Special thanks to jinks7985 for the beta-reading!
Military base XXX, late February
Though they both were on the skinny side, the cot was still too narrow for their acrobatics. Not as if it mattered, as long as Mia had a floor mat from the gym in her room. Being a visiting instructor definitely had its advantages…
"So, you're leaving tomorrow?" Vin asked, playing with her pendant.
"Yeah. There is another bunch of clueless Rangers out there, waiting for me to teach them."
"I'll miss you."
"No, you won't. You'll meet lots of pretty girls and make some of them very happy."
"Are you saying I'm a good student?" he leaned closer.
"Stop fishing out for compliments, Tanner, and do something useful, while we still have time."
He obliged happily.
Military base YYY, early April
"Shit." Mia threw third test in a row in a basket. The tests were innocent, though; they just confirmed what she'd already known. She'd been too relaxed with Tanner back in the winter, and gotten pregnant as a result. And what was she supposed to do now? In the beginning of a promising Army career and with health problems that dictated she'd leave the Army immediately and spend the next months in close proximity of a good hospital? If she wanted to avoid miscarriage, that is. And… Did she want to avoid miscarriage in the first place?
Somewhere in South America jungle, same day
"What now, Sarge?"
It took Sergeant Tanner some time to realize the question was aimed at him; he still hadn't gotten used to the fact that he was in charge now. They'd just buried half of their unit, including Captain Doherty, two miles south-west from the place where their chopper had been shot down. Any one of the survivors would be able to find the graves later, but they'd done everything to hide them from idle eyes.
"We have a mission to complete, Stokes."
"They probably think we're dead," another soldier commented.
"If 'they' include bad guys, it's good for us. Let's go, before anyone decides to pay us a visit."
Military base YYY, two days later
"You heard? Doherty's chopper was shot down."
"They don't tell, but the whole unit is presumed dead."
"Damn it all, they were good boys."
The overheard conversation froze Mia - Captain Doherty was Vin's C.O.! But maybe it was just a rumor, or maybe there was more than one Doherty in the Rangers… she had to check for herself. Fortunately, she knew whom to ask.
By the evening, Mia confirmed everything. Vin Tanner was gone, killed in the line of duty, and the only thing left of him was the tiny spark of life inside her belly.
Their brief affair hadn't been about love, not by a long shot, but it had been more than just mutual physical pleasure. Vin'd been a good kid and a good soldier, and though it was obvious he'd seen his share of shit well before the Army, he'd still carried that light within him - the light which had been warm enough to thaw her out, something Mia hadn't believed was possible. She couldn't betray him now, when that light was gone; she'd do anything to preserve the spark of life he left her, anything to make it blossom.
Military base ZZZ, late August
"Colonel, we confirmed the information. They are indeed the survivors of Doherty unit, and we can retrieve the bodies of the dead as well."
"Good. Organize the mission."
"Do you want to alert the press?"
"No. Soldiers coming home are good publicity, but not when they shouldn't have been out there in the first place. Notify the families as soon as they're here, though. And I want Major Billings to be present for the debriefing."
*** Hospital in Greely, Colorado, late November
Those who said the cry of the newborn is the most beautiful sound in the world were right. Absolutely.
"Congratulations, Ms. Nakamouri. It's a girl."
Several moments later Mia (exhausted, but happy) carefully accepted a tiny bundle of joy, and looked into those blue eyes for the first time.
"She is so pretty," Nina, the nurse with whom she'd become close during the previous months, stated the obvious. "Do you have a name for her?"
"Yes. Mariko. Mariko Tanner Nakamouri."
Denver, Colorado, 8 years later
"Look, JD is coming," Vin Tanner told to Ezra Standish, pointing with his eyes to the entrance, where indeed JD Dunne could be seen. "We'll know everything."
Right now Vin and Ezra were the only ones occupying the table Team 7 frequented in the Saloon and they were discussing the latest office gossip. Usually they pretty much ignored it, but the topic of the month was Ms. Lucy, a girl from the bakery nearby, claiming she was pregnant from Buck Wilmington. According to the latest bit of news, it wasn't exactly true.
"So, Mr. Dunne," Ezra asked, when JD came to the table. "I take it the rumors about Mr. Wilmington's upcoming fatherhood were slightly exaggerated?"
"Yeah," JD sat down. "I mean, she is pregnant, all right, just not from Buck. She just used him to get to her boyfriend. Or maybe they were both in it and wanted money, I don't know yet. Nevertheless, Buck went to Lucy yesterday, trying to talk things out, and just walked in on them!"
"Well, considering the character of the lady in question, I'd say it's good news."
"You don't say! Buck promised drinks are on him tonight. But you know, with his style, any day some girl can show up with kid in tow!"
"It's always a possibility, JD, for any man who slept with a woman," Ezra gestured for another round of beer. "Only abstinence gives 100% guarantee."
"So, guys, what will you do if/when a woman appears, claiming her child is yours?"
"A man could do only one thing in that situation, JD, if he's a man," Vin placed his mug on the table. "Take the responsibility."
"I concur with Mr. Tanner," Ezra added. "But I'd suggest checking the woman's agenda first. Children shouldn't be used as pawns in adult games."
Something in Ezra's tone made Vin think the southerner was talking from personal experience, and Vin wondered if Maude ever used Ezra in such con. And maybe it was good thing none of the girls Vin himself had been with thought of him as a big prize…
Greely, Colorado, same day
"So, munchkin, you ready to tell me what's on your mind?" Mia asked, tucking her daughter in.
"Memorial Day is coming, Mom," Mariko looked at her nightstand, where a picture of Vin Tanner stood, a casual shot from the training camp. "And I don't know where Dad is buried."
"I told you, sweetie, he was killed far from the country and they couldn't bring him back. It happens sometimes."
"But if they didn't bring him back, how do we know he was killed? Maybe he was taken prisoner or just lost, like in that movie… Maybe they found him later, only didn't tell us…"
Mariko trailed off, yawned, then continued: "School library has Internet, I think I'll look there…"
"I'm afraid the school library doesn't have necessary access, munchkin, but you might be right. I'll check myself."
"Promise. Now go to sleep, sweetie, we have a long day tomorrow."
Not that Mia believed in miracles, but Mariko had a point. Though Vin Tanner was named on her birth certificate, and she actually was a daughter of a soldier, killed in the line of duty, Mia had never tried to obtain something from the Army or the government for her girl. She didn't want to prove anything to anyone, and besides, with all the circumstances, she didn't feel she had the right. But maybe it was time to get some official paper for Mariko's sake, a notification or copy of death certificate, or something… Something to avoid raising false hopes, and to protect Mariko from doubts and teasing of her peers. So far there hadn't been any problems, but kids were a cruel lot, and teens even more so. Fortunately, Mia still had some friends who could find the necessary information much faster than going through official channels.
Two days later Mia sat in her office in a centre where she taught self-defense and stared at a bunch of print-outs, completely stunned. Mariko must be a psychic, because Vin Tanner was alive. Mission details, of course, weren't available, but judging by the date of Vin's first medal, he'd been retrieved about four months after his unit had gone missing, Mia had already lived in Colorado by then. After that, he'd served for a few more years, than traded the Army for law enforcement, and now was a Federal Agent with ATF. In Denver, of all places. A couple of hours' drive from here. And what should she do with that knowledge?
It was okay when she genuinely believed that Vin had been killed in action, but now she had no right to hide Mariko from Vin – or to hide Vin from Mariko. Her girl was stubborn enough, and determined enough, to find some answers on her own, and Mia didn't want to lie to her daughter, ever. But she also didn't want to hurt her. Vin Tanner had been a good kid back then, but who knows what the Army and life in general had done to him in those years that had passed… Well, it wasn't nuclear physics; she would take a few days off, arrange for Mariko to stay with Nina, go to Denver and meet with Vin. Judging by what she saw, she'd decide what to tell him about Mariko, and judging by his reaction, she'd decide what to tell Mariko about him.