Falling on Unyielding Ground: Chapter 84—Epilogue, part 3
Kim Tomblin was practically bouncing with nervous excitement as she waited for the flight attendant to return with her MARPAT garment bag, carrying the suits she had had to wear during the conference and the new dress she was about to change into. "Here you go, ma'am," the flight attendant said as she reappeared, a large cheesy smile on her face and the bulky bag in her hand. "My son just left for boot camp at Parris Island," she continued.
"Wish him luck for me," Tomblin replied as she finally left her first class seat—although her new job required her to travel quite often, and thus be away from San Diego and Jeff more than she would have liked, it did cause her to rack up the frequent flier miles, which she traded in for first class whenever she could—and headed into the airport and into the first bathroom she found, brushing out the long black hair she had bothered to blow dry straight that morning and exchanging her khakis and USMC sweatshirt for the white and blue sundress and blue heels she had just purchased while in DC.
She was getting married today.
Now in the proper clothes - although she was pretty sure Jeff was expecting her to stay in her khakis, in which she probably spent 90% of her waking time - she again slung her MARPAT backpack over her shoulders and grabbed the garment bag and headed back into the throngs of people headed for baggage claim, where Jeff had promised he would be waiting.
And then she saw him, and literally stopped in her tracks, the hand not holding the garment bag covering her mouth to keep from gaping. Or laughing, because standing just on the other side of security, wearing his choker whites and a wide grin, was her soon-to-be husband. "Oh my god," she laughed, resuming her trek forward to greet him with a kiss, not caring about regulations against showing affection in uniform at the moment. "Looking sharp, sailor," she joked.
"I know you usually prefer the Marine Corps dress blues, but I hope I'll suffice," he joked in return.
"For you, I'll make an exception," she informed him.
"I was hoping you'd say that," he said before reaching into his pocket and still giving that smile she never completely trusted, lowering himself to one knee.
"Jeff Cunningham, what the hell are you doing?" she demanded. "For Christ's sake, I already agreed to marry you! Are you trying to get me to change my mind?"
"I figured I should do this right," he said, holding the ring out to her. "Marry me?"
Before she had the opportunity to say anything, the voice of an older woman nearby was heard. "Just say yes, dearie," she instructed Kim. "He's quite the catch."
Both Kim and Jeff laughed. "When he's not being a dork," Kim replied. She pulled Jeff to his feet before kissing him. "Of course, you idiot. Now give me that ring." She hadn't gotten a good look at it from the phone, but now that it was on her finger, she was impressed—platinum band, the center diamond probably near a carat, if not more, two smaller diamonds off to the sides, the entire thing in an ornate vintage design. "You did good, Cunningham," she informed him, turning her hand to see the way it caught the light. Wearing jewelry of any type was going to take some getting used to, but he did a good job getting a ring that was flashy enough without being overly ostentatious. "Which one was Grandma's diamond?"
"This one," he said, pointing at one of the side diamonds. "I made sure not to match them exactly so you'd be able to tell which was hers."
"Is there anything you didn't think of?" she joked, earning a knowing smile that made her a little nervous in return. "Come on," she said, giving him a small kiss. "Let's go get hitched."
Distracted by the events of the day and still a little hazy from her cross-country flight, Kim didn't even realize they were heading to Balboa until they were almost at the hospital's gate. "What are we doing here?" she asked with a frown, still playing with the new piece of jewelry on her left hand. Jeff just gave her that knowing smile again as he held out his hand for her ID to give to the guards. Realizing she wasn't going to get an answer from him, she just sighed and leaned back, enjoying the perfectly clear day as they wove through the base.
Jeff finally pulled the car to a stop in a small lot that was already nearly full, an area she recognized from the pediatrics barbeque as leading to the hospital's picnic area, and right next to Major Jon Simple and Lt. Commander Colleen O'Shaughnessy, the major in his dress uniform and the psychiatrist in a maternity sun dress. "Holy shit," Kim muttered, beginning to realize what Jeff had done.
The bastard had arranged an entire surprise wedding.
She opened the passenger door right next to Simple and Colleen. "Majorly Simple!" she greeted, getting a chuckle from Colleen and a disgusted face from Simple.
"Yeah, never heard that one before, Tomblin."
"The alternative was, 'Hello, Simpletons.'"
Colleen laughed again, this time at the look on her husband's face. "And you wonder why I didn't change my name after the wedding," she teased. She gave him a quick kiss before turning to give Kim a hug. "You're getting married!" she exclaimed.
"And apparently getting a party, too," Kim replied, giving Jeff a mock glare, which she turned on Colleen. "So that's why you couldn't go out to dinner with me last night," she accused. Colleen shrugged.
"Sorry," she said, not sounding sorry at all. "We had to fly out last night, so we could be sure not be on the same flight as you."
"I can't believe you guys," Kim complained.
"Quit your whining and help me with this sword," Jeff joked, pulling his USNA sword from the truck of the car. "I haven't worn this thing since these two got hitched."
"Yeah, neither have I," Simple replied, also fussing with his.
"And I still don't even own one," Colleen said with a shrug. "I would have gotten one for this, but the dress whites were a bit beyond snug and there's no way you're catching me in that miserable white tent that the Navy calls a maternity uniform."
"I like the dress," Kim informed her.
"I like yours, too," Colleen replied. "You're lucky you didn't have to deal with the process of shopping for a bridal gown." She nodded down toward her pregnant belly. "If this one's a girl, I'm going to tell her to follow your lead and elope. The whole wedding planning thing is not worth the headache."
"Thanks, honey," Simple joked. "Didn't realize being married to me was so much of a hardship."
"Definitely should qualify you for hazard pay," Kim deadpanned, not even looking over at them as she worked on Jeff's sword. Colleen chuckled as she gave her husband's sword knot one final adjustment, giving his uniform a quick once-over before nodding her approval.
"Come on," she said to her husband. "Jeff and Kim are supposed to be the last to get up there, so let's go join the crowd." Simple nodded his agreement, giving Jeff and firm handshake and surprising Kim with a hug before they headed up the hill to the picnic area.
Kim watched them walk away for a few seconds, as always amazed at how functional Simple was with his prostheses. Like he promised Jeff the day after his injury, he was there at the Marine Corps Marathon fifteen months later, Colleen at his side as he had convinced her to join him in his marathon training. Jeff had flown into DC from San Diego, Kim from Seattle, and Anderson from NATO headquarters in Belgium, where he had been assigned as the CO of an Embassy Guard unit. Jeff, Kim, and Anderson had left the other two behind, finishing an hour before Simple and Colleen, but the fact that he had finished was more than enough to impress them—and The New York Times and the Marine Corps Times, which both ran the story of the double amputee and his first marathon since he lost his legs.
She turned back to Jeff, giving his uniform the same once-over that Colleen gave Simple, smiling wryly at the thought that the women always knew better than their men how to put the uniforms together. Her fingers traced over the gold Marine Medical Officer insignia; if it weren't for how he had earned that pin, they never would have met.
What a strange thought.
He kissed her, running his hand over her hair before taking her hand in his. "Come on," he said, "let's get married."
They headed up the hill together, Kim laughing and squeezing Jeff's hand when the rest of the crowd came into view. She knew from the number of cars in the lot that there would be a few people, but it didn't really register to her just how many a few was until she saw them. There were her parents, Jeff's mom and step-dad—and, amazingly enough, his father—and all siblings from both families, including Michael, standing tall and proud in his white midshipman uniform, obviously taking a break from his studies and the NROTC program at UCLA to attend his half-brother's wedding; his coworkers from the hospital, both past and present; the MCRT and a few other agents from NCIS San Diego; most of their friends from their deployment together and a few others from Jeff's second deployment.
With just the vows from the hospital chaplain and no readings or long sermons, the ceremony was quick, probably less fifteen minutes, but Kim honestly wasn't following the time, her attention focused on Jeff as she repeated the vows, as he slipped the wedding band that matched her still-new engagement ring onto her finger, as she repeated the motion with his band.
"You may kiss your bride," the chaplain instructed Jeff, and he did so, earning applause and cheers from their friends and family.
"Do you get the impression that they were impatient for this to happen?" Jeff joked lightly in response to the applause. Kim chuckled and nodded before kissing him again.
"It is my pleasure to present to you, for the first time, Lieutenant Commander Jeff and Special Agent Kim Cunningham," the chaplain addressed the crowd, earning another round of cheers as the couple headed down the aisle created by their ten sword bearers.
Kim caught the mischievous glint in Jaime Vega's eye as he and Kanten, standing across from him at the end, lowered their swords to block her and Jeff's exit, a cue for another kiss. They had barely parted when she felt a harder-than-necessary smack to her ass with the broad side of the sword. "Welcome to the Navy, ma'am," Vega teased. Before she could say anything to him—probably something along the lines of assaulting a federal officer—Jeff gave a short yelp as another sword connected to another backside.
"Welcome to the Corps," Kanten said to his new brother-in-law. Before Jeff even had the opportunity to recover, he was hit again by the sword of another lieutenant colonel, previously standing immediately next to Kanten.
"And welcome to the family," Karsten added.
"I've been married for two minutes and am already getting abused by my brothers-in-law," Jeff joked. "Kevan, while we're here, you want to join in?"
"Sorry, man. I was only authorized to carry automatic weapons, not swords," the former sergeant replied.
Everyone made their way to the picnic shelters only about twenty feet away, where the pizza, beer, and pop Chris Tomblin had ordered was waiting and Michael Cunningham and Dan Rodriguez were both bent over a computer, frantically trying to finish up something before the crowd got too restless.
Rodriguez gestured for Michael to take the mike as he finished up at the computer, which the just-turned twenty-one-year-old did without complaint, a beer in one hand and the mike in the other. "Hey everyone," he said, almost jumping back from the microphone after it squealed in protest of the feedback. He took a step away from the speaker and tried again. "First of all, congrats to Jeff and Kim for both finally getting their heads on straight and getting married," he joked. "I didn't really prepare a toast or a speech of any sort, so I'm kinda doing this off the cuff, but I'll give it a shot. Since Jeff and I are so far apart in years and mostly lived in difference houses, we didn't really get to know each other that well until I came out here for college, so I didn't care too much about the fact that he had a girlfriend when he got back from Iraq the first time, especially after she skipped a song on the iPod that I liked." Kim smiled slightly at the memory, remembering how the Blink-182 song that had been playing when Taylor and Weathers died came on as they drove from Philadelphia to DC and the argument that ensued after she changed it. "But it didn't take long to realize how much they cared about each other, so when we went out to dinner that night, I asked Jeff while Kim was in the bathroom if he was going to marry her, and he said, 'Yeah, I am. Someday.'" Kim squeezed her husband's knee under the table. "I'm glad your someday finally came, guys," Michael finished.
He handed the mike back to Rodriguez, who nodded slightly. "Thanks, Midshipman," Rodriguez joked before turning to the newlyweds. "So, Jeff didn't appoint a best man, and I'm sure Michael wants to claim that, since they're kinda brothers and whatnot, but I'm saying that since these two wouldn't have met if I wasn't Cunningham's roommate in Iraq, I should get some sort of recognition."
"You can be my maid of honor, since you're more of a girl anyway," Kim offered. He flipped her off.
"I didn't really want to do a speech," he continued, "so after we got the email from Jeff about the wedding, I emailed Sally and Pam and a bunch of other people and asked for pictures of these guys, so here we go." He turned off the microphone and plugged the audio cable into the laptop and turned on the projector, and The Village People's "In The Navy" began playing as pictures of Jeff appeared on the screen.
Kim laughed with everyone else at the music and the pictures as they scrolled by, taking him through school, on his grandparents' farm in Pennsylvania, in a tux at his mother's second wedding when he was ten, running cross-country, doing pushups in his USNA cross-country uniform with Zack Mox pressing a foot on his back, graduating and taking his oath as an ensign, heading off to Harvard, drinking at Harvard, another graduation and another commissioning ceremony, seeing kids in clinic at Portsmouth, arriving at Balboa, and finally, decked out in MARPAT as he waved goodbye and boarded a plane to take him to Iraq.
The last picture ended when the song ended, and then it was La Roux's "Bulletproof" and a picture of Chris Tomblin holding a brand new baby outside with a bright blue sky and palm trees and the bright pink of Tripler Army Medical Center in the background, from which followed a quick chronicle of her life, from sitting on Papa's lap with his USMC Purple Heart cap covering up most of her head, playing with her brothers, in her gi with a black belt back when she took karate as a kid; to dribbling a ball down the field in an Eastern Washington University soccer jersey, face red with exertion as she took a brief break at the obstacle course at Quantico with Rodriguez during OCS; to sleeping in a Humvee in the old desert camo during her first deployment, sitting up in the hospital bed trying to feed herself with one arm after she was shot; ending with her graduation photo from FLETC and her promotion to captain and change of command ceremony to take over as the CO of Security Company.
The music changed as the theme of the pictures changed again, this time to their deployment together. Kim felt Jeff's laughter as he pulled her to his chest when the first picture appeared, Kim standing by the door of his CHU in her sweats, flipping everyone off, an assortment of protein bars littering the ground around her after the guys had thrown them in her direction. They continued to sit there like that, his arm over her chest and her playing with his ring, as the rest of their deployment went by on the screen, followed by the time they were apart—and all of the times they shouldn't have been together when they were 'apart', from celebrating New Year's under the real Space Needle to dancing together at Simple and Colleen's wedding to him greeting her when the Roosevelt came to port to their week spent in Qatar during Jeff's second deployment.
Snow Patrol's "Open Your Eyes" began playing when the picture appeared of them in the back of a helicopter, him laid out on a litter and her grasping the hand on his unbroken arm, an expression of worry of her face. He kissed the back of her head as she squeezed his hand, remembering those first few days after she helped rescue him from the terrorist camp where he was being held, worried about his broken bones, wondering just how much anthrax he had been inhaling, trying to figure out how to reconcile that new unwillingness to let him go with the fact that her job was literally the other side of the world from his.
Someday somebody's gonna ask you / A question you should say yes to / Once in your life / Maybe tonight I've got a question for you.
"Who was at the airport to take pictures?" Kim asked the group accusingly as everyone got to see her look of exasperation when Jeff lowered himself to one knee, ring in hand.
"That would be my husband," Signe Anderson said in her light Swedish accent.
"Guilty as charged," Major Louis Anderson commented with a shrug as he took a pull of his beer. "Blame Rodriguez. He's the one who wanted pictures."
Anderson must have also been standing at the top of the hill overlooking the parking lot when they came in, because the next two pictures were of Jeff and Kim talking with Colleen and Simple, the two women helping the men with their dress uniforms and swords, and then they all got to watch the wedding again before the presentation ended.
They all dug into the pizza, the children running around, excited to have new people their age to play with and the adults talking and getting caught up, some of them having gone years since the last time they had seen each other. Anderson had just returned to the States a few months before, now stationed at the Pentagon after more than four years with the Embassy Guards, most of that in Brussels, which was where he met his six foot four Swedish volleyball player of a wife and had his son almost a year ago. "That kid is going to be freakishly tall," Kim commented, her eyes on her former coworker as he lifted his son over his head, a goofy expression on his face to make his son laugh.
"Assuming his father doesn't drop him when he's eight feet in the air," Jeff agreed, also watching. Gunnar apparently enjoyed it, though, a wide and toothless smile on his face as Anderson lifted him up and down.
Kim turned at the sensation of a small hand tugging at her elbow to see Diego Rodriguez at her side, looking up at her with wide dark eyes and long thick lashes that were wasted on a boy. "Hey, buddy," she said, leaning over to lift the two-and-a-half-year-old onto the picnic table. "You get cuter every time I see you, you know that?"
"Yeah," he replied, making both Kim and Jeff laugh. "'Sit your birthday?"
She laughed again. "No, not yet," she informed him. "Jeff and I just got married."
"He's cute," she commented to Jeff. "And usually pretty well-mannered… How about if we start here with that whole having kids idea?"
"Sounds good to me," he joked. Turning to the toddler, he asked, "What do you think, Diego? You want to stay with me and Kim?"
"Okay," he replied. He held up the GI Joe in his hand. "He's a Marine," he informed them.
"Well, actually—," Jeff began before Kim hit him on the thigh.
"Yes, he is," she said to Diego. "Much better than a soldier." She looked to her side to see Rodriguez talking to Karsten. "Hey, Rodriguez," she called out to him, "since you have so many kids, Jeff and I are going to take Diego off your hands."
"Oh, hell, no," he said bluntly, leaving Karsten in mid-sentence to lift his son from the table. "You want one, you gotta make your own. I need this one to counteract all the estrogen in my household." He ruffled Diego's hair. "Isn't that right, bud? Us guys gotta sick together."
"Yeah," Diego said authoritatively, making all the adults around laugh.
Kim looked around, for the first time noticing everyone who was there and how much everyone had changed since they met. Simple and Colleen were going to have a kid, Anderson already had one, Hammer had a second kid, Rodriguez had a fifth, Gorsuch was pretty much exactly the same he had always been. One of her brothers was recently divorced and was spending a lot of time talking to Laurel Davis - Kim was grateful Kanten was about to head back to Japan; she didn't want to have to pull Laurel aside and explain Kanten's enlisted Marine habits to her and why she should stay away - another was still happily married, the third was here alone with his two daughters, as Meghan was on bedrest, seven months pregnant with twins - she hadn't really thought about it until that moment, but there must have been some sort of genetic thing in the Tomblin family, given the numbers of identical twins in her family tree, a thought that made her a little nervous about wanting children - her parents were talking with Jeff's parents and Mandy was deep in a conversation with Ronnie Rodriguez about one thing or another. On the other side of the park, Aya and Adriana Tomblin, Kennedy Killelea, and Taylor Rodriguez were playing, occasionally shrieking and running away whenever Nicholas Hammer, Andrew Mox, and Kennedy's little brother Dolan decided to interrupt their game; Reiko Tomblin and Mari Rodriguez were sitting in the grass, acting like the standard too-cool-too-participate adolescent girls; Dai and Cara were leaning against one of the tables, he obviously trying to impress her and her actually doing a good job flirting, which apparently didn't pass her father's notice. "Hey, you!" he called out, pointing to Dai. "Yeah, you, Tomblin. Who do you belong to?"
"That's Dai," Kim informed him. "He's Karsten's property." Rodriguez turned to the younger twin with eyebrows raised.
"Keep your kid away from my daughter," he said. Karsten turned to his son.
"Dai, what did I tell you about staying away from Marines' daughters?"
"But he's not a Marine anymore!" the twelve-year-old protested.
"No such thing as an ex-Marine," Karsten replied.
"And you," Rodriguez said to his second daughter. "Now that Kim's married, you stay far away from anyone with the last name of Tomblin. They're all trouble. Every last one of them."
"Thanks, Rodriguez," Kevan commented.
"You denying it?"
The party continued for a few more hours as the pizza made way to Cold Stone ice cream cakes and the light of day faded into a sunset over the Pacific Ocean, conversations covering every imaginable topic and almost everyone hitting the 'dance floor' at least once as the music on Kim's iPhone played on shuffle, and overall, it was perfect. It was exactly the type of fun, low-key wedding that she always imagined she would have but never really thought she would get, surrounded by friends and family and of course, the man who could actually put up with her.
"What're you thinking?" Jeff asked softly into her ear as they danced again.
"That today was a good day," she replied, smiling up at him. "Thanks, for that."
He chuckled, pulling her closer. "Anything for you, Mrs. Cunningham." She smiled and kissed him. "I mean that," he continued. "Anything. Except, maybe, Diego. With four daughters and only one son, I think Rodriguez might want to keep him."
She tilted her head back and laughed, remembering all of Rodriguez's comments about being the father to four daughters and remembering his comment to them only a few hours before. "Well, then, I guess we'll have to make our own."
He grinned down at her. "We've only been married for a few hours and you're ready for the next challenge already?" he teased.
"I can handle anything you can dish out, Cunningham," she replied. "Bring it on."
A/N: Yay! It's over! I had so much fun going on this journey with you, even when it got long-winded at times. Thanks for sticking with it, and stay tuned for the next installment of my on-going NCIS series on FFN.