Sequel: In Unexpected Places

Against the Odds

Against the Odds - Chapter Fifteen

If there were ever a day that Alex didn’t want to arrive, it was the Monday before Harry left.

When she woke up that day, she wished she could just shut her eyes and go back to sleep. She had to get up though, she had to get Emma ready and take her to school, she had to go to work, and then she had to come home and wait for Harry to come and spend the last few hours with her and Emma. Emma had asked Harry for a tea party tonight, and Harry had happily obliged, wanting to spoil Emma rotten before he left. Alex wanted to curl up in a ball and cry just thinking about it.

But she couldn’t.

So with a groan Alex got up. She showered and got ready before pulling Emma from her bed and getting her dressed and ready before sitting her down for breakfast.

“Mummy?” Emma asked as she took a mouthful of cereal.

Alex looked up from her laptop where she was checking the daily news. “Hmmm?”

“Can I make Harry a picture to give him tonight?”

Alex smiled, thinking of her own gift she had to give to Harry. “Of course, Em. What do you want to make him a picture of?”

“Me, you, and him playing tea party,” Emma said with a grin.

Alex’s heart surged. She was one hundred percent sure that Harry would love that.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea, Emma,” she said, reaching over to ruffle Emma’s hair. “Are you going to do it at school?”

Emma nodded. “After lunch we have playtime. Usually I go play outside but today I’ll stay in and draw my picture.”

“You really are a sweet little girl, you know that?” Alex said proudly.

“Yeah, I know,” Emma said somewhat dramatically, causing Alex to laugh.

It was then that Alex remembered her deal with Emma to not be sad all the time. With a determined deep breath she then decided that she needed to snap out of her funk and not let the day bring her down. If Emma could be so positive, then so could she. There was absolutely no use in moping around all day; it would serve her no purpose and it would only make tonight worse for her.
That day Alex did something she hadn’t done in a while. At work, instead of leading group meetings and being an intermediary, she joined in.

Without giving specifics – even if it was not yet public knowledge that Harry was being deployed - she explained that she was dating someone who was leaving for Afghanistan shortly. She talked about her feelings regarding it and how they were so much more intense because of her husband’s death years earlier. The support from the group members, their offers to be there for her anytime she should need it and their rock solid advice, made something click in Alex’s brain.

After the group meeting she went in to see Duncan, the on staff counselor. Alex needed his professional expertise, and so for the first time in a long time, she spent an hour on a therapist’s couch, spilling all of the thoughts that were rattling around in her brain.

She came out of his office with a new understanding of the changes that were happening in her life and the reactions she was having to them.

The tendency she had to bottle everything up, and to feel her emotions so fiercely because that, had been slowly taking her over since she met Harry.

She loved him, in an intense, scared that life won’t be the same without you kind of way. She wouldn’t change that for the world as she truly believed that is how love should be. But, she had gotten caught up in it too far and she had gotten close to forgetting how to be her own person apart from Harry. She hadn’t realized it was happening, as it happens most times. She had closed everyone off except for Emma and Harry, creating her own little bubble that was about to burst.

Duncan gave her what turned out to be the best advice anyone could have given her right at that moment in her life. She needed to get busy. She couldn’t just wait for Harry to come home in four months. It wasn’t healthy. She needed things to do, things that would be positive things for her life.

Armed with Duncan’s advice and a new sense of self, Alex made her way back to her office, shut the door, and started to make herself a plan.


Alex opened the door with a big smile that night, somewhat startling Harry, who had been steeling himself for tears.

“You look…scared,” she said with a laugh. She smiled and nodded at Mark as he brushed his way past her to check the apartment.

Harry shook his head. “I was expecting…”

“A blubbering mess?” she interrupted, her eyebrows raised.

He had the grace to look sheepish. “I wouldn’t say that.”

“That’s because you’re amazingly polite,” she teased.

Mark came back through, nodding the okay at Harry, who thanked him before moving into the apartment and shutting and locking the door firmly behind him. He had several large gift bags in his hands and set them down just inside the door before turning to her.

Alex moved into him instantly, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling his head down to hers. When his lips found hers he groaned and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her tight to him. Her mouth opened under his and his tongue immediately dipped in, teasing and stroking in that sexy way he had about him.

She was kissing the hell out of him, and damn if he was enjoying it, but suddenly a thought crept into his brain. He pulled his mouth back from hers slightly. “Alex, where’s Emma?” he asked, opening his eyes to look down at her flushed face.

Alex cocked an eyebrow. “I kiss you like that and you’re worried about where Emma is?”

Harry laughed and shook his head. “It’s the fear of your daughter walking in on you kissing me like that that has me worried.”

“Molly picked her up from school and is keeping her for about another hour. I wanted to talk to you about some things before she got here.”

“What kind of things?” he asked as she disentangled himself from his arms. She took his hand and pulled him toward the living room.

“Come in here and sit with me, I’ll tell you,” she said with a small smile.

He gladly followed, enjoying how relaxed she seemed. She pulled him to the couch, plopping herself down on one of the cushions and watching him as he did the same. She turned toward him, curling her legs up under. His lips turned up at the corners and he reached one of the hands in her lap, pulling it to his mouth and kissing her palm softly before pulling it down to his own lap.

“Alright Alex, you’ve got me all kinds of curious. What’s going on in that head of yours?”

“A lot, actually,” she said with a small laugh. “But let’s start with this. Today I sat in on a group session at work. I didn’t lead it, I joined. I didn’t give any specifics, but just kind of told them I was with someone who was going to Afghanistan.”

He lifted his eyebrows. “Alex, that’s wonderful.”

She nodded, her eyes bright. “It was wonderful. I felt so good after talking to all of them that I went and did a counseling session with Duncan.”

His fingers gripped hers. “And?”

“And I realized some things.”

Harry laughed. “You’re dancing around the subject. Spill it, Morgan.”

She took a deep breath. “I was on the verge of losing myself in you, Harry.”

He blinked and his lips fell. “I don’t know…what…” he trailed off, his brain completely failing him.

She immediately reached over and grasped his other hand, holding both of them tight.

“Don’t freak out, please. Just listen to what I have to say. I promise you this is not a bad thing. Let me get it all out before your mind goes berserk, okay?” she said quickly, holding his eyes with hers, making sure to keep steady.

He relaxed a bit, blinking a couple of times before he moved to strokes her knuckles with his thumbs, prompting her to continue.

“For my whole life, I’ve been very organized, very much a planner. I keep things in their nice little places and I keep my days on a schedule because that’s what works for me. The exception to this is when something gets right into my heart. When my heart wants something badly, nothing is going to stop me. I know that and, apart from the night I left you, I listen to it every single time.”

He grimaces at the mention of the night he told her he was being deployed, but shakes it off quickly, focusing back on the task at hand. “Was I one of the things that got right in your heart?” he asked, a small smirk playing on his lips.

“Absolutely,” Alex said swiftly, loving the smiled that appeared on his lips when she said it. “The problem with that is, when that happens I tend to put myself in a bubble. When I met John it happened, and I focused everything on him. We’ve talked about that briefly before, how I really didn’t make friends because of it. My whole entire world revolved around my relationship…and then he died.”

“Alex…” Harry said, his voice low and sympathetic.

She shook her head. “No, I have to get this out.”

He bit his words back squeezed a hand in his.

“I lost it, Harry. I mean…I really lost it. I was twenty years old, had just found out I was pregnant, and before I could even tell my husband he was dead. I couldn’t get out of bed. I laid there and stared at the wall, or the ceiling, or the back of my eyelids for weeks. I was losing weight too fast and if Molly wouldn’t have come in and forced me up and to the doctor, I would have lost Emma.”

Harry closed his eyes and she saw him swallow. When his eyes opened she saw the sheen of tears in them. She felt bad that she had to tell him all this right now, but it was all part of what he needed to know. She should have told him this long ago, but now she knew he had to know things things before he left tomorrow. It was therapy she needed to be able to tell him good-bye.

“My doctor recommended me to a psychologist that specialized in people who lose their spouses, and it helped, but paying someone to listen to me wasn’t what I needed right then. Sure, I had Molly, and my family took turns flying over to be with me, but I felt that none of them understood what I was going through. So, I didn’t talk to them. I ate because I had to, I kept myself healthy because I had to, but mentally…well, I was pretty fucked.” She stopped and looked at him, her eyes open to him and letting him absorb the most absolute honesty she could give him.

“Go on…” he said quietly.

And then she breathed a sigh of relief. If he could hear that and not walk out the door then the rest she could make it through. So she gathered up the rest of her courage and gave him the rest of it.

“That’s when I had the idea for the group meetings. I reached out and found other people like me, other people who had lost their significant others at war. I set up a weekly meeting where we could all get together at someone’s house and just cry on each other’s shoulders. These people understood me, and I understood them. It made me a person again to know let those people into my life, to talk to someone about my emotions.

“By the time I had Emma, I wasn’t completely better, but I wasn’t a shell anymore. And Emma…God I loved her so much from the second she born. I threw myself into becoming a good mother and it was such a healing process for me. Over time, my life fell into a pattern with her and with forming Healing Families Through Friends. Eventually, I became somewhat of my old self again, although I’ve always remained somewhat closed off and protective of myself and Emma,” she said, stopping to smile at Harry.

He understood the smile right away. “Until you met me,” he said with a soft voice.

She nodded. “Until I met you. And now, you’re going to war and up until this morning I was sliding fast into letting my whole world revolve around you. The result was that I didn’t know how I was going to deal with it you leaving and the fear that what happened to John could happen to you. I was struggling.”

“You could have talked to me, Alex. I knew you were sad, but I had no idea you were struggling so much.” His voice was full of hurt for her.

“I’m talking to you now.”

He nodded. “That you are, and I’m so happy that you are coming to me with this. So, tell me…you said that up until this morning you didn’t know how you were going to deal with this. What’s your plan now?”

She smirked. “What makes you think I have a plan?”

“Because I know you and you have a plan.”

“Okay, I have a plan.”

He laughed. “Come on, out with it then love.”

She sat up a little straighter, a smile spreading across her face. “I need to do something for myself. I’ve been doing for Emma for six years, and yes, I have HFTF, but it’s well under control and now I feel like I have all this attention that needs to go somewhere. I focused it all on you, and you deserve so much of it, but I need to reserve some for something that’s just mine. So…I’m going back to school. I’m going to finish my degree.”

His lips curved into a slow smile. “Alex, that’s…fantastic. What are hoping to get a degree in?”

She almost bounced up and down she was so thrilled her was happy for her. “Sociology,” she said with a grin. “I have two years left. There is a mini-term that starts in two weeks and I’ll just do one course. Then I’ll start really diving in for the summer term. I’ve always wanted to finish but it was never the right time.”

She was beaming and he was so incredibly proud of her. He was proud that she was doing something for herself, something completely separate from Emma, or her job, or him. He was proud that she had opened up to him about her life right after her husband died. He knew that she had been nervous talking about her depression and the continuing mental repercussions that came with that. He would never, ever think less of her for that. If anything, he loved her more for having the guts to find a way to pull herself out of it for the sake of her own mind and for their relationship.

“I love you, Alexandra. You are truly an amazing woman. I’m a lucky, lucky guy,” he finally said, tugging her hands so she moved closed and into his lap.

She sighed dramatically as she settled into him. “That you are.”

He threw his head back laughing. “You remind me so much of Emma when you do that.”

She wrinkled her nose. “She does that too doesn’t she?”

He nodded slowly and then leaned down to kiss her.

“Wait,” she said, holding her hand up and looking up at him with wide eyes when he pulled back from her. “I’m not entirely done.”

“Oh, I’m sorry…”

She shook her head. “It’s okay. I just wanted to say that even though I’ve come through this day okay so far, with amazingly no tears shed, that doesn’t mean when it’s time to say good-bye tonight that I won’t…” she stopped and swallowed, forcing the lump back. “It’s just going to be hard. But, I love you and I want these last couple of hours to be something to look back on and smile.”

“I think you are an incredible and amazingly brave woman, my love,” he said, his voice quiet but reverent.

“Even if I will be busier when you get back and won’t be at your beck and call?” she teased.

He pretended to think about it for a minute and then shrugged. “I’ll just have to sneak over late at night and tutor you…privately.” He wiggled his eyebrows.

She laughed. “Cad.”

“Completely,” he growled as he bent to kiss her again.

It was then that he heard the key in the lock at the door, which meant that Molly was there with Emma. He almost groaned, having wanted to kiss her for the better part of the hour, but he was excited to see Emma, so he just chuckled, kissed her swiftly and stood up, tipping her off of his lap as he went.

She grinned at him knowingly as they moved into the foyer, greeting Emma and Molly as they came in.

“Haarrrrryyyy!” Emma screeched.

“Emma, inside voice,” Alex chided, although she was trying to bite back a smile. She turned to Molly and gave her a hug as Emma ran into Harry’s arms. “Thanks for watching her for a little while.”

Molly waved her off. “No problem, my dear.” Then she turned to Harry and smiled. “Well, young man, I hear you are going to serve your country tomorrow.”

He grinned. “Yes ma’am.”

“Come home safe, you hear?”

He nodded. “I have every intention of doing just that.”

“Very good. Now, I’ll leave you kids to your evening as I have to meet some friends for dinner,” Molly said with a smile.

“Before you go,” Harry said, reaching out and putting a hand on her arm to stop her before she said her goodbyes. “I have something for you. I was going to give it to Alex to give to you, but since you’re here…” He walked over to the bags he had left by the doorway and picked one up, handing it to her.

Molly blinked, surprised. “You got me a gift?”

Harry shrugged. “You’ve helped out a lot with Emma since I came along and started monopolizing Alex’s time, and you have been so welcoming to me. I just wanted to show my appreciation.”

Molly looked to Alex, who had her fingers pressed to her mouth and tears in her eyes, and then to Emma, who was still had her little hand tucked tightly into Harry’s and was looking up at him adoringly. It was a beautiful moment and she didn’t know what to say.

“Open it,” Harry suggested. He gave her a small, encouraging smile; just a tilt of his lips that let her know he wanted her to open it while he was still there.

“Well, okay,” Molly said quietly. She pulled the paper from the bag, handing it to Alex. She pulled out a small, flat, velvet jewelry box and gasped, looking at Harry. “You shouldn’t have…”

He waved her off. “Of course I should have. Open it.”

She pulled it open slowly and smiled, pulling the necklace from the box. At the end of the fine silver chain was a pendant, the front of which was engraved with the British Army symbol.

“Turn it over,” Harry said quietly. When she did and saw the numbers engraved on the back, her eyes immediately flew to his and she clutched the pendent to her heart.

“I hope you don’t mind, but I called in a favor and found out his identification number and his date of death. I had them put on there for you. I just wanted you to know I don’t in any way expect anybody in this room, especially you, to forget that he lived or think I want to replace him,” Harry said, the sincerity radiating from his voice.

“Thank you,” Molly whispered before throwing her arms around Harry, squeezing him tight.

“I want to see,” Emma said, tugging on Harry’s hand.

Molly pulled back and mouthed one last “thank you” to Harry before leaning down and showing Emma the necklace. As she was explaining the symbols to Emma, Harry stepped back to let them have their moment and Alex moved next to him, taking his hand. She squeezed it tightly in her own and he turned his head down to look at her. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears.

“I’m not going to cry,” she whispered. “But that was…oh my God…”

“It wasn’t…”

She held up her free hand, silencing him. “It was and you know it.”

He shook his head but gave her a small smile, conceding to her as it was a fight her would never win.

Then Molly was back up and giving everyone hugs good-bye. She hugged Harry for several beats longer than the other, making sure to squeeze him extra tight.

“Be safe, young man,” she said, and then with one last wave she was gone.

As soon as the door was shut and Alex had turned the lock Harry, in his infinite wisdom, deflected any talk from his gift to Molly by instantly turning to Emma and saying, “Emma! So, about this tea party; I’d say this is just the right occasion to use the special set I got you for your birthday, don’t you?”

Emma eyes lit right up. “Really?”

“I think so. Should we ask what your mum thinks?” he said, turning his attention to Alex.

“Absolutely,” she agreed with a grin.

“But first,” Harry said with a wink at Emma. “You’ll have to open this.” He went over and grabbed another gift bag, the bigger of the two that were left, and handed it to Emma. “You’ll need this for a proper tea party.”

“What is it?” Emma asked ask she took the bag excitedly.

“You’ll have to open it to find out, silly,” Harry laughed.

Emma wasn’t as delicate with unwrapping her present as Molly had been with hers. She ripped the paper out of the bag, tossing it onto the floor, before reaching in and pulling out a dress.

Except that it wasn’t just any dress. It was a replica of Belle’s dress from Beauty and the Beast, similar to the one Emma had worn at their first tea party. However, this one wasn’t the flimsy kind that was sold in the stores. This one was professionally made out of fine fabrics and beautifully put together.

Alex gasped and immediately knelt down with Emma to look at the dress.

“Wow,” Emma breathed. “It’s so pretty.”

Alex ran her fingers over the material and then admired it as Emma turned it over in her hands, looking at every detail.

“What do we say to Harry for giving you this wonderful present?” Alex whispered to Emma.

Emma immediately looked up at Harry. “Thank you,” she said. Her voice was almost shy and very quiet. She was completely awestruck.

Harry then sat down on the floor, right there in Alex’s foyer, and pulled Emma onto his lap. “You are going to grow so fast in the next couple of years pretty girl, so wear this as much as you can, okay? This isn’t like the tea set that is for special occasions only.”

Emma nodded. “But what it gets messed up or dirty?”

Harry laughed and tickled her quickly, loving the little giggle that escaped. Then he said, “In that case I’ll have it fixed or cleaned for you.”

“Can I put it on now?” Emma asked with wide, hopeful.

“Of course,” Harry said. “You have to give me a hug and kiss first though.”

Emma immediately wrapped her arms around his middle, squeezing him tight. Then she leaned up and kissed his cheek quickly before scrambling out of his lap and almost sprinting down the hall to her bedroom. He laughed and looked at Alex when the door slammed behind her.

Alex shook her head at him, trying to rapidly blink away tears. “You,” she said pointing a finger down at him, “are ripping my emotions to shreds tonight. I told you I didn’t want to cry until…later…and here you are, forcing my hand.”

He immediately stood from his spot on the floor and moved to wrap his arms around her. “I didn’t mean to,” he said softly.

She laughed. “No, you didn’t. But you are ridiculously sweet and amazing that it just happens.”

He tilted her chin up with his finger and looked down into her eyes. “I’m neither of those things most of the time. I like doing these things for you and the people in your life. It makes you happy which makes me happy.”

“I love you, do you know that?” she responded with a smile.

“I do,” he said and then dropped a small kiss to her lips.

“Mummy!” Emma’s voice shouted from the bedroom. “I need help!”

Alex laughed and then moving from Harry’s arms went off to help her daughter with the beautiful dress.


The tea party went wonderfully. They all laughed and joked and both Alex and Harry made sure to tell Emma that she made the best tea and desserts ever.

But as the party wound down and the clocked ticked closer to Emma’s bedtime, Alex could see Harry getting tense. She could see him beginning to get sad about the goodbyes that were imminent and he was withdrawing into himself.

Alex decided that she needed to draw things to a close. Emma was going to be sad to say good-bye to Harry and even though it was a special good-bye, she needed to get Emma into bed at a decent time otherwise the next morning was going to be twice as hard for both of them.

So with a heavy heart she looked at Harry with a sad smile and then turned to Emma. “Okay Emma Rose, it’s getting close to bed time.”

Emma looked up at her and immediately her lower lip started to tremble. “No…” she whimpered, her eyes pleading.

Alex nodded. “Yes. I’m so sorry, baby, but it’s time to tell Harry good-bye.”

Emma shook her head and the tears started to come. “No Mummy, I can’t.”

Alex’s breath hitched, but she dug deep and found the strength she needed to remain firm. “You have to, Emma.”

And then Emma’s face crumbled. The sobs started in earnest and Alex had to choke back her own that threatened to burst forward.

Harry, watching this unfold but not knowing what to say or do, finally moved. He stood and picked up Emma into his arms. She immediately folded her arms around his neck and buried her face into his shoulder. He moved with her to her bed where he sat, rocking her gently back and forth as she clung to him.

He heard Alex move from her spot across the room and he looked to her.

“I can’t,” she whispered, her hands held out in front of and her eyes wide. He nodded at her with sad eyes and watched as she left the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

“Emma,” Harry said softly, stroking her hair. “It’s going to be okay. I’m going to be okay.”

That only made her cry harder and Harry felt his heart breaking slowly. He was as attached to her as she was to him and he was just aching with the sadness of not seeing her for four months. He had always loved children, any and all children, but Emma was different. He connected with her beyond just the normal ease and comfort he felt whenever he was working with kids. He loved her like…well, he didn’t have children yet, but he could imagine that if he did he would love them like he loved Emma.

“Please don’t go,” Emma whimpered into his neck. “We haven’t gotten to do all the fun things together we want to do. It’s not fair that you have to leave before we can do those things.”

The tears Harry had fought hard against surged to the surface then, and he blinked, trying to push them back in, but it only served to push them out. They ran down his cheeks and he reached up quickly to swipe them away.

“Emma, I’ll be back in four months and then we can do all of the fun things I promised that we would do. I promise you that. But, I have to go. This is my job and it’s something that I have to do.”

She remained gripped tightly to him but her sobs eventually became sniffles. She was still breathing hard though with the emotion of it all. He remained quiet and let her continue to calm down, waiting for her to get it all out.

Eventually she released her grip on his neck and leaned back slowly to look at him. He had to force himself not to get upset when he saw how red her eyes were, how devastated she looked.

“But my Daddy didn’t come back,” she said in a small voice. “I never got to meet him. Mummy said he loved me, but he didn’t come back to meet me.” Her small hands wiped at her wet face as she said it. Harry reached up, brushed her hands away and wiped away her tears with the sleeve of his shirt.

“I’m sure he did love you, Emma. How could he not? I’m sure he’s up in Heaven right now, looking down and thinking how much he would have liked to meet you. And as for me, Emma; I am so glad I met you. You and your mum are so important to me. Nothing in the world could keep me from coming back here to both of you,” Harry said gently.

“Do you love us?”

“Yes,” Harry answered quickly.

“Mummy and me?”

“Yes Emma, I love both you and your mum very much.”

“I love you too,” Emma said in a small voice.

“I’m very glad,” Harry responded quietly. “Do you think you’ll be okay now if I tuck you in and then go say good-bye to your mum?”

Emma nodded. “Can I sleep in my new dress?”

“I think that would be okay, just this once,” Harry said, laughing.

Emma leaned forward and threw her arms around Harry one more time. They hugged each other tightly for a minute before Emma pulled back, climbed out of Harry’s arms and got under her covers.

“Mummy always turns my night light on over there,” Emma said, pointing at towards where the light was plugged in. “Then when she leaves she closes the door but not all the way. You have to leave it open just a bit.”

Harry grinned and went and turned the night light on. He returned to her beside and switched the lamp on. He leaned down and kissed her cheek quickly. “Goodnight Emma. I’ll see you soon, okay?”

Emma nodded. “Goodnight. See you soon, Harry.”

He backed out of the room and left the door just as Emma had asked him. He stopped and took several deep breaths before moving to find Alex. That had been unbelievably rough and he was already emotionally drained.

And now he had to say good-bye to Alex.

He really didn’t know how he was going to be able to walk away from her tonight, but he had to. Giving himself a pep talk to get moving, he moved out to the living room and found her there, sitting on the window seat with her back against the wall, staring out into the night.

“Alex,” he said softly. It startled her and she turned quickly, blinking several time as she sat and tried to process how to do this. He moved over to her, sitting down on the window seat with her, his back propped up against the opposite wall. “That was really hard,” he murmured.

She nodded. “I couldn’t stay. It was too much. Now, how do we do this?” she asked. Her voice wavered and so did his control on himself.

He took a deep breath and wiped his hands on his jeans. “I don’t know how we say good-bye, Alexandra. But I do know that before we do, we need to talk about a few things.”

“If you’re about to tell me what happens if something happens to you then I don’t want to hear it,” she said. The first tear slipped from her eye and slid down her cheek.

“I have to,” he said firmly. “You know I have to.”

She swallowed and turned her face towards the window again for a few moments before turning back to him. “I know,” she whispered.

He decided to just say what he needed say. He would stall all night if he didn’t just get it out. With a deep, solid breath he began the speech he had planned out so carefully.

“Alex, if something happens, anything, if I am injured or…” he swallowed,” worse…you won’t hear about from anyone but my father or William. They have your phone number and all of the addresses to places you might be. They will find you before word even comes close to hitting the press. The military won’t let anything about me get out until my family is aware and has made decisions on it. Do you understand?”

Alex nodded, trying desperately to win the tug of war with her emotions.

“Say it, Alex. Tell me you understand,” he demanded. He needed to know she was listening and absorbing what he was telling her.

“I…I understand,” she said with a ragged breath.

“Also, if I don’t come home…the fact that you and I are together will never hit the press unless it is your decision to put it there. If you do go public, whether it be for HFTF or whatever you chose, my family will back up your story one hundred percent. You’ll have to disclose to them the details you wish to share, but they will stand behind you.”

The thought of that ripped through Alex and she covered her face with her hands, hanging her head down as she cried at the thought of a life without Harry.

He was dying to go to her, to hold her, to comfort her, but he wasn’t done. He had one more thing to get through before he could do all of those things.

“Alex, look at me,” he said quietly but firmly. She shook her head but a few seconds later lifted her eyes to his. He sucked in a breath at the heartbreak he saw there. “If something happens to me, I’ve set up certain provisions…for Emma.”

“What do you mean?” she asked hoarsely.

“Because we aren’t engaged or married there isn’t really any kind of monetary sum I could set aside for you. But, I’ve set up a scholarship fund for Emma. She’ll have access to the best private schools and the best education that could possibly be given to her. I want that for her and…” he trailed off when her face scrunched up and her shoulders started to shake. He took a shaky breath, knowing he didn’t have much left in him. “I hope that you would accept that in lieu of everything else I plan to give you.”

It was as close to alluding to a future with her as he could allow right now and she loved him more in that moment than she could possibly say. The fact that he had thought about her daughter’s future that seriously and had taken steps to secure it meant everything in the world to her.

“I would accept that,” she whispered.

He exhaled. “I’m very glad,” he said. Then he reached over and held out a hand to her. “I’m done now,” he whispered.

She didn’t waste a second. Bypassing his hand completely she crawled across the window seat and into his lap and his arms. She wrapped herself around him, laying her head against his chest, listening to his heart. He arms went around her and he held her there, so close against him.

She didn’t sob. She didn’t beg him not to go. She held him and he comforted her with gentle hands on her back while she let the hot tears roll down her cheeks until there were no more left.

When she was done she sat back and took a deep breath, raising her big blue eyes to his. “I saw you brought me a present,” she finally said in a small voice.

He was startled by the subject change for a second and then he laughed; amazed as always at her ability to draw him back from the edge of whatever emotion he was feeling.

“I did.”

“Good, because I have a present for you too,” she said. She scrambled off of the window seat and left the room, going to get his gift. He got up himself and picked up hers up from where he had left it in the foyer. He moved back into the living room, this time sitting on the couch. She joined him moment later, holding two wrapped rectangular packages.

He held out her bag when she sat. “Ladies first,” he said with a smirk.

She smiled and took the bag, pulling out the paper and threw it on the floor next to her, not caring about making a mess. She pulled out a small, leather bound book. Her full name was embossed on the front in gold. “A journal?” she asked, slightly confused.

“Of sorts,” he said. “I had one made for you and one made for me. There are 120 pages in each one, one for every day I am gone. I thought that if we could each write something we did in them each day, then we could read them together when we came back. I like the idea of being able to compare our days. I thought it may make everything more normal in retrospect.”

She stared at him for a second before recovering her wits. “Harry, this is so amazing. It’s so thoughtful and…perfect. I love it. I love you. Thank you,” she said.

He leaned across and kissed her softly. “You’re welcome. I’m glad you like it.”

She shook her head and hugged it to her heart. “Love it.”

And then she reached over to the coffee table, sat the journal on it, and pulled the two rectangular packages from it and into her lap. She handed him the first one and he got inexplicably nervous.

“That one is from Emma,” she said.

His mouth turned up into a slight grin as he pulled the paper back and off of the present. When he pulled out the framed picture that Emma had drawn that day a huge grin lit up his face. “This is us?” he said, his eyes dancing at the three stick figures, two with yellow hair drawn in and one with a shock of bright red, playing tea party.

She nodded. “She drew it today for you at school. I ran by the school early this afternoon and got it from her so I could frame it for you. I think she wanted to give it to you herself, but must have forgotten in all the tea party madness.”

“I love it,” he said, “Make sure and tell her thank you for me.”

“I will,” she said softly and then handed him the other present. “Now, this one is from me.”

He pulled the paper back and then he felt the air leave his lungs when he saw what was in the frame.

“When did you…when was this?” he whispered, looking at the picture of him and Emma asleep together in Alex’s bed and then up at her, his eyes full of emotion.

“The night before we left for Balmoral; the night when we made up from me ridiculously leaving you after you told me you got deployed. I woke up early and saw you two like that. I couldn’t help myself and needed a picture. I got a copy framed for myself and it’s sitting on my nightstand.”

“Alexandra, this is wonderful. I love it so much,” he said. His fingers were laid lightly on the glass of the frame. He couldn’t tear his eyes from it.

“If you open the back of the frame there is an extra copy in there as well as one of the pictures we took at Balmoral of us. I know you can’t really display the frame in Afghanistan, but I thought you might like to have copies there with you,” she said with a small smile.

He couldn’t help the tear that escaped, but he still swiped it away quickly. “This is the best gift you could have given me. I mean it,” he told her, making sure she understand how important it was to him.

She was pleased he was so happy with it and threw him a big smile that warmed every part of him.

It was then that she made the mistake of looking at the clock. The smile slowly faded when she saw that it was almost ten at night and he had to be up in six hours to fly to Afghanistan.

“It’s time,” she murmured, looking back to him with wide, nervous eyes.

“I have to,” he whispered brokenly.

They both sat there for another minute or so, not wanting to be the first one to initiate this moment. Then Alex gathered strength she didn’t know she had left and stood, holding out her hand. “Come on Captain Wales; let me walk you to the door.”

His breath hitched in his chest but he took her hand and stood. He gathered the frames and held them under his arm as he moved slowly behind her to the doorway.

She turned around and faced him. “This isn’t good-bye, Harry, so let’s not say it. Just kiss me proper and tell me you love me and you’ll see me soon. Then go do your job and come home. I’ll be waiting for you right here when you get back.”

And because she was right, he set the pictures on the small table by the door and pulled her into his arms. He kissed her proper and then kissed her in a way that society would deem completely improper. He told her he loved her and told her he would see her very soon. Then he used every bit of willpower he had and moved from her arms. He picked up his gifts and then threw her one last sexy smirk of a grin and then he was gone.

It was then, only after the door was shut, locked, and Alex could no longer hear his footsteps in the hall that she let herself go. Her legs gave out and she sank to the floor, sobbing loudly into her hands as the man she loved left her to go to war.