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Chapter 19

Rachel awoke hours later as she rolled over, realizing the warm mass she'd fallen asleep against was no longer a presence in her bed. She moved closer to where his head had been laying when they'd fallen asleep, her back against his chest, and she could smell the husky scent of his aftershave on the pillow. She breathed a sigh, inhaling the scent. He must have crawled out by her feet, she hadn't even realized he was gone until now. As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, there was no evidence he'd been by that night. She wasn't sure what time it was as she sat up, curious if it had all been a dream. She took in the fact she was still naked and laughed to herself—it definitely hadn't been a dream.

So many parts of their new found relationship was still so prohibited. She still carried guilt about Darien, was sure he was still mourning his late wife, and she knew he'd taken an oath to not participate in such activities as their sudden late night get-togethers. No fraternization, period. They were breaking all kinds of moral rules.

She also realized that if they didn't protect themselves going forward, there was a chance they'd end up in Danny and Kara's shoes. And despite how much she was beginning to realize she yearned for a family, here and now was not the right time or place.

She swallowed the lump in her throat, her chest felt heavy. Despite the enjoyment they'd been having in each other, maybe this wasn't such a good idea.

She pulled on some warm clothes and boots, the sweatshirt a few sizes too big, her long hair falling on her shoulders, her sweatpants hanging at her hips. She'd lost a few pounds since this mission had begun.

She caught glimpse of the clock and realized it was still early, only 0500. Most of the ship would just be waking. She wanted a cup of tea and to watch the sunrise. Maybe that would ease her anxiety. A piece of toast would probably help too, she realized, as her stomach grumbled at her.

Rachel walked quietly down the p-way, lost in thought, making her way to the ward room. She pushed open the door and found the XO reading a report at the table, sipping on his morning coffee. She was surprised to find anyone up here at this hour, and wished she hadn't. She wasn't much for talking.

"Good morning, doctor," Slattery greeted her, standing out of respect. She offered a small smile, dropping her head.

"Good morning, Commander," She made her way over to the hot water basin, grabbing a mug off the shelf. He sat back down, his eyes falling back to his report.

"How are you this morning?" he made casual conversation, noting a few things on the report. He glanced up every few moments. She had a fleeting worry he was on to them.

"I'm doing well, yourself?" She asked curiously, remembering what Tom had mentioned about Mike wanting to find his family. She couldn't really blame him for wanting to find them, despite the dangers.

"All right." he set his pen down, and looked at her, and she knew he was no longer making casual conversation. She stood at the end of the table, letting her tea steep, bobbing the breakfast tea bag in and out of the water. "Can I ask you a question?"

Rachel shrugged, "Of course." Fear coursed through her veins. Could she lie if he flat-out asked about her and the captain? She said a prayer that she'd be able to.

"How many different strains of the virus do you think there are? Do you think we're immune to them all, or are there still versions of it we need to protect ourselves from?" His question caught her off guard, and she found herself breathing a sigh of relief.

That was not lost on Slattery.

"I'm not sure, but if it was altered to where it was when I was able to identify the version we currently have, then I'm sure it if is not contained, it can keep changing. We as humans adapt to certain viruses, and it needs to change in order to keep progressing. I'm not sure how many strains, that's anyone's guess. But yes, I would say that on land we would need to very careful."

"So we would need to wear our CBR gear and have our masks ready if we were to come in contact with people who could possibly be infected?" his gaze was intense, and he was clearly making plans in his head. She contemplated her answer.

"Yes, that would be ideal for safety," she took a sip of her tea, and watched him digest her words.

"I'm going ashore to find my family," he admitted to her quietly. She kept her face calm, took in his words as if it was the first time she'd heard them. She nodded.

"It's a dangerous world now, Commander Slattery. Make sure you take plenty of gear and supplies. Are you taking anyone with you?" this question was for her benefit. Had Tom decided to go with him?

"I'm not sure. I don't want to risk anyone else's lives for the sake of my family. Tom said something about putting a team together." He stared down at the dark liquid in his cup and the wheels in her head began to turn.

"Let me know what happens, okay?" She wasn't ready to speak her thoughts, wasn't sure she was ready to think them.

"Of course. I imagine you'll want samples from the field," he gave her a soft smile and they were both brought back to a time when things were simpler and they thought was just out chasing birds across the barren snowy arctic. So much had changed.

"Thank you, Commander," she smiled in goodbye and excused herself, heading for the deck. It was colder than she'd anticipated as she stepped through the helo bay door, the wind from the full-speed ahead destroyer blowing her hair around. She took a seat on one of the one of the bulkheads and looked out of the water, leaning her back against the hard metal. She watched from the front of the ship as the sun began to peek itself over the horizon. It was a beautiful view on this chilly morning. And she had a lot of thinking to do.

Tom rubbed his hands over his face as he awoke from his short slumber. He'd slept a couple of hours with Rachel before moving quickly and quietly out of her bed, dressing up fully again and making his way unseen back up to his quarters. They were not close, and he had been careful not to be seen down in her area of the ship. It was not a common place for him to be that time of night. He had slept a few more hours in his own bed and now, as his eyes adjusted in the darkness, he missed her warmth beside him.

He sat up and threw his long legs over the side of the bed, yawning. If none of this virus nonsense had happened, he'd be waking up in his king size bed in his master bedroom back in Norfolk. Darien would be making pancakes for him and the kids downstairs, as she did on weekends, and coffee would be brewing. Those times were long gone, he knew, simply a memory now. Good memories, but memories nonetheless. He missed her, a lot, missed their life together. He missed their house, and their dog, and his pickup truck. He missed the mundane things like going to the grocery store, or taking his wife to the movies, or playing catch with Sam in the yard. His heart ached a little at the sudden flood of moments in his mind.

He ran a hand over his silvery hair and side. All that was gone, he needed to focus on the present and the future, whatever that entailed. He wasn't sure where they'd end up, but knew that protecting his immediate, and now very extended family was his ultimate goal. And her. She fit somewhere in the mix.

He smiled a little as he thought back to the night before. Despite knowing he shouldn't be engaging in such behavior, it was a release from the stress of their every day life, a couple quiet hours when he could escape and feel a little less like they were living in a post-apocalyptic world. It had only been a few days, but he was enjoying her, enjoying their time together. He cared about her, more than he was ready to admit to himself. He was careful, he didn't want to hurt her or the children. And he didn't want to break his crew's trust. That was a big variable for him. Their trust in him was everything, if he lost that...

Tom rid the thoughts from his mind, standing. He needed a shower, some breakfast, and to get up to the bridge. As he removed his clothes, he caught a glance of his upper body in his small bathroom mirror. He saw the red marks on his shoulder and chuckled with a shake of his head. She'd left her mark on him. In more than one way, he thought to himself.

It was late in the afternoon when he found her down in her lab with Ashley and Ava, going through some inventory. Each girl had a clip board and Rachel was teaching them how to count everything in each of her storage containers. The girls were enthralled in Rachel's teachings, the three of them focused on their task. He waited by the entrance, watched her with the girls, waiting for a pause. It wasn't long before she let the girls loose to count and inspect the bins, walking slowly over to where he leaned against one of her tables. He smiled at her as she approached, and she gave him a shy smile in return.

"I see we've started Nathan James Elementary," he joked, giving the ship a school's name. Rachel chuckled with a nod and an affectionate look toward the girls.

"They asked if they could help with anything, and I offered to teach them a few things. They seem very receptive," she elaborated, watching the girls intently talk amongst themselves. Tom couldn't help but smile.

"Good idea. Sam if off playing Navy Seal with Green."

"You have your hands full with that one. He's going to grow up just like his father," she gave Tom a knowing smile with the tease and he shook his head with a laugh.

"Or Green and Burk. As far as Sam's concerned, what they do is much cooler than being captain of the ship," he dropped his voice and caught her eyes, changing the subject. "How are you?" He inquired. She looked down at her shoes. This man made her a weak mess sometimes.

"I am well. Yourself?"

"Great," a broad grin adorned his handsome face and she was torn between being suck in by his charm and feeling guilty. She subconsciously sighed and his brow furrowed, his grin faltering.

"Dr. Scott," he kept her name professional in front of the children, "Is everything all right?"

"Of course," she lied, praying the eye contact she held with him would keep him from seeing through her. He didn't look convinced.

"Are you sure?" he pushed, standing to his full height in front of her. She nodded adamantly.

"Yes, Captain." She feigned a yawn, "I just haven't been getting too much sleep in recent days," she didn't want him to know anything was wrong so she chose this as her response. She spoke playfully. He kept his face professional, but his eyes told her he knew what she was referring to.

"Has something been keeping you up at night, doctor?" His tone was just as playful, but before she could respond, the girls were calling for her. She turned to them, before turning back to him.

"I need to go help them," she spoke regrettably. "I'll see you later, maybe around dinner time?" She began toward the girls, but her body stayed facing his direction, needed his response. He nodded.

"If I'm not there, I'm on the bridge," he spoke solidly, watching her smile in acceptance and then walk to the girls. He watched the three of them converse, the way Rachel was so patient and kind with them, helping them sort out their questions. She was such an asset to them aboard this ship. He marveled at how far they all had come in the last couple months.

He thought about Sam for a moment, how he wished, as his father, he was down here learning about science instead of on deck learning about artillery. He shook his head and reminded himself that he'd been a small boy once, and had been interested in that particular activity too.

A knock sounded at Tom's door a little after dinner, and he presumed it was Rachel. He hadn't seen her at dinner as she'd suggested she would be, and when he'd went to look for her in the lab, she hadn't been anywhere to be found. He hoped it was her.

"It's open," he called with a smile. He was surprised to see Mike when the door opened. His smile fell a little. Mike raised an eyebrow.

"I presume you didn't think it was me knocking," Mike deadpanned, stepping into the office area of Tom's at sea cabin.

"I just thought it was the kids," Tom tried to hide his tone of disappoint, "What can I do for you, XO?" he spoke with a friendly tone instead, standing and leaning against his desk, crossing his arms.

"Have you given any thought to forming a team to head to Deer Park?" Mike stood respectfully in front of his commanding officer. He knew he was walking a fine line by asking Tom to dock close to land and allow him to take a few of their crew to save his family. Tom nodded.

"I have. Burk and Green will go with you. You'll have to go in on foot, maybe jump a car. I'll work on getting the help refueled."

Mike nodded, "Thank you, Tom," He paused, thought for a moment, "I would like to take one of the doctors. In case we need medical aid along the way or once we're there. We should probably do some tests too, on the virus, I mean," he knew he was pushing it by asking. Tom chewed on his cheek for a moment.

"You can take Rios. Scott and Tophet can cover duties until you return." Mike opened his mouth to argue, wanting one of the scientists but Tom didn't give him the opportunity. "The scientists stay here," he replied with a cautionary look. Mike shut his mouth and nodded.

"Aye, sir," he stepped to the door, leaving the captain be, and making his way down to the lab. Rachel was not going to like Tom's response to Mike wanting to take her along.

Rachel avoided talking about it with him two whole days, before she knew they were preparing to drop anchor off Virginia, and she needed to make a decision. Was she going to ask him if she could go or not? She was trying to find the courage to ask because she knew he'd say no and she needed to show him why he should let her go.

They'd slept separately the last couple nights, keeping their hands to themselves. It seemed they'd both been having their own thoughts about their sudden relations. Minus a moment in a closet by the forward engine room.

She felt hot just thinking about it on her way to find in the ward room.

She bumped into him exiting the storage closet, looking for a few cleaning necessities. He had been coming up from the engine room, checking in with Garnett and Chung.

"Captain," she greeted him, her hands full. He nodded to her, hands behind his back.

"Doctor," he replied, standing in front of her. He hadn't seen her or kissed her in over twenty four hours. He was surprised how he missed it. He stepped forward toward her and she backed up into the closet. He walking in and shut the door. She dropped everything in her hands as his hands found her face,his lips finding hers. The kiss was messy, full of need, and she felt light headed when he pulled back. He bent down and picked up her things for her, before kissing her one last time, opening the door and heading on his way up the p-way. She sighed heavily, not sure if she had breathed the entire time she'd been in the closet. She stepped out, looking about to make sure no one was around, before making her way in her own direction up the p-way.

She shook her head, trying to clear her mind. She needed to see him as the captain, not as the man kissing her hotly in a closet or in her bed.

She stepped into the ward room, and let the door shut behind her. He was alone, as she hoped he'd be. She didn't wait for him to acknowledge her before speaking.

"I'd like to go with Commander Slattery to Deer Park. I think that I'm best suited for the trip and I'd like to evaluate the conditions and various possible strains of the virus." She was surprised by the control in her voice. She knew he wouldn't receive her words well, and when he turned from pouring his cup of coffee, she could tell by the look in his eyes he was not happy with her request.

"Rachel, I don't think that's a good idea. It's dangerous. You could be hurt or worse.." Tom's voice drifted off as he placed his cup down on the table, crossing his arms. He was surprised by her desire to go, had she told Mike? He hadn't mentioned anything about it.

Rachel noticed his change in demeanor, his shoulders growing broader. He wasn't having any of her desire to research the outside world. She wasn't ready to give up yet, however.

"In order to continue to make sure we are adapting and our vaccine continues to work, I need to test people who have the virus or who have died from it. If we ever have any desire to live on land again, we need to know fully what's going on." She used his own question from the other night against him. She saw him clench his jaw.

"No." It was a statement, one of conviction. "I'm not letting you go with Mike." He picked up his cup and moved toward the door to exit the ward room, and she could see the heat in his eyes as he walked past her. "This conversation is over. My answer is no."

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