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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.

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Rick and Lise were discussing the previous evening when they  walked into the kitchen.  As they entered, Rick’s  teasing of Lise stopped in mid-sentence, as he saw the Mountie on the floor, and a woman he thought long dead standing next to the stove looking at her husband and her remaining son.  At the same time, both Rick and Cooper uttered the same question.  “Teresa?”

Teresa shifted her gaze, and responded “Rick.  And the lovely Major Phillips.  You have no idea how much I tried to get Cooper to sit down with a psychiatrist.  I guess I should have just hired a pretty one to seduce him.”  And with that barb, Teresa shifted her gaze back to Cooper and asked “What? No kiss for your long-lost wife? Or is the shock too great for you?”

Cooper’s mouth opened, shut, and then opened again.  He barely asked “How?” when Jake got up from the table and bolted to Lise, burying his head on her shoulder and hugging her for dear life.  Rick, sensing what his friend would ask if he were thinking clearly, stepped in front of Lise and Jake, putting himself between Teresa and the two of them.  Teresa turned to Rick again and said “I caution you against making any sudden moves, Rick.  I’m a great deal more…skilled than the last time you saw me.”

Rick looked to the Mountie on the floor, unable to tell if he was unconscious or dead, and said “Clearly.  What brings you back from the dead, and into our company?” he drawled.

“I had to see if the rumors were true, and my husband was still alive.  I thought he died in the woods years ago, along with you.  I was wrong about both of you.  And I heard his intended was quite attractive, but the stories don’t do you justice, Major.”

“I thought you were dead.” Cooper said to Teresa, in an almost whisper.  Teresa turned to Cooper and said “You were meant to.  It was my lover’s idea.  It allowed me to get away from you.  And then I was trained by some of his best men.  Shortly after I completed that training, word had come that you had been killed at that cabin in the Cascades, and my lover’s wife had an unfortunate…accident.  Tragic, actually, but it allowed the two of us to marry, and he went on to have a very successful career.  He’s a major-general now, and sometimes forgets that he wants me to be resourceful.  When I read the reports on you, I started to feel nostalgic.  I decided that I needed to come see you…and Jake, and try to convince you to come home.  I can make that happen.”

Cooper didn’t say a word.  His face spoke a thousand words about the emotions swirling inside him and competing for dominance over his spirit.  Lise watched, seeing him reveal a vulnerability that she had only previously guessed at, and feeling disappointed that she hadn’t connected with him as deeply as this phantom had, and couldn’t conjure a similar reaction in such a short period of time.

Cooper bowed his head, putting his right hand to his forehead before pushing it back through his hair.  He sighed, and said “Teresa…”, but the sound of thunder and a rain of glass and debris prevented him from finishing the statement.  As the blackness swallowed him, he felt only relief as he saw Rick push Jake and Lise towards the Mounties running down the hall towards the newly destroyed kitchen.

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Cooper walked into the kitchen to find Jake eating cereal at the table, and watching a video on his tablet.  A plainclothes Mountie stood in the corner, hands folded in front of him, standing guard.  Jake looked up and said “Dad!”

Cooper sat down opposite the young man, and asked “So what did you do last night, buddy?”

Jake replied “I had pizza for dinner,  then I watched a video until Agent Roy said it was time for bed.”  His face soured at the last, before he put another spoonful of the cereal in his mouth.  “What did you do, Dad?”

Cooper smiled, and said “Rick, Lise, and I went to Dinner at the King’s residence.  He asked me to tell you he said hello, and he thinks he’ll have a new train to show you soon.”

Jake’s face broke out in a big grin.  “I like the King.” he said.

Cooper leaned forward and asked Jake “What do you remember about Mom, buddy?”

Jake’s face clouded, and he looked back to his tablet.  “She wasn’t around much, and you two used to fight.  A LOT.”

Cooper squirmed at the memory, as he silently wondered just how much the young man really picked up on, and never expressed.

“Jake…how do you feel about Lise?”

Jake’s face lit up again.  “I like her.  She’s nice, and she knows a lot about trains.”

“How would you feel if she was around all the time?”

Jake looked at Cooper for a minute, then asked “What do you mean?”

“I’ve asked her to marry me, and she said “Yes.””

Jake looked at Cooper with an expressionless face, then asked “So she’ll be…my Mom?”

Cooper inhaled slowly, and said “No.  Your Mom was your Mom.  Lise can be like your Mom…if you want her to be.”

Jake looked at his cereal, and appeared to think it over for a minute, before saying “I think I might like that.”

Cooper smiled, and gave his son a hug, which the young man enthusiastically returned.

An icy voice shattered the moment as it said “I don’t know how I feel about that.”

Upon hearing it, Cooper immediately turned toward the voice, and for the second time in six months, saw a ghost standing in the kitchen of the safehouse.

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1. I get it. Really, I do.
As a conservative, the idea that Trump could be the GOP nominee is terrible. Hell, as a human being, I find this idea repugnant. But honestly, the question for me is “When the media and the Left (BIRM) have taken their best shots at Mr. Hell Toupee, and he and his followers (I’d say supporters, but in truth, I’m not seeing much to differentiate them from Obama followers, and we all know why we use that word to describe them) have just laughed them off and doubled down, to great applause, what does National Review believe that this will accomplish?” At best, this is an exercise in preaching to the choir; and at worst, it makes as much impact as a fart in a hurricane.

2. Principles matter.
People like me are glad to see that some people who identify as Republicans are now on board with this idea have decided to join the rest of us. Perhaps if a few more self-identified Republicans had been as vocal on this point when those elected in 2008 and 2010 declined to fight the fights that matter, the fights we elected them to fight, regardless of their assessments of success in doing so, then we wouldn’t be facing the apparent possibility of a Trump candidacy, let alone the horror of a Trump nomination. Instead, usual suspects continued to support the Marquis of Queensberry Rules and the Imperial Rules of Engagement, and rendered all their talk hollow and cheap to a frustrated electorate. So when the party and its institutions point out that Trump’s prior statements and actions don’t square with his current ones, they fail to recognize that they are the pot calling the kettle black for most Americans, and most bitterly to those who until this latest election season, trusted them.

3. Endorsements of Trump from the likes of Bob Dole and Trent Lott don’t help. Seriously, the next party flunky who jabbers about the “unacceptability” of someone with principles, who has walked the walk, and demonstrated an understanding of the Trumanism “If you want a friend in D.C., buy a dog.” while extolling Trump’s “electability” should be given his or her walking papers. The mere utterance of the word by someone with Republican credentials is taken as confirmation that the label matters more to them than the content, that the win matters more than policy, and that is why “electability” has given us sterling candidates, like Romney, McCain, and Dole, whose great success in Presidential elections gives credence to this concept and the priority that the party put on it.

4. Condescension doesn’t work.

You can say that people don’t know the issues and don’t know what they are doing, and in many cases, you’d be right. But are those people going to listen to anything you say after that? Probably not.

Progressive philosophy and dogged determination have done much to dumb our neighbors down. There is no immediate miracle to reverse this. But what you can do is engage individuals and respectfully challenge their assumptions and conclusions, and when you win them with patience and a dogged determination all your own, they will do the same.

5. We are in a scary place right now…
…and the impossible choice between and inveterate liar with no regard for the lives of people who selflessly dedicate their lives for this country, self-proclaimed socialist who promises to make everything “free”, including things government has no business providing to anyone, while at the same time acknowledging that those “free” things have an enormous cost on one side, and on the other, an egotistical, brash narcissist who, like the man he seeks to succeed, also has no understanding of the limitations imposed on the Executive branch of government, by design, is frightening. Especially when this man’s exaggerated sense of self-worth impairs his ability to thoughtfully reflect on the actions of others and respond in a manner which is best for the country, rather in a fashion that would best assuage his outsized ego.

Anger, righteous anger, and a willingness that no mainstream Republican demonstrated to actually talk about issues unfiltered by the restrictions of euphemism and fear of offending anyone brought us to this point. We can talk all day long about how anger doesn’t win elections, but 2008 and 2010 are proof that this is wrong. Because of this, and the excuses and failure yielded by the trust placed in the party after the last two elections, the talk about anger not working will fall on deaf ears, closed by the empty past rhetoric of “electability” and “compromise” from suits festooned with the party label.

Until the party publicly declares ownership of this disaster, it won’t regain any credibility with anyone. And the longer we go on without this admission of responsibility, the more likely it is that we really will have to hold our noses and choose the least onerous choice on a menu of excrement, and if that happens, we will remember the people most responsible for this for a long, long, long time.

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Cooper Wilson opened his eyes.

Filtered sunlight filled the bedroom and the smell of western Washington Spring filled his nostrils.  He turned toward the window and saw the blind gently swaying in the breeze.

“About time you woke up.”

Cooper sat up, looking toward the open bedroom door.
“The boys have gone off to school.  No one woke you, although I doubt they could have.”

Teresa strolled across the room to the bathroom, shutting the door until it was only open a crack “But then, I suppose ruining your employment prospects and poking the government in the eye is hard work.  It probably requires lots and lots of recouperation.”  The door traveled the remaining distance with a loud slam.

It was that day, all over again.  This had to be the nightmare he was dreading.  He swing his legs out from under the sheet, planting his feet on the floor.  Teresa exited the bathroom, throwing him a glance that couldn’t seem to decide if it was distain or contempt as she walked to her side of the bed.  She picked up the dress she had laying out, and put it on, then put earings in her ears.  “Don’t wait up for me tonight.  I’ll be going…out.  I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”

Inside, Cooper tensed, knowing the words he was going to say next, and unable to stop himself.  “Well, maybe if you only do with your “friend” what you always do with him once or twice, instead of all day long, you could get in earlier than right before dawn cracks.”

He looked to her, her back towards him, and watched her body stiffen.  “I’m not divorcing you,” she said, pausing before saying much more quietly “as if I could.  I’ll always be the woman who married that firebrand, Cooper Wilson.”

“And you say it almost like you’re doing me a favor, when in truth, it is simply more convenient for you, and him, this way.”

In his mind, Cooper was screaming “Don’t go!  Don’t!  They are going to kill you today, because of me!” in part because he wanted to stop her, and in part because he didn’t want to hear what came next.

“It isn’t like he is the first.” she spat out, never facing him, before walking out of the room, slamming the door as she left.

And again, Cooper listened to her footsteps as she walked down the stairs and out of the house to her car, and drove off, leaving him alone in the house with only the sound of a gentle breeze, and blinds banging in the window frame to compete with the screaming in his head.

——————————————————————————–

Lise absent-mindedly pushed her fork around on her plate, her mind replaying last night, in excruciating detail.  She never considered herself a tremendous beauty, but neither had she ever inspired the reaction that she had gotten last night.  What troubled her most was the look in Cooper Wilson’s eyes right after she had kissed him.  While her profile of the man had been correct, she had clearly underestimated how much the man was haunted by his past, at least until that moment.

Rick Gearhart walked into the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee, and turned and appraised Lise as he savored the first swallow of the hot brown liquid.  Saying nothing, he set his cup on the table, and sat opposite Lise, waited a moment for an acknowledgment of his presence which never came, before asking “So last night didn’t go as you planned?”

Lise flinched, more startled by the fact she hadn’t noticed him come in than by the question itself.  “Colonel.  I didn’t see you come in.”

Rick suppressed a chuckle.  “Yeah, I noticed.  I’m guessing that you didn’t get the reaction you expected.”

A frown appeared on Lise’s face.  “No.  I clearly missed something with him.”

Rick laughed.  “Most people do.  But here’s the thing: he really isn’t complicated.  I’ve known him for 20 years.  The key to him is he means it.  If he says something, he means it.  If he gives you his word, he means it.  And if he makes a vow, he means it.”

Lise sat, letting the meaning of Rick’s words sink in.

“Teresa.” she said.

“Yes.” replied Rick.  “I know he was thinking about her yesterday.”

“Vows…I understand…but she’s dead.  She’s been dead.” Lise said.

“It isn’t that she’s dead,” Rick replied “it’s where they were at when she was killed.”

“His dossier states that their marriage wasn’t in good shape.”

Rick laughed.  “British understatement.  But again, he was battling against some well-deserved feelings of betrayal and his own never-say-die attitude.  Tortured doesn’t begin to cover it.  And when she was taken before it got resolved one way or another…”

Lise didn’t say anything, and was trying not to let her misgivings show on her face, but she was thinking about the possibility that she caused more harm than good.

Rick sensed where her thoughts were leading her, and said “I can’t believe I’m doing this, since you’re not one of my favorite people, but don’t second guess yourself.  I told you that I can see he’s got some feelings for you, and I can see that you do for him.  He can’t help the issue he has…he’s just made that way.  But you…don’t you let him wrestle with a dead woman for the rest of his life… a woman who stuck a knife in his chest repeatedly.  You and I know he deserves better, and you and I know that you can replace her.  Do it.  Do it for him.  Do it for yourself.  We live in the most uncertain of times, and the stolen moments are the ones you want to relive when you’re facing the end.”

He stopped, and a minute passed.

“Dammit,” Rick said “you just made me talk more about stuff I hate to talk about in two or three minutes than I did in the last 3 years.”

She laughed, and got up.  “Thank you.” she said.

“Don’t make me regret it.” Rick said as he took another pull on his coffee.

———————————————————————————

Agent Roy wondered if he should call the Major.  He stood in the corner of Cooper Wilson’s bedroom, and reflected on how poorly Wilson had slept, and now how he’d been in the shower for at least a half hour.

———————————————————————————
Cooper sat in the shower, his head slung low, the hot water beating down on him.  His skin was wrinkling like a prune, but he barely noticed.  He knew that he shouldn’t feel like he was betraying a dead woman who betrayed him, but that feeling was there nonetheless, roiling in his gut, and he let the sound of the falling water drown out the accusations popping up like daisies in his skull.

———————————————————————————

Lise marched into Cooper’s room.  Agent Roy volunteered “It was a very bad night, Major.  And now he’s been in there for at least 40 minutes.”

“I understand.  You are dismissed, Agent Roy.”

Roy stiffened “Ma’am?” he asked.

“Did I stutter?” She tersely asked.

“Ma’am.” he acknowledged, and he quietly exited the room.

She straightened herself, and opened the bathroom door.

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Ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk with you tonight, because as the song says, “Let us not talk falsely now, because the hour is getting late.”

Can we turn the lights down please?  I would rather that those who are watching have more reason to concentrate on my words, rather than the size of my pores which are being illuminated with the light of multiple suns.  Ahh, thank you.

*walks to the front of the stage, sits down on the edge with legs dangling off the side*

That’s better.

By now, I’m sure that you have all come to understand that an organization that calls itself “Islamic State” has declared war on the West, which includes US.  I know that there are no shortage of voices who will trip over each other in their hurry to tell you that IS represents an “extreme” or “militant” version of Islam, and still others who are just as eager to tell you that they don’t represent Islam at all.  Frankly, I’m going to leave it up to each one of you to make your own determination as to whether any of these voices are correct.  I’ve done my research.  I’ve noted certain patterns, and methods of operation.  But you, each of you, deserves the right and luxury of being able to make your own investigations, and draw your own conclusions, without the constant drumbeat of people who either don’t trust you to come to the correct conclusions, or cannot fathom of conclusions differing from their own without condemning them as some form of “-ism”, “bigotry”, or other object of “offense”, not worthy of consideration, and totally devoid of merit.

Tonight, and in the coming days of this election, you will hear candidates of all leanings, from both of the major parties who will tell you that if you will only elect them, they “will keep the Homeland safe.”

This is a lie.

The fact is that they can’t “keep us safe”.  The reason is two-fold.

First, too many of our nation’s resources have their gaze, and their suspicion fixed on American citizens, as part of an institutional culture that routinely rejects the sovereignty of individual Americans and regards the exercise of their sovereign rights as threats to the state…a state which is being morphed into an end of its own, rather than an expression of an ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence.  This is why you will increasingly refer to “the Homeland”, rather than “America”, despite the fact that Americans need no “reminder”, subtle, or otherwise, that America is our home.  At the same time, we have trained those who are supposed to be looking out for our nation that we cannot possibly act in a prudent fashion to secure ourselves from external threats, or keep from transforming these external threats into internal ones.

Secondly, we face a foe which loves death more than they love life.  They are ruthless.  They are determined.  And they are patient.  This means that even if all of the government’s considerable resources were trained in the right direction, the odds are still against us, and successful attacks will succeed.

If we are to rely on only our own agency to combat this, then the only path to victory is a terrible resolve, to either make the death they love so horrifying, so terrible, that they will chose life in the alternative, or to fight this evil to every last man, woman, and yes, child, because they have enlisted even their own children in this conflict.

We are in a moment of decision, when we need to have clarity in our deliberation, and the wisdom to understand that leaders take responsibility not only for the successes of their subordinates, but for their failures as well.  While it is apparent to me that this should disqualify many of the candidates running for office, I understand the temptation to want to believe that a specific candidate who talks tough can be a savior.  The best leaders lead by example, and first, we need to actually elect a leader who believes in the American people, and who can remind them of their own genius, and their goodness, and inspire them to live them, rather than deferring to a government that is poorly equipped to assume a moral responsibility that runs contrary to too many of its own purposes.  For too long, we have compromised with evil, and clothed it in the mundane as we have made it part and parcel of our daily life.  This will lead some among us to believe that compromise is a laudatory and worthy goal, and will seek to make it happen.  The best outcome we can hope for with this is a temporary peace, and an arrogant complacency which will make us subject to an eventual defeat.

The election season is one that demands, and receives, a degree of suspension of disbelief that would be unthinkable in any other aspect of our lives.  We would never accept the brazen lies told to us by politicians from friends, co-workers, lovers, or family, and yet we expect it, hell, we want it from people who have continually demonstrated that they are utterly unworthy of our trust, which we freely give every time, like Charlie Brown expecting Lucy to not pull away the football.

We don’t need the puffery, the exaggerations, and the flat-out lies.
We don’t need someone who doesn’t like us to wag his finger and tell us who we are and who we aren’t, when he’s only interested in who he wants us to be.  We know who we are.  And we need a leader who is one of us, not someone who has contempt for who we are, and who cynically seeks to exploit us because that is who they are.  We just have to decide if we are going to chose a leader who represents our qualities, and if we want to win the conflict that is being brought to us, or if we will be “fundamentally transformed”, and chose to be the last ones eaten by the alligator.

Good night.

*fade to black*

 

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Cooper Wilson reclined in the Adirondack chair, his face to the breeze and the slowly settling sun as he listened to the dry leaves being blown over the concrete on which he sat. There was a definite edge to the cooling air, which no longer carried the fragrances of summer, but rather seemed devoid of anything other than the smell of decay and hints at the emptiness that was coming with the approaching winter.

Now that he was back in the midwest, the trees all around had exploded into their annual flames of color, but he had long ago stopped looking forward to this time of year. They had seen to that. He remained unsure if time healed all wounds, or simply allowed them to subside to a dull ache. He actually no longer dreaded this seasonal reminder, and found that he could actually stop and think of them without it feeling like an open wound…like he had been gutted and trussed up for the world to see. As the wind washed over him, wondered at that the lack of urgency in his memory, and decided that he didn’t really know how he felt about not feeling their loss as keenly as he used to. Thoughts burst up in his mind. Thoughts of thanksgiving that the pain had dulled dueled with thoughts of guilt for still being alive. A ghost of a smile passed over his face as he thought that this would undoubtedly be fascinating to Lise. A puzzle to study. A riddle to analyze. The slight smile faded as his thoughts circled back to the woman. For a time, Cooper believed that she was unusually dedicated to the study of both he and Jake. She always seemed to be present, foreground or background. He wasn’t sure when, or if, she actually slept. But the more he observed her, then more he came to conclude that she actually cared for Jake, and was interested in his well-being. Cooper had almost unconsciously come to rely on her counsel, and her care of the young man, as he found himself busy about the work that had been assigned to him. It came across as more than trust. It felt like rapport. It was a feeling he hadn’t felt in a long time either. “Another betrayal.”, whispered another voice in his mind, which sounded suspiciously like his own, as fatigue overtook the inner dialogue in his head, and sleep overtook him, as the sun sank a little lower on the horizon, darkening the yellow light bathing his face.

Inside, watching him from the kitchen, Lise regarded the man on the patio. Clad in the same jeans, shirt, and jacket he wore when they had taken him in to custody months before, the now-slumbering man looked as relaxed as she’d seen him in that entire time. No fits and starts. No restless turning and crying out. For a just a second, she could swear that she’d seen him smile, but given the feelings that she had unexpectedly developed for the man, feelings which she had only just recently admitted to herself, she couldn’t be sure she’d actually seen anything. She still wasn’t sure how she’d arrived at those feelings, and was upset with herself that she couldn’t seem to figure out exactly how that had happened in the first place. Technically he was a patient, and she had a great deal of experience in evaluating and dealing with troubled patients. He was also an assignment, one upon which much was riding. He wasn’t much to look at. Sure he was tall, but the 50-odd years he’d lived seemed more evident on him then they might otherwise have. The gray at his temples seemed very pronounced. The little lines at the corners of his eyes were still little, but very deeply etched. But the eyes. The eyes contained a light which had only seemed to get brighter, starting with the return of his Bible. The dossier had hinted that he knew much of the book remarkably well, and that he could quote much of it from memory. But when it had been returned to him, he still managed to find a half hour or so a day to read it. And while the outside appearance of her patient was nondescript, he had a personality and wit which were quick and engaging, and had proven to be even more so in private. The security detail reports indicated that many of the detail had developed a genuine affinity for the man. Even the infamous Agent Roy admitted privately that he’d had a few conversations with Cooper that left him with the impression that although he was humble, he was also much more than he seemed. “Maybe that’s why I’m attracted to him,” she thought to herself, taking a sip of cooling coffee from a blue mug, “maybe because he is more than he seems.”

“I gotta hand it to you. You’ve done well with him.” A voice from behind startled her out of her reverie.

“Col. Gearhart. I hadn’t heard you were back.” She responded flatly.

“Yeah, well, I may have been seconded to you folks for awhile, but that doesn’t mean that you all know about my comings and goings.”

The two watched the sleeping Cooper as the wind blew harder, bringing more leaves down out of the trees.

Lise finished the last swallow of her now cold coffee. It was a miracle that she had gotten Cooper to sit still for a few minutes, and suppress his concern about Jake long enough to simply relax, and that had only been possible because Jake was in the fortified basement of the residence, playing with an electric train set which she had “requisitioned” as part of his treatment, under the watchful eyes of Agent Roy.

“It’s getting cold…and dark. We should probably go bring him in, although you probably had a difficult time getting him to do it in the first place. Well, maybe not quite so difficult.”

Lise cocked her head as she turned backwards to face Rick Gearhart, and asked “What does that mean?”

Rick looked at her for a moment, his eyes barely concealing an amusement that had yet to leak out on to the rest of his face, then said “He’s falling for you. He’d never say it, but I knew him when…well, let’s just say I knew him the last time he had feelings for a woman. He’d probably never say it, most likely because he’s been through so much, but I see it when he talks to you.”

Lise’s heart felt like it skipped a beat, then started hammering away like a jackrabbit. She was embarrassed at her reaction, and hoped that her face wasn’t flushing like it felt like it was doing. There were so many reasons, both professional and personal, to not want to feel like a love struck girl, and mentally, she was frantically searching for something to say, and the correct tone of voice to not betray her unexpected feelings to this man with whom she had argued so often and so vehemently. Before her thoughts could coalesce into the mass she needed them to be, he added “Look, I know we don’t see eye to eye on just about anything, Major, and I have no idea what the rules are on fraternization in the service of the King, but I know that you care for him, and that he cares for you, and if there is one thing that I think my friend is entitled to before he dies, it’s having a relationship again with someone who shares his feelings.”

Lise’s mouth opened, then shut, then opened as the words cut through the swirling emotions, ideas, and responses weaving through her mind. A full minute passed before the look of shock and confusion on her face gave way to a more settled expression, and she managed to say “Thank you.”

“Of course, I’m still not terribly fond you, and if you were to hurt him, I’d dedicate some time to making you as miserable as I possibly could.” said the Col., the smile having escaped the prison in his eyes to come out through the smile on his face.

“Good.” she replied.

“Good?” he asked.

“Good.” she affirmed.

It was his turn for confusion to cloud his expression.

“I don’t understand.” he said.

“Well,” she began, “It felt like we were having a moment there, and that would be so far out of character for you, that I was thinking I might have to order a psych evaluation to determine what was wrong with you.”

A low chuckle escaped his throat as the smile returned, powered by the twinkle in his eye.
“Oh. That. I wouldn’t fret any about it. It wasn’t bound to last, even if I did mean every word of it.”

Her gaze returned to Cooper, who was still asleep in the chair on the patio. The sun seemed to be touching the horizon, allowing the cool of night to rush in to fill the growing vacancy. She shivered, almost involuntarily, and said “Let’s go get him up. I know he will be glad for the chance to talk to you about what you were up to the last week or so.”

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