Chapter 59: Changes
"Where's Cam?" Allie gave Charlie a startled glance when she walked into the room the couple shared and saw only Charlie there, opening drawers and taking out what looked like a soft t-shirt and Cam's yoga pants.
"In the infirmary. Shana was listening to Cam wheeze through a coughing fit and decided she wanted Doc to take a look at her, and Doc said something about flu possibly worsening to pneumonia and wanting to keep an eye on her, so he admitted her to the infirmary and I'm here getting her something comfortable to wear so her body isn't stressed."
"Oh, Jesus," Allie muttered, looking down at her hand where she clutched the discharge papers. "Stressed out over the trials, debilitated by the scar treatment and having the flu with possible pneumonia, and now another piece of bad news—we just got the discharge papers," she said by way of explanation.
She wasn't expecting Charlie to give her a wide, delighted grin. "What?" she asked, startled. "I'd have thought you'd be upset!"
"She might be. But this way, I don't have to worry about balancing duty and her—I can be with her all the time, as much as I want to—or as much as she'll let me."
"Are Shana and Snake Eyes in the infirmary with her too?" Allie asked, and Charlie nodded. "I guess we might as well go break the news all at once."
Cam was lying in one of the infirmary beds covered with a blanket when Charlie, Clayton and Allie came in, and Clayton immediately felt even worse. She looked pale although her cheeks were flushed with fever, and he could hear for himself why Shana had been worried—her breath was rasping in her chest and she sounded horrible. But none of it mattered to Charlie, he went right to her side, wrapped his arms around her and hugged her carefully but tightly, then said gently, "I brought something a little more comfortable for you to wear. Will you let me help you get them on?"
"I'm so sorry, Charlie, I don't want you to feel like you're tied down—" Cam started.
Shana rolled her eyes as she heaved herself out of her chair. "For goodness sake, Cam, stop being such an idiot. It's not a chore for Charlie, he loves fussing over you. And if those papers Clayton is holding are what I think they are, he's shortly going to be able to fuss all over you as much as he wants."
"Yeah, they are what you think they are," Clayton admitted, holding out the four packets of forms. "Look, Cam, if you aren't up to signing them now, it'll wait until you're better, and to hell with what Lieutenant General Johnson might say about the delay. I don't give a damn."
"N-no—I'll sign them—give me a minute." She struggled to a sitting position, but that triggered a coughing fit and her face turned red as she tried to get her coughing under control.
Doc turned to Clayton. "If her signing it means she will need to transfer out of this infirmary and to a regular hospital as soon as she does it, as her doctor I will advise against it. She's not in any condition to be moved right now, her health is fragile and needs to be closely monitored, and she will be more comfortable here than in a regular hospital."
Clayton made a quick decision. Yes, normally as soon as a soldier signed discharge papers they would need to leave base, but in Cam's case he couldn't see her going anywhere. Jesus, she was leaning on Charlie's arm just to get across the infirmary to the bathroom to change into comfortable clothes—and here went Shana, heaving her expanding bulk off the bed next to Cam and coming up on the other side of her friend. "She'll stay here as long as she needs to until you discharge her, Doc," he said. "What Johnson doesn't know won't hurt him." Actually, he rather suspected that Johnson probably did know that, and might have been the reason why he'd faxed the discharge papers over instead of bringing them himself—every time one of the Joes had been discharged in the past Clancy had brought the papers over personally.
Or maybe that was just Clancy…
Cam came back to bed, looking a little better, and Shana reached for a steaming mug on a nearby table and handed it to Cam, who sipped it gratefully. Clayton sniffed and thought he detected a whiff of vanilla spice; Shana saw his look and grinned. "Tea, Clayton. Hot tea. Makes her throat feel better."
Cam put the mug down and took the packet of papers from Clayton, then paused uncertainly as Shana, Snake Eyes, and Charlie took theirs. "Shana—you know you don't have to give up your career for me—I don't want you to give up your career just to protest my being discharged. If you don't want to leave the military you don't have to."
"Cam, don't be silly!" Shana exclaimed in exasperation, looking at her friend with a mixture of amusement and frustration. "I'm not doing this just for you, I'm doing this for them, too." She pointed at her stomach. As if in response, Clayton actually saw one corner of the packet lift slightly as one of the six month old twins in Shana's belly gave an extra hard kick and caused her stomach to bulge slightly. "As active as these two are—you saw that kick—there's no way Snake Eyes and I can raise both of them and still be soldiers. And where he goes, I go. We do this together." Snake Eyes' slight nod and resolutely-folded arms testified to his agreement with Shana's words."
"I just…I don't want to feel like I'm the reason…"
"Stop. Right. There." Shana's voice had a hard edge of anger to it. "Knock it off with the guilt trip, Cam. Stop thinking this is all about you, because it isn't. Snake Eyes and I both talked about it as soon as we found out I was pregnant, way before we all knew the military was discharging you, and we decided then that we were going to ask for a discharge. The only reason I held off telling everyone was because we weren't sure how to break it to everyone. And because…because I didn't want to leave you. I'd sworn that I would be your friend, that I'd be there for you for the rest of my life, and here I was looking at leaving—but then Johnson said you were going to be discharged and that was all I needed."
Cam said nothing, but she reached out a hand to take Shana's, in a brief, tight squeeze, and that was all the two women needed. Something deeper than words passed between them, and neither woman's eye was quite dry as they signed the forms silently.
Snake Eyes fairly snatched his set of papers from Clayton, and his pen flew over them, as did Charlie's. Neither of the two men hesitated—they knew what they wanted, and they wanted to go with their girls. Clayton felt a lump rise in his throat, and tears stung his eyes; he swallowed hard and forced the tears down. They were not only his soldiers, but his personal friends, and he was going to miss them; from Charlie's quiet, stolid dependability, Shana's quick smile, quicker temper, and sometimes exasperatingly cheerful personality, and Snake Eyes' silent, impassive compassion (and ability to scare the pants off new recruits. And Cam; the newest of those departing, he'd known her—God, was it really only a year now?—but he'd come to really like her cheerful stubbornness and he would miss seeing her smile. It still amazed him that someone who'd been through as much as she had could still smile, but there it was, and he was going to miss that about her. I'm getting old, he thought to himself as he silently took the four packets of paper handed to him.
"Clayton, we're not dying, for pity's sake!" the exasperated chuckle caught his attention, and he looked down to see Cam smiling at him through the fever flush on her face. "There's going to be a bit more distance between us than a few floors of base, but that doesn't mean we aren't still going to be friends, still talk, still keep in touch. You can come and visit—in fact, I insist—I'll miss Auggie and we're only three hours out of New York and you and Liv are more than welcome to come visit—and then a look of distress crossed her face. "Um. I might have to expand my cabin before then."
"No, you won't," and the way Charlie drew himself up for this comment told all of them that Charlie had been waiting for an opportunity to say…whatever it was that he was trying to say. "While my Dad and Mom were living in your cottage waiting for their house to be built, they grew to really like your place—and your people. Somewhere along the way, it became less a matter of building that house for them and became a house for us. You and me."
"I don't want—Charlie, that's where my Aunt and Uncle—"
"Sweetheart, I know that. But everything is brand new. It won't remind you of anything like your Aunt and Uncle's cabin. And it has a large south-facing studio for us to conduct rituals in or for you to dance in, and four bedrooms—one for us, and one for Clayton and Liv and one for Auggie if they come up to see us, and one for Shana and Snake Eyes and a separate one for the twins when they come visit—because you know they will be coming to visit."
Shana laughed. "And if we all come visit at the same time?" she grinned.
"The basement has been fitted out as an entertainment room. We can stick all the kids down there by themselves in sleeping bags—they'll love it, trust me. You don't have to go down there if you don't want to, Cam, you never have to go down there. Dad and Mom had the old basement dug up and rebuilt because it wasn't nearly large enough to support the new house sitting on top of it, so everything—from below-ground on up—is absolutely brand new. I'll make sure the basement's clean and neat and kept up, and you'll never have to go down there."
"I love my cottage, Charlie! It's the first thing I ever had that was completely mine!"
He hated that anguished sound in her voice. "If you really want to stay there, Cam, we can. If you look at it and you really hate it, we can stay at your cottage. I just—I just want you to remember that if you want Shana and Snake Eyes and the twins and Clayton and Liv and Auggie to visit, your cottage doesn't have nearly enough room."
"And there was something else I wanted to ask you," Clayton said, breathing a sigh of relief. He'd been thinking about this but hadn't known how to ask Cam without having it seem like an order. "Auggie is a very bright, active, exploratory sort of kid. Summers in New York are going to be a breeding ground for trouble for him because he's going to be bored, and bored means trouble—believe me, I know, I spent a few summers in deep trouble with my parents because I got bored." He ignored Shana's not-quite-muffled snicker. "You said, a while back, that if I ever wanted a favor, all I had to do was ask, that you owed me and I could collect in any way I needed, anytime. Remember that?" Cam nodded.
"So I'm asking. I'd like to send Auggie out to you over summer vacation. Three months of running around up there, learning your people's ways, while you teach him to be self-reliant, self-sufficient, and independent. Teach him how to make his own weapons, how to survive up here on his own, how to find his own food, tracking, navigation, whatever else you can think of. Teach him how to respect the viewpoint of your people, teach him that there are more ways than just the 'white man's way'. I want him to be a very open-minded, self-aware person, and the only way to do that is to expose him to different cultures and different ways of thinking early on." His voice softened. "Cam, you are one of the bravest, strongest, most empathetic and compassionate people I've ever known, and if Auggie can grow up to be even halfway like you, I will have a son to be proud of. And Charlie too," he added as an afterthought, but a quick glance at the big Navajo showed Charlie smiling, not at all offended.
"So there. You're going to need another room for an active little boy to sleep in when he's running all over the reservation with you and Charlie," Shana grinned. "Yet another good reason for you to take the house Charlie's parents built for you."
"Not so fast," Clayton leveled a fierce gaze on Shana and Snake Eyes. "I'd like to send Auggie up to see you on breaks and vacations too. You two are the best I've ever known in self defense and martial arts and I want him to learn from you two too. And rambling all over the Sierra Nevada mountains will let him exercise those navigation, tracking and survival skills he'll learn from Cam and Charlie."
Shana had gone from joking to thoughtful all at once. "You know, that's actually not a bad idea. Let's split the kids' summers, half of it with me, half of it with Cam. You'll send Auggie to me for half the summer, then I'll send him and the twins to Cam and Charlie for the other half of the summer. Because you're right, I'd like Evan and Erin to grow up self-sufficient and independent, open-minded and tolerant and accepting, and the best way to do that is to expose them early to different ways of looking at the world, different ways of doing things, and Cam and Charlie are the best ones to teach them that."
"Wait a minute," Cam said finally, although her eyes were sparkling and there was a slight smile hovering at the corner of her lips. "When were you all going to ask me if I wanted to be descended on by your kids every summer?"
"Oh you adore Auggie, don't even try that with me," Shana scoffed. "I've seen the way you look at him when you're holding him—Liv even asked me once if I thought you'd steal him from her. And he loves you right back, the evenings you spent at Liv's apartment during the trials he cried when you put him down and stopped when you picked him back up. You'll love having the kids around. Trust me."
Cam looked at everyone's faces. Looked at Clayton's broad ear-to-ear grin. Then looked at Charlie and Snake Eyes. "Did anyone think to ask the guys if they agreed with having each others' kids around or sending their kids halfway across the country every summer?"
Charlie looked at Snake Eyes, who shrugged. Fine by me, said his body language. Charlie looked back at Cam, delight in his eyes. "Sorry, Cammie. You're not weaseling your way out of this one. As much as you like to think of everyone else first, and do what's fair for everybody, you're not getting out of this one. We all know how you love the kids, and the kids will love you."
"And if you're worried about how to be 'fair' for everyone, well, look at it this way, you'll be 'fair' by giving us a break from having to deal with our kids," Olivia wasn't bothering to hide the ear-to-ear grin.
"I guess, if you really want it that way…" she took a deep breath and turned to Charlie. "I'll take the house your parents built. But…I'm never going down to the basement, okay? Please?"
Charlie wrapped her in a big bear hug. "Of course, Cam. I'll never make you do anything you really don't want to do."
Clayton cleared his throat, and everyone looked up at him. "Okay," he said firmly. "Liv might need some help getting her stuff packed and moved out to the house on Staten Island, and Snake eyes and Shana and Cam and Charlie will need some help getting their stuff packed and settled in Liv's old apartment. Now , I realize the place is small, and there are some weapons in the dojo that you're probably going to have trouble keeping in the apartment, so I suggest leaving them here at base until the babies are born, then once you head up to your cabin in California I can have them shipped to you. Except for your personal weapons which I imagine you'll take with you." He sighed. "I'll admit that things around here won't be the same without you, and I'll have to look for a couple more hand-to-hand training instructors, and you've left some really big shoes to fill, but I'm happy for you personally and I wish you all the best as you start out your new lives together." And hen he couldn't say anymore; a lump rose in his throat and his eyes misted over.
Cam got off the bed and approached him wordlessly, wrapping her arms around him in a hug. He returned it just as quietly, carefully, mindful of the thinness of the shoulders under his hands, the ribs he could feel standing out in sharp definition under her skin. She'd been through too much, too young, and it was more than time that she had her life all to herself, made her own decisions and her own way, but he also knew that despite having only known her for a year, she'd made a deep impression that he would never forget, and he was glad he'd been privileged to know her, to help her through what had to have been one of the most tumultuous years of her adult life, and he fervently hoped the rest of her life would be boring, dull and uneventful. "I have never and will never regret knowing you," he whispered into her hair, too low for anyone but her to hear. And I am proud to be your friend."
"You too," she said just as quietly, but he knew she meant it.