Only weeks back from the war, Emme “Doogie” Sawyer is in trouble. She struggles to fight the war in her head while also trying to build a relationship with Raven – who has recently returned from Afghanistan and taken up temporary residence in her house. Unfortunately, it’s hard to lock down the bad without cutting off the good. Soon, Sawyer begins to slip deeper into the darkness of the war she thought she left behind.Running from his own mistakes, Raven tries to be the support Sawyer needs to move forward, but he soon discovers that in order to heal, they must rely on their faith more than they rely on each other. Raven takes Sawyer back to his childhood home, to where he hopes they both can find themselves and the faith they left behind.Will they be able to find their way back to each other, or will the horrors of war and past mistakes destroy them for good?
The sun was slowly lighting the horizon, turning the edges of the ocean a light orange. Sawyer reached her hands above her head and stretched, then walked to the deck to grab her running shoes. Shoes on and tied, she hopped down the steps leading to the beach and began a light jog along the shoreline. Once her muscles warmed up, she ran faster, embracing the strain it put on her as she pushed herself. Her mind traveled back to the concert Vanessa had convinced her to go to in a ruse to meet up with Raven. It had been her first real attempt at immersing herself in a large group of people. Luckily, she hadn’t needed to stay long, since Raven appeared. A warm feeling filled her at the thought of his hand holding hers. She reached the five mile marker and turned around to retrace her steps back home.
The sun was fully up when she reached the steps. She took a minute to stretch before heading up.
“Did you have a nice run?”
Raven’s voice startled her. Stopping mid-step, Sawyer looked up to see him sitting in her chair. She finished her assent and leaned against the railing.
“Come here.” Raven held a hand out to her. What little hair he had was sticking up on the crown of his head. The light stubble of a beard had begun on his jaw line.
“I think I have been with you at your worst. I can handle a bit of sweat. Come here.” Raven waved her towards him.
Sawyer placed her hands in his and let him pull her into the large chair next to him. He rested his arm across her shoulders and pulled her close. “I missed you. I couldn’t find you when I got up,” he said into her hair.
“Not everyone is a lazy bones,” she teased.
“I don’t consider sleeping until five in the morning a lazy bones. Some of us are still on middle eastern time.” He ran a hand down her hair. “So you’re a runner now?”
“I’m sorry if I woke you.” Sawyer pulled a blanket off the back of the chair to cover her legs.
Raven made a sound deep in his throat. “It killed me getting the unit settled and not letting you know I was back. Two hours away and not being able to see you.”
Sawyer giggled as he lowered his head to rub his beard across her cheek.
“I missed you so much,” he mumbled.
Sawyer turned to kiss him. Raven’s lips were warm and soft. “I’ll make breakfast.” She pulled herself out of his arms and pushed herself up from the couch.
Raven’s eyebrows drew together. “Hey? You okay?”
A knock on the door interrupted Raven’s concern and gave Sawyer a reprieve.
With a moan, he tilted his head back. “I want to say a profanity, but I told the men they needed to clean up their language before going back to their families.” He got up and kissed her forehead. “I better try to be a good example.”
Sawyer slid past him. “I’ll get it.”
Raven grabbed her around the waist and pressed his lips to her temple before pushing past her to answer the door. “No, I got it.”
“Sir.” Thommy, one of the men from the crew, stood on the porch in a T-shirt, cargo shorts, and flip flops.
“Thommy.” Raven stood to the side to let him in.
Raven slapped Thommy across the back of the head, interrupting his vulgarity.
Thommy glared at him, then lifted his sunglasses, his gaze trailing over Sawyer who stood in the hall in her running shorts and sports top. “Holy smokin’ rockets.”
Sawyer draped the blanket she still held, over her shoulders.
Raven’s gaze darted from Thommy to Sawyer and back again. “What the hell, T?”
Sawyer raised an eyebrow. “So the less profanity directive isn’t working.”
Raven smacked Thommy upside the head again. “She’s with me, dude. Get your eyes off her.”
Thommy shook off Raven’s strike. “Dude.”
Raven lifted his hand to hit him again. “Off limits.” Raven swept an arm around Sawyer’s waist and pulled her in to his side.
“Hmm,” Thommy hummed.
Sawyer laughed when Raven let her go and attempted to smack Thommy in the head again.
Thommy ducked in surrender. “Sorry, Chief. Eyes off Doogie. Got it.”
Raven’s familiar smirk returned. He glanced Sawyer’s way and winked. “Mine.”
Sawyer felt her cheeks warm at his words. Raven wasn’t much for romance, or at least he hadn’t had much chance for sweet words in Afghanistan. This softer side was new, and she wasn’t sure what to do with it. Moody, grumpy Raven was easier to understand.
“What are you guys up to today?” Sawyer returned Raven’s gesture by wrapping her arms around his waist, resting her cheek against his side.
“Thommy is giving me a ride onto the base to get some stuff out of storage.”
“Yep. Taxi service.”
“Are you bringing it back here?” Sawyer hesitated to ask. She wanted him here, but wasn’t sure it was a good idea. Vanessa warned her the two of them together might end up being what she liked to call a “total Afghanistan mind trick.” Sawyer knew having him under the same roof held a ton more issues than simply two returning soldiers. She was fooling herself that exiling him to his own room wasn’t living in sin. She was tempting her beliefs and Raven’s restraint.
It wasn’t a good idea.
“I thought that was the plan.” Raven dropped his arms. “Wasn’t that the plan?”
Sawyer shook her head no, but her words said, “It’s fine.”
“Fine?” Raven stepped back. “If you don’t want me here, I can go with Thommy. Tell me if you don’t.”
This was her chance to make the right decision, figure out where they stood. Create a relationship. A relationship away from the war…away from her nightmares.
But she couldn’t make herself do it. The nightmares tapped at her brain. Night after night, she cowered in the corners of her apartment, gun held tight in her hands, waiting for the insurgents to return. Raven’s presence could chase them away. He could be the presence she needed to sleep without the fear of waking with a knife to her throat. Even though that possibility was slim in the states, it was very real once the sun went down. At least in her brain it was. She raised herself onto her toes and lightly brushed her lips against his. “I want you here.” She’d hash it out with God later.
Raven stared into her eyes before his smirk returned, and he lowered his mouth to hers in a more possessive kiss. “See.” Raven looked over Sawyer’s head to where Thommy stood. “Mine.”
“Roger that, Chief.” Thommy saluted.
With a pat on her shoulder, Raven left Thommy and Sawyer standing in the living room while he went to change.
Sawyer moved to sit on the edge of the sofa.
“So, what have you been up to?” Thommy asked, leaning against the wall.
“I’m working at a Branch Medical Center on Pendleton.” She shrugged.
“How’s that going?”
Sawyer gave him a tight smile. “Boring. Trying to get to the Hope and Care Center. Work with the guys coming back. Do some rehab.”
“Yeah I can imagine.” He raised an eyebrow. “You doing okay?”
“Doing great,” she said with too much fake enthusiasm.
Thommy stared at her until she began to squirm. Sawyer glanced over her shoulder to see if Raven had moved back to the bedroom. She shrugged.
Thommy lowered his voice. “I talked to Vanessa.”
Sawyer narrowed her eyes. “Don’t.”
“I thought she was staying with you… here.” Thommy walked around the room touching knick-knacks Sawyer had set around the room.
“She has her own place. She was only staying until I got settled.”
“Hmmm. You think it’s a good idea he moves in?” He picked up a shell casing she had set on the window sill.
“Are you my mom?” Sawyer walked over and grabbed it from him.
“Vanessa said you were having some issues readjusting.” Thommy raised an eyebrow, nodding toward the shell as if the memento was a sign of crazy.
Sawyer sat back on the couch, picking at a loose seam. “Vanessa shouldn’t have told you anything. It wasn’t her place.”
“This isn’t my first rodeo. I know it can be rough. If you’re having a hard time, you can talk to me.” He put his hand up to touch her, but seemed to think better of it and dropped it again. “You can talk to the Chief, too. He’s always there for the men.”
“I’m fine.” She glanced over her shoulder again. “Everything is fine. I’m fine. I don’t want you telling Raven anything different. ”
“Apparently you’re fine. What would I tell him?” Thommy said sarcastically.
“Why don’t you just not talk about me at all to Raven?” Sawyer stood up and turned to leave. “And while you’re at it, why don’t you not talk about me with Vanessa either.” Sawyer dug her fingernails into her palms. She was furious Vanessa had talked to Thommy about her.
“Yeah, how about I do that,” he muttered. “Back less than twenty-four hours and I’m already counting down the days.”
Sawyer’s head jerked up. “What do you mean?”
Thommy’s expression fell, the blood drained from his face, leaving him looking a little green. “Uh, nothing?”
Sawyer positioned herself in front of him. “When?”
Thommy shook his head, refusing to look at her.
“When?” she said louder, giving him a shove.
Thommy took a step back, refusing to answer.
“Tell me.” She pushed him again. Thommy’s gaze went to the ceiling, avoiding looking at her. “Forget it.” Sawyer stalked off to track down Raven. She heard the shower going and began pounding on the bathroom door.
Raven yelled from the other side of the door. “What?”
Sawyer continued to pound and kick at the door, yelling for him to get his lying, stinking self out into the hall.
Raven finally opened the door, his T-shirt stuck to his still wet chest, water dripping from his hair. “What are you doing? What’s wrong?” When he noticed the expression on her face, he closed his eyes and muttered a few choice words.
“When?” Sawyer clenched her jaw. A plethora of emotions were building inside, and it seemed anger was the one winning the battle.
“Let me explain,” he started.
“You had twelve hours to tell me the team’s waiting for orders, and you didn’t say a word. Two minutes ago, you’re talking about moving in and then…” her voice caught. “You were just going to ship out and leave me here… again!”
Raven pulled Sawyer into his arms, wrapping her up tightly as she struggled to get away. The dampness from his shirt stuck to her cheek. “Yesterday was about us being together. Baby, I wanted there to be nothing between us… no military hovering over our heads, no redeployment dates, just us and nothing else. I didn’t want to say hello and oh, by the way I may be leaving in a week or two.”
The anger she wanted to wield turned instantly to grief in a head spinning emotional roller coaster, and tears began to flow. “That soon?”
Raven took her face in his hands. “No. Not that fast, but I don’t know for sure, three months at the least. Probably closer to six months. I was going to tell you…”
“You should have.” Sawyer rested her forehead against his wet chest. “I’m coming with you.”
Raven started to shake his head.
“Put me back in your unit. I’m not staying here while you go back.” Sawyer shoved away from Raven. “If you go back, I will too. With or without you. You can’t expect me to stay here and work in a clinic.”
“Don’t.” Raven ran his hands down her arms, grabbing her hands. “Don’t ask me that.”
“You promised me you were coming home,” she whispered.
“I am home. With you. And I want to spend every minute with you. I don’t want this hanging over our heads. I’m here now.” Raven pulled her into his chest. “I’m here.”
“You aren’t here. You’re on a vacation. You won’t even have time to unpack. If you don’t add me to the unit, I’ll put in to go with another.” Sawyer placed her hands on his chest and tried to push away.
Raven held tight. “Are you threatening me?”
“No.” She pushed, finally getting the space she needed. “If I’m needed, I’ll go.”
“Not if I have anything to say about it.” He took a step toward her.
“What are you going to do, call the Pentagon? Tell them you like me so it would be better for me to stay in the states? You’re being ridiculous. I’m a sailor, not a nurse maid.”
“I’ll do whatever it takes to keep you safe.”
“Some things you just can’t control, and one of them is me. Just go.” She waved him off and headed down the hall.
“With Thommy or back to Afghanistan?”
“Sawyer,” he barked in his commanding officer tone.
Sawyer wanted to walk out the door, leaving him to ponder her words, but shoot if his tone didn’t make her feet obey and have her turning back to where he stood. Her anger and fear and whatever other crazy emotion ran through her dissolved at the vision in front of her.
Raven’s expression broke her heart. Sawyer’s shoulders drooped. She didn’t want to fight.
“Are we okay?” Raven’s voice was quiet.
Sawyer sighed. “If you don’t add me to your unit, I’ll be assigned to another. I’ll get orders. You only had control when I was with you. You don’t anymore.”
She left him standing in the hall. Raven’s fist connected with the wall, and a slew of words that would make a sailor blush filled the air. Yeah… so much for no more swearing.
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