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26

Rick sat watching as Cooper paced back and forth across the hospital room floor, favoring his right leg in the process.

“Dammit, she’s overdue.”

Rick shifted in his chair, understanding that there was nothing he could say at this moment to help his friend find comfort, but knowing that he had to say something.

“Mr. Wilson?”

Cooper and Rick turned to see Agent Roy standing in the doorway, teetering on a wobbly cane.

“I know what you plan to do, and I want to help.  I can’t go,” Roy said, looking down at a body that he clearly could not yet rely on, “but I have a friend who wants to help.”

Rick turned to Cooper and smiled before saying “Who’da thunk it?  Roy actually has a friend.”

Cooper’s lips twisted into a wry smile, and said “Quiet.  A very serious guy is about to tell us about another serious guy who we should take seriously.”

Agent Roy’s poker face almost melted away for a second, and he said “I suppose I deserve that.”

Cooper’s smile faded and he looked Agent Roy squarely in the eye.  “No.  No, you don’t.  You have the job you have because you’re serious, and you wouldn’t be good at it if you weren’t.  The fact is that I owe you my life, and that is only because your sovereign deemed it worthy of that sacrifice, not because of anything I am or have done.  It’s a thankless job, and if you’re lucky, you might live to retirement, and have a chance to have a life of your own before you die.”

Roy regarded Cooper for a long moment, then said “And that is why I’m going to remain on your detail.  And why my friend is willing to help.”

Rick stood up and said “So who is this guy?”

Roy shifted on his cane and said “His name’s Denny.  He’s ex-SAS.  Not much on conversation, but the only person I’d want more to be on my side in a fight would be a ghurka.”

The question was on Cooper’s face before it escaped his lips.  “Ex-SAS?  I didn’t think anyone in the King’s service was “Ex” anything right now.  I thought it was all hands on deck.”

It was Roy’s turn to laugh.  “I said he was good.  I didn’t say he had authority issues that make the Colonel over there look like a well-mannered school boy.  Honestly, in different times, he’d be in prison, but the Crown would be wasting too many resources keeping him incarcerated.  And if things ever got bleak, he’d be “doing the right thing” out of sheer self-interest.”

“And how would you happen to know this guy?” Rick asked.

“We’ve been friends since childhood.  When I told him what was at stake, and he realized that this was something that I’d do for you if I could be an asset rather than a liability, he agreed to go in my place.”

Roy paused for a minute, looking at Cooper. “And any other time, he’d refuse to take you, because you’re a liability, but he knows nothing would keep you from going.”

Cooper nodded to Roy, saying nothing.

Roy said “I’m gonna send him in, and I’m going back to my room, because if I knew what you were planning, I’d have to report it to my superiors, who would report it to the Crown, and then we would all be clapped in irons to keep us from doing it.”

And with that, Agent Roy turned and slowly made his way down the hall.

A minute later, a tall man with brown hair and five o’clock shadow strolled silently into the room, and said “Colonel, Mr. Wilson?  I’m Denny, and apparently, we’re going after a member of His Majesty’s Forces who has been kidnapped by our southern neighbors.  Get your coats, we disappear now, before the Crown can act to stop us.”

25

Lise came to slowly, and marveled at how the pain in her head started softly, and came to creep out over her entire body.  As her vision drifted slowly into focus, and she came to fully hear sounds again, she realized that her arms and legs were bound, and she was lying on her side on a very cold slab of concrete.  The pain in her head started to radiate in waves, and she could see daylight, of a sort, drifting in through filthy windows overhead, illuminating the dust in the air.  Her mouth and throat were dry, and she suddenly felt an uncontrollable urge to cough.

From behind her, Teresa croaked “You’re finally awake.  For all the good it will do you.”

“Where are we?” Lise choked.

“A safehouse, somewhere near the border.”  Teresa said.

Lise thought she heard something…resigned…in Teresa’s voice.

“What are they going to do with us?”  Lise asked, trying to keep her voice level.

Teresa sighed.  “Well, they’re working on a way to get us across the border undetected.  When they do, I’ll face a summary hearing, and a firing squad.  They’ll use you as bait to get Cooper, then probably kill you in front of him, before executing him in away that will leave no doubt that he is well and truly dead this time.”

Although it was close to what Lise expected to hear, she still felt the sting of the description of the fate that likely awaited them both south of the border.  As she held her breath in, Teresa continued “Thankfully, Cooper is still in the hospital, so they won’t succeed in using you as bait.”

Lise tried not to shift too much upon hearing this declaration, but Teresa picked right up on her discomfort.

“No…” she rasped.  “He can’t…”

Lise sighed, and said “He would.  Rick knows he couldn’t stop him.  He was already getting up and getting around before I left.  And Agent Roy was trying to get out of bed too.”

“Damn him.  Damn him to Hell.  What is he thinking?” Teresa asked.

Lise realized that up until this moment, she never truly understood “It’s Complicated” as a relationship status.

“Still, the King will stop him.  His intelligence people have to know what he is doing.”

Lise frowned, and was glad that her back was to Teresa.  “I’m pretty sure that he and Rick have probably  figured out a way to bypass the intelligence groups.”

Teresa laughed softly, then harder.  When she regained her composure, she said “Well, if anyone knows how to get by without intelligence, it’s Rick and Cooper.”

The two women stopped talking, and listened to the wind blow through the gaps in the building’s aging walls.

Finally, as the light outside started to fade, Teresa said “Alright.  I guess we have t think of a way to prevent those two from getting killed.  I’m sure that is something we can both agree is important, Major.  I suspect that we can agree on that, even if it means we lose our own lives in the process.”

Lise rolled over on the cold concrete to look Teresa in the eye, and to assure herself that the two really were in agreement.  She was not disappointed.

24

Lise looked over her shoulder one more time, shivering involuntarily in the cold night.

The instructions that Teresa had sent brought her to this broken down loading dock at an hour where even the drunks were sleeping it off.  She had followed a circuitous route, trying not to capture anyone’s attention.  As near as she could tell, she succeeded.  She stepped up to the dilapidated door, and knocked softly.  The door opened slightly, but she could only see darkness inside.  She heard Teresa rasp “Get in here,” so she stepped forward and let out a slight gasp as the door slammed behind her.

“I didn’t think you’d come.” Teresa said, her form obscured by darkness.

“Well, the consensus was that it is a trap.”  Lise replied softly.

A low chuckle drifted from Teresa’s darkened form.  “I’m sure he didn’t want you to come.”

Lise replied  “Actually, Colonel Gearheart was the one who tried to talk me out of it.  He left me with the distinct impression that if something happened to me, he would make the life of the person responsible short, hot, and very unpleasant.”

“Rick.” Teresa spat.  I never understood why he and Cooper are such good friends.  And if it weren’t for him, Evan might…”  Her voice trailed off in the darkness.

Lise didn’t know what to say, but she was fairly certain that anything she might say would be wrong, so she opted to let Teresa talk.

“I’m sure I must seem like quite a bitch to you, Major.  Maybe I am.  I’ve come to think that I never really appreciated my husband.  I know I never understood his kind of power, at least not until I came to see how it has endured.  I guess I would have never been satisfied with him, because it was bound to make him a magnet for all the wrong kinds of attention, and it did.  But I loved my sons…I STILL love my remaining son, but I never had the closeness with them they had with Cooper.”

Lise listened, feeling not quite surprised at these admissions, but wondering why Teresa had chosen to confide in her.

“And I would like to get something straight, Major.  I don’t like you.  I probably never will.  But I like how happy Cooper is with you.  I’ve been watching you all for a month or so now, and you are clearly a good thing for him.  Just because I left him, it doesn’t mean that I hate him, and I really am glad to see the two of you together.”

Teresa paused, and even in the dark room, Lise could see her tilt her head upward.  Lise thought she could hear the tiniest noises crossing the ceiling above them.

“Dammit!  You were followed!” Teresa hissed.  Before Lise could respond, the door crashed in and chaos, disguised as flashes, smoke, and pain followed.

“You can’t trust her.  It’s a trap.”  Rick spat, shaking his head.

Lise looked at him, and retorted “Of course it’s a trap.  But if she has information on what the States are likely to do next, I think we have to proceed.”

“Has it ever occurred to you that she wants to kill you?  I mean, you are sleeping with her husband, and her son has clearly grown attached to you.”  Rick asked, trying to not let the concern he felt creep into his voice.

“Why Colonel,  I didn’t realize that you cared.” Lise said sarcastically.

Rick shifted his weight on his feet, a cloud rolling over his face before he growled in a low voice “If something happened to you…I don’t want to see Cooper or Jake go through that.  Ever.  You have been great for them both, and Cooper deserves that happiness.  I’ve never seen a man endure so much to finally achieve it.  He’s my friend, and I don’t want to see him hollowed out with grief over losing you, and the effect it would have on Jake.”  He looked down at the floor, clearly disturbed that he’d said this much, and maybe a little angry that she could draw it out of him to begin with.

Lise quietly contemplated him for a few minutes before asking “Colonel…Rick…how long have you been married?”

“I’ve never mentioned that I’m ma…”

“You didn’t have to.  Remember what I do for a living.”

A smirk twisted Rick’s expression.

“So you’re just messin’ with me for fun?”

“Hardly.”

“Did he tell you?”

“Cooper?  Oh no.  I’ve never asked him anything about you, and he’s volunteered very little.  But when I see you two together, I know you’ve known each other a long time, and that you both trust each other, which is a big deal, because neither of you are “trusting souls”.  But I watch you sometimes, and I’ve listened to what you’ve said about me and him, and I know that you’re married.”

Rick looked at Lise and said “Yeah.  She’s my second wife.  And after the crap I went through with the first, I never thought I’d get married again.  I think it worked so well because I fell in love with her brain first.”

Lise smiled, but didn’t say anything.

Rick shifted again and said “When I see Cooper with you, I see him relaxed.  I can see you  care, probably more than you ever meant to, and I see that the two of you can just be.  You don’t have to be talking.  You don’t have to be doing anything specific, you can just be together and enjoy each other’s company without saying anything at all.  That’s a good thing.  Maybe the only thing.  And he needs that.”

“What the hell, Old Man?” came Cooper’s voice in a hoarse croak.  “She’s MY hot shrink.  Get your own, dammit.”

Lise and Rick looked towards the bed in the center of the room, where Cooper sat grinning, squinting through narrowed eyes clearly pained by the antiseptic fluorescent lights humming overhead.

Rick stepped toward Cooper and asked “How much did you hear, Hoss?”

Cooper turned his head slightly to face his friend and said “Enough.”

Rick’s face asked the question that remained locked behind his lips.  “Yes, Old Man.  I think Nick was scared to death of you while you were cooking the bacon at the party at Mack and Kat’s house.  Does that answer your question?” Cooper said quietly.

Rick let out a chuckle and nodded.

Cooper’s smile faded.  “Good.  Because I think Lise is right.  If Teresa has even a hint of what they are planning, we need to find out what it is.”

Lise stepped to the opposite side of Cooper’s bed, and quietly took his left hand into hers.  She found herself unable to put into words all the feelings she had for this man, but realized when his eyes met hers that she didn’t have to, because she had said it all without saying a word.

Lise froze, trying to decide what to do next.  “Don’t bother with the elevator,” Teresa said, anticipating one course of action.  “It will not work again until I want it to.”  She stepped out of the darkness, into the light spilling out from the open elevator door.

Teresa looked at Lise with a combination of haughtiness and grudging respect.  “If I wanted to hurt you, that would have already happened.” she stated flatly.  “And if I wanted you dead, you would have never seen it coming.”

Lise stood quietly, weighing the truth of these words, but not knowing why they had been spoken in the first place, before deciding to let Teresa keep talking without any interruption.

“You really are quite beautiful.  Certainly not a fashion model, or the normal ideal of beauty, but you are beautiful.” Teresa said while walking around Lise, who was standing quietly.  “I can certainly see what my husband sees in you.” She said, pausing while looking at Lise’s backside.

“By now, you are undoubtedly wondering why I brought you here.  Believe it or not, I still love my husband, and my remaining son.” Lise couldn’t conceal the slight flinch at the mention of Jake.  Teresa’s eyes seemed to sparkle a bit more at this involuntary tell.  “You needn’t worry.  I didn’t come to get either one back.  Not really.  I know there is too much water under those bridges to safely cross them again, even if I could get either one of them to trust me enough to do so.  Actually, I’m glad for the three of you.  I can tell how happy Cooper is with you.  He might never say it out loud, but his body language with you says all there is to say about that.  And Jake.  He trusts you.  I’m guessing that the two of them are the most truly relaxed and at peace that they have been in years.”

Lise felt her angry growing, and could take no more. “Only if you don’t count the nightmares.  They are less frequent, if you don’t count when Rick showed up, but they both still dream about Evan.”

Teresa’s face clouded as anger filled her eyes, and her mouth contorted into a snarl.  “Evan.  He didn’t have to die.  I had already guaranteed his safety, and Jake’s.  But then Cooper ran, and took them with him.  And then Rick showed up, and spoiled the raid.  You don’t know the whole story.  You only know what happened.  I miss him.  I miss all of them.”  Both women were silent for a few moments.

When she spoke again, her words were calm and measured.  “I heard that they were alive.  I wasn’t sure I believed it, but I knew I had to see for myself.  I left myself think that maybe I could bring him home…that I could bring them both home.  And then they came for me.   They actually thought they could keep me, and so they were careless, and discussed their plans in front of me.”

Teresa paused for a few seconds, before taking a tangent.  “I saw how you defended Jake.  I couldn’t have done better myself.  Thank you.”

Taking another moment, Teresa recomposed herself, and said “They’re planning on coming for him.  They won’t be subtle.  They WILL come in force.  I know the details.  I will share them, but…”

Lise looked at Teresa “But what, exactly?”

Teresa turned and looked Lise in the eye and said “But I want asylum.  I want a place here.  Things are about blow up completely, and I think they don’t care who gets hurt now.”

Lise silently analyzed what she had just heard, trying to figure out if she believed any of it, and if she could afford to pretend that she could afford to not try to learn more.

Lise was tense.  The elevator ride seemed to be taking longer than usual, and she hated hospitals.  The artificial light, the antiseptic smell, and the worry.  It had been almost a month, and Cooper remained in a coma.  Lise was tired, and had come back to the hospital despite having left only a few hours earlier, because worry prevented her from sleeping.  When she walked past the detail outside the room, and saw Cooper laying there, with his friend Rick talking to him about a party they had both attended many years before in Texas.  Rick looked up at Lise, and asked “What are you doing here?  You need to get some rest.”

Lise smiled, and “I couldn’t sleep.  Besides, I like to hear some of these stories about the two of you when you were both younger.”

Rick shifted slightly in his chair and said “It was a long time ago, with friends, most of whom are long dead. Just an old guy reminiscing with a friend.  But I swear, when I talked about how Fred was giving me the eye, and how Cooper told him that there was nothing to worry about as long as you could hear me talking, but it was time to worry when I got silent, I swear he smiled just a little bit.”

Lise paused, silently thankful for the friendship this man had with Cooper.  Rick couldn’t ignore the concern she  was concealing with her smile and said “Seriously, Lise.  You look dead on your feet, and this is no place to get any rest, now is it, Agent Roy?”  The agent, sitting quietly in a chair in the other corner nodded slightly and said, “No Colonel, it is not.”  Although Roy was still recovering from his wounds, and not yet cleared to return to duty, he insisted on spending as much time in Cooper’s room as possible as soon as he was able to walk.

Knowing that he was right, and not wanting to give him the satisfaction of letting him know, Lise debated with herself before saying “Ok, Rick.  I guess you’re right.”

Rick got up out of his chair, ad said “I’ll walk you to the elevator.”

The two walked out of the room, and when out earshot of the detail, Rick asked in a hushed tone “How’s Jake?”

Lise frowned, and replied “Better.  It was a big shock for him, and he is still trying to process it.  Having Cooper unable to communicate with him isn’t helping.”

Rick nodded.  “For what its worth, Jake trusts you, and I think he loves you too.  That has to help when you talk with him.”

Lise said “Only so much.  Deep traumas in both these men, and they both lead right back to her.  I’ll be back tomorrow morning.  Make Roy go to bed in an hour.”

The elevator door shut, leaving Lise alone with the hum of the elevator and the sound of her own thoughts.  When the elevator reached the ground floor, it didn’t stop, continuing to the sub-basement, where it chimed, and the door opened to a dark view punctuated by clutter and a silhouette.  Teresa’s voice said “Major.  Do come in.  It’s time you and I had a long talk about my men.”

Cooper strained to open his eyes.  Around him, he could  hear gunfire, and shouting.  He could see three men dressed from head to toe in black running through the hole in the wall.  Two quickly moved toward Teresa, but the third approached him, and drew a .45, pointing it at Cooper.  “I’m gonna be famous.  I’ll probably get the Medal of Honor.” the man said.  Behind him, his two companions lifted Teresa off the floor.  One of them rasped “Forget him!  Help us with the General’s wife!”, but before he could respond, he jerked backward once, then twice, then a third time, and fell to the floor.  Cooper turned his head to see Agent Roy, crouching in the doorway, his gun smoking.  Agent Roy held his hand to his ear, and was clearly trying to get back up, but the sounds of the firefight outside intensified.  And after what seemed like an eternity, he slowly made his way across the two feet from the doorway to where Cooper was laying, watching the remaining intruders dragging Teresa out through the hole in the wall, to some unknown rendezvous.  He couldn’t determine the condition of her limp form, and wondered if she was alive or dead.  Agent Roy crouched over Cooper, assessing his condition, when he also jerked, once, and a growing bloom of crimson began expanding on the white shirt he wore under the black jacket.  Cooper said “Agent Roy, you’ve been hit.”

Agent Roy was gritting his teeth, and said “That’s not important right now.  We have to get you to a doctor.”

Cooper looked around for some help, and saw that Rick was back in the doorway.  Rick made his way over to Cooper and Agent Roy, and Cooper said “Get Roy out of here!  He’s been shot!”  Rick shook his head, and said “No  can do, buddy.  You’re the priority here.  And your fiancée’ would kill me if I didn’t get you to safety.”  Rick looked at Roy, who said “Get him out of here.  I’ll cover you.”

Rick started to drag Cooper to the back of the house as Agent Roy stood near the opening in the wall, and looked before firing a few shots out toward the fleeing invaders.  The sound of gunfire was tapering off, and Cooper watched as Rick dragged him down the hall, succumbing for a second time as a black hole opened beneath and swallowed him up.  The last thing he saw before darkness overtook him was a bullet tearing through Agent Roy, and the Mountie falling to the debris strewn floor.  All he could think was “NOOOOOOO!  Not for me!”

——————————————————————————————————————-

Cooper came to, with a medic checking his vitals, and Lise checking him out.  “Jake?” he whispered.

She stopped, took his hand and smiled.  “He’s safe.”

“Hell, he isn’t just safe.  He’s probably safer than he’s ever been.”  Rick said, with a grin.

“You’re friend hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for exaggeration,” said Lise “I did nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Don’t let her fool ya, buddy.  When one of the teams came in through the front door, she dispatched them all without batting an eye.  I don’t think they even had time to clap eyes on Jake.”

Cooper looked at Lise, uncertain if the tears he felt welling up were from what he’d just heard, or the goose egg on his head that was growing by the minute.  Still holding his hand, she brought it to her cheek,  tilted her head, and said “I wouldn’t…I couldn’t let them hurt Jake.  I couldn’t bear what that would do to you.”

Cooper turned his hand to stroke her cheek, more aware with each passing second of the screaming headache that radiated from the rising welt on his head.  “Where is he?”

“Safe.” she said quietly.  The visitors have gone, and no less than three teams are with him in the reinforced part of  the house.  “And Teresa?”  Lise’s smile faded.  Before she could respond, Rick said “She fell the same time you did, but she was closer to the blast.  I didn’t see a lot of blood when they took her away, but I couldn’t tell how badly  she was hurt…”

“Or if she was dead.”  Lise said flatly.

“Regardless, ” said Rick “I don’t think her visit was sanctioned.  The troops seemed more interested in getting her than they did you.”

“And Agent Roy?”

“He’s down, but the docs think he’ll make it.  I think those Newfoundlanders are almost as hard to kill as Texans.  He’ll be back.” Rick said with a smile.

“I want to know when he can have visitors.” Cooper said.

“Probably before you can, if this delays our wedding.” Lise said with a smile, but Cooper could tell that the smile was covering something, but he couldn’t really suss it out through the flashes of pain in his head.

“We’re right behind you.” Lise said as the ambulance doors shut, and it sped away from the safe house under heavy escort.