Lieutenant Gregory Vukovic was standing at attention, as straight as his bruised ribs allowed, in front of the General Cresswell's table two days later. The room was quiet save for the gentle but insistent ticking of the clock on the wall.
"Interesting," Creswell finally interrupted the silence, setting aside his reading glasses but holding on to the piece of paper in his hand. "Would you care to actually explain this request, Lieutenant? You know I hand-picked you for this office because I saw something special in you. You showed real zeal and enthusiasm. Something I believe was very much needed here, where others have become set in their ways. And you seemed very keen to be here. So don't be surprised if I want to know what exactly prompted you to request a transfer now?"
The general let the paper float onto his desk, folding his hands over his chest and sizing Vukovic up. As usual, it was impossible to read him. Vic had heard about the previous JAG, Admiral Chegwidden and his famous dressing-down sessions. Apparently a heavy oak door proved useless when it came to Admiral's booming voice and temper. You could not mistake his moods. Cresswell, on the other hand, seemed always to be calm. The problem was you could never tell what he was thinking until he spelt it out. Standing in front of him was unnerving.
"Well, Lieutenant? Why this decision on your part? Is it the workload? Are you overwhelmed? Or perhaps it is the opposite and you do not feel challenged enough?"
"No, sir. I believe I am perfectly capable of handling any cases that are assigned to me and I am satisfied with the amount and type of work here at JAG."
"Well, what then? Is it the working environment? Are you not comfortable here?"
You have no idea! Vic screamed in his mind. Ever since he stepped into this building and literally knelt in front of a certain woman his brain and senses were on overdrive. He was both frustrated and exhausted. And humiliated. He could not, would not take any more of that. But he would be damned if he let anyone think that was the case. At least anyone beyond Rabb and Mackenzie.
"No, sir. I am honoured to be working with such esteemed officers as the ones under your command."
"Then?" the General pressed on.
"I have recently suffered a great personal loss," Vukovic said with a tremble to his voice which he had perfected overnight. "My life will never be the same again. Perhaps one day I will be able to walk through D.C. again, be able to roam its streets, live here, work here again. But right now, sir..." he paused and, closing his eyes as if in pain, let out the rest with a sigh: "Right now I cannot function to the best of my abilities in this city. Please, sir, process my request and let me transfer somewhere else for a time."
It was still impossible to divine what Cresswell was thinking. Damn him!
"And if I don't?"
OK, this was getting risky, but Vukovic decided to take the risk.
"Then, sir, I will have no other option but to ... resign my commission. I cannot stay here. I need to heal and I cannot do that here. I also cannot serve my country in the state that I am now."
The clock on the wall kept ticking while Vukovic silently contemplated whether forcing out a tear or two would be too much. Fortunately this time he did not need to wait too long for General's reaction.
"Tell me honestly, Vukovic, would your great personal loss have something to do with the fact that Colonel Mackenzie has an injured shoulder, Commander Rabb bruised knuckles and your face is looking like a bad street graffiti?"
Vic opened his mouth but no sound came out. He tried three more times without success. Within the next three minutes, he was assured he was getting his speedy transfer and that he was the single greatest mistake the General has made in his career as a lawyer.
Another time, another place
"Hi," he murmured into her hair.
"Hey," she whispered softly in return.
"Wasn't sure you'd come tonight," he said, never releasing his hold on her, but carefully manoeuvring them both to the couch.
"There is nowhere else I'd rather be," she assured him.
This was the seventeenth night they spent together. The seventeenth night since he beat up Vukovic and told her he loved her. The seventeenth night when she appeared at his door and stepped into his welcoming arms. The seventeenth time they would spend the night together. They have not crossed the line that would make them lovers in the physical sense yet. They both had agreed the emotions were too raw right now. He was still recovering from the depression Mattie's death have hurled him into. And so she came to him each night to lace her fingers through his, to return every gentle caress, to cradle his weary head in her lap and kiss his tears away. She came so he could hold her close when they finally moved from his sofa to the bed, to share whispers of assurances and repeated confessions. He slept calmly with her there.
Slowly other feelings were returning to them, less intense but all the more welcome for it. They experienced calm. There was comfortable silence when he was cooking and she reading a case file. There was a sense of mirth. There was tranquillity. There was a quiet kind of happiness.
"I forgot to tell you something," she said with a little, sly smile, when they made themselves comfortable, her head in his lap this time, his fingers in her hair.
"I managed to find out whatever had happened to your favourite Lieutenant Creep."
"Did you mean my favourite Lieutenant I-still-regret-I-didn't-punch-him-even-harder?"
"The very same," she laughed shortly. Shortly, because the next second Harm's lips brushed over hers. He liked doing that. Kissing her when she was laughing or smiling.
"That was nice," she sighed and kept her eyes closed until he nudged her nose with his.
"Well, are you going to tell me?"
"Only if you promise not to book a plane ticket to where he is just to punch him harder."
"I make no promises of the kind."
She laughed again. He kissed her again. Their conversations were rather lengthy these days and sometimes more kisses were exchanged than words.
"OK," she said finally. "Right now he is in Florida, enjoying the sunshine, the mosquitoes and I am sure his new CO."
"Who is his new CO?" he asked, getting slightly suspicious at the twinkling of her eyes. Without a warning, she jumped up, opened her suitcase and rummaged through it until she found the paper she was looking for. With a mischievous grin, she thrust it into Harm's face. It took him a second or two before his eyes focused on the officer's name on what was apparently a hastily made copy of Vukovic's transfer papers.
He burst out laughing, unable to control himself. She straddled him. It was her turn to seal his mirth with a kiss.
The forgotten paper floated to the floor. The name of the new commanding officer Gregory Vukovic would serve under was Alison Krenick.