In which Adelie saves Nate’s tush once more, but with a lot more style than last time.
Adelie felt him tense up under her hand. Awareness trickled in, the fact that they were, and there was no other way to put it, cuddling. Slowly she eased away from him. Nate gave her free without protest, his arm moving to the backrest of the love seat.
“Sorry… I’m not ready… yet.” She fumbled for a cover up, but his smile stopped her. It was a sad smile. Maybe it was his battered and bruised state, but he looked as vulnerable as she felt.
“It’s okay.” His voice was coarse. The sight of him slouched in the corner of the seat, a tired and hurt man, tugged at her heartstrings. The need to comfort him, to hold him was stronger than her fear. Tentatively and awkwardly, she slipped back, resting her head on his shoulder and his arm wrapped around her again. “Ready now?” He whispered. She shook her head. “Then why…”
“I could use a little more of your particular brand of first aid.”
He made a happy sound, a half-chuckle, half-sigh. “I’ll try my very best.”
“I’ve accepted that I seem to end up in your arms every time we meet anyway,” she added, provoking a laugh from him.
“I’m not objecting.” She could hear the teasing grin without the need to look up.
“Of course, you aren’t.” More laughter. She liked his laughs.
A sigh lifted his chest, and his arm tightened around her, pressing her against him. It didn’t matter that he had a beaten up face and a bloody shirt – if anything, it added a nice touch of roughness to his already sky-high appeal.
“I want to beat up that asshole that broke your heart,” he said.
“Sh, I don’t want to think about him right now. The memory fades when I’m with you.” She bit her lips after her unplanned confession, anxiously waiting for his sure teasing, but he stayed quiet. As she looked up, he put down the icepack and tenderly cupped her face with his cool hand. Their glances tangled, and he sighed as he contemplated her.
“Something about you makes me overly protective.”
She was still thinking about his words when she ran into him the next afternoon in the hallway of the administration building. He was wearing his uniform and looked even more like a model for Aerospace Fashion, battered face aside.
“You clean up nicely,” she joked. He grinned, but there was a strain of worry on his face. “What caused the dress up?”
“Payne ordered me in. Apparently, Parachute complained this morning.”
“Oh. That little…” She swallowed the expletive and Nate chuckled. “You know what, I’ll come with you.”
“Because I’m not going to allow that little douchecanoe to ruin your career. He has to learn to take responsibility for his actions. Provoking people and then complaining that they hit you is bad form, terrible form.”
He laughed at her anger. “Now who’s protective?”
Adelie just smiled at him, eyes crinkling. She was wearing the blue dress with the gold buttons again, looking prim and proper. “Hey, you’re always calling me your guardian angel… I just accepted the job.”
She led the way to Payne’s office and knocked. To be honest, he was glad not to face the Major alone.
“Yes.” Payne sat at his desk over some paperwork. He was a man in his late forties, with a salt and pepper buzz cut and steel grey eyes. Nate didn’t want to know how much discipline it took to maintain the Major’s fitness, but he clearly hadn’t let himself go. He raised his eyebrows in surprise as he recognised Adelie.
“Klaiber? What are you doing here?”
“I figured, if Cadet Havisham is facing penalties because of his behaviour, I should too.”
“What?” Nate realised that he and Payne had spoken in unison. The Major added: “What’s this nonsense all about?”
Adelie sighed. “Apparently, Bukovski had set his eyes on me and I failed to recognise and stop this development. He thusly became jealous of Havisham. His plan of action was to provoke Havisham in any possible way who only reacted in defence of my honour. I’m sorry.”
Payne rubbed his chin with his fingertips but wasn’t very successful in hiding his twitching mouth. “Sit down, you two. I need to know what happened. I can’t let a cadet breaking someone’s nose slip by unnoticed. But I also know that Havisham is not someone who picks fights.”
“See, I told you, you broke his nose.” Adelie sat close enough to Nate on Payne’s visitor sofa to shove her elbow into his side.
“He called you a whore.” Nate’s guts clenched at the very thought of it. Asshole. He’d break more than just Pat Bukovski’s nose if he’d get the chance.
“That is indeed a grave insult.” Payne sighed. “And of course, Bukovski omitted this crucial piece of information in his complaint.”
Adelie recounted the happenings in the Officer’s Club with her clear and mellow voice. To Nate’s regret, she was concise with her words, as he could have listened to her for hours. Payne asked a few more questions, which they both answered until he seemed satisfied.
“Havisham, I see that Klaiber has taken it into her capable hands to keep you out of trouble. You should consider yourself lucky.”
Nate cleared his throat, thinking back to the last evening and their delightful snuggle. “She sure gave me hell for my behaviour, Sir.”
Payne laughed a rumbly laugh. “I bet she did, so I won’t punish you any further.”
“Excuse me, Sir?”
“Judging from what you both just told me, the one who should get a penalty is Bukovski, for insulting the integrity of a fellow squadron member and aggravating another to the point of violence. This is not the sort of behaviour I want to see in any of my cadets, let alone a future officer. There will be consequences. But – Havisham.” Nate involuntarily straightened his back at the tone of Payne’s address. “I can’t let you off the hook every time – see that you’re not breaking anybody’s nose from this point on. It’s not acceptable behaviour, but considering that you maintained a low profile so far, I can let this pass.”
“Thank you, Sir.”
Payne nodded. “Dismissed.”