It was strange getting closer to home after their week in Florida. Mac's folks had given them a week vacation, sun and fun, relaxation for Christmas. His parents had completely fallen in love with Jet and their time with them had felt completely relaxed and natural. They'd spent two full weeks in Chicago before driving back to West Virginia then on to Florida. They were tanned now, well on their way to getting back to normal, or at least healthy enough to pretend. Jet's cast was due to come off in a couple of weeks and Mac's chest was starting to itch, and was no longer bleeding every day. They were due to be checked out just after the first of the year, so this might be their final fling. They could end up stationed at opposite ends of the Earth, or he could be facing a med discharge, but Mac refused to focus on that right now.
And they were spending New Year's Eve with the mysterious Shannon Kendall. Mac hadn't been able to piece together her relationship with Jet yet, and he hated not figuring out a mystery.
"Tell me about Shannon. I know her mom and your mom died together, and you take care of her, but what else do I need to know? Since we're bunking with her for a couple of days."
Mac looked down at the bracelet on his right wrist, Jet's Christmas present to him. It was an ID bracelet, nothing that would draw unwanted attention, but it felt permanent. Jet had an identical one, with Semper Fi engraved on top, and on the bottom their initials. Always faithful. It had become his mantra.
"Sure Shannon will be okay hanging out with a couple of guys in love? She won't feel like the third wheel?"
Jet cringed. They hadn't talked about Shannon all that much, and while it hadn't exactly been intentional, although he wasn't really looking forward to this. "I really think that we may want to keep our relationship from Shannon. She's fragile, and I don't know how she'd deal with this. Its better we just not tempt fate."
"So ... no shared bedroom like at Mom and Dad's?" Somewhere along the line his parents had adopted Jet.
"No, I want you with us, we just need to be more careful is all. I have a room of my own there, you can bunk in there, I'll take the couch. Shan will have to understand that it isn't like it usually is. But I want you with us."
Mac nodded. Mac listened to the sound of Jet's voice. So it was going to be like that, was it. Oh. "Well, if you don't want me to intrude, I can go back to base." Jethro wanted Mac, with them. Wasn't as much what he said as his word choices. And the guilty look on his face. Like it usually is?
Maybe he was drawing conclusions where none existed, but he was very unsettled about all of this. "If you sleep with her and disrespect me like that, I can't stay, Jet. There's either an us or there isn't, but you can't have it all, okay? I'm not trying to be a bastard, babe, but I'm in love with you. This is all a shock to me. You should have told me that there was someone else this close in your life, sweet boy. You had me thinking she was some casual friend, not a fragile woman in need of protection from the truth."
"I wouldn't do that, Mac. I said I'd take the couch, not bunk down in Shannon's bed. She and I, we aren't like that. It's not an all the time thing; it's a convenience thing more than anything. I know that makes it sound horrible but she feels the same way. I'm there, I can make her feel good and forget for a little bit. But it's done."
Jet would sit Shannon down and explain to her that he'd met someone else and that it was serious. He'd been gone long enough that she probably had met someone new as well. "I'll talk to her, let her know that aspect of our relationship is over. I'll still take care of her, but everything else is in the past."
Mac nodded. "Just be careful love. Woman scorned can do all sorts of crazy things." He drew a pattern on Jethro's good wrist. "And we're lifers, that was part of our vow right? Semper Fi, career, friendship, love."
In Florida, in the moonlight, two guys sipping beer had a long chat and made a pact, a vow, and Mac looked at is as forever. He was so in love with his beautiful boy.
"Shannon isn't a scorned woman, she's a kid who needs a hand. I can't imagine her doing something like you're thinking. It's not like I'm kicking her out of my life, just putting a stop to a part of it." Flipping his hand up, he caught Mac's hand, threading his fingers through the other man's. "You're mine, baby. I know we've got a tough road ahead of us, but I want us to be together. Friends and lovers, everything else can take a back seat."
"You don't know women, Jet. If you hurt her, she might strike out. Some girls are like wounded animals and Shannon sounds really young and vulnerable." Mac was relieved for the assurance even though he knew he was being completely irrational. "Just be smart, okay?"
"No, I don't know women, I'll give you that. But I do know Shannon. Just watch, you'll be totally blown away at how she handles this."
"I hope you're right, sweet boy. I just worry..."
Mac wasn't smiling any more, and Jet rushed on trying to smooth things over, squeezing his hand. "How do I explain Shannon, without sounding like a total jackass. She's always had a crush on me, and our moms thought that maybe one day we'd get married and live in one of the houses between their family and mine. I never looked at her that way, at least not seriously, although we have on more than one occasion ended up in bed. I protected her as much as I could from her dad, and when I knew I was leaving, I took her with me. Her dad died right after we left, but he didn't try to stop her. I think he thought he was better off without her. I pay for her place, and if I can't handle the barracks anymore, I crash there. She works, but it's mostly for food and utilities. I've been pushing her to get her GED, but she's still just a scared kid most of the time, who got the raw end of the deal when it came to a home life."
Jethro turned, looking deeply into Mac's eyes. "I love you baby, but I don't want to hurt her. You'll see when we get there, she just turned seventeen, and she's out there on her own. She's making friends through the restaurant she's waitressing at, but I'm still the one she counts on to take care of her."
"You're been having sex with a kid? And you set her up in her own place? Backward city I come from, that's called statutory rape. Did you forget to mention to me that you're having sex with a vulnerable kid? Or are you ashamed of something. Course the kid has a crush on you, she probably thinks you're fucking Superman, Jet." Mac pulled off to the side of the road and turned to Jet, furious and just a little betrayed that he hadn't known this about his lover.
"What the hell are you thinking? Vulnerable kid doesn't need a house and a job. Send her to Mom and Dad, Jet. Give her some structure, not a dick to ride and a hero who is already taken." Mac leaned in close, gripping Jet's shirt. "I don't share well."
"I was thinking if I left her at home, she'd end up dead or knocked up by some jerk who would take off and leave her to raise a kid on her own. At least here, she's got an apartment of her own to go to. She's a great kid who deserves better than she got. I'm really the only person she has now that her dad is dead. He didn't even look up when she said she was leaving, just said he was better off not having to support her. Every penny I made went to pay for the motel she was staying at during my basics. Once I got assigned to Quantico, I got her an apartment and found her a job and she's been my responsibility."
Jethro couldn't go back on his promise to take care of Shannon, not with a good conscience. Sure he could send her to Chicago, Emily would love to look after her, but he couldn't ask someone else to take over for him. Shan wouldn't understand and knowing her, she'd probably bolt."
"I can't ask your mom and dad to support her, I promised her I'd take care of her and I will. The relationship is not something either of us planned, but it's also not serious. She dates other guys, I've introduced her to a few guys from the base. But she's kinda territorial about me. I know, you didn't sign up for this, but she's part of my life."
Mac sighed, running a hand through his hair. "I understand you needing to take care of her, but I don't think I can share you and if you expect that ... It won't work, beautiful boy. I'm committed to you, as much as I can be and keep our careers safe. I don't think I've been imagining our connection but I have to tell you that I'm shaken by this." Mac shrugged and looked down at his wrist. "Semper Fi means what to you, beautiful boy? To me, it means my heart is yours."
"Mine belongs to you, Mac. I want us to be together, when ever we can. You know as well as I do, we can't exactly move in together and set up house. You have some great options ahead of you, and I'll go where they send me. But I think we can make this work for us, I want us to make it work. I love you, I love your family and I want you to meet mine now. She's all I have left anymore, which is why you're coming home with me. You're important to me. I wouldn't bring you here if you weren't."
"That doesn't mean I don't fantasize about us going somewhere and being who we are together. Like Florida." But even there they'd got some looks, hair too short, bearing too military. It couldn't work but it had to work, because Mac couldn't live without Jet.
"I want you to go to Officer Training School. Jet, you're sharp and a leader. We just need to get you on the track to getting in." But what Mac wanted wasn't necessarily what they could do. Securing Jet a position on OTS without any college education would be difficult and Mac wasn't sure Jet could ever commit to six or nine months of training. Worst of all, Jet didn't believe in himself to that level yet. "You'd make a damn good officer, Jet. Natural leader. You even bring me to heel."
"Let's get our time in and see where we can go. You said it Mac, we're lifers. I want to get my time in, let the government pay for my degree when I figure out what I want to do." Jet hadn't really thought that far ahead, when he was in the desert, he didn't think he was really getting home at all. So that he was here, it gave him a chance to think about what would come after his military career is done. "I'll think about OTC, I don't know if they'll take me but I'll look into it. It can't hurt."
"No pressure, sorry. I just see so much in you and I wish you could see yourself through my eyes." Mac brought a hand up to stroke Jet's temple.
Mac wanted to meet Shannon but he was getting intimidated about the relationship she had with his boy. And really upset, even though he had no right to be.
He started the car again, driving silently until they pulled into a parking lot of a small apartment complex. "Let me carry your bag inside, sweet boy. Which apartment is hers?" Mac motioned to the plant on the back seat, Jethro had mentioned that Shannon loved flowers and he'd found the perfect plant.
"You don't mind? I can manage it." Jet grabbed the plant but let Mac have his case. There wasn't arguing with him sometimes. "Come on up, she's in apartment 4A. It's not much, but it's a decent little place. She was working on decorating it and making it feel homey when I left for training before we were deployed."
"Why would I mind? You carry the plant I carry our gear." Mac fell into step behind Jethro, checking out his ass even though he knew he shouldn't be so overt.
"Because you're just as hurt as I am, you've just got more hands."
"More hurt and you know it," Mac retorted good naturedly. "Healing, though, sweet boy. Don't worry. I can handle a few pounds of gear."
"I landed myself a stud, I could get used to this. You can take care of me anytime you want, baby."
"Just have to carry stuff on my right side." Jet knew Mac still had a lot of months before the chest was anywhere back to normal, but it was getting a nice scab over it and it only hurt if he breathed. Jet had taken to sleeping against his right side when they weren't spooning so as not to harm the wound.
"If it gets too bad, I'll switch you. I'm not the one who will bleed if I push things too much." Taking the stairs up, he looked back to make sure that Mac wasn't struggling. "You ready for this? I wont' be mad if you back out, a little disappointed, but not mad."
"I'm a marine, Jet. I can handle it." But he was still flagging sometimes and he knew his lover knew it. Maybe he should have chewed the entire bottle of painkillers like he'd done when they were at his parents' place for Thanksgiving, but he was worried about getting dependent. "Be fine, beautiful boy. Soon enough I'll be carrying fifty pounds again." He deliberately misunderstood, squeezing Jet's hand.
"You're a marine, but I worry. I'm the one who is going to have to tell your mother that you landed yourself back in the hospital." Jet had promised both Emily and Keith that he would keep an eye on their son, to make sure he didn't overdo it. "She's a fierce woman, I don't want to tell her I failed her in keeping you safe."
"You worry because you love me, sweet boy. But I'll be okay. I haven't bled in a couple of weeks." Well, he had this morning in the shower, and a lot on Florida, but what Jet didn't know wouldn't hurt him. Wasn't as if Jet would see with them sleeping in separate rooms and the winter allowing heavier shirts. "Mom is fierce but she's your champion too, Jet."
Jethro had called, telling Shannon he was stateside and was bringing one of his friends to spend New Year's with them. Her sort-of husband was home! He was scratched up in that awful bombing and they hadn't let her take care of him. They said she couldn't fly overseas because she wasn't his wife. And she didn't have a passport. And she was underage.
But now he was coming home. Shannon and the girls had baked three pies, she had his favorite flavors of ice cream in the freezer, and a roast in the oven. The house smelled pretty and there wasn't a speck of dust anywhere. She had leftovers and homemade bread for tomorrow and Cora had brought over some champagne and glasses so they could toast 1984.
Shannon thanked the other waitresses silently. The girls had become her close family, a bunch of sort-of aunts. They had become her family here while Jethro was away. She might even make them her bridesmaids when she got her fairytale wedding.
And Shannon knew they would. He loved her and she loved him and love always won. The ladies had been helping her so much! Her Christmas present from them had been a beautiful emerald green dress and some matching barrettes, which she was wearing right now. They had offered to take her shift tomorrow at the diner, and even give her a share of the tips. And they'd helped her with her makeup and Cora even let her borrow some expensive perfume that her husband had bought her for Christmas.
Shannon fingered one of the love stories Edith had given her. She'd dropped out of school young, but Shannon knew that Jethro wanted a smart woman as his wife, not the backwoods gal she was. So, she'd been reading the love stories when Edith was done with them. At first the words were confusing, but she was getting so much better at it. It might take her two days to read one of the books, but she was doing it. Nobody knew why the 'b' and 'd' always got confused in her head but they didn't call her a dummy, and good for nothing but spreading her legs.
Jethro wanted her to get her high school degree but she couldn't do that until she got to be a better reader and the words didn't get tangled on the pages. Then, nobody would ever call her an idiot, or stupid.
She didn't want to be like that. She wanted to be like the women who came in, the wives of the Marines who ordered the strawberry rhubarb pie in the summer and Boston Cream in the winter. She wanted to have pretty dresses and tailored pants and fitted t-shirts and blouses. And she wanted to be able to talk about her Marine to all her girlfriends.
The ladies at the diner knew Jethro, of course, but they didn't ask too many questions. She was glad for that. He was her guardian until she turned eighteen, but he was her best friend and her boyfriend too. He was dreamy with those blue eyes, and his physique was so muscular and strong. And he wanted to take care of her. No man had ever just wanted to do that without some payback and Jethro never asked. She'd given him her virginity and he'd taken it like a gift.
She wiped her hands on her dress and looked at the two Christmas presents sitting on the table. She was going to give Jethro the sweater and scarf she'd knitted, but she had to have something for his friend too. He would get the sweater and his friend would get the scarf. It was the right thing to do.
She heard the key in the lock and stood up, her hands fluttering, she was unsure of where to put them.
Jethro turned the key, peeking his head in the living room to see if Shannon was there before pushing the door wide open. "Heya, sweetheart. How about a hug for a wounded soldier? Just be careful of the arm, I've still got the cast for a few more weeks."
"Jethro!" He had a cast, it was worse than a scratch. Her feet barely touched the ground but she stopped just short of him, touching his face with a fingertip. "Jethro, I missed you. I tried to go over there but they wouldn't let me." She melted into his arms, squeezing the stuffing out of him.
"I missed you. I wish I'd known. How badly are you hurt? I'm so glad you're home now where I can take care of you." He was strong and solid and she could believe he would be just fine now that she was home. "Your woman welcomes you home, soldier boy."
"It's really not that bad Shannon, looks worse than it is because of the cast. Sure I've got a broken arm, but mostly just scratches like I told you. Didn't want you worrying about me, and I'm glad they wouldn't let you come over there. You didn't need to see everything that was going on. Not everyone was as lucky as Mac or I."
"Well, then, it looks worse because I missed you." She hugged him tighter than tight and the pulled his head to hers and kissed him gently. He seemed really stiff but she figured it was just from his friend being there.
"Missed you too, kid. You look fantastic, what happened to the girl in the cut offs and tank top that I left here? You're a full grown woman now."
"It's winter, Jethro!" She giggled. "I've been knitting sweaters and wearing turtlenecks and stuff but this is a special occasion." She cuddled in again. "Your muscles have muscles. How come you didn't go soft?"
"Who has time to go soft? Not much to do in the desert besides work out and do what ever it is you're assigned." Swinging Shannon out, he looked at the girl he left, and realized she wasn't the same at all. She had matured and looked fantastic. "You and I, we're going to have to chat. I want to know who has my girl growing up. There's obviously a guy that you aren't telling me about. You're just looking fantastic, and I don't believe you've been sitting around knitting, not for a minute."
"Only you, always you. I work, I come back here and then I do things for myself. I'm ... reading and stuff. I keep busy."
"That's great, Shan, I really want you to get your GED. You are to damn smart to waste yourself by not having it. You've got the whole world out there to conquer, just needed the right motivation." Jet would make sure to pick her up some books and whatever else she needed to finish her education. "I'm not the best student in the world, but I can study with you, or get you any tutors you need. I also happen to know a genius in science, who if you play your cards right will help you out."
"Well, you're not going to marry a stupid girl, are you? I have to be prepared. The girls have been helping me. The words don't get so jumbled if I read them really slowly."
Moving in so that Mac could come into the apartment, Jet handed Shannon the plant Mac picked up for her. "This is for you sweetheart, from Mac. He's my best friend, wouldn't have made it through everything without him. You're going to love him, he's great and he's probably sick of hearing about you by now. Between the people at home asking how you were, and me talking about you I'm pretty sure he knows just how incredibly special you are to me."
She took the plant, breathing in the earthy scent, and then put it carefully on the table before she took her Christmas package in hand. She handed Jethro his and then walked up to Mac. "Welcome home, soldier." She tried to sound all womanly and sexy but she probably sounded like a dumb kid. She hugged him really gently and he gasped.
"Mac, I didn't mean to hurt you. Jethro ... I barely hugged him." She chewed her lip. "The people at home called you in Germany? How? I didn't have your phone number."
"It's okay." Mac groaned, and squeezed her hand. "You didn't know. I'll be okay."
"I got home a couple weeks ago Shan, but neither of us was ready to face the world yet, so I offered to host Mac up at the cabin, while we healed." Jet came back around Shannon and put an arm of support out for Mac.
"I should have warned you, I'm sorry. Mac took some shrapnel to the chest, and his wound isn't fully healed. He knows you didn't mean to hurt him. I think he was just surprised that you hugged him and he didn't have time to brace for impact. He'll be fine, just need to get him over to the couch."
Mac shook his head, shrugging off Jet's arm gently and walked to the couch. Hell of a way to meet someone so important to Jet. He tried to catch his breath for a minute, hating his weakness. When he looked up, they were both hovering over him and the poor kid looked to be blinking back tears.
Mac patted the couch and when she was sitting down, he took her hand and brought it to his lips, kissing it gently. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Shannon. I'm sorry, for that. You didn't know and there's no harm done."
She blushed and giggled before taking her hand back and standing. "What can I get you to drink. Mac? Coffee? A soda? Hot chocolate? You just sit here and rest. I'm sorry."
Mac looked up at Jethro with a grin, trying to hide his agony. "Hot chocolate? Shannon, that would be great."
"Okay!" She went to the kitchen and started the milk warming on the stove. "The percolator should be almost done, Jethro. And the roast will be rare temperature in another twenty minutes. Mac, do you eat your meat rare or do you like it cooked?"
"However you guys make it is fine." He couldn't think beyond the fire raging in his chest. Where were his damn narcotics?
Shannon put the milk on the stove and turned back, watching how Jethro stood protectively over his friend. "Do you need an aspirin, Mac? Or a heating pad? Jethro, you've been with him, what does he need? What helps?"
She was being a stupid kid again. He was going to laugh at her, both men were. They
were men and she was a girl.
"Aspirin still in the closet outside the bathroom Shan? I can grab that if you get him some water." Jet grabbed his girl, the look on her face had him worried. "Mac, we'll be right back with some pills for you. Shan and I need to have a little chat. You okay on your own for a few?"
"I'm good, Jet." Mac leaned back on the couch and closed his eyes. "You talk, I'll be okay, get back with pills when you're done."
"We'll be right back to take care of you. Just relax and try to get the pain under control, I know you don't want to take any major pills if you don't have to."
"Yeah. Scram, Jet." He opened his shirt, sighing at the small flow of blood. He'd gotten some sand under the protective bandage he'd worn in Florida and it was really causing him hell.
Giving Shannon a gentle tug, Jet pulled her into the kitchen. "Sweetheart, what's going on? You're not a simpering woman, but you seem so unsure about everything. Mac is a good guy, you'll like him if you relax a little. Can you do that for me? It would mean the world to me."
"Just nervous about meeting your friend, Jethro. And then I went and hurt him. I'll try to relax. I promise." She grabbed him again, hugging him tight. "I missed you. I love you so much, Jethro. I forgot how you make me feel like soda, all bubbly."
She kissed him again, her hand coming up to play with his hair. "I love you, my soldier. I'm so proud of you too."
"You didn't know, and I should have thought to tell you. Not all the injuries we have can be seen, but you couldn't have possibly known that, baby girl. Mac won't hold that against you, he's a good guy and he's really been looking forward to meeting you. I'm pretty sure he's as nervous as you are."
"Why is he nervous?" She looked out at the man sitting on the couch. "He seems very serious, even more than you."
"He's an officer, so yeah he's pretty serious. And he was hurt real bad, which didn't do anything to loosen him up. But he's a good guy, just takes him a while to warm up to new people, his mom said he's always been kind of shy. But we spent some time up at the cabin, so he's a bit more comfortable with me than with someone new. Just keep doing what you're doing and it'll be fine."
"How come he got to go to the cabin and you won't let me go?" She was whining now like a stupid little girl. "Our daddies owned it together for a while." 'Til her daddy drank too much and his daddy had to buy him out. "I'm sorry. I need to be mature and realize that isn't my business."
"You didn't get blown up Shan, and do you really want to go back home?" Jet had offered to take her back several times, including for her father's funeral and she had always resisted.
"Norm asked about you the first day I was in town. Wanted to make sure his girl was doing okay in the big city. I reminded him you were my girl, and that you were doing fine. They miss you there, but it's also understandable if you aren't ready to go back there."
"Norm was always nice to me. Would give me sandwiches and soda. He was one of the only ones besides your daddy who didn't make me nervous. Ever." She thought about what he said.
"We're going to get married there, right? Near all our friends."
"I'm not sure I'm ready to get married just yet." It was a small lie, but it could buy him the time he needed for Shannon to find a new boyfriend and move on. "But it's something we can look at."
"I was't saying now, silly goose! We could have a long engagement, like three months. Maybe even a year. I'd like that, just so long as I'm yours for always."
"Like I'm gonna let you out of my life. I promised I'd take care of you when I brought you with me. I have done a pretty bad job of it, but I'll try to be better. I should send you some place, Mac's mom would love to have you come up to Chicago. His dad is a teacher, and she stays at home. They could help you out in so many ways that I can't. But I don't think you'll go."
"Nope! I go where you go! We're partners forever and for life. I just need a ring now."