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14

The ride to the Imperial Residence was a short one.  Rick made some small talk about the United [Progressive] States’ latest offensives, but neither Cooper or Lise picked up on any of the openings he made in the small talk.  Instead, they sat next to each other, like they had so many times before, the only thing different being that Cooper’s left hand held Lise’s right, their fingers intertwined, as they each looked out opposite windows.  If the driver noticed, he had the good sense not to acknowledge it.  Rick silently reminded himself to never play poker with any of the RCMP on the detail.

When they arrived, they found much of the general staff already waiting in the drawing room.  Lise was certain that her immediate superior’s gaze was on her for a second too long, as if to surreptitiously say “I know about the two of you.”  Shortly after their arrival, they all took their seats around the long rectangular table, two high-ranking medical staff officers taking seats between Cooper and herself.  The room darkened, and a three-dimensional hologram appeared over the table as a brigadier explained the latest intelligence on their neighbor to the south.  Lise found it impossible to concentrate on the briefing, her thoughts focused instead on a larger than life separation scene where she would be approached by MPs, who would read her the charges, and then take her away in handcuffs, to a trial and prison, where she would never see Cooper again.

After what seemed to her to be an eternity, the hologram turned off, the lights came back up, and the King rose to address the assembled personnel.  “Ladies and gentlemen, I realize that some of that was a bit grim, but I also wanted you here for something a bit more cheerful.  Two of the gentlemen here once had a feast on this day annually with family, as one of their former nation’s most popular holidays.  Mr. Cooper, Mr. Gearheart, we would be honored if you would have Thanksgiving dinner here with us this evening.  Rick smiled and Cooper nodded his head slightly.  “We’d be the ones honored, Your Majesty.” the two said, almost in unison.

“Excellent!” exclaimed the King.  “The dinner is not yet quite ready, and the table must still be set, so we should all retire to the Library for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.”

The mass of uniformed men and women rose and milled out of the room in and into the library, where they separated into clusters all around the room, talking, eating, and drinking.  The King made his way around the room, talking to the various groups, while Cooper, Lise, and Rick were cornered by an Air Marshall and his adjutant, who both asked endless questions about what Thanksgiving had been like before the Purge.  Lise couldn’t pay attention to the conversation, and instead, brushed her hand against Cooper’s as she looked around the room, just in time to see the King talking to her superior, Colonel Rafferty, while both looked first at Cooper and then at her.  Immediately, she could feel her heart climb up into her throat, and start beating as if she’d run a marathon.  She grabbed Cooper’s hand and squeezed it urgently as both Colonel Rafferty and the King turned their backs to them.  Cooper turned to see the look of panic in her eyes as she turned her back to Rafferty and the King and in a shouted whisper said “THEY KNOW!”

Cooper wasn’t sure that there was anything that he could say that would help her to dial back, so he simply smiled back at her and squeezed her hand lightly, as he turned to see the King walking over to their corner of the room.

“Major Philips, you look ravishing this evening.  I’m both startled and gratified that this can happen.  It’s good to know that no matter how ugly we make the uniforms, women can’t help but to let their beauty shine through when they wear them.”

Lise uttered words of thanks which were barely audible as she tried not to meet the King’s gaze.

“However, there is still some business to discuss this evening.  Cooper, if I could have a private word with you?”

Cooper responded “Certainly.” and turned to the Marshall to offer his excuses, before following the King into his study.

As he walked in, a servant appeared, as if out of nowhere, and walked out through the entrance, shutting the door as he left.

The King stood behind a desk in the corner, and said “Cooper, I have a problem.”

Uncertain if he was a bit more loose than usual due to the day’s events, or the whisky he’d been sipping in the other room, Cooper responded “Your Majesty, you’re fighting a war against an enemy who loves death more than life, and what remains of my former country is about to become another front in that battle.  I’d say you have several problems.”  He immediately regretted the flippant nature of these words right after they left his lips, but if the King was offended, he didn’t show it, instead permitting himself to smile.

“Cooper, I know about you and Major Philips.” said the King, letting the implication of the statement sink in.

“Oh.” was the only response Cooper could muster.

“Oh?” asked the King.

“Well, to be fair, she thought you knew.  I guess she expects that the King’s eyes are really everywhere, and it would appear that I’ve been naive about that.”

“Those eyes are not in as many places as I’d like for the comfort and security of us all.”

“She’s convinced that her career is over, and that you, or more accurately, your subordinates, will take her career from her, and toss her in jail.”

“Is that what you want?”

Cooper stiffened, wondering what he could say.   After what felt like an eternity, he found himself saying “I understand the need for discipline and integrity in the work that we do, Your Majesty.”

“That wasn’t the question I asked.”

Cooper hesitated.  The King noted his obvious discomfort and volunteered “If there is to blame for Major Philips’ conduct, it rests with me, Cooper.”

Cooper’s eyes blinked, then narrowed as the unasked question clouded his face.  The King leaned back in the overstuffed chair and sighed.  “Cooper, I’m older than both you and the Major.  I’ve been reading her reports from the beginning, and if there is one thing I’ve known a lot longer than either of you, it’s that she’s been hopelessly in love with you almost from the start.  And I let it go, because I believed that it was actually adding to the insights spelled out in her reports.”

The King stood up, and walked over to the sideboard where a decanter half full of a clear, rich brown liquid sat, and he poured two finger’s worth into the pair of glasses sitting next to the decanter.  “And while I don’t expect that you will discuss everything that you and I speak about here this evening with her later tonight, I do expect you to tell the Major what I said about this being my fault and not hers.”  The King turned to face a stunned Cooper, and handed him one of the glasses.

“I’m sorry, Your Highness.  Am I to take it that the Major isn’t going to be cashiered out and sent to prison?”  Cooper stammered as he took the glass from the King.

The King could barely conceal his amusement.  “Is that what you want?” he asked, a mischievous smile dancing on his lips.  “Honestly, Cooper, I can’t believe how slow you’re being about this.  No.  She isn’t in any trouble at all. ” The King paused, then smirked.  “Let me correct myself.  She isn’t in any trouble with me.  She’s got you, and I suspect that will be the source of some…challenges.  But in that, she’ll be no different from any other wife.”

Cooper’s throat closed around the whisky he had just started to swallow, causing the burn of the alcohol to spread 365 degrees in his neck.  Coughing, Cooper choked out “Wife?“.  The King’s smile grew larger, and he laughed “Yes, “wife”.  I can’t very well have the head of my chaplain corps “living in sin”, now can I?”

“B-b-b-b-but…” Cooper stammered again.  The King took a sip of his whisky and said “I know, I know. “But I haven’t asked her.” is what you want to say.  Cooper, I’m going to let you in on a little secret.  She’ll say “Yes.”  And it will be my pleasure to announce your engagement at dinner.”

Cooper, who had only just recovered some of his composure, jerked his gaze back toward the King.  “At DINNER?”

The King said “Of course.  I’ve already sent for a respected jeweler, and instructed him to bring rings in your price range, so you can pick one, and ask her before dinner.  I hope you don’t mind, but I’m aware of what you can afford, even if you’ve probably never given it a thought.  It has something to do with signing the checks, I suppose.”

Cooper remained silent as he took another pull on the whisky.

The King lifted his glass to his lips, and before taking another sip, he said, with a touch less volume, “And you should probably be married as soon as possible.  No longer than a week.  The way you two are, I expect you’re going to be a father again very soon.”

Cooper’s eyes bulged as it took all of his strength to keep from spitting out the drink he just started to sip.

13

Lise leaned over the sink and tried in vain to wipe the steam from the mirror before her.  For a moment, she thought about wrapping a towel around herself, before dismissing it as pointless.  The steam still hung heavy in the air, and after how she had just passed the last two hours with the naked man in the shower a few steps away from her, modesty would be a pretense, and a hollow one at that.

Her thoughts turned to the parade of horribles marching toward her in the rapidly approaching now.  While her eyes faced the mirror, her thoughts weren’t on her reflection, but the fact that she hadn’t just crossed a line with a patient, but completely obliterated it.  Her professional and military career might very well be over, and she’d be lucky to not face criminal charges.  As much as the end of her career bothered her, it was the thought of separation and years in a jail cell apart from Cooper that bothered her more.  “And I may be facing that music before dinner.” she thought, as she spied her soaked clothing, wadded up in a corner on the bathroom floor.  “I could put them back on,” she thought, “and just say I got in the shower with him to snap him out of it. But I’m pretty sure that even the neighbors heard us.”

Cooper turned off the water and opened the shower door, grabbing a damp towel as his eyes traveled up from her feet, to her behind and shapely hips.  He considered the fact that her curves were very alluring, and that her typical garb concealed them, a state of affairs that he considered to be a severe injustice.  When he noted her reflection, the far away look in her eyes told him about the doubts and regrets racing through her mind.  He walked up behind her and said “Hey…regret is my department.”

Lise’s attention jerked back to her reflection, and the smiling man behind her.  “Easy for you to say.  You haven’t fallen in love with your patient, and then seduced him.”  She fought back tears as she thought of the separation that was certain to be imposed on the two of them.  “I’m pretty sure I seduced you right back…more than once.”
Lise fought the urge to smile at the memory, and said “I’m serious.  I can lose my license, and be court-martialed and jailed for this.”

His face reverted to a neutral expression, and he said “I’m sorry.  You’re very good at what you do, and you undoubtedly worked hard to get to where you are.”

She closed her eyes and said “You don’t understand.  I don’t regret what we did…and what we could do for the rest of our lives.  I regret the fact that they will separate us and keep us apart, since I’m sure I’m going to jail.”

He cocked his head, put a finger under her chin, gently turning her face to his as she fought back the tears.  He leaned in, and gently brushed his lips against hers.  “I won’t let that happen,” he whispered “but we don’t even have to go there until the door to this room opens.”

She started to protest, and he kissed her, gently at first, then with more and more force, and she let go of her anxieties as two became one, again…and again.

————————————————————————–
Cooper walked into the bedroom first, and saw one of Lise’s uniforms draped across the chair next to his bed.  He picked up the note written in Rick’s almost illegible scrawl, which read “First, its about time, hoss.  You fuck this up, and you won’t have to slap yourself for the rest of your life, because I’ll do it for you.  Second, it’s dress uniforms.  We have been summoned for an audience with the King.  We leave here at 5.  See you then.”

Lise exited the bathroom, having chosen to again reject a towel, and now second guessing it at the rush of desire she felt at seeing the back of the half-dressed man in front of her.  Cooper turned, waving the note, and said “We’ve been summoned to see the King this evening.”  Lise tried to smile, at seeing her uniform.  Cooper, seeing the path of her gaze, said “Rick brought it.  You don’t need to worry about him saying anything in mixed company.  He knows how to be discreet.”

Her gaze turned to Cooper and said “I don’t want to be discreet.  I’m just not ready for this to be over.”  But as the two dressed in silence, she wondered if she could be discreet herself, even in the presence of the King.

12

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.

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*

 

In the growing twilight, Rick could see the trace of a frown pass over Cooper Wilson’s face.  He looked to see if Lise had picked up on it, but if she did, she gave no indication.  She leaned forward, and put her hand to his chest, but before she could nudge him, his eyes snapped open, and he sat upright.

Startled, she stepped back, as Cooper looked around, blinking in the growing darkness.  When he recovered, he acknowledged the presence of his old friend, and asked “What time is it?”

Rick smiled and said “5:30.  I must be in the wrong outfit.  I don’t get to take naps.”

Cooper smiled and said “I hadn’t really intended to take this one.”  He then turned to Lise, and asked, “Where’s Jake?  I’m surprised he hasn’t asked about dinner yet.”  Wondering at his reaction, she smiled and said “He’s still in the basement.  That train set simply makes the hours melt away.”

The trio went inside, and shortly had dinner.  Cooper half listened to Rick’s story of his latest trip south, and smiled when Jake told him again about the engines of the train set with the exact same enthusiasm he’d told him about them on the two previous evenings.  After dinner, he’d reviewed reports while the others relaxed with their own activities, but time seemed to be running away from him as he realized that he had just finished reading the same page for the fifth time.  Jake came in to give him a hug, and say good night, before exiting the room with the Major following behind.

A whiskey glass clunked down in the desk in front of him, two fingers of light brown liquid, swirling in the glass.  “I know you’ve always had a taste for this stuff, Hoss, but I’d pay real money for some decent tequilia.” said Rick, as he sat down in the chair in front of Cooper, raising his own glass to his lips.  “It is one of the perks of being here.” Cooper said, smiling as he took a slow pull from his glass.

“You were having a dream about her, weren’t you?”, Rick asked Cooper.

“Nightmare is more like it.”  replied Cooper.  “Still, if that’s the worst I’m seeing when I close my eyes now, I guess I’ve got it pretty good now.”

Rick sat silently for a minute, appraising his friend’s mood.  Finally, he said “You couldn’t have saved her, you know.  When they decided to come for those they’d targeted, there was nothing that could be done.”

Cooper took another pull on the rye, savoring the burn as it went down his throat.  “It wasn’t that she was killed.  It wasn’t that I couldn’t do anything about it.  It was how we left things…things weren’t good.”

“Hell.  I know that.”

“Yeah, but…”  Cooper’s voice trailed off.

The two sat in silence, sipping the whiskey.

Outside the study, Lise considered what she’d just heard, and wondered if Cooper’s ghosts would ever let him rest.  As she thought about how much informati0n wasn’t in the profile on Cooper, Rick stepped out of the study, and passed her on his way to his bedroom in the residence.  “Go easy on him.  If you’re going to be there, then be there, but don’t go adding to the voices that he hears every time he closes his eyes.”

Lise looked in, and saw Cooper putting the glasses onto the credenza, his back to her and the door.  Quietly, she stepped in, and up behind him as he regarded the books on the shelf in front of him.  “Cooper…” she half-whispered.  He turned to face her, his eyes betraying the fatigue and sadness he felt.  “Major.  Shouldn’t one of us be in bed now?  I’m sure we have a busy day scheduled tomorrow.”

She smiled, and replied “I’m sure that both of us should be, but I somehow doubt that you’re going to sleep, and I should probably be trying to figure out how to fix that.”

“I slept this afternoon.  And I’m not some puzzle to be solved.”

“The hell you aren’t”, thought Lise, but instead of saying anything, she reached out, and took his hand.  Cooper flinched, and looked down at her hand, then back up at her face, a look of confusion clouding his features.  “Lise….I…can’t…”

She masked her surprise while wondering at his reaction to her touch, and said “You’re alone, Cooper Wilson, but you don’t have to be.  And you shouldn’t be.” as she leaned forward to kiss him on the lips.

10

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.”

Cooper sat on the end of the front pew and listened to the growing silence as the last of the attendees made their way out of the cathedral’s massive front doors.  Now that no one was around, he loosened his tie, and undid the top button of his shirt.  He felt tired.  Not the blind fatigue that marked the last three months, but the kind of tired that comes from an honest day’s work.  He knew he’d sleep well tonight.  He smiled as he bent over to pick up the program that someone had carelessly dropped to the floor.  His name wasn’t the only one on it, but he chuckled softly as he read his name, unable to concentrate on any of the others.  He’d reflected on the fickleness of fate, and how it would take an outcast and a refugee, who no longer had a country, and elevate him to the position he currently occupied.

“Sir?  Sir?”

Cooper was jerked out of his reverie, and silently cursed himself for not hearing the approach of the sergeant standing in front of him.  “I’m sorry, sergeant.  I’m afraid I was so lost in thought that I didn’t hear you approach.  How can I help?”

“I’m not sure, sir.  I heard the sermon.  I listened all the way through, which surprised me.”

“It’s ok.  I’m still surprised at the idea of giving one.”

“Yes, well…I guess that’s what I wanted to ask you about.  I found that part interesting.  The part about how you weren’t always a believer.  I was wondering…”

“How that changed?”

“Well, yes, sir.”

“I grew up with it in my family, so it wasn’t something I was unfamiliar with, but I guess I’d have to say that it wasn’t until I started reading that,” his hand reached out to the small, snap cover leather-bound Bible in the sergeant’s hand “that I started to look at things I was already seeing in a different light.  I suppose it is a cliché, but I don’t think a genuine belief is something I could lead someone else to.  They have to find it for themselves.  The best advice I can give you, sergeant, is to read it on your own.  Try to read three chapters a day, and then spend some time thinking about what you read.  If you can make the time, and you dedicate the effort necessary, I think that you won’t be able to help from coming to a genuine and sincere belief on your own.”

The sergeant was quiet for a moment.  Then he collected himself, and said “Thank you, Commander.  I’ve taken enough of your time.”

Cooper looked at the sergeant, and said “Not at all, sergeant.  I’m pretty sure that’s the reason I’m here, and I’m always a little surprised that this is the work my sovereign has me doing.  Everyone seems to be helped by it, no matter how inadequate I feel about it.”

The sergeant looked at him for a moment, his expression unchanging, even as a smile as big as the sun started shining in his eyes.  “Well, then, if that’s the case…”

Cooper allowed a trace of a smile to cross his lips in response.  “Yes?”:

“Sir, the only reason I came today is because some of my men wanted to come, and they asked me to come with them until I said yes.  But I stayed…I stayed because something you said resonated with me.  Our unit leaves tomorrow.  I was wondering if you could come by and counsel some of them.  It would mean a lot.  They won’t tell us where we are going, and in my experience, that usually isn’t good.”

Cooper looked at the sergeant’s unit patch, and realized that he knew where the sergeant was going, and that it wasn’t good.  “Of course I will, sergeant.  In fact, Lt. Col. Gearhart, and I have to drive by there on our way back to where we’re staying.  Why don’t you ride with us?”

Cooper and the sergeant started down the long aisle to the doors, with Rick and Lise in tow.  Rick asked Lise “I guess this means that we’re not getting back to the residence for a awhile?”

Lise, who had been smiling, said “Shhhh!” before saying “I think sleepless nights are about to take on a brand new meaning, Col. Gearhart.

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