As they walked back toward the house, all Dean could think about was how unfair it was that Heidi was still suffering after all this time. Things had gotten better, the whole team had gotten better and was doing well, and Heidi was finally happy again. And then this had to happen and all the good that was there started to disappear and back came the dark cloud that had been hanging over them for as long as they all could remember.
Dean thought back to last year. Exactly a year ago today the team started their new lives together after the whole Lara situation had been dealt with, they had heard her side of the story and everyone had gotten a chance to voice their own opinions.
While Heidi and Chase had stayed behind at Dean and Heidi's house, the rest of them - Dean, Lachie, Jordan, Vince and Michelle - had gone to the station to meet with Lara like she had agreed when Michelle had called her to arrange a meeting. Lara had been relieved that they wanted to talk and let her explain what had happened, but had been disappointed when she arrived and found that Heidi and Chase weren't there.
However she didn't ask about them again after Dean made it clear, with a vicious tone in his voice, that they didn't want to see Lara at the moment and he wouldn't blame them if they never wanted to see her again, leaving out that Chase had wanted to come but they hadn't let him, trying to protect him from getting upset at whatever Lara might say.
The way Dean had acted made it clear to Lara that Dean didn't want to be there either, and so tried to get right to the point so as not to keep him there longer than he wanted to be. That wouldn't help her in trying to make things right with them, by making them listen to hours of apologies and explanations that they didn't want to hear. All they wanted was the truth, no excuses, and a very good reason why they shouldn't just kick her out of the station right then and tell her to never come back.
To their credit after Dean's malicious words they all calmed down and sat at the conference table in the break room area, ready to talk and try and sort things out. Dean decided to let Michelle take charge and for the rest of the few hours they were there, he didn't say another word, instead letting everything sink in and trying not to lose his temper.
Lara talked first, telling them how sorry she was for what she said to Heidi, she didn't mean any of it and if she could go back and change everything she would. But she was so upset and embarrassed, and ashamed of herself for sleeping with Mack she didn't want to believe Heidi, because it meant that she was partly to blame for Heidi's break up and the events that followed. She didn't want Heidi to hate her which is why she didn't say anything sooner and after Heidi was attacked she wanted to come clean, but it was never the right time. So instead she kept quiet and hoped that things would work themselves out and that her secret would never have to come out. She said it was only to protect Heidi from hurting. She didn't think it would cause her more pain than what she already had.
Being as neutral as she could and without showing the anger she felt, Michelle thanked Lara for her honesty and asked if anyone had any questions to ask or anything to say. Nobody said anything, so Lara continued, desperately wanting them to forgive her so they could all move on and forget about it.
She said she would do anything they wanted to prove that she was sorry, and that she would never do anything like it again. All she wanted was a chance to do that and get her friends back. That was when Jordan stepped in for the first time and said that it wasn't going to happen just like that. Nobody was going to forget what she had done just like that. They weren't going to be friends again just because she apologised. But he surprised everyone at the end, because they were all thinking it, even if they weren't going to admit it to everybody else, when Jordan said that it would take time. Months, maybe longer, but eventually they might get to a place where they could move past it and start life as a team again. Maybe in the future they could forgive her.
After that more words were exchanged and people started to become brave enough to speak their minds and air the words that they were thinking of, instead of keeping quiet. Still Dean didn't say anything, but stayed and listened to everyone else so as not to miss anything that he might need to relay to Heidi and Chase later on.
Before they left Michelle told them all that the Emergency Services Minister (ESM) had heard about the 'troubles' they were having at the moment, his descriptive word, not Michelle's, and so had decided to send the whole team to a special team counsellor who would help them all to deal with their problems and get back to 'team mode'. It wasn't a suggestion, they had to do it, or the ESM would split them up and possibly send them to different rescue units if they could no longer work together sensibly and seriously.
So that was the start of their counselling sessions, and from then on they were all forced together into a room once a week to talk about their issues individually with Lara and everybody else, and also their issues as a whole team. There were moments when arguments started and got out of hand, people stormed out of the room or ran out crying, the whole two hours were passed in silence, or a couple of times they sat and had a sincere amiable conversation and talked about the good times from the past and how they would ever get back to a place like that in the future.
The time Lara took off from Rescue helped a lot because it gave them time to get to trust her again gradually instead of all at once, and gave her time to decide if she wanted to return to Rescue if the counselling didn't help and the team were still unable to work with her.
Luckily however, the counselling did help and after a few months of sessions Heidi was able to publicly forgive Lara for what she did and also tell everyone that if they were holding off on forgiving Lara for her sake, not to, because she wanted them to be able to move on like she had, and she didn't want them to not forgive Lara out of loyalty to her. Her words seemed to hold some truth, because after her forgiveness the rest of the team slowly started to forgive Lara as well, except for Dean who had started to talk to Lara again and had become more genial towards her, but hadn't been able to actually forgive her, not because of Heidi which she already knew from their private conversations at home, but because of his own personal reasons, one main one being he trusted Lara with his life and thought of her as a close friend, and felt more than betrayed by her. He felt tricked, cheated, double-crossed and deceived.
He still felt that way, but he was mellowing toward her and now, a year on was half way to forgiving her, if that made sense. He had become a lot friendlier and actually properly talked to her now, instead of using a mediator, usually Lachie or Michelle. They laughed and joked together and Dean had mentioned to Heidi that he was happy now that they were getting along better. He hated it when he fought with anybody, especially his friends, and so liked it when they could make up again.
Those were the good things that had happened over the last year, the bad thing had happened recently, three weeks ago, and had unfortunately put a temporary stop to them all moving on from their past completely.
It had been out of the blue and totally unexpected. They probably would have missed it had the television not already been on when they got back to the station after a rescue out in the Blue Mountains. They had all walked up to the bullpen, exhausted and ready to go home, except for their reports that needed writing first, when Chase noticed the TV report that had just come on, about a John Doe found on the hiking trail of Whitsunday Great Walk yesterday. They all stopped to watch, as the news reporter said that the police were appealing for witnesses who may have seen what happened, and also were looking for someone who may know who he is. They then brought up a picture of the John Doe and a phone number underneath, for people to call if they had any information.
When they saw the picture and recognised who it was they all froze and looked toward Heidi, who had gone deathly white and was barely able to stand on her own. She was focused solely on the television however, and didn't notice the concerned looks on everyone's faces. She hadn't seen Mack in a while and noticed he had changed, his hair colour and style for one, but she knew him as soon as she saw him. They had taken a post-mortem picture of him and had photoshopped open eyes onto the picture to make him look more alive and less dead, so as to make it easier for people to recognise him, and so even though the eyes weren't really his, she could have sworn they were. It was like looking into them the first day she met him. Those eyes were the first thing she saw, the same thing he said about her.
She didn't know how long she had been standing there before her mind cleared and she came back to the present. Looking around she saw everyone standing there looking at her, waiting for her to make the first move, which she did.
She walked over to her desk and picked up the phone, dialling the phone number that she had somehow rehearsed to remember later (maybe her mind already knew what she was going to do before her heart made the choice for her), and waited for her to be put through to the Queensland Police tips line. When she finally got to speak to someone she managed to keep her voice calm and controlled, and tried hard not to lose her composure over the phone, while she asked to talk to the detective in charge of the case about the John Doe found yesterday. She said she would only talk to the detective in charge and refused to give her name when the woman on the other end asked for her identity. She would only say that she had information they needed and she would prefer to remain anonymous.
It wasn't long before the detective on charge was on the phone and Heidi, her face and voice void of emotion, proceeded to tell the detective that the John Doe's name was Steven McIntyre, who his parents were, how to contact them and for the death notification to be made gently and carefully, as Mack was their only child, having lost another child already when Mack was young, and that this was going to be harder on them than anyone else because they would have to go through it a second time. After that she just hung up the phone and bluntly asked Michelle if she could go home and write her report tomorrow, to which Michelle told her of course and sent the whole team home as well, knowing that this news was hard on all of them, but none more so than Heidi.
Dean had tried to get Heidi to talk about it, but she had refused, saying she wasn't ready to talk about it yet, and that she needed time to deal with it herself before she talked about it to anybody else. However it broke Dean's heart to hear her cry herself to sleep every night and to watch as she shut herself away from them all every day just so she wouldn't hurt them by making them watch her grieve over Mack, considering he was the cause of their problems to begin with. Dean didn't know how to make her understand that nobody was angry or upset with her, and that they knew she needed to grieve, because she lost someone special from her life, and she was grieving for the good part of Mack, not the bad part.
But she remained adamant that this was something she wanted to do alone, and it had only been five days ago, before this barbecue get together that Heidi had finally allowed Dean in, talked to him and cried tears for Mack in front of him, and allowed him to comfort her, letting him stay with her every night instead of crying alone and waiting for sleep to take her.
These memories, good and bad, were what was running through Dean's head as he and Heidi walked back to their house, hand in hand, both looking forward to the future that they hoped would be bright and gave them less trouble than the past had, both also sending silent prayers up to God.
Heidi, praying for Mack's soul that God take pity on him and judge him by his good deeds in life and not his bad ones. She prayed that God showed him forgiveness and let him through the gates of heaven and taught him to be forever pure and innocent, so that as his time in the afterlife progressed, he would become a guardian angel and look after people on earth like him, who were in danger of losing their good soul to the devil, just like he had done.
Dean sent up prayers of thanks that He kept Heidi safe and helped her to cope with the evil that was sent down upon her, and asked that He not test her anymore, any of them and allow them to carry on with their lives in peace and with His protection, allowing them to live this new chance of a second life as a team to the fullest and if any more obstacles were thrown their way, prayed for God's guidance and presence then as well, just like He had been with them through everything else.
Dean looked back up in the direction he was going just in time to notice that they had made it back, and saw everyone waiting for them, drinks in hand ready to make a toast, and was happy to see how joyful and contented they all looked, smiling and laughing and shouting for Dean and Heidi to hurry up. He looked over at Heidi to see her looking at him with the same expression of contentedness on her face. He cocked his head to the side as a way of asking 'Shall We?', and in return Heidi replied by squeezing his hand as a 'Yes!''.
Still holding hands they walked up to join the others and took the drinks offered to them, as Vince prepared to say the toast. Once he was finished everyone clinked their glasses and hugs were exchanged all around, and when everyone had settled down to eat, Heidi excused herself for a moment, went inside the house and found what she wanted where she had left it that morning, ready for tonight, and went back outside to the others who were all watching her with curiosity written on their faces.
Dean knew what she was doing, and gave her a smile of encouragement, having already talked to her about it and knowing that this was her way of moving on from Mack's death and letting the team in at the same time. Nobody else but them knew why they had chosen today for the get together, and he hoped that everyone would be as supportive of her in this moment as he was going to be.
Heidi lit the candle that she had bought specially for this day, and held the item that she had gone into the house to get out for them all to see what it was. When she knew that they had all seen it, she walked over to the table and placed the candle in the middle.
Heidi: 'Five years ago when we met I never knew that this was what was in store for us as part of God's plan. I didn't expect us to go through so much pain and hardship as we did. I never thought in any way that God would allow you to hurt me so much like you did, physically and mentally, but I knew that He allowed it to happen for a reason.
I also didn't expect to be saying goodbye to someone I loved so much at such a young age. And I did love you, more than you ever knew. I never stopped loving you after we broke up and there were times I wished we were still together, but I left that in God's hands as I trusted His plan, His plan that if we were meant to be together again He would lead you back to me in a way that I knew it was meant to be. But He didn't. God didn't lead you back to me, the devil did. I wish I could have saved you but somehow, I knew it was too late. And now that you are gone forever, we will never get a second chance. A second chance at doing things right and bringing back the love we had so it would last a lifetime.
I loved you, but now it's time to let you go. I know you are safe now, and are a better person again, and if you are listening to me right now, I want you to know that I will do everything I can to forget what you did to me, to forget that side of you that I wish I had never witnessed. I want to forget you so that I can move on and be happy, and find love again, but I will never forget who you were to me, the good person you were and what we had together. And even though you may not be at the front of my mind and I have to move on now, you will always be in my heart. Happy Birthday Mack. I'll miss you.'
With those last words she held the photo of her and Mack, taken on their sixth month anniversary, the same anniversary he gave her the promise ring, over the flame of the candle and watched as it slowly burned and eventually turned into ash in her hand, and after balling her hand into a fist so none of the ash escaped, she blew out the candle and stepped away from the table to release the ash into the air, and they all watched as the wind carried it all in different directions. When it was all gone Heidi sat back down at the table next to Dean and as everyone looked at her she gave a small smile and said:
Heidi: 'What are you all waiting for, I heard Jordan's stomach growling half way down the beach!'
They all laughed and everyone started to eat, not noticing the tiny bit of ash that the wind brought back towards them, as it settled on the tree next to the table, under which Heidi sat. A guardian angel, watching over her. No longer allowed to be with her but would forever be beside her. Forever in her heart.