"Mmmm," Katie murmured as she woke up for a brief moment from her sleep. She turned over onto her other side and moved closer to the body next to her, smiling when the arms tightened protectively around her.
The body next to her...the arms tightened around her... That took a minute or two to register in Katie's head, and she suddenly pulled away and sat up in surprise, examining her surroundings. She was at home, in her bed...and A.J. was lying there next to her, tossing a little bit in his sleep and reaching out to hold her again. When he couldn't find her, he slowly opened his eyes and sat up, smiling sleepily when he saw Katie already awake.
"Hey," he said groggily.
Katie just sat there staring at him in confusion for a moment, not understanding what had happened. "What happened to Linz? And Carlos and Thomas?" she finally asked after a moment.
"You fell asleep next to Linz when you were staying with her in the alley. She's with Kevin now. Carlos and Thomas got arrested," A.J. explained.
That made sense. Katie's brow furrowed. "Well...what are you doing here?" she asked, the words coming out a little more bitterly than she had expected.
Pain immediately took over A.J.'s face. "I-I'm sorry. You just said that you..." He trailed off and swallowed, moving towards the edge of the bed. "Never mind. I'll get going, if you--"
"A.J." Katie interrupted firmly, resting her hand gently on his back. He stopped and turned back towards her, and she smiled warmly at him. "I didn't mean it that way. You can stay. I just meant why are you here?"
"Oh..." A.J. returned the smile. "Well, someone had to take you home, so...I did."
"Thanks," Katie whispered. She looked down at the comforter of the bed and traced the flowered pattern with her fingertip, suddenly a bit shy.
"You're welcome." A.J. couldn't help the amused smile that crossed his lips because of the way she was acting. It took everything in him not to wrap his arms around her and pull her close at that moment, but he could see that she was getting ready to speak, and he wanted to hear what she had to say, so he restrained himself.
"Listen, A.J.--Alex--I'm really sorry about not trusting you. I mean, now that I look back on it, I was being pretty stupid. You were just sitting there with boxes of cigarettes, and so that automatically meant that you were smoking them? The logic isn't exactly there," Katie said, frowning to herself. "If you had been smoking them, you wouldn't have just done it out in the open like that. You would have concealed it. Wow, I was being really stupid. I just--"
"Katie," A.J. interrupted firmly, just as she had done before. "You weren't being stupid. It was instinct. You saw me with the cigarettes, so you just instantly thought that I was using them. It's okay, sweetie, I understand. I should have been a bit more discreet about throwing them away."
"A.J., don't try to take the blame for something that wasn't your fault," Katie warned.
"It was partially my fault. I was smoking in the first place," A.J. argued.
"We both made mistakes," A.J. insisted. "It's all right."
Katie finally let a shy smile play across her lips. "All right," she agreed softly.
A.J. returned the smile. "Believe me, sweetie, I'm not going to smoke any more. I don't know what the hell made me want to in the first place. I mean, for one thing, it wasn't exactly good for my health, but..." He swallowed. "For another thing, it pushed you away from me. And I don't want that to happen."
Katie took a deep breath and threw her arms around his neck, holding him tightly as her tears threatened to fall. "I'm sorry that I didn't trust you, baby," she whispered shakily as he slid his arms around her waist. "I trust you now. I trust you with my life. Hell, you saved it," she murmured, her voice breaking and a tear sliding down her cheek.
A.J. pulled away slightly and wiped the tear away for her. "Don't cry," he begged, even though tears were about to spill from his own eyes. "Everything's back the way it should be."
Katie smiled through her tears. "I love you," she whispered.
A.J. returned the smile. "I love you too," he replied. Katie slid her hands up to his cheeks and held his face in her hands for a moment, just looking at him. One of her hands fell back to his chest, and her other hand started to stroke his cheek affectionately. After a moment, A.J. couldn't take it anymore and pulled her close again, pressing his lips up against hers just as he had done in the alley. Katie murmured her approval and rolled over so that she was on her back, letting him climb on top of her. She started to slip his shirt up over his head, but he stopped her.
"Hold on a minute, sweetie. There's something I want to do first," he informed her.
Katie let out a little whimper. "Please, can't it wait? Just for, oh, fifteen minutes?" she begged with a little pout, resting her hands on his hips.
A.J. bit his lip, obviously wanting to comply with her wishes, but he still shook his head. "This won't take long," he promised, rolling off of the bed for a moment. "Close your eyes," he commanded, walking over to where the jacket he had left at her house a few days before was still draped over a chair. Katie arched an eyebrow suspiciously but still closed her eyes. She heard A.J. walk back over to the bed and felt his weight on the mattress before his arms wrapped around her once again, so that he was lying on his back right next to her.
"Katie, I know that I've told you this before, but...well, I'm going to tell you again," A.J. began. "You know that you've changed my life. Hell, you remember what I was like before we were together. I was always moving from woman to woman, never content with what I had and always wanting more, but somehow never getting it. I wouldn't be one week into a relationship before I would get sick of it and start to want something else. And this happened all the time, over and over and over again. Then, I started to notice you." His voice softened a little bit as he kept speaking.
"I don't remember what it was that initially made me realize how beautiful you were, and how amazing you were, and how perfect for each other the two of us were. I think it was one night when you were onstage opening for us?" he half-questioned, trying to remember. "Yeah, that's it. It was when you were onstage in Athens, and you were singing that slow song...what was it called? Something about eyes?"
"'In Your Eyes,'" Katie answered, her voice almost a whisper. Her eyes were still closed.
"That's it," A.J. said again, grinning. "And for some reason, the way you sang it that night just gave me goosebumps. I remember when you hit that high note in the second chorus...it just gave me chills." He paused to shiver, thinking back to that night more than a year ago. "From that day on, I couldn't take my eyes off of you. You were just always so sweet and funny, so energetic and full of life...so beautiful. And then we got together--after awhile." A.J. grinned, remembering the turbulent beginning of their relationship.
"But anyway, since then, nothing has been the same. I haven't ever gotten sick of this relationship, because every day is a little different from the one before it, but at the same time, it's the same, because you're there, and we're together. And that's why I'm about to do what I'm about to do. Because this is something that I don't want to go away." He was quiet for a moment, and Katie could feel his arms moving slightly as he fumbled with something. He took a deep breath before he spoke again, and she could tell from his voice how excited he was. "Okay, you can open your eyes now."
Katie slowly opened her eyes, and when they focused on what he was holding in front of her, she gasped. It was a silver ring, with a small diamond embedded in the center of the band. Katie's throat dried up, and her vision blurred a bit as she turned her head towards him and spoke. "A.J....are you...I mean...you aren't..."
A.J.'s eyebrows shot up. "Proposing?" She nodded, and he laughed. "No, no. It's a promise ring," he explained.
She breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh..."
"Yeah," he chuckled. Then his voice turned serious. "It means that I want to have you, to be close to you, for the rest of my life. That maybe I'm not proposing to you now, but someday..." He trailed off and smiled warmly at her. "Will you accept it?"
Katie choked back a sob. "Of course I'll accept it. I love you, Alex," she whispered.
A.J. was grinning from ear to ear as he slipped the ring onto her finger and pulled her even closer to him, letting her wrap her arms around his neck and rest her head on his shoulder. He moved a little so that his mouth was next to her ear.
"I love you so much, baby, and I always will," he whispered. "Through thick and through thin."