Chapter 60: Homecoming

Homecoming back at Joe base was an enthusiastic but carefully restrained affair.

Everyone was ecstatic that Cam was back. Allie and Shana and Courtney greeted her with huge hugs and squeals of happiness; Alex and Charlie were welcomed back with equal, though perhaps not quite as loud, enthusiasm. The Girls would have dragged Cam off immediately to debrief her, in the way that only girls can, but Hawk put his foot down; Cam was exhausted although she was trying not to show it out of deference to their enthusiasm; but he knew she and Charlie hadn't had much sleep the night before, and he told both Cam and Charlie to go to the mess hall and help themselves to food, and get some sleep. Both Joes hurried off to do so, and he dragged Alex, Allie, and Shana into his office.

He brought them up to date on what had happened the day before; about Jack, meeting them at Miramar; the way Jack and Cam had recognized each other instantly, even across the years and distance that separated them; taking Cam up the California coast to see the Hammonds, the night they'd spent there. He made them laugh with some of the stories Annie Hammond had told of Cam, growing up at Osan; then he very quietly told them about Cam asking Art Hammond for a tent instead of the spare bedroom.

Allie and Shana understood his concern immediately. "If her experiences at Sealview and the deportation camp give her permanent claustrophobia, Clayton, she might not be able to handle living at this base and working with us."

"I know." He took a deep breath. "I want to fill out the forms that grant her extended medical leave; I think she'll want to go home, to the reservation, decompress and just absorb everything that happened to her." He paused.

"All right, that sounds reasonable." Shana chewed her lower lip. "But I get the feeling there's something more to that?" her voice rose at the end in a question.

Clayton turned to Allie. "Does Charlie have any leave time coming up?"

Instant comprehension. Allie and Shana stared at each other for a few minutes, slow smiles starting across their faces, then Allie cleared her throat. "I think he does, yes."

"I'm going to recommend to him that he escort Cam to her reservation in Western New York."

"In hopes that he'll choose to stay with her." Shana sighed, batted her eyelashes. "Oh how romantic, a little cabin, all alone in the wilds of western New York, right there on the shores of the lake…and winter's coming, so there will be plenty of days when they'll be snowed in, just the two of them, cuddled in bed together snug as a couple of bugs in a rug…"

Clayton blinked. "You don't have a problem with that?"

"Why? Should we?" Shana lost that dreamy look and focused on Clayton. "Allie and I have been subtly working toward that for a while. We agree Cam needs some decompression time, but having Charlie there with her will remind her that there's a base full of people here who care about her and it'll keep us from losing her until she's ready to come back."

Allie nudged Shana with an elbow. "Shana. Clayton's worried that Cam won't come back…and that Charlie will choose to stay with her."

Shana froze. "I…hadn't thought of that," she said finally, reluctantly. "Do you think it's possible she won't?"

"Anything's possible," Alex said from where she'd been sitting quietly. "But if you don't give her the chance, let her go and let her find her own way, you're never going to know if she stayed out of duty or if she stayed because she wanted to. And if she stays out of duty sooner or later it'll affect her work and she'll become hard and bitter and then she won't be the same woman who Clayton dragged here half-alive after SERE training."

"Well…what about the court-martial? She'll have to…" She stopped, because Clayton was shaking his head.

"I made a huge mistake when I pressured her into testifying. She was reluctant and I pushed her and look at what Broadview and Walker did to her. I'm not going to make the same mistake, Shana, she's going to do exactly as much or as little as she really wants to; I'm not going to force her to do anything again.

"When she wakes up I'm going to have Doc give her a full physical. She's pretty close to being completely healed, according to the paperwork Miramar's brig doctor gave me, but I want to make sure. Then I'm going to give her the choice of staying for the court martial or just heading out…and if she chooses to head right out I'll tell her Charlie's going with her. He can make his own decision whether he wants to stay with her or go to his home and visit his people, but at least I will have offered him that choice. I realize that you all have put a lot of time and effort into those charges and preparing for this court-martial, but at this point Cam's health, physical and mental and emotional, is more important than my desire to get the bastards that screwed up her SERE training. The training…after what's happened to her, and after knowing what happened to her when she was young, somehow what happened in SERE training doesn't look so bad. Seriously."

Shana nodded, although she looked clearly reluctant. "Whatever you think best, Clayton. Just…make sure you know there's a very real chance that you're going to lose both of them if you let them go. I saw how close they were getting right before everything happened; Cam told me she'd never known anyone quite like Charlie, the perfect balance between white man's world and the People, as she put it, and she wished she could achieve that balance. "

Allie tilted her head thoughtfully. "Clayton, when you and Charlie went to Western New York to talk to Jennifer Aiennatha, you said Charlie used a word you hadn't heard before to introduce himself to her, and as soon as she heard it her attitude changed. Do you remember what that word was?"

Clayton dug down into his memory, trying to remember what the word had been, what Charlie had said, and he repeated it as best as he could remember it for Allie. "Jennifer smiled after she heard it," he said.

Allie sucked in a breath. "My Navajo is a little rusty and I don't know any Iroquois, but some of the root meanings of the most important words in all native languages are the same. Clayton, he introduced himself to Jennifer Aiennatha as her lover."

"But…but…she hadn't…they hadn't…Cam couldn't…" He couldn't seem to complete a sentence.

"There are other layers of meanings, and without hearing the whole thing just as he said it I can't be sure, but it comes out to 'spirit-lover'. He fell in love with her even before he touched her physically—the implication is there that even if he never gets to physically consummate that relationship he still loves her."

"It seems to have happened very, very suddenly," Clayton shook his head, still stunned. "I…she only met him two months ago when you came to pick us up after the hurricane, and she's barely been here, how could this happen so fast?"

Allie shrugged. "Clayton, I don't know. It just does. One of those weird things that happens with humans, I guess. Um…when I first got here and met Dash, all right, I admit I thought he was a jerk. It was only later as I started to get to know him that I figured out what he was really like and that I liked the man under that flint-hard exterior." She pinned Shana with a hard glare. "And you, sneaking around with Snake Eyes behind Clayton's back. Isn't that the pot calling the kettle black?"

"Guilty," But Shana didn't look at all repentant.

There was a tap on the door, and the three of them looked up as Courtney poked her head in the door. "Rec room's off limits for the rest of the night," she said.

"Why?" Clayton asked sharply.

Courtney stepped into the room and he saw she was holding her cell phone. "This is why." She hit a few buttons, cued up a picture on the screen, then passed it to him.

He stared. The picture had been taken in the rec room, he clearly recognized the couch and the low table that held the TV remotes, but it took him a moment to process the two figures lying on that couch. Charlie, stretched out full length on the outside of the couch, left arm hanging off the cushion, knuckles brushing the floor. And beside him, her back to the couch cushions and her cheek pressed to his shoulder, was Cam, lying in a semi-fetal position, tucked securely—'snuggled' was the only word Clayton could come up with for the way she was curled around the big Navajo—with her head resting on his right bicep, the rest of his right arm curled protectively around her shoulders and her own arm resting on his broad chest, and both were sound asleep. And for Charlie, that was quite a feat; normally Courtney would have never been able to sneak into the rec room and photograph him; he'd have woken up at the first sound.

He passed the phone to Allie, who giggled and passed it to Shana, who just stared for a moment, shook her head, and passed it to Alex. Alex smiled at the picture, then said, "Someone really should wake them up and tell them to find a regular bed—they're going to be sore in the morning if they sleep on that couch all night."

Hawk grinned. "Court, please go wake them up and tell them to go to bed. You know if Frank walks in there and sees them like that he'll be tempted to pull a prank of some sort on them and Charlie's reaction won't be pretty."

Courtney lingered. "I hate to disturb them."

"Cover Girl. Now." Just a hint of command.

She stopped lingering.

"I guess that answers that question," Allie sighed and sat back. "Okay. Let me go find out how much leave time Charlie has accumulated, and draw up those forms for Cam's medical leave. I'll talk to Doc and let him know what we discussed, he'll look her over and sign the leave form, and when Charlie and Cam—and you—wake up, you can inform them of their forthcoming involuntary vacation time."

"When I wake up? I'm already awake."

"You and Alex both need to get some sleep. So go." Shana made shooing motions toward both of them. "Both of you are practically asleep on your feet. Go on."

And when he woke up he found himself in the middle of another fiasco.

Courtney had gotten to the rec room a little late; Frank had gotten there first. He'd taken advantage of their deep sleep to quietly drape a shirt printed to look like a black tuxedo over Charlie's chest and a lacy white something-or-other over Cam, then positioned a radio beside the two of them, turned it on to play a wedding march and then snapped a picture just as Charlie and Cam woke up, looking sleepy and confused and bewildered.

The account of what happened after that varied according to who on the base you spoke to but the gist of the story was that Charlie had run through half the base pursuing Frank and swearing blood-feud on his fellow Navajo brother while Cam laughed herself silly with Courtney back in the rec room. Charlie had eventually cornered Frank in the men's locker room just off the gym, and both had emerged soapy and dripping. Cam had laughed at both of them and taken Charlie off to her room, and (according to Courtney) they had finished their nap there.

Now Charlie and Cam sat in front of Hawk's desk, with Shana, Allie and Dash in attendance; as Hawk's second in command Flint had to sit in on these things.

"I want you to take some leave time." Hawk prefaced the discussion with that directive. "No, hear me out," he said when it looked like Cam (damn it, why did the girl have to be quite so stubborn?) was going to argue. "Jennifer Aiennatha told us when you're upset or thinking very hard about something you tend to vanish into the wilderness to live by yourself. According to her that's what you did when Adam Barefoot broke your heart—"

"Charlie told me he knew about that," Cam said quietly, and Hawk just nodded; he already suspected Charlie had told her everything that had happened since she'd been arrested by ICE outside of Staten Island University Hospital, and this just confirmed that suspicion.

"—and even if she hadn't told us about that, I would still have granted you some leave time to decompress. What happened to you both inside and out of ICE detention is more than any one person should have to go through in any one lifetime. Fortunately for us, since we caught Walker actually in commission of a…forbidden act…your testimony is not required and that will be a short court-martial. The charges against Broadview are a little more complicated, but since you never wanted to testify in the first place, after what's happened I'm not going to insist that you do it my way. Not anymore. I want to give you some time off to think about what you want to do and where you want to go—the Army isn't all there is, as much as I love it and as far as it is my career—but you're only twenty-five and you've spent more than half your life having people make choices for you, starting with your father raising you as a Native American warrior back at Osan, your Aunt and Uncle making some choices for you that were not in your best interest and not in your control, to having that Iroquois boy who broke your heart tell you that you couldn't marry the person you chose, all the way up to having the military brig telling you when to get up, when to eat, when to dress, when to sleep—you need some time to make your own decisions and I'm going to give you that."

Without waiting for her to say anything, he turned to Charlie. "I realize it was hard on you, being in New Mexico so close to your family and your reservation and not being able to go and see them. And seeing as how Allie tells me you do have some leave time accumulated—a month, actually—I'm giving you that time off. Go see your family or whatever else you want to do after you escort Cam to her reservation in New York." Charlie nodded acquiescence.

"Permission to speak freely Sir." Cam stood and saluted.

"Permission granted, Corporal."

"Sir. I have no wish to leave the project. You and your group are the closest thing I have ever found that comes close to a military family like the one I experienced back at Osan, and I came to realize over the last couple of days since you got me out of Miramar that this was what I've been searching for my adult life. I love life on the reservation, it's quiet and peaceful and no one tells me what to do and I'm free…but it's also somewhat lonely and I missed the daily interpersonal interaction.

"I will take the leave you've granted me and use that think about what I really want out of life, but I suspect that when Specialist Ironknife returns to base at the end of his month I will be returning too. However, in the intervening time, please by all means feel free to re-present the court-martial paperwork; if my testimony is needed I will be more than happy to provide distance testimony or return here if my presence is required."

Hawk nodded. "All right. Thank you for your honesty, and I will follow up on your suggestions and let you know what happens—yes, Specialist Ironknife?"

"Sir." Charlie rose from his chair. "Your orders are for me to escort Corporal Arlington to her reservation. Are you ordering me to go on to New Mexico after that?"

"No, Specialist. You are free to do as you choose with your free time."

"Then in that case I will inform you that I intend to spend the month with Corporal Arlington on her reservation."

Cam jerked her head around, staring at Charlie in astonishment. Hawk had to fight to hide the smile. "I…you…me?" she squeaked.

Charlie flashed her a brilliant smile before returning his attention to Clayton again. It was Allie, however, who spoke.

"You know as base commander Clayton does have the right—and privilege—of marrying you two. Should we plan for that before you leave or after you get back?"

Cam choked. Charlie caught her as she staggered and held her upright, replying to Allie's comment with a poker face but a hint of amusement down in his dark eyes, "According to tradition, before a marriage can be planned the families of the intended party must meet and discuss the suitability—"

"You're suitable. Go ahead." Shana grinned at him.

"…and prior to that meeting a formal courtship and declaration of intent must be made. As a medicine woman of her tribe, and as the medicine man of my people, we both understand that the tribe's traditions must be upheld and preserved, and no one is above tribal law. Therefore, no matter how much I personally wish I could marry her now, traditions and forms must be upheld and permission sought and obtained from involved sources."

Cam was staring at him open-mouthed. "You know that means you have to talk to Jennifer. She's my Clan-mother and my sponsor, so you'd have to get her permission to marry me."

"I am looking forward to it." Charlie told her with a serene smile.

"And…well, Doc says I'm healed, but, Charlie…I don't know about my physical condition."

"Then we will find out together." The two of them seemed to have forgotten there was anyone else in the room as they turned to stand facing each other, the petite slim girl in fatigues, Charlie in his habitual half-military, half-native clothing. "I am looking forward to that too."