Disclaimer: I do not own any rights to the TV series, Hawaii Five-0.

A little something to start off the year. Enjoy!


Love is a Minefield

By
N. J. Borba


A chilly gust drifted across the field.

Some willowy stalks of golden grass were windblown and bent. Others remained steadfast against the breeze.

The weather had turned a while back, abruptly reminding her of winter's chill. Late night temperatures that dropped just below freezing, the likes she hadn't experienced since before moving to Oahu. Now the cold seemed almost foreign to her, her body having plunged itself into that ubiquitous warmth with reckless abandon. Waves of bathwater Ocean - an endless blue - the surf lapping against her thighs as she dangled bare legs over her surfboard.

Catherine allowed her fingertips to brush lightly across the top of the tall grass as those memories faded. The grass nearly came to her waist, hitting her thighs, which were now covered in layers - cotton tights, wool pants. Tall shoots of meadow grass waved with the pull of the wind, moving gently - west to east. The same direction she'd moved upon the wind nearly seven months ago. Her journey from a small tropical island to a remote province nestled beneath the Hindu Kush.

The grass rustled again, but not from the wind - a sudden swush-swush of an object cutting through the field.

A dull thud of something against her shin caused her gaze to lower.

"That ball…" she whispered with the ghost of a smile haunting her lips.

She dipped down to pluck it from the grass. Brown wool pants, black scuffed boots, a well-worn cotton shirt and an ivory scarf she wore to cover her hair. Seven months. Twenty-eight weeks of living in the tiny village and she hadn't fully immersed herself in their culture. She remained keenly aware at all times that she was very much an outsider. Even though she spoke the language. Even though she'd helped them find the missing children. Even though she'd taken up residence and began to teach the very basics of literacy.

Catherine felt the weight of the ball in her hands. It was weathered, tattered and torn, but still functional. Still holding air.

Her eyes zipped across the field and spotted him.

"Najib," she spoke his name softly, seeing him two ways. As the quiet-curious boy she'd met seven years ago. And now as the young man he'd become, still trying to find his way.

He'd grown up quickly in the span of just a few months. Time spent with Taliban soldiers bent on altering his life to meet their desires. Months that had felt like years.

"What're you doing here?" she asked the fourteen-year-old. He was much taller now than seven years ago – even taller than her. His little boy body had filled out, dark hair having lost its curl and cut shorter. Long arms hung at his sides, tense at all times, fingers almost clenched into fists. Even two months after his freedom had been attained he still jumped at shadows, ready for a fight. "I thought you were going with your parents to the markets in Feyzabad."

The boy's head shook. "Too many crowds and the noise. I like it here. It's quiet."

His English was better than both his parents.

She tossed the ball a few inches up into the air and caught it again. "You want to pl…" she paused, knowing play was probably not the right word. He hadn't played since he was a boy, carefree in his far-off village before the world had closed in on him. "We could kick it around?" Catherine offered.

He nodded.

Catherine dropped the ball to her feet and let the inside of her right foot send the sphere skittering across the grassy field.

Najib was quite skilled with the ball. He kicked it back to her. He balanced it and bounced it on his knee – passing it hands-free one knee to the other. He stopped a high kick with his head, another with a shoulder. He dove for it like he was blocking a goal she'd tried to get past him. When he worked with the ball he looked to Catherine like a normal happy young man. But she could tell that road was still a long and twisty one.

"How are you doing today, Najib?" she asked after nearly a half hour of quietly kicking the ball with him.

The ball bounced from knee to knee again, "You've asked me that every day since I've been home," he replied, not really answering her.

"I know," she pulled on a genuine smile for him. "I guess I keep hoping to hear you say you're all right."

"So you can go home?" Najib wondered.

That response was a shock to her system, her stomach actually feeling queasy. "Why would you think that?"

"I know you miss your home," Najib kicked the ball to her again, "I hear you sometimes when you talk in your sleep."

Catherine stopped the kick with her left toe and passed it swiftly to her right foot for a return kick, "I don't talk in my sleep."

Najib used his broad chest to control her erratic kick. The ball dropped into the grass with a soft crunch, "Some nights I can't sleep," he revealed more to her than he had in months, "I don't want to wake my parents so I go for a walk through this field. I go out to the cabin where you sleep. I sit outside your window and make a grid like you taught me when I was a boy. I jump rocks in the dirt, in the dark. Sometimes I hear you," he revealed.

She licked her lips, feeling slightly exposed by the boy's admissions, "Do I snore?" Catherine tried to laugh it off.

His head shook, still solemn, "You say his name." He sent the ball back to her. "You cry."

A surprisingly simple twist of her left ankle caused the ball to shoot back toward him with precision she usually lacked in soccer, especially with her non-dominate side. Catherine watched the boy, how he moved stealthily through the field to reach the ball, how he let his candid words slowly work into her soul, "I hurt him," Catherine finally released that tiny confession to him – to the field, to the world. "I got him hurt. He wouldn't have been here if I hadn't come."

"You came here to help me and my parents," Najib replied as he took the ball into his hands. In a simple move to signify their game was over, he walked over to the tree on their left and sat down beside it. He turned the ball over and over in his hands, deft fingers and keen eyes. Najib looked up at her where she remained standing across the field from him, "He did the same," his voice carried over top of the grass, "He came here with you, to help you."

Her heart constricted for a moment. She walked to the tree and sat beside the young man. "It's a little more complicated than that."

"Adults always make things complicated," he voiced.

Silence stretched out between them, cut only by the smooth whistle of the winter wind.

Najib rested the ball on his thigh, one hand protective of it, "I was taken by Taliban soldiers and held for months," he stared at a blade of grass as he spoke, "I was taught to shoot weapons and wield a blade. I was shown how to make IEDs. I was starved, tortured - forced to watch other boys my age die because they refused to cooperate."

She wasn't prepared for the sound of those words, or the weight of them.

"Those things were complicated," he continued with a degree of wisdom that most never achieved in their lifetime. "Adjusting to a normal life again is very complicated." Najib turned his dark eyes to her, looking past the façade she put on for everyone else in the small village of his birth, "Loving someone is not complicated. It is the easiest thing there is. Loving my parents is what kept me alive. Wanting to return to them is what kept me alive."

Tears pricked her eyes as he spoke, as his words sunk into her head and her heart.

"Easy," he said with the closest thing to a smile as she'd seen since his return, "Easy as kicking this ball."

000

A cold breeze kicked along the dirt track that headed into the village.

Last time he'd been there the road was dusty, now it was hardened by frost. The village still lay a good mile or so in the distance but he could make out thin tendrils of white smoke billowing upward from chimneys. There'd been no horses available after his bus ride from the airport so he walked the rest of the way. It felt good to walk, to breathe deeply, to stretch his legs and his mind. A thick wool jacket he'd picked up in the city covered his shoulders and arms. But the cold wind still cut through his Hawaii-born body.

Steve hadn't experienced winter in years, not since he'd visited his Aunt Deb for Christmas 1996 at her cabin in Yosemite.

He took a left turn as the pistachio orchard came into view, the one he recalled Catherine taking a shortcut through the last time. He followed her path, walking another few minutes until the orchard gave way to a grassy meadow. The field where they'd found Amir slumped against a tree. The field Catherine had told him about nearly dying in. The grass was as high as his knee and it moved lazily in time with the wind. One blade lead the way and all others followed.

A sudden disturbance caused the grass to skitter in two different directions. A ball emerged from the tall thicket and rested at his feet.

He crouched a moment and plucked the worn object from the ground.

As he stood, Steve scanned the horizon. "Salam… hello," he greeted the young man that stood near a tree. "You're Najib." Steve didn't question it. He knew.

He drop kicked the ball back to the young man.

The boy regarded him with a critical eye, weighing his words carefully. "She sleeps across the field," Najib pointed over his shoulder, "In the old stone mining cabin, away from the village." He bounced the ball against his left knee once, twice before skillfully transferring it to his right knee – up then down, up then down.

Steve got caught up in the repetitive motion.

After a few minutes Najib tucked the ball beneath one arm, turned and led Steve to the edge of his village.

The boy sat down in front of the old stone well. Bits of cloth and string were already laid out upon the ground as the ball was held steady in front of him between his knees.

Steve dropped his pack and leaned heavily against the well. He watched the boy work with the sturdy fabric, expertly binding the edges of each pentagon on the soccer ball. They alternated in random color from dark brown to tan, to red to white. "What's that tool?" Steve asked as he noticed the sharp metal spike that was used for the binding.

"A scrap I found and molded," Najib replied. "Like all of these things are scrap," his left hand rested against the ball to hold it in place, "I've had the same ball for seven years. I patch it. I cover up the worn and torn spots. I cut off the strands that fray. But underneath it is the same. The ball my father saved for months to buy me. The thing I kick and kick, and patch and patch. The thing I love. What I dreamed about coming home to."

Steve thought the boy spoke like a poet wrote, "How is she?" he finally asked.

Najib looked up, his dark eyes meeting with the gray-blue ones of the outsider, "Confused."

That response dug into Steve's gut. "She wanted to stay, her choice."

"She hides," the boy said in the simplest terms possible. "I know what that's like. I hide. I hide in that field all day sometimes. I kick and I kick, I chase and I hide," he concluded.

Steve nodded absently, allowing the boy's meaning to roll over him like a wave that takes you by surprise. A wave that causes you to sputter and stumble. A wave that lets you know it's so much stronger than you could ever hope to be. "I hide, too, Najib. I hide. We all hide."

The boy almost smiled, grateful for the man's honesty. "She misses you."

"She told me not to wait," Steve sighed, his chest rising and falling.

With his last patch in place, Najib stood. "Then why are you here?" he finally asked.

"Because…" Steve's head shook, not sure why he found it so easy to talk to the boy, "I know I'm never going to be happy waiting for her. And I know I'm never going to be happy moving on without her. I'll only ever be happy with her."

"Tell her." Najib walked away, slipping back into the field, the tall grass engulfing him.

Steve left his pack and trotted after the young man. "It's not that easy," he said, watching as Najib bounced the ball against his knee again.

The boy let the ball fall to his feet. He kept it close as he put more distance between himself and Steve. Then he pivoted and kicked the ball directly at the man.

With a quick bit of footwork, Steve managed to follow the ball. He stopped it with the inside of his left foot and promptly rolled it onto the top of his boot. Steve balanced it there for a moment before sending it upward. It launched upward a few feet and he kicked it on the downward. The ball shot across the field toward Najib, practically floating atop the frail tall grass. Steve marveled as the boy hustled toward the shot that had gone wide. Najib launched himself to the right and dove to kick it seconds before it was due to hit the ground.

His body collided softly with the grass, rolling out of what could've been a hard fall.

"You play on any sort of team?" Steve asked, more than a little impressed. "I don't think I've seen moves like that outside of professional play."

"I practice a lot," Najib stated. "No teams here. My friends who played with me when I was little have moved away. This is one of the world's most desolate places, but my parents love this land. They won't leave. They couldn't leave even after the Taliban came here to take me. They stay because it's home."

"But you could go," Steve suggested, "There are schools that would give you scholarships for the way you handle that ball."

Najib nodded, "I know. I'll leave someday when I'm ready."

Steve smiled, "That easy, huh?"

"Many things are easy, Steve," the boy replied, "Unless you make them hard."

Those words seemed to come out of a mouth much older than the fourteen-year-old he knew Najib to be, "How do you know my name?"

He bounced the ball on his left knee again, "She says it in her sleep."

000

Only a sliver of purple-orange sunset remained as he retrieved his pack.

Steve had kicked the ball back and forth with Najib until the light had faded. Now he walked slowly across the field, grass making a hushed swish-swish against his cargo pants. His boots crunching along a well beaten path, her path. A rivulet of white smoke wafted upward from a stone structure that looked to be ten by twelve feet at the very most. A wooden door, gray and weather-beaten, looked about ready to fall off its hinges.

He knocked and waited.

Her motorcycle was propped against the outer wall.

A single window to the right of the door was illuminated by a soft golden light inside.

Steve knew someone was in there.

"Najib…" he heard her voice, the same lilt he'd know anywhere. "You don't have to come get me for dinner every night. I have a flashlight and I know how to find…"

In the open doorway her arms immediately crossed over her chest as she drew a thickly knit cardigan sweater tight against the chill of evening. Catherine had been expecting the boy, the only person in the village who ever cared to come calling on her at the cabin. Amir and Farah welcomed her into their home each night for a meal, but they never came for her. They gave her the space she had asked for upon deciding to stay.

"Hey, stubborn," he greeted.

She couldn't stop the huge smile those words brought to her lips, or the way her arms left her side to wrap around him. Her immediate response to seeing him was always a hug, no matter the time or distance or reason that had come between them. Catherine let her body sink into his, his arms feeling as familiar to her as her own skin. Her tears were the only surprise, but she brushed them aside as she backed into the warmth of her small shelter.

"Steve, what… what are you doing here?" She didn't mean the question to sound rude as she ushered him inside.

His bag was plopped on the ground atop a small rug that covered a dirt floor. Steve tried to find the right words, but all that came out were, "I didn't notice it before, maybe because there was no time to notice, but… you can't smell the ocean out here. Don't you miss that?" he asked.

Catherine stared at him for a moment that slipped into two.

He glanced around the tiny space in order to fill the silence. There was a thin mattress in the left corner, barely larger than twin size. It rested upon an old wool rug. Two quilts were piled atop it, one turquoise and the other a charcoal shade of gray. A rusty metal cabinet resided at the end of the bed, two doors and one drawer. Boots rested beneath it, which caused his eyes to roam to her feet. She wore thick wool socks woven of red and black yarn.

"This place is…" he looked left then right, "Where do you pee?"

She aimed a thumb over her shoulder toward the door and smiled.

His fingers brushed along the jagged stones of a fireplace - small opening in the wall, two logs ablaze. One heavy timber a few feet up acted as a mantle. Three lit candles sat upon it.

"Grace was at my place two nights ago while Danny and Amber went out," Steve began again, "She was planning her New Year's resolutions and one of them was to do a better job of staying in touch with you." He shrugged. "The next morning I was on a flight here, because I don't care if you left me or I left you. I care about what feels right, and trying to stay in touch doesn't feel right," he took a step toward her, one hand on either side of her face. "Only this feels right."

Eye closed. Their lips met, parted, embraced. Trying to remember the past, trying to forget the past.

She gnawed her bottom lip as they broke apart. Her palms pressed casually against his chest, feeling the thump of his heart beneath a heavy layer of wool jacket, "There's a fourteen-year-old boy across the field that is smarter than I could ever hope to be," her left hand motioned to the window. "He believes love is easy - that adults complicate it. He's right. We pervert it. We use it as a crutch or we think we're not worthy of it."

"But we are worthy, Cath," he touched her cheek again, her neck, gently caressed her earlobe with the pad of his thumb, "Aren't we?"

It was hard not to fall into his embrace again, hard to avoid him in such a tiny space. She turned toward the fireplace. One finger brushed featherlike across her lips and the memory of his that had lingered there a moment ago. She gently placed another log on top of the ones that had died down to a meager flame. Still squatted by the fire, she turned and looked up at him, firelight dancing in his eyes, "I broke up with you over the phone."

Steve nodded, "Just one of the many things to add to my crappy yearend list. Left by you, shot… that whole ordeal with Wo Fat."

Catherine got to her feet again, still facing him. Now at least two feet of space created a chasm between them, "Which is why you don't need my shit thrown on top," she insisted.

"Says who?" he countered. Steve stepped closer. "Maybe I want your shit."

"You want my shit?" a smile perched in the corners of her mouth, waiting, watching.

He reached out and took her hand, his rough fingers clasped her impossibly soft ones, "I at least want us to talk about your shit, and mine," he insisted. Steve guided her three feet to the left toward the only seating he could find. They settled onto the low bed, pushed their backs against the cold stone wall. He let his thumb skim along her neck again, pushed a lock of hair behind her ear, "You told me not to wait for you so I didn't," Steve smiled. "I got on a plane and I'm here."

Her forehead rested on his shoulder, the memory of him each night never as good as the real thing. They sat like that for a half hour, the fire warming their weary bodies.

Steve kissed the top of her head, "Talk to me," he encouraged. "What went wrong? It felt like something ended between us when we said I love you. I want to fix that."

Catherine sat back, eyes widened, "Maybe nothing needs to be fixed. Maybe that was just the end."

"I don't think you believe that," he wanted his words to be true, wanted to make her fight. He'd never known her not to fight.

Her head shook, a fire burning beneath her chest. An ache that she thought could be stopped by staying thousands of miles away.

"Maybe it was the end of the beginning," Steve had never been the confident one in their relationship before, but she was worth fighting for. Worth two long flights, a bus ride and a walk in the cold. Worth the torture and pain the Taliban and Wo Fat had inflicted. "We've changed, Catherine. We're not the same people we were when we first met, or even the couple we were seven months ago," he acknowledged. "People change and that's okay. No one can stay the same."

She swallowed, cleared her throat, tried to swallow again, tried to find words, tried not to love him more than she already did, "It took us years to say those words and the first time was over the phone with thousands of miles between us after an awful ordeal."

"So that was an ending," he agreed again. "And this can be the start of something else," Steve offered, unsure of each syllable.

"Something else?" Catherine questioned.

"Something better," his shoulders gave an uncertain shrug, "We can hope it'll be better. We can make it better if we fight for it." He could tell she was still reticent, "What are you doing here, Cath?" Steve wanted to know. "Najib thinks you're hiding." He watched the questioning arch of her brow. "We played a little ball, talked."

That made her smile. That made her talk.

"Literacy rates here in Badakhshan province dropped from thirty-one percent in 2005 to twenty-six percent in 2011," she launched into facts, tangibles. "Military has set up tons of education facilities in Afghanistan but not out here. People here are isolated. Najib and the other children that were taken woke this sleepy village up. They want to be aware, they want to learn. The children here crave knowledge. They come every day to the small school hut with wide eyes and open minds."

He could see the fight return to her in those words, see the lightness in her eyes as she spoke, "I never imagined you as a teacher before," Steve was honest. "You kick ass, you find out other government's secrets… teaching is…"

"Probably the noblest job there is in the world," she answered.

"Can't argue that," he was quick to reply. "So is that why you're here? To teach?" Steve pushed.

She took a deep breath, "I'm not sure."

He nodded but didn't say anything more, waiting for her.

Catherine left his side, padding across the cold dirt floor in socked feet. She stood in front of the fire again, using a stick to stoke the burning log, breaking off embers to ignite the new ones underneath. When the flames licked the old stones again she turned to him but remained standing, "I wasn't ready," she whispered. "I was a good officer. I was good at knowing what I had to do every day, having that mapped out for me. Finding my way in the world is hard. It's not black and white like it is in the service."

Steve sighed, "I know." He beckoned her back to bed with just one hand extended. She folded herself into his embrace again. This time they lay close, stretched out along the narrow bed, his chest against her back, one arm across her waist, chin on her shoulder, "I know that Billy's death right out of the gate didn't help matters and I tried to be there for you. Maybe I should've better prepared you for retirement. But I've been struggling, too. I feel like nothing makes much sense."

"I lied to you the last time we talked," she twisted in his arms onto her back, needing to look him in the eye, "I told you I'd found my place here, but I haven't. I don't fit in here, but it feels easier to stay here than to face going home." She noticed a subtle shift in his gaze, "What?"

"The way you just mentioned staying here or going home," one arm remained draped across her belly, fingers gripping the thick woven hem of her sweater, "You still think of Oahu as home. And earlier when Najib directed me here he said that this was where you slept. He didn't say this was where you lived, just where you slept."

"I told you he was smarter than I'll ever be," she smiled.

"So what do we do?" he wasn't going to let her off the hook so easily, "Break up for good? I don't want that and I don't really think you want that either," Steve was pleased to see her head shake, but he knew there was a lot more to work out, "You stay and I go home and we talk and we text?" He watched her smile fade into the dim light. "You stay and I stay with you?" he wondered. "Because I will. I'll make this my home with you if you want.

Catherine frowned, "What do you want?" she finally asked.

"I want to be with you," after years of thinking he wanted to be alone, live alone, he'd finally discovered the truth, "If this is where you're going to be then this is where I'll be. Even if that means living here with you in this drafty-ass freezing cold mining cabin," his arm squeezed her tighter, fingers pushing past dense wool to caress her bare waist.

An amused laugh graced her lips, "What would you do here?"

"I'd start with insulating these walls," he grinned, "Maybe even add a proper bathroom with a nice tub for soaking because I know you'd like that. That means I'd have to dig a long pipeline across that field from the well in the main part of the village. That all will take at least a couple months. After that I can help you teach, or train these villagers to fight if you think that's what they need. Or maybe I'll coach a soccer team."

She smiled teasingly, seeing him in a very different light, "You know nothing about soccer."

"So I'll learn," he kissed her neck. "If I get to come home to you every night and snuggle beside you in this freezer cabin, I'll learn."

Her eyes shut, wanting to believe they could survive and be happy in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere, "But your taskforce, your friends…"

"They're your friends, too, Cath," he reminded her. "Mary and your parents, our friends… they'll miss us. But they'll write and call. And we'll visit them and they'll visit us here."

The fire popped loudly, echoing through the small space. She reopened her eyes and checked to make sure the embers hadn't caught her rug ablaze. Catherine turned to him again, watching as shadows danced across his stubble covered chin, "You sound serious."

"I am," there was no hesitation in his voice.

"It's not safe for you here," worry rushed in, "If the Taliban were to find you they'd…"

"Wo Fat got to me on the island, Cath," he pointed out, "Nowhere is safe. I'd rather be here with you in unsafe territory than anywhere else without you."

She closed her eyes again as his fingers slowly began to unbutton her sweater.

000

Sunlight poured in through the small window by the door.

The fire had died down to a few scattered orange embers as dawn broke.

Catherine squinted as tiny dust particles floated across a sunbeam, a sharp contrast between sunny blue sky and the deep chill still in the air. She felt the warm weight of Steve against her and remembered the night. They'd kissed, caressed, talked for hours - fallen in and out of sleep while mostly clothed. But their bodies had become fully naked at some point in the quiet darkness. Insistent tugs, desire alight, panting in time with the flicker of firelight.

His eyelids fluttered open and he reached for the watch he'd banished to the floor during the night.

Steve smiled, "Local time… 0730 January first, 2015," he tossed the watch aside again and rolled to his right, cold nose pressed against her cold nose, "Happy New Year, Catherine."

"Happy New Year, Steve," she whispered a reply that was soon cut off by his tender kiss.

A second later he leapt out of bed and hopped around the tiny cabin, rubbing his hands together back and forth, "Damn, Cath… it… is… freezing," his teeth chattered.

"And this is going to work for you, living here? You'll turn into a Popsicle," she chuckled, ogling his naked tushy as he shimmied on a pair of navy blue boxer briefs. "Why don't you come back to bed before something important freezes?"

"Can't," his head shook as he tossed clothes to her, panties, sweater, leggings and ridiculously thick socks, "Get dressed," Steve ordered, "I want to show you something."

Ten minutes later he walked her outside into the morning air, chilly but not a hint of wind. Calm. Crisp. New.

They wandered off a short distance into the grassy field and for a long time she just stood there beside him, not sure if there was something more he planned to show her. Catherine could see the village waking up, a few old men who sat in the same spot every day selling their meager offering of chicken eggs while they mostly chatted the day away. Finally she turned to him, a look of surprise spread across her face, "You're right, you can't smell the ocean from here. I do miss that."

She took a deep breath as he remained quietly by her side.

"Do you remember when I told you about retrieving Najib's ball?" Catherine caught the slight nod of his head, "That was here in this field. I cared about that boy enough to make sure he was safe from harm. I didn't even know his name, but I cared," she recalled wistfully. "That's love. A minefield you stumble blindly through without knowing what lurks beneath the grass. Each step scares you more than the one that came before. Sometimes you get blown up, but if you're lucky you heal and venture out again into the field."

He watched as the sun rose steadily above the tall grass, illuminating each spindly stalk. Some were bathed in pink light, others splashed with orange. "I thought you told me they cleared this field of mines back in 2010," his logical brain kicked in.

"You're ruining my analogy," she chuckled, pushing gently against his chest.

Steve turned to face her, one hand at her waist and the other sliding along her forearm to caress the delicate fold of skin at the junction of her elbow, "Only you, Catherine Rollins, would compare love to a minefield." He kissed her slowly as the sun beat against their faces, "And I love you for that," he whispered against her lips.

She wore a content smile as his palms pressed against her back, "If I go home with you and decide to go back to school to become a teacher… would you support that decision?"

"Are you kidding?" he scoffed, "I'd support you if you wanted to join the circus. I love you, Catherine. I love you so much that I'm here in a tiny Afghanistan village that no one outside of it has ever heard of, willing to coach soccer and live in a drafty dirt-floored cabin with you. Willing to let our babies run around in diapers through a grassy minefield. I love you," he reinforced, "If you want to be a teacher on Oahu I'll love you. If you want to stay here and be a teacher I'll love you. If you want to stay and want me to go… I'll still love you."

Her eyes narrowed on him, skeptical of only one sentence in his declaration, "Babies?"

He shrugged - a crocked, uncertain grin in place, "It could happen."

Steve sunk into the field, one knee pressed against the grass as he fished something out of his jacket pocket.

"What are you…" Catherine's breath hitched when she noticed the ring. "Steve?"

"I bought this at a jewelry shop in Kabul shortly after I landed yesterday," he relayed, "I was walking down the street to the bus station when I saw this ring in a window and it reminded me of you. Delicate gold band with a tough as nails diamond at the center." Steve looked her in the eye, "It's a new day, Catherine - first day of a New Year - and I want to spend all my new days with you. Either here or back on Oahu, babies or no babies. Nothing's a deal breaker for me," he vowed.

Catherine blinked back tears, her vision slightly blurred by them.

"Will you marry me?" he finally realized the question hadn't been asked.

One tear worked itself free, trailing down her cheek, "I love that you're willing to stay here with me, but Najib was right," she admitted, "I've been hiding out here. I've been sleeping here. Not living. I almost died in this field. Maybe I should've died in this field, but I didn't. Because a stranger risked his life for me. Yet I've been too stupid and afraid to risk walking through this field to find my way back to someone I love."

"So I walked through it for us," Steve shrugged, "And nothing blew up."

"Nothing blew up," she laughed through her tears. "Is that the best we hope for these days, nothing blowing up?"

"Is that a yes?" he wondered.

She gave a slow nod, her smile returning, "Yes, God help us… yes, I'll marry you."

Steve nervously slipped the diamond ring onto her finger with care. He caressed the gold band, pressed his lips against her finger before standing.

Her arms circled his neck, a quick kiss and a longer embrace.

A familiar swish-swooshing caused them both to turn around in time to see a ball parting the grass in front of them.

Catherine stopped it and rolled it beneath her boot. She looked up to see the ball's owner standing by the tree. Sunlight peeked around the barren winter branches to illuminate his dark eyes. "How are you doing today, Najib?" Catherine called out to him. With a gentle kick she sent the ball skittering back through the field to him.

His gaze flicked from Catherine to Steve as he immobilized the ball in front of him.

He noticed something glint in the morning sunlight.

He watched her hand skim across the top of the grass, saw Steve's hand reach for hers. Two hands clasped in a minefield.

"I'm all right," the boy finally answered, knowing she was headed home.

Najib kicked the ball to Steve who kicked it back to Catherine.


The End