tagRomanceHannah's Hero Ch. 05

Hannah's Hero Ch. 05

bycarbinemaster©

Welcome to Part 5 of the Hannah's Hero tale. The same warnings about content given in Part 1 still apply, of course. I love reading your comments! I'd like to take a second to tell everyone that, though this work is inspired by what my own younger sister and her husband have had to endure, it is a work of fiction. I know that I am not accurately portraying the internal workings of the military; that's not the focus of this story. My intent is to honor our veterans and their families, not to offend. Hope you all enjoy.

***

For the second time, I found myself standing on the tarmac with Jennifer (and Brad) by my side. This time though, we were anxiously waiting for Chris's return instead of dreading his departure. As we waited, I couldn't help but think about the information General Ellis had given me. Thanks to him, I knew a great deal about what had happened to Chris. A long sequence of mistakes had been made in the aftermath of the ambush.

The medics had informed Chris's platoon leader of his injuries, but by the time it reached the Company Commander the report was badly garbled. The people normally responsible for notifying family members of injuries and deaths hadn't been given any information. At each step in the chain, everyone had assumed someone else had taken care of it, not realizing that no one had. Chris himself would've made the Earth move to talk to me, except he was too busy being unconscious just then. I can excuse him for that, I guess.

Consequently, no one in the multitude of offices I'd called had any idea what I was talking about. No wonder I made no headway. As things worked out, I finally made contact with my husband a little over 30 days after the newscast.

For reasons known only to God -- and possibly some filing clerk in a Pentagon dungeon somewhere -- the Army had decided Chris was healing quickly enough that he didn't need to be returned to the States. Instead, after being released from the field hospital in Kuwait he was returned to his unit and put on light duties. In other words, he spent his days shuffling papers and making coffee for REMFs (his words, not mine. At that point I'd heard that word twice and still didn't know what it meant.)

The good side of that (for both of us) was that we got to speak on a regular basis, sometimes email, sometimes Skype. Chris was shocked to hear about the newscast. He'd had no idea there'd been a camera present. Of course when you're fighting for your life you should be forgiven for not stopping to smile and wave. God love him, he'd actually apologized to me!

"Oh God, baby, I'm so sorry you had to see that!" he'd said.

"Chris, how in Heaven's name could you have stopped it?" I'd asked with exasperated humor.

"Well, I guess I could've shot the cameraman. I'll work on that next time, okay Sweetheart?"

"Ha! How about you work on making sure there isn't a 'next time,' instead, lover!" He'd smiled at me then, and looking at his handsome face on my laptop screen I'd silently given thanks. I then told him about old General Ellis, and how he had helped me find out what had happened to him. Chris was moved to tears, saying "I wish there was some way to thank him!" When I told what I had done, he nodded firmly in approval and said it was exactly what I should have done. He deserved nothing less.

Later on in that same call I had (foolishly) asked him about the details of the ambush. It was a natural enough mistake for a person to make, but as his wife I should've known better. His face turned pale beneath his tan, and he quickly changed the subject.

Now, though, the 18-month purgatory of Chris's deployment was finally over. Jennifer, Brad, and I (along with so many other families) were waiting outside the massive assembly hall, waiting for the green-painted buses to arrive. If I could've had my way, I would've met him at the Air Force base where he landed. Unfortunately, that didn't work out.

"Look!" Jennifer called out, pointing. As we watched, a long line of buses began turning in through the main gate of the base. As the buses began parking in the roped-off parking lot, a small band starting playing. As the first soldiers stepped off the buses, a loud roar rose from the crowd, and families rushed to greet their loved ones. The Military Police could never have stopped the tide, and they wisely didn't try. Instead, they kept people out of the roped-off area so other buses could park.

Brad stayed with the car while Jennifer and I waded through the crowd looking for Chris. I was happy to see a familiar tow-headed little boy jumping up and down yelling, "Daddy's home!" Next to him, his mother was pressed firmly against a tall man with sergeant's stripes. It didn't look like they were going to come up for air any time soon.

After what seemed like an eternity of searching, we finally saw Chris stepping off a bus. My heart thumped hard in my chest as I saw him in the afternoon sunlight. His best friend, Mike Kirkland, was by his side. The two of them started to walk towards us.

I don't remember running to him. All I remember was the moment I made contact with Chris. I hugged him desperately, my mouth seeking his, tears flowing freely down my cheeks. His strong arms wrapped around my shoulders and crushed me against him. Time seemed to stop, and for the space of that moment everything was perfect. I wasn't scared anymore. I could feel him, warm lips against mine, wet tongue brushing against mine, powerful hands gripping my back, and the feel of his own hard-muscled back beneath my hands.

"Welcome home, my love," I whispered throatily when our lips finally parted.

"Hannah," he whispered softly, his voice caressing my name.

Reluctantly I released Chris from my arms so he could greet his little sister. Jennifer clung to him and sobbed quietly in his arms, just as I had.

"I thought you'd left me...us," she whispered quietly.

"I know," he replied. "I'm so sorry, dear one. I'm so sorry --"

"Stop!" Jennifer said. "You have nothing to be sorry for! It's those rat-bastards over there who should be sorry! I hope you sent every last one of them screaming into whatever they call Hell!"

Both Chris and I were a little shocked by the hatred in her voice. It was a normal enough human reaction, but coming from a warm compassionate woman like Jennifer it was alarming. By mutual consent, we agreed to let it go for the moment. I moved closer to him again, inhaling his scent and drinking him in with my eyes, as he continued to squeeze his sister tightly.

"Mike!" a familiar voice called in a delighted yell. The four of us turned to see Nurse Debbie Crenshaw hurrying toward us. Mike laughed as she jumped into his arms, clinging tightly to him to the point of wrapping one leg around him. The two of them kissed long and deep, and Debbie moaned softly in pleasure.

"Damn!" muttered Jennifer, blushing slightly. Debbie's pose (and her very short, short-shorts) revealed a lot more than they covered. When the two of them parted, Mike turned back to us, slightly out of breath. He was grinning from ear to ear.

"You gonna be okay, Bro?" he asked Chris.

"Yeah man, I got it. Take off. I'll call you later this week," Chris said.

Mike let Debbie go for a moment and hugged Chris gently. "Thanks for saving my life, man. I'll never forget what you did for me." He looked deep into my husband's eyes, and the bond between them was clear. "I'm here for you, Chris, if you ever need anything."

"Thanks, Mike," Chris said.

Mike searched Chris's face one more time, and then he let him go with a sad little smile. He then turned and took me in his arms and caressed my shoulders as he kissed my cheek. Then he tenderly stroked Jennifer's cheek and brushed a stray hair away from her face. Finally, he turned from us and walked away with Debbie. It was hard not to see the way his hand slipped south of her waist as they left. Chris watched them go, and smiled.

"I remember her," he said, waving a hand at the smooth round curves of Debbie's retreating ass. "I hope Mike remembered his energy booster, 'cause I bet he'll need the strength tonight!"

"Huh?" Jennifer said, one eyebrow arched as though she didn't follow his comment.

"My dear sister, I believe my friend Mike is about to engage in a close-quarters battle in the war between the sheets!"

Jennifer blushed even more brightly and hid it by snuggling into his side.

The returning soldiers all had two weeks leave. As we walked back to Jennifer's car, we talked lightly about different things we might do together. I walked on Chris's left side, leaning closely against him. He slipped his arm around my waist and squeezed. It was obvious that he noticed my thinness around the middle when he shot me a questioning glance. I looked down, unable to meet his eyes.

"You've lost a lot of weight. Want to tell me about it?" His eyes were kind and loving, and his tone was concerned rather than judgmental.

"The night of our Anniversary, I couldn't get to sleep for anything," I began. "For the next two days after that, I felt strange, but I didn't know what was wrong."

"I was shot the day of our anniversary," he said softly.

"I know that, now. I think somehow, I knew it then, too. Somehow my subconscious mind must have known something had happened to you."

"But that doesn't explain this," he said, stroking my belly through my clothes. "I can tell you're a lot skinnier than you were when I left, and it's not like you were big to begin with!"

"You have to understand, I thought you were dead," I said softly. "Jen and I both did. I stopped eating almost completely. I guess on some level I didn't...I didn't want to go on living." I'd never confessed that fact to anyone except Dr. Kovarubias, though General Ellis had guessed it. I hadn't even told Jennifer. His arm tightened around me, and I looked up into his beautiful eyes. I could have stared into them for a lifetime and been happy. I saw in those twin pools his love for me.

"I've been seeing a psychologist on the staff at the hospital, and I'm eating again." I took his hand and let him feel my bicep. "You can see my muscle tone is fine. I'm getting plenty of protein, my serum glucose is normal, and my ketones are back at healthy levels. I've actually gained a few pounds back."

He leaned into me and kissed me hard. I felt him physically shaking with the strength of his emotion. "Oh my God," he whispered. "I didn't know, baby," he said, "If I'd had any idea --"

"You'd have what?" I asked. "You'd have not been wounded in the service of your country? Well, we all hope for that, but it happens anyway. Or, maybe you would've hesitated to save Mike's life?" I cupped his face tenderly in my hands. "This was nothing you did, Chris. This was me, this was my foolishness. I didn't listen to you when you told me you wanted me to go on if the worst happened. Don't take the weight of the whole world on your shoulders."

He clearly wanted to say more, but I stopped him with a gentle finger across his lips. "Save it for when we're alone, lover. No secrets between us, I promise." He must've seen the sincerity in my eyes, because he let the matter drop. The three of us walked in loving silence the rest of the way to the car.

"Uh, who's that?" Chris asked as we arrived.

"Oh," Jennifer said quickly, "That's -- "

"Brad Donnovan," Brad finished, holding his hand out to Chris.

"We've been seeing each other for a few months, now," Jennifer said, sheepishly. "He's a Radiology Technician."

Chris smiled and shook Brad's hand firmly. "Glad to meet you, Brad."

"Likewise, Chris," Brad replied.

The trip home was quiet, until we were about 15 minutes from the house. A song started on the radio, "Far Away," by Nickelback. Unbidden, the tears started again. Just tears, fortunately. I felt my husband's arms close around me, and he gently wiped my eyes. "I'm here with you, Hannah. I'm home," he whispered.

Brad steered into the driveway and parked. He got Chris's kit bag from the trunk while Jennifer and I escorted him into the house. As soon as he was settled on the sofa, Jennifer leaned over him and firmly kissed the top of his head. "I love you, Chris. Brad and I are going to go out for a while tonight. I won't be home until very late." She turned a loving gaze my way. "The two of you need some time alone to heal. We'll talk more tomorrow."

Chris lifted a hand to his sister's face, and she held it in place with hers. "I love you too, Jennifer." She smiled at him tenderly, and left, locking the front door behind her. I had never taken my eyes from my husband. Slowly, I stretched out a hand and opened the collar of his ACU top. His hand covered mine as I moved to unzip the front.

"Hannah, I...I don't look the same anymore," he said. His eyes held trepidation, and that was never an emotion he directed toward me. "There's a lot of --"

I stopped him with a gentle finger across his lips, and held his gaze with mine. "Ssshhh, baby," I said tenderly to him. "Chris, I love you with all my heart. Under these clothes," I pressed my palm gently over his chest, "You will look just like you did, because you'll still look like my husband."

His hand released mine, but not without some hesitation. I drew the zipper down and carefully took the jacket off. With gentle hands, I pulled his T-shirt from his trousers and pulled it over his head. He shivered when the cool air touched his skin. After 18 months in temperatures of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it was going to take him a while to get used to late October in Indiana. He sat back and I looked at the two white gauze dressings that covered his wounds.

I asked him lean forward so I could see his back. As I expected, there two more dressings covering the exit wounds. I looked at him questioningly.

"Honey," I said gently, "Enough time has passed that these shouldn't be medically necessary."

Chris sighed and looked down. "They aren't. I had Mike tape them on for me." His eyes came back up and looked into mine. I could tell he was afraid I would be repulsed by what was under the gauze. "I'm afraid that once you see what I look like, you won't...you won't think I'm...you won't like what you see."

I gently removed the four bandages, and Chris closed his eyes, looking away from me. I surveyed the wounds carefully and the clinical side of my mind took over, noting the pink coloration of the puckered scar tissue. One bullet had struck my husband in the left chest, above and slightly to the right of his flat nipple. The other had struck at an angle, entering below the left collarbone and exiting the back of his neck, horribly close to the spine. How it managed to miss the spine, not to mention his subclavian artery, I'll never know. I'm just grateful to God that it did, because that wound could have been fatal.

Chris's back was more badly scarred because in addition to the ballistic damage, the medics attempting to save his life had left their mark as well. The muscles and tendons in his neck appeared to be healed. He'd had no trouble squeezing me tight earlier. It certainly helped a lot that he was in good physical condition before he was wounded.

Honestly, given the placement of the chest wound, I was more concerned with his lung function than anything else. A skilled physical therapist could work wonders with muscles and tendons, but lungs were tricky things in my experience.

Now that the nurse in me was satisfied, the wife in me came to the fore. The agony that that raw, puckered scar tissue represented brought me to tears yet again. I had seen enough in my medical career that I had no trouble imagining what he must have suffered through. The palm of my hand pressed against his chest as I leaned into him. I gently cupped his chin with my other hand and kissed him. After a brief hesitation, he kissed me back.

The kiss deepened as I caressed his bare chest and stroked his cheek. When our kiss ended, I gazed lovingly into the eyes of the man I married. "It's true," I said softly. "You look exactly like the man I married, because you are." Tracing the lines of scar tissue on his back, I continued to hold his eyes with mine.

"Are you going to say that these," he gestured to the ugly welts on his torso, "Don't matter to you?" His voice hitched slightly. I could tell he was afraid of what I was about to say.

"No, I won't, because they mean a lot to me. They mean that I married an incredibly brave man." He looked at me in surprise. I held his face with both hands and smiled, the kind of smile a woman has only for her husband.

"I am so proud of you," I whispered. "I don't have to hear Mike's story to believe he meant it when he said you saved his life. You are a hero, Christopher West. You're my hero. I'm damn proud of you, and I'm damn proud to be your wife."

We were alone there together, and in that intimate moment we both felt safe in each other's arms. With no one but me to see them, Chris's tears poured out. I pillowed his face against my breasts while he wept, tenderly stroking his back.

"Let it go, Honey. I'm here. You're home, now. I love you so much, and I admire you just as much. Just let it go." I cast all my concerns aside and locked them into a closet in my mind. My man needed me desperately, and I was going to do whatever it took to comfort him. As I held him, it hit home just how deeply he trusted me to allow himself this kind of reaction. Most men would rather die than cry in their wife's arms. In my opinion though, it was a sign of Chris's strength that he could do so. It strengthened the bond between us, certainly. Maybe you don't agree, and if so that's your privilege.

I held him until the shaking stopped and his breathing was steady again. When I was sure he'd finished for the time being, I pulled my wounded warrior to his feet. Collecting his shirt and jacket from the floor, I led him to our bedroom. There were so many things that needed to be said. There were tales that needed to be told. Now was not the time. The physical separation, the wounds both physical and psychological, had some healing left to do. As a nurse, I knew many ways to deal with both kinds of injuries. As a woman, and a wife, there was one in particular I favored.

I led my husband to our new bedroom on the ground floor. He smiled when he saw it; obviously he must have guessed why I picked this particular room for our own. The furnishings were both mine and his, a homey collection calculated to make us both feel at ease. His eyebrows rose as he saw the recent additions to the room, but he kept silent for the moment.

Chris sat on the bed as I stepped into the en suite bathroom and started the hot water running. I had already set out candles, a lighter, towels, and bottle of wine in an ice bucket. I couldn't wait for him to see the surprise I had for him. I peeled my clothes off and tossed them in the hamper. When I reappeared nude in the doorway to the bedroom, I had Chris's full attention. He gasped softly as his eyes drank me in. I leaned against the door jam with one arm, turned away from him, and looked back over my shoulder. I knew how much Chris loved the view from behind. Every woman knows there's a time for subtle seduction, a time for gentle love-making, and time for raw, needy, fucking. This was the latter.

My husband was out of his boots, trousers, and underwear faster than I ever would've thought possible, and then he was off the bed and holding me from behind. His powerful arms wrapped around my body and pulled me fully against him. I moaned as his hot wet mouth pressed against the sensitive spot behind my ear, and his hands claimed my breasts.

My heavy breathing provided the perfect background music for him as he kissed and nibbled his way down my neck and shoulders. I moaned as his hands wandered over my body, relearning curves they hadn't felt in more than a year. I could also feel his need, a craving for me that was far more than ordinary sexual desire. This was a soul-deep craving to reconnect with me, to cast off the shadow of horror that hovered over him. I knew that because I felt it, too. The heat between us was far hotter than the desert he'd left.

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bycarbinemaster© 7 comments/ 18813 views/ 15 favorites

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