Red Flag

Chapter 8

Tom found Rachel in the ward room, sitting alone, a cup of tea steaming in her hand. It had been a few days since they'd left Baltimore, and he had finally been deemed strong enough to roam the ship. Not one to stay down for long, he'd been begging to get out of medical since the second day. Four days after their escape from Baltimore, and the first thing he wanted was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

He closed the door with his good hand, his other secure in a cotton sling, to keep him from using his arm while the wound healed. He hadn't wanted it but Rios had insisted. He gripped the cotton at the end of the sling, catching her eyes as she looked up. He hadn't seen her since the night she'd brought the kids to sick bay to see him. He presumed she'd been busy in the lab, Lord knew he'd been busy trying to take care of his family.

"Hi there," he greeted her with a small smile. She returned the grin with her own friendly one.

"Hello, Captain," she spoke, a tone of surprise in her voice, "Fancy seeing you out and about, especially this time of night," she noted it was after midnight, looking up at the clock, before looking back at the handsome man who was pouring himself a cup of coffee. He laughed lightly and she found the sound to be music her ears.

"My sleeping patterns are a little amiss these days," his words were rueful, as he found his hidden stash of bread, peanut butter, and grape jelly under a cabinet in the back of the room.

She raised an eyebrow as she watched him, curious as to how no one knew that was there. She watched him pull out a butter knife, grab a plate, and begin opening the bread package.

When he looked up for a moment, he saw her curious look and met it for a moment, before looking away. "Bacon knows how to treat his captain," the comment was a testament to the cook who had stowed away the food for his captain for his midnight snacks. "I'd offer you a scone for your tea, but I'm fresh out."

She caught the playfulness in his tone, and wasn't sure how to respond. She waited a beat before speaking, "I appreciate the thought anyway," she looked back to her tea as he made his sandwich. "Doc Rios says your shoulder is healing; there's no infection. That's a good sign. You'll be good as new in no time."

He fought the urge to look up at her as she spoke. She'd been asking about him. He found that interesting, and sweet. He put the covers back on the jars and settled down in his seat at the head of the table to her left.

He was close enough for her to smell his soapy, clean scent, and she, for a moment, thought about how might he have showered with his bandages. She pushed the thought away, and could feel the heat in her cheeks. Thinking about the man next to her naked was not something she should take up her thoughts with, especially in light of all that had happened.

He watched her while he ate, and noticed the pink hue that suddenly covered her pretty complexion. He eyed her, as she seemed to almost laugh to herself. "What? Do I have peanut butter on my face or something?"

His playfulness was so much so she couldn't help but look up, and his expression was one of a man twice his age, someone trying to keep the mood light. She shook her head, laughing a little.

"No, it's nothing, just thinking about something," she wished her tired mind to rid itself of such thoughts, but as she felt his eyes on her, she was sure he wouldn't let it go. He didn't.

"Penny for your thoughts? I could use a good laugh."

"Oh trust me, this is not something you'd laugh at. Forget I said anything," she practically begged for him to talk about anything else. She stood to refill her tea, hoping he'd not mention it further. Instead, he finished his sandwich and leaned back, as if getting comfortable until she told him.

"Oh really? I bet this is a good thought you had. Please do share," he crossed one of his long legs over the other, his ankle resting on the opposite knee. She leaned against the counter across the room, watching him. His color had come back, and besides the sling, he was the man he had been a week ago, before the mess that was Baltimore. In this moment, as she looked at him, it felt as though nothing had changed. But she knew that wasn't the case. Everything had changed.

She shook her head again. "No, sir. That one is just going to have to stay private for a while," her grin told him it was definitely private and he surprised himself by wanting to know her thought more than he really thought. He raised an eyebrow.

"Can I get a hint?" he was desperate for anything that was a distraction from their next move, the children sleeping in the squadron captain's cabin across from his own, and the heartache from missing his wife. Anything that could tear his mind away from those things was gold.

She contemplated his plead, she wondered what his fascination was. Tentatively, as she made her way back to the table, she spoke, "It had to do with showers. But that's all I'm giving you," She looked at him sideways, settling back into her seat. He raised both eyebrows this time, surprised at her admission.

"I can't even begin to wonder where you're going with that," he sipped his coffee, still watching her. Her hair was completely down tonight, he couldn't remember the last time he'd seen it all down. She wore a large black sweater that looked very soft, gray leggings sliding into her calf high boots. She tipped her head to the side to look at him square on, her long tresses falling over her shoulder.

"Maybe someday I'll tell you everything," her smile was all knowing, and he found her to be prettier in this relaxed state than he'd ever seen her. He didn't speak, just nodded, wondering what she meant by her statement. She was talking over his head this evening, it seemed.

They enjoyed each others company in silence for a while and when he moved to stand to get more coffee, she offered and did it for him. He watched her pour the dark liquid, and bring the steaming cup back to him. They locked eyes, and she cursed the way she could get lost in his. She sat back down, and took a sip of her tea.

"How are the children?" She hadn't seen them since that night in medical. She had tried to give him his space, had tried to separate herself from the constant guilt. He looked down to his coffee.

"They're okay. As good as can be expected, I suppose." She watched him watch the liquid in his mug, all playfulness gone from his expression.

"And how are you doing?" her words were heartfelt, soft and comforting. She shifted slightly in her seat to face him entirely, drawing a knee up to her chest. He didn't raise his eyes.

"As good as can be expected," he repeated the words he'd used for the kids, looking up to meet her with his glassy eyes. He clenched his jaw to keep himself straight-faced and unemotional, but the motion only made her more aware of his reality.

"She was your wife, it's going to take time," the words were so basic but the meaning behind them was so big. She was right, he knew. Darien had been his everything for so long. Until the mission had taken over and he'd put her second. And now he couldn't even apologize for what had happened.

"I just play it over and over in my head. If I had just done something differently, maybe she'd still be here," his voice was quiet, thick with emotion. He didn't lift his eyes from the shoe laces on her boot.

"Maybe we wouldn't have the cure if you'd done something different. Or something might have happened to the children. It could have played out a million different ways," She leaned forward, moving her leg, and placing her hand on his knee. "This isn't your fault, Tom. If it's anyone's fault, it's mine, and for everything, I am so sorry," The sound of his name on her lips, and the words of her apology brought his head up to meet her eyes. They were watery, tears threatening to spill. She blamed herself?

"You saved my father, my kids, with what you created. This is far from your fault," A tear slid down his cheek, and it broke Rachel's heart once more. She couldn't keep her own from spilling over. She was shocked at the amount of emotion she felt for this man and his loss.

She shook her head, unable to accept his words. "Tom, I am so very sorry," She leaned back covering her mouth with the back of her hand. She knew this wasn't about her, this was his loss, but she couldn't help but feel responsible. Despite her feelings for the man in front of her, she would never want him to be in the pain he was in right now. She had kept everything a secret from the beginning, maybe if she'd just told him, maybe they would have made progress sooner. There were so many 'what ifs'.

Impulsively, he put his coffee down and leaned forward, pulling her into his chest, wrapping his right arm around her tightly. He felt her sob into his shoulder as he rested his head against hers, his own tears streaming down relentlessly.

"We're going to be okay, Rachel, we all are," he felt her arms wrap around him, her hands gripping at his back. They cried together for a long while, each finding comfort in the other. They were so tired, sleep-deprived and emotional.

She leaned back slightly, after some time, her face blotchy and tear-stained. His cheeks were wet as she searched his face, his eyes. Her arms were still at his sides, as he ran his hand over her soft hair, moving a few strands behind her ear. Their eye contact lasted a few moments, her tears still on her lips, the heat between them too much for her to bear.

He swept his eyes over her face, taking in her tears cried for him, her wet eyelashes, her trembling lips. Her hands held his shirt at his sides, as his hand cupped her cheek, his thumb wiping her tears. He'd be lying if he hadn't looked at her lips, hadn't wanted to run his thumb, or his own lips across them. He hadn't slept in days, maybe he was imagining she was Darien. But the more he looked at her, he knew who she was, all that she encompassed. His heart was torn, in so many different ways.

Rachel was desperate for comfort, needed to ease the ache in her soul. As his thumb caressed over her cheek, she closed her eyes for just a moment, the electricity in his touch something she couldn't even begin to put into thoughts. When she opened her eyes, he was waiting, ready to search her darker ones. His blue ones were soft, tired, clear. She brought her hands up, landing on either side of his face gently, and in an instant, her lips were against his. She kissed him sweetly, but hungrily, some underlying need making itself known.

He kissed her back, almost immediately, unable to stop himself. The taste of her tea, mixed with mint, and a hint of something else drew him in. He was desperate for comfort, desperate for her, in ways he shouldn't be, couldn't be. Her tongue battled its way into his mouth, and he allowed it entrance, allowed himself to get lost in her touch, in her kiss. He couldn't help himself.

He slid his arm down her back, tried to pull her closer, but she pulled back quickly, her eyes wide and full of something Tom couldn't read.

"Rach-I..what..?" she pushed her chair back abruptly, standing, her hand flying to her mouth. She looked at him as she backed her way around the table, headed for the door, moving as quickly as she could. Fresh tears sprung to her eyes.

"Tom, I am so, so sorry," she pulled open the door, and ran down the p-way, looking for anywhere to be but there. Tom sat, dumbfounded at the table, running a hand over his hair, squeezing the bridge of his nose, unable to process what had just happened between them. So many emotions and feelings ran through him as he stared at the mug of tea she'd left behind. It smelled like her, she smelled, and tasted like it. He felt his heart ache with confusion and loss.

Continue Reading Next Chapter

About Us

Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.