Red Flag

Chapter 20

"Captain's on the bridge!"

Tom stalked through the doorway headed straight for Mike. He crossed his arms and his stare was firm.

"Did you suggest Dr. Scott go with you or did she come up with that idea all on her own?" Tom's voice was tight and hushed, he was frustrated by her behavior and frustrated that his second in command would be a part of this.

Mike's face showed his surprise at the stern question, his eyes wide. "She asked me about coming sir, but I told her she needed to ask you," was his honest response. Tom pursed his lips.

"I told her no. She's not going."

"She has a point though-she could do work in the field, test victims. And she would be our medic if something happened. Rios can stay here."

"Mike," Tom's tone was one of warning. He wasn't entertaining this conversation. "Since when did you become her biggest fan?" his voice was full of sarcasm.

"She's a big girl, Tom. She'll be with us. She'll be fine," Mike wanted her to go with them, thought it was important that she did. He wondered if Tom was allowing his emotions to get in the way of a sound decision. He never let her off the ship before, so this wasn't necessarily uncharacteristic, however, Mike had seen the way her looked at her these recent days.

Tom didn't dignify Mike with a response. "XO has the lead," he spoke to Alisha only, before striding off the bridge, his hands clenched at his sides. They were anchoring the ship off the coast as he walked down the p-way, needing to separate himself. He stopped short of the helo bay.

Tom rubbed his face, leaning against the wall of the p-way, his head down. If he went and something happened to him, his kids would be orphaned. It seemed irresponsible, not to mention someone had to stay and run the ship, and with Deer Park so far from Norfolk, there was no way to tell when they'd be back. The ship needed a commanding officer, and despite his confidence in his crew, this mission would take days. That was too long to be without a true CO.

But if she went...his chest tightened immediately. If she went, there was a chance something could happen to her. But, Mike had a point, she could also collect samples and do her research, which could in turn help them with the ability to live on land. But if she was hurt...he could never forgive himself for putting her in harm's way.

Green and Burk were going with Mike, he could send a few more of the NMWU for her protection. They'd keep her safe with their lives, he knew. He could trust them to make sure not a hair on her head was touched.

He clenched and unclenched his jaw. What was the right decision?

Hours later Tom entered the lab, shoulders back, hands clenched at his sides. He hated what he was about to do.

"Dr. Scott," his calling tone was one of seriousness, professionalism. She turned from her computer and immediately felt the chill in his gaze.

"Tom," she replied back in question, not understanding why he suddenly wanted to use her professional name with no one else around. He stopped in front of her, and she was surprised by his hardened expression.

"Collect your things, you're leaving at 0500 tomorrow morning." His jaw was set, and he avoided her eyes. Rachel's brow furrowed.

"Tom, you cannot be angry with me for wanting to go with them. This is an opportunity for us to learn more about what has happened," her hands found her hips, her tone slightly argumentative. She still had a job do to, despite all they had achieved. He didn't have the right to be upset with her, not to mention if he cared for her like he said he did that night, he'd understand her reasoning in a different light. Clearly he didn't.

"I can be angry if I want to be," his tone was cold. "Putting your life at risk is not a card I want to put on the table. You're forcing my hand."

"I'll be fine, I can assure you."

"No, you can't. You think you can but you can't. You have no idea what might happen out there." He crossed his arms, and this time he locked eyes with her. She could see the pain behind his frosty blue eyes. She took a step toward him.

"Tom..." She reached for his arm, and despite her soft hand landing on the fabric of his uniform, she could feel the tense muscles underneath.

"I have to go. 0500. Be ready," he pulled away from her and walked off. He wanted to pull her in his arms and beg her not to go, but he couldn't bring himself to. Instead, by nature, he distanced himself, tried not to let his emotions get the best of him. Little did he know it was too late for that.

Rachel watched him leave and felt a sick pit in her stomach. Why was he being so difficult? Why didn't he understand where she was coming from? He was being uncharacteristically cold. It left her feeling anxious.

She had already made a list of the things she would need and began to gather them, still looking forward to the prospect of studying this virus further. Despite her feelings for Tom, she had a job to do, a reason she was put on this ship in the first place. And she was going to make sure they did everything they could to keep people from getting sick and save the ones that already were.

That didn't take away the fact that making the man she cared about angry wasn't something she prided herself in.

Rachel purposely went to the wardroom for dinner to see him, and was disappointed when he wasn't there. She took her time eating, every time the door opened, her hope would rise, and then fall when it wasn't him. She tried to keep her emotions hidden, tried not to display them all over her face, but the truth was, with every hour that went by that she didn't see him, she felt worse about it. Maybe she should stay, maybe going was a bad idea.

She pushed her food around, sighing.

"Tex," Chandler called out to the bearded man, who was about to pass him on the p-way. Tex offered Tom a smile.

"Good evening, Commodore. Burk said you were looking for me," Tex's voice was questioning. He hadn't seen the Captain in a few days, hadn't seen Dr. Scott either. That didn't sit easy with him. He sensed something might be brewing between the two, but he couldn't say for sure.

"You up for an adventure?" Tom inquired, a wry smile on his face. Tex raised an eyebrow with a smirk.

"Hell yeah. What's the plan?"

"I'd like you to go to Deer Park with Slattery, Green, Burk, Dr. Scott, and a few others. They're going in search of Commander Slattery's family. I think they could use your assistance."

"Whoa, did you say you're sending Dr. Scott? I thought for sure you'd never let her set foot off the ship again," Tex laughed, surprised by the fact the Captain was letting her go on a mission. Tom's jaw tightened.

"I'm not happy about it," he grumbled, pacing a little in front of Tex, "That's why I want you to go, to help watch out for her. You know how she gets, so focused on her work, she won't be looking out for what danger might be around," Tex could tell emotions were lying under the Captain's words. His own expression grew more serious.

"I'd be happy to, sir. I'll make sure she stays safe," and he would, with his life. He cared about her that much.

"Knew I could count on you, Tex. Thank you," he nodded his thanks to the other man, "Be ready at 0500 tomorrow to go," they parted ways, and Tom felt a little bad, knowing he was using Tex's feeling about the doctor a little bit to his advantage at keeping her out of harm's way. But he felt desperate. He'd already lost his wife. If he lost her too...

The sun hadn't even begun to rise over the horizon as everyone gathered on the deck. Mike felt anxious, which mirrored Rachel's feelings as she checked and re-checked her supplies. She watched out of the corner of her eye as Danny and Kara said a tearful goodbye. They had no idea how long they be gone, since they weren't taking the helo. They were hoping to jump a Humvee or two from the Navy base on shore. Attempted contact had revealed nothing, no response was given. Mason had tried since they'd entered the area the evening before, but to no avail. They suspected they'd have no issue borrowing a couple of the Humvees. They just hoped they'd be able to get fuel along the way.

Tom stepped onto the desk, zipping up his jacket. The winter sea air was chilly. He took survey of the group on the deck, preparing for departure. He'd been up all night, barely slept, worrying about this. Something just didn't feel right, and he really didn't want her going.

He checked in with Mike, then Danny, making his way to her. They were dropping supplies into the RHIBS. It was almost time for them to go. She was pulling on her pack as he approached her, looking out of place amongst his crew, in her jeans, boots, and tan jacket. Her hair was half pulled back, and she looked almost as she did the day he'd met her.

She looked up as he stepped into her view, but she stayed focused on task. She had tried to sleep, had hoped he'd make a secret visit to her room as he had that one time, but he never came. And she hadn't seen him since the few minutes in the lab. Her feelings were quite hurt by his distant behavior. Was he so angry with her that he didn't want to spend anytime with her before she left, or was he not nearly as interested in her as he'd led her to believe?

The guys began down to the boats. This was it, he had a few moments and she'd be gone. He kept his hands at his sides.

"Please stay aware of your surroundings and listen to Mike," His words were tight, his tone serious. She didn't look at him.

"I've been in war-zones before, Captain, and I'm not a child." Her tone was just as curt.

"I didn't say you were," he watched her avoid his eyes, look everywhere but at his face. He was worried, his mind running down all the things that could possibly go wrong. He wanted to ask her to stay, because he needed her. Because he cared about her, more than he could articulate. He stood in front of her, silent while she waited for her turn.

She finally chanced a look up at him. She caught his icy blues, noticed they were still pained and serious. "Anything further, Captain?"

He flinched at the way she used his title, the tone it carried. How had he allowed them to get this distant?

She wanted him to hold her, to support her in this. They were running out of time. Was he trying to be professional for the crew? "Fuck professionalism," she thought to herself, "Say it Tom, give me something, anything," she begged in her mind as she stared up at him. His demeanor never changed.

"Be safe," he struggled out, wishing to replace it with something else. He couldn't, not in front of the crew.

"We will," her voice didn't mask the disappointment that was evident, and she dropped her eyes, turning away. "Tell the children I said goodbye," she called over her shoulder as she began to walk away, her turn to climb down into the boats. He clenched his fists, wanting to tell her to stop. He didn't respond and she turned fully, dropping her eyes.

The boat was headed for shore before he moved from his spot. His feet felt like lead as he walked to the rail, and he suddenly held a huge heart full of regret. What had he just done?

This chapter broke my heart a little. But I have big plans, and I think you guys will be pleased as we get there. We're going to meet some new characters, too!

I love hearing your theories on what you think is going to happen, so suspect away! It may even change the way I have the story going, you never know!

Thank you for your incredible reviews, you all are amazing. I am so happy people are still reading-I was worried two chapters ago about your enjoyment and whether people were still reading, but I am so happy to know you all are still with me. We have 8 more months to go! Thank goodness for fanfic and the crews behind the scenes shots! Has everyone seen the pics Eric Dane and Rhona Mitra posted yesterday on their instagrams?! They slay me.

Thanks to CathyCath for the inspiration in her last video to help me finish this chapter!

The song below I used to write this chapter, especially the end. Oh, Tom & Rachel, what a mess you've made :(

Wishing everyone a fabulous Thanksgiving!

"Should've kissed you there

I should've held your face

I should have watched those eyes

Instead of run in place

I should've called you out

I should've said your name

I should've turned around

I should've looked again

But I'm staring at the mess I made

As you turn, you take your heart and walk away" The Mess I Made-Parachute

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