Falling on Unyielding Ground: Chapter 1

Warnings: profanity. A lot of profanity. These characters have a tendency to swear like sailors and Marines, because they're sailors and Marines.

A/N: To everyone who made their way here from FFN, welcome. This is the story that was prompted by my writing of "The Price of Honesty", a piece of NCIS fanfiction. No, there are no NCIS characters in this one, just OCs that I made up in the course of writing that one. While I was writing TPoH, I got so wrapped up in details of the relationship between a Navy pediatrician and a hard-as-nails Marine (the pediatrician is male, the Marine is female... this is definitely a het story) that began on a battlefield, that I just had to give them their own story. And no, it's not necessary to read TPoH first, but if you want to make your way over to my FFN profile (same screen name, there's even a link in my profile to that profile), I definitely won't stop you.

Enjoy!


Lieutenant Jeff Cunningham knew that checking his watch every two minutes wouldn't make the hands go any faster, but that didn't stop him from doing so.

The third-year pediatrics resident at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth was currently fifty-seven and a half minutes away from one of the most important emails of his life thus far, and the fact that it would be coming at the end of the workday on a Friday, when he had the weekend off and his girlfriend—fiancée, he reminded himself, still not used to the change despite the two months since he proposed—was coming down from Richmond, wasn't helping the anticipation.

Fifty-six minutes.

It really wasn't fair, and he didn't care that he sounded like he was whining in his own head when he thought that. The pediatrics consultant to the Navy surgeon general already knew where exactly every pediatrician in the Navy would be in the next couple of months, and had probably known for a while, at the end of a long process that started with a conversation with the surgeon general. That three-star admiral told all of the consultants how many doctors of each type he needed in various places—Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.S.N.S. Comfort, Washington, D.C., and so on and so forth—and each of the consultants shuffled around his or her people to meet the demands of the surgeon general—and the Navy at large—taking into account rank, years of experience, number of times deployed, and so many factors Cunningham wouldn't begin to be able to figure out.

Definitely not a job he wanted.

In a little more than three months, he was graduating from residency, and that email from Captain Lewis would be telling him if he would be staying in Portsmouth, Virginia—he hoped not—being sent to Okinawa—he really hoped not—deploying to Iraq—no point in even saying how desirable that was—or hanging out at National Naval in Bethesda, Maryland until he was accepted to an infectious disease fellowship.

Even though, honestly, he knew he wouldn't be competitive enough in the Navy for a fellowship until he deployed.

Fifty-two minutes.

"Jeff." He looked up in surprise, not even realizing that he had been staring blankly at his yet-unfinished clinic note until he saw the timeout warning on AHLTA, indicating that he had been inactive too long. He cancelled the timeout before turning to acknowledge his fellow resident.

"What's up, Kylie?" he asked, watching as his friend took a seat in the chair next to him. "I thought you were on the wards?" He stated it as a question, not sure why she was in the clinic if she didn't have to be.

"Waiting for Captain Lewis' email?" she asked, ignoring his question.

He snorted. "Do I even need to bother answering that?" The petite and young-looking—appropriate for a pediatrician, he supposed—lieutenant just grinned back at him before becoming serious again.

"I have a favor to ask you," she said slowly, and guessing which direction this was going, Cunningham started shaking his head.

"I don't trust those words coming from your mouth," he said warningly.

"Come on, Jeff," Dr. Kylie Hathaway was starting to whine, which wasn't really all that attractive coming from anyone, but definitely not from someone who already looked sixteen. "I took that call for you—"

"Not this weekend," he interrupted, giving her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, Kylie, but Stephanie's coming down to talk wedding stuff."

"And you don't want to escape from that?" she asked jokingly, and he snorted again.

"That would not be good for my longevity," he replied. "She was already pissed at me for not having an opinion about whether the priest who baptized her, or the one who confirmed her or some such thing, performed the ceremony." He tried to keep his complaints about the wedding planning to a minimum, especially since he wasn't the bride and therefore didn't have any say that mattered, but he had been engaged for only a couple of months, and already he wanted the process over with. If he had his way, it would be a small, low-key wedding, maybe outside if the weather would cooperate, surrounded by friends and family. Or eloping and escaping to a tropical island for a week or so of honeymooning. Unfortunately, that sort of image would never fly with Stephanie's blue-blood Boston family, especially since the next year was an election year and Senator Bradley would never miss an opportunity to grease the wheels to that process.

Ouch. He wondered if his future father-in-law knew how cynical he was about everything.

"Careful what you say," Hathaway said warningly, with a grin. "We women get a little insane when it comes to weddings."

"No kidding," he scoffed. "I thought it was bad when my sister was getting married, but this is insane." He glanced down at his watch; forty-seven minutes. "Wait a second," he said, looking back up at his friend. "You eloped on a cruise ship."

"Which is exactly what I wanted to do. I've got two sisters, so my mom got to do the whole 'mother of the bride' thing with them."

"You're lucky," he replied. "And speaking of… How's Keith?"

"He's good," she replied with false enthusiasm. "He's really enjoying the Mercy. He sent me some pictures the other day from the Philippines. If you want, I still have them in my email." She gestured toward the computer, but he shook his head.

"Maybe Monday," he replied.

"Might help pass the time," she countered. Her husband, a surgeon she met at a Military Medicine Interest Group meeting her first year of medical school—his last—had been deployed on the hospital ship for the last few months, and had been stationed in San Diego before that. They had gotten married before she graduated from medical school, in part so she could increase her chances of getting stationed at Portsmouth, so they could live together during her residency. Although she was successful in matching, he had ended up being sent to San Diego at the end of his residency, which was only two years into hers. Despite their best efforts of staying together, it had been almost a year since they had lived together. Life in the military, he supposed. As someone who lived two hours away from his fiancée—who only lived in Richmond because it was much closer to him than she would be if she stayed in Boston—it was something he could understand.

"You're going for Bethesda, right?" he asked, nodding toward the computer to indicate the email they were both waiting for. She nodded.

"Keith's been accepted to a vascular fellowship at Walter Reed," she reminded him. "The Army finally decided that maybe they'd be okay training a Navy surgeon, and it would be nice to actually see my husband every once in a while, not that surgeons keep very good hours. Although losing the separation pay is going to suck." Cunningham smiled slightly at that; since they were married and not living together, the Navy paid them for their suffering. Or, more accurately, for the fact that they spent a lot of money on airfare flying back and forth between the coasts to see each other. Until the Mr. Dr. Hathaway was deployed, that was. "I guess only paying rent on one apartment would be nice."

"Very true," he agreed. He checked his watch again; forty-one minutes. "What was it that Einstein said about time?"

"Like I paid attention in physics," Hathaway scoffed. "My mom always said that a watched pot never boils, though."

"Yeah, I think all moms say that," Cunningham replied with a sigh. "Can this day get any longer?"

"No kidding," Hathaway agreed with a sigh of her own, as they both lapsed into thoughtful silence.

"You never said why you wanted someone to take your call," he pointed out a minute later, hoping to distract himself from the fact that he still had thirty-eight minutes until the email would be sent.

"Oh," she replied. "Not a big deal, really. My sister wanted to know if I could go down to North Carolina for her birthday, but that's okay."

He groaned. "You're trying to give me a guilt trip," he accused. "Try Susanne," he suggested. "She's probably free."

"No, she's in the NICU this month," Kylie reminded him. "And I already asked Aaron. And Mike."

"I don't know how I feel about being your fourth choice."

She grinned. "No, I just started with the most likely to agree, and worked my way down."

"So I'm about the middle of the pack as far as agreeability?"

"Well, you got yourself fiancéed. Aaron and Mike are both single."

"Good point. I guess that leaves… Terra and Warren."

"Terra's out of town."

"What's Warren's excuse?"

Hathaway shrugged. "Doubt he has one, aside from the fact that he hates people and saying 'no' would give him one more opportunity to screw someone over." She rolled her eyes and Cunningham grinned; Dr. Warren Hall didn't get along with any of the other residents, an odd trait in a pediatrician. Of course, he was gunning for a cardiology fellowship. When he declared that the year before, they all nodded their understanding. It fit his personality, or, more accurately, his lack thereof. "I don't know. I'll give him a call and see if he can do it." She offered him a lopsided smile as she stood from the chair. "And Jeff?"

"Yeah?"

"Thirty-six more minutes."