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It’s always the brightest light - That takes you home each night

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It’s in London of all places that Ruthie sees him again.

At first she isn’t even sure – it’s been eight years without so much as a glimpse after all. There’s enough of an unfamiliar feeling that she wonders where she’s seen him before. Only for a second but it’s enough to make her look again. Closer this time. And still, at first she thinks it’s a visual trick, someone that looks similar but not quite right. Until he turns away from the shop window and she gets presented with a clear view of his face and eyes.

He looks so different that she can only stare for a minute before she realizes that he’s slipping away through the masses. There’s still something very familiar about his movement though. Enough to make her change directions so abruptly that her best friend, who she has linked arms with, squeaks and flails a little.

“Damn girl, what is it now? We already decided that the shoes back there are way too extravagant,” he says but without much heat. And when he follows Ruthie’s stare and lets out a low whistle and pulls her closer against his side.

“I see. I see. Nice view. Never took your for someone so bold though. Are we going after it?”

“It?” she asks confused, eyes still trained on broad shoulders, scruff and slightly mused hair that looks like he didn’t even try when he got up this morning. It’s a deadly mix between adorable and freaking hot. That somehow tells her she’s right about who she’s seeing standing right there.

“That hulking piece of meat in the dark blue Henley, of course.”

Ruthie rolls her eyes, sighs and tears her eyes away for a second to scowl.

“Would you please stop objectifying people like that, Danny? It always, really always sounds like you are a complete douche.”

Danny stares at her for a second and then starts to smirk in a way Ruthie really doesn’t like. That grin is way too knowing and she knows that he’s about to say something either very rude or something complete embarrassing – or a combination of both, when they are interrupted by a smooth voice that instantly sends shivers down her body.

The voice is slightly different but she’d recognize it anywhere. It really is him.

“Not that I’m not flattered by the hulking piece of meat thing but that Henley is actually black. Just to be clear. Hello Ruthie.”

“Martin.”

It comes out softer than she intended and she feels Danny’s astonished look burning into her. But there’s no time dealing with the entire situation properly before she’s moving.

And before Ruthie can even really think about it there are strong arms around her and she has her nose buried against Martin’s chest. It feels like old times and then it doesn’t. There is nothing familiar about this hug and she smiles against hard muscles beneath her cheek.

But it sort of does feel a little like coming home. Just a little bit, not so much that it scares her but enough to make her heart skip a beat in a way that it hasn’t in years.

+++

The little café is pretty crowded, which is usual so close to the Embankment, but they’ve manage to snag a little corner for themselves. They’ve been talking for hours now and she’s glad she could get Danny to leave them with only a little knowing smirk and no comment.

There’s tea in front of both of them, cupcakes, too and Ruthie wonders how long he’s been in London already. On the way here he seemed to know how to move, where to turn and didn’t look like a tourist at all.

There are no reservations between them and they sort of slip right back into the way they’ve always been. But it’s not really the same. There are miniscule details that differ, that have her stop and blink for a second - and stare at him, wondering if he’s really there.

Ruthie isn’t sure if it’s because of them growing up and subsequently out of the teenage drama or because of something else she can’t put her finger on yet.

She catches herself staring into his eyes more than once and ducks her head when she realizes that he’s aware of it. That smirk on his lips is something she has never seen on him before – it’s teasing more than anything, flirting even, and it makes something in her chest tighten that she thought was long gone and dead.

“Tell me about home,” Martin says with a small smile.

Ruthie knows he’s meaning her home but something in his voice tells her that he’s maybe still thinking about Glenoak that way, too.

So she does. She tells him.

Ruthie tells him how the Reverend and her mom try to maneuver the twins through High School after the homeschooling. How that road trip that split them apart brought the family closer together again, how it’s probably been one of the best ideas they’ve had.

She tells him about Lucy and Kevin and their three children, still staying close but finally living their own lives. How Matt and Sarah are still just them and two of the best doctors she knows. She also tells him about Simon and his quest for the one true love that is still going on and has taken more wrong turns then they all want to think about. Mary and Carlos are too much drama for her even wanting to delve into so that update stays quick and short.

She tells him about her college degree, how she took a year off to finally go back to Scotland and how she’s still working on the final stages of her Masters now.

She talks a lot and still knows she’s not telling him even a full percent of what has been going on during the last eight years. But he seems content with what information she’s handing out and so she goes on.
Ruthie tells him about how she ended up in London for the summer, how friends sort of kidnapped her and that she’s glad she went now. His smile is all she can look at for a minute until she becomes aware of the silence, grins and asks him about his life.

He’s living in New York now, still plays baseball (professionally now and she smiles at his proud little smirk) and sees Aaron pretty regularly. He hasn’t been back in California in years and for some reason doesn’t really talk to his dad all that often (she’s going to figure out why later).

He’s in London for school and that actually is a surprise. He apparently took up drawing during college when he was babysitting Aaron and is pretty good at it. He got offered a workshop for the summer and being on injured reserve the team allowed him to go. He has been here for three months, doing school and therapy for his busted up hip. He’s even had Aaron over for a few weeks.

And suddenly Ruthie realizes that he’s a man now, independent and not caught up anymore in teenage mistakes that ruled his life for years. He seems free, happy and settled. It’s a look that suits him and which she finds incredibly arousing. She’s trying to hide her flushed cheeks by ducking her head and feigning interest in the cupcakes displayed at the counter.

For some reason she opens her mouth and says the thing that has been on her mind for hours now.

“You’ve been here longer than me. Show me around?”

It earns her a laugh, crinkled eyes and the appearance of bunny teeth she totally forgot about and finds endearing instantly again.

“Sure you can keep up with me?”

The innuendo is so brash, so obvious that it shocks her for a second but the smile is already on her lips and she knows her eyes are twinkling with the knowledge of a challenge being issued. A challenge in more ways than one.

“Bring it on, Brewer. You have no idea what you are signing up for,” she says and momentarily wonders where this sudden bravery concerning him comes from. Maybe she has learned some things about herself in the last years.

He grins at her, open and wide and shakes his head as if to say that he can’t believe that this is happening either. It’s a good look on him. And she, again, realizes that this mature way he’s holding himself now, calm and settled, is something she likes very much.

+++

They are wandering around Camden Town a few days later – mostly because Ruthie wanted to photograph everything with that name on and send home to her parents. They are in search of food because it’s lunch time and she’s starving when a squirrel sprints past and she drops her back of freshly bought country apples with a squeak.

The laugh behind her should make her mad but instead makes her blush and grin. She squats down to collect the two stray apples when the laughter is cut off with a little choke.

“Didn’t it say something else the last time?” Martin asks and Ruthie thinks he sounds a little breathless there. She gets up; apples all safely stowed away again and looks at him with a raised eyebrow. She knows it’s questioning and judging at the same time. She has perfected that over the years.

“The tattoo,” he says, gesturing towards her lower back. Her shirt must have moved while she was collecting the fugitive apples.

“Oh, right. You knew I hated it back then. That didn’t change. I got it covered when I started college in Boston. I think I like how it turned out.”

She tries to juggle the bag with the apples a little to be able to carry it easier.

Martin reaches out to take it out of her hands, tugs it under his arm and then starts to gently guide her towards the other side of the Camden Market. Ruthie tries not to shiver at his hand on the small of her back and thinks she fails spectacularly.

“I like it. It’s more you now,” he says but doesn’t look at her.

She isn’t sure if it’s a trick of light or if he’s really blushing under his scruff. She still is getting used to that look of his. It’s so different from the clean-shaven college student she’s seen him as last that it will probably take her a while to fully come to terms with how ridiculously hot Martin Brewer grew up to be. He was cute before, now he’s deadly gorgeous and she has to keep herself from telling him - because they just met again.

“Compared to the act of teenage rebellion stamped across my ass?”

He snorts, shakes his head and looks at her with a fond smile she wants to keep on his face as long as possible. It fits him.

“Right. What happened to him. Are you..?” He trails off but he doesn’t need to say it out loud anyway.

“No. I’m woefully single. For as much as I tried to be in relationships as a teenager I sort of keep back these days.”

He nods. He understands, though he doesn’t say anything about himself.

“He proposed.”

“T-Bone?”

“Yes.”

Ruthie doesn’t really know how to tell that tale because it isn’t a nice one. There were a lot of tears, a lot of screaming and neither of them dealt with it in the right way. She tells Martin as much and then starts with a part of the story.

“It was senior year, after that summer road trip and some other things. We were close and I liked it. All I told you in the car, it wasn’t a lie. I felt like that. But then you were gone, never showed up anymore and I know why. And I sort of feel like I need to apologize for that.”

“Don’t,” Martin interrupts her gently, squeezes her shoulder while maneuvering them through the astoundingly tight crowd people in the market. She has no idea where they are going but she trusts him. She trusts him implicitly and always has. It’s a realization that makes her want to apologize for her teenaged self all over again.

“Ruthie, please don’t. It’s okay. At that time, back then, you were right. Maybe not about everything but about most things. We were so young. We were feeling things that were overwhelming. It’s okay, really. That evening in the car… well, it sort of made me start to think about my life and where I wanted to be,” he tells her softly. Then he leads her into a small bistro at the edge of the market and settles them both into a corner away from the busy entryway.

“Wait here for a sec, yeah? I’ll be right back.”

It gives her time to absorb his words. He’s right, of course. They were both so young. Teenagers with the ingrained urge to be with someone. Ruthie still thinks her words back then must have hurt him but she also knows that he’s okay with it now.

When Martin returns a few minutes later he places a glass of orange soda and a plate with what looks like a huge turkey and cheese sandwich in front of her. He still knows what she likes. It floors her a little.

“Still like turkey, right?”

“Yeah,” is all she can say and she feels the smile on her lips and grins even more when it’s mirrored on his face.

“Still want me to tell you all about the proposal fiasco?”

Martin nods, solemn and slow. He turns towards his own sandwich but Ruthie knows he’s listening. He’s always seemed pre-occupied with other things but he listened nonetheless and always when it was her talking. Nothing seems to have changed in that regards. It makes her swallow a little and has her heart skip yet another beat.

“I thought it was all good. Going through High School, applying for colleges as far away from home as possible and generally being a teenager. I liked having a boyfriend. I liked him, maybe even loved him as much as I could back then.”

She takes a bite out of her sandwich. It’s delicious. His smile tells her that he knows what she’s thinking about. Ruthie looks around, needs a minute to sort her thoughts - takes in the bistro, the people inside and out in the market. She’s going to miss London once she goes back home. Ruthie feels free here, independent and like the adult she’s supposed to be now.

“He proposed on Valentine’s Day. As cliché as it sounds, it was sort of sweet really. We were engaged for three months. My parents were okay with it but I think they didn’t really like it. He was still living with us even though his dad was around a lot by then. I don’t really know how it happened. I was applying to colleges he suddenly hated. He got annoyed when I watched sports on TV for some reason. There were other things he suddenly didn’t like or want me to do anymore. It all was a mess in the end. One evening Sandy came around with Aaron and we ended up babysitting him. We got in a fight, T-Bone and I. It all went really downhill from there. I haven’t seen him since graduation.”

That’s all she’s willing to tell him. For now at least. Some of the reasons why things didn’t work out were only made clear years after the fact. And she’s not sure if she can tell Martin about them right now. She stops, looks at him and waits.

Martin gets it though, smiles a little, nods and then switches topics so smoothly that she can’t help but fall for him a little all over again. She suspects she never stopped falling anyway.

+++

“I’m going home next week,” Ruthie tells Martin about a week later and tries to figure out why the thought of leaving him makes her a little nauseous.

They are strolling through the newest exhibition in the Modern Tate and she loves to watch him being all focused on art and telling her about his workshop. Ruthie has seen some of his drawings and has to admit that they are very good. She knows that the workshop coach actually asked for some of his works to be displayed in a gallery. They had celebrated that with tickets to a show at the Westend.

“Huh?” Martin mumbles when he turns away from a wall painting that looks like it was done with wet chalk. And for a brief moment she’s distracted by the sight of him in glasses. It’s not new but it’s new again – and that only really makes sense in her head.

Ruthie never saw him wear them but knew he had them even back when he lived with her family, saw them lying around. Playing baseball and glasses don’t really get along, he told her that once. She remembers pestering about contacts and his shrewd face at the thought of putting something in his eyes – he ended up doing it anyway.

“My vacation is over. I’m going back home again,” she finally replies and tries not to get caught up staring at him again. It’s getting ridiculous again and she has been through that before.

They had settled on friends pretty easily. Ruthie doesn’t want to lose that again. She misses him, didn’t even really know how much until he was back in her life.

“Oh. Right. I still have two months left.” He frowns, shrugs, smiles at her and then drags her to the next room conversation done for the moment.

They don’t say anything more about it until they are back in her room with him sprawled out on the couch and her flittering around, stowing away art books and postcards she bought to take home with her.

“You are still in Boston, right?”

Ruthie stops organizing her suitcase and looks at him, lingers a little on the way he’s seemingly draped all careless over the furniture and admires the way he’s learned control of his body. It’s an enticing view and there’s only so much she can do to hold back from going over and just lying down on top of him.

“Yeah. At least until I have my Masters degree. I don’t really know what will happen then.”

When Martin sits up, looks down at his hands and refuses to meet her eyes she knows he’s working up to something. She waits patiently, something she’s never really been good at but doesn’t even think about interrupting him or saying something.

“I… do you…”, he stops again and sighs, sounds frustrated and she really thinks she shouldn’t find it endearing when he runs his fingers through his hair and ends up looking a little like a wolf with deranged fur.

“Come on, spit it out, Martin,” she goads, knows from experience he’ll eventually say what he wants out in the open if you just prod long enough.

“Would you give me your number? I’m in New York, not so far away. I’d like to stay in contact. If that’s okay with you.”

Ruthie knows he hasn’t always been the best of guys back then. A teenager who had to grow up way too early, who had way too much freedom instead of a guiding hand and who was sometimes a little bit too pushy to not come across as a giant asshole.

So him asking, him considering that maybe Ruthie doesn’t want to keep in contact and not just demanding to get her number is a something huge. Martin Brewer actually grew up, became an adult that knows when to take a step back and ask for something instead of getting all pouty and demanding it.
Ruthie smiles when he starts too look all confused at her lack of an answer.

For some reason she thinks that her dismissal all those years ago has something to do with this development. He told her that he started to think about things, maybe – and she’s trying not to sound too arrogant here – maybe losing the chance of something with her set things in motion that now makes him all the more attractive to her.

She takes her cellphone out of her bag, flops down next to him and hands it over.

“I demand a monthly meeting, in a fancy restaurant and mutual sharing and caring,” she says with a smug smile and laughs when he just shakes his head.

“It’s a date Camden.”

The way her heart flutters and her stomach tightens, has nothing to do with those words and all with the fact that Martin is apparently back in her life.

She knows it’s because of both facts are true.

+++

Martin kisses her at the airport, a minute after her boarding began and she was about to turn around and leave him behind.

He simple puts a hand on her shoulder, gently pulls her back and looks into her eyes with warmth Ruthie thinks she might have missed for years. He doesn’t move for a second or two, just looks at her as if he’s waiting for permission.

It takes her embarrassingly long to understand that he actually is waiting for permission. When she does finally get with the program all she’s able to do is smile and nod.

The second their lips touch she knows this will mean something.

She knows this will mean more than any other thing before.

They kiss gently for a while, then fast and hard.

She’s the last one on the plane and doesn’t even feel bad about it.

When she lands, there’s a text on her cell with the simple message ‘Miss you already’.

She smiles all the way home and doesn’t care that she probably scares the cab driver a little.

+++

They text, they call, they even Skype.

They don’t make it too monthly meetings in person but talk almost every day.

It’s hilarious to her how easy things actually are between them. There’s no drama, no other potential boyfriends or girlfriends on the side that could complicate things. There’s just them and they can talk each other in the same uncomplicated way they always could.

Martin sends her sketches of her he made in London once he’s back in the states. He even asks for permission to add them to his portfolio. Ruthie feels incredibly honored, tells him as much and smiles at the sight of him blushing fiercely, so much that she can even see it on her Skype screen.

Ruthie feels good, starts to think that this might even have a chance now and wants to keep it all to herself.

Her mom suspects that something is up. She always had a sixth sense when it came to her children and relationships. But Ruthie doesn’t want to give up her secret just yet. It’s all too new, too exhilarating, and too good to be shared with her family.

Especially since her family is sort of noisy and wouldn’t be able to keep back with well-meant advices and tips. She really doesn’t need that. She’s old enough to figure things out on her own.

Like Matt did.

That’s why he’s the only who knows that there actually is someone in her life now and that this someone might be the one to really make her happy. He doesn’t know it’s Martin and Ruthie’s perfectly fine with talking in general terms about it with her brother.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t spending hours in the phone with Matt before the first time Martin is supposed to visit her in Boston.

It’s close to Thanksgiving now and Martin told her about spending it with his Dad and aunt in New Jersey. So he’s heading up to Boston today to have a pre-Thanksgiving dinner with her before she flies to California.

And she’s a nervous wreck about it.

Ruthie feels sixteen all over again, jittery, inexperienced, so in awe with the fact that Martin is actually still interested.

“Ruthie. Ruthie, calm down. You really like this guy, don’t you?” Of course Matt has to say it out loud. She sighs, flops down onto her bed, ready to deny everything when she realizes that her mouth is already two steps ahead.

“Yes, Matt. I have been telling you that for weeks now. It’s just…. He’s important to me and it’s the first time he’ll be at my place.”

“Do you want me to be on stand-by? Just in case?” She loves her big brother even though he can be a little bit overbearing sometimes – just like her mom. Just the knowledge that she has his support calms her down somewhat.

“No Matt, it’s fine. But thanks. I’m just freaking out because him being in my place here is so very different from him being in our house and… oh hell,” she curses, hides her face in her favorite pillow and prays that Matt hasn’t heard her slip-up. Ruthie doesn’t want anybody to know yet; it’s still too new, too fragile still.

The hope is in vain, though.

“Ruthie… Ruth, please tell me you aren’t back with T-Bone,” Matt pleads, sounding so outrageously put out that she can’t hold back the laughter bubbling up.

“Oh God…,” she’s laughing so hard that she’s crying tears after a few minutes, barely able to catch her breath.

“No. No, Matt. Not T-Bone. I haven’t seen him in years, no idea where he is these days.”

“Okay. But it’s still someone you knew back home. I guess I can see why that would make you nervous… in addition to the whole liking him a lot thing. So, how is Martin these days?”

“How… what?” It leaves her stuttering, almost speechless but then she should have known that Matt would figure it out. He is by far the one in her family that knows her the best.

“Well, it was the only logical option. He has always been on your mind. Your reaction just now proved me right. So how is he?”

“Please don’t tell the parents yet.”

Ruthie smiles into her pillow, stretches a little and then starts telling Matt all about Martin. She forgets the time over it and in the end freaks out even more when she realizes that Martin will be there in five minutes.

She ends up opening the door in sweats, her old college t-shirt, with her hair in wild tangles and her make-up not even half-way done. But the way Martin looks at her before he pulls her in for a gentle kiss tells her that it doesn’t matter at all.

The feeling of coming home, of finally being closer to the place she’s supposed to be in, is stronger than ever. It doesn’t scare her as much as it used to. She’s not sixteen anymore.

+++

They keep it slow.

Not too slow, because she’s 24 and not a nun neither a virgin.

But slow enough that they get to know each other without the added pressure of teenage hormones and peer pressure that were ever present during high school.

Ruhtie knows she has done a few things her parents don’t approve off, including not waiting until marriage. But she’s not willing to feel guilty about it. Her brothers didn’t either and she hates people living by different moral standards when it comes to men and women.

She doesn’t regret getting all the experience she wanted to, it showed her what she liked and what she would never in her life try. It got her a feeling of what is important to her in relationships and in friendships as well.

So Ruthie doesn’t even have to think about the answer when Martin asks her if it’s okay to wait and see where things go.

She wants this to work out, because she sees something in her future that comes close to what they are building right now. It’s enough for her right now to hear his voice most evenings, to tell him about her day and listen to him talking about starting up training again. It’s enough to know that he’s on the same page, tells her how much he likes listening to her, how much it means to him that she’s back in his life.
Ruthie thinks she shocks him a little though when she tells him how she touches herself listening to him talk about his art. It turns her on to hear him being passionate about something, be it baseball, art or even her.

This quickly develops into something she might have blushed about years ago but now tries to fully explore all the possibilities.

Hearing him moan over the phone does things to her she never thought possible. Making him groan with her words and sighs and sounds feels exhilarating, like she has a power she never expected to be granted. Ruthie vows to execute it carefully because she knows he is doing the same in regards to her.

One night after, when she’s still lying panting, exhausted but happy, her fingers still wet and her heartbeat still elevated, she asks what she’s been wanting know for a while now.

“Have you found your person yet?”

“Huh?” He sounds still halfway out of it, painting, sleepy, satisfied. It makes her smile with pride at being the one making him feel like that.

“When we talked in the car, I told you you’d find someone just for you. Someone that would be right, love you like you deserved to be loved.”

“Right,” he chuckles into the phone. She can hear him moving, bed sheets rustling and then he’s back with her.

“Maybe I have now.”

Suddenly she feels as safe, loved, protected. And it feels so very different from everything she’s ever known before that she knows she’ll do everything to keep this, to work for it.

Ruthie falls asleep with a smile on her lips and his breath in her ear.

+++

A week before Christmas she’s finally on winter break, planning her trip home when Matt invites her to New York. The mentioning of the place has her heart skip this treacherous beat even though she doesn’t really know if Martin will be in town or spend the holidays with his aunt and dad again.

Just the thought of being in New York when Martin might be there is enough to say yes but she waits for Matt’s arguments. Because sounding too eager will make her brother suspicious and she doesn’t really need another one of his mocking lectures.

Matt and Sarah won’t be able to fly out over the holidays, will spend them with Sarah’s parents celebrating Hanukkah instead. He already has a flight back home booked for her so there isn’t much she can say other than yes.

Ruthie wants to see him anyway. It has been way too long.

So when he picks her up from the airport, all decked out with a sign, a silly grin and sparkling eyes, she knows something is up.

“I have a surprise for you. Look at it as an early Christmas present,” he tells her with a grin underlining every suspicious thought that have been growing ever since she laid eyes on him.

“What have you done now, Matt? Is Sarah pregnant again and you want me to tell mom and dad?”

She almost laughs at the way his eyes boggle twisting his face into a dorky mask of outrage.

“What? No. It’s s surprise for you. It has nothing to do with me or my family. I swear.”

He sounds so earnest that she nods, lets it slide with a smile in the end.

Even though it has been a while since she has been in the city she immediately knows that Matt is not driving them to his place. This part of the city is foreign to her but Ruthie knows it’s on the opposite side of where they should be right now. So it’s not like Matt is running some errands on the way home, this is planned and probably part of her surprise. She just didn’t think he would show it to her right now.

She exhausted from the plane ride, from packing for the stay in California, so she’s about to ask him if it’s okay if he surprises her later when they pull up in front of a building that looks suspiciously like a batting range.

“Matt?”

“After I knew what was going on with you, I sort of started watching the sports news. Never realized what a big name he actually is around here. He doesn’t know you’re coming. So, a surprise for both of you. There aren’t any public practices in winter, obviously. But a friend of mine works as a medical consultant and told me about a special batting practice. “

Ruthie stares at him, unbelieving, surprised, lost for words. Then she flies over the middle console, hugs the breath out of him while she can’t really suppress the elated laughter.

“You’re welcome, Ruthie.”

“Thank you. Really, just… Thank you. I don’t even know what to say.”

“I can wait here if you want me to. But I think I’ll just take your luggage home and get you tomorrow for breakfast. Tell him Hi from me and that he’s welcome at my place any time.”

She hugs him again tell him he’s the greatest brother in the world and tries not to ruin her make-up too much while doing so. Once again she’s glad that she keeps a change of clothes in her carry-on (learned from bitter experience when her suitcase was lost on the way to Scotland) and doesn’t need to drag her suitcases along.

Ruthie feels a little presumptuous at thinking that she’ll spend the night with Martin. But seeing how things are between them she thinks it’s not too big of a step to take.

She watches Matt as he drives away with a wave then turns towards the entrance with a small smile. Ruthie wonders what he’ll look like, wonders if the baseball uniform still underlines all his nice assets. She wonders what his face will be like when he sees her watching him.

It’s just a small practicing field she enters. There aren’t many people around; some have taken seats on the wooden benches behind the batting cages, so she joins them not wanting to attract attention by standing around.

Most of the people are either decked out in fan paraphernalia or official team jerseys and she feels a little under-dressed in her knee-high winter boots, skirt, sweater and woolen overcoat. The field is covered by a roof but the temperatures are still close to the outside ones and being in New York in December it means that it’s beyond just cold and closer to freezing.

Ruthie looks around, takes in the players in conversations around the field when her eyes land on the reason she is here. Martin is in one of the batting cages, eyes on the ball, arm poised of the next hit. Seeing him in his baseball outfit brings back so many memories, most of them good ones. She loved watching him play and she knows she still loves watching him in his element.

There’s some raw, something undeniably strong about him when he plays. It’s still one of the most appealing sights and she realizes that she has missed this, just seeing him like this and baseball as a whole.

Some of the people that are sitting close to her, and she assumes they are fans, are commenting on Martin’s every move, clearly knowing more about the sport than she does. What makes her grin though are the speculations about his relationship status and the moans about how Martin never gives anything personal away.

They are close enough to the cages that she’s pretty sure he can hear most of it, the sight of his ears turning read at some comments proves her right. It makes her smile but at the same time sort of self-conscious because those girls are very good looking.

But then one of them gives her the perfect opening with a comment about his shirt revealing a lot.

“Oh you should see him in a black Henley then.”

What happens next might be perfect for a slapstick sketch because Martin flails so hard that he hits the ball the same time he lets go of the bat to turn around to stare at Ruthie. Both, ball and bat, fly through the cage in a way that makes Martin flinch and blush. But the smile that grows on his face is worth it.

He’s out of the cage a second later and has Ruthie in his arms almost instantly. She tries not to grin too smugly at the shocked stares they receive. It’s a little satisfying if she’s to be honest with herself.

“Hey, what are you doing here? Not that I mind but still…”

“Hello to you, too,” she says into yet another hug. When he lets go to smile at her she just rolls her eyes.

“Matt. He invited me for a few days. Told me he had a surprise when he picked me up this morning and then dropped me off here. I’m supposed to tell you Hi and that you are always welcome at his place.”

Martin frowns a little but pulls her close again, this time though for a gentle kiss which she sighs into.

“Brewer! Take it somewhere else. Training’s done for today anyway,” someone shouts making Martin chuckle against her lips.

They are in his car on the way to his place when Martin breaks the silence that wasn’t really uncomfortable but sort of tense – but not in a bad way.

“You told Matt about us?”

It doesn’t sound accusing only questioning.

“Not really. He figured it out. But I might have slipped up a little. I’m sorry?” She’s not sure where this is going but when he dares to look at Martin he’s smiling this small private smile that she’s only ever seen directed at her.

“No. There’s nothing to be sorry about. I just thought you don’t anybody to know yet. Which I admit I sort of destroyed back there with the kiss and all.”

Ruthie thinks about it for a minute, knows he does, too.

“I just wanted to keep it…. Keep you to myself for a while. It’s all new, exciting and I just wanted you to be mine for a while. You know what my family is like. But Matt... he’s Matt and he can keep secrets… if he has to.”

“Ruthie… I don’t mind people… your family… knowing. I want them to know that I finally had the right things to say to be able to date you. I want them to know that I’ve grown beyond the occasional controlling ass I could be back then.”

She laughs at that because they both know it’s true. He’s grown up so much. They both have. This thins between them is growing more solid even though it only has been a few months. Now it has a better chance of being something lasting than it ever had before.

“Okay,” it’s all she can say. It’s all she needs to say judging from the blinding smile Martin sends her.

+++

The second they are through the door of Martin’s apartment he has her pushed up against the wall, her legs wrapped around him, their lips hungrily pulling at skin. The fierceness is surprising and then it isn’t.
It has been building up for a while now even though she thinks they are not ready for the final step. But this, getting her hands and lips on him is what she’s wanted for ages now, maybe even years but she’s not thinking about that now.

It’s as fast and dirty as they dare to let it be. Lips taking and giving pleasure in ways she never really explored beyond the first stages before. His hands show her that he knows what his doing and she feels absolutely shameless when she urges him further.

Their kisses are hot, demanding, sucking the air right out of her with their intensity. His fingers sliding between her legs, into her panties, has her throwing her head back against the wall letting out a moan that gets halfway stuck.

She can feel her fingers scratching along his shoulder, digging in deep and holding on. He groans against her neck where his lips are sucking bruises into her skin, heightening her pleasure to a degree she’s not sure should be possible from ‘only’ heavy make out.

His finger inside her panties and him moving against her is probably the most erotic thing she’s experienced so far. She fumbles with the zipper of his jeans, shudders when she feels his hardness twitch against her knuckles. She wants to feel him in her hand, wants to drag it out, and wants to savor every second of it. But she knows this is not the moment for any of it. For now she enjoys the heat seeping through his briefs.

She gets her hands back up around his neck, drags his mouth back to her and practically traps his fingers between her hot wetness and his own hardness with just underwear between them. The groan against her lips is even more guttural.

She’s close, keeps moving her hips to get his fingers closer to where she wants them, draws him closer with her legs around him. Then his thumb slides over clit and she’s done, shudders, twitches, traps him even more.

He bites down on her shoulder, not too hard but enough to send another surge of pleasure through her and then she feels him twitching against her, trapped between her legs and his own hand.

He pulls his hand out of her underwear to hike her up on his hips and they both moan out loud when her wetness settles against his spreading one. They are both too sensitive to move for a few moments.

Once her heartbeat has settle and she can take a breath without shuddering she lowers her legs from around him and just settles against his chest.

She is aware enough that she smiles against his neck when he picks her up and carries her into his bedroom. The second they are settled down, tangled together and basking in the afterglow she falls asleep.

The spent the rest of the day in bed, exploring, finding ways to rile the other up and making up for lost time. As much as she hated the tattoo back then it now seems to be one of the places in her body that reacts to every one of his touches. He traces it with his tongue, then with his fingers while his lips are occupied otherwise.

Ruthie can’t bring herself to regret the ink on her skin any longer.

They order take out later and she calls Matt to let him know that things are okay.

She gets a tour for Martin’s apartment, deems it worthy for her to stay at and makes him laugh with her running commentary about the things that have to change if he wants her to be over more often.

They are tangle under the covers again when she brings up Christmas. It makes him still for a minute and then pull her closer.

“I had a fight with my dad a few years ago… about how he thought I was neglecting Aaron for pursuing a baseball career at the other end of the country. I sort of threw his own career choices in his face. It has been a little strained since then. He’ll spend Christmas with my aunt but I haven’t decided yet Thanksgiving was sort of… cold,” he shrugs and places a small kiss on her shoulder.

A thought is forming in her mind but she has to tell him something else first. So she turns around, wants to look at him when she tells him.

“When I told you about T-Bone and the entire mess, I didn’t tell you everything.”

“I figured. Wanna tell me now?” He asks with a small smile, pulls her closer even and she feels like she can tell him anything now.

“He was jealous.”

“Okay.” A raised eyebrow is the only indication that he’s a little confused about that.

“Of you.”

“Me? But I wasn’t even around anymore.”

She moves again, settles against his chest and focuses on the draft sketch of her that is hanging on the wall across from the bed. It shocks her for a second to see it hanging there but then she smiles, feels honored all over again.

“Yeah. But Aaron was and Sandy, too. They talked about you and I always wanted to know how you were. I still had some of your things around, watched baseball because of you and he knew about it,” she tells him while playing with the string of his pajama bottoms.

“I only learned about it later. Years later even, when my dad told me during a late night that he saw T-Bone and that he always thought his jealousy over you was stupid. I didn’t even know. He just got angry at me and I got angry at him because of not knowing why. When I applied to colleges on the East Coast I didn’t even know that he had heard Sandy talking about you maybe going there. It was the last straw so to speak. Then I went to Scotland and didn’t talk to him after that.”

“I’m sorry,” Martin whispers against her neck. Kisses the skin beneath her ear softly. It makes her shiver but it’s nothing sexual about it. It’s more comfort and support. She appreciates it.

“Why? It wasn’t your fault.”

“Yeah, well… I did tell him off in the hospital. You know, the day your dad got cleared? I told him that I liked you. Maybe that still stuck with him.”

“Still not your fault. This went down the drain because of me and him. Not because of you. And thinking back on it I guess he was right. You were there all the time, on my mind and I didn’t even know it. Looking at us now, I should have known though.”

Ruthie feels the smile against her skin, moves just a little bit so that she can kiss him deep and slow.
He brings her off with just one finger this time, has her writhing in his arms and makes her shudder in pleasure when he whispers into her ear that she’s the one person for him, always has been.

They are not asleep when she thinks back on the questions she’s wanted to ask all day. It’s past midnight but she’s not really tired, knows Martin isn’t either. There has been a movie on for a while now but Ruthie can’t really tell what it’s about.

“I… I think I’ve stopped loving you. I fell all over again when I saw you in London,” she starts with not really planning on saying it but not taking it back, refusing to feel guilty about the seriousness that settles around them.

“I’m glad. I told you back then and I meant it. I’ll tell you know that I love you Ruthie Camden. As mushy and cliché as it sounds, I’ll never let you got again now. I hope you are aware of that.”

“Come home with me. For Christmas,” she sort of blurts out then.

It’s not a question so much as it is a request.

“Yeah… alright. Let’s go home.”

“And tell our families.”

“Oh God. I’m dead.”

She laughs so long and hard that Martin has to dry her tears before he can kiss her again.

+++

Her dad’s face when he opens the door of the new house to them is priceless. Her mom’s face even more so.

Martin ducks his head shyly and it’s such a contrast to the man she’s come to know again that she laughs out loud.

“Welcome home, Martin,” her dad says and pulls him into a tight hug. She doesn’t tear up at the sight but it’s a close thing. Her mom knows, smiles at her and hugs Martin herself when she reaches him.

“Thanks, Reverend. Thank you, Mrs. Camden,” Martin replies. He sounds so sincere and humbled that she hides her grin against his shoulder. When her parents offer him their names instead of Reverend and Mrs. Camden she knows that they’ve realized that things are serious.

It feels like the first time ever that the man she brings home to her parents actually belongs there. It has never felt this right before. Martin is family again. It feels like something has settled again, something that has been missing even before they parted ways and lived their own lives.

But Ruthie thinks that they both needed that. They both needed to experience live on their own to grown up and come back to the point where they could actually be together and could be good together.

They are sitting on the couch in the living room, close together, almost cuddling when Lucy and Kevin arrive. This Christmas will be a small affair going by Camden standards. She’s glad about it because having Martin back here and not having him overwhelmed with the entire family is important.

The twins are helping out at a shelter and will be home later. Simon is on his way home as well and that’s about it.

Ruthie tries hard not to vibrate out of her seat at the chance of surprising her big sister. She watches them handing the children off to her mom who herds them into the kitchen to help her with the cake for later.

Lucy is the first to realize that there’s someone else besides her family present and stops in the entryway with a questioning frown on her face. Kevin’s confusion is not as pronounced but Ruthie can still see it clearly.

They really don’t recognize Martin, which Ruthie thinks is ridiculous, he doesn’t look that different after all. But then he does look all mature with his scruff, the dark rimmed glasses and his considerable bulk under the dress shirt and vest.

She can see how thrown both of them are that they didn’t know Ruthie would bring someone for Christmas, that they didn’t know there even was someone to bring. She knows Lucy will present her with a lecture later about keeping something that important from her.

She thinks Lucy is about to introduce them when their dad comes back in from the kitchen with a beer for Martin. Kevin’s confused frown at the familiarity is hilarious and she has to smother her laugh against Martin’s shoulder. He’s slightly shaking underneath her and it almost sets her off.

It’s her mom that saves them all. She still has the sixth sense when it comes to tense situations that need to be solved.

“Martin. Would you please come and help me in the kitchen?” She asks from the doorway and doesn’t look smug at all. Ruthie loves her mom.

Martin gets up, drops a small kiss on Ruthie’s cheek and nods to the rest of the family before he follows her mom.

“Martin?” Lucy screeches and falls against Kevin’s side in shock. Ruthie can see how their eyes widen, can see the moment they recognize the man in front of them just before he vanishes through the door.

They can hear Martin and her mom losing it in the kitchen, laughing like she hasn’t heard them in years. It sets Ruthie and her dad off as well.

Kevin joins a little later, drops on the couch next to her and pulls her into a hug. When Lucy does the same from her other side Ruthie, for the first since she left, feels completely at home with her family again.

When Lucy mutters ‘nice catch’ into her ear and Kevin adds ‘finally’ it sets her off all over again.

And that’s how it should be, a house filled with laughter and the warmth of loved ones, of family being together.