All Sea Patrol characters are the property of their original owners, the Nine network, and Hal and Di McElroy. Only Aingeal is my own.
Aingeal sat on the edge of the dock watching the sunrise. She was early. The taxi had deposited her just as the first splotches of colour trailed their speckled fingers across the heavens, heralding the arrival of the morning sun. She knew Duggan was expecting her just after dawn but she had come early to watch this miracle light show and reflect on the simple joy of just being alive.
Her last assignment had been draining and the loving warmth of her family was becoming overpowering and slowly beginning to suffocate her. She felt smothered by their constant attention. They didn't know how to help. They didn't understand what had happened and she couldn't speak of it. Not yet. Maybe some day, but right now she just wanted to forget and she didn't want to impose the evil images in her battered memory into their safe and comfortable world. She was still listless and tired. She had been out of the hospital for just over two weeks and although her body was just about healed, her spirit was still broken.
Her family had seemed pleased when she had accepted her cousin Duggan's invitation to go out on the boat for a few days. She had sent her bag on ahead and agreed to meet him this morning. Skimming the waves, breathing in the invigorating salt air, and losing herself in the sounds of the sea around her had always been a comforting escape for her. Her father had been a fisherman, and the sea, and the boat, held only good memories. This was what she needed now.
Her quiet reflection was broken by the sounds of men making their way down the pier. Their raucous laughter and loud chatter cut through the air shattering her peace. There were four of them and she gathered by the tackle boxes and fishing gear they carried that they were off for a day's fishing. They headed for the rental shack at the end of the dock.
They were a disparate group but somehow they seemed strangely bonded. One was tall and good looking with a smiling face and laughing eyes. He looked to be in his 30's. Walking beside him was a younger man with blonde curly hair and a bounce to his step. He exuded life and laughed as he playfully pushed the darker haired man. An older stockier man, trailing the group cuffed him across the ear and they continued their banter and loud camaraderie as they approached the rental shop, the uproar scattering the sea birds that now noisily protested overhead.
At the head of the group was a large well-built man. He wore a singlet and shorts that displayed a well-muscled body sporting several large tattoos. His arms looked massive. Their loud rowdy behavior, coupled with what she recognized as sailor's nicknames led her to believe that perhaps they were sailors on leave. The assumption did nothing to restore her calm.
Africa had made her weary and suddenly feeling exposed and vulnerable she tucked her hair up, pulled her hat down, and moved back against the pillar at the edge of the pier. She fastened the old shirt her brother had loaned her for scutwork aboard the boat, and got up to leave, her androgynous appearance giving her a greater sense of security.
His spirits high, Buffer paid for their boat and decided to get some bait while they waited for it to be made ready for them. The tiny bait shop sat to the side and its front window was raised. He bartered with the man inside, ordered his bait, and turned to check with the boys to see what else they wanted. As they were shouting their orders the man yelled. Buffer missed the cry amid the din caused by his mates' loud demands, each man's order echoing off the others. Swain's sudden look of horror made him turn quickly, not in time to completely avoid the heavy wooden awning that was crashing down toward his head, but time enough to partially duck and avoid a major impact. The side of the board caught him a glancing blow across the top of his skull. Swain, ET and Charge stood open mouthed in shock as the blood spurted from his head and Buffer hit the ground.
Aingeal cringed. NO, no, no. Not blood! Why did there have to be blood! The last thing she wanted to do was to approach that group but every instinct she possessed urged her forward. She couldn't leave someone hurt and bleeding on the ground and just walk away.
Two of men were gathered around the injured man as she approached, obviously trying to deal with the problem, while the third was talking with the distraught bait shop owner.
" Please don't let there be violence," she silently prayed.
Her fears were unfounded, however, as the injured man simply gave the older man a thumbs up and he left a very relieved shop owner and hurried over to the others.
She could hear their worried voices as she approached, mingled with the obvious concern for their day trip, which somehow seemed to outweigh the concern for the injury.
"Are you ok, Buff?"
"I'm fine. It just grazed me."
"There's a lot of blood, mate."
"Are we still going?" asked ET.
"Yes. I'm fine."
"We know you have a hard head, mate, but you're really bleeding," said Charge.
This evoked a muffled laugh from ET and earned him a sharp silencing glance from Buffer. He sucked his laughter in and held the smile at bay with only the greatest of effort. If Buffer were going to miss this fishing trip he would not be happy.
"Yes. There's a lot of blood, Buff," added Swain.
"Just fix it up, Swaino."
"I don't have my kit here. You need a doctor or at least a nurse, mate."
"Perhaps I can help," a quiet voice interjected.
Looking up they saw what appeared to be, from the sound of her voice and gangly figure, a teenaged girl. Perhaps, her clothes suggested, a deck hand from one of the many ships moored there. The long loose shirt she wore over the worn and faded deck pants and shoes all but hid her femininity, however, and the large floppy hat also hid her eyes and upper face. She was quite tall, and thin and her voice had a husky quality that in an older woman would have been very appealing, but as it was, they sought to dismiss her and returned to their ministrations, one of them casually throwing back, "You don't look old enough to be a nurse."
"Well I am…old enough," she insisted, hoping they didn't notice the pause or quiet addition.
"I don't need a nurse," insisted the big one. I'm fine, thank you, Miss", and glancing at Swain, he added," I'm going fishing!"
"That wound might need stitches, mate."
" No, it doesn't. Get my gear. I am not going to miss this trip for a little cut. This is the first chance we've had in almost 2 months."
"Scalp wounds tend to bleed quite profusely. I don't recommend you go out on the water like that," the voice cut in, definitely sounding a little older and fairly knowledgeable.
"She's right, Buff. You're bleeding like a stuck pig."
"Forget it, Swaino. Get… my…gear."
He slowly enunciated his answer, shooting Swaino a no nonsense look and throwing a 'why don't you just mind your own business' shot her way, though he tempered it with a polite, "Thank you for your concern, Miss. I'll be fine."
Ang was inclined to leave but her conscience and training balked at the idea of leaving a bleeding man on the pier.
"Sit down", she blurted out with just the right measure of authority, and was surprised at his quick compliance. Definitely a sailor, she thought.
She glanced quickly over the counter, grabbed a new plastic bag from its package, and, with her hand encased in it, proceeded to check out the wound.
Definitely a professional move, thought Swain. And it really was hard to gauge her age under the floppy hat.
She placed a clean folded hankie over the oozing cut, and said, "You're going to need to keep pressure on that for at least 15 minutes and then it needs to be dressed, and you should probably be checked for concussion. There's a clinic up the road."
"Fine, thank you, Miss, but I'll be right," he replied, and pressing one hand on his head, as per her instructions, started to get up. The blood was still oozing through his fingers.
"Charge, grab his gear," interjected Swain, giving in with a shrug of his shoulders and the older sailor picked up his tackle and started to head for the dock. Swain hesitated momentarily, however, as he saw the blood now trailing down Buffer's neck and saw him stagger briefly as he jumped up.
Ang was too weary to argue with them. So much for her philanthropic gesture, she thought. She should have just walked on. She missed the slight stagger as with a sense of exasperated resignation, she flung the plastic bag into the garbage bin, her words flying out with it.
"Go ahead then. Take him with you. If you dangle him over the side you can at least attract a shark!"
As soon as the words left her mouth she gasped inwardly. She really must be tired, or crazy, she thought speaking to this rowdy bunch like that and she quickly turned to leave, catching their reactions out of the corner of her eye.
The one called Swaino looked as if he was about to choke. His cheeks puffed out as he tried to suppress his laugh, his lips pursed in the oddest smile. The curly haired one had less control. He gasped and grinned like an idiot with his mouth hanging open in astonishment, and the old guy, Charge just openly bellowed his laughter.
Buffer's back was to her and he looked back in surprise, a crooked smile lighting up his face, even as the blood continued to trickle down his neck. He could feel it now, along with the light-headedness that had come from his quick assent and he grinned sheepishly, realizing how ridiculous she must think him.
"Buff, mate, go get your head fixed, please." said Swain. "Otherwise I have to stay too and we both miss the trip."
"Yeah, Buff. Face it, mate. Your trip is stuffed," added Charge.
"I'll catch some for you," quipped ET.
Buffer shot him a menacing glance as the three walked toward the boat, their shaking torsos revealing their laughter. He then got up and followed the girl.
He called her back with his sheepish sorry and she waited for him to catch up She knew the clinic was only a block or so away but she was suddenly weary and Duggan's boat was close. He would have a well-stocked first aid kit, especially knowing she was coming and she led him towards it.
"Follow me," she said and was surprised by his quiet compliance.
Duggan saw her approaching. He hardly recognized her beneath the old shirt and large faded hat. She was walking slowly, unusual in itself as she was always so full of life, and hiding herself like a uncertain teenager buried beneath a hoodie was definitely out of character. What had happened to his confident sassy cousin to reduce her to such insecurity?
A large well-muscled man whose head and neck seemed to be covered in blood was following her, and Duggan smiled. That was definitely his Ang.
As she saw him she removed her hat and flashed a weak smile.
"Sorry I'm late, Duggan."
He hugged her gently and without thinking said, "You look terrible."
"Thanks a lot."
"Sorry," he laughed. "I just don't think I've ever seen you so thin and pale."
"I've only been out of hospital two weeks," she offered by way of explanation, removing the oversized shirt and dropping it onto a box on the deck. "Give me time."
As they spoke Pete stared in astonishment at the transformation. Standing before him was a tall, svelte beautiful young woman. Large blue eyes, fringed by the longest, thickest eyelashes he'd ever seen, highlighted her appearance. That they were natural he had no doubt as her pale face revealed no traces of makeup and her long honey coloured hair was tied back in a ponytail. He couldn't believe he had thought her a gangly teenager.
She had mentioned hospital and that, along with this man's surprise at her weak and frail appearance led him to believe that she could and would be even more stunning when she was fully recuperated.
While Pete tried his best to look detached and not openly stare, she sent Duggan below for the first aid kit and when he returned she turned her attention back to him. He suddenly felt very obvious and lowered his eyes.
She gestured for him to sit down and after donning some rubber gloves had another look at his wound. It wasn't deep, but because of its location on the sensitive scalp it was still bleeding. She placed a large wad of bandage on it, and a small ice pack on top of that.
"It still needs pressure. Keep your hand on it with moderate force for another fifteen minutes," she ordered, and then left to go explain to Duggan what had happened.
Pete sat quietly and did what she ordered. He wondered at their relationship. It seemed more familial than intimate and he surmised that perhaps he was an older brother. The fair hair, bright blues eyes and facial structure hinted at some sort of blood tie.
After a quiet chat followed by more careful hugs Ang sat down and waited while Duggan went below to get her a drink. She watched her patient sitting quietly holding the pack on his head. He showed no emotion or movement. He simply did as he was told.
When Duggan returned they chatted for a few minutes while she finished her drink. When the fifteen minutes were up she returned to Pete bringing him a bottle of water too.
"You've lost some blood so you should drink this," she said, handing him the bottle and as she had explained its purpose he took it without protest while she began to examine his wound again.
She pressed the ends of the cut to determine its depth. The gash had left a flap of skin and she judged it best to repair it to prevent any accidental re-opening of the wound. She had no anaesthetic or sutures but she had steri-strips and she surmised that they would do the job.
She studied his face as she dried the surface of the skin and began to apply the strips. She knew she must be hurting him but his face remained emotionless betrayed only by an occasional involuntary flinch. She tried to work quickly.
"There, all better," she said as she casually ran her hand across his head in a soothing gesture she had used many times with her younger patients, the short spiky hair tickling her fingers and eliciting an unexpected sensation that reached much farther than her fingertips.
She realized her mistake almost immediately, and as her mind registered the error of her impulse her hand stilled its journey. Too late. She caught his startled reflection in the chrome across the side of the boat. His eyes reacted with surprise mixed with a strange puzzlement. Like a battered child, unsure what he had done to warrant an unexpected praise, and fearing its correction, he quickly drank it in.
Pete closed his eyes, and inhaled, breathing in the touch, which though fleeting burned a hole in his barren memory. It felt so good to be touched, even casually, by a caring hand. It had been so long.
She gave her head a little shake. The fact that she had acted so impulsively showed the extent of her fatigue and she shuddered to think what the reaction would have been had he been one of the men she worked with. Definitely not this unexpected one.
He opened his eyes and turned back to her.
"Thank you, Miss," he replied.
She breathed an inward sigh of relief. Definitely no expectations there.
But his reaction puzzled her all the same. He was a good-looking man, well built, with dark liquid eyes that looked like they could melt a heart, but he lowered them after speaking. Strange that he would be so shy. Didn't look the type. But perhaps shy was the wrong word. Maybe he was just insecure around women. He'd had no trouble speaking to her back at the wharf when he had thought her little more than a child. He had been so adamant about his fishing trip. She smiled as she recalled her cheeky answer. She really was tired. Calling out a group of sailors on the pier was hardly something she normally would do but this group had definitely shattered some stereotypes, as did this strange man in front of her.
He was such a contradiction. He was extremely well built. His arms were massive. His biceps probably out spanned her waist. His shoulders and neck further revealed his strength .A beautiful body, desecrated by a multitude of tattoos that gave him an air of mystery. His voice with his mates had been deep and firm, and although his words had been slow and enunciated there had been a no nonsense quality about them. There was certainly no sign of the self-effacing manner he displayed with her now. Not someone one would normally argue with, she reasoned, and definitely not someone she would want to run into in a dark alley outside a pub, especially not since Somalia. The thought made her shudder.
Pete looked up and saw the sudden shiver. Unsure what he had done to evoke it he lowered his gaze again thinking maybe she was repelled by his nearness and he arose quietly and carefully, preparing to leave.
She caught his lowered gaze and quiet movements and realized he must have seen her involuntary reaction and thought that he had frightened her. Yes, a definite contradiction; a gentle bear of a man.
"I'm sorry if I was rude earlier," he offered. "I appreciate your help"
"You weren't rude just dismissive," she answered, a small half smile fleetingly crossing her mouth. "You'd better wait a bit. I need to check to see if you've been concussed."
"I have a hard head, Miss," he returned, smiling his reply.
"Humour me", she answered. " I'm too tired for a lengthy debate"
Pete glanced into her weary looking eyes and felt a pang of regret. He hadn't meant to argue. He had thought she resented his proximity and wanted him gone. He sat down again and quietly looked into her eyes as she scanned his own.
Ang gazed into the limpid brown pools. Yes, equal and definitely reactive, she thought as he returned her stare with a studying glance of his own.
He couldn't remember ever having seen eyes such a brilliant shade of turquoise. They seemed to draw him in. They also seemed to be devoid of laughter. A hollow sadness seemed to pervade them, emphasized by the fatigue that lined her face. His remorse for his small part in that deepened and he strove to be compliant.
"You really should be monitored for a few hours. Have you someone who can do that?" she queried.
"Yes, but they just left on a fishing trip," he returned unable to stop the smile that split his face and he gleefully clutched his reward as she grinned in return.
"Anyone else?" she queried.
"No, They'll be scattered by now. We're on unplanned leave. I'd have to canvas the pubs to find some of them. But don't worry. I'll head back to the ship. There's bound to be someone about."
She sighed, her conscience wrestling with her need to see him gone. "Not your problem, Ang. He'll be fine. Let it go," she reasoned.
Duggan ambled over to check their progress, the boat now ready for departure.
"How's it going?" he asked.
"Good. I've finished dressing it," she replied.
Pete rose, thanked her again and turned to the skipper. "Sorry to delay your departure, sir".
"No worries," replied Duggan. "Angel has been bringing back strays for as long as I can remember." He tossed her a cheeky smile and was rewarded with a sudden scowl.
"Very funny, Duggan," she tossed back.
"Angel?" he queried.
"My name is definitely not Angel," she flashed at him and Duggan simultaneously. "Makes me sound like a street walker!"
She blushed even as she said it, and while Duggan laughed, Pete glanced downward stifling his laughter. He had no wish to mock her as she was annoyed enough at him already. Odd that a name would disturb her so.
"My cousin's name is actually Aingeal", laughed Duggan. "She hates being called Angel but I just love to tease." He gently enveloped her in a giant bear hug and kissed an apology on the top of her head while she batted him away and proceeded to clean up her supplies and repack the first aid kit.
"Well I thank you for all your trouble, Aingeal, "and I'm sorry to have delayed your departure, sir"
"It's Duggan, Duggan McRae," he replied, liking the younger man's respectful stance and polite manner.
"I'm Pete. Peter Tomaszewski."
"You have a beautiful boat, Duggan," he added and as he walked he began effusing its virtues while Duggan discussed its merits and talked about the joys of deep-sea fishing.
"Ever been deep-sea fishing, Pete?" He then queried.
"Just once," replied Pete. "Can't really afford it on a Bosun's pay. But it was magic."
Ang watched their easy banter as they walked towards the edge of the boat. Duggan said his goodbyes, and Pete jumped onto the dock. She saw him grab the pillar as he landed and her conscience panged as she realized he must still be a little dizzy. It had been over a half hour and the bleeding had stopped but he really should be watched. She definitely wanted to just send him off and go have a sleep but her gut was saying otherwise and whenever her gut screamed, she answered. It's what had gotten her home alive when so many of her friends had perished.
Pete untied the last rope and lifted his hand in a silent farewell, as he stood alone at the edge of the dock.
Ang started to raise her hand in a farewell dismissal but her gut suddenly kicked her reserve to the rear and she glanced back quickly and, pointing her head in the direction of the boat, gestured an invitation. "Maybe you'd better come."
Pete's eye's widened in surprise. Without hesitation he leapt back onto the boat as it started away from the dock.