Author's note: Here it is, the conclusion to Desperate Measures! I hope it lives up to expectations. I would like to thank everyone who has been reading for this long and reviewing and sticking by me. You all are awesome. I might be coming out with a sequel to this story sometime soon. Stay tuned guys and thanks again!
"I'm nervous," AJ muttered, glancing at reflection in the mirror as she twisted her hair around her index finger. "Are you sure my dress looks ok? What about my hair?"
Kaitlyn could only laugh. "You sound ridiculous," she said. "You know you look great. Why are you nervous anyway? You've been with this guy for over a year and you're the mother of his children. You aren't going out on a first date. You're marrying the love of your life!"
"It's my wedding day," AJ pointed out. "Of course I'm going to be nervous!" Her knees had been bouncing up and down constantly all morning, since waking up at the cabin on the edge of Lake Michigan. She hadn't seen Punk since the previous night, and she was so anxious she barely even slept… but it was a good kind of worried. Worrying about the details of your wedding being perfect was the best thing she could possibly be worried about. She wasn't afraid for her life, crying over her presumed dead boyfriend, worrying about the fate of her unborn child or mourning the impending death of one of her best friends. Today was about worrying if her dress looked perfect and making sure the kids didn't ruin their outfits before the ceremony. Speaking of the kids… "Hey, how are the twins?"
"They're fine," Kaitlyn assured her. "Roman is getting them ready in the living room." They were now a little over a year old and had recently begun walking which sometimes made getting them dressed a difficult affair. But Roman managed it this morning, wrangling both rambunctious toddlers and getting Chris in his suit and Rachel in her dress.
"And Punk and the rest of the guys?" AJ asked.
"Down by the lake setting up," Kaitlyn replied.
AJ smiled broadly, putting her hairbrush down. "Good. Everyone's here."
Kaitlyn bit her lip. "Yeah. Everyone."
Punk was staring out at the lake, watching the small waves crash gently against the shore. Behind him stood a small makeshift altar Seth and Colt had constructed about a week ago. The sworn justice of the peace and the photographer had arrived a few minutes ago. Roman had just joined them with the surprisingly well dressed kids who were now giggling for the photographer. He couldn't wait to see what his bride looked like in her dress but it almost didn't matter. A flour sack couldn't make her any less beautiful. Everything was going perfect so far, on the day of the simple wedding that AJ planned and he he never thought he would deserve to have. But there was still one thing missing. Frowning as he looked down at his watch, he turned around to survey the people around him- Colt, Seth, Roman, the official, the photographer and the babies. Kaitlyn and AJ were still in the cabin. That just left one person missing.
"Where's Dean?" he asked to no one in particular. "Has he called any of you? He hasn't answered any of my calls." He actually hadn't seen Dean in over a week, not since the twins' birthday party.
"Haven't heard from him," Colt replied. He glanced around. "Anyone else?"
"Not me," Roman informed them. "But didn't he just move out of your apartment Seth? Maybe he's been getting settled or something. I don't know, it's been a busy week."
Punk turned to the last silent man beside them. "Seth?" he asked.
Seth remained quiet for a moment, shuffling his dress shoes at the sand beneath him. "He didn't want me or Kaitlyn to say anything until today," he admitted finally, eyes still cast downward. "He told us awhile ago but begged us not to say anything. He's not gonna be here Punk."
"What?" Punk asked in disbelief, shaking his head. "That's stupid. Why?"
"He said it would be too painful," Seth explained, finally looking up at him. "He told us he was doing alright trying to let go of AJ but he thought watching her get married would be setting himself up for another breakdown. He doesn't want to go off the deep end again."
Punk sighed, fiddling with his uncomfortable cufflinks. He'd badly wanted Dean to attend his wedding but he supposed the only recently reformed alcoholic was right in a way. Even though he wanted Dean to be here today and he knew AJ would be heartbroken that he would be missing their wedding, he knew both of them would rather have him absent then suffer from a deadly relapse. "I really wanted him to be here," he muttered sadly.
"Hey, he sends his best wishes," Seth assured him, clapping a hand on his shoulder.
"Cheer up!" Colt advised. "You're getting married in a few minutes. You of all people managed to find a woman who could tolerate your arrogance, ego, tattoos, straight edge mentality, punk rock obsession and the whole criminal empire connections thing. That's something to celebrate."
Punk laughed. "Yeah it is," he agreed. He turned back toward the cabin, watching as Kaitlyn came out in her maid of honor dress. She joined Seth near the altar.
"Did you tell her about Dean?" Seth asked.
She nodded. "She's not happy but she's dealing with it," she replied.
"When is she coming out?" Punk asked.
"Just a few more minutes," Kaitlyn told him excitedly.
Punk grinned unabashedly as he looked back at the cabin. He knew his fiancé was in there waiting to come down to him. In just a few minutes the woman he very nearly managed to lose so many times was going to be his wife. She would be his forever soon, something he never thought any woman would be to him, let alone one as accepting and perfect for him as AJ. Soon he would be putting on a ring he was determined to never take off.
"I can't believe he's not coming," AJ muttered to the empty room. Kaitlyn's revelation about Dean's absence had left her stunned. He was one of the most important people in her life, and her soon to be husband had donated half his liver to him! How could he just not attend their wedding, choosing to disappear instead? But even as hurt as she was she had to admit his reasoning made sense. She too would rather have him sit the wedding out then suffer through it in painful silence.
Lifting her head, she stood proudly. Today was her day. She was getting married to the love of her life as soon as she walked out that door. She couldn't wait to stand with her closest friends as Punk slid a gold band onto her ring finger. Smiling broadly she straightened the simple white folds of her dress and headed to the bedroom door. Just as she reached for the doorknob she pulled back her hand as someone knocked loudly from the other side.
"Uh, come in," she said quickly. Maybe Kaitlyn had forgotten something.
"Hey," Dean said sheepishly as he entered the room, head ducked slightly. "Wow, you look great."
AJ's eyes widened as she backed away from the door in shock. "Dean?" she cried. "What are you doing here? Kaitlyn just told me you weren't coming! Was that a joke? I thought you wouldn't be here!"
"Up until an hour ago neither did I," he admitted. "It wasn't a joke. I made up my mind after I got out of the hospital that I wasn't going to go to your wedding. Kaitlyn told you why didn't she?"
Biting her lower lip she nodded. "Yeah," she replied softly. "I get it, I do… I just thought you would have wanted to be here. After everything all of us have been through together."
"I did want to be here," he said fiercely. "That's why I came. I was driving around town trying to get my mind off everything because thinking about not being here was just driving me crazy you know? I passed by that old taco place Seth loves and I remembered that's where we all met you for the first time after bugging Punk for weeks and weeks to bring you with him one night and hell I don't know, I guess it just made me think about all the good times. I realized I was being stupid and selfish not to be here. Fuck, you gave me a life when I didn't really have one and Punk saved it when it wasn't even worth a damn. What kind of asshole would I have to be to skip out on this? I stopped by some cheap outlet store, bought a suit that barely fits and drove my sorry ass over here."
Her frown of confusion twisted into a broad smile. "I'm glad you made it," she said quietly, reaching out to cup his unshaven cheek with her palm. "It wouldn't have been the same without you." Her heart began to pound again as she withdrew her hand. It was nearly time now. "So now that you're here, what would you say to walking me down there?"
"Oh AJ, I couldn't."
"Come on!" She shoved him playfully. "You're already here and you're stuffed into that monkey suit anyway. Make yourself useful and give me that arm so we can get this show on the road."
He laughed. "Alright alright, don't chop my fucking head off." He extended his arm to her in a gentlemanly fashion. She took it and together they walked out the door.
The first thing Punk was struck by when AJ walked out of the cabin was how stunningly, strikingly beautiful she was in that dress. The pearly, lacy white fabric that clung to her body like the feathers of a dove made her look like nothing less than an absolute angel. It was the only time he could ever remember truly being robbed of the ability to breathe by such a beautiful sight. He was fairly aware of his jaw unhinging slightly and hanging open.
The next thing he saw blew him away almost as much as his bride to be. Someone was escorting her down to the lake and as they came closer he saw (to everyone's shock) that it was none other than Dean Ambrose on her arm, dressed in a tightly fitting and clearly purchased at the very last minute suit. He was smiling genuinely at all of them but couldn't help but send a sly grin Punk's way.
"That son of a bitch," Punk muttered with a laugh. He looked at Seth. "Were you kidding before about what you said? About him not being here?"
"No I swear," Seth promised. "He told us both he wasn't going to come to the wedding. I guess he changed his mind and decided to show up after all."
Punk smiled and fell silent again, turning his gaze back to them. He could already see AJ's eyes shining with joyful tears, his were as well. "Mama!" Chris cried, hopping up and down happily. He broke free from Roman's side and ran to Punk, tugging on his father's pants excitedly. "Daddy, Mama!"
"I know buddy," he whispered, picking him up. "Mommy sure is pretty, isn't she?" Chris giggled in reply and burrowed his head against his dad's neck. Punk chuckled, turning to hand Chris to Colt and bending quickly to give Rachel a kiss on the forehead just as Dean and AJ reached them.
"Hey," Dean said casually. "I uh think I have something that belongs to you."
"I'm not sure I deserve her," Punk replied, "but I'll take her."
AJ gleefully extended her hand to him and he took it, standing with him only a few feet from the rather calm waves coming off the lake. She smiled back at Dean once more before facing Punk again, a shameless grin on her face. "Ready?" she whispered.
"Ready," he replied, smiling back.
"Get me a beer!" Seth called.
"Hell no, you're driving us home you asshole," Colt called back as he closed the door and rejoined them at the table. "I've already had a few beers tonight. You're staying sober." They were all celebrating on the deck of the cabin, and Punk and AJ had officially been a happily married couple for 5 hours now, having spent most of that time curled together in the same lounge chair. Neither of them could believe yet that they'd actually managed to escape such horrific memories and wind down to a fairytale of a wedding instead. There had been plenty of food to go around and the few guests of the small ceremony were winding down the celebration. AJ had already put the exhausted, excitable children down to sleep, and Kaitlyn and Seth would be taking them home soon to give Punk and AJ a night to themselves before leaving for their honeymoon.
"I guess we should start clearing out then?" Seth asked. "All right I'll go get twin A. Kaitlyn, you got twin B under control? Let's go, time to drive the bus home!"
Kaitlyn laughed. "How about we say goodnight first?" she suggested. She stood up and circled around the table to unceremoniously yank AJ off Punk's lap and pull her into a hug. "I'm so happy for you guys."
"Thanks Kait," AJ whispered back, holding her tightly. "For everything. I love you guys."
The lifelong best friends held each other for a moment longer before separating, giving Kaitlyn the opportunity to embrace Punk as he stood up. "I know you didn't like me at first but I'm glad you're still here," he told her honestly. "Thanks for taking the twins while we'll be gone."
"Of course!" she said with a smile. "The more time Seth spends with them the easier it will be for me to convince him to have kids." She winked.
"That's it, we're leaving them here!" Seth hollered as he hugged AJ.
Roman just laughed as he came to see off the newly married couple. "You're going to have them eventually with this girl so just get used to it," he called over his shoulder as he pulled Punk into a bear hug. "You see what you've done to all of us Punk?"
"Turned us into law abiding citizens," Dean jeered.
"No that was AJ," Colt reminded them all. "You think this degenerate would have given up the crime life if it wasn't for her? No way. We would still be killing assholes in the warehouse."
"Guys stop!" AJ laughed. "I'm no hero here. Lay off!"
Colt just smiled. "All the same," he said. "Thanks for saving our lives." He kissed her cheek.
There were only 3 people left at the cabin now. Dean stood a little awkwardly between Punk and AJ, hands dug into his pockets. "I guess I should head out," he said, looking to both of them.
"Must be nice to not have to get a designated driver huh?" Punk teased.
Dean couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah it is," he admitted. Then he straightened up a little. "I'm really glad I ended up coming. I didn't think I could handle this but it would have been fucking stupid of me not to be here for you guys. You saved my worthless fucking life after all!"
"Hey stop that," AJ ordered, slapping his shoulder. "Your life isn't worthless. You need to stop talking like that ok? You know how important you are to us."
"Yeah yeah," Dean chuckled.
"So we'll see you when we get back from our honeymoon?" Punk asked.
"Actually…" Dean glanced down at the wooden deck again. "I'm leaving tomorrow."
AJ raised her eyebrows in confusion. "You're leaving?"
"'I've been thinking about it since the surgery," Dean admitted. "I'm just going to get on a flight and go. I saw the doctor yesterday and he said I don't need to be on as many anti rejection meds anymore, so I can get enough to last me. I just want to get out of here you know? A few months ago I thought I was knocking on death's door. Now I have a whole new chance at life thanks to you guys. I like the comic business but I just think there's something… more out there for me you know? I've been nothing but a worthless thug for my whole life. It's time to see what else there is."
"But…" she practically whispered, looking frantically to Punk for answers but he could offer her none. He looked just as shocked as she did, his face twisted in confusion.
"I won't be gone forever," Dean added quickly, studying their rapidly dropping expressions. "Maybe a few months or even a year. But I'll be back I promise."
Punk was silent for a moment as he took all of this in. It hurt to know Dean would be leaving, but also filled him with a renewed sense of hope for the man that he was taking his new life by the reins and searching for his purpose. Somehow he knew Dean was going to be just fine. "I'm glad you came," he said, pulling him into a tight hug. "Really. You needed to be here."
AJ quickly inserted herself into their embrace, worming her way between them and wrapping her arms around them both. "I love you guys," she muttered. "You both saved my life too." She tilted her head back to place a kiss on Dean's cheek, then a full one on her new husband. She wasn't sure how she would have been able to survive this long without either of them.
"We're all alone," AJ whispered, curling against Punk's chest. They were sitting down by the lakeshore, illuminated only by the moon and the faint light from the cabin. She felt so dreamily at peace with him now… she wasn't just a vet anymore or a heartbroken girl trying to run away from her memories. She had been to hell and back to achieve what she had now, a blissful life with her husband and her children. She couldn't believe everything that had happened in just the past 2 years… murders and kidnappings, memory loss and near death experiences, and it had all led to this. "So what happens to us now?"
He turned his head to smile down at her. God was she ever perfect for him… he didn't care what anyone said, no amount of good deeds would ever make him deserve her. How some backwards criminal punk like him managed to land a girl like her he would never know. He would never forgive himself for putting her through such hell, all for him. A lesser woman would have given it all up long before now. But he hoped he would be able to make it up for it with the start of their new life as a married couple, giving her everything she ever wanted out of life and so much more.
"What happens now?" he echoed with another smile. "Our next great adventure."