Lambert was a lot more strict with Carol’s physical training than Hartmann had been. She was still fatigued from the previous day’s exercise, and moved with the stiff sluggishness of sore muscles, but the captain was determined to not ease up on her. Hartmann remained silent as Lambert informed Carol that he wanted her to jog for the entire mile, then took up his position in the rear with the other two side by side in front of him.
While Lambert hadn’t directly ordered him to tag along, he hadn’t dismissed him, either. Hartmann wasn’t going to leave Carol alone with the captain when he had a choice in the matter, feeling oddly fearful that the other man would have no trouble in snatching her away.
Hartmann had never been in an actual relationship before. While he carried himself with all the bravado of a stud, he didn’t know if he had what it took to entice a woman to stay with him for longer than a night. He was empty – yet Carol’s blandness echoed that emptiness back to him, and made his heart ache for someone to share it with. Especially with how unapologetic and open she was about her nature.
Lambert was a real person, and could easily win against a life-sized action figure.
When they finished the first lap, he overheard Lambert murmur, “Good. Keep going.” He watched as Carol looked up at the captain and smiled. He traced back through his memories to figure out if she had smiled at him the day before.
He wanted to insert himself, to steal the moment away from the captain, but he had nothing to say.
Then Carol’s strength gave out. She halted and bent over, pressing her hand into her side as she gasped for breath.
Lambert faced her and gently urged, “Just one more lap.”
She shook her head and protested, “I’m going to throw up.”
“All right then, we’ll walk. But you are going to finish the full mile, Carol.”
“I can’t!” she snapped angrily.
Hartmann felt a lump form in his throat, from both shock and amazement. He hadn’t expected her to bite like that, especially at her commanding officer. She was too mousy, too obedient, to behave like that. Lambert, on the other hand, didn’t seem surprised at all.
He barked, “Get your lazy ass moving, commander!”
His words cut through to her, and she yelped, “Yes sir!” and began jogging again, her face turning an even deeper shade of red.
Lambert took up his position in front of her, moving backwards so he could face her. “When you cross that finish line, you’re going to drop and give me a push up as punishment for talking back to your superior. When I tell you to finish the mile, you finish it on your hands and knees with vomit trailing down your chin if that’s what it takes, do you understand?”
Hartmann couldn’t make any moves with Lambert watching. He remained in the background, observing but not participating, waiting patiently. Carol slowed down to an awkward gait, holding her side as she walked, her eyes fixed directly at her own feet. She didn’t notice when she crossed the finish line or when the captain stopped, and she would have bumped into Lambert if Hartmann hadn’t quickly reached out to catch hold of her arm. He let go quickly, and avoided Lambert’s narrowed eyes.