Hitting Hard: Chapter 109 - Epilogue, part 2
A/N: I realized last night that I forgot to wrap up the Spivey case, even though I had the ending planned in my head for a while. Oops. So I went back to chapter 107 and fixed it.
Captain Jeff Cunningham checked the salmon in the oven just as he heard the front door opening. "Oh," Kim said as she walked into the kitchen, a tone of surprise in her voice. "It's your turn to cook dinner? I thought you were picking up Pup."
He looked up sharply just in time to see his younger daughter walk through the kitchen, warm-ups over her leotard and her giant gym bag on her shoulder. "She's messing with you, Dad," Pup informed him as she made her way toward her bedroom.
"Thanks, Pup," he replied sarcastically. "Hurry up and change. Dinner's in five minutes." He didn't catch her reply, but was sure it was something sarcastic.
"How did we get such a bratty daughter?" Kim asked with a sigh as she made her way toward the master bedroom to change out of her suit.
"It's not like she takes after her mother or anything," Jeff replied. Kim gave him that look he had learned pretty well over more than twenty-one years of marriage, that look that was a combination of amused and exasperated.
Jeff turned the oven to warm before following Kim to the bedroom. "How was your day?" she asked as she shed her slacks.
"Same as always," he replied. "Taught some grad students, did some research, took a nap."
"I was wrong all those years ago, when I made fun of how ridiculous your job was as a pediatrician. Clearly, the pinnacle of ridiculousness in the Navy Bureau of Medicine is the Director of Tropical Medicine at USUHS."
"We all make decisions in life," he said with a smile.
"And you just made the right ones," she finished the familiar joke for him. "We know, we know."
"How about you? Life in the Pentagram as exciting as always?"
She chuckled at their nickname for the Pentagon. "Actually, I had a meeting at the White House," she said.
"China?" he asked, knowing how much she hated that country.
"Surprisingly, no, although I did convince Anderson to brief me about it over the phone during the ride over, because I thought it was. It was something completely different."
"Something you can't talk about?"
"No, I can," she assured him. "Actually, I'm going to pick your brain about it after dinner." She tossed a sweatshirt over her head. "I smelled salmon when I walked in. Let's eat."
Pup was setting the table when they returned to the kitchen, prompting Jeff to kiss her on the top of the head. "For such a brat, you're occasionally a good kid," he teased her, making her roll her eyes. "How was school?" he asked as he crossed the kitchen to remove the salmon from the oven.
"Do you have any homework?"
"Some math and a bio project," she replied. "And some reading for English, but that doesn't even count."
"What're you reading?" Kim asked as she sat down.
"All Quiet on the Western Front," Pup replied.
"Are you sure you're in ninth grade?" Kim asked.
"Must be that fancy private school we're paying for," Jeff remarked, getting another eye roll from his youngest daughter. She was more and more like Kim every day, both in the way she looked—the same facial expressions, the same features, the same strong and slight build, although the light brown hair and hazel eyes were definitely his influence—and the way she talked, the intensity she lived every moment in, the endless energy that allowed her to put in four hours at the gym and seven hours at school every day and still be able to finish her homework at night. She was even talking about going into the Marine Corps, a not-unexpected career decision for the girl who, within days of her birth on the birthday of the Marine Corps, was decidedly not a Bethany and had been called Pup ever since.
They talked about Pup's biology project and the upcoming Navy soccer games in Annapolis that Saturday as they ate, and then Pup went off to her bedroom to do her homework and the parents returned to the kitchen to clean up. "What was this thing at the White House?" Jeff asked as he put the last of the dishes in the dishwasher.
"You want some wine?" Kim asked, already reaching for the glasses.
"That bad?" he asked sympathetically. He didn't know how she did it; he had a job that allowed for afternoon naps, and he was still tired at the end of the day. She dealt with issues that were infinitely more complicated than malaria deaths in Africa and just kept going.
"I think it'll help," was all she said as she poured the wine.
They settled into the couch, Kim leaning into him as she took a sip of her wine. He kissed her temple, running his hands through her hair like he always did, although it was now in a stylish bob that was just long enough to tuck behind her ear and streaked with a little gray, instead of the long black ponytails and braids she had worn for many years. She wasn't the twenty-five-year-old captain he had fallen in love with in Iraq anymore, or even the thirty-one-year-old NCIS special agent he had married, but that was okay. He wasn't as young as he once was, either. "Joe DiMarco has a brain tumor," she finally said. "I think he said glioblastoma."
"Aww, shit," he murmured. He had met the vice president a number of times, both at functions with Kim and at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where Andy DiMarco was staff in the neurology department. "So he's retiring?"
"He is," she confirmed. "They asked if I'm interested in the job."
He laughed, before he registered that she wasn't. "You're serious," he asked in disbelief.
"It's a strange world we live in, isn't it?"
"No offense, but why?"
"I asked the same thing," she admitted before sighing. She pushed her hair back from her forehead with her free hand before taking another drink of wine. "I'm apparently a political gold mine," she finally said. "The perfect piece to fill in all Armstrong's holes for the re-election campaign."
"The head of the RNC was there to explain it to me," she informed him. "The military history and military family is to counter Armstrong's lack of military experience, which now that I think about it, was probably the reason why DiMarco was chosen to be his VP in the first place." The current vice president was a retired general. "The Washington brings the West Coast in, although I doubt voters in California care much about someone who, on paper, lives in Washington state. Apparently, the fact that I'm half-Asian is supposed to make people feel better about the shithole that is China, which I don't get at all. And we've gotten to the point as a country where we're comfortable voting in women for the VP slot, even though we haven't put a woman in the White House yet." He nodded in agreement to that; despite there being serious primary, and later general election, bids for the Presidency by women, and despite people claiming to be ready for a female president, one had yet to be elected. Even the previous VP, who was number two to a popular two-term president, had lost to Armstrong in the general election. "The President and VP went on to talk about how refreshing it was that I've never been in politics, but I don't know how much I believe that. They're politicians; they know how to say what I want to hear."
"I think you should do it," he said, making her turn to him with a frown on her face.
"You do," she said in disbelief.
"You haven't had a single job that you hadn't done well," he said, being completely serious. "Marine officer, NCIS special agent, three different positions—high-level positions—for the Secretary of Defense… Kim, you were recruited for every single one of those jobs, and you were recruited for them because of how damn well you did at your previous job. I think you would be the best VP we've ever had, and I think they know that."
"Aren't you supposed to say that stuff?" she asked dubiously.
"That doesn't mean it's not true," he pointed out. She sighed.
"I think I could do a good job," she acknowledged, "but I want exactly nothing to do with the rest of the shit that goes with the job. The press, the publicity… And it wouldn't just be me. Jeff, everything you do would be watched, by either the paparazzi or Congress or the Secret Service. You can't tell me that sounds like fun. And same for the kids. We made a decision when we had kids that we would give them the most normal upbringing that any parents as screwed up as us could. Do you remember the late night debates about whether or not we should put Squid at St. John's, instead of keeping her in public school?" Of course he remembered, because he also remembered that they chose to live in Bethesda because it was such a good public school system.
But this was bigger than that. "First of all, Squid and Jack are safely stashed away at Annapolis. Squid's probably going straight into medical school and Jack's probably going straight into the Marine Corps. None of that will change regardless of what you decide to do, so they're non-factors. Take them off the list of concerns." She nodded in acknowledgement. "Now Pup's another issue," he admitted. "She's just a freshman and she's getting into national-level gymnastics meets. Her life would be impacted by this decision. We've been thinking of security issues with these big meets because of your job already, but if you're the VP of the United States, that's going to be a big issue and she might have to miss some meets because of it. There are bigger things in life than gymnastics, and she's just fourteen, so she doesn't know that yet, but she will, and can you imagine how guilty she would be in another decade if she knew that you turned down the vice presidency just so she could go to a few meets? And, hell, Kim, this is gymnastics. You don't know how many more bad falls she has until she's out for good."
"I don't know if I know what you're talking about," she said with a frown. "Which is actually nothing new, so keep talking."
"Hey," he protested, before kissing the top of her head again as he tried to figure out how to reword his argument. "I'm not saying we should make this decision without the kids, but we are the parents, and it's our job to know what things are most important with life."
"Okay, let's bench talk of Pup for a minute," Kim said. "What about you? I lived through the Jeff and Steph show, remember? I can still remember how little you enjoyed the public life, and you were a quite a few thousand miles away from the public life in Fallujah."
"Politics and politicking weren't even the largest reasons why Stephanie and I didn't work," Jeff reminded her. "We weren't right for each other." He tried to sort out his thoughts. "I'm also not twenty-nine anymore," he finally said. "And it's just like what I was saying—I know when things are more important, and our country is more important than me being able to go to BGR without people knowing about it. Besides," he said with a smile, "I don't think my life is nearly exciting enough for people to care to follow me around. What are they going to report on? That I spent another happy hour at Harp and Fiddle with the infectious disease division? That's hardly newsworthy."
"I like your Harp and Fiddle happy hours," she protested with a laugh. "You have some pretty entertaining coworkers."
"I know," he bragged. "Remember, decisions in life." She laughed and smacked him lightly on the chest. "Do what you think is right, Kim," he said seriously a moment later. "Just know that you have my complete support whichever direction you want to go. I mean it."
She looked up at him. "You really are the most perfect husband ever, aren't you? I'm sorry I'm such a difficult wife."
"You may be a difficult wife, but that doesn't mean you're not the perfect wife," he pointed out. "It just means you're the perfect wife for me. Because no matter what, there is nobody in the world I would rather be dealing with three bratty kids or these kinds of career decisions with than you."