This is my first Sea Patrol fic, although I have a rather long history with other shows. There are spoilers for "Ransom," 4.04. I enjoy reading your feedback, so please do review and I may consider writing a few more one-shots like this.
Disclaimer: I do not own any characters, locations or storylines from Sea Patrol. Those rights belong to Hal and Di McElroy, and the Nine Network, and I do not intend to infringe copyright laws. I am not making any profit from this story and am writing it for my enjoyment and the enjoyment of others.
Owner of a Lonely Heart
A slow jazz rhythm resonated through the candle-lit lounge. Designer glass of assorted shapes, sizes and colours were highlighted in the background. The bar's low lighting set the scene, adding a reddish tinge to an old establishment—with all the markers of an upmarket renovation operation. The venue was Mike's choice, something he'd picked out of a 'What's Hot' magazine. Now he was left wondering if it sent the wrong message. After the day they'd had, it was likely that the smallest thing could be misconstrued as an advantageous play in another direction.
Mistakes had been made on his part in dealing with their most recent crisis. Mistakes that had left Kate in hot water—almost literally. By rights, Mike shouldn't be blaming himself for the way things turned out, and the speed at which they became pear-shaped. Just like he shouldn't have blamed Dutchy for a 'slow reaction,' and vocally, he didn't. Mentally, on the other hand, now that was a different matter altogether. He didn't want to let her on that boarding, and he only did because he wanted to prove to her that he was a reasonable man. She had made the more logical of the arguments and when it came to professional conduct, his own defense had little standing.
Mike shuffled uncomfortably in the petite, wooden armchair and glared at his watch for the fourth time in ten minutes. Kate was overdue, but only slightly. Nevertheless, the sooner he got it off his chest, the better, he believed. The live band had switched play to a faster tempo—Mike guessed to conciliate calls for something to dance to by a group of recently-arrived corporate types intent on drinking away the burdens of a decaying tourism situation—just one of the many wonders of the international financial state of affairs. If the place had one thing going for it, it wouldn't be the low-key lights or the incessant gaggle of happy spenders, but the well-sounding acoustics that actively drowned out the external world. In this bar, only the music existed.
Deciding that he'd finally had enough after twenty long minutes, he reached into his pocket for his mobile, awkwardly shifting his body position in the chair to remove the stubborn piece of technology from jeans that might just be too tight for him. He was distracted, however, by a familiar voice that seemingly appeared out of nowhere.
"I hope you didn't plan to rush me. I think a good, long shower was definitely earned."
Mike took the time to take in the dramaticising, strapless black cocktail dress that clung tightly to his guest's body. He didn't want to be caught looking, but he knew he had been. But Kate, ever the lady, did not acknowledge it. Her blonde hair wasn't straight this evening, like he was so used to, but rather her new curls were collected at the back in an ornamental butterfly clip.
"Your shirt shrink in the wash?" Kate asked devilishly, cutting across his vivid thoughts.
He instinctively looked down at it and his expression subtly changed from confusion to mock offence. "What's wrong with it?"
"Oh, nothing." There was that smile again. "I like it. It accentuates... certain parts of your body."
Now Mike couldn't help but laugh. He wasn't quite sure what could be attributed to Kate's mood change, but he certainly wasn't expecting it when he made their plans for the evening. Perhaps he could blame his choice of venue again. Maybe it did say too much of the wrong sort of thing.
"Are you planning to order drinks or are we going to sit here making useless chit-chat for the rest of the evening?" Kate asked rather more seriously. "It's been a long day, Mike."
"I know," he replied softly, and ordered there drinks almost immediately after. It did not take the bar staff long to respond in kind with their order. Mike put another tick on the establishment—efficiency.
"Nice place," Kate commented. "Nice and close. Close to my place. Am I to guess that that is why you chose it?"
"Well, it's nice to see that proximity to your house helps with your punctuality."
"Touché," came Kate's answer as she sipped her drink.
Mike downed his beer quickly. "I only assumed that you would want to enjoy a night out after today."
"I'm sure that was your only reason." She hardly bothered to hide the sarcasm lacing her tone.
"You know, the crew seem to think you're some sort of Wonder Woman," Mike told her, explicitly changing the subject, "by the way you handled the kidnappers just before we arrived in the RHIB."
"Really?" Kate mused, again sipping her drink. It had almost become something of a nervous tick for her.
"Yes. But I only spent the day wondering where my woman was." He smiled quickly to let her know he was joking.
A glare, the kind that emanated death, was her only reply. Clearly, she did not see the humour.
"Oh, come on, Kate. I thought it was a rather good line."
"Yes, it was a very good line," she snapped, more aggressive than she intended to be, but then said no more. That first, slow jazz beat cut across their awkward pause.
"I was worried about you," he admitted softly, looking down at his second beer. "And I know that you were right in my cabin. Your argument obviously made more sense than mine."
"But mine was still valid," Mike pushed. He could feel their atmosphere shift. They were entering dangerous waters.
Kate was biting the inside of her lip. With one quick swallow, she emptied her glass and looked back at him sourly. "If that's the case, Mike, then we shouldn't be working together."
"I know that," he replied understandingly. "But I meant what I said in there. I can't shut out how I feel about you, on or off the job. It's hard for me, you know."
"It's not just hard for you, but navy regulations aren't a buffet. You can't just pick and choose which ones you want to follow."
He had no response. Kate watched her commanding officer as he quickly swallowed three... four mouthfuls of his second beer. Frustrated, she ordered herself another drink. They had only been there, together, for ten minutes.
"It's not just a job, Mike," Kate said finally, after minutes of silence between them. "Maybe if it was just that then we could handle this... this balancing act. It's demanding and it's dangerous, and it's necessary. Fiona Douglas relied on us today to return her kidnapped daughter to her. We have a responsibility and that should always be our first priority."
Mike was growing impatient and annoyed, though mainly with himself. "You don't need to convince me."
"I think I do. You're on Hammersley of your own volition, Mike. You made our bed on this."
"I didn't have a choice in the matter," Mike retorted heatedly. "The Hammersley needed a new CO and there was no other available person for the job."
"Okay, okay," Kate reasoned, throwing her hands up defensively. "But I can't say that you've been doing much to get yourself off the ship. If you ask me, you enjoy sea life a little too much."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I'm not faulting you on it, Mike."
"Well, it sounds like you are. And it's only been three weeks."
"I guess I was foolish to think that that would change," Kate continued, opting for a more neutral stance in the interest of less aggressive negotiations. "We've been dancing around each other for three years. Dancing around our emotions. People in love really do make some bad choices."
"Are you saying that I'm making a mistake? I'm not even sure what kind of mistake I'm supposed to have made."
"I didn't say you." Her nervous habit of sipping her drink intermittently had reappeared.
Mike chose not to push it. He knew what she was talking about. Sometimes, just occasionally, he also wondered if there night together was just another error in judgment. He reminded himself that he had no way of knowing that he'd be reposted on to the Hammersley, that he did actually have real plans for them and for their relationship while he was ashore. Regardless, he knew that it would have been easier for both of them if that night had never happened.
"Maybe we should just go before we have too much," Kate suggested as she watched Mike put down his third drink—a glass of straight bourbon. She knew their emotions were raw, and although things needed to be said, it was better that they be said while sober. Mike gentlemanly paid the tab and ushered her out the door, a hand lightly remaining on the small of her back. There was still a warm breeze blowing when they exited the bar.
"Are you going to get a taxi?" Mike asked.
"For one street? I don't think so. Knowing the driver, he won't take the most direct route and I'll end up paying triple. The fresh air will do me good anyway."
"In that case," Mike announced, "I'll accompany you."
"It's not necessary," Kate debated, her delicate left hand poised flimsily on his right.
"It is," he argued back, "because we need to finish our conversation." And he started to lead her in the direction of her house, which was only a few hundred metres away.
His hand had moved to her back again, but she allowed it. His touch was warm and it excited her, and, regardless of the fact that she was, once again, that much closer to losing control of her raging emotions, it was a source of great comfort and need. Even though Mike had hinted towards continuing their discussion, they were content to walk in silence for some time.
"Will you take a shore posting again when the opportunity arises?" Kate asked finally, after a few minutes of quiet walking.
"I want to," Mike told her.
"Is that the truth or are you trying to placate me?"
"You know how I feel about you, Kate," he said earnestly.
She nodded slightly. "Yes. And I know how you feel about the Hammersley. Sometimes I think that that boat is your real mistress. Or maybe you're just using it as a shield to hide your emotions again. I guess I just don't know."
Mike stopped walking and stepped in front of her, turning around to face his complainant. "I don't want to hide my feelings anymore. Not from you. That is the truth."
Kate looked away, but Mike persisted. "I believe you," she told him. "It's just... hard. Hard to discern your intentions sometimes."
He was silent again as he continued to lead her to her home. Within minutes, they arrived at her front door. There was an eerie silence between them, probably made louder by the persistent sound of crickets hounding the night's air. Their union together, under the flicking light of her front porch, was almost picturesque. But doomed, of course, as both knew. All good things... they have to end.
"Goodnight, Kate," Mike said finally. He leant in and kissed her cheek ever-so-softly, but dangerously close to her delicate lips. She closed her eyes, thoughts flashing back to that steamy reunion just weeks ago, as his touch met her lingering nerves.
"I suppose I could always invite you in," she suggested, knowing very well that she'd regret it in the morning.
"Don't," he warned, "because if you do, I'll have no choice but to accept. You were right—navy regulations aren't a choice of the rules we want to follow and those we'd much rather forget." But slowly, even as he said this, he put his arms around her small figure and pulled it against him. Kate allowed herself to bury her head in his embrace.
"I'd be lying if I said that I wanted you to leave, Mike," Kate admitted in a small voice. "But I think today proved to us the strife we'd be in if we continued to blur the line between our personal and professional relationships." She looked up at him, pulling out of his hold enough to see the light reflect off his handsome face. "Goodnight."
And she stepped away from him completely. He didn't linger after she unlocked her door and entered her house. It was dark inside, but there was a more pressing feeling that could not be removed by the simple flick of a switch—loneliness.