apparently they seemed to think that because they could dismantle and reassemble a semi-automatic in ten seconds that they didn't need to read the instructions. Fortunately Ranger had been the first person to sit in the brand new rocking chair they had put together. He sat admiring the room and their hard work, and that it had collapsed under him about ten seconds into his musing. Stephanie had never seen Tank so pale before, and Lester was not looking much better. Ranger had promptly called both Lester and Tank to the mats and then donated the rest of the things 'the bozo twins' had put together to charity (along with two parts that they insisted were spares), and a not warning that they might not have been assembles correctly. Ranger then re bought everything, paying the additional charge to have a professional put everything together.
Stephanie woke up alone in bed. That in itself was different, but there was a ball of worry in her stomach and she had no clue what it was about. It was four o'clock in the morning; not a time she would usually be awake. She thought that maybe something was wrong with the baby, being just over 8 months pregnant now so wondered if maybe it was time, so she grabbed her dressing gown, wrapping it around her naked frame, and rushed to find her husband.
Ranger was sitting on the couch, staring at the computer he had on his lap, his back to her. He didn't seem to notice her approaching, so she reached her hand out to touch his shoulder.
He jumped, slamming the lid on his computer shut.
"Jesus Christ, Stephanie. What are you even doing up at this time? Can't I get a few minutes alone in my own house?" he yelled at her.
Stephanie was frozen. Never before had Ranger yelled at her. Her eyes filled with tears as she clutched her dressing gown closed around her and ran from the apartment (at this stage it was more of a fast waddling walk), down the stairs to Lester's door. She came to a stop in front of it and banged the fist that was not currently trying to keep her gown around her so she stayed decent, as hard as she could. Lester had barely opened the door, bleary eyed from sleep, before she fell crying into his arms. Stephanie was not sure what was on the computer but it was clear Ranger was hiding it from her, and based on his reaction, it wasn't innocent.
'Shit shit shit shit shit' was all Ranger could think. Would there ever be a time where he didn't fuck things up, he wondered? He had been so surprised when she caught him off guard - talk about being aware of your surroundings! His shock, mixed with the guilt that he was hiding something so big from her, caused him to massively over-react and he god only knew what Stephanie was thinking now. He threw the computer into the wall and sank back down onto the couch. He knew where she would be - in Lester's apartment on four, crying her eyes out to his cousin, that thought pissed him off. Why did she always have to run to Lester? Wasn't it enough have she had slept with him now it has to be rubbed in his face all the time. 'Shit' he thought, he was thinking irrationally and shifting blame. He wanted to go after her, but he needed to sort himself out first. Plus he needed to think over what he would tell her.
"Oh Les, he's cheating on me again, I know it! I woke up feeling something was wrong, and my stomach was all tight, and when I went into the living room he was on the couch, so absorbed in the computer that he didn't even know I was there! When I reached out and touched him he slammed the lid closed and then yelled at me!" she managed to get out after twenty minutes of sobbing. Lester was concerned about the baby and what effect this new stress might have, but Stephanie refused to see Bobby.
Lester tried to assure her that Ranger was not having an affair - he was almost 100% sure of that fact. There was a knock on the door and Lester hoped it was Ranger coming to explain.
Ranger entered Lester's apartment. He sat on the chair opposite Lester and Stephanie.
"Babe, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to yell at you. I know I overreacted. It's not that I didn't want you to see what I was looking at it was just confidential and I wanted to talk to you about it first"
"Is there someone else?" Stephanie whispered his reasoning sound like an excuse and she would not be placated.
Ranger was momentarily stunned. How could she think that? After thinking a moment, he realised that his behaviour plus her relationship history would of course cause her to jump to that conclusion.
"No, Babe, of course not!" She let out a breath, and he took a deep breath in relief.
"My former handler contacted me last night; they need me to run a mission for them, as a freelance operative. The pay would be almost double what I used to get. It isn't supposed to take long: just a simple get in, neutralize the target, and get out. I wanted some time to think about it before I spoke to you about it."
Stephanie knew there was more to it than he was saying but she would come back to that. "When?"
"I would have to leave in three days; estimated length of the mission is one - two weeks."
Stephanie sucked in a breath. That answer hurt her more than she thought it could. He was considering taking a mission that would put him half way across the world when she was due to give birth to their son. Now she was angry. Ranger watched the fury flash in her eyes.
"If it's such a simple mission why isn't one of the many other people they still have under contract doing it?"
Ranger winced; that was a question he was hoping she would not ask. "There have been a few attempts, without success. Apparently it requires my special skills."
Stephanie knew how to decipher his bullshit by now. "You mean, the people they sent in were killed, most likely in horrible ways, and they don't want to waste any more of their men so they are asking you. If you die it doesn't matter to them as you had already left the organization, and if you succeed? Well, yay for you plus you get a big check. I'm sure it's an added bonus to them that if you are caught you can't be tortured for information as everything you know is out of date."
Ranger looked torn, wanting to argue, but even he knew everything she said was at least partly true. He chose to believe he had been chosen because he had pulled off a mission like this before, and because he had ways of getting in and out that no-one else did.
"I've done things like this before; I always beat the odds" was all he said.
Stephanie could see the struggle going on inside her husband. He was a soldier first and foremost, and had been for most of his life.
"What about our son? What about me? Let them find someone else Ranger; you have a family now. Don't you want to see him born?"
It was like trying to approach a wounded animal. If she pushed too hard or moved too quickly his stubborn side would pop out and he would be gone.
"I know you could do it, but Ranger, you'd miss our child's birth! Not to mention the added stress I'll be under worrying about you won't be good for him. Please, stay with us. I don't want to go through this alone."
Ranger turned around, running his hands over his face. "I know Babe, but…" he paused. He wasn't even sure what to say after that. It was programmed into him that when they called, he answered. He couldn't help but think of all the good taking this man out would do for the world. There was also a need to prove himself; they had told him he was too old, and now here they were on their knees begging him to accept the mission. They had let him go and now they wanted him back. If he accepted the mission and succeeded then he could say a big F U to them.
"Anyway Babe, you wouldn't be alone - Lester will be there." As soon as the words were out of his mouth he knew they were the worst thing he could have said.
"I DON'T WANT LESTER, I WANT YOU! HE IS YOUR SON!"
"I know you want me but I have a duty; to this country, to the millions of Americans who enjoy their freedom and to our son so he can grow up in a world that is a little less evil. They need me!"
"No they don't, Ranger. They were running missions before you were even born and they will continue running them when you're dead. All they want is cannon fodder. Your son needs you to be alive, and at his birth."
"Babe, it's not like I can just tell them, 'Sorry Uncle Sam, but I'm busy at the moment; just let this maniac continue to threaten the free world and kill people until I'm available'? This is who I am; I thought you knew that!"
"No, this is who you used to be, before when you were alone. Now you're a man who has a family, and friends, and who smiles and laughs and enjoys the lifestyle that you risked your life protecting. Don't forget they were the ones who decided you weren't good enough for them anymore; I, however, stood by you both before and after. Now I guess you have to decide what is more important, your wounded pride or your family." She shouted this at him before turning and striding into Lester's bedroom, slamming the door.
"Great - now you got us kicked out of my apartment" It was the first thing Lester had said the whole time. He followed it by slapping Ranger upside the head. "You're an idiot."
Ranger turned and walked out of the apartment. He refused to let the doubt in - he was a solider and he did what he had to for his country. Stephanie just didn't understand that.
Lester wasn't sure what to do, he wanted to knock some sense into his cousin but he was worried about Stephanie. He opted to stay in the apartment with her. He couldn't resist calling out a parting warning to his cousin, hoping the message would eventually sink in.
"Carlos, you've finally got everything you wanted. Why would you risk losing it all?"
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