"Put your feet up, hon." Alex said coming into the room where Dee Dee sat on the couch while AJ played on the floor with little Dee.
"It isn't as easy as it looks." She said laughing. At eight months, she was finding moving more difficult.
"The problem with you is that you are so tiny to begin with, that baby is gonna be bigger than you are before she is born."
"Don't even joke." She said looking wide-eyed and stressed.
"You'll do just fine." He said lifting her feet up onto the couch. He sat with her legs across his lap watching the two children play. He grinned at her. "The future."
"Yeah. I hope he gets along with his sister this well." She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder.
Alex glanced around. "Where's Rick?"
"Oh, I sent him into the village for supplies. I always enjoy trying to torture him with ridiculously complicated tasks. He's gonna spend a half an hour trying to figure out what the hell coriander is." She grinned up at her husband mischievously.
"Has he said anything about going home?"
"No." Her face grew sober. "Look, Alex, I'm sorry that it's been . . ."
"No." He said laughing. "I'm not irritated. I've never spent this much time with him. He's easy to like." She raised her eyebrows at him. "No. I just . . . you remember Jim Parker?"
"From that party at the Greenbows? The one with the comb-over?"
"Yeah. You remember. Well, his company is looking for a new head of security and I thought that maybe if he . . ."
"Alex!" Her eyes filled with sudden tears.
"Well, if he's gonna hang around here, he might as well pay his way." Alex teased, trying to minimize his offer.
"Don't." She said softly, reaching up to pull him closer to her for a kiss. "You are the sweetest man."
"I am." He said grinning. "No selfish motives at all."
She laughed and kissed him, but breaking away asked, "What selfish motives?"
"Keeping that smile on your face." He said leaning in for another kiss. "Even if it takes another man to do it."
"Listen, I'm not telling you that you need to do anything." Alex explained as he and Rick walked across the cold grounds of the Turner Estate - as Hunter called it. "We don't care. You stay with us for a year and don't do a damn thing, but I just thought I'd mention it - in case, you were feeling restless."
"I hadn't really been thinking about anything at all." The tall man said pausing at the edge of a dirt road at the back end of the property. He had always assumed that this marked the end of the property, but Alex continued across the road.
"Come on. There's something else." He led Hunter across a grassy field already covered in a light dusting of snow. They approached a small building.
"When we first bought the place, we thought Dee Dee's mom could stay here, but the house is so big - and after AJ it was clear that even if we put her out here, she wouldn't stay. I don't want you to get the wrong idea. I'm not tired of you. I don't secretly want you gone. I'm quite content to keep things as they are, but you've always been a private man, and it isn't like Dee is really good at giving you space. I thought you might want some space that is all your own. It isn't big, but it does have two bedrooms and a kitchen and bath."
"I . . . I . . . I . . . don't know what to say."
"Listen, she's told me all the things you did for her. I can't . . ." He swallowed twice. "I wasn't there then. I wish to hell I had been and maybe things would've . . .but you helped her and it seems to me that this is the least we can do." He made a sweep of his hand toward the small house. "But I don't want you to think you have to do anything. You are a free man. I don't want you to be obligated like this is all some wookiee-life debt thing."
Rick raised an eyebrow at him. "'Wookiee life-debt?' Is that some kind of nerd reference? Dee Dee said you were a bit a nerd." He grinned at Alex grateful for an opportunity to tease him and ignore the heaviness of the conversation. "And am I the wookie? Really? See, that's just like you - you gotta point out that I'm tall. Like I don't know it!" He shook his head at Alex who put a hand to his forehead.
"I knew I was gonna say something stupid eventually." But then looking up, he paused and said, "Wait, how do you know wookiees are tall?"
"She always fell for nerds." Hunter continued ignoring the question. He glanced around him. "I honestly don't know what I'm going to do." He let out a long slow breath. "I haven't been able to think beyond one minute at a time. It is so hard." He swallowed a lump. "But I couldn't have . . . if she hadn't . . ." He looked up meeting Alex's eyes then. "You both saved me. I would've lost Little Dee for sure. I wouldn't have pulled it together enough, and it would've been so easy to just drift away and let Jody take over. I could never say thank you enough for sending her to me. You could've told her no - you should've told her no."
"Dee Dee?" Alex raised his eyebrows. "Seriously?"
"Alex, I'm trying to . . ."
"I know you are, but life has way too much heaviness, doesn't it? You are a good friend. You are family. And she is so happy with you here. We are happy to have you here for as long as you want." Alex reached out squeezing Rick's arm, and then turned and walked back to the house, leaving the tall man alone.
"Hey, Alex," Rick called after him. "Thanks. Thanks a lot. I'll think about it, okay?"
Rick Hunter watched Alex Turner walk back to the house through the gray morning. He couldn't have imagined a situation in which he would consider the quiet man a friend - let alone family. He didn't think much of him the first time he met him - figured that he would dash in and out of Dee Dee's life like the others before him. But something was different - Dee Dee was different. She was upset. He sensed it long before she finally confessed it all to him. He was angry at first that Alex would be enough of a jackass to make her choose between the job and life she loved and him. He'd stormed after him so sure that he was just a selfish jerk who was using her. He wondered about that later - what was it about their relationship that he was always sure that the other men in her life were just using her? He knew she was smart, beautiful and sweet - so why did he expect her to choose badly?
She had been substantially more injured than he understood at the time - especially in those first years. Her husband was barely in the ground two years when they were first partners and he hadn't understood how hurt she was. He didn't realize that she had completely shut down emotionally - and had become an efficient, calculated detective - a robot. He'd been surprised as she had slowly relaxed - revealing emotion little by little - layer by layer. She rarely cried - which surprised him. They'd been in plenty of situations where tears would've been completely appropriate, but she always kept it together. And then just as she was coming back to life they'd had that goddamned Mariano case.
His rage had surprised him. Partners were so complicated which was why he had shied away for awhile - didn't want another partner getting in the way - didn't want to have to deal with all the emotions associated with living ten hours or more a day with another human. He just wasn't into commitment. But they didn't want him working alone and going rogue on them, so he had to get a partner and he liked the way Dee Dee worked - as cold, and as calculating as he did. But somehow, she wore him down - and maybe it was that raw edge that he never really understood until he stood beside a stone with his wife's name etched in beautiful scroll - that had weakened his walls, but he suddenly found himself caring deeply about a tightly controlled detective.
And finding her like he did, brought it all crashing home. The next thing he knew he was standing on foreign soil, a gun in his hand aimed at the bastard who'd harmed her. He had been bound and determined to make him pay - no matter the cost - his job, his savings - even his freedom. He couldn't let it go - couldn't let him go unpunished.
Even when she'd arrived and begged him to forget it and come back home - even then, he couldn't. He could see that his choice would cause her pain and knew she would feel guilty if he ended his days in prison, but it didn't matter. And he had lied to her - told her that he was going to let it go and then turned right around and tried to kill him.
He couldn't think back to that day without feeling confusion. He still wasn't sure what he had really been thinking - what he had really planned. He was a career officer - he had served two tours in Vietnam for God's sake - and he left that gun and turned his back on Mariano. Of course the jackass would go for the gun! Hell, he would've if someone had brought him out to the middle of nowhere and tried to kill him! Maybe he had set the whole thing up so he could shoot Mariano and feel justified. He wasn't sure anymore - except that he hadn't felt guilty about it; not much anyway. He'd hurt her and he was dead - which in the end didn't seem enough.
He knew she felt indebted to him - no matter how often he tried to explain to her that in some ways it had nothing to do with her at all - more his need for justice - his need to put things right so he could sleep at night. And as time went by, it was just something under the surface of their relationship - not often spoken of but at the core of who they were together.
She owed him nothing. In fact, the last five weeks left the balance sheet tilted her way. He meant what he told Alex. He would've never stopped drinking if she hadn't come. He would've lost his daughter; along with his sanity. But he wasn't sure about staying. It felt a little like running - from the responsibilities, from the consequences, from his memories. But on the other hand, he was content here. He liked the village and the people in it. They left him alone, and had no expectations of him. He was also pretty sure that a crime wave here would consist of some repetitive shoplifting. He liked to think of Deanna living in a world without junkies and pimps and homicidal maniacs.
His whole life had been clear. He'd known he'd wanted to be a cop - despites his family's obvious displeasure with the choice. He'd always known he'd be a detective - have a house on the beach and fifteen or so pretty girlfriends. He hadn't pictured himself settling down. He hadn't pictured himself having children. He couldn't imagine himself a broken-hearted widow - drunk and alone, fleeing the country after nearly murdering an unarmed pimp with his bare hands. Could he imagine himself a security cop in England? Could he give up his life in LA? Could he let go of it all and start over?
For the first time in his life, Rick Hunter was unsure.
I hope that you are still enjoying the story. I got a little behind on updating - sorry about that. Sometimes I can't manage real life and my stories at the same time. I appreciate any and all reviews.