Consequences of Love and War: Chapter 1--Opening
Disclaimer: All the standard stuff. I don't own NCIS. I don't have any sort of affiliation with the show, the characters, the network, the United States Navy (except for occasionally working over at National Naval Medical Center, but even that will soon be Walter Reed National Medical Center, so that hardly counts...), etc, etc.
Timeline: Takes place about a year and a half after Truths and Covert Lies, which puts it a few months before Lethal Fractures.
Summary: A Navy physician is abducted from her clinic at Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, while her husband is talking to her via webcam. As the investigation unfolds, they discover that things aren't always as they appear to be, both within the case and within the team investigating it.
A/N: I have only a few chapters of this written, and writing it is very slow going. It could be worse; before the Bell Commission rules, interns and residents consistently worked more than eighty hours a week; now we're limited to those eighty, which gives me a little bit more time to be writing. Unfortunately, it means I'm often too tired to actually be creative enough to write anything. What I'm trying to say is that this is subject to random stoppages and an unpredictable posting schedule until I'm on a more laid-back rotation (I started my internship in the Medical Intensive Care Unit; how's that for trial by fire?). I wasn't going to start posting yet, but I tend to make decisions that don't always make sense when I return home after a sleepless 30-hour on-call shift.
Peter Kirkan was in mid-sentence of the article he had to finish before 0500 when he saw the familiar Skype pop-up icon appear on his desktop. Although he was normally very glad to talk to the one person he talked to on Skype, he frowned at the interruption. He usually wouldn't mind being interrupted by his wife, deadline or no deadline, but it was hardly her usual time to be calling, and if there was one thing Dr. Alyse Aachen was, it was punctual. His confusion quickly turned into concern, and he hastily hit the 'connect' button.
"Hey," he said, that concern now evident as his wife's face appeared. "What's going on?"
Alyse's bright blue eyes went from the middle of the screen to the webcam above the monitor and back. In that brief glance, he could see not only the extra moisture around her eyes, but also how red and puffy they were. He felt his heart drop; this was not going to be an easy conversation, for either of them. "Oh, God, Pete," she finally said, her voice barely above a whisper and shaking. "Oh, God."
"What is it, Allie?" Not for the first time, he wished they could be together, but for once of this current deployment, his thoughts had nothing to do with sex or the empty right side of the bed. It was killing him to see his wife like this and not be able to put his arms around her and tell her that it would be okay. Hell, at this point, he didn't even know if it was going to be okay. "Allie, what happened?"
She wiped at both of her eyes with the heels of her hands, which made him realize for the first time that she was wearing scrubs instead of her uniform. At—he had to glance at the clock and do some rapid calculations to figure out the time in Kabul—0820 she was usually wearing the digital camouflage that one would expect to see on a Marine or Navy medical personnel stationed with Marines, still working sick-call clinic. She was rarely in scrubs at that time, which made his concern deepen to an all new level. "There was… an attack," she finally said, her voice still shaking. "A few hours ago. I was asleep, but I was on-call, and I went out…" Her voice trailed off again, and Kirkan felt that sinking of his heart again. He didn't know who this deployment to Afghanistan was worse for—his wife, the Navy physician currently in Kabul; or him, safe and sound in their Bethesda condo. He was pretty sure the last six months had taken six years off his lifespan with his concern for her, and most of the time, she just laughed it off with that damned cute laugh of hers. Alyse was the definition of an adrenaline junkie; she loved running around with Marines. A former Marine himself, he had seen enough to know that that was the last place he wanted his wife.
She wiped at her eyes again in an effort to compose herself, and when she spoke again, her was voice a little stronger, a little more steady. "It was a convoy, not far from the gates," she continued. "The corpsmen were taking the more critical into the hospital. I was out there trying to triage." She stopped talking again, and her eyes darted briefly off-screen before returning.
"Allie—," he began before cutting himself off. The last thing she needed at the moment was another reminder that as a physician—and an internal medicine physician, at that, not an ER doc—her place was in the hospital. He hated to say it, but the corpsmen were a hell of a lot more expendable. There were more of them, the Navy hadn't put half a million dollars into training them, and none of them were his wife. But Alyse was a good officer, and she rarely sent her men out somewhere she wouldn't go.
"There was one kid—one driver," she continued, her voice now having a far-away edge to it. "Not a kid. He's only eighteen years old and probably still only shaves once a week, but he's a Marine, not a kid…" He could see her swallowing, trying to compose herself. "He was awake and talking when I got to him, but he had a massive hematoma in the temporal region and I knew the prognosis was poor." He wished she didn't sound like she swallowed a medical dictionary when she got distracted, but didn't stop her, knowing that the words were an effort to distance herself from what she had seen. "He asked… he asked if I was the doc, and I told him I was, and he asked how it looked, and I told him we'd get him into the hospital and he'd be okay…" Again she stopped and wiped at her eyes, and again Kirkan wished that he could be there for her. She had seen more than her fair share of death in medical school and residency, but even her year as a flight surgeon on an aircraft carrier couldn't prepare her for what she would see in combat. "And then he moved, and I saw the hole in his chest, and I knew that he wouldn't be okay. And I… And I pressed the ABD pads to his chest and tried to stop the bleeding, but there was so much blood, and he began to shake and he asked if he was dying. And I didn't say anything, I just stood there and tried to hold pressure and knew that it wasn't enough. I couldn't even call for a litter crew and I just stood there… I stood there and watched him die. He was alive, and then he wasn't, and I was there and I didn't do enough."
"Allie," he said gently. He was probably the only person in the world who could get away with calling her by her childhood nickname; even her own parents had started calling her 'Alyse' sometime around med school graduation. Even though he had met her after that, he always felt 'Allie' fit her so much better. "Rule number one—"
She gave a bitter laugh, interrupting him. "Rule number one: young men die. Rule number two: doctors can't change rule number one. I know my damned M*A*S*H rules, Pete." Another bitter laugh escaped from her mouth. "God, I wish this was M*A*S*H and that I had a tent with a still and I could just drink until I didn't feel any more pain, but this is goddamned Afghanistan and there's no damn alcohol in theater." She shook her head. "Well, none I can get my hands on. I know there's a hell of a lot of drinking amongst the enlisted Marines, but I can't exactly walk over to their barracks and ask for a shot." She looked away again. "Damn it all, anyway," she muttered.
"Go to bed, Allie," he said gently. "Just go to sleep. Everything will look better when you wake up."
She shook her head. "God, Pete, it's never going to get any better. I've been her for six goddamned months and I still can't handle it. I can't handle this." She lapsed into silence. If it weren't for the heaviness of the mood, he would be teasing her about her profanity; she claimed she never swore until she started med school, and she still stuck to the milder of the curses. "I wasn't trained for this," she muttered. "I'm a goddamned internist. I'm not a surgeon. I can give you a ninety-nine point differential diagnosis on chest pain, but I can't do a damned thing about it when the pain is coming from a massive traumatic wound." He remained silent on that particular point, just because he happened to agree with her. He was actually the first of the two of them to say those words, that they were sending doctors into combat who weren't ready for it. She had been so furious with his words that she had emailed Stars and Stripes and demanded his contact information and sent a rather scathing email back to him. He had invited her to call so they could discuss his research over the phone, not realizing that she was on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Atlantic and calling, while possible, was easier said than done. They continued emailing back and forth, and the next thing he knew, he was falling for a woman he had never met. Lucky for him—maybe not so much for her—they discovered when she returned to dry land that their apartments were less than a mile from each other. He had laughed when they met in person the first time; the mental image he had formed of her was definitely not one of the woman who had glanced around the bar trying to figure who she was supposed to meet. He thought she would be tall, larger than life, and, well, older, even though he knew she was just a lieutenant only a couple of years out of med school. Instead, he found himself introducing himself to a petite brunette with piercing blue eyes and features that made her look closer to twenty than her real twenty-eight.
"I can't handle this, Pete," she echoed softly. "I just want to come home."
"Believe me, Allie, there's no place I'd rather you be than right here." Even as he said those words, he had the website of the florist associated with USAA up on his computer. It wasn't cheap getting things to Afghanistan in a reasonable amount of time, but if he couldn't be there, at the very least his credit card purchases should be. "But if you get on a plane, 'home' is not where the Navy is going to let you go."
"I know," she said softly. "This morning, though… Maybe critical care and pulmonology isn't for me. Maybe I can't handle it. Maybe I should be looking at other fellowships. Like rheumatology. There are no emergencies in rheumatology, and I can work predictable hours and could be home and raise babies…" Her voice trailed off again. That line of thinking prompted Kirkan to add an extra large box of chocolates to the order. She had wanted to do critical care, to be an ICU doctor, since she was in high school; it was part of her 'adrenaline junkie' personality. And while they had talked about having kids, it was still a plan for 'some point in the future'. For her to be talking about giving up her ICU dreams for the sake of children they didn't know when would be born, was a sign that this was hitting her hard.
"I'm sorry, Allie," he murmured. There was nothing else he could say that would come close to being adequate. Just those three words, however, had her eyes welling with fresh tears.
"Pete…" Her voice was filled with sorrow and a little bit regret. "I'm sorry for taking this out on you. I know you have that article to finish."
"Hey," he said forcefully, feeling a little silly talking into the webcam, "never apologize for letting me know you've had a bad day. That's what I'm here for. It's just killing me that I can't actually be there for you when you need me."
She nodded. "I know," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. She managed a shaky smile. "How did I get lucky enough to meet you?"
He gave her a large grin that he didn't completely feel. "Because you were bored in the infirmary on an aircraft carrier and happened to browse through Stars and Stripes?"
She laughed to that, a genuine laugh. "I miss you," she said simply.
"I miss you, too," he replied, hitting 'send' on the embarrassingly large order of flowers, a teddy bear, and large box of chocolates. "Stay safe, okay?"
She nodded. "I love you, Pete." He was about to reply that he loved her too when he saw something shadowy behind her on the webcam. He frowned and leaned closer to the screen to try to figure out what it could be. "What is it?" he heard her ask.
"Allie, behind you!" he quickly exclaimed as the form of a man came into focus. Her eyes widened in alarm as she started to turn, but the man was faster, throwing a dark hood over her head. Kirkan could hear her struggling and trying to scream. "Allie!" he shouted at the computer.
The last thing he saw before the connection was closed was the masked face of a man leaning over the keyboard to end the conversation.