Episode 2: A Blast of Guilt

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Char stood in the center of her room for a whole minute, staring at the blood smeared down her front, willing herself to move.

Panic was rising up inside her like a fast-incoming tide. Vague visions of a ditch, soldiers dead around her.

She stood there staring at her trembling hands.

“Get it the hell together,” she muttered finally. “It’s just blood.”

She unclenched her hands and pulled her sweater over her head. She dropped it in the corner and sat down on the bed and took deep breaths until the anxiety passed.

They’d worked well together, she and Seth. Who’da thunk it?

She was surprised he hadn’t said anything about it, but then she’d been at Fort Situk for a week and the ice remained unbroken.

She shut her eyes and recalled the moment she saw him.

“The infirmary wing is on the other side of the command module.” Site director Greta Erwell didn’t point or wait, she just kept walking.

Leander rolled her eyes in Char’s direction. Char smirked.

Their footsteps echoed down the curving, concrete hallway as they followed the silver-haired director. They came to the juncture where the module joined with the central hall of the living quarters, and Erwell swung open a door labeled “infirmary.”

“It’s a four-bed facility,” Erwell said as the door closed behind them, leaving them in a square room lit with bright white LEDs. A few chairs were clustered in one corner. Four beds stood empty and waiting, ready to be partitioned off with curtains.

“There’s an exam room through here,” Erwell continued as she led them forward, “and then there’s actually a small greenhouse that the doctor uses to grow medicinal herbs.”

“Oh!” Leander smirked. “That kind of doctor?”

Erwell smiled tightly. “Mostly for his own interest, as I understand. He’s very capable, I assure you.”

She led them down a short passage, which opened up into a tiny greenhouse made of thick plexiglass. The wan Alaskan sun shone down on rows of plants. A man stood at the back, stooped over a bench of what looked like grass. A dark braid hung between his shoulders.

“Doctor?” Erwell said.

He lifted his head, and his smile faltered.

Char felt as if someone had dumped icy water over her head. Her pulse spiked.

Seth Thompson.

How had she gone through the whole contracting process of bringing her security force to Fort Situk without coming across the name of her ex-husband on a roster somewhere?

“Oh hey, doc,” Leander said. “Fancy seeing you here.”

Char felt as if someone had dumped icy water over her head. Her pulse spiked.

Erwell turned her grey-blue gaze toward Leander. “Have you met?”

Leander glanced at Char. “Met? No.”

Seth made eye contact with Char. Panic skittered through his eyes.

She kept her mouth shut.

Thirty minutes later, the tour of the command pod was done and Erwell dropped Char and Leander off in the cafeteria.

“Whew!” Leander slid onto one of the stainless-steel benches clutching a cup of coffee. “Should’ve brought those divorce papers.”

Char laughed harshly. “What the hell? What is he even doing here? What do they need a surgeon for?”

Leander shrugged. “It’s been five years. Anything could’ve happened in that time. Maybe he moved back up to Taylor Bay, shacked up with a nice Tlingit woman and had nice Tlingit babies.”

“Oh my god, Leander.” A pang went through Char’s chest. Yeah, maybe he had. She sure as hell hadn’t given him any.

In that pause, the door at the far side of the cafeteria opened, and a line of scientists in their monochromatic black and grey uniforms marched in toward the food line.

“He’s definitely better looking in person.” Leander smirked over her coffee cup. “Hot damn.”

“You know what, Leander?” Char pretended she was going to toss Leander’s coffee in her face.

Leander cackled.

“It’s not funny,” Char said. “That’s my fucking ex-husband. Well, not even ex because, oh yeah, he never signed the divorce papers.” She slapped her hands on the table.

Leander’s face straightened. “Okay,” she set down her coffee cup. “What do we do?”

“Do?” Char snorted. “Nothing. I’m a professional. I’m here to secure the base, not to interact with Seth fricking Thompson.”

That hadn’t lasted long.

Two days later, she’d received a call over her comm as she was coming off a morning inspection. She was just entering the cafeteria for a cup of coffee to thaw herself out.

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“Captain Lee-Thompson?” Seth’s voice crackled through the comm.

Char felt a twist of discomfort. She peeled off her gloves and tucked them in her belt. “Come in, doctor,” she replied.

“Can I see you in the infirmary?” Seth said. “It’s about one of your guys.”

“I’ll be there in five minutes.”

Char poured some coffee from the machine into a paper cup, stirred in some powdered whitener and carried it with her down the hall to the infirmary.

When she arrived in the infirmary, Seth was seated in the corner beside his desk bent over a book in an incredibly familiar pose—the book balanced on top of his knee, one hand clutching a plastic coffee mug. When he saw her, he clapped the book shut and pointed to chair across from him.

Char slid into the chair and took a swig of her coffee. “What happened?”

Seth ran his hand over his hair, now in a hasty knot at the nape of his neck.

You grew it out. Did you want to grow it out the whole time you were with me?

“Linc has visited me two nights in a row,” Seth said. “He’s having trouble sleeping and having stomach problems. Today I asked him a few more questions.” His brow furrowed. “Were you aware that he broke up with his partner the night before you came up here?”

Char’s eyebrows lifted. “No. No, I wasn’t.”

“As I understand, Linc was blindsided,” Seth said softly, “so it’s no surprise that he’s depressed.” He paused. “He admitted to suicidal ideation.”

Char sat back and breathed in slowly. “He should have said something. I would have given him leave.”

Seth blinked his big, dark eyes. “He said he was afraid you’d make him stay in Juneau.”

“Oh.” Char raked her hands through her hair and felt a pang of guilt.

Linc was so new to her team. The young Haida man with the smile that flashed in his bronze face had joined her security team after one deployment to China with the army. He’d only worked with her a month.

“Poor kid,” she said, finally.

“Yeah.” Seth squinted at her ruefully.

“So, what are you saying?” Char asked.

“Um,” Seth ran his teeth over his bottom lip. “He wants to stay here. It certainly wouldn’t be wise to send him home unsupervised, but I can make arrangements to have a counsellor supervise him.” He was still looking at her, face tight.

Why was he looking at her like that? Was this some kind of test?

Why was he looking at her like that? Was this some kind of test?

“Work might be what he needs,” Char said.

When she’d thrown Seth out, she’d clung to work like a guideline in a blizzard. Fort Situk wasn’t a busy army base in Vancouver, but it wasn’t sitting at home wondering how you’d managed to fuck your life up so bad.

“Sitting around,” she said. “Not exactly helpful.”

“If you want him to stay,” Seth said gently, “we can keep an eye on him.”

Char nodded tightly. “I’ll talk to him.”

Char rubbed her eyes and brought herself to the present. So Linc stayed, and she’d been left wondering if somehow either Seth or the universe was trying to tell her something.

In eight days, Linc had glommed onto Seth like he was Jesus Christ himself. She’d swapped him onto her patrol and heard “Seth said” over and over until she wanted to punch the kid in the mouth.

But she and Seth hadn’t said more than two or three sentences to each other, and they certainly hadn’t broken the ice. She knew more about the complex fission experiments they were doing at Situk than she did about Seth’s life post-split.

Char stood up and grabbed her parka from the hook beside the bed. She’d hit the cafeteria and go out to the site where they’d found the stranger.

Her boots clumped hollowly past Seth’s door and brought the image of him straight out of bed, looking delicious as hell and making her feel like garbage.

You have to talk to him. Be the bigger person. Break the ice. At least apologize for snapping at him.

Char paused in the doorway of the cafeteria and scanned the black and grey uniforms. Her team was already done eating, and Seth wasn’t there.

Okay, I’ll do it, just not now.

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