Test of Time 1: New Beginnings

 

            Ten years together, tomorrow he wrote slowly on the much scribbled on sheet

of paper; he paused for a moment before remembering he would be doing this tomorrow, and replacing the word tomorrow with today.  He glanced back up the sheet, at all of the attempts he had already made, - who knew it would be this hard to write?

            “Hey, whatcha working on?” Sydney asked as she sat down beside him on the

couch, attempting to lean over and catch a glimpse of what he was writing.

            “Oh, nothing.  I thought you were helping Alex with Gordie?” he replied,

folding the paper and replacing both it and his pen in his pocket.

            “Yeah well, he’s only nine months old, he tires out pretty quickly, Alex just put him to bed,” she smiled in reply.  She had to like Alex and Walker’s young son, he was sweet, surprisingly well behaved, and incredibly adorable, unfortunately however being around little Gordie only made her want children of her own so badly.

            “Oh, you excited about tomorrow?” he asked after a moment’s pause.

            “You mean the banquet?  Oh yeah, I’m thrilled,” she sarcastically retorted.  It was such an odd question, asking her if she was excited about the following evening’s Ranger Banquet.  It was a twice a year event, once for Christmas, and once at the very end of spring/beginning of summer, and sure it was fun to dress up, and what-not, but usually the event was actually

incredibly boring, full of speeches and toasts by some rather monotonous speakers.

            “Oh,” was his both curt and quiet reply.  “Why?”

            “Have we ever attended anything was any less boring?”

            He laughed, “You do have a point there, but I think this one may prove a little bit more interesting.”  He smiled as he said it, a mischievous grin that screamed “There’s something I’m not telling you!”

            “What makes you say that?” she quizzically asked, her interest in the event suddenly piqued.

            “Oh nothing,” he brushed it off, leaning back into the couch, his arms stretched out on the back of it.

            “Come on, spit it out,” she bugged, lightly batting his shoulder.

            “Nope, you’ll just have to wait.”

            “Gage, this isn’t funny,” she tried to sound serious, though it wasn’t working particularly well.

            “I’ll pick you up at six-thirty, then you’ll find out.”

 

            Sydney glanced at her clock, six twenty-three; Gage would be there any minute.  Glancing in her mirror she gave herself a final once over before lightly spraying on her perfume and walking back into the living room to wait.  She wore a dress made of soft satin, the color a rich multi-faceted burgundy which shifted slightly in shade as it hit the light, and which contrasted beautifully with her almond-like skin tone.  It skimmed over her body lightly, hugging her in all the right places and drawing attention to her well-toned body, and it’s open back revealed her lovely back.  She hadn’t been sure about wearing such a revealing dress, with it’s spaghetti straps and low back, but it was the only dress in the store she really liked, and which looked that good on her, that she had decided to take the risk.  She had bought a matching organza wrap to go with it, in case she felt the need to cover herself up during the course of the evening.

            It was six twenty-nine when her doorbell rang, announcing her partner’s presence.  As she opened the door she smiled gratefully; he did look so good in a tuxedo.  “You ready?” he asked.

            “Have you ever known me to be late?” she replied slyly.

            “Good point,” he smiled as she brushed by him, turned around, closed and locked her door.  “You look great,” he continued as they made their way out of her apartment building.

            “Thanks, you don’t look too shabby yourself.”

 

            They arrived at the banquet fifteen minutes later, the hall on the same side of town as Sydney’s apartment.  It was beautifully decorated, full of fresh spring flowers and lovely white linens, it reminded her in a way of Walker and Alex’s wedding just over two years before, so bright and full of life.  Unfortunately, she still wasn’t convinced that the beauty of the setting would make up for the onslaught of speeches she knew was on the itinerary.

            As they walked up to their designated table she smiled brightly at Trivette who was already seated down with his companion of the evening, his sister.  He smiled back; his grin broadening slightly as he noticed Gage’s hand on the small of Syd’s back as he guided her to the table.   As they sat down he greeted them in a little friendlier manner, “Hey guys.  How you doing?”

            “Oh I’m fine,” Syd replied first.

            “Me too,” was Gage’s quick follow-up.

            “You guys remember my sister right?” Trivette gestured towards her in introduction.

            “Lindsey right?” Sydney smiled as she reached across to shake the other woman’s hand.

            “And you’re Sydney,” she smiled back.  Turning towards Gage Lindsey extended him the same greeting, “Which would make you Francis Gage.”

            Syd laughed as he cringed at the use of his first name.  No one ever referred to him as Francis, and he for one would have been most appreciative if his parents would have chosen a more common or rather more masculine name for him.  “Call me Gage, please.”

            “Gotcha,” she smiled sitting back down.  “Do you guys know when Alex and Walker will be getting her?”

            “Soon I hope.  Alex is probably busy trying to make sure the babysitter has all the information and contact numbers and all of that stuff,” Sydney volunteered.

            “Oh right, they have a baby now.”

            “Gordie’s nine months old nine actually,” Walker smiled as he walked up from behind Syd and Gage.

 

            Syd had definitely been right about the speeches, they never seemed to end, starting with bad and only getting worse.  The food was fine, the music nice, but the speeches really did ruin it.  Yet just when she was beginning to think her partner was completely out of his mind thinking the evening would be interesting he got up and left, pulling Captain Brisco to the side for a few minutes before altogether disappearing for almost ten minutes.  She was just about to get up and go looking for him when finally he reappeared.

            It had taken some doing, getting permission to do this, since it went against every unspoken rule about partnerships the Rangers ever had, but it was something that needed to finally be done, and now it was time to do it.

“Syd come with me,” Gage took her hand gently and guided her towards the edge of the dance floor.  Puzzled she followed his lead, and watched as he stepped up onto the stage, the singer handing over the mike knowingly.  He looked so nervous, but at the same time he wore a grin that could have spanned all of Texas.

            “May I have your attention please.  I know you have already heard so many speeches and toasts tonight, and probably do not want to hear another one,” a collective groan spread through crowd, “but I will be brief.  As all of you know, as Rangers we rely on each other, and especially we rely on our partners.  They are these amazing people, people we trust with our lives and

they are our friends.  You all know how deep that friendship can be, and how important it is as well.”  He started to step down from the stage, walking very slowly towards her still speaking into the portable mike.  “Well tonight represents something very special for my partner and I because it was ten years ago today that we met each other.  She was a rookie who needed

a partner, and I’d already been in for a few years and had just lost my first partner, and somehow the powers that be knew we’d make a great team.”

He stopped directly in front of her, and she could feel the tears beginning to well up in her eyes.  This was so unlike him, but at the same time and probably for that reason it was so amazing.  “So tonight, after ten years of Sydney Cooke being the best partner in work a man could ever ask for, I want to ask her,” he paused, laying a hand gently on her cheek, “Ask you, if you would be my partner in life.”  He handed the microphone over to Captain Brisco, who had been strategically placed beside her, and after pulling out a small velvet box from the inside of his jacket, he kneeled down in front of her.  “Sydney, will you marry me?”

            She gasped slightly, stunned and amazed, and overflowing with emotion.  In that moment she realized that her kind of loneliness, and the reason that for over three years she had never made it past a second date was all because she couldn’t be with anyone else; she was already in love with Gage.

   A few interminable moments later she set her hand upon his, and the open box with it’s beautiful diamond solitaire ring, and nodded, “Yes, Gage I will.”

            They barely registered the applause around them as their friends and colleagues cheered for their happiness, too caught up in the enormity of those few minutes.  He stood up, removing the ring from it’s plush case and slipped it onto her finger before turning towards her and placing his forehead against her whispering, “Thank you.”

            She smiled as in reply she took his face in her hands and pulled him down for a sweet and gentle kiss.  No one around them needed to know that what they were witnessing was in essence the couple’s first true kiss, the spontaneous embrace of two years before being more of a “Syd kissed him suddenly, and he just sat there” than the mutual embrace of a fated pair of soul mates, their audience was satisfied in knowing that two people so obviously in love with each other were going to married.

            As the applause began to die down, Syd finally pulled away from the man who was now her fiancé and smiled, “What took you so long?  At this rate it will be another ten years before we get married.”

 

 

 

 

Test Of Time 2: Trials and Triumphs Part 1

 

 

            “No, no, yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes, no, oh god, how many times do we have to go over this?” Gage could tell his fiancée was getting a more than a little upset at the florist when she started to yell so loudly it was hurting his ears, and he was standing five feet away.  He didn’t even want to imagine what it must have sounded like on the other end of the line.

            Walking over to her and extending his arm he gestured for her to hand over the much-abused phone.  She did so reluctantly.  Holding the receiver up to his ear he softly spoke, “Yeah Jenny, sorry about that.”  He had to turn away from Syd, and the threatening glare she was aiming in his direction.

“Yeah just a little case of PWS… No, the dress people called today and something was wrong with the veil… Yeah, the baker too… No, I don’t think there is anything that has… Well how about we stop by tomorrow, sometime around eleven? … Good, it’s a date.”

            He set the receiver down just in time to turn around and catch a flying couch cushion soundly on his face.  “PWS?  What the hell is that?”

            “Pre-Wedding-Syndrome, Jenny and I came up with it back when Walker and Alex got married,” he laughed as he walked back over to where Sydney was now sitting, cushion in hand.  It was odd how when it came to their wedding Sydney, who was usually the serious partner was nervous and panicking while he, the playful, and sometimes foolish one was the voice of reason.

            “Not funny,” she replied after a few moments of pause.

            “Well last time you were such a mess about the whole thing I guess we thought it was fitting,” he smiled fondly, reaching over towards her with every intention of pulling her into his arms.

            “At least I didn’t go and blow up the tuxedos, which reminds me…” her voice trailed off as she allowed herself to be pulled into a comfortable embrace and he placed a finger on her lips.

            “The tuxedos are just fine Syd, Walker has them over at his place and Alex promised not to let them out of her sight.”

            “Good,” she nodded, satisfied with the arrangements.  Two more weeks and she would be a married woman, but she had to admit that only God knew what chaos could happen in the meantime.  Had a single month gone by since the day they met when they weren’t in some kind of trouble?  She glanced out her fifth-story window and said a quick prayer for the fate of her and her soul mate.

            Unbeknownst to the pair of contented lovebirds a familiar presence watched them from across the street, smiling as he sighted them in his rifle.  He could easily shoot them now, but why?  To let them die content, in each other’s arms would be too kind, too humane an end considering what they had done to him.  Pulling his misshapen and scarred hand back from the trigger he leaned back, away from the gun, they would pay first for everything that had happened.

 

            Feeling her comfortably warm cocoon of blankets and Gage shift, Sydney woke from her nap.  They’d been watching an old war movie when she’d drifted off about an hour before, and until now Gage hadn’t been particularly interested in disturbing, - actually quite the opposite, he really enjoyed it when she fell asleep in his arms.  Yet the hour was getting late and they both had to show up at Ranger Headquarters for work the next morning, and he knew if he didn’t leave now he wouldn’t get near enough sleep to face the long day that awaited them tomorrow.

            “Mmm, I was comfortable,” she complained with a mumble, wrapping her free arm around him to try and get him to return to his previous position.

            He laughed as he glanced down at her, mumbling quietly and still half-asleep.  “Sorry Syd, gotta go, I have a stack of paperwork at least as tall as you are waiting for me at work tomorrow.”

            Pulling away she looked up at him and rolled her eyes, “You always have paperwork to finish!”

            “Yeah well unlike you I don’t like paperwork.”

            “I never said I liked it, I just prefer to get it over and done with unlike you who’s favorite form of avoidance is procrastination.  Actually I think you get even more paperwork because you put it all off, - doesn’t the service have ‘Late Report Forms’, or something to that effect?”

            “Yes they do,” he sheepishly replied, knowing she really had him in a corner on this one.

            After a few moments of companionable silence she asked, “What time is it anyway?”

            “Just after eleven, and I really do have to go now,” he replied, leaning down to give her a gentle kiss.

            She accepted the gentle touch very happily, extending it just slightly by placing her hand behind his head, then letting him go.  “I should get to bed too.”

            “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

            “Bright and early.”

            They walked over to the door quietly and sharing one final kiss said their goodnights, little did they know that they would not be seeing each other in the morning.

 

            It had taken quite a bit of doing, arranging for the entire strike against them.  Most of his contacts were people he’d met in prison but even most of the people who he considered to be ‘his people’, his lackeys had a very difficult time trusting him, after all he was a rat.  He’d bought them, paid for their trust ever since they had first been released.  He helped them to get set up anew after their liberation, and supported them for the two years since.  In return they agreed to help him out with on last kick at those responsible for his imprisonment.

            It would take three men plus himself to accomplish this mission, but done properly it would be well worth the effort, they would know the same pain her had known in jail, and he would finally experience the joy of revenge.  Who said revenge was a bittersweet event; to him it was all pure ecstasy.  They would die painfully, and they would die alone, and he would have the

pleasure of not only being the mastermind behind their timely demise, but witness to the blessed event.

            “All right,” he announced, pulling himself away from his deeply gratifying concentration.  “It’s time.”

            Wordlessly all four men vacated the building piling into two unmarked station wagons, one an unobtrusive grayish blue, the other a muted tan.  They were inconspicuous vehicles of standard make, and quiet colors, easily lost in traffic unlike the bulky vans and black vehicles preferred by most amateur criminals and reckless terrorists.  No, his vehicles were plain, a

testament to his professionalism, and the seriousness with which he took his vendetta.  He watched as the pathway to his mother’s home faded in the distance, knowing that he would never see the place again.

 

            His mission had begun.

 

            Gage woke to the incessantly annoying sound of his alarm clock.  It proudly announced the early hour much to Gage’s chagrin.  It would be so easy just to roll over and hit the snooze button a couple of times, but he knew that it was time to rise.  Sydney would kill him if he had to stay late and missed their final meeting before the rehearsal with the pastor.  Swinging his legs over the edge he finally got up, and after a quick stretch was ready to get going.  By six thirty he was out the door and at twenty to seven was already on the freeway.

            He did not notice when a blue station wagon pulled closely up behind him the ramp off the freeway.  He also did not notice when that same blue station wagon pulled up beside him, he did however notice when the rear window rolled down and a face all to familiar to him greeted him with a gaze full of cynicism, sadism, and something resembling elation.

            The first bullet shattered the windshield, and instinctively he removed his foot from the gas pedal, and began to pump the brakes.  It was too late however and when second bullet shattered the glass beside him, he lost control.  He watched in horror as the passenger side crumpled as it spun into a lamppost before falling into unconsciousness himself.

 

            Sydney was almost out the door when the call came in a mere eighteen minutes after the accident.  The caller ID told her that it was Walker, and she expected him to be calling simply to ask her where Gage was since he was supposed to be coming in early.  She had no idea about the painful reality that awaited her on the other side of the phone line.

            “Sydney here,” she answered automatically.

            “Syd, it’s Walker,” his tone told her something was wrong, his usually cool, steady voice wavering slightly.

            “What is it?”

            “Look Syd I’m sorry, but Gage was involved in a car accident this morning.”

            “Oh god,’ she whispered, sitting down on the stool which resided beside the wall mounted phone.

            “He’s at the Methodist, but Syd, he’s not in good shape.  I’m so sorry, Alex should be arriving any minute to take you over,” he tried to comfort his friend, keeping his voice soft, and full of compassion.

            “Ok,” she replied, her voice still barely a breath.  She then slowly hung up the phone.

 

            Hearing the dial tone the two men in the car radioed the others.  They had been waiting outside the apartment building since six just in case she decided to get a head start on her day, but fortunately for them that was not the case.  She received the phone call just as they had planned.

            “We’re six minutes away,” the ringleader returned over the powerful two way.  “Go in.”

            Pulling out two smallish automatic weapons each they entered the tall apartment building, and proceeded to take the elevator to the fifth floor.  They stepped out into the customary maze of hallways, staircases and doors, complete with lovely wallpaper and the occasional dried floral arrangement placed stylishly in the corners.

            “Nice place,” one of the men commented as they made their way towards apartment 521.

            “Yeah,” the other coolly replied.  “Remember, we but the place up real good, but the girl we save for Foreman.”

            “Right,” the first man completely understood.  They never knew Foreman’s real name, not even in prison did he ever go by anything other than foreman.   He always paid them in cash, so he couldn’t get his name off the checks either; he was smart.  He really had it out for these two too, and the man knew that if he wanted to live to see his next payday he’d follow the rules.

            They finally stopped in front of a solid wooden door and proceeded to knock.  “Ranger Cooke, may we speak with you?”

            When she quietly opened the door they introduced themselves as John Lee and Roger Kunter, two local paramedics, and after offering her two very authentic looking Ids were invited in.  She didn’t even question the bulky ski-jackets they wore despite the record heat for late February in Texas, and the fact most people were starting to wear shorts.

 

            When Alex arrived she was greeted by the sound of rapid gunfire and a shrill cry she instinctively knew to be Sydney’s.  She’d never heard the female Ranger cry out like that before, but with the news Walker had undoubtedly already delivered, she did not doubt that Sydney was too emotionally and psychologically drained to put her up her usual tough façade.  Alex’s hand had already hit the speed dial on her cell phone when a steely blue sedan pulled into parking lot, right next to one almost exactly like it.  She silently prayed that Walker would arrive soon.

Sydney had never faced anything more terrifying than the four guns she suddenly found pointed at her when she turned back towards the 'paramedics'.   "Sit down," one of them ordered as he gestured her over towards her armchair.  She did as asked, cautiously questioning them, "What do you want?"

 

            "Me? Nothing. It's foreman who wants something," the light-haired man nearest the door told her smugly.

            She ran the alias Foreman through her mind, yet despite her immediate if slightly vague recognition of it, she couldn't place a face with the name.  She then confidently asked, "Who's Foreman?"

 

            He laughed, "You mean you don't remember?"

 

            "Shut up," the raven-haired one in front of her commanded. The other listened. As she watched them interact she came to an important realization; the light-headed one was a lackey, under the command of the one in front of her who was most likely Foreman's second in command. She watched as the leader continued, "Now get on with it."  She then witnessed the lackey begin to tear apart her home, shattering much of what remained of her heart along with it. She watched in horror as he began in the kitchen, tossing down dishes and jars of her mother's home-made antipasto, along with everything else he could reach. The glass decanter filled with colorful Gerber daisies (both gifts from Gage) that she kept on the kitchen table soon followed. 

Pictures and books were all torn and tossed into the center of the room.  She nearly cried when the framed picture of her and Gage dancing the night he proposed was torn in two, the frame irreparably damaged.  He then proceeded to fire round after round into her belongings.  Finally when he turned the gun towards her for moment she screamed.  He quickly turned it back to her possessions.

            The chaos finally came to an abrupt end when there was another knock at her door followed by an unforgettable voice, “It’s me guys, let me in.”

            She finally knew where she’d heard the name Foreman before.  It had been her first case as a Ranger, and also her first time working with Gage.  They’d been sent undercover to take down a rather extensive drug ring working in and around Houston, and it had taken them nine months to finish.  The leader was one Roger Joseph AKA Riga, and his second in command had been Mike Christen AKA the Foreman.  They’d gathered enough evidence to lock Christen away for a good thirty years, but needed more on Joseph so they made a deal.  She knew that Christen was out of jail already, having only been given a 7-year sentence with no chance for parole.  What she didn’t know is that he now had a very disfigured hand, three fingers shortened to

the top knuckle and all fingers twisted and slightly crushed.  Whatever had caused that must not have been pleasant, and he seemed ready to take it out on her.

 

            “Oh God Walker!” Alex screamed as she ran towards her husband.

            “Alex,” he wrapped his arms around his two months pregnant wife, “I need you to tell me exactly what you heard.”

            After a moment she replied, “A lot of gunfire, and some screaming, and Walker I know it was Sydney.  Then suddenly it all stopped.”

            “Did you notice anything before it stopped?”

            “That car pulled up just before and a man got out,” she pointed towards the green sedan.

            “Ok, I need you to tell Trivette what he looked like.  We’re going to find out who’s doing this, and where it’s happening,” then after a pause he reassuringly added, “Don’t worry, Syd’s a good Ranger, she can handle herself.”

 

            “Well girl, do you know how I got this?” he pushed his deformed hand into her face, “Do you know what those guys do to rats?”

            She remained quiet.

            “A meat grinder, they put my hand in a meat grinder.  Do you know how much it hurts?” he paused to let his point set in.  “You know who did this to me?   You did, you and that idiot you have for a partner, or was that fiancée?  You know you’ll never see your wedding day, he’s probably dead already.  Wanna know the last thing he saw?”  He paused again for a moment tightening his grip on the revolver, “Me, smiling because I’m the guy who did it to him.”

            “Come on boss, just kill her, we’ve got Rangers outside,” the dark-haired lackey interrupted after glancing out her window at the ground below.

            “Shut up!”

            “We’ve got..” he was unable to finish the sentence as with one quick motion Foreman put a single bullet three inches into his chest.  He then turned and shot the other man too.

 

            Just as Walker turned away from his wife to direct his men two solitary handgun shots cut through the noisy chaos of the scene.  He then watched in horror as two bloodied bodies fell down the south side of the building, dropped from the fifth story by someone he recognized immediately, Sydney.

 

"Ok I want you," Walker pointed towards the team of three snipers standing to his right, "on the roof of the buildings to the south and to the west. No shoppers, we might be dealing with a hostage situation and I don't want to startle them." He looked up at the dark grey building trying to figure out the best route into the apartment. "Ok Trivette, you and me, we're going to

go through the lobby, up to the sixth floor. We'll take the elevator; they probably have people stationed in the stairways. We'll head down the outside, and onto the balcony."

 

Trivette nodded in reply.

 

"Walker!" on young officer called, holding up a radio. "It's about Ranger Gage!"

 

"So how are your little friends doing?" Christen asked cynically as he handcuffed her to the chair once again.

 

"Fine, too bad you can't say the same about your anymore," she replied with a glare.

 

Her attitude was rewarded with a painful slap across the face as well a piece of duct tape on her mouth. "Now, where were we before that little interruption?"

 

"You ready?" Walker looked at Trivette, preparing to rappel down the side of the apartment building and onto the cement balcony below them.

 

"Ready as I'll ever be." he answered, trying to sound optimistic. In reality they both knew that the situation they were about to enter was one of the most dangerous possible. They didn't know how many people were inside, what kind of situation Sydney was in, how many weapons the assailants had, or even what their intention was. All they knew was that whoever was in there was smart enough to send Sydney out onto the balcony, keep the blinds mostly closed so that he could see out and the snipers not see in, and had killed their henchmen so that there would be no unnecessary witnesses.

 

"I ask you again Ms. Cooke, what do you think I should do to pay you back?" he grilled, this time tearing the tape off her lips so she could actually give him a reply.

 

She spat at him, "What does it matter? You’ve already decided what you're going to do to me."

 

He pulled his gun back out of the hip holster it was resting in and placed the nozzle against her temple.  “You’d best watch what you say girl.”

 

Sydney then noticed some movement behind him and turned her focus to her balcony.  There she saw her saving grace, Trivette and Walker disengaging themselves from the ropes they’d used to descend from the next balcony up.  Her changing gaze did not go unnoticed by Christen though who quickly turned around to see what was going on.  This was just the opening Sydney needed

and as Christen turned she dropped her head down to her lap, barely missing the bullet he fired after registering what Walker and Trivette were there to do.  Bringing her legs up she then gave him a quick kick in the shin followed by an even more forceful one in the kneecap.

 

As he fell to the ground clutching his throbbing leg he aimed his revolver towards Walker and Trivette, missing them completely but shattering the glass doors they were about to shatter themselves.  Unfortunately Trivette and Walker could not return fire as Christen was in the process of rising to his feet directly in front of Syd and they did not want to risk hitting her.

 

The delay this caused was costly as it gave Christen enough time to both get out of range of Sydney’s legs, and aim his firearm directly at her.  Looking straight at her would-be rescuers he loudly announced, “Stop where you are or I’ll kill Ms. Cooke here!”

 

Walker and Trivette stopped.

 

“Now you two, out that door,” he commanded, gesturing to the large wooden entrance through which he and his henchmen had arrived.

 

As they started towards the exit, hands raised high above their heads, a strong whipping sound filled the room.  It was the beating sound of the blades of a helicopter.  “Freeze, we have the apartment surrounded,” proclaimed an authoritarian voice over the loudspeaker.

 

Christen was momentarily stunned by this unexpected turn of events, and Walker took full advantage of this sudden state of shock, kicking the gun out of his hand.  As Walker took on Christen, Trivette ran across the room to free Sydney.

 

“Thank you,” she all but screamed pulling her friend into a strong hug.

 

Walker skillfully punched, blocked and kicked the mastermind behind the partners’ attacks, finally delivering a strong roundhouse kick to the left side of his head.  Christen fell to the floor, unconscious, and Walker turned to his friend, “You ok?”

 

“Yeah, a few hits, but nothing I can’t handle,” she replied finally regaining her long-lost composure.  She then asked the only question that really mattered to her, “How’s Gage?”

 

“Conscious and kicking,” Walker laughingly answered before becoming slightly more serious, “and demanding to see you.”

 

She smiled in response, even though her mind was still racing and worried.

 

As the threesome exited the apartment building they were greeted by their friends, colleagues, and the flashing lights of the media.  As they moved towards the awaiting medical attention Trivette turned to Walker, “I thought you said no choppers?”

 

“I did.”

 

“Then how…”

 

“I sent them in,” a hearty voice announced from behind them.

 

“Captain Brisco, how nice of you to join us,” Walker smiled greeting his superior with a welcoming handshake and strong pat on the back.

 

“I thought you might need some help.  Besides, I didn’t want to see some of my best men… and women,” he added after a  moment, “taken out of my hands too soon.”

 

“Me neither Captain, me neither.”

 

Sydney waited anxiously in the hospital waiting room, sipping her so-called coffee, pacing, and thinking about the morning’s events.  She could still see Christen’s eyes and the way he stared at her, the way he blamed her for his own choices and mistakes.  Her emotion and fatigue was playing games with her now, and it was a precarious hold she maintained on her composure. 

Yet the more she thought about it the more she realized she didn’t hate him for it.  Deep in her heart she felt something else, something small but growing towards him.  In a moment of epiphany she realized what it was, she pitied him.  She didn’t want to hunt him down and kill him for hurting Gage or for murdering two people in her living room, she pitied him for never

living up to even half of his potential.

 

“Ranger Cooke,” a kind looking nurse interrupted her train of thought, “You can see Ranger Gage now.”

 

She felt dread welling up in the pit of her stomach as she followed the nurse in which her fiancé was healing.  So many questions raced through her mind; how extensive were his injuries?  Would they have to postpone the wedding?  Would he be permanently disabled? What if he fell unconscious again? What if he didn’t wake up?  Yet as she walked in she felt nothing but

relief, and love.  He looked no worse for wear than when he had been mauled by a bear, and the smile that developed on his face at the sight of her could have lit the entire city.  His eyes were bright, and full of love, and there were no casts in sight, just a tensor around his left wrist, and some stitches on his forehead.

 

“Sydney,” his voice all but beamed as he called out to the woman he loved.

 

“Gage,” she smiled back trying not to cry as she carefully made her way towards the man that she loved so much.  Leaning over she kissed him tenderly, succumbing to the tears of joy she had just been trying so hard to fight.

 

Placing his good hand on her cheek he gently chided, “So, do I still get to marry the most amazing woman I know in two weeks?”

 

“Nah,” she replied, “but if you want you could always marry me.”

 

“Not a bad concession,” he joked in return

 

“Sydney Cooke, you have been my partner for over ten and a half years now.  Through this partnership you have shown me the meanings of trust, loyalty, justice and truth; you have taught me how to be a partner in work.  In our time together you have also been my friend, and as my friend you have shown me the meanings of compassion, hope, faith, and the true meaning of love.  Today I give myself to you as a partner in life.”

 

“Francis Gage, you are the most caring person I have ever known.  I have seen you extend your kindness to the hurt, and the needy, to your friends, and your family, and even to me.  I am honored to even be in the presence of a person who is so full of life, joy, and love, and I wish that I can learn to love the way that you do.  I love you, and am honored that you would

consider me worthy to be your wife.”

 

“Do you Sydney…” the pastor began the traditional Christian vows the one’s they had written now said and over.

 

Walker glanced over at Alex, who looked stunning in the simple, navy blue satin column dress Sydney had chosen for her bridal party.  There was a tear of joy in her clear blue eye as she watched her two friends celebrate their love.  Walker understood her sentiments; he understood that just as he and Alex were meant to be together, so too were Sydney and Gage fated for

eternity.

 

His gaze returned to the happy couple when Gage confidently answered, “I do.”

 

“Then by the power invested in me by God and the state of Texas, I now pronounce you husband and wife,” the pastor smiled, “You may kiss your bride.”

 

Gage leaned forward slightly bringing his hand up to rest on her cheek.  He was always amazed by how beautiful she was and today was no different, she was absolutely radiant, and took his breath away every time he looked at her.  The miniscule white flowers in her hair contrasted perfectly with her dark tresses, and the fitted silk dress accentuated her feminine figure. 

After a moment of admiration he placed his other hand on her waist and brought her towards him.

 

Sydney in turn wrapped her arms around his neck and placed her lips gently on his.  She was reminded of the three bruised ribs, and four stitches he had when she felt him tense his neck mid-kiss, but the slight discomfort deterred him none.

 

When they pulled apart a few moments later Sydney smiled at him whispering, “I hope I didn’t hurt you, too much.”  He lightly shook his head in reply before taking her hand and walking her down the aisle, proudly displaying themselves as finally married.

 

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“May I present to you Mr. And Mrs. Francis Gage,” the singer announced just as the band began to play the soft strains of the song.

 

Sydney began to slowly dance with her new husband, happy to be sharing the celebration of their union with their loved ones.  She was surprised by how gracefully Gage lead her around the floor, even though she had gone to extraordinary lengths to teach him how to dance.  She knew he had to be sore, having not yet recovered from the damages done two weeks before.  The

crash had nearly cost him his life, and the ensuing assault had almost taken hers, but they had survived, and now they were together.

 

As the singer began, adding his own voice to the beautiful music, Sydney gently kissed her husband content that they were now together, and confident that together they could survive anything.

 

Fin