The one we've all been waiting for has arrived. Firstly I want to thank everyone for reading and commenting (or reviewing on ). Your feedback is always thoroughly appreciated. As I previously mentioned, I have two more "episodes" planned and possibly more, but if you have any wishes or ideas, I'd be happy to hear them. Like this story, there will be MK but they will not directly centre around it. But since I'm already posting in the Mike/Kate forum; and listing Mike and Kate as the main characters on , I'm not going to change that.
Without further ado, the final chapter of Foreign Land. Enjoy and please feel free to leave a review at the end.
They reached the HMAS Coonawarra in Darwin at 1700h that day. It was game of Tetris and definitely took some good Mario Kart skills to pull up three Armidale class patrol boats, the Parramatta, the Sirius and two Collins class submarines into a minor port. The ASIS officers, Ethan Saunders and Don McAllister, were the first to disembark, and did so as soon as the Hammersley was secure. There were three suits waiting on the tarmac. It certainly looked like somebody, or bodies, had some explaining to do.
Kate smiled to herself from the bridge. One thing became apparent very quickly— there was some justice in the world and she hoped the right people were going to be credited with the save. And the right people were going to be blamed for any wrongdoings. But at least the Hammersley crew might be down for another Meritorious Unit Citation.
Most of them were on the dock now. Those on the ship had specific roles keeping them there, but the sailors more free to do what they wish with their time were meeting and greeting the battle-worn seamen of the other ships after there hard, six-month deployment in the Gulf.
Kate was alone on the bridge now. Mike had gone down to his makeshift cabin to change. She wasn't sure where Raffy Rodrigues was. He had mentioned something about a brew. That was twenty minutes ago. Perhaps he had left the ship, but she hadn't seen him. He'd skipped lunch, as had they all, so maybe he was making a mess of the galley. It was a good thing that Sharkey was welcoming and rather lax when it came to her kitchen rules.
Mike's voice interrupted her.
"It would appear so," she answered and turned around, surprised to see him in his whites. "Going somewhere?"
He nodded and leant against the XO's chair. "I need to be at the airport in thirty minutes."
She shifted comfortably in his old one. "Commander Lindsay was gracious enough to thank the crew's fine efforts in Denpasar and out there in the Timor."
"That was awfully good of him."
"Wasn't it?" she said sardonically. They shared a laugh. Now that the threat was finally over, they could settle back into that ritualistic subtle humour and light-hearted fun that so characterised their epic relationship, friendship and partnership.
But then an uneasy pause settled. The threat may have dissipated and they may be able to get back to their usual banter-filled routine, but there were scars of the recent past that had not yet healed and wouldn't for some time.
"You didn't sleep well last night," Mike observed in a solemn tone.
She shook her head. "There was an attack that we couldn't stop," she spoke truthfully. "Nobody slept well last night."
"And now that it's over, do you think you'll sleep well?" His question was so deep and intimate. He could ask all he wanted about her feelings, her aspirations, her concerns, but when it came to her core being, the very essence of her, there were some things that were just too close for comfort.
"I guess only time will tell." It was a vague answer, he could see that, but it was the best she could give when the wounds were so raw. She'd never forget the ordeal they went through just two nights earlier. The vivid flashbacks would not cease to hurtle through her mind. It would stay with her, but she refused to let her life or her relationship with Mike be shaped by it.
"I can't stop thinking about what happened," he admitted, looking at his pristine white shoes on the floor.
She looked up at him. It was not a conversation she wanted to have. She did not believe that talking about was the only way to move on, contrary to popular belief, but if it was the only for him then she would listen. She would give him her 100% attention for as long as he needed it.
"Gudhunyo's face is plastered in my mind," Mike continued in the same bare whisper. "And him standing over you…"
His right hand was clenching his still red-raw left wrist. The rope indentations were likely to remain a physical mark for some time. But it was very clear that those marks she couldn't see ran so much deeper.
"We should count ourselves lucky," Kate told him positively. "And there's very little point dwelling on what might've happened, Mike."
"I know that," he responded. "But the thought of something like that happening to you makes me sick. We were lucky. But what if we weren't?"
"We could spend a lifetime going through the 'what if's.' What if these promotions for both of us had never come? What if I had never been posted back on to the Hammersley? What if that affair at HMAS Watson never happened?"
"What if we had never met?" Mike put in. His spirits hadn't lifted. If anything, they had been dragged further through the mud.
"My life would not have been any better," Kate said thoroughly. "I want you to know that I'm grateful every single day and just because you're in my life."
"But I'm not the man you want to live with," Mike replied plainly. "I sensed your reservation when I gave you the key to my place."
She reached for his hand and sat as close to him as their chairs would allow. "I don't have reservations. I want to move in. There'll be logistical issues, but we can sort them out."
He smiled. "Perhaps in a more appropriate place." Kate noticed they were still on the bridge and let go of his hand almost instantly. Ever the professional, she did not want to get too personal in a professional setting.
"So where are you going?" she asked, changing the subject.
"Canberra," he answered jovially. "I'm to brief the PM herself."
Kate was impressed. It wasn't everyday that a middle ranking naval officer got the opportunity to meet their country's leader, let alone brief him or her on vital security matters. That was usually left up to Defence personnel.
"And you're heading back to Cairns immediately, I hear," Mike added.
"Yes. We sail this evening. Just a short stop to refuel and we'll be on our way. And you'll be sitting in on an intelligence hearing."
"Just like on APAC or C-SPAN," Mike said with a smile.
Raffy's distinct voice from the back of the bridge interrupted them. "Not exactly like on APAC or C-SPAN. The public won't get to see what you're about to."
Mike looked from Kate to her XO and stood up, sensing that there were some parts of her life that he wouldn't intrude upon. He had given the young Lieutenant the green light with NAVCOM to stay on as the Hammersley's XO, but now it was up to Kate. "My taxi will be here shortly. So I'll see you both back in Cairns."
Kate just nodded her goodbye. She was carefully planning the conversation she was about to have with her Executive Officer. Raffy didn't flinch or move as Mike departed. He waited for her.
"How did you enjoy your first set of orders with us?" Kate asked.
Raffy shrugged. "Enjoy… seems wrong. Given what it involved."
Kate laughed. He was right, of course. "What I mean is, do you want to stay on with us?"
"Then why didn't you just say that, ma'am," he jested.
"Okay… I'm not sure if this is what I'm suited to."
Kate took a moment to think and then spoke carefully. "This may not be what you are best at, or how you could best serve your nation, but I think that it is what you want, Rafael. And it's what you deserve." She purposefully used his first name, even in the professional setting.
"If that's what you think, ma'am, then who am I to argue."
"I want you to take some time to decide what you want," Kate told him. "NAVCOM have approved and confirmed your appointment so, unless intelligence want you back, you're stuck here for at least the next three months. And, in the navy, I'd say that's plenty of time to decide what lies ahead for you."
"In that case," Raffy concluded, "it looks like I'll be sticking around. And may I be so bold as to speak freely, ma'am?"
"You always speak freely, but go ahead."
"You should definitely move in with Commander Flynn. There are some things that you can only learn about a man by cohabitation."