"Dr. Scott," Lt. Granderson entered the kitchen suddenly, finding Rachel and the children cleaning up after their fun afternoon. Rachel looked up from her work moving the brownies onto a platter, and felt her smile fall at the look on Alisha's face. "XO needs you on the bridge," she didn't reveal anything else, the children's round innocent eyes staring up at her curiously. Rachel nodded immediately. She turned to Ashley.
"Ashley, please finish plating these brownies. I will be back shortly," she offered the young girl a confident smile, who nodded and moved to step in for Rachel. Rachel wiped her hands on a towel and followed the young lieutenant up to the bridge where Mike was hovered over the Captain's chair, calling something on the radio. When he turned to face her, Rachel could tell he was stressed.
"Commander Slattery, what's going on?" She searched his face, a deep fear rising in her chest. He avoided her eyes.
"We've lost contact with the Captain, as well as Lt. Green's team. I wanted to keep you in the know since you're watching his kids," when he finally locked eyes with her, she could tell he knew there was more to it than her just watching his children. She felt her face pale.
"Well, what are you going to do? Can we send another team? Are we sure they are in danger?" The panic was evident in her voice. He chewed on his cheek, showing his unsureness.
"They weren't headed so far inland that we were prepared to lose contact, and no, I don't know if they're in danger. I think sending another team now is too soon. That doesn't mean I'm not nervous as hell," his response didn't give her much comfort.
"Don't they have flares? Like they did in Nicaragua?" She was desperate for anything good. Mike grimaced.
"No, because we didn't intend on losing them," he rolled his eyes at the stupidity that was the situation. They should always be prepared for anything, especially when their Captain was involved. This was supposed to be a quick mission, get what they needed and get back to the ship. Nothing ever went to plan, it seemed.
"So what do we do now?" Rachel replied, exasperated. Who knew what dangers were on land, anything could be going on that they knew nothing about.
"We wait. Hopefully they move back into radio range soon," he turned from the radar to face her again, this time, his eyes conveying comfort. "I know Tom, he's got this under control. It'll be okay," Rachel wasn't sure if he was reassuring her or himself, but she chose to accept his offer of confidence in his captain, and hope he was right.
Hours passed with no word. She kept the children busy as best she could, but they were too excited to keep distracted for long, waiting impatiently for their father's return. They speculated all day what their father's reaction would be upon entering the mess for his surprise party, and her heart warmed at the love and complete adoration they had for Tom. Despite the loss of the their mother, they were pushing on and living, enjoying life. She suspected Tom's never ceasing faith and love had something to do with it. If he didn't return...she pushed the thoughts away once more, for the umpteenth time today.
Jed found them on the front of the ship, the kids playing cards in the bright sun, Rachel sitting just a bit away, observing and worrying. He took a seat next to her, sliding a pair of sunglasses on.
"Any news?" she asked anxiously. His silence upon sitting told her there wasn't any, but she had to ask.
He shook his head. "No, nothing yet."
"I haven't told the kids yet. Figured we'd wait until dark," She pulled her sweater tighter around her, the anxiety of not knowing eating away at her. She dreaded the unknown, feared the worst. She should have gone with them. What if he was hurt? They had no medical personnel with them. She worried about all the uncontrollables, she couldn't help herself.
"He'll be back, Rach. I'm hoping it was something stupid; we're too far out in the harbor, or they went farther inland than they had anticipated. There's an air force base a little farther north. They may have went in that direction." She could hear the unsure tone in Jed's voice, but appreciated his words.
Jed watched her watch the children, could see the worry lines across her pretty face. She had taken to the children as if they were her own in recent days, it was a quiet change, but she made herself present in their lives. He admired her easiness with them, her calm demeanor. Tom had mentioned she could get wound up about her work, she was a passionate soul, but with the children, she was soothing and calm. Tom tended to be the more high-strung one when it came to the kids. She reminded Jed of Darien in that way. She had a way about her with the kids. She also had a way about her when she handled Tom.
"So," he changed the subject a little, "how's everything else going?" the small smile on his lips confused her a little.
"I'm sorry?" she questioned, not sure what he meant.
"Everything else. Has my stubborn son come around yet?" Jed cracked a knowing smile and Rachel laughed outloud, her cheeks growing red.
"Um, no," she shook her head, "We're just friends, Jed. Nothing more," she assured the older man, who raised his eyebrows.
"I find that hard to believe. You may think you're just friends, keep on thinking that. He'll come around eventually," he added, with a chuckle.
"I think we've got enough going on," she replied, biting her lip thoughtfully, staring at the children.
"They like you. Accept it. It's a compliment."
"Yes, but they're fragile. They can't have their hearts broken once more," she replied. He wasn't sure if she meant by their father not returning or if it didn't work out between them.
"Who's to say it won't work out?" he countered.
"Who's to say it will?" she replied right back. He remained silent for a moment, and she gathered her thoughts. Truth was, she couldn't afford to have her heart broken. But the longer they went without contact from him, the more her heart ached. What if she was never able to tell him how she felt?
"At the risk of sounding like a parent, you never know until you try," he spoke with a grin. He could tell deep down she was fighting it, it was obvious. And he knew Tom was too. But with a little encouragement, he was confident they could take a small leap of faith. They already had that mutual respect and friendship, that bond that blurred lines, an undeniable chemistry.
"I am sure the last time I heard that statement, I ended up with skinned knees from falling off of my bicycle," she replied with a laugh. He laughed with her, the image entertaining.
"And now you're saving the world. You didn't know you could do that until you tried, did you?" He smiled triumphantly, happy with his argument. She scoffed, laughing a little.
"Touche'" she nodded, accepting his words.
"You don't really seem like a 'what if it fails..' type of girl," he added, studying her face. She dropped her head, chewing the inside of her cheek.
"Not when it comes to science. But relationships...those are a bit different."
Jed shook his head. "You're just as stubborn as he is. Maybe you're right, it wouldn't work," the tone in his voice dropped, and she turned to look at him, surprised.
"Who says two stubborn people can't be in a relationship?" She replied quickly, before the words could be stopped. His face broke into a smile and she knew she'd been caught. She rolled her eyes. "Well played, Mr. Chandler."
"When you're wondering where Tom gets his wit from..." This time she let out a true laugh. This man was a good man, and showed where Tom came from. He was raised very well. She admired his family and how important they were to him and he was to them.
"Tell me about when Tom joined the Navy. You were Army, correct?" Rachel turned to face Jed, drawing her knees up to her chest on the bench, wrapping her arms around her legs. The older man reared back, his expression changing to one of irritation that drew another laugh out of her.
"Oh, that brat had the nerve to come home his senior year of high school and tell me he was joining the Navy instead of the Army. I was so upset. Let me start from the beginning..."
Tom rolled his neck as he made his way down the p-way to the kids' cabin. It was an exhausting, trying day, and he could see the toll their lack of communication had on their crew. Their run-in with the Air Force had cost them their radios and guns for a better part of the day, but in the end there were released with the supplies they needed, the ability to get fuel, in exchange for the syringes of the cure they'd been carrying.
Tom was tired, but still on a mission. He needed to see his kids, his father, and her. He needed to see Rachel. Mike had carried a small smirk when he'd told Tom of the repercussions his missing in action had caused her, her worry for him. It pained him to cause her worry, but it also gave him a good indication of how she felt about him. Mike's knowing grin had helped that cause, as well.
He pushed open the door to the cabin his father shared with the kids, and found Jed alone, reading. Jed looked up, slight surprise on his face, but also an expectant look. He pulled his reading glasses off to get a better look at his tall son.
"Well hello, son. Nice of you to rejoin us," his smile let Tom know he was actually happy to see him, despite his teasing remark. Tom dropped his head with a small laugh.
"It's been a long day, Pop," he replied, asking not to be teased this evening. Jed could tell from the slight black eye and bruise growing prominent on Tom's jaw that it had probably indeed been a rough day. Jed laughed.
"You have this knack of getting yourself into trouble," he replied, with a fatherly grin. Tom chuckled.
"I know, I know. It's not as bad as it looks." He glanced around the cabin, "where are the kids?" he asked curiously, finding it hard to believe they were still awake somewhere at this time. Jed gestured past Tom to his own cabin with his glasses.
"They're in your cabin. They've been dying for you to come back today. We only told them a short while ago we weren't sure when you'd be back. They're with her," he added the last part, a knowing look in his older eyes. Tom nodded his gratitude, turning and crossing the hall quickly. He turned the knob, pushing open the door quickly.
The lights were off in the main area, illuminating the three souls on his bed. He noticed the large, hand-drawn card on the desk as he passed, a cake with candles waiting to be lit before it. A sweet smile crossed his face, imagining the children had been so excited to share in his birthday. He felt sad for a moment, having taken that moment from them. But when he turned back to the bed, he felt his heart swell.
Sam had his head on Rachel's stomach, arm around her waist, fast asleep. Ashley was snuggled against her shoulder where Rachel was propped up on pillows, her arms wrapped around Rachel's arm. Rachel lay between the two, her head turned slightly to the side, also fast asleep. He leaned against the frame for a moment, wishing to capture this moment forever.
The kids had taken to Rachel in a way no one could have predicted. And she always took time for them, spent time with them, had slid into a motherly role no one would have anticipated. If he had any reservations about talking to her about what he'd been feeling lately, this display before him put his heart at ease. All three of them snuggled together on his bed reminded him of past moments in his life, but also of what could be.
He moved forward, sitting on the side of the bed. His hand found her leg, stretched out on the bed, and he rubbed it gently with his thumb. When she began to stir, he noticed the way she squeezed her arm around Sam, pulling him closer. She opened her eyes slightly, tilting her head to face him. The relief and surprise that crossed her face immediately was all he needed to see. Her eyes watered a little, he could see the sheen, and squeezed her leg again, in comfort.
"Hi," he whispered, his eyes locked with hers. She was so overjoyed to see him before her. She was so tired, had no idea how long she'd been asleep, or even what time it was, but none of it mattered. Seeing him there made everything okay, set her world at ease.
"I was so worried," she whispered back, her tears of relief threatening to fall. "Your face..."she began, her eyes searching the wounds. She didn't move, didn't rustle the kids, almost worried the moment was a dream. She was elated to see him.
"I'm fine," he brushed off her concern, giving her a smile.
His trademark grin made her stomach flipflop.
"Are they okay?" he reached up to rub Sam's back, causing a sigh from the young boy. Rachel nodded.
"They made you cakes," she replied, gesturing toward the desk. He nodded with a grin.
"I saw," he paused for a moment, locking eyes with her again. "Thank you," his words were heartfelt, she could see the honesty in his eyes. She couldn't respond, didn't respond for fear of choking up.
Tom reached down and pulled Sam up, who woke at the motion. The little boy flung his arms around his father's neck, kneeling on the bed. "Daddy!" he exclaimed, his voice full of sleep and happiness. Ashley roused from her sleep at the word, and was hugging her father before Tom could say anything. He embraced the children tightly, the love he had for them so intense it brought tears to his eyes. Rachel drew her knees up, watching the scene before her. Ashley pulled back after a few moments.
"We didn't get to celebrate your birthday," she looked sad, and it made Tom sad.
"There's always tomorrow, baby girl. We'll eat cake all day, and play games. I promise," he kissed her forehead, and pulled her close. "I think for now it's time for bed though," he released Ashley, and stood with Sam, grasping Ashley's hand. Rachel moved to stand too, but Tom turned to her.
"Can you stay here for a minute? Let me get them settled. I'll be right back." He waited for her nod, needed her to stay. She nodded after a beat, and he smiled a little, turning to take the kids to their cabin.
When he returned moments later, he shut the door, and found her in the same spot he'd left her, sitting on the edge of his bed. He pulled off his BDU jacket, untucking his tee shirt. She watched him get comfortable, sliding over a little to accommodate him on the small bed. As soon as he sat, she was inspecting his bruises, feeling for swelling and broken bones. He laughed a little, before wincing at the pressure.
"What happened today?" she pulled her hands back when she was satisfied with her exam, pulling her legs up to sit cross-legged, searching his eyes.
"I don't want to talk about that right now," he replied, reaching across to grasp her hand. She squeezed his hand back, worry written across her face. He reached up with his other hand, sliding a piece of loose hair behind her ear, running his knuckles down her cheek softly.
"Is everyone-" he placed a single finger over her lips to silence her, a sweet smile on his face.
"Everyone is fine, we all made it back in one piece. We'll talk about today tomorrow. Right now, I have to get this off my chest because it's all I've been able to think about," he took a deep breath, grasping both her hands now. Rachel held her breath, unsure of what he was about to say. He also looked unsure, nervous even. She waited, with baited breath for him to continue. Instead of talking, he released one of her hands, reached up and cupped her cheek. He leaned forward and touched his lips to hers.
The jolt of electricity that spread through her body was like wildfire, igniting every nerve ending. It was soft, his lips were encouraging, and she couldn't help herself, kissing him back. It was a sweet kiss, an innocent kiss, as if he was testing the waters. His hand slipped back into her hair, and she leaned into his mouth, encouraging him on. Kissing him was like drinking water on a hot, humid day, she couldn't get enough.
He tried to hold himself back, reining himself in to not scare her away, but when she leaned into him, he was spurred on, kissing her deeper. Her lips were so soft, he couldn't get enough of the feel. He could feel her grip his bicep with her free hand, her other hand still holding onto his hand tightly. The kiss went on as long as he could let it before he had to come up for air, leaning back just enough, resting his forehead against hers.
She leaned back to search his eyes, afraid of what she might find. But all she found was that look, the one full of want and something else...possibly love? Passion? The man before her wasn't hard to read in his uniform, but now, before her in the dim light, she was having a hard time. She tentatively ran a hand over his soft gray hair, relishing in the feel of it under her fingers. She'd been wanting to do that for some time now.
"Don't you dare say you're sorry after this," she spoke quietly in a warning tone, a small smile playing at the corner of her lips, searching his ocean blue eyes.
He found a grin, and shook his head a little. "I'm not sorry," he replied, leaning in again, and attacking her lips with his once more.